Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Authoritarianism Of The American Police State

Two days before Christmas, a "thug" launched an "unprovoked attack" on a female MTA employee on a Bronx subway platform, "choking her" and causing injuries, according to the Daily News. The "hulking brute" then fled the scene, "grinning as he made his may through the turnstile." The newspaper's description conjures images of a fanatical psychopath, aggressively assaulting an innocent victim and showing a twisted pleasure in his deranged actions while escaping. Several days later the perpetrator was located, but he was not arrested. On Friday, more than a month later, police announced he will face only misdemeanor charges.

The perpetrator was allegedly discovered when he saw video of himself on the news and turned himself in, police said. Incidentally the man, 37-year-old Mirjan Lolja, is himself an NYPD policeman. Having a law enforcement officer stand accused of criminal actions is obviously a stain on the force itself. This could be considered incentive for the NYPD to minimize the assault. One way this might be accomplished would be to create mitigating factors. Say, for example, claiming the officer turned himself even if the discovery were made by one of the officer's many colleagues who would have all presumably seen the alert with Lolja's photograph.

Standard operating procedure for the discovery of a suspect in a violent, "unprovoked attack"on an MTA employee is no doubt to detain and book him immediately. As the ads on subways and buses clearly state, assaulting an MTA employee is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Someone who stands accused of such a serious charge may likely be sent to Rikers Island without bail.

The MTA has been aggressively trying to protect its workers, going as far as offering rewards of up to $2,000 to people who report to police details of crimes against MTA employees they have witnessed.

"Transit Watch puts criminals on notice that if they assault a bus or subway employee, everyone who sees it happen is going to help put them in jail," said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota in a statement on the MTA Web site from 2012.

In the alleged attack on the MTA conductor, several passengers who witnessed the attack shouted at the perpetrator, "That's a felony" and "You going to jail," according to the Daily News.

Yet nearly an entire month passed before it was announced that Lolja will face charges resulting from the incident. And the charges were not for felony assault - which every subway rider is reminded constantly by the MTA's ads is the penalty for such a crime - but a misdemeanor charge of third degree assault.

Lolja's preferential treatment in avoiding felony charges is surely nothing more than a gift due to his status as an active NYPD officer. It is inconceivable that there is any other reason a person declared a "thug" in a newspaper with a circulation of half a million would spend four weeks free without charges in what was allegedly an "unprovoked attack" with at least several witnesses.

When he was finally charged on Friday, Lolja was not sent to Rikers but was released on his own recognizance, according to the Daily News.

Compare Lolja's experience with that of Jelani Henry. In 2012, Henry was arrested and charged with attempted murder in connection with a shooting involving sparring members of two Harlem street crews. The only evidence presented against him were Facebook posts about one of the crews that Henry had "liked."

"Jelani had never been convicted of a crime, but at the arraignment, the District Attorney's office described him as a known member of a violent gang," writes Ben Popper in an article titled "How the NYPD is using social media to put Harlem teens behind bars" in The Verge. "The judge denied Jelani bail, instead sending him to Rikers Island ... Days went by, then weeks, months, a year. The trial never came."

Popper writes that despite legal requirements that if a felony suspect is not granted a trial within six months he must be freed on bail, this never happened for Henry. He was kept for 19 months in one of the most violent housing centers on Rikers and spent "nine months straight in the box," solitary confinement. Finally, with the DA failing to move ahead with charges the case was dropped. Popper says Henry's experience in Rikers "changed him" and that he is now struggling to achieve normalcy in everyday life.

Raven Rakia writes in Truthout that 28-year-old Marc was kept at Rikers for 60 days after being caught by police dancing on the subway and charged with obstructing governmental administration, a class A misdemeanor.

In a 2013 New York Times article "Faltering Courts, Mired in Delays," William Glaberson writes: "With criminal cases languishing for years, a plague of delays in the Bronx criminal courts is undermining one of the central ideals of the justice system, the promise of a speedy trial."

This is a reality that thousands of people accused by the police and the District Attorney's office live through every day. Innumerable lives are disrupted and often ruined because of their treatment by the criminal justice system without as much as being tried for a crime. 

There are obviously two sets of rules. Common civilians, especially blacks and Latinos, are seen as inherently criminal and are treated as such. Members of law enforcement are seen as above the law, and are exempt from such treatment. By virtue of their authority, police are superior to criminals. Criminals are the people who are poor, who are black, who are Latino, who don't wear uniforms or suits to work. 

The population is imagined to be an existential threat. Whether it is nonviolent drug possession, social media posts that can be construed as potentially advocating violence, or harmless behavior on a subway that considered disorderly, the police and criminal justice system routinely punish a population believed to be disposable.

The corporate-owned Daily News coverage can be understood as authoritarian propaganda. Their version of the narrative in the original report propagates the idea that the city is full of dangerous criminals who can only be kept under control by the police who protect us from them. 

The change in language is pronounced after the "thug" is discovered to be a policeman. "NYPD cop turns himself in for attacking female MTA employee," the subsequent article says. He is no longer a "hulking brute." His own accusation is even expressed: the conductor "cursed at him" and when he tried to take her picture with his phone "she grabbed it, prompting a struggle." There is a complete shift in tone, and it becomes merely a he said, she said dispute.

The latent authoritarianism of the Daily News is an expression of the internalized belief that police are good guys who keep a lid on the violence constantly percolating below the surface, erupting in the form of "thugs" and "hulking brutes." In reality, this is a right-wing myth. Images of dangerous and irrational criminals are overblown to create the perception of instability and disorder that police are needed to prevent.

Repressive, punitive policing and the mass incarceration that results from it are understood as a response to this imaginary crisis rather than as the racist form of social control that they really are.

Of course, crime is real and violence does occur. Laws prohibiting violence, and a mechanism to enforce them, are a necessity in any society. But the militarized police force we have today with its own hierarchy almost entirely outside civilian control is a result of specific policy choices, it is not a fact of nature. And it did not come about because of its effectiveness or justness.

As historian Sam Mitrani writes in CounterPunch: "The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system's offspring, the working class."

The working class is still the predominant threat to elite interests today. Corporate media, who control almost all the news that reaches the US public, convey an authoritarian worldview that reflects this perception to their audience through innuendo, as evidenced by the reporting in the Mirjan Lolja incident.

This case is not an isolated occurrence. As with the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others, laws are not applied equally to police. Crimes by police are rationalized and distorted by the criminal justice system to shield state authorities from accountability for their actions. The corporate media defends their ideological position and translates it into the narrative portrayed to the public. In this way, the police and the elite media work together to maintain the legitimacy of the authoritarian system upon which their privileged position in society - and that of the wealthy who benefit from it - rests.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The NFL’s Anarchist Success Story

Last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers came within minutes of defeating the Seattle Seahawks and earning a berth in the Super Bowl. Were it not for a miracle comeback by Seattle, the Packers would have made their 14th appearance in the NFL’s title game. With 13 world championships, the Packers have far more than any other football team. They are arguably the most successful franchise in American professional sports history. But the most remarkable thing about the Green Bay Packers is that in an industry controlled by parasitic owners who leech billions of dollars off taxpayers, they are 100% publicly owned and operated for the benefit of their community.

The Packers are extremely profitable and completely self-sustainable. Last year, the Packers brought in $25.6 million in profit from operations on record revenue. This comes after two prior years with operating profits of $54.3 million and $43 million, respectively. When the Packers needed to raise capital for a stadium expansion in 2011, the team sold shares of stock for $250, with no one able to purchase more than 200 shares. They easily raised $65 million needed to complete the renovations to storied Lambeau Field.

Green Bay, with a population of slightly more than 100,000, is the smallest market in U.S. professional sports. If they can financially support their team, imagine how easy it would be for a city the size of New York or Chicago. 

The Packers prove that there is no reason for private ownership of sports teams. They also prove there is no need for government ownership either. To save the bankrupt team in 1923, community members mobilized in a grassroots effort to purchase the franchise and turn it into a nonprofit organization. As later stock sales opened up ownership to the broader public, measures were taken to ensure no one was able to obtain a controlling interest. The team would belong to everyone, and together they would make decisions democratically on how to operate it.

The Green Bay Packers are essentially an anarchist organization. Everybody involved has a stake. No one’s voice is dominant. The franchise is run democratically for the public good. According to its bylaws, the Packers are “a community project, intended to promote community welfare.” Concession operators are volunteers, many part of local nonprofits who raise money for their charities. When the field needs to be shoveled after a snowstorm, there is never a shortage of volunteers to help out.

The Packers model closely resembles anarcho-syndicalism, an anarchist theory concerned with workers' freedom from exploitative labor conditions. Ruth Kinna writes in Anarchism:A Beginner’s Guide that "Co-operating in unions, or syndicates, workers were organized both to fight against employers and to develop the skills required for them to assume direct control of their factories, workshops and land. In other words, syndicalist – or union – organizations were intended to provide a framework for anarchy.” Packers’ shareholders are a syndicate of fans organized to run their team, without the mediation of any private or public authorities.

It is not an accident that the NFL would later prohibit charitable organizations. (The Packers are grandfathered in.) The primary purpose of the NFL – like MLB and other professional sports leagues – is not to provide enjoyment for fans and increase community solidarity, but to serve as a vehicle for extremely rich men to line their pockets by extracting money from taxpayers.

Sports teams exist because of the loyalty of their fans. The fans pay for tickets, hot dogs, beer and merchandise. They watch on television, creating the market for massive amounts of advertising revenue. Fathers watching games with their sons and coworkers talking about the stats at the water cooler are the reason that sports teams are cash cows that can virtually print money like the Federal Reserve.

Sports leagues are enormous enterprises, with franchise values of hundreds of millions or in some cases billions of dollars. They have become monopolies. Major League Baseball even enjoys an antitrust exemption that would prohibit any competing league. While football and basketball don’t enjoy the same exemption, good luck trying to start a football league to compete against the NFL. The league has a slight head start over any potential rivals, already pulling in revenue of more than $9 billion per year.    

Professional Sports as Rent-Seeking Monopolies

Monopolies are an inherent feature of capitalist socioeconomic systems. The fact that capitalism destroys the planet, necessitating the extraction and burning of fossil fuels at a wildly unsustainable rate, is another less than ideal feature. Unchecked growth of businesses will always produce companies that achieve superiority over their competitors and obtain monopoly status. With no fear of competition, companies are able to extract a rent from the state.

In the same way that giant oil companies are able to gain extremely favorable leases over public lands and television networks over leases of public airwaves, private sports owners are able to extract handouts from taxpayers. This rent-seeking forces municipalities and states to extend sports teams various tax breaks and subsidize the stadiums they play in.

Private owners seem to believe they have a right to corporate welfare. They tout the economic benefits of jobs and development of the community. In reality, a handful of peanut vendors and parking attendants don’t create growth. The costs to cities are always understated while the benefits are always overstated.

According to Judith Grant Long: “Governments pay far more to participate in the development of major league sports facilities than is commonly understood due to the routine omission of public subsidies for land and infrastructure, and the ongoing costs of operations, capital improvements, municipal services, and foregone property taxes.” She calculates that for all the stadiums in the four professional sports, the underreported costs to taxpayers totals $5 billion.

But politicians care more about enhancing their resume than doing a true cost-benefit analysis. They may even believe ownership’s propaganda about doing the city a favor by letting their team play there (while keeping all the money generated for themselves.)

In 1984, Baltimore Colts owner Bob Irsay literally moved his team overnight to Indianapolis after failing to reach an agreement on having the state pay for a new stadium. Eleven years later, when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell found himself in dire financial straits – despite enjoying the use of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium for $1 per year – Baltimore paid to build a new stadium to bring a football team back to their city. The passionate Cleveland fans for years harbored vitriolic rage towards Modell, who would have been trounced in a mayoral race by Satan.

Small-market teams like Cleveland have the least leverage, but even big-market teams can threaten the nuclear option of leaving town to extort money from the public. George Steinbrenner, convicted felon and New York Yankees owner until his death, cried wolf about moving the Yankees incessantly to try to shake down the city to build a new Yankee Stadium. Nobody in their right mind would ever imagine Yankees wearing pinstripes in Las Vegas or Charlotte, but Steinbrenner was able to get the city to give him $942 million in tax exempt bonds. 

Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky released a report, “The House That You Built,” in which he determined that the deal “created billions of dollars of new public debt with little transparency or control by elected officials and outside of existing debt restrictions. This is not in the public interest.” Brodsky also claimed that the issuance of this debt “may violate existing law.”

The only current stadium in the NFL financed entirely by private money is the New Giants Stadium in New Jersey, which cost $1.6 billion. But the Giants and Jets franchises who play there benefited from taxpayer subsidies for their previous stadium for years, which allowed them to afford such a gigantic expense.

Putting Private Interests Over the Public Interest

Some cities are unable to maintain even basic social services because of their obligations to pay for sports franchises. Glendale, Arizona spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a stadium for the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. They now have to pay an additional $15 million per year to the team as a “management fee,” which is really just a gigantic welfare check. The city of Glendale, meanwhile, has had to layoff teachers, firefighters, and policemen. They nearly had to sell their city hall and police station as well.

“How municipalities acquire so much debt on buildings that have been torn down or are underused illustrates the excesses of publicly financed stadiums and the almost mystical sway professional sports teams have over politicians, voters and fans,” wrote Ken Belson in the New York Times.

Private owners have consistently taken advantage of the enormous leverage they hold over their fan bases and their cities to extract money from them. Almost without fail, local and state governments have put private interests over the public interest, enabling owners to socialize the risk of their businesses while privatizing the profits.

Governments have been unable or unwilling to represent the communities they derive their authority from in making decisions concerning sports teams. In 1997, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was shot by a constituent after a council meeting. The man was upset with Wilcox for pushing through a massively unpopular sales tax to pay for a new baseball stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent years in office trying to spend $2 billion of taxpayer money to build a football stadium on the West Side of Manhattan that was detested by a strong majority of New Yorkers. The proposal finally died when the International Olympic Committee chose London as the site of the 2012 Olympics instead of New York. As a result, the New York Times reported, “officials, developers and urban planners are embracing an unlikely notion: the Olympic bid’s defeat may have been one of the best things to happen for the city’s growth in recent memory.”

Government authorities have proven almost as incapable of incorporating community members into the decision making process as private individuals and corporations. There is no reason to think that bureaucratic control of sports franchises would be any better than private control. Why can’t communities figure out for themselves from the ground up how to own and operate sports teams, as they have in Green Bay?

Many other fan bases are equally as passionate and invested in their teams as Packers fans in Wisconsin. Sports should be a public good that allow fans to participate and have a stake in the teams they consider their own. Why should fans be at the mercy of private owners whose goal is to maximize their profit at the expense of their communities? And bureaucracies that are all too happy to give away the farm without allowing the people they are taxing any meaningful input?

The Green Bay Packers have demonstrated that local communities can own and control sports teams by themselves and be extremely successful. Using an anarcho-syndicalist model, similar to workers taking control of the factory and running it democratically, the Packers have shown anarchist principles can be applied to big business.

It’s time to start asking: why should this not be the model for the rest of professional sports? What value does the current ownership model, in which expenses are socialized while profits are privatized, provide? The answer, undoubtedly, is none. Beyond sports, why not look at applying the Packers model to manufacturing, banking, telecommunications, and even public administration? If the Packers are any indication, the results would be widespread participatory involvement, operational efficiency, and unprecedented community solidarity.    

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Zionism And Colonization Of African Americans

The overarching goal of all Israeli politicians is to engineer a permanent demographic majority in Mandatory Palestine that will allow them to maintain their repression of Palestinians under the facade of democracy. This can be accomplished in two ways: killing and expelling Palestinians from Greater Israel, or attracting new Jewish immigrants. Both are unofficial Israeli state policies. Thus it was no surprise that after the Paris massacres Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored the Jews of France and Europe: "Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray, the state of Israel is your home." The idea that your home is determined by your ethnicity rather than your life experience is not a new one. It is common among racists who believe biology is more important than language and culture, famously embraced by opponents of equality for African Americans during slavery.

The Zionist political movement was founded by Theodor Herzl, a European atheist from a Jewish family. Many of the founding fathers of the Israeli state, such as David Ben-Gurion, were also atheists whose belief in the Bible only extended as far as it served their nationalist politics. As Shlomo Sand writes in The Invention of the Jewish People: "the Bible became an ethnic marker, indicating a common origin for individuals of very different backgrounds and secular cultures yet all still hated for their religion, which they barely observed. [1]

The Zionist aspiration was to create a political association that privileged those who shared an imagined ancestry over people whose land they planned to appropriate. At first, Ben-Gurion recognized - as all serious historians today do - that the Palestinians were descendants of the Judean peasants who inhabited the land at the time of the Arab conquest. "Historical reason indicates that the population that survived since the seventh century had originated from the Judean farming class that the Muslim conquerors had found when they reached the country," wrote Ben-Gurion in a book coauthored with Itzhak Ben-Zvi, the future Israeli President, in 1918. [2]

Later, when Palestinians resisted Zionist machinations for a Jewish state on their land, it became apparent that it would be impossible for Zionists to integrate what they saw as an inferior culture into their political scheme. This caused Ben-Gurion and others to simply eschew their historical knowledge in order to strip the native population of any rights they enjoyed as the rightful owners of their land, and justify their dispossession by militant Zionists. Sand writes that after the Palestinian revolt of 1936-39, "the descendants of the Judean peasantry vanished from the Jewish national consciousness and were cast into oblivion." [3]

It is now understood that European Jews are descendants of the Khazars, who ruled an empire of converts to Judaism in present-day Russia. But even if the Biblical version of Judaism were true, the idea that a race of people share immutable similarities that bestow on them rights not accorded to people who do not belong to that group is a racist one.

For one thing, it distorts the idea of "home" to be a product of biology rather than an individual experience. Writing about the "socially and psychologically .. delicate" impact of immigration, Orly Noy describes the process her family went through 36 years ago to immigrate to Israel from Iran. "According to Israeli parameters, we are seen as a successful aliyah story. However, not a day goes by in which I'm not painfully aware of how we were torn from our home, from our language, our most intimate cultural codes - and how those deep scars remain with my parents to this day."

When Netanyahu and Israeli politicians cavalierly call for Jews across the world to "return" to their "home," it demonstrates their desire to solidify their political power at the expense of the people they proclaim to care about. Instead of viewing Jews as individuals who speak many languages, have roots in countries all over the globe, and have attachments to the places they have grown up and live their lives, they are seen as a vehicle for political power.

Zionists seek to use Jews to carry out their version of Manifest Destiny in Palestine. They believe that Jews should make themselves part of a ruling majority where they can forcibly assert their supremacy. Rather than attempting to improve the social welfare of Jewish people based on their unique circumstances, Zionism reduces the identity of Jewish people to the privilege they derive from belonging to an imagined ethnicity.

As Joseph Massad says, Israel demands a "right to be a racist state that discriminates by law against Palestinians and other Arabs and grants differential legal rights and privileges to its own Jewish citizens and to all other Jews anywhere." These legal rights include the "Law of Return" that allows Jews from anywhere in the world to move to Israel and obtain citizenship, while Palestinian refugees are denied entry to Israel by the "Prevention of Infiltration Law."

The Israeli colonial project shares many similarities with the ideas of many Americans in the pre-Civil-War era United States who believed the abolition of slavery should be coupled with the colonization of African Americans in Liberia, Central America and the Caribbean, or elsewhere.

The most famous proponent of colonization was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had inherited the idea from his political idol Henry Clay, who helped to found the American Colonization Society in 1816.

Supporters of colonization of African Americans generally believed that blacks were an inferior race that did not belong in the United States. They believed privilege and power belonged to whites. Blacks threatened to reduce this privilege, so they needed to be eliminated. As Zionists see Jews as sharing a common ancestral home, so did American colonization proponents see Africa as the home of blacks.

Lincoln himself evolved on the topic throughout his political career, but he was never an abolitionist. He opposed slavery as an institution because he believed slaves had a right to a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and a right to be paid for their labor, but he never believed in equality between blacks and whites.

"I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality ... I ... am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position," Lincoln said in 1858. [4]

Even after the start of the Civil War, Lincoln made clear his support for the gradual emancipation of slaves tied to colonization.

Not surprisingly, African Americans almost unanimously opposed colonization. At a convention of blacks in Springfield, Illinois in 1858, the gathering declared: "We believe that the operations of the Colonization Society are calculated to excite prejudices against us, and they impel ignorant or ill disposed persons to take measures for our expulsion from the land of our nativity... We claim the right of citizenship in this, the country of our birth ... We are not African." [5]

The famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass was equally adamant about African Americans belonging to the country where they lived and were raised. He blasted those who sought colonization to expel blacks from the United States: "Shame upon the guilty wretches that dare propose, and all that countenance such a proposition. We live here - have lived here - have a right to live here, and mean to live here," Douglass wrote.

Both Zionism and white supremacy are guilty of propagating the myth of race as a biologically legitimate fact, when it is nothing more than an artificial social construct. People who believe in the division of society by race and ethnicity propagate racist ideas that reduce people to classifications that ignore all other aspects of one's social and cultural experiences.

While white supremacists sought to expel African Americans to ensure white rule over the United States, Zionists seek to import Jews to ensure Jewish rule over Mandatory Palestine. Zionism today shares many of the same goals as American white supremacy 150 years ago.


Works Cited

[1] Sand, Shlomo. The Invention of the Jewish People. Verso, 2010. http://www.amazon.com/Invention-Jewish-People-Shlomo-Sand-ebook/dp/B004GXATG2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421520799&sr=8-1&keywords=shlomo+sand+invention+of+the+jewish+people.

[2] as cited in Sand, 2010

[3] Sand, 2010

[4] as cited in Dilorenzo, Thomas. The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. Random House LLC, 2009. http://www.amazon.com/Real-Lincoln-Abraham-Agenda-Unnecessary-ebook/dp/B002ZFGJNU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421528687&sr=8-1&keywords=the+real+lincoln.

[5] as cited in Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. http://www.amazon.com/Fiery-Trial-Abraham-Lincoln-American-ebook/dp/B0044XV6G6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421529272&sr=8-1&keywords=the+fiery+trial.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How Obama Could End The Cuban Embargo

When President Obama announced he would direct his administration to start normalizing relations with Cuba several weeks ago, there was one giant catch: the embargo against Cuba would still remain in place. As Obama noted, the embargo has been codified in legislation. He announced his intention to engage with Congress about lifting the embargo. But with both chambers of Congress now in the hands of a party whose entire platform for the last six years has been opposing Obama, it doesn't appear likely. But the reality is that Obama doesn't need Congress's permission. As he did when he announced he would defer deportation for certain undocumented residents, Obama can - and should - act on his own.

The embargo against Cuba started in October 1960 after Cuba exercised its sovereign right to nationalize U.S. properties. The move came as a response to the Eisenhower administration's cancellation of the sugar quota, which stipulated the import of 700,000 tons of sugar from Cuba. The administration had also prohibited delivery of oil to the island, forcing Cuba to buy from the Soviet Union. On Washington's orders, multinational oil companies refused to refine the Soviet oil, leaving Cuba no choice but to nationalize the companies.

The embargo was formalized by President John F. Kennedy on February 3, 1962 by executive order. The Foreign Assistance Act the previous year had declared that "the President is authorized to establish and maintain a total embargo upon all trade between the United States and Cuba." When Kennedy proclaimed a total embargo, he applied the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 to impose it.

The Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA) prohibits trade or attempt to trade, directly or indirectly, with an enemy. Pursuant to this act, the U.S. government issued the Cuban Assets Control Regulations on July 8, 1963. These regulations apply to all individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction, whether they are in the United States or abroad. The regulations prohibit "all dealings in, including, without limitation, transfers, withdrawals, or exportations of, any property or evidences of indebtedness or evidences of ownership of property by any person." They also prohibit transfer of credit, payments through banking institutions, and other restrictions.

Travel to Cuba is banned without an OFAC license, which may be granted to people visiting close relatives, journalists, professionals conducting research, or people pursuing certain educational programs. Violation of the regulations may lead to criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines. Additionally, civil penalties of up to $65,000 per violation may be imposed.

Since Kennedy first implemented the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, each subsequent President chose to extend them. In 1996, Congress enacted the Helms-Burton Act (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996). Bill Clinton signed the act into law, eager to pander to the politically influential right-wing Cuban exile population in Miami and New Jersey, notorious for their fanatical opposition to Castro - and social justice.

Helms-Burton enshrined the power to enforce the embargo with Congress itself. The act states that "The President shall instruct the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General to enforce fully the Cuban Assets Regulations set forth in part 515 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations."

So to undo the embargo Congress would seemingly have to repeal the Helms-Burton Act, otherwise the President's hands would be tied. Except in reality the regulations the President is ordered to enforce are not valid, and should not be legally binding on him. This is because there is no legal merit for the regulations against Cuba, which are written based on the application of enemy status to Cuba.

But Cuba does not meet the definition of an enemy. According to the TWEA, an "enemy" is defined as "any individual" or "the government of any nation with which the United States is at war." The act specifies that the "beginning of the war" is "midnight ending the day on which Congress has declared or shall declare war or the existence of a state of war."

In case you haven't noticed, Congress has never declared war on Cuba. In fact, they haven't declared war at all since they did so on Japan and Germany in 1941 - not on Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other country. So there is no legal authority for applying the TWEA to Cuba.

The entire set of Cuban Asset Control regulations in the Treasury code are illegitimate. If Cuba is not an enemy, you cannot use a law that only applies to enemies as the basis for a set of rules promulgated under that law.

The President can use his executive power to repeal regulations that have no legal force behind them. If Congress wants the President to continue enforcing the embargo, they would have to amend the TWEA to modify the definition of an enemy, or pass a new law that gives the President the power to enforce an embargo against a country when the United States is not at war with that country.

Repeal of the Treasury regulations would open up travel for American citizens to Cuba and allow most trade between the two countries. There are various other provisions of the embargo that would remain. However, many of these provisions are in direct violation of international law and are also illegitimate.

The Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, sponsored by Robert Torricelli, prohibits subsidiaries of U.S. companies in third countries from trading with Cuba. If a U.S. bank has a subsidiary in, say, France, then the subsidiary is a French company who is not subject to U.S. law, regardless of any affiliations. It would be subject only to French law, as U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies are only subject to U.S. law.

The Torricelli act also calls for "sanctions against any country that provides assistance to Cuba" and prohibits ships that have docked in Cuba from docking anywhere in the United States for a period of 180 days. These provisions are both extraterritorial, in that they apply to sovereign governments and entities outside of the jurisdiction of domestic U.S. law.

In the Helms-Burton Act, there is a provision that subjects foreign companies who took over nationalized properties that had belonged to Cuban citizens to prosecution in U.S. courts.

This is in clear contravention of the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law. The international community has long demanded that the United States follow its obligations under international law and stop enforcing the embargo against Cuba. In October, for the 23rd straight year the United Nations General Assembly voted nearly unanimously calling for the end to the "economic, commercial and financial embargo."

"By the terms of the text, the Assembly reiterated its call upon States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and regulations, such as the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the extraterritorial effects of which affected the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation," the General Assembly said in a press release.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties such as the United Nations Charter are to be considered the "supreme law of the land."

Professor David Koplow writes that "treaties and international law ... occupy the apex of the legal pyramid and all domestic authorities of any particular country ... are subsidiary. A country may not, under this system, interpose domestic law as a justification for its failure to meet treaty requirements. If it could, there would not be much point in concluding such agreements."

The Torricelli Act and Helms-Burton Act should not be given priority by the President over the U.S.'s treaty obligations - including the fundamental U.N. Charter - which they directly contradict.

If Obama were to invalidate the Treasury Regulations to do away with the embargo, he would still presumably have the authority under the Foreign Assistance Act to enforce an embargo against Cuba. But it would be just an option, not an obligation. If Obama wants to stop the embargo, he doesn't need Congress's permission. He can just direct his administration to remove the regulations that have been illegally applied by the U.S. government against its citizens and against Cuba for the last 51 years.

Obama has showed he is willing to use his executive authority on other issues, most recently on immigration in November. What he may not be willing to do is expose the fraudulent underpinnings of one of the most widely detested policies in the history of international relations.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Is Fusion Doing The U.S. Government's Bidding On Cuba?

Journalist Jorge Ramos recently leveled some serious accusations against former Cuban President Fidel Castro, accusing him of amassing a fortune stolen from Cuban taxpayers and engaging in widespread drug trafficking. Ramos, a hugely popular news personality on the Spanish language network Univision and new sister cable network Fusion, eagerly parrots the hearsay of a former Castro bodyguard who is - coincidentally - promoting a new book. With the U.S. government still bent on regime change in Cuba despite the recent announcement of the normalization of relations between the two countries, they must be pleased. The narrative Ramos creates could help lay the groundwork for future U.S. intervention in Cuba, or at least help to discredit a revolutionary hero who remains staunchly opposed to U.S. foreign policy and imperialism.

The source for Ramos's Dec. 23, 2014 column is Reinaldo Sánchez, who allegedly served for 17 years as Castro's bodyguard from 1977-1994. According to Ramos, Sánchez arrived in the United States in 2008 but had not gone public with his accusations until he released his book "Fidel Castro's Hidden Life." One could speculate that without guaranteed housing, food allowance, and health care, as Sánchez enjoyed while he was in Cuba, he may have been under financial pressure once in the States. Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez (no relation) was under similar pressure while living abroad in Switzerland in 2004. Her inability to find work and earn a living forced her to return home in desperation, crying as she begged Cuban immigration officials to let her back into the country.

If Castro's former bodyguard did indeed find himself in need of money in his new country with its large, rabid anti-Castro exile population, a tell-all story would be an easy way to raise cash. If you are going to write a book, you need some juicy details. No publisher would be very interested in a book about Castro immersed in reading at his desk or penning his Reflections columns. If Sánchez's motivation was truly to expose the truth, why not speak with journalists and go public right away?

Whatever his motivations, one should be skeptical about the word of one person who may have political and financial motivations telling tales without any corroborating evidence or documentation. Ramos decides not to be. Instead takes everything Sánchez says at face value. He fails to even mention the possibility that one man's unsubstantiated word might be exaggerated or outright false.

"Due to his closeness to Castro, he said that for years he got to see firsthand how the communist dictator amassed a personal fortune, primarily through Cuban businesses whose profits, Sanchez said, went directly to the dictator," Ramos writes. "Castro also owns many properties in Cuba, according to Sanchez, including Cayo Piedra, two small islands connected by a bridge."

These charges against Castro are nothing new. In 2006, Forbes magazine cited unnamed sources to rank Castro as the 7th wealthiest ruler in the world with a fortune of $900 million.

Castro was quick to challenge anyone to show any proof of his alleged fortune. "If they can prove that I have a bank account abroad, with $900 million, with $1 million, $500,000, $100,000 or $1 in it, I will resign," he said. "If they prove that I have a single dollar, I'll resign my post ... there will be no need for plans or transitions."

No one has ever been able to offer the slightest bit of proof. Yet eight years later, Ramos provides a platform for a disgruntled former employee to make the same baseless allegations, as if they hadn't already been out there for years.

Sánchez makes another claim in his book that is wildly inconsistent with the documentary record and even the U.S. government's own assessment. He claims that Castro's involvement in drug trafficking contributed to his alleged fortune.

"Sánchez said that in 1989, despite the fact that Castro would forcefully insist in public that the Cuban government had nothing to do with drug trafficking, the bodyguard overheard a private conversation between Castro and José Abrantes, then minister of the interior, that directly implicated Castro in the drug business," Ramos writes.

For Ramos, this is case closed. One person allegedly overheard a conversation. What further proof could you need? Ramos does not question the former bodyguard about the veracity of these claims or provide them with any context.

The U.S. government itself has not turned up any connection between Fidel Castro or any other Cuban official and drug trafficking. In its 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy report, the State Department declares:
Despite its proximity to major transit routes for illegal drugs to the U.S. market, Cuba is not a major consumer, producer, or transit point of illicit narcotics. Cuba's intensive security presence and bilateral interdiction efforts have effectively reduced the available supply of narcotics on the island and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold... Cuba's domestic drug production and consumption remain negligible as a result of active policing, harsh sentencing for drug offenses, and very low consumer disposable income. Cuba's counternarcotics efforts have prevented illegal narcotics trafficking from having a significant impact on the island.
During the same year Sánchez claims he heard the comments about drug trafficking by Fidel, a high-profile case against senior Cuban military leader General Arnaldo Ochoa was taking place. Ochoa had been the head of the Cuban military mission in Angola for the previous two years. He was arrested on June 12, 1989 and charged with corruption and drug trafficking. He was tried before a military tribunal along with 13 other officers, and they confessed to the charges against them.

"They all told a similar story," writes historian Piero Gleijeses in Visions of Freedom. "The Angolan government had given Ochoa $508,000 to buy 100 field wireless sets. An aide of Ochoa bought them in Panama for $435,000, and Ochoa diverted the difference to a bank account in Panama. Furthermore, on Ochoa's instructions, another aide sold Angolan kwanzas on the black market to buy dollars. That aide told the court, 'We got $61,190 for all these kwanzas.'... The sum total of the money gained from these operations may have approached $200,000."

Ochoa was sentenced to death and executed. Reportedly he asked to die by firing squad, and to give the order to fire. Both requests were granted. Ochoa's actions seem fairly mild - especially when compared to actions of corrupt, U.S. backed regimes - but the Cuban government was acutely sensitive to the potential propaganda value if the U.S. learned of this information. After all, it was only several months later they would invade Panama using drug smuggling by President Manuel Noriega as a pretext to install a pro-business regime amenable to U.S. foreign policy. Having been invaded once by the United States already, the Cuban government was determined not to provide the world's sole superpower, who had long been trying to topple them, with the slightest bit of ammunition.

Gleijeses asks whether it is possible that if Ochoa did this, could other Cuban officials have done the same? Gleijeses says that he read thousands of pages of Cuban documents, interviewed dozens of Angolan officials, and "no one claimed, or hinted, that the Cuban military mission defrauded the Angolan state - beyond the Ochoa episode... In the absence of any indication to the contrary I must conclude that Ochoa's behavior was anomalous."

The historical record suggests Castro and the Cuban government strictly prohibited any corruption, especially drug smuggling, by their officials. They punished such activity to the full extent of the law. It would be hard to think of a weaker claim to the contrary than Sánchez allegedly overhearing a single conversation.

Timothy Alexander Guzman writes, "Fusion is following Washington’s line along with the anti-Castro Cuban-American community to discredit and demonize the Cuban government. Although Cuba is not perfect, it has its principles especially when it comes to illegal drugs. Why would Fidel Castro risk his international reputation as fighter for human rights for the Cuban people by becoming a drug dealer?"

No one should be fooled into thinking that President Obama's moves to normalize relations with Cuba will mean an end to the U.S. policy of covertly supporting regime change. Government agencies such as USAID are still funneling millions of dollars to sympathetic individuals and groups that could help accomplish this. In 2014 alone, several secret programs were discovered to these ends. ZunZuneo, the twitter like network which was to be used to disseminate propaganda to foment political unrest, and an operation to co-opt Cuban hip hop artists were the latest of what The Guardian called "the US government's hapless attempts to unseat Cuba's communist government."

Obama has been aggressive about applying sanctions against countries like Venezuela, Russia and North Korea, whose governments the U.S. would love to overthrow, as they helped do with Ukraine. Just last week Obama announced new sanctions against North Korea for their alleged role in the Sony Hack, despite mounting evidence it was an insider rather than the North Korean government to blame. In July, the Obama administration similarly blamed Russia for the MH17 flight disaster and rushed to impose sanctions before producing any proof. The administration has been silent on the MH17 tragedy for months. Predictably the evidence now points to Ukrainian fighter jets, rather than the Russia government or rebels supporting Russia, downing the civilian plane. But the sanctions remain in place.

The Obama administration must feel like Ramos gave them a Christmas gift with his regurgitation of Sánchez's baseless claims. Obama's rationale for establishing relations with Cuba after 55 years was to "have influence with that government." The implication of Ramos's hit piece is that the U.S. must come riding like a white knight to the rescue of the Cuban people. It is just the message American officials want the U.S. public to hear as they try to use the new opening with Cuba to do what they haven't been able to for the last 55 years - get rid of the Cuban revolution once and for all.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Palestinians Need Less Negotiations, Not More

When the U.N. Security Council resolution to end the Israeli military occupation of the occupied territories and establish a Palestinian state by 2017 was defeated, not a single human with a pulse was surprised. The resolution received eight votes in favor, with the United States and Australia against and five countries abstaining. Even though the measure was one vote shy of adoption, the United States decided to exercise its veto power anyway just to make its rejectionist stance abundantly clear. But the bill would not have lead to a fair settlement anyway. If it led to a settlement at all it would have been an unjust one for Palestinians. A just settlement would mean assuming the goals of the resolution as a starting point, not as an end point.

Explaining why she put a kibosh on the resolution, United States Ambassador Samantha Power said the bill was "imbalanced" and addressed "only one side." It did address only one side - Israel's. It was imbalanced because it sought legal rights already due to Palestinians since 1967 as its objective while ignoring other Palestinian rights like the right of return and equal rights inside the 1948 borders. And it rewarded Israeli for 47 years of atrocious criminality - ethnic cleansing, land and water theft, destruction of thousands of homes and olive trees - without any consequences.

The insistence on maintaining the status quo was explained by Power saying that "we firmly believe the status quo between Israelis and Palestinians is unsustainable."

Power also made multiple references to negotiations between the parties. "The United States every day searches for new ways to take constructive steps to support the parties in making progress toward achieving a negotiated settlement," she said. By this, she apparently meant that the United States searches for ways to force Palestinians negotiate how many of their rights they are willing to forfeit, while Israel demands they don't have to give up anything.

The only acceptable outcome for Israel is maintaining control of all of Mandate Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Sea, by de facto annexation. The United States knows this and has enabled them to do so, by giving them $3 billion per year in aid and vetoing 43 resolutions meant to hold them accountable since 1972, among other things.

If Power was not being dishonest and deceitful, the only other explanation for her statement is that she is clinically insane. The definition of insanity is "a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality." The idea that Israel has ever for one second been interested in a negotiated settlement since its foundation in 1948 is more of a fantasy than Game of Thrones. And to think the U.S. has done anything other than aid and abet Israel's conquest of Palestine through ideological, financial and diplomatic support would require an unfathomable level of historical amnesia.

If Israel was interested in an actual settlement they would have to admit that they cannot bargain with what does not belong to them - namely any land beyond the Green Line. Palestinians don't need another resolution to clarify that Israel needs to remove its military occupation from the lands that were conquered in the 1967 war. This has already been the law for 47 years.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 declared that "the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East ... should include" the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and "termination for all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area."  

This was reiterated six years later with the demands in Resolution 338 to implement 242 "in all of its parts" and that "negotiations shall start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace."

By proposing a new resolution that would achieve at best what is already guaranteed by Resolutions 242 and 338, Palestinians would be forced to surrender the rest of their rights - namely the right of return of the 1948 refugees and their ancestors displaced during the Nakba, and the end to discrimination of Palestinians within Israel who are second-class citizens in the Jewish State.

Israel could not practically dismantle all the illegal settlements they have built in the West Bank and move 500,000 settlers back inside the Green Line, much less absorb possibly millions of refugees, many who still hold the keys to their ancestral homes inside Israel. There is no possibility of a two state solution. It is as much as a fantasy as Ambassdor Power's claim that the U.S. doesn't believe in the status quo.

Once this two-state scam is exposed for what it is, the only possibility left is a binational state where Palestinians enjoy equal rights with Jews. It is the reason that Ali Abunimah, writing in the Electronic Intifada, said last month he hoped for the U.S. to veto the U.N.'s "terrible resolution."

"It insists that the entire question of Palestine be reduced to the question of the 1967 occupation and that merely ending this occupation would effectively end all Palestinian claims," Abunimah writes.

When the question of the occupation has already been resolved in existing law in favor of the Palestinians, why would they want to give away willingly the rest of what was stolen from them? Since Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, Palestinian leadership has demonstrated their willingness to surrender the rights of the people they represent to placate Israel and the United States and be left with scraps.

With incredible foresight Edward Said called the Oslo Accords, with "so many unilateral concessions to Israel," the "Palestinian Versailles." Then, as now, Israel was not willing to give an inch toward recognition of Palestinian self-determination. Pretending that Palestinians can lure Israel into accepting a settlement if they just concede a little bit more is even more absurd now than it was 21 years ago in Oslo.

A new census shows that Palestinians will outnumber Jews in Greater Israel by 2016. Palestinians in the occupied territories and within the '48 borders are expected to equal Jews with a population of 6.42 million before surpassing them. By the end of the decade, the census bureau estimates Palestinians will reach 7.4 million to 6.87 million Jews. This does not even include the estimated 5 million Palestinians living in the diaspora and prohibited by Israel's Prevention of Infiltration Law from returning.

So by virtue of merely existing Palestinians will put an end to Israel's hollow claims of being a democracy. Of course this is no small feat. Palestinians have been struggling for seven decades to maintain their existence in spite of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, and slow-motion genocide. How else to honor this heroic resistance than to prove definitively that Israel's claims to being a democracy and Jewish state have never been anything more than a myth?

By demanding their rights outside of negotiations with Israel, as they did when they signed the Rome Statue this week, Palestinians are able to apply pressure unilaterally. With world opinion turning in favor of the Palestinian plight, it has become clear that isolation of Israel and forcing them to be accountable for their crimes is the only way for Palestinians to attain their rights.

Joseph Massad writes that "Palestinians must insist that those in solidarity with them adopt BDS [Boycott, Divest, and Sanction] as a strategy and not as a goal, in order to bring about an end to Israel's racism and colonialism in all its forms inside and outside the 1948 boundaries."

It is worth remembering that the only reason Israel exists at all is precisely because the colonial powers who created it acted against all concepts of democracy and human rights. If the newly formed World Court would have heard the case of Palestinians in 1948, when they owned nearly 90% of the land and consisted of about 66% of the population, they never would have permitted granting the country to a minority to rule over it.

No amount of negotiations will be able to force Israel to give up its racism and colonialism willingly - just as no negotiations were able to force the South African apartheid regime to do so. The only way for Palestinians to achieve peace will be in spite of the Israel and the United States, who will continue as they have for decades to do everything they can to prevent Palestinian self-determination. Palestinians must expose Israel and the U.S.'s  hypocrisy on democracy and human rights, not let them hide from it.