US Media’s Global Warming Denialism

Exclusive: Besides nuclear war, arguably the greatest threat to human civilization is global warming, but the U.S. news media virtually ignored the issue in 2016, bowing to economic and political pressures, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Emperor Nero may (or may not) have fiddled while Rome burned, but commercial U.S. TV networks definitely fiddled last year on climate coverage while the Earth grew dangerously hot.

An annual climate report issued this month by the World Meteorological Organization confirms that average global temperatures and global sea levels continued their inexorable rise in 2016, setting new records. Global sea ice dropped to an “unprecedented” extent. Extreme weather conditions, probably aggravated by climate disruption, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, left millions hungry, and caused “severe economic damage.”

Yet in the midst of such frightening changes, and a national presidential campaign with enormous consequences for U.S. climate policy, the four major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News Sunday — significantly decreased their coverage of climate issues on evening and Sunday news programs, according to a new analysis by Media Matters. Television programs like these are the major source of news for 57 percent of adult Americans.

The four networks devoted a mere 50 minutes on their evening and Sunday news programs to climate change in all of 2016. That was a two-thirds drop from the meager time they gave to perhaps the most important issue of our time in 2015. (These figures reflect deliberate coverage by the networks, not incidental mentions of climate by talk show guests.)

Remarkably, ABC managed to beat even Fox for the least climate coverage last year — only six minutes (down from 13 in 2015). Fox provided a grand seven minutes of coverage. CBS topped the group with 27 minutes, but that was still a sharp drop from the 45 minutes it devoted in 2015.

The networks can hardly claim there was nothing of substance to cover. Audiences love news about political controversy, weather, and disasters — and the issue of climate disruption provided all three. The 2016 election, for example, offered a stark and highly controversial choice between Donald Trump, who dismissed global warming as a “hoax” and promised to revive dirty coal as a fuel of choice in the United States, and Hillary Clinton, who supported major new investments in clean energy.

Yet the major TV network news programs “did not air a single segment informing viewers of what to expect on climate change and climate-related policies or issues under a Trump or Clinton administration,” according to Media Matters.

Similarly, their reporters did not ask even one question about climate change during all of last year’s presidential and vice presidential debates. Instead, they waited until after the election to inform viewers about how the country’s vote for Trump would affect the future of climate policy.

Media Matters notes that plenty of other climate-related stories also cried out for attention last year, including, “extreme weather events tied to climate change, like Hurricane Matthew and the record-breaking rainfall and flooding in Louisiana (which the American Red Cross described as ‘the worst natural disaster to strike the United States since Superstorm Sandy’); the signing of the Paris climate agreement and the U.N. climate summit in Morocco; the official announcement from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2015 was the hottest year on record by far; and investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil committed fraud by misleading the public on climate change.”

Ignoring Links

Yet not once last year did NBC or Fox report on the link between climate disruption and extreme weather, such as the record rainfall in Louisiana or the devastating wildfires that consumed more than 100,000 acres across seven states in the Southeast. ABC gave the topic only one news segment.

Fox News Sunday was the only show to address the climate context for the fight by Native American tribes to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Several networks offered slightly more coverage of the climate issues surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport heavy tar sands oil from Canada, but ABC managed to ignore that topic as well. (The State Department previously reported that completion of Keystone could increase annual greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 27 billion metric tons per year, the equivalent of adding several million passenger vehicles to the roads.)

The Sunday shows did not invite any scientists to discuss climate issues last year. And aside from NBC Nightly News, no commercial network covered the link between climate change and public health, including the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus.

PBS NewsHour crushed the competition in terms of the frequency, length, and seriousness of its climate coverage. It was the only show to inform voters about the policy impacts of a Trump or Clinton presidency before the election. It ran 18 segments on climate science, compared to 11 on all the other evening news shows combined. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Trump administration proposes eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports the NewsHour.

The coverage choices of America’s most-watched networks have great ramifications, starting with the election of climate denier Donald Trump. His choice as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is a notorious climate denier, and is surrounding himself with former aides to Oklahoma Senator James Imhofe, an even more notorious denier. His Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, notoriously favored closing that agency altogether. President Trump issued executive orders reviving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. He eliminated references to global warming on the White House web site.

The Trump administration also proposes killing the EPA’s popular Energy Star program, which helps consumers save money by choosing more energy efficient appliances. His budget also would wipe out clean-tech research and development programs at the Department of Energy.

This week, President Trump plans to sign an executive order instructing the EPA to consider repealing the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. His order reportedly will also encourage coal-mining leases on public lands, ease oil and gas drilling rules, and direct agencies to find ways to promote more energy production.

These actions not only fly in the face of science, they also run counter to his promises to create new jobs. A new Sierra Club analysis finds that across the nation, “clean energy jobs outnumber all fossil fuel jobs by over 2.5 to 1, and they exceed all jobs in coal and gas by 5 to 1.”

In the long run, nothing the Trump administration does about health insurance, tax reform, or military spending — short of getting us into nuclear war — will matter nearly as much as its determined efforts to prevent global action on climate disruption.

“We are moving into unchartered territory at a frightening speed,” warned Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization. “Every year we report a new record in greenhouse gas concentrations. Every year we say that time is running out. We have to act now to slash greenhouse gas emissions if we are to have a chance to keep the increase in temperatures to manageable levels.”

Jarraud issued that plea nearly a year and a half ago. Time is, indeed, running out.

Jonathan Marshall is author of “Global Warming’s Threat to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “To Fight Global Warming, Canada Ponders a Carbon Tax,” and “Global Warming Adds to Mideast Hot Zone.”




Gorsuch’s Soft Style and Hard Line

After blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for the past year, the Republicans got President Trump to put up a soft-spoken but hard-line right-winger in Judge Neil Gorsuch, as Marjorie Cohn described for Truthdig.

By Marjorie Cohn

When Donald Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus addressed the Conservative Political Action Committee in February, he identified two priorities of the administration: the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and deregulation.

It turns out that elevating Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and achieving deregulation are inextricably linked. During Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee challenged him on his pro-business positions.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken pressed him on a case — that of the now-infamous “frozen trucker” — in which the judge reached what Franken characterized as an “absurd” result. Alphonse Maddin was driving a truck for TransAm Trucking Inc. in 2009 when the brakes froze on the trailer he was hauling. The heater inside the truck wasn’t working, and the temperature outside was minus 27 below zero.

Maddin contacted his employer, who arranged for a repair unit to come to Maddin’s location. While waiting for help to arrive, Maddin nodded off.

“I awoke three hours later to discover that I could not feel my feet, my skin was burning and cracking, my speech was slurred, and I was having trouble breathing,” he said at a recent event in Washington, D.C. When Maddin stepped out of the truck, he said he “was on the verge of passing out. I feared that if I fell, I would not have the strength to stand up and would die.” Maddin was exhibiting symptoms of hypothermia. He called his employer again to report that he was leaving to seek shelter. His supervisor ordered him “to either drag the trailer [with no brakes] or stay put.”

“In my opinion, clearly, their cargo was more important than my life,” Maddin said.

Faced with defying his employer’s order to remain with his disabled trailer or freezing to death, Maddin chose to unhitch the trailer and drive his truck to safety. TransAm fired Maddin for disobeying orders, and he filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an agency of the Department of Labor. The operative statute in this case forbids employers from firing an employee who “refuses to operate a vehicle because the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public.”

The Labor Department found that TransAm had violated the law, concluding that the word “operate” includes not only driving, but also “other uses of a vehicle when it is within the control of the employee.” Maddin had refused to operate his vehicle in the manner his employer had ordered — with the trailer hitched to the truck.

Of the seven judges who ultimately ruled on the case, Gorsuch was the only one who voted to uphold Maddin’s firing. He decided that Maddin did “operate” his vehicle, which took him outside the statutory language that protects an employee who refuses to operate his vehicle.

What source did Gorsuch consult to construe the word “operate?” He turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, refusing to defer to the Department of Labor’s broader interpretation of the statute. Gorsuch characterized “health and safety” concerns as “ephemeral and generic,” writing, “After all, what under the sun, at least at some level of generality, doesn’t relate to ‘health and safety’?”

A Smooth Persona

In his dissent, Gorsuch, who displayed a smooth, compassionate persona while testifying at his hearing, described the conditions Maddin faced as merely “cold weather.” He wrote that for Maddin to sit and wait for help to arrive was an “unpleasant option.”

Maddin’s lawyer, Robert Fedder, told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman that during oral argument before the appellate panel, “Judge Gorsuch was incredibly hostile.” Fedder noted, “I’ve litigated many cases in appellate courts … [Gorsuch] may have been the most hostile judge I’ve ever appeared before.”

Maddin, who is African-American, later said, “The first thing I noticed was that in his opening reference [in his dissent, Gorsuch] simply called me a trucker and didn’t use my name.” Maddin told The Guardian, “In my heart of hearts, I felt like he willfully tried to negate the human element of my case.”

At Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin discussed Maddin’s case with Gorsuch, saying that the temperature was minus 14 that night, “but not as cold as your dissent.”

In Gorsuch’s dissenting opinion, he refused to defer to the Department of Labor’s interpretation of the statutory language regarding refusal to operate. Gorsuch was, in effect, refusing to apply the well-established “Chevron deference.”

This doctrine requires that when a law is ambiguous, courts must defer to an agency’s reasonable construction of the statute. Even the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to whom Gorsuch is often compared, thought that agencies were in the best position to construe regulations that inform their work.

If Gorsuch had his druthers, he would do away with Chevron deference. In fact, he stated as much in his lengthy concurrence in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, in which he wrote, “Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.”

Gorsuch would substitute his own interpretation for that of an agency. But agencies are in the best position to make these determinations about matters within their purview.

Dangers of Second Guessing

In opposing Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court, the nonprofit organization Alliance for Justice wrote of the dangers of second-guessing agency experts: “It is difficult to overstate the damage [Gorsuch’s] position would cause. Judge Gorsuch would tie the hands of precisely those entities that Congress has recognized have the depth and experience to enforce critical laws, safeguard essential protections, and ensure the safety of the American people.”

Courts that have given deference to agency interpretations ensured essential protections, including:

–Deferring to the National Labor Relations Board’s reasonable determination that live-haul workers are employees entitled to protections of the National Labor Relations Act;

–Deferring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule requiring states to reduce emissions from power plants that travel across state lines and harm downwind states;

–Deferring to the Department of Labor’s interpretation of portions of the Black Lung Benefits Act that make it easier for coal miners afflicted with black lung disease to receive compensation; and

–Deferring to the EPA’s revision of regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act that provide more protection from exposure to lead paint.

But Gorsuch’s desire to neuter agency determinations dovetails nicely with Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon’s goal of “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The Trump administration has issued several orders that mandate deregulation:

On Jan. 20, Priebus directed agency heads to refrain from sending new regulations to the Office of the Federal Register until there are administration officials in place to approve them.

On Jan. 24, Trump signed a memo directing his Secretary of Commerce to review the ways in which federal regulations affect U.S. manufacturers in order to reduce as many of them as possible.

On Jan. 30, Trump issued an executive order requiring the mechanistic elimination of two regulations for every new one, and capping spending on new regulations during 2017 at zero.

On Feb. 3, Trump signed an executive order rolling back Dodd-Frank regulations on Wall Street. This will increase the risk of another dangerous recession.

During the confirmation hearing, Franken confronted Gorsuch with the confluence of his confirmation to the Supreme Court and the deconstruction of the administrative state (deregulation), saying,

“[F]or those who subscribe to President Trump’s extreme view, [the Chevron doctrine] is the only thing standing between them and what the President’s chief strategist Steve Bannon called the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state,’ which is shorthand for gutting any environmental or consumer protection measure that gets in the way of corporate profit margins.

“Speaking before a gathering of conservative activists last month, Mr. Bannon explained that the President’s appointees were selected to bring about that deconstruction, and I suspect that your nomination, given your views, is part of that strategy.”

Big Business Interests

Deregulation serves the interests of big business, a key conservative goal. When questioned at his hearing about what ideology he would bring to the court, Gorsuch made the disingenuous claim, “There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country.”

If that were true, why are the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society so keen on Gorsuch? He was on a list prepared by the two right-wing groups from which Trump dutifully selected his Supreme Court nominee.

“The president outsourced your selection to far right, big money interest groups, and they have an agenda. They’re confident you share their agenda. That’s why they called you ‘a nominee who understands things like we do,’ ” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, told Gorsuch at his hearing.

Why has $10 million in “dark money” been spent by anonymous conservative donors to buy Gorsuch a seat on the high court, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, charged at the hearing? And why, as Whitehouse added, was $7 million expended on the unprecedented, but successful, campaign to deny Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing?

Gorsuch is a staunch, longtime conservative judge who, in spite of his refusal to tip his hand about his ideology, has taken positions that confirm his right-wing bona fides. When Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, announced he would vote against Gorsuch’s nomination, he stated that Gorsuch had ruled repeatedly for employers and against workers.

Gorsuch “almost instinctively favors the powerful over the weak,” Schumer said, adding, “We do not want judges with ice water in their veins,” an apt analogy in light of Gorsuch’s dissent in the TransAm case.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and AbuseCowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Visit her website: MarjorieCohn.com. Follow her on Twitter: @MarjorieCohn. [This article first appeared at Truthdig, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/neil_gorsuch_and_the_deconstruction_of_the_administrative_state_20170326 ]




How US Flooded the World with Psyops

Special Report: The mainstream U.S. media obsesses over Russian “propaganda” yet the U.S. government created a “psyops” bureaucracy three decades ago to flood the world with dubious information, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Newly declassified documents from the Reagan presidential library help explain how the U.S. government developed its sophisticated psychological operations capabilities that – over the past three decades – have created an alternative reality both for people in targeted countries and for American citizens, a structure that expanded U.S. influence abroad and quieted dissent at home.

The documents reveal the formation of a psyops bureaucracy under the direction of Walter Raymond Jr., a senior CIA covert operations specialist who was assigned to President Reagan’s National Security Council staff to enhance the importance of propaganda and psyops in undermining U.S. adversaries around the world and ensuring sufficient public support for foreign policies inside the United States.

Raymond, who has been compared to a character from a John LeCarré novel slipping easily into the woodwork, spent his years inside Reagan’s White House as a shadowy puppet master who tried his best to avoid public attention or – it seems – even having his picture taken. From the tens of thousands of photographs from meetings at Reagan’s White House, I found only a couple showing Raymond – and he is seated in groups, partially concealed by other officials.

But Raymond appears to have grasped his true importance. In his NSC files, I found a doodle of an organizational chart that had Raymond at the top holding what looks like the crossed handles used by puppeteers to control the puppets below them. Although it’s impossible to know exactly what the doodler had in mind, the drawing fits the reality of Raymond as the behind-the-curtains operative who was controlling the various inter-agency task forces that were responsible for implementing various propaganda and psyops strategies.

Until the 1980s, psyops were normally regarded as a military technique for undermining the will of an enemy force by spreading lies, confusion and terror. A classic case was Gen. Edward Lansdale — considered the father of modern psyops — draining the blood from a dead Filipino rebel in such a way so the dead rebel’s superstitious comrades would think that a vampire-like creature was on the prowl. In Vietnam, Lansdale’s psyops team supplied fake and dire astrological predictions for the fate of North Vietnamese and Vietcong leaders.

Essentially, the psyops idea was to play on the cultural weaknesses of a target population so they could be more easily manipulated and controlled. But the challenges facing the Reagan administration in the 1980s led to its determination that peacetime psyops were also needed and that the target populations had to include the American public.

The Reagan administration was obsessed with the problems left behind by the 1970s’ disclosures of government lying about the Vietnam War and revelations about CIA abuses both in overthrowing democratically elected governments and spying on American dissidents. This so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” produced profound skepticism from regular American citizens as well as journalists and politicians when President Reagan tried to sell his plans for intervention in the civil wars then underway in Central America, Africa and elsewhere.

While Reagan saw Central America as a “Soviet beachhead,” many Americans saw brutal Central American oligarchs and their bloody security forces slaughtering priests, nuns, labor activists, students, peasants and indigenous populations. Reagan and his advisers realized that they had to turn those perceptions around if they hoped to get sustained funding for the militaries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as well as for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, the CIA-organized paramilitary force marauding around leftist-ruled Nicaragua.

So, it became a high priority to reshape public perceptions to gain support for Reagan’s Central American military operations both inside those targeted countries and among Americans.

A ‘Psyops Totality’

As Col. Alfred R. Paddock Jr. wrote in an influential November 1983 paper, entitled “Military Psychological Operations and US Strategy,” “the planned use of communications to influence attitudes or behavior should, if properly used, precede, accompany, and follow all applications of force. Put another way, psychological operations is the one weapons system which has an important role to play in peacetime, throughout the spectrum of conflict, and during the aftermath of conflict.”

Paddock continued, “Military psychological operations are an important part of the ‘PSYOP Totality,’ both in peace and war. … We need a program of psychological operations as an integral part of our national security policies and programs. … The continuity of a standing interagency board or committee to provide the necessary coordinating mechanism for development of a coherent, worldwide psychological operations strategy is badly needed.”

Some of Raymond’s recently available handwritten notes show a focus on El Salvador with the implementation of “Nation wide multi-media psyops” spread through rallies and electronic media. “Radio + TV also carried Psyops messages,” Raymond wrote. (Emphasis in original.) Though Raymond’s crimped handwriting is often hard to decipher, the notes make clear that psyops programs also were directed at Honduras, Guatemala and Peru.

One declassified “top secret” document in Raymond’s file – dated Feb. 4, 1985, from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger – urged the fuller implementation of President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 130, which was signed on March 6, 1984, and which authorized peacetime psyops by expanding psyops beyond its traditional boundaries of active military operations into peacetime situations in which the U.S. government could claim some threat to national interests.

“This approval can provide the impetus to the rebuilding of a necessary strategic capability, focus attention on psychological operations as a national – not solely military – instrument, and ensure that psychological operations are fully coordinated with public diplomacy and other international information activities,” Weinberger’s document said.

This broader commitment to psyops led to the creation of a Psychological Operations Committee (POC) that was to be chaired by a representative of Reagan’s National Security Council with a vice chairman from the Pentagon and with representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the U.S. Information Agency.

“This group will be responsible for planning, coordinating and implementing psychological operations activities in support of United States policies and interests relative to national security,” according to a “secret” addendum to a memo, dated March 25, 1986, from Col. Paddock, the psyops advocate who had become the U.S. Army’s Director for Psychological Operations.

“The committee will provide the focal point for interagency coordination of detailed contingency planning for the management of national information assets during war, and for the transition from peace to war,” the addendum added. “The POC shall seek to ensure that in wartime or during crises (which may be defined as periods of acute tension involving a threat to the lives of American citizens or the imminence of war between the U.S. and other nations), U.S. international information elements are ready to initiate special procedures to ensure policy consistency, timely response and rapid feedback from the intended audience.”

Taking Shape

The Psychological Operations Committee took formal shape with a “secret” memo from Reagan’s National Security Advisor John Poindexter on July 31, 1986. Its first meeting was called on Sept. 2, 1986, with an agenda that focused on Central America and “How can other POC agencies support and complement DOD programs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama.” The POC was also tasked with “Developing National PSYOPS Guidelines” for “formulating and implementing a national PSYOPS program.” (Underlining in original)

Raymond was named a co-chair of the POC along with CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who was then Deputy Director for Intelligence Programs on the NSC staff, according to a “secret” memo from Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Craig Alderman Jr. The memo also noted that future POC meetings would be briefed on psyops projects for the Philippines and Nicaragua, with the latter project codenamed “Niagara Falls.” The memo also references a “Project Touchstone,” but it is unclear where that psyops program was targeted.

Another “secret” memo dated Oct. 1, 1986, co-authored by Raymond, reported on the POC’s first meeting on Sept. 10, 1986, and noted that “The POC will, at each meeting, focus on an area of operations (e.g., Central America, Afghanistan, Philippines).”

The POC’s second meeting on Oct. 24, 1986, concentrated on the Philippines, according to a Nov. 4, 1986 memo also co-authored by Raymond. “The next step will be a tightly drafted outline for a PSYOPS Plan which we will send to that Embassy for its comment,” the memo said. The plan “largely focused on a range of civic actions supportive of the overall effort to overcome the insurgency,” an addendum noted. “There is considerable concern about the sensitivities of any type of a PSYOPS program given the political situation in the Philippines today.”

Earlier in 1986, the Philippines had undergone the so-called “People Power Revolution,” which drove longtime dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile, and the Reagan administration, which belatedly pulled its support from Marcos, was trying to stabilize the political situation to prevent more populist elements from gaining the upper hand.

But the Reagan administration’s primary attention continued to go back to Central America, including “Project Niagara Falls,” the psyops program aimed at Nicaragua. A “secret” Pentagon memo from Deputy Under Secretary Alderman on Nov. 20, 1986, outlined the work of the 4th Psychological Operations Group on this psyops plan “to help bring about democratization of Nicaragua,” by which the Reagan administration meant a “regime change.” The precise details of “Project Niagara Falls” were not disclosed in the declassified documents but the choice of codename suggested a cascade of psyops.

Other documents from Raymond’s NSC file shed light on who other key operatives in the psyops and propaganda programs were. For instance, in undated notes on efforts to influence the Socialist International, including securing support for U.S. foreign policies from Socialist and Social Democratic parties in Europe, Raymond cited the efforts of “Ledeen, Gershman,” a reference to neoconservative operative Michael Ledeen and Carl Gershman, another neocon who has served as president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), from 1983 to the present. (Underlining in original.)

Although NED is technically independent of the U.S. government, it receives the bulk of its funding (now about $100 million a year) from Congress. Documents from the Reagan archives also make clear that NED was organized as a way to replace some of the CIA’s political and propaganda covert operations, which had fallen into disrepute in the 1970s. Earlier released documents from Raymond’s file show CIA Director William Casey pushing for NED’s creation and Raymond, Casey’s handpicked man on the NSC, giving frequent advice and direction to Gershman. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA’s Hidden Hand in ‘Democracy’ Groups.”]

Another figure in Raymond’s constellation of propaganda assets was media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who was viewed as both a key political ally of President Reagan and a valuable source of funding for private groups that were coordinating with White House propaganda operations. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rupert Murdoch: Propaganda Recruit.”]

In a Nov. 1, 1985 letter to Raymond, Charles R. Tanguy of the “Committees for a Community of Democracies – USA” asked Raymond to intervene in efforts to secure Murdoch’s funding for the group. “We would be grateful … if you could find the time to telephone Mr. Murdoch and encourage him to give us a positive response,” the letter said.

Another document, entitled “Project Truth Enhancement,” described how $24 million would be spent on upgrading the telecommunications infrastructure to arm “Project Truth, with the technical capability to provide the most efficient and productive media support for major USG policy initiatives like Political Democracy.” Project Truth was the overarching name of the Reagan administration’s propaganda operation. For the outside world, the program was billed as “public diplomacy,” but administration insiders privately called it “perception management.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Victory of Perception Management.”]

The Early Years

The original priority of “Project Truth” was to clean up the images of the Guatemalan and Salvadoran security forces and the Nicaraguan Contras, who were led by ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza’s ex-National Guard officers. To ensure steady military funding for these notorious forces, Reagan’s team knew it had to defuse the negative publicity and somehow rally the American people’s support.

At first, the effort focused on weeding out American reporters who uncovered facts that undercut the desired public images. As part of that effort, the administration denounced New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner for disclosing the Salvadoran regime’s massacre of about 800 men, women and children in the village of El Mozote in northeast El Salvador in December 1981. Accuracy in Media and conservative news organizations, such as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, joined in pummeling Bonner, who was soon ousted from his job. But such efforts were largely ad hoc and disorganized.

CIA Director Casey, from his years crisscrossing the interlocking worlds of business and intelligence, had important contacts for creating a more systematic propaganda network. He recognized the value of using established groups known for advocating “human rights,” such as Freedom House.

One document from the Reagan library showed senior Freedom House official Leo Cherne running a draft manuscript on political conditions in El Salvador past Casey and promising that Freedom House would make requested editorial “corrections and changes” – and even send over the editor for consultation with whomever Casey assigned to review the paper.

In a “Dear Bill” letter dated June 24, 1981, Cherne, who was chairman of the Freedom House’s executive committee, wrote: “I am enclosing a copy of the draft manuscript by Bruce McColm, Freedom House’s resident specialist on Central America and the Caribbean. This manuscript on El Salvador was the one I had urged be prepared and in the haste to do so as rapidly as possible, it is quite rough. You had mentioned that the facts could be checked for meticulous accuracy within the government and this would be very helpful. …

“If there are any questions about the McColm manuscript, I suggest that whomever is working on it contact Richard Salzmann at the Research Institute [an organization where Cherne was executive director]. He is Editor-in-Chief at the Institute and the Chairman of the Freedom House’s Salvador Committee. He will make sure that the corrections and changes get to Rita Freedman who will also be working with him. If there is any benefit to be gained from Salzmann’s coming down at any point to talk to that person, he is available to do so.”

By 1982, Casey also was lining up some powerful right-wing ideologues to help fund the “perception management” project both with money and their own media outlets. Richard Mellon Scaife was the scion of the Mellon banking, oil and aluminum fortune who financed a variety of right-wing family foundations – such as Sarah Scaife and Carthage – that were financial benefactors to right-wing journalists and think tanks. Scaife also published the Tribune Review in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

A more comprehensive “public diplomacy” operation began to take shape in 1982 when Raymond, a 30-year veteran of CIA clandestine services, was transferred to the NSC. Raymond became the sparkplug for this high-powered propaganda network, according to an unpublished draft chapter of the congressional Iran-Contra investigation that was suppressed as part of the deal to get three moderate Republican senators to sign on to the final report and give the inquiry a patina of bipartisanship.

Though the draft chapter didn’t use Raymond’s name in its opening pages, apparently because some of the information came from classified depositions, Raymond’s name was used later in the chapter and the earlier citations matched Raymond’s known role. According to the draft report, the CIA officer who was recruited for the NSC job had served as Director of the Covert Action Staff at the CIA from 1978 to 1982 and was a “specialist in propaganda and disinformation.”

“The CIA official [Raymond] discussed the transfer with [CIA Director] Casey and NSC Advisor William Clark that he be assigned to the NSC as [Donald] Gregg’s successor [as coordinator of intelligence operations in June 1982] and received approval for his involvement in setting up the public diplomacy program along with his intelligence responsibilities,” the chapter said. Gregg was another senior CIA official who was assigned to the NSC before becoming Vice President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser.

“In the early part of 1983, documents obtained by the Select [Iran-Contra] Committees indicate that the Director of the Intelligence Staff of the NSC [Raymond] successfully recommended the establishment of an inter-governmental network to promote and manage a public diplomacy plan designed to create support for Reagan Administration policies at home and abroad.”

War of Ideas

During his Iran-Contra deposition, Raymond explained the need for this propaganda structure, saying: “We were not configured effectively to deal with the war of ideas.”

One reason for this shortcoming was that federal law forbade taxpayers’ money from being spent on domestic propaganda or grassroots lobbying to pressure congressional representatives. Of course, every president and his team had vast resources to make their case in public, but by tradition and law, they were restricted to speeches, testimony and one-on-one persuasion of lawmakers. But President Reagan saw the American public’s “Vietnam Syndrome” as an obstacle to his more aggressive policies.

Along with Raymond’s government-based organization, there were outside groups eager to cooperate and cash in. Back at Freedom House, Cherne and his associates were angling for financial support.

In an Aug. 9, 1982 letter to Raymond, Freedom House executive director Leonard R. Sussman wrote that “Leo Cherne has asked me to send these copies of Freedom Appeals. He has probably told you we have had to cut back this project to meet financial realities. … We would, of course, want to expand the project once again when, as and if the funds become available. Offshoots of that project appear in newspapers, magazines, books and on broadcast services here and abroad. It’s a significant, unique channel of communication” – precisely the focus of Raymond’s work.

On Nov. 4, 1982, Raymond, after his transfer from the CIA to the NSC staff but while still a CIA officer, wrote to NSC Advisor Clark about the “Democracy Initiative and Information Programs,” stating that “Bill Casey asked me to pass on the following thought concerning your meeting with [right-wing billionaire] Dick Scaife, Dave Abshire [then a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board], and Co. Casey had lunch with them today and discussed the need to get moving in the general area of supporting our friends around the world.

“By this definition he is including both ‘building democracy’ … and helping invigorate international media programs. The DCI [Casey] is also concerned about strengthening public information organizations in the United States such as Freedom House. … A critical piece of the puzzle is a serious effort to raise private funds to generate momentum. Casey’s talk with Scaife and Co. suggests they would be very willing to cooperate. … Suggest that you note White House interest in private support for the Democracy initiative.”

The importance of the CIA and White House secretly arranging private funds was that these supposedly independent voices would then reinforce and validate the administration’s foreign policy arguments with a public that would assume the endorsements were based on the merits of the White House positions, not influenced by money changing hands. Like snake-oil salesmen who plant a few cohorts in the crowd to whip up excitement for the cure-all elixir, Reagan administration propagandists salted some well-paid “private” individuals around Washington to echo White House propaganda “themes.”

The role of the CIA in these initiatives was concealed but never far from the surface. A Dec. 2, 1982 note addressed to “Bud,” a reference to senior NSC official Robert “Bud” McFarlane, described a request from Raymond for a brief meeting. “When he [Raymond] returned from Langley [CIA headquarters], he had a proposed draft letter … re $100 M democ[racy]  proj[ect],” the note said.

While Casey pulled the strings on this project, the CIA director instructed White House officials to hide the CIA’s hand. “Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey said in one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III as Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment.”

But the formation of the National Endowment for Democracy, with its hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government money, was still months down the road. In the meantime, the Reagan administration would have to line up private donors to advance the propaganda cause.

“We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding,” NSC Advisor Clark wrote to Reagan in a Jan. 13, 1983 memo, adding that U.S. Information Agency Director “Charlie Wick has offered to take the lead. We may have to call on you to meet with a group of potential donors.”

Despite Casey’s and Raymond’s success in bringing onboard wealthy conservatives to provide private funding for the propaganda operations, Raymond worried about whether a scandal could erupt over the CIA’s involvement. Raymond formally resigned from the CIA in April 1983, so, he said, “there would be no question whatsoever of any contamination of this.” But Raymond continued to act toward the U.S. public much like a CIA officer would in directing a propaganda operation in a hostile foreign country.

Raymond fretted, too, about the legality of Casey’s ongoing role. Raymond confided in one memo that it was important “to get [Casey] out of the loop,” but Casey never backed off and Raymond continued to send progress reports to his old boss well into 1986.

It was “the kind of thing which [Casey] had a broad catholic interest in,” Raymond shrugged during his Iran-Contra deposition. He then offered the excuse that Casey undertook this apparently illegal interference in domestic politics “not so much in his CIA hat, but in his adviser to the president hat.”

Peacetime Propaganda

Meanwhile, Reagan began laying out the formal authority for this unprecedented peacetime propaganda bureaucracy. On Jan. 14, 1983, Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 77, entitled “Management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security.” In NSDD-77, Reagan deemed it “necessary to strengthen the organization, planning and coordination of the various aspects of public diplomacy of the United States Government.”

Reagan ordered the creation of a special planning group within the National Security Council to direct these “public diplomacy” campaigns. The planning group would be headed by Walter Raymond and one of its principal outposts would be a new Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America, housed at the State Department but under the control of the NSC. (One of the directors of the Latin American public diplomacy office was neoconservative Robert Kagan, who would later co-found the Project for the New American Century in 1998 and become a chief promoter of President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.)

On May 20, 1983, Raymond recounted in a memo that $400,000 had been raised from private donors brought to the White House Situation Room by U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick. According to that memo, the money was divided among several organizations, including Freedom House and Accuracy in Media, a right-wing media attack organization.

When I wrote about that memo in my 1992 book, Fooling America, Freedom House denied receiving any White House money or collaborating with any CIA/NSC propaganda campaign. In a letter, Freedom House’s Sussman called Raymond “a second-hand source” and insisted that “this organization did not need any special funding to take positions … on any foreign-policy issues.”

But it made little sense that Raymond would have lied to a superior in an internal memo. And clearly, Freedom House remained central to the Reagan administration’s schemes for aiding groups supportive of its Central American policies, particularly the CIA-organized Contra war against the leftist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Plus, White House documents released later revealed that Freedom House kept its hand out for funding.

On Sept. 15, 1984, Bruce McColm – writing from Freedom House’s Center for Caribbean and Central American Studies – sent Raymond “a short proposal for the Center’s Nicaragua project 1984-85. The project combines elements of the oral history proposal with the publication of The Nicaraguan Papers,” a book that would disparage Sandinista ideology and practices.

“Maintaining the oral history part of the project adds to the overall costs; but preliminary discussions with film makers have given me the idea that an Improper Conduct-type of documentary could be made based on these materials,” McColm wrote, referring to a 1984 film that offered a scathing critique of Fidel Castro’s Cuba. “Such a film would have to be the work of a respected Latin American filmmaker or a European. American-made films on Central America are simply too abrasive ideologically and artistically poor.”

McColm’s three-page letter reads much like a book or movie pitch, trying to interest Raymond in financing the project: “The Nicaraguan Papers will also be readily accessible to the general reader, the journalist, opinion-maker, the academic and the like. The book would be distributed fairly broadly to these sectors and I am sure will be extremely useful. They already constitute a form of Freedom House samizdat, since I’ve been distributing them to journalists for the past two years as I’ve received them from disaffected Nicaraguans.”

McColm proposed a face-to-face meeting with Raymond in Washington and attached a six-page grant proposal seeking $134,100. According to the grant proposal, the project would include “free distribution to members of Congress and key public officials; distribution of galleys in advance of publication for maximum publicity and timely reviews in newspapers and current affairs magazines; press conferences at Freedom House in New York and at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.; op-ed circulation to more than 100 newspapers …; distribution of a Spanish-language edition through Hispanic organizations in the United States and in Latin America; arrangement of European distribution through Freedom House contacts.”

The documents that I found at the Reagan library did not indicate what subsequently happened to this specific proposal. McColm did not respond to an email request for comment about the Nicaraguan Papers plan or the earlier letter from Cherne (who died in 1999) to Casey about editing McComb’s manuscript. Freedom House did emerge as a leading critic of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and also became a major recipient of money from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which was founded in 1983 under the umbrella of the Casey-Raymond project.

The more recently released documents – declassified between 2013 and 2017 – show how these earlier Casey-Raymond efforts merged with the creation of a formal psyop bureaucracy in 1986 also under the control of Raymond’s NSC operation. The combination of the propaganda and psyop programs underscored the powerful capability that the U.S. government developed more than three decades ago for planting slanted, distorted or fake news. (Casey died in 1987; Raymond died in 2003.)

Over those several decades, even as the White House changed hands from Republicans to Democrats to Republicans to Democrats, the momentum created by William Casey and Walter Raymond continued to push these “perception management/psyops” strategies forward. In more recent years, the wording has changed, giving way to more pleasing euphemisms, like “smart power” and “strategic communications.” But the idea is still the same: how you can use propaganda to sell U.S. government policies abroad and at home.

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).




Democrats Trade Places on War and McCarthyism

Exclusive: The anti-Russia hysteria gripping the Democratic Party marks a “trading places” moment as the Democrats embrace the New Cold War and the New McCarthyism, flipping the script on Republicans, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Caught up in the frenzy to delegitimize Donald Trump by blaming his victory on Russian meddling, national Democrats are finishing the transformation of their party from one that was relatively supportive of peace to one pushing for war, including a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

This “trading places” moment was obvious in watching the belligerent tone of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Monday as they impugned the patriotism of any Trump adviser who may have communicated with anyone connected to Russia.

Ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, acknowledged that there was no hard evidence of any Trump-Russia cabal, but he pressed ahead with what he called “circumstantial evidence of collusion,” a kind of guilt-by-association conspiracy theory that made him look like a mild-mannered version of Joe McCarthy.

Schiff cited by name a number of Trump’s aides and associates who – as The New York Times reported – were “believed to have some kind of contact or communications with Russians.” These Americans, whose patriotism was being questioned, included foreign policy adviser Carter Page, Trump’s second campaign manager Paul Manafort, political adviser Roger Stone and Trump’s first national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

In a 15-minute opening statement, Schiff summed up his circumstantial case by asking: “Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated.”

As an investigative journalist who has covered (and uncovered) national security scandals for several decades, I would never accuse people of something as serious as betraying their country based on nothing more than coincidences that, who knows, might not be coincidental.

Before we published anything on such topics, the news organizations that I worked for required multiple layers of information from a variety of sources including insiders who could describe what had happened and why. Such stories included Nicaraguan Contra cocaine smuggling, Oliver North’s secret Contra supply operation, and the Reagan campaign’s undermining of President Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980.

For breaking those stories, we still took enormous heat from Republicans, some Democrats who wanted to show how bipartisan they were, and many establishment-protecting journalists, but the stories contained strong evidence that misconduct occurred – and we were highly circumspect in how the allegations were framed.

Going Whole-Hog

By contrast, national Democrats, some super-hawk Republicans and the establishment media are going whole-hog on these vague suspicions of contacts between some Russians and some Americans who have provided some help or advice to Trump.

Given the paucity of evidence – both regarding the claims that Russia hacked Democratic emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks, and the allegations that somehow Trump’s advisers colluded in that process – it would appear that what is happening is a political maneuver to damage Trump politically and possibly remove him from office.

But those machinations require the Democratic Party’s continued demonization of Russia and implicitly put the Democrats on the side of escalating New Cold War tensions, such as military support for the  fiercely anti-Russian regime in Ukraine which seized power in a 2014 U.S.-backed putsch overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

One of the attack lines that Democrats have used against Trump is that his people toned down language in the Republican platform about shipping arms to the Ukrainian military, which includes battalions of neo-Nazi fighters and has killed thousands of ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the east in what is officially called an Anti-Terrorism Operation (or ATO).

The Democratic Party leaders have fully bought into the slanted Western narrative justifying the violent overthrow of Yanukovych. They also have ignored the human rights of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minorities, which voted overwhelmingly in Crimea and the Donbass to secede from post-coup Ukraine. The more complex reality is simply summed up as a “Russian invasion.”

Key Democrats also have pressed for escalation of the U.S. military attacks inside Syria to force “regime change” on Bashar al-Assad’s secular government even if that risks another military confrontation with Russia and a victory by Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

In short, the national Democratic Party is turning itself into the more extreme war party. It’s not that the Republicans have become all that dovish; it’s just that the Democrats have become all that hawkish. The significance of this change can hardly be overstated.

Questioning War

Since late in the Vietnam War, the Democrats have acted as the more restrained of the two major parties on issues of war, with the Republicans associated with tough-guy rhetoric and higher military spending. By contrast, Democrats generally were more hesitant to rush into foreign wars and confrontations (although they were far from pacifists).

Especially after the revelations of the Pentagon Papers in the 1971 revealing the government deceptions used to pull the American people into the Vietnam War, Democrats questioned shady rationalizations for other wars.

Some Democratic skepticism continued into the 1980s as President Ronald Reagan was modernizing U.S. propaganda techniques to whitewash the gross human rights crimes of right-wing regimes in Central America and to blacken the reputations of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas and other leftists.

The Democratic resolve against war propaganda began to crack by the mid-to-late 1980s – around Reagan’s Grenada invasion and George H.W. Bush’s attack on Panama. By then, the Republicans had enjoyed nearly two decades of bashing the Democrats as “weak on defense” – from George McGovern to Jimmy Carter to Walter Mondale to Michael Dukakis.

But the Democratic Party’s resistance to dubious war rationalizations collapsed in 1991 over George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War, in which the President rebuffed less violent solutions (even ones favored by the U.S. military) to assure a dramatic ground-war victory after which Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

Fearful of being labeled disloyal to “the troops” and “weak,” national Democrats scrambled to show their readiness to kill. In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to return to Arkansas to oversee the execution of the mentally impaired Ricky Ray Rector.

During his presidency, Clinton deployed so-called “smart power” aggressively, including maintaining harsh sanctions on Iraq even as they led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. He also intervened in the Yugoslavian civil war by bombing civilian targets in Belgrade including the lethal destruction of the Serb TV station for the supposed offense of broadcasting “propaganda.”

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many leading congressional Democrats – including presidential hopefuls John Kerry, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton – voted to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Though they offered various excuses (especially after the Iraq War went badly), the obvious real reason was their fear of being labeled “soft” in Republican attack ads.

The American public’s revulsion over the Iraq War and the resulting casualties contributed to Barack Obama’s election. But he, too, moved to protect his political flanks by staffing his young administration with hawks, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. (and later CIA Director) David Petraeus. Despite receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama also became comfortable with continuing Bush’s wars and starting some of his own, such as the bombing war against Libya and the violent subversion of Syria.

By nominating Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Democratic Party completed its transformation into the Party of War. Clinton not only ran as an unapologetic hawk in the Democratic primaries against Sen. Bernie Sanders – urging, for instance, a direct U.S. military invasion of Syria to create “no fly zones” – but positioned herself as a harsh critic of Trump’s hopes to reduce hostilities with Russia, deeming the Republican nominee Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.”

Ironically, Trump’s shocking victory served to solidify the Democratic Party’s interest in pushing for a military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. After all, baiting Trump over his alleged “softness” toward Russia has become the centerpiece of Democratic hopes for somehow ousting Trump or at least crippling his presidency. Any efforts by Trump to ease those tensions will be cited as prima facie evidence that he is Putin’s “Manchurian candidate.”

Being Joe McCarthy

National Democrats and their media supporters don’t even seem troubled by the parallels between their smears of Americans for alleged contacts with Russians and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s guilt-by-association hearings of the early Cold War. Every link to Russia – no matter how tenuous or disconnected from Trump’s election – is trumpeted by Democrats and across the mainstream news media.

But it’s not even clear that this promotion of the New Cold War and the New McCarthyism will redound to the Democrats’ political advantage. Clinton apparently thought that her embrace of a neoconservative foreign policy would bring in many “moderate” Republicans opposed to Trump’s criticism of the Bush-Obama wars, but exit polls showed Republicans largely rallying to their party’s nominee.

Meanwhile, there were many anti-war Democrats who have become deeply uncomfortable with the party’s new hawkish persona. In the 2016 election, some peace Democrats voted for third parties or didn’t vote at all for president, although it’s difficult to assess how instrumental those defections were in costing Clinton the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

More broadly, the Democratic obsession with Russia and the hopes for somehow exploiting those investigations in order to oust Trump have distracted the party from a necessary autopsy into why the Democrats have lost so much ground over the past decade.

While many Democratic leaders and activists are sliding into full-scale conspiracy-mode over the Russia-Trump story, they are not looking at the party’s many mistakes and failings, such as:

–Why did party leaders push so hard to run an unpopular establishment candidate in a strongly anti-establishment year? Was it the fact that many are beholden to the Clinton cash machine?

–How can Democrats justify the undemocratic use of “super-delegates” to make many rank-and-file voters feel that the process is rigged in favor of the establishment’s choice?

–What can the Democratic Party do to reengage with many working-class voters, especially downwardly mobile whites, to stop the defection of this former Democratic base to Trump’s populism?

–Do national Democrats understand how out of touch they are with the future as they insist that the United States must remain the sole military superpower in a uni-polar world when the world is rapidly shifting toward a multi-polar reality?

Yet, rather than come up with new strategies to address the future, Democratic leaders would rather pretend that Putin is at fault for the Trump presidency and hope that the U.S. intelligence community – with its fearsome surveillance powers – can come up with enough evidence to justify Trump’s impeachment.

Then, of course, the Democrats would be stuck with President Mike Pence, a more traditional Religious Right Republican whose first step on foreign policy would be to turn it over to neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, a move that would likely mean a new wave of “regime change” wars.

At such a point, that might put the Democrats and Republicans in sync as two equally warmongering parties, but what good that would do for the American people and the world is hard to fathom.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon” and “Democrats Are Now the Aggressive War Party.]

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).




Resisting the Trump/Ryan Health Plan

The complex Obamacare system struggled to gain popularity, but now that Republicans are moving to replace it with a less generous program, many medical professionals are irate, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are twisting congressional arms to get enough votes to push through repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a scheme that relies heavily on tax credits and would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leave 24 million more uninsured Americans in 10 years. But there is also an army of activists and progressive healthcare workers who are opposing repeal without a real plan for providing broad-based health insurance.

On the front lines of this information battle is Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program and a member of the steering committee for Health Over Profit for Everyone. She confronted Trump in Nashville, at a recent campaign style rally for “Repeal and Replace.”

“I meant no disrespect to the President or his supporters,” said Dr. Paris, after she was “rather roughly” taken out of the mostly pro-Trump gathering. “I simply did what I felt I had to do as a physician and American. Tens of thousands of people are dying needlessly due to lack of health insurance, and millions are suffering with financial burdens due to unaffordable health insurance and unaffordable health care. I know that a simple solution has already been introduced into the House of Representatives called H.R. 676 — Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.”

I spoke with Dr. Paris about her actions at the Trump rally and her concerns about what is in store for the 24 million additional people who will end up outside the America’s profit-oriented heath insurance system.

Dennis Bernstein: You’re from Nashville, tell us why you decided to go there and actually make a scene in public.

Carol Paris: Well, I want to acknowledge first that there were 2,500, approximately, 2,500 protesters outside of the rally. And these are hard working people who stood out in the cold, and took time at the end of their day to protest. I happen to be 64 and retired, so I have the freedom to get in line at 9:30 in the morning, and stand in the cold all day to make sure that I get a seat upfront. And I made that decision partly because I have the freedom to do that, and mostly because I really felt from a strategic standpoint, that this was the time to take a direct action.

DB: And, you were definitely a strong critic of Obamacare. And you were vocal with the groups that you work with, in terms of the failures of Obamacare. And so this is just a continuum, a resistance to, I guess, Obamacare on steroids. But, tell us about the confrontation. What exactly happened, and how did it feel to stand up? Were you afraid? Tell us about that.

CP: Well, of course, I was afraid. I wasn’t raised to be confrontational, and so standing up to the President of the United States, and interrupting him was frankly, terrifying. But, it also was overshadowed, that fear was overshadowed by just an abiding conviction, we have people dying in this country because they can’t get health insurance, and health care. I’m a physician, and I can’t abide that. I really felt compelled to do this.

DB: And what did you do?

CP: Well, I knew that I was not going to be able to say very much, because I was really just waiting for him to take a breather, and find a quiet, relatively quiet moment in-between people cheering for every other word he said. So, when I thought that that moment had arrived I just stood up, held my sign as high as I could, and what I said was “Put your name on a plan that works, Medicare for all.” And I just kept chanting that. There was so much more I would have liked to have said. But I knew that I wasn’t going to get the opportunity at that point.

DB: I watched the video. … You repeated it a number of times and then you were approached by security. How did they treat you?

CP: The police officers were polite. One of them kind of pushed me a bit, because I was trying to exit past the press table, and he was not inclined to allow me to do that. So, he did sort of forcibly move me into an exit aisle. But, beyond that it was fine.

DB: And what did the people around you… did they start… they started to boo right? There was a lot of discontent with your expression. And how did the President react?

CP: Well, at that point I was distracted, and didn’t actually… had stopped looking at the President. When I began, I looked right at him. He wasn’t looking at me at that point. And, then I really just focused on saying what I was saying, as loudly as I could, and was more interested in trying to direct some attention to the press table because I wanted the press to see that I was protesting. So, I don’t really know, it’s only in watching the video afterwards that I see that he actually acknowledged that someone was protesting, and made a comment, I guess.

DB: I think he said that that will be the lead on the 6… he was probably right too. And that’s, of course, your point. And we want to speak a lot more with you about your experience, your background, and your response to Trumpcare. Take us… you’re somebody who’s paid a lot of attention to all these plans, and been in the struggle for quite a bit. So, take us through what you see now in terms of where we are right now, this so-called transformation we’re hearing about. What do you see the dangers? Will we go from bad to worse? We saw the report coming out of the Congressional Budget Office investigation. Give us a sense of what you think will happen here if Trump has his way?

CP: I think that if Paul Ryan and Tom Price have their way, because frankly, Donald Trump, I don’t think, based on what he said … when I reviewed it, he really didn’t elaborate much on what the American Health Care Act would actually entail. He just talked about stage one, stage two, and stage three. So, I think he is just sort of telling thing, what he’s able to understand. This is really Ryan and Price’s…

DB: Right. So what do you think the implications are here, the break down?

CP: I think that they have, from the day that Obamacare was passed, they have had both Obamacare, and Medicaid and Medicare on the chopping block, and to privatize Medicare as much as possible. So, they now have the opportunity to do that. And that’s what they’re doing. But they’re not changing… to call Trumpcare anything other than just Obamacare made leaner and meaner, is to elevate it beyond what it deserves. It really is just Obamacare, only made even more skimpy and lean. And giving even more money, our tax dollars, to the wealthy. It’s another gift to the rich, and… at the expense of poor, working class people, and especially the 50 – 64 year old age group. They’re really going to suffer financially from this piece of legislation.

DB: And, could you talk a little bit about what the possibilities are here. People say this is impossible. We hear about socialized medicine, but we have sort of one of the worst systems in the modern world. How possible is it for us… how affordable is it, for us to move into a system where everybody really is cared for in a way that’s respectful and guarantees the fact that it is a human right?

CP: I won’t argue that point with you. But I don’t have to argue that point with you, if I can argue the point from a strictly cost effective, fiscal responsibility framework. We already spend in this country more per capita for health care than any other country in the world. And we’re not getting the health care we’re paying for.

We still have 28 million people uninsured, in spite of the fact that even just in our public dollars, we’re spending more than any other country in the world, not to mention the private money on top of that. So, we’re spending the money we’re just not getting our money’s worth. And, if we were to eliminate the profit and the bureaucratic waste, in the for-profit insurance industry… the most recent study that came out estimates somewhere around $506 billion a year would be saved and could be used to actually provide health care.

So, it is feasible to do this. This is not an outrageous idea. However, I think expecting that either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party are going to champion this and take it forward is unlikely. I mean, we had a Democratic president with a majority in both houses of Congress in 2009, and he wouldn’t even let single-payer have a seat at the table. It wasn’t even allowed to be discussed.

So, I don’t have big hopes that the Democratic Party is going to champion this, in the future, unless we make it toxic for them not to. And we can do the same thing with the Republicans. Make it toxic for them not to support the national health program.

DB: Dr. Carol Paris … is the current president of the national organization, Physicians for a National Health Program. She’s on the steering committee of Health over Profit for Everyone. Interesting name for a group, Health over Profit for Everyone. That really is at the heart of the matter, whether the profit motive or humanity is going to motivate us as we go forward and try and express a real care for our people, for our children, for the future that way, right? This is the big one.

CP: This is the big one. And what the Health over Profit campaign is, is it’s a grassroots based, building movement to… because we know that it’s going… to build a movement takes time. And we’re looking at as much as 3 – 5 years, but that’s what it’s going to take to make this issue such common place knowledge for everyday Americans, and to make it toxic for their legislators not to support it. That’s what it’s going to take. So, that’s what the Health over Profit campaign is all about. It’s a grassroots movement. And right now it is base building and educating.

We know that any active, and the active, sustained support of only 3.5% of the population is always successful, in a campaign. There’s research that shows… we don’t need 51% of the American people to support this. Even though polls show that the vast majority of Americans do support it. What we do need is 3.5% of the population to make an active, sustained effort to influence their members of Congress, and make it toxic for them not to do the right thing. If we don’t do that then our members of Congress will continue to do what their donors tell them to do. And their lobbyists and donors are the very wealthy insurance industry, and pharmaceutical industry.

DB: How would you characterize the situation now? It’s sort of deeply confusing for anybody trying to follow it. People are still signing up on the registries but everything is going towards a closing. Are people signing up in vain? This is serious confusion that’s being created by this process that’s going on in Washington.

CP: It’s serious confusion, and it started when Barack Obama refused to allow a national health program to be considered in 2009. Because it just created more opportunity for the for-profit insurance industry to profit from the suffering of the American people. So I don’t think this is just the fault of the Republicans, they’re just who happen to be in charge right now.

DB: You’ve been protesting on this one for quite a while, haven’t you?

CP: Yes. I have. I joined Physicians for a National Health Program in 2009, when I really became convinced that it was impossible to try to legislate the insurance industry to behave in an ethical way. And so I gave up on that, and said “We really just need to have a national health program.

DB: So, you know the system. You have an idea of the suffering to come. What’s it going to look like? Are we going to have crowded emergency rooms? Are we going to have people out in the street? What’s medical going to look like if they go… if they’re hell-bent on going forward, without anything as a replacement? You know just to get that squeeze, move the money up again, another shift of what’s left, of the wealth, of the working class, and the middle class. You know, take their houses, take their medical plans now. But this is profound. This is where we see the implications of the mass, unequal distribution of wealth.

CP: And that’s what we’re going to see more of. The estimate from the CBO is that beginning in 2018, 14 million more people will be uninsured. And that’s mostly due to removing the mandate. So, young people, for the most part, will just stop purchasing insurance. And then over 5 years it will go to 21 million, and over 10 years to 24 million. So… and add that to the 28 million that are already uninsured, we’ll have 52 million uninsured people, in this country. And the way that that’s going to translate is that even with the tax credit, that is a much skimpier credit than the subsidies. And while they… the Republican plan may be to in phase 2 or phase 3, create the mechanism for insurance companies to write policies to have lower premiums, the only way you can reduce the cost of a premium, is to reduce what it actually covers. And so, right now Obamacare has certain regulations, that you can’t call this insurance if it doesn’t have an actuarial value of at least 60%. Which means that 60% of the cost is paid by the insurance company, and 40% is paid by the enrollee.

What we’re going to see are plans that have an actuarial value as low as 50%, and that barely even qualifies to be called insurance. So, that may be what they’re selling. And that may be affordable for younger people, but for people who are older, and are only getting until they’re 60, I think what is it… $2,000.00 tax credit? And, we’ve now given the insurance companies the permission to do age rating up to 5 times the cost that a young person would be charged. They can now increase it 5 times for an older person.

That’s going to create a premium that’s unaffordable, even with the tax credits that they’re offering. I saw one estimate that said a person making $26,000 a year at age 64 would have a premium… that would have insurance that would be costing them over $13,000 a year, just about half of their income. That’s if we pass the American Health Care Act as it is written today.

DB: Well, as you say there is a bit of resistance. It’s coming from all sides, I guess. But it’s certainly not heading in the direction that you believe is correct, and that you’ve been fighting for, doctor, for so many years. But it does, in a strange way it seems inevitable. And it may be this, as people organize, this will burst through the other side of this… what’s really heading towards a massive failure and a great deal of suffering. I guess as a medical doctor, this is in a way very personal, you see this up close.

CP: I did. I’m retired now, but I certainly did see it up close for many, many years. And it’s a tragedy, and people have to decide whether to purchase their medication, or pay their rent, or buy food. No one should have to make that kind of a decision, in a country where we’re… as I said before, we’re already spending more money per capita than any other country, in the world that’s providing universal health care for their citizens. So, no, this is not something that I find acceptable.

DB: And, it’s dramatic in the sense that those most deeply affected are children. Children, and then what goes along with that. The inability to participate in a full way in school, because the health is not there. So, this is… this reverberates, doesn’t it?

CP: It reverberates. Racial disparities certainly play into this. There’s so many aspects of social justice that play into this problem that could be improved if we simply did what we have the ability to do. But there is not the political will to do that, yet. And that’s what we will continue to work on.

DB: Well, it’s shocking. I travel on public transportation, take the underground. There are a lot of people who are out on the street, who are wandering around , who deserve to be cared for. So many veterans, so many people who have done so much in their own lives, seeing more and more families out on the street. So, this is a reflection of the health of the society. And we appreciate all the time that you have taken onto this. If people want to learn more about your work, or want to be a part of this movement, this vision towards a health care system that is humane and treats us all the same, how do people follow your work, or what do you recommend?

CP: I would recommend two websites, pnhp.org which stands for Physicians for a National Health Program. I would also recommend healthoverprofit.org. For people who would like to become active or to learn more about this. And I really especially encourage people who have questions, who aren’t sure that they understand what this is, or would like to know more… Dr. Flowers and I will be doing a webinar on March 27th on the healthoverprofit.org web site. You can sign up for the webinar. And it’s going to be a call in. People who have questions can just call us and we’ll do the best we can to answer their questions.

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.




Fear Spreads in Immigrant Communities

President Trump’s roundup of undocumented workers has spread fear though immigrant communities unsure what to expect as federal agents coordinate with local police to hunt people down, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

There is “widespread fear” in the undocumented community, says Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), whose work in the first two months of the Trump administration has focused on keeping people from panicking while informing them of their rights and how to defend themselves if U.S. immigration agents show up at their workplace or home or intercept them on their way to work or while taking their children to school.

Alvarado is often compared to Cesar Chavez in terms of his leadership and organizing power in the undocumented community. NDLON represents tens of thousands of day-laborers. I spoke to Alvarado on March 10.

Dennis Bernstein: Help us put a face on what it looks like now at ground level. What are the discussions like in the community? Give us a sense of how people are responding to this first salvo, or series of salvos from this anti-immigrant administration.

Pablo Alvarado: Yes, well, there is widespread fear. And, because of the aggressiveness nature of the Trump’s immigration policies, the bans, the executive decisions that he’s made. And the fact that ICE agents are going all over the country picking people up. They claim that they were going to go after people who have had previous criminal convictions, and violent criminals. That’s what they said, but it’s not true.

A lot of people who don’t have any convictions have been detained. And some people who have had previous convictions like DUIs, dating 15 – 20 years ago are coming back. These folks don’t represent a threat to public safety, but yet they’re being targeted. They are being separated from their loved ones.

DB: Just to keep the human face on it, in that regard. There was, in fact, a dad who was here 20 – 22 years who was taking, I guess, his kid… he had three or four kids, but he was taking his kid to school, he was separated from his kid, on the way to school?

PA: Correct. It’s one of the cases that our organization is assisting with. Romulo [Avelica-Gozalez] essentially was taking his kids to the school when he was actually followed by ICE agents. Who, by the way, were not wearing their uniform. Their jackets said that they were police. So, anyway, this type of situations is sending a wave of fear in our community. So, oftentimes, people see white vans driving in the neighborhoods and everyone freaks out. And they start posting on social media. “We saw ICE agents, the vans, ICE vans in such and such location.”

And all of us feel this widespread fear. And people are staying inside. So, the good thing is that a lot of allies, immigrants’ rights organizations, churches understand that there is this fear. So there is an effort to suppress that fear, and ensure that whatever notification goes out of ICE presence in the neighborhoods, that it’s real. That it’s not based on the fear.

So, there is no way, absolutely no way, that our community can defend without removing that fear. You cannot fight back when you’re fearful, or when you hate somebody, when you’re angry. So, our defense has to be very rational, and well thought out. And there is no way we can fight back effectively from a perspective of anger, hatred or fear. And that’s why it’s essential that we remove that fear.

DB: Alright, and last we spoke you were beginning to set up structures, networks that people could communicate across states, across the country. And so, really I guess, the way to counteract fear is with knowledge and with an approach that’s methodical. So, how is that going? How is the community organizing? How is that coming together? If it is.

PA: Yeah. Well, let me elaborate more about the fear, the strategy of fear. Because it’s important that Americans understand what this is about. So, it’s important to recognize this small segment of nativism, xenophobes, that are promoting this fear, and, who, by the way, are now in power. Who have the power of the federal government, at their hands. We’re talking about Steven Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Kris Kobach. These are the main advisors of President Trump. And these folks have been the leaders of these efforts to create that fear. Because they have never been interested in fixing the so-called broken immigration system. They’ve never been interested, in that.

What they want to do is bring down the non-white, foreign-born population. It’s been very clear. They know that realistically speaking, logistically speaking they cannot deport 11 – 12 million people. They’re not interested in that. What they want is they want to create so much misery that people will pack their bags, and leave on their own. This is the idea, attrition through enforcement strategy.

And they’ve never forgotten that strategy. And the main proponents of that strategy are now in power. So that’s what it comes from. And obviously creating that fear is not just directed towards immigrants.

So, obviously what they want is they want to create this state of fear so that people do not fight back for their rights, that we give up our rights. And we say “Okay, Mr. Trump we’re going to deport ourselves. Because the circumstances of living in the United States are unbearable. So I’m going to pack my bags and leave on my own.” This has always been their strategy. And that’s precisely what they want to create, the wave of fear through this new enforcement policies that Mr. Trump is implementing aggressively.

They also want to tell localities “If you support immigrants, if you have layers of protection for immigrants, we’re going to take away your funding.” That’s again playing with fear, creating fear. And now he’s telling significant segments of Americans who believe in his facts, his alternative facts, he’s telling them “You have to be fearful of the immigrants because they are dangerous, they are criminals.”

They have created an office, a special office now for victims of undocumented people that kill Americans. So, precisely with that purpose of sending, of creating that fear of immigrants. So, everything is about fear. This man… I mean that’s how fascism operates, creating that fear.

So, in order for us to fight back we need to remove that fear and we need to tap into the power that people have. Remember that immigrants… we are courageous people. We come from places where we have faced dictators, drug cartels, gang members, extreme poverty, political persecution. Then we cross borders, deserts, and some of us rode the train. We’ve crossed deserts, etc., etc. We’re powerful people. We need to tap into that sense of courage to overcome the fear. And the first step towards overcoming that fear is essentially knowing your rights and, more importantly, how to exercise those rights, in different scenarios. And this is precisely the first step that we are taking with the day labor community, and beyond.

We plan to visit – there are 700 day labor corners in this country – we are going to visit them all in the next four years. And everyone, every worker out there will have the information that they need to protect themselves. And the training that they need to talk to other day laborers and begin organizing themselves to defend each other. That’s the first step.

The second is that we’re looking for friends of the day laborers, so if there are some listeners who might live close to a day labor location and they want to volunteer, they want to monitor what happens in that corner and they want to come help day laborers understand, and know their rights, please get in touch with us. Because across the country we are going to be recruiting people that are going to be monitoring the activities that take place at that corner, including hate crimes and incidents. Including violations of wage and hours laws, like wage theft, injuries at the work place, including coming to the corner, or the center, and teaching people about their rights.

So if there are folks who are listening who live nearby a day labor corner, please call us. And we’ll train you on how to approach the workers and train them. We want to make sure that every corner across the country has the basic layers of community protection. There are so many friends of day laborers who will want to participate in these efforts.

DB: I just want you to say a little bit more about the infrastructure of NDLON so people understand what your work has been, since 2002 – 2003, when you became executive director. So, you said there are over 700 corners that you represent. And that’s the way in which you can create a network of pro-active, defense and fight back. Explain the infrastructure a little bit.

PA: Alright. Well, NDLON was established to address issues that workers face every single day when they look for work, either at day laborer corners or day laborer centers. And throughout our work, we believe that setting up places, that are safe and dignified for workers to get together and meet their employers, not only helps workers and employers and communities, but it improves public safety. It improves community relations, so that’s why we’ve built 70 day labor centers across the country. These are places that people go every single day to find a day of work. There is staff in those places, and essentially to make sure that the transactions between employer and worker are clear, and transparent. But there are only 70 of those job centers across the country.

More day laborers are in the streets. And, of course, when you are in the streets you are subjected to many indignities. And NDLON was built to address many of these indignities. But our infrastructure is not enough, because the need is big. That’s why we are recruiting volunteers to join our forces, to join our efforts, to make sure that people’s rights are respected.

So we do have a basic infrastructure, and we do have centers across the country. And these centers will be working together with whomever volunteers to make sure that day laborers are well protected. But, again, we’re also looking for resources.

For example, in order to bring the Know Your Rights training to every corner, we’re going to need a lot of printing and duplications. So, we’re going to be asking folks to donate to make sure that every single day laborer out there knows about his rights and how to exercise them. And at the very least, if there is a basic infrastructure, to at least for people to know what their rights are. So that campaign is on its way. So, if there are folks that want to participate, please get in touch with us.

DB: And, again, there’s some very interesting information coming out of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. You can go to their web site. I want to ask you, have you been in any way monitoring, or just noticing how to evaluate sort of the upsurge in the sense of white people now being freed by these white supremacists, these nationalists in power now, is there an upsurge? Are people being attacked more, being threatened more? How do you read that?

PA: There is. There is more… now that an employer who has stolen workers’ wages is a precedent, of course, you know, other employers who believe the same as Mr. Trump, are going to feel emboldened. And as a consequence are going to hire people and refuse to pay their wages. So there has been an increase in the number of people who are getting hired and not being paid for the work that they performed. So we have that. We have… there’s been a series of incidents of violence against day laborers.

I’ve seen it here in Los Angeles, in five places, of people being harassed, and chased. And one of the workers was actually beaten here in downtown Los Angeles. So, we’ve seen an increase on people passing by at day laborer corners and yelling racial epitaphs to the workers. So, yes, there is this increase and I only expect to see more, unfortunately.

The number of hate crimes in our country has increased, not just against Muslims, and against the Jewish community, but against Mexican and Central American immigrants. And I think the increase in the incidents, the hate crimes and incidents has been proportional to the attacks on Muslims and Jewish communities. And that is something that is happening nation-wide.

And, obviously, one of the things that… part of the campaign that we are implementing right now of adopting a corner and asking for volunteers… it’s insuring that every time someone goes by and screams a racial epitaph at workers, that’s a hate incident. These are not getting reported. and it’s important that we create a data base, and description of these kinds of incidents because unless people speak out, we won’t be able to show America its ugly side. Because people need to see … what’s happening. So part of what volunteers are going to be doing is training workers how to document these types of hate incidents. Where, and how to report them. That’s going to be part of this campaign.

DB: And, I know you’re very busy and you have to go soon. Just two more quick questions. It sort of looks like Trump’s jobs program is like… they are already hiring in Stars and Stripes and all these military magazines to come and get a good job working at the border. Trump has already referred… he was corrected by surrogates, but he’s already referred to what’s going on at the border, the hiring of 10 and then 5,000 more folks, as a military operation. Your thoughts about what’s happening on that front.

PA: Well, you know, people who believe that Trump’s promises, and the total campaign was just electoral politics and rhetoric were, essentially, wrong. Now, is not hypotheticals anymore. People are getting rounded up and ICE is being more aggressive.

ICE has always been a rogue agency, no oversight. They don’t have to follow the same rules of respecting the constitution that police officers are supposed to follow. And, essentially, there’s no oversight. At a given point, ICE even disobeyed the orders of President Obama when he told us “Hey, these are the priorities, that you may want to follow them”… as a matter of fact the ICE union, the border patrol union even filed a lawsuit against President Obama.

So, this is a rogue agency, that’s been beefed up. But it’s been strengthened and there is no doubt in my mind that when President Trump said “I will build a deportation force”… that that’s exactly what he plans to do, so, 5,000 original border patrol agents with no oversight. Imagine the kind of human rights’ crisis that’s going to be caused at the U.S./Mexico border. And internally they’re planning to hire 10,000 additional ICE agents. Meaning that more places… places where people gather would not be safe for migrants, across this country. So, his deportation force is being built up.

Now, in order for him to deport the 2 – 3 million people that he said that he would deport during the first years, he has to enlist local police. So the dilemma that is being presented here is not just for immigrants, it’s also for elected officials, who have to determine how far they’re going to go in terms of collaborating with ICE. And where they’re going to be complicit in the mass deportation policies of this administration. In the near future, our country will be viewing this moment as one of the most shameful period in the history of our country. And localities of police departments will have to give testimonies on which side they stood.

And I think that’s why there are so many elected leaders, both at the local and state level, who are taking a stronger stand against President Trump because they understand what is the right side of history, they understand that participating in this immigration force will be devastating not just to migrant families, but the people that they work for. And it will be devastating for the same concept of public safety. And that percent of people who fear police will not report crimes, when they are victims or witnesses. And this is only detrimental to communities, actually to public safety.

And I think like some police officers understand that. And this is a dilemma that this administration is putting every single police department and every single city council in this country. And local governments have to make the right choice. And they are. A significant number of them are saying “We’re not going to collaborate in the construction of this deportation force. We want to make sure that there’s a bright line between what we do and what the federal agents do.”

So, obviously, this militarization is not just detrimental to migrants, who are going to be persecuted even more, with more officers. But is detrimental to what localities can do, to protect everyone, every resident within their boundaries.

DB: And, just in the final minute that we have. The other side of that dad getting arrested on the way… after 22 years… taking his kids to school, is the family, the mom and her kids being placed in a private prison. There’s now a private prison boom, the private prison industry, they’re all getting ready for a siege in business.

PA: They’re salivating, right now, they’re salivating. They see Mr. Trump, that Mr. Trump is going to be kind of like the oppression that’s going to make their growth possible. And it’s grotesque, when private corporations make money out of the suffering of people. But it doesn’t suppress me because this has been the framework of our adversaries. This is the framework that Trump has brought into the debate.

In order to make America great you need to make some people suffer. And it’s idiotic, because you don’t have to make people suffer. In order to make America great you don’t have to divide people into good and bad immigrants. In order to make America great you don’t have to be a deportation force that is going to undermine what I believe is the heart of this country. Talking about fear… I think that President Trump is fearful of the courage that immigrants demonstrate, every single day.

I strongly believe that the president and his closest advisers are a bunch of scared people. They’re scared of the fact that whether they like it or not this is a country of migrants. And in every generation, migrants have been the beating heart of this country. Migrants live the idea of the American dream with more intensity than anybody else, precisely because of the circumstances of where they come from. And that is what Mr. Trump and his advisers are fearful of, that courage, and the ability to push forward in this country.

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.




Embattled Trump Reneges on Health Vow

President Trump promised health insurance for all, but – now dependent on the political protection of House Speaker Paul Ryan – he is supporting a plan that will push millions outside the system, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump still insists he’s going to Make America Great Again! Mind you, it won’t be a healthy or vigorous America — in fact, it will be coughing and wheezing to the grave, but boy, will it be great!

If you ever needed further evidence that Trump doesn’t give a single good goddamn about the people who elected him, just look at his treacherous turnabout on health care. This Republican “repeal and replace” bill stinks on so many levels I’m tempted to say it should be taken far out to sea and dumped into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench but I have too much regard for marine life, even the kind with the big googly eyes and the really scary teeth.

Remember that Trump was the carnival barker who declared during the campaign, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” And right before his inauguration he told The Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

Then along comes the proposed Republican bill, which over a decade, according to the now-famous report from the Congressional Budget Office, would see 24 million fewer Americans with coverage, doubling the number of uninsured. Trump’s own supporters would take it on the chin for what he tweeted is “our wonderful new health care bill.”

According to John McCormick at Bloomberg News: “Counties that backed him would get less than a third of the relief that would go to counties where Hillary Clinton won. The two individual tax cuts contained in the Republican plan to replace Obamacare apply only to high-earning workers and investors, roughly those with incomes of at least $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples.”

And remember all that nonsense about Obamacare’s “death panels,” a falsehood so rotten to the core it was declared PolitiFact’s 2009 Lie of the Year? Well, this Republican bill actually would kill people. Those older would pay more than the young, it would strip Planned Parenthood of funding and Medicaid programs would be slashed. It would eliminate money for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides epidemiology, immunization and health-screening programs. And there would be no mandate that employers with 50 employees or more provide coverage.

Julia Belluz at Vox reports on:“[V]ery high-quality studies on the impacts of health insurance on mortality, which come to some pretty clear estimates. This research suggests that we would see more than 24,000 extra deaths per year in the US if 20 million people lost their coverage. Again, 20 million is less than the 24 million the CBO thinks will lose insurance by 2026. So the death toll from an Obamacare repeal and replacement could be even higher.”

Ignoring the Needy

Notice that Trump has barely lifted a finger to assist those who need genuine reform that would bring quality care to all, the kind of help he promised as a candidate. Instead, he has directed his energies at helping Speaker Paul Ryan win over right-wing House members by promising to make the bill even crueler to those who need health care the most.

Take a look at this statement issued by tea partier and Alabama Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt after meeting with Trump on Friday, a statement so mind-boggling it’s worth quoting in full:

“President Trump called me to the Oval Office this morning to discuss the American Healthcare Act, because of his understanding that I could not support the current language of the bill. I expressed to the president my concern around the treatment of older, poorer Americans in states like Alabama. I reminded him that he received overwhelming support from Alabama’s voters.

“The president listened to the fact that a 64-year-old person living near the poverty line was going to see their insurance premiums go up from $1,700 to $14,600 per year. The president looked me in the eye and said, ‘These are my people and I will not let them down. We will fix this for them.’

“I also asked the president point blank if this House bill was the one that he supported. He told me he supports it ‘1,000 percent.’ After receiving the president’s word that these concerns will be addressed, I changed my vote to yes.”

Can you believe it? Trump’s behind the bill 1,000 percent, the President claims, but don’t worry, we’ll fix it. It’s hard to decide which of the two men is behaving more hypocritically: Trump saying he won’t let the people down or Aderholt claiming to believe the President actually will keep his word. Each is endorsing a cutthroat scheme that will bring nothing but grief to the people but hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the wealthy and vast profits to the insurance industry.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The top 400 highest-income taxpayers — whose annual incomes average more than $300 million apiece — each would receive an average annual tax cut of about $7 million, we estimate from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data.”

Andy Slavitt, who was President Obama’s acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told The Washington Post, “This is a massive tax cut for unpopular industries and wealthy individuals. It is about cutting care for lower-income people, seniors, people with disabilities and kids to pay for the tax cut.”

This is, in the words of Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, “a dumpster fire of a bill that was written on the back of a napkin behind closed doors because Republicans know this is a disaster.” But thanks to ineptitude and an inchoate, ill-planned rush to pass the legislation, it looks as if the current Republican bill may be on its way to failure, if not in the House then in the Senate.

Lucky us — for now. But if the GOP and Trump White House do manage to force on us anything short of what’s really needed – single-payer, universal health care — we’re doomed to live in a nation the motto of which may no longer be “In God We Trust” but instead, “Die young and leave a good-looking corpse.”

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/trump-gop-prescription-america-dont-get-sick/]




Another GOP President Balloons the Deficit

Facing the Democratic “#Resistance,” President Trump has jumped into the arms of congressional Republicans and is following the old GOP pattern of tax cuts, military hikes and ballooning deficits, as Ivan Eland explains.

By Ivan Eland

The White House is now planning a humongous ten percent hike in defense spending, while making comparable deep cuts in domestic government programs—excluding big entitlement programs, such and Medicare and Social Security, which President Trump has promised not to touch.

During his campaign, the president also talked about a massive $1 trillion infrastructure program and just recently pledged again to spend “big” on it. Finally, he plans to slash taxes significantly. Those who have been paying attention for a while could be excused for having a sense of Republican deja vu—expanding government deficits leading to rapidly expanding national debt.

When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, his plan included the contradictory goals of massively increasing the Pentagon’s budget, cutting  income taxes substantially, and balancing the budget. However, his defense budget hikes and initial tax reductions ballooned the federal budget deficit so much, especially since proposed domestic spending cuts didn’t work out so well, that he had to raise taxes six out of eight years as president.

Thus, contrary to popular belief, Reagan had the smallest net tax reduction during his presidency of any post-World War II Republican. In the end, despite his reputation as an advocate for small government, his splurge in government spending increased the size of the federal government as a portion of GDP, and he was first among post-World War II presidents in debt accumulation as a percentage of GDP.

Similarly, George W. Bush racked up huge deficits and debt by following the Reagan precedent of instituting “fake tax cuts”–that is, tax cuts while increasing government spending, which leave budget deficits and debt for future generations to pay off with interest and may even require the inflationary printing of money to finance them.

Bush spent heavily by prosecuting two wars in the greater Middle East (Trump recently estimated the total money wasted so far in those long wars at $6 trillion) and expanding the benefits of an already financially rickety Medicare program.

Ignoring the Deficit

When Bush’s powerful vice president, Dick Cheney, famously said “deficits don’t matter,” he must have meant politically — voters like their taxes reduced but not the government programs on which they have become dependent — rather than economically. Federal budget deficits and resulting expanding government debt can strangle economic growth by “crowding out private borrowing” and increasing inflation.

The only difference between President Trump and those other two big-spending Republican chief executives is that Trump hasn’t even really bothered to mouth the rhetoric of “small government.”

His massive infrastructure spending scheme and his promise not to cut politically popular mandatory spending programs (entitlements), which are projected by the conservative Heritage Foundation to represent 64 percent of the federal budget by the year 2020, are evidence of his profligate tendencies. Tax cuts are also always popular, especially with the Republican political base, and are fine if spending is cut first—so deficits and debt don’t rise.

If history is any guide (and it is), politicians likely will prove successful at cutting taxes and raising defense, law enforcement, and veterans spending, but will not be very adept at cutting other domestic spending (under Reagan and Bush it expanded substantially). Many of these programs have politically powerful constituencies, some of which are Republican, who will push back.

The area most puzzling is Trump’s dramatic proposal to increase the defense budget by a whopping 10 percent. Where’s the increase in foreign threat to justify such spending? The United States has been successful in constricting ISIS in Iraq and Syria by cheaply funding and supporting local forces battling the group.

If, as Trump alleges, the most capable military in human history is “depleted,” which is seriously doubtful, it is because of long, costly, and futile wars in the greater Middle East that, during the campaign, he implied that he wanted to avoid in the future. If the military gets even more money from the president, there will be even more impetus to send it abroad to fight such counterproductive wars that generate more blowback terrorism at home — thereby lessening U.S. security.

The United States already spends more on defense than it did on average during the bad old days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union could have plausibly posed an existential threat to the country. ISIS pales in comparison and certainly doesn’t pose such a potent threat. As for potentially hostile nations, the United States already spends on defense what the next seven countries do combined, including China and Russia.

Thus, if Trump’s huge increase in defense spending is combined with a massive hike in infrastructure spending, no reduction in entitlement programs, likely disappointing spending cuts in non-entitlement domestic programs, and a substantial tax cuts, then federal budget deficits and the resulting national debt will again balloon—likely leading to a considerable drag on the economic growth that Trump has promised.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. [This article first appeared as a blog post at The Hill, http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-budget/322596-here-we-go-again-yet-another-debt-expanding-republican .]




NYT’s ‘Tinfoil Hat’ Conspiracy Theory

Exclusive: There is a “tinfoil-hat” quality to The New York Times’ pushing its “Donald Trump Is Russia’s Manchurian Candidate” conspiracy theory as the newspaper sinks deeper into a New McCarthyism, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

There are real reasons to worry about President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, including his casual belligerence toward Iran and North Korea and his failure to rethink U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia and Israel, but The New York Times obsesses on Trump’s willingness to work with Russia.

On Saturday, the Times devoted most of its op-ed page to the Times’ favorite conspiracy theory, that Trump is Vladimir Putin’s “Manchurian candidate” though evidence continues to be lacking.

The op-ed package combined a “What to Ask About Russian Hacking” article by Louise Mensch, a former Conservative member of the British Parliament who now works for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and a connect-the-dots graphic that when filled out shows the Kremlin sitting atop the White House. But the featured article actually revealed how flimsy and wacky the Times’ conspiracy theory is.

Usually, an investigation doesn’t begin until there is specific evidence of a crime. For instance, the investigative articles that I have written over the years have always had information from insiders about how the misconduct had occurred before a single word was published.

In the early 1990s, for the investigation that I conducted for PBS “Frontline” into the so-called “October Surprise” case – whether Ronald Reagan’s campaign colluded with Iranians and others to sabotage President Jimmy Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages in 1980 – we had some two dozen people providing information about those contacts from multiple perspectives – including from the U.S., Iran, Israel and Europe – before we aired the allegations.

We didn’t base our documentary on the suspicious circumstance that the Iranians held back the hostages until after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated President on Jan. 20, 1981, or on the point that Iran and the Republicans had motives to sandbag Carter. We didn’t casually throw out the names of a bunch of people who might have committed treason.

When we broadcast the documentary in April 1991, there was a strong evidentiary case of the Reagan’s campaign guilt – and even then we were highly circumspect in how we presented the story.

Ultimately, the 1980 “October Surprise” case came down to whether you believed the Republican denials or the two dozen or so witnesses who described how this operation was carried out with the help of the Israeli government, French intelligence, and former and current CIA officers – along with former CIA Director George H.W. Bush and future CIA Director William Casey.

In the end, Official Washington was never willing to accept that the beloved Ronald Reagan could have done something as dastardly as conspire with Iranians to delay the release of 52 American hostages. It didn’t matter what the evidence was or that Reagan quickly approved arms shipments to Iran via Israel in 1981, a prequel to the later Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of 1985-86.

No Direct Evidence

By contrast, what the current “Russia Owns Trump” allegations are completely lacking is an insider who describes any nefarious collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to arrange the Kremlin’s help in defeating Hillary Clinton and electing Donald Trump.

What we do have is President Barack Obama’s outgoing intelligence chiefs putting out evidence-free “assessments” that Russia was responsible for the “hacking” and the publicizing of two batches of Democratic emails, one from the Democratic National Committee and one from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

The DNC emails revealed that top Democratic Party officials had violated their duty to remain neutral during the primaries and instead tilted the playing field in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Podesta emails exposed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from voters, as well as some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

When published by WikiLeaks last year, the emails embarrassed the Clinton campaign but were not regarded as a major factor in her defeat, which she blamed primarily on FBI Director James Comey’s decision to briefly reopen the investigation into whether she endangered national security by using a private email server while Secretary of State.

However, after the shock of Donald Trump’s election, Clinton supporters looked for reasons to block Trump’s inauguration or to set the stage for his impeachment. That was when Obama’s intelligence chiefs began circulating claims that Russia was behind the leaking of the Democratic emails as part of a scheme to put their favored candidate, Trump, in the White House.

The New York Times and other mainstream news outlets, which were strongly hostile to Trump, seized on the allegations, making them front-page news for the past several months despite the paucity of actual evidence that any collusion occurred or that the Russians were even the ones who obtained and distributed the emails.

WikiLeaks denied getting the material from the Russians, suggesting instead that two different American insiders were the sources.

A Witch Hunt?

How thin the Russia-Trump case is becomes evident in reading the Times’ op-ed by Louise Mensch. After introducing herself as someone who has “followed the Russian hacking story closely,” she lists 25 people by name, including various Trump advisers as well as Internet moguls Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel, who should be hauled before the House Intelligence Committee for interrogation along with unnamed executives of several corporations and banks.

“There are many more who need to be called but these would be a first step,” Mensch wrote. In reviewing Mensch’s long article, it’s unclear if she’s proposing only a “fishing expedition” or would prefer a full-fledged “witch hunt.”

At one point earlier in this process, I wrote an article warning that the “investigation” could become something of a “did-you-talk-to-a-Russian” inquisition. Some readers probably felt I was going too far, but that now appears to be exactly what is happening.

Many of Mensch’s suggestions pertain to people associated with the Trump campaign who gave speeches in Moscow or otherwise communicated with Russians. It appears any contact with a Russian, any discussion of disagreements between the U.S. and Russia, or any political comment that in any way echoes what some Russian may have said becomes “evidence” of collusion and treason.

The extremism of Mensch’s tendentious article is further illustrated by her suggestion that Trump should be impeached if there is any truth to his widely discredited tweet that Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower. She wrote:

“If … the president tweeted real news, he revealed the existence of intercepts that cover members of his team in a continuing investigation. That would be obstruction of justice, potentially an impeachable offense.”

Most of us who have reported on Trump’s bizarre “tapp” tweet have criticized him for making a serious charge without evidence (as well as his poor spelling), but Mensch seems to believe that the more serious offense would be if Trump somehow were telling the truth. She wants any truth-telling on this issue to be grounds for Trump’s impeachment, even though he may have been referring, in part, to her November article reporting on the FISA warrant that supposedly granted permission for members of Trump’s team to be put under electronic surveillance.

A Tinfoil Hat

To dramatize her arguments further, Mensch then demonstrates a thorough lack of knowledge about recent American history. She claims, “Never in American history has a president been suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election.”

Whatever you want to think about the 1980 October Surprise case – and there is substantial evidence that it was real – it definitely constituted an example in American history when a president was “suspected of collaborating with a hostile foreign power to win an election.”

Another case in 1968, which now even The New York Times grudgingly accepts, involved Richard Nixon colluding with the South Vietnamese government to torpedo President Lyndon Johnson’s Paris peace talks to assure Nixon’s election. Although South Vietnam was then an ally, the allegations about Nixon also included outreach to North Vietnam, although Hanoi ended up sending a delegation to Paris while Saigon did not.

Yet, what is perhaps most shocking about Mensch’s op-ed and its prominent placement by the Times is that the story has all the elements of a “tinfoil-hat” conspiracy. It’s the sort of wild-eyed smearing of American citizens that the Times would normally deride as an offensive fantasy that would be mentioned only to mock the conspiracists.

But the Times is now so deep into its campaign to demonize Russia and to destroy Trump that all normal journalistic standards have long ago been tossed out the window.

While there are many valid reasons to protest Trump and his policies, this descent into a New McCarthyism is both grotesque (because it impugns the patriotism of Americans without evidence, only breathless questions) and dangerous (because it escalates the New Cold War with Russia, a confrontation that could stumble into a nuclear holocaust).

At such moments, supposedly serious newspapers like The New York Times should show extraordinary caution and care, not a reckless disregard for truth and fairness. But no one in Official Washington seems willing to play the role of attorney Joseph Welch when he finally stood up to Sen. Joe McCarthy with the famous question, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

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).




Trump’s Team Embraces Iranian Myths

Key players in the Trump administration have stuck to the neoconservative insistence on “regime change” in Iran rather than take a fresh look at the reality, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

Some hardline myths about Iran never seem to die. One myth especially pertinent to U.S. policy is that revolutionary regime change in Iran is a significant possibility in the near future and that with a bit more of a push from the outside, the Islamic Republic will collapse and be replaced by something much more to our liking.

This illusion was prevalent in much of the George W. Bush administration, which accordingly adhered to a policy of refusing to deal with Iran and instead of trying to isolate it and to inflict economic pain through sanctions. Several years of lack of results in the face of ever-increasing sanctions demonstrated the fecklessness of that policy. The sanctions became useful only when the next U.S. administration began to negotiate with Iran and sanctions were used as a bargaining chip to conclude an agreement that blocks all possible paths to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The myth often is connected to a faith in exile groups as instruments for quick transition to a completely different type of regime. Many of those hoping for regime change in Iran look in this way to the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a cult-cum-terrorist group that actually has almost no popular support within Iran. Some of the same people had placed a similar faith in Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, whose qualities as a huckster more than as someone who could father a new Iraqi republic became increasingly apparent after the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Today there evidently is another expression of the old myth about Iran, with talk about regime change, among Trump loyalists at the White House and National Security Council staff. According to these individuals, increased pressure and kicks from the outside can bring about positive results in Iran, rather than, as expert analysis both inside and outside the national security bureaucracy explains, merely eliciting hostile responses from a firmly implanted Islamic Republic.

It is unclear whether holding of the myth represents genuine misbelief or instead is a rationalization covering other reasons the holders want to maintain Iran as a perpetually isolated bête noire. Either way, the myth leads to damaging and ineffective U.S. policy.

Iran is not at all close to any political upheaval that could be described as a new revolution or a counter-revolution, even with more pressure and pushes from the outside. Iranian politics certainly exhibits plenty of disagreement and controversy, with the possibility of significant policy change coming out of that political competition. Despite the substantial defects in the Iranian political system, there is a political robustness missing from, say, the Arab monarchies on the other side of the Persian Gulf. But most Iranians do not have an appetite for making a new revolution.

Both the regime and the people in Iran have demonstrated an ability to withstand hardship much greater than what U.S. sanctions can inflict. They did so during the extremely costly eight-year Iran-Iraq War, which Iran doggedly continued for some time even after Saddam — who started the war — began seeking an armistice. Certainly if pressure or punishment from an outside power is involved, both the regime and the people exhibit determined resistance.

Much Evolution

There already has been much evolution in the direction and nature of the Islamic Republic during its nearly four decades of existence, although probably not as much as there would have been without the ostracism. The large majority of Iranians today were born since the revolution. Hijabs have inched above hairlines, and domestic life has become looser and freer. Especially for the female half of the population, looking across the Gulf does not instill any ideas about better alternatives.

More important for U.S. and Western interests has been the evolution in Iran’s external policies. Any hopes within the regime in the immediate aftermath of the revolution for like-minded revolutions elsewhere in the region have long ago been dispelled, as the realization sunk in that such revolutions were unlikely and that Iran’s system would survive anyway. The most obvious form of Iranian state-conducted international terrorism — a campaign of assassinating exiled dissidents — effectively ended years ago, partly because of the regime’s desire to have normal and fruitful relations with Europe.

Further evolution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its policies in the years ahead will correlate directly with the extent to which it has normal political and economic interaction with the rest of the world. Isolation and punishment would strengthen Iranian hardliners’ arguments that there is neither a possibility of, nor a payoff to be expected from, such interaction. Bolstering of the hardline position in turn would mean diminished prospects for further liberalizing political change in Iran.

Conversely, increased commerce, foreign investment, and the economic development that go with them would strengthen the political position of those favoring normality in foreign relations, would increase the Iranian stake in even more peaceful normality, would loosen the grip of those in Iran whose economic and political power depend on isolation, and would increase Iranian exposure to ideas and examples of still more change.

One of the next big potential turning points in Iranian politics will be the selection of a new supreme leader; the current leader, Ali Khamenei, is 77 and not in the best of health. There is talk in Tehran about how this transition may well entail not just the picking of Khamenei’s successor but also redefining the role of supreme leader. Specifically, the thinking points to a role somewhat closer to that played by the senior Shia cleric in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani. This would mark a further significant move away from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s concept of the clerical jurisprudent.

Those in the United States seeking, or at least talking about, regime change in Iran should face up to how the best way to achieve such change is to let these processes that already are in train play out, and to encourage them with increased interaction and commerce between Iran and the West. The change may not be sudden enough or violent enough to be described as a revolution with a capital R, but the change is even more likely than anything sudden or violent to be in a direction favorable for Western interests.

This will be the course of Iranian history as long as we do not screw up the process with mindlessly applied isolation, economic punishment, and attempted subversion.

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.)