Joe Biden

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On Capitol Hill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 3:00am in

Trump might disappear, but Biden’s assumptions promise further eruptions from the base

There is little doubt that most of the 70 or so million Americans who voted for Donald Trump in the recent US election would not have supported the actions of those who invaded and trashed the houses of Congress on 6 January. Nor would they regard themselves as ‘deplorables’. What does group them together, however, is that all those who voted for Trump rejected the core elites and associated institutions that make up the ruling order in the United States, the order that has now concretised in the Democrat ascendency. This and the events on Capitol Hill are the political expression of a deep division that marks the social and institutional life of the United States today.

That the ‘insurgency’ at Capitol Hill was chaotic and unorganised, and went nowhere, is not especially significant. Initially, insurgencies often have a chaotic and disorganised character. Of course this particular event also carried the mark of Donald Trump. One of the things about Trump, for which we should be grateful, is that even though he was destructive, that destruction always emerged from an incapacity that actually limited his power: he led through a loose, self-affirming and self-referential rhetoric, not through any capacity to organise socially and practically at scale. His impact on US political institutions has been significant: there is no doubt that he made real inroads into US legal institutions, for instance. But his media strategy—to rely on social media while fencing off mainstream media—was only partly successful: it always left the powerful mainstream to hound his every move. And despite reported widespread support within the military rank and file and National Guard, he was unable to turn such influence to his ends. He did not even recognise the capacity to organise where it existed among his supporters—such as in Steve Bannon, say—and this put limits on where his ‘revolution’ could go. A chaotic insurgency seems typical of what to expect from Trump politically, and this was a manifestation of his real limit, but that is not to exhaust the meanings or potential flow-on from the events on Capitol Hill.

The Trump account of his failure has been to blame the media. Trump’s struggle with the media was always ugly, of course, but in certain key respects he was right: the mainstream media are a part of the elite and related institutions that have now been re-affirmed in power. It is no surprise, then, that they are at the centre of the conventional narrative that has taken the form of decrying 6 January as an assault on the institutions of democracy. This is a narrative that drives an emotional response, especially so given hopes that Joe Biden will bring America together again. But it is a view that provides no insight whatsoever into what happened at the Capitol—what those events mean socially. To the contrary, this narrative works to ensure a focus on certain individuals—Trump, the ‘deplorables’—that only reaffirms the institutions of social order, without any serious consideration of how those institutions had fallen into disrepute for such a large segment of the US population. In other words, despite expressions of outrage and denunciations of ‘domestic terror’, it minimises the significance of the eruption by, first, constructing it as a challenge to sacred democratic universals and rituals while, second, emphasising the actions of the foolish, even evil, individuals who dared to step upon the political stage. It is an account that points to outrageous political actions that demand a response but then allows, or hopes for, a return of the social order to an unquestioned normality.

Some commentators have made an attempt to go beyond this kind of account to grapple with aspects of the social whole that is the context of these events. The conservative commentator Paul Monk, writing in The Australian, attempts to say something about a larger framework in order to address the seriousness of the insurgency. Referring to Trump as a symptom rather than a ‘cause of underlying maladies in the US body politic’, he draws on Roman history to make his point. Reflecting on the Catiline conspiracy of 63 BCE, which was followed, after a period of twenty years, by the Caesarean takeover, he concludes that the ‘deeper challenges facing the American republic…should be our fundamental focus’: the 2021 Trumpian ‘insurgency’ is only a sign of things to come. However, he makes no attempt to name the fundamental challenges, let alone lay bare their nature. Not only are they left unexplored, Monk treats the ‘body politic’ as an autonomous sphere untouched by the larger social whole. Yet it is here in the social whole and in social life generally where the fundamentals for interpreting this moment are to be located.

Others outside of the mainstream, such as Pankaj Mishra in his Bland Fanatics, are more likely to take the social whole seriously. Written before the events at Capitol Hill, Bland Fanatics captures the Trump setting more appropriately: ‘It is only now, with a white supremacist ensconced in the White House, that those same hard-headed liberals—who did so much to create a climate of opinion and a legal regime in which black and brown bodies could be seized, broken and destroyed outside all norms and laws of war—are coming to grips with America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy’. However, if this approach gives some points of entry into the nature of the social order that has propped up the liberal elites and institutions of contemporary America, it also suggests that Trump gained power because he is a white supremacist. But far broader processes are at work here, which, among other things, have allowed supremacists to move into the foreground, and it is these processes that suggest that the assault on Capitol Hill is only the beginning, not the end. Contradictions within the social ground of American (and late modern) society generally are working to fracture old certainties, creating the conditions that allowed a Trump to emerge. Those contradictions will continue to unfold long after Trump himself has gone. Far more than mere political contradictions, we are seeing life transformed by deep-going social contradictions.

There is widespread agreement that the nature of social relations in contemporary society has changed and that these changes are contributing to contemporary unease and disturbance. Yet while change is everywhere, it’s hard to put a finger on just what the scale and significance of this process is. For the person, change is experiential; it is understood according to implicit personal-historical comparisons that are largely subjective. Further, because change is a constant of every generation, it is a concept that by itself does not help us differentiate levels of significance. But it is necessary to come to terms with what change means today because contemporary life is increasingly traumatic in all of its locations and at all of its various stages: while change once meant that reference points for people simply became different over time, what does it mean today that there are so few stable reference points for people in community or as individuals passing through the various stages of life? 

One round of changes that especially stands out relates to the young. Can young people growing up rely on a relatively stable range of employment choices? Can they rely on the relative fixity of a family unit? Can they place themselves by reference to kinship networks and places important in the life of the generations? Can children or adults take the existence of their neighbourhoods for granted? For workers, there are similar questions. Can workers feel confident that their skills and education will give them security? Change of this very general kind can be the consequence of war, of natural catastrophes like an earthquake, or a pandemic—or a profound change in social process. Compared to once familiar generational change, this more encompassing form of change in everyday life and its various institutions takes place at another level. If such change has a source in the nature of the social itself, it indicates the emergence of an unfamiliar social type.

It is not adequate to handle such phenomena by saying, ‘But change always happens’. Lynn Margulis, the well-known researcher in biology, finds that the biological world is widely composed of change—what she calls the gradient in cellular life. But biology is also typified by strong strategies to fight against change, to achieve relative fixity. Similar processes are typical within the social order. No social world is completely fixed, despite the hopes of some conservatives. But the social order today is different: it institutes change as such. 

While existential upheavals and ‘revolutions’ of this social kind have political consequences, they are not political in the first instance. They reach deep into our personal make-up, the effect of general social processes. How is it that social relations that facilitate rapid change are somehow overwhelming relations that have typically been keepers of relative fixity in human life? 

In the world of Homo sapiens relative fixity has usually been associated with generational continuity and stable place-based relations. This is the world of face-to-face relations and in-person communities, those grounded in relations with tangible others and ethics of care born out of shared life and love of place. Even in the grip of an earlier capitalism’s essential engine of change, those ‘residual’ features of communal and intimate life held, more or less, and were the guarantee of a continuation of our species nature as cultural animals.

The change that has taken hold of our lives over the last two generations, which we witness in the global market or in the relations of a thoroughly networked, digital society, is a radical shift of balance away from the face to face to technologically extended social relations. This shift is underpinned by basic scientific-technological revolutions that have transformed social institutions. While the relations of social media are not the only example of this process, they illustrate well the fleeting nature of relations and lack of tangibility in systems that do not require embodied or mutual presence in the connections they make. As we are lifted out of face-to-face settings, increasingly the Other loses all tangibility. We cannot sense, touch or smell them: they are not present to us in this sense. They are an abstracted Other, one that we can only know with the help of technology: writing, print, emails, tweets. This Other is always fleeting because it has less phenomenological force; because it can be filtered or kept at bay; because it is thinner in its history and in its ‘presence’ as text or image rather than as an embodied being. 

Such relations can always be combined with relations formed in more stable settings. But the revolution of our period shifts the balance of social relations towards greater abstraction and less tangibility. As a consequence, physical neighbourhoods and communities are transformed, and stable reference points in work and life are undermined. This is the cultural shift that has now turned into a cultural and political crisis. What processes drive this transformation?

To speak of technological revolution today is to speak of a scientific revolution. In particular, the transformation of science into techno-science, which has occurred in stages throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, gaining momentum in social life with the deregulation of currencies in the 1980s, has reconstructed the gamut of social institutions along more abstract lines. Centrally, the institution of the market itself was reconstructed by the new forces of scientific-technological development, becoming a global market: more abstract, faster moving, and with a broader, deeper reach than the modern market into culture and the self, becoming the central mechanism of economic and cultural globalisation. Local economies were decimated as swaths of local industry and jobs went offshore. Defence industries began to jettison embodied war-making, gravitating towards drones and robots as the up-to-date abstract approach to warfare. Techno-scientific medicine declared its victory over disease and pandemics. Others, including space scientists, seek to move into the colonisation of outer space, transcending Earth. Yet others seek to transcend evolutionary processes they feel are unnecessary constraints on individual and species possibility.

This is a world where science in its high-tech or applied mode, which seeks to reconstitute the world rather than understand it, has become the key factor in ‘new’ capitalism—techno-capitalism, in which the consumption of resources expanded vastly after the Second World War, and even more rapidly since the globalisation process was set in place in the 1980s. While this emergent world gestures towards responding to climate change, its challenge to the natural world continues through economic growth and forces of expansion that accept no limits. As a social order it is out of human control, and will continue to be so until the key agents in this interweaving of capital and science, the high-tech scientific intellectuals, begin a process of returning to their longstanding ethical commitments to ‘earthlings’ and grounded communities.

It is no surprise that in such a world we have ‘winners’ (the political and corporate elites) and ‘losers’ (the ‘deplorables’), or those who have no purchase on the reconstructed institutions of the high-tech world. Beyond winners and losers there is also a primary sense in which we are all losers. For Homo sapiens is inseparable from that relatively anchored world of face-to-face relations and embodied being that is fast dissipating. 

In the past intellectuals and scientists, while formed by extended and abstract relations, employed their knowledge to support the mainstream face-to-face world on which they too were dependent. Often they were corrupted by power. Yet standing beyond the face-to-face world gave them the potential of drawing upon a universal ethic unconstrained by the particular. It is this potential that Noam Chomsky invokes when he states that the responsibility of intellectuals is to speak truth to power. Once, such ethical potential supported social movements that erupted both within the universities and within the wider society. 

We now know how this relation of intellectuals with the everyday was utterly corrupted in the period of the Enlightenment, the shaping intellectual force of today’s liberal democracies, with shocking outcomes for Indigenous and colonised peoples around the world. This relation is now taking an even more troubling form: inseparable from new capitalism, scientific intellectuals (and intellectuals generally) have developed means that support processes that displace the supports of the everyday world, taking a portion of citizens with them into a new social order. The rest, facing precarious existence or, more strongly, being on the wrong side of what Silicon Valley calls the ‘80/20 society’, edge towards social redundancy. 

Having no future in this techno-world, they can passively accept their fate or they can seek to resist in various ways. Capitol Hill was only one moment in the life of this reconstructed world.

***

Donald Trump, like Pauline Hanson in Australia, is a symbol of the contradictions of this emergent social order—what the media ignorantly diminish by calling them populists. As the first political manifestations emerging out of this new social order, they are a response to the devastating effects of economic globalisation. But they cannot respond in a rounded way. If Trump seemed to intervene in the globalisation process, he actually merely responded to particulars within it; economic globalisation remained a broadly assumed background. Being a transactional thinker, he had no grasp of the general nature of how globalisation works or why it had devastated the conditions of life for large segments of the population who found their local worlds shut down. While such devastation created an opportunity for Trump, America First was never a general approach resisting the directions of the overarching form of development in high-tech capitalism. We can only expect that those underlying processes destroying the stable reference points of jobs and community in everyday life will continue to unfold. Now firmly controlled once again by the liberal elites, they can be expected to generate further resistance against the social order.

The media and much of the world are now putting their hope in the ‘safe’ hands of Joe Biden. There is an enormous upwelling of feeling, in the hope that he will return US society and politics to normality. Uplifting rhetoric is not actually where he shines, but an emotional coming together around key symbols of modern hope may temporarily help some of the many who are suffering. His assurance of more rationality in the campaign against a rampaging COVID-19 is promising; it is certainly needed. But after what may be success here, he will surely return to the tried policy frameworks of the past. Emotional commitments to the democratic institutions will be renewed, but these are the institutions, combined as they are with open-ended developmental assumptions, that have already failed Americans. Returning to the Paris Accords should be welcomed, but the Accords offer little real hope. Drawn up by those who want to believe that a few adjustments with little economic cost will solve climate change, they ignore the enormous challenges around the development assumptions that are embedded in our way of life and that continue to overwhelm climate and the environment.

Similarly, we should not take too seriously the portrayal of Biden as a leader deeply formed in the experience of grief and the practice of care. No doubt he has experienced much trauma in his personal life and no doubt this has affected him deeply, enhancing his humanity. But he is also a Cold War warrior, with a demonstrable inclination to pursue the Democrats’ hawkish orientation towards war where it encounters resistance. He is certainly stronger in this respect than Donald Trump, whatever the latter’s rhetoric. And now with the Democrat ascendency, with control over all the main sources of political power, what is likely to happen when mounting conflicts arising out of deep contradictions confront him? Biden’s immediate reaction to the events on Capitol Hill is suggestive. He instantly conjured the category of ‘domestic terrorism’. Will he act on this and seek another round of terror legislation? As Branko Marcetic writes in Jacobin, Biden has a long history of involvement in the development of terror legislation, including the Patriot Act after 9/11. That was the Act that unleashed US agents upon the world to engage in illegal killings and the rendition of ‘suspects’ on a scale that will forever mark the history of American liberal democracy. 

We have commenced a new chapter, with a leader who shows little capacity to recognise the scale of the developmental crisis or the aspirations that define our social world, and he shows every likelihood of labelling and legislating to contain those who oppose his utterly conventional agenda.


After Trump?: Cancel culture and the new authoritarianism

Simon Cooper, Mar 2021

After the failed insurrection at the US Capitol building, an event irreconcilably both absurd and frightening, Donald Trump, for so long a master of the attention economy, finally got ‘cancelled’. While many of his Republican colleagues made a last-minute decision (motivated by self-interest) to dump him, the real blow for Trump was the response by corporate America. Facebook and Twitter blocked the president’s social-media accounts, Shopify terminated stores affiliated with him, YouTube removed channels questioning…

The Empire Feeds Off The Republic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/04/2021 - 3:01pm in

Will the US oligarchy remain unsatisfied with its successes and continue to push for the failure of other countries in the insatiable quest for so-called exceptionalism?

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with Journalist and Assistant Editor of The GrayZone, Ben Norton, to discuss.

The post The Empire Feeds Off The Republic appeared first on Renegade Inc.

The Empire Feeds Off The Republic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/04/2021 - 3:01pm in

Will the US oligarchy remain unsatisfied with its successes and continue to push for the failure of other countries in the insatiable quest for so-called exceptionalism?

Host, Ross Ashcroft, met up with Journalist and Assistant Editor of The GrayZone, Ben Norton, to discuss.

The post The Empire Feeds Off The Republic appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Biden Picks Kamala Harris to Carry the Carrot and Stick in Central America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/04/2021 - 3:10am in

WASHINGTON — The White House announced recently that Vice President Kamala Harris would take charge of the Biden administration’s “efforts to deter migration to the southwestern border by working to improve conditions in Central America.” The effort would oversee an infusion of billions of dollars into the “ravaged economies” of the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), comprising the nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

According to the Pew Research Center, immigration to the United States between 2007 and 2015 from these three countries outpaced all others, growing by 25%. More recent data provided by the UN Refugee Agency shows how the pandemic has exacerbated the endemic problems of violence and extortion that motivate the emigrants’ departure, causing over half a million people from the region to migrate in 2020.

The Missing Migrants Project, which tracks incidents involving migrants on their way to an international destination, reveals how dangerous such journeys can be – in particular for those who attempt the 2,000-mile excursion through Mexico towards the U.S. – with 65% of the 4,000 deaths recorded from 2014 until 2020 occurring along this migration corridor alone.

The brutality of this humanitarian catastrophe is underscored by the recent massacre of 19 Guatemalan migrants in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in January by cartel-linked, U.S.-trained state police special forces called Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (GOPES). Early reports had pointed to drug cartel assassins looking to sabotage a competing cartel’s migrant smuggling business, but evidence increasingly mounted against the GOPES and 12 of its officers were formally charged with the heinous crime two weeks later.

News of Harris’s selection came one day after a delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, arrived in the Mexican capital to engage in high-level talks between the governments to address the “root causes” of the ongoing immigration crisis at the border. The axiom seems to be an agreed-upon phrase that will be used as part of any public-facing discourse of this multilateral initiative, but it is unclear how far down into those actual roots any of the governments involved will be willing to dig.

 

The politics of the matter

Leading on one of the most polarizing and complicated issues in American politics is already being billed as Kamala Harris’s ‘signature’ issue. It comes on the heels of intense media scrutiny over the actions of the Biden administration, which has been accused of hypocrisy after it restored migrant detention facilities to “pre-pandemic” capacity, relying on its press secretary and establishment media to distinguish its approach from the previous administration’s family separation policy.

Despite their arguments, photos released by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) of a crammed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention center in his state, the day before the bilateral meeting was scheduled to take place in Mexico, reveal that conditions have changed little for migrants.

Migrant Children

Photo | Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar via AP

Migrant Children

Photo | Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar via AP

CBP released its own photos and video in response to Cuellar, accompanied by a statement assuring the public that it is doing the best it can to “transfer unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As the golden goose egg of American politics, immigration will give Harris an opportunity to carve out a strong national profile and, with her background as California’s top cop, she is perfectly positioned to reap the political benefits sure to come her way as she parries predictable blows from the opposition, like Arizona governor Doug Ducey’s characterization of her as “the worst possible choice” for the assignment.

Attacks from a three-term Republican governor who signed Trump’s patch of border wall will help Harris to gloss over her troubling history as a state prosecutor and questionable track record as a member of Congress, which go right to the heart of those “root causes” she has now been tapped to address in relation to the crisis at the border.

 

Progressive deception

Among the litany of horrors hiding in the broad definition of the migrant crisis are issues like child labor, sex trafficking, kidnapping, organ trafficking, and the so-called war on drugs, which is often part and parcel of these crimes and goes hand in hand with the carceral state where Harris made her career.

During her tenure as attorney general for the state of California, Harris presented herself as a “progressive prosecutor.” Nevertheless, her record left a lot to be desired in terms of any actual progressive results and she has been roundly criticized for controversial stances on the death penalty and her staunch defense of California’s notoriously racist and trigger-happy police forces.

One of the California AG’s most high-profile cases centered on the issue of sex trafficking when she “zealously” prosecuted Backpage.com, forcing the online publication to shut down as part of her office’s ostensible campaign to prioritize the fight against human trafficking. The actual consequences of the state’s victory had the opposite effect of its purported goal, further pushing the sex trade underground and opening sex workers to greater risks of abuse and exposure to criminal networks, according to critics.

As a member of the Senate, Harris once again played a key role in the issue, this time at a national level with the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which were signed together into law as the FOSTA/SESTA by Donald Trump in 2018. The legislation has come under fire from sex workers and LGBTQ advocacy groups for worsening conditions for victims of sex trafficking by removing “safe” venues for sex workers to sell their services.

According to Nina Luo of Decrim NY:

[The law] targets, arrests, and incarcerates clients of sex workers; as well as drivers, landlords, family members, partners, who provide services and care to sex workers; and sex workers collaborating to keep each other safe [and] puts people who trade sex at increased risk of violence, economic instability, and labor exploitation.”

Significantly, Harris’s participation was geared exclusively towards working with Big Tech and their concerns over how the bills would affect their business. In fact, Harris ­– along with Bernie Sanders – refrained from sponsoring the bills until these matters were settled to the satisfaction of Google, Facebook, and others represented by the Internet Association, which testified on their behalf in the Senate regarding the legislation.

 

Immigrant Song

Beyond Harris’s familial ties to Silicon Valley through her brother-in-law, who is Uber’s chief legal counsel, California’s former top cop has displayed an abiding interest in technology applied to government, which is especially concerning given her law enforcement background and the job she has now been tasked with in regards to the dispossessed of Central and North America.

In 2015, Harris launched a “first-of-its-kind” smart criminal justice platform called OpenJustice, which she touted as a way for the state to measure “effectiveness in the criminal justice system with data and metrics.” The platform’s publicly available dashboard features statewide data on arrest rates, death in custody, and arrest-related deaths, as well as law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. A year later, Harris expanded the system with URSUS – a use-of-force data reporting and collecting mechanism developed by social entrepreneurship non-profit organization Bayes Impact in conjunction with the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Crime Information and Analysis.

OpenJustice partnered with the White House to create multiple versions of the software that other states could implement. The “OpenJustice team” focuses on different parts of the criminal justice system, develops “roadmaps” for juveniles, and conducts “deep data dive[s]” into the “school-to-prison pipeline,” according to Justin Elrich who was Harris’s special assistant attorney general on tech policy matters and is currently head of trust & safety policy at Americans for TikTok. Another OpenJustice project, taken on by Stanford and Facebook engineers, revolved around “understanding of what goes on in jails and state prisons, as well as ending the vicious cycle of recidivism.”

Last year, Harris’s successor at the California attorney general’s office, Xavier Becerra, unveiled the newest OpenJustice dashboard before leaving to head the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the lead agency that provides housing for undocumented children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. Add the former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Alejandro Mayorkas — who Harris swore in on February 2 as the seventh Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and direct boss of CBP — and the stage is set for a massive tech overhaul of the migrant crisis.

 

Bread and circus and data

By the time Becerra had filed the one-hundredth lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump, the political circus was already drawing to a close. California had been the butt of Trump’s jokes since the early days of the campaign, and his crude insults against Mexicans and promises to build a wall that the neighbors would pay for made what was once the northernmost part of Mexico a natural ally of the “resistance” that ended up carrying Biden into office.

At the end of March 2019, only about 50 lawsuits had been filed by the California DOJ, but the tarp was still up and Trump was in the middle of the John Bolton epoch of his administration, which featured a number of very loud saber-rattling incidents targeting multiple Latin American nations. The world was living through the “migrant caravans,” the height of the Juan Guaidó quasi-regime-change efforts in Venezuela, and the short-lived “troika of tyranny” – a derisive moniker coined by Bolton to lump together all the “evil socialism” of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Nicolas Maduro’s government that failed to catch on.

That month, the President would announce the discontinuation of aid to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in an ostensibly punitive move designed to teach the countries a lesson about keeping their unruly border-crashing citizens home. About $500 million in financial assistance was paused while Mike Pompeo’s state department developed “a list of criteria that governments of the three countries have to meet in order for U.S. assistance to resume.

The spectacle hid the reality. While some funds were cut, most were repurposed to serve the interests of the U.S. national security state in those countries. Approximately 58% of the revamped 2019 Central American aid budget was allocated to a program developed jointly by the Obama and Bush administrations called the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which funds equipment, training, and technical assistance for the military and police in those regions.

Numerous companies were involved in CARSI. Israel’s Cellebrite, profiled by MintPress in a previous article, received $782,000 to furnish the Honduran police with its proprietary UFED mobile data extraction technology. IBM, Pen-Link, CellXion, and JSI Telecom are just a few of the many private sector security technology firms that have been benefiting from America’s vast transnational law enforcement client-state apparatus.

Immigration biometric

A migrant and her daughter have their biometric data taken at a Homeland Security holding facility in Donna, Texas, March 30, 2021. Dario Lopez-Mill | AP

Most significantly, no aid was cut to federal programs working with NTCA countries to establish “information exchange mechanisms in the fight against human trafficking and other crimes,” most of which are conducted through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) International Operations Division, such as a program called Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program (BITMAP), first created in 2011.

The Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program Authorization Act of 2018 was passed despite strong objections from the ACLU and other civil rights advocacy groups decrying the lack of privacy protections and allows ICE agents to provide biometric training and equipment in countries around the world. In addition, the data collected is shared with U.S. biometric databases like HART, developed by Northrop Grumman for DHS and intended to become the “largest database of biometric and biographic data on citizens and foreigners in the United States.”

According to Privacy International, a DHS presentation of HART in 2017 projected it would be able to “scoop up” 180 million “new biometric transactions per year by 2022.” The staggering figure won’t come from NTCA countries alone: BITMAP has already been deployed to more than 14 countries, with “near-term plans to expand” to others.

 

Show and tell

Harris has now been given the green light by the White House to “pump billions of dollars” into the economies of the Northern Triangle countries in order to “address the root causes that cause people to make the trek.” Considering that human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry and the concomitant drug war waged by the government Harris represents produces many multiples of that, it would take a rather serious investment to pull those “root causes” from the ground.

The language dovetails with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s own exhortations calling for Washington to “spur development” in Central America in order to address the “root causes behind migratory flows in the region” — as posited in a statement by Mexico’s foreign ministry issued after the first leg of the talks, which were supposed to continue in Guatemala but were postponed thanks to a volcanic eruption.

Formal deployments by the Mexican military in the state of Chiapas and the ostensible closure of the border with Guatemala to “stop the spread” of Covid-19 show that Mexico is on board with the Biden party line. But, for now, the crisis at the U.S. border remains a political priority and hundreds of Central American migrants continue to cross daily into Mexico through deliberately unguarded portions of the border.

Any actual halt to the unfettered passage of refugees on their way north would also put a halt to the political ambitions of Kamala Harris, who is poised to make immigration the highest yielding asset in her burgeoning “portfolio,” which will be modeled on Biden’s own path to the Oval Office when he took the lead on these same issues during his time as Barack Obama’s VP.

According to La Jornada reporting from the ground in Chiapas, established transportation channels over land and water continue to funnel migrants through the Lacandon jungle as they make their way north to their intended destination.

“Look,” Harris told CBS, “we are addressing it. We’re dealing with it. But it’s going to take some time.”

Feature photo | MintPress News | AP

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Biden Picks Kamala Harris to Carry the Carrot and Stick in Central America appeared first on MintPress News.

Video: US Escalates New Cold War as Diplomatic Gloves Come Off, with Carl Zha

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 6:32am in

The new Cold War has escalated over the past week as U.S. attempts to dominate both China and Russia backfired in embarrassing fashion for the Biden administration. Behind The Headlines’ Dan Cohen is joined by “Silk and Steel” podcast host Carl Zha to discuss the diplomatic fiasco, how U.S. intelligence and media cornered Biden into denouncing Russia, and the Quad Alliance’s political contradictions.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000.

The post Video: US Escalates New Cold War as Diplomatic Gloves Come Off, with Carl Zha appeared first on MintPress News.

Biden Backs Revival of His Brainchild: Plan Colombia 2.0 Set to Begin Next Month

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 4:44am in

BOGATA, COLOMBIA — In an effort supposedly aimed at reducing cocaine production, Colombia is set to return to a massive aerial campaign of spraying Monsanto’s glyphosate across the country. Defense Minister Diego Molano confirmed that the highly contentious practice of fumigation — shelved since 2015 — will resume in April.

“The constitutional order is clear: the Colombian military must develop operations all over the country to ensure the safety of Colombians,” Molano announced. “That’s why we’re using every tool at our disposal to protect the entire population.” How spraying a known carcinogen across a nation nearly twice the size of Texas would protect citizens, he did not explain. 

The news was greeted with applause in Washington D.C, a State Department report describing it as a “most welcome development.” The new administration also confusingly described Colombia as a “bright spot” in regional counter-narcotics, despite also noting that the country had seen “explosive growth” in cocaine production in recent years, rising to become “the world’s top cocaine producer and exporter.”

The report also singled out Venezuela and Bolivia — socialist-run states with nothing like the drug production Colombia has — as problem cases refusing to cooperate in the war against drugs.

Colombia’s move signals a return to the policies associated with the controversial Plan Colombia era (2000-2015) and far-right president Alvaro Uribe. What was originally developed as a reconciliation and development proposal by former president Andres Pastrana in 1999 was radically altered by the Clinton and Bush administrations, who turned it into a massive, militarized drug war, supplying arms, money, and political support to the hardline government and its paramilitary allies to go after the leftist FARC guerillas who controlled much of Colombia’s extremely fertile countryside. The result was a nationwide chemical defoliation regime, not unlike that seen during the U.S. bombardment of Vietnam and other southeast Asian nations, forcing huge numbers of people off the land and into overcrowded urban slums.

Colombia glyphosate

A Colombian farmer shows skin problems he developed after being sprayed by glyphosate while working his rice field, May 11, 2015. Fernando Vergara | AP

Under Plan Colombia, government troops and associated paramilitaries were given a free rein to kill whom they liked, later framing their victims as FARC guerillas. Under Uribe’s watchful eye, over 10,000 innocent people — many of them farmers’ union leaders and indigenous activists — were slaughtered, the government only later admitting they had no connection to FARC. The U.S. directly funded the slaughter; the more dead “narco-terrorists” that were reported, the more money and weapons the U.S. would supply. Under Plan Colombia, the country also became the most dangerous place to be a trade unionist, according to Amnesty International, with more unionist murders happening inside Colombia than in all other countries combined.

The United Nations estimates that 7.4 million people are internally displaced to this day because of the ongoing civil war and Plan Colombia, with millions more leaving the country altogether. All the while, classified U.S. government documents identified Uribe as one of the nation’s most important drug traffickers, an employee of the infamous Medellin Cartel and a “close personal friend” of drugs kingpin Pablo Escobar. Profits from drug-running funded Uribe’s elections in 2002 and 2006.

While cocaine production did drop in Colombia (temporarily), producers simply moved across the unguarded borders to neighboring nations. Cocaine is extremely portable and simple to produce, with barely more than a few cooking pots and household chemicals needed. Thus, the overall trade was largely unaffected by over a decade of bombing, spraying and violence. What was achieved, however, was that organic, unspoiled land was cleared for large agribusiness and mining companies to move in.

 

“The guy who put together Plan Colombia”

In his own words, Joe Biden is “the guy who put together Plan Colombia…straighten[ing] that government out for a long while.” When the bill came to the Senate floor, Biden worked with Republicans to push for a hardline strategy, declaring that, “What is at stake is whether or not Colombia becomes a narcostate or not,” warning that if the bill was not passed, the hemisphere would turn into a haven for terrorists and drug dealers.

Biden is also proposing a plan for Central America based on his Colombian model. It is therefore unsurprising that the new administration is welcoming the return to chemical spraying.

 

The War on Drugs gets a revival

Plan Colombia was ditched by President Juan Manuel Santos, in power between 2010 and 2018. Santos stopped the defoliation campaign in 2015 in part of a broader move to negotiate with the FARC. The next year, his administration signed a peace deal with the guerilla group, which saw them formally disband and give up their arms. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, with the election of Uribe protege Ivan Duque in 2018, the government began to renege on its promises, and a new wave of violence reemerged. Government authorities or far-right paramilitaries closely associated with them began to use the list of former FARC members who signed the accord as a hit list. At least 259 have been killed, according to Colombian human rights group Indepaz, who notes that there have already been 17 massacres in 2021 alone, with many of the victims’ social leaders and activists. Ten former FARC members have been murdered in the past three months.

To this day, the Duque administration is still using them as a justification for violence against its own population. Earlier this month, it conducted an airstrike against a FARC splinter group in the southern province of Guaviare. 12 children are feared dead from the attack. Defense Minister Molano confirmed the military knew there were children in the area, but insisted all those dead were forced child soldiers and part of a “war machine who were planning terrorist attacks.”

The news of a return to spraying is particularly striking, as Monsanto’s parent company Bayer announced last year that it was putting aside up to $10.9 billion to settle lawsuits from cancer patients, a tacit admission that it knows its product is carcinogenic. U.S. courts have already concluded the same. Thus, the decision to expand its use in Colombia is yet another starling fact about the return to what amounts to chemical warfare.

Ultimately, very little about the war on drugs, from the demonization of Bolivia and Venezuela to propping up a known drugs trafficker as president to now cheering the return of the discredited and harmful practice of fumigation makes any sense, if we assume the U.S.’ goal is to uphold human rights or reduce the flow of illegal narcotics. However, if viewed through a cold realpolitik lens, where the U.S. is attempting to destroy resistance to its rule and keep the enormous wealth of the equatorial country in just a few —mostly Western —  hands, then the confusing Colombian case becomes considerably clearer.

Feature photo | Joe Biden, his wife Dr. Jill Biden, meet with members of Colombia’s Armed Forces at an Air Force base in Bogota, Colombia, May 27, 2013. Fernando Vergara | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Biden Backs Revival of His Brainchild: Plan Colombia 2.0 Set to Begin Next Month appeared first on MintPress News.

How China Won the Middle East Without Firing a Single Bullet

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/03/2021 - 1:11am in

A much anticipated American foreign policy move under the Biden Administration on how to counter China’s unhindered economic growth and political ambitions came in the form of a virtual summit on March 12, linking, aside from the United States, India, Australia and Japan.

Although the so-called ‘Quad’ revealed nothing new in their joint statement, the leaders of these four countries spoke about the ‘historic’ meeting, described by ‘The Diplomat’ website as “a significant milestone in the evolution of the grouping”.

Actually, the joint statement has little substance and certainly nothing new by way of a blueprint on how to reverse – or even slow down – Beijing’s geopolitical successes, growing military confidence and increasing presence in or around strategic global waterways.

For years, the ‘Quad’ has been busy formulating a unified China strategy but it has failed to devise anything of practical significance. ‘Historic’ meetings aside, China is the world’s only major economy that is predicted to yield significant economic growth this year – and imminently. International Monetary Fund’s projections show that the Chinese economy is expected to expand by 8.1 percent in 2021 while, on the other hand, according to data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US’ GDP has declined by around 3.5 percent in 2020.

The ‘Quad’ – which stands for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – began in 2007, and was revived in 2017, with the obvious aim of repulsing China’s advancement in all fields. Like most American alliances, the ‘Quad’ is the political manifestation of a military alliance, namely the Malabar Naval Exercises. The latter started in 1992 and soon expanded to include all four countries.

Since Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’, i.e., the reversal of established US foreign policy that was predicated on placing greater focus on the Middle East, there is little evidence that Washington’s confrontational policies have weakened Beijing’s presence, trade or diplomacy throughout the continent. Aside from close encounters between the American and Chinese navies in the South China Sea, there is very little else to report.

While much media coverage has focused on the US’ pivot to Asia, little has been said about China’s pivot to the Middle East, which has been far more successful as an economic and political endeavor than the American geostrategic shift.

The US’ seismic change in its foreign policy priorities stemmed from its failure to translate the Iraq war and invasion of 2003 into a decipherable geo-economic success as a result of seizing control of Iraq’s oil largesse – the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves. The US strategy proved to be a complete blunder.

In an article published in the Financial Times in September 2020, Jamil Anderlini raises a fascinating point. “If oil and influence were the prizes, then it seems China, not America, has ultimately won the Iraq war and its aftermath – without ever firing a shot,” he wrote.

Not only is China now Iraq’s biggest trading partner, but Beijing’s massive economic and political influence in the Middle East is also a triumph. China is now, according to the Financial Times, the Middle East’s biggest foreign investor and a strategic partnership with all Gulf States – save Bahrain. Compare this with Washington’s confused foreign policy agenda in the region, its unprecedented indecisiveness, absence of a definable political doctrine and the systematic breakdown of its regional alliances.

This paradigm becomes clearer and more convincing when understood on a global scale. By the end of 2019, China became the world’s leader in terms of diplomacy, as it then boasted 276 diplomatic posts, many of which are consulates. Unlike embassies, consulates play a more significant role in terms of trade and economic exchanges. According to 2019 figures which were published in ‘Foreign Affairs’ magazine, China has 96 consulates compared with the US’ 88. Till 2012, Beijing lagged significantly behind Washington’s diplomatic representation, precisely by 23 posts.

Wherever China is diplomatically present, economic development follows. Unlike the US’ disjointed global strategy, China’s global ambitions are articulated through a massive network, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, estimated at trillions of dollars. When completed, BRI is set to unify more than sixty countries around Chinese-led economic strategies and trade routes. For this to materialize, China quickly moved to establish closer physical proximity to the world’s most strategic waterways, heavily investing in some and, as in the case of Bab al-Mandab Strait, establishing its first-ever overseas military base in Djibouti, located in the Horn of Africa.

At a time when the US economy is shrinking and its European allies are politically fractured, it is difficult to imagine that any American plan to counter China’s influence, whether in the Middle East, Asia or anywhere else, will have much success.

The biggest hindrance to Washington’s China strategy is that there can never be an outcome in which the US achieves a clear and precise victory. Economically, China is now driving global growth, thus balancing out the US-international crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hurting China economically would weaken the US as well as the global markets.

The same is true politically and strategically. In the case of the Middle East, the pivot to Asia has backfired on multiple fronts. On the one hand, it registered no palpable success in Asia while, on the other, it created a massive vacuum for China to refocus its own strategy in the Middle East.

Some wrongly argue that China’s entire political strategy is predicated on its desire to merely ‘do business’. While economic dominance is historically the main drive of all superpowers, Beijing’s quest for global supremacy is hardly confined to finance. On many fronts, China has either already taken the lead or is approaching there. For example, on March 9, China and Russia signed an agreement to construct the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). Considering Russia’s long legacy in space exploration and China’s recent achievements in the field – including the first-ever spacecraft landing on the South Pole-Aitken Basin area of the moon – both countries are set to take the lead in the resurrected space race.

Certainly, the US-led ‘Quad’ meeting was neither historic nor a game-changer, as all indicators attest that China’s global leadership will continue unhindered, a consequential event that is already reordering the world’s geopolitical paradigms which have been in place for over a century.

Feature photo | Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, left, is shown the way by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on stage during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Sept. 23, 2019. Andy Wong | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post How China Won the Middle East Without Firing a Single Bullet appeared first on MintPress News.

On January 6th, the U.S. Became a Foreign Country

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 18/03/2021 - 6:07am in

Just about everyone was shocked by what happened at the Capitol building on January 6th. But as a former soldier in America’s forever wars, horrifying as the scenes were, I also found what happened strangely familiar, almost inevitable. Continue reading

The post On January 6th, the U.S. Became a Foreign Country appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Heather Cox Richardson: 100 Million Shots

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 14/03/2021 - 4:11am in

Biden’s address was in part a victory lap after he signed the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping measure that launches the country in the direction it has avoided since 1981, using the national government not to cut taxes, which favors those with wealth, but rather to support working families and children. Continue reading

The post Heather Cox Richardson: 100 Million Shots appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Vanessa Beeley on Biden’s Escalation of War on Syria Amid the Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/03/2021 - 8:36am in

Welcome to MintCast — an interview series featuring dissenting voices the establishment would rather silence. I’m your host Mnar Muhawesh Adley.

Within just three months in office amid a global pandemic, the Joe Biden administration recently ordered an airstrike that dropped 1.75 tons of explosives on a town in Syria near the Iraq border. The move is re-inflaming tensions between Washington and Damascus as the war enters its 10th year.

Joining me today to discuss the latest on the ground in Syria is Vanessa Beeley.

Vanessa is an independent British journalist based in Damascus and specializing in Middle Eastern affairs. She is perhaps best known for her coverage of the Syrian Civil War and the Western media propaganda machine drawing up support for a so-called humanitarian war against Syria.

This program is 100 percent listener supported! You can join the hundreds of financial sponsors who make this show possible by becoming a member on our Patreon page

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud. Please leave us a review and share this segment.

Mnar Muhawesh is founder, CEO and editor in chief of MintPress News, and is also a regular speaker on responsible journalism, sexism, neoconservativism within the media and journalism start-ups.

The post Vanessa Beeley on Biden’s Escalation of War on Syria Amid the Pandemic appeared first on MintPress News.

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