Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded

Coal train. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ The Third Rail of American politics used to be social security. If you even suggested cutting it, your career was fried. But Clinton & Obama legitimized such talk. Now the Third Rail is Israel, where even mentioning its power over the Hill gets you the political death penalty.

+ What horrible thing is it that Ilhan Omar said? What sacred code did she transgress? In response to a Tweet by Glenn Greenwald about efforts by House Republicans to sanction Omar and Rep. Rhashida Tlaib over their rather mild critiques of the obsequious posture of the US Congress toward Israel, she Tweeted a line from a rap song (by Puff Daddy no less): “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”

+ It was the Tweet that launched a 1,000 condemnations. But what’s objectionable about it? Power on the Hill is exerted by money; the money to promote and the money to destroy. Money fuels the political ecosystem of Washington.

+ But why take Ilhan Omar’s word for the power of AIPAC, when you can get it straight from the horse’s mouth?

+ Or just take a look at the 20 top recipients of “Benjamins” (i.e.., $100 bills) from pro-Israel sources. (AIPAC is not a “PAC”, it exerts its power in other ways.)

Source: Open Secrets.

+ AIPAC’s role as the Hill’s most potent lobbying force didn’t escape the attention of the Wall Street Journal, which reports that the outfit raises more than $100 million each year, “which it spends on lobbying politicians for U.S. aid and sending members of Congress to Israel.”

+ Chelsea Clinton, who some are grooming to challenge AOC in 2020, was one of the first to slime Ilhan Omar. Chelsea witnessed firsthand the way the Israel lobby slapped around her mother after she was photographed hugging and kissing (on the cheeks) Yasser Arafat and his wife Suha in 1999. A few months later, the lobby later battered Hillary into returning $50,000 in campaign contributions from the American Muslim Alliance, a full year before the anti-Islamic hysteria following 9-11.

+ Nancy Pelosi followed suit, summoning the feisty young congresswoman from Minneapolis to her office and reading her the riot act. The speaker then issued a patronizing statement about how the Rep. Omar had learned her lesson and would  “use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.“

+ Donald Trump, who called on Rep. Omar to resign for pointing out something AIPAC openly brags about, speaking to a group of Jewish Republicans in 2015: “You’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” (Then he greedily swiped up everything Sheldon Adelson put on the table.)

+ Even AOC got into the act.

Apologize for what? Why should AIPAC be treated any differently than any other lobby that throws its weight around on the Hill: NRA, Chemical Manufacturer’s Association, Chamber of Commerce, Boeing, ExxonMobil, Business Roundtable, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Ass…?

+ There was nothing “anti-Semitic” about Rep. Omar quip its “All about the Benjamins.” But as the spouse of a “birthright” member of the Society of Friends, the affront to the Honorable Dr. Franklin did strike me as rank anti-Quakerism…Call the SPLC!

+ Rep. Omar has needlessly apologized for pointing out the obvious about AIPAC’s stranglehold on the Hill. But the attacks on her have only escalated. How soon before there are calls for her to be deported or sent to Gitmo?

+ The backlash to Ilhan Omar proves her point.

+ If a critique of AIPAC’s undeniable influence over American politics in the Middle East is considered “anti-semitic,” what would you call the 24/7 hysteria over Russian bots and trolls, which had no discernible affect on US elections, except as fundraiser for DNC & ratings fuel for CNN?

+ There’s plenty of evidence that Israel supported Trump over HRC and used “active measures” to undermine Obama’s foreign policy during the transition (see Flynn/Kislyak calls on the UN vote). Imagine if HRC had spent past 2 years blaming Israel for Trump’s election?

+ Rep. Omar to Elliot Abrams: “Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide if you believed they were serving U.S. interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua?”

“I am not going to respond to that question,” Abrams said, perhaps prudently, given his previous experience giving testimony on these issues.

Then Omar drove the point home with finality.

Ilhan Omar: You were convicted of lying to Congress. I don’t see why this committee or the American people should believe anything you say.

Elliot Abrams: Can I respond?

Omar: That wasn’t a question.

+ In a mere week, Ilhan Omar has eclipsed AOC and Bernie Sanders as the most radical and courageous Member of Congress.

+ Ilhan Omar is barely 5-feet tall, but she’s slam-dunking on everyone this week! When CNN’s Manu Raja confront Omar about her tweet saying that Trump has “trafficked in hate” his whole life, she responded: “Are you serious? What is wrong with you? Yes, I tweeted and there’s a response. You can run that. Have a nice day.” Manu, you’ve just been posterized!

+ Stanley Cohen: “This is what the good old boys fear most about refugees.”

+ Can we at least get an accurate body count (40,000+), before opening night of the Elliott Abrams Redemption Tour?

+ Kate Magsaman, the VP for foreign policy at the Center for American Progress, a neoliberal think tank, who is aggressively defending Elliott Abrams, declares “neocon” to be an “anti-Semitic” term…this would probably come as a shock to those godfathers of the neocons, Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moinyhan–not to mention Irving Kristol, who claimed to have coined the term. (Magsamen would probably be at a desk in the State Department right now plotting some “humanitarian intervention” had HRC not blown a sure thing.)

+ Resistance© hero Max Boot (last seen shilling for the Iraq War) also rushed to the defense of Elliott Abrams, display his ignorance about the meaning of the term “ad hominem”…

+ For anyone who needs a bracing reminder of who Abrams is and the mass murders he abetted, read Mark Danner’s original account for the New Yorker of the El Mozote Massacre

+ For the past 25 years, the cover art for Danner’s exposé has been seared into my mind, probably the most haunting image ever to appear on the cover of The New Yorker. Many others apparently have not only forgotten the cover, but the massacre itself and the enablers and financiers of the central American death squads who perpetrated this and so many other atrocities, including Elliott Abrams.

+ Yes, that’s the Grim Reaper, team mascot at School of the Americas sporting events.

+ Caleb Maupin: “Elliott Abrams was MS-13 before MS-13 even started.” Indeed. The members of MS-13 are in a very real way Abrams’ progeny.

+ Donald Trump, arbiter of what is and isn’t anti-Semitism…

+ Netanyahu wasted no time in exposing the real purpose of the “Get Iran” conference in Poland.

Two hours later the nervous managers of Bibi’s Twitter feed changed “war with Iran” to the more nuanced “combating Iran.”

+ But, as the Jerusalem Post reported, the first Tweet contained an accurate translation of what Netanyahu actually said in Hebrew.

+ For some reason, the sight of Mike Pence and the Netanyahus signing the visitors register at the Ghetto Heroes Memorial in Warsaw  is just as distasteful as Bonzo’s trip to Bitburg

+ Trump is now bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, supposedly in an effort to make the Taliban more malleable to US demands in the ongoing “peace” talks. How many times did LBJ and Nixon use the same bloody strategy that did nothing more than pile up the body count?

+ From immigration lawyer Kristina McKibben: “Just learning ICE has detained my former client, a US citizen. The law is complex, but he’s been a citizen since birth. We proved this up to the court, and the judge terminated his proceedings. How many times does one have to prove citizenship in a lifetime?”

+ Remember during the 2018 campaign when Dems shouted “Defund ICE!” “No Money for the Wall!” “End Family Detentions!”? Instead, Trump gets Democratic Party to agree to increase funding for barriers, ICE and detentions at the border AND he gets his National Emergency, too. No concessions on DACA or separated children. Way to go, Chuck and Nancy! Can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for Venezuela. Viva la Resistance©!

+ Do the Democrats enter into every negotiation using the Missouri Compromise as their template for an ultimate resolution?

+ Pull the plug on “The Chuck and Nancy Show” before it has a chance to go into syndication.

+ Suzannah Lipscomb, historian of Tudor England: “In 1539, Henry VIII’s government issued an act giving royal proclamations the same status as statute. It was a legal way to act extra-legally – without Parliamentary approval – and has been argued to be the act of a tyrant. The news from America today reminds me of this.”

+ Assuming extra-constitutional executive powers in the name of a fake invasion in order to build a vanity project seems like an impeachable offense to me. Can we get a legal analysis from Cicero on this because, you know, the Democrats seem consumed with their own fantasies?

+ The executive powers Trump seized under his National Emergency gives new meaning to Executive Time.

+ During his loco rant declaring a National Emergency, Trump kept talking about “protection.” But according to Stormy, he doesn’t use any

+ If you’re going to steal money to build a wall, the Pentagon is a good place to rob. But Trump ought to lift it from the F-35 account–if only to see Bernie Sanders squeal about how Trump was endangering our national security…!

+ In a strange diversion, Trump hailed China’s use of the death penalty for drug dealers. Two 2 months ago, he signed the First Step Act which reduced prison sentences for drug dealers (and rightly so)…

+ One thing is clear from his Rose Garden appearance: Trump is the National Emergency.

+ Trump has done the nation a great service today with his National Emergency power grab by showing that all of the small-government, constitution-loving conservatives to be total frauds.

+ The Tweets that haunt…

+ And yet to his enduring shame, across 8 bleak years Obama didn’t even think about declaring a National Emergency on: catastrophic climate change, homelessness, gun violence, hunger, child poverty, declining life expectancy, rising extinction rates or racially-motivated police shootings…

+ Trump/Harris 2020?

“Kamala Harris once supported a city policy that required law enforcement to turn over undocumented juvenile immigrants to federal immigration authorities if they were arrested and suspected of committing a felony, regardless of whether they were convicted.”

+ Come back home, Barbara Lee! The world really is upside-down when a former Black Panther endorses a former prosecutor.

+ Amy Klobuchar is another hard-ass former prosecutor running president, although until Harris she makes no pretense of apologizing for her grim record

+ First there was Nancy and Chuck. Then Nancy and Reagan. Followed by Nancy and John Bolton. Now it’s Nancy and Ted Cruz. Who’s next on Nancy’s dance card? Newt? Hannity?

+ Happy Valentine’s Day, Pwogwessives!

+ Pelosi is taking some heat from the left for dismissively referring to AOC’s Green New Deal as “Green Dream or Whatever.” But is she wrong?

+ It’s looking more and more likely that the “Green New Deal” will include nuclear power. Has George Monbiot been lobbying AOC?

+ No hedging here.

+ No hedging here, either.

+ Tim Shorrock: “Pelosi is clearly useless on foreign policy. She has the arrogance to criticize Koreans trying to end a war that tore apart their country for 70 years, praises the attempted coup in Venezuela and has said jackshit on Elliot Abrams. She and her party leaders represent empire.”

+ ICE is employing forensic dentists to x-ray detainees to determine if they are “children”….

+ Trump is simply ignoring a congressional mandate that he certify that Saudi operations in Yemen are attempting to minimize civilian casualties. As long as MBS certifies it, it’s ok with Don…

+ Saudi minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, went one-on-one against Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation. He didn’t fare well…

Q: Where is Khashoggi’s body?
Al-Jubeir: We don’t know

Q: What do you mean you don’t know?
A: We have asked for evidence from Turkey

Q:  You are blaming Turkey?
A: I’m blaming the murderers

Q: You have them in custody
A: Yes

Q: They can’t tell you?
A: We are investigating

+ In most mob cases, there’s no written evidence of conspiracy. But Trump’s so arrogant that he’s likely to have made his co-conspirators sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement which instructs them “not to talk about their conspiracy.”

+ State Senator Lynn Hutchings explains why she voted against a bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Wyoming, a state which hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1992:

The greatest man who ever lived died via the death penalty for you and me. I’m grateful to him for our future hope because of this. Governments were instituted to execute justice. It it wasn’t for Jesus dying via the death penalty, we would all have no hope.

Did the senator run this by Sister Helen Prejean?

+ Since 1991, CEO pay has increased by 465%, while the federal minimum wage for tipped workers has remained frozen at $2.13 per hour.

+ The real collusion between Putin and Trump can be found in the off-shore accounts where their money co-habitates along side $32 trillion from their other pals…

+ Wealth concentration in the US has risen to levels not seen since the 1920s

+ Creature From the BlackRock Swamp: Former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer is joining the BlackRock Investment Institute, the investment analysis division of the giant hedge fund firm.

+ Bankruptcies among family farms have doubled since 2008, a crisis that is being exacerbated by Trump’s trade war with China…

+ The average tax refund is DOWN 8 percent. How’s that tax cut working out for you?

+ Alexa?
Yes, Jeff?
Cancel that NYC order.

+ Chicago says don’t come here…

+ This week Portland, Oregon became only the second city in the US (after San Francisco) to sever ties with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

+ But the flip-side of Hipsterville is that the Portland Police Department has a sordid history of tolerating racists and neo-Nazis in its own ranks, as we were reminded this week when Willamette Week reporter Katiee Shepard unearthed a cache of tender and solicitous emails between Lt. Jeff Niiya and Joey Gibson, leader of the ultra right Patriot Prayer group, which has held multiple rallies in Portland, which have often led to violent clashes with Antifa and other anti-racist groups. Gibson called his relationship with Lt. Niiya “sweet.” The Portland cops have tended to target Antifa counter-demonstrators for arrest with one officer noting the the Patriot Prayer gang was “much more mainstream” than Antifa.

+ In this photo from 1921, Portland’s mayor is third from the right, Portland’s police chief third from the left.

+ Support legalized marijuana (Gallup):

2012: 48%
2016: 60%
2018: 66%

+ According to numerous reports, John Robinson Block, the publisher of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette and pal of Donald Trump, went on a  drunken rampage last week through the paper’s newsroom randomly firing people and shouting that he wanted a picture of himself and his daughter demanded it run on the “front page of tomorrow’s paper,” as his crying daughter screamed, “Please, please Daddy, no!”

+ Are we sure about the parentage of Donny and Eric?

+ Every time you start to argue that the Hitler comparisons are overwrought, Trump (Trail of Tears) and his circle, Candace Owens, Stephen Miller, et al, let you down…

+ Darla Shine, wife of former FoxNews ex, now Trump communications czar Bill Shine, thinks people should contract measles instead of getting vaccinated. Darla should lead by example…

+ Meanwhile, the blame for the current measles epidemic, according to a study by the American Journal of Public Health, can be traced to, yes, Vladimir Putin and his band of internet pranksters…

+ FEMA administration William “Brock” Long quietly resigned this week after allegations over his unauthorized use of government vehicles. He should have been fired for the misery he exacerbated and prolonged in Puerto Rico.

+ FoxNews host Pete Hegseth claims he hasn’t washed his hands in 10 years because he doesn’t believe germs exist. No wonder he always has a shit-eating grin on his face.

+ Where would Members of Congress be without their staff?

+ Mike Pence, who spent his week in Poland posturing for war on Iran, walks around like he’s got a stick up his ass. Does Mother insert it every morning?

+ Boots Riley: “Viggo Mortensen was the only actor with a national platform to speak out against the bombing of Afghanistan post 9/11. He did it on the Tonight Show while the promotion for Lord of the Rings was happening. You didn’t see him promoting Lord of the Rings after that.”

+ When Southern Belles snap, from Scarlett O’Hara to Julie Edwards, who after being arrested by a black cop in Deland, Florida, ranted that “My friends in the KKK will burn your family.” …Do we  dare call it “Taraism“?

+ Senate Democrats who voted to confirm Bill Barr as AG: Doug Jones, Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema…Rand Paul was the lone dissenting vote from GOP.

+ Last year Stephen Martin (not the CounterPunch writer), owner of Prime Time Sports, was so irate about Colin Kaeperneck that he decided to pull all of the Nike merchandise from his Colorado-based store after the apparel company ran ads featuring the former quarterback. Six months later Prime Time Sports is headed for bankruptcy. If only Martin had removed the Nike gear in protest of the company’s exploitation of sweatshop labor, he could’ve at least shuttered his store’s doors with honor. Instead, ignominy…

+ It’s the middle of February and most of Oregon remains ensnarled in a condition of extreme drought.

+ Temps on the North Slope of Alaska were 30-50 degrees above “normal” last week…

+ Hot off the Doomed Planet News Wire: Oil production in Texas has shattered records set in the 1970s

+ At least 305 wolves were killed in Montana in 2017-18, nearly 36% of the entire population. Now a pair of bills offering bounties to encourage people to kill even more wolves.

+ A trail camera in southern Arizona captured a photo of “Lil Jefe,” a rare ocelot, which will be seriously endangered by Trump’s planned border wall. Roam safely, Little Man…

+ Predatory capitalism has been supplanted by sadistic capitalism.

+ The Westminster Dog Show, where Nazi science is still celebrated

+ The sheep rancher who killed this coyote and displayed her corpse on a post, shouted profanities at me while shaking a rather sharp-looking pitchfork in his hand, while I was taking this photo last Sunday afternoon near his barn outside Scott Mills, Oregon.

+ Alfred North Whitehead: “Philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato.

+ William Friedkin: “What an insult to award two of the most essential qualities of film making in the commercial breaks. This is a misguided act that robs the awards of whatever relevance remains. It’s now just a platform for commercials.”

+ Sonny Rollins: “America is deeply rooted in Negro culture; its colloquialisms, its humor, its music. How ironic that the Negro… who has exemplified the humanities in his very existence, is rewarded with inhumanity.” Notes for Freedom Suite, recorded this week in 1958.

+ A Writ of Complaint has been issued against the word “WEAPONIZED” for its toxifying effect on the common language. After thorough consideration and hearing no objections, the court has rendered a verdict in favor of the complainant. Off to the tumbrils!

Do You Know What I’m Talking About?

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Dancer in Nowhere by Miho Hazama (Sunnyside)

Goes West by William Tyler (Merge)

Purple House by Robben Ford (Earmusic)

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America by Joe William Trotter, Jr. (U. of California Press)

Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life by Edith Hall (Penguin)

State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States–and the Nation by Alexander Hertel-Fernandez (Oxford)

Order Determines Content

Daniel Barenboim: “The French Revolution gave us three powerful ideas, or concepts: liberty, equality and fraternity. But these ideas are not only right in themselves, but they are so because they come in the proper order. You cannot have equality without liberty, and you certainly cannot have fraternity without equality. The importance of this I learnt from music, because music evolves in time, and therefore the order inevitably determines the content.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3