Learning the Health Benefits of Cannabis

State-by-state legalization of marijuana is opening eyes to the possible health benefits from parts of the cannabis plant, but the federal government remains an obstacle, as Martin A. Lee explained to Dennis J Bernstein
by Dennis J Bernstein

Despite breakthroughs in understanding the curative possibilities of CBD — essentially the non-psychoactive part of the cannabis plant — the stigma of marijuana’s criminalization is delaying progress as is the refusal of the federal government to support state-by-state legalization.

I spoke with Martin A. Lee, the director of Project CBD and a leading expert on the breakthroughs and breakdowns when it comes to the use of CBD as a healing tool on April 20, 2017. Lee is also the author of Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational, and Scientific

Dennis Bernstein: Okay. Well, let’s just start with a sweeping overview. Trump is in. We’ve got an extremely right-wing attorney general. On the macro level do you anticipate… is there a sense that the landscape is changing?

Martin Lee: No one really knows what lays ahead. Obviously, the uncertainty coming from the federal government is problematic for the “cannabis industry” – we used to call it a community, now it’s an industry.

But there are also countervailing forces. You know, Trump’s folks have talked about coming down on the recreational market, as opposed to medical. They seem to be conceding medical. But there are countervailing forces particularly with respect to the CBD industry. CBD, cannabinoid, as you are mentioning, is basically a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant with a lot of therapeutic applications.

So, whereas there’s concerns about the pharmaceuticalization of CBD, once it is approved as an isolated pharmaceutical, and soon it will be by the federal government, what will happen to the so-called grassroots hemp industry… CBD oils are derived from hemp. This is all over the place, online. And there is significant political support for an indigenous hemp industry in the United States, coming particularly from the Kentucky senator’s. Mitch McConnell, of course, is a very powerful senator, Majority Leader in the Senate, representing Kentucky, a hemp growing state. So, how this is all getting played out, who’s going to control it, how it will be regulated remains to be seen, because of all these different variables. It’s hard to predict.

DB: And, in that context, there is some major confusion. Some people are being busted, some people are having their stuff taken. Talk about… there’s been a number of raids all over the country in the context of hemp and CBD. Talk about what’s been going on in Alaska.

ML: Well, just in general, before Alaska, there’s been an idea promoted by businesses online that CBD, cannabinoid, is legal in all 50 states, which is not true according to the federal government. And there’s been a lot of confusion both… really on the state level, also, how this compound and these products made with this compound, will be regulated. Some states have not legalized medical marijuana, but have legalized the CBD, just one compound in the plant. Sounds a little crazy but there’s now 15 states without medical marijuana laws where, technically speaking, CBD is legal.

And this has given people an idea that they can just access this stuff from the wholesalers, CBD oil, and hang a shingle, so-to-speak, and start selling it. Well, some folks who have done that in various states are in for a rude surprise. In Alaska, a state where marijuana is legal for adults, as well as for medical use, there have been raids of all the medical marijuana facilities that are providing CBD products, on the grounds that they weren’t being produced, these products, within the state of Alaska.

Most medical marijuana states stipulate the product has to be grown and produced and sold and consumed within that state. And since these CBD hemp oil products are coming from all over, from Europe, from Colorado, from Kentucky, not from Alaska that was the reason why there were a series of raids, I think it was seven in total, dispensaries were hit as part of the same drag net, in February, in Alaska.

And there’s been half a dozen other states where there have been some sporadic raids like this. I don’t think this is a result of a unified policy. I think this is a local law enforcement affair. But it underscores the confusion with respect to the legal status of CBD which is ultimately grounded in the contradictions of prohibition, a policy that doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s built on a mountain of lies, basically.

DB: Perhaps the most interesting, outside of Alaska, in terms of those raids is Kentucky. So, even though the majority leader of the Republican Senate is Mitch McConnell, Kentucky is being hit. It’s an interesting sort of back and forth there.

ML: Yes, again, they’ve been hit, in Princeton, Kentucky, actually, the name of the town, there was a law enforcement raid of a storefront that was selling CBD rich products, oil products. But presumably made in Kentucky, but that store did not have a license to do that. And, again, this idea that’s being promoted by vested interests that CBD is legal everywhere, and you can just do whatever you want with it. That has sort of collided with the realities and confusion at the local law enforcement level, and the state level as well. In Missouri, the attorney general actually brought an action against a couple of stores that were selling CBD without a proper license.

DB: Marty, let’s turn the focus to… tell people a little bit more about the possibilities of CBD. There have been some breakthroughs, of course, this is difficult because of the federal government’s unwillingness to relent in considering all of this a very dangerous drug. But there has been more and more research, breakthroughs. Tell us about some of the possibilities that we now know exist in terms of the use of CBD.

ML: Well, there’s a huge amount of scientific research that’s been going on now for several decades, focusing on CBD, it’s cannabinoid and other components of the plant. But what’s interesting is that now we’re seeing some reports from doctors, clinicians, in states where there’s a robust medical marijuana program, such as California, who are actually reporting what they’re finding when they’re treating patients, including pediatric epilepsy patients, which has gotten a lot of attention. Little kids with intractable seizure disorders, terrible, where they’re seizing hundreds of times a week.

It so happens, for certain conditions, CBD as a molecule, even as an isolated product, can be very effective depending on what is the underlying breakdown molecularly, so-to-speak, in the brain that leads to these disease disorders. And there could be hundreds of factors that feed into epilepsy. But, what I find really interesting here, is that what these doctors recently reported in a peer reviewed scientific journal, was that the CBD isolate, the high CBD, low THC oils, which are very effective in some cases, are not effective in all cases. In fact, are not effective in most cases. We need to say most cases, there might be a reduction of seizures but not an elimination, as there are in, let’s say, 10 – 15% of these cases.

And what the doctors clearly found was that they have to have an array of different kinds of cannabinoid medicine, different ratios, of CBD and THC, different components of the plant have to be available for the doctor and the patient to test and to figure out ultimately what works for each individual.

And what that really calls into question, in my mind, is the whole pharmaceutical model, where there’s one compound, one ratio, in this case it’s going to be all CBD, and nothing less that’s going to be approved very soon as a legal medicinal tool. But the science and the clinical experience clearly shows while that’s a very, very valuable medical instrument (the pure CBD), what you really need is some options available from the whole plant. And without that you have a very, very limited possibility of helping people out.

DB: So, what you’re saying is there is an important synergy between the non-psychoactive and the psychoactive and that it’s a formula, it would be, I guess, a prescription from the pharmacy in terms of what are you dealing with, what is the makeup and the breakdown of…adding one or the other to accommodate each case?

ML: Yeah. So it really goes back to old style medicine. And it’s happening today in the sense that…it’s not many physicians who are doing this, but some can take out their pad and write a recommendation, because technically a prescription is not allowed from what is still a schedule 1 substance, an illegal substance. And they can tell you what ratios THC and CBD should be in the oil, what terpenes–the compound that gives a particular smell to the plant–and many different combinations, thereof. Those terpenes also have significant medical effects. They’ve found that in some cases of epilepsy if there are certain terpenes present that the compounds that smell like lemon or lavender, respectively called limonene and linalool. When these are present in the oil that has a great accentuating effect in terms of an anti-seizure property.

So, all these things are being discussed, explored and discovered. And it’s very, very exciting. And it’s tremendous potential I think for medical science, and practical medicine, and ultimately to reduce the costs of health care. It’s that dimension, I think, that is not being discussed, but I think that’s kind of the elephant in the living room. That given the health care crisis we face in this country we should really be taking very seriously the implications of this plant.

DB: Now that is the breakthrough. The breakdown, once again, is law enforcement, isn’t it? It’s been that way for years, in which the research is still being held up by the arcane laws of yesteryear.

ML: Yes, definitely on the federal level, this is true, and it has a huge influence. But things are happening on a state level now. I think the prohibition is so absurd, particularly with respect to medical research, that some states are going their own way. And I think in California what there’s been a noticeable shift to observe is that Sacramento [the state capital] is now behind the industry, as it were. It’s supportive of the industry. Whereas a year ago you couldn’t say that clearly. But there’s clearly been a shift and hopefully that will manifest itself, in part, in allocation of funds for serious research in this area.

DB: Marty, could you take a moment to talk a little bit about the social history, and how the law enforcement and how the criminalization has been a devastating problem, and which we still face. I mean people are going to be in jail long after the things that put them in jail are legal and sort of helping to float the entire economy of the United States.

ML: Yeah, it is ironic that something that is such a huge economic boon is still penalized, in terms of personal use, although that’s happening less and less. Clearly the history of marijuana prohibition as an instrument of social control by the government is quite significant.

And we’ve seen that clearly in terms of the … arrest statistics, the disproportionate targeting, arrests, persecution, if you will, of young people, particularly people of color, that continues. But, even more than that, and that’s quite enough to be opposed to this prohibition, carte blanche, but it’s not just different segments of society, specific segments of society that have suffered; Everybody has, in terms of the impeding of important medical research. So this is something in many, many different ways that has really hurt society because of the laws have been a convenient instrument to “keep people in their place.”

DB: Are you aware, Marty, that according to the New York Times of April 15th you now live in America’s cannabis bucket?

ML: Yes, I was aware of that. And the triangle, this is the cannabis bud feast in the United States. It’s been such historically since the early 1970’s. And it’s part of that, the region that includes the [S.F.] Bay Area. Yeah, you could say it’s the cannabis capital of the United States. But, really the whole cannabis phenomenon and there’s been a huge pro-cannabis cultural shift socially and culturally. This is now a nation-wide phenomenon. It’s not just California, or Colorado or Washington anymore.

DB: And so, Marty, coming up is 420 [April 20], what does 420 mean in the world of marijuana? And what will you be doing on 420?

ML: Well, April 20th has become kind of a national cannabis holiday, if you will. In my mind, it’s sort of part of a rite of spring that also involves so-called bicycle day, that’s a day in which Dr. Albert Hofmann discovered the effects of LSD in the 1940’s, and Earth Day. And 420 altogether seem to be, like I say, an annual rite of spring to certain elements in our community. And this 420 I’ll be at Animal Farms, that’s a dispensary up at Hopland at the Solar Living Center, with the Real Goods Store, 12 acre permaculture oasis, we described. They’re having an all day party. Everybody is invited. I think a lot of people are going to be there. We’ll have a speaker’s circle, music, food, a whole array of things.

DB: I don’t want to go out, I don’t want to be a bummer. I just want to give folks who are using marijuana in various ways who are going to dispensaries, what is your recommendation to people … in terms of being careful? Should they be frightened now of vape oil, of using these vapes? How does one be cautious in the age, in the 21st century, in the age of marijuana?

ML: Well, I think there are really three challenges, three big problems facing the consumer now. One is just the lack of adequate labeling on the products. Also, the pesticide residues, and there’s a lot of products tainted with pesticides in the cannabis area. And it’s a very significant problem. We’re actually working on this issue now, Project CBD.

But then, as you point out, the issue of vape pens. The problem is with these vape oils, oftentimes they’re cut with thinning agents. And some to watch out for that are apparently legal to include in these things but particularly potentially dangerous, very dangerous: propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, if you see this on any of the marketing collateral for these vape oils, avoid those. Because when heated and inhaled, those particular compounds, propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, turn into carcinogens, and can cause cancer. And it’s terrible, but it’s trouble in these vape pen oils. It’s not impossible to find some good ones. But we have seen, when we looked at those, vape oils, made from the hemp derived CBD, we haven’t found one yet that hasn’t been tainted by these toxic thinning agents. And these are products that are directly used for medical patients. You wouldn’t use a vape oil pen with high concentration of CBD for recreational purposes.

But also, just in general, e-cigarettes, tobacco cigarettes have this propylene glycol in it, and I just fear we’re going to have a terrible day of reckoning, when these aren’t regulated. Unfortunately these things are regulated as being safe for oral consumption.

But they’ve never really been tested for heating and inhalation. And now there’s scientific reports that are coming in, not tested by the government, incidentally, but by individual scientists are quite ominous. So it’s something to avoid.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Comparing Tweeting Trump and Silent Cal

President Trump’s tax-cut plan charts a bonanza for himself, his friends and his family, getting rid of taxes that bite the rich and leaving debts behind for future American generations to pay, say Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Republican Calvin Coolidge, who in 1923 ascended to the presidency following the death of the corrupt and dunderheaded Warren Harding, was a man of few words. But some of the most famous of the few were, “The chief business of the American people is business.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is often a man of many words, but rarely do they fit together to make a coherent sentence or complete thought. And we know for sure that he, too, believes the chief business of America is business, especially when it’s his business. Oh, and Jared and Ivanka’s, whose junkets on Dad’s behalf appear to be merchandising missions for The Trump Empire. And his two safari-loving sons still holding forth from the family palace in New York, putatively running Pop’s business while protected by a moat of barriers and security guards — take that, you huddled masses.

Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal.” When a dinner party hostess told him, “You must talk to me, Mr. Coolidge. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you,” Coolidge replied, “You lose.” The last thing our current president would be described as is silent. Trump can’t stop tweeting and gibbering. And he doesn’t like losers.

The taciturn Coolidge has been described as the most conservative president in American history. No one is quite certain what Trump is, as his opinions and moods shift depending on the last person to whom he has spoken or something he’s just seen on Fox & Friends or heard from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. They point rightward for sure, but as with so many conservative spokesmen these days, tinged with lunacy and utterly devoid of reason.

And yet there on the august pages of The New York TimesCharles R. Kesler, a senior fellow of the right-wing Claremont Institute, gushes:

“Mr. Trump remains the kind of conservative president whom one expects to say, proudly and often, ‘the chief business of the American people is business.’ Although Calvin Coolidge said it first, Mr. Trump shows increasing signs of thinking along broadly Coolidgean lines, and of redirecting Republican policies toward the pre-New Deal, pre-Cold War party of William McKinley and Coolidge, with its roots in the party of Abraham Lincoln.”

Not Making Sense

Oh brother. Professor Kesler is projecting onto Trump a consistency of thought and belief that thus far seems unproven. Comparing him to McKinley is a stretch, and to Lincoln — well, absurd. Really now, does this remotely sound like Donald Trump?

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

On the one hand, Kesler’s adoration of Trump makes sense, given that last September it was the Claremont Institute that published a pseudonymous and now-notorious essay titled “The Fight 93 Election,” basically telling conservative Republicans that if they did not support Trump’s presidential candidacy, their world was doomed.

Why? Because Republican opposition to Trump, the author warned, “is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die. Trump, alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live.”

Clunky pearls of wisdom from what passes today for conservatism. Where have you gone, George Will, now that they need you? Next thing we know, Ann Coulter will be running the Library of Congress.

Calvin Coolidge would never have gone for such histrionics. Yet it’s worth taking a moment to consider what did occur during his administration. His years in office were the height of “The Roaring ’20s” — a time of economic whoopee marked by wild financial speculation, extravagant bank loans and debt that contributed to the 1929 market crash and the Great Depression.

Coolidge himself was the epitome of frugality and respectability but like Donald Trump (who fancies himself “the king of debt,” by the way — a real conservative, no?) he favored enormous tax cuts, slashing spending, high tariffs on imports and cramming regulatory agencies with pro-business types.

Unlike Trump, he favored a low profile and as far as policy goes preferred inertia to action. Here’s what the noted columnist Walter Lippmann said at the time: “This active inactivity suits the mood and certain of the needs of the country admirably. It suits all the business interests which want to be let alone…. And it suits all those who have become convinced that government in this country has become dangerously complicated and top-heavy….”

At that last part, you can just see all Trump’s plutocratic Cabinet members and advisors nodding their heads in vigorous agreement.

When he died, Calvin Coolidge’s net worth was less than a million in 2016 dollars and he left it all to his wife Grace. Trump, who says his net worth may be as much as $10 billion (how can we hope to know if he won’t release his tax returns?), and his family are using the White House to make the family fortune multiply, as if the presidency were a perpetual goose laying golden eggs. Each news cycle brings more stories of conflicts of interest, and the tax cut plan announced on Wednesday is a sweeping bow to the rich.

“It is striking,” Neil Irwin at The New York Times noted, how much the proposal favors Trump and his kin: “He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on ‘pass-through’ companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.”

So conservatism under Trump and his cronies now running government has brought back a revised version of the gold standard: How much gold you can mine from privatizing the mother lode of government is the mark of your success.

No wonder Trump admires Vladimir Putin so much: They are the Midas and Ali Baba of autocracy. But conservatives they are not, unless to conservatives greed has become the coin of the realm.

One more thing: President Trump doesn’t sleep much at night, reportedly getting about five hours of shut-eye (obviously, the cause is not a guilty conscience). President Coolidge loved to sleep, as much as twelve hours at a time. When he awoke from a White House nap he often would ask his butler, “Is the country still there?”

He meant it as a joke. Today, the question isn’t funny.

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/forget-andrew-jackson-the-right-thinks-trump-is-calvin-coolidge/]




Trump’s Next Most Dangerous Possibility

Assuming President Trump doesn’t blunder into World War III, the next greatest harm he may do is reverse the modest U.S. steps toward fighting global warming, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

With the wide path of destruction that Donald Trump has been cutting — in which the damage is affecting matters ranging from principles of nondiscrimination to ethical integrity of government officials to reliable health care for Americans — it is easy to lose sight of what ultimately would be the most consequential destruction of all: the damage to a habitable planet.

The consequences may not be as immediately apparent, during the first 100 days or even during four years, as some of the other carnage, but the importance to humanity is even greater. As with many other Trump policies, it is not yet clear exactly what the administration will do regarding a specific initiative such as the Paris accord on climate change, but the overall thrust of opposing any serious effort to retard global warming is all too obvious.

The recent demonstrations known as the march for science, although ostensibly not aimed at any one leader, were a salutary expression of concern, given that denial of climate change and the associated opposition against efforts to slow global warming represent one of the most glaring rejections of science, right along with the Seventeenth Century inquisition of Galileo. The rejection is of a piece with Trump’s contempt for truth on most any topic.

It is hard to know what goes through the minds of the climate change deniers and skeptics that Trump has installed in his administration. Most likely they are smart enough to know better but are playing out an appallingly selfish, politically narrow-minded, and short-sighted approach toward what sort of world will be left to their children and grandchildren. This is suggested by some of their contrived verbal formulations.

For example, Scott Pruitt, to whom Trump has given the job of presiding over the evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency, says, ”I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do…” Who’s talking about “precision”? That’s a false standard.

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity is a major, and probably the major, contributor to what is highly consequential global warming, even if the exact effects cannot be measured or predicted with “precision.”

The posture assumed on this issue by the likes of Trump and Pruitt is highly irresponsible. The Washington Post editorial page puts it aptly: “Children studying [Trump’s] presidency will ask, ‘How could anyone have done this?’ ”

The Why of Climate Denial

Contempt and disdain are proper attitudes to adopt toward the climate change deniers, including the ones in the current administration. They should be shamed either for displaying such inexcusable ignorance or, what is even worse, for displaying selfishness and short-sightedness despite knowing better.

But that is not enough. And the problem goes far beyond Donald Trump. It extends to much of the Republican Party. As the Post editorialists observe, the GOP is “a once-great American political party embracing rank reality-denial.” James Inhofe was throwing snowballs in the Senate well before Trump was elected.

A savvy response to the deniers is to point out some of the more immediately visible economic and political consequences of the destructive approach toward climate change that the current administration has embraced. One should point out how not being in the forefront of developing renewable energy sources represents regression, not progress, for the U.S. economy, no matter how much false hope is given to Appalachian coal miners about getting jobs back. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a prominent political leader who commendably is adding his influential voice to this subject.

One also should point out how the Trump administration’s degenerate posture on energy and climate change isolates the United States internationally. The posture makes the United States an object of disdain for taking a Dark Ages approach toward an issue in which, more than any other, everyone in the world has a stake. Anyone in the United States who professes to care about U.S. leadership in the world ought to be concerned about this, regardless of attitudes about atmospheric science.

The loss of U.S. leadership is especially evident in comparison with the other of the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases: China. Although several years ago China had a backward view of the issue of climate change, seeing it as a Western excuse for trying to retard China’s economy — a notion that Donald Trump would later adopt in the reverse direction by describing climate change as a Chinese “hoax” — Beijing is now making a concerted effort to do something about the problem.

China may have already passed, as of four years ago, its peak use of coal. There are no signs that the Trump administration’s back-sliding on the issue has lessened China’s commitment to take a progressive and responsible path on the matter.

Besides revamping its own energy structure, China has become a global leader on the issue. And besides being persuaded by the scientific research that describes how vulnerable China is to damage from climate change, Beijing also sees its progressive posture on the subject as a further way to exercise soft power in the sense of international influence.

Trump’s retrograde attitude toward many aspects of the international order that have served the United States well has already meant surrendering much global leadership to China. His backward attitude on climate change means surrendering still more.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.) 




France Circles Back to Status Quo

Though the names are different, the French election is playing out much like the last one when a candidate who might have brought change was brought down by scandal, opening the way for the same-ol’ policies, writes Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

The vast majority of commentary in U.S. and West European media about the first round of voting in the French presidential election on April 23 concurred that the vote represented an unprecedented repudiation of the political establishment. After all, neither of the two top vote-getters, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, belonged to the major center-right or center-left parties, the Republicans and the Socialists respectively. The ugly character assassination pervading the campaign was also noted.

And yet, in many ways, the French first-round outcome was precisely “precedented” within French experience if we look back just five years to the election that brought Francois Hollande to power and, still more, within the U.S. experience if we look back over the several “bait and switch” presidential elections of the past quarter century.

In 2012, the French presidential candidate best prepared by experience and knowledge to lead France out of its economic and social woes was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, at the time Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. He was widely expected to receive the nomination of the Socialist Party, but was brought down by a sex scandal that many believed at the time was an entrapment arranged by his enemies, including those in the United States where Strauss-Kahn’s sexual profligacy led to his indictment for sexual assault although the charges were later dropped.

Because of Strauss-Kahn’s legal troubles, the majority of French who had their fill of President Nicolas Sarkozy were left with the Socialists’ poor second choice, Francois Hollande, who proved over the last five years that he was witless and utterly lacking in substance. During his tenure, France has limped along and played a supporting role to the Continent’s hegemon, Germany.

In 2016, the presidential candidate best prepared by experience and knowledge to lead France was Francois Fillon. He offered both domestic and foreign policies that would mark a significant departure from the wishy-washy and ineffectual programs of Hollande and of Sarkozy before him. Perhaps most unorthodox of these policies within the Center-Right, from which he came, was his advocacy of good, constructive relations with Russia.

But Fillon was brought down by a concerted campaign of character assassination. Yes, he was likely guilty of abusing the hiring privileges of his office to assign state compensation to his wife and sons. But that has been a very widespread abuse in the French political establishment and represents institutionalized corruption that did not begin with and will not end with Fillon.

Democratic politics is not for Boy Scouts. It has always and will always have rough edges – and candidates will not be perfect men and women. The question, which should count above all others, is whether the candidate has the programs that will change people’s lives for the better and the force of will and political skills to realize them.

The Macron Muddle

Meanwhile, the administrative resources of the French government and the media have been used to promote the candidacy of a total nonentity, Emanuel Macron, whose main virtue is that he is NOT the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, the great nightmare candidate for the French establishment and beyond its borders for the European Union establishment, as well as for supporters of globalism around the world.

Macron’s second featured attribute is his youth. At 39, he will be the Fifth Republic’s youngest ever President. In this sense his candidacy parallels electoral politics in the United States, where being a black or being a woman has been used to draw votes to candidates who otherwise do not stand up to scrutiny.

Macron’s taking the lead position in the first round has been greeted with jubilation by world stock markets. The Nasdaq finally broke through the 6,000 level. European bank shares soared in reaction to the prospect of France being run by a former investment banker.

However, if he wins the second round, Macron will come to office without an organization to govern, with only the slightest chance of achieving a parliamentary majority in the upcoming National Assembly elections in June. He will be obliged to cobble together a ruling coalition, meaning there will be little coherence in his government and its policies. Coalitions are formed to share the spoils of office, not to get things done.

We may expect France to muddle along and to continue to be subservient to Berlin, the capital of European powerhouse Germany, and Brussels, the home of the European Union’s bureaucracy. This will be a setback for those who had hoped France would break the stultifying consensus over austerity, over migrants, over sanctions on Russia – issues that are destroying the European Union from within. But the biggest loser may well be the French nation.

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015

 




Donald Trump’s Failing Presidency

Special Report: After his election, Donald Trump had a narrow path to a transformational presidency, but it required breaking the neocon grip on U.S. foreign policy and telling truth to U.S. citizens. Already, Trump has failed, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The 100-day mark may be an artificial measuring stick for a U.S. president. Obviously much can happen in the remaining 1,361 days of a four-year term. But Donald Trump’s decisions in his first three months in office have put him on an almost irreversible path to failure.

He now appears to be little more than a traditional Republican with more than a little dash of Kardashian sleaze in him, a boorish reality-TV star reading from a neocon script that could have been written for many of his GOP rivals, except he delivers his lines with worse grammar and a limited vocabulary, favoring imprecise words such as “beautiful” and “sad.”

Trump also has the look of a conman. He sold himself as a populist who would fight for the forgotten Americans, but is following domestic policies aimed at comforting his super-rich friends while afflicting his most loyal blue-collar supporters.

He promises a tax package that will give huge breaks to the already well-to-do; he backed a Republican health-care plan that would have left 24 million Americans without insurance but saved billions for billionaires; he shows no sign of delivering on his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan although he keeps pushing his “beautiful” wall across the entire border with Mexico; and his hectoring of U.S. companies to stop exporting jobs has been more show than substance.

On the foreign policy front, Trump has broken his vow to move away from endless war and needless confrontation – and avoid their extraordinary costs in blood and treasure. After months of getting newspaper-slapped by the mainstream media over Russia-gate, Trump has put his tail between his legs and become a housebroken dog to neocon dogma. He also licks the hand of Israel and Saudi Arabia as he and his team keep repeating the favorite Israeli-Saudi mantra that “Iran is the principal sponsor of terrorism.”

His administration also blames Iran – not Israel, Saudi Arabia and indeed the United States – for Middle Eastern instability. But it was President George W. Bush and his neocon advisers who devised the disastrous invasion of Iraq with Israeli backing; it was President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who pushed for “regime change” in Libya and Syria, another Israeli-Saudi priority; it was Saudi Arabia and its Gulf State allies that have armed Al Qaeda, Islamic State and other Sunni terrorist groups; it is Israel that has persecuted the indigenous Palestinian population for generations and invaded Lebanon among other neighbors.

For all its faults, Iran has mostly opposed these operations and is now contributing military forces to fight Islamic State and Al Qaeda militants in Iraq and Syria. Yet, Trump has now conformed to the upside-down view of the Middle East that all the “important people” of Official Washington know to be true, that it’s all Iran’s fault, except – of course – what can be pinned on Russia.

Trump as Sociopath

Under intense pressure from the Democratic and Republican establishments – and facing an intelligence-community-driven hysteria over vague links between some of his advisers and Moscow – Trump has further buckled on his pledge to improve relations with Russia, instead ratcheting up rhetoric and threats.

Trump earned Official Washington’s pat on the head for firing 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria on April 6 before any careful evaluation of a chemical-weapons incident in northern Syria could be conducted, an action that Hillary Clinton and the neocon-dominated commentator class of Official Washington just loved.

Trump regaled Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo with the tale of how he disclosed the missile strike to Chinese President Xi Jinping during a state visit to Trump’s estate at Mar-a-Lago, giving the impression that he might be similarly reckless in attacking North Korea. Trump said he delivered the news over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen,” allowing him to gauge the shock on Xi’s face.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, let me explain something to you’ — this was during dessert — ‘we’ve just fired 59 missiles’ — all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing,” Trump said.

“And he [Xi] was eating his cake. And he was silent,” Trump continued, adding that the Chinese president paused for 10 seconds before asking his interpreter to repeat what Trump had said. Trump clearly was relishing the moment, although it appears that a number of the Tomahawk missiles missed the targeted Syrian airbase with some striking a nearby village, killing nine civilians including four children, Syrian media reported.

Though Trump insisted that Xi approved of the attack, Trump’s sociopathic behavior most likely confirmed to Xi that Trump really is as mindlessly dangerous as many critics have warned.

Trump seems to enjoy watching shocked looks on people’s faces. I’m told that he explained to an associate that one of his joys in grabbing women by “the pussy” is to see their stunned reaction, fitting with his boast to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” that women are powerless to object given his status as a star. “When you’re a star, … you can do anything,” Trump said. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Trump is more respectful — and obedient — toward men with real money. His head was surely turned when Sheldon Adelson, one of Israel’s most devoted advocates who has publicly suggested dropping a nuclear bomb inside Iran to coerce its government to do what Israel wants, donated a record $5 million to Trump’s inaugural festivities.

Indeed, what we have learned about Trump in the first 100 days is that he is a thin-skinned, insecure narcissist who obsesses over slights and relishes tangible signs of praise and approval. The Clinton campaign was right about one thing at least, that Trump’s fragile ego puts the future of mankind at risk given his control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Further enhancing that danger is that Trump apparently thinks his erratic behavior is a plus, not realizing that there are limits to what a madman can get away with even if he has his twitchy finger on the nuclear button. At some point, one of Trump’s crazed bluffs will be called and then he will have little choice but to prove that he is, indeed, a madman.

Lost Hope

Not that these criticisms come as much surprise, but there was hope – after his surprise election – that this irascible and arrogant figure might at least have the backbone to stand up against Official Washington’s neoconservative foreign policy orthodoxies and challenge the Israeli-Saudi dominance of U.S. policies in the Middle East.

The thinking went that Trump was a self-centered sonuvabitch but that personality might help him resist the pressures from the Washington establishment and thus avert a new, dangerous and expensive Cold War with Russia. Cooperation with Russia also held out prospects for finally ending the endless wars of his immediate predecessors.

Some Trump supporters told me that perhaps someone like Trump was the only hope to shatter the orthodoxies that had come to encase Official Washington’s thinking in concrete. These hopeful supporters saw him as an uncouth buffoon, yes, but maybe someone who wouldn’t care what was said about him on CNN or in The New York Times or at a Brookings Institution conference, someone who was unorthodox enough to sledgehammer cracks in the official group thinks, allowing some necessary light of fresh thinking to finally pour through.

But even if that were the case – if Trump were that person – he faced very difficult obstacles, including the reality that neocon groupthink had solidified deeply into the foundation of the U.S. establishment, expanding from its initial base in the Republican Party to effective control of the national Democrats as well, although Democrats prefer different labels such as liberal or humanitarian interventionist to neoconservative (more a semantic difference than substantial).

For Trump, Official Washington’s foreign-policy consensus meant there were few credentialed individuals who could help him break the mold – and win Senate confirmation. Trump would have to look for people outside the traditional establishment and such people would find themselves under an aggressive review process looking for any misstep to disqualify them. And the few who might survive that ordeal would find themselves in largely hostile bureaucracies – at the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, or the National Security Council – that would be determined to either bring the outsider to heel or destroy him or her with leaks and obstructions.

The ‘Deep State’

Despite denials from mainstream commentators about America having a “deep state,” one does exist in Washington, as should be obvious watching the cable news shows or reading the major newspapers. Indeed, there is arguably less diversity allowed in the vaunted “free press” of America than in some supposedly authoritarian states.

For instance, even people with solid professional credentials who disagree with the U.S. government’s interpretation of the evidence on the April 4 chemical incident in Syria are excluded from participation in the public debate. The major U.S. media even takes pride in that exclusion because these people are deemed “fringe” or responsible for “propaganda” or guilty of “fake news.” The tendency toward careerist “groupthink” is very powerful in Washington and the national media.

So, Trump faced daunting challenges when he entered the presidency, requiring him to move quickly and decisively if he hoped to change the direction of the neocon endless-war bandwagon. He needed to put the establishment forces on the defensive by telling the truth about events where the Obama administration had kept the American people in the dark, such as the Syria-sarin case on Aug. 21, 2013, which was pinned on the Syrian government though evidence pointed toward anti-government rebels, and the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shoot-down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, which was blamed on Russia while key U.S. intelligence evidence was kept hidden. [See here and here.]

Trump also needed to show that he would not be the patsy of either Israel or the Saudi royal family. That would have required telling some unpleasant truths, such as the well-known fact inside the U.S. intelligence community that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf State allies have been state sponsors of terrorism for decades, making the fanatical killers from Al Qaeda and Islamic State possible, and that Israel has bent U.S. foreign policy in the region for generations.

If Trump really had the guts that he likes people to think he has, he could have frozen or seized Saudi assets as punishment for the kingdom’s state sponsorship of terrorism and for using Sunni extremists as a paramilitary force in its sectarian rivalry with Shiite-ruled countries like Iran. Or if he wanted to demonstrate his defiance of the hyped-up Russia-gate allegations, he could have immediately announced a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on how to bring the “war on terror” to a conclusion, rather than play a timid defense.

At the outset of his presidency, Trump could have really shaken things up. But instead he wasted his first days proving that he was the pumped-up fool that his detractors said he was. Rather than show some grace toward the defeated Democrats, he insisted absurdly that his inaugural crowd was bigger than President Obama’s (which it wasn’t). He failed to appreciate or defuse the anger from the Women’s March, which filled the streets of dozens of cities the day after his Inauguration (with women wearing pink pussy hats to chide Trump for his boasts about grabbing women in the crotch).

Trump also could have acknowledged that he lost the popular vote but note that he had won under the rules of the Constitution and intended to be President for all the people. Instead he put forth the absurd notion that he had won the popular vote, which he lost by almost three million ballots (and, no, there is no evidence of five million illegal votes for Clinton).

Phony Tough Guy

Over those crucial early days, Trump continued to tweet out silly comments, replete with bad spelling and sloppy grammar. His aides then had to defend his “alternative facts,” which played into the theme that Trump was a pathetic know-nothing who acted like a pompous know-it-all. All of that might have fit his image as a cad who cared nothing for what the powers-that-be thought about him, but it turned out that Trump was essentially a phony tough guy who could be brought to his knees if pounded sufficiently by the opinion leaders.

Under the daily barrage of Russia-gate headlines, Trump tossed aside his first national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, (essentially for not remembering every detail of a phone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak). Trump then had his foreign-policy team join in bashing Russia (to prove he wasn’t Putin’s “puppet,” as Hillary Clinton had called him).

Trump’s policies toward Ukraine and Crimea became indistinguishable from those of President Obama’s. Trump also showed no curiosity regarding how the Obama administration had stoked the Ukraine crisis and, in 2014, had facilitated the violent putsch that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych and provoked Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and the Ukrainian civil war.

In early April, after weeks of ignominious retreat under media fire, Trump hoisted his white flag of capitulation. He pleased the neocons and the liberal hawks with a rush to judgment on a mysterious chemical incident in an Al Qaeda-controlled area of northern Syria. Quickly blaming the Syrian government, Trump ordered the firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase on April 6. He also suggested that the Russians shared in the Syrian government’s guilt.

And, just like Obama, Trump hid whatever evidence he had from the American people, insisting that they accept his “high confidence” in his White House assessment. Under Trump, Americans were still being treated like the proverbial mushrooms except Trump’s crude declarations had replaced Obama’s smooth disingenuousness. Indeed, except for Trump’s Kardashian personality and his limited vocabulary, Trump’s foreign policy reflects more continuity with Obama – and with Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness – than any genuine differences.

If anything, Trump is now shifting U.S. foreign policy more into line with what the neocons demand than Obama did. With Trump’s goal to work more cooperatively with Russia smashed by Russia-gate, he is now cementing a foreign policy that is almost indistinguishable from what Trump’s vanquished Republican rivals, such as neocon Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, or Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, would have espoused. Or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

As The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, “The Trump administration’s still-emerging foreign policy has come into sharper focus as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis continues a whistle-stop tour through the Middle East, quietly placing building blocks for resetting ties that had been strained under the Obama White House.

“Over the past week, Mr. Mattis visited leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel bearing the message that the Trump administration wants to realign with those nations and stressing that Washington and capitals in the region have shared interests, such as fighting terrorism. An animating feature of Mr. Mattis’s effort is to counter what he repeatedly has described as the malign influence of Iran.”

In other words, Trump is signaling that he is now in thrall to the influential Israeli-Saudi tandem and that means he will continue to deform U.S. foreign policy to meet Israeli-Saudi regional desires, which include a new bid for “regime change” in Syria and a heightened confrontation with Iran and Russia.

This strategy surrenders to the same falsehoods that brought George W. Bush’s presidency to disaster. It means the Saudis, the Qataris and other Sunni sheikdoms will again have a free hand to quietly slip U.S.-manufactured weaponry to Al Qaeda and its cohorts. It means the U.S. government will have to pile on evermore lies to conceal the sickening reality of a de facto U.S./Al Qaeda alliance from the American people.

The attendant tensions with Russia – and eventually with China – also could provoke a nuclear confrontation that Trump is psychologically unfit to manage. Playing madman – and counting on President Putin or President Xi to play the adult – is not as clever as it may sound. Putin and Xi have their own internal political pressures to consider – and they may feel compelled to call one of Trump’s bluffs.

Thus, Trump now appears on course to become a failed U.S. president, maybe one of the worst. But let’s all hope he is not the last.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Coal Miners’ Futures in Renewable Energy

Exclusive: President Trump has scored political points by touting coal-mining jobs, but he could create more real jobs in coal country by recognizing the potential for renewable-energy jobs, says Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

If President Trump wants to earn a rare legislative victory and take political credit for reviving hard-hit regions of rural America, he should take a close look at how one Kentucky coal company is creating jobs.

Berkeley Energy Group this month announced plans to put coal miners back to work by building the largest solar project in Appalachia on top of a closed mountaintop strip mine near the town of Pikeville. The Eastern Kentucky coal company is partnering with the Environmental Defense Fund, which has helped develop 9,000 megawatts of renewable energy, to bring jobs and clean energy to the region.

Mining employment in the area has plummeted from more than 14,000 jobs in 2008 to fewer than 4,000 today, owing to mine automation, competition from natural gas, and environmental controls on dirty coal emissions.

Even if Trump’s administration and Congress roll back clean air and water rules, most experts agree that coal-mining jobs are not coming back, particularly in Appalachia where production costs are relatively high.

But there is vast potential for the region to reclaim its ravaged landscapes for use in generating solar energy, if federal policy continues to offer incentives. Solar resources in Kentucky, for instance, are favorable enough to power nearly 1,000 homes for every two acres of solar panels.

Reimagining Coal Country

Writing last year in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia solar entrepreneur Dan Conant wrote, “Our people have given sweat, blood, tears and lives to help build and power America. Reimagining ourselves not as a coal state, but as an energy state — including solar and wind — is critical if we are going to continue powering America. All we need is imagination (and a little encouragement and support) as millennial West Virginians lead the way into the future.”

Such visions are still a tough sell in many conservative communities, but many “red” states, whose politicians disdain environmental protection and deny the threat of global climate disruption, are learning to appreciate solar energy. North Carolina, Arizona, Utah, Georgia and Texas rank among the top 10 states for solar electric capacity. Together, their photovoltaic cells power more than a million homes.

In Florida, the state’s largest utility just announced plans to add nearly 2,100 megawatts of new solar capacity over the next seven years while shutting down dirty and expensive coal plants. By 2023, it expects to generate four times more energy from solar than from coal and oil combined.

At the same time, the solar industry is sending out more and more paychecks across rural America. Texas alone supports about 9,400 jobs from its solar industry. Nationally, the solar industry added 51,000 jobs last year and now employs over a quarter million people, more than three times as many as the coal industry. Solar jobs are attractive, paying a median wage of $26 an hour for installers.

Wind Sweeping Down the Plains

Wind energy is another big job engine that appeals to pragmatic conservatives who care more about the economy than the environment. More than three-quarters of Republican congressional districts have operational wind energy projects or active wind-related manufacturing facilities.

Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma are the three top states for installed wind generation capacity, beating out former industry leader California. Many other red states, like Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming, have immense untapped potential for low-cost wind generation.

Power Company of Wyoming is building the largest wind project in the country, with a capacity of up to 3,000 megawatts. Montana is also receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in new wind investments. No wonder: a typical wind project in that state supplies electricity at 4.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 6.8 cents from coal-fired generation.

Rock-ribbed Republican ranchers and farmers enjoy the income they earn from leasing space to turbines while continuing to use their land. In Texas, the wind industry employs more than 22,000 people and pays more than $60 million a year to lease holders. Those facts can be appreciated even by politicians who don’t care that Texas wind energy avoids carbon dioxide emissions equal to 8.3 million cars on the road.

Nationwide, employment in the wind industry topped 100,000 for the first time last year. The industry added jobs at nine times the rate of the overall economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the fastest growing occupation in the country is wind turbine technician, with a median wage of $51,000 a year.

Wind now supplies 5.5 percent of all electricity in the United States, contrary to President Trump’s ill-informed claim that “for the most part they (wind turbines) don’t work.” Wind is now one of the lowest cost sources of electricity, even without federal subsidies, according to newly released estimates by the Department of Energy.

And contrary to Trump’s complaint that solar is “so expensive,” energy from the sun is now cheaper than new coal or nuclear power. As a result, nearly two-thirds of new U.S. generation capacity in each of the last two years used renewable technologies.

Clean Jobs for Trump

Even if President Trump doesn’t yet get it, his Energy Secretary, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and his Interior Secretary, former Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, both seem to quietly appreciate the growing potential of renewable energy. Perhaps they can educate the President, and persuade him to reap big political gains by promoting clean jobs along with clean energy in rural and rust-belt America.

Rather than eliminating funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission, for example, Trump could steer more of its resources into clean energy training and investment programs. A study published last year by scholars at Michigan Technological University and Oregon State University showed that “a relatively minor investment ($180 million to $1.8 billion, based on best and worst case scenarios) in retraining would allow the vast majority of U.S. coal workers to switch to solar-related positions.”

Trump could also ramp up funding for the Solar Training Network, established last year by The Solar Foundation with White House support to “improve access to solar training, resources, and careers” and “increase the quality and diversity of the solar workforce and establish nationally consistent training standards.”

In line with Trump’s commitment to rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and competing with China, he could also redouble successful Energy Department programs to support research and development on cutting-edge technologies for solar and wind generation, energy storage, and power grid management.

Such proposals, coming from President Obama, earned widespread Republican scorn. Coming from Trump, they could create a major realignment in Congress by forging an alliance of Democrats with pragmatic Red State legislators who see where the new jobs are.

It can be done; in conservative Wyoming, a leading coal state, legislators recently crushed proposals to impose higher taxes on wind energy. President Trump just needs to follow through for once on his grand promises to blue-collar voters, rather than continuing to act like just another traditional Republican pawn of the fossil fuel industry.

Jonathan Marshall is author of “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “Team Trump Ponders Climate ‘Engineering’,” and “U.S. Media’s Global Warming Denialism.”




Populism v. Elites in French Election

Exclusive: Popular resistance to neoliberal economic policies gets its next test in Sunday’s election in France with two populists from the Right and Left challenging two mainstream candidates, explains Andrew Spannaus.

By Andrew Spannaus

French voters will head to the polls this Sunday to elect a new president, in the next test for the electoral revolt that has swept across Europe and the United States over the past year. Marine Le Pen of the Front National, the right-wing nationalist party seeking to exploit the wave of popular protest that has buoyed outsider candidates throughout the West, aims to place first or second in order to participate in a run-off in two weeks to determine the next leader of France.

European political élites are hoping that the populist revolt will fall short, allowing a more moderate candidate such as the centrist Emmanuel Macron to win. This could change the narrative of the anti-establishment sentiment that has raised questions about the very survival of the supranational institutions of the European Union (E.U.), under attack due to economic policies that have led to declining living standards for much of the population.

After the victory of Brexit in June of 2016, and the success of outsider candidates in the U.S. presidential elections, the European political class began 2017 wondering if the wave of discontent would produce upset victories in the elections scheduled in key countries such as the Netherlands, France and Germany, with Italy also preparing to hold a general election by early 2018 at the latest.

In the Netherlands, the right-wing, anti-immigrant Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders was thought to have the potential to be the top vote-getter overall, despite the expectation that the other major political forces would then refuse to enter into a coalition with Wilders, preventing him from forming a government. Just as he has for his entire political career, Wilders focused his 2017 campaign on a demagogic call to de-Islamize Holland, claiming it was time to take the country back from both immigrants and the E.U. bureaucracy, presented as a threat to the Dutch national identity.

On economics Wilders made at attempt to intersect the discontent of the middle and working classes, calling for the Netherlands to leave the European Union and promising lower healthcare costs, a lower retirement age, and better social assistance for the elderly. This, despite professing to be a follower of the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher.

In the March 15 election the Freedom Party did poorly, winning only 13 percent of the vote, far behind the Dutch People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy of incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, that came in first with over 21 percent. Wilders was hurt significantly by Rutte’s ability to exploit a diplomatic row with Turkish President Erdogan to show that he, too, was willing to be tough on Islam, thus stealing the protest candidate’s thunder. Voters appeared to discount his attempt to act as an economic populist, preferring to follow the pleas from the establishment to reject the more extreme candidate and favor stability.

The French Test

Next up is France, this weekend, where Marine Le Pen has attempted to soften the image of the Front National, associated with chauvinist positions since her father Jean-Marie founded the party in 1972. Marine has continued the calls to defend France’s national identity, but has also taken her criticism of the European Union to a higher level, with a detailed critique of the economic globalization policies that have hurt the middle class and created hardship and uncertainty for various segments of the population.

France has a tradition of nationalism and skepticism towards supranational institutions. Indeed when called to vote on a proposed European Constitution in 2005, the French rejected it decisively (as did the Dutch that same year, by an even larger margin). This didn’t stop European élites from moving forward with their plan for integration, but it’s no surprise that the population is quick to criticize E.U. institutions for the negative effects of “deregulated globalization,” as Le Pen calls it.

The Front National claims to be the alternative to the moneyed interests on the Right and the Left that have created a system that has “paralyzed the economy” and caused “mass unemployment”. The F.N. has also been smart enough to present a specific proposal attacking the free-market precepts the E.U. institutions defend. The idea is to leave the Euro, but not to return to a floating exchange rate system with competitive devaluations and speculative attacks on currencies; they propose to go back to a stable exchange-rate regime similar to that of the Bretton Woods system in effect in the decades after World War II.

In Europe this was called the European Monetary System (EMS), with international accounts settled using the European Currency Unit (ECU) starting in 1979. In the late 1990s, the E.U. institutions transformed this into the single currency, which meant turning power over to a single central bank and demanding control over the macroeconomic policy of all of the participating countries.

The F.N. has also called for eliminating the independence of the French Central Bank, returning to national banking, with the goal of guaranteeing investments for the real economy rather than suffering under the policies of austerity. Not surprisingly, many economists claim these measures would never work, as they fear that such a change would open the floodgates to a wholesale revision of the dominant neoliberal policies in effect today.

Le Pen is set to do significantly better than Wilders did in the Netherlands, although her prospects seem to have dimmed a bit in recent weeks. There is no guarantee she will make it to the run-off, and even if she does, most observers are convinced that in that case the French would rally around her opponent to defeat her. Of course, some skepticism regarding such predictions is definitely in order, considering recent precedents. Le Pen has done a better job of tying her message to the economic discontent of the population, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough to “normalize” her with the French population.

A Left Alternative

Another option disgruntled French voters are considering is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former Socialist who has founded his own party called “Unsubmissive France,” whose appeal has grown rapidly in these elections. Mélenchon’s role is similar to that of Bernie Sanders in the U.S. primaries, as his populist, anti-globalization message is not that far from the rhetoric of Marine Le Pen, but without the xenophobia. Mélenchon is heavily critical of both NATO and the E.U. – although he does not call for leaving the Euro immediately – and he supports a significant expansion of social spending and state intervention in the economy.

Mélenchon isn’t truly an outsider, given that he has been in the French political system for decades, even serving as Education Minister from 2000 to 2002, but the jump in his support reflects the openness to candidates who challenge the system. He has almost doubled his popularity compared to his last run for president in 2012, when he took in 11 percent of the votes. The most recent polls show him at 19 percent, not far from Macron and Le Pen, both at 22-23 percent, and essentially tied with the conservative Francois Fillon.

Thus out of the top four candidates, two are considered extreme, raising the specter of a run-off between anti-establishment figures that would upend the political situation in France, and send shockwaves throughout Europe as a whole. This has led current President Francois Hollande to intervene recently against the risk of populism, blaming the insurgent candidates of promoting “simplifications and falsifications.”

If Le Pen or Mélenchon are in fact eliminated in the first round, or lose in a run-off, the pro-E.U. political class around Europe appears ready to celebrate the defeat of populism and the survival of the plan to move forward with European integration. Notwithstanding the black eye represented by the U.K.’s confirmation of the Brexit, it would appear that the anti-Euro, anti-immigrant attitudes that many feared would dominate this election season, are taking a back seat to more moderate and traditional political views.

Declaring victory over the populists could be a big mistake, however. It’s one thing to rejoice over the failure of anti-foreigner sentiment as a driver of electoral politics; it’s another entirely to believe that just because more extreme political movements are failing in this election season, Europe can also avoid the calls for changes in E.U. economic policy.

An attempt to close ranks, to continue to resist against legitimate popular protests against austerity, declines in living standards and widespread unemployment and job instability, would mean ignoring the deep-seated problems brought to the fore by the revolt of voters across the Western world.

The only way to truly win the battle against undesirable elements of European nationalism and populism, is to address the real issues raised by an economic policy that has weakened the middle class and caused most of the population to lose trust in the political and financial élites. In the absence of an effective response to this problem, the protest is not only certain to return in the future, but may well be stronger and more unpredictable when it does.

Andrew Spannaus is a freelance journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news, analysis and consulting to Italian institutions and businesses. His book on the U.S. elections Perchè vince Trump (Why Trump is Winning) was published in June 2016.




Farm Workers Resist Trump’s Policies

President Trump is touting his aggressive approach toward removing undocumented workers from the U.S. as one of his first-100-days achievements, but resistance is growing, too, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

President Trump’s promised purge of undocumented people from the United States is facing resistance from the United Farm Workers (UFW) and other groups in California that reject this rollback of civil rights and workers’ rights.

On March 31, the birthday of the late founder of the UFW, Cesar Chavez, the union kicked off a month-long series of activities to fight back against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, which many analysts believe is designed to make life so miserable and difficult in the U.S. that people begin to “self-deport in” in large numbers.

I spoke to Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, on March 31 about Cesar Chavez’s contributions to the Farm Labor Movement and the effects of ICE raids on communities in California and around the country.

Dennis Bernstein: We know that there’s a great deal of work ahead of you. We are in the age of Trump. And this possesses interesting and multiple challenges. And I know that the farmworkers are up for that and there are many plans being made. But I really would like to take a moment for you to remind us about Cesar Chavez. Tell us about who the man was, and the significance of the work, because obviously it’s going to continue to resonate. And we’re going to talk about that in a moment. But, please let’s remember him, for the moment.

Arturo Rodriguez: Cesar Chavez, he was like anyone else, he was determined, he devoted his whole life towards working on behalf of the poorest of the poor of the farmworkers. He, himself, his family, they all were a part of the migrant farmworkers stream throughout the state of California, and other areas as well, the state of Oregon, and so forth.

He realized at a very young age that he did not want to continue to see people mistreated, and abused, and exploited, and have to go through what his family did, and what his mom and dad did, and his brothers and sisters. So he made a decision early on in his life that someday he wanted to tackle that, and to do the best that he could do and make a contribution towards bettering the life and the respect and dignity for the women and the men that harvest our fruits and vegetables, Dennis.

DB: And so, here it is, 2017, Trump is clearly… he is like the classical white supremacist. Not only is he that in theory, but […] when it comes to imposing the kind of policies that reflect his racism, he hasn’t wasted any time. So, could you just talk a little bit about what’s been happening in the trenches with the United Farm Workers? How you all have been acting, preparing, planning, and fighting back?

AR: Well, Dennis, it’s a very good question, and we’re extremely disappointed, in terms of what the Trump administration has done, and the decisions that they’ve been making, and the way that they call out immigrants in this country and make them feel like they’re not here to make a contribution, which is just the opposite. We would not be the nation we are today without the hard work, and the sacrifice, and the contribution that immigrant workers make to our nation.

And so, we have been, along with all of our sister organizations, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, the UFW Foundation and other organizations, have been doing everything we can to, first of all, ensure and educate workers, farmworkers, throughout various states, what their rights are as immigrants, what their opportunities are, how they can defend themselves.

And we’ve set up a special organization, the UFW Foundation, which has a number of offices throughout the state of California, right now, and Arizona, to go out and to be available, to have representatives that are certified by the federal government, in order to deal with issues around immigration. And we’ve been working with networks of attorneys throughout all the various rural communities, to ensure that, in the event that farmworkers are picked up, or anyone, any immigrant is picked up in the rural communities, that they can immediately contact us, and we can get in touch with attorneys to be able to assist them. And to provide them the guidance that they need, and the reassurance. And get in touch with their families and help them go through the process. And, hopefully, avoid them being sent across the border. And so, that’s been a major part of our work these last few months.

But, in addition to that, we know, at the same time we need to bring people together, Dennis. And, we need to continue to demonstrate to the federal government, to demonstrate to the Trump administration, that we are continuing the fight, to make sure that farmworkers, that immigrants are protected in this nation. And so, we decided to celebrate the anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birthday with a series of events.

And we’re […] coordinating activities in seven different states: Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. To get people engaged, to get people participating, and making sure that, again, everybody is aware what their rights are, but demonstrate the unity that exists with us.

And we’re bringing together our sisters and brothers from the Muslim community, and many of the other immigrant communities, so that we can all act united, especially throughout these rural communities which, oftentimes, they’re not taken into account because of all the activities that take place in our urban centers. But it’s very, very important for us to do that.

[…]

We want to send a strong message to Donald Trump that we are here to stay. That we make a contribution to America, and that’s why we came here to begin with, as immigrants, as farmworkers, to be able to ensure that we have a viable agricultural industry that continues to dominate the world in the production of fruits and vegetables, throughout our nation, and throughout our state.

DB: Now, it’s really important that we come to you to make sure we keep a human face on this story. And we know in your position as head, President of the United Farm Workers a lot of stories are coming through your desk. And can you just share a couple of stories that can help the people who aren’t experiencing this understand how dangerous it feels now? And the kinds of pressures–it’s sort of this pressure, it’s this policy of “brutalize them so much, hit them so hard, come at them from so many different directions, that they will, as they like to say ‘self deport’.” You want to just keep that human face on it, for a moment?

AR: Sure, of course, Dennis. I think about, right now, in terms of what happened in McFarland, California, it’s about three weeks ago now. Where workers were going to work, early in the morning, and they noticed that there was a car that was parked along the side. And it wasn’t marked. And the next thing they know that they were being stopped and it turned out to be ICE agents. And there was four individuals there in the car. And, as a result, the ICE agents asked them all for their papers, and whether they had legal status here in the country or not. And immediately, obviously the workers… no
matter how much you try to share with them the importance of not saying anything, it’s a difficult situation when somebody approaches you with a gun, and you don’t know exactly what to do. And you feel the intimidation and the coercion, and a sense of fear there. And so, they were very honest and upfront with the ICE agents.

And, as a result of that, before we knew it, within 24 hours, two of them had already been deported to Nogales, Mexico. And so we never got a chance to really help those individuals, but we were successful in helping two other folks.

And we’ve set up in Kern County, the third largest agricultural county in the United States today. And that’s where Bakersfield is at, Dennis, and McFarland, and Delano, and many of the other rural communities are, and Lamont and so forth. And so, we’re working there with a network of attorneys, and they have a group of about twenty attorneys that are there helping and assisting anybody that needs legal help. And they’re going out and doing these information sessions across the county, to really remind people, in terms of what’s happening. But, again, that was an incident that just recently happened.

We have another situation in Delano, California, where a worker was taking his daughter to school one morning and, again, an ICE agent stopped him on the way and asked him for his papers and so, immediately, he had to call someone to pick up his daughter, because they were going to take him in. And as a result, again, we had to step in and assist that particular worker in regards to the situation he was confronted with there, with the ICE agents.

DB: How old was his daughter?

AR: She was in the elementary school, so about nine, ten, at that age.

DB: There’s an experience, right?

AR: It’s a very, very scary situation. And we constantly hear people telling us, “Look, we don’t want to go out. We’re fearful about going any place other [than] work.” And so, folks are making other arrangements, for their children to be picked up from school, or from babysitters. They’re not going shopping like they used to anymore. There are a lot of things that they are staying away from, Dennis, because of the fact that there’s that fear there right now that exists. And, the life in these communities, especially in these rural areas where farmworkers live and work at, it’s just completely different from what it used to be, prior to the Donald Trump administration.

DB: Now, in terms of the formal actions, what is the California Legislature doing? I know there’s a number of actions happening, in terms of legal representation for undocumented folks, all kinds of things around standing up against any kind of registry. Have you weighed-in on some of this stuff? Do you think there needs to be expanded legal support for the workers that you represent, and for the undocumented folks who are facing this head on, now?

AR: [California] Senate President Kevin de Leon, and so many of the other, good Latino legislators, and others as well, are very empathetic as to what is happening out here to immigrants. They’re fighting hard. They’re trying to do everything they can, within their power, within the state of California. As we all know, though, the unfortunate thing is that immigration is a federal issue, and so we can’t do anything to really deal with the core issue, and that’s bringing about immigration reform. But, certainly there’s a lot of efforts being made to enhance the amount of legal representation that’s available for immigrants in the event they’re picked up by ICE agents.

And, as you well know, Dennis, there’s a big fight against the federal government, against the Trump administration, regarding their action on sanctuary cities. And there’s at least discussion in terms of, why don’t we make the State of California a sanctuary state because of the large number of immigrants that are here, both in our rural and urban communities. And the importance they are for the economy of this state, especially within the agricultural industry, and the retail industry, the hotel industry, construction, yard maintenance, and things of that nature.

So we’re definitely working alongside legislators in any way we possibly can to bring testimony and bring, like you said, a living face to what’s happening out there to folks. And trying to ensure that people really do understand the importance of this. This is just not something we can, kind of, sweep under the rug, or something we can ignore because it impacts the lives of people that are very, very important to our society.

DB: And, will Trump’s policies, in terms of trade, and the border and his quest to hire American, is that already beginning to reverberate? How do you see that?

AR: Oh, definitely. I mean, there’s no doubt. The workers that go back to Mexico, for whatever reason, for family reasons, or whatever. They’re not coming back anymore, those workers that work in agriculture. And so, we see definitely that in the agricultural market that, because of that, growers are finally being forced to deal with some of the issues that they should have dealt with a long time ago. And that’s it. They’re having to raise wages, they’re having to provide some better opportunities for workers, in regards to the working conditions or regards to hours of work, or their wage rates, and things of that nature. I think, yes, it is having an impact.

And it’s having a very negative impact on the flow of immigrants here into the United States, which are definitely needed for our agricultural industry. That just no longer is occurring, Dennis. And I think it’s very much of a tragedy for the American consumer because we’ve found, time and again, no matter what we do, that very few Americans, if any, actually want to go to work in the fields, in the agricultural fields, and be a part of that. And they’re not professionals at it, they’re not skilled at it, and they’re not willing to tolerate the difficult conditions and make the necessary sacrifices, and so forth.

DB: Alright, well we really want to thank you, Arturo Rodriguez, for taking the time out, again, to speak with us, and celebrate Cesar Chavez’s life, his birthday. We miss him, it’s been 24 years since his passing, but I know that the United Farm Workers, as we talked about, is not going to forget about it. And people can go to the United Farm Workers web site […] to follow all these activities, to get involved.

AR: I do want to mention one story. This is happening in an urban community, right in your audience’s area, your listenership’s area, in San Jose. And there is a family there that, I won’t mention the names of them cause I don’t want to embarrass them, but it was so great to go on our apps today and look at, and see one of the stories on Facebook actually, that’s being shared by a family that has their children making sandwiches to take out to the farmworkers there in the field. And what a way to celebrate the day of Cesar Chavez, for children to be doing something like that. And I thought if we could just communicate that to children throughout the state, what a blessing that would be for farmworkers obviously because they’re getting food. But also it brings to light the importance, the role the farmworker plays in our society.

And I just thought that was such a heartwarming story. That the parents of the three children, cause I know the family, and they do this on their own. And they’re not looking for recognition, they’re not looking to be recognized in any particular way. But this is the way that they’re bringing up their children, so that their children really understand the contribution that farmworkers make to our society.

And that today is the day that we celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday, it’s a day to celebrate the work that farmworkers do in this state, in California, and throughout the country. And so, we want to really thank the family that really has that practice, and I just think it’s such a great example, for what all of us could be doing with our children on this day.

DB: And it’s poignant, of course, because we have heard too many stories of farmworkers who pick the foods that make the table so beautiful and appealing, and can’t even afford to buy them. So there’s a lot to think about there. Again, we thank you, Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, for being with us on this celebration, this birthday of Cesar Chavez, March 31st. Thanks for being with us. Be careful. We’ll talk to you soon.

AR: Thank you very much. We appreciate the opportunity to be with you all and thank you for all the good work that you all do in terms of educating and informing your listeners and readers.. We very much appreciate it. Si se puede, and happy Cesar Chavez day.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Dropping the (Non-Nuclear) Big One

After pounding “war on terror” targets for 15-plus years, the U.S. military dropped its “mother of all bombs” on some caves in Afghanistan, a show-off of its terrifying weapon, peace activist Kathy Kelly told Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

Just back from Afghanistan, Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, says the consequences of U.S. military interventions across the Middle East and into Africa now include the spreading of starvation to some 16 million people.

But the U.S. government’s reaction has been to drop even more tonnage of bombs on some of these countries, including the deployment of the “mother of all bombs,” the world’s most devastating non-nuclear explosive dropped on Afghanistan on April 13, the day I interviewed Kelly.

Dennis Bernstein: This is a very troubling day, in U.S. history, and for the people of Afghanistan. The U.S. military has dropped a 21,600 pound bomb on a tunnel complex it says was “used by Islamic State militants in Afghanistan” – that’s coming out of the government. The GBU-43B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, known as the mother of all bombs – the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by the U.S. in a conflict. The massive ordnance was dropped from a U.S. aircraft in Nangarhar Province. The “bunker buster” bomb is so huge it can’t be delivered by a normal bomber aircraft, but instead needs to be put in a cargo plane. Its blast radius is up to a mile.

Joining us to talk about this, and a lot that is surrounding it, is Kathy Kelly. You know a lot about what’s going on in Afghanistan. You returned from their about a week ago, and you have spent a lot of time there in the past few years. Your response?

Kathy Kelly: I came back from Afghanistan on April 6th. And I think about all the military people who have itchy fingers. They have a huge bomb and they want to experiment with it in some place other than a remote desert. It seems incredibly obscene to imagine that they would pick Afghanistan. Supposedly they have to pick a place where there’s a war going on already. And it seems like maybe the President has said I’m really not all that interested in your decisions, or the briefings in the mornings. And so, this was their chance, and they took it. The excuse given is that there are tunnels there.

But you know, many of us can remember when we were told that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and this justified the Shock and Awe bombings. And there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction to be found. And, I wonder, maybe those tunnels would never be found because they’ve all been blasted away. But that kind of rationale, it seems to me is so cruel.

I mean, suppose the United States were to transport its fighters and its weapons through tunnels, weapons like the one you just described, or weapons like the AC-130 Transport planes, weapons like the Apache helicopters that fire Hellfire missiles, I mean all this weaponry has gone into Afghanistan now since 2001. Suppose it had come in through tunnels, those tunnels would have to be the size of the Grand Canyon. And I’m not saying that we should ever legitimize armed struggle on the part of fighters who might be coming across from Pakistan, or might be coming from other countries, into Afghanistan.

But I think we have to recognize that the warlord that has spent billions of dollars, massive amounts of TNT, displaced millions of people–that’s the United States. And now we’ve hit people during a time when they’re already burdened down, on their knees, flattened almost, by environmental problems, by poisoned water, by air that nearly can’t be breathed, by 1.5 million refugees inside the country, 1.8 million that might be shoved back in, collapsing health care, collapsing education. And when I was there most recently, and inside refugee camps, it could break your heart to see how wretched the conditions are. And I was with beautiful, bright-eyed little girls. And I thought – what kind of future do they have?

DB: Just to say a little bit more about this bomb because this is fantastic, in the worst sense of it. Reading a little bit more, its principle effect is a massive blast wave said to stretch for a mile in every direction, created by an 18,000lb, I guess explosion, equal to 18,000lb of TNT. And they call it the bunker busting bomb. It’s designed to damage underground facilities. The weapon costs $16 million a shot. What could you do with $16 million and that camp you were in recently, Kathy?

KK: Well, of course, the expenditure on weaponry at a time when there’s so much massive need – I’m in New York because of a fast to call attention to Yemen, which is in a conflict where [there are] near-starvation conditions. And the same is true for three countries near the Horn of Africa: Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria. And for the United States to be spending money on these kinds of bombs…

You know, I think the “mother of all bombs” is greed. Greed is the mother of all bombs…I think the very notion that they would drop this bomb after one of the U.S. soldiers was killed in a special operations raid is also very frightening, this disproportionate response. And when do U.S. people ever get a chance to think about what the night raids are like for the people whose homes are broken into, whose futures might be shattered by just one night raid?

DB: This notion of disproportionate response, I mean, it really does feel like a bit of Israeli influence. You know, the Palestinians shoot a rocket across the border, it misses everything, and then there’s 2,000 Palestinians dead. And it’s the lesson, it’s sort of, I guess, this is the new world order. Trump wants people to know he’s tough and at the same time they can test a lot of their new weapons. Is that too cynical? First I’m crying, you know Kathy, first I’m crying and then the fury sets in, and it’s incomprehensible. But, you’ve been there and you’ve seen who the people are that we are destroying. And, I don’t know. I’m sorry, go on, I interrupted.

KK: Well, you can certainly bet that people are very, very frightened of what’s going to be rained down on them from the skies above. As I mentioned, their areas are already terrible. Just on my second to last day there, little Chin, she was so excited, [… she] half pulled me up a hill, the highest hill I’ve ever climbed in my life. And they wanted me on top of that hill so that I could be with them as they flew kites. And each one of their kites had pictures of drones on the kite. It was Xs over it, or the consequences of drone warfare. They were so excited as those kites became little dots up in the sky. And even the youngest of the girls could tell me what a drone was. Very seriously, shaking their heads, saying “These drones can kill people.”

And can you imagine the innocence of these children, and U.S. people have no exposure whatsoever to the communities of families who just want to live and raise their children. And then we pour our resources into bombs like the ones that you’ve described. Well, if we earn ourselves a reputation as a menacing, fearful country of warlords, we’ve certainly gotten what we’ve asked for.

So does this build security? I mean imagine how many rage-filled, angry, traumatized young people might say “Sign me up”…in the next Jihadist group that comes into town.

DB: Yeah. And this…

KK: And, Dennis, can I ask…?

DB: Yes, please.

KK: So, blowing up all the tunnels with this massive penetration bombing, does this mean, then, that they might want to drive the ISIS fighters into the cities? Because they’re going to go somewhere. So then you’ve got…I mean Nangarhar is a very resort area near the border. But Jalalabad is not so far away. What kind of a strategy, in terms of the future, is the military thinking about?

And it’s very frightening to see who’s in charge of the military now. And to know that the president seems to have just kind of walked away from being informed, or aware of, these different strategies. And I think past presidents have also done plenty of damage in Afghanistan, and in Iraq and in Syria. We should all at least acknowledge that. And they were able to maybe put a better mask on it. I think President Trump doesn’t have much of a mask. But it’s certainly going to arouse fury all around the world.

DB: And, just for a moment, to come back to the kids who were flying kites with pictures or paintings of drones on them, I assume that’s obviously out of their own experience. I imagine some of those folks actually lost relatives and friends to drone operations…

KK: Well, the young man who organized the day, he got the bus and he helped to make the kites, and invited the children, and the older kids to come on the hilltop, Maldive has a nephew who, every time he hears a drone fly overhead, goes into something like a panic attack, and runs and hides. And so, Maldive said “I had to do something, to try to protect my nephew.”

And another thing that I want to point out is that all of this aerial surveillance, it’s not just drones, the United States has been experimenting with huge systems for surveillance over Afghanistan, but those systems will never, ever disclose the kinds of questions my young friends ask when they go out to the villages to try to find out who needs the heavy blankets, to try to find out who’s most in need of getting a child laborer into school. And they ask “When was the last time your family had enough food” and “What’s your source for water?”

And, in the refugee camp, a woman came up to me, she just sobbed on my shoulder, and she said “I have nothing to feed my children for lunch. Nothing to give them for dinner.” People run from these wars, they’ve got nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. They come to overcrowded cities, like Kabul, where the infrastructure is already crumbling. You begin to wonder, “Is there no mercy? Are there no ethical constraints on the United States, which allies Saudi Arabia, and these other warlords?”

DB: The kinds of comments I’ve been hearing since the first bombing…but now after this bombing is that–and these are from, I don’t know what you’d call them, some people call them liberals–“He’s [Trump] getting his act together. This is a positive reversal.” I guess, “Getting to the job. Really seeing what it looks like from the inside, really does have the power to transform.”

KK: Well, it certainly is the case that he was being labelled as a kind of bumptious fool, as a president, before he took the act of hitting Syria, and now this action, and if that’s how you earn your way into the elite salon as a club member, I guess we shouldn’t be terribly surprised because at the top of that group are the Directors of Boeing, Lockheed, Martin Marietta, British Aerospace, Raytheon.

The stocks for Raytheon went up after. Raytheon-manufactured Tomahawk cruise missiles hit Syria. This was certainly a sad, sad statement on, I suppose, the way to corral these kinds of dangerous actions becomes more and more confusing. Because we’re not really sure who is in charge of governance under the Trump administration.

DB: Kathy, you’re in New York, you’ve said having to do with a fast. Are you fasting now?

KK: Yeah, I’m on day five of a week-long fast. It’s been a real gift to be with the community across from the United Nations, at the Isaiah Wall where there’s a saying “When shall come a day when they shall beat their swords into plowshares. And their spears into pruning hooks.” But we feel so conscious of the alarm that U.N. workers have sounded, have been predicting that these conflict driven, near famine conditions could cost the lives, collectively, if you factor in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, upwards of 16 million people. And what a terrible, horrible way to die, stranded in the desert with no water and no food.

And, meanwhile, the United States has supported the Saudis in blocking the Port of Hodeidah, in Saudi air strikes. The United States has made air strikes. Very, very expensive weaponry being used, while people are starving.

DB: I believe the Pentagon announced today [4/13/17] actually another air strike in Syria killed 18 of so-called rebels that they’re supporting.

KK: The chaos and the upheaval that all of these strikes cause will not be over after the announcements. It will go on and on, imagine people that are maimed and wounded, and in need of health care. Imagine the families that don’t have a bread winner. Imagine the desires for revenge that come. The idea that military solutions, so-called solutions, could make a difference in that part of the world is, it seems to me, insane. It seems like the military has been doing [this] decade after decade.

DB: Kathy, we just have a minute or two left, but just for a broader picture, and I always come to you with a question like this. Forgive me, but what does this say about who we are? What we’ve become? What our government has become? Your thoughts on that?

KK: Well, we’re a nation of people who join grassroots groups to non-cooperate with murdering and killing all of the time. And these grassroots groups exist, they’re sturdy, they’re beckoning for more people to join, in fact they’ve been more evident since President Trump was inaugurated, and the lead up to that time. And so, I think we are a group of people who can say “No, we don’t want to be identified as warlords, as menacing, fearsome people.” But, we’re going to have to do everything we can to make that very, very clear.

I think people who will be going to churches, and to synagogues, over this weekend coming up, have a responsibility to say to their communities, and their faith based leaders, “We must speak out in this time, here and now.” And not focus on the past or some kind of apocalyptic future. I think that people in universities, there’s a big responsibility right now. Educate our young people to understand the consequences of war, otherwise they’re completely being robbed of their finances, as they go to the universities.

And I think people are right to think about strikes. Strikes all over the place, working with the BDS campaigns, with Black Lives Matter, with students. I think it’s an important time to say “We don’t want to cooperate.” I haven’t paid a dime of federal income tax since 1980, and that’s one thing I can say with relief. So, as tax day approaches, what people think, what do you want to pay for? And do you get what you pay for in the USA? And sadly, you do, you get days like today, when we learn about this massive bomb dropped on some of the poorest people in the world.

DB: Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, if people want to learn more about that organization, or what you’re up to, best way?

KK: Oh, yes please, go to vcnv.org. Also, for the Afghan peace volunteers, seeing video of those kids up on the hillside with their kites at ourjourneytosmile.com. Speaking of Yemen, we’re speaking of a fast for Yemen because Yemen is starving. So, Yemen and fast and you’ll get to us.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Obama/Trump: Contrasting Deceivers

On the surface, Donald Trump and Barack Obama may seem like polar opposites but they are alike in one fundamental way: both promised to challenge a corrupt and brutal establishment but promptly caved in, writes Sam Husseini.

By Sam Husseini

Donald Trump won the 2016 Republican nomination and the general election largely because he was able to pose as a populist and an anti-interventionist, an “America Firster.” Similarly, Barack Obama won the 2008 election in good part because he promised “hope and change” and because he had given a speech years earlier against the then-impending invasion of Iraq.

Short of disclosure of diaries or other documents from these politicians, we can’t know for certain if they planned on reversing much of what they promised or if the political establishment compelled them to change, but they both reversed themselves on their core messages, committing what you might call a massive political fraud. Yet, what is perhaps most striking is how quickly each of them backtracked on their winning messages, particularly since they were both proclaimed as representing “movements” seeking to shake up the system.

Even before taking office, Obama stacked his administration with pro-war people: He kept George W. Bush’s head of the Pentagon, Robert Gates; for Secretary of State he nominated Hillary Clinton, whom he beat largely because she voted for giving Bush authorization to invade Iraq; he surrounded himself with other prominent Iraq War backers including Vice President Joe Biden and senior foreign policy advisers Susan Rice and Richard Holbrooke. Even before he was sworn in, Obama had supported the 2008 Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. [See from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?“]

Thus, rather predictably, the Obama years saw the expansion of U.S. bombing operations and a dramatic escalation in the U.S. global assassination program using drones. Obama intentionally bombed more countries than any other president since World War II: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan.

Obama had talked about a nuclear-weapons-free world – a key reason why he won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize – but he later geared up to spend $1 trillion in upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. At the end of his administration, attempts at the United Nations to work toward banning nuclear weapons were sabotaged, efforts that the Trump administration continues.

Obama also continued the feigned uncertainty about whether Israel possessed nuclear weapons. Asked by columnist Helen Thomas at his first presidential news conference if he knew of any country in the Mideast that had nuclear weapons, Obama dissembled and claimed he didn’t want to “speculate,” rather than answering “Israel” and starting the process of clearing away the mountain of deceits that sit atop U.S. foreign policy.

Trump’s election also brought some hope that he would live up to his populist promises and at least pursue U.S. policies that reflected his “America First” ideas and minimize U.S. military adventures abroad. Instead there have been a series of key reversals, topped off by Trump’s April 6 launching of 59 cruise missiles against the Syrian government. But that military intervention, reversing his plans to focus on defeating ISIS not orchestrating “regime change,” was not alone. There have been “flip-flops” on the Ex-Im Bank, NATO, China, Russia, the Federal Reserve.

The Impervious Establishment

Politically, Obama and Trump ran against the Establishment but then, in effect, rebranded it and, by doing so, further entrenched it. And not just in foreign policy. Though elected amid public anger over the Wall Street collapse of 2008, Obama supported the Wall Street bailout and brought in pro-Wall Street apparatchiks Tim Geithner and others around Robert Rubin, such as Larry Summers. Some were connected to Goldman Sachs, including Rahm Emanuel, Gary Gensler and Elena Kagan.

Trump campaigned as a populist but he, too, brought in a roster of Wall Street and Goldman Sachs veterans, most prominently Steven Mnuchin at Treasury Secretary and Gary Cohn as chief economic adviser.

While the Obama/Trump deceptions have much in common, their prime difference has been in style. Obama is lawyerly and, like Jell-o, hard to pin to the wall. Many of his broken promises were actually violations of the spirit of what he said, not the letter. For instance, he vowed to withdraw “all combat troops” from Iraq, but didn’t tell voters he made a distinction between “combat troops” and, say, frontline military advisers and special-operations teams. Since many of his backers were utterly infatuated with him, they seemed incapable or unwilling to parse out his deceitful misimpressions.

By contrast, Trump behaves more like an electron, flashing from one side of an issue to the other or sometimes appearing to be in two places at the same time. Trump is an extreme example demonstrating the emptiness of political words and promises, but he is hardly unique. It’s largely meaningless if a politician declares a position, especially during a campaign. The question is: What have they done? How have they demonstrated their commitment to, say, ending perpetual wars or taking on Wall Street?

Obama and Trump were both salesmen, albeit with divergent pitches and contrasting personas. Nor were their deceptions particularly new. George W. Bush campaigned against “nation building” before launching a war of choice in Iraq supposedly intended to remake its entire political and economic structure; Bill Clinton campaigned as the “man from Hope” who felt the pain of the little guy before parlaying his presidency into a very lucrative business model for himself, his family and his friends; George H. W. Bush claimed he was a compassionate conservative but showed little compassion either in his domestic or foreign policies. All backed corporate power and finance. All waged aggressive war.

One question about Obama and Trump is whether they might have done anything differently if they weren’t subjected to ridiculous critiques from their “opposition” parties that pushed them to be even more militaristic.

Republicans portrayed Obama as a “secret Muslim” and a “pacifist,” which added to his incentive to bomb more Muslim countries to show that he wasn’t. Trump suffered from a “liberal” and “progressive” critique that he was Vladimir Putin’s “puppet” because he talked about cooperating with – rather than confronting – Russia. That pushed Trump to adopt a more militaristic posture against the other major nuclear state on the planet.

To avoid repeats of these political scams, America needs a citizenry, aided by media, that adroitly and accessibly pierces through the layers of deception in real time. Another thing that’s needed is a merging of what we call the “left” and “right” into a joint effort to pursue polices that undermine the grip of Wall Street and the Military Industrial Complex on the U.S. government.

A wiser electorate then must resist the allure of loving – or hating – certain personalities and must repudiate the cheap satisfaction of partisan shots. Only when there’s adherence to real values – and cohesion from real solidarity – can the cycles of promises and betrayal be broken.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy, a consortium of policy analysts and founder of VotePact.org, which encourages cooperation between principled progressives and conscientious conservatives.