Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Elections in the United States are far and away the most expensive in the entire world. In 2012, the Federal Election Commission reported that $7 billion was spent on the presidential campaign. By the time the ink is dry on the 2016 election, the number will likely be even higher. American voters take for granted that political campaigns provide value that allows them to choose the candidate that best represents their ideology and policy positions. But, is this really the best system? Is it even a good one?

The astronomical cost of campaigns in the U.S. prohibits all but a small handful of individuals with the celebrity and access to obscene sums money the realistic opportunity to compete. It should be no surprise that the two finalists for president in 2016 are both multi-millionaire oligarchs. Even so, they are dependent on raising hundreds of millions of dollars from big business and other special interests.

Is it reasonable to expect that after such a process the winner of the election will be able to represent the interests of the average citizen rather than the super-wealthy elite individuals and corporations whose patronage allowed them achieve victory at the polls?

A recent Princeton University academic study disputes this notion. Martin Giles and Benjamin Page write that statistical measures demonstrate that elites and business interests have an impact on policy directly correlated to their wealth, while the average voter has no discernible impact on policy at all. The influence of regular citizens is so low, the authors argue, that it would be inaccurate to characterize the American political system as a democracy.

As greater economic power necessarily translates to greater political power, a reasonable remedy to the situation would be to decrease inequality in the United States. If inequality was drastically rolled back to a level closer to that found after the end of WWII - through massive taxes on wealth, income and capital gains, along with the abolition of inheritance - perhaps the conditions would exist for fair elections based on competitive campaigns.

But absent such a drastic realignment of the politico-economic system, are there better possibilities for American citizens to elect officials that represent their interests? The nation has seen that Barack Obama’s promises in 2008 to represent “hope and change,” to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, close Guantanamo, operate transparently, limit domestic surveillance and reform taxes were, in reality, little more than hot air.

What if instead of being allowed to create his own narrative, a summary of his undistinguished record as an lawyer from elite universities and corporate-friendly record state representative and politician was what voters had to guide their expectations of how he would govern?  

Perhaps the U.S. could look to Cuba, where the Revolutionary government - facing unrelenting subversion and destabilization for decades by its imperial neighbor to the north -  has managed to eliminate money from politics entirely. At the municipal level, candidates spend no money and do not campaign at all. Instead, voters are presented with short biographies to reference in determining who they believe would better represent them.  

As the U.S. prepares for its latest electoral spectacle in a few weeks, I offer sample bios for the two presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, based on what they may look like if they were running for office in Cuba.  

Hillary Clinton

Age: 68
Education level: Advanced degree
Occupation: Unemployed
Organizations belonged to: Democratic Party


Born on October 26, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois of capitalist social origin.
Graduated from Maine South High School in Illinois in 1965. Attended Wellesley College from 1966-1969 and received a bachelor’s degree with a major in political science. In college, she was head of the Young Republicans Club from 1966-1967. In 1968, she was elected president of the Wellesley College Government Association. During a summer program in Washington, DC, she interned for Republican House Leader Gerald Ford.
After finishing her undergraduate studies, she enrolled at Yale Law School, where she was on the editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action. In 1972, she volunteered in Austin, Texas for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern. She was awarded a Juris Doctor degree from Yale in 1973.
She helped found Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families in 1977. That same year, she joined the Rose Law Firm and specialized in patent infringement and intellectual property. She would become the first female partner at Rose Law.
While her husband William Jefferson Clinton served as governor of Arkansas, she held three corporate board seats. For six years, she was a member of the board of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company. As the board aggressively fought unions, she “remained silent.” She was on the board of the yogurt manufacturing firm TCBY Enterprises, as well as LaFarge, a subsidiary of a French concrete company for two years from 1990-1992.  Additionally, she served on the boards of Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Legal Services, and Children’s Defense Fund.
As first Lady in 1992, her husband appointed her to head his President’s Task Force on Health Care Reform, an effort that did not result in any legislative accomplishments. Later in his presidency, she would convince her husband to bomb the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia, which set a precedent for later illegal U.S. wars.  
Voters in New York elected her to serve as the state’s junior senator in November 2000, a position she held for eight years. While in office, she voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001; two illegal wars (Afghanistan, 2001 and Iraq, 2003); and the original USA Patriot Act as well as its reauthorization in 2005. She did not pass any major piece of progressive legislation as senator.
After losing the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, she was subsequently appointed as Secretary of State. During her four year tenure at State, she pressed President Obama to carry out an illegal regime change in Libya, as well as helping solidify governments in both Honduras and Ukraine that came to power through extra-legal coups.  
After resigning from government, she joined the board of the Clinton Foundation, an enterprise organized as a charitable organization that has been accused of being “a vehicle to launder money and to enrich Clinton family friends.”
During the same period, she gave 92 speeches to corporations that paid her a total of $21.6 million.

Donald Trump

Age: 70
Education level: Bachelor’s degree
Occupation: Unemployed
Organizations belonged to: Republican Party


He was born on June 14, 1946 in Queens, New York of aristocratic social origin.
He attended an elite private school, before behavior problems led him to transfer to the New York Military Academy.
After finishing primary school, he attended Fordham University for two years before transferring to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he received a bachelor of arts degree in economics in 1968.
His father was an extremely wealthy real estate developer and one of the richest men in the country, and provided him an executive position in the family business when he finished university. When he started his real estate career with the construction of the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York City in 1978, his father provided a $1 million loan and acted as a “silent partner.”
Estimates of the fortune he inherited from his father are as high as $200 million.
In 1973, he was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination. The New York City Human Rights Division gathered evidence that his apartment buildings would not rent to African Americans and a superintendent claimed to be only acting on orders from management. The lawsuit was settled two years later.
He used debt leverage to build multiple hotels and casinos in Atlantic City and other locations. Many of the properties bore his name.
From 1991 to 2009, his companies filed four Chapter 11 bankruptcies.
Reportedly he has done business with mafia members and drug traffickers.
He was accused by hundreds of contractors, including plumbers, painters and carpet companies, of failing to pay for work done to build his casinos.
When journalists have published stories about him that he dislikes, he has threatened to sue them.  
Starting in 2004, he became the host of a reality television show called The Apprentice. Later, this was spun off into another reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. Trump spent 13 seasons with the shows.
He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in both 2004 and 2005 (Outstanding Reality-Competition Program).
In 2013, he was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame.
Unlike every candidate for the past 40 years, he has refused to release his tax returns. Some have suggested there is strong evidence he does not pay income taxes.

Presently, political campaigns are little more than billion-dollar public relations exercises that allow elite servants of the corporate class to deceive the public into mistakenly believing they will represent their best interests. As the above bios demonstrate, if the ability to control and shape their message is removed from the candidates, the voters are presented with a much different picture. Perhaps American voters will start demanding more than simply enacting a new version of campaign finance reform to fix their broken system.  Political campaigns, as they currently exist, arguably do more to obscure and distort the history and record of candidates than they do to provide transparency and allow a rational choice based on relevant information about how they will govern.

This article first appeared at the American Herald Tribune.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The New York Times Suddenly Embraces International Law To Condemn Russia

As the Syrian Arab Army dug in for a fight against the self-declared Islamic State on September 17, they were struck by an air raid that killed 62 soldiers and injured 100 more. The culprit was a foreign military that has never been attacked by, and has not declared war on, Syria. Two weeks later, that same nation’s military killed 22 soldiers in a strike inside Somalia, another country which it had never been attacked by nor declared war on. The very next day the New York Times published a stinging editorial decrying flagrant violations of international law by an “outlaw nation.”

The Times, of course, was not referring to the perpetrator of both attacks: the United States government. Each act was a clear violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter prohibiting the use of force against another nation and demanding respect for its sovereignty. But the “supreme international crime” of aggression did not merit mention in the Times, who saw something far more sinister than carrying out illegal massacres across countries and continents in the actions of “Vladimir Putin’s Outlaw State.”  

Russia, according to the Times’ righteous defenders of international law, is guilty of violating “not only the rules intended to promote peace instead of conflict, but also common human decency.” The editorial board finds not only disregard for the law, but the absence of standard ethics accepted by civilized people and societies. It is a pretentious way of saying that Russia’s leaders are sociopathic, lacking the humanism and benevolence of Americans and their allies.

The cause for the Times’ outrage was the international report released last week that claims Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was shot down and its 298 passengers and crew members killed by Ukranian rebels fighting the illegitimate government formed in the wake of the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev. The rebels in the Eastern part of Ukraine were resisting bombing and shelling in their towns and cities by fascist and neo-Nazi led militias representing a coup government which had, among other things, rescinded a language law extremely important to the mostly Russian speaking - and ethnically Russian - residents near Donbass.

The investigation claims the Buk surface-to-air missile responsible for blowing up the Malyasian passenger plane was supplied by Russia and subsequently returned to Russia. The headline in the Times was that the report “links” Russia to the deaths. It does not, however, find they participated in the attack or had any advanced knowledge of plans to kill civilians. The Times claims the report “uses strict standards of evidence and meticulously documents not only the deployment of the Russian missile system that caused the disaster but also Moscow’s continuing cover-up.” In reality, this claim could hardly be taken seriously.

RT, a news organization funded by the Russian government, notes that the report depends on unnamed witnesses, anonymous phone calls, and computer simulations. Radar data, perhaps the most reliable source of evidence, was absent from the report’s findings. The report claims U.S.-provided radar data supported its conclusion, but such data was not included as evidence. Russia provided its own data, which purportedly shows that no missile was detected in rebel-held areas.

The Times calls on the United States to pursue the “quest for accountability.” This is noticeably different than the editorial board’s tone in 1988 when the U.S. warship U.S.S. Vincennes stationed in Iranian waters shot down Iran Air Flight 655 inside Iranian airspace and killed 290 passengers and crew. In that case, there was no question the weapon belonged to the United States. Furthermore, there was no question the United States military itself blew the plane out of the sky and killed everyone on board. They admitted it. The Times called the incident a “terrible mistake” and a “blunder” committed amidst the “fog of war.” However, not everyone was so quick to accept the government’s rationalizations at face value and dismiss the incident with a shrug of the shoulders.

Colonel David R. Carlson of the U.S. Navy, who was aboard a different ship near the Vincennes at the time, revealed that he and his colleagues had nicknamed the Vincennes “Robo Cruiser” for its belligerent actions prior to incinerating a plane full of civilians. Carlson suggested that the Vincennes’ crew may have been seeking to battle test the new Aegis Combat System aboard the vessel.

Disputing that an attack on the Vincennes was inevitable, Carlson writes: “I don’t buy it… My guess was that the crew of the Vincennes felt a need to prove the viability of Aegis in the Persian Gulf, and that they hankered for an opportunity to show their stuff. This, I believe, was the climate that aided in generating the ‘fog.’ “

But the Times editorial board assures readers that the American military simply made a tragic, regrettable, mistake. Just like the editorial board nearly 30 years later would explain that the sustained, hour-long destruction of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan was caused by a “torrent of mistakes” due to “gross negligence.” Again, tragic and regrettable mistakes. Presumably no different than the U.S. government’s “mistakes” of kidnapping and torturing people never charged with crimes, hunting and killing political cadres in South Vietnam, organizing and training fascist death squads across Latin America, or killing hundreds of thousands of civilians while carpet bombing Cambodia, Laos, North Korea, Japan and Germany.

For the Times, international law is not an issue if a country has benevolent intentions, which the United States always does, naturally. No matter that the U.S. never obtained U.N. Security Council approval to wage war on Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan. Or that U.S. warships had no business in participating in a war between Iraq and Iran in 1988. The U.S., due to its status as an exceptional nation, is able to be judged by its own moral criteria in place of the existing legal framework that international treaties (and its own Constitution) obligate the government to follow.  

Russia, on the other hand, is a rogue state led by deranged and irrational savages. As a permanent member of the Security Council - obviously a regrettable historical accident - Russia holds a “special responsibility to uphold international law.” One would think from reading this that it was actually Russia, rather than the United States, that has used its veto on the Council far more than any other member during the last 45 years, including 42 vetoes shielding Israel from accountability for its oppression of Palestinians and aggression against neighboring countries.

The other cause for the Times’ wrath against Russia is its behavior in Syria, where “(t)here seems to be no holding Putin to account.”

The United States has no legal right to violate of the sovereignty of Syria, making any and all American military actions inside Syrian territory necessarily illegal.

Russia, on the other hand, is engaging militarily at the behest of the legitimate Syrian government, which is permissible under international law. Russia meets jus ad bellum criteria regarding whether a war is justifiable. Of course, they also have to comply with jus in bello rules regarding conduct during war.

While there is substantial evidence Russia may be in violation of international humanitarian law, absent adjudication in a court of law the evidence is merely one side of the story. The Times accuses Russia (specifically Putin) of “air attacks that have included bunker-busting bombs that can destroy underground hospitals and safety zones where civilians seek shelter” and bombing an aid convoy. Unsurprisingly, there is no substantiation of these claims, or even links provided with such accusations. The Guardian earlier this week quoted a think tank employee stating that “(c)onclusive proof that Russia is using bunker-busters may be hard to find.” The U.S. Air Force does possess such weapons, namely the 37,000 pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator, and it has been pronounced “ready” for use.

The Times also implies that Russia violated a ceasefire negotiated with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. As Gareth Porter has reported, the U.S. itself is actually responsible for sabotaging multiple ceasefires negotiated with Russia. Porter wrote in FAIR that in early April the Al Qaeda franchise in Syria, Al Nusra, along with its embedded U.S.-backed “moderate” rebels, launched an offensive intended to undermine the ceasefire, which it succeeded in accomplishing. When the Syrian government responded by counter-attacking the rebels, major media outlets, including the New York Times, erased the original jihadist attack and implicitly stated that regime bombings were responsible for the end of the ceasefire.

Last week, Porter wrote in Middle East Eye that the Pentagon had destroyed another ceasefire by attacking Syrian troops on September 17, in what the Times would undoubtedly declare another “mistake.” Porter notes that “the final blow apparently came from the Russian-Syrian side,” but this was “provoked” by the U.S. bombing. The Times, though, contends that Russia and Syria have undermined the U.S. in negotiations over an end to hostilities, rejecting reasonable American overtures in order to “continue the slaughter.”

As I have written previously, and Howard Friel and Richard Falk have extensively documented in their book The Record of the Paper, the New York Times consistently ignores international law as a matter of editorial policy in regards to the actions of the United States government. But official enemies like Russia and its president Vladimir Putin are subject to a transparently hypocritical double standard, in which accusations become facts, and international law is suddenly the gold standard by which governments and their officials should be judged.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Kaepernick Forces Americans to Choose Sides

When Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers chose to remain seated during the national anthem on August 26 prior to the start of the team’s game against the Green Bay Packers, as the rest of the stadium stood, he was not the only one engaging in a political act. But Kaepernick was likely the only one doing so consciously. And though he was outnumbered by tens of thousands in the stadium, and millions who watched on their television sets, Kaepernick’s bold statement was infinitely more powerful and outsized in its impact.

Those who - either out of pride or mere indifference - choose to stand for the national anthem were being just as political as Kaepernick. They were actively reinforcing the legitimacy of the political system that the anthem and the flag stand for.  

Those who rule and benefit from the political status quo want compliance to be subconscious. If the ruling class is able to achieve blind respect for its symbols, they are able to associate the state with benevolent abstractions like “freedom” and “democracy” and hide its inherently unjust manifestations - police brutality, military adventurism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the exacerbation of inequality, warrantless surveillance, mass incarceration, evisceration of social programs, natural resource extraction fueled by unrestrained profit seeking, etc.

With the atomization of society, the corporatization of political parties and the disappearance of unions in the neoliberal era, citizens have been largely relegated to the role of spectators in the political process, whose function is to support bipartisan American hegemony. Sports, where fans come together to watch passively, have become the most important venue to propagandize for militarism and American supremacy.

Chris Hedges calls sports stadiums “massive temples across the country where we celebrate our state religion.” Before the anthem is played, military personnel are brought on the field to celebrate their participation in illegal invasions and occupations, as if it were natural to lionize crimes against peace. The NFL has received millions of dollars over the last few years to carry out “patriotic displays” at football games. Militarism is cheered with thunderous applause and standing ovations.

This setting presents the perfect opportunity to maximize the impact of dissent. After his silent refusal to stand for the anthem in late August, Kaepernick’s protest overshadowed the game itself and became the most relevant topic in the sports world.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”  

Kaepernick stated explicitly that he was refusing to symbolically validate the legitimacy of a political system that he sees around him being responsible for grave injustices. What was universally accepted a day before was now called into question. Other athletes, and even spectators, cannot just stand up, put their hand over their heart, and not recognize that they are exercising their agency for a political cause.

Sure enough, other athletes started following Kaepernick’s lead. A teammate. A player on another team. A soccer player. Entire high school teams. Elementary school children. Across the country, people are taking sides.

Rather than blindly propagating the liberal fantasy where everyone is fundamentally united, people are forced to choose: acceptance of the status quo, or rejection of it.

The side that succeeds will not do so by a majority vote. Dissidents like Kaepernick who seek political change don’t need half the stadium to sit down or kneel with them. All they need to do is demonstrate that people have the power to resist what is done in their name.

The more people realize this, the more they will start questioning on their own. They will no longer lend symbolic reinforcement to a political system that represents actions they oppose. Though they may be removed from decision making institutions like Congress, they will find they can participate in politics through one small, symbolic act that will make their voice suddenly matter.

Kaepernick is far from the first athlete to use his celebrity to confront the political system, of course. Most famously, Muhammad Ali defiantly refused to fight for the U.S. military in the Vietnam War and was convicted of draft dodging and sent to prison.

“I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die,” Ali said. “You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese.”

Ali’s principled stand played a major role in encouraging resistance and fomenting what grew into a massive anti-war movement that shocked the elite political class and eventually forced the withdrawal of American forces from South Vietnam.

50 years later, with state violence still wildly out of control in the United States, Kaepernick could similarly inspire the public to resist illegal and immoral atrocities sanctioned by the state. By taking a knee, dissenters become the center of attention. The symbolic rituals they refuse to take part in are exposed as vacuous propaganda exercises which serve to stifle critical thinking and induce passive acceptance of the status quo.

Judging by the vilification Kaepernick has received so far, the apologists for - and deniers of - injustice understand how serious a challenge Kaepernick presents if his example keeps spreading at its present rate.

This article was originally published at American Herald Tribune.