Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cut the smearing, Washington Post, if you get what that means.

We still don’t have any sort of apology or retraction from the Washington Post for promoting “The List” — the highly dangerous blacklist that got a huge boost from the newspaper’s fawning coverage on Nov. 24. The project of smearing 200 websites with one broad brush wouldn’t have gotten far without the avid complicity of high-profile media outlets, starting with the Post.

On Thursday — a week after the Post published its front-page news article hyping the blacklist that was put out by a group of unidentified people called PropOrNot — I sent a petition statement to the newspaper’s executive editor Martin Baron.

“Smearing is not reporting,” the RootsAction petition says. “The Washington Post’s recent descent into McCarthyism — promoting anonymous and shoddy claims that a vast range of some 200 websites are all accomplices or tools of the Russian government — violates basic journalistic standards and does real harm to democratic discourse in our country. We urge the Washington Post to prominently retract the article and apologize for publishing it.”

After mentioning that 6,000 people had signed the petition (the number has doubled since then), my email to Baron added:
“If you skim through the comments that many of the signers added to the petition online, I think you might find them to be of interest. I wonder if you see a basis for dialogue on the issues raised by critics of the Post piece in question.”

The reply came from the newspaper’s vice president for public relations, Kristine Coratti Kelly, who thanked me “for reaching out to us” before presenting the Post’s response, quoted here in full:

“The Post reported on the work of four separate sets of researchers, as well as independent experts, who have examined Russian attempts to influence American democracy. PropOrNot was one. The Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list of organizations that it said had — wittingly or unwittingly — published or echoed Russian propaganda. The Post reviewed PropOrNot’s findings and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.”

But that damage-control response was as full of holes as the news story it tried to defend. For one thing, PropOrNot wasn’t just another source for the Post’s story. As The New Yorker noted in a devastating article on Dec. 1, the story “prominently cited the PropOrNot research.” The Post’s account “had the force of revelation, thanks in large part to the apparent scientific authority of PropOrNot’s work: the group released a 32-page report detailing its methodology, and named names with its list of 200 suspect news outlets…. But a close look at the report showed that it was a mess.”

Contrary to the PR message from the Post vice president, PropOrNot did not merely say that the sites on its list had “published or echoed Russian propaganda”. Without a word of the slightest doubt or skepticism in the entire story, the Post summarized PropOrNot’s characterization of all the websites on its list as falling into two categories:
“Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were ‘useful idiots’ — a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.”

As The New Yorker pointed out, PropOrNot’s criteria for incriminating content were broad enough to include “nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself”. Yet “The List” is not a random list by any means — it’s a targeted mish-mash, naming websites that are not within shouting distance of the US corporate and foreign policy establishment.

And so the list includes a few overtly Russian-funded outlets; some other sites generally aligned with Kremlin outlooks; many pro-Trump sites, often unacquainted with what it means to be factual and sometimes overtly racist; and other websites that are quite different — solid, factual, reasonable — but too progressive or too anti-capitalist or too libertarian or too right-wing or just plain too independent-minded for the evident tastes of whoever is behind PropOrNot.

As The New Yorker’s writer Adrian Chen put it:
“To PropOrNot, simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labeled a Russian propagandist.” And he concluded:
“Despite the impressive-looking diagrams and figures in its report, PropOrNot’s findings rest largely on innuendo and conspiracy thinking.”

As for the Post vice president’s defensive phrasing that “the Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list”, the fact is that the Post unequivocally promoted PropOrNot, driving web traffic to its site and adding a hotlink to the anonymous group’s 32-page report soon after the newspaper’s story first appeared. As I mentioned in my reply to her:
“Unfortunately, it’s kind of like a newspaper saying that it didn’t name any of the people on the Red Channels blacklist in 1950 while promoting it in news coverage, so no problem.”

As much as the Post news management might want to weasel out of the comparison, the parallels to the advent of the McCarthy Era are chilling. For instance, the Red Channels list, with 151 names on it, was successful as a weapon against dissent and free speech in large part because, early on, so many media outlets of the day actively aided and abetted blacklisting, as the Post has done for “The List.” Consider how the Post story described the personnel of PropOrNot in favorable terms even while hiding all of their identities and thus shielding them from any scrutiny — calling them “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

So far The New Yorker has been the largest media outlet to directly confront the Post’s egregious story. Cogent assessments can also be found at The Intercept, Consortium News, Common Dreams, AlterNet, Rolling Stone, Fortune, CounterPunch, The Nation and numerous other sites. But many mainline journalists and outlets jumped at the chance to amplify the Post’s piece of work. A sampling of the cheers from prominent journalists and liberal partisans was published by under the apt headline “Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited ‘Fake News’ Blacklist?”

FAIR’s media analyst Adam Johnson cited enthusiastic responses to the bogus story from journalists like Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar and MSNBC’s Joy Reid — and such outlets as USA Today, Gizmodo, the PBS NewsHour, The Daily Beast, Slate, AP, The Verge and NPR, which “all uncritically wrote up the Post’s most incendiary claims with little or minimal pushback.” On the MSNBC site, the Rachel Maddow Show’s blog “added another breathless write-up hours later, repeating the catchy talking point that ‘it was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign.’”

With so many people understandably upset about Trump’s victory, there’s an evident attraction to blaming the Kremlin, a convenient scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s loss. But the Post’s blacklisting story and the media’s amplification of it — and the overall political environment that it helps to create — are all building blocks for a reactionary order, threatening the First Amendment and a range of civil liberties.

When liberals have green-lighted a witch-hunt, right wingers have been pleased to run with it. President Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government. Joe McCarthy and the era named after him were soon to follow.

In media and government, the journalists and officials who enable blacklisting are cravenly siding with conformity instead of democracy.

(Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The End of Democratic Capitalism: Pity they Couldn't Resist the Nuclear War

Sabres are rattling again in Washington towatd Moscow and Beijing. Could nuclear war still happen? The US and Russia possess about 14,000 nuclear warheads, but other countries possess them too, like India, Pakistan, Israel.

According to simulations by Alan Robock of Rutgers University in New Jersey and Michael Mills at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado even a nuclear war between say India and Pakistan could devastate the world. The fires from bombed cities would send about 5 million tonnes of hot black smoke into the stratosphere, where it would spread round the world. This smog would cut solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface by 8 per cent – enough to drop average winter temperatures by a startling 2.5 to 6 °C across North America, Europe and much of Asia, and not just for a few days. It would take around five years for the impacts to peak, and the repercussions would still be felt strongly after a decade.

Near-ice-age temperatures would cause frosts capable of reducing the growing season in the world’s mid-latitude bread baskets by up to 40 days. This, combined with meagre rainfall and blistering UV, would cause crop yields to plummet. Nuclear winter would deliver global famine. The smoke would also heat the normally chilly stratosphere by around 30°C, unleashing nitrogen chemistry that would destroy much of the ozone layer.

Moreover, climate models predict that rainfall would be reduced as weather systems lost energy. The Asian monsoon would collapse... that’s two billion people with as much as 80 per cent less water. The Amazon basin and the already arid Southwestern US and western Australia would scarcely do better. All from a small regional but nuclear war.

Steven Starr of the University of Missouri has calculated that a nuclear exchange between the major nuclear powers, US and Russia (and perhaps China), could throw 150 million tonnes of smoke into the air. That would block 70 per cent of sunlight and cool much of the world by 20°C or more. Unable to grow food, most people would starve to death. Those who hope to hide from the starvation in deep bunkers or whatever will have a long wait for the radioactice fallout from such a massive nuclear exchange to reduce--thousands of years, and it is unlikely anyone could survive. One of the greatest geopolitical achievements of the past 60 years was to avoid a nuclear war. The next 60 look just as gloomy.

(Adapted from Fred Pearce, New Scientist)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Socialism, a US View

Sixty years after McCarthyism made socialism “un-American”, Bernie Sanders has placed it back on the agenda. “Back” because socialism has a long history in our country, with such prominent advocates as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein. In the Sanders era, advocates of socialism are challenged to think and talk about what socialism really is, its essential promise, how it fits the American experience, what it might look like for the US, and how it’s a goal every American can embrace and help make a reality. But first, here’s what Bernie Sanders had to say about socialism.

Bernie Sanders showed how socialism makes sense for America

Sanders made a powerful case for his vision of socialism in a speech at Georgetown University on 19 Nov. In the New Deal of the 1930s, Sanders said, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt acted “against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists”: “Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country. And that is what we have to do today.”
Sanders noted both FDR and Lyndon Johnson, who enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s, were assailed by the right wing as socialists in their day. He did not mention the enormous mass movements of the 1930s and 1960s that pushed both Roosevelt and Johnson to act. But he acknowledged it implicitly when he declared that today:
“We need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent”.
“A ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation”, Sanders didn’t say it specifically, but that is the essence and logic of capitalism. Defeating this ruling class, according to Sanders, means bringing about “a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money”.
Sanders cited calls by Roosevelt in 1944 and Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s for an economy that serves the people. In their view, he said, you cannot have freedom without economic security—as Sanders put it:
“The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care”.
Getting to that freedom means reshaping political power in our country, Sanders said, because “today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality”.
“Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote”.

How socialism can transform our society to serve the people

The connection between our economic and political structures is stronger than Sanders indicated. They are not two parallel systems. We have a political power structure that maintains, protects and preserves an economic system that fuels inequality and injustice. Our economic system based on greed drives (in many ways or in important ways) our political system. The right-wing-dominated Supreme Court’s notorious Citizens United ruling is just one illustration of the role of Big Money—Big Capital—in politics. This is why it’s called “capital”-ism.
Socialism is simply about rebuilding our society so that working people of all kinds, all colors, all languages, all faiths—the car worker, the nurse, the computer technician, the McDonald’s worker, the teacher, the gay family farmer and the farm laborer, the musician, the truck driver, the scientist, the customer service rep, the college student, the teenager trying to land a first job, the Muslim, the Jew, the Catholic, the Methodist, the Anglican, the Quaker, and so too many others. The people who make this country run, not a tiny group of super-rich corporate profiteers, are the deciders, the planners, the policymakers. The driving force is not the ruthless quest for ever-larger individual profit, as it is under our current capitalist system, but pursuit of the common good, equality, freedom from want and fear, expanding human knowledge, culture and potential, providing a chance for everyone to lead a fulfilling life on a healthy planet.
Sanders showed how socialism is rooted in American values. Socialism is about deep and wide democracy. It is not about an all-powerful central government taking over and controlling every aspect of life. It is not only about nationalizing this or that or especially every company. But it does mean that the public will have to take on and take over a few key “evil-doers”.

Taking on Big Oil and Big Finance

  1. The giant energy corporations, Big Oil, the coal companies, the frackers. This section of corporate America plays a central role in the US economy, but also in its politics—and it’s a dangerous and damaging one. People know that they not only ravage our environment and worker health and safety, and hold communities hostage with the threat of job loss if they are curbed, while at the same time blocking progress on a green economy, but they also back and fund far-right policies on a whole range of issues. (It’s not just the Koch brothers.) This sector of the economy will clearly have to be restructured in the public interest.
  2. The giant banking and financial companies—commonly known as “Wall Street” although they are sprinkled around the country. We’ve seen how they wrecked our economy and destroyed lives and livelihoods. For what? Simple greed. They will need to be returned to their socially needed function—to protect ordinary people’s savings and to fund investment in the social good, driving a thriving economy and society:
    • new technologies to save our planet from climate change disaster, flood protection for example
    • a 21st century public education system rich in resources to enable the next generations to flourish
    • expanded medical research and a national health system that serves every American with top quality, humane, state of the art care from one end of life to the other
    • exploration of space and our own planet to enrich human society
    • and so many more.
You may have a few others to add to the list of key evil-doers that will probably be on top of the list to be challenged and taken over. But aside from that, socialism can mean a mix of:
  • Worker and community-owned co-ops
  • Companies democratically owned and run by local or state entities. This is not new—we already have, for example, more than 2,000 community-owned electric utilities, serving more than 48 million people or about 14 percent of the nation’s electricity consumers. Then there’s the state-owned Bank of North Dakota
  • Privately run companies
  • Individually owned small businesses.
For socialism to work, public expression and participation will have to be mobilized and expanded, in the economy and in all other areas of life, for example, by measures like:
  • Strengthening and enlarging worker-employee representation and decision-making
  • Expanding the New England town hall meeting concept
  • Implementing proportional representation and other measures to enable a wide range of views to be represented in our government at every level.
  • Taking money out of political campaigns
  • Making voting easy.
Obviously there’s a lot more to think about and figure out—these are just a few suggestions.

Shedding stereotypes about socialism

Bernie Sanders and others take pains to call themselves democratic socialists. That’s because the concept of socialism—in essence, a society based on the “social” good—has been tainted by what happened in the Soviet Union, and some other countries, and its exploitation for propaganda purposes by the capitalist media. But there’s nothing in socialism that equates to dictatorship, political repression, bureaucracy, over-centralization, commandism, and so on.
Those features of Soviet society arose out of particular circumstances and personalities. But they were not “socialist”. As events have shown, in fact, socialism requires expanded democracy to grow and flourish.
Socialism does not mean a small group “seizing power”. It doesn’t mean radical slogans either. Red flags and images of Che or Lenin not required. Socialism means an energized, inspired, mobilized vast majority from all walks of life, from “red” state and “blue”, coming together to make changes, probably one step at a time.
Socialism is not a “thing” that will “happen” on one day, in one month, one year or even one decade. History shows that vast and lasting social change rarely happens that way. It will be a process of events, many small steps and some big ones—and elections will play a big and vital role—creating transformations that perhaps we won’t even recognize as “socialism”. Perhaps it will only be in hindsight that we will look back and say, “Oh yes, we’ve got something new”. And it’s not an end product. There is no “end of history”.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels became famous for analyzing capitalism and how it exploits and oppresses the 99 percent—OK they didn’t use that term, but that’s what they were talking about. Capitalism started out as a productive and creative force, they wrote, but it contained the seeds of its own decline. It has created a massive and ever-widening working class but most of the wealth this class produces and sustains goes into the pockets of an ever-smaller group of capitalists—that’s called exploitation. It creates so many problems that eventually it will have to be replaced. Change is on the agenda. Thank you Bernie Sanders.

Slightly Adapted from Susan Webb, People’s World

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why Socialism is Effectively Impossible in the EU

It is because the EU Treaties not only contain procedural protections for capitalism, they also entrench substantive policies which correspond to the basic tenets of neoliberalism. 

The EU is based on two core functional treaties, the Treaty on European Union (TEU, originally signed in Maastricht in 1992) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, originally signed in Rome in 1958 as the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community). These lay out how the EU operates, and there are a number of satellite treaties which are interconnected with them. Mostly they have been repeatedly amended by other treaties over the years since they were first signed, so a consolidated version of the two core treaties is regularly published by the European Commission. The EU can only act within the competences granted to it through these treaties and amendment to the treaties requires the agreement and ratification (according to their national procedures) of every single signatory.

Reforming the EU to make Socialism Possible

The methods of Treaty amendment are laid down in Article 48 TEU. Under the ordinary revision procedure, Member States must agree by common accord the amendments to be made to the Treaties. Under simplified revision procedures (used to revise Union policies), the European Council also must act unanimously. In each case, changes must be confirmed by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. Crucially, irrespective of which procedure is used, only one national government can veto treaty change. All 28 governments would have to want to give up capitalism simultaneously to change the Treaties such that socialism is possible. In other words, the treaties are designed to make socialist change impossible

Privatising Public Utilities

The socialist position would be that Member States should determine how big their own public sectors are. But EU liberalisation legislation consolidates privatisation. Nationalising sectors such as gas, electricity, telecommunications and postal services is prevented by giving corporations the right of accessing any market. The sort of extension of public ownership brought in by the 1945 Labour government could therefore be prohibited because the new public enterprises would have to compete with private firms in a capitalist market, and that is not socialism! It is the “competitive public ownership” sought by Labour right winger, Anthony Crosland, trying to undermine the efforts of the Attlee government and the welfare state it introduced after 1945. The EU makes publicly owned companies act like private companies--eg run for profit not for public benefit like the NHS--particular when the Treaty provisions on state aids are taken into account. Similar legislation on railways is presently going through the EU institutions.

All legislation in the EU has to come from the EU Commission and be submitted to  the Council and Parliament. Supposing that a socialistic national government sought to introduce EU legislation to allow all Member States a free choice over the public or private ownership of their energy, postal, telecommunications and rail sectors, it has to rely on the Commission to make and submit the proposal. Under Article 352 TFEU the Council must act unanimously, so a single national government can instruct its minister in the Council to veto the proposal, and ALL 28 must therefore agree from the outset their support. Once again it is impossible.


Assuming TTIP is agreed before the next UK general election, the prospects of the EU discarding it are even less likely. Assuming withdrawal is permissible, the TEU and TFEU do not make provision for how the EU actually does it. On the face of it, Article 352 TFEU with its unanimity requirement would have to be used, again allowing a single government to stop withdrawal from the TTIP. Again it is easier to do for a single independent state.

Facing up to the Constitutional Obstacles to Socialist Advance

Campaigners claiming it is possible to make the EU more left-wing, have the duty to explain it can be done in the face of EU treaty requirements of unanimity and common accord. At present, these requirements make socialism within the EU nigh on impossible. Those pretending there is a way forwards within the EU like Yanis Varoufakis, the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 2025), and “Another Europe is Possible”--have to show what the practical means are they propose to use to make progress against the EU constitution without tearing up the treaties which amounts to all 28 Member States rejecting the EU as it is.

Let us leave now, while we have a reasonable chance.

D. Nicol, ‘Is Another Europe Possible?’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (29th Feb 2016) (available at

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Banksters, Banking Gangsters

There has been a vast amount of propaganda directed at FIFA this year for corruption, said by the Americans to amounts to $150 million. Yet the media do not extend the same degree of opprobrium to the financial institutions that a few years ago walked off with the contents of the Exchequer and continue to purloin money from ordinary people in manifest acts of criminality. For example, British bank HSBC was caught running tax evasion, money-laundering for drug cartels and other illicit schemes estimated at $180 billion--more than a thousand-fold the level of criminality alleged at FIFA.

Wall Street banks, like JP Morgan, systematically rigged gold price markets a shady bid to shield the US dollar value, affecting the price of basic commodities and livelihoods for billions of people worldwide, and estimated to be of the order of trillions of dollars—a thousand thousand-fold the FIFA fraud.

These banks, with Citibank, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Credit Agricole among many others, all promoted the toxic financial derivatives that made their executives multimillionaires but which led to the global financial and economic meltdown in 2008, and the robbing of the world national treasuries. Millions of lives have ruined from unemployment and the collapse of pensions and savings funds to feed the greed of the banking and financial executives and the ensuing austerity imposed on the public to pay for the financial catastrophe, deliberately and recklessly engineered by the major banks, hedge funds and other capitalist investment agencies.

The meltdown of financial markets in 2008-2009 was the result of institutionalised fraud and financial manipulation. The ‘bank bailouts’ were implemented on the instruction of Wall Street, leading to the largest transfer of money wealth in recorded history, while simultaneously creating an unsurmountable public debt.
Michel Chossudovsky, The Global Economic Crisis

Generations of children to come will be forced to pay for the trillions of dollars of debt created by the banks. Thousands of people have already died from the austerity governments imposed on their public to pay for the massive corporate fraud, tax evasion, fixing and embezzlement that has occurred.

Yet not one board member or executive from the major banks involved has been charged, let alone prosecuted or imprisoned, and the baks have rewarded their political puppets, Barack Obama and David Cameron by donating cash to help to re-elect them.

Source, Finian Cunningham, Strategic Culture Foundation