Post #138: Food Politics: The GMO Conspiracy

One of the longest-standing tricks of the corporate trade is to produce an item that is dangerous, breakable, or soon to be obsolete and then produce another item that will supposedly remedy the defect.  That is what is happening with basic GMO-laden crops such as corn, wheat, and rapeseed: As they become resistant to Roundup and other toxins designed to keep them bug- or disease-free, the producers—such as Monsanto and Syngenta—come up with new herbicides for the farmer to apply.

But the agri-giants have more than one trick up their sleeves.  As a major New York Times investigation recently reported, the promise of higher yields using GMO seeds has generally not been fulfilled in the US and Canada (www.nytimes.com/2016/10/30/business/gmo-promise-falls-short.html).  The investigation, using UN data, determined that US and Canadian yields are no greater than comparable yields in Europe, where GMOs are banned; yet US and Canadian farmers apply far more herbicides than do Europeans. And since higher yields per acre is the holy grail for most farmers, the obvious answer from the agri-giants is to apply more herbicides.

If you’ve heard this story before, you might be thinking of the so-called Green Revolution that took India and the Philippines by storm in the 1970s. The promise then was higher yields of rice and wheat thanks to “miracle seeds” supplied by the major agro-businesses, whose research was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.  Not mentioned was the expensive inputs this miracle would require—lots of water, chemical fertilizer, machinery, irrigation tube wells, and of course capital.  The Green Revolution was a boon to rich farmers, fertilizer and equipment suppliers, and loan sharks to whom poor farmers would become forever indebted.

Corporate control of GMO seeds, pesticides, and herbicides is becoming ever more concentrated.  Monsanto is merging with Bayer, Syngenta with China National Chemical Corporation, and DuPont with Dow Chemical.  The companies will tell us that these takeovers will cheapen their products and thus help feed the world’s 10 billion people in 2050.  Their scientists, meanwhile, will produce “studies” that prove the effectiveness and safety of GMO seeds and related toxins.  The reality, of course, is likely to be opposite of such claims: seeds, pesticides, and herbicides will become ever more expensive, available mainly to farmers in the richest countries, and the safety of GMO-based foods will depend on whether you listen to European or the North American scientists.

Debate over GMOs should not, in any case, focus exclusively on safety.  If the human interest is front and center, the debate should be over how to feed growing populations in a way that preserves family farms, which have been proven time and again to be the wisest stewards of the land, and puts the rights of farmers and communities ahead of corporate rights. From that perspective, the core issue is land reform—restoring land ownership to individual farmers, sharply limiting control of farmland (whether by contract or outright ownership) by corporations, and preventing Monsanto and other agri-giants from suing farmers who choose not to use their GMO seeds.

Fortunately, there are movements underway in a number of states, localities, and countries—called Community Rights—that by law would empower communities to ban GMOs and other destructive practices (such as chemical aerial spraying and fracking).  (See for example www.celdf.org and Thomas Linzey and Anneke Campbell, We the People: Stories From the Community Rights Movement in the United States.)  In Latin America and other developing-country areas, a move to “agroecology” is fast gaining the support of small farmers (www.bit.ly/agrolite) who combine traditional and scientific practices in pursuit of strengthening the local food base. In the end, defeating corporate control of resources must rely on the people most affected; it’s certainly not going to happen from Washington, where political decision making is about to fall into the hands of billionaires and former lobbyists.  The call is out for acts of self-determination.

Post #137: The National Interest and the Trump Interest

As the Trump administration takes shape, one fact seems unassailable: We have an unprecedented situation in which, step by step, a president’s business interests—past, present, and future—are inseparable from the nation’s interests.  Donald Trump has over 100 investments and other financial ties in at least 18 countries or territories, in many cases creating potential conflicts of interest with US national security concerns.

Below is the Washington Post’s investigation, which is based on Trump’s financial disclosure statements.  As the article (www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/a-scramble-to-assess-the-dangers-of-president-elects-global-business-empire/2016/11/20/1bbdc2a2-ad18-11e6-a31b-4b6397e625d0_story.html) points out, there remains a good deal of missing information that Trump’s tax returns and other documents could provide.  But he chooses not to provide them, and a fair assumption is that they would reveal still more compromising deals.

trump-empire

How much influence these financial interests would have over Trump’s and his appointees’ policy choices is anyone’s guess at this point.  Trump himself has hinted that his business interests in Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia do have political import—for example when he expressed admiration for the crackdown engineered by Turkey’s president Erdogan after a failed coup attempt.  Since Trump consistently applauds strong-armed rulers on one hand and is so far unwilling to create a true firewall between his family and his assets on the other, conflicts of interest involving authoritarian regimes are more than theoretical.

Trump gives no sign of separating personal business dealings from his upcoming job as president.  Far from it, he says “only the crooked media makes this a big deal.”  He recently entertained three Indian businessmen who are using the Trump brand to overcharge on apartment high-rises near Mumbai (Bombay).  In all, Trump may have as much as $1.5 billion invested in India, in “at least sixteen partnerships or corporations” (www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/trumps-extensive-deals-in-india-raise-conflict-of-interest-concerns/2016/11/21/3313319e-3f04-44fa-a28a-c297d891465c_story.html).  He allowed his daughter Ivanka, vice-president of acquisitions in the Trump Organization, to sit in on a meeting with the visiting Japanese prime minister, Abe Shinzo.  He has urged Britain’s Brexit leaders to speak out in opposition to offshore wind farms near his Scottish golf course—because they obscure the view!  And no sooner did he do that than Trump tweeted that Nigel Forage of the UK Independence Party would make a great UK ambassador to the US!  Finally, as is well known, some of Trump’s top advisers—Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Flynn—have extensive overseas financial interests that could also be compromising.

Trump’s spokespersons call his business meetings informal when in fact they are private and, according to the Indian business men, include talk of expanding the Trump business empire.  This secretiveness is also worrisome: It walls off his business dealings (and much else besides) from public view.  Thus has The Art of the Deal already become central to Trump’s policy process.

Does this incoming president have any constraints on his clearly unethical, if not outright illegal, behavior?  Will the Republican leadership in Congress continue to wink and nod as Trump erases the line between public and private activity? Will Trump ever be compelled to open the books on his finances?  Is the Trump interest equivalent to the national interest?

(Update: On November 29 Trump tweeted that he would be holding a family press conference to announce that he would be “leaving my business in total” so that he can devote all his time to being president.  But he did not say he would completely divest his ownership interests, either by selling them off or creating a blind trust run by an independent person. Trump referred instead to no longer being involved in “business operations,” which is a far cry from ending ownership.  And his statement also leaves unresolved the question of his family members’ role in his administration while they also manage the Trump Organization.)

Back in the 1950s “Engine” Charlie Wilson, who went from head of General Motors to secretary of defense, said he thought that “what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” Trump has taken that idea one step further, into the troubling realm in which US policy toward a country’s repression of human rights, civil war, aggression, nuclear program, or violation of trade agreements will be weighed against the impact on the Trump Organization’s holdings.

(Note: On the constitutional questions that arise once Trump assumes the office, see www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/us/politics/donald-trump-conflict-of-interest.html.)

 

Post #136: The Trump Team: Loyal and Dangerous

Personnel appointments provide a useful glimpse into what policy will be.  Senior-level appointees are the policy shapers, and from what we have seen thus far, we are right to have suspected the worst from Donald Trump.  A Trump presidency will be the end of climate change commitments and agreements, will bring racial profiling of Middle East immigrants, and will build a wall of some kind between the US and Mexico.  His victory will also result in large-scale deportations of nonwhite residents, a free ride for Big Oil, agribusiness, and other giant corporations, a severe tightening of media access, and attacks on marriage equality, abortion, protesting, and other expressions of personal choice. And the love affair with Putin’s Russia, to the detriment of US alliances, will deepen.

But overarching these policy directions is the way Trump conducts business: with emphasis on secrecy, enhancement of his reputation, absolute loyalty to the boss, destruction of critics, and success for family and firm before country. Not surprisingly, such a man has an enemies list.  His assistant on African American relations, Omarosa Manigault, said so, explaining: “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who’s ever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.” Don’t believe her when she says she was only speaking for herself.

The Alligators in the Swamp

The savvy comedian Steven Colbert was among the first to lampoon Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of corrupt politicians.  Drain the swamp?  Trump’s people are the swamp, said Colbert.

Three types of people inhabit the swamp: the loyal politicians and former officials, the lobbyists, and the family circle.

For starters, look at the cast of disreputable, marginally qualified people who are on his “A” list.  Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, was initially being touted for attorney general. Now the far-right loyalists want him to be the next secretary of state, as though the content of the two jobs doesn’t much matter.  He was one of Trump’s primary attack dogs on Hillary Clinton, and had no compunctions about lying when he said on national TV that he had inside information that Hillary would be indicted as a result of the FBI’s probe of her emails.  So far as I can tell, Giuliani’s only foray into foreign policy is to regularly assail “Islamic extremism,” though he contends that his many overseas trips on business should count as relevant experience.  (They should count–but as disqualifying conflicts of interest.)  Giuliani’s view is that all’s fair in war, hence waterboarding and seizing Iraq’s oil fields are perfectly OK.  Giuliani is often out of control, forever seeking attention—and therefore not the sort of level-headed person one would want to be the nation’s top diplomat.

Another Trump loyalist being discussed for a top job is Newt Gingrich, who was the early favorite for secretary of state despite lacking experience abroad or in diplomacy. A corrupt politician and misogynist, he was reprimanded and fined for ethics violations when he was speaker of the House.  Gingrich has also made racist remarks, such as calling President Obama “the food stamp president” who has shown “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”

Mitt Romney, who once wanted to be president, is (incredibly) a leading candidate for the State Department position. He is notable for his harsh criticisms of Trump during the campaign–for example, “trickle-down misogyny,” “con man,” “a fake”–all true, but evidently not disqualifying.  In recent remarks, Romney has pretended he was always enamored of Trump, showing how far one without principles will go to get a top job. General David Petraeus is also in the running, but why Trump would want to nominate a man who divulged secret information to a lover who may (or may not) have had a security clearance is hard to figure given Trump’s long-running attack on Hillary Clinton over her emails.

Martin Ebell, a well-known climate denier, is slated to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  He comes from the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has the support of the coal industry that, under Obama’s Clean Power Plan, would be hard hit.  Ebell regularly berates climatologists, climate-change advocates, and even Pope Francis’ encyclical, which he called “leftist drivel.”  With Ebell at the helm at the very time Earth’s temperature is at an all-time high, the high hopes for the Paris Agreement will be dashed. As Noam Chomsky recently put it, “The [Republican] Party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand” (www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/38360-trump-in-the-white-house-an-interview-with-noam-chomsky).

(Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, whose Bridgegate scandal has earned convictions for his two top aides, is another loyalist, but one with an uncertain future.  Christie has not yet been indicted for authorizing the bridge closures; he might need a presidential pardon.  Christie’s fawning embrace of Trump might yet be rewarded with a top position, though he was removed as head of the transition team soon after Trump’s election, apparently on objections from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, whose father, another crooked real estate millionaire, was sent to jail by Christie.)

For the president’s chief of staff, Trump’s choices were: Stephen Bannon, purveyor of Breitbart News (“news” deserves to be in quotation marks), a far right, anti-immigrant, white supremacist rag devoted to wiping out the last vestiges of liberalism; and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who remained loyal to the Chosen One when many Republicans were fleeing the ship. Trump chose Priebus, appointing Bannon a senior counselor.  This was a small victory for the Republican establishment, since Bannon is the more outrageous of the two—a white supremacist and anti-Semite. As one of Trump’s top strategists, Bannon will be positioned to limit press and public access to Trump and (as another of Trump’s advisers has said), come down hard on leaks. (It remains unclear whether or not Bannon has severed ties with Breitbart.) Trump has already harshly criticized the New York Times, and several Jewish reporters received threats during the campaign that Trump, as usual, failed to disown.  We can expect more such pressure tactics down the road.

Then there are individuals who do have relevant experience, but of a kind that threatens the human interest.  Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who was interested in becoming defense secretary but was offered the attorney general position instead, is one of the most conservative members of the US senate.  Sessions was among the first senators to endorse Trump, favors building a wall between the US and Mexico, is virulently anti-immigrant, and has a history of racist comments. It looked like Trump would go with Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas for secretary of defense. Cotton, like Sessions, is a hawk with military experience who believes the military is vastly underfunded and lacking readiness.  But in the end the choice was retired General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis, who is respected within the defense community but is only fairly recently retired–he had served as head of the US Central Command–and thus would require special Congressional dispensation to serve. Mattis regards “political Islam” as the number one security threat to the US, and Iran as “the single most enduring threat” in the Middle East. But he has opposed a unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

The position of homeland security director goes to Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, a notorious Islamaphobe.  Kobach is determined to reinstitute a post-9/11 registry of anyone seeking entry to the US from a Muslim-majority country.  He brought planning documents, captured in photographs, to a recent meeting with Trump that also call for registering Muslim Americans, requiring a political test of loyalty, and barring Syrian refugees (www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/21/donald-trump-kris-kobach-documents-syria-muslims).

For the crucial position of special assistant for national security, we have another Trump cheerleader: retired Lt.-Gen. Michael Flynn.  He briefly headed the Defense Intelligence Agency before being removed for mismanagement, and has been widely criticized by senior US military officers for his partisan, highly unprofessional attacks on Obama and Hillary Clinton.  He has taken a soft line on Russia, and has sometimes been paid by Russia’s RT television network for his work.  He also has a conflict of interest involving Turkey: Flynn’s consulting firm has a contract with its government, which may explain his criticism of Obama’s tentative relationship with Turkey’s authoritarian government.  His views of Islam are especially venomous, as revealed in recent Tweets: “Fear of Muslim is RATIONAL” (February 26, 2016); “I dare Arab and Persian world ‘leaders’ to step up to the plate and declare their ideology sick and must B healed” (July 14, 2016).  In a book, Flynn reveals his own sick ideology, making the Cold War-style argument that China and North Korea are linked to jihadists in a global conspiracy (http://nyti.ms/2gjfwqH).

Thus we have several nominees who, like Trump, tend to identify Muslims with terrorists and support the idea of a religion-based registry.  They will close America’s door to people who take seriously the poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal: “give me your tired, your poor.”)

The post of CIA director goes to Rep. Mike Pompeo (R.-Kansas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.  He immediately showed his fealty to far-right views by Tweeting that he looked forward to “rolling back this disastrous [nuclear] deal with [Iran,] the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”  Though news reports call Pompeo a serious student of foreign policy, he also has Tea Party connections and financial backing from the Koch brothers.  Many consider Pompeo an ideologue–an aspect he displayed in pushing the Benghazi hearings with Hillary Clinton (www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trumps-cia-pick-is-seen-as-both-a-fierce-partisan-and-serious-student-of-national-security-issues/2016/11/18/5b089f0e-ad9a-11e6-8b45-f8e493f06fcd_story.html).

Billionaires will populate the Trump administration. One of them is Wilbur Ross, who will be Secretary of Commerce. He is said to be the behind-the-scenes architect of Trump’s economic policy, including Trump’s plan to rip up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) arrangement and possibly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Ross reportedly made his money by buying up failing industries and reselling them at fantastic profits. Just the man we need.  (Ross’s deputy at Commerce may be Todd Ricketts, another billionaire who co-owns the Chicago Cubs.) Then there’s Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin to lead the Treasury Department. Mnunchin went on to finance Hollywood movies and buy up distressed mortgages during the financial crisis of 2008. He has vowed to dramatically cut corporate tax rates. Mnuchin has no government experience. Betsy DeVos, education secretary, is another billionaire, and an advocate of vouchers to pay for private or religious rather than public schools. To round out the ultra-rich list, Trump is reportedly considering Goldman Sacks president Gary Cohn to lead the Office of Management and Budget. He would be the third former GS executive to serve, along with Mnuchin and Steve Bannon. How’s that for the man who promised to attack Wall Street?

Rounding out the experienced group is Rep. (and Dr.) Tom Price, a longtime critic of the Affordable Care Act.  As secretary of health and human services, he will now have the opportunity to destroy it.  What will take its place?  The Republicans have had several years to tell us and, more to the point, tell those working people who will lose their health care coverage.  They have yet to say, but when they do–Paul Krugman predicts–“the white working class is about to be betrayed” (www.nytimes.com/2016/12/02/opinion/seduced-and-betrayed-by-donald-trump.html).

Lobbyists, also among the people Trump denounced during his campaign, now populate his transition team, as the New York Times has noted.  These people reek of conflicts of interest—hardly a novelty, though, in American politics. Thus, a Verizon consultant will choose staff for the FCC; an energy and gas lobbyist will determine the “energy independence” team; a food industry lobbyist will pick the agriculture department leadership. (www.nytimes.com/2016/11/12/us/politics/trump-campaigned-against-lobbyists-now-theyre-on-his-transition-team.html)   Other industry lobbyists, as the Times points out, are not directly connected to the industry for which they are seeking appointees, but have well-known views that are at variance with the public interest.

Wasn’t it Donald Trump who denounced “pay to play”?  It’s commendable that Trump promised in his first 100 days to ban White House and Congressional officials from becoming lobbyists for five years after they leave office.  But I guess it’s OK for lobbyists to staff the government with clones.

The Washington Post characterized the list of initial appointees this way: “a largely homogeneous circle of middle-aged white men, often wealthy, of open ambition and large personality.”  Since then, a token number of women and minorities have been appointed or considered: Nikki Haley, UN ambassador; Betsy DeVos, education secretary; Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon whom Trump has offered the housing and urban development post; and Sarah Palin, the oil-drilling fanatic from Alaska. Trouble is, all of these people are barely qualified for the positions mentioned!  Haley’s only international experience is accompanying South Carolina trade delegations.  DeVos is a supporter of Christian schools and has no known experience in education.  And what can one say about the empty-headed Dr. Carson?  He’s barely capable of composing a sensible thought let alone leading a housing position. Palin is the bottom of the barrel, a loudmouth whose potential for destroying the environment as a potential secretary of the interior is limitless.

Last but hardly least, you have Trump’s family.  Here are conflicts of interest writ large. Trump plans not only to have his wife, three oldest children, and son-in-law Jared Kushner take over his businesses. The children and son-in-law are all being considered for top advisory positions, notwithstanding the laws governing nepotism and security clearances, and–oh, yes–the usefulness of a little experience. Trump has expressed the hope that Jared will reconcile Israelis and Palestinians. Who needs a secretary of state when one has a Jewish son-in-law? Ivanka Trump, the principal marketing officer for the Trump Organization, has attended meetings in New York between the president-elect and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, among other foreign leaders. What could she possibly be doing other than scoping out business opportunities?  And how about Donald Trump Jr., who in early November attended a meeting in Paris, sponsored by a French think tank that favors the Russian position on Syria, to discuss a peace plan (www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/donald-trump-jr-held-talks-on-syria-with-russia-supporters/ar-AAkFX0m?li=BBmkt5R&ocid=spartandhp).  Does he have any qualifications or authority (remember: his dad isn’t yet the president) to engage in such delicate diplomacy?  But then, finding ways around the law, putting familiarity and loyalty ahead of competence, and blurring if not erasing the line between public and private interests is what Trump is all about.

 

Post #135: Our Worst Nightmare Has Come to Pass

The American people voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by nearly 800,000 votes.*  But Trump was right: the system is rigged, meaning that thanks to our outdated and illogical electoral college system, he won. Thus our fellow Americans (s)elected for the first time a person with no military or political experience—“history’s most unpleasant and unprepared candidate,” George Will wrote, not to mention a sexual predator, racist, tax-dodger, and serial liar.

Soon enough we will know the full extent of the damage Donald Trump will exact on the political system and society.  But we can predict with some certainty that among his first acts will be nominating an extreme conservative for the Supreme Court, seeking repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), tearing up the Paris Agreement and Obama’s other environmental commitments, supporting legislation to dramatically limit immigration, and pressuring Mexico on border security.  (For further discomfort, read Evan Osnos, “President Trump,” in The New Yorker, September 26, and “Here is What Trump Wants to Do in His First 100 Days,” www.npr.org/2016/11/09/501451368/here-is-what-donald-trump-wants-to-do-in-his-first-100-days.)

The big loser in the election drama is America’s claim to be a showcase of democracy.  The election featured two highly unpopular candidates, one of whom saw no problem using irresponsible and dangerous language, while the other was a victim of her own history of disreputable behavior.  The Republican Party is in a shambles, with spineless leaders who lack a moral compass.  Third parties are weak and lack popular appeal.  The FBI intruded into the election, setting a dangerous precedent. Lots of evidence exists of dirty tricks designed to keep minorities from voting and cause havoc in the Democratic Party.  Citizens United, a Supreme Court decision that guarantees money will talk in politics, will remain in force.  Liberal values and institutions are about to come under full-scale assault, with the poor and the powerless particularly vulnerable.  Perhaps worst of all, only about 48 percent of eligible voters actually voted.  

The term “banana republic” was invoked more than a few times during the campaign to describe the depths to which the US would descend if Trump were elected. Political leaders in Russia, China, and other authoritarian systems must be laughing in their drinks at what American “populism” means in practice.

Every major poll predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.  Now, too late, we can try to explain, especially to ourselves, how one of the most politically experienced presidential candidates in US history lost to a business tycoon with a shady history of deal making and not the slightest understanding of world affairs.  The initial explanations for his victory center on underestimation of the vote turnout by rural white men, great anxiety about the US economy, the rising cost of Obamacare, stigmatizing of Middle East and Mexican immigrants, anger toward the Washington governing establishment, Hillary Clinton’s email problems, and—yes—Hillary Clinton the woman.  Historians, moreover, point out how rare it is for the same party to win three consecutive elections (the Republicans were the last to do so with Ronald Reagan’s two terms followed by George H.W. Bush’s one term).  All these issues were identified by the election experts, but none thought them sufficient to project a Trump victory.

We must not let the mainstream media off the hook.  The so-called “fourth estate” was anything but: for many months the media refused to call out Trump for what he was—a shameless groper, a misogynist, a racist, and above all a seriously mentally challenged candidate. To the contrary, the media couldn’t get enough of Trump: He was so entertaining and quaintly “unconventional,” they said. As their reward, Trump casually barred critical journalists from his events, never disavowed the screeds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists, and constantly denounced journalists (to wild cheers) for their bias against him. Conflicts of interest in the media abounded: CNN hired Trump’s former campaign manager, who promptly turned around and worked as a Trump adviser.  Fox News, equally shameless, rode shotgun for Trump, putting out deliberately false information (for example, that Clinton was about to be indicted “according to sources close to the investigation”), then backtracking when it was too late to matter.  Sean Hannity of Fox News, meantime, pretended to be a journalist but was yet another Trump adviser—as was his one-time boss at Fox, Roger Ailes, another groper of women.

The media has much soul-searching to do, just as happened after it realized the George W. Bush administration had sold it a bill of goods on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  But now as then, the media will have to do much more than ask why the polls were so wrong.  They failed to live up to ordinary moral, ethical, and critical standards. Now the media risks being cowed into submission. As a journalist for the Washington Post lamented, just before the election, “The worst of the media is on full display, as if someone had set out to show just how terrible we hacks could look in these last moments before Election Day.”

This shameful situation cannot be remedied by pleas to government officials to please get back to governing, or appeals for everyone to “come together.”  The Republican Party is in for the fight of its life over whether the right or the far right controls it.  The Democrats need to decide on new, untainted leadership. The gun-wielding white nationalist crazies who follow Trump will be organizing around various destructive projects, including violence against immigrants and people of color.  Maybe worse.  Police reform will be out of the question in red states. The Democrats will become yesterday’s Republicans, fighting rearguard actions and trying to obstruct Trump at every turn. And that will play into Trump’s strength, which is to be a dictator who rules by decree, responsible to no one.

On the assumption that Clinton would win, I had planned to ask: Is there room in such depressing circumstances for a progressive agenda at home or abroad? Now I have to think defensively and ask what individual states and communities can do to counter Trump—for example, on his anticipated gutting of climate change legislation and endorsement of the Keystone XL pipeline project? Will he say anything to restrain the over 250 private militia groups, armed with guns and hate, that are bound to pursue their racist, anti-immigrant agenda (“let’s make America white again”)? Can Trump be trusted not to use his position for private gain? Will he put responsible, knowledgeable people in charge of national defense, the state department, and the department of justice?  Or will those departments be purged of liberal professionals? In foreign and national-security policy, will he walk away from US involvements in Syria and Iraq? Will Trump terminate the nuclear agreement with Iran, reduce US involvement in NATO and other alliances, and dramatically increase US military spending?  Will he seek common ground with the Russians and Chinese, or accede to their interests on (for instance) Ukraine and the South China Sea in order to focus on “America first”? Will he learn the awesome responsibility that goes with having the nuclear codes?

In Washington we must hope that there are enough people in both parties with the backbone to stand up to Trump’s arrogance, cultural backwardness, and tendency to avenge perceived slights.  Democrats in the Senate have the filibuster option, which would require 60 senators to end. (There are 49 Senate Democrats.)  In our own communities, each of us might take a look around and ask how we can contribute to strengthening education, job opportunities, human rights, protection of the environment, and “one nation, with liberty and justice for all.” Along with worst-case thinking we must have first-class (positive) planning for the time when it becomes clear that Trumpism has failed to deliver on its promises to the working class. Remember: Donald Trump did not receive a popular mandate, and in four years we will have an opportunity to end this nightmare.

————

*As of November 14, 2016. Bernie Sanders said on the Colbert show that the margin was 2 million, but I’ve seen nothing to support that figure as of now. But the final numbers are not yet in.

 

 

 

Post #134: Voting Against Peace in Colombia

Those of us who study how to end wars rather than find new ways to prosecute them must be stunned, like many Colombians, by a popular vote there on October 2 that rejected the peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  No one predicted that after over five decades of fighting and over 200,000 deaths, a peace agreement that took six years to conclude would be rejected.  It’s a lesson in how the power of emotion—vengefulness, specifically—and narrow self-interest can overcome good sense.  The general perception of observers is that voters who suffered from the civil war wanted to see the FARC rebels punished rather than “rewarded” with the opportunity to reenter civil society and even hold a guaranteed number of seats in the national congress.

Most civil wars end in much the same way as Colombia’s—with one side badly hurting and willing to disarm under a cease-fire, provided the government promises assistance so that the rebellious soldiers can reintegrate in civil society.  Negotiations to reach such an agreement typically are arduous and often seem to be on the brink of failure.  Long-held grievances come to life again and again, and it is a tribute to negotiators that they were able to come to any substantive agreement at all.  So it was with high expectations that an agreement was reached, and the decision of Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, to put it to a popular vote showed his confidence that citizens weary of war would accept it.  Five days after the vote, he was rewarded for his efforts with the Nobel Peace Prize.

That Colombians did not endorse the agreement evidently owes much to the politicians who campaigned for a “no” vote, including former president Àlvaro Uribe, whose father was killed by the FARC.  He argues that the peace agreement is too soft on FARC leaders, allowing them to avoid prison merely by confessing their crimes and promising to make restitution to victims.  According to one observer who opposes the peace accord, “Essentially, FARC members would have received the same legal power to prosecute Colombian government officials and vice versa. The rejected deal would also have shielded an unknown number of FARC guerillas from jail for drug trafficking, recruitment of child soldiers, and other crimes” (http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2016/10/the-colombianfarc-peace-deal-why-it-failed-and-how-the-us-can-support-a-responsible-renegotiation#_ftnref6). The many thousands of people whose families were directly impacted by FARC killings and kidnappings obviously agreed.

The razor-thin “no” vote (50.2 percent to 49.7 percent) also may be attributed to the bizarre fact that only 38 percent of eligible voters voted.  Perhaps this was a Brexit-like situation in which many people stayed away from the polls on the assumption a “yes” vote was fairly certain. But the “no” voters were well entrenched, including not only Uribe’s party but also “the majority of the churches, the ELN [the National Liberation Army, the second-largest guerrilla force], business sectors . . ., and the majority of landowners, who were all against the proposed changes” (León Valencia of Bogotá’s Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, http://colombiapeace.org/, October 21, 2016).  The right-wing groups not only considered President Santos’ peace plan soft on FARC; they also objected to his support of gay rights, reforms of land policy, and investment in rural development.

It was under Uribe, not coincidentally, that the US became a major participant in Colombia’s civil war.  Under “Plan Colombia” the US provided the Colombian military with advanced weapons (such as Blackhawk helicopters) and intelligence (under a top-secret multi-billion dollar CIA program) that escalated the violence and decimated the FARC’s ranks (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/plan-colombia-how-washington-learned-to-love-latin-american-intervention-again/2016/09/18/ddaeae1c-3199-4ea3-8d0f-69ee1cbda589_story.html?).  A FARC leader is quoted as saying that it faced “an international intervention, and it took a toll.”  Civilian deaths and the displacement of about 7 million people followed, caused in no small part by officially sanctioned right-wing death squads.

Some US officials believe that intervention “saved” Colombia from endless civil war by forcing FARC to the bargaining table.  That is hardly an argument for peacemaking; the “no” vote was actually a defeat for the US policy of peace through war.  Plan Colombia was to a great extent responsible for destroying, either through deaths or displacements, the lives of roughly 15 percent of the total population.  Now the US supports a negotiated settlement, but still keeps FARC on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations List.  The Santos government and FARC have agreed to continue a cease-fire until December 31.

We may hope the parties will be guided by the need for rehabilitation and reconstruction rather than vengeance—for peace rather than justice (Omar G. Encarnación, “Colombia’s Failed Peace,” www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/colombia/2016-10-05/colombias-failed-peace).  As President Santos said, “Making peace is much more difficult than making war because you need to change sentiments of people, people who have suffered, to try to persuade them to forgive” (www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/world/americas/nobel-peace-prize-juan-manuel-santos-colombia.html).

Post #133: Left Unsaid at the Third Debate

Donald Trump waited one day before delivering the punch line to his sad joke, “I will keep you in suspense” about respecting the election results.  “Unless I win,” he said to great applause from his supporters.  One would expect no less from an exceptionally arrogant man who (as I discussed in the previous blog #132) cannot accept defeat.  (His son, Trump Jr., is a chip off the old block.  He is quoted as saying that the White House would be a “step down” for his father—a classic “sour grapes” line.)

By taking this unprecedented position, Trump ensured headlines, and probably sent a few more Republican candidates down the tubes.  He clearly doesn’t care, since only his “voice” counts, not the party’s.  He will become another in a long list of dictators-in-waiting.

But I was also struck by what the candidates didn’t say in the third debate.  Here are ten items I (and, I imagine, many of you) would have liked to have heard discussed:

  1. Climate change –Once again, barely a word about the world’s number-one long-term security issue.
  1. Nuclear weapons – a discussion of next steps toward genuine arms control, meaning a minimum force (if not nuclear abolition), a halt to further refinement of nuclear weapons, and a new agreement with Russia on substantial weapons reductions.
  1. Mosul– Rather than debate how Mosul is being attacked, talk about the aftermath. There won’t be a Mosul, or a Raqqa, once ISIS is driven out.  As large-scale fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria has already shown, there is nothing left standing when it is over.  The unspoken problem then becomes providing for refugees and the sick, wounded, and elderly survivors who cannot leave.
  1. Syria –Deeper US involvement, such as by announcing a no-fly zone that Hillary Clinton favors, won’t save lives in Aleppo or anywhere else, but will almost certainly expand the US role, produce more civilian casualties, and bring it closer to a confrontation with Russia.
  1. Russia –A new Cold War is in nobody’s best interest. The contrast between Trump’s know-nothingism and Clinton’s cold warriorism leaves out the possibility of a creative diplomatic approach to Russia. (Consider that the US is now charging Russia with violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by Reagan and Gorbachev, by moving ahead on a ground-based cruise missile program.  This comes on the heels of Russia’s withdrawal from a plutonium accord.  Thus, the direction of US-Russia relations remains decidedly negative, hostile, and thus dangerous.)
  1. China–US policy is a mix of multilevel engagement and muted conflict. While the US maintains its “pivot” to Asia, China is continuing its buildup in the disputed South China Sea islands and is courting the Philippines, whose new president Rodrigo Duterte is talking while in Beijing of “separation” from the US. Should US policy toward China change in response?  Should Washington call Duterte’s bluff?
  1. Energy – Candidates always talk about our needing more energy. But the future points to reliance on renewable sources, which are getting cheaper and are clearly more dependable than fossil fuels and nuclear power.
  1. Relations with Israel–Will the US continue to give Israel what it wants, with occasional mild (and meaningless) criticism, or will it finally base policy on principles on social justice, self-determination, and protection of human rights?
  1. Income inequality – It’s fine to talk about creating jobs, but growing income inequality in America means still more for the 1 percent, less for the middle and lower income classes, and thus poor-paying jobs.
  1. Military spending—Where will money for increased federal spending on social needs come from? We can talk about higher taxes on the wealthy or cuts in Social Security, but axing military spending remains the taboo subject.

Presidential debates should be learning opportunities.  There was a time when they actually were.  These last three debates were shouting matches—undignified, personality-based, extremely limited in information or thoughtfulness.  America’s “noble experiment” suffered greatly from the exercise.

 

Post #132: America’s Dangerous Moment

On the eve of the third and (thank God!) final presidential debate, the main item still in question is not who will win the election but whether Donald Trump will accept the results.  That is America’s dangerous moment.

Trump is well and deservedly known for being a sore loser.  He loves to make deals, but by his own admission, he hates to settle disputes and is willing to spend lots of money on lawyers either to win them eventually or have them go on forever.  Thus it is no surprise that as he faces defeat at the polls, he is stepping up his charge that the election is rigged and voter fraud is rampant.  Needless to say, he offers no proof of either charge.  This is what children often do: When they’re losing a game, they walk away rather than accept defeat, charging that the game was unfair.  (Of course, when they win, the game is entirely fair.)  Now we have the child-man Trump, who loves winning primaries but would rather destabilize the presidential election than face being a loser.

As the media (which Trump blames for the rigging) has widely reported, here and there are Trump supporters who likewise can’t stand the prospect of losing.  They seem ready to commit violence at the polls or after the election.  Republican officeholders around the country have offered assurances that the elections will be fair; Republicans and Democrats have people watching to see that they are.  Many studies have concluded that instances of voter fraud are rare.  Mike Pence has said he has confidence that Trump will accept the election results—not the same thing as rejecting charges of rigging, and like Trump’s charges, unsubstantiated. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric is going to create ugly incidents, and the last thing the country needs is a perception that the elections are illegitimate.  Lock him up?

I hope President Obama is prepared to send federal marshals wherever necessary to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, just as President Eisenhower used troops to enforce desegregation in Little Rock, and President Kennedy dispatched federal marshals to protect the freedom riders and escort James Meredith to end segregation at the University of Mississippi.  There are hateful, violence-prone people out there who march to Trump’s drumming.  We cannot allow him to play the dictator and deny good citizens the right to vote.

Critical appraisals of foreign affairs from a global-citizen perspective.