Reese Erlich – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 03 Dec 2020 06:35:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who will be vaccinated first — and in what country? The upcoming fights over COVID vaccine Sat, 21 Nov 2020 05:01:45 +0000 ( – In recent days, two US pharmaceutical companies announced that their COVID-19 vaccines could be available by December. US-based Pfizer, which partnered with the German-based BioNTech, said it has a 95 percent success rate during clinical trials. Biotechnology company Moderna also reported a vaccine with a 94.5 percent efficacy rate.

CDC image

Neither drug has undergone peer review by independent experts. The federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to use emergency procedures to allow rapid general distribution to selected groups such as medical workers.

Government officials greeted the announcements with uncontrolled enthusiasm. National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins reached back to Wild West mythology to share his joy, telling PBS NewsHour, “The cavalry is coming.”

Meanwhile, less noticed by the US government and major media, twelve other countries are also conducting large-scale tests, and six are already widely distributing their own vaccines.

Britain, various other European countries, Russia, China, and Cuba all have vaccines in the final stages of testing or have already started distribution. The creation of a safe and effective vaccine is not just a tremendous step for world health. It means massive profits for the developers and geopolitical advantage for their home country. It pits advocates of free enterprise against supporters of state intervention—although maybe not in the way you think.

Bob Schwartz, executive director of Global Health Partners, a progressive humanitarian aid organization, acknowledges the speed of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s rapid vaccine development.

“To turn this around in six months is unprecedented,” he tells me. “But who knows what’s going to happen to a patient six months or one year from now?”

It’s a good question.

US subsidizes big pharma

Soo-to-be ex-President Donald Trump bragged that Pfizer and Moderna’s success resulted from Operation Warp Speed, the $10 billion program that provided government subsidies to companies developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer notes that it took no US funds, although its partner BioNTech did get subsidies from the European Union and the German government. And Pfizer directly benefited from the US government’s agreement to pay $1.95 billion for 100 million doses, which comes out to $19.50/dose.

This may come as a shock, but there is no such thing as pure free enterprise at the upper echelons of capitalism. Companies require government support to make profits while loudly denouncing government regulations that benefit the public.

Moderna, The New York Times reports, received a direct US subsidy of $955 million. The company will charge the US government $24.80 per dose, while increasing the price to other governments to $32-37 per dose. Since each patient will require two doses, and Moderna already had a massive subsidy, the profits will flow quite nicely.

James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit working on medical technology, has investigated the Operation Warp Speed contracts. He says most of the deals allow the pharmaceutical companies to have exclusive patent rights, make healthy profits, and set prices with little government oversight.

Referring to the billions allocated, Love tells me, “The amount of money is way more than we’ve seen before, but government rights are far less.”

Knowledge Ecology International opposes monopoly or oligopoly control of COVID vaccines. Big pharma, the groups says, should not only make vaccines available worldwide at affordable prices but also share its technology and knowhow.

“Don’t just share the cake, share the recipe,” he says.

A different model: China

A combination of state and private companies in China are showing success in Phase 3 trials. The Military Academy of Sciences, part of the People’s Liberation Army, also plays a leading role in developing and testing vaccines. The drugs produced are regularly distributed for free inside China and sold at reduced prices in the developing world.

Chinese government-owned Sinovac will supply vaccines for distribution to Brazil and Indonesia. In addition, China will cooperate with other vaccine producing countries to promote equitable distribution through the World Health Organization initiative, COVAX.

China has come under strong criticism in the US for distributing its vaccines after completing only Phase 2 tests, which prove the safety of a drug but not its efficacy. China continues simultaneous wide-scale Phase 3 tests.

Schwartz says normally any new drug should go through Phase 3 tests before large-scale public use. But given the worldwide emergency, China’s actions are reasonable. “China has become a real biotech powerhouse,” he says. “China’s science is world-class.”Cuban biotech

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Cuban scientists are testing two COVID vaccines and have already developed an interferon drug they say mitigates certain kinds of COVID infections. The island nation of slightly more than 11 million people has a completely state-owned biotechnology industry that has developed sophisticated drugs for treatment of cancer and diabetes. Government-owned institutes cooperate in developing and testing drugs. There are no privately-owned biotechnology companies in Cuba.

If the vaccines pass rigorous testing, they will be distributed to all Cubans for free. Cuba has a track record of providing drugs free or at reduced prices to poor countries around the world..

Gail Reed, executive editor of MEDICC Review, a medical journal focusing on Cuba, says its state-owned pharmaceutical industry can produce and sell drugs at lower prices than Western corporations. “A public system is accountable to people’s health,” she tells me. “They’re not spending money on advertising, lobbying, or pushing their products through the doors of hospitals.”

Let a 100 vaccines bloom
All of the medical professionals I interviewed sincerely hope that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—as well as those from other countries—prove to be safe and effective. The world needs vaccines and which country develops them is medically irrelevant. But all drug makers face the massive problems of manufacturing, distributing, and administering the vaccines.

“The logistics are immense,” Schwartz says. “I don’t think the private sector can do it.”

China’s vaccine was widely distributed to the People’s Liberation Army. In the US, the Army will handle shipping, distribution, and allocation of vaccines. The military provides humanitarian aid during wildfires and hurricanes, says Dr. Mark Rasenick, professor of physiology, biophysics, and psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

“I’d rather they shoot people in the arm with a vaccine than shoot them in the head with bullets,” he tells me.

The world, in modern times, has never faced a medical emergency like COVID-19. Who will get the vaccines first and in what countries? Will countries use vaccine distribution as a political weapon to advance their geopolitical interests?

The world is navigating unknown seas. I personally hope many effective vaccines are produced by many countries. The world doesn’t need the US, or anyone else, acting like a medical bully.

Reprinted with author’s permission from

If President Biden is Smart, He’ll End America’s Forever Wars and Pour the Money into Jobs at Home Sat, 07 Nov 2020 05:01:06 +0000 ( – I’m pissed. I’m pissed at Donald Trump for trying to shut down the vote count early and at Republicans seeking to steal the election using conservative-appointed federal judges.

Will Biden end unpopular foreign wars?

But I’m also mad at Joe Biden and the Democratic Party big shots who got Biden elected but failed to win the Senate and lost House seats. It should have been a blowout. The country faces a deadly pandemic, a massive recession, history’s largest budget deficit, and a frequently exposed system of institutional racism. What more would it take to trounce Trump, a plague of locusts?

Biden’s campaign was supposed to be the moderate alternative to extremist Trump. Lunch Pail Joe was supposed to win back the support of white, blue-collar workers who had defected to the Republicans. Campaign organizers said he would energize Black and Latinx voters. But there wasn’t much of a shift among non-college educated men. And those folks who did go Democratic largely voted against Trump, not for Biden. It’s as if Biden had undergone an enthusiasm bypass.

Trump’s populist appeal has strong racist and misogynist elements, but also reflects a genuine anger at economic inequality and endless wars. If Biden simply returns to mainstream Democratic Party governance, it won’t satisfy the Democratic Party base nor those Trump supporters with legitimate complaints.

So what is to be done?

Biden will have his hands full reversing Trump’s disastrous domestic policies. But he can also make serious changes in US foreign policy.

Biden can implement progressive and popular policies during his first 100 days in office, in many cases, programs that he already promised and that don’t require Congressional approval. These include:

Stop the war in Yemen: This years-long conflict, which benefits no one but the oil-rich rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has killed more than 100,000 people and caused the preventable deaths of 113,000 children. Biden could immediately freeze weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, forcing them to stop bombing civilians and withdraw their troops. It would be one step toward ending unpopular, endless wars.

Earlier this year, Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans in the Senate voted to invoke the War Powers Act to stop funding the Yemen war. It was vetoed by Trump.

To his credit, Biden supported the war powers resolution. His campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates toldThe Washington Post, “Vice President Biden believes it is past time to end US support for the war in Yemen and cancel the blank check the Trump Administration has given Saudi Arabia for its conduct of that war.”

Rejoin the Paris climate agreement: Human-caused climate change is real. Lower temperatures are melting the polar ice caps and contributing to a host of disasters from intense hurricanes along the Gulf coast to wildfires in California. The Paris Agreement was ratified by nearly 200 countries in April 2016 with the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The agreement, which the US officially exited on November 4, has serious flaws. For example, all carbon emission reductions are voluntary. Rejoining the agreement will send a message to the world that Washington takes the issue seriously. The administration should develop immediate plans for a much stronger international climate accord.

Biden’s Clean Energy Plan states that he “will not only recommit the US to the Paris Agreement on climate change, but will lead an effort to get every major country to ramp up the ambition of their domestic climate targets.” The plan advocates “a 100 percent clean energy economy [in the US] and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

Lift Trump’s unilateral oil blockade of Cuba and restore normal diplomatic relations: Trump has gone further to economically attack Cuba than any other President. He cut off much of Cuba’s oil supplies from Venezuela by applying sanctions against international shipping companies. This, combined with a halt in foreign tourism, has wrecked the Cuban economy. Public transport doesn’t have enough gasoline; trucks can’t bring produce from the countryside.

The people of Cuba pose no danger to the US. During the later part of Barack Obama’s presidency, people from the US freely visited Cuba, to the benefit of both countries.

During the campaign, Biden said, “As President, I will promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

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With a stroke of the pen Biden could lift the oil embargo, re-open US visits to Cuba, and fully staff the Embassy in Havana, which is now operating with a skeleton crew.

Rejoin the Iran nuclear accord: Trump unilaterally withdrew from the internationally binding Iran nuclear accord and imposed harsh economic sanctions on the Iranian people. This policy of “maximum pressure” has failed to change Iranian domestic or foreign policy. Biden should immediately rejoin the accord and lift all sanctions related to nuclear issues.

In September, Biden wrote, “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the US would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” He added that the new administration would lift the “disgraceful” ban that prohibits Iranians and people from other Muslims nations from entering the US.

But Biden’s promises were couched in bellicose, Cold War rhetoric about Iran’s alleged threats to the US. Democratic and Republican hawks will certainly pressure Biden to take a hard line against Iran. But both countries would benefit from re-implementing the accord and lowering tensions.

End attacks on China: Trump initiated a trade war against China. He tried to ban Chinese technology from being used in the US and even sought the arrest of a top Chinese corporate executive. But, of course, China retaliated. Trump’s policy against China has been a massive failure, with the US losing nearly 300,000 jobs as of September 2019.

China poses no military threat to the people of the US. China has one military base outside its territory; the US has about 750. China now has also developed the world’s second largest economy and competes successfully with US corporations. The trade war is aimed at promoting US corporate profits at the expense of Chinese competitors.

With executive action, Biden could end the trade war quickly. Unfortunately, Biden has “drunk the Kool-Aid” when it comes to China. He said, “My focus will be on rallying our friends in both Asia and Europe in . . . joining us to get tough on China and its trade and technology abuses.”

Biden must shift policies on China as part of recognizing that the world has changed a lot in recent years.

Joe Biden is a mainstream Democrat who supported many of the foreign policy disasters of past presidencies. He backed the occupation of Afghanistan and the 2003 Iraq War, and he strongly supports Israel against the Palestinians.

But today, the US is considerably weaker, wracked by recession, and politically divided. People are fed up with endless wars. Regional powers such as Turkey, Russia, and Iran are exerting influence in areas formerly under US domination.

If he’s smart, Biden will recognize the new reality, stop US interventions, and use the money being spent on foreign wars to help our domestic economy. I’m confident he will make some promised changes but progressives will have to build grass roots pressure to make the changes we really need.



Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “Biden promises to end ‘forever wars’ if elected”

Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really Sun, 11 Oct 2020 04:02:31 +0000

The world’s worst outbreaks are occurring in nations with authoritarian leaders, like Trump.

(Foreign Correspondent) – The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern.

Leaders of these countries pose as men of the people battling the elites. In reality, they channel people’s darkest fears and prejudices into policies that benefit the ultra wealthy.

Rightwing populists initially downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, adopting dangerous public health policies that ultimately infected themselves, close supporters, and aides. These were not mistakes or bad luck, but rather the inevitable outcome of putting Dr. Frankenstein in charge of health policy and making Igor chief of implementation.

A virus has no politics

When the virus began to spread globally in March, it had no inherent politics. Public health officials worldwide agreed to use traditional anti-epidemic protocols: widespread testing, contact tracing, and quarantine. There were no leftwing masks or rightwing ventilators.

But as many countries failed to contain the pandemic, a battle broke out between medical officials who want to minimize public interaction and the big business class, which wants to keep companies open.

In general, union workers sided with medical experts in seeking to make workplaces safe. Corporate executives sought to open factories regardless of health costs, or at least receive massive government subsidies during the shutdown.

The administration of Donald Trump, wary of openly siding with its corporate bosses, instead played the populist card. Last May, in Michigan and some other states, a few hundred small business people and workers held demonstrations demanding that the government allow the economy to reopen.

Trump promoted the small protests as proof of a grassroots rebellion. A barbershop owner became the symbol of Americans demanding an end to pandemic shutdowns. Armed militia members stood guard as the barbershop’s owner, Karl Manke, reopened in defiance of a public health order. As one article reported, they were “wearing Trump sweatshirts and Trump cowboy hats and waving Trump flags.”

Mask: symbol of tyranny

In short order, the Trump Administration made refusal to wear a mask a symbol of American independence. The President’s followers eschewed wearing masks or keeping six feet apart at public events, or even while grocery shopping.

Few Americans have qualms about businesses protecting their operations by posting signs reading “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” But when the same businesses require customers to wear masks, it’s totalitarianism.

Trump became trapped by his own rhetoric and egotism. He rarely wears a mask at the White House and many of his staffers follow suit. The administration has held super spreader events, such as a September 26 Rose Garden celebration of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

This week, Trump advisor Stephen Miller became the thirty-fourth White House denizen to test positive for COVID-19. Nearly all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are quarantined after one high ranking officer tested positive.

But Trump was not alone in endangering his staff and the public.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson, who comes from an upper-middle-class family and studied at Oxford, portrays himself as a quirky man of the people. He and the Conservative Party won Britain’s last parliamentary election by calling for a quick withdrawal from the European Union, a long-time demand of the British left and popular with many workers.

During the pandemic, Johnson played the populist card by claiming to represent ordinary people who just wanted to return to work. Johnson claimed the United Kingdom could quickly develop herd immunity, which would immunize a majority of its residents, save lives, and produce a prosperous economy.

It didn’t work. The United Kingdom has faced several waves of contagion, and today it has one of the worst records in Europe: 544,000 confirmed cases and 42,500 deaths.

Johnson also made the mistake of believing his own propaganda by not taking precautions at 10 Downing Street. Starting in March, top U.K. leaders became infected, including Johnson, the health secretary, chief advisor to the prime minister, and the country’s chief medical officer.

While spouting platitudes about how well he was recovering at the time, Johnson later admitted he came close to death.

As with Trump, who celebrated his return from the hospital by ripping off his mask before walking into the White House, the experience has not made Johnson noticeably wiser. His pandemic policies still flounder and popularity plummets.

Disasters in common

The world’s major rightwing populist leaders share some disastrous policies in common. They downplay the significance of the pandemic, fail to follow the advice of medical experts, and fire advisors who insist on fact-based policies.

In August, Trump appointed Scott Atlas as a special advisor on the pandemic. He is not an epidemiologist or a public health expert. But he is a doctor who frequently appeared on Fox News and works at Stanford University’s rightwing Hoover Institution. One hundred-some of his Stanford colleagues wrote an open letter sharply criticizing Atlas’s pro-Trump views on the pandemic.

“Many of his opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities,” they wrote.

Making Atlas a coronavirus advisor is like appointing Dr. Frankenstein to head the city morgue. He helped create a monster who stalks the streets of the US all the way to the White House.

Trump is now betting on the quick development of a vaccine, claiming it will be publically available later this year. Once again “America First” ignores developments elsewhere. Both China and Russia are already distributing vaccines. But it will take many more months to prove their efficacy and begin widespread inoculations.

Yet Trump says a US vaccine will be ready soon. Why shouldn’t we believe him? He’s done such a great job so far.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CBC News: “Trump holds first public event since being diagnosed with COVID-19”

It’s a Hawk! It’s a Dove! It’s Donald Trump, playing both sides against the Middle Sat, 12 Sep 2020 04:25:33 +0000 ( – President Donald Trump has convinced Republican isolationists and hawks that he supports their views. That’s a neat trick, since the two groups hold opposing positions.

Trump gets support from hardline interventionists for his efforts to overthrow governments in Iran and Venezuela, while backing the aggressive policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump confounds everyone with his foreign policy. Photo Antiwarcom

In a speech for the Republican National Convention that was recorded in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Americans “are more safe, and their freedoms more secure, because President Trump has put his America First vision into action. It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it has worked.”

On the other hand, libertarian Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, describes Trump as the first President in a generation “to seek to end war rather than start one.” Paul went on to tell the Republican National Convention that “We must not continue to leave our blood and treasure in Middle East quagmires.”

While Trump hasn’t halted any Middle East wars, he has ordered modest troop reductions in Syria and Iraq, and negotiated a fraught agreement in Afghanistan. However, on any given day, the US has 45,000-65,000 soldiers and sailors stationed in the Middle East, more than at the beginning of Trump’s term.

So Trump pursues interventionism in practice while claiming he’s against the forever wars. He purposely takes contradictory positions, according to Scott Horton, a libertarian Internet radio host and editorial director of [Disclosure: “Foreign Correspondent” is carried by]

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“He takes all sides of all issues, so there’s something for everyone,” Horton says in an interview. “Trump is seen as outside the political establishment. He’s a disruptor.”

In reality, Horton says, Trump’s foreign policy has been a disaster. He escalated the air war in Afghanistan and the war in Yemen. He escalated fighting in Somalia. NATO added new members from Eastern Europe and increased spending. As Horton dryly puts it, “He hasn’t started any new wars because we already at war with every country we could be at war with.”

Impulsive, transactional decisions

Trump doesn’t adhere to any particular ideology, according to Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. Rather he makes impulsive, transactional decisions.

“I don’t think Trump has a coherent foreign policy,” Zunes tells me. “The Trump Doctrine can be summed up as ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Trump’s past attempts to break with some interventionist policies was met with strong opposition from the foreign policy establishment and ultimately floundered.

In 2018, Trump opened direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. By 2019, the administration indicated it could accept North Korea as a nuclear power, as part of negotiations toward a comprehensive peace accord.

Hawks in both parties attacked Trump for cozying up to a dictator. Trump’s advisors, such as uber-hawk former National Security Advisor John Bolton, opposed any agreement. Trump backed off when it became apparent his image was being tarnished.

Now Trump is having trouble making deals even with his own Pentagon brass. A recent scathing article in The Atlantic quotes military leaders and advisors who say Trump disparaged Marines buried at a World War I cemetery as “suckers” for getting killed.

That’s consistent with his public attacks on the late Senator John McCain as a “loser” because he was captured during the Vietnam War.

On Labor Day, Trump held a press conference that set a new low bar. The Commander in Chief denied making the disparaging remarks, then opened fire on Pentagon leaders.

Top military leaders, Trump said, “want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

Once again, Trump strikes a populist stance to attack others while ignoring his own, far worse record. The President regularly boasts of his success in promoting arms sales, notably to dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia. He has surrounded himself with military men tied to the arms industry, including current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist.

Apparently you’re not part of the military-industrial complex until you disagree with Trump.

My guess is that some military brass are leaking stories about Trump to thwart his possible use of the Insurrection Act to mobilize regular troops after a Trump loss in the November election. If the election is close, and demonstrations break out, Trump could violate the Constitution and use the military to stay in power. The leaks are coming from those generals who won’t play ball.

Electoral rhetoric

Most Americans oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s why Trump is ramping up his anti-interventionist rhetoric, trying to outflank Joe Biden from the left. But many independents and even some Republicans recognize Trump’s rhetoric as phony.

Meanwhile, Trump has angered the foreign policy establishment—both Democratic and Republican—for questioning US participation in NATO and being “soft on Russia.” Seventy Republican national security officials signed an open letter criticizing Trump and declaring their intention to vote for Joe Biden.

“The power elite is terrified of him because he is not one of them,” says radio host Horton. “They’ve gone to war against him.”

But that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes for Biden. Professor Zunes says the foreign policy experts themselves are upper-middle-class, mainstream Protestants, who don’t have much mass influence.

“Biden may take a small chunk out of Trump’s Episcopalian vote,” says Zunes. “They don’t represent many actual votes in key states that Biden will have to win.”

Zunes, a strong critic of Biden’s interventionist foreign policy, says Biden is still better than Trump. Biden voted against the 1991 Gulf War, and opposed the wars in Libya and Yemen.

Most importantly, Zunes says, Biden is more malleable and subject to grassroots pressure.

“Biden may be forced to take more seriously the anti-war majority in the Democratic Party,” he says.

We’ll see.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al-Jazeera English: “Trump: US to demand restoration of UN sanctions on Iran”

Is Kamala Harris a Hawk? Sat, 15 Aug 2020 04:01:50 +0000 (Reese Erlich) – Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin hasn’t forgotten a 2017 meeting with members of Senator Kamala Harris’s staff to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Israeli land and sea blockade was causing massive unemployment as well as shortages of food and electricity. Benjamin and other progressive activists wanted the Senator to criticize Israel’s policies and end the siege.

“You could just see the blank stares from her aides as we spoke,” Benjamin recalls in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. “They argued that Israel has the right to defend itself. There was no sympathy for the Palestinians.”

This week, activists are recirculating a photo of a smiling Kamala Harris standing next to ultra-rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2017.

“She’s proud of her ties with Netanyahu and [the] Israeli government,” Benjamin says.

This week, Joe Biden picked the California Senator as his vice presidential running mate. Just as her history as a law-and-order prosecutor is now getting closer scrutiny, so should her foreign policy views.

Harris closely adheres to Democratic Party mainstream policies, which under President Barack Obama brought us wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as well as escalated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“She has views close to the Obama Administration, nothing that would be an exciting departure from US militarism,” says Benjamin, a contributor to The Progressive. “They are certainly different from Bernie Sanders’s.”

Trump criticized

Harris, like most Democrats, has often been at odds with Trump’s foreign policy.

“The current President,” she wrote in a 2019 candidate questionnaire to the Council on Foreign Relations, “seems intent on inflicting further damage to US credibility by disregarding diplomacy, withdrawing from international agreements and institutions, shunning our allies, siding with dictatorships over democracies, and elevating sheer incompetence in his decision-making processes.”

But instead of offering a progressive alternative, Harris often attacks Trump from the right, criticizing him for cozying up to leaders in North Korea, Russia, and China. For example, she supports sanctions against Russia for meddling in Ukraine and annexing Crimea.

Marco Carnelos, a former Italian ambassador to Iraq, tells me from Rome, “I understand that Russia may be sanctioned over Crimea. Are we sure that the same zeal will be applied to Israel if it should annex the West Bank?”

Carnelos also highlighted Washington’s recent outpouring of sympathy for Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China. “I’ve never seen such concern for this specific Muslim population from the US,” he says. “A few years ago, no one cared. Now that the US is in conflict with China, it’s a little bit suspect.”

Carnelos believes that the US uses human rights and national security issues to protect US business profits from Chinese competition. He notes the ramped-up attacks on Beijing coincide with fierce competition from companies like phone manufacturer Huawei.

“It is absurd that after thirty years,” he says, “the US discovered China is ruled by a Communist Party!”

No plan to end wars

Harris denounces Trump’s “endless wars” but offers no specific plans to end them. During her presidential primary campaign, she failed to commit to withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan, even by the end of a first term in 2024.

On Iran, she told the Council on Foreign Relations, the US must rejoin the nuclear accord “so long as Iran also returned to verifiable compliance.” She would also seek changes in the agreement to “supplement some of the nuclear deal’s existing provisions, and work with our partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, including with regard to its ballistic missile program.”

Neither Harris nor Biden have specified whether they would immediately lift US sanctions once Iran returns to the agreement, from which the Trump Administration unilaterally withdrew in 2018.

Harris has taken some progressive stances. She co-sponsored bills in 2018 and 2019 with Bernie Sanders calling for an end to US support for the war in Yemen. She criticized the regime in Saudi Arabia for waging that war and for its human rights violations, including the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“The US and Saudi Arabia still have mutual areas of interest, such as counterterrorism, where the Saudis have been strong partners,” Harris has said. “But we need to fundamentally reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia, using our leverage to stand up for American values and interests.”

Tom Gallagher, a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and once a progressive challenger to Representative Nancy Pelosi, acknowledges that “Harris is no gem on the Middle East.” But, he adds, “a future Biden Administration won’t be as ridiculously one-sided as Trump.”

Harris opposes the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, commonly known as the CPTPP. She calls for an end to Trump’s “tariff wars” and supports “pro-labor, pro-environment trade deals.”

“That’s a plus,” says Gallagher. “On trade matters, the Democrats have gotten the message. Labor and environmentalists have impacted the mainline leaders.”

Hope for the future?

The activists I interviewed think Harris is a better choice than über-hawk Susan Rice, who was also in the running. Rice pushed for the disastrous Libyan war and praised the air wars in Somalia and Yemen.. They also note that Harris has at times engaged in dialogue with progressives.

“Even though I disagreed with her politics,” says Code Pink’s Benjamin, “I found her accessible and charming. At demonstrations, she would sometimes come out to chat with us.”

Friendly chats won’t be enough, however, to change the foreign policy of a future Biden Administration.

“There’s already been a lot of pressure on Biden,” as progressives fight over the Democratic Party platform, Benjamin says. “We’ve seen a coming together of groups who don’t normally work together.”

In the past, she notes, some liberal and progressive groups were reluctant to criticize the Obama Administration’s militarism. “I don’t think people will make that mistake again.”


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

What Vice President Kamala Harris Means for Foreign Policy | Pod Save the World

Trump’s Desperate, last-ditch Effort to Hike Tensions with Iran Sat, 01 Aug 2020 04:03:47 +0000

This might be the final stretch for his failed policy of maximum pressure.

( ) – During the past month, Iran has suffered a half-dozen explosions and fires at military and civilian sites. A bomb blew up near the Parchin missile base outside Tehran, Iran’s capital. Fires broke out at an electric power station and aboard seven ships in a southern port city.

Iranian government authorities say some of the incidents were accidents. But the most serious, it appears, was an act of sabotage.

On July 2, a blast ripped through the main assembly hall at Natanz, a facility that produces centrifuge parts essential for enriching uranium for Iran’s nuclear power program.

No one officially took credit for the sabotage, but The New York Times reported that a “Middle East intelligence” source admitted that Israel was behind the bombing. An Israeli newspaper later identified the source as Yossi Cohen, head of the Mossad intelligence agency.

Analysts say such a brazen attack, which constitutes an act of war, would need the approval of officials in Washington, D.C.

“If the US did not participate in the attack directly, at the very least it gave Israel its consent,” Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California and Iran expert, says in an interview.

Washington and Tel Aviv think such attacks, along with the unilateral US sanctions, are a low-risk means of pushing back on Iran. They are an escalation of Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign—which has notably failed and will likely be abandoned after the US presidential election.

“There’s a sense that there’s a bit of desperation right now” in both capitals, says Trita Parsi, executive vice president and co-founder of the Quincy Institute, an anti-interventionist think tank in Washington, D.C. He likens the attempts to those of medieval archers fighting a losing battle: “Empty your quiver . . . shoot all your arrows.”

October surprise?

Some analysts speculate that the Trump Administration is seeking to provoke Iran into military retaliation. Trump could then launch a war, rally support at home, and win the election. It’s a classic “October Surprise” or even a “Wag the Dog” scenario.

But Foad Izadi does not agree with that analysis.

“Iran is not Iraq,” Izadi, an assistant professor of American studies at the University of Tehran, tells me by phone from Tehran. “Any overt war runs the danger of serious US casualties. He should know, after being president for almost four years, attacking Iran has consequences.”

Izadi says he doesn’t think that “starting a new war with Iran a few months before the election” is in Trump’s interest. “Even a limited war is not useful for him.”

But that doesn’t preclude other forms of US aggression.

On July 23, a US fighter jet flew close to an Iranian civilian airliner on a routine flight from Tehran, as it crossed Syria on its way to Beirut, Lebanon. The US military claimed to be conducting a “visual inspection” of the plane in order to “ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison,” says Captain Bill Urban, spokesperson for US Central Command.

Urban claimed the F-15 fighter jet kept 1,000 yards away from the airliner. But a video shot by passengers shows a jet flying much closer. The proximity of the F-15 forced the Iranian pilot to drop 14,000 feet in four minutes, injuring several passengers.

According to Izadi, the US military has no business “inspecting” a civilian airliner flying in a normal civilian air corridor over Syria. In fact, he says, the United States “has no right to be in Syria at all.”

The Trump Administration keeps several hundred troops in Syria in defiance of the Syrian government and without authorization from the United Nations or any other international body.

Iranians are particularly sensitive about US interactions with civilian planes. In 1988, the US Navy shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 passengers and crew. After initially providing false information about where and how fast the plane was flying, Washington admitted to shooting down the airliner and paid compensation to the victims’ families.

“These things unify the Iranian people,” Izadi says. “Whether they like the government or not, Iranians don’t want to be on a plane that will be shot down.”

Iranian response

To date, the Iranian government has not overtly responded to the US provocations. It seems more likely that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is waiting for the US election on November 3, which could result in the election of Joe Biden.

“Iranians are holding their fire, playing the long game,” Parsi says. “They fear it may be a trap to give Trump an excuse to go farther.”

Iran’s conservative hardliners, meanwhile, denounce Rouhani as vacillating in the face of a US and Israeli onslaught. But Parsi says these hardliners “are playing a political game. They understand the logic of not doing anything for now, but that doesn’t prevent them from calling Rouhani weak.”

Sahimi, a close observer of Iranian politics, agrees that “there is a lot of ‘hot’ rhetoric against President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif by the hardliners. But I do not expect any practical action in the near future.”

Depending on what policy the United States adopts after the elections, Sahimi expects “the response to come at a later time and in a manner and at locations where neither Israel nor the US would expect.”

Biden has pledged, if elected, to reverse course on Iran. Izadi believes a Biden Administration would change the Trump policy of maximum pressure. “Whether doing it through rejoining the nuclear agreement or coming up with some other policies, we have to wait and see,” he says.

Parsi, who is familiar with the views of Biden’s Iran advisors, says the new administration would likely call for “compliance for compliance.”

“Biden could lift sanctions by executive order without rejoining the nuclear accord,” he says. “That’s a necessary step, but not sufficient.” The new administration would also have to work with Congress and lay the groundwork for restoring the nuclear accord.

Despite the current crisis, Izadi says, “I’m optimistic. Trump’s policies are not working. The US will have to change, and the change will be for the best.”


Featured Photo: Iranian civilians are endangered by recent sabotage carried out against both military and civilian targets. Here a woman sells spices in the bazaar. Photo by Reese Erlich.

Was there Really a Russian Bounty on US Troops in Afghanistan? A Story with Holes Sun, 19 Jul 2020 04:03:38 +0000 ( ) – On June 26, in a major front page story, The New York Times wrote that Russia paid a bounty to the Taliban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan last year. The story quickly unraveled.

While the military is investigating the allegations, Mark Miley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says there’s no proof that Russian payments led to any US deaths. The National Security Agency says it found no communications intelligence supporting the bounty claim.

Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command, says he’s not convinced that American troops died as a result of Russian bounties.

Caption: The US occupation of Afghanistan has killed over 100,000 civilians. Here, refugee children in Kabul. Photo by Reese Erlich

“I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” he tells The Washington Post.

Sina Toossi, senior research analyst at the National Iranian American Council, tells me the controversy reveals an internecine battle within the foreign policy establishment. “Many in the national security establishment in Washington are searching for reasons to keep US troops in Afghanistan,” Toossi says. “This story plays into those broader debates.”

Troop withdrawal?

Faced with no end to its unpopular war in Afghanistan, the Trump Administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban in February. Washington agreed to gradually pull out troops, and the Taliban promised not to attack US personnel.

The Taliban and Afghan government are supposed to hold peace talks and release prisoners of war. The US troop withdrawal won’t be completed until May 2021, giving the administration in power the ability to renege on the deal.

Nevertheless, powerful members of the Afghan intelligence elite and some in the US national security establishment strongly object to the agreement and want to keep US troops in the country permanently.

Matthew Hoh, who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow with the Center For International Policy, tells me that the reports of Russian bounties likely originated with the Afghanistan intelligence agency.

“The mention of Russia was a key word,” says Hoh. CIA officials fast-tracked the Afghan reports. They argued that Russia’s interference, and Trump’s failure to respond, only emboldens the Russians.

Originally, the Times claimed $500,000 in Russian bounty money was seized at the home of a Taliban operative named Rahmatullah Azizi. He turned out to be an Afghan drug smuggler who had previously worked as a contractor for Washington.

The Times later admitted that investigators “could not say for sure that it was bounty money.”

Hoh says the alleged bounties make no sense politically or militarily. Last year, he says, “The Taliban didn’t need any incentives to kill Americans.” And this year, it has stopped all attacks on US forces as part of the February agreement.

But leading Democrats ignore the unraveling of the story in a rush to attack the White House from the right. Joe Biden reached deep into his Cold War tool box to blast Trump.

“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden told a town hall meeting.

Demonizing Russia

While cozying up to Putin on a personal level, Trump has actually taken a harder line against Russia than his predecessors, to the detriment of people in both countries. The President canceled two arms treaties, imposed sanctions on Moscow, and sent Javelin missiles to Ukraine.

Both high-ranking Republicans and Democrats benefit politically by creating an evil Russian enemy, according to Vladimir Pozner, Putin critic and host of a popular Russian TV interview program.

The bounty accusation “keeps the myth alive of Putin and Russia being a vicious, cold-blooded enemy of the US,” Pozner tells me.

Some call it the foreign policy establishment; others say the national security state or simply the Deep State. A group of officials in the Pentagon, State Department, intelligence agencies and war industries have played an outsized role in foreign policy for decades. And it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts.

Defense industries make billions from government contracts. Former military officers and State Department officials rake in six-figure incomes sitting on corporate boards. Aspiring secretaries of state and defense strut their stuff at think tank conferences and, until the pandemic, at alcohol-fueled, black tie events in Washington.

“There’s an entire infrastructure influencing policy,” says Hoh, who had an inside seat during his years with the government.

The Deep State is not monolithic, he cautions. “You won’t find a backroom with guys smoking cigars. But there is a notion of US primacy and a bent towards military intervention.”

And that’s what the current Russia-Taliban scandal is all about: An unreliable Afghan report is blown into a national controversy in hopes of forcing the White House to cancel the Afghan troop withdrawal. Demonizing Russia (along with China and Iran) also justifies revamping the US nuclear arsenal and building advanced fighter jets that can’t fly.

Afghans suffer

While the Washington elite wage internal trench warfare, the people of Afghanistan suffer. More than 100,000 Afghans have died because of the war, with 10,000 casualties each year, according to the United Nations. The Pentagon reports 2,219 US soldiers died and 20,093 were wounded in the Afghan war.

A lesser imperialist power, Russia has its own interests in Afghanistan. It has taken advantage of the US decline in the region to expand influence in Syria and Libya.

According to Pozner, Russia doesn’t favor a Taliban government in Afghanistan. The Kremlin considers the Taliban a dangerous terrorist organization. But if the Taliban comes to power, Pozner says, “Russia would like to have stable relations with them. You have to take things as they are and build as good a relationship as possible.”

Neither Russia nor any other outside power has the means or desire to control Afghanistan. At best, they hope for a stable neighbor, not one trying to spread extremism in the region.

That’s been the stated US goal for years. Ironically, it can’t be achieved until US troops withdraw.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Newsy: “U.S. Pulls Troops From Bases As Taliban Keeps Up Afghanistan Attacks”

Foreign Interference Keeps Libya’s Crisis at a Boil Sat, 04 Jul 2020 04:01:32 +0000

Though it has disappeared from headlines, Libya’s humanitarian crisis continues unabated.

( 48hills) – I arrived at the airport in Tripoli, Libya, on assignment for CBS Radio with my paperwork in order. I even had the phone numbers of local immigration officials in case anything went wrong.

It quickly did.

An airport official said my papers wouldn’t allow me into the country, even though the visit had been approved by the Libyan Embassy in Washington, D.C.

He put me on the next plane leaving Tripoli, and I ended up in Vienna, Austria. Turns out that the militia controlling the airport had a beef with the Washington Embassy and wasn’t recognizing its authority to issue visas.

It was 2012, not long after the US and other Western powers had overthrown Muammar Gaddafi and brought “democracy” to the country. But Libya was already on its way to becoming a failed state ruled by competing warlords, as my airport experience affirmed.

In 2011, President Barack Obama and his liberal interventionists justified yet another disastrous invasion by claiming they were protecting civilians from a murderous dictator. But very soon, the actions of Washington and its allies created chaos.

“Libya is a failed state,” Barah Mikail, associate professor at Saint Louis University in Madrid, tells me in a phone interview. “It is a country with spheres of influence, not a government.”

Today, a myriad of outside powers compete for dominance in Libya, none of which care much about the country’s people.

Turkey, Qatar, and the Arab League back the so-called internationally recognized government, which is actually an alliance of political Islamist and extremist groups in Tripoli. Russia, France, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates support military dictator Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi.

The Trump Administration has no coherent policy towards Libya, which has given a free hand to the other intervening powers.

“It was a mess from the beginning,” Vijay Prashad, author of the 2016 book The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution, tells me. “This was not an uprising against Gaddafi. It was a regional war.”

Imperialist interests

Because of its rich reserves of oil and natural gas, outside powers have long sought to dominate Libya, a country of only 6.9 million people. More recently, with the collapse of the central government, terrorist groups have sprouted up, contributing to regional instability. Immigrant smugglers also use Libya as a jumping off point to Europe.

Libya was once in the anti-imperialist camp. In the early 1970s, Muammar Gaddafi, who had come to power in a military coup, allied with rising anti-imperialist movements to oppose US policy. But over time, he became just another corrupt dictator soliciting bribes from foreign powers.

By 2003, Gaddafi made a 180-degree turn and allied with Washington, giving up his nascent nuclear weapons program and opening his economy to additional exploitation by Western corporations.

“He was our partner,” Mark N. Katz, professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University, tells me by phone.

But Gaddafi was an expendable partner. In 2011, when Arab Spring protesters ousted dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, Libyans took to the streets as well. Western powers saw an opportunity to replace Gaddafi with an even more pliant ruler.

In March 2011, French, British, and US air forces bombed Libya, causing huge damage to the country’s infrastructure. Western powers supported efforts to write a new constitution and hold parliamentary elections. But real power stayed with local militias. The country began to fall apart.

“Other countries parachuted in Libyans who had been living in Arab countries and the US,” says Prashad. “The militias didn’t see them as leaders.”

Nevertheless, the Obama Administration saw Libya as a great success story for its policy of humanitarian intervention, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaiming, “We set into motion a policy that was on the right side of history, on the right side of our values, on the right side of our strategic interests in the region.”

History has judged the invasion far more harshly.

“How can you talk about the right side of history when you’ve just destroyed a country?” asks Prashad.

Recent fighting

General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the powerful Libyan National Army, launched a major offensive against Tripoli in April 2019, promising quick victory. He relied on the backing of Russian mercenaries and arms from the United Arab Emirates. The former CIA asset claims to represent secular forces but allows extremists to control the mosques in areas under his control.

Haftar’s military offensive ran into fierce opposition in January of this year, when Turkey sent troops and sophisticated arms to back the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. For years, the GNA controlled little more than that capital city. It consists of various political Islamist parties and militias, including the Moslem Brotherhood and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, formerly affiliated with Al Qaeda.

The GNA also relies on extremist Syrians and Libyans who returned home after fighting Bashar al Assad’s government in Syria. These brigades, politically close to Al Qaeda, were the most experienced fighters, according to Wolfgang Pusztai, Austria’s former defense attaché to Libya.

“These guys are crazy,” Pusztai tells me in a phone interview from Vienna. “But they were the backbone of the anti-Haftar fight in the first months.”

The Pentagon supports the GNA in Tripoli and offers low-key military cooperation. But Washington has generally pulled back from Libya and allows Turkey to do the heavy lifting.

The nearly decade-long war and outside intervention has been disastrous for Libyans. According to the United Nations, 1.3 million Libyans need humanitarian assistance and 200,000 are internally displaced. Human Rights Watch notes that all sides are guilty of violating the laws of war and, in some cases, of committing crimes against humanity.

Peace prospects?

Since June, the GNA and Turkey have been on a military offensive towards Benghazi, Haftar’s stronghold in eastern Libya. Egypt, a Haftar ally, has threatened to intervene militarily.

Egypt and Haftar have called for a ceasefire and peace talks, reflecting Haftar’s weakened military position. So far Turkey and the GNA have rebuffed this peace effort.

In the past, Washington would have maintained occupation troops in Libya, or at least sent a lot of arms to a political faction. But both the Obama and Trump Administrations have backed away from Libya, a sign of a weakened empire.

Eventually there will need to be a political settlement in Libya, but not until the major players recognize they can’t win militarily.

“Foreign interference and delivery of weapons is the main problem,” analyst Mikail says. “If this stops, we’ll have a different landscape.”

Via 48hills

Syndicated articles do not necessarily represent the views of Informed Comment and are provided for insights and debate.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France24 English: “France suspends naval mission as Turkish tensions rise”

The rest of the world sees uprisings, not riots, in Trump’s US Sat, 06 Jun 2020 04:03:06 +0000

The United States is paying the price for denying people what Malcolm X called ‘the right to be a human being.’

( – One of Germany’s largest dailies ran the headline “This killer cop set America ablaze,” with a photo of the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd. Protests in the United States, the article reported, looked like “scenes out of a civil war.”

Bettina Gaus, political correspondent for the Berlin daily Die Tagezeitung, tells me that everybody in Germany, “regardless of political affiliations, is appalled by the murder of George Floyd and sees it as just another example for racism in the US And nobody thinks Donald Trump is helpful.”

The German newspaper Bild headline: This killer cop set America ablaze.”

In another part of the world, Palestinians and some Israelis recognize that both US and Israeli security forces regularly shoot unarmed civilians. On May 30, Iyad Halak, a Palestinian student with autism, was murdered by Israeli soldiers claiming he had a gun. No weapons were found, and former General Benny Gantz later apologized.

As victims of America’s long history of supporting violence, Palestinians have expressed solidarity with US demonstrators. “The growing protests . . . against police brutality in the U.S. are fundamentally an uprising against an entire system of racist exploitation and oppression,” read a statement issued by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement in Palestine.

Uprisings not riots

While President Donald Trump’s White House, many US politicians, and the corporate media condemn the protests as riots, much of the rest of the world sees them as uprisings. Ajamu Baraka, founder of the Black Alliance for Peace and 2016 Green Party vice presidential candidate, says US officials are hypocrites when it comes to criticizing violence.

The US government and corporate media “cheer on demonstrators in Hong Kong, regardless of the level of violence and property damage,” Baraka tells me. He adds that the worst looting took place when the government “transferred billions of public resources into banks and corporations under guise of helping the economy during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Bill Fletcher, executive editor of and former president of TransAfrica Forum, notes that the vast majority of protests against police killings have not engaged in violence or looting.

“I’m sure there are opportunists out there who just loot and provoke,” he says. “But there are also very frustrated people.”

Spontaneous demonstrations have broken out in more than 140 American cities in the largest US uprising since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. But this time African Americans have been joined by white, Asian, and Latinx protesters.

The Black liberation movement has a long history of solidarity with the Third World. Some of today’s protesters, particularly whites, may not be familiar with that history and its lessons for today.

Solidarity with the colonized

African American historian and political activist W.E.B. Du Bois travelled to the Versailles peace talks after World War I to express solidarity with colonized Africans. Britain, France, and the United States had promised democracy and self determination following the war. Instead, the victorious imperialist powers carved up Africa, Asia, and the Middle East into colonies under their control.

“Self determination didn’t apply in the colonial world,” says Fletcher.

During the 1920s and 1930s, leftist and nationalist movements developed in the Black community. Marcus Garvey led a massive Back to Africa movement. The Communist Party and other leftists gathered considerable support by organizing non-segregated trade unions and defending African Americans against police brutality.

African Americans strongly opposed Italy’s 1935 invasion and occupation of Ethiopia, and joined the fight against fascism.

Activists from that era came to understand that African Americans are “not only exploited as workers but are a colonized people,” Baraka says. “The source of their oppression was the colonialist, capitalist system. So they had a common interest with other anti-colonial struggles.”

Malcolm X

By the 1950s, African Americans and liberal whites had joined together in the civil rights movement demanding an end to segregation in education, housing, and employment. But leaders such as Malcolm X, particularly in the last year of his life, said demanding civil rights was not enough.

“We believe that our problem is not one of civil rights but a violation of human rights,” he said in 1965. “Not only are we denied the right to be a citizen in the United States, we are denied the right to be a human being.”

By calling for human rights, says Fletcher, Malcolm X “meant that our struggle was not simply a struggle for constitutional rights but for political power and self-determination. It was a struggle for other people in the Global South. US Blacks are fighting the same system.”

Malcolm X questioned the way US society was organized, according to Baraka, “not just what’s in the heads of individual white people, but the structure and logic of white supremacist domination.”

It was an analysis that would prove prescient.

Human rights

US officials, whether Democrat or Republican, pretend that only other countries violate human rights. Every year, the State Department issues a report on worldwide human rights with the heaviest criticism aimed at enemies du joursuch as China, Russia, and Iran.

Human rights, as defined by US officials, include freedom of the press, maintaining an independent judiciary, and civil rights. But most of the world, the United Nations included, goes further, saying human rights include the right to a job, health care, and housing, among other things.

Not surprisingly, US leaders never mention authoritative international reports detailing U.S. human rights violations. In 2017, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a report sharply criticizing US human rights abuses. It noted that the United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries.

“The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power,” the report stated. “With political will, it could readily be eliminated.”

Dangerous times ahead

The Trump Administration finds itself increasingly isolated at home and abroad. The United States has the world’s highest death count from COVID-19 and faces a massive recession.

But Trump is not deterred. He uses the issue of “violent demonstrators” to proclaim himself “the president of law and order.”

Progressives see large demonstrations in front of the White House as a call for freedom and democracy. Trump supporters see radicals and anarchists attacking the U.S. government.

I worry that Trump could mobilize his supporters to provoke a race war. Or these multiple crises could lead to Trump’s removal from power.

Baraka, for his part, does not foresee a return to normal in the months ahead.

“There’s never been a period like this,” he says. “This is one of the most serious and dangerous moments in the history of this country.”