Imagine: American Policy in the Mideast

IMAGINE:  The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up.  The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer,  am installed in the White House.  Following my speech on Korea, I deliver a foreign policy address on the Mideast.

America is in a deep hole in the Mideast.  We lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve landed on the losing side in Syria, we’re responsible for an awful disaster in Yemen, and we’re farther than ever from solving the Israel/Palestine conflict. Outside some very isolated opinion in a few countries, no one in the region thinks kindly of the American position, far from it, and this deep hostility has cost American lives and opened the door to regional advances by Russia.

One of the things I learned in my recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs is that if you want to climb out of a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Toward that end, I would begin by inviting the head of state of Israel to Washington for a celebration of victory.  Seventy years ago, I would say, few gave the State of Israel much chance for survival.  Today, Israel is strong and prosperous.  Congratulations on your victory.  Accordingly, there is no longer a need for American aid. None will be forthcoming, except possibly humanitarian aid in the event of a natural disaster.  

But if the state of Israel wishes to apply for further American foreign aid, we will set up a trust fund for distressed Mideast states administered by the United Nations, and we invite Israel to make application to that body. Of course, the UN may require compliance with the world body’s resolutions regarding return of occupied territories, prohibition of settlements, and similar issues. That’s life. I would instruct our UN ambassador to urge an accommodating policy on settlements already built in occupied territories provided they are offered as homes to Palestinian families forcibly expelled in prior years and wishing to return.  

This initiative should stimulate some deep rethinking of policy in Israel. To help things along, I would offer an emergency economic aid package to Gaza, where the infrastructure is all but destroyed and people live in an ongoing humanitarian crisis. At the same time, companies doing business in Israeli-occupied territories would be barred from the U.S. market. Residents wishing to emigrate from Israel will receive favored immigration treatment under U.S. laws.  

We would also look favorably on a proposal to elevate Jerusalem to the status of an independent city-state jointly administered by authorities of the three major religions who revere its historic sites.  

Given these initiatives, within a relatively short period, people of good will on both sides will come together and find a way to achieve a historic compromise that leaves both sides slightly dissatisfied but deeply relieved that the conflict is over.  With peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the whole atmosphere in the Mideast and beyond will turn strongly positive for the United States, and the other problems in the area will become much more amenable.  

Moving to those issues, I would convene an international commission on Islamic terrorism, meaning terrorism committed in the name of the Islamic religion. Among the main topics would be Saudi Arabia, whose role in the 9/11 attacks has never been examined in depth. Saudi Arabia is the major funder of Islamic terrorist groups in the Mideast and finances an international network of mosques teaching a narrow jihadist version of Islam. The United States no longer relies on Saudi petroleum and has no need to kowtow to the Saudi princes to maintain energy security. It’s high time that the Saudi role in exporting terrorism is brought into daylight, along with that of other states; and we should not hesitate to label Saudi Arabia a terrorist state and impose appropriate sanctions.  

Even before that commission completes its work, we need to stop the ongoing devastation in Yemen.  As a first step, the United States will impose a no-fly zone over Yemen. Neither Saudi Arabia nor any other state will be permitted to attack Yemeni territory from the air.  The combatant parties will be restricted to their ground game. A naval embargo will permit passage of humanitarian aid and the entry of medical personnel but block weapons shipments and military units. These measures will not stop the hostilities, which have their local roots, but will limit the toll that foreign interference has imposed on the civilian population. The United States can develop good relations with whoever eventually wins the ground battle in Yemen.

The situation in Iraq is another instance where previous US administrations have dug a very deep hole. The invasion of Iraq was a war of choice founded on lies.  To have done it at all was criminal.  Then, the way it was done was stupid beyond belief. Because Saddam had his primary base of support among the Sunni population, the US treated the Sunni like it treated American Negroes during the Jim Crow era, and threw its weight blindly behind the Shia. Nobody in the US occupation authorities seemed to have realized until it was too late that oppressing the Sunnis, who had held state power and staffed a modern army, led inevitably to the birth of a powerful resistance, which took the form of the Islamic State. Furthermore, empowering the Shia handed over the country’s government for all practical purposes to neighboring Iran. Today, American air power has leveled the cities and towns where the Islamic State ruled. The civilian toll is inestimable. The Islamic State, as a state, is dead. But air power does not create stable governments. The United States is in a deeper hole than ever, having fostered a central government in Baghdad that is virtually a puppet of Tehran, and created an ungovernable region of devastation in the Sunni areas. As a result, American leverage in Iraq, to achieve aims other than leveling inhabited places to the ground, is very small.

What to do?  As a first and symbolic step, the American politicians and military leaders who created this mess should be locked up in a special section of Guantanamo where they are made to wear dunce caps. Then we need to launch a Marshall Plan to jumpstart the reconstruction of the cities and towns we destroyed.  Along with that, we need to use whatever leverage we have left in Baghdad to start a process of national amnesty and reconciliation. That underway, there needs to be a serious effort at national elections, with care to achieve roughly proportional representation for all religious and tribal communities. Just maybe, Iraq can be restored to life as a viable nation state.

Joining the architects of the Iraq mission in Guantanamo with dunce caps will be the makers of the Afghanistan mess. Here too we have deliberately wrecked a country and now find ourselves relying on a government of political whores and parasites who would not last three weeks in our absence. Americans are dying to sustain this charade. No previous administration has had the political courage to state the obvious and do what’s required, namely get out, completely, and immediately. Not one more life, not one more dollar. True, Afghanistan will end up governed by the Taliban, but they’ve emerged recently as a relatively moderate force compared to the branch of the Islamic State that’s begun to penetrate their country. The Taliban are the lesser evil. We must not forget the lesson of Vietnam. The ones who took over after we left, we painted them worse than Satan incarnate, but twenty years later we’re wearing shirts and shoes made in Vietnam, going to international conferences in Ho Chi MInh City, and seeing a brisk tourist business. It will be the same with an Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban, and at a minimum the world will be rid of the curse of the Afghan opium crop.  

Let me say a concluding word about the Middle East. Almost everyone among the tens of millions of people who live in this region adheres to Islam. Almost everything the United States has done under past administrations in this region has looked like hostility to the Islamic religion. This is another dunce cap mistake. The United States is not ever going to get rid of Islam.  Islam is one of the world’s major religions, and it will easily survive any attacks we might launch against it, either with bombs or with sermons. Forget about ridding the world of Islam; that will never happen.   

The most important thing we need to do about Islam is to relax about it.  When we get paranoid about Islam and label all Muslims as terrorists, we push peaceable Muslims closer to the terrorists and we drive a few more individuals into the terrorists’ fatal embrace. That is what the terrorists want. When we attack Muslims in general, it also becomes harder for us to win the cooperation of Muslims in tracking and exposing the terrorist fringe. So, we need to accept that Islam is here to stay, and deal with it.  Ninety-nine per cent of Muslims present no threat and are valuable contributors to society. We just need to get used to the different looks of some people’s garments and hair styles, and we can very well do this just as we got used to the severe habits of Catholic nuns and the hairstyles and hats of Orthodox Jews. Who really cares that much about clothes and hairstyles?

We also urgently need to stop the evil practice of promoting Islamic sectarianism. In Iraq before the invasion, Sunni and Shia had frictions, but largely lived as neighbors in peace, and many families intermarried.  American policy deliberately instigated violence by Sunni v. Shia and Shia v. Sunni so as to divide and weaken the country. The region is still reaping the evil consequences of this manipulation. Within Christianity, we had the Thirty Years’ War where Protestant slew Catholic and vice versa, with eight million dead. Previous American administrations have been trying to recreate such a family slaughter by encouraging Sunni Saudi Arabia to make war on Shia Iran, and by aggravating sectarian divisions in other countries. This must stop. Sunni and Shia have their differences over the succession from the Prophet in the seventh century, but absent outside interference they have been able for centuries to agree to disagree and to live peaceably as neighbors, just as Catholics and Lutherans manage to do in our time.  

In the long term, once we relax about Islam, Islam will mellow out internally. Jihadist voices will find no echo, and the younger generation will gradually become more secular, just as has happened with Christianity and Judaism in the West.  This will upset the elders, as it always does, but such is life.

Foreign policy debate in the US has traditionally gravitated around the poles of interventionism vs isolationism. Favoring the end of military intervention in Mideast affairs, as I do, my administration will be accused of isolationism. There is some truth to that charge. Previous administrations have spent almost uncountable treasure on military interventions in the Mideast, pouring it all down a black hole and leaving America’s standing in the world in tatters. While we have been laying waste to other countries, our own quality of life has deteriorated dangerously. We need to bring those billions of dollars back home. We need to retrain our combatants as carpenters, ironworkers, electricians, and all the other useful trades, and rebuild our homeland.  I’ll talk about that in more detail another time.

As far as our relations with other countries go, we need to be actively engaged with all of them.  We need to engage not generally as an invading, bombing, and annihilating force, but as friends and partners in their prosperity and development. This will require a State Department filled with bright young minds with facility in many languages, cultures, and skill sets. It will take some time to remold the image of America in the world. We have been the Ugly American.  We can and will become the Good and Beautiful American. We have it within us. We just need to let it out.  

 

A Poem From Within

This Is a Poem About What Causes Poems Like This to Be Written

By Jesse J.

Before I begin this poem …
I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence …
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
On September 11th 2001 …

I’d also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence …

For all those who’ve been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped or killed in retaliation for those strikes … for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S. and throughout the world …

And if I could add just one more thing …

A day of silence.

For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence …

For the million and a half Iraqi people … mostly children … who died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of a twelve-year U.S. embargo against that country … before the war ever began … and now … the drums of war beat again …

Before I begin this poem …

Nine months of silence
For the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer
Of concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors
Well they went on as if they were alive …

One year of silence …

For the millions dead in Vietnam … a people … not a war … for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel — their relatives’ bones buried in it — their babies born of it …

Two months of silence …

For the decade of dead in Colombia … whose names … like the corpses they once represented … have piled up and slipped off our tongues …

Before I begin this poem …

Seven days of silence … for El Salvador
A day of silence … for Nicaragua
Five days of silence … for the Guatemalans
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years …

1,955 miles of silence …
For every desperate body that burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the empire’s underbelly
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor and corrugated steel …

Twenty-five years of silence …
For the millions of Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky
For those who were strung and swung from the height of sycamore trees
In the South
The North
The East
The West
There will no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains …

100 years of silence …
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous people from this half of right now
Whose land and lives were stolen
In postcard-perfect plots like
Pine Ridge
Wounded Knee
Sand Creek
Fallen Timbers
Or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry
On the refrigerator of our consciousness …

From the somewhere within the pillars of power …
You open your mouth to invoke a moment of silence …
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut

A moment of silence …
And the poets are laid to rest
The drums disintegrated to dust …

Before I begin this poem.

You want a moment of silence …
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
While the rest of us hope to hell that it won’t be
Not like it always has been
Because you see
This isn’t a 9/11 poem
This is a 9/10 poem!
A 9/9 poem!
A 9/8 poem!
A 9/7 poem!
This is a 1619 poem!
A 1492 poem!
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written
But if it is a 9/11 poem
It’s a September 11, 1973 poem for the people of Chile
It’s a September 12, 1977 poem for the Steven Biko of South Africa
It’s a September 13, 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica prison in New York
It’s a September 14, 1992 poem for the people of Somalia
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground
Amidst the ashes of amnesia
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 100 stories that CNN, ABC, The New York Times and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem to interrupt their programs
This is not a peace poem
Not some poem of forgiveness
This is a justice poem
A poem for never forgetting
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be
Broken glass
And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empties;
The unmarked graves
Lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children.

Before I begin this poem …

We could be silent forever …
Or just long enough to hunger for the dust to bury us
And would you still ask us for more of our silence …

Well if you want a moment of silence …
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines
The televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the emails and instant messages
Derail the trains and ground the planes

If you want a moment of silence …
Put a brick through the window of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost …

Tear down the Liquor stores
The Townhouses
The Penthouses
The Jail houses
And the White Houses

If you want a moment of silence …
Then take it now!
Before this poem begins
Here’s your silence
Take it!
Take it all!
But don’t cut in line
Let your silence begin
At the beginning of crime …

———————————————————————————————————————————–

Jesse J, 52, is currently in the San Francisco County Jail for a probation violation. He has spent the better part of the last 35 years in and out of the criminal justice system.

Reprinted by permission from The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, which was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed.

Trump Tweetstorm: Build Wall Around Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans worse than Mexicans!!  Mexicans are rapists, murderers, thieves.  Puerto Ricans are Democrats!  Disgusting!  Invading Florida scheming to turn the state blue!  Hundreds of thousands of them.  In a state where just a couple of thousand votes decide national elections.

Do they think I’m an idiot?  I’m much smarter than them!  Most smart man on planet probably!  Undoubtedly!  I know how to fix their malicious plot.  Build a wall around Puerto Rico!  Make them pay for it!

Until it’s built, strict travel controls at airports, harbors.  Nobody leaves if they can’t pass loyalty test.  Loyalty to the President!  And speak English.

Don’t tell me I can’t keep them from coming here!  Some previous administration, Democrats no doubt,  gave them American citizenship, I’m told.  Big mistake.  I’m going to deport the whole island and everybody on it.  With my pen.  Watch me!

Besides, they haven’t paid their debt.  They owe us.  Big time.  No running out on that debt, amigos!  Until you pay, you stay!

 

 

Imagine: American Policy Toward Korea

IMAGINE:  The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up.  The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer,  am installed in the White House.  As one of my first priorities, I deliver a foreign policy address on the situation in Korea.

Recently a previous administration stationed three aircraft carriers off the Korean peninsula.  I have ordered them home immediately . They’re not only a big waste of money, they’are a display of impotence.  They can’t fire a shot without disastrous consequences for South Korea.  We need to abandon the illusion that the DPRK (North Korea) can be either pressured or starved into abandoning its nuclear arsenal.  The whole concept of trying to intimidate North Korea militarily is a waste of time and money.  We have previously bombed them practically into the stone age, killing millions of their people, and they have come back stronger than ever.

I am hereby extending formal diplomatic recognition to the DPRK.  We are going to welcome the DPRK to the “nuclear club.”  We will formally end the Korean War and sign a mutual peace treaty, whereby we pledge to defend South Korea militarily if the North attacks it, but otherwise North Korea and the US renounce aggression toward one another.   We will exchange state visits.

We will promote the opening of wide ranging dialogue between north and south,  aiming at eventual peaceful reunification of Korea within twenty years.  There are no vital American interests in keeping Korea divided.  The tensions rooted in this division distort our relations with China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the whole East Asian region.

The fact that the northern government doesn’t live up to a Disney model of capitalist democracy is neither here nor there.  Neither does the government in the south. We have maintained close and supportive relations with dozens of other countries that are as bad or worse.

You’d think that the previous administration’s attendance at a gathering of heads of state in Vietnam would teach us a lesson.  Successive American administrations spent uncounted hundreds of billions of dollars, sacrificed more than 50,000 American lives, and bombed and poisoned more than three million Vietnamese during the war.  Yet just decades later, an American president flew there on a state visit and held hands with its head of state  to talk about trade.  That peaceful conference could have been had decades ago without doing the war.  So, too, normal civil relations can be had with North Korea, and it won’t be long before we’re wearing sweaters and socks made there, and young American couples will be traveling there for their honeymoons.  It’s supposed to be very pretty in spring time.

The advent of a state of peace on the Korean peninsula and between the DPRK and ourselves will pose major challenges to the governments on both sides of the DMZ.  The powerful right wing forces in the south, who build their reason for existence largely on fear of the north, will suffer a loss of support.  Popular movements, including workers’ rights movements, will benefit.  Wages will rise and domestic consumption will grow.  South Korean manufactures will become more expensive in the U.S.  The Korean trade surplus will shrink.  We can assist this beneficial process by requiring and enforcing clear fair-manufacturing standards on imported goods.  Stuff made with child labor, or under unhealthy or oppressive conditions, will be barred from import.  In the North, the advent of peace will have profound and unpredictable consequences.  A government whose popular support depends heavily on national defense in defiance of America will be forced to scramble for other bases of legitimacy, or fall.  Whether the Pyongyang authorities have the flexibility and resilience to make this sort of 180 degree adjustment is anyone’s guess.

As for those three aircraft carriers, we will refit them.  We will paint them light green and equip them as disaster first responder forces.  Leave the fighter and bomber jets home.  Keep the helicopters.  Stock the ships with potable water, emergency rations, tarps, tents, medications, earthmoving, fire fighting, and construction equipment and materials, with generators, solar power gear, and whatever else first responders require.  Staff them with trained emergency personnel in all the skill sets that save lives in disasters.  Then, when a hurricane, a tsunami, an earthquake, a flood, a fire or other disaster hits anywhere in the world, in a short time the appearance of the giant green ship on the horizon will give courage to the survivors. That’s the least we can do.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Fish, Little Fish

Big Fish Eat Little Fish, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1557

This engraving done in the Netherlands in 1557 could have been etched as an editorial cartoon about the current Republican tax proposals in Congress. Look, says the man in the rowboat in the foreground to his young child, a few big fish make meat of the other fish. Above the drawing, in Latin, French, and Dutch, the legend: “Oppression of the poor. The rich oppress you with their power.”

The Republican tax plans, in both the House and Senate versions, aim to cut taxes on corporations and on personal incomes, with a strong slant in favor of the uppermost layers.  The rationale is the familiar trickle-down theory, which claims that making the rich even richer benefits the middle class and the poor because the rich will invest in new factories and create jobs.  Never mind the dismal historical record of this con job.  How do things stand at present?

The volume of corporate profits is at all time highs.  Corporations hold literally trillions of dollars in U.S. banks and in overseas tax havens.  If their cash hoards were not enough, they could easily borrow at historically low interest rates.  The wealth of the richest individuals is likewise unprecedented both in absolute volume and as a percentage of social wealth.  If investors had any intention of investing in new factories and other workplaces and creating jobs, no shortage of capital ties their hands.  On the contrary, they have more capital by far than they know what to do with.

There is no conceivable economic rationale for putting more funds, especially public funds, into their pockets.  So irrational is this proposal that a group of more than 400 American multimillionaires have published a statement denouncing it and suggesting that the taxes on their class should be raised, not cut.

But there is a targeted purpose, nevertheless.  A group of wealthy Republican donors  have served notice to Congressional Republicans that if their taxes don’t get cut, they’ll stop donating to Republican politicians.  “Get it passed,” one Republican congressman reports his donors told him, “or don’t ever call me again.”  There’s a quid pro quo here:  politicians pass tax cuts for the rich, the rich pass campaign donations to the politicians who passed the tax cut.  It’s “pay to play” on the national scale, with trillions of dollars on the table. Can democracy get any more venal than that?

What will corporations do with the portions of the tax cut they don’t kick back to the politicians?  Apart from buying back some of their own stock to raise their stock price, and in a few case raising dividends to their stockholders, they’ll use their slush fund to buy out and take over their competitors.  Big fish eating the little fish.  Just like in the Dutch engraving from the year 1557.

The message of the engraving might be seen as cynical or pessimistic.  It is not.  At the center of the image lies a giant fish, its eye wide in horror, as an armored man slices open its gut and a fisherman on a ladder plunges a trident into its back.  The engraving conjures up a day of reckoning when the rich are pulled out of the sea and forced to disgorge their holdings both front and back.  It’s a message of purpose, of justice, and of hope.

Paradise Papers and Hell on Earth

Some electronic Robin Hood has hacked 13.4 million files from the Appleby law firm, which specializes in providing “offshore services” to the very crème de la crème of corporations and individuals.  Those services, the firm insists, are not tax evasion.  They are tax avoidance.  Evasion is illegal. Avoidance is, as Donald Trump remarked, smart business.

This document dump, released initially to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung and then shared with 100 other media outlets, goes by the name Paradise Papers.  Researchers who have combed the trove have already found interesting nuggets that point to questionable transactions by prominent individuals, ranging from the Trump cabinet to the British Queen, and corporations from Apple to Twitter.  The article below, by Common Dreams staff writer Jon Queally, sketches the highlights found so far.  It appears that Appleby’s client list is substantially bigger and wealthier than the rat pack unmasked a year ago by the Panama Papers.

Beyond the exposure of individual dark money transactions and beyond the airing of how corporations like Apple thumb their noses at US and foreign tax laws, this set of papers highlights once again how a thin financial elite, making up a tiny fraction of the top one per cent, operates in virtually complete disregard of national boundaries and the laws within them.  Just like in the Middle Ages, this aristocracy is metanational and sociopathic, loyal to no boundaries and held back by no moral obligations.  Bernie Sanders certainly hit the nail on the head by calling them an international oligarchy.

These papers also throw into sharp relief the boundless fakery of the current Republican tax proposal.  The core of that plan is to cut corporate taxes.  But, as the Paradise papers show, corporate taxation is already a game, where the nominal tax rates mean nothing because no corporation of any scale pays the nominal rates.  Analysts have estimated that the Paradise papers point to a hidden hoard of about ten trillion dollars in mostly corporate funds that lie out of the reach of tax authorities.

That ten trillion in overseas funds sits on top of another ten trillion of corporate profits that glut the deposit accounts of major American banks, as the Wall Street Journal reported last year.  Ten trillion here and ten trillion there, pretty soon we’re talking about real money.

There really is no lack of money to solve the world’s ills.  The problem is that the money is in the wrong hands.  It’s in the hands of people who don’t know what to do with it.  The only expenditure they will consider is one that brings a profit at or above the going rate; in other words, that will make someone rich or richer.  Those opportunities are few and far between.  A health care system that serves everyone? Can’t make a lot of money on that!  Rebuilding the rotting American infrastructure?  No profit in most of that, either.  Building public housing that working families can afford?  Tried that, no money in it, tore them down.  Free public education from zero to college graduation?  How can anybody get rich doing that?  And so, while the very very rich get very very very rich, the rest of the world goes to hell.

What major American corporations are planning to do, if the corporate tax cut goes through, is to buy up more of their own stock and/or to buy up and merge with their competitors in order to better control markets.  They’re completely clueless and bankrupt when it comes to major social initiatives.

We are ruled by savages.  Their suits and haircuts are costumes to deceive the naive.  Behind those masks they are wild pigs.  With boundless greed they exploit every weakness, gobble up every asset, rip up the land and defecate over everything.  Civilization is only a thin veneer.

Here’s the story from Common Dreams, shared under a Creative Commons License.

Paradise Papers’ Reveal Tax Avoidance, Shady Dealings of World’s Rich and Powerful

From multiple members of Trump’s cabinet to the British Royal Family, document dump of offshore dealings shows how political leaders—joined by wealthy celebrities and the ultra-rich—shelter their assets, keep shady relationships secret, and game the tax systems of nations around the globe

by Jon Queally, staff writer

Some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people will be waking up on Monday to discover that some of their best kept secrets—how they hide their vast wealth and avoid paying taxes—are now being read about in newspapers across the world after the release of a trove of offshore legal and banking documents were leaked to journalists and published Sunday as a joint project called the ‘Paradise Papers.’

First obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the documents were then shared with scores of journalists and researchers associated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists  and other media organizations, including the New York TimesBBC, and the Guardian.

“There is this small group of people who are not equally subject to the laws as the rest of us, and that’s on purpose,” said author and financial expert Brooke Harrington in response to the new insights about how these elites secretly manage their wealth.

As the ICIJ reports, the “trove of 13.4 million records exposes ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary, the secret dealings of the chief fundraiser for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the offshore interests of the Queen of England and more than 120 politicians around the world.” According to the ICIJ, the documents show how deeply the offshore financial system is entangled with the overlapping worlds of political players, private wealth and corporate giants, including Apple, Nike, Uber and other global companies that avoid taxes through increasingly imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers.

One offshore web leads to Trump’s commerce secretary, private equity tycoon Wilbur Ross, who has a stake in a shipping company that has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In all, the offshore ties of more than a dozen Trump advisers, Cabinet members and major donors appear in the leaked data.

At the center for the leak, explains the Guardian, is the law firm Appleby which has “outposts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. In contrast to Mossack Fonseca, the discredited firm at the centre of last year’s Panama Papers investigation, Appleby prides itself on being a leading member of the ‘magic circle’ of top-ranking offshore service providers.”

According to a summary by the Guardian, the ‘Paradise Papers’ reveal:

Speaking with the Guardian, economist Gabriel Zucman—who is releasing a study later this week about the interplay between tax havens and global inequality—says the two are intricately linked.

“Tax havens are one of the key engines of the rise in global inequality,” he said. “As inequality rises, offshore tax evasion is becoming an elite sport.”

 

Environmental Justice: Carl Anthony’s Memoirs

The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race, by Carl C. Anthony, Forewords by Van Jones and Paloma Pavel, New York, New Village Press, 2017. ISBN 9781613320211

Book review by Martin Nicolaus

After the election of Barack Obama, author Carl Anthony congratulates a Kenyan engineer on the election of someone with ancestors from his part of Africa as American president. Replies the engineer, “All the presidents of the United States have ancestors that come from my part of Africa.”

The original human diaspora from Africa some fifty to eighty thousand years ago is among the key episodes in a forgotten — no, deliberately hidden, suppressed — narrative of race that Anthony digs up and moves front and center in this intellectual and political autobiography.  He goes further back, all the way to the cosmology of the Big Bang, the formation of the galaxies, our solar system, this planet, its elements, climates, continents, first living cells, and millions of years of evolution.  In this narrative, he finds not only a source of wonder and awe, but also a sense of place and belonging, and even a source of healing whose sweeping perspective puts in context the inestimable trauma of the most massive human migration in history, the African-American slave trade.

Born in the Black Bottom of Philadelphia, Anthony’s is a life that could so easily have gone wrong at so many turns.  His father, an articulate and charismatic individual who survived by doing handyman labor for white developers of subdivisions from which blacks were barred, sent him to vocational school. He could have disappeared there into carpentry, but a teacher recognized his drafting skills and assigned him to the architectural drawing courses. He spends half a year with a relative in Oklahoma and experiences Jim Crow; unthinkingly, he sits near the front of a bus. He could have been beaten for that, but quickly recovers and retreats. Back in Philadelphia, he meets Karl Linn, a Jewish refugee from Germany, who is running community design projects, using local volunteers to turn abandoned inner city properties into common spaces. Linn takes him under his wing and points the young Anthony toward Columbia University, where he is accepted as a night student in 1960.

From the heights of the Columbia campus, where he is one of the very few black students, he makes frequent trips down into the flats to neighboring Harlem.  He hears Malcolm X speak.  He meets Peter Countryman, founder of the Northern Student Movement, and Bayard Rustin, the civil rights leader.  In long hours at Lewis Michaux’ African National Memorial Bookstore, he reads James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, Ralph Ellison, Harold Cruse, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and others.  He reads Basil Davidson’s histories of Africa, particularly of African cities, of which he had known nothing. He drops out of school for a semester to work full time on civil rights. His career could have derailed at that point, but he returns to his studies. He is a voracious reader. He feels the agony of compartmentalizing his consciousness between a Eurocentric academic pipeline and the rising, burning black community of the sixties.  He contains his inner conflict and graduates, winning admission to the postgraduate architecture program.

As a graduate student, he wins an internship with an architecture firm in London, and also visits Turkey and Cuba. He learns that the issues of segregation he experienced in Philadelphia and New York are international. The stress of balancing the student role in a classical Eurocentric architecture department (Greece and all that) with the reality of being an African American man in a time of assassinated leaders and burning cities becomes almost unbearable. He sets himself the task of “fusing elitist architecture and urban planning methodologies with bottom-up direct action civil rights organizing strategies.”  But he has little to show for it, and on returning home after his graduation ceremony in 1969, he burns his diploma as if it were a draft card.  (His mother is appalled.)

On a travel grant given by a Columbia alum, which most architecture graduates use to visit Greece and all that, Anthony teams up with Jean Doak, his girlfriend, and spends several months traveling by VW bus, boat, rail, and foot in West Africa, historically the catchment area for most of the slave trade.  They visit dozens of villages and all the principal ruins and living towns, taking pictures and making drawings. He notes the adaptability of local architecture to regional climates and local materials, and sees how entire communities collaborate to build, repair and restore their dwellings and meeting places. But his hopes of finding some root or reference to his African origins there evaporate; the locals don’t treat him as an African but as an American.  On his return to the US, having seen the slave forts where captives were held before being shipped, he determines to study slavery and its relation to architecture.

The conventional narrative of the United States that Anthony encountered in school — and that we still encounter — is the product of ethnic cleansing. The role of slaves, to the extent it is mentioned at all, is minimized and rendered romantic. Anthony plunged into the history books, and traveled thousands of miles in the U.S. visiting former plantations and other slavery sites, to reconstruct the true history of this country. The role of slaves in the American space begins with the landscape and the civil infrastructure. The land for plantations didn’t drop from the sky. Slaves hacked it out of forest, drove out the indigenous inhabitants, drained and filled swamps, dug canals, built roads, bridges, barns, and mansions. Africans built the beachhead on which European settlers could establish their civilization. Africans also built the White House and the Capitol, along with numerous other government buildings. And this not only in the South.  Slaves built the wall that became Wall Street, and much else in Manhattan, which had the largest slave population after Charleston.  The profits of the plantation system built big port cities on all sides of the Atlantic, and supplied the capital for northern American industry. Not only African labor, but some elements of African design shaped America. The ubiquitous Southern surround porch or verandah was unknown in European architecture. It is a standard feature of African tropical buildings, as Anthony found.  Visiting and measuring numerous plantations, Anthony wrote a two-part essay about the architecture of slavery that was published in Landscape, a prestigious architectural magazine.

Anthony could easily have blended into a conventional architectural career, indistinguishable from his white colleagues except by his skin tone.  But he yanked himself out of that dead end and went west, to Berkeley.  He is quickly offered, and accepts, a teaching post in the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, to pay the rent.  He begins to put together a course on living patterns post-slavery, but the realization that progress since Reconstruction has been mainly backward overwhelms him, and quits the teaching job to open a professional practice. His timing is good: a progressive majority is elected to the Berkeley city council, and a war is raging between the city and the Santa Fe railway over the future of the Berkeley waterfront.  Santa Fe wants intense commercial development, a second downtown; the city wants parks and open space.  He works for the city on waterfront design, opposing the railroad.  He is thrown into crisis when the railroad hires a black public relations firm that promises unemployed black workers jobs on its proposed development.  He sees with dismay that the black members of the city council are sitting out the conflict. He is struck by the splintering of the 1960s ideal of the black community into conflicting classes, and by its spatial dispersion, notably a black flight to the suburbs.  He feels disoriented and confused, a conflict of feelings sharpened by the death of his mother and the breakup of his relationship with Doak.  He needs a new beginning.

It comes while reading Thomas Berry’s Dream of the Earth, which suggests that the world is divided into a secular humanistic linear progress story and a religious story of redemption.  Berry says both stories ignore the the present physical and natural environment.  Based on geology and anthropology, Berry begins to construct a “new story” that gives human beings a basis for belonging to this world.  It is a story of environmental stewardship.  Anthony is inspired, enthusiastic.  But Berry has a serious blind spot: race.  People of color are largely missing from his narrative.  Anthony takes up the challenge of constructing a more comprehensive Berry-like New Story in which the role of people of color is given its proper historical weight.

Anthony here draws on an enormous body of scholarship on the slave trade and its economic importance, the role of slaves in the North as well as in the South, the abolitionist movement, Reconstruction, the attack on Reconstruction and the reigns of terror that instituted the Black Codes and Jim Crow, the mass migrations of black people northward, the resulting urbanization, suburbanization, and new forms of racial segregation in housing, schools, jobs, transportation, and related topics. These and some earlier chapters could almost stand alone as a short but deep course in the history of African-Americans in the United States.  Here Anthony’s focus is on space and its racialization, and before long he adds to the list of racial inequities a class of environmental issues.  In 1984, he recounts, he was approached by a group called Center for Third World Organizing to fight against the location of garbage dumps and incinerators in color neighborhoods.  At that time, he ignored them.  But now, a few years later, these issues move front and center for him.  Not only toxic dumps, but air pollution from freeways and railroads, industrial waste, unsafe water, bad or absent public transit, food deserts, lack of green space, lead poisoning, noise, the disparate impact of disasters, and ever-present stress — a long and growing list of environmental decisions made by elite white urban developers to the detriment of African-American communities and other people of color.  He writes an essay, “Why African Americans Should be Environmentalists,” which is widely reprinted and discussed.

The environmental movement at that time was largely concerned with the preservation of wilderness.  It was an outgrowth of affluent white people’s pleasure in hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and photography.  Earlier, Anthony had experienced a lack of enthusiasm for this kind of environmental issues among African Americans.  He now experienced a reciprocal lack of enthusiasm among traditional environmentalists for the ecological concerns of inner-city African Americans. He set himself the project of fusing the two causes.  It was an undertaking of towering ambition and courage, like a high-wire balancing act in turbulent winds without a safety net.

Anthony is a giant today in the history of social movements because he managed to knit environmentalism and social equity into a single meaningful stream.  He did not invent the concept of environmental racism (at least there is no claim in the book, express or implied, that he did so), but he raised this concept out of obscurity and built a series of high-profile projects that involved real people moving purposefully, with plans and budgets, to stop and to reverse environmental racism where that was possible, and to carve out small worlds that mated ecology and equity, as models for the larger world. The concepts of environmental equity — climate justice and its corollaries — are more or less common currency today because Anthony made them so.

In doing so, he had great timing and help and luck.  His Philadelphia mentor, Karl Linn, had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, and introduced him to David Brower, the (now) legendary environmental activist who had founded the Earth Island Institute.  Brower, stung by the lack of any minority person on the EEI board, offered Anthony a board seat.  Anthony, smelling tokenism, hesitated. He laid down conditions regarding autonomy and support.  Brower accepted.  In 1989, Anthony joins the EEI board and forms something completely different from anything else under the EEI umbrella: the Urban Habitat Project.  Its mission: to build multiracial leadership for sustainable cities.  He impresses funders: both the San Francisco Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation kick in serious grant money. He recruits a broadly diverse staff.  The UHP pioneers a totally different approach to environmental issues.  Instead of dodging social and economic issues — for example, the claim that blocking development costs jobs — they tackled them proactively.  They showed how environmental stewardship creates jobs.

His work with EEI and on the UHP formed the new beginning that he had needed. This work opened new doors for him.  He is appointed to the City of Berkeley Planning Commission and works on a series of local issues in which environmental health and job preservation appear to conflict; he shows himself a skilled negotiator and mediator, able to bridge inflamed disputes and work out mutually acceptable compromises.  He attends the National People of Color Leadership Summit in Washington DC and drafts its “Principles of Environmental Justice” document.  He works on issues of transportation justice, military base conversion, and similar issues.  He is appointed a Harvard Fellow.  He participates in the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities, working with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Bay Area Council, Sierra Club, and others. He develops relationships with business leaders and elected officials in order to move his projects forward.  But he still has not solved the tough question of how to build power in low income communities.

After ten years at the helm of the UHP he grows restless with its local and regional scope. He looks for a way to spread the environmental justice message nationally.  Along comes the Ford Foundation and offers him the position of heading its Metropolitan Sustainable Communities Initiative, with millions of dollars in grant money to spend. He accepts.  In seven years at the foundation, he not only funds a broad range of projects, he works to start a national conversation and movement about environmental equity. With the resources of the Ford Foundation behind him, people listened.

In 2007, Anthony returns to Berkeley and two years later celebrates his 70th birthday. He continues to work on climate justice issues, builds projects and coalitions, continues to study and learn, participates in the burning civil rights issues of the day, and writes his book.  His concluding thoughts are worth quoting:

“Civilization as we know it is in urgent need of a great shift in how we participate in the life of this planet … Our challenge is to refashion our social structures and our organization of space and infrastructure around the central ideal of maximizing justice and full-spectrum sustainability.  The current era of development controlled by small groups of privileged elites seeking profit by using and discarding people and resources is nearing its end.”

Carl Anthony speaking in Oakland CA 10-18-17

The Earth, the City, and the Hidden Narrative of Race rests on more than 300 bibliographic references. The production is highly professional and includes a detailed index. Yet the tone is conversational, often in the first person, filled with telling little narratives and illuminating anecdotes, and if you open it at random you may quickly get hooked, as I did, into reading the whole thing. It’s the story of a single life — a classic American story, in a way, about rising from humble origins by virtue of intelligence, courage, hard work, and luck to a position of some fame and influence.  But it’s also the story of the universe, the earth, original humanity, and the modern African diaspora, from centuries ago right down to this morning’s headlines.  Anthony delivers a rich legacy here to the younger generations, and also a large challenge, namely to augment the story with the hidden narratives of the indigenous people of the Americas, of pre-Columbian civilizations, of the early Asian and Arab worlds and their great achievements, among others, and, above all, the challenge of ways and means of refashioning the social structures, ending the rule of privileged elites, and achieving full-spectrum sustainability.