Counterpunch Articles

Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism

Photograph Source: Gage Skidmore – CC BY-SA 2.0

If you wonder what the post-Trump Republican Party will look like, take a glimpse at Tom Cotton, one of the US senators from Arkansas (where I live). Cotton has waged a relentless campaign for war against Iran and has supported every horror produced by the US foreign-policy establishment for the last 20 years. He makes other American hawks look like pacifists. Cotton once said that his only criticism of the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where people are held indefinitely without charge or trial, is that too many beds are empty.

Typical of take-no-prisoners warmongers, Cotton savages critics of the prowar policy that has characterized US foreign policy in the 21st century. No baseless charge is beneath him. He recently attacked the Quincy Institute in the course of remarks about anti-Semitism. (You can see what’s coming.) According to Jewish Insider, Cotton said that anti-Semitism “festers in Washington think tanks like the Quincy Institute, an isolationist blame America first money pit for so-called ‘scholars’ who’ve written that American foreign policy could be fixed if only it were rid of the malign influence of Jewish money.”

This is worse than a series of malicious lies — every word is false. In fact, it’s an attempt to incite hostility toward and even disruption of one of the bright spots on the mostly desolate foreign-policy-analysis landscape.

The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (QI) started last year with money from, among others, the Charles Koch Foundation and George Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Its officers and staff include respected and sober foreign-policy analysts and journalists such as Andrew Bacevich, Trita Parsi, Jim Lobe, and Eli Clifton. Also associated with the institute are the well-credentialed foreign-policy authorities John Mearsheimer, Paul Pillar, Gary Sick, Stephen Walt, and Lawrence Wilkerson. This is indeed a distinguished team of foreign-policy “realists” who are heroically resisting America’s endless-war-as-first-resort policy.

Named for John Quincy Adams — who as secretary of state famously declared that “America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” — QI “promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.” The QI website goes on to state:

The U.S. military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force. The United States should reject preventive wars and military intervention to overthrow regimes that do not threaten the United States. Wars of these kinds not only are counterproductive; they are wrong in principle.

It then goes on to indict the current foreign-policy establishment:

The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.

Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.

This may not be pure libertarian foreign policy (“U.S. interests” is too slippery a term for my taste), but compared to what passes for foreign-policy thinking these days, it’s pretty damn good.

So why is Tom Cotton so upset? It should be obvious. QI opposes the easy-war policy of the last 20 years. Of course Cotton is upset. Take away war, and he’s got nothing in his toolbox. He certainly doesn’t want to see the public turn antiwar before he’s had a shot at high office, say, secretary of state, secretary of defense, CIA director, or even the presidency.

Cotton’s charges against QI are wrong on every count.

QI is not isolationist as long as it supports trade with the world and diplomacy as the preferred method of resolving conflicts.

It’s not a blame-America-first outfit because the object of its critique is not America or Americans, but the imperial war-loving elite of the American political establishment. Cotton is part of that elite, but that does not entitle him to identify the mass of Americans with his lethal policy preferences.

It’s not a money pit. As you can see, QI boasts an eminent lineup thinkers and writers. So the money is obviously well-spent on badly needed analysis. QI should have been set up long ago. Cotton shows his pettiness by putting the word scholars in sarcasm quotes. He should aspire to such scholarship as Bacevich, Parsi, et al. have produced.

But where Cotton really shows his agenda is his absurd claim that anti-Semitism “festers” in QI (and other think tanks — which ones?).

Cotton here is performing that worn-out trick that, alas, still has some life in it: conflating criticism of Israel and its American lobby with people who are Jewish (and who may well oppose how the Israeli state mistreats the Palestinians). I’m sure he knows better: this is demagogy and not ignorance.

On its face, the proposition that virtually anyone who criticizes Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians and its Arab and Iranian neighbors probably hates Jews as Jews is patently ridiculous. Any clear-thinking person dismisses that claim out of hand.

Undoubtedly Cotton has in mind primarily Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy, published in 2008. (It began as an essay in The London Review of Books.) In that work, Walt and Mearsheimer reasonably attribute the lion’s share of influence on US policy in the Middle East to the Israel lobby, “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively works to move U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” They add, “[I]t is certainly not a cabal or conspiracy that ‘controls’ U.S. foreign policy. It is simply a powerful interest group, made up of both Jews and gentiles, whose acknowledged purpose is to press Israel’s case within the United States and influence American foreign policy in ways that its members believe will benefit the Jewish state.”

This is hardly controversial stuff, although reasonable people can disagree over whether the lobby was decisive in any given case.

But does anyone doubt that American champions of Israel work overtime and spend a lot of money to advance what they see as Israel’s interests? If so, see this and my book Coming to Palestine. (Many non-Zionist Jews disagree with them about those interests.) Organizations like AIPAC often boast about their influence. That they sincerely believe Israel’s interests coincide with America’s interests is beside the point. (I won’t address that dubious contention here.) That influence, which supports massive annual military aid to Israel, has helped to facilitate the oppression of the Palestinians, wars against Lebanon, and attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It has also provoked hostility to America and vengeful terrorism against Americans. (For example, the 9/11 attacks as acknowledged by the government’s commission.) Pro-Israel American political and military officials acknowledge this.

Cotton need not wonder why the lobby has succeeded so often since he himself is using the anti-Semitism canard to inhibit Israel’s critics. No one wants to be condemned as anti-Semite (or as any other kind of bigot), so we can easily imagine prominent people in the past withholding criticism of Israel for fear of being thought anti-Jewish. (It’s Israel and its champions, not Israel’s critics, who insist that Israel is the state of allJews, no matter where else they may be citizens.) Thankfully, despite the efforts of Cotton, Kenneth Marcus, Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, and others, the invidious conflation has lost much of its force. More than ever, people understand that to oppose the entangling alliance with Israel and to express solidarity with the long-suffering Palestinians do not constitute bigotry against Jews.

Can Cotton produce any evidence that anyone at QI believes that pro-Israel Jewish Americans should be barred from lobbying and making political donations or that such an obvious violation of liberty would fix American foreign policy? Of course not. There is no evidence. Moreover, I’m sure the QI realists understand that other interests also propel the prowar US foreign policy, including glory-seeking politicians and generals and the profit-craving military-industrial complex.

Those who reflexively and slanderously tar Israel’s critics as anti-Semites seem not to realize that the worthy effort to eliminate real anti-Semitism is undermined by their efforts to immunize Israel and its American champions from good-faith criticism.

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Trump Makes Space Great Again

Still from “Spaceballs.”

With a stroke of a pen, Donald Trump created an entirely new branch of the armed forces last year. It’s the first new branch of the U.S. military since 1947.

The Space Force is not exactly a new idea. It’s a revival of a Reagan-era initiative that had been set up to oversee missile defense, which the George W. Bush administration repurposed after 9/11 to focus on the war in Afghanistan.

Yet what Trump has put together is fundamentally different, and potentially more destabilizing, than the previous incarnation.

Unlike virtually everything else that Trump has touched, this boondoggle has generated almost no controversy. Congress approved Trump’s initiative, which was folded into the annual National Defense Authorization Act, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote at the end of 2019. Not only have very few voices of protest been raised against this extraordinary expansion of U.S. militarism, it has even generated some unexpected praise.

In The Washington Post, for instance, David Montgomery wrote a long encomium in the magazine section in early December entitled “Trump’s Excellent Space Force Adventure.”

Creating a Space Force is arguably an excellent idea, one for which Trump may deservedly go down in history, along with all the other things he will be remembered for. No, really. I’m tempted to laugh at myself as I type these sentences because I, too, greeted news of the Space Force with incredulous guffaws… What I missed at the time, though — and what everyone else mocking Space Force doesn’t seem to appreciate — is the sheer range of problems that could ensue if other countries are able to establish extraterrestrial military supremacy.

This would be an easy-to-dismiss article if David Montgomery were one of the right-wing crazies, like columnist Marc Thiessen, that the Post publishes on a regular basis. But no, Montgomery is a very good journalist who has dutifully covered labor issues and progressive activism even as the rest of the media universe has run screaming in the other direction.

That makes it incumbent to take his article and this topic very seriously. What exactly is this Space Force? And why has Trump’s latest contribution to ensuring America’s “full-spectrum dominance” been such an easy sell?

The Next Big Fight

The new Space Force nearly didn’t get off the ground.

Former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis was so cool to the idea that in July 2017 he wrote a letter to Congress declaring his opposition on the grounds that it would, among other things, create unnecessary military bureaucracy. But the proposal had bipartisan support in Congress — Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN) of the House Armed Services Committee — and an enthusiastic booster in Donald Trump as well. So, it rocketed through Congress when so any other initiatives have stalled.

The Space Force will be cobbled together from various existing agencies. Its 400 staff are based temporarily at an air force base. Its second in command comes out of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. It will oversee more than 70 Army, Navy, and Air Force space units. It will soon employ 16,000 people, but all of them previously worked for the Air Force Space Command.

Its budget will be around $40 million. That’s not a lot of money in Pentagon terms, given that the most recent budget provided the Air Force with $3 billion for the B-21 bomber alone and the Navy with a whopping $34 billion for shipbuilding. But expect significant increases in future allocations. After all, the military budget contains around $14 billion for space operations distributed across the various services. When it comes to the Space Force, not even the sky’s the limit.

Like any proper government agency, the Space Force’s first priority is planning, according to its new head, Gen. Jay Raymond: “His command is building integrated planning elements to embed with other commands. Lead staffers have already been hired and the command is preparing to establish the first teams at U.S. European Command, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and U.S. Strategic Command.”

That also entails coordination with allies. The Space Force is already liaising like crazy with European and Asian partners.

That all sounds benign: planning, liaising. But let’s not forget the purpose of this new branch of the military. It has taken over responsibility from the Strategic Command — in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — for any war-fighting that takes place in space.

As Pentagon head Mark Esper has said, the Space Force will “allow us to develop a cadre of warriors who are appropriately organized, trained, and equipped to deter aggression and, if necessary, to fight and win in space…The next big fight may very well start in space, and the United States military must be ready.”

Space Race

When it comes to nuclear weapons and drones and cyberwarfare, it’s too late for the United States to turn an initial technological advantage into a global moratorium on production. Since it quite deliberately missed such opportunities for multilateral disarmament, Washington now feels obliged to spend scads of dollars to ensure that it maintains a significant lead over its various adversaries, ostensibly to deter the bad guys from using their weapons.

The same applies to space. “The ultimate goal is to deter a war in space,” David Montgomery writes. “In the Pentagon’s view, space must be considered a warfighting domain precisely to keep it peaceful.”

Well, that’s what the Pentagon always says. It’s why it calls itself a “Defense Department” to obscure what it really is: a bureau devoted to wage war, not simply deter it. As for space, the Pentagon sees a virtually limitless terrain for expansion.

According to the “deterrence” model, however, such expansion requires a clear and present danger. One major vulnerability the Pentagon has identified in space is the U.S. complex of commercial and military satellites.

The fear that other countries would take down U.S. assets in orbit around the earth has been around for some time. During the Carter administration, the United States and Soviet Union began negotiating a ban on anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. The Reagan administration abandoned those talks, largely because it feared they would restrict the president’s cherished “Star Wars” plan of constructing a massive missile defense system.

Both sides then began building ASATs, and others joined the race. To date, no country has actually used this technology to take down the satellite of another country. Rather, they’ve only used it to take down their own satellites — as a test of capabilities. Four countries have done just that: the United States, Russia, India, and China.

However, it’s actually not so easy to take out a satellite. GPS and communications satellites orbit at altitudes above what an ICBM can reach. A space rocket could do the trick, but that would cost a lot of money and still require multiple hits to disrupt communications.

“Killer satellites,” orbiting weapons that can take out neighboring satellites, are another option. The United States has accused Russia of deploying four such potential weapons. Russia has responded that these small satellites serve an entirely different purpose: to repair other satellites that have suffered malfunctions. In truth, it’s hard to discern from the outside the ultimate purpose of such repair vehicles: remedy a friendly satellite or ram an unfriendly one. Such are the inherent dangers of dual-use systems.

Then there’s the threat of hypersonic vehicles that can deploy satellites, killer or otherwise, as well as potentially conduct operations in space. China is working on a hypersonic glider, as is Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin made a big splash at the end of 2019 when he announced a new Russian missile that can fly 27 times the speed of sound. Such systems make any missile defense systems, which already face major challenges in taking out conventional missiles, absolutely (as opposed to mostly) useless.

The United States has tested its own hypersonic missile. Lockheed Martin is developing a new hypersonic SR-72, which would be a combination drone and stealth bomber. DARPA has teamed up with Boeing to get a hypersonic plane into operation, which would fall somewhere between a traditional airplane and a rocket. The Pentagon has also developed its X-37b military space plane, which it insistsis not designed for military purposes but only to test out new satellite technologies (a frankly dubious contention).

War over the Worlds

A third realm of space conflict — in addition to weapons that enter space on their way toward terrestrial targets and weapons that aim at each other in space — is over the territory and resources of nearby moons and planets.

That might seem far-fetched, since no country seems close to setting up anything like a base on the moon or on Mars. But militaries are voracious in their ambitions. And they’ll always have their visionary — read: kooky — boosters like Newt Gingrich, who wants to team up with Trump on his colonizing space idea, “occupying the moon, developing the moon, and continuing to Mars.”

Just as powerful nations are scrambling to claim territory in the Arctic that has become accessible due to climate change, these space cadets are looking to stake claims to an even larger set of commons that lie beyond this planet.

Just listen to Maj. Gen. John Shaw, the leader of Space Force’s Space Operations Command: “I’ve been telling the team, ‘Don’t think about a warfighting service for the next decade. Create a warfighting service or the 22nd century. What is warfighting going to look like at the end of this century and into the next?’”

In other words, let’s ask Congress for a blank check to spend on any crazy idea we might have about the future of war.

In an Air Force report published in September, military personnel and academics considered various space scenarios for 2060. The “positive” scenarios — titled Star Trek, Garden Earth, and Elysium — all assume that the “U.S. coalition retains leadership over the space domain and has introduced free-world laws and processes that have led to significant global civil, commercial, and military expansion in space and resulted in large revenue streams.”

Sounds like extraterrestrial colonialism to me, though for the time being without the indigenous populations to exterminate first. Not surprisingly, in these scenarios the United States maintains its leadership through overwhelming military power deployed in the stratosphere and beyond.

The “negative” scenarios — titled Zhang He (sic), Xi’s Dream, and Wild Frontier — assume either an “alternate nation” leads in space or no clear winner emerges from a vigorous national competition.

It’s no mystery what this “alternative nation” is.

Zheng He was a great explorer of the fifteenth century who might have established China as the preeminent colonial power in the world if the emperor at the time hadn’t decided to focus on affairs closer to home. Xi is, of course, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his dream of a prosperous and powerful China.

The report makes no mention of arms control, international negotiations to preserve the commons of space, or even the dangers of a military space race. Instead, these blue-sky thinkers could only imagine a battle between the United States and the up-and-coming hegemon over all the marbles.

And that’s where they intersect with Trump as well. At a meeting of the National Space Council in 2018, he said:

I want to also say that when it comes to space, too often, for too many years, our dreams of exploration and discovery were really squandered by politics and bureaucracy, and we knocked that out. So important for our psyche, what you’re doing. It’s going to be important monetarily and militarily. But so important for right up here — the psyche.  We don’t want China and Russia and other countries leading us. We’ve always led.

And so the United States has. We’ve always led the way in devising destructive technologies and, for a good many decades, using them to wage war across the planet.

The Alternative

The first attempts to extend arms control to space came in the 1960s. The Limited Test Ban Treaty banned nuclear tests in space. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 banned weapons of mass destruction from space, but all attempts to ban conventional weapons have failed. China and Russia have proposed something along those lines. The biggest naysayer? The United States, which argues that the treaty only forbids technologies that China and Russia currently don’t possess.

Perhaps — but that doesn’t prevent the United States from starting negotiations on various mechanisms to demilitarize space. Restarting negotiations to ban anti-satellite weapons would be a good start, but that might be too ambitious for the current moment.

So, cooperation among the principal space powers could begin with a suitable confidence-building mechanism, like a joint initiative for dealing with space junk.

The Europeans are out there trying to harmonize the various national initiatives for dealing with all the debris circling the earth. There are 14,000 pieces of garbage larger than 4 inches across (pieces of satellites, rocket stages), and even smaller items can do irreparable damage to a spacecraft. The United States could take a proactive approach to the commons by working with others to clean up space — and not just catalog the problem as it is doing now.

Alas, cleaning up trash is also probably a stretch for the Trump administration, given how blind it is to environmental problems, even if that trash is a national security hazard.

But what the United States is doing now with the new Space Force is the worst kind of response to the problem of the increased militarization of space. It is creating an imaginary “space gap” that the United States has to pour money into closing, just like the various missile and bomber gaps of the late twentieth century. It will increase the risk of conflict in space, not reduce it.

The Space Force is a huge white elephant, worse than the Reagan-era missile defense system dubbed Star Wars. In fact, it’s Star Wars without end, sequel after sequel hitting military theaters near you. Even in the unlikely event that all is quiet on the terrestrial front, the new Space Force and its promise to keep the universe safe from bad guys will serve to justify astronomical Pentagon budgets for decades to come.

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The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

Today Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei gave his first Friday sermon in Tehran for eight years to an audience of thousands, as he tried to calm down the furious public reaction to the Revolutionary Guards mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers, then proceeding to lie about their responsibility for three days.

Khameinei spoke of the “cowardly” killing of General Qassem Soleimaniby the US, of President Trump using the destruction of the plane to “push a poison dagger” into the backs of the Iranian people. Rhetorical flourishes like this are not going do him a lot of good with critics who see the shootdown as epitomising the incompetence, duplicity and division of his government.

But the nature of the crisis differs markedly from the way it is being portrayed abroad. For more has gone wrong than a series of blunders. Obscured amid the plaudits and denunciations directed at Soleimani and Khamenei is the fact that both men’s policies in the Middle East had become counterproductive.

Over the last four years, Iran has had great success in spreading its influence in countries with large Shia populations. But it has failed to consolidate the status quo it played such a large role in creating. “The Iranians are good at gathering cards, but not at playing them,” is an old saying in the region.

Despite Iranian successes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the power structure in all three countries is rickety and prone to crises. Over the last four months, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran have been rocked by mass protest, while Syria is in the final throes of civil war.

Much depends on how the Iranian leadership responds in the next few months to the assassination of Soleimani, formerly their high-profile viceroy overseeing the Iranian zone of influence. They could continue to head towards a full scale US-Iran conflict or, just possibly, veer towards some sort of compromise deal.

Neither side wants a war, as demonstrated by America’s belated revelation that 11 of its soldiers were injured by the Iranian ballistic missile strike on two of its bases in Iraq on 8 January. At the time, Trump had reassured the world that there were no American casualties. and therefore no need for him to retaliate. Meanwhile, Iranian paramilitaries in Iraq have been instructed not to attack US facilities in order to de-escalate the crisis.

In the longer term, if Iran continues with the policies pursued by Soleimani and Khamenei, it will feel compelled to resume low-intensity warfare to provide a counterbalance to US sanctions. Before this happens, Iran will have to decide if it is going to use the elimination of Soleimani to devise a new strategies to replace those that have failed.

Nobody watches the changing political winds in Tehran as closely as Iraqis, who know that their country is where the US-Iran struggle is being fought out.

“Iran is in a very critical position,” says a prominent Iraqi Shia politician in Baghdad quoted in the online magazine Middle East Eye. “The policy that Khamenei previously pursued in managing the Iraq file and the region is no longer successful. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard had contributed to creating problems in Iraq that turned into a burden for Iran and became an obstacle in the way of its negotiations with the United States.”

Discussions now taking place in Iran are about whether the Revolutionary Guards should retain the Iraq file, or be handed over to some other body, such as intelligence or the foreign ministry. Soleimani’s former deputy and nominated successor as head of the Quds Force, Esmael Ghaani, has been handling Afghanistan, and is less familiar with the Middle East.

Quite aside from US pressure for disengagement, it is very much in Iran’s interests in Iraq to take a less hands-on role, and to look to the Iraqi government and Shia political parties to drive out the US. In Syria, where Iran had orchestrated support for President Bashar al-Assad after 2011, an Iranian pullback is feasible, because Assad has largely won the war to stay in power, and since 2015, the leading role in supporting him has been taken over by Russia.

Given these developments, it should be easier than it looks for Tehran and Washington to reach agreement on reducing Iran’s regional activism. The problem is that in Middle Eastern politics, everybody tends to overplay their hand at one time or another, usually when they come to overconfidently believe that they can put their opponent permanently out of business. The US has repeatedly fallen into this trap in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – and it is all too likely to do the same in its confrontation with Iran which, whatever the two sides’ intentions, will remain a dangerous stalemate, always at risk of tipping into outright war.

The US maximalist demands on Iran’s nuclear facilities, ballistic missiles and regional influence effectively mean that it wants regime change or capitulation. Both outcomes are possible; neither is likely. The Iranian leadership tends to come together when threatened, and is prepared to use any degree of force to stay in power. Western capitals have been looking expectantly for an end to the clerical regime in Tehran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 – but to no avail.

President Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal in May 2018 without a coherent explanation of what was wrong with it, or what would be put in its place. Since then, both Iran and the US have carried out what could be deemed acts of war, culminating in the last few months in the Iranians attacking Saudi oil facilities, and the US assassinating Soleimani. On each occasion, both sides avoided full-scale retaliation, but this restraint rests on a knife-edge, and cannot last forever. The basis for a deal exists, but that does not mean one will materialise.

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Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United

Photograph Source: DonkeyHotey – CC BY 2.0

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down one of its worst and most activist decisions ever.  Indeed, in terms of harm caused and likelihood for future harm, the Court’s decision in Citizen’s United is, likely, the most pernicious Supreme Court decision ever issued in our nation’s history.

A historical recap: Citizens United, a wealthy non-profit that ran a Political Action Committee with millions of dollars in assets, produced and promoted an anti-Hillary Clinton documentary movie to be used in the 2008 Democratic primary. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002[1]prohibited electioneering communications within 30 days of the last primary election and within 60 days before the general election. Citizens United challenged the constitutionality of this ban, along with the Act’s disclaimer and disclosure requirements. The federal district Court upheld the law and Citizens United’s appeal reached the Supreme Court.

Instead of disposing the case on the narrow legal basis before it, and in what can only be described as gross judicial activism, the Court sent the case back to the district court to be re-briefed (not to be re-heard by the trial judge) on the broader issue of whether the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act was facially unconstitutional.  Having then before it the question that the Court really wanted to decide, the Court held that the Act was unconstitutional as being a ban on corporate independent expenditures and a suppression of protected corporate political free speech.

Remember, too, that, textually, the Federal Constitution does not once refer to corporations or other non-human legal entities, much less accord any such non-human entities a “right” to anything or to be protected from anything. In point of fact, every constitutional right that non-human legal entities now enjoy was created, from whole cloth, by the United States Supreme Court.  Every single one—including the right of political free speech!

That said, Citizens United and other decisions which it spawned have ushered in the unprecedented use of dark, individual and institutional mega-money expenditures to influence elections and to, effectively, silence the voices of individual small contributors and ordinary voters.  This decision and its progeny have chipped away at expenditure and contribution limits imposed by Congress and by the States, upon individuals, corporations, unions, special interest groups, “non-profits,” and trade associations.

Citizens United has resulted in multi millions of dollars pouring into elections with little or no disclosure of the source of funding and with little, if any, accountability for the truth or accuracy of the information and messages promulgated. Indeed, candidates for political and judicial office are being “marketed” to voters in the same fashion that pharmaceuticals are hawked to consumers (unfortunately, though, without disclosure of the adverse side effects).

For example, in state judicial elections: outside spending by interest groups has shattered records; state supreme court elections have witnessed an influx of secret money and a stunning lack of transparency; there are more million-dollar state supreme court races than ever before; more than half of all states with elected high courts are now impacted by big-money elections; money influences how judges vote; dark money campaign ads target judicial candidates, often in misleading ways, and, ultimately prejudice criminal defendants. [2]

Another example: In his book America Compromised,[3] Lawrence Lessig describes how dark money corrupts our elections.  One of the ideals of democracy is that citizens are equal and that, at both the primary and general elections, in a democratic election, citizen’s votes should have equal weight.[4] If the first stage is corrupted, the results of the second stage are also corrupted.

The Citizens’ United effect works as an election filter—as Prof. Lessig calls it, “the Greenback Primary.” Mega and dark money funders act as the primary election nominators, and effectively pick the candidate list from whom voters get to choose. Members of Congress and candidates for Congress spend from 30% to 70% courting these big-money funders and become sensitive to the needs of, beholden to and effectively wedded to the agenda of these funders.

These funders, according to Prof. Lessig, constitute a very small number of Americans.  “In 2014 the top 100 contributors gave as much as the bottom 4.75 million—those 100 funders represent just .0000025% of all funders.  As of February 2016, the top 50 Super Pac contributors had given nearly half the money received by all SuperPacs.” “In 2014, just 57,864 contributors gave the equivalent of $5,200 (maximum across both the primary and general election cycles).”

Thus, a tiny fraction of Americans dominate the first stage of America’s two-stage election process–with the resulting exclusion of the vast majority of voters during that first, critical stage.  While the Citizens United Court stated that people have the “ultimate influence” over elected officials, the fact remains that the funders have the first or interim effect—they determine or “filter” with their money, who the nominees are.  As Tammany Hall’s infamous Boss Tweed said: “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.”

A filter based on money is as illegitimate as any other filter—e.g. one based on race. Filters corrupt elections and dilute and devalue the franchise.

In short, the wolf of money, dressed up in the sheep’s clothing of corporate political free speech is driving and corrupting our elections, our political processes, our public officials, and our courts; it is drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens; it is responsible for the flood of false information and misleading media; and it is devaluing and diluting the franchise of ordinary voters.

Money corrupts and enough of it corrupts absolutely.  And, as we again pass the billion dollar expenditure mark in the 2020 elections, we’ll have the finest politicians that money can buy.

Indeed, the day Citizens United was handed down—January 21, 2010—will be remembered by those who care about our elections, the corruption of our political processes, and the value of ordinary Americans’ voice and franchise, as yet another day of infamy.


[1] 2 U.S.C.S. § 441(b)


[3] America Compromised, Lawrence Lessig, The University of Chicago Press, 2018, Chapter 1.

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Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds

Photograph Source: Fars News Agency – CC BY 4.0

“In wartime,” Churchill famously told Stalin, “truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” He said this on 30 November 1943 – by chance his 69th birthday – in an effort to impress upon the Soviet leader the importance of deception in the planning of D-Day. In fact, the Allies did deceive the Germans, whose Wehrmacht commanders thought the landings would be made in northern France rather than on the beaches of Normandy.

But the meaning of truth and lies – even the very word “wartime” – have so changed their meaning and usefulness in recent Middle East history that it’s almost impossible to apply Churchill’s quotation today. After its anti-aircraft missile destroyed Ukrainian Airways flight 752 this month, Iran’s initial lie – that its loss was due to engine problems – was uttered not to “attend” the truth but to protect the Iranian regime from being blamed in case its people discovered the truth.

Which, of course, they quickly did.

There was a time when you could get away with this sort of giant fib. In a pre-technology age, almost any catastrophe could be glossed – we still talk about a disaster “shrouded in mystery” – but phone cameras, missile-tracking, long-range radar and satellites quickly expose a lie. The loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 almost six years ago is the only exception I can think of.

True, Mubarak actually surrounded Cairo’s television headquarters with tanks in 2011 in an antediluvian attempt to stop a revolution powered by mobile phone messages. But the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian military are so computer-savvy that they could hardly have misunderstood what they had done to the Ukrainian aircraft. The idea, still touted by the regime, that there were “communications” problems (for more than three days, for heavens’ sake) is preposterous.

What really happened, I suspect, is that both President Hassan Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei both knew within an hour what had happened, but were so appalled that a nation whose very name bears the title of “Islamic”, and whose supposedly revered if corrupted Revolutionary Guards had been promoted as both God-fearing and flawless, that they simply did not know how to respond. They were faced with The Truth. So they told a lie. Thus the very image of spotless theology which was supposed to sustain Iran’s image was shattered by error – and then by dishonesty.

No wonder Iranians returned to the streets.

Iran made a mistake, but to compound a tragic mistake with a blatant – and then admitted — falsehood was close to Original Sin. The people are not about to overthrow the regime, as Trump’s acolytes and the usual US “experts” suggest. But Iran has been changed forever.

No longer can its religious leaders claim papal infallibility. If they can lie about killing innocents on a Ukrainian airliner – most of them Iranian — then surely their jurisprudence might prove equally flawed. Those who demand obedience from their loyal followers cannot expect their audience to accept their future pronouncements – on Trump or God – with the same sacred trust. For quite a while, the Revolutionary Guards who hitherto presented themselves as potential martyrs for Islam are going to be known as The Guys Who Fired the Missile.

Now let’s remember that we in the West have grown so used to our own dishonesty – and being caught out – that we scarcely flinch at the word “lie”. Let me ask a frank question: save for the flies around Trump, is there anyone who actually believes the “intelligence” information about Qassem Suleimani’s plans to attack or blow up four US embassies (or five, or six, or whatever)?

Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. But given the sloppy replies of US defence secretary Mark Esper and his chums, I’d hazard a bet that this stuff was a Trump potboiler, a mix of Hollywood, haze and an early morning tweet. Who cares if it’s true or not? Suleimani was a bad guy. Hands up who in the West was really upset that he’d been murdered (let us at least use this word once today)? Even Boris Johnson said he wouldn’t mourn Suleimani’s passing, though no one had actually asked him to. He would say the same – and probably will say the same – if America or Israel, or both, assassinated the Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The problem is that we’ve grown so used to lies – on Brexit, on the Middle East, you name it – that we hardly care any more.

If we can go to war on WMD, 45-minute warnings, promises of democracy for Iraq and half a million deaths, or a million, or a quarter of a million — see how we can play with the souls of the dead in this part of the world? – then we don’t safeguard truth with a bodyguard of lies: we search for a simple truth to protect us from the lies. Isn’t the world better without Qassem Suleimani? Isn’t the world better without Saddam?

But this only works up to a point. Does anyone really think that Boris Johnson’s hodgepodge about a “new” nuclear deal with Iran is anything more than a sop to Trump? There was a deal and – in theory, as the Iranians keep reminding us – there still is a deal. And the Iranians are prepared to go back to it. Or, as we must remember now, so they say.

And clearly, the Americans are going to suffer in the days and weeks and months to come. Those bases in the Iraqi desert are looking less and less like the “lily pads” that Donald Rumsfeld once called them and more and more like potential death traps.

The odd thing is that when the Americans originally claimed the Iranians were behind the guerrilla assaults on their occupation troops after the 2003 invasion, Iraqis knew this wasn’t true. Iraq itself was awash with weapons and very skilled weapons experts – all newly available from Saddam’s old and abandoned army – and didn’t need Suleimani and his chums to teach them what they already knew.

No one should doubt Suleimani’s encouragement, but to suggest that he was effectively running the Iraqi resistance – another of the reasons produced for assassinating him – was ridiculous. The irony is that when the US claimed the Iranians were behind the attacks on their soldiers in Iraq, they were likely not. And now the Americans have killed the Revolutionary Guards Quds force commander, the Iranians are indeed behind the attacks on the American bases. They even said so: a remarkable truth, uttered even as they lied about their own destruction of the Ukrainian airliner.

You can see why Trump might find all this confusing. For until now, the Americans have had a monopoly on deceit. Just look at the plans for what the Arabs still call “Palestine” – the “deal of the century”, as we journos like to call it – which effectively destroys any chance of giving the Palestinians a nation-state of their own. It is the antithesis of the Oslo agreement, always supposing Oslo was really intended to give the Palestinians a country of their own in the first place. Trump’s ‘policies’, if they can be called that, will lead inevitably to the permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the dispossession of the Palestinians.

Yet we are supposed to believe – and the Arabs are supposed to believe, even the Palestinians themselves – that the further colonisation of the West Bank, not to mention the existence of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, is intended to bring peace to the region. Merely by discussing this absurd scenario, we are helping to propagate a lie.

Oddly, in a world where the assassination of a military commander is not regarded as an act of war, we are beginning to accept these lies. They have become normal, even acceptable in a routine kind of way. The west, of course, is hoping that the liar-in-chief will depart next year. But I wouldn’t be too sure. And what about the other nation which feasts upon lies? I’m talking about the state which never, ever, sent its special forces into Ukraine, which never had any hand – even in the remotest way – in shooting down another airliner, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.

Set against all this, the Iranians might look squeaky clean. After all, the sacred regime did fess up in the end. But before they did so, they discovered Original Sin. Quite an experience.

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Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?

Former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg with President Trump At the 787-10 Dreamliner rollout ceremony. Photograph Source: North Charleston – CC BY-SA 2.0

This is not an abstract philosophical question. Boeing forced out its CEO, Dennis Muilenburg last week. Muilenberg had played a major role in overseeing the development and production of the Boeing 737 Max, a plane which was recently involved in two major crashes, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Following these crashes, and the grounding of the plane in March, evidence has come out that Boeing did not take seriously many safety issues that were raised by people working on the plane.

Since Muilenberg was the person in charge for the last four and a half years, it is certainly understandable that the company would want to send the guy packing. Boeing had long been a company with a solid record of putting safety as a top priority. It no longer has that reputation, which is hugely important for a maker of civilian airplanes. While this was clearly not all Muilenberg’s fault, as CEO he has considerable responsibility.

All of this is pretty straightforward. The part of the story that many people may find jarring is that Muilenberg walked away with $62 million in pay and benefits when he left the company.

This is jarring because it would be pretty hard to argue that Muilenberg had done a good job running the company. He leaves it with a horrible reputation problem, for which it may take many years to recover.

But we know shareholders don’t care about reputation, they care about money in their pockets. They might be okay with handing Muilenberg $62 million if he made them a lot of money.

However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Boeings stock did do quite well under Muilenberg, rising by just under 130 percent over the four and half years that he was at the helm. But the stock of Airbus, Boeing’s main global competitor, almost matched this performance, and that was without the assistance of the big cut in corporate taxes that Trump gave to U.S. corporations in 2017. In other words, there is little reason to think that Muilenberg did anything for shareholders that any other Boeing CEO would not have done.

According to the press statements about Muilenberg’s parting gift, this was money that Muilenberg was owed, not some sort of severance package. It would take a careful reading of his contract to determine whether this is completely true, but from an economic standpoint, it doesn’t really matter.

The people on Boeing’s board presumably are not stupid, and in any case, they hire lawyers to write contracts who should understand the law. They all know how to write a contract that says the CEO walks away with little or nothing if they have done major damage to the company in their tenure, sort of like custodians and dishwashers typically walk away with little or nothing when they get fired for messing up on the job. For some reason, Boeing’s board chose not to write a contract like this for its CEO.

This would just be a peculiar quirk if Boeing was the only company whose board didn’t seem to know how to write contracts, but in fact this seems to be the norm. To take another recent example, John Stumpf walked away with $130 million from Wells Fargo after he was caught in a major scandal where the bank issued phony accounts for hundreds of thousands of customers.

Going back another decade, Home Depot CEO, Robert Nardelli, got a $210 million severance package in 2007 even though the company’s stock price had been cut in half under his tenure. The stock price of Lowes, the company’s major competitor, went up 40 percent over the same period.

There are no shortages of examples where CEO pay doesn’t bear any relationship to the returns provides to shareholders. Corporate boards surely can write contracts that more closely tie CEO pay to the returns that they provide to shareholders, above someone just spinning their wheels in the CEO position. The fact that boards fail to tie CEO pay closely to value actually provided to shareholders strongly suggests that the boards are not working for shareholders, they are working for the CEOs.

For some reason, most progressives have been determined to say that CEOs get their outlandish pay for serving shareholders, in spite of evidence to the contrary. This matters if we are interested in bringing down CEO pay, both because shareholders can be powerful allies and also because it says a lot about the legitimacy of CEO pay.

If CEO pay is justified by the extraordinary returns they provide to shareholders, then the $10 million, $20 million, or even $30 million paychecks are a story of capitalism working as it is supposed to. In this story, CEOs are hugely productive people who manage to produce enormous benefits to shareholders, who should be happy to give back a fraction of their gains in CEO pay. (For this discussion, I’m ignoring the fact that the gains may be the result of breaking unions, making unsafe products, wrecking the environment, or other anti-social acts. I’m just focusing narrowly on returns to shareholders.)

But if the pay is not closely related to returns to shareholders, but rather the result of having their friends on corporate boards deciding how much they get paid, then it implies that these outlandish paychecks are not justified by the logic of the market. This is just flat out corruption.

And, the exorbitant pay of CEOs has an enormous spillover effect. If the CEO is getting $20 million, the other top executives are likely getting paychecks close to $10 million, even the third tier of corporate executives is likely earning $1-2 million a year. Imagine we were back in the world of fifty years ago when CEO pay was 20-30 times the pay of a typical worker. This would mean paychecks in the neighborhood of $2 to $3 million. In that world, the next echelon of the corporate hierarchy is likely earning not too much over $1 million, and the third tier is way back in the high six figures.

Exorbitant CEO pay also affects pay outside the corporate sector. It is common for the heads of major charities and universities presidents to earn well over $1 million a year. Other top executives can be earning at least in the high six figures, if not also crossing $1 million. These salaries would be radically lower if these top executives could not claim that they would be able to earn ten times as much in the private sector.

At the most basic level, the idea that the huge run-up in CEO pay over the last four decades is justified by the returns they produce for shareholders is undermined by the fact that returns have been relatively low by historical standards. They were high in the 1980s and 1990s, as there was a historic run-up in price to earnings ratios, but since then they have been relatively much lower than in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s.

This largely reflects the fact that when the price-to-earnings ratio is high, it is impossible to give shareholders the same percentage return on their investment. When the PE is 15 to 1, a 3 percent dividend is just 45 percent of earnings. However, when the PE is 30 to 1, a 3 percent dividend would be 90 percent of corporate earnings. The dividend yield, or its equivalent in buybacks, almost certainly has to fall when the PE rises.

Slower growth, now averaging close to 2.0 percent annually, (compared to 3-4 percent in prior decades) also means lower capital gains on average. To maintain historical stock yields, it would be necessary for PEs to fall in a period of slow growth.

A possible explanation for the rise in PEs is that share buybacks drive up the price-to-earnings ratios in a way that dividend payouts do not. (I hope to be able to test this later this year.) This would be completely irrational behavior by investors, but we have seen plenty of irrational behavior by big investors in recent decades, such as the stock and housing bubbles.

If paying out money as share buybacks does raise PEs, then it would create a scenario in which corporate management is effectively making money for itself and current shareholders, at the expense of future returns to shareholders. At a point in time, shareholders are presumably largely indifferent between getting their money in dividends or buybacks (tax considerations can make the latter more desirable), but a higher PE means returns will be lower for people buying stock in the future.

Anyhow, it is clear from the data that the last two decades have not been especially good ones for shareholders, which is consistent with the idea that they are being ripped off by top management. It is also the case that the vast majority of the upward redistribution of the last four decades has been from ordinary workers to high-end earners, not from labor to capital.

This means that if we want to reverse the upward redistribution we should be focusing on the high-end earners who got the money. CEOs should be among our prime targets, both for the money they directly receive and for the impact that their pay has on the wage distribution as whole.

It is unfortunate that few progressives seem interested in pursuing the evidence that CEOs are ripping off their companies. Part of this may be due to the usual difficulty that progressives have in dealing with new ideas, but part of it likely stems from their desire to lash out at the market rather than asking how the market can be structured to produce different outcomes.

It was not the market that led to a situation where mediocre CEOs can earn $20 million a year, it was a corrupt structure of corporate governance. The latter can be changed much more easily than eliminating the market economy.

This essay first appeared on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

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The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism

Recent elections in the UK have resulted in a seismic shift in the political landscape with the Labour Party being completely decimated: losing over 50 seats, many in places that had voted Labour for generations. The significance of this defeat, particularly regarding the party’s long-term prospects, is currently being hotly debated. With the Tories under Boris Johnson having an 80 seat majority in parliament and being entitled to effectively rule without opposition for the next 5 years, there is speculation about whether the Labour Party will ever recover and, indeed, whether it still has a place in British politics, having been so roundly abandoned by the very class it is supposed to represent.

The referendum on EU membership, which was held in June 2016 and saw the Leave side triumph, was a special factor in the demise of UK Socialism under Labour. However, it was the Labour Party’s reaction to the referendum result rather than the Leave vote itself which has proved so destructive. What the question of continued membership of the EU brought into focus were the social, political and economic priorities of the British people. When they were asked what was most important, the British public powerfully responded by putting politics first: they chose democracy over technocracy. Since for many Brits the EU is seen as an anti-democratic, corporate institution, run by technocrats and supported by self-serving politicians. This was a response large swathes of the political establishment, the entire middle ground in fact, could not understand and refused to accept. The result has been a 3 year impasse in parliament, with a minority Tory government being unable to put into effect the will of the British people. The essential problem has been a predominantly Remain parliament – made up of Remain-backing MPs from all parties – unwilling to enact the legislation required for leaving the EU.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given that all political parties, the media, and most economic ‘experts’ campaigned strongly for Remain, the result came as quite a shock. That and the ensuing parliamentary gridlock led to a degree of political fragmentation within the Remain camp. As a number of Remain-voting MPs simply refused to accept the new status quo. This led to a number of party defections and the formation of entirely new cross-party allegiances, which not only insisted that they represented a new vision of politics, but that they embodied higher moral values. Without exception, these unelected new alliances for Remain, which were united in their determination to set aside the referendum result, were easily recognisable as expressions of self-aggrandisement, and were wiped out at the last election.

It was also a time of extreme vitriol. As much as parliamentarians were abused by angry members of the public – primarily Leave voters frustrated at what they regarded as parliament’s ‘blocking tactics’, parliamentarians were not slow to sling mud on Leave voters, characterising them as ignorant and ill-informed and accusing them of bigotry and racism. The large majority bestowed on Johnson in the recent election was no doubt motivated by a strong desire to eradicate this injurious stalemate and install a government capable of delivering on the referendum result. But it was also motivated by a desire on the part of the working class to punish the Labour Party for its betrayal.

A robust opposition is an essential part of any democratic system, and in that respect, the decimation of the Labour party is manifestly a loss in absolute terms. Whether it is also a particular loss so far as the working class is concerned depends on whether it is still an authentically representative party. The fact that the Labour leadership prevaricated and stalled on the EU question is perhaps the clearest indication of the difficulties they faced in terms of their support base. They simply couldn’t decide whether they were Leave or Remain. Having its roots in working class communities that had been decimated by de-industrialisation in the 1990s and had suffered under the strict neo-liberal rules of EU membership – neutering the Trade Unions and destroying workers’ rights – the Labour Leadership was well-acquainted with the demands of the Leave side. And, prior to the 2016 referendum, both Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell were aligned to that view. However, the difficulty Corbyn faced was that the surge in support for the Labour party that his ‘Leftist’ leadership attracted – membership had tipped over 500,000 by 2017, making it the largest Socialist party in Europe – was largely drawn, not from the Euro sceptic working class but from the avidly pro-EU metropolitan class. And these new members comprised the majority of the party’s grass-root activists. In the end, the party swung in favour of the metropolitan elite and campaigned to remain in the EU. That decision probably cost them some working class votes, but wouldn’t have been fatal. The death knell came later, when the lack of decisive leadership in respecting the referendum result emboldened disgruntled Remainers within the party, who began to look for ways to overturn the vote. When the leadership caved in to their demands to campaign for a second referendum, this led to justifiable outrage in those parts of the country the Labour Party had forgotten about. It was this that lost Labour the 2019 election. And the rest, as they say, is history.

At this juncture, the most important question to ask, it seems to me, is whether the present Labour Party is an authentic Left-wing political organisation representing the interests of the working class. If it has become something else, what or whose political agenda is it serving? And it isn’t possible to answer that question without an appreciation of the case for Lexit: the left wing argument for leaving the EU. The reason being that Lexit represents the political interests of the working class, and is, after all, what they themselves voted for. The case for Lexit is overwhelming; it is a powerful argument against global capitalism, and for that reason was never discussed or even alluded to by any of the main political parties. Unfortunately, many Labour MPs, rather than debating the case for Leave, deemed it more politically expedient to label the Lexit-voting working class ignorant and racist. And it is from this shamefully low position that the Labour Party is now struggling to climb back.

The case for Lexit had been powerfully made by British trade unionists decades before the 2016 referendum. Many saw through the façade of ‘Social Partnership’ the EU began promoting in the 1980s in a crude attempt to sweeten the pill of unregulated capitalism. As the late Bob Crow, RMT* General Secretary, pointed out in 2012, “The ‘Social Europe’ agenda has been used over many years to justify trade union support for a vicious right wing corporate project known as the European Union. [It] was always a smoke screen to fool the organised working class that we had something in common with big business. We didn’t then and we don’t today when unelected EU institutions, directly representing Europe’s biggest banks, are removing elected governments and imposing mass unemployment, social dumping and unending austerity everywhere.”[1] Ever since the UK’s entry into the EU in 1975, trade unions had been arguing against the neo-liberal straitjacket imposed by EU membership. What those who stood on the front line defending workers’ rights could see was that through the practice of ‘Social Dumping’ private corporations were bringing workers from low wage countries into higher wage economies to undercut local, collectively-agreed wages in order to accrue higher profits. The strikes that broke out to protest this practice, insisting that all workers be paid the same wages, were declared illegal by the European Court of Justice in a series of legal challenges. What was thereby established in cases, such as International Transport Workers Federation v Viking [2007]; Laval v Swedish Building Workers Union [2008]; and Ruffert v State of Lower Saxony [2008] which involved workers and trade unions from all over Europe, was that corporate entitlement to profit overrode long-fought workers’ rights. As RMT President, Alex Gordon, pointed out in 2011, what was enshrined in the EU constitution and enforced by the European Court regarding the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour “represents the most fundamental attack on trade union rights and democracy in general since the end of World War Two.”[2]

Since no Leftist party, (other than the tiny Communist Party) was advocating Leave, it isn’t surprising that issues such as ‘Social Dumping’ and the undercutting of wages were never revealed to the electorate.[3] What is surprising is that pro-remain Labour Party activists should attempt to sell the EU’s corporately managed ‘free flow of labour’ as an expression of International Socialism. An error which surely points to a deep confusion over the nature of globalisation itself. For the free movement of labour enshrined in the EU constitution is, quite literally, the stuff of globalisation: it’s the commodification of labour. There is little interest in the rights of individual workers, since the constitutions’ primary concern is with labour as a resource or cost. This is the liquefication of human flesh, poured from one market to another and settling at the lowest points in order to yield the highest profit. This is how wages get dragged down in a race to the bottom. Such commodified labour has nothing to do with Internationalism which is a cross-national expression of solidarity between workers, co-operatives and trade unions, and was established by self-organised Labour.

The Labour Party’s dogged insistence that continued membership of the EU was essential for protecting workers’ rights wasn’t very persuasive in the referendum campaign. But it surely would have proved even less persuasive if the UK media had shown the electorate just how the EU was ‘protecting’ the rights of workers in France. Providing a poignant backdrop to the Remain camp’s ‘workers’ rights’ mantra were violent images of the French riot police beating up workers lawfully protesting against ‘Socialist’ President Hollande’s new labour laws. The violence on the streets of France has continued to this day – as has the news blackout in the UK – with workers now protesting against President Macron’s plans to privatise the pensions and extend the retirement age. The result has been an extensive general strike, with Paris virtually closed down. Lamentably, not a single Labour MP has commented publicly on the scandal of the EU’s destruction of workers’ rights or expressed any solidarity with or even concern for the plight of French workers. So much for International Socialism.

Since the Labour Party did not support the decision of the working class to vote Leave, but chose to perpetuate the EU’s ‘Social Partnership’ façade instead, it is questionable whether it remains a party committed to working class interests. Does it still have anything to offer the people it claims to represent other than handouts? A glance at its bland, give-away 2019 manifesto provides a negative answer, and clearly reveals the fundamental challenges faced by a Labour party that has chosen to get into bed with capitalism. It simply can’t get out again without effecting radical change. And it can’t do that because it has, by that very accommodation, normalised the draconian economic policies, it was created to confront. It has simply made itself irrelevant, offering amelioration but nothing structurally different. All this was foreseen by the left-wing of the party back in the 70s, when the then parliamentary Labour Party declared the working class ‘irresponsible’ for trying to force structural change and aligned itself with big business instead. Tony Benn, the Labour Party’s most vocal left-wing critic in those days, Corbyn’s mentor and a vociferous campaigner against EU membership, thought the ‘handouts’ view of politics elitist and incompatible with radical government. He was right, people want to be empowered not patronised. However, this paternalistic, managerial stance sits well with the middle classes that currently dominate the Labour Party membership. Such largesse reinforces society’s stratification, usefully relieving the bourgeoisie of the stress of managing class boundaries. It also reassures them that nothing is going to be radically different. In short, Labour has become a party that symbolises identity interests but no longer represents class politics. It is now something of a brand: a logo appropriated by the ‘woke’ middle classes seeking to embellish their leftist credentials. If only the working class had stayed quiet, the pretence could have continued for years.

Since so many members of the current Labour Party appear to enjoy the cachet of a Marxist label, whilst denigrating the working class and being terrified of radical change, it seems appropriate to defer to Marx on the topic of self-alienation. For, whilst both classes share the same objective, alienating reality, Marx saw that it is through the realisations of the working class that society is restored to a human level of existence. As an assessment of UK politics in the age of global capitalism, he seems spot on: “The property-owning class and the class of the proletariat represent the same human self-alienation. But the former feels at home in this self-alienation and feels itself confirmed by it; it recognises alienation as its own instrument and in it it possesses the semblance of a human existence. The latter feels itself destroyed by this alienation and sees in it its own impotence and the reality of an inhuman existence.”[4]


1) *RMT – Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union Bob Crow, Social Europe is a Con., ed., John Boyd, (Democrat Press, 2012) 4

2) Alex Gordon and Brian Denny, Social Europe is a Con, ed., by John Boyd, (Democrat Publications, 2012) 13

3) Individual Labour MPs did stand on the Leave platform. However, the Leave camp’s focus was on the economic benefits of Leaving the EU rather than on the political costs to the working class of Remaining.

4) Karl Marx, ‘The Holy Family, Chapter 4’, quoted in Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness (London: Bibliotech Press, 2017) 124


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Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision

Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“This is a bold bet – a moonshot – for Microsoft.”  So claimed Brad Smith, Microsoft President, in a Thursday announcement painting a picture of a company that intends to be carbon negative by 2030.  “And,” Smith continued, “it will need to be a moonshot for the world.”  That vision entails the removal of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits.  By 2050, the company intends removing from the environment all carbon the company has emitted since its founding in 1975.

The feeling that a public relations unit has scoured the entire company and briefed its members is palpable.  Smith speaks of how “real progress requires real transparency”, meaning that Microsoft “will continue to disclose the carbon footprint of our services and solutions.”  The company has also committed to the United Nations’ 1.5-degree Business Ambition Pledge.

Chief executive Satya Nadella was also saying all the right things at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington.  “If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that technology built without these principles can do more harm than good.”  Climate change was the bogeyman whose predations had to be arrested.  “We must begin to offset the damaging effects of climate change”; were global temperatures to continue their inexorable rise, “the results will be devastating.”

Some outlined measures include the extensive use of electric vehicles, the establishment of a $1 billion fund financing carbon reduction, capturing and removal technologies over the course of four years.  Smith admits that, “Saving our planet’s carbon issues will require technology that does not exist today.”  One of the companies hoping to profit from this crystal ball gazing is the carbon capture pioneer Carbon Engineering, whose CEO, Steve Oldham, is confident.  The direct air capture plant, however, is still under construction, and cautionary notes have been sounded by the likes of Sue Reid, vice president of climate and energy at Ceres, a US-based non-profit.  Will the maths add up?

For all that, this was moving stuff.  Some members of Congress certainly enjoyed it, notably those on the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus.  “The scope and scale of this proposal is exactly the kind of bold action we need from the business community,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat from Delaware, and Rep.  Mike Braun, Republican from Indiana, in a statement.  “Addressing the challenge of our changing climate will require all of us to work together – federal, state and local governments, the private sector, and individuals.”  Shades of old Charles E. Wilson here: What’s good for Microsoft seems to be good for the United States.

But much of this should not detract from the obvious point: Microsoft is happy to have a bit each way when it comes to how it finances its green image.  The waters it bathes in are not always ecologically sound.  While the company positions itself high on the soapbox of environmental purity, it is still a corporation governed by that traditional mix of predatory instinct and innate opportunism.  In this, it shares a streak with Facebook and Google, two other entities who exude self-confidence in the illusion that they are principled, morals at the ready.

This point was made last year when it was revealed that all three companies sponsored LibertyCon, the annual conference for the Students for Liberty, a libertarian group.  Both Microsoft and Facebook forked out $10,000 each as gold sponsors; Google went a grade better with $25,000, making the platinum grade.

This clutch of sponsors was not, in of itself, odd.  But the three companies found themselves sharing a crowded platform with outfits distinctly against the science of climate change, showing how vast open tents can get rather muddy on the inside.  One of those present was the CO2 Coalition, a group celebrating the virtues of carbon, and feels that it has been unduly demonised.  Carbon, it lauds, “is essential for life.”  Available at the conference was a brochure from its good offices extolling the merits of greater quantities of carbon dioxide, explaining how that would improve “our lives and our planet Earth”.

One of its members, retired statistics professor Caleb Rossiter, spoke at the gathering by insisting that, “There has been no increase in storms, in intensity or frequency.  The data don’t show a worrisome trend.”

The event prompted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Maine Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree, to pen an open letter to the CEOs.  “We were deeply disappointed to see that your companies were high-level sponsors of a conference this month in Washington, D.C., known as LibertyCon, that included a session denying established science on climate change.”

The Congresswomen, suitably exercised by the whole matter, suggested that past initiatives to tackle the carbon footprint by the big three should not prove a distraction.  “The example you have set promoting sustainability and evidence-based science is compromised by your implicit support of the session.”

When asked to comment on the matter by Fortune magazine, a Google spokesperson paraded the company’s sustainability credentials.  “Since 2007, we have operated as a carbon neutral company and in 2017, we reached 100% renewable energy for our global operations.”  Microsoft preferred a stony silence.   Business is simply cold hearted business.

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The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era

Willie Ford listened to the conference call in disbelief from the cab of his tractor trailer on I-95 as the Teamster election monitor announced the results of the contract vote covering 250,000 workers at UPS.Ford, a leader of Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), and rank-and-file activists like him, had spent months organizing the UPS Teamster United campaign to win contract improvements.But UPS management and top Teamster officials agreed to givebacks, including a two-tier wage scale for drivers, and spent millions on a coordinated campaign to promote and push through their concessionary deal.

Now was the moment of truth.

In a monotone voice, the election official announced the results. By a 54 percent majority, UPS workers rejected the givebacks. Dissident Teamster activists had done the impossible. Their Vote No campaign had won.

But it wasn’t over yet. The very next speaker on the conference call reversed the rank-and-file victory. Citing an obscure loophole in the Teamster Constitution, Denis Taylor, the union’s chief negotiator at UPS, declared the contract ratified. Just like that, two-tier concessions at the largest union contract in the United States were imposed over the no vote by the members.

“I almost swerved off the road. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut,” Ford said.

Sixty-three percent of UPS workers in Ford’s local union in North Carolina voted no, only to be stuck with givebacks.

It was like déjà vu. Two years earlier, 81 percent of the same Local 71 members voted for TDU-backed candidates in the International Union election, only to see incumbent president James P. Hoffa retain power by a razor-thin margin of 6,000 votes in a union of 1.4 million members.

“It seemed they had us no matter what we did,” Ford said. “I’ve spent the last ten years organizing for change in this union, and I had just about had it.”

From Vote No to Vote Them Out

Ford geared up for one more organizing campaign. He called up angry UPS Teamsters in the Carolinas who had coordinated the Vote No effort, from the big hub in Charlotte to suburbs and small towns like Monroe and Kannapolis to Florence, South Carolina.

They met in the back room of a Showmars restaurant with drivers and dockworkers from freight companies Yellow Roadway Corporation Worldwide (YRCW), ABF Freight System, and Holland Freight.

Over fried fish and crinkle fries, they planned a grassroots campaign to unite Teamsters who were fed up with being on the losing end of austerity—wage freezes, two-tier pay, pension cuts, low-wage part-time work—and build a movement to take over their local union.

It worked. On January 1, Willie Ford and the Rebuild 71 slate assumed leadership in their local union. In last fall’s election, members chose Ford over the incumbent president who backed Hoffa and his concessionary contracts, by a nearly 3-1 margin.

Working Teamsters in North Carolina aren’t the only ones who are moving from Vote No to voting for change.

In the last year, members have elected rank-and-file activists to lead Teamster local unions in New York City, Dallas, Richmond, Maryland, the Quad Cities, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.

Elsewhere, insurgent candidates came close, suffering narrow losses in San Diego, Memphis, Toledo, and Madison.

Fresh off the UPS Teamsters United campaign, seven thousand UPS workers in New York elected a slate of Vote No activists into office.

“We Voted No against the UPS givebacks by 95 percent, but you can’t win when you’re fighting the company and your own union at the same time,” said Eugene Braswell, a UPS Teamster and national TDU Steering Committee member from New York Local 804.

New Local 804 leaders couldn’t do anything to change the imposed national contract. But in a supplemental agreement covering UPS workers in New York, the new local leadership negotiated a $400-per-month pension increase, more full-time jobs for part-timers, and double-time pay for all Sunday work when UPS begins Sunday deliveries.

The union has joined with community-labor coalitions like the campaign against Amazon.

“The biggest difference is on the shop floor,” Braswell said. “Our old executive board just rolled over for management. Not anymore. The fight is back in our local, that’s for damn sure.”

Organizing at the Bottom to Win at the Top

Now, the Teamster rank and file is taking aim at the International Union with the goal of transforming the leadership of the 1.4-million-member Teamsters Union.

At the TDU Convention in November, activists voted to endorse the O’Brien–Zuckerman Teamsters United slate and to join a coalition campaign to replace the Hoffa administration with new International Union leadership.

Ballots won’t be mailed to Teamsters until November 2021, but the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) election starts now.

An election supervisor will be appointed in March, and the campaign will begin in earnest in June, with a national Teamster-to-Teamster petition drive to collect 100,000 signatures to make the Teamsters United Slate officially accredited candidates.

In an age of digital campaigns and online organizing, Teamster elections are old school, grassroots, and personal. Petitions are signed in person in break rooms and employee parking lots.

“To get 100,000 signatures, you need to have 150,000 worker-to-worker conversations,” said Nick Perry, a TDU cochair and petition drive veteran. “That means recruiting volunteers, training them, building local committees. We’re not just collecting signatures. We’re building a network and an organization.”

A year from now, activists will test their organizational muscle when members will vote in a separate election in every local union to choose delegates to the Teamster Convention. Delegates will officially nominate candidates and vote on reforms to the Teamster Constitution, like eliminating the Two-Thirds Rule — the loophole that was used to impose contract concessions at UPS.

The delegate races are also a trial run for rank-and-file activists who are looking to take on old-guard local officers in local union elections.

“We ran for Convention Delegate, and we beat our local union officers. We built up a network that lasted long after the election,” Ford said, reflecting on the 2016 Teamsters United organizing in Charlotte.

“That long-term organizing is why we were able to vote down UPS givebacks and why members elected us to lead our local,” Ford said.

“We need rank-and-file organization to win this election, but we also need it to build worker power after we win,” said Frank Halstead, a grocery warehouse Teamster and TDU cochair from Southern California. “To really take on corporate power that’s going to take a lot more than voters. That’s going to take an army of rank-and-file fighters. The election campaign is boot camp. The real war hasn’t even begun.”

The Teamsters United Slate is led by Sean O’Brien, an International Union vice president formerly aligned with Hoffa, and Fred Zuckerman, the TDU-backed candidate for Teamster president on the Teamsters United ticket in 2016.

The slate is still in formation. Only six candidates have been named so far, including Juan Campos, the militant president of Chicago Teamsters Local 705, and Matt Taibi, a TDU leader and principal officer of Rhode Island Local 251.

The incumbent Teamster general president, James Hoffa, will almost surely not seek reelection. Old-guard Teamster officials are wrestling over who will assume his mantle, including Hoffa slate members Ken Hall and Kevin Moore, both associated with concessionary contracts; Rome Aloise, a Bay Area Teamster power broker who is coming off a two-year suspension from office for corruption; and Terry Hancock, a Hoffa ally who took over the Chicago Joint Council after another Hoffa power broker was indicted for taking employer payoffs.

Whoever emerges from this scrum, the TDU-endorsed O’Brien–Zuckerman Teamsters United slate enter the campaign as the early favorites to be elected the next leadership of North America’s most powerful union.

From Economic Crisis to Organizing Comeback

No one could have seen this coming. Flash back ten years. The economic crisis that followed the housing bubble was wreaking havoc in the Teamsters.

Overwhelmed by debt at the very moment that credit and business dried up, the union’s largest freight employer, YRCW, avoided bankruptcy by slashing workers’ wages and pensions.

The Teamsters’ largest pension fund, Central States, lost billions in the Wall Street crash. Union pension fund officials teamed with employers to back a plan to cut the earned pensions of four hundred thousand Teamsters and retirees.

The Hoffa administration responded to the crisis by going along with every employer austerity initiative, from concessions to pension cuts to speedups.

Opposition inside the Teamsters was growing, but it was also divided. In 2011, Hoffa won a three-way election with 60 percent of the vote. The TDU-backed presidential candidate, Sandy Pope, was a longtime TDU leader with impeccable reform credentials. With few officer allies and no running mates, Pope ran as an independent candidate and finished third.

“That was a tough time,” Halstead said. “We were able to come through it because TDU is about a lot more than elections. We never stop bringing members together, taking on fights, learning lessons, and organizing rank-and-file power.”

Over the next two years, TDU activists waged rank-and-file campaigns to stop health-care cuts and raise part-time pay at UPS, oppose concessions in freight, and save workers’ pensions.

Some Teamster officials who had opposed Hoffa in the 2011 election retired or fell back into the Hoffa fold. But some began to ally with the rank-and-file movement. Most important among these was Fred Zuckerman, the leader of Teamsters Local 89 in Louisville, one of the largest local unions representing UPS workers and one of the most strategically important.

Ten thousand Local 89 members handle up to 8 million UPS packages per day — roughly one in eight that UPS delivers nationwide — at the company’s mothership facility, called Worldport.

Zuckerman and TDU initially made unlikely coalition partners. For years, they butted heads. TDU members ran against Zuckerman in local union elections in Louisville; nationally, TDU opposed contracts Zuckerman negotiated covering Teamster carhaulers.

But beginning in 2013, Zuckerman and TDU began working together to build Vote No campaigns against contract concessions at UPS, UPS Freight, and the national carhaul contract.

A new coalition was formed to challenge Hoffa — uniting TDU and activists with Zuckerman and local union officers who opposed Hoffa. Teamsters United was born.

Teamsters United and the 2016 Election

The 2016 Teamsters United slate was originally headed by Tim Sylvester, a reform officer in New York. When Sylvester lost his local union reelection campaign in 2015, Zuckerman became the Teamsters United presidential candidate.

The number of local officers supporting Teamsters United was small — less than 10 percent of officials backed the slate — but the presence of some local officers in the coalition strengthened the campaign’s credibility and broadened its reach.

Most important, Teamsters United tapped into the anti-givebacks mood in the rank and file.

Strengthened by coalition and backed by a national network of TDU and Vote No activists built out of years of grassroots organizing campaigns, the Teamsters United nearly won the 2016 election.

Forty-nine percent of members voted for Teamsters United, including a majority in the United States. Teamsters United elected six regional vice presidents, carrying 57 percent of the vote in the South and 59 percent of the vote in the Central Region.

An incredible 70 percent of the 300,000 Teamsters who work under the union’s signature national contracts in freight, carhaul, UPS, and UPS Freight voted against Hoffa.

A majority of rail and airline Teamsters voted for Teamsters United, too. In fact, every national unit of Teamsters voted for the opposition to Hoffa.

Ironically, Hoffa was saved by the votes cast by the members who know him the least. Teamsters who work under contracts negotiated by local unions, not the International Union, have limited contact with the rank-and-file movement and have low voter turnout. But they make up a large pool of 1 million voters, and most followed the lead of their local officers and voted for Hoffa.

The results exposed a gaping divide between Teamster ranks and their elected leaders. While nearly half of Teamster members voted against Hoffa, more than 90 percent of their local union officers backed him.

It is nearly impossible to take power in an International Union over the opposition of 90 percent of union officials; it is completely impossible to run an International Union on that basis — a challenge for the Teamsters United opposition as it looked ahead to the future.

The Hoffa administration faced the opposite dilemma. How do you lead a union when you are opposed by the majority of the members who work under every national contract that you negotiate?

Coming out of the 2016 Teamster election, both sides looked for a way out.

Building a Majority Coalition

Still reeling from his narrow election escape and UPS contract negotiations approaching, Hoffa turned to the only member of his slate with militant credentials and proven support among members at UPS.

Hoffa appointed Sean O’Brien to head the union’s Package Division and lead contract negotiations with UPS. O’Brien carried an overwhelming 63 percent of the vote in New England in 2016.

O’Brien had proven anti-TDU credentials. He was briefly suspended from union office in 2013 for making threatening comments against TDU members who ran for office — and won — in Rhode Island Local 251.

But in a hyper-polarized Teamsters Union that had been defined by a civil war between old guard and reformers for decades, O’Brien did something unheard of: he reached out to his political opponents.

In 2017, as part of the lead-up to contract negotiations, O’Brien visited Teamsters United–aligned locals. In Louisville, he attended a mass meeting of UPS stewards. “He said, ‘Ask anything you want’ — and they did just that,” said Local 89 steward and TDU leader David Thornsberry. They peppered him with questions, including his role in imposing the 2013 Louisville Air Supplement.

“To his credit, Sean answered frankly and said, ‘I’m not that guy anymore.’ He said he had learned from that experience and certainly would not be part of imposing any contract. He impressed me, and I think a lot of the stewards.”

“Sean came to our local and told our members straight out: ‘Mistakes have been made, and they won’t be repeated.’ That showed us a lot,” said Matt Taibi, the TDU leader who was elected principal officer of Teamsters Local 251 despite O’Brien’s previous efforts.

“Sean wasn’t running for office at that time. He was working for Hoffa. He reached out to build unity to take on the employers — and we took the olive branch. Since then, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder to win strikes, organizing drives, and contract campaign,” said Taibi.

O’Brien appointed Teamsters United leaders to the UPS bargaining committee. But when he insisted on appointing Fred Zuckerman and on running a rank-and-file contract campaign, Hoffa fired O’Brien.

O’Brien immediately came out in opposition to Hoffa and continued building ties to local officers who opposed givebacks. While TDU members and other rank-and-file activists organized to defeat UPS givebacks nationally, O’Brien led a Vote No campaign in New England. Nationally, UPSers voted no by 54 percent; in New England, members voted no by 83 percent.

Last year, O’Brien and Zuckerman announced they would run a Teamsters United ticket with O’Brien in the top spot.

“When I first heard the news about O’Brien taking the top spot, I was shocked,” said Rob Atkinson, a construction Teamster and TDU activist in Pittsburgh. “But I talked with other Teamsters, and we know that going it alone means going nowhere. I want to be in a coalition that will take on the bosses and change this union.”

TDU Members Endorse and Look Ahead

It’s November 2019 and 300 activists and leaders gather at the TDU Convention in Chicago to strategize about what’s next for the rank-and-file movement.

O’Brien and Zuckerman are there to address the national organization of Teamster grassroots activists.

At the Convention, they released a 10 Steps Toward a Stronger Union flyer in line with the program backed by Teamsters United in 2016, including grassroots national contract campaigns at employers and coordinated strategic campaigns that link organizing and bargaining.

Tens of thousands of Teamsters work for multinationals like Waste Management, Republic Services, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, First Student, and Sysco, under hundreds of separate local contracts that are negotiated with little coordination, let alone coordinated action.

Last year’s strikes that paralyzed Marriott in Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston offered a glimpse of a more promising model for the Teamsters and all of labor.

O’Brien also backed democratic reforms, including protecting one-member, one-vote elections for top Teamster officers without adding restrictions supported by Hoffa to keep opposition candidates off the ballot and ending the Two-Thirds Rule — the loophole that allowed union officials to oppose contracts that were rejected by a majority of the members.

He mocked Hoffa running mate Ken Hall for never missing an opportunity to brag about the $240 million in the union’s strike fund. “Well, no shit, we haven’t struck anyone since 1997,” O’Brien said to a standing ovation.

An International Union leadership that embraces the strike weapon would be a major U-turn for the Teamsters.

The labor movement has seen more strikes in the last two years than at any time in the last thirty-five — from teachers to grocery warehouses to hotel chains to General Motors, but the Teamsters have largely been on the sidelines of the strike wave.

While some Teamster locals use the strike weapon — including, with frequency, Zuckerman’s Local 89 and O’Brien’s Local 25 — the International hasn’t won a major national strike since 1997 at UPS, two years before Hoffa took office.

Outside workshops and in the bar, activists talk and debate. Back home, activists slug it out on social media. Some blasted O’Brien for his past actions and criticized TDU for backing a former Hoffa ally.

“Some people were concerned, and I get it,” says Dave Bernt, a UPS driver and veteran TDU activist. “We had a lot of the same concerns about Fred Zuckerman five years ago. We built a partnership through joint action, and look at everything we’ve accomplished.

“Some on Facebook have suggested that the endorsement meant the death of TDU. I think they have it exactly backward,” Bernt said. “TDU is an organization of action. We can’t stand on the sidelines and abstain from an election that can change the Teamsters and the labor movement. That is what would be the death of TDU.”

The vote itself is anticlimactic and overwhelming. TDUers voted to endorse the slate with only two votes in opposition.

TDU activists voted to approve a resolution to maintain the movement’s independence and rank-and-file approach. The Teamsters United slate is abstaining from local union elections. But the TDU Convention voted to prioritize helping rank-and-file activists “run for local union office and succeed in building progressive locals after they win.”

Transforming the Teamsters won’t happen without tackling the issue of race. Only one out of twenty-seven members of the International Union’s executive board is African American. Of the more than 400 Teamster locals, only twenty are led by African-American principal officers.

A year ago, that number was sixteen. TDU supported black-led slates in Charlotte, Maryland, Richmond, Philadelphia, and Memphis — winning four of the five races.

The TDU Black Caucus organized a national Black Leadership Conference in 2019 and is planning a national summit at the upcoming Labor Notes Conference.

“If we’re going to unite the ranks to stand up to corporate power, we need leadership that looks like the members. That means more African Americans, Latinos, and women at every level of leadership — from the General Executive Board to our local unions to shop stewards,” said Willie Hardy, a retired freight Teamster from Memphis and the coordinator of TDU’s Black Caucus.

TDU members are gearing up and planning organizing meetings, education conferences, local union election campaigns, activist trainings, contract campaigns, and on-the-job actions.

“Winning the International Union election is just a part of it what we’re about. Our goal is not just different leaders, but more leaders and a more activist union,” Willie Ford said.

David Levin is a lead organizer with Teamsters for a Democratic Union.

This article first appeared in Jacobin.

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Defender and Spearheads

”ALARM! Twelve thousand residents must immediately leave their homes! All hospital clinics must be evacuated! No exceptions! Hasten! “

Not in burning Australia nor a besieged town in Syria or Afghanistan, but on January 12th 2020 in the otherwise peaceful if no longer prosperous Dortmund, in Germany’s Ruhr Valley; once again, unexploded bombs were detected under a central street and needed delicate defusing. Peaceful life had again been disrupted by remnants of World War Two; Dortmund, on March 12th 1945, was hit by the heaviest air raid of the war, costing 6341 lives and most of its remaining buildings. Last week’s detonations went safely – but restated a sad fact: in dozens of cities people still fear leftovers of a war which ended 75 years ago.

One month after the air raid in 1945 American GI’s freed Dortmund, just one day too late to save a last group of over 300 German antifascists and slave laborers from France, Belgium, Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Poland, the USSR, whose bullet-ridden corpses their Nazi killers had dumped into a mass grave. Three weeks later GI’s and Red Army men met and shook hands on a bridge over the Elbe River. Ten more days and the Soviets overcame desperate resistance to finally free Berlin, ending a 12-year nightmare which cost an estimated 27 million lives alone in the USSR – including huge numbers of civilians in burned villages, starved, frozen, in countless mass graves like the one in Dortmund. Europe turned to healing its wounds, to repairing colossal destruction. It, and the whole world, yearned for lasting peace.

Now, 75 years later, we watch the incredible turn-around. The happy handshakes and yearnings of that momentous springtime seem fully forgotten, erased. Troop movements today promise anything but peace. Every two years military maneuvers encircle Russian borders; every nine months a new brigade of 4500 US soldiers was flown over to “gain experience”. This year it will be a division of 20,000, joined by soldiers from 18 countries, 37,000 in all.

The “Defender 2020” maneuvers will include mock attacks by Polish soldiers playing “the enemy” in tanks from one-time Soviet production. But at a press conference US Maj. Gen. Andrew Rohling, backed up by a German lieutenant general, insisted that the maneuvers are “not directed against Russia” but “simply to demonstrate a military ability to react quickly if it ever become necessary.”

Germany’s state-owned TV channel ARD was more explicit. Its commentator, Birgit Schmeitzner, explained:

“In an ideal world soldiers and armies are superfluous. But our world is not ideal… The old principle is still valid: ‘If you want peace you must prepare for war.’ … Maneuvers like ‘Defender 2020’ are part of this. Firstly, to keep in practice. To test how quickly the US Army can move its forces over long distances. Whether German roads and bridges hold out under deep-loaders carrying tanks. Whether communication works out between soldiers of different countries…. But secondly, this exercise is a signal: ‘In any and every case we are ready.’ The recipient is easily discerned: Russia. Appeasement is worthless. It is seen by the Kremlin as weakness. That is why the so-called NATO spearhead was built up in the Baltic countries.”

Not a few spearheads are being brandished these days. Some were weapons shipments to the Ukraine, where a heavily-financed, well-planned ‘regime change’ in 2014 featured violent mobs boldly exchanging Hitler salutes, wearing Nazi symbols and complementing the Baltic spearhead near St. Petersburg with one closer to Moscow, while trying to sever Russia’s outlet to the Black Sea. One need not be a “Putin-lover” to look at a map and grasp the Crimea story!

In the Near East a preferred form of spearhead was the drone. It proved effective against military leaders who, despite their key successes in fighting ISIS, were not to the liking of experts like Pompeo or Trump. Drones, aimed from comfortable chairs off in the Rocky Mountains, also proved effective against “terrorist” groups, which sometimes turned out to be wedding parties or peasants and children gathering pine-nuts. In the first half of 2019 alone 150 Afghani children were killed.

Because of the earth’s curve, aiming drones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Yemen requires a relay station in Europe. This is at the base of Ramstein, HQ of the US Air Forces for both Europe and Africa and the biggest American base outside US boundaries. It is balanced further north in Germany by the base in Bückel, where ten to twenty B-61 bombs are stored, each of them four to 13 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Next door are hangars for German Tornado fighter-bombers to carry them eastward. Occasional promises, even votes, to oust the bombs – illegal on German soil – have thus far been ignored or weakly rationalized. It is not only TV commentators who like strong spearheads.

For years the German peace movement has fought to shut down those bases. This year their efforts will tie in with protests against “Defender 2020” and all its attempts to whip up sympathy, with flag-waving to mark eternal German-American friendship and army bands flown over to play the Star-Spangled Banner, Deutschland über alles and the best of John Philip Sousa’s marching music. What will they play on May 8th to mark the defeat of the Nazis 75 years ago? Since Russia is no longer invited even to events marking the liberation of Auschwitz and Treblinka (by Red Army soldiers), its anthem will hardly be intoned. The date may well be overlooked anyway, for uncomfortable recollections in this direction also run the risk of being viewed as “Putin-friendly”.

But in Berlin the leftish coalition (Social Democrats/Greens/LINKE-Left) surprisingly designated that date as a holiday, at least in this one city for this one year. Germany has mixed currents, even some which, despite all epithets, prefer selling cars and vegetables to Russia, or building underwater gas pipelines, to waving spearheads.

Mixed currents flow through many political parties. Peaceful ones are hardest to find in the words of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (“AKK”), who replaces a more moderate-sounding Angela Merkel as Christian Democratic chair (and hopes to succeed her as chancellor). Frau AKK seems to favor keeping German troops in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Mali, Niger and Iraq, if not more. She is for toughness; the armed forces, now costing € 43 billion a year, should choke down billions more in future, with the fastest planes and deadliest drones. Germany must “have the courage… when necessary, together with our allies and partners, to resort to the full spectrum of military measures.”

The Social Democrats, still partners in the government coalition despite all the losses it has cost them, are hunting desperately for popular policies. The members, sharply reduced in number and polling at only 14%, chose two new leaders reputed to tilt somewhat leftwards, but the cabinet members, most notably Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, while occasionally mumbling disapproval of confrontation and assassinating opponents, back off fearfully from a possible total collapse if they break with their Christian partners, their Washington patrons, or their hushed ties to men and women of money, power and influence.

The once left-leaning, so very non-conformist Greens, while still pushing environmental issues loudly enough to soar into second place in the polls, often seem to overlook working-people’s rights and to sing the loudest in the spearhead-waving chorus. In one state after another they show willingness to join up with the “Christians.”

The quasi-fascists AfD, in a tie with the Social Democrats at 14% in the polls, sometimes praises a vote-getting peaceful policy but always insists on more and more armaments and men in uniform. In the last century Germans experienced – and still experience in cities like Dortmund – what such twists and turns lead to.

And the LINKE? On January 11th the annual Rosa Luxemburg conference, again organized by the daily ‘Junge Welt’, brought together 3000 leftists from all over Germany plus foreign guest speakers from Bolivia, Turkey, Colombia, Israel-Palestine, also Tory Russell from Ferguson who described Black Lives Matter. This year again a moving message was recorded by Mumia Abu Jamal in his Pennsylvania jail cell.

The next day, like every year, the “old faithful” and younger enthusiasts laid red carnations at the memorial site for the martyred Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and many other 20th century socialists and communists. In the afternoon, LINKE Bundestag delegates offered a program with good music, fiery speeches and a first chance for many to see and hear the new co-chair of the LINKE caucus, Amira Mohamed Ali, who replaces the retiring Sahra Wagenknecht. Most party members and supporters are waiting in great suspense for a big conference on February 29th, hoping to break out of their current slough with a fighting new program and militant struggles, like the five year rent price ceiling planned for Berlin, a daring attempt, per referendum, to confiscate thousands of apartments owned by giant real estate sharks – and support for the peace movement in its opposition to “Defender 2020” and all atomic spearheads now menacing everyone – whether in Dortmund or Donbass. Damascus or Denver!

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BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt

You are the public editor at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Your job – take in complaints and criticism from the public and respond.

One recurring complaint from the public – PBS is heavily funded by corporate America – and as a result, PBS shies away from those who are critical of corporate control in the USA.

A previous public editor, Michael Getler, addressed this issue head on, in a number of columns throughout his twelve year career (2005 to 2017) as the ombudsman at PBS.

In one, titled Keeping Their Heads Down, (June 18, 2010), Getler ran a complaint from a viewer in Oregon.

“I continue to be uncomfortable with your cozy association with oil giants (BP, Chevron) and other notorious corporations like Monsanto who apparently shovel a lot of money your way,” the viewer wrote. “This practice undermines trust of your truth telling capacity when it might affect one of your corporate supporters. How is this practice any different than the other national corporate media entities who also accept money for the same reason you do? We have no trust of the integrity of these corporate media sources and we are losing trust in your operation for the same reason.”

Getler challenged the top brass at PBS with this and other similar complaints about corporate control — “How can PBS NewsHour claim to be unbiased when their main sponsors are Big Banks (Bank of America), Big Oil (Chevron) and Big Farms (Monsanto)?” another viewer asked.

In other columns, Getler wrote about David Koch’s underwriting of PBS – David Koch and PBS: The Odd Couple (May 2013), about BP’s influence over PBS in Underwriters, Corporate Funders & Noncommercial Public Television (October 2006), and about Dow Chemical influence over PBS in – Flunking the Perception Test (April 2012).

Since Getler left PBS in 2017, the PBS public editor has yet to address head on the issue of corporate influence over PBS.

Let’s say that as a PBS viewer, you wanted to ask the public editor about corporate control over PBS and the way PBS filters out critics of the corporate influence over PBS.

Why, for example, is the PBS show America’s Heartland being underwritten by CropLife America, a trade group for the pesticide industry?

You pick up the phone and dial up the current PBS Public Editor – Ricardo Sandoval-Palos.

On the Public Editor’s web site, it says you can call him at 703-739-5290.

Dial it up. And up comes a voice that says “you are free to leave a voicemail message but would be better off writing an email to the public editor (”

But then you hear “you cannot record a message for” – and up comes the voice of Michael Getler, who was public editor at PBS from 2012 to 2017, and who died on March 15, 2018 at the age of 82.

And then you hear – “this mailbox is full.”

And then “please hold to leave a general message.” And then “goodbye” with no chance of leaving a message. (Listen to the PBS Public Editor voicemail here.)

In March 2018, the Washington Post ran an obituary of Getler titled – Michael Getler, Washington Post editor who became incisive in-house media critic, dies at 82.

Before becoming public editor at PBS, Getler was the Washington Post ombudsman from 2000 to 2005.

“Getler became known for sharp observations that became the talk of the newsroom —  and other newsrooms,” Post reporter Bart Barnes wrote in the obituary. “The New York Times reported that work virtually came to a standstill when Mr. Getler’s criticism – ‘lobbed like hand grenades’ – became available internally before it ran in the Sunday paper.”

For too long, PBS has been afflicted by a disease of contempt for its viewers. Corporate sponsors come first. Corporate critics have been systematically filtered out of PBS news programs.

As a tribute to Getler’s life and work, PBS might want to consider a public editor who is responsive to viewers’ concerns.

Step one – answer the phone.

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Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United

Ten years ago this week, the Supreme Court released its disastrous 2010 Citizens United decision.

The court, either through remarkable naivety or sheer malevolence, essentially married two terrible ideas: that “money equals speech” and that “corporations are people.” The ruling put a for sale sign on our democracy, opening up a flood of corporate, special interest, and even foreign money into our politics.

Through Citizens United and a collection of other terrible and related decisions, the Court made a bad situation worse. We saw the proliferation of super PACs, which can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, and the rise of dark money, which is undisclosed political spending that can come from any special interest, even foreign countries.

In the 10 years since the decision, there’s been $4.5 billion dollars in outside spending (spending from outside interest groups and not candidates for office) in elections, compared to $750 million spent in the 20 years prior to the case. From 2000-2008, there were only 15 federal races where outside spending exceeded candidate spending. In the same amount of time following Citizens United, this occurred in 126 races. Since the decision, almost half of all outside spending is dark money that has no or limited disclosure of its donors.

And that money is not coming from the farmers suffering through Donald Trump’s trade war or the fast-food workers fighting for a living wage. It’s coming from the wealthiest among us, people often with very different priorities than the majority of Americans. In fact, a full one-fifth of all super PAC donations in the past 10 years have come from just 11 people.

This has led to an unresponsive and dysfunctional government. We can’t make any progress on issues like gun safety, health care costs, or climate change. Politicians are in the pockets of their big donors. Foreign influence goes unreported and unchecked.  And we’re left with the most corrupt president in American history, who’s embroiled in a series of scandals that threaten our prosperity, safety, and security.

To name just a few of these scandals: Trump urged a foreign country to investigate his political opponents. His lawyer’s “associates” illegally funneled money into his super PAC through a sham corporation. The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions of dollars in unreported “dark” money to elect him while also serving as a Russian asset.

Trump and his accomplices should be held accountable, through Congressional impeachment, the judicial process, or both. But we must also elect new leaders who will pass real, meaningful anti-corruption reforms.

Thanks to a class of reformers elected in 2018, we’ve already begun that process. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the For the People Act (H.R. 1).

H.R. 1 would strengthen ethics rules and enforcement; reduce the influence of big money while empowering individual, small-dollar donors; and, along with a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act, protect every American’s right to vote. It also calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Sadly, this bill is being blocked by Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

These reforms are all popular with the American people. We can unrig the system and restore that faith by taking action to elect candidates who will fight for these priorities – and by pressuring elected officials to act.

That means attending town halls and asking politicians if they will make reform their top priority, signing up to volunteer for candidates who are running on this issue – and chipping in a small donation if you can. Join groups like End Citizens United or Let America Vote that are pushing back against the rigged system and standing with candidates who put people ahead of corporate special interests.

Together, we can restore trust in government, prevent corruption, strengthen our national security, and ensure Washington truly works for the people.

Tiffany Muller is the President of End Citizens United, which is dedicated to getting Big Money out of politics and fixing the rigged system in Washington, D.C. so the government works for all Americans. Follow her at @Tiffany_Muller

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Iowa is not the Twitterverse

It was a balmy 70 degrees in New York City last Saturday, and the excited green croci began tipping through the earth. Now, that same ground is icy, and those tips are frozen stiff, and I’ve been fearing that the same fate might befall hopeful progressive voters in the wake of the Warren/Sanders tiff.

The debate stage dust-up between the Democrats’ two leading progressives came as manna to the money media, which would always rather cover a handshake than a policy plank. Given a choice between covering tit-for-tat tweets and reporting on voting rights or publicly-owned generic drugs, the brought-to-you-by-Big-Pharma news networks will always go where it’s easiest.

And so I might have gone on believing a big freeze was on if not for a press release from Democracy for America. Eighteen days before the Iowa caucuses, they released a Unity Pledge signed by eighteen left-of-center groups, agreeing to stick together to defeat the corporate Democrats. Signatories included groups who have endorsed Sanders and groups who have endorsed Warren as well as unaligned organizations. “It’s not just about being nice; it’s a serious strategy question,” said Maurice Mitchell, executive director of The Working Families Party, which took serious heat for endorsing Warren. “Together, progressives could beat any one of the centrists, but if the base of one turns against the other, we lose.”

A nationally negotiated sign-on is nice, but it has a crocus’s chance in ice if it’s not reflected in organizing, which caused me to call Iowa. The actual Iowans I spoke to hadn’t heard about any pledge, but neither were they too involved in tweeting. “Door knocking resets your brain,” said Taylor Blair, former president of the Iowa State Student Union. “What people are talking about on the doors is nothing like what’s on social media.” Bernie-backer Susie Petra belongs to a chapter of Our Revolution that includes both Warren and Sanders supporters, some of whom are co-writing a letter to the Ames Journal, making the point that it’s the policies they’re voting for, not the person. “It’s our election,” Petra told me. “It needs to keep focused on us.”

For all of its flaws, Iowa may actually be a good place to test the unity idea. Iowa’s caucus system forces voters to hash things out neighbor to neighbor, face to face. The grassroots groups involved in the pledge are asking progressives not to leave February 3rd without casting their final vote for either Warren or Sanders, even if their top pick fails to meet the viability threshold of 15 percent. The second round of caucusing will be something to watch.

The real game changer around here, though, might be Iowa State University’s decision, after years of pressure, to issue new student IDs, enabling 35,000 students to vote, even under Iowa’s restrictive new voter-ID law. That’s a progressive victory, and in a different media universe, it would be a story even juicier than a handshake.

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Handball in Brooklyn 

Handball in Brooklyn


I don’t know if it’s like this
Where you live, but here
The delis and bodegas
All have clear plastic bags
Behind their counters filled
With blue rubber spheres
Metro Ball, Sky Bounce
A handball for a buck —
One of the supreme joys
I find
Is squeezing one
From time to time — but
The handball wall that’s closest
To our place is taken up
A homeless camp’s established just
above the BQE — right there
And who needs all that poison air
The next one, down on Rodney’s alright
Despite the needles under benches
Or glinting on the asphalt
Like stars — opioids or sugar
Which one is the bigger historical harm
It’s hardly a contest
My right arm
Against my left
And which is best today
Against the wall

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Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President

Photograph Source: Ali Shaker/VOA – Public Domain

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

– Maya Angelou

“It’s amazing,” fellow CounterPuncher Eric Draitser recently wrote me, “that people ever thought a Trump administration would be something other than this.”

“This” is the demented neofascistic Trump-Pence regime, which openly violates basic constitutional norms and rules while conducting itself in barefacedly racist, sexist, and eco-cidal ways.

The long record of this presidency’s transgressions now includes the open dog-wagging assassination – on brazenly false pretexts – of a foreign military commander atop a state (Iran) with which the United States is not at war and without the permission of a government (Iraq) on whose soil the monumental war crime took place. In response to mild Democratic Party criticism of the timing and grounds for the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Trump has re-tweeted a right-wing lunatic’s tweet depicting Democratic Congressional leaders Charles Schumer (Senate Minority Leader) and Nancy Pelosi (House Speaker) in Muslim garb (a turban for Schumer and a hajib for Pelosi) in front of an Iranian flag.

Trump’s “press secretary” (who never holds press conferences) went on Trump Television (FOX News) to accuse Democrats of taking “talking points from Iran” for questioning the reasons given for the reckless assassination.

A book published by a leading civil rights lawyer last summer finds 20 common themes, rhetorical tactics, and dangerous policies that Trump is “copying from the early Hitler government” in 1930s Germany: holding power without winning majority support; finding and using direct lines of communication with their base; blaming others and diving on racial lines; relentlessly demonizing opponents; constantly attacking objective truth; relentlessly attacking mainstream media; assaulting science; cultivating a fawning alternative media to spread his lies; regular orchestrated mass hate-rallies; extreme nationalism; making a big show of closing borders; embracing mass detention and deportation; using borders to protect selected industries; embedding rule by rewarding capitalist elites; rejecting international norms; attacking domestic democratic processes; attacking courts and the rule of law; glorifying the military and demanding loyalty oaths; proclaiming unchecked power; relegating women to subordinate roles.

The Trumpenstein will not likely leave the White House without bloodshed even if he is bested in the Electoral College next November. Don’t take it from a leftist like me. The conservative American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein and the right-wing Trump senior administration official “Anonymous” have both recently warned that the tangerine-tinted Twitter-tantruming truth-trashing tyrant Trump may not honor the outcome of an election result that doesn’t go his way. “Members of Congress, governors and state legislators, leaders in civil society, lawyers, law enforcement figures and the military need,” Ornstein says, “to be thinking about how they might respond.”

Whence Trump’s special love for despots and dictators of various ideological stripes (ranging from Vladimir Putin to the blood-soaked Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte, the murderous Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin-Salman, the North Korean dictator Kim jong-Un, the Brazilian eco-Nazi Jair Bolsonaro, and Turkish despot Recep Erdogan) around the world? “The president,” one top national security aide told Anonymous, “sees in these guys what he wishes he had: total power, no term limits, enforced popularity, and the ability to silence critics for good

“Bring Back the Death Penalty…The Right to be a New Yorker”

But, back to Draitser’s comment. Anyone who has been surprised by the nature of the Trump presidency wasn’t paying attention to pre-presidential Trump. The fact that the real estate baron and former reality television star Donald J. Trump was a malignantly narcissistic racist, sexist sociopath and an instinctual fascist was clear before he became a seriously viable presidential contender.

“The Donald” of the 1980s and 1990s was notorious for cheating contractors and workers, abusing his wives and other women, suing and defaming his critics, holding racist sentiments, and endless and shameless self-promoting. The son of a Ku Klux Klan member, a corrupt real estate mogul who sent the future president to military school, Trump made a political mark for himself during the late 1980s with harsh public comments about the “Central Park Five,” five black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of the rape of a jogger in New York City. Trump bought newspaper advertisements calling for New York State to “bring back the death penalty” in the aftermath of the attack. His statement contained this chilling statement:

“When I was young, I sat in a diner with my father and witnessed two young bullies cursing and threatening a very frightened waitress. Two cops rushed in, lifted up the thugs and threw them out the door, warning them never to cause trouble again. I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave to the citizens of this City. Let our politicians give back our police department’s power to keep us safe. Unshackle them from the constant chant of ‘police brutality’ which every petty criminal hurls immediately at an officer who has just risked his or her life to save another’s. We must cease our continuous pandering to the criminal population of this City. Give New York back to the citizens who have earned the right to be New Yorkers” (emphasis added).

(Trump has since refused to apologize for his campaign against the Central Park Five despite the full exoneration of the falsely accused men.)

Trump said this when he became irritated by the presence of legally required braille dots on the elevator towers of one of his New York City building: “no blind people are going to live here.”

Trump’s first wife Ivana told Vanity Fair in 1990 that her ex-husband kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside table – a claim that seems all too reasonable given the openly fascistic nature of Trump’s presidency.

Between 2005 and 2010, Trump ran Trump University, which was sued in two federal class actions based on allegations of defrauding its students with deceptive marketing and aggressive sales tactics. (Trump had to settle three lawsuits in November 2016, paying out $25 million after being elected president).

A Birther and a Rapist

After Barack Obama became the nation’s first Black president, Trump embraced the absurd racist “Birther” charge that Obama’s presence in the White House violated the U.S. Constitution because Obama had had not been born in the United States.

Two months before announcing that he would enter the 2016 presidential contest, Trump tweeted this about the woman who was widely expected to be the Democratic Party’s nominee: “If Hillary[Clinton] can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

This cruelly chauvinistic “social media” comment was richly consistent with Trump’s long prior history of saying and tweeting degrading and demeaning things about women and girls including Bette Midler, Lindsay Lohan, Princess Diana, Kim Kardashian, Rosie O’Donnell, Nancy O’Dell, his wives, his daughters, and females in general. Late in the 2016 campaign, the world learned that Trump had bragged on tape about how his celebrity status permitted hm to sexually assault women. Pre-candidate Trump has in fact been accused of sexual assault by at least 15 women.

Candidate Trumpolini

Any doubts about the noxious, vicious, racist, sexist, arch-reactionary, and yes, fascistic nature of Trump should have been blown away during his 2015-16 run for the White House. Nobody who paid attention to Trump’s anti-presidential campaign has had any business being surprised by his revolting, neofascistic presidency. Candidate Trump:

# Called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug-dealers and said “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”

# Revived “America First” – a phrase that became the public face of pro-fascist sentiment and opposition to fighting Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich in the United States during the 1930s – as one of his leading campaign slogans.

# Regularly promoted the bizarre right-wig conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who infamously suggested that the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing never happened and that the Sandy Hook school shooting was faked. (“Your reputation is amazing,” Trump told Jones in an appearance on his show.)

# Referred to news broadcaster Megyn Kelly’s menstruation as follows: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

# Insulted Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina’s looks, saying “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”

# Gave his fellow presidential contenders juvenile and nasty nicknames (“Little Marco,” “Low Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary”).

# Suggested that voters didn’t really care about candidates’ policy positions and that he would win because “the voters like me, they understand me, they know I’m going to do the job.”

# Falsely claimed that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the September 11, 2001 terror attacks: “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

# Openly mocked a disabled reporter (the New York Times’ Serge Kovaleski) in the juvenile fashion of a vicious grade-school bully.

# Called for the banning of Muslim migration to the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

# Outrageously repeated the right-wing lie that there had been a call for “a moment of silence” in honor of the murderer of five policemen in Dallas in the summer of 2016.

# Openly encouraged political violence at his campaign rallies, saying this (for example) at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “They said, ‘Mr. Trump, there may be someone with tomatoes in the audience.’ So if you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay the legal fees.”

# Complained that it took too long to remove protesters from his rallies “because nobody wants to hurt each other anymore.”

# Threatened to undo First Amendment free speech protections, saying this at a rally in Texas: “If I become president, oh, do [the New York Times and the Washington Post] have problems.… I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

# Refused to disavow racists like David Duke and his followers.

# Re-tweeted the claim that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush “has to like Mexican illegals because of his [Hispanic] wife.”

# Called for the “punishment” of women who have “illegal abortions.”

# Told an Iowa rally that he “kn[e]w more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

# Suggested that Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson was a child molester.

# Praised Russia’s authoritarian head of state Vladimir Putting by saying this to MSNBC in December of 2015: “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader.”

# Said that Hillary Clinton “got schlonged” by Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

# Told an Iowa rally in January of 2016 that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

# Said in a February 2016 Republican presidential debate that “I would bring back waterboarding. And I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

# Absurdly told New Hampshire voters in February 2016 that the nation’s “real unemployment rate under Obama” was 35 to 42 percent.

# Absurdly tweeted that President Barack Obama would have attended Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia’s funeral “if it had been held in a mosque.”

# Said this when asked by MSNBC hosts in March of 2016 who he got foreign policy advice from: “I’m speaking with myself… because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things…My primary consultant is myself, and I have, you know, a good instinct for this stuff.”

# Said this when asked on “The O’Reilly Factor” if he would use nuclear weapons in Europe: “Europe is a big place, I’m not going to take cards off the table.”

# Called US Senator Elizabeth Warren “Pocahantas” because of her claim to possess Native American ancestry.

# Told a California rally in 2016 during a major drought that “there is no drought.”

# Spotted a Black person at a June 2016 California rally and yelled “look at my African-American here”

# Embraced racial profiling in a June 2016 CBS interview.

# Said this at a June 2016 rally in New Hampshire: “That could be a Mexican plane up there. They’re getting ready to attack.”

# Labelled the distinguished long-term U.S. Congressman and Senator Bernie Sanders “crazy Bernie” in July of 2016.

# Told the 2016 Republican National Convention that “I alone can fix” the nation’s problems – a frequent cultish theme in Trump’s campaign rallies.

# Brought on as his chief political strategist the neofascist Stephen Bannon, the editor of the popular white-nationalist Website Breitbart News.

# Encouraged armed right-wing violence against the government by making the following provocative statement at an August 2016 rally in North Carolina: “Hillary wants to abolish… the Second [right to bear arms] Amendment… and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people—maybe there is.”

# Insanely told an August 2016 Florida rally that Obama was “the founder of ISIS OK? He’s the founder. He founded ISIS and I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”

# Falsely told a September 2016 “National Security Forum” that “I was totally against the war in Iraq” and then told the same forum that “If we would have taken the oil [in Iraq], you wouldn’t have ISIS.”

# Refused to let go of his absurd claims that Obama was born outside the United States in a September 2016 interview with The Washington Post.

# Said this to FOX Business Channel’s right-wing host Lou Dobbs about the mass-murderous Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi: “He’s a fantastic guy. … He took control of Egypt. And he really took control of it.”

# Suggested that a distinguished federal judge hearing a case involving Trump’s fraudulent Trump University was biased against Trump because the jurist was “Mexican.”

# Called for a “national [racist] stop-and-frisk law” (which would create a national racist state of martial law) in the name of “law and order.”

# Embraced torture (“it works”) and called for the murder of alleged Islamic terrorists’ families.

# Asked why the U.S. had nuclear weapons if it couldn’t use them.

# Insanely advocated the nuclear weaponization of arch-reactionary and absolutist Saudi Arabia.

# Mocked Asians in a juvenile way in front of hot microphones.

# Regularly led rally crowds in the chant “Lock Her [Hillary] Up” – a remarkable call for the incarceration of his major party opponent.

# Denied twice in October 2016 that he had sexually assaulted women by revoltingly suggesting that neither of two accusers were attractive enough to merit rape.

# Suggested during his third debate with Hillary Clinton that he might not accept defeat in the 2016 presidential election.

Believe Them the First Time

Donald Trump has been precisely the terrible, corrupt, right-wing, anti-intellectual, white-nationalist, racist, sexist president and indeed fascist he warned the world he would be.

“When someone shows you who they are,” the famed novelist Maya Angelou once wrote, “believe them the first time.”

“You think I’m going to change?” Trump said in May of 2016. “I’m not going to change.”

“Black People Are Too Stupid to Vote for Me”

One individual who has not likely been completely surprised by the racist, sexist, and fascist nature of Trump’s presidency is Trump’s longtime and former personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen. In November of 2018, Cohen told Vanity Affair about something Trump said while he was traveling with the future president through a poor Black Chicago neighborhood during the late 2000s: “only the blacks could like this.”

After the great South African anti-apartheid activist and president Nelson Mandela died in December of 2013, Trump said this to Cohen: “Name one country run by a black person that’s not a shithole. Name one city.” The United States’ president at the time was Barack Obama.

Cohen also recalled a conversation with Trump after his boss returned from a 2016 campaign rally. When Cohen observed that the rally crowd was mostly white, Trump responded, “That’s because black people are too stupid to vote for me.”

After being convicted of helping Trump criminally pay off two women to keep silent about their extramarital affairs with the future president during the 2016 campaign, Cohen would tell Congress that Trump reminded him of the German fascists who exterminated Cohen’s Jewish relatives in Germany during the 1940s and warned that Trump would not leave the White House without bloodshed.

Gopnik’s Warning

Another person likely unsurprised by Trump’s horrifying presidency is New Yorker columnist Adam Gopnik. “Trump,” Gopnik wrote in July of 2016, summarizing elementary facts of Trump’ life: “is unstable, a liar, narcissistic, contemptuous of the basic norms of political life, and deeply embedded among the most paranoid and irrational of conspiracy theorists. There may indeed be a pathos to his followers’ dreams of some populist rescue for their plights. But he did not come to political attention as a ‘populist’; he came to politics as a racist, a proponent of birtherism.” As Gopnik had explained two months before, the correct description of Trump needed to include the world “fascist” in one way or another:

“There is a simple formula for descriptions of Donald Trump: add together a qualification, a hyphen, and the word “fascist.” The sum may be crypto-fascist, neo-fascist, latent fascist, proto-fascist, or American-variety fascist—one of that kind, all the same. Future political scientists will analyze (let us hope in amused retrospect, rather than in exile in New Zealand or Alberta) the precise elements of Poujadisme, Peronism and Huck Finn’s Pap that compound in Trump’s ‘ideology.’ But his personality and his program belong exclusively to the same dark strain of modern politics: an incoherent program of national revenge led by a strongman; a contempt for parliamentary government and procedures; an insistence that the existing, democratically elected government, whether Léon Blum’s or Barack Obama’s, is in league with evil outsiders and has been secretly trying to undermine the nation; a hysterical militarism designed to no particular end than the sheer spectacle of strength; an equally hysterical sense of beleaguerment and victimization; and a supposed suspicion of big capitalism entirely reconciled to the worship of wealth and “success.” It is always alike, and always leads inexorably to the same place: failure, met not by self-correction but by an inflation of the original program of grievances, and so then on to catastrophe. The idea that it can be bounded in by honest conservatives in a Cabinet or restrained by normal constitutional limits is, to put it mildly, unsupported by history (emphasis liberally added).” [Adam Gopnik, “Going There With Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, May 11, 2016].

Prophetic words, suggestive of something that Refuse Fascism and other left organization are saying nearly four years later: we will not remove Trump and defeat Trumpism in “normal [bourgeois-] constitutional” ways: it will take a great mass and grassroots social movement beneath and beyond the “normal” legal and electoral channels. The sooner will build it the better for all, at home and abroad.

Help Street keep writing here.

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Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition

Photograph Source: Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News & World Report Magazine – Public Domain

Every year, until The Revolution comes again, the counter-revolution manipulates the historic birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, that so many people fought for, as their symbol of Black “integration” into imperialism and “non-violent” acquiescence to, at best, Barack Obama’s cynical negation of his dream. As Donald Trump has just assassinated Iranian General Quassem Soleimani—with Democratic Party token opposition at best and acquiescence at worse, Dr. King reminds us that “the United States, my government, is the greatest purveyor violence in the world.” As Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren squabble for position and too often, reduce the meaning of life to a barren economic populism, Dr. King reminds us that U.S. society is a moral disgrace and we need a revolutionary movement to challenge its “racism, militarism, poverty, and materialism.” His thoughts offer Democrats and the Movement a challenge. There is an urgent need for a revolutionary worldview to challenge the racism and reaction of Donald Trump’s Make America Great fascist appeal. Meanwhile, on the ground, Black and Latino communities and the world are suffering the worst political, economic, and ecological catastrophe with little help in sight. In this context the most engaged and introspective study of Dr. King’s theory and practice is an urgent corrective than can offer hope and inspiration.

I saw a Revolution with my own eyes and helped to make it. Beginning in 1964 I was a field secretary with the Congress of Racial Equality, an organizer with the Newark Community Union Project, a national officer and organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, a ten-year assembly line worker at Ford and General Motors. I was an elected leader of the national UAW New Directions Movement where we challenged the “in bed with the company” materialism of the UAW International with the King-like slogan, “Justice, not just us.”

Today I work in South Central Los Angeles with the Labor/Community Strategy Center along with Black and Latinx community members and high school students fighting for “the social welfare state not the police state/the climate justice state not the warfare state. We are working in the traditions of Sitting Bull, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson, Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, and the wonderful, revolutionary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. How fortunate we are that our Strategy and Soul Movement Center is at 3546 Martin Luther King. Jr. Boulevard in the heart of South L.A. at the historic corner of King and Crenshaw. This year as with every year, we work to protect and expand Dr. King’s legacy from those who would bury it in a grave and celebrate one of the great revolutionaries in U.S. and world history. Every year I reframe and publish this essay with the goal of expanding the discussion and debate about a Black and Third World led anti-racist, anti-imperialist, climate justice united front.

In 2020, as with every year, the annual King Day celebrations provide a great opportunity to defend Dr. King’s revolutionary legacy against The System’s efforts to white wash and degrade his frontal challenge to its crimes. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the great revolutionaries in U.S. and world history. He was a leader of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement, a fierce internationalist, anti-imperialist, and Pan Africanist, a Black militant, pro-communist socialist, and part of The Movement that was far to the left of and in opposition to the Democratic Party.

Since 1980, with the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, The Two Party System, aka U.S. imperialism, has waged a Counter-revolution against the Great Victories of the Revolutionary Sixties. In that the revolutionary left won so many of the ideological battles against U.S. hegemony, The System has understood that a counter-revolution must include a ferocious battle over the historical record. In the past 40 years, in particular, it has been profoundly painful to witness, and very difficult to combat, the lies and slanders against the historical, and political achievements of the Black and Third World led movements. This includes an epidemic of recantation literature written by depressed and disillusioned former radicals denigrating the great achievements of the U.S. Communist Party, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Black Panther Party, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Nation of Islam, the New Communist groups such as the League of Revolutionary Struggle, and the great communist led revolutions in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and Vietnam. It has also included character assassinations, arrests, and actual assassinations of those with the most vivid and irrepressible revolutionary memories. As just one terrifying reflection of the impacts of this campaign, I have heard some young Black and Latino organizers, with such militant intentions, repeat without grasping the sources “this is not your grandfather’s civil rights movement” caricaturing the heroic and historic work of visionary leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In the case of Dr. King, the U.S. government, Democratic Party and Civil Rights Establishment distort King’s life by putting him forth as a “non-violent” accommodating, dreamer. They attempt to use him as a counterforce against Malcolm X, Mao Tse-tung, Ho Chi Minh, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Fidel Castro, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the great Third World revolutionaries throughout history. In truth, Dr. King was one of their colleagues and comrades and in turn, they all had great appreciation of his unique and courageous role in History.

In that History only exists through the struggle over historical interpretation, I, along with many others, want to reinforce the historical view of Dr. King as a great leader in the Black Revolutionary Tradition whose work should help shape our organizing today.

Dr. King rejected the myths of U.S. society. He rejected its Mad Men packaging of itself as “the leader of the free world” to tell it like it is; that the United States is “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Dr. King saw “the Negro revolution” as part of a Third World and world revolution. “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…For years, I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of the South, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a radical reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

Dr. Clayborne Carson, Director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, in his King Papers, related the following story.

Before leaving Ghana, King welcomed a visit from English clergyman and anti-colonial activist Michael Scott, during which the two men compared the freedom struggles in Africa and the United States. King reportedly expressed admiration for the bus boycott then taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, and remarked that there was “no basic difference between colonialism and racial segregation…at bottom both segregation in American and colonialism in Africa were based on the same thing —white supremacy and contempt for life.”

Dr. King supported the Black Power movement and saw himself as a tendency within it. He marched with Stokley Carmichael and Willie Ricks on the March against Fear in Mississippi in June 1966. While initially taken back by their cries of Black Power, he soon elaborated his own views as part of the Black Power continuum. “Now there is a kind of concrete, real Black power that I believe in … certainly if Black power means the amassing of political and economic power in order to gain our just and legitimate goals, then we all believe in that.”

Dr. King sided with the people of Vietnam including the Vietnamese Communists against the U.S. invasion. In his Beyond Vietnam speech, written by and with his close comrade, Vincent Harding, his anti-colonial support for the legitimacy of the Vietnamese Communist cause was clear.

The Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation, and before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. Even though they quoted the American Declaration of Independence in their own document of freedom, we refused to recognize them. Instead, we decided to support France in its reconquest of her former colony.

Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long. With that tragic decision we rejected a revolutionary government seeking self-determination, and a government that had been established not by China (for whom the Vietnamese have no great love) but by clearly indigenous forces that included some Communists. For the peasants this new government meant real land reform, one of the most important needs in their lives. For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam.

Dr. King was deeply appreciative of the Black communist traditions of W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson. He was well aware of the irony and significance that Dr. DuBois died, in Ghana, an exile from the United States and a Communist, on the very day of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

Dr. King observed,

We cannot talk of Dr. DuBois without recognizing that he was a radical all of his life. Some people would like to mute the fact that he was a genius who became a Communist in his later years. It is worth noting that Abraham Lincoln warmly recognized the support of Karl Marx during the Civil War and corresponded with him freely. In contemporary life the English speaking world has no difficulty with the fact that Sean O’Casey was a literary giant of the twentieth century and a Communist or that Pablo Neruda is generally considered the greatest living poet though he also served in the Chilean Senate as a Communist…Our irrational, obsessive, anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it was a model of scientific thinking

King did not merely mention the great contributions of Communists from Du Bois, Casey, Neruda and Ho Chi Minh; he situated himself in that tradition not as a member but clearly as a friend and admirer.

Dr. King’s non-violence was aggressive and militant reflected in non-violent direct action.

Of course Dr. King had his own unique views inside the civil rights movement and Black united front. His views on non-violence were real and deeply held. He also saw non-violence as a tactic to prevent a massive violent backlash from racist whites. King tried to position his demonstrations in ways to get the largest amount of white liberal and international support and to pressure the national Democratic Party that was tied at the hip to the racist Dixiecrats. His belief in non-violence deeply held, but was also tied to the theory and practice of militant, aggressive, Non-Violent Direct Action.

When I worked with CORE and allied with SNCC In 1964-1965 they were known as the Black militants— and yet both organizations saw themselves, at the time, as non-violent. But that did not prevent and in fact encouraged Black people to march into the registrar of elections in Southern cities and refuse to leave, Black students to occupy lunch counters and refuse to leave, Black and white people marching at the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma confronting an army of armed police and white racists, or Black people in the north marching into elected officials’ offices and occupying them, yelling, chanting, singing, and confronting. Everyone we challenged in “the white power structure” saw militant, non-violent direct action by Black people as a big threat and retaliated accordingly. No one at the time praised Dr. King for his “moderation.” They saw angry Black people and saw Dr. King as a threat, which he certainly was, and saw his non-violence and “urgency of now” as a political force to be crushed not co-opted.

Dr. King fought the Democratic Party of Lyndon Johnson and the Black Democratic Establishment. When Dr. King brought his movement to Chicago the Democratic Party Black establishment refused to support him, sided with the racist Mayor Daley, and told him to “go down south where you belong.” Many of them refused to join his mass and militant marches for open housing and an end to police brutality. In response, Dr. King called out the Black political establishment.

The majority of Black political leaders do not ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support … most are still selected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied with resources and inevitably subjected to white control. The mass of [Blacks] nurture a healthy suspicion toward this manufactured leader.

Dr. King understood that the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement was from the outset a battle against the system itself.

King understood the intersection of radical reforms and social revolution and was always working to understand the time, place, conditions and balance of forces that would shape his rhetoric and tactical plan. King was one of the greatest and most effective reformers of all and yet, in confronting the system’s intransigence his own revolutionary outlook kept evolving. King’s prominence began in 1955, in his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the same year as the murder of Emmett Till and the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations—as a continuation of the 63 years of The Sixties that began in 1917 and did not end until the rise of Thatcher and Reagan in 1980.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn school segregation in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, Montgomery in 1955, the great Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, the exciting work of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality Freedom Rides of 1961 the conditions of Black people in the United States remained at criminal levels. By 1963 white Democratic Party terror in the South and Democratic Party racism and brutality in the ghettos of the North had generated a great deal of militancy, organizing, and consciousness but little change in the system. At the great March on Washington in August 1963 King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, Urban League, and A. Phillip Randolph’s Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters took place amid air of hope–but also great impatience and militancy. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (a phrase that was not in its initial draft) was in fact a revolutionary indictment of U.S. society.

One hundred years later [after the formal abolition of slavery] the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check–a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

King is imploring, cajoling, the best in the Black and white masses and even those in U.S. ruling circles. But his words make clear he is also threatening U.S. society and trying to mobilize Black rebellion. When he says “crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of segregation” he is making it clear that slavery is in fact still in place. He describes the United States as a society that offers the Negro bad checks and broken promises, When he says, “We refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt” he is echoing the cry of the Staple Singers—“When will we be paid for the work we’ve done.”

King’s formulation of “the fierce urgency of now and the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” was a frontal assault on the President Kennedy and the Democrats cry for “patience” in face of injustice. King countered with the spirit of Freedom Now—the cry of Black militants in South Africa, South Carolina and the South Bronx—and supported by a growing number of white supporters of the civil rights movement. In fact, “Now” was one of the revolutionary slogans of its time. And President Kennedy and the whole world were listening.

One of King’s revolutionary observations– that is still painfully relevant today–was, “the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.” In 1960 I was recruited by organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to join “the civil rights revolution.” By the time I got to CORE in Harlem and the Northeast in 1964 my mentors were staying up all night debating what exactly that revolution would look like. While the struggle focused on democratic rights and full equality many SNCC and CORE leaders were talking about some form of Black nation, Black Power, Black militancy, Black separatism—not as a way of “getting away” from the system but as part of a plan to challenge it—and for some, overthrow it. Clearly influenced by Malcolm X but also the African liberation movements people were talking about a challenge to U.S. capitalism and some type of socialist system. It was not all that clear or delineated but the concepts of full equality, full democratic rights, Black rights, self-determination, radical reform and revolution were far more interrelated than counter-posed. All of them involved Black people in the leadership of a multi-racial movement—either through integration or separation or most often both. In that context, I am arguing that Dr. King was a Black revolutionary nationalist, perhaps of a more moderate nature, but he was a student of world history and was impacted by the revolutionary ideas of the times. For Dr. King, as early as 1963, to tell the president of the United States that Black people in the U.S. are “exiles in their own land” was clearly a call for some form of both full equality and Black self-determination and was already far away from the “more perfect union” myth that the system was selling but receiving very few Black buyers.

King was a victim of capitalist state violence, surveillance, psychological, character, and actual assassination.

The story of J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to destroy ML King and force him into a nervous breakdown and suicide is not tangential but central to King’s revolutionary history–and the surveillance and police state we live under today. And yet, another element of the revolutionary history of Dr. King that is being whitewashed is his actual assassination was by the system itself. Part of this cover-up is to destroy the memory of the work of Coretta Scott King in exposing the actual assassination of Dr. King.

In his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech the very night before he was murdered Dr. King was very aware of what he felt was his possible and imminent assassination.

Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

And while his words are brave, every time I hear that talk I hear a mortal man not fully at peace, nor should he have been, with his mortality–but trying to comfort and reassure Black people that “we as a people” will find liberation–rather than asking them to protect him–which he knew they could not.

On December 8, 1999, (21 years after his death) after the King family and allies presented 70 witnesses in a civil trial, twelve jurors in Memphis, Tennessee reached a unanimous verdict after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.

In a press statement held the following day in Atlanta, Mrs. Coretta Scott King welcomed the verdict.

There is abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief. I wholeheartedly applaud the verdict of the jury and I feel that justice has been well served in their deliberations. This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself. It is important to know that this was a SWIFT verdict, delivered after about an hour of jury deliberation. The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies, were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband. The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame. I want to make it clear that my family has no interest in retribution. Instead, our sole concern has been that the full truth of the assassination has been revealed and adjudicated in a court of law… My husband once said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” To-day, almost 32 years after my husband and the father of my four children was assassinated, I feel that the jury’s verdict clearly affirms this principle. With this faith, we can begin the 21st century and the new millennium with a new spirit of hope and healing.

Sadly, the police/surveillance/counter-insurgency state is stronger than ever—but at least there is growing public challenge to its hegemony. Understanding the revolutionary story of Dr. King and the system’s decision to bring him down is essential if we want to understand and make history in the present.

King was from the outset a Black militant and revolutionary who advocated non-violent direct action but saw “the Negro revolution” as the overriding objective.

While Dr. King strongly argued for non-violence as both a tactical and ethical perspective he also supported the right of Black people to armed self-defense and allied with the advocates of armed self-defense and even armed struggle in the Black movement.

At a time of the most rampant and systematic police violence the system’s armed requirement that Black people are “non-violent” is intellectually and morally lethal. It flies in the face of the long-standing tradition of armed self-defense in the Black community and the urgency to defend that tradition today.

Worse, to use Dr. King against that basic right is the height of cynicism and historical distortion.

Clay Carson’s In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s, helps shed light on this complex relationship. While many young organizers were critical of Dr. King SNCC’s Stokley Carmichael explained best their appreciation of his profound impact on the Black masses.

“People loved King..I’ve seen people in the South climb over each other just to say, “I touched him, I touched him.” I’m even talking about the young…These were the people we were working with and I had to follow in his footsteps when I went in there. The people didn’t know what was SNCC. They just said, “You one of Dr. King’s men?” “Yes, Ma’am I am.”

Carson explains the pivotal role of “militant and self-reliant local black residents who owned weapons and were willing to defend themselves when attacked. Black rallies in the county were often protected by armed guards sometimes affiliated with the Louisiana-based Deacons for Defense and Justice”

Many SNCC organizers, disagreeing with King’s focus on non-violence, explained, “We are not King or SCLC. They don’t do the work the kind of work that we do nor do they live in the areas we live in. They don’t drive the highways at night”…Carmichael recalled that the discussion ended when he asked those carrying weapons to place them on the table. Nearly all the black organizers working in the Deep South were armed.

But again the system wants to act like the battle between King and SNCC and the Black militants was a morality play or an ideological war. But it wasn’t. It was an intellectual, strategic, and yes, ethical struggle among equals and King was both open minded and introspective about the limits of his non-violent advocacy–and as such, people had respect for his own principles and rationale.

In 1965, James Farmer, the director of CORE, a truly dedicated pacifist, told a group of us at a mass meeting, “I am completely non-violent but I want to thank our brothers from the Deacons for Defense (who were both standing guard and yes, getting a standing ovation from the organizers) whose arms allow me to be non-violent.” My read of history is King felt similarly.

And even more importantly, King well understood that his “non-violence” could be used by the system as a justification for state violence and of course the system’s need to destroy the Black united front. In his speech, “Beyond Vietnam” on April 4, 1967 King addressed frontally his most principled conversations with the angry youth of the urban ghettos. He stated,

“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problem. I have tried to offer my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But they asked, and rightfully so, “What about Vietnam?”…Their questions hit home and I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

Note that King does not try to raise a moral critique of those who would use Molotov cocktails and rifles in response to the economic and armed violence of the state. And by making clear he considered its advocates “the oppressed” he supported the morality, if not the tactics, of their cause. Instead, he simply argued that he did not feel it would “solve their problem” and even then qualified his own advocacy of non-violence to make the case that “social change comes most meaningfully” but not exclusively from non-violence. He admitted it was a legitimate debate.

Martin Luther King Jr., SNCC, CORE, and Malcolm X represented at the time the “left” of the Black united front and worked to find strategic and tactical unity with the NAACP and Urban League–which made the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Bill, and the Voting Rights Bill possible. While King had many contradictions with the young Black militants he understood them and they him as strategic allies against a system of white supremacist capitalism.

SNCC, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and M.L. King were on the frontlines of the movement against the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam.

While SNCC and Malcolm were among the first to speak out frontally against the war as early as 1965, by April 1967 both King and Muhammad Ali took enormous risks to frontally challenge the war on moral grounds and to argue that Black people in particular had no interest in supporting the war.

In his monumental Beyond Vietnam speech Dr. King argued in support of Vietnamese self-determination and rejected the view that the U.S. had any legitimate interests in Vietnam.

Reading primary documents is essential for the revolutionary historian/strategist/tactician and organizer. In reading and re-reading Beyond Vietnam I still hang on its every word.

* King called out U.S. war crimes against the Vietnamese people making the analogy that the United States feared the most–comparisons with Nazi Germany. He asked, what the Vietnamese people “think when we test our latest weapons on them just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe.”

* King praised the integrity and legitimacy of the National Liberation Front of Vietnam including the communists who he argued were the legitimate political leaders of the Vietnamese people’s struggle.

“They were led by Ho Chi Minh” and were creating “a revolutionary government seeking self-determination.” He describes Ho as saved only by “his sense of humor and irony… when he hears the most powerful nation in the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands bombs on a nation eight thousand miles from its shores.” (Communists with a sense of humor and irony–perhaps the most revolutionary insight of all.)

*King focused on demand development. In the end movements are unified by ideas, people, organizations and demands. He called on the U.S. government

* End all bombing in North and South Vietnam

* Declare a unilateral cease fire

* Curtail the U.S. build up in Thailand and Laos

* Recognize the role of The National Liberation Front in any future Vietnam government

* Remove all foreign–that is, U.S. troops from Vietnam

* Make reparations for the damage

This was tantamount to calling for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. It recognized the victory of the National Liberation Front and argued for what would later become a critical component of Black people’s demands against the U.S. government — “reparations.”

The story of the system’s attacks on Dr. King once he spoke out against the war in Vietnam and his courage in the face of this assault is another chapter of Dr. King’s revolutionary contribution to U.S. and world history. One important version of that story is Tavis Smiley’s documentary, Death of a King: Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year.

Dr. King brought a powerful and frontal indictment of the system of white supremacist, racist, capitalism. He appreciated the ideas of others and worked to build a Black and multi-racial united front against what he called “racism, poverty, and militarism.” He was willing to confront “the cowardice” inside his own bosom and modeled how all of us have to put our bodies, souls and lives on the line. He rejected gradualism and demanded “Freedom Now.” He advocated non-violence but defended the right of those who disagreed with him to armed self-defense.   He rejected U.S. chauvinism, called for a militant internationalism, and challenged the U.S. Empire at home and abroad. He was independent of and yes, willing to challenge and confront the Democratic Party. He was and is a great contributor to the endless struggle for human and planetary liberation.

It is time to celebrate the Revolutionary King on the anniversary of his birthday. We thank Stevie Wonder, who spoke for all of us, when he wrote,

I just never understood
How a man who died for good
Could not have a day that would
Be set aside for his recognition
Because it should never be
Just because some cannot see
The dream as clear as he
that they should make it become an illusion
And we all know everything
That he stood for time will bring
For in peace our hearts will sing
Thanks to Martin Luther King
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday. Happy birthday to you!

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MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream

Photograph Source: Sarah Stierch – CC BY 2.0

It is a hard thing to live haunted by the ghost of an untrue dream.

– W.E.B. Du Bois

In his keynote address for the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington, DC in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his despair and disappointment that a century after emancipation, freedom still was not a lived reality in the United States of America:

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

Calling the nation back to its noble ideals, King shared his dream which, he underscored, was “deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’.” King dreamed that one day on the hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners would sit down together. He dreamed that one day the state of Mississippi would transform from a place of injustice and oppression to a place of justice and freedom. He dreamed that his four children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by “the content of their character.” He dreamed that in Alabama white and black children would hold hands as sisters and brothers.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked the end of racial segregation in schools, workplaces, and public facilities. Decidedly, this was a victory for the Movement. However, as King soon realized, the Civil Rights Act mattered little unless economic conditions in America changed. He agonized that he had integrated blacks into the wrong value structure. For King’s dream was beyond racial segregation. It was beyond dreams of upward mobility and material gain. It was about social justice and equality. Harry Belafonte, a loyal supporter of the Civil Rights Moment and friend of King, shares:

I remember the last time we were together, at my home, shortly before he was murdered. He seemed quite agitated and preoccupied, and I asked him what the problem was. “I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply,” he said. “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will be victorious. But what bothers me is that I’ve come to believe that we’re integrated into a burning house.”

King’s dream of economic justice and equality required America’s power structures to change. It required America to take a critical look at the unbridled capitalist system that gave way to perpetual injustice. It required a radical and deep reconstruction of both politics and society, where the tangled roots of racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism would be exposed and eliminated. As King saw it now, the meaning of Du Bois’s color line exceeded the racial divide; it referred to all social rifts including the class-line.

King spent the last year of his life planning for a new movement, the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC), which emphasized the need for decent jobs, housing, and income. Partnering with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King and his team envisioned bringing poor people from across the country—Southern rural and northern ghetto blacks, Appalachian whites, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, and others—to the doorsteps of Congress to express their economic grievances. They hoped that if thousands camped in tents outside the government buildings, “the invisible poor suddenly materializing en masse” would help move the needle for social and economic justice. But before the scheduled PPC march and encampment could begin, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated.

The US government’s response to the challenge posed by the PPC was to empower a group of black organizers with economic enticements and thus try to suppress the larger social discontent. In the late 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson gave jobs to a few black leaders through Office of Economic Opportunity; then President Richard Nixon set up an Office of Minority Business Enterprise. In an effort to develop “black capitalism,” Chase Manhattan Bank and the Rockefeller family encouraged white capitalists to support black businessmen. “There was a small amount of change and a lot of publicity,” writes Zinn, “There were more black faces in the newspapers and on television, creating an impression of change—and siphoning off into the mainstream a small but significant number of black leaders.” Despite new opportunities for a number of black people, the realities of poverty—and “the ghost of an untrue dream,” in Du Bois’s words—continued to haunt the majority.

Black capitalism was not the answer to King’s dream of social and economic equality and justice. It could not heal the hundreds of years old and still bleeding wound of oppression. It could not eradicate the color line. If anything, black capitalism introduced a new division, namely the class line within the black community. It wrongly suggested that capitalist corporate mainstream—an inherently oppressive system grounded in the relentless dynamics of capital accumulation, and the exploitation of labor power and material resources—was the road to racial redemption and uplift, and therefore further complicated the race and class issues in America.

Excerpted from A JUNGIAN INQUIRY INTO THE AMERICAN PSYCHE, by Ipek S. Burnett, published by ROUTLEDGE (2019), pages 76-78.

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Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later

Photograph Source: Chafer Machinery – CC BY 2.0

There’s a lot of talk in the Trump era about the “war on science.” But this war, such as it is, extends far beyond uninformed Republican attacks on climate change science or Donald Trump’s mocking insults of Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist nearly 60 years the old bully’s junior. This war involves not only outright science denial, but the myriad ways science is corrupted to serve corporate interests instead of the public good. 

One of the latest salvos came this past December when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the leadership of a Trump-appointed coal industry lobbyist, asked a federal appeals court to reverse the lower court ruling that held Bayer AG, now owner of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, responsible for a California man’s cancer. The German-based conglomerate purchased Monsanto in 2018 for $63 billion. 

The friend of the court brief, filed in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice, argues the California state law requiring a health warning label for glyphosate-based herbicides was unnecessary since the EPA does not categorize glyphosate as a carcinogen. In fact, Bayer AG has already lost three recent lawsuits filed by individuals who developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, after long-standing use of the Roundup product. The company now faces over 40,000 lawsuits over Roundup’s potential health risks. 

The legal challenges to glyphosate-based herbicides are based on a growing body of epidemiological evidence that link exposure to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other health effects. Most notably, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an affiliate of the World Health Organization, determined in 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The agency’s position was based on about 1,000 studies of glyphosate exposure among largely agricultural workers, such as farmers and pesticide applicators, primarily in the United States, Canada, and Sweden, along with evidence from animal studies. The link to cancer humans was based on what IARC describes as “limited,” but “statistically significant” evidence. The IARC report also noted some evidence glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

Further, the Environmental Working Group (EGW), in an Aug. 21, 2019 statement to the EPA, cites evidence from five of eight epidemiological studies of an elevated risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma among those exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides. One recent study, a 2019 meta-analysis done by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington, found those with the highest cumulative exposure to glyphosate, such as agricultural workers, had a 41 percent greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

World’s Leading Herbicide

Today, glyphosate-based herbicides are a ubiquitous global presence. The use of this group of herbicide products has grown approximately ~100-fold since first introduced in the 1974. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of glyphosate-based herbicides in use in the United States increased from less than 25 million pounds in 1992 to over 250 million pounds in 2016. Significantly, the advent in 1996 of Monsanto’s genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” crops, tolerant of the Roundup herbicide, has only accelerated the herbicide’s use. 

Of course, nature has a way of adapting to even the most effective of human interventions. Just as widespread use of antibiotics led to the phenomenon of antibiotic resistance, rendering many such drugs ineffective against infectious disease, the extensive commercial use of Roundup and similar products has engendered the emergence of glyphosate-tolerant weeds. In response, there’s thus far been a compensatory increase in the volume of the herbicide’s commercial applications.

It’s worth noting the EPA had actually classified glyphosate as carcinogenic in 1985. Subsequently, the company spent the next several years working to persuade the EPA to reverse its position on glyphosate, which it eventually did in 1991, writes science historian Elena Conis, PhD, for The Washington Post (April 9, 2019).  

“In the decades that followed, the company commissioned its own science from its preferred scientists and asked federal regulators to base decisions on that science,” reports Conis, who is affiliated with the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. “In one instance, the EPA ceded to industry requests to remove a certain scientist from a glyphosate safety review panel. In another, an EPA scientist promised Monsanto it would block a planned glyphosate safety review. The president whose EPA made this promise? Barack Obama.”

The latter point is a reminder that science in service to for-profit corporate interests is hardly the exclusive preserve of Trump Republicans. In fact, as Conis reminds us, since the 1970s the EPA has allowed companies to register new pesticide products “conditionally;” in other words, without submitting all the otherwise required safety and testing data. To note, such practices parallel similar laxity in regulatory practices in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries. As for the pesticide industry, Conis notes that more than two-thirds of the 16,000 pesticides used in the United States were initially registered under conditional status. This includes glyphosate. 

With human exposures to glyphosate increasing, many researchers believe there is a vital need for updated assessments of the potential toxic risks associated with glyphosate-based products. Indeed, most studies have evaluated the impact of high-level exposures in humans, with only limited data available on the impact of long-standing, low-level exposures, such as might occur with residential lawn applications or from residues in food, water, and air. 

In fact, it’s difficult for researchers to even study the health effects of glyphosate-based herbicide products since manufacturers are not required to provide full disclosure of their ingredients. This lack of data is a burden for toxicology studies, say experts. As Vanessa Fitsanakis, PhD, a neurotoxicologist at Northeast Ohio Medical University, told The Scientist in 2018, “From a research perspective, I can’t tell which component might need to be changed [to reduce possible toxicity] in those formulations because I don’t know what some of those components are.”

This is a concern as glyphosate-based products, formulated with other “inert” substances, show evidence of being more potent than glyphosate alone, according to Fitsanakis and other researchers. This is especially concerning for researchers who want to better understand the potential for what are described as the “subtle and accumulative” health effects over years of exposure to these commercial products. One thing is certain. The science involved in the issue of long-term health effects is far from settled.  

Faith-based Democracy? 

To start the new year, France’s health and environment agency announced a ban on dozens of glyphosate-based herbicides, explaining there was insufficient data to establish they were not harmful to human health. The ban so far covers about three-quarters of the volume of glyphosate products annually sold in France. In recent years, more than three dozen nations have similarly moved to ban or restrict glyphosate-based herbicides. 

In the United States, things continue to work a little differently. “This is our system for ensuring that pesticides are safe,” concludes Conis. “They are innocent and on the market until proven guilty. Close relationships between industry and our regulatory agencies help keep them there. By the time enough independent science has produced evidence of harm, it’s far too late to reverse the damage done.”

Where is the democracy in this? Why should humans, wildlife, and the environment be potentially put at risk by the long, slow pollution of the planet by agrochemical corporations, whose primary driver is their own enrichment and profits? In light of charges by some civil litigants that Monsanto suppressed evidence of known health risks, the story lurches even more into the realm of corporate criminality.

Certainly, independent scientific reviews of agrochemical products, free of corporate influence or collusion, should be demanded of all chemical products to confirm their essential safety before being introduced into use. The health of the public, including the occupational health of workers, and protection of the natural environment should always come first.  

In an economy driven by “free market” capitalism, healthy living and the protection of nature is always at risk. Over the course of time industrial capitalism has exposed humans to leaded gasoline, asbestos, cigarettes, DDT, smog, toxic chemicals in water and food, and fossil fuel pollution that now threatens to denigrate the climate to the point of no return. All of this and more has been brought to us courtesy of manufacturer’s safety assurances and the backing of “authoritative” science.

Unfortunately, when the latter is in the paid employ of private industry, and public health agencies work, however subtly or indirectly, to facilitate the interests of the corporate marketplace over public health, those who are not scientists are left in the position of being expected to just have faith in the good intentions of profiteers and their experts. 

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Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After

The Owyhee Initiative (OI) wilderness and public lands legislation passed Congress in 2009 as the Owyhee Public Lands Management Act. Hoopla on the bill’s ten-year anniversary generated a spate of articles extolling collaboration and idolizing individual cattlemen. OI collaboration talking points are being parroted by supporters of a new round of Quid Pro Quo wilderness proposals.

Owyhee County announced the start of the OI process in 2001. Local and national environmental groups soon jumped in bed with the County to sell out the wildlife habitat and biodiversity of the region. Its bedrock principles were that public lands ranching would be paramount, voices of opposition to grazing would be excluded, and future National Monument designation would be precluded. An agreement was developed elevating rancher and local control of public lands, predicated on “preserving livestock grazing as an economically viable use”. In a 2004 compilation, I wrote about Sagebrush Rebel/Wise Use/County Supremacy advocates and right-wing politicians backdooring local control of public lands into mainstream acceptance via collaborative groups, and other issues swirling around the OI.

In 2019, just across the state line, Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley introduced Malheur County public lands legislation containing elements of the OI agreement and other ecologically malign provisions. This set me to rummaging through old files, where I exhumed a press release by the Wilderness Society’s Craig Gehrke, an ardent bill backer, on the OI’s one year anniversary. With the Malheur Bill’s emergence, it’s instructive to compare promises made about the OI, and the current situation on the ground in Idaho. The old press release touted that the bill: Designated 517,000 acres of wilderness and 316 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers; Released 200,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs); Authorized a science center for “natural resource management issues”; Allowed grazing permit retirement in and by wilderness; Created a fund to purchase lands or interests in wilderness from land sales in the Boise BLM District; Directed coordination with the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe; and Required travel management plans for Owyhee County. Here’s a critique of where matters now stand.

The OI Ignored Nearly A Million Acres of Wilderness-Suitable Lands and Released 200,000 acres of BLM WSAs

A 1999 Citizens Wilderness Inventory proposal for BLM-managed lands across Idaho contained 1.3 million Owyhee County acres, including 700,000 acres of WSAs with interim protection. It was prepared by the Committee for Idaho’s High Desert and American Lands Alliance and was endorsed by Idaho Conservation League (ICL), TWS and the Sierra Club. Subsequent Sierra Club inventories bumped the potential wilderness land up to 1.6 million acres. The OI ultimately designated less than one-third of those potential acres as wilderness.

In the 2000 twilight of the Clinton administration, environmental groups sought an Owyhee National Monument designation. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt had shown a keen interest in expanding Craters of the Moon (largely lava). Clinton delivered. However, the biggest threatened landscape in Idaho was found in the high desert sage plateaus and juniper forests of the Owyhee. Environmental groups prepared a proposal for a 2.7 million acre Idaho Owyhee Monument (Schnitzpahn et al. 2000) with contiguous expanses of public land to conserve the biodiversity attributes of the region.

“The Owyhee-Bruneau canyonlands is not a mere chunk of land that can be sliced into parcels managed for specific uses, but a contiguous entity … that must be envisioned as an entire landscape”.

The political power of the cattlemen squelched a Monument designation. I recall being in DC with Mike Medberry in a last-ditch lobbying effort, facing closed doors, when the Supreme Court Bush v. Gore decision came down. Bleak times.

The primary threats to the Owyhee region back in 2000 were (and still are): Livestock grazing causing irreversible annual grass invasion (cheatgrass, bulbous bluegrass and medusahead which have now dramatically expanded); Chronic cattle damage to native sagebrush, juniper and riparian habitats; Noxiously loud military overflights down to levels as low as 100-500 ft; and Fire impacts exacerbated by grazing-caused weeds, desertification and BLM’s rehab policies.

From its 2001 start onward, the OI was led by County “coordination” huckster Fred Kelly Grant. Legislation was introduced in 2006. Idaho’s long-time Republican Senate seat-warmer, Mike Crapo, was the adult supervisor. His natural resources aid, coyote thrill killer

Layne Bangerter, later a Trump EPA-gutting beachhead team member, became very involved. Participating environmental groups were TWS, ICL, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Idaho Rivers United (IRU), and the Sierra Club. The OI process dragged on and on, with Grant and the ranchers in charge. In retrospect, it was likely prolonged on purpose. Aggressive litigation over cattle-caused habitat havoc in 68 Owyhee allotments, and across the region, was underway. The OI was a feel-good foil to counter grazing reform pressure. Periodic news reports were pumped out by the local grazing fanboy journalist, breathlessly in awe of collaboration. I recall trying to attend an OI meeting with a colleague. Grant, later to be a militia and Bundy sympathizer, forbid us from speaking. It seems that is what collaboration is all about – silencing those concerned with dealing away public lands. The meeting was held in the Stewards of the Range property rights group office, run by Wayne Hage’s daughter Margaret Byfield, and Grant. Stewards has now morphed into American Stewards of Liberty.

At the same time, pushback against Quid Pro Quo wilderness bills sacrificing public lands as part of a wilderness grand bargain with industry was occurring. This was a reaction to Nevada bills that disposed of public lands, the privatization of 10,000 acres in the Steens, and other controversial legislation. The initial OI agreement language in bill form was rejected by Democratic Congressional staffers. New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman was making efforts to clean up wilderness bills, so the most outrageous elements were toned down or dropped in the final language. But the damage had already been done. The ranchers and their environmental enablers today continue to push for the OI provisions as they saw them circa 2004.

Green is the OI wilderness. Looking at this map now, it’s striking how little wilderness was designated.

Released WSAs and Lands with Wilderness Characteristics Now Under Threat

Blocks of WSAs in the rugged Juniper Mountain area, and individual WSAs, were released in the OI. Portions of WSAs that survived being cut entirely were “shaved”, a term the OI participants embraced. This further shrunk stringer WSAs running along river canyons.

The OI group’s website bragged about 200,000 acres of WSA release. The site highlighted that 200,000 acres of the Owyhee wilderness would be located within one mile of a road (due to the shaved WSAs, high road density, and many dead-end cherry-stem roads piercing the wilderness that were left open for cattlemen). Rancher desires drove the process. WSAs were released, not because they didn’t have wilderness merit, but because ranchers who grazed there didn’t want wilderness. Essential Sage-grouse habitat in the Bruneau country and elsewhere was released.

Nearly all wilderness-worthy lands outside WSAs were ignored for inclusion in the bill, except the 45 allotment west of the South Fork Owyhee River, bordering Malheur County. The 45 Ranch (likely the most remote ranch in the lower 48) consisted of a tiny 240-acre private land base property with a 65,000 acre grazing permit attached. There’s a backstory to pretty much every part of the OI. Here, TNC acquired the ranch, showcased it in grazing propaganda, then sold it to a wealthy buyer interested in the area’s remoteness, not in running cows. The new buyer supported wilderness designation. TNC had found it was too expensive to run a “for show” cow operation in the middle of nowhere, complete with a scofflaw rancher who bulldozed the river. They had come by the ranch in a round-about way after a defeated 1990s Air Force Andrus Split Bombing Range proposal in the YP Desert by the South Fork. A Bighorn Sheep advocate bought the ranch after its reclusive owner died, to be better positioned to oppose military expansion, and TNC then ended up with it.

Circa 2012, BLM conducted new inventories for Lands with Wilderness Characteristics (LWC). Some BLM staff were concerned about the WSA release and other OI elements. The new inventories found nearly all the released WSA lands retained wilderness characteristics, and that large areas of non-WSA lands did too. I’m not aware of BLM preparing a summary public document. The new LWC inventory seeped out in grazing NEPA analysis for the 68 Owyhee allotments and in deforestation projects targeting released WSAs on Juniper Mountain. There, right after BLM’s own new inventories found that forest cover was an important element of the wilderness values, BLM signed decisions to destroy the forest. Several minimally roaded large expanses of sagebrush habitat were rejected in the new BLM inventory. The BLM has a long history of rejecting lands without striking rock outcroppings or canyons. I asked a BLM staffer involved why those areas were left out. He replied “Sage-grouse will protect them”. Wrong.

Since the OI’s passage, juniper forests across released WSA and LWC areas have been under assault from BLM vegetation destruction projects. OI group cattle consultant Chad Gibson had openly stated that an intent of the OI collaboration was to make sure nobody goes back to Congress trying to add more wilderness, and to ensure against future Monument attempts. This agenda is being carried out on the ground by BLM today, without resistance from, and/or enabled by, the OI collaborators.


The green groups abandoned the released WSAs to juniper destruction projects like BLM’s ancient forest ecocide project that in 2019 napalmed trees in released WSAs on Juniper Mountain. Currently an immense > 600,000 acre Bruneau-Owyhee Sage-grouse Habitat (BOSH) juniper eradication project is aimed at wiping out nearly all trees within 4 miles of Sage-grouse leks, including in released WSA lands and LWC areas. The groups joined with the cattlemen in speaking out against grazing reform attempts in the 68 Owyhee allotments with crucial Redband Trout and Sage-grouse habitats, both inside and outside designated wilderness. Taking the side of the ranchers, they co-signed a letter trying to get BLM to back off cutting cow numbers. Only the Sierra Club, listed on the signature page as “out of town”, did not sign. Owyhee cattlemen continue to fiercely resist even the smallest grazing changes and are engaged in never-ending appeals processes.

Garat allotment grazing. This is one of the Owyhee 68 allotments where a wealthy ranching operation to this day resists grazing changes.

Mammoth New Fuelbreaks Threaten Wild Lands

The Tri-state Fuelbreaks BLM EIS proposal is a major new threat to wild lands ignored in the OI, as well as to hundreds of thousands of acres of Citizen Inventory units cast aside in the Oregon Malheur bill. The Fuelbreak proposal will fragment Sage-Grouse, Pygmy Rabbit and other rare species habitats, destroying sagebrush across the core of the largest block of Focal Habitat identified in the 2015 Sage-grouse plans. After BLM destroys the sage, it will be replaced with seedings of exotic crested wheatgrass or highly invasive forage kochia.

Proposed fuelbreaks (blue lines) will carve up habitat and promote flammable weed spread. Bulldozer blading will cement in place the permanent roading footprint of what currently are jeep trails. Fuelbreaks will extend 200 ft on both sides of roads.

a 73,920-acre fuel break network along approximately 1,539 miles of existing roads; 35,043 acres along 731 miles in Idaho, and 38,876 acres along 808 miles in Oregon. Roadbed vegetation removal, using either blading or manual methods, would occur across up to 412 miles of roads in Idaho and up to 537 miles of roads in Oregon, for a total of up to 950 miles of roads cleared.

Sage will be killed with “seedbed preparation techniques (i.e., disking, herbicide, prescribed fire, targeted grazing)”. Road edges would be bladed bared. Plant poisons of choice are: 2,4-D, aminopyralid, chlorsulfuron, clopyralid, dicamba, fluroxpyr, glyphosate (Round Up), imazapic, metsulfuron methyl, picloram (Tordon), rimsulfuron, triclopyr. Some of these toxics remain active in manure, so not only would there be application drift and drift in wind-blown soil, but also cow manure drift. EIS scoping meeting presentations showed images of a spray plane hosing the landscape.

Fuelbreaks won’t stop big climate-driven fires, with embers blown far in front. Upgraded roads increase human access and fire risk. The best defense wild country often has is a bad road. They will increase fire frequency – once the flashy fuel grasses spread outward under grazing, or catalytic converter fires set the road verge weeds ablaze.

Claims of saving sage-grouse are used to justify both the attacks on the juniper forest (Juniper Mountain and the 600,000 acre BOSH deforestation) and the fuelbreak hyper-fragmentation. Grouse are a weapon turned on the land, useful in clearing away plants other than grass, and in preventing future Monument and wilderness designations. The 2015 Obama Sage-grouse plans developed under Interior Secretary Sally Jewell were toothless in controlling grazing (loose, non-binding language and downright harmful elements too). They focused as a distraction on massive deforestation schemes and fuelbreaks that benefit the livestock industry. This was of course retained in the Trump grouse plan amendment attempts.

Wild and Scenic Rivers, Science Center, Grazing Permit Termination, Tribal Coordination, Land Purchases and Access

The OI Wild and Scenic River designations were no brainers. There was minimal threat to the Owyhee rivers. The rivers flow through cliff and talus canyons largely inaccessible to cattle, so the ranchers didn’t care much if they received a designation. Undesignated headwater tributaries outside the deep canyons remain ubiquitously degraded by cattle.

The OI group’s meetings are closed to the public, and not subject to FACA. They operate sub rosa. The group may still be pursuing a “science center” to perpetuate the range myths, land abuse and climate denialism of the livestock industry. It’s hard to see how there would be any need for this, given the U of I Range Department and USDA ag research’s longstanding efforts to generate junk cow science.

Regarding grazing permit retirement: By far the largest area where cattle were removed is the 45 Ranch area. Those permits were bought out with Sagebrush Fund Ruby Pipeline settlement dollars. The adjacent Tent Creek allotment was also retired with Ruby dollars. The southernmost area of the Big Springs allotment grazed by OI rancher Chris Black (a site too muddy to graze in spring) was to be bought out. While some Black-grazed lands became wilderness, a significant part of a WSA was released because Black didn’t want wilderness there. The small Burghardt allotment permit was retired. Outside funds were involved in these buyouts.

There’s only been a couple of tiny land purchases for public access (North Fork Owyhee and Shoofly area). The Shoshone-Paiute Tribe acquired some land in Pole-Camas Creek country containing sites of cultural significance from Black, with Black further profiting from the OI. Public access in that area remains blocked off like it was before. Major backcountry access routes that had been hyped as likely to be opened to public use when the OI proposal was being promoted still remain blocked off by ranchers just like they were before. The Tribe got funding to employ a former Owyhee County sheriff to patrol cultural sites. Some Tribal members have expressed concern that they have no idea what he does, and they never see him. A separate Tribal consultation program that existed prior to the OI bill continues.

Travel Planning Stalled Out

The legislation directed the Secretary of the Interior to complete travel plans for Owyhee County. What a joke! For years, green groups ballyhooed bonding with cattlemen over a pressing need for travel planning. Today, around 90% of Owyhee County public land still does not have a travel plan, including areas by wilderness. BLM began OI travel planning in 2010. Only limited places on the Owyhee Front (Murphy, Wilson Creek, Hemingway) were completed. I went out to the Murphy country after BLM put up new route signs. Washes that didn’t yet have ATV trails in them had been designated as routes. The travel planning perpetuated an extraordinarily high road density, and expanded routes in fragile washes.

A BLM press release archived on a 4 Wheeler site states that when the Jarbidge RMP (land use plan) was completed, travel planning would take place there. Five years after RMP completion, there’s been no travel planning. Stalled plans include Silver City, Canyonlands West, Canyonlands East, and Grandview. The Silver City website states: All travel management areas were part of the inventory efforts started in 2004 and completed in 2011 and 2012 through public involvement and BLM validation.  In 2013, the BLM started evaluating each route segment in detail …”. By now, the expensive baseline route inventory process is out-dated. New routes have been driven in. Routes have become longer. BLM has bladed off minor tracks, increasing road footprints and expanding access ease. Rancher cross-country ATV riding to herd cattle or put out salt and supplement has exploded. Hunters with immense “quads” have punched new routes in. The OI bill restricted vehicles to existing routes until the travel plan process was completed. That was a pipe dream.

Awful Military War Game Activity Language

The OI’s military overflight language is now coming back to bite the collaborators hard. Pretty much anything can take place – as long as night drone swarms, F-15s, and transient F-35s or Growlers skimming the sagebrush don’t touch the ground.

MILITARY OVERFLIGHTS.—Nothing in this subtitle restricts or precludes—(A) low-level overflights of military aircraft over the areas designated as wilderness …, including military overflights that can be seen or heard within the wilderness areas;(B) flight testing and evaluation; or (C) the designation or creation of new units of special use airspace, or the establishment of military flight training routes, over the wilderness areas.

This language was accepted by the green groups, despite the Owyhee suffering serious overflight noise, persistent military expansion efforts, and long-standing concerns over harm to wildlife. How bad are the existing public lands flight levels? It’s instructive to review restrictions in an Air Force settlement with the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe:

Flight restrictions are in place over the Duck Valley Reservation. Overflights are not authorized within a 5-nautical mile (NM) radius around the town of Owyhee, Nevada and are restricted to 15,000 feet above ground level (AGL) and above over the remaining portions of the reservation. Supersonic operations and the use of chaff or flares are not authorized over any part of the Duck Valley Reservation …. (From the 2019 F-35 DEIS. The Idaho National Guard now seeks F-35 basing in Boise. The Guard uses the Owyhee wilderness and other airspace for War Games).

These flight levels are what the Tribe found tolerable. Compare this to the 100-500 ft. current flight floor in the Owyhee North and Jarbidge Military Operating Areas (MOAs), with supersonic overflights down to 10,000 ft. The OI’s military language allows even worse War Game activity to be imposed. This is what is underway now as the Air Force incrementally expands militarization of public spaces in southern Idaho. Less than a year after finalizing Urban War training over and within nine Idaho cities, the Air Force has scoped an opaque EIS proposal for new lower level supersonic overflights in the Owyhee North and Jarbidge MOAs over the wilderness. The proposal includes “terrain masking” (which appears to mean flying in draws and canyons and ducking behind hills terrorizing wildlife and hikers). The southern portion of the Oregon Malheur bill lands lie under the Paradise North MOA with a current 3000 ft. flight floor. The new supersonic proposal would lower Oregon flights to unknown levels. Night-time and other flights there are already annoying. The Malheur bill contains no military language.

Corralling and Capture of Environmental Groups

Since its inception nearly two decades ago, the OI has neutered the green collaborators opposition to projects that benefit the cattle industry. Converting them to industry supporters also minimized opposition to major deforestation and other projects outside wilderness.

The bill included other provisions resulting in faux wilderness. Any assault on the land under the guise of fuels management could take place with the bill’s permissive language:

WILDFIRE, INSECT, AND DISEASE MANAGE2MENT “the Secretary may take any measures that the Secretary determines to be necessary to control fire, insects, and diseases, including, as the Secretary determines appropriate …”.

Rancher Expectations from Original OI Language Are What the Group Pushes For – No Matter How Harmful to Wildlife or Wilderness

“The humble sheep-walker has come down from the rocks and the bronzed horseman rides again”. Bernard DeVoto, Two Gun Desmond Is Back.

DeVoto refers to the bronzed horseman persona ranchers drape themselves in when they want to pull something over on the public. In DeVoto’s day, stockmen were intent on a Land Grab. The OI’s bronzed horseman herds cows with a dirt bike.

A seasoned wilderness advocate told me at one point in the interminable OI process that it didn’t matter what the final bill language was, the ranchers will expect to get what they believed had been promised. This is what is taking place, as the OI group chips away at the designated wilderness for the benefit of a “holistic” cow herd. In this 2019 article, rancher Chris Black first waxes poetic about the vast open spaces of the Dickshooter sage country with no fences. By the end, we learn that the entire OI group is focused on destroying open spaces by shrinking wilderness boundaries (again) to allow Black to build a 12 mile long Sage-grouse killing and Pronghorn migration choking fence, and in trying to legitimize ranchers motoring cross-country to herd cows.

“Now, the group is working on adjusting a 700-acre mistake in the wilderness boundary to allow Black to install about 12 miles of fencing outside of the wilderness in the Dickshooter Ridge area to provide space for him to manage his cattle over the long-term”.

“… But no exception for Black’s motorized herding was written into the bill. It was contained in the agreement that the O.I. group all signed and agreed to … “After years of trying, we hit
an impasse with the motorized herding,” says Lou Lunte, deputy director of The Nature Conservancy in Idaho. “Chris has got to have the tools to manage his cattle appropriately. The motorized herding was lost as an unintended consequence, and we tried really hard to get it back”.

BLM began a grazing process for the Big Springs allotment grazed by Black over 20 years ago. In the 1990s I worked for the Game Department and had to attend a holistic grazing tour Black staged to subvert a BLM grazing analysis. We heard tall tales from a Texas dung beetle “expert”, were told how cow drool enriches the land, and that the “range” benefited from severe stomping. To this day, there’s been no final grazing decision. BLM periodically begins a new process that stops after glimmers of ecological honesty seep in. Black always seeks more damaging concessions. In a 2017 effort, this included more than a dozen cow ponds bulldozed into grouse meadows, new spring-gutting projects, and several bird killing fences (many in the area of a released WSA or LWC).

TNC and the OI

TNC’s Lynn Scarlett recently visited Idaho to praise the OI:

Lynn Scarlett, vice president for public policy and government relations with The Nature Conservancy, is the keynote speaker and oversaw the initiative’s negotiations as Deputy Interior Secretary under President George W. Bush. “Owyhee County is one of the pioneers, one of the leaders …”. 

A pioneer in using wilderness collaboration bait to suck green groups into becoming vocal cheerleaders for undermining public lands and environmental laws. Given TNC’s extensive involvement in voodoo vegetation models to support massive manipulation of public lands in ways that benefit the livestock and logging industries, the fuels and insects language of the OI bill must have warmed Scarlett’s icy Libertarian heart. Scarlett, past editor of Reason magazine, has long been a TNC leader.

Sally Jewell, who extols ranching and collaboration, is now TNC’s interim CEO. Jewell landed there after CEO Mark Tercek was removed amid a mountain of #MeToo allegations. It’s a perfect fit. The fuelbreaks and juniper eradication schemes playing out across the West are part of the contorted reasoning used by Jewell, while Obama’s Interior Secretary, to reject Sage-grouse ESA listing. TNC-influenced fuels and vegetation models underlay claims that junipers nearly everywhere are an encroaching menace that must be killed.

Toxic Wilderness Bills in a Time of Environmental Catastrophes

Wilderness is the bait to get green groups to embrace toxic public lands legislation. Large amounts of time and energy, and enormous amounts of PEW and other foundation funding, go to supporting collaboration with ranchers or the timber industry in advance of legislation. Groups must prove they will be pliant and spineless in defense of the land. Taking a strong stand is avoided to the delight of land exploiters. The groups grow to identify with their captors and are afraid to do anything lest it offend the pleasant industry folks. While protracted wilderness campaigns drag on, the group’s attention is distracted from watchdogging damage. The end product is riddled with elements that diminish the wilderness, i.e its faux wilderness. Industry is never satisfied and keeps pushing for more concessions.

Habitats are sacrificed in return for a designation, while enormous ecological threats abound: Biodiversity loss, the disappearance of 3 billion birds, water crises, climate change. Since 2001, the OI green groups have been enabling an industry that is a primary driver of the climate catastrophe.

Years ago, Susan Tixier had related that she and Ginger Harmon founded Great Old Broads for Wilderness both to counter the narrative that older people couldn’t use wilderness, and to push back on the machismo associated with “campaigns” and “bagging” wilderness. Much ego is bound up with this. The desire to be a successful wilderness warrior (and to produce acres for funders) makes it easy for industry to extract concessions, getting green groups to forsake biodiversity-rich lands for a flawed designation.

And about the long-ago Wilderness Act compromise letting grazing continue ever after. A place can’t really be a wilderness if it’s grazed by domestic livestock. Untrammeled? Not. Cows pommeling every ridge and spring in the landscape are a more pernicious threat to naturalness and the lands’ primeval character than some backcountry roads. Converting willows and wildflowers to pounds of commodity production beef flesh is the antithesis of wildness. The environmental community must end its involvement with Quid Pro Quo wilderness bills containing toxic provisions and promises to sustain the very industries that are killing the land.

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