So, How’s That Major-Party Election Madness Working for Us?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

The United States is full of personally decent and caring, often highly intelligent people mired in political ignorance and delusion.

A smart and liberally inclined family doctor I know recently expressed concern over her high-income husband’s support for the malignant narcissist and pathological liar currently occupying the White House. “I can understand him being a Republican,” the doctor says, “but I just don’t get him backing Donald Trump.”

The problem here—what the doctor doesn’t get—is that Trump’s malicious persona and politics are darkly consistent with the white-supremacist and arch-reactionary heart and dog-whistling racism of the Republican Party going back five decades. It was just a matter of time until something like Trump happened: a Republican candidate who really meant the racism. Along the way, the Republican Party has become what Noam Chomsky credibly calls “the most dangerous organization in human history” because of its total disregard for livable ecology and its dedication to destruction and dismantlement of any institutions in place to address global warming. The Greenhouse Gassing to Death of Life on Earth is a crime that promises to make even the Nazi Party look like a small-time crime syndicate.

A smart and funny retired mental health professional I know is a proud liberal Democrat. She cites reports and stories showing that Trump is a bully, an authoritarian, a cheater, a parasite and a liar, among other terrible things. She gets it that both Trump and the Republican Party are supremely dangerous enemies of the people.

But she, too, is mired in delusions—mistakes and hallucinations common on the other side of America’s tribal and binary major-party partisan divide. For all her savviness and smarts, she can’t or won’t process the simple fact that the dismal, dollar-drenched Democratic Party put Trump in the White House and handed Congress and most of the nation’s state governments over to Trump and the Republican Party by functioning as a corporate-captive Inauthentic Opposition Party that refuses to fight for working people, the poor, minorities and the causes of peace, social justice and environmental sanity.

Tell her that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were “Wall Street presidents” (an easily and widely documented assertion) and she screws her face up. She doesn’t want to hear it. She wants to believe something that stopped being even remotely true at least four decades ago: that the Democratic Party is the party of the people.

If the Democrats take back Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, all will be well in her political world view: democracy and decency restored. You betcha!

She blames Trump’s presence in the White House on … you guessed it, Russia. Like millions of other MSDNC (sorry, I meant MSNBC) and Rachel Maddow devotees, she has let the obsessive CNN-MSNBC Russia-Trump narrative take over her understanding of current events. The “Russiagate” story has trumped her concern with other things that one might think matter a great deal to self-described liberals: racial oppression, sexism, poverty, low wages, plutocracy and—last but not least—livable ecology.

(She isn’t aware that racist Republican voter suppression at the state level was a big part of how Trump won—certainly a far bigger matter than any real or alleged Russian influence on the election. Isn’t that precisely the kind of thing that liberals are supposed to be angry about?)

But I know plenty of Americans well to her left—people who know very well that Obama and the Clintons and Nancy Pelosi are neoliberal corporate and Wall Street politicos and tools—who cling to their own major-party electoral-political delusions. With Sen. Bernie Sanders as their standard-bearer, they are all about boring from within an organization that Kevin P. Phillips once called “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” Their fallacy is that left progressives can steal the Democratic Party out from under its corporate and imperial masters, turn it to decent and social-democratic purposes and democratically transform America in proper accord with majority-progressive U.S. opinion.

A Newsweek article last fall was titled “Most Americans Desperate for a Third Major Party in the Trump Era.” It cited a Gallup Poll showing that 61 percent, more U.S. citizens than ever, find the Democratic and Republican parties inadequate and think that the U.S. should have a third major political party. Support for a competitive third party had been above 57 percent since at least 2012, but Gallup’s 2017 poll marked a new high. Nobody should be surprised by that finding given the fact that both of the parties have drifted well to the Big Business right of majority public opinion, with the Democrats joining Republicans in the creation of a New Gilded Age so savagely unequal that, as Bernie Sanders, “I”-Vt., said repeatedly (and accurately) in 2016, the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent possesses as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent.

The fake “Independent” Sanders couldn’t care less about the strong majority sentiment on behalf of a third party. He has rejected all calls for him to jump major-party ship and tells progressives to pour their energies into electing candidates within the Democratic Party primary process. “Do what Alexandria did,” Bernie says to young Americans angry about the vicious ecocidal white nationalists in power today. Sanders is referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the inspiring young Sanders-style Democratic Socialists of America member who took down longtime establishment Democratic Party incumbent House member Joe Crowley in a New York City district primary last June.

So, to ask the Dr. Phil question, how’s that working out for “the left”?

Not so hot. The preponderant majority of progressive Democrats’ primary victories this year have been won in strongly Republican (“red”) districts, where progressives have not been heavily contested by the Democratic Party establishment. Only a very small number of progressive candidates have won in dependably “blue” (Democratic) districts and are likely to defeat Republicans in the general elections in November.

Crowley is the sole congressional incumbent to have lost a Democratic primary this year. His defeat by Ocasio-Cortez has been over-celebrated on “the left” and over-publicized in the media. She won with incredibly low turnout (13 percent), something that falls quite short of a leftist landslide and reflects local peculiarities in the operation of the New York City Democratic machine.

At the same time, as veteran left urban political strategist, activist and commentator Bruce A. Dixon noted on Black Agenda Report, “Crowley pretty much gave up the seat: After 10 terms in Congress and with lots of corporate friends, Joe Crowley knows he can start at seven figures, at least six to twelve times his congressional salary plus bonuses as a lobbyist. That had to be a powerful motivation not to campaign too damn hard.”

Last but not least, the victory of Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, reflected a combined demographic (racial and ethnocultural) and party anomaly: the over-long presence of a white Democratic machine politician atop a recently racially and ethnically redistricted and now majority nonwhite and nearly majority Latinx district where the Democratic Party had failed to cultivate a neoliberal candidate of color—the kind of safe Latinx or black politico the nation’s second corporate and imperial party has developed across most of the nation’s urban minority-majority congressional districts. As Danny Haiphong observed in the American Herald Tribune, “New York District 14 is one of the few [urban minority congressional districts] left where neoliberal Black and Brown politicians do not dominate the political landscape. It will be difficult to replicate Ocasio-Cortez’s victory across the country because neoliberal, Black [and Latino] politicians in other districts are protected by the politics of representation” (emphasis added).

Other districts like Missouri’s predominantly black 1st Congressional District in St. Louis, where the establishment incumbent Congressman Lacy Clay handily crushed the progressive insurgent Cori Bush five days ago.

Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and the Democratic Socialists of America—the leading progressive organizations attempting to reform the Democratic Party—have endorsed 60 congressional candidates in states that have held their Democratic primaries through last week. Twenty-three of them have won their races. But 18 of these victors have won in red districts where there are entrenched Republican incumbents.

Only five progressive congressional primary winners—Ro Khanna (California 17th), Jamie Raskin (Maryland 8th), Chuy Garcia (Illinois 4th), Ocasio-Cortez, and the rousing Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib (Michigan 13th)—have won in Democratic districts and are likely to win in November. Two of those five (Khanna and Raskin) were already in office and were uncontested by the Democratic establishment. One of the five (Garcia) cut a corrupt deal with the Chicago Democratic machine and so ran unopposed by the establishment. Nebraska’s Kara Eastman is the one and only single-payer supporter to get nominated for a competitive House race in America’s heartland “breadbasket” this year.

Especially depressing for progressives hoping to reform the Democratic Party was the crushing defeat of Abdul El-Sayed in the Michigan gubernatorial primary. El-Sayed was hoping to ride the coattails of visits and endorsements from the (in the absurd language of the corporate media) “radical leftists” Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.

“The Democratic Party,” Politico’s centrist commentator Bill Scher writes, “is more liberal than it was 15 years ago, and there’s no question that shift is partly due to an increasingly vocal, confident, confrontational democratic socialist faction. But,” Scher creepily but accurately crowed, “it is still only a faction. Most Democratic nominees in competitive House races—not to mention incumbent Senate Democrats fighting for their political lives in red states—are not embracing single-payer or calling for the abolishment of ICE. They are mostly calling for improvements of the Affordable Care Act and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.”

This overall weak performance by left-leaning Sanders-style Democrats reflects elite business and professional-class manipulation within the party to which so many progressives remain attached. As the pro-third-party Movement for a People’s Party (headed by former Sanders staffers) noted two weeks ago:

The DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] have systematically cheated and blocked progressive candidates by flooding races with corporate cash, knocking progressives off the ballot, feeding opposition research to the media, forcing candidates to spend three quarters of their fundraising on consultants and ads, changing the rules required to get party support, denying access to crucial voter data, endorsing establishment Democrats, setting party affiliation deadlines months before the primaries, blocking independents from voting, and even giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates. For more than a year after the 2016 election, the Democratic Party denied rigging primary elections against progressives. The party has now abandoned that pretense as it openly rigs midterm primaries across the country and normalizes election rigging. …While the media focuses on a handful of exceptions, the Democratic Party establishment is getting its way in the 2018 midterm primaries.

As the primaries have taken place this year, the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas writes me, “the establishment Dems are stridently going after the progressives. Just watch MSNBC’s coverage of elections. They’re advancing the ‘out of the mainstream’ line, implying that the few progressive-types who won are ruining the party and setting the stage for the Republicans to retain the House in the fall.”

It is true that the progressive Democrat Sanders came tantalizingly close to defeating the ultimate corporate Democrat, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential primaries—an amazing accomplishment for a small-donor candidate who received no funding from the corporate and financial establishment.

But imagine if Sanders had sneaked past Clinton in the primary race. Could he have defeated the billionaire and right-wing billionaire-backed Trump in the general election? There’s no way to know. Sanders consistently outperformed Clinton in one-on-one matchup polls vis-à-vis Trump during the primary season, but much of the big money (and corporate media) that backed Clinton would probably have gone over to Trump had the supposedly “radical” Sanders been the Democratic nominee.

Even if Sanders had been elected president, moreover, Noam Chomsky is certainly correct in his judgment that a President Sanders “couldn’t have done a thing” because he would have had “nobody [on his side] 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,” Chomsky adds, “he would have [needed] 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.” None of those things would be remotely forthcoming from the Inauthentic Opposition Party.

It might well have been worse than not being able to “do anything,” actually. Even as he loaded his administration with corporate and imperial centrists—as he certainly would have been compelled to do to mollify the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire—a President Sanders would have been faced with a capital strike: with severe “market instability” and “declining business confidence” raising the specter of a financial meltdown.

“With little prospect of the economic tumult subsiding during his 11-week transition period,” the political scientists William Grover and Joseph Peschek wrote in the summer of 2015, a Sanders presidency:

… would face enormous pressure to calm the fears of the market by announcing the appointment of moderates to hold Cabinet positions—non-confrontational, non-ideological people who would be “acceptable” to political and economic power holders. No radicals for the Treasury Department, no thoughts of Ben and Jerry as Co-Secretaries of Commerce, no union firebrand to head the Labor Department, no Bill McKibben leading the Interior Department. Only nice, “safe” choices would suffice—personnel decisions that would undermine the progressive vision of his campaign. In short, the economics of “capital strike” would threaten to trump the verdict of democracy.

A President Sanders would also have been compelled to engage in an aggressively imperial foreign policy. He would have faced what Bruce Dixon calls “immense pressure to demonstrate his unwavering hostility toward the Russians and his fealty to empire”—pressure to which “Bernie the Bomber” would certainly have caved. (Dixon adds that “he’s notoriously squishy on empire as it is … as are pretty much all the Berniecrats.”)

Meanwhile, many of the Dems’ corporate and professional class “elites” would have attributed Sanders’ victory to “Russian interference” while joining hands with ruling-class Republican brothers in undermining Sanders’ supposedly “far left” (mildly progressive) agenda—and his political viability in 2020. The nation’s paranoid, white Christian and proto-fascistic right would have gone ballistic, its underlying anti-Semitism on appalling display with an ethnoculturally Jewish “democratic socialist” (and purported atheist) from Brooklyn in the White House.

Sanders’ oligarchy-imposed “failures” would have been great fodder for the right-wing and neoliberal disparagement and smearing of progressive, left-leaning and majority-backed policy change. “See,” the reigning plutocratic media and politics culture would have said, “we tried all that and it was a disaster!” It might well have been a real train wreck for everything and anything progressive.

None of which is to mean that third-party politics hold the keys to progressive change. Its status as corporate media notwithstanding, Newsweek isn’t lying when it notes that “the structure of America’s electoral system—especially campaign finance regulations”—makes it “extremely hard for third party candidates to run and win.”

It’s not just about campaign finance. It’s also about winner-take-all, “first-past-the-post” elections and the absence of proportional-representation rules that would allot representation in accord with vote shares for parties that can’t yet field candidates capable of winning pluralities in contests with the long-established major parties’ contenders.

It goes way back. Theodore Roosevelt is the only third-party candidate who ever came remotely close to winning a presidential election. In 1912, he came in second with 27 percent of the vote atop the Progressive Party.

The biggest political delusion of all is in the U.S. electoral politics itself—the “Election Madness” that tells us that (in the <a href=””>sardonic words</a> of the late radical historian Howard Zinn) “the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the [small number of ] mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.” Real progressive change requires popular organization and great social movements beneath and beyond the empty promises of the nation’s ruthlessly time-staggered major-party, major-media, big-money-candidate-centered ballot box extravaganzas (please see Chomsky’s classic 2004 essay on “<a href=””>The Disconnect in U.S. Democracy</a>”). The people’s movements we desperately need to form—perhaps it is <i>my delusion</i> that rank-and-file citizens can and will ever do so—should include in their list of demands the creation of a party and elections system that deserves passionate citizen engagement. The <a href=””>oligarchic <i>system</i> (beyond mere plutocracy)</a> now in place in the U.S. is worthy of no such thing.

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Turkey’s President: U.S. Waging Economic War Against Turkey

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s president on Saturday blamed the country’s economic downturn on the United States and other nations that he claims are waging “war” against his country.

Speaking in the northeastern province of Rize, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that dollars, euros and gold were now “the bullets, cannonballs and missiles of the economic war being waged against our country.”

Erdogan promised supporters that Turkey was taking the necessary precautions to protect its economy but added “the most important thing is breaking the hands firing these weapons.”

Turkey was hit by a financial shockwave this week as its currency nosedived over concerns about the government’s economic policies and a trade dispute with the United States.

The lira tumbled 14 percent Friday, to 6.51 per dollar, a massive move for a currency that will make Turkish residents poorer and further erode international investors’ confidence in the country. The currency drop is particularly painful for Turkey because it finances a lot of its economic growth with foreign money.

The currency’s drop — 41 percent so far this year — is a gauge of fear over a country coming to terms with years of high debt, international concern over Erdogan’s push to amass power, and a souring in relations with allies like the U.S.

In an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Friday, Erdogan criticized the tensions with the U.S., saying a “failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.”

Among the issues, Turkey has arrested an American pastor and put him on trial for espionage and terror-related charges linked to a failed coup attempt in the country two years ago. The pastor has proclaimed his innocence.

The U.S. responded by slapping sanctions on Turkey and threatening more. The sides held talks in Washington this week but failed to resolve the spat.

President Donald Trump on Friday tweeted that he had authorized the doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey. He said the tariffs on aluminum imports would be increased to 20 percent and those on steel to 50 percent as the Turkish lira “slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar!”

“Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!” he wrote.

The United States is the biggest destination for Turkish steel exports, with 11 percent of the Turkish export volume. The lira fell further after Trump’s tweet.

Turkey later said Erdogan had held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss economic ties. It did not disclose details, but the move suggests Turkey might gravitate further from its NATO allies toward cooperation with Russia, whose relations with the West are at their lowest point since the Cold War.

Turkey’s woes have been aggravated by investor worries about the economic policies of Erdogan, who won a new term in office in June with sweeping new powers.

Erdogan has been putting pressure on Turkey’s central bank to not raise interest rates in order to keep fueling economic growth. He claims higher rates lead to higher inflation — the opposite of what standard economic theory says.

Independent analysts argue the central bank should instead raise rates to tame inflation and support the currency.

Amid the dispute, foreign investors could be spooked and try to pull their money out, reinforcing the currency drop and potentially leading to financial instability.

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Revisiting the Horror of Charlottesville 2017

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Michael Nigro.

Editor’s note: On the eve of the first anniversary of the infamous Charlottesville, Va., demonstration, and as Washington, D.C., prepares for Sunday’s “Unite the Right 2” rally, Truthdig is reposting Michael Nigro’s exclusive audio photo essay from Aug. 12, 2017.

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Look and listen to photojournalist Michael Nigro’s exclusive audio photo essay of the terrors he witnessed firsthand in Charlottesville, Va. Warning: Many of the photographs contain graphic imagery.

PHOTO ESSAY | 32 photosWhite Supremacist Rally Turns Deadly in Charlottesville

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—American culture has always contained rotten seeds of racism aching to root white supremacy permanently into the landscape. For more than eight months, President Donald Trump has been watering this pseudo-patriotic movement, nurturing it with his violent rhetoric.

The “alt-right” is in full bloom now. Its members are empowered by Trump, as evidenced by the events in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.

The protest that brought throngs of torch-wielding white supremacists to the streets of Charlottesville was dubbed “Unite the Right” and consisted of a “who’s who” of racist groups. Participants identified as anything from neo-Nazis to KKK members, and included former Klan leader David Duke, who declared outright that the event was intended to fulfill Trump’s promises.

Members of white supremacist groups, left, clash with anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. (Michael Nigro)

The violence started early between alt-right marchers and counterprotesters. The former came armed with AR-15s, Glock sidearms, baseball bats, pepper spray, tear gas and flagpoles with metal spear tips.

It was clear from the beginning that the police force, which consisted of local and state officers as well as the National Guard, were taking a laissez-faire approach to law enforcement.

“The police are going to incite a race riot,” Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter New York, told me in the middle of an early afternoon skirmish. And he was right; their inaction helped create conditions for the violence that ensued.

At one point, fights broke out in front of the Charlottesville police station, where at least a dozen officers stood by the entrance doing nothing but watching like hockey referees during a brawl.

Metal poles were used to beat protesters, and the police stood by. Alt-right members deployed pepper spray, and the police stood by. Blood poured from injured people’s large gashes, and the police did nothing.

I’ve been to protests in which someone simply steps off a curb and gets arrested. Why was the alt-right granted such leeway? During one of my livestreams from Saturday’s event, a whole phalanx of white supremacists pushed against a line of riot police. The police did nothing.

And then, things got worse.

White nationalists and counterprotesters face off Saturday during a “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. (Michael Nigro)

Various counterprotest groups converged on Water Street in Charlottesville and began a peaceful march through an area known for its cuisine. The marchers, numbering in the hundreds, made an impromptu route change to round the corner and head up 4th Street.

I decided to run ahead and set up my camera so I could shoot down the narrow street. But then, behind me, the unmistakable screech of tires on asphalt. The sound was so brief, however, that all urgency normally associated with it was negated. So I didn’t turn around. I simply, and rather casually, took a step to my right.

That’s when my second camera, which was harnessed across my shoulder and resting against my hip, was obliterated by the front end of a silver Dodge Challenger. The car was now accelerating toward throngs of human beings.

My body was intact. But other bodies quickly became airborne. Horizontal. Upside down. Nothing looked or sounded natural. I heard terrified screams, and resonant, hollow thuds of bodies being broken by a car frame of fiberglass and steel, which was rocketing into them at approximately 50 mph.

Two other cars, inconveniently halted because the march was blocking the road, were at the base of the hill, waiting for the demonstration to pass. They were rear-ended. Hard. A young woman flipped from the Challenger’s hood into and across the other cars. She was terribly injured.

These two cars prevented the Challenger from going forward and plowing into the hundreds of other marchers. This, no doubt, had been the driver’s intent.

The Challenger reversed aggressively up the hill, sending those who were able to scatter into alleys and private driveways. And then the car was gone.

One person&mdash;32-year-old Heather Heyer of Charlottesville&mdash; died, 19 were injured. This was unmistakably a homegrown act of domestic terrorism.

Police officers work to secure the scene after a car plowed into a crowd of marchers and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va. (Michael Nigro)

The alt-right has always been lurking in America in one form or another. But now it is more obvious, and it is unleashed. It is muscular. It is ugly. It is not theoretical.

It is extreme nationalism far more pronounced and far more aggressive than, perhaps, some of us care to imagine (or, in some cases, care to admit).

But we should admit it. We should resist it and call it out at every turn. Because Trump is cultivating a garden of hate.

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Parkland Victim’s Father Channels His Grief Into Art and Activism

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sonali Kolhatkar.

On August 4, Joaquin Oliver would have turned 18, officially becoming an adult old enough to vote. Hundreds of people sang him “Happy Birthday” as they gathered outside the headquarters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Fairfax, Va. Joaquin was among the 17 people killed in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As activists took their fight to the NRA last weekend, they remembered the popular 17-year-old, his fellow students and school staff who had been lost to yet another senseless mass shooting.

The Parkland massacre felt like a turning point in the long and bloody battle to curb gun violence in the U.S., especially after young survivors of the shooting made it their mission to #NeverAgain allow another tragic incident like it to occur. Leading into the midterm elections, many of these activists are now working to make a political allegiance to the NRA a liability and gun control more broadly an election issue.

Among those who protested outside the NRA headquarters on Saturday was Joaquin’s father, Manuel Oliver, an artist and founder of the new organization Change the Ref. Oliver has been reminding politicians across the country of his son’s murder through powerful wall murals in cities including Los Angeles, Calif., Springfield, Mass., and Fairfax, Va. He calls them Walls of Demand. Most feature his son’s face and the word “Demand.”

In an interview he told me, “I didn’t just lose a son that day, I lost a partner. He was an awesome kid, a guy that you want to hang out with.” He added, “I miss him a lot.” The remarkable father marked his son’s birthday on Saturday with a mural of Joaquin’s face over 18 candles and the message, “We demand to blow out our candles.” “I happen to be an artist,” he said. “I decided to take the path of using art as an instrument to talk to people, and also it’s a way to give Joaquin a voice. Joaquin can use my art to send messages to people.”

In the months since the Parkland shooting, Congress has failed to pass a single meaningful federal bill controlling the easy availability of guns. There have been more school shootings, like the one in May at Santa Fe High School in Texas, where ten students were killed in what is now a sickeningly familiar script of an introverted white boy picking people off one by one.

In Florida, where Oliver still lives, echoes of Trayvon Martin’s tragic murder were felt in the recent shooting of Markeis McGlockton. McGlockton was an African-American father of three who was killed in a parking lot by a white vigilante claiming self-defense under the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law. Chicago, Ill., was the site of dozens of shootings over the past weekend, ironically occurring just days after a major anti-violence march. The death toll continues to ratchet up with no seeming end in sight as politicians kowtow to the NRA and offer meaningless “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of each tragedy.

Oliver suggested one idea to reverse the relationship between the gun lobbyist and elected officials: Use the NRA’s infamous grading system for politicians against them. The NRA has for years used the system to strike fear into politicians’ hearts. Anything less than an “A” grade would mean the lobbyist might target you with negative ads. But what if gun control activists started to campaign for candidates with failing grades from the NRA? An “F” from the nation’s most vicious gun promotion organization could be viewed as a badge of honor for candidates seeking to woo voters on the increasingly popular issue of gun control. “It helps us vote for whoever has the worst grade,” said Oliver. “So they’re doing our homework for us.”

A new poll found that public support for gun control has increased and that Democratic politicians would do well to make support for gun control a prominent campaign platform. Indeed, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to be doing just that. Rolling Stone recently reported on a lawsuit the NRA is filing against the state of New York for “irrecoverable loss and irreparable harm,” to its finances stemming from state regulators who cracked down on the organization’s illegal gun-related insurance policies.

Earlier this year Cuomo tweeted, “The NRA is an extremist organization. I urge companies in New York State to revisit any ties they have to the NRA and consider their reputations, and responsibility to the public.” Incidentally, Cuomo is facing a primary challenge from the left by actor-turned-political candidate Cynthia Nixon, who also supports strict gun control.

Joaquin’s parents are throwing their weight behind a gun control advocate named Philip Levine running in the August 28 governor’s primary race in Florida. They went as far as being featured in political ads for his campaign. Another candidate for the same race, Andrew Gillum, backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, has pushed for the repeal of the state’s Stand Your Ground law and for stricter gun laws.

If the federal government continues to fail Americans over gun proliferation, hope may lie at the state level where candidates with “F” grades from the NRA might be able to win office and take on the gun lobby. Already there have been a flurry of gun safety and control measures passed at the state level since the Parkland massacre. The Christian Science Monitor reported that “This was a year of unparalleled success for the gun-control movement in the United States,” with “50 new laws restricting access to guns.” More than a dozen of the states where this has happened even have Republican governors.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that the NRA could go from one of the most influential groups in Washington to a fringe organization. When I asked Oliver if he thought the NRA could lose so much money that it would cease to exist, he responded, “I do know that they will disappear. For me, the NRA is not unlike a cartel. They are just like the tobacco industry that is also vanishing from our nation.”

Like the inspiring student survivors of the Parkland shooting, Oliver is determined to keep fighting until the end of his life. “I am a father until the last day of my life,” he said. “We won’t stop. ‘Never Again’ means we will never again stop.” He encourages others to join the fight, whether or not they have lost loved ones to gun violence. “I cannot protect my kid,” he said, “But many other parents can still protect their kids. You don’t have to pay the price that I paid.”

As for taking on the aggressive gun lobby group, Oliver asserted, “We’re not afraid of the NRA. We lost all fear on February 14.”

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The Knife in Iran’s Back

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Vijay Prashad / Independent Media Institute.

On Tuesday night, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani went on television to talk about the reinstatement of sanctions by the United States against his country. He prepared the country for more privations as a result of the sanctions. Responding to Trump’s offer for a meeting, Rouhani said pointedly, “If you stab someone with a knife and then say you want to talk, the first thing you have to do is to remove the knife.”

It is clear to everyone outside the U.S. government that Iran has honored its side of the 2015 nuclear deal that it made with the governments of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the U.S., the UK, France, China and Russia) as well as the European Union. In fact, quite starkly, the European Union’s foreign policy chief—Federica Mogherini—said, “We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something that for us is a security priority.” In other words, Mogherini is asking companies to resist Trump’s policy direction. What she is saying, and what Rouhani said, is that it is the United States that has violated the nuclear deal and so no one needs to honor the U.S. sanctions that have been reinstated.

Mogherini pointed to “small and medium enterprises” because these would not be the kind of multinational corporations with interests in the United States. But it is more than small and medium enterprises that are going to challenge the U.S. sanctions. China, Russia and Turkey have already indicated that they will not buckle to U.S. pressure.

China: “China’s lawful rights should be protected,” said the Chinese government. China has no incentive to follow the new U.S. position. First, China imports about $15 billion of oil from Iran each year and expects to increase its purchases next year. Chinese state energy firms, such as China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Sinopec, have invested billions of dollars in Iran. CNPC and Sinopec have also got shares in Iran’s major oil fields—CNPC has a 30 percent share in the South Pars gas field and has investments in the North Azadegan oil field, while Sinopec has invested $2 billion in Yadavan oil field. China’s Export Import Bank, meanwhile, has financed many large projects in Iran, including the electrification of the Tehran-Mashhad railway. Other Chinese investment projects include the Tehran metro and the Tehran-Isfahan train. These projects are worth tens of billions of dollars.

Second, China is in the midst of a nasty trade war with the United States. In late August, Trump’s government slapped 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion of Chinese imports into the United States. China responded with its own tariffs, with the Chinese Commerce Ministry saying that the U.S. is “once again putting domestic law over international law,” which is a “very unreasonable practice.” The “once again” is important. China is seized by the unfairness of the reinstatement of sanctions on Iran, not only for its own economic reasons but also because it sees this as a violation of international agreements and a threat to Iranian sovereignty—two principles that China takes very seriously. Sinopec, knee-deep in Iran’s oil sector, has now said that it would delay buying U.S. oil for September. Iran has now been drawn into the U.S. “trade war” (on which, read more here). The Chinese have been quite strong in their position. The Global Times, a Chinese government paper, wrote in an editorial, “China is prepared for protracted war. In the future, the U.S. economy will depend more on the Chinese market than the other way around.” This fortitude is going to spill over into China’s defense of Iran’s economy.

Russia: Russia and Iran do not share the kind of economic linkages that Iran has with China. After the 2015 sanctions deal, Iran did not turn to Russian oil and gas companies for investment. It went to France’s Total—which signed a $5 billion deal. Russia and Iran did sign various massive energy deals ($20 billion in 2014), but these did not seem to go anywhere. Russia’s Gazprom and Lukoil have toyed with entry into Iran. In May, Lukoil directly said that it would be hesitant to enter Iran because of the proposed U.S. reinstatement of sanctions. Lukoil’s hesitancy came alongside that of European firms such as Peugeot, Siemens and even Total, which decided to hold off on expansion or cut ties with Iran. Daimler has now officially halted any work in Iran. It was a surprise earlier this year when the Iranian Dana Energy firm signed a deal with the Russian Zarubezhneft company to develop the Aban and West Paydar oilfields. The contract is for $740 million, which in the oil and gas business is significant but not eye-opening.

In July, Iran’s senior leader Ali Akbar Velayati met Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He left the meeting saying, “Russia is ready to invest $50 billion Iran’s oil and gas sectors.” Velayati specifically mentioned Rosneft and Gazprom as potential investors—“up to $10 billion,” he said. When Putin had been in Tehran last November, Russian companies signed preliminary deals worth $30 billion. Whether these deals will go forward is not clear. But, after Trump’s reinstatement of sanctions, Russia’s foreign ministry said that it would “take appropriate measures on a national level to protect trade and economic cooperation with Iran.” In other words, it would see that trade ties are not broken.

Turkey: Both Iran and Turkey face great economic challenges. Neither can afford to break ties. Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said that his government will only honor international agreements, and that the U.S. reinstatement of sanctions is not part of an international framework. Turkey, therefore, will continue to trade with Iran. Iran’s oil and gas are crucial for Turkey, whose refineries are calibrated to Iran’s oil and would not be able to easily and cheaply adjust to Saudi Arabian imports. Almost half of Turkey’s oil comes from Iran.

Turkish-U.S. relations are at a low. Conflict over the detention of a U.S. pastor—Andrew Brunson—has led to the U.S. sanctioning two Turkish ministers—Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu. Gul is a leader of the ruling party, AKP, while Soylu came to the party at the personal invitation of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. These are not men to be intimidated by U.S. pressure.

A U.S. mission—led by Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury—went to Turkey to convince the government to join the U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to put pressure on Turkey’s Halkbank, one of whose senior officials was found guilty of violation of the U.S. sanctions on Iran by a court in the United States earlier this year. This kind of pressure is not sitting well with the Turkish government.

Inside Iran: Pressure mounts inside Iran. Protests have begun across the country, a reflection of the distress felt by the population as the country’s currency—the rial—slides around and as fears of inflation mount. Last week, the Iranian government fired the head of Iran’s central bank—Valiollah Seif—and replaced him with Abdolnasser Hemati. It reversed the foreign exchange rules, including the failed attempt to fix the value of the rial that was put in place in April. Hemati had been the head of Iran’s state insurance firm and before that of Sina Bank and Bank Melli. He is a highly trusted person by the government, which had already appointed him as ambassador to China before hastily rescinding that offer and moving him to the central bank. Whether Hemati will be able to balance the stress inside the Iranian economy is to be seen. Faith in the currency will need to be strengthened.

As part of that, Iran’s government has cracked down harshly against financial fraud, particularly scandals over foreign exchange. The man who signed the 2015 nuclear deal—Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi—now watches as his nephew—Ahmad Araghchi, the central bank’s vice governor in charge of foreign exchange—is arrested with five other people as part of an inquiry over fraud. The message: no one, not even the Araghchi family, is immune from the long arm of the law.

Trump’s belligerence, the refusal of key countries to abide by Trump’s sanctions (including the European Union, but mainly Russia and China) as well as the internal pressure in Iran could very likely create the conditions for a military clash in the waters around Iran. This is a very dangerous situation. Sober minds need to push against the reinstatement of these sanctions—which the Iranians see as economic warfare—as well as the escalation into military war.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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 The Trump Administration’s Crackdown on Legal Immigrants Exposes Its Racism

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Bill Boyarsky.

Lost amid the harrowing stories of children separated from their families is another xenophobic aspect of President Trump’s immigration policy. That’s his effort to sharply limit the number of legal immigrants, who are increasingly from Asia, from entering the United States.

Yes, I said “legal.” These are not undocumented immigrants—the usual Trump target. On the contrary, they are women, men and children who have followed all the rules and laws of the complex immigration process. They deserve recognition. But to Trump and his base of older right-wing white men, they are the enemy, making America less white every year.

Some are refugees, forced to flee from natural disaster, political oppression and gang violence. Others are immigrants, wanting to come to the United States. Some seek temporary visas their employers use to bring in highly skilled employees and their dependent spouses. Other immigrants seek admission to this country because relatives or fiancés have filed petitions asking that they be admitted to this country. Some are orphans.

What most have in common is that an increasing number are not white.

According to the website Stateline, published by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the largest number of immigrants are beginning to come from Asia, especially China and India. Neither of these countries is covered by the Trump administration’s efforts to ban immigration from Muslim majority countries. India is 80 percent Hindu. China is home to the world’s largest Buddhist population.

So, as it turns out, Trump is not just worried about Muslim terrorists or Central American gang members, as he claims. It’s racial difference that apparently bugs him and his most devoted followers.

The Pew Research Center said lawful immigrants account for about three quarters of the foreign-born population of the United States.

They have applied, been vetted and then wait for permission to immigrate for six years or more. Once in the United States, after a period of time, they can become citizens, taking their oath to support the country in ceremonies often covered by the media. These ceremonies are usually hailed with pride as reminders that we are a nation of immigrants.

But President Trump and his crew have a different view. They don’t want us to be that kind of nation.

Trump is considering reducing the number of refugees—those forced to flee their native lands—from 45,000 a year to between 20,000 to 25,000, according to The Daily Beast and The New York Times.

In addition, the administration has made it increasingly difficult for nonrefugee immigrants, who choose to resettle here, to gain entry into the country. The Migration Policy Institute outlined the restrictive steps in a report last month.

“Some applicants … must provide 15 years’ worth of travel and employment histories and residential addresses,” the report said. “Some are also asked for the usernames they have used on all social media accounts in the last five years. While many applicants are not currently required to provide this information, the administration has signaled it eventually plans to make it mandatory for most.” These provisions, the report said, have likely slowed down the processing of legal immigrants.

“All of these actions move the United States toward the administration’s ultimate goals of decreasing immigrant admissions and expanding deportations,” the Migration Policy Institute said.

Journalist Ezra Klein explored this last month in Vox. He wrote that America’s black, Hispanic, Asian and mixed-race populations are expected to grow—indeed, the Hispanic and Asian populations are expected to roughly double, and the mixed-race population to triple.

The Migration Policy Institute said, “The foreign-born share of the U.S. population is at its highest level since 1910, with the approximately 44 million immigrants living in the United States representing 13.5 percent of the overall population. With U.S. fertility rates at a historic low, the Census Bureau projects that net international migration will be the main driver behind U.S. population growth between 2027 and 2038.”

The Brookings Institution projects that the nation will become “minority white” in 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.9 percent of the population in contrast to 24.6 percent for Hispanics, 13.1 percent for blacks, 7.8 percent for Asians, and 3.8 percent for multiracial populations.

The liberal Klein saw a downside for progressives in all this in his Vox article. He wrote: “Demographic change, and the fears and hopes it evokes, is one of the tectonic forces shaping this era in American life, joining income inequality and political polarization in transforming every aspect of our politics and culture. …”

Klein said this could help the Republicans. “Even gentle, unconscious exposure to reminders that America is diversifying—and particularly to the idea that America is becoming a majority-minority nation—pushes whites toward more conservative policy opinions and more support of the Republican Party.”

Immigration will be a big issue in the fall election. Pew found that out of 2,002 Republican and Democratic adults surveyed from June 5 to 12, immigration emerged as the top issue they most wanted to hear 2018 candidates talk about. In fact, about one in five voters mentioned immigration—more than mentioned either health care or the economy.

If Klein is right, this is not good news for the Democrats. But, as is often the case with us journalist-columnists, Klein equivocates. “To say American politics is in for turbulence is not to say we are in for dissolution. “A majority of Americans—though not of Republicans—believe the browning of America is a good thing for the country. And we have watched states like California and Texas transition into majority-minority status without falling to pieces.”

That’s how I see it. Spanish is the language I hear on the streets and in businesses as I pursue my days in Los Angeles—except when it is Farsi, Mandarin or something else. Our mayor, Eric Garcetti, who is considering running for president, is Jewish, Latino and Italian. The new owner of our biggest newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Soon-Shiong, is Asian-American, welcomed to L.A. by a city council member representing the fast-growing Korean-American community, David Ryu. And so it goes.

I’m betting on people like them, rather than Trump’s minority older white base. And I’d say so-called base. I imagine there are people who voted for Trump who are now sick of the racist, dishonest Trump administration.

So take your 30 to 35 percent “base,” Trump, and refill its tanks with more hate. I’ll take the better America I see every day.

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Iran Receives More Airplanes Ahead of Renewed U.S. Sanctions

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by AMIR VAHDAT and JON GAMBRELL / The Associated Press.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran acquired five new commercial aircraft on Sunday, a day before the U.S. begins restoring sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

The arrival of the ATR72-600 airplanes at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport represented perhaps the last benefits Iran will see under the nuclear deal after President Donald Trump withdrew from it in May. Economic woes are sparking sporadic, leaderless protests across the country.

The rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran remains heated, despite Trump tweeting last week that he would be willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard on Sunday acknowledged conducting recent naval exercises near the crucial Strait of Hormuz after renewing threats to cut off the waterway to oil traders.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported the arrival of the five ATR72-600 airplanes, which are twin-engine turboprops used for short-distance regional flights. Their arrival means state carrier Iran Air has received 13 of the 20 it ordered from the French-Italian manufacturer in April 2017. The deal had a list value of $536 million, though buyers and manufacturers typically negotiate lower prices.

ATR, jointly owned by European consortium Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo, has been pushing U.S. officials to allow it to finish its delivery of aircraft to Iran. The U.S. Treasury must approve the sale of airplanes whose components are at least 10 percent American-made, like the AT72-600.

The Toulouse, France-based firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The nuclear deal lifted international sanctions in return for Iran limiting its nuclear program and allowing regular inspections. U.N. inspectors said Iran was complying with the deal, but Trump felt the agreement did not go far enough. He has called for a new accord that would include a radical transformation of Iran’s policies, including its military support for the Syrian government and regional militant groups, two issues not covered by the 2015 deal.

Iran “has treated its people very poorly, and that’s led to terror. They’re the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. That’s what America is trying to get Iran to stop doing. That’s the behavioral change that we’re looking for from the Iranian regime,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Metro TV in Jakarta.

“The president has always said he is prepared to talk, but it’s important that Iran has to be committed to changing its ways in order for those discussions to prove of any value,” he added.

Trump himself was more blunt in a tweet he posted Saturday, writing: “Iran, and it’s economy, is going very bad, and fast! I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter – it is up to them!”

Iran had hoped the lifting of sanctions would allow it to replace its aging commercial airline fleet, but the U.S. withdrawal has halted billion-dollar deals struck with Airbus and Boeing. European countries, along with Russia and China, remain committed to the nuclear deal, but European companies are unlikely to risk U.S. sanctions to do business with Iran.

Iran’s economy has rapidly deteriorated in recent months due in part to uncertainty over the atomic accord, fueling protests. The Iranian rial has fallen to 99,000 to the U.S. dollar despite a government-imposed rate of 44,000.

In recent days, protests have broken out in several cities, with at least one person shot and killed. Some protesters have shouted “Mullahs get lost!” and “Death to the dictator!” the semi-official Fars news agency has reported.

U.S. sanctions targeting Iranian trade in automobiles, gold and other key metals will be re-imposed on Monday, while sanctions targeting the country’s energy and banking sector will resume Nov. 4. The sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry could cut off a crucial source of hard currency.

The U.S. has been pushing its allies to halt their import of Iranian oil ahead of the November deadline. Among the top importers of Iranian oil are China, India, Turkey and South Korea.

Rouhani has suggested Iran might block the Strait of Hormuz in response to a shutdown of its oil exports. The strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is crucial to global energy supplies as about a third of all oil traded at sea passes through it.

Iran’s navy and its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard routinely conduct seaborne exercises in the Gulf and the strait. U.S. officials last week said Iran carried out a similar exercise, though Tehran did not immediately acknowledge it.

On Sunday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Guard spokesman Gen. Ramezan Sharif confirming that its forces held a military drill in the Persian Gulf and the strait. He said the exercise, which he described as an annual drill, was aimed at maintaining the security of the international waterway. He did not elaborate.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Jared Kushner Tries to Strip Refugee Status, Aid from Millions of Displaced Palestinians

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

According to Jared Kushner and other hard line Zionists, the Palestinian people don’t exist. Ever since they ethnically cleansed the majority of Palestinians, the Israelis have been hoping that they will just go away. They look out on Galilee, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, and Lebanon, and ask, “why are you still here?” as though the Palestinians were a houseboy in their mansion that they had fired last week.

According to Foreign Policy, Kushner has bought into a theory that Palestinian identity, and Palestinian desire to return home to what is now Israel, have been artificially kept alive because millions of Palestinians are recognized by the UN as refugees. And the UN Relief and Works Agency provides schooling, vocational training, and sometimes makeshift housing to these families that the Israelis forced into tents in the wilderness.

So if you wanted to wipe Palestine off the map, you’d want to decertify the Palestinians as refugees and destroy UNRWA.

Without that infrastructure, the spoiled rich bigot Kushner thinks, why the Palestinians will fade away and stop asking to go home.

The far, far right Likud Party that rules Israel has finally found a White House that despises the poor and oppressed as much as it does, and which is happy to try to dissolve the body of the displaced Palestinians in the acid bath of malign neglect, for all the world like “cleaners” in a mob movie.

This theory is incorrect, of course. Palestinian identity is passed on by families, cultural practices, songs, books, and memories, not by UNRWA. One anthropologist who worked in the camps in Lebanon to which the Israelis expelled the Palestinians found that the Palestinians had arranged themselves within the camp according to their original village. They made the camp a microcosm of Palestine. UNRWA workers did not tell them to do that.

However, it is true that UNRWA keeps the wolf from the door for many Palestinians, and that infant mortality will certainly go up if it is dismantled.

Yes, I am saying that Jared Kushner and Nikki Haley are trying to kill Palestinian babies.

They are even worse than Jeff Sessions, who just wants to steal the babies.

I once visited the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon. An old man told me that in 1948 he and his mother were in their apartment in Haifa when a Zionist gang barged in and took it from them, expelling them over the border to Lebanon. He stayed there a year. Then the UN put him on a train up to northern Lebanon to a camp, far from home, where he had been ever since.

Lebanon is a balancing act between Christians and Muslims, and the Christians refused to offer the Palestinians, mostly Muslim, citizenship. They also did not let them own property or work in most professions. They could not travel because they have no citizenship and nobody trusts them enough to let them in.

“We are in jail,” he told me. He took me next door where two old women were lying on mattresses, taking oxygen, having fallen ill. The only medical care was arranged by UNRWA.

He took my forearm. “Is this any way to live?”

Most of the Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared were just living their lives and trying to get buy. But camps are lawless, and disturbances in 2008 had angered the Lebanese army, which destroyed the camp to get at a small criminal gang of 50, that were characterized as terrorists. The man’s apartment building was destroyed, along with most of the camp. Most of them had nothing to do with the gang.

 Nahr al-Bared, 2010. (Juan Cole)

UNRWA had given them prefab units to live in until Nahr al-Bared could be rebuilt.

 Nahr al-Bared, 2010. (Juan Cole)

Getting rid of UNRWA will increase the misery of Palestinians. But that man’s children know they are Palestinians, they know they will never be allowed to fit in in Lebanon, nor do they want to. They want to go home to Haifa.

When the British conquered Palestine away from the Ottoman Empire during WW I, it had about 680,000 Palestinians. The British established the Mandate of Palestine over their heads without asking their permission, denied them the sort of nationhood achieved by Iraq and other League of Nations-designated Class A Mandates, and then tried to flood the country with European Jews so as to create a local population favorable to long-term colonial occupation. By 1946, this Palestinian population had grown to 1.3 million.

In 1947-48 the British declared they were going home and that the Palestinians would just have to deal with the half-million European Jews that the British had brought into the colony over Palestinian objections. The Jewish community was highly organized and had wealthy backers, and they launched into action to ethnically cleanse hundreds of thousands of hapless Palestinian villagers. When they declared Israel in 1948, only 165,000 Palestinians remained within it. Most Israelis now think it was a mistake to let that many stay, since they have grown into about 20% of the current Israeli population.

Some 720,000 Palestinians were made into refugees. That is, they were forced out of their homes by concerted Zionist campaigns that in some cases involved massacres of innocents. They were penniless. The immigrants, whom they viewed as illegal, stole their houses, apartments and farms. Some 70% of Gaza’s population is refugee families from 1948.



Other hundreds of thousands were forced to the West Bank (grabbed by the Jordanian army), to Jordan proper, to Lebanon. A few ended up in Syria and Egypt.

Over time, the population increased. There are now nearly 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel has occupied since 1967. Many still live in refugee camps. Of the 9.5 million Jordanians, probably some 6 million are of Palestinian heritage, having been chased from their homes in 1948 and 1967 by the Israelis. Although the UN says there are 450k Palestinians in Lebanon, probably it is half that, with many having slipped away to Europe. But over 200,000 people in refugee camps is still too many.

Al-Awda writes,

    “There are about 7.2 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. More than 4.3 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents displaced in 1948 are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations. Another 1.7 million Palestinian refugees and their descendents, also displaced in 1948, are not registered with the UN. About 355,000 Palestinians and their descendents are internally displaced i.e. inside present-day “Israel”. When the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied in 1967, the UN reported that approximately 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes. These 1967 refugees and their descendants today number about 834,000 persons. As a result of house demolition, revocation of residency rights and construction of illegal settlements on confiscated Palestinian owned-land, at least 57,000 Palestinians have become internally displaced in the occupied West Bank. This number includes 15,000 people so far displaced by the construction of Israel’s Annexation Wall. Such dispossession of the Palestinian population continues today.”


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Trump Threatens Iran to Distract From Russia Criticism and Appease Israel

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Marjorie Cohn.

<i>Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Truthout.</i>

Donald Trump’s all-caps tweet threatening Iran with “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” sounds much like his warning last fall that North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Will Trump deliver on his threats against Iran, but not against North Korea? There is a striking disconnect between his policies toward the two countries.

“Trump has rejected a detailed pact that kept Iran out of the nuclear weapons business for a decade, while embracing a vague communiqué that allows North Korea to keep its nuclear weapons for years, and possibly forever,” said Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, offering his assessment of Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal last May.

Under the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran and five other countries, Iran had gotten rid of all of its highly enriched uranium, eliminated 99 percent of its low-enriched uranium and shut down a main nuclear reactor. Iran had fully complied with all of the requests of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, which had affirmed eight times that Iran was in compliance with the nuclear deal.

Trump is now desperate to deflect criticism away from his much-criticized summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump knows that a war—conducted with the right spin—could help the GOP in the midterm elections. And Israel, the United States’ closest ally, has been gunning for regime change in Iran, which Israel considers to be an existential threat.

“Other people who know Mr. Trump said his decision to respond [to Iran] in such fiery terms was driven almost entirely by his search for a distraction from questions about Russia,” according to New York Times reporter Mark Landler.

Moreover, Trump is playing to his base. Christopher R. Hill, who worked as a diplomat in both Republican and Democratic administrations, said Trump’s rhetoric against Iran is “raw meat” for his base, as well as “an effort to shift the subject” away from his summit with Putin. Landler identifies three reasons Trump will not likely follow the same strategy with North Korea and Iran: 1) Iran’s leadership is not as monolithic as North Korea’s, with Kim Jong Un as a one-man state; 2) the strong Israel lobby opposes diplomacy with Iran; and 3) Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal provides Iran with little incentive to negotiate, particularly because the other parties to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — continue to abide by the pact.

Trump Responds to Israeli Pressure on Iran

Although Israel has enjoyed the unwavering support of successive U.S. administrations, Trump has taken that support to a new and disturbing level.

Israel strongly opposed the Iran nuclear deal and pushed for the United States to bomb Iran. Trump pulled out of the deal, leaving Iran free to build its nuclear program.

Trump then capitulated to Israeli pressure, declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, in spite of Security Council resolutions mandating that the status of Jerusalem be agreed upon by the parties through negotiation. Trump’s declaration led to predictable outrage around the world.

A Full-Court Press Against Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have also been rattling the sabers against Iran.

In a speech to the Heritage Foundation, Pompeo listed 12 demands Iran must meet, including cessation of uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes, which is allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“The demands would constitute a complete transformation by Iran’s government, and they hardened the perception that what Trump’s administration really seeks is a change in the Iranian regime,” according to the Associated Press.

Bolton, who has long advocated overthrowing Iran’s government, promises regime change in Iran by the end of 2018.

The United States has also mounted a disinformation campaign intended to undermine Iran’s government. “The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, US officials familiar with the matter said,” according to the Jerusalem Post. “The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations.”

Trump Plans Air War Against Iran; House Says Not Without Our Consent

The Trump administration is moving toward war with Iran. Eric Margolis, a veteran war correspondent in the Middle East, reports that the Pentagon has drawn up plans for an air attack on Iran:

The Pentagon has planned a high-intensity air war against Iran that Israel and the Saudis might very well join. The plan calls for over 2,300 air strikes against Iranian strategic targets: airfields and naval bases, arms and petroleum, oil and lubricant depots, telecommunication nodes, radar, factories, military headquarters, ports, water works, airports, missile bases and units of the Revolutionary Guards.

Likewise, senior officials in the Australian government told ABC they think the United States plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, maybe as soon as next month.

But the House of Representatives just passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019, which includes an amendment stating that “nothing in this Act may be construed to authorize the use of forces against Iran” and an attached statement indicating “the conferees are not aware of any information that would justify the use of military force against Iran under any other statutory authority.”

Even if the Senate approves that amendment, Trump won’t necessarily follow Congress’s mandate. He might say he’s going after suspected Iranian “terrorists” inside Iran or anywhere on his global battlefield. We will then see if there is any congressional pushback.

Meanwhile, Russia is allied with Iran and would oppose U.S. military intervention. On July 12, Putin met with Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, outside Moscow.At the same time, however, Trump is talking about making a deal with Iran. “We’re ready to make a real deal,” he declared. Trump said he is willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with “no preconditions.” But the Iran deal Trump renounced took years of painstaking negotiations.

Feigning Concern for the Iranian People

Trump claims to care about the people in Iran, but the economic sanctions he reinstituted while pulling out of the Iran deal will hurt the Iranian people. As CODEPINK co-director Medea Benjamin wrote:

Many Iranians we talk to desperately want to change their government, but not with U.S. intervention. They look around the region in horror, seeing how U.S. militarism has contributed to massive chaos, misery, and death in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. They believe their best option is internal reform.

There is another glaring difference between the situations in Iran and North Korea. While Iran does not have nuclear weapons, North Korea does. That is North Korea’s insurance policy against U.S. military aggression.

Trump Is Desperate to Change the Subject Away From Russia

Trump is likely threatening Iran to distract from the widespread outrage at his adoption of Putin’s denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. In siding with Putin, Trump rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia tampered with the election.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

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Bipartisan Dysfunctionality Puts The World At Risk

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Rita Jacobs and Wesson Gaige / Green Party.

All of humanity is being put at risk by the duopoly of Democrats and Republicans opposition to dialogue with Russia. The combination of Russophobia and the Democratic Party’s compulsion to criticize Trump’s every action, even when he accidentally does something sensible, is preventing the two largest nuclear powers, with the two most advanced militaries in the world, from working together to create a safer and more secure world.

President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin finally met for a lengthy meeting. Not much was accomplished, but it might be the beginning of an important dialogue, which could have significant positive impacts.

Russia and the United States are involved in many conflicts where de-escalation is possible if a working relationship is established. There are global crisis situations that could be reduced if the two nations work together, and bring other nations with them, to confront those problems.

Unfortunately, the reaction by members of the political duopoly and media to the Trump and Putin meeting is preventing progress urgently needed by the world. Hurdles are being created to prevent continued dialogue. For example, Russiagate delayed this first meeting and is making detente difficult to achieve.

Partisan Democrats are calling Trump a traitor for even meeting with Putin. They treat Robert Mueller’s indictment, timed just before their meeting, of Russian intelligence officials as if it were a conviction, not an accusation. It is unlikely these cases will ever be brought to trial so we are unlikely to see the evidence. Robert Mueller has a history of “misleading the public as he did when he was FBI director and claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

There are too many potential conflicts that could lead to war and too many crisis situations impacting millions for the United States and Russia not to be talking. Presidents Trump and Putin should meet again. Before their next meeting the two governments should negotiate progress on at least the following issues so their talks will be meaningful:

These are seven top priorities for diplomacy between the United States and Russia. There are many other crisis issues that the world is facing that a positive relationship between Russia and the US could ameliorate if not resolve — imagine the potential of a world where peace broke-out.

One great hurdle to achieving this progress is the bipartisan view in Congress that favors conflict with Russia rather than a working relationship. Russophobia has been embraced across the spectrum from conservative Republicans like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-NC) to liberals like independent Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who is in the leadership of the Democratic Caucus.

Democrats have demonstrated their support for conflict in their reaction to the Trump-Putin meeting as well as their reaction to the meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.)  introduced a bill to prevent Trump from removing US troops from South Korea. On July 26th, the House passed a bipartisan defense authorization that forbid reducing US troops in Korea.  The world wants peace but the United States has two war parties who are both upset by Trump and Putin talking.

Both parties have shown their extreme militarism by passing an irresponsible bipartisan record-breaking military budget. President Trump has shown his desire to  glorify militarism with a military parade. We are working with dozens of organizations to stop the military parade and if it proceeds, we will be part of a mass protest to show the world that the  people of the United States want peace.

US militarism has escalated under Trump with support from both Democrats and Republicans. Achieving detente with Russia could help pave the way for  significant budget cuts and an end to the more than trillion dollar upgrade of nuclear weapons thereby allowing federal spending to be focused on the necessities of the people and the protection of the planet.

It is an imperative for US foreign policy to seek cooperation between Russia and the US to make a more safe, healthy and secure world. To accomplish that the stranglehold of the duopoly war parties must be broken.

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