Hitler or UBER?

Stuck between fascism and neoliberalism, french voters are again blackmailed into voting for the lesser of two evils. While many refuse to vote, what are the other options to break the cycle?

We are millions to no longer bear this “voter for the lesser of two evils” blackmailing.

In a few days, the second round of the (french) presidential election will be held, with, for the umpteenth time, candidates whom are disconnected from our realities, and for the second time in fifteen years, the presence of the national front in the second round.

This situation was foreseeable. Successive governments, from both the right and the left, have on one side trivialized the National Front and on the other used their ideas.

The “de-demonization” of the National Front was brought about by the demonization of Muslim citizens.

The lure of gain, buzz, ratings, or simply the full adherence to racist ideas, beginning with Islamophobia, have made columnists and journalists help the National Front become approachable.

And it worked!

Ironically, this same press is already complaining that this party is expressing contempt towards them.

There are reasons to worry for May 7th (second round of the presidential election).

I have always thought that giving voting instructions is an insult to voters’ intelligence. But the aim of this video is to convince the abstentionists not to take risks and especially not to delegate to others the task of blocking the National Front.

The coming into power of Marine Le Pen will not provoke a revolution or opposition within the French State. No, it will not “blow up”. If she is here today, it is because many of the ruling elites already share her ideas.

As we have seen it for years, Islamophobia is a point of convergence from the extreme left to the far right. And it is because she has surfed on the wave Islamophobia that Marine Le Pen is not far from becoming president. Imagine the nightmare.

The extreme right-wing groups that are already preparing for civil war will have a boulevard. And don’t count on the police to be merciless with them, as they are with working class neighbourhoods or racialized people.

Yes, this same police which is phagocytosed by the extreme right and which are behaving as if their champion is already president.

If Marine Le Pen passes, she will have all the powers to make France a fascist and totalitarian country as was the case under Maréchal Petain, who is himself the spiritual father of her party.

We already know what living under the National Front looks like. It is enough to look at the cities that fallen in their hands to realize it:
Islamophobic obsession, corruption, violence, nepotism, refugee hunting, Petainist practices, guardianship of associations or intimidations, and contempt for institutions

I know, there is nothing new here

Under a socialist government we have experienced the brutality of the state of emergency, its indiscriminate violence, house searches, humiliations of families, ransacking of places of worship, arbitrary house arrests, militarization of the police, their brutality and their impunity, registration and filing of the population after having adopted the penalization of peaceful resistance movements (BDS, march against the labor law, freedom to boycott companies violating their social responsibilities, warning alert, solidarity with refugees …) , law on mass surveillance and the explosion of the prison population.

It is also under a socialist government that Muslim citizens have experienced the humiliation of their children in school, the increase of their demonization, the project of citizenship stripping or the national hysteria around the burkini.

And if a socialist government has been able to do this, imagine what it will be with a far-right president, in a country where overtly racist candidates have already won 46% of the votes in the first round.

Those who speak of abstaining from the second round or call to do so, are speaking from a position of privilege because few of them will fear for their integrity or that of their children.

As for those who give instructions for voting or abstention without sharing our daily lives, they miss an opportunity here to be silent. It’s easy to play Russian roulette with other people’s lives.

If Marine Le Pen is a political or ideological opponent for some, or a foreign problem for others … for the racialized populations to which I belong, blacks, Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Romas or Asians, she and her party represent a vital threat.

What about the other candidate?

With his neoliberal vision and his promise to turn France into a country of startup companies, which will decimate the working class and lock them into the digital proletariat, Emmanuel Macron represents a social threat.

Neither he nor Marine Le Pen represent a choice for social justice. Except that one is the heir of Milton Freedman, and the other, of Maréchal Petain. I let you guess which of the two is the immediate enemy.

But there is a third path. Your Emmanuel Macron bulletin will not be a vote of adherence but a vote of preparation for permanent defiance. It is out of the question to vote Macron and then resign and let him have it his way, but it is about voting Macron and to engage by joining associations, alongside activists, by responding to calls for mobilization and by filling the ranks demonstrations.

Our problems are structural and require a rethinking of our political regime. This fifth republic, inherited from the colonial era with its monarchical mode of operation, must be buried.

We need a new republic serving the citizens, which solves the racial question by liquidating the legacy of colonization,

A balanced organization of public authorities, a strengthened parliament, autonomous justice, transparency of the State, a demilitarized police force, social equity, taking environmental issues into account, in short, a new republic for a New world.

Once the national front disqualified from the presidential election, from the 8th of May on, civil society of which I am part, I belong will continue its struggle for social justice while others will be able to storm the national assembly by submitting their candidatures to the parliamentary elections.

Why?
Because both traditional parties will not recover from this presidential race and the renewal of the political class begins on 8 May. This is an opportunity for civil society to launch its own candidates at the local level, which at best will win, at worst will make others lose and will thus become the referees of the ballot.

After having made the (presidential) Elysée palace unattainable for the extreme right, it will be a matter of making France ungovernable for high finance and thus put an end to this neoliberal policy, in favor of a more social one.

You got it right, emancipation will be reached through politics and power struggles.

It’s on us to be up to the challenge on May 7th

— source medium.com/@yasserlouati by Yasser Louati

Islam’s Covergirls

The new citizenship test for intending migrants will probably be window dressing. Clearly it is aimed at Muslims, which is entirely appropriate. They are the ones who have problems fitting in; wherever they go in the West. But asking people to commit to certain values and eschew others is close to worthless, unless combined with a lie-detector test. And I doubt the ABC would agree to that, if you get my meaning.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider something tangible like dress standards. My club has them and they work well. You always have the choice of staying out. It’s a question of how the matter is approached.

To be clear, within the confines of prevailing standards of decency, people should have the freedom to dress as they wish in purely public places. But the key phrase is ‘as they wish’. Our values are not consistent with any group of women being forced to wear what they would not freely choose to wear. The intolerant cannot be tolerated when it bears down on a vulnerable group of our fellow citizens.

In this case it is plain that the face of intolerance puts many women in unattractive clothing they would not freely choose to wear. We know this by applying self-reflection. We personally, would find it intolerable to dress from head to toe in black serge (or in any other colour) when walking on a hot Australian summer’s day. We also know this from looking at pictures of the way women chose to dress in Egypt, or in Afghanistan, or in Iran in earlier times when free of Islamic religious strictures. Empathy and common observation tells the tale. (editor: the picture below is of Cairo University students in 1978. Not a hijab to be seen.)

It is an affront to our value of gender equality to acquiesce to a particular group of women being forced, pressured or cajoled into wearing dowdy coveralls. We owe it to Muslim women in Australia to do something about it.

Dutton’s toughened migrant entry criteria could require would-be Muslim women migrants to agree to a dress code broadly consistent with modern Australian standards. Or, better and less intrusively, maybe it should be a case of broadcasting loudly and openly in advance: “Please don’t apply if you want to wear a burka because refusal often offends.”

If that is too high a price to pay to enter one of the best, if not the best, country in the world; so be it. Of course, this would get the usual suspects – orchestrated women in scarves, left-wingers, greenies – into the streets with protesting placards. But the counter would be to present the policy as pro-women.

I wonder how those Muslim women who yearn to be liberated feel when so-called feminists ratify their subjection at the hands of a patriarchal religious culture. Women who dress in skirts, high heels and have stylish hairdos should not reach the false and naive conclusion that there are millions upon millions of women out there who prefer to be draped head to toe in a shapeless bag. They are not aliens. (editor: Cairo University, 2004. Cover up, girls. The misogynists of “the most feminist religion” insist you dress as ordered.)

Taking away a right is always contentious. But in this case, if it were possible to take away one right from Muslim migrant women — to dress in a specific way in specific places — it would serve to give them and their daughters, and their daughters in turn, much greater freedom express themselves as they wish. It would give them greater opportunity to integrate into the broader Australian community. It would be a good bargain for them, as it would be for the broader Australian community.

It would also give a positive signal to Muslim women already resident in Australia who wish to break free of oppressive cultural or religious practices. It is not politically feasible to do as Ataturk did and ban the hijab in all educational institutions and in the public service. Imagine Buckley’s chance of getting that through and then divide it by a sextillion (or whatever huge number you prefer). However, creating a supportive environment which encourages as many Muslim women as possible into the mainstream is important in breaking down barriers.

Look at it all another way. Short of stopping Muslim immigration entirely, the best option is to ensure, so far as possible, that those who come in will fit in. Mothers, wives and daughters in burkas is a sure sign that ain’t gonna happen.

— source quadrant.org.au by Peter Smith

Why Obama’s Big Cash-In Matters

One of my little online entertainments this year has been to ask my social media network a question: “So, what’s Obama up to lately?”

I want to know, but I haven’t had the stomach to follow the man once he left the White House.

Truth be told, I burned out on Obama years ago.

I called him out as a corporate, neoliberal imperialist and a de facto white supremacist (as ironic as that might sound given his technical blackness) from the beginning of the nationwide “Obamas” phenomenon in the summer of 2004.

Empire’s New Clothes

From 2006 through 2011, I dedicated inordinate research and writing to the “BaRockstar.” Prior to his 2009 inauguration (an event I found likely once George W. Bush defeated John F. Kerry in 2004), I tried to warn progressives (and anyone else who would listen) about Obama’s coming presidential service to the rich and powerful, their global empire and the white majority’s desire to deny the continuing power of anti-black racism in the United States. I collected my warnings in a 2008 book that bore the deceptively neutral title “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics.”

I continued to follow Obama closely. In 2010, my next book, “The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power,” detailed his dutiful fealty to the nation’s “deep state” masters of capital and empire (and to white majority opinion on race) during his first year in the White House. This volume exhaustively refuted partisan Democrats who insisted that Obama really wanted to do progressive things but was prevented from that by a Republican Congress. It was a nonsensical claim. Year One Obama had just won the presidency with a great voter mandate for progressive change and had a Democratic Congress. He could have steered well to the wide left of his corporate-center-right trajectory if he’d wanted. But he didn’t want to, consistent with Adolph Reed Jr.’s dead-on description of Obama after the future president first won elected office in Illinois:

In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.

By acting in accord with Reed’s retrospectively haunting early description, the “deeply conservative” President Obama ironically helped create the very Republican “Tea Party” Congress his loyal liberal defenders were then able to cite as the excuse for his right-wing policymaking. Governing progressively in 2009 and 2010 would have been good politics for the Democrats. It might well have pre-empted the “Teapublican” victories of 2010.

You’ve Got to Meet Real Socialists

But that’s not what “Wall Street Barry” was about. He was a Hamilton Project, Robert Rubin-sponsored actor who never would have gotten the elite backing he needed to prevail had he been the peoples’ champion so many voters dreamed him to be.

Obama set new Wall Street election fundraising records for a reason in 2008. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a fall 2006 Harper’s Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform. … On condition of anonymity, one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’ ”

After his 2012 re-election, Obama spoke at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council. “When you go to other countries,” Obama told the corporate chieftains, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans—we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines. … People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. [Laughter.] I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

It was what the socialist writer and activist Danny Katch called “a touching ruling class moment.”

The warm feelings made good capitalist sense. Fully 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during Obama’s first term. Obama won his second term partly by appropriating populist rhetoric from an Occupy Wall Street movement he’d helped dismantle with infiltration and force in the fall and winter of 2011. He did this after keeping Wall Street so comfortably bailed out and restored that plutocracy could reach the point where the top U.S. thousandth owned more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent.

Obama Burnout

Documenting Obama’s predictable and predicted (by me and others on the officially marginalized left) betrayal of his “progressive base” was unpleasant and tiring work. The 44th president was an Energizer Bunny when it came to advancing the wolfish agenda of the rich, white and imperial in fake progressive sheep’s clothing.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner was way into wielding the American empire’s maiming and killing machine in Africa and the Middle East. His not-so-precisely targeted assassination drone program became what Noam Chomsky would aptly describe as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.”

“Turns out I’m pretty good at killing people,” Obama once joked to his White House staff.

Funny guy.

It became nauseating history to closely track. I started to feel like the Martin Sheen character (Capt. Willard) after too much exposure to the sociopath Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in the movie “Apocalypse Now.” I had to step back.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

So it is with a certain unmistakable tone of bemused cynicism that I ask my online correspondents: “What’s Obama up to now?”

The answers have been darkly amusing.

Post-presidential “O” has been spotted kiteboarding in the Caribbean with Richard Branson, the British billionaire airline mogul, who is leading the charge for the privatization of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

Ex-prez “O” has been seen boating in the Pacific with Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Bruce Springsteen on a $300 million luxury yacht owned by recording mogul billionaire David Geffen.

Before that we learned that the Obamas reached an eight-figure publishing deal ($65 million) for his-and-her memoirs on their years in the White House.

And then we learned that Obama will speak for $400,000 at a Wall Street health care conference in September, hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald, L.P.

Nothing says “show me the money” like POTUS on your resume. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose bust sat behind Obama in the Oval Office, would not be pleased. The great civil rights leader and democratic socialist sternly refused to cash in on his fame.

The Times Disheartened, Bernie Disappointed

The New York Times editorial board felt compelled to criticize the coming Wall Street speech. On Monday, the Times’ editors opined:

It is disheartening that a man whose historic candidacy was premised on a moral examination of politics now joins almost every modern president in cashing in. And it shows surprising tone deafness, more likely to be expected from the billionaires the Obamas have vacationed with these past months than from a president keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent. … It’s the example he set that makes it jarring to see him conform to a lamentable post-presidential model created fairly recently, in historical terms.

The editors offer a limited and naïve critique. They are happy with the Obamas’ book deal, which dwarfs the speaking fee. They overlook the fact that Obama’s candidacy was premised on a quiet, behind-the-scenes promise to serve wealthy benefactors.

Obama was/is “keenly attuned to the worries and resentments of the 99 percent.” Really? He was so attuned that he:

● Bailed out the 1 percent with no questions asked, with no financial transactions tax advanced, after they crashed the national and global economy with their reckless selfishness.

● Made zero efforts to re-legalize union organizing (his campaign promise to push the Employee Free Choice Act was kicked to the curb from Day One).

● Passed a Republican health insurance reform (minus even a limited public option) that only the big insurance companies could love.

● Advanced a Grand Bargain that went beyond what the Republicans asked for when it came to assaulting Social Security and Medicare during the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis.

● Failed to prevent his Department of Homeland Security from joining with Democratic-run cities across the U.S. to in crushing the Occupy Movement (which coined the slogan “We are the 99 percent”) through brute force.

● Spent much of his second term trumpeting the darkly authoritarian and secretive, arch-global corporatist Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Do the Times’ editors recall presidential candidate Obama’s April 2008 description of Midwestern rural and working-class people as folks who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”?

Bernie Sanders felt also compelled to speak out against Obama’s coming high-priced speaking date. He probably didn’t have much choice given that he built much of his primary campaign around criticism of Hillary Clinton’s big-money Wall Street speeches. “I think at a time when people are so frustrated with the power of Wall Street and the big-money interests,” Sanders told “CBS This Morning” on Friday, “it is unfortunate that President Obama is doing this. Wall Street has incredible power, and I would have hoped that the president would not have given a speech like this.”

That was a silly thing for which to hope, given Obama’s track record. Obama’s big cash-in is more evidence that he is precisely who some of us on the left said he was from the beginning.

The Ultimate Owner of the Deep State

None of Obama’s post-White House indulgence in the means and culture of hyper-affluence is surprising or shocking to anyone who has followed his history and career—or, more importantly, to anyone who has paid attention to the many methods by which the moneyed elite controls U.S. politics and policy. Offering politicos big paydays after they’ve spent years working at moderate taxpayer-ceilinged salaries in not-so “public service” is a significant way in which the finance-led corporate sector get what it wants from government.

As Mike Lofgren noted in his widely read book “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government”: “Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career beyond what is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice—certainly beyond the dreams of a government salaryman” [emphasis added].

Smart “public” officials who want to live super-comfortably after stints on the government side of the great state-capitalist revolving door know better than to antagonize the ruling class that lives behind the marionette theater of electoral and parliamentary politics in the “visible state.”

Make That Money, Obama

What is just as troubling, if not more disturbing, is the readiness of many “liberal” Democrats to defend Obama’s right to cash in on his eight years serving the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. “Who cares if Obama gets really rich now?” the line goes. “He worked his butt off. They all do it. Why shouldn’t he? Why should a black former president not cash in? White ones all do. You’re just jealous, and maybe a little racist, too. There’s lots of rich people, including lots of rich former elected officials. If Bill Clinton and Republican pigs like Newt Gingrich can do it, then why shouldn’t Barack Obama?”

The New York Times’ editors are right, of course, to note that “since Gerald Ford enriched himself with speaking fees and board memberships after leaving office, every former president but Jimmy Carter has supped often at the corporate table.”

These sorts of rationales for the Great Obama Cash-In are ubiquitous on “social media” and the comments sections attached to news reports on Obama’s forthcoming speaking fee. You can find them in the published and broadcast commentaries of established media pundits and talking heads. Check out this rant by Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show,” in which Noah elicits liberal laughter with these snarky and venal reflections:

“I agree the system must change, but it doesn’t change with Obama, all right? People are, like, why doesn’t he not accept the money? No, f—k that! No. No. [Cheers.] I’m sorry. The first black president must be the first one to not take money off us? No, no, no, my friend. He can’t be the first of everything. F—k [bleep] that and f—k [bleep] you. Yeah, I said it.” [Cheers and applause.]

“No! Make that money, Obama. Make that money. ‘But Obama should know better!’ What about the Clintons? ‘Yeah, well, the Clintons, it’s already done.’ Well, let him already ‘done it’ as well and you guys can start [bleep] the first white president to not take the money. [Bleep] you. Obama, make that money. Make that money.” [Applause.]

No Racial Double Standard

Where to begin in responding to such excuse-making? It is futile, I suppose, to deny that one wants to live a life of fabulous wealth. If you are a lefty, you probably don’t aspire to opulence, but good luck trying to tell many Americans otherwise. They’ve been indoctrinated to believe that the pursuit of riches is “human nature” (something that raises the question of what species we should assign to such historical persons as Gandhi, King and Marx).

The racism charge falsely assumes that one only opposes cashing in when it comes to a black politician. Any decent progressive is concerned about corporate and financial corruption as a problem in and of itself. The relevant color here is green, green as in money. I don’t care what color a “democratically elected” president is. I want him “working his butt off” for we the people, not the already super-rich and powerful.

I do not support the killing of unarmed inner-city youth by white police officers if I oppose the killing of unarmed inner-city youth by black police officers. I do not support a white congressman’s call for confrontation with Russia if I oppose a black congresswoman’s concurrence with that call. I do not support the paying of outrageous speaking fees by financial institutions to the technically white Bill and/or Hillary Clinton if I happen to oppose the paying of outrageous speaking fees to the technically black Barack Obama by the same institutions.

I oppose police killings of unarmed youth, OK? I oppose the corruption of politics and policy by the promise of obscene payouts to politicians and policymakers after they leave the public sector, all right? I oppose imperialism, get it?

Big money subversion of what’s left of American democracy is why it should matter to any decent liberal or progressive that a former president of any color is cashing in.

Bad Politics

It should matter on practical as well as moral grounds. Like the Clintons’ sellout, the Obamas’ big cash-in adventure is ammunition for the right-wing monsters in and atop the Republican Party these days. It adds dark empirical substance to the all-too-accurate charge that they, too, are an elitist, corporate-captive party. The story of Obama cashing in and playing around with the rich and famous is the perfect clickbait for right-wing, white nationalists at Breitbart News. It’s the perfect story for Fox News and right-wing talk radio in their efforts to keep the white working class on board with the arch-plutocratic GOP. This is what concerns the New York Times’ honchos the most. As the paper’s editors put it:

As the presidential election clarified so painfully, the traditional party of working people has lost touch with them. In a poll released last week, more than two-thirds of voters, including nearly half of Democrats themselves, said the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of the American people. For the first time in memory, Democrats are seen as more out of touch with ordinary Americans than the party’s political opponents. There’s little doubt that Democratic leaders’ unseemly attachment to the party’s wealthiest donors contributed to that indictment.

Not that I’m in the business of advising the dismal Democrats, but getting behind Obama’s post-presidential book bonanza and Wall Street speaking windfalls is just dumb in partisan and electoral terms. That kind of selfish indulgence is no small part of why the radically regressive Republicans control all three branches of the federal government and most of the state governments in a nation that understandably hates the Republican Party.

Liberals are free to retort that Trump’s regressive tax plan is yet more proof that he is not the pro-working-class populist he claimed to be on the campaign trail but is instead the arch-plutocrat we on the left said he was.

Nobody with a clue on the left side of the spectrum thought that Trump’s populism wasn’t hypocritical. The problem is that so many liberals and progressives who should know better can’t see through the game as well when charismatic and silver-tongued Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama play it.

— source truthdig.com by Paul Street

The Real Reasons behind the Palestinian Hunger Strike

Gaza is the world’s largest open air prison. The West Bank is a prison, too, segmented into various wards, known as areas A, B and C. In fact, all Palestinians are subjected to varied degrees of military restrictions. At some level, they are all prisoners.

East Jerusalem is cut off from the West Bank, and those in the West Bank are separated from one another.

Palestinians in Israel are treated slightly better than their brethren in the Occupied Territories, but subsist in degrading conditions compared to the first-class status given to Israeli Jews, as per the virtue of their ethnicity alone.

Palestinians ‘lucky’ enough to escape the handcuffs and shackles are still trapped in different ways.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s Ein el-Hilweh, like millions of Palestinian refugees in ‘shattat’ (Diaspora), are prisoners in refugee camps, carrying precarious, meaningless identification, cannot travel and are denied access to work. They languish in refugee camps, waiting for life to move forward, however slightly – as their fathers and grandfathers have done before them for nearly seventy years.

This is why the issue of prisoners is a very sensitive one for Palestinians. It is a real and metaphorical representation of all that Palestinians have in common.

The protests igniting across the Occupied Territories to support 1,500 hunger strikers are not merely an act of ‘solidarity’ with the incarcerated and abused men and women who are demanding improvements to their conditions.

Sadly, prison is the most obvious fact of Palestinian life; it is the status quo; the everyday reality.

The prisoners held captive in Israeli jails are a depiction of the life of every Palestinian, trapped behind walls, checkpoints, in refugee camps, in Gaza, in cantons in the West Bank, segregated Jerusalem, waiting to be let in, waiting to be let out. Simply waiting.

There are 6,500 prisoners in Israeli jails. This number includes hundreds of children, women, elected officials, journalists and administrative detainees, who are held with no charges, no due process. But these numbers hardly convey the reality that has transpired under Israeli occupation since 1967.

According to prisoners’ rights group, ‘Addameer’, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned under military rule since Israel commenced its occupation of Palestinian territories in June 1967.

That is 40 percent of the entire male population of the Occupied Territories.

Israeli jails are prisons within larger prisons. In times of protests and upheaval, especially during the uprisings of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were subjected to prolonged military curfews, sometimes lasting weeks, even months.

Under military curfews, people are not allowed to leave their homes, with little or no breaks to even purchase food.

Not a single Palestinian who has lived (or is still living) through such conditions is alien to the experience of imprisonment.

But some Palestinians in that large prison have been granted VIP cards. They are deemed the ‘moderate Palestinians’, thus granted special permits from the Israeli military to leave the Palestinian prison and return as they please.

While former Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat was holed up in his office in Ramallah for years, until his death in November 2004, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is free to travel.

While Israel can, at times, be critical of Abbas, he rarely deviates far from the acceptable limits set by the Israeli government.

This is why Abbas is free and Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti, (along with thousands of others) is jailed.

The current prisoners’ hunger strike began on April 17, in commemoration of ‘Prisoner Day’ in Palestine.

On the eighth day of the strike, as the health of Marwan Barghouti deteriorated, Abbas was in Kuwait meeting a group of lavishly dressed Arab singers.

The reports, published in ‘Safa News Agency’ and elsewhere, generated much attention on social media. The tragedy of the dual Palestinian reality is an inescapable fact.

Barghouti is far more popular among supporters of Fatah, one of the two largest Palestinian political movements. In fact, he is the most popular leader amongst Palestinians, regardless of their ideological or political stances.

If the PA truly cared about prisoners and the well-being of Fatah’s most popular leader, Abbas would have busied himself forging a strategy to galvanize the energy of the hungry prisoners, and millions of his people who rallied in their support.

But mass mobilization has always scared Abbas and his Authority. It is too dangerous for him, because popular action often challenges the established status quo, and could hinder his Israeli-sanctioned rule over occupied Palestinians.

While Palestinian media is ignoring the rift within Fatah, Israeli media is exploiting it, placing it within the larger political context.

Abbas is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump on May 3.

He wants to leave a good impression on the impulsive president, especially as Trump is decreasing foreign aid worldwide, but increasing US assistance to the PA. That alone should be enough to understand the US administration’s view of Abbas and its appreciation of the role of his Authority in ensuring Israel’s security and in preserving the status quo.

But not all Fatah supporters are happy with Abbas’ subservience. The youth of the Movement want to reassert a strong Palestinian position through mobilizing the people; Abbas wants to keep things quiet.

Amos Harel argued in ‘Haaretz’ that the hunger strike, called for by Barghouti himself, was the latter’s attempt at challenging Abbas and “rain(ing) on Trump’s peace plan.”

However, Trump has no plan. He is giving Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, carte blanche to do as he pleases. His solution is: one state, two states, whichever ‘both parties like.’ But both sides are far from being equal powers. Israel has nuclear capabilities and a massive army, while Abbas needs permission to leave the Occupied West Bank.

In this unequal reality, only Israel decides the fate of Palestinians.

On his recent visit to the US, Netanyahu articulated his future vision.

“Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River,” he said.

Writing in The Nation, Professor Rashid Khalidi expounded the true meaning of Netanyahu’s statement.

By uttering these words, “Netanyahu proclaimed a permanent regime of occupation and colonization, ruling out a sovereign independent Palestinian state, whatever fiction of ‘statehood’ or ‘autonomy’ are dreamed up to conceal this brutal reality,” he wrote.

“Trump’s subsequent silence amounts to the blessing of the US government for this grotesque vision of enduring subjugation and dispossession for the Palestinians.”

Why then, should Palestinians be quiet?

Their silence can only contribute to this gross reality, the painful present circumstances, where Palestinians are perpetually imprisoned under an enduring Occupation, while their ‘leadership’ receives both a nod of approval from Israel and accolades and more funds from Washington.

It is under this backdrop that the hunger strike becomes far more urgent than the need to improve the conditions of incarcerated Palestinians.

It is a revolt within Fatah against their disengaged leadership, and a frantic attempt by all Palestinians to demonstrate their ability to destabilize the Israeli-American-PA matrix of control that has extended for many years.

“Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor,” wrote Marwan Barghouti from his jail on the first day of the hunger strike.

In truth, his message was directed at Abbas and his cronies, as much as it was directed at Israel

— source commondreams.org by Ramzy Baroud

Problems of copyright term expansion in 1841

Thomas Babington Macaulay
First Speech to the House of Commons on Copyright

February 5, 1841

It is painful to me to take a course which may possibly be misunderstood or misrepresented as unfriendly to the interests of literature and literary men. It is painful to me, I will add, to oppose my honorable and learned friend on a question which he has taken up from the purest motives, and which he regards with a parental interest. These feelings have hitherto kept me silent when the law of copyright has been under discussion. But as I am, on full consideration, satisfied that the measure before us will, if adopted, inflict grievous injury on the public, without conferring any compensating advantage on men of letters, I think it my duty to avow that opinion and to defend it.

The first thing to be done. Sir, is to settle on what principles the question is to be argued. Are we free to legislate for the public good, or are we not? Is this a question of expediency, or is it a question of right? Many of those who have written and petitioned against the existing state of things treat the question as one of right. The law of nature, according to them, gives to every man a sacred and indefeasible property in his own ideas, in the fruits of his own reason and imagination. The legislature has indeed the power to take away this property, just as it has the power to pass an act of attainder for cutting off an innocent man’s head without a trial. But, as such an act of attainder would be legal murder, so would an act invading the right of an author to his copy be, according to these gentlemen, legal robbery.

Now, Sir, if this be so, let justice be done, cost what it may. I am not prepared, like my honorable and learned friend, to agree to a compromise between right and expediency, and to commit an injustice for the public convenience. But I must say, that his theory soars far beyond the reach of my faculties. It is not necessary to go, on the present occasion, into a metaphysical inquiry about the origin of the right of property; and certainly nothing but the strongest necessity would lead me to discuss a subject so likely to be distasteful to the House. I agree, I own, with Paley in thinking that property is the creature of the law, and that the law which creates property can be defended only on this ground, that it is a law beneficial to mankind. But it is unnecessary to debate that point. For, even if I believed in a natural right of property, independent of utility and anterior to legislation, I should still deny that this right could survive the original proprietor. . . . Surely, Sir, even those who hold that there is a natural right of property must admit that rules prescribing the manner in which the effects of deceased persons shall be distributed are purely arbitrary, and originate altogether in the will of the legislature. If so. Sir, there is no controversy between my honorable and learned friend and myself as to the principles on which this question is to be argued. For the existing law gives an author copyright during his natural life; nor do I propose to invade that privilege, which I should, on the contrary, be prepared to defend strenuously against any assailant. The only point in issue between us is, how long after an author’s death the state shall recognize a copyright in his representatives and assigns; and it can, I think, hardly be disputed by any rational man that this is a point which the legislature is free to determine in the way which may appear to be most conducive to the general good.

We may now, therefore, I think, descend from these high regions, where we are in danger of being lost in the clouds, to firm ground and clear light. Let us look at this question like legislators, and after fairly balancing conveniences and inconveniences, pronounce between the existing law of copyright, and the law now proposed to us. The question of copyright. Sir, like most questions of civil prudence, is neither black nor white, but gray. The system of copyright has great advantages and great disadvantages; and it is our business to ascertain what these are, and then to make an arrangement under which the advantages may be as far as possible secured, and the disadvantages as far as possible excluded. The charge which I bring against my honorable and learned friend’s bill is this, that it leaves the advantages nearly what they are at present, and increases the disadvantages at least fourfold.

The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books; we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated: and the least objectionable way of remunerating them is by means of copyright. You cannot depend for literary instruction and amusement on the leisure of men occupied in the pursuits of active life. Such men may occasionally produce compositions of great merit. But you must not look to such men for works which require deep meditation and long research. Works of that kind you can expect only from persons who make literature the business of their lives. Of these persons few will be found among the rich and the noble. The rich and the noble are not impelled to intellectual exertion by necessity. They may be impelled to intellectual exertion by the desire of distinguishing themselves, or by the desire of benefiting the community. But it is generally within these walls that they seek to signalize themselves and to serve their fellow-creatures. Both their ambition and their public spirit, in a country like this, naturally take a political turn. It is then on men whose profession is literature, and whose private means are not ample, that you must rely for a supply of valuable books. Such men must be remunerated for their literary labor. And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright.

There have been times in which men of letters looked, not to the public, but to the government, or to a few great men, for the reward of their exertions. It was thus in the time of Maecenas and Pollio at Rome, of the Medici at Florence, of Louis the Fourteenth in France, of Lord Halifax and Lord Oxford in this country. Now, Sir, I well know that there are cases in which it is fit and graceful, nay, in which it is a sacred duty to reward the merits or to relieve the distresses of men of genius by the exercise of this species of liberality. But these cases are exceptions. I can conceive no system more fatal to the integrity and independence of literary men than one under which they should be taught to look for their daily bread to the favor of ministers and nobles. I can conceive no system more certain to turn those minds which are formed by nature to be the blessings and ornaments of our species into public scandals and pests.

We have, then, only one resource left. We must betake ourselves to copyright, be the inconveniences of copyright what they may. Those in­con­ve­ni­ences, in truth, are neither few nor small. Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. My honorable and learned friend talks very contemptuously of those who are led away by the theory that monopoly makes things dear. That monopoly makes things dear is certainly a theory, as all the great truths which have been established by the experience of all ages and nations, and which are taken for granted in all reasonings, may be said to be theories. It is a theory in the same sense in which it is a theory that day and night follow each other, that lead is heavier than water, that bread nourishes, that arsenic poisons, that alcohol intoxicates.

If, as my honorable and learned friend seems to think, the whole world is in the wrong on this point, if the real effect of monopoly is to make articles good and cheap, why does he stop short in his career of change? Why does he limit the operation of so salutary a principle to sixty years? Why does he consent to anything short of a perpetuity? He told us that in consenting to anything short of a perpetuity he was making a compromise between extreme right and expediency. But if his opinion about monopoly be correct, extreme right and expediency would coincide. Or rather, why should we not restore the monopoly of the East India trade to the East India Company? Why should we not revive all those old monopolies which, in Elizabeth’s reign, galled our fathers so severely that, maddened by intolerable wrong, they opposed to their sovereign a resistance before which her haughty spirit quailed for the first and for the last time? Was it the cheapness and excellence of commodities that then so violently stirred the indignation of the English people? I believe. Sir, that I may safely take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honorable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company’s monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essex’s monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.

Now, I will not affirm that the existing law is perfect, that it exactly hits the point at which the monopoly ought to cease; but this I confidently say, that the existing law is very much nearer that point than the law proposed by my honorable and learned friend. For consider this; the evil effects of the monopoly are proportioned to the length of its duration. But the good effects for the sake of which we bear with the evil effects are by no means proportioned to the length of its duration. A monopoly of sixty years produces twice as much evil as a monopoly of thirty years, and thrice as much evil as a monopoly of twenty years. But it is by no means the fact that a posthumous monopoly of sixty years gives to an author thrice as much pleasure and thrice as strong a motive as a posthumous monopoly of twenty years. On the contrary, the difference is so small as to be hardly perceptible. We all know how faintly we are affected by the prospect of very distant advantages, even when they are advantages which we may reasonably hope that we shall ourselves enjoy. But an advantage that is to be enjoyed more than half a century after we are dead, by somebody, we know not by whom, perhaps by somebody unborn, by somebody utterly unconnected with us, is really no motive at all to action. It is very probable that in the course of some generations land in the unexplored and unmapped heart of the Australasian continent will be very valuable. But there is none of us who would lay down five pounds for a whole province in the heart of the Australasian continent. We know, that neither we, nor anybody for whom we care, will ever receive a farthing of rent from such a province. And a man is very little moved by the thought that in the year 2000 or 2100, somebody who claims through him will employ more shepherds than Prince Esterhazy, and will have the finest house and gallery of pictures at Victoria or Sydney. Now, this is the sort of boon which my honorable and learned friend holds out to authors. Considered as a boon to them, it is a mere nullity; but considered as an impost on the public, it is no nullity, but a very serious and pernicious reality.

The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honorable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely any perceptible addition to the bounty. Why, Sir, what is the additional amount of taxation which would have been levied on the public for Dr. Johnson’s works alone, if my honorable and learned friend’s bill had been the law of the land? I have not data sufficient to form an opinion. But I am confident that the taxation on his dictionary alone would have amounted to many thousands of pounds. In reckoning the whole additional sum which the holders of his copyrights would have taken out of the pockets of the public during the last half century at twenty thousand pounds, I feel satisfied that I very greatly underrate it. Now, I again say that I think it but fair that we should pay twenty thousand pounds in consideration of twenty thousand pounds’ worth of pleasure and encouragement received by Dr. Johnson. But I think it very hard that we should pay twenty thousand pounds for what he would not have valued at five shillings.

But this is not all. I think it right, Sir, to call the attention of the House to an evil, which is perhaps more to be apprehended when an author’s copyright remains in the hands of his family, than when it is transferred to booksellers. I seriously fear that, if such a measure as this should be adopted, many valuable works will be either totally suppressed or grievously mutilated. I can prove that this danger is not chimerical; and I am quite certain that, if the danger be real, the safeguards which my honorable and learned friend has devised are altogether nugatory. That the danger is not chimerical may easily be shown. Most of us, I am sure, have known persons who, very erroneously as I think, but from the best motives, would not choose to reprint Fielding’s novels or Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Some gentlemen may perhaps be of opinion that it would be as well if “Tom Jones” and Gibbon’s “History” were never reprinted. I will not, then, dwell on these or similar cases. I will take cases respecting which it is not likely that there will be any difference of opinion here; cases, too, in which the danger of which I now speak is not matter of supposition, but matter of fact.

Take Richardson’s novels. Whatever I may, on the present occasion, think of my honorable and learned friend’s judgment as a legislator, I must always respect his judgment as a critic. He will, I am sure, say that Richardson’s novels are among the most valuable, among the most original, works in our language. No writings have done more to raise the fame of English genius in foreign countries. No writings are more deeply pathetic. No writings, those of Shakespeare excepted, show more profound knowledge of the human heart. . . . Sir, it is my firm belief, that if the law had been what my honorable and learned friend proposes to make it, they would have been suppressed.

I remember Richardson’s grandson well; he was a clergyman in the city of London; he was a most upright and excellent man; but he had conceived a strong prejudice against works of fiction. He thought all novel-reading not only frivolous but sinful. He said,—this I state on the authority of one of his clerical brethren who is now a bishop,—he said that he had never thought it right to read one of his grandfather’s books. Suppose, Sir, that the law had been what my honorable and learned friend would make it. Suppose that the copyright of Richardson’s novels had descended, as might well have been the case, to this gentleman. I firmly believe that he would have thought it sinful to give them a wide circulation. I firmly believe that he would not for a hundred thousand pounds have deliberately done what he thought sinful. He would not have reprinted them.

And what protection does my honorable and learned friend give to the public in such a case? Why, Sir, what he proposes is this: if a book is not reprinted during five years, any person who wishes to reprint it may give notice in the London Gazette: the advertisement must be repeated three times: a year must elapse; and then, if the proprietor of the copyright does not put forth a new edition, he loses his exclusive privilege. Now, what protection is this to the public? What is a new edition? Does the law define the number of copies that make an edition? Does it limit the price of a copy? Are twelve copies on large paper, charged at thirty guineas each, an edition? It has been usual, when monopolies have been granted, to prescribe numbers and to limit prices. But I do not find that my honorable and learned friend proposes to do so in the present case. And, without some such provision, the security which he offers is manifestly illusory. It is my conviction that, under such a system as that which he recommends to us, a copy of “Clarissa” would have been as rare as an Aldus or a Caxton.

I will give another instance. One of the most instructive, interesting, and delightful books in our language is Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.’’ Now it is well known that Boswell’s eldest son considered this book, considered the whole relation of Boswell to Johnson, as a blot in the escutcheon of the family. He thought, not perhaps altogether without reason, that his father had exhibited himself in a ludicrous and degrading light. And thus he became so sore and irritable that at last he could not bear to hear the “Life of Johnson’’ mentioned. Suppose that the law had been what my honorable and learned friend wishes to make it. Suppose that the copyright of Boswells “Life of Johnson” had belonged, as it well might, during sixty years, to Boswell’s eldest son. What would have been the consequence? An unadulterated copy of the finest biographical work in the world would have been as scarce as the first edition of Camden’s “Britannia.”

… Sir, of the kindness with which the House has listened to me, that I will not detain you longer. I will only say this, that if the measure before us should pass, and should produce one tenth part of the evil which it is calculated to produce, and which I fully expect it to produce, there will soon be a remedy, though of a very objectionable kind. Just as the absurd Acts which prohibited the sale of game were virtually repealed by the poacher, just as many absurd revenue Acts have been virtually repealed by the smuggler, so will this law be virtually repealed by piratical booksellers.

At present the holder of copyright has the public feeling on his side. Those who invade copyright are regarded as knaves who take the bread out of the mouths of deserving men. Everybody is well pleased to see them restrained by the law, and compelled to refund their ill-gotten gains. No tradesman of good repute will have anything to do with such disgraceful transactions. Pass this law: and that feeling is at an end. Men very different from the present race of piratical booksellers will soon infringe this intolerable monopoly. Great masses of capital will be constantly employed in the violation of the law. Every art will be employed to evade legal pursuit; and the whole nation will be in the plot. On which side indeed should the public sympathy be when the question is whether some book as popular as “Robinson Crusoe” or the “Pilgrim’s Progress” shall be in every cottage, or whether it shall be confined to the libraries of the rich for the advantage of the great-grandson of a bookseller who, a hundred years before, drove a hard bargain for the copyright with the author when in great distress? Remember too that, when once it ceases to be considered as wrong and discreditable to invade literary property, no person can say where the invasion will stop. The public seldom makes nice distinctions. The wholesome copyright which now exists will share in the disgrace and danger of the new copyright which you are about to create. And you will find that, in attempting to impose unreasonable restraints on the reprinting of the works of the dead, you have, to a great extent, annulled those restraints which now prevent men from pillaging and defrauding the living.

— source techdirt.com

How Much Does a Politician Cost?

A Groundbreaking Study Reveals the Influence of Money in Politics.

An ingenious new Roosevelt Institute study on the influence of money on politics begins with an incredible story about how the world actually works:

In the spring of 1987, Paul Volcker’s second term as chair of the Federal Reserve was running out. Volcker had first been appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1979, and was willing to stay for another four years if President Reagan asked. While Volcker had used high interest rates to engineer a crushing recession at the start of Reagan’s first term, he then allowed the economy to expand rapidly just in time to carry Reagan to a landslide reelection in 1984.

Yet Reagan wanted to replace him. Why?

The study’s authors, Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen, and Jie Chen, report that they learned the answer from a participant in the key White House meeting on Volcker’s fate.

The main opposition to reappointing Volcker came from Reagan’s treasury secretary James Baker. As the study puts it, Baker did not like Volcker’s “skepticism about financial deregulation,” specifically his opposition to attempts to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act.

Glass-Steagall, passed at the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency in the depths of the Great Depression, separated commercial and investment banking. Allowing banks to combine the two activities had created enormous conflicts of interests and incentivized manic recklessness that helped cause 1929’s financial Armageddon.

But banks had loathed Glass-Steagall ever since, because the fewer economy-destroying risks they could take, the lower their profits. By 1987 they were making progress in their long war to push Congress to repeal it. And while Fed chairs of course can’t vote themselves, many politicians take their cues from them on complex financial issues.

According to the Roosevelt study, that was why Volcker had to go:

Baker’s

was startlingly direct: Possible repeal of Glass-Steagall was the signature issue used by investment bankers, led by then-Goldman Sachs executive Robert Rubin, to raise money for the Democratic Party from their cohorts on Wall Street. Getting rid of Glass-Steagall, Baker explained, would alter the balance of power between the two major parties by depriving the Democrats of a central revenue stream.

So Volcker was replaced by Alan Greenspan, who gleefully supported the elimination of Glass-Steagall in 1999 — as did Robert Rubin, who became treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. Coincidentally or not, within a decade Wall Street had inflated the biggest bubble in world history in an attempt at mass suicide, saved only by trillions of dollars of government support. They were too big to fail, while millions of regular Americans turned out to be just the right size to fail.

As horrifying as this tale is, few normal people would be surprised by any of it. A 2015 New York Times poll found that 87 percent of Americans believe the campaign finance system either needs “fundamental changes” or should be “completely rebuilt.” Politicians themselves will tell you that their world is ruled by money. And the super-wealthy obviously believe money translates into power, since they continue pouring it into politics.

Strangely, almost the only human beings who think that money doesn’t warp politics are academic political scientists who study it. The Roosevelt study quotes a previous paper summarizing the “scholarly consensus” as being that “candidate spending has very modest to negligible causal effects on candidate vote shares.”

The Roosevelt authors go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate to their colleagues that the sky is, in fact, blue. The study uses all the tools of academic scholarship in impressively creative ways, and will convince anyone who can be convinced by rationality and evidence.

First of all, the study explains, “exceptions, additions, and loopholes have proliferated around the rules governing legal contributions and expenditures. Congress has many times enacted rules that appeared to close off gushing torrents of money while in fact opening new ones.” The system is now “worthy of Gogol: a maze of bureaucratic spending and expenditures” that are exceedingly difficult to track.

The Roosevelt authors went to the effort of capturing as much of it as possible — and found that academic examinations of this subject miss as much as 50 percent of the money being spent on elections.

It’s also tough to legitimately measure how money could translate into congressional votes. Legislation often is thwarted by small numbers of politicians in committees, too few to create a good data set. In the Senate, few votes are ever taken, with most of the action going on beneath the surface. And there’s a continuous churn of elected officials, making it hard to find an inflection point in the decisions of any one individual.

The Roosevelt study therefore focuses on an issue where politicians were repeatedly forced to go on the record — House votes on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill — and Democratic representatives who were representing the same district over several terms and would seemingly have little reason to change their minds.

Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010. After the GOP took control of the House in the midterm elections that year, representatives voted five times from 2013 to 2015 to weaken key provisions of the law in ways that big banks desperately desired.

There would be no discernible legitimate reason for Democratic representatives who’d supported Dodd-Frank to begin with to later defect from their party and vote along with Wall Street. Many did, however.

Why? Well, no one can say what was in their hearts, at least until we hear from someone like James Baker. But what the Roosevelt study demonstrates is that “for every $100,000 that Democratic representatives received from finance, the odds they would break with their party’s majority support for the Dodd-Frank legislation increased by 13.9 percent. Democratic representatives who voted in favor of finance often received $200,000-$300,000 from that sector, which raised the odds of switching by 25-40 percent.”

Intriguingly, Democratic representatives leaving the House after the 2014 elections were particularly likely to support Wall Street against Dodd-Frank. In an interview, Ferguson characterized their votes as “applications for employment.”

The study also looks at any connections between money from the telecom industry and a crucial 2006 House vote on net neutrality. For every $1,000 a representative received from corporations supporting net neutrality, like Google or Netflix, they were 24 percent more likely to vote for it. For every $1,000 from companies opposing it, they were 2.6 percent more likely to vote against.

For most people, the Roosevelt study — which is genuinely fascinating and, unusually for an academic paper, worth reading just for the quality of its writing — will confirm what they already sensed. Ferguson said he hopes it will also help “end the discussion” in academia on whether money matters in politics.

But while it should do that in a rational world, this is likely over-optimistic. Consider the fact that, no matter what the real world evidence has shown, academic economists continue pumping out studies about the desperate importance of cutting the taxes of billionaires. H.L. Menken explained that phenomenon almost 100 years ago:

To what extent is political economy, as professors expound and practice it, a free science, in the sense that mathematics and physiology are free sciences?

… When one comes to the faculty of political economy one finds that freedom as plainly conditioned, though perhaps not as openly, as in the faculty of theology. And for a plain reason. Political economy, so to speak, hits the employers of the professors where they live. It deals, not with ideas that affect those employers only occasionally or only indirectly or only as ideas, but with ideas that have an imminent and continuous influence upon their personal welfare and security, and that affect profoundly the very foundations of that social and economic structure upon which their whole existence is based. It is, in brief, the science of the ways and means whereby they have come to such estate, and maintain themselves in such estate, that they are able to hire and boss professors.

Likewise, those who hire and boss professors of political science love to hear that money makes no difference in politics. And no matter how hard academics like Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Chen work, and how much real world evidence they pile up, many other professors will likely continue making that case indefinitely.

— source theintercept.com by Jon Schwarz

The Empire Expands

Not the American One, But Trump’s

President Trump, his children and their spouses, aren’t just using the Oval Office to augment their political legacy or secure future riches. Okay, they certainly are doing that, but that’s not the most useful way to think about what’s happening at the moment. Everything will make more sense if you reimagine the White House as simply the newest branch of the Trump family business empire, its latest outpost.

It turns out that the voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump, the patriarch, got a package deal for his whole clan. That would include, of course, first daughter Ivanka who, along with her husband, Jared Kushner, is now a key political adviser to the president of the United States. Both now have offices in the White House close to him. They have multiple security clearances, access to high-level leaders whenever they visit the Oval Office or Mar-a-Lago, and the perfect formula for the sort of brand-enhancement that now seems to come with such eminence. President Trump may have an exceedingly “flexible” attitude toward policymaking generally, but in one area count on him to be stalwart and immobile: his urge to run the White House like a business, a family business.

The ways that Jared, “senior adviser to the president,” and Ivanka, “assistant to the president,” have already benefited from their links to “Dad” in the first 100 days of his presidency stagger the imagination. Ivanka’s company, for instance, won three new trademarks for its products from China on the very day she dined with President Xi Jinping at her father’s Palm Beach club.

In a similar fashion, thanks to her chance to socialize with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, her company could be better positioned for deal negotiations in his country. One of those perks of family power includes nearing a licensing agreement with Japanese apparel giant Sanei International, whose parent company’s largest stakeholder is the Development Bank of Japan — an entity owned by the Japanese government. We are supposed to buy the notion that the concurrent private viewing of Ivanka’s products in Tokyo was a coincidence of the scheduling fairy. Yet since her father became president, you won’t be surprised to learn that global sales of her merchandise have more or less gone through the roof.

Here’s where things get tricky. We can’t pinpoint the exact gains generated from any one meeting of the next generation Trump. They rely on the idea that, because their brand was so huge to begin with, profits and deals would have come anyway. That’s why we won’t ever see their books or tax returns.

Conflicts of interest? They now permeate the halls of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but none of this will affect or change one thing President Trump holds dear — and believe it or not, it’s not the wishes of his base in the American heartland. It’s advancing his flesh and blood, and their flesh-and-blood-once-removed spouses and relatives.

Federal Regulations and Trump Family Interpretations

The Trumps and Kushners will behave in ways that will benefit their global businesses. There’s just one catch. They have to get away with it, legally speaking. So the first law of family business in the Oval Office turns out to be: get stellar legal counsel. And they’ve done that. Their lawyers have by now successfully created trusts that theoretically — but only theoretically — separate Ivanka from her businesses and deflect any accusations over activities that may, now or in the future, violate federal rules. And there are two of those in particular to consider.

The Code of Federal Regulations is a set of rules published by the executive departments and agencies of the government. Title 18 section 208 of that code deals with “acts affecting a personal financial interest.” This criminal conflict of interest statute states “an officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States Government” can’t have a “financial interest” in the result of their duties. What that should mean, legally speaking, for a family occupying the executive office is: Ivanka could not have dinner with the president of China while her business was applying for and receiving provisional approval of pending trademarks from his country, if one of those acts might impact the other. To an outsider, the connection between those acts seems obvious enough and it’s bound to be typical of what’s to come.

Meanwhile, there are real penalties for being convicted of violating this rule. These include fines or imprisonment or both as set forth in section 216 of Title 18.

Certain lawyers have argued that Ivanka’s and Jared’s appointments don’t violate Rule 208 or other nepotism statutes because they are not paid advisers to the president. In other words, because Ivanka doesn’t get a salary for her service to her… uh, country… conflicts automatically vanish. She’s already done her Trumptilian best to demonstrate her affinity for ethical behavior by cordoning herself off from her business responsibilities (sort of). According to the New York Times, “Ivanka has transferred her brand’s assets into a trust overseen by her brother-in-law, Josh Kushner, and sister-in-law, Nicole Meyer.” Phew, no family connections there! Or maybe she just doesn’t care for her siblings-in-law.

But not all assets, it turns out, are created equal. So the daughter-in-chief will, it seems, keep her stake in the Trump International Hotel, a 15-minute stroll from the White House, which just happens to boast “the Ivanka Trump Suite” and “The Spa by Ivanka Trump.” (“The Spa by Ivanka Trump™ and Fitness Center transitions guests from the Technogym setting of the Fitness Center to the tranquil spa haven that is calming, balancing, purifying, revitalizing, and healing…”) There, many a foreign diplomat or special interest mogul can “calm, energize, [and] restore” himself or herself, while angling for an “in” with the family. We don’t know precisely the nature of what the Trump family stands to gain from the hotel because its books aren’t made public, but it’s reasonable to assume that we’re not talking losses. Besides this other D.C. domain, Ivanka and Jared will remain the beneficiaries of their mutual business empires now valued at about three quarters of a billion dollars, according to White House ethics filings.

But wait. There’s an even more explicit rule against using public office (like, say, the White House) for private gain: Title 5 section 2635.702. On that subject, the section states that “an employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service, or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

Okay, that’s wordy. And though the rule doesn’t apply to the president or vice president — we have Nelson Rockefeller to thank for that, but more on him later — for any other executive office position, the rule explains that “status as an employee is unaffected by pay or leave status.” That means that you can’t say someone is not an employee just because she isn’t drawing a paycheck, which means she isn’t, in fact, exempt just because she can’t show a W-2 form.

The second rule of family business is undoubtedly: control the means of enforcement. And President Trump just got his man onto the Supreme Court, so even if ethical charges rose to the highest court in the land, the family has at least a little insurance.

Bankers and Presidents: A Walk Through History

The idea of powerful bloodlines collaborating is nothing new in either business or politics. At the turn of the twentieth century, mogul families routinely intermarried to spawn yet more powerful and profitable business empires. And when it comes to Oval Office politics, American history is littered with multi-generational public servants with blood ties to presidents. Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, a Republican, served as secretary of war in the administrations of Presidents James Garfield and Chester Arthur, and finally as U.S. minister to Great Britain during President Benjamin Harrison’s administration. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s son, John, became a decorated brigadier-general, served as assistant staff secretary in the White House while his father was in office and was later appointed ambassador to Belgium under President Richard Nixon (once his father’s vice-president). But neither of them inflated the coffers of the family business in the process.

Whether family business connections might influence prominent figures in the White House isn’t a subject new to the Trump era either. In 1974, when Gerald Ford, who took over the presidency after Richard Nixon’s impeachment, nominated Nelson Rockefeller to be his vice president, Nelson’s brother David ran the Chase Manhattan Bank (now JPMorgan Chase). Questions naturally arose about the notorious wealth and political reach of the Rockefeller family. Nelson, the grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, had even worked at the bank and had been on the boards of multiple oil companies.

That same year, the Department of Justice conveniently concluded that conflict of interest laws did not apply to the office of the vice president — but not before Democratic Senator Robert Byrd asked, “Can’t we at least agree… that the influence is there, that it is a tremendous influence, that it is more influence than any president or vice president ever had?” And yet, as fabulously wealthy and linked in as Nelson Rockefeller was, his situation doesn’t even compare to the family business tangle in the Trump White House.

There have been other family members than the Trumps and Jared Kushner in positions of significance in the White House. When, for instance, Woodrow Wilson fell gravely ill in 1919, his second wife, Edith, stepped in to act on his behalf, essentially running the government in a blanket of secrecy from his bedside. Her intention, however, was never to make hay with a family business, but to ensure that her husband’s policies prevailed. The two Bush presidents, with a business and banking legacy that snaked back a century, were elected, not handed power. And though Bill Clinton’s reign in the Oval Office enabled wife Hillary to garner enough public recognition (and banking connections) to successfully run for senator in New York State, become secretary of state under President Obama, and launch two ultimately unsuccessful presidential bids, the Clintons only became super-wealthy after Bill’s time in office. Though their charity foundation’s ties to foreign governments remain suspect, they never had a private business while Bill was in the White House.

What can’t be found in the historical record is someone’s child, wife, or relations holding court in the West Wing while expanding a family business, no less a network of them. The present situation, in other words, is unique in the annals of American history. Only 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, he already has something of the look of the authoritarian kleptocrats elsewhere on the planet who siphon state wealth into their own bank accounts and businesses.

And remember, the Trump empire is also the Kushner empire. Jared’s family business depends on global investors hailing from countries that just happen to be in his White House portfolio. He, for example, led the efforts to prepare for the state visit to Mar-a-Lago of the Chinese president (while the Kushner business was engaged in high-level talks with a major Chinese financial conglomerate). A Russian state-owned bank under U.S. sanctions whose chairman met with Jared in December referred to him as the head of Kushner Companies, though he was already visibly if not yet officially a Trump adviser.

He is similarly the administration’s point man for Middle East “peace,” even though his family has financial relationships with Israel. Meanwhile, in his role as head of the newly formed White House Office of American Innovation, the potential opportunities to fuse government and private business opportunities are likely to prove endless.

Nepotism on Parade

Faced with the dynasty-crushing possibility of selling his business or even placing it in a blind trust, Donald Trump chose instead to let his two older sons, Eric and Donald Jr., manage it. Talk about smoke and mirrors. While speaking with Forbes in March, Eric indicated that he would provide his father with updates on the Trump Organization “quarterly” — but who truly believes that father and sons won’t discuss the family empire far more frequently than that?

The family has already racked up a laundry list of global conflicts of interest that suggest ways in which the White House is likely to become a moneymaking vehicle for the Trump line. There’s Turkey, for instance, where the Trump Organization already has a substantial investment, and where President Trump recently called President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his power-grabbing, anti-democratic victory in a disputed election to change the country’s constitution. Given Trump business interests globally, you could multiply that call by the world.

Meanwhile, Ivanka’s brand isn’t just doing business as usual, it’s killing it. Since 2017, according to the Associated Press, “global sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise have surged.” As a sign of that, the brand’s imports, mostly from China, have more than doubled over the previous year. As for her husband, he remained the CEO of Kushner Companies through January, only then abdicating his management role in that real-estate outfit and 58 other businesses, though remaining the sole primary beneficiary of most of the associated family trusts. His and Ivanka’s children are secondary beneficiaries. That means any policy decision he promotes could, for better or worse, affect the family business and it doesn’t take a genius to know which of those options he’s likely to choose.

Kleptocrats, Inc.

Despite an already mind-boggling set of existing conflicts of interest, ranging from business affiliations with oligarchs connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to the Secret Service and the Pentagon leasing space in Trump Tower (for at least $3 million per year), the Trump family business is now looking to the glorious, long haul. The family is already scouting for a second hotel in Washington. Trump has reportedly used nearly $500,000 from early campaign money raised for his own 2020 presidential bid to bolster the biz. It’s evidently been poured into “Trump-owned restaurants, hotels and golf clubs,” as well as rent at Trump Tower in New York City.

According to the latest polls, the majority of registered voters believe that the installation of Ivanka and Jared in the White House is inappropriate. But that could matter less to Donald Trump. Ask Stephen Bannon or Chris Christie what happens when Ivanka or Jared don’t like you. That’s the family version of mob-style power.

Ivanka noted in her book, The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life, that “in business, as in life, nothing is ever handed to you.” Except, of course, when your father is president and he hands you the keys to grow the family business on a silver platter.

Four decades ago, at a Senate hearing on his potential conflicts of interest, Vice President Rockefeller was asked, “Can you separate the interests of big business from the national interest when they differ?” It’s a question some senator should pose to Ivanka and Jared, replacing “big business” with “big family business.”

Making the future yet murkier, the family may be on the precipice of major problems. The most striking of them: Kushner’s marquee building, 666 Fifth Ave (an 80-story, ultra-luxury Manhattan skyscraper) has a greater than 25% vacancy rate. It hasn’t made enough money to even cover its interest payments for several years, and in two years it will have to pay principal as well on its $1.2 billion mortgage. That’s going to hurt if foreign companies don’t step in to staunch the flow of dollars out of the firm and that, undoubtedly, could require a quid pro quo or two.

In our era, it’s no secret that presidents leave office with the promise of quickly growing exponentially wealthier. But for the first family to gain such wealth while still in the White House would be a first. Yet the process that could make that possible already seems to be well underway. All this, as Donald Trump, his children, and his son-in-law continue to carve out an unprecedented role for themselves as America’s business-managers-in-chief, presiding not so much over the country as over their own expanding imperial domains.

— source tomdispatch.com by Nomi Prins