Category Archives: Deep Politics

Quote of the day: Be afraid. Be very afraid. . .


A sign of the complete corporate victory over the public interest, from Monday’s lead editorial in the Washington Post:

Having held partial or controlling stakes in companies ranging from Phillips Petroleum to American Railcar Industries, billionaire investor Carl Icahn certainly knows a thing or two about how federal regulators deal with business. He also is, at 80, a successful, intelligent, deeply experienced investment pro. Whether his is the ideal résumé for a special adviser to the president on regulatory reform is less clear. Foxes are experts on chicken coops, it is true.

Federal safety, environmental and financial regulations necessarily involve balancing of costs and benefits to the public. The Obama administration’s approach frequently struck the balance in favor of more rules, and there is a reasonable case to be made that pruning regulatory overgrowth could, indeed, help the economy — which, by the way, is doing reasonably well. But Mr. Icahn’s sweeping indictments of the regulatory agencies, voiced repeatedly during the campaign, suggest he would urge President-elect Donald Trump to swing wildly in the opposite direction. “You almost get enraged by some of the stuff,” he told CNBC on Thursday.

The Trump transition team’s statement announcing Mr. Icahn’s new role quoted him as saying that “under President Obama, America’s business owners have been crippled by over $1 trillion in new regulations.” We don’t know where that number comes from, though we did find an estimate from the conservative regulation skeptics at American Action Forum, a think tank, that puts the total cost of major new regulation imposed since the beginning of the second term of George W. Bush’s presidency at $1 trillion. Notably, that study also mentioned $745 billion worth of offsetting social benefits.

Chart of the day: An election-rigging score card


From When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power, by Dov H. Levin, Post Doctoral Fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, and published as an open access report in International Studies Quarterly, a look at electoion-fixing efforts by the U.S. and the Soviet Union between 1946 and 2000.

From When the Great Power Gets a Vote: The Effects of Great Power, by Dov H. Levin, Post Doctoral Fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, and published as an open access report in International Studies Quarterly, a look at election-fixing efforts by the U.S. and the Soviet Union between 1946 and 2000.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

The CIA has accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 presidential election by hacking into Democratic and Republican computer networks and selectively releasing  emails. But critics might point out the U.S. has done similar things.

The U.S. has a long history of attempting to influence presidential elections in other countries – it’s done so as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000, according to a database amassed by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University.

That number doesn’t include military coups and regime change efforts following the election of candidates the U.S. didn’t like, notably those in Iran, Guatemala and Chile. Nor does it include general assistance with the electoral process, such as election monitoring.

Levin defines intervention as “a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides.” These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.

Quote of the day: The right F-word for Trump


And, yeah, the other F-word’s also appr0priate  when employed as an imperative verb preceding his name.

From Seven Theses on Trump, a Critical Legal Thinking essay by Drucilla Cornell, Professor of Political Science, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature at Rutgers University, and Stephen D. Seely, doctoral candidate in the Rutgers Department of Women’s and Gender Studies:

From the announcement of Trump’s campaign to the days after the election, there has been much debate among commenters about whether or not “fascism” is an appropriate description. For us, Trump and his movement are unambiguously fascist. We are not using the word “fascist” glibly here. Nor are we referencing only the so-called “alt-right” contingent of his supporters. No, Trump’s entire movement is rooted in an ethnic, racial, and linguistic nationalism that sanctions and glorifies violence against designated enemies and outsiders, is animated by a myth of decline and nostalgic renewal and centered on a masculine cult of personality. Indeed, Trump’s “program” meets the fourteen characteristics of fascism famously outlined by Umberto Eco in every way. We therefore disagree with those who prefer to label Trump an autocrat rather than a fascist. While a fascist leader can certainly be an autocrat—and Trump may well turn out to be just that—fascism can be distinguished from autocracy precisely by the dimension of mass support. The important, and frightening, phenomenon here, for us, is not the consolidation of power in the hands of one person, but rather the powerful movement Trump has mobilized, and it is this movement that needs to be understood on a deeper level.

Obama makes radical reverse on Israeli aggression


We begin with a screencap of the banner headline from the New York Daily News, a paper that took a strongly anti-Trump stance through the campaign, sided with the Donald on this one:

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The story is one of a waning administration’s abrupt reversal on a policy which has poisoned bother the Middle East and the United States, which has staunchly backed Israel’s systematic looting of resources and land — as well as the homes and livelihoods — of countless Palestinians under its ruthless drive to forge a Greater Israel.

Our first selection from from the New York Times:

Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure reflected its accumulated frustration over Israeli settlements. The American abstention on the vote also broke a longstanding policy of shielding Israel from action at the United Nations that described the settlements as illegal.

While the resolution is not expected to have any practical impact on the ground, it is regarded as a major rebuff to Israel, one that could increase its isolation over the paralyzed peace process with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors, who have sought to establish their own state on territory held by Israel.

Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers after the vote on the measure, which passed 14 to 0, with the United States ambassador, Samantha Power, raising her hand as the lone abstention. Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, denounced the measure, and castigated the council members who had approved it.

From the Guardian, the Obama administration’s rationale:

Explaining the US abstention, Power said the Israeli settlement “seriously undermines Israel’s security”, adding : “The United States has been sending a message that the settlements must stop privately and publicly for nearly five decades.”

Power said the US did not veto the resolution because the Obama administration believed it reflected the state of affairs regarding settlement and remained consistent with US policy.

“One cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two-state solution that would end the conflict. One had to make a choice between settlements and separation,” Power said.

The US decision to abstain was immediately condemned by Netanyahu’s office as “shameful” which pointedly referred to Israel’s expectation of working more closely with Donald Trump.

Trump tweeted his reaction:

blog-trumpsterMore from the Associated Press:

Trump demanded that Obama veto the resolution and tweeted after the vote, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th” — when Trump takes office.

It would be virtually impossible, however, for Trump to overturn the resolution. It would require a new resolution with support from at least nine members in the 15-member Security Council and no veto by one of the other permanent members — Russia, China, Britain or France, all of whom supported Friday’s resolution.

Republicans, who control Congress, immediately threatened consequences. Sen. Lindsay Graham, who heads the Senate panel in charge of U.S. payments to the U.N., said he would “form a bipartisan coalition to suspend or significantly reduce” funding. He added that countries receiving U.S. aid could also be penalized for supporting the resolution.

Under U.N. rules, failure to pay dues leads to the loss of voting privileges in the General Assembly.

The vote on settlements sparked behind-the-scenes discussion in the usually divided Security Council on what else might be achieved on the Israeli-Palestinian issue while Obama is still in the White House.

And the reaction from Israel, via Al Jazeera English:

In addition to calling it “shameful”, Israel also recalled its ambassador to New Zealand and Senegal for their role in the passing of the resolution.

“Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the UN and will not abide by its terms.” said Netanyahu.

“At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half-a-million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall ‘occupied territory’.”

On Saturday, Netanyahu also instructed the Foreign Ministry to end all aid programs to Senegal and to cancel a planned visit to Israel by the Senegalese foreign minister.

And while both Trump and the Obama administration have obsessed over the rise of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. intself, consider an important reminder from Richard P. Mitchell, Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, writing under his nomme de blog, Juan Cole:

Jerusalem is extremely important and holy (just after Mecca and Medina) to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

One of the three major motivations for Usama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda to attack the United States in 2001 was the Israeli occupation of the Muslim parts of Jerusalem. (The other two were the US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that were thought to have killed 500,000 children, and the presence of US troops at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia).

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative demarche on the Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem in 2000 caused Bin Laden to try to move up the date of the planned attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., as ‘punishment’ for Sharon’s implicit threat.

Bin Laden composed a poem for his son’s wedding in Afghanistan in fall of 2001, “The wound of Jerusalem is making me boil. Its suffering is making me burn from within.” Bin Laden was a mass murderer and not a good Muslim, but his rage over Jerusalem is shared by many in the Muslim world

Study: How corporate NGOs capture politics


Anyone who’s watched to political process grasps a simple fact: That some of those innocuously named organizations playing increasingly dominate roles in the electoral, legislative, and regulatory are Trojan horses, creations of corporate interests operating under the guise of “citizens groups.

But the big players have a deeper game, and it involves the special status afforded NGOs in the regulatory process and in the formation of agreements like the now-threatened Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

And now, with one of the most infamous Supreme Court decisions of recent years, the power of these stealth lobbyists has increased exponentially.

And with that, we turn to a new study [open access], reported by the University of Wisconsin:

The furor over the 2010 Citizens United decision drew intense scrutiny to the role of corporate money in U.S. politics and raised questions about the influence of businesses in American lawmaking.

But corporate interests also play a powerful role in international legal processes, sometimes by covertly creating or co-opting non-governmental organizations to lobby lawmakers on their behalf — creating a type of “astroturf activism” that masquerades as grassroots efforts.

That’s the conclusion of a new paper by Melissa Durkee, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law. Published in November on the Social Science Research Network and forthcoming in the Stanford Law Review, the paper examines how corporate entities have infiltrated NGOs due to an outdated legal structure at international organizations such as the United Nations. And Durkee suggests how pathways could be created to give businesses legitimate access to international lawmaking processes.

“Businesses are involved in international lawmaking and governance, and there is inadequate scholarship about this and inadequate regulation of it,” Durkee said. “That can have a detrimental impact on lawmaking.”

Corporations engage in astroturf activism in three main ways, Durkee said, by:

  • Co-opting and capturing the agendas of existing NGOs
  • Forming their own NGOs to get accredited as consultants to entities such as the World Health Organization or the United Nations Economic and Social Council
  • Working through trade or industry associations

“When we think about NGOs lobbying at the United Nations, we think about the traditional ones like Amnesty International or Greenpeace,” Durkee said. “But what hasn’t been recognized is the fact that some of these NGOs are mouthpieces for corporate interests.”

Corporations have secretly gained access to international officials by exploiting a set of arcane rules developed by the United Nations that gives nonprofits — but not businesses — a special consultancy status, Durkee writes. That gives them access to meetings with international officials, allows them to receive information intended solely for NGOs and provides opportunities for informal lobbying, among other perks.

NGOs have exploded in numbers since the 1980s and are considered a democratizing influence in international lawmaking, Durkee said. But an estimated 10 percent of NGOs that have UN consultancy status are industry or trade organizations, such as the World Coal Association or the World Nuclear Association.

Others appear to be grassroots entities but have been created or coopted by business, Durkee said. Examples include the National Wetlands Coalition, a nonprofit formed by U.S. oil companies and real estate developers, and Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain, a now-defunct group formed by coal and electricity companies. Those front groups cast suspicion on legitimate NGOs, she said, and the co-opting of credible organizations makes it difficult to determine their real missions or hold those organizations accountable for meeting them. Continue reading

Trump’s climate war evokes shades of a dark past


When science stands opposed to the greed of the powerful, witch hunts can result.

To understand the threat posed by the Trumpsters, a look at past conflicts provides some informative and thoroughly chilling insights.

From Paul N. Edwards, Professor of Information and History at the University of Michigan, writing for the open source academic journal The Conversation:

President-elect Trump has called global warming “bullshit” and a “Chinese hoax.” He has promised to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate treaty and to “bring back coal,” the world’s dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fuel. The incoming administration has paraded a roster of climate change deniers for top jobs. On Dec. 13, Trump named former Texas Governor Rick Perry, another climate change denier, to lead the Department of Energy (DoE), an agency Perry said he would eliminate altogether during his 2011 presidential campaign.

Just days earlier, the Trump transition team presented the DoE with a 74-point questionnaire that has raised alarm among employees because the questions appear to target people whose work is related to climate change.

For me, as a historian of science and technology, the questionnaire – bluntly characterized by one DoE official as a “hit list” – is starkly reminiscent of the worst excesses of ideology-driven science, seen everywhere from the U.S. Red Scare of the 1950s to the Soviet and Nazi regimes of the 1930s.

The questionnaire asks for a list of “all DoE employees or contractors” who attended the annual Conferences of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – a binding treaty commitment of the U.S., signed by George H. W. Bush in 1992. Another question seeks the names of all employees involved in meetings of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, responsible for technical guidance quantifying the economic benefits of avoided climate change.

It also targets the scientific staff of DoE’s national laboratories. It requests lists of all professional societies scientists belong to, all their publications, all websites they maintain or contribute to, and “all other positions… paid and unpaid,” which they may hold. These requests, too, are likely aimed at climate scientists, since most of the national labs conduct research related to climate change, including climate modeling, data analysis and data storage.

On Dec. 13, a DoE spokesperson told the Washington Post the agency will not provide individual names to the transition team, saying “We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.”

Energy’s interest in climate

Why does the Department of Energy conduct research on climate change? A better question might be: How could any Department of Energy fail to address climate change?

Established in the 1940s under the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the US national labs’ original assignment was simple: Design, build and test nuclear weapons and atomic energy. Since nuclear bombs create deadly fallout and reactor accidents can release radiation into the air, weather forecasting and climate knowledge were integral to that mission. Therefore, some labs immediately began building internal expertise in “nuclear meteorology.”

When high-flying supersonic transport aircraft were proposed in the late 1960s, the labs used climate models to analyze how their exhaust gases might affect the stratosphere. In the 1970s, the labs applied weather and climate simulations developed for nuclear weapons work to analyze urban smog and the global effects of volcanic eruptions. Later, the labs investigated whether nuclear war might cause dangerous climatic effects, such as catastrophic ozone depletion or “nuclear winter.”

The newly formed Department of Energy took over the labs in 1977. Its broadened mission included research on all forms of energy production, efficiency, pollution and waste. In the late 1970s, for example, Pacific Northwest Lab sampled aerosol pollution with research aircraft, using instruments of its own design.

By the 1980s, when man-made climate change became a major scientific concern, the labs were ready for the challenge. For example, Oak Ridge National Laboratory has run the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center since 1982, one of many DoE efforts that contribute crucially to human knowledge about global climate change.

An ideologically driven purge?

The Trump questionnaire harks back to the McCarthyist “red scare” of the early 1950s, when congressional committees and the FBI hounded eminent scientists accused of communist leanings.

A principal target of suspicion then was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist who led the Los Alamos atomic bomb project, but later opposed nuclear proliferation. Oppenheimer chaired the General Advisory Committee to the AEC, direct ancestor to the DoE – and saw his security clearance unjustly revoked following humiliating hearings by that same AEC in 1954.

Many other physicists were also “repeatedly subjected to illegal surveillance by the FBI, paraded in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, charged time and again… with being the ‘weakest links’ in national security, and widely considered to be more inherently susceptible to communist propaganda than any other group of scientists or academics,” according to a history by author David Kaiser, on suspicions of atomic scientists in the early days of the Cold War.

Continue reading

Greece grants relief to its poorest; Troika is furious


Syriza Party leader Alexis Tsipras lead his party to victory in Greece two years ago on a promise to end the austerity imposed on his nation by the financial oligarchs of the Troika — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

Their reign had deepened the nation’s staggering unemployment, forced massive pay, healthcare and benefits reductions, raised taxes, and forced the selloff of many of the nation’s resources and infrastructure to foreign investors.

But as prime minister he failed to deliver, delivering his nation over to yet more rounds of austerity and sending his party plunging in popularity.

But now his government has offered a modest measure of relief to those most deeply affected by the diktat of the Troika, and the oligarch are furious.

To Vima reports on the relief measure:

The Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Thursday evening that 617 million euros will be distributed to 1.6 million low income pensioners, while the scheduled VAT hike on the islands of the north Aegean Sea – which are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis – will be suspended. As he explained in his statements, these actions were possible thanks to exceeding the primary surplus targets.

“It has been the government’s pledge to redistribute every euro of surplus from available sources to our weaker citizens. Today, staying true to this pledge, we decide the immediate redistribution of the outperformance of 2016 revenues to low-income pensioners” the Prime Minister explained in his televised proclamation via ERT. Pensioners on less than 850 euros will receive the benefit, which will be at least 300 euros.

Specifically 10% of pensioners (about 270,000) will receive 500 to 850 euros, 20% (about 570,000) will receive 300 to 500 euros and 30% (about 750,000) will receive 300 euros. These benefits will be paid out along with January’s pensions, which are due on the 22nd of December. The Prime Minister added that these benefits are 4.7 times more than the EKAS benefit that was suspended in 2016.

Regarding the planned VAT [Troika-mandated sales tax] hike, the PM stressed that it will be implemented “but though when our fellow citizens are bearing the weight of the whole of Europe due to the refugee crisis. It is time that Europe recognized this”, the PM explained.

And the reaction, as expected

From a second To Vima story:

The Greek Prime Minister’s decision to distribute 617 million euros among pensioners, while the second bailout review has yet to conclude, appears to have ‘surprised’ Brussels.

A European officer noted that the EU had not been informed and estimated that they will make the negotiations between Europe and the IMF for the surplus targets of 2018 and beyond harder.

Sources from the European Commission also reported that it appears that there will be serious difficulties in the implementation of the recent Eurogroup decision.

So reducing Greece to the status of a Third World nation isn’t enough.

In a reverse Oliver Twist ploy, the Troika is demanding, “Please, sir, can I have some more.”