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He can dish it out

The Free Press WV

But he can’t take it. We have an Oval Office Autocrat who governs in the persona of a decidedly unfunny insult comic, but when it comes back at him, he folds like the craven coward he is. Typical fat fifth-grade boy bully pattern. The terror of grade school recess waiting to pick on the skinny boy with glasses, but now in the White House, transmogrified to the tweet-lashing Lyin’ King.

Transactional Trump gives offense without thinking about it, lies when it’s handy, and of course when any of that is pointed out he fumes and strikes out.

His targets cut across all lines, slandering friends and foes alike, in a hate state of psychological primal amygdalic cyber-guttural foam. Katie Couric is a “third rate reporter.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s “mind is shot.”

The libelous nicknames are right down there in the seventh-grade swamp, juvenilia from the White House: “liddle Bob Corker.” “Sloppy Steve” Bannon.

The USA has always had the potential weakness of an out-of-control, stupid, loutish, lying, promise-breaking president, but no one really thought we’d get one. Now we do and the entire world is wide-eyed embarrassed for us. Trump breaks the word of the US with rash impunity—backs out of what we committed to with the Paris Agreement (against the strong advice of all scientists with integrity), nixes the TPP, and now makes the US the pariah nation that breaks its word to Iran, Germany, the EU, the UK, Russia and China by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal with zero evidence that Iran has not fully complied. The world now knows the US cannot be trusted. It took enormous work to get the Iran deal signed by the president and ratified by the Senate—this was not just flipping an Obama Executive Order—and Trump just showed the world that the word of the United States of America is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

I wonder how the Boeing workers are going to feel, now that Trump has ended the sales of civilian aircraft already contracted to Iran, $20 billion in contracts that Boeing won and now are lost. Thanks, Dear Leader. Another brilliant Art of the Deal move.

Naturally, hardliners in Tehran are given ammunition and have done their usual Death to America chants, but joined by more and more Iranians as they now are convinced that the US cannot be trusted. Make America the Great Satan Again!

Linking all issues to the nuclear deal is now, and always was, a loser. Yes, we want Iran to be following perfect practices in human rights, civil rights, and democracy. But they are well along the path toward having a nuclear arsenal and the Iran deal nixed that for as long as the deal lasted—and the intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency proved that Iran was indeed complying and the deal was working. Trump has now permitted Iran to build nukes. Obama stopped them peacefully. Bolton wants to do it by bringing war. One way is inexpensive in blood and treasure; the other is horrifically expensive in all ways.

Really, Bolton wants war? Yes, he has been outspoken about just that and it is not any coincidence that Trump fired H.R. McMaster and brought Bolton in just as the Iran question is called.

This regime is chaotic, warmongering, lying, insulting, embarrassing, and entirely corrupt. Americans are called to replace it or be rightly seen in just that light. The blessings and curses of democracy.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

Fareed Zakaria: Trump has just proved Iran’s hardliners right

The Free Press WV

Jeb Bush said Donald Trump would be a “chaos president.” And last week, Trump lived up to the billing, choosing to defy virtually the entire world, including America’s closest European allies, and raising tensions in the most unstable part of the globe, the Middle East.

It is hard to understand the rationale behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. If Iran is as dangerous and malign an actor as he says, surely it is best to have its nuclear program frozen at a pre-military level and monitored 24/7. The chances of getting Tehran to agree to more stringent terms are close to zero. If the terms of the Iran deal were applied to North Korea, it would require Pyongyang to destroy its nuclear weapons — the fruits of a decades-long effort — and agree to invasive inspections and foreign surveillance in a country so closed it is known as the Hermit Kingdom.

If there is a strategy behind Trump’s move, it is probably regime change in Tehran. His closest advisers have long championed regime change and have argued that the best approach toward Iran is a combination of sanctions, support for opposition groups, and military intervention. As a congressman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Obama administration for negotiating with Tehran and instead suggested that the U.S. launch close to 2,000 bombing sorties against Iran. National security adviser John Bolton has been even more forceful in pushing for regime change, advocating much greater support for the MEK, a militant opposition group with a checkered past and little support within Iran. Both Bolton and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani have given paid speeches for the MEK, and in Paris last July, Bolton declared that the United States should pursue regime change in Iran so that the Islamic Republic would not celebrate its 40th birthday (which would be in 2019). Thus, three of Trump’s closest advisers right now have views on Iran that are so extreme that it is hard to think of anyone outside of Saudi Arabia or Israel who shares them.

Iran is a repressive and anti-American regime that has spread its influence in the Middle East, often to America’s detriment. But it is also an ancient civilization, with centuries of power and influence in the region. The notion that the United States could solve all of its problems with Tehran by toppling the regime is fanciful. It has withstood American pressure and sanctions for nearly four decades. And even if it were somehow possible to topple it, look around. The lesson of the last two decades in the Middle East is surely that regime change leads to chaos, war, refugee flows, sectarian strife and more. It opens a Pandora’s box in a land already rife with woes.

Look beyond the Middle East at the record of regime change. Whether it was an unfriendly ruler like Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz or a friendly one like South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, regime change was followed by greater instability. Look at Iran itself, where a British-American sponsored coup led to the dislodging of the elected government, which was one of the factors that led to and still legitimizes the Islamic Republic. Consider also America’s heavy-handed intervention in the Cuban liberation movement around the turn of the 20th century, which left a legacy of anti-Americanism that the Cuban Communists exploit to this day. Misjudging and mishandling nationalism may be the central error in American foreign policy.

By contrast, when America has helped open countries to capitalism, commerce and contact, these acids of modernity have almost always eaten away at the nastiest elements of dictatorships. For all its problems, China today is a much better and more responsible country than it was under Mao Zedong. People often point to Ronald Reagan’s campaign against the Soviet Union as one in which pressure against an evil empire helped produce regime change. But they remember only half the story. Reagan did pressure the Soviets. But as soon as he found a reformer, in Mikhail Gorbachev, he embraced him, supported him and made concessions to him. So much so that he drew furious opposition from conservatives in America who called him “a useful idiot” who was helping the Soviet Union win the Cold War.

Iran is a complicated country with a complicated regime. But it does have moderate elements within it that were clearly hoping the nuclear deal would be a path to integration and normalization with the world. Those forces do not have the dominant hand, but they do have power, not least because President Hasan Rouhani has popular backing. But Iran has always had a strong hardline element that believed that America could never be trusted, that the Saudis were mortal foes, and that self-reliance, autarky and the spread of Shiite ideology was their own strategy for self-preservation. Donald Trump has just proved them right.

~~  Fareed Zakaria is a syndicated columnist.  ~~

Breaking the Iran Deal: The Delusion of Victory

The Free Press WV

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has undoubtedly been sipping champagne these days in celebration of his successful effort to lobby Donald Trump over the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu’s crude interventions to change US policy had been rebuffed by President Obama, but in Trump Netanyahu found a similarly singleminded partner who cannot see the long-term security problems that rejecting the nuclear deal will surely bring. Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision by saying that “the deal actually paves Iran’s path to an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs, and this within a few years’ time.” But he has yet to say—and cannot say—how US withdrawal will change that assessment.

Trump’s rejection of the nuclear deal actually may turn out to be a serious blow to the security of Israel and the entire Middle East.  First, by further embittering Iran’s relations with the US and Israel, Trump’s decision makes a military confrontation more likely than ever, whether or not Iran proceeds to reactivate its nuclear-weapon program.  Iran might retaliate for Israeli air attacks inside Syria or for Mossad’s intelligence missions inside Iran—such as the one that seized documents on Iran’s past nuclear program and was used by Netanyahu (and Trump) to make the case for Iran’s untrustworthiness.  Netanyahu might now believe he has US backing to attack an Iranian nuclear site—an objective he has sought for some time and which now, at a time when his administration is wracked by a corruption scandal, he might find timely to carry out.

Second, if Iran’s supreme leader does decide to restart a nuclear-weapon program, it not only would give Washington and Tel Aviv the excuse they need to attack Iran. Saudi Arabia would also be tempted to intervene on their side—and build its own nuclear weapon in the process, as its foreign minister said on CNN (May 9).  The minister blamed Iran for all the troubles in the region and claimed to have the backing of the other Arab countries.  Thus, we could wind up with a “Sunni bomb” to rival Iran’s and Israel’s bombs. And there’s no evidence that the Trump administration would stand in the way of Saudi Arabia’s going nuclear.

Third, we have to consider the catastrophic consequences of a US-Israel-Saudi Arabia confrontation with Iran simultaneously with ongoing fighting elsewhere in the Middle East. Syria is already the new frontier of Israel-Iran confrontation.  Wars rage in Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Total destruction of cities, massive refugee outflows, use of chemical weapons, and huge civilian casualties show us what to expect from a wider regional war.

Fourth, Iran has Hezbollah at its disposal for disrupting Israeli life in the Occupied Territories.  What that move would mean for Israeli-Palestinian relations, which are already badly frayed since Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, can only be guessed.

Fifth, the US pullout from the Iran deal puts it at loggerheads with European allies, who have vowed to try to save the deal.  Their efforts will further isolate Israel.

In short, while Trump and Netanyahu may think they have shown great courage in pushing Iran to the wall and defying Western allies, they have actually demonstrated extraordinary, even criminal, shortsightedness. They have assumed that an Iran weakened economically and pressured externally is a welcome development.  In this, they have committed two cardinal sins of strategic planning: underestimating the opponent’s will to resist, and failing to ask “what next”?  And what’s next will not be a case of unanticipated consequences.

Mel Gurtov, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University.

The Age of Petty Tyrannies

The Free Press WV

“Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.”—Simone Weil, French philosopher and political activist

We labor today under the weight of countless tyrannies, large and small, carried out in the name of the national good by an elite class of government officials who are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions. 

We, the middling classes, are not so fortunate.

We find ourselves badgered, bullied and browbeaten into bearing the brunt of their arrogance, paying the price for their greed, suffering the backlash for their militarism, agonizing as a result of their inaction, feigning ignorance about their backroom dealings, overlooking their incompetence, turning a blind eye to their misdeeds, cowering from their heavy-handed tactics, and blindly hoping for change that never comes. 

The overt signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the NSA; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; roving TSA sweeps; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.

Yet as egregious as these incursions on our rights may be, it’s the endless, petty tyrannies inflicted on an overtaxed, overregulated, and underrepresented populace that occasionally nudge a weary public out of their numb indifference and into a state of outrage. 

Consider, for example, that federal and state governments now require on penalty of a fine that individuals apply for permission before they can grow exotic orchids, host elaborate dinner parties, gather friends in one’s home for Bible studies, give coffee to the homeless, let their kids manage a lemonade stand, keep chickens as pets, or braid someone’s hair, as ludicrous as that may seem.

A current case before the Supreme Court, Niang v. Tomblinson strikes at the heart of this bureaucratic exercise in absurdity that has pushed overregulation and overcriminalization to outrageous limits. This particular case is about whether one needs a government license in order to braid hair.

Missouri, like many states across the country, has increasingly adopted as its governing style the authoritarian notion that the government knows best and therefore must control, regulate and dictate almost everything about the citizenry’s public, private and professional lives.

In Missouri, anyone wanting to braid African-style hair and charge for it must first acquire a government license, which at a minimum requires the applicant to undertake at least 1500 hours of cosmetology classes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Tennessee has fined residents nearly $100,000 just for violating its laws against braiding hair without a government license.

In Oregon, the law is so broad that you need a license even if you’re planning to braid hair for free. The mere act of touching someone’s hair can render you a cosmetologist operating without a license and in violation of the law.

In Iowa, you can be sentenced with up to a year in prison for braiding hair without having attended a year of cosmetology school.

It’s not just hair braiding that has become grist for the overregulation mill.

Almost every aspect of American life today—especially if it is work-related—is subject to this kind of heightened scrutiny and ham-fisted control, whether you’re talking about aspiring “bakers, braiders, casket makers, florists, veterinary masseuses, tour guides, taxi drivers, eyebrow threaders, teeth whiteners, and more.”

For instance, whereas 70 years ago, one out of every 20 U.S. jobs required a state license, today, almost 1 in 3 American occupations requires a license

The problem of overregulation has become so bad that, as one analyst notes, “getting a license to style hair in Washington takes more instructional time than becoming an emergency medical technicianor a firefighter.”

This is what happens when bureaucrats run the show, and the rule of law becomes little more than a cattle prod for forcing the citizenry to march in lockstep with the government.

Overregulation is just the other side of the coin to overcriminalization, that phenomenon in which everything is rendered illegal and everyone becomes a lawbreaker.

This is the mindset that tried to penalize a fisherman with 20 years’ jail time for throwing fish that were too small back into the water.

John Yates, a commercial fisherman, was written up in 2007 by a state fish and wildlife officer who noticed that among Yates’ haul of red grouper, 72 were apparently under the 20-inch minimum legal minimum. Yates, ordered to bring the fish to shore as evidence of his violation of the federal statute on undersized catches, returned to shore with only 69 grouper in the crate designated for evidence.

A crew member later confessed that, on orders from Yates, the crew had thrown the undersized grouper overboard and replaced them with larger fish. Unfortunately, they were three fish short.

Sensing a bait-and-switch, prosecutors refused to let Yates off the hook quite so easily. Unfortunately, in prosecuting him for the undersized fish under a law aimed at financial crimes, government officials opened up a can of worms. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court in a rare (and narrow) flash of reason, sided with Yates, ruling that the government had overreached.

That same overcriminalization mindset reared its ugly head again when police arrested a 90-year-old man for violating an ordinance that prohibits feeding the homeless in public.

Arnold Abbott, 90 years old and the founder of a nonprofit that feeds the homeless, faced a fine of $1000 and up to four months in jail for violating a city ordinance that makes it a crime to feed the homeless in public

Under the city’s ordinance, clearly aimed at discouraging the feeding of the homeless in public, organizations seeking to do so must provide portable toilets, be 500 feet away from each other, 500 feet from residential properties, and are limited to having only one group carry out such a function per city block. 

Abbott had been feeding the homeless on a public beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., every Wednesday evening for 23 years. On November 2, 2014, moments after handing out his third meal of the day, police reportedly approached the nonagenarian and ordered him to “‘drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” recalls Abbott. Abbott was arrested and fined. Three days later, Abbott was at it again, and arrested again.

It’s no coincidence that both of these incidents—the fishing debacle and the homeless feeding arrest—happened in Florida.

This is also the state that arrested Nicole Gainey for free-range parenting when she let her 7-year-old son walk to the park alone, even though it was just a few blocks from their house. If convicted, Gainey could have been made to serve up to five years in jail

Despite its pristine beaches and balmy temperatures, Florida is no less immune to the problems plaguing the rest of the nation in terms of overcriminalization, incarceration rates, bureaucracy, corruption, and police misconduct. 

In fact, the Sunshine State has become a poster child for how a seemingly idyllic place can be transformed into a police state with very little effort. As such, it is representative of what is happening in every state across the nation, where a steady diet of bread and circuses has given rise to an oblivious, inactive citizenry content to be ruled over by an inflexible and highly bureaucratic regime.

Just a few years back, in fact, Florida officials authorized police raids on barber shops in minority communities, resulting in barbers being handcuffed in front of customers, and their shops searched without warrants. All of this was purportedly done in an effort to make sure that the barbers’ licensing paperwork was up to snuff.

As if criminalizing fishing, charity, parenting decisions, and haircuts wasn’t bad enough, you could also find yourself passing time in a Florida slammer for such inane activities as singing in a public place while wearing a swimsuit, breaking more than three dishes per day, farting in a public place after 6 pm on a Thursday, and skateboarding without a license.

This transformation of the United States from being a beacon of freedom to a locked down nation illustrates perfectly what songwriter Joni Mitchell was referring to when she wrote:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp. 

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all—the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.”

In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, overcriminalization, overregulation and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

A special report by CNBC breaks down the national numbers:

One out of 100 American adults is behind bars — while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government spend about $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.” 

Justice Department figures indicate that as much as $4.3 billion was seized in asset forfeiture cases in 2012, with the profits split between federal agencies and local police. According to the Washington Post, these funds have been used to buy guns, armored cars, electronic surveillance gear, “luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.” Police seminars advise officers to use their “department wish list when deciding which assets to seize” and, in particular, go after flat screen TVs, cash and nice cars.

In Florida, where police are no strangers to asset forfeiture, Florida police have been carrying out “reverse” sting operations, where they pose as drug dealers to lure buyers with promises of cheap cocaine, then bust them, and seize their cash and cars. Over the course of a year, police in one small Florida town seized close to $6 million using these entrapment schemes. 

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments. Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras—used in 24 states and Washington, DC—are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash.

One small Florida town, population 8,000, generates a million dollars a year in fines from these cameras. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in heft fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when the American people get duped, deceived, double-crossed, cheated, lied to, swindled and conned into believing that the government and its army of bureaucrats—the people we appointed to safeguard our freedoms—actually have our best interests at heart.

Yet when all is said and done, who is really to blame when the wool gets pulled over your eyes: you, for believing the con man, or the con man for being true to his nature?

It’s time for a bracing dose of reality, America.

Wake up and take a good, hard look around you, and ask yourself if the gussied-up version of America being sold to you—crime free, worry free and devoid of responsibility—is really worth the ticket price: nothing less than your freedoms.

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

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