Sunday, November 27, 2016

The New York Times's Biased Obituary of Fidel Castro

After Fidel Castro passed away Friday night at 90 years old, the obituaries written about him in the American press typified the U.S. government propaganda used for decades to demonize Castro and obscure the tremendous social and humanitarian advances that the Cuban Revolution was able to achieve in the face of unrelenting interference, subversion and destabilization. None were more over-the-top in their bias than the obituary in the New York Times.

A mere 54 words, the lede paragraph contains an astonishing amount of misinformation and innuendo:

"Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959"

It's hard to imagine any Western leader being called a "fiery apostle." The phrase suggests Castro was driven by an irrational, religious mission to undertake revolution, rather than having resorted to armed resistance as a last resort after the possibility of nonviolent opposition through political means was eliminated. In 1952, as Castro was favored to win a seat in the House of Representatives, Fulgencio Batista promptly cancelled the upcoming elections as it became clear he would not be able to hold power in a free and fair vote. Only after this did Castro and others start to organize a guerilla resistance in order to prevent rule by a military dictatorship. Calling him a "fiery apostle of revolution" is reductionist and Manichean.

The second part of the sentence is easily disprovable. The Cold War was well underway and active in the Western Hemisphere long before the Revolution came to power in 1959. Five years earlier, the CIA, at the behest of the United Fruit Company and working in conjunction with Congress and the White House, supported the overthrow of Guatemala's democratically elected progressive President Jacobo Arbenz by the Guatemalan military. The reason was summed up by Senator George Smathers of Florida, who was quoted in an article in the CIA's professional journal, Studies in Intelligence, saying: "In all candor, we must admit that the democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere could not permit the continued existence of a Communist base in Latin America, so close to home."

Aside from misrepresenting the Cold War timeline, the idea that it was Castro who was responsible for Cold War tensions with the United States is laughable. Castro immediately reached out to the U.S. government after taking power in 1959, and even visited the country four months later. Upon arriving he was stood up by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who decided to play golf instead meeting with Castro. The next year, Eisenhower would cancel the sugar quota Cuba depended on for export revenue, provoking Cuba to exercise its sovereign right to nationalize U.S. properties. In return, the U.S. government prohibited delivery of oil to the island, which led to Cuba seeking oil from the Soviet Union.

"and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba's maximum leader"

It is strange that Castro's commitment not to compromise on the sovereignty of Cuba and its people would be seen as remarkable enough to draw attention to it so prominently. Imagine a Russian obituary to Ronald Reagan stating that he defied the Soviet Union. Such a statement presumes that the natural state of affairs would be subservience to the dictates of a foreign power. Americans would find this notion absurd.

"bedeviling 11 American presidents"

This one way of stating that Castro survived more than 600 assassination attempts authorized by multiple U.S. executives and resisted their criminal economic war that sought "to bring about hunger, desperation" and "hardship" and to this day continues to deny food and medicine to children.

"and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war"

A year and a half prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the CIA directed a mercenary invasion of Cuba that failed spectacularly after it was quickly repelled. Understanding that another invasion was imminent, Castro sought nuclear missiles from the Soviet Union because he believed it would be the only possibly deterrent to another U.S. attack. Meanwhile, the United States had nuclear missiles positioned across Eastern Europe at the Soviet Union. When Kennedy protested to the Soviets, Khrushchev offered to withdraw the missiles before they reached Cuba if the U.S. would likewise withdraw its nuclear missiles from Turkey and promise not to invade Cuba. Kennedy said this would "look like a very fair trade" to any "rational man." Yet, he was still not satisfied and instead of accepting it decided to engage in a game of chicken that could easily have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. To pin responsibility on Fidel Castro for the escalation of this situation is a gross distortion.

"died on Friday. He was 90."

This I don't take issue with.

The rest of the obituary is riddled with other inaccuracies and rhetorical flourishes that all predictably echo decades worth of U.S. government propaganda.

The Times claims Castro "ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl." In reality, Fidel resigned his position as the President of State in 2006. He did not personally hand power to his brother in a dictatorial display of nepotism. Raúl was at the time Vice President, having been elected in the process stipulated by the Cuban Constitution. Likewise under the Constitution, as Vice President he assumed the role of the Presidency upon the resignation of the current President. No different than how succession would work in the United States.

The piece goes on to make unfounded claims of Castro's self-aggrandizement ("he believed himself to be the messiah of his fatherland") and launch evidence-free smears about his abuse of power ("he wielded power like a tyrant, controlling every aspect of the island's existence").

No one in recent history has been the subject of such vitriolic and politically biased propaganda emanating from the U.S. government as Fidel Castro. It is unsurprising that the self-declared paper of record in the U.S. would replicate the same disingenuous rhetoric rather than attempt to objectively assess the life of undoubtedly the most important individual of the 20th century based on documented facts placed in historical context.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Disrespecting the American Imperial Presidency

When the dust settled on the Nov. 8 election, we learned that a completely unpredictable, egomaniacal, narcissistic buffoon would inherit the White House and the vast powers that go along with it. This deeply offended many people who see Donald Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric as “unpresidential.” Liberal New York Times columnist Charles Blow summed up this view: “I respect the presidency; I do not respect this president-elect.” That the president-elect should not be respected is a given. But why should we respect the presidency?  

The Imperial Presidency of the United States has evolved over the last century to the point that the executive holds certain powers that can be considered dictatorial. Arguably, the most consequential decision in politics is to wage war. The Constitution specifically reserves this right for Congress. The President, as Commander-in-Chief, directs the wars that Congress declares. However, starting with Truman’s intervention in the Korean War in 1950 and continuing with invasions of Vietnam, Grenada, Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombings of dozens more countries, the President’s ability to unilaterally initiate war with a sovereign nation has been normalized. Congress has not declared war since 1941 despite the fact the U.S. military has intervened in nearly every corner of the world in the years since.

In recent years, George W. Bush assumed the power to kidnap, torture, and assassinate any individual, anywhere in the world, at any time, without even a pretense of due process. Upon replacing Bush, Barack Obama legitimized Bush’s kidnapping and torture (by refusing to prosecute the perpetrators or provide recourse to the victims) while enthusiastically embracing the power to assassinate at will. Noam Chomsky has said this represents Obama trashing the 800-year-old Magna Carta, which King John of England would have approved of.

Can there be anything more dictatorial than the power of a single individual to kill and make war at will? While American presidents thankfully do not have the power to unilaterally impose taxes, pass legislation, or incarcerate without charges inside U.S. borders, the illegitimate authority they do possess to carry out unrestrained violence across the world is unquestionably a dictatorial feature.

There has not been a single American president since World War II that has not exceeded his constitutional authority by committing crimes that would meet the standard by which officials were convicted and executed at the Nuremberg trials.

Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 to imprison Japanese Americans in concentration camps was a flagrant violation of the Fifth Amendment right not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

Truman’s firebombing of Tokyo, nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and invasion of Korea violated provisions of multiple treaties that are considered the “supreme law of the land” per Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Eisenhower’s use of the CIA to overthrow democratically elected presidents in Iran and Guatemala, as well as the initiation of a terrorist campaign against Cuba, violated the UN Charter, another international treaty that the Constitution regards as the supreme law of the land.

Kennedy was guilty of approving the creation of a mercenary army to invade Cuba, as well as covert warfare in Vietnam. Johnson massively escalated U.S. military involvement in Vietnam with the introduction of ground troops, which he fraudulently justified through misrepresentation of the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Succeeding Johnson, Nixon waged a nearly genocidal air campaign against not only Vietnam but Cambodia and Laos, killing hundreds of thousands of people, destroying ecosystems across Indochina, and leaving an unfathomable amount of unexploded ordnance, which continues to kill and maim hundreds of people each year.

Ford covertly supported the South African invasion of Angola and overtly supported the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Carter continued supporting the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, as well as providing financial and military support to military dictatorships in Guatemala and El Salvador. Reagan oversaw the creation and operation of a terrorist army in Nicaragua, sponsored military dictatorships throughout Central America, and directly invaded Grenada.

Bush the Elder invaded Panama and Iraq. Clinton oversaw sanctions in Iraq that killed as many as 1 million people, carried out an air war that indiscriminately pulverized civilian targets from 15,000 feet in Serbia, and bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that produced medications for half the country. Bush the Lesser invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama continued both of those wars, as well as dramatically expanding the drone assassination program in as many as seven countries.

So I beg to differ with Blow and anyone else who claims the presidency deserves respect. Any institution or position that permits such illegal and immoral actions unchecked should be eradicated and replaced with some alternative that does not.

Liberal Clinton defender Matt Yglesias argues that from a historical perspective, Trump is uniquely dangerous. “(P)ast presidents,” Yglesias writes, “have simply been restrained by restraint. By a belief that there are certain things one simply cannot try or do.”

It is hard to take such vacuous proclamations with a straight face. As we have seen, every single American president since at least WWII has engaged in serious violations of international and domestic law to cause death, destruction and misery across the world, from murdering individuals without due process to unleashing two nuclear bombs on civilian populations in a defeated country that was seeking to surrender.

When Trump assumes the presidency, he will inherit a frightening surveillance/military/incarceration apparatus that includes a targeted killing program; a vast NSA domestic and international spying network; a death squad (the Joint Special Operations Command); and an extralegal system for indefinite kidnapping and imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay.

Partisans see a problem only when the presidency is in the “wrong” hands. If Obama is at the helm, liberals are fine with unconstitutional mass surveillance or killing an American citizen without charge or trial every now and then. Conservatives trusted Bush to warrantlessly surveill Americans, but were outraged at the Snowden revelations.

Principled opponents recognize that no one should be trusted with illegitimate authority. The hand-wringing and hyperventilation by liberals about the dangers of a Trump presidency ring hollow and hypocritical.

American presidents long ago became the equivalent of elected monarchs, beyond the democratic control of the those they purportedly serve. The occupant of the office is able to substitute his own judgments and whims for a universally applicable set of laws and limits on the exercise of power. It is what Dolores Vek describes as “actually existing fascism.” Both parties have contributed to it, the media has normalized it, and the public has accepted its creation and continued existence without rebelling against it. It’s time to stop treating the presidency itself with respect and start actively delegitimizing it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Cubs World Series Win Demonstrates Sports Teams Do Not Need Publicly Funded Stadiums

When the Chicago Cubs closed out a thrilling 8-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series on Tuesday night, they became World Champions for the first time since 1908. Their win disproved not only the Curse of the Billy Goat, but the notion that privately owned sports teams need to have publicly funded stadiums to survive and be competitive.

Since the gates of the Cubs' beloved Wrigley Field (then Weeghman Park) opened to the public in 1914, owners of professional sports teams across the United States have bilked taxpayers out of hundreds of billions of dollars by demanding that the public bear a portion of - or, in many cases, the entire financial burden of constructing baseball, football, basketball, and hockey stadiums. Once completed, the owners - rather than the taxpayers - reap the rewards of admission, stadium concessions, and even parking fees. The taxpayers are rewarded for their largesse with highly inflated ticket prices and reduced access to new venues, which generally have much smaller seating capacities.

By now, the fact that stadiums are a terrible investment is as widely accepted as climate change. Not only do they not generate enough tax revenue to offset the expenditure of taxpayer funds, but the true cost to the public almost always exceeds the sticker price, and can be understated by as much as 40 percent.

Yet despite the long, documented history of stadiums saddling the public with a crushing burden of debt while delivering spectacular increases in the value of franchises to owners, those who control teams keep finding that they are able to dupe feckless politicians and a gullible public into supporting transfers from the public coffers into their own pockets.

Their ability to continually achieve these scams relies on a convincing propaganda campaign. There are several main arguments that comprise the narrative: that current stadiums are old and falling apart and must be replaced in the near future; that fans demand state-of-the-art facilities with the most modern amenities; and that without luxury boxes and corporate suites new stadiums could provide, the team will never be able to generate enough revenue to compete and win. When those arguments fail to do the trick, the owners resort to threatening to move to another city.

The first argument is always easy to disregard, as any engineering inspection will attest. Wrigley Field has lasted more than 100 years and there appears to be no reason it couldn't last another 100 more. In almost every case ownership makes similar claims about other stadiums, they are unable to provide evidence to back them up, because none exists.

Any true baseball fan will understand the second argument is also bunk. Personally, the least important part about watching a game in person to me is the comfort and amenities. I want to sit as close to the field as possible, and that's pretty much it. I can have comfort and amenities from my own couch the 363 days a year I don't go to watch a game in person.

The Cubs championship demonstrates that success and suite revenue are not correlated. Having a rabid fan base that packs the stands every night (the Cubs ranked 5th in the league in attendance in 2016) and, more importantly in this day in age, watch on TV each night will generate more than enough revenue to put a winning team on the field. Fewer suites only means fewer profits that will be put into the owner's investment portfolio, rather than put into the operations of the team.

The Cubs owners understand that true baseball fans value the charm of a historic stadium more than the allure of a shiny new one they have no emotional connection to. Fans would rather sit in the same seats they sat in years ago with their father than have a little more leg room. So after the Ricketts family (who recently donated $1 million to Donald Trump) bought the team in 2009, they aimed to renovate rather than replace.

They did attempt to seek taxpayer funds to pay for the $500 million worth of renovations. When they were met with a chilly reception, they tried to use what leverage they had by threatening to move the team. But Chicago officials understood that this was nothing more than empty posturing and ownership never thought seriously for a single second about going anywhere else.

Lo and behold, when public officials held their ground the Cubs ownership committed to paying for the entire project with private money. Predictably, it has neither sent them to the poor house nor impaired their ability to field a competitive team.

As Chicago officials and Cubs fans watched 5 million people gather Friday for the 7th largest gathering in human history, perhaps they wondered why they needed owners at all. The Cubs, like all sports teams, could be considered a public good that should belong to the community that sustains them. Rather than be operated by, and for the benefit of, a private individual, they could be managed in the interests of the millions of fans and residents of their city based on their input.

Sports teams are generally cash cows that pay for themselves and produce millions of dollars worth of surplus. The Green Bay Packers, who are owned by nearly 400,000 shareholders that operate the franchise democratically, are self-sustainable and have never run into financial trouble, much less ruin.

It's unlikely that any cities will move to take control of their teams from their parasitic owners. But one can at least hope that the Cubs World Series will serve as a strong counterargument to the fatuous propaganda that sports owners have come to rely on as they continue to siphon billions of dollars from the public to themselves without contributing anything of value.