How Americans became poor

There is no doubt that majority of Americans have gotten poorer over the last few decades even while the top 10% or so have done extremely well. In a world of slogans and minuscule attention span, the media and the pundits either completely deny this fact or justify it by focusing on advancements in technology or turn it into a partisan blame game. The reality is that multiple developments contributed to this decline of prosperity, much of it due to deliberate but gradual social and financial engineering. Without assigning ranking or weight, here is a look at twelve major reasons why Americans became poor.

Demise of Labor Unions and Reduction of Wages/Benefits

The 20th century saw the biggest gains as well as the most painful losses for the American worker. On one hand, workers earned the right for collective bargaining – which meant good wages and job security – and myriads of benefits such as 2-day weekends, paid vacations, paid sick days, pensions, healthcare etc. The golden era for the American worker was from 1945-1980 and it really peaked in 1974 (this was the time when the U.S. completely got off the Gold Standard — more on that later).

In the mid-1940s, more than 1/3rd of the U.S. labor force belonged to private labor unions. It went on a steady decline and is about 6% now. Another 6% of the labor force now belongs to the public sector labor unions – teachers, government employees etc. – which started to grow in the 1960s.

This decline did not happen by chance. Dismantling labor unions and cutting wages/benefits were done deliberately and slowly by corporate elites. (Privatization is another tool to attack public labor unions now). Pensions were replaced with false promises of programs such as 401-K which was basically letting the fox (Wall Street banksters) into the henhouse (pension plan). Making it easier to layoff people meant scared employees worked harder and corporations could easily replace a worker with someone willing to work for less. Corporate lobbyists also fought hard against raising the minimum wage, which became even harder after the 1990s when NAFTA, WTO and illegal immigration put a tremendous downward pressure on wages.

Inflation & Cost of Living

There are other ways to rob the average person without their knowledge, and that involves inflation and cost of living. Although these two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference. Inflation is the term for devaluing the currency, which then makes things more expensive. This happens when the government creates money out of thin air – physically or digitally. Under the Bretton-Woods system or the gold standard, the U.S. was supposed to print dollars only based on the amount of gold it had. Thus every dollar was backed by and could be redeemed for actual gold. However, the U.S. cheated during the 1960s to fund the Vietnam war and the welfare system, and by the early 1970s, the U.S. was forced to switch to fiat currency – money that’s backed by nothing but faith in the government. This was why inflation rate went from 4% in 1972 to 14% by 1980. By the way, there are different ways to measure the inflation rate and the official government number is constantly tweaked every few years to make inflation look less than it actually is.

The cost of living can go up regardless of and above the inflation rate. Over the last 75 years, Americans have come to spend more real money – adjusted for inflation – on housing (100% more), transportation (200% more), healthcare (200% more) and education (400% more). The two items which cost less are food and clothes, thanks to harmful processed food and cheap labor in poor countries to make our clothes. On a side note, most people don’t realize that cheap food leads to much more expensive healthcare.

Thus the three main culprits so far have been slashing of wages/benefits, inflation due to fiat currency, and rise in cost of living. Onto the rest.

Financialization

Since the 1970s, the financial sector – should really be known as Casino Capitalism – has grown tremendously. Wall Street profits rose from less than 10% in 1980 to 40% of all corporate profits by 2003. People who create nothing managed to become the masters of the economy. Manipulating the price of stocks and commodities while sitting in front of a computer became a lucrative way to make billions. Derivatives and other exotic tools were given exemptions from full disclosure, which enabled blatant rigging and insider trading. Financialization also meant that corporations were now controlled by large shareholders and financial corporations that made decisions solely to influence stock price and dividends. This vulture capitalism involved slash-and-burn activities such as buying companies to raid their pension funds, forcing a company to use debt to buy back their own shares (to boost the stock price), wantonly laying off employees to spur short-term profits and so on. End result? Fewer corporations, less creativity, fewer innovations, fewer workers and decreasing wages.

Federal Reserve Bank

Although many people are waking up to the biggest financial scam, most people still don’t understand that the Federal Reserve Bank is controlled by private banks and behind-the-scene plutocrats. The power to create money out of thin air cannot be overstated. The Fed can create and burst economic bubbles, start wars between nations, and control every aspect of the nation – media, politicians, corporations and the distribution of wealth. The Fed distorts capitalism and free market by determining the winners and losers in an economy, and the American worker has not been the winner. The effect of gold-based currency versus fiat currency (since 1971) is clearly reflected in the chart below:

In the 1950s, the top income tax bracket for an individual was more than 90%. This was slowly chipped away every few years and brought down to 28% by the time Ronald Reagan left the office in 1988. To compensate for the loss of revenue, payroll tax and other taxes were quietly and steadily increased, which negatively impacted the middle class. Meanwhile, complex loopholes were introduced in the tax system that allowed global corporations and billionaires to minimize their tax burden and squirrel away trillions in offshore accounts.

Globalization

Although there are undeniable benefits to trading with other countries, U.S. corporations used globalization to ship many American jobs abroad in order to leverage cheaper labor. High-paying jobs in the U.S. were replaced with low-paying service jobs. Thus globalization translated to equalization of wages and living standards. America got poorer and countries such as China and Mexico got richer. The chart below shows how the GDP of U.S. and China performed over the last 35 years.

Automation

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Americans were told that automation and computers were so awesome that within a few decades, Americans will be working less than 20 hours a week and the biggest challenge in life will be figuring out what to do with the leisure time! Ha ha, ha ha. You were punked! It was probably deliberate propaganda to ensure there was no resistance to technology and automation. Millions of jobs become obsolete every year and this trend is going to become only more acute as robots become smarter and more skilled. There are now robotic kitchens, self-driving cars, robotic nurses in hospitals and even robots that do farming! Automation is a double-edged sword, for sure.

Immigration & Women in Workforce

If you put aside politics and social considerations, women in workforce and immigration simply increased the supply of workers and thus decreased wages. It’s simple economics. In 1950, only 10% of mothers worked, while more than 65% of American mothers work now. Essentially this influx of women into labor force cut the wages in half, and thus many families now need two incomes to survive. Same applies to immigration which brings in people who are willing to work harder for less money – a fact that applied to low-skilled jobs before but now is increasingly true for many high-paying jobs.

Single-Parent Families

Again, without being moralistic, the objective fact is that nuclear families are financially better off than single-parent families. The extraordinary rise in divorce and single-parent households over the decades have also contributed to the decline in wealth of the average American family.

Consumerism

Starting with Edward Bernays in the 1920s, America’s elites deliberately cultivated consumerism – your worth as a human being is based on what you own/buy. Of course, this meant Americans typically save far less than Europeans or Asians. This was fine during the boom years, from 1945-1975. Then, even as the economy changed, the habit of consumption remained. As Americans started to become poorer since the 1970s, debt became the tool to obscure that fact. Credit cards, easier auto loans and smaller mortgage down payments, for example, hid the negative wealth effects. The ever-decreasing interest rates – artificially done so by the Fed – over the last 30 years kept up the fake growth, but this has created terrifying dangers for the economy.

Endless Wars

The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about has been unstoppable since World War II. Empire-building and wars are simply too lucrative and profitable. Destroy-Build-Destroy is a good business model for the elites. Trillions of dollars have been wasted in meaningless wars that have left us with fewer allies, more debt and a less safe country.

Conclusion

Finally, it really boils down to education and attitude. If people wield critical thinking and take the time to research issues on their own, they will elect the right leaders, demand the right policies and create the ideal communities. Of course, this is exactly what the elites don’t want to happen. As Rockefeller once said, “I want a nation of workers, not thinkers.” Hence we have schools that excel in dumbing down our students, and corporate mainstream media that triumph in spreading fake news. Hollywood and the entertainment complex distract and confuse people – especially the young ones – with trivial, vulgar, violent and nihilistic beliefs. If we want to create a vibrant middle class, we have to abandon slogans and simplistic solutions, understand the bigger picture, tackle multiple and complex issues simultaneously, and work together as Americans in a non-partisan way.

— source nationofchange.org By Chris Kanthan

India, From the Destabilization of Agriculture to Demonetization, “Made in America”

A version of the following piece was originally published in June 2016. However, since then, India’s PM Narendra Modi has embarked on a ‘demonetisation’ policy, which saw around 85 percent of India’s bank notes becoming invalid overnight.

Emerging evidence indicates that demonetisation was not done to curb corruption, ‘black money’ or terrorism, the reasons originally given. That was a smokescreen. Modi was acting on behalf of powerful Wall Street financial interests. Demonetisation hascaused massive hardship, inconvenience and chaos. It has affected everyone and has impacted the poor and those who reside in rural areas (i.e. most of the population) significantly.

Who does Modi (along with other strategically placed figures) serve primarily: ordinary people and the ‘national interest’ or the interests of the US?

Convenient bedfellows

We don’t have to dig too deep to see where Modi feels at home. Describing itself as a major ‘global communications, stakeholder engagement and business strategy’ company, APCO Worldwide is a lobby agency with firm links to (part of) the Wall Street/US establishment and functions to serve its global agenda. Modi turned to APCO to help transform his image and turn him into electable pro-corporate PM material. It also helped Modi get the message out that what he achieved in Gujarat as Chief Minister was a miracle of economic neoliberalism, although the actual reality is really quite different.

In APCO’s India brochure, there is the claim that India’s resilience in weathering the global downturn and financial crisis has made governments, policy-makers, economists, corporate houses and fund managers believe that the country can play a significant role in the recovery of the global economy. APCO’s publicity blurb about itself claims that it stands “tall as the giant of the lobbying industry.”

The firm, in its own words, offers “professional and rare expertise” to governments, politicians and corporations, and is always ready to help clients to sail through troubled waters in the complex world of both international and domestic affairs.

Mark Halton, former head of Global Marketing and Communications for Monsanto, seemed to agree whenhe praisedAPCO for helping the GMO giant to:

… understand how Monsanto could better engage with societal stakeholders surrounding our business and how best to communicate the social value our company brings to the table.

If your name isseverely tarnishedand you need to get your dubious products on the market in countries that you haven’t managedto infiltratejust yet, why not bring in the “giant of the lobbying industry.”

As a former client of APCO, Modi now seems to be the go-to man for Washington. His government is doing the bidding of global biotech companies and is trying to push through herbicide-tolerant GM mustard based on fraudulent tests and ‘regulatory delinquency‘, which will not only open the door to further GM crops but will possibly eventually boost the sales of Monsanto-Bayer’s glufinosate herbicide. In addition, plans have been announced to introduce 100% foreign direct investment in certain sectors of the economy, including food processing.

Neoliberal dogma

This opening up of India to foreign capital is supported by rhetoric about increasing agricultural efficiency, creating jobs and boosting GDP growth. Such rhetoric mirrors that of the pro-business, neoliberal dogma we see in APCO’s brochure for India. From Greece to Spain and from the US to the UK, we are able to see this rhetoric for what it really is: record profits and massive increases in wealth (ie ‘growth) for elite interests and, for the rest, disempowerment, surveillance, austerity, job losses, the erosion of rights, weak unions, cuts to public services, bankrupt governments and opaque, corrupt trade deals.

APCO describes India as a trillion-dollar market. Note that the emphasis is not on redistributing the country’s wealth among its citizens but on exploiting markets. While hundreds of millions live in poverty and hundreds of millions of others hover above it, the combined wealth of India’s richest 296 individuals is $478 billion, some 22% of India’s GDP. According to the ‘World Wealth Report 2015’, there were 198,000 ‘high net worth’ individuals in India in 2014, while in 2013 the figure stood at 156,000.

APCO likes to talk about positioning international funds and facilitating corporations’ ability to exploit markets, sell products and secure profit. In other words, colonising key sectors, regions and nations to serve the needs of US-dominated international capital.

Paving the way for plunder

Modi recently stated that India is now one of the most business friendly countries in the world. The code for this being lowering labour, environmental, health and consumer protection standards, while reducing taxes and tariffs and facilitating the acquisition of public assets via privatisation and instituting policy frameworks that work to the advantage of foreign (US/Western) corporations.

When the World Bank rates countries on their level of ‘Ease of Doing Business’, it means nation states facilitating policies that force working people to take part in a race to the bottom based on free market fundamentalism. The more ‘compliant’ national governments make their populations and regulations, the more attractive foreign capital is tempted to invest.

The World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ – supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID – entails opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds.

Anyone who is aware of the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the links with the Indo-US Nuclear Treaty will know who will be aware that those two projects form part of an overall plan to subjugate Indian agriculture to the needs of foreign corporations (see this article from 1999). As thebiggest recipientof loans from the World Bank in the history of that institution, India is proving to be very compliant.

The destruction of livelihoods under the guise of ‘job creation’

According to the neoliberal ideologues, foreign investment is good for jobs and good for business. Just how many actually get created is another matter. What is overlooked, however, are the jobs that were lost in the first place to ‘open up’ sectors to foreign capital. For example, Cargill may set up a food or seed processing plant that employs a few hundred people, but what about the agricultural jobs that were deliberately eradicated in the first place or the village-level processors who were cynically put out of business so Cargill could gain a financially lucrative foothold?

The Indian economy is being opened-up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing (highly) productive system for the benefit of foreign corporations.For farmers, the majority are not to be empowered but displaced from the land. Farming is being made financially non-viable for small farmers, seeds are to be privatised as intellectual property rights are redefined, land is to be acquired and an industrialised, foreign corporate-controlled food production, processing and retail system is to be implemented.

The long-term plan is tocontinue to starve agricultureof investment and have an urbanised India with a fraction of the population left in farming working on contracts for large suppliers and Wal-Mart-type supermarkets that offer highly processed, denutrified, genetically altered food contaminated with chemicals and grown in increasingly degraded soils according to an unsustainable model of agriculture that is less climate/drought resistant, less diverse and unable to achieve food security. This would be disastrous for farmers, public health and local livelihoods.

Low input, sustainable models of food production and notions of independence and local or regional self-reliance do not provide opportunities to global agribusiness or international funds to exploit markets, sell their products and cash in on APCO’s vision of a trillion-dollar corporate hijack; moreover, they have little in common with Bill Gates/USAID’s vision for an Africa dominated by global agribusiness.

And, finally, to demonetisation

Modi rode to power on a nationalist platform and talks about various ‘nation-building’ initiatives, not least the ‘make in India’ campaign. But he is not the only key figure in the story of India’s capitulation to Washington’s agenda for India. There is, for instance,Avrind Subramanian, the chief economic advisor to the government, and Raghuram Rajan who was until recently Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.He was chief economist at theInternational Monetary Fundfrom 2003 to 2007 and was a Distinguished Service Professor of Financeat theUniversity of Chicago Booth School of Businessfrom 1991 to 2013. He is now back at the University of Chicago.

Aside from Rajan acting asa mouthpiecefor Washington’s strategy to recast agriculture in a corporate image and get people out of agriculture in India, in arecent article, economist Norbert Haring implicates Rajan in the demonestisation policy. He indicates that the policy was carried out on behalf of USAID, MasterCard, Visa and the people behind eBay and Citi, among others, with support from the Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Haring calls Rajan the Reserve Bank of India’s “IMF-Chicago boy” and based on his employment record, memberships (not least of the eliteGroup of Thirty which includes heads of central, investment and commercial banksand links, place him squarely at the centre of Washington’s financial cabal.

Haring says that Raghuram Rajan has good reason to expect to climb further to the highest rungs in international finance and thus play bow to Washington’s game plan:

He already wasa President of the American Finance Association and inaugural recipient of its Fisher-Black-Prize in financial research. He won the handsomely endowed prizes of Infosys for economic research and of Deutsche Bank for financial economics as well as the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Prize for best economics book. He was declared Indian of the year by NASSCOM and Central Banker of the year by Euromoneyand by The Banker. He is considered a possible successor of Christine Lagard at the helm of the IMF, but can certainly also expect to be considered for other top jobs in international finance.”

The move towards a cashless society would secure a further degree of control over India by the institutions who are pushing for it. Securing payments that accrue from each digital transaction would of course be very financially lucrative for them. These institutions are therefore pursuing a global ‘war on cash’.

Small, wealthy countries like Denmark and Sweden can bear the impact of a transition to a cashless economy, but for a country such as India, which runs on cash, the outcomes so far have been catastrophic for hundreds of millions of people, especially those who don’t have a bank account (almost half the population) or do not even have easy access to a bank.

But, regardless of the large-scale human suffering imposed as a result of demonetisation, it could kill two birds with one stone: 1) securing the interests of international capital, including the eventual displacement of the informal (i.e. self-organised) economy; and 2) acting as anotherdeliberate nail in the coffinof Indian farmers, driving even more of them out of the sector. The US’s game plan remains well and truly on course.

Not really a case of ‘make in India’. Some 50 years after independence, as a state India remains compromised, weak and hobbled. More a case of made in Washington.

— source globalresearch.ca By Colin Todhunter

Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?

Retired Gen. James Mattis earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for leading U.S. Marines into battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2004. In that assault, members of the Marine Corps, under Mattis’ command, shot at ambulances and aid workers. They cordoned off the city, preventing civilians from escaping. They posed for trophy photos with the people they killed.

Each of these offenses has put other military commanders and members of the rank and file in front of international war crimes tribunals. The doctrine that landed them there dates back to World War II, when an American military tribunal held Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita accountable for war crimes in the Philippines. His execution later was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the siege of Fallujah, which I covered as an unembedded journalist, Marines killed so many civilians that the municipal soccer stadium had to be turned into a graveyard.

In the years since, Mattis – called a “warrior monk” by his supporters – repeatedly has protected American service members who killed civilians, using his status as a division commander to wipe away criminal charges against Marines accused of massacring 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 and granting clemency to some of those convicted in connection with the 2006 murder of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi, who was taken outside his home and shot in the face four times.

These actions show a different side of Mattis, now 66, than has been featured in most profiles published since his nomination as President-elect Donald Trump’s defense secretary, which have portrayed him as a strong proponent of the Geneva Conventions and an anti-torture advocate.

Although Mattis argued against the siege of Fallujah beforehand, both international and U.S. law are clear: As the commanding general, he should be held accountable for atrocities committed by Marines under his command. Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting received no reply to messages sent to Mattis’ personal, business and military email addresses. Trump’s transition team likewise did not respond to inquiries. Mattis’ biography on the transition team’s website does not mention the battle.

“There have been credible reports that U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Mattis did target civilians, conducted indiscriminate attacks and also conducted attacks against military objectives that caused disproportionate casualties to civilians during military operations in Fallujah,” said Gabor Rona, who teaches international law at Columbia University and worked as a legal adviser at the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross at the time of the siege.

“All of these are war crimes,” Rona said. “Applying the doctrine of command responsibility, Gen. Mattis would be responsible for these misdeeds, these war crimes of troops under his command if he … either knew, should’ve known or did nothing to prevent or punish this behavior.”

Nearly 13 years later, the siege of Fallujah has receded from the headlines. But for those of us who experienced the events firsthand, the death and destruction are seared into our memories. The lack of accountability for the killing of so many civilians grates like nails on chalkboard.

Given his command responsibility, Mattis’ confirmation hearing for defense secretary, which starts Thursday, provides an opportunity to probe his role in the killings, including asking whether he committed war crimes.

***

I spent parts of three years in Iraq, covering the war as an independent, unembedded journalist, including work in and around Fallujah at the time of the April 2004 siege. The year before, in May 2003, I had spent $10 to take a taxi from Baghdad to Fallujah and – as an American journalist armed only with a microphone – walked freely among the fruit and vegetable sellers, buying a Seiko watch with a fake leather band and sitting in on a Friday prayer to hear from Jamal Shakur, the city’s most strident and powerful imam.

Although AK-47s were being sold openly on the street and there already had been clashes with American troops, the imam urged nonviolence.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” he preached. Do not confront the Americans, he said. Do not turn out to protest.

But as the U.S. government bungled the occupation, anti-American sentiment grew. Basic services such as electricity, knocked out during the initial invasion in March 2003, were not restored. Insurgent attacks increased, and along with them the number of civilians killed in American counterattacks. Thousands of Iraqis disappeared into Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam Hussein’s old lockup outside Baghdad, by then operated by the U.S. military.

A year later, Fallujah was destroyed by the Marines under Mattis’ command.

Rotting bodies in Fallujah streets

More than 12 years later, I still remember the smell of bodies left to rot in the streets for weeks because they could be buried only after the Marines withdrew. Iraqi doctors told me that when they tried to bury bodies during breaks in the fighting, American snipers on rooftops would shoot at them.

“When you see a child, 5 years old with no head, what (can you) say?” Dr. Salam Ismael, the head of Iraq’s young doctors association, told me in Baghdad at the time. “When you see a child with no brain, just opened cavity, what (can you) say? Or when you see a mother just hold her child, still an infant, with no head and the shells all over her body.”

My strongest memory of Fallujah came from the day the Marines withdrew from the city. On May 1, 2004, I watched as a team of volunteers wearing surgical masks pulled the rotting corpse of a middle-aged woman from a shallow grave in the front yard of a single-family home. The homeowner explained how the woman came to be lying dead in his yard.

An American warplane bombed her car as she fled the city with her husband, he said. The husband had been temporarily buried in the garden of the house next door, the charred remains of the car still visible a few yards from his front door.

The volunteers poured formaldehyde over the woman’s body to cut the stench, then placed her on a gurney and took her away in a small pickup truck. I was struck by the sad, intense eyes of one boy – not more than 12 – helping with the operation. He didn’t blink as he stood in the back of the open bed of the truck next to the body, which was covered with a white sheet.

The truck sped away. The boy was still standing, his hands on the side of the truck. In 10 minutes, he would be at the municipal soccer stadium helping bury the woman alongside hundreds of others who had died in the fighting.

Shooting at ambulances, refugee camp

Ismael told me Marines shot at his organization’s ambulance twice while he was in it. One time, he said, he was trying to retrieve bodies for burial. The other time, he was trying to bring aid to civilians stranded in their homes.

“I see people carrying a white flag and yelling at us, saying, ‘We are here, just try to save us,’ but we could not save them because whenever we opened the ambulance door, the Americans would shoot at us. We tried to carry food or water; the snipers shoot the containers of food.”

Proof often is elusive in a war zone. But that same week, British filmmaker Julia Guest showed me footage of a clearly marked ambulance, complete with blue flashing lights, riddled with bullet holes. The driver had a bandage around his head.

“It’s very clearly an ambulance,” she told me. “It’s carrying oxygen bottles. The damage to the ambulance was such that two of the wheels are totally wrecked. … They were left without an ambulance after that.”

At the time, the Marine Corps did not deny it was shooting at ambulances, but it blamed insurgents. In a 2004 email, corps spokesman Lt. Eric Knapp told me that his forces had seen fighters loading weapons from mosques into ambulances.

“By using ambulances, they are putting Iraqis in harm’s way by denying them a critical component of urgent medical care,” he wrote. “Mosques, ambulances and hospitals are protected under Geneva Convention agreements and are not targeted by U.S. Marines. However, once they are used for the purpose of hostile intent toward coalition forces, they lose their protected status and may be targeted.”

Both Ismael and Guest denied that the ambulances were used to ferry arms. Contacted for this story, Ismael, who now lives in England, still maintains that his ambulance should have been protected.

“We entered that area because we had been called for by civilians who were trapped,” he said.

The statement that ambulances were being used to smuggle arms was just one of the claims by Marine commanders that didn’t match up with what I heard on the ground from civilians and officials alike.

For instance, on one hand, the Marine Corps command consistently said it strategically targeted insurgent fighters. On the other, an official with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society told me outside Baghdad that the aid agency had to move a camp for civilians fleeing the violence because the U.S. kept shooting at it.

Civilians repeatedly told me they were targeted by Marine snipers who had taken up positions at high points around Fallujah, too. One 11-year-old boy, Yusuf Bakri Amash, said a sniper killed his best friend.

“Ahmed was in my class,” he said. “He was younger than me. He was standing next to the wall of the secondary school and was trying to cross the street. He was hit by a bullet. The American troops fired the bullet.”

Through it all, Mattis’ top deputies downplayed the number of civilian casualties. In one statement, Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne told reporters that 95 percent of the casualties were “military-age males.”

“The Marines are trained to be precise in their firepower,” Byrne said when confronted with an Associated Press report that 600 Iraqis had been killed, with many buried in a mass grave at the soccer stadium. “The fact that there are 600 goes back to the fact that the Marines are very good at what they do.”

In New York, a senior official with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights requested an independent inquiry, citing reports that 90 percent of the people killed in Fallujah were noncombatants. The investigation never occurred. An official Marine Corps history of the battle later would put the number of civilian deaths in the first two weeks of fighting alone at 220.
Mattis initially opposed attack on Fallujah

The official Marine Corps history says Mattis was against the assault on Fallujah, reporting that he argued, presciently, “that a large-scale operation would send the wrong message, unnecessarily endanger civilians, and ultimately fail to achieve the primary objective” of apprehending the insurgents who had killed four Blackwater security contractors.

But once it began, the official history says the Marines reporting to him carried out the assault “in a state of confusion.” U.S. military veterans of the siege, who I’ve talked to since, describe ever-shifting rules of engagement with a self-defense provision that they were encouraged to stretch to the limit.

Adam Kokesh served as a sergeant in Fallujah during the April siege. I met him four years later, in 2008, when he was one of 36 veterans who spoke at a Winter Soldier gathering of antiwar veterans in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, veterans disclosed atrocities they perpetrated or witnessed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the gathering, Kokesh showed a trophy photo of himself next to a car with an Iraqi man killed by Marines at a checkpoint he staffed. He said the Marines in his unit took turns taking pictures with the dead Iraqi, who had been killed in a hail of machine-gun fire.

According to Kokesh, a whole group of Marines “unloaded into the vehicle with a .50-caliber machine gun,” even though the car was still far away.

“The bullets started at the bumper and went up through the engine compartment, and then one round at least hit this Iraqi in the chest so hard that it broke his chair backwards, and we saw the vehicle burning in the distance,” he said. “Everybody tried to justify it and said, oh, they heard rounds cooking off in the fire, AK-47 rounds were bursting in the trunk or somewhere in the car. And they dragged the car into the area where we were sleeping the next day. And we didn’t even question that, but it was clear that there were no … holes from rounds that were cooking off in the side of this car.”

Kokesh also described how at one point during the siege, he and other men commanded by Mattis stood on a bridge over the Euphrates River and allowed women and young children to flee Fallujah but pushed back all males 14 and older.

“It took me a long time before I could think about what a horrible decision we were forcing these families to make,” he said. They “could split up and leave their husband and older sons in the city and hope a Spectre gunship round doesn’t land on their head, or stay with them and hunker down and just hope they made it through alive.”

Press on, Mattis said, as ire mounted

The decision to allow only some civilians to flee the city, which I witnessed – and other media covered as well – occurred when then-Maj. Gen. James Mattis was sent in to negotiate a ceasefire following tremendous blowback from across Iraqi society about the mounting number of civilian casualties.

The Iraqi army had refused to fight alongside Mattis’ Marines, while members of the hand-picked Iraqi Governing Council threatened to quit. The U.N.’s envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, threatened to resign.

“Collective punishment is certainly unacceptable and the siege of the city is absolutely unacceptable,” Brahimi said at the time.

But Mattis wanted to keep fighting. In his book “Fiasco,” military journalist Thomas E. Ricks writes that Mattis was against the negotiations and the ceasefire.

“If you’re going to take Vienna, take fucking Vienna!” Ricks quotes Mattis as snarling to Gen. John Abizaid, then-head of U.S. Central Command.

Mattis eventually negotiated an end to the assault, which turned over control of the city to an Iraqi-run “Fallujah Brigade” commanded by a former general in Saddam Hussein’s army, who sported a beret and wore a thick Baathist mustache. The settlement did not deliver the strategic objective announced when the assault began, namely that the killers of the four Blackwater security contractors be apprehended.

Years later, Mattis referred to the withdrawal from Fallujah as one the toughest orders he ever had to follow.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said in a Marine Corps interview posted in October. “It was a decision taken for reasons that had nothing to do with the tactical situation on the ground.”

“I was concerned to a degree that the Marines would lose confidence in their leadership,” he added, noting that sailors and Marines under his command had lost comrades in the assault.

“But they didn’t,” Mattis said, recalling a slow-talking gunner who sat for a television interview and told the reporter that he wasn’t troubled by the order to pull out of Fallujah. Mattis quotes the Marine as saying: “Doesn’t matter, we’ll just hunt ’em down somewhere else and kill ’em.”
Mattis ordered wedding party carnage

As the summer of 2004 began and it was clear that Fallujah had become a haven for insurgents, Mattis again was sent in to negotiate. Those talks failed and that November, Marines would return and, in an even bloodier siege, take the entire city.

By then, Mattis was back in the U.S., having been promoted to lieutenant general and assigned to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Virginia.

But before Mattis’ command in Iraq ended, he was involved in another controversial incident. On May 19, less than three weeks after his forces pulled back from Fallujah, Mattis personally authorized an attack on a wedding party near the Syrian border. The Iraqi government said the strike left 42 civilians dead, including at least 13 children.

The killings roiled Iraq, coming so soon after the carnage of Fallujah – but Mattis stood by his action, arguing the dead were insurgents.

“How many people go to the middle of the desert … to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?” he told The Guardian. “These were more than two dozen military-age males. Let’s not be naive.”

A few days later, the Associated Press obtained a videotape of the event. In it, a dozen white pickup trucks sped through the desert, escorting a bridal car decorated with colorful ribbons. The bride wore a white dress and veil and was ushered into a house by a group of women, while men reclined “on brightly colored silk pillows,” the AP reported, “relaxing on the carpeted floor of a large goat-hair tent as boys” danced to tribal songs.

The video did not capture the strike itself, but soon after the footage was taken, the AP reported many, including the wedding videographer, were dead.

Mattis later told military historian Bing West that it had taken him less than 30 seconds to deliberate whether to bomb the location.
Exonerations for Haditha massacre

In media reports since Donald Trump’s nomination of Mattis for defense secretary, the now-retired general consistently has been portrayed as the adult in the room, a veteran military man beloved by his fellow Marines. He’s seen by many as a steady, well-read leader in a group that includes a national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who believes that Islam is not a religion and wrote in a book published last year that America already was “in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people.”

“There’s no doubt,” Flynn wrote, that the Islamic State is “dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”

These observers took heart, for example, when Trump emerged from a meeting with Mattis in November and reported that the general had argued against waterboarding, an interrogation technique broadly condemned as torture, which Trump embraced during his campaign.

“I’ve never found it to be useful,” Trump quoted Mattis as saying. “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture.”

But my experience as a journalist reporting on Mattis’ assault from the perspective of Iraqi civilians gave me insight into another side of the general, a man who was willing to look the other way – and even authorize attacks on civilians – when there were “fighting-aged males” nearby. While he has many aphorisms about the importance of international law and the Geneva Conventions, in the battle of Fallujah, his Marines were not sanctioned.

This pattern becomes even clearer when you look at Mattis’ behavior once he returned to the U.S. and was promoted to general in charge of all Marine forces serving Central Command.

It was there where he used his position in the Marine Corps’ justice system to wipe away charges against three Marines charged with the murder of 24 civilians in Haditha, often called the My Lai massacre of the Iraq War.

Time magazine broke the story in March 2006, four months after the killings. Reporter Tim McGirk wrote that after a popular member of their unit was killed by a roadside bomb, a group of Marines “went on a rampage in the village … killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children.” Marines also shot up a car and killed a man running on a ridge. The total number of civilian dead was 24, including a man in a wheelchair.

The Marines Corps initially did not investigate the attack because no one on the ground reported it. A subsequent Department of Defense inquiry found Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents arrived on the scene only after Time published its exposé. Another military investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell found that the entire Marine Corps chain of command in Iraq ignored obvious signs of serious misconduct.

“All levels of command tended to view civilian casualties, even in significant numbers, as routine and as the natural and intended result of insurgent tactics,” Bargewell wrote. “Statements made by the chain of command during interviews for this investigation, taken as a whole, suggest that Iraqi civilian lives are not as important as U.S. lives, their deaths are just the cost of doing business, and that the Marines need to get ‘the job done’ no matter what it takes.”

Mattis, then a lieutenant general stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, became the “convening authority” for the court martial – giving him ultimate authority of justice in the case. In that role, he took the rare step of writing public letters to Marines accused of murder, exonerating them for their roles in the massacre.

In his letter wiping away murder charges against Lance Cpl. Justin Sharratt, who stood accused of killing three Iraqi men in a home, Mattis referenced Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who served as an infantryman in the Civil War, saying, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the face of an uplifted knife.”

“You have served as a Marine infantryman in Iraq where our Nation is fighting a shadowy enemy who hides among the innocent people, does not comply with any aspect of the law of war, and routinely targets and intentionally draws fire toward civilians. As you well know, the challenges of this combat environment put extreme pressures on you and your fellow Marines,” Mattis wrote. “With the dismissal of these charges you may fairly conclude that you did your best to live up to the standards, followed by U.S. fighting men throughout our many wars, in the face of life or death decisions.”

After Mattis dismissed charges against three Marines, the cases against the others collapsed. In the end, only the alleged ringleader, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, was held accountable, though his sentence did not include a day in prison. In 2012, more than six years after the massacre, Wuterich pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, and, as punishment, his rank was reduced to private. He told the court that he regretted telling his men to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
Mattis has his defenders – and critics

Today, the prosecution of Marines involved in the Haditha massacre is widely seen as a debacle, said Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor who teaches a course at the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School called “Losing Haditha.”

But Solis, like other observers, doesn’t blame Mattis, saying he was hamstrung by inexperienced prosecutors. Compounding matters further was the lack of good evidence, the result of the initial failure of Marines on the ground to report the killings. Marine prosecutors also wasted three years fighting CBS in court, trying to get the network to provide unreleased footage from a “60 Minutes” broadcast, Solis said, during which time memories faded and witness statements changed.

“I think so highly of Gen. Mattis,” Solis said, putting primary blame for the killings on the nature of the Iraq War itself. “Whenever you are involved with armed opposition groups who don’t identify themselves, civilians are going to die by the carload.”

Other observers, including Gabor Rona, the former attorney for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said Mattis’ actions in the Haditha aftermath deserve renewed scrutiny with his nomination as defense secretary.

“Mattis’ role in whitewashing, if in fact that’s what he did, would be a war crime under international law, and analogous to what we prosecuted and executed Yamashita for,” he said, referring to the Japanese World War II general.

Indeed, Haditha was not the only time that Mattis used his command authority to clear Marines in a war crimes case. He also granted clemency to three Marines convicted in the 2006 killing of a disabled Iraqi man in Hamdania, freeing them from prison.

The Washington Post reported that a group of Marines went into the home of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi with a metal bar in his leg, pulled him out and shot him in the face four times. The Marines then tried to frame him by planting a machine gun and shovel at the scene, to make it look as though he were an insurgent digging a roadside bomb. Eight servicemen initially were convicted and jailed; a year later, all but one had been released.

Among the three freed by Mattis was Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to eight years.

Faded Iraq War memories

Nearly 13 years have passed since the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. More than a decade has gone by since the Haditha massacre. The murder of a disabled man in Hamdania is nearly as old.

So much time has passed, in fact, that an inquiry to the Marine Corps press office for details of service member prosecutions related to the Fallujah siege was met with confusion. I was routed in sequence to the Marine Corps History Division, the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy and eventually back to the Marine Corps’ main public affairs desk.

I told each officer I encountered that I was not aware of anyone being held accountable for atrocities, but wanted to be sure before I said so in a story.

After two weeks of phone calls and emails, a Marine spokeswoman, Lt. Danielle Phillips, offered this answer: I would have to submit a Freedom of Information Act request. The events simply were too long ago, she said.

Many of the international law experts contacted for this story likewise had forgotten the details, and I had to jog their memories with photographs, audio recordings and government documents.

With James Mattis’ nomination on the horizon, some suggest senators should press him about his actions as commanding general of one of the war’s bloodiest battles and his subsequent role in exonerating servicemen found guilty of war crimes.

At his confirmation hearing, senators should “ask about the high numbers of civilian casualties and whether there was adequate oversight and accountability,” said Beth Van Schaack, a law professor at Stanford University who served as deputy to the ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues in the Obama administration.

Mattis also should be asked about his “personal role as commander over subordinates who committed what appear to be war crimes against Iraqi civilians by targeting civilians or using indiscriminate force that insufficiently verified whether the targets were civilians or combatants,” Van Schaack said. “How did he supervise his troops, and what measures did he take after the fact?”

Gabor Rona, the former legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross, said senators should remind Mattis that commanders in Yugoslavia and Rwanda have been convicted in international war crimes tribunals for failing to prevent or punish lower-ranking war criminals, a doctrine also recognized in U.S. law through Yamashita’s case and enshrined in the Department of Defense Law of War Manual.

“Troops are between a rock and a hard place,” Rona said, “obligated to follow orders but also obligated to disobey manifestly unlawful orders” such as mistreatment of civilians or captured combatants.

Mattis’ hearing, he said, offers Congress an opportunity to put commanders on notice that they have a duty to prevent and punish abuses committed by their troops.

— source https://www.revealnews.org/article/did-defense-secretary-nominee-james-mattis-commit-war-crimes-in-iraq/ By Aaron Glantz
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Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise

Even if there comes a day when the world completely stops emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, coastal regions and island nations will continue to experience rising sea levels for centuries afterward, according to a new study by researchers at MIT and Simon Fraser University.

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that warming from short-lived compounds — greenhouse gases such as methane, chlorofluorocarbons, or hydrofluorocarbons, that linger in the atmosphere for just a year to a few decades — can cause sea levels to rise for hundreds of years after the pollutants have been cleared from the atmosphere.

“If you think of countries like Tuvalu, which are barely above sea level, the question that is looming is how much we can emit before they are doomed. Are they already slated to go under, even if we stopped emitting everything tomorrow?” says co-author Susan Solomon, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Science at MIT. “It’s all the more reason why it’s important to understand how long climate changes will last, and how much more sea-level rise is already locked in.”

Solomon’s co-authors are lead author Kirsten Zickfeld of Simon Fraser University and Daniel Gilford, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.

Short stay, long rise

Recent studies by many groups, including Solomon’s own, have shown that even if human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide were to stop entirely, their associated atmospheric warming and sea-level rise would continue for more than 1,000 years. These effects — essentially irreversible on human timescales — are due in part to carbon dioxide’s residence time: The greenhouse gas can stay in the atmosphere for centuries after it’s been emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes.

In contrast to carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons have much shorter lifetimes. However, previous studies have not specified what their long-term effects may be on sea-level rise. To answer this question, Solomon and her colleagues explored a number of climate scenarios using an Earth Systems Model of Intermediate Complexity, or EMIC, a computationally efficient climate model that simulates ocean and atmospheric circulation to project climate changes over decades, centuries, and millenia.

With the model, the team calculated both the average global temperature and sea-level rise, in response to anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and hydrofluorocarbons.

The researchers’ estimates for carbon dioxide agreed with others’ predictions and showed that, even if the world were to stop emitting carbon dioxide starting in 2050, up to 50 percent of the gas would remain in the atmosphere more than 750 years afterward. Even after carbon dioxide emissions cease, sea-level rise should continue to increase, measuring twice the level of 2050 estimates for 100 years, and four times that value for another 500 years.

The reason, Solomon says, is due to “ocean inertia”: As the world warms due to greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide included — waters heat up and expand, causing sea levels to rise. Removing the extra ocean heat caused by even short-lived gases, and consequently lowering sea levels, is an extremely slow process.

“As the heat goes into the ocean, it goes deeper and deeper, giving you continued thermal expansion,” Solomon explains. “Then it has to get transferred back to the atmosphere and emitted back into space to cool off, and that’s a very slow process of hundreds of years.”

Stemming tides

In one particular climate modeling scenario, the team evaluated sea level’s response to various methane emissions scenarios, in which the world would continue to emit the gas at current rates, until emissions end entirely in three different years: 2050, 2100, and 2150.

In all three scenarios, methane gas quickly cleared from the atmosphere, and its associated atmospheric warming decreased at a similar rate. However, methane continued to contribute to sea-level rise for centuries afterward. What’s more, they found that the longer the world waits to reduce methane emissions, the longer seas will stay elevated.

“Amazingly, a gas with a 10-year lifetime can actually cause enduring sea-level changes,” Solomon says. “So you don’t just get to stop emitting and have everything go back to a preindustrial state. You are going to live with this for a very long time.”

The researchers found one silver lining in their analyses: Curious as to whether past regulations on pollutants have had a significant effect on sea-level rise, the team focused on perhaps the most successful global remediation effort to date — the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty ratified by 197 countries in 1989, that effectively curbed emissions of ozone-depleting compounds worldwide.

Encouragingly, the researchers found that the Montreal Protocol, while designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out pollutants such as chlorofluorocarbons — has also helped stem rising seas. If the Montreal Protocol had not been ratified, and countries had continued to emit chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere, the researchers found that by 2050, the world would have experienced up to an additional 6 inches of sea-level rise.

“Half a foot is pretty significant,” Solomon says. “It’s yet another tremendous reason why the Montreal Protocol has been a pretty good thing for the planet.”

In their paper’s conclusion, the researchers point out that efforts to curb global warming should not be expected to reverse high seas quickly, and that longer-term impacts from sea-level rise should be seriously considered: “The primary policy conclusion of this study is that the long-lasting nature of sea-level rise heightens the importance of earlier mitigation actions.”

This research was supported, in part, by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and NASA.

— source http://news.mit.edu/2017/short-lived-greenhouse-gases-cause-centuries-sea-level-rise-0109
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Glia, not neurons, are most affected by brain aging

There are three types of glia cells, each providing different kinds of support to neurons: oligodendrocytes insulate, microglia act as immune cells, and astrocytes help with neuron metabolism, detoxification, among many functions.
astrocytes and oligodendrocytes shift their regional gene expression patterns upon aging, (e.g., which genes are turned on or off) particularly in the hippocampus and substantia nigra — important brain regions for memory and movement, respectively — while the expression of microglia-specific genes increases in all brain regions.
the number of oligodendrocytes decreases with age in the frontal cortex.
this likely corresponds with decreased expression of oligodendrocyte specific genes. Other types of cells had more complicated patterns of change.
oligodendrocytes disappearing but with neurons we didn’t see dramatic changes in cellular numbers except for a decrease in the largest neurons. This is of interest because those largest neurons are generally connected to neurodegenerative diseases.
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Cash Is No Longer King

As physical currency around the world is increasingly phased out, the era where “cash is king” seems to be coming to an end. Countries like India and South Korea have chosen to limit access to physical money by law, and others are beginning to test digital blockchains for their central banks.

The war on cash isn’t going to be waged overnight, and showdowns will continue in any country where citizens turn to alternatives like precious metals or decentralized cryptocurrencies. Although this transition may feel like a natural progression into the digital age, the real motivation to go cashless is downright sinister.

The unprecedented collusion between governments and central banks that occurred in 2008 led to bailouts, zero percent interest rates and quantitative easing on a scale never before seen in history. Those decisions, which were made under duress and in closed-door meetings, set the stage for this inevitable demise of paper money.

Sacrificing the stability of national currencies has been used as a way prop up failing private institutions around the globe. By kicking the can down the road yet another time, bureaucrats and bankers sealed the fate of the financial system as we know it.

A currency war has been declared, ensuring that the U.S. dollar, Euro, Yen and many other state currencies are linked in a suicide pact. Printing money and endlessly expanding debt are policies that will erode the underlying value of every dollar in people’s wallets, as well as digital funds in their bank accounts. This new war operates in the shadows of the public’s ignorance, slowly undermining social and economic stability through inflation and other consequences of central control. As the Federal Reserve leads the rest of the world’s central banks down the rabbit hole, the vortex it’s creating will affect everyone in the globalized economy.

Peter Schiff, president of Euro-Pacific Capital, has written several books on the state of the financial system. His focus is on the long-term consequences of years of government and central bank manipulation of fiat currencies:

“Never in the course of history has a country’s economy failed because its currency was too strong…The view that a weak currency is desirable is so absurd that it could only have been devised to serve the political agenda of those engineering the descent. And while I don’t blame policy makers from spinning self-serving fairy tales (that is their nature), I find extreme fault with those hypnotized members of the media and the financial establishment who have checked their reason at the door. A currency war is different from any other kind of conventional war in that the object is to kill oneself. The nation that succeeds in inflicting the most damage on its own citizens wins the war. ” [emphasis added]

If you want a glimpse 0f how this story ends, all you have to do is look at Venezuela, where the government has destroyed the value of the bolivar (and U.S. intervention has further exacerbated the problem). Desperation has overcome the country, leading women to go as far as selling their own hair just to get by. While crime and murder rates have spiked to all-time highs, the most dangerous threat to Venezuelans has been extensive government planning. The money they work for and save is now so valueless it’s weighed instead of counted. The stacks of bills have to be carried around in backpacks, and the scene is reminiscent of the hyperinflation Weimar Germany experienced in the 1920s. Few Western nations have ever experienced a currency crisis before, meaning many are blind to the inevitable consequences that come from the unending stimulus we’ve seen since 2008.

In order to keep this kind of chaos from spreading like a contagion to the rest of the world, representatives are willing to do anything necessary, but this comes at a cost. Instead of having to worry about carrying around wheelbarrows full of money, the fear in a cashless society will likely stem from bank customers’ restricted access to funds. With no physical way for consumers to take possession of their wealth, the banking interests will decide how much is available.

The level of trust most people still have in the current system is astonishing. Even after decades of incompetence, manipulation, and irresponsibility, the public still grasps to government and the established order like a child learning how to swim. The responsibility that comes with independence has intimidated the entire population into leaving the decisions up to so-called ‘experts.’ It just so happens that those trusted policymakers have an agenda to strip you and future generations of prosperity.

Some of the few hopes in this war against centralization are peer-to-peer technologies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. These innovative platforms have the potential to open up markets that circumvent state-controlled Ponzi schemes. The future development of crypto-assets has massive potential, but being co-opted is a real danger.

The greatest threat to individual freedom is financial dependence, and as long as your wealth is under someone else’s control, it can never be completely secure. Unfortunately, private blockchains are becoming increasingly popular, creating trojan horses for those just learning about the technology (in contrast, Bitcoin’s transaction ledger is public) . Without the decentralized aspect of a financial network, it is just a giant tracking database that can be easily compromised like any other.

The World Economic Forum released a report on the future of financial infrastructure. Giancarlo Bruno, Head of Financial Services Industries at WEF stated:

“Rather than to stay at the margins of the finance industry, blockchain will become the beating heart of it. It will help build innovative solutions across the industry, becoming ever more integrated into the structure of financial services, as mainframes, messaging services, and electronic trading did before it.”

The list of countries who are exploring integrating blockchain technology into their central banking system is extensive. Just to name a few; Singapore, Ukraine, France, Finland and many others are in the process of researching and testing out options.

For those who appreciate more tangible wealth, diversifying into hard assets like gold and silver is a great first step. It’s not about becoming a millionaire or getting rich quickly, but rather, using precious metals as vehicles for investment in the long-term. Regardless of what events unfold over the decades to come, the wealth preserved in physical form is more secure than any other asset. Forty years ago it was possible to save your money in the bank and accumulate interest over time, but that opportunity no longer exists. Those who fail to adapt to this new financial twilight zone will likely find themselves living as slaves to debt for years.

Control and confidence are two of the most important things in the system we live in. Once these digital spider webs have been put into place, the ability for an individual to maintain privacy or anonymity will all but disappear. Only through understanding the subversive actions being taken can people protect themselves from having to put their future in someone else’s hands. The cash that allows free transactions without tax burdens or state scrutiny won’t be around much longer. There will be many rationalizations for a cashless society in the years to come, but without fixing this broken financial system first, this will only ensure that despotism gains an even sturdier foothold.

— source theantimedia.org By Shaun Bradley

He dont know about the biggest voter suppression case in the country

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general faced more than nine hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which he denied being a racist and tried to distance himself from Trump’s most extreme promises. As he faced questions, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama was repeatedly disrupted by protesters who chanted “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!” Sessions has previously opposed legislation that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants, questioned if the Constitution guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States, and declared same-sex marriage a threat to American culture. He also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, opposed the Voting Rights Act and has a history of making racist comments.

William Barber talking:

Repairers of the Breach, along with Faith in Public Life, with my good friend Reverend Jennifer Butler, and 500 clergy and impacted persons, we led a Moral Monday march to McConnell’s office, Senate Leader McConnell, asking him and all of the other senators to reject the Sessions nomination. This was the first time, we understand, that clergy have done this at this period.

We really believe it’s a moral crisis, and there’s so much camouflaging that we have to get underneath so that we can get to the truth. First of all, when we talk about Jeff Sessions, they say, “Well, he’s a Methodist.” Well, so was George Wallace. They say, “Well, he’s cordial.” Well, Southern cordiality and racial animosity are two different things altogether. They say that he’s been respectful. Well, you can be respectful—Jesse Helms had certain levels of respect, but he was very racist in his policies.

What we look at now is where Sessions has stood on the issues. And let me point out what I mean by that. First of all, he has shown a contempt for the 15th Amendment of the Constitution, which says, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged.” And then Section 2 says, “The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article.” For 1,296 days, Senator Sessions has been a part of the group that has kept the Congress from enforcing the 15th Amendment by fixing Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. He has a contempt for the 15th Amendment. He has called the Voting Rights Act “an intrusive piece of legislation.” That is the legislation that people died for. He says it is intrusive. In other words, it’s a bother. He has stood against voting rights. He has applauded the Shelby decision, which gutted the Voting Rights Act, and has done nothing in the Congress to fix it. Even on yesterday, he said he did not know anything about the biggest voter suppression case in the country right now, the North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory, where the court said that North Carolina engaged in intentional racial discrimination, things they could not have done if Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was enforced.

So, here’s the question for America: If Sessions has a contempt for the 15th Amendment as a senator, if he has tried to undermine the 15th Amendment as a senator, then why would you want him to be the attorney general, who is required to enforce the 15th Amendment? That’s the kind of racism that we’re talking about. Racism in America is not just about a white supremacist yelling the N-word or wearing robes or burning crosses. Racism is perpetrated through systems of power that consistently privilege white people while discriminating against people of color and other Americans. And when you look at his record on this, he has a contempt for the 15th Amendment, for the protection of voting rights, and has applauded false claims about voter fraud and real realities of voter suppression, that is greater than things we’ve seen since the days of Jim Crow.

And there are several things that were so striking and hypocritical at that hearing yesterday. You know, when Senator Sessions said, you know, he denounced the Klan, you know, those are kind of common phrases to say, you know, “I did this”—he said he didn’t call the NAACP “un-American.” Basically, he’s saying, “I did these things. You all heard it. But you didn’t really hear what you heard or see what you saw.” In essence, he’s calling Coretta Scott King a liar. He’s saying the NAACP and our people are liars. He’s even saying that Ms. Turner is a liar. You know, she’s still alive. And just the other day, she says, “I know Jeff Sessions. The leopard has not changed his spots.” She said that he tried to put her and her husband in jail for 250 years. That’s the same length of time that black people were enslaved in this country. And it was all over a fraudulent case. He claims to have worked on cases, but there’s a Washington Post article that says he really didn’t work on those cases.

So what we have here is someone who has a clear record. He has a record in the past. He never repented of it. Now, he may say he—he may suggest they weren’t his ideas, but he’s never repented of it and become an advocate for voting rights and a staunch supporter of the 15th Amendment. If anything, he has hardened over the years and become more shrewd over the years. I keep saying this constantly, Amy, to people: This Congress, for 1,296 days today, has refused to do its job. In essence, you’ve had what Dr. King called interposition and nullification in the Congress, refusing to fix the 15th Amendment. That, in itself, alone, should be a disqualifier for someone who’s being asked to lead the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

However, there’s something else. Senator Sessions has stood against legislation that would help vulnerable Muslim Americans, that would help the LGBT community. He has voted against immigrant rights and the rights of refugees. He has even voted against the women’s act, Violence Against Women Act. And he voted against a program that would help minorities, African Americans and women have access to federal contracts, which means he’s not only in contempt—he has a contempt for the 15th Amendment, he has a contempt for the 14th Amendment, which—I mean, excuse me, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says you cannot discriminate in any programs that receive federal money. So, he has a contempt for the 15th Amendment. He has shown contempt for the 14th Amendment, which says equal protection under the law shall be provided to all people, regardless of their race, their color, their creed, their sexuality. He’s shown a contempt for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Title VI. So, someone who has shown a contempt for these things cannot be put in office to be the law enforcement officer over these things. It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.
___

Rev. Dr. William Barber
reverend and president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays leader. He’s the author of Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.

— source democracynow.org

Defense Secretary Nominee Commited War Crimes in Iraq

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, faces his Senate confirmation hearing today. This comes as House Democrats are threatening to revolt over the waiver needed for Mattis to serve as defense secretary, after the Trump transition team blocked him from testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. Mattis only retired from the military in 2013, meaning he needs Congress to waive rules requiring defense secretaries to be civilians for seven or more years after leaving the military. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has said she’ll vote against the waiver for General Mattis, saying, “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”

James Mattis reportedly received his nickname “Mad Dog” Mattis after leading U.S. troops during the 2004 battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He enlisted in the Marines at 19, fought in the Persian Gulf War, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, where he served as major general. In May 2004, Mattis ordered an airstrike in a small Iraqi village that hit a wedding, killing about 42 people who were attending the wedding ceremony. Mattis went on to lead the U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, but the Obama administration cut short his tour over concerns General Mattis was too hawkish on Iran, reportedly calling for a series of covert actions there. Mattis has drawn criticism over his apparent celebration of killing, including saying in 2005 about the Taliban, “It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them”.

Aaron Glantz talking:

James Mattis got the nickname “Mad Dog” for his command responsibility as a general during the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. This was a battle that I covered as an unembedded journalist, where the U.S. Marine Corps killed so many people, so many civilians, that the municipal soccer stadium of that city had to be turned into a graveyard. U.S. Marines there shot at ambulances. They shot at aid workers. They cordoned off the city and prevented civilians from fleeing. Some marines posed for trophy photos with the people that they killed.

And what we say in the story is that all of these events that occurred in Fallujah when James Mattis was the commanding general are the same sort of events that other commanders in other countries have been convicted of war crimes for, including General Yamashita, who was a general in World War II for the Japanese, who was tried and executed by a U.S. military tribunal, and his execution was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. We found that James Mattis likely committed similar war crimes.

He, when that assault happened—and, importantly, he argued against the attack beforehand. And he said, very presciently, that so many civilians would be killed, that it would be ultimately damaging to the U.S. military’s overall occupation effort. But once that attack was launched, that’s exactly what happened. There was massive outcry across the Arab world, including in Iraq, a rise of insurgency across the country and a complete devastation of the city. I remember walking through the city shortly after the Marines pulled out, and there were rotting bodies all over the streets, because during the actual siege, U.S. Marine snipers would shoot at anyone who was outside, so people were afraid to go and bury the dead. Shopping centers were destroyed. And this gets to an important issue of disproportionality.

This whole assault was launched because of the killing of four Blackwater security contractors. And, you know, in response, James Mattis leveled the city.

The very important legal doctrine in the United States of America and around the world is the doctrine of command responsibility. If you have a large-scale atrocity that takes place, the commanding general of the operation is held responsible. We held General Yamashita, who was the commanding general in the Japanese Army of a number of operations in the Philippines, under this standard back in World War II, and we executed him. And his execution was upheld by the Supreme Court. Legal scholars that I’ve talked to said the same standard applies to General Mattis. And so we have to look very closely at his command of the U.S. Marine Corps in Fallujah, which is an event that I covered in 2004 as an unembedded journalist. And in that battle, U.S. marines, under his command, killed so many people—one U.N. estimate says 90 percent of them were civilians—that the municipal football stadium of the city had to be turned into a graveyard. Marines shot at ambulances. Marines shot at aid workers. Marines posed with trophy photos with the dead that they had killed. All of these are things that Mattis could be tried for, potentially, for war crimes. And he is Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense.

In addition, we also spoke about his role as the convening authority of trials for marines in other cases—the Haditha massacre, the Hamdania massacre—where he wiped away or granted clemency to people who were already convicted, freeing them from prison, for atrocities. And if a person in his kind of command responsibility allows others to get off the hook for war crimes, that’s also something that he could be held culpable for, held accountable for. And, you know, it would be my hope that in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and perhaps in follow-on hearings in the House, if they occur, regarding the waiver that he’s going to need to get to become secretary of defense, that James Mattis be asked to explain himself regarding the actions that we’ve been discussing.

He has been very vocal in saying that he supports the Geneva Convention. He has been an advocate against torture. Donald Trump emerged from a meeting with him and began to back off his support for the practice of waterboarding, after listening to General Mattis. But you also have to look at what happens when General Mattis is in the field. And what we saw in Fallujah and in other instances in Iraq is that when General Mattis is in the field, often he allows his marines to go well beyond what is normally permitted in the law of war.

In Fallujah. a wedding party that was bombed on his call in western Iraq not long after that, where he later told a Marine historian, Bing West, that he deliberated less than 30 seconds over whether to carry it out, simply because it was in the middle of the desert. And then, you know, the Associated Press later obtained footage that showed that there was indeed a wedding party, where dozens of civilians were killed. Later, as James Mattis moved up the chain of command, was no longer a field commander in Iraq, he became a convening authority in a number of tribunals involving war crimes committed by marines in the country, including the most famous massacre that occurred during the Iraq War, the Haditha massacre, where a number of marines went on a killing spree in the town of Haditha after one of their comrades was killed. They killed dozens of people in a number of houses, and charges were brought. And as the general overseeing the entire court-martial process, General Mattis dismissed charges against three of the perpetrators, and ultimately no one charged with that massacre of dozens of Iraqis was—spent a single day in prison.

when that massacre happened in 2005, nobody on the ground reported it. And it wasn’t until the story was broken sometime later by Time magazine that the Marine Corps even investigated what happened. Then, following the investigation, charges were brought against the Marine squad that committed the crimes that were described in the video. She mentioned that charges were dismissed against six of the accused. Mattis himself was responsible for three of those dismissals. Ultimately, only one person was convicted, who was the supposed ringleader of the operation, and he did not serve one day behind bars, although he did tell the court that he regretted telling the other marines to shoot first and ask questions later.

Mattis should be asked about what his marines did in Fallujah. I think that he should be asked if he was aware of the scale of civilian casualties—over 600 people killed, and, you know, official Marine Corps estimate is 220 civilians in just the first two weeks of the fighting, there was a U.N. official at the time who estimated that 90 percent of the people killed were civilians—if he’s aware of those deaths, if he thinks they’re proportional, if he thinks the destruction of the city was proportional to the killing of the four Blackwater security contractors. I think he should be asked about the other activities that I described—the shooting at ambulances, the shooting at aid workers, if he was aware of it. If he was aware of it, you know, how does he justify it? If he wasn’t aware of it as the military commander in the field with command responsibility, does he think he should have been?

And in these other cases—we talked about the wedding party, we talked about the Haditha massacre—there’s another massacre where he was also the convening authority, the Hamdania massacre, which was broken by The Washington Post, where a group of marines pulled a disabled Iraqi out of his house, shot him four times in the face and then framed him by planting a shovel and a machine gun next to him to make him look like an insurgent. In that case, General Mattis intervened to free some of the marines from prison, granting them clemency. I think he should be asked to explain himself for his actions and how all of the actions that we’ve been discussing comport with his well-known advocacy for the Geneva Conventions and international law.

James Mattis needs to be confirmed by the Senate, right? In our system of government, presidential appointees need to be confirmed by the Senate. But because he has not been out of the military for seven years, he needs Congress to change a law—and, you know, which is something that hasn’t been done since the Korean War—and allow a recently retired general to become head of the Defense Department, make an exception to our long-held belief in civilian control of the military, for him. The Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee were expecting that he would testify before the House Armed Services Committee on a hearing over whether Congress should grant that waiver. The Trump administration pulled him back, and now the members of the House on the Democratic side are very upset and saying that they may try to hold up his waiver, which would also hold up his confirmation.

If you look at somebody like General Mattis, he’s incredibly well respected within the military community. He’s a marine’s marine. They call him a warrior monk. I’ve received a lot of backlash for my article from members of the military who revere him. There is an idea, though, that we have in our government, that somebody like General Mattis, who, you know, as we’ve been talking about, in Fallujah, is a good soldier and will do anything possible to get the job done, no matter how many people end up dead, that there should be a civilian check on that in a democracy. We have made exceptions to this before. General Marshall was appointed by Harry Truman during the Korean War, and Congress granted that waiver. But it has not happened since then. And it is a big deal for Congress to consider. And the Democrats in the House said, “Look, before we approve this waiver for General Mattis, we would at least like to hear from him and be able to ask him questions.”

And there are some other questions that Democrats want to ask General Mattis, and may be asked in the Senate confirmation hearing today, that have nothing to do with the issues that we’ve been discussing around war crimes. He has expressed an opposition to allowing women in combat roles. He expressed opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military at one point.

the book that he co-edited came out very recently. The comments about women in combat also happened very recently, were given in a speech in the Marines’ Memorial in San Francisco. So, these are not statements that he made in the 1980s. You know, these are statements that he made during the Obama administration. And also, you know, we have to remember that President Obama removed him early, as you mentioned at the outset, as the commanding general of Central Command because of his very hawkish position on Iran. And it’s rare, you know, for a president to remove a general from a command before his term is up in that way. So, I would imagine that we might hear members of the Senate today, and perhaps, if he does appear before the House, members of the House also, asking him about, you know, some of his hawkish beliefs.

Of course, all of this is mollified by the fact that some of the same Democrats who are very concerned about him are even more concerned about General Michael Flynn, who is Donald Trump’s national security adviser designee, who doesn’t have to be confirmed at all and has said that, you know, ISIS wants to drink our blood and that we’re already involved in a Third World War. So, Mattis looks pretty conservative by comparison to Flynn. And that’s just the world that we live in.

Iran nuclear deal is been a little bit unclear. You know, he was—he’s critical of it in general. The more important question, I think, for us now is, going forward—and it’s the same question that we have for the Trump administration in general—you know, Donald Trump, as with many agreements signed by President Obama, has criticized it mightily. But now, you know, we’re hearing that General Mattis might be of the opinion that we might want to just hold them to it very, very aggressively, rather than throwing it out. And perhaps we’ll get some clarity on that during his confirmation hearing.

I think the veterans’ community breathed a huge sigh of relief with the appointment of Mr. Shulkin as VA secretary. This is a man who was appointed to the position of undersecretary of VA for healthcare by President Obama. He is a well-respected doctor. He’s well respected in the veterans’ community. As you mentioned, he’s not a veteran. But veterans’ groups were extremely concerned about the possibility, given Trump’s campaign rhetoric, of a wholesale privatization of the VA. And they were concerned, many of them, about the floating of the name of Pete Hegseth, who founded a group funded by the Koch brothers called Concerned Veterans of America, which was advocating towards privatization. And, you know, by and large, the opinion of veterans’ groups is, while some private care is welcome, especially when you can’t get into the VA, that a privatization of the VA system would be a disaster for veterans. And so, with the appointment of Shulkin, it seems like Trump—you know, it’s likely private care will be expanded, but possibly not at the expense of the core mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
____

Aaron Glantz
senior reporter at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

— source democracynow.org

The Failure of Passive Revolution

Barack Obama declared to CNN this past December 26 that he could have beaten Trump had he the chance to run against the president elect for a third term, but he may have done more than anyone else to assure Trump’s victory.

While Trump’s election has triggered a rapid expansion of fascist currents in US civil society and the political system a fascist outcome is not inevitable and will depend on the fight back that has already begun. But that fight back requires clarity as to how we got to such a dangerous precipice. The seeds of a 21st century fascism were planted, fertilized, and watered by the government of outgoing president Barack Obama and the bankrupt liberal elite that Obama’s presidency represents.

By the final years of the George W. Bush regime, and especially with the financial collapse of 2008, seething discontent burst out into mass protest in the U.S. and around the world. The Obama project was from the start an effort by dominant groups to reestablish hegemony in the wake of its deterioration during the Bush years. Obama’s election was a challenge to the system at the cultural and ideological level that shook up racial/ethnic foundations upon which the U.S. Republic has always rested, although it certainly did not dismantle those foundations.

However, the Obama project was never intended to challenge the socio-economic order. To the contrary, it sought to preserve and strengthen that order, to sustain capitalist globalization, by reconstituting hegemony and conducting a passive revolution against the mass discontent and spreading popular resistance that began to percolate in the final years of the Bush presidency.

The Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of passive revolution to refer to efforts by dominant groups to bring about mild change from above in order to defuse mobilization from below for more far-reaching transformation. Integral to passive revolution is the cooptation of leadership from below and the integration of that leadership into the dominant project.

Obama’s 2008 election campaign tapped into and helped expand mass mobilization and popular aspirations for change not seen in many years in the United States. The Obama project co-opted the brewing storm from below, channeled it into the electoral campaign and then betrayed those aspirations, as the Democratic Party effectively demobilized the insurgency from below with more passive revolution even as it resumed and actually accelerated the project of capitalist globalization and neo-liberalism. The mass enthusiasm that the first Obama electoral campaign generated quickly dissipated.

Transnational corporate capital financed both of the Obama presidential campaigns and purchased the Obama presidency. Obama pushed forward the agenda of global war, neo-liberalism, and the drift towards an authoritarian state. He became the corporate bailout president, the mass deportation president, and the drone-warfare president. His government pushed the construction of a repressive police and surveillance state. It authorized the indefinite detention without writ of habeas corpus of anyone the state deems an “enemy,” waged war against whistleblowers and leakers, and defended NSA domestic and global spying. It ramped up the military budget, which had already reached an historical high under the Bush regime. It brokered the Transpacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the Trade in Services Agreement.

In this sense, the Obama project weakened the popular and left response from below to the crisis, which opened space for the right-wing response – for a project of 21st century fascism – to become insurgent. The Obama administration appeared, certainly in this respect, as a Weimar republic. Although the social democrats were in power during the Weimar republic of Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s they did not pursue a leftist response to the crisis but rather sidelined the militant trade unions, communists and socialists, and progressively pandered to capital and the right before turning over power to the Nazis in 1933. Obama’s 21st century Weimar republic generated conditions propitious to the development of neo-fascist forces in the United States.

During the Bush regime, these neo-fascist forces spread throughout U.S. civil society, exhibiting a growing cross-pollination between different sectors of the radical right not seen in years. Right-wing elements among the transnational corporate community broadly funded during Obama’s presidency neo-fascist movements like the Tea Party and neo-fascist legislation such as Arizona’s notorious 2010 anti-immigrant law, SB1070. That legislation sparked “copy-cat” laws around the country and helped spawn a vicious anti-immigrant, border vigilante, and white supremacist movement. The far-right wing billionaire Koch brothers, for instance, were the prime bankrollers of the Tea Party and also of a host of foundations and front organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, and the Mercatus Center.

These organizations pushed an extreme version of the neo-liberal corporate agenda, including the reduction and elimination of corporate taxes, cutbacks in social services, the gutting of public education, and the total liberation of capital from any state regulation. This neo-liberalism on steroids is precisely the economic program of the incoming Trump regime and converges perfectly with the interests of the transnational capitalist class, even if its cultural and ideological garb is dramatically distinct from that of Obama and the liberals.

Trumpism’ far-right agenda, contrary to superficial interpretations, constitutes a deepening, not a reversal, of the program of capitalist globalization pursued by the Obama administration and every U.S. administration since Ronald Reagan. The crisis of global capitalism has become more acute in the face of economic stagnation and the rise of anti-globalization populism on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Trumpism does not represent a break with capitalist globalization but rather the recomposition of political forces and ideological discourse as the crisis deepens and as international tensions reach new depths.

Whether in its 20th or its emerging 21st century variants, fascism is above all a response to deep structural crises of capitalism, such as that of the 1930s and the one that began with the financial meltdown of 2008. I have been writing for the past decade about the rise of 21st century fascist currents in the context of the new global capitalism. One key difference between 20th century fascism and 21st century fascism is that the former involved the fusion of national capital with reactionary and repressive political power, whereas the latter involves the fusion of transnational capital with reactionary political power. Trumpism is not a departure from but an incarnation of the emerging dictatorship of the transnational capitalist class.

Trumpism and the sharp turn to the extreme Right is the logical progression of the political system in the face of the crisis of global capitalism. The liberal elite and its project of capitalist globalization through a “kinder, gentler” discourse of multiculturalism reached a dead end and led the system into a new crisis of hegemony. To paraphrase Clausewitz’ famous dictum that “war is an extension of politics by other means,” Trumpism is an extension of neo-liberalism by other means.

There is a near-straight line here from Obama to Trump. It was the Obama government and the liberal elite that more fully opened the Pandora’s box of Trumpism and 21st century fascism. As the 2016 elections approached, the question was how renewed mass discontent would be expressed. The liberal elite marginalized Bernie Sanders and lined up behind Hillary Clinton. But unlike 2008, this time it failed in its effort to pull off another passive revolution. By once again quashing a leftist response to the crisis the liberal elite fed the turn to the far right.

The liberal elite’s refusal to challenge the rapaciousness of transnational capital and its brand of identity politics served to eclipse the language of the working and popular classes and of anti-capitalism, pushing white workers into an “identity” of white nationalism and helping the neo-fascist right organize them politically. Alongside voter suppression of largely Black and Latino voters, Trump deftly mobilized a significant portion of the white working class around a demagogic discourse of racist scapegoating, misogyny, imperial bluster and the manipulation of fear and economic destabilization.

Trumpism’s veiled and at times openly racist and neo-fascist discourse has “legitimated” and unleashed ultra-racist and fascist movements in U.S. civil society. These forces seem to be achieving a toehold in the U.S. state through the emerging Trump regime. This regime brings together billionaire bankers and businessmen with politicized warrior generals and neo-fascist activists in a deadly cocktail that threatens to lead us to disaster if the fight back is not able to derail Trumpism.

This is an extremely dangerous moment but it is very fluid. Political and economic elites are divided and confused. Trumpism has further fractured ruling groups and may well be generating a crisis of the state that opens up space for popular and leftist responses from below. A significant portion of the elite opposed Trump during the electoral campaign. Will they accommodate themselves to his regime or turn against it?

We are not at this time in a fascist system and it can be averted if the fight back is expansive, organized, and unified into an anti-neo-fascist front. In order to do that, the fight back cannot turn to the decadent liberal elite organized in the Democratic Party. Foundations and corporations will fund the liberal anti-Trump groups to try and shape the agenda of the anti-Trump fight back. The Democrats and their corporate backers will try to channel the fight back it into the next legislative and presidential elections.

Working class politics must achieve hegemony in any united front against neo-fascism. Trump’s electoral base among the white working class will discover very early on in his regime that his promises were a hoax. How will their rage be contained? Will they be recruited into projects of 21st century fascism or into a popular and leftist project of resistance and transformation? For the latter to happen we need to move beyond identity politics, to reconstruct a working class identity by coupling anti-racism and defense of immigrants with a program of economic and social reconstruction that brings the language of class and socialism back into the vocabulary. Only by building up the organization of the global working class in all its diversity and placing its multitude of struggles at the center of the fight back can we win.

– William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara.

— source alainet.org

Our democracy is broken

While in so many obvious and petrifying ways politics has never been bleaker, there is a level on which I have never felt more optimistic. And for better reasons than “it is the start of January and optimism is required” or “things had to get this broken before energy would be mustered to fix them”.

A huge amount of thinking is starting to crystallise around solutions that approach multiple crises at once, in innovations such as locally owned renewable energy, a basic citizen’s income or a mass social housing programme. The ideas are there to enact; but that won’t happen without sustained and coherent democratic pressure, which in itself is not possible unless we reconnect with our democracy. It’s rather an abstract, utopian ideal – to fall back in love with institutions, representation, all the process involved in the pooling of power. Yet there is exhilaration in the detail.

The broad consensus is that everyone is sick of politicians. On the one hand, eminences grises such as Gus O’Donnell (chosen randomly as the most recent example) connect living standards to the disenchantment. The more stagnant people’s wages, the worse their conditions, the higher their rents, the more disillusioned with mainstream politics they’re likely to be. The counter-argument is that MPs are simply bad people: witness the expenses scandal, or Iain Duncan Smith. Far from giving a clear map of the terrain, these perspectives are just features of it: bogs and pitfalls.

The real crisis of faith is not in politicians but in democracy, and this is common across the OECD countries. The World Economic Forum details its extent: from Sweden to New Zealand, Britain to the US, the percentage of people who say that it is “essential” to live in a democracy has dropped from around 70% among those born in the 1930s, to around 25% for those born in the 1980s.

Part of this is sheer amnesia. People born in the 1930s remember what the alternatives to democracy look like; it is ardently to be hoped that the young can be reminded by argument, and don’t have to see first-hand the devastation of authoritarianism before they believe it. The young are disillusioned, according to the Global Shapers survey, by bureaucracy, insincerity, lack of action and accountability, and a sense that the government doesn’t understand them.

That last point dovetails with the perception of insincerity. There is a problem with selection, a sense that politics is a career for insiders, people heavily invested in the status quo, who see their job as protecting it from the demands of the people. In 2012 a team of Italian physicists, economists and political scientists modelled a parliament in which some members had been chosen at random, like juries, and found the resultant system to be both more efficient and better at pursuing broad social welfare – as well as more diverse and thus more representative.

Party discipline perverts constructive action, while monolithic structures alienate voters with their tribalism and internecine wrangling. To choose all MPs at random would be to disconnect voters entirely from the process I prefer a significant element of deliberated choice, achieved through open primaries either within or across parties, in which voters rather than a party machine choose a candidate, based on open debate. The idea is gaining ground with Crowdpac, which, although the brainchild of Steve Hilton (whom I did not expect to namecheck in any utopian vision of anything), has a progressive pioneer in its chief international officer, Paul Hilder, co-founder of 38 Degrees and Open Democracy.

Once candidates are in place, progressives need to build an alliance, as championed by the think-and-do-tank Compass. This is not an idea conceived in despair at the failures of the traditional left: it is natural for a modern politics to evolve to build enough consensus to cooperate, while accommodating enough disagreement that we don’t feel our political identities have been compromised.

Finally, there is an urgent need to reconnect voters to issues, beyond politicians issuing mere platitudes and then being amazed when polls come back rejecting them. MPs are doing a poor job at making the case for humanity in the refugee crisis, higher taxes to fund the NHS, public investment to solve the housing shortage. It is not because they are inadequate people – though some could use a little more courage – rather, these issues are intricate, and cannot survive the over-simplification required when the primary means of dissemination are mass media and, if you’re Jeremy Corbyn, rallies.

Citizens’ juries – yet more jury-fication – involve choosing a group at random, asking their opinions at the start of a project, giving them a range of expert views to cross-examine, then drawing out their conclusions. At close range, this experiment can radically change people’s attitudes to a given issue, but more importantly it creates a sense of participation and inclusion.

I’d also broaden the net of what we think of as democratic action: voting is just the endpoint of the process, decision-time. It is given meaning by prior elements: the structures we have built together (the NHS); the resources that belong to us all (land, rivers, forests, air, schools, universities); the systems that we all keep afloat with mutual trust (money creation, social security). To take money as one example, even while, plainly, we don’t all have the same amount, we all have the same stake in its creation. At the moment, give or take a bit of quantitative easing, all money is conjured into existence by private banks, 85% of it as loans on existing residential property. It’s a recipe for unaffordable housing and unmanageable private debt, but it’s also undemocratic: the creation of money, which is essentially the creation of debt, affects all of us. There is no reason to surrender it to private banks, whose interests tend not to be the public good and whose accountability is pretty patchy.

Opinion is divided as to the solution: the economist Ann Pettifor favours tighter regulation of banks. This could involve a social benefit duty, forcing banks to prove that any debt created contributes to a better future for us all – lending to new businesses; lending for skills; lending for new houses ahead of existing ones and such like. Fran Boait, head of Positive Money, favours sovereign money, created by the government after public deliberation. The sine qua non is that the citizen is invited into the process, and understands enough to make the invitation relevant. A survey, now two years old, found that only one in 10 MPs understood how money was created; currently, we can’t even be bothered to educate our own legislature. There is an assumption of exclusivity, money as the preserve of the moneyed and nobody else’s business, a masonic code that leaves greed in charge.

All that fixed, the democratic to-do list will read: democratise renewable energy production; establish proportional representation; devise nationwide constitutional conventions; fund broad-based citizen journalism; and then arrive at the sunlit uplands.

None of these ideas are even as revolutionary as the “bread and butter” business of our current government – destroy trading partnerships, hose money at border control, stoke up racial hatred. What is daunting is neither the radicalism nor the effort required, but, rather, the hope. Pessimism is anaesthetising, and fatalism comforting; optimism leaves you vulnerable to every gust of disappointment, but it’s the very first of our civic duties.

— source theguardian.com By Zoe Williams