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Biden Proclaims ‘America Is Back’ as the US Makes Provocations on Russia’s Borders

AntiWar.com News -

"America is back" hailed Joe Biden on Twitter this week. The world tried to work out exactly what that meant. For different parts of the world, of course, it means different things. As many liberal Americans breathe a sigh of relief, the people of Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq may shudder. For democratic, progressive values at … Continue reading "Biden Proclaims ‘America Is Back’ as the US Makes Provocations on Russia’s Borders"

The post Biden Proclaims ‘America Is Back’ as the US Makes Provocations on Russia’s Borders appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

Friday Cat Blogging – 27 November 2020

Mother Jones Magazine -

Our cats are both uninterested in people food. This is normally a good thing, but they take it to such extremes that I can’t even get them to take a sniff of a turkey for a Thanksgiving photo. This is the closest I got, and in reality Hopper is just walking around the turkey, which is in her way. She literally has no interest in it. That’s bad for catblogging, but pretty handy the rest of the time.

Ricardo Salvador on US’s Dysfunctional Food System

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

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This week on CounterSpin: As those that celebrate tuck into our Thanksgiving dinner, this year as every year, we’re encouraged to be grateful for what we have, as symbolized by the food on the table. This year, as every year, we ought also to acknowledge the work that brings that harvest from the earth to the plate.

2020 has crystallized how that work couldn’t be more crucial or more deeply disrespected. At every turn: From workers in the field—grievously underpaid, farmworkers are now getting a wage freeze, celebrated as “delivering lower costs” to farmers—to those who bring the food to your door: DoorDash joined with Uber and Lyft to push through California’s Prop 22, letting companies keep up the “independent contractor” fiction and deny workers fair wages and protections. And what category is there for the news that, meatpackers like Tyson having got Trump to declare them economically crucial, forcing employees back into unsafe workplaces, top Tyson managers were caught taking bets on how many workers would get sick with Covid? What systemic dysfunction could more clearly indict a society that declares workers essential and treats them as expendable?

In early May, CounterSpin got some hard truths about the US food system from Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. We’ll hear that conversation again this week.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick back at false balance, bad faith claims of electoral fraud and coverage of violence against trans people.

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Four Days in Occupied Western Sahara — A Rare Look Inside Africa's Last Colony as Ceasefire Ends

Democracy Now! -

In this special rebroadcast of a Democracy Now! exclusive documentary, we break the media blockade and go to occupied Western Sahara in the northwest of Africa to document the decades-long Sahrawi struggle for freedom and Morocco’s violent crackdown. Morocco has occupied the territory since 1975 in defiance of the United Nations and the international community. Thousands have been tortured, imprisoned, killed and disappeared while resisting the Moroccan occupation. A 1,700-mile wall divides Sahrawis who remain under occupation from those who fled into exile. Earlier this month, a three-decade ceasefire in Western Sahara ended after the Moroccan military broke into a southern no-go buffer zone on November 13 to attack Sahrawi civilians and exchanged fire with the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi liberation movement seeking independence. Morocco’s action came shortly after a top U.S. general met with the commander of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces Southern Zone, which includes occupied Western Sahara. As Morocco and the Polisario engage on the battlefront, dozens have been arrested in the occupied territory. In late 2016, Democracy Now! managed to get into the Western Saharan city of Laayoune, becoming the first international news team to report from the occupied territory in years. Many of the Sahrawis in this film are currently under police siege or in hiding.

Here Are the Various Ways Donald Trump Could Be Prosecuted

Mother Jones Magazine -

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, James Comey, Christopher Steele, John Bolton, a Time journalist, flag burners—this is just a partial list of the people Donald Trump has wanted to see imprisoned during his ignominious presidency. Yet the moment he steps out of the White House, shedding the sheath of immunity that enshrines all presidents, it is Trump who should be most concerned about a legal reckoning. His list of alleged offenses, committed both during and before his presidency, includes tax and bank fraud, obstruction of justice, bribery, defamation, and more. Legal experts have even debated whether Trump could face criminal charges connected to his woeful response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In its 244-year history, the United States has never prosecuted a president (that is, outside the specialized judicial theater of impeachment). Not that some didn’t deserve it. The reticence is understandable. Locking up a former commander in chief would be politically divisive and potentially set a dangerous precedent. Would holding him accountable restore faith in the justice system or further erode it? But for Trump, whose antics and incompetence contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands, who attacked the very foundation of the democratic institutions that made the United States a beacon, and who pushed the nation to the threshold of autocracy, the American people might be willing, even eager, to take the risk.

Trump has offered state and federal prosecutors a buffet of options for criminal and civil charges. On the federal level, one of the most plausible crimes Trump could be charged with is obstruction of justice. In his two-part report on his Russia investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller all but laid out the case, chronicling Trump’s assorted efforts to stymie the probe. The report also includes evidence suggesting that Trump may have perjured himself in written responses to questions from Mueller’s team, though this claim is more difficult to prove. Mueller stopped short of concluding that Trump had committed a crime, but mostly because, as a sitting president, he was arguably immune from prosecution. But that protection no longer applies once he leaves office.

Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney in Michigan who led the corruption case against Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, argues an obstruction conviction would be easy to obtain and is the most likely route for federal prosecutors. (McQuade spoke to Mother Jones before joining Biden’s transition team; she stressed that she was not speaking on the new administration’s behalf.) But the body of evidence is only one consideration when it comes to placing Trump, or any former president, on trial. “The second question a federal prosecutor must ask is, ‘Would a prosecution advance a substantial federal interest?’” she says. “When a president is involved, that’s a much harder question. I’m sure there is some sentiment that the country should move on, but perhaps some sentiment that we should not let a president get away with crimes with impunity just because they’re the president.”

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who specialized in busting white-collar criminals, is less sure about convicting Trump of obstruction or other crimes—and not because there isn’t a bounty of evidence. “How would the fact that it’s Donald Trump impact a jury?” he wonders. Nevertheless, he thinks an obstruction prosecution is warranted if only for the message it sends. “To me the best argument for taking action is a future deterrence argument,” he says. “Trump is somebody who was focused on defeating the lawful functions of the Justice Department, so taking action sends a signal that presidents should not do that again.”

Both prosecutors warn that any case against Trump must be as free of politics as possible, not just to convince a judge or jury to convict but also to restore confidence in the Justice Department and avoid weakening democracy in the process. One way to buffer the case from political calculations would be for the new attorney general to appoint a special counsel who could pursue the investigation independently. “I think we’ve learned a lesson, hopefully, from, let’s say, the mistakes of James Comey and his handling of the Clinton matter,” Mariotti says, recalling the FBI’s infamous investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server before the 2016 election. “The best way to do it is to have an insulation from political appointees, and to essentially not have press conferences or anything like that—just make decisions about whether or not there’s anything worthy of prosecution and do it with as little fanfare as possible.”

Eager to turn the page on the Trump era, Biden, for his part, has expressed reservations about a federal prosecution targeting his predecessor. He has described such an effort as “probably not very…good for democracy,” though he’s also said he would not “interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment.” Kamala Harris took a different position on the campaign trail, saying the DOJ “would have no choice” but to pursue obstruction-of-justice charges against Trump.

According to the New York Times and other news outlets, Trump is keenly aware of the legal jeopardy he confronts as a private citizen and, as a result, was particularly fearful of losing the election. In fact, the possibility that he might be charged with a crime has been on Trump’s mind for much of his presidency. After the 2017 appointment of Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation, Trump declared in a tweet that he had the right to pardon himself. Some legal experts have speculated he might attempt such a gambit prior to leaving office.

However, says Philip Bobbitt, a professor at Columbia University who specializes in constitutional law, presidential pardon power is not unlimited. He raises what he says is a more likely scenario, similar to what occurred in 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned and was promptly pardoned by Gerald Ford. In the waning days or hours of his presidency, Bobbitt speculates, Trump could invoke the 25th Amendment and briefly surrender presidential authority to allow Mike Pence to pardon him. Alternatively, Trump could resign on the final day of his term, leaving Pence to momentarily assume the presidency and absolve his former boss of all federal crimes.

But a federal pardon will not help Trump at the state level, and it’s there where he and his company, the Trump Organization, may face the most legal peril. Two investigations targeting his company are underway in New York. Since 2019, New York Attorney General Letitia James has been probing the Trump Organization for bank, tax, and insurance fraud. One of the matters she is scrutinizing is whether Trump paid taxes on $50 million in forgiven debt related to his Chicago hotel and tower project. This aspect of her inquiry appears based in part on my reporting in Mother Jones, which revealed that Trump claims to hold a loan connected to a venture that may not exist. This potentially contrived liability may in fact be a scheme to dodge taxes on a debt, deeply discounted by a lender, that Trump paid off in 2012. (A loan is not taxable; forgiven debt is considered income.)

James’ case is civil, but it could nevertheless lead to steep fines, back taxes, and penalties. Moreover, her inquiry could provide fodder for criminal investigators, such as those in the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. In 2019, following revelations that Trump had engineered a payoff of former adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep their alleged affair quiet during the 2016 election, Vance impaneled a grand jury to examine potential financial misconduct by Trump and his company. Since then, Vance has sought a variety of records from Trump’s accounting firm. Trump has battled the DA’s subpoena all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that he was unfairly targeted. The court, however, cleared the way for Vance’s investigation to go forward. Court filings suggest Vance’s probe now goes well beyond the hush-money payment and may overlap with some of the issues James is investigating. Legal experts say that state-led cases may offer the best opportunity to hold Trump accountable while avoiding the polarizing debate that a federal prosecution could ignite. The investigations in New York also focus on matters that predate Trump’s presidency, unlike obstruction charges related to the Mueller probe.

In both New York cases, Trump and his lawyers have used delay tactics, deploying arguments that had little success in court but that substantially slowed the investigations. But soon Trump will no longer be able to use his office to stave off probes by claiming they are either politically driven or too time-consuming for a sitting president.

That may be just the start of his legal concerns. Media reports, and in particular the series of explosive New York Times articles based on copies of Trump’s tax records, may have left other breadcrumbs for investigators to follow in pursuit of Trump, his close associates, and his children. There’s also the possibility of yet-unrevealed investigations by state or local authorities, still lurking in sealed court filings.

And we’re just talking about the United States. In Scotland, where Trump has invested more than $200 million in his golf courses, lawmakers are pushing for their government to request an Unexplained Wealth Order to peer into Trump’s finances. This type of court order—invoked in the past against suspected money launderers—authorizes investigators to probe politically prominent individuals whose public spending does not match what’s publicly known about their finances.

Throughout his life, as he’s faced off against angry creditors or jilted business partners, Trump has honed a tried-and-true legal tactic of “punching back” at his antagonists—launching furious counterattacks that mired the other side in court filings and legal bills. Yet this strategy, as effective as it was when Trump was a private businessman, is unlikely to slow down prosecutors. “I think that when you are a private entity there are other equities you have to think about besides the outcome of the case,” McQuade says. “You have to think about your reputational risk, if he’s going to slam you in the press, and there’s a worry there’s going to be negative impact on your bottom line.” To a prosecutor, a defendant who blusters and threatens isn’t much of a deterrent. “Getting criticized is part of the job,” she says.

Attempts to hold Trump accountable in office were almost entirely unsuccessful. His loss in November was the first true check on his conduct. The next—which seems all but inevitable—may come in a courtroom.

Spent Rockets Are Dangerous Space Trash, but They Could Be the Future of Living and Working in Orbit

Mother Jones Magazine -

This piece was originally published in Wired and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

In early October, a dead Soviet satellite and the abandoned upper stage of a Chinese rocket narrowly avoided a collision in low Earth orbit. If the objects had crashed, the impact would have blown them to bits and created thousands of new pieces of dangerous space debris. Only a few days prior, the European Space Agency had published its annual space environment report, which highlighted abandoned rocket bodies as one of the biggest threats to spacecraft. The best way to mitigate this risk is for launch providers to deorbit their rockets after they’ve delivered their payload. But if you ask Jeffrey Manber, that’s a waste of a perfectly good giant metal tube.

Manber is the CEO of Nanoracks, a space logistics company best known for hosting private payloads on the International Space Station, and for the past few years he has been working on a plan to turn the upper stages of spent rockets into miniature space stations. It’s not a new idea, but Manber feels its time has come. “NASA has looked at the idea of refurbishing fuel tanks several times,” he says. “But it was always abandoned, usually because the technology wasn’t there.” All of NASA’s previous plans depended on astronauts doing a lot of the manufacturing and assembly work, which made the projects expensive, slow, and hazardous. Manber’s vision is to create an extraterrestrial chop shop where astronauts are replaced by autonomous robots that cut, bend, and weld the bodies of spent rockets until they’re fit to be used as laboratories, fuel depots, or warehouses.

The Nanoracks program, known as Outpost, will modify rockets after they’re done with their mission to give them a second life. The first Outposts will be uncrewed stations made from the upper stages of new rockets, but Manber says it’s possible that future stations could host people or be built from rocket stages already in orbit. In the beginning, Nanoracks won’t use the interior of the rocket and will mount experiment payloads, power supply modules, and small propulsion units to the outside of the fuselage. Once company engineers have that figured out, they can focus on developing the inside of the rocket as a pressurized laboratory.

Rockets headed to orbit are launched with at least two stages, each equipped with its own propellant tanks and engine. The large first stage boosts the rocket to the edge of space before decoupling and falling back to Earth—or, in SpaceX’s case, landing on autonomous drone ships in the ocean. The smaller second stage brings the payload up to orbital speed before releasing it. At that point, the upper stage typically has just enough fuel left to fire its engine so that it plummets back to Earth. If the upper stage doesn’t do a deorbit burn, it will keep circling the planet as an uncontrolled satellite.

The Nanoracks team is targeting these upper stages for development because they already have many of the qualities that are needed for a space station. A rocket’s fuel tanks are designed to hold pressure, and they’re made out of incredibly durable material to withstand the rigors of launch. They’re also roomy. The upper stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is 12 feet in diameter and around 30 feet tall, which is enough space to make a New York apartment dweller jealous.

But these tanks need a little sprucing up before they can host experiments or astronauts. The first step is to vent any remaining fuel to prevent an explosion. Then, the robots take over. These automatons will attach necessary components like solar panels, surface-mounted connectors, or small propulsion units. Nate Bishop, the Outpost project manager at Nanoracks, says the company will do several small in-space demos before attempting to convert a full upper stage into a functioning space station. “Right now, we’re not really modifying anything,” says Bishop. “We’re focused on showing we can control the upper stage with attachments. But in the future, just imagine a bunch of little robots going up and down the stage to add more connectors and stuff like that.”

There’s just one problem—no one has ever demonstrated the core metalworking and fabrication techniques needed to convert a space station in orbit before. Next May, Nanoracks will change that during its first Outpost demonstration mission. The company has developed a small chamber that will be deployed with several other payloads as part of a SpaceX ride-share mission. Inside the chamber, a small robotic arm tipped with a rapidly spinning drill bit will cut three small pieces of metal made from the same materials used in rocket fuel tanks. If the experiment goes well, the tool should be able to make a precise cut without generating any debris. It will be the first time that metal was ever cut in the vacuum of space.

The fundamental challenge of converting rockets in orbit is understanding how materials react to the space environment. For example, the temperature of a material can differ by hundreds of degrees if one side is facing the sun and the other side is facing away. Without going to space to try it, it can be difficult to predict how that material will react to standard manufacturing techniques like cutting or welding. Other techniques, like making thin film materials for solar panels, require an ultra-pure environment to prevent imperfections. Although space is a vacuum, it still contains a substantial amount of dust and radiation that could interfere with conventional manufacturing processes exported from Earth.

“It’s remarkable how little we still know about manufacturing in space after 70 years,” says Manber. “There’s a lot we need to learn if you really go into reuse in space hardware. These sorts of things seem mundane, but we just have to do it step by step.”

“There’s a lot we need to learn if you really go into reuse in space hardware. These sorts of things seem mundane, but we just have to do it step by step.”

Mission extension programs like Outpost are new to the space industry. Ever since Sputnik, the stuff that was put into orbit was either intentionally deorbited or abandoned and left to fall back to Earth. There simply wasn’t the technology to move a satellite once it ran out of fuel or to commandeer an abandoned rocket hull. And that meant there weren’t any regulations on how to do it safely—or any consensus on whether it was legal to do it at all.

But things are starting to change. Last year, a Northrop Grumman satellite successfully latched onto another satellite that had depleted its fuel supplies and moved it to a new orbit. This maneuver will extend the satellite’s lifetime by at least five years, and it officially ushered in the era of space mission extensions. During a talk at the International Astronautical Congress this year, Joseph Anderson, vice president of the Northrop Grumman subsidiary Space Logistics, described how the company had to work with several different US agencies to modify licensing requirements so that it could launch the historic mission. “It simply didn’t fit the licensing structure that the US government had established,” Anderson said. “Ultimately, we landed on a solution in which the FCC acts as our primary oversight agency.” (That’s the Federal Communications Commission, which also regulates things like radio, television and broadband systems.)

If Nanoracks wants to turn rockets into space stations, it will also have to forge new licensing policies to make it happen. Northrop Grumman’s mission may have laid the foundation for extending the lifespan of new rockets heading to orbit, but what is less clear is whether a company can refurbish rockets that have been abandoned in orbit without the permission of the country or company that launched them.

This is an issue that James Dunstan, the principal attorney at the space law firm Mobius Legal Group, has been grappling with for years. On Earth, international maritime law allows sailors to salvage wreckage they find at sea, but Dunstan says that under the Outer Space Treaty, an international agreement signed in 1967, spent rockets remain the property of whoever launched them. Under this law, if a company or country were to take over an abandoned rocket stage without permission, they would be trespassing on the property of the launching state. But Dunstan describes this interpretation of the law as a fallacy, because, he says, “neither the launching states nor launching companies really care about the spent stages. They’d love for them to go away.”

For now, though, Dunstan says “the legal risk would be significant” for any company that commandeered a rocket stage without asking. He’s spent more than a decade advocating that “find and salvage” maritime laws should be applied to orbital debris like rocket bodies, but he says regulators at agencies like the FCC and Federal Aviation Administration have been slow to act. “It really is going to take a test case to move the needle on the issue of salvage,” Dunstan says. And Nanoracks may very well be the company to do it.

Manber sees recycling rockets as the next logical step to increase orbital commerce and expand humanity’s reach in the solar system. Launching stuff into space is expensive, but developing the techniques to take advantage of resources that are already there could drastically lower the cost of living and working beyond Earth. “When I look 15 or 20 years ahead, there will be scout missions looking for good things to salvage,” Manber says. “You’re going to have prospectors looking for parts and using them for in-space assembly. It’s going to be one of the big markets of the future.”

Manber’s vision has been a long time coming. Over the past 50 years, engineers at NASA have explored several different methods for converting old rockets into habitats. The agency’s first space station, Skylab, was originally meant to be built out of the upper stage of a Saturn V, the massive launcher that carried Apollo astronauts to the moon. This concept, known as a wet workstation, was fairly developed before the engineers on the project decided it would be easier to just launch a bespoke space station instead. But the dream of recycling rockets didn’t die.

Bill Stone is an extreme caver who has been to some of the deepest places on Earth, and he is the CEO of Stone Aerospace, a company he founded to build robots for exploring the oceans on the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Before that, he spent a decade at the National Institute of Standards and Technology working to turn a space shuttle’s external tank into an orbital habitat. At the time, NASA was just beginning to explore engineering designs for Freedom, a space station concept that would eventually morph into the International Space Station. The leadership at NIST tasked Stone and his colleagues with assessing all the details of NASA’s plans to look for ways they could be improved.

“One of the things that kept popping up was the fact that the space shuttle was not 100 percent reusable,” says Stone. Although NASA could land the shuttle orbiter and occasionally recover the solid boosters from the ocean, the biggest element on the rocket—the external tank—was lost on every launch. For Stone and his team, this was a massive waste of resources. By the time the external tank was jettisoned from the shuttle, it had reached 98 percent of the velocity needed to achieve orbit. It wouldn’t take much of an extra boost to keep it in space where it could later be converted into an industrial laboratory.

“One of the things that kept popping up was the fact that the space shuttle was not 100 percent reusable.”

The shuttle external tank was actually two separate tanks—a small one for liquid oxygen and a much larger one for liquid hydrogen—that are connected by an intertank ring to create one massive structure. The NIST team’s plan was to use the intertank section as a temporary pressurized habitat for crew as they prepared one of the larger tanks for occupation. This would have required several modifications to the tank, such as a hatch to allow astronauts inside and a small motor attached to the bottom of the external tank so it could orient itself in orbit. But the payoff would have been a tremendous amount of space to use as a warehouse or research lab. The smaller liquid oxygen tank would have provided 25 percent more habitable volume than is currently available on the ISS. If the entire external tank was used, it would have had six times more volume than the space station.

“There was 65,000 pounds of aluminum and other aerospace-grade components capable of being pressurized for human habitation that was thrown away on every mission,” says Stone. “Even looking at the best rates that SpaceX will give you for a boost to low Earth orbit today, that’s pushing hundreds of billions of assets that were tossed away.”

As NIST’s plans came together in the 1980s, a consortium of 57 universities took a majority stake in a private venture called the External Tank Corporation that would convert spent shuttle tanks for NASA. As Randolph Ware, the company’s president, told The Los Angeles Times in 1987, the program wasn’t meant to compete with the agency’s plans for space station Freedom. “We are not a substitute for the space station, we are a warehouse on the edge of an industrial park,” Ware said. As the External Tanks Corporations led efforts to commercialize the project, Stone and his colleagues at NIST ran digital and physical simulations of their recycled space station. By the late ’80s, they had even built a mock-up of a shuttle tank in the pool at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center so astronauts could practice getting in and out of it. The plan was to use two astronauts during the first demo mission—and Stone was going to be one of them.

NIST wasn’t the only organization that had designs on the space shuttle’s external tank. A study led by an engineer at Martin Marietta Aerospace, one half of what would become Lockheed Martin, floated the idea of using the tank as the basis for a larger space station, and a separate Air Force proposal suggested using the tanks as scrap metal for building structures in orbit. Around the same time, a joint research project between Boeing and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency suggested converting the external tank into a large-diameter telescope. Even Hilton Hotels had plans for building orbital hotels called Space Islands out of shuttle boosters, although it seems the project never made it beyond a conceptual stage. (Hilton representatives did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment.)

The dream of turning spent shuttle boosters into a space station collapsed in 1993 when the Clinton administration gave a stamp of approval to the International Space Station. Stone and his team at NIST had recently submitted a proposal to turn shuttle boosters into space stations, which had worked its way up through the highest levels at NASA and into the White House. But as the Clinton administration prepared to move ahead with the ISS, Stone recalls, the director of NIST called him into his office to deliver the bad news: NASA had spiked the program. “The space station had become a national jobs program, and the project was viewed as a threat to the space station,” says Stone. “It was a tragic mistake that NASA didn’t store those external tanks, because they would have established the orbital depots that you need to implement an Earth-moon economy.”

For the next two decades, the idea of living and working in old rockets faded from memory as NASA engineers concentrated their efforts on the ISS. It wasn’t until 2013 that the idea made a modest comeback when Brand Griffin, a NASA contractor from Jacobs Engineering, led a study for the agency on how to turn a fuel tank from its next generation Space Launch System rocket into a habitat for deep space exploration. He called his reclaimed space station Skylab II.

Like its namesake, Skylab II would be launched in a single piece in the upper stage of NASA’s SLS, the rocket that the agency will use to send humans back to the moon. The crew compartment would be made from an unused hydrogen fuel tank that would be launched as a payload in the upper stage of the rocket. This is similar to the design of Skylab, which was built from the third stage of a Saturn rocket that had been modified on the ground, rather than converted from a spent upper stage in orbit. All the components needed to turn the tank into a viable habitat—solar panels, antennas, robotic arms—would be integrated before it was launched. Much like the Nanoracks Outpost idea, there would be no need for astronauts to assemble the station. The converted hydrogen tank would have enough space to host up to four astronauts and their provisions for a multiyear journey around the moon or Mars. Once Skylab II was in orbit, the crew would be delivered on a subsequent launch via the Orion crew vehicle, which could dock with the habitat and provide propulsion for the mission.

Griffin says the Skylab II study was motivated by the need to lower the cost of deep space exploration. Building the ISS was expensive, and it took dozens of launches to get all the components into orbit. A similar modular station around the moon or Mars would be more expensive still. But Skylab had demonstrated it was possible to launch a capable space station in one shot. “We wanted to bring that economy to a cislunar habitat,” says Griffin. After the study, Griffin and his team built a full-scale mock-up of a Skylab II station at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

But despite some enthusiasm for the project from NASA officials, the idea was shelved and the agency proceeded with Gateway, its new plan for a lunar space station. Unlike Skylab II, the Gateway is modular and more closely resembles a scaled-down version of the ISS. “There are lots of reasons why people don’t accept change,” says Griffin. “Sometimes people get an idea of where the solution is going to go and have invested too much already. It needed more pressure, but it wasn’t like people were against it.”

Manber and Bishop are well aware of the long history of failed attempts at turning space junk into space stations. But they believe that they can succeed where others have failed. Today, robots are able to carry out some of the tasks that, during the shuttle era, would have required a team of astronauts. A burgeoning space economy is driving demand for more orbital R&D platforms. And NASA’s lunar ambitions will require the agency to rethink the deep-space supply chain. Nanoracks still has to demo many fundamental technologies before the company can recycle a rocket, but for the first time in decades it seems plausible that future astronauts will be living in a secondhand space station.

Siege the Day: QAnon, Trumpist Blockages, and the Logistics of Spiritual Warfare

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While mainstream media and their “information experts” persist with faith-based strategies of ridicule and Big Tech banning, QAnon continues to elude most of its critics by feverishly cultivating its shadowy populism. I consider QAnon to be an internet-enabled and religiously-based trumpist social movement or a networked populist movement with reactionary spiritual overtones. Elsewhere, I have given an overview of its core narratives, origins and popularity (for a true deep dive, check out QAnon Anonymous). Its overall narrative is a standard 1990s New World Order template (which itself has older roots), but now amped up with slick videos, frenetic influencer-agitators, and hashtag-engorged Parler accounts.

A rarely discussed precursor is Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, launched in 1988. Robertson used the then-new media of cable television to expand and sustain his flock. Robertson’s CBN Family Channel centered around The 700 Club, a daily, hours-long news program that decoded world events through an apocalyptic lens. He also wrote a book called New World Order that laid out the Satanic cabal’s centuries-old secret plans for global control, now careening to the End Times.

Beyond the garish accounts of decadent cannibal cabals, QAnon has a tripartite narrative structure of biblical proportions. First, we have the Great Awakening, a period encompassing the last few years in which revelations about how the world truly works are being experienced on a mass scale. An individual experience of epiphany, especially in the sharing economy, demands the personal conversion be spread. QAnon encourages proselytizing which, borrowing from the earlier internet “manosphere”, they call Redpilling.

The Great Awakening is taking place during the “Calm before the Storm.” The Storm is the Old Testamentish second feature in which a military operation will result in the mass arrest of all those devilish Dems. Finally, the most faith-based dimension is the Plan, or the machinations during the calm as well as the execution of the Storm. Trump figures in here prominently, as QAnons consider him a 5D chess player whose seeming failures and missteps are all part of a genius strategy. Above all, as QAnons incessantly assure each other, one must “Trust the Plan.”

Rather than recount its origins or how it spreads conspiracy theories, I want to focus on QAnon’s spiritual militancy and how it fits into Trump’s continued refusal to acknowledge electoral loss or allow a peaceful transition of power, aka the current status of The Plan. This matters because we need to understand what to expect from eager Trumpist civil warmongers, and what QAnon is ready and willing to do in this interregnum.

Interregnum here has a double meaning. It refers to the US period in-between Election Day and Inauguration Day. This period is currently being filled with twists and turns around counting, ratifying, certifying, transitioning and ultimately determining who occupies the White House on January 20, 2021. Interregnum also denotes more broadly a time of open-ended crisis. As Antonio Gramsci put it (and plenty of commentators have recently reinvoked), this is a moment in which “the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born: in this interregnum, morbid phenomena of the most varied kind come to pass.” We could say that we have been living in such a general crisis (economic, ecological, political) for some years, with QAnon now rising to the top of the morbid phenomena heap.

Conventionally, people would see post-election loss as a time of mourning and recouping, a moment to figure out how to remain a viable political entity as outsiders. QAnon does no such thing. “Trusting the Plan” incorporates and re-interprets loss as a temporary stumbling block, even one strategically designed. Their wrong predictions about Trump’s victory are now reinterpreted as part of the Plan. Hearkening back to a version of democratic decision-making that included acclamation (estimation based on clamor) as well as aggregation (counting), QAnon election denialists don’t just say they won, but that it is obvious they won, as it was an overwhelming victory. Their estimation is of course based on their own bubble projected as a mythic tidal wave. To wit: the evidence offered by one prominent QAnon influencer to his audience: “Do you know anyone who voted for Biden? I don’t!”

The only possible reason such a landslide wasn’t registered is of course fraud, theft, and rigging. So what do they do about such a mythic cheat? In the weeks since the media called it for Biden, QAnon intermediaries (the primary Q drop decoders and news interpreters) have taken on two main roles: as salve and as static. Let’s take each in turn.

In addition to providing the usual daily Trump-fawning and news roundups, influencers are providing comfort and support for QAnon adherents. With all of the intense mobilization for and attention paid to the election, now is the time for recuperation. They remind their listeners to Trust the Plan, to take it easy, to not worry, and to spend time with family while the genius Trump team takes care of business behind the scenes. Meanwhile Trump gives them occasional jolts, like pardoning Michael Flynn.

While “Trust the Plan” might sound like a pacifying command, along the lines of their other mantra “Enjoy the Show,” rest assured that the relief is brief. A social movement needs social rest before its next phase (social unrest). The salve is a reintegrative effort—they need to keep the already decentralized movement from falling apart (preventing demoralization) as well as to gather strength.

Commentators from across the political spectrum have characterized post-defeat Trumpists, including QAnon, as undergoing the five stages of grief. This would make sense if we were talking about people who believe that death is terminal. Instead, QAnon’s spirituality comes through again, this time as another kind of interregnum: the period after Good Friday when Christ dies on the cross and before Easter Sunday’s Resurrection. Anons are currently living in a protracted Holy Saturday.

In addition to the salve that allows a movement to recuperate, QAnon is taking on a more direct role in Trump’s overall strategy, namely filling the air with static and noise about the alleged fraud. In 2018, Steve Bannon laid out their media strategy: “flood the zone with shit.” The defeated Trumpists now add the accusation against their foes: “And something stinks to high heaven!” Swarming the infosphere with innuendo, irrelevant details, hearsay, promises (even biblical), faux outrage, speculation, as well as occasional concrete facts generates a fog, or really a fog-machine, of infowar. Even when QAnon agitators get into specifics about numbers of potentially flipped ballots or Dominion affordances or detailed recounts, they are not concerned about getting votes turned over to Trump, for that would mean adhering to measurable democracy. Rather, the sheer amount of question marks becomes a signal of nefarious intent (a negative acclamation).

Disinformation here is not about false belief but manufacturing uncertainty and confusion as a way to disorient, distract, and disable. QAnon influencers generate signal interference in order to render a process or action inoperable. Such static has a strategic goal: to block a clear winner.

Creating doubt around the legitimacy of the election is designed to jam up the certification and ratification process with the hoped-for outcome of faithless electors or dual slates. The targets of the static-fog are thus both specific groups (ratifiers, electors) and, for the longer haul, a networked and amassed movement.

QAnon’s fog machine works as an informational operation in the overall Trumpist strategy of regime-maintenance, namely the blockage. The blockage and blockade are the primary logistical “routes” to continuous rule here, played out in three arenas. First is the juridical/procedural sphere, where the goal is not to get Trump to 270 but to prevent Biden from 270, in essence to block a “clear” winner. They initiated blocks during the tabulations (#StopTheCount!) and, when that failed, they tried to block the calling of the election for Biden (#StopTheSteal!). The juridical arena seems increasingly ineffective given the number of cases getting dismissed, though we have yet to see the end of the revised Trumpian refrain “Build that Stonewall!”

The second sphere, ideological/informational, is where QAnon currently best operates. They create a static that blocks the ability for actors to act based on a clean or even legal election. It’s a hypermediated, zone-flooding, fog-machine effort to confuse and/or persuade actors.

Finally, we have the more conventional type of blockade in the martial sphere, one whose inauguration day logistics are the stuff of QAnon agitator fantasies. Such a martial maneuver would mean stymieing any removal of Trump, despite Biden’s conviction to “escort him from the White House with great dispatch.” Trump’s efforts do not fit the definition of a classic coup in the sense of seizure or overthrow. The hand here does not take or grab power—it holds on, refusing to let it go when it’s lost. This coup is less a sudden grab and more a steady and plodding stall. Stall here brings many meanings with it, from its earliest sense of being a decoy, deception, and distraction to a slowing down of power or motion, and finally to becoming a cordoned place for animals. In other words, the logistics of this “coup” moves from seizing to siege.

We’ve already seen siege imagery in Trump lawyer Lin Wood’s launch of the hashtag #WorldoftheBlocked. With this phrase, as one astute tweet observer put it, Wood “aims to circle the wagons around himself and create an echo chamber where we’re no longer let in to dispute, refute and debunk their dangerous BS.” Others have picked up the hashtag and added it to their QAnon pile.

The #WorldoftheBlocked is a reactionary reappropriation of what Big Tech has done to them: ban, banish, censor. The hashtag often appears in a performative statement in which Wood (or a minion) exiles someone to that world. In one of his early missives, Wood defended his legal defense of cop-loving killer Kyle Rittenhouse by announcing “I condemn Ilhan Omar to World of the Blocked.” The phrase is the misogynist heir to “Lock her Up!”, though now prison cells might be too secular for such a holy war. By condemning, banishing and sending someone to a “world,” Wood and his ilk are mimicking the sovereign act that their God did to Satan. QAnon Woodies are anointing themselves as mini-gods that can cast people into other realms—the fire and brimstone version of cancel culture.

If some variation of the martial blockage happens, we can already glimpse QAnon’s role. In June of this year, the QAnon community circulated an “oath” in which the person would pledge to be a “digital soldier.” Digital soldiers (Michael Flynn took the pledge) swear allegiance to Constitution and nation, which for QAnon is obviously tied to their great leader (not Q, but Trump). Some have started their own media system, drawing from the exodus of those who have taken the oath.

Digital soldiers are waiting for the word that a spiritual-military siege is underway. The Storm will not entail storming the barricades but building them. Whether via a standing army or a swarm of online devotees who transform from meme to movement (as the Boogaloos did), Trump’s campaign chant “Build that Wall!” will become an instruction for his loyalists to fortify him.

Trump’s Great Stall needs a siege mentality, even a spiritual one, in which an echo chamber becomes a bunker. Will QAnon swarm for the Coming In- or Re-surrection? This increasingly belligerent crusade will most likely express itself as the spiritual foundation for the more militant MAGAists like 2nd Amendment fanatics, 3%ers, Oath Keepers, or Boogaloo bois—providing a cosmology and transcendence to turn a secular conflict into an epic and perhaps final apocalyptic battle. What QAnon will do is unclear but make no mistake: their accelerated zealotry, crystallized in their communal refrain “Where We Go One, We Go All,” might take them over a cliff. The question is what this collective martyrdom and rapturous sacrifice will take with it.

The post Siege the Day: QAnon, Trumpist Blockages, and the Logistics of Spiritual Warfare appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Forward Into the Past

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That Barack Obama’s “hopey changey thing,” as Sarah Palin called it, would be a major disappointment — not for Wall Street and others in the rich and heinous class, but for nearly everybody else — became clear when Obama chose Joe Biden for a running mate.

It became undeniable, after the Obama-Biden ticket won the general election, as news of Obama’s personnel decisions trickled in.

Everyone who ran against Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries ran to his left except Biden and Hillary Clinton, his future Secretary of State. These were the two he empowered.

Now it is Biden doing the empowering. One might say that, at long last, his turn has finally come. That would be misleading, however, inasmuch as the time for his turn was never or, failing that, years ago. Let’s just say that blame for the fact that he will soon be the one calling the shots lies with the limited imagination of the Lesser Evil party’s old guard.

The good news is that because no one expects much from him, he will at least not dash hopes the way that Obama did. What he will do instead is what he has said he would all along: promote competence and decency and, in place of anything Palin might consider “changey,” moderation.

Compared to Trump, this is a major improvement. Compared to what the situation calls for, it is, at best, inadequate. It is also a recipe for trouble ahead.

Nowadays, Americans associate competence, decency, and moderation with the administrations that preceded Trump’s; Obama’s, of course, but also, amazingly, George W. Bush’s. Thanks to Trump, Bush is now only the second worst president in modern times.

Be that as it may, the hope now is that Biden will take up where Obama left off. To be sure, he has already taken exception to the idea – the world is different, nowadays, he says – but the fact remains that Democratic Party elites are looking forward to a functional equivalent of a third Obama term, separated from the first two by the four years long nightmare that will soon come to an end.

If only to be done with all that, a great many Americans, almost certainly a huge majority, are also looking forward to Biden ushering in a third Obama term. This is understandable, but also wrong-headed — because the situation calls for a good deal more. It is also unnecessary because, despite the efforts of Democratic Party honchos and the media that support them to drive home the notion that there is no alternative to a “no can do” attitude, there are major sectors of the general public that are way out ahead of the president-elect.

Perhaps it is just a case of hope springing eternal, but I would venture that some of Biden’s personnel choices seem a tad less wedded than Obama’s to neoliberal and liberal imperialist nostrums, to anti-Russian Cold War revivalism, and to the idea of America as an “indispensable nation.” If so, the restoration currently underway just might amount to a slight improvement over the original.

But whether or not the differences are merely cosmetic, they are minor at best. Therefore, even with Trump gone, and even if Democrats manage to gain control of the Senate, our political universe will continue to disappoint.

What the current situation calls for is a radical break not just from Trump and Trumpism, but also from the Democratic Party’s pre-Trumpian past. That is not what Biden is about.

Quite to the contrary, like the Clintons and like Obama, Biden is a living personification of the “normal,” pre-Trumpian politics that made Trump possible.

However, he may be temperamentally more disposed than the others to being pushed along by logically compelling arguments, backed by well- organized, disciplined, left-leaning popular movements. That, anyway, is the hope.

But it will take a lot to teach that old dog new tricks. Bringing his upper level advisors and personnel choices along won’t be easy either; they are stuck in the dead center too.

For now, though, he and they are hard at work, being all that Trump is not.

This is not to be despised, even as “the commanding heights” of the new administration are rapidly filling up with longtime Biden associates and other Clinton-Obama hands, and a few, generally younger, star pupils drawn from “the same old, same old” school of public affairs.

***

The challenges that the Sanders and Warren campaigns posed to the old regime were modest to begin with, and it is not clear how different things would now be had they prevailed. But even minor challenges to the politics that brought the afflictions of the past four years upon us are better than no challenges at all.

Needless to say, this is not the “narrative” hammered home 24/7 on the liberal cable networks and in the “quality press,” where the idea that Biden-style “moderation” may actually be bad for the Democratic Party—and for the country and the world — is , for all practical purposes, out of bounds.

Nevertheless, it is the truth. Biden’s moderation is not why he was able to garner more than eighty million votes. That came about in part because Trump’s malevolence and risibility became too much for swing voters at the margins in “battleground states” to bear, especially with a pandemic raging, and in part because left-leaning activists organized up a storm in areas within those states where black, brown, and younger voters abound.

Even so, it is well to bear in mind that not all “same old, same old” proponents are created equal. They may all be cut from the same cloth, but the politics they promote comes in many varieties.

The liberal commentariat would have people think that the burgeoning Democratic left cost Democrats down-ballot victories. Just the opposite is the case, however. What cost Democrats down-ballot victories was the pusillanimity inherent, as it were, in their party’s DNA. As Robert Frost said of liberals generally, Democrats are, by nature, too reasonable in conflict situations to stick up for their own side.

But times change, sometimes in ways that force mainstream Democrats to change as well. Mainstream Democrats and the parts of “the donor class” that support them continue to heap praise on moderation. But the truth is that they are all now less moderate and more open to change than they used to be.

To be sure, entrenched party elites are not about to acquiesce voluntarily in their own disempowerment, and capitalists are generally disinclined to give up their privileges without a fight. But when social movements present beneficiaries of old regimes with offers they cannot refuse, they sometimes do what they must in order to keep afloat.

This is what happened during key phases of the New Deal. Thanks to the dinosaurs who still run the Democratic Party, there will be no Green New Deal in our immediate future. But something like what was achieved ninety years ago could nevertheless happen again, if social movements work hard enough at giving Biden and his minions no choice.

How wonderful it would be to take a few weeks or even months off now that Trump is on his way out. But, alas, with Democrats being what they are, there can be no rest for the weary in the wake of the Trumpian maelstrom.

Thus, the flood of emails begging for money that everyone who is not an internet hermit had to deal with before November 3, so far from tapering off, has actually gained steam. This time it is about Georgia Senate runoff elections. As recently as a month ago, who would have believed that we would now be having to contend with anything like that.

With each increasingly desperate request – I may be a soft touch, but I am confident that I am not the only one receiving dozens a day – I blame Bidenite moderation more.

Long before Trump became a media obsession, I found myself unable to see or hear Rachel Maddow without feeling repulsed. It started when an earlier fascination with how long she would take to make some inane point, and how convoluted her circumlocutions would sometimes be, seemed suddenly to grow old.

It isn’t just Maddow anymore; there are now two, three, many presenters (or whatever they are) on both MSNBC and CNN just as bad; and most of the “experts” – the admirals, generals, spymasters, and former Senators and House members pursing second careers as talking heads – are even worse than them.

I blame the whole lot of them, more than anything else, for turning what would otherwise be some idiosyncratic pet peeves of mine into constant sources of annoyance.

To be sure, infirmities of age and the dreariness of life in a plague year, plus collateral damage sustained while dealing with life’s vicissitudes in another kind of plague year, Year Four of the Trump era, have something to do with it too, but it is the babblers and scribblers of the corporate media world that I blame most.

***

Thus, I find myself lately channeling the spirit of that late, not so great, conservative “icon” William Safire. As a journalist (more or less) who did PR work for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and others of their ilk, Safire spent his declining years as a New York Times columnist and grumpy old language cop.

It should go without saying: in almost all circumstances, the less policing the better. Whatever Biden may say or think, what the country needs now is hardly more Trump-style “law and order”; it is fewer, less racist, less violent (and murderous), and less egregiously well-funded police departments.

But language cops like Safire do police work only in a metaphorical sense. They are not about state repression. What concerns them is self-enforced clarity and precision, often in circumstances of little or no political consequence.

It is of no political consequence, for example, that I find myself unnerved, as I imagine Safire would have been, when reporters and pundits use “multiple” interchangeably with “many,” in contexts in which multiplication plays no discernible role.

And although I sometimes use the expression myself, I would expect that he would find “of color” problematic too. I do not only because of its historical role in the discourses of European colonial ventures or because, all over the world, “colored” has long been a term of disparagement, not praise — but also because, even on a descriptive level, the difference between those who are and those who are not “of color” often has little, if anything, to do with color itself.

The same is true of “white.” The principal victims of the European settlers who took the land of the indigenous peoples of North America were on to something when they called their tormenters “pale faces.” Pale, we “white” folk surely are, especially those of us who live in cold climates and stay indoors a lot. But we are hardly white – not even when at death’s door or just after seeing a ghost.

It is the same with some other recent turns of phrase. What, for example, is the point of such expressions as “cities like New York?” In what relevant sense are there cities are like New York? What does that even mean? And why isn’t “for example” good enough?

I could go on, but resistance is futile; the offending expressions, though of recent derivation, are by now too deeply entrenched to be expunged, thanks in large part to social media and the cable networks.

The surfeit of blather nowadays about people looking or not looking “like them” is different. It too is annoying. Whenever I hear people talking that way, I find myself having to hold back an impulse to say either “in your dreams” or “God forbid.”

I also find myself wondering what Martians would make of Americans of all sizes, shapes, and hues finding that expression meaningful. They would have to be cued into some fairly esoteric nuances of the forms of identity politics practiced in our time and place to make any sense of it.

Unlike some of those other peeves of mine, this one cannot just be dismissed as harmless. It is that surely, but it can also be politically disabling.

Think, for example, of all the people “of color” who, along with quite a few “white” liberals are actively engaged in depicting Barack Obama as God’s gift to truth, justice, and the American way – not for anything he did, quite to the contrary, but just for “looking like” them.

No doubt, the contrast with Trump and the fact that Obama has a book to sell is playing a role as well, but even so.

John-Paul II was fast-tracked to sainthood, a move that, according to press reports, figures of great importance in the Catholic hierarchy are now beginning to regret.

Obama is being fast-tracked too — not to sainthood, of course, but to some informal secular equivalent. Reasons for regretting that in the case of President Drone, the Deporter-in-Chief, Wall Street’s Best Friend Forever, are far more abundant than in John Paul II’s case; they always have been. But not to worry, he is “of color” after all.

Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder — and Biden too, insofar as he played a role — let Bush era was criminals off scot-free. This made it easier for Obama and his team to do “the same old, same old” with only a few, mainly cosmetic, modifications.

It is becoming clearer by the day that Biden is eager to follow the Obama-Holder model; like before, he wants, or says he wants, to let bygones be bygones, the better “to move on.”

There is a difference though. To hold Bush and Cheney and their collaborators accountable for war crimes and crimes against the peace, an inquiry would have had to be launched.

Trump’s crimes are, on the whole, a lot sleazier than that and of less historical consequence. They don’t rise (or fall?) to the same level. Many of them would also be child’s play to prove beyond a reasonable doubt; Trump has publicly admitted to many of them and even boasted about it.

Therefore, Biden will have to intervene actively to prevent criminal investigations already underway at the federal level; something he could not do without becoming Trump-like himself by compromising the purported independence of the Justice Department.

Beyond that, if he could not persuade the relevant officials otherwise, there is nothing he could do to stop on-going investigations of Trump and his family in New York City and New York state.

Therefore, even in the absence of concerted, organized resistance on the part of Democrats and others demanding justice, Biden will have a hard time following the Obama-Holder model.

Of equal or greater importance, if the nascent Democratic Left gets its act together in due course, he will have a tough time than he would like making nice “across the aisle” – by offering top appointments to Republican miscreants.

The tougher the time he has with that, the better. Moderate to the bone, Biden has all but declared that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would be best left in the Senate, at the same time that his team has been floating the name of the former Ohio governor, John Kasich, abortion foe and active proponent of “moving on,” for some one or another upper level appointment.

If Democrats let that happen, then in the midterms ahead, they will amply deserve the kind of “shellacking” (Obama’s word) that they got under Obama in 2010.

Kasich, at least, ended up supporting Biden. Reports now are that Biden would even like to invest power in one or another active Trump supporter – all for the sake of restoring the vaunted “normalcy” of years gone by.

It may not quite be time just yet, but, before long, when Trump is definitively disempowered –and, if all goes well, on his way to spending his final years in penal captivity, while his brand becomes poisonous, and his finances plummet — and when it is clearer than it already is to a broad swathe of public opinion that old guard Democrats are part of the problem too, and that their continuation in power is more likely than not to lead to a Trumpian restoration, with or without Trump himself at the helm, it will finally and directly become both timely and urgent to take on what a later-day Safire might call our “nattering nabobs of (neoliberal) normalcy.”

The post Forward Into the Past appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Lookout for Karl Marx!

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Marx wrote all of his analyses and criticisms of capitalism well over one hundred and fifty years ago. Since then the capitalists have been working overtime to discount and demonize his assessments of capitalism as a system that exploits and indeed enslaves workers in order to profit from their labor. Our big business rulers have used their monopoly over state power and the mass media to inoculate the population against Marx’ ideas and strategies, which have historically been used to organize the workers and their allies throughout the world, and thus threatened the unchecked power of capital. Our corporate rulers have sought to discount Marx’s ideas as wrong or irrelevant for our times. But if this is so, then why not show this by widely presenting these ideas for discussion and debate? After all, do we not have “democracy” and “free speech” here in the “exceptional “US? Is not our system of education a “market- place for ideas?”

Our rulers will never knowingly provide a forum for Marxism and will continue to demonize it as a threat to “freedom,” which indeed it is if by freedom we understand the continued operation of the capitalists’ “free enterprise” system with all the wealth created by labor going to the corporate owning class, whose failures are palpable today world-wide. Why else would we be treated to the calling out of Marxism by the Right, now led by Donald Trump, who also abuses, literally and verbally, anyone who sees it in their interests to fight racism and fascism? The “centrists” of the Democratic party have also weighed in by blaming and trying to proscribe “socialism” for their own failures and defeats? Is this not boiler plate ruling class red baiting in the face of workers’ demands for a betterment of the conditions of life? We’ve seen this all before: in the ‘20s with the government’s anti-communist Palmer Raids that arrested and deported immigrant workers organizing in the interests of their class after World War I, when the Russian Revolutions struck fear into the hearts of the bankers and big businessmen; then after World War II with McCarthyism, which began the capitalist assault on workers’ gains during the Great Depression that continues today; and now, when workers everywhere are once again looking to defend themselves from another capitalist crisis, this time containing both the threats of nuclear war, and global climate change.

Recently, CounterPunch published a superb essay by Peter Linebaugh, that focused on Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program.” It was an inspiration to me, (as has been Linebaugh’s work generally), and I sent it out to friends in a discussion group I attend because I thought it made incisive use of Marx’s ideas to show what was needed in working towards a different and better world. It also prompted me to go back and re-read the Critique, which I had not read for 40 years. Here I would like to share some of my reflections on this experience, which I hope will help emphasize the continuing relevance and importance of Marx’s work, and encourage others to read him.

The “Critique of the Gotha Program” was written by Marx (with supporting letters from Engels) in 1875. I read and will be quoting from the one volume Selected Works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, International, Publishers, 1968 (6th printing, 1977), pp. 314-44.

Marx and Engels had been working with the German workers for decades, including years in exile, and the Critique was in response to the unification of political factions of the German working class in 1875 as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Marx and Engels were convinced that workers were slaves under capital, and always would be; that they needed a socialist/communist revolution to end the rule of capital, and that this would take an international political movement, but one that would unavoidably have separate national parties that would need to strategize internally, dealing with the conditions in “their” countries. They also thought that the capitalists made use of the ideas of nationalism for their own purposes, while workers faced capitalist control everywhere in the world, and hence had no country. In fact, workers had to deal with the capitalist world market and international competition. In our own time we have seen how easy it has been for big capital simply to move to those places where the labor has been the cheapest, leaving workers here high and dry. How is something like this to be dealt with outside of international working-class solidarity and cooperation?

By 1875, Marx and Engels had learned much from the workers’ struggles to organize trade unions and political parties in response to burgeoning industrialism in the most developed capitalist countries in Europe. Decades earlier, Engels had written about the condition of the English working class, and in 1875 he briefly assessed what workers needed and were doing about their conditions. In this essay I want to let Marx and Engels speak for themselves. Here is Engels: “Complete abstention from political action is impossible … Living experience, the political oppression of the existing governments compels the workers to occupy themselves with politics, whether they like it or not, be it for political or for social goals. To preach abstention to them is to throw them into the embrace of bourgeois politics. The morning after the Paris Commune, which has made proletarian political action an order of the day, abstention is entirely out of the question. We want the abolition of classes. What is the means of achieving this? The only means is political domination of the proletariat … However, our politics must be working-class politics. The workers’ party must never be the tagtail of any bourgeois party; it must be independent and have its goals and its own policy.”

Engels mentioned the example of the Paris Commune, which took place in the midst of Germany’s invasion of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Paris was surrounded; French ruling class leaders did nothing, and the French working class took over the fight against the German invasion. The workers showed that they could organize production, distribution and defense in Paris, including successful sorties out of Paris to fight against the Germans. The French ruling class then made a deal with the Germans to bring in French troops to crush the workers’ efforts, and the Paris Commune was defeated (and thousands of workers killed by their own countrymen, in 1871). Marx, of course, drew lessons from this experience, which he writes about in “The Civil War in France,” same volume.

In the Critique, Marx was critical of certain formulations put out by one of the SPD leaders, Lassalle, whose ideas Marx and Engels had been struggling against for some time. Marx quotes these and goes on to criticize them. For Marx, “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.” He develops a very complex argument that is basically both an explanation and justification for communist revolution. There’s no substitute for reading it all, but I will try here to highlight what I think are the most important ideas, and let Marx speak for himself.

The first thing Marx does is address Lassalle’s statement that labor is the source of all wealth. This is how Peter Linebaugh starts his essay, where he is writing to show the continuing relevance of Marx’s ideas. “Labour [Marx’s spelling throughout],” writes Marx, “is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists) as labour, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labour power … The bourgeois have very good ground for falsely ascribing supernatural creative power to labour; since precisely from the fact that labour depends on nature it follows that the man who possesses no other property than his labour power must, in all conditions of [present day]society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour. He can work only with their permission, hence live only with their permission [Marx’ emphases].”

Marx underscores the conditions that capitalism has imposed on the working class by its control of state power and institutions, including all major means of disseminating “information,” which includes imposing the dominance of ruling class ideology. The rulers also have a monopoly on the use of force and violence used both to fight rivals and to keep the working class subjugated. Marx recognizes this as one class’ dictatorship over another.

The capitalists control all means of getting a living; if they have not quite achieved this everywhere in 1875, Marx recognizes that they are on the way to doing so. Land and machinery are privately owned, and increasingly monopolized by a relative handful of the population; so are all the products of labor. If you do not own means of production, or income-generating land as rentier landlords, and you want to live, you must sell your labor to these capitalist bosses. The workers collectively are at the mercy (i.e., slaves) of the capitalist class. Marx spelled out in Capital (you can read a condensed version of this, “Wages, Price, and Profit,” in the volume cited here) that capitalists paid their workers a subsistence wage, buying their labor power for a set amount of time, say 8 hours as is roughly the case in the US today. During this time, whatever the workers produce belongs to the capitalist, of course. The wage paid, however, does not represent the whole value of what the worker produced during the entire time worked, but only a part – let’s say 4 hours (though today it is considerably less than this). So that if the worker works for the capitalist for 8 hours, s/he has earned wages in the first 4 hours and worked another 4 hours without pay. The latter was what Marx called “surplus value.” This is the source of capitalist profits, the labor time expended beyond the time workers worked to get their wage. It was in fact “free” unpaid labor controlled by the capitalists. In the Critique Marx writes sarcastically that “the wage worker has permission to work for his own subsistence, that is, to live, only in so far as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist…; that the whole capitalist system of wage labour is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment.”

Today our rulers refuse to consider Marx’s labor theory of value, and instead claim credit as the ‘job creators’ but never take responsibility for when they cut back on production and lay workers off in recessions and depressions or kill them in large numbers in their wars for profit. Above all, the idea that human labor power in interaction with nature creates ALL value, has been disappeared from our discourse, along with unions and workers’ power generally, though workers have not gone away. In fact, there are more of them than ever, because more people in the world have been reduced solely to living by selling their labor power, when they can.

However, there is a major contradiction at work in this quest for profits. Capitalists compete with one another to capture market share. This is ubiquitous and world-wide, and it can and does include the ultimate form of competition, war. But the capitalists have to market what they produce, and who are their customers? Can they sell it all to those like themselves with lots of money? Or is there another mass market out there that does most of the consuming? Industrial capitalism gave rise to mass markets, which require (what is a market after all but?) money in the hands of “consumers” (a nice, neutral capitalist word) coupled with the necessity or desire to spend it. Keynes called it “effective demand.” But what happens to this when the masses of workers’ wages are targeted for reduction in the competition for cost cutting? The more an individual capitalist can reduce the costs of production, the greater their market share and thus profits, while monopolistic pricing, when and where arranged, just adds to profits. All capitalists therefore seek the cheapest labor and raw materials and introduce machinery that produces more with less labor in a process that both reduces the costs of raw materials and consumer goods and displaces workers, but in turn results in “overproduction.” The most egregious example of this was evident in the Great Depression, where the food produced could not be sold to impoverished people who needed it, but instead was wasted (crops plowed under, milk dumped, pigs destroyed, etc.)

What we end up with given this capitalist mode of production is enormous concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few plutocrats, and a vast world population of increasingly impoverished workers. This is exactly what Marx predicted. Today’s workers with jobs are constantly looking over their shoulders at the prospect of joining those without. This increasingly widespread circumstance has prompted the emergence of a new label for workers, which combines the noun, proletariat, with a description of workers’ position in the world economy, precarious, hence “the precariat.” We can remind ourselves of the role the capitalist state has played here over the last 40-50 years of our history in the US during which workers’ gains won in struggle, from the New Deal to the sixties and early seventies, have been undermined or destroyed, while regulations that at least partially held in check Wall Street and the big banks and protected our environment, health and safety (including our food, water and air) have been dismantled. Today a vast amount of our tax moneys goes to the military industrial complex or to the corporate rich who dominate our politics, media and institutions.

Marx saw and analyzed all of this one hundred fifty years ago, and he recognized that it was all a product of the capitalist mode of production. Nevertheless, he also recognized and first made the point in the Communist Manifesto, that capitalism itself had created the conditions for the revolutionary transformation into socialism/communism, and that the working class was the only force capable of making this happen. He continued this insight in the Critique. He noted that the Gotha Programme contains an incontestable proposition: that along with labor’s development comes concentrated wealth and culture for the capitalists, along with poverty and destitution for the workers. We have had a couple of hundred years of capitalism now, and this pattern still prevails in the world. Marx writes that: “This is the law of all history hitherto. What, therefore, had to be done here, instead of setting down general phrases about ‘labour’ and ‘society,’ was to prove concretely how in present capitalist society the material, etc., conditions have at last been created which enable and compel the workers to lift this social curse.” He means that the enormous increases in productivity that capitalism has produced have now made it possible to take care of everyone’s needs by distributing the products of labor, created by labor, according to the common interests of labor. This is clearly a world-transforming vision, particularly when coupled with the insights Linebaugh develops about the labor/nature interchange and the need for these relations to be conscious, not driven by capitalist exploitation. In our own times the mass “overproduction” of goods, a concept the absurdity of which should be evident to all, but that follows from what we have said above about capitalist competition, serves as an appropriate description of a system that functions only for the profit of the few. Capitalist monopolization and overproduction continue to create periodic crises, where people, deprived of “demand,” go hungry and homeless in the midst of plenty. These crises were given names in the course of their history, beginning with business panics, which then were labeled depressions, including the “Great” one. Today we have recessions, with a “great” one in 2007-8 whose effects continue.

In the Critique, Marx attacks Lassalle’s simple-minded ideas about what is entailed in a socialist revolution, and his use of certain phrases, such as the proceeds of labor. Marx writes: “What are ‘proceeds of labour’? The product of labour or its value? And in the latter case, is it the total value of the product or only that part of the value which labour has newly added to the value of the means of production consumed [machinery; raw materials]? ‘Proceeds of labour’ is a loose notion which Lassalle has put in the place of definite economic conceptions … What is ‘a fair distribution’? Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is ‘fair’? And is it not, in fact, the only ‘fair’ distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise from economic ones?”

Marx goes on to raise other questions about Lassalle’s distribution schemes, and these are worth reading for what they show about Marx’s sophisticated understanding of what would be entailed in a workers’- run society seeking to transform the mode of production in its entirety. This is all too long to quote, though Marx begins by making it clear that from the “total social product,” before it could be distributed to the individuals who produced it, there would have to be certain deductions made for production to continue, and deductions made for administrative costs, funds for those unable to work as well as for “the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc. From the outset this part grows considerably in comparison with present-day society and it grows in proportion as the new society develops.” Remember, Marx wrote about this need for schools and health care some 150 years ago, and where are we with it today?

Marx continues to discuss the workers’ revolution as occurring in two phases: first socialism, which will measure work not in money,[to end with the end of the wage system?] but in labor time, where “a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form … In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatised as a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour.” And workers will be paid with certificates that keep track of their labor time, to be exchanged for what is needed/produced with equal amounts of labor time. Note, no money! What happens to banking, finance, moneylending etc., which Marx considered, at least in part, parasitic?

Marx points out that in this first phase, immediately after a revolution, absolute equality is not possible. People are not the same in their capacities, and “Thus with an equal performance of labour [measured in time on task], and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right instead of being equal would have to be unequal.” Here Marx is brushing aside the stupid rationalization of capitalist power that says because as individuals we are unequal in our capacities, this means we can expect and achieve nothing but greed and the concentration of wealth and power that is capitalism as the triumph of our humanity. Marx has an answer for this, and socialism is a step towards it.

With the earliest establishment of a socialist society, which Marx makes clear will take a workers’ revolution, “the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed in the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour … What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerged.”

Marx continues: “But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society … Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly [my emphasis]– only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

Marx has discussions about the state, and whose interests it serves (clearly, the bourgeoisie and big landlords). Here he takes Lassalle to task again for seeming to seek an alliance with the Junker landlords against the big capitalists, writing off the peasantry and small manufacturers whom Marx saw as potential allies. These eastern German landlords would go on to ally with big capital under Bismarck’s leadership; this was the so-called “marriage of iron and rye,” that confronted the workers, while Lassalle’s ideas about the nature of state power, and his failure to embrace an internationalist strategy, left Germany’s workers at the mercy of big business economically and politically. By Hitler’s time the SPD would continue to try to ally with the Weimar Republic that was the latest manifestation of Junker-big business power, with the Junker WWI General Von Hindenburg at its head. The SPD refused to ally with the KPD (Communists) against the Nazis, while Hindenburg ended up inviting Hitler to form a government (Hitler was not voted into office, but made Chancellor, a bit like G.W Bush in 2000, and like Trump would like to see happen for him today) with results we all know.

Finally, there is Marx’ discussion of what he would call “bourgeois democracy,” which he thought was best exemplified by the US at this time (1875), and at least seemed to allow workers a measure of freedom to organize. He never had illusions, however, that workers’ power could be won by parliamentary means alone. He called for “the dictatorship of the proletariat” directed at and needed to counter the clear dictatorial power of the bourgeoisie. This had to be first broken by a workers’ revolution, though Marx never thought revolution by itself would mean the final defeat of the capitalist class. They would continue after the revolution to try to regain power. To quote him one last time: “Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Clearly, the world’s workers have a long way to go to be in a position to overthrow the rule of capital. They have suffered many defeats, including perhaps the greatest one: being deprived of the ideas needed to make revolutionary change. And today it seems to be a race between the destructive tendencies of the capitalist system in charge of the world economy with no greater motivation than an endless stream of profits for which it must embrace endless war, environmental destruction, and the continued enslavement of labor. If left unchecked the capitalist mode of production will go on to the detriment and perhaps even the extinction of the human race. Alternatively, their remains the possibility of a successful worldwide organization of the working classes to establish a new communal mode of production, if they can gain access to the ideas needed for such a transformation. Presently this is an uphill battle; but in the immediate future: Look out for Karl Marx!

 

The post Lookout for Karl Marx! appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Dumb All Over, Again

Counterpunch Articles -

Oil leak, Netul Landing, Lewis & Clark National Park, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ “Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical.” So writes the sanctimonious Neil Gorsuch in his concurring opinion striking down New York state’s temporary limitations on in person religious gatherings during a pandemic.

+ Gorsuch goes on to deprecate the “implied right to ‘bodily integrity,’ … that some [judges] have found hiding in the Constitution’s penumbras.” This is an explicit right that has been repeatedly recognized by the Supreme Court itself in Roe, Griswold and Casey. Though with this court, those cases and that right seem destined to be overturned.

+ So we have the same “originalists” who used to argue that the “Constitution isn’t a suicide pact” to justify torture, rendition and extrajudicial killings have now ruled that the Constitution is a murder-suicide pact when it comes to religious services during a killer pandemic.

+ This week’s Supreme Court ruling will come as welcome news to the AUM Shinrikyo (Aleph) religious movement, whose adherents released Sarin gas in Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, killing 13 people and poisoning 5000 others.

+ This is a Supreme Court which is eager to sanction a right to life, but not a right to a healthy life and perhaps not even a right to live.

+ From Sotomayor’s acidic dissent: “Justices of this Court play a deadly game in second-guessing the expert judgment of health officials about the environments in which a contagious virus, now infecting a million Americans each week, spreads most easily.”

+ John Paul Stevens really came into his own as a writer with his dissents. Let’s hope Sotomayor follows in his footsteps and over the next decades vividly records the gutting of the living constitution by those who claim to revere it most the fervently…

+ Stanley Cohen: “I cannot recall a single decision in the last several decades, including in Citizens United, where the SCOTUS made such an incredible sweeping rewrite of settled substantive and procedural law as in its COVID/faith nonsense. Roe is toast. As is same sex marriage and adoption.”

+ A new report by PBS portrays Mitch McConnell as the driving force behind the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court:

“McConnell told [Trump] two things. McConnell said, first, I’m going to put out a statement that says we’re going to fill the vacancy. Second, he said, you’ve gotta nominate Amy Coney Barrett.”

+ Tolstoy: “With law comes injustice.”

+The rate of COVID acceleration in the US, by million cases.

Newest 1 million took only 5 days, 11 days for 10th mil, and 7 days for 11th million…

+ Trump should be eager to dump his entire mess onto Biden’s lap. Bush was so anxious to unload the cratering economy on the next administration that he sent Hank Paulson out to start transitioning even before 2008 elections. McCain fudged but Obama swallowed the whole TARP deal.

+ Is there the slightest evidence that Kamala Harris is having any influence in these cabinet and WH staff positions? They all seem like recycled Biden or Biden/Obama veterans to me. Not that Harris’s people would be any better and some might even be worse. They’d at least be different.

+ “Engagement in the world,” which Tony Blinken has promised, is the latest euphemism for the blood-stained term humanitarian interventionism.

+ Blinken is speed racer in the revolving doors of Washington. After leaving the Obama administration, where he rose to the level of number two at the State Department, he co-founded WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm that guided Big Tech companies through corridors of the Pentagon in search of lucrative defense contracts.

+ Among other nefarious line items on his CV, Tony Blinken, Biden’s presumptive choice for Sec. of State, went to the Dalton School, which was run by Bill Barr’s father and employed Jeffrey Epstein…

+ I’m not surprised by anything Bill McKibben has to say these days, but I did a momentary double-take when I saw that he had given his seal of approval to John Kerry being name Biden’s climate czar. It must’ve taken a profound  act of psychological contortion for McKibben to suppress the memory of Kerry’s infamous role in fast-tracking the Enbridge pipeline and its toxic cargo of tar-sands mined oil.

+ John Kerry’s climate priorities were 20 years out of date, 10 years ago…

+  A Capitol Hill aide “on the left” excitedly proclaimed to the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein: “We’ve won in a very historic way on [Janet] Yellen … This is the first time that you have a professional academic economist appointed for Treasury. Under Bush, Obama, Trump, Treasury was always the domain of Wall Street.”

+ Hell, Milton Friedman’s a “professional academic” and his economic policies have killed, immiserated and starved hundreds of millions, even without him becoming Secretary of the Treasury.

+ Biden economic advisor Larry Summers expressed his “skepticism” this week about student loan debt forgiveness.

+ Summers, Rubin, Geithner, Yellen…you know eaxactly what you’re going to get from the Democratic economic brain trust, which is managed austerity. By managed, I mean that it will be austerity for working class people and the poor and massive bailouts for banks and transnationals.

+ Rahm Emmanuel, the man who covered up the police murder of Laquan McDonald, is without question a more odious figure than almost anyone in Trump’s first cabinet. Will the Left march on the White House, if this political brute ends up running a federal agency in the Biden government? Dream on…

+ Before joining the Trump administration, Gen. James Mattis was an adviser to the UAE, a fact he conspicuously failed to note on his disclosure forms.

+ The Secretary of Defense should more properly be called the Secretary of Defense Contracts…

+ The apocrypha and Gnostic texts of the Trump Reformation are going to make for wild reading when the scrolls are unearthed 1000 years from now in the desertified marshlands of south Florida….

+ As Bill Barr rushes to execute as many federal prisoners as possible before time runs out on the Trump administration, the attorney general, a devout Catholic we are led to believe, instructed his Justice Department to craft new regulations allowing for the use of more extreme methods for federal executions, including firing squads and electric chairs.

+ Five people awaiting execution in federal death houses and Trump pardons another turkey (Michael Flynn).

+ While Trump has bragged about how much he likes the pardon power of the presidency, he has used the power of clemency fewer than any president in modern history. Obama commuted 1,715 sentences. Trump commuted 16, and, according to an analysis by Pew Research, has granted fewer than 0.5% of all clemency requests.

+ If Clinton and Gore hadn’t hated each other so intensely by the end of Bill’s presidency, he could have used the power of the executive to secure the 2000 election for Gore much more swiftly than bungling has-beens in the Trump squad. Then Gore would have nuked Baghdad after 9/11

+ The richest 0.10 percent own 17 percent of all of the stocks on the major markets. The bottom 50% of earners in the US own 2.2 percent of all the stocks on the major markets. (Source: Public Citizen)

+ Some lessons still haven’t been learned: During the third wave of COVID-19 in the US, deaths in long-term care facilities continues, as cases increased at twice the rate of the nation’s total cases.

+ NBC News is reporting that Trump is worried that his campaign’s legal team, which is being led by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is comprised of “fools that are making him look bad.” I don’t believe this for a second. Trump has lost enough lawsuits to know that if you have a really bad case hire lawyers who are even weaker than the case, then blame the loss on their incompetence.

+ “Law & Order voters” in Florida are people who would have shot Trayvon Martin themselves in their fantasy lives…

+ How Joe Biden helped bring gender equality to the US prison population…According to a new study by the Sentencing Project, The number of incarcerated women was over 7 times higher in 2019 than in 1980.

+ According to her lawyer, Ghislaine Maxwell is being awakened every 15 minutes by jailhouse guards on “wellness” checks. Whatever you think of Maxwell, this is torture straight out of an operating manual from a CIA black site…

+ It’s going to be a torrent of insipid nostrums like this for the next four years, isn’t it? Kamala Harris: “I have always believed in the nobility of public service.”

+ “Nobility” is a word we should have chopped out of the lexicon a couple hundred years ago, especially in the language of politics.

+ En garde, it’s the return of Versailles on the Potomac…

+ You really know you’re the “president elect” when the bank trade groups come calling and the rest of us know we’re screwed again…

+ What do you have to say about how they’re arming your favorite fighter plane, Bernie? This week the US Air Force working with the doomsday technicians at Sandia National Laboratories completed a round of flight tests integrating the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb on F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.

+ According to the UN, the Israeli blockade of Gaza, imposed in 2007, has cost the Palestinian territory more than $16.7 billion, causing Gaza’s share of the overall Palestinian economy to decline from 33% to a mere 18%.

+ Both Axios and Haaretz are reporting that the likelihood of a US strike on Iran before Trump leaves office is so high that Israel is already preparing for retaliatory strikes.

+ It’s one of Trump’s inescapable charms that he was never taught manners. But after all these years, I still find it mildly unsettling that he never learned how to sit on a chair…

"'You're just a lightweight,' Mr. Trump snapped, raising his voice and pointing a finger in anger. 'Don't talk to me that—don't talk—I'm the president of the United States. Don't ever talk to the president that way.'" https://t.co/sIN6HYxkEQ

— Jesse Walker (@notjessewalker) November 27, 2020

+ After Ilan Omar came to the defense of Rev. Raphael Warnock, who had be smeared by Sen. Kelly Loeffler for supposedly “celebrating” (as well he might) Fidel Castro, Loeffler bleated that Omar should be “expelled from Congress.” Kelly Loeffler probably spends more on her hair each week than the average Somali makes in a year ($230), assuming they haven’t been killed in a US drone strike…

+ Though it hardly seems possible, Obama has become even more self-righteous since leaving office. Witness the grotesque spectacle of the Deporter-in-Chief chastising those Hispanics who didn’t vote for Biden…

+ In his memoir, A Promised Land, Obama writes of having read Fanon, Foucault and Marcuse in college mainly in order to entice coeds to sleep with him. Of course, Marcuse’s prose didn’t act as much of an aphrodisiac for Frau Marcuse, who famously quipped of her husband, “Oh, Herbert, a bit too much civilization and not enough eros, if you ask me.”

+ After Iowa defunded Planned Parenthood, the number of abortions in the state rose by 25 percent in a single year.

+ RIP David Dinkins, whose term as Mayor of New York was sabotaged from within by the elites in his own party and the NYT (assuming there’s much of a difference)…

+ It’s really hard to say Rush Limbaugh degraded the value of that medal…

+ The median home price in the Anarchist Jurisdiction of Portland is now almost $500,000, proving that despite its reputation as a bastion of progressivism black lives don’t matter to the real estate market.

+ In the grip of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the wealth of America’s billionaire class increased by more than a third.

+ Nationally, enrollment by first-year community-college students fell by 18.9%, a far steeper decline than what has been reported by four-year colleges. Here in Oregon, community college enrollment plummeted by 23 percent.

+ In yet another sordid legacy of FDR’s presidency, nearly 2300 Japanese living in Latin America were abducted and renditioned to the US during WWII and placed in concentration camps in New Mexico and Texas…

+ 1,367: the number of days the NFL has gone without Colin Kaepernick on the roster of a professional football team.

+ 800 pages of things to attack, mock and ridicule in Obama’s book and Dinesh D’Souza, typically, seizes on the one thing he probably had no control over…

Back cover photo of Obama’s book. This man takes egomania to new heights! pic.twitter.com/FOoNmtaSlm

— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) November 23, 2020

+ The Carbon Capture Con: Most of the 21 large-scale Carbon Capture Storage plants in the world are located in the US and Canada, and all but five of them sell or send the CO2 to power more oil production.

+ An audit by the state Department of Finance found that California oil regulators ignored their own regulations and issued hundreds improper permits for new oil wells last year.

+ An EPA report found that more than 500,000 owners of diesel pickup trucks have been using commercially-available “tuners” to circumvent their trucks’ emission control systems and boost air pollution.

+ Give Trump another four years and he may unintentionally succeed in ending coal mining in America….Employment in the coal industry has hit a new low of 40,450 jobs, a 24 percent decline since Trump took office. Meanwhile, coal production in the US has dropped by 31.5 percent since the first quarter of 2017. Top that, Biden!

+ Global renewable energy capacity will increase by 4 percent in 2020. Of course, we don’t havre a figure yet for how much fossil fuel was burned to manufacture the renewable energy capacity…

+ Tropical Cyclone Gati made landfall in Somalia this week, where it dropped two years’ worth of rain in a mere 48 hours. It’s the first recorded instance of a hurricane-strength storm hitting the country.

+ The social and economic impacts of climate change are going to hit the Global South harder than the richer Global North. Mimi Sheller makes a compelling case for climate reparations.

+ According to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanlayzer, last weekend the Arctic Circle (all 7.7 million square miles of it) was an average 12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

+ Do we have Don Jr to thank for the Trump administration killing the Pebble Mine? If so, I’ll be among the first kiss his Covid-contaminated ass…

+ In case you thought the commendable decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit to the salmon-killing Pebble Mine in Alaska heralded the debut of a new more environmentally-enlightened Trump consider that his administration almost immediately followed that ruling by clearing the way for a titanium strip mine adjacent to the Okefenokee Swamp in Alabama, despite the protestations of his own EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service.

+ Philip Verleger, an energy economist involved in creating the oil futures market, told Alaska Public Radio this week that despite the Trump administration’s accelerated plan to offer oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he doesn’t believe the oil industry will take the bait: “I do not think ANWR is ever going to be produced. The cost of going there and developing and putting the resources in is too high.”

+ The question isn’t why the Monolith is there, but what the hell are “public safety officers” doing in a remote Utah canyon. Nothing good we can presume. (Just wait until the chimps emerge with javelina bones and the Stargate opens…)

A team of public safety officers discovered a mysterious monolith in a remote part of Utah – and said they have no idea who put it there https://t.co/zJ959qzpSW pic.twitter.com/5ubrSvcoLy

— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 24, 2020

+ Don Cherry was to the pocket trumpet what Jimi Hendrix was to the Stratocaster…

RT @RandallPMcMurp4: Don Cherry… pic.twitter.com/FZQIDHaU7C

— Tony McGee (@mctony) November 25, 2020

+ Guitarist Nile Rodgers recalls the first time he heard John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme: “I almost want to start crying now just remembering what it made me feel like.”

+ “I’m So Bored With the USA“…behind the wheel of my El Camino on Nebraska Avenue, speeding to make an evening seminar at AU on Samuel Beckett’s tedious, almost unreadable novel, Malone Dies, and deciding drive right on past campus to the nearest record shop.

+ Documentarian Alex Winter on the subject of his new film, Frank Zappa: “He wasn’t afraid of success, and he wasn’t afraid of commercial success, but something in him, I think, was inherently suspicious of his own desire to be writing music for commerce as opposed to what he thought was good art, and his own fear of being swayed towards jeopardizing the quality of his work for a different agenda, I don’t think it was so much disdain for the world around him, because he liked doo-wop, he liked a lot of really popular music a lot, but I think he was very hard on himself in terms of wanting to keep himself honest, as it were.”

+ Zappa: “At the time, if you were a good musician, you were a motherfucker. And ‘Mothers’ was short for a collection of motherfuckers.”

We Can’t Really be Dumb, If We’re Just Following God’s Orders

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Last Libertines
Benedette Craveri
Trans. Aaron Kerner
(NYRB)

One Two Three Four: the Beatles in Time
Craig Brown
(Fourth Estate)

The Law of Innocence
Michael Connelly
(Little Brown)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Live in Maui
Jimi Hendrix Experience
(Sony Legacy)

Time Outtakes
Dave Brubeck Quartet
(Brubeck Editions)

Mingus at Bremen: 1964 & 1975
Charles Mingus
(Sunnyside)

The Excess of Reality

“I sat at the foot of a huge tree, a statue of the night, and tried to make an inventory of all I had seen, heard, smelled, and felt: dizziness, horror, stupor, astonishment, joy, enthusiasm, nausea, inescapable attraction. What had attracted me? It was difficult to say: Human kind cannot bear much reality. Yes, the excess of reality had become an unreality, but that unreality had turned suddenly into a balcony from which I peered into—what? Into that which is beyond and still has no name.” (Octavio Paz, In Light of India)

The post Roaming Charges: Dumb All Over, Again appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Why Imperialism is Obsolete in Latin America

Counterpunch Articles -

An interview with Jorge Arreaza, foreign minister of Venezuela.

In September 2018, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro visited China, where he met with China’s President Xi Jinping and signed a series of important agreements on trade and culture. Toward the end of his stay, Maduro said that the two countries had built “a relationship of mutual benefit, of shared gain.”

Among these agreements was one that highlights the depth of the collaboration: this was for China to participate with the Great Venezuela Housing Mission (GMVV) to build more than 13,000 homes in the El Valle parish in Caracas. The focus of the international media has been on the oil trade between China and Venezuela, and in the aid from China to Venezuela; but the connections go deeper, into the social life of the people who are struggling to emerge from deprivation.

When I recently asked Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister, about the relationship between his country and China, he mentioned these thousands of homes. It was the well-being of the Venezuelan people that held his interest, not merely the grand themes of oil and industry. China has invested and lent billions of dollars to Venezuela, which has been a necessary infusion of capital for a range of developments. China, Arreaza told me, “has been important in guaranteeing Venezuela’s sovereignty as United States aggressions have increased over the years.”

Pandemic Solidarity

In March, the Chinese government sent two shipments of essential equipment to assist the Venezuelan authorities in tackling the pandemic. These were followed by subsequent shipments of test kits and ventilators, medicines and protective equipment.

When 55 tons of goods were being unloaded in late March, China’s ambassador to Venezuela, Li Baorong, said, “In difficult times, the Chinese and Venezuelan people are together.” The arrival of this aid was along the grain of the strategic association between China and Venezuela. A month later, Li told El Universal that “China strongly supports the efforts made by the Venezuelan government to guarantee health and save lives despite the most severe and criminal unilateral sanctions.”

That last phrase is key—“severe and criminal unilateral sanctions.” It refers to the harsh policy prosecuted by the United States government against Venezuela; this is a policy that began under George W. Bush, was deepened by Barack Obama, and then was further tightened by Donald Trump, with no indication of loosening by Joe Biden. During the pandemic, in fact, the United States has increased its pressure on Venezuela, including preventing the government from accessing financial assistance and conducting its normal trade, not to speak of using military threats to overthrow the government.

China Continues to Trade

The United States, Arreaza told me, “has gone to the extent of carrying out modern acts of piracy, stopping ships in the middle of the ocean and stealing cargo that was paid for by the Venezuelan people.” Not only has the United States tried to blockade Venezuela, but it continues to interfere in Venezuela’s political affairs; this includes trying to undermine the legislative elections that will be held on December 6.

China has largely disregarded the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, which is the largest recipient of Chinese loans. “When China states that it will continue to trade with Venezuela,” Arreaza told me, “it is standing against the illegality of the U.S. coercive measures that are placed on Venezuela.” Venezuela’s difficulty in servicing the debt to China is seen in Beijing as the fault of the illegal sanctions regime, which has made normal economic activity impossible; China’s “patient capital” strategy and its understanding of the geopolitical pressure on Venezuela are key to understanding its relationship.

U.S. Welcome to Trade

Last year, the United States developed a new program called América Crece, which is a government initiative to assist U.S. private corporations from investing in the Caribbean and Latin America; the express purpose of the program is to prevent Chinese investment in the region.

“The United States is welcome to offer a program to increase the presence of its companies in our country,” Arreaza told me, “but it does not have the right to prevent us from trading and partnering with whoever we see as most beneficial for our own interests.” It is not China or Venezuela who is using political pressure to block U.S. private sector investment—if the investment is beneficial to the country—but it is the U.S. government that has explicitly said that it would like to prevent Chinese investment in the hemisphere.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Guyana to push for ExxonMobil’s investment in the country; during his brief visit there, Pompeo asked the Guyanese government of Irfaan Ali to shun China. “Guyana, like Venezuela, and any other country in the world, for that matter, has a right to choose whom to partner with,” Arreaza told me. “But what is clear is that the United States cannot impose its programs on our continent or pretend that it has any exclusive rights as a commercial partner.”

The development of América Crece by the U.S. government, Arreaza suggested, is a “Monroe Doctrine 2.0,” referring to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine that the United States used to claim territorial influence along the length of the American hemisphere. “Colonialism is out of date in this region,” Arreaza said. “We cannot allow for a new Cold War scenario to be imposed on our region.”

Non-Interference From China

Governments in Latin America and the Caribbean with close ties to the United States have struggled during this pandemic to manage their ties with China. Brazil’s health minister announced in October that the country would buy COVID-19 vaccines from China; President Jair Bolsonaro, a staunch ally of Trump and Pompeo, wrote aggressively on Twitter, “The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” as he rejected the purchase of these vaccines merely on geopolitical grounds.

Nonetheless, many of these governments have had to continue to trade with China, the only major economy in the world that has been able to emerge out of the coronavirus recession. China, Arreaza says, trades with countries without interference in their internal affairs. This is quite different from the Western model, notably that overseen by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which pushes for structural adjustment alongside loans. Because China respects the sovereign choices of a country, Arreaza told me, “China has proven to be a reliable partner for the region and it can continue to play a key role in our development for many years to come.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

The post Why Imperialism is Obsolete in Latin America appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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