Counterpunch Articles

Notes on Inauthenticity in a Creeping Fascist Nuthouse

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Among the suggestions I would have made to the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley had I been an editor of his important book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (Random House, 2018), two seem particularly relevant in the present political juncture.

Inauthentic Democracy

The first suggestion would have been for Stanley to explicitly call out the state-capitalist and corporate-captive Democratic Party in his perceptive discussion of how the fascist-style 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump got to come off as more “authentic” than his major party opponent while habitually telling untruths and “giving voice to shocking sentiments that were presumed to be unsuitable for public discourse.”

As Stanley rightly pointed out, Democratic candidates “must raise huge sums to run for office…As a result, they represent the interests of their large donors. However, because it is a democracy, they must also try to make the case that they represent the common interest. They must pretend that the best interests of the multinational corporations that fund their campaigns are also the common interest.”

I’m not sure why Stanley thought the United States is “a democracy” (it is no such thing), but he put his thumb on a basic and longstanding conundrum in bourgeois politics. Compared with the fake-progressivism and pretend populism that results from the plutocratic contradictions (hardly restricted just to campaign finance matters) that plague liberal and social-democratic politicos under capitalism within and beyond the U.S., the openly racist and sexist ruling-class thug from Queens Donald Trump “was taken for speaking his mind,” exhibiting “classic demagogic behavior” that “came to be seen as the more authentic candidate, even when he is manifestly dishonest” (Stanley, p. 72). That’s a good and important point, relevant to our understanding neofascist political success beyond as well as within the U.S.

I thought back to Stanley’s book when I read this in a recent Salon interview with the legendary liberal investigative journalist Seymour Hersh:

Chauncey DeVega (Salon): “You have studied and written about some of the most powerful people in America and the world. What do you want the American people to know about their behavior and character as a group?”

Seymour Hersh: “I think it’s inevitable that you don’t get truth-tellers. I want the American people to stop believing everything they hear and to ask more questions, to become more skeptical. I think it’s the one reason a guy like Donald Trump won. They understood where he was coming from. That Trump is just a blowhard. They laughed at him. They knew Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Trump wasn’t the same old big smile and a lot of good words. The Democrats have been going around saying, ‘We’re for the people, we’re for the little guy.’ And all they do is run to Wall Street for money. And the one guy that didn’t, Sanders, was sabotaged by the Democratic National Committee.”

But this is nothing remotely new. Yes, Virginia, the Democrats have an authenticity problem, you betchya. The late left Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin memorably labeled the Democrats as, get this, “the Inauthentic Opposition” twelve years ago. “Should Democrats somehow be elected,” Wolin prophesied in his book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton, 2007), they would do nothing to “alter significantly the direction of society” or “substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts,” Wolin wrote, “points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf.” The corporatist Democrats would work to “marginalize any possible threat to the corporate allies of the Republicans.”

Wolin called it. A nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Barack Obama (as under his Democratic presidential predecessor Bill Clinton) was the standard “elite” neoliberal manipulation of campaign populism and identity politics in service to the reigning big-money bankrollers and their global empire. Wall Street’s control of Washington and the related imperial agenda of the Pentagon System were advanced more effectively by the nation’s first Black president than they could have been by stiff and wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney. The reigning U.S. system of corporate and imperial “inverted totalitarianism” (Wolin) was given a deadly, fake-democratic re-branding.  The underlying “drift rightwards” sharpened, fed by a widespread and easily Republican-exploited sense of popular abandonment and betrayal, as the hypocritical and inauthentic dollar Democrats depressed and demobilized their own purported popular base.

Hillary Clinton did nothing to correct that problem in 2016.  Quite the opposite. With a colossal campaign finance war-chest fed not just by the usual Wall Street and Silicon Valley suspects but also by many traditionally Republican big money donors who were repelled by Trump’s faux “populism,” the transparently corporate establishmentarian candidate Clinton could barely deign to pretend to be a progressive.  She ran almost completely on the argument that Trump was too terrible and unqualified to be president. Making candidate character and qualities her sole selling point was a critical and historic mistake given the angry and anti-establishment mood of the electorate and her own epic unpopularity. So was calling Trump’s flyover county supporters a “basket of” racist and sexist “deplorables” in a sneering comment (one that accurately reflected her aristocratic “progressive”-neoliberal world view) to rich Manhattan campaign donors.

The Democrats would have won the 2016 election and overcome some of their authenticity problem by running Bernie Sanders, “the one guy that didn’t run to Wall Street for money” (Hersh). In something of a tantalizing anomaly for professor Stanley’s rule, Sanders “raise[d] huge sums” but did so from working- and middle-class small-donors (see the remarkable work of Thomas Ferguson and his colleagues on this) and didn’t “represent the interests of…large donors” or “pretend that the bests interests of the multinational corporations” were “also the common interest.” Quite the opposite.

Sanders would have authentically tapped authentic popular anger from the center-left, advancing a policy agenda and anti-plutocratic sentiments consistent with longstanding majority-progressive public opinion in the U.S.

It would have been a winning formula in an anti-establishment election. But so what? The Democratic nomination process was rigged against Sanders for some very good ruling-class reasons. As William Kaufman told Barbara Ehrenreich on Facebook two years ago, “The Democrats aren’t feckless, inept, or stupid, unable to ‘learn’ what it takes to win. They are corrupt. They do not want to win with an authentically progressive program because it would threaten the economic interests of their main corporate donor base… The Democrats know exactly what they’re doing.  They have a business model: sub-serving the interests of the corporate elite.”

The reigning corporate Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white nationalist and eco-exterminist right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic and environmentalist left within their own party.

How else explain their insistence on promoting the ridiculous, right-wing arch-corporatist, imperialist, and dementia-plagued right-wing gaffe machine Joke Biden in the long march to the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries? Again and again, the Democrats’ main cable news networks CNN and MSDNC falsely and insidiously describe Sanders’ highly popular, majority-backed Single Payer health insurance policy plank as an authoritarian big government assault on people’s existing coverage instead of a great democratic human rights demand. The “liberal” media perversely portrays the fiscally viable and existentially necessary Green New Deal as a far-out and dreamy radical scheme from another galaxy. When they’re not just completely ignoring him and his large rallies (probably the main way they undermine Sanders), the corporate media even stoops to painting out Sanders as another version of Trump: old, authoritarian, stubborn, male, and boorish.

But this is timeworn standard operating procedure in the Democratic Party and its allied media, leading agents in what the prolific leading left scholar Henry Giroux calls “neoliberal fascism.” It’s a richly bipartisan disease. In Giroux’s book American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018), one sees none of Stanley’s hesitation or reluctance when it comes to forthrightly acknowledging and exposing the central roles of the Democrats and the capitalist order in the creation of the neofascist menace that haunts the United States today.

Fascism Needs a Socialist Menace

My second suggestion to Stanley would have been to include anti-socialism as one of his top, chapter-worthy lynchpins of fascist ideology [1]. Historical fascism was first and above all an organized assault on working class resistance and the socialist Left – an assault that was embraced by the reigning Italian and German capitalist classes in the name of stopping Marxism, socialism, Bolshevism, and communism. Anti-socialism remains so fundamental to fascist politics and ideology that contemporary neofascist politicos like Trump, Mitch McConnell, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Wayne LaPierre, and Sean Hannity feel the need to concoct a socialist menace where very little if any real radical Left exists. In the United States, we have a grand total of three politicians in elected federal office – Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib – who identify as “democratic socialists.” People who call themselves socialists make up less than one percent of the total Congressional delegation of a (not-so) Democratic Party that is deeply beholden to Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley Chase, Lockheed Martin and the broad “billionaire class” that Sanders regularly denounces and refuses to take money from. The party’s leaders proudly embrace capitalism and, including Warren, applauded when the Neofascist-in-Chief made his neo-McCarthyite call for Congress to pledge that the United States would “never be a socialist country” during his State of the Union Address last winter. And the three self-declared Congressional “socialists” aren’t even real socialists. They are progressive Democrats: social-democratish progressive neo-New Dealers trying to add some modest measure of social and environmental decency to late capitalism.

But, well, so what? Orange Skull, “Moscow Mitch,” Field Marshal Miller, Princess Kellyanne, the National fascist Rifle Association, Herr Hannity, Lieutenant Limbaugh, and the rest of the white nationalist noise machine rail and warn constantly against the “radical Left” and “socialist” Democrats. Neofascists need a big socialist Left specter to justify their sickening existence. They need the socialist foil so badly that they’ll invent it even where it barely exists.

Dollar Dem Donny Deutsch(land): “This Company is Not Denmark”

There’s a nauseating irony here. The neofascist project of Donito Assolini and his allies is curiously aided and abetted by a “liberal” media can’t seem to use to the F-word – fascism (or at least “neo-fascism” or “fascist-style”) – when describing the actually fascistic politics of Trump, his party, and his base. But that same media can’t stop using the S-word, socialism, in complaining and warning about the supposed “far left” menace in its own party. Listen to the ridiculous retired multi-millionaire advertising executive and current MSDNC Saturday night show-host Donny Deutsch on “Morning Joe” last March :

I find Donald Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate [Bernie Sanders] is more dangerous to this company, country, as far as the strength and well-being of the country, than Donald Trump.  I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being…I will be so distraught to the point that that could even come out of my mouth, if we have a socialist [Democratic presidential candidate in 2020] because that will take our country so down, and we are not Denmark.  I love Denmark, but that’s not who we are. And if you love who we are and all the great things that still have to have binders put on the side. Please step away from the socialism.

That, to quote paraphrase Happy Gilmore’s one-armed golf instructor, was spoken like a true asshole. Oh yes, Donny Deutsch, what a ruinous nightmare it would be if the world’s richest nation granted all its people quality health care as a human right like they do in Trotskyist Denmark – and if we started trying to save the human race from extinction by introducing large-scale green jobs programs. Bernie Sanders, he of the essential Green New Deal and Stalinist-Canadian Single Payer, is “more dangerous to this company, country” than the fascist Donald Trump. That’s telling some harsh truths, Donny boy: standing up for your company, country!

Never mind that 57% of U.S. Democrats now prefer “socialism” to “capitalism” – this for some very good reasons.

To repeat: the establishment Democrats would rather lose to the right, even to a proto-fascistic white-nationalist and eco-exterminist right, than lose to the left, even to a mildly progressive social democratic and environmentalist left within their own party?

Postscript: Some Further Weak-End Reflections

In the meantime, here are twelve further and related political reflections for Counterpunchers to consider this weekend:

#1. How many times have we said, “oh boy this time it has really become unhinged, it has really lost it now” and then the Trumpenstein doubles down and creates new “norm-busting” moments of mind-boggling madness. Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows. I got tripped-up this week up by its “I am the Chosen One” comment, its “King of Israel” tweet, its stated interested in “buying Greenland,” and its claim to want to “release ISIS fighters back into Europe”. I was like, “okay that’s all just too far, it can’t survive saying and tweeting things that insane.” Who was I kidding? There is no line in the sand. I woke up Thursday and realized that it’s just another tricky day in the Scary Clown drain-circling circus of America’s long farewell tour. The “Chosen One” line, Anthony DiMaggio writes, “is Christian neofascism at its finest.”

#2. Las Vegas should start a betting line on whether Trump will leave peacefully if 2020 doesn’t go his way. Unless it’s a total epic anti-Dump landslide, I frankly don’t see Tangerine Jackass leaving peacefully. Anything remotely close and he will contest the count. I expect post-election violence from Trump’s “tough guys” – many of them heavily armed – on a perhaps shocking scale unless the count goes his way. He’s been setting people up for a refusal to leave from day one, with his opening claims to have been denied a popular vote victory. He has been triggering and cultivating the violence-prone racist and sexist white far-right from day one. Has said and tweeted much that fits my bet from day one. Throw his recent absurd claim that Google stole 2. 6 million votes from him in 2016 into the mix. No doubt many will denounce this is a kooky left conspiracy theory. It is no such thing. Ask his longtime personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who warned Congress that Trump will not exit the White House peacefully earlier this year.

#3. Mass shooting deja vu: Fascist Wayne Lapierre, head of the fascist and terrorist NRA, called the “Midtown Mussolini” (Eric Draitster’s excellent phrase for Trump) and so now (as widely predicted) even tepid background checks — irrelevantly supported by more than 8 in U.S.-Americans (a significant majority of whom also irrelevantly support an assault weapons ban) – are off the table. Sound familiar? It’s just like after Parkland. The Washington Post reports that the lifespan of popular outrage over grisly mass shootings like Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland, and El Paso (and so many more) is about three weeks. The NRA and the GOP just have to wait the outrage out for 21 days. Talk about mental health and say that even background checks are a “slippery slope” (Trump used that term last Wednesday) leading to the complete abrogation of “Second Amendment rights.” Meanwhile, white-nationalist psychos and other freaks are cleaning and oiling their assault weapons in the race to the next big kill. Spin the Wheel of Death on when and where the next major bloodbath occurs. Speaking of Vegas (home to the record-setting mass shooting death total), what’s the over-under on how many days? It’s not about if; it’s just about when and where. This is the carnage and barbarism that white-nationalist gun-mad Amerikaners have made in idiotic Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s “beacon to the world of the way life should be.”

#4. The Evil Pile of Fascist Crap wants Internment Camps. Evil Pile’s new rule, issued on Wednesday, unilaterally abrogating the Flores settlement agreement points in precisely that direction. The rule may well be shot down in court, but everyone needs to understand that Evil Pile and his enablers want to construct a network of for-profit internment camps that will detain migrant families for an indefinite period.

#5. Not being Jewish religiously or ethnoculturally, I can only imagine how Jewish people (who have tended toward the liberal and left side of the American spectrum on the whole), must have felt when they heard the big goyish dumpster-fire from Queens telling them they are traitors to their own ethno-cultural and religious group/identity unless they vote Republican. How insanely surreal. The lecture comes from a POTUS who has clearly cultivated support from neo-Nazis and other anti-Semites.

#6. I need politicos and talking heads to stop calling the President of the United States “our commander-in-chief.” While rightly denouncing the Scary fascist Clown’s Trump’s insane comments on American Jews’ voting behavior on CNN last Wednesday, the head of the Anti-Defamation League referred to Trump as “our commander-in-chie.” (CIC). No, please stand down. Are U.S. citizens all enlisted in the U.S. military? No, they are not. The POTUS is the CIC of the military, not the whole population. Read the Constitution. This is so basic, Civics 101.

#7. Beyond insanity and narcissism, the thread connecting all Scary Clown’s shit together is white-lash neofascism. I am intrigued that they just can’t seem to say this on MSDNC. The reflexive kowtowing to the fascist NRA no matter how many disproportionately black and brown bodies fall to bullets shot from military-style weapons in post-“civil society.” The racist internment camps. The “shit-hole nation” comments. The refusal to respond properly to Puerto Rico’s hurricane disaster. The assault on the “Squad,” telling four progressive congresswomen of color to “go back to the crime-ridden countries you came from. The sadistic torture of migrant children. The obsession with winning and looking strong. The shaming of strong women. The promotion of a cult of personality around himself. The constant assault on the media as “enemies of the people.” The violence-promoting and hate-filled rallies. The threat of violence if he is removed from office. The mocking of Asians. The mocking of disabled people. Saying “the Blacks love me.” The attacks on Cummings and Baltimore and Chicago. The constant slandering of Latinx immigrants and asylum-seekers as an “invasion” and “infestation.” The pig Slovenian wife with the fascist “I Don’t Care Do U?” jacket. The national emergency end-run around Congressional Wall funding. The insane Wall. The threats to unleash thermonuclear “fire and fury.” The continuing absurd claim to have won the 2016 popular vote and been cheated out of it by illegal immigrants and minority vote fraud. The threat of violence from “tough people” – bikers, soldiers, cops, and (though not explicitly mentioned) white-supremacist militias – if he is removed from office. The triggering and defense of violent white-nationalist psycho-killers. The absurd threat to call Antifa a “terrorist organization” while staying silent on openly fascist white-supremacists and even suggesting Nazis and KKKers include “some very fine people.” The advance pardon of fascist Sheriff Arpaio. The constant references to the center-right corporate-neoliberal Democratic Party as “radical Left” and “socialist.” Even the recent Greenland-Denmark madness (fascists love to acquire territory). I could go on. It may be a malignantly narcissist lunatic and idiot, but it is also a white-nationalist neofascist.

#8. Evil Pile’s special word for women who reject Evil Pile’s noxious idiocy: “NASTY.” Evil Pile’s special word for men who reject his noxious idiocy: WEAK.

#9. Jill Biden should be ashamed of herself. “Your candidate might be better,” Dr. Jill recently lectured voters, “on, I don’t know, healthcare than Joe is but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election, and maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘Okay, I personally like so and so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.” There are three problems here: (a) Dr. Jill’s dementia-addled jackass of a right-wing husband is an un-electable buffoon; (b) centrist corporate and professional-class scolds like Dr. Jill have been saying this nauseating “Lesser Evilist” crap to forever and it is no small part of what has brought us to the brink of fascism. (c) Wanting Single Payer and a Green New Deal is about sentiments that go a lot deeper and wider than “personal like[s].” It’s about basic human decency and averting true environmental catastrophe.

#10. The Obamas made a movie about a Chinese billionaire building a glass factory through their new film company “Higher Ground.” I’m not kidding. I’m guessing that the documentary, titled “American Factory,” is meant to be a trumpeting of neoliberal globalism: a Chinese billionaire came in and built an American factory In a “Today Show” interview promoting the film, a remarkably unattractive Barack Obama looked less-than-enthused as he proclaimed that “a good story is a good story.” “Higher Ground,” intoned Michelle Obama, “is a reflection of both of us, so that means that, you know, our platform is going to look a little bit like everything, just like the world is a little bit of everything.” Is it possible to say anything more vapidly meaningless than that? In the Today interview, you could tell by the look on Barack Obama’s face that he really couldn’t give a flying f#*k about this flick and that the whole new film venture is probably just something to appease Michelle. They look deeply disenchanted with (a) their movie; (b) each other; and (c) their vapid neoliberal lives. To paraphrase Herr Donald, it’s all very “weak.” (On the bright side, perhaps the Obamas’ movie will cause mass civil unrest, as millions pour into the streets to demand that Chinese billionaires build glass and other kinds of factories in their cities and towns too. The red flag of revolution could be raised as the American working-class demands the investment of surplus Chinese capital in the U.S. heartland.)

#11. If you look at the so-called mainstream (corporate-state) media, it’s doctrine that “politics” equals electoral politics centered around the citizenry qua electorate making marks for two minutes once every 2 or 4 years on ballots next to candidate names selected in advance for them by the un-elected dictatorship of money. “That’s politics.” It’s a childish joke, an infantilizing farce. Listen to the great radical historian Howard Zinn in March of 2008, writing as Barack Von Obombdenburg took over the minds of many who should have known better: “We have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students…The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.” “You had your input,” our masters tell all us poor little fools. We got it the last time we had our chance to go into a voting booth for two minutes and choose from a narrow roster of “pre-approved, money-vetted candidates.” Two minutes once every 1,460 or 730 days. If we play along with that insanely narrow, savagely time-staggered definition of popular sovereignty then we deserve everything we get, frankly. Sorry, my fellow “Americans,” but you don’t stop tyranny by restricting your politics to such childish little narrow and time-staggered rituals of ruling class legitimation. That’s, well, weak.

# 12. An interesting question: will MSDNC out-do CNN and FOX in pouring scorn on, or simply ignoring, Bernie Sanders’ big Thursday Green New Deal roll-out?

Endnote

1) Stanley devotes separate chapters to ten different strands of fascist ideology and politics: the mythical national and patriarchal past; propaganda; anti-intellectualism; unreality; hierarchy; victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, fear of cities; embrace of hard work and hatred of laziness and dependency. He does note some aspects of the anti-Marxism that is ubiquitous in fascist thought: see How Fascism Works, pp. 42-45, 55-56, 89, 171-172, 176.

The post Notes on Inauthenticity in a Creeping Fascist Nuthouse appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Mr. Trump Goes to Kensington

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 2.0

The election of Donald Trump should have forced broad reconsideration of the American project. Whatever the factors one chooses to explain his political ascension, he comes from outside the realm or ordinary expectations. However, in Mr. Trump’s case, it is the expectations that are skewed. In a world run by and for the rich, less probable explanations of how wealth and power are achieved predominate.

Regularly repeated phrases like ‘not normal’ and ‘normalization’ are used to draw a distance that doesn’t exist. Mr. Trump is so normal as to be absolutely tedious. He’s half of the asshole bosses many of us have ever had. It is his very normality that so offends bourgeois sensibilities. In a world populated by genetic scientists and derivatives traders, how, precisely, could this tacky loser become boss of it all?

Left unstated is that as inconvenient as it is for all involved, Donald Trump is iconic in the sense of completely and accurately representing his class in this time and place. Ugly— yes; relentlessly self-interested— yes; wholly transactional in his dealings with other human beings— yes; barbaric in exploiting social vulnerabilities for personal gain— YES!

It is this iconic status that Mr. Trump’s liberal critics either don’t understand or find it convenient to forget. Through inheritance, making ill-informed decisions is his birthright. Born into a position where wealth and power are transferred upward, the young Trump long ago positioned himself to represent the virtues of modern American state-corporatism.

Early in his career he used the tools available to him—ascendant finance and state support for private power, to muscle his way past labor unions and recalcitrant zoning boards to build monuments to the worldview from whence he emerged. He embodies the ethos of an era that should have ended around 2009. But it didn’t. It was brought back to life. By a Democrat.

Graph: Mythology has it that a fall in corporate profits motivated the neo-capitalist revolution begun in the 1970s. However, the 1978 tax revolt preceded the election of Ronald Reagan and ‘supply side’ tax cuts defined the early neoliberal era. Additionally, corporations have paid out increasing shares of after-tax income, a/k/a profits, since the 1980s. More to the point, Nixon ended the gold standard in 1971, reducing the need to fund business from profits.

In that era, being dictatorial was evidence of leadership ability. Failing upward was a perquisite of inherited position. Dodging taxes, filing strategic bankruptcies and enriching oneself at the expense of others were standard practice. The charge that Mr. Trump is corrupt represents a change in social etiquette. Phrased differently, he accurately reflects the ethos of his time and place.

The gaudy Trump so offends bourgeois sensibilities that a fantasy of alien provenance was created to prevent cognitive dissonance. An evil emperor from a far way land installed the all-too-American Trump to make people have unpleasant thoughts about others who we Americans have always been kind to. The bourgeois, in particular, only want to bomb little Sancho’s village and overthrow his government to install a narco-state dictatorship when Democrats are in office.

With cognitive dissonance ascendant, what the urban bourgeois apparently don’t remember and / or understand is that Mr. Trump is exactly who and what Barack Obama bailed out in 2009. The value of Mr. Trump’s urban real estate and ‘branding’ have always been determined by how much funny-money Wall Street pumps into ‘the economy.’

Had it not been for Saint Barack, the guardian angel of Wall Street, Donald Trump would today be bossing pigeons around some urban park boring everyone within earshot with tales of how he used to be somebody. Alternatively, make a list of the classy, intelligent, caring and socially aware oligarchs that Mr. Obama saved and share it with the world.

The political problem with launching personal attacks is 1) they are by definition anti-political and 2) they function without context. The New York Times published a lengthy expose of the Trump family’s business dealings and the process by which Mr. Trump inherited his fortune. And it put the findings forward as if they were unique to Mr. Trump.

In fact, none other than the New York Times corporation is a family dynasty run by inheritance wastrels whose fortunes are tied to serving power. Illuminating the mechanisms by which previously-owned wealth is redistributed is a worthy endeavor. However, limiting the critique to personal invective— a battle between competing oligarchs, undermines the systemic critique.

The systemic critique is that American capitalism is a rigged game created by the rich to make themselves richer. They perpetuate this system through the mythology that skill, intelligence and hard work explain their good fortune. In fact, America is a gangster state born of slavery and genocide that rules the world though brutality and plunder. And ‘markets.’

The U.S. is amongst the largest tax havens in the world. Fortune Magazine’s Billionaire List is populated by people who either inherited their wealth or used state-granted monopolies to preclude market competition. Besides wisdom in choosing one’s parents, using state power to give oneself unfair advantage in commerce is something that the rich have outsized power to do.

Again, the political problem is that Democrats either know this, making narrow charges of corruption against Mr. Trump a partisan political ploy, or they don’t, making them ignorant of the base facts about which they claim to speak. Astonishingly, or possibly a testament to their ingenuity, establishment Democrats appear to hold both of these positions simultaneously.

A lot of the people who voted for Mr. Trump no doubt bought his explanation of his personal ‘success’ because it fits what they have been told about how the world works. ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the Chamber of Commerce have been selling this bullshit at the state and local level for five decades or more.

The Democrats’ answer to ‘why Trump?’ was Russiagate, identity politics and a reassertion of American exceptionalism. In other words, their answer to Mr. Trump was to honor him. What could be more Trumpian than fear mongering of carefully chosen others for political gain, targeted social outrage that keeps the existing distribution of power unchanged and intellectual gravitas in the service of The Golden Nugget and the DeVos fortune?

The more relevant question is of neoliberalism: if it worked, then why in the fuck was Goldman Sachs competing with little Stacy Crutchbottom, the winner of the Miss Kidney Bean contest at the Iowa State Fair, for government funding in 2009? As it turned out, Wall Street saw an opportunity— an approximately $19 trillion opportunity, and they took it.

The era that Mr. Obama ushered in was a new grift for Democrats—‘Cracker Joe’ Biden was deemed the face of racial reconciliation. On the rare occasions when Bill Clinton wasn’t raping someone, Democrats proclaimed themselves to be the party of gender equality. Mr. Obama had already proved that Americans would elect a black neoliberal tool— twice.

So why not put ‘super-predators,’ the 1994 Crime Bill, mass incarceration, opposition to racial integration and the Dixiecrats in the past to become the party of tolerance? At a minimum, the move would help rich, white, liberal donors feel better about their business practices. And it could even garner votes from people so traumatized by American racial history that the lesser evil allows them to sleep at night.

What should have followed Mr. Trump’s election was capitulation to certain knowledge that neoliberalism has been a disaster for all but the very rich. Republicans won’t capitulate because their donors have wildly benefited from it. Establishment Democrats won’t capitulate for the same reason, and because Saint Barack dedicated his entire eight years to reviving it. It seems that failure isn’t an orphan after all.

Donald Trump is a mystery only through the extraordinary efforts taken to hide the nature of the world he inhabits. What fantastical mythology could convert an inheritance wastrel who used local, state and Federal government to fail upwards into a self-made entrepreneur whose wisdom and street smarts placed him at the pinnacle of American wealth and power?

With apologies, a paragraph or two of economics is in order to help un-clarify the issues. Capitalist theory can’t explain the existence of the state, so the default position is a sectoral view— public / private and political / economic. Contradicting this theory is the history of capitalist development. Mercantilism, state-capitalism, is posed as an intermediate step in capitalist development. It broadly explains the Chinese model of managed economic development of recent decades.

The capitalist conceit is that at some point the state stops ‘interfering’ in markets to make the private sector the sole engine of economic development. The problem with this explanation is partly theoretical— how do capitalists and capital accumulation drive economic production when the state is at the center of it?

And the problem is partly distributional— why do capitalists get to reap outsized shares of what is produced when the state organizes and funds the productive core? A contemporary example of this is China. The Chinese government has explicitly led and funded— through state and state-related banks, the largest and fastest ‘capitalist’ development effort in human history.

Markets had nothing to do with it. Neither did capitalists. Why does, five decades into the neoliberal revolution, the Pentagon remain a government vehicle for economic development? Who created the internet? Why does the government create technologies and then pass them off to ‘private’ interests to be brought to market?

When Ronald Reagan entered office, he cut taxes while greatly increasing government spending through the military— so-called military Keynesianism, to perpetrate the fraud that his tax cuts— and not government spending, boosted economic output. If he had believed his own bullshit, increasing government spending would have hampered the effect of lowering corporate taxes.

Neither Reagan nor Maggie Thatcher ‘shrank’ government as promised. They just transferred its ownership, scope and purpose to private hands. School privatization didn’t end public funding of schools. It handed it over to connected capitalists to be milked for profits. Privatization of the military didn’t end public funding either. ‘Private’ corporations were given public funding with a guaranteed ‘profit.’

The world in which Donald Trump arose should be coming into focus here. Tax abatements for real estate developers are an accounting gimmick to pose public funding of private interests as taxes not received, rather than as government expenditures. In poor neighborhoods, funding that could help poor people goes instead to corporate and suburban landlords who receive tax breaks that they can use against income received from other sources.

To quote the punk band Crass, it’s a joke, it’s all a fucking joke. Donald Trump is a con man. But the whole system he represents is a con. The problem for Democrats, liberals and the American bourgeois is that Mr. Trump is one of you. Not exactly one of you. He was born a winner and you weren’t. But that’s close enough.

Without addressing the systematic reasons why Donald Trump and his class of dim blowhards rule the world, they will continue to do so. The Democrats’ scam is that they only want to change which dim blowhards are in power, not the system. Look at their votes to give Mr. Trump more power. Look at who they have deciding public policy. Barack Obama’s ‘legacy’ achievement was to be the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), a scam / scheme to give the Donald Trumps of the world— the oligarchs, more power.

On a slightly more positive note, Bernie Sanders represents an opportunity of sorts, one that the powers that be are too ‘preoccupied’ to avail themselves of. Comparisons of Mr. Sanders to Donald Trump illustrate what we are up against. You’d best believe that 90%+ of the bourgeois have no cognizance of what made Mr. Trump. In their view, were Mr. Trump to talk a nicer game, he would do just fine.

 

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Deep Time and the Green River, Floating

Dawn, Gates of Lodore. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

These days there isn’t a vacant hotel room to be found in Vernal, Utah. Or Craig, Colorado. Or Pinedale, Wyoming, for that matter. The rooms are all booked up with oil workers, pipe-layers, explosive technicians and tax accountants versed in the intricacies of the depreciation allowance.

The No Vacancy signs out here in the Interior West have been flashing for a year and half at upscale Best Westerns and dusty Mom and Pop trailer parks. From the Pinedale Anticline to the San Rafael Swell, the Green River basin is taking the brunt of the new oil boom, brought to you by the Iraq war, Alan Greenspan and the Bush Interior Department, and accelerated by Obama and Trump.  Just another object lesson in the ways of the True West.

The current bonanza will last another two or three years, then fizzle out into another 20-year long bust. It’s the oldest and dumbest cycle in the post-conquest West. With each iteration the booms become less frenzied, the depressions more entrenched. Vernal, its city limits demarcated by a pink brontosaurus, will survive, thanks to the National Monument. But Craig and Pinedale may well decay into post-modern ghost towns. Few will shed tears for their passing. But as a preventative measure, the last ones out alive should consider torching the remains. Pinedale delenda est.

We come here not to drill the Green, but to float the river as it carves through Dinosaur National Monument. The burning question isn’t whether there will be places to sleep, but whether there will be enough water to carry our three rafts, loaded with a week’s worth of gear, water, food, shitter and beer, through 60 miles of rock-studded canyons. You see, the ever considerate hydro-barons at the Bureau of Reclamation have squeezed closed the gates on their misbegotten plug in Flaming Gorge, thirty miles upstream from our put-in, permitting only an ice cold dribble of water to escape into the ancient channel of the Green River.

We’re on a pilgrimage, of sorts. The river’s twisting course through heart of Dinosaur should be designated a National Battlefield site, after the first great victory of environmentalists over the forces of industrial pillage. This is our Little Big Horn, where David Brower and his cohorts, Wallace Stegner, Howard Zahniser and Ulysses Grant, III, routed the hydro-imperialists, saving one of the most stunningly beautiful landscapes in the world from inundation by two ill-conceived dams-one at Split Mountain and the other in Whirlpool Canyon near the glorious sandstone amphitheaters of Echo Park. But as with the Sioux’s great victory over Custer, the battle of Dinosaur proved to have its own pyrrhic consequences. The fatal price of saving Dinosaur from being flooded was the nearly uncontested construction of equally monstrous dams at Flaming Gorge, Fontenelle and, most infamously, in Glen Canyon.

But these stories of triumph and tragedy must come later. Now there is unloading and raft-rigging to do, the hours of grunting, groaning and eruptions of profanity that are the opening act of any true river expedition.

* * *

We assemble in Brown’s Park, a secluded hole in the mountains that was once the redoubt of the suave black cattle rustler Isom Dart, hunted down by the grim mercenary Tom Horn, who, if truth be told, looked nothing like Steve McQueen.

There are seven of us, led by the two Weisheits–John and Susette. Both are acclaimed river guides. Both are militant defenders of the rivers of the Colorado Plateau-rivers anywhere, for that matter. Both are gifted naturalists and fine campfire cooks. But only Susette is a master of the delicate art of deep tissue massage. It’s a crucial distinction-especially at our age.

Up from Moab come Judy Powers, a former river guide and a gifted actor specializing in musical comedies, and Jennifer Speers, owner of a critter-friendly ranch at the confluence of the Colorado and the Dolores Rivers and a raconteur of deliciously rude jokes.

Down from Salt Lake City, the sprawling Mormon metropolis wedged between the Wasatch and the Great Salt Lake that is rapidly outstripping Los Angeles as the Smog Inversion capital of the country, arrive documentary film-maker Chris Simon, a vital (and grossly unheralded) contributor to Les Blank’s best films, and Craig Miller, a folklorist and geographer who is putting the finishing touches on a fascinating social history of Highway 12, which runs through the ranch lands of central Utah from Panguitch to Torrey–an old road through a disappearing culture.

I’m the outsider in the group, a mossy-toed lowlander from Oregon who begins huffing and puffing while merely hauling modest-sized water canteens in the thinnish air of Dinosaur’s mile-high altitude. But we share much in common. Namely we are all supplicants to the mesmerizing power of the Green River, the canyon-cutting umbilicus of the Interior West.

At last, the truck is emptied, the gear lashed onto the inflatable rafts powered by wooden oars on the only river in the Colorado basin devoted to non-motorized boats. The sun slips behind the peaks of the Uintas, the evening sky a surreal collage of purple and orange thanks the big fires up in Idaho. The night winds whistle through the canyon, as Chris and Craig prepare a fabulous dinner of garlic bread and homegrown eggplant with pasta on the propane stove in the bed of Judy’s red truck. Susette has miraculously conjured up a round of Mojitos. Judy belts out a Broadway show tune, the first of many. The coyotes chime in. Up in the hills a bull elk broadcasts the news that he is ready for sex. His come-and-get-it call reminds me of the darkly erotic growl of the great soul singer Clarence Carter. The temperature drops and the Milky Way spreads across the abbreviated sky. I slide into a supreme sleep and dream of a one-armed geologist in a small wooden boat dissolving into the jaws of a cleaved mountain.

* * *

I awake well before dawn. Only the bats are active, cruising through their final circuits of the night.

The air is cold, frosty. It occurs to me that I haven’t prepared very well for this trip. I packed for a week on a desert river. But we aren’t in the desert. These are mountains, big ones, with autumn bearing down.

I wiggle out of my sleeping bag, put on my headlamp and go for a walk to get the blood flowing and the body temperature up.

A cobbly trail switchbacks up a cliff above our campsite to an outcrop with a view into the Gates of Lodore. I scuffle past sagebrush and juniper, stunted barrel cacti and rabbitbrush top-heavy with fat yellow blooms. After an hour or so the sun peers over the distant Rockies in the east and the western walls of Lodore alite in dazzling crimson.

As I snap a photo of the canyon’s glowing ramparts, a desert bighorn bounds in front of me and disappears below, dancing down the terraced face of the cliff toward a marsh by the river. Instinctively, I follow the young ram. I have notoriously bad instincts. Suicidely bad. I take two steps and fall, hurtling down the rocky slope until, finally, I arrest my descent by clutching the only stable thing around. My salvation, such as it is, happens to be that most unforgiving of plants on the Colorado Plateau, the blackbrush. Its spikey branches dig aggressively into my hands, but I hold on and, eventually, scramble back up the cliff, lucky not to have bitten it right at the gate, so to speak.

My left leg is chewed up from my ankle to my hip. I vow to conceal this ungainly mishap from the group, not wanting to alarm them with the fact that they are about to embark on a challenging week down a dangerous river with someone who has the common sense and directional acumen of Lindsay Lohan after a night of tooting and toking in a West Hollywood hot spot.

Even from these heights, I can smell coffee percolating and bacon sizzling back at the campsite. Chris and Craig at it again. Amen. I hobble down the trail, presenting my relatively unscathed side to the group.

“Oooh, nasty cut.”

Damn. It’s Judy, who emerges from the feathery curtain of tamarisk behind me.

“Would you like some tree oil for that?”

Tree oil? As in sap?

“Uhhh ”

She waves the bottle at me. Was she expecting this? Had Weisheit already informed everyone I was a terminal klutz prone to self-mutilation?

“Don’t worry. Natural antibiotic. Seal it right up.”

No, not like sap, apparently. More like varnish. Shellac.

“Well ”

Judy takes this as informed consent. She smears the concoction over the most ragged part of the wound. Now it is sealed. Now it is shiny. Now it is preserved as a warning for all: Stand back; don’t follow.

We finish breakfast, visit the last latrine on the river until Echo Park, strap the final bags onto the rafts. And then we wait. We wait for Park Rangers to come down the forty mile road from Maybell, Colorado to inspect our permits and bureaucratically release us from our concrete mooring.

The rangers don’t come. Instead, a group of two canoeists and a kayaker pull up at the put-in site. One of the paddlers is a former ornithologist at Grand Canyon National Park, who conducted an acclaimed study documenting the tenuous status of passerines in the canyon country. He knows Weisheit. Most people around here do. After all, John is the Colorado Riverkeeper. They are a friendly and intelligent group of accomplished river runners who express concern about whether we will be able to navigate our rafts safely down the diminished river. They are good company and, incredibly, they are the only other people will encounter in the next three days.

Another hour goes by and still the rangers don’t come. Distilling the consensus of the group, Susette sez: “Fuck it, time to go!” We untie the rafts and push off. It is 11:30 in the morning. Finally, we are on the river. Legally or not.

***

The Green River and Lodore Canyon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The Gates of Lodore confront us from the river like a misty portal in a Romantic ode. That must be why John Wesley Powell lifted the name from Robert Southey’s clunky poem, “The Cataract of Lodore.” Jack Sumner, the most seasoned outdoorsman on the Colorado River Exploring Expedition of 1867, protested. He derided Southey’s poem as “musty trash.” Sumner was right.

A radical turncoat, the David Horowitz of his time, Robert Southey is one of the more odious figures in the canon of English literature. As a young man, Southey dreamed of establishing a utopian community in the United States. His partner in this endeavor was Samuel Taylor Coleridge. They were going to call their commune of virtue on the banks of the Susquehanna: Pantisocracy. It never got beyond the lines on a map and an airy poem by Coleridge. Instead, unnerved by the French Revolution, Southey the utopian turned government snitch, informing to the British secret police on the subversive activities of a radical circle of English writers, including Hazlitt, Byron, Cobbett, Godwin and even his old friend Coleridge. Southey was rewarded for his treachery with the title of poet laureate.

There is the infamous Lake District incident, when a police snoop was dispatched to Wordsworth’s cottage at Grasmere, perhaps on information passed along from Southey. As the officer crouched beneath an open window, he eavesdropped on a raging debate between Wordsworth and Coleridge over the merits of Spinoza’s thoughts on government. The officer wrote excitedly back to the Home Office with the news that sedition was indeed afoot in the English countryside and that the poets were in covert contact with an agent of the French menace known as “the Spy Nozi.”

Yes, we live in a new age of government paranoia, of snitches, spies and informants. But must we commemorate them in our national parks?

In any event, even the best English Romantic poetry (Keats’ “Ode to Autumn”, say, or Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight”) doesn’t hint at the mysteries to be found in the canyons of the Green River, which over the eons have been the haunts of some of the strangest creatures on the planet: the Allosaurus, the sabre-toothed herbivore (Why the long teeth? Think rough sex), the ringtail cat and the Bureau of Reclamation engineer.

Lodore is a deep and narrow fissure in the High Uintas, that odd east/west range that strides across northern Utah. It is a canyon of echoes and shadows. Cool and dark. Spooky. Here the rocks show their age.

And old they are. Very old. The red quartzite of the Lodore Formation dates back nearly a billion years to the Cambrian period. Back to a time-an unimaginably extended epoch of time-when the future direction that life on Earth would take was being decided, a drama which the great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould eloquently narrates in his fascinating and controversial book Wonderful Life: the Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Would the chordata prevail over the spineless soft-tissued oddities, setting the stage for the rise of the vertebrates? For Democrats (and some environmentalists), it remains an open question.

In addition to the Gould and my river maps, I’ve brought along three other volumes, which, for handy access, I’ve wedged under a strap in the bow of Weisheit’s raft: David Allen Sibley’s Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America, John Wesley Powell’s The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons and G.E. Untermann’s Guide to the Geology of Dinosaur National Monument. Putting the books in the bow of the raft will prove to be a fatal mistake-fatal for the books, anyway. (And, perhaps, for me too, given that I cohabit with a librarian who puts the rough treatment of texts on the same unpardonable level of moral degeneracy as the abuse of animals.)

The Untermann volume is an heretical choice, which Weisheit immediately notices and passes condemnatory judgment upon. Let this be known: the Riverkeeper doesn’t forget and he doesn’t forgive.

Like many progressives of his time, Untermann was a cheerleader for the Echo Park Dam back in the 1950s, even though the concrete monstrosity would have flooded most of the geological, archaeological and paleontological sites that the geologist writes about with such zest and awe in his little monograph.

There was a time when the American left, of which Untermann was a member, viewed hydro-power as the democratizing salvation for the industrial economy, promising a future of cheap power, high-paying jobs and freedom from the shackles of big oil. (Go read John Gunther’s Inside U.S.A. for a taste of just how deeply these hydro-delusions were cherished by liberals and leftists of mid-century America.) Inexplicably, many progressives, including some self-advertised environmentalists, persist in promoting these long discredited myths in the name of saving the planet from global warming.

Consider the case of liberal icon Woody Guthrie, the Okie troubadour. In the 1940s, Guthrie prostituted himself for the Department of the Interior, which paid him to write propaganda songs to promote the big salmon-killing dams on the Columbia River. While penning “Roll On Columbia” and similar doggerel, the folksinger watched silently from his rented house in Portland as the river tribes were forcibly evicted from their villages and salmon fishing sites to make way for the dams. The Red Okie remained mute in the face of cultural genocide. As for the electrical power, it sure wasn’t disseminated to Guthrie’s rural poor, never mind the dispossessed tribes of Celilo and Wishram. Most of it crackled down giant powerlines to the H-bomb making factories at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Guthrie never apologized for being the Leni Riefenstahl of the Columbia and Untermann, as far as I can tell, never retracted his support for the proposed dams that would have turned Dinosaur National Monument into a holding tank for dead water and toxic silt.

Still I admire the way the man writes. The prose in most geology books is as arid as the floor of Death Valley. But Untermann writes about fractures and faults, upthrusts and grabens, as if telling the story of a mighty battle, a thrilling dialectical struggle between the competing forces on the crust of the Earth.

Untermann knew a little about dialectics. As I waited to rendezvous with Craig and Chris in Vernal, I took a stroll through the town’s top attraction: the Utah Field House Museum of Natural History. I’ve toured many natural history museums, from New York to Paris. The sprawling Field Museum in Chicago is my favorite haunt, but Vernal’s more compact and concentrated offering is a close second. The building unfolds like a strand of DNA, spiraling up through the ages of the earth, from trilobite fossils of the pre-Cambrian to a stunning mural of petrified maple leaves and fossilized bird feathers from the Green River shales of the Eocene, which are currently being cannibalized in the Bush oil rush.

Thanks to the rich trove of fossil-bearing loads from the Morrison Formation in Dinosaur National Monument, the little museum in Vernal offers some of the most complete dinosaur skeletons in the world, including a stegosaurus, a rare Haplocanthosaurus and one of the most ferocious predators of the Jurassic Period, the allosaurus, a sleeker, faster and more colorful version of T-Rex. T-Rex with feathers.

The tour concludes in a room of vibrantly colored oil paintings featuring fearsome battles between dinosaurs. I am a sucker for dioramas and these scenes of terror and tragedy in the Triassic age are incredibly exciting. They were all painted by Untermann’s father, Ernest.

Untermann, Sr. was one of the founders of the Field House Museum. He was also one of the founders of the American Socialist Party and an early translator of the works of Karl Marx into English. Apparently a committed Trotskyist, in 1935 Ernest wrote a book-length attack on the Stalin titled Lenin’s Maggot. Born in Brandenberg, Germany in 1864, Untermann came to Vernal, Utah in 1919 looking to strike it rich in the gold fields. But the gold rush was long over and Untermann was soon distracted though by excavations of fossils in Dinosaur National Monument by paleontologist Earl Douglass, who had been hired by Andrew Carnegie to bring back to Philadelphia a dinosaur “as big as a barn.”

After a few years, Untermann left Utah for Milwaukee, where he ran the city zoo, and Chicago, where he studied painting at the Art Institute. By 1940, Ernest was back in Vernal, where over the next 15 years, he executed more than 100 paintings of life in the Uinta region during the thrilling Mesozoic period. Like many socialists of his era, he lived a long and adventuresome life, dying in 1956 at the age of 92.

Busloads of Utah school children are shipped off to Vernal every year for an obligatory visit to the museum. It must be a mind-blowing experience for them. Although Mormon doctrine embraces the existence of dinosaurs (the Terrible Lizards are good for the economy and, given the heavy tithing obligations imposed on the Saints, for church coffers as well), it also teaches that the Earth is only 7,000 years old-a chronology that the museum exhibits dispute with what Gould called “geology’s most frightening facts.” But complex geological timelines depicting the fossil record are easily forgotten by the minds of young Mormons (or adult Gentiles, for that matter). Less so are the subversive messages encoded in the dinosaur dialectics painted by the Marxist of the Uintas.

As I scan the maroon cliffs of Lodore, trying to make sense of the geological processes Untermann describes, I am distracted by a growling sound emerging from the river itself. We round a sharp bend in the canyon and are rudely jerked into our first rapids: a short, violent run of water. The tumult is over almost before it began. A case of premature excitation. Not to worry. There are thirty more where that one came from. Bigger, wetter, nastier.

* * *

First rapids on the Green River. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

We break for lunch at a place called Winnie’s Grotto, a dark slot canyon draped with maidenhair ferns and fuzzy mosses–a moist exemplar of the marvels of microclimate. A pair of ravens scrutinize our meal, but noisily dismiss the fare of smoked oysters with Pringles chips and wheel off in search of more robust offerings.

Chris hands me a frosty Tecate. I remove my jacket and recline on a warm slab of stone that only months ago was submerged under four-feet of calamitous water.

“Pssst.”

It’s Judy again. This time she seems to have sprung from behind a stand of rippling willow trees-one of the few such groves left in the canyon thanks to the dam, the dropping water table, the invasion of the tamarisks. These stage actresses sure know how to maximize the effect of their entrances.

“Can I ask you a favor?”

“Sure.” Thinking she needs me to perform a manly task, like setting up the shitter or standing between her and a marauding tarantula. In post-feminist America, it feels good to finally be needed.

“Can you take your shirt off?”

This is one request I wasn’t expecting. But …

“Or at least turn it inside out. It’s disturbing me.”

I look down at one of my favorite shirts. I’ve worn it once a week for six years. The cotton is pliant and soft, pleasantly frayed, familiarly stained. Nearing perfection. The offensive image on the front was designed by my pal Steve Kelly, the environmentalist and artist in Bozeman, Montana. It reproduces one of Kelly’s best paintings, a field of slain bison, their blood staining the snowy plains. The caption above the startling image reads: “Grown in Yellowstone, Slaughtered in Montana.”

The painting, which Kelly placed on billboards along I-90, protests the ongoing killing of Yellowstone’s wild bison on the bogus pretext of protecting cattle from being infected with brucellosis. I’ve nearly come to blows over this shirt before: in a bar in Salmon, Idaho (one of America’s meanest towns) and at a rusty diner in the cattleburg of Burns, Oregon.

But here in the depths of Lodore, in the blood red basement of the Uintas? This is the last place in the world I’d expect to be censored. But Judy is an animal lover. She works closely with the Humane Society in Moab. The shirt clearly upsets her. Still I’m usually a cantankerous asshole at precisely these critical moments and I surprise myself by relenting without even a nasty quip. Kelly’s painting has done its work. I reverse the shirt, but secretly vow to flash its brutal truth if we ever encounter one of them damn park rangers.

Jennifer snaps the tension by popping another Tecate and retelling a joke that the Riverkeeper still doesn’t get: “A termite walks into a saloon and asks: Is the bartender here?”

+++

Now we enter the very marrow of Lodore. Fractured and fused cliffs of metamorphized stone soar 3,500 feet above the Green River. Up in the narrow wedge of sky, a golden eagle sails a thermal in a tightening spiral like those etched on the canyon walls by the Fremont a thousand years ago, before dissolving into fierce sunlight.

The roar of an unseen rapids booms up the canyon. Disaster Falls. Yes, we are floating in the deepest corridor of Lodore and it is impossible not to turn your mind to thoughts of Powell and his men. This strange and shadowy chasm was in many ways the real beginning of their historic expedition and Disaster Falls nearly proved its traumatic undoing.

Powell the man and his expedition have been relentlessly romanticized by western writers of the 1950s and 1960s, in particular. And the worst offenders happen to be, coincidentally, two of my favorite essayists: Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey. Stegner’s Powell, as presented in Beyond the Hundreth Meridian, is a scientific messiah for the englightened stewardship of the fragile resources of the arid West. Abbey’s Powell is, typically, a figure who looks and smells a lot like Abbey’s vision of himself: a gritty desert rat, a fearless river-runner, a rural anarchist.

It wasn’t until 2001 with the publication of Donald Worster’s sprawling biography, A River Running West, that we finally got a full and unvarnished portrait of the man. Far from being an anarchist, for much of his life Powell was an office-bound Washington bureaucrat, engaged in mundane and soul-sapping struggles on Capitol Hill over budgetary line items, the editing of government reports and petty feuds with rival agency heads and members of congress, such as his fateful dust-up with the behemoth of Nevada, Senator William Stewart.

Still Powell is a decisive figure in the modern history of the Interior West. His only real rival is Gifford Pinchot, intimate advisor to Teddy Roosevelt and first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Pinchot and Powell not only helped to define the public estate and draft the regulatory prescriptions for its use, but, more critically, they also shaped the bureaucratic agencies charged with managing the federal lands and rivers of the West: Forest Service, BLM, Geological Survey, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Preservation of wilderness and wild rivers wasn’t on the agenda of either Powell or Pinchot, who went head-to-head against John Muir in support of the Hetch-Hetchy Dam in the heart of Yosemite. Both men were utilitarians. They were political progressives who evangelized, in the phrase of historian Samuel P. Hays, the Gospel of Efficiency. They viewed oil, timber, grasslands, gold, coal and water as public resources awaiting managed exploitation–managed by federal bureaucrats, exploited for the public good.

Even though Powell cautioned about the intrinsic limits of the Interior West for agriculture and the development of large cities, Worster makes clear, where Stegner and Abbey do not, the unsettling fact that the one-armed major envisioned a system of small-scale, upper basin dams and water diversions that would have “drained every drop” of the Colorado River system.

The really bruising battles back then were over how those public resources would be distributed: to the land barons, railroads and corporations or, following the old Jeffersonian vision, to the small farmers, homesteaders and rural communities of the West. Guess which prevailed? Both Powell and Pinchot lost their jobs in the fight, early casualities in the power plays of the Western Imperialists.

Even so, it’s not hard for me to prefer Powell, with all of his faults, to Pinchot. As a fellow son of the prairies, I empathize with the Major, understand his midwestern eccentricities and lament the way the war that took his arm at Shiloh cast such a long-range shadow over his psyche.

Pinchot is another beast entirely: an east coast Brahmin, educated at Yale, parlor guest of the Vanderbilts and Roosevelts. Where Powell scraped up his own meager resources and those of the tiny Illinois Natural History Society to finance his first expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers, Pinchot lived off of trust funds and grants from the oldest money on the continent and learned the art of tree-killing on a silvicultural sabbatical in Germany’s Black Forest directly from the old meisters, soaking up their peculiar ideas about order and genetics.

Powell recognized that the land had limits and sought to devise a system for putting the waters of the West to use without inflicting permanent damage on the productive capacity of the landscape. Pinchot rejected such dusty realism for what historian Paul Hirt aptly calls “a Conspiracy of Optimism“. The forester loftily asserted that by imposing his system of scientific management on western woodlands the national forests could be transformed into eternally productive tree farms. Pinchot was wrong. Fatally wrong. But then so was Powell, only less arrogantly.

John Wesley Powell. Photo: National Park Service.

* * *

Mystique aside, the Powell expedition was not the first group of white men to venture down the Green River through the canyons of Dinosaur. Far from it. In 1825, William Ashley, the impresario of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, floated the Green from Wyoming through Flaming Gorge, Red Canyon, Brown’s Park, Lodore, Whirlpool and Split Mountain canyons, all the way to the Uintah River south of Vernal. Ashley was searching for a speedy, Indian-free route to transport beaver and otter furs to market. The master of the skin trade rapidly concluded Lodore Canyon wasn’t the easy way and instructed his brigades of mountain men to cart their bloody cargo by horse to the notorious annual rendezvous on the Green up at the Henry’s Fork in Wyoming.

Ashley made two fortunes, first as a defense contractor in the War of 1812 and later amassing enormous wealth from the beaver pelt trade, which in the grim year of 1826 alone topped 325,000 skins. He bought himself the title of General and a seat in congress from St. Louis. Little known today, Ashley was an almost mythical figure, who ventured down more than 50 crushing rapids on the Green River in a bull-boat, a floating saucer made of stretched bison hides.

Then there is the strange case of Denis Julien, the Kilroy of the Green River, who carved his initials on rock walls from Lodore to Cataract Canyon. (Later we will examine one of Julien’s faint inscriptions in a shady cove in Whirlpool Canyon, near the planned site of the Echo Park dam. Beneath the fur-trapper’s initials, river otters have come to defecate, as if to render a final judgment on the merits of his enterprise.)

Julien was a Frenchman from New Orleans, and later St. Louis, who trapped along the Green in the 1830s. If one of his carvings is to be believed, Julien traversed the tumultuous river in a poleboat similar to those used on the lazy lower stretches of the Missouri.

Twenty-five years after Ashley first navigated the Green, William Manly and a group of bullwhackers from Missouri, desperate to stake their claim in the California Gold Rush, set off down the Green in a ludicrously unstable ferry boat. After a series of close calls, they encountered Disaster Falls, where the miners came across a mangled boat with a note attached advising, “Walk to California.” They portaged. Portaged again and again and again. And finally abandoned their brittle boat for an arduous overland route across the mountains.

Despite extensive research at the US Archives, Powell, it appears, knew none of this history. Oddly, he had never even heard of Ashley, despite the fur trader’s fame as the leader of the Mountain Men and blazer of what would later become the Oregon Trail. In fact, when Powell discovered an inscription by Ashley near Flaming Gorge he misread the date as 1855, not 1825. Ashley’s hair-raising journal entries might have prepared the Major for the challenges to come inside Lodore.

For starters, Powell might have opted for a better design for his boats. The geologist drew up the plans himself and the boats were crafted from sturdy oak by the Chicago boat-builder Thomas Bagley. They were big, heavy, rode deeply in the water and resembled the ferry-tenders plying the Chicago River and Lake Michigan-scarcely a trim suited for descending a river that falls 9,000 feet in a mere 730 miles. In Powell’s design, the oarsman rowed the boat facing upstream, his back to the rapids-a technique now known by many river-runners as “Powelling”, as in “Powelling right into that fucking rock.”

Powell himself, of course, was not a boatman. For most of the journey, the Major found himself strapped into a chair on the deck of the Emma Dean, like Odysseus tied to the mast during the frightening passage through the Straits of Messina.

At the big rapids, Powell and his top scout, Jack Sumner, would scan the obstacles and decide whether or not to risk a descent. By the time the group entered Lodore, Powell had devised a tedious method of lining the boats down rock-strewn passages and over cataracts. It was time-consuming and difficult and the men generally preferred the excitement of running the rapids.

A few hundred yards upstream from Disaster Falls, Powell pulled over and scrambled up on a ledge to get a better view of the falls. He instructed the young William Dunn to flag the other three boats over to the river bank. From his perch Powell watched as the Maid of the Canyon and Kitty Clyde’s Sister tied up near the Emma Dean, but the No-Name hurtled right by the other boats and got sucked into the tongue of the rapids. The No-Name survived the first big drop, but the second falls, of a reported 15 to 20 feet, punched the two Howland boys and Frank Goodman from the boat and into the roiling whitewater. Swept into the lower run of rapids, the No-Name smashed into a sharp boulder, shattering its oak planks and breaking the boat in half.

Miraculously, the Howlands and Goodman survived, thanks largely to the quick actions of Sumner. But the No-Name and its cargo were lost, including clothing, rifles, maps, journals from the first month of the trip, field instruments and, most critically, three months worth of food. The morale of the expedition sank as well, and never fully recovered.

The Howlands may have missed Powell’s signal because they were drunk. The Major had banned alcohol from the voyage. But on an island downstream from Disaster Falls some of the wreckage of the No-Name washed up. Among the debris were Powell’s precious barometers and a 10-gallon keg of whiskey, which had been secretly cached in the bow of the boat. The Major was so ecstatic at having recovered his instruments of atmospheric measurement that he uncharacteristically overlooked the contraband and encouraged all the men to have a round of drinks.

* * *

Disaster Falls. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The rapids we face this afternoon don’t much resemble the ferocious falls that sundered the No-Name and nearly destroyed the Powell expedition on that June day in 1869. According to Weisheit, nearly omniscient in these matters, the Green was likely running at 24,000 cubic feet per second when Howland “Powelled” his boat into Disaster Falls. Today, the river spurts along at a mere 650 cubic feet per second, thanks to the water wardens at Flaming Gorge dam.

Yet, this miserly flow presents its own challenges and unique dangers. The river has been turned into something resembling a pinball machine, a machine with teeth of stone. Under natural flows, most of these rocks would be safely submerged under several feet of rushing water. Now they are all hazards, each one waiting to trap a foot, rip a raft, smash a skull.

We scout the run for about an hour, charting and discussing every possible route. At Disaster Falls proper, the river is squeezed between two large rocks, pours over a four-foot ledge and into a snarling standing wave. Below the falls, the rapids continue for another quarter of a mile through a glistening maze of prong-like rocks.

Weisheit turns to me and asks, “What do you think?”

I play it cool, shrug my shoulders, kick a stone, quote Peter Tosh: “Bad, mon. Plenty bad.”

“Let’s do this thing,” Susette exhorts, over the thunder of Disaster Falls. I love Susette. Susette gets my vote as the best river guide on the Green and Colorado Rivers. She’s ridden long-distance motorcycle races and is a champion barrel racer of horses. She is a gifted desert gardener and a genuine Reiki master. She is lovely, smart and strong. But … Susette also thinks Niagara Falls is a Class Five rapid! The exalted Class Six designation, according to Susette, is reserved only for rapids that are always fatal. Emphasis on the always. And, of course, the fatal.

“Now, go get ’em, boys” she says, kicking our raft into the maw of the current with the Vibram sole of her Chaco sandal. As the river asserts its claim on us, my last image is of Susette’s toenails, shimmering with purple polish.

With an unnerving directness of intent, we approach the two boulders that guard the falls, boulders the size of Wooly Mammoths. Weisheit thrusts the bow of the raft into the mossy rock on river right, the boat rotates and we slide backwards over the cataract, just like Howlands and Co.

Water pours into the raft as the stern dips into the curling wave, then we pop up, slam into a hidden rock. The raft swings in the swirling water and rights itself. We rattle and scrape through Lower Disaster, a dicey run of swift water punctuated by thorny rocks. Finally we reach an eddy and turn to watch Susette delicately pivot her raft between the twin rocks and down the falls. It’s a gorgeous run. Susette evades every hazard with the easy precision and grace of a gifted slalom skier.

I only have two questions: How did she do that? And where the hell is Judy’s raft?

* * *

The circulating waters of the eddy hold our raft in place as we scan the river for the yellow nose of Judy’s boat. Four bighorns look down on us from a ridiculously narrow ledge of rotten rock, casual and free from fear. With still no sign of our missing cohorts, we tie our raft to a rock, grab two rescue bags and stumble up the stony shore.

Susette, as usual, is ahead of us. She points to a small tangle of driftwood. “I saw a snake slip into that pile. Couldn’t tell if it was a rattler.”

Weisheit hops over the den of sticks. I give it a wide berth. I’m wearing sandals and have an aversion to rattlesnakes that is either Jungian or Freudian–I’m much too jittery to undergo analysis for a definitive answer. Only images of dentists with drills strike me with more psychic terror.

Driftwood piles are becoming rarer and rarer along the Green River, especially in this part of Dinosaur. The big piles are all more than fifty years old and loom far up on the banks. Flaming Gorge Dam not only traps water behind its bland concrete arc, but also all of the woody and organic debris that play such a crucial role in recharging the rich ecology of riparian areas: providing nutrients for the river, nesting and feeding habitat for fish in floodtime, and shelter for bugs, mice, scorpions and, yes, snakes.

We wade across a stagnant pool, the surface of which is etched by the trails of waterstriders, and onto a sandbar, desolate except for the stalking prints of a great blue heron.

On the far side of the river, the yellow raft is wedged between two rocks. Judy strains at the oars, while Craig, hip-deep in the river, pushes at the stern of the boat. Prudently, Jennifer adheres to the Apocalypse Now! Rule of River Safety: Stay in the boat. Whatever happens stay in the fucking boat.

Craig has long legs, but still he must be careful. Foot entrapment here is a real danger. It’s easy to get your foot wedged between two sunken rocks, especially when you’re working to dislodge a snagged raft. Then the force of the river, even at these reduced flows, pushes you down and grips you there, parallel to the river bottom, where, as they said in the “Alien” movies, no one can hear you scream.

There’s not much we can do from this side of the river but watch. They are too far away for us to toss them a rescue line. Then, with Jennifer giving a forceful tug on the rigging, the rocks release the raft. Craig scrambles onto the boat just as it smacks another boulder and bumps and grinds its way down to the sanctuary of the eddy.

We trudge back through a wavy thicket of wild cane. Weisheit tells me to look high on canyon walls downstream at the white planking of rock near the rim, the first appearance of the Madison limestone formation. As I take out my binoculars and scan the distant rim of the canyon, which looks like icing on a cherry layer cake, I am interrupted by a hollow buzzing, an emphatic buzzing, coming from beneath my left foot, which at this precise moment is rapidly descending toward the very driftwood pile that Susette had, only moments before, warned us to avoid.

I freeze. I look down. The snake is coiled into a ball not much bigger than my fist. Its tail is erect and is making a declarative statement. You know the one. Not a large snake. And from the stern and unflinching posture of its flat, triangular head with the destinctive loreal pits, not a happy snake, either. And, oh yes, Susette, most definitely a rattler. Most likely the relatively passive, yet potently toxic, Midget Faded Rattlesnake– though I defer from looking for the distinguishing characteristics that would definitely mark this agitated little creature as Crotalus viridis concolor.

Weisheit crunched across the driftwood pile without even pausing. The Riverkeeper leads a charmed life, and long may it be so. The man has spent 30 years in the canyon country, scaling slickrock and tackling the worst rapids in Cataract and Grand Canyon, and has never required more than a Band-Aide. So he says. I, however, retreat, scramble down to the river and slop my way through the knee-deep mud to the raft.

* * *

Back on the Green, the lovely Green.

We exit the eddy and promptly hit a rock. Hard. Our red raft swings violently to the right, slamming into another concealed shard of stone with such force that one of the Riverkeeper’s oars jolts free from his hand and rips my head. The raft tilts to the left and down, down into the river. Currents of silver water flood into the raft, creating our own little reservoir and drowning my books, one by one.

“High side,” Weisheit instructs, calmly. I clamber up to the elevated side of the raft and gaze down at the churning water and spikey rocks below, which resemble a scene from the illustrated torture manual at Abu Ghraib. (Think Waterboarding meets the Bed of Nails.)

I look back at Weisheit. Our acute encounter with the rocks has knocked the huge-brimmed white hat off his head. It hangs down his back like Kokopelli’s bag of seeds. “Now!” he shouts, above the orgasmic roar of the river. We bounce on the side of the raft, again and again, in a kind of unison. Eventually, one rock relinquishes its grip and the stern of the raft wheels, pointing downstream.

“Need a kickstart?”

It’s Judy’s boat, returning the favor. Craig extends his leg from the side of the raft, long as advertised. All it takes is a vigorous little stomp and we are free. Wet and free. The way all river-runners (and rivers) should be.

* * *

Striated cliffs, Dinosaur National Monument. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

We anchor our rafts for the night on a small beach, lushly framed in cottonwoods, at the mouth of a broad technicolor valley we call Cascade Canyon and the Park Service labels Pot Creek. Why Pot Creek? Who knows? This bench of Indian ricegrass, red boulders and fire-scarred Ponderosa pines is too arid for marijuana plantations and for that we have no regrets. Some in our crowd prefer mushrooms instead, though no one seems to have had the foresight to secrete any dried Liberty Caps (known to Latin-speaking pranksters around the globe as psilocybe semilanceata) into the food cache, even though the fungal treats would have made a highly patriotic addition to our larder.

First things first. The rafts must be unloaded, the kitchen erected and, yes, the shitter must be deployed.

This curious device is not the shiny aluminum Groover found on commercial river trips, the Airstream trailer of Honey Pots. No. Ours is a humble U.S. Army ammo can, about 20 inches long, six inches wide and 12 inches deep. The vintage is hard to discern. It may be a relic from our glorious triumph at Grenada–or perhaps the charge up San Juan Hill.

Thankfully, Weisheit has fashioned a crude but ass-cradling seat so that it doesn’t exactly feel like shitting in a can, though proper posture and a delicate balance must be maintained at all costs. Naturally, defecating is done in public. Strike a pose.

It is our night to cook. Weisheit builds a small fire with twigs and coals in the firebox laid on top of a rug made of glass fibres to keep from scarring the beach, while I get pots boiling and pans sizzling on the propane campstove. Tonight’s menu: smoked trout, pepper jack cheese, salad with red onions and green peppers, filet of sole with coucous and broccoli, and brownies baked in a Dutch oven. There will be no leftovers for the ringtails and ravens.

Jennifer mixes drinks. She hands me a gin and tonic and inquires, “What do you call a Mormon gynecologist?”

“Overworked?” I ask.

“No. A Box Elder.” Touché.

Night descends early in this narrow, somber region of the canyon and I fade into sleep to the frantic incantations of coyotes.

To be continued.

Take Me Back Down Where Cool Water Flows…

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music
Gerald Horne
(Monthly Review)

Places: Things Heard. Things Seen
Bruce Jackson
(Blaze Vox)

Blood and Sand: America’s Stealth War on the Mexico Border
John Carlos Frey
(Bold Type)

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Across a Crowded Room: Live at Barrymores, 1985
Richard Thompson
(Real Gone Music)

Thirsty Ghost
Sara Gazarek
(MRI)

Who Are You Now
Madison Cunningham
(Verve)

Antagonists of the Republic

Gerald Horne: “The Africans were oftentimes allied with the antagonist of the Republic. Now, you may want to step back and ask yourself why that might be. It may lead you to a reconsideration of the origins of the nation now known as the United States of America. As opposed to seeing it in the same vein as the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution, you might see it in the same vein as the revolt against British rule in Rhodesia in 1965, and, if so, that might help to shed light on why conservatism is so deeply entrenched in this republic.”

 

 

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Earth 4C Hotter

Photograph Source: BrendelSignature – CC BY 3.0

A decade ago several prominent climate scientists discussed the prospects of a 4C Earth. Their concern was qualified “… if greenhouse gases do not slow down, then expect a 4C Earth by 2055.” Of course, that would be catastrophic, and one can only assume those scientists must have recognized real risks. Otherwise, why address the issue of 4C by 2055 in the first instance?

Not only that but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, AR4 (2007) addressed the 4C issue and a 2009 International Climate Conference at Oxford, “4 Degrees and Beyond” discussed the consequences at length, e.g., deserts in southern Europe, sea levels up 2 metres by 2100, unleashing a “carbon time bomb” in the Arctic, half of the world uninhabitable, etc.

Well, well, well…now that greenhouse gas emissions have sped up by 60% since 2010, not slowed down for a minute, the IPCC is talking about holding global average temps to 2.0C, preferably 1.5C, and they say the world has 12 years to tackle global warming (actually, nowadays it’s “global heating” because of massive heat intensity in certain regions of the planet) or all bets are off.

Because prominent scientists addressed the issue of a 4C planet and because climate scientists, in general, are constantly apologizing for being too conservative, too timid in their forecasts as actual climate change buries their predictions with a dagger to the heart, it is a worthwhile exercise to look at a 4C world. It could happen within current lifetimes just like the scientists speculated 10 years ago. But, of course, nobody knows for sure. After all, it helps to brace oneself ahead of time, just in case.

In all, based upon how conservatively low scientists’ predictions have been for so long, maybe 4C is realistic by 2055. But, beware if it happens, infernal regions of the planet will consume vast swaths of ecosystems and life forms like a monster arising from the darkest of caves.

Fortunately, this article is a fictional tale of what 4C would look like based upon predictions by prominent scientists 10 years ago. And, even though it may be considered heresy to suggest 4C within current lifetimes, who knows, maybe those same scientists no longer believe 4C could happen by 2055, but with GHGs zooming up, it would appear kinda inconsistent not to believe it any longer.

In 2010 the prestigious Met Office Hadley Centre/UK said average temperatures would likely be 4C above pre-industrial by 2055, “if greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) did not slow down.” Well, guess what’s happened to GHGs? Asking the question is the answer.

And, worse yet, it would bring in its wake a 16C rise in Arctic temperatures where at least twice the amount of carbon already in the atmosphere is frozen in time, waiting to be released via permafrost thawing. And, +16C would do it fast.

Accordingly, recent scientific field studies found thawing permafrost 70 years ahead of schedule in the High Arctic. Yes, 70 years ahead of schedule! (Source: Louise M. Farquharson et al, Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic, Geophysical Research Letters, June 10, 2019)

That’s absolutely horrible news and but one more example of mind-blowing shock and awe with rapidity of climate change vis a vis scientists’ expectations.

What happens if 4C hits by 2055?

The short answer has gotta be: Pandemonium reigns supreme!

According to the scientific forum 4 Degrees Hotter: “Less than a billion people will survive.” Expect, on average, more than a million human global warming deaths every week. As such, mass graveyards stacked with bodies would become a new normal.

Prominent climate scientists were quoted in the 4 Degrees Hotter article:

According to Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, one of Europe’s most eminent climate scientists, director of the Potsdam Institute: “At 4C Earth’s … carrying capacity estimates are below 1 billion people.”

Echoing that opinion, professor Kevin Anderson of the prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change stated: “Only about 10% of the planet’s population would survive at 4C.”

A global average of 4C means land temperatures would be 5.5C-6C hotter, especially inland from coasts. The tropics would be too hot for people to live and most of the temperate regions would be desertified.

As a result, half of the planet would be uninhabitable. Populations would be driven towards the poles. Over 136 port cities each with populations of one-half to one million would require sea walls or translocation of nearly one-half billion people.

In Europe, new deserts would spread to Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey as the Sahara figuratively leaps across the Straits of Gibraltar. In Switzerland, summer would be as hot as Baghdad today. Europe’s population would be forced into a “Great Trek North” in order to survive.

Even as recently as this century, the European heat wave of 2003 killed 35,000, but it was only a sampler of what too much heat does to the human body. (Source: The 2003 European Heatwave Caused 35,000 Deaths, New Scientist, October 10, 2003)

At the time, and according to the New Scientist, in 2003: “The EPI says it is confident that the August heat wave has broken all records for heat-related deaths and says the world must cut the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.”

But, today, that’s a bad joke with CO2 in 2003 at 378 ppm. Today it’s 410. Therefore, “must cut the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming” has been a total bust!

Temperature bands, called iostherms, will shift towards the poles faster than ecosystems can keep up. Thus, most ecosystems will collapse with breakdown of organic material, leading to ever-greater emissions of carbon self-perpetuating hands-free on autopilot, defined as runaway global warming.

Paleoclimate research suggests that the last time temperatures were 4C above pre-industrial; eventually, there were no large ice-sheets on the planet. Sea levels were 65-70 metres (213-229 feet) higher than today. Yet, ice sheets take considerable time to lose mass, even when it’s really hot. Thus, the sea level rise to 2100 would likely be only a few metres. But, still, get serious; it only takes a couple of metres for unmitigated disaster.

In a 4C world, temperatures would vary considerably on a worldwide basis. The Amazon, the Sahara-Sahei-Arabia region, India, and northern Australia would have higher temperatures than the average at any other place on Earth.

Already, Australia gave a recent “Preview of Hot Earth” late in the year 2018 in real time when record-breaking temperatures hit hard. More than 20,000 bats dropped dead in over two days as temps in northern Australia hit 42°C (107°F). Hundreds of thousands of bony herring, golden and silver perch and Murray cod died in Darling River because of extreme climate. Fruit on trees cooked from the inside out. (Source: Thousands of Australian Animals Die in Unprecedented Heatwave, The Scientist, Jan. 17, 2019)

That happened in today’s world while average global temperatures have only reached approximately 1C above post-industrial. What if 4C becomes reality or anything above 1C, like 2C or 3C? Then, what of northern Australia and other overly sensitive heat regions of the planet?

Meanwhile global average temperatures for July 2019 were the hottest ever since 1880. And, CO2 in the atmosphere is at its highest reading in 400,000 years, a period of time when atmospheric CO2 ran 180 ppm (low) to 280 ppm (high).

As of today, CO2 at 410 ppm has powered thru the 280-ppm ceiling of the past 400,000 years like a hot knife thru butter, and even more remarkable yet, it only took a couple hundred years to break a 400,000-year record. Hands down, that’s an all-time geologic speed record.

Thus, the human experience has turned into a vast experiment filled with unknowns because there are no comparisons throughout human history. Earthlings have shattered all records of the past 400,000 years. What happens next is a gamble.

All in all, it’s somewhat puzzling that scientists are not beating the drums about the threat of a 4C world hitting earlier than expected. Maybe they are… but privately.

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Congo’s Patrice Lumumba: The Winds of Reaction in Africa

Photograph Source: Official portrait of Prime Minister Lumumba – Public Domain

The Congo won independence from Belgium in June 1960 with Patrice Lumumba, age 35, as Prime Minister. Immediately it began to fall apart, under revanchist Belgian assault, Cold War pressures, adjacent settler colonial reaction and collaborationist Congolese elites like Moise Tshombe and Joseph Desire Mobutu. On 12 July Lumumba and President Kasavubu asked UN Secretary General Hammarskjold to urgently despatch military assistance “to protect the national territory of the Congo against the present external aggression” (Katanga had broken away under Tshombe with big Belgian support). In early July, Dag Hammarskjold, UN secretary general, stressed that ONUC (the UN mission, already 3,500 strong was “not under the orders of the [Congolese] government “nor [was it] party to any internal conflict”.

By month’s end ONUC had some 11,000 troops on the ground with its own air capacity. Nevertheless, an attempt to ‘station troops in Katanga in early August failed’, and at much the same time, Hammarskjold visited Elisabethville to meet Tshombe. Additionally, the Secretary General narrowed ONUC’s role even further: “it cannot be used on behalf of the central government…to force the provincial government to a specific line of action.”

Melber observes that ‘as a result, cordial relations with Lumumba ended abruptly.’ Lumumba felt that Hammarskjold was taking sides with the Belgians and Tshombe. When Lumumba sought assistance from the Soviet Union, President Kasavubu dismissed him as Prime Minister on 5 September 1960, as Mobutu, the army strongman, stood by (Henning Melber, Dag Hammarskjold, 2019, 77-79, 81, 84). Shortly after, Hammarskjold backed the decision of his special representative, Andrew Cordier,[1] to close down Leopoldville radio station, effectively preventing the Prime Minister from broadcasting, and closed the airports to all but UN operations.

According to Ludo De Witte, Congolese law gave parliament, not the president, the power to dismiss a prime minister, and on 7 September, after a strong speech, Lumumba won the support of the House of Representatives by 60 votes to 19. On 14 September, then Colonel Mobutu staged his coup. ‘Isolated both by a cordon of Blue Berets and by Mobutu’s men’, a virtual prisoner, Lumumba decided that ‘it was time to try and escape and get back to Stanleyville’ where he had strong popular and organisational support. On 27 November, at night in the rain, he set out. Dayal informed Hammarskjold that “if Lumumba manages to get to Stanleyville the situation would change in a flash” (Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba, 2001, 27, 52).

It was an act of hope and desperation.[2] On 1 December he was taken by Mobutu’s soldiers. Sustained brutality followed, until he and his two comrades were slaughtered on 17 January 1961. Patrice Lumumba was not yet 36, and it was the 201st day of Congo’s independence. De Witte quotes him saying months earlier: “If I die tomorrow, it will be because a white has armed a black” (2001, 119-121).

The obliteration of the bodies followed their killing. Over hours through 22-23 January 1961, the three corpses were dismembered, doused in acid, burnt and pulverised: ‘nothing was left of the three nationalist leaders’ (De Witte, 141). It was a prelude to acts which recurred during the Apartheid Wars in the 1980s.

Hammarskjold was reportedly ‘devastated for days’ after the news of Lumumba’s torture and death, but he also thought it was ‘an entirely senseless act’ (Melber, 7), when it was clearly planned and purposefull. He makes reference to ‘the winds of change’, in Harold Macmillan’s famous phrase. But the winds of reaction were then as or more powerful, and they eminated directly from Pretoria and Salisbury.

The Sharpville Massacre occurred on 21 March 1960, when 69 carefully peaceful marchers were shot dead that day. The British diplomat, Brian Urquhart, said: ‘The assassination was condoned by the United States, which feared that Lumumba was becoming an African Fidel Castro.’

The UN, with its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the Congo, abandoned Lumumba. President Kwame Nkrumah’s eulogy was firm: The UN ‘not only failed to maintain the law and order [they’d been invited to preserve], but also denied to the lawful government…all other means of self-protection’. They failed ‘to prevent his arrest by mutineers or his transfer through the use of airfields under [their] control, into the hands of the Belgian dominated government of Katanga’ (De Witte, 2001, 149).

By 1958-1960, Lumumba had ‘broke[n] away from the Congolese elite and its bourgeois ambitions.’ He resolutely decided upon full decolonisation to benefit the people, and tried to ‘shape a nationalism based on three political pillars: revolutionary and coherent nationalism, political action relying on a mass movement, and an internationalist perspective’ (De Witte, 176).

He faced implacable, ruthless opposition, which stemmed down from President Eisenhower. Hammarskjold was a leading Swedish diplomat, completely out of his depth in Congo. He was killed when his DC-6 aircraft (‘Albertina’) was brought down near Ndola on 18 September 1961. Though information still remains hidden, the likelihood is that it was shot down by a Fouga aircraft operating out of Katanga.

In contrast to the ten weeks accorded Lumumba, Mobutu remained in power for over 30 years until July 1997. His presidency was outstanding for its despotism, corruption (one of the world’s richest men) and the neglect of the needs of the people, backed throughout by international political and financial institutions. In the lifetime of Pierre Mambele, a taxi-driver in Kinshasa, ‘Congo had gone from brutal Belgian colonialism, to brief independence under Patrice Lumumba to dictatorshup under Mobutu before the Kabila clan took over. He had met Lumumba at rallies in Kisangani (Stanleyville), and liked him.’[3] In destroying Lumumba and preserving Mobutu the major Western and regional powers inflicted grave harm on the Congolese.

Notes.

1) Cordier with Ralph Bunche were two American members of the small ‘Congo Club’ of staff members involved both in the Secretariat and on the ground. Conor Cruise O’Brien and Rajeshwar Dayal were others. These officials, in the words of Nzongola-Ntalala, “shared a common Cold War outlook with Western policy makers”. Ralph Bunche’s difficulties with Lumumba were a strong example of the political clashes that occurred (Melber, 88-89).

2) Ronan Bennett offers a vivid account of Lumumba and his circle at this time, including Larry Devlin, CIA station chief in Elisabethville, a key plotter on the ground, The Catastrophist (1997).

3) ‘Obituary: Pierre Mambele’. The Economist, 20 July 2019.

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Recession Now, Please

Mural by Diego Rivera showing Karl Marx, in the National Palace in Mexico City. Photograph Source: Wolfgang Sauber – CC BY-SA 3.0

It is a basic fact of economic life in capitalist economies: recessions happen, there are cycles of boom and bust.

By the 1850s, Karl Marx had pretty well figured out the how and why, the underlying mechanisms. His account has held up well over the years, though you would hardly know it to hear mainstream macro-economists tell it.

“Bourgeois economists,” as Marx would have called them, seldom acknowledge the historical and conceptual connections between their work and Marx’s, and they seem not to notice how much some of their views about the trajectories of capitalist economies resemble his.

This is not entirely their fault; many of them have no idea. Much to the detriment of progress in economic science, their training and professional allegiances disincline them to take bodies of theory that “speak truth to (class) power” seriously.

They are, however, very aware of and generally sympathetic towards the work of John Maynard Keynes and others whose thinking is generally in line with Marx’s, notwithstanding the fact that Keynes and his co-thinkers wanted, unlike Marx, to save capitalism, not move beyond it.

Also, mainstream economists have observed quite a few recessions over the past century and a half, and have therefore become adept at identifying signs that suggest when recessions should be expected. They also know in general how to minimize the damage recessions cause and how to get capitalist economies back on track when the time comes.

Needless to say, Trump knows little and cares less about any of this. Nevertheless, his views on the economy, like everything else, do matter — because of the power he wields. On their merits, there is no reason to take them seriously at all.

Outside the blooming buzzing confusion of the Donald’s mind, it is widely accepted that, whether or not a recession is imminent, one is, by now, overdue.

It is also the view of most informed observers that Keynesian fiscal remedies are no longer as feasible or as likely to be effective as they used to be, and also that monetary “solutions” are unlikely to be of much help either.

For this, Trump and the sycophants he has empowered to run the government for him have a lot to answer for; so do Barack Obama and his vaunted neoliberal economic advisors and functionaries.

Nothing that any of them has done has made the next recession any more or less inevitable. When it finally does come, however, it will bring a lot more hurt than it might otherwise have. To some considerable extent, that is on them.

Unchecked Trumpian rule poses almost as great a threat to the health and wellbeing of planet earth as the cretaceous-paleogene asteroid collision that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Even so, if there were ways to postpone the next recession indefinitely, it might almost be worth giving them a try.

This would, of course, mean increasing the likelihood of a second Trump term, so the calculation is not exactly slam-dunk. However, there is no need to agonize over that, because there is now way to keep the next recession permanently at bay; capitalism’s “laws of motion” will exact their due no matter what Washington does.

As long as the American economic system remains capitalist – in other words, as long as major productive assets are privately owned and operate at the mercy of market forces – recessions can be temporarily postponed, but not permanently evaded. The question is not whether, but when.

Trump and his advisors – like Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council – disagree, but only because they don’t dare cross their master, or because they haven’t a clue what they are talking about, or both. I’d vote for “both.” Kudlow, by the way, isn’t even a real economist; he just plays one on TV.

Trump can, however, affect the timing of the next recession to some extent. There is, by now, not much more he could do to delay its arrival; his tool chest is depleted. But his tweets and flip-flops on trade and other matters and his increasingly evident mental decline can hasten its onset. The process is already well underway.

It has become harder than ever to claim that there must be some method to Trump’s madness. The story line used to be that he couldn’t have come as far as he has by being stupid; and therefore that what looks like stupidity run riot is actually cleverness in disguise.

Newsflash: Trump is as stupid as he seems, maybe even stupider, and he got as far as he has thanks to his father’s money and political juice, and to the largesse of some of the sleaziest crooks on the face of the earth. It used to be possible to say of those who thought otherwise that they were merely willfully blind. The kindest thing to say about them now is that they are stark raving mad.

All Trump’s flailing about does is cultivate uncertainty, discouraging business investment while encouraging market volatility. This is the standard, timeworn recipe for bringing on long overdue, far-reaching economic downturns.

Ultimately, though, it is up to the gods whose playthings we are to determine when the proverbial shit will hit the fan. Those gods are mean bitches and sons of bitches and, lately they have been especially unkind.

Setting Trump loose upon the world was mischievous and cruel. Turning the less odious duopoly party over to Clintonites — neoliberals, liberal imperialists, unreconstructed corporate stooges – was wicked and heartless as well.

At this point, the GOP is hopeless; Democrats not nearly as much. Indeed, for keeping them on the negative side of the ledger, indications now are that the gods have overplayed their hand.

Or, to put the point somewhat differently, it is now beginning to look like the stars are finally aligning right.

But, of course, the words Shakespeare had Cassius proclaim in “Julius Caesar” are spot on — that “the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” That thought may finally be penetrating the thick skulls of significant numbers of potential Democratic voters.

With Trump acting out egregiously and mainstream Democrats in the House doing nothing more about it than talking up a storm, it would be hard to imagine the public mood not shifting in ways that would force a turn for the better.

Thus, despite the best efforts of Democratic National Committee flacks at MSNBC, CNN, and, of course, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and, worst of all, PBS and NPR, the Democratic Party now has a “squad” with which its Pelosiite-Hoyerite-Schumerian leadership must contend.

It also has Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, front-runners for the presidential nomination, who reject the neoliberal economic policies that the Democratic Party has been championing since the waning days of the Carter administration.

In calling them front-runners, I haven’t forgotten Joe Biden, still in the lead in most polls. It is just that I think that, after nearly three years of Trump, the candidacy of a doddering Clintonite doofus doesn’t – and shouldn’t — merit serious consideration. I trust that this will become increasingly apparent even to the most dull-witted Democratic pundits, and of course to the vast majority of Democratic voters, as the election season unfolds.

The better to defeat Trump and Trumpism next year, Sanders or Warren or whichever candidate finally gets the nod, along with the several rays of light in Congress – there are more of them than just the four that Trump would send back to “where they came from” — will undoubtedly make common cause with corporate Democrats at a tactical level.

This is all to the good. Nevertheless, the time to start working to assure that it goes no deeper than that is already upon us.

When the dust clears, it will become evident that the squad-like new guys and the leading Democrats of the past are not on the same path; that the former want to reconstruct the Democratic Party in ways that will make it authentically progressive, while the latter, wittingly or not, want to restore and bolster the Party that made Trump and Trumpism possible and even inevitable.

It is also relevant that the public mood is undergoing a sea change for reasons that go beyond the sensibilities of a new generation coming of age.

The first signs of this transformation revolved around LGBTQ issues. Remember how in 2004, it worked against John Kerry that the Massachusetts Supreme Court, following Hawaii’s lead, had just ruled in favor of gay marriage. Back then, that was a lot for a Massachusetts Senator seeking the presidency to overcome.

Remember too how in 2008, the vaunted Barack Obama, President Drone, the Deporter-in-Chief that Biden and other “centrists” have lately all but beatified, declared that he was not quite there yet.

Now even Trump is less hostile to the idea than Obama was then; many of the Evangelicals in his base, the kind for whom the sanctity of life effectively terminates with birth, seem OK with it too.

There is reason to hope that attitudes towards America’s gun laws are beginning to change as well. All the polls indicate that much of the public has now come to realize how insane at least some of those laws are.

To be sure, most legislators still fear the NRA, and Trump remains in its pocket, but the idea that it is fast becoming a Paper Tiger is beginning to catch on. That realization is, by now, more widespread than anyone, even a year ago, would have dared to hope.

Could the Israel lobby be next? As Israeli politics veers ever farther to the right, its lobby’s stranglehold over the Democratic Party, though far from shot, is in plain decline — as increasingly many American Jews, especially but not only millennials, lose interest in the ethnocratic settler state, or find themselves embarrassed by it.

Evangelicals, who think that the in-gathering of world Jewry into Israel is key to the End Time, when they will be raptured away into God’s heaven, and Jews who refuse to accept Christ as their savior will be cast into Hell for all eternity, continue to hold fast. They are now more gung ho for the self-described Jewish state than most of its Jewish supporters.

Because Republicans need to keep those Evangelicals on board, they remain steadfast too.

Inasmuch as Israel is still key to that strain of Jewish identity politics that baby boomers and others getting long in the tooth continue to rally around, the Zionist lobby is by no means on the ropes just yet. But the writing is on the wall.

These are not the only ways in which the times are changing. Even so, as long as Trump’s economic policies look good enough to enough people not too ashamed to vote for someone as ludicrous and vile as he, there remains a chance that, come November 2020, voters won’t give him the boot.

Should that come to pass, the end will truly be near.

The gods could care less what we mortals think or want. But, given the stakes, it would still be worthwhile beseeching them, if only they could be bothered to exist, on the off-chance that they might be merciful enough to hurry the next recession along, so that, well in advance of Election Day 2020, the forty percent or so of us that does not already hate Trump with all their heart, soul, and might will finally see the light.

The sooner the better too – because fear of a second Trump term, combined with false beliefs about the wisdom of nominating Biden or some other anodyne corporate Democrat to run against him, could cause the party to make the same mistake that it made in 2016. That mistake, in a word, was to accede to the inveterate cowardice that all but defines the Democratic Party’s soul.

Especially now that it has become possible to wean the party off Clintonism, nominating someone dedicated to perpetuating its Clintonite turn would be almost criminal; it would be an error of stupendous proportions.

***

Marx devoted his later years to discovering “the laws of motion” of capitalist societies; hence his continuing relevance for understanding how and why there is an economic downturn, a recession, in our future.

Before that, though, while still in his twenties, he thought a lot about how the gods and God are nothing more than representations of essentially human traits, separated (alienated) from their source and projected onto materially unreal mental confabulations.

His thinking was influenced by his friend and older colleague, Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), the foremost “Young (or Left) Hegelian” philosopher of the 1830s and 1840s. Feuerbach’s philosophical anthropology and critical interpretations of Christian doctrines, set forth in The Essence of Christianity (1841) and elsewhere, are points of reference for theoretical humanists to this day.

In the spirit of that line of thought, I would venture that now would be a good time to pray that the gods or God bring the recession on while there is still time for some good to come of it.

Let us therefore call on the divinities to be remorseful for the harm they – that is, we – have done, and beseech them to make it right.

The animal sacrifices favored by the pagans of Greco-Roman antiquity and by worshipers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the days of the Second Temple might do just as well, but for the fact that, notwithstanding the continuing popularity of Trump and Trumpism in the most venal and benighted quarters of our “city upon a hill,” and of similar excrescences elsewhere around the world, that there is at least some irreversible moral and intellectual progress after all.

Therefore, let us pray for a recession now – not just to increase the likelihood that Trump will be dispatched, but also because a significant economic contraction, coming just as a Democratic president takes over, could sink Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and much else besides.

The suffering to come is inevitable; the sooner it comes and goes, the sooner recovery can begin, and the sooner the reconstruction of the Democratic Party can proceed — along with de-Trumpification and the resumption, after so many years of stasis and regression, of movement forward towards a better possible world.

The post Recession Now, Please appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Realism and Unrealism of the Green New Deals

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A problem facing advocates of serious action to deter global warming is that the costs of not acting aren’t quantifiable and remain somewhat abstract. In contrast, calling for a phase-out of fossil fuels understandably leads to fears of job losses, especially since capitalism isn’t going to offer new employment for those displaced.

There will be costs with taking measures to do a portion of what needs to be done, never mind all that needs to be done. To deny this, as liberals frequently do, might backfire when it becomes apparent there won’t be a climatic free lunch. There are two counters to these future costs — first, the benefits, including new jobs, from the industries that will grow dramatically from a real effort to switch to renewable energy as part of a comprehensive tackling of global warming and, second, the massive costs that will come due from continuing business as usual. What will be the costs of a sea-level rise of, say, three meters, the disruption to agriculture and the associated mass migrations that would be triggered?

These costs would be catastrophic, totaling much more in the long run than the shorter-term costs of acting with seriousness.

With this context in mind, an analysis is in order of the so-called Green New Deal, both the Green Party’s original and the Democratic Party’s later watered-down version. First, this article will highlight some of the key points in both, then look at some of the critiques (including right-wing ones, since these get the lion’s share of coverage in the corporate media) and, finally, determine what conclusions might be drawn. Inevitably, discussion of economics — and the world economic system — can’t be avoided. Can there truly be a “green capitalism” whereby the same system that has brought humanity and the environment to an existential crisis will magically provide the solution? (I suppose the way that last question is framed previews the answer.)

In other words, can reforms within current parameters prove sufficient to be able to reverse the ongoing massive dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; reduce the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxides; and enable a conversion to sustainable agricultural and environmental practices? Or is a new way of organizing the world’s economic activity an unavoidable necessity? To begin to answer these questions, we have to define what needs to be done.

The Green Party’s Green New Deal program

Regardless of our opinions of the Green Party of the United States, the party has produced an ambitious document, one worthy of serious discussion. (Full disclosure: I was once highly active in the party but withdrew because it became too frustrating to continually fight the party majority that had a liberal orientation little different from the Democratic Party; people active in it today tell me that party has since moved in a more socialist direction.) The party’s Green New Deal sets a goal of “a new, sustainable economy that is environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible.”

In conjunction with the goal of sustainability is an “Economic Bill of Rights,” defined as the right to single-payer healthcare, a guaranteed job at a living wage, affordable housing and free college education. To achieve its goals, the Green New Deal calls for “a WWII-type mobilization to address the grave threat posed by climate change, transitioning our country to 100% clean energy by 2030.”

Given that humanity is inching closer to the point of no return — the atmosphere is more than halfway to the 2 degree C. global temperature rise from pre-industrial levels that is believed to be the limit before runaway change brings on catastrophic consequences and not far from the 1.5 degree mark that may be the more realistic limit — an accelerated timetable for a full shutdown of fossil-fuel consumption is unavoidably a part of any serious program to stop global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 20 percent of greenhouse gases derive from fossil fuels used for transportation and another 28 percent comes from burning fossil fuels to produce electricity. (Apparently the Trump gang has not gotten around to censoring that report.)

The authors of the Green New Deal certainly see massive benefits from their proposed program. For example, the party says it would “Create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable (regenerative) agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.” The party would “Ensure that any worker displaced by the shift away from fossil fuels will receive full income and benefits as they transition to alternative work.” That employment initiative would be conducted in the context of “energy democracy” — there would be “public, community and worker ownership of our energy system” with access to energy treated as a human right.

All fossil fuel production, and nuclear energy, would be phased out, a carbon tax imposed (but not defined) and a “greenhouse gas tax” would be imposed on polluters to compensate society for damage already caused.

The Green Party’s Green New Deal platform asserts that implementing the program would “revive the economy” and necessitate hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to military spending because there would be no longer a need to control foreign oil supplies and transportation. Moreover, “the Green New Deal largely pays for itself in healthcare savings from the prevention of fossil fuel-related diseases, including asthma, heart attacks, strokes and cancer.”

To help bring about these changes, the Green New Deal proposed to provide “grants and low-interest loans to grow green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.” Current subsidies for fossil fuels would be re-directed toward research efforts to further develop wind, solar and geothermal energy and sustainable environmental and agricultural practices. Natural gas, biomass and nuclear power are ruled out as not constituting clean energy.

Surely an ambitious plan. To the question of how realistic this program is we will return later in this article.

The Democratic Party’s Green New Deal program

For a comparison, let’s now turn to the Democratic Party’s version of a Green New Deal, specifically the plan introduced into Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey. This plan calls for “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” and the creation of “millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States.” This proposal also seeks to “promote justice and equity … and repair historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”

To achieve these goals, the Democratic Green New Deal calls for “a 10-year national mobilization” that includes investing in community-defined projects to mitigate disasters related to global warming; rebuilding infrastructure; meeting 100 percent of U.S. energy needs through “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources”; removing pollution from manufacturing “as much as is technically feasible”; overhauling agricultural and transportation practices; restoring natural ecosystems to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere; and restoring and protecting ecosystems through “locally appropriate and science-based projects.”

Rather than existing as a fully formed program with preconceived details, this Green New Deal would be “developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.” The investment that comes out of this program would be intended to ensure “the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital … technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization.”

The plan calls for “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States”; protecting the right of workers to organize; “strengthening and enforcing labor, workplace health and safety, antidiscrimination, and wage and hour standards across all employers, industries, and sectors” and “ensuring a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies.” The plan also advocates for “high-quality health care,” affordable housing and “healthy and affordable food.”

This plan is laid out in the form of a resolution introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and into the Senate by Sen. Markey. Considering not only the extreme hostility to such ideas in the Republican Party, which continues to control the Senate, but also the Democratic Party leadership, the prospects for congressional adoption would appear to be nil. (In dismissing the Green New Deal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derisively said, “The green dream, or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it, right?”) Short-term politics aside, the same question as the original Green Party Green New Deal must be asked of the Democratic Party version: How realistic is it?

Koch brothers money helps fund opposition

Before we seriously tackle the contents of these plans, let’s take a quick survey of opposition to them, which naturally is fiercest from the Right and corporate interests with something to lose.

The Institute for Energy Research, for example, slams the Democratic Party’s Green New Deal as “misguided” because the original New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was intended to address the Great Depression, whereas today “we are not currently in the midst of an economic depression.” True enough that we not currently living through another Great Depression, but the economy — for working people — is bad enough. The author of the Institute’s “Flaws With a ‘Green New Deal’ ” diatribe attempts to back up its position by saying “Even textbook Keynesians” oppose running budget deficits at the present time. Evidently, the Institute considers “textbook Keynesians” the outermost fringe of what is imaginable.

The author goes on to claim that FDR’s New Deal actually made the economy worse, despite an accompanying table showing that unemployment fell from an inherited 25 percent to 9.9 percent in 1941. It is true that the New Deal didn’t bring an end to economic depression, but it did make a big difference, and not only for the social programs that were inaugurated. It was the mobilization to fight World War II that truly ended the Depression, but that effort required massive governmental spending and intervention in the economy — in other words, going well beyond the New Deal. The problem with the New Deal was that it didn’t go far enough or spend sufficiently. So the Institute’s right-wing folderol simply doesn’t withstand the most basic scrutiny.

The Institute disingenuously calls itself “impartial and unbiased” on its About web page, but also attributes to “free markets” all manner of progress. SourceWatch reveals that the Institute is founded by the Koch brothers, has a president who was formerly an executive with Enron and is tied to the Koch brothers’ infamous American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that literally writes extreme Right bills for state legislatures.

When you don’t have facts, make up your argument

Next up, we have similar extremist ideology masquerading as “science” from the Heritage Foundation. As with the Institute for Energy Research, this critique is aimed at the Democratic Party version. We get the flavor of the Heritage Foundation’s attack when it leads off with this statement: “[E]ach of these items is so wildly unrealistic that you have to wonder how familiar the authors are with life away from coastal urban centers.” Ah yes, only conservatives in the middle of the country can possibly possess good ideas.

Declaring that “a great deal of costly damage” would result were any of the ideas adopted, Heritage recoils in horror at the thought of more mass transit or electric motor vehicles. To buttress its ideologically driven point of view, Heritage first understates the mileage that can be driven by electric cars, then declares that an electric vehicle charging infrastructure “would necessitate having exponentially more charging stations than the current number of gas stations.”

Heritage claims that electric vehicles can only travel 90 to 125 miles, yet there are at least eight models that can travel at least 200 miles on a charge. Some of these models are very expensive and unaffordable for most people, but as technology improves, charge travel distances will lengthen and more models will become affordable. For those who do drive, how many gas stations do you pass before needing to fill the tank again? Dozens? Hundreds? Moreover, electric-vehicle recharging stations don’t need to have such a level of saturation because they are easily installed at homes and in business and apartment parking lots. Government agencies and public utilities are already executing plans and providing subsidies to encourage home and business-location chargers. So the idea that Heritage insinuates, that we’ll need a charging station on every other corner, doesn’t stand up to rational examination.

Heritage also shrieks that the Green New Deal calls for an end to air travel, but the plan makes no such statement. In fact, as already noted, it is mostly a set of aspirations with little in the way of concrete proposals as to how to achieve its goals.

The Heritage Foundation of course is peddling far Right ideology. No surprise there, as its founders and funders are some of the most extreme billionaires, including Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife, and notorious operatives such as Paul Weyrich. Heritage strenuously opposes action to combat global warming, little surprise when some of Heritage’s funders, including the Koch brothers, have a vested interest in promoting fossil fuels. The foundation also takes tobacco-company money while opposing any legislation aimed at that industry.

The lack of specifics in the Democratic Green New Deal hasn’t prevented Republicans from issuing preposterous numbers for the supposed cost. Another propaganda mill, this one calling itself the American Action Forum, apparently using a random-number generator, alleged that the Green New Deal would cost between $53 trillion and $91 trillion from 2020 to 2029; Republicans have taken to parroting the uppermost figure as if it was real.

As one example of this legerdemain, the Forum insists that the Green New Deal’s call for high-quality health care to be provided to all United Statesians would cost $36 trillion for the decade of the 2020s. Never mind that lack of health care has a cost — such a concept is simply ignored — and that the U.S. healthcare system is by far the world’s most expensive. (My own calculations estimate that the U.S. spends an extra $1.4 trillion per year on health care than it would if it had universal coverage similar to peer countries.) It is precisely that the privatized U.S. health care system is designed to generate corporate profits rather than health care that it so expensive.

The American Action Forum is legally able to hide the identity of its donors due to tax-law loopholes, but spends millions of dollars to elect hard-line Republicans and is led by prominent Republican politicians and operatives. The Republican politicians citing this dubious source are in effect citing themselves — their mantra is “I say it’s true, so it must be true.”

Under capitalism, we’ll get more business as usual

One is tempted to call the Right-wing attacks comic relief, but unfortunately continuing business as usual, as the above organizations would like, is anything but funny given the seriousness of the challenge. And acknowledging that seriousness compels us to return to the question of feasibility within the current economic system. The Democratic Party version of the Green New Deal is aptly named because it doesn’t go beyond the reformism of the 1930s New Deal. The reforms the Democratic document calls for certainly would be welcome as vast improvements from what we have today. Nonetheless, it is doubtful that such a program could ever come close to being enacted by Democrats — most of the Democratic leadership is opposed to it, and the record of liberals folding as soon as a Republican attacks is too consistent.

A more fundamental problem is that the backers of the Democratic Green New Deal seem to assume that a program challenging corporate interests to such a serious degree can be fully implemented in the current U.S. political and economic system, and that corporate interests will simply sit back and allow such a program not only to be signed into law but to actually be implemented. A massive social movement, bringing together the widest possible array of organizations and resolute in using a multitude of tactics inside and outside the system, could bring about the proposed program, but there is not a word of public involvement in the Democratic program. It is all to be created by congressional action.

If there was a movement so massive and powerful that it forced the implementation of a Green New Deal, shouldn’t it bring about root-and-branch change? Why have such a movement be steered into propping up the capitalist system that brings so much misery to so many people? If it did simply reform capitalism, however welcome such reforms would be, inequality, imperialism, environmental destruction and all the rest of our present-day social ills would be back with us soon enough with the massive social energy that brought the reforms now dissipated.

The biggest problem with the Democratic version is the expectation that an ambitious program significantly expanding social programs, making huge changes to the economy and bringing the fossil fuel industry to heel can be accomplished without any political or economic system change. Other than a passing mention of “the public receiv[ing] appropriate ownership stakes,” there is an implied assumption that the goals will all be accomplished under capitalism and the current system of corporate rule. Capitalism will yet save us! Sorry, no. Not going to happen. Under capitalism, all the incentives are to continue business as usual, no matter the dire future consequences of business as usual.

The capitalist system requires continual growth, which means expansion of production. Its internal logic also means that its incentives are to use more energy and inputs when more efficiency is achieved — the paradox that more energy is consumed instead of less when the cost drops. Because production is for private profit and competition is relentless, growth and cost cutting is necessary to maintain profitability — and continually increasing profitability is the actual goal. If a corporation doesn’t expand, its competitor will and put it out of business. Because of the built-in pressure to maintain profits in the face of relentless competition, corporations continually must reduce costs, employee wages not excepted. Production is moved to low-wage countries with fewer regulations, enabling not only more pollution but driving up energy and carbon-dioxide costs with the need for transportation across greater distances.

Leaving capitalism intact means allowing “markets” to make a wide array of social decisions — and markets are nothing more than the aggregate interests of the most powerful industrialists and financiers. An economy that must expand will do so. Introducing efficiencies can slow down the increase in energy consumption and resource depletion, but an ever expanding economy will ultimately use more energy, more resources. Switching to all renewable energy, although a necessity to reverse global warming, is insufficient by itself. Some forms of renewable energy are not necessarily clean nor without contributions to global warming, and the limits that living on a finite planet with finite resources presents are all the more acute in an economic system that requires endless growth.

Bioenergy requires deforestation, removing carbon sinks, which is counterproductive to the goal of reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases, and can be more polluting than fossil fuels. The turbines used to produce electricity from wind increasingly are built with the “rare earth” element neodymium, which requires a highly toxic process to produce. Increasing rare earth mining means more pollution and toxic waste. There is not a hint of any of this in the Democratic Green New Deal.

Business as usual will cost trillions of dollars

The Green Party’s Green New Deal at least acknowledges that system change is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. This platform also doesn’t offer ideas on how it might come to fruition, but at least there is an implicit nod to the need to transcend capitalism by calling for employment for all who are displaced by the phasing out of fossil fuels, by demanding energy production be put in public hands and by advocating for “a new, sustainable economy.” It also doesn’t shy away from the scale of what is needed, and directly connects the present energy policy with U.S. militarism.

What this program doesn’t do, however, is acknowledge the costs of a rapid transition from fossil fuels. In the mirror image of conservatives who see only costs, liberals and Greens see only benefits. Although not comparable to the cartoonishly absurd Right-wing claims of tens of trillions of dollars in costs, the idea of a cost-free transition strains credibility. The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concludes the annual reduction in “consumption growth” on a global basis would be only 0.06 percent during the course of the 21st century has only encouraged the idea that “green capitalism” will somehow save the day. The Green version of the Green New Deal is considerably more ambitious than that of the newer Democratic version, and thus all the more out of reach within a capitalist framework.

The Green Party’s Green New Deal also rests on some not necessarily realistic assertions. The platform asserts that having no need to control oil means no more overseas military presence, but that is overly simplistic. Certainly securing oil is a driver of U.S. foreign policy, but hardly the only factor. The U.S. government seeks global dominance for its corporations, keeping the entire planet open for corporate plunder and smashing any and all attempts to escape the U.S. orbit or to challenge the domination of Global North corporations. It will take far more than reducing fossil fuel consumption to bring a halt to imperialism and the closing of 800 U.S. overseas military bases.

The platform then switches to a declaration that the savings from not having to treat diseases arising from fossil fuel use will alone pay for it. There are large savings to be had, but that this one item alone will somehow cover all the costs is unrealistic. In the long run, running an economy on the basis of human need rather than private profit and proving quality preventive health care to cut down on medical spending will be more rational and equitable then what now exists. But that such a transition will be without cost is offering platitudes that can’t be fulfilled. Better to be honest that there will be no cost-free utopia.

Again, none of this an argument against the most rapid possible transition to renewable energy nor that the massive economic changes needed shouldn’t be undertaken. Winning World War II required deficit spending well beyond anything previously seen, but what would the cost of a fascist victory been? Similarly, what would the cost of a rise of several meters in sea level, of massive disruption to weather patterns and agriculture, of hundreds of millions of forced migrations, of massive species extinctions?

Global warming already costs trillions of dollars

That the costs of business as usual can’t easily be quantified does not mean there are not attempts to do so. A 2018 paper in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change by four scientists led by climatologist Katharine Ricke of the University of California, San Diego, estimated that the social cost of carbon — the cumulative economic impact of global warming — amounts to a global total of more than $400 per ton. Based on 2017 carbon dioxide emissions, that is more than US$16 trillion!

The impact varies greatly on a country-by-country basis. Canada and Russia, as of last year, were gaining economic benefits of up to $10 per carbon dioxide ton, while India was already paying $86 per ton. (That is all the more unfair as India is estimated to be responsible for only a cumulative three percent of greenhouse-gas emissions since 1850.) This analysis is based on “a set of climate simulations, rather than a single model.” These costs are “ballpark figures” because of the uncertainty surrounding climate physics, emission trajectories and other factors, but there are additional factors, such as the impact of global warming on international trade and migration, that aren’t necessarily captured in this model.

The gross domestic product for the entire Earth was estimated at $80 trillion for 2017. Thus, if the above calculation is accurate, global warming is already costing humanity one-fifth of its productive output. And we’ve only begun to suffer the effects of the climate spiraling out of control. What will be the cost of, say, a three-meter rise in sea level? That would be more than sufficient to permanently place under water parts of many of the world’s biggest cities.

We are already paying high costs. The cost of ambient air pollution has been estimated at more than four millions deaths per year, and that might be a conservative estimate. An attempt by three economists associated with the International Monetary Fund calculated that worldwide subsidies for the fossil fuel industry is more than US$5 trillion per year when not only direct handouts and other visible monetary subsidies are accounted for, but also adding the environmental costs. Putting millions of people to work building renewable-energy infrastructure will boost the economy, as will ending the subsidies and reducing the health costs of fossil fuels. Those are real benefits. But shutting down entire industries and overhauling the world’s economic system will come at serious cost. It’s not realistic to pretend otherwise. Those of us in the advanced capitalist countries will have to consume less, including using less energy. That, too, is inescapable and both Green New Deals fail to address that.

This is a debate that shouldn’t be reduced to a sterile “revolution or reform” opposition. We need all the reform we can achieve, right now. The balance, nonetheless, is clearly on the side of advocates who push for the fastest possible transition to a new economy, one not dependent on fossil fuels. An economy based on meeting human need and in harmony with the environment, not one made for private profit and that externalizes onto society environmental and other costs. The price of business as usual will be catastrophic environmental damage. Socialism or barbarism remain humanity’s future options.

The post The Realism and Unrealism of the Green New Deals appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The White-Nationalist Great Fear

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A century ago, the nation was wracked by race wars known as the “Red Summer” of 1919.  Today, race wars are resurging, but implemented not by gangs or groups as in the early-20thcentury but by isolated — and heavily armed – individuals who share a common white-nationalist ideology.

During much of the late-1910s and early-20s, gangs of white nationalists inflicted their racist vengeance upon both African-Americans and Mexicans/Mexican-Americans in race wars the scale of which the nation has never seen since.

In distinction, the urban uprisings of the 1960s, often precipitated by racial conflicts and dubbed “race riots”, were popular rebellions within mostly African-American communities suppressed not by white racists but by the state (e.g., National Guard, federal troops and/or local law-enforcement).

Today, mass shootings are an all-American epidemic with 297 episodes reported so far this year. Among these killings, many have been committed by individuals who share a common rightwing, white-nationalist ideology. They target a broad range of what they claim to be “non-white” populations, including Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims and other minority people.  These attacks represent more than isolated lone-wolf actions but a growing and significant threat.  They express what can best be conceived as a white nationalist “great fear,” one that prefigures a fascist insurgency.

***

On July 28th, 19-year-old Santino William Legan, armed with a WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle, killed three people and wounded 13 others at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival.

The August 3rd shooting in El Paso (TX) was perpetrated by Patrick Crusius, 21-years-old white male from Allen (TX).  He singled out shoppers at the Walmart Supercenter near the Cielo Vista Mall on the city’s east side because it drew both local, Mexican-American and Mexican shoppers. Armed with an AK-47, he killed 22 people and injured 24 others.

Both Legan and Crusius were not simply armed with high-power weapons but with elements of an increasingly common ideology or belief system that meant more than inflicting pain on their targeted subjects.  The killers sought to inflict terror as a way to protest their fears about the changing character of American society.

Legan is reported to have a prepared a “target list” consisting of religious institutions and political groups of both parties as well as federal buildings and courthouses.  He supposed uttered, “Ayyy garlic festival time. Come get wasted on overpriced shit,” and then went on his shooting spree.

Just prior to his attack, Crusius published a detailed manifesto on 8Chan, the recently closed-down “free speech” website for ultra-right-wing ranters. His statement is coherently organized into key sections that include “About Me,” “Economic Reasons,” “Gear,” “Reaction” and “Personal Reasons and Thoughts.”

Crusiusclearly states the rationale for his action, invoking Pres. Trump’s accusatory language: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

He goes on to detail his grievances, grievance shared by many on both the right and left:

In short, America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to stop this seem to be nearly impossible. The inconvenient truth is that our leaders, both Democrat AND Republican, have been failing us for decades. They are either complacent or involved in one of the biggest betrayals of the American public in our history. The takeover of theUnited States government by unchecked corporations.

My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist. The job of my dreams will likely be automated. Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.

Crusius concludes, warning: “My death is likely inevitable. If I’m not killed bythe police, then I’ll probably be gunned down by one of the invaders. Capture in this case if far worse than dying during the shooting because I’ll get the death penalty anyway. Worse still is that I would live knowing that my family despises me. This is why I’m not going to surrender even if I run out of ammo.”

He peacefully surrendered to the police.

***

This summer’s white-nationalist shootings are taking place a century after the Red Summer of 1919.  That earlier era was marked by industrialization, the Mexican Revolution (1910), WW-I and the Great Migration (1917 to 1921). It also witnessed widespread attacks by whites against Mexicans/Mexican-Americans and African-Americans.

The anti-Mexican wars played out from 1910 thru 1920, fueled by the revolution and longstanding fears and prejudices that fostered violence and vigilantism.It began in Thorndale (TX) on June 19, 1911, when a group of white men attacked a 14-year-old Mexican youth, Antonio Gómez.  According to one account, “As a crowd closed in around Gómez, he defended himself and fatally stabbed the man striking him. Enraged that Gómez’s age made his legal execution impossible, a mob decided to lynch him after first dragging him through the streets by a chain fastened around the boy’s neck.”

The AP reports that “in towns, villages and cities in the West, Mexican Americans were subject to torture, lynchings and other violence at the hands of white mobs and law enforcement agencies such as the Texas Rangers.”  It adds, “Historians say that from 1910 to 1920, an estimated 5,000 people of Mexican descent were killed or vanished in the U.S.”

James Weldon Johnson, the Harlem Renaissance writer, dubbed the race riots of the summer of 1919, “Red Summer,” due to all the black blood that flowed.  The “Red Summer” began years before 1919.  Tensions mounted in the aftermath of WW-I as returning white soldiers confronted labor competition from recently-arrived blacks from the South and riots took place in 26 cities across the country, from Washington, DC, Chicago, and East St. Louis (IL) to Omaha (NB), Knoxville (TN), Longview and Houston (TX), Phillips County (AK), Charleston (SC)and Tulsa (OK).

In August ’17, a riot took place in Houston when two white policemen entered the home of a black woman, seized, beat and arrested her for no apparent reason.  A black U.S. soldier who was passing by tried to determine what was happening and was similarly assaulted and arrested.  Later in the day, a fellow black soldier went to the police station to free his friend and he was also beaten and arrested.  This led to 156 black soldiers –- from the all-black 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, stationed at nearby Camp Logan — to march on the city.  And they came armed to the teeth.  This precipitated a race riot in which 20 people were killed, including four soldiers and four policemen.  After the soldiers were disarmed, they were court marshaled and 13 were hung.

In May 1919, a race riot broke out East St. Louis precipitated by the hiring of some 500 African-Americans to breaka strike by white workers at the Aluminum Ore Company.  The initial riot saw white mobs attack blacks throughout the city, including pulling them from trolley and beating them; the governor called in the National Guard to reestablish order.  A second outbreak followed in July when whites again attacked blacks, including women and children; the victims of the violence were beaten, shot and lynched, and black homes and businesses were burned.

In Chicago on July 29, 1919, a group of black youths, including 17-year-old Eugene Williams, were on a raft that inadvertently drifted over the invisible line that separated the black and white sections of the 29th Street Beach. One white beachgoer, insulted, began throwing rocks at the black kids. Williams slipped off his raft and drowned.A week of riots followed, with 38 people killed and more than 500 injured.

The Tulsa, OK, riot of 1921 was the worst civil disturbance of Red Summer. African-American residents, especially in the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, were set upon by whites, their homes and businesses burned and looted.  The state National Guard was called in and an estimated 6,000 blacks were arrested, and Greenwood was destroyed.  The first “official” inquiry claimed 26 blacks and 10 whites died in the riot; however, a 2000 Tulsa Race Riot Commission report estimated that 300 people died.

***

One can only wonder if Crusius and Legan knew about the Red Summer and the long, long history of racial prejudice that defines American history.  Their thinking seems similar to that of the 2015 attacks by Dylann Roof, who killed eight African-American parishioners in a Charleston, SC, church, and Robert Lewis Dear, who fired on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, that left a police officer and two others dead.  Their thinking seems inspired less by U.S. history than by the ideology of racial nationalists like Richard Spencer.

Spencer articulated his racial nationalism in “The Charlottesville Statement” of August 11, 2017, to coincide with the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.  In it, he argued: “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.” And goes on to argue: “’White’ is shorthand for a worldwide constellation of peoples, each of which is derived from the Indo-European race, often called Aryan. ‘European’ refers to a core stock—Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Latin, Nordic, and Slavic—from which related cultures and a shared civilization sprang.”

Spencer insisted:

The founding population of the United States was primarily Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. By the Great War, a coherent American nation emerged that was European and Christian. Other races inhabited the continent and were often set in conflict or subservience to Whites. Whites alone defined America as a European society and political order.

He, along with other race-nationalists, championed “the ideal of a white ethno-state — and it is an ideal — is something that I think we should think about in the sense of what could come after America.”  He also declared, “We [white people] conquered this continent. … Whether it’s nice to say or not, we won and we got to define what America means and we got to define what this continent means.”  He warned, “America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men.”

Spencer and other race-nationalists reject any information that does not validate their belief in “white” superiority.  They argue that multiracial or multicultural societies are inherently less stable than mono-racial ones.  They insist that America’s worst days are yet to come as the country’s demographic make-up continues to morph.  Many race-nationalistsclaim that racial tensions lead to social instability and an increase in crime, pointing to inner-city [i.e., African-American] neighborhoods while ignoring the opioid crisis gripping rural and small-town white America.

More troubling, many self-proclaimed race-nationalists are dropping the swastika for khakis and organizing to promote race-based political activity.  Their efforts range from the militant actions in Charlottesville to those who seek to form groups modeled after the NAACP.  Some go further and call for white people to be allowed to live separately from non-whites, including in an all-white state modeled on the apartheid state of Israel.

At the heart of their racist ideology is a belief in what is broadly known as the “Great Replacement,” an insistence – fear! – that“white” people are at risk of being wiped out through migration, race inter-mixing and violence. This so-called theory originated in France in the 1970s and gained popularity through popular fiction and some dubious “scholarly” works.  One study found that, between 2012 and 2019, 1.5 million tweets — in English, French and German — referred to the Great Replacement theory.

White skin privilege is being eclipsed, driven less by people of color (who are often poorer and suffer greater hardships) then by the policies of the – mostly white – “1 percent,” those with economic and political power.  The great post-WW-II era of prosperity is over and postmodern inequality is intensifying.  Often overlooked, the racism of white privilege continues to play a key – if unspoken – role in the repression of many white people; it keeps them blind, in denial, to the causes of their deepening immiseration.

White Americans are being, simultaneously, eclipsed and squeezed – and they know it.  Their relative proportion of the country’s population is shrinking while, for a significant and growing majority, their economic security is becoming ever-more insecure.

A century ago, wave after wave of mostly “white” European immigrants began to recast the nation’s demographic make-up.  They included Irish, Germany, Italian and Eastern Jews but also Chinese, Mexicans and Caribbean Islanders.

Often forgotten, the white gentry of a century-or-so ago were old-line WASPs who fiercely resisted this demographic realignment, going so far as arguing that the many poor European immigrants were not white, notably Irish and Jews.  Their arrival took place as U.S. economic and military prowess began to assert itself on the world stage.

Today’s new wave of immigrants is arriving from all over the globe, but especially the deeply embattled territories of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Unfortunately, the current demographic realignment is occurring as U.S. economic prowess is being eclipsed and its military hegemony flounders.

Like a tectonic plate, the global economic reordering now underway is fostering postmodern feudalism.  The lords of America’s 21stmanner – plantation, factory, trading floor — are the new robber barons, the postmodern gentry, putting the squeeze on an ever-growing number of wage slaves.

The great fear hidden in the notion of the “Great Replacement” is that once the demographic realignment takes place, the suffering and terror that “white” people (at least in America) inflicted on those deemed “non-white” others will be inflicted on them.  The fear is that the suffering endured by Indigenous people, African slaves and (following emancipation) African-Americans, the mid-19th century Irish, Mexican-Americans, Jews (who are still not considered white) and Chinese will be executed against the proportionally ever-shrinking white population.

The great fear that guides white nationalists is that tomorrow’s white people – today’s descendants – will suffer the fate of systematic extermination, slavery, lynchings, beating, imprisonment and other crimes that they inflicted on non-white Americans.  This fear bespeaks an irrationality, a paranoia, that breads terrorists and the call for a postmodern white-nationalist fascism.

It’s unclear if the deepening sense of rage among a sizable number of “white” Americans will further metastasis.  Sadly, if the economy stumbles into a crisis like that of 2007-2009, one can expect a further spike in the number of hate groups, including by race-nationalists.  As suggested by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics survey findings, many feel that under early-21st century capitalism it is only their “white skin privilege” that keeps them from being swallowed up in the deepening social crisis.

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The War on Indigenous People is a War on the Biosphere Itself

Photograph Source: Ibama from Brasil – CC BY 2.0

“Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”

– E.O. Wilson

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”

–Cree Proverb

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.”

– Michael Parenti, Against Empire

This month Brazil’s most populous city, Sao Paulo, was plunged into darkness in the middle of the afternoon. Raging fires in the Amazon, the proverbial lungs of the planet, cast acrid clouds of black smoke over the city. But this was no natural phenomenon. This was a crime scene, and the victims include indigenous peoples and the living biosphere itself.

The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been lauded by the world’s “democracies” and capitalist rags like the Wall Street Journal, has ramped up the assault on these biodiverse regions and their inhabitants. And he has accelerated genocide against Brazil’s indigenous peoples for the profit of multinational corporations. In recent days attacks have been stepped up by militarized police forces who will use any force necessary to “evict” indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. These evictions, or ethnic cleansing campaigns, include violence, intimidation, and the burning of villages and farms.

Bolsonaro, backed by a cadre of evangelical fanatics, racists, homophobes, and an entrenched military junta, is now dismantling any remaining protections for the besieged ecosystems and communities of the country. He has emboldened loggers, ranchers and mining interests with his fascist rhetoric, many of whom have threatened indigenous peoples with violence. For instance, in Amapá state, gold miners stabbed an indigenous leader to death in a protected reserve. Other reports of attacks are mounting, as are the environmental costs. In fact, deforestation increased by 67% in the first seven months of this year with 2,255 square kilometers of the Amazon was lost in July alone. And Brazil’s space agency documented at least 73,000 wildfires, an 83% jump from last year.

There has been enormous pushback against the onslaught. Protestors flooded the streets of three major cities and indigenous women blocked entry to the Health Ministry in Brasília, many more have joined to protest Bolsonaro’s policies of marginalization, destruction and annihilation. But the mainstream media has been largely silent about these demonstrations, choosing instead to focus on places like Hong Kong, a center of global commerce. While those protests are impressive, they pose no real threat to the forces of capital. Indigenous protests do.

The assault on indigenous peoples is a war on the biosphere itself. The ruling class in Brazil, as in every other colonized region of the planet, see their existence as an obstacle and nuisance to their wealth accumulation. That they will sit behind gilded gates atop a mountain of rotting corpses and fossilized species is of no concern to them. Greed is their drug and their god. They will exploit everything, from the Arctic to the Amazon, with no limits. And angry skies, heatwaves, floods, droughts and a rapidly changing climate system will not convince them of their madness. They will use demoralization, distraction and, when that fails, violence to suppress dissent and continue their status quo destruction. But their remorseless pillage will not proceed without a fight. Indigenous people, especially indigenous women, are rising up against it. Their courage should inspire us because this should be understood as a war that we will all be swept up into whether we like it or not. The question is, will we choose the right side.

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Meditation on a Racist Nation

What You Gonna’ Do When the World’s on Fire? is a powerful film. Set in a Black neighborhood in the US deep South years after the flooding from hurricane Katrina, the film tells a story of hope and despair, anger and love, and joy and sorrow. Political in the sense that all human experience is political, the film is even more so given it is a film about being black in an explicitly racist society. Yet, the overwhelming feeling of the film is one of human resilience and even goodness.

It is the summer of 2017. Two young Black men are dead after being murdered in a horrific manner. Since the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri a few summers earlier, protests had been taking place around the United States. The demands are simple: police and other white men need to stop murdering unarmed Black (mostly young) boys and men. Those accused of these murders needed to be tried and sentenced. Instead, the murders continue and the cops retain their freedom, with most even keeping their jobs. Although the setting of the film is New Orleans and elsewhere in the American South, the fact of the Black colony in the United States makes the physical siting mostly irrelevant. The people featured in the film live in that colony and experience the same fears and injustice as other citizens of the colony across the mother country.

The filmmaker, Roberto Minervini, hails from Italy and has made other films dealing with similar subject matter. In What You Gonna’ Do When the World’s on Fire?, he focuses on a few characters whose lives are economically tenuous. The color of their skin is part of the reason for their poverty, as is the history of their people in the United States. At the same time, the neighborhood they live and work in is being gentrified—a situation familiar to tenants around the world. The woman who runs a bar faces eviction because the building’s owner wants to sell the place. Her anger is legitimate and her understanding of how gentrification works is spot on. One of the best scenes in the movie takes place in her bar. It is full of customers who know the owner is losing her lease. As the conversation ebbs and flows, the customers and the woman make it clear she’s getting screwed by money and racism. Like so many other working folks, she wavers only slightly, acknowledging that she must forge on. Her mother wonders how she will be able to remain in her small apartment once the speculators take over the entire neighborhood. The daughter has no easy answers, only words of calm. The two brothers Ronaldo and Titus play among the railroad yards and wait for their father to get out of prison. Their mother counsels them regarding their future as young Black men in a nation that kills too many of their brethren. She fears losing them. Then there’s the Mardi Gras Indian Chief Kevin. His costume and group is part of a tradition described by Ronald Lewis, another Mardi Gras Indian, like this: “Coming out of slavery, being African American wasn’t socially acceptable. By masking like Native Americans, it created an identity of strength. Native Americans under all the pressure and duress, would not concede. These people were almost driven into extinction, and the same kind of feeling came out of slavery, “You’re not going to give us a place here in society, we’ll create our own.” This phenomenon could only happen in the United States—a nation built on genocide and the use of, breeding and trade in slaves.

The other element in this meditation on race and capital, race and the USA, are the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense. Inspired by the organization launched by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland in 1967, this organization is similar yet quite different. Overtly nationalist and for the most part operating as a solitary group, the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense present a militant alternative to the rest of the African-American political reality. Simultaneously, they provide those African American inclined towards militant politics with a disciplined organization devoted to their people and opposed to the white power structure. Their presence in the film involves an organized protest against that structure and a glimpse into a possibility forgotten by too many citizens of all backgrounds—the possibility of organized and militant opposition.

This is a film about love. Love between the brothers, between the mother and sons, between the bar owner and her mother. It is a film about desperation and defiance. The viewer watches the response to circumstances exacerbated by the police murders of Black men as they see the militancy of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense and the singular defiance of the bar owner and her customers. Then there’s the older brother Ronaldo, who tells his mother he doesn’t want to make a living in the streets because he has seen what happens to those who try. This is his own defiance against a world that wants him in the streets so he can be controlled and watched. Chief Kevin and his Mardi Gras Indians defy the white man’s system by taking the feathers and dress of a people whose legacy has become one that symbolizes resistance and strength in the face of genocide.

Director Roberto Minervini set out to create a meditation on the state of race in the United States. He has succeeded in that and more. What You Gonna’ Do When the World’s on Fire?, is a penetrating look at the state of a racist nation. Minervini’s camera has no prejudices and carries no fear or hatred of its subjects. The truths of their lives and world embraces the viewer, illuminating their humanity and exposing the injustices of their situation.

For showings and more info, check out the website here.

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What Netanyahu’s Travel Ban Has Revealed

Photograph Source: MPAC National – CC BY 2.0

Until a few weeks ago America’s unqualified support for Israel was solidly bipartisan. Aided by media bias and reporter reluctance to address on-the-ground realities, AIPAC and its affiliates had the public relations space virtually to themselves. Reinforced by mainstream media, the “Exodus” narrative captured and retained popular sympathy, while U.S. policymakers began to regard Israel as a democratic bulwark against terrorism and a reliable ally in the Middle East.

Even in the wake of Israel’s near sinking of the intelligence ship USS Liberty in June 1967, at a cost of 34 American lives, U.S. economic and military assistance to Israel spiked and has continued to unprecedented levels.

For decades Democrats were Israel’s most steadfast advocates, blind to its continuing occupation, illegal settlement expansion and blatant human rights abuses. During the brutal 2014 Gaza war, an otherwise progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, oblivious to rising Palestinian casualties, could propose more arms aid for the IDF—on top of the $38 billion military package promised by President Obama.

The Democratic Party saw its pro-Israel stance as a way of retaining the political loyalty of its Jewish members. At the same time, both Democrats and Republicans fell under the sway of AIPAC and its subordinate organizations that offered often outsize campaign contributions to bolster its lobbying efforts. Members of Congress not only valued money from the Israel lobby, but feared political retaliation if refused. Added to that influence were the lobbying and money gifts from U.S. weapons companies that profit from the arms deals.

Suddenly, the Netanyahu travel ban against two American Congresswomen, both people of color, has pulled the blindfold from Democrats in Congress. Here is what it revealed:

1.    Israel is less than a democratic state.  Regularly touted as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” Israel can now be seen as a democracy only for its Jewish population.  The Government’s refusal to open its border to American critics, shows a country afraid to expose its cruel treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.

2.    Israel is not a reliable ally.  It is willing to insult the United States, its main supporter and financial backer.  The ban against Omar and ban with conditions against Tlaib provoked outrage among those (even some Republicans) who saw Israel’s action as a collective insult, not only to the Congress but also to the taxpaying public.

3.    Israeli-financed travel junkets are a potential embarrassment. Lawmakers (both federal and state) who accept travel gifts from an organization (through its grantmaking affiliate) that lobbies special interest bills are subject to criticism on both ethical and conflict of interest grounds.  Voters in many states found fault with the 41House Democrats who accepted lobby funds for Israel travel instead of using recess time to meet with their constituents. More importantly, it prompted some observers to condemn the August junket as violating the “spirit as well as the letter” of existing conflict of interest law.

4.    Israel will do everything possible toblock the peaceful BDS movement.  Wrongfully claiming that economic boycotts (constitutionally protected in the U.S.) “delegitimize Israel” and aim to destroy it, the Israel lobby has successfully promoted anti-BDS bills in both state and federal governments. Indeed, one reason for denying Omar/Tlaib visits was to prevent their possible promotion of BDS.

5.    “Pro-Israel” has become synonymous with “Pro-Trump.”  When Trump urged Netanyahu to bar the two members of Congress, he highlighted their common priorities and identified the Republican Party with a regime that defies international law and abuses human rights.

As outlined above, the Netanyahu travel ban had huge unintended consequences for Israel. And it has served as a wake-up call for Congressional Democrats.  Those members who had long refused to acknowledge the reality of America’s complicity with an apartheid state, can no longer plead ignorance. As journalist Peter Beinart recently observed: “When it comes to Israel, Democrats don’t need more bipartisanship. They need more courage.”

 

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Jewish Settlers Rule the Roost in Israel, But at What Price?

Photograph Source: Wilson44691 – Public Domain

Israeli Jewish settlers are on a rampage in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. While settler violence is part of everyday routine in Palestine, the violence of recent weeks is directly linked to the general elections in Israel, scheduled to be held on September 17.

The previous elections, on April 9, failed to bring about political stability. Although Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is now the longest-serving prime minister in the 71-year history of the country, he was still unable to form a government coalition.

Tarnished by a series of corruption cases involving himself, his family and aides, Netanyahu’s leadership is in an unenviable position. Police investigators are closing in on him, while opportunistic political allies, the likes of Avigdor Lieberman, are twisting his arm with the hope of exacting future political concessions.

The political crisis in Israel is not the outcome of a resurrected Labor or invigorated central parties, but the failure of the Right (including far-right and ultra-nationalist parties) to articulate a unified political agenda.

Illegal Jewish settlers understand well that the future identity of any right-wing government coalition will have lasting impact on their colonial enterprise. The settlers, however, are not exactly worried, since all major political parties, including that of the Blue and White, the centrist party of Benjamin Gantz, have made the support for Jewish colonies an important aspect in their campaigns.

The decisive vote of the Jewish settlers of the West Bank and their backers inside Israel became very clear in the last elections. Subsequently, their power forced Gantz to adopt an entirely different political stance since April.

The man who, on April 7 (two days before the last elections), criticized Netanyahu’s “irresponsible” announcement regarding his intention to annex the West Bank, is now a great supporter of the settlements. According to the Israeli news website, Arutz Sheva, Gantz vowed to continue expanding the settlements “from a strategic point of view and not as a political strategy”.

Considering the shift in Gantz’ perspective regarding the settlements, Netanyahu is left with no other option but to up the ante, as he is now pushing for complete and irreversible annexation of the West Bank.

Annexing the West Bank, from Netanyahu’s viewpoint, is a sound political strategy. The Israeli prime minister is, of course, oblivious to international law which sees Israel’s military and settler presence as illegal. But neither Netanyahu, nor any other Israeli leader, for that matter, have ever cared about international law whatsoever. All that truly counts for Israel is Washington’s support, which is often blind and unconditional.

According to the Times of Israel newspaper, Netanyahu is now officially lobbying for a public statement by US President Donald Trump to back Israel’s annexation of the West Bank.

Although the White House refused to comment on the story, and an official in Netanyahu’s office claimed that it was “incorrect”, the Israeli right is on the fast track of making that annexation possible.

Encouraged by US Ambassador David Friedman’s comment that “Israel has the right to retain some of the West Bank”, more Israeli officials are speaking boldly and openly regarding their intentions of making that annexation possible.

Netanyahu had, himself, hinted at that possibility in August during a visit to the illegal settlement of Beit El. “We come to build. Our hands will reach out and we will deepen our roots in our homeland – in all parts of it,” Netanyahu said, during a ceremony celebrating the expansion of the illegal settlements to include 650 more housing units.

Unlike Netanyahu, former Israeli justice minister and leader of the newly-formed United Right, Ayelet Shaked, didn’t speak in code. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, she called for the full annexation of Area C, which constitutes nearly 60 percent of the West Bank. “We have to apply sovereignty to Judea and Samaria,” she said, referring to the Palestinian land using biblical designations.

Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information Minister Gilad Erdan, however, wants to go the extra mile. According to Arutz Sheva and The Jerusalem Post, Erdan has called for the annexation of all illegal settlements in the West Bank and the ouster of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas as well.

Now situated at the center of Israeli politics, Jewish settlers are enjoying the spectacle as they are being courted by all major political parties. Their increased violence in the West Bank is a form of political muscle-flexing, an expression of dominance and a brutish display of political priorities.

“There’s only one flag from the Jordan to the sea – the flag of Israel,” was the slogan of a rally involving over 1,200 Jewish settlers who roamed the streets of the Palestinian city of Hebron (Al-Khalil) on August 14. The settlers, together with Israeli soldiers, stormed al-Shuhada street and harassed Palestinians and international activists in the beleaguered Palestinian city.

Just a few days earlier, an estimated 1,700 Jewish settlers, backed by Israeli police, stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, over 60 Palestinians were wounded when Israeli forces and settlers attacked worshippers.

The violent scene was repeated in Nablus, where armed women settlers stormed the town of al-Masoudiya and conducted “military training” under the protection of the Israeli occupation army.

The settlers’ message is clear: we now rule the roost, not only in the West Bank, but in Israeli politics as well.

All of this is happening as if it is entirely an Israeli political affair. The PA, which has now been dropped out of American political calculations altogether, is left to issue occasional, irrelevant press releases about its intention to hold Israel accountable according to international law.

But the guardians of international law are also suspiciously absent. Neither the United Nations, nor advocates of democracy and international law in the European Union, seem interested in confronting Israeli intransigence and blatant violations of human rights.

With Jewish settlers dictating the political agenda in Israel, and constantly provoking Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, violence is likely to grow exponentially in the coming months. As is often the case, this violence will be used strategically by the Israeli government, this time to set the stage for a final and complete annexation of Palestinian land, a disastrous outcome by any count.

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Is Environmental Protection Possible?

Mill, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The US EPA

I joined the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1979. It happened by accident. A friend in Alexandria, Virginia, was working for the personnel office of EPA. We talked and I expressed interest in EPA. I said to him something to the effect the EPA was a great and necessary institution in late twentieth century America. You could not hide from pollution. Millions of cars harmed our health and defiled the atmosphere daily.

My friend also knew something about my education and work experience: having had a doctorate in history, a book published, and working on Capitol Hill. I used to see him at the neighborhood swimming pool where we used to take our children. He promised to pass my name to the personnel official of the Hazard Evaluation Division of the Office of Pesticide Programs of EPA. That organization was advertising for a program analyst. Not long after I spoke to my friend, someone from that office called me for an interview. The interview went well and, on May 6, 1979, I reported for work at EPA.

Regulating pesticides

The Pesticides Program of EPA had its offices in Crystal Mall 2, a tower in Crystal City. This was neither crystal, nor a city. It was a corner of Arlington, Virginia, conveniently close to the Pentagon served by Metro and busses to and from Alexandria.

I used to take buss 8 from Alexandria’ West End to the Pentagon and then walk to Crystal City and my office on the eight floor of Crystal Mall 2.

For a year I worked with Bill Preston, a senior biologist and EPA official. He headed a team of scientists responsible for developing guidelines on the kind of data EPA needed for the assessment and potential rejection or approval of the registration or licensing of farm sprays.

Listening to the discussions among those chemists, biologists, toxicologists, ecologists and economists brought me back to my zoology student days: encouraging me to read the scientific literature and ask questions. My self-education and postdoctoral studies at EPA had begun.

Preston was fair and open-minded and encouraged my curiosity. He was by far the best supervisor I had at EPA. He said EPA had inherited twelve pesticide labs from the US Department of Agriculture. He used to be the director of those labs. By 1979-1980, EPA had shut down about half of those labs.

Policy research

In the spring of 1980, I joined the staff of Assistant Administrator for Pesticides and Toxic Substances. This was Steven Jelinek, one of President Jimmy Carter’s political appointees at EPA. I did not know him. What brought me to his office was a Harvard connection.

That Harvard connection was Jim Aidala. A mutual friend introduced us. We became good friends. He had a masters degree in sociology from Harvard and I had done my postdoctoral studies in the history of science at Harvard.

Aidala worked for Jelinek, so he invited me to that office. The other thread between us was the menacing pesticides. His master’s thesis was devoted to the administration of pesticides in the United States.

Aidala and I spent lots of time talking about the hazards, both toxic and political, associated with the regulation of pesticides. He shared my views on political corruption, especially in things agricultural, including the Pesticides Office of EPA. But we stayed away from talking about Jelinek who run the entire toxics and pesticides kingdom of EPA from October 13, 1977 to January 20, 1981.

Fake pesticide testing

Late 1970s was a time of troubles. EPA had banned DDT in 1972, with the result the industry and its clients in Congress and the White House had hit EPA with a ton of bricks. The industry would not allow anyone, much less a puny and young government department like EPA to challenge its hegemony.

Yet an accident shook the industry and government to the core. In 1976, a government pathologist named Adrian Gross discovered that the chemical industry had been faking the testing of pesticides. Gross made his discovery at the giant Industrial Bio-Test Laboratory outside of Chicago. IBT sealed the conspiracy of the chemical industry. It was at the core of that industry.

Pesticides were designed to kill life. There was no way to make them “safe” to human and environmental health. Only fraud would do that.

IBT put into practice the successful lessons of the tobacco industry: fake testing of nicotine and buying the influence of politicians, academics and regulators. IBT showed the chemical industry how to fake data and, in addition, how to hoodwink federal bureaucrats in believing fabricated reports were scientific reports.

IBT, however, was the tip of a lab iceberg of deep corruption covering all of America: farmers, agribusiness, Congressional politicians, the White House and, of course, the land grant universities, USDA, and EPA.

The Carter administration – and Jelinek at EPA — froze in coming face to face with such unexpected and egregious mafia-like behavior that went all the way back to the mid-1950s.

By the time I found myself in the Jelinek satrapy at EPA in early 1980, the IBT politics had come down to simply shutting down that lab. The White House ordered Jelinek to leave the chemical industry alone and target the offending IBT.

It felt like a giant bomb had exploded. I felt its impact, but strangely enough, and with the exception of Adrian Gross and a couple other EPA scientists, few if anyone else talked about it. Everyone pretended things were normal.

But nothing was normal. Gross was very angry. I talked to him extensively, learning all about IBT and what made IBT possible.

My assignments broadened my knowledge and vision of what causes pollution. I started figuring out some of the pollutants and how large farmers and the industry find ways to either break the environmental laws or ignore them entirely.

I learned about tetra dioxin (2,3,7,8- Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin), the most toxic molecule on Earth. It’s a by-product of the burning of fossil fuels, chlorine bleaching in pulp and paper mills, the burning of medical wastes, the incineration of industrial wastes, and the manufacture of certain pesticides. For example, Agent Orange included the deadly tetra dioxin. This chemical weapon is made up of two weed killers: 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T.

American farmers used these herbicides, alone and in mixtures, all over the country for decades. But the War in Vietnam brought Agent Orange to the battlefield, spraying the dioxin-laced chemicals all over forests and rice crops.

Toxic bureaucracy

While working for Jelinek, a branch chief from EPA’s Pesticides Office enticed me to return to my old position, falsely promising me higher salary and more responsibilities.

This was one of the worst decisions I made in my life. It was like I had learned nothing. The coming of the Reagan administration in 1981 put a toxic icing on the cake. Uncertainty and fear paralyzed EPA.

My supervisors in the Office of Pesticide Programs watched me carefully. They probably puzzled over my memoranda documenting industry and government abuses of the laws, exposure of humans to nerve poisons in America’s farms, and the ethical dilemmas of EPA approving dangerous pesticides. They wanted to fire me, but they couldn’t. They humiliated me; they tried to make my life miserable. Even thinking about that experience – decades later — makes me mad as hell.

My friend Aidala left EPA during the Reagan administration but returned as a senior official in the Clinton administration. He served as assistant administrator in the waning months of the Clinton administration.

I used to have lunch with him at least once a month. He refused to intervene on my behalf, but our lunches had some beneficial effects. My supervisors convinced themselves I had political contacts they should not offend. They started leaving me alone.

From political appointees to fat cats

The Pesticides bureaucracy of EPA absorbed the politics of the country, becoming a mouthpiece of the political appointees of each administration. Alas to those like me who spoke truth to power.

Political appointees, assistant administrators and directors of the pesticide program, entered the toxic revolving door between the government and the industry, boosting the tragic dependence of agriculture to an endless and evolving acutely toxic series of poisons.

Senior bureaucrats ended becoming fat cats: working for the chemical industry outright or private firms they created to facilitate the work of the owners of pesticides in the United States and abroad.

Steven Jelinek jumped into this toxic but very profitable drama. He founded his own company: Jelinek, Schwartz and Connolly Inc. Jelinnek’s clients included Monsanto, Dow, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and several other domestic and foreign corporations manufacturing pesticides and trying to get the best business deal for their products in the lucrative American market.

In 1999, the Environmental Working Group published a brief summary of the deplorable and largely unethical political connections of former senior EPA officials with pesticide companies and polluters. Jellinek’s shop turned out to be very popular in the metamorphosis of former EPA officials to fat cats.

EPA for our future

This essay is but a footnote to an extremely important history. I painted a more complex and complete picture in my 2014 book: “Poison Spring.”

The Donald Trump administration has dragged EPA to its lowest standing since its creation in December 1970. It declared war on science, climate change, and environmental protection, sending a message of rapacious pollution to farmers, petroleum men, the industry, miners and exploiters of the natural world.

In April 27, 2017, seven-hundred and seventy-seven former EPA employees denounced Trump for his denial of climate change and his hostility toward science and public and environmental health.

I cannot explain why Americans elected Trump. But I do hope they send Trump back to his golf courses. Americans need to return to civilization.

EPA is our mirror. Bad and pernicious private business interests and unethical political leaders have turned EPA upside down. But EPA is an idea and an institution. A healthy natural world is what keeps us healthy and alive. Pollution is the antithesis of health. Returning back to health after a reign of pollution is not easy, but it is possible, hence the political invention of the EPA. It reflects the greatest virtue of America. It can still be redesigned to heal the land, air, water – and our souls. It’s our life-saver.

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What It’s Like to Grow Up Hunted

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It was a quiet Sunday night when my dad told me to hide in a closet — and stay there until he said to come out.

As I sat in the dark, I knew this was part of my life, part of my identity. The darkness and fear slowly penetrated my heart.

I tightened up my fist, as if to squeeze the bravery I had in my heart to walk out of the closet. My brother and sister were hidden somewhere else, and all the lights were out.

I stole a glance at the living room and saw my parents nervously looking outside. I looked up to the ceiling and saw the sinister blue and red lights of cop cars outside. My father caught me and told me to go back and hide.

I was young, but I understood exactly why my dad hid me. We lived for many years afraid of cops, because for us the police and Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) were the same. And as an immigrant family, contact with ICE could mean being separated.

My family and I came to this country for simple reasons: We had no food and no jobs, and we  needed to survive — just like many other undocumented families here.

Living in fear of deportation became a norm that was drilled into my mind, body, and spirit. I was just 10 years old, and I had already four plans for what to do if one day my parents or I got deported.

Recently, ICE conducted its largest in over a decade, arresting 680 fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and neighbors at a chicken processing plant in Mississippi. For many children the nightmare I always prepared for became true.

Hundreds of families were cruelly separated, and for what? Just for going to work, so the average American has their chicken ready to eat?

Trump’s inhumane “zero tolerance” policy has separated and locked up at least 2,654 children, according to the ACLU. The administration deported another 722,459 people between 2016 and 2018.

Thousands of families have been separated and locked in concentration camps. United We Dream’s abuse tracker has collected hundreds of cases from camps like these of inhumane treatment, confiscation of medicine, unsanitary conditions, abuse, and deaths caused by ICE and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Not only has Trump’s hateful rhetoric manifested through policies, but also through physical street violence.

After posting an anti-immigrant manifesto — whose language mirrors Trump’s own rhetoric — a white male in El Paso went into a Wal-Mart and killed 22 people and injured 24. Not long before, at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, another white male killed three people and injured dozens after posting anti-immigrant sentiments on social media.

As of 2017, the FBI had recorded 7,100 hate crimes — a 17 percent increase — since Trump’s election.

No family, no child, and no human deserves to be dehumanized like we have been by these anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric. As we look towards 2020, we must organize and stand strong.

What can you do?

Organize to close the concentration camps across the country. Call your representative and demand they defund ICE and CBP. Distribute “Know Your Rights” information to make sure undocumented families know how to defend themselves from the injustices of ICE.

Together we can do more than abolish ICE. We can create a future that centers our communities and prioritizes their humanity over anything else, regardless of where they were born.

And we can make sure no more 10-year-olds have to hide in closets.

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They Don’t Make Republicans Like the Great Paul Findley Anymore!

A portrait of Findley in 1979 – Public Domain

In his 22 years in Congress (1960 – 1982), Paul Findley achieved a sterling record for fundamental positions, proposals and breakthroughs that revealed a great man, pure and simple. He never stopped learning and applying his knowledge to advance the right course of action, regardless of political party, ideology or pressure from various groups.

Findley, a courteous, kindly, ex-World War II navy veteran passed away earlier this month at the age of 98 in his home town of Jacksonville, Illinois. The District he represented was the one Abraham Lincoln was elected from for his one term in the House of Representatives. Findley was a student of Lincoln’s life, and embraced Lincoln’s view that “a politician should be willing to reject outmoded ways of thinking that no longer fit the times.”

Findley was a thoughtful, studious legislator with a superb sense of justice. He was an early civil rights champion. His opposition to runaway Presidential war-making was reflected in his leading support for the War Powers Act of 1973, though he wanted stronger curbs on the White House’s unilateral militarism.

Having been a journalist and owner of a small-town newspaper – the Pike Press, before going to Congress in 1960, Findley used his writing skills to explain issues regarding agricultural policies, a foreign policy of diplomacy and peace, and nuclear arms controls. He was an outspoken early opponent of the Vietnam War and a critic of the Pentagon’s chronically wasteful spending. He was not a “press-release” legislator, staking out his opinions and leaving it at that. He worked hard and smart to lead, to persuade, to get down to the minute details of coalition-building, lawmaking and legislating.

Back in Jacksonville, after his Congressional career ended in 1982, Findley wrote books and articles and lectured around the country. He courageously defended Americans of the Islamic faith, after 9/11, from bias, exclusion and intimidation. He did his civic duties with local associations. He also started the Lucille Findley Educational Foundation, in memory of his beloved wife – an Army nurse – he met in war-time Guam. They had two children. He always found time to be helpful, to serve others both locally and nationally. He also played tennis daily into his mid-eighties.

Findley possessed more than a streak of mid-west populism. Agricultural subsidies disproportionally going to a few wealthy landowners upset him greatly. He got through the House, after years of rejection, and over the objections of the Republican leadership, a $20,000 yearly limit of such subsidies per farm. The measure failed in the Senate.

Once again, in 1973, he bucked his Party and introduced an impeachment resolution against Nixon’s vice president Spiro Agnew, who later resigned in disgrace over a bribery scandal.

It was Findley’s interest in U.S. policies and operations in the Middle East, following his 1973 successful effort to obtain the release of a constituent from South Yemen that showed his moral courage, his belief in dialogue between adversaries and his commitment to the treatment of all people with dignity and respect. It also led to his defeat by Democrat Richard J. Durbin, now Illinois’s senior Senator.

Findley learned that the dispossessed and occupied Palestinian people were being treated unfairly and deprived of their human rights and self-determination. He visited refugee camps in the region. He met with Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and he urged peaceful diplomatic resolution of that conflict. For this sensible, though rare outreach by a Congressional lawmaker, he earned the immense enmity of U.S. partisans of the Israeli government. How dare he speak out on behalf of Palestinians, even though, he continued to vote for foreign aid to a prosperous militarily advanced Israeli superpower?

As the New York Times reported: “He became convinced that the influential pro-Israel lobby known as Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had a stranglehold on American politicians that prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state and prevented rational dealings with Arab leaders in general.”

AIPAC activists, nationally and with their local affiliates, openly mobilized to defeat Findley in the 1980 election. They failed to do so. In 1982, they tried again, helping his Democratic opponent, Richard Durbin, to end Findley’s Congressional career by a margin of less than 1500 votes. AIPAC took credit for the win, raising over 80 percent of Durbin’s $750,000 in campaign funds from around the country. AIPAC’s executive director told a gathering in Texas: “We beat the odds and defeated Findley.”

Three years later, in 1985, Findley wrote and published his bold book “They Dare to Speak Out,” that described his efforts at peaceful advocacy for a two-state solution, which is now supported by many Israelis and Jewish Americans. In his book, he profiled other Americans who dared to speak out, and who endured intimidating slander and ostracism. Findley’s documentation of the suppression of their freedom of speech was an early precursor of what is going on now.

It was acceptable for the early patriots to boycott British tea, for civil rights leaders to boycott certain businesses in the South, for opponents of South Africa’s apartheid to launch a worldwide economic boycott. But some state governments impose sanctions on their contractors if they merely speak out in favor of the call to boycott, divest and sanction Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation of Palestine and its millions of Palestinians. (Today, Palestine is only twenty two percent the size of the original Palestine).

Findley wrote his autobiography in 2011. But it will take a fuller biography to place this modest lawmaker/public citizen, and wager of peace over unlawful wars and rampant militarism, in the conforming context of his times. His career contrasts with the present big business, Wall Street over Main Street, militaristic GOP and shows that the Republican Party didn’t always demand rigid unanimity.

To his credit, Senator Durbin eulogized Paul Findley, as “An exceptional public servant and friend.” He added that the man he defeated was “an elected official who showed exceptional courage in tackling the age old controversies in the Middle East.”

Senator Durbin could not say this about a single Republican in either the Senate or the House today, nor of over 95 percent of the Democrats.

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Whither the Resistance to our Capitalist Overlords?

All efforts to reform the American system is capitulation.
— Chris Hedges

Without massive resistance to white supremacy and war, the U.S. empire threatens to devour itself alive and will no doubt attempt to take us with it.
— Danny Haiphong

No serious change, remotely popular sovereignty, no protection and advance of the common good will be forthcoming without prolonged, organized, and massive civil disobedience — genuine popular resistance
— Paul Street

I’ve no doubt that some readers will judge the assertions by Hedges, Haiphong and Street as off-putting, hyperbolic and even examples of a left-wing infantile disorder. I’m not among them. For me, their depiction of ends and means is self-evident. All that remains is identifying the obstacles and how to overcome them.

I suspect one obstacle is age. One reason I found it so gratifying to teach undergraduates — those experiencing life under late capitalism — was their willingness to consider new facts, new information and new interpretations of past events. Their relative lack of investment in prior “knowledge” surely played a role. And paraphrasing one of my earlier pieces, when it comes to our capitalist system and its empire, the learning curve is not a steep one. I dare say that a curious, honest and reasonably alert high school sophomore could easily grasp the essentials.

However, it’s been my experience that for many other folks the learning curve has flatlined, leaving them in a state of arrested political development and at least outwardly, “comfortably numb.” If the truth sets us free, why do so many opt for ignorance and implicit compliance with a wretched, immoral system?

One possibility is resistance to new information that contradicts deeply held beliefs. A quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes, the brilliant and highly influential British economist, bears on this matter and is especially appropriate: Some of Lord Keynes colleagues complained when he changed previously held strong opinions. On one occasion, after a critic accused him of this behavior, Keynes replied:

When events change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
When information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?
When someone persuades me I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?

If I’m correct, is this resistance because some “new information” is too threatening? That subjecting previously held assumptions might provoke a personal identity crisis? That giving voice to opinions grounded in new facts creates unwanted tension among friends and family members? Fears that one’s comfortable lifestyle and career advancement might be jeopardized? Or does it relate to Erich Fromm’s “Fear of Freedom” and the feeling that “As bad as things are, at least I’ve survived. Maybe radical change will be even worse?”

Or is the answer as simple as being unaware of how the world actually works? Perhaps I’m being unfair but I’m reminded of Susan Sontag’s long essay “Regarding the Pain of Others” where she wrote, “No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence, of superficiality, for this degree of ignorance, or amnesia.” Or I think of the post-1945 Germans who said, “We just didn’t know.”

But if we wish to adhere to Antonio Gramsci’s dictum of practicing pessimism of the intellect and seeing things as they really are, then another answer looms and it’s a bleak one. That is, there’s now ample scientific research suggesting that our brain’s hard-wired, biological trait for empathy can be short-circuited through powerful belief systems. A prime example is neoliberalism which tends to anesthetize feelings of social solidarity across the population. This muting of empathy has proceeded further in our culture than in any other in the world. [4]

After having written the above, I hasten to add that exceptions exist although it’s impossible to ascertain how widespread. A younger Facebook friend recently posted her thoughts in response to one of my articles. Kelly DeWalt (by permission) wrote “I still believe that most people are at the core, aware that something is horribly wrong, that there is a dissonance between what is and what should be.” After describing the promised rewards of material comfort and financial gain, she goes on, “Those rewards come with a steep price — giving yourself freely to a system that is merely for the benefit of the few…so collectively and over time, things don’t add up, and you feel a constant ache for something different, better, fairer — community, belonging and compassion.”

My correspondent is suggesting that she and presumably many of her peers see through what Marx termed “commodity fetishism.” Neither does she view herself as primarily relating to others in an antagonistic way — the false consciousness created and maintained by elites— nor does she subscribe to the American Dream, the lie of meritocracy and other foundation myths. She concludes with this poignant question: How do I exist or survive in a system that I loathe with tenets I reject? You want to escape but the question isn’t why but how?”

All things considered, I refuse to accept the most dire, endgame answers for three reasons. First, they effectively negate and exclude human agency. Second, we know many exceptions and outliers still exist both here and within the interstices of global society. For example, think of Cuba’s culture of empathy and its practice of selfless medical internationalism. Third, cynically terminal responses provide too tempting a rationale for those wanting to opt out of political struggles.

Finally, in a profound political sense, our brothers and sisters are Archimedes’ lever and they’re standing in the “proper place.” But precious little time remains to erect the fulcrum of class consciousness needed to move the world. I’ve struggled over my career to find answers to this conundrum while simultaneously being plagued by the dispiriting thought that what passes for the left in this country hasn’t worked hard enough, been creative enough. It’s not entirely satisfying to say we need to do more but “optimism of the will” will help banish distractive pursuits. It’s also what gives meaning to our lives.

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On Those Downward Jobs Revisions

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that its benchmark revision to its job numbers shows that the economy created 501,000 fewer jobs between March of 2018 and March of 2019 than previously reported. There are a few points to be made about this number.

First, there is nothing fishy here. Trump has zero to do with the data that comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS is staff by committed professionals who would sure raise a big stink if Trump tried to tamper with the data.

I should also point out that it would be exceedingly difficult for someone to change the data if they did not have a very good idea what they were doing, and even then they would almost certainly have to bring dozens of people in on the scheme. If someone did something like just 100,000 to the monthly job growth number, they would be nailed in a minute. Other numbers would not fit and it would be easy to see that the fake number was out of line.

Anyhow, the revision is based on state unemployment insurance filings, which give a virtual census of payroll employment in the United States. The original data come from the BLS’ monthly Current Employment Situation survey. This is a large survey of businesses, but it is a survey, so that means there will be some error.

The next issue is why the survey would be so far off. (The 501,000 reduction is much larger than a normal revision.) In addition to the survey results, BLS imputes figures for “births” and “deaths” of firms. Births refers to new firms, which could not be included sample because they are new. Deaths are the firms that go out of business and aren’t so polite as to answer the survey before they shut their doors.

BLS imputes numbers for births and deaths using a model that estimates these data based on growth in output and related factors. It usually is reasonably accurate, but in this case it clearly was not. (I’ll make a small criticism of BLS here. They typically show the error as a percent of total employment, which makes it look small. It came to 0.3 percent last year. But what we really are measuring with the survey is the change in employment, which was just over 2 million, which means the error was 25 percent. That is a big deal.)

Anyhow, what this revision means is that we saw more firms die or fewer new firms formed than the model projected. (Actually, the issue is jobs, not firms, but presumably these go together.) That may mean nothing or could suggest that either or both, more firms are going out of business or fewer firms are being started than we should expect, given other factors in the economy.

That brings us to my last point, when we have large downward revisions, it usually is associated with a recession. The downward revision in 2009 was over 900,000 and 2002 it was over 300,000. It is unlikely that we will find that we were actually in a recession between March of 2018 and March of 2019, but add this to the list of worrying data points. It seems that something is not right with the economy.

This article first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

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Beware of the Gun-Lover-in-Chief

President Trump loves guns. They are an extension of his violent personality. It is assumed that, as a last resort, guns will be the means by which he will try to enforce his authoritarian will on Americans if he loses the election in 2020. The signs are there.

When running for president, Donald Trump said that he could stand in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and would not lose any voters. (Real Clear Politics, Jan. 23, 2016) He was also communicating to his voters that they could act out violently and not lose his support.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump encouraged his Cedar Rapid, Iowa supporters to use force against protesters: “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? . . . Just knock the hell . . . I promise you I will pay for the legal fees.” At a Las Vegas rally, Trump complained that security guards were “too gentle with a protester . . . ‘walking out with big high fives, smiling . . . I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.’” (”A look back at Trump’s comments perceived by some as encouraging violence,” By Meghan Keneally, abcNEWS, Oct. 19, 2018)

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, “as a protester was being escorted out of a rally, he was sucker-punched by an attendee.” The attacker was 79-year-old John Franklin “Quick Draw” McGraw, who is white, and his victim, 27-year old Rakeem Lamar Jones, who is black, and has “long dreadlocks and tattoos up and down his arms.” Franklin was quoted as saying “that he had no regrets, and that, ‘Next time, we might have to kill him.’” (Ibid; ”Donald Trump Rally Violence Show Protester Getting Punched,” By Alana Abranson, abcNEWS, Mar. 10. 2016) )

Mr. McGraw was later arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct. When they met in court, a not so fast draw McGraw was quoted as saying to Rakeem Jones, “You and I both know what occurred, and I hate it worse than anything else in the world.” McGraw then “stepped closer to Jones and raised a finger,” and said, “’We got caught up in a political mess today.’” (“He was assaulted and called un-American at a Trump rally. Can he forgive the man who did it?,” By Terrence McCoy, The Washington Post, Dec. 31, 2016) “Quick Draw” McGraw “got caught up” in President Trump’s put down of “political correctness,” licensing his supporters to normalize and act out their racist attitudes

As president, Donald Trump had similar violence-encouraging advice for police. In interacting with potential criminals, he said to the Suffolk County Long Island police in a law enforcement speech:

“‘When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head you know, the way you put your hand over [their head],’” Trump continued, “mimicking the motion. ‘Like, don’t hit their head and they just killed somebody. . . . You can take your hand away, Okay?’” (“Trump to police: Please don’t be too nice to suspects,” By Meghan Keneally, abcNEWS, July 28, 2017)

In an article on “African-Americans see painful truths in Trump victory,” Jesse Washington wrote that black people “steeled themselves for life under a president who has retweeted white supremacists, promised to increase stop-and-frisk in poor black neighborhoods, falsely connected Mexican immigrants to crime, and launched his political brand by attacking the legitimacy of the first black president’s birth certificate.” Washington said that what bothered African-Americans the most was that “the election shows where we really stand. Now the truth is plain for all to see, many said – the truth about how an uncomfortable percentage of white people view the concerns and lives of their black fellow citizens.” (“African-Americans see painful truths in Trump victory,” theundefeated.com, Nov. 10, 2016)

In his law enforcement speech, President Trump continued to encourage police to act violently toward suspected lawbreakers, saying, “ ’I have to tell you, you know, the laws are so horrendously stacked against us (italics added) because for years and years, they have been made to protect the criminal,’” he said. “ ‘Totally made to protect the criminal,’” he emphasized. “ ‘Not the officers. You do something wrong, you’re in more jeopardy than they are,’ he added.” (Ibid)

President Trump is talking nonsense here, whereas Jesse Washington is truth-telling. A reported “2018 article in in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that while roughly half of police shooting victims are white, young black Americans and Native Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed in a police shooting.” And P. R. Lockhart writes in the same Vox story that “Black people are also more likely than whites to be exposed to arrests and traffic stops that could potentially escalate into violent encounters. (“Black people are still suffering from police violence. Is America still listening,”24, 2019)

“Law and order,” like “drain the swamp,” is red meat for Donald Trump’s base. These sound bites are projections by which Trump diverts attention from the lawless swamp he continues to create.

“The laws are so horrendously stacked against us.” (italics added) It is assumed that President Trump is actually projecting on to the Suffolk County police his own grievances with the law. The law has been “stacked against” him “for years and years”: for his discriminatory housing policies, exploitive Trump University, and cheating of building contractors and laborers who provided services for his real estate properties, to name a few examples. He really hates “law and order” unless it serves his purposes; and it does in his seeking to build rapport with police by communicating an overly permissive attitude toward their law enforcement.

The relationship between President Trump’s hysterical rhetoric and people acting out violently is readily seen. He began his presidential campaign by stereotyping Mexicans who enter the U.S. as “people with lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems . . . They’re bringing drugs . . . crime. They’re rapists.”(“How Trump’s presidential; campaign debut holds up for years later,” by Jeremy Diamond, CNN, June 16, 2019)

The Trump administration’s response to immigration is a zero tolerance policy: thousands of migrants, fleeing violence and poverty in their own countries and pursuing their right to apply for asylum in the U.S., remain locked up in overcrowded cage-like detention centers and denied hygienic care, their applications for asylum deliberately stalled; children have been forcibly separated from their parents; migrants have been blocked from legal ports of entry where they are to apply for asylum; and barbed wire fences have been erected, and migrants seeking entry into the U. S. have been teargassed by U.S. soldiers sent to the border by President Trump – and with his orders, at one point, to shoot rock-throwers. His aim is to make life so oppressive for asylum seekers that others will be discouraged from coming.

Furthermore, to keep poor migrants out, the Trump administration has come up with a new rule to become effective in October: “poor immigrants will be denied permanent legal status, also known as a green card . . . if they are deemed likely to use government benefit programs such as food stamps and subsidized housing .” Seeking asylum in the U.S. is now about “merit” and not mercy, according to President Trump. People from “shithole” countries, like “Africa, Central America and the Caribbean” need not apply. (“Trump Policy Favors Wealthier Immigrants for Green Cards,” By Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sullivan, The New York Times, Aug. 12, 2019)

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the new policy “a cruel step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them, instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: ‘You are not welcome here.’” She continued: “ ‘It will have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forego critical lifesaving health care and nutrition. The damaged will be done for decades to come.’” (Ibid)

The same warning is issued by doctors and public health experts, who say that “poor health and rising costs . . . will come from sweeping Trump administration changes that would deny green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, as well as food stamps and other forms of public assistance. The Trump administration’s aim is “to keep only self-sufficient immigrants in the country, but health experts argue it could force literally millions of low income migrants to choose between needed services and their bid to stay legally in the United States.” The result is more sickness among these immigrants. (“Doctors say new immigration rules will mean sicker immigrants,” By Sophia Tareen, Associated Press, www.weau.com. Aug. 19, 2019)

Ken Cuccinelli, President Trump’s acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has reinterpreted the Statue of Liberty’s welcoming message to mean only “immigrants ‘who can stand on their own two feet.’” Never mind “Give me your tired, your poor . . . send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,” cited in Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, inscribed on the Statue, which “describes people who came to America” with nothing but the clothes on their back. (Ibid)

President Trump’s violent rhetoric is believed to influence certain of those who share his views to act out violently. He repeatedly decries groups of migrants seeking asylum as an “invasion.” As reported, “he denounces immigrant gang members as ‘animals’ and complains that unauthorized migrants ‘pour in and infest’ the United States.” He says “illegal immigration is a ‘monstrosity,’” and that even four American “Congresswomen of color should ‘go back’ to their home countries.” He encourages white supremacists by saying there were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, Va, after white nationalists marched and chanted “the Jews will not replace us!” and a neo-Nazi plowed his car into protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other persons. His verbal tirades against his assumed enemies is believed to have inspired “the bomber who sent explosives to Mr. Trump’s political adversaries and prominent news media figures.” Also, the man who killed 11 worshippers in a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh is reported to have “rant[ed] online about ‘invaders’ to the United States. (“El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoes Paso Shooting Trump’s Language,” By Peter Baker and Michael D., Shear, The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2019)

And at a May Florida rally, President Trump obviously incited “the crowd“ by asking “for ideas to block migrants from crossing the border. ‘How do you stop these people?’” he asked.” He got the desired response: “ ‘Shoot them!’ one man shouted. The crowd laughed and Mr. Trump smiled, and said,

‘That’s only in the panhandle you can get away with that stuff.’” (Ibid) All of this incitement, along with a ban to keep Muslims out of the country and a wall to block migrants from entering.

President Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric apparently resonated with 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, a white man accused of killing 22 people and wounding dozens in El Paso. He is associated with a 2,300 -word manifesto posted online. In it he “said that he was ‘simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.’” Also reported, “The suspect wrote that his views ‘predate Trump.’” But the president’s anti-Mexican rhetoric no doubt communicated to Crusius that his views were shared – and legitimized — by the most powerful person in the United States – and millions of members of his base. As Crusius was quoted as saying, “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He parroted Trump, who, in speeches, “repeatedly warned that America was under attack by immigrants heading for the border.” And after announcing his presidential campaign “in July of 2015, Mr. Trump tweeted at critics: “ ’WHAT U REALLY SHOULD BE ANGRY ABT IS THE INVASION OF MILLIONS OF ILLEGALS TKING OVER AMERICA! NOT Donald Trump.’” (Ibid)

The New York Times reports that Patrick Crusius also “echoed the incendiary words of conservative media stars.” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson “told his viewers not to be fooled,” that “the thousands of Central Americans on their way to the United States were ‘border jumpers,’ not refugees,” and asked, “’Will anyone in power do anything to protect America this time . . . or will leaders sit passively back as the invasion continues?’” Another is Rush Limbaugh, who “issued a grim prognosis to his millions of radio listeners: if the immigrants from Central America weren’t stopped, the United States will lose its . . .‘distinct or unique American culture identity. . . . This is why people call it an invasion.’” The Times story points out: “There is a striking degree of overlap between the words of rightwing media and the language used by the Texas man who confessed to killing 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso this month.” (“How the El Paso Killer Echoed the Incendiary Words of Conservative Media Stars, by Jeremy W. Peters, Michael M. Grynbaum, Keith Collins, Rich Harris and Rumsey Taylor, Aug. 11, 2019) These conservative pundits are President Trump’s political thermometer by which he measures the mood of his base and regulates his behavior.

President Trump characteristically resorts to denial and distraction when someone acts out his violent divisive xenophobic rhetoric. As reported, he responded to the El Paso killings with, “Hate has no place in our country, and we’re going to take care of it . . . declining to elaborate but promising to speak more on Monday morning.” And “he made no mention of white supremacy or the El Paso manifesto, but instead focused on what he called ‘a mental illness problem.’” (“El Paso Shooting Suspect’s Manifesto Echoes Trump’s Language, Ibid)

Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old white man who stormed a Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshippers and wounded six (four were police officers), posted on Gab [a less restrictive alternative to Twitter] that “Jews were helping to transport members of the migrant caravans.” He repeatedly called them “invaders.” In fact “six days before the shooting,” he wrote, “I have noticed a change in people saying ‘illegals’ that now say ‘invaders’ . . . I like this.” (Hate crime charges filed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left 11 dead,” By Dakin And one, Jason Hanna, Joe Sterling and Paul P. Murphy, CNN, Oct. 29, 2018)

Shades of President Trump. But he distanced himself with diversion and diffusion, saying about the killing of Jews in Pittsburgh, “It’s a terrible, terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world.” He talked about “stiffen[ing] up laws in terms of the death penalty.” His reported response “when asked about his ties to the NRA . . . ‘if there were an armed guard inside the temple, they would been able to stop’ the shooter.” This comment also from the diffuser-and- distancer-in-chief: “This is a world with a lot of problems . . . for many years. Many, many years. You could say, frankly, for many centuries.” (“Trump laments Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, then suggests victims should have protected themselves,” By Emily Stewart, Vox, Oct. 27, 2018)

In February of 2018, after a gunman, armed with an assault rifle, killed 17 students and staff members and wounded 17 more at the Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., President Trump appeared to be open to gun control proposals. He “tweeted support for ‘strengthening background checks’ . . . promised to ban bumper stocks, talked about raising the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21, . . . [and] appeared to support Democrats proposals for banning assault weapons.” But Trump’s consideration of these gun control measures soon faded. He rejected the Senate Democrats suggested “background checks and started talking about arming teachers . . . a proposal plucked straight from the NRA.” (“In hindsight, Trumps reversal on gun control was entirely predictable,” By Amber Phillips, The Washington Post, March 12, 2018)

In the face of the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton, President Trump is quoted as “retreating on background checks” for potential gun owners. His first response to the shootings was that of being “prepared to endorse . . . ‘very meaningful background checks’ that would be possible because of his ‘greater influence now over the Senate and over the House.’ But after “discussions with gun rights advocates . . . including talks with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, Trump shifted, saying that he “’was very, very concerned about the Second Amendment, more than most presidents would be.’” He “added that ‘people don’t realize we have very strong background checks rights now.”” And “he echoed the standard response to mass shootings delivered by the N.R.A., which since 1966 has pushed the government to focus on the mental problems of the gunmen rather than how they were able to obtain their guns.” Trump said, “’I don’t want people to forget that this is a mental health problem.’” (“After Lobbying by Guns Rights Advocates, Trump Sounds a Familiar Retreat,” By Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2019)

The gun-lover-in-chief is not about to agree to measures that limit his base’s access to guns. It is not believed to be just about his base’s votes. Consider what this would-be dictator has hinted. In 2016, he said that if he did not get the presidential nomination at the Republican convention: “ ‘I think you would have riots,’ Trump told CNN. ‘I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.’” He added, “I think bad things would happen, I really do. . . . I wouldn’t lead it but I think bad things would happen.” NBC news writer Benjy Sarlin indicates the threat to the country Trump represents: “If the front-runner is concerned that his supporters would engage in violence regardless of whether he would ‘lead it,’ then he’s done next to nothing to discourage them and said plenty to indicate he’ll have their backs if they rough up political enemies.” (“Donald Trump Warns Supporters Could Riot if He Doesn’t Get GOP Nomination,” www.nbcnew, March 17, 3016)

Concerning the Mueller investigation and the threat of impeachment, President Trump is quoted as saying “there would be chaos across the country if he were impeached,” stating “‘I think that the people would revolt if that happened.’” (“Trump” People will ‘revolt I he’s impeached,” By Brent D. Griffiths, POLITICO, Dec. 11, 2018) He said on Fox News, “If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor, because without this thinking you would see numbers – you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer joined in with, “You’d only impeach him for political reasons, and the America people would revolt against that.” (‘Donald Trump’s Very Dramatic Case Against Impeachment,” by Chris Cillizza, CNN, Aug. 23, 2018) Trump is resorting to fearmongering to motivate his base to get out the vote; and if he loses and they “revolt,” he will resort to his repeated defense of denial: blaming the media or the Democrats or “millions who voted illegally” or whatever is convenient to hide behind.

President Trump is also reported to be “laying the groundwork to de-legitimize the 2020 election”. CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza writes, “Even as the 2020 race begins in earnest, President Donald Trump is already suggesting that Democrats can’t beat him fairly – raising the specter that if he loses in November, he will suggest that the election was not legitimate.” He tweeted about the House Democrats’ “broad-scale investigation into him . . . The Dems are trying to win an election in 2020 that they know they cannot legitimately win.’” The aim is to “convince the Trump base that it is not possible for him to lose a fair and legitimate election in 2020. Thus, if he loses, it must be, by definition, illegitimate.” (“Donald Trump is laying the groundwork to de-legitimize the 2020 election,” by Chris Cillizza, CNNPolitics, March 7, 2019)

Chris Cillizza also reminds us that President Trump “lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.” But, after winning the Electoral College (304-227) and the White House, he tweeted: “‘In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I would have won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.’” Cillizza writes that “Trump’s inability to accept that he could lose fair and square is far, far more dangerous” than his past exaggerations in the business world. Callizza ends by quoting the warning Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, spoke in “his congressional testimony in front of the House Oversight Committee: ‘Given my experience in working with Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.’” (Ibid)

President Trump has demonstrated that he is not going to agree to gun control measures that would, in any way, disarm his base. He is about stirring up fear and violence in his supporters: encouraging them with, “Knock the crap out of” protesters, and, after asking, “What shall we do to stop these people [migrants],” smiling when a rally attendee shouted, “shoot them!” — and the audience laughing. He is a narcissist drunk with presidential power, and has repeatedly indicated he will not give up that power. He is assumed to be quite ready for other Americans to spill each other’s blood if he loses the 2020 election. That is believed to be a reality, and a priority that people of faith must face and confront.

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Brazil: From Global Leader to U.S. Lapdog

Brazil recently gained the vaunted status of “Major Non-NATO Ally.”

This title symbolizes the new, preferential relationship that Brazil has been pursuing with the U.S. as a result of the continued efforts by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to inaugurate a new phase in Brazil’s global role.

Bolsonaro’s presidency has initiated deep changes in Brazilian foreign policy, which was traditionally based on multilateralism, non-interventionism, and a commitment to universal human rights. Bolsonaro’s abandonment of that traditional foreign policy is driven by his belief that despite changes in the world order, the future will remain U.S.-led — and, as such, a partnership with Washington is essential.

With this partnership, however, Brazil is relinquishing its position as a global leader to become a junior follower of Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

Ideological affinity is a major component of Bolsonaro’s foreign policy, which has had practical and immediate consequences for Brazil. For example, due to Trump’s trade war with China, Beijing has been downgraded in the priorities of Bolsonaro’s government despite being Brazil’s main trading partner, and opportunities to increase trade in Asia are now willfully overlooked.

Brazil’s prominent leadership role in Latin America is also being sacrificed as a result of its enthusiastic promotion of U.S. interests in the region.

Ideological Crusade and the U.S.

The new vision guiding Brazilian foreign policy is centered around anti-globalism and presumptions of Western cultural superiority.

According to this worldview, Bolsonaro’s rise to power represents a unique opportunity to restore traditional moral values that will somehow help Brazil in its mission to save “Western Civilization” from decline. As such, a partnership with the like-minded Trump is imagined as a means by which to reaffirm the supremacy of the West.

These ideas form part of the broader ideological agenda which the current Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araújo, has put forward in various articles. In one of his most notorious pieces, a journal article entitled “Trump and the West,” Araújo lays bare the version of Brazilian nationalism he aims to pursue: a national mission to, in essence, recover Brazil’s “Western soul.”

The traditional nuclear family and Christian values — perceived as the hallmarks of “Western civilization” — are the central pillars of Araújo’s moral nationalism and, as such, should be seen as the foundation of Brazil’s new foreign policy orientation.

Consequences of Brazil’s Foreign Policy Shift

If Brazil’s new ideological position represents a stark renunciation of its previously active role in the building of a liberal world order, it is also becoming increasingly clear that the country will now abandon its previoously progressive contributions to solving major global problems.

As a consequence, Brazil will no longer be seen as a leader among developing countries — a widely-respected role that the country has played since 2003, when Brazilian governments prioritized South-South cooperation.

Brazil’s radical shift in foreign policy orientation is already causing shockwaves at home and abroad. Bolsonaro often flirts with the idea of potentially withdrawing from the Paris Environmental Accord, having already abandoned the Marrakesh Migration Pact. Additional uproar emerged in Brazil due to Bolsonaro’s close ties to Israel and his promise to recognize Jerusalem as its capital and to close Brazil’s embassy in Palestine. In the past, Brazil has systematically defended the creation of a Palestinian state, and was among the first countries to open an embassy in Palestine.

Being averse to both multilateralism and cooperation with developing countries, Bolsonaro seeks to keep his distance from the United Nations and the BRICS. More concretely, Bolsonaro considers the deepening or even the maintenance of established diplomatic ties with the BRICS group as detrimental to the new Brazil’s alliance with the U.S. Indeed, under Brazil’s new foreign policy priorities, China and Russia are now perceived as potential adversaries.

In attempting to recover Brazil’s “Western soul,” Bolsonaro’s government hopes to receive U.S. support in its efforts to become a permanent member of the OECD. The Trump administration has indicated that the U.S. will support Brazil’s bid to gain admission to the OECD.

In Bolsonaro’s evolving geopolitical map, Brazil is slowly abandoning its regional leadership to align with the U.S.’s interests in Latin America. In this context, Brazil’s engagement with other Latin American countries is mainly based on ideological affinity. Hence Brazil is showing interest in strengthening bilateral relations with Chile, a country that Bolsonaro admires principally due to his admiration for Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship (1973-1989), and with Argentina, with which bilateral relations remain warm as long as the conservative-minded President Macri remains in power.

Venezuela is, for quite different reasons, another important country for Bolsonaro. He uses Venezuela’s unrest to escalate the intensity of his rhetorical confrontation against the Venezuelan regime, which resonates powerfully with Bolsonaro’s supporters at home and abroad.

Opposition from within

The rationale for and discourse surrounding Brazil’s blind alignment to the U.S. is facing heavy criticism from parts of Bolsonaro’s own government. These dissident voices can be heard in the agribusiness sector, the military, and the Brazilian diplomatic corps.

Operating as they do within a clear set of international interests, agribusiness is a pragmatic group of actors who understand that Bolsonaro’s rhetorical tactics are harming their international interests. Those who consider China a pivotal player in the expansion of Brazilian agricultural exports are understandably disturbed by Brazil’s increasing distance from the BRICS.

Parts of the Brazilian military also appear skeptical about Brazil actively positioning itself within the U.S. sphere of influence, believing this to be a blind alignment that could easily compromise the image of Brazil as a strong, autonomous country.

Bolsonaro’s foreign policy also faces opposition from within Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where career diplomats are increasingly voicing their concerns over the president’s wanton abandonment of the multilateralism that Brazil has historically and effectively used to engage with the rest of the world.

In an increasingly dog-eat-dog world, Bolsonaro hopes that Brazil can establish itself as a privileged U.S. partner. However, given the waning support for Bolsonaro’s foreign policy at home, as well as its fundamental lack of pragmatism, these radical shifts in Brazil’s international affairs may ultimately prove to be ephemeral.

Helder F. do Vale is an Associate Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea.

This column first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Educators Actually Do “Work” in the Summer

I love what I do. Being an educator is interesting, creative, and rewarding. And it is also hard work. That’s why it is offensive as we head back to school to hear people say “must have been nice to have the summer off to do nothing.” Surely most do not intend to offend. I get that. But comments such as that are indicative of the low status educators hold in the U.S. and are a dramatic misunderstanding of what educators “do” in the summer.

K-12 teachers do not simply do nothing all summer. Rather, they spend time thinking about their upcoming year, creating new lesson plans and projects, going to school to make sure their classrooms are visually appealing and stimulating, and more. Many use this time for continued education so that they can remain credentialed. Further, many K-12 teachers incur not unsubstantial costs to ready their classrooms. A study published in the New York Times in May 2018 found that 94 percent of K-12 teachers spend their own money on their classroom, with the average amount at $479. Meanwhile, a growing percentage of teachers cannot even afford to live where they teach, owing to low salaries and a lack of affordable housing. I know a lot of educators and none of them spend the summer loafing. Many work extra jobs just to survive.

In higher education, the summer can be a really busy time. We are required to publish in academic journals, write other scholarly pieces, and present at academic conferences. There is little time to do this during the academic year, so most college professors use their summer, if they are actually off, to write and prepare presentations. As an example, I have completed writing and editing three full-length books, written two book chapters, and prepared for two presentations I will give this fall.

Many academics actually have no summer off. Those who piece together work as adjuncts often teach all summer, and because in some places professors’ salaries are low as well, they must teach summer courses to make a decent wage.

I do not mean this to be a woe-is-me diatribe. Again, I love my work. But perhaps people can think a little more before they comment about our so-called luxurious life. Or even better, simply ask what we did with the time. I’m certain every educator you know will share the work they did when they were supposedly “off.”

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