Friday, March 23, 2018

Replacing McMaster with Bolton & Tillerson with Pompeo brings us closer to both a nuclear war & an authoritarian regime at home

By Marc Jampole

Now I’m worried.
Correction: Scared out of my shoes.
A guy who is so bellicose in his pronouncements that he couldn’t get a Republican Senate’s approval to be Union Nations Ambassador, a mere spokesperson role, is going to be National Security Advisor, the person most responsible for formulating and implementing our foreign policy.
John Bolton is the kind of one-dimensional Dickensian fool who makes great confrontational TV, but dangerously ignorant policy.
Bolton has in the past expressed a desire to bomb North Korea and Iran. He fully supported the Iraq War from day one until today, even after it was revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or no ties to Al Qaida. He famously has opposed the International Criminal Court and the Biological Weapons Convention. He fully buys into the idea of a worldwide cultural war between the West and Islam. But like Trump, he doesn’t really like any other country. Correction, Trump does seem to harbor a fondness for totalitarian regimes, and Russia in particular.
If Bolton gets his way, thousands of American soldiers will die fighting major wars with Iran and North Korea, and tens of thousands more will have their lives ruined by physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Koreans and Iranians will die, be injured or have their lives uprooted, most of whom will be innocent civilians. We will waste trillions of dollars that could go to infrastructure improvement, alternative fuel development and commercialization, education and help for the poor and elderly. Even worse, if nuclear weapons are detonated, it will poison our entire biosphere, leading to cancers and birth defects all over the world for decades, if not longer. It could also perhaps trigger the use of nuclear weapons against us by allies of Iran or North Korea.
At the very least, Bolton will encourage Trump to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, which will further isolate the United States from the rest of the world. The new tariffs on foreign goods, leaving the Paris Accord, not joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump’s desire to renegotiate NAFTA and his constant rhetoric already have compelled the rest of the world to start cutting deals that cut America out. The result of the “America First” policy will be a slow, then faster shrinking of our economy.
Bolton plays to all of Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most pernicious beliefs. Trump has expressed the idea that only a war can bring the United States together. My take on that comment is that he means that a war behind which everyone unifies is the only way to retain his current job in 2020, and perhaps the only way to avoid legislative disaster in 2018. Perhaps a war could serve as an excuse for suspending elections or declaring Martial Law, or for censoring the press or rounding up scores of innocent Muslims for a new round of detention camps run primarily by private prison companies.
Unfortunately, in weighing whether to follow Bolton’s counsel and go to war, Trump will not think about the financial costs, because he’s used to going bankrupt and leaving investors holding an empty bag.
He won’t think of the death and destruction a war will bring because he doesn’t think of other people’s suffering ever, except the suffering of adversaries, which he gleefully reveals in seeing.
He won’t consider that the likely outcome of a war against North Korea or Iran will not be a western-style democracy pliantly under America’s hegemony, but increased regional instability, decades of civil war, the creation of millions of refugees, an explosion of terrorism worldwide and the possible bombing of U.S. territories or territory. He’s far too enamored of the tough-guy persona and the us-versus-them narrative to consider the past in predicting a war’s outcome.
He certainly won’t consider how much progress has been made to address the world’s problems following the principles of multilateralism and economic sanctions because he prefers the disproven myths of his 1950’s childhood to facts and scientific analysis.
No, he will only consider one factor: Will it help him?
And in his distorted, self-centered, corrupt and mean-spirited universe, the answer could be that war will help Trumpty-Dumpty.
And it might in the short-term. The First Iraq War and our three-day farce in Grenada demonstrate that Americans like short wars that we win. The public even liked the Second Iraq War at first, despite the fact-filled arguments of those opposed to it. But the longer any war goes on, the less Americans like it. After 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have grown especially cynical. The public’s attention span for everything has shortened considerably—something that Trump’s speaking style takes advantage of—and is probably much shorter when it comes to suffering warfare than ever before. In other words, declaring war on Iran, North Korea, both or another imaginary bogeyman may backfire or may give Trump a very temporary lift. Unless, of course, he uses a major conflagration to grab authoritarian power.
Before now, the craven and unethical way that the GOP has tolerated Trump instead of working with Democrats to replace him has irritated but not concerned me. I—like many—have depended on the Democrats to take power in 2018 and use the results of the Mueller probe to rid us of the cancer that is Donald Trump. The current administration has already inflicted tremendous damage to our economy, our reputation around the world, our security, the environment and immigrants and other individuals, most of the harm could be quickly reversed, except for that done to individuals.
But a major war, especially one that could go nuclear or serve as an excuse to for an executive takeover, would be catastrophic. Replacing McMaster with Bolton and Tillerson with Pompeo brings us closer to both a nuclear war and an authoritarian regime at home
That’s why I’m scared. Very scared.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Which Senators will vote to confirm former torture supervisor Gina Haspel? Only those so corrupted by politics they no longer have a moral compass

By Marc Jampole

The big question in my mind since learning that former torture Chief Gina Haspel has received the nomination for next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been: what should we demand of Haspel to demonstrate that she won’t allow torture to take place under her watch?
Haspel gained notoriety when the news media revealed that she was in charge of a CIA torture facility in Thailand at which at least two suspected terrorists underwent waterboarding. Haspel later participated in an attempted cover-up of the American torture gulag by helping to destroy videotapes that showed torture at a number of secret CIA locations throughout the world. This cover-up strongly suggests that Haspel and her comrades knew that the cruel techniques that they were ordering others to use to interrogate human beings were both illegal and morally wrong.
Certainly a simple statement that she will follow all U.S. laws will not suffice to convince us Haspel’s torture days are in the past, since she could turn around at a later date and say that torture is legal or use an interrogation technique that is clearly torture but declare it isn’t, backed by the weaselly lawyering of the next generation of John Yoos and David Addingtons.
But is it enough for her to state unequivocally that the CIA will not engage in torture nor encourage the intelligence forces of our allies to do so? Doesn’t she also have to define in the most explicit terms what she means by torture and detail the horrific, inhumane acts that she won’t allow to happen under her watch? Will it help if she also cites the overwhelming evidence gathered through centuries that torture does not work?—evidence that the CIA and the Bush II administration chose to ignore.
Will laying out a full policy against all types of physical and mental torture be sufficient to convince the Senate—and the American people—that the CIA won’t revitalize the torture gulag that the Bush II administration established in the first decade of the 21st century? Does she also have to admit that what she ordered others to do was illegal and wrong and that she regrets doing it? Will anything less than a complete and abject mea culpa satisfy our need to protect the United States from ever debasing itself again through the use of torture.
None of it will be enough. There is nothing that Gina Haspel could say or do that could convince any Senator to vote to confirm her as CIA chief except for those so corrupted by politics and self-interest that they no longer have any interest in the United States following its ethical compass.
That doesn’t mean that I believe that once they have served their time we should not give criminals a second chance, restore their rights and let them feely pursue careers and other interests. I believe fully and faithfully in rehabilitation and reintegration of virtually all who commit criminal acts. If you did the time, we should set aside the crime. But I don’t believe in asking the fox to guard the henhouse. We’d be foolish to make a reformed embezzler chief financial officer of a company or to have a reformed sex offender chaperone a field trip of college-aged women.
Besides, up to now Haspel has admitted to no wrong-doing and has never been punished for either the torture or the attempted cover-up. While condemning our use of torture, the United States government has done nothing to punish or even condemn those who established the torture regime and gave the orders to put dozens of people—many innocent of anything other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time—through excruciating mental and physical anguish, despite the fact that virtually all studies show torture to be ineffective in gathering information from enemy combatants. Many like David Addington, John Yoo and Gina Haspel have fallen on their feet with cushy jobs or are enjoying a posh retirement like Bush II and his vice president.
There can be no doubt that Donald Trump likes the fact that Haspel engaged in torture. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he spoke often of bringing back torture and adding prisoners to Guantanamo, which with Bagram and Abu Ghraib has come to symbolize the American torture machine. He has called for “worse than waterboarding.”
There is a cruel streak to most autocrats. The ability to inflict meaningless or excess pain on one’s enemies or even those who disobey seems to come naturally to the dictators of the world. They don’t want merely to win, they want to crush their opponent into fine particles.
Cruelty not only reassures the autocrat of his extensive power, it also serves as a warning to others who might dare to cross the ruler. That was surely the intent when Trump pressured Jeff Sessions to fire Andrew McCabe, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the day before he was eligible for retirement. Firing McCabe for political reasons, as Trump admits happened, was the government’s misguided prerogative. But to do it just before McCabe could cash in on all his years of loyal and competent service to his country was cruel, to say the least. Living in the high-cost D.C. area with two children, how likely is it that McCabe depended heavily on his government pension for his and his wife’s retirement. Unless the plan to work for a Democratic Congressional representative works out or he has enormous success in a post-governmental career, McCabe and his family may find themselves in an economic freefall. The cruelty of the act certainly serves as a warning to others in government wanting to speak up against Trump or cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
Haspel’s best possible excuse for ordering and overseeing the torture committed by her subordinates—that she was only following orders—is what makes her particularly attractive to the autocratic Trumpty-Dumpty. The autocrat likes people who blindly follow orders, even if they are incompetent or unsuited to their jobs. For the autocrat, an order-follower who is also extremely talented and accomplished is a rare jewel indeed. And one who will do anything, who will stoop to any level, who will throw away all scruples—what an extraordinary find that is indeed. Gina Haspel is tailor-made for the Trump administration.
Which is why confirming her as CIA Director would be bad for the country. I’m urging all readers to write their Senators and tell them explicitly that if they vote to confirm Gina Haspel they will lose your vote and support.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Editorial: Half a Cheer for Trump

We’ll give it to Donald Trump that he followed up on a campaign promise to American steelworkers when he announced that he would put tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum imported into the US. But we fear that Trump, through his incompetence, likely will end up fulfilling the bad reputation tariffs have.

There is a role for tariffs in protecting American manufacturing capacity, particularly in targeting unfair foreign competition to the steel industry that has resulted in the closure of many American steel mills in the last 37 years. Trump justified putting tariffs of 25% on foreign steel and 10% on foreign aluminum, based on the national security grounds that the US should not rely on foreign producers. He undermined that justification somewhat by first including Canada and Mexico in the tariffs, then, after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminded him that he risked damaging key alliances, announced that he would exempt Canada and Mexico from the tariffs — but only as long as there was progress in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He tweeted: “Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”

Robert Holleyman, deputy US trade representative under President Barack Obama, told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post that Trump’s stance could weaken the administration’s legal case that the tariffs actually are based on national security.

The US is the largest steel importer in the world. Canada, which exported 5.8 million metric tons of steel to the US in 2017, is the top source of foreign steel, according to a Commerce Department report, issued in January to document the problem of Chinese overproduction of steel. After Canada, the top US sources of steel are Brazil, 4.7 million; South Korea, 3.65 million; Mexico, 3.25 million; Russia, 3.1 million; Turkey, 2.25 million; Japan, 1.78 million; Germany, 1.37 million; Taiwan, 1.25 million; India, 854,026 million; and China, ranking 11th at 784,393 million.

US steel has the highest costs, at $684.11 per metric ton in 2017, while northern European steel was next highest, at $604.90. Chinese steel cost $572 but other Asian steel cost $534.75.

Some of Trump’s rural supporters are concerned about talk of retaliatory tariffs. John Heisdorffer, the president of the American Soybean Association, called the tariffs “a disastrous course of action from the White House” that could put farmers at risk at a time when the agriculture industry is already struggling. “We have heard directly from the Chinese that US soybeans are prime targets for retaliation,” he said, according to the New York Times. Soybeans are the United States’ biggest agricultural export.

However, some Democrats in industrial states supported Trump’s tariff announcement. “Good, finally,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, a progressive Democrat from Ohio, as he cheered Trump’s move. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who has called for Trump to resign, agreed.

“I urge the administration to follow through and to take aggressive measures to ensure our workers can compete on a level playing field,” Casey tweeted.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also welcomed the tariffs. “For years, we have called attention to the predatory practices of some steel exporting countries. Such practices hurt working people and cheat companies that produce in the US. We applaud the administration’s efforts today to fix this problem.”

Tariffs have acquired a bad reputation in the era of globalism. In 2002, President George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs of up to 30%. But facing an adverse ruling by the World Trade Organization and retaliation by trading partners, he lifted them 15 months before the end of the planned three-year duration. Studies found that more jobs were lost than saved and Republican leaders vowed not to repeat the experiment.

The Trade Partnership, a research firm cited by pro-trade advocates, has concluded the same would happen with Trump’s tariffs. It estimated that the tariffs would create 33,464 jobs in the metals sectors but cost 179,334 jobs in other sectors for a net loss of nearly 146,000.

But Thom Hartmann, writing for AlterNet, wrote that tariffs might be needed to restore American manufacturing. When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, Hartmann noted, the US was the world’s largest importer of raw materials, the worlds largest exporter of finished, manufactured goods, and the world’s largest creditor.

“We bought iron ore from other countries, and manufactured it into TVs and washing machines here that we then exported to the rest of the world. And when countries couldn’t afford to buy our manufactured goods, we loaned them the money.

“After 37 years of Reaganomics, we’ve completely flipped this upside-down. Under neoliberal policies, we’ve become the world’s largest exporter of raw materials, the world’s largest importer of finished goods, and the world’s largest debtor.

“We now export raw materials to China, and buy from them manufactured goods. And we borrow from them to do it. This, by the way, is the virtual definition of a third-world country.”

Hartmann argues that we should charge an import tax – a tariff – on goods made overseas that compete with domestic manufacturers (particularly in essential industries), while keeping import taxes low on raw materials that domestic industries need.

As Hartmann says, we also should pull out of the WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA and other “free trade” pacts, if necessary, to restore sovereignty, and instead mandate that all purchases made with US taxpayers’ dollars be spent on goods and services provided by American workers employed by US-domiciled and incorporated businesses on American soil.

And the US government should support new and emerging industries through tax policy, direct grants and funding things like the National Institutes of Health, which funds most university research that leads to profitable new drugs for our pharmaceutical companies.

“Of course, such protectionist policies would not sit well with some of the multinational conglomerates, whose loyalty is not to America, but only to their investors and shareholders,” Hartmann noted. “A lot of them, like Trump with his Trump brand products, manufacture things in China or Vietnam and sell them here at a huge profit without giving a damn about the consequences of these actions to American workers.”

Josh Bivens, director of research at the progressive Economic Policy Institute, wrote in the New York Times, “The proposed tariffs can provide a countervailing force against these foreign subsidies and protect American metal producers until a comprehensive solution is found. Am I confident that the Trump administration will back a smart and efficient solution to the larger problem? Not really — but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be happy to have some breathing room to find one.”

Democrats should lend a veneer of bipartisan support to the president’s tariffs. They can take satisfaction knowing it gives heartburn to congressional Republicans and their multinational corporate sponsors. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2018

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Selections from the April 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Valerie Vande Panne
Tech moguls driving mass layoffs propose universal basic income

Half a cheer for Trump


Progressive millenials and how to get them elected

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Lies outrun the laughs

Trump’s EPA broke law by failing to implement smog rule, court rules;
House within reach for Dems;
Health care still #1 economic issue;
Trans-Pac Partnership pact expands investor-state dispute settlements;
GOP’s hastily passed tax scam is error-riddled;
Trump could feed every homeless vet for cost of his militry parade;
Trump has made 2,436 false claims as prez;
Number of people who hate Trump's offshore drilling plans keep growing;
Trump wants new authority over polling places;
Oil and gas industry panel on extreme hurricanes never mentions climate change ...

Relief for some

The stunning new cruelty of immigration enforcement

Porn star’s payoff and other Trump debts

Just how unequal are America’s major corporations?

The wealthy, the poor, the vulnerable

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Immiseration: Karl Marx meets Donald Trump

Don’t fear nuclear missiles. Fear those who deploy them.

Forecasting the midterm elections in the South

Enablers of financial catastrophe: A retrospective warning

Sports, technology, and truth

The squalor of the so-called informal sector

Fake news gets fake democracy

Cheap drivers

Dangerous American gun myths and fantasies

How far music recording has progressed

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Send in the clowns

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Filmmaker Raoul Peck talks about Karl Marx, revolutionary love, and Trump

and more ...