Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category

They say Covid-19 is here to stay

June 11, 2021

The economic incentive of the drug companies is to reduce Covid-19 to a continuing low level threat, both in the USA and abroad, and to have a monopoly on the means of controlling it.

The model is the Great Influenza of 1918.  The ‘flu never went away, it just became something we learned to live with, and people like me get a ‘flu shot every year.

The drug companies seem to be getting their wish.  But their problem is that they do not have a monopoly on Covid-19 treatments.

There is ivermectin. There are other treatments.  There are the vaccines developed by Russia and China.

The U.S. government claims the Russian and Chinese vaccines are ineffective.  Maybe they are, I can’t judge, but an imperfect cure that is available and affordable is better than a perfect cure that you can’t get or can’t afford.

(more…)

The pushback against ivermectin for covid

June 9, 2021

Ivermectin is a well-known anti-parasite drug, cheap to make and proven to be safe, that a lot of physicians think is effective against Covid-19.

Several states in India tried it out.  New Covid-19 cases dropped dramatically.

Ivermectin results in three Indian states, vs. one where it was banned

The reaction of India’s public health agency?  Astonishingly, following the guidance of the World Health Organization, they dropped invermectin from a list of recommended treatments.

Physicians in India are still free to prescribe invermectin, but the only treatments with the official seal of approval are the expensive vaccines made by major drug companies, all still in short supply in India. 

I don’t see how this decision benefits anyone except the drug companies themselves.

Nick Corbishley, posting on the Naked Capitalism blog, tells the story:

India’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has executed a policy reversal that could have massive implications for the battle against covid-19, not only in India but around the world. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, are at providing stake.

Providing no explanation whatsoever, the DGHS has overhauled its COVID-19 treatment guidelines and removed almost all of the repurposed medicines it had previously recommended for treating asymptomatic and mild cases.

They include the antibiotic doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine zinc, ivermectin and even multivitamins. The only medicines that are still recommended for early treatment are cold medicines, antipyretics such as paracetamol and inhaled budesonide.

“No other covid-specific medication [is] required,” say the new guidelines, which also discourage practitioners from prescribing unnecessary tests such as CT scans.  [snip]

The decision to remove ivermectin, multivitamins and zinc from the treatment guidelines is hard to comprehend given the current state of play in India — unless one assumes foul play.

After suffering one of the worst covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, India is not just flattening the curve, it is crushing it.

And the widespread use of ivermectin, a potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory with an excellent safety profile, appears to have played an instrumental role.  [snip]

Other countries in the region have already taken notice. Indonesia just approved the use of ivermectin in Kudus, a local contagion hotspot.

This is the last thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical companies whose interests it broadly represents want.

As such, it was no surprise that WHO was delighted with the DGHS’ policy reversal. “Evidence based guidelines from @mohfw DGHS – simple, rational and clear guidance for physicians,” tweeted WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, of Indian descent. “Should be translated and disseminated in all Indian languages.”  [snip]

It’s worth noting that while India’s DGHS has dumped most cheap off-patent treatment options against Covid, including even multivitamins, more expensive patented medicines continue to get the green light.

They include Gilead’s prohibitively expensive antiviral Remdesivir, which DGHS continues to recommend for “select moderate/ severe hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” even though “it is only an experimental drug with potential to harm.” It has also authoriszed the use of the anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, which costs hundreds of dollars a dose.

Source: Naked Capitalism.

(more…)

The system is rigged

June 1, 2021

Here are some links to articles I found interesting, and maybe you will, too.

Just How Rigged Is the ‘Rigged Game’? by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “The Division of Light and Power, the new book by Dennis Kucinich, is an epic story of American corruption.”

Interview With Dennis Kucinich on His New Book, The Division of Light and Power, by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “The former Presidential candidate on his new book, the ‘Punch and Judy show’ of partisan politics and how ‘people move into the system and, instead of changing the system, the system changes them’.”

Dennis Kucinich was a city councilman and mayor of Cleveland, a congressman and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President.  He was widely ridiculed during his political career, but mostly proved right. 

In his new book, he tells of his 10-year struggle to prevent the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) from taking over the municipally-owned electric power company, Muny Light, in order to remove competition and jack up prices.

CEI manufactured Muny blackouts before holidays, blatantly defied federal laws requiring CEI to provide backup power in case of such blackouts, refused to allow Muny to build lines through its territory to obtain backup power from other utilities, used bought-off pols to help artificially lower the valuation of Muny, and even used its power as an advertiser to obtain editorial review authority over local radio copy involving the company.

Because the decision about whether or not to keep Muny was a no-brainer for any Cleveland resident without a larger financial interest in the deal — as Muny didn’t pay dividends or giant packages to executives, it was able to offer rates 20% below CEI, low enough that Cleveland crafted its pitch to outside businesses around its low energy rates — CEI needed to blast cash at institutions to win allies for its cause.

When that didn’t work, it appeared to use its influence to get rid of critics, like WERE radio host Steve Clark, fired after reporting CEI had asked the state for a rate hike in the same year it was reporting a $40 million profit.  [snip]

Kucinich resists smear campaigns, a recall attempt, every conceivable kind of financial squeeze, and even an assassination plot in refusing to sell Muny Light.

Eventually Mayor Kucinich was faced with a choice of selling Muny Light or defaulting on payments of city bonds.  He chose to default, which plunged Cleveland into bankruptcy.  But years later, Cleveland has come back, Muny Light is a valuable asset and most Clevelanders admit Kucinich made the right decision.

The following is from the interview.

MT: The book starts with a really interesting epigraph about fighting City Hall from City Hall, where you say that in order to fight City Hall, you have to first find where it is.  City Hall is not just the physical structure, but the banks, the real estate combines, the investor-backed utilities . . .

Dennis Kucinich: And the mob.

MT: And the mob, right. So, today, nationally, where is City Hall, for people interested in fighting it? You’ve been in congress. What are some of those forces that are major players that people maybe don’t think about as much?

Dennis Kucinich: You have to look at Wall Street. We have a finance economy now.  Look at the arms manufacturers.  Our monetary system changed over 100 years ago.  The monetary system was privatized. 

(more…)

Things fall apart

May 23, 2021

In the USA, the dominant forces in both major political parties reject basic principles that are necessary to the democratic process.

Republicans seek to hold onto political power by suppressing the vote of certain demographic groups.

Democrats seek to hold into power suppressing the expression of certain opinions.

Not all Republicans are blindly loyal supporters of Donald Trump. But no Republican politician are afford to be a critic of Trump.

Not all Democrats are committed to so-called “woke-ism.” But no Democratic politician can afford to be a critic of the new ideology.

My evaluation of the two parties’ leadership is that, at this point in history, MAGA Republicans are crazier, but Woke Democrats are more dangerous, because they have powerful institutions behind them—the national security establishment, the elite universities and the leading newspapers and broadcasters.

Ezra Klein Interviews Nicole Hammer in the New York Times.

Nicole Hammer, a scholar who follows the conservative movement, says the Republican Party is “post-policy.”  She says the hard core of the Republican Party is committed to nothing except to supporting Donald Trump, no matter what he says and does, and opposing the Democratic leaders, no matter what they say and so.

It is remarkable how many commentators hark back to the United States of the 1850s, and the vain attempts back then to avert a civil war.  A significant number of people in that era, and also in the Western nations before the two world wars, were frustrated, apprehensive and ready to go to war and settle things, as they thought, for once and for all.

Reflections on the Upheaval in France by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

In April, 20 retired French generals published a letter denouncing “the disintegration that is affecting our country” caused by woke-ism and failure to integrate France’s Muslim minority.   This letter and a follow-up letter were signed by a total of more than 287,000 people, including 2,000 serving soldiers.

A public opinion poll indicates that a majority of French people support the soldiers’ letter.  The whole article is interesting.

They all fall by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.  Some reasons for the failure of Jeremy Corbin and left-wing populism in England.

Inside the Military’s Secret Undercover Army by William M. Arkin for Newsweek.

Corporate Media’s Double Standard: They Attack Whomever They Want, But You Cannot Criticize Them by Glenn Greenwald.

Big Corporations Now Deploy Woke Ideology the Way Intelligence Agencies Do–As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Core Press Freedoms by Glenn Greenwald.

The Sovietization of the American Press by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

American conservatives and Republicans don’t have a great record of defending First Amendment rights.  But that doesn’t mean they are fair game for censorship. 

There used to be a saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.  Well, then, a liberal is a conservative who’s been canceled.

The Danger of the Moment by Bob Bauer for Lawfare.  [Added 5/28/2021]  Republican voter suppression didn’t begin or end with Donald Trump.

Glenn Greenwald in Brazil

May 19, 2021

SECURING DEMOCRACY: My fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil by Glenn Greenwald (2021)

Glenn Greenwald’s new book tells the story of his latest exploit, the publication in 2019 of leaked information exposing corruption and abuse of power in Brazil, his adopted country.

His reporting on leaked information about abuses of power by President Jair Bolsonro and Justice Minister Sérgio Moro threatens their political power.

The risks he faces—prison and death—are possibly greater than in 2013, when he helped publish Edward Snowden’s leaked information about abuses of power by the NSA, CIA and Britain’s GCHQ.

I’ve long been an admirer of Greenwald, and Securing Democracy is doubly interesting to me because it tells something of his back story.

I started reading his blog, Unclaimed Territory, in the mid-2000s.  Its theme was the Bush administration’s abuse of power.

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, Greenwald held Obama to the same strict standard that he applied to Bush.  This won him a following across the political spectrum.

Greenwald was, and is, very lawyer-like.  His writing focused on the relevant law and facts, without any evident personal bias.  His judgments were without fear or favor.

In fact, I don’t know Greenwald’s political beliefs, beyond a general belief in democracy, freedom of speech and equal justice under law.

I followed Greenwald as his blog was picked up by Salon, then as he became a columnist for The Guardian.

I didn’t know at the time that he was (1) gay and (2) living in Brazil.

In the book, he told how, after quitting his job in a New York law firm in 2005, at age, he went to Rio de Janeiro to unwind on its famous Ipanema beach. 

A volleyball knocked over his drink, and a handsome 20-year-old man named David Miranda came up to apologize.

It was love at first sight, and they’ve been together ever since.  It is like an ideal love relationship out of Plato’s Socratic dialogues—a mature older man loving and mentoring a handsome and noble younger man.

Miranda grew up in a favela, one of the squatter shantytowns that have grown up around Brazil’s big cities. 

Favela residents typically live in shacks build of scrap wood, bricks and other scavenged materials.  They usually lack electricity, a public water supply or sewerage, although residents sometimes tap into the electrical grid illegally.

Drug gangs have more power in the favelas that the legal government does, Greenwald wrote.  They also are sometimes invaded by private militias financed by wealthy right-wing Brazilians.

Miranda was born in a favela to a poor woman who worked as a prostitute.  He never knew his father.  His mother died when he was five, and he was raised by an aunt, until he left home at age 13.

At first he slept in the street, but, by means of hard work, talent and charm, he had worked his way up to a stable job in offices at the time he met Greenwald.

After they met, Miranda got through junior high and high school, then got a degree in marketing from a top Brazilian university.

Miranda’s ambition was to design and promote video games.  Greenwald was unimpressed by that ambition, until Edward Snowden told him that he got his first ideas of duty, morality and purpose by playing video games as a child.

(more…)

HRW calls Israel an apartheid state

May 17, 2021

Human Rights Watch, in its new report, A Threshold Crossed, presented some powerful graphics to illustrate its claim that Israel is an apartheid state.

.

(more…)

Truth-teller Craig Murray sentenced to prison

May 14, 2021

Craig Murray

Craig Murray was once a career civil service in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  He lost his job because of truth-telling.  Now he faces prison because of reporting on his blog.

He lost his foreign ministry job because, as ambassador to Uzbekistan, he was overly concerned about torture of dissidents in that country and insufficiently supportive of the “war on terror.”

He has continued to be a champion of human rights.  He was one of the few journalists to report daily on the extradition trial of his friend, Julian Assange.

Now he has been sentenced to eight months in prison for his reporting on the trial of Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish National Party.

Salmond was charged with 13 counts sexual abuse and acquitted on all of them. Murray, who is himself an advocate of Scottish independence, said the charges arose from a factional right within the Scottish National Party.

He was charged with contempt of court on the grounds that his coverage of the trial on his blog, combined with other public and / or private information, could have led to “jigsaw identification” of the women who made the original complaints.

This week he was sentenced to eight months in prison.  He is in poor health, which would be affected by a prison term. 

He is temporarily free while he appeals the case.  All his reporting on the trial has been deleted from his blog by court order.

Journalists for mainstream publications who presumably created other pieces of the puzzle have not been charged.  A public opinion survey indicates that a small percentage of the public think they can identify the complainants, but none of them name Murray as their source.

Murray thinks his real offense was his claim that the charges against Salmond were politically motivated.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Scottish independence one way or the other.  And I haven’t followed the Salmond case closely enough to make a case that the charges against him were politically motivated, although I have my suspicions.

I do think it is clear that Murray is being wronged.  If you think so, too, you might consider clicking on his blog link below and contributing to his defense fund.

LINKS

Appeal for Defense Funds by Craig Murray.

My Medical Records by Craig Murray.

The Troubling Sentencing of Craig Murray by Alexander Mercouris for Consortium News.

Anger at Craig Murray’s eight-month sentence for Alex Salmond trial reports by Greg Russell for The National.

The sources and future of U.S. global power

April 20, 2021

Click to enlarge.

The goals of U.S. power.

With the fall of Communism in Russia in 1991, the USA found itself an unrivaled global power. Two factions in the U.S. governing establishment—the deep state, the establishment, the power elite, call them what you will—decided to keep it that way.

They set policy all through the Clinton, G.W. Bush, Trump and Obama administrations, and they continue to set policy today.

Neoconservatives sought full spectrum military dominance for the United States in every region of the world. Aside from the love of power for its own sake, they thought this would forever secure the United States from any military threat.

Neoliberals sought to give U.S. banks and global corporations access to every region of the world as a source of customers, raw materials and cheap labor. 

This meant suppression of socialist and nationalist regimes that opposed foreign domination of their economies, and, above all, any regime that refused to do business in U.S. dollars.

Other motives are loyalty to alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel and avoidance of the humiliation of obvious defeat.

No doubt there were and are individuals in the U.S. power structure who sincerely believe in using U.S. power to promote democracy, human rights, a “rules-based international order” and the like.  But they are not the decision-makers.  They are only allowed to speak when their ideals happen to coincide with U.S. policy goals.

The sources of U.S. power.

The main source of U.S. power is the dominance of the U.S. dollar in conducting world trade.

This gives the U.S. government the power to borrow money to finance the world’s most expensive military establishment, and not worry about paying it back.

The U.S. Navy dominates the world’s sea lanes, and the U.S. Air Force dominates the air over poor countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  This allows bombing with impunity.

By using air power and flying killer drones, special operations forces and subsidized foreign fighters, the U.S. military can wage war without large-scale sacrifice of life.

The Central Intelligence Agency has a record of plotting the overthrow of left-wing governments and installing U.S.-friendly dictators.  Latin Americans have a joke: There will never be a military coup in the United States because there is no U.S. embassy in Washington, D.C.

Another source of U.S. power is the thousands of weapons in its nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world.  The only nation with a comparable arsenal is Russia.  This means that no other nation except Russia can rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack.

The power of the dollar also gives the U.S. government control of the financial bottlenecks of world commerce, and impose sanctions and embargoes on foreign countries without having to worry about retaliation.

Much of the world’s commerce flows through the New York money center banks.  This gives New York banks the authority to impound the funds of nations such as Iran and Venezuela.  It also gives federal judges in New York jurisdiction over such things as Argentina’s settlement with his creditors or Ecuador’s fine of Chevron for environmental violations.

The SWIFT system—Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, based in Brussels—is a messaging system used by banks to transfer money and communicate information.  Being cut off from the SWIFT system means being cut off from the bulk of the world financial system, and SWIFT enforces U.S. sanctions.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are dominated by Americans.  They have a record of insisting that debtor countries impose “austerity”—higher taxes, fewer government services, higher prices and lower wages.  The debtor countries have to sell national assets and open up to U.S. and other foreign investors.

The 2014 coup in Ukraine came after the incumbent President decided to take a Russian loan instead of an IMF loan.  The new government took the unpopular IMF loan.

Click to enlarge.

The threat to U.S. power.

The greatest threat to U.S. power is neither Islamic terrorism, nor Russian subversion, nor China’s growing industrial power. 

It is the replacement of the U.S. dollar as the medium of exchange for doing world business.  Without dollar supremacy, all other sources of U.S. power would collapse.

(more…)

The USA is haunted by the specter of fascism

April 5, 2021

There are certain resemblances between the present-day USA and Germany in the last days of the Weimar Republic.

We have an ineffective government that’s unable to deal with major problems or rein in its military.

We have increasing numbers of Americans who’ve given up on trying to change things by means of politics.

Many see no point in voting or following politics. Others think the only hope for change is in street protests.

Along with this is a loss of confidence in all sources of authority—government, religion, science, academia and journalism—and a hunger for something new.

Ross Douthat wrote a column in the New York Times wondering whether the history of the Weimar Republic could repeat.  I think there are other, more likely ways that American democracy could break down, which I will get to.  But let me examine the Weimar script first.

While there are similarities, there also are big differences between Germany 90 years ago and the USA today. 

American political parties don’t have paramilitary auxiliaries.  Neo-Nazis and avowed racists are few.  Compare the turnout for the “unite the right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 with the massive Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year.

But all this could change if there was a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s, particularly if it was accompanied by a humiliating military defeat.

Here’s how things could play out.  This isn’t a prediction, just a possibility.

In the wake of economic collapse, the streets of American citizens are filled with rioters, including extreme radicals and extreme nationalists.  A nationalist demagogue is elected President, and industrialists and the military look to him to restore order.  Congress votes him the power to impose martial law, which he does.  Martial law is never revoked.

The fascist movements in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s arose from a breakdown of social order and a fear of Communist revolution.  The same conditions could arise in the United States, except that revolutionaries wouldn’t necessarily be Communists and the President who imposes permanent martial law wouldn’t necessarily be a nationalist or a right-winger.

∞∞

The conservative Christian blogger Rod Dreher sees another path to totalitarianism—a kind of low-level bloodless Stalinism in the name of what’s called identity politics or “anti-oppression” or “wokeness.”

Individuals have every right to define themselves on the basis of race, sex, gender or any other attribute, and band together with others to defend their rights and advance their interests.  I would never deny that people are held back by prejudice, and have a right to organize to overcome discrimination.

The problem is that believers in wokeness have embedded themselves in institutions, and demand not only that people subject to those institutions passively accept their ideas, but actively endorse them. 

They also demand a certain kind of way of saying things, so you can get in trouble by saying  “all lives matter” instead of “black lives matter.”

That’s how the new ideology resembles Stalinism and Maoism.  They, too, demanded not only passive acceptance, but enthusiastic support expressed in a prescribed vocabulary and a required show of penitence for not measuring up.

A recent public opinion poll showed that six in 10 Americans have political opinions they’re afraid to share and three in 10 fear that their political views could harm their job prospects.  Half of all strong liberals would fire a business executive known to have donated to the Trump campaign; three in 10 strong conservatives would do the same to a Biden donor. 

I don’t equate this to Stalin’s mass executions or the Gulag.  But I do think there’s a widespread and well-founded fear of getting into trouble by inadvertently saying the wrong thing or offending the wrong people, and I do see people afraid to speak their minds as I think free Americans ought.

Some people make a practice of searching social media to find things that people have said that could be considered objectionable, and then using this information to attack their reputations and careers.

Dreher fears the emergence of a social credit system like the one in China, where everyone’s every move is tracked through surveillance technology and social media, and people are rewarded or punished according to the acceptability of their behavior.

(more…)

The passing scene: March 22, 2021

March 22, 2021

Here are some articles I think are interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Steve Donziger Ecuador Case: Q&A With Human Rights Lawyer Under House Arrest by Jack Holmes for Esquire.  This lawyer won a lawsuit against Texaco (since acquired by Chevron), which lasted from 1993 to 2011, on behalf of farmers and indigenous people who lived in the Amazon rain forest, who accused the company of dumping cancer-causing toxic waste where they lived.  THey won a $9.8 billion award.  Chevron refused to pay and counter-sued their lawyer. Awaiting a verdict, he has been under house arrest for more than 580 days for refusing to hand over his computer and phone with confidential lawyer-client information on them.  Incredible!

How the West Lost COVID by David Wallace-West for New York magazine.  “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong?  How did others get it so right?”  This is the best article I’ve read on this particular topic.

Your Face Is Not Your Own by Kashmir Hill for the New York Times. “When a secretive start-up scraped the Internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit—and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.”  (Hat tip to O.)

Nina Turner: “Good ideas are not enough.  We need to marry our ideas to power”, an interview for Jacobin magazine.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

New study shows microplastics turn into ‘hubs’ for pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria by Jesse Jenkins of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Crow Whisperer by Lauren Markham for Harper’s magazine.  “What happens when we talk to animals?” 

Despotism or paralysis? Which is the problem?

March 16, 2021

Donald Trump never was a potential dictator, as so many Democrats and progressives feared. 

Rather he was part of a continuing a rear-guard action by conservatives and Republicans to thwart the will of the majority.

That’s the view of Corey Robin, a political scientist writing in the New Yorker.

Robin noted that Trump accomplished virtually none of his announced goals, not even when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

That’s because Republicans and conservatives are a minority, he said. 

The GOP failed to get a popular vote majority in four of the last five elections.  No conservative or right-wing group had the massive support that the Black Lives Matter protests did last year.  Religious conservatives such as Rod Dreher rightly note that they are losing the culture wars.

The problem, according to Robin, is that the U.S. Constitution gives right-wingers the power to thwart the will of the majority because of the undemocratic nature of the Senate, the Electoral College and the Supreme Court.  The result, he wrote, is paralysis.

There’s something to what he says, although our 18th-century Constitution did not prevent Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, or, for that matter, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, from enacting ambitious political programs. 

The Constitution is not preventing change now.  What’s holding back change is the reluctance of the Biden administration to keep its promises.  Nothing prevents the Democratic majority in the Senate from abolishing the filibuster, as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives did way back in 1888.

Nor does anything prevent the calling of a convention to rewrite the Constitution and ask for ratification by the voters.  But the ones calling for a new Constitutional convention are the Koch brothers and other conservatives.  Liberals and progressives generally fear what a new convention would come up with, and cling to the Constitution as it is.

Then, too, paralysis only in one direction.  Nothing holds back or limits appropriations for the military.  Nothing hold back war-making by the President.  Nothing holds back upper-bracket tax cuts or bailouts for big financial institutions.

Paralysis does not hold off dictatorship.  Rather people come to accept dictatorship as the only possible solution to paralysis.

Authoritarian governments in the 20th century have arisen in three ways.  Revolutionaries take power from weak ineffective governments.  The military takes power to prevent revolutions.  Pseudo-revolutionary movements take power with the silent consent of the military, the landowners and big business.

Trump antagonized the military, and was regarded by Wall Street as a loose cannon, so he never had a chance of becoming an authoritarian ruler.  He did do a lot of damage to the normal functioning of government, but that is a separate issue.

I think there is a strong possibility of some future crisis, in which some right-wing pseudo-populist could succeed where Trump failed.  But for now, there is no reason for the military or big-money donors to be dissatisfied with the Biden administration.

There is also such a thing as creeping authoritarianism, which I think is what we’ve got now.  I think the proposed “domestic war on terrorism” is a greater threat to what’s left of American freedom and democracy than anything proposed during the Trump administration.

Rulers of empires in decline all had broad powers to wage war and crush dissent, but they were paralyzed when it comes to reforming themselves.

LINKS

Trump and the Trapped Country by Corey Robin for The New Yorker.  “For years we debated whether Donald Trump would topple democracy.  But the threat continues to come from the system itself.”  I say it all depends on what you mean by “the system.”

(more…)

‘Anti-racism’ as an unfair labor practice

March 15, 2021

On July 31, 2018, Oumou Kanoute, a black student and teaching assistant at Smith College was eating lunch at a dorm and was approached by a campus police officer and asked what she was doing there.

My account of what happened next is based on an article in the New York Times.

Deeply offended for being harassed for “eating while black,” she posted a denunciation on social media of a janitor and a cafeteria worker that she thought had reported her.

Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College, immediately apologized to her and put the janitor on paid leave.  She also hired a law firm to make an impartial investigation of the incident.

She also ordered anti-bias training for all staff, revamped the campus police force and created segregated dormitories for non-white students.

In October, the law firm submitted its report.  The dormitory in question had been reserved for high school students taking part in a summer program.  Smith had asked college staff to report unauthorized persons in the dorm.  The campus police officer had spoken to her politely and left without taking any action.

The janitor she denounced, Mark Patenaude, was not the janitor who notified police.  The cafeteria worker had mentioned to her that the dorm was off limits, but had not notified anybody.

In other words, nobody had done anything wrong.

McCartney made the report public, but commented, “I suspect you will conclude, as did I, it is impossible to rule out the potential of implicit racial bias.”

My interpretation of that comment is: (1) Employees accused of racial bias are guilty until proven innocent.  (2) It is impossible to prove you are innocent of racial bias.

Jodi Blair, the cafeteria worker, earned $40,000 a year at Smith.  Tuition, including room and board, is $78,000 a year.

Blair said she got notes in her mailboxes and taped to her car, and phone calls at home, accusing her of racism.  She heard students whisper as she went by, “There goes the racist.”

The American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the student commented, “It’s troubling that people were more offended by being called racist that by actual racism in our society.  Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailboxes, is not on a par with the consequences of actual racism.”

Blair suffers from lupus, a disease of the immune system, and stress triggers episodes.  She checked into a hospital last year.  Then she, along with other workers, was furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She applied for a job in a restaurant, and, she said, the first thing she was asked was whether she was the notorious racist.

The janitor who called campus security is still working at Smith and didn’t want to be interviewed.  Mark Patenaude, the other janitor, quit not long after his name was posed on Facebook.

Campus staff, but not faculty, are required to attend anti-bias training.  Blair and Patenaude both disliked being interrogated about their inner feelings and childhood experiences regarding race. 

Another employee, Jodi Shaw, said being subjected to such training should not be a condition of employment.  She resigned and is suing the college.

(more…)

Insurrection hysteria and civil liberties

March 5, 2021

As the Insurrection Narrative Crumbles, Democrats Cling to It More Desperately Than Ever by Glenn Greenwald.  “If the threat of ‘armed insurrectionists’ and ‘domestic terrorists’ is as great as some claim, why do they have to keep lying and peddling crude media fictions about it?”

Department of Pre-Crime: Left-Wing Protester Arrested by FBI for Being on ‘a Path to Radicalization’ by Thomas Neuberger for God’s Spies.  “We’re on the road to the next 9/11, but not in the way you think.”

House Democrats threaten right-wing cable news

February 24, 2021

House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Press Freedoms by Glenn Greenwald.  “Democrats’ justification for silencing their adversaries online and in media — ‘they are spreading fake news and inciting extremism’ — is what despots everywhere say.”

Greenwald on the threat to freedom of speech

February 22, 2021

During the previous four years, Democratic leaders and pro-Democratic newspapers and broadcasters aligned with U.S. intelligence agencies to undermine the Trump administration. 

Now that Democrats are in power, the alliance continues.  It’s highly improbable that the Biden administration will dial down any of the covert wars now being waged by the United States.

As usual, Glenn Greenwald, who got his start as a civil liberties lawyer, has the facts.

I’m not a supporter of Donald Trump.  As one who believes in historic American ideals of freedom and democracy, I’m concerned about the large fraction of the 74 million Trump voters who endorse mob violence or believe in the crazy Q-Anon conspiracy theory.

But trying to suppress people’s basic rights is not a good way to refute their belief that there is a conspiracy to suppress their basic rights.

Also, progressives and left-wingers are naive if they think the social media crackdown is going to be limited to their enemies. 

Donald Trump was a very bad President.  I’m glad he’s no longer in office.  But I don’t believe in attacking historic constitutional liberties in the name of preventing Trump supporters from destroying historic constitutional liberties.

LINKS

Congress Escalates Pressure on Tech Giants to Censor More, Threatening the First Amendment by Glenn Greenwald.  “In their zeal for control of on-line speech, House Democrats are getting closer to the constitutional line, if they have not already crossed it.”

(more…)

Trump really did try to instigate an insurrection

February 11, 2021

The video above, introduced as part of the prosecution’s impeachment case against Donald Trump, underlines that the violence in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was more than just a riot.

I had some doubts before as to how big a threat it was.  I don’t have such doubts any more.

The insurrection was intended to intimidate the Senate, and in particular Vice President Mike Pence, into refusing to certify the vote of the Electoral College.  It failed.  Vice President Pence and a majority of the Senate did their constitutional duty.

I don’t think that there ever was any serious possibility that the election results would be overturned.  Pence’s refusal to certify would not have changed anything in the end.

The harm that was done was to convince tens of millions of Americans that they are living under a government to which they owe no allegiance, any more than Americans of 1776 owned allegiance to King George III.

What bothers me is the thought of now things might have played out if the White House had been occupied by an authoritarian leader a little bit more self-disciplined and a little bit more astute than Donald Trump.

Such a leader would not have waited until after the votes were counted to question the voting system.  He and his followers would have sought court injunctions a year ago to block the changes they’re objecting to now.

When the game is over, it’s too late to question the rule book, because there’s no way to know how the game would have come out under different rules.

Such a leader would have a way to convince the FBI, the Pentagon, the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security complex that he was on their side.  Experience in other countries shows that the police, the military and the intelligence agencies get along perfectly well with authoritarian rulers.

Such a leader would have had a real para-military force at his disposal—something comparable to Mussolini’s Blackshirts or Hitler’s Brownshirts (SA).

Trump gave winks and nods to encourage the Proud Boys and other authoritarian right-wing groups to think he was on their side, but he never (thank goodness) gave them effective leadership.  He never arranged for his supporters to secretly give them funds for recruitment and military training.

What happened on Jan. 6 could be a dress rehearsal for a right-wing coup to come.  A more astute authoritarian right-wing leader might well see all the possibilities that Trump’s attempt revealed and not make the mistakes that Trump made.

LINKS

Emotive video dominates day one of Trump impeachment trial by Niall Stanage for The Hill.

Insurrection TImeline: First the Coup and Then the Coverup by Steven Harper for Moyers on Democracy.  A more detailed timeline.

The martyrdom of Mike Pence by Sidney Blumenthal for The Guardian.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]  In the end, Pence did his duty.

(more…)

‘Economies of fail’ and the vaccine rollout

January 27, 2021

How Monopolists Slowed the Vaccine Rollout, and Small Business Speeded It Up by Matt Stoller for BIG.  “CVS and Walgreens Didn’t Deliver.  Small pharmacies did.”

Militarism, censorship in the name of freedom

January 27, 2021

It does not make sense to destroy freedom and democracy in order to defend it.

Reflecting the Authoritarian Climate, Washington Will Remain Militarized Until At Least March by Glenn Greenwald.  “The idea of troops in U.S. streets for an extended period of time—an extreme measure even when temporary—has now become close to a sacred consensus.”

Meet the Censored: Status Coup by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “Silicon Valley Is shutting down speech loopholes.  The latest target: live content.”

The fallacy of the single evil

January 13, 2021

C.S. Lewis wrote somewhere that the devil always sends his temptations in twos, so that in backing away from one, you are liable to stumble into the other.

That’s very true of political temptations.

The cult-like behavior of hard-core Donald Trump loyalists, and of Q-Anon followers in particular, is a great danger to functioning of American democracy.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people who are disconnected from reality as I see it?

But the drive to censor MAGA Republicans, including Q-Anon, is an equal danger.

How can I engage in democratic discourse with people and at the same time deny them a voice?

People who are silenced do not think they are refuted.

And I would be naive if I thought that censorship will be limited to persons and causes I disapprove of.

LINKS

Q-Anon and the Fragility of Truth by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

The Man Who Saw the Coup Coming Is Surprised It Wasn’t Much Worse by Cam Wolf for GQ.

QAnon Woke Up the Real Deep State by Nicolas Grossman for Arcdigital Media.

The Terror of Liberals in a Time of Insurrection by Ian Welsh.

The Boot Is Coming Down Hard and Fast by Caitlin Johnstone.

Images via vitaliketh on Twitter.

Assange’s martyrdom for truth continues

January 7, 2021

I should have seen this coming.

After ruling against extraditing Julian Assange to the United States to be tried for espionage and computer hacking, British Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that he must stay in prison.

One technique of the old Soviet Union for tormenting imprisoned political dissidents was to give them hope that they would be released by a certain date and then, when the date came due, tell them their sentences would be extended.

This is what has happened to Assange.

Julian Assange faces an array of charges in the United States, mostly related to his publication of secret U.S. documents that reveal war crimes. He accepted political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid possible extradition to the United states.

In 2019, Ecuador withdrew its protection and Assange was confined to Belmarsh prison, which is reserved for the most dangerous and violent criminals. He has been in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, and cut off from contact with family, friends and lawyers. A United States expert on torture has said that his conditions amount to torture.

Judge Baraitser ruled that the United States has a legal right to extradite Assange, but denied the extradition request on the grounds that his mental and physical health would be threatened if he were sentenced, as would likely happen, to the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. But conditions are nearly as bad, or maybe just as bad, in Belmarsh.

She possibly had a point when she declared Assange a flight risk. He did skip bail in 2012 when he took refuge in the embassy.

But there is no need or justification for subjecting him to the conditions in which he is being confined in Belmarsh. He could be confined without solitary confinement, lack of exercise, and lack of contact with visitors.

It was unrealistic to expect Judge Baraitser to refuse to extradite Assange on freedom of the press grounds. The British Official Secrets Act is even more far reaching than the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917.

There has been an informal policy in the United States of prosecuting whistleblowers, while refraining from prosecuting journalists and news organizations that publish the secrets the whistleblowers reveal. But this, too, has little foundation in logic or law.

The basic issue is that if a government can commit crimes in secret, and punish those who reveal the crimes, there is no limit to its tyrannical power.

The only way to address this issue for once and for all is to pay laws limiting secrecy. One way to do this would be allow accused whistle-blowers and journalists to go free if they can convince a judge or jury that the information they revealed was kept secret only to conceal crime, wrongdoing or incompetence.

LINK

British Judge Keeps Assange in Prison, Despite Ruling Against Extradition by Kevin Gotsztola for Shadowproof.

Wednesday’s Other Story: On the case of Julian Assange, and fearing empire more than Trump by Matt Taibbi on TX News. [Added 1/8/2021]

For Julian Assange, truth really is a weapon

January 5, 2021

The U.S. government spent 10 years trying to capture Julian Assange, exerting pressure on the governments of Britain, Sweden, Ecuador and other countries in humiliating ways.

A British judge’s decision Monday, denying a U.S. request for extradition, may be the beginning of the end of Assange’s ordeal.  Let’s hope so.

What made Julian Assange such a theat?

It was his insight that truth can literally be a weapon, and a dangerous one.  He explained his philosophy in a blog post in 2007, shortly he and friends launched Wikileaks.

His insight was that conspiracies—whether criminal, terrorist, corporate or governmental—require the ability to communicate in secret.  A conspiracy, in his definition, is any action that requires secrecy in order to succeed.

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie.  This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems.  Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what’s actually going on.

Source: IQ.ORG.

Criminal and terrorist conspiracies fall apart when conspirators fear that anyone they talk to may be an informer.  Corporate and governmental conspiracies fall apart when conspirators fear that anyone they talk to may be a whistle-blower.

The result of fear of leaks is that the conspirators either stop doing anything they fear being made public (unlikely) or that they become so concerned with not incriminating themselves that they stop communicating effectively.

Later on, in an interview, he presented a more hopeful view.  He said the fact that governments and powerful institutions persecute whistle-blowers is an indication that they are reform-able or at least vulnerable.  If they weren’t reform-able or vulnerable, they wouldn’t care what the public knows or thinks.

I have said before that censorship is always an opportunity. The signal that censorship sends off reveals the fear of reform, and therefore the possibility of reform. In this case, what we see is a clear signal that those structures are not merely hypocritical, but rather that they are threatened in a way that they have not been previously.

From this, we can see, on one hand, extraordinary hypocrisy from the entire White House with regard to the importance of the freedom of speech, and, on the other hand, a betrayal of those statements—an awful betrayal of the values of the US Revolution.

In spite of this, when such a quantity of quality information is released, we have the opportunity to rattle this structure enough that we have a chance of achieving some significant reforms. Some of those, perhaps, are just being felt, while others will take a while, because of the cascade of cause and effect.

Source: In Conversation with Julian Assange Part II

The third aim of Wikileaks was to create a unofficial historical record so journalists and historians would not have to rely on official sources.

Orwell’s dictum, “He who controls the present controls the past, and he who controls the past controls the future,” was never truer than it is now. With digital archives, with these digital repositories of our intellectual record, control over the present allows one to perform an absolutely untraceable removal of the past.

Source: In Conversation with Julian Assange Part I

When people like U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designate Wikileaks as a “hostile non-state intelligence service,” there’s something to it.  Assange and his friends really did try to disrupt the existing power structure, alone.  What was distinctive is that Wikileaks was facilitating spying not for a government or a political movement, but for we the people.

(more…)

A reminder: What we owe to Wikileaks

January 3, 2021

On Monday, a British court will decide whether or not Julian Assange will be extradited to the US, to face charges of espionage and cybercrimes.

Assange has been in jail since his arrest by the London Metropolitan Police on April 11, 2019 and as of today, has spent nearly a decade in confinement in one form or the other.

On Monday, Judge Vanessa Baraitser will decide whether Assange is to be extradited to the US to stand trial. Julian Assange faces 18 charges under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If extradited and convicted in the United States, he could face a jail term of up to 175 years.

If extradited, Assange would almost certainly be tried in northern Virginia, where 85 percent of the population is employed by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Department and the State Department.  Espionage cases are tried behind closed doors and on the basis of secret evidence.  Conviction is virtually certain.

Assange would almost certainly wind up in the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado.   He would be in permanent solitary confinement in a concrete box cell with a window four inches wide, with six bed checks a day and one hour of exercise in an outdoor cage.

Probably Judge Baraitser’s decision will be appealed, which means that Assange could remain where he is, in Belmarsh Prison.  Known as “Britain’s Guantanamo Bay,” Belmarsh is normally reserved for the most violent and dangerous offenders and is no better than the Colorado supermax prison.

Assange had been confined to his cell for 23 hours a day.  Since an outbreak of the coronavirus in his wing of the prison, he has been kept in his cell 24 hours a day.  He is in poor health, and has been denied requested medical care.

His supporters say his life is in danger.  Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has said Assange’s treatment amounts to torture and asked for an end to his “arbitrary detention.”

The charges against Assange have to do with his work with whistleblower Chelsea Manning in exposing US war crimes and other atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, as Suzie Dawson reminds us in the video above (from 2018), Assange has done much, much more for the world than this.

The basic issue is clear.  Does the U.S. government, or any other government, have the legal authority to commit crimes and punish people for revealing those crimes?  If it does have such authority, then what is our supposed democracy worth?

LINKS

Verdict in Julian Assange’s extradition case to be delivered on Monday by the People’s Dispatch.

The Kafkaesque Imprisonment of Julian Assange Exposes U.S. Myths About Freedom and Tyranny by Glenn Greenwald on Substack.

Crown Prosecutors Submit Final Argument for Assange Extradition by Kevin Gosztola for ShadowProof.

Assange Legal Team Submits Closing Argument Against Extradition to the United States by Kevin Gosztola for The Dissenter.

For Years, journalists cheered Assange’s abuse – now they’ve paved his way to a U.S. gulag by Jonathan Cook on his blog.

Glenn Greenwald on the real threat to democracy

December 28, 2020

Monopolists Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos

The Threat of Authoritarianism in the U.S. Is Very Real and Has Nothing To Do With Trump by Glenn Greenwald.  “The COVID-driven centralization of economic power and information control in the hands of a few corprorate monopolies poses enduring threats to political freedom.”

Imprisonment for debt, and other injustices

December 4, 2020

When Medical Debt Collectors Decide Who Gets Arrested by Lizzie Presser for ProPublica.  “Welcome to Coffeyville, Kansas, where the judge has no law degree, debt collectors get a cut of the bail and Americans are watching their lives—and liberty—disappear in the pursuit of medical debt collection.”

Student Loan Horror Stories: Borrowed $79,000. Paid $190,000.  Now Owes? $236,000 by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “At 59, Chris pleaded for a renegotiation.  ‘My life expectancy is 15 more years.  At this rate, you’re not going to get very much … ‘  Their response was, ‘So?'”

Public Defender Tales: Innocent, But Fined by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “The state of Iowa collects millions of dollars from people whose charges were dismissed.  There’s also a Catch-22: financially, you’re better off guilty.”

Lawmakers Unify to Give Corporate Donors a License to Kill You by David Sirota and Julia Rock for The Daily Poster.

I Was a Useful Idiot for Capitalism by Kurt Andersen for The Atlantic.  “How I got co-opted into helping the rich prevail at the expense of everyone else.”

(more…)

Julian Assange and journalistic hypocrisy

November 25, 2020