Monday, November 16, 2015

The worst way to react to the Paris bloodbath is to escalate the war against ISIS

By Marc Jampole

First we react with horror and sympathy. Then anger takes over, perhaps too quickly, and we focus on how we are going to revenge the deaths of innocents and destroy the barbaric enemy who planned and initiated the terrorism. Of course we hunt down the perpetrators who did not die, but we also start inflicting damage on the greater government to which they hold allegiance by all means at our disposal.

But what if we don’t have bombers that can fly thousands of miles? We likely resort to sneak attacks by suicide soldiers and other acts of guerilla warfare. We bring the war home to the other side.

That essentially would be the argument justifying the ISIS attacks on Paris that killed about 130 people, from the ISIS point of view. It’s an argument that all should reject, except those who are in favor of committing acts of violence for political and economic reasons. Which pretty much means every Western government and many of their citizens.

Those whose knowledge of ISIS begins with its blitzkrieg land grab and YouTube beheadings should consider this scenario: A foreign country topples your stable government, bringing anarchy to the land. Hundreds of thousands of your people have been slaughtered, plus many more injured or displaced. You are a patriot who is also devoutly religious, so religious that you are willing to follow the extreme form of it that demands that you inflict your views on others, such as evangelicals frequently do in the United States. These religious views help you engage in savagery when you fight both the external and internal enemies, because these are infidels, or worse yet, nonbelievers dedicated to controlling you and your country and imposing their customs. This last part kind of sounds like the motivation for a lot of Israel’s brutal actions through the years, but the scenario as a whole is what happened in Iraq.

The other scenario to consider is a country whose rebels are being supplied by other countries, thereby weakening the legitimate government so much that different rebel groups control different parts of the country. Both the weak legitimate government and other rebel forces are attacking your rebel group, using weapons supplied by governments in other continents.

These scenarios are not meant to justify ISIS or its actions, but to react to the broadly held notion that it is somehow more barbaric and more evil than the Western governments that have been terrorizing the Middle East for decades and filling the barracks of all sides with sophisticated weaponry. All sides have behaved immorally.

In considering what to do now, there are two basic issues to consider, and we need to keep them separate: One, stop terrorism that destroys innocent lives. Two, bring order to the bloody anarchy that is Iraq and Syria. We must keep in mind that while these objectives are related, the means to obtain them are different.

Let’s first take a look at ending terrorism. The West, and especially the United States, has done a great job in reducing terrorist episodes. Let’s compare the number of people who collectively died in the Russian airplane crash, the Charlie Hebdo and Synagogue massacres and the coordinated attacks on Paris this past week. Counting the Paris attacks as one, we have four separate acts of terrorism and we haven’t reached 500 dead yet. Fourteen years ago, a single act of terror (or four coordinated acts) on 9/11 killed 2,977 (excluding the 19 hijackers). Remember, Al-Qaida was a shadowy group with few adherents, whereas ISIS controls territories and has thousands of soldiers. A more powerful group has inflicted less damage in more attacks. Going further back, there were far more terrorist attacks in the United States in the 1970s than since the turn of the century, although collectively none cost as many lives as 9/11.

Why are acts of terror down? Because all the Western countries, and especially the United States, do a much better job of identifying potential terrorists, weeding out terrorist plots, securing our borders and protecting our airports. In fact, much of the enhanced security instituted after 9/11 has gone over or close to the line of what is appropriate in a free and civil society. What I’m suggesting is that we’re doing enough to prevent terrorism right now, both here and in Europe.

The threat of terrorism will exist as long as a country has enemies which it engages in a shooting war, internal dissidents who feel a special allegiance to the enemy or mentally ill people—ideologically motivated or not—with ready access to guns. In other words, we won’t end terrorism perpetrated by Muslim extremists until the Middle East is stabilized.

And that won’t happen as long as anyone in the Western world is bombing, giving or selling weapons, providing advisors or putting troops on the ground. The lesson of the Paris bloodbath should not be to bomb ISIS and trample on civil liberties. The answer should be to continue to be vigilant domestically, but get the hell out of the business of selling weapons to foreign governments or directly fighting ISIS or Assad or any other side in Syria and Iraq. It’s not a matter of cutting-and-running. It’s a matter of stopping the decades of foolishly messing around in the business of other countries.

Those who want to use the Paris bloodbath as an excuse to deny refugees entrance into France, the United States, Germany or other countries or to persecute Muslim immigrants are blaming millions of innocent hard-working people for the sins of a very few.

The territory that defines Iraq and Syria will eventually grow tired of war, sooner if the main sources of weaponry and financial support dries up. As I have written before, at that point we should be ready to do business with any government dedicated to peace and ready to renounce terrorism moving forward. If that includes ISIS, so be it. We made terms with terrorists such as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. How is a beheading or taking hostages at a concert venue any different from bombing a business hotel? 

I want to close with a comparison between the calls to action raised by most politicians and media outlets in the wake of the Paris bombing and the proposals that routinely surface after a domestic act of terrorism by a lone gunman born and raised in United States, at a school, church or Pilates class, AKA, a mass murder. Since Paris we have had calls to bomb ISIS, put more boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, end asylum for Syrian refugees (except Christians) and have the National Security Agency begin crossing the line into illegality again. Yet after the mass murders, the same people wanting to strike out at ISIS, often illegally, routinely reject all the known anecdotes for reducing gun violence in America, including waiting periods, stricter standards for ownership, more effective gun registries, laws preventing concealed or unconcealed carrying of firearms and limits to the types of weapons and ammunition that may be purchased.  In the United States, at least, we have far more to fear from the collective body of gun owners than the collective body on ISIS jihadists. The equation is a little different in Europe, but then again, the total number of people killed by guns is far, far lower on a per capita basis there than in the United States.

The paradox of wanting to strike out at ISIS but not restrict gun rights is easily explained by the underlying principle that motivates most action by the American governments on all levels—making more money for the ruling elite. By having loose gun laws, we sell more guns. We also sell more guns by reacting to terrorism with an irrational war or military support of one or more factions—be it in the former Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, or the current ISIS-controlled land. Often the same companies are involved in both private and military armament manufacturing and sales.

Thus, we are completely consistent. We always do what’s best for the domestic and international weapons industry. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Editorial: Say No to Trade Deal

The Obama administration finally released the text of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, and President Obama’s assurances that the deal protects American workers and consumers and opens new markets in the Pacific Rim has provided little comfort to organized labor, environmentalists, public health advocates and consumer activists.

President Obama views the trade deal among 12 Pacific nations, including the United States, as an important part of his trade legacy. But it was hammered out by industry lobbyists and government bureaucrats behind closed doors over seven years and critics see the TPP as a replay of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, which relaxed trade barriers and empowered multinational corporations without putting in place enforceable regulations to protect labor, the environment and local government sovereignty. Instead those deals have resulted in the loss of manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries in the Third World. And progressives are understandably suspicious because the “free trade” deal is practically the only policy initiative of Obama’s that Republicans support, as the Republican Congress in May greased the skids for an up-or-down vote under special rules that do not allow filibusters or amendments.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. said the TPP is a giveaway to big agribusiness and food companies that want to use trade deals to attack sensible food safety rules, weaken the inspection of imported food and block efforts to strengthen US food safety standards.

“The TPP gives the food industry a powerful new weapon to wield against the nationwide movement to label GMO foods,” said Hauter. “The language in the TPP is more powerful and expansive than other trade deals that have already been used to weaken or eliminate dolphin safe tuna and country of origin labels.”

The National Farmers Union said the deal will fail family farmers and ranchers. “After years of negotiating in secret for an enormous agreement guarded from the public under lock and key, the text of the TPP has at last been made public. Unfortunately, it appears to be as bad for America’s family farmers and ranchers as we had feared,” NFU President Roger Johnson said.

There are several questions about the constitutionality of the pact. Many critics say it should be considered a treaty among nations, which would require approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

Others question the TPP’s authority to bypass US courts and overrule state and local laws in trade disputes. For example, the pact allows foreign investors to bring claims for money damages when governments violate the TPP’s investor protection provisions. The claims are decided by a private arbitration tribunal that operates outside the challenged government’s court system. The tribunal could order the government to compensate corporations for lost “expected profits” and the tribunal’s decision could not be appealed to US courts.

The TPP also creates extreme monopoly rights for global pharmaceutical companies and gives them more power to drive up costs for Medicare and public health programs in all TPP countries, Celeste Drake, trade & globalization policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, wrote at (Nov. 10). “These rules are far worse for working families than comparable rules in the Peru, Colombia and Panama deals negotiated by then-President George W. Bush. The TPP will raise drug prices for families across the region. That’s regressive—not progressive,” Drake wrote.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a good deal for Main Street America, it’s not good for American workers, or farmers, or ranchers, and it won’t stop the erosion of our middle class. It is a good deal for bankers, financial services and multinational corporations who are constantly scanning the horizons to find cheaper places to manufacture their goods that they can import back to the US to sell at Walmart.

President Obama should have walked away from this deal. None of the three leading Democratic presidential candidates for president support it. We don’t anticipate that many of the 13 Senate Dems who sided with 48 Republicans to “fast-track” consideration of the trade deal in May will advertise their support of the deal when they run for re-election. Democrats as well as Republicans who claim to stand up for working people, the Constitution and American sovereignty should vote it down.

GOP Tax Fraud

Republican presidential candidates who are proposing tax plans that generate revenue much less than 19% of the gross domestic product are perpetrating fraud upon the electorate.

Ben Carson has called for a flat tax of 10 to 15%. Ted Cruz proposes a 10% flat tax for income above $36,000 and a 16% tax for corporations. Ron Paul proposes a 14.5% tax on everything above $50,000. Carly Fiorina proposes a simplified tax plan that would allow three-page tax return but otherwise provides few details. Donald Trump proposes to reduce taxes for individuals, with a 25% top rate, and 15% for corporations. He would make up the lost revenue by taxing multinational corporations. Rick Santorum proposes a 20% flat tax. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and John Kasich offer more conventional tax cuts, but all would let the wealthy keep more of their money and increase the national debt.

When Bill Clinton became president in 1993, at the tail end of a recession, US Treasury receipts were 17% of the GDP and the deficit was 4.7% of GDP. After the Democratic Congress increased taxes, with no Republican support and dire predictions that the tax increase would push the economy into a depression, the economy boomed instead. The budget was balanced in fiscal years 1998 through 2000, when federal revenue was 19.2% to 20% of the GDP, and again in 2001, although federal revenue dropped to 18.8%. The US national debt as a percentage of GDP declined from about 64% when Clinton took office to about 54% in 2001 when Clinton handed George W. Bush a budget that was generating a surplus and was on track to pay off the national debt in 10 years.

Instead, Bush pursued Republican voodoo economic policies that gave tax cuts to the rich and deregulated Wall Street. Federal revenue dropped to 15.6% of GDP in 2004 and recovered to 17.9% in 2007 before the economic bubble burst and revenues dropped to 14.6% of GDP in 2009, when Barack Obama took over the economy in free-fall and two wars being fought off the books. By that time, the national debt was more than 80% of GDP.

The debt load topped out at 103.6% of GDP in the first quarter of 2014. That’s near the record debt level of 106% of GDP in 1946. The US grew its way out of debt in the 1950s by investing in the education and occupational training of returning war veterans while industrial unions helped establish the middle class that was the envy of the rest of the world.

Since then, unions have been crippled but taxes on middle-income Americans are near historic lows. A family of four in the middle of the income spectrum, earning $75,845 in 2014, paid 5.34% of their income in federal income taxes (not including Social Security/Medicare payroll taxes), the Tax Policy Center reported. Average income tax rates for median incomes have ranged from 5.64% in 1955 up to 11.79% in 1981, then dropped to 3.54% in 2008, helped by the Earned Income Tax Credit, child tax credit expansion and rebate credit in the Economic Stimulus of 2008, before creeping back up to 5.34%.

So when Republicans tell you that a flat tax of 10 to 15% would cut your taxes, they are lying. Or they are contemplating either slashing military spending, which they won’t do, or slashing Social Security, Medicare and other domestic spending, which they’d like to do but can only do under false pretenses.

A flat tax that does away with exemptions and keeps approximately the same spending levels, including Social Security and Medicare, would have to take about 20% of your income. That flat tax would only be a good deal for the highest income levels. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2015

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Selections from the December 1, 2015 issue

COVER/Lou Dubose
The GOP is a Neo-Confederate party now

Say no to the TPP; GOP tax fraud


Bobby Kennedy and the politics of timeliness

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
Stem the epidemic of bad behavior

Republicans strengthen hand in Southern races;
Maine, Seattle voters reject ‘Citizens United’;
Questions about Ky. governor results;
Trump recalls ‘Operation Wetback’;
Poll clarifies challenge for Dems;
Green energy can reduce costs, create 2M jobs;
Duke Energy seeks $120,000 fine against solar generator;
Chomsky: World facesc 'deep trouble' with GOP president;
Comcast imposes usage caps;
Voices of resistance ...

Resurrect the export import bank

On elections, think local

House berates Obama Fed appointment

Trans-Pac Partnership worse than we thought

Hard-working ‘wonk’ can do a lot of damage

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Nostalgia for a make-believe past

The flim flam candidate

The blimp and other near misses

Remarkable turn for incarceration nation

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky
Prioritizing our developments

Cuba: A new, independent identity

Please don’t shoot the moderators

and more ...