Friday, April 18, 2014

The "Bankers' Putsch" against the New Deal

Joshua Holland interviews historian Sally Denton in Outrage Over Obamacare Is Nothing Compared With FDR’s New Deal 04/17/2014. In discussing the conservative and far-right resistance to the New Deal, they touch on what Denton calls the "Bankers Putsch":

The Bankers Putsch was an ill-fated plot, sometimes called the Business Plot or the Wall Street Putsch. There was a famous, heroic marine general named Smedley Butler, who was kind of the soldier’s soldier, the veteran’s veteran. He had great influence with the veterans, and this was at a moment when there were a half million veterans who were trying to get their bonuses from World War I. The bonuses weren’t supposed to be released until 1945, but because so many of the veterans were starving, there was a great movement afoot in 1932 to get those bonuses released early.

And Smedley Butler claimed that he was approached by a couple of veterans who had connections to Wall Street financiers who were planning a nonviolent coup, a takeover of the Roosevelt Administration. They claimed to have $3 million that they were willing to spend toward this end, and they said that they had some armaments ready. And their theory was that Roosevelt was in over his head — again, we see a lot of the same rhetoric that we hear with Obama. And they thought FDR would welcome somebody coming in and taking charge because he didn’t know what to do. That was the theory, that they would go in and, because these men who were supplying the money were of Roosevelt’s class, Roosevelt would agree to their demands and become kind of a ceremonial figurehead. He would let these stronger, more military types control the White House.

Butler blew the whistle on it, so it never got very far at all. There were congressional investigations and there was an FBI investigation, and the media reported various aspects of it. But both the plot and the investigation were stopped before they got very far. So it’s unclear how much of it was a form of insanity on the part of the plotters and how much they really had any legitimate financial and military support. But it’s a fascinating story of that year.
I posted about this incident in The American Liberty League and coup plotting 10/07/2007 and The 1933 coup plot against Franklin Roosevelt 12/13/2007.

This is the first time I recall seeing this plot referred to as the Bankers' Putsch. The author's website also calls it "the Wall Street Putsch."

Denton's 2011 book, The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right sounds interesting.

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Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 17: Politics of race and voting rights today

Jamelle Bouie weighs in on the Chait-Coates discussion on white racism in Color Blind Slate 04/07/2014. He makes this observation about civil rights in the Obama era:

Of course, it’s not accusing conservatives of "racism" to note that particular policies — say, tax cuts to defund the social safety net, or blocking the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act—have a disparate impact. That's just reality. And it's not tarring your opponents to note that race plays a huge part in building popular support for those policies. But again, for as much as this is interesting as a matter of political combat, it's less important to telling the story of race in the Obama years than, for instance, the tremendous retrenchment of racial inequality during our five years of recession, recovery, and austerity. [my emphasis]
The structural problems of white racism won't go away without confronting them directly.

Bouie reacts to the perspective he understands Jonathan Chait to be articulating, one common to the superficial coverage of the mainstream media more generally, which focuses on race in terms of its function as a partisan topic of political fights. In the current context, Chait is giving support to the whiny-white-guy victim posture the Republicans are currently using in which they claim to be terribly wrong whenever they are challenged on white racism:

Still, if you're trying to tell the story of race in the Obama years, Chait's version strikes me as utterly ancillary. First and foremost in this history has to be the ways in which race kept its material salience despite the momentous political event of a black president. The partisan reactions to Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are less important than the activism that emerged around them, in the same way that Republican complaints of language policing are less important than the party’s ongoing push for voter suppression. [my emphasis]
That last point is extremely important. It doesn't matter if the Republicans are pushing to enact segregationist voter suppression laws with their hearts full of Christian love as they do it. They're pushing anti-democracy segregation laws that are a a manifestation of white racism in action, white racism which such laws establish in the core of the American democratic system. The effects are what count.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reports on Ukraine

Cenk Uygur reports on recent remarks by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Do Putin's Remarks Mean Significant Violence Is Coming? The Young Turks 04/17/2014:

I would prefer to hear Cenk being a little more critical toward US policy on Ukraine. But he's reporting on Putin's position in that report.

Euronews has also been running English-language reports on Russia and the Ukraine crisis, the following two considerably longer than most of their YouTube video reports.

Putin Q&A: 'We can't live separately with Ukraine' (recorded live feed) 04/17/2014:

I you want to spend a while listening to the official Russian position on this, you can check out this four-hour Euronews report of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talking about it, Lavrov speaks on Ukraine crisis after Geneva talks (recorded live feed) 04/17/2014; the Lavrov part starts just after 3:33:00; the rest has news on various things, including the Ukraine crisis:

This is a report from Sophie Shevardnadze, the granddaughter of former Soviet Foreign Minister and later President of the nation of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze, from the Russian state TV channel RT. Since Putin recently tightened political control over RT, I've become even more skeptical in evaluating their reports. But this one features former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, with whose political commentary I'm familiar, talking about Ukraine, who is currently working with Tell the Word, a project of the Church of the Saviour. Toward the end, they start flirting with each other, which is cute. Europe will now think twice before following Washington's orders - Ex-CIA Officer SophieCo 04/14/2014:

If you want to hear four hours of Putin, a longer version of the question-and-answer session reported above, RT has it, Putin's annual Q&A session 2014 (FULL VIDEO) 04/17/2014:

Here are a couple of video reports from the PBS Newshour, presumably a less exotic source for American news consumers than RT.

Tentative deal for Eastern Ukraine follows night of violence 04/17/2014:

U.S. cautious about diplomatic deal to calm Ukraine conflict 04/14/2014:

Robert Perry's article about the influence of the violent far right in the current Ukrainian government is also worthwhile, Ukraine, Through the US Looking Glass Consortium News 04/16/2014

... in my four-plus decades in journalism, I have never seen a more thoroughly biased and misleading performance by the major U.S. news media. Even during the days of Ronald Reagan – when much of the government’s modern propaganda structure was created – there was more independence in major news outlets. There were media stampedes off the reality cliff during George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War and George W. Bush’s Iraq War, both of which were marked by demonstrably false claims that were readily swallowed by the big U.S. news outlets.

But there is something utterly Orwellian in the current coverage of the Ukraine crisis, including accusing others of “propaganda” when their accounts – though surely not perfect – are much more honest and more accurate than what the U.S. press corps has been producing.

There’s also the added risk that this latest failure by the U.S. press corps is occurring on the border of Russia, a nuclear-armed state that – along with the United States – could exterminate all life on the planet. The biased U.S. news coverage is now feeding into political demands to send U.S. military aid to Ukraine’s coup regime.

Fred Kaplan is one well-known defense writer who has kept his head about the current crisis. He writes in Why Putin May Stand Down Slate 04/14/2014:

It's worth remembering how this crisis got underway. Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, was about to form an association with the European Union. Putin offered him $15 billion in aid if he backed away. He took the bribe. Western-leaning activists took to the street. Yanukovych cracked down, prompting thousands more to join the protests. Under pressure, Yanukovych fled, the parliament appointed a new mostly pro-EU government—enticing Putin to exploit the instability, seize Crimea, amass troops on the Ukrainian border, incite (if not formally organize) separatist rebellions just across that border, and squeeze.
And as Perry reminds us, the US encouragement of the opposition was open and obvious:

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland was a cheerleader for the uprising, reminding Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their "European aspirations," discussing who should replace Yanukovych (her choice, Arseniy Yatsenyuk became the new prime minister), and literally passing out cookies to the protesters in the Maidan. (Nuland is married to neoconservative superstar Robert Kagan, a founder of the Project for the New American Century.) [my emphasis]
This was prior to the most recent agreement. But Kaplan speculates that Russia is not looking to invade eastern Ukraine:

But Obama and the other Western leaders also know they’re not going to go to war over Ukraine. Putin knows this, too. At the same time, if he’s at all rational (and this is the worrying thing—it’s not clear that he is), Putin would calculate that escalation is not a winning strategy for him. He could invade the eastern slices of Ukraine, especially around Donetsk, but he couldn’t go much further. The move would rile the rest of Ukraine to take shelter under the EU’s (and maybe NATO’s) wing, and it would rouse the Western nations to rearm to an extent unseen in 20 years (and to a level that the Russian economy could not match).

This would not be a revival of the Cold War. The Cold War was a global contest, in which the capitalist West and the communist East vied not only in the occasional proxy war but also for ideological allies. No countries, besides a handful not worth having as allies, support Russia in this standoff, and many of the neutrals would join the opposition if Russian troops crossed into mainland Ukraine.

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 17: Obama defends voting rights

Ta-Nehisi Coates in Barack Obama's Challenge to American Morality The Atlantic 04/14/2014 expresses his satisfaction with the President's speech opposition voter-suppression laws:

I believe in judging Barack Obama's rhetoric and policies not as though he were the president of black America, but of the United States of America. On that count his speech soared. There aren't many topics more important than the security of our democracy. The president did not attack that topic gingerly, but forcefully, directly and without hedge.
This is the speech to which he's referring, Remarks by the President at the National Action Network's 16th Annual Convention 04/11/2014:

From the White House transcript:

Just as inequality feeds on injustice, opportunity requires justice. And justice requires the right to vote. (Applause.) President Johnson, right after he signed the Civil Rights Act into law, told his advisors -- some of whom were telling him, well, all right, just wait. You’ve done a big thing now; let’s let the dust settle, don’t stir folks up. He said, no, no, I can’t wait. We’ve got to press forward and pass the Voting Rights Act. Johnson said, “About this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” (Applause.)

Voting is a time when we all have an equal say -— black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. It doesn't matter. In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our democracy, we’re all supposed to have that equal right to cast our ballot to help determine the direction of our society.

The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo. You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore. But the stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.

Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote. In some places, women could be turned away from the polls just because they're registered under their maiden name but their driver’s license has their married name. Senior citizens who have been voting for decades may suddenly be told they can no longer vote until they can come up with the right ID.

In other places, folks may learn that without a document like a passport or a birth certificate, they can’t register. About 60 percent of Americans don’t have a passport. Just because you don’t have the money to travel abroad doesn't mean you shouldn’t be able to vote here at home. (Applause.) And just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t. (Laughter.) A lot of people don't. (Applause.) I think it’s still up on a website somewhere. (Laughter.) You remember that? That was crazy. That was some crazy stuff. (Laughter and applause.) I hadn't thought about that in a while. (Laughter.) [my emphasis]
Next comes the Bipartisan pitch: "Now, I want to be clear -- I am not against reasonable attempts to secure the ballot. We understand that there has to be rules in place." The segregationist propaganda used to justify the voter-suppression laws uses just this excuse: that in-person voter fraud, which in reality is about as close to being a non-existing problem as it could be, is actually a terrible problem that has to be solved by voter-suppression laws. Obama just can't seem to avoid using the Republican framing even when he's otherwise arguing effectively against a key Republican position. At least he follows it directly with, "But I am against requiring an ID that millions of Americans don't have. That shouldn't suddenly prevent you from exercising your right to vote. (Applause.)" And he does go on to explain what a crock the voter-fraud claim is.

The speech is a good one. But I have less enthusiasm for it than Coates seems to have. Because nobody doubts Obama's ability to give a good speech. It's the follow-through that's usually so weak. For me, the archetype of nice words followed by action (or lack thereof) that doesn't come close to matching the seriousness of his words was his weekly address after the Supreme Court handed down its plutocratic Citizens United decision: "This ruling strikes at our democracy itself," the President said. How many times have we ever heard a President to declare a problem that serious? "I can't think of anything more devastating to the public interest," he also said. This is while the Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress. But in that speech he also pleaded for a bipartisan solution. He made a half-hearted attempt to get on. And since then? What has he done to rally the public or get legislative against against that problem he said "strikes at our democracy itself," the problem of which he couldn't image "anything more devastating to the public interest"?

Well, he did talk about his bipartisan commission that made recommendations to address the concerns of Both Sides. And he had reassuring things like the following to say:

Voting is not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue. It’s an issue of citizenship. (Applause.) It’s what makes our democracy strong.

But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties -- it’s been led by the Republican Party. And in fairness, it’s not just Democrats who are concerned. You had one Republican state legislator point out -- and I’m quoting here -- “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.” (Laughter.) That was a pretty -- that’s a good insight. (Laughter.) Right? I want a competitive Republican Party, just like a competitive Democratic Party. That’s how our democracy is supposed to work -- the competition of ideas. But I don’t want folks changing the rules to try to restrict people’s access to the ballot. ...

But remember, just as injustice perpetuates inequality, justice opens up opportunity. And as infuriating as efforts to roll back hard-earned rights can be, the trajectory of our history has to give us hope. The story of America is a story of progress. No matter how often or how intensely that progress has been challenged, ultimately this nation has moved forward. As Dr. King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, [but] it bends towards justice." We move forward on civil rights and we move forward on workers’ rights, and we move forward on women’s rights and disability rights and gay rights. We show that when ordinary citizens come together to participate in this democracy we love, justice will not be denied. (Applause.) So the single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote. (Applause.)
We'll see over the next couple of years if he is more serious about voting rights than he was about undoing the Citizens United problem the Supreme Court created.

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Venezuela and the US

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

This piece by Tom Hayden on the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis is from nearly two months ago, but he has some observations that are worth keeping in mind in this situation, The Urgency of Venezuela Peace Exchange Bulletin 02/25/2014:

Call me naive, but I do not believe President Obama wants to see President Maduro overthrown. Chaos would follow. The US would be blamed. Relations with Latin America would freeze below zero. The president probably thinks Maduro should thrash in his own domestic contradictions.

But there's another US "government", a secret network that works tirelessly to undermine any Latin American threat to the dominance of American capital and military power. They understand that the president must be provided with "plausible deniability", and so they keep Obama out of the loop. Sometimes they operate through the CIA, sometimes under Republican-Democratic "democracy promotion" programs, sometimes through third parties. Democratic Party political consultants and pollsters have worked for Venezuela's opposition. It's difficult even for a president to keep a grip on it all. And that being the case, transparency disappears for the US Congress and public.
"Democracy promotion" sounds like something constructive, peaceful and even idealistic. But the more I hear about the current programs, the more I worry that some of them are cynical fronts for the cold power politics of "regime change" directed at governments, even duly elected government, that Washington for some reason finds inconvenient.

For instance, the EFE news agency is reporting on the formation of a new group that was announced in Miami, the Alianza Democrática Internacional (IDEA). El Informador 17.04.2014 and MSN Latino Noticias 04/15/2014 carry the report, both with the headline, "Crean alianza por lucha cívica en Venezuela, Cuba, Ucrania, Irán y Siria."

The group describes itself as "una iniciativa a favor de la 'resistencia cívica' y en defensa del respeto a los derechos humanos en Cuba, Venezuela, Ucrania, Irán y Siria" ("an initiative in favor of civic resistance and in defense of respect for human right in Cuba, Venezuela, Ukraine, Iran and Syria"). All countries currently in particular focus for US foreign policy, except for Cuba, which is a perennial topic of interest for rightwing Cuban and Cuban-Americans groups in Miami.

Last month I quoted from an article by Luis Bruschtein, Miami Página/12 22.02.2014 about the outsized influence that the opinions of the wealthiest in Latin America have on American reporting and opinion-making on Latin American affairs in particular, focusing on the anti-Castro refugees from Cuba who have played a significant role in US policy since the early 1960s.

Bruschtein frames the general attitude as follows (my translation):

[For the United States, any government that doesn't accept its {the US'} policies for the region is Communist, populist or some other "-ist" that can be invented. Or look at it this way: for Washington, it is undemocratic to be in disagreement with its interests, and consequently any attacks it inflicts on the disobedient one would be justified. This is not a theoretical or ideological elaboration, but the history of Latin America. It is known that Washington financed the truck drivers' strike against Salvador Allende in Chile and the Contra army in Nicaragua against the Sandinistas. The list is much longer in this history of wars provoked, of invasions and military coups, and even the murders of popular leaders, promoted, instigated or financed from the United States.]
He lists countries making up most of Southern America - Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela - as the countries in Latin America perceived currently by the United States to be deviating from the preferred neoliberal economic model. "Venezuela era el peor de todos" ("Venezuela was the worst of all"), he writes, due to its large oil reserves combined with its extreme maldistribution of income.

The EFE story notes that the formation of the IDEA group, with its focus on very disparate countries, was announced at a conference at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) of the University of Miami.

Tom Hayden also reminds us how human rights claims, even accurate ones, can be used for warmongering:

The American Congress and public are becoming used to street protests overthrowing elected governments regardless of the issue of national sovereignty. "Humanitarian intervention" in the affairs of other nations means willfully ignoring sovereignty where egregious human rights abuses are at stake and no negotiations are possible. The argument is somewhat attractive up to the point where it revives the Law of the Jungle. In the case of Venezuela, not only sovereignty but representative democracy are at stake, in a region which only recently began to shed the US-supported rule of oligarchs and generals.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 15: White racism new and old

Jonathan Simon posted about the current version two years ago, as manifested in Sanford FL, where Trayvon Martin was murdered, from , Whose Public Safety? Trayvon Martin and Neighborhood Watch Governing Through Crime 03/24/2012:

Considering the role of race in this encounter suggests the continuities and differences with the Jim Crow era. If mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow in Michelle Alexander’s formulation (See, Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, it is because it is a legal structure that is also a racial order but not because it carries the same beliefs or mentalities about race on an either conscious or unconscious basis. Zimmerman is unlikely to turn out to be some postmodern equivalent of Mississippi's Milam brothers who tortured and murdered 14 year old Emmet Till, an African American teen visiting his Misissippi family from Chicago in 1955 (the incident helped galvanize northern public opinion for federal enforcement of civil rights laws in the South in the year after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, read the Wikipedia article here).

Zimmerman, whoever he turns out to be, is more likely to reflect a new kind of law and order subject constituted by programs like Neighborhood Watch, and other cultural expressions[] of the war on crime, than the traditional racialized vigilante or racist neighborhood lynch mob member of the sort that afflicted Mississippi or even parts of Brooklyn and Queens as late as the 1980s. Till's banter with a married white woman in 1955 affronted the racialized Jim Crow honor code of the murderers. Zimmerman's lethal viiolence seems to have been activated by different set of nonetheless racialized codes which Trayvon traduced, one in which African American young men wearing hoodies are presumed to be cruising for criminal opportunities and should be prepared to perform their innocence visibly at all times (and not be distracted talking to their girlfriends). Zimmerman drove his SUV around his gated community, gun and cell phone at his side not to enforce a racial order in which miscegenation is the gravest moral breach (indeed he was the product of a mixed racial marriage), but to enforce a civil order anchored in fear of crime in which fitting a racialized risk profile is a breach that can cost a young man his life.
An older version, also as manifested in Sanford FL, from Dave Zirin, Jackie Robinson, Trayvon Martin and the Sad History of Sanford, Florida The Nation 03/23/2012:

... Sanford, Florida, does have its own history and it includes a collective moment of intolerance and bigotry that almost derailed the man Martin Luther King Jr. called "a freedom rider before freedom rides," Jackie Robinson.

Before Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he spent a season desegregating the minor leagues, playing for the Dodgers AAA team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals held Spring Training in Sanford.

Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, after so many years, thought he knew Florida. He believed that Robinson’s presence could go over if efforts were taken to ruffle as few feathers as possible. Robinson, on Rickey’s instructions, didn't try to stay at any Sanford hotels. He and his wife didn't eat out at any restaurants not deemed "Negro restaurants." He didn't even dress in the same locker room as his teammates.

Rickey thought that would be enough. He thought he knew Florida. But he didn't know Sanford.

As Jean West, a school teacher in Florida, wrote, "Branch Rickey had miscalculated the degree to which Jim Crow was entrenched in Sanford. As an example, an inanimate object, a second-hand piano, purchased in 1924 from the courthouse for use in a segregated school in nearby Oviedo, was filed as a 'Negro Piano' in the school board's record; living human beings challenging segregation certainly would not be tolerated."

It wasn't. The mayor of Sanford was confronted by what the author describes as a "large group of white residents" who "demanded that run out of town."

The Mayor caved. On March 5th, the Royals were informed that they would not be permitted to take the field as an integrated group. Rickey was concerned for Robinson’s life and sent him to stay in Daytona Beach. His daughter, Sharon Robinson, remembered, "The Robinsons were run out of Sanford, Florida, with threats of violence."
As Arlo Guthrie once put it, "Some things don't change, you know. Some things do."

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Background reports on Venezuela from "The Real News"

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

The Real News is running a series on Venezuela featuring commentary and analysis by Edgardo Lander, a professor of sociology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. These are the first four installments:

From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/8) 04/10/2014:

The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/8) 04/13/2014. This one talks about how Venezuela's status as a petrostate has shaped the country's internal politics for decades:

The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on RAI (3/8) 04/14/2014:

The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/8) 04/11/2014:


Good time for Greece to go the Argentina route?

Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times suggests it may be time for Greece to go the route Argentina did post-2001 and straight-up default on its debts, though he stops short of recommending that, This could be the moment for Greece to default 04/13/2014.

It has worked out exceptionally well for Argentina.

Greece is probably now close to the bottom of its economic slump, which started six years ago. Between 2008 and 2013 real GDP shrank by 23.5 per cent and investment by 58.4 per cent. The most recent labour force survey showed unemployment at 26.7 per cent in January. The rate of youth unemployment in 2013 stood at 60.4 per cent. Bank loans to businesses were down at an annual rate of 5.2 per cent in February. Non-performing loans have reached a level of 38 per cent of the total. Bank deposits are shrinking.

More shocking than those relative changes are statistics that put the data in perspective. Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek political economist, recently produced a long list, of which I found the following most striking: of 2.8m Greek households, 2.3m have tax debts they cannot service; pensions are the main source of income for 48.6 per cent of families; and 3.5m employed people have to support 4.7m unemployed or inactive people. The Greek economy is not in recession. Nor is it recovering. It has collapsed. [my emphasis]
Varoufakis explains some particular reasons why it's a problematic route for Greece to attempt in Greece’s Grand Decoupling, the Nuclear Option and an Alternative Strategy: A comment on Münchau 03/14/2014:

The Grand Greek Paradox of the day, meaning the impressive rise in the assets of a nation more bankrupt than ever, is neither that grand nor that much of a paradox. There is, indeed, a simple reason that international investors are piling in to buy some of the nation's paper assets (e.g. the freshly minted government bonds and shares in some banks), even though the country is economically kaput and its government is steeped in long-term insolvency more than ever. What’s this simple reason? The short-term decoupling of the value of paper assets from Greece's real economy. [emphasis in original]
The Eurointelligence Blog summarizes the discussion with Should Greece default? 04/15/2014. They also cite Klaus Kastner, Should Greece Default Now? Observing Greece 04/14/2014 and Greek debt scenarios: “Great stretch” or “time to default”? Keep Talking Greece 04/14/2014. The later speculates about whether there might be a German government push going on to tempt Greece into a default.

Varoufakis explains that he is in basic agreement with Münchau on Greece's current situation. Their difference are how to pursue the necessary confrontation with Angela Merkel's Grand Coalition government in Germany to get Greece out of the catastrophic austerity trap imposed by the Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies to which Merkel and her SPD coalition partners are current committed:

Wolfgang Münchau and I are in agreement on the current situation: Greece’s economy is kaput and the German New Bubble strategy for reviving the country is certain to produce decades of unnecessary misery. Moreover, Berlin and Frankfurt will never concede changes to this New Bubble until and unless Athens confronts them. The question is: What type should this confrontation take? Münchau considers the nuclear option of exiting the Eurozone. I submit that there are 'conventional' weapons that can do the trick of shifting Germany away from its current position of irrational intransigence. Or forcing Germany to take itself the political initiative of dismantling the Eurozone. In this sense, Greece has no reason to volunteer to take the blame for the common currency’s fragmentation as long as there are legitimate and legal moves with which to confront Berlin's and Frankfurt's intransigent position within the Eurozone.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

Political philosopher Ernesto Laclau (1935-2014)

An Argentine-born political theorist who taught for decades at the University of Essex just passed away suddently: Murió Ernesto Laclau Página/12 13.04.2014; Werner Pertot, El intelectual de los debates y los combates Página/12 14.04.2014.

Laclau was known as a "post-Marxist" theorist. Pertot calls him "una de las principales figuras de la teoría política argentina" ("one of the principal figures of Argentine political theory"). According to the earlier Página/12 article, one of the things for which he is particularly known is a reexamination of "populism" in which he revalues it as an important form of democratic expression.

The original Populists in the United States were definitely a left movement, crypto-socialists we might say, although the movement also sometimes had an anti-Semitic edge. Since then, "populism" in Europe has come to mean specifically rightwing demagoguery. And the more conservative parties in Latin America have tended to use it in a similar stigmatizing way, which has generally been echoed in American press and foreign policy discussions.

Here is an obituary report from TV Pública argentina, Visión 7: Murió Ernesto Laclau 14.04.2014:

This is a video of a presentation of his from last October: Laclau - "Política, corporaciones y construcción democrática" 03-10-13:

At just past 9:30 in this video, he says that what we have to do is "Latin-Americanize Europe."

At just after 15:00, he observes that the struggle against the media conglomerate Clarín is a "fundamental struggle."

After 16:45, he talks about a distinctions between "traditional intellectuals" and "organic intellectuals."

It includes a discussion of the not uncomplicated question of what Peronism is.

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Kidnapped Venezuelan journalist released unharmed

Nairobi Pinto is a senior journalist with the opposition-leaning Globovisión TV channel in Venezuela who was kidnapped on April 6 was released "safe and sound," according to Globovisión's message. ("Sana y salva" hallan periodista secuestrada en Venezuela La Opinión 14.04.2014)

The opposition feared that it was a political kidnapping by the government or government supporters. The Venezuelan government has not apprehended any suspects in the latest reports I've seen, but says they are giving the investigation high priority. (Rodríguez Torres: "No hemos querido especular sobre los motivos del secuestro" de Nairobi Pinto Panorama 14.04.2014) Pinto says she was kept blindfolded but treated well, not abused and given three meals a day. Being treated well, of course, is in the context of being kidnapped by strangers and held against her will.

This is a video report accompanying the Panorama article with the same title, Rodríguez Torres: "No hemos querido especular sobre los motivos del secuestro" de Nairobi Pinto 14.04.2014:

Here is a report from Venevisión on Pinto's release, Periodista Nairobi Pinto fue localizada sana y salva 14.04.2014:

The main opposition leader Henrique Capriles, Governor of the state of Miranda in which Pinto was released, complained that Nicolás Maduro's national government is playing politics with public security. (Gosh, who ever heard of a politician using crime as a political issue?) Capriles also griped that violence is getting worse all the time and said it's obvious that it's the fault of Maduro's government. Politics is politics. (Capriles espera que se conozca la verdad del caso de Pinto El Informador 14.04.2014)

See also: EN IMÁGENES Y VIDEO, la primera aparición pública de Nairobi Pinto tras ser liberada Panorama 14.04.2014

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Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 14: Jimmy Carter on white racism and politics

It's kind of amazing today that think that Jimmy Carter was considered such a conservative Democrat in 1976 and during his Administration that George McGovern and his whole family voted for Gerald Ford in the 1976 Presidential election.

David Daley's interview with former President Carter appears in "America as the No. 1 warmonger": President Jimmy Carter talks to Salon about race, cable news, "slut-shaming" and more 04/10/2014.

Carter has a lot of interesting things to say, including the comment about US foreign policy in the title.

And it includes this exchange:

[Salon:]You were elected governor and president as a white male Southern Democrat, which is a segment of the population that has deserted the Democratic Party. In some Southern states now it will be maybe 30 percent of white Southern males who back the Democrats. This is something your grandson Jason is dealing with now, certainly, as he runs for governor of Georgia. But why do you think this is? The economy only gets tougher, inequality only worsens, and the response of white men in the South is to back the party of the 1 percent. Is it race? Gender? Fear?

[Carter:] No, it’s race. It’s race. That’s been prevalent in the South, except for when I ran, I secured every Southern state except Virginia. Ever since Nixon ran — and ever since Johnson didn’t campaign in the deep South, the Republicans have solidified their hold there. And even this year, as you may know, the Republicans have put forward a proposal that we have a license plate made available in Georgia with a Confederate flag on it. Well, those kinds of things, the subtle things and the appeal to richer people, which is almost always white people, and the derogation of people that get food stamps and that sort of thing, which are quite often poor people. And the allegation that people who go to jail are just guilty people, when they’re mostly black people and Hispanics and mentally ill people. Those kind of things just exalt the higher class, which is the whites, and they draw a subtle, but very effective racial line throughout the South.
I guess Carter didn't get the memo that it's wicked to suggest that Republicans might be demagoguing with white racism.

I have to wonder if President Obama will ever in his life says such a thing, because that would certainly be un-Bipartisan.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 13:

Given what today's Republican Party has become, it seems like every month is Confederate "Heritage" Month these days.

Michael Tomasky takes on a Calhounian pronouncement from Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint What Plantation Is Jim DeMint Living On? Daily Beast 04.11.14. The DeMint statement in question is this:

Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately, there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves.
Tomasky says of this comment:

Please, I beg of you, don’t do DeMint the honor of thinking him merely stupid. He’s probably that, in some way. Certainly those sentences add up to a mountain of stupid, a Himalayan range of it. Yet at the same time, a statement this insane can’t be propelled merely by stupidity. A denial of reality this whole, this pure, requires, I think, some thought, some premeditation.
Tomasky's right. This kind of thought is typical neo-Confederacy: writing black people and the legacy of slavery out of American history and distorting the real history of the country to serve a present-day rightwing, segregationist ideology.

Tomasky does a useful unpacking of some of the silly thinking behind this:

How, as a radical conservative today, and especially a Southern one, and especially one from the state (South Carolina) that started the Civil War (first to advance nullification, first to secede, first shots fired), are you supposed to explain that war? And how are you supposed to explain slavery? Tough ones. If you ever visit any of those crackpot websites I look at sometimes, you've seen, for example, the commonly advanced idea that the Civil War wasn't really about slavery, it was about states' rights and economics and so on. I guarantee you that notion will show up pretty quickly in this very comment thread.

But that explains only the war’s beginning, not its end. I had not heard, until DeMint's comments here, their theory on the war’s end, and more deliciously on slavery’s. So it was "the conscience of the American people" that ended it. And the Constitution, which "kept calling us back to 'all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights.'" And William Wilberforce. But whatever it was, it wasn't "big government."
How does William Wilberforce (1759-1833), an antislavery British politician, get into this picture? Tomasky explains:

Finally, this Wilberforce business. They love Wilberforce, today’s rad-cons. He was a devout Christian, you see, and a conservative; and yet at the same time a stern abolitionist. What a useful combination! Invoking Wilberforce allows conservatives like DeMint to pretend that he, not Calhoun, is their moral lodestar and inspiration. It's somewhat problematic for them that while Wilberforce did indeed fight slavery, he did so in England, where he actually lived, not in America. And only up until 1833, when he died. Besides which the fiery abolitionists in America, William Lloyd Garrison and so forth, were quite religious too, but on the political left.
Christian Right star Eric Metaxas wrote a biography of him, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (2009). Metaxas was the choice of the Christian fundamentalist organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast chose him to be the main speaker at the 2012 event, where he got to pose as a prophetic voice scolding the Islamunist atheist President. (Prayer Breakfast speech 02/26/2012)

Republicans' language continues to show cultish signs, when leading lights of the Party like DeMint will make off-hand references to "people like Wilberforce" that are incomprehensible to a normal voter but are a "secret handshake" to the initiated.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Venezuela and Ukraine

Update; I neglected to include my usual opening quote on posts on Venezuela: "Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

TV Pública argentina has two current Spanish-language reports on events in the two countries where major "soft coup" attempts have been made in recent weeks, Venezuela and Ukraine.

Nuevos intentos separatistas en Ucrania 12.04.2014:

This report above includes reminders of how open the US support was for the protesters that successfully overturned the previous Ukrainian government, which was followed by the Russian takeover of the Crimea. It certainly appears now to have been a reckless gamble by the West.

Venezuela apuesta al diálogo 12.04.2014:

That report also includes a segment about the new diplomatic protest by Argentina over British military exercises in the Malvinas Islands current held by Britain, aka, the Falkland Islands.

Internal conflict continues in Ukraine, with external pressure from Russia. Pavel Polityuk and Thomas Grove report in Ukraine prepares armed response as city seized by pro-Russia forces Reuters 04/12/2014:

Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slaviansk, a town about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border, and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city.

In Kramatorsk, some 80 km (50 miles) to the north, gunmen seized the police station after a shootout with police, a Reuters witness said.

Government buildings in several other towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions were attacked in what Washington said were moves reminiscent of the events that preceded Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Formal talks started on Friday between the Venzuelan government of Nicolás Maduro and major opposition figures. (Naciones Unidas celebra el diálogo en Venezuela Página/12 12.04.2014) The TV Pública argentina report above shows the chief opposition leader and Governor of the state of Miranda Henrique Capriles, who has kept a public distance from the far-right demand for immediate "regime change," criticizing the government's proceeding against the radical opposition. Far-right leader María Corina Machado did not participate in the talks. The other major far-right leader calling for immediate change, Leopoldo López, remains in jail.

Machado reaffirmed the far right's intention to continue their protests while accusing Maduro's government of "brutal repression." (María Corina Machado: No hay represión que pueda contra nuestra determinación a protestar pacíficamente Panorama 12.04.2014

In Miami, supporters of the Venezuelan opposition also marched on Saturday. (Venezolanos en EEUU honraron a "caídos" en protestas Últimas Noticias 12.04.2014) The protest was sponsored by the Venezuela Awareness Foundation (VAF), whose executive director Patricia Andrade has resided in the US for over 25 years.

The Tampa Tribune carries an AP wire report under the title Venezuelans hold 5K in Miami to support protesters 4/12/2014 that notes, "Miami is home to the largest concentration of Venezuelans in the United States. Most are strongly against the government of President Nicolas Maduro."

Mark Weisbrot in Human Rights Watch Should Stick to the Facts on Venezuela CEPR Americas Blog 04/10/2014 discussing the sloppy reporting in US media on the press in Venezuela. See also his post Does Venezuelan Television Provide Coverage That Opposes the Government? 02/24/2014.

Here is a news roundup from Saturday from the opposition-oriented Venevisión, El Imparcial Noticiero Venevisión sábado 12 de abril de 2014-8:00 pm:

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Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 12: White liberals expecting (false?) hope of black intellectuals

The Jonathan Chait/Ta-Nehisi Coates discussion over white racism is providing a steady stream of commentary on the kind of issues this Confederate "Heritage" Month series of posts is addressing.

One contribution to that discussion comes from Tressie McMillan Cottom in A Nasty Piece of Cornbread: Chait, Coates, and White Progressivism Tressiemc 03/30/3014. She writes about how the long tadition of American white liberals scolding balck writers and intellectuals for being fatalistic in the sense of lacking hope for improvement. Which criticism can and often does become a way of scolding African-Americans for articulating anger over the conditions of white supremacy and the real effects of white racism in the US. This fits nicely with the theme of my previous post in this series about George Jackson and the militant prison movement for which he became emblematic.

Cottom writes:

This is a turn so common in the long history of black intellectuals and white publics as to be mundane. Black anger about white violence, white racism, and the veneer of white civility is acceptable to white liberals only when it is in service to their role as caretaker. It is a role that requires the illusion of hope. Without a hopeful angry ward, Mr. Drummond [a character from the TV series Diff'rent Strokes] is just some weird dude keeping his black adopted sons in a gilded cage. Hope is what transforms the relationship into a cause, a movement, a penance.

Of course, requiring hope is not functionally different from requiring drug tests for public welfare (when you are one of the publics, no less) or requiring women wear long johns to be justifiably victimized by a rapist or being told to bide your time as the majority catches up to the idea of your humanity. [my emphasis]
Here we have to make a meaningful distinction between anger as an individual phenomenon and anger as a response to real social conditions. Or, to put it another way, between anger as a tactical matter and anger as a strategic response.

Anger that dissipates itself as petty criminal violence or personal self-destruction is a different thing than anger sublimated and channeled into action against real injustices and real grievances.

For people in genuinely desperate situations, the range between the two may be relatively small. For white people in the United States in 2014, there is considerably more room in day-to-day life to avoid confronting the reality of white racism as a problem than it is for non-whites. So it easier for whites to counsel African-Americans to practice patience and the avoidance of (strategic) anger when it comes to dealing with civil rights/voting rights/white racism. Which is very often a way of counseling them to not consider it a real problem.

In an earlier post this month, I quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":

You spoke of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation, and a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and at points they profit from segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by the contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man in an incurable "devil."
The Nation of Islam, to which he refers there, was publicly denouncing King's nonviolent activism as a sell-out to the White Devil. But King was practicing nonviolent activism, confronting white racism and expressing, yes, anger and outrage at white racist practices. He wasn't telling his followers not to be angry. He also wasn't simply telling people not to let their anger lead them to political violence. He was telling people to take their anger and do something constructive about the problems that they were justifiably angry about.

Cottom continues:

I said on Twitter that I cannot recall a single black intellectual that was not condemned by white liberals for their paucity of hope. DuBois was crazy for embracing communism when empirically it would be crazy to have embraced his America where Ida B Wells was documenting the regularity of black lynchings. Crazy, he was, for not having hope in the face of those empirics!

Paul Robeson was consistently the smartest person in any room he inhabited. When his nation recalled his citizenship he made a powerful case for the benefits of socialism. He may be remembered today as a black history month milestone in the sanitized march of America’s progress, but at the time his sanity was questioned. What could be wrong with that brilliant, ostracized, stifled black genius that a little hope wouldn't cure?

And do not even get me started on the women who are not only crazy for questioning the white man’s hope but who are crazy by function of their biological penchant for hysterics. The relatively privileged Mary Church Terrell had an education few blacks of any gender had at the time. But she had to fight first her father’s dismay at her wasting her lady breeding to pursue formal education. She went on to do just that, making friends with powerful white women in the suffrage movement only to have them warn her to not make her speeches too "harsh". Harsh isn't hopeful.
America's Story gives this brief sketch of Mary Church Terrell:

In 1898, Mary Church Terrell wrote how African-American women "with ambition and aspiration [are] handicapped on account of their sex, but they are everywhere baffled and mocked on account of their race." She fought for equality through social and educational reform. Born on September 23, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee, Terrell became an educator, political activist, and the first president of the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell understood the value of education.
Cottom makes the following observation which is troubling in the best kind of way:

And hope is integral to the greater project of white paternalism and black intellectual products. To be recognized, rewarded, disseminated, or sustainable black intellectualism must perpetuate the fervent epistemology of American progress. This epistemological frame is so rigid, so deeply rooted in the psyche of the majority culture that it turns good thinkers into circular logic jerks. It must be defended at all costs to reason or argument even when reasonable arguments are offered up in compliance with the rules set forth by the epistemology! [my emphasis]
My reading of what Cottom is saying here is that the predominant white expectation - even among liberals/progressives - is that African-Americans are required to profess hope even if it means professing false hope.

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Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 11: George Jackson

(Posting a day late.) After having posted about Black Power the other day, this article that recently came to my attention seems like a good supplement: Craig Marine, EXIT THE DRAGON/It's been 30 years since George Jackson died in a pool of blood at San Quentin. His death still reverberates in America SFGate/The Chronicle Magazine 08/19/2001. It's a somewhat sensationalist but still informative report on an iconic figure of the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s.

Prison has been and continues to be used in the United States disproportionately against African-Americans. Just as today the absurdly disproportionately high rates of imprisonment of young black men is a significant issue in voting rights, so the civil rights movement in the 1960s brought a new focus to prison issues and their affect on African-Americans.

The Nation of Islam, whose most famous spokesperson was Malcolm X, gave a particular emphasis to prison recruitment, which is how Malcolm became a Muslim and a part of the group. (He left the group after becoming more acquainted with mainstream Islam; the Nation of Islam's explicit racism made it an heretical sect in most Muslims' eyes.)

George Jackson was a young black man who became radicalized in San Quentin prison. California at that time had a sentencing law calling "indeterminate sentencing," which gave judges and prison officials enormous discretion over how long a prisoner could be held. It was originally instituted as a prison reform policy, but turned into a terribly abusive practice in case like Jackson's. As Marine notes, at the time of his death, Jackson "had spent 10 years in prison - seven of them in solitary confinement - for stealing $70.20."

Jackson was killed on August 21, 1971, in an escape attempt from San Quentin prison.

Marine writes:

But most significantly, George Jackson, and the death of George Jackson at the age of 29, affects every citizen to this day because he was, more than any other person, most responsible for the politicization of the incarcerated. Even today, with the obscene percentage of minorities that are jailed in relation to their white counterparts, it remains true that for many, their only real education comes behind bars. And when they re-enter society - yes, America, some of these people actually do get out - they are changed: educated, politically aware and, understandably, very, very angry.
Marine's version of George Jackson's political education/self-education is more-or-less contemptuous, but gives a basic concept:

Jackson soaked it all up, watched and read as the New Left emerged, embracing whatever bastardized version of Marxism, Leninism and/or Maoism was in vogue that week. Unlike those concerned more about fashion than substance, Jackson went to the source material, negotiating through the less-than-scintillating, if illuminating, works of the great political theorists themselves.

Then, George Jackson added his own twist on the Revolution. Just as Lenin had goosed Marx by figuring a vanguard can manipulate the science of communism, and Mao altered the status quo by using peasants as opposed to workers to lead his revolution, Jackson's idea was that it was America's prisoners who would be the vanguard, the driving force, of the revolution.
George Jackson was a member of the Black Panthers, whose perspective had also been shaped by the prison experience of leaders like Eldridge Cleaver.

George Jackson's case also made philosophy professor Angela Davis famous, or infamous, depending on one's perspective. She was tried and acquitted on charges of having assisted a desperate attempt by George's younger brother Jonathan to free George. As Marine recounts:

Those who may make the association between Jackson's name and the revolutionary struggle of the late 1960s and early 1970s often think of him as the man holding onto the end of a shotgun that was taped around the neck of a terrified judge - an image forever frozen in time in one of the most famous news photographs in history. That was James McClain, freed (briefly) by George's 17-year-old brother, Jonathan, who smuggled guns into a Marin County courtroom in an ill-fated attempt to trade hostages for his older brother.
He quotes Davis in his 2001 article on George Jackson's death:

"George Jackson was murdered," said Angela Davis, now 57, and teaching in Santa Cruz, as she expressed a commonly held belief about what may have happened 30 years ago. "But it's the classic story: you can kill the man, but you can't kill the ideas."

Stripped of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist theories that adorned much of his writing, what Jackson did that was perceived as so incredibly dangerous was teach.

"He broke down the structures of the prison gangs as they were organized at the time and re-built them around politics instead of petty criminal activities such as loan-sharking and extortion," said Davis, a former Communist Party member whose love for Jackson, as expressed in the couples' correspondence, was used unsuccessfully by prosecutors in an attempt to provide motivation for what they said was her part in the Marin County courthouse bloodshed that left four dead. Tried for murder, Davis was acquitted.

"The last thing those in power wanted was an organized underclass, ready to fight for revolution," said Davis. "George tried to teach anyone who would listen, regardless of race, that The Man wanted division, wanted prisoners at each others' throats. He scared people to death, as well he should have."
The History Is A Weapon website provides the text online of George Jackson's 1970 Soledad Brother. The same site has the text of an interview with him, Remembering the Real Dragon- An Interview with George Jackson May 16 and June 29, 1971.

Bob Dylan did a song commemorating him, "George Jackson," which Joan Baez covers in this version:

George Jackson was a charismatic figure whose words and militant resistance resonated with many who felt some of the genuine desperation that someone in his position must have felt. It's easy enough to pick out passages from the linked material from him that sound simplistic and narrow. But then he was working in the toughest kind of environment against what were unquestionable overwhelming odds. One doesn't have to idolize him or approve of the execution of the prison guards described in Craig Marine's article to recognize that the anger, despair and radical rejection of peaceful and legal methods of fighting white racism and the institutions that sustained it did resonate with a non-trivial number of African-Americans circa 1970.

And it resonates in negative sense perhaps even more heavily today with the aging whites who take FOX News to be an actual news source. Take, for instance, this one paragraph from the interview linked above in which Jackson says:

You know, guerrilla war is not simply a matter of tactics and technique. It's not just questions of hit-and-run or terrorism. It's a matter of proving to the established order that it simply can't sustain itself, that there is no possible way for them to win by utilizing the means of force available to them. We have to prove that wars are won by human beings, and not by mechanical devices. We've got to show that in the end they can't resist us. And we will! We're going to do it. There's never going to ever be a moment's peace for anyone associated with the establishment any place where I'm at, or where any of my comrades are at. But we're going to need coordination, we're going to need help. And right now, that help should come in the form of education. It's critical to teach the people out there how important it is to destroy the function of the prison within the society. That, and to show them in concrete terms that the war is on - right now! - and that in that sense we really aren't any different than the Vietnamese, or the Cubans, or the Algerians, or any of the other revolutionary peoples of the world.
This is how a lot of Republicans think of Barack Obama, who is routinely described on websites and broadcasts and e-mail chain letters that are generally regarded by Republicans as sensible (if a bit edgy) as an America-hating Kenyan Communist Nazi Marxist Islamist atheist anticolonialist extremist.

A large portion of the Republican Party base, which means a significant number of American whites generally, are stuck in 1969, their fears haunted by images of guys like George Jackson, an army of ghosts waiting to leap out at them from any black person they encounter. Included the President of the United States.

And who says Americans have no sense of history?

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Friday, April 11, 2014

This week's chapter in the reckoning for torture crimes

The torture crimes aren't going away. The implications of the full-blown torture program instituted by the United States under the Cheney-Bush Administration - a program whose greatest public support in polls was among those who identified with the Christian Right - are just too far-reaching.

The reckoning is taking place in fits and starts and without the prosecutions that the Obama Administration was and is bound under the Torture Convention to pursue. (So was the Cheney Administration, for that matter.)

The conclusions of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA's part in the torture crimes have been leaked. The Booman Tribune provides the bullet-points (Senate Intel Committee's Findings on Torture Leak 04/11/2014) direct from the leaked text:

  • The CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques did not effectively assist the agency in acquiring intelligence or in gaining cooperation from detainees.
  • The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.
  • The CIA subjected detainees to interrogation techniques that had not been approved by the Department of Justice or had not been authorized by CIA Headquarters.
  • The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention.
  • The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.
  • The CIA inaccurately characterized the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques to justify their use.
  • The CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.
  • The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the agency communicated to policymakers.
  • The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.
  • The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
  • The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of Inspector General.
  • Numerous internal critiques and objections concerning the CIA’s management and use of the Detention and Interrogation were ignored.
  • The CIA manipulated the media by coordinating the release of classified information, which inaccurately portrayed the effectiveness of the agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques.
  • The CIA was unprepared as it began operating its Detention and Interrogation Program more than six months after being granted detention authorities.
  • The way in which the CIA operated and managed the program complicated, and in some cases hindered the national security missions of other Executive Branch agencies.
  • Management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program was deeply flawed throughout its duration, particularly so in 2002 and 2003.
  • Two contract psychologists devised the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and were central figures in the program’s operation.
  • By 2005, the CIA had overwhelmingly outsourced operations related to the program. The effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation techniques was not sufficiently evaluated by the CIA.
  • CIA personnel who were responsible for serious violations, inappropriate behavior, or management failures in the program’s operation were seldom reprimanded or held accountable by the agency.
  • The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program ended by 2006 due to legal and oversight concerns, unauthorized press disclosures and reduced cooperation from other nations.
  • The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ global reputation, and came with heavy costs, both monetary and nonmonetary.
If the Obama Administration continues its previous practice, they will aggressively seek to hunt down, prosecute and imprison whoever leaked this report and continue to waive any attempt at prosecuting the torture perpetrators themselves.

Charlies Pierce weighs in with Now We Know What's Being Done In Our Name Esquire Politics Blog 04/11/2014:

It is further evidence that nothing said by the heroes of our all-too-human, but curiously error-prone surveillance state about their activities can be trusted. Nothing. Ever. They lie for a living because their mission is a messianic one. They are contemptuous of democratic institutions, democratic norms, and any democratic spirit abroad in the people who pay their salaries and in whose name they carried out their crimes. If that skepticism is the most lasting result, that will be a good thing.
McClatchy's team of Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay and Marisa Taylor report on the leaked report in CIA’s use of harsh interrogation went beyond legal authority, Senate report says 04/11/2014:

The report has been embroiled in a public furor since Feinstein, D-Calif., took to the Senate floor last month to accuse the CIA of possibly violating the law and the Constitution by monitoring computers used by her staff to assemble the report, and by removing and blocking access to documents.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, launched a criminal investigation at the CIA’s request into the alleged unauthorized removal of classified documents by Democratic committee staffers from the top-secret facility where they were required to review more than 6 million pages of operational emails and other documents related to the interrogation program.

Some current and former U.S. officials and military commanders, numerous experts and foreign governments have condemned the harsh interrogation methods as violations of international and U.S. laws against torture, a charge denied by the CIA and the Bush administration.
The leaked oversight report describes the CIA's horrible record on torture. And its findings are also an implicit indictment of the deeply irresponsible approach of President Obama and his Administration to prosecute these very serious crimes as they are obligated to do under the Torture Convention.

It's important to keep in mind that it was not only the CIA but our glorious generals in our sacred military who also participating in and facilitated torture. The just-leaked report discussed above is about the CIA's torture crimes, not about the military's. One reminder of the latter's role comes in this dossier from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) dossier on Geoffrey Miller, the one-time commander of the Guantánamo station of the Bush Gulag (Al Gore's term) who played a leading role in exporting the torture practices from Guantánamo to Abu Ghuraib. The dossier concludes:

The information above demonstrates that Geoffrey Miller bears individual criminal responsibility for the war crimes and acts of torture inflicted on detainees in U.S. custody at Guantánamo and in Iraq. Based on his position as a commander, Miller is responsible for the acts he authorized, commanded or directed his subordinates to commit, as well as for the acts of his subordinates which he failed to prevent or punish. Based on his leadership position and involvement in developing, authorizing and implementing interrogation policies, Miller can also be held responsible as a member of a joint criminal enterprise for his involvement in the torture of detainees in U.S. custody, or, alternatively, for aiding and abetting torture and other war crimes.
See also: Jason Leopold, Revealed: Senate Report Contains New Details on CIA Black Sites Aljazeera America 04/09/2014; Peter Foster, CIA use of torture 'far worse' than admitted, says leaked Senate report Telegraph 04/11/2014

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Venezuela and Ukraine and the US

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

The crisis in Ukraine has coincided in time with the latest militant attempt by the Venezuelan opposition to overthrow the elected government there. Ukraine's Russia-friendly government was elected but was engaged in major repression, much more significantly so than what appears to be happening in Venezuela. But it was overthrown in what the left governments in Latin America have taken to calling a "soft coup."

Financial Times Latin America editor, John Paul Rathbone noted the similarities a couple of weeks into the Venezuela protests (Venezuela as Ukraine? 02/24/2014):

Just because Venezuela lacks Ukraine’s immediate geo-political heft – there are no borders in question in Venezuela; Europe’s energy security is not under threat; nor is the reach of Russia’s power or Vladimir Putin’s reputation – does not mean it lacks wider significance.

Caracas provides important economic assistance to Havana, without which Cuba’s economy would sink. Communist Cuba therefore has a vested interest in what happens in Venezuela, just as Russia does in Ukraine – a situation ripe for Cold War style comparisons.

In Venezuela, as in Ukraine, the confrontation also has deep roots that stretch back several years.
Jake Johnston recently wrote at the CEPR Americas Blog about The "Cubanization" of U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela 03/26/2014:

Venezuelan opposition politicians and their allies in the U.S. frequently decry Cuba’s alleged influence on the Venezuelan government. Ironically however, there seems to be an important and growing nexus between the Venezuelan opposition and the anti-Cuba lobby in the U.S. Cuban-American lawmakers recently introduced sanctions legislation targeting Venezuelan officials that appears to be designed to push U.S. policy toward Venezuela in the same direction as policy toward Cuba. ...

The Venezuela protests have "energized" members of Cuba’s opposition, reports the Times. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, an anti-Castro blogger in the U.S., told the Times, “The fate of Castro-ism may be at play in Venezuela…What we were not able to topple in Cuba, we may be able to topple there.”

Yet despite near constant claims from the Venezuelan opposition that Cuba is in control of their country (for instance, when it was announced that [far-right] Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado [who calls for immediate "regime change"] would be investigated and possibly stripped of her position, she responded that “It’s clear to me that it was the Castro brothers who gave the order”), the Times notes that:

Such convictions are held by critics in both countries, although they offer little hard evidence to back their suspicions. And while some former Venezuelan military officers say that Cubans are involved in decision-making in the armed forces, some protesters go further, professing to see what they call “the hairy hand” of Cuba everywhere: saying they have detected Cuban “infiltrators” at street protests; seeing a Cuban hallmark in the tactics of Venezuela’s armed forces; and circulating unsubstantiated Internet reports that Cuban special forces, or Black Wasps, are operating in Venezuela.
The New York Times report he's quoting there is Protesting in Venezuela, With Antipathy Toward Cuba’s Government by 03/25/2014.

The Obama Administration has been openly sympathizing with the opposition but not overtly pushing for regime change. Josh Goodman reports in Venezuela's opposition to meet with government Tampa Bay Tribune 04/09/2014:

The U.S., which has sided with the opposition in criticizing Maduro's crackdown on the protests and jailing of critics, says it is supporting efforts to bring about dialogue.

Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry pushed back against calls by Florida Republican Marco Rubio that the U.S. impose sanctions against the Maduro government for alleged human rights abuses, saying that with negotiations a possibility, now isn't the time for taking a tougher stance.

"This is a very delicate time," Kerry said. "I don't want to do something today that provides cannon fodder for them to use against me or us."
("Cannon fodder" seems an odd metaphor in that context.)

The Ukraine crisis has gotten our US punditocracy all excited, and not just US pundits. Arms manufacturers looking for higher sales and military services looking to boost budgets not doubt see new opportunities in the Ukraine/Crimea situation. Pavel Podvig noted at the end of last month (What the Crimea crisis will do to US-Russia relations Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 03/27/2014), "Even if the situation does not deteriorate further, bringing basic trust and confidence back to relations between Russia and the West will take a very long time." He notes some positive signs on arms-control issues:

The change may not be very visible at first, mainly because key elements of the arms control and disarmament infrastructure have remained intact. When some news reports suggested that Russia may suspend inspection activities under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in response to sanctions imposed by the West, the Kremlin quickly made a statement saying that it has no intention of reneging on its arms control obligations. Indeed, Moscow has made an effort to demonstrate its commitment to transparency in the military domain: On March 11, it allowed a series of Ukrainian overflights under the Open Skies Treaty. It also granted Ukraine’s request to conduct an inspection of a “non-declared military activity” in a border region. This kind of inspection is allowed under the 2011 Vienna Document, which built a framework for transparency on conventional forces in Europe.

New START activities were also unaffected—during these tense weeks, Russia duly notified the United States of the routine test launch of a ballistic missile, and conducted an inspection of the US strategic nuclear arsenal as called for under New START.
While this is a vital interest of both countries to avoid nuclear war, it's a more pressing one for Russia as the weaker power.

On the arms business front:

The West, however, does not seem inclined to treat Crimea as an isolated incident, so cooperation will probably suffer across the board, even though Russian participation is indispensable to a number of high-profile projects. For example, Moscow’s Soyuz rocket is currently the only way to take people to the International Space Station. The United States has been working on its own piloted spacecraft for some time, and we can now expect this work to accelerate.

Russia’s contract to supply RD-180 rocket engines could also suffer. This was a very valuable, commercially viable project in which Russia provided engines for most of the US military’s rocket launches. Now production is likely to move to the United States, and the US Air Force will be looking for alternative ways to launch its payloads. Termination of the RD-180 project would be a serious setback for US-Russian cooperation. Plus, the Russian producer of the engines, Energomash, would lose about 60 percent of its revenue, and the United States would have to spend about $1 billion to start production.
For some companies, a "new Cold War" would be good bitness. file that in the "everything old is new again" category.

But Ukraine is not part of NATO. NATO has no treaty obligation to defend it and has not tailored its military deployments to include war over Ukraine. For that matter, one question raised by the crisis is how seriously the US and other NATO countries thought through the real implications of the extended NATO commitments taken since the Cold War, particular those in the Baltic nations. More bitness opportunities for the weapons companies!

And one effect of the crisis has been to make a wider audience more mindful of issues in US-NATO-Russian relationships that close observers have been noticing for years but that our mainstream media, especially TV, have been too busy chasing Kardashians and missing planes to much notice. Paul Pillar talks about how the Russians more-or-less inevitably had to view NATO expansion (US Triumphalism and the Ukraine Mess Consortium News 04/05/2014):

The expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe broke a promise that the United States had made to Mikhail Gorbachev and that was part of a package of understandings facilitating the peaceful reunification of Germany. Breaking the promise was probably in part the arrogance associated with being the remaining superpower and feeling untroubled about the keeping of commitments.

It also reflected a general American tendency, amid one-sided focus on the credibility of threats, to overlook how the making of promises and commitments is a useful diplomatic tool. Breaking promises weakens the tool. Holding one’s own side accountable for fulfilling promises is important for the same reason that the right to be sued, and not just to sue, is an important civil right domestically; it is the right to be able to make an enforceable promise.
This is an important consideration. In typical US public discussions of "credibility," it's more often than not cast in more-or-less testosterone contest terms: who's showing "toughness" and "resolve."

The idea that being consistent in restraint does not sit well with the triumphalist approach that dominates US foreign-policy discussion. This in mind mind is the single most significant problem with the Obama Administration's intervention in the Libyan civil war. Muammar al-Gaddafi was not anyone's idea of a nice man nor was his government an admirable one. But Gaddafi voluntarily gave up his "weapons of mass destruction" programs at US demand. The Cheney-Bush Administration touted that (misleadingly) as the result of their Iraq War. But he gave up his nuclear weapons program. What lesson can other governments take from that? Pretty much only that if they cooperate with the US on arms control, they leave themselves vulnerable to being overthrown with active participation of the US.

Pillar also notes a far from negligible piece of US policy:

Another aspect of the typically Manichean way in which Americans tend to look at international politics is that there has to be a foe — something or somebody against whom the United States leads the forces of freedom and light. Once 9/11 came along there were Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda, but terrorist groups never make as good a foe as a state. Besides, the eastward expansion of NATO was already under way before 9/11. [my emphasis]
And besides freedom and goodness, there are also those sweet, sweet weapons deals to be done. Missiles to be sold, bombs to be dropped and replaced. The bitness of American is bitness, as we know from the wisdom of Calvin Coolidge.

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