All Hands on Deck: The West Virginia Teachers’ Strike

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Jane McAlevey / Socialist Project.

Dignity and respect are the root cause of every serious labor struggle. This was certainly the case in West Virginia’s unprecedented nine-day statewide education strike. When the workers won this past Tuesday, singing and dancing erupted among the thousands who packed the state capitol. Their final chant before leaving the building was, “Who made history? We made history!”

The strike produced a string of significant victories, not all of which are immediately tangible. Perhaps most significantly, it restored the dignity of 34,000 workers, rebuilding the pride of West Virginia’s working class and reinforcing one hell of a union that will carry the struggle forward.

This point seemed lost on much of the media that covered the strike. No matter how many times workers talked about defending public education and expanding quality schools, the press focused on just two issues: health insurance and a raise. But Wendy Peters, the president of the Raleigh affiliate of the West Virginia Education Association, says, “Wages and health benefits were almost a distraction. They are important, but there were five major stances we took, and we won all five.”

Fighting for Quality Education

These included defeating an expansion of charter schools, killing a proposal to eliminate seniority, and scuttling a paycheck-protection bill (aimed at weakening unions by taking away their right to deduct union dues through payroll collection), as well as a mechanism to fix the health-insurance crisis and a raise big enough to matter.

According to Peters, “Each one of the bills that would undermine the education of our kids by attacking teachers were being voted on in committees and making their way to passage. We were getting pounded on here by a majority of Republicans in both houses.”

Peters, who has a master’s degree and years of experience, adds, “Their bill on seniority would have let them replace me with someone unqualified to give a good education to our kids. I have a 5-year-old son and I am fighting for him to get a quality education.”

Respect and dignity were also front and center in the health-insurance issue. In the 2017 legislative session, the state legislature passed SB 221, which shrank the board that governed the Public Employees Insurance Agency from 10 to eight members and removed a requirement that organized labor have a seat on the board. Later that year, the board proposed the implementation of Go365, an app that requires workers to wear devices like FitBit that submit tracking data. Workers that refused would face increased healthcare costs. Peters notes, “It was a complete, total invasion of our privacy.”

In addition, health insurance rates would have been based on a new calculation that based premiums on total family income, not an individual worker’s income. “By adding my husband, I was facing a $200-a-month increase,” says Peters, “so when Governor Jim Justice offered a 1 per cent pay raise in January, people had had enough.” The indignities kept rolling in, including the governor’s calling teachers “dumb bunnies” at a town hall in Logan County in early February.

All Hands on Deck – for the Strike

From the very first day of the strike, the unions shut down every public school in the state, with 34,000 workers out. As the strike rolled on, a steady stream of thousands protested at the state capitol – many wearing bunny ears – while others staffed picket lines around their schools. At the same time, the parents of over 270,000 kids simultaneously supported the strikers, while scrambling to find places for their kids to stay. On Tuesday, February 27, the governor sat down and hammered out an agreement.

“We won on all five stances – everything – which is pretty incredible” says Peters.

The settlement includes a commitment by the governor to veto all the anti-union legislation and a 5 per cent teacher-pay raise. The unions also won the creation of a task force on healthcare that guarantees organized-labor seats at the table. Each of the three striking unions – AFT-West Virginia, WV Education Association, and WV School Service Personnel Association – will appoint a member, essentially restoring workers’ right to govern their own healthcare. The healthcare task force must have its first meeting by March 13 and issue its final report before December 2018. According to Jay O’Neal, a key rank-and-file teacher leader in the strike, “Most important, we made it so thousands of eyes will be watching everything the task force does.”

Defeating a raft of anti-union legislation in a right-to-work state as oral arguments are given in the Janus case at the Supreme Court would alone have been huge wins. But to top it off with a structured process to resolve the healthcare crisis, a freeze on the proposed financial increases in the plan, a reversal on the privacy-invading app and a pay raise huge by state standards – that’s breathtaking. The win was so big that, almost immediately, the right wing set out to upend the settlement and make the outcome seem more like the Wisconsin uprising: total defeat.

Within hours of the settlement announcement, State Senate President Mitch Carmichael announced that the Senate didn’t plan to approve it. West Virginia station WSAZ reported that “Carmichael speculated that as many as 22 Republicans in the 34-member Senate will oppose Governor Justice’s plan.” Wednesday was to be a cooling-off period, with everyone returning to classrooms the next day. But instead, rolling strike votes began spreading across the state, in all 55 counties, with workers electing to defy their leaders and continue the strike until the deal got voted on and signed into law by the governor.

Gary Price, the superintendent of Marion County Schools, recalls the moment when he heard that “our little elementary schools – you know how elementary-school teachers all are very nurturing, all very kind – that they voted 100 per cent not to return.” It was then that he realized that the whole state was in trouble. “The crisis really escalated because we went from having one work stoppage to having 55 work stoppages in 55 counties…. It was something that was out of control at that point,” said Price.

“The crisis really escalated because we went from having one work stoppage to having 55 work stoppages in 55 counties”

By Friday, Price had gathered all superintendents across the state for a meeting in the capitol with Carmichael. Their message to him was, “This strike will not end until the package is voted on and signed by the governor.” Price says he believes that it was “critical when we [the superintendents] put our thumb on the scale.” But he is clear that their message was strong precisely because the education unions had created a serious crisis.

Despite the unions’ wins on all five of their demands, much of the media failed to grasp the magnitude of this victory. Headlines suggest the workers won by sacrificing the very people they went on strike for: the West Virginia working class.

According to Emily Comers, a 27-year-old teacher in her third year of teaching Spanish, the raises will not be paid with cuts to Medicaid. She says the plans on the part of the teachers and the service personnel are to win corporate-tax increases to pay for the long-term fix in the healthcare plan. Comers notes, “Our message from day one has been for a reversal of corporate tax breaks. We want to raise the gas-severance tax. People were chanting this in the capital for two weeks. It has been what we wanted from the beginning, and it’s what we plan to win.”

The teachers understood that to win, to not go down in the record books as another huge defeat, they had to stay on strike and escalate the crisis. They could not have achieved the victory without having the community firmly on their side. Educators, like healthcare workers, have an incredibly powerful, organic relationship with their communities – relationships so strong they are durable against sophisticated right-wing attacks. The solidarity built in West Virginia was built in a strike that united the state against the power structure. The sooner the progressive movement understands that, to save our democracy, people must rebuild robust unions – that means a strong embrace of teachers and education and public-service workers – the sooner we all start winning. •

Jane McAlevey is an organizer, negotiator, writer and scholar. She is the author of two books, No Shortcuts, Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (Oxford 2016) and Raising Expectations and Raising Hell (Verso 2012).

Turkey’s Privatization of Sugar Factories

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Kubilay Cenk / Socialist Project.

On February 21, a notice was released in Turkey’s Official Gazette (Resmi Gazete) stating that bids will be collected for Turkey’s state-owned fourteen sugar plants. According to Directorate of Privatization Administration’s (OIB) announcement, sugar plants in the provinces of Afyon, Alpullu, Bor, Burdur, Çorum, Elbistan, Erzincan, Erzurum, Ilgın, Kastamonu, Kırşehir, Muş, Turhal and Yozgat will be privatized. The Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP – Justice and Development Party) government, which has looted and made benefits of public-enterprises available to both national and international capital, seeks new privatization opportunities.

Britain’s Margaret Thatcher with Turkey’s Turgut Özal.

The introduction of neoliberal policies and privatization to Turkey began long before the AKP government.

Military Junta and Privatization

On 12 September 1980, the Turkish Military plotted a coup, which was supported by the U.S. administration. There were popular left-wing and working-class movements in Turkey before the coup. Although the military junta said that their main aim was suppression of a so-called “anarchic” situation, the government presented a free-market oriented economic construction package – known as January 1980 Package – in 24th of January 1980, just several months before the military takeover. The January 1980 Package was mainly focused on implementation of neoliberal economic reforms such as allowance and encouragement of foreign investment, the abolition of price controls and subsidies to state economic enterprises, and Turkey’s integration into international capital. The economic reform package was advised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Military Junta saw left-wing movements, which had popular strength in Turkish society, as a threat to neoliberal transformation. At the time, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK) was a militant trade union and well-organized in the working-class movement.

The person behind the January 1980 Package, Turgut Özal, founded a right-wing political party called Motherland Party (ANAP). He had personally met with Britain’s Thatcher and is often compared with her because of his neoliberal policies. However, in a political environment where most of the trade-unions and left-wing movements were heavily suppressed, it became easier to implement the neoliberal reforms. As a result, Turkey entered into an era of integration into international capital and implementation of neoliberal policies including privatization of public enterprises.

Despite the fact that privatization in Turkey did not start with the AKP government, anti-labour and anti-popular policies have always been a key element for them. Most of the public enterprises and state-run firms were privatized in the last 16 years. According to information published by OİB in 2017, the AKP government privatized 10 ports, 81 power plants, 40 facilities, 3,483 premises, 3 ships, 36 mine sites and public shares of 94 companies.

Most of the privatized sectors were strategic parts of the Turkish economy. In 2005, the country’s main state-owned petroleum refinery TÜPRAŞ was sold to a joint venture of Turkey’s Koç group and Shell group of Netherlands. Privatization of the main firm in Turkey’s telecommunication sector, Türk Telekom, also took place in the same year. 55 per cent of Türk Telekom was sold to Lebanon’s Oger Telecom.

TEKEL workers during a strike. [Photo source: Evren Özesen]

One of Turkey’s most significant workers’ resistances also took place in 2009. Turkish tobacco and alcoholic beverages company, also known as TEKEL, was bought by British American Tobacco (BAT). Prior to the company’s privatization, approximately 10,000 workers received their notice of contract termination. Workers went on protests in the capital Ankara and faced police attacks. The 78 days-long resistance brought many achievements to Turkey’s working class and marked a historic phase.

First Reactions

The sugar beet industry played a crucial role in the country’s industrialization during the early republic years by building infrastructure in rural areas as well as providing employment opportunities to local people. If privatization takes place, many workers are expected to become internal migrants as their livelihood standards will fall dramatically.

Are we going to see another historical resistance? It is too early to say, but workers and opposition parties reacted with anger against the government’s decision to privatize Turkey’s sugar plants.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Veli Ağbaba has said that the decision to privatize sugar plants came after President Recep Erdoğan’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on February 15 and that Turkey’s sugar factories are going to be sold in order to meet Cargill’s (a U.S.-based multinational company) demands. The company has been operating in agricultural product field in Turkey since 1986.

During the demonstration against the privatization of Apullu Sugar Factory, Lüleburgaz (a district of Kırklareli Province in the Marmara region) Mayor Emin Halebak said that if the government wants to sell Apullu Sugar Factory then he wants to buy the plant and give it back to people. Apullu is the oldest sugar factory in Turkey.

However, the state of emergency (OHAL) in Turkey, which was declared after the failed coup attempt in 2016, is an important tool in the hands of the AKP government against workers and possible resistance. Last year at a meeting with foreign investors, Erdoğan confessed the anti-labour nature of the state of emergency, saying that his government is taking advantage of OHAL and intervening in workplaces to ban possible strikes. Recently, a strike of 130,000 workers at 179 factories across the metal sector in Turkey was banned by the government on the grounds of being “prejudicial to national security.”

Fight Against Privatization

The fight against privatization of sugar factories is not just an economic demand but also a political issue. AKP and particularly Erdoğan called themselves “native and national” several times as if their opponents are not natives of Turkey and do not belong to the country. Yet, they are the ones that sell public property to foreign investors for the sake of a few moneybags and multinational companies.

Ironically, their so-called “native and national” values end when capitalists command them to do so.

At this stage, it is not clear if the AKP government is going to give up its goal of privatizing the country’s sugar factories but it seems like they are quite determined to do so. Turkey’s highly oppressed working-class movement is the only political force that can stop it.

History is calling the working-class to take the stage, once again. •

Kubilay Cenk is a member of Communist Movement of Turkey (TKH) and undergraduate student at University of Plymouth. His studies are focused on international relations and politics.

The Threats, Real and Imagined, of Mexico’s Election

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Mark Weisbrot / CEPR

In less than five months, Mexico will have a presidential election that is mostly being described by US and international media commentators as a perilous undertaking. For some, it is part of a “perfect storm” that could wreak havoc on the Mexican economy (together with Trump’s tax reform and threats to NAFTA); for the business press, there is a threat to foreign investment, especially in the state-owned oil industry, which has had an unprecedented opening to such investment since 2013; and for other observers, it is a threat to the “security” — that is, foreign policy — of the United States.

The problem, according to the pundits and the Trump administration, is that the leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often known by his initials, AMLO) holds a sizable lead in the polls, and could well be Mexico’s next president. But is his possible election as president really the threat it’s made out to be?

Although López Obrador has moved toward the center during the campaign, his Morena party has a left-wing base that resembles some of the movements and governments that Washington has opposed since they began to spread through Latin America in the early years of the twenty-first century. López Obrador was a popular mayor of Mexico City from 2000 to 2005; he ran for president in 2006 and 2012 as the candidate of the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). When López Obrador formed Morena in 2014, he took a large part of the PRD’s support with him.

The stated purpose of Morena was to form an alternative to existing political parties in order to reform not only Mexico’s governance, but also its economic policy. The objective was to move Mexico’s economy toward a more developmentalist model — of more robust internal markets through industrial policy and public investment and planning — and to provide more of a welfare state and take Mexico in a more social-democratic direction.

Like Bernie Sanders in the 2016 US presidential election, López Obrador is running as an outsider, in this case against what he claims is a corrupt elite represented by all the mainstream parties that cannot provide either economic or physical security for the country’s citizens. He promises to “clean out corruption in government from top to bottom, like you clean the stairs.” And he proposes the reallocation of about 4 percent of Mexico’s GDP to infrastructure and social programs, including a universal pension — since a similar policy for Mexico City residents was one of his most popular and influential achievements when he was the city’s mayor.

The other parties seem to be reinforcing his characterization of them, as they increasingly meld together despite their disparate ideologies. The remnant of the previously left-leaning PRD is allying with the National Action Party (PAN), a right-wing party with ties to the Catholic Church. The PAN broke the grip of more than seventy years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 with the election of President Vicente Fox. But Fox’s PAN administration failed to deliver much in the way of improvement to the standard of living for most Mexicans, and its US-sponsored “war on drugs” failed to stem the rising tide of violence. In 2012, the PRI won back the presidency with the election of Enrique Peña Nieto.

But Peña Nieto proved to be the least popular president in decades, thanks to continued economic failure and a series of corruption scandals, as well as his government’s failure to quell epidemic levels of violence. In January, preliminary government data showed that in 2017 Mexico suffered the highest number of murders on record. Peña Nieto’s meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 also turned into a disaster, adding insult to the Mexican president’s multiple injuries when Trump claimed there was no discussion of who would pay for Trump’s proposed border wall, while Peña Nieto maintained he had stated in the meeting that Mexico would not pay for it.

The PRI’s candidate for this election, José Antonio Meade, is therefore languishing as a distant third in the polls (he is also widely seen as a lackluster contender). There is talk that the PRI will throw its weight behind the PAN candidate, Ricardo Anaya, thereby completing the description of an undifferentiated mass of politicians, as López Obrador and his supporters have labeled them.

Many people believed that Mexico began a transition to democracy in 2000, when the PRI lost the presidency. But this has turned out to be something of a myth. The promise of that transition never materialized, and Mexico became an increasingly violent and still deeply corrupt narco-state. The failed neoliberal economic reforms that the PRI initiated, beginning in the 1980s, were consolidated with the NAFTA agreement, which helped to draw Mexico closer to the US, economically and politically.

First, the economics. From 1960 to 1980, under the old PRI regime, the average income of Mexicans nearly doubled. If the economy had continued growing at that pace, Mexicans would, by today, have a standard of living comparable to Europe’s. We can only speculate as to whether Mexico would have become more democratic as it developed; most countries have done so, though at varying paces.

Instead, the 1980s were a “lost decade,” with negative per capita income growth, as Mexico ― under pressure from foreign creditors, including the IMF ― transformed its economy with neoliberal reforms, liberalizing international trade and capital flows, privatizing state enterprises, and abandoning development and industrial policies. NAFTA institutionalized most of the harmful changes in the form of an international treaty, partly, at Washington’s behest, to make them permanent.

The twenty-three years since NAFTA have been an economic failure, by any historical or international comparison. The national poverty rate is higher today than it was in 1994, and real (inflation-adjusted) wages have barely risen. Over the period, Mexico ranked fifteenth of twenty Latin American countries in GDP growth per person. Nearly five million farmers lost their livelihoods, unable to compete with subsidized corn from the US. Although some found employment in the new agro-export industries, the displacement contributed to a surge of emigration to the US from 1994 to 2000.

What kind of democracy has developed out of this continuing failed economic experiment? We might expect that governments would have to find other ways to remain in power since they have not been delivering the goods. And they have. The New York Times reports that the Mexican government has spent, astoundingly, nearly $2 billion over the past five years to buy off the media — in part, by paying for advertising on the condition that it will receive favorable coverage.

According to the Times, at least 104 journalists have been murdered since 2000, and about another twenty-five have disappeared. In 2017, Mexico was the second-most dangerous country in the world, after Syria, to practice journalism. Although many people have the impression that the drug cartels are primarily responsible for the violence and climate of fear, the Times reports that “according to government data, public servants like mayors and police officers have threatened journalists more often than drug cartels, petty criminals or anyone else.”

Not only journalists, but citizens and activists can be killed for their constitutionally protected activities. The disappearance and massacre in 2014 of forty-three students in Iguala, in the state of Guerrero, brought Mexico’s violent repression to the world’s attention, because of the scale of the crime and the documented involvement of government security forces and agents.

The lack of an independent media, the near-monopoly of two partisan networks over broadcast television, widespread vote-buying, and the use of state resources by the government in election campaigns makes electoral democracy in Mexico especially weak. And then there is the voting process itself. In a close presidential election in 2006, López Obrador lost by less than 0.6 percent of the popular vote. But there was an “adding-up” problem: at each polling station, the number of ballots cast, plus the number of blank ballots remaining, are supposed to match the number of blank ballots at the start. For nearly half the polling stations, they didn’t.

Despite reports of vote-rigging and fraud — and hundreds of thousands of people in the streets demanding a recount — the Bush administration immediately threw its weight behind a campaign to declare the election of PAN’s Felipe Calderón legitimate. (A partial recount, the results of which were not released while the election was still disputed, raised further serious questions about the tally.) The Bush administration operated from the playbook it had used for Bush’s own disputed election in 2000, and they did a fine job. But as with Mexico’s economic transformation from a developmentalist to a neoliberal state, the influence of the United States on Mexico’s politics has gone largely unnoticed.

Many Mexicans are again worried about the prospect of fraud in the July election. But Trump administration officials, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former head of the US Southern Command, have expressed other concerns. They are worried that López Obrador might win. Predictably, US officials have alleged that there will be Russian interference in the election. A spate of silly, fact-free articles in the US media followed, and in Mexico the allegations went viral, as intended. López Obrador has responded with ridicule, calling himself “Andrés Manuelovich,” and saying that he’s looking forward to a Russian submarine surfacing with his gold. (In the 2006 election, the broadcast media was flooded with false allegations that López Obrador had ties to Venezuela’s Chavista government; this smear campaign has also resurfaced.)

Interestingly, despite all of Trump’s bluster about building a wall and renegotiating NAFTA, combined with his trademark insults and threats and the resulting animosity, Mexico’s cooperation with Washington’s malign foreign policy in the region remains strong. Hardly anyone believed the results of the November 26 election in Honduras; even the extremely Washington-friendly Organization of American States leadership has called for a new election there. But Mexico was one of the first to issue a strong statement in support of the “winner,” the incumbent president — and US ally — Juan Orlando Hernández, whose party came to power with help from the US following a 2009 military coup.

Reuters reported in December that Mexico’s official statement “was brokered in coordination with the United States.” In a smooth move the next day, a senior US State Department official cited Mexico’s statement as a reason to reject calls for a new election in Honduras. This is exactly the kind of coordination Washington likes — and that the Trump administration must fear would disappear with a less compliant Mexican president.

It is difficult to say how much López Obrador could, or would, do if elected, given the forces arrayed against him, both at home and from the north. But if there is a reform candidate and party in the race, it is López Obrador and his Morena party.

In July, Mexicans will get to decide whether they might do better as a more independent nation ― if they can defend their right to a free and fair election.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).

End Times Coming?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by olavXO | CC BY 2.0

Donald Trump has been losing it a lot lately, mentally decomposing.  The more he does, the more likely it becomes that the world will end with a bang.  We cannot rule out a whimper, however – not with the Commander-in-Chief’s mind, what there is of it, fluttering hither and yon.

Or maybe Providence has something more Biblical in store.

In the Book of Revelation, six hundred sixty-six is “the mark of the beast.”  For some two thousand years, that number has been associated with the Anti-Christ and with what evangelicals nowadays call “the end times.”  The number 666 figures in esoteric mystical and satanic practices, and in the folk traditions of peoples throughout Christendom.  It is a point of reference in the popular culture of our time.

How ironic therefore that the address of the skyscraper office building that is playing such a prominent role in Jared Kushner’s fall from grace is 666 Fifth Avenue!

The demonic connotations of that building’s address have been part of the folklore surrounding it from the time that Tishman Realty and Construction, a far bigger deal than the Trump Organization, had the office tower built in the late fifties.  Tishman had no problem renting out office and retail space on that account; in those saner times, Christian eschatology was less commercially and politically consequential than it has since become.

The Kushner Real Estate Group, which under Jared’s leadership acquired 666 in 2007, has had trouble making ends meet.  Not all the blame lies with the resurgence of archaic modes of thought in recent decades.  A bigger problem is that the Kushners who, as “modern Orthodox” Jews, know a thing or two themselves about archaic, beliefs and practices, borrowed heavily to purchase the building, and more still to maintain it.  The income 666 brings in does not justify their level of indebtedness.

Even so, the building remains one of New York City’s prime addresses.  Thank the First Law of Real Estate for that – location, location, location.

However, Jared paid too much for it, just before the market for Manhattan office space went south as the Great Recession unfolded.  By now, that market has recovered somewhat, but not enough to get the Kushners out from under water.

Thus the man whom Trump put in charge of nearly every thorny issue facing his administration put his own family’s business seriously in debt.

Debt is something Trump knows well.  If only for that reason, if he has any capacity for empathy at all, Trump must be feeling Jared’s pain.

In demeanor and personality Jared and the Donald are as different as can be.  However, as real estate tycoons, the two of them are cut from the same cloth.

Plainly, Ivanka and her psychoanalyst, if she has one, have a lot to talk about: father (even in public she calls him “daddy”) and husband – same syndrome.

The two loves of her life both had sleazy landlord fathers, though only Jared’s actually did time.  Both had fathers who provided them with money and political influence to spare.  And they both set out from the metropolis’s hinterlands (Queens in Trump’s case, New Jersey in Kushner’s) to take Manhattan by storm.  In the process, both indebted themselves up to the gills.

Trump Tower is an over the top monument to Trump’s vanity, greed, and insecurity; it is an architectural mediocrity, a gilded flat screen TV, bulked up on steroids and turned on its side.

Kushner has more refined ambitions for 666.  He wants to replace the existing structure with something more luxurious, more profitable, and more distinguished than the building there now.

To that end, he has enlisted the architectural firm of Zaha Hadid.   Hadid, who died in 2016, was an Iraqi architect living in Britain.  She had an outstanding reputation, and many fine buildings to her credit.  In 2004, she became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for architects.

Hooray for Jared!  He may be as unfit for the tasks his father-in-law assigned him as Trump himself is for his own responsibilities, but at least he still believes in the “American dream” – or at least the part of it that has children being more couth than their parents and parents-in-law.

Kushner also wants to change the building’s street number – to 660.   Another smart move.

But getting all this done is going to cost money; in this case, at least $12 billion.

Each day’s news brings fresh reports of meetings in the White House or at foreign venues between Crown Prince Jared and the world’s leading moneylenders.  Some of them are American; two names that have come to light recently are Joshua Harris, founder of the hedge fund Apollo Global Management, and Michael Corbat, chief executive of Citigroup.

But many, maybe most, of Jared’s efforts to raise money for 666 and his family’s other holdings have involved foreign oligarchs and potentates.  It could hardly be otherwise.  On the merits, no sane capitalist banker would want anything to do with his plans for 666, and America’s homegrown high flyers have not quite yet descended to the level of their counterparts in modern day equivalents of banana republics and Third World dictatorships.

Harris and Corbat and others of their ilk may be willing to talk about helping the Kushners out, but they are loath to do it.  From their point of view, it doesn’t matter, or doesn’t matter enough, that Jared is the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers.  Despite all that has happened since Trump’s election, they continue to believe that, in the banking business, there is still more percentage in sticking with First World norms than in caving in to the manifold corruptions emanating out of the Oval Office.

Jared’s plight must feel like dejà vu all over again to his father-in-law.

Even up to the moment Trump surprised everybody (including himself) by winning the 2016 election, major American banks would have sooner flushed their money down the toilet than lend any of it to him.  Deutsche Bank and other foreign-based financial titans would work with the Trump Organization from time to time, but American bankers, having been burned too many times in the past, wanted nothing to do with him.

When the dust finally settles from the several on-going “Russiagate” investigations, it should become clear how Trump was able to bounce back from seemingly irreversible financial ruin as often as he has; the kindness of German bankers only explains so much.

No doubt, political influence has had a lot to do with it. Trump inherited a tidy sum from his father and then, by fair means or foul, added to it many times over.  It is also looking more likely than not that Russian oligarchs and similarly unsavory characters from distant lands with lax financial regulations figure in the explanation, and that person connected to criminal organizations or to Russian intelligence services played a role as well.

The way to find out is clear: follow the money.  In this instance, there is a via regia, a royal road, a (comparatively) easy way to do that: look where the son-in-law has gone begging.  What are Kushner’s problems, after all, but Russiagate writ small?

Talking with shady characters, Russian or otherwise, about business ventures is not the same thing as “colluding” with them to get elected.  To the extent that any of that went on, “the Russians” should be ashamed – not so much for sullying an already profoundly corrupt democracy, but for the pointlessness and amateurishness of their endeavors.

Our plutocrats are perfectly able to corrupt democracy on their own.  They have been doing a fine job of it too – seemingly from time immemorial, but at no time more than now.  Democracy’s foes don’t need Russians for that

It is telling that even such ardent Cold War revivalists as Joy Reid and Rachel Maddow and the other MSNBC and CNN bloviaters don’t claim that the (unspecified) Russian meddling they go on about endlessly actually accomplished anything.

Because the United States is and long has been the world’s foremost serial meddler in the affairs of other countries, their hypocrisy is mind-boggling.  That aside, the peril they warn of is almost certainly a red herring.

On the other hand, financial shenanigans involving Russia and the Trump organization almost certainly did take place.  If Russiagate investigators do their job properly, it is extremely likely that they will find that this, not his campaign’s “collusion” with “the Russians,” is what Trump is trying so hard to cover up.

When Trump’s remaining supporters realize this will they finally wise up?  Probably not.  But, if anything can get them to abandon their illusions, this will.

Trump’s agenda is detrimental to the material interests of the people in his base, but, as has been demonstrated time and again, most of them could care less about that.  Neither does it matter to them that Trump is an embarrassment, or that he and his people are incompetent, or that he poses a clear and present danger to every living thing on the planet.   Old-fashioned corruption is another story; when that is exposed, everybody gets upset.

Thus even the most bamboozled Trump diehards will have a hard time maintaining their belief that the Donald is on their side when they are presented with evidence too compelling for them to deny that the only side he is on is his own.

But we must be careful not to give them or their opponents too much credit.  As long as Trump supporters remain willfully blind, and as long as the self-declared Democratic “resistance” remains milquetoast and feckless, Trump could survive revelations of his financial shenanigans, just as surely as he has been able so far to get away with everything else.

Whether of not Trump’s Teflon armor keeps on protecting him, the fact remains: the gods are closing in.  “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,” wrote Longfellow.  We can see it happening before our very eyes.

Reasonable people will, of course, see it all as a consequence of the mounting pressure on Trump and everyone associated with him as the law closes in, and as the wages of incompetence fall due.

In this instance, however, there is a certain satisfaction in taking Longfellow at his word, by casting prosaic reasonableness aside and looking upon the goings on in the Trump White House as the handiwork of pagan gods amusing themselves at our expense.  Or, better yet, and in a more sullen and less imaginative Christian vein, as a sign of demons portending the End Time.

In that spirit, let us therefore relish the profound, possibly terminal, disorder portended by the Mark of the Beast.

Kushner seems like a harmless enough airhead but as Trump’s early backer and erstwhile crony, Chris Christie, can attest, that boy can be one vengeful son of a bitch.  Christie was the prosecutor who put Jared’s father behind bars.

Not long after the government of Qatar turned down Kushner’s pleas for help, Qatar became the victim of a United Arab Emirates led, Saudi supported, and Trump endorsed blockade.  It is hard not to see Jared’s hand at work here.

The consequences for the region have been grave – for Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and, above all, for Yemen, one of the most war devastated places on earth.

As always, the peoples most directly affected have been the most harmed.  But no good will come of this for the United States either.  To the extent that the Kushner family’s financial woes are a cause, Jared has much to answer for.

Even in an administration where the outrageous has become normal, letting the pecuniary interests of the president, his children, and, in the case of the Donald’s favorite daughter, his children’s spouses dictate the course of world events marks a new low.

How bad will it get, and what role, if any, have the Russian government and its intelligence services been playing?  Will it lead to Kushner’s undoing?  To Trump’s?  As with the reality TV shows from which Trump learned most of what he knows, stay tuned and relish the spectacle.

Evangelicals surely will.  They must be thinking that with 666 so prominently involved, the End Times – not just for Kushners and Trumps but for everybody, saved and reprobate alike – is near.

Or perhaps they are not quite as crazy as that, and are instead just looking forward to a time when Mike Pence will be the one calling the shots.  He is one of their own, after all; and, if only by being less unhinged, he can do more for them than Trump can.

Mark of the beast, indeed!  With or without Trump himself in the leading role, the Trump Show has at least two and a half more years to run.  That is Hell enough already.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Smoking and drinking: Churchill sets an example today’s Western leaders can learn from

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

To understand that Western emphasis on human rights is at best a fig leaf to do business with autocrats whose rule is based on repression, contrast Winston Churchill’s encounter with Mohammed bin Salman’s grandfather, King Abdulaziz, with British prime minister Theresa May’s recent talks with the crown prince.

Meeting the king for lunch in Cairo in 1945, Mr. Churchill suggested that it was the “religion of his majesty to deprive himself of smoking and alcohol,” a reference to the king’s adherence to a puritanical strand of Islam that has dominated the kingdom since its founding in 1932.

Mr. Churchill, however, made clear that the king’s beliefs would not deter him from enjoying his smokes and drinks in the monarch’s presence. The prime minister’s rule of life “prescribes as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them,” Mr. Churchill said.

Enjoying tobacco and alcohol is certain not to have featured in Ms. May’s talks this week with Prince Mohammed. Human rights and the humanitarian cost of Saudi Arabia’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen did.

In contrast to Mr. Churchill, who, perhaps insensitively and arrogantly, refused to compromise on his principles and pleasures, Ms. May’s statements were no more than words in what has become a ritual in interactions between democratic and autocratic leaders. The autocrats understand democrats’ need to maintain a fig leaf. The public admonishment of their tarnished human rights records is a small price to pay for the ability to conduct political and economic business.

The contrast between the two encounters is particularly significant in an environment in which abuse of human rights is on the rise and authoritarian and autocratic rule is spreading its wings across the globe from China to once liberal democracies. Democracy is on the defense.

It raises the question whether the refusal of democracies to stand up for their principles and pay a price will contribute to their demise and brutalization in a world in which the lessons of World War Two genocide and principles of good governance in warfare can be ignored with impunity. Russia and Iran-backed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s gassing and starvation of non-combatant Syrian civilians is a case in point.

Ms. May’s fig leaf approach to standing by basic democratic principles is but the latest incident in a long-standing Western willingness to pay a heavy price for sleeping with the devil in a bid to gain short-term geo-political and economic advantage.
Guilt is widespread. Its not just governments. The same is true for non-governmental organizations such as international sport associations who for decades tolerated pre-modernity curtailing of women’s sporting rights in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran by restricting their criticism to words rather than deeds.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and author and long-time Saudi-watcher Robert Lacey noted in The Guardian that “the crown prince doesn’t listen to Saudis – why would he listen to Theresa May?”

Mr. Khashoggi, long closely associated with Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to Britain and the US, who often voices opinions Prince Mohammed does not want to do so publicly, went into voluntary exile last year on the eve of the crown prince’s power and asset grab under the mum of an anti-corrup0tion campaign.

One irony of Ms. May’s approach in her talks with Prince Mohammed is the fact that the kingdom is an exemplary case study of the price that democracies have paid for their toothless objections to a long-standing Saudi worldview that was intolerant, supremacist, and anti-pluralistic.

To be sure, Prince Mohammed has begun to shave off the rough edges of that worldview with his social and economic reforms but has yet to convey his willingness to achieve a clean break.

Holders of tickets for a concert in Jeddah by Egyptian pop sensation Tamer Hosny were recently surprised to receive vouchers that warned that “no dancing or swaying” would be allowed at the event. "No dancing or swaying in a concert! It's like putting ice under the sun and asking it not to melt,” quipped a critic on Twitter.

If anything, Prince Mohammed’s reforms have been underwritten by repression of any form of dissent.

Anti-death penalty group Reprieve reported that Saudi Arabia's execution rate had doubled since Prince Mohammed was appointed crown prince eight months ago. It said 133 people had been executed since June 2017 compared to 67 in the preceding eight months.

Equally fundamentally, the world is still reeling from at times short-sighted, opportunistic Western support for the export of Saudi-inspired Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and at others a willingness to ignore its impact on Muslim communities across the globe.
The same can be said for support of secular autocracies like the regime of Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, whose repression, brutality and failure to deliver public goods and services offer extremism a fertile breeding ground.

It is also true for states like Baathist Syria and Iraq that fell into the Soviet orbit during the Cold War, with Iraq. after the demise of the Soviet Union, enjoying US support during its war against Iran in the 1980s.

Geo-strategist Robert D. Kaplan, writing in Foreign Policy, argued that Syria and Iraq had descended into the Middle East and North Africa’s worst mayhems that have caused enormous human suffering and cost the international community significantly in political, diplomatic, and security terms because they were artificial, colonial-era geographic constructs. They lacked the civilizational history, centuries of some kind of statehood, and deep-seated identities that have helped keep Egypt or Tunisia territorially intact.

In South Asia, the United States went during the era of conservative Pakistani president Zia ul-Haq and the US and Saudi-backed war against the Soviets in the 1980s waged by Afghan mujahedeen as far as to distribute schoolbooks that propagated Saudi-inspired jihad and precepts of ultra-conservatism. In doing so it played havoc with Pakistan, a country that since its birth has struggled with its identity.

Western democracies ignored the fact that Saudi Arabia invested heavily over decades to push its austere worldview as an anti-dote to post-1979 Iranian revolutionary zeal. While not the only factor, the Saudi campaign created an environment in Pakistan and elsewhere in which militant Islam flourished, societies became ever more conservative and intolerant, and political violence increased.

Western democracies as well as others, including the kingdom, are paying a high price in terms of people’s lives and vastly expanded security to counter extremism and political violence.

Its an open debate whether policies that had been built on democratic values rather than support for autocracy and intolerant worldviews could have achieved similar geopolitical victories such as the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan at a lower cost and a reduced threat to those values.

What is certain, however, is the fact that the fallout of the failure to stand up for democratic values comes at an ever-steeper cost and uncertainty of how the pendulum will swing.

The unanswered question is whether in terms of cost-benefit analysis short-term hits resulting from adopting a principled stand may ultimately be a more reasonable cost and produce greater long-term benefit than the price of dealing with the fallout of policies that effectively ignore democratic principles and ultimately are likely to produce ever greater threats.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

We Know What Bad Trade Policy Looks Like. But What About Good Trade Policy?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein / CEPR.

Tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on all steel and aluminum imports, respectively, are, as has been widely reported, likely to do more harm than good. They may help protect the minority of workers in the targeted industries, but at some cost to the majority in others.

The costs of the tariffs themselves may hardly be noticeable to consumers. Journalist Neil Irwin is correct when he reports that Sen. Mike Lee’s claim that the tariffs constitute a “huge job-killing tax hike on American consumers” is true “in terms of direction” but misleading “in terms of magnitude.”

The bigger dangers to our economy are twofold. One, that our trading partners will retaliate by taxing our exports to them, thus hurting a broad swath of our exporting industries, and two, by leading an emboldened, reckless Trump administration to enact more bad trade policy.

It is here that the outcry against these tariffs, while sensible in the ways just noted, is woefully incomplete. Nobody seems to have any ideas about what better trade policy would look like. There’s a huge status quo bias implicit in virtually every critical take we’ve seen, as if the genie that President Trump let out of the bottle — globalization creates losers as well as winners, and those losers can be a potent political force — has evaporated into the ether. Such denial helped elevate Trump in the first place.

It is thus clearly insufficient to yell “higher prices!” or even “trade war!” and call it a day. Critics of the tariffs need to tell us what they think better, more inclusive trade policy looks like. Here are some of our ideas.

Use the benefits of trade to help those hurt by it. Trade boosts growth and thus raises gross domestic product and tax revenue. Yet, our politics and tax policies have blocked fiscal policies that could help those whose jobs, earnings and communities have been hit by foreign competition. Such policies include sectoral employment training (training workers for existing or future jobs in their communities), apprenticeships (earn while you learn) and, perhaps most important, direct job creation. Regarding the latter, even as we close in on full employment, we know there are parts of the country that have too few gainful opportunities. To address this labor market failure, a movement is building for job creation policies that include subsidizing employers to hire those left behind as well as directly creating decent quality jobs.

Stop protecting professionals and patents. Over the past four decades, we have designed a trade policy that removes virtually all barriers to trade in goods. Although this has the benefit of allowing us to get imported goods at lower prices (while also putting downward pressure on the wages of U.S. workers who produce these goods), we have not made the same effort to remove protectionist barriers in other areas.

For example, doctors in the United States are highly protected from foreign competition, including highly accomplished doctors in other wealthy countries. As a result, our doctors earn about twice as much on average as doctors in other wealthy countries. If we paid our doctors the same as doctors in countries such as Canada, France and Germany, the savings would be about $90 billion a year, more than six times the estimates of the cost to consumers from the steel tariffs.

Another important area where the country would gain enormously from trade liberalization is reducing the importance of government-granted patent and copyright monopolies. Yet, trade policy over the past four decades has made these monopolies longer and stronger, and sought to apply them worldwide.

The amount at stake is enormous. Many drugs that sell for tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars at their protected price would cost just a few hundred dollars at their free-market price. In the case of prescription drugs, we will spend more than $450 billion this year on drugs that would almost certainly cost less than $80 billion in a free market. The difference of $370 billion is more than 30 times the amount that is at stake with the steel tariffs.

The potential gains from removing barriers to trade in professional services and patents are thus both economically large, and, unlike much past trade liberalization, inequality reducing. How rich would Bill Gates be if there were no copyrights or patents on Microsoft software so that everyone could copy them at no cost? The usual counterargument is that these protections are needed to boost innovation, but there are alternative approaches that are much more efficient and far less inequitable.

Currency management and capital flows: It is widely recognized that some countries game the trading system, not by dumping metals below cost onto global markets, but by suppressing the value of their currencies, making our exports to them more expensive and their imports to us, cheaper. These nations run large trade surpluses that they use to finance large purchases of U.S. currencies and assets, generating capital flows that pump up both the dollar and our trade deficit. Tariffs will not help in this regard (Paul Krugman of the New York Times worries that given current conditions, they could strengthen the dollar). One pushback idea is Joseph E. Gagnon and C. Fred Bergsten’s “countervailing currency intervention” plan, wherein the United States makes it clear that we will “offset the effects of currency manipulation through equal purchases of the intervening country’s currency.”

There’s a lot more to bring to this table (e.g., see these “new rules of the road” for much more inclusive trade deals). We recognize that no one in the Trump administration is sitting at that table right now, and in this regard, “do less harm” is a perfectly legitimate rationale for opposing their reckless trade policies. But for economic and political reasons, our energies must not be devoted to solely opposing bad trade policies. We must start building the case for much better ones.

Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and author of 'The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity'.

Dean Baker is senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Those Who Controlled the Past Should Not Control the Future

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Norman Solomon

Daniel Ellsberg has a message that managers of the warfare state don’t want people to hear.

“If you have information that bears on deception or illegality in pursuing wrongful policies or an aggressive war,” he said in a statement released last week, “don't wait to put that out and think about it, consider acting in a timely way at whatever cost to yourself…. Do what Katharine Gun did.”

If you don’t know what Katharine Gun did, chalk that up to the media power of the war system.

Ellsberg’s video statement went public as this month began, just before the 15th anniversary of when a British newspaper, the Observer, revealed a secret NSA memo -- thanks to Katharine Gun. At the UK’s intelligence agency GCHQ, about 100 people received the same email memo from the National Security Agency on the last day of January 2003, seven weeks before the invasion of Iraq got underway. Only Katharine Gun, at great personal risk, decided to leak the document.

If more people had taken such risks in early 2003, the Iraq War might have been prevented. If more people were willing to take such risks in 2018, the current military slaughter in several nations, mainly funded by U.S. taxpayers, might be curtailed if not stopped. Blockage of information about past whistleblowing deprives the public of inspiring role models.

That’s the kind of reality George Orwell was referring to when he wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

Fifteen years ago, “I find myself reading on my computer from the Observer the most extraordinary leak, or unauthorized disclosure, of classified information that I'd ever seen,” Ellsberg recalled, “and that definitely included and surpassed my own disclosure of top-secret information, a history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam years earlier.” The Pentagon Papers whistleblower instantly recognized that, in the Observer article, “I was looking at something that was clearly classified much higher than top secret…. It was an operational cable having to do with how to conduct communications intelligence.”

What Ellsberg read in the newspaper story “was a cable from the NSA asking GCHQ to help in the intercepting of communications, and that implied both office and home communications, of every member of the Security Council of the UN. Now, why would NSA need GCHQ to do that? Because a condition of having the UN headquarters and the Security Council in the U.S. in New York was that the U.S. intelligence agencies promised or were required not to conduct intelligence on members of the UN. Well, of course they want that. So, they rely on their allies, the buddies, in the British to commit these criminal acts for them. And with this clearly I thought someone very high in access in Britain intelligence services must dissent from what was already clear the path to an illegal war.”

But actually, the leak didn’t come from “someone very high” in GCHQ. The whistleblower turned out to be a 28-year-old linguist and analyst at the agency, Katharine Gun, who had chosen to intervene against the march to war.

As Gun has recounted, she and other GCHQ employees “received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was ‘mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council members,’ and that it wanted ‘the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises.’”

In other words, the U.S. and British governments wanted to eavesdrop on key UN delegations and then manipulate or even blackmail them into voting for war.

Katharine Gun took action: “I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story -- ‘U.S. dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war’ -- I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act.”

The whistleblowing occurred in real time. “This was not history,” as Ellsberg put it. “This was a current cable, I could see immediately from the date, and it was before the war had actually started against Iraq. And the clear purpose of it was to induce the support of the Security Council members to support a new UN resolution for the invasion of Iraq.”

The eavesdropping was aimed at gaining a second -- and this time unequivocal -- Security Council resolution in support of an invasion. “British involvement in this would be illegal without a second resolution,” Ellsberg said. “How are they going to get that? Obviously essentially by blackmail and intimidation, by knowing the private wants and embarrassments, possible embarrassments, of people on the Security Council, or their aides, and so forth. The idea was, in effect, to coerce their vote.”

Katharine Gun foiled that plan. While scarcely reported in the U.S. media (despite cutting-edge news releases produced by my colleagues at the Institute for Public Accuracy beginning in early March of 2003), the revelations published by the Observer caused huge media coverage across much of the globe -- and sparked outrage in several countries with seats on the Security Council.

“In the rest of the world there was great interest in the fact that American intelligence agencies were interfering with their policies of their representatives in the Security Council,” Ellsberg noted. A result was that for some governments on the Security Council at the time, the leak “made it impossible for their representatives to support the U.S. wish to legitimize this clear case of aggression against Iraq. So, the U.S. had to give up its plan to get a supporting vote in the UN.” The U.S. and British governments “went ahead anyway, but without the legitimating precedent of an aggressive war that would have had, I think, many consequences later.”

Ellsberg said: “What was most striking then and still to me about this disclosure was that the young woman who looked at this cable coming across her computer in GCHQ acted almost immediately on what she saw was the pursuit of an illegal war by illegal means…. I've often been asked, is there anything about the release of the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam that you regret. And my answer is yes, very much. I regret that I didn't put out the top-secret documents available to me in the Pentagon in 1964, years before I actually gave them to the Senate and then to the newspapers. Years of war and years of bombing. It wasn't that I was considering that all that time. I didn't have a precedent to instruct me on that at that point. But in any case, I could have been much more effective in averting that war if I’d acted much sooner.”

Katharine Gun “was not dealing only with historical material,” Ellsberg emphasizes, she “was acting in a timely fashion very quickly on her right judgement that what she was being asked to participate in was wrong. I salute her. She's my hero. I think she's a model for other whistleblowers. And for a long time I've said to people in her position or my old position in the government: Don't do what I did. Don't wait till the bombs are falling or thousands more have died.”

By making her choice, Gun risked two years of imprisonment. In Ellsberg’s words, she seemed to be facing “a sure conviction -- except that the government was not willing to have the legality of that war discussed in a courtroom, and in the end dropped the charges.”

As this month began, Katharine Gun spoke at a London news conference, co-sponsored by ExposeFacts and RootsAction.org (organizations I’m part of) and hosted by the National Union of Journalists. Speaking alongside her were three other whistleblowers -- Thomas Drake, Matthew Hoh and Jesselyn Radack -- who have emerged as eloquent American truth tellers from the NSA, State Department and Justice Department. The presentations by the four are stunning to watch.

Their initiatives, taken at great personal risk, underscore how we can seize the time to make use of opportunities for forthright actions of conscience. This truth is far from confined to what we call whistleblowing. It’s about possibilities in a world where silence is so often consent to what’s wrong, and disruption of injustice is imperative for creating a more humane future.


Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

International soccer bodies ignore blatant rule violations in run-up to Egyptian election

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By James M. Dorsey

International soccer bodies, in violation of their own bylaws, have ignored the blatant mixing of sports and politics in advance of this month’s Egyptian presidential elections that general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is set to win after ensuring that no credible candidate would challenge him.

Despite recently warning Saudi Arabia and Iran that “politics should stay out of football and football should stay out of politics,” world soccer body FIFA president Gianni Infantino and his Confederation of African Football (CAF) counterpart, Ahmad Ahmad, have been conspicuously silent about Mr. Al-Sisi’s marshalling of Egyptian soccer behind his candidacy and use of a state-owned bank to persuade Egyptian players not to accept lucrative contracts in Qatar.

Egypt is part of a United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led alliance that eight months ago imposed a diplomatic and economic boycott on the Gulf state.

The Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) insistence, in line with international sports associations’ ban on the mixing of sports and politics, that home matches be played on home ground despite the rupture in relations, has turned soccer into the only sector to have breached the boycott. Saudi, UAE and Qatari teams are forced to travel awkward routes for Asian competition matches because of the cutting of airlinks between the protagonists.

Several potential challengers in the Egyptian election, including senior military figures, have either been arrested, forced to withdraw their candidacy, or decided not to run because of the risks involved.  Controversial member of parliament and head of storied Cairo club Al Zamalek SC Mortada Mansour withdrew his candidacy in January, saying he would explain why at some later date. Mr. Mortada’s withdrawal prompted a last-minute race to find a non-threatening challenger who could muster the endorsement by at least 26 members of parliament and 47,000 voters in time to meet the nomination deadline.

Mousa Mostafa Mousa, a largely unknown politician who had earlier declared his support for Mr. Al-Sisi, registered 15 minutes before the deadline, ensuring that the government could claim that the election would be competitive.

Mr. Al-Sisi has at the same time stepped up his crackdown on any dissent and tightened the screws on both domestic and foreign media.

“The Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections for the planned March 26-28, 2018 vote for president… The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has relentlessly stifled basic freedoms and arrested potential candidates and rounded up their supporters.,” said a coalition of 14 international and regional human rights groups. The groups denounced the election as “farcical.”

The manipulation of the election results and the crackdown calls into question FIFA and CAF governance with the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), several club presidents, and a host of athletes calling a news conference to endorse Mr. Al-Sisi’s candidacy in violation of the principle of a separation of sports and politics.

Speakers at the news conference sat in front of a banner declaring that the “Egyptian Football Association backs and supports president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to lead the country through continuous achievements.”

State-owned Al Ahram newspaper hailed the soccer gesture as a “noble goal” and a “historic stand.” Seemingly convinced that FIFA and CAF would look the other way, the soccer officials and athletes apparently felt confident that their violation of the sports’ governance would not lead to a suspension of the EFA that would have cost Egypt its slot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Egyptian soccer’s support for Mr. Al-Sisi, moreover, ignored the fact 210 militant supporters of Mr. Mortada’s Al Zamalek went on hunger strike last month after a military court extended their detention for a month.

Mr. Mortada has in the past denounced the supporters as terrorists. The supporters have been charged with belonging to an illegal organization, using terrorism to achieve the group’s goals, possessing fireworks and attacking police.

In a separate case, prosecutors have appealed the acquittal of 26 Zamalek militants who were accused of staging an illegal demonstration.

Concern about the power of militant soccer fans, who played a key role in the 2011 toppling of President Hosni Mubarak and subsequent anti-government protests that ended only after the rise of Mr. Al-Sisi and his brutal crackdown, has largely kept stadiums closed to the public for the last six years.

The government said last month that it would allow up to 10,000 fans to attend domestic league matches in a soccer-crazy country in which stadiums were filled to the brim prior to the ban with tens of thousands creating an electrifying atmosphere.

Mr. Al-Sisi has similarly not shied away from using the judiciary and the banking system to pressure Qatar because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood that he brutally removed from democratically elected office and since outlawed.

A Egyptian court fined beIN Sports, the sports franchise of Al Jazeera, the global Qatari television network, for violating competition rules by broadcasting over a Qatari rather than an Egyptian satellite.

The EFA, in a similar violation of sports governance, announced a boycott of beIN, shortly after Egypt and the Gulf states declared their boycott of Qatar. CAF warned at the times that clubs could be penalized, but never followed through on its threat.

State-owned Banque Misr, in an ostensible bid to stop Egyptian athletes from seeking opportunities abroad, last month launched a fund to create the facilities and environment in Egypt to prepare them for international competition. The announcement came days after parliament called for moves to prevent Egyptians from changing nationality to compete for countries, among which, first and foremost, Qatar.

“We are aware of Qatar’s attempts to snare Egyptians. The naturalization of a large number of Egyptian sports talents is part of a political plot,” Tariq Khouli, secretary of the Foreign Relations Committee told Al-Monitor, making clear that sports and politics in Egypt are two sides of the same coin.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa, and the forthcoming China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom

California Sets Two New Solar Records

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

Julia Pyper / Green Tech Media.

The escalating integration of solar has created “a new operating paradigm” for California’s grid operator, although the escalation is now on hold.

The Golden State hit a new peak for solar production on Monday.

The Golden State hit a new peak for solar production on Monday.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Mild temperatures and sunny skies helped California set two new solar records in recent days.

On Sunday, March 4, the California Independent System Operator saw an all-time peak percentage of demand served by solar, hitting a record 49.95 percent at 12:58 p.m. That's up from the previous peak of 47.2 percent set on May 14, 2017.

"The record is a result of a cool, sunny day," Anne Gonzales, senior public information officer at CAISO, wrote in an email.

"Because it was a weekend, and the weather was mild, the minimum load was relatively low, around 18,800 megawatts," she said. "Meanwhile, solar production was more than 9,400 megawatts."

A day later, on March 5, CAISO set another solar record, this time hitting a new peak for solar production of 10,411 megawatts at 10:18 a.m. The previous record was 9,913 megawatts set on June 17, 2017.








It's no surprise that solar is making up a larger and larger portion of California's electricity mix. The state's three investor-owned utilities are well ahead of schedule on their renewable energy procurement plans and on track to meet the state's 33 percent mandate for 2020. At the same time, community-choice aggregators (CCAs) are investing in additional solar installations.







California's success to date is driving a conversation around the possibility of reaching 100 percent renewables in the state, while also stirring debate over how to manage these variable resources in an evolving grid system.

"The escalating integration of solar power has created a new operating paradigm for our system operators," said Gonzales. She pointed out that on March 4 the grid not only set a new solar record, but also handled a record peak for ramping.

"Our operators are skilled at handling these ramps, and we expect them to continue," Gonzales said.

CAISO is also working to reduce curtailment when there is an oversupply of renewable resources on the system, which is expected to happen more frequently as the state introduces increasing amounts of wind and solar. The ISO is currently seeking solutions to maximize the use of clean energy sources, including energy storage, demand response, time-of-use rates, expansion of the western Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) and the possibility of a regional energy market.

CAISO's fourth-quarter 2017 report on the EIM showed benefits of $33.46 million for its participants, bringing the total benefit to $288.44 million since the real-time market launched in 2014. The market also helped reduce carbon emissions in the western region by 7,730 metric tons by using 18,060 megawatt-hours of renewable energy that otherwise would have been curtailed.

The EIM currently serves consumers in eight Western states through six participating entities. Another six entities will join by early 2020, including Idaho Power and Canada’s Powerex in April 2018.












While California could break its latest solar records in the coming weeks and see solar reach even higher levels in the coming years, there's unlikely to be a significant increase in solar, or any other renewable energy resource, on the system in the near term.

Due to accelerated renewable energy procurements in recent years, coupled with departing load going to CCAs, retiring power plants and other market shifts, investor-owned utilities procured no new renewable energy capacity in 2017, according to a California Public Utilities Commission report. Furthermore, the CPUC recently proposed that utilities procure virtually no additional renewables in 2018.

"It's really disappointing," said Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association (IEP), in a recent interview. "They're basically saying, 'There too much going on; we don't know what to do, so we're not going to do anything for a while.'"

IEP, which represents solar, wind, geothermal and small hydro developers, asked California utilities to put out wholesale solicitations for 3,000 megawatts of renewables this year. But the request was not met.

Smutny-Jones criticized the CPUC for being "too absorbed in modeling" with the expiration date for wind and solar tax credits looming. "For me, it's a little hard to sit in a meeting and talk about 100 percent renewables when our chief regulator isn't moving the ball."

This story was updated with a more recent CAISO chart on renewable energy curtailment.

Viola Carofalo: “We are the voice of an Italy that nobody talks about”

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Michele Caltagirone / The Dawn News.

Viola Carofalo. Credit: potere al popolo

Interview with Viola Carofalo, national representative and presidential candidate of the new left-wing movement.

Born last December from the experience of the volunteers of the “Je So’ Pazzo” (“I am mad”) social center of Naples, the radical left-wing movement Potere al Popolo (Power to the People) has certainly grown in recent weeks, so much so that according to some surveys it could even touch the entrance to parliament. This is thanks to a simple policy, carried out among the people and directed towards those sectors of the population that once were a fertile garden of the progressive forces. Power to the People revives the original left, a political force that knows how to get across their message in a way that everyone can understand it. Amidst the chaos of a parliamentary center that is losing approval and has undergone its umpteenth split, it is likely for the proposal of the new movement to take hold.

We contacted Viola Carofalo, national representative and premier candidate, by phone, to speak about her views on the electoral campaign and about some key points of the program she runs for.


‘There still is a left wing in Italy”

In the context of a resurgence of the right-wing, which seems to have increasing power, we have asked Viola Carofalo whether in Italy, in the current electoral context, there is still a cultural and political area that says “left-wing things”. “I think it’s a matter of the amount of space that the press dedicates to certain political forces, in order to give us the impression that now people in Italy are looking to the right” says the national representative of Power to the People “but I think it’s just a feeling provoked by the media”.

“In the last few weeks we are meeting so many supportive people who look at politics as a source of social equality. People who want things different from what the newspapers say. For our part, we are making the biggest possible effort, we are a small movement but in four months we have been able to create assemblies in 160 cities that are not limited to the electoral campaign. There are Italians who want to talk about work, the environment, social equality and gender. Beyond what the press says, there is also another Italy “.


Work and environment, key points of the program

Power to the People puts issues related to labor at the center of its electoral program. “Labor, as we envision it, must be dignified, stable and secure. Data tells us that in Italy there are still people who die or get sick due to work, and the numbers are growing. Italians deserve a job regulated by certain laws and rights. You can not dismiss workers without just cause, and I’m referring to Article 18 [which establishes the rights of workers in case of dismissals, and is currently the center of a nationwide debate], you can not be doing precarious work for life because the nightmare of precariousness prevents you from being able to plan your life”.

“We support jobs without expiration dates”. And they have equally vigorous views on environmental issues. “This is another issue that we consider central, which is supported by the presence of so many environmental committees within our organization. The environment is everyone’s good, therefore we oppose those who regard it only as a means to make profit, to those who exploit and pollute it. The future of environment is also our future and that of our children. Power to the People also carries forward programs aimed at combating any form of inequality”, Carofalo adds “be it economic, ethnic-based or gender-based: any behavior that leads to an unequal treatment has to be stopped”.


The electoral constituency

Power to the People aims in particular to appeal to that part of the electoral that has been disappointed both by the Five-Star Movement (5SM), and by the center-left. “There are people on the left who vote for the 5SM out of desperation,” Viola Carofalo explains, “because they have no alternative. Others, meanwhile, continue to vote for the center-left because they formally recognize it as the heir to a long political tradition, even if it has nothing to do with the left. The Democratic Party in Italy has managed to do what the center had failed to do in terms of liberalism and destruction of rights, just look at reforms like the ‘Jobs Act’ and the ‘Good school’.”

The party pays particular attention to the youth. “We want to bring the young people who vote for the first time to the polls, which is why we are doing a lot of electoral campaign outside schools. So far, we have had very positive feedback among youth”.


Differences with the 5SM

Power to the People is a movement and, as such, it is easy to make comparisons with the Five-Star Movement. “We are a people’s movement”, Carofalo clarifies, “not a populist one”. “They want to appear as transversal, while we are a leftist movement and we do not necessarily want to please everyone. Our ideas are clear, while they make ambiguous speeches about issues like work and immigration. Moreover, the grassroots of the 5SM are only an illusion. Their movement is vertical and hierarchical and even their online voting system is purely formal. When they chose their presidential candidate, they put [Luigi] Di Maio and three complete strangers, so the result was obvious before the vote. We are also for active political participation, while they tell Italians to click with their mouses from the comfort of their own homes. We hold open assemblies, we have committees where anyone can participate in the decision-making on their territories. We stand for active politic involvement, while the 5SM’s reasoning was based on anti-politics”.

“LeU? No difference with the PD”

Many people think that Power to the People can somehow “steal” a part of the electorate of Liberi e Uguali (Free and Equal, abbr. LeU) party alliance. Others foresee a potential common front if both forces should succeed in entering Parliament. “If the LeU’s proposals were convincing, we would make the alliance first. Today, this makes no sense, neithber before nor after the elections. LeU is the party of Pietro Grasso and Massimo D’Alema, who are politicians who voted for all of the reforms that we reject, such as the “Good School” act or the “Fornero” pension reform. We could define them as a spin-off of the Democratic Party.     Beyond what Grasso and the others say in this electoral campaign, it seems to me that facts speak louder for them. When they were in government, they did none of the things they say they want to do today”.

The abolition of 41bis

Among the points of the electoral campaign of Power to the People, is a proposal to abolish the 41bis, which establishes a harsh prison regime, has raised controversy. “We are proud of this point because we have no interest in fomenting hate and revenge. We will support this proposal because the definition of “torture” was not written by us but by the European Court and the UN. We won’t combat prison mafias by preventing prisoners to cook their own meals or having books in their cell, but creating job opportunities for youth in disadvantaged areas and thus taking manpower away from organized crime, avoiding the creation of gray areas that can become business opportunities for the mafias, such as the extraordinary policies for refugees. Regarding the prison system as a whole, it must be a rehabilitation system of just punishment and not torture”.


Immigration policies

Another one of the focal topics that are being debated in the electoral campaign is linked to migrants. Some political forces have made it their battle horse, pointing at migratory flows as the origin of all evil. “In Italy we have fundamental rights that have been denied for years by certain policymakers, and certainly not because of foreigners” Viola Carofalo emphasizes “but the truth is that immigration policies have never been seriously planned. The reception is poorly managed, and this is deliberate, because behind this there are many cooperatives seeking to profit from migrants. Then there is the overall plan to lower labor costs by using foreigners who arrive in Italy, who are already clandestine due to the Bossi-Fini law, and they are fragile and blackmailed, and therefore ready to work for just a few euros. This system eventually coerces Italians into precarious work as well”. Having identified the problem, for Power to the People the remedy could be to strengthen the local structures that deal with immigration. “The reception should not be managed by the prefectures, but by the local authorities, municipalities and regions that better understand the need of each individual territory. When you put all of these people who are already in difficult situations in large and crowded centers with another two or three hundred people, in the end you have created a ghetto that, indeed, can have difficulties to become integrated with the local population. If, on the contrary, reception is widespread and planned, then it can become a resource. This is also what Confindustria [the General Confederation of Italian Industry] says and, although it is certainly not my ideological reference, it is still an authoritative opinion “.


‘Italy is not racist, but it can become so’

The issue of immigration is certainly connected to that of a growing intolerance, according to Viola Carofalo, but Italy is not yet a racist country. “Racism exists” she clarifies “but it is also fomented. If part of the press and politicians continue to say that all the problems of the country are linked to foreigners, there will be more and more people who will take up this rhetoric. What happened Macerata [where a man shot six African immigrants] is an example: when the highest offices of the state, apart from president Mattarella, attribute that cowardly fascist attack to the presence of immigrants, I think it is inevitable to foment racism. I therefore believe that Italy is not yet a xenophobic country, but if foreigners are used to explain every problem, it seriously risks becoming one”.

Nepal’s Communist Party Merger and Steps Ahead

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

Pramesh Pokharel / News Click.

Since the left alliance was the vital force of recent victory, it is one of the concrete decisions that respect the mandate of the people and aspirations of thousands of cadres.

February 19 is a special day of establishment of democracy in Nepal, and it will be noted for another achievement in the history, as the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist- Leninist (CPN-UML) and Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre (CPN MC) signed a seven-point deal for the unification of the two parties on the same Day. Since the left alliance and unification was the vital force of recent victory, it is one of the concrete decisions that respect the mandate of the people and aspirations of thousands of cadres. Now, the decision on party unification will also help to get the new government its full structures and start party unification process.

In the seven points agreement signed by CPN (UML) and the CPM (MC), the following are the basis of unification of two parties.

  1. Name of the unified party shall remain the Nepal Communist Party

  2. The guiding principle of Nepal Communist Party shall be Marxism-Leninism.

  3. The ideological line of the party shall be based on the People’s Multiparty Democracy as propounded by the then CPN-UML’s late leader Madan Bhandari.

  4. The two parties also reached an understanding to revise the People’s Multiparty Democracy adopted by the CPN-UML and Maoism followed by the CPN (MC) through due process.

  5. Based on the aforementioned conditions, the unified party shall prepare its interim political report and interim party statute.

  6. Likewise, the party shall formulate bases of socialism through safeguarding the achievements made so far. It shall strengthen nationalism, democracy and social justice and go for new economic transformation.

  7. The party shall conclude the upcoming general convention as a unity general convention.

The deal was signed by Chairman of the CPN-UML and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, senior leaders Jhalanath Khanal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Vice-Chairman Bamdev Gautam and General Secretary Ishwar Pokharel on behalf of the CPN-UML. Those inking the agreement on behalf of the CPN(MC) included its Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and leaders Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’.

Two task forces formed

Two task forces have been formed by CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center)- one on organizational merger and another on the political ideological formation. The two task forces were formed according to seven-point agreement to expedite unification and to make further recommendations to strengthen the unified party. Both the task forces include 10 members each, with five representatives from each party.

Ishwore Pokharel, Bishnu Paudel, Gokarna Bista, Bedu Ram Bhusal and Raghuveer Mahaseth have been included in the task force for the organization from UML, while Ram Bahadur Thapa, Giri Raj Mani Pokharel, Barsha Man Pun, Matrika Yadav and Janardan Sharma represent Maoist Center in the task force.

Similarly, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bhim Rawal, Subash Chandra Nembang, Pradeep Gyawali and Raghuji Panta of UML have been included in the task force for the interim political report and interim statute. Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Dev Gurung, Shakti Basnet, Pampha Bhusal and Devendra Paudel of Maoist Center are also in the task force.

Both task forces formed on political guideline and organisational structure of the new party after unification between CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Centre) has been asked to submit reports within 15 days. It is expected that after the submission of report and discussion by leadership, a bigger event and formal declaration of party unification will be held before March 21.

Cabinet is likely to extend by Monday

CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) have entrusted party leader KP Sharma Oli and a three-member team led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal to take a decision on Ministers. Prime Minister Oli is expected to expand his Cabinet on Monday.

With the left alliance poised to run the government for a full five years, there are fairly large numbers of leaders aspiring to serve as ministers in the two parties. A Standing Committee meeting of the UML, which leads the government, has entrusted PM Oli with deciding on the ministerial candidates while the CPN-Maoist Centre gave the responsibility to three top leaders on Thursday.

Recently the government has decided that there will be an 18-member cabinet, out of which 10 Ministers and PM will belong from UML and seven from MC. Previously there were 30 ministries at the central level.

Pramesh Pokharel is a political activist and a young Marxist Leninist from Nepal

Theotonio dos Santos’ Unfortunate Departure (1936-2018)

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

Source: Otras Voces en Educación / The Dawn News

Today, the team of Other Voices in Education is filled with feelings of sadness due to the loss of another great contemporary Latin American intellectual: Theotonio dos Santos Júnior, who was born in Carangola, Minas Gerais, in Brazil, on November 11, 1936, and passed away today, February 27, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro, due to a pancreatic cancer.

Santos was one of the most important minds who contributed to the Marxist theory of dependency. This economist was one of the most influential Latin American thinkers of the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century, with dozens of published works. He also held the UNESCO chair in Global Economics and Sustainable Development, was an emeritus professor at the Fluminense Federal University and a visiting professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University, the Autonomous National University of Mexico, the Northern Illinois University, the New York State University, the Minas Gerais Federal University, the Bennett Institute of Rio de Janeiro, and others.

He also obtained several honorary degrees from universities like the National University of San Marcos and the Ricardo Palma University (both in Peru) and the Buenos Aires University of Argentina.

His legacy will live on and will always be in our hearts.

Mass Mobilization Against Trump Military Parade

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese / Popular Resistance.

President Trump ordered the Pentagon to start planning a military parade on Veteran’s Day this November. Trump wants to outdo the military parade he attended in France on Bastille Day. Estimates are it could cost up to $50 million. The last military parade was after the Gulf War in 1991.

A coalition of groups is organizing to oppose the parade, click here to learn more.

Military parade in dangerous times

This display of military power and glorification of war comes when the risks of nuclear conflict and wars are rising. It comes when massive tax cuts have been given to the rich while spending on domestic needs are threatened and a recession is looming.

A military parade is a manifestation of many problems – threats of war and ongoing imperialism, the fading US empire trying to hang on to global hegemony, militarization of our communities and an economy and government that serve the elites’ interests while the rest of the population struggles.

The military parade will try to intimidate other nations by displaying the US’ weapons, but it will actually demonstrate an insecure fading empire trying to show it still has power. In his state of the union this week, President Putin announced Russia’s new weapons system that seem to make US defenses and weaponry obsolete. If true, this increases the risks of damage to the US if it attacks Russia or its allies.

The Pentagon knows the US is losing its position as the major global power, but rather than accept reality, it is being more aggressive, seeking war and regime change in North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. The new National Defense Strategy and Nuclear Posture Review focus on Russia and China as rivals and escalate the arms race. State Department officials have been ordered to sell more weapons.

It is time to de-escalate, not escalate. The US has killed more than 20 million people in 37 countries since the end of World War II. But, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted nearly unanimously to increase military spending by $40 billion more than requested. It is President Trump who ordered the parade, but US militarism is a product of both major political parties. The military parade will show the United States is marching in the wrong direction.

Uniting against militarism and austerity

When President Trump first mentioned a possible military parade, a number of groups started organizing responses. ANSWER Coalition put out a call for people to come to DC to protest, Roots Action launched a petition opposing the parade, and veteran’s groups started organizing an indigenous-led peace march calling for a return to celebrating Armistice Day. This November is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

When it became more likely that the parade would happen, we heard from people in the United States and around the world asking if protests would be held against it.

Last week, Popular Resistance hosted a conference call to bring anti-war, peace and justice groups together to coordinate actions. There was great enthusiasm, energy and unity among the groups. We agreed to collaborate on actions around Veteran’s Day weekend to organize hundreds of thousands of people to come to Washington, DC to oppose the parade (or whatever city the parade is in if it is moved) and to call for solidarity actions around the world.

We hope the parade will be cancelled. If it is, we will still gather to demand:

  1. Stop the glorification and normalization of war.
  2. Return Veteran’s Day to Armistice Day, a day to celebrate peace.
  3. End US wars and acts of aggression, including regime change.
  4. Cut military spending, invest in human needs and protection of the planet.
  5. Stop the militarization of schools and communities.
  6. Stop repression against dissent.

Since the call, more groups have started signing on to the effort. Your organization can sign on here.

A website was created, No Trump Military Parade. The growing list of organizations that have signed on is included and you can sign on as an individual. As the organizing advances, the website will include specific information on planned events and a map of solidarity actions in the United States and around the world, as well as flyers and other materials for outreach.

Time to end the culture of violence

Elliott Swain argues that militarism at home and abroad are deeply connected. A school shooting by a white man trained to kill by the NRA and Pentagon-supported Jr ROTC program and a school bombing by the US military in Syria have intertwined roots. We must address both or we will fail in ending our culture of violence.

In her new book, “Loaded, A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes the deep roots of the culture of violence and gun laws in the United States. She writes, we have “a history of inherently violent settler-colonialism and chattel slavery” that was made possible by militias.

The violence of settler-colonialism continues today. Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report writes, “All the sound and fury about gun control is useless because this society demands that the slave patrol never disband. There are even arguments made to expand it.” She ties violence in the US to white supremacy and racism.

Chris Hedges explains guns are equated with political power, “Mass culture and most historians do not acknowledge the patterns of violence that have played out over and over since the founding of the nation. This historical amnesia blinds us to the endemic violence that defines our culture and is encoded in our national myth.”

We can take steps to start decolonizing the United States. We discussed that this week on Clearing the FOG with Sherri Mitchell, who describes in depth what can be done in her new book, “Sacred Instructions.”

Militarization infects our communities in many ways. How can we blame people who turn to violence as a solution when that is the knee-jerk response of our nation? If we have a conflict with another country, usually because we want their resources, we make threats, impose sanctions or attack. If a community rises up with legitimate anger against oppressive systems, we send in militarized police and the national guard.

Children are taught from a young age that members of the military are heroes. They are desensitized to violence through video games that target non-whites, television and movies, and are trained to kill through programs like Jr ROTC in their schools. These are all designed to feed them into the insatiable military machine.

This includes economic violence

The statistics on deaths in the United States are staggering. Eric London lays it out:

“Since 2000, there have been 270,000 murders in the US, 600,000 drug overdoses (200,000 involving opioids), 650,000 suicides (130,000 by veterans), and 85,000 workplace deaths. An estimated 700,000 people have died prematurely during this period due to lack of health care. Police killed over 12,000 people from 2000 to 2014, and up to 27,000 immigrants have died attempting to cross the US-Mexico border since 1998. The government has executed roughly 850 prisoners since 2000. Over 2.2 million adults are currently incarcerated in jails and prisons, with another 4.7 million on probation or parole.”

That equals over 2.3 million deaths in the last 17 years, over 140,000 avoidable deaths each year. At the root of these deaths is economic violence that devastates communities in the US and other countries.

Economic violence perpetrated in the US feeds the war machine. Military spending now consumes 57% of federal discretionary spending, leaving only 43% to meet basic needs such as education, housing, transportation and energy.

Harel B. writes that our national security spending is close to $1 trillion a year. He estimates that an actual defense budget, rather than an Empire budget, would cost $100 billion annually. Imagine what could be done with an extra $900 billion in the US where 40% of the people live on the edge of poverty and the social safety net is shrinking.

Imagine the high standard of living we could all attain if social needs were given a blank check, instead of the military. We don’t have to imagine it, other wealthy countries are already living with high quality healthcare systems, excellent public schools and free higher education.

Next Steps

Organizing to oppose the military parade is an opportunity to unite people against war, militarism and violence. It is an opportunity to unite USians with people around the world who oppose US violence. A military parade will be a major error as it will show the United States to be an insecure nation at a time when people realize US empire is fading. Rather than the US recognizing it needs to join the community of nations in a multi-polar world, it will show the US trying to hang on to global dominance.

A critical step is to grow the anti-war movement in the US. There are many upcoming opportunities:

  • April 14 and 15, people across the nation will protest the wars at home and abroad.
  • July 11 and 12 there will be international actions to demonstrate the desire for peace during the NATO summit.
  • October 20 and 21 is a Women’s March on the Pentagon.

And of course, we urge you to join the mass mobilization to stop President Trump’s military parade and show the world that people in the US are ready to end wars. Visit No Trump Military Parade, sign on, and share it with people and organizations who oppose war.

The Powerful Global Spy Alliance You Never Knew Existed

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Ryan Gallagher / The Intercept.

Photo: Kristian Laemmle-Ruff

It is one of the world’s most powerful alliances. And yet most people have probably never heard of it, because its existence is a closely guarded government secret.

The “SIGINT Seniors” is a spy agency coalition that meets annually to collaborate on global security issues. It has two divisions, each focusing on different parts of the world: SIGINT Seniors Europe and SIGINT Seniors Pacific. Both are led by the U.S. National Security Agency, and together they include representatives from at least 17 other countries. Members of the group are from spy agencies that eavesdrop on communications – a practice known as “signals intelligence,” or SIGINT.

Details about the meetings of the SIGINT Seniors are disclosed in a batch of classified documents from the NSA’s internal newsletter SIDToday, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published today by The Intercept. The documents shine light on the secret history of the coalition, the issues that the participating agencies have focused on in recent years, and the systems that allow allied countries to share sensitive surveillance data with each other.

The SIGINT Seniors Europe was formed in 1982, amid the Cold War. Back then, the alliance had nine members, whose primary focus was on uncovering information about the Soviet Union’s military. Following the attacks on the U.S. in September 2001, the group grew to 14 and began focusing its efforts on counterterrorism.

The core participants of the Seniors Europe are the surveillance agencies from the so-called Five Eyes: the NSA and its counterparts from the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. As of April 2013, the other members were intelligence agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

The alliance – which the NSA sometimes refers to as the “14 Eyes” – has collaborated to monitor communications during major European events, such as the Olympics in 2004 (hosted in Greece), the Winter Olympics in 2006 (hosted in Italy), and the soccer World Cup in summer 2006 (hosted in Germany). Between 2006 and 2007, as part of a counterterrorism operation, the agencies began working on “exploitation of the Internet,” which was described by the NSA as a “huge step forward” for the group, because some members of the alliance had previously been “reluctant to acknowledge there was such a thing as the Internet.”

A Canadian Navy sailor on board a helicopter patrols the waters off the coast of Somalia as they escort a World Food Programme (WFP) ship on September 17, 2008, providing an anti-pirate escort for the ship taking food aid to Somalia. The UN Security Council in June adopted a resolution authorising foreign warships to enter Somalia's territorial waters with the government's consent to combat pirates, though it has yet to be implemented. European foreign ministers agreed to set up a special unit to coordinate the fight against piracy off Somalia, raising the possibility of a EU naval mission to the region. Ninety percent of food aid is delivered to the Horn of Africa country by ship, the last lifeline for starving millions since insurgents armed with surface-to-air missiles make air and road deliveries too dangerous. AFP PHOTO/SIMON MAINA (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

A Canadian Navy sailor on board a helicopter patrols the waters off the coast of Somalia as they escort a World Food Program ship on Sept. 17, 2008, providing an anti-pirate escort for the ship taking food aid to Somalia.

Photo: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

As of 2010, the agencies were focused on targeting suspected terrorists, sharing intelligence related to piracy in the Horn of Africa, and they were collaborating on the development of new surveillance tools and techniques. According to the documents, the Seniors Europe had its own dedicated communication network called SIGDASYS, through which each agency can share copies of intercepted communications. The group also used a system called CENTER ICE to share intelligence about the war in Afghanistan.

The documents indicate that the Seniors Europe hold an annual conference, each time in a different location. In 2013, for instance, the group gathered in Sweden; in 2011, it met in the U.K; in 2010, in Germany; and in 2009, in Canada. In 2013, the NSA expressed an interest in creating a permanent facility that would host representatives from the Seniors Europe in a joint collaborative space. The NSA discussed the idea with its U.K. counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The British were “all in” on the proposal, according to the NSA. However, from some unnamed members of the SIGINT Seniors, there was “persistent pushback” on the plan.

The NSA thought the facility would be best hosted in the U.K., as this would “be optimal in terms of having the most flexibility in tuning the operation to benefit the Five Eyes.” The agency also suggested the idea of France potentially hosting the unit, but outlined its reservations about setting up the spy hub in continental Europe. “Some European nations may be leery about hosting a facility in their nation,” the NSA noted, partly due to “associated concerns for European human rights laws.” (Both NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, declined to answer questions for this story. GCHQ issued a statement asserting that it adheres to “a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate.”)

The Pacific division of the SIGINT Seniors is younger than the European branch. The NSA formed it in 2005, with the aim of “establishing a collaborative effort to fight terrorism in the Asia-Pacific region.” In March 2007, the NSA said that it was in the process of “raising ideas for expanding [SIGINT Seniors Pacific’s] intelligence focus beyond counterterrorism.”

The NSA was passing the Indians selected top-secret material, and India began leaking some of the intelligence.

The founder members of the Pacific alliance were the spy agencies from the Five Eyes, as well as South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. By 2013, France and India had joined the Pacific group. The NSA was particularly keen on having India on board as part of a broader U.S. government effort to improve relations with the country, and “felt strongly that India’s participation in multilateral intelligence sharing would help mature its Indian SIGINT agencies as well as provide regional [counterterrorism] expertise.” In March 2008, then-NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander led a delegation of officials – including representatives from Singapore and New Zealand – to New Delhi, where he asked India’s spy agencies if they would like to join forces. Three months later, the Indians accepted.

The Pacific group used a system called CRUSHED ICE to share information. According to an NSA document dated from November 2007, CRUSHED ICE is a secure network that enables sharing of secret intelligence, collected from intercepted communications, about counterterrorism. “The system allows for collaboration by way of voice, binary-file/email exchanges, analysis and reporting, graphics and mapping, communities of interest, collection management, and other applications as needed,” the November 2007 document stated.

For the countries invited to participate in the SIGINT Seniors, there are obvious benefits. They can learn new surveillance techniques from the world’s most powerful spy agencies and at the same time, obtain information about their own countries or regions that they otherwise may have been unable to access. But not all nations who have been invited to join the alliance have jumped on board. According to an NSA document from March 2007, Japan refused to sign up to the Pacific group, expressing concerns that “unintended disclosure of its participation would be too high a risk.”

A downside of SIGINT Seniors is the risk that a partner will mishandle sensitive information. This happened on at least one occasion with India. By the time terrorists had struck Mumbai in a series of attacks in November 2008, the country had been admitted to the Pacific group. The NSA was passing the Indians selected top-secret material, such as interrogation reports and recordings of intercepted phone calls. In the weeks following the Mumbai incident, India began leaking some of the intelligence — “at times it seemed a daily occurrence,” the NSA’s country desk officer complained. The NSA limited the provisioning of top-secret information to India after repeated warnings and meetings left it dissatisfied. Still, the NSA, which had deployed analysts to India, remained hopeful Indian intelligence agencies would “mature … into the partners NSA needs in South Asia.”

The SIGINT Seniors likely remains active today and has probably grown its capabilities in recent years. According to the 2013 “black budget” – a portion of the U.S. federal budget dedicated to secret intelligence-gathering work – the NSA was that year working to bolster both the European and Pacific branches of the SIGINT Seniors, and planned to “expand the level of cooperation on [counterterrorism] and explore other potential areas of collaboration.”


Documents published with this article:


Top photo: Australian Defense Facilities Pine Gap, Feb. 19, 2016.

Oil Market Fears: War, Default And Nuclear Weapons

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Nick Cunningham / Oilprice.com

The U.S. is one of the few areas of the world in which there is an energy investment boom underway, a development that could smooth out the uncertainties of geopolitical events around the world. At the same time, outside of the U.S., there is a deterioration of stability in many oil-producing regions, aggravating risks for both oil companies and the oil market, according to a new report.

Financial risk firm Verisk Maplecroft explores these two trends as they play out simultaneously. The U.S. shale sector has emerged from years of low oil prices, damaged but still intact. Importantly, the shale industry "can ride out price dips and respond quickly to upticks, weakening OPEC in the process," James Lockhart-Smith, director of financial sector risk at Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in the report. Combined with deregulation at the federal level, the oil industry is in the midst of an investment boom in the U.S.

Meanwhile, things are not so rosy elsewhere. Verisk Maplecroft surveyed a long list of countries, and produced its Government Stability Index (GSI), which uses some predictive data and analysts forecasts to take stock of geopolitical risk in various countries over the next few years.

The results are not encouraging. The number of countries expected to see a deterioration of stability "significantly outnumber those we see becoming more stable," the firm said. The reasons are multiple, including low oil prices, but also the erosion of democratic institutions.

"We don't see increasing instability necessarily ending in coups or significant political upheaval, but a less predictable above-ground-risk environment is likely to emerge," Verisk Maplecroft’s Lockhart-Smith said. "Arbitrary decision making, possible measures to buy off key stakeholders or an inability to pass regulatory reforms will be the main risks to projects in these countries, as their governments seek to stabilize and maintain their influence."

Not all of the countries expected to suffer from a decline in stability are that important for the oil market, such as Romania or Kenya. Also, some countries might be on an improving path, but at the same time present a downside risk that, while unlikely, could be huge.

In this case, Iraq stands out. Verisk Maplecroft says that Iraq "has a business-friendly upstream environment" and the forecast is for stability to improve. However, even if it seems somewhat reasonable that things could trend in the right direction, the downside risk is massive. And there are is no shortage of potential catalysts: The report points to elections in May, plus the "deep ethno-sectarian divisions and weak institutions."

Venezuela is another obvious flashpoint. The deterioration of the country’s economy and oil sector have been profound. But Venezuela also illustrates a different problem – that disruption need not come from a coup, a civil war or some other obvious geopolitical development. Verisk Maplecroft points to the purge of state-owned PDVSA following the unsuccessful coup in 2002 as a poignant example. The country’s oil production has steadily eroded over the past decade and a half since the Venezuelan state sacked experienced professionals at PDVSA and used revenues for other purposes while failing to invest in existing oil assets.

Verisk Maplecroft argues that Egypt is a potential contemporary example of that phenomenon. The increasingly authoritarian government in Cairo could roll back the policies that attracted investment from oil and gas companies in the first place over fears of a popular uprising.

Finally, one of the more intriguing cases is that of Russia, the largest oil producer in the world. Verisk Maplecroft sees little risk of political upheaval as Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks another six-year term in March, but a battle could ensue in the upcoming years over his succession when his term is up in 2024, and "factional struggles between liberals and statist former security officials are already ramping up in anticipation of his exit," the report says.

Verisk Maplecroft puts the odds of a general deterioration of political stability in Russia through 2021 at 90 percent, and the "oil sector will be a strategic prize in this battle, not least because Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin is a central protagonist."

In the near-term, there are two huge geopolitical threats to the oil market, but neither seem all that likely. Verisk Maplecroft says a potential war on the Korean Peninsula or a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia are the largest threats to the oil market, but both situations, while tense, will probably stop short of outright military conflict. Still, the mere threat of conflict, could add to the risk premium for crude oil prices.

Link to original article: https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Kurdish-Iraqi-Deal-Could-Restore-Oil-Production.htm

Arizona “Ground Zero” for Koch Attack on Public Education

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Mary Bottari / Exposed by CMD.

The annual Koch donors summit took place at the five-star Indian Wells Resort and Spa in the California desert at the end of January. The millionaires and billionaires called to the posh resort from all parts of America by the Koch brothers pledged $100,000 or more for a $400 million effort to keep the U.S. House and Senate in Republican hands in 2018.

At the same time, the donors pledged to go to war with parents and teachers in Arizona who are fighting to block the state’s massive school voucher expansion. Since taxpayer “vouchers” for private and religious schools were first put on the ballot in Michigan in 1978, they have been consistently rejected by voters who remember their roots in the segregationist south and understand that the well-off will take the money and run, leaving community schools without the funding they need and deserve.

The Koch network of funders hopes to reverse this trend when vouchers are put before the voters of Arizona in 2018. “Koch donors see Arizona as ground zero in their push” to transform the education system, reports the Washington Post.


Arizona public schools are in crisis. Between 2008-2012, Arizona cut more funding to K-12 public schools than any other state, and schools have not yet recovered. Today, per pupil spending is down $800 from where it was in 2008, classrooms are large, and Arizona school teachers are the worst paid in the nation.

Arizona Governor Ducey, who has been attending Koch donor summits since 2011, is up for reelection in 2018 and is all of sudden pledging new money for schools. His fate is intertwined with Proposition 305, a statewide referendum opposing his massive school voucher expansion, which will be on the ballot at the same time.

The roots of Proposition 305 can be traced to the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In April 2017, the Arizona legislature narrowly passed SB 1431, geared to expanding the state’s small educational savings account (ESA) program to all 1.1 million school children over time. The bill was based on an ALEC “model bill,” and the lead sponsor was ALEC member and former State Senator Debbie Lesko. ESAs work like school vouchers because they siphon public taxpayer money from community schools and transfer those funds to private and religious schools.

A passel of interlinked right-wing groups that fund and participate in ALEC, including the Koch’s astroturf group, Americans for Prosperity, the DeVos family’s American Federation for Children, and the State Policy Network’s Goldwater Institute joined the push to expand the state’s voucher program (even though its small scale voucher plan was not popular with parents and not yet full.) Betsy DeVos is the current Secretary of Education.

But public school parents and educators fought back, gathering enough signatures to put a “veto referendum” on the ballot for voters to decide. Americans for Prosperity sued the folks that gathered the signatures, alleging all sorts of improprieties like forgetting to check the right boxes on each petition, but the case was thrown out in short order. Even though the Kochs are appealing that ruling, it is likely that Proposition 305 will be voted on in November 2018.


Now the Washington Post is reporting that the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch and their coterie of millionaire and billionaire funders are getting involved, promising a David and Goliath type battle over the future of America’s public schools.

Changing the education system as we know it was a central focus of a three-day donor seminar that wrapped up late last night at a resort here in the desert outside Palm Springs.

“We’ve made more progress in the last five years than I had in the last 50,” [Charles] Koch told donors during a cocktail reception. “The capabilities we have now can take us to a whole new level. … We want to increase the effectiveness of the network … by an order of magnitude. If we do that, we can change the trajectory of the country.”

The Post reports that Governor Ducey was there to warn billionaire donors that if universal vouchers lose in Arizona they won’t be able to legislate on the topic in the future. “I didn’t run for governor to play small ball,” said Ducey. “I think this is an important idea.”

But as an increasing number of studies are showing, Ducey’s “important idea” has proven to be a disaster for kids.

A growing body of studies on state and local voucher programs has found startlingly lousy academic results for voucher students. A 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program found students who transferred to private schools using a voucher experienced dramatic losses in mathematics achievement and no improvement in reading. In 2016, researchers published a major study of Louisiana’s voucher program showing that elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped, on average, to the 26th percentile in just one school year. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said the negative effects in Louisiana were “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” in the history of American education research. Similarly, a 2017 study of voucher students in Washington, D.C. showed voucher recipients did significantly worse on a national exam of math skills and fell a bit behind in reading.

But the lives and livelihoods of children–who only get one shot at a good education–don’t really matter to the Koch donors and the corporate interests who back this agenda. Ideological extremists like Charles Koch are so opposed to government, they think the minimum wage and Social Security are bad ideas. They have long been at war with the teachers’ unions as they battle for better schools and better services and have advanced a systematic attack on teachers’ unions all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which will hear a case, Janus v. AFSCME, this month that could deal a major blow to public-sector unions nationwide.

Also advancing this agenda are private companies, like the scandal-plagued K12 Inc. which is supported by U.S. taxpayers and pays their CEOs millions in annual salaries ($4 million in 2017), pushing hard for vouchers and the privatization of schools so they can rake in more profits.

ALEC initially pitched vouchers as a civil rights ticket for poor and minority children, and for foster children or special needs children. But now it has abandoned that spin and is simply pushing vouchers for everyone, including the wealthy families attending private and religious schools. In Indiana and in Wisconsin, where two of the largest voucher experiments are underway, an increasing number of voucher recipients are wealthier families who would have sent their kids to private schools without a voucher. That’s right, taxpayers are being forced to fleece the public school system to support kids whose parents would have sent them to private and religious schools anyway.


The Kochs are already spending big in Arizona. As CMD reported, the Koch’s Latino front group, the Libre Institute was already up with ads trying to convince parents that vouchers were a fine idea. Since that didn’t appear to move the needle, Libre has changed tactics and has started knocking on doors to convince Hispanic families that vouchers are great.

“We’re seeing in Arizona that the Koch network is getting savvier. They’re hiring people who look like the community and are paying them to knock on doors. They are engaging in astroturf activism which means the real grassroots and their advocates need to be organized, unified and strategic,” said Dawn Penich-Thacker, the spokesperson for the anti-voucher group Save Our Schools Arizona.

But the ads are not stopping. Governor Ducey’s big backers, like the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, have started a new group called the “Arizona Education Project” and recently fielded a soft-sell TV ad blitz to say  “Arizona schools are making progress.” The ad war will no doubt gain steam as November approaches.

In the meantime, the poor performance at Ducey’s charter schools run by private operators continue to make headlines. A private charter school called “Discovery Creemos Academy” shut its doors with no notice this week, a day after the 100th school day. (The state disburses payment to schools based on 100th day enrollment numbers.)

Teachers were left without pay and the parents of 652 students were left scrambling. The state had plenty of indicators that there were problems at the school: the school was millions in debt, the principal paid tens of thousands of dollars to himself and family members, and the school had garnered an “F” from the Arizona board of education. But the state failed to take action to protect children from a traumatic disruption of their schooling.

Far from being an anomaly, this happens regularly in Arizona and in other states with unaccountable charters and private voucher schools. In Milwaukee where the voucher school “experiment” began, 41 percent of the private schools that participated in the program between 1991-2015 closed their doors, a result that stunned the pro-voucher researchers at the University of Wisconsin. Sometimes the head of the voucher school moves to another state and starts all over again.

The battle in Arizona this year should be on everyone’s radar say public education advocates on the ground. If the Kochs win in Arizona, they won’t stop there.

“Arizona should be instructive to the rest of the country. Privatization, the battle cry of school choice, voucher programs — the entire country needs to watch and engage the voucher battle happening in Arizona in 2018. If the Koch’s dark money groups keep voters from having their say in November, or if they pour millions, as promised, into a pro-voucher campaign and win, every other state with limited voucher programs can be sure they’re next for a massive expansion battle,” said Penich-Thacker.

Billionaire vs. Billionaire: Illinois Governors Race Breaking All State Campaign Finance Records

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

By Don Wiener / Exposed by CMD.

The March 20, 2018 Illinois gubernatorial primary is on track to become the most expensive in Illinois history, thanks to millions being put on the line by three billionaires.

One-sixth of all campaign money raised for all Illinois elections, including city, county, and state, from January 2013 through January 2018 was raised by just three people: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner his billionaire buddy, hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, and Hyatt Hotel heir JB Pritzker, who is running in the Democratic primary.

To kick-off his primary run and re-election, Rauner gave himself $58 million at the very end of 2016. Griffin gave Rauner $20 million in July 2017 and $2.25 million in December 2017. With Pritzker giving himself $49 million for the Democratic primary, this means almost $130 million has already been raised by only three people.


Since he first started running for Governor of Illinois in 2013, Bruce Rauner has raised $170 million, including $95 million from his own funds. When the Chicago Sun-Times suggested during his first race that Rauner was part of the “1 percent,” he famously quipped “Oh, I’m probably .01 percent.”

Rauner is a private equity investor, one of the principals of the private equity firm GTCR, and has reported federal adjusted gross income of $296 million since 2013, despite having stopped working that year and turning over his assets to an outside manager beginning in 2014. Most of Rauner’s holdings are private companies and not subject to federal disclosure, so he is not on lists of U.S. billionaires. It is estimated he has $1-$2 billion in assets, but it is always changing since he is a direct or indirect investor in thousands of companies through GTCR and other private equity funds.


In addition to being a partner in one of the nation’s largest private equity firms and an investor in dozens more, Rauner is a major investor in Ken Griffin’s Citadel Tactical Trading in Chicago. Citadel is one of the world’s largest traders of stocks, options, and futures for hedge funds.

With $8.5 billion in assets, Griffin is the 52nd wealthiest person in the U.S. Griffin has given $49 million to Illinois races since 2013, and of that, $36 million has gone to Rauner.


Now another billionaire has entered the race, this time on the Democratic side.

J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist as well and one of the heirs to the Hyatt Hotel family holdings, is also running for governor. He is the 219th wealthiest person in the U.S. with assets of $3.4 billion, according to Forbes’ list of the wealthiest 400 Americans.

Pritzker has given himself $49 million since he started running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last year, and he will likely put even more on the line if he wins the primary.


The $280 million price tag for California’s 2010 gubernatorial contest between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman set that bar for the highest spending in U.S. history, other than in a presidential race. A record-setting $144 million came from Whitman herself in her unsuccessful bid for governor.

But the early numbers indicate that the Illinois Governor’s race could become a $250-$300 million affair, even though Illinois is a much smaller state.

Stay tuned.

Note: $1.33 billion has been raised by candidates for state and local office in Illinois from January 1, 2013 through February 12, 2018, just over five years. Of that $219 million has been raised by the three individuals discussed. Over $500 million has raised by all candidates since January 1, 2017, and the three billionaires have raised over 25% of that. All state of Illinois data comes from the Illinois State Board of Elections.

What Could a Left Presidency Look Like in Mexico?

By: hezvo@therealnews.com (The Real News Network)

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim / Socialist Project.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) could become Mexico’s first progressive president in generations, but what would such a presidency actually look like? It is not an easy question to answer, though his time as leader of Mexico’s largest city could offer some insights. Between 2000 and 2005, Lopez Obrador headed the government of Mexico City. In a position akin to mayor, AMLO ran a city that today boasts a population of 8.9 million people in the city proper, and 20 million people if the surrounding greater urban area is included. In short, Mexico City is a country within a country.

When AMLO left office, he enjoyed an 84% approval rating. His welfare reforms were wildly popular, and he gave the city a major facelift while improving public transport and education. On the other hand, he has been accused of failing to address corruption while sparking controversy with his views on domestic security.

We cannot know whether AMLO – who polls suggest could win Mexico’s upcoming presidential elections – will run the country the same way he ran its capital. It has been more than a decade since he left the mayor’s office, and both he and Mexico have changed a lot.

Moreover, a potentially hostile congress could make AMLO’s election promises impossible to fulfil – not to mention the external challenges posed by the Donald Trump administration in the United States.

Nonetheless, AMLO’s time as mayor of Mexico City is our best window into understanding his style of governance. So, a decade on, how did he do?


Without doubt, AMLO’s biggest achievement as mayor of Mexico City was to create the country’s first comprehensive, socially-funded retirement pension system.

Before AMLO, Mexico had a mostly privatized system of income-related pensions with some government subsidies. This system was woefully inadequate. In 2000, only about 22% of Mexicans aged 65 and older had any kind of pension. Today, 88% of all Mexican seniors have a pension – largely thanks to AMLO.

In 2001, AMLO’s government introduced a universal pension to residents of Mexico City. Anyone older than 70 was entitled to the pension (later lowered to 68).

The scheme was very popular, though it had problems. For one, AMLO’s government set the pension in 2001 at just half the minimum wage, or about US$65 a month. Nonetheless, more than 80% of Mexico City’s seniors had successfully applied for a pension by the end of the next year.

This figure continued to rise until about 2011, when figures plateaued. The pension application process was considered easy initially, but, after a decade, complaints began to mount that new applicants were suffering long waiting times.

AMLO’s pension program could hardly be considered a failure. In fact, the overwhelming popularity of the program forced AMLO’s political rivals to endorse pensions. AMLO put pensions on the national agenda, and used Mexico City as a laboratory to prove such programs could work.

Sadly, the pensions remain inadequate. Mexico has one of the lowest pension rates in Latin America and nearly half of Mexicans aged 65 and over still live in poverty.

An AMLO presidency could be expected to prioritize welfare programs like the senior pension. However, it remains to be seen whether he could deliver on providing dignified living for millions of elderly Mexicans still living hand-to-mouth.


Supporters of AMLO say he revitalized a rusting city – and they have a point. Anyone who has visited Mexico City has likely spent some time meandering around the city’s well maintained old colonial centre. AMLO is largely to thank for the state of the historic centre, after he oversaw major renovations during his time as mayor.

Successive Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governments had promised to rejuvenate the city’s heart during the 1980s and ’90s, but when AMLO came to power the colonial centre remained a wreck of semi-abandoned colonial buildings and streets lined with garbage. Under AMLO, streets were re-paved, new street lights installed and the city scrubbed clean.

The secret to AMLO’s success was twofold. For one, his government relied on local communities to carry out most of the work, empowering locals to take the lead in repairing their city streets. This brought grassroots organizations into the fold, turning a largely aesthetic project into an exercise in community cooperation and pride.

But the second pillar of the redevelopment was more controversial: a heavy dependence on the support of billionaire Carlos Slim. Mexico’s richest man poured about US$200-million into the colonial centre during the first redevelopment phase alone, with critics accusing Slim of effectively buying the city.

Tax breaks and other incentives were also used to encourage investment. Critics warned the influx of private development was gentrifying vast swathes of the city and pricing out locals. AMLO responded by arguing the development was being accompanied by better services, better public safety and an improved city for all residents.

Education and Transport

Indeed, another of AMLO’s flagship initiatives was the creation of the Autonomous University of Mexico City (UACM) in 2001. Before then, the Federal District did not even have a public university. Not only that, but the UACM was the first new university built in Mexico for nearly three decades, making it a major achievement.

Later in AMLO’s term, he undertook arguably his biggest challenge: fixing Mexico City’s notoriously gridlocked traffic. The centrepiece of these efforts was the US$30-million Metrobus, which was hailed as Mexico City’s first new major public transport initiative in nearly 30 years.

Initially, the project saw jumbo-sized buses running down their own dedicated lane on a 20 kilometre stretch of the critical artery of Insurgentes, the longest avenue in Mexico City. Today, the Metrobus is on its seventh line, with successive governments expanding the popular initiative.

Along with providing fast, safe public transport, the system was also praised as a major step to address climate change. In its first decade of operation, Metrobus reduced Mexico City’s carbon footprint by just under 144,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. This was achieved partly by coaxing Mexico City residents away from private vehicles while also replacing older, more polluting buses.

Yet the initiative was not without controversy. A clunky smart card system initially frustrated users, while environmentalists complained the bus lanes were built over the corpses of thousands of historic trees.

Meanwhile, Metrobus’ impact on the city’s traffic problem is unclear. Traffic continues to account for half of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, stunt economic growth and kill nearly 1000 people annually in road accidents. The problem is so bad that Mexico City’s air remains unfit to breathe for much of the year.

In the face of such a huge traffic congestion crisis, critics say the Metrobus was simply too small in scope. Instead, they say the Metrobus was simply a cheaper alternative to a much better solution – more subway lines.

Still, AMLO has pledged to make university education universally accessible while investing heavily in infrastructure. His record suggests he is dead serious.

Corruption and Security

Finally, if AMLO has an Achilles heel, it is corruption. Despite vowing to crack down on corruption, AMLO’s record is spotty at best.

As mayor, two of AMLO’s close advisors were later accused of accepting bribes. More recently his party, MORENA, has been accused of failing to tackle corruption within its own ranks, misusing public resources for political purposes, and teaming up with allegedly corrupt allies.

Then there was his suggestion of offering amnesty to drug kingpins, which sparked a public backlash. AMLO supporters responded by arguing the backlash was the result of AMLO’s comments being exaggerated.

Nonetheless, on the question of corruption and impunity, AMLO’s record is not particularly impressive. In left-wing circles, it is the corruption issue that all-too-often leads to AMLO being branded as just another unreliable politician.

Foreign Policy and Energy

AMLO’s foreign policy is one area where he has broad support. He has arguably taken the toughest stance of any major candidate against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has devastated Mexico since the 1990s. He has pledged to do a better job of renegotiating the deal than the current administration of Enrique Pena Nieto.

“Pena is too quiet and Donald Trump speaks very loudly,” AMLO has said. “One doesn’t beg for liberty, one seizes it.”

Comments like these resonate well with Mexicans, who are tired of being derided as criminals and rapists. In some ways, Trump has done the most to help AMLO, despite the presidential hopeful toning down his anti-imperialist rhetoric in recent years.

The same could be said for AMLO’s stance on Mexico’s controversial energy reforms, which opponents say involve privatizing the country’s national resources. Once a firm opponent of the reforms, AMLO’s stance is less clear today. He has promised to carry out a public consultation on the reforms, but one of his closest allies has likewise promised to ensure existing privatization deals remain in place.

All up, AMLO’s record is far from perfect. He has a proven record on welfare, education, infrastructure and development, but his history of seemingly taking a light touch to corruption is worrisome. His energy policy positions are also an issue of concern, even if he may offer a better path than any other candidate.

Ultimately, Mexico’s entire political process is so encumbered with corruption that few, if any, candidates can be considered clean, AMLO included.

So while AMLO is, without any doubt, the only major candidate worth considering for progressives, it is still an open question as to whether he has what it takes to turn Mexico around. •

This article first published by Green Left Weekly.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim is an Australian independent journalist and travel writer currently living in Puebla, Mexico. He is a member of the alternative news collective Venezuelanalysis.com, and is a contributor to Australian alternative newspaper Green Left Weekly. He blogs at Dissent Sans Frontieres.