Monday, December 18, 2017

We're All Pests Now: Pesticide Ecocide

Pesticide Suicide

by Robert Hunziker - CounterPunch


December 18, 2017

Pesticide suicide refers to toxic chemicals mucking up the health of animals, plants and insects. This worldwide causatum may be totally out of control or maybe not; nobody knows for sure. Therein lies the scary part.

However, what is known is not encouraging: “Industrial toxins are now routinely found in new-born babies, in mother’s milk, in the food chain, in domestic drinking water worldwide… Humans emit more than 250 billion tonnes of chemical substances a year, in a toxic avalanche that is harming people and life everywhere on the planet.” (Source: Scientist Categorize Earth as a Toxic Planet, Phys Org, February 7th 2017)

For obvious reasons, it is not at all comforting to hear Earth referred to as a “toxic planet.” Indeed, it would be insulting, if not true. In that regard, there may be connecting dots around “toxic planet.”

A huge increase in the incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases has been reported in the United States over the last 20 years during the same time frame as pesticide/chemical usage has become ubiquitous. (Journal of Organic Systems) At the beginning of the 20th century infectious diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, and diarrheal disease were the leading causes of death. By the 21st century mortality by infectious diseases was replaced by chronic illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Regrettably, there is a pronounced trend in America. A Rand Corporation study states that 60% of Americans have one and 40% have multiple chronic conditions. (Source: Incidence and Prevalence of Chronic Disease, Autoimmunity Research Foundation)

Sixty percent (60%) of Americans with a chronic condition is almost impossible to grasp because it’s a mind-boggling statistic. How is this possible? And, why so many?

Whether pesticide suicide (inclusive of all chemicals) is reality is not known 100% certain. But, the indicators aren’t hopeful. The rate of growth of chronic problems increasingly suggests serious problems exist within ecosystems, border-to-border from Maine-to-California and Canada-to-Mexico. Of course, given enough time, truth is revealed via ecosystem breakdowns (already starting) and/or advancing cases of autism, gastrointestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, colitis, Crohn’s disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, cachexia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and ALS, or none of above, which would, in part, be indicative of no ecosystem toxicity.

Further to the point, Jennifer Hsaio’s article, “GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful,” Harvard University, August 19, 2015: “According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the health effects of pesticides are not well understood, but their use has been associated with conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and neurological effects.”

Once again, the phrase “pesticides are not well understood.” Yet sprayed coast-to-coast to kill things. “Health effects of pesticides not well understood,” prompts a logical response: Is society totally delusional, deranged, crazed? Answer: Yes, it probably is! How can a well-adjusted society permit use of chemicals manufactured to kill things helter skelter throughout the countryside when… “Health effects of pesticides are not well understood?”

The following quote from Julian Cribb’s Surviving the 21st Century (Springer Int’l Publishing, Switzerland 2017) likely tells the story:

“The evidence that we ourselves— along with our descendants, potentially for the rest of history— are at risk from the toxic flood we have unleashed is piling up in literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific research reports. Despite this mass of evidence, the public in most countries is only dimly aware, or even largely unaware of what is being done to them. The reason is twofold: First, most of these reports are buried in scientific journals, written in the arcane and inaccessible language used by specialists. The public may hear a little about certain chemical categories of concern, like pesticides and food additives, or the ‘dirty dozen’ (Stockholm C0nvention 2013) industrial super-poisons, or ‘air pollution’ in general. However, these represent only a scant few pixels in a much larger image now amassing in the scientific literature of tens of thousands of potentially harmful substances which are disseminating worldwide. Second, the proportion of chemicals which have been well-tested for human safety is quite small…” (Page 108)

In short, humanity is poisoning itself with a massive flood of chemicals all across the world, dripping wet with toxicity, and shockingly, nobody is really sure of the impact! Yet, there are dizzying numbers of academic research papers, literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific research that discuss the issue. Duh!

Still, by all appearances, in the public domain, absolutely nobody knows for sure what’s going on, which is a national tragedy, as well as a facsimile of the “unknown” world at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Yet, chemicals may be more ubiquitous worldwide than Fukushima Daiichi, who knows for sure? Could be a tie.

One of the chemicals that is most newsworthy, most discussed, and most entangled in controversy is glyphosate, which is one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S. for agriculture, forestry, lawns, gardens, and industrial weed areas. In fact, since 1974, glyphosate usage has increased by leaps and bounds. Two-thirds of the total volume applied from 1974 to 2014 has been sprayed in the past 10 years alone. Glyphosate agricultural usage in the U.S. in 1974 was 1400 (1000 lb) growing to 249,906 (1000 lb) by 2014.

“Genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops now account for about 56% of global glyphosate use. In the U.S., no pesticide has come remotely close to such intensive and widespread use. This is likely the case globally, but published global pesticide use data are sparse. Glyphosate will likely remain the most widely applied pesticide worldwide for years to come, and interest will grow in quantifying ecological and human health impacts. Accurate, accessible time-series data on glyphosate use will accelerate research progress.” (Source: Charles M Benbrook, Trends in Glyphosate Herbicide Use in the United States and Globally, Environmental Sciences Europe, 28:3 January 2016)

Monsanto sold the first commercial glyphosate product in the U.S. in 1974. The brand name is Roundup. Subsequently, many crops have been genetically engineered to be herbicide-tolerant or GE-HT. But, does GE-HT herbicide-tolerance really work?

It was only a few weeks ago that the EU granted glyphosate a new five-year lease throughout Europe, closing one of the most bitterly fought pesticide relicensing battles ever, as 1.3 million EU citizens endorsed a petition to ban the product.

“But the enzyme-blocking chemical has also become a mainstay of modern agricultural techniques that farmer’s unions see as environmentally friendly, even as critics condemn it as a ‘pesticide treadmill’ of danger to plants, animals, and people.” (Source: Arthur Neslen, Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New Five-Year Lease in Europe, The Guardian, Nov. 27, 2017) Are farmer’s unions correct or are 1.3 million petitioners correct?

Still, there may be serious problems with GE-HT: According to the following article: Genetically Engineered Crops, Glyphosate and the Deterioration of Health in the United States of America, Journal of Organic Systems, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2014:

“A huge increase in the incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases has been reported in the United States (US) over the last 20 years. Similar increases have been seen globally. The herbicide glyphosate was introduced in 1974 and its use is accelerating with the advent of herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops. Evidence is mounting that glyphosate interferes with many metabolic processes in plants and animals and glyphosate residues have been detected in both. Glyphosate disrupts the endocrine system and the balance of gut bacteria, it damages DNA and is a driver of mutations that lead to cancer.”
“The World Health Organization recently announced that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen… Although studies have shown conflicting conclusions about the link between glyphosate and cancer in humans, glyphosate has been linked to cancer in rats and mice and experiments in human cells have shown that exposure to glyphosate can cause DNA damage,” Ibid.

GE crops are typically far more contaminated with glyphosate than conventional crops, courtesy of the fact that they’re engineered to withstand extremely high levels of Roundup without perishing along with the weed.

“Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, and that’s the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both humans and animals,” (Source: Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide May Be Most Important Factor in Development of Autism and Other Chronic Disease, Mercola, June 9, 2013)

According to The Institute of Responsible Technology d/d May 10, 2013: “It was ‘supposed’ to be harmless to humans and animals—the perfect weed killer. Now a groundbreaking article just published in the journal Entropy points to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, and more specifically its active ingredient glyphosate, as devastating—possibly ‘the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.

That’s right. The herbicide sprayed on most of the world’s genetically engineered crops—and which gets soaked into the food portion—is now linked to autism … gastrointestinal issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, colitis and Crohn’s disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, cachexia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and ALS, among others.” Prompting the logical question: What chronic health-related problems are not listed?

For more details about pesticide issues as discovered by The Institute of Responsible Technology, Jeffrey Smith interviewed Stephanie Seneff, PhD, Senior Research Scientist at MIT. Dr. Seneff has been involved in research at MIT for over three decades. A video by The Institute of Responsible Technology follows:



According to Dr. Seneff: Monsanto has steadfastly claimed that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because the mechanism of action it uses (which allows it to kill weeds), called the shikimate pathway, is absent in all animals. However, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, and that’s the key to understanding how it causes such widespread systemic harm in both humans and animals. The bacteria in your body outnumber your cells by 10 to 1. For every cell in your body, you have 10 microbes of various kinds, and all of them have the shikimate pathway, so they will all respond to the presence of glyphosate!

Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function and lifecycle and glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease.

According to The Detox Project: Anresco Laboratories has found glyphosate in a range of U.S. food products, and the chemical also tested positive in urine, conducted by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), using validated LC-MS/MS method.

Here’s the problem, as stated by The Detox Project:

“The cultivation of Roundup Ready GMOs has considerably increased food contamination by glyphosate. Roundup Ready plants do not degrade glyphosate but tolerate it, so they accumulate Roundup residues during their growth. As a consequence, glyphosate has among the highest maximum residue limits for pesticides with up to 500,000 parts per billion authorized in some GM feed. A recent study on 10 batches of GM soybeans from Iowa found glyphosate at an average concentration of 11,900 ppb (maximum of 20,100 ppb). According to Monsanto, residues levels of up to 5,600 ppb in GM soy represent ‘extreme levels.”

In the main, this article has dealt with one chemical, i.e., glyphosate, at the expense of further investigation of the entire complex of chemicals. That’s an encyclopedic task over decades just to get to the bottom of whether pesticide suicide is truly a reality. Therein lies the horrifying, frightening aspect of a world ubiquitously covered with chemicals. By the time you know for sure, it’s late.

Meanwhile, a Rand Corporation study states that 60% of Americans have one and 40% have multiple chronic conditions: “Nearly 150 million Americans are living with at least one chronic condition; around 100 million of them have more than one. And nearly 30 million are living, day in and day out, with five chronic conditions or more. (Source: Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence, Rand Review, July 2017)

A colossal crisis? Answer: Without doubt, yes!

 
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.
More articles by:Robert Hunziker

British Columbia Announces Immediate Ban on Grizzly Bear Hunt

Grizzly bear hunt banned for good in B.C.

by Wilderness Committee 


December 18, 2017

It’s about time this grisly hunt comes to an end. We can “bearly” believe it!

The government has just announced a complete ban of the grizzly bear hunt effective immediately. The Wilderness Committee and a majority of B.C. residents have been asking for a ban to this barbaric hunt for more than 20 years.

“This is tremendous news,” said Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director Joe Foy.

“Clearly the people of B.C. have asked for this for a long time. We are very grateful that the government has finally stepped up to do what the people have asked for which is an end to this barbaric, bloody sport hunt.”

The B.C. government held a public consultation process in October with First Nations, stakeholders and the public on proposed changes to the regulation on the grizzly bear hunt. A total of 4,180 emails were received with 78 per cent of respondents telling the government that the grizzly hunt needed to end.

“This means that around 300 grizzly bears a year won’t get killed,” said Foy.
“We now want to see the government aggressively working to re-establish the populations where they are dangerously low or gone altogether, like the Cascades region in southwestern B.C.”

Southern B.C. grizzly populations are listed as threatened or endangered, with each population numbering fewer than 100. Hunting grizzlies in that region was so severe that it led to only one grizzly being left in the North Cascades.

“The next step is a combination of habitat protection and, in emergency cases grizzly bear relocation to bring the numbers back up,” said Foy.
“The province needs to establish standalone endangered species legislation if the grizzlies are going to have a chance at survival and recovery.”


- 30 -


For more information, please contact:
Joe Foy | National Campaign Director, Wilderness Committee
joe@wildernesscommittee.org


Related Campaign: Grizzly Bears

Sunday, December 17, 2017

World on Fire and a Box of Matches

The President Plays with Matches: And the Whole World Burns

by Rebecca Gordon - TomDispatch


December 15, 2017 

I’ve just heard that my family home near Carpenteria is literally in flames at this moment,” a friend told me recently.

She was particularly worried, she said, because “my mom has MS. She and my dad got the call to evacuate after midnight last night. They were able to grab a few photos, my sister’s childhood teddy bear, and the dog. That’s it. That’s all that’s left.”

My friend’s parents are among the thousands of victims of the 240,000-acre Thomas fire, one of California’s spate of late-season wildfires.

Stoked by 80-mile-an-hour Santa Ana winds, plenty of dry fuel, and 8% humidity, such fires are devouring huge swaths of southern California from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Months of dry weather and unseasonably warm temperatures have turned the southern part of the state into a tinderbox.

Once again the country watches in horror as firefighters struggle to contain blazes of historic voracity -- as we watched only a couple of months ago when at least 250 wildfires spread across the counties north of San Francisco. Even after long-awaited rains brought by an El Niño winter earlier in 2017, years of drought have left my state ready to explode in flames on an increasingly warming planet. All it takes is a spark.

Sort of like the whole world in the age of Donald Trump.

Tomgram: Rebecca Gordon, Trump the Flamethrower

In June, an American Green Beret was reportedly strangled to death in Mali by U.S. Navy SEALs, allegedly in connection with a shadowy money-skimming scheme. (The military is currently investigating.) In July, The Intercept, the London-based research firm Forensic Architecture, and Amnesty International revealed that a drone base used by U.S. forces in Cameroon was also a site for illegal imprisonment, brutal torture, and even killings on the part of local forces. (The military is investigating.) In August, according to a blockbuster investigation by the Daily Beast, U.S. Special Operations forces took part in a massacre in which 10 Somali civilians were killed. (The military is investigating.) In October, four Special Operations soldiers were killed in murky circumstances during an ambush by militants in Niger. (The military is investigating.)

This spate of questionable, scandalous, or even criminal activity involving U.S. forces in Africa should come as little surprise. Over the last decade and a half, operations on that continent have been expanding and evolving at an exponential rate. A token number of U.S. troops has grown into a cast of thousands now carrying out about 10 separate missions per day, ranging from training to combat operations, which are up 1,900% since last year alone. U.S. commandos sent to that continent have jumped from 1% of special ops forces deployed overseas in 2006 to nearly 17% today, the highest total outside the Middle East. There have also been numerous indications of U.S. forces behaving badly from one side of the continent to the other. Few in the mainstream media or among those tasked with oversight of such operations have, however, taken any significant notice of this.

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in the wake of the ambush in Niger. More recently, Congressman Ted Lieu of the House Foreign Affairs Committee added, “From combating al-Shabaab in Somalia to Boko Haram in Nigeria, U.S. military personnel are deployed across the African continent with little public scrutiny or awareness.” This attention deficit helped set the stage for the recent scandals that have forced lawmakers and the public to take some notice.

The situation of the U.S. military in Africa is, in some respects, not unlike that in California, where TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon begins her latest article. There, climate-change-charged dry weather and unseasonably warm temperatures made the state a tinderbox that recently burst into a series of devastating wildfires. The U.S. military has created its own tinderbox in Africa, where longtime expansion without oversight has led to a series of blazing scandals. And all of this is just a small part of the larger story told by Gordon -- of a world filled with the dry underbrush of decades of failed U.S. policies and of a president with a penchant for setting fires. Once, ignoble political calculations, futile strategies, ideological idiocy, and intellectual ineptitude provided flashpoints capable of sparking foreign policy failures, conflicts, or ruinous domestic policies. Today, writes Gordon, the commander-in-chief functions as a one-man flamethrower, setting blazes the world over as a matter of whim and embracing the inferno as an end in itself. Nick Turse

The President Plays with Matches: 

And the Whole World Burns

by Rebecca Gordon

 

Torching Jerusalem


The crazy comes so fast and furious these days, it’s easy to forget some of the smaller brushfires -- like the one President Trump lit at the end of November when he retweeted three false and “inflammatory” videos about Muslims that he found on the Twitter feed of the leader of a British ultra-nationalist group.

The president’s next move in the international arena -- his “recognition” of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel -- hasn’t yet slipped from memory, in part because of the outrage it evoked around the world. As Moustafa Bayoumi, acclaimed author of How Does It Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, wrote in the Guardian, “The entire Middle East, from Palestine to Yemen, appears set to burst into flames after this week.” Not surprisingly, his prediction has already begun to come true with demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon, where U.S. flags and posters of President Trump were set alight. We’ve also seen the first rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and the predictable reprisal Israeli air attacks.

Trump’s Jerusalem announcement comes as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, pursues his so-called Middle East peace initiative. Kushner's new BFF is Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to the Saudi throne. We don’t know just what the two of them talked about during a late night tête-à-tête as October ended, but it probably involved Salman’s plans to jail hundreds of prominent Saudis, including 11 fellow princes. They undoubtedly also discussed a new, incendiary Israeli-Palestinian “peace plan” that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are reportedly quietly circulating.

Under this proposal, according to the New York Times,

“The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.”

If this is the “deal of the century” that President Trump plans to roll out, then it's no surprise that he’d prepare the way by announcing his plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

That move reveals a lot about Trump’s much vaunted deal-making skills when it comes to the international arena. Here he has made a major concession to Israel without receiving a thing in return, except words of praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and from evangelicals in this country). Given that Israel came into possession of the eastern half of Jerusalem through military conquest in 1967, a method of acquiring territory that international law views as illegal, it was quite a concession. The ultimate status of Jersalem is supposed to be a subject for the final stage of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, not a gift to one side before the talks even begin.

Behind this concession, as far as can be seen, lies no strategic intent of any sort, not in the Middle East at least. In fact, President Trump was perfectly clear about just why he was making the announcement: to distinguish himself from his predecessors. (That is, to make himself feel good.) 

“While previous presidents have made [moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem] a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

“Some say,” he added, that his predecessors failed because “they lacked courage.” In point of fact, Trump did not exactly “deliver” either. Just like his predecessors, he promptly signed a semi-annual waiver that once again delayed the actual embassy move for six months.

Pyromania?


Rather than serving a larger Middle East strategy, Trump’s Jerusalem announcement served mainly his own ego. It gave him the usual warm bath of adulation from his base and another burst of the pleasure he derives from seeing his name in the headlines.

In his daily behavior, in fact, Trump acts less like a shrewd dealmaker than a child with pyromania, one who relieves anxiety and draws attention by starting fires. How else to explain his tendency every time there’s a lull in the coverage of him, to post something incendiary on Twitter? Each time, just imagine him striking another match, lighting another fuse, and then sitting back to watch the pyrotechnics.

Here is the grim reality of this American moment: whoever has access to the president also has a good shot at pointing this human flamethrower wherever he or she chooses, whether at “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea or Doug Jones in Alabama (although that flame turned out to be, as they British say, a damp squib).

The Middle East has hardly been the only part of the world our president has taken visible pleasure in threatening to send up in flames. Consider the situation on the Korean peninsula, which remains the greatest danger the world faces today. Who could forget the way he stoked the already glowing embers of the Korean crisis in August by threatening to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” -- an obvious nuclear reference -- on North Korea? And ever since it’s only gotten worse.

In recent weeks, for instance, not only Trump but his coterie have continued to ramp up the rhetoric against that country. Earlier this month, for instance, National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster renewed the threat of military action, saying ominously, “There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un]’s getting closer and closer [to having a nuclear capacity to hit the United States], and there’s not much time left.”

In September, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, reinforced this message in an interview with CNN. “If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed.”

Indeed, Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at MIT, thinks the Trump administration may already have accepted the inevitability of such a war and the near-guarantee that South Korea and Japan will be devastated as well -- as long as it comes before North Korea can effectively launch a nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland. “There are a lot of people who argue that there’s still a window to stop North Korea from getting an ICBM with a nuclear warhead to use against the United States,” he commented to the Washington Post. “They’re telling themselves that if they strike now, worst-case scenario: only Japan and South Korea will eat a nuclear weapon.”

You don’t exactly have to be an admirer of Kim Jong-un and his sad outcast regime to imagine why he might be reluctant to relinquish his nuclear arsenal. North Korea remains the designated U.S. enemy in a war that, almost seven decades later, has never officially ended. It’s situated on a peninsula where the most powerful nation in the world holds military exercises twice a year. And Kim has had ample opportunity to observe how Washington has treated other leaders (Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi) who gave up their nuclear programs. Certainly, threats of fire and fury are not going to make him surrender his arsenal, but they may still make Donald Trump feel like a real commander-in-chief.

Home Fires Burning


It’s not only in the international arena that Trump’s been burning things up. He’s failed -- for now -- to destroy the Affordable Care Act (though not for lack of striking matches), but the GOP has successfully aimed the Trump flamethrower at any vestiges of progressive taxation at the federal level. And now that the House and Senate are close to reconciling their versions of tax legislation, the Republicans have made it clear just why they’re so delighted to pass a bill that will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars. It gives them a “reason” to put to flames what still remains of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s.

House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a vivid sense of where that presidential flamethrower could be aimed soon when he told radio host Ross Kaminsky, “We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.” The goal? Cutting appropriations for Medicare and Medicaid, programs shepherded through Congress in the mid-1960s by Lyndon Johnson. These achievements helped realize his vision of the United States as a Great Society, one that provides for the basic needs of all its citizens.

Meanwhile, when it comes to setting the American social environment on fire, President Trump has already announced his post-tax-bill target du jour: welfare "reform."

Welfare reform? Not a subject he even mentioned on the campaign trail in 2016, but different people are aiming that flamethrower now. The Hill reports the scene as Trump talked to a group of lawmakers in the Capitol basement:

“Ticking through a number of upcoming legislative priorities, Trump briefly mentioned welfare reform, sources in the room said.

“‘We need to do that. I want to do that,’ Trump told rank-and-file lawmakers in a conference room in the basement of the Capitol. The welfare line got a big applause, with one lawmaker describing it as an ‘off-the-charts’ reception.”

We know that getting “big applause” guarantees that a Trump line will also get repeated.

At a time when “entitlement” has become a dirty word, we’d do well to remember that not so long ago it wasn’t crazy to think that the government existed to help people do collectively what they couldn’t do as individuals. As a friend said to me recently, taxes are a more organized way of crowd-funding human needs.

Who even remembers that ancient time when candidate Trump, not yet an arsonist on the home front, promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? President Trump is a different matter.

It seems likely, however, that at least for now the Republicans won’t push him on Social Security because, as Paul Ryan told the Washington Post’s "Wonkblog," the Republicans don’t have enough votes to overcome a Senate filibuster and the program is too popular back home for a super-majority of Republicans to go after it.

Why can they pass a tax “reform” bill with only a simple majority, but not Social Security cuts? The tax bill is being rushed through Congress using the “reconciliation” process by which differences in the Senate and House versions are smoothed over to produce a single bill. This only requires a simple majority to pass in each house. The Senate's “Byrd Rule,” adopted in 1974, prohibits the use of the reconciliation process to make changes to Social Security. Thank you, former West Virginia senator Robert Byrd!

In addition to the programs that made up Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” he also signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is already hard at work setting fire to the latter, as the president continues to demand evidence for his absurd claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election. He must be having an effect. At least half of all Republicans now seem to believe that he indeed did win that vote.

And before we leave the subject, just a couple of final notes on literal fires in the Trump era. His Department of Transportation has been quietly at work making those more likely, too. In a move supported by fans of train fires everywhere, that department has quietly reversed an Obama-era rule requiring that trains carrying crude oil deploy, as Reuters reports, “an advanced braking system designed to prevent fiery derailments... The requirement to install so-called electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes was included in a package of safety reforms unveiled by the Obama administration in 2015 in response to a series of deadly derailments that grew out of the U.S. shale boom.”

Government data shows there have been 17 such derailments of trains carrying crude oil or ethanol in the U.S. since 2006.

Then there’s the fire that has probably destroyed my friend’s house in southern California even as I wrote this. Donald Trump can hardly be blamed for that one. The climate in this part of the world has already grown hotter and drier. We can certainly blame him, however, for turning up the heat on planet Earth by announcing plans to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, overseeing the slashing of tax incentives for alternative energy (amid a bonanza of favors for the fossil fuel industry), and working to assert an oil, gas, and coal version of American “energy dominance” globally. From the world’s leading economic power, there may be no larger “match” on the planet.

A Flame of Hope


What hope is there of quenching the Trumpian fires?

There is the fact that much of the world is standing up to him. At this month’s climate accord follow-up meeting in Paris, billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson announced “a dozen international projects emerging from the summit that will inject money into efforts to curb climate change.” The head of the World Bank insisted that the institution would stop funding fossil fuel programs within the next two years. Former American officials spoke up, too, as U.S. News & World Report observed:

“One by one, officials including former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, billionaire [and former New York City mayor] Michael Bloomberg, and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted the world will shift to cleaner fuels and reduce emissions regardless of whether the Trump administration pitches in.”

I take comfort, too, in the extraordinary achievements of international civil society. Consider, for example, the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This summer, as a result of a campaign it led, two-thirds of the world’s nations -- 122 of them -- signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which outlaws the use, production, and possession of nuclear arms. That treaty -- and the Nobel that rewarded its organizers -- didn’t get a lot of coverage in the United States, perhaps because, predictably, we didn’t sign it.

In fact, none of the existing nuclear powers signed it, but the treaty remains significant nonetheless. We should not underestimate the moral power of international agreements like this one. Few of us remember the 1928 Kellogg-Briand pact, which outlawed recourse to war for the resolution of international disputes. Nevertheless, that treaty formed the basis for the conviction of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg for their crimes against peace. By implication, the Kellogg-Briand treaty also legalized a whole set of non-military actions nations can now take, including the use of economic sanctions against countries that violate international norms or laws.

ICAN leaders Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow (herself a Hiroshima survivor) believe that, over time, the treaty will change how the world thinks about nuclear weapons, transforming them from a necessary evil to an unthinkable one, and so will ultimately lead to their elimination. As Fihn told the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, “If you’re uncomfortable with nuclear weapons under Donald Trump, you’re probably uncomfortable with nuclear weapons” in general. In other words, the idea of Trump’s tiny fingers on the nuclear trigger is enough to start a person wondering whether anybody’s fingers should be on that trigger.

The world’s reaction in Paris and ICAN’s passionate, rational belief in the moral power of international law are like a cool drink of water on a very hot day.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Rebecca Gordon

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Breathing for Eric Garner: Matt Taibbi's Scorching Indictment of a Killing System's Impunity

I Can't Breathe: Matt Taibbi's scorching book on the murder of Eric Garner and the system that let the killers get away with it

by Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing


December 15, 2017

Matt Taibbi is one of the best political writers working in the USA today, someone who can use the small, novelistic details of individuals' lives to illuminate the vast, systemic problems that poison our lives and shame our honor; his 2014 book The Divide conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the impunity of corporate criminals and the kafkaesque injustices visited on the poor people they victimize; in I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, Taibbi narrows his focus to the police murder of Eric Garner, a Staten Island fixture and father, and the system that put murderers in uniform in his path.

Taibbi opens the book with a masterful, novelistic account of the racial divide in Staten Island, the brutal impunity of the NYPD, the lives of the people they stalk, humiliate, beat, and frame.

He introduces us to Tomkins Park, the neighborhood where Eric Garner was a fixture, selling untaxed cigarettes he brought in from out of state, and to Garner himself, a complicated, funny, bright, unlucky, likable man whose bad luck and bad choices had put him on that corner, selling smokes to keep his family fed, clothed and sheltered.

As Taibbi unravels the story of Garner, the circumstances that led to him being choked to death by a group of police officers who went on to terrorize Garner's friend for recording a video of the murder and releasing it, who faced no meaningful penalties -- and who, we learn, had long rapsheets for brutal, sadistic policing, he weaves the long history and diverse social and political circumstances that led to that moment.

  Taibbi's book is part history lesson, part political science, part biography (of several people, not all of them very nice), part on-the-scene reporting, part lawsplainer. He ranges over statistical models for predictive policing, the realpolitik of New York, where Democrats and Republicans alike have been critical to turning the city into a laboratory for testing and refining racist policing, housing, incarceration, and harassment policies.

Taibbi is a synthesist, able to dig into the personal history of the fathers of "broken windows policing," of rival black activist groups, of Garner and his family, tell their stories, show where they fit in a much larger, systemic analysis of how the nuts-and-bolts of institutional racism and police impunity.

In building understanding, Taibbi is always explaining, but never excusing. Just because Taibbi explains how the quota systems and official stonewalling creates a hospitable climate for sadistic, murdering rapists -- just because he shows that ultimately, these bad cops are taking the rap for an even worse system -- it doesn't follow that he's asking us to shed a tear for the poor cops who choked Eric Garner to death on a city street.

Taibbi's analysis also ranges over the explosion of anti-police-violence demonstrations that occurred in the wake of the Garner killing, after the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and so many other black men and women who were murdered by police officers who nearly never, ever paid any consequences for it.

He places the murder of Eric Garner in the context of the election of an openly white supremacist president, and the rage and outrage that followed that election.

One note on Taibbi himself: a few months ago, he was embroiled in a scandal of his own when passages from The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia, a book he co-authored in 2000, were reprinted. The book is a memoir of Taibbi's tenure as a gonzo editor in post-Soviet Russia, co-written with his co-editor, Mark Ames, and it is a gross, tasteless -- and, it turns out, largely fictional -- tale.

The passages that made headlines were ones in which Taibbi and Ames detail subjecting female subordinates to cruel and degrading sexual harassment. When they broke, Taibbi explained that these passages had been written by Ames and were fictional. This struck many people as lame and not-very-credible excuses, but it appears they were true -- journalists who tracked down the co-workers in the book confirmed with them that none of the lurid, awful activities took place.

Which doesn't let Taibbi off the hook: his transgression isn't subjecting women to sexual violence and harassment: it's thinking that making up "gonzo" stories about this kind of thing was funny (rather than offensive and harmful in their own right), and co-signing his name to a published volume of these tales.

This isn't a good thing to have done, but it's also not in the same universe as committing actual sexual assaults. It definitely lowered my opinion of Taibbi, but I feel like making stupid, shitty "jokes" is ultimately a forgivable sin, and the kind of thing that Taibbi has made substantial amends for.

All this makes for a book that's as riveting as any novel, and as educational as any manifesto. Like The Divide, it is essential reading that captures a moment that the whole nation is wrestling with, and whose consequences could not be more important to us all.

I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street [Matt Taibbi/Random House] 

Remembering the Shoah in Palestine

A Statement Delivered By Gilad Atzmon at Babylon Theatre Berlin 

by Gilad Atzmon


14.12.2017

In the last few days, in advance of the NRhZ’s humanitarian award ceremony, like Ken (FM) Jebsen and others, I have been subject to an insane defamation campaign.

None of it was substantiated. It was comprised of fabricated quotes: I was called a ‘holocaust denier’ and a ‘holocaust relativist.’ Yet, not a single genuine reference was made to my writings or talks.

In my work I criticise reducing the holocaust into a crude religion, an intolerant dogma. In my writing I protest against all history laws (Nakba laws, Armenian Genocide laws, Holocaust laws etc.) History for me, is the attempt to narrate the past as we are moving along. As such, it must be sustained as a dynamic discourse, subject to constant change and revision, even if this change happens to be slightly uncomfortable. For me, history is an ethical message --Only when we revise the past may we be able to, once again, rethink our future and destiny.

In recent days some of the German press referred to me as an ‘anti-semite.’ Am I? Have I ever criticized anyone including Jews as a ‘people’, as a ‘race,’ as a ‘biology,’ or as an ‘ethnicity’? Never.

My work is anti racist. I have dedicated my entire adult life to fighting racism through my music, my writing and my performances. I am opposed to all forms of biologically-oriented politics: White, Black, Gender as well as Jewish. I am searching instead for that which brings humans together. In my writing and talks I make a clear distinction between the Jews (the people) whom I never criticize, Judaism (the religion) which I rarely deal with and Jewishness (the ideology, politics and culture). In my work I focus on the last- - the ideology , the politics and the culture, assuming that we all agree these (ideology, politics and culture) must be open to criticism.

But if you want to talk about holocaust denial, I will tell you something about denial. To deny intellectuals, authors and artists the right to express their views in the open is where fascism starts. What I saw in Germany in the last few days suggests to me that some segments within your society really learned nothing from the history of your country. To deny the holocaust is to deny its meaning, to turn your eyes away when you see evil, to let your heart become cold when you yourself participate in evil or celebrate hatred. To deny the holocaust is to fail to address your own inability to tolerate others and otherness. It is beyond painful for me to witness Germany being led blindly into the same trap just seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz.

But I would like to add one more line on Palestine. Some Germans claim to be tormented by their past, by the atrocities of the 3rd Reich. If this is indeed the case, let me please remind you of a simple but embarrassing fact – the Palestinians are the last victims of Hitler.

It was the extent of the Shoah that brought support to Zionism and led to the formation of the Jewish State in Palestine. But it is the innocent Palestinians who, for the last seven decades, have been paying the price for crimes committed by Europeans.

If you feel guilty about Hitler, stand for Palestine and the Palestinians!

Damning the Greens: Does Weaver Deserve to Keep Green Mantle?

Does Andrew Weaver's response to Site C justify his removal as head of the B.C. Greens?

by Charlie Smith  - The Straight


December 15th, 2017

The B.C. Greens say they're opposed to the Site C dam, but the caucus, led by Andrew Weaver, isn't doing a lot to stop it. Andrew Weaver


(Warning: This is a long essay.)

[For complete article, see original at the Straight.com here.]


Imagine you're in the back seat of a large pickup truck and there are three burly guys in the front seats.

The driver, Rich Coleman, is taking you straight toward a cliff.

You're starting to panic but Coleman isn't interested in hearing your worries about what's going to happen.

He keeps travelling headlong into certain disaster.

So you shout at the other guys in the front seat. You demand that one of them take the wheel and turn this vehicle in a different direction.

Much to your relief, they hear what you're saying and spring into action.

The two of them, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver, drag Coleman's clutching hands away from the steering wheel and push him over to the passenger side of the seat window.

Horgan plops into the driver's seat.

Weaver is now in the middle seat. Unlike Coleman, these two know that they're headed toward the precipice.

You feel calmer because you trust Horgan and Weaver to make the right driving decision.

They're not stupid men. They won't send you over the embankment crashing into the gully below.

But much to your shock, Horgan keeps the pickup going in exactly the same direction. Then he puts his foot on the accelerator.

Naturally, you're horrified.

You cry out to Weaver for help.

But he leans in toward Horgan, assuring him that he's got his back.

Weaver tells Horgan that if he drives over the cliff, nobody in the front seat is going to try pull his hands away from the wheel.

"I'll just sit beside you and complain about your driving," Weaver says with a wink and a smile.

With this, Horgan lets out a belly laugh. He quips that even his wife and his brother don't like his driving, but he's confident that any fears of disaster are vastly overstated.

Off to the side, Coleman mutters to himself, "I was right all along. These idiots are going to take me to my destination anyway. And if that yappy guy in the back is actually right and if I actually survive the crash, I can now blame Horgan and Weaver."

You're in the back seat feeling helpless about how to avert a catastrophe. You become enveloped with a sense of doom.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Not Ready to Let Net Neutrality Die?

The Fight for Net Neutrality Isn't Over 

by TRNN


December 15, 2017

The FCC repeal of net neutrality is dangerous, but with court challenges and more grassroots activism on the way, it can still be stopped, says Craig Aaron of Free Press.




Craig Aaron is the president and CEO of Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund in April 2011. He joined Free Press in 2004 and speaks across the country on media, Internet and journalism issues. Craig is a frequent guest on talk radio and is quoted often in the national press. His commentaries also appear regularly in the Guardian and the Huffington Post. Before joining Free Press, he was an investigative reporter for Public Citizen's Congress Watch and the managing editor of In These Times magazine. He is the editor of two books, Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times and Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. 

Coals for Oligarchs: Putin Plays Santa (and Scrooge)

God Bless, Almost Everyone! - No Christmas Dinner for the Oligarchs

by John Helmer - Dancing with Bears


December 15, 2017

Moscow - This isn’t news: President Vladimir Putin (lead image, right) is running for re-election on March 18. According to the latest national polls, he is likely to win with a larger majority of a smaller turnout than in 2012. As Tiny Tim (left) almost said in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, God bless us, almost every one!

What is news is that after declaring his re-election bid to a group of autoworkers; proclaiming a hike in pensions from New Year’s Day; and announcing to Russian troops in Syria that most of them will return home, Putin is not – repeat not — hosting his annual Christmas dinner for the oligarchs. God bless us, almost every one!

Russian opinion pollsters report that Putin’s approval rating is holding steady above the 80% mark, increasing slightly in December so far, compared to November.

But this is having the effect of dissuading voters from going to the polls. Naturally, they believe the outcome is certain. So compared to a turnout rate of 65.34% in 2012, the latest polling indicates turnout next March will be 58% or less.


Source: Levada Center polling November 2017 reports 81%: http://www.levada.ru/en/ 
Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), December 8, 2017, reports 82.4%:

This is causing a divergence of opinion among Kremlin campaign technicians over how hard to try to raise turnout. They are debating whether the effect, at least in some cities and segments of the population, will be more criticism of the president, fewer votes for him than the 63.6% he won in 2012.

The Levada Centre of Moscow has just issued this poll weighing Putin’s pros and cons among voters; the nationwide survey was undertaken at the end of October, and published on December 11. Here are the negatives:



The percentages look small, but they are symptomatic. Those willing to express the negatives on the record are a small proportion of what the voter sample thinks but isn’t willing to divulge. This is a warning to Putin that his marathon television press conferences and call-in sessions are losing their persuasiveness. Then there’s the question of whose interests Russians think Putin really represents. Here the answers make the negative picture of Putin more vivid, and the contrast between this year and earlier years sharper.



Putin has been studying what approach to take towards this voter sentiment, ahead of his national press conference on Thursday. “’The president is making preparations for the annual news conference all [Wednesday],” announced Dmitry Peskov to the state news agency Tass. ‘There are no public events on the president’s agenda today, so he will be making preparations [for the news conference] from dawn to dusk,’ Peskov added.”

When Putin opened his press conference on Thursday afternoon, he started by saying: “I would prefer not to talk about my election programme at this point.” Nothing could be further from the truth – and everyone knows it. God bless us, every one! Follow the questions and answers here.

Putin admitted he and his advisors aren’t sure yet what campaign to run. He implied he intends to delegate the tactics to regional governors and the security services.

“With regard to disagreements,” Putin told the press conference, “…we operate in a lively environment: there is discussion and disagreement, but only until we reach a common solution. With regard to this issue – it is technical, but still important – I would like, of course, to see people of authority who are well known across the country, who, I reiterate, sincerely support the policy pursued over the past few years.”

Almost all the president’s answers were then directed at the “everyday people”. As a campaign strategy, this is to accentuate the positive. “This is probably not the right format for presenting [the election platform], but I can share with you some of its highlights that should be the focus of attention for the authorities and society in general. Specifically, this has to do with infrastructure development, healthcare and education. This is also about high technology, as I have already said, and improving labour efficiency.”

The security establishment was almost ignored. No question was asked and no answer given on the subject of oligarchs. On the subject of bankers, Putin had just this to say: “those people who have brought their financial institutions to the brink do not get any money. This, in my opinion, is extremely important. There is something else I need to point out, because I have often heard this criticism of the Central Bank – that the Central Bank policies are aimed at state control of the banking system. This is not true. First, I repeat, there are 521 banks or more, 521, I think, let alone other credit institutions, because not all credit institutions are banks.”



The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) does not publish surveys of voter intention, turnout, or ballot preference; click to see its poll results here. The Levada Center had its origin in the Soviet-era VTsIOM organization but it became a spinoff from VTsIOM after 2003. Levada does publish surveys of the sensitive campaign issues. But since September 2016 it has been sanctioned by the government, and compelled to register as a foreign agent. For the Center’s discussion of the circumstances, read this.

In opening his campaign with a pitch to autoworkers on December 6, Putin and his campaign staff managed the presentation in a revealing way. When Putin visits a factory, it is normal for him to be met at the door and accompanied around the plant by the owner of the plant, the control shareholder. If that man is an oligarch, the photographs are always publicized to demonstrate the Kremlin’s endorsement and favour.

Last week at the Gorky Automobile Works (GAZ), for Putin’s election campaign kickoff, there was sex appeal; hoopla; shining props just off the production line. But there was no sign of the owner of GAZ, Oleg Deripaska. Spokesmen for GAZ and for Deripaska were asked to explain his absence from Putin’s visit to GAZ. They refused.



Staff at the two polling agencies, VTsIOM and Levada, refuse to say if they have produced breakdowns of their presidential approval rating surveys by education, income or social class. Levada doesn’t say if it has done likewise for its surveys of turnout and candidate choice. Class, as this has been known in Russia between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and until 1991 is discreetly left out of contemporary Russian polling.

This leaves the “ordinary people” at the bottom of the Levada table – and they are feeling the pinch this year. Rosstat reports that over the first nine months of 2017, real incomes declined by 1.2% compared to the same period of last year. In January there was an 8.8% increase; this was the Kremlin’s doing with an order to the Finance Ministry for a one-time boost to pensions. In April real income fell 7.5%; in May and June there was no growth.

Putin has ordered something of a repeat in January next, when non-working pensioners will be given a 3.7% increase. This is one month ahead of the usual February deadline for indexation; maybe a bit more than the index should allow; but less than the January 2017 bonus. For details of the new pension scheme recently announced, click to open.

For the Tiny Tims of Russia, this year has been one of no improvement, or worse. They are following the brown line – that’s the trend of real income increase (or decrease) compared to 2014:

DISPOSABLE INCOME MEASURED AS PERCENT INCREASING OR DECREASING OVER THE MONTHLY AVERAGES DURING 2014


Key: green= actual money income paid; orange=income excluding seasonal factors; 
brown=income trend line

The Russian government also operates a special tax for “ordinary people”. It was first created in President Boris Yeltsin’s time, when it was called wage arrears. The officials responsible then are retired or dead, except for Anatoly Chubais. His name is one of the most hated in Russian public opinion; we’ll come to him in a moment.

In practice, arrears were the outcome of deliberate delay in paying wages by state and public institutions lacking the budget funds from the federal Finance Ministry; and refusal to pay wages by commercial organizations, shareholding corporations, and private companies. Arrears are reported monthly by the Russian state statistics agency Rosstat. As this report of 2001 indicated, during the Yeltsin period the arrears number peaked at over Rb103 billion after the election campaign of 1996; that was the election which Yeltsin, with Chubais’s help, lost on the votes cast, but won on fraud, with Chubais’s help.


Left: Anatoly Chubais with President Yeltsin; Chubais was head of state 
privatization, deputy prime minister, chief of the Kremlin staff, re-election 
campaign director in 1996, and head of the state power utility, UES. 
Right: Chubais with President Putin, who continued to employ Chubais during 
the privatization of UES. In 2008 Putin appointed Chubais head of the state 
technology holding, Rusnano, where he remains despite indictments of 
Chubais’s subordinates for fraud and embezzlement; for details, click.

Wage arrears fell during 1997, then started up again in 1998, peaking in October of that year, after the default of the state treasury on its bonds and the collapse of the banking system, at Rb88 billion.

The political impact of the wage arrears number is obvious. When it is rising, the president is blamed, and his approval rating falls. Russian pollsters have admitted in private the correlation that for every 1% increase in the arrears, month to month, Putin’s rating has usually fallen by 0.5%. Read more.

Putin has never been asked a question about arrears in his national press conferences or national talkshows, but the Kremlin staff pay close attention. In Putin’s first term, the arrears number peaked in the spring of 2001 at a figure of Rb34 billion. As the numbers went up earlier that year, the official statistics showed it was commercial or private enterprises rather than public or government bodies that were to blame. By imposing more budget discipline, Putin pulled both the arrears and his rating out of their common dive.

In January 2014, the month before the US started the war in Ukraine, the total arrears figure was just below Rb2 billion. By Yeltsin standards, it was Putin’s achievement to have brought the number down so low. However, as the chart shows, since 2014 the trend has moved upwards, and thus against the president. In 2015 the number passed through Rb2.5 billion. It rose steadily in 2016 to a peak of Rb4.5 billion in May of 2016, before heading downwards.


The chart shows that this year January started well, but arrears then began 
rising again to a peak of Rb4 billion in May. Compared to the Yeltsin period, 
Russians acknowledge the obvious – they are better off. But the trend line 
during Putin’s three terms began to move against him after the US war started.

It’s also obvious that Putin’s approval rating hasn’t suffered. That’s because of the war effect, and the US Government. If successive regimes in Washington hadn’t made a policy of attacking Russia, Russians, and Putin personally, domestic support for him, and the course of domestic elections, would have gone differently. The break in the correlation between wage arrears and voter approval has been a major achievement of the US war against Russia to date. In this way, Russian sociologists believe the war has also been protecting the president from the income inequality which Putin has encouraged through the oligarch system. For details of how this has operated, click.

 That the latest voter survey reveals that 31% of Russians believe Putin represents the oligarchs’ interests, compared to 14% in December 2003 – two months after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky – indicates also that the US war against Russia has been protecting the relationship between Putin and what the US Treasury calls his “cronies”. That ‘s to say, protecting Putin from the damage the relationship does to Russian voter confidence in Putin.

Starting in 2014 Putin has made an annual celebration of this relationship by inviting the oligarchs and a handful of state officials to a Christmas dinner at the Kremlin. On December 19, 2014, Putin had 45 guests. Read the story here.


On December 24, 2015, the guest list numbered 46; read more. Last 
year Putin hosted the dinner on December 19, and increased his list to 62. 
For the significance of the additions, read this.

The timing has traditionally been a week or so after the president’s national press conference. So if this year Putin is to follow suit the oligarchs’ dinner should be held next week. Asked this week to confirm if this is so, the Kremlin press office said “in the near future such a meeting isn’t planned.”

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) is the business lobby group through which the oligarchs officially interact with the government; it is consulted by the Kremlin on the Christmas dinner guest list, though its president, Alexander Shokhin, wasn’t invited to the 2014 or 2015 dinners. Shokhin is also paid to serve as an independent director on the boards of Rosneft, Eurasia Drilling, Mechel, and pipemaker TMK (where he sits next to Chubais). RUIE was asked to say if the Kremlin dinner is on this year; it refused to reply.

Russian political analysts believe Putin does not want to appear at the start of the election campaign in the company of the oligarchs. This is why there will be no Christmas dinner. It is also the reason Putin did not want to meet Deripaska at the GAZ factory for the election campaign launch – and why Deripaska’s men won’t admit it.

This does not mean that the one in three voters identified by the Levada poll as believing Putin represents the oligarchs are mistaken or fooled. Nor that the oligarchs are feeling slighted by the Kremlin. This is evident from a look-alike Kremlin reception Putin hosted for Shokhin, RUIE and the oligarchs on September 21, two months before the GAZ ceremony.



For this event, there was a record number of guests at the table – 64. But there was no dinner to follow the speeches. “You know we do not meet often,” Putin said in his opening remarks, “but [we] still regularly get together in approximately the same line-up and compare our positions on the developments in the economy and in specific sectors. I must say that despite certain limitations, including external restrictions, the Russian economy is stabilising. As you know, it is perfectly obvious that it has overcome the recession, is gaining momentum, and has been growing for several quarters running.”

“As you also know, we planned for fairly modest growth of about 0.8 percent. In the first quarter of the year the GDP increased by 0.5 percent but it has already gone up 2.5 percent in the second quarter. Investment increased 6.3 percent, which is the highest since the second quarter of 2012. Naturally, this is a good foundation for future development.”

Putin also presented a birthday watch to Andrei Kostin, head of the state bank VTB; and informed the gathering that sunflower oil production is up this year by almost 20%, while growth in knitwear is even better at 23.5%. Press reporting of what was discussed but not disclosed on the Kremlin website, indicates that Putin was asked to protect the oligarchs from US sanctions by relaxing current Russian inheritance laws in favour of passing assets to their children; exempting the oligarchs from returning their assets to Russian tax jurisdiction, so that the assets can be hidden from the Americans abroad; and introducing cryptocurrencies to avoid US dollar monitoring by the US Treasury. For more details, read this. The oligarchs’ fear of sanctions was the dominant topic for the private talks with the president.

The guests were seated in alphabetical order, and the table setting was published by RBC here.

Compared to the oligarch dinners of Christmasses past, the most notable guests who were missing in September were Alisher Usmanov (iron ore, steel, telecommunications) and Alexander Abramov (steel). The most important of Putin’s new guests was Chubais; he was seated between Shokhin and Sergei Chemezov, head of the state strategic asset holding Russian Technologies (Rostec).

This is the first public endorsement of Chubais by Putin since the prosecutions commenced at Rusnano in 2015.


From left to right: Vagit Alekperov (LUKoil), Victor Vekselberg (Renova),
Elvira Nabiullina (Central Bank), Andrei Kostin (VTB), Roman Abramovich (Evraz),
Suleiman Kerimov (Polyus Gold), and Anatoly Chubais (Rusnano). 

The Kremlin website report of what was said at their meeting reveals Putin’s hint at the sanctions problem.

“Considering that external restrictions still exist and may even be extended, I would like to hear your opinions on this situation, your assessments and proposals. This is probably all I need to say for now.”  

The only press report to have included the private discussions reveals that the cryptocurrency proposal was rejected. But there is no disclosure of Putin’s reaction to the inheritance and offshore proposals.

Were the goose and fixings served then? The Kremlin was asked on Wednesday to say if the  September 21 meeting had been a substitute for the Christmas dinner. The president’s spokesman replied he had “no information”.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Ingmar Lee December 14th, 2017

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook - Gorilla-Radio.com


December 14, 2017

It’s been two weeks since the ATB, or Articulated Tanker Barge, Jake Shearer separated from its 10,000 ton tanker load of Alaska-bound crude oil off Hecate Strait along British Columbia’s mid-coast region.

Less than a nautical mile from disaster, the stormy weather very nearly dashing the barge onto Gosling Rocks, where the result would surely have been the long-predicted Exxon Valdez-like ruination of one of the World’s most precious natural marine environments.

Whether by luck, or some divine intervention, that disaster did not take place November 30th, 2017, but the threat remains, and it’s only a matter of time before it does happen.

Listen. Hear.

Ingmar Lee is a long-time, BC-based environment defender. From the Nanaimo watershed and first-growth valley bottoms of Vancouver Island, to the nuclear plant-threatened coastline of India, and the threatened shores and Sandhill Crane nesting grounds of British Columbia’s mid-coast, Ingmar has advocated for and stood between an increasingly fragile ecosystem and the rapine destructiveness of big business and its government enablers.

For this he’s been arrested and charged in the courts, and had his name traduced and character vilified in the corporate and state media. Yet he persists in defense of the wild world.

Ingmar Lee and the long fight for the embattled natural world in a special end of year Gorilla Radio presentation.

Why Honduras Matters

Why the Honduras Crisis Matters to Me

by Rick Sterling - Dissident Voice


December 12th, 2017 
  
For seven months in 1969 I hitch-hiked around the US, Mexico and Central America with my best friend from high school. Some class-mates from our school in Vancouver Canada saved their money then travelled to Europe or Australia but Ollie and I headed south. It was an eye-opening experience for two middle class Canadians. We had a lot of learning experiences in the US but today I want to talk about Honduras because it is in crisis as I write this: the Honduran election took place on 26 November yet the results are still in contention.

Will the current right wing government manage to retain power?


When we visited the capital Tegucigalpa in 1969 we went to the university campus to meet and hang out with young Hondurans. They told us about the recent visit of President Richard Nixon who had taken office a few months before and then travelled to Latin America. The Vietnam war was still raging in 1969 and people protested against the war and Nixon wherever he went. The young Hondurans told us that when Nixon visited Tegucigalpa there had been a big protest. Several students who had been protesting from the top of a university building had been shot dead. It made an impression as did the warm and friendly people we met, some living in shacks along the banks of the Choluteca River running through the capital.

In Nicaragua we heard more eye-opening stories from the youth there. They told us about the Somoza family dictatorship, how corrupt it was, and how they came to power through US Marines. They also told us about the death of Cesar Sandino who fought for Nicaraguan independence but was killed by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934. The Nicaraguan youth told us that when the US asked for proof of Sandino’s death, Somoza shipped Sandino’s head in a box to Washington.

Those and many other experiences changed my life. Over the coming decades I kept an interest in Central America.

In 1979, when Nicaraguans overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, it seemed like a good thing. But President Ronald Reagan did not like an independent Nicaragua. Violating international law, the US organized a mercenary army called the “Contras” to destabilize and upend the Sandinista government. The mercenaries were trained in Honduras with US funding, supplies and weapons. The US Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, oversaw the mercenary army attacking Nicaragua and the emergence of death squads in El Salvador. Tens of thousands of peasants and opposition activists were killed with impunity. In Honduras, itself, there was widespread repression and murder of those challenging the status quo.

In 1998 Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch. The second worst Atlantic hurricane ever recorded caused huge destruction and death, especially in poor communities with weak infrastructure. The shacks and modest dwellings along the river bank in Tegucigalpa were all ripped and washed away. Over 7,000 Hondurans died, including people we had met three decades before.

Six years later, in 2004, I was again reminded of the US role in Honduras when the same John Negroponte who had overseen the Contra operations went to Baghdad to take over management of the Iraq occupation. Newsweek magazine said he was coming with a new strategy, which they dubbed the “Salvador option”. Over the next year, sectarian death squads emerged to provoke sectarian bloodshed. Negroponte’s right hand man in Iraq, Robert S. Ford, was later appointed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2010 where he helped fuel the uprisings in that country. Thus there is direct connection between U.S.interference and aggression in Central America and the Middle East.

For decades Honduras was alternately ruled by two political parties representing different branches of their oligarchy. They traded power back and forth, effectively preventing alternative perspectives.

But things began to change in Honduras in 2006. President Manuel Zelaya came from the oligarchy but started to initiate changes benefiting the poor. He called for real land reform, raising the minimum wage and he questioned the need for US military bases. That was too much. In June 2009 President Zelaya was kidnapped in the middle of the night and flown from the capital to the US military air base called Soto Cano, only 48 miles away. Hillary Clinton had been in Honduras just weeks before. She disapproved of Zelaya and his policies. The coup went ahead.

After the 2009 coup, conditions in Honduras deteriorated rapidly. Tegucigalpa became the homicide capital of the world. Tens of thousands of youth have fled the country as it has been wracked by drug wars, corruption, and police or paramilitary repression. Alongside this, there has been widespread popular resistance.

In 2011, I returned to Honduras to see the conditions first hand. With a delegation organized by Alliance for Global Justice and Task Force on the Americas, I visited peasants in the fertile Aguan Valley, indigenous communities in the mountains and workers and church activists in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. We talked with a hard-working activist named Berta Caceres1 and others in her indigenous organization COPINH. We learned that these communities were still actively resisting the coup and forming a new political party to challenge the right wing coup government not with guns but with votes.

In 2013 I returned again to Honduras, this time as an election observer. In the contest, the new LIBRE party surpassed the traditional Liberal Party and made a strong challenge to the right wing National Party. There were many examples of election malfeasance but Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right wing National Party was anointed as the new President.

Since then social and economic conditions have not changed. The Hernandez regime governs to the benefit of rich Hondurans and international corporations. He has a strong military alliance with the US military and is very friendly with President Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly.

That has set the stage for the most recent events. Days before the election The Economist ran an article describing a National Party training session in cheating techniques. The election was held on Sunday 26 November . On election night, with 57% of the votes counted, the opposition challenger was ahead by over 5%. Then strange things began to happen. The election commission stopped updating the vote tally for 36 hours. On Monday the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said they were still missing 6,000 tally sheets from different polling places. A few hours later, he said they were missing 7500 tally sheets. When they resumed on Tuesday, suddenly the existing President Hernandez was gaining votes, cutting the opposition lead and then winning. It all looks very fishy, even to the OAS monitors.

The situation is rapidly coming to a head. At this moment it is not known what will happen. Initially the opposition demanded a full and complete review of all the 18,000 tally sheets. Now they are calling for the annulment of the election and a new election under international supervision.

The Honduran government is either stonewalling or is paralyzed. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested in the streets, with over twelve protesters killed. However, in a dramatic change, the elite para-military COBRA security forces have started to refuse orders, saying their job is not to repress their own communities.

Just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was a setback for all Latin America, the outcome of the current crisis will have consequences far beyond Honduras. As clearly articulated in this article, “The US has a lot riding on the Honduran election“, the US foreign policy establishment wants the continuation of the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH).

Despite all the indications of electoral malfeasance and human rights abuses, the Trump Administration has praised the JOH government. Meanwhile, North American reporters, analysts and activists are doing what they can to support Honduran popular forces and stop the theft of the Honduran election. The coming days may be momentous. I have explained why it matters to me. But this is more important than a personal connection. It should matter to anyone concerned with progress, justice, respect and international law.


1. In 2015 Berta Caceres was recognized internationally with a prestigious award but last year she was murdered in her home.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com.
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