President Trump has threatened China’s President Xi that if they don’t meet and talk at the upcoming G20 meetings in Japan, June 29-30, the United States will not soften its tariff war and economic sanctions against Chinese exports and technology.
Some meeting between Chinese and U.S. leaders will indeed take place, but it cannot be anything like a real negotiation. Such meetings normally are planned in advance, by specialized officials working together to prepare an agreement to be announced by their heads of state. No such preparation has taken place, or can take place. Mr. Trump doesn’t delegate authority.
Trump opens negotiations with a threat. That costs nothing, and you never know (or at least, he never knows) whether he can get a freebee. His threat is that the U.S. can hurt its adversary unless that country agrees to abide by America’s wish-list. But in this case the list is so unrealistic that the media are embarrassed to talk about it. The US is making impossible demands for economic surrender – that no country could accept. What appears on the surface to be only a trade war is really a full-fledged Cold War 2.0.
America’s wish list: other countries’ neoliberal subservience
At stake is whether China will agree to do what Russia did in the 1990s: put a Yeltsin-like puppet of neoliberal planners in place to shift control of its economy from its government to the U.S. financial sector and its planners. So the fight really is over what kind of planning China and the rest of the world should have: by governments to raise prosperity, or by the financial sector to extract revenue and impose austerity.
U.S. diplomacy aims to make other countries dependent on its agricultural exports, its oil (or oil in countries that U.S. majors and allies control), information and military technology. This trade dependency will enable U.S. strategists to impose sanctions that would deprive economies of basic food, energy, communications and replacement parts if they resist U.S. demands.
The objective is to gain financial control of global resources and make trade “partners” pay interest, licensing fees and high prices for products in which the United States enjoys monopoly pricing “rights” for intellectual property. A trade war thus aims to make other countries dependent on U.S.-controlled food, oil, banking and finance, or high-technology goods whose disruption will cause austerity and suffering until the trade “partner” surrenders.
China’s willingness to give Trump a “win”
Threats are cheap, but Mr. Trump can’t really follow through without turning farmers, Wall Street and the stock market, Walmart and much of the IT sector against him at election time if his tariffs on China increase the cost of living and doing business. His diplomatic threat is really that the US will cut its own economic throat, imposing sanctions on its own importers and investors if China does not acquiesce.
It is easy to see what China’s answer will be. It will stand aside and let the US self-destruct. Its negotiators are quite happy to “offer” whatever China has planned to do anyway, and let Trump brag that this is a “concession” he has won.
China has a great sweetener that I think President Xi Jinping should offer: It can nominate Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. We know that he wants what his predecessor Barack Obama got. And doesn’t he deserve it more? After all, he is helping to bring Eurasia together, driving China and Russia into an alliance with neighboring counties, reaching out to Europe.
Trump may be too narcissistic to realize the irony here. Catalyzing Asian and European trade independence, financial independence, food independence and IT independence from the threat of U.S. sanctions will leave the U.S. isolated in the emerging multilateralism.
America’s wish for a neoliberal Chinese Yeltsin (and another Russian Yeltsin for that matter)
A good diplomat does not make demands to which the only answer can be “No.” There is no way that China will dismantle its mixed economy and turn it over to U.S. and other global investors. It is no secret that the United States achieved world industrial supremacy in the late 19th and early 20th century by heavy public-sector subsidy of education, roads, communication and other basic infrastructure. Today’s privatized, financialized and “Thatcherized” economies are high-cost and inefficient.
Yet U.S. officials persist in their dream of promoting some neoliberal Chinese leader or “free market” party to wreak the damage that Yeltsin and his American advisors wrought on Russia. The U.S. idea of a “win-win” agreement is one in which China will be “permitted” to grow as long as it agrees to become a U.S. financial and trade satellite, not an independent competitor.
Trump’s trade tantrum is that other countries are simply following the same economic strategy that once made America great, but which neoliberals have destroyed here and in much of Europe. U.S. negotiators are unwilling to acknowledge that the United States has lost its competitive industrial advantage and become a high-cost rentier economy. Its GDP is “empty,” consisting mainly of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) rents, profits and capital gains while the nation’s infrastructure decays and its labor is reduced to a prat-time “gig” economy. Under these conditions the effect of trade threats can only be to speed up the drive by other countries to become economically self-reliant.
Beyond Common Sense, most Americans know little about Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Few know that at the end of Paine’s life, he had become a pariah in U.S. society, and for many years after his death, he was either ignored or excoriated—the price he paid for The Age of Reason and its disparagement of religious institutions, especially Christianity.
Early in The Age of Reason, Paine attacks the hypocrisy of religious professionals: “When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury.”
If alive today, Paine may well have been even rougher on psychiatrists. Paine revered science, and he would have been enraged by professionals who pretend to embrace science by using its jargon but in fact make pseudoscientific proclamations that purposely deceive suffering people. “To subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe” is exactly what many modern psychiatrists are routinely guilty of—this by their own recent admissions. Before detailing this “perjury,” a little bit about Paine and his compulsion to confront all illegitimate authorities.
Beginning in 1776, both Common Sense and then The American Crisis made Thomas Paine a hero for insurgent American colonials. Following the successful American revolt against British rule, the globetrotting revolutionary Paine returned to England where his Rights of Man enraged William Pitt. Narrowly escaping arrest by Pitt’s goons, Paine fled to revolutionary France, where Paine then narrowly survived the disloyalty of his “friend” George Washington—a betrayal that kept Paine (a victim of the Jacobins-Girondins gang war) rotting in Luxembourg Prison. Only with great luck would Paine avoid Robespierre’s guillotine so as to return to the United States.
Bertrand Russell (the English philosopher, mathematician, historian, and social critic) observed that Paine “incurred the bitter hostility of three men not generally united: Pitt, Robespierre, and Washington. Of these, the first two sought his death, while the third carefully abstained from measures designed to save his life. Pitt and Washington hated him because he was a democrat; Robespierre, because he opposed the execution of the King and the Reign of Terror.”
No one could intimidate Paine into shutting up, but he could be marginalized. By the end of his life, owing to his The Age of Reason and its disparagement of Christianity, Paine was ostracized, even refused service by many innkeepers. Historian Eric Foner notes: “Paine slipped into obscurity. His final years were ones of lonely, private misery.” Moreover, for many years after his death, Paine was either ignored or attacked by the American political and cultural elite; as even in 1888, Theodore Roosevelt scored political points by calling Paine a “filthy little atheist.”
Paine, in truth, was not an atheist but a deist. He states at the beginning of The Age of Reason: “I believe in one God, and no more.” While it was Paine’s trashing of Christianity in The Age of Reason that made him an outcast, he also made clear in it that “all national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
Paine had respect for Jesus (noting that “He was a virtuous and an amiable man”); however, Paine had no respect for Christianity, for which Paine pulled no punches: “Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics. As an engine of power it serves the purpose of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter.”
As maddening as Christianity was for Paine, unlike psychiatry, Christianity didn’t pour salt into Paine’s wounds by pretending to embrace his beloved science. It is quite possible that Paine would be even more appalled by today’s psychiatrists who claim the authority of science but who, in reality, have debased it. Paine’s rebuke of clergy—“to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe”—perfectly fits psychiatrists with regard to both (1) their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly known as the DSM), and (2) their doctrine that has the greatest effect on treatment, the “chemical-imbalance theory of mental illness.”
The DSM is a publication of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which is psychiatry’s guild organization; and the DSM is often referred to as the “diagnostic bible” of psychiatry. The initial DSM (1952) has been followed by several “new testaments”: DSM-II (1968), DSM-III (1980), DSM-III-R (1987), DSM-IV (1994), DSM-5 (2013, foregoing Roman numerals).
Many mental health professionals have long recognized the lack of scientific validity of the DSM, and its pseudoscience has at times become so obvious so as to be a public embarrassment for psychiatry. Prior to 1973, owing clearly to prejudice and not science, homosexuality was a DSM mental illness. Since what enters and exits the DSM has nothing to do with science (the actual criteria for DSM “illness” being what behaviors make an APA committee uncomfortable enough), homosexuality could only be eliminated as a DSM illness by political activism, which occurred in the early 1970s; and homosexuality was omitted from the 1980 DSM-III.
In that same DSM-III, however, again owning to prejudice and not science, a new mental illness for kids was invented by psychiatry: “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD), the so-called symptoms including “often argues with authority figures” and “often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules.” ODD is categorized as a “disruptive disorder,” and today disruptive-disordered kids are being increasingly medicated.
Thomas Paine would have immediately seen the political/pseudoscientific nature of the DSM; and given how oppositional and defiant Paine was with illegitimate authorities, I think it’s safe to say that he would have mocked specifically ODD and generally the entire DSM, perhaps even more so than he derided the Bible and the New Testament.
What may have inflamed Paine even more than pseudoscientific DSM mental illness proclamations would be psychiatry’s perjury about it. “To subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe” is exactly what has been the case for psychiatry with respect to the DSM. Psychiatrist Allen Frances had been the lead editor of DSM-IV, but in 2010 when the APA was in the process of creating DSM-5, Frances stated in an interview in Wired that “there is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bullshit. I mean, you just can’t define it.” Frances, who lost his DSM-IV royalty share ($10,000 per year) once DSM-5 was available, published Saving Normal in 2014, a book trashing the new DSM-5.
With respect to treatment, even more influential than the DSM has been psychiatry’s “chemical imbalance theory of mental illness,” the doctrine which has convinced emotionally suffering patients that taking psychiatric drugs is as responsible as taking insulin for diabetes.
The lack of science behind the “chemical imbalance theory of mental illness” is no longer controversial. In 2014 in CounterPunch, I documented acknowledgements by establishment psychiatrists of this theory’s lack of scientific validity, including psychiatrist Ronald Pies, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Psychiatric Times who stated in 2011: “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” In my 2014 article, I also reviewed how psychiatrists justified their promulgating this mythology by rationalizing that it would make it easier for patients to accept their emotional difficulties as illnesses and to take psychiatric medication. Leading psychiatrists actually confessed to pushing a theory that they don’t believe.
There is, however, something even worse than bullshitting about bullshit—that is attempting to bullshit us that that one has never bullshitted us about bullshit. The previously mentioned psychiatrist Ronald Pies, whose position makes him sort of a Cardinal Emeritus in psychiatry, is now telling us that his profession of psychiatry is not responsible for the fact that damn near everyone believes in an untrue chemical imbalance theory of mental illness.
On April 30, 2019, Pies told us in the Psychiatric Times that “anti-psychiatry groups are quite right in heaping scorn on the ‘chemical imbalance theory’ of mental illness, but not for the reasons they usually give.” Pies expects us to believe that “psychiatry as a profession and medical specialty never endorsed such a bogus ‘theory.’” For Pies, people wrongly believe in this theory because of drug companies’ mendacity and because psychiatry critics have falsely accused psychiatry of promoting it.
But there is a problem with Pies’s alibi for his profession—the truth. In 2001, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) president Richard Harding, writing for the general public in Family Circle, stated: “We now know that mental illnesses—such as depression or schizophrenia—are not ‘moral weaknesses’ or ‘imagined’ but real diseases caused by abnormalities of brain structure and imbalances of chemicals in the brain.”
Pies, undaunted by the facts, responded in his 2019 article: “Critics of my thesis are inordinately fond of citing a dozen or so statements by various psychiatric luminaries—yes, including two former APA presidents—that do, indeed, invoke the phrase, ‘chemical imbalance.’ By cherry-picking quotes of this nature, anti-psychiatry groups and bloggers believe they have demonstrated that ‘Psychiatry’ (with a capital ‘P’) has defended a bogus chemical imbalance theory. These critics are simply wrong.”
The reality is that the APA itself, even in recent years, has continued to promote the chemical imbalance theory. In Psychiatry Under the Influence, journalist Robert Whitaker and psychologist Lisa Cosgrove point out: “Even in the summer of 2014, the APA’s website, in a section titled ‘Let’s Talk Facts’ about depression, informed the public that ‘antidepressants may be prescribed to correct imbalances in the levels of chemicals in the brain.’”
Noting the obvious, Whitaker and Cosgrove point out: “The pharmaceutical companies couldn’t promote the chemical imbalance story without the tacit assent of the psychiatric profession, as our society sees academic doctors and professional organizations—and not the drug industry—as the trusted sources for information about medical maladies.”
In closing, an odd connection between psychiatry and Thomas Paine in the person of Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), who is well-known among psychiatrists as “the father of American psychiatry,” his image adorning the APA seal.
After Paine immigrated to Philadelphia in 1774, he and Rush became friends. At first somewhat protective of the audacious Paine, Rush cautioned Paine against his use of the then-taboo word independence in Common Sense, but Paine disregarded Rush using that word many times in it. Later on, after The Age of Reason made Paine an outcast, Rush refused to see Paine.
In addition to abandoning Paine, Rush attempted to gain favor with the new ruling class in the United States another way. In 1805, Rush diagnosed those rebelling against the newly centralized federal authority as having an “excess of the passion for liberty” that “constituted a species of insanity,” which he labeled as the disease of anarchia—this an earlier version of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). In this and several other ways, Dr. Benjamin Rush is the perfect person to be the father of psychiatry.
Rush was a progressive of his era, but “liberal” in the same sense that Phil Ochs—nicknamed “Tom Paine with a guitar” —mocked hypocritical liberals. For example, Rush proclaimed himself a slave abolitionist, however, he had purchased a child slave named William Grubber in 1776, continued to own Grubber after he had joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society a decade later, and would own Gruber until 1794 when he freed him for compensation. Rush’s “progressive” views on race also included his idea that blackness in skin color was caused by leprosy, and Rush advocated “curing” skin color, changing it from black to white. Rush believed he could abolish slavery by curing black people’s blackness.
Rush also invented some frightening treatments. Based on an earlier imbalance theory that improper flow of blood caused madness, Rush devised two mechanical devices to treat madness: a “tranquilizing chair” and a “gyrator,” not any fun for patients unless they enjoyed being strapped down, immobilized, and violently spun.
Rush considered himself as an expert not just on madness but on every illness, and for virtually all of them, Rush utilized bloodletting as his primary treatment, even at a time when bloodletting was falling out of favor. In “Benjamin Rush, MD: Assassin or Beloved Healer?” (2000), physician Robert L. North reports that in Rush’s era, “The majority of the medical community, especially the members of the College of Physicians, rejected Rush and his cures, using terms and phrases like ‘murderous.’”
William Cobbett, a journalist in Rush’s era, mocked Rush’s treatments (which also included mercury) as “one of those great discoveries which have contributed to the depopulation of the earth,” and Cobbett accused Rush of killing more patients than he had saved. (Cobbett is better known today for his ill-fated plan to provide Thomas Paine with a proper heroic reburial by moving Paine’s remains back to England.)
By the early twentieth century, medical historians were viewing Benjamin Rush as one of the most embarrassing figures in the history of American medicine. North quotes the 1929 History of the Medical Department of the United States Army on Rush’s disastrous impact: “Benjamin Rush had more influence upon American medicine and was more potent in propagation and long perpetuation of medical errors than any man of his day. To him, more than any other man in America, was due the great vogue of vomits, purging, and especially of bleeding, salivation and blistering, which blackened the record of medicine and afflicted the sick almost to the time of the Civil War.”
You would think that the American Psychiatric Association would not want such an historical embarrassment as their father figure. But perhaps the APA believes that the prestige of Rush being a signer of the Declaration of Independence trumps both his being a slave owner and his lethality as a physician.
Actually, Rush was not a complete loser, as he sued the journalist Cobbett for libel and won; and perhaps this legal triumph is inspirational for the APA and modern psychiatrists—providing them with hope that they too can triumph over truth tellers.
Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models (AK Press). His Web site is brucelevine.net
In Cormac McCarthy’s consummate work of apocalyptic dread The Road, about a perished world, the narrator dreams of life with his former bride, a mere memory come to haunt his cold nights. Yet rather than embrace such crepuscular balms, he finds them suspicious. “He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of langour and of death.”
I imagine this is how neoliberals think about socialism. As a call of langour and death. Fearful of being gulled by fantasies, they resist idealistic barnstormers with the same intensity with which they reject base fascists. There must be some deep inbuilt bias against reachable idealism in some, and against unpleasant truths in others. But the latter seem more numbersome. And yet so much of the world we inhabit, in all its gray capitalist drudgery, in all its gaudy pomp, its tatty circumstance, its bricolage culture, is a product of our acquiescence. The notion of the unreachable distance of the ideal may represent more a failure of collective imagination than a material impediment. How many of us are convinced that there is no alternative to capitalism? How many have ingested that neoliberal narcotic of foreclosed imaginations?
Then, as a nation of small minds, we accept the tutelage of small men. We acquiesce to the dimmed horizons of candidates like Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose cheaply bought lunchpail posturing is a transparent farce to anyone with a passing knowledge of his record. His like is a metastasizing presence on a crowded campaign trail. The elder Biden is flanked by moderate Republican Beto O’Rourke, doing his best to be Obama-lite, a young, idealistic avatar of hope, full of windy platitudes and a believer’s mien; Elizabeth Warren, whose latest brainstorm is to make the violent hegemonic armed forces more environmentally friendly, a kind of last consolation on the downslope to extinction; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose cheery multiculturalism faintly veils a familiar and spineless centrism; self-absorbed Kathleen Harris, who giggles at jailing truants; and friend-of-the-people, friend-of-Pharma, Cory Booker. Yet the half of the electorate that remains engaged in the roiling fraud of elections quickly fall to debating the manifold vices and minor virtues of these candidates, petitioners all for the role of caretaker of the public weal.
And all of this, this wan acceptance, this it-is-what-it-is-ism, this dread of dreams, is itself a product of media conditioning. I think it was Deepak Chopra, of all people, who said the dream of social conditioning is only escaped by sages and psychotics. Which is why if media is the culprit of our condition, then capturing media should be the letter of transit to a social consciousness of a different kind. After all, the February revolution in Russia unseated the tsar but put the bourgeoisie in its place, who happily went about shedding what radical garb they transiently wore. The Bolsheviks understood this wasn’t enough and, rather than try to stage a new rebellion on the heels of that one, instead went into the countryside to convince the workers and peasants that February wasn’t enough. Only then did October come.
But to take stock of the present situation (or ‘Current Affairs’, as Barnes & Noble would so blandly have it) is an exercise in incredulity. Looking about oneself, the media landscape is littered with one garbage heap after another, filth factories that sunnily prostitute themselves to power, the doxies of journalism nearly blotting out the horizon.
One of the crucial aspects of media propaganda is the use of apparently authoritative sources. This is done in a couple of ways. One is to establish new organizations that parade themselves beneath a banner of impartiality but do the work of elite capital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, PropOrNot, and the Alliance for Securing Democracy and its infamous “Hamilton 68” dashboard supposedly designed to identify Russian bots on social media. The National Endowment for Democracy, created in the Reagan era, is perhaps a seminal example of the creation of front organizations that profess neutral and angelic intentions while in actuality work to savage the reputation of progressive movements, domestically and internationally.
Perhaps an even better way to deliver ostensibly authoritative news to the population is by co-opting existing organizations. This has been effectively done across a range of international institutions. Think of the Bretton Woods institutions of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank (originating out of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), etc. All have more or less been captured by Washington’s neoliberal zealotry. Think of Congress, for that matter. But for matters of imperial aggression, few organizations are better situated to sway public opinion than longstanding NGOs, which has in recent years fallen afoul of American subversion. Once compromised, their findings can be usefully employed by the MSM to solidify arguments in favor of imperial violence, crucially under the guise of humanitarian goodwill.
Take for instance Amnesty International. Once and still perceived, to some extent, as a kind of pillar of rectitude in a boozy, braindead consumer culture, that NGO has made itself supplicant to Washington, and was perhaps always anxious to evade the censure of the metropole. It now openly campaigns for war. Of course, it varies the lexicon slightly, using terms like “grave” to preface perceived injustices and peppers in suggestive terms like “crimes against humanity” to stir the juices of the settled intelligentsia, those miseducated haute bourgeois that think they know better than the working class, despite being sheltered from most of the damage done by neoliberalism. Once there’s a generalized panic afoot about how to put somebody else’s house in order, Amnesty rolls out the heavy artillery: this “must not go unpunished” and that surely requires a “vigorous response”. Words like “probably” and “almost certainly” are sprinkled into the mix to provide an impression of veracity. This is how imperial violence happens. It is justified before a boot ever settles on the soft earth of an “emerging” nation (never to emerge precisely because of that folderol from the respectable press).
Human Rights Watch, another turncoat org, is led by a kind of frail, blue-veined Savonarola in Executive Director Kenneth Roth. Taking to Twitter, Roth rampages across the media plain on a high horse of pious cant, denouncing Nicolas Maduro as a vicious dictator and supporting the overthrow of the government by a ferociously stupid cabal of neoliberals backed by American power. Another warmonger, Roth. He is in good company. Inverting reality for its bylines, Atlantic writers call the violent opposition of parliamentarian Juan Guaido “pro-democracy.” The Wall Street Journal calls them, “democratic forces.” Despite Maduro’s standing as the elected leader of Venezuela, government forces are often referred to as, ‘forces loyal to Maduro.’ Democracy is canceled when it contravenes imperial capitalism. Always.
The now growing animus toward Iran, a nation that hasn’t started a war in centuries, has been long reinforced by biased reportage from around the MSM. It is always anonymous sources from the U.S. military or from its sprawling corrupt bureaucracy that peddle the state line to credulous young reporters (and older disillusioned reporters) from the Times, perhaps guttural utterances whispered in a shadowy oilslick parking garage. A Fair survey of media coverage on Venezuela found that 54 of 76 articles were openly in favor of regime change, while the rest either provided a raft of ambiguous banalities while being careful not to oppose the machinations of the garrison state.
Drubbing the Idealists
If the media is actively supporting imperialism internationally, it must fight a companion war on the homefront. Namely, the defeat of progressive movements that call for policies that would threaten the imperial treasury. Programs like Medicare for All, easily within reach of a nation that wanted it and whose government represented the populace, is considered wildly idealistic and unworkable in the mainstream press, which has conditioned an essential slice of the voting population. In reality, such proposals are banal. The argument over single-payer has been settled in saner circles. But in the fantasyland of the mainstream, it is a sensational concept, hamstrung by a leftist idealism detached from the reality of elitism. Hence the blizzard of dismissive prose.
It’s chief proponent, Vermont “independent” Senator Bernie Sanders, is being quietly shaped as anti-American for the upcoming election: a delusive scold who clings to the rhetorical tropes of New Dealers and Anti-Vietnam protestors, having been bypassed by the enlightened wisdom of imperial humanitarianism. His press coverage will not amount to half of Joe Biden’s or Beto O’Rourke’s. He will be calmly buried in the media, and then sundered by the sword of his own fealty to neoliberal Democrats. Sanders will doubtless receive more coverage this election, largely because in the last he had little name recognition and was easily ignored by the corporate media. Now that he’s a household name, it must cover him to maintain its semblance of neutrality. That coverage, though, will be decidedly negative and deceitful, attacking his socialist-lite programs and absurdly questioning his ability to rally support among his strongest cohorts.
Even before he declared for the presidency, Biden was scoring major media coverage, nearly besting Sanders, who was crisscrossing the country at seemingly breakneck pace. Biden seems to have already been anointed as the chosen foot soldier to shepherd imperialism back beneath its tawdry banner of ‘respectability’. His nascent campaign has already aligned itself with the imperial state. Like Hillary Clinton before him, Biden was a proponent of regime change war in Iraq and an architect of a crime bill that laid yet more punitive measures on disenfranchised African-Americans. His efforts to destabilize Ukraine on behalf of western capital should not be forgotten either, not to mention Syria and Honduras and other lamentable projects he enthusiastically cheered on. Prior to being VP during the halcyon days of neoliberal icon Barack Obama’s administration, Biden was considered to be a rhetorical loose cannon, a faithful servant of capital who tried to clothe himself in the blue-collar swagger of the working man. His collective profile was more Pagliacci than paladin. It remains to be seen whether the corporate media will be able to craft a suitably presidential persona for this graft-happy grifter. One image prevails in your author’s mind, served up no doubt in one of the MSM’s countless insider paeans to the Obama administration. It is the image of Biden marching around the White House, a crazed grin on his face, the starry-eyed face of a witless acolyte, telling himself again and again that General Motors was alive and bin Laden was dead. As if this bizarre polarity was all the proof the ersatz Delaware senator needed to know that Obama had resurrected American exceptionalism. And perhaps it was.
Narrative Rollback and a Culture of Death
Mainstream America, indifferent to art, enthralled by money, ignorant of history, is the outgrowth of a triptych of vile powers: the neoliberal party, the imperial state, and the capitalist media. Each of these entities has vested interests in advancing the cause of violent western hegemony. It is the media, though, and the control of media, that casts the patina of legitimacy on the party and state which enable it to act with relative impunity. To reinforce the false historical narrative and reign in the increasingly rogue cabal of soothsayers roaming the ridges of the web, a vast social media crackdown and pitiless prosecution of whistleblowers has doubtless had a chilling effect on alternative news sources. Their visibility has been and will be dramatically diminished, and the almost unimaginable courage and risk-taking of people like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning to out state crimes will be sorely tested by the limitless power of the Espionage Act. As alternative forms of fact-finding are rolled back, the mainstream narratives will again assume an authority they neither have nor deserve. All of this is, typically, nothing new. The story of Eugene Debs is a reminder of the wantonness of state power, the Wilson-led entry into the First World War of the power of the state to shape public opinion. As austerity and inflation bites deeper into our quality of life, the government will becoming increasingly fascist and reactionary, as our deranged Commander in Chief reminds us daily.
The bourgeois intellectual culture we live beneath is ethically and spiritually bankrupt. It can rationalize away any and all cruelties in the name of “democracy”. The imparting of false crimes to foreign states and the savaging of domestic proposals for social uplift are the least of it. The latest international targets include Venezuela and Nicaragua, of course. But these embargoes and sanctions and cheaply rationalized crimes can be traced nearly word-for-word to the Eighties, when the National Review and Wall Street Journal, among many others, were sniffing about exporting democracy to wayward Latin nations and quite openly countenancing huge civilian casualties if the result was democracy. This was when Hollywood B-lister Ronald Reagan was hyperventilating about Communism and declared Nicaragua an ‘extraordinary’ threat to the United States, instancing the contra wars. Barack Obama resuscitated this halfwit measure when he targeted Venezuela during his second term, calling it, too, an ‘extraordinary’ threat to national security. Donald Trump has resurrected a sociopathic Reagan foot soldier in Elliot Abrams to manage the latest regime change efforts in the Southern hemisphere. All in the name of ‘democracy’, a word flung about the mediascape amid pithy emotional outbursts, as pundits declare themselves terribly worried about the wellbeing of Latinos thousands of miles away, though of another class, of another tongue, and another reviled political disposition.
Hiding in Plain Print
Yet the corporate use of the word democracy has no relation to the word’s philosophical definition. It is merely a portmanteau for all manner of plunder, the techniques of which include first evicting the wayward socialist in power, by sanction or sabotage or shotgun, then implanting a pliable stooge in power, implementing economic austerity, and selling off state-owned assets (held in the name of the people) to U.S. multinationals. Meanwhile the population stews in a cauldron of social and economic chaos. The pundits then clamor to administer more of the same, calling it a cure, but knowing it isn’t.
The wreckage entrained by this turn of events is nearly wholly hidden by the corporate press. But the events occur nonetheless. The ‘pliable stooges’ are referred to in Communist lore as ‘comprador elite’. Effectively, Washington buys off an elitist in the target country–there are always plenty, most of them educated in some American re-education camp disguised as an Ivy League Elysium–and supplies him or her with a prefabricated policy playbook drawn up inside the beltway by congeries of Chicago School fantasists. Then our obtuse organs of capitalist oligarchy will provide military aid in the form of weapons and training that will almost certainly be necessary to put down the social unrest caused by the austerity policies. Austerity means slashing social spending, which depletes economic demand, which shrinks the economy, which causes international lenders (read Washington-directed banks) to step in, wringing their hands in brotherly concern for their Latin lessers, and hold out a dollar-based loan package stippled with conditionalities.
These conditions include budget caps, the violation of which will trigger punitive measures, and the dropping of tariff regimes that protect domestic industry in favor of “FDI” or Foreign Direct Investment, a pseudo-economic term for a firesale of national resources at deep discounts to foreign corporations. This is also referred to as ‘privatization’ which is said to be necessary in order to raise funds for the government to pay back the onerous loan, which was naturally signed off on by the comprador elite in charge, a traitor who betrays his own population, impoverishes them, and fences their own wealth for what amounts to a transaction fee, which he then pockets before absconding to foreign climes. (Think of the Shah of Iran being granted admission to the United States for medical treatment after being chased from the country by the revolution). This makes the loan odious as well as onerous, but this is disregarded by the debt collectors.
Additional costs come in the form of ‘externalities’, the second best trick of capitalist exploitation. The first is when capital captures the surplus value from labor (which means you will never be paid your true worth in a capitalist system). The second is when capital socializes the steep costs of production. Here the costs often materialize in the form of ecological depredations, as when corporations strip mine mountaintops (see West Virginia or Jharkhand, India, where slag and sulfur wreck native habitats). These actions often proceed protected by the infamous ‘MOU’ or Memorandum of Understanding that permits domestic and foreign corporations to mine under the aegis of the federal state. Yet how much of this is shared in the tepid correspondence between the monolithic institutions of corporate media and their million minor outlets?
Coda to Media Crimes
McCarthy’s The Road delivers a far bleaker picture than the one just described, but it articulates and anticipates a possible outcome of our puerile system of social organization. A system which decimates our land, disfigures our psyches, deforms our bodies, and desiccates our dreams on behalf of a chiseling syndicate of elites. Elites who appear to neither know nor feel compassion except for their blood relations, which are presently being primed to assume the mantle of exploitation once decrepitude descends on their vile forbearers. All the more reason to uproot corporate media and begin the mind work of calling a population back to its truer instincts, where peaceful cooperation trumps cutthroat competition. Those instincts are currently papered over by a phalange of specious argument, emotional manipulation, and the bludgeon of perpetual news. The elites that helm this system of deceits were recently sharing new world order ideas over champagne and canapes in Switzerland at their annual Bilderberg summit, breathlessly sketching their latest vision for the planet, one we will neither see nor vote on until it is visibly underway.
Each year, human beings release an increasing amount of carbon dioxide (C02) into the atmosphere; at present, around 40 billion tons per annum. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, 8.4 billion tons are attributed to the burning of fossil fuels; primarily coal, gas and oil. The European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency lists the most polluting countries (including the EU as a whole and each of its member states). They are China, the US, the EU, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada and Brazil. When measured in terms of per capita emissions, the US and Canada are the biggest culprits, with each Canadian and American emitting an average of >15 tonnes of CO2 per annum (“carbon footprint”). This is a result of commuting, consumption, domestic energy use, leisure and travel.
CO2 accounts for approximate 76 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that combustion (of coal, gas and oil) is the main human activity that releases CO2. Electrical production, which uses coal combustion for its generation, accounts for 32.9% of US CO2 emissions. Transport accounts for 34.2%, which is where oil comes in, as most transport (cars, trucks, planes and ships) relies on petroleum. Industry is responsible for 15.4% of emissions and residential/commercial for 10%.
One barrel consists of 42 gallons (159 liters) of oil. Each day, 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels are consumed worldwide. This equates to 35 billion barrels a year. Vehicles are significant C02 emitters. The majority of vehicles run on oil. There are 800 million cars in the world. According to Automotive Industry Solutions, there are 253 million cars and trucks in use in the US. There are 234 million cars on the roads of Western Europe in a sector that employs 13 million people. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that half of all carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and a quarter of aromatic hydrocarbons, released each year can be attributed to transport. The Union further notes that much of the pollution could be easily reduced by clean vehicle fuel technologies. It’s not just the use of vehicles which causes pollution. The Union also points out that from design, to manufacture, to disposal, vehicle-related pollution is significant.
China’s global CO2 emissions are twice those of US emissions. China equalled and surpassed US emissions more than ten years ago. China’s emissions are largely due to the use of coal and are disproportionately larger than US emissions because of the size of China’s population (there are 1.3 billion Chinese compared to 327 million Americans). Despite having a quarter of China’s population, American per capita CO2 emissions more than double China’s. Personal energy consumption is a major factor. The average Chinese person uses 3,500 kilowatts of energy per hour (kWh) compared with the average American, who uses over 12,000. Personal transportation is another factor. By 2011, in China, there were 68.9 motor vehicles per 1,000 people. In the US, were 786 per 1,000. Consider also the impact of food consumption on emissions. By 2008, the average daily calorie intake in China was 2,900. In the US, it was 3,750.8
Among the poorer countries, the biggest polluters (Brazil, China and India) have the lowest per capita emissions compared to the “developed” nations. By far the least polluting continent is Africa, with some of the most Westernized countries (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) emitting the most C02. It is also worth remembering that the poor countries serve as providers of resources, including oil and other raw materials for the West. Factories and assembly plants that use a lot of energy pollute because they produce goods for export to Europe and North America, making shipping and air travel big CO2 emitters. Liberia’s shipping exports, for instance, make it a significant polluter.
The more Westernized countries become, the more likely they are to pollute. In the 1980s, China adopted US-style privatization programs, agreeing to huge inflows of US capital. Within twenty years, China had equalled America’s record on annual CO2 emissions. By the year 2000, US corporations were investing $11.14 billion in China. By 2007, they were investing $29.71bn. This leapt to $53.93bn in 2008 and climbed to $65.77bn by 2014.
Much of the so-called investment is internal to US corporations, as companies looking for cheap labour outsource to China and other poor countries. For example, in 2010 the trade journal Manufacturing and Technology News reported that “[h]undreds of major American corporations are shipping thousands of jobs overseas,” where workers’ rights, pay and health and safety standards are lower. Some foreign countries offer huge tax breaks and foreign direct investment. Big companies and their subsidiaries and divisions offshoring to China, Mexico and other poor countries with low environmental standards, include: AT&T, Boeing, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, IBM, International Paper, Kingston Technology, Motorola, Nordex, Rockwell Automation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Staples, Tenneco Automotive and Tyco Electronics.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that air pollution kills 200,000 Americans every year. MIT’s Laboratory of Aviation and the Environment tracked emissions at ground-level, from industrial smokestacks, vehicles, railways and residential heating. Road vehicle emissions alone kill 53,000 and power generators kill 52,000. California has the worst air quality, with 21,000 persons dying prematurely each year. On average, sulphur, carbon monoxide and other pollutants shorten the lifespans of those affected by a decade. Researchers found that congestion is one of the reasons for large numbers of vehicle-related deaths. Where traffic flows in less populated areas, fewer people are affected. Commercial and private pollution was highest in the Midwest, from the industrialized cities and stretching down to or across Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and LA.
According to the World Health Organization, 7 million people die each year as a result of exposure to air pollution. This equates to one in eight global deaths. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk and more than doubles previous estimates. Indoor and outdoor pollution are linked to cancer, ischaemic (artery) heart disease and strokes. Poor and less developed countries have the worst air quality, with particularly toxic air in South and East Asia and the Western Pacific. 3.3 million deaths in those regions are attributed to indoor pollution (including work-related air quality) and 2.6 million to outdoor pollution.
Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Family, Women and Children’s Health, says: “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cooking stoves.” Coal is a particularly bad pollutant, hence its contribution as the second largest cause of air pollution-related deaths in the US. Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO’s Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, says: “Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry.”
The pollutants that drive anthropogenic climate change are not only bad for global temperatures and weather, they are bad for human and animal health, too. But hope is not lost. There are major and important changes occurring among grassroots activists, like the Extinction Rebellion, and the possibility of a Green New Deal at the political level. These movements need to endure and expand.
This article is a modified excerpt from my new book, Privatized Planet: “Free Trade” as a Weapon Against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment (2019, New Internationalist).
That Donald Trump is a vulgar, self-aggrandizing narcissist was obvious decades before that day of infamy in 2015 when he and his well-preserved trophy bride descended the Trump Tower escalator to kick off his presidential campaign.
His strategy then was clear: stir up nativist animosities by calling immigrants and asylum seekers from south of the border rapists, drug dealers, and gang members.
Also: rev up America’s ambient Islamophobia, “dog whistle” support for the “alt-right,” pander to Evangelicals, and give crony capitalists anything and everything they want. In Trumpland, crony capitalists are capitalists who pay homage to Trump and who act as if they owe him fealty.
Trump’s strategy has evolved only slightly since then, mainly to take account of changing circumstances and evolving business opportunities.
High on the list of changing circumstances is the bromance between the best foreign customer of America’s death merchants, the murderous Mohammad bin Salman, one of the most retrograde potentates on earth, and First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, Trump’s unofficial Secretary of Everything and BFF, best friend forever, of the latest generation of ethnic cleansers of the Promised Land.
Once it became clear that Trump was serious about running for president, that his and Melania’s performance on the escalator wasn’t just a publicity stunt intended to call attention to the brand, Trump’s unsuitability for the office he sought became even more obvious than it had seemed before; and now that he has been in the White House for two and a half years, the unfitness of that most “stable genius” has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
There was, and astonishingly still is, reluctance on the part of some voters to acknowledge the obvious because the idea that the rich and heinous are praiseworthy and smart is a dogma of the American civil religion, and because it is widely assumed that a buffoonish, gangsterish real estate and gambling tycoon, best known as a reality TV star, could never make it all the way to the White House if he didn’t have at least a few estimable qualities.
Perhaps he really is a dealmaker extraordinaire – just not so as anyone can see it. How much more likely is it, though, that what he had going for him was his father’s money and influence, and that what he is good at is conning the terminally gullible and gaming the system.
The charge that Trump is in way over his head, that he is an ignoramus with the emotional maturity and moral sense of an adolescent bully, is beyond serious dispute. So are charges of corruption, overall sleaziness, and “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
None of this can be kept out of public consciousness indefinitely. Presidents, especially ones who, like Trump, are voracious publicity hounds, are so much in the public eye, and the evidence is so overwhelming, that only diehard fanatics could keep the faith for long.
And yet, it is widely accepted that unless a bad diet or a thunderbolt from heaven get him first, Trump could actually win a second term. More distressing even than that, there are vast swathes of the country where he actually enjoys majority support.
How can this be? How can Trump not just be Trump, but act like Trump, and still have roughly two fifths of the electorate supporting him? Granted – it is only at the very bottom of Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” that he elicits much enthusiasm, and many of his supporters are happy to state their misgivings. Nevertheless, the basket is large and its denizens do stand by their man.
Even those of us who expect less than nothing from an electorate that could elect the likes of, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, find “the Trump base” – that is the current euphemism – shocking and ultimately incomprehensible.
This, then, is the Trump Paradox: each day he is more awful than the last. He makes no secret of it; he flaunts it. And yet each day his boast about how he would only gain support if he walked out onto Fifth Avenue and shot some random person becomes less hyperbolic – to a point where, even now, if it happened, nobody would be especially surprised.
It is possible, of course, that the reality is not quite as paradoxical as it seems; that the nature and extent of Trump’s support might seem more formidable than it actually is.
Nearly everybody underestimated Trump’s appeal in 2016; overestimating it could be an understandable psychological reaction to that. The polls got it wrong in 2016; perhaps we are now experiencing backlash from that as well.
Or perhaps it is “fake news,” driven by greed. Corporate media stand to make a lot more money from a nail biter than from a contest in which the outcome is predictable with a high degree of certainty.
That would be the case in a Trump versus practically anybody contest in an environment in which rationality and basic decency were driving voters’ choices. But this is not the case in our world today. Since even before Inauguration Day 2017, rationality and decency have been hanging by a thread.
There could also be a lot of fear mongering going on, engineered by Democratic Party operatives and their media allies. Nothing is better for motivating Democratic voters than the prospect of four more years of the Trumpian menace.
It is probably safe to wager that, against Trump, a Democrat cannot lose in 2020; especially if the Democrats don’t nominate someone like, but even worse, than last time’s loser – in other words, if they don’t nominate Joe Biden or any “centrist” like him.
Therefore, it would probably be fair to conclude that there is not much of a Trump paradox, after all, and that there is no reason to panic on its account. But until nuclear disarmament is achieved and global warming stopped in its tracks, extreme aversion to risk is the wisest course.
Therefore, when and insofar as it matters politically, it makes sense to act as if two-fifths of the electorate is indeed standing by their man, and to assume that most of those people are not going to cast off their delusions before November 2020. For at least the next year and a half, the way forward is to regard the Trump paradox as a specter haunting the next presidential election, and, in view of what is at take, to proceed accordingly.
It is therefore timely to reflect on what hardcore Trumpians, the true believers, think they are doing. It hardly matters whether there really are some forty million of them or many less.
We can begin by acknowledging that anyone who supports Trump who does not have a major stake in the fossil fuel industry or in a handful of other enterprises that really are “enemies of the people,” or who is not filthy rich and grotesquely greedy, has no material interests that would put him or her on Trump’s side.
It is tempting, at this point, to invoke that old standby, “false consciousness.” No doubt, there is a lot of that around. But the Trump phenomenon it is too irrational, too surreal, to be explained entirely by concepts developed in saner times.
Could it be that the Trump forty percent is so propagandized and dumbed down by Fox and such that they are unable to see how irrational they are or, if they do, to grasp the full extent?
Or maybe they see all they need to, but don’t care; perhaps because they feel compelled to act out.
Or, as many a cable news channel talking head has claimed, they have “agendas,” pecuniary or, as in the case of Evangelicals, religious, which they think that Trump will help them advance. They could be right about that, even if, as some of them surely realize, he could care less about their agendas or about them.
Or maybe the problem just is that Trump’s marks cannot or will not admit to themselves that they have been conned? That would at least be humanly understandable.
Two and a half years ago, there was a rationale for siding with Trump over Clinton that is not entirely without merit, though, even back then, only a fool would have found it compelling. It was that a vote for Trump was a vote against the neoliberal, liberal imperialist order that the Clintons did so much to promote and with which they are so thoroughly identified.
A vote for Trump was a vote for someone who railed against that, albeit in a distinctively inchoate way, and whom nearly the entire power structure of our increasingly inegalitarian ancien régime could not abide. This was a cri de coeur, a plea from the heart; as such, there was something appealing about it.
But that was before Trump’s flaws became too glaring to overlook or deny.
It was still possible, back in 2016, to believe that although what Trump did or said or tweeted seemed insane, maybe what it really was is crazy like a fox; that maybe he really is a master deal-maker, a strategist thinking, as a chess master would, many steps ahead.
That argument is rarely floated nowadays. One reason why is that, to anyone who has wallowed in Trumpland for two and a half years, it rings hollow — like a nasty joke, which, in the final analysis, is all that it is.
The several explanations sketched above, and others that could be added to them, do have merit; but, separately or together, they don’t quite succeed in making sense of the Trump phenomenon. Perhaps there is nothing to do except to concede that it defies explanation; it is that bizarre.
This is why I would conjecture that, barring radical and unforeseeable changes in circumstances, the ninety-nine percent or so of Trump voters whose minds now seem hopelessly out to lunch will remain solidly pro-Trump until the economy takes a nosedive in ways that even they will be unable to ignore or deny.
Even before Marx’s investigations of endogenous developmental tendencies in economic systems, it was understood that capitalist economies go through cycles of boom and bust that governmental actions affect in various ways, but that ultimately lie beyond government control. As a general rule, governments in capitalist states are better at making situations worse than at making them better.
When the economic news is good, Trump takes credit for it; when it is bad, he blames Obama. In truth we are now in the tenth year of recovery from the worst downturn since the great depression of the 1930s. The entire system of global finance that had developed over decades very nearly came undone.
Obama could have done better than he did, but he did help save the day, especially in the financial sector. Insofar as anyone can claim credit for what was largely inherent in the developmental trajectory of the system itself, it is Obama, not Trump.
Of course, he did much less than he could have for the financial “industry’s” principal victims, the men and women lured into and then stuck with unmanageable levels of debt, and he let the banksters who enriched themselves egregious by creating this situation get out of jail free. But credit where credit is due; he did do some good; he saved the day. It is far from clear that Trump has done any good at all.
And now, with the long delayed end of the recovery looming, Trump is undoing much of the good the Obama administration did, all but assuring that when the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, it will swing back hard.
Thanks to Trump’s inequality enhancing tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and the crumbs he and his minions have been tossing to enough others to generate a sense of calm as his nostrums begin to take effect, it is all but certain that a train wreck is coming.
Will the gods whose playthings we are hold it off long enough for there to be at least some chance that Trump’s base will desert him in time for the 2020 election?
I used to think that there was not a chance of that happening, that it just wasn’t in the karma of a nation that has done so much harm to so many for so long.
But now there are indications that the end of the recovery may be coming sooner than most economists used to think. It is getting to be the consensus view that prosperity, such as it is, doesn’t have many more months still to run.
I remembered too that Trump and his minions have no monopoly on the absurd; that, comforting illusions of heaven and hell and karmic justice notwithstanding, the universe itself is absurd as it gets.
And then there is the incompetence of our “stable genius,” a man who knows nothing and everything at once, and who is becoming increasingly desperate mentally and emotionally. He can barely hold a thought, much less an idea, but on matters that reflect his own animosities, bigotry, and narcissistic delusions, he does have fairly stable attitudes. They endear him to the retrogrades in his base, but they also turn him into his own worst enemy.
It was plain from Day One that Trump was obsessed not just by Muslims, but also, even more, by the thought of brown-skinned rapists invading the Land of the Free from south of the border.
What was less clear was that he was also a tariffs buff. Trump knows less than nothing about tariffs, but he believes in them absolutely. In his mind, they are the artful dealmaker’s best friends.
We should be grateful for this. Instead of threatening tariffs hither and yon, raising the blood pressures of investors the world over, but not quite killing or maiming anyone, he could be starting wars. That would be more in line with what “normal” presidents, like the Bushes and Obama, used to do.
Those who thought Trump more likely than Hillary to promote détente with Russia and China were hoodwinked, but so far at least, to his credit, Trump, for all his mindless bluster and bullying, has kept the United States out of military engagements of his own contrivance.
Democrats, eager to hasten Obama’s canonization, ought to give this some thought; so should we all as we contemplate where we would now be had Hillary won.
Like most Democrats, she and Madeleine Albright, her husband’s last Secretary of State, are of one mind in thinking that inasmuch as America has lethal force to spare, it ought to use it from time to time – if only to enhance its creditability. It can be useful for hegemons, and also for imperial powers in decline, to shore their credibility up from time to time.
So far, Trump has not gone down that path; intentionally or not, he has become credibility’s worst nightmare. Teddy Roosevelt advised speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Trump speaks loudly, and carries a stock that is vanishingly small.
This doesn’t stop him, however, from brandishing it; making himself, and the country for which he stands, ridiculous.
This is one of many reasons why he is loathed in elite quarters. But with the still basically unreconstructed Democratic Party for an opposition, even our grandees, accustomed as they are in general to getting their way, find themselves pulling their punches.
This is hardly surprising: notwithstanding the support of the majority of voters, America’s political leaders cannot get rid of him, and cannot even do much to hobble him – not with the institutions our vaunted “founders” bequeathed us.
However, Trump can hobble himself. If our luck and the world’s holds, he will keep on doing just that for the next year and a half.
That is a big “if,” however, because nobody flip-flops like the Donald. Countless times since his inauguration, he has changed his mind on a dime — or on the advice of one or another Fox News bloviator whose views struck a responsive chord in the booming buzzing confusion of his mind.
But, as almost happened last week with Mexico, if he doesn’t flip-flop, or if he stumbles into something he really doesn’t want but feels he cannot avoid, he could find himself in what the late George H. W. Bush used to call “deep doodoo.” At that point, like rats fleeing a sinking ship, GOP Senators might actually break free from under his thumb.
After all, the captains of commerce and industry who own those Senators don’t care for tariffs any more than garden variety, Clintonite (neoliberal) Democrats do.
From the time Trump secured the GOP nomination in 2016, Republican legislators have lived in mortal fear of him, licking his boots whenever he demanded it of them. But their real bosses are the neoliberal – and therefore anti-tariff — capitalists they exist to serve.
If they call for it, and if push comes to shove, those Senators might find it necessary to overcome the cult-like servility that has become their signature stance, the better to serve their true masters directly rather than through the intermediary of a conman who has fallen for his own con.
Then anarchy might erupt in what is still reaction’s finest redoubt. This could be enough to give Mitch McConnell a stroke; it couldn’t happen to a more worthy fellow.
McConnell did his best to block Obama at every turn and to render the Democratic Party impotent; and, in both cases, he was good at it. But by far his most deleterious role in the politics of the past decade or more has been to fashion a troglodyte judiciary that will continue to afflict the body politic for decades to come.
He has so far succeeded mightily in this endeavor. But his plans could be thwarted, and some of his accomplishments might even be reversed, if the Republican monolith crumbles.
That just might be starting to happen now, as tariffs and uncertainty about tariffs take hold, and the first inklings of the next economic downturn emerge.
It is still more likely than not that the Trump Paradox, with or more likely without Trump, will be a factor in the life of the nation for a long time to come. But since the 2018 midterm elections, this seems a lot less inevitable than it used to – because now the broad outlines of a genuine opposition party capable of moving history forward are coming into view.
It won’t help that thanks to those damn founders and the institution builders that came after them, this will more likely be a reformed and reconstructed Democratic Party than something genuinely new, a fresh start as it were. But this problem, though debilitating, is not fatal; it can be overcome.
It will not be overcome, however, if there is a return to pre-Trumpian “normalcy.” Then, the best we will be able to hope for will be a return to the conditions that made Trump possible and arguably even inevitable.
But if the AOCs of the (already somewhat) new Democratic Party take charge, if they are able to prevail over defenders of the status quo while Joe Biden and others of his ilk suffer an historic defeat, then it will no longer be quite as unreasonable as it now is to dare to hope.
And then, building on that foundation and if all goes well, the Trump Paradox will fade back into the Nothingness from whence it came.
+ This seems like a big deal to me, but then I don’t get out much: The world’s seed-bearing plants have been disappearing at a rate of nearly three species a year since 1900.
+ From 2001 to 2017, the Pentagon’s emissions totaled 766 million metric tons, according to a new Brown University report. That makes the U.S. military by far the world’s largest single source of CO2 emissions.
+ The planet’s carbon concentration jumped 3.5 parts per million last year—more than twice as fast as it grew as recently as the 1980s and 50% faster than the average this decade.
+ The Greenland ice sheet is experiencing an unprecedented spasm of melting this week, losing half of its surface cover in a matter of days…It hasn’t happened before. But almost certainly will again.
+ What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic…
+ 14 of the 15 cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in India, where simply breathing is like smoking a 1/2 pack of cigarettes per day. The toxic particles in India’s air ultimately end up in the country’s lakes and rivers, — 70% of which are dangerously contaminated. All of this is wrecking havoc on the health of India’s human population, where the dirty air is reducing life expectancy by at least 2.6 years. Air pollution is now the third leading cause of death.
+ Climate change is fast-forwarding the development patterns of sockeye salmon…
+ CO2 emissions from international flights leaving from California have increased by 40% in the last five years. (Don’t worry the airlines are compensating by investing in palm oil biomass plants as “carbon neutral” offsets!)
+ To date, 195 countries have signed the Paris climate agreement, and 183 have submitted their own decarbonization targets. Even if all these countries were to meet their goals, global CO2 emissions would stay about the same or even increase slightly until at least 2030.
+ Destined for Bartlett’s Book of Quotations. Trump: “China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution. If you go to certain cities, you can’t even breathe, and now that air is going up. They don’t do the responsibility.”
+ Joe Biden, who once plagiarized from Neil Kinnock and Martin Luther King Jr, is now reduced to lifting innocuous passages on climate change from Beto O’Rouke, who was one of the leading recipients of oil & gas largesse in Congress…
+ More journalists have lost their jobs in the last 15 years than coal miners….
+ A lot of people in Flint won’t get no justice tonight…
+ Flint ain’t got safe water and Whitey goin’ to Mars (of which the Moon is a part)
I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And Mars looks very different today
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Mars has stolen the Moon
And there’s nothing I can do…
+ The cost of cleaning up Alberta’s tar sands zone: $260 billion.
Number of years it could take for the tar sands zone to be cleaned up: 2,800.
+ In 2002, Ireland became the first nation to regulate the distribution of plastic bags…
1999: 328 bags per capita
2002: Government regulations enacted
2016: 12 bags per capita
+ Bison evolved as migratory animals. Now they’re slaughtered (by our govt.) for crossing imaginary boundaries in search of forage…
+ The Trump administration secretly reversed its own policy and is now permitting the body parts of slaughtered elephants to be imported into the United States. Do you think Don Jr. & Stephen Miller have brainstorming sessions over a tub of Chick-Fil-A and a case of Coors to come up with the most disgusting things imaginable the Trump administration could legalize? Or does it just come naturally to them?
+ The Trump administration is also moving to expand hunting inside National Wildlife Refuges. “Refuge” has always been a misnomer for what most of these places actually are, which is shooting galleries…
+ A distressing note about grizzlies from Louisa Willcox:
“An astonishing 11 grizzlies are dead this year in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, one for killing “several” chickens. Despite the availability of nearly free electric fencing from at least 3 nonprofits, the handful of chickens were not protected by electric fence. And the involved subadult male appears not to have had a record of prior conflicts with humans.
“Back to the lander” chicken farmers are exploding in the remaining stronghold for the 900 grizzlies in the NCDE, that are part of the 2% remnant of the grizzlies that we once had. Former Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Coordinator Chris Servheen has called chickens “the new garbage.” About 410,000 chickens are raised in Montana, very few as a commercial venture.
Meanwhile 3 grizzlies have been killed in the Selkirks in north Idaho – a population of perhaps only 40 grizzlies – in retaliation for depredation on domestic sheep, another bear food that is notoriously incompatible with recovery of endangered grizzlies.”
+ In 2018, USDA’s Wildlife “Services,” mercenaries for Big Ag, killed 22,000 beavers, 515,000 red-winged black birds, 19,000 mourning doves, 17,000 black tailed prairie dogs, 552 great blue herons, 357 wolves, scores of owls and much more.
+ According to the Living Planet Index, more than half of all living creatures have died out in the last 40 years.
+ Not content with harassing whales with sonar, explosions and ship strikes, the Navy now wants to invade one of the quietest places in the lower-48 with the screaming engines of its training flights: Olympic National Park.
+ Tables are turning: Cheyenne River Sioux tribal police stopped workers on the Keystone XL pipeline and transported them off the reservation…
+ Four of Alexander Cockburn’s old pals arrested on Rainbow Ridge blocking logging operations in critical salmon habitat by Humboldt Redwoods: David & Jane Simpson, Ellen Taylor and Michael Evenson…Respect!
+ Did any mad scientist ever brew up a more evil potion than Round-Up?
+ Health insurance costs across the US jumped 1.5 percent in May, up 12.4 percent over last year. (You see what can happen when Obama and Trump work together to create something special for the American people?)
+ Even Bloomberg rates the US health care system as one of the most costly and least effective in the world, just behind Russia but still (barely) ahead of Bulgaria.
+ Nations which have somehow found a way to provide their citizens with universal health care…
+ Living in an economy that kills…
+ DH Lawrence declared that “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” The statistics suggests this wasn’t hyperbole.
+ Many retirees in the US, Canada and Europe are running out of money a decade before their deaths. Of course, Social Security was built on the assumption that most working-class people would die before they got back everything they’d paid into it…
+ The war on the poor never ends…now the Trump administration wants to charge stores a fee to accept food stamps.
+ Can anyone cite one issue where Biden is more progressive than Hillary Clinton? What kind of institutional laughing gas have the Democrats been inhaling to convince themselves that another center-right candidate with even less rhetorical skills than HRC could defeat Trump?
+ Biden in Iowa on his desire (compulsion?) to work with Republicans if elected: “With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change. Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”
+ This week’s Monmouth poll out of Nevada is the first in any early primary state that shows Warren over Sanders.:
Biden – 36%
Warren – 19%
Sanders – 13%
Buttigieg – 7%
Harris – 6%
+ Strange allies: In the Morning Consult poll, Joe Biden is the second choice for 33% of Bernie Sanders voters, the highest level for Biden among any of the contenders. While Sanders is the second choice for 30% of Biden voters (the only candidate for whom Sanders is the second choice.) So much for ideology. Is it the geezer factor that unites them?
+ Biden’s numbers are already falling. The only thing that’s keeping him in the lead is that he hasn’t started campaigning yet…
+ Finally an answer to what women want: Socialism!
+ So, if socialism is rising, why is Sanders struggling? You can’t sustain the role of “insurgent” after endorsing and campaigning for the villainous politician you strived to overthrow. Bernie is now just another Left Democrat, a party loyalist with many excellent positions and some serious baggage.
+ The Koch brothers funding network is opening its checkbooks to Democrats. Why? Because the old Paul Ryan Republicans are the new Democrats…
+ In spite of Trump’s tariffs, the budget deficit has swelled to $739 billion in May–an increase of 38.8 percent over a year ago. Of course, this was always the plan: cut taxes for corporations and the super-rich, pump up defense spending, explode the deficit and use the deficit as a pretext to eviscerate entitlements.
+ Robert Reich: “So far Trump’s tariffs have cost each American household $850. If Trump slaps a 25% tariff on all Chinese goods, it will be $2100. If he raises all tariffs he’s threatened, $4000 — the same amount he promised would trickle down from his giant corporate tax cut but didn’t.”
+ This is one of those rare occasions where Reich’s analysis is backed up Goldman Sachs, which suggests that the entire burden of Trump’s tariffs falls on American businesses and consumers.
+ How the FDR administration propagandized its concentration camps…
+ Following in the footsteps of the Greatest Generation, the Trump Administration plans lock up migrant children at Fort Sill, which once served as a detention camp for Japanese-Americans and before that Native Americans, including Geronimo…
+ One of the most important points historian Andrea Pitzer (One Long Night: a Global History of Concentration Camps) made in her too-brief appearance on MSDNC was that once concentration camps are opened they don’t close. They set down roots and grow, often into something even more malign, as in her examples of the French Camps from the Spanish Civil War and Gitmo.
+ Depravity as policy: doctors claim that migrant patients are being treated like felons, which is both an indictment how migrants and prisoners are treated by the government.
+ Thank you for your service…ICE is routinely deporting veterans without screening their records.
+ If you can’t send the entire regime to Hell, at least send them to The Hague: DHS stuffed 900 detainees into a “facility” that had a capacity of 125 people.
+ Ralph Nader: “The biggest hole on our southern border is Trump’s giant, open mouth threatening to close the border, to end asylum, and cut off poverty aid to Central American countries. No wonder desperate families are streaming north before its to late.”
+ Nancy Pelosi says the House shouldn’t impeach Trump because it will go nowhere in the Senate. Of course, that’s also true of every piece of legislation that the House passes.
+ At least 406 people have been killed by police in 2019.
+ The DC police department denied every request by families for body-camera footage for police killings in 2018.
+ Biden: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ‘60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and…in order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start or even hold the white man back.… I don’t buy that.”
+ Trump bellowed on Wednesday that “never in his life” had he ever considered calling the FBI about anything. He is conveniently forgetting about that time he offered to be an FBI snitch to cover his own ass.
+ Pompeo Maximus told a group of Jewish leaders that he would intervene in British elections to keep Corbyn from becoming PM…
+ The combined support for the Tories and Labour in the UK has dropped to about 40%—the lowest share since 1979.
+ How pathetic is Kamala Harris? Even DiFi signed the relatively modest resolution introduced by Warren and Sanders condemning Netanyahu’s land theft scheme for the West Bank and Madame Prosecutor refused…
+ US diplomats have never been “honest brokers” in the Middle East and now they don’t even pretend to be…
+ Once she was a cause célèbre of the human rights crowd. Now Aung San Suu Kyi’s a xenophobic, anti-Muslim bigot who is making common cause with the likes of Orban…
+ Embattled tenants in NYC score a rare victory against the slumlords, and for once Governor Andrew Cuomo sided with them…
+ In downtown San Diego, homeowners are paying as much as $90,000 for a single parking spot…
+ A survey of CEO confidence in the economy has dropped to the lowest level in the Trump presidency. Trump must be doing something right…
+ Joe Biden met a voter’s granddaughter in an Iowa coffee shop and asked her age. She told him she was 13. He addresses her brothers. “You’ve got one job here, keep the guys away from your sister.” I hope they started by giving Biden a swift kick in the nuts…
+ Biden: “William Barr one of the BEST attorneys general.”
+ Ronald Reagan, 1961: “Medicare will bring a socialist dictatorship.” (Still waiting…)
+ The New York Times will no longer run editorial cartoons. Take heart. Many of their stories will continue to read like cartoons…
+ Trump just used the south lawn of the White House as a showroom for Bernie Sanders’ favorite boondoggle: the F-35, the world’s most expensive and useless fighter-jet. Last year, the president seemed to believe the plane was invisible.
+ At least 22 foreign governments have spent money at Trump properties since he became president. Remember when Jimmy Carter was forced to put his peanut farm in a blind trust?
+ Barbara Ehrenreich: “Trump invites foreign nations to come and influence our elections. The only condition is that any agents they send here stay in Trump hotels.”
+ Dear Ilhan Omar,
Impeach Trump for things he does (locking kids in cages, lying us into war with Iran, killing 40,000 Venezuelans with vicious sanctions, suppressing science on planet-killing climate change) not bullshit he says.
One word: Impeachment. https://t.co/U0VP8GTyHR
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 13, 2019
+ Trump on his speech in Poland last year: “I can say it but I don’t want to say it but some people said it was the best speech ever made by a president in Europe. But I did not say that, I’m just quoting other people.” (Can he name one?)
+ Joe Biden was the chief architect of one of the most noxious tentacles of the war on drugs, the asset seizure program.
+ Who will tell AIPAC? Israel isn’t a top issue for American Jews who care about Israel…
+ Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Iran would not repeat the “bitter experience” of negotiating with Trump: “The U.S. president, after a meeting with you and discussions on Iran, imposed sanctions on Iranian petrochemical sector. Is this a message of honesty? Does that show he seeks honest negotiations?”
+ Proconsul Pompeo Maximus just blamed Iran for attacks on an oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, while the Japanese prime minister was in Tehran trying to negotiate a relief of sanctions. Doesn’t make any sense for the Iranians to have done this, while many others in the region stand to benefit from instigating a hot war with Iran…
+ Pompeo Maximus presented no evidence for his claim that the Iranians targeted oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Apparently, they’ve learned the lesson of the Bush administration. Don’t put forth any evidence that can later be exposed as fabricated. Just say it and walk away without any questions.
+ More deadly presents for the Saudis, more in-your-face provocations for Iran…
+ Saree Makdisi: “Crisis in the Gulf: on the one hand, a careful, canny, prudent, calculating & strategically rational power, and on the other hand, the USA.”
+ In Trump’s first year in office, formal complaints about Hatch Act violations increased by 30%. The most frequent violator was Kellyanne Conway. The Office of Special Counsel just recommended that she “be removed from the federal service.”
+ Sen. Mark Warner (Demwit-VA): “The Intelligence Community has stayed true to its mission of … SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER.”
+ Trump just used the south lawn of the White House as a showroom for a flyover by the F-35, the world’s most expensive and useless fighter-jet. Last year, he seemed to believe the plane was invisible.
+ Biden: “I did not find anywhere in the record on that issue where he [Clarence Thomas] evidenced extreme views ― where he said ― where he, on the face of what he said, as anything extreme or an explicit endorsement,” Biden said to the women who testified on Sept. 19, adding that they showed a “failure of logic” in coming to such a conclusion.
+ Priorities, priorities: Alabama has moved to protect the parental rights of rapists.
+ The Hyde Amendment was passed just three years after Roe v. Wade. For more than 40 years, the Democratic Party has been just fine with Joe Biden and the fact that the Constitutional right to an abortion was restricted for poor, minority and young women soon after it was granted.
+ Bernie Sanders claimed that he consistently voted against the Hyde Amendment and his supporters have slammed Elizabeth Warren (and others) for voting for spending bills containing the Amendment. In fact, Sanders voted against bills containing the Hyde Amendment 4 times (good for him) & FOR it 26 times!
+ From Michael Wolff’s Siege on how Trump would do an abortion: “When Marla Maples became pregnant in the early 1990s, before their marriage, he debated with one friend how he could avoid both the marriage and the baby. The scenarios included pushing Marla down the stairs to cause a miscarriage.” Over to you, Tiffany…
+ More evidence Biden is entering his second childhood, which of course might not be a bad thing if he regresses far enough…
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 9, 2019
+ Millennials are posing a huge challenge to the advertising industry. How do convince a generation that is broke and hounded relentlessly by creditors to buy shit they don’t need?
+ LAX is ranked by Fodor’s as the worst airport in the world and it is awful, but in my experience the Las Vegas airport is the worst. It’s dirty, always packed, and many people are drunk, depressed and distraught about having lost money they didn’t really have…
+ LA has also been rated the most “stressed out” city in the US. I can understand why. A few weeks ago, I took Uber from Sherman Oaks to UCLA campus, about 6 miles. This was 11 am. Far from rush hour. We avoided the dreaded 405 by taking twisty Beverley Glen over the hills and down the canyon. It still took almost an hour. I asked the Uber driver if his passengers understood he had no control over LA traffic and travel times. He said, “Hell, no and I’m moving back to Sheboygan as soon as I can…”
+ LA’s homeless population is surging. The official count is now 59,000 living on the streets–the real number of homeless is probably more than 100,000. Why? An Angeleno would need to earn $47.52 an hour just to afford the median monthly rent in Los Angeles.
+ John Dean testified this week about how Nixon ordered the firebombing of the Brookings Institute. How times have changed. These days it’s Brookings which is doing the firebombing (Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia…)
+ The Democratic Resistance© is now attacking Trump for opposing the Vietnam War. At least they’re consistent. JFK started the war. LBJ propelled it to its maximum carnage and then the DNC sabotaged its own antiwar candidates, McCarthy in 68 and McGovern in 72.
+ Three of the last four US presidents evaded the Vietnam War. This should be a cause for celebration during Trump’s 4th of July gig. I hope he pays homage to the other 500,000 men who served their country by resisting a genocidal war. They get my vote for the “Greatest Generation”…
+ NEWSFLASH: After a meticulous analysis of his Normandy speech, Trump has now been declared “presidential”, according to MSDNC’s Andrea Mitchell.
+ To totally eliminate tuition for California residents at University of California and Cal State would cost the state $4.3 billion. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only 3% of the state’s general fund.
+ Headline of the week: Phony Betomania Has Bitten the Dust.
+ Some shows are just beyond parody…
Fox & Friends discusses Texas' new "Save Chick-fil-A" law while eating a large pile of Chick-fil-A food, and warning opponents of its anti-LGBTQ practices that "every time you try to stop Chick-fil-A, you help Chick-fil-A." pic.twitter.com/j6NIlWPqaz
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) June 12, 2019
+ There’s only one tyranny honest, red-blooded Americans find more odious than the metric system and that’s the autocracy of orthography. Here we cherish the right to spell (whales, wales, wails) as we damn well please…Death to Spellcheckers, human and automated!
+ 11% of visitors to Portland in 2017 said they came to experience legal weed…And from the traffic jams on the 205 it looks like most of them forgot their way home.
+ Trump doesn’t want Americans visit to Cuba anymore, but you can spend two refreshing weeks vacationing in Saudi Arabia.
+ Fidel Castro, ever the optimist: “Many peoples of the world will look hopefully to the American people as the only one capable of putting a straightjacket on, or stopping, the bigots in their lust for power, abuse and conflict…”
+ When You See Us, the dramatized account of the Central Park jogger case, has been the most watched show on Netflix every day since its release.
+ Good riddance to Elizabeth Lederer, the prosecutor in the Central Park jogger trials, though a stain remains on Columbia Law School for not dropping her and allowing her to drop them…
+ Flashback: Pat Buchanan on the Central Park 5: “If the eldest of that wolf pack were tried, convicted and hanged in Central Park, by June 1, and the 13- and 14-year-olds were stripped, horsewhipped, and sent to prison, the park might soon be safe again for women.”
+ Need another reason to hate the Patriots? Thomas Boswell (the great baseball writer at the Washington Post): “Two months after Tom Seaver’s family announced he was suffering from dementia & retiring from public life, Tom Brady wants to steal his nickname –Tom Terrific– and trademark it so he can slap it on his merchandise crap. Time for Brady to let some air out of his ego.”
+ Kick-ass version of Hard Rain from the Scorcese docu-fable Rolling Thunder Revue: a Bob Dylan Story….with Mick Ronson doing much of the ass-kicking.
+ Ronee Blakley: “Mick, don’t you just love Bob?”
Mick Ronson: “I don’t know. He’s never spoken to me.”
+ Sam Shepard: New England was just experiencing the backbone of that economic fallout. You know, way back then, it was desolate, really, really difficult economic times. People suffering behind that. You know? And rock-n-roll was some kind of medicine or something…
Interviewer: Wasn’t that [Rolling Thunder] the year of the Bicentennial?
Sam Shepard: The Bicentennial, particularly in the little towns, they didn’t give a shit, you know? What is the Bicentennial, you know what I mean? They certainly weren’t celebrating the birth of America.”
+ From Ian McLagan’s fantastic memoir, All the Rage:
“Hello, Bob. I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin.”
“I don’t come to you with my problems,” Dylan snapped.
+ Drink like Thomas Pynchon.
+ I’ve been listening to Milestones all week. If Kind of Blue is modal jazz at its most mannered, Milestones is where the band first started exploring that approach. One of the key differences between the two records, both of which are seminal recordings, is at the keys. Milestones swings in ways that Kind of Blue doesn’t and that’s largely attributed to Red Garland’s playing. Bill Evans was going down different sonic corridors.
+ In 2002, Buddy Gist gave the University of North Carolina at Greensboro the trumpet his friend Miles Davis played during the Kind of Blue sessions. Soon afterward, the University had the trumpet appraised at $1.6 million. Two years before his death in 2010, Gist was homeless, sleeping in Greensboro’s Center City Park.
We Miss You Already, Roky…
What I’m listening to this week…
Tuscaloosa by Neil Young and the Stray Gators (Reprise)
Rainford by Lee “Scratch” Perry (On U Sound)
History by Youssou N’Dour (Naïve/Believe)
What I’m reading this week…
Book Reports: a Music Critic on His First Love, Which was Reading by Robert Christgau (Duke)
Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman (NYRB)
Dark Day, Dark Night by Jonah Raskin (McCaa)
Something to Do With Cats
Seymour Hersh: “I came out of a lower-middle-class background. At that time, everyone used to define themselves: Stalinist, Maoist, whatever. I thought they meant ‘miaowist’. Seriously! Something to do with cats.”
It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’ who brought on the…Fascist Dictatorship…
* Doremus Jessup, a liberal and social democrat, reflecting ruefully from an American fascist prison in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935)
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.
* Buffalo Springfield, 1966
Sinclair Lewis’s widely read and semi-satirical 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here resonates chillingly with current events in the United States. Published as fascism rose to power in Germany, the dystopian novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a bombastic and “populist” demagogue elected President of the United States in 1936. Windrip’s campaign combines a pledge for sweeping social reform with calls for a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. It is crafted by a shrewd and sinister newspaperman named Lee Sarason. Sarason believes in propaganda, not science, facts, and truth. He argues that real information “is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them [and tries]…. to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.”
Sarason ghost-writes Windrip’s widely read volume Zero Hour, a jeremiad against national decline and a call to Nativist action on behalf of “real Americanism.” Zero Hour upholds an idealized notion of a lost, betrayed and (supposedly) idyllic patriarchal and white-supremacist national past.
Windrip’s campaign channels white male hatred of racial minorities, Mexicans, uppity women, and liberal and Left “elites.” These ugly sentiments inform his election platform, labeled “Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Man.”
After he’s inaugurated, Windrip creates a paramilitary auxiliary to the United States Army called the Minute Men. The Minute Men arrest the Supreme Court and most of Congress. They suppress protests and arrest dissidents while the new “corpo” government passes draconian measures that oppress women, Blacks, and Jews.
Most U.S. citizens initially approve of Windrip’s authoritarian measures, thinking them necessary to restore American “greatness,” power and prosperity. Others dislike Windrip’s “corporatism” but take assurance in the comforting idea that fascism can’t really “happen here” – not in the “democratic” and “republican” United States, the land of liberty.
It Can’t Happen Here’s main protagonist is a liberal social-democrat and upper middle-class journalist named Doremus Jessup. As Windrip implements his agenda, leading to the incarceration of Jessup and many others, it dawns on the journalist that he and his fellow liberal elites are largely responsible for the national nightmare. “It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’” Jessup reflects, “who brought on the…Fascist Dictatorship… I can blame no Buzz Windrip, but only my own timid soul and drowsy mind…Forgive, O Lord. Is it too late?”
Jessup and his and his fellow comfortable New Deal liberals’ main mistake is their failure to respond with adequate seriousness and alar, to the threat posed by the outwardly clownish Windrip. Jessup “simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure.” Jessup and his ilk don’t fight back soon or hard enough because they are certain Windrip’s popularity will sputter. They underestimate the depth and the degree of popular anger and resentment Windrip exploits. By the time Jessup and other liberals and leftists catch up to the existential gravity of the American-fascist peril it’s too late.
Windrip is later removed by Sarason, who is in turn ousted by the right-wing General Dewey Haik. A government weakened by internal division among its top leaders faces a mass rebellion and the country descends into Civil War.
The differences between Lewis’ nightmarish scenario and the Trump election and presidency are numerous and significant, as one would expect when comparing a political novel from the mid-1930s with real political history eight decades later.
Windrip wins as a Democrat, having defeated New Deal champion Franklin Roosevelt and turning the New Deal in a fascist direction. Trump won as a Republican in the wake of the Democratic corporate-neoliberal Barack Obama’s distinctly non-/post-New Deal presidency.
Windrip comes from humble origins in a small New England town. His rustic “heartland” appeal is rooted partly in his own background even if it is manipulated by Sarason.
The purported billionaire New Yorker Trump was born into wealth and rose to prominence atop the booming urban real estate and media markets of the 1980s and 1990s. His “folksiness” and rural, small-town “red state” allure is more obviously contrived.
Windrip’s brief reign occurs amidst the most widespread and prolonged mass unemployment in U.S. history, the Great Depression. Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” by restoring prosperity to the onetime industrial and agricultural “heartland” resonated with many white voters reeling from the 2008 Great Recession and the weak recovery that followed. But Americans’ economic difficulties during the Obama years paled before the scale of what the nation’s populace faced during the early 1930s. Trump has held the White House during a long job-generating economic expansion inherited from Obama.
Windrip rises to power largely on the anger and mobilization of the nation’s wage-earning and unemployed majority. Contrary to the widespread narrative that Trump was elected by the “white working-class,” Trump’s voting base has not been particularly proletarian. He ascended largely through the political demobilization, atomization, and alienation of working-class people, whites included.
Windrip sweeps into office as a quasi-socialist. He promises $3,000 to $5,000 ($44,334 to $74,890 in 2017 dollars) for every “real American family,” the setting of strict upper limits on upper-class incomes and wealth, and the placement of the nation’s leading banks under federal control.
Trump (whose sole legislative triumph during his first year in office was a giant tax cut for the already super-rich and their corporations) may have made populist-sounding noises on the 2015-16 campaign trail, but he has never approached Windrip when it comes to mimicking socialism or pledging economic redistribution.
Windrip campaigns as a chaste, morally and religiously devout man of small-town Protestant virtue. He “vomit[s] Biblical wrath” during his campaign speeches. He bans atheists and Jews who do not believe in the New Testament from public offices and key professions.
Trump, a product of the 1960s, is a longtime playboy with two divorces and numerous extramarital affairs under his belt. He was caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women. His outward pretense of Christianity is obviously insincere. By all indications, Trump (despite being an abject Twitter-addicted dotard) acknowledges no greater cosmic authority than his own “stable genius” self.
Windrip starts out with majority support. Trump has been plagued by significant majority disapproval from the beginning of his presidency.
Windrip mobilized masses in the streets and at the polls. Trump is a symptom of what the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism,” wherein corporations attain complete control of government and politics through mass popular demobilization, atomization, and depoliticization.
Windrip wipes out Congress and turns it into his adjunct. Trump has struggled with the legislative branch and lost one its two main chambers, the House of Representatives, to the Democrats in the 2018 mid-terms. The House has been locked in outward partisan warfare with Trump ever since.
There was a significant communist and socialist Left – a standard leading political bogeyman and bete noire of fascist movements – for fascists, including the fictional Windrip, to rail against in the United States in the 1930s. The big “radical socialist Left” Left that Trump, other Republicans, FOX News, and rightwing talk-radio harp on in the 21st century is largely a mirage.
Windrip succeeds in setting up an authoritarian, fascist-style government, replete with concentration camps for political enemies and government-affiliated paramilitary forces that crush dissent. Everyday Americans are afraid to openly oppose and criticize Windrip’s fascist state.
The aspiring fascist leader Trump has obviously achieved nothing like that. Trump has been relentlessly and openly mocked and criticized in most of the nation’s corporate media beyond FOX News and right-wing talk radio. He is a regular sick-puppy lightning rod for late night comedians and talk show hosts and a daily target of withering criticism at CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets. The armed right-wing groups that identify with Trump are not affiliated with the federal government. They lack the power to crush his political enemies and enforce his policies.
Trump faced a massive two-year Justice Department-appointed special prosecutor’s investigation into his relationships with Russia and into his efforts to obstruct that inquiry. The resulting April 2019 Mueller Report amounted to a referral for impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, where a growing number of Democrats have advocated the initiation of constitutional processes to remove Trump.
The gravest threat to humanity, exacerbated by Windrip, in the 1930s is global fascism and the related prospect of world war. The grimmest threat to the species today, crassly exacerbated by the climate-denying fossil fool Trump, is Ecocide – the capitalist war on livable ecology.
Still, there are haunting and uncanny parallels between Windrip and Trump, and between Windrip’s movement and Trumpism. As with Windrip, the dangerous and sinister nature of the Trump candidacy and presidency has been cloaked to no small extent by a clownishness and buffoonery that has encouraged many Americans not to take him or his backers seriously.
Like the fictional Windrip and other real-life fascist-style politicos past and present, Trump has used brutish tactlessness and contempt for liberal political correctness and established norms of civic decency to distinguish himself from his political opponents – and to win a special place in the hearts of his followers.
Like Windrip, the real-life creeping fascist Trump has built his campaign and much of his rhetoric around the stoking and tapping of white and male resentment of supposedly undeserving racial and ethnic minorities and women perceived as having stepped outside their proper roles.
Like Windrip, Trump has made a political punching bag out of Mexico.
Like Windrip, Trump has diverted ordinary white citizens’ attention and anger away from the United States’ oligarchical wealth and power concentrations created by modern state capitalism and on to racial, ethnic, foreign, and cultural scapegoats: minorities, feminists, intellectuals, immigrants, socialists, environmentalists, and various perceived foreign state adversaries.
Like Windrip, Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump has appealed to the myth of an elite-betrayed past of racial, ethnic, patriarchal, and moral purity – a glorious “homeland” and “heartland” history to which the revered “blood and soil” nation needs to return.
While he has never allowed anybody to become as influential in his campaign and presidency as Lee Sarason is for Windrip, Trump’s campaign success in the late summer and fall of 2016 relied heavily on the direction he got from the evil white nationalist and global fascist strategist Steve Bannon. By late 2018, Trump appeared to have given over much of his domestic political program to the spooky white nationalist Stephen Miller, a Bannon-acolyte.
Like Windrip, Trump tapped rural and small- town white resentment of an urban and comparatively educated, cosmopolitan, and multiethnic “liberal elite” seen (with some good reasons) as having snubbed its nose at a sullen and “silent majority” of ordinary white people – white men without college degrees and professional classifications especially. Like the fictional Windrip and real-life fascists past and present, Trump has appealed to his white “heartland” base’s sense of having been victimized by arrogant and politically correct left and liberal elites. Like Windrip’s frothing backers, Trump’s angry Caucasian base lusts for retribution against immigrants, minorities, lazy “bums,” and uppity women who are supposed to have unjustly gotten ahead of the virtuous white male citizenry – and against the sneering “know-it-all” elites who are accused of letting allegedly unworthy “line-cutters” supposedly advance ahead of the nation’s hard-working white majority. Trump promises his resentful base payback against both supposedly undeserving and disproportionately nonwhite Others and the stuck-up big-shots who allegedly promote them over “real Americans.”
Windrip’s angry white base enjoys big rallies where their hero mocks and lambasts liberal elites and demonizes the “Radical Left” and other nefarious scapegoats, promising jail and violence to those who oppose him and thereby threaten the greatness of the white nation. The threat of violence against his and hence America’s perceived enemies at home and abroad hangs constantly over the Windrip campaign gatherings and his presidency.
In much the same vein. Trump’s many fascist-like rallies and many of his menacing comments and Tweets have communicated much the same angry, ominous, and atavistic message. Real and threatened violence against his and hence “America’s” perceived adversaries and critics has been a consistent theme in the Trump phenomenon and presidency.
Like fictional president Windrip, real president Trump has appointed unqualified political hacks to sensitive political positions because of their perceived loyalty to him.
Trump may not be much of a Christian, but the organized Christian-fascist right has been a key part of his collation and movement, as it is for Windrip.
Like Windrip and like other real-life fascists past and present, the “Great God Trump” became something of a strangely “charismatic” cult figure– a supposedly all-powerful champion who could do no wrong – for his fervent and frothing fans.
Like Windrip’s Depression- and New Deal-era economic populism (modeled largely on Louisiana governor Huey Long), Trump’s far less robust economic populism is deceptive and manipulative. The real beneficiaries of his polices are the wealthy corporate and financial Few.
Like Windrip, Trump has made grandiose promises on behalf of ordinary working people while governing on behalf of the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money – its corporate oligarchy.
Like Windrip and non-fiction fascists past and present, Donald “Drain the Swam” Trump regularly accuses political opponents of corruption even while he and the people around him are monumentally corrupt (witness the latest scandals surrounding Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao).
Like Windrip, Trump makes no bones about embodying crassly selfish and openly national ambitions for himself and the United States. “America First” has been Trump’s foreign policy rallying cry, harkening back to the right-wing American nationalism of the 1930s and 1940s. He celebrated his first day in the White House by telling the CIA that America should have “kept the oil” when it invaded Iraq and suggesting that the U.S. might to back into Iraq to “get the oil” under his presidency. He bemoaned the fact that America no longer “wins wars,” forsaking the standard American Exceptionalist rule whereby U.S. foreign policy-makers claim that wars are last resorts and that Washington fights them not for the sake of glorious victory in and of itself, but in defense of higher ideals: democracy, freedom, peace and security.
Later in his presidency, Trump openly justified the continued U.S. sale of lethal arms to the despotic Saudi Arabian government because “they buy a lot of weapons from us” – this even after that government was shown to have murderously dismembered a dissident journalist employed by The Washington Post (not to mention the Saudis’ savage, U.S.-assisted assault on Yemen, creating an epic humanitarian catastrophe there)
Glorification of the military are key fascist themes shared by nonfiction Trump (who has wanted to hold a U.S. military parade), the fictional Windrip, and nonfiction fascists past and present.
Another Trump theme shared with Windrip is contempt for journalists and press freedoms. Trump has repeatedly called the media and its personnel “the enemy of the people,” describing reporters as “some of the worst people in the world,” among other insults. Trump has encouraged violence against journalists, as does Windrip, who jails media operatives who don’t follow his line.
Like Windrip, Trump has glorified ignorance and repudiated intellectual rigor and expertise. He idiotically doubts the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and its causes.
Like the fictitious Windrip, nonfiction Trump lies and misrepresents facts habitually, launching an open assault on truth. Trump’s war on reality is historically epic: the Washington Post reported in January of 2019 that he had uttered and tweeted no less than 8,158 documented false statements during his first two years in office. (That was certainly an all-time record for any politician over a comparable period of time. Trump’s mind-numbing rate of misstatement and mendacity rose as the nation moved further into 2020 election mode.).
It isn’t just about the sheer and astonishing number of lies and falsehoods that Trump advanced. With Trump as with Windrip and with real-life fascist and non-fascist totalitarians across the ages, constant mendacity in service to political propaganda is the name of the game. The aim isn’t merely to manipulate opinion around specific charges and issues. The deeper goal is to advance what the leading theorist of totalitarianism Hannah Arendt called “the permanent lie.” The aim is to undermine citizens’ capacity to trust their own ability to understand truth and reality.
Like Windrip, Trump has exhibited cold authoritarian contempt for the rule of law and the power of Congress while packing the federal judiciary with right-wing toadies. Last February, Trump declared a (fake) “national emergency” as a pretext for doing an end run around Congress’s refusal to fund his great white nationalist and nativist political vanity project: the completion of a “big beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump just recently declared another national emergency to justify defying both chambers of Congress to push through more than $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates while they conduct an air war that created a humanitarian disaster and killed many thousands of civilians in Yemen.
Trump has openly and criminally defied Congress’s demand that his Internal Revenue Service release his tax returns for public scrutiny. He has criminally ordered current and former aides not to testify before Congress on his connections to Russia, his criminal efforts to obstruct Justice Department and Congressional investigations, and other matters. He has absurdly claimed that he could go the Supreme Court to block impeachment. He has ludicrously called the Mueller investigation an attempt by “sick people” to “overthrow the United States government.” He preposterously calls the Mueller Report a “total exoneration” of his conduct – ab abject Orwellian falsehood. He has accused those who dared to investigate and oversee him of “treason,” a capital offense.
Last month. Trump’s lawyers actually argued in federal court that Congress had no constitutional authority to investigate the White House for wrongdoing, Trump then told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer that no legislation would occur in the United States unless and until Congress stopped investigating him.
Trump has even sent out signals that he will not honor the results of the 2020 presidential election if it does not go his way – and that paramilitary and police state violence might occur if his enemies try to remove him from office. He has made the disturbing suggestion that his “tough” backers, including “bikers,” police officers, and soldiers would respond with violence to any effort to remove him from office. Sinclair Lewis’s Buzz Windrip would certainly approve.
“If you’re not terrified,” the distinguished liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman told CNN’s nonplussed anchor Anderson Cooper with good reason in mid-April of 2019, “you’re not paying attention.”
Also like fictional Depression-era Windrip, 21st century nonfiction Trump rose to power thanks in no small part to weak opponents who failed to resist with sufficient speed and force partly because of the false belief that the blustering and buffoonish demagogue’s popularity would dwindle once he was properly exposed as an outrageous lout and charlatan. That’s how many U.S. liberals and leftists (myself included at times) reacted to the rise of Trump in 2015 and much of 2016.
The Clinton Democrats even worked to promote Trump in the primaries because they assumed his clownish conduct and personal and cultural offensiveness would render him unviable in the general election. They called it their “Pied Piper” strategy.
Congress may have remained in session and caused Trump considerable consternation over the last two and half years. Still, the current Democratic majority House of Representatives has yet to demonstrate the elementary gumption to act on its basic constitutional duty to begin the process of impeaching Trump for any among his many and endless “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Trumpified Republican Party holds the U.S. Senate, rendering removal of the president impossible even if House Democrats develop the courage to impeach the orange monstrosity.
The Democrats and their many media allies have continued their longstanding neoliberal- era role as an “Inauthentic Opposition” (Sheldon Wolin’s 2008 term) party. Instead of meaningfully confronting the white nationalist and eco-exterminist Republican Party-in-power for its menacing assaults on democracy, racial justice, equality, and livable ecology, they have instead handed the president and the GOP a great political victory by focusing their criticism of Trump on a politically and legally dubious claim of campaign collusion with Russia. Their fanatical determination to paint out Trump as a tool of Russia has enhanced his chances of re-election by turning the public focus away from his worst sins in office. As the journalist Alan Nairn observed on Democracy Now! last May 23rd:
“If you turn on CNN and MSNBC these days, unless you’re someone who has been following these channels avidly, you’ll find a lot of that they’re talking about is incomprehensible gobbledygook, because they go on and on about Don McGhan and these all these [other RussiaGate] figures who most people don’t know who they are, rather than talking about the substantive issues of the atrocities that Trump is committing daily – the abduction and de facto murder of children on the border, the gutting of labor rights, the gutting of environmental protections…Instead, the Democrats are going off on a tangent, and they’re handing Trump a political gift. If you’re going to impeach him, impeach him on substance, not a Russia plot, which Mueller already concluded Trump didn’t criminally participate in.”
Meanwhile, the reigning “Stop Sanders” corporate Democrats are working to keep the lid on the leftish and progressive forces in their own party – the Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez Democrats who might actually defeat Trump.
Why bother to incarcerate the Inauthentic Opposition party when it plays so pathetically if predictably into the hands of the aspiring fascist leader?
The American liberal class’s existential ineffectuality in the face of Windrip is an especially rich parallel between Lewis’s 1935 novel and the real-life Trump nightmare. In ways that Lewis would certainly appreciate, this failure is based to no small degree on the fatal American-exceptionalist miscalculation that a totalitarian and fascist regime just “can’t happen here” – not in what is supposedly the world’s leading example and headquarters of “freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.” Beneath that critical error lay an upper and middle-class underestimation of how oppressed, depressed, and angry much of the population feels under the nation’s reigning and arrogant business and professional classes. One of the more poignant if discomforting parallels between It Can’t Happen Here and the real life 21st century Trump story emerged when candidate Trump started calling his backers “the forgotten people.” Windrip aligns with “The League of Forgotten Men,” a large group of evangelically mobilized white men who feel disenfranchised – like “Strangers in Their Own Land” (the title of sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s widely read study of white Tea Partiers and Trump supporters in Republican Louisiana) – from the country they claim to love and defend.
It isn’t just that these people feel disremembered, left-behind, passed over and marginalized by the corporate, financial, and professional class establishment. They feel positively insulted and enraged by the elite’s dismissal of them as backwards and under-educated rubes and dolts, unfit “deplorables” (to use Hillary Clinton’s infamous September 2016 description of Trump’s white base) on the wrong side of the elite’s self-satisfied meritocratic ideology.
Meanwhile, not-so liberal talking heads and commentators at CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets warn repeatedly and loudly about the supposed grave dangers of the S-word, socialism – this while finding it excessively difficult to say and write the F-word, fascism.. They seem to think, like Windrip’s Doremus Jessup in 1936, that fascism can’t happen here. They also seem to prefer to losing to the right, even a fascistic right, over losing to the left, even just a mildly social-democratic left (the dreaded “socialist” specter of Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who would like to save prospects for a decent human future with a Green New Deal) in their own party.
The progressive Sanders Democrats would far better against Trump and the GOP than would the dismal, dollar-drenched, demobilizing corporate-centrist neoliberal neo-Doremus Dems, currently congealing around the vapid right-wing corporatist-imperialist Joe Biden. But so what? The Inauthentic Opposition isn’t primarily about winning elections, much less about social justice and democracy or ecological survival. It’s about serving corporate sponsors.
Lewis’s novel ironically resonates with the United States’ political reality far more today than it did when it was published. It is an understatement to say that Lewis’s dystopian vision of a fascist America was not realized in 1935 and 1936. As Germany descended further into the grip of fascist dictatorship under Adolph Hitler, the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved into its leftmost historical moment of political and social democracy: the rise and consolidation of the “second” New Deal, accompanied by the emergence and early victory of the militant industrial unionism of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The passage of the Wagner Act (which legalized collective bargaining for industrial unions), the Social Security Act (old age pensions partially funded by the federal government), the Fair Labor Standards Act (establishing a federal minimum wage) and other progressive New Deal measures including significant new public works and relief programs marked a new high water mark of left-liberal and progressive, social-democratish policy in U.S. history. After crushing his Republican opponent (Alf Landon) with a giant wave of working-and middle-class votes in 1936, Roosevelt stood atop a New Deal Democratic coalition that ruled all three branches of the federal government. The United States shifted portside, moving towards expanded popular sovereignty while Germany fell under the iron grip of the racist and warmongering Nazi state.
The United States would generate fascist-style politicos and political moments in subsequent decades. If the venerable Left analyst Carl Boggs is correct (my sense on that is affirmative), the United States began to develop the objective institutional framework for a distinctively U.S.-American equivalent to objective democracy-cancelling fascism in the post-World War II years – a framework that all too easily yielded a corporate-managed form of “inverted totalitarianism” (Wolin again) with the onset of the so-called neoliberal era (“neoliberalism” is really just Western capitalism turning to its longstanding regressive and reactionary norm). Still, it is only with the rise of Donald Trump – with his call for a giant nativist Wall on the Southern U.S. border, his threat to incarcerate his political enemies, his openly racist portrayal of Mexican and Central American immigrants, his open embrace of foreign dictators and arch-authoritarians, his unprecedentedly brazen defiance of Congress and law, his open flirtation with violence as a political tool, his not-so hidden threat to cancel elections, his relentless Orwellian-Huxleyan assault on truth, his recurrent racist and hate-filled rallies, his constant personalized name-calling, his bizarre cult of malignant personality, his open irrationality, and more – that we can talk seriously about a fascist or at least fascist-equivalent movement with a distinctly fascist-like base and a morally senseless, norm-smashing wannabe fascist strongman taking power and threatening to foreclose on the last remnants of American democracy.
Why now? Trump and Trumpism represent a kind of nationalist, racist, patriarchal, and authoritarian fascist politics that is hardly unique to United States history. But, as the left historian Greg Grandin suggests in his latest book The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, both this kind of noxious far-right politics and the very different and egalitarian politics of “socialism” have heretofore been consigned to the fringes of U.S. political history. Until now. How did these previously contained tendencies – the barbarism, even fascism of the white-nationalist right and the “socialism” or social democracy of the Bernie Sanders left – come to dominate the national political contest in 2016 and perhaps in 2020? Grandin makes an essential historical point. “Trumpism,” symbolized above all by the Wall, “becomes nationalized,” Grandin told the Real News Network last February, “after the empire fails. Trumpism is what happens after empire” – after the “escape valve” of endless growth is closed off:
“The border wall has supplanted the frontier as the national myth. I link it to a number of things that have foreclosed on the possibility of growth. One is the disaster of 9/11, the response to 9/11. The endless, unwinnable wars that the United States threw itself into. [Then there’s] the financial catastrophe of 2007-2008 which foreclosed on a kind of–even during the recovery it’s kind of revealed an entrenched inequality. And of course the–perhaps the biggest limit to growth is the ecological crisis; the fact that the world stands on the precipice of collapse. All of these things help explain the ascension of Trumpism…The myth of the frontier…allowed for the maintenance of a centrism – the idea of a vital centrism in which extremism was marginalized. Two kinds of extremism. The extremism of the white supremacist, but also the extremism of socialism, of property-claiming social movements. As long as the U.S. had that option towards moving out in the world, it could respond to those two politics by marginalizing them. And now what we’re seeing, and we saw it in the 2016 campaign, is that the United States is finally being forced to confront an option that other countries were forced to confront in the past, but that the United States deferred and deflected because of its unique prerogative of expansion and growth, and that’s the choice between barbarism and socialism…political tendencies that frontier universalism marginalized in the past.”
Both Trumpism-fascism and Sanders-style “socialism” reflect the loss of the United States’ breathing room in an age of imperial, economic, and ecological decline. A reckoning has arrived. The safety-valve of endless expansion that previously permitted U.S. capitalism to escape its inner driving and taproot oppositions has been sealed off. The global, military, and economic “Open Door” that replaced the literal Western North American frontier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has closed in a world that is full of capital, technology, competition, and environmental poison. Quantitative growth paths (both up and out) – the various forms of enlargement whereby the nation has acted on U.S. Founder James Madison’s admonition to “extend the sphere” (so as to keep class conflict and factionalism at bay) – are no longer sufficient to displace and dilute the nation’s steep internal and qualitative contradictions, its dynamic and propelling rifts of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and ecological exhaustion.
The squeeze is on. An accounting has come due and the center cannot hold. It’s either redistribute wealth and power downward and democratically and eco-sustainably restructure society or speed faster and further down the path of racism, accelerated classism, hyper-inequality, sexism, militarism, fascism, and ecocide. The centrist contest between Wall Street-globalist corporate Democrats and Wall Street-globalist corporate Republicans has given way to the struggle between authoritarian barbarism and democratic socialism.
We know, or at least should know, which way Germany went when that failed national contender for world capitalist supremacy (beaten out by the United States as successor to England in the role of the world system’s hegemonic power) ran out of breathing room in the first half of the last century. Humanity paid the price with 50 million killed before Nazi-led global fascism was defeated. The stakes are even bigger today – the very prospect of a decent organized human existence – in an age of eco-exterminist, fossil-fuel driven global warming and deadly nuclear proliferation. It’s (eco-) “socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky” now, as Istvan Meszaros pointed out 18 years ago.
The ongoing trade war between the United States and China, and the rhetoric surrounding it coming out of the White House, has served to reinforce the idea that China is “stealing” jobs from the United States. The reality, however, is that if we are seeking the responsible party, our attention should be directed toward U.S. corporate boardrooms.
The internal logic of capitalist development is driving the manic drive to move production to the locations with the most exploitable labor, not any single company, industry or country. For a long time, that location was China, although some production, particularly in textiles, is in the process of relocating to countries with still lower wages, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. (The last of those is already a long-time source of highly exploited cheap labor for Nike.) It could be said that China is opportunistic in turning itself into the world’s sweatshop. And that it constitutes a colossal market is no small factor.
Low wages and the inability of Chinese workers to legally organize are crucial factors in the movement of production to China. The minimum wage in Shanghai is 2,420 renminbi per month, which equals US$349. Per month. And Shanghai’s minimum wage is the country’s highest rate and “roughly double the minimum wage in smaller cities” across China, reports the China Labour Bulletin. That does not translate into a living wage for Chinese workers. The Bulletin states:
“National government guidelines stipulate that the minimum wage should be at least 40 percent of the local average wage. In reality, the minimum wage is usually only between 20 and 35 percent of the average wage, barely enough to cover accommodation, transport and food costs. Workers on the minimum wage, including most production line workers, unskilled labourers, shop workers etc. have to rely on overtime, bonuses and subsidies in order to make a living wage. As a consequence, if the employer cancels or reduces overtime, bonuses and other benefits, low-paid workers will often demand immediate restoration.”
Even with such meager pay and the illegality of any unions other than the Communist Party-controlled and employer-friendly All-China Federation of Trade Unions, increasing numbers of employees are classified as “independent contractors,” making them even more precarious. Enforced overtime well in excess of the legal maximum, and employers demanding “flexible” working hours, are brutal on Chinese workers stuck in assembly jobs but lift corporate executives into ecstasy.
The leading culprit is headquartered in Arkansas
The single biggest culprit in the wholesale moving of jobs to China is to be found not in Beijing, but rather in Bentonville, Arkansas. Yep, Wal-Mart, the company that pays it employees so little that they skip meals and organize food drives; receives so many government subsidies that the public pays about $1 million per store in the United States; and is estimated to avoid $1 billion per year in U.S. taxes through its use of tax loopholes.
Other major United States retailers began procuring clothing items from Asian subcontractors before Wal-Mart, but the relentless drive to pay its suppliers as little as possible forced an acceleration in the shift of production to countries with the most exploitable populations. If a manufacturer wants to continue to have contracts to supply Wal-Mart, then it has no choice but to ship its operations overseas because it has no other way to meet Wal-Mart’s demands for ever lower prices.
By 2012, 80 percent of Wal-Mart’s suppliers were located in China. And because the company is so much bigger than any other retailer, it can dictate its terms. Gary Gereffi, a professor at Duke University, said in an interview broadcast on the PBS show Frontline that “No company has had the kind of economic power that Wal-Mart does, to be able to source products from around the world. … Wal-Mart is able to transfer whole U.S. industries to overseas economies.”
Because of its size and its innovation in computerizing its inventory and tightly managing its suppliers, coupled with its willingness to squeeze its suppliers to the exclusion of all other factors, Wal-Mart holds life or death power over manufacturers, Professor Gereffi said:
“Wal-Mart is telling its American suppliers that they have to meet lower price standards that Wal-Mart wants to impose. The implication of that in many cases is if you’re going to be able to supply Wal-Mart at the prices Wal-Mart wants, you have to go to China or other offshore locations that would permit you to produce at lower cost. … Wal-Mart’s giving them the clear signal that you can’t be a Wal-Mart supplier if you can’t produce at substantially lower prices. … You can go to China, or, in many cases, many U.S. suppliers can’t make that move, and they just go out of business, because Wal-Mart is the dominant company for many U.S. suppliers. If they can’t go offshore, those suppliers end up going out of business.”
Wal-Mart alone cost U.S. workers more than 400,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013, according to the Economic Policy Institute. That is a sizable fraction of the 3.2 million jobs that were lost in the U.S. due to trade relations with China.
To the best of my knowledge, however, no Chinese party or government official has ever walked into the headquarters of a U.S. corporation, pointed a gun at the CEO and demanded production be moved across the Pacific Ocean. Chinese business executives sometimes demand technology be shared in exchange for access to Chinese markets (a different matter), but executives from the U.S. or elsewhere do have the option of saying “no.” Even if we were to concede that there is some coercion in regards to technology transfers, there isn’t when it comes to moving production. That is a choice, a choice routinely made in executive suites.
It’s not a deficit for Apple
Competitors that wish to stay in business can be compelled by capitalist competition to make that choice, matching the “innovation” of the company that first finds moving production a way to cut costs and thus boost profitability. This applies to all industries, and not only low-tech ones. Apple, for example, accrues massive profits by contracting out its manufacturing to subcontractors. A 2010 paper by Yuqing Xing and Neal Detert found that Chinese workers are paid so little that they accounted for only $6.50 of the $168 total manufacturing cost of an iPhone. Of course iPhones cost a lot more than $168 — an extraordinary profit is generated for Apple executives and shareholders on the backs of Chinese workers.
A 2011 study led by Kenneth L. Kraemer calculated that $334 out of each iPhone sold at $549 went to the U.S. with almost the entire remainder distributed among component suppliers. Only $10 went to China as labor costs. Thus, despite the export of iPhones contributing heavily to the official U.S. trade deficit, the study said “the primary benefits go to the U.S. economy as Apple continues to keep most of its product design, software development, product management, marketing and other high-wage functions in the U.S.”
Chinese workers today likely account for somewhat more of the manufacturing cost as wages have risen in China over the past decade, but remain minuscule compared to wages in advanced capitalist countries. And the work endured is no vacation, as John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney noted in the February 2012 edition of Monthly Review:
“The eighty hour plus work weeks, the extreme pace of production, poor food and living conditions, etc., constitute working conditions and a level of compensation that cannot keep labor alive if continued for many years—it is therefore carried out by young workers who fall back on the land where they have use rights, the most important remaining legacy of the Chinese Revolution for the majority of the population. Yet, the sharp divergences between urban and rural incomes, the inability of most families to prosper simply by working the land, and the lack of sufficient commercial employment possibilities in the countryside all contribute to the constancy of the floating population, with the continual outflow of new migrants.”
The working conditions of China are not a secret; business-press commentaries can come close to celebrating such conditions. A 2018 commentary in Investopedia, for example, goes so far as to claim that manufacturing in the U.S. is “economically unfeasible” and then says this about Chinese conditions:
“Manufacturers in the West are expected to comply with certain basic guidelines with regards to child labor, involuntary labor, health and safety norms, wage and hour laws, and protection of the environment. Chinese factories are known for not following most of these laws and guidelines, even in a permissive regulatory environment. Chinese factories employ child labor, have long shift hours and the workers are not provided with compensation insurance. Some factories even have policies where the workers are paid once a year, a strategy to keep them from quitting before the year is out. Environmental protection laws are routinely ignored, thus Chinese factories cut down on waste management costs. According to a World Bank report in 2013, sixteen of the world’s top twenty most polluted cities are in China.”
The overall U.S.-China economic picture is more balanced
The components of the iPhone are sourced from several countries and are assembled in China. Because the final product is exported from China, Apple contributes to trade deficits, as conventionally calculated. But the lion’s share of the massive profits from this global supply chain are taken by Apple, a U.S.-based corporation. The profits from the actual assembly, outsourced to Foxconn, are accrued in Taiwan, Foxconn’s home. Apple’s arrangement is far from unique; the list of U.S. companies that manufacture in China is very long. If trade balances were calculated on the basis of where the profits are retained, the U.S. deficit with China would not be nearly so imposing.
As a commentary in the Financial Times points out, U.S. corporations sell far more goods and services in China than do Chinese companies in the U.S., but those sales are not counted toward trade balances. The commentary said:
“In 2015, the last year for which official US statistics were available, US multinational subsidiaries based in China made a total of $221.9bn in sales to domestic consumers. The goods and services sold were produced by an army of 1.7m people employed by US subsidiaries in the country. By contrast, China’s corporate presence in the US remains small. Official figures on Chinese companies’ US subsidiary sales to American consumers do not exist, but analysts estimate they are hardly material when compared with China’s exports to the US. Thus, the US-China ‘aggregate economic relationship’ appears a lot more balanced than the trade deficit makes it look.”
A separate report, by VoxChina (which calls itself an independent, nonpartisan platform initiated by economists), calculates that although the official U.S. trade deficit with China for 2015 was $243 billion, when foreign direct investment (FDI) and sales by both countries’ companies in the other are included, the deficit was only $30 billion, and a U.S. surplus was forecast for following years. The U.S., incidentally, remains the world’s second-biggest exporter according to the latest World Trade Organization statistics.
The Trump administration continues to make a big show of blaming China for jobs being moved across the Pacific and for trade deficits, but although China is opportunistic, those vanishing jobs (and resulting deficits) are squarely the responsibility of the corporate executives who make the decision to shut down domestic operations. This dynamic is part of the larger trend toward so-called “free trade” — as technology and faster transportation make moving production around the world more feasible, the corporations taking advantage of these trends seek to eliminate any barriers to cross-border commerce.
And as the race to the bottom continues — as relentless competition induces a never-ending search to find locations with ever lower wages and ever lower health, safety, labor and environmental standards — what regulations remain are targets to be eliminated. Thus we have the specter of “free trade” agreements that have little to do with trade and much to do with eliminating the ability of governments to regulate. And as the whip of financial markets demand ever bigger profits at any cost, no corporation, not even Wal-Mart, can go far enough.
Despite being a leader in cutting wages, ruthless behavior toward its employees and massive profitability, when Wal-Mart bowed to public pressure in 2015 and announced it would raise its minimum pay to $9 an hour, Wall Street financiers angrily drove down the stock price by a third. Wal-Mart reported net income of $61 billion over the past five years, so it does appear the retailer will remain a going concern. Apple reported net income of $246 billion over the past five years, so outsourcing production to China seems to have worked out for it as well.
The Trump administration’s trade wars are so much huffing and puffing. Empty public rhetoric aside, Trump administration policy on trade, consistent with its all-out war on working people, is to elevate corporate power. Nationalism is a convenient cover to obscure the most extreme anti-worker U.S. administration yet seen. Class war rages on, in the usual one-sided manner.
It was always just a matter of time before the reemergence of establishment Democrats reminded people why they were booted from power in 2016. As ugly as Donald Trump is and as not constructive as his tenure in the White House has been, the Democratic establishment would rather lose with establishment candidates and retrograde policies than loosen its grip on its service to the oligarchs.
Phrased differently, if Democrats cared about ‘defeating Trump,’ they would offer programs that people want. But they are so firmly in the grip of corporate interests and the oligarchs that they won’t do so. The Republicans are just as beholden, but they offer fewer (manufactured) illusions. They represent the interests of capital. This transparency provides political clarity for those who oppose their policies.
When announcing a congressional Medicare for All hearing recently, senior Democrats sought to control the admissible language to exclude the phrase ‘Medicare for All.’ They intend to focus instead on ‘access’ to healthcare which keeps health insurers as the extractive layer that has given the U.S. the most expensive healthcare system in the world with the worst outcomes.
What this signals, for those to whom it isn’t yet obvious, is that there are no circumstances short of revolution that will move the Democrats from service to their rich patrons. Given the stakes of environmental crisis, deaths of despair overtaking the hinterlands and military inclinations pushing the U.S. toward wars it can’t win, Democrats are signaling that they would rather go down with the U.S.A. Titanic than offer up the solutions being put forward by young socialists.
Lest the larger picture be missed here, American capitalism, for which claims of ‘efficiency’ have been used to shape and rebuild the world, has produced the least efficient healthcare system in the world in order to fill the pockets of a class that feeds on human misery. Thanks to Obamacare, health insurance executives are now the most overpaid in the entire insurance industry. This, as medical bankruptcies are undiminished since passage of the law.
The illusion of political competition facilitates the lie of democratic control. Republicans deny climate science while the Democrats place the interests of the businesses that are degrading the environment ahead of the popular will when they craft nominally public policies. Look again at the graph above: given the numbers in terms of citizens represented (executives + oligarchs), why would they have any say in the determination of public policies in a democracy?
As was the case in 2016 and for decades prior, the so-called political center is a radical outlier in terms of formulating policies in the public interest. Fifteen times as many people in the U.S. die every year from not being able to afford healthcare than have died in all of the terrorist attacks of the last century. The political ‘center’ is code for the interests of capital. It is killing the planet and bleeding the polity dry. It functioned as misdirection when the vestiges of the New Deal were intact— before ‘precariat’ described everyone who isn’t in the 1%.
The West is now four decades into a neoliberal ‘experiment’ that has failed on its own terms, but that shows no signs of either waning from its own contradictions or being dislodged politically. The political ossification that it has created comes through class control of the public sphere, domination of the political process via campaign contributions and the economic role that corporations have assumed at the heart of Western political economy.
While confusion has been sown around the meaning of ‘corporatism’ that stood at the center of (Benito) Mussolini’s vision of the good life, a defining characteristic of both Italian and German fascism was capitalist-state alliances where state power was used for the benefit of select capitalists and select state actors. Labor unions were systematically disempowered, and the interests of powerful economic and state actors were put forward as those of the polity.
An irony of the present is that with all the mechanisms of capitalist-state control— a capitalist media that places business interests ahead of civic accountability; corporate control that regulates the lives of citizens as surely as totalitarian regimes throughout history; and the systematic immiseration and debasement of the democratic core of the polity; a plurality is still able to look past its own interests to the public good.
A secondary irony is that as true as denunciations of Donald Trump and the Republican Party may be, the Democratic establishment has no history of challenging the substance of their programs in recent decades. Establishment Democrats want to preclude a Green New Deal and Medicare for All as surely as Republicans do. Differences between the Parties are over how to best do so— outright opposition versus killing them legislatively.
And in fact, this difference in strategy suggests the basis of bourgeois loathing of the ‘lesser’ classes. Republicans deny climate science (the ignorant heathens) while Democrats accept its conclusions while continuing to let their donor class dictate policy that perpetuates environmental degradation. Given the stakes, the Paris Accord was a fig leaf placed over a missing environmental policy when Barack Obama gave it rhetorical support.
Here is the IPCC (UN) report, released a mere two years after Mr. Obama left office, stating that far more radical action is needed to address climate change. Here is IPBES (UN) report, released a mere two years after Mr. Obama left office, stating that far more radical action is needed to address mass extinction. Environmentalists have been providing evidence that radical action is needed for five decades.
The method of the Democrat’s grift is to hand public policy to business interests just as Republicans do, but through abstract devices like trade agreements. ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes local, state and Federal policies that Republicans put forward as legislative proposals. Democrats push trade agreements that have Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses to prevent governments from passing laws in the public interest.
As the graph of total CO2 emissions (above) suggests, the effect is a continuity in public policies hidden behind a veil of faux political competition. The American bourgeois congratulates itself on its clear understanding of climate change while earning its living in the service of the oligarchs and corporate chiefs who benefit from environmental degradation. Democratic politicians sooth psyches through language of ‘working toward’ and ‘access’ that gets its professional class constituents from one PowerPoint presentation to the next. The point: the bourgeois are an impediment to effective public policies, not its guardians.
With their growing use of loyalty oaths and exclusionary tactics, Democrats have adopted the logic of the radical right for the reasons of the radical right— to protect the business interests of their donor class from rising bolshevism (socialism) and market mishaps. But commies didn’t crap the environment. And market mishaps are an aspect of capitalism, not socialism. So, Democrats are joining Republicans to protect capitalists from the consequences of their own practices.
Those not directly benefitting from it want to be protected from capitalist predation. Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, raising taxes on the rich and having a political voice are popular with the little people. The political establishment also exists to protect the oligarchs and corporate executives from democratic accountability.
The self-aggrandizing ‘Art of War’ drivel of 1980s capitalist mythology posed capitalist warriors competing against one another in the rough and tumble marketplace. By 2000 or so this had given way to K Street lobbyists, congress and the Federal Reserve doing back alley deals to protect them from market failure. Payday loans, government granted monopolies and instigating wars to sell munitions all combine state with private power to extract economic rents— market competition has nothing to do with it.
Any honest assessment of American business— war, financial gamesmanship, environmental degradation and pillaging the polity, would make evident that some fair portion of the oligarch class 1) belongs in prison and 2) should be made to give up its ill-gotten gains. Some politely worded version of this political program would likely win any election hands down, suggesting that the actual political center is a few miles left of the political establishment.
A question to be answered sooner rather than later is: what configuration of political economy is needed to resolve the multiple crises that are underway? With political hopefuls offering policy proposals going into the 2020 elections, those that aren’t tied to workable political economy are likely to be little more than empty posturing.
A Green New Deal and Medicare for All would alter economic relationships. The establishment posture is: we need for ‘our’ political proposals to serve multiple economic interests. Not addressed is that it is these very interests who turned a livable environment and health care into political problems in need of resolution. So why would they be 1) left intact and 2) considered ‘partners’ in resolving the problems they have created?
The path of least resistance within the establishment frame is market-friendly proposals like carbon taxes and public-private partnerships to build renewable energy technologies. The logic is to increase the use of environmentally destructive technologies to reduce them at some future point. Again, 5 + 1 = 6, not 4. The only path to meeting IPCC and IPBES (above) goals will be to reduce cumulative environmental degradation, meaning 5 – 1 = 4.
All of the establishment plans, including those from socialists, are variations on 5 + 1 = 6, again meaning that environmental degradation must increase to reduce it at some future point. This is the same capitalist ‘growth’ logic that isn’t working. Any plan that isn’t at least cognizant of this paradox should be rejected out of hand. Moving from industrial to human-scale agriculture will require land redistribution. If people can reconnect with ‘the world,’ they might even be happier for it.
Through the concentration of economic power, capitalism is antithetical to democracy. Capitalist ‘freedom’ is the freedom of the oligarchs to exert political control through this power. This contradiction explains why the polity has little to no influence over government policies, causing growing antipathy toward the political establishment. Democrats aren’t going to voluntarily abandon their donors and Republicans wouldn’t even pretend to, suggesting that the preferred direction of the political establishment will continue to be hard right.
As Democrats are in the process of demonstrating, existing political economy must be gotten out of the way before there is any chance that solutions to current crises will be workable.
There are things we are not supposed to know and the corporate controlled news industry is not going to tell us. Totally absent from the obedient media is one of the most important stories of all time: war creates climate change.
The story of how this knowledge has been repressed is essential to understanding how the government and military are at the heart of climate counter-offensive and what it will take to stop them.
The Government Rules by Force, Fraud and Deception
The information blockade starts with the military itself. The military purposely restricts information plus its immense size and bureaucratic complexity means that it is so hard to grasp that political leaders cannot themselves understand the institution they are supposed to command.
You want proof? Just try reading the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2016 report which could not figure out just how much oil the military burns. The GAO concluded: “[C]ongress does not have full visibility over the amount of fuel volume the military services require on an annual basis for their activities…”
This should not come as a surprise. Since its inception in 1950 or so the modern military has resisted any accounting of costs in violation of Article I, Section 9, of the US Constitution. In 2018 the Pentagon failed its first ever audit. It’s not just about the missing 6.5 trillions dollars, (although that really matters too) it’s that the opaque accounting system is armor — a defensive weapon used to neutralize anyone that wants to understand, let alone oppose, the US government.
This massive fraud is just the financial side of the serial political con committed by the US government. Article 1, Sec. 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution clearly gives Congress, and only Congress, the right to declare war — but that has never stopped the Pentagon or the President or the Congress or the Courts from betraying their duty to defend the Constitution.
Not only can’t the government regulate corporations it cannot regulate itself in line with what is supposed to be the highest law of the land— the US Constitution.
But shift your vantage point to see the merger of the corporation and the state and then you see a military perfectly regulated in keeping with a corporate empire that equates profit with power and actively promotes both without limit. The liberal state is no more.
For example, the War on Terror increased the Pentagon’s appetite for power and secrecy at the cost of environmental justice. According to legal scholar Hope Babcock,
“[O]ne response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 has been a significant erosion of basic civil liberties. Congress has given unprecedented power to the President and his law enforcement agencies to wage this war against terror….The military has sought, and largely received, permission from Congress to weaken environmental and public disclosure laws as part of the arsenal of “tools” it needs to fight this war.”
If weakening “environmental and public disclosure laws” is a weapon of war — then “destroying the planet to save it” is the outcome.
The Dirtiest Of All Dirty Secrets
This very big, very dirty secret — that war drives climate change — is carefully guarded. To keep things hush-hush the military is excused from oversight or obligation. This exception to the rule of law has always been the practice but G.W. Bush formalized it demanding language to that effect in the 1997 Kyoto Accords, which he later refused to sign anyway.
“The complete U.S. military exemption from greenhouse gas emissions calculations includes more than 1,000 U.S. bases in more than 130 countries around the world, it’s 6,000 facilities in the U.S., its aircraft carriers and jet aircraft. Also excluded are its weapons testing and all multilateral operations such as the giant U.S. commanded NATO military alliance and AFRICOM, the U.S. military alliance now blanketing Africa. The provision also exempts U.S./UN-sanctioned activities of “peacekeeping” and “humanitarian relief.”
The Kyoto exemption set the pattern for subsequent climate meetings at Copenhagen 2009, Cancun 2010, Durban 2011, and Doha 2012. In a typically toothless and incremental fashion the Paris Accords replaced the mandatory exemption for the military with voluntary reporting on non-binding goals, disguising further deception as progress.
Speaking of toothless, Obama’s much heralded 2015 Executive Order requiring federal agencies to cut greenhouse gases specifically exempted all overseas activities of the intelligence and military agencies from having to report contributions to climate change or limit pollution. The military is responsible for 80% of all government fuel consumption.
The Democratic Party’s version of deception is the denial that anything can be done outside of stimulus for so-called markets. Obama’s support for alternative energy was a small part of an “all of the above approach” that provided cover for dramatically increasing oil production, and expanding oil infrastructure for an otherwise archaic and unproductive energy economy.
30 years of elite efforts to address the crisis did not capture the public imagination because they offered nothing of substance. Emissions only continued rising, as “Global Banks Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact.” Decades-old oil wars continue and expand as the US aims to capture and control Venezuelan and Iranian reserves with the backing of both corporate parties.
Trump seized on this record of weakness, withdrawing from Paris, rescinding Obama’s Executive Order and enforcing the Republican brand of total climate denial (a denial that even the oil companies and military they serve do not share). Trump’s climate death-wish is enabled by the failed outcomes of the non-binding agreements, exemptions and slick tricks like “all of the above” or Biden’s middle ground. These efforts will do nothing to “keep it in the ground” and that is a true measure of success.
Trump and the climate deniers so easily mock the liberal attempts at addressing the climate crisis because the liberals make a mockery of themselves.
In fact, US government is the historic agent and manager of climate change.
“In all past international conferences it was again and again the U.S. government that sabotaged the meetings and refused to be bound by any treaty. The Obama Administration on Aug. 27 again confirmed that at the UN meeting in New York in September to prepare for the 2015 Paris meeting that only a non-binding agreement could be put forward.”
And so the Paris Accords undermined themselves by design. From the first international climate conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to Paris 2016, we witnessed a series of performances by the most accomplished actors on the world stage. By every critical measure the elite climate meetings have failed — except they have succeeded in offering false hope and distraction away from the massive movements it is actually going to take to bring about change.
These treaties did not fail for lack of an executive power to enforce limits on member nations. NAFTA, IMF, WTO, and the World Bank all create and enforce the rules of global corporate order by imposing international financial regulations and punishing all restraint of global trade. “Who elected the IMF to be the ministry of finance for every country in the world?’’ asked Julius Nyerere, the former president of Tanzania. Well no one, but that is exactly how the IMF operates.
On a twin track, the US government/military enforces the political rules of empire. The empire aims for total hegemony, known in military lingo as “full spectrum dominance” and will do whatever it takes to prevent the emergence of a multi-polar world. We spend trillions and kill millions policing the world.
But when it comes to climate change — where is a cop when you need one?
Well, there are far too many cops but they are busy enforcing the global order and a fossil-fuel economy that would collapse tomorrow if the true costs of oil and war had to be reckoned with.
Despite the fact that the recent UN’s IPCC report has succeeded in sounding the alarm that we have precious little time before irreversible climate damage, it also continues earlier UN shortcomings by not mentioning the military’s role in climate change. As bad a future as the IPCC report predicts, is it does not include military pollution in its calculations.
Naomi Klien’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The Climate fails to recognize the US government and military as a key player in the climate crisis. Why so? To accept government’s role would be to upend her claim that free-market fundamentalism is to blame and government regulation is to wish for. And despite all the good work done by 350.org their website hardly refers to government, let alone the military, as a source of climate destruction.
Disarming The Green New Deal
It is within this context of 70 long years of secrecy, special legal exemptions, deception, fraud, lies by omission, non-binding agreements — and the global role of militarism as climate crisis multiplier — that we can best evaluate the Democratic Party’s version of the Green New Deal (GND).
We owe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez our sincere thanks for bringing the GND to the world’s attention. The GND now has overwhelming public support and that is truly a great accomplishment. The Democrat’s version has many fine ideas linking inequality and social justice to efforts to fight climate change — and those ideas are all true. There can be no “just transition” to a new economy without security for workers and the communities most impacted by climate change. But in its current form the plan also uses the language of market solutions and technical fixes that sadly repeat the weakest features of failed climate “action” already offered by elites.
But most important, the Democrat’s GND — once again — omits the US government and military as a cause of climate disaster. The other — almost unbelievable omission — is the failure of the Democrat’s GND to explicity call for dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels. In fact, the words “oil” “gas” “coal” or “fossil fuels” do not even appear in the final document that establilshed the committee. It’s just amazing. It’s a dangerous reply of how we got sold the substandard ACA: take universal health care off the agenda from the very beginning and then craft a corporate “solution.”
The Democrat’s GND remains a vague non-binding wish. The 2050 deadlines are standard political dodge-ball. When faced with crisis, corporate politicians always want to ‘kick the can down the road” — postponing real action until the damage is already done and someone else takes the blame. Adaptation to disaster and management of the crisis rather than prevention of climate chaos is the hidden but actual program of the Democrat’s GND.
The climate committee lacks subpoena power and the ability to draft legislation as Pelosi and Pallone commanded. What then will it do? In keeping with other corporate-style plans it will likely only propose cosmetic changes to a social order that is no longer viable.
Given the far-reaching influence of big oil, the near total dysfunction of Congress, and the sharp divisions among Democrats themselves, the GND committee is likely to remain yet another exercise in fraud and deception. Republican members of the committee have terrible voting records on environmental issues and like some Democrats have significant financial connections to oil. The New Yorker reported:
“Forty-one of the House’s four hundred and thirty-five members have pledged “to not take contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industry…” But only one pledge-taker… is on the new climate committee. The rest, as E&E News reported, have fossil-fuel connections…”
Pelosi staffed the committee to kill it. Ocasio-Cortez was invited but chose not to serve. Why? Most likely she does not want to waste her time or spoil her reputation on a loser committee. Meanwhile we twist in the wind. Meanwhile 224 Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, voted to subsidize fracking and gas infrastructure, spending $580 million to open up new fossil fuel markets tied to the US as a rebuff to Russia. Russiagate and “security” trumps climate again. A real GND would ban fracking right now.
Like the Paris Accords, the Democrat’s GND is designed to fail us. All the decades of exemptions, denials, omissions and non-binding agreements gave the impression of action being taken. But they were all Orwellian theatrics scripted to distract from the vast consumption of fossil fuels and the military’s enforcement of a world order dependent on oil, gas and coal.
Ocasio-Cortez’s great contribution was to let the genie of the GND out of the bottle. It’s our job to make sure it never goes back in.
What is Viable?
The same historical context suggests that a program like the Green Party’s Green New Deal — the idea that inspired Ocasio-Cortez — gives us a real fighting chance because it accurately identifies the political and military roots of climate change. Such are the contradictions of the political crisis. A small, poorly funded and too often ignored organization like the Green Party is nonetheless freed by its independence to make a historic contribution to the most important issue of our time. Now, with Howie Hawkins the “Original New Green Dealer” running to be the Green Party’s candidate for President we can hope for a sharper public debate on climate change.
The environmental crisis is beginning to reconfigure political debate. Incremental change is no longer an option. This is precisely what happens in a revolutionary situation: prevailing wisdom and common sense are turned on their heads. Ideas once dismissed as utopian become the practical answer.
Threatened with climate destruction is there any real meaning left to the “lesser of two evils?” Do we vote for permanent damage in 12 years as opposed to 8? Wouldn’t that be so cunning and clever? At least you couldn’t be accused of “purity.” Even the arguments about “viability” — designed to silence dissenters — are being weakened by the obviously unsustainable form of government we now have.
What is viable? Any strategy, form of government, political party, or economic system that gives us a mere 10 years before irreversible climate chaos is not viable. Here is our paradox: watered-down programs like the Democrat’s GND is totally inadequate to the task at hand but may (or most likely may not) be politically “viable.” The Green Party’s GND — if enacted — would actually give us a real fighting chance against climate destruction but we are told it is not “viable” within the existing system.
Make your own judgements but make no mistake: the most powerful jury is not out; the verdict is in. Mother Nature has spoken: it’s the existing order that is not viable.
Since the Second World War, governments across the world have increasingly relied on aerial bombardment in order to achieve strategic and/or political objectives. However, with the aim to reduce exposure to risk, the leaders that employ these measures without any ground support risk merely extending the misery visited upon the enemy but not achieving any decisive breakthrough.
The largest air force in the world, unsurprisingly, is the United States Air Force. The second largest is the United States Navy. Combined with the allied forces that make up NATO, the transatlantic alliance has an aerial capacity that is unmatched. Despite this overwhelming force, they are surprisingly impotent. It took NATO 78 days to subdue little Yugoslavia in 1999. It took eight months in the case of Libya, an even more stunning figure when one considers that the Libyan military had already been denuded of all meaningful capabilities for years itself. Why does it take so long? Aerial warfare can be divided into two predominant forms of assaults: attacks on military infrastructure and general bombing campaign. The former, naturally, requires pre-existing targets, which in the face of a materially superior enemy is quickly depleted. As such, those who launch air wars quickly shift their efforts over towards a much more generalised effort that lacks purpose.
Vietnam is perhaps the clearest example of a disastrous and catastrophic implementation of area bombardment. When President Johnson, at the urging of those who had two decades earlier masterminded the flattening of the German and Japanese landscapes, initiated Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965, a strategic aim beyond the degradation of enemy morale was lacking. Yet, like during the Blitz, aerial bombing had the unintended consequence of producing a sense of resilience. This is not to mention that aside from Hanoi’s ability to effectively evacuate large portions of its civilian population (upwards of 80%) and the questionable morality of the campaign, North Vietnam had little industry worth targeting in the first place.
Financially, air campaigns have a rather low return on investment. Due to the absence of any real parity in terms of weaponry, the fighting naturally turns into an asymmetric conflict. As such, it only took a couple of (relatively) cheap stingers in the hands of rural Afghans to take down Soviet helicopters. In the case of the Gaza Strip, Hamas knows well that their so-called ‘rockets’ (arguably glorified fertiliser fireworks, considering their effectiveness) cannot penetrate Israeli air defence system so they resort to balloons with burning coal, much cheaper than any multi-million dollar missile found in the arsenals of strong militaries.
Air campaigns create the wrong incentive structures. Despite any advances made on the technological front, the fundamental use of air-to-surface missiles remains the same, i.e. to physically destroy terrestrial targets. With this in mind, commanders are often times forced to reverse engineer a logic behind their targets. Enemies, in a way, are manufactured out of the debris. For example, the drone war waged by the United States has produced a shift away from defining missions by their ability to hit targets to redefining who they’ve hit. The reliance on vague criteria such as ‘military-age men’ or ‘signature strikes’, all the more problematic since war zones tend to have a disproportionately young population, removes any meaningful constraints that are vital for both a just and effective war.
Arguably the most dangerous component of air wars is the fact that they result in either mission creep or mission stagnation. Without clear and attainable objections, the bombing becomes an objective in of itself. The Saudis, who have shown great unwillingness to deploy ground troops (and instead rely on Sudanese forces to do it for them), have become entrenched in the bombing campaign with little to show besides the immense suffering of the people of Yemen. In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush administration officials made frequent reference to the unsustainability of the unilaterally imposed no-fly zone, which had been in existence for a decade already. In neither case had a materially beneficial change been implemented.
Destruction from above offers the illusion of brevity. In 2011, when asked if the War Powers Resolution should apply to the bombing of Libya, then-senate majority leader Harry Reid answered no since ‘this thing is going to be over before you know it anyway.’ Yet, months later, American missiles were still raining down over the North African desert. Coupled with this problem is the lack of media coverage, which creates a false sense of tranquility. The virtual total absence of public discussion of the US drone war in Somalia, to take just one example, has produced gradations of conflicts with many simply being unaware of their existence and thereby undermining the principle of consent of the governed when a war is being waged on behalf of those who do not know it. In an age of escalating drone warfare, keen awareness of the reality of what it entails is more important than ever.
In a TV interview on June 2, on the news docuseries “Axios” on the HBO channel, Jared Kushner opened up regarding many issues, in which his ‘Deal of the Century’ was a prime focus.
The major revelation made by Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, was least surprising. Kushner believes that Palestinians are not capable of governing themselves.
Not surprising, because Kushner thinks he is capable of arranging the future of the Palestinian people without the inclusion of the Palestinian leadership. He has been pushing his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ relentlessly, while including in his various meets and conferences countries such as Poland, Brazil and Croatia, but not Palestine.
Indeed, this is what transpired at the Warsaw conference on ‘peace and security’ in the Middle East. The same charade, also led by Kushner, is expected to be rebooted in Bahrain on June 25.
Much has been said about the subtle racism in Kushner’s words, reeking with the stench of old colonial discourses where the natives were seen as lesser, incapable of rational thinking beings who needed the civilized ‘whites’ of the western hemisphere to help them cope with their backwardness and inherent incompetence.
Kushner, whose credentials are merely based on his familial connections to Trump and family friendship with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now poised to be the colonial administrator of old, making and enforcing the law while the hapless natives have no other option but to either accommodate or receive their due punishment.
This is not an exaggeration. In fact, according to leaked information concerning Kushner’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ and published in the Israeli daily newspaper, ‘Israel Hayom’, if Palestinian groups refuse to accept the US-Israeli diktats, “the US will cancel all financial support to the Palestinians and ensure that no country transfers funds to them.”
In the HBO interview, Kushner offered the Palestinians a lifeline. They could be considered capable of governing themselves should they manage to achieve the following: “a fair judicial system … freedom of the press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”
The fact that Palestine is an occupied country, subject in every possible way to Israel’s military law, and that Israel has never been held accountable for its 52-year occupation seems to be of no relevance whatsoever, as far as Kushner is concerned.
On the contrary, the subtext in all of what Kushner has said in the interview is that Israel is the antithesis to the unquestionable Palestinian failure. Unlike Palestine, Israel needs to do little to demonstrate its ability to be a worthy peace partner.
While the term ‘US bias towards Israel’ is as old as the state of Israel itself, what is hardly discussed is the specific of that bias, the decidedly condescending, patronizing and, often, racist view that US political classes have of Palestinians – and all Arabs and Muslims, for that matter; and the utter infatuation with Israel, which is often cited as a model for democracy, judicial transparency and successful ‘anti-terror’ tactics.
According to Kushner a ‘fair judicial system’ is a conditio sine qua non to determine a country’s ability to govern itself. But is Israeli judicial system “fair” and “democratic”?
Israel does not have a single judicial system, but two. This duality has, in fact, defined Israeli courts from the very inception of Israel in 1948. This de facto apartheid system openly differentiates between Jews and Arabs, a fact that is true in both civil and criminal law.
“Criminal law is applied separately and unequally in the West Bank, based on nationality alone (Israeli versus Palestinian), inventively weaving its way around the contours of international law in order to preserve and develop its ‘(illegal Jewish) settlement enterprise’,” Israeli scholar, Emily Omer-Man, explained in her essay ‘Separate and Unequal’.
In practice, Palestinians and Israelis who commit the exact same crime will be judged according to two different systems, with two different procedures: “The settler will be processed according to the Israeli Penal Code (while) the Palestinian will be processed according to military order.”
This unfairness is constituent of a massively unjust judicial apparatus that has defined the Israeli legal system from the onset. Take the measure of administrative detention as an example. Palestinians can be held without trial and without any stated legal justification. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been subjected to this undemocratic ‘law’ and hundreds of them are currently held in Israeli jails.
It is ironic that Kushner raised the issue of freedom of the press, in particular, as Israel is being derided for its dismal record in that regard. Israel has reportedly committed 811 violations against Palestinian journalists since the start of the ‘March of Return’ in Gaza in March 2018. Two journalists – Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein – were killed and 155 were wounded by Israeli snipers.
Like the imbalanced Israeli judicial system, targeting the press is also a part of a protracted pattern. According to a press release issued by the Palestinian Journalists Union last May, Israel has killed 102 Palestinian journalists since 1972.
The fact that Palestinian intellectuals, poets and activists have been imprisoned for Facebook and other social media posts should tell us volumes about the limits of Israel’s freedom of press and expression.
It is also worth mentioning that in June 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted for a bill that prohibits the filming of Israeli soldiers as a way to mask their crimes and shelter them from any future legal accountability.
As for freedom of religion, despite its many shortcomings, the Palestinian Authority hardly discriminates against religious minorities. The same cannot be said about Israel.
Although discrimination against non-Jews in Israel has been the raison d’être of the very idea of Israel, the Nation-State Law of July 2018 further cemented the superiority of the Jews and inferior status of everyone else.
According to the new Basic Law, Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” only and “the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.”
Palestinians do not need to be lectured on how to meet Israeli and American expectations, nor should they ever aspire to imitate the undemocratic Israeli model. What they urgently need, instead, is international solidarity to help them win the fight against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.
Residents of Minden, West Virginia and surrounding Fayette County have been fighting for more than three decades to get government officials to clean up extremely toxic industrial chemicals that experts have linked to the death of an unusually large number of residents in the old coal mining town.
Even though the toxic contamination was first detected in 1984, state and federal government officials have failed to protect the people of Minden, who are still getting sick and dying at unusually high rates. Minden’s population continues to decline as people move out or die. Currently, 250 people live in the community. Since 2014, about 160 people have been diagnosed or have died of cancer in the town.
Minden residents, frustrated by 35 years of ineptitude by the government, are once again banding together to ensure state and federal officials do the cleanup right this time.
The renewed activism is following in the footsteps of the work of Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County, a group formed in 1985, soon after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined the town was contaminated by unsafe levels of the industrial chemical PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls.
Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County sought to raise awareness about the plight of local residents who were getting sick at an alarming rate. PCBs, often linked to cancer and other adverse health effects, were banned by the federal government in 1979.
Thirty-one years ago, in May 1988, Jesse Jackson visited Minden during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Jackson, who polls showed at the time was going to lose the West Virginia primary in a landslide to then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, still made the trip to Minden to demonstrate his solidarity with the people of the small West Virginia town, located about an hour southeast of the state capital of Charleston.
Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County followed up Jackson’s visit a year later by organizing a march to raise awareness of the toxic contamination of Minden. Dozens of local residents and environmentalists from out of state showed up for the 1989 march.
Last weekend, on June 8, more than 150 residents and allies marched through Minden into neighboring Oak Hill to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1989 march and to demonstrate their determination to finally get the town cleaned up after 35 years of botched and half-hearted efforts by federal environmental officials.
Eddie “Percy” Fruit, a lifelong resident of Minden, pushed a barrel the length of the march in homage to Lucien Randall, who did the same at the 1989 march. Randall, a co-founder of Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County, died of cancer in 1995.
“My thanks go out to Lucian Randall, Larry Rose and John David, who started out a quest to make a wrong right,” Fruit said in a speech at a rally after the march. “So many lives have been lost to cancer from PCBs. Thank you pioneers … the fight will continue.”
The Minden Community Action Team and Headwaters Defense, an environmental justice group based in Fayette County, wanted to memorialize the Minden residents who lost their lives to PCBs, to support those who are currently suffering from PCB-related illnesses and to pay tribute to the activism that first brought attention to toxic dumping in Minden in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I feel bad for the activists in the ‘80s and ‘90s who fought for Minden—most of them are gone,” Kimberly Duncan, a Minden resident who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007 and has lost family members and neighbors to cancer, said in a speech at the rally. “The women who marched then were called hysterical housewives. But those women were right.
PCBs were used in Minden by the Shaffer Equipment Co., which built electrical substations for coal mining companies. The company often used oil with PCBs to make transformers and equipment, likely seeping it into soil. PCBs also were dumped at the Shaffer site and other areas of Minden.
The cancer-causing chemical is still leeching its way into the nearby Arbuckle creek and soil, causing ongoing sickness with cancer diagnoses. Shaffer operated in Minden from 1970 to 1984 and company workers later admitted they had stored and dumped PCBs improperly.
The new wave of activism in Minden has paid some dividends. In May, the EPA announced the contaminated West Virginia community had been added to the National Priorities List of Superfund sites.
The designation will allow more federal funding to be spent on investigating the level of PCB contamination in Minden, where the EPA has a long history of failed clean-up efforts and investigations that Minden residents have said they do not trust. The designation also means local resident could get funding to move out of the town.
“Our first goal was to get on the NPL list and our next goal is to relocate, so hopefully we can stick together and we can continue to move forward in getting our goals,” Dr. Ayne Amjad, a local physician, said June 8 at the post-march rally.
Amjad’s father, Dr. Hassan Amjad, was conducting a cancer study of Minden residents when he died unexpectedly in August 2017. Ayne Amjad has continued her father’s research and has advocated on behalf of Minden residents to the EPA.
In the early 1990s, Larry Rose of Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County had asked Dr. Hassan Amjad to look into the contamination in the Minden area. That began a nearly 25-year research project by the older Amjad.
Since the founding of Concerned Citizens of Fayette County almost 35 years ago, residents have viewed relocation as an option the federal government must give homeowners in Minden. Many residents have wanted to move but cannot afford to leave because no one would be willing to buy their houses due to the toxic contamination.
“In the ‘80s, we formed Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County,” John David, a co-founder of Concerned Citizens to Save Fayette County, said at the June 8 rally. “We were even talking about relocation back then. I want to thank everyone for keeping that hope alive.”
At the May 13 announcement of the National Priorities List designation, however, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Minden residents that his agency would take a wait-and-see approach to relocation and that the EPA’s first priority will be to conduct a site remedial investigation.
Lois Gibbs, whose organizing in the community of Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York, in the late 1970s, led to a national emergency declaration and eventually to the creation of the EPA’s Superfund, attended both the 1989 march and the June 8 march in Minden.
In her speech at the post-march rally, Gibbs emphasized that one of the primary goals was to get the Shaffer site on the National Priorities List.
“You won that. And that opens a lot of doors to you. It opens doors for relocation. It opens doors for testing and control over that testing,” Gibbs said at the rally. “And all those doors need somebody to be pounding on them. That’s our next step. You’ve got to pound on those doors and take everything they’re offering.”
Like some latter day Prufrock, I have measured out my life in Dylan tunes. Fifty years of one more cup of coffee. That’s a lot of coffee. That’s a lot of stirring. It started out with the folkies jumping on the bandwagon of his early ballads of change — lots of wind blowing, lots of hard rain — until Pete Seeger jumped him at the ‘65 Newport festival, reportedly taking an axe to his amp; Dylan was off the wagon. Fuck the bourgeois folkies, I went with Napoleon in rags, AKA Alias. I stirred through it all and dropped another cube.
Then I went electric with Dylan for forty years, moving down an endless highway, endless tour of coffee shops, stirring people everywhere, and every place he went with his retinue of wise fools and besotted sages, becoming the circus that was in town, wafting the whiff of chaos we desired like some pheromone that made you feel politically pretty for at least the length of a song. Starting out like Abbie Hoffman’s revolutionary-for-the-hell-of-it, bringing theatre to the crowded fire of the times, and ending up, some say, like the Wall Street brokers Hoffman once rained dollar bills down on, snorkeling for dollars in the stock yard.
Fifty years later, old age hitting me, like a freight train, gone the idealism that we all thought underwrote and justified the “benign” excesses of American democracy, I struggle with the relevancy of all things Dylan. I struggle with post-modernity and the relevance of relevance, the is of is-ness. Like Prufrock, I have arrived at that place again, where time is an ocean that ends at the shore, and have seen it for what it is for the first time — like some truculent escaped runaway through time, caught in a Truffault tracking shot lasting decades and ending with me facing the camera, fin de siecle stamped to my face like Jimmy Cagney’s twisted grapefruit in Public Enemy. What can Dylan do when you’re fresh out of mermaids and you’re going down in the flood of all that consciousness?
I pondered, sitting down with one last cup of coffee, as settled in, with my son, to Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, newly released on Netflix. I remember the tour well. In Boston, a portion of the tour was broadcast live from Texas and I videotaped the concert with my Sony Portapak, commercials and all, and later had it illicitly transferred to cassette tape by two sound engineers at the University of Massachusetts, who groused the whole time about Dylan’s relevance and corruption (but made sure that they got their copy of the concert), and found, as I made the rounds, that nobody gave a squat about the tape, most of my friends and acquaintances having settled into Bob Marley’s more “global” appeal and less taken with the Dylan “mystique.” Political extraversion, bodies in motion, was winning the day over moody introversion, which seemed irrelevant to a world on the brink of nuclear war.
I mostly enjoyed watching much of Scorses’s film. It was especially gratifying to nostalgitate with Joan Baez and Allen Ginsberg, the latter’s opening lines of Howl sprinkled throughout the film like a grave motif, “I saw the best minds of my generation / destroyed by madness, starving / hysterical naked, / dragging themselves through the negro / streets at dawn looking for an angry / fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the / ancient heavenly connection to the / starry dynamo in the machinery of / the night.” Fuckin’ ay.
But I didn’t find any real relevance to the film. It was good to see Dylan re-animated by the ‘70s. His interview seemed as inchoate as ever, your desire for him to be profound, trumping common sense and the bald fact that he was blurting old fart cliches (but then, much of the attraction of his whole schtick over the years has largely been his phrasing of cliches and truisms, which I don’t hold against him, given its Nobel quality performance value). I kept waiting for relevancy to kick in, and sorely missed the exclusion of songs in the doco, such as I had recorded earlier with my Portapak — the ever-relevant cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” for instance, would have reminded viewers how long the southern border “crisis” has been with us. I stopped watching the doco about 80 percent of the way through, when my son excused himself to go off to a more relevant party and I sat stewing in ennui.
In his Netflix interview, at one point Dylan laments how we, the people, no longer remember the lines from great poets any more — he cites Ginsberg, Whitman and Frost — but settle for lyrical snatches from popular songs. I find this true and untrue. I get asked at times over the years what my favorite Dylan tunes is — an impossible-to-answer request; no true Dylan aficionado should have to answer — and, always, I find myself saying, “Love Minus Zero.” I don’t really know why. It just seems a perfect and beautiful tune, and no rhymes.
Otherwise, it’s true, it’s no longer Dylan albums that reach out to me any more, but the lyrics that stand the test of time: “It’s easy to see without looking to far that not much is really sacred.” Have we as a species, seemingly at the height of our consciousness, ever been more profane? “The angels play on their horns all day / the whole earth in progression seems to pass by / but does anyone hear the music they play? / Does anyone even try?” No emojis for that emotion. And later, in “Trying to Get to Heaven” from Time Out of Mind, “I’ll close my eyes and I wonder / if everything is as hollow as it seems.” Stuff you don’t even want to think about, if you’re Prufrock measuring out another coffee spoon. And, from the same song, the ever-profound observation, for which no comment is required or adequate: “When you think you’ve lost everything / You find out you can always lose a little more.”
Heady stuff. But then you weigh it up, as I recently did, with the crass jingle-ism that you would think Dylan doesn’t need any more — the beer commercials during Super Bowl 2019, the one an “arty” Budweiser ad that features “Blowing in the Wind,” and the other featuring Jeff Bridges’ Dude making a cameo appearance to pitch “change is good” by way of switching to Stella Artois, “The Man in Me,” cooing in the background. If you’re not careful, you could almost think you’re seeing double. So, I dunno, which beer should I drink? I close my eyes and I wonder. Does Dylan need such bier hall push to stay relevant at this stage?
More bizarre is the whole silly saga of his new whiskey brand, Heaven’s Door. First is the question whether Dylan “stole” the name from an already-existing whiskey company, as they claim. That laughed aside, the most likely reason why Dylan decided to splash out, post-Nobel, on a whiskey factory is because his namesake, Dylan Thomas, has been exploited by a UK whiskey company, the mofos actually using the most famous line from his villanelle — “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Was Heaven’s Door, arch Dylan’s answer to such a molestation? A kind of inside joke? Can a whiskey company really sell a 10 year-old whiskey when it’s only been open six months. Again, I close my eyes and I wonder. Musing aside, the $50 100 proof double-barrel whiskey itself is pretty good, smooth, lyrical, honey to the tongue, or as the Heaven’s Door site says: “The richness of the vanillin and lipids imparted by the barrel are obvious and welcome, in that, the buttery texture underlines the gustatory power.” Jokerman at work? WTFK.
Similar wry devilry seems to have been at work with his selection as the Nobel laureate for literature in 2016. Not only was he coy about accepting the award in the first place, acting like the folkies were trying to kidnap him and force him to give a “spokesman for a generation” speech, he waited until the very last moment, when losing the ka-ching was on the line, before he accepted. (Did he finance Heaven’s Door with the Nobel money?) Great controversy ensued. His friend Ginsberg’s pushy nomination aside, just about everyone knows that Dylan should have received a Nobel prize for Performance, not Literature. You’d like to think that Nobels are awarded not just for lifetime achievement, but also for relevancy.
Holding a Dylan CD cover now feels like Hamlet must have felt, graveside, holding up the skull, exclaiming, “Alas, poor Yorick,” followed by the fond remembrance of things past, how Dylan helped inspire through my early years. Now, there’s serious shit ahead, and the end feels nigh; Dylan’s not so relevant. Dylan himself seems to know this at times. He says that when he wrote the song “Titanic,” off his album Tempest (released on 9/11), he was literally watching the James Cameron film. A chance to put the upstairs/downstairs of American culture in perspective at a time of 1percent / 99 percent and he chose to do session work with the band. No reference to climate change and the growing lack of icebergs. Or maybe “Titanic” was a winky nod to lefty conspiracy-theorists re: 9/11. Fans will, as always, fill in the gaps of any real concern on his part.
One of Dylan’s great lyrics haunts me ever in these days of constant and growing surveillance, both inside the mind (Facebook, Google, and Amazon algorithms) and outside the mind (NSA, the slow strangulation of freedom of speech and thought Snowden and Assange have warned us about), is from “It’s Alright, Ma” off his Bringing It All Back Home album. “If my thought-dreams could be seen / they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” Words were never more prophetic. It’s just that, as the world breaks bad, seemingly under the stress of democracy’s end and the imminent Singularity threatening humanity’s demise, I’d like a response more akin to Heisenberg in the face of the powers that be than what Dylan seems to raise a glass to. “Life is about creating yourself,” he says in the Scorsese film. As the locusts arrived. It kinda give me a chill.
The recent protest outside Philadelphia’s Police headquarters – triggered by yet another instance of police racism – had an emphasis distinctively different from similar demonstrations during past decades against recurring police misconduct in the city that preens as the Birthplace of Democracy in America.
While protestors demanded disciplinary action against the 328 individual officers responsible for social media postings that oozed violent racist and Islamophobic commentary, protesters repeatedly emphasized the need to end the ‘institutional culture’ within the city’s criminal justice system that has enabled bigotry and brutality to persist among police, prosecutors and judges.
A dramatic example of the institutionalized racism in the Plain View revelations is the offending posters include high-ranking Philadelphia Police Department members: one inspector, six captains and eight lieutenants.
“I was not surprised by those Facebook postings. This has been the culture of the Philadelphia Police Department for years,” the Rev. Gregory Holston said at the protest where he recounted a list of brutal, racist policing incidents in Philadelphia dating back to the vicious November 1967 police nightstick assault on black high school students peacefully protesting against wretched conditions inside their public schools.
In August 1950 an editorial in the African-American owned Philadelphia Tribune newspaper castigated City Hall and Police Department officials for ignoring abusive policing that “more often than not” victimized blacks.
The persistence of abusive policing from false arrests to fatal shootings, irrespective of occasional police reform initiatives, evidences that ‘culture’ condemned during that recent protest.
Rev. Holston, executive director of the inter-faith/inter-racial social justice organization POWER, declared “People’s lives are ruined by bad policing” during that protest.
An example of injustice from bad-policing is Hassan Bennett, another speaker at that protest. Bennett spent 13-years in prison for a murder he did not commit due to misconduct by Philadelphia police and prosecutors.
Bennett, acquitted by a jury in May 2019 after his fourth trial, said “everything was taken from me” by that wrongful conviction.
The detective at the center of the injustice Bennett endured is implicated in the cases of a man released in March 2019 after serving ten years of a wrongful life sentence and a 2013 lawsuit settlement where a falsely arrested man received $750,000.
The fact that those responsible for Bennett’s wrongful imprisonment have never faced scrutiny reflects what a 1998 Human Rights Watch report on Philadelphia police brutality termed “an undisturbed culture of impunity” where failures by City officials to hold police accountable produce police who “act like criminals.”
Weeks before that protest, Harold Wilson, a man who spent 16-years on Pennsylvania’s death row for a wrongful conviction, died from medical conditions contracted while in prison. Wilson gained exoneration based largely on innocence evidence ignored by police and prosecutors.
This current social media posting scandal follows the shutdown of the racist Philly police Domelights.com website a decade ago after a lawsuit filed by Philadelphia’s black police organization, the Guardian Civic League.
Six years after the closure of Domelights, the infamous Porngate rocked the state of Pennsylvania. That scandal involved state prosecutors and judges who exchanged racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails over the state’s computer system. Porngate produced the resignations of two Pennsylvania State Supreme Court members for their participation in those email exchanges.
Philadelphia police officials reportedly began investigation into the Plain View findings in February 2019. But those officials did not announce reassignment of ten of the 328 offending officers to desk duty until after recent news coverage of the Plain View findings.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross also announced plans to conduct anti-bias training for all members of the 6,500-member PPD.
Ironically, last year in the wake of the widely criticized Philadelphia police arrest of two black men at a Starbucks restaurant, Ross rejected a recommendation for enhanced anti-bias training made by Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission, a civilian entity that monitors the Police Department.
Ross has maintained that internal Philadelphia Police Department mechanisms are adequate to address issues of racism.
However, given the PPD’s history, Ross’ claim is suspect.
The ranking police Inspector cited in the Plain View examination is a member of the department’s Police Board of Inquiry, (PBI) the internal departmental body that determines penalties for misconduct confirmed by Internal Affairs. The PBI is notorious for acquittals and wrist slap sanctions on misconduct complaints filed against police by civilians.
Police Advisory Commission data noted the Board of Inquiry orders ‘Official Reprimands for errant officers over five-times more often than the PBI’s next most utilized penalty: a one-day suspension from work. Police Internal Affairs approved only 11.4 percent of the physical abuse complaints filed by citizens according to data compiled by that Commission.
Evidence of Philadelphia’s above-the-law policing culture condemned at that recent protest and in that 1998 HRW report is evident in Police Commissioner Ross’s own career.
In the early 1990s a Philadelphia grand jury recommended criminal charges against eight police officers that included Ross for a wild 85-shot incident that left one man dead and bullets flying through a crowded community. However, a Philadelphia judge dismissed the grand jury report on his assertion that the grand jury acted as vigilantes and were thus unfair to police.
The Executive Director of the Police Advisory Commission, Hans Menos, said during a radio interview that the racist postings violated Police Department policies. Those postings, Menos added, undermine the ability of officers to perform police duties. Those postings, for example, rendered officers vulnerable to attacks on their credibility during trials where the officers’ are testifying against defendants they arrested.
Solomon Jones, the Philadelphia talk radio host and award-winning journalist who organized that recent protest, called on elected officials to take act against those responsible for racist social media positing and those that aid-&-abet the unaccountable policing culture.
“We need you to do your jobs,” Jones said about elected officials.
Beginning on Wednesday and extending through Friday, approximately 1,700 employees at the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will be asked to vote on whether or not to join the United Auto Workers (UAW).
The outcome of this landmark vote is being carefully watched not only by the Mandarins at Solidarity House, in Detroit, and by auto executives and economists throughout Europe and Asia, but by American companies unrelated to the auto industry. A pro-union vote in Chattanooga can revitalize the whole labor movement.
Which is to say, there is a great deal riding on this. Way more than simply a bunch of workers choosing whether or not to affiliate. For if VW workers do, in fact, become the first big-time auto plant in the Deep South (which historically has rejected anything having to do with organized labor) to go union, it will send a clear message to companies like Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes, et al.
It will suggest to foreign automakers that the decades-long gravy train—where these companies could treat American workers worse than they would dare treat their own workers back home—is finally over.
The hard-shell of anti-unionism indigenous to Dixie will have been cracked. The South shall rise again! Granted, maybe not in the manner in which that post-Civil War slogan was originally intended, but in a good way nonetheless.
Back in 2014, after a full-court press by the UAW, these same Chattanooga workers came close—heartbreakingly close—to choosing to affiliate with the union. Not only did it appear that these autoworkers were ready to become part of the U.S. labor movement, but the Volkswagen Corporation itself appeared more than happy to have them join their heavily unionized family.
Indeed, over the objections of Tennessee politicians and lobbyists, VW went so far as to send corporation brass (both HR and operations people) all the way to Chattanooga to explain to the workers exactly what the advantages would be of belonging to a union. It goes without saying that this move freaked out a whole segment of the community.
The notion of corporation big-wigs making a good faith effort to promote union membership was not only anathema to American businesses, it was something that no one could rightly imagine happening, not even at a nominally “union friendly” facility, and certainly not in the heart of the American South.
But even after VW itself more or less “stumped” for union membership, the 2014 vote came out 712-626 against joining. A crushing blow to the UAW, one that’s going to sting for a long time to come. Unless this current vote goes their way. There is always a whole array of reasons—both sensible and frustratingly irrational—to explain a certification vote-down, and Chattanooga was no exception.
Lots of factors weighed in. Ignorance, ideology, inertia, fear of change, fear of collectivism, an unwillingness to have black employees made equal to whites, and women made equal to men, and oddly, given reverberations that can be traced all the way back to Jefferson Davis, an aversion to anything associated with the word “union.”
Adding to the disappointment of losing a close vote was what happened shortly afterward. Volkswagen was found to have committed an egregious violation of environmental regulations by having “gamed the system.” They equipped nearly 600,000 diesel cars with computer software that lied about the amount of tailpipe emissions. In short, cars that were clear polluters were falsely and intentionally verified as being clean.
Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of the scandal, dozens of high-ranking VW officials, including the CEO, were forced to resign. The fact that a manufacturing company was found to have failed to comply with environmental standards wasn’t exactly big news. That happens every week. What stunned everyone was the sheer audacity of the fraud.
Alas, an indirect consequence of that corporate shit-storm was VW’s decision not to get involved in Chattanooga’s next vote. Although the emissions debacle had nothing to do with a unionism, and even though an isolated group of maintenance workers had voted overwhelmingly to affiliate with the UAW, Volkswagen had had its nose bloodied. This time around, they chose to maintain a low profile.
So best of luck to the UAW. It seems like those good people have been down about 40 miles of bad road. If any labor union in America is in need of good news and the public’s support, it’s the United Auto Workers. By the weekend we should all know how the vote went.
The foreign and domestic policies of the US Administration appear to be guided by a combination of financial greed, the desire to exploit weakness for the sake of doing so, a partiality for malevolence, and determination to be spiteful. In no manner, domestically, has the last been more effectively demonstrated than by Trump’s treatment of the children of illegal immigrants.
On June 5 the Washington Post reported that in its most recent persecution of migrant children “The Trump administration is cancelling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide.” One shelter employee spoke for all civilised people when he said that “educational classes and sports activities are crucial to maintaining physical and mental health while the children are in custody” but this means nothing to Trump and his followers, so many of whom seem to be bigots who actually take pleasure in making life disagreeable and distressing for people who have done them no harm but have in some fashion displeased them.
The hostility of members of the Washington Establishment to those considered to be non-conformist extends world-wide, being displayed in the main by the massive US military presence in all parts of the globe. The aim appears to be world domination, and it is therefore not surprising that a major target is China’s Belt and Road initiative, about which the Council on Foreign Relations observed that “in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road infrastructure development and investment initiatives that would stretch from East Asia to Europe. The project, eventually termed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) . . . is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived.” It is intended to facilitate international trade and improve the economies of participating nations.
President Putin noted that the BRI “is aimed at strengthening the constructive cooperation of the Eurasian states. Its truly unifying goal is to ensure harmonious and sustainable economic development and economic growth throughout the Eurasian space.”
The BRI is drawing nations together, and Trump Washington doesn’t like this sort of thing, except on its own strict terms. The mammoth project that is intended to benefit all who care to join it is anathema to a country that Trump declares is “the greatest place on earth,” and whose representatives seek every opportunity to denigrate the venture which, so far, involves over sixty nations.
At the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Vice President Pence told 21 national leaders (including President Xi) that the United States doesn’t “offer a constricting belt or a one-way road” and in March 2019 Secretary of State Pompeo declared the BRI to be “a non-economic offer,” against which Washington is “working diligently to make sure everyone in the world understands that threat.”
The accusation by Pence that the BRI is “constricting” or “a one-way road” is absurd. As pointed out by the economist Yaseen Anwar, “[the] initiative gives access to capital for those connected emerging markets that have not had the necessary investment grade ratings to tap international bond markets. These economies have never had the opportunity to attract offshore investors who require ratings dictated by their corporate policies.” The BRI is widening economic opportunities, not constricting them, and the “one-way” contention is equally ludicrous, because China’s aim, as made clear by President Xi in St Petersburg on 8 June, is to “stick to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and work together to create an open and pluralistic world economy.”
The only “one-way” evident at the moment is Washington’s blinkered determination to destroy development of the Belt and Road infrastructure, which would obstruct development intended to benefit hundreds of millions of people.
One major US objection to the BRI is that its supporters consider protection of the environment to be important. In April, at the second Belt and Road Forum, it was unanimously agreed that progress would be “along a green, low-carbon and sustainable development path,” which is a decidedly two-way affair, benefiting all concerned. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, strongly endorsed this approach by stating he considers the BRI “an important space where green principles can be reflected in green action . . . Fully expanding our policy options for green and sustainable development backed by green financing instruments must become the new norm.”
Much of the Washington Establishment refuses to acknowledge the fact of climate change and agree with Trump’s tweet that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive” which is one of the most foolish of his many assertions. He wilfully ignored the US Congress report of 2018 which determined that “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”
On June 8 the Washington Post reported that “White House officials barred a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony this week to the House Intelligence Committee warning that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic.” The move came after State officials refused to excise the document’s references to federal scientific findings on climate change.” There appears to be no end to the depths to which the White House will sink in its determination to deny climate change and convince American citizens that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese.”
As with President Xi and Secretary General Guterres, President Putin is apprehensive about climate change, and on June 8 at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum he warned that “Exacerbating environmental and climatic challenges that present a direct threat to the socioeconomic well-being of all humankind are making the [poverty and under-development] crisis even worse. Climate and the environment have become an objective factor in global development and a problem fraught with large-scale shocks, including another uncontrolled surge in migration, more instability and undermined security in key regions of the planet. At the same time, there is a high risk that instead of joint efforts to address environmental and climate issues, we will run into attempts to use this issue for unfair competition.”
Regrettably, that seems to be exactly what is happening — and although President Putin observed that the BRI “brings opportunities to all countries” it will continue to be aggressively opposed by the US. There is harmony among BRI nations, but implacable hostility from Trump Washington.
A version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on June 11.
The island of Jamaica has achieved international notoriety as a space of unbridled violence and as one of the main hubs for the trans Caribbean and trans-Atlantic drug networks within the illicit global economy. These features of Jamaican society developed rapidly after 1980 when Edward Seaga, became the fifth Prime Minister of Jamaica. As the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) 1974 to 2005, Seaga was associated with the refinement of a mode of politics that garrisoned poor Jamaicans into areas controlled by political contractors. Seaga was born in Boston in 1930 and died peacefully in Miami, Florida in May 2019. In the ensuing 89 years, his insecurity as to his identity and his wish to be accepted as part of the Jamaican ruling oligarchy sent him into a career to be an expert on Jamaicans of African descent. Edward Seaga and the JLP mobilized Jamaican workers against their own interests in organizations that guaranteed his success as a political entrepreneur. One organization that has been linked to Edward Seaga was the deadly Shower Posse that wreaked murder, violence and drug running in the Caribbean, North America and Europe. The historical record now attests to the fact that this organization was integrated into the networks of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States when the USA moved to destabilize Jamaican society in the 1970’s.
Elements from these same networks were to later name Seaga as involved in drugs in Congressional hearings and in court cases in the United States. Names such as Lester Cole aka ‘Jim Brown,’ Claude Massop, Vivian Blake, Cecil Connor also known as (Charles “Little Nut” Miller), and Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke are forever etched into the political history of thuggery, violence, money laundering and drugs in Jamaican society. Edward Seaga was dependent on these gunmen within the polity and in the process undermined the office of the Prime Minister and left this position in Jamaica devoid of dignity, authority and values. The case of the extradition of Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke from Jamaica in 2010 to prison in New York revealed to those who followed the case the extent of dehumanization of the poor in the political constituency of West Kingston. This debasement of politics and humanity was to be fully revealed under the leadership of Bruce Golding who attempted to extricate the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) from the clutches of dons (political enforcers). The killing of over 70 Jamaicans in Tivoli gardens in 2010 exposed the levels of dehumanization that had overtaken Jamaican society when Prime Minister Golding ordered the army to kill innocent civilians who defended Christopher Coke.
The lessons of these aspects of the life of Edward Seaga have not been revealed in the obituaries that have been written about him since his death. Most of these obituaries downplayed the extent of the CIA, the Cold War, and Cocaine triangle in Jamaica under Edward Seaga, although the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Times of London and the Telegraph all paid homage to his conservatism and his alliance with the neo liberal forces represented by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Edward Seaga’s own autobiography was part of the literature to praise unfettered capitalism which he celebrated in the two volumes entitled: My Life and Leadership. Volume 1 . Clash of Ideologies 1930-1980 and Volume II, My Life & Leadership: Hard Road to Travel 1980 – 2008. Seaga was explicit in Volume 2 that “socialism is a pulling down ideology. Capitalism is a pulling up strategy.’
This ideological outlook defined the career of Edward Seaga as he opted to mobilize the human and material resources of Jamaica to establish sweat shop conditions, opposing black liberation in Jamaica and in Africa, opposing the Cuban revolution and spearheading the invasion of Grenada in 1983. Conscious of the importance of history, Edward Seaga had attempted to distort the historical record of the collusion between the Jamaican oligarchs and the Reagan Administration in the invasion of Grenada in his pamphlet entitled, Grenada Intervention: The Inside Story, 2009. Such was the trepidation of Edward Seaga among some Caribbean intellectuals that this relationship in the Shower Posse killings have only been fully revealed in unpublished doctoral dissertations, in the book Born Fi dead  and in the fictional work by Marlon James, A Brief History Of Seven Killings.
At the time of his death, Edward had become marginalized in his own party by young black professionals who wanted to rise above the dehumanizing traditions of garrison politics. He had taken refuge into academia becoming a Fellow of the University of the West Indies (UWI), but now the road has been cleared for a full analysis of the role of Edward Seaga and his ilk in the politics of Jamaica and the Caribbean. This is urgent to reclaim the dignity and humanity of those who were dehumanized by the political traditions of Edward Seaga in the Caribbean.
Background of Edward Seaga
When Edward Philip George Seaga was born on 28 May 1930, in Boston, Massachusetts, his parents had been suspended between the African majority in Jamaica and the small planter class of British and Europeans who dominated the plantation economy of Jamaica. The grandparents of Seaga had migrated to Jamaica from what is now called Lebanon to escape the stultifying effects of the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Jamaica was then, and now, a predominantly African society with the majority of the population tracing their roots back to Africa. In 1930, over 91 per cent of the population were Africans with a small percentage highlighting their European heritage to be called Afro Jamaicans or brown skinned Jamaicans. These ‘brownpeople’ comprised 15.1 percent of the population by 1950. According to the census of Jamaica in 1960 the population was divided into six categories of racial origin: 76.3 percent African, 15.1 percent Afro-European, 0.8 percent European, 1.2 percent Chinese or Afro-Chinese, 3.4 percent East Indian and 3.2 percent “Other Races.” The Lebanese/Syrian community in Jamaica had comprised the small percentage of colonial subjects determined to be ‘other races’ under the colonial racial hierarchy of Jamaica. The economy of Jamaica was dominated by the less than 1 per cent of the society, designated as Europeans. Phillip Seaga had moved to the United States to make life in the context of the roaring twenties, but by the time he was seeking to advance, the Wall Street crash of 1929 created conditions of desperation for immigrants such as Phillip Seaga and his wife Erna (née Maxwell), who was Jamaican of African, Scottish and Indian descent. Hence, three months after his birth in Boston, the family of Phillip Seaga returned to Jamaica. Hence the birth of Edward Seaga in the USA.
The capitalist depression had a devastating impact on the oppressed in Jamaica, exacerbating impoverishment and cultural domination. It was in the midst of this crisis that the African poor in Jamaica deepened their identification with Africa as an expression of cultural resistance and human affirmation. The Rastafari movement blossomed after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and in 1938, the working peoples registered their opposition to colonialism with massive working class protests on the sugar plantations. These protests in Frome, Westmoreland on the Serge Island Sugar Estates of St Thomas and in the working class areas of Kingston, (especially the docks in West Kingston) had been stimulated by Garveyites such as St William Grant and worker activists such as Allan George St. Claver Coombs of Western Jamaica.
After the 1938 uprisings, Alexander Bustamante offered himself up as a leader of Jamaican workers diminishing the importance of Garveyism within the anti-colonial cultural resistance. Bustamante and his cousin, Norman Washington Manley became activists for Jamaican freedom in the period 1938-1962 forming two political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Peoples National Party (PNP). Both of these parties had a trade union and worker base in the form of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the National Workers Union. By the time Jamaicans wrestled Universal Adult Suffrage from the British in 1944, Bustamante was riding two horses; as the leader of the trade union named after himself (the BITU) and leader of government business in the colonial parliament.
Seaga the Applied Anthropologist
Volume 1 of the auto biography of Seaga, Clash of Ideologies 1930-1980 gave some indication of the frustrations of this Lebanese/Syrian stratum in Jamaican society and at the same time the privileges as passing for white. After high school in Jamaica at Wolmers, Seaga had studied social anthropology in the United States at Harvard University. By virtue of his background, Seaga the anthropologist, brought his understanding of the retention of African culture in Jamaica in his study of the lifestyle of the poor and oppressed and their religious practices. In colonial Jamaica, according to social scientists such as M.G. Smith, the only ‘cultural’ persons were Europeans while African descendants followed ‘cults.’ Edward Seaga was slowly learning of the cultural power of the African ideation system among the poor as he sought to document and observe the rituals that were practiced in Pocomania and Kumina, African religious forms that still persisted in Jamaica. The rituals of Africa spiritual observances involved nonverbal interaction with the ancestral world in the form of dancing, possession by spirits, and animal sacrifice. Seaga who extended his career as an applied anthropologist research to child development and revivalist churches was to later weaponize the cultural practices of the poor to sow division and mayhem. It was in this period of anti-colonial energy in the Jamaican countryside where Seaga recognized the financial potential of Jamaican music.
Seaga as the Political Apprentice
While in the process of studying the music of Africans in Jamaica, Edward Seaga recognized the long term potential of the voices of the people and embarked on opening a record store, becoming a music producer founding his own record label, West Indies Recording Limited (WIRL). From this vantage point as a music entrepreneur, Seaga got to feel the pulse of Jamaican popular culture as it was emerging in Ska, Rock Steady and later Reggae. As a producer, Edward Seaga signed popular Ska artists such as Joe Higgs and Byron Lee and the Dragonaiers. It was from this musical perch where Seaga made his probing with respect to his future in Jamaican political life. In the period between 1955 and 1959 when the PNP had come to power, Seaga had sent out feelers to the leadership of both the PNP and the JLP. In his own words, Seaga tells the tale of how Alexander Bustamente recognized his skills as an organizer and recruited him to the political leadership of the Jamaican Labor Party. In 1959, Bustamante had appointed Seaga to the Senate while the JLP was in opposition, and it was from the Senate at the age of 29 where Seaga made his famous speech about the ‘haves and haves not’ in Jamaica.
Alexander Bustamante had dominated the JLP with an iron hand, hence there had been no opposition to his naming Edward Seaga as the contestant for the constituency of West Kingston in 1962. Prior to 1962, Seaga had demonstrated his energy and loyalty (some would say sycophancy) to Bustamante, especially in the context of the referendum over whether Jamaica should remain in the West Indies Federation. By the time of independence in 1962, the JLP had gravitated away from its political commitment to the poor workers and had become the party with a base of poor black workers and peasants, but a party serving the interests of the white planters. Bustamante himself had retreated from his trade union militancy and had become conciliatory to local capital. In the retreat of Bustamante from the defense of workers, the son of Norman Manley, Michael Manley became a major trade union organizer of the National Workers Union (NWU), the party affiliate of the PNP. In order to satisfy the Cold War hysteria of the fifties, the PNP had purged Richard Hart, Ken Hill, Frank Hill and Arthur Henry from the party. These four were among the most formidable defenders of the working people and by 1949 the unions that they officered were among the largest after the BITU.
Edward Seaga and the Constituency of West Kingston
After the purging of the four H’s from the electoral political space, the Jamaican society proceeded towards decolonization in carefully orchestrated steps after the results of the referendum in 1961. There were elections in April 1962 and August 6, 1962 was designated as the date of independence. Edward Seaga was an activist of the JLP and he was named as Minister of Development and Welfare from 1962 to 1967. Seaga had contested the elections in April 1962 against three other candidates who ran on explicit African values and orientation. Of the three candidates, the candidate for the PNP, Dudley Thompson had served in East Africa as counsel for Jomo Kenyatta and had earned the name of Burning Spear. Sam Brown, a well-known organizer and leader in the Rastafari Movement ran as an independent and Byron Moore carried the mantle of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP). Seaga mobilized the resources of the JLP and the BITU to win in this constituency and represented himself as a messianic leader. Seaga was the ‘white man’ who the black masses would follow became the narrative of the JLP.
The opportunism of Seaga was manifest early when two years after independence in 1964 he opportunistically championed the cause of the return of the body of Marcus Garvey to Jamaica. Prior to this re entombment of the body of Marcus Garvey in Jamaica, in the election campaign of 1962, Seaga had opposed the ideas of Marcus Garvey and the candidates who appealed to citizens on the basis of black dignity. Four years later Seaga was complicit in the decision of the JLP cabinet to ban Walter Rodney from Jamaica and to accuse him of stirring up racial hatred.
Edward Seaga had been an enthusiastic member of the Bustamante government that moved to arrest thousands of Rastafari brethren after the Coral Gardens altercations in April 1963. Seaga’s own anti Rasta exuberance was manifest in the massive destruction of the poor communities of Western Kingston called Back o Wall in the ‘urban renewal’ project that became known as Tivoli gardens.  Tivoli became associated with the person of Seaga and as a community that gradually purged from its midst Jamaican citizens who considered loyalty to another formation other than the JLP. In the process, after 1967 Tivoli became a near political homogenous community where violent enforcers emerge to ensure that sympathizers of other political tendencies were unwelcome in Tivioli.
In October 1965, Seaga had signaled his orientation toward political thuggery when at an event at the National Stadium, Seaga had declared in response to booing from the assembled crowd recognizing Paul Bogle and Marcus Garvey as national heroes that,
“If they think they are bad, I can bring the crowd of West Kingston. We can deal with you in any way and at any time. It will be fire for fire, and blood for blood.” 
This language of blood and fire took on real meaning in the State of Emergency of 1966 and the violent conflict for power fought out in the elections in 1967. Dudley Thompson, (the candidate for the opposition PNP) had campaigned against Seaga in 1967 and had surrounded himself with PNP gunmen while with the resources of the government, Seaga developed a small force of gunmen that outgunned the Dudley Thompson forces. Despite this political rivalry, both Seaga and Thompson remained good friends. This was revealed to the citizens of Jamaica after the death of Dudley Thompson when Seaga revealed the depth of their friendship. Prior to his death, Dudley Thompson apologized to the people of Jamaica for his complicity in the Green Bay massacre. This was an episode where the military ambushed young JLP adherents and shot them down in cold blood.
Petty violence in the form of throwing stones, use of cutlasses, throwing Molotov cocktails and fist fights had been a feature of competitive politics in Jamaica since 1944. By the 1960’s the quality and intensity of the violence edged up a notch with the introduction of hand guns among the enforcers. At the end of the decade the mix of sub machine guns, drugs and politics had become toxic in Jamaican society with Tivoli becoming the place associated with guns and repression. With the rise of political violence and the increased use of guns in political battles, Tivoli earned the distinction of becoming a garrison community. The political enforcers and gun men who coerced citizens were called dons. These figures received government contracts and were the source of political payoffs (called patronage).  In Jamaican society, Edward Seaga was known as the don of the dons and the architect of a new form of housing called the garrison. Garrisons were and are “a veritable fortress where the dominant party and or its local agents and supporters are able to exercise control over all significant political, economic and community related social activities. “  Political enforcers such as Claude Massop created fear among poor workers. Mark Figueroa in his study of “Garrison Communities in Jamaica 1962-1993,” outlined the violence that was associated with gun men such as Massop in the JLP while the PNP countered with its own garrisons and gunmen such as George “Feathermop” Spence, Winston “Burry Boy” Blake and Anthony (Tony) Welch from the nearby area of Arnett Gardens (Jungle).
Emergence as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party 1974
During his tenure as Minister of Finance 1967-1972, Edward Seaga had strengthened the financial institutions to fully wrest economic power from the old planter classes that had discriminated against the Lebanese/Syrians. The Bauxite and Tourist industries had created new poles of accumulation away from sugar plantations, banana production and cocoa farming. Noel Nethersole as Minister of Finance under the PNP before independence had laid the foundations for a central bank- Bank of Jamaica, and founded the Development Finance Corporation.  With technocrats such as G. Arthur Brown and Noel Nethersole, there were social democrats who wanted the public institutions to register an independent path for the society with clear planning. It was in this climate where the intellectuals of the New World Group flourished. The intellectual and political energies of these intellectuals were clearly having an impact on the region as a whole, inspired as they were by the anti-imperialist ideas of Banding.
Edward Seaga sold himself to the US leaders as an opponent of the Bandung spirit. Yet, the Jamaica media celebrated Seaga as the brains behind decolonizing the financial sector and the establishment of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, Jamaica Unit Trust, Export-Import Bank, Jamaica Promotions Ltd, the Agricultural Credit Bank, the Jamaica Mortgage Bank, the National Development Bank, Urban Development Corporation and the Kingston Waterfront. Of these ventures, the Urban Development Corporation facilitated the basis for the emergence of new elements in real estate capital and the control of the Kingston Waterfront wrest control from the shippers and insurers that were linked to the export of banana and sugar. The export of bulk shipments of marijuana and cocaine were to develop in the seventies as new sources of wealth for the new narco capitalist class.
The inequalities and class polarization in the society alienated the poor and the PNP mobilized around the question of the oppression of the sufferers. Michael Manley had succeeded his father as President of the PNP in 1969. Shortly thereafter, in 1972, Manley as head of the Peoples National Party won the General elections. Michael Manley had campaigned on the slogans and platform of the PPP of Millard Johnson openly canvassing for the votes of the oppressed, especially the Rastafari. In 1974, Manley declared that Jamaica was moving in the direction of Democratic Socialism announcing a number of social welfare reforms as socialist. Moving to embrace the spirit of Bandung, the nonaligned world and support for African liberation created a new sense of pride among the mass of African descendants in Jamaican society. Within the Caribbean, Jamaica strengthened relations with Cuba and Michael Manley championed the push against imperialism with the call for a New International Economic Order (NIIEO). These initiatives scared the entrenched local capitalists in Jamaica while Edward Seaga moved to establish himself as the defender of international capital.
In order to better position himself as a full servant of international capital, Edward Seaga had to capture the leadership of the JLP. Seaga could not compete with Donald Sangster who had been one of the brains running the party after Bustamente had been stricken with illness, but Sangster had died suddenly after becoming Prime Minister. Hugh Shearer had become Prime Minister, but by the time of the competition for leadership of the party, Shearer had stood down. By 1974, the leaders of the JLP standing in the path of Edward Seaga were competent leaders such as Frank Phipps, Wilton Hill, Ronald Irvine, and Ian Ramsay. Senior figures such as Robert Lightbourne had been nudged out of the party with the rise of Seaga and the legalistic /professional blacks of the likes of Phipps, Irvine and Ramsay were not cut from the same cloth as the blood and fire vintage of Edward Seaga. Wilton Hill had sought to develop his own fighting force but did not have the financial resources that Seaga had at his disposal. In his push for power within the party Edward Seaga also dumped experienced JLP leaders such as L.G. Newland, Edwin Allen and Tacius Golding.
Edward Seaga: the anticommunist champion
During the era of the seventies, the anti-colonial struggles had intensified after the defeat of the US military forces in Vietnam in 1975. In the same year, the Angolan forces with the support of Cuban internationalists defeated the South African apartheid army in Angola. Poor Jamaicans had followed these battles and many reggae artists used songs to mobilize the people to support African liberation. The government of the USA labeled the Jamaican support for liberation as hostile and in December 1975 the Secretary of State of the USA, Henry Kissinger visited Jamaica. In his meetings with the Prime Minister Michael Manley, Kissinger warned Jamaica to limit its support for the Cubans in Angola and diminish its relations with Cuba. Kissinger held out the promise of US $100 million for the Jamaican economy if Manley agreed to distance Jamaica from the nonaligned movement, from African liberation and from Cuba. When the Prime Minister of Jamaica disagreed, there was a new thrust to destabilize Jamaica and Edward Seaga offered himself as an instrument for the CIA destabilization of Jamaica. The experience of the Jamaican society became another textbook case of how the CIA destabilized societies. Using some of the same tactics that had been deployed in the overshow of the Salvador Allende government in Chile in 1973, the CIA mobilized its resources to undermine the PNP government. The six key mechanisms were :
1. Covert financial support for the opposition.
2. Extensive labor unrest.
3. Covert shipments of arms and other equipment to opposition forces.
4. Economic destabilization.
5. Mobilization of the middle class into CIA-created antigovernment organizations to carry out well publicized demonstrations.
6. infiltration of Security Services and armed forces to turn them against the government
All of these elements were expanded in Jamaica. There were three attempts on the life of Michael Manley as the Prime Minister. “The unexplained presence of M16 rifles, submachine guns, as well as sophisticated communications equipment also caused alarm, for the paltry Jamaican security forces were simply unable to cope with the violence.”  No section of the population escaped the new violence and the reggae artists Bob Marley was shot at his home in Hope Road prior to a free reggae concert in Kingston, December 1976. A decade later, in September 1987, Peter Tosh was to lose his life when gunmen invaded his home to send him to the land of the ancestors.
Despite the escalation of violence, the PNP defeated Edward Seaga and the JLP in the 1976 general elections. It was the elections with the highest voter turnout in the history of Jamaica, over 86 per cent of the electorate participating. The PNP won the elections with 57 per cent of the votes, but this victory only stimulated the CIA to intensify its campaign of destabilization supporting the IMF to undermine the economy, using propaganda to scare citizens and intensifying violence in the streets. The CIA propaganda represented Seaga as the economic genius while the local media propagated misleading stories scaring local entrepreneurs resulting in the mobilization of the Jamaican Manufacturers Association and the Jamaican Chamber of Commerce against the PNP. It was in this period when the new organization called the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) appeared on the political scene as one other form of support for Edward Seaga.
Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer and 13 other major of reggae artists had attempted to stand aloof from the violence but they had grown up with many of the former ‘rude boys’ who were now political enforcers. It is this intimate knowledge of the shooters that precipitated the reggae artists to mobilize with others for the historic peace concert at the National Stadium in 1978. This peace gesture which brought together 16 of the most well-known reggae artists was at the other end of the plans of the CIA for Seaga and for Jamaica. It was at this peace concert where Peter Tosh condemned imperialist violence and where Marley called on Seaga and Manley and Seaga to come on stage and pledge to end the violent political war in Jamaica. Despite the pledge for peace, the top contractors/ enforcers for the JLP and the PNP, Claude Massop and Buckie Marshall were both killed within two years after the concert. The following election year in 1980 would see 889 reported murders in Jamaica, over 500 more than the previous year. The combination of violence and the economic terror of the IMF against Jamaica was too much for the people and in the 1980 elections, then the bloodiest in the history of Jamaica, Seaga won the elections after hundreds lay dead and tens of thousands displaced..
Edward Seaga the Prime Minister of Jamaica 1980 -89.
When the PNP won the elections in 1976 there were two choices before the society, either give meaning to the massive support that had been gained in the 1976 elections for drastic social change or succumb to the dictates of the IMF. Michael Manley choose the latter and the IMF intensified the economic destabilization while Seaga and the gunmen escalated the violence in the streets. Long before the Mexican debt crisis of 1982, the IMF had decided to use Jamaica as a guinea pig in its new direction of structural adjustment. The decision to cut the Civil Service, to devalue the currency, to lift price controls and to liberalize the economy led to the huge capital flight, reinforcing the already dire conditions for the sufferers. Three months after the signing of IMF agreements, according to the IMF Jamaica failed its first quarterly performance test. We now know from historical hindsight that there was no way that governments such as that of Manley in Jamaica or the Julius Nyerere ujamaa administration in Tanzania could pass the IMF performance tests. What was instructive was that the apartheid government of South Africa that oppressed the African majority could pass the IMF tests but leaders such as Manley, Nyerere or Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia could not pass these tests. It is now well documented by economists (such as the late Norman Girvan) that the IMF performance requirements resulted in “one of the most savage packages ever imposed on any client government by the IMF.” 
Edward Seaga became the Prime Minister of Jamaica in 1980. He was not fully vested in his position before he traveled to Washington and to New York to ingratiate himself with David Rockefeller and the decision of the IMF to change the conditionalities for Jamaica. By the time Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the President of the United States in January 1981, Seaga was the first world leader to be invited to the White House. It was in the context of these meetings in 1981 where Seaga sold himself as an opponent of organized labour in Jamaica and the Caribbean. In his autobiography Seaga has bragged how he introduced the idea of the Caribbean Basin Initiative ((CBI) to the Reagan administration. This orientation started the long road of the debasement of the Jamaican workers and the introduction of sweat shop conditions in Jamaica. International conservatives were pleased to have a leader of a labor party being in the forefront of denying basic rights of decent wages, and protection at the workplace for workers. These were fundamental elements of the struggles of the Jamaican working people from the time of enslavement.
As a soldier in the Cold War fighting against the rights for working people, Seaga joined forces with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in promoting crude neo-liberalism. The zeal of Seaga in his anti-communism led him to mobilize for the military intervention of the United States in Grenada. In this zealousness, Seaga trumped Margaret Thatcher because the British Prime Minister opposed the military intervention. Seaga has attempted in his book, Grenada Intervention: The Inside Story, to distort the true meaning of the invasion. There was one academic at the University of the West Indies, Patsy Lewis, who clinically exposed the lies and manipulation that was embedded in this text.  The ignominy of this act in the Caribbean placed him in the same category as Tom Adams, the former Prime Minister of Barbados, who most Barbadians now want to forget because of his links to the cocaine trade and the US military invasion of Grenada.
This work of placing Jamaica in the ranks against basic democratic rights endeared Seaga to the conservatives internationally and he was honored by President Reagan with the Freedom Foundation’s American Friendship medal for his “furtherance of democratic institutions” and “courageous leadership in the cause of freedom for all people.” What most Jamaicans did not know was that the International Freedom Foundation was the anticommunist front established to support regimes such as the apartheid government of South Africa and the dreaded Pinochet regime of Chile. The receipt of this award placed Seaga within the company of opportunists such as Manafort and Stone who represented Jonas Savimbi, but Seaga did not want the people of Jamaica to understand the real import of the award from the International Freedom Foundation. Seaga was being rewarded for his opposition to the liberation of Africa and for the destabilization of the Caribbean. In return for these services, the IMF and the international financial institutions would allow Seaga to represent himself as the financial wizard turning around the Jamaican economy from the ‘mismanagement’ of the Manley administration. The election results of 1980 made Jamaica the first victim of the Third World debt crisis and structural adjustment policies that has now produced massive inequalities on a global scale.
Edward Seaga and the Illicit Global Economy
The era of neo liberalism accelerated the movements of illicit funds outside of government control. Not enough research has been done in Jamaica about the way Jamaica became integrated into the Contra/ cocaine pipeline that had been established by the Reagan White House. The CIA of the USA had established conduits between drug cartels and the banks to finance its contra wars in Central America and the Caribbean. It was in this period when narco banking became institutionalized . Money laundering, drugs and banks were always part of global capital, but during the era of social democracy state control over financial institutions had placed rigorous controls over the movement of illicit funds. When Ronald Reaggan became the President of the USA, the anticommunist fervor and the contra wars stimulated the loosening of controls over money laundering. The CIA strengthened its money laundering capabilities and many banks such as HSBC were attracted to this new source of wealth. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC) in their 2010 Annual Report , they stated that “money-laundering is the method by which criminals disguise the illegal origins of their wealth and protect their asset bases in order to avoid suspicion of law enforcement and to prevent leaving a trail of incriminating evidence.”
UNODOC estimated that profits derived from narcotics rackets amount to some $600 billion annually and that up to $1.5 trillion dollars in drug money is laundered through seemingly legitimate enterprises. As Prime Minister in 1981, Seaga had seen the new money laundering direction of U.S and European banks as an opportunity and new institutions such as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) appeared in Jamaica.
With the anticommunist obsession that had come into the international political economy after Reagan’s inauguration, the Republican administration officials tolerated drug trafficking as long as the traffickers gave support to the contras leaders who pledged to oppose socialism. This is now well documented in the 1989, the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations that was chaired by then Senator John Kerry . We learnt from this Hearing how the narco bank, Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) established operations in Jamaica, “BCCI cornered the market for government funds and programs in Jamaica as the result of establishing a personal relationship with then-Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Ultimately, this relationship involved BCCI being involved in financing all of Jamaica’s commodity imports from the United States under the U.S. Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) program and handling essentially every foreign current account of Jamaican government agencies.” 
Gary Webb in the book Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion’ added extra details on the way the crack epidemic in the Caribbean and the USA was facilitated by the CIA. Edward Seaga was a willing facilitator of narco banking and the Dark Alliance and he went overboard to ingratiate himself into this new illicit global network for money laundering. Seaga was able to use his position as the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to establish the infrastructure for the integration of Jamaican society into illicit financial flows. One testimony before the Kerry Senate Committee in 1992 stated unequivocally that, ‘By the mid-1980’s, we (viz BCCI) handled every penny that came into or out of Jamaica in terms of foreign currency. We were bankers to the central bank, we were bankers to all official governmental organizations in Jamaica.”
Other manifestations of this integration with narco banking and the illicit global economy had come to light in the trials and tribulations of the Israeli money launderer Eli Tisona (who was called one of the top Israeli mobsters by the Jerusalem Post). Tisona had appeared in the Jamaican society after Seaga became PM. Tisona was presented to the Jamaican population as a business person involved with a supposed high tech agricultural scheme. Tisona, with no known experience in agriculture, was represented to be the brains behind a scheme of the Prime Minister Edward Seaga for the establishment of an agricultural complex called Springs Plain. It is now on record that Seaga’s Agro 21 program was integrated into the trafficking of cocaine from Colombia. According to the book, Cocaine Nation: How the White Trade Took Over the World, Eli Tisona was a money launderer for the Cali cartel of Colombia. Springs Plain was another front for the transfer of cocaine from Colombia to the United States through Jamaica. During the Seaga period, the planes that were leased to fly out the winter vegetables flew from Colombia before collecting the ‘vegetables’ from Jamaica. At this period International Lease Financing Corp (ILFC), the Los Angeles-based aircraft leasing division of AIG, was the biggest force in the leasing of planes. AIG worked closely with the US intelligence services to the point where the CEO of AIG was once under consideration to become the director of the CIA. The agricultural complex called Springs Plain employed Lester Coke aka Jim Brown as Head of Security and it was while at Spring Plain when Jim Brown built up his expertise to smuggle drugs from Colombia via Jamaica to the United Sates and the United Kingdom
After the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Edward Seaga, Tisona was arrested and jailed in the United States on charges of fraud and money laundering. In 1997, an Israeli Knesset committee report named Eli Tisona and his brother, Ezra, as being the country’s two most powerful drug lords. Tisona was jailed in the US in 1999. By 1992 Jim Brown died mysteriously in a fire while awaiting extradition to the USA. His son Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke inherited the organizational structures developed by Jim Brown.
Seaga and the Shower Posse.
Claude Massop (the top gun man for Seaga) had been an acquaintance of Bob Marley in the concrete jungle that Bob Marley wailed about early in his singing career. They had both traversed the tenement yards of pick up football and early reggae culture. The Reggae world had been shaken by the ‘ambush in the night ‘ of December 1976. Massop crossed the CIA by agreeing to the peace concert with the PNP’s Buckie Marshall. For this he was shot, dead.  After the death of Massop, Lester Coke, – Jim Brown became the chief lieutenant of Edwad Seaga in Tivoli gardens during the period of CIA destabilization. “One of Lester Coke’s associates, Cecil Connor, would claim that he was trained by the CIA to fight political wars for the JLP through killing and spying. Connor would stuff ballot boxes and intimidate voters to help the JLP win elections. Connor would go on from being a political thug to being part of the international Jamaican based cocaine ring known as the Shower Posse. He wound up testifying against Lester Coke and his cohort Vivian Blake, only to return to his native St. Kitts to become a drug kingpin who almost held the country hostage.”
The saga of the efforts to extradite Dudus from Jamaica is still fresh in the minds of Jamaicans and many remember that Dudus said that he did not want to suffer the same fate as his father or his brother. After the elimination of Claude Massop, the forces of Lester Coke organized the Shower Posse in Tivoli with a worldwide reach into Canada, the USA, Europe and other parts of the Caribbean. Jamaica became a node in this Dark Alliance of the CIA , Contras and Cocaine during the period when the Seaga administration was in power, 1980-1989. In order to establish a firm entrepreneurial basis for the distribution of cocaine in the Caribbean, the Shower Posse developed the logistical capabilities to move large volumes of cocaine through the Caribbean. According to street legend this particular posse got its name from the JLP election slogan ‘Shower’, which was a response to the PNP’s ‘Power’ that was coined from Manley’s ‘Power for the people’ slogan in the 1970s. One other source noted that the name shower had been taken from a speech by Edward Seaga where he promised that: ‘Blessings will shower from the sky and money going jingle in your pockets.’ Seaga knew that this money was not coming from the production of goods and services within Jamaica.
Edward Seaga had skillfully studied the duplicity of the war on drugs in order manipulate the Jamaican electorate on the integration of Jamaica in the international money laundering business. When Seaga lost the elections in 1989, Jim Brown had accumulated enough knowledge of the Springs Plain logistics to be able to move between the USA and Jamaica with the support of the infrastructures that had been perfected by Tisona and the CIA. When Jim Brown decided to be independent of Edward Seaga, he was arrested and held in jail in Jamaica. Jim Brown had agreed to testify in the USA about the infrastructure of the Shower Posse and its link to JLP politicians. Before he could testify, Brown lost his life in a mysterious fire in his jail cell in Jamaica. The dominant Jamaica newspaper, the Daily Gleaner wrote on the rise of Dudus in this way, “The lives of the Coke family members changed again dramatically one fateful Sunday morning in 1992. The senior Coke was behind bars, locked up at the high-security Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre after losing an extradition battle, when news broke that Jah T, his heir apparent, had been killed. Jah T was riding along Maxfield Avenue, St Andrew, on a motorcycle when he was attacked. The reprisals were swift and vicious. Police said at least 12 persons were killed within a two-week period. In February 1992, on the afternoon Jah T was being buried, another tragedy hit the Coke family. Jim Brown died in a mysterious fire in his cell. With the demise of the father and heir apparent, Dudus, an adopted son, was chosen to lead Tivoli Gardens over ‘Livity’, to the latter’s displeasure.
What was remarkable about the reporting in the Jamaican newspapers at the time of the extradition of Dudus was the silence on the role of Edward Seaga in the militarization of Tivoli Gardens.  When Seaga lost the elections in 1989, he gradually lost control over Tivoli. For a short while, the members of the Shower Posse gang continued to do the bidding of Seaga, but he did not have the resources of the state behind him to hand out contracts to the dons. As leader of the opposition after 1989, Seaga had brought the thuggery against the leading members of his own party. Errol Anderson, Edmund Bartlett, Karl Samuda, Douglas Vaz and Pearnel Charles were called the ‘gang of five’ and chafed under the authoritarianism of Seaga. By this time, The JLP was not a real party, but an instrument to further the goals of Seaga. As leader of the opposition, Seaga used this group of enforcers to intimidate those who opposed his leadership. Bruce Golding left the JLP after this intimidation to form the National Democratic Movement (NDM), in 1995.Such was the power of Dudus by this time that Seaga had to defer to Dudus in accepting Golding back into the JLP.
Seaga resigned as leader of the JLP in 2005 after losing four consecutive elections. Historians will now await the memoirs of Dudus to explain the power the he wielded over Edward Seaga in the latter years of his service as the Member of Parliament for West Kingston. It is already known the coercive power that Dudus held over Bruce Golding when he decided to make West Kingston his political constituency. Bruce Golding was the Prime Minister of Jamaica, but Dudus Coke was referred to as President. When the US government instigated charges against Dudus, the vigor with which the Prime Minister of Jamaica moved to halt the extradition led to Golding representing himself as an anti-imperialist. To delay Coke’s extradition, Golding authorized the retention of a U.S. law firm—for a hundred thousand dollars per quarter—to lobby officials in Washington. Bruce Golding suffered the indignities of association with gun men and the Shower Posse, reaping the rewards of the seeds that had been sown by Edward Seaga. Golding had placed his reputation on the line by defending Dudus and employing the US law firm to fight the extradition. While defending Dudus, Bruce Golding, as PM, later reversed himself when the US government intensified the pressures by withholding visas for members of the ruling party. Golding then unleashed the army against the citizens of Tivoli, while he well knew that Dudus was not in Tivoli but holed up in a government house in the rural areas of Jamaica. Dudus was captured in a roadblock on his way to Kingston to hand himself over to the US embassy. Dudus was extradited to te USA and is now serving a long sentence in a minimum security prison in the USA/ The full history Edward Seaga and the Shower Posse is to be written.
Edward Seaga and the debasement of Africans in Jamaica.
The mass of the people of Jamaica had struggled against exploitation and slave like conditions. These working people had cut the sugar cane, planted the bananas, picked the pimento, and grew the foodstuff that fed the society. Colonialism exploited their labor and denigrated them as human beings. These people rebelled to get better working conditions. The 1938 rebellion was the high point of these worker protests. Out of these protests, Alexander Bustamante formed a political vehicle called the Jamaica Labour party. Working class persons from the grassroots embraced this formation and such was the loyalty to Bustamente that some workers shouted that I will follow Bustamante till I die. Despite this commitment to Bustamante, there had been a vibrant opposition party called the PNP and the quality of the political leadership in Jamaica was world class, with high levels of tolerance for opposing ideas. The competition between Noel Nethersole of the PNP and Lynden Newland of the JLP as opposing trade unionists in the 1944 elections would be a textbook case in the kind of civility that was possible in Jamaica among politicians. Gradually in the wake of international Cold War dictates and intense competition for power, the JLP deserted the working people. However, the full departure from the demands of the working people came when the JLP came under the control of Edward Seaga.
The debasement of the working peoples was on two fronts. The first was the establishment of sweat shop conditions to erode the gains of the workers after 1938. Seaga boasted of his ability to attract foreign capital to exploit nonunion labor. This foreign capital was integrated into narco banking. Scamming and murder are the two legacies of the Seaga energy in establishing the Caribbean Basin Initiative. The second debasement was the escalation of gun violence and the development of garrison communities. Unemployment and the use of thugs acted as a coercive force that was more rigorous that simply state violence. Thuggery and violence, sweat shop conditions and the general hustling and opportunistic culture bequeathed by Seaga ensure that hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans opted to leave the violence and thuggery of this center for money laundering and the illicit global economy. This cancer of cocaine. guns, violence, scamming and money laundering then spread throughout the Caribbean. Charles Miller or Cecil Connor would go on to ensnare St Kitts and the Bahamas into this new front for the illicit global economy.
The thuggery and violence of this period of Jamaican history eroded the basic values of decency in the society. Being a bad man was now the ambition of many youths. Hustling of the poor came with this new political culture, while the Cayman Islands became one of the biggest offshore centers for narco banking
No institution in Jamaica could escape the stain of rottenness that Edward Seaga had bequeathed on the society. After being chased out of Tivioli by Dudus, Seaga sought to reinvent himself as a social scientist. His short stint at the University of the West Indies belied his own ambivalent relationship to the University. One former Vice Chancellor, Rex Nettleford used very sophisticated language to mock Seaga’s claim to be a rigorous social scientist. This sophistication was necessary because Nettleford understood the vindictiveness of Edward Seaga in Jamaica. Anthony Abrahams had understood this vindictiveness when he attempted to come clean on the relationships between Seaga, money laundering and Tisona.
Edward Seaga is dead. Jamaican and Caribbean scholars can now lift the self-censorship that they had imposed on themselves during the lifetime of Seaga. The Jamaican society will need to heal from the wounds inflicted by Seaga to show the world that Africans in Jamaica were not Born Fi Dead. The sufferers struggled for the decriminalization of marijuana. They are now poised to demilitarize the society. But before that point of demilitarization can be reached, the truth about Seaga must become public knowledge. In this way the traditions of peace and love will take precedence over the culture of blood and fire.
1. Horace G Campbell, “Gangsters, politicians, cocaine and bankers: lessons from the dudus Saga in Jamaica, Pambazuka News, June 24, 2010, https://www.pambazuka.org/global-south/gangsters-politicians-cocaine-and-bankers and Casey Gane-McCalla, Jamaica’s Shower Posse: How The CIA Created “The Most Notorious Criminal Organization” Global Research, June 13, 2010, https://www.globalresearch.ca/jamaica-s-shower-posse-how-the-cia-created-the-most-notorious-criminal-organization/19696. See also Duane Blake, Shower Posse: The Most Notorious Jamaican Criminal Organization Diamond Pub, 2003 ↑
2. Edward Seaga, My Life & Leadership: Hard Road to Travel 1980 – 2008, page 19 ↑
3. Laurie Gunst, Born Fi’ Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld, Henry Holt, New York 1995 ↑
4. O.W.Phelps, “Rise of the Labour Movement in Jamaica,” Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 9, No. 4 (DECEMBER, 1960), pp. 417-468 ↑
5. Walter Rodney, The Groundings with My brothers, Bogle L Overture Publications, London 1969 ↑
6. Tivoli became more famous as a JLP stronghold after the death of DC ‘Clem’ Tavares in 1968. As Minister of Housing, Clem Tavares had built the first political garrison and called it Tavares Gardens, now known as ‘Payne Land’. The high-rise buildings and other low-cost houses which were built on previously unoccupied land, were crammed with JLP-supporters. Anthony Spauldings had built up his own garrison with PNP supporters in what came to be known as Arnett Gardens. ↑
7. Reported in the Daily Gleaner, Jamaica, October 25, 1965. ↑
8. In an otherwise excellent study Obika Gray used the formulation of ‘patronage’ to describe the relationship of Seaga to poor workers in Kingston in the book, Demeaned but Empowered: the Social Power of the Urban Poor in Jamaica, UWI Press, 2004. Carl Stone had given life to the discourses on patron client relationships in a clear effort to diminish the class analysis of Jamaican society. ↑
9. Mark Figueroa & Amanda Sives. Homogeneous Voting, Electoral Manipulation & the ‘Garrison’ Process in Post-Independence Jamaica, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, Vol. 40, No. 1 (March 2002 ↑
10. “NOEL NEWTON NETHERSOLE,” A Short Study by James Carnegie, Published by the Bank of Jamaica, November 1974, http://www.boj.org.jm/pdf/publication_jcarnagie.pdf ↑
11. Walking around with a stick which was called a ‘rod’ of correction, Manley was identified as ‘Joshua’ who would lead the Jamaican people away from the oppression meted out by the JLP and the policies of Seaga as Minister of Finance and Culture. ↑
12. Ernest Harsch, U.S. Intervention in Jamaica: How Washington Toppled the Manley Government, Pathfinder Press, New York ,1986 ↑
13.Ernest Volkman and John Commings’, “Murder As Usual” Penthouse Magazine, October 1977. For Michael Manley’s account of the situation is contained in Struggle in the Periphery, p. 140. ↑
14. George Beckford and Michael Witter, Small Garden, Bitter Weed: Struggle and Change in Jamaica, Zed Books, London 1982 ↑
15. Patsy Lewis, ”The Grenada Intervention The Inside Story”: A Response to Edward Seaga’, in Grenada: Revolution, Invasion and Beyond, Social and Economic Studies, vol. 62, nos. 3&4, September/December2013, pp. 83-111. ↑
16. United States Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations. (1989). Drugs, law enforcement, and foreign policy : A report. Washington: GPO ↑
17. The BCCI Affair, A Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate by Senator John Kerry and Senator Hank Brown, December 1992, 102d Congress 2d Session Senate Print 102-140, ↑
18. ibid ↑
19. Thomas Feiling, Cocaine Nation: How the White Trade Took Over the World, Pegasus Books, New York 2009 ↑
20. Obika Gray celebrated the leadership of Claude Massop in the chapter of his book entitled, ‘Massop, leadership from below,’ Chapter 6 ‘Unfetered Freedom: Warfare and Solidarity in the Ghetto.’ ↑
21. Newsone, “How The CIA Created The Jamaican Shower Posse,” https://newsone.com/543415/how-the-cia-created-the-jamaican-shower-posse/ ↑
22. Gary Spaulding, “the Rise and fall of the Coke empire, Daily Gleaner, June 25 2010. http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20100625/lead/lead4.html ↑
23. Cheryl Walker, Civil War in Jamaica- Jim Brown,: the Observer, January 27, 2008
Plastic pollution is everywhere, it litters beaches, clogs up oceans, chokes marine life, is ingested by seabirds that then starve to death, and has even been discovered embedded in Arctic ice. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink (bottled and tap), and last year plastic was found in human stools for the first time. Friends of the Earth report that, “recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined.
According to the United Nations Environmental Agency the world produces around 300 million tons of plastic each year, half of which is single-use items, food packaging mainly. Of this colossal total a mere 14 percent is collected for recycling, and only 9 percent actually gets recycled; 12 percent is incinerated releasing highly poisonous fumes. The rest – nearly 80 percent – ends up in landfill, or worse still, is illegally dumped or thrown into the oceans; around eight million tons of plastic finds its way into the oceans annually, and while some of the environmental damage plastics cause is clear the full impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems is not yet apparent.
Plastic recycling rates are appalling and considerably lower than other industrial materials; recycling of steel aluminum, copper and paper e.g., is estimated to be 50 percent, and plastic doesn’t disappear it just gets smaller and smaller, reducing over hundreds or even thousands of years into tiny micro-plastics and nano plastics.
A Wakeup Call
Levels of plastic waste vary from country to country; based on the 2018 report ‘Plastic Pollution’, daily per capita plastic waste in the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Kuwait and Guyana is over “ten times higher than across countries such as India, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh.”
Unsurprisingly, given its huge population (1.3 billion) and large manufacturing sector, China produces the greatest amount of plastic waste in the world, 59.8 million tons per year. However, at just .12 kilograms (4 ounces) per capita per day, this equates to one of the lowest levels of per person plastic waste in the world. The USA (population 327 million – 25% of China) is responsible for 37.83 million tons per year, or .34 kilograms (12 ounces) per person per day, three times that of China. America also produces “more than 275,000 tons of plastic litter at risk of entering rivers and oceans annually.” Germany produces 14.48 million tons per year, which at .46 kilograms (just over a pound) per person per day is one of the highest levels in the world, but unlike the US, Germany has on of the highest recycling rates in the world – recycling an estimated 48% (US 9%) of its plastic waste.
Since the 1980s recycling has been regarded as the environmentally responsible way to deal with the colossal levels of rubbish humanity produces. Throughout developed countries collecting recyclable household waste has become widespread, but for decades the laborious job of actually recycling it has been exported, mainly to China. But on 31st December 2018, China announced it would no longer be the world’s garbage tip, stating, the Financial Times reports, “that large amounts of the waste were ‘dirty’ or ‘hazardous’ and thus a threat to the environment.” The “National Sword” policy introduced by the Chinese government has resulted in China and Hong Kong reducing plastic waste imports from G7 countries, from 60% in the first half of 2017, to less than 10% for the same period in 2018. Overall recovered plastic imports to China have fallen by 99%.
China now only wants waste that does not cause pollution and meets certain cleanliness criteria. It’s a massive change to the recycling model that was long overdue and has caused chaos on many countries in the west, with large amounts of waste that should have been recycled being burnt or stockpiled. Desperate to find an alternative distant dumping ground to China, huge amounts of plastic waste have been shipped to south-east Asia. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, where the largest quantity has gone; according to Greenpeace, imports of plastic waste to Malaysia increased from 168,500 tons in 2016 to 456,000 tons in the first six months of 2018, most of the rubbish coming from UK, Germany, Spain, France Australia and US.
The influx of such large quantities of toxic waste into these countries has led to contaminated water, crop death and respiratory illnesses. In May the Philippines forced Canada to take back “69 containers containing 1,500 tons of waste that had been exported in 2013 and 2014,” The Guardian reported. Other countries have responded in a similar way, with outrage: Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam have all introduced legislation to stop contaminated waste arriving in their ports. The Malaysian environment minister, Yeo Bee Yin, said, “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world. We will send back [the waste] to the original countries.” Containers of illegal rubbish from Spain have been returned and a further 3,000 tons of illegally imported plastic waste from US, UK, Australia, France and Canada has also been shipped back.
The steps China has taken and the understandable anger of south-east Asian countries should serve as a wakeup call to western states, whose complacency and arrogance is fueling the environmental crisis. It is time that developed countries stopped exploiting poorer countries and accepted responsibility for their own plastic (and other) waste. Recycling needs to be recognized by western governments as an environmental necessity, a social imperative. As a business it is conditioned by business methods and motives; corruption and illegal practices abound, profit and costs become primary considerations and obstacles to environmental sanity; it is a great deal cheaper e.g., to incinerate plastic waste, or dump it in a forest or the oceans, than it is to recycle it, which is labor intensive.
In addition to recycling their own rubbish, developed nations, who are largely responsible for the environmental crisis, need to be cooperating with poorer countries, where most mismanagement of waste occurs. Helping them to design efficient waste management systems and financially supporting such schemes. If plastic pollution is to be reduced and effective recycling systems established, cooperation is essential.
How to shop: Zero waste
The power to bring about fundamental changes through responsible policymaking, investment in green technologies and education rests with governments; they have a duty to act urgently and radically.
Certain fundamental steps need to be taken: drastically reduce plastic use; eliminate single-use plastics altogether; recycle more – 9% is shameful. Invest in high-tech recycling facilities/waste management systems; ensure plastic products can be recycled; introduce national recycling standards (in the UK e.g., what local authorities will/will not accept varies) as well as worldwide agreements, with countries that lead the way on recycling, like Germany and Sweden being widely consulted.
In a positive move last year at the G7 summit, five countries –UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the EU – signed the Ocean Plastics Charter. They pledged “to increase plastic recycling by 50% and work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or recoverable plastics by 2030.” The USA and Japan did not sign. Plastic is the third largest manufacturing industry in America, producing 19.5% of the world’s plastic; President Trump didn’t even attend the G7 climate change and environment talks.
Individuals also have a crucial part to play in dealing with plastic waste and making politicians enact the radical changes required.
We can all reduce the amount of waste we produce; aim at Zero waste, embrace simpler, environmentally responsible lifestyles, shop in Zero waste shops, where customers take their own containers and refill them from large dispensers. Western supermarket chains are responsible for colossal amounts of plastic waste and need to radically change the way their products are designed, packaged and sold; in the UK, Waitrose, which has 5% market share, has introduced a pilot scheme in an Oxford branch where food dispensers are being trialed, encouraging customers to use refillable tubs and jars, their own or those freely provided by the shop.
It is a common-sense move that all supermarket chains in western countries need to adopt, it is the environmentally right way to shop and, logically, products not sold in plastic should be less expensive. Zero waste shopping should be the aim, plenty of customers want it, and the environment is demanding it. Plastic pollution is one aspect of the global environmental crisis, a crisis rooted in consumerism and a socio-economic system championed by developed nations, which promotes greed, selfishness and division. Radical systemic changes are required together with changes in lifestyle and values if the environmental vandalism is to come to an end and the planet is to be healed.