29 October 2014
Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of a 19-year-old Marine, the first fatality among the estimated 1,900 US troops currently deployed in the new US war in the Middle East. This will undoubtedly be only the first of many American casualties in this war, a death toll that will be multiplied many times over for the Iraqi and Syrian men, women and children who will lose their lives in this latest imperialist intervention.
Less than one week before the midterm elections in the US, it is becoming ever more clear that, whatever the results in terms of the breakdown of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Obama administration will embark on a major escalation of military operations once the voting is done.
Already there is a mounting drumbeat from within Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus—and those in politics and the media who voice its demands—for stepped-up bombing and more US “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Syria.
This campaign for military escalation was summed up in a lead editorial published in Monday’s Washington Post entitled “Mr. Obama’s half-hearted fight against the Islamic State.” The editorial asserts that “an unlikely consensus is emerging across the ideological spectrum” in Washington that the Obama administration’s current strategy in the war on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “unworkable,” and that “the military means the president has authorized cannot accomplish his announced aims.”
The editorial criticizes the “modest tempo of airstrikes” as well as “the absence of ground trainers and special forces who could accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces.” It cites an unnamed senior Pentagon official as stating that the aim of fielding a new mercenary army of “rebels” in Syria is impossible “if you’re not on the ground to advise and assist them.”
“The United States will have to broaden its aims and increase its military commitment if the terrorists are to be defeated,” the editorial concludes. This means “a strategy to counter the Assad regime” and deploying special operations troops in combat together with Iraqi and Syrian proxy forces.
The editorial follows a report in the Post last week that US and Iraqi officials recently discussed increasing the number of US military “advisers” in Iraq, and that deploying them “in the field with the Iraqis” is under consideration, given the abysmal record of Iraqi security forces collapsing in the face of ISIS advances.
Along similar lines, Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has written of US strategy in the Iraq-Syria war “imploding” and dismissed the campaign of air strikes in both countries as “military tokenism.” He insists that “advisers” must be deployed alongside Iraqi troops “as soon as possible,” and that the US must accept “risking combat losses.”
Then there is Lt. Col. John Nagl (ret.), the co-author of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, who states that some 15,000 US “advisers” are needed on the ground, and that the war in Iraq and Syria will have to go on “for at least a generation and probably longer.”
The Vietnam War provides an instructive precedent for the steady escalation in the number of “advisers” deployed in a US overseas intervention. John F. Kennedy deployed several hundred to the country shortly after taking office. By the time he was assassinated in November 1963, they numbered 16,700. Within barely two years, 200,000 US troops had been thrown into the war, and by 1968 the number was well over half a million.
Obviously, there are vast differences between Vietnam, where Washington intervened in an attempt to crush a popular anti-colonial struggle, and Iraq and Syria, where it confronts a crisis entirely of its own making, forged through the destruction of Iraq in nearly nine years of war and the devastation of Syria by the Islamist militias that the US and its allies have armed and supported.
What they have in common, however, is that the existing forces on the ground, the Iraqi army and the so-called Syrian “moderate rebels,” are—like the South Vietnamese Army before them—wholly inadequate (or non-existent) instruments for achieving US aims. Thus, the demand for US “boots on the ground”—plenty of them and in short order.
Once again, the American people are being dragged into a criminal war of aggression based upon lies. While this war is being sold with propaganda about ISIS atrocities against minorities, beheadings, etc., the real objective is the use of military force to assert US hegemony over the strategically vital and oil-rich Middle East.
The aims of this war, which spans national boundaries, involves not only the re-occupation of Iraq, but also the overthrow of the government of Syria and its replacement with a pliant US puppet regime. These war aims, in turn, place US imperialism on a clear trajectory for military confrontation with Iran and Russia, posing the real threat of a Third World War.
Every step has been taken to preclude next week’s midterm elections from providing the slightest possibility for the American people to express their will in relation to the most important political question, that of a war which we are told may last for more than “a generation.”
Just before the bombs began falling in Iraq, the members of the US Congress scurried out of town for a two-month campaign season recess without taking any vote to authorize a war that is both unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Any vote that is taken will be held after the election in a lame-duck session of Congress, thereby assuring that no one will be held politically accountable. In the election campaign itself, the war—like virtually every other social question of vital importance to the masses of working people—is not even an issue.
Nothing could more clearly expose the entirely rotted-out character of the American political system, which is controlled lock, stock and barrel by a financial aristocracy, and in which decisions on imperialist war abroad and repression at home are made by an unelected cabal of military and intelligence officials for whom Obama serves as a mouthpiece.
The corrupt capitalist two-party system offers no means to resist the drive to war. The working class must intervene independently, mobilizing its objective strength in a mass antiwar movement based upon a socialist and internationalist program to put an end to capitalism, which is the source of war.
Bill Van Auken
On an early Friday morning in September 2006, a young man named Reggie Shaw climbed into his Chevy Tahoe for his long commute to work in Logan, Utah. Somewhere on a highway east of Logan, with the sky just beginning to lighten, Reggie veered over the yellow line and sideswiped a Saturn coming from the opposite direction. The Saturn spun out and was “T-boned” by a Ford pick-up, killing the two men riding in the Saturn.
Research suggests that checking in on your smart phone may release a dose of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates the pleasure centers of the brain. “Ninety-six percent of people say that you shouldn’t text and drive, and yet, 30 percent do it anyway,” said Richtel. “The only other disconnect I can find that is that stark is with cigarettes. Every smoker says it’s bad for you, yet they keep doing it. Why do these devices have such a lure over us.”
Today, Shaw is a crusader against texting while driving. “Deadly Wandering” is an often harrowing chronicle of how Shaw got to the point where he could admit his wrongdoing and atone for causing the death of two fathers and husbands.
“The Reggie story is so compelling because we can connect to him easily,” said Richtel. “The battle that happened after his deadly wreck is a metaphor for our own internal battle about how to pay attention, particularly on the roads.”
This is not, however, a morality tale. Instead of talking about the problem of texting while driving as an issue of responsibility and willpower, Richtel asserts that our powerful and appealing technological devises are changing our behaviors on a neurological level.
“People are getting in their cars every single day, people who are not malicious, who are not bad people, and yet they’re winding up in these deadly wrecks. Driving feels boring a lot of the time. And with every passing moment, we are becoming less tolerant of boredom than we’ve ever been. This thing is constantly beckoning us.”
More than 1,700 people have signed the Change.org petition
Due to Bill Maher’s recent controversial comments about Islam, students at University of California, Berkeley, are petitioning to have the university rescind his invitation to speak at a December graduation ceremony.
The Change.org petition, which had more than 1,700 signatures as of Monday afternoon, calls for U.C. Berkeley to stop the comedian and host of HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” from delivering a commencement speech. “Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for,” the petition reads.
The petition was authored by ASUC Senator Marium Navid, according to Berkeley’s student paper the Daily Californian. Navid is supported by the Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian Coalition (MEMSA). The Change.org petition appears under the name of Khwaja Ahmed, who according to the Daily Californian is a member of MEMSA. From the Daily Californian:
“‘It’s not an issue of freedom of speech, it’s a matter of campus climate,’ Navid said. ‘The First Amendment gives him the right to speak his mind, but it doesn’t give him the right to speak at such an elevated platform as the commencement. That’s a privilege his racist and bigoted remarks don’t give him.’”
The controversial comments in question are from a now-infamous debate on “Real Time” between Maher and atheist author Sam Harris and actor Ben Affleck about radical Islam. At one point Affleck called Maher’s comments “gross” and “racist,” and the comments have sparked a wider conversation about religion and liberalism, and a response from author and professor Reza Aslan (among others).
Maher is not the only proposed commencement speaker to be petitioned against. In May 2014 alone there was a boom of campus protests that led to the declining of invitations by several invited speakers including former U.C. Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau.
According to the Daily Californian, University Relations has the final say on confirming Maher as the commencement speaker.
Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email email@example.com.
28 October 2014
While the upcoming midterm election will be the most expensive non-presidential poll in US history, voter turnout is expected to fall to record lows. Public disapproval of both the Democrats and Republicans—both of which are running on right-wing platforms—is at the highest levels ever recorded.
There is an ever-widening chasm separating the political institutions and both parties from the broad mass of the people. At the same time, the dividing line between elected officials and the financial oligarchy that controls economic life is growing ever thinner. With the passage of every election, the government is increasingly not only controlled by, but also composed of, the extremely rich.
Some recently released figures make this clear. The combined net worth of the members of the US Congress hit $2 billion last year, up $150 million from 2012, according to CQ Roll Call ’s annual tally. The median net worth of the members of Congress is over $450,000.
The release of the report follows the announcement earlier this year by the Center for Responsive Politics, using a different method for estimating the average wealth of US lawmakers, that 2012 marked the first time a typical member of Congress was worth over a million dollars.
Enormous wealth knows no party boundaries in US politics. The Democrats, who like to posture as partisans of the “middle class,” were on average richer than their Republican counterparts. Congress’ notable multi-millionaires include:
* California Republican Representative Darrell Issa, the wealthiest US lawmaker, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa has a net worth of at least $357 million.
* Texas House Republican Michael McCaul, who is second on the list, with a net worth of at least $117 million. McCaul serves as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Unsurprisingly, his top five campaign donors include the defense contractor Boeing and the airport security device manufacturer OSI Systems.
* Maryland Democratic Representative John Delaney, who placed third. His stated net worth increased over 60 percent between 2012 and 2013, hitting $111 million. He is a member of the House Financial Services Committee. Four of his five biggest donors include financial companies, including Credit Suisse and JPMorgan Chase.
* The House and Senate leaders are all multi-millionaires. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is worth about $2.8 million, while Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is worth $11.97 million. Republican House Speaker John Boehner has a net worth of $2.32 million, and outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor $9 million. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has a net worth of $29 million, making her the 14th-wealthiest member of Congress.
In comparison, the net worth of a typical US household was $56,335 in 2013, down a massive 36 percent since 2003, according to a study published earlier this year by the Russell Sage Foundation. Based on that figure, a typical member of Congress is 20 times wealthier than a typical American.
In being staffed and run mostly by millionaires, Congress is in the company of almost every other major institution in the US. For example, eight of the nine Supreme Court justices are millionaires (by far), according to a review of their financial disclosures by USA Today .
The growing wealth of those who populate the institutions of the state is an expression of the decay of democratic forms in the US and the ever-more openly oligarchical character of the US political system.
Corruption, bribery, fraud and all manner of insider-dealings: such is the standard operating procedure of government in the United States. With the whole process fueled by unprecedented levels of cash, candidates spend a majority of their time in office fund-raising among the corporate elite and the well-heeled. Increasingly, individual wealth is leveraged into positions of political power.
If politicians are not extremely wealthy going in, they generally find fortune going out—either through extravagant speaking fees paid by corporations or through the “revolving door” between Congress and big business. A case in point is the Clintons. The couple, according to Hillary, were “dirt poor” after leaving the White House, but have since racked up over a hundred million dollars from speaking fees and other sources, putting them squarely in the top 0.01 percent of income earners.
Without glorifying the past, one can note changes in the forms of class rule over the past century of American politics. The two major parties, the Democrats and Republicans, in an earlier period had broader constituencies. The Democrats had the active support of layers of the middle class and large sections of the working class, along with sections of big business. The Republicans counted on support from small businessmen and small farmers as well as most of corporate America.
These parties have largely lost any substantial, active popular base. They have become hollowed out. They are little more than electoral instruments of a tiny financial aristocracy allied to the military-intelligence apparatus. All important decisions are made behind the backs of the population and sold to the people by a mass media whose leading personnel are themselves multi-millionaires.
Over the course of the past 50 years, amid the deindustrialization and financialization of the economy, accompanied by an extraordinary growth of social inequality, any marginal, relative distance between the political apparatus and the corporate-financial elite has vanished. At the same time, the middle class, the traditional social basis of support for parliamentary democracy, has been increasingly broken up. Broad sections have been proletarianized while the upper layers have seen their wealth soar in line with the stock market.
It is a basic tenet of Marxism that the social class that dominates economic life controls the state as well. This historic truth is being expressed ever more openly and nakedly in official politics.
Under these conditions, nostrums such as the belief that change can be realized by voting or writing your congressman are becoming increasingly discredited. Progressive political change cannot come without a direct assault by the working class on the fortunes and property of the ruling class. The task is not to reform, but to overthrow the existing political system and replace it with institutions that are under the democratic control of the working class, together with the reorganization of economic life to meet social needs, not private profit.
When do we get to talk seriously about misogyny and violence against women? A list of opportunities we should take
We don’t often get to talk about misogyny, toxic masculinity and male sexual entitlement outside of certain feminist and progressive spaces, whether those spaces are online or offline. In fact, just use the words “toxic masculinity” in a sentence and you’re bound to lose a lot of people straight out of the gate. People, even people who think rape is bad and that mass shootings are terrifying and preventable and that men shouldn’t threaten women with death for critiquing video games, bristle when you direct these conversations back to what seems to connect most of them, if not all of them.
But try to talk about toxic masculinity and you’re likely to get dismissed as a cynical opportunist pushing an agenda. Or a misandrist. (A “creeping” misandrist, even.) I saw that happen a lot over the weekend when women I follow on Twitter tried to talk about the Seattle shooting, in which a 14-year-old boy killed a girl and badly injured four other students, as part of a pattern we’ve seen before. It was a familiar script. When I wrote about Elliot Rodger’s misogyny after he killed six people in Isla Vista, California, I received a lot of angry emails telling me that I was politicizing a tragedy. It seems that, even when a killer leaves hundreds of pages detailing his racist and misogynistic worldview, we aren’t supposed to talk about those things. (We also aren’t supposed to talk about the data we have showing that 98 percent of shooters are men. Or, as the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti pointed out on Monday, research that shows that responses of “explosive anger” are ”two to three times more likely to occur in male teens, and twice as likely in adult men.”)
There is a dangerous and deadly pattern at play, and every day I read something that I file away as part of the growing list opportunities to talk about toxic masculinity, opportunities we should take. Because these aren’t isolated incidents, but the product of something more insidious and more dangerous. Sometimes, I keep actual lists. This week, my list looked like this:
Now unless you are of the belief that men are wired to be violent (I am not), then talking about our culture, how boys are raised to view themselves and others around them, seems pretty important. And to talk about this does not mean that all men are rapists or violent killers. And to talk about allegations of rape does not mean we are convicting men in the “court of public opinion.” It just means that there is something going on here, that these stories tell us something, and that the response to these stories reveal something, too. We need to look at and challenge those things.
So maybe we look at the story of cops stealing photos and treating a gross violation like a fun activity or an Oklahoma cop who is alleged to be a serial rapist and we question abuses of power and abuser dynamics in law enforcement. Maybe that can shape some of our thinking about why women don’t always report sexual violence to the cops. And while it may be impossible to know what drove Jaylen Fryberg to kill another student and himself, we have a very familiar set of circumstances that we can talk about instead of running away from them. We can look to the tragedy in Seattle and situate it as part of a larger pattern of violence that has revealed itself again and again and begin thinking about what addressing that violence might actually look like. Whether it’s gun control or healthy masculinity or both of these things.
And maybe then we can think about Gamergate and the harassment that has come to define this “movement” and we can question why so many people seem willing to look past that and lend credibility to serial harassers who have forced women offline and out of their homes. And while we wait to learn more about the allegations against Ghomeshi, we can still think about where our allegiances reflexively go when we learn about high-profile assault cases. Whom we believe and whom we don’t. We can ask questions about how the details included and excluded in reporting on allegations shape our view of those allegations. And we can listen to women who say that they didn’t speak out about harassment or violence they endured because they were scared that doing so would lead to more harassment.
Answers don’t always come easily. But a willingness to sit with and try to answer difficult questions is a minimum standard. Sadly, it’s one we’re failing to meet again and again and again.
Like his predecessor, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to lower the staggering rate of homelessness in New York City. Unlike his predecessor, his strategy has not consisted of hectoring the homeless for their plight while cutting their access to housing programs.
Still, the number of homeless families in New York continues to rise, especially in traditionally middle-class neighborhoods that have seen rapid growth (e.g. gentrification), as the Daily News notes. According to a report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, 12,000 families are currently sleeping in shelters, including 24,000 kids. That’s a 250% jump in 20 years.
In reality, the city’s homelessness problem is far more dire because many homeless families don’t get into shelters. According to school records highlighted in the report, close to 80,000 kids have experienced homelessness in the past year.
“For every child in shelter, there were roughly two additional children who were homeless and living in unstable conditions,” the authors note. That could mean doubling up with another family or sleeping on the subway or in a car.
“Unless something is done to address the underlying issues driving families into extreme poverty, more children will become homeless,” the report concludes.
While New York leads the pack in horrifyingly high rates of homelessness, cities across the country continue to see increases in the number of homeless families.