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The Last Person in the Room: John Bolton, PNAC and the End of the World

Truthout - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 21:00

John R. Bolton testifies during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security hearing on the UN Headquarters renovation on June 20, 2006.(Photo: Scott J. Ferrell / Congressional Quarterly / Getty Images)

Early next month, Iraq War criminal and serial liar John Bolton will become Trump's National Security Adviser. This all-powerful position is made stronger by the fact that Trump usually takes the opinion of the last person he speaks to and makes it his own. More often than not, Bolton will be the last person in the room with Trump when matters of life and death are decided. This is flatly terrifying.

John R. Bolton testifies during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security hearing on the UN Headquarters renovation on June 20, 2006.(Photo: Scott J. Ferrell / Congressional Quarterly / Getty Images)

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John Bolton is now the National Security Adviser. Helter skelter, baby!

—Charles P. Pierce

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine.

A long time ago, I did some of the first reporting on a far-right think tank called The Project for a New American Century, or PNAC. An offspring of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), PNAC was considered by most Republicans at the time to be little more than a factory for daft, dangerous foreign policy ideas.

Few members of PNAC were taken seriously within government circles, but they kept busy regardless. During the Clinton administration, they snuggled up to an Iraqi ex-pat named Ahmad Chalabi, who was convicted of bank fraud before offering himself to PNAC signatory Donald Rumsfeld as the perfect replacement for Saddam Hussein. All they needed was a war.

A funny thing happened to PNAC, the country and the world when the millennium turned. All those Y2K fears about melting computers and airplanes falling from the sky were never realized. Nevertheless, the world as we know it ended on the evening of December 12, 2000, when the Supreme Court gave the Executive Branch to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Like as not, Bush had never heard of PNAC. Cheney was a charter member.

Bolton became the dream weaver for the Iraq war, the loudest advocate for false intelligence on Iraq's weapons capabilities.

The world ended, and after September 11 -- the "new Pearl Harbor" envisioned in Rebuilding America's Defenses, PNAC's blueprint for world domination -- the world was born again in the fires of "Shock & Awe." From top to bottom, the White House was staffed with PNAC ideologues who envisioned total war in the Middle East, regime change from Beirut to Cairo to Karachi to Riyadh. Beside Cheney and Rumsfeld were Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Eliot Abrams, Richard Perle and a dramatically mustachioed rogue named John Bolton.

Bolton's gruesome personal behavior with staff and others has become lore. He once got crossways with a federal contractor named Melody Townsel, and chased her through the halls of a Russian hotel while pelting her with shoes and other available missiles. Over the next several days, he stalked Townsel around the hotel, shouting threats and shoving threatening letters under her door. This is not a guy you want to give a staff to.

Even by PNAC's grim standards, John Bolton is a snaggletoothed monster. The people who agree with him are still freaked out by him, because he is a ball of terrifying war hubris made flesh, yet somehow he keeps landing jobs within walking distance of the Oval Office. George W. Bush made him UN ambassador while Congress wasn't home. He was fantastic at alienating other nations, but wasn't really in a position to do the kind of serious damage he's capable of.

The man, simply put, wants war wherever and whenever he can get it. With Trump, Bolton will get his chance.

However, that damage was done in triplicate while Bolton served as Undersecretary for Arms Control, essentially the government's point person for weapons of mass destruction. In this capacity, Bolton became the dream weaver for the Iraq war, the loudest advocate for false intelligence on Iraq's weapons capabilities, and he did not hesitate to bulldoze any lower-lever staffers who disagreed. Iraq was the starting place for the PNAC plan, the jump-off point to a toppling of virtually every government in the region, and Bolton did yeoman's work to see it all brought to fruition.

The fire they started is still burning out of control. Eighteen years after the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision and 15 years after Bush's invasion of Iraq, too much of the world is what John Bolton and his PNAC friends have made it: A smoldering crater stinking of permanent war, surrounded by refugees and choking on austerity to pay the butcher's bill. We are a shadow of ourselves, timorously following a blowhard strongman as he stomps through the wreckage left behind by people like his new National Security Adviser.

Bolton isn't finished yet, either. Just last month, he forcefully advocated for a first-strike attack against North Korea. He calls for the preemptive bombing of Iran with dreary regularity during his many Fox News appearances, and has labored for years to arrange the proper set of circumstances that would allow Tehran to be rendered into a pile of rubble.

The man, simply put, wants war wherever and whenever he can get it.

With Trump, Bolton will get his chance. The job of the National Security Adviser is to judge and filter intelligence data for the president. In this incredibly powerful position, John Bolton will literally be creating reality for Trump according to his own twisted, violent vision of how US military might is best used. The man is a manufacturer of corpses, and has been so for a very long time.

John Bolton will very often be the last person in the room with Trump when the life-and-death decisions come rolling down.

It has been firmly established by now that the most powerful person in the country is the last person Trump speaks to before making a decision. This phenomenon has been on vivid display as he staggers through debates on repealing the ACA, tax cuts, the budget, DACA and gun control. In every instance, Trump trumpeted nearly by rote the opinion of whoever had his ear five minutes before. There is more whiplash in Congress because of this than you'll find at a demolition derby. It is fact.

As National Security Adviser, John Bolton -- serial liar, lover of war, volatile abuser -- will very often be the last person in the room with Trump when the life-and-death decisions come rolling down. Think on that.

John Bolton at the right hand of this president is flatly terrifying. More than at any point since this whole nightmare began, I am afraid.

PNAC, it seems, has won again. As I said, they keep busy. Eighteen years later, rust never sleeps.

Categories: Latest News

Ivanka Trump's Ever-Expanding Diplomatic Duties Threaten Foreign Relations

Truthout - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 21:00

Who says women can't have it all? You can -- at least, if your last name is Trump.

Over her father's first year in office, the "first daughter" has gone from businesswoman to adviser to surrogate first lady and even diplomat. Now, as she appears to be taking over for the departing secretary of state, is it time for Ivanka to slow down?

From the moment he was sworn in, President Donald Trump put his eldest daughter Ivanka in an awkward -- and potentially illegal -- position in the White House. As an unpaid senior advisor, she has skirted potential nepotism charges -- after all, it's not really hiring your family if they don't take a salary, right? And if White House staffers happened to pitch Ivanka's products while they did media interviews, well, it's only a small conflict of interest and violation of the emoluments clause.

But while husband Jared Kushner's unpaid presidential "advising" moved out of the limelight -- especially after the Trump son-in-law lost his security clearance -- Ivanka appears to be taking on more work every day. The administration claims that she was instrumental in getting the Trump big business handout known as tax reform passed -- with a boost in the child tax credit payments in the final bill. Plus, she is allegedly still pushing for paid family leave as a federal policy, although her plan appears to have parents cash in on their social security payments early and work longer down the road.

Ivanka the policy wonk isn't much different from any other GOP think tank expert. In fact, she's mostly just putting a more palatable face on proposals that will ultimately do little to support the poor, the working class or anyone but business owners and the independently wealthy. What's alarming is how much her role of "unofficial diplomat" is expanding -- especially in this chaotic and turmoil-filled White House.

What began with a highly unusual one-off moment of Ivanka sitting in for her father at a table full of world leaders during a G20 summit has now become an almost commonplace occurrence as she broadens her "unofficial" role in the administration. In visits with leaders in IndiaSouth Korea and even Canada, Ivanka is being dubbed as the "most powerful woman in America."

Now leaders are wooing her as a way to get to her father -- and that's precisely why Ivanka's position has become so very dangerous.

Having an inexperienced, politically uninformed person acting as the "chief diplomat" -- especially for an administration already led by an inexperienced, politically uninformed commander-in-chief -- is simply an open opportunity for foreign players to take advantage of the United States.

And it's perhaps equally harmful for the US to have a diplomat with no oversight or higher power to answer to. Ivanka is able to turn her position as an administration member on and off at whim -- at one moment being a presidential representative, and the next refusing to answer questions about her father.

Unfortunately, as the White House continues to turn over staff faster than a diner flips burgers, Ivanka's responsibilities continue to grow -- now even taking on the role of interim secretary of state after Rex Tillerson's ousting. KBS World Radio reports:

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha will meet with US President Donald Trump's daughter during her visit to the US There's speculation the two will exchange opinions regarding the forthcoming summits between the two Koreas and between the US and the North. According to Noh, during her three-day visit to Washington from Thursday, Kang will also meet with US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who is serving as the acting secretary following the dismissal of Rex Tillerson, to discuss pending issues between Seoul and Washington, including the North Korean nuclear issue.

Yes, we have now hit the point in the Trump presidency when Ivanka Trump is helping to negotiate nuclear treaties. Maybe she can have it all -- at the expense of the American people.

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Categories: Latest News

Read Karl Marx! A Conversation With Immanuel Wallerstein

Truthout - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 21:00

Returning to Marx is indispensable to understanding the logic and dynamics of capitalism. In this exclusive interview, sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein urges the next generation of leftists to go beyond secondary texts and read Marx's own words in order to effectively begin the move away from capitalist structure.

Karl Marx's writings are illuminating and much more subtle and variegated than some of the simplistic interpretations of his ideas, says sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein. (Photo: Walt Jabsco)

For three decades, neoliberal policies and ideology have been almost uncontested worldwide. Nevertheless, the 2008 economic crises, the profound inequalities that exist in our society -- in particular between the Global North and South -- and the dramatic environmental issues of our time have urged several scholars, economic analysts and politicians to reopen the debate on the future of capitalism and the need for an alternative. It is in this context that today, almost everywhere around the world, on the occasion of the bicentenary of Marx's birth, there is a "Marx revival": a return to an author in the past wrongly associated with Marxism-Leninism dogmatism and, then, hastily dismissed after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Returning to Marx is still indispensable to understanding the logic and dynamics of capitalism. His work is also a very useful tool that provides a rigorous examination addressing why previous socio-economical experiments to replace capitalism with another mode of production failed. An explanation of these failures is critical for our contemporary search for alternatives.

Immanuel Wallerstein, currently a senior research scholar at Yale University, is among the greatest living sociologists and one of the most appropriate scholars to discuss the current relevance of Marx. He has been a reader of Marx for a long time, and his work has been influenced by the theories of the revolutionary born in Trier on May 5, 1818. Wallerstein has authored more than 30 books, which have been translated into several languages, including his very well known The Modern World-System, published in four volumes between 1974 and 2011.

Marcello Musto: Professor Wallerstein, 30 years after the end of so-called "actually existing socialism" there continue to be publications, debates and conferences all around the globe on Karl Marx's continuing capacity to explain the present. Is this surprising? Or do you believe that Marx's ideas will continue to hold relevance for those who are looking for an alternative to capitalism?

Immanuel Wallerstein: There is an old story about Marx: you throw him out the front door and he sneaks back in through the rear window. That is what happened once again. Marx is relevant because we have to deal with issues about which he still has a lot to say and because what he said is different from what most other authors argued about capitalism. Many columnists and scholars -- not only myself -- find Marx extremely useful and today he is in one of his new popularity phases, despite what was predicted in 1989.

The fall of the Berlin Wall liberated Marx from the chains of an ideology that had little to do with his conception of society. The political landscape following the implosion of the Soviet Union helped to free Marx from the role of figurehead for a state apparatus. What is it about Marx's interpretation of the world that continues to garner attention?

I believe that when people think of Marx's interpretation of the world in one concept they think of "class struggle." When I read Marx in light of the present issues, for me class struggle means the necessary struggle of what I call the Global Left -- who I believe endeavor to represent the bottom 80 percent of the world's population by income -- against the Global Right -- which represents maybe 1 percent of the population. The struggle is over the other 19 percent. It is about how to get them to come onto your side, rather than the other.

We live in an era of structural crisis of the world system. The existing capitalist system cannot survive, but nobody can know for sure what will replace it. I am convinced that there are two possibilities: one is what I call the "Spirit of Davos." The goal of the World Economic Forum of Davos is to establish a system that maintains the worst features of capitalism: social hierarchy, exploitation and, above all, polarization of the wealth. The alternative is a system that must be more democratic and more egalitarian. Class struggle is the fundamental attempt to affect the future of what will replace capitalism.

Your reflection on the middle class reminds me of Antonio Gramsci's idea of hegemony, but I think the point is also to understand how to motivate the mass of people, the 80 percent you mentioned, to participate in politics. This is particularly urgent in the so-called global South, where the majority of the world's population is concentrated, and where, in the past decades, despite the dramatic increase of inequalities produced by capitalism, progressive movements have become much weaker than they were previously. In these regions, the opposition to neoliberal globalization has often been channeled into support for religious fundamentalisms and xenophobic parties. We are increasingly seeing this phenomenon arise in Europe as well.

The question is: Does Marx help us understand this new scenario? Recently published studies have offered new interpretations of Marx that might contribute to open other "rear windows" in the future, to use your expression. They reveal an author who extended his examination of the contradictions of capitalist society beyond the conflict between capital and labor to other domains. In fact, Marx devoted a lot of his time to the study of non-European societies and the destructive role of colonialism on the periphery of capitalism. Consistently, contrary to interpretations that equate Marx's conception of socialism with the development of productive forces, ecological concerns figured prominently in his work.

Finally, Marx was widely interested in several other topics that scholars often ignore when they talk about him. Among them there are the potential of technology, the critique of nationalism, the search for collective forms of ownership uncontrolled by the state and the need for individual freedom in contemporary society: all fundamental issues of our times. But beside these new faces of Marx -- which suggest that the renewed interest in his thought is a phenomenon destined to continue in the coming years -- could you indicate three of Marx's most recognized ideas that you believe are worth being reconsidered today?

First of all, Marx explained to us better than anybody else that capitalism is not the natural way of organizing society. In The Poverty of Philosophy, published when he was only 29 years old, he already mocked bourgeois political economists who argued that capitalist relations "are natural laws, independent of the influence of time." Marx wrote that for them "there has been history, since in the institutions of feudalism we find quite different relations of production from those of bourgeois society," but that they did not apply history to the mode of production they supported, they represented capitalism "as natural and eternal." In my book Historical Capitalism, I tried to make the point that capitalism is what has occurred historically, as opposed to some vague and unclear idea espoused by several mainstream political economists. I argued several times that there is no capitalism that is not historical capitalism. It is as simple as that for me and we owe a lot to Marx.

Secondly, I want to stress the importance of the concept of "primitive accumulation," meaning the dispossession of the peasantry from their land which was at the foundation of capitalism. Marx understood very well that it was a key process of constituting the domination of bourgeoisie. It was there at the beginning of capitalism and it still exists today.

Finally, I would invite greater reflection on the subject "private property and communism." In the system established in the Soviet Union -- in particular under Stalin -- the state owned the property but it did not mean that people were not being exploited or oppressed. They were. Talking of socialism in one country, as Stalin did, was also something that never entered anybody's mind, including Marx, before that period. Public ownership of the means of production is one possibility. They can also be cooperatively owned. But we have to know who is producing and who is receiving the surplus value if we want to establish a better society. That has to be entirely reorganized, compared to capitalism. It is the key question to me.

The year 2018 marks the bicentenary of Marx's birth and new books and movies have been dedicated to his life. Is there a period of his biography that you find most interesting?

Marx had a very difficult life. He struggled with severe personal poverty and he was lucky to have a comrade like Friedrich Engels who helped him to survive. Marx did not have an easy life emotionally too and his persistence in trying to do what he thought of as his life's work - the understanding of the way in which capitalism operates - was admirable. This is what he saw himself doing. Marx did not want to explain antiquity, nor define what socialism in the future would look like. These were not the tasks he put for himself. He wanted to understand the capitalist world in which he was living.

For all his life, Marx was not merely a scholar isolated among the books of London's British Museum, but always a militant revolutionary involved in the struggles of his epoch. Due to his activism, he was expelled from France, Belgium and Germany in his youth. He was also forced to go into exile in England when the revolutions of 1848 were defeated. He promoted newspapers and journals and always supported labor movements in all the ways he could. Later, from 1864 to 1872, he became the leader of the International Working Men's Association, the first transnational organization of the working class and, in 1871, defended the Paris Commune, the first socialist experiment in history.

Yes, it is true. It is essential to remember Marx's militancy. As you recently highlighted in the volume Workers Unite!, he had an extraordinary role in the International, an organization of people who were physically distant from each other, at a time when mechanisms of easy communication did not exist. Marx's political activity also involved journalism. He carried that on through much of his life, as a way of communicating to a larger audience. He worked as a journalist to get an income, but he saw his contributions as a political activity. He had not any sense of being a neutral. He was always a committed journalist.

In 2017, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Russian Revolution, some scholars returned to the contrast between Marx and some of his self-styled followers who were in power during the 20th century. What is the main difference between Marx and them?

Marx's writings are illuminating and much more subtle and variegated than some of the simplistic interpretations of his ideas. It is always good to remember the famous boutade in which Marx said: "If this is Marxism, what is certain is that I am not a Marxist." Marx was always ready to deal with the reality of the world, not like many others who dogmatically imposed their views. Marx changed his mind often. He was constantly on the search for solutions to the problems he saw that the world was facing. That is why he is still a very helpful and useful guide.

To conclude, what would you like to say to the younger generation who have not yet encountered Marx?

The first thing I have to say to young people is that they have to read him. Do not read about him, but read Marx. Few people -- in comparison with the many who talks about him -- actually read Marx. That is also true of Adam Smith. Generally, one only reads about these classics. People learn about them through others people's summary. They want to save time but, actually, that is a waste of time! One must read interesting people and Marx is the most interesting scholar of the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no question about that. No one is equal to him in terms of the number of things he wrote about, nor for the quality of his analysis. So, my message to the new generation is that Marx is eminently worth discovering but you must read, read, read him. Read Karl Marx!

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Categories: Latest News

Teachers Deserve a Raise. Here's How to Fund It

Truthout - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 21:00
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Teachers are ready to revolt.

That's the message we should take away from West Virginia, where educators in every county went on strike recently. The teachers secured a major victory, including a 5 percent raise for state employees.

The win couldn't be more well-deserved. Teachers across the country are on the front lines of some of the most pressing national battles, from the opioid crisis to school shootings.

In West Virginia, educators tackle those issues alongside high poverty rates and joblessness -- and their wages have stagnated while health care costs have skyrocketed. These educators said they'd had enough -- and captured the imaginations of the workers around the country.

Of course, not everyone is thinking creatively. Some West Virginia Republicans have threatened that the costs of those raises should come from Medicaid cuts.

But teachers' raises don't have to come at a cost to essential programs. And teacher pay isn't the reason the state's budget is tight.

In fact, years of tax cuts were responsible for defunding West Virginia's education program in the first place. Over the last decade, the state slashed its corporate rate and did away with a host of other taxes, bringing down revenue by $425 million a year.

Plenty of other states have prioritized corporate interests over schools. Oklahoma offered oil companies steep tax cuts, allowing public services -- especially education -- to be gutted.

The state slashed its per-pupil funding by more than 28 percent over the last decade. Dozens of districts only hold classes four days a week, and teachers there have gone a decade without pay raises.

Like in West Virginia, Oklahoma teachers know where the money is. Educators in both states have suggested raising taxes on oil and gas production to fund raises.

Ensuring energy businesses pay the taxes they already owe would even be a good start. First in line should be West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, the billionaire coal heir and richest man in the state.

His family's companies owe millions in taxes and penalties, and not just in his home state. Reporters in Kentucky, where teachers are also considering strikes, have pointed out that the missing millions Justice owes one county could make quite an impact in the school district's budget shortfall.

Still, lawmakers are being stingy with raises. "It's easy to come in here and just vote for what people want, but that's not what the general citizens expect of West Virginia," one state Republican said.

Instead, lawmakers there seem dead set on doing what constituents don't want.

As teachers across West Virginia gathered to strike, the state legislature killed a bill that would've levied a small tax on oil and gas companies to help fund public employee insurance.

They also voted to make it easier for companies to drill even where some locals don't want them -- and then rejected an amendment that would've used revenues from that drilling to support teachers.

In Oklahoma, residents have grown tired of waiting for lawmakers to fix the problem. They're pushing for a ballot measure to raise the funds for teachers' raises with a modest gross production tax on oil and gas.

So what do ordinary Americans expect from their states? Fully funded schools, or blind allegiance to big energy corporations?

As West Virginia grapples with the answer, other states would be wise to learn the lesson. Teachers around the country are already taking notes.

Categories: Latest News

Major New Investigation Into Trump Real Estate Deals in India Reveals Corruption, Lawsuits, Fraud

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

A major new investigation has just been published into Trump's business partnerships in India and the conflicts of interest these deals pose for the White House. The new cover story for The New Republic is titled "Political Corruption and the Art of the Deal." In it, journalist Anjali Kamat notes the Trump Organization has entered into more deals in India than in any other foreign country. These deals, she writes, are worth an estimated $1.5 billion and produced royalties of up to $11 million between 2014 and 2017. During her year-long investigation, Kamat traced Trump's India partners' long history of facing lawsuits, police inquiries and government investigations that contain evidence of potential bribery, fraud, intimidation, illegal land acquisition, tax evasion and money laundering.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a major new investigation into Trump's business partnerships in India and the conflicts of interest these deals pose for the White House. The new cover story article for The New Republic is headlined "Political Corruption and the Art of the Deal." In it, journalist Anjali Kamat notes the Trump Organization has entered into more deals in India than in any other foreign country. These deals, she writes, are worth an estimated $1.5 billion and produced royalties of up to $11 million between 2014 and 2017.

During her year-long investigation, Anjali Kamat traced Trump's India partners' long history of facing lawsuits, police inquiries and government investigations that contain evidence of potential bribery, fraud, intimidation, illegal land acquisition, tax evasion and money laundering. Donald Trump Jr. has made repeated trips to India, as recently as last month. Last year, Ivanka Trump headed the US delegation to a Global Entrepreneurship Summit. And President Trump himself has welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a far-right Hindu nationalist, to the White House, as well as entertained politically connected Indian real estate developers at Trump Tower in Manhattan shortly after his November 2016 election. The New Republic investigation comes as The Washington Post reveals one of the Trump Organization's real estate partners in India has been accused of large-scale fraud and swindling investors out of $147 million.

Well, for more, we're joined now by Anjali Kamat, an award-winning investigative journalist, reporter with the Investigative Fund, and Belle Zeller visiting professor at Brooklyn College. Her cover story for The New Republic, again, "Political Corruption and the Art of the Deal," which is accompanied by a podcast, Trump, Inc., from WNYC and ProPublica. The project was reported in partnership with the Wayne Barrett Project at the Investigative Fund. Previously, Anjali Kamat was a producer and correspondent for Al Jazeera's Fault Lines and Democracy Now!

Welcome back to Democracy Now!

ANJALI KAMAT: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's great to have you with us, Anjali. So, talk about this amazing, this epic, 1-year investigation. And it comes out right on the heels of Donald J. Trump under enormous fire here in the United States for going to push Trump business interests in India.

ANJALI KAMAT: You know, Donald Jr. made this visit to India last month. He visited four cities in four days. He got massive press coverage, most of it very, very positive, in India. And he was there to sell apartments in -- Trump-branded apartments in his projects across the country. And the thing to remember here is that the Trump Organization's largest overseas portfolio is in India. They've got five active projects there right now. And only one of those projects is actually completed, so four of them are still in various stages of construction, and they're selling pre-construction apartments.

And the way they were advertising sales for these apartments is by offering access to Don Jr. So, right before Don Jr.'s visit, about a month before, there was an advertisement that was taken out that said the first hundred buyers of this one project, that's right near the capital, New Delhi, would get flown to New York to visit Don Jr. When Don Jr. was actually coming to India, the weekend before, newspapers in New Delhi, all the major English newspapers, had full front-page cover ads that said, you know, "Trump has arrived. Are you invited?" "Trump is here. Are you coming?" You know, and anyone who could put down a deposit, of about $39,000 to $40,000, on an apartment would get a chance to have dinner with Don Jr. So, it raises a lot of questions about potential conflicts of interest.

And the other thing about Don Jr.'s visit to India is, initially, when he first planned his trip, he was supposed to speak at a conference, at a Global Business Summit that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also speaking at. And he was supposed to give a foreign policy speech on Indo-Pacific relations. This raised a lot of questions among ethics experts in the US And then, so, at the last minute, that speech was changed to a fireside chat and was just a conversation with a journalist.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go to an interview Donald Trump Jr. did last month in India with CNBC's Indian affiliate.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: I think there is something about the spirit of the Indian people that's unique here to other parts of the emerging world. I can -- you know, you go through a town, and you -- you know, and I don't mean to be glib about it, but you can see the poorest of the poor, and there's a -- there's still a smile on a face. You say hello. You -- it's a different spirit, that you don't see in other parts of the world, where people walk around so solemn. And I think there's something unique about that, that doesn't exist elsewhere. And it always struck me, as, you know, I know some of the most successful people in the world, and some of them are the most miserable people in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: In a separate interview during his visit to India, Trump Jr. said Indian buyers were "starved for luxury" in their own country and that Trump properties would delivery that luxury to Indian consumers.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: Our buyers are traveling around the world. OK, before it was as global, before they traveled as much, you could say, "Hey, this is the best of the best." Well, now that they have flats in New York, Paris, London, they know that. And it was difficult for them. We all said it's sort of starved for luxury. They experienced it, they know what it is, but they couldn't get it in their home market. And so, you know, being able to actually deliver that kind of product here has made a big difference.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Donald Trump Jr. in India. Talk about how he defended his trip, and how exactly these businesses work.

ANJALI KAMAT: Right. So, he says, you know, the poor in India are very happy, they're smiling, they're happier than anywhere else. And then, later, he got very upset when he was criticized for saying that, and actually made a comment saying, you know -- that got a lot of attention in India, because he was like, you know, "The Indian media is so nice and mild," he said, because people just, you know, were very, very nice to him, for the most part.

And then he's at that fireside chat, in that last clip we saw, and at that chat, during that conversation at the business summit, he made a point of saying, "I'm here as a businessman. I'm here as a developer. I'm not here to do anything else." But the question is -- he is being advertised, on every Indian media station that he went on, without anybody opposing it, saying -- as the president's son. He's being advertised as the sitting -- as the son of a sitting US president, and buyers are getting access to him. And the real question here is -- he held events in every city he went to, with buyers, with investors. In some events, politicians were there, as well, though they claim they weren't there in an official capacity. He's meeting with all of these different people.

And all these people are coming to meet with him, and their names are not being disclosed. Indian regulations don't necessarily allow you to know who has exactly put down deposits or bought apartments in these condos. They're supposed to. There's a new real estate regulatory authority that's supposed to make things more transparent. But it might be years before we actually know who was in that room with Don Jr. and why they're in that room. They might be in that room because they're "starved for luxury." Maybe people in India really want to buy Trump Tower apartments. There is a class of people who certainly do want to do that. India is one of the most unequal countries in the world, and there is an aspirational class of millionaires and billionaires that would want to buy Trump Tower apartments. But the point is, if there were people in that room who were trying to access Don Jr. because he's the president's son, we don't know who they are.

AMY GOODMAN: And also talk about why it matters in terms of Indian politics, and the relationship he has with Indian developers, and the central role developers play in Indian politics, as you can say the same things about the United States, of course, because one became the president of the United States.

ANJALI KAMAT: I mean, this is the thing that was probably most interesting to me as I was researching and reporting this story, is just trying to get a sense of how politics and real estate is so closely tied in India. And, you know, India -- corruption in real estate is very entrenched in India. This is something that's widely recognized as a problem. The World Bank Group actually ranks countries on the ease of doing business, and they have a ease of getting a construction permit. And India ranks 181 out of 190 countries. Last year it was 185. And part of the reason for that is that land and construction is very heavily regulated and requires, you know, several dozen, in some cases, permits in order to complete an actual building. And in order to get a permit, at every stage, it's very common, and often necessary, to pay a bribe, in order to move the process along. So that's one of the main reasons for it.

The other main reason is that real estate developers have emerged as a major funder for political campaigns. And the ties between builders and politicians is so deep that a phrase that's used, very common in India, is the "builder-politician nexus." And, you know, this isn't that unfamiliar to people here in New York City, and it certainly wasn't unfamiliar to a figure like Donald Trump. And it's the way he came up in real estate, as well. And this is something -- you know, and I read Wayne Barrett's book about Donald Trump, and reading about his investigations into, you know, how Trump got approvals for different projects, the parallels are really striking, you know. And Donald Trump, when he announced his presidency, I mean, he did say, "I've never met a politician that I couldn't make a deal with. If you can't make a deal with a politician, you're not very good, there's something wrong with you." And it's that mentality that also exists in the real estate industry in India.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to Donald Trump Jr. at the Global Business Summit in New Delhi, when he was in India, asking -- when he was asked about corruption there.

INTERVIEWER: Are some some sections of Indian industry willing to bend rules where it suits them?

DONALD TRUMP JR.: Well, listen, I think there's an entrepreneurial spirit here that is, you know -- again, it needs no further explanation, though the media will say that I said something totally different. But, so, there's an entrepreneurial spirit here, you know, that is different than elsewhere in the world. … You know, I have seen changes come. You know, once I got with the right people and understood, I have seen reforms -- though I'm not talking policy. I'm saying, as an outside businessman coming in, over the couple years, you know, I have seen changes. You know, some of the reforms probably hit everyone, but they also weeded out in the real estate sector, which was -- you know, if you were a developer, it was a four-letter word. OK? There was no trust, because you were promised X, and you were delivered X-minus, if anything at all. And that doesn't work in the long term. So I think there's been, you know, a burden imposed on all developers. The ones who have done a good job, the ones who are well-intentioned, the ones that I'm now, you know, truly friends with, they've done a good job. And they'll rise to the top anyway. It will weed out the bad players. And that needed to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: "The ones I'm truly friends with," the "good" developers. That's Donald Trump Jr. Anjali Kamat, talk about the developers he does business with in India.

ANJALI KAMAT: Well, Donald Trump and the Trump Organization have five different projects, as I mentioned. So, each project, they've got a few different partners. And what's really interesting is that almost all of the partners have a long history of legal entanglements, have a long history of being investigated for tax evasion by the government. At least three of them are very closely connected to very powerful political officials. Two of them are -- have close connections to powerful political officials who are in the ruling party right now, who are part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP, which is the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One of his partners is actually a political official himself. He's a five-term state lawmaker in Bombay, now called Mumbai. And Mangal Prabhat Lodha is one of the wealthiest men in the country. He's also a lawmaker. And he shares the same kind of ideological and political vision, in some ways. They're both right-wing politicians, both developers who turned into politicians. His campaign slogan, a couple of years ago, became "Making Mumbai great again." And both the Lodha Group and the other -- another group in North India, in Gurgaon, called IREO, both of whom have ties to the ruling BJP, have also been under investigation on allegations of money laundering. So, these are -- you know, these might be close friends of Don Jr., but there's a lot of questions about how exactly they were vetted and what their reputations are.

AMY GOODMAN: During his presidential campaign, in October 2016, right before the election, Donald Trump attended a fundraiser in Edison, New Jersey, organized by the conservative lobbying group the Republican Hindu Coalition. Let's go to a part of the future president's comments.

DONALD TRUMP: I am a big fan of Hindu, and I am a big fan of India. Big, big fan. Big, big fan. Let me start by stating right up front that if I'm elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House. That, I can guarantee you. That, I can tell you. I'm involved in two massive developments in India, you probably know. Very successful. Wonderful, wonderful partners. Very beautiful. And I must say, I became involved because I have great confidence, and I have great confidence in India. Incredible people and an incredible country.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in his speech, Donald Trump praised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the far-right Hindu nationalist.

DONALD TRUMP: Prime Minister Modi, who has been very energetic in reforming India's bureaucracy -- great man. I applaud him for doing so. And I look forward to doing some serious bureaucratic trimming right here in the United States. Believe me, we need it also.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, interestingly enough, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was not allowed in this country for many years. And I'd like you to talk about the reason for that. But first, this Edison, New Jersey, event was very interesting. Talk about who introduced Donald Trump there.

ANJALI KAMAT: So, it's all linked, actually. The guy who introduced Donald Trump is Shalabh Kumar. He's a Chicago-based Indian-American electronics billionaire. He was one of the largest donors; his family donated over a million dollars to Donald Trump's campaign. And he's also one of the biggest backers of Prime Minister Modi here in the US

So, you know, Prime Minister Modi, before he was prime minister, he was the chief minister, the equivalent of a governor here, of the state of a Gujarat, the western Indian state of Gujarat, where there was a massacre of Muslims in 2002. And he was chief minister of the state at the time and was widely accused of not doing much to prevent the massacre. And there were various accusations, various court cases, that later came out, with different decisions around it. But from 2005 to 2013, he was not allowed in the United States.

And one of the things that changed his diplomatic isolation was both the fact that he was doing very well in the polls, and he would later be elected prime minister in 2014, but also Narendra Modi is widely seen as a very pro-business leader. He is a right-wing leader, but also very pro-business, and is seen as someone who's, you know, going to drain the swamp, as it were. But one of the people who were key in turning around Modi's diplomatic isolation was Shalabh Kumar, who organized a congressional delegation to Gujarat in 2013, just before Narendra Modi became prime minister.

AMY GOODMAN: And more about the Gujarat massacre?

ANJALI KAMAT: There were several hundred Muslims who were killed in 2002. I mean, it's a long, complicated story. But, you know, the tragic part about it is that many of the survivors and many of those -- the families of those who were killed are still waiting for justice. A lot of these cases are dragging on in court. And this is something that was very politicized and has, in the current moment, become quite difficult to talk about.

AMY GOODMAN: You write not only about Donald Trump Jr., but also Ivanka Trump. She went -- you know, senior adviser to President Trump, her father. She sort of paved the way for Donald Trump Jr. in India, just a few weeks before.

ANJALI KAMAT: Ivanka Trump went to India in November. So, when Prime Minister Modi came to the White House in June of last year, he made a point of inviting the president's daughter to lead this Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India in November. And so Ivanka went in November to the southern city of Hyderabad. And she wore all these very beautiful Indian-inspired dresses, which was, you know, most of what the media coverage was about. And right before she came, you know, the streets were cleaned up. There was a lot of news reports about people who are homeless and living on the streets were removed. Everything was made to look spick and span and nice for the president's daughter. Narendra Modi threw a fancy party for her.

But right after she left, one of my sources in -- who's a retired planning official in Gurgaon, told me that right after she left, things started going pretty well for the Trump's business, as well. So, the towers that were the new project that was launched in January, the final permissions on that were pushed through, in no time, he said, right after she left. So, this is a case of the president's daughter, who has an official position in the Trump administration, coming to India, and right after she leaves, there is something positive that happens on the business side for the Trump Organization. Then you have Don Jr. coming in, who has no official position in the Trump administration, who says he's there as a businessman, but is asked to give a foreign policy speech.

AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits businesses from paying bribes to overseas officials. I want to go back to a 2012 interview on CNBC in which Trump comments on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

DONALD TRUMP: Every other country goes into these places, and they do what they have to do. It's a horrible law, and it should be changed.

AMY GOODMAN: He wants the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act changed. That was private citizen, developer, a man who has a number of business interests in India, Donald Trump.

ANJALI KAMAT: You know, a lot of legal experts are currently debating whether the structure of the Trump Organization's deals in different countries that have a reputation and have real problems of corruption, like India, might be susceptible to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And part of the problem is that these are licensing deals. So, the Trump Organization is, as for as we know, not investing any money in these properties. They're just selling their brand.

But what I found over the course of this reporting is that the Trump Organization, and the Trump family, is actually very, very involved in these deals. And one of the things that legal experts are looking at is how much did they know. Even if it's a licensing deal, even if it's just a question of putting a name on a different project that you're not involved in building, if they are very, very involved, and if they did know or had reason to know, and in a very corrupt environment like India, they're not, you know, completely in the clear. If there's evidence of bribes having been paid, you know, would they have reason to know? What did they do to prevent it?

Which is where due diligence comes in: How carefully did they vet their partners? And one of the most interesting things I found is their middleman, their fixer on the ground, who's supposed to scope out new deals, is also responsible for doing due diligence on the partners. He's getting paid, he's getting a cut, for finding new deals, and part of his responsibility is also making sure that these partners are good enough for the Trump Organization.

AMY GOODMAN: A clear conflict of interest. And I want to end just with a question about how this may affect US policy in the region vis-à-vis India and Pakistan, its traditional, let's just say, not ally.

ANJALI KAMAT: I mean, this is an open question. And so far, there's been no clear indication of what this might look like. But on January 1st, President Trump tweeted a very -- a tweet very critical of Pakistan, accusing the country of nothing but lies and deceit, and then later cut some aid to Pakistan. This might have happened for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with India. But within India, members of the ruling party saw this as a victory for Prime Minister Modi's diplomacy and saw this as a pro-India move and were very pleased with it. And that's how it kind of played out in South Asia.

The other question that, you know, people are also worried about is: What will happen if there is another terrible incident of mass violence, where there are hundreds of people who are killed, sectarian violence, like what happened in Gujarat? Will we see condemnation from the Trump administration?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave that question there. Anjali, an amazing job of reporting over this past year, award-winning investigative journalist, a reporter with the Investigative Fund and a professor at Brooklyn College. We will link to your piece in The New Republic. It's headlined "Political Corruption and the Art of the Deal."

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we analyze Cambridge Analytica. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

For Over a Decade, John Bolton Has Insisted Bombing Iran Is "the Only Real Option"

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

President Trump has tapped John Bolton to become his next national security adviser, replacing H.R. McMaster. Bolton is known for his ultra-hawkish views. He has openly backed war against Iran and North Korea, and was a prominent supporter of the US invasion of Iraq. Just three weeks ago, Bolton wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal titled "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First." In 2015, while the Obama administration was negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, Bolton wrote a piece titled "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran." We speak to longtime investigative reporter Gareth Porter. His new piece for The American Conservative is titled "The Untold Story of John Bolton's Campaign for War with Iran."


AMY GOODMAN: In the latest White House shake-up, General H.R. McMaster is resigning as national security adviser. President Trump has tapped John Bolton to replace him. Bolton is known for his ultra-hawkish views. He has openly backed war against Iran and North Korea, and was a prominent supporter of the US invasion of Iraq, to this day. Just three weeks ago, Bolton wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal headlined "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First." In 2015, while the Obama administration was negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, Bolton wrote a piece headlined "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran."

Bolton will take over the position on April 9th and will not need to be confirmed by the Senate. Under President George W. Bush, Bolton served as US ambassador to the United Nations. He was given a recess appointment, after Bush feared he would not be confirmed by the Senate. For decades, John Bolton has been one of the most vocal critics of the United Nations.

JOHN BOLTON: The point that I want to leave with you, in this very brief presentation, is where I started, is there is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interest and when we can get others to go along. … The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost 10 stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.

AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton has also been a leading critic of the International Criminal Court. Human rights groups have condemned the selection of Bolton. Zeke Johnson of Amnesty International said, quote, "This is a reckless decision. Bolton's influence over national security policy could result in even more civilian deaths and potentially unlawful killings given his disdain for international law and international institutions." Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council also criticized the selection of Bolton. He said, quote, "Bolton now represents the greatest threat to the United States. This is a dangerous time for our country and a slap in the face even to Trump's supporters who thought he would break from waging disastrous foreign wars and military occupations."

One longtime supporter of Bolton has been right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker reports Mercer has donated $5 million to Bolton's super PAC since 2013 and is Bolton's biggest donor.

We go now to Washington, DC, where we're joined by longtime investigative reporter Gareth Porter. His new piece for The American Conservative is headlined "The Untold Story of John Bolton's Campaign for War with Iran."

Gareth Porter, welcome to Democracy Now! When you heard the news yesterday, though it has been rumored for months, what were your thoughts?

GARETH PORTER: Well, I thought that it was very probable that John Bolton was going to become the next national security adviser for the Trump administration, but I wasn't expecting it this soon. So, it was, in fact, a bit of a surprise in terms of the timing. But it's really been a matter of some weeks now that there have been rumors that -- not rumors, but reports based on leaks from the White House, that McMaster was going to be replaced and that Bolton was clearly the leading candidate. So, that's why I wrote that piece, in anticipation of the likelihood that this was going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are your major concerns?

GARETH PORTER: Well, I think everyone knows, by now, that John Bolton has been, in fact, a very vocal advocate of the -- of war with Iran, as well as with North Korea. I mean, he has, for years, been appearing on Fox News regularly. And I haven't counted them, but there must be dozens of times that he has publicly called for the United States to attack Iran militarily. No one else in American life has done anything even remotely similar to what John Bolton has done in terms of advocating war with Iran. He's not the only one, but he's done it more consistently. And since he left the Bush administration in 2005, basically, he has been -- or, rather, 2007, I guess it was, he has been the leading advocate of war with Iran. So, for President Trump to make him his national security adviser, clearly, is the most alarming thing that has happened in terms of US foreign policy under this administration thus far.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to John Bolton speaking on Fox News in 2015.

GRETCHEN CARLSON: Ambassador, you've written an op-ed today in The New York Times. And here's the headline -- it's an eye catcher: "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran." What do you mean?

JOHN BOLTON: Well, the negotiations, whether they lead to an agreement or not, are not going to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They are so far advanced now, the concessions they've made are so trivial and easily reversible, that the deal actually legitimizes Iran's existing nuclear program. So, my conclusion is not a happy one, but given that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, so will Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and maybe others, that just as Israel twice before has struck nuclear weapons programs in the hands of hostile states, I am afraid, given the circumstances, that's the only real option open to us now.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Gareth Porter?

GARETH PORTER: Well, John Bolton actually began to make that argument as early as 2003, 2004, when he was the point man for Vice President Dick Cheney in the Bush administration for policy toward Iran, and the leading -- I mean, the key point of contact with the Israeli government on this question. And during that time, 2003, 2004, Bolton was consciously maneuvering to get the United States in a position where it could exercise the option of an attack on Iran.

And what he did was to basically make sure that the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, could not or would not make an agreement, have an agreement, with Iran that would resolve the issue of whether Iran had a nuclear weapons program. He was so afraid that Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of IAEA, would do that, that he consciously maneuvered to try to move the file from the IAEA -- the file on Iran -- from the IAEA to the U.N. Security Council, where he believed the United States would be able to then, essentially, accuse Iran of having a nuclear weapons program, and have the option available to use military force. And in his memoirs, he's very candid about the fact that he did do that and that the purpose was to basically give that option a real chance of being carried out.

And he said that he was doing so because the Israelis were telling him that Iran was very close to what they called the point of no return, which meant that at that point the United States would not be able to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon without using force. And, of course, as I have documented in my book Manufactured Crisis, that whole story about Iran having a nuclear weapons program was really a falsified account, which the Israelis planted with the international community. And Bolton, maybe, maybe not, was aware of that, of that Israeli plot, but he worked with the Israelis very closely to try to bring about a situation where the Iranians would be accused of having a nuclear weapons program. That's for sure.

AMY GOODMAN: To this day, John Bolton says the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. He doesn't have to be approved by the Senate right now. He didn't have to be approved by the Senate to become U.N. [sic] ambassador to the United Nations, not because you don't -- the US ambassador to the United Nations, not because you don't have to, but because Bush understood he might not get approved, so he made a recess appointment. So, his support for the invasion of Iraq went right through today, but it was back in 2003. Just three weeks ago, this Wall Street Journal piece he wrote, "The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First." This is three weeks ago, in February. Can you talk about his views on North Korea? And as NSA, as national security adviser, what power does he actually have? What is the significance of his position so close to President Trump?

GARETH PORTER: Well, first of all, with regard to his Wall Street Journal piece, it is really quite astonishing. The kind of argument that he made was, essentially, claiming to give a legal argument for bombing North -- a first strike against North Korea. But what he did, in fact, was simply to say, "The North Koreans are getting the capability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons. That means that the United States must strike first." It was simply a sort of psychological argument, rather than a legal argument or even an argument that took into account the fundamental notion of deterrence. He never used the word "deterrence" in the entire article. It was as though that concept doesn't exist. So, that sort of gives you an insight into the mentality that John Bolton will bring to this job.

With regard to what he could do as national security adviser, obviously, he will have the ear of Donald Trump more than anyone else in the administration at this point. And despite the fact that Donald Trump has committed himself to a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un in May, you know, we have to anticipate that there are bumps in the road in the future that will give John Bolton the opportunity to try to convince him to move not just away from that agreement with the North Koreans, but towards the kind of unilateral first-strike policy that Bolton has championed in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have a minute, but I wanted to ask you two questions: What is the Gatestone Institute that he chairs, and also, his super PAC, the major funder of it being the ultra-right billionaire funder Robert Mercer?

GARETH PORTER: Well, the Gatestone Institute is one of the many think tanks that have an extreme right-wing, anti-Islamic, pro-war, obviously, very aggressive foreign policy orientation. And basically, it's not just -- I want to add that it's not just Mercer who has been very close to Bolton or who Bolton has been close to. It's also Sheldon Adelson, who has been Donald Trump's main funder during the 2016 presidential election. And it's no accident that it was in Las Vegas, meeting with Adelson, that -- from which Bolton called the White House last October and convinced Trump to basically take the position that he would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, unless the US allies and Congress agreed to changes which obviously were deal killers.

AMY GOODMAN: And the super PAC. Time magazine says, "President Donald Trump's pick for his new national security advisor has ties to Cambridge Analytica, the voter-profiling firm currently facing criticism for its use of improperly obtained Facebook data. A super PAC run by former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.1 million since 2014 for research." That's according to the Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance records. We'll end with that, Gareth Porter.

Gareth, I want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist. His new piece for The American Conservative, which we'll link to, "The Untold Story of John Bolton's Campaign for War with Iran." Gareth Porter is also the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

When we come back, we look at Donald Trump Jr., his trip to India, President Donald Trump, his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump. We'll look at Trump family and their investments in India. We'll look at corruption and the White House. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Picks Advocate for World War III John Bolton as New National Security Adviser

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton speaks during CPAC 2018, February 22, 2018 in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Providing the clearest indication yet that he is rapidly "putting together a war cabinet," President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Thursday night that John Bolton -- described by one commentator as the "most reckless and consistently wrongheaded extremist in American public life" -- will replace H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser early next month. 

Formerly the US Ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush administration, Bolton was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the invasion of Iraq and has over the past decade repeatedly called for war with Iran and North Korea as a regular guest on FOX News and in the op-ed pages of some of America's most prominent right-wing editorial pages.

Though he reportedly promised Trump "he wouldn't start any wars" if he got the position, foreign policy analysts and lawmakers argued on Thursday that Bolton's long record of warmongering indicates that he will attempt to do precisely that.

John Bolton still thinks the disastrous Iraq War was a good idea. He advocates for bombing both Iran and North Korea. His appointment as national security adviser is dangerous.

-- Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) March 23, 2018

John Bolton was part of the effort to mislead the US into the disastrous Iraq war and has supported military action against North Korea and Iran. He was too extreme to be confirmed as UN ambassador in 2005 and is absolutely the wrong person to be national security advisor now.

-- Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 22, 2018

"Bolton is an unhinged advocate for waging World War III," Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), said in a statement in response to the news Thursday night. "Congress must do everything in its power to convince Trump to reconsider this decision and exert maximal pressure to constrain Bolton's ability to impose irreparable harm to the US and global security. Bolton now represents the greatest threat to the United States."

Combined with his appointment earlier this month of current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, the Bolton pick means "Trump may have just effectively declared war on Iran," Parsi argued. "As the world awaits Trump’s May 12 decision as to whether he will abandon the Iran nuclear deal, all of the signs now point to a decision to move to war footing."

Trump's decision to elevate Bolton to the most important foreign policy position in the White House -- which does not require Senate confirmation -- comes as the president is planning to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the coming weeks after months of back-and-forth threats and rising nuclear tensions.

Jon Rainwater, executive director of Peace Action, argued in a statement on Thursday that Bolton's appointment could deal a death blow to the possibility of diplomacy between the US and North Korea.

"This isn't just another terrible appointment, this tips Trump's hand about the likelihood of military action on the Korean Peninsula," Rainwater added. "Americans who recognize the recklessness of starting a war with North Korea need to stand up and make themselves heard. Bolton's appointment to this central role at the national security council strongly suggests Trump intends to sabotage the budding diplomatic opening, declare that diplomacy failed, and pivot back to war."

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) -- who had joined anti-war groups in expressing alarm at recent rumors that Bolton could be the next national security adviser -- issued a short statement Thursday saying simply, "This is dangerous news for the country and the world."

"I hear the drumbeats of war," Lee added.

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Categories: Latest News

Defending the Digital Frontier: Why We Need a Civil Rights Framework for the Internet

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

The scandal of Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook data has generated a popular drive for users to delete the platform entirely, but the problem is much larger than one platform. We must understand that many of us, as internet users, are living a significant part of our lives in an exposed territory that is available for political manipulation.

A laptop showing the Facebook logo is held alongside a Cambridge Analytica sign at the entrance to the building housing the offices of Cambridge Analytica, in central London on March 21, 2018. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP / Getty Images)

The scandal of Cambridge Analytica's misuse of Facebook data, and criticisms of both Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook as a platform, have generated a popular drive for users to delete the platform entirely. The hashtag #DeleteFacebook trended nationally earlier this week, giving its message an audience of over 43 million Twitter users since the scandal broke. After a period of ill-advised silence, Mark Zuckerberg issued a statement on Wednesday in which he assumed responsibility for the data breach and promised new guidelines that would make user data more secure in the future. However, it seems unlikely that either new guidelines or a wave of Facebook deletions will address the core problem this incident highlights: a largely unregulated digital landscape, in which voter manipulation and the exploitation of personal data are relatively unchecked.

To fully fathom the magnitude of what's at stake, we must first understand that the consumption of data, for Trumpian purposes, is not simply about winning or losing a presidential race. Cambridge Analytica's data abuses were overseen by Trump's former advisor/kingmaker Steve Bannon -- a man who has told members of the National Front to wear the label of "racist" with pride, and who has made no effort to conceal his hopes for a global race war. There is a reason that 44 states and the District of Columbia refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a now-defunct project whose stated purpose was to address a voter fraud epidemic -- despite vast amounts of evidence that no such epidemic exists. Trump himself responded to the states' hesitation by saying that their lack of cooperation suggested they had something to hide. In truth, the widespread refusal was a crucial precedent in a presidency that would continue to pit state and local governments against Trump's agenda.

We don't know exactly what the Trump administration would have done with that data, but we do know what the Republican Party has treated "voter fraud" as a major political priority in recent years, and has benefited greatly from doing so. We also know that the president is willing to exploit any avenue, including social media data, in his quest to deport undocumented people living in the United States, and that immigration activists are being targeted with great enthusiasm under his reign, while some Black and Native organizers have been treated as terrorists by law enforcement.

As Malkia Cyril, the executive director of the Oakland-based Center for Media Justice and co-founder of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), told Truthout this week, "Data protection is not about protecting privacy; it never was. It's about protecting democracy. Now, more than ever, the US needs civil rights legislation that protects the data of vulnerable communities."

Now, having been presented with a concrete example of what Trumpian data collection looks like, we should be asking ourselves what this means across the larger digital landscape. Many have argued that individuals should delete Facebook over this breach of trust -- as there were apparently still people out there who trusted Facebook to keep their information private -- but that action falls short for a number of reasons.

For one, it's a suggestion that probably won't be embraced by most users. This isn't the first time't the first time that the company has enraged its user base and generated calls for people to log off. From violations of privacy to a bizarre scandal over the company partnering with academics from Cornell and the University of California to run a psychological experiment on the platform's users, Facebook has weathered user fury in the past. Facebook can do this because it is pervasive: It is a thoroughly culturally embedded phenomenon with over 2 billion active users worldwide.

Beyond the application itself, Facebook's tentacles extend into other areas of many users' technological existence, with some other apps actually requiring their users to have a Facebook account. In addition, many apps have enabled users to sign up for their services using their Facebook accounts, thus entangling Facebook with everything from ride-share services to dating apps and takeout orders. Rather than deleting each of those accounts, and creating new accounts that aren't linked to Facebook, most users will probably keep their tangled web of apps intact, including Facebook.

So, while the company appears to be taking a serious beating this week, with a 10.5 percent drop in market value (which translates to about $57 billion), it's unlikely that it will be brought down. And if history is any indication, some of those who log off in anger will return. After all, many of us have become socially reliant on apps like Facebook -- and whether or not we should be is a different question than what is likely to happen in the wake of this scandal.

Another reason the #DeleteFacebook plan falls short is that the problem is much larger than one platform. From Russian trolls to data breaches, we must understand that many of us, as internet users, are living a significant part of our lives in an exposed territory, and that anyone interacting within that territory is vulnerable to a variety of attacks. Social media has created new possibilities for those who want to harass and terrorize marginalized people.

There has been significant discussion of Russian trolls and the part they may have played in the last election, but less discussion of what that trolling generates: mobs of online voices descending on marginalized people, wielding far more than mere disagreement. Trumpian trolls foster anti-Blackness and other bigotries in plain view, normalizing vulgar, racist attacks on the marginalized, while also levelling threats and contributing to an environment of fear and intimidation for those on the receiving end of Trumpian bigotries.

As a newer political frontier, the internet has provided a space for activities that would be easier to interrupt in the "real world." This aspect of online culture has been used for both good and evil. Meanwhile, what little oversight has emerged has frequently targeted marginalized people, while letting those who harass them off the hook. Facebook's controversial 2014 study examined the concept of “emotional contagion” -- the phenomenon of having one person's emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people.

Armed with such findings, and the Facebook data of millions of Americans, it's not hard to imagine what a skilled propaganda expert like Steve Bannon, who romanticizes racial unrest, might fuel with such information. After all, Bannon helped Trump win the election with digital content. An online environment that normalizes fascistic politics and white nationalism has helped normalize "real-world" expressions of such politics, such the violence in Charlottesville.

Thanks to the work of net neutrality activists, the connectedness of digital and civil rights, while under-discussed, is not wholly new. When we examine the internet at large as a racialized landscape, the need for civil rights protections in online spaces becomes even more obvious. A comprehensive vision of digital civil rights has not been widely proposed, but we can see the foundations of such a movement in the work of organizations like the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), a coalition of 175 grassroots community groups that tackles issues ranging from "prison phone justice" to high tech surveillance and the abuse of Big Data.

MAG-Net has also been a driving force behind the net neutrality movement. The group's website states that its members represent cross-section of disenfranchised groups and communities -- including immigrants, communities of color, Indigenous peoples, and working class and queer communities -- "all seeking to build a progressive social movement with the power to transform media conditions and rules for these constituencies." To ensure our digital rights, a multi-pronged approach, like MAG-Net's, that accounts for differing forms of oppression, will surely be necessary.

The current regulatory climate is, of course, not encouraging. With the demise of net neutrality, internet users are now faced with a slew of uncertainties. We must view the destruction of net neutrality, the use of online platforms to abuse marginalized people, and data breaches like the Cambridge Analytica scandal as being connected, or we will have little hope of developing a cohesive vision of what a just internet could look like.

The problem is not isolated to one platform, however powerful that platform might be. The larger problem is that our rights are not being protected, and that we the public have yet to unite behind a vision of what digital rights should look like. But as we have learned from the ascent of Donald Trump, and the machinations of Steve Bannon, the exploitation of an under-regulated digital world can lead to real-world catastrophes we cannot simply log out of.

In truth, the digital age has created a new frontier for political manipulation, and like most unregulated frontiers, it is being thoroughly abused. And even if we are cavalier about our own privacy, we must ask ourselves: Who is hurt the most in the current political climate by the exploitation of personal data? The internet, whose use has increased globally from 14 million users in 1993 to over 3 billion users today, created a new frontier for political manipulation, exploitation and abuse. It's a world where all the old tricks of dirty politics are new again, with a veritable playland of information and vulnerabilities to exploit. And right now, with Trump and the Republicans in power, it is open season on those vulnerabilities.

However, intervention is possible. In Facebook's case, a whistleblower has allowed the public to make informed demands for accountability. That's not to say Facebook has become a safe place for your information, but there have been consequences for the platform's misuse of information. Going forward, new policies will exist that may benefit people who don't plan to leave the platform. In many cases, of course, it will take more than the light of day to restrain the manipulation at work. That's why we need a comprehensive vision of what our civil rights look like in the digital realm, and what it would take, on paper, to defend those rights. Demands for greater algorithm transparency, data protection, and policies that protect the rights of marginalized people must loom larger in the public discourse.

Net neutrality activists have long said that internet access is a civil rights issue. Perhaps it's time we all examined what's become of this digital frontier we've all flocked to, because we are going to have to defend it.

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Categories: Latest News

Reviving the Asylum Is Not the Answer to Gun Violence

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

Young activists prepare signs to be carried at the upcoming March for Our Lives Los Angeles on March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Trump's call for more mental asylums in the wake of recent mass shootings is inextricably intertwined with the devaluation of disabled and psychiatrized people, and the fear-based, law-and-order politics that's been on the rise. In fact, the US already operates large-scale custodial mental institutions in the form of privately managed jails and prisons.

Young activists prepare signs to be carried at the upcoming March for Our Lives Los Angeles on March 22, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

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During a recent meeting to discuss gun safety and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Trump pined for the "old days," saying that back then, "We had mental institutions. We had a lot of them."

Speaking to members of his cabinet and governors from around the country, he continued, "You could nab somebody like [the Parkland shooter] because, you know, they did, they knew something was off.... But, you used to be able to bring them into a mental institution and hopefully he gets help or whatever. But he's off the streets."

This language was picked up by cultural commentators, some of whom agreed with him, as described in The New York Times's piece, "Trump Wants More Asylums -- and Some Psychiatrists Agree."

Trump's call for more asylums is inextricably intertwined with the devaluation of disabled and psychiatrized people and the fear-based, law-and-order politics that has been on the rise for decades.

Olga Khazan of The Atlantic, for instance, responded with an article entitled "Trump's Call for Mental Institutions Could Be Good," in which she argued that today, the country needs mental institutions because of its dearth of psychiatric beds, citing the University of Pennsylvania ethicist Dominic Sisti, who has called for a return to the "therapeutic" asylum model. At the end of her article, as an aside, Khazan writes that the only problem with Trump's call for more mental institutions is that it came as a solution to the problem of mass shootings. Only a small percentage of individuals with psychiatric disabilities display violence, she says, and institutionalization would not stop gun violence.

What such commentators and much of the public fail to realize is that Trump's call for more asylums is inextricably intertwined with the devaluation of disabled and psychiatrized people and the fear-based, law-and-order politics that has been on the rise for decades. Among disability activists and scholars, this oppression is known as ableism. Within the mad people's movement, it is commonly referred to as sanism. It is this oppression of psychiatrized people that undergirds the current call for their incarceration in asylums. In this era of law-and-order politics, custodial mental institutions are viewed as legitimate and appropriate rather than as a form of state-sponsored violence.

That vision directly contradicts the historical record. At the height of institutionalization in the mid-1950s, about 560,000 Americans idled their days away in deplorable, dirty and overcrowded institutions. Many people suffered through unnecessary, unproven and often brutal medical "treatments" to modify behaviors that were deemed abnormal. Since the 1960s, ex-patients, psychiatric survivors, some users of psychiatric services, and their allies have fought to gain their rights as citizens, restore their human dignity, and move themselves out of institutions into the community. They were aided along the way by legislation like the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963, which was designed to provide psychiatric services in the community, and by court cases such as Wyatt v. Stickney, which guaranteed certain rights for people in mental institutions. This is usually referred to as "deinstitutionalization."

Toward the end of the 20th century, the rise of neoliberalism and fiscal conservativism combined to make living in the community difficult for anyone seeking affordable and accessible housing, especially those individuals who were poor, unemployed, underemployed and/or people of color. Unjust socioeconomic policies resulted in widespread housing insecurity and contributed to the rise of mass incarceration and violence. Often, much of the blame for these consequences of socioeconomic policies is placed on deinstitutionalization and psychiatrized people. But describing deinstitutionalization as a complete failure ignores a whole generation of activism by institutionalized and psychiatrized people who fought for and won their freedom to live in the community, only to be called again into a life of segregation and ill-treatment. President Trump claimed that these institutions had been closed because of cost. That claim erases this important history.

The other piece of history that these commentators are ignoring is the history of law-and-order politics in the United States. Beginning in the 1960s, with President Johnson's War on Crime and then continuing through Presidents Nixon and Reagan's Wars on Drugs, the United States has built up a massive prison-industrial complex, which grew in response to (among many other factors) revolts, such as the 1971 Attica prison uprising, and has resulted in even more draconian race-based and race-baiting policies.

In the most dystopian, but realistic, of futures, people would be institutionalized to increase corporate profits.

As a result, today the United States has the highest rates of imprisonment in the world and people with psychiatric disabilities are disproportionately locked up. Our state already operates large-scale custodial mental institutions, which often take the form of privately managed jails and prisons.

At its core, the call for mental institutions today is an expansion of the carceral state. Proponents of the new mental institutions say that they would be well-monitored, well-funded, and well-regulated to ensure the safety and comfort of the people in them and the efficacy of the treatments deployed by institution staff. In an era of deep cuts to government spending on social welfare, these institutions would no doubt be private enterprises. We have seen the ways in which the privatization of the prison-industrial complex has contributed to the skyrocketing increase in the number of incarcerated people, and how privatized health care has contributed to the rampant proliferation of the pharmaceutical industry, especially in the area of psychoactive drugs, which some consider to be a form of chemical incarceration.

At best, the new institutions would be saturated with neglect and abuse. And in the most dystopian, but realistic, of futures, people would be institutionalized to increase corporate profits.

The United States is already a "leader" in locking up people. We do not need more incarceration. It does not make people safer, it tears communities apart, and many people, including incarcerated people themselves, have argued that incarceration actually produces mental illness.

Right after the Florida school shooting, President Trump said, "We must confront the issue of mental health." In that sense he is right, but not in the call to bring back psychiatric confinement. It is time to get "very tough" on the sale of firearms in the United States and on the high rates of incarceration, not on psychiatrized people or on expanding the carceral state.

Categories: Latest News

I Treat Patients on Medicaid, and I Don't See Undeserving Poor People

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00
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As more states join Kentucky in trying to impose work requirements for people who receive Medicaid, I could not help but think of a patient of mine whom I'll call Linda.

Linda is a healthy 42-year-old woman who came in a few months ago with pain in her left foot.

"Every morning when I wake up, it's like a knife in my heel" she said, grimacing, and held her foot up for me to see.

"Is it cancer? It's so painful. What could cause that pain?"

I examined her tender foot and launched into my well-practiced explanation of the problem: plantar fascitis, an inflammation of the tissues connecting the heel and toes, which is very common and in some cases very painful. I swiveled back from the computer with a handout and was stunned to see Linda weeping in relief. "I just, I really thought it was a tumor in my bone," she sighed, and folded the tissue I offered into a tiny square.

I am accustomed to seeing patients for routine complaints like this. So it is easy for me to forget how scary it is to wonder about mysterious symptoms and imagine the worst.

This is why I'm so concerned when I hear about additional restrictions placed on Medicaid coverage. Access to health care provides us dignity in our vulnerable moments when we are well and sustains us in the rare circumstances when the worst we imagine comes true. And the worst can happen to any of us. I have seen how quickly disease or injury can punish the body, and how completely an addiction can take hold and alter the course of a life. And I have seen how patients like Linda struggle not only to make ends meet, but to get the medical care they need.

Work Requirements Threaten Medical Safety Net

Most of my patients, including Linda, are on Medicaid. Medicaid is health insurance provided by the government for the most vulnerable among us -- the poor, disabled, and elderly. The coverage is not generous, but it is comprehensive. It provides a safety net. Across the country, policymakers are fraying that safety net by imposing work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries for the first time. Many of these individuals only recently gained health insurance through the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. I fear these policy changes will deny the dignity of access to health care to millions of poor adults.

Linda does work, like the majority of able-bodied adults on Medicaid, and she developed the pain in her heel after many long days on her feet. Her employer does not offer health insurance, so she relies instead on Medicaid. Almost 1 in 5 able-bodied adult Medicaid beneficiaries are unable to work outside the home because they are primary caregivers for family members or are attending school. A small portion of the remaining able-bodied Medicaid beneficiaries do not work -- and in the majority of cases research shows that they simply cannot find a job.

Precisely how officials will distinguish between these groups -- those deemed "deserving" of health care and those deemed "undeserving" -- is not clear. Medicaid experts fear that the vague guidance provided by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will result in vulnerable Americans such as those living in economically depressed communities, those suffering from substance use disorders, and those remaining at home to care for young children or aging parents being deprived of Medicaid coverage because of burdensome documentation requirements and bureaucratic hurdles.

Kentucky, one of the first states to apply for permission from the federal government to erect such barriers to Medicaid, is projecting that construction of the bureaucratic apparatus necessary to process and enforce work requirements will cost US$187 million. Kentucky officials also calculate that the program changes would ultimately lead to savings of $2.4 billion over the ensuing five years, due to individuals dropping off of the Medicaid rolls because they cannot keep up with newly required documentation or simply no longer qualifying for the program.

Legal scholars question whether policies that so nakedly aim to reduce access to benefits are even legal, given that the Medicaid Act calls for all eligible beneficiaries be offered necessary "medical assistance."

It is clear to me that the primary goal of these work requirements is to further unravel the safety net for the poor and drive eligible individuals off of Medicaid, regardless of the effect on their welfare. The work requirement policies offer no job training to facilitate unemployed individuals a reasonable path to work; and no other state aside from Massachusetts have enacted policies requiring private companies to offer health insurance to their lower income employees, who like Linda, rely on Medicaid. More than anything, for me, it is a return to the pointless and repugnant distinction we Americans continually parse: distinguishing between the deserving and the undeserving poor.

Why Medicaid Is Crucial

For readers who have private insurance and a steady job, ready access to Medicaid for able-bodied adults may not seem important. But I argue that it is crucial for us all. We are all deserving of health care. Access to Medicaid is crucial for anyone with aging or infirm parents who may decide to stay home and care for them at the end of their lives. Medicaid is crucial for anyone with a friend or loved one swept up in the wave of opiate addiction, which has engulfed more than two million Americans in the last year. Medicaid is crucial for anyone suddenly without income, without savings, and in crisis.

As Linda put her shoe back on and tucked her purse up on her shoulder, she sighed: "I am so glad I came in. I was so worried, because, you never know."

Linda is right: One doesn't know. We are all one job loss or one devastating accident away from needing a safety net. What if the worst you can imagine came true for you? What if you were in free fall, ravaged by addiction, broken beyond recognition in an accident, or devastated by a ferocious illness? Wouldn't you hope that a safety net were hanging there in the depths, ready to catch you? Without Medicaid, there may not be. You may fall through those frayed strings and into the void.

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: The System Is Broken

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

This week's episode discusses how doctors are prescribing fentanyl for pay, why deficits are not an issue with the US budget, big corporations battling over net neutrality, how German cities are denying food to hungry immigrants, Trump and Stormy Daniels, and pay discrimination against women. Also included is an interview with Ken Byrne on the success of the Conway School, which is being run by its teachers.

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Categories: Latest News

What to Know About Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Online Privacy

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

On the afternoon of March 16, Facebook unexpectedly announced that it was suspending two data collection and research firms from its platform for violating the site's standards and policies.

The announcement occurred shortly before the media went public with allegations that the firms had obtained unauthorized access to Facebook data for hundreds of thousands -- and possibly millions -- of users. These groups also reportedly leveraged that data during the contentious 2016 election, when the Trump campaign paid $6.2 million for their services.

Many people are concerned about online privacy, campaign advertising practices and data collection, so here's what you need to know.

The data users voluntarily provide to Facebook is worth a lot of money -- especially in combination with secondary details the site collects about visitors. If you have a Facebook account, you've likely directly or indirectly provided information about your political affiliation, the issues you care about, where you live, what kinds of things you like to buy and more.

This information represents a gold mine to Facebook. In fact, it's one way the service remains free despite the tremendous amount of resources involved -- because they can sell your data. And it's one reason that Facebook specifically marketed user data to interested campaigns and companies in 2015, knowing it would be lucrative information for election advertising targeting.

When it comes to political advertising in particular, campaigns don't just want to target broad demographic groups. Ideally, they aim to reach specific voters -- especially swing voters in key districts.

That's where Cambridge Analytica and its sister firm, Strategic Communication Laboratories, come in. They contracted with University of Cambridge psychologist Aleksandr Kogan to build an app called thisisyourdigitallife, inviting users to answer questions in exchange for a psychological profile. 270,000 users interacted with the app, which harvested not just their data, but also that of their friends. Imagine walking into a crowded house party, allowing a person following you to see who you interact with and how.

Accessing user information via an app isn't a violation of Facebook policies, but the company does spell out rules for the information people collect and how it can be used, in the interest of protecting users. Kogan violated that policy by passing information on to a third party -- Cambridge Analytica -- and when Facebook found out in 2015, the company demanded that the data be destroyed.

But according to Facebook, it wasn't. Meanwhile, Cambridge Analytica claims Facebook's charge is incorrect and the data actually was destroyed.

Facebook cut off access for Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and a man named Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower. And some critics are asking why it took two years to do this.

Facebook also insists that this was not a "data breach," as some in the media have characterized it, claiming that users provided their information voluntarily. Even so, it should be stressed that their personal information was used in a way they didn't consent to -- and the people whose information was harvested because of their proximity to app users had no opportunity to consent.

Did this have an effect on the election? It's hard to say definitively, because many factors influence elections. The 2016 election certainly involved a lot of targeted advertising, but it also included some problematic ethics in media, voter suppression and Russian influence over the news and information people accessed.

It wouldn't be reasonable to claim that Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are solely responsible for Trump's win, but they undoubtedly had an influence. And the situation highlights worrisome issues when it comes to privacy practices and protecting individual users. This is particularly important for people who don't understand privacy and security issues very well and aren't aware of the fact that they need to protect themselves -- let alone how to do it.

So what does this mean for you? If you downloaded Kogan's app, your data may have been used by Cambridge Analytica without your awareness or consent -- and if you're friends with someone who did, there's a chance your data was also used. You should know that while Facebook maintains extensive privacy policies, app developers may use your data in ways you're not aware of, or weren't expecting. Think carefully about what kind of information you share on Facebook.

And consider where, when and how you interact with Facebook off the site. Lots of services allow users to log in with Facebook, feeding free data to the company, while the site's persistent cookies may track you elsewhere -- ever noticed that you're shopping for airline tickets and then ads for the airline pop up in Instagram?

Simply logging out isn't enough; you may want to use Facebook in a private window in a separate browser to avoid crossing the streams if you want to continue using the service instead of deleting your account.

Facebook isn't the only offender here: If a site is offering a free service, it means you -- or data about you -- are the product. The site's history of suppressing activists and manipulating its feed is a reminder that this social media giant isn't necessarily on the side of its users. You may want to take this opportunity to carefully read the privacy policies on other sites and services you use to learn more about how, when and where they use your data.

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Categories: Latest News

Students Look Beyond Gun Control Laws to Prevent Violence -- and It's Working

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

Students at Ballard High School participate in a walkout to address school safety and gun violence on March 14, 2018, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: Karen Ducey / Getty Images)

For one week in February, students at D'lberville High School in Mississippi roamed the hallways before and between classes, greeting fellow students with a simple hello. They encouraged other students to do the same, to write their names on badges pinned to their clothing and to try to meet a new person each day.

But what may have seemed like overly friendly gestures was something more profound -- part of a broader initiative aimed at preventing the next school shooting.

The D'lberville students are members of Students Against Violence Everywhere, one of more than 315 clubs in 40 states focused on reducing youth violence at schools and in their communities.

As lawmakers argue over how best to keep guns out of the nation's public schools, these students are working to encourage inclusiveness and counteract bullying within their ranks.

Such efforts have gained momentum in the wake of the shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and in advance of the nationwide March for Our Lives student-planned protest scheduled for March 24.

D'lberville students introduced SAVE programs a few years ago to help build a more open and accepting culture so no student feels alone or left out, faculty advisor Jennifer Ladner said. "We try to prevent bullying because it's typically those teenagers who are considered outcasts of high schools, or the troubled ones," said Ladner, who teaches 9th and 11th grade English at D'lberville. "That is where we see the bulk of the violence coming from."

Last year, SAVE became affiliated with Sandy Hook Promise, a national initiative started by parents who lost children during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The organization aims to prevent gun violence before it occurs by training and mobilizing adults and youth to identify at-risk behavior and to intervene.

Nearly 2.5 million students and adults in schools in all states have been trained in at least one of its four Know The Signs programs, including the Start With Hello initiative the D'lberville students were engaged in during that week in February. The other programs include Say Something, Safety Assessment and Intervention, and Signs of Suicide -- all designed to help protect children from suicide, bullying, and gun violence.

SAVE club members at D'lberville, which has a total school enrollment of 1,300, began implementing many of the Sandy Hook programs last year.

Students, teachers, and staff were trained in the four Know The Signs strategies that Sandy Hook Promise provides at no cost. They were taught how to recognize when an individual is at risk of hurting himself or others and how to intervene to get them help before it's too late.

D'lberville also opened an online bullying reporting tool, as part of SHP's Say Something initiative, which allows anyone to anonymously report suspicious behavior.

The club received a $1,000 SHP grant that the students used to host community-wide events and to spread anti-violence and anti-bullying messages.

And in solidarity with the Parkland students and to mark National Youth Violence Prevention Week, March 19-23, D'lberville's students will mail a signed banner to their peers at Marjory Stoneman that says, "Our Love and Thoughts are With You."

Ladner said student membership has grown as the number of school shootings across the country has increased. And students have been energized by their peers across the nation demanding school safety and gun reform from lawmakers.

Ladner herself was motivated to get involved with SAVE because of a 1997 school shooting that occurred at a high school 20 miles away from Jackson, where she was in high school. Two years later when two students killed 13 people at Columbine High School, she was in the 12th grade.

"I remember those, and here we are 20 years later and school shootings are still happening and on an even more regular basis," she said.

At D'lberville, she said, they've been lucky. "We haven't had the threats other schools have had. [Students] want to show other schools that if you have programs such as SAVE [and SHP], you can prevent violence because you're making students more aware."

Meanwhile, students' voices are being heard -- in state capitals and in Congress. Florida recently passed legislation raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, extending the waiting period for most gun purchases, and providing over $400 million in new funding for mental health and school safety programs.

And in Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018, which authorizes $50 million in federal grants to fund training and other initiatives to enhance school safety. Key provisions of the measure, including funding for schools to use proven school-violence prevention strategies, were developed by Sandy Hook Promise.

Mayaan Simckes, a researcher at University of Washington's Department of Epidemiology who conducted a study that appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that parents, teachers, and students can intervene to prevent bullying and gun access among youth -- something the study called "modifiable risks."

Solutions to gun violence are achievable through educational programs and through partnerships between different agencies, schools, parents, doctors' offices, community groups, and lawmakers, she said.

But Simckes says both sides of the gun control debate are missing "everything that's already happening," where students and adults are taking action to stop school gun violence before it occurs.

"Sandy Hook Promise ... is responding to this very serious public health threat at many levels," Simckes said. "That multi-level, multi-pronged approach" shows that the "founders have a strong understanding of the many different factors that contribute to this public health issue."

Eight days after the shooting at Parkland, SHP directors Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley sat down at the White House with grieving parents and students and President Trump to talk about a comprehensive response.

Holding up a photo of his 6-year old son, Daniel, who was killed at Sandy Hook, Barden told them he'd been in this position too many times, "wringing our hands, pleading with legislators." Turning to Trump, he said, "Sandy Hook Promise has built something that works."

For example, in 2015, a student in Cincinnati, Ohio, who was training to be a "Say Something" leader at his middle school helped avert a bomb threat and potential shooting by alerting school officials.

"We've already stopped school shootings. We've already prevented suicides," Barden said. "We've already captured other social issues like bullying and cutting. We know that it works. We have a solution right here. We're asking you to please help," said Barden. "We need to do this nationally now."

This article has been funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation.

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Categories: Latest News

Noam Chomsky on the Populist Groundswell, US Elections and the Future of Humanity

Truthout - Thu, 03/22/2018 - 21:00

The country needs a functioning political party apparatus that grows from the grassroots, says renowned linguist Noam Chomsky. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on foreign policy, dissent in the internet age, who's really messing with American elections and more.

Noam Chomsky. (Photo: Jeanbaptisteparis)

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We recently interviewed Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Laureate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Arizona. He shares his thoughts with the Institute for New Economic Thinking on foreign policy, dissent in the Internet age, public education, corporate predation, who's really messing with American elections, climate change, and more. 

Lynn Parramore: You've been looking at politics and international relations for quite a long time. Over the decades, what are the continuities in these areas that stand out in your view?

Noam Chomsky: Well the continuities are the message of the Athenians to Melos: "the powerful do what they wish and the weak suffer what they must" [from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.]  It's often disguised in humanitarian terms. The modalities and the context change. The situations change but the message stays the same.

What do you see as the most significant changes?

There are some steps towards imposing constraints and limits on state violence. For the most part, they come from inside. So for example, if you look at the United States and the kinds of actions that John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson could carry out in Vietnam, they were possible because of almost complete lack of public attention.

I don't know if you know, but as late as 1966 in Boston we could barely have an anti-war action because it would be violently broken up with the support of the press and so on. By then, South Vietnam had been practically destroyed. The war had expanded to other areas of Indochina. The Reagan administration, at the very beginning, tried to duplicate what Kennedy had done in 1961 with regard to Central America. So they had a white paper more or less modeled on Kennedy's white paper that said the Communists are taking over. It was the usual steps, the propaganda, but it collapsed quickly. In the case of the Kennedy white paper, it took years before it was exposed as mostly fraudulent, but the Wall Street Journal, of all places, exposed the Reagan white paper in six months. There were protests by church groups and popular organizations and they had to kind of back off. What happened was bad enough but it was nothing like Indochina.

Iraq was the first time in the history of imperialism that there were massive protests before the war was even officially launched. It's claimed by people that it failed, but I don't think so. I mean, they never began to do the kinds of things that they could have done. There were no B-52 raids on heavily populated areas or chemical warfare of the kind they did in Indochina. By and large the constraints come from inside, and they understood that. By the time you got to the first Bush administration, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they came out with a national defense policy and strategic policy. What they basically said is that we're going to have wars against what they called much weaker enemies and these have to be carried out quickly and decisively or else there will be embarrassment -- a way of saying that popular reaction is going to set in. And that's the way it's been. It's not pretty, but it's some kind of constraint.

There are increasingly conditions in international law, like the Rome Treaty [the 1957 treaty that established the European Economic Community] and so on, but great powers just ignore them if they can get away with it, and getting away with it means ignoring the constraints of other states, which, in the case of, say, the US, don't amount to much. Or internal constraints from changes inside the society, which have put in conditions of some significance, I think.

It's almost unimaginable now that the US could carry out the kind of war it did in Indochina, which is something recognized by elite opinion. A typical example is Mark Bowden's op-ed in the New York Times the other day about [Walter] Cronkite and how he changed everything. Well, what did Cronkite say? He said, it doesn't look as if we're going to win. That's the criticism of the war. That's the way it was perceived at the time, and that's the way it's still perceived by intellectual elites. But if you look at public opinion -- which doesn't really get investigated much so it's not too clear what it means, but it's interesting -- the Chicago Council on Global Affairs was running polls on all sorts of issues in the 70s and 80s, and when the Vietnam War ended in 1975, about 70 percent of the population described the war as fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. That stayed pretty steady for several years until they stop asking the question. The director of the study, John Rielly, interpreted that as meaning too many American were being killed. Maybe. There's another possible interpretation of "fundamentally wrong and immoral," which is that the US was carrying out a crime against humanity. But it was never investigated because there's too much cognitive dissonance. Elite intellectuals can't perceive that possibility.

Everybody had a comment when the war ended, and so the hawks said, "stab in the back" [i.e. civilian critics undermined the military] and "if we'd fought harder we would have won." The doves went kind of like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times, who was maybe the most extreme. In 1975 when the war ended, he said the war began with blundering efforts to do good. "Efforts to do good" is virtual tautology, facts irrelevant; and "blundering" means it failed. He said that by 1969 it was clear that it was a disaster because the US could not bring democracy to Vietnam at a cost acceptable to us. That's the far left critique of the war in 1975. And Bowden, who is writing from a critical point of view, basically reiterated that point a couple days ago: Cronkite's great contribution was to say, "look, it looks as if we can't win, and if we can't win…" I mean, Russian generals said the same in Afghanistan. We don't honor them for that.

When you talked about protests in Understanding Power before the digital age, you mentioned that it was difficult for dissenters and protesters to connect with each other. How has the internet changed that? Protesters are obviously under surveillance when they are online, but they are able to connect with each other more quickly. Has there been a net gain to those who want to object to wars and oppression? Or is this illusory?

You may remember, during the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo, which were being organized through social media, at one point [Hosni] Mubarak actually closed down the internet. That increased the mobilization. People just started talking to each other. It's a different kind of communication. It means a lot more. So I think, yes, social media do offer opportunities for quick organization and transmission, but typically at a pretty superficial level. Face-to-face organizing is something quite different. The same, incidentally, has been found in electoral politics. Andrew Cockburn had an interesting article in Harper's during the [2016] campaign in which he compared studies on the effect on potential voters of advertising, you know, TV, and the effect of knocking on doors and talking to people. It was overwhelming that the latter was more effective. We're still human beings.

Companies like Google and Facebook increasingly control the information we can access. They've even been enlisted to vet stories, to weed out fake news, though there's evidence that they may be weeding out legitimate dissent. Yet they are often applauded as if they're doing a service. How is this sort of thing affecting our freedom?

It's service for a bad reason. The younger people just don't read much, so they want something quick, fast, easy. You go through a newspaper, it takes time. You have to see what's at the end of the column, not just what's in the headline. So this kind of instant gratification culture is drawing people to these quick summaries. Practically everybody's on Facebook (except me).

The other thing they're doing which is kind of interesting has to do with microtargeting, which is being used for electoral manipulation. There are some cases, which have not been discussed as far as I know outside the business press. During the last German election, there was a lot of talk of potential Russian interference, you know, it's gonna swing the election. Well, it turns out there was foreign interference, but it wasn't Russian. It was a combination of the Berlin office of Facebook and a media company in the US, which works for Trump, Le Pen, Netanyahu, other nice guys. They used Facebook in Berlin to get a demographic analysis of parts of the population to allow them to microtarget ads to individuals in favor of AfD, the neo-Nazi party, which may have been a factor in their unexpectedly high vote in the election. This was reported in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. This was a real case of electoral manipulation but somehow it doesn't make the headlines.

Which brings us to the narrative of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. I understand you're not very impressed with this line.

Well it's very hard to take seriously for a number of reasons. One reason is the work of Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues ["How Money Won Trump the White House"]. There really is manipulation of elections, but it's not coming from the Russians. It's coming from the people who buy the elections. Take his study of the 2016 election ["Industrial Structure and Party Competition in an Age of Hunger Games: Donald Trump and the 2016 Presidential Election"]. That's how you interfere with elections. Or the pretty spectacular study that he and his colleagues did about a year ago on Congress "How Money Drives US Congressional Elections," where you just get a straight line [correlation between money and major party votes in Congress]. You rarely see results like that in the social sciences. That's massive manipulation. Compared with that, what the Russians might be doing is minuscule. Quite aside from the fact that the US does it all the time in other countries.

It's clear from leaked emails that the Democratic National Committee meddled with Bernie Sanders in his quest for the 2016 presidential nomination by favoring Hillary Clinton when it was supposed to be unbiased towards all candidates. What do you think it would it take for a real reformist candidate, a true populist, to ever win the presidency?

What it would actually take is popular organization and activism. With all its flaws, the US is still a pretty free country. In this case, Democratic Party managers had to manipulate to keep Sanders from winning the nomination. His campaign, I think, was really spectacular. I couldn't have predicted anything like it. It's a break with over a century of American political history. No corporate support, no financial wealth, he was unknown, no media support. The media simply either ignored or denigrated him. And he came pretty close -- he probably could have won the nomination, maybe the election. But suppose he'd been elected? He couldn't have done a thing. Nobody in Congress, no governors, no legislatures, none of the big economic powers, which have an enormous effect on policy. All opposed to him. In order for him to do anything, he would have to have a substantial, functioning party apparatus, which would have to grow from the grass roots. It would have to be locally organized, it would have to operate at local levels, state levels, Congress, the bureaucracy -- you have to build the whole system from the bottom.

It's kind of intriguing now, I'm sure you've seen the polls where he turns out to be the most popular political figure.  Well, in a functioning democracy, the person who is the most popular political figure should appear somewhere. But nothing he does gets reported. It's taking place, it's having effects, but from the point of view of the liberal media, it's as if it doesn't exist.

What about recent events in California with Senator Dianne Feinstein, who got a big surprise by failing to win the state Democratic Party endorsement for a sixth term? Is this like the Sanders phenomenon, where people who want basic things like universal healthcare and worker protections are making their preferences heard by refusing to support candidates who are unresponsive?

She was voted down, and like the Sanders campaign or [Jeremy] Corbyn in England, there is a groundswell, and if it could be turned into something sustained and with a serious base, it could mean a lot. Traditionally, this has always been built around the labor movement, and that's why the corporate sector is so dedicated to destroying the unions. It's coming up in the Janus case, which was heard the other day, which will probably be voted in favor of Janus, which will be a lethal blow to public unions. [Mark Janus is the plaintiff in the US Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME involving the issue of whether government employees represented by a union must pay dues to cover the cost of collective bargaining and resolving grievances].

The whole US private sector is passionate about destroying the union movement. This has been going on for a long time, but now they really think they can strangle it because it's the core of activism for almost anything. Take a look at, say, healthcare. In Canada, in the 50s, it was the unions who were pressing hard for national healthcare, and kind of interestingly, in the US the same unions were pressing for healthcare for themselves, auto workers in Detroit. These are two pretty similar countries, but with this striking difference in outcomes on healthcare.

A more interesting case is England. There's a pretty good article that just came out in the latest issue of Jacobin, which runs through the history of British healthcare and it's quite interesting. It began, in England under Bevan in the late 40s. They got what was the best healthcare system in the world -- still is, probably, and certainly was then. It started with mine workers in Wales who developed their own cooperative health system on a small scale. Aneurin Bevan was a Welsh mine worker. The cooperative system was picked up by the Labour Party as a program and the Labour Party actually won the election in 1945 and Bevan pushed it through and they got the National Health Service.

Well, there's two points that are critical for the US. It's the unions. That why you have to destroy the unions. You destroy solidarity. It's same reason for the attack on public schools, the attack on social security. These are all based on the idea that somehow you care about others, the community, and so on, and that's completely unacceptable in a culture where you want to try to concentrate wealth and power. You don't want people to have anything to do except to try to gain whatever they can for themselves. In that case, they'll be very weak, of course. It's only when you organize together than you can confront private capital.

Secondly, there was a political party. The American political system probably wouldn't be accepted by the European Court of Justice as a legitimate system. There's no way for independent parties to enter the system. The Labour Party in England started as a very small party. But because the system allows -- as most democratic countries do -- small parties to function, they were able to develop and work within Parliament and expand and get political figures and the government and finally ended up being a big party. That's almost impossible in the US. If you look at a ballot in the US, it says Democrat, Republican, Other. Nobody can break in. It's a political monopoly. It's two things that aren't really political parties. You can't really be a member of the Democratic Party, you can't participate in designing its programs. You can be a member of the Labour Party. These are big differences, so I think two huge problems in the US are the deficiencies of the political system, which shows up in the kind of things that Tom Ferguson and his colleagues study -- you know, the enormous power of concentrated wealth in determining the outcome of elections and then the policies afterwards. That's one, and the other is the destruction of the labor movement.

Let's talk about the attack on public schools, which Gordon Lafer has outlined in his book, The One Percent Solution.

Yes, a very interesting book.

He discusses efforts by ALEC and other corporate-backed groups to dismantle public education, to get legislation passed to replace teachers with online education, increase class sizes, replace public schools with privately-funded charters, and so on. You've talked about the history of mass education. How do you see this corporate agenda for American schools?

You know, mass public education was, with all its flaws, one of the real contributions to American democracy. It was way ahead of other countries all the way through, including the college level with land grant colleges and so on. Europe just began to match that after World War II. Here it was happening in the late 19th century. Now there's a real concerted effort to destroy the whole public education system. ALEC and Koch Brothers just recently announced a campaign taking Arizona as the test case because they figure Arizona is probably an easy one since it has probably the lowest per capita expenditure for education and a very right-wing legislature. What they're trying to do -- they describe it openly -- is to try to essentially destroy the public education system, turn everything to vouchers and charter schools. It'll be an interesting battle, and if it works in Arizona they want to do it elsewhere.

It's a huge corporate offensive. It's very similar to attack on unions. First the Friedrichs [Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the Supreme Court deadlocked on the issue of the right of public-sector unions to collect fees from workers they represent, including those who don't join the union, to cover bargaining and other activities], now the Janus case, and they'll probably succeed. This right-to-work legislation is just unacceptable in other countries. In fact, in the NAFTA negotiations, at one point Canada proposed that part of a revision should be to ban measures that undermine labor rights like the right-to-work legislation. It's kind of like using scabs. It's just not heard of. But Reagan introduced it here -- I think the US and South Africa were the only countries that allowed it. In fact, the US has never even ratified the first principle of the International Labour Organization, the right of association. I think the US must be alone, frankly. It's very much a business-run society.

What are students being trained for now in the corporate vision of education that is taking over the country? What kind of future will they have? And what does it do to the idea of a democracy?

Students will be controlled and disciplined. The education doesn't leave any room for interaction, for creative activity, for teachers to do things on their own, for students to find a way to do things, I've talked to teacher's groups.  I remember once I was giving a talk and a 6th grade teacher came up to me describing experiences. She said that after one class a little girl came up and said that she was really interested in something that came up and wanted to know how she could do some more on it. And they teacher had to tell her, you can't do it. You have to study for the MCAS, the Massachusetts version of the regular exam [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System]. Everything depends on that. Even the teacher's salary depends on that. So you can't do anything creative as an individual. You follow the rules. It's the Marine Corps. You do what you're told. No associations. It's a perfect system for creating a deeply authoritarian society.

It's also kind of a two-tiered system. It's a little bit like what Sam Bowles and Herb Gitnis [co-authors of Schooling in Capitalist America] discussed when they wrote about early mass education. For the general worker, turn them into industrial workers, but for the elite, you have to have creativity: MIT, Harvard. You have to have people to create the next stage of the economy.

In the last several years, we've had a number of protest movements, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo movement, which have often met with hostility or dismissal in the liberal press. Take #MeToo: the protest against workplace sexual harassment and violence has shown solidarity along class lines and across countries. For example, Latina farmworkers and Indian feminists back it. Yet some in the liberal press compare #MeToo protesters to McCarthyites and warn of witch hunts, despite the fact that the movement is helping to shift power away from oppressive management towards workers in challenging things like forced arbitration clauses that deny workers the right to take charges to court.

It's a very valid protest and it's an important movement. Charges do have to be subject to some kind of verification. Just allegation is not enough. As far as I know, the left-oriented groups like EPI [Economic Policy Institute] are in favor of ending forced arbitration, which also affects many other kinds of charges. I think they're focusing on labor rights.

That's true, but it seems that some may not be recognizing #MeToo as really part of the labor rights struggle.

That's interesting. Yes.

Let's talk about the broader issue of economic inequality. This year, wealthy elites polled at the World Economic Forum in Davos listed inequality as number 7 on their list of global worries. They're more worried about other things, like data breaches and involuntary migration. Do you think that they may be comforted by the fact that they've avoided some scary scenarios, like, for example, a real populist president in the US, and can therefore relax a bit? Should they be more worried?

The danger that they perceive is that it might lead to a popular uprising, so you have to control that. There are the standard excuses about merit, which is a joke when you look at the details. I mean, take Bill Gates -- a perfectly admirable person, but, as I'm sure he'd be the first to say, he based his fortune on two things, one, decades of work in the state sector which created the technology -- the creative, risky work which was done since the 50s. He picked it up and marketed it. The second is the World Trade Organization, which gives him monopoly-pricing rights. I mean, that's great but…

Kind of goes against the Horatio Alger myth [the belief that anybody can get rich just by working hard].


Finally, as you look ahead, what do you consider to be the biggest threats to human beings in the future? What should we be most concerned about?

Climate change and nuclear war. These are really existential threats. And what's happening now is just astonishing. If media were functioning seriously, every day the lead headline would be this amazing fact -- that in the entire world, every country is trying or committed to doing at least something. One country -- one! -- the most powerful country in history -- is committed to trying to destroy the climate. Not just pulling out of the efforts of others, but maximizing the use of the most destructive means.

There's been nothing like this in history. It's kind of an outrageous statement, but it happens to be true, that the Republican Party is the most dangerous organization in human history. Nobody, not even the Nazis, was dedicated to destroying the possibility of organized human life. It's just missing from the media. In fact, if you read, say, the sensible business press, the Financial Times, BusinessWeek, any of them, when they talk about fossil fuel production, the articles are all just about the prospect for profit. Is the US moving to number one and what are the gains? Not that it's going to wipe out organized human life. Maybe that's a footnote somewhere. It's pretty astonishing. 

Categories: Latest News

As Yemen Faces World's Worst Humanitarian Crisis, Senate Refuses to End US Support for Saudi War

Truthout - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 21:00

On Tuesday, the US Senate rejected a bipartisan resolution to end US military involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen within 30 days, unless Congress formally authorizes the military action. The vote was 44 to 55, with 10 Democrats joining the Republican majority to block the legislation and Arizona Senator John McCain not casting a vote. The US-backed, Saudi-led airstrikes and naval blockade have devastated Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera outbreak and pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation. More than 15,000 people have died since the Saudi invasion in 2015. We hear part of Sen. Bernie Sanders' speech against US involvement and speak with Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan and Medea Benjamin of CodePink.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Space Captain Trump

Truthout - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Reformer or War Criminal? Saudi Crown Prince Welcomed in US as Trump Touts Weapons Deals

Truthout - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 21:00

On Tuesday, President Trump met with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House, where the two leaders finalized a $12.5 billion weapons deal. This comes less than a year after Trump announced a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis. During the meeting, Trump held up posters of recent Saudi weapon purchases from the United States and said, "We make the best equipment in the world." Human rights groups warn the massive arms deal may make the United States complicit in war crimes committed in the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen. We speak with Al Jazeera's Mehdi Hasan and Medea Benjamin of CodePink.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

The Batman Villain Behind Cambridge Analytica

Truthout - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 21:00

Billionaire recluse Robert Mercer gave us Breitbart, Steve Bannon and a whole new way to exploit information for political gain. His Cambridge Analytica used Facebook's vast databases to create highly specified voter profiles targeting people's deepest fears and biases while its CEO bragged about using bribery and sex as weapons against opponents. Welcome to the aftermath of Citizens United.

Billionaire Robert Mercer speaks on the phone during the 12th International Conference on Climate Change hosted by The Heartland Institute on March 23, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Oliver Contreras / For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Well lookee here, now. We got ourselves a no-shit Batman villain. He is a billionaire computer genius who sees the world as a clockwork of hyperdetailed algorithms, and is often described as "reclusive" and "secretive" by the press. He describes himself politically as "libertarian," but his actions suggest he is just another person who doesn't really know what the word "libertarian" actually means.

A list of his beliefs and activities include:

  • He believes the Clintons ran drugs out of Mena Airport in Arkansas and had opponents murdered;
  • He peddles undistilled hate for immigrants and Muslims on a variety of hard-right propaganda sites;
  • He donates millions of dollars to fringe candidates like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, and is in fact a significant part of the reason Trump became president;
  • He believes the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were ultimately a health benefit to the Japanese people;
  • He denies the existence of racist white people while denouncing the 1964 Civil Rights Act;
  • He actively disrupts the discussion of climate change with deliberate disinformation churned out by think tanks he finances;

… and, of course, he holds to the Randian notion that human worth can only be measured in terms of dollar value. This villain, like all effective villains, hides in plain sight, sending his many minions to do his bidding and spend his money with the ultimate goal of recoding the algorithms of politics and power to suit his own ends. What those ends are specifically, no one has said. Perhaps he himself does not know. That does not stop him.

At night, he dresses up as an ocelot and stalks the shadows of the night. Using stealth blimp technology, he becomes a hole in the sky as he travels from city to city dropping copies of Atlas Shrugged on playgrounds and truck stops. His comprehensive understanding of nanotechnology allows him to heal grievous wounds and forestall aging; some liken him to The Wolverine, ageless and unstoppable. He can also see through time.

OK, that last part is all made up, but the rest of it is black-letter fact. His name is Robert Mercer, he is a 71-year-old tech billionaire who made his bones with IBM as a coding whiz, and he is living testament to the incalculable damage done to the country by the Citizens United decision. Now that it is legal to buy elections using billions in dark money, Rob Mercer doesn't just have his thumb on the scale; he has parked his limousine on it.

While other GOP megadonors mostly stayed out of the 2016 presidential election, Mercer and his daughter Rebekah dove right in, unleashing Steve Bannon and the crew at Cambridge Analytics by arming them with the Mercer's bottomless financial resources. Under Bannon's direct supervision, Cambridge Analytics scraped the personal data of millions of Facebook users to create highly sophisticated voter profiles that would be targeted by political ads and other means of persuasion. Campaign themes were road-tested, among them "deep state" and "drain the swamp."

These were no simple voter profiles, mind you -- your own grocery store profiles you, but not like this. A vast amount of specific personal information was mined by Cambridge Analytica from catastrophically under-regulated Facebook databases, all in service to the Trump campaign. This information was transformed into a weapon meant to actively exploit people's deepest fears and personal biases via targeted messages. This is where Breitbart and the other elements of Mercer's hard-right media empire came into play, as they were successfully able to use that data to fine-tune their campaign propaganda.

It gets deeper. Way, way deeper, as NPR reports:

On Monday, Channel 4 broadcast the hidden-camera exclusive that appeared to catch [Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander] Nix acknowledging that the firm works secretly in political campaigns around the world by using front companies and subcontractors. Nix attempts to sell the company's potential services, such as the deployment of "honey traps" to target opponents — including secretly filming politicians taking bribes or in the company of prostitutes.

"We'll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance," Nix says on hidden camera. "We'll have the whole thing recorded, we'll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet." He is heard saying that one strategy for compromising opponents is to "send some girls around to the candidate's house," adding that he prefers to use Ukrainian girls. They "are very beautiful, I find that works very well," he says.

Two other individuals also appear in the hidden-camera footage: the company's chief data officer -- Tayler, who has been tapped as interim CEO -- and Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global. Nix advises the undercover reporter that "I'm just giving you examples of what can be done, what has been done."

"Was there a Russia connection?" stands as the permanent question of the hour nowadays, but the answer regarding Cambridge Analytica remains unclear. "No definitive evidence has emerged that connects Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign to Russia's efforts to influence our election," reports Sean Illing of Vox. "But if the ongoing investigations conclude that the Trump campaign did help Russia target voters, expect to hear more about Cambridge Analytica. It's entirely possible that such collusion could have occurred and the work of Cambridge Analytica had nothing to do with it; however, that would be strange, since targeting voters is precisely what the company was hired to do."

What we have here is the illicit plundering of oceans of personal data that were then used to create highly specified voter databases specifically intended to disrupt the nation's political discourse going into the 2016 election. Setting traps for political opponents using sex and bribes is bragged about on captured footage (which might explain the ongoing timidity of Congress). The Mercers and their hatchetman Bannon do not seek to use this data just to win. They literally want to burn the entire political system -- the social safety net, civil rights protections, everything -- down to the stumps. Trump won, and the stumps are beginning to show. For them, this is about changing the culture, about changing the very nature of the nation itself, by any means necessary.

As for a Russia connection, Occam's Razor is informative. There is no evidence of Cambridge Analytica and Russia working together yet, but since they were both doing the same thing to assist the same candidate at the same time, the simplest explanation may indeed be the correct one.

Facebook is getting clobbered and losing billions over this growing scandal, Cambridge Analytic is on the run, and the reporting on this will be coming fast and furious for many days to come. The real story, however, is Robert Mercer, the right-wing recluse genius who dreams of an algorithm that will change the world.

When Citizens United shattered the barriers between campaign funding and brazen bribery, billionaires like Mercer discovered they could blast a hole in the fabric of political reality by writing checks with enough zeroes to the left of the decimal. Mercer is not alone, but he is the money behind Trump's astonishing ascendancy, and his influence only promises to grow. When you’re a billionaire committed to devising expensive new gutterball tactics and the Supreme Court is on your side, the sky’s the limit.

Batman would have a word for such a villain and his plans.


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Categories: Latest News

The US Under Donald Trump: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American

Truthout - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 21:00

Activists rally during a protest to the mark the one year anniversary of the Trump administration's executive order banning travel into the United States from several Muslim majority countries, in Washington Square Park, January 26, 2018, in New York City. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

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Understand this: I'm an American veteran. I'm also a Muslim-American in a country in which, in these years, that hasn't exactly been the happiest category to fall into. Now, let me tell you a little story.

Recently, I had an ominous dream. It was noon on a grey, cold January 20th, 2020, and Donald Trump was being sworn in for his second term as president. Massive inaugural crowds cheered him exuberantly as a gentle snow fell upon a sea of MAGA red-hats and TRUMP banners waving in front of the Capitol.

In my dream, however, the Capitol wasn't quite the same as I remembered it from my days stationed there as a young Navy sailor. It seemed almost war-torn as clouds of dark smoke billowed up on the horizon and the sound of gunfire could be heard somewhere in the distance. In my dream -- don't ask me how -- I could also hear the terror-filled voices of people screaming or crying out for help as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents, clad in black uniforms, stormed local Washington homes and businesses, arresting people and loading them onto large unmarked cargo trucks.

Meanwhile, those inaugural crowds -- I have no idea if they were the largest in the history of dreams -- were flanked by military Humvees as heavily armed soldiers in unfamiliar camouflage uniforms stood behind the president while he delivered his second inaugural address. I could even hear his words eerily reverberating through the Capitol. "The enemy," he exclaimed, "has infiltrated our great nation because of weak immigration laws allowed by treasonous politicians!"

At that very moment, he told the exuberant crowd, he was already singlehandedly purging "those terrorists and their enablers from our ranks." The MAGA banners waved ever more frantically and the crowd roared as he declared, "Law and order are now being restored to our great nation once again!"

I awoke in a cold sweat. Unlike the sort of nightmare I'd normally shake off as a fantasy of slumber, the result perhaps of that late night dose of Ben and Jerry's I had meant to resist, this one stuck with me and, I'm sorry to say, recurred.

American Fear-scapes

Worse yet, these days I no longer have to drop into some deep, unnerving dream state to experience it. Though few of us are likely to admit it, some version of that dream of mine is, in fact, the secret daily nightmare of millions of my fellow Muslim-Americans. In a moment, when immigrants in this country live in a fear-scape all their own, believe me, so do we. In our living nightmare, an administration that can seem not just ineffective but hapless beyond imagining, plagued by scandal, and stocked with staff members heading for the exits (or being escorted off White House grounds) might nonetheless transform itself into something even more deeply threatening to Americans like us. It might sooner or later consolidate power and, eager to distract the public from its actual plutocratic and other grim policies, turn on us "bigly." Without dropping into another dream state, I can easily enough imagine how, with the tacit endorsement of Trump's base, that administration might prepare itself to use a future devastating terror attack, the next Orlando or San Bernardino, to skewer American Muslims or the immigrant community and so pave the way for a true living nightmare.

Such a crisis could take many forms, but imagine, for instance, a "dirty bomb" attack (the use of conventional explosives to spread radioactive nuclear waste materials across a wide area of some urban neighborhood). Just such an attack has certainly been a focus of concern in the U.S. intelligence community for years now. In fact, in 1999, while on active duty as a new member of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the first interagency briefing I attended at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, focused on that very issue.

Should that happen or anything like it, it's easy enough to imagine how the Trump administration might use it to enhance its own power at our expense. With the public cowering in fear, martial law might be declared. Meanwhile, a Congress that, in the face of the imperial presidency, has already abdicated its constitutional duty to declare war, might grant Donald Trump far greater authority than he already possesses, thanks to the unprecedented post-9/11 powers any president now wields -- and the American people (or enough of them, at least) would "rally 'round the chief."

And then, or so I imagine (and, at least among American Muslims I know, I'm not alone in this), so much worse would begin to unfold and my recurring nightmare would become a nightmarish reality. In the aftermath of such an attack, so much in our world, from the Women's March to Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, would become distant and forgotten memories. Dissent would be denounced as unpatriotic, perhaps ultimately illegal, and basic human rights might be suspended.

By now, I'm sure you see where I'm going. In my nightmare at least -- and I'm talking about the waking one now, the one I live with every day -- countless immigrants and American Muslims are in camps awaiting who knows what. It's not as if there is no precedent for anything like that in America, given the experience of Japanese-Americans rounded up and kept in just such camps during World War II.

In this moment of growing Islamophobia, at a time when a president has a desire to simply ban foreign Muslims and cast American ones as the worst of the worst, it's just one more step into my fears of the future for me to imagine myself, an American veteran, as well as my family and other members of the Muslim community, sitting inside darkened train cars on our way to internment camps, while we desperately try to convince ourselves that surelythe Supreme Court will overturn such an injustice.

And given our world, given the history of racism in this country, it's not that hard to imagine scores of broken men, women, and children already at our destination as we hurtle down the tracks to join them. Nor is it that hard to imagine the Trump administration dismissing those who protest such treatment as disloyal co-conspirators, and then using militarized police raiders to hunt some of them down, too. I can even imagine mosques being set ablaze and synagogues and churches that attempted to protect citizens fleeing all of this being raided at the government's orders.

Heading for a Dark Destination

In some dark corner of my mind, given what we know about what we human beings are capable of, I can almost imagine some kind of Muslim-American version of the Holocaust, the ultimate nightmare that immigrants and Muslim-Americans have dreaded since Donald Trump's election victory in November 2016, but dare not whisper. There's nothing sadder to say than that such fears do not completely lack historical precedent: the world has, of course, been here before.

If the fate of the millions who perished during World War II, thanks to Adolf Hitler and his minions, doesn't seem real enough to you, just pay a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There, you can witness the haunting images of our human brethren who, by virtue of their faith or background, were destroyed, some by their own countrymen.

Now, I know perfectly well that those of you who aren't Muslim-Americans are likely to find such fantasies at best extreme; at worst, beyond conception. The reason isn't hard to imagine, because of course Donald Trump isn't Adolf Hitler; White House adviser Stephen Miller isn't Joseph Goebbels; White House Chief of Staff John Kelly isn't Hermann Göring; and former CIA Director and next Secretary of State Mike Pompeo isn't Heinrich Himmler.  Yes -- but Pompeo, a major Islamophobe in an administration filled with them, has insisted that all Muslims are potentially complicit in terrorism and that "people who deeply believe that Islam is the way" are a "threat to America."  He has also received the "National Security Eagle Award" from a noted anti-Muslim hate group, ACT for America, and has been interviewed more than 20 times by Frank Gaffney, "the country's most influential Islamophobe," on his radio show.  And when it comes to Islamophobia (and Iranophobia as well), in this administration Pompeo is hardly alone.

Still, not even bans, insults, and a visible loathing for those of us who don't look like and pray like the president and his men, not even torchlight parades by Trump-supporting American neo-Nazis, get you easily to anything like an American Holocaust.  But know, when you read this, that there are those of us out here who, in the dark of night, are indeed haunted by such thoughts anyway and by thoughts as well of those in the 1930s who dismissed the fears of the worst to come as so much hyperbole. 

Speaking just for myself, I can't help but believe that, in our 241-year history that includes a bitter civil war, two world wars, and the Great Depression, this could turn out to be the most crucial moment of all. I can't help but wonder, at least in my bleaker moments, whether there will be any coming back from the dark destination, whatever it turns out to be, that we, as a nation, now seem headed for. And if not, just remember that no one will be able to say that we didn't know what we were doing, that there were no warnings as people like me were demonized in our own country.

Whatever hell might still come, for this veteran at least, Donald Trump's America is already hell enough. 

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