Counterpunch Articles

Two White Men

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

There have been fifty-six presidential elections in the United States since the first in 1788. In each of them, two white men (with one exception) have competed for the privilege of leading this country, and, (without exception), each and every pair of them has been dedicated to this nation’s not-so-hidden agenda–the maintenance of white-male supremacy–a system of oppression first established by Columbus, in 1492. This November 3rd, presidential election number fifty-eight will be held and, true to form, will be a contest between two white men who, I suggest, both share the ingrained, cultural assumption that their sex and skin color makes them entitled to rule and otherwise enjoy the privileges of wealth and power. So it is that every four years, we make a ‘choice’ between two white men deeply implicated in white-male supremacy.

How do we know this?

Our institutions, which our presidents are sworn to uphold, are designed to maintain this privilege. The U.S. Supreme Court is an oracle that claims every question in the present can be answered by precedent. This is a country that defines itself by reference to the past. Never mind that our past is founded on the slave labor of Black Americans and the genocidal elimination of Native Americans. Its innate prejudice is further elaborated by the Chinese Exclusion acts, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mass incarceration of black and brown men, and, most recently, the heinous acts of family separation and commitment to concentration camps that await Mexican and Central American immigrants. These are acts committed under the full protection of the laws and institutions of the United States, and by a leadership that has fully internalized the validity of white-male supremacy.

How do we know this?

Women, through much of American history, had a status little better than slaves. In her paper, Race and Gender Discrimination: A Historical Case for Equal Treatment under the Fourteenth Amendment, 1994, Sandra L. Rierson, a noted legal scholar, writes,

“Historically, women and Blacks in America have shared a common experience, especially in the context of those rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Sexism and racism in American society have prevented women of all races and Black men from enjoying the rights–civil, social, and political –to which they are entitled under the Constitution.”

This is a country where women are treated, regardless of color, as inferior beings – politely, the weaker sex – and denied the constitutional protection of equal rights; their voting rights only tardily granted in 1920. Control over their own bodies is ever threatened. Despite their critical role in social reproduction, the system pays them nothing for their domestic labor and less than men for their work outside the home. If they work, it likely denies them paid maternity leave and then fails to provide child-care and other social services for their children. White males may suffer many deprivations, but they are forever bolstered by the notion that they are called upon to uphold these systems of prejudice. Whatever impoverishment or indignities they may suffer, they can exult in this power that society grants them. The worst of them – bullies all – become politicians and even presidential candidates.

How do we know this?

Our government fights wars of Empire that are extensions of the colonial urge to exploit people of color and to extract wealth from the lands upon which they depend for their survival. The territory that now constitutes the United States includes the thirteen original colonies liberated from the British in 1783; Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase, negotiated from the French in 1803; Texas, a vast swathe of the southwest and all of California, acquired from a defeated Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 1848; Alaska purchased from the Russians in 1867; and Hawaii annexed in 1898 by President McKinley – all lands sustainably inhabited solely by their indigenous peoples before Columbus. The nation’s late nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial adventurism in Central America and the Pacific similarly depended on Imperial notions of racial and civilizational superiority.

After its reluctant, laggardly participation in the twentieth century’s two World Wars, America has pursued an almost continuous string of regional wars in the Mid-east, Africa and Asia that have all exhibited racist characteristics. When WWII broadened to the Pacific theater, this country’s innate prejudices fully emerged. In the concluding act of that war, it is unlikely that the U.S. would have dropped two gratuitous, experimental atomic bombs on white civilian populations. It was the in-grained white supremacism of the president and his generals that doomed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

How do we know this?

The economic and health conditions in the US reflect the profound racism and sexism inherent in all its commercial, financial and governmental institutions. The Brookings Institute estimates that the average wealth of white families is almost ten times greater than that of Black families. This disparity is only amplified in the current pandemic in which infection and death rates recorded in populations of color are up to five times higher than in the non-Hispanic, white population, according to the CDC. Essential workers in the U.S. are predominantly of color and disproportionately female. Many of the disadvantages experienced by the country’s non-white population can be attributed to historical circumstances. But these circumstances have baked-in prejudice at the heart of American society, and it is this prejudice that is reaffirmed, every four years, in the investiture of a white man as president in an act of profound practical and symbolic significance. It betokens the population’s subservience to the white-male and confirms the patriarchalism evident at every level of social organization.

To make these arguments is to veer into the realm of the glaringly obvious. Yet, many of the historical antecedents that confirm the genesis of the American Republic as a constitutionally racist and sexist society, upheld both by its presidents and its most revered institutions of governance, are obscured by the multi-layered mythology that emphasizes the country’s Enlightenment credentials as a cradle of freedom and equality. But the language in the Declaration of Independence self-evidently establishes it to be a sexist document, typical of its time, while it entirely ignores the considerable presence of enslaved Africans within the colonies when it blithely suggests that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

The U.S. Constitution of 1787 began as a document that permitted slavery under State law and confirmed the continuation of the slave trade until 1816. The notorious compromise that resulted in the inclusion of the Fugitive Slave Clause (Article IV, Section2, Clause 3), made all Americans of that time a party to the dehumanization of African Americans as fungible economic objects, obliging them to return fleeing slaves to their lives of enslavement. It made all Americans a party to the crass reduction of Black men to three-fifths of their headcount in order to provide states in which they were held the political clout to uphold the institution of slavery.

In denial of this history, the administration of Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on Combatting Race and Sex Stereotyping, on September, 22. Its purpose is to roll back the progress made this summer by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in exposing the falsehood that all Americans, of whatever gender or race, are equal under the laws of the Republic. Trump’s Order denounces, “the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.” The Executive Order goes on to suggest that, “This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world. Although presented as new and revolutionary, they resurrect the discredited notions of the nineteenth century’s apologists for slavery who, like President Lincoln’s rival Stephen A. Douglas, maintained that our government “was made on the white basis…by white men, for the benefit of white men.”

The Executive Order presents a laughably sanitized version of American history any refutation of which is threatening, it suggests, to the country’s ability to realize its ‘destiny.’ The bombast is recognizably Trumpian as we read, “Our Founding documents rejected these racialized views of America, which were soundly defeated on the blood-stained battlefields of the Civil War. Yet they are now being repackaged and sold as cutting-edge insights. They are designed to divide us and to prevent us from uniting as one people in pursuit of one common destiny for our great country.”

America’s ‘common destiny’ in the late eighteenth century was to secure Indian lands beyond the Appalachians. Following their victory over the French in the Seven Years War, the British had declared, in King George’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, that this territory was to be the exclusive province of Native peoples. However, they were already lightly settled by colonists and it is where at least two of our revered Founding Fathers, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were engaged in land speculation. Britain, as the sole colonial power after the war, stood in the way of such speculation because of its promised protection of the Indian tribes residing on the prospective real estate. It was this fact that weighed far more heavily than the price of tea in the Founding Father’s decision to declare independence from Britain. By the middle of the nineteenth century, ‘Manifest Destiny’ would be declared as the ideology that validated the dispossession of native peoples across the continent and, by century’s end, the almost total, government sponsored, destruction of the vast buffalo herds that had been central to the survival the Great Plains tribes.

The nineteenth century English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, noted that in antebellum American society, Blacks were forced to do agricultural labor and women coerced to marry and produce children – echoing the primordial oppression of the weak by the strong. Manifestations of race and gender oppression have changed over time, but they remain obdurate, and are now fully systematized in our revered institutions. Their removal requires radical institutional dismantling, yet we continue to elect our presidents to defend these bastions of the indefensible. In the election of 2020, to paraphrase James Carville’s 1992 dictum, “It’s the Institutions stupid.” In this epiphany is revealed the horrifying truth that the voting public is unknowingly complicit in the elaborate mythology that preserves the nation’s racism and sexism – the twin supports of its overarching ideology of white-male supremacy.


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Brennan’s Nuremberg Defense: One More Whitewash of the CIA’s Torture Program

CIAs official portrait of John Brennan – Public Domain

With the publication of “Undaunted: My Fight Against America’s Enemies at Home and Abroad,” John O. Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has joined an exclusive list of CIA directors and deputy directors who have misled the U.S. Congress and the American people.  This list includes Richard Helms, William Casey, Robert Gates, George Tenet, John McLaughlin, and Michael Morell.  The examples of Gates and Brennan are particularly egregious because they were career intelligence officers from the directorate of intelligence that prided itself on “telling truth to power.”

Bob Gates refused to tell “truth to power” regarding Iran-contra and, as a result, he had to withdraw his nomination as CIA director in 1986.  Gates did so after the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, David Boren (D-OK), alerted him that the committee believed he had lied about Iran-contra and therefore would not be recommended for confirmation.  Similarly, John Brennan had to turn down President Barack Obama’s preference for naming Brennan as CIA director, since Brennan’s acquiescence with the sadistic policy of torture and abuse and the cover-up of the shoot down of a missionary plane in Peru would create confirmation problems.  Interestingly, both Gates and Brennan managed to rehabilitate their credentials over a four-year period, and withstood significant opposition to be confirmed to lead CIA the second time around.

Brennan claims to have written a “brutally honest memoir” and stresses the importance of integrity, which is why the shadings and outright deceits of his story are particularly troublesome.  Brennan maintains that he was not in the chain of command for decisions to conduct extraordinary renditions and torture and abuse, but he was chief of staff and deputy executive director under CIA director Tenet when these decisions were made.  In his memoir, Brennan states that he decided against a career in clandestine operations because he thoroughly opposed tactics of “intimidation, bullying, and threats of physical violence” in coercing “individuals to cooperate with us.”  Years later, however, he expressed no opposition to tactics of waterboarding and actual physical violence as well as the renditions policy that sent suspects to Arab intelligence services that conducted their own sadistic practices.  These policies were violations of U.S. law, international law, and the U.S. Constitution.

When the Senate intelligence committee conducted an investigation of these unconscionable practices, it was CIA director Brennan who told the committee’s chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that it was “beyond the scope of reason” to think the CIA would block the Senate investigation and hack into the committee’s computers.  We learned later that Brennan not only knew about the obstruction of the investigation, a violation of the separation of powers, but had ordered a CIA lawyer to conduct the search.  It took then Vice President Joe Biden to coax an apology from Brennan to Feinstein for the damage he caused to CIA’s relations with the Senate intelligence committee.

In his memoir, Brennan sees the Senate’s investigation as a “congressional hunting expedition,” and describes the report itself as “tortured.”  He fails to deal with the important findings of the report that document the practices of torture and abuse that started before the Department of Justice memoranda sanctioned certain practices, and the fact that CIA interrogators went far beyond what department lawyers determined to be acceptable.  Brennan obviously has no understanding or appreciation for the international rejection of the Nuremberg defense that deems no guilt for committing illegal actions ordered by a superior officer or official.

In fact, Brennan fashions his own Nuremberg defense, arguing that the CIA didn’t decide on its own to conduct the unconscionable covert-action program known as “Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI).”  Brennan absolves himself of any guilt by arguing that all CIA covert-action programs are authorized by a formal written document signed by the president.  He emphasizes that the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, wrongly believed to have greater influence within al-Qaeda than was the case, was carried out under the authority of President George W. Bush and the Department of Justice.  He audaciously credits CIA officers and medical personnel with making sure Zubaydah didn’t drown.  Brennan doesn’t mention that Zubaydah was waterboarded numerous times, which not even the worst DoJ lawyers such as John Yoo and Jay Bybee favored. And he doesn’t mention that the CIA had to hire contractors to conduct much of this activity because so many CIA medical personnel and clandestine officers refused to participate.

CIA director Gina Haspel ran the prison where Zubaydah was tortured “24 hours a day, for 17 straight days” in August 2002.  Brennan and other CIA directors reject the word “torture,” but the following is from the Senate intelligence committee’s declassified summary:

“From August 4, 2002, through August 23, 2002, the CIA subjected Zubaydah to its enhanced interrogation techniques on a near 24-hour-per-day basis.  After Zubaydah had been in complete isolation for 47 days, the most aggressive interrogation phase began….  Security personnel entered the cell, shackled and hooded Zubaydah, and removed his towel.  (Zubaydah was then naked.)  The interrogators placed a rolled towel around his neck as a collar, and backed him up to the cell wall (an interrogator acknowledged the collar was used to slam Zubaydah against a concrete wall).  After six days of interrogation, the CIA team informed headquarters that they believed it was unlikely Zubaydah “had actionable new information about current threats to the United States.”

Nevertheless, the torture and abuse continued for two more weeks.

When Brennan learned some of these details, he expressed shock on a stairwell at CIA headquarters to a clandestine operations officer.  A shocked Brennan went no further.

Brennan barely mentions the important role of the CIA’s Inspector General in investigating the malfeasance associated with the CIA’s drug interdiction program in South America; the RDI covert-action program; or the 9/11 intelligence failure.  His only mention of the Office of the Inspector General is to criticize the IG’s excellent study of the RDI program, which actually ended the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (read torture and abuse) and was essential to the preparation of the Senate intelligence committee’s authoritative account.  The Senate study runs more than 6,000 pages, but has been deep-sixed in the intelligence bureaucracy by the Republican leaders of the Senate.

President Obama could have and should have made sure that a copy of the report was archived with the National Archives, but he chose not to do so.  Similarly, he chose not to pursue any accountability for those CIA officers at the highest levels who orchestrated the torture program.  Obama also made sure that for too many years of his presidency the CIA didn’t have an Inspector General.  Neither Brennan nor Leon Panetta, his predecessor, wanted to deal with the scrupulous oversight of an aggressive Inspector General.

With his disingenuous memoir, Brennan has now joined forces with former CIA directors and deputy directors such as Tenet, McLaughlin, Goss, and Michael Morell who refuse to recognize the CIA created a sadistic program that went far beyond DoJ guidelines, and then lied about the extent of the torture and the fact that nothing was learned that stopped terrorist activity.  The FBI strongly argued against torture and maintained that intelligence could have been obtained through other means.  Brennan and the others lamely contend that the answer to that question “is and will forever remain unknowable.”

Brennan ordered the hacking of the committee’s computers because the so-called Panetta Review had comprehensive and authoritative evidence of the unconscionable acts of CIA officers.  Brennan claims the agency was simply trying to retrieve materials that the committee shouldn’t have seen because the reports “were created after the RDI program had ended and after the time frame identified” in the Senate intelligence committee’s document request. A simple matter of time frame could never explain Brennan’s urgency and risk-taking.

Brennan and Jose Rodriguez, the director of CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, were actually engaged in the obstruction of justice in view of various legal actions that had been taken to acquire evidence of torture and abuse.  Rodriguez accepted the considerable risk of destroying the torture tapes because he felt there was greater risk in allowing them to be seen.  Brennan knew that he and others couldn’t deny CIA’s sadistic actions if the Panetta Review was circulated.

Curiously, Brennan is extremely critical of CIA director Haspel for failing to invite him to the agency’s annual Christmas party, but nowhere mentions her role in favoring the policy of torture and abuse; running the worst of the secret prisons that conducted torture and abuse; and sending the cable that ordered agency officers to destroy the infamous torture tapes, which constituted obstruction of justice.  As for other CIA directors and deputy directors, he has praise for one and all, even director Porter Goss, who openly called for politicization of intelligence, George Tenet, who uttered the infamous two words (“slam dunk”) that were the predicate to politicized intelligence, and John McLaughlin (who provided the “slam dunk” briefing to the White House and orchestrated the phony speech that Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered to the United Nations to justify the Iraq war).  Brennan considers himself a patriot; presumably they were all patriots by his lights.

Various CIA officials, including Haspel and Rodriguez, maintained that the 92 torture tapes that recorded the sadistic acts had to be destroyed to protect the identify of the torturers. The torturers were hooded, however; Haspel and the others lied about that.  Even the torturers in Hollywood’s Zero Dark Thirty, which defended the acts, were hooded.  There has never been a time in modern history when torturers weren’t hooded.  John Brennan’s metaphoric hood on the CIA’s war crimes is one of the worst examples of the agency’s continued cover-up of torture and abuse.


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Labour Under Keir Starmer

Photograph Source: Starmer pictured with his shadow cabinet colleagues at the launch of labour’s 2019 general election campaign. Jeremy Corbyn – CC0

Keir Starmer, an MP since 2015, won the April 2020 Labour leadership contest after Jeremy Corbyn lost the 2019 general election. Starmer beat rivals Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy with 56.2% of the vote in the first round, and therefore also became Leader of the Opposition.  In his acceptance speech Starmer said he planned to “engage constructively with the government” during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pledged to adhere to Labour’s 2019 election manifesto.

As is to be expected from someone who was a top lawyer before entering politics, Starmer is a skilled parliamentary debater, and week-in week-out trounces Boris “BoJo” Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

Apart from skinning BoJo in parliament, and calling out the failings of the government, Starmer has been somewhat lacklustre.

He fulfills the basic obligations of a competent party leader in calling out the shambolic performance of the Conservative government.

But a Tory or Lib Dem leader would be expected to call-out the shortcomings of a sitting Labour government if it were as inept as this one. Therein lies the rub— Starmer is averse to declaring his political positions, and functionally, could be the leader of any political party.

Party members such as I suspect he is ashamed of the founding principles of the party he leads.

When he became the Labour leader Starmer promptly discarded the party’s motto “For the many not the few” with his own “A new Leadership” (he might as well have said “a New Labour Mark Two” with its Blairite resonance), in an obvious gesture of separation from Corbyn’s leadership.

Starmer’s reticence in stating his political convictions does not augur well for a future Labour government, and gives the distinct impression of Labour now resembling a “One Nation” Tory party of the kind that existed before the onset of Thatcherism. This rebranding in the direction of a more “moderate” Labour of course suits the Blairite wing of the parliamentary Labour Party just fine.

The UK mediacrats who flinch at the viciousness of the Conservatives will find nothing to jeopardize their wealth and power in a potential Starmer government. The media moguls have warmed to him, and he’s faced none of the venom they directed at Corbyn. A Labour return to Blairism is exactly what someone like Rupert Murdoch wants.

Starmer ordered his MPs to abstain from voting against the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill introduced by the Tories. Also known as the “Spycops” Bill, the Bill, if passed– which was always a given since the Tories have an 80-seat majority in the Commons– would (in its own words) “make provision for, and in connection with, the authorization of criminal conduct in the course of, or otherwise in connection with, the conduct of covert human intelligence sources”. In brief: the spy agencies and police are now free to commit crimes such as torture and murder in the course of their undercover operations.

The spy agencies and police have a long history of targetting of trade unionists, environmentalists, anti-war groups, and framing activists advocating for the reunification of Ireland during the Troubles.

So far 14 Trade Union General Secretaries have opposed the Bill.

The Bill passed a vote in the House of Commons on 5 October 2020 by 162 votes– 34 votes against the Bill were from Labour, 2 were from the Welsh Plaid Cymru, and 1 was from the Lib Dems.

The Labour rebels included shadow ministers Margaret Greenwood and Dan Carden, who subsequently resigned their front bench roles, as did 5 other Labour shadow parliamentary private secretaries (the equivalent of shadow junior ministers)– Sarah Owen, Kim Johnson, Mary Kelly Foy and Navendu Mishra. Jeremy Corbyn and his long-time ally John McDonnell also voted against the Bill.

Since Starmer is an ardent Zionist, it is almost certain he will not demur if pro-Palestinian groups are subjected to criminal conduct during covert operations by the spy agencies and police.

Trevor Chinn, a multi-millionaire pro-Israel lobbyist (he’s the UK’s equivalent of Sheldon Adelson) donated £50,000/$62,000 to help Starmer win the leadership election.

The official register of lawmakers’ financial interests confirms that Chinn donated the sum towards Starmer’s leadership campaign. During the campaign Starmer said “I support Zionism without qualification”, and since becoming leader he has tilted Labour markedly towards Israel.

Starmer was criticized for not revealing all his donors during the campaign—Chinn’s donation was not registered until 5 days after Starmer won the election, although it was received 2 months before. Doing this was not illegal, but many Labour party members, especially those critical of Israel’s egregious breaches of international law, consider this to be an unfortunate beginning to his leadership, bearing in mind his background as a prestigious lawyer.

My American friends will doubtless remind me that the arch-Zionist Alan Dershowitz is also a lawyer with significant credentials.

There are two other pieces of evidence somewhat indicative of the strength of Starmer’s commitment to the Zionist cause.

The first is his preemptive settlement of the lawsuit for defamation brought by Labour insiders who appeared on a BBC Panorama report on alleged antisemitism in the party. The 7 former employees, who worked in Labour’s governance and legal unit, were responsible for the investigation of allegations of misconduct by party members, and sued Labour (then led by Corbyn) after it issued a press release describing them as having “personal and political axes to grind” on the BBC show. In their lawsuit for libel the 7 said the Labour press release contained “defamatory and false allegations”.

Starmer decided to settle out of court, costing the party an estimated £500,000 in fees and damages. The party paid about £200,000 in damages to the former employees.

Corbyn opposed the settlement, having taken legal advice which determined that Labour had grounds to defend the libel action, especially after a recently leaked internal report on antisemitism cast a different light on this episode.

The 851-page report, commissioned by Starmer, uncovered evidence “of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign”. The report confirmed that there was indisputable anti-semitism on the part of some party members. It also confirmed that the system for dealing with these individuals was inefficient, as a result of which some cases dragged on for months or even years.

At the same time the report refuted the charge that these delays were instigated by Corbyn or his office. Also refuted was the accusation that his office allowed antisemitism to flourish—to the contrary, Corbyn’s office had no truck with any kind of antisemitism. In fact the opposite was the case, and blameless individuals faced disciplinary measures on very shaky allegations of antisemitism. Many such cases gained purchase because of an inability to distinguish between genuine antisemitism and opposition to the policies of Israel.

Corbyn’s supporters maintain that this detailed report could have been the basis for opposing the settlement reached by Starmer. He disagreed, obviously, and has so far not commented on the report itself. Which is strange (or perhaps not), given that the report exonerates Corbyn and his associates on the charges of “antisemitism”.

Secondly, when he became party leader Starmer appointed Rebecca Long-Bailey, his main rival for the party leadership and the bearer of Corbyn’s mantle, as shadow education secretary.

RL-B then made a mistake in retweeting the actor Maxine Peake’s accusation that US police forces are taught the neck restraint technique by Israeli police trainers that was used in the killing of George Floyd.

Granted that the officer who murdered Floyd was trained by these Israeli “security experts”, who commonly use the technique on Palestinians. But there is no evidence that the officer in question was specifically taught the technique in his training by the Israelis, and so Peake had to withdraw her tweet.

That said, the assertion that RL-B and Peake made, even though it had to be retracted, hardly amounts to underwriting an “antisemitic conspiracy theory”, the charge Starmer used in justifying his dismissal of RL-B.

RL-B’s accusation was directed at a state regarded by many as a rogue state, which violates unwaveringly the human rights of Palestinians. Moreover, there is ample photographic and video evidence of Israeli military personnel kneeling on the necks of Palestinians, children among them.

A “conspiracy theory” therefore? Gimme a break, Sir Keir Starmer!

Completely silent on the Black Lives Matter protests. Black members leaving Labour in droves.

Nita Clark

If Starmer wasn’t able to run rings around BoJo in parliamentary exchanges, admittedly a pretty low bar given the latter’s status as a political dilettante (now confirmed on a daily basis by disgruntled members of BoJo’s own party), Starmer will soon be seen to be a complete disaster as party leader.

As a consequence of BoJo now increasingly being regarded as the incompetent fraud he’s been all his life, Labour are currently level-pegging with the Tories in the opinion polls.

As mentioned, the right-wing media are giving him an easy time.

Starmer has to do nothing but sit pretty as an onlooker, while BoJo and his pals keep shooting themselves in the proverbial foot over the Covid pandemic and the impending Brexit economic disaster.

A bit like what “Sleepy Joe” Biden is having to do in his election campaign against Trump?

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Trump’s Durable Base and Rolling Coup

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Overwhelming” Evil in a Masked Nation of Lines

Every few weeks or so for the last three years, I have engaged in the masochistic exercise of seeing whether Donald Trump’s latest outrages have significantly hurt his approval rating. The answer is almost always the same: not really.

Which is depressing, for the orange-brushed fascist’s maniac’s crimes and horrors are endless. Where to begin? Here’s a short list:

+ kids in cages, concentration camps, child separations at the border, and telling Border Patrol to shoot prospective immigrants.

+ passing a giant tax cut for the wealthy Few in a country where the top tenth of the upper One Percent already had more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

+ waging a relentless and epic war on facts, truth, expertise, knowledge, science, and press freedom in ways that would make Orwell blush and Goebbels proud.

+ coupling unremitting lawlessness with insistent racialized “law and order” rhetoric – a hallmark sign of fascist politics.

+ shout-/Tweet-outs to the Charlottesville Nazis, neofascist Proud Boys, other demented white supremacists, fascist QAnon, and little green militia men who plot the murder of a state governor and occupy state capitals to protest public pandemic protections.

+ “joking” about being “president for life,” expressing open admiration for authoritarian leaders (Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orban, Erdogan, Putin, the Saudi Crown Prince, and others) around the world, and encouraging “tough guy” violence and “civil war” in response to efforts to remove him from power through constitutional means including elections.

+ calling Haiti and African nations “shithole countries,” denying Puerto Rico proper hurricane assistance, pardoning the fascist sheriff Joe Arpaio, and telling four progressive Congresswomen (all U.S. citizens and all but one born in the U.S.) of color to “go back to the crime-infested countries you came from.”

+ eliminating all references to climate change (just the biggest issue of our or any time) by federal agencies, tearing up one critical environmental protection after another, demonizing renewable energy as “un-American,” and absurdly claiming that California experienced epic wildfires because it didn’t “sweep the forest floors.”

+ threatening other nations with nuclear annihilation, backing the vivisection of a Saudi dissident journalist, imposing murderous economic sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, tearing up international nuclear arms agreement, sparking a new nuclear arms race, and assassinating a top foreign military leader.

+ shutting down the government, declaring a fake state of emergency, and criminally diverting taxpayer dollars all to build sections of a vicious and corrupt wall on the southern border.

+ acting like a sick puppy under the command of his authoritarian role model and hero Vladimir Putin while deeply in debt to Russian (and other) oligarchs.

+ purging administration officials who show the slightest hint of disloyalty, claiming that Constitution gives him power to “do whatever I want,” rejecting elementary congressional and judicial oversight of the executive branch, and recruiting an attorney general to act as his personal lawyer in an arch-authoritarian war on dissent and constitutional checks and balances.

+ trying to trade arms to Ukraine for political dirt on his presidential opponent (Trump got impeached for that) and then choreographing with Republicans a Senate impeachment trial that was an open farce.

+ labelling civil and human rights protesters “terrorists,” calling Black Lives Matter a “hate” slogan, calling out federal troops to suppress civil and human rights protests in Washington D.C, and brutally dispersing protesters from Lafayette Square with internationally banned chemical agents to hold a Christian fascist Bible-holding photo-op in front of a church.

+ defending a teen fascist who murdered two civil rights protesters (in Kenosha, Wisconsin) with an illegally owed assault weapon and applauding a racist white St. Louis couple who criminally menaced Black Lives Matter protesters with automatic weapons.

+ waging a paranoid neo-McCarthyite war on “the radical Left,” falsely conflated with the centrist corporate and imperial Democratic Party.

+ persistently and criminally denying the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic while privately and early knowing its lethality

+ repeatedly calling the coronavirus a “hoax” and claiming (even to this present day) that it “will disappear soon” while refusing to undertake a serous federal plan and program of public health protection in response to the pandemic and thereby making the United States home to a fifth of the world’s coronavirus cases.

+ holding repeated reckless super-spreader events and using even his own real or alleged infection by the Trump Virus to downplay the lethality of the disease and to claim his own genetic superiority.

+ invading Portland, Oregon and other cities and towns with violent federal border paramilitaries loyal to Trump.

+ nominating a Christian fascist cultist to the Supreme Court and jamming her through the U.S. Senate as soon as possible to help him steal the 2020 election – this while failing to approve the economic assistance that is desperately required by tens of millions amidst the Covild-45 Recession.

+ openly undermining the nation’s electoral process while refusing to commit to leaving office if he loses the 2020 election (more on this below) and repeating his chillingly authoritarian and sexist “Lock Her Up” chant at his fascist-style hate rallies — this time targeting not Hillary Clinton but rather the Michigan governor who some of his crazed backers were planning to kidnap and execute.

And…the list goes on and on and on. I could fill up volumes with a registry of the orange-brushed Antichrist’s mind-boggling and soul-wrenching transgressions against human decency, democracy (what’s left of it in corporate-managed neoliberal America), and the common good. It’s not for nothing that the nation’s leading intellectual, Noam Chomsky, calls the tangerine-tinted Twitter-tantruming tyrant Trump “the most dangerous criminal in human history.” Recall that “our” malignant Danger Clown of a Pennywise “president” sits atop a global Superpower whose planetary reach and exterminist capacity for human catastrophe far dwarfs any powers of destruction ever enjoyed by Hitler’s Third Reich.

“The enormity and variety of Mr. Trump’s misdeeds,” The New York Times’ Editorial Board observed last Sunday, “can feel overwhelming. Repetition has dulled the sense of outrage, and the accumulation of new outrages leaves little time to dwell on the particulars.” (“A Man Unworthy of His Office,” New York Times, October 17, 2020, Sunday Review, p.2).

Thanks in no small part to the neofascist criminality of the despicable Drumpf monster, the nation is now a land of masked and frightened people in socially distanced lines: lines outside grocery stores; lines outside unemployment offices; lines outside food pantries; lines at coronavirus testing stations; historic lines at polling places, where record numbers of Americans are queuing to electorally remove the malevolent oligarch Trump, who is recruiting an army of armed poll watchers to intimidate ordinary citizens trying to use ballots to end the nightmare that bears his name.

Add lines at the virtual funerals: the beast’s virus is currently resurging, aided and abetted by his sick policies and example, filling up hospital wards and morgues in the “heartland” counties he has been rallying to his hateful cause since the spring and summer of 2015.

Trump Could Go Out on Fifth Avenue and Kill 219,000 People

But so what? No matter how dreadful the president’s conduct, the demented ogre’s approval rating has generally landed in the low 40s. The last time I looked, last Saturday morning, it was at 43%.

Even after everything, with Trump now backing a herd immunity virus approach that could kill 2 million or mor Americans and undertaking an unmistakable tyrannical assault on Americans’ cherished right to vote while blocking a stimulus package as millions more Americans are thrown out of work and health insurance (and their homes), Trump still garners approval from more than 4 in 10 Americans. He remains at least in striking distance to win the election flat-out in some if not most of the 8 or so contested states where the 2020 presidential election will be determined.

It is darkly reminiscent of candidate Trump’s boast that his supporters would keep backing him even if he “went out on Fifth Avenue and shot someone.” How about if he unleashed and spread a deadly pandemic that has so far killed more than 218,000 Americans and that may well have killed half a million by the time of the next presidential inauguration? (Personally, my opposition to capital punishment stops at 217,999 killed.)

Nothing dents the orange monstrosity’s popularity with his Trumpenvolk. Nothing.

Delivering the Hate Goods to the Eliminationist Trumpenvolk

This is not surprising to those who have studied Trump’s base closely and in careful empirical fashion. As I explain in Christopher Ketcham and photographer Stephen Jess Schwilk’s excellent new book Unflattering Photos of Fascists: Authoritarianism in Trump’s America (AK Press, September 2020), Trump’s predominantly white and largely petit-bourgeois support has always been defined above all not by economic (fake-)populism but by an ugly, mutually reinforcing combination: (a) desire for a strong male authoritarian leader who will discipline and humiliate liberal and “left” elites and (b) white-nationalist Caucasian-Amerikaner identity. The two parts of the equation are intimately related: it is the “strong leader’s” job to knock down the multi-culturalist liberal and “left” elites who are accused among other things but above all of having let supposedly undeserving, inferior, and dangerous, even criminal people of color “cut in line” ahead of purportedly more virtuous, decent, superior, hard-working, and superior whites.

The support this formula grants an American “commander-in-chief”[1] approval because of criteria that have nothing with do with being a good president in the conventional sense of protecting and advancing the General Welfare. It’s about a racialized, nationalistic, and authoritarian, indeed fascist-style politics of Us and Them. The despotic patriarchal brute Donito Trumpolini is seen by his base as a Social Darwinian superhero heaping righteous “patriotic” hatred and humiliation down on the over-educated multicultural and metropolitan liberal and left elite – and on the swarthy city masses the snotty urban and bi-coastal privileged classes are accused of unjustly promoting at the expense of the noble white “heartland”/ fatherland.

No matter how many white “heartland” Americans without college degrees and with bad diets and other comorbidities are sacrificed on the altar of the president’s pandemo-fascist death cult, Trump is seen as having delivered the hate goods in the eyes of his vicious Amerikaner base.

This neofascist and eliminationist[2] base, it is worth keeping in mind, will not simply disappear if and when Trump departs. The Trumpenvolk malignancy will live on and mutate to menace the nation and world in a corporate-managed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris America. This vast poisonous mass and the cancerous system that gave rise to it have legs beyond the passing of the Orange Monstrosity – should it ever pass.

Dark Realities Behind Trump’s Base Strategy: A Soft and/or Hard Coup-in-Motion

Meanwhile, notice that the Chosen One’s re- “election” “campaign” hasn’t been making serious efforts to reach beyond his bilious and dodgy base. The Trump team is if anything doubling down on the racist and sexist “culture war” politics of Us and Them, hoping merely to turn out the vicious tangerine crime boss’s cohort.

That should be considered alarming for it is explained by two depressing considerations. First, Trump doesn’t need to win a popular vote majority to prevail. The nation’s openly anti-democratic Electoral College selects the president on the basis of an archaic formula that egregiously over-represents the nation’s most rural, white, and reactionary regions and reduces serious presidential campaigning to a relatively small handful of states where winner-take-all Electoral College slates are contested. Nothing new there.

Second and far more novel, the Trump administration and the Republican Party are engaged in a multi-level assault on the American electoral process. The principle mechanisms of this “rolling coup” (Refuse Fascism leader Andy Zee’s excellent phrase) are at least five-fold: racist and partisan voter suppression in battleground states, replete with the sending of armed “poll-watchers” into minority precincts; attacking the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots that are required by the pandemic Trump spread across the nation; preparing an army of lawyers to contest the election in states that go for Biden, with the expectation that a 6-3 right-wing Supreme Court will side with Trump in a judicial “soft coup”; preparing violent fascist and white supremacist mobs to go into the streets to intimidate voters, protesters, and policymakers in “hard coup” fashion; preparing to declare martial law and putting in the streets paramilitary forces (from the Department of Homeland Security, especially ICE and Border Patrol), accountable only to the president, to join FOX-News-watching and Trump-supporting white city, county, and state police officers and National Guard units in suppressing protests (more “hard coup” preparation).

Don’t take it just from a “radical Leftist” (guilty as charged) like me. An open letter to the country’s highest-ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley, from two esteemed and retired military commanders, Lt. Colonels John Nagl and Paul Yingling, ought to be read aloud in public squares. “The president of the United States,” Nagl and Yingling write, “is actively subverting our electoral system, threatening to remain in office in defiance of our Constitution…[the] “lawless president…is assembling a private army capable of thwarting not only the will of the electorate but also the capacities of ordinary law enforcement. When these forces collide on January 20, 2021, the U.S. military will be the only institution capable of upholding our Constitutional order.”

That’s a chilling reflection, to which I add a major qualification: We the People need to understand ourselves as the only institution, so to speak, capable not merely of upholding an archaic aristo-republican constitutional order but advancing actual democracy beyond that deeply flawed and outdated order, which bears no small responsibility for the presence of a fascist in the White House.


1. American cable news talking heads of both “liberal” (CNN and MSDNC) and right-wing (FOX News) inclination habitually and falsely call Trump the nation’s “commander-in-chief.” They are apparently unaware that the U.S. president commands only the nation’s military forces. The American populace does not have a commander.

2. Eliminationism is the belief that one’s political opponents are, in the words of Oklahoma City University School of Law professor Phyllis E. Bernard, “a cancer on the body politic that must be excised—either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination—in order to protect the purity of the nation.” For a study of the prevalence of eliminationist thought on the right early in the Obama presidency, see David Neiwert, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (New York: Routledge, 2009).


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How Biden Flubbed Town Hall Foreign Policy Question

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Toward the end of Joe Biden’s October 15 town hall session, a Trump supporter asked Biden the only foreign policy question of the night. “So peace is breaking out all over the world,” the questioner claimed. “Our troops are coming home. Serbia is talking to Kosovo. And the Arabs and Israelis are talking peace, which I believe is a modern-day miracle, what’s going on. Does President Trump’s foreign policy deserve some credit?”

This question encapsulated all the smoke and mirrors that Trump has used to confuse the public and obscure his broken promises to end America’s wars, bring our troops home and build a more peaceful world. This was a fantastic opportunity for Biden to clarify the reality of Trump’s abysmal record and explain what he would do instead.  But he didn’t. Instead he endorsed some of the most deceptive elements of Trump’s propaganda, dropped some clangers of his own and, in a classic Freudian slip, laid bare his own enduring commitment to American imperialism.

In response to the questioner’s designation of Israel’s deal with the UAE and Bahrain as a “modern-day miracle,” Biden simply rolled over and said, “I complement the president on the deal with Israel.” What he should have said was something like this:

“The UAE and Bahrain are ruled by dictators with absolute, despotic power who represent neither their own people nor the Arab world, let alone the people of Palestine—who gained nothing from these deals. Since these countries were not at war with Israel to begin with, these accords have nothing to do with peace. They are more about flooding the Middle East with even more U.S. weapons and forming new military alliances against Iran. Yes, we need peace deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but they must be deals that truly bring peace, end Israel’s illegal military occupations and advance the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis.”

Biden didn’t respond to the mention of the White House meeting between Serbia and Kosovo, but he could have explained that it had to be postponed when President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo was indicted for war crimes by an international court at The Hague. Thaci is charged with organizing the killing of hundreds of Serbian prisoners of war to sell their internal organs on the international transplant market under cover of NATO bombing in 1999. When the indictment was unveiled in June 2020, Thaci was literally in his plane on the way to meet Serbian leaders at the White House and had to make a U-turn over the Atlantic to return to Kosovo.

Twenty-one years after NATO dropped 23,000 bombs on Serbia and illegally annexed Kosovo, neither Serbia nor nearly half the countries in the world have recognized Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Biden could have pointed to this as a case study in why the U.S. must stop waging regime change wars, organizing coups in other countries, and installing CIA-backed gangsters and war criminals like Thaci to rule them.

As for the critically important statement by the town hall questioner that “Our troops are coming home,” Biden claimed that there are more troops in Afghanistan now than when he and Obama left office. That appears to be incorrect, since there were 11,000 troops there in December 2016 and 8,600 U.S. troops as of September 22nd, despite the lack of confirmation from the Pentagon on further reductions that Trump had promised.

However, Biden could have simply compared the number of troops brought home by Obama and Trump, which would have been an impressive comparison. Obama reduced U.S. troop levels abroad from 483,670 in December 2008, just before he took office, to 275,850 by December 2016. If the latest figures from the Trump administration are correct, there are still over 238,000 U.S. military personnel overseas.

Obama reduced the U.S.’s overseas military presence by 43%, while Trump has reduced it by no more than another 14%. With Trump claiming he is “bringing our troops home” in every stump speech, why on Earth is Biden not trumpeting the fact that he and Obama brought home five times more troops than Trump has? Why is Biden running from that record? Is he planning to reverse that trend if elected? Millions of American voters would like to know.

A disappointing aspect of Biden’s response was his habitual readiness to take the low road, smearing China’s President Xi Jinping, criticizing Trump for even trying to make peace with North Korea, and repeating an unsubstantiated story about Russia paying “bounties” to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops. A better response from Biden would have been to fault Trump for not following through on the peace initiative with North Korea and for stirring up new Cold Wars with Russia and China, when the American people want their leaders to focus on existing threats like the pandemic, our devastated economy and the climate crisis.

But perhaps the most revealing moment of the evening was Biden’s Freudian slip about the imperial character of America’s relations with its allies and the rest of the world:

“You know, we’ve always ruled – (corrects himself) we’ve been most effective as a world leader, in my humble opinion – not just by the exercise of our power – we’re the most powerful nation in the world – but the power of our example. That’s what’s led the rest of the world to follow us, on almost anything.”

The U.S. did indeed rule an empire in the twentieth century, albeit a neocolonial empire in an anti-colonial and post-colonial world that had to be sustained by a whole web of myths and lies. But now we are standing at a crossroads in American and world history. America’s history of war, militarism and international coercion has reached its final stage in the terminal decline of an increasingly corrupt and decadent American empire. Yet most of our leaders are still hell-bent on preserving America’s imperial power at any cost: endless wars, climate catastrophe, mass extinctions, and the terrifying risk of a final, apocalyptic mass-casualty war – most likely a nuclear war.

But there is another path leading away from this crossroads, one that Joe Biden should embrace, which involves redirecting our country’s resources and energies away from unsustainable imperial power through a peaceful transition to a sustainable, prosperous post-imperial future.

It would have been inspiring to hear Biden say that his goals would be to put an end to U.S. efforts at regime change; to significantly reduce the threat of nuclear war and join the UN Treaty on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons; to free up hundreds of billions of dollars per year for domestic needs by right-sizing the Pentagon budget; and to put peaceful diplomacy front and center.

That would have been a paradigm-changing answer that would have motivated millions of Americans across the political spectrum—from leftists to anti-imperialist Republicans and libertarians—who long to live in a peaceful, just and sustainable world.

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Nukes on the Moon?

Artist’s concept of new fission power system on the lunar surface. Credits: NASA.

Not content to desecrate our terrestrial landscape with hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear waste — much piled up with nowhere to go, the rest released to contaminate our air, water and soil — humankind, in all its folly, now plans to do the same to the Moon. And, eventually to Mars.

While our species’ insatiable scientific curiosity has undoubtedly led to some beneficial inventions, it has also drawn us inexorably towards our own downfall. Our zeal to create the atomic bomb ignored logic, ethics, consequences and the fundamentals of human rights.

The bomb brought us so-called civil nuclear power reactors, the ugly and irresponsible spawn of a weapon that leaves us perched perpetually on the precipice of extinction. But there is nothing “civil” about nuclear power.

At the dawn of the nuclear energy age, not a thought was given to the legacy of deadly radioactive waste it would produce. That can was kicked summarily down the road. Now we are far down that road and no solution has been arrived at, while we ignore the one obvious one: stop making more of it!

So now comes the news that the US wants to put nuclear power reactors on the Moon.

In the news stories that followed the announcement, replete with the usual excitement about space exploration (never mind the cost and bellicose implications) there was not one single mention of the radioactive waste these reactors would produce.

The problem, like the waste itself, will simply be kicked into some invisible crater on the dark side of the Moon.

NASA, the US Department of Energy and assorted nuclear labs are pushing the small modular reactor for nuclear projects on the Moon and Mars. Desperate to stay relevant and to continue gobbling up taxpayer dollars, this is music to the failing nuclear industry’s ears. Financially disastrous and technically unresolved on Earth, the SMR, say these “experts”, is ideally suited to the needs of humans living for extensive periods in space.

Since each of these mini-reactors will likely have an uninterrupted output of only 10 kilowatts, it will take multiple reactors on the Moon or Mars to fulfill the necessary functions for their human inhabitants.

Needless to say, so far there is no certified design, no test reactor, no actual reactor, and no fool-proof way to send such a reactor to the Moon. (Rockets have an unfortunate habit of sometimes blowing up on — or shortly after — launch.) Nevertheless, the year 2026 is the ambitious target date for all systems go. In keeping with the theme, “pie in the sky” springs to mind.

While no reactor design has been identified, it will most likely need to use highly enriched uranium (HEU) which puts the reactor firmly in violation of non-proliferation standards. As Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told PBS Newshour, “This may drive or start an international space race to build and deploy new types of reactors requiring highly enriched uranium.”

Given the utility of HEU for nuclear weapons use, and the probes currently being sent to the Moon and Mars by “unfriendly” countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates, it does not take much of an imagination to envisage the temptation for theft by force. Will the US deploy guards around its lunar reactors.? Will we see terrorism on the Moon, even war?

What is this really all about? Profit? Prestige? Proliferation? The Idaho National Laboratory, which is eager to develop the lunar SMR prototype, sees this as an opportunity to emphasize “the United States’ global leadership in nuclear innovation,” the lab’s John Wagner told Newshour.

This echoes the mantra parroted by almost every federal institution and corporation seeking to justify some new and exorbitant nuclear expense: we cannot let China and Russia take over; the US must retain — or regain — pre-eminence in the nuclear sector and in space. And so on.

It’s not being cute to call this lunacy. With the ever-expanding crises on Earth, caused by the ravaging effects of climate change as well as the current pandemic, spending exorbitant sums to stick reactors on the Moon or Mars is more than madness; it is morally irresponsible. It abandons most of us on Earth to our fate, while, just maybe, possibly, someday, a handful of people will head off to the Red Planet. Never to return.

Yet undeterred by immorality and expense, and apparently without the slightest concern for the radioactive dirt pile these reactors will produce, NASA and the Department of Energy are eagerly soliciting proposals.

And what will these lunar reactors do? They will enable “capability for a sustained lunar presence, particularly for surviving a lunar night,” NASA’s Anthony Calomino told Space News.  “The surface of the moon provides us an opportunity to fabricate, test and flight qualify a space fission system,” he said.

The Moon is seen as our launchpad to Mars. Now, it seems, it will also become our latest nuclear dustbin. If there is a meltdown, or a cascade of accidents among the cluster of small identical reactors there, all of which could suffer the same failure at the same time, it will become our next nuclear wasteland.

I am happy to say “goodnight moon.” But I don’t wan’t to say “goodbye.”

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A Short History of the ‘On Again, Off Again’ Fiscal Stimulus Negotiations

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s been more than three months since the March-April economic rescue package, called the Cares Act, expired at the end of July. Since then both political parties, Republican and Democrat, have played a ‘hot potato’ bargaining game: i.e. “here’s my offer, the ball’s in your court…Here’s mine, now it’s your turn”. This week the game continues, showing no indication of ending.

Last March’s ‘CARES ACT’ was not a fiscal stimulus. It was instead about ‘mitigation’–meaning the various measures contained in that $2.3 trillion package (actually nearly $3T when the additional $650 billion in business-investor tax cuts are added to the Act) were designed only to put a floor under the collapsing US economy–not to generate a sustained economic recovery. Even the politicians voting for it publicly acknowledged at the time that it was not a stimulus bill, but rather a set of measures designed to buy time–no more than 10-12 weeks at most–until a more serious economic recovery Act could be implemented.

The real fiscal stimulus bill was to follow, designed to pick the economy up off the floor and generate a sustained recovery as the economy reopened. The reopening began in May and gained a little momentum over the summer. But not enough to generate a sustained recovery by itself that was expected by late summer.

In a typical Great Recession trajectory, the reopening over the summer resulted in a roughly two-thirds recovery of lost economic activity by end of July. It was thought by politicians and mainstream economists that, when the reopening crested at two-thirds in July, a subsequent real stimulus bill would follow. The two forces–reopening and fiscal stimulus–would together generate a sustained recovery.

But it just didn’t happen that way. Nor is it to date.

The Democrats in the US House of Representatives presented their version of a fiscal stimulus bill–called the HEROES ACT-in late May. But the Trump administration and the McConnell led Republican majority in the US Senate balked at joining in passing a stimulus bill.

McConnell & friends looked around and it appeared big business and corporations and banks were doing just fine by June–even if small business and working households were not. A few exceptions to big business doing well were the airlines, hotels and some leisure and hospitality industries. But banks and other big corporations were fat with cash. The Federal Reserve had already pumped nearly $3 trillion in virtually free money into the banks. And big corporations had raised trillions of dollars more by selling corporate bonds at record historical levels, at cheapest rates, also made possible by the Federal Reserve. Trillions more were hoarded by borrowing down their credit lines with banks, saving on facilities operations, and temporarily suspending dividends and stock buybacks.

McConnell, Trump and their business constituencies didn’t need more stimulus. Indeed, they didn’t even need the Cares Act. That Act, passed in March, included among its provisions no less than $1.1 trillion in loans for medium and large businesses, along with $650B in tax cuts for the same. But as of this past August, less than $150 billion of that $1.1 trillion had actually been borrowed by big businesses and spent into the economy, and it appears little of the tax cuts resulted in production increases or hiring as well.

So in June, McConnell and the Republican Senate dug in their heels for two months and simply ignored the Democrat House stimulus proposal in the form of their late May passed $3.4 trillion HEROES ACT bill.

In July McConnell eventually put forth his proposal, called the ‘HEALS Act’. It totaled $1.5 trillion, but was loaded with ambiguous and onerous language like exempting all businesses from any and all legal claims for negligence for failing to provide safety and health conditions for their workers.

By end of July the only provisions of the Cares Act that provided any semblance of economic stimulus ran out. That was the $500 billion in extra unemployment assistance to workers, the $1200 checks, and the $670 billion in grants and loans (mostly grants) to small businesses. The unemployment, checks and grants amounted to government spending of only $1.2 trillion of the Cares Act’s $3 or so trillion. That $1.2 trillion was, and remains, the only actual spending to hit the economy, since the $1.1 trillion in loans to large-medium corporations has never been actually ‘taken up’ and spent into the economy by business. Ditto for the $650 billion in business tax cuts in the Cares Act. So only a little more than a third of the Cares Act resulted in any economic spending.

That $1.2 trillion, moreover, amounts to barely 5.5% of US GDP. In GDP percentage terms, that’s roughly the size of the 2009 stimulus of $787 billion spent during the previous Great Recession of 2008-09. That $787 billion proved insufficient at the time to generate a prompt recovery from that recession. It took six years just to get back to the level of jobs in 2007 before that recession, for example. But today’s 2020 Great Recession 2.0 is four times deeper in terms of economic contraction compared to 2008-09. And it’s still only an effective 5.5% spending package as contained in the March Cares Act.

A much more aggressive stimulus bill was desperately needed as a follow up as the Cares Act spending ran out at the end of July. The May HEROES ACT was an attempt to provide that follow up actual stimulus but, as noted, McConnell, Trump and Republicans weren’t interested. Their banker and big business constituencies were doing quite well by early-summer. No doubt Trump-McConnell further believed the reopening of the economy, as Covid 19 disappeared, would prove sufficient to lead to a sustained economic recovery.

Of course, history has already proven them wrong.

By late July many sectors of the US economy began to weaken again. And a second, worse wave of Covid 19 hit the economy in July-August, just as the weak Cares Act spending ran out at the end of July. Unemployment claims began to slowly rise again through August and into September. Small businesses began to close, many permanently now, in greater numbers. Large corporations began to announce mass layoffs, more permanent than just furloughs now. Evictions of renters by the millions began to occur. Low income homeowners began to miss mortgage payments. And the much predicted V-shape recovery began to look increasingly like a ‘W-shape’.

But instead of seeing the trend, Trump and McConnell doubled down and refused to negotiate seriously with the Democrat House on its HEROES Act proposal. In early August, House Speaker Pelosi, thinking the Trump administration might bargain in good faith, reduced her proposal from the HEROES Act $3.4 trillion cost by $1.2 trillion. Instead of following up, however, the Trump negotiators, led by Trump’s Staff Secretary, Mark Meadows, abruptly broke off all negotiations–without making a counter offer. What he did leave though was a bad taste in the mouths of Pelosi and Schumer, who now could not trust the Trump team should further negotiations resume. Nor could they trust McConnell and his Republican Senate, who followed Trump and withdrew their prior HEALS ACT $1.5T and refused to consider anything more than $650 billion if brought to the Senate by the Trump-Pelosi negotiators in the future. Moreover, $350B of the $650B was unspent funds left over from the Cares Act. So the net spending increase proposed was only $300B.

Trump had set up Pelosi and then ‘sandbagged’ her, in bargaining parlance. Within 24 hours Trump publicly announced four executive orders as his personal fiscal stimulus offer. But the EOs were no stimulus in fact. Just a diversion of already existing government funds and payroll tax cuts that would have to be repaid in 2021.

Both sides maneuvered in the press thereafter, as the US economy weakened further throughout September and into October–and as the Covid 19 infection rates surged once again. The Virus was not cooperating with economic recovery. And there was no stimulus to assist in that either. Meanwhile, millions more were becoming unemployed–at least 30 to 35 million remained jobless as of mid October. Food deprivation worsened and food lines began emerging again. Rent evictions were now escalating as well. Hundreds of thousands more small businesses were closing their doors, with predictions by the National Federation of Independent Business that millions would fail in coming months–even as bankers, big corporations, and stock and financial markets attained record levels.

Trump then shot himself in the foot by declaring there would be no further negotiations on a stimulus until after the November 3 election. McConnell said that was fine since 20% of his Republicans were against any further stimulus out of concern of its negative impact on the US deficit, which by October hit a record $3.1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year–the largest in modern history.

Trump’s walking away from any further negotiations hurt his political chances, since not only were workers, renters, and small businesses being ‘thrown under the bus’, but the announcement had serious negative effects on stock market values. Now big corporations were worried too. So Trump back-tracked and made another bargaining offer.

Which brings us to events of the last 10 days. Trump offered Pelosi-Shumer an $1.8 trillion counter offer–complete with loophole language permitting him to renege on items of his choice. $350B of the $1.8T was just carry over of unspent Cares Act funds. So Trump’s offer last week was the same $1.5T of the July HEALS ACT. But it was an offer he now couldn’t deliver. McConnell in the Senate quickly added he wouldn’t even bring the $1.8T up for a Senate vote because he couldn’t get it passed within his own Republican ranks.

What the $1.8T did achieve was to get the corporate wing of the Democrat party, including its mainstream media arms–MSNBC, CNN, etc.–to raise the pressure on Pelosi to accept Trump’s phony $1.8T offer that he couldn’t deliver. What Trump wanted, and still wants, is just an announcement of a ‘deal’ that he can take credit for as he campaigns across the country before the election. What big business wants is the same, an announcement, not necessarily a deal right now. Stock prices and especially tech sector stocks have begun seriously wavering on news of no stimulus negotiations. An announcement would quell that issue and ensure stock prices remain strong through the election. Even some ‘left’ Democrats like Rho Khanna and Andrew Yang–both from silicon valley–chimed in and demanded Pelosi accept the Trump offer.

So what happens next, this week? Trump’s negotiator, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Pelosi have begun to talk yet again. Trump wants to announce a deal before the next presidential debate with Joe Biden this thursday, only 72 hrs away. Today, October 20, Trump reportedly has instructed Mnuchin to increase his offer to $2T. (He even said he’d go higher than $2.2T to get a deal). He knows he’s got nothing to lose, and he knows McConnell’s ‘hard cop’ is there backing him up to stop (or at least change the terms of any tentative deal) for him. Trump gains a campaign message. McConnell blocks any deal. And Pelosi and the Democrats get nothing once again except more negotiations, now with McConnell. It’s a clever ‘double-teaming’ of the Democrats by the Republicans, once again!

Apparently getting wise to Trump-McConnell games, Pelosi on Tuesday said language likely can’t be finalized on a deal until Friday–thus denying Trump the opportunity to claim ‘he got the deal’ in this coming Thursday night final presidential debate with Biden.

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Guilty Verdict in the Massacre of Jesuits Marks a “Milestone of Justice” for El Salvador

Inocente Montano, a former deputy defense minister of El Salvador, retired military man, and ex-member of one of the bloodiest commando units operating during that Central American country’s civil war of the 1980s, has become the first Salvadoran convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The conviction marks a milestone of justice in the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have occurred in El Salvador,” said David Morales, director of Strategic Litigation for the Cristosal organization. “Justice had been denied in this country and now criminal justice has been done, at least for one of those responsible. It is the first time that these war crimes have been addressed in a criminal proceeding and reached a conviction,

The Spanish court sentenced Montano to a historic sentence of 133 years for the massacre of six Spanish Jesuit priests and two Salvadoran employees who worked at the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. The murders were carried out on the university campus by a military commando on the night of November 16, 1989.

“The sentence reflects the truth that has been reconstructed from extended testimony, and from studies by researchers, academics, and independent experts, as well as input from participants in the crime who had the courage to tell the truth,” said UCA Rector Andreu Oliva in a press conference in San Salvador after the conviction became known.

Since Judge Eloy Velazco ordered legal proceedings for terrorist, murder and human rights violations to proceed against seventeen ex-members of the Salvadoran military, Montano is the only one who has been tried and convicted by the Spanish court. After the Audiencia Nacional, a high-level court with jurisdiction over international crimes that affect Spain, solicited the capture and extradition of the suspects, the three Salvadoran government officials informed of the request either refused to cooperate with Spanish authorities or remained silent. Montano, however, was living in the United States at the time, so he was able to be extradited to Spain in 2017 to face charges for the crime.

“The process carried out by the Audiencia Nacional of Spain has clearly shown that the Salvadoran Armed Forces used their power to act as a criminal and cover-up apparatus for serious attacks on the citizenry,” reads a communiqué from the Jesuit congregation.

During the hearing’s final arguments, Montano placed the blame for the crime on the soldiers who physically carried out the attack on the university campus, attempting to exonerate himself and his group, known as “La Tandona”. La Tandona is well known to have ordered the murder of opponents of the government at the time and was named by the Truth Report as being responsible for the massacre of the Jesuits.

According to the Spanish authorities, it was Montano himself, along with the ruling elite of the Salvadoran military and then-President Alfredo Cristiani of the rightwing ARENA party, who planned and ordered the massacre. Spain also solicited the extradition of Cristiani, but to date the Salvadoran authorities have not responded.

Two Salvadorans who had taken shelter in the university were the first to help with the reconstruction of the crime by giving testimony. Furthermore, declassified documents, reviewed by Stanford professor Terry Karl and a U.S. political analyst, were entered into the evidence, helping the Spanish authorities discover the perpetrators.

The trial in Madrid was triggered by a complaint filed in 2011 by relatives of the six murdered clergymen: then-UCA Rector Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Armando López, and Joaquín López y López. The two lay employees — Elva Ramos and Celina Ramos —were also included as plaintiffs

EL Salvador’s Flawed Justice System

After the 1992 peace accords were signed, ending El Salvador’s civil war, a Truth Commission released a report naming the Armed Forces as the perpetrators of the massacre of the Jesuit clergymen and the two lay women. The commission further declared that certain politicians and lawyers obstructed the investigation of the case.

“The sentence sends a clear message of how the Salvadoran justice system should be seen,” said Morales, the Cristosal director. “Those responsible for the murders of the Jesuits and of Elva and Celina have been protected by the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office. Our courts eliminated any possibility of a legal investigation of the case.”

In 1999, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also accused the Salvadoran state of the crime against the Spanish priests and the two Salvadoran women. According to the UCA, the legal process in Spain has exposed the impunity that still exists in El Salvador.

“It is patently clear that the Armed Forces, and in a certain sense the Salvadoran state, have maintained a systematic cover-up and impunity in the face of extremely serious violations of human rights committed during the civil war,” said the UCA after the verdict.

In El Salvador, the judicial proceedings that began and ended with the conviction of two soldiers for the crime, were later re-opened, but as of now remain frozen due to the negligence of Salvadoran authorities. After the conviction of Montano, the Salvadoran attorney general, Raúl Melara, has not commented on the case, nor has he referred to the other individuals that the Spanish authorities have named as suspects.

Melara only said that the conviction of Montano “generates a historic step for us to obtain information.”

According to declassified documents relevant to the case, and others obtained by attorneys and journalists, the high command of the Salvadoran military ordered the murder of the Jesuits whom the considered terrorist threats. A former lieutenant, Guillermo Benavides, revealed in documents that he received the order to kill Ellacuria because the Jesuit rector ‘had become a danger to the interests of the military’.

The Refusal to Open Military Files

Since the 1992 peace accords, Nayib Bukele is the only president who has promised to open up the military records of the war. However, his words have not resulted in deeds. Human rights NGOs and even a judge have made multiple requests since 2019 to the president to fulfill his promise, to no avail.

Deputy Defense Minister Ennio Rivera declared in July of 2019 that President Bukele “is ready to cooperate in support of the investigations, but there is no specific directive to deliver the archives in specific cases.”

Then in September of that year, a Salvadoran judge, Jorge Guzmán, ordered Bukele to release the military documents pertaining to the1981 El Mazote massacre, in which the Armed Forces killed close to a thousand persons in that rural town in the eastern region of the country. Bukele is now saying that no such military records exist.

“To continue denying access to the military records of those involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the armed conflict to those who are seeking truth, justice and reparations, is a biased action that favors impunity,” wrote Celia Medrano of Cristosal.

In 2016, the Salvadoran Supreme Court repealed the Amnesty Law that had been approved by lawmakers from both the left and the right in the 1990s. Among the cases that can be re-opened as a result are the murder of the Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the massacre of the Jesuits. However, no authority in the executive or legislative branch has shown any willingness to re-open those cases.

Translated by Kelly Garrett.

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Sloppy Methodology: Social Media, Censorship and the New York Post’s Hunter Biden Story

It was highly probable. Given the howls of concern that social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook nurse and nurture a bias (every choice on content entails one), a gift was made to critics to show just that. Last Wednesday, Twitter prevented users from posting links to a New York Post story. The story, claimed Twitter, was “potentially unsafe,” replete with “hacked materials”. Those attempting to post links to the article faced a terse message. “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.” Facebook followed suit by restricting the story’s spread, placing it in the hands of third-party fact checkers.

The article in question featured Hunter Biden, making mention of an alleged email from April 2015 suggesting that he had introduced his father, Democratic presidential contender and former Vice President Joe Biden, to Vadym Pozharskyi, an executive of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy firm. “Dear Hunter,” goes this email supposedly obtained by the Post, “thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent[sic] some time together. It’s realty[sic] an honor and pleasure.”

The email correspondence had been purportedly obtained from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, though the owner of the computer repair store who passed on the material to the FBI and one Rudy Giuliani was unsure if Hunter had left the computer with him. Thin stuff to go on.

Father Biden repeatedly claims to have never discussed his son’s “overseas business dealings” with him. The Biden election campaign has also denied that the meeting ever took place. “We have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”

At another time, the move by the platform might have caused a shrug of indifference. But Biden is leading in the polls. Every anti-Trump agitator is concerned to ease the pathway for the president’s defeat. Every advocate for Trump is keen to ensure that flames are lit under his opponent.

Republicans saw horror and golden opportunities, using a narrative long deployed by the Democrats against the Trump administration and the GOP: that social media platforms had become the unwitting, or even witting accomplices to electoral interference and misinformation glee. “This is a power grab from big tech billionaires drunk on their own power,” fumed Texas Senator Ted Cruz in a Saturday press call. “This is a direct act of electoral interference,” asserted GOP House Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA). “We ask: did anyone at Twitter communicate with the Biden campaign? Did the Joe Biden campaign have any communications with Twitter, Facebook?”

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, could also lay some claim to being victimised – in a fashion. Her personal Twitter account was locked after she posted the article late on Wednesday. On Thursday, Twitter momentarily blocked a link to a House Judiciary Committee webpage.

It was all too much for the Republican National Committee, which filed a Federal Election Complaint against Twitter on Friday arguing that censoring Post’s article constituted an “illegal corporate in-kind political contribution” to Biden’s campaign. Twitter, the complaint argued, had “engaged in arguably the most brazen and unprecedented act of media suppression in this country’s history, and it is doing so for the clear purpose of supporting the Biden campaign.”

For his part, President Donald Trump released a few volleys of rage. “So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of ‘Smoking Gun’ emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son Hunter, in the @NYPost.”

With what can only be seen as another twist of Cleo’s irony, Trump again suggested the repeal of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the very same provision his detractors also argue should be confined to legislative oblivion. The section grants legal immunity to internet platforms for enabling users to post content. It also provides a “Good Samaritan” clause enabling platforms to remove or block material deemed offensive.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration issued a scrappy, clumsy proposal to reform section 230 that would penalise companies for removing material while sparing others. The proposal attempts to challenge company immunity for hosting material provided by a third party. Platforms, or “interactive computer services” would only be able to claim immunity from suit if they removed or restricted access or availability to such content falling within a range of objectionable categories. These include material “promoting self-harm,” and “promoting terrorism or violent extremism” though definitions are left begging. As to how one is to arrive at such a standard, it is that of an objective, reasonable belief.

Biden is of like mind – at least in terms of his loathing for section 230. The stance there, as it has been for the entire anti-Trump coterie, is holding social media companies to account for knowingly disseminating misinformation and falsehoods. (The knowing element tends to be the problem.) In his January interview with The New York Times, Biden argued for its immediate revocation. “For [Mark] Zuckerberg and other platforms.” A company such as Facebook was not “merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods we know to be false.” There was “no editorial impact at all.” It was “totally irresponsible.”

The decision by Twitter and Facebook regarding the New York Post article recklessly adds fuel to GOP claims. While it was being celebrated by Kevin Roose in The New York Times as an indication that Facebook and Twitter were “finally starting to clean up their messes,” there was little by way of elucidation. Cristina Tardáguila of the International Fact-Checking Network had a few questions for Facebook. What was their methodology in such cases? “How do they identify what needs to be less distributed?” Could such decisions ever eschew partisanship?

Twitter’s decisions had not been well-argued or well-reasoned. The Post episode moved chief executive Jack Dorsey to an admission. “Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM [direct message] with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

The storm duly caused a change of heart. The high priests of social media went about their business of tinkering and readjusting content policies. “Straight blocking of URLs was wrong,” Dorsey reiterated, “and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”

Vijaya Gadde, speaking for the Twitter collective as the company’s global lead for legal, policy, and trust and safety, claimed “that labelling Tweets and empowering people to assess content for themselves better serves the public interest and public conversation. The Hacked Material Policy is being updated to reflect these new enforcement rules.”

According to Gadde, Twitter would no longer remove hacked content except the sort “directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them”. Not exactly a rousing change. Tweets would also be labelled “to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter.” Contextualised editorialising – of a sort.

The implications for such a decision are not small fare. Twitter’s decision to limit dissemination of the article for having content supposedly hacked was a scolding gesture to the way material is obtained. In the miasmic terror of foreign interference, bias and how electoral contests might tip in favour of or against the ogre in the White House, perspectives on what can be discussed and spread have been skewed. What of purloined material that exposes state or corporate misdemeanour, the bread and butter enterprise of such groups as Anonymous? With this rationale, as Glenn Greenwald noted with characteristic seriousness, reporting on everything from the Pentagon Papers to the Panama Papers would find itself restricted, if not blocked altogether. A real boon for the censors.

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An Open Letter to Biden: 5 Easy Steps to Reduce the Threat of Nuclear War

Here is a letter I intend to mail in November. But I want you know about it now, to bring up an issue that is crucial to consider before you vote, and which has not received enough attention.

Dear President-Elect Biden,

I’m so happy that you were elected because in January you can start to address major problems in America. But before you deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, immigration, gun violence, and climate change, all of which are very important, I recommend that first you take immediate steps to lower the danger of nuclear war. You will be Commander in Chief, and there are several first steps you can take immediately to make the world safer.

In the early 1980s, I was one of the American and Russian scientists who, working together, discovered that in a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union smoke from fires ignited by nuclear explosions would block out the Sun, producing instant climate change, turning the Earth cold, dark and dry, killing plants and preventing agriculture for at least a year, producing global famine.

As I described in a New York Times op-ed on Feb. 11, 2016, this nuclear winter theory was accepted by presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev and was instrumental in ending the nuclear arms race. But although the Russian and American nuclear arsenals have decreased, our research shows they can still produce a nuclear winter.

Furthermore, there are seven other nuclear nations now: China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Even a nuclear war between two with much smaller arsenals, such as India and Pakistan (one of the scariest scenarios, given continued conflict over Kashmir), could produce global climate change unprecedented in recorded human history and major impacts on the world food supply.

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.” This Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has now been ratified by 45 nations, and when it gets to 50, it will come into force, expressing the will of the world to rid us of this danger. When Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2017, she said, “The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be. Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us? One of these things will happen. The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away.”

We are lucky that for the past 75 years there has not been a second nuclear war. Here are the immediate steps you can take to make this even less likely:

1. Take U.S. land-based missiles off hair-trigger alert. This means no launch on warning. Any use of nuclear weapons requires deliberate thought, not immediate reaction during a time of panic and possible misinformation. As former Defense Secretary William Perry wrote in his book “The Button,” nuclear war is much more likely to start by accident than by a deliberate attack. We know of multiple cases where sensors or computers failed, training tapes were mistaken for a real attack, bombs were lost or dropped by planes, or humans misinterpreted radar or satellite signals. If you ever want to use nuclear weapons, our submarine-based missiles or aircraft could be used, and they are virtually invulnerable. The land-based missiles, which would have to be used within minutes of an attack, make the world more dangerous and do not provide us any additional deterrence or security. What a message of peace this will be to the world.

2. Give up the sole presidential authority to launch nuclear weapons. This means getting rid of the “football,” the launch codes always being carried by a military aid with the president for immediate use. Any use of nuclear weapons would need to have considered thought and deliberation. The Constitution says that only Congress can declare war, and this would be the most important such case ever. There is never a need to rush such a decision. It is important to make sure any attack is real, and that a decision is not made in haste. And there have been situations in the past when the president was in no shape to make such crucial quick decisions.

3. Extend the New START Treaty with Russia for another five years. You can do this without congressional approval, and the Russians have indicated they are in favor of extending the treaty. This will maintain our ability to inspect their arsenal, prevent another arms race and give you time to negotiate further nuclear weapons reductions.

4. Change our nuclear policy to one of no first use of nuclear weapons. There are no circumstances in which we should use nuclear weapons to attack anyone. If military action is necessary, we can defend the United States with our modern, precision-guided weapons, which do not require the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians. All options do not need to be on the table.

5. Stand down our land-based missiles and begin to dismantle them as part of a rapid reduction of our nuclear arsenal. No treaty with Russia is needed. President George H. W. Bush set a precedent for this by reducing our nuclear arsenal as the Soviet Union was coming apart. This unilateral action will have the two-fold effect of making accidental nuclear war much less likely and setting the world on a path to reducing the threat of global nuclear war and nuclear winter.

In the longer term, there are additional steps you can take. Work with our allies, Russia, China and Iran to re-establish our participation in the Iranian agreement that prevents them from developing their own nuclear weapons, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Halt the nuclear modernization program that is scheduled to cost more than $1 trillion over the next decade. Sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which will lead to the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons as clearly stated by former presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, but toward which there has been little progress so far.

Your presidency is an unprecedented opportunity for positive change in the world. Reducing the threat of nuclear war and nuclear winter will make the United States safer and richer, and cement your status as a world leader. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock is now 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been. Please help push it back.

This column first appeared on

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Top 12 Reasons Biden Is Not My Fault

When the Democratic Party decided it preferred Trump to Bernie and would rather nominate to run against Trump a more corporate-friendly candidate who was polling more weakly against Trump, there were — in theory — at least two choices.

First, millions of people could have publicly announced that they would not vote for either rotten candidate but only someone who stood for a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, public education through college, demilitarization, and massive taxation of corporations and billionaires — or at least one of those things. Either a candidate would have credibly changed or a message would have been sent very loudly to all future candidates. I tried promoting this plan, and a relative handful of people mumbled their agreement. Apart from the Green Party doing its thing, and a new party being started, there was no more organizing around this than there was to reject the Supreme Court handing George W. Bush the crown.

Second, people could vote for a lesser evil while organizing educational and activist campaigns to try to save the world from that evil. There’s a credible, though uncertain and muddy case, that the lesser evil is Joe Biden. Thousands of people have enthusiastically screamed this case at me at the top of their lungs, and accused me of racism, sexism, and working in the employ of the Russian government — even though my actual, real-world employment includes working for an organization pushing just this approach. I’ve pushed just this approach because it’s my second choice and my first choice above has gone nowhere. I’ve also maintained honesty about the rottenness of both candidates, which has angered and confused many supporters of both who believe that part of supporting a candidate is lying about him.

Now, when/if Biden loses or has the election stolen, I would like to point out just a few of the reasons that it’s not my fault or Russia’s or Ralph Nader’s or the Green Party’s.

1) There is no evidence that Russia has had any influence over the 2020 (or 2016) U.S. election. (But please do send me hundreds of angry evidence-free denunciations of the supposed lunacy of saying so.) (I would much rather you blame me than Russia because I don’t have any nuclear weapons.)

2) The Green Party got a teeny tiny bit of the vote and probably gained Biden as many votes in Maine and places that have ranked choice voting as it cost him elsewhere, and is the most likely party to challenge any of Trump’s election-related crimes.

3) I supported Bernie.

4) I didn’t advise campaigning on a promise to keep fracking. I didn’t even pretend that campaign was a mistake driven by ignorance of polling rather than subservience to funders.

5) I didn’t declare “The Party c’est moi!” and run screaming from every popular position.

6) I live in a non-swing state.

7) The notion that I decided the election through my failure to push scheme #2 above aggressively enough is exposed by my utter inability to advance scheme #1.

8) I didn’t create the electoral college — I’m trying to abolish it.

9) I don’t run the corporate media outlets that bow before Trump — I’m trying to break them up and regulate them.

10) I didn’t tolerate Trump’s hateful instigation of violence and intimidation. I’ve been trying to get him impeached, removed, and prosecuted for it since before his first inauguration — but a certain political party preferred a bunch of dangerous lies about Russia and a Ukraine story that made their own guy look bad.

11) I didn’t lie about voting by mail, strip names off rolls, create long lines, or utilize unverifiable machines and scanners. That was your elected officials.

12) I didn’t kneel down and let Trump put a George W. Bush election thief on the Supreme Court. I proposed impeaching Trump for a legitimate offense from the long list of indisputable public outrages, and forcing the Senate to deal with it.

Now, if you want to spend the next couple of weeks telling everyone for the 10 millionth time to vote for Biden, knock yourself out. I’ve had a job doing that for months. But let me offer three pieces of unsolicited and unwanted advice:

1) Bring back honesty as soon as possible. Every bit of bad news about your candidate is not false, is not created by Russia and therefore in need of being ignored regardless of whether it’s false, and is not an assertion of equivalence between your candidate and the other one. If you go into a Biden presidency believing your own BS about him, his presidency will turn out as putrid and disastrous as Clinton’s or Obama’s and lead straight to one as openly fascist as Bush’s or Trump’s.

2) Bring back understanding of activism as soon as possible. Restore remembrance of the nonviolent activist campaigns that created the right to vote, rights for various groups, fair treatment and humane policies and peace. Voting is an important tiny bit of civic duty that alone will never change the world.

3) Bring back politeness and respect as soon as possible. Stop all the screaming and denunciations and baseless accusations and xenophobic coldwarism so you can work with people to do the things actually needed to turn the U.S. government into what it’s nice but dangerous to imagine voting for one lousy candidate over another will do.

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When Does Incompetence Become a Crime?

Photograph Source: Matt Brown – CC BY 2.0

I was in Baghdad in 1998 during US airstrikes, watching missiles explode in great flashes of light as they hit their targets. There was some ineffectual anti-aircraft fire, the only result of which was pieces of shrapnel falling from the sky and making it dangerous to step outside the building we were in.

To my surprise I saw a reporter, a friend of mine with long experience of war, crawling into the open to use a satellite phone that would not work inside. When he returned, I said to him that it must have been a very important phone call for him to take such a risk. He laughed bitterly, explaining that the reason for his call was that his paper in the US had demanded that he contact some distinguished “expert” in a think tank in Washington to ask him about the air attacks.

Despite my friend being a highly informed eyewitness to the events he was describing, his editors insisted that he access the supposed expertise of the think tanker thousands of miles away. A more covert motive was probably to spread the blame if the reporter on the spot expressed criticism of the airstrikes.

I recalled this story when watching Boris Johnson and his ministers interact with his medical and scientific experts, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, sometimes deferential, sometimes dismissive. Naivety and calculation are at work here. Politicians grappling with crises, be it a war or a pandemic, are frequently over-impressed by experts with the right bedside manner and a command of the technical jargon. They are less good, and the same applies to the media, in knowing if this apparent expertise has real practical value in averting some pressing danger. Often it does not. A doctor or an academic specialist may know a lot about how the virus operates inside the body, but have no idea and no experience of how to stop it spreading from person to person in an epidemic. This is quite a different skill.

Politicians are feckless in choosing the right experts, in part because they may be out of their depth in a crisis. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as they plug into the expertise of somebody who really does know what to do and how to do it. Governments often pick the wrong expert out of simple ignorance and because he or she is there primarily to beef up the government’s credibility and provide a scapegoat in case things go wrong.

This strategy worked well enough from the government’s point of view during the first lockdown in Britain, but it is now crashing in flames as the scientists refuse to provide political cover for failed policies.

The manifesto of the mutiny is the Sage memo of 23 September, published this week, which recommended a circuit-breaking lockdown to prevent “a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”. Rejection of this recommendation by the government understandably got all the headlines, but towards the end of the memo there is an extraordinary admission that is surely more important than the row about circuit-breaking measures and the different regional lockdowns.

The justification for both is that they provide a pause button, which temporarily holds back the epidemic until a vaccine is discovered – which may be a long time coming. More immediately, closing down all or part of the country is supposed to win time so that an effective Test, Trace and Isolate (TTI) system can be put in place to prevent a resurgence of the virus.

This system was supposed to be at the heart of Britain’s response to coronavirus and the government is spending £12bn pounds on it. Ministers admit to its failings, but portray them as teething problems inevitable in such a big organisation created in such a short space of time. But look at how Sage, which has detailed knowledge of how TTI is really working, dismisses its performance in a single lumbering but damning sentence. This says that “the relatively low level of engagement with the system […] coupled with testing delays and likely poor rates of adherence with self-isolation suggests that the system is having a marginal impact on transmission at the moment.” Moreover, unless the system grows at the same rate of the epidemic, which it has since failed to do, then “the impact of Test, Trace and Isolate will further decline in the future”.

The grim significance of this judgement cannot be over-stressed since it means that the flagship of the Johnson government’s response to the epidemic has already capsized. And there is nothing mysterious about the cause of the TTI shipwreck, which stems from unforced and foreseeable errors by Johnson and his ministers. Many governments get it wrong when trying to choose between experts who know what they are talking about and those that do not. But in deciding to create a massive test and trace apparatus earlier this year, the government took the self-destructive decision to put this highly specialised business into the hands of amateurs with no experience.

Instead of relying on experienced public health experts with a successful record in finding, containing and isolating people infected with HIV and TB, the government handed the project over to the private sector, pouring great sums of money into the creation of a new but, in Sage’s judgement, dysfunctional system. Documents released by the Department of Health and Social Care after a Freedom of Information Act request from Sky News, explains why so much was spent for such small returns. No less than 1,114 consultants from Deloitte, few of whom are likely to be public health experts, are now employed by the government to organise Test, Trace and Isolate with each of them earning a daily fee of up to £2,360. Other consultants, such as those working for the Boston Consulting Group, are even more munificently rewarded, earning as much as  £7,000 a day or £1.5m a year.

The failure of NHS Test and Trace to cope with the second wave of the epidemic, as predicted by Sage, is already with us with only 62.6 per cent of those testing positive for coronavirus being contacted so that they can be told to isolate.Not that it would do much good if the call centres reached more people according to a King’s College London survey showing that only 18 per cent of those infected are isolating.

The moment when Britain might have successfully contained the coronavirus has probably passed. This would have been very difficult but not impossible, and it could only have been carried out successfully by a government of real competence, energy and expertise. There was no chance of this being done with Boris Johnson and his crew zig-zagging and blundering so spectacularly that their antics would provide rich material for a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, except that there is nothing funny about the unnecessary deaths of so many people. Nor is there any sign that they have learned from their mistakes. As one German statesman asked despairingly of a general during the First World War who wanted to press on with some calamitous offensive: “Where does the incompetence end and the crime begin?”

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Amy Coney Barrett, Constitutional Precedent, and the Problem of Originalism

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy – Public Domain

Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a threat to many constitutional precedents, including Roe v. Wade (abortion rights), National Federation of Business v. Sebelius, (Obamacare), and Obergefell v. Hodges (marriage equality).  It may not simply be her ideology or pre-judged opinions that pose the problem, it is her constitutional interpretive method of Originalism that is the issue.

The foundation of the US legal system is strongly based on the concept of legal precedent.  Judges when interpreting the law or the Constitution are supposed to respect past decisions when there are similar facts.  “Like cases are to be the same” is the rule.  Respect for legal precedent is founded on the idea of stability, consistently, and the belief that people have relied on the law to operate in a certain way and it should not change unexpectedly.

Departure from precedent is supposed to be an exception and not a rule.  When it comes to constitutional precedent, the Supreme Court has only reversed itself 147 times in history.  Historically the justification for reversing constitution precedent was that the prior decision  proved no longer to be workable or that  the conditions under which it was decided had so changed that the factual basis for it had been undermined.  Precedent could also be rejected if new facts pointed to the lack of viability of the old decision.  Deference to constitutional precedent historically was firm even though the Court has said it should not be given as much respect for statutory precedent because the latter would be easier for Congress to overturn or overturn if the Court made a mistake.

Up until the Warren court of the 1950s and 1960s, rarely were past constitutional law decisions by the Supreme Court reversed by a later decision.  From 1788 until 1953 there were a total of 49 reversals.  Since 1953, 98 reversals, with 76 coming since Richard Nixon sought to push the Court ideologically in a conservative direction.  The big change came in 1986 when William Rehnquist became Chief Justice and Antonin Scalia an Associate Justice.

Scalia especially brought to the Court his theory of constitutional interpretation called Originalism.  This theory said that in order to limit the discretion of judges in making policy or substituting their own opinions for that of elected officials, they should interpret the Constitution in terms of the intent of the Framers.  Intent could be ascertained by looking at the plain language of Constitution and dictionary definitions of terms used in it by the Framers at the time they wrote.  Historical documents, such as the Federalist Papers, could also be deployed.  For Justices such as Scalia, Originalism guaranteed the Constitution and Bill of  Rights had their meanings anchored in time, providing stability and certainty.

While elegant in theory, in practice Originalism is flawed in  many ways.  It assumes the Framers were of one mind when they drafted the Constitution.  It naively believes that one can reconstruct the past accurately to ascertain historical intentions and apply them to a world they could not envision.  It falsely assumes a theory of history no longer accepted by historians that one can simply recount the past by “telling it like it was.”  It overlooks that many of the Framers were slaveholders and the original document embodied beliefs and assumptions most of us now reject. But the major problem is that Originalism  does two damaging things:  One it ignores rights.  Two, it threatens constitutional precedent.

Antonin Scalia’s Originalism was not politically neutral.  Scalia was conservative, everyone knew that.  In my books and many articles on him I demonstrated a pattern to his decisions based on the issue or the litigant.  Others who study the Court and Justices have shown that too.  One theory is that Originalism is simply a tool to mask or justify conservative outcomes. But alternatively, Originalism locks the Constitution in time to 1787 when it was drafted. This was a time when, as former Justice Thurgood Marshall once said, the first three words of the Constitution “We the people” excluded women, people of color, the poor, and those who were not Protestant.  The concept of rights and who had a  voice in the American republic has evolved.  Originalism ignores this.  It freezes rights in time, ignoring  how,  to paraphrase what the Supreme Court once said in Trop v Dulles that the law’s meaning must be looked at through the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”  Originalism ignores this evolving decency, how our conception of what free speech, privacy, or  equality means have evolved over time, and what it means to be a democratic republic.   When Originalism confronts modern rights, the latter generally lose.

But an equally fatal defect of Originalism is found in how it fails to understand the role of precedent in the law.  There may be an original Constitution that had some meaning, but over time  it has been interpreted, creating precedents to guide judicial reasoning.  The meaning of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights includes these precedents.  Since the 1980s, and especially now under the Roberts Court, the Originalists, including Justices Thomas and Alito as seen recently in a case where they expressed disagreement with the way Obergefell was decided, have  expanded the grounds for the overrule of precedent.  They repeatedly quote the phrase “precedent is not an inexorable command” and that if a decision were simply wrong or badly  or insufficiently reasoned, that is grounds to overrule it.  Originalism ignores how the law evolves and grows, and it runs roughshod on the settled expectations of what the law has come to mean.  It rips the law out of its contemporary context and meaning.

Amy Coney Barrett is an Originalist, a student of Scalia.  No matter what assurances she gave to the Senate about remaining open-minded to precedents,  either her past comments on the law, her legal opinions in cases, her ideology, or her interpretive method question her fidelity to precedent. Like her mentor she argued in a 2013 Texas Law Review Article that precedent need not always be followed and in her list of “superprecedents”—supposedly cases that could never be overruled—she excluded Roe v. Wade.  By her own analysis respect for precedent is a self-imposed restraint on the Court, not something they have to necessarily follow, and her Originalism, like that of her mentor Scalia, is either a façade for her political views or a method inherently hostile to rights.

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Large-Scale Permafrost Thawing

Photograph Source: Dave Fox – CC BY-SA 4.0

Twenty-five percent (25%) of the Northern Hemisphere is permafrost. By all appearances, it is melting well beyond natural background rates, in fact, substantially!

Making matters much, much worse, new research has identified past warming events of large-scale permafrost thaw in the Arctic that may be analogous to today, thus spotting a parallel problem of large-scale thawing accompanied by massively excessive carbon emissions spewing into the atmosphere, like there’s no tomorrow. (Source: Jannik Martens, Remobilization of Dormant Carbon From Siberian-Arctic Permafrost During Three Past Warming Events, Science Advances, vol. 6, no. 42, October 16, 2020)

Permafrost thawing is not, at all times, simply “thawing.” Of course, as a standalone, the word “thawing” implies a rather evenly keeled methodical process without any specific definition of scale. But, there’s thawing, and then, there’s “large-scale thawing,” which is kinda like turning loose a behemoth. The results are never pretty.

As global warming powers up, like its doing now, it has a penchant for finding enormous spans of frozen mud and silt filled with iced-species in quasi-permanent frozen states known as permafrost. As it melts, it’s full of surprises, some interesting, as well as some that are horribly dangerous, for example, emitting huge quantities of carbon, thus kicking into high gear some level of runaway global warming that threatens to wipeout agriculture.

As a matter of fact, according to the research, no more than a few degrees of warming, only a few, can trigger abrupt thaws of vast frozen land thereby releasing vast quantities of greenhouse gases as a product of collapsing landscapes, and it feeds upon itself. Indeed, the research effort identified “surges in greenhouse gas emissions… on a massive scale,” Ibid.

The study suggests that massive permafrost ecosystem thawing is subject to indeterminate timing sequences, but it’s armed with a “sensitive trigger” abruptly altering the landscape in massive fashion. In short, an event could arise out of the blue. It’s well known that Arctic permafrost holds considerably more carbon captured in a frozen state than has already been emitted into the atmosphere.

Already, over just the past two years, other field studies have shown instances where thawing permafrost is 70 years ahead of scientists’ models, prompting the thought that thawing may be cranking up even as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fails to anticipate it.

After all, permafrost is not included in the IPCC’s carbon budget, meaning signatories to the Paris accord of 2015 will need to recalculate their quest to save the world from too much carbon emitting too fast for any kind of smooth functionality of the planet’s climate system. In turn, it undoubtedly negatively impacts the support, or lack thereof, for food-growing regions, which could actually collapse, similar to cascading dominos. Poof!

In the Canadian High Arctic: “Observed maximum thaw depths at our sites are already exceeding those projected to occur by 2090.” (Source: Louise M. Farquharson et al, Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic, Geophysical Research Letters, June 10, 2019)

According to Susan Natali of Woods Hole Research Center (Massachusetts) the Arctic has already transformed from a carbon sink to a carbon emitter: “Given that the Arctic has been taking up carbon for tens of thousands of years, this shift to a carbon source is important because it highlights a new dynamic in the functioning of the Earth System.” (Source: Thawing Permafrost Has Turned the Arctic Into a Carbon Emitter, NewScientist, Oct. 21, 2019)

A 14-year study referenced by Dr. Natali shows annualized 1.66 gigatonnes CO2 emitted from the Arctic versus 1.03 gigatonnes absorbed, a major turning point in paleoclimate history, a chilling turn for the worse that threatens 10,000 years of our wonderful Holocene era “not too hot, not too cold.” Alas, that spectacular Goldilocks life of perfection is rapidly becoming a remembrance of the past.

Additionally, according to Vladimir Romanovsky – Permafrost Laboratory, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) there are definitive geophysical signs of permafrost that survived thousands of years now starting to thaw. (Source: New Climate Warnings in Old Permafrost: ‘It’s a Little Scary Because it’s Happening Under Our Feet,’ Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News, October 16, 2020)

As stated by Romanovsky: “The new (Jannik Martens, Remobilization) research is yet more evidence that the amplified warming in the Arctic can release carbon at a massive scale.”

Nobody knows how soon such an event will break loose in earnest, but global warming has already penetrated the upper permafrost layers, as cliffs of coastal permafrost are collapsing at an accelerating rate. In short, the current news about thawing/collapsing permafrost is decidedly negative and a threat to life, as we know it.

The Martens’ study conclusively states: “The results from this study on large-scale OC remobilization from permafrost are consistent with a growing set of observational records from the Arctic Ocean and provide support for modeling studies that simulated large injections of CO2 into the atmosphere during deglaciation (1416). This demonstrates that Arctic warming by only a few degrees may suffice to abruptly activate large-scale permafrost thawing, indicating a sensitive trigger for a threshold-like permafrost climate change feedback.” (Jannik Martens, Remobilization)

Thus, as the Holocene era wanes right before humanity’s eyes, the Anthropocene, the age of humans, stands on the world stage all alone with its own shadow and with ever fewer, and fewer, and fewer vertebrates roaming amongst fields of scorched, blackened plant life. What, or who, will it eat?

According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world-renowned biologist E.O. Wilson: If we choose the path of destruction, the planet will continue to descend irreversibly into the Anthropocene Epoch, the biologically final age in which the planet exists almost exclusively by, for, and of ourselves.

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Fighting Racism in the US Marine Corps

Photograph Source: Stephen C. Benson – Public Domain

By 1971, the Marine Corps had suffered racial outbreaks at every major Marine base in the world, except one. In Vietnam, some units were disarmed after coming out of the bush, as there had been firefights between white and Black Marines. A celebration of Martin Luther King’s life by Black Marines at Chu Lai in April 1969, one year after his assassination, had been surrounded by tanks. Racial “relations” were terrible. (As was true in all the other branches, in Vietnam, the US and on bases in Europe.)

The one base that hadn’t had an outbreak of racial violence was the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, where I was stationed. We were a base where Marine pilots came to learn bombing and gunnery practices.

I was an avionics technician, trained to work on communications and navigation equipment in A-4 Skyhawk aircraft; but my lack of seniority had knocked me down to work on vacuum-tubed radio equipment in CH-47 helicopters. I wasn’t very good at it; I guess the night I threw a 75 pound radio against a cement brick wall in frustration kinda gave me away.

Unknown to me at the time, the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Air Wing had decided to set up a “human relations” program at Yuma; obviously not to do anything, but to cover his ass in case something jumped off.

Somehow—I was never told why—I was ordered to join Gunnery Sgt. Thomas A. Robinson and Sgt. Michael G. Courtney in the unit. Gunny Rob and Mike, both African Americans, had decided to make this project real, and the first day I reported to work, Gunny Rob gave this white boy literally a two-foot high stack of some of the most revolutionary literature of the 1960s—books like “Soul on Ice,” “Die, Nigger, Die!,” “Soledad Brother,” and a number more—and ordered me to go back to the barracks, to read these books. “If you’re going to be any good to us, you’ve got to know what’s going on with the young Black Marines.” Little did I know my life began changing the first day on the job.

I read and learned. Although I had been raised in a conservative Arizona working class family, I had not been raised a racist. Our small town had poor blacks, poor Mexicans and poor whites, and we all seemed to get along pretty well. My step-father had known Ira Hayes, the Native American Marine who had helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. I was able to “get” what the writers had said.

I came back to work, and for 18 months under the tutelage of Gunny Rob and, after Mike got out, Cpl. James E. Kolloch (another Black Marine), I fought racism and white supremacy as my official duty. We learned of example after example, how Blacks were treated differently—and worse—than whites. We intervened when we could, and we fought this shit. We fought non-judicial punishments, bad paper discharges, general mistreatment—we were in the thick of things. Over time, Gunny Rob expanded our work to defending the many white Marines who had “drug problems,” such as getting caught with a single marijuana seed in their car. Before long, it seemed we were taking on the entire Marine Corps “world.”

Two cases stand out in my memory. On the liberty bus going into town, a white Marine had called a Black Marine the N-word; the Black got in his face, and another white Marine intervened on the side of his white friend; in the struggle, the second white Marine got thrown out of the bus and was run over by a following car and killed. Our team investigated, and found out what had happened, as I stated above. I got chosen to report what we’d found to the dead Marine’s unit, a light anti-aircraft missile battalion, many of whom had just come back from Nam.

The guys in the unit were not pleased to hear my report. Soon, I got death threats left on our phone, particularly warning me to watch myself in the chow line. I can remember putting copies of Life Magazine under my utility jacket to protect my kidneys in case of attack. Fortunately, no one ever tried to hit me.

Another example was more fun. We had a F-4 Phantom Squadron in our Group, run by a Lieutenant Colonel. They had a continuing number of racial “problems.” Gunny Rob called the Commanding General, who told him to “take care of it.” Rob sent Jim and I—two, 19 year old corporals at the time—to meet with the Lt. Col, and this Lt. Col. had to explain to us two corporals why he was having continuing problems in his unit, and why he had not successfully dealt with it! One of the highlights of my life!

The General had set our program outside of the Chain of Command, and the lifers did not like it; not one bit. Over the 18 months, we had numerous undercover CID-types come in, and tell us they were going to kill this motherfucker or that one. Usually, we knew those named needed to be straightened out, but a death threat put us on the spot: do we report it or not? Gunny Rob ultimately reported each threat, and strangely, nothing ever happened to the one making the threats. I’m sure it was only a coincidence.

After 18 months, we were shut down. There had been no large racial confrontations on our base; we think we played a part. I had made Sgt (E-5) by then, so even though I was sent into the A-4 Squadron that we’d really found a lot of problems, no one harassed me. I ran the Avionics Department—my Staff Sgt like to spend his nights at the Staff NCO club—and got out after four months, and headed to college at Florida State University, where I ultimately got my Bachelor’s of Science degree in 1975.

But no college has ever taught me anywhere near what Gunny Rob, Mike and Jim taught me. And based our experiences, when the “Pentagon Papers” came out while I was still on active duty, I turned-around.

This essay originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of  The Veteran.

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Nuclear War Makes a Comeback

Photograph Source: United States Department of Energy – Public Domain

On websites where policy makers, scholars, and military leaders gather, concern about the possibility of nuclear war has been rising sharply in recent months as China, the United States, and Russia develop new weapons and new ways of using old ones.

On War on the Rocks, an online platform for national security articles and podcasts, Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, reported August 11 on public calls in China “to quickly and massively build up its nuclear forces” on the theory that only a “more robust nuclear posture” would prevent war with the United States.

The biggest nuclear arms budget ever is nearing approval in the US Congress, and the Trump administration has raised the possibility of resuming nuclear tests. President Trump has pulled the United States out of the1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, while the New Start Treaty capping Russian and U.S. nuclear warheads and delivery systems is set to expire next February if the two countries don’t agree to extend it.

For its part, Russia appears poised to equip its navy with hypersonic nuclear strike weapons, and according to the British newspaper The Independent, “The Russian premier has repeatedly spoken of his wish to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons that can be targeted anywhere on the planet.”

Meanwhile, momentum to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons has faltered. Nine nations now hold nuclear arms in an increasingly unsettled international scene. Recent research has shown that a nuclear exchange between just two of those with lesser arsenals—India and Pakistan— “could directly kill about 2.5 times as many as died worldwide in WWII, and in this nuclear war, the fatalities could occur in a single week.” Burning cities would throw so much soot into the upper atmosphere that temperatures and precipitation levels would fall across much of the earth—bringing widespread drought, famine, and death.

Clashes between India, Pakistan, and other nuclear armed states have become frequent enough that the International Red Cross marked the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a warning: “[T]he risk of use of nuclear weapons has risen to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War.”

For 75 years, the nuclear Sword of Damocles has dangled over the earth. There is widespread agreement among analysts that the long lull may soon be over—due in part, to the end of the Cold War. During those decades, the United States and the USSR cooperated not only to avoid bombing each other into oblivion but also to discourage other nations from gaining their own nuclear arms, in part by spreading their nuclear umbrellas over their allies.

That international system has dissolved. In addition to the United States, Russia, and China, other nations have nuclear weapons and more are likely to acquire them. And a new possibility has appeared on the horizon: the increased likelihood that nuclear weapons could be introduced into conventional warfare in regional wars.

In a monograph published by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, US defense policy and strategy analyst John K. Warden writes that “in the capitals of potential adversary countries,” the idea is taking hold “that nuclear wars can be won because they can be kept limited, and thus can be fought—even against the United States.

What can the United States do to convince adversaries not to introduce nuclear weapons into a conventional war—to make clear, in advance, that taking such a step would lead to fatal consequences for the country that took it?

The answer from the US national security establishment, as the fiscal 2021 defense budget suggests, is a readiness to fight fire with fire: If the “adversaries” of the United States hold out the threat of introducing nuclear weapons in a conventional war, then (the argument goes) they should expect that the United States will respond in kind.

How many weapons and delivery systems would that require? A lot, according to the nuclear budget for the Departments of Defense and Energy now going through Congress. At a time when Covid-19 has shaken the foundations of the federal budget, Congress is close to approving $44.5 billion for fiscal 2121 to modernize nuclear warheads, delivery systems, and the infrastructure that supports them.

Sierra Club Nuclear Policy Director John Coequyt has called on Congress “to resist the current renewal of the nuclear arms race and to ban the use of nuclear weapons,” and Sierra Club members have mobilized to try to stop funding for nuclear war projects in their neighborhoods.

In South Carolina, for instance, Tom Clements, Sierra Club member and director of Savannah River Site Watch, has joined other groups in challenging plans for expanded plutonium pit production at the Savannah River Site. And the Ohio Sierra Club’s Nuclear Free Committee has opposed production at the Portsmouth Nuclear Site in Piketon of “high-assay low-enriched uranium” that could be upgraded for weapons use, in the United States or elsewhere.

While such efforts often focus on local effects of nuclear weapons production, they also manifest a larger concern. Says the Club’s Nuclear Free Core Team’s Mark Muhich, the renewed nuclear arms race is “an existential threat both to human civilization and to the earth.”

This article originally appeared on the Sierra magazine website.

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Decisive Victory of MAS in Bolivia: A Blow to Anti-Indigenous and Anti-Socialist Coups in the Americas

Photo: Alina Duarte.


The decisive electoral victory of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia may be a point of inflection on the continent that advances the construction of a new South American socialist bloc.

After having been removed from power by a military coup with fascist, anti-Indigenous, and neoliberal elements a year ago, ex-president Evo Morales, with his allies, presidential candidate Luis Arce and vice-presidential candidate David Choquehuanca, declared victory in the elections that came to a close on the evening of October 18. According to an exit poll, Arce, who served as Minister of Finance in the Morales administration, was leading in the presidential contest with 52.4 percent of the vote and ex-president Carlos Mesa came in second place with 31.5 percent. The right wing candidate Luis Camacho, allied with the de facto president Jeanine Añez, follows in a distant third place, with only 14.1 percent of the vote. Añez and Mesa have both recognized the outcome of the election[1].

Once the MAS victory is officially ratified in Bolivia in the next few days, it will represent a huge blow to the international right. It will be a political defeat for other conservative leaders in the region, among them Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Iván Duque in Colombia, both of whom supported the dictatorial regime of Jeanine Añez. Without a doubt, the MAS triumph provides oxygen for the Bolivarian revolution which in this moment is besieged by illegal United States sanctions, an economic war, and the possibility of military aggression. At the same time, it offers breathing room for Cuba and Nicaragua, countries that are also harassed by illegal United States measures.

A MAS win in Bolivia can also nudge Argentina towards the left without ambiguities. The government of Alberto Fernández now will not be so quick to maintain tepid positions in the international arena as it did a few days ago when it allied itself with the countries of the right wing Lima Group which continues to disparage Venezuela within the halls of the United Nations. The success of the MAS could inspire the social forces that have organized around the plebiscite in Chile that seeks to reform the Pinochet-era Constitution. And it fortifies the electoral option of Ecuador’s presidential candidate Andrés Arauz against the neoliberalism of the formerly leftist politician, Lenín Moreno. A victory of this magnitude will make life difficult for the conservative and pro-militarist government of Colombia and gives more energy to the candidacy of Gustavo Petro in the next elections.

This new scenario shows that the United States is no longer the great liberal nation of the world.  The independence of Spanish South America was due, in great part, to the fact that Spain was invaded by Napoleanic forces. Spain found itself fighting for its own survival against Napoleon at the very moment that the war for independence was developing in South America. In a similar process, the United States will begin a complicated period from the economic, social, health, and political points of view and in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis after the coming presidential elections.

The cost to the country since the arrival of Donald Trump to the Presidency has been enormous. After the US election the nation will have to implement a series of damage control measures and repair multiple wounds at the national and international levels.  This process could take some years at a moment when China has emerged as the preeminent economy in the world. We are entering a new period, another era, in which, without a doubt, one can observe push back against the ex-hegemonic power, especially from social mobilizations in Latin America by groups that have been historically excluded.

In Bolivia there has been a historic popular victory in which the citizens of a poor nation have succeeded, by means of an electoral process, to overcome a military dictatorship backed by the United States. They have defeated the military forces that supported a coup d’etat, the big national and international corporations that were preparing to strip the country once again of the public character of its energy and mineral resources. It is really an impressive triumph, given the difficult conditions within which the MAS and their candidates had to conduct their electoral campaign: Illegal persecutions, fake lawsuits, arrests, political repression, and violent attacks.

This election in Bolivia will have ramifications and consequences across the continent at a time when the United States shows signs that it has entered a process of decline. The Bolivarian bloc continues to survive despite blockades, economic sanctions, military threats, media wars, and all of the hunger and suffering of millions of Latin Americans provoked by the illegal sanctions of the United States. Indigenous Bolivians have given, this 18 of October, an enormous example of dignity, sovereignty, and independence.

Patricio Zamorano assisted as editors of this article.



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Britannic Impunity: Torture and the UK Overseas Operations Bill

Photograph Source: Corporal Paul Shaw/MOD – OGL v1.0

It was praised by Michael Clarke, former Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute, as “clear and entire laudable” – at least up to a point. The UK Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill would “give [British] troops serving overseas much-needed extra protection against fraudulent or frivolous claims against them of criminal behaviour.” It was also part of a commitment made by the Conservatives that British personnel would be padded with more legal protection against the nasty designs of future litigants.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer had his lines in order, and they were not particularly convincing. “This legislation is not about providing an amnesty or putting troops above the law but protecting them from lawyers intent on rewriting history to line their own pockets.” For Mercer, Britannia is exceptional, a cut above the rest, suggesting, in the lingering wisdom of British imperialism, that they are just a bit more exceptional in hypocrisy than others.

The Ministry of Defence has been feathering grounds for such changes arguing that unnecessary claims have been made against its personnel. They include compensation claims for unlawful detention regarding operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. To this can be added 1,400 judicial review claims for investigations and compensations on the basis that human rights have been violated. Of these, 70 percent assessed by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team were dismissed as having no case to answer.

Instances such as those of solicitor Phil Shiner are cited, that ever zealous creature who was found guilty on five counts of dishonesty by the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal in February 2017 for tampering with evidence submitted to the Al-Sweady inquiry into allegations of atrocities in Iraq. Shiner was accused of showing a “clear disregard for the rules” in terms of his actions, having circulated “deliberate and calculated lies” regarding alleged atrocities by British soldiers after the commencement of the Iraq War.

The Bill has a particularly odious provision that serves to impose a five year time limit on prosecuting crimes that span offences committed by UK personnel while serving in overseas theatres, including a whole range of reprehensible offences, potentially including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Operations “dealing with terrorism” and peacekeeping endeavours will also be covered.

What is being proposed is, in effect, a statute of limitations on grave criminality, a presumption against prosecution. Out with such solemn declarations that genocide is so reprehensible a crime as to defy time itself. In with more practical, paperwork limitations shielding abuses from legal review.

This would be part of what is described as a “triple lock” against unwanted suits against UK military personnel, the two other features involving a range of considerations prosecutors would have to give “particular weight to” against pursuing a case, and a requirement to obtain the consent of the Attorney General, or Advocate General in Northern Ireland, before commencing any prosecution. The Bill would also impose a duty on the government to consider derogating from the European Convention on Human Rights regarding significant overseas military operations.

To round it all off, Part II of the Bill also adds a time bar on civil claims against the Ministry of Defence by both survivors of torture and UK soldiers themselves who might have a grievance with their employer. Claimants will also be barred by the time limit despite being unlawfully detained or impeded in bringing forth their actions.

Should it become law, the Bill will jar with obligations arising under the Geneva Conventions. The Additional Protocol 1 of 1977 is a stand out on that score. A range of other international legal instruments also risk being breached, including the Convention Against Torture. As the legal action charity Reprieve argues in its submission to parliament on the Bill, “This risks effectively decriminalising torture when committed by UK forces overseas more than five years ago.” The organisation even notes that the proposed law would run counter to a 300 year old tradition stretching back to the Long Parliament’s Abolition of the Star Chamber in 1640.

The legal establishment is also concerned. In the sober words of the Law Society, “the proposal to introduce a presumption against prosecution amounts to a quasi-statute of limitations. Introducing a time limit risks creating impunity for serious crimes and the proposal would be an exception to the normal law for a category of criminal matters that does not exist anywhere else.”

Another submission on the Bill, written by Samuel Beswick of the University of British Columbia, points to a potential violation of the Equality Principle found deep in the immemorial foundations of UK constitutional law, spectral as it is: “that everyone is equally subjected to the ordinary law of the land: that the Crown and government officers do not benefit from more favourable rules than apply to the British people generally.”

Such concerns have not been the preserve of legal bleeding hearts and anti-torture charities. The Judge Advocate General Jeff Blankett has also expressed deep reservations. In the middle of the year, he wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence noting “significant misgivings” about a bill “ill-conceived” and dangerous in potentially bringing “the UK armed forces into disrepute”.

As for David Greene, vice president of the Law Society, something more flame-on-the-hill was at stake, and he had little desire for snuffing it out. “Our armed forces are rightly known across the world for their courage and discipline. Proposals to prevent the prosecution of alleged serious offences – including murder and torture – by service personnel outside the UK would undermine this well-deserved reputation and could break international law.”

The Bill is a classic, long overdue unmasking of the impunity that is British military power. More than a Freudian slip, it is an elucidating admission. In praising the standards of British military professionalism, Greene ignores the country’s thin record in prosecuting its own nationals for crimes committed in foreign theatres. Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Adviser to Human Rights Watch, points to the butcher of Amritsar Brigadier General Reginald Dyer as a case in point. The killing of hundreds of unarmed men, women and children on April 13, 1919 at Jallianwala Bagh did little to even provoke an apology from the UK. The most severe rebuke Dyer faced was enforced retirement. “You might want to rewrite history, but you can’t,” sniffed the High Commissioner to India, Dominic Asquith, during commemoration proceedings held last year.

The deployment of torture in Kenya through the 1950s in response to the Mau Mau revolt against British rule barely stirred the prosecutor’s brief. In 2013, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague recognised in the Commons “that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration.” Sincere regrets were offered, including £19.9m in compensation. But defiant to the last, Hague insisted that the UK had no legal responsibility for the actions of the colonial administration. Britannic contempt is deathless.

In focusing on such exceptional instances of manipulation as Shiner, the Bill is a riposte to British responsibility for more recent abuses in such theatres as Iraq. Despite public inquiries and court rulings finding British forces culpable for abusing detainees, in some cases killing them, few prosecutions have been filed. The death of Iraqi citizen Baha Mousa in September 2003 in Basra, the result of 93 surface injuries, led to an inquiry and a smattering of Court Martial proceedings. It also saw the first open admission by a British soldier to committing a war crime, though Corporal Donald Payne denied manslaughter and perverting the course of justice. Six other colleagues from the 1 Queen’s Lancashire Regiment were ultimately acquitted. Payne was jailed for one year. A meagre return.

With the passage of this Bill, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Global Britain will abandon any pretence to Queensberry rules, or rules of any sort. The jungle is there for the taking, and other powers in the jungle will finally be able to point this out. Clarke, sounding sorrowful, uses the standard understatement: that this Bill “opens up some intriguing possibilities for our adversaries, who love to claim international legitimacy for their blatantly illegal behaviour.” It might be a suitable epitaph for British power for long stretches it has been exercised: legitimacy claimed for blatant illegality.

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America’s New Policy of Demoting Democracy

Photograph Source: Elvert Barnes – CC BY-SA 2.0

In November 2000, the battle between George W. Bush and Al Gore for the U.S. presidency was deadlocked over the status of a few thousand votes in Florida. Gore had won the popular vote, but the margin of victory in the Electoral College depended on Florida. In that state, Bush held a very slim lead of only 537 ballots.

The Democrats wanted a recount of the votes in Florida. The Republicans didn’t. The case went to the Supreme Court. In December 2000, in a 5-4 decision, the Court stopped the recount in Florida and awarded the election to Bush.

At the same time, halfway around the world, a young East Timorese activist was sitting in a U.S.-sponsored democracy seminar. He was bored and frustrated. As the activist recounted to me several years later, the American presenter was lecturing his audience on the virtues of the U.S. model of democracy.

Finally, the East Timorese activist couldn’t take it anymore. He stood up in the question-and-answer period and said, bluntly, “Pardon me, but why should we take what you are saying seriously considering what’s going on in Florida?”

The American presenter didn’t have a good answer.

The 2000 election exposed a number of flaws in American democracy: the disproportionate influence of the mysterious Electoral College, the highly politicized nature of the Supreme Court, the impact of money and lawyers and patronage systems. American democracy boiled down not to the choices of the voters but to the fact that George W. Bush’s brother Jeb was the governor of Florida and conservatives held a slim majority on the Supreme Court. The democratic principle of one person/one vote was overridden by the reality of one brother/one Supreme Court justice.

George W. Bush went on to become one of the greatest cheerleaders of democracy promotion abroad. The Bush administration claimed that its war on terrorism was bringing democracy to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to the whole Middle East. In the end, this campaign of democracy promotion brought a good deal of war to those countries, but not a lot of democracy.

Today, 20 years later, the United States faces another election that promises to showcase yet again all the flaws of American democracy. But this time it’s not just the inherent unfairness of the Electoral College system, which awarded Donald Trump the victory in 2016 even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

This time, as I’ve written, Trump is doing everything he can to subvert democratic institutions to remain in office – by lying, stealing votes, inciting violence, and simply refusing to vacate the White House.

Unlike George W. Bush, Donald Trump has shown no interest whatsoever in promoting democracy around the world. He has made friends with dictators like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt and autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin. He has ignored gross human rights violations like the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Myanmar. He has gutted the State Department’s capacity to support democratic reforms and institutions globally.

So, Trump’s attempt to subvert democracy at home is entirely consistent with his disdain for democracy abroad.

The question is: what impact will the mess surrounding the U.S. elections have on the future of global democracy?

First of all, the effort to push the U.S. model of democracy has not necessarily produced a lot of democracy around the world. Where democracy has taken root, it has been largely through the efforts of local movements, not foreign advisors. For instance, the U.S. government supported authoritarian leaders in South Korea for decades, and it was only the efforts of the Korean people that brought democracy to the country. The same holds true for South Africa, Chile, Ukraine, and many other countries.

Where democracy promotion has failed, such as Libya, the results have been catastrophic. Anarchy and civil war have flourished, not free-and-fair elections. Countries like Russia and China, meanwhile, have painted U.S. democracy promotion as interference into sovereign affairs and suppressed indigenous civil-society organizing accordingly.

So, perhaps the U.S. retreat from democracy promotion won’t have much impact globally. It might even have the opposite effect. With the United States no longer pushing from the outside, pro-democracy activists on the inside will no longer be easily accused of being pro-American spies and thus might have greater room for maneuver.

The disillusionment of democracy activists concerning the United States might also be beneficial. The current preoccupations of the United States – over the peaceful transfer of power and the political manipulation of supposedly non-partisan institutions – send a strong message that no democracies are perfect, democracy is a process not a final state of affairs, and the United States is not morally or procedurally superior to other countries. Democracy activists, in other words, can’t expect the United States to wave a magic wand to end tyranny. They have to topple dictators and build democracy largely on their own.

These are all lessons for activists in the United States as well. If Joe Biden wins next month and then manages to take office in January, the United States will be focused for some time on repairing its own democracy rather than messing with the political systems of other countries. Donald Trump has done much to undermine the faith that American citizens have in democratic mechanisms like the security of elections, the oversight of Congress, and the independence of the judiciary. A Biden administration will have a lot of work to do just to restore these democratic guardrails, not to mention winning back a minimum of international respect for the United States after four years of plummeting approval for both the U.S president and his country.

In the wake of Trump’s democracy demotion, the most important task for a Biden administration would be democracy promotion at home. If the next administration can repair American democracy, it would suggest that perhaps the authoritarian wave that has swept over much of the world – Russia, China, India, Turkey, Thailand, Philippines – has hit a high-water mark and might even be receding.

The polls suggest that American voters are ready to send Trump packing. Let’s hope that people around the world, having watched the impact of Trump’s demotion of democracy on the United States, will reject the politicians in their own countries who advance Trump-like agendas as well.

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Voting Heroes

Pictures of U.S. citizens waiting in line for up to eight hours to vote in Georgia are stunning. Ordinary citizens, Mr. and Mrs. tout le monde, some sitting on folding chairs, many reading to pass the time, show a determination to cast ballots that deserves recognition and reflection. Recognition as Time magazine’s Citizens of the Year? Heroes for those worrying about the end of democracy in the United States? Proof that the common man voting remains the bedrock of liberal institutions? There are no signs of cynicism among them. No posters or posturing. They are simply people waiting in line to exercise their constitutional right to choose their representatives in Washington.

But the stunning pictures also call for reflection. How is that that these people still have faith that their votes will count? That they still have faith in the electoral system? After all the denigration of the voting process, after all the rumors about fraud, the lines show that there are still believers, there are still people who trust the electoral process, including the outdated Electoral College.

In a deeper sense, those waiting in line believe that the people they will choose will represent them loyally once they are elected. Those waiting in line not only believe in the electoral process, they also believe that the democratic system works; i.e., in Abraham Lincoln’s terms: government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Are these people naïve? After four years of Donald Trump and all we are learning about gerrymandering and voter repression, are there still so many people who believe either in Trump or that the system can be reformed if the Biden/Harris ticket is elected? Does anyone believe that if elected Biden/Harris will restore a democracy that has been frittered away economically and politically for more than four years? Obviously many of those waiting in line do.

Let me step back for a moment. As an American citizen, I received a ballot for voting from the county of my last residence in the United States, in my case New York. I didn’t have to register to vote or ask for the ballot as I had done years ago. The ballot came automatically. In order to vote, all I had to do was to fill in a circle, sign and seal the envelope and mail it at the post office. At most a short 15 minute process.

As a Swiss citizen, I regularly receive voting material in the mail. After several years and failed attempts to properly open the envelope, I now know how to strip away the envelope, put Xs in certain boxes, refold the envelope and place it in a mailbox. At most, a five minute process, although reading all the information about the different subjects of the referendums can take longer.

(I do take note from several comments in a previous blog that more Swiss citizens don’t vote because they are too frequently asked to do so, sometimes as many as three or four times a year. Criticism accepted although not proven.)

Voting in two countries takes me roughly 20 minutes. I have not waited in line. I have certainly not waited eight hours.

More importantly, I am not convinced that my vote in the United States will matter on several levels. As an American expat, I vote in the place of my last residence since Americans overseas have no special representation although we are roughly eight million and have to file taxes. (Wasn’t the revolution of 1776 fought over “No taxation without representation”?)

Also, the mailing of the ballot assumes it will reach the United States and be accurately counted. In many states, mail-in ballots have been and will be hotly contested. And even Switzerland is not perfect here. In the most recent vote, roughly 30,000 of the 780,000 Swiss citizens living abroad didn’t receive or couldn’t return their ballots because of problems with the postal system.

People waiting in line for hours to vote in the United States are believers in the electoral institution. They have faith that their voting will eventually effect their lives. For these brave citizens, individuals matter. They are voting for specific people to represent them; they are not tied to mega theories about the rise and fall of empires, the internal contradictions of capitalism or long historical cycles.

Trump has called into question democracy in America. The expected large voter turnout confirms the voters’ belief in the democratic system. There is no way to rationally argue with beliefs. They are based on faith. That so many U.S. citizens have this faith is impressive.

Is it only an illusion? After the results are finally in, will those who voted for the winners be confirmed in their belief? Many who voted for the losers will cry foul or fraud. Some may even decry the democratic process and turn violent.

For the moment, those who believe in democracy are waiting in line to vote. Up to eight hours in line. Stunning. Heroic.

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