Sunday, March 1, 2015

Republicans Invite State Terrorist to Congress

Netanyahu with a leading supporter of Israeli colonialism.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in the United States.  Ahead of an election in his home country, Netanyahu was invited by the Republican Party to address Congress to make the case for deliberately raising tensions with Iran, and torpedoing the prospect of a settlement over the country’s nuclear program.
When Netanyahu appears before Congress, it will be with little credibility.  The subject of investigations in Israel, the Prime Minister has also been alleged to have lied about the intelligence he presented to the United Nations in 2012 about the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.  On that occasion, Netanyahu took his war-mongering to New York waving a diagram that looked like it had been thrown together for a first-grade science fair, albeit using logic that would have left any first-grader with eyebrows raised.
The first-grader would not have been alone.  We now know that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, repudiated the Prime Minister’s claims in a secret cable.  All of this suggests that the Israeli Prime Minister, like a number of our politicians and intelligence agencies 12 years ago, has a secret intelligence cache, although whether that is to be found in his fevered fundamentalist imagination or up his backside might be difficult to say.
A key point is that the Netanyahu will be attacking diplomatic efforts in an attempt to substitute violence for negotiation, and that when he launches his attack, we know that he has a history of dishonesty.
More disturbing altogether is the fact that Republicans in Congress saw fit to invite to the United States a man who is essentially a practitioner and proponent of state terror.
It is often claimed that Netanyahu is the leader of the only democracy in the Middle East, as though the fact that the United States has created a region so devoid of representative institutions by propping up assorted dictators and autocrats is a point of pride.  The claim also ignores the reality that Israel can hardly be considered to be a democracy so long as it possesses colonies in Gaza and the West Bank.
Netanyahu has repeatedly launched wars against his country’s colonies, using a policy of deliberately withholding adequate food supplies, creating tremendous hardship.  His regime practices the typical colonial policy of collective punishment, trying to defeat anti-colonial fighters—and they are such, whether or not we approve of every one of their actions—by punishing the population at large, killing thousands of civilians, many of them children, destroying housing and ensuring that utilities do not reach the colonized population. 
In short, the Israeli regime has used colonial warfare to engineer humanitarian crises.  And by keeping its colonies perpetually on the breaking point, fuelled with sinister rhetoric, not only is the regime sailing perilously close to articulating a policy of ethnic cleansing, but is ensuring that local authorities in those colonies lack the power to support their constituents, while lumbering with the burden of responsibility for the state of affairs the Israeli regime has actually created.
As though to trumpet the impunity with which his regime wields state terror, Netanyahu has also repeatedly and deliberately attacked the United Nations as it operates in his colonies, its task being to bring relief and monitor what is clearly an untenable and morally indefensible situation. 
These Israeli policies—the use of collective punishment, the deliberate impoverishment of a community, attacks on the United Nations, and the maintenance of colonies—are the actions of a rogue state.  The leader of such a state should not be the recipient of an invitation to address Congress.  The Hague might be a more appropriate venue for an appearance by Netanyahu, where he should be joined by a bevy of current and former U.S. administration officials complicit in a variety of international crimes.
Israelis, like all members of colonizing societies, are finding that the authoritarian behavior of their state in its colonies is seeping back home in toxic ways.  Netanyahu recently targeted Israeli intellectuals for their political views, attempting to shut down criticism of his administration and of the colonial military forces. 
He’s already voiced those concerns—and apparently lied while doing so.  The truth is, Netanyahu, and the community of neocons and fundamentalists in the United States are the far greater threat to Israel.  The reason Israel finds itself worrying about its survival has much to do with its colonial policies, the series of injustices the colonial regime has perpetrated against colonial populations over the past decades, its flouting of international law, and its close relationship with the United States, given the often-terroristic foreign policy of the latter government.

In short, the United States does Israel no favours by writing blank checks to prop-up a colonial regime that not only inflicts unspeakable damage on its colonized population, but also imperils its own society.  I for one hope that when they vote in the coming elections, Israelis recognize that their colonialism and terror will be their own downfall, and remove those like Netanyahu who support state terror and colonialism from positions of power. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Californians Need to Accept Responsibility for their Universities

The Los Angeles Times reported this morning that “California voters overwhelming oppose a tuition increase at University of California campuses, even if that forces the colleges to cut spending or accept more out-of-state students who pay higher fees”.
The poll also discovered that Californians believe that their state “has done a poor job of making a college education affordable”, and think that California Governor Jerry Brown is correct to call out the UC Regents and UC President for their efforts to raise tuition.
The poll finds California’s voters at their most typically obtuse and obdurate.  They oppose tuition increases, but apparently don’t realize that tuition increases have been necessary over the years because they have refused to provide UC with sufficient funding, while simultaneously asking the University to strive for excellence in research and public service. 
Taking more students, and taking those students from an increasingly diverse state costs money.  Performing world class research, preserving world class faculty, and maintaining world class campuses require money.  I hope that many Californians would agree that those are worthwhile ambitions, in contrast to the state’s half-witted Governor who wants a leaner, meaner university that shoves students in and out the door, giving them a tattered product instead of a rigorous learning experience.  Brown is dismissive of the UC’s research and its capacity to transform the lives and livelihoods of Californians.  Californians, I hope, feel differently.
But if Californians agree that those ambitions are worthwhile—excellence in education and research—they have a funny way of showing it.  Older generations in particular—the very people who attended UC for free or close to it—have consistently opposed creating a tax system that would allocate sufficient funding to UC for the institution to perform its mission for subsequent generations.  Having climbed up a ladder constructed by others to a position of success or at least security, those generations are now breaking off the rungs to prevent younger Californians making the same ascent.
If the state has done a poor job of making college affordable, that is to a large degree because voters have rejected one effort after another to raise the serious kind of revenue necessary to keeping UC truly public—that is, an institution supported by the collective for the good of the state’s youth.
Voters have not hesitated to discipline legislators and Governors who have argued for the need to reinvest in our public sphere, and voters have conditioned politicians in the state to steer clear of reforming the tax system or our political structure, moves which are seen as assaults on the surplus wealth of the upper-middle classes and the affluent—the people who, having benefited from a vibrant public sphere in their youths, are now content to trash and de-fund the same sphere.
UC could certainly manage its resources more wisely.  The past years have seen the unseemly bloating of an administrative class, the primary purpose of which often seems to shoot their institution in the foot by granting themselves outrageous bonuses and pay raises at the same time that they raise tuition for students and request more funds from the state. 
The basic immorality and strategic stupidity of the market approach adopted by UC’s administration should not obscure the fact that cutting administrative salaries would not make up for the systematic shortfall in public funding the system has experienced over the years. 
Voters support Jerry Brown’s arguments about the University of California because those are arguments that let them and the Governor—long a foe of public higher education, in stark contrast to his father—off the hook for their serial irresponsibility and their failure to maintain the system of higher education that is in their trust. 
But many of those voters might support Brown because it has been so long since they have been presented with any alternatives to the smaller, crueler state that they live in today.  It has been a long time since the state experienced a political movement in favour of creating a more communitarian California, one in which citizens realize that as a matter of moral fact as well as of practicality, they have a responsibility to one another and to future generations. 

It has been a long time since the state’s leadership expressed confidence in the ability of the state government—the legislature, the executive, and the voters who exercise outsized power through the state’s initiative process—to play an active, respectful role in the lives of citizens, promoting the kinds of institutions and investments that have the potential to lead to equality and justice in California.  I see no such movements or leaders on the horizon, but students, staff, and faculty at California’s universities should be thinking about how to work with those other communities who suffer from the absence of equality and justice, and to forge such a movement, to reclaim the state’s public sphere. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

California's Students Condemn Jerry Brown's Approach to Higher-Ed

It has taken nearly five years since Jerry Brown launched his bid for his third term as Governor in 2010, but California’s students have at last identified California’s prevaricating, irresponsible executive as one of the primary stumbling blocks to the recovery of higher education in the Golden State.  The Daily Cal reported that on Sunday, “the University of California Student Association unanimously voted to pass a resolution expressing no confidence in Gov. Jerry Brown”.

According to the Daily Cal, the resolution “notes that over the last 24 years, state funding per student of the university has declined, despite inflation.  It also observes that Brown line-item vetoed $100 million toward improving infrastructure of California state schools and the UC system and that Brown supports expediting some degree programs and increasing online education”.

In addition to condemning Brown’s efforts to instrumentalise and cheapen California’s higher education system, the students might have noted Brown’s serial refusal to use the powers at his disposal to address the political and structural conditions that are driving UC towards privatization and inaccessibility. 

Like his Tea Party colleagues in Sacramento, with whom he coasted to victory in 2010, Jerry Brown regards budgeting as an ends rather than a means.  A balanced budget with minimal political risk is more important to the Governor than using that budget to improve the lives of the Californians he ostensibly serves.

Like his Tea Party colleagues in Sacramento, with whom he often has an easier relationship than with progressive Democrats, Jerry Brown took a tax pledge, tying his hands and passing the buck to voters who might have thought they elected the Governor to, well, govern.  Unlike the Tea Party cadres, who take their commands from Grover Norquist and the ghost of Howard Jarvis (two sociopathic anti-tax advocates), Brown’s half-witted pledge was self-imposed, and representative of the moral expediency with which he maneuvers around Sacramento.

 Of course, neither UC students nor the public at large, all of whom benefit from a healthy and well-funded public university system, should be surprised by Brown’s contempt for the University of California.  Like Ronald Reagan—the hero of the Tea Party, which dominates California’s politics from the minority because of undemocratic supermajority rules—Jerry Brown was extremely hostile to UC in his first two terms as Governor, leading university leadership to see little difference between the arch-Conservative and the man who likes to paint himself as a visionary progressive.

It is a pity that California’s students waited until now to take Brown to task.  Doing so during the 2014 election campaign might have forced the Governor to publicly set out his position on the future of higher education in California and made the issue a point of contention in an election that Brown won easily without deigning to lay out any plans before the public.

It is difficult to know what the most effective path forward for California’s students is at this point.  Five years ago students used protest to call attention to the UC’s plight and to force administrators to roll back plans for an unending barrage of fee increases. 

Since 2011 it has proven difficult to foster the student knowledge or generate the student interest necessary for significant or effective protest.  Letter-writing and UC-sponsored advocacy campaigns have had little impact because they make no allowance for the structural gridlock imposed by California’s mangled political structure.

A popular, committed, progressive Governor could potentially break-up that gridlock by campaigning for Democrats to help achieve legislative supermajorities, sponsoring political reform, or making a flat out push for the higher taxes necessary to make California—growing in size and demographic complexity even as its revenue stagnates—a more humane and responsible place.

Popular though he is, Jerry Brown has done none of those things, and is unlikely to do them unless California’s students and citizens put intense pressure on him and legislators, through traditional means, or through more direct action.

Today, students face an administration bent on increasing tuition unless it can persuade the intransigent Governor to send more funds to UC, a Board of Regents intent on privatization, and a Governor who simply doesn’t believe in the transformative capacity of higher education, the need to fund a system of higher education, or the need for excellence in research at a public university system.

Across the state line in Nevada, a Republican Governor is taking an alternative approach, making a concerted push for tax increases to shore up and develop the state’s education sector, recognizing the health of such a sector as intimately connected to the health of the state’s economy and society.
Governor Sandoval’s proposed taxes are nowhere near the most progressive in the world, and he faces stiff opposition from the demented fringe of the Republican Party, but on the issue of education, he is proving himself more progressive than California’s slack-jawed, idle-minded Governor, who ascribes to a policy of “Creative Inaction”. 

California has taken about all that it can of the Governor’s irresponsibility, and I hope that others will join with California’s university students in condemning Brown’s cynical and right-wing approach to some of the public institutions that can do the most good for the state.  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Regime in Riyadh and Global Terror

To judge from the response of world leaders, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who passed away last week, was one of the world’s finest democrats.  The British Prime Minister, the French President, and the American Vice-President are heading to commemorative ceremonies.  Politicians across the political spectrum in the U.S.—Joe Biden, John McCain, John Kerry—offered fulsome praise for the Saudi leader.
But as Murtaza Hussain pointed out, to remember King Abdullah as a “vocal advocate for peace”, “a man of wisdom and vision”, and as a leader worthy of such praise, is to cruelly distort reality.  Hussain reminded readers that Abdullah was a monarch, not a democrat, who “ruled as an absolute monarch of a country which protected American interests, but also sowed strife and extremism throughout the Middle East and the world”.
“It’s not often”, Hussain wrote, “that the unelected leader of a country which publicly flogs dissidents and beheads people for sorcery wins such glowing praise from American officials”.
At the same time that world leaders condemned the brutal murder of French journalists in Paris, and the attack on freedom of expression that it represented, the same leaders remained comparatively mute when the Saudi regime savagely flogged a blogger who offended the country’s autocrats.  It was left to civil society and human rights groups to point out the hypocrisy of the world’s approach to the regime in Riyadh. 
In seeking to understand the persistence of non-state terrorism, and its fluorescence in the Middle East, the flocking of world leaders to the capital of this morally-moribund monarchy is of some use. 
The Saudi regime stands for everything our own country was founded in reaction against.  It is a despotic monarchy.  Its citizens have no representation.  Large numbers of those citizens have few if any rights or protections, and suffer from grievous discrimination.  It suppresses statistics about the poverty of its subjects.  Those citizens suffer from arbitrary arrests and a justice system conspicuous for the absence of real justice.  Sectors of the economy rely on imported labourers who function like indentured servants. 
This is a style of rule calculated to breed righteous dissent and frustration, and if the regime refuses to yield to such dissent, the inevitable result is some form of armed resistance or terrorism directed in this case not only at the state, but also at its powerful international clients and protectors who prop it up and shed waterfalls of tears at the death of an iron-fisted dictator while remaining studiously dry-eyed at the plight of his beleaguered subjects.
So long as regimes like the one in Riyadh survive, the leaders of non-state terrorist organizations—whose have their own aims and ambitions—will have no difficulty in securing recruits who feel that they have no other hopes and no other options.  The Saudi regime and others like it create the desperation, inequality, cynicism, and violence that have generated the waves of violence that rock so much fo the world today.

It is not only Saudi subjects who suffer from this travesty of a government.  During the Arab Spring, with the support of neocons like Hillary Clinton, the Saudi regime not only squeezed the life out of internal pro-democracy protests, but deployed military force to crush democratic uprisings in neighbouring Bahrain. 
And the noxious regime has a corrosive effect on all who come in contact with it.  BAE, a British arms company, was accused of corruption over the infamous Al-Yamamah arms sale to Saudi Arabia.  While the company was forced to pay nearly half a billion in fines in U.S. courts for corruption, the Saudi government blackmailed the British government, bringing to a halt the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into the company when the regime threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with the Blair government.
At the end of the day it is perhaps fitting that state terrorists in the United States—who have waged wars of aggression and launched depraved campaigns of torture, abduction, and murder—would find common cause with the state terrorists in Saudi Arabia, who rule as monarchs and use violence and brutality to keep their subjects quiescent.

But our public should not be complicit in this toxic relationship, and we should demand that our leadership not only reform its own illegal and immoral activities, but that it divorce itself from association with undemocratic regimes the world over, instead of selling them arms and rubbing shoulders at every opportunity.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Elizabeth Warren Must Crash the Clinton Coronation Party and Run for the Presidency

Photo credit
The media has a new obsession these days.  Elizabeth Warren. 
Or more precisely, the effect of Elizabeth Warren on Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee from the Democratic Party.  The emerging conventional wisdom is that the mere presence of Elizabeth Warren in the Senate is far more serious or influential than the Massachusetts lawmaker would be in a presidential primary or in the Oval Office.  The emerging conventional wisdom—which might have been written in wherever Hillary Clinton’s non-campaign headquarters are—is that Warren is forcing Clinton to change her rhetoric and move to the left during the primary that establishment Democrats desperately hope will be no kind of primary at all.  This is a chain of events Clintons backers and hangers-on are willing to countenance because they know that precious little their candidate says during a primary will matter when the neoliberal, neoconservative Clinton gets down to governing.
Serious journalists might pick up on this and ask, given the expertise with which both Clinton’s triangulate and contort to fit a given audience, why it matters what Clinton says during a presidential primary when everything we’ve seen of her in and out of government suggests that she is firmly committed to the neoconservative, neoliberal consensus which keeps our country mired in imperial wars and our citizens stripped of the protections which succor the lives of citizens in most other democracies in the world today. 
But the hacks who populate the pages of too many papers and news sites in the United States treat politics as a parlour game instead of an earnest moral endeavor that has the capacity to transform for better or worse the fortunes of hundreds of millions of people.  Certainly, changes in Clinton’s rhetoric show the influence of people like Elizabeth Warren.  But what matters at the end of the day is whom Clinton would owe when she entered the White House, and the kinds of interests that have shaped her thinking and political actions—not words—down the decades.
Imagine the spectacle of Hillary Clinton facing off against Mitt Romney in a presidential race.  Two of the fattest felines in politics, both with a history of support for trickle-down economics, purring about who cares about inequality and poverty the most while taking checks from people committed to enshrining corporate power and the plutocracy that goes along with it.
Such a contest is the surest way imaginable to kill our democracy.  In part because the policies that would emerge from whatever administration such a contest produced would continue to prize capital over labour and the rights of corporate titans over those of working class citizens.  But also because it would represent the ultimate ascendance of moneyed, dynastic politics in our elections, and the failure of our system to present the electorate with more than the slimmest slice of the ideological and policy options available to us.  Such an election would leave us disenchanted and ultimately dangerous.
Warren offers a more progressive version of politics, one committed to using government for good rather than ill.  A Warren presidency, with its unabashed populism could prove transformative.  In stark contrast to the muddling centrism of the Obama and Clinton administration—packed to the gills with representatives of a stultifying, corrupting conventional wisdom—it would offer a clear and transformative vision rather than half-hearted appeals to febrile moderation.
In the Senate, where the press corps and the Clinton cabal would like her to remain, Warren can influence the national conversation.  But it is impossible for a single Senator to drive the kind of policy changes necessary to create a humane social democracy, or to restore integrity to our democracy. 
In the White House, she could appoint justices, staff the cabinet, articulate a cohesive policy agenda, and be the single face against which the Republican Party—in all of its sociopathic fury—would have to justify its cruel absurdity.  Today Republican politicians can wrangle with a pack of contemptible right-wingers who maintain a hold on the real centers of power in the Democratic Party.  They can cast themselves against a passive, vision-less President whose faith in incrementalism dooms his best intentions when they are even distinguishable. 
Against Warren, they would be exposed for the corporate automatons they are, so much rabble purchased by the Koch Empire and its ilk, men and women who sign absurd oaths forswearing the use of their brains and pledging their allegiance to the 1%.
The last thing we need at this transformative economic moment are Wall Street’s Storm Troopers in Congress and the Presidency, whether through Clinton or Romney or Christie or Bush.
A quick look at changing technology alone should tell us that labour and labour relations in this country are on the cusp of dramatic changes.  Think about something like 3-D printing technology, which has the capacity to make workers and work as we know it obsolete on a dramatic scale.  It is extraordinary technology, but of introduced by those blindly enamoured of its transformative power, without regulation, without thought for its social context, it could be deadly.  Imagine if these changes in production were to occur in an environment in which workers are stripped of their security, their rights, and their political power…that would be beyond devastating for the fortunes of the middle class Warren seeks to protect even as the Clintons, Romneys, and Bushes of this world seek to un-do their remaining, fragile protections.
That’s just one example, along with the power of Wall Street, the enshrinement of corporate rights, and the absence of a social welfare system, that makes the election of progressive, social democratic, or socialist leadership imperative.  We need more than a primary-time conversation about justice and equality.  We need leadership that is prepared to take up, without compromise, the welfare of our citizenry.
Predictably, some commentators have argued that Warren’s focus on economic and social issues makes her unsuitable to be President absent any posturing over foreign policy.  But given how much blood and money the United States has shed in the past sixty years in imperialistic wars that have not been fought in the public interest, a little focus on the welfare of our public wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Nor does a disinterest in breathless sabre-rattling have to mean isolationism.  A good presidential candidate would not be in the mold of the last ten or more occupants of the White House, who have been beguiled by blood and trumpets and a vision of American power that is both destructive and unjust.
What we need in a candidate when it comes to foreign policy is not expertise—our national security “experts” are most expert at getting things spectacularly wrong while mounting counter-productive and immoral cowboy stunt.  What we need is someone who can add two and two and come up with something other than twenty-seven.  And preferably someone whose sharp moral sense of what life in the United States should look like extends that vision of justice and equality abroad, as a counter to the violent colonial-style relationship that has hitherto characterized the approach of the U.S. to the world writ large.
The progressive, social democratic principles with which Warren approaches politics, her understanding of human actions and motives, and her prioritization of the rights and welfare of citizens over the corrosive aspirations of their would-be masters…these things have the capacity at least to translate into the most transformative foreign policy in our republic’s history.
In short, the country needs Warren—and other progressives, social democrats, and socialists—to step forward and actively seek positions of leadership.
Hillary Clinton never believed that her presence in the Senate would be more consequential than her presence in the White House.  Nor did Barack Obama.  So why should this frankly absurd argument apply to Elizabeth Warren who, more than either Clinton or Obama, would govern with purpose, moral clarity, and an animating ideology, the application of which has the potential to transform decades of dangerously undemocratic politics and re-focus the country on the welfare of the many rather than the unseemly enrichment of a few?

Warren, having articulated the possibility of a different kind of politics, owes it to the country to do everything she can to put that into practice…and that means seeking the Presidency.