Fear Among Undocumented Immigrants

Moving quickly on campaign promises to tighten U.S. borders and crack down on “sanctuary cities,” President Trump is spreading fear among communities where many undocumented immigrants live, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

The new mayor of the “People’s Republic of Berkeley,” Jesse Arreguin, is facing a trial by fire. The son and grandson of farmworkers and the first Latino to ever be elected mayor of Berkeley, California, Arreguin finds himself on the frontlines of the “sanctuary city” movement and in the cross hairs of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

I spoke with Mayor Arreguin on Wednesday after Trump signed several executive orders aimed at undocumented immigrants and challenging so-called “sanctuary cities.” Arreguin said he had spoken to many immigrant students in city schools who are not sure what is coming next.

Dennis Bernstein: I wanted to begin, first, by asking you to give us your own response, sort of to the overall, what’s going on. And then we’re going to talk about the implications and how you feel in terms of continuing Berkeley as a sanctuary city.

Jesse Arreguin: Well, in just two days, Donald Trump has not only set us on a course of ruining our planet, by fast tracking the approval of the Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, but also stripped the civil rights and civil liberties of our citizens, has pushed a divisive wall, [and] is now threatening cities which had the courage to stand up for being a city refuge for all people, regardless of their citizenship status. And Berkeley is one of those cities.

And so, I’m angry. And I’m concerned about what the executive order the President signed today [Jan. 25] means for the people of Berkeley, and undocumented people throughout our country. And, now, more than ever, we’re going to stand up, and protect everyone, regardless of their national origin, their religion. And, I think, now more than ever, Berkeley needs to be a leader in the resistance against the Trump administration.

DB: I was going to ask you that; People have always looked to Berkeley. You know, they refer to it as the “People’s Republic of Berkeley.” […] We’ve been on the cutting edge when it comes to conscience and action, so I’m sure the whole world is watching.

Have you been hearing from some of your constituents? … Is there fear in the community? Are the kids…we’re right across the street from Berkeley High School. There’s a good number of kids in there who are probably feeling like maybe they should go into hiding. How’s that coming to you?

JA: Absolutely, there’s a great deal of fear in the community. And actually, after the election, I visited a number of our schools, including some of our middle-schools and elementary schools. And there are a lot of students who were very concerned about what the election of Trump means for not just them but their classmates. Including their classmates who are undocumented. You know, being uprooted from their schools, from their families, dividing families, dividing communities. And I spoke to these students to try to reassure them that Berkeley will remain a sanctuary city. And “we’re here to support you.”

So, we’re actually going to be working with the University of California, with the Berkeley Unified School District, to try to… sort of coordinate our resources, our legal resources, and our other resources for undocumented residents. Because we need to help people defend against deportations. We need to help people… families are being divided. But there’s a great deal of fear.

But, I want to say that the City of Berkeley stands with everyone, regardless of their citizenship status. And we will protect our residents, and … our city employees are instructed to not, in any way, cooperate with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. We refuse to cooperate with ICE, but we do need to be prepared, for what if ICE comes in our community. What are we going to do?

DB: What are you going to do? Are there preparations, is there a lot of planning?

JA: So, we’re beginning to think about that, and plan for that. It happened before, in 2007, ICE came onto the Berkeley High campus to try to identify and detain students. And that’s actually where our sanctuary policy came out of. So, it’s happened before. Sadly, it is likely to happen again. But we will fight back.

DB: And what about the threats? Is there a concern that this could really take an economic toll? That they can do things to hurt you, to really make it difficult for various constituencies that you represent to get the things that they need?

JA: Absolutely. So, my understanding of the executive order the President has signed [on January 25] would strip cities that are sanctuary cities of federal funds. And in Berkeley, that’s around $11.5 million in federal funding. And that’s funding for our most vulnerable. You know, these are housing programs, programs for our homeless, public health programs.

And so, we need to make sure we maintain the safety net, even in the wake of cuts in federal funding. It’s going to be difficult, but we need to make sure that we can serve our most vulnerable, but also not cave into the fear and the divisiveness that’s coming out of Washington.

DB: Do you think, yourself, a person of color… do you feel that you bring a special sensitivity, do you see this as being quite a personal thing, as well as a political action?

JA: Absolutely. I mean, I’m the son and grandson of farm workers. I’m the first Latino mayor of Berkeley. Probably one of the only Latino mayors in the Bay Area. And so, for me, this is personal. This is real. My grandparents immigrated illegally, to this country. I have friends who are undocumented, this is a real issue.

And friends I know who are undocumented are living in fear now, not knowing what’s going to happen. And so, for me, as not only the mayor of the city, but as a Latino, it makes me angry, but it also motivates me, even more, to speak out and to fight back.

And one of the things that’s most inspiring, I think … in the wake of the election… (there’s not a lot to be inspired about but, well, it’s been inspiring) is just the overwhelming–in this community and throughout the country–the overwhelming desire to fight back. And to stand for the values that make Berkeley, and make our country, such an equitable and inclusive society.

And that was evidenced by the hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of people that participated in the women’s marches. And we’ve got to keep that momentum going. And so, what we’re doing in Berkeley, we’re remaining a sanctuary city and the policies we will set, and speaking out against, the right-wing agenda from Washington, hopefully we’ll work collectively with other cities to lead the resistance that will hopefully change this country in four years.

DB: And, just finally, in the broader view of things, there are many things happening in communities of color, under attack, in many ways. Yesterday [January 24] it was Standing Rock and the pipelines. Now, I’m wondering how you integrate or see these sort of parallel attacks playing into the attacks on immigrants. How does that work for you? How do you see the overall picture, both in the negative and perhaps in the way that it can unite?

JA: Well, I think communities of color and poor people, working class people are under attack by the new administration in Washington, whether it’s, you know, desecrating the sacred land, the sacred rights of our indigenous communities, whether it’s mass deportation, for us, or building walls to divide our communities, whether it’s pushing the prison industrial complex. I’m assuming we’ll see more of a militarized approach to law enforcement across our country, and we’ve seen how that has played out in communities of color.

So there are real, serious challenges at a time where … our country is divided. But I think the struggles, the collective struggles that we’re all experiencing, provide an opportunity. I think it was evidenced by the very diverse crowds that we saw at the women’s march: people coming together to fight back, and to work collectively to stand for a core of progressive values and to also work collectively to bring about real change. And that’s inspiring.

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.




Death of the Syrian ‘Moderate’ Fantasy

Exclusive: Neocons and liberal hawks sold the fantasy that Syrian “moderate” rebels were a viable option when all they did was help arm Al Qaeda jihadists and worsen the bloodshed, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

The neoconservative and liberal interventionist case for arming Syria’s rebels lost its last vestige of credibility this week with the routing of Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces by Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in northwestern Syria.

Washington think-tank warriors and editorial writers have long looked to the FSA as America’s natural allies in the Syrian conflict — so-called “moderates” unblemished by the Assad regime’s cruel record of repression, or the Islamists’ preference for cutting the throats of apostates.

In her memoir Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recounted her hope that “if the United States could train and equip a reliable and effective moderate rebel force, it could help hold the country together during a transition . . . and prevent ethnic cleansing and score settling.”

In much the same way, the Reagan administration hoped — and failed — to cultivate “moderate elements” in Iran’s army through its covert arms deals with Tehran in the mid-1980s. The truth of the matter — exposed again this week — is that the FSA and other “moderates” never had the popular support or the grit to take on more fanatical warriors in Syria.

On Tuesday, the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate that rebranded itself last year as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), attacked the FSA in Idlib and Aleppo provinces with heavy artillery, suicide bombs, and even cyber attacks. Within a day, they largely succeeded in wiping out local FSA forces.

JFS explained that it was punishing the FSA for “trying to divert the course of the revolution towards reconciliation with the criminal regime” of President Bashar al-Assad. The FSA recently joined other non-extremist rebel groups in Kazakhstan for inconclusive talks with the Syrian government.

If Washington had provided the FSA with portable anti-aircraft missiles, as advocated by influential interventionists like Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute, those dangerous weapons would now be in the hands of one of the most extreme and lethal factions fighting in Syria with the possibility that they could be used for terrorist purposes such as shooting down civilian airliners.

Similar debacles, complete with weapons transfers to extremists, have taken place many times over the past few years. In September 2013, FSA forces in the northern city of Raqqa surrendered abjectly to Islamists, despite outnumbering them. One top rebel commander said, “There is no such thing as the FSA [here]. We are all Al Qaeda now. Half of the FSA has been devoured by ISIS, and the other half joined Jabhat al-Nusra.”

Collaborating with Al Qaeda

Many FSA commanders learned their lesson and began to collaborate with Nusra Front, essentially fighting under Al Qaeda’s command. Those that steadfastly remained “moderate” paid a heavy price.

In September 2014, the Washington Post’s national security columnist David Ignatius described visiting the commander of Harakat al-Hazm, the largest CIA-vetted (i.e., “moderate”) rebel group in Syria. They had just been “chased from their headquarters” by Nusra Front, and forced to abandon their U.S.-provided anti-tank missiles and other lethal equipment.

“At some point, the Syrian street lost trust in the Free Syrian Army,” the despondent commander told Ignatius. He explained, as Ignatius put it, that “many rebel commanders aren’t disciplined, their fighters aren’t well-trained and the loose umbrella organization of the FSA lacks command and control. The extremists of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra have filled the vacuum.”

An Arab intelligence source confirmed to Ignatius, “the FSA is a kind of mafia. Everyone wants to be head. People inside Syria are tired of this mafia. There is no structure. It’s nothing.” Based on this experience, Ignatius declared flatly, “The problem is that the ‘moderate opposition’ that the United States is backing is still largely a fantasy.”

His conclusion was borne out a month later when Nusra Front vanquished the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front in Idlib province. Worse yet, the following summer, the Pentagon graduated 60 rebels, hand-picked and trained at a cost of half a billion dollars, only to have them fall apart and flee when attacked by Nusra Front.

One month after that debacle, another group of rebels handed over their U.S.-supplied trucks and ammunition to Nusra Front in exchange for safe passage — repeating the process of U.S. taxpayers arming Al Qaeda in the name of promoting “moderates.”

That pattern continues. Citing FSA officers, the ardent think-tank interventionist Thanassis Cambanis admits that “Nusra routinely harvests up to half the weapons supplied by the Friends of Syria, a collection of countries opposed to Assad, and has regularly smashed FSA factions that . . . Nusra thought were getting too strong or too popular.”

A Strategy That Backfired

In 2015, former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has long advocated a more muscular policy of arming moderate rebels against the Assad regime, confessed that the strategy had backfired.

“For a long time,” Ford said, “we have looked the other way while the Nusra Front and armed groups on the ground, some of whom are getting help from us, have coordinated in military operations against the regime. I think the days of us looking the other way are finished.”

Joshua Landis, the respected Syria expert and head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, goes further and argues that trying to buy moderate allies with money and arms was doomed from the start.

As Landis told an interviewer recently, “Many activists and Washington think tankers argue that the reason the radicals won in Syria is because they were better funded than moderate militia . . . No evidence supports this. Radicals . . . fought better, had better strategic vision and were more popular. The notion that had Washington pumped billions of dollars to selected moderate militias, they would’ve killed the extremists and destroyed Assad’s regime, is bunkum.”

Bunkum it may be, but mainstream pundits continue to demand that Washington support anti-Assad forces in Syria — whether in the name of saving lives, fighting tyranny, or making life uncomfortable for the Russians. We can only hope that President Trump ignores them and confines his wars to Twitter.

Jonathan Marshall is author of many recent articles on arms issues, including “How World War III Could Start,” “NATO’s ProvocativeAnti-Russian Moves,” “Escalations in a New Cold War,” “Ticking Closer to Midnight,” and “Turkey’s Nukes: A Sum of All Fears.”

 




Trump’s Ego-Driven Lies

U.S. government lying is surely not a new thing – recall the Iraq War deceptions – but Donald Trump has started off his presidency with clearly false claims that make the problem worse, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

We are less than a week into the Trump presidency, and it is apparent that one of the more disturbing practices of Mr. Trump’s campaign he intends to continue while in office.

The practice involves the President’s disdain for truth, but it is not just a matter of the volume of lies and how he has built his political career on falsehood, as disturbing as that is. Rather it is the more specific technique of unrelentingly repeating a lie so often and with such apparent conviction, while ignoring all contrary evidence and refutations, that through sheer repetition many people are led to believe it to be true.

The technique has been demonstrated by authoritarian regimes elsewhere. Many results of modern opinion polling suggest that now, in the post-truth era, there is even greater potential for making the technique work than for dictatorships of the past. Even a fact-checking free press cannot stop it; the fact-checking gets shoved aside amid the repetition.

The early subjects of post-inaugural use of the big lie have been ones closest to the bruises the new president’s ego suffered from the nature of last year’s election and Mr. Trump’s status as the least popular incoming president since such polls began to be taken. These subjects have included the size of inaugural crowds and audiences and the President’s baseless accusation that widespread voter fraud accounted for much of the popular vote that went against him. As the administration is forced to make real public policy, there is good reason to expect that the same techniques being applied now to ego-driven questions will also be applied to substantive policy matters to bolster public support for them.

There is no limit to the range of policy questions on which such efforts may be made, but consider the chief implications for foreign relations of the United States.

The first consequence is a loss of trust among foreign governments and populations, who see how frequent and shameless is the lying and thereby become less inclined to believe the U.S. government even when it is telling the truth.

Gideon Rachman addresses this effect in the Financial Times, asking, “When an international confrontation looms, the US has traditionally looked to its allies for support — at the UN or even on the battlefield. But how will America be able to rally support, in the Trump era, if its allies no longer believe what the US president and his aides have to say?”

A lesser ability to muster international support in pursuit of shared interests is one of the specific harms that flow from a loss of foreign trust. Another more general harm is the loss of one of the biggest advantages that the free world, and the United States as leader of the free world, have had over unfree countries — a loss that comes from stooping to use one of the favorite techniques of regimes that rule the unfree.

As Rachman observes, “If the Trump administration now destroys American credibility, it will have handed the Russian and Chinese governments a victory of historic proportions. The cold war was a battle not just about economics or military strength, but also about the truth. The Soviet Union collapsed, in the end, partly because it was too obvious that it was a regime based on lies.”

Ill-informed Public

Another consequence of directing the big lie to domestic audiences is that this audience will become that much worse of an ill-informed constituency, incapable of engaging in the kind of well-informed debate that serves as a check against ill-advised foreign policies and can muster solid support for well-advised ones.

The difficulty in generating that kind of well-informed discussion is hard enough amid fake news and post-truth nonchalance about accuracy. Willing and relentless use of lying by those in power makes the difficulty even greater.

The problem is already great regarding domestic issues on which the people have some basis for making direct and independent observations. For example, two-thirds of Trump voters erroneously believe that unemployment increased during Barack Obama’s presidency, even though it significantly decreased. The problem will be at least as great on matters of foreign relations on which the public has less basis for direct observation and follows more what their leaders say.

A subtler but potentially significant consequence is that the leaders who propagate a big lie, by being so committed to sustaining the message contained in it, come to believe the lie themselves. And when this happens, foreign policy and its execution become based directly, not just indirectly by way of a duped public, on falsehood.

We saw a bit of this with the more fanatical of the promoters of the Iraq War. One of the most fanatical of them, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (who, in the words of an anonymous official who worked with him, “has an unfortunate ability to delude himself because he believes so passionately in things”), came to believe that the mythical alliance between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda, manufactured as a propaganda point to gain public support for the invasion, actually existed, and even after the invasion he was wastefully directing resources to try to find evidence that it existed.

It is surely no coincidence that in this first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, George Orwell’s 1984 rose to the top of the Amazon bestseller list. We have not yet heard of any proposed government reorganization to create a Department of Truth.  We already have, however, gag orders to keep truth-telling public servants (especially, it appears, those who might have facts related to climate change) from interfering with messages from the top, including any messages that take the form of big lies.

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.) 




Ignoring the Voice of the People

The massive protests that followed the inauguration should have reminded Donald Trump that he is a minority president with a slim-to-none popular mandate, as Michael Winship describes.

By Michael Winship

“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.” On Sunday morning, that came flying out from the Twitter account of @realDonaldTrump, raising the question, “What have you done with the real, @realDonaldTrump?”

It sure didn’t sound like the troll we’ve come to know. A couple of days in, maybe the awesomeness of becoming the leader of the free world had penetrated his roiling psyche and settled him down. Nah. Clearly, he hadn’t written it. Because just two hours before, in a tone far more like the narcissistic whine we’re used to, the Trump account tweeted, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.”

Not voting? Celebs? That sound you heard was my cognitive dissonance alarm hitting DEFCON 1. In both instances, the bad and not-quite-as-bad Trump personas were writing about Saturday’s worldwide protests, women’s marches in more than 500 cities in the United States — at least 3.7 million Americans — and more than another hundred demonstrations internationally, from London and Paris to that handful of hearty souls who displayed their protest signs in Antarctica.

There were half a million people in Washington, DC, just the day after the less-than-superb turnout for Donald Trump’s inauguration and some 400,000 here in New York City, if not more. According to Sarah Frostenson at Vox, “Political scientists say they think we may have witnessed the largest day of demonstrations in American history.”

I have been at many, many protest marches in my life, going back to the big anti-Vietnam demonstrations of the late ’60s and ’70s, and I have never experienced anything like what happened this weekend. We arrived at our designated stepping off point on Saturday at 11:30 a.m., right on time, but the block was so packed it already had been penned off.

A marshal suggested we move up to the next street above and work our way back down to where we were supposed to be but it was impossible and in the process I managed to get separated from my girlfriend Pat and another friend — too much of a crowd between us to get back to one another; a situation complicated by a dying cellphone.

And so there I stood, alone in the crowd, waiting for something to happen, soaking in the excitement and anticipation everyone shared at being there, enjoying the collegiality, reading the hundreds of signs, from the woman carrying a 5×7 card with the words, “A tiny sign for a tiny man” to the guy not far from me whose placard read, “A woman made this sign for me.”

Apparently, our numbers were so unexpected it took a while for the organizers and police to figure out what to do with us all, so it was 2:30 p.m. or so before we finally began to move, slowly swinging south onto Second Avenue on the east side of Manhattan. This wasn’t so much a march as a slow group shuffle; there were so many people crowded onto the street we could only move a little bit at a time, like an escaped chain gang bound at the ankles.

We worked our way down to 42nd Street and then west. I was tempted to peel off at Grand Central Station and head home — the hour already was late — but I was determined to make it all the way to the end, to reach Fifth Avenue and 56th Street and summit at Trump Tower.

By the time we made our way onto Fifth Avenue the sun was going down but we kept moving, singing, chanting, cheering. A 6-year-old girl, perched on a grown-up’s shoulders, urged us on: “We are the popular vote! This is what democracy looks like!” she shouted and we echoed everything she said. This was her personal favorite: “Donald Duck for president!”

We got to a block from Trump’s gilded pleasure dome and then were turned away by parade marshals and police. We could get no closer; barriers blockaded the way. Amicably, the protesters broke up, walking east and west on the cross streets, many filling the bars and restaurants, others crowding into the subway stations, headed home.

Shrugging Off Protests

White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to shrug off the significance of what happened on our streets Saturday. Referring to the Washington march, he said, “There were people who came to the Mall, as they do all the time, sometimes in smaller numbers.” Ho-hum, he seemed to say.

“A lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and not against anything,” Spicer said, personifying the self-deception that believes the lie. Sorry, Sean — Saturday was a stunning affirmation of defiance, a rebuke and warning that resistance has just begun, yet only if we have the patience and grit to keep it moving forward.

I’ve told this story here before, but the lesson remains: In the wake of the murder of protesting students at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970, the big antiwar demonstrations that followed and the nationwide student strike that shut down hundreds of colleges and universities, the idea was not just to demonstrate but to mobilize and continue to work toward an end to the Vietnam War.

Once the dramatic marches had come to an end, all too many simply took advantage of an early end to the semester and headed for the beach. Little was accomplished and the war continued for another five years. Those of us who wanted to keep the peace work going — the stated intention of the strike — were met with diffidence at best and at worst, outright apathy and resentment.

“Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are,” Gloria Steinem said at Saturday’s rally in Washington. “Pressing ‘send’ is not enough.” She’s right, but marching won’t be enough either as we go up against a committed band of zealots determined to end all remaining vestiges of the New Deal and the Great Society and to further enrich the wealth of the 1 percent — especially, of course, themselves.

“This is the upside of the downside,” Steinem said on Saturday. “This is an outpouring of energy, and true democracy like I have never seen in my very long life. It is wide in age, it is deep in diversity, and remember, the Constitution does not begin with ‘I the president,’ it begins with ‘we the people.’”

The work must take place at every level, from local on up: organizing, keeping yourself informed, sending letters and emails, making phone calls, attending town meetings, running for office or working for the candidates who best represent your interests.

And this, perhaps above all: confront your member of Congress. Don’t let him or her off the hook. Make sure your representative doesn’t sell you out to the Big Interests, or deceive you with empty rhetoric. If they do – throw the rascals out.

There is no time to lose. With each day, a cornice of our republic crumbles and the body of democracy struggles to keep itself from stumbling and falling into the abyss. No joke. 

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/great-joyful-march-not-enough/]




Getting Better Results Than Law-and-Order

Exclusive: Despite President Trump’s tough law-and-order rhetoric, courts and schools are finding that “restorative justice” – as an alternative to traditional punishments – can reduce offenses and save money, writes Don Ediger.

By Don Ediger

Early next month, police in Portland, Maine, are scheduled to meet with 17 men charged with misdemeanors during a Black Lives Matter protest last July. At the meetings, they’ll discuss a wide range of subjects, from the motivation for the protests to the damage they caused. They’ll also talk about ways to prevent similar infractions in the future.

In Spotsylvania County, Virginia, training seminars are now available for school staff who are interested in ways to discipline misbehaving students without expulsion or other punishments that can interrupt their education.

These and dozens of other programs throughout the country are part of “restorative justice,” a term that a few years ago was almost unknown. Restorative justice has several meanings, but today it usually refers to a system where people who commit offenses can avoid jail time by repairing the damage they caused.

This restorative process plays out through “community justice conferencing” between perpetrators and victims. State courts also have restitution procedures, but restitution occurs at a much higher rate when it’s the result of an agreement between the victim and offender than when it’s ordered by a judge.

Restorative justice systems are also being adopted by schools and colleges that believe misbehaving students have a better chance of reform after they talk about their problems with the people they’ve hurt and with counselors who can recommend a better course for the future.

New York City public schools adopted restorative justice several years ago and recently announced that 2015-16 was the safest year on record. Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina credits restorative justice for the improvement, citing a 70 percent reduction in student suspensions.

Her announcement was one of the few times that restorative justice has made the news, but experts in the subject say that’s likely to change in the next year or two. That’s because more courts and schools are using the process, because proponents are growing in number and because opponents have become more vocal.

Meanwhile, more universities in the U.S. and Canada are offering courses in restorative justice. The University of California at Berkeley, for example, has a Restorative Justice Center that’s on the forefront of research into the subject. In Canada, Simon Fraser University offers four courses in restorative justice.

Backers of restorative justice, including Dr. Gregory Zubacz of the Criminology & Restorative Justice Studies at Fresno Pacific University, cite reports showing that restorative justice costs less than standard court trials and that perpetrators are less likely to repeat offenses. When the cost of incarceration is included, he says, restorative justice is even cheaper when compared with the traditional system.

Zubacs points to a recent study showing that the average cost of a case that goes through the court system is $9,500 while a case diverted to the restorative justice process costs an average of $1,200 if the case is resolved before trial and probation for one year is ordered instead of incarceration. With incarceration, costs increase to upwards of $30,000 per year of incarceration.

He cites a recent Berkeley study that shows recidivism is considerably less in the restorative justice system than in the traditional judicial process: within three months of the offense, 26 percent of the juveniles whose cases had not been diverted to community justice conferencing (CJC) had re-offended, while only 6 percent of those in restorative justice had re-offended.

“Then, within six months the rates were 22 percent for non-CJC participants and 4 percent for participants,” Zubacs says. “At the one-year mark, the rates were 15 percent for non-CJC participants and 2 percent for CJC participants. At the two-year mark, the rates were 13 percent for non-CJC participants and 2 percent for CJC participants.”

Defenders of Status Quo

Opponents include many officials in the criminal court and penal systems.

“I would be very wary of arguments that restorative justice is beneficial to all involved,” says a former university official who ran the prison education system in a major Midwest state. “The sample data is so small that you cannot draw conclusions.”

He also points out that most criminals are aware of the consequences of a crime, both for the victim and themselves: “Or as guys in the joint say, if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

Proponents of restorative justice are accustomed to hearing detractors say that it’s soft on crime. “In fact,” says Zubacs, “it’s not soft on crime since the perpetrator must take personal responsibility. Sometimes juveniles would prefer to go to jail than have to sit down with their parents present and accept responsibility for their conduct.”

Criticism of restorative justice also comes from teachers. In Fresno, California, for instance, teachers have complained that some students aren’t suspended regardless of how many acts of violence they commit.

Last month, the Fresno Bee reported that at least 70 of the 85 teachers at McLane High School signed a petition demanding a stricter and more consistent student discipline policy than the school’s restorative justice system provides. Teachers say there are far too many disruptions and fights at the school and that teachers are often verbally abused.

The petition in Fresno may slow further implementation of restorative justice in the state, and so may the fact that no powerful organizations are yet backing the system. That’s a reason why proponents are trying to demonstrate, as in Portland, Maine, how restorative justice benefits governments and populations.

The person overseeing the process in Portland, Fred Van Liew, acknowledges that it’s often difficult to persuade officials in the criminal justice system to try restorative systems. Van Liew says, “The mantra back then and often now is that you do the crime, you do the time. Many think it’s being soft on the criminals. It just doesn’t fit within their world view.”

Van Liew has personal knowledge of the subject.  He’s a lawyer who served as assistant attorney general in his home state of Iowa. “In 1991,” he says, “I got a letter from a minister who recommended restorative justice. I had never heard of it, so I did some research, including reading Changing Lenses, the book on restorative justice by the criminologist Howard Zehr. That changed my life.” Zehr’s book is often cited as the impetus behind the U.S. restorative justice movement.

Even before he read the book, Van Liew had doubts about the traditional justice procedure, saying: “I didn’t think that a punishment-driven system made sense.  So when I found out that restorative justice suggests that the proper response to wrongdoing is to repair the harm, this immediately resonated with me. I got a hold of 25 copies of Changing Lenses and gave them to the mediators at the neighborhood mediation centers of the county attorneys’ offices. We all read the book and brought in a trainer and soon started doing intermediation in adult felony criminal cases.”

That was in 1991. Today Van Liew is a leader in the restorative justice movement. He says several of the prosecutors he’s working with in Maine tell him that restorative justice could make their jobs more meaningful. “It’s difficult being a prosecutor,” Van Liew says, “because you have to ask yourself if locking people up or fining them will really make a difference.”

Zehr told me that he believes the future is bright for restorative justice but that there may be many unexpected hurdles, chiefly because it often goes counter to the legal training of prosecutors and counter to their own view of self-interest.

As head of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, which he founded in 2012, Zehr speaks regularly with prosecutors and defense attorneys. During these discussions, Zehr says, both sides often express their frustration with the current system. “Some of the attorneys tell me that restorative justice gives their careers a whole new meaning and reminds them of why they went into practice in the first place.”

Don Ediger is a veteran journalist who has worked for The Miami Herald, Associated Press, BusinessWeek and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications. He is currently a resident of Miami.




Trump’s Pipeline Orders Challenge Protesters

Ignoring environmental concerns and tribal objections, President Trump has put the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines back on track without even consulting the opponents, Dennis J Bernstein reports.

By Dennis J Bernstein

On his second business day in office, President Donald Trump signed executive actions to restart construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, sending shockwaves through the indigenous environmental communities at Standing Rock and their supporters across the U.S. and around the world.

After Trump’s actions, I spoke with Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who has worked on various grassroots environmental issues with tribal governments to develop indigenous-based environmental protection infrastructures. He was a key organizer at the Standing Rock protests that convinced President Obama to consider alternative pipeline routes.

Dennis Bernstein: Give us your initial response, your overview.

Tom Goldtooth: Yes, our network, which is a grassroots Native organization of frontline organizations and individuals and tribal members throughout North America, are very concerned. We’re very alarmed at how fast he has put this … insane initiative forward.

[…] We definitely are opposed to their recklessness, and the political motivation behind these kinds of fossil fuel development projects. As we know, [Trump] is invested in the Dakota Access Pipeline. And this is just a really bad step on his behalf, as a new-seated President of the United States.

He is violating existing, government to government policies between the United States and tribes, as federally recognized tribes. He never consulted… no one in his administration consulted with the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, nor any of the other federally recognized tribes, on this initiative that he is putting forward.

And so, we’re very concerned as he’s taken this executive action towards making the first step towards approving of the easement of the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Missouri River. So, you know, we’re very concerned. We had a couple calls with members in the community at Standing Rock. Some people in leadership with the Oceti Sakowin Camp, as well as many of our other supporters. So, we definitely are bringing attention to this … where’s this going to end? […]

We know that these kinds of pipelines are violating the private rights of private land owners, ranchers and farmers along that corridor, with threats of imminent domain. They were forced. It was a forced choice many of those private land owners were faced with, on these kinds of energy developments. So we’re going to see that more under this privatization initiative that Trump has put forward around jobs and economic development. But at what expense?

DB: This is about the most blatant… one of the most blatant things I’ve seen in my lifetime. But this really does continue, shall we say, Columbus’ American tradition of genocide… I mean, this is a white ruler acting on behalf of the white race. Wouldn’t you say? It has to be seen that way.

TG: It’s a continuation of those colonial policies that are at the foundation of the United States. And throughout past decades under social justice and environmental justice movement initiatives, we begin to try to unwrap these colonial policies built upon racism. And here we are. We got a president in office that is racist and, many people say, is a fascist. And so, this is just another continuing practice that we have to stop. We have to mobilize and stop this right now.

Like I said, this initiative is indicating to us, right now, that he doesn’t respect the sovereignty rights of our American Indians and our Alaskan Natives. And this decision he’s making, if he moves forward and implements this action with these executive orders, it’s going to violate the treaty rights of the Lakota/Dakota people. But where’s it going to stop? It’s going to violate, again, all of our Native rights. So, we’ve spoken out against this pipeline and the Black Snake initiative, with all these pipelines. And Trump is portraying his true self, joining forces with that darkness.

There’s no light in his decisions. These prairie lands are very rich culturally, and environmentally, and it’s a very spiritual relationship our people have with the land. And he’s violating that, as well.

DB: It seems that all the actions at Standing Rock were, in a way, preparation for the resistance of this next level of violence. Would you say that the work that people have done will do them well, in terms of the continued resistance? And perhaps people are already thinking about that, in deep ways?

TG: Well, one of the things that many thousands of people … that have come to Oceti Sakowin Camp and the Sacred Stone Camp, at Standing Rock, have consistently said… they said, “This is a spiritual movement.” They felt that connection to the sacredness of Mother Earth. They saw that our people… both Native and non-Native, were standing in prayer, in peace.

And they saw that there is a meaning when we say “Water is life.” And there’s meaning when we say we have to recognize the sacredness of our Mother Earth. But, yet, we’re dealing with the colonial system of laws and regulations that are often violating those natural laws, as we know it, of protection of that sacredness of Mother Earth, and Father Sky.

So, that’s why we [have] definitely been opposed. And many of Trump’s comments in his election process, talking about privatization–what that means to us is the privatization of nature, of land, of water. So that it gives those rights to the corporate, private sector. They have more rights than we have.

Those corporations like Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Exxon, Chevron… they have more standing than our own first Nations, or our Native people. Whether it’s in Canada in the Tar Sands, or whether it’s right here in the prairie lands with these pipe lines. So, definitely we saw a wake up, as millions of people globally looking at what’s going on at Standing Rock. So, we’re going to utilize that movement that we’re building here.

And we’re going to see what Trump is going to do. We’re going to demand that he pull back from implementing these executive orders. Otherwise, we’re going to put that call out. There’s going to be
massive mobilization, and civil disobedience, on a scale that may never have been seen on newly seated presidents of the United States. So, we’re going to keep this movement going. This resistance is stronger now than ever before. It’s not just about Standing Rock. It’s not just about this specific pipeline. It’s about a whole system that is not sustainable. Something has to change and Trump is not going to be that leader that is going to be looking at the best interests of everyone’s future.

DB: Final question, now. The climate denialists obviously own Trump. He’s one of them. … This battle … is the cutting edge … [of] those who understand how important it is to protect the Earth and the water … [against] these fascists who put profits over everything …. The line really is drawn at these pipelines, isn’t it?

TG: It is, it is. It was that dream that that Lakota woman had years ago on this Trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline… when that dream told her that this pipeline has a darkness to it, that it’s a black snake. And that we have to, somehow, cut the head off of that snake. So the question is what do these pipelines represent? It’s like a whole system that’s clouding the reality of what we need to do. And now it has the leadership that is put into office.

So that’s why our spiritual leaders are telling people that we need to go back to a prayer. We need to go back to having ceremonies, and this is what’s going to bring in that light of understanding, of peace and compassion. And maybe that’s one reason I got that Gandhi peace award, here, you know, last year.

And, there’s a link between how we as modern society and this world have separated itself from that sacredness of Mother Earth. And, we need to, as a humanity, throughout the world, including President Trump, his cabinet, Congress, and state by state, county by county, city by city, and our families, we all need to look at what’s going on.

We need to come back to understanding what our relationship is to these natural creative laws, these principles, that many land-based peoples still have, many of our Native peoples still have. And so, it’s
that critical right now. We know that the current economic system of unlimited growth is barely hanging in there, on a thread. But it’s trying to survive. At what expense, though? So it is an indigenous issue, but it’s all of people’s issue, our future children’s issue. So it’s that critical.

DB: And that Gandhian prayerful, peaceful resistance, which was really engaging the youth, that’s going to continue defining this movement as the resistance grows. You feel sure and certain of that?

TG: Yes, we gotta continue. We’ve got to continue to put our thoughts together, from our heart. Let’s link up and bring together our mind and our heart. Sometimes that’s the furthest distance that is created in these modern times. So we gotta let that heart speak up.

Compassion and prayer is very strong. It can move mountains. And so, as our Native spiritual leaders have said in these ceremonies … we have to stand there in resistance, taking action in peace and prayer. And we will continue to do that at Standing Rock, with the leadership of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, with its elders, and their youth and their women.

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




Obama Bequeaths a More Dangerous World

Special Report: President Obama may have entered the White House with a desire to rein in America’s global war-making but he succumbed to neocon pressure and left behind an even more dangerous world, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Any fair judgment about Barack Obama’s presidency must start with the recognition that he inherited a dismal situation from George W. Bush: the U.S. economy was in free-fall and U.S. troops were bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly, these intertwined economic and foreign policy crises colored how Obama viewed his options, realizing that one false step could tip the world into the abyss.

It’s also true that his Republican rivals behaved as if they had no responsibility for the messes that Obama had to clean up. From the start, they set out to trip him up rather than lend a hand. Plus, the mainstream media blamed Obama for this failure of bipartisanship, rewarding the Republicans for their nihilistic obstructionism.

That said, however, it is also true that Obama – an inexperienced manager – made huge mistakes from the outset and failed to rectify them in a timely fashion. For instance, he bought into the romantic notion of a “Team of Rivals” with his White House trumpeting the comparisons to Abraham Lincoln (although some of Lincoln’s inclusion of rivals actually resulted from deals made at the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago to gain Lincoln the nomination).

In the real world of modern Washington, Obama’s choice of hawkish Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State and Republican apparatchik Robert Gates to remain as Secretary of Defense – along with keeping Bush’s high command, including neocon favorite Gen. David Petraeus – guaranteed that he would achieve little real foreign policy change.

Indeed, in 2009, this triumvirate collaborated to lock Obama into a futile counterinsurgency escalation in Afghanistan that did little more than get another 1,000 or so U.S. soldiers killed along with many more Afghans. In his memoir Duty, Gates said he and Clinton could push their joint views – favoring more militaristic strategies – in the face of White House opposition because “we were both seen as ‘un-fireable.’”

Seasoned Operatives

So, Obama’s rookie management mistake of surrounding himself with seasoned Washington operatives with a hawkish agenda doomed his early presidency to maneuvering at the edges of change rather than engineering a major – and necessary – overhaul of how the United States deals with the world.

Obama may have thought he could persuade these experienced players with his intellect and charm but that is not how power works. At moments when Obama was inclined to move in a less warlike direction, Clinton, Gates and Petraeus could easily leak damaging comments about his “weakness” to friendly journalists at mainstream publications. Obama found himself consistently under pressure and he lacked the backbone to prove Gates wrong by firing Gates and Clinton.

Thus, Obama was frequently outmaneuvered. Besides the ill-fated counterinsurgency surge in Afghanistan, there was his attempt in 2009-10 to get Brazil and Turkey to broker a deal with Iran in which it would surrender much of its enriched uranium. But Israel and the neocons wanted a “regime change” bombing strategy against Iran, leading Secretary Clinton to personally torpedo the Brazil-Turkey initiative (with the strong support of The New York Times’ editorial page) as Obama silently acquiesced to her insubordination.

In 2011, Obama also gave in to pressure from Clinton and one of his key advisers, “humanitarian” warmonger Samantha Power, to support another “regime change” in Libya. That U.S.-facilitated air war devastated the Libyan military and ended with Islamic militants sodomizing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with a knife and then murdering him, a grisly outcome that Clinton celebrated with a chirpy rephrase of Julius Caesar’s famous boast about a conquest, as she said: “We came, we saw, he died.”

Clinton was less upbeat a year later when Islamic militants in Benghazi, Libya, killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other U.S. personnel, launching a scandal that led to the exposure of her private email server and reverberated through to the final days of her failed presidential campaign in 2016.

Second-Term Indecision

Even after Clinton, Gates and Petraeus were gone by the start of Obama’s second term, he continued to acquiesce to most of the demands of the neocons and liberal interventionists. Rather than act as a decisive U.S. president, Obama often behaved more like the sullen teen-ager complaining from the backseat about not wanting to go on a family trip. Obama grumbled about some of the neocon/liberal-hawk policies but he mostly went along, albeit half-heartedly at times.

For instance, although he recognized that the idea of “moderate” Syrian rebels being successful in ousting President Bashar al-Assad was a “fantasy,” he nevertheless approved covert shipments of weapons, which often ended up in the hands of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists and their  allies. But he balked at a full-scale U.S. military intervention.

Obama’s mixed-signal Syrian strategy not only violated international law – by committing aggression against a sovereign state – but also contributed to the horrific bloodshed that ripped apart Syria and created a massive flow of refugees into Turkey and Europe. By the end of his presidency, the United States found itself largely sidelined as Russia and regional powers, Turkey and Iran, took the lead in trying to resolve the conflict.

But one of the apparent reasons for Obama’s susceptibility to such fruitless undertakings was that he seemed terrified of Israel and its pugnacious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who made clear his disdain for Obama by essentially endorsing Obama’s 2012 Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

Although Obama may have bristled at Netanyahu’s arrogance – displayed even during meetings in the Oval Office – the President always sought to mollify the tempestuous Prime Minister. At the peak of Obama’s power – after he vanquished Romney despite Netanyahu’s electoral interference – Obama chose to grovel before Netanyahu with an obsequious three-day visit to Israel.

Despite that trip, Netanyahu treated Obama with disdain, setting a new standard for chutzpah by accepting a Republican invitation to appear before a joint session of Congress in 2015 and urge U.S. senators and representatives to side with Israel against their own president over Obama’s negotiated agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu and the neocons wanted to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.

However, the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu failed to derail, may have been Obama’s most significant diplomatic achievement. (In his passive-aggressive way, Obama gave Netanyahu some measure of payback by abstaining on a December 2016 motion before the United Nations Security Council condemning Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands. Obama neither vetoed it nor voted for it, but let it pass.)

Obama also defied Washington’s hardliners when he moved to normalize relations with Cuba, although – by 2016 – the passionate feelings about the Caribbean island had faded as a geopolitical issue, making the Cuban sanctions more a relic of the old Cold War than a hot-button issue.

Obama’s Dubious Legacy

Yet, Obama’s fear of standing up consistently to Official Washington’s  neocons and cowering before the Israeli-Saudi tandem in the Middle East did much to define his foreign policy legacy. While Obama did drag his heels on some of their more extreme demands by resisting their calls to bomb the Syrian government in 2013 and by choosing diplomacy over war with Iran in 2014, Obama repeatedly circled back to ingratiating himself to the neocons and America’s demanding Israeli-Saudi “allies.”

Instead of getting tough with Israel over its continued abuse of the Palestinians, Obama gave Netanyahu’s regime the most sophisticated weapons from the U.S. arsenal. Instead of calling out the Saudis as the principal state sponsor of terrorism – for their support for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State – Obama continued the fiction that Iran was the lead villain on terrorism and cooperated when the Saudis launched a brutal air war against their impoverished neighbors in Yemen.

Obama personally acknowledged authorizing military strikes in seven countries, mostly through his aggressive use of drones, an approach toward push-button warfare that has spread animosity against the United States to the seven corners of the earth.

However, perhaps Obama’s most dangerous legacy is the New Cold War with Russia, which began in earnest when Washington’s neocons struck back against Moscow for its cooperation with Obama in getting Syria to surrender its chemical weapons (which short-circuited neocon hopes to bomb the Syrian military) and in persuading Iran to accept tight limits on its nuclear program (another obstacle to a neocon bombing plan).

In both cases, the neocons were bent on “regime change,” or at least a destructive bombing operation in line with Israeli and Saudi hostility toward Syria and Iran. But the biggest challenge to these schemes was the positive relationship that had developed between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. So, that relationship had to be shattered and the wedge that the neocons found handy was Ukraine.

By September 2013, Carl Gershman, the neocon president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, had identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward the ultimate goal of ousting Putin. By late fall 2013 and winter 2014, neocons inside the U.S. government, including Sen. John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, were actively agitating for a “regime change” in Ukraine, a putsch against elected President Viktor Yanukovych that was carried out on Feb. 22, 2014.

This operation on Russia’s border provoked an immediate reaction from the Kremlin, which then supported ethnic-Russian Ukrainians who had voted heavily for Yanukovych and who objected to the coup regime in Kiev. The neocon-dominated U.S. mainstream media, of course, portrayed  the Ukrainian conflict as a simple case of “Russian aggression,” and Obama fell in line with this propaganda narrative.

After his relationship with Putin had deteriorated over the ensuring two-plus years, Obama chose to escalate the New Cold War in his final weeks in  office by having U.S. intelligence agencies leak unsubstantiated claims that Putin interfered in the U.S. presidential election by hacking and publicizing Democratic emails that helped Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

Smearing Trump

The CIA also put in play salacious rumors about the Kremlin blackmailing Trump over a supposed video of him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. And, according to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. counterintelligence agents investigated communications between retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, and Russian officials. In the New McCarthyism that now surrounds the New Cold War, any conversation with Russians apparently puts an American under suspicion for treason.

The anti-Russian frenzy also pulled in The New York Times, The Washington Post and virtually the entire mainstream media, which now treat any dissent from the official U.S. narratives condemning Moscow as prima facie evidence that you are part of a Russian propaganda apparatus. Even some “progressive” publications have joined this stampede because they so despise Trump that they will tout any accusation to damage his presidency.

Besides raising serious concerns about civil liberties and freedom of association, Obama’s end-of-term anti-Russian hysteria may be leading the Democratic Party into supplanting the Republicans as America’s leading pro-war party allied with neocons, liberal hawks, the CIA and the Military-Industrial Complex – in opposition to President Trump’s less belligerent approach toward Russia.

This “trading places” moment over which party is the bigger warmonger could be another profound part of Obama’s legacy, presenting a crisis for pro-peace Democrats as the Trump presidency unfolds.

The Real Obama

Yet, one of the mysteries of Obama is whether he was always a closet hawk who just let his true colors show over the course of his eight years in office or whether he was a weak executive who desperately wanted to belong to the Washington establishment and underwent a gradual submission to achieve that acceptance.

I know some Obama watchers favor the first answer, that he simply bamboozled people into thinking that he was an agent for foreign policy change when he was always a stealth warmonger. But I tend to take the second position. To me, Obama was a person who – despite his intelligence, eloquence and accomplishments – was never accepted by America’s predominantly white establishment.

Because he was a black male raised in a white family and in a white-dominated society, Obama understood that he never really belonged. But Obama desperately wanted to be part of that power structure of well-dressed, well-schooled and well-connected elites who moved with such confidence within the economic-political system.

An instructive moment came in 2014 when Obama was under sustained criticism for his refusal to bomb the Syrian military after a sarin gas attack outside Damascus that was initially blamed on the government though later evidence suggested that it was a provocation committed by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

Despite the uncertainty about who was responsible, the neocons and liberal hawks deemed Obama “weak” for not ordering the bombing strike to enforce his “red line” against chemical weapons use.

In a 2016 article in The Atlantic, Obama cited his sarin decision as a moment when he resisted the Washington “playbook” that usually favors a military response. The article also reported that Obama had been informed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that there was no “slam dunk” evidence pinning the attack on the Syrian military. Yet, still Obama came under intense pressure to strike.

A leader of this pressure campaign was neocon ideologue Robert Kagan, an architect of the Iraq War and the husband of Assistant Secretary of State Nuland. Kagan penned a long essay in The New Republic entitled “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.” A subsequent New York Times article observed that Kagan “depicted President Obama as presiding over an inward turn by the United States that threatened the global order and broke with more than 70 years of American presidents and precedence.”

Kagan “called for Mr. Obama to resist a popular pull toward making the United States a nation without larger responsibilities, and to reassume the more muscular approach to the world out of vogue in Washington since the war in Iraq drained the country of its appetite for intervention,” the Times article read.

Obama was so sensitive to this criticism that he modified his speech to the West Point graduation and “even invited Mr. Kagan to lunch to compare world views,” the Times reported. A source familiar with that conversation described it to me as a “meeting of equals.”

So, Obama’s subservience to the neocons and liberal hawks may have begun as a case of an inexperienced president getting outmaneuvered by rivals whom he had foolishly empowered. But Obama’s descent into a full-scale New Cold Warrior by the end of his second term suggests that he was no longer an overpowered naïf but someone who had become a committed convert.

How Obama reached that point may be less significant than the fact that he did. Thus, the world that President Obama bequeaths to President Trump may not have all the same dangers that Bush left to Obama but the post-Obama world has hazards that Obama did more to create than to resolve — and some of the new risks may be even scarier.

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).




Need to Reorganize US Spy Agencies

On President Trump’s first full day in office, he went to the CIA and promised to back the nation’s spy agencies, but his time would be better spent downsizing the sprawling intelligence community, says Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

Originating from the dispute over whether the Russians hacked the U.S. election and tried to influence it, rumblings came from the Trump transition team about reorganizing the intelligence community or parts thereof. That’s not a bad idea at all.

Prior to 9/11, the U.S. intelligence community had grown to 16 sprawling, secretive agencies, which stayed in their stovepipes, thus cooperating insufficiently. For example, the CIA and FBI had coordination problems that really impaired the government’s warning of the 9/11 attacks.

Logically, coordination problems tend to multiply the more intelligence agencies the government has and the bigger they get. Yet after 9/11, the George W. Bush administration and Congress instead used political logic. They wanted to be perceived as “doing something,” often anything, about the problem — no matter whether it would be effective in dealing with it, a mere placebo with no effect but looked good, or an action that was actually counterproductive.

“Reform” of the intelligence community after 9/11 fell into the last category. After a crisis, politicians often add government bureaucracy to show the public they are not letting a problem slide. In this case, they added yet a 17th intelligence agency — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to “coordinate” the CIA, FBI, NSA and other mostly gargantuan organizations of the 16-agency community.

Of course, one person couldn’t herd all these big cats, so the DNI had to have a new bureaucracy to allegedly tame them. Yet the DNI’s bureaucracy did not win control over the budgets of the other 16 agencies. In fact, most of the intelligence community’s budget is controlled by the massive Department of Defense — in which many of the intelligence agencies reside.

Complicated enough? In the government, like everywhere else, controlling money directs effort. Thus, the DNI has been ineffectual in coordinating the U.S. intelligence community.

Instead of adding yet another bureaucracy to coordinate the existing ones (after 9/11, the president and Congress did the same thing in the homeland security sphere by creating the new Department of Homeland Security to incorporate and coordinate all the government entities dealing with that function), the politicians should have done the opposite.

The new enemy, which is not so new anymore, was small, agile cells of terrorists, not the traditional slothful nation states of the Cold War, such as the Soviet Union. In bureaucratic parlance, the terrorist chain of command is simple and responsive. To counter this threat, the intelligence community must also be nimbler, not less agile.

Dysfunction and Inefficiency

This means that after 9/11, intelligence agencies and excess personnel should have been pruned, not added. Dysfunction and inefficiency would have also been reduced when dealing with threats from other nation-states.

A specific plan for streamlining the intelligence community to make it more agile and effective for a new global security environment might begin by eliminating the ineffectual Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Then the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) should be merged with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which like the ODNI, sits on top of other intelligence agencies — the service intelligence agencies of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, which provide tactical battlefield intelligence.

The Marine and Coast Guard intelligence agencies could be folded under the umbrella of the Office of Naval Intelligence. The technical collection functions of the National Security Agency, The National Reconnaissance Office, and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency should be merged into an Office of Technical Intelligence Collection.

The small Office of Intelligence and Research in the State Department, the only intelligence agency that was skeptical that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, should be left alone as a counter to the frequently alarmist threat inflation of the CIA/DIA.

The FBI should be returned to being a law enforcement agency, with its intelligence functions being transferred to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the Homeland Security Department. The intelligence branches of the Energy and Treasury Departments, as well as that of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the Justice Department, should be abolished (in fact, because the federal drug war has been such a costly and abysmal failure, the entire DEA should be dismantled).

Streamlining and Consolidation

Such streamlining of and consolidation in the intelligence community would enable many redundancies to be reduced or eliminated, thus eliminating much duplication and bureaucratic overhead.

In addition, during the Cold War the U.S. intelligence community concentrated on having the best technical means of gathering information in the world — satellites, spy aircraft, drones, and other technological marvels of modern intelligence gathering. However, such gadgets have their limitations when trying to penetrate a small, secretive terrorist cell; human agents are still needed. Yet a decade-and-a-half after 9/11, the intelligence community still needs to improve its human intelligence (humint) capability. One major reason humint has lagged is that it doesn’t generate big money contracts in states and congressional districts, as does the building of satellites, spy aircraft, drones, and other electronic collection gizmos.

Thus, some intelligence agencies need to be eliminated or combined with sister agencies and the excess personnel eliminated. On the other hand, money should be taken away from technical collection and used to recruit more human agents.

In sum, almost any Trump administration shake-up of the ossified intelligence community would be welcome.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. [This article first appeared as a blog post at Huffington Post.]




Divining Trump’s Military Strategies

A big question about President Trump is whether he will live up to promises to pull back from military interventionism or will find military adventures a way to boost his popularity, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Now that Donald Trump has assumed power, we will start to see demonstrations of how futile it was to have tried to project a direction of his policy, including foreign and security policy, on the basis of his tweets, blurts, and campaign speeches. Of course, such projection is what those of us in the commentariat normally do, but this is not a normal president.

Anticipation of the direction of policy ordinarily can be discussed in terms of grand strategies and schools of thought, but not so with Trump. With most presidents, attracting crowds and support and votes in a campaign is a gauntlet that must be run to serve the nation in its highest office. With Trump, attracting the crowds and support is what it’s all about.

A good take on what makes the new president tick, and what this does or does not mean for protecting the nation’s interests during the next four years, is an interview with three Trump biographers (Gwenda Blair, Michael D’Antonio and Tim O’Brien) in Politico. The biographers agreed that there has been no indication Trump can separate the interests of the country from personal pique.

As O’Brien put it, “The whole thing has been a vanity show … He’s been unable to find a clean division between his own emotional needs and his own insecurities and simply being a healthy, strategically committed leader who wants to parse through good policy options and a wide series of public statements about the direction in which he’ll take the country.”

Whatever will be the Trump foreign policy will not be a function of liberalism, realism, neoconservatism, isolationism, or any of the other isms with which foreign policies customarily are associated. It will be a function of narcissism.

Lest there had been any idea that Trump finally would leave the campaign mode once he took office, he dispelled that idea in his first 20 minutes as president with his carnage-filled, it’s-midnight-in-America inaugural address.

And if any such idea persisted into his first full day in office, he further dispelled it with an appearance at CIA headquarters, in which he touched only briefly on the mission and contributions of the agency he was visiting and otherwise delivered a typical Trumpian stream-of-consciousness about the size of his support and how great his appointments were. Standing in front of the agency’s memorial wall that honors officers who have died in the line of duty, Trump did not focus on the significance of that place but instead was intent on criticizing the media for allegedly downplaying the size of the crowd at the inauguration event the previous day.

It evidently is a matter of special sensitivity for him — and more important to him than recognizing those who have made sacrifices in service to their country — that his crowd was smaller than for Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration and also much smaller than the women’s march in Washington that was taking place as he was speaking and that itself was only one of numerous parallel demonstrations across the country.

A Gruesome Picture

The grim and gruesome picture that President Trump painted in his inaugural speech is far removed from reality, not only regarding the economy but also regarding subjects such as crime, which is less of a problem now than in most previous decades. The economy is, of course, in far better shape than it was when Mr. Obama took office eight years ago.

The false darkness of Mr. Trump’s picture of the state of the nation can play either of two different ways for him in the years ahead. One possibility is that even if reality stays more or less the same as it is now, he can contrast future reality with his own negative picture of today and claim credit for improvement regardless of whether any such improvement occurred or not.

But the other possibility is that his artificially dark picture of today raises all the more people’s expectations of improvement, and regardless of his claims it may be difficult for him to persuade people that things actually have improved. It is harder for statistics, on matters such as wages, to lie as easily as it is for politicians to do so. And individual Americans can feel directly whether their own lots have improved or not.

Such inflated expectations are one ingredient in possible big drops in Trump’s support. Another is the incongruity between his own promises and some of the policies he has suggested, involving such things as how a trade war would affect the cost of living and how upper-bracket tax reductions would see the working class fall farther behind. Yet another ingredient is the natural business cycle, bearing in mind that right now the stock market is near record highs and unemployment is as low as it has been in nearly a decade.

There is a long history of political leaders, especially demagogic ones, who face weakening domestic support looking to foreign adventures to divert attention from problems at home, to rally nationalist sentiment, and to reap the benefits of popularity for the leader who is doing the rallying. One thinks, for example, of Benito Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia. He was seen as making Italy great, and he enjoyed a big boost in popularity within Italy.

Containing Discontents

Similar dynamics could come into play with a domestically beleaguered Donald Trump. Trump’s comments during the campaign suggesting a less interventionist orientation than previous administrations were just like many other of his campaign comments in appealing to discontents of the moment. He was especially trying to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the disastrous Iraq War, going so far as to lie about his own purported opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

His comments that sounded like an intention to retrench were no more part of a carefully constructed worldview or grand strategy than are any other things he has said. Other comments of his seem to go in a different direction, such as his promise to “bomb the s*** out of” ISIS.

If one is to hang larger conclusions on fragments of Trump’s speeches, one might also consider some other lines in the inaugural address. There was the one alleging “a very sad depletion of our military,” notwithstanding that the United States spends more on its military than the next six largest armed forces in the world combined. If President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress really were to devote still more resources to the military, voices both inside and outside the administration are bound to start asking the Madeleine Albright question, “What’s the point of having this superb military if we can’t use it?”

There also was the promise regarding “radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.” That is an impossible promise to fulfill, and so there always will be some target bearing that label to go after.

Right now all of this is speculation. But so has been projection of a less interventionist future based on the tweets and blurts and campaign speeches. What actually transpires will depend not only on the vicissitudes of presidential narcissism but also on interplay yet to develop between the President and his most influential subordinates.

Those commentators who have been repelled by the hegemonic inclinations of the Washington consensus or by the hawkishness of Mr. Trump’s general election opponent and who have hope for fewer foreign misadventures may be in for some unpleasant surprises.

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.) 




Russia’s Leery Reaction to President Trump

Russian leaders remain leery about prospects for improved U.S. relations despite the inauguration of President Trump, doubting that he can overcome the political pressures from Washington’s “deep state,” says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Contradicting the U.S. mainstream media’s expectations, the reaction of Official Russia towards Donald Trump’s inauguration has been quite muted. To be sure, there was no Women’s March down the streets of Moscow to protest Trump’s accession to power, but neither were there fireworks celebrating the installation of Moscow’s “Manchurian Candidate” who will do the Kremlin’s bidding, the bitterly partisan narrative fabricated by the neoconservatives and liberal hawks who dominate Official Washington.

On Friday, as a guest on a top-rated Moscow talk show, I noted that the microphone was offered much more to the other American on the panel who represented the Russo-phobic point of view that your average Russian television viewer loves to hate on this and other talk shows produced by the country’s leading broadcasters: Pervy Kanal, Rossiya-1-Vesti 24 and NTV.

Afterwards, I was reassured by Russian political analysts that the fact that I got much less time to present a more nuanced view wasn’t meant as a personal snub. It was because I’m known to support Trump’s goal of more constructive relations between Washington and Moscow. In other words, the major Russian TV outlets prefer to have on Americans who are eager to bash Russia, presumably because that’s better for ratings but also fits with the Kremlin’s desire to lower the expectations of the Russian people.

The Kremlin’s communications office has the final word on what gets aired for domestic consumption and it is very hesitant to take a stand on the likelihood of a thaw in relations with Washington under Trump. Up to now, the Kremlin was skeptical that Trump was serious in his pronouncements of readiness for improved relations; now they are skeptical that he can prevail over America’s “deep state” and deliver the goods of détente.

There’s another factor in the Kremlin’s caution about possible warmer relations with the Trump administration. It is a persistent feature of Russian national character over centuries for there to be a surge of patriotic emotions and rally round the flag when the country comes under external threat. That tradition kicked in following America’s imposition of economic sanctions and application of heavy military pressure on Russia’s borders as punishment for Russia’s absorption of Crimea and assistance to the insurgency in the Ukraine’s southeastern provinces of Donbas.

President Vladimir Putin’s personal approval ratings shot up from the mid-60’s to the 85 percent level, where they stand today, largely on the crest  of the patriotic wave of emotion and popular understanding that he and his administration are effectively defending Russian national interests, whatever the failings on the economy, on corruption and on political reform. However, this popularity is fragile and could suddenly collapse if President Putin were to be seen to sacrifice the defense assets of the nation by bargaining them away in deals that are not perceived as fool-proof and as ensuring equal if not better returns for the Russian side.

It was this consideration that dictated Putin’s prudence in responding to Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s peace offensive during Putin’s visit to Japan last December. Giving up sovereignty over any of the Kurile Islands is one of the red lines that Putin cannot cross lest he lose face domestically. Similarly, the Kremlin has to tread very carefully when responding to any olive branch from Washington.

Yet, Russia is carefully reading the signals from Trump, such as his suggestion at a press conference a week ago that the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions would hinge more on progress in curbing the nuclear arms race than on implementation of the Minsk Accords relating to Ukraine’s rebel provinces, provisions that really depend more on Kiev’s sincerity than on Moscow’s.

Trump’s suggestion added some substance to his promise to put America First when it comes to U.S. national security, rather than letting the desires of “allies” control Washington’s actions. Specifically, Trump’s foreign policy focus is expected to be the triangular relationship between the world’s most powerful military forces: Russia, China and the United States. Other countries will be of secondary importance. In effect, the tail will stop wagging the dog. The anti-Russian coalition of the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine will no longer be allowed to poison U.S.-Russian relations.

Trump’s suggestion on nuclear arms reduction also was not a spur-of-the-moment aside. It clearly came from his top current, if unofficial advisers on foreign policy, namely former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Sen. Sam Nunn, who was present at the start of the Senate confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson for the post of Secretary of State.

Kremlin Skepticism

But the suggestion turned out to be a non-starter for the Kremlin. Initial indications of surprise and skepticism by Russian officials quickly turned into a flat rejection by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov during an interview with the BBC this weekend. Russia knows well that its conventional armed forces are still no match for NATO, that its nuclear deterrent is its great leveler, and it absolutely refuses to reduce its nuclear arsenal until there are substantial changes in the European and global defense architecture that make any reduction in its nuclear arsenal possible.

Thus, the Kremlin is withholding its seal of approval on the incoming Trump administration and is managing the Russian mass media accordingly. The latest poll of Russian public opinion towards prospects for changed relations with Trump’s America just released by the news agency RIA Novosti shows that the Kremlin’s caution has been effectively conveyed to the people.

The question posed on Jan. 20 was: Do you expect changed relations between Russia and the U.S. following the inauguration of Trump? Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63.1 percent) said there will be changes, but it is still not clear in which direction; 19.8 percent said no, most likely the new administration will continue the previous course; and only 17.1 percent said yes, the President-elect spoke repeatedly of his desire for cooperation with Moscow.

In this context, I have no complaints against the producers of the Pervy Kanal talk show who invited me but then gave me little opportunity to speak. However, far beyond the experience of my visit, the evidence suggests that improving relations with Russia will require considerable creativity and persistence on the part of U.S. policy makers.

Meanwhile, the expectations of the American business community for improved relations are very high. In a meeting on Friday morning with the president of the largest association of U.S. corporations doing business in Russia, I was told that its Board expects the sectoral sanctions on Russia to be lifted quickly and no later than within one year. This optimism is founded on the primary attention that Trump gives to removing obstacles standing in the way of American businesses generally, removing the heavy hand of Washington from their operations domestically and abroad.

But the sanctions have been highly politicized and their removal, assuming proper metrics justifying such action can be agreed with the Russians, will come at a heavy cost in political capital for Trump. The U.S. mainstream media will surely cite such a move as proof of the unsubstantiated allegations that Trump is Putin’s “puppet,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during the final presidential debate.

Moreover, there are other things Trump could do, entirely within his powers as Commander-in-Chief and independent from Congress, that would dramatically lessen tensions with Russia and build confidence for future improved relations in all directions. Specifically, he could cease U.S. and NATO military exercises along Russian borders, remove the U.S. brigades introduced in Poland in the past few weeks and start dismantling U.S. bases surrounding Russia’s frontiers.

In today’s hyper-sensitive Moscow, which is literally gun-shy of America, the distance between micro-events, like my treatment a couple of days ago on Russian television, and macro-developments, like improving bilateral relations, is very small indeed.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord Ltd. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.