Friday, February 1, 2019

The Timely and Powerful Rise of New Democratic Party Progressives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar in the Fight For A Sane and Humane Immigration Reform Policy


https://truthout.org/…/ocasio-cortez-pressley-tlaib-and-om…/

News
Politics & Elections


Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Tlaib and Omar Call for Cuts to ICE Funding
by Jake Johnson
February 1, 2019
Common Dreams


PHOTO: From left, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib attend a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in the Rayburn Building on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call


As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled on Thursday that Democrats are willing to offer President Donald Trump funding for border “technology” and “Normandy fencing” — but nothing for his wall — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and three of her progressive colleagues sent a letter urging Democratic negotiators to take a harder line by slashing funding for the agencies at the center of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.
Condemning the Trump administration for putting “profits before people and rhetoric before the lives of immigrant children,” Ocasio-Cortez joined Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in demanding that Democrats cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

“These agencies have promulgated an agenda driven by hate — not strategy,” reads the letter, which was first published on Thursday by The Daily Beast. “With the world watching and the lives of families at stake, we should not compromise our values at the negotiating table.”

The letter from House progressives, which is expected to be read on the House floor next week, went public as Trump told reporters on Thursday that he “won’t waste [his] time reading” any funding agreement that doesn’t include wall money — an indication that he may be willing to shut down the government again when the current stopgap spending measure expires Feb. 15.

The president also suggested that he is still considering a national emergency declaration to build the wall without congressional funding.

But even as he repeatedly demanded wall money from Congress, Trump also bizarrely stated, “We have money, just so you understand. We have money, we’re building the wall right now. A lot of it. People don’t know that, and nobody reports it, but that’s ok.”

Trump is hopelessly incoherent: “We’re building the wall right now. It’s going up fairly rapidly,” he says (falsely), while at the same time urging Congress to give him money to build the wall. pic.twitter.com/venmu1WJoT
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 31, 2019

Bipartisan conference committee negotiations on a spending plan that would keep the government open beyond Feb. 15 kicked off this week, but no concrete proposals have yet emerged from the talks.

According to The Daily Beast, “Democratic lawmakers on the conference committee indicated that plenty of options were on the table in talks with Republican counterparts. But decreasing funding for DHS was not one of them. The Democrats’ opening bid offers a $589 million increase in the agency’s budget from the year before.”

With Trump standing firm in his demand for wall money and Democrats continuing to offer fencing and technology that rights groups have denounced as ineffective, immoral, and unconstitutional, progressives celebrated Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Omar for taking a “principled position” beyond merely rejecting the president’s outlandish proposal.

“This is exactly the type of leadership we need in Congress,” said Gregory Cendana of United We Dream.
United We Dream


@UNITEDWEDREAM
No more money for Trump’s mass deportation force!@AyannaPressley, @AOC, @Ilhan & @RashidaTlaib are calling on Congress to cut funding for ICE, CBP, and Trump’s border wall. ✊🏾

☎️ CALL Congress and demand they #DefundHate: 210-702-3059https://www.thedailybeast.com/progressive-democrats-to-shutdown-negotiators-not-another-dollar-in-dhs-funding …
32
11:52 AM - Jan 31, 2019

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Progressive Democrats to Shutdown Negotiators: ‘Not Another Dollar’ In DHS Funding
In a letter sent to their colleagues, the freshmen lawmakers severely move the Overton Window of the border wall debate.
RAICES
@RAICESTEXAS

Thank you @AOC, @IlhanMN, @AyannaPressley and @RashidaTlaib for pushing the Democratic party on the right direction on this issue. DHS does not need more money and Trump can't continue to get away with his fear mongering tactics. 


191
10:31 AM - Jan 31, 2019

Twitter Ads info and privacy
Progressive Democrats to Shutdown Negotiators: ‘Not Another Dollar’ In DHS Funding

In a letter sent to their colleagues, the freshmen lawmakers severely move the Overton Window of the border wall debate.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) signaled on Thursday that Democrats are willing to offer President Donald Trump funding for border “technology” and “Normandy fencing” — but nothing for his wall — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and three of her progressive colleagues sent a letter urging Democratic negotiators to take a harder line by slashing funding for the agencies at the center of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.

Condemning the Trump administration for putting “profits before people and rhetoric before the lives of immigrant children,” Ocasio-Cortez joined Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in demanding that Democrats cut funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

“These agencies have promulgated an agenda driven by hate — not strategy,” reads the letter, which was first published on Thursday by The Daily Beast. “With the world watching and the lives of families at stake, we should not compromise our values at the negotiating table.”

The letter from House progressives, which is expected to be read on the House floor next week, went public as Trump told reporters on Thursday that he “won’t waste [his] time reading” any funding agreement that doesn’t include wall money — an indication that he may be willing to shut down the government again when the current stopgap spending measure expires Feb. 15.

The president also suggested that he is still considering a national emergency declaration to build the wall without congressional funding.

But even as he repeatedly demanded wall money from Congress, Trump also bizarrely stated, “We have money, just so you understand. We have money, we’re building the wall right now. A lot of it. People don’t know that, and nobody reports it, but that’s ok.”

Trump is hopelessly incoherent: “We’re building the wall right now. It’s going up fairly rapidly,” he says (falsely), while at the same time urging Congress to give him money to build the wall. pic.twitter.com/venmu1WJoT
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 31, 2019

Bipartisan conference committee negotiations on a spending plan that would keep the government open beyond Feb. 15 kicked off this week, but no concrete proposals have yet emerged from the talks.

According to The Daily Beast, “Democratic lawmakers on the conference committee indicated that plenty of options were on the table in talks with Republican counterparts. But decreasing funding for DHS was not one of them. The Democrats’ opening bid offers a $589 million increase in the agency’s budget from the year before.”

With Trump standing firm in his demand for wall money and Democrats continuing to offer fencing and technology that rights groups have denounced as ineffective, immoral, and unconstitutional, progressives celebrated Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Omar for taking a “principled position” beyond merely rejecting the president’s outlandish proposal.

“This is exactly the type of leadership we need in Congress,” said Gregory Cendana of United We Dream.
Read the House progressives’ full letter:
Dear Colleagues,

We write to you today seeking your solidarity and support to enter in to the DHS conference committee process with clear eyes. The next 3 weeks we are tasked with operationalizing our values and addressing the fall out caused by a reckless administration that has put profits before people and rhetoric before the lives of immigrant children.

The Department of Homeland Security is tasked with critical functions. However, under the auspice of the Trump administration, a number of agencies housed at DHS have abused their authority and the fidelity of public resources. There is a documented pattern of agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Customs and Border Patrol overspending and abusing the transfer authority to quietly move funds around. Funds are being reallocated internally not to make our nation safer, but to build desert camps to inhumanely house infants and to prosecute immigrants who are part of the fabric of our community. These agencies have promulgated an agenda driven by hate — not strategy. We call on our colleagues at the negotiating table to adhere to the following guidelines critical to protecting families and children and restoring Americans’ faith in government:

Cut, do not increase funding. A Republican controlled Congress has already sharply increased DHS spending without clear justification. We have seen rampant spending on detention facilities for young children — reports indicate DHS is paying for-profit prison companies upwards of $700 a day to house children in inhumane facilities. The deal reached by Conference Committee should not allocate any additional funding to this department or to the ICE and CBP agencies. The upcoming FY2020 budget process will be a critical opportunity to take up conversations about reforms to the agency. In the meantime, not another dollar.

No transfer authority. The Trump administration continues to use DHS funding as a slush fund (through transfers or reprogramming) to increase detention programs and invest in ineffective policies. The conference committee should prohibit transfers and reprogramming authorities.

Stronger accountability. Strong report language is critical to ensuring safeguards to rein in DHS. However, report language is not enough. The final budget package must be accompanied by stringent oversight mechanisms, and critical obligations should be in statutory text not just report language. DHS has a failed track record of missing congressional deadlines, including when recently required to report on deaths in custody. For those reasons, the DHS should be taken up as a separate appropriations bill and accompanied by strong statutory language that saves lives and increases accountability.

As a nation, we need comprehensive immigration reform driven by justice and data. Let us be clear that that process will not play out during the Conference Committee’s narrow DHS deliberations. The sole focus of this Conference Committee is to put forward a short term spending package for 7 months. But a budget is a statement of our values. With the world watching and the lives of families at stake, we should not compromise our values at the negotiating table.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow him on Twitter: @johnsonjakep.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Fight to Maintain the Political, Ideological, and Moral Integrity of the International BDS Movement and Its Support of the Human and Civil Rights of the Palestinian People vs. the Nefarious Legislative campaign by the GOP in Congress To Thwart and Defeat the Movement

https://truthout.org/…/republicans-are-using-shameless-tac…/

Op-Ed
Politics & Elections


Republicans Are Using Shameless Tactics to Split Democrats Over BDS
by Brant Rosen
January 31, 2019
Truthout

PHOTO: A provision added to the new Senate bill by Sen. Marco Rubio seeks to stifle support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

With the Senate’s imminent passage of the grandiosely titled Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019, it’s now official: Israel/Palestine will be a major political wedge issue in the 116th Congress and the 2020 election season. And it’s not going to be pretty.

This new Senate bill is essentially a package of previous bills that appears on the surface to be boilerplate Middle East legislation. But with the addition of a provision by Sen. Marco Rubio that seeks to stifle support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, this legislation is nothing short of a Republican line drawn in the sand.

BDS — the movement mobilized in response to a Palestinian civil society call for economic activism in support of Palestinian human rights — has long been a flash point for advocacy on the issue of Israel/Palestine. Over the past several years, there have been attempts on a state and federal level to fight BDS on a legislative level. While this new Senate bill does not criminalize BDS outright, it does encourage the passage of state laws that would require government contractors to certify they don’t participate in boycotts. More than two dozen states have passed such legislation in the past four years — laws that clearly violate the First Amendment right of free speech, as the ACLU and myriad other legal experts have pointed out.

In fact, the legality of these laws has already been successfully challenged in court. In Arizona, a US District judge issued an injunction blocking enforcement of its anti-BDS laws. Last December, a lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of a speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, after she was told that she could no longer work in the school district for refusing to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel.
Of course, the patently unconstitutional nature of these laws is immaterial to Senate lawmakers, who know full well that this legislation will have precious little impact on the “strength of America’s security in the Middle East.” Rather, the bill is a clear attempt by Republicans to divide Democrats over the politically fraught issue of Israel/Palestine, with BDS as the ultimate litmus test.

This Senate legislation is also a clear salvo at the new House of Representatives, which now includes the first US politicians to publicly support BDS: Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali refugee; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Palestinian-American; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Not surprisingly, Omar and Tlaib, both Muslim, have already been cynically singled out by GOP politicians for accusations of anti-Semitism.

Republicans have made no secret of their intention to use divisions over BDS as fodder for their divide-and-conquer tactics. Norm Coleman, the national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota, openly stated to The New York Times, “I don’t see much hope for changing where Tlaib and Omar are, but there is a battle in the Democratic Party…. It is a message to Jews who still care about Israel, to say, ‘You’ll be much more comfortable in the Republican Party.’”

Republicans have made no secret of their intention to use divisions over BDS as fodder for their divide-and-conquer tactics.

After yesterday’s vote, however, it’s far from certain that the GOP’s strategy will succeed. It’s worth noting that every potential 2020 presidential candidate — Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — voted against the bill. Moreover, during Tuesday’s Senate debate, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland delivered a long and passionate denunciation of the bill. Liberal Zionist organizations, such as J Street and the rabbinical organization T’ruah, have issued statements condemning the legislation on free speech grounds. While these politicians and organizations still use clearly Zionist talking points and take pains to mention that they personally oppose BDS, their refusal to take the Republican bait is noteworthy.

In yet another sign of the increasing divide, a new group calling itself Democratic Majority for Israel has now incorporated in Washington, DC. According to its flashy new website, the group plans to “maintain and strengthen support for Israel among Democratic leaders including presidential and congressional candidates as well as with the grassroots of progressive movements.”

Suspiciously, however, while it proudly touts its “progressive policy agenda,” the new organization declines to identify any particular policy regarding Israel/Palestine. On the contrary, according to its “guiding principles,” Democratic Majority for Israel pointedly avoids any position beyond states “celebrating Israeli democracy and the right of the Israeli people to determine their own future without outside parties imposing solutions.” This new project claims it is separate and independent from AIPAC, the prominent and powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. However, a recent article in the Forward points out that of Democratic Majority for Israel’s “15 board members, 11 have either worked or volunteered for [AIPAC], donated to it or spoken at its events.” Moreover, the group’s president, Mark Mellman, has made it clear that Democratic Majority for Israel is actively trying to build a Democratic wing that will stand “unwaveringly” with Israel:

Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way. There are a few discordant voices, but we want to make sure that what’s a very small problem doesn’t metastasize into a bigger problem.

It’s not yet clear how many prominent Democrats will be attracted to this new project, but it has already gained the support of Rep. Hakeem Jefferies of New York, the fourth-ranking Democrat and a potential future Speaker of the House. In announcing his fealty to Democratic Majority for Israel, Jefferies praised the “special relationship between the United States and Israel” that is “rooted in shared values, an important strategic partnership in the Middle East, perhaps the world’s toughest neighborhood,” concluding, “I look forward to working with the Democratic Majority for Israel as it advances the unbreakable US-Israel bond into the future.”

It’s fair to view these new political maneuvers as the tactics of a once-formidable Israel advocacy machine that knows its power is on the wane.

How to respond to the new “divide-and-conquer” atmosphere currently sweeping the Democratic party? As ever, it will come down to money versus people power. In the end, it’s fair to view these new political maneuvers as the tactics of a once-formidable Israel advocacy machine that knows its power is on the wane. While it would certainly be foolhardy to underestimate the strength of the Israel lobby, there is a certain air of desperation surrounding these political efforts to stem the growth of the popular movement responding to the Palestinian civil society call for BDS.

It is clear that the growing movement of support for Palestinian human rights is increasingly popular with young people — including young Jews. Additionally, we now have members of Congress showing solidarity with Palestinians, and the first-ever congressional bill advocating for Palestinian human rights will soon be reintroduced. Bottom line: those who defend the oppressive policies of the state of Israel have every reason to be concerned.

It remains to be seen whether Republicans’ new political wedge tactics will succeed in weakening the Democratic Party. At the very least, they will force Democratic leaders to come clean on precisely where they stand on the issue of Israel/Palestine. With the 116th Congress now under way and the 2020 presidential campaign just out of the gate, the stakes could not be higher.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Noam Chomsky On Social Reality in the United States, Capitalist Ideology and Global Politics In the Oligarchic Era of Trump

https://truthout.org/…/chomsky-ocasio-cortez-and-other-new…/

Interview
Politics & Elections


Noam Chomsky: Ocasio-Cortez and Other Newcomers Are Rousing the Multitudes
by C.J. Polychroniou
January 30, 2019
Truthout 

PHOTO: US linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky is pictured during a press conference after visiting former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the Federal Police Superintendence in Curitiba, Brazil, after Lula was arrested on corruption charges, on September 20, 2018.  Heuler Andrey / AFP / Getty Images

A quick glance around the world today reveals that politics almost everywhere — from the federal government shutdown in the US to the power struggle in Venezuela and from Macron’s crisis in France and UK’s Brexit nightmare to the Israeli-Iranian rivalry – are engulfed in a state of uncertainty and turmoil. Meanwhile, oligarchy is replacing democracy as the widening social and economic gap between rich and poor continues unabated. So, who rules the world now? The US is in a state of relative decline, but neither Russia nor China has the capacity to control global developments. How do the super-rich and corporations factor into this equation? In this exclusive interview, world-renowned linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky provides penetrating insights into some of the most critical developments going on in the world today.

C.J. Polychroniou: After 35 days of a partial government shutdown, Trump signed a three-week funding bill but without securing money for the border wall. Leaving aside for the moment the surrealist nature of contemporary US political life, do you detect some hidden political strategy behind Trump’s funding conflict over the border wall with the Democrats?

Noam Chomsky: There’s a political strategy, but I’m not convinced that it’s hidden. With Trump, everything is pretty much on the surface. There have been constant efforts by political analysts to discern some deep geostrategic or sociopolitical thinking behind his performances, but they seem to me unconvincing. What he does seems readily explained simply on the well-grounded assumption that his doctrine is simple: ME!

Trump understands that he has a primary constituency — extreme wealth and corporate power — and that he has to serve its interests or he’s finished. That task has largely been assigned to the Ryans and McConnells, who have performed it admirably. Profits are skyrocketing, real wages are barely increasing despite low unemployment, regulations that might limit greed (and help mere people) are being dismantled, and the one legislative achievement — the tax scam — put lots of dollars in the right pockets and created a deficit that can be used as a pretext to undermine benefits. All is working smoothly — with analogues worldwide.

But Trump must maintain enough of a voting base to stay in power. That requires posturing as the defender of the ordinary guy against hated “elites” (always suppressing the true “masters of mankind,” to borrow Adam Smith’s phrase for the merchants and manufacturers who were “the principal architects” of policy). This act is helped along by such figures as Rush Limbaugh, who instructs his tens of millions of followers that they should beware of “the four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media,” institutions that “are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit.” So, he argues, just listen to ME.

Meanwhile Trump must rise to the defense of the masses from awesome threats, chief among them now the hordes of “rapists,” “murderers” and “Islamic terrorists” he says are being mobilized down south to storm across the border and slaughter decent law-abiding white Christian Americans. We must therefore have a “beautiful wall” — which they will pay for. Trump promised that, and to back down would not only betray the trembling masses but also be a defeat, which his ego cannot tolerate.

The game is not really new. After all, the revered Ronald Reagan bravely donned his cowboy uniform and declared a National Emergency to protect the country from the Nicaraguan army, supposedly poised to destroy us all only two days’ drive from Harlingen, Texas. Trump is only carrying it further, helped by the fading of such infantile notions as “truth” — or “false realities,” to borrow Jared Kushner’s innovation. Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson’s admonition that policymakers must be “clearer than truth” has long passed into obsolescence. They can do far better in the atmosphere of “alternative facts” for those liberated from the four pillars of deceit.

I doubt that there is any deeper political strategy.

Trump understands that he has a primary constituency — extreme wealth and corporate power — and that he has to serve its interests or he’s finished.


Furthermore, such performances are rather natural, perhaps even necessary. As both parties have drifted to the right during the neoliberal assault on the population, the Democrats abandoned the working class and became pretty much what used to be called “moderate Republicans” (something that is beginning to change now in promising ways) while Republicans climbed so deeply into the pockets of the super-rich and corporate power that it became impossible for them to gain anywhere near enough votes on their actual policies. Antics of the Trump style fit the requirements, along with a variety of measures to suppress voting and increased reliance on the many regressive aspects of the constitutional system, which by now make it possible for a small minority of white Christian traditional rural older citizens to have effective control of the government. The tendency is increasing and may soon lead to a major political crisis since it is virtually ineradicable given the structure of the Senate, designed by the Framers so that the small states would ratify the mostly unpopular Federal Constitution. A topic for another day.

Responding to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for measures to tackle climate change, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the incredible statement that climate change should be left to God. Don’t you find it utterly mysterious and indeed dangerous that such thinking still prevails among US public officials in the 21st century? And, really, how well do you think that such messages resonate with the American public today?

Sanders’s insight is not new. She is in good company. After all, the former chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, James Inhofe, condemned efforts to address global warming as sacrilege: “God’s still up there,” he proclaimed, and “the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” It seems to work, at least in Oklahoma, where the senior senator has been in office since 1994. Doubtless well beyond Oklahoma, in a society with fundamentalist religious commitments that are far beyond the norm.

Yes, mysterious and dangerous — as is the fact that half of Republicans deny that global warming is even taking place, and of the rest, barely more than half think that humans have some responsibility for it. But there’s good news too. Trump’s new acting administrator of the EPA, former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, agrees that global warming is probably happening — a problem he considers to be an “eight or nine” on a one-to-10 scale of concern, he informed Congress at his confirmation hearings.
Washington is intensifying its intervention, imposing new sanctions and selecting the egregious Elliott Abrams to join Bolton and Pompeo in what has been called “Trump’s axis of evil.”

Venezuela seems to be in the throes of a civil war. The US backs Juan Guaidó as interim president, in turn forcing Nicolás Maduro to consider expelling US diplomats, a decision he eventually backed away from, all while the leaders of China, Russia and Turkey slam Trump’s stance in Venezuela. First, what’s your assessment of what’s happening in Venezuela, and, second, why is it that much of the left worldwide continues to support Maduro when it is obvious that he has been a complete disaster?

Maduro has been a disaster, and the best the opposition has to offer is the self-declared President Juan Guaidó. About him little is known, apart from his great admiration for the neo-fascist Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, whom Guaidó praised for his commitment to “democracy [and] human rights,” as illustrated, for example, by his criticism of Brazil’s military dictatorship — because it … didn’t murder 30,000 people as in neighboring Argentina, the worst of the vicious military dictatorships that swept across South America from the ‘60s.

The roots of the Venezuelan disaster go back to failures of the Chavez administration, including its failure to diversify the economy, which is still almost entirely reliant on oil export. Venezuelan opposition economist Francisco Rodríguez, former chief Andean economist for the Bank of America, notes the failure of the government to set aside reserves during the period of high oil prices so it was at the mercy of international financial markets when prices dropped sharply in 2014 — and has been blocked from access to credit by harsh US sanctions, which have exacerbated the effects of what Rodríguez describes as the “atrocious” mismanagement of the economy under Maduro. Writing in Foreign Policy, Rodríguez observes that the policy of “Starving the Venezuelan economy of its foreign currency earnings risks turning the country’s current humanitarian crisis into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.” Arguably that is the purpose, following the Nixon-Kissinger script of “making the economy scream” to undermine the Allende regime. (That was the soft track; the hard track, soon implemented, was brutal military dictatorship.)

The drift toward civil war, with outside interference, is all too apparent. There is still room for negotiations among the contending parties, but it diminishes daily as the crisis deepens. Maduro is digging and Washington is intensifying its intervention, imposing new sanctions and selecting the egregious Elliott Abrams to join Bolton and Pompeo in what has been called “Trump’s axis of evil.” If skeletons can shudder, many must be doing so in the Central American countries that Abrams helped to ravage during Reagan’s terrorist wars.

Israel and Iran seem to be moving ever further closer toward a full-blown war. Why are they clashing in Syria?
Iran joined Russia in ensuring Assad’s victory in Syria, along with Iran’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah. Israel has been bombing Syria regularly. Four months ago the IDF reported over 200 strikes against Iranian targets since 2017, and they have been increasing since.

Iran is not under US control and is therefore an enemy.


Israel, of course, has overwhelming military dominance in the Middle East, even apart from its close alliance with the US, which lavishly funds its military with the most advanced weapons in the US arsenal and even uses Israel to pre-position US weapons. And, of course, Israel is the region’s sole nuclear power, the reason why Washington has regularly blocked international efforts, led by the Arab states and Iran, to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone (furthermore, WMD-free) in the Middle East. That would end any imagined Iran nuclear threat, but it is unacceptable because the primary US client state in the region would have to open its nuclear arsenal to inspection, and those who regard US law as having some force would have to stanch the flood of military support for Israel.

Iran is not under US control and is therefore an enemy. Furthermore, the US and Israel recognize that Iran is a deterrent to their free resort to force in the region. The same is true of Hezbollah, whose Iranian-supplied missiles target large parts of Israel. The US and Israel have been threatening to attack Iran for years (“all options are open”) in radical violation of the UN Charter (hence the US Constitution), but that is a matter of no concern for lawless states with overwhelming power. And Trump has, of course, escalated the confrontation by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement. An actual invasion of Iran would be too costly and dangerous, but the US-Israel might consider attacking from a distance after somehow neutralizing Hezbollah (which would mean destroying much of Lebanon). The consequences could be devastating.

In Davos, the multibillionaires expressed annoyance at and even fear of the presence of radical Democrats in the US Congress and their talk of “soaking the rich” on taxes. Has a global financial oligarchy replaced democracy in today’s advanced capitalist world?

It’s impossible to replace something that has never really existed, but it’s true that the partial democracies of the West have been undermined further by the financialization of the international economy during the neoliberal years. That’s a large part of the reason for the bitterness, anger and resentment, mislabeled “populism,” that is shaking the foundations of the western democracies, where the centrist political parties that have run the political system are crumbling in election after election.

Many analysts have to account for the rise of such “populism” throughout the neoliberal capitalist world on the basis of psychic disorders — in one respected version, impulses “deep in our psyches and bodies beyond matters of fact: physical pain, fear of the future, a sense of our own mortality.” It is, however, not really necessary to appeal to an epidemic of irrationality and “emotional appeals” somehow spreading over the domains subjected to the neoliberal assault of the past generation, including the enormous growth of largely predatory financial institutions with its deleterious impact on democratic systems of governance.

Fear that the “rascal multitude” will threaten the property of the self-designated “men of best quality” traces back to the first modern democratic revolution in 17th century England, and was a major concern of the framers of the US Constitution in its successor a century later. It reappears constantly when there is even a minor threat to overwhelming power, as in the famous Powell memorandum of 1971, which warned that the world is practically coming to an end because of the slight infringement on overwhelming business domination of the society. The influential manifesto, sent to the US Chamber of Commerce, helped set off the harsh counterattack in the years since.

It’s not surprising that these fears are surfacing in Davos as a few young Democratic representatives are arousing the rascal multitude again.

For many years, a considerable majority of the US population has favored higher taxes on the rich, while they regularly decline. And now, a few recently elected members of Congress are advocating what the public wants, most vocally Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who even went so far as to suggest tax rates at a level regarded as optimal for the economy by the most prominent specialists (Nobel laureate Peter Diamond, Emmanuel Saez, among others). Scandalous indeed.

What else can one expect when 26 people now have as much wealth as half the world’s population, according to the latest of the regular Oxfam reports on inequality?
No wonder the “masters of mankind” are trembling.

ABOUT THE INTERVIWER:

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEW SUBJECT:

Noam Chomsky (b. December 7, 1928) is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his many books are Hegemony or Survival and Failed States. His newest book is Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, the American Empire Project, 2016). His website is www.chomsky.info.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Ongoing Pernicious Role of White Supremacy and Capitalist Hegemony in American Cinema As Art and Commerce

All,

This is the major analytical equation governing our actual history on this continent: Structural and institutional White supremacy as social, political, economic, and cultural surrogate for hegemonic global capitalism + individual white paternalism and hatred X openly debased, exploited, and corrupted black labor= Slavery and Jim Crow (or what white South Africans -- taking their historical cues directly from white America--later defined as "apartheid", which is to say the entire history of these United Hates up to and including this very moment. Get it?

Hollyweird not only "gets it", but--as always!-- brazenly and relentlessly advocates, promotes and SELLS IT. Which is exactly "why" America keeps BUYING IT (see November 8, 2016 for the most recent national formal and ritualistic celebration demonstration and manifestation of this demonic transactional reality)...

Kofi

https://www.nytimes.com/…/green-book-interracial-friendship…

Why Do the Oscars Keep Falling for Racial Reconciliation Fantasies?

In many Oscar bait movies, interracial friendships come with a paycheck, and follow the white character’s journey to enlightenment.

by Wesley Morris
January 23, 2019
New York Times


PHOTO: illustration by Delphine Diallo for The New York Times; Universal Pictures, STX Films, Warner Bros. DreamWorks Pictures (Film stills)

“Driving Miss Daisy” is the sort of movie you know before you see it. The whole thing is right there in the poster. White Jessica Tandy is giving black Morgan Freeman a stern look, and he looks amused by her sternness. They’re framed in a rearview mirror, which occupies only about 20 percent of the space. You can make out his chauffeur’s cap and that she’s in the back seat. The rest is three actors’ names, a tag line, a title, tiny credits, and white space.

That rearview-mirror image isn’t a still from the movie but a warmly painted rendering of one, this vague nuzzling of Norman Rockwell Americana. And its warmth evokes a very particular past. If you’ve ever seen the packaging for Cream of Wheat or a certain brand of rice, if you’ve even seen some Shirley Temple movies, you knew how Miss Daisy would be driven: gladly.

As movie posters go, it’s ingeniously concise. But whoever designed it knew the concision was possible because we’d know the shorthand of an eternal racial dynamic. I got off the subway last month and saw a billboard of black Kevin Hart riding on the back of white Bryan Cranston’s motorized wheelchair. They’re both ecstatic. And maybe they’re obligated to be. Their movie is called “The Upside.” A few months before that, I was out getting a coffee when I saw a long, sexy billboard of white Viggo Mortensen driving black Mahershala Ali in a minty blue car for a movie called “Green Book.”

Not knowing what these movies were “about” didn’t mean it wasn’t clear what they were about. They symbolize a style of American storytelling in which the wheels of interracial friendship are greased by employment, in which prolonged exposure to the black half of the duo enhances the humanity of his white, frequently racist counterpart. All the optimism of racial progress — from desegregation to integration to equality to something like true companionship — is stipulated by terms of service. Thirty years separate “Driving Miss Daisy” from these two new films, but how much time has passed, really? The bond in all three is conditionally transactional, possible only if it’s mediated by money. “The Upside” has the rich, quadriplegic author Phillip Lacasse (Cranston) hire an ex-con named Dell Scott (Hart) to be his “life auxiliary.” “Green Book” reverses the races so that some white muscle (Mortensen) drives the black pianist Don Shirley (Ali) to gigs throughout the Deep South in the 1960s. It’s “The Upside Down.”

PHOTO:  In “Green Book,” set in the early 1960s, Viggo Mortensen, left, plays a driver for a pianist portrayed by Mahershala Ali.CreditUniversal Pictures

These pay-for-playmate transactions are a modern pastime, different from an entire history of popular culture that simply required black actors to serve white stars without even the illusion of friendship. It was really only possible in a post-integration America, possible after Sidney Poitier made black stardom loosely feasible for the white studios, possible after the moral and legal adjustments won during the civil rights movements, possible after the political recriminations of the black power and blaxploitation eras let black people regularly frolic among themselves for the first time since the invention of the Hollywood movie. Possible, basically, only in the 1980s, after the movements had more or less subsided and capitalism and jokey white paternalism ran wild.

On television in this era, rich white sitcom families vacuumed up little black boys, on “Diff’rent Strokes,” on “Webster.” On “Diff’rent Strokes,” the adopted boys are the orphaned Harlem sons of Phillip Drummond’s maid. Not only was money supposed to lubricate racial integration; it was perhaps supposed to mitigate a history of keeping black people apart and oppressed.

The sitcoms weren’t officially social experiments, but they were light advertisements for the civilizing (and alienating) benefits of white wealth on black life. The plot of “Trading Places,” from 1983, actually was an experiment, a pungent, complicated one, in which conniving white moneybags install a broke and hustling Eddie Murphy in disgraced Dan Aykroyd’s banking job. The scheme creates an accidental friendship between the duped pair and they both wind up rich.

But that Daddy Warbucks paternalism was how, in 1982, the owner of the country’s most ferocious comedic imagination — Richard Pryor — went from desperate janitor to live-in amusement for the bratty son of a rotten businessman (Jackie Gleason). You have to respect the bluntness of that one. The movie was called “The Toy,” and it’s simultaneously dumb, wild and appalling. I was younger than its little white protagonist (he’s “Master” Eric Bates) when I saw it, but I can still remember the look of embarrassed panic on Pryor’s face while he’s trapped in something called the Wonder Wheel. It’s a look that never quite goes away as he’s made to dress in drag, navigate the Ku Klux Klan and make Gleason feel good about his racism and terrible parenting.

These were relationships that continued the rules of the past, one in which Poitier was frequently hired to turn bigots into buddies. The rules didn’t need to be disguised by yesterday. These arrangements could flourish in the present. So maybe that was the alarming appeal of “Driving Miss Daisy.” It went there. It went back there. And people went for it. The movie came out at the end of 1989, won four Oscars (best picture, actress, adapted screenplay, makeup), got besotted reviews and made a pile of money. Why wasn’t a mystery.

Any time a white person comes anywhere close to the rescue of a black person the academy is primed to say, “Good for you!,” whether it’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Mississippi Burning,” “The Blind Side,” or “The Help.” The year “Driving Miss Daisy” won those Oscars, Morgan Freeman also had a supporting role in a drama (“Glory”) that placed a white Union colonel at its center and was very much in the mix that night. (Denzel Washington won his first Oscar for playing a slave-turned-Union soldier in that movie.) And Spike Lee lost the original screenplay award for “Do the Right Thing,” his masterpiece about a boiled-over pot of racial animus in Brooklyn. I was 14 then, and the political incongruity that night was impossible not to feel. “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Glory” were set in the past and the people who loved them seemed stuck there. The giddy reception for “Miss Daisy” seemed earnest. But Lee’s movie dramatized a starker truth — we couldn’t all just get along.
For what it’s worth, Lee is now up for more Oscars. His film “BlacKkKlansman” has six nominations. Given the five for “Green Book,” basically so is “Driving Miss Daisy.” Which is to say that 2019 might just be 1990 all over again. And yet viewed separately from the cold shower of “Do the Right Thing,” “Driving Miss Daisy” does operate with more finesse, elegance and awareness than my teenage self wanted to see. It’s still not the best movie of 1989. But it does know the southern caste system and the premium that system placed on propriety.

The movie turns the 25-year relationship between Daisy, an elderly Jewish white widow from Atlanta, and Hoke, her elderly, widowed black driver, into both this delicate, modest, tasteful thing — a love letter, a corsage — and something amusingly perverse. Proud old prejudiced Daisy says she doesn’t want to be driven anywhere. But doesn’t she? Hoke treats her pride like a costume. He stalks her with her own new car until she succumbs and lets him drive her to the market. What passes between them feels weirdly kinky: southern-etiquette S&M.

PHOTO:  In “The Upside,” Kevin Hart plays an ex-con who is hired by a rich, quadriplegic author (Bryan 
Cranston).CreditDavid Lee/STX Films

PHOTO: In “The Upside,” Kevin Hart plays an ex-con 
who is hired by a rich, quadriplegic author 
(Bryan Cranston).Credit:  David Lee/STX Films

Bruce Beresford directed the movie and Alfred Uhry based it on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which he said was inspired by his grandmother and her chauffeur, and it does powder over the era’s upheavals, uprisings and blowups. But it doesn’t sugarcoat the history fueling the regional and national climes, either. Daisy’s fortune comes from cotton, and Hoke, with ruthless affability, keeps reminding her that she’s rich. When she says things are a-changing, he tells her not that much.

Platonic love blossoms, obviously. But the movie’s one emotional gaffe would seem to come near the end when Daisy grabs Hoke’s hand and tells him so. “You’re my best friend,” she creaks. But her admission arises not from one of their little S&M drives but after a bout of dementia. And in a wide shot, he stands above her, a little stooped, halfway in, halfway out, moved yet confused. And in his posture resides an entire history of national racial awkwardness: He has to mind his composure even as she’s losing her mind.

One headache with these movies, even one as well done as “Driving Miss Daisy,” is that they romanticize their workplaces and treat their black characters as the ideal crowbar for closed white minds and insulated lives.

Who knows why, in “The Upside,” Phillip picks the uncouth, underqualified Dell to drive him around, change his catheter and share his palatial apartment. But by the time the movie’s over, they’re paragliding together to Aretha Franklin. We’re told that this is based on a true story. It’s not. It’s a remake of a far more nauseating French megahit — “Les Intouchables” — and that claimed to be based on a true story. “The Upside” seems based on one of those paternalistic ’80s movies, “Disorderlies,” the one where the Fat Boys wheel an ailing Ralph Bellamy around his mansion.

PHOTO: From left, Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Richard Edson and John Turturro in “Do the Right Thing,” a film in which closure is impossible because the blood is too bad.CreditUniversal Pictures

PHOTO: From left, Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Richard Edson and John Turturro in “Do the Right Thing,” a film in which closure is impossible because the blood is too bad. Credit:  Universal Pictures

Phillip’s largess and tolerance take Dell from opera-phobic to opera-curious to opera queen, leading to Dell’s being able to afford to transport his ex and their son out of the projects, and permitting Dell to take his boss’s luxury cars for a spin whether or not he’s riding shotgun. And Dell provides entertainment (and drugs) that ease Phillip’s sense of isolation and self-consciousness. But this is also a movie that needs Dell to steal one of Phillip’s antique first-editions as a surprise gift to his estranged son, and not a copy of some Judith Krantz or Sidney Sheldon novel, either. He swipes “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (and to reach it, his hand has to skip past a few Horatio Alger books, too). Most of these black-white-friendship adventures were foretold by Mark Twain. Somebody is white Huck and somebody else is his amusingly dim black sidekick, Jim. This movie is just a little more flagrant about it.

There’s a way of looking at the role reversal in “Green Book” as an upgrade. Through his record company, Don hires a white nightclub bouncer named Tony Vallelonga. (Most people call him Tony Lip.) We don’t meet Don for about 15 minutes, because the movie needs us to know that Tony is a sweet, Eye-talian tough guy who also throws out perfectly good glassware because his wife let black repairmen drink from it.

By this point, you might have heard about the fried chicken scene in “Green Book.” It comes early in their road trip. Tony is shocked to discover that Don has never had fried chicken. He also appears never to have seen anybody eat fried chicken, either. (“What do we do about the bones?”) So, with all the greasy alacrity and exuberant crassness that Mortensen can conjure, Tony demonstrates how to eat it while driving. As comedy, it’s masterful — there’s tension, irony and, when the car stops and reverses to retrieve some litter, a punch line that brings down the house. But the comedy works only if the black, classical-pop fusion pianist is from outer space (and not in a Sun Ra sort of way). You’re meant to laugh because how could this racist be better at being black than this black man who’s supposed to be better than him?

The movie Peter Farrelly directed and wrote, with Brian Currie and Tony’s son Nick, is suspiciously like “Driving Miss Daisy,” but same-sex, with Don as Daisy and Tony as Hoke. Indeed, “Miss Daisy” features a fried chicken scene, too, a delicate one, in which Hoke tells her the flame is too high on the skillet and she waves him off. Once he’s left the kitchen, she furtively, begrudgingly adjusts the burner. It’s like Farrelly watched that scene and thought it needed a stick of cartoon dynamite.

PHOTO:  In Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” John David Washington, left, plays a police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, with help from a Jewish officer (Adam Driver).CreditDavid Lee/Focus Features

PHOTO: In Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” John David Washington, left, plays a police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, with help from a Jewish officer (Adam Driver).CreditDavid Lee/Focus Features

Before they head out, a white character from Don’s record company gives Tony a listing of black-friendly places to house Don: The Green Book. The idea for “The Negro Motorist Green Book” belongs to Victor Hugo Green, a postal worker, who introduced it in 1936. It guided black road trippers to stress-free gas, food and lodging in the segregated South. The story of its invention, distribution and updating is an amusing, invigorating, poignant and suspenseful story of an astonishing social network, and warrants a movie in itself. In the meantime, what does Tony need a Green Book for?  He is the Green Book.

The movie’s tagline is “based on a true friendship.” But the transactional nature of it makes the friendship seem less true than sponsored. So what does the money do, exactly? The white characters — the biological ones and somebody supposedly not black enough, like fictional Don — are lonely people in these pay-a-pal movies. The money is ostensibly for legitimate assistance, but it also seems to paper over all that’s potentially fraught about race. The relationship is entirely conscripted as service and bound by capitalism and the fantastically presumptive leap is, The money doesn’t matter because I like working for you. And if you’re the racist in the relationship: I can’t be horrible because we’re friends now. That’s why the hug Sandra Bullock gives Yomi Perry, the actor playing her maid, Maria, at the end of “Crash,” remains the single most disturbing gesture of its kind. It’s not friendship. Friendship is mutual. That hug is cannibalism.

Money buys Don a chauffeur and, apparently, an education in black folkways and culture. (Little Richard? He’s never heard him play.) Shirley’s real-life family has objected to the portrait. Their complaints include that he was estranged from neither black people nor blackness. Even without that thumbs-down, you can sense what a particularly perverse fantasy this is: that absolution resides in a neutered black man needing a white guy not only to protect and serve him, but to love him, too. Even if that guy and his Italian-American family and mob associates refer to Don and other black people as eggplant and coal. In the movie’s estimation, their racism is preferable to its nasty, blunter southern cousin because their racism is often spoken in Italian. And, hey, at least Tony never asks Don to eat his fancy dinner in a supply closet.

Mahershala Ali is acting Shirley’s isolation and glumness, but the movie determines that dining with racists is better than dining alone. The money buys Don relative safety, friendship, transportation and a walking-talking black college. What the money can’t buy him is more of the plot in his own movie. It can’t allow him to bask in his own unique, uniquely dreamy artistry. It can’t free him from a movie that sits him where Miss Daisy sat, yet treats him worse than Hoke. He’s a literal passenger on this white man’s trip. Tony learns he really likes black people. And thanks to Tony, now so does Don.

Lately, the black version of these interracial relationships tends to head in the opposite direction. In the black version, for one thing, they’re not about money or a job but about the actual emotional, psychological work of being black among white people. Here, the proximity to whiteness is toxic, a danger, a threat. That’s the thrust of Jeremy O. Harris’s stage drama “Slave Play,” in which the traumatic legacy of plantation life pollutes the black half of the show’s interracial relationships. That’s a particularly explicit, ingenious example. But scarcely any of the work I’ve seen in the last year by black artists — not Jackie Sibblies Drury’s equally audacious play “Fairview,” not Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” not “Blindspotting,” which Daveed Diggs co-wrote and stars in, not Barry Jenkins’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” or Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” — emphasizes the smoothness and joys of interracial friendship and certainly not through employment. The health of these connections is iffy, at best.

In 1989, Lee was pretty much on his own as a voice of black racial reality. His rankled pragmatism now has company and, at the Academy Awards, it’s also got stiff competition. He helped plant the seeds for an environment in which black artists can look askance at race. But a lot of us still need the sense of fantastical racial contentment that movies like “The Upside” and “Green Book” are slinging. 

I’ve seen “Green Book” with paying audiences, and it cracks people up the way any of Farrelly’s comedies do. The kind of closure it offers is like a drug that Lee’s never dealt. The Charlottesville-riot footage that he includes as an epilogue in “BlacKkKlansman” might bury the loose, essentially comedic movie it’s attached to in furious lava. Lee knows the past too well to ever let the present off the hook. The volcanoes in this country have never been dormant.

The academy’s embrace of Lee at this stage of his career (this is his first best director nomination) suggests that it’s come around to what rankles him. Of course, “BlacKkKlansman” is taking on the unmistakable villainy of the KKK in the 1970s. But what put Lee on the map 30 years ago was his fearlessness about calling out the universal casual bigotry of the moment, like Daisy’s and Tony’s. It’s hot as hell in “Do the Right Thing,” and in the heat, almost everybody has a problem with who somebody is. The pizzeria owned by Sal (Danny Aiello) comes to resemble a house of hate. Eventually Sal’s delivery guy, Mookie (played by Lee), incites a melee by hurling a trash can through the store window. He’d already endured a conversation with Pino (John Turturro), Sal’s racist son, in which he tells Mookie that famous black people are “more than black.”

Closure is impossible because the blood is too bad, too historically American. Lee had conjured a social environment that’s the opposite of what “The Upside,” “Green Book,” and “Driving Miss Daisy” believe. In one of the very last scenes, after Sal’s place is destroyed, Mookie still demands to be paid. To this day, Sal’s tossing balled-up bills at Mookie, one by one, shocks me. He’s mortally offended. Mookie’s unmoved. They’re at a harsh, anti-romantic impasse. We’d all been reared on racial-reconciliation fantasies. Why can’t Mookie and Sal be friends? The answer’s too long and too raw. Sal can pay Mookie to deliver pizzas ‘til kingdom come. But he could never pay him enough to be his friend.

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 26, 2019, on Page AR1 of the New York edition with the headline: Friendship Or Fantasy?. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper 

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