Counterpunch Articles

As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands

At this time last year, newly declared Democratic primary candidates were racing to outdo each other with escalating promises to shun big money support. Contenders vowed not to take corporate PAC money, to reject lobbyists’ dollars, to discourage super PACs, and to tell fossil fuel executives, “no, thank you”. Now, however, many seem to be in a wholly different sort of race: to put the most distance between themselves and their prior principled stands.

Joe Biden, who disavowed a super PAC last spring, welcomed it with open arms in the fall. Pete Buttigieg has been caught taking money from lobbyists and shadow lobbyists on more than one occasion (not to mention not-so-subtly attempting to coordinate with the super PAC VoteVets which is backing his bid).

Amy Klobuchar who, as a legislator, was an outspoken champion for campaign finance reform, has now joined the fleeing pack. Her decision to accept fundraising support from Brad Karp, the chairman of the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, was one of the earliest signs. Karp’s firm has been the subject of some controversy and the target of numerous protests thanks to its decision to represent Exxon Mobil. But Karp also happens to be a registered lobbyist, making Klobuchar’s decision to accept his support an unambiguous violation of her pledge not to take lobbyist money, enhanced by the fact that Karp is not merely a donor but also a significant “bundler” for her campaign.

And now, Klobuchar seems to have softened another of her previously strong stances: to discourage super PAC support. Late last week, a new super PAC, Kitchen Table Conversations, formed to back Klobuchar’s bid. The PAC plans to spend at least seven figures on ads in Nevada, South Carolina, and Super Tuesday states. While the campaign maintains that it doesn’t want help from super PACs, its nearly inaudible protests aren’t convincing anyone.

Some might decry these campaign finance standards as meaningless “purity tests,” but Klobuchar and others’ reversals are, in fact, consequential. Let’s put aside, for a moment, what it tells you about a candidate’s likely resolve as president if they can’t even stick to a promise for a year on the campaign trail. Arguably more concerning is what these violations mean for the composition of a candidate’s administration. With each broken pledge, a candidate becomes more dependent on the big money interests that have for so long high-jacked our democracy. And that, in turn, makes it all the more likely that that candidate will lean on those big dollar donors, fundraisers, and super PAC contributors for advice when it comes time to staff the next administration. That is how you get, for example, a Treasury department staffed with former Goldman Sachs employees, or an Agriculture Department chock full of Big Ag titans (not an idle concern with respect to Klobuchar).

As the past several decades have demonstrated, it is the public interest that suffers when this status quo is perpetuated.

So for all the talk last year about how much progress the Democratic establishment had made on campaign finance, it sure is starting to seem like old habits are hard to shake.

A further sign of the times: As we were preparing to publish this piece we were disturbed to learn that a super PAC had formed to support Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bid for the Democratic nomination. Senator Warren is, of course, equally obligated to vociferously disavow their support.

This article first appeared on CEPR.

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Kerner Report Set Standard for What a Serious Presidential Candidate Should Champion

As the Democratic presidential primaries move onto Nevada, South Carolina and the many Super Tuesday states, candidates turn their attention to people of color, and particularly African Americans.

Many candidates find their rhetoric contradicted by their record; their promises conflicting with their performances.

Donald Trump now seeks to woo black voters by taking credit for the economy, by touting the first steps in reducing mass incarceration, and by hyping so-called “opportunity zones.”

His history — rising to prominence with the vile racist campaign about whether Barack Obama is American, embracing the Nazis at Charlottesville, dedicating his administration to erasing all things Obama, framing his political appeal on race bait politics — gives lie to his histrionics.

The same occurs on the Democratic side.

Pete Buttigieg always sounds good, but African American leaders in his town excoriate his record as mayor on race and policing. Amy Klobuchar runs as a moderate, but her brutal record as a prosecutor limits her appeal. Mike Bloomberg has the resources to flood the zone, but he too struggles to explain his harsh, racially biased stop-and-frisk policies as mayor of New York or his laughable embrace of right-wing nutcase theories that somehow anti-redlining policies triggered the financial crisis.

Bloomberg is joined by Joe Biden on what seems like an endless apology tour.

African American voters are not easily fooled. They have a clear agenda. They suffer structural inequality — more unemployment than whites, lower wages, worse jobs, worse schools, inadequate health care, unaffordable housing, unsafe neighborhoods befouled by pollution and poisons, inadequate childcare, lack of recreational facilities, and the outrages of a criminal justice system that is structurally biased against them. They want what most Americans want, and they have a trained eye about politicians.

Notably absent from the debate is a leader prepared to be as bold and as serious about the challenges facing African Americans as the Kerner Commission was 22 years ago. The commission, chaired by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, was created by President Lyndon Johnson in the wake of the devastating urban riots of the late ‘60s. It included leaders from both major parties, as well as representatives of labor, the police, business and civil rights groups.

It became famous for its stark warning: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Dr. Martin Luther King pronounced the report a “physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.” In many ways, it was the last attempt to address honestly and seriously the structural inequalities that plague African Americans.

It told harsh truths: “What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” It concluded that one main cause of the urban violence was white racism that left too many young African Americans without hope.

It offered not nostrums and pablum but a serious agenda to redress the maladies: new jobs, new housing, an end to de facto segregation, integration of schools, day care for children, higher wages or income supplementation, greater services, and more diverse and sensitive police forces. It did not blink at the billions that this would cost, suggesting that the cost of not acting would be far greater.

The Kerner Report — and Johnson’s War on Poverty — was lost in the jungles of Vietnam.

The costs of that misbegotten war — in money, in lives and agony, and in political upheaval — torpedoed any serious effort to address our problems at home.

What the Kerner Report did leave was a marker: a measure of what it means to be serious in addressing the problems of our society.

Much has changed over the last half century, yet too much is the same. Affirmative action has opened closed doors for some people of color. America is more diverse, yet still deeply divided. De facto residential segregation has been largely sustained. Inequality has grown more extreme. Schools are even more divided by class and race. Affordable housing is even less available. Structural racism still stains our criminal justice system.

So, as the politicians come campaigning for African American votes, they will get a hearing.

We appreciate the attention and the gestures. But the Kerner Report set the standard for what a serious leader would champion.

We’ll see who comes close — if anyone does — to accepting that challenge.

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Home Sweet Home: District Campaign Financing

Everybody knows that it takes millions of dollars to run for the most important political offices, and even billions (counting PACs and ‘dark money’) to run for president.

Although big campaigns can be funded by small donors (under $200 each), as Bernie Sanders has shown, most campaigns depend on large donors (up to and including more or less self-funded billionaire campaigns like those of Trump in 2016, and Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg this year).

It’s not a level playing field. Money can buy you a better ground game by hiring strategists, managers, pollsters, and field staff; it can also buy you a better mass media game by flooding printed and digital space with advertisements, news events, and internet buzz.

This kind of money politics is very different from personal politics we normally expect. The latter is rooted in a one-person-one-vote sense of fairness and democratic decision-making. It’s what we normally expect in public life, and it remains the rule in most local social and civic organizations, as well as in local government.

But that’s not how the larger political system works. It’s not about one-person-one-vote, but many-dollars-many-votes. We have the right to vote, to be sure, and that remains a check of last resort against any politics we don’t like. But we only get to the voting booth at the end of a long process saturated with fake news, propaganda, hypocrisy, and demagoguery. Even worse, our equal votes are made unequal through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and unequal representation, as in the US Senate and the Electoral College.

Finally, recent Supreme Court rulings–especially Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and McCutcheon v. FEC (2014)–have overturned limits on campaign contributions and institutionalized the big-money system of politics as a form of legalized corruption. It’s no wonder that half of eligible voters don’t bother to vote, and many who take the trouble to register do so as independents, distrustful of the big-money politics of the major parties.

Past attempts at campaign finance reform have focused on limiting how much individuals and organizations can contribute to political campaigns. But what they failed to address is the question of who should be eligible to financially support any particular campaign.

Currently, there is no limit on how many political campaigns anyone can financially support. I live in rural upstate New York, yet I am free to donate to anyone running for any office anywhere in the United States. I can also contribute to national political parties and political action committees (PACs), who then cycle contributions back into political mobilization and organization throughout in the country. Corporations cannot make expenditures to influence federal elections, but they can contriube to political action committees.

Why shouldn’t I be free to financially support a candidate or cause anywhere in the United States? That sounds reasonable until you turn the question around. Why should outside money routinely flow into the campaigns of my local state legislator or Congressperson? Why should my representatives be beholden to interests outside of the district they represent?

Let me suggest a campaign reform with teeth. Call it district campaign financing. It would accept current laws limiting how much individuals and organizations can donate to political campaigns and organizations but also insist that all political donations must come from within (not from outside) the electoral district in which the candidate or issue is on the ballot.

For instance, I must currently be a permanent resident of my town to run for town office. If district campaign financing were the law of the land, only permanent residents of my town, or other independent legal donors permanently headquartered in my town, could contribute to my campaign. Similarly, anyone running for Congress could raise funds only from residents and legal donors within the Congressional district; and statewide candidates could raise money only within NYS; and so on. Only candidates for president could raise money nationally.

Independent legal donors within a district might include corporations, political action committees, political parties, and independent expenditure committees (super-PACs). Twenty-eight states, including New York, allow direct corporate contributions to campaigns, though not beyond what’s allowed for individuals. But under district financing, these too would have to have to “reside,” or be headquartered, in the district in question. Even super-PACs would be pinpointed to a single community–a post office box somewhere–which would put some kind of check on their otherwise unlimited spending.

Under district financing, elected officials would no longer be torn between two masters, between the need to accommodate their voters on the one hand, and the special interests of outside donors on the other. District financing would help restore the kind of local political autonomy the Founders Fathers took for granted, but which has since been lost. The interests of elected representatives would once more coincide with those residing in their districts.

By banning out-of-district campaign contributions, the power of political parties, and state and national political action committees, to control local politics would be seriously reduced, if not eliminated. Candidates would no longer be chosen by their ability to leverage outside money. They would have to rely instead on their ability to win local support through local votes and local donations. It’s hard to imagine a better way of strengthening our communities.

The idea of foreign money ‘interfering in our elections’ has recently become a political football. But we’ve had outside money ‘interfering in our elections’ all along–money coming from outside the district in which the election is being held. If we’re going to continue to have money in elections (and it’s hard to see how we’re not), wouldn’t it be nice if it came from home?

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The Latest BLM Hoodwinkery: “Fuel Breaks” in the Great Basin

BLM photos (top, then clockwise): a fuel break along a road; a mower chopping down vegetation for same; a “green strip” fuel break of reseeded vegetation, in this case non-native Crested Wheatgrass for cattle.

If there’s one thing we can count on when it comes to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), it’s that they’ll say whatever they need to in order to serve their primary constituents: the ranching and resource extraction industries. Not for nothing are they known as the Bureau of Livestock and Mining. On February 14th, they released their latest con: the “Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Fuel Breaks in the Great Basin” (hereinafter, “the PEIS”).

“Fuel breaks”? Must have something to do with fighting wildfires, and we all know what a problem those have been lately, so this must be a good idea, right? Moving right along, then…

Waitnot so fast! Even a cursory look with an environmental eye reveals the act of wanton destruction that this project actually is, and a practical appraisal shows that it won’t even be effective in fighting the big wildfires that are becoming the new normal under Climate Change.

The basics of the plan: Create “fuel breaks” by clearing vegetation along 11,000 miles of BLM roads and rights-of-way, to a width of 500 feet (250 feet on each side). The total potential area affected directly is just over 1,000,000 acres.

This is a big project and a big fraud.

I’ve spent time camping on BLM land in various parts of the Great Basin and some of the “roads” are just two ruts with greenery between. They’re no more than ten feet across, so they would be widened by a factor of fifty. What are now in many cases relatively minor disturbances will become quite significant.

I am reminded of the “roadside hazard reduction” that the Forest Service implemented in the wake of forest fires in southern Oregon, where all trees were removed on both sides of the road in wide strips. The excuse was that burned trees could fall into the road and pose danger to public safety. The Forest Service never explained how this could possibly apply to trees on the steep slopes far below the roadways, which they also removed.

As for the “fuel breaks” project, it will be executed with a variety of means, according to the PEIS:

* Prescribed burns, both aerial and hand ignited

* Mechanical treatment

* Chemical treatment

* Targeted grazing

* Seeding

* Conifer removal

Some details on these methods follow, below.

(In researching this article, I communicated by email with Katie Fite, Director of Public Lands for Wildlands Defense, and by phone with Laura Cunningham, California Director of the Western Watersheds Project (WWP). Cunningham also forwarded to me the 73 page letter that was submitted to the BLM during the comment period for this project by the WWP, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Oregon Natural Desert Association, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Basin and Range Watch, the Grand Canyon Trust, and Defenders of Wildlife. I will cite this document as “comment letter.”)

Mechanical Treatment

From the PEIS:

“Mechanical treatment methods are for vegetation reduction or removal, seedbed preparation, seeding, and special uses… Vegetation removal equipment includes agricultural mowers and masticators. An agricultural mower can be used to reduce the height of herbaceous vegetation. Masticators can also be used to cut and chop or grind vegetation which is usually left in place as mulch. Debris will be removed from the road surface to allow for access through the treatment area. A common type of masticator uses a rotary drum equipped with steel chipper tools to cut, grind, and clear vegetation… Seedbed preparation equipment includes disks and plows, chains and cables, pipe harrows, rails and drags, land imprinters, and root plows. Equipment used for seeding includes drills, broadcast seeders, seed dribblers, brillion seeders, surface seeders, interseeders, and hydro seeders. Finally, mechanical tools for special uses includes transplanters, roller choppers, dozers and blades, trenchers, scalpers and gougers, fire igniters, chemical sprayers, and steep-slope scarifier seeders.”

That’s a lot of heavy, motorized, pollution-spewing equipment ripping up the landscape. Not only plants are removed by their activity; burrows and nests of mammals and birds are buried and smashed, eggs and larvae of insects are killed, and delicate living soil crusts are destroyed. It’s virtually impossible to tally up all the victims of such an assault. The area left behind is susceptible to erosion and is an ideal setting for non-native annual grasses that are themselves fire hazards. In this case, “mechanical treatment” is another way of saying “massive disturbance.”

Chemical Treatment

This means “herbicides.” The PEIS provides a list of substances and describes their means of dispersal:

“2,4-D, bromacil, chlorsulfuron, clopyralid, dicamba, diuron, glyphosate [the active ingredient in Monsanto’s notorious Round-Up], hexazinone, imazapyr, metsulfuron methyl, picloram, sulfometuron methyl, tebuthiuron, triclopyr, imazapic, diquat, diflufenzopyr (in formulation with dicamba), fluridone, aminopyralid, fluroxypyr, and rimsulfuron. Chemical treatment application methods can be applied on the ground with vehicles or manual application devices or aerially [!] with helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft. The success of any method or tool is subject to a wide variety of environmental factors; given this complexity, it is sometimes necessary to treat an area multiple times to achieve the desired objectives.”

The use of herbicides in any setting is deeply problematic, but especially so in the wild. Collateral damage to non-target plants is virtually guaranteed, especially when applied from the air. Even if applied by people at ground level, wind will invariably carry the chemicals outside the 500 foot wide zone. I could write an entire article just about this list of toxins, so suffice it to say that they’re all bad news.

The comment letter notes: “The herbicide Plateau (active ingredient imazapic) kills a wide range of native plant species and often completely wipes out all native species on a site.” Brutal.

Further, they note: “The impacts of these dangerous chemicals on specific locations mapped in this PEIS, in sensitive habitats in such places as the Eastern Sierra of California, and high-value native plant communities and species at risk in many other states.” The BLM is definitely under-playing the deleterious effects of chemical treatment.

Targeted Grazing

The BLM plans call for inviting ranchers to bring their cows and sheep to help clear the fuel breaks of vegetation. States the comment letter: “This is an untested method that has the potential to create its own resource damage, including increasing the very exotic plants it is supposed to reduce.” Furthermore:

“Targeted grazing on mowed strips introduces an unpermitted use of public lands, apparently without Annual Operating Instructions or grazing fees, and with vague targeted grazing plans that would be site-specific and apparently outside of the NEPA review process. Livestock will preferentially graze native perennial grasses in these vegetation communities, over Cheatgrass, so any use of targeted grazing in these plant communities will lead to degradation of native perennial grasses and trampling of biological soil crusts, reducing resistance to non-native species invasion.”

Also, bringing domesticated sheep into new areas risks spreading disease to wild Bighorn sheep, whose populations have already been hammered this way. (See “Here are the Facts: Bighorn Sheep vs Domestic Sheep” in the Wildlife News.)


After the 500 wide strips is cleared of vegetation, it will then beget thisreseeded. Will the BLM plant native species, which would be appreciated by native animals and insects? Yes, but not exclusively. States the PEIS: “Requiring native seeds for reseeding fuel breaks could limit the viability of reseeding and the effectiveness of the fuel breaks to modify fire behavior.” The BLM will follow the guidelines set forth in their own “Integrated Vegetation Management Handbook.”

These guidelines allows for the use of “Non-native Plant Materials” if [quoting directly]:

* Suitable native species are not available,

* The natural biological diversity of the proposed management area will not be diminished,

* Exotic and naturalized species can be confined within the proposed management area

* Analysis of ecological site inventory information indicates that a site will not support reestablishment of a species that historically was part of the natural environment and,

* Resource management objectives cannot be met with native species

What does this mean in practice? According to Fite:

“When the BLM says “integrated” weed management, the phrase is meaningless. It is largely a spray, spray, spray, treat, treat, treat at-all-costs mentality. For example, under the “integrated” strategy, BLM could beat the land to death with cows instead of mowing it each year as Fuel Break “maintenance.” The BLM ignores passive restoration, which should be the #1 action in any integrated strategy. What good does it do to have these ugly strips if everything surrounding them gets beaten to death and becomes a Cheatgrass hellhole too? The conditions of lands before fires often greatly affects how they recover after fires. So ending grazing to recover native understories before a fire “crisis” happens should be the foremost action undertaken. Instead, BLM has designed the perfect storm of actions for spreading Cheatgrass and other weeds at warp speed across the landscape: 11,000 miles of torn up country, right by roads where vehicles will be transporting weed seeds, and where cows get trailed along and loaf.”

Said Cunningham, on the subject of which non-native seeds might be planted:

“It’s totally for livestock forage. Crested Wheatgrass and Russian Wildrye are two very common grasses from Eurasia that are coarse perennial grasses brought over for cattle forage. They have zero use for Sage Grouse. Sage Grouse avoid these. So they’re going to create these monocultures… That’s not creating wildlife habitat. But it’s also fuel, so how is that going to stop a fire if you’re planting Crested Wheatgrass in a 500 wide swathe of linear land? It’s a giveaway to livestock operators.”

The comment letter posited:

“We believe the agencies will be using livestock forage plants such as Crested Wheatgrass, Russian Wildrye, and forage Kochia, which will invite the use of livestock to graze them in a giveaway of public lands to private interests. A vicious cycle may result, where, as targeted grazing occurs over the years, with unanalyzed stocking rates and seasons of use, the soils will be further disturbed and Cheatgrass will increase.”

As if that isn’t bad enough, GMO could also be a component of the BLM’s reseeding. From the comment letter:

“We do not agree with using genetically altered native grasses that are bred for livestock forage more than they are for restoring sage-steppe habitat. Seeds should be collected locally from native grasses, forbs, and shrubs, and reseeded into wildfire burns or fuel breaks.”

Conifer Removal

Lastly, and tragically, Pinyon-Juniper woodlands will be targeted by this project. The PEIS claims this project will be remedying “pinyon-juniper encroachment” but there’s no such thing. From the comment letter:

“Boundaries of these species have been fluctuating through thousands of years, according to woodrat midden studies, so “encroached” areas may actually be within the range of natural vegetation. Lyford et al, (2003) recorded long distance dispersal of Utah juniper into northern Utah and Wyoming in the early Holocene 7,500-5,400 years ago, based on sampling of woodrat midden subfossil plant material that was radiocarbon-dated. A subsequent wet climatic phase delayed expansion, and then a following dry phase 2,800 years ago lead to a rapid expansion of juniper across the area. Thus juniper “encroachment” may simply be part of this long-term Holocene expansion and fluctuation. Pinyon-juniper communities should be managed as native plant communities, and not “excessive fuel” or “invasive species.””

One doesn’t have to go that far back, though. A dirty trick that the BLM and other federal agencies play is setting the date for the extent of the “natural” Pinyon-Juniper range at the beginning of the 20th Century. In actuality, the original assault on these woodlands by Europeans took place in the second half of the 1800s, when thousands upon thousands of acres of trees were cleared to provide fuel for charcoal kilns as part of the mining industry, and also to carve out pasture for cattle. These actions reduced the range of Pinyon-Juniper significantly. Regrowth into these areas is then called “encroachment.” (For details, including a critique of the perverse term, “native invasive,” see “The senseless destruction of the Pinyon-Juniper forests as “native invasives”” which I co-wrote with Nicole Patrice Hill.)

Cunningham flatly stated: “If it’s native, it’s not ‘encroaching.’”

Fite recommended:

“The BLM should be spending every penny it’s going to waste on the fuel breaks in destroying native plant communities and making the weed problem much worse across six western states in restoring native Pinyon-Juniper and Sage communities. The first step there is terminating grazing, and then replanting Sage and Pinyon-Juniper.”

That’s right: remove the cattle entirely. There can be no restoration or rejuvenation for native habitats on public lands in the West until ranching is removed.

Overall Impacts

The Fuel Breaks project will have the effect of slicing-and-dicing millions of acres into pieces. This is territory that in many cases has been negatively impacted, to greater or lesser degrees, by ranching, mining, fracking, clear-cutting, irrigation, and other commercial activities. Many species are already under stress.

Said Cunningham:

“One of the things in conservation biology is that you don’t want to fragment habitat. Sage Grouse in particular need large chunks of undisturbed Sagebrush… So when you start cutting these giant new fuelbreaks with bulldozers and masticators and mowing machines, 500 feet wide, that’a a huge fragmenting of an old growth Sagebrush habitat. And they want to have ‘targeted grazing’ which is just bringing cattle in from a rancher without even a permit, to reduce the Cheatgrass. Well, the Cheatgrass comes in with the cattle; Cheatgrass likes the disturbed ground. So then they’ll have to do herbicides to get rid of the Cheatgrass. So now you’re just creating this huge, ruined, disturbed, poisoned piece of land where there was just a trail before or even just a right of way.”

“Even just a right of way”: That’s right. The PEIS names “BLM ROWs” (rights of way) as targets for the fuel break treatment, not just along already established roads. According to Cunningham, this could include “lines on a map” where, for example, transmission wires or pipelines are merely planned but have not (and might never be) constructed. There are cases where the land “might not even have ever been touched” but now a 500 foot wide swath of destruction will be forced through. That’s horrendous.

Fite mentioned that the BLM is planning to upgrade many of their minor roads, and that the easier access will bring more human disturbance to the area, including human-caused fires. She also anticipates that fewer trees and shrubs along motorized routes will encourage more off-road driving, which is another source of habitat destruction.

And BTW, the Fuel Breaks Won’t Even Work

The worst part is that the entire project is unlikely to be effective in stopping or slowing wildfires, especially the severe blazes that are becoming more frequent with climate change.

Maddeningly, the PEIS itself admits as much, but due to Trump-era dictates, is not allowed to mention “climate change,” though in this passage, it describes the effects of exactly that:

“For much of the past several decades, most of the project area has experienced multi-year droughts and changes in the type, seasonality, and distribution of precipitation. Lower than average precipitation and higher than average temperatures in winter and spring can result in vegetation becoming cured earlier in the fire season and over a broader area. This increases the risk of wildfire ignition and spread. Surface disturbance, including in burned areas, has contributed to an upward trend in the distribution of invasive annual grasses, which is expected to increase the spread of wildfires and the subsequent reestablishment of invasive annual grasses. This is expected to perpetuate the trend toward shorter fire return intervals.”

From the comment letter:

“Moreover, fuel breaks are generally ineffective in the hot, windy, dry conditions in which most large fires burn. Many wildfires that sweep across Great Basin landscapes are driven by high winds and embers would be carried beyond fuel breaks, making these artificial features useless. Fuel breaks would not help stop these natural processes, only further fragment sagebrush communities.”

“Extreme wind-driven fires due to climate change will not be halted by even 500-foot wide fuel breaks. The Martin Fire, for example, burned across 435,569 acres with high winds at 25 mph carrying embers and sparks horizontally across shrub and grass fuels. The fire was carried quickly across many roads and highways. It is therefore doubtful whether 500-feet fuel breaks could stop such a fire. In any case, wildfires have been observed spotting over large natural fuel breaks, such as interstate highways and the Columbia River. Given the ability of large, weather-driven fires to overcome such barriers, it is highly unlikely that any type of fuel break would be effective under similar conditions.”

“There is no science to support the efficacy of the proposed fuel breaks. There is science showing that Sage Grouse are harmed by fragmentation of their sagebrush habitat, including via linear features like roads.”

Cui Bono?

So why is the Bureau of Livestock & Mining pushing ahead with this project if it’s not even going to work as advertised? Who benefits?

Fite minced no words in answering this question:

“Welfare Ranchers. And the BLM, so it can keep sucking in huge congressional appropriations under the guise of “fuels” management and pretend it is doing something to save Sage Grouse and siphon $$$ off for other things at times, too. The distraction of fuel breaks provide more ’space” for oil and gas development, mining, etc. to continue to plunder public lands. “Oh, look we’re solving the fire problem. No need to worry about eating into more habitat.” Private contractors with heavy equipment benefit. Herbicide spray plane contractors and herbicide corporations benefit. The fuel breaks, like the Pinyon-Juniper killing and Sagebrush “treatments” are in part aimed at creating the illusion that BLM is doing something to save Sage Grouse, and that the BLM can “control” climate driven fires, which they cannot.”

Fite went on to explain that not only are the fuel breaks sacrifice zones where native flora is removed and replaced by exotic cow forage, but that additionally, the chunks between are thereby isolated and more easily turned into the “equivalent of feedlots.”

This is the Continuing Legacy of Agriculture

The BLM’s latest project“fuel breaks” in the increasingly fire-prone Great Basinsuperficially sounds like something reasonable and responsible, but it is anything but. Rather, it’s yet another land grab for the ranchers and their invasive cows and sheep. Apparently, that ravenous industry will not be satisfied until every last acre of wilderness is converted into pasture on the public dime.

It would be easy to blame the Trump administration for this, and though its roll-backs of environmental regulation are indeed both far-reaching and unprecedented in modern US history, its crimes are merely the latest in a legacy that goes back centuries on this continent. After all, it was Spanish missionaries who first introduced cattle to the arid west, long before the area was part of the US.

And, we must remind ourselves, humans instituted such ecocidal behavior in the Middle East eight to ten millennia ago with the Agricultural Revolution, where they deforested and desertified entire regions long before the Americas were “discovered” by Europeans.

As with all agricultural endeavors, a habitat of native flora and fauna thriving in the natural commons is wiped out and replaced by domesticated species for generating profit and power for private parties. It’s nothing new, and we should have learned our lesson by now, but it’s only too obvious that we have not.

What we must choose at this point is a return to healthy relationships with life on this planet, in attitude and action. At one time we lived that way. It is not beyond us. We have no excuse beyond our own stubbornness.

What Can We Do?

Unfortunately, all public comment periods for this project have passed. With this PEIS, the BLM is announcing its final plans. One or more environmental organizations might file suit, which would delay implementation.

Regardless, people can still contact the BLM, especially local offices, to make their feelings known. It’s also possible that particular portions of this project will still need to pass their own regulatory hurdles, which would provide further opportunities to slow down or stop some of the destruction. Keep your eyes open, and follow the alerts released by environmental groups like Wildlands Defense and the Western Watersheds Project.

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Grace and Gullibility

I’ve been overhearing conversations lately about how people of color, women, people who are LGBTQI, and people who have been mistreated and otherwise disrespected by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg should respond to his self-funded campaign to become the 2020 presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

I’ve overheard relatives, acquaintances, and strangers talk about the importance of defeating Donald Trump in 2020.

I’ve heard, seen, and read media reports about Bloomberg’s strengths and liabilities when he was mayor of New York and the way he spent his fortune on various causes before he decided to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to run for president.

The conversations also include references to Bloomberg’s support for the racist stop and frisk policy that targeted and mistreated black and brown New Yorkers. People are talking about Bloomberg’s suggestion that the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession were somehow triggered by federal policies that prohibited redlining. Some of the conversations mention how the New York Police Department actively infiltrated Islamic mosques in what was said to be an attempt to identify people who might commit acts of terrorism during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor. People differ about whether Bloomberg’s recent expressions of regret about those things are sincere or merely last-minute attempts to win support for his candidacy from black and brown voters who are indispensable for any Democratic presidential candidate to be viable.

I recently mentioned these points to a black politician who endorsed Bloomberg. The politician defended that endorsement by saying Bloomberg is not the only candidate whose past includes support for and association with unjust policies. That is an accurate observation.

I’ve also heard people emphasize that Bloomberg’s wealth means he has the financial strength to aggressively compete with Donald Trump’s campaign war chest, and that defeating Trump is more important that fidelity to concerns about Bloomberg’s commitment to social justice.

And I’ve heard people of faith (including the black politician mentioned earlier) talk about the importance of forgiveness, grace, and redemption for people who have erred.

I publicly declared that Donald Trump would be a corrupt and divisive president after the November 2016 election. I denounced Trump as a sociopath whose presidency would harm the United States and threaten the rest of the world almost two years ago, and later called for Trump’s impeachment long before Congress voted to impeach him for abuse of office and obstruction of Congress. Yes, Trump is dangerous.

And I believe in forgiveness, grace, and redemption. As a pastor I know that each person is morally and ethically capable of error, both knowingly and unwittingly. I know we each need grace from others. We need to be given opportunities to amend our ways and repair the harm others suffer because of our past misguided and intentional actions. We need restoration to fellowship and community. I believe in salvation and restoration.

Yet, there is a real and deep difference between being gracious and being gullible.

Religious congregations do not select new converts to become senior leaders, let alone senior pastors, notwithstanding their belief in grace. St. Paul warned against ordaining people for ministry hastily (1Timothy 5:23), and emphasized that a ministry leader “must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit…” (1Timothy 3:6).

New recruits are never promoted to command military units.

New employees are not promoted to chief executive rank in businesses.

New converts are not selected as senior ministers of religious bodies.

Gamblers refuse to bet on a horse that has thrown riders in past races to win the Kentucky Derby, let alone the Triple Crown.

Sensible coaches do not intelligently trust the outcome of momentous sporting competitions to athletes who have a record of making bad plays.

People who prefer proof of competent past performance are not vindictive or ungracious. They simply have enough sense to know that people whose past moral, ethical, and cultural competence involving complex matters has been competent are more likely to behave competently in the future than people who only recently admitted their past moral, ethical, and cultural incompetence.

That is why it is not enough that Bloomberg is apologetic about his past moral, ethical, and cultural incompetence even if one believes his apologies are sincere.

It is not enough that Bloomberg is wealthy enough to aggressively air-brush himself by spending hundreds of millions to purchase television and social media advertising featuring black and brown people as backdrops for his presidential campaign.

And it is not enough for Bloomberg to now grant titles and money to black and brown politicians and women after having racially profiled black and brown people, disparaged women, wittingly engaged in bigotry against Muslims, and after having supported policies and practices for decades that widened the wealth gap he now professes to abhor.

I refuse to forget how self-professed “religious conservative” voters disregarded Donald Trump’s lifetime of corruption, bigotry, dishonesty, and other proof of moral, ethical, and cultural incompetence when they chose him as the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

I refuse to forget that “religious conservatives” who supported Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy, who support his current administration, and who are primed to support his re-election made a Faustian deal.

I have too much sense to ignore the relationship between how callous support from “religious conservatives” who knew Trump’s corrupt character and conduct produced and is producing disastrous consequences in the United States and across the world that will burden coming generations.

My concerns about Mike Bloomberg have nothing to do with grace. I simply don’t wear a “Boo Boo the Fool” T-shirt.

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Brazil’s Bolsonaro Says No to Democracy

“The Big Honcho suppressed all the newspapers that risked timid repairs to his management, and promised that factories would produce better wrapping paper. He then closed most magazines, including those dedicated to beekeeping and winter fabrics. Finally, he got rid of school publications, which, as is known, impress children’s minds. Concluded these tasks, the Big Honcho sent emissaries to international credit agencies to request subsidies that would stop the inexplicable rise in illiteracy.” Thus wrote the Argentinian writer David Lagmanovich (1927-2010) in his book Historias del Mandamás (Big Honcho Stories.)

In January 2010, Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President, suggested that the state should censor textbooks to promote conservative values. This was just one of many attacks on democracy carried out by the Bolsonaro government. On February 7, 2020, a wide array of Brazilian intellectuals including Sebastiao Salgado, Arnaldo Antunes, Djamila Ribeio, Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, and Petra Costa, among 2,000 others, wrote an op-ed article in which they denounce the Bolsonaro’s government intention to censor textbooks, spy on teachers and repress minority groups. The Brazilian intellectuals asked for international support to reign in these abuses.

They cite, among many other facts, that on January 16, 2020, Bolsonaro and Roberto Alvim, the then secretary of culture, filmed a joint broadcast that set out their ideological plans for the country. During a video announcing a national arts award, Alvim made incidental mentions to Nazi principles and used phrases from Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist. Only after international outrage and condemnation did Alvim step down.

Attacks against the media by the Bolsonaro government are systematic. In 2019 alone, more than 208 attacks on media outlets and journalists were reported in Brazil. In January 2020, the prosecutor’s office conducted a baseless investigation into the American journalist Glenn Greenwald for his participation in an alleged conspiracy to hack the cellphones of Brazilian government officials. Greenwald had been conducting an investigation of corruption and political bias among Brazilian prosecutors and judges.

At the same time, the Bolsonaro government has led a systematic attack on respected cultural institutions in the country through funding cutbacks and censorship. In an eerie resemblance to what is happening in the United States, the Bolsonaro government denies global warming and its dangerous consequences such as ever more frequent forest fires. In addition, it disregards environmental preservation efforts carried out by indigenous communities. Bolsonaro is an open admirer of President Donald Trump.

In an evident move to strengthen its dictatorial characteristics, government leading officials, plus the President’s sons, are advocating for a return to the military dictatorship-era law AI-5 (Institutional Act Number 5) originally issued in 1968 by the military regime ruling the country. According to that law, government authorities are allowed to close congress, disregard court orders and suspend constitutional rights, all in the name of restoring order to the country.

The Bolsonaro government is intent on creating social disorder and violence to justify the implementation of harsh measures against political opponents and bring back the military-era measures against democracy and human rights. This was underscored by the President’s son, Eduardo, when he admitted that they crave violence and disorder to justify repressive measures.

These are difficult times for the Brazilian people. If Brazil’s Big Honcho continues his attacks on progressive people and institutions, he will irreparably damage the rule of democracy and human rights in that suffering country.

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Hillary, Donald & Bernie: Three Who Would Make a Catastrophe

America is a country that both loves and hates its conspiracy theories. On the one hand, our popular culture is lousy with them, from cinema to the president’s goddamn Twitter account. On the other hand, we host an academic elite which not only views such cultural trends with disdain, but seems to see our history, their history, the “official story”, as some kind of irrefutable biblical fact. Few people make the connection between these parallel trends, the likelihood that the overly presumptuous and at times downright jingoistic orthodoxy of our ivory tower elites is precisely what drives pedestrian America to search for alternatives to their “truth”. That old adage, consider the source. The reality is that history in and of itself is not black and white science. At its most accurate it is a collection of narratives, different perspectives from the ground floor that could easily be described as conspiracy theories. What appears to be a conspiracy theory from Arlington or Manhattan, looks a lot more like bad memories from Hiroshima or Tuskegee. Any true revisionist historian must become a collector of conspiracy theories, viewing all available narratives with a healthy grain of salt.

Few modern historical phenomena have created a greater volume of conspiracy theories than the 2016 Presidential Election, a downright cataclysmic event that the entire nation is still reeling from, even as we approach the next election in 2020. 2016 didn’t just shake the unwashed proletariat, it shook our intellectual bourgeoisie to its very core. As the 2020 Primaries grind away, they, more than any others seem to be grasping blindly for answers. How can an insider’s insider with such impeccable credentials like Hillary Clinton fall so devastatingly short to an irate babbling imbecile from the tabloid gutter of the 1%? They still haven’t figured it out and they know it, and they know that victory will elude them until they do. So what did happen in 2016? Lets take a second look at the crime scene through the lens of three conspiracy theories. The first two, my own, and the last one, the product of our sacred elites, all admittedly equally presumptuous.

Hillary Clinton, regardless of how you feel about her vapid moral integrity, is a stone cold player, a sort of post-feminist supervillain. She accepted at a young age that if she was going to achieve the level of power she sought, she was going to have to game the system. So she married a dope-smoking hayseed with a fraction of her intellect and micromanaged his political career to put herself in the White House. Even as First Lady, Hillary clearly ran the show. She played Dick Cheney to Bill’s Dubya, pushing an agenda of international hegemony while silencing the women her silver-tongued hubby groped.

But Hillary was not content to remain behind the curtain. She thirsted to become Oz in both title and reality. So she parlayed this twisted open marriage into a career in the Senate and then a go at the Oval Office. But Hillary had a problem, a major one that many elites share. She was almost pathologically unelectable. She was a master ventriloquist, but without a dummy to play, the public could smell her rank sociopathy from a mile away. In 2008, she suffered a humiliating defeat to a first term senator, a sweet talking minority, no less. If she was going to achieve her goal of becoming the First War Criminal with interior genitalia she would have to get crafty. She would need two ventriloquist dummies this time, not just one. She would need two conspiracies. The kind of soft power manipulations she mastered meddling in other countries affairs.

The first was Bernie Sanders, who already made a career of pulling off the impressive feat of playing two seemingly diametrically apposed rolls at once, the wild eyed socialist idealist that got him elected in bucolic Vermont, and the consummate party loyalist that kept him elected in Washington. He was perfect. From day one of the primary campaign, Bernie sent all the right signals high and clear that he was running to lose. He spoke at great length of reinvigorating the Democratic Party and a revolution that didn’t weigh victory with his nomination. He handed the first debates to Hillary on a silken pillow with his declaration that “We are sick of hearing about your damn emails!” as she laughed mincingly, while “we” most certainly were not sick of learning the goddamn truth. In a single off-the-cuff comment, Bernie rendered Hillary’s most recent act of Beltway corruption a moot point. Meanwhile, he gathered the disaffected wayward leftists who had already chosen a lesser evil over Hillary once and groomed them to view the party of neoliberal austerity as somehow revolutionary, while refusing to take so much as a swipe at his opponent. But one conspiracy wasn’t enough, not this time around. Hillary needed one more dummy to guarantee she wouldn’t suffer a repeat of 2008.

Donald Trump had been idly threatening to run for president for nearly two decades. It had become a cornerstone of his whole sideshow, along with a dizzy cocktail of corporate welfare and reality TV. But he had never seen it fit to actually waste his time and energy on an actual campaign. Not until 2016. Whatever could have changed the Donald’s mind? His little game of presidential footsy had garnered him all the rewards of a real presidential run, but none of the headaches. Something drove this bit player to take a leading roll in 2016. Is it really so far fetched to consider the possibility that some savvy media tycoon like Haim Saban in the orbit of Trump’s old friends the Clintons could have convinced him that this time actually taking the plunge could earn him even richer rewards?

Bafflingly, Trump launched his strange campaign by diving head first into an issue that was far more of a sour point for Democrats than it was for the GOP in 2015. Before Donald descended those golden escalators to infamy, no one with any heft on the right was even talking about tightening immigration laws. Quite the contrary, after two dismal presidential campaigns in a row, the GOP was openly playing with the notion of doing the unthinkable and reaching out to minorities, Buckley be damned. The Democrats were the ones busy trying to reverse the damage done to the long neglected but increasingly pivotal Latino vote by Obama’s record shattering deportation regime, handing out tokens like DACA like fun-size candy bars on Halloween.

Then the Donald took to the airwaves, proclaiming immigrants to be killers and rapists, and calling for the construction of a flaming border moat complete with landmines and crocodiles. He seemed like a gift from hell to the Hillary Campaign and for a while he was. Clinton’s devoted allies on CNN and MSNBC gave Trump’s race-baiting horror show 24/7 coverage, while “serious” GOP contenders were treated like disposable tarts on the Bachelor. It was so perfect, how could it possibly go wrong? The leftist youth vote that had long eluded Hillary was being corralled and pacified by Bernie the grateful loser, while Donald Trump alienated Latinos by turning the GOP into an episode of Jerry Springer. It was the perfect soft power play. But like all of Hillary’s experiments with regime change, from Libya to Ukraine, this one too would blow up in her fucking face with the force of a thousand Benghazi’s. It turns out that the only bitch bigger than Hillary is blowback.

In spite of all his limp-wristed bromides to party unity, Bernie’s revolution grew revolutionary. It turns out that the left didn’t just distrust Hillary, they despised her, and in an election that was packaged to them as a forgone conclusion by the same pricks who helped Hillary sell them on the Iraq War, even a charismatic cripple like Bernie was ripe to warp into a cult of personality. Bernie was about as dangerous as unscented Lubriderm, but he came to symbolize something obscenely radical. He came to symbolize upheaval. And so Hillary found herself married to the task of sabotaging her own puppet’s primaries, while the upheaval on the right that her backers fostered with round the clock coverage became equally unruly. What had started as a sort of blue collar shock comedy tour with the Donald stocking the stage like a dayglow Andrew Dice Clay, taking swipes at every sacred cow from cripples to POW’s, had tapped into something primal. In spite of all the blatant race baiting, at its core, the Trump jihad was essentially an elder cousin of the Bernie revolution. People had become so disgusted by the daily corruption of the status quo that they were willing to vote for a human Molotov cocktail just to burn that fucker down. This shit was out of control. Hillary needed one more conspiracy to tame it.

What she came up with is the only theory here to become a part of the official American intellectual canon, in spite of the fact that it’s far more convoluted than the theories I propagated above. I speak, of coarse, of Russiagate. A gigantic Byzantine-esque plot to deny Hillary her rightful place in power with a twelve-dimensional campaign of trolls, proxies, pop-ups, honeypots, hacks and other sundry ballyhoo, all orchestrated directly by the evil Vladimir Putin like a cat-stroking Bond villain. It all seemed like idle nonsense from a woman adept in the artform until the unthinkable happened, a racist reality television circus clown won the fucking White House. That’s when the Russiagate hoax grew fangs. It was given unblinking verification by Hillary’s allies in the media and the intelligence community without offering so much as a crumb of verifiable proof. And just like that, a conspiracy theory becomes history and this entire piece becomes “fake news” for questioning its logic.

So it’s 2020, dearest motherfuckers, and what have we learned? Well I don’t know about you but the Democrats haven’t appeared to learn a goddamn thing. With Hillary’s 2016 contemporaries, Trump and Bernie, launching campaigns that they actually intend to win for once, the DNC is still lost in the Russophobic spy thriller that they seem to have legitimately forgotten they forged, all while once again pimping another pathologically unelectable Washington dinosaur that everyone clearly hates as the hero of their story. These imbeciles appear to have every intention of repeating their 2016 tricks to put Biden or, god forbid, Bloomberg in the nomination, which will only accomplish another seemingly impossible catastrophe that they’ll no doubt blame on god knows who. Putin? Assad? Tulsi? Santa? Anyone but the only people who can possibly make Trump a two term president, themselves.

I may very well be a conspiracy nut, dearest motherfuckers. Guilty as charged. But I pale in comparison to my own fucking government and at least I can admit I don’t have all the answers. The truth really is out there. In more ways than one. Keep digging and you might just find it.

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Dresden 75

When the English music historian Charles Burney arrived in Dresden in 1772, he found mostly ruins.  This most beautiful of northern cities had not yet recovered from the ravages of the Seven Years War, concluded nearly a decade before:  “It is difficult for a stranger to imagine himself near the celebrated capital of Saxony, … [since] so few of its once many cloudcapt towers are left standing; only two or three remain intire, of all the stately edifices which formerly embellished this city.”

The Prussian bombardment of 1760 seemed to Dresden’s inhabitants to have been a vengeful attempt by Frederick the Great to destroy the monuments of a city which had, ironically, given him such powerful inspiration for his own cultural projects in Berlin and Potsdam.  Though politically tolerant of all faiths, the Prussian monarch made no secret of his contempt for organized religion. He must have found it strangely exhilarating to watch the spires of Dresden’s Baroque churches topple from the horizon.

Dresden’s eighteenth-century skyline was dominated by the magnificent dome of the Frauenkirche—the Church of Our Lady.  Intent on breaking the spirit of the inhabitants, Frederick had, according to Burney, pointed his cannons at the city’s proudest landmark:  “The King of Prussia, in his last bombardment of Dresden, tried every means in his power to beat this church … but in vain, for the orbicular form of the dome threw off the balls and shells, and totally prevented their effect.”

That church fell with the rest of the city seventy-five years ago last week. In the night of February 13th-14th, 1945 the British air force dropping some 200,000 bombs—high explosives followed by incendiaries—±on Dresden. The Americans followed up the next day with similar tonnage as rescues efforts were underway down on the ground. Between 20,000 and 30,000 civilians were killed, the Florence and the Elbe erased by fire.

Burney writes with a courteously well-hidden, yet still palpable, disgust that war should be used as a means of cultural destruction.

If only Dresden had been lucky enough to suffer merely Prussian cannons and not the apocalypse of 1945.

The Dresden Burney visited is gone forever, in spite of decades of effort to reconstruct its landmark buildings. Even the Frauenkirche graces the city again, rebuilt using both new stone and the much darker blocks salvaged from the rubble that had stood on the site since the War.

In 2005, the year the Frauenkirche was reconsecrated, I played a concert in Dresden in the 250th anniversary year of the famed organ built by Gottfried Silbermann (though he died before its completion) for the Court Chapel — now the city cathedral. Unlike the organ in the nearby Frauenkirche also by Silbermann, that in the Court Chapel had escaped destruction thanks to its timely removal in 1944, returned to the rebuilt church in the 1960s.  The concert organizers put me up the reconstructed Bishop’s Palace. The facade of that building and all the others that front the River Elbe look again like they do in Canaletto’s famous paintings.

Dresden From the Right Bank of the Elbe Below Augustus Bridge by Caneletto. (Google Art Project.)

During my stay, I visited the then just-opened Grünes Gewölbe (green vault), recently victim of a shocking heist that touched the cultural nerve that is Dresden: the value of priceless jewels stolen was put around a billion Euros. In these sumptuous rooms, the Saxon Electors displayed their treasures in jaw-dropping profusion: hundreds of perfectly faces carved into a single  sixteenth-century cherry pit; impossibly beautiful and complex ivory wonders; amber; silver, porcelain. In the 1720s, the mightiest of the Saxon rulers, August the Strong opened the doors to the public, happy for his subjects to admirer his goodies.

Many, though not all, of these holdings were, like the chapel’s organ, spirited out of Dresden before the bombs fell. Dresden’s musical riches also largely escaped. Unlike organs, manuscript can be removed to safety with relative ease. And if these are saved (like the early version of Bach’s B-minor Mass which the composer offered to the Saxon Elector in 1733) the music can be performed—it can burst out of the museum and into the modern world. We can listen in on the musical world of Dresden’s Golden Age.

This huge body of music represents one of the city’s most lasting cultural achievements.

The finest English-account account of musical life in Dresden’s eighteenth century remains a long chapter in Daniel Heartz’s magisterial yet gracious Music in European Capitals: the Galant Style, 1720-1780 (Norton, 2003).

Patrons, musicians and their music are encountered with a critical ear and enlivening appreciation of the subtleties of style, previously dismissed as superficial. With Heartz as guide, the this musical world gleams and glories anew.

The pathbreaking apostle in the performance of this nearly inexhaustible hoard of music was Reinhard Goebel and his ensemble, Musica Antiqua Köln; the vivid results of his research can be heard in four beautifully produced recordings brought out on the Archiv label between 1993 and 1996.  Although these recordings represent only a tiny fraction of the surviving manuscripts in the Saxon State Library, they offer a rich sampling of the immense musical wealth of the Electoral chapel and court.

The Saxon electors of the first half of the eighteenth-century—August the Strong (ruled from 1694 to 1733) and his son, August II (ruled 1733-1763)—had prodigious appetites for sensual pleasure and the means to indulge them.  Favorite pursuits included not only food and women—August the Strong tallied up 354 illegitimate children—but music as well.  The Saxon court orchestra was arguably the finest in Europe, with an international cast held up as a model of ensemble accomplishment by no less demanding a judge than J.S. Bach. He admired many of the leading figures of the Dresden musical establishment and counted several of them as his friends.

Musica Antiqua Köln’s tour of the Saxon capital’s musical heritage begins at the Moritzburg, August the Strong’s hunting lodge, which, because of its distance from the city, escaped destruction in World War II and can still be visited.  The main dining room at Moritzburg is a high hall with dozens of stags’ heads. The trophies peer down at the banquet table.  It was here that many of the concertos of Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), August the Strong’s music director (Kapellmeister), were performed as music for table, soothing the Elector’s ears after a long day game beating and shotgun blasting, though August also had some musicians to accompany him out in the field as well.  The heroic horn calls and Arcadian flutes heard in the Dresden Concerti commemorate both the raucous glories of the hunt and the calmer delights of pastoral landscapes when blunderbusses were silent. Love was in the air—along with the scent of gun powder.

The Concerti “per l’orchestra di Dresda” from Musica Antiqua Köln offers a panorama of Dresden instrumental music members of court orchestra, as well as scores acquired from afar for the Elector’s enjoyment.  The offerings include two exuberant suites by Heinichen and an eccentric overture by the temperamental—some said mad—virtuoso Francesco Maria Veracini, personal chamber musician to August the Strong and rival of Vivaldi.  (Veracini’s other five overtures are to be found on the third recording in Musica Antiqua Köln’s Dresden series also on Archiv).  You will also hear J. J. Quantz’s remarkable concerto for two flutes, a tremendous piece of technical exhibitionism, whose extraordinary demands could have been answered only by Quantz and his teacher, the French virtuoso Pierre Gabriel Buffardin, two of the many famous members imported to the Dresden orchestra.

Any musical tour of Dresden must include a visit to the Court Chapel for the opulent and moving sacred music. In the Saxon heartland of Lutheranism, August the Strong, whose ancestors had harbored the Reformer himself, opportunistically converted to Catholicism in 1697 to be able to become Polish King as well as Saxon Elector. It was a move that disquieted the Lutheran faithful, but also produced a vast quantity of the elaborate music for the Catholic liturgy. In Goebel’s two-disc recording of Heinichen’s Lamentationes/Passionsmusik the emotional range of Heinichen’s passion music, operatic in scope, is given perhaps its most memorable dramatic urgency in the tumultuous tenor aria depicting the earthquake at Christ’s crucifixion.  This amounts to Italian opera dubbed with German biblical texts: a feast for the soul and the senses.

But the greatest treasures from the Court Chapel are to be found among the works of a man Bach greatly admired in his later years—Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), longtime double bassist in the Dresden court, and Electoral church composer. Zelenka produced his most sublime religious music in the last decade of his life, while nursing a long-held grudge against the Elector. Not only had Zelenka been passed over for the coveted position of Kapellmeister (Director of Music), but both Augusts had, in emulation of the famed secrecy of the Sistine Chapel, forbidden Zelenka from publishing his music or sending it to other courts, thus denying him the opportunity to gain a position elsewhere.

Thwarted in his attempts at professional advancement, Zelenka turned his melancholic thoughts to his art, and his Last Masses are a singular triumph over his personal disappointments.  Indeed, it is almost an impertinent luxury to be able to listen to his transcendent Missa Dei Filii in the performance, by turns euphoric and brooding, of the Kammerchor Stuttgart and Toronto’s Tafelmusik.

Would it be musicological suicide to claim that Zelenka often matches Bach in the mastery of diverse styles and the ability to synthesize ancient musical traditions (counterpoint and Gregorian Chant) and the latest stylistic impulses (opera), or to suggest that his spirited melodies often appeal more than those of Bach?  If name dropping is what it takes to give this great composer his due, I’ll put it this way:  Zelenka’s music combines Handel’s vitality and Bach’s erudition, and anticipates the genius of Mozart’s sacred choral works. Zelenka’s masses are perhaps the city’s greatest monuments, untouched by bombs and recreated not in sandstone but in sound.

No tour of Dresden’s music would be complete without a trip the opera: the prestige entertainment of its time.  In those days of enlightened despotism there were no pseudo-political debates about state funding of the arts.  August was a National Endowment for the Arts unto himself:  all seats in the opera house were free, and anyone could sit in the Parterre. More than thirty years ago the renowned conductor of baroque operas (among many other genres), William Christie recorded a performance of Johann Adolf Hasse’s Cleofide, premiered at the Dresden opera house on September 14, 1731, the year in which Hasse returned to his native Germany from Italy and claimed the title of Saxon Kapellmeister, apparently to the chagrin of Zelenka.  (This four CD of the opera set was reissued in 2011 on by the Capriccio label.) Bach himself was in the audience for that premiere; he played a concert on the Frauenkirche organ the next day. Listening to the four hours of Cleofide with its seemingly endless string of rousing arias spinning past your ears, it is not hard to understand why Hasse’s gifts for melody made him one of the most famous and richly-rewarded musicians of his time.

When Burney arrived in Dresden the opera house had been out of use for some time.  Deploying a favorite military metaphor, Burney writes that he “was extremely curious to see this celebrated scene of actions, where general Hasse, and his well-disciplined troops, had made so many glorious campaigns, and acquired such laurels.”  Sadly, the opera house Burney found had become nothing but a memorial to musical heroes and to a city that had been “regarded by the rest of Europe, as the Athens of modern times’ where all the arts, but particularly, those of music, poetry, and painting, were loved and cherished by that prince, with a zeal and munificence, greater than can be found in the brightest period of ancient history.”  Bankrupted by war, the music and the other arts fell into neglect. America take note!

Seated in the opera house for Cleofide, Bach would have had a chance to hear another of his friends, the lutenist Silvius Leopold Weis, shine in his solo in an aria from the third act, “Cervo al bosco” (Stag in the woods).

A mini-concerto for lute and horns introduces the singing of the hero, Alexander the Great, depicted in the aria as a stealthy, magnificent animal stalked by his enemies. It was obvious to all in the house that Alexander was a stand-in for August the Strong, who himself must have enjoyed the reference to hunting, assuming he wasn’t disporting himself on the floor of his box with whatever female company he’d brought along when the music failed to hold his wandering attention.

However dramatic and unexpected this aria is, Jakob Lindberg’s performance of Weiss’s solo Sonatas on a gorgeous instrument from the late sixteenth-century demonstrates how the profound intimacy of the lute explored by its greatest eighteenth-century genius draws the listener’s attention more forcefully than lavish court spectacle.

There are those who give voice to a more vicious version of Burney’s sentiment, and claim that Dresden deserved its annihilation in 1945. When the Frauenkirche was reconsecrated in October of 2005, Queen Elizabeth praised the reconstruction as a symbol of reconciliation, but carefully avoided any hint of apology for the crime of destruction. At present, far-right groups in Germany seek to inflate the number of Dresden dead to the 100,000—or more—mark claimed by the Nazis and long insisted on by others. A new book on the fire-bombing from the English journalist Sinclair McKay has come in for criticism for its sensationalism—and the embarrassing fact that the cover photo of the German edition shows the destruction of Danzig, not Dresden. Seen one bombing seen them all. Whatever the wartime city being razed and its inhabitants killed en masse, the center-liberal press resists the rise of German victimhood, even if the Allied aerial bombardment of German civilians—and therefore of Dresden should count as a war crime.

Near the end of Burney’s 1772 account of his visit to Dresden a note of reproach creeps in, as he gropes for an explanation of Dresden’s troubles, suggesting “that some part of the late and present distresses of this country, may have originated in this excessive magnificence.”  The current misery could only be punishment for past sins.

If I thought like that for a moment, I could not listen to the music that has survived the city’s destruction.  To go on listening would be to reduce pleasure to sadism, beauty to lies.

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How the Military is Raiding Public Lands and Civilian Spaces Across the Western Front

Upper West Little Owyhee Wild and Scenic River, Oregon.

Military public land grabs and intrusions into civilian spaces are raging in the West. Wild landscapes are targeted for huge seizures of public land, increases in hideously loud war plane overflight impacts, or development of facilities like threat emitters. The military already has seized vast areas of the American West for use as ground and air ranges. The Nellis Range in Nevada spans 2.9 million acres, but the Air Force now wants to seize 300,000 more acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. The Navy finalized a gigantic Fallon Range expansion EIS to lock up over 600,000 more acres of public lands east of Reno. Mountain Home Air Force base’s Owyhee Range airspace covers portions of three states (Idaho, Oregon, Nevada). Now the Air Force is proposing even more intrusive overflights. Washington’s wild coastal lands and waters, and people’s homes on Whidbey Island, are suffering nearly 100,000 Navy Growler flights a year. Navy intrusions on Olympic National Park and other sensitive sites include an area of the Hoh rainforest that had been described as the quietest place in the contiguous US. Meanwhile, civilian spaces in our cities and neighborhoods are increasingly subjected to creeping militarism and war games.

Military bite by military bite, the West is being consumed. Existing ranges are connected by Military Training Route air highways along which the planes travel over wild landscapes in between.

Urban War Games: Unprecedented Military Intrusion into Civilian Space

I now reside within an Urban War Range, though the Air Force doesn’t officially call it that. Boise and eight other cities across southern Idaho have become military playgrounds, along with land within a 30-mile diameter circle of town center. When I step into my yard, walk in the foothills or go downtown into “urban canyons” (as the Air Force dubs streets with taller buildings), I may become a conscripted game piece, part of the human “chaos” that the Air Force uses to train for bombings and assassinations across the globe. Mountain Home Air Force Base finalized an EA authorizing US and Singapore F-15 war planes to circle for hours above town at 10,000-18,000 ft. Meanwhile military personnel, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers or JTAC, playing friend and foe are disguised as civilians lurking on the ground. The war planes use “eye safe” lasers to zap the enemy amid the civilian clutter. Fortunately, this “Urban Close Air Support” proposal is being challenged in federal court. The litigation describes:

Once the military jets are in their holding patterns, a convoy of up to five vehicles and twenty soldiers will enter the urban center and act as the “Opposing Forces,” while a convoy of up to five vehicles and twenty soldiers would act as the “Friendly Forces.” These convoys will be comprised of both American and Singaporean forces and they will drive unmarked cars, travel through public spaces, and be disguised as plainclothes civilians. To begin a mission scenario, the Friendly Forces will communicate by radio with the F-15 jets above for help locating the Opposing Forces, which the aircraft will then track and target with training lasers.

There’s been no court ruling yet.

F-35s at City Airport Runways

Boise was an easy target for unprecedented urban war military civilian space grab, where real people are incorporated as play pieces. Under previous Mayor Dave Bieter, we were a wide-open frontier for any rapacious development or military scheme. The city used public funds to pay consultants to lobby for F-35 basing here and engaged in shenanigans for years to try to replace the A-10s based at the National Guard Gowen Field by the Boise airport with F-35s. The Guard uses the same airport runaways as passenger jets. F-35s are 8 to 16 times louder than the A-10s. Bieter resoundingly lost his re-election bid. New mayor Lauren Mclean trounced Bieter. Her opposition to the F-35s and concerns for affordable housing were major campaign issues.

The Air Force is also intent on inflicting F-35s on National Guard air units using urban airport runways. In 2013, Burlington Vermont was selected for F-35 siting over the fierce opposition of many residents, which continues to this day. Boise was in the running back, but fortunately lost out. As politicians heaped more billions on the F-35 program, another Guard unit basing scheme arose. The Air Force dispatched a review team to reconnoiter 5 cities, including Boise, and select two. They chose Montgomery, Alabama and Madison, Wisconsin as top candidates. The Guard uses the Madison city airport. Boise failed to make the cut. But that didn’t save us from being included in the latest F-35 EIS NEPA analysis. F-35s here would inflict horrific noise on the civilian populace. They would also overfly the Owyhee Canyonlands down to levels as low as 100-500 ft. in Idaho and use the military withdrawn bombing range sites. The final F-35 EIS is due out any day. Folks in Madison are rightfully alarmed at being part of the “preferred alternative” in the draft EIS. It’s a race to the bottom! Which city gets to not have its civilian population be human shields surrounding an F-35 base — with F-35s now designed to carry nuclear weapons? Which city gets to not have affordable houses demolished as homes near the airport become unlivable?

Even if Boise is not selected, as more bottomless billions are appropriated for F-35s, this EIS could serve as a basis for bringing them here with minimal new analysis. For much of the past decade, neighborhoods near the airport have been battling F-35 proposals. The stress and uncertainty of what will happen to homes has taken a real toll on people – along with the existing levels of airplane noise. The already considerable noise includes commercial airliners, A-10s, and transient war planes like Navy Growlers from Whidbey. Privately owned terminal facilities profit from transient war planes refueling at the airport. A few years ago, the Idaho Guard webpage read like a tourist brochure trying to lure transient war planes.

Owyhee Supersonic War Games

The Air Force has a new torment for Idaho and the tri-state Owyhee Canyonlands. A low level supersonic flight proposal has been unleashed on the public, with the military justifying its move in part by claiming “getting high, getting fast allows us to throw our weapons and hit the enemy from much farther away”.

The Air Force seeks to lower flight levels for sonic booms (currently 10,000 ft.); drop down the current 3000 ft. war plane flight floors in Oregon and Nevada by an unknown amount; and use “terrain masking” flight. Scoping info was vague. It appears the Air Force plans to extend its sagebrush skimming Idaho levels into Malheur County and northern Nevada. There are few high points or mountains across much of the high desert plateau country to use for terrain masking flight, so this seems to mean only one thing no matter how much the Air Force may deny it – flights descending into canyons with horrific noise boomeranging around canyon walls and California bighorn sheep and raptor habitat.

It’s hard to fly much lower than the appalling 100 ft. above ground level already allowed in Idaho MOA airspace, including above the Owyhee Initiative wilderness areas of Pole Creek, Little Jacks Creek, Big Jacks Creek, Bruneau-Jarbidge Rivers and Owyhee River. Regrettably, the Owyhee wilderness legislation contained military overflight language allowing virtually anything to take place in the wilderness airspace.

Sonic booms associated with supersonic flight generate enormous amounts of energy. They can be heard over vast distances. The thunderous sound, often accompanied with an unknown object suddenly appearing in the visual field, produces a startle effect, a primal avoidance reaction – like when you’re about to step on a snake. You don’t think, you react. Your mind has not had time to process the intense sound or that what’s coming at you is a plane, and not a giant velociraptor about to snatch you up for dinner. I’ve dropped to my knees, heart pounding, avoiding the unknown monster hurtling at warp speed in the Canyonlands. Now the Air Force wants to boom at even lower elevations while sneaking around using terrain masking flight.

An ever-increasing number of scientific studies show harmful noise impacts to myriad species of wildlife including sage-grouse. Military impacts on bighorn sheep were a huge issue with past Owyhee bombing range proposals. The Idaho Game Department has become so politically constrained and useless at sticking up for wildlife that its regional biologist told Times-News reporter Colin Tiernan:

“… there isn’t much good data on how bighorn sheep respond to loud noises. There have only been a few studies, mostly back in the 1980s and 1990s, and Curtis said most of those had holes in their research. Studying the impacts on the Owyhee populations would be incredibly difficult”.

Contrast this with the Washington state AG’s Growler lawsuit wildlife claims below.

Growler Land

Washington residents and groups like the Sound Defense Alliance have been fighting the Navy’s Growler expansion noise that is driving people out of their homes on Whidbey island. They are working to highlight impacts of military activity around the Salish Sea, Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula. Growlers are not quite as loud as F-35s but they generate extremely annoying low frequency sounds that penetrate deep into the body. A friend equated the sound of a Growler here in Boise to a train rumbling on top of her head. We’ve confirmed that some of the particularly noxious war plane overflights in Boise are from Growlers using the city airport.

Whidbey residents have filed a lawsuit over the Navy’s authorization of a nearly 400% increase in flight field landing activity. Residents assert that the Growler EIS constitutes a taking without compensation of property rights, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.  There are 24 named Plaintiffs who seek to certify it as a class action. The lawsuit includes:

The high and unhealthful levels of noise and vibrations associated with the Navy’s new flight operations, coupled with the danger of living in and near areas that the Navy itself has identified as unsuitable for residential use in light of the danger of a deadly jet crash, has deprived Plaintiffs of the use and enjoyment of their property …

Here’s a montage of the plaintiffs suffering under the “sound of freedom”:

… war planes flying as low as 200 feet directly over her home on a 60 to 90 second cycle … trying to hold conversations while outside (or even inside) is unbearable when the planes are passing …the Bortons no longer enjoy where they live and talk about how all they want is to “escape.” Of course, the jets have made escape impossible as well since the Bortons are seniors on a fixed income and are now unable to sell their home since the jet traffic has destroyed their property value … Everyone at the home must put in ear plugs and then [w]ear silence head gear over the ear plugs. Still, everyone is losing sleep due to the loud sound of the jets and intrusion … Ms. Corliss also fears for her safety and notes that her daughter, who was previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, found instant relief when she briefly moved off of the Island … the start of the Growler plan resulting in frequent overflights has increased his PTSD symptoms, triggered nightmares, and has interfered with the use of his CPAP machine at night, which is required to help Mr. Firnstahl breathe … she cannot walk her dogs, garden, or even be outside when the Growlers are circling overhead. She is concerned about the health of her dogs who cower when the planes fly and are constantly stressed and shaking. She does not believe that she would even be able to sell her home and move … Ms. Nichols reports that when the jets are flying, she must go inside or else her organs vibrate in her chest cavity … Ms. Shaw’s dog Sassy was once so scared by the Growler overflights that she got her foot caught in a rockpile trying to flee the noise and broke her leg. It cost Ms. Shaw $2,500 to get Sassy surgery …”.

Separately, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the Navy to try to roll back the drastic increase in Growler flights over the land, coastline and ocean, citing effects on residents and wildlife, including endangered species.

The Navy authorized … increasing Growler take-offs and landings to nearly 100,000 per year for the next 30 years. Growlers are aircraft that fly low in order to jam enemy communications. The aircraft’s training regimen involves frequent, loud take-offs and landings…. In 2017, the Washington Department of Health provided feedback to the Navy on noise levels around the Whidbey Island airfields. The feedback outlined how exposure to noise levels similar to those at the naval air station could cause negative health impacts, including sleep disturbance, cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease … The Navy arbitrarily dismissed impacts to human health and child learning from increased noise, despite many studies indicating that exposure to noise can lead to adverse health outcomes.

The suit stressed physiological noise effects, the Navy’s irrational claims that wildlife would “habituate”, and NHPA violations. It challenged the rejection of the Health Department concerns in the Growler EIS. The Navy evaded analysis by claiming there was not a definitive causal relationship between war plane noise and health effects. It seems that since nobody has yet dropped stone cold dead at the exact moment a Growler has flown over, there’s no need to worry.

“As the Washington Department of Health noted … requiring a definitive causal relationship between aircraft noise and health impacts is an unreasonably high standard that results in nonauditory health effects being excluded from analysis. By relying on this unreasonable standard, the Navy arbitrarily dismisses evidence of nonauditory health impacts caused by noise exposure and ignored or undervalued a growing body of science indicating key health concerns from noise impacts, including impacts from aircraft noise”.

The AG’s complaint references 230 migratory bird and priority species impacted including common murre, marbled murrelet, tufted puffin, great blue heron, harlequin duck, peregrine falcon and bald and golden eagles. The tufted puffin is a state endangered species. The Growler expansion intrudes on essential federally listed threatened marbled murrelet habitat, plus habitat for harbor seals, endangered southern resident killer whales (orcas), Steller sea lions, and many shorebirds – red knots, solitary sandpipers, and black oystercatchers, all of which are species of conservation concern.

As this article describes:

“The literature has shown that noise fundamentally changes behavior, distributions and reproductive success [for wildlife],” said Jesse Barber, who runs the Sensory Ecology Lab at Boise State University. “We can now clearly say that noise is a pollutant, but that takes some time to work its way into policy.”

There’s been no court ruling yet, but the Navy quickly agreed to re-initiate ESA consultation over Growler impacts on murrelets. The orca population is threatened by overflights of coastal areas of the San Juan Islands, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, with war plane noise levels up to 120 decibels and sound effects amplified in ocean water, along with potential pollution from fuel dumping and firefighting foam getting into water. The increased Navy flights will release 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, adding to ocean acidification that harms orca food supplies.

The overflights threaten the Hoh Rainforest One Square Inch of Silence site established by ecologist Gordon Hempton in 2005 to protect and monitor Olympic National Park’s soundscape, and marked by a tiny rock. Hempton relates: “Prior to the Navy arriving, it was not only the least noise-polluted national park in the U.S., it was also the most noise-diverse”.

Just last week I received an e-mail alert about the latest Growler outrage. Now the Navy wants to use Washington state land parks for their noxious War Games.

Juvenile bighorn sheep. Photo: USFWS.

Nellis Efforts to Devour Desert National Wildlife Refuge Public Lands

Nevada was the notorious site of 1960s era above-ground nuclear testing that extended a cancerous rain of radioactivity across the region. This included Idaho, where to this very day fallout victims have still not received compensation.

The Nellis Range includes the nuclear testing site (the NTTR), and sprawls across 2.9 million acres. An immense amount of military airspace extends over much of the state – associated with not just Nellis but also other war ranges – Fallon, the Utah Test and Training Range, Hawthorne, Mountain Home. But the war machine always claims it needs more, more, more for bigger, nastier, outrageously expensive weaponry training. Justification for the Nellis Land Grab includes wanting to “better simulate modern combat wherein planes drop bombs from greater distances and elevations …”.

Against fierce public opposition from all quarters, the Air Force finalized an EIS to seize 300,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge (the largest refuge in the contiguous states). and hand over primary management jurisdiction for another 800,000 Refuge acres to the Air Force.

The Nevada Independent described:

“The Air Force already uses about 800,000 acres in the refuge, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has primary jurisdiction over managing the land for conservation. Several groups were concerned the military’s proposal would give the Air Force primary control, allowing it to make decisions about 1.1 million acres within the refuge.

Reacting to the overwhelming public opposition to the military Land Grab, the Nevada Legislature passed a resolution opposing the expansion. Presidential contenders weighed in – Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker. A righteous storm was brewing.

Then Senator Catherine Cortez Masto introduced compromise legislation to reduce the military’s Refuge new land seizure area to 98,000 acres (153 sq. miles). Her bill also would transfer several thousand acres of other public land to the military, still allow 15 threat emitter sites, and would designate 1.3 million acres of wilderness in the Refuge.

Cortez Masto’s bill contains the awful Owyhee Initiative Wilderness military overflight language – where military overflight impacts could get even worse over the proposed wilderness areas of the higher mountainous areas of the Sheep Range, Las Vegas Range, Gass Peak, Papoose, South Spotted Range, Pintwater/East Desert/Spotted Range and Hole-in-the-Rock. Noise is already tremendous at times, since the war planes extensively use the lands below the 4000 ft. WSA belt. The EIS described the Air Force desires to tear open WSAs using roads and build new threat emitter sites, and expand the area of military withdrawn lands:

Almost 90 percent of the DNWR (about 1.4 million acres) has been proposed as wilderness by the USFWS since 1971, and about 590,000 of those acres are in the South Range. Generally, areas proposed for wilderness areas in the South Range correspond to elevations above 4,000 feet above mean sea level. The areas proposed for wilderness on the South Range are managed as de facto wilderness by virtue of USFWS land management policy, which results in significant restriction on Air Force activities to areas below 4,000 feet. Existing roads (mountain roads/passages) other than those used below 4,000 feet are off limits, as is troop movement, ground disturbance, and the development of new locations such as emitter sites and communication sites

The Air Force already gets to train in “full battle spectrum mode” and conduct its “intelligence surveillance reconnaissance” and “irregular warfare” across vast areas of Nellis and other ranges. They just pretty much want it all. It’s unclear to me how the Cortez Masto bill addresses the significant overall increase in military disturbance from the EIS – a 30 percent proposed increase in aircraft operations and munitions expansion, or where new threat emitters (produce electromagnetic radiation used in war games) would be located (inside or outside WSAs/wilderness?).

The Desert Wildlife Refuge was created in 1936 to perpetuate survival of desert bighorn sheep, well before the Air Force started incrementally seizing blocks of the Refuge and other public land in withdrawals and other maneuvers.


Fallon’s Immense BLM Land Grab – Lest Smart Bombs Go Dumb

Not far to the north, the Navy’s “Fallon Range Training Complex Modernization” scheme would drastically expand that war range by over 3 times its current size of 240,000 acres. According to Basin and Range Watch:

The US Navy wants to close and bomb over 769,724 acres of public lands in Churchill, Lyon, Mineral, Nye, and Pershing Counties, Nevada. If Congress agrees to this, there will never be public access again. Several public roads would be closed and several private properties would also just be taken by the government. Beautiful mountains and basins would be closed and anyone caught there would be arrested”.

Fallon would gobble up part of the Monte Cristo Range, the Gabbs Valley, areas of the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and Stillwater Mountains. This includes parts of three BLM WSAs (Clan Alpine, Job Peak, Stillwater). The Navy even wants to defile mountain tops in the Stillwater Range sacred to the Fallon Paiute Shoshone tribe, placing electronic war game equipment on mountain peaks and locking up vast areas. In an Op Ed Tribal Chairman Len George decries the Navy’s aggressive Land Grab:

“ … we strongly oppose the Navy’s proposal to quadruple the size of Naval Air Station Fallon. The Navy’s proposed expansion would close off all public access to 660,000 additional acres of ancestral tribal lands and wilderness areas, turning these sacred public lands into a bombing range. The Navy also seeks to regulate an additional 300,000+ acres, for a total of nearly 1.2 million acres impacted by the base – not including the airspace that will be invaded”.

“… The proposed expansion of Naval Air Station Fallon would destroy our way of life because it would allow the Navy to bomb our burials and other important cultural sites, and deny us access to those areas. Congress would never allow Arlington National Cemetery to be bombed for training exercises or ban the public from going there to pay their respects – our sites deserve the same protection. The proposed expansion of Naval Air Station Fallon is dangerous and disrespectful”.

The claimed Navy “need” to seize public land is that a huge area must be closed to the public for the latest in killing technology, “in case a smart bomb goes dumb”.

In both the Nellis and Fallon analyses, the military rejects use of training simulators – despite the increasing automation of all aspects of death-dealing warfare – including steps to replace pilots with automated systems. Like with Nellis, the Nevada legislature passed a resolution transmitting their opposition to the Fallon Land Grab to Congress, which must vote to release WSA lands.

What I’ve written about is only what I’ve been tracking and have some (though perhaps not perfect) understanding of. It’s certainly not inclusive of the complex military expansion efforts underway. The battles to protect public lands and homes are being fought by citizens and environmental groups in individual locales. But the problem is nation-wide, as an out of control war machine progressively is consuming us all.

Note: The Air Force has now issued the Final F-35 EIS and the top basing choices remain Montgomery and Madison. A Decision Record has not yet been issued. 


The not so pure driven snow. Military chaff on new-fallen snow atop Juniper Mountain in the Owyhees. An enormity of environmental concerns surrounds the incessant war training taking place over public lands – chaff, flares that cause wildfires, fossil fuel use climate footprint, use of hazardous devices, many kinds of pollution.

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Bloomberg is the Equal Evil

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

An oligarch is trying to buy the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination with cash payments from his own personal fortune. If his takeover attempt succeeds, it will smash the party and assure the reelection of Donald Trump. Given their shared interests, we might wonder whether that is Michael Bloomberg’s true intent. His cynical campaign is based on deceiving people into believing the opposite, that he would be a strong candidate against Trump. Many also believe, falsely, that Bloomberg presents a lesser evil than Trump. The following is presented in refutation of these false premises.

Bloomberg’s 12-year record as mayor of New York, his billions in personal spending as a political and “philanthropic” donor, and his many recorded public statements all suggest strongly that a Bloomberg regime would be at least as extreme, dangerous to democracy, lawless, and warlike as a second Trump term. I would never vote for either of these men, who are similar in all the ways that matter most, including a shared record as serial purveyors of misogynistic harrassment of women. Even were it possible to persuade me to “vote blue no matter who” in Bloomberg’s case, there is little point in trying. Tens of millions of others who might vote for a Democrat against Trump will never vote for Bloomberg, the Republican oligarch, if he seizes control of the party.

Republican Oligarch

Bloomberg is a long-standing Republican billionaire from New York City, rated as one of the ten richest men in the United States. He supported George W. Bush for president in 2000 and endorsed Bush’s reelection in 2004. As a speaker at the Republican nominating convention in New York that year, then Mayor Bloomberg heaped praise on the criminal invasion of Iraq and the “war on terror.” In 2008, Bloomberg endorsed John McCain against Barack Obama.

In the years that followed, Bloomberg continued to endorse and fund many Republican candidates. He threw millions in PAC money behind Pat Toomey (PA) in a close Senate election that Toomey won. That was in 2016, the year of Trump’s election. In 2014, Bloomberg donated to the reelection campaigns of the Republican senators Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham. Back in 2012, he also endorsed and funded the Republican Scott Brown against Elizabeth Warren.

On the federal level, in short, Bloomberg’s money has been deployed to keep GOP control of Congress, especially the Senate, and thus helped to assure GOP domination of the judicial appointments process. It does not matter what he says, pretends, or thinks he was doing. Through these actions, Bloomberg bears partial responsibility for the blocking of the Garland appoinment and for the approval of the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh appointments to the Supreme Court. No credible case can be made that concern about the conservative make-up of the Supreme Court is a priority to him; nor can it be assured that this two-faced actor would appoint more liberal judges than Trump.

Since 2018, Bloomberg has been doing business as a Democrat, having switched his nominal party affiliation to accommodate his new political ambitions. He continues to support some Republicans, again doing so in the age of Trump. In his career as a political donor, he has spent about $2 billion in dark-money contributions and “philanthropic” donations to causes favored by local politicians, especially mayors, as documented in the New York Times (15 Feb). This flood of cash has bought a stable of endorsers for Bloomberg’s presidential run, from politicians willing to sell their reputations and services. Following a few hundred thousand in donations to the Democratic National Committee, Bloomberg has also won the DNC’s favor. They have admitted Bloomberg personnel into key party positions, and they changed their debate qualification rules to make it possible for the billionaire to take the stage at the Nevada debate, days before the state’s caucuses. (Other candidates were excluded from earlier debates because they were required to have 200,000 individual donors; Bloomberg has no donors other than himself.)

NYC Mayor Or Real Estate Kingpin?

(And is there a difference?)

During his dozen years as mayor, Bloomberg flew several times a month on average to his compound in Bermuda, where he could manage his global financial empire and presumably vast, unaccountable, offshore assets. Officially, he placed the Bloomberg companies in a blind trust managed by associates. One of them, Dan Doctoroff, first served the Bloomberg administration for a few years as its top city planner, working closely with the mayor before proceeding to management of the mayor’s sequestered billions.

The doings in Bermuda have remained confidential. Bloomberg’s estimated wealth rose from about $2 billion at the start of his mayoral tenure in January 2002 to around $30 billion by the time he left office in January 2014. Seven years later, his wealth is given as $55 billion one month, $60 billion the next. Five billion is a rounding error, as Lee Fang remarked in a podcast interview (Rolling Stone Useful Idiots, 7 Feb).

As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg set off the largest wave of 20-year tax exemptions for new housing towers and other jumbo developments in the city’s history. The uncontrolled luxury building frenzy completely transformed New York for the worse. Rents became impossible. Large populations, mostly of black and brown people, were displaced. Historic neighborhoods turned into dull mall environments.

Bloomberg became the latest of several mayors to announce to lifelong New Yorkers that if they can’t afford to live here, they should move out. The homeless population skyrocketed. He went on record opposing the minimum wage and mocking the idea of a iiving wage as a communist plot. Posing as an education reformer, he aggressively pursued school-charter privatization plans, constantly attacked teachers and their unions, and advocated larger school class sizes. As a servant to the city’s real estate and finance sectors, he was an ally above all of developers like Donald Trump. There is good reason why you can find so many pictures of the two of them laughing together.

Authoritarian Tyrant 

If the term seems exaggerated, consider that in the original Greek, a tyrant was a city boss. Everyone is now recalling Bloomberg’s massive six-fold expansion of the “Stop and Frisk” program he “inherited” from Giuliani, which was eventually ruled unconstitutional. This was just one part of an intensely carceral, punitive and racially targeted approach to the city’s black and brown populations. His racist statements in justifying these policies are well-known. He extended the endless “war on drugs.” More people went to prison for marijuana. He still wishes to keep it illegal and declared that marijuana legalization is “the stupidest thing anybody’s ever done” (Newsweek, 23 Jan 2019).

As under Giuliani, countless innocents were incarcerated on petty charges. Kalief Browder’s three-year torment at Riker’s happened on Bloomberg’s watch. Bloomberg oversaw the violent and militarized expulsion of the peaceful Occupy Wall Street protest from Zuccotti Park in Nov. 2011, an action which was coordinated through the Department of Homeland Security with the simultaneous expulsions of dozens of other Occupy encampments in big cities around the country. In New York the action was run through a new office that for the first time brought all city, state and federal law enforcement agencies together with liaisons from corporate headquarters into a single underground command center.

When it became known that a judge was considering declaring “Stop and Frisk” unconstitutional (as she then did), Bloomberg activated PR and press teams to defame her in advance as unhinged and unreliable. This shows his contempt for the judiciary and the rule of law.

Those who credibly fear “president for life” or other lawless scenarios with Trump need also to recall that the similarly old and unhappily-disposed Bloomberg, who had claimed to support the term-limit laws in New York, switched suddenly to advocating and achieving a one-time repeal of the law in 2009. This allowed him to buy a third term with the most expensive mayoral campaign in history, spending sums variably estimated at $110 to near $200 million. Just like his current campaign, this largesse won the lockstep report of the city’s corporate media. He had thousands on staff, with paid employees accosting people on the street, and no evidence of volunteers.

Back in 2001, Bloomberg was set to lose his original run for mayor, as a Republican candidate. Then the primary election, scheduled for September 11, was postponed due to the attacks on the WTC. Mayor Giuliani, whom Bloomberg had always supported, called for the postponement of the general election and a four-month extension of his own term, effectively demanding that New York City, for the first time in 214 years, be placed under an ad-hoc dictatorship of emergency rule. Bloomberg supported Giuliani’s proposal before it was axed due to widespread opposition. He exploited the fear after the attacks by running an expensive scaremongering campaign, and managed to win the election.

As mayor, Bloomberg supported all of the emergency measures and new repressive policies and agencies initiated by the Bush administration, including the USA PATRIOT Act, the Homeland Security Department, the blanket communications surveillance programs, and the increased direct intervention of the CIA in setting local police policy. New York overturned limits on the use of police video against protesters. The city became a testing ground for new domestic surveillance and repression programs.

The NYPD was deployed to spy on Muslims at mosques, and followed people to jurisdictions in other states without informing the local authorities. Zero actual terrorist plots were uncovered by these programs. When this illegal action was covered in a report commissioned by the Center for American Progress (CAP), publication was abruptly delayed until the chapter on the NYPD program was excised. Bloomberg had donated 1.5 million to CAP, the “Third Way” think-tank influential with the Democratic Party right-wing. Bloomberg later reiterated support for total federal surveillance programs, covering all phone calls and messages in the world. He told an interviewer that “we’d better hope the NSA is reading all of our e-mails.”

Trumpian Politician

Bloomberg supports high military spending but presents himself as a deficit hawk. Along with Mnuchin and the worst kind of Democrats, he has been a speaker at “summits” of the Peterson Foundation and has aligned himself with their efforts to cut or privatize Social Security and Medicare. During the recent budget sequester, he expressed concern that temporary spending cuts might “devastate defense.” He went to on to say, “There are ways to slowly decrease the benefits or raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare.” He recommended the institution of more co-pays, so that people would “make less use of” medical services.

While he derides the single-payer health care system common around the world as an unobtainable fantasy, he also did not support the institution of the ACA (Obamacare). There is no reason to believe current claims that he would maintain ACA. He is, after all, beholden to no one, and changes his claims as required by political convenience. As mayor of New York, he supported fingerprinting for SNAP recipients and public housing residents, in keeping with his many recorded public statements deriding the poor and black and brown people in particular. (If his presidential campaign proceeds, you will be hearing these statements used against him on a permanent loop.)

Bloomberg’s supposed concern for the climate crisis as an issue is undermined by his unwillingness to spend anything to act on it, since this would be “unaffordable.” He mocks the Green New Deal and the federal Jobs Guarantee that it would necessarily entail.  How is this lip service, or support for a toothless climate tax, better than Trump’s overt denialism of the ongoing ecological catastrophe and global extinction event?

What pipeline is Bloomberg going to block? What lands that Trump has given to the drillers and loggers and polluters is Bloomberg going to restore as protected wilderness? What ecologically destructive project is he going to oppose, if a fellow capitalist intends to start it? What international initiatives is he going to lead on behalf of controlling the capitalist drive to burn the planet for profit? What difference is it going to make to life on this planet, if this fraud claims to “believe the science,” or if his foundation pays off select astroturf groups that then praise him as an environmentalist?

Bloomberg neither portends nor promises any change in the aggressive foreign policy, interventionism, escalated bombing campaigns, or primacy of the military budget under the Trump-Pence-GOP regime. He has never suggested any opposition to the perpetual wars.

A Bloomberg regime would be wedded to the Saudi-Israeli alliance, exactly like Trump’s. His business interests are closely linked with the Saudi and Gulf royalists, just like Trump’s. Bloomberg opposed the Iran deal and supports recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. During the large-scale Israeli assaults on Gaza, in 2008-9 and 2014, Mayor Bloomberg flew to Israel, calling these visits expressions of New York City’s support for Tel Aviv. On these occasions the Israeli military bombed the captive and defenseless population of the blockaded Gaza strip continuously from the air, the first time for three weeks consecutively, killing hundreds of defenseless civilians and turning hundreds of houses into rubble. The first of these offensives was timed to occur before the inauguration of Obama, whom the right-wing Israeli established considered weak in his support for Israeli policy. The mayor of New York, meanwhile, dropped all business to rush to Israel’s “defense.”

Oligarch Buying Presidency 

Through his foundation, Bloomberg has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars around in exchange for his current spate of endorsements from Democrats and liberals, performing the important service of revealing which mayors, politicians and activists are willing to sell themselves for cash.

He is documentably and programmatically as authoritarian, racist, personally abusive to his underlings, macho and misogynist, and in no way less a war-monger than Trump. My dear, sad True Blues, the corporate media are currently exploiting your justifiable trauma about Trump in order to deceive you that there is a substantive difference. You should be outraged.

Even if you can still persuade yourself that there is a difference, you should be equally outraged that anyone is attempting to buy your country’s presidency with their personal cash out of pocket. As bad as American oligarchy has become, this is a new frontier in its systemic corruption. It is not less dangerous than what the Trump-GOP-Pence regime already has wrought thanks to its own unlimited political spending. If Bloomberg’s gambit is not beaten back, and if it does not serve as the beginning of reforms to end the rule of pure money in politics, we will be seeing many more oligarchs trying the same stunt in the future.

How much of a sucker are you letting yourself be, to retrofit this man’s record and politics as “liberal” or “blue”? If the Democrats were a family, Bloomberg is the loan-shark who breaks into the house, puts on the father’s “blue” suit, and holds the children at gunpoint, telling them he’s there to save them. Jared Kushner is also a rich guy, possibly richer than his father-in-law. Imagine if he turned coat against Trump and bought the DNC and the Democrats. Would you get it then? Or would you tell people to Vote Kush No Matter Who?


Not the worst, but the most effective lie from the Bloomberg campaign is that he would have a better chance of winning against Trump than other candidates.

His money and the favor of the corporate media and party establishment may yet prove sufficient to outshout, overwhelm, and sabotage all of the Democratic opponents. I do not expect this, but it is possible. He has already shown that he will cheat and trample on democracy, and he has enough resources to outspend all of the rest combined by a ratio of two or three or ten to one, if he chooses. Just a few months of his returns on wealth suffice to make him literally the biggest purchaser of advertising of any kind, on both corporate media and social media, and for him to employ twice or ten times as much paid staff as all of the other campaigns nationally. He is providing a lesson, not only in why billionaires are bad for society because of the wealth inequality, but are active dangers to democracy because they can buy entire political systems with cash to suit their personal whims.

If somehow he should capture the nomination, however, all of this changes.

First, the Democratic Party breaks up, without a doubt. True Blues, do not bother to moralize at me or anyone else. It’s pointless. You can strap me down, pay me off, brainwash me. But everyone else? You won’t be able to herd tens of millions of cats who are on average smarter and wiser than you. Most Americans were never Democrats in the first place, were they now? You need their votes too. Among the serious Democratic voters, meanwhile, are the ones who actually mean it. Many will not be impressed with your arguments that a literal Republican with Trumpian politics, who conducted a hostile takeover of the party, must be given allegiance because he constitutes a “lesser evil.” This is a scam.

It’s done. People cannot be made to unsee what Bloomberg is, and even he cannot pay everyone enough to play along. (If his entire fortune were liquidated at the current estimated value and distributed equally among all Americans, we would each receive about $180.)

The Democratic Party will also smash apart even if Bloomberg fails to capture the nomination for himself, but serves as the kingmaker at a brokered convention that denies the nomination to anyone who wins a plurality of pledged delegates. True blues, there is nothing you can do about it.

Understand finally that these are not the threats of any organized force. Your imaginary “Bernie Bros.” have no central headquarters with which you can negotiate. The Demexit will be a long-suppressed sociological event: a cat tsunami.

Second, a nominated Bloomberg will be up against members of his own economic class. He’s only the world’s ninth-richest out of 1500-3000 billionaires, and never mind the ultra-trillions available to the major corporate cartels, and never mind the many foreign influences who regularly seek to influence US elections. The Trump-Pence-GOP campaign and the dark-money machines who support them will match and exceed Bloomberg’s spending. Like Bloomberg, they will feel no limits about lying, cheating, sabotage, or use of fascistoid tactics, and they have a much longer and broader and more successful record of election rigging.

It will be easy. They will have no trouble publicizing all of the above, and making it sound even worse than I have.

They will have no trouble convincing people who do not support Trump that Bloomberg offers the same shit as Trump. They will barely need to do that, because it is true.

They will have no trouble convincing Trump’s followers that Bloomberg is the Godless Judeo-Bolshevik head of a globalist free-trader conspiracy to take away their freedoms, their firearms, their flags, their crosses, their trucks, their triple-burgers and big-gulps, their children’s religious education, and their pride, because this is what many of them already want to believe anyway.

In truth, a lot of people who support Trump (and many who  hate him) don’t believe any of that, but think everything’s fucked anyway. They no longer care what is true, as long as it’s good television. Professional wrestling beats the Public Service Announcement, every time. Especially when the PSA comes in as dishonest and unctuous a form as Bloomberg with his unconcealed contempt for the poor, for minorities, for farmers and for workers. Imagine the media carpet-bombed with the clip of him explaining why farming is easy, and why farmers and industrial workers had it easy, because they did not require as much gray matter as tech workers.

And how is this different from you, True Blues? You think you’re smarter than the average Trump supporter, but you too believe what your emotions prefer. This Moneybag Monster you have persuaded yourselves to call “Democratic,” “moderate” and “electable” will be obliterated in the field.

Note: A growing collection of links to reports and clips backing up all of the above is available on this fb page.

To respond to this piece, offer millions in legal bribes in exchange for an endorsement, or remind Nicholas Levis that he should be working on his history dissertation, write to


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Shut Down Canada Until It Solves Its War, Oil, and Genocide Problem

Photograph Source: tuchodi – CC BY 2.0

Indigenous people in Canada are giving the world a demonstration of the power of nonviolent action. The justness of their cause — defending the land from those who would destroy it for short term profit and the elimination of a habitable climate on earth — combined with their courage and the absence on their part of cruelty or hatred, has the potential to create a much larger movement, which is of course the key to success.

This is a demonstration of nothing less than a superior alternative to war, not just because the war weapons of the militarized Canadian police may be defeated by the resistance of the people who have never been conquered or surrendered, but also because the Canadian government could accomplish its aims in the wider world better by following a similar path, by abandoning the use of war for supposedly humanitarian ends and making use of humanitarian means instead. Nonviolence is simply more likely to succeed in domestic and international relations than violence. War is not a tool for preventing but for facilitating its identical twin, genocide.

Of course, the indigenous people in “British Columbia,” as around the world, are demonstrating something else as well, for those who care to see it: a way of living sustainably on earth, an alternative to earth-violence, to the raping and murdering of the planet — an activity closely linked to the use of violence against human beings.

The Canadian government, like its southern neighbor, has an unacknowledged addiction to the war-oil-genocide problem. When Donald Trump says he needs troops in Syria to steal oil, or John Bolton says Venezuela needs a coup to steal oil, it’s simply an acknowledgement of the global continuation of the never-ended operation of stealing North America.

Look at the gas-fracking invasion of unspoiled lands in Canada, or the wall on the Mexican border, or the occupation of Palestine, or the destruction of Yemen, or the “longest ever” war on Afghanistan (which is only the longest ever because the primary victims of North American militarism are still not considered real people with real nations whose destruction counts as real wars) , and what do you see? You see the same weapons, the same tools, the same senseless destruction and cruelty, and the same massive profits flowing into the same pockets of the same profiteers from blood and suffering — the corporations that will be shamelessly marketing their products at the CANSEC weapons show in Ottawa in May.

Much of the profits these days comes from distant wars fought in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, but those wars drive the technology and the contracts and the experience of war veterans that militarize the police in places like North America. The same wars (always fought for “freedom,” of course) also influence the culture toward greater acceptance of the violation of basic rights in the name of “national security” and other meaningless phrases. This process is exacerbated by the blurring of the line between war and police, as wars become endless occupations, missiles become tools of random isolated murder, and activists — antiwar activists, antipipeline activists, antigenocide activists — become categorized with terrorists and enemies.

Not only is war over 100 times more likely where there is oil or gas (and in no way more likely where there is terrorism or human rights violations or resource scarcity or any of the things people like to tell themselves cause wars) but war and war preparations are leading consumers of oil and gas. Not only is violence needed to steal the gas from indigenous lands, but that gas is highly likely to be put to use in the commission of wider violence, while in addition helping to render the earth’s climate unfit for human life. While peace and environmentalism are generally treated as separable, and militarism is left out of environmental treaties and environmental conversations, war is in fact a leading environmental destroyer. Guess who just pushed a bill through the U.S. Congress to allow both weapons and pipelines into Cyprus? Exxon-Mobil.

Solidarity of the longest victims of western imperialism with the newest ones is a source of great potential for justice in the world.

But I mentioned the war-oil-genocide problem. What does any of this have to do with genocide? Well, genocide is an act “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Such an act can involve murder or kidnapping or both or neither. Such an act can “physically” harm no one. It can be any one, or more than one, of these five things:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Numerous top Canadian officials over the years have stated clearly that the intention of Canada’s child-removal program was to eliminated Indigenous cultures, to utterly remove “the Indian problem.” Proving the crime of genocide does not require the statement of intent, but in this case, as in Nazi Germany, as in today’s Palestine, and as in most if not all cases, there is no shortage of expressions of genocidal intent. Still, what matters legally is genocidal results, and that is what one can expect from stealing people’s land to frack it, to poison it, to render it uninhabitable.

When the treaty to ban genocide was being drafted in 1947, at the same time that Nazis were still being put on trial, and while U.S. government scientists were experimenting on Guatemalans with syphilis, Canadian government “educators” were performing “nutritional experiments” on Indigenous children — that is to say: starving them to death. The original draft of the new law included the crime of cultural genocide. While this was stripped out at the urging of Canada and the United States, it remained in the form of item “e” above. Canada ratified the treaty nonetheless, and despite having threatened to add reservations to its ratification, did no such thing. But Canada enacted into its domestic law only items “a” and “c” — simply omitting “b,” “d,” and “e” in the list above, despite the legal obligation to include them. Even the United States has included what Canada omitted.

Canada should be shut down (as should the United States) until it recognizes that it has a problem and begins to mend its ways. And even if Canada didn’t need to be shut down, CANSEC would need to be shut down.

CANSEC is one of the largest annual weapons shows in North America. Here’s how it describes itself, a list of exhibitors, and a list of the members of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries which hosts CANSEC.

CANSEC facilitates Canada’s role as a major weapons dealer to the world, and the second biggest weapons exporter to the Middle East. So does ignorance. In the late 1980s opposition to a forerunner of CANSEC called ARMX created a great deal of media coverage. The result was a new public awareness, which led to a ban on weapons shows on city property in Ottawa, which lasted 20 years.

The gap left by media silence on Canadian weapons dealing is filled with misleading claims about Canada’s supposed role as a peacekeeper and participant in supposedly humanitarian wars, as well as the non-legal justification for wars known as “the responsibility to protect.”

In reality, Canada is a major marketer and seller of weapons and components of weapons, with two of its top customers being the United States and Saudi Arabia. The United States is the world’s leading marketer and seller of weapons, some of which weapons contain Canadian parts. CANSEC’s exhibitors include weapons companies from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

There is little overlap between the wealthy weapons-dealing nations and the nations where wars are waged. U.S. weapons are often found on both sides of a war, rendering ridiculous any pro-war moral argument for those weapons sales.

CANSEC 2020’s website boasts that 44 local, national, and international media outlets will be attending a massive promotion of weapons of war. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Canada has been a party since 1976, states that “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”

The weapons exhibited at CANSEC are routinely used in violation of laws against war, such as the UN Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact — most frequently by Canada’s southern neighbor. CANSEC may also violate the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by promoting acts of aggression. Here’s a report on Canadian exports to the United States of weapons used in the 2003-begun criminal war on Iraq. Here’s a report on Canada’s own use of weapons in that war.

The weapons exhibited at CANSEC are used not only in violation of laws against war but also in violation of numerous so-called laws of war, that is to say in the commission of particularly egregious atrocities, and in violation of the human rights of the victims of oppressive governments. Canada sells weapons to the brutal governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Canada may be in violation of the Rome Statute as a result of supplying weapons that are used in violation of that Statute. It is certainly in violation of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. Canadian weapons are being used in the Saudi-U.S. genocide in Yemen.

In 2015, Pope Francis remarked before a joint session of the United States Congress, “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

An international coalition of individuals and organizations will be converging on Ottawa in May to say No to CANSEC with a seris of events called NoWar2020.

This month two nations, Iraq and the Philippines, have told the United States military to get out. This happens more often than you might think. These actions are part of the same movement that tells the Canadian militarized police to get out of lands they have no rights in. All actions in this movement can inspire and inform all others.

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Freedom for $5.30…and This Time Mexico Really is Paying for It

Photograph Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Public Domain

Back in 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that Mexico would pay for his proposed border wall. Turns out Mexico wasn’t interested, so Trump eventually resorted to declaring fake emergencies and illegally misappropriating money from the military budget.

He’s spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars per mile on a barrier that, Samuel Lovett of the Independent reports, migrants are scaling with $5.30 ladders (when the wind isn’t blowing it over for them, making ladders unnecessary).

Yes, based on the price of rebar at a local hardware store on the Mexican side of the wall, $5.30.

What a refreshing lesson! No matter how much money politicians like Trump spend trying to restrain and impoverish the people they stole it from, those seeking freedom and prosperity find ways to win through — and to do so for far less.

The wall was always a dumb and evil idea.

Dumb, because it was never going to “work.” The US has 95,500 miles of border and coastline. If people want to get in, they’re going to get in, even if every member of the armed forces and every sworn law enforcement officer in the country is re-assigned to nothing but “securing the border.” The only reliable way to keep people out is to turn America into such a crappy place that nobody wants to come here. Which, admittedly, is something our politicians are always hard at work on.

Evil, because even if it DID “work” the result would be less freedom, a slower economy, and worse lives for everyone on both sides of it. Capital — including “human capital,” aka labor — naturally flows to where it can be most profitably invested. If that flow is impeded, we’re all worse off.

Well, not all of us, I guess. The corrupt politicians doing the impeding, and their crony corporate welfare queens, make bank at the expense of the other 99% of us. Which is as good an explanation as any, and better than most, for Trump’s wall fetish.

Those $5.30 rebar ladders are, a huge practical benefit to their direct users. But they’re of double benefit — practical and political — to the rest of us.

As a practical matter, the immigrants who come over, under, around, or through the wall make our lives better.

As a political matter, the ease with which they’re exposing Trump’s multi-billion-dollar boondoggle for what it is makes it less likely that future politicians will waste our money on similar idiocy.

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Mr. Sanders: Would You like Your Coffee Without Cream, or Without Milk?

Photograph Source: Phil Roeder – CC BY 2.0

“Indeed, you describe a complex social psychology. But politics IS simple. We choose policies and then hope they can be realized. If we are worthy participants, we watchdog it–or sheepdog it, if you will. I highly regard sheepdogs. They are intelligent and utterly dedicated. And if the politician disappoints, we try to elect a better one.

And probably the best way really is by majority rule (which is the narrow definition of ‘democracy’). Although western civilization has never allowed that before, Bernie is wanting to try it because so also do most Americans. I think the law of averages would dictate that the electorate is likely to make the best decisions in the face of real emergencies. ”

—Sidney Mitchell

“A man comes into a restaurant. He sits down at the table and he says, ‘Waiter, bring me a cup of coffee without cream.’ Five minutes later, the waiter comes back and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, we have no cream. Can it be without milk?’”

—Slavoj Zizek

“The cheating has begun in earnest, and the only thing Democrats are resisting is any turn to the left. Even a little bit of reformism is off limits for the supposed leaders who are little more than errand boys and girls for the billionaires. The Bloomberg cash onslaught and the anti-Bernie conspiracy have laid bare the degree of collusion among the rulers.”

— Margaret Kimberly

“If you could see it from the front, wait ’til you see it from the back”

—Doja Cat

“I actually am a conservative—more so than other conservatives in the sense that I think you could go and cut 2 or 3 percent out of the budget in every agency.” —Mike Bloomberg

My friend and mentor John Helmeke always sees a little more than I see. John made me aware of Mike Bloomberg’s strategy of paying online influencers to make memes of him. John said, and I completely agree: “I’m so weary of the ordinary advertising (especially ordinary election campaign advertising) I will welcome an ironic, self-aware animated Bloomberg character even though I support Bernie for U.S. President.” Indeed, this was the specific request Bloomberg made to meme influencers: an ironic and self-aware Bloomberg who was trying too hard to be cool. If it sounds stupid, then stop and think a second. How else would the billionaire Republican Bloomberg convince the working class he was good for them?

This is exactly the Trump strategy. To be so grandiose and absurd that you don’t actually believe him, but you simply stop caring about the truth because his force of will and charisma are strong. Trump isn’t even skillful, nor does he provide the people with anything of use. In fact he is destroying humanity. Very rapidly. But the question, not asked enough, is how is he doing it and getting applauded for it? What is the logic of capital? This is where we have to take a serious look at ideology.

The materialist perspective would be that Trump benefits the right people at the top and that they are (almost) as heartless and toothless as he is. But how do they walk around without going insane? Trump has not escaped his own insanity. I am convinced that through all the fascism, Trump must still be a “free-thinking” liberal, given how the destruction of the world by his hands has led to uncontrollable narcissism and insecurity.

It is this, but we also should believe we live in a democracy, even if we don’t. The belief that democracy could kick Trump specifically out of office is not entirely naive. How does Trump get democratic support? It is actually through the same path that Bloomberg articulated: ironic and self-aware. It is precisely because Mr. Trump has stripped himself of all sincere ideology that he can simply be a proxy for the 1%. In some ways he has even astonished this ruthless class by the length he will go to destroy the world. It is because, quite simply, he does not believe in whatever good the billionaire claims he provides for the world. Trump in a word, believes in the process itself. Power is not for any goal besides power itself. Trump’s own existence is not for anything besides himself. Such has become the logic of the opposition to Trump, which may very well be led by another billionaire Republican, which believes in defeating Trump for its own sake.

In response to John’s Bloomberg post about irony and self-awareness, I replied: “Yes the irony here reminds of Slavoj Zizek’s take on modern ideology: you don’t believe it, but you are doing it anyway.” I thought I was talking about Bloomberg, who would cultivate an image that fails on purpose. He doesn’t believe he is the savior, but he will save us anyways. This is the sort of winning ideology necessary for today’s times. It goes beyond the “common touch” of the President. It it worse now. The democratic subject in today’s capitalist democracy is so far from being represented that the only thing that can be represented is the subject’s own negativity. Therefore, if Bloomberg is not cool, he also be like us: not cool. Not good enough to be represented, ironically, by Bloomberg himself. If Bloomberg was to represent anything he was, we could not relate. This is not just because Bloomberg isn’t us, it is because we are nothing. Bloomberg is something. But the democratic subject: we are nothing. We are not represented.

The division of the modern subject here has been wildly successful. On the one hand, there is enough knowledge, rights and so forth to believe in nothing—to have everything be proven false. In a capitalist democracy what is the point of rights but to remind us we don’t have them? Or more specifically, we can’t achieve them individually. Americans have a right to freedom, but you’re in prison. Americans have the right to prosperity, but you’re poor. Americans have the best country, but you’re illegal.

This is the scope of the American Dream: it’s a right everyone has a right to, but no one has. Rights, like dreams and property, are privately owned. What we have is a right to fail. But of course no one sees their rights as the right to fail. They see that their rights have failed. The blame for this failure varies, and at times, the blame can be very astute.

However the underlying point is this: the point of any sort of proposition to the masses is for it to be both a reminder that you won’t get it and a reminder that you failed to get it. If you believe you were failed by the system itself, it would no longer be democracy, so the blame must be turned inward, or downward.

This is the development away from strict authoritarianism which says you can’t and you won’t. This is democracy, under capitalism: you can, but you won’t. It is in this sense that Bloomberg, like Trump can become a sort of hapless figure. He, like us, is bound to a label, a derogatory label that can’t quite define him “rich guy” is no better for him than “poor person” is for us.

Now, through the vehicle of advertising, a new sort of Mad Men character rises out of this negativity. This was what worked for the TV show Mad Men. The reason it could convince you that you liked advertising was because the failure of Don Draper was sincere. In fact it was the only sincere thing about him. This is the same for Bloomberg. He really isn’t cool. And he really wants to be. Which is why he is buying the Presidency. Still, the great trick is something far more complex.

Memes are the young people language. The language of Sanders, the language of climate rebellion, but mostly the language of negation and humor. What Bloomberg taps into is that out of the gap of this negative—out of the insincerity—can arise something that is completely rejected, but because of this, it becomes sincere. There is a sincere rejection of Bloomberg on the one hand, but on the other hand this sort of nihilism is exactly what we assume will happen as we exit ideology completely and morph into a materialist dystopia. So Bloomberg confirms the theory and therefore can and will be promoted ironically. A meme page I like posted that Bloomberg paying for positive meme influences would have the opposite effect. But the meme page didn’t seem to be aware: Bloomberg was paying for your negativity, and this sucker was doing it for free.

What did John have to say to me bringing up Slavoj, as I so often do these days,,,’Yes the irony here reminds of Slavoj Zizek’s take on modern ideology: you don’t believe it, but you are doing it anyway.’ John, seeing beyond, replied:

“Which part?

1.) watching an ironic, self-aware animated Bloomberg character?

2.) supporting Bernie Sanders for U.S. President?

3.) or both?”

Which is here where I get into my favorite subject: Bernie Sanders. I do think that my support for Bernie Sanders, which is sincere, is exactly the modern ideology: you don’t believe it, but you are doing it anyway.

I replied: “Lol yes, well that was really sharp by you. I do support Bernie Sanders, and I don’t believe a word he says. I just like what he’s saying!” Which is not to say that I don’t believe Bernie could happen. In some ways, he is happening.

Take another fascinating reversal. Much was made of the MSNBC fan who became a Bernie Sanders supporter because MSNBC was so against Bernie. Now doesn’t that describe the MSNBC viewership perfectly? I would like to make a point here: that on the one hand, the corporate media trashes Bernie because they cannot have us support him, he will hurt their profit margin and save too many lives of poor people. I’m not that cynical, I do believe in Bernie to that extent.

It is though on the other hand that we find that MSNBC and others oppose Bernie exactly to channel this energy of opposition into this collapsing subject. Here we find the ultimate modern ideology. We, the ruling class, believe Bernie Sanders is trouble for us, so we will say he is trouble for you. And yet also: we the ruling class believe that whether you oppose us or support us it makes little difference—as long as we are the solution to your problems. It need not be a sincere solution, because who believes in those anyways these days? It can also be, and this is crucial: the channel for discontent, where you are heard, dismissed, you blame us, come back to us, we listen, you feel better, you’re dismissed, you feel worse, our power remains, and so on.

This goes back to the psychology of the negative. We often ask, how do you see the glass: half full or half empty? Although which actually would be more frightening, you leave your glass on the table and you come back, and it is half full (implying it was filled) or if it was half empty (it was drunk from). Now you would assume something about the glass here. If the glass was filled, you would assume it was done by a rich person in power who wanted something from you or wanted to do something to you or at least wanted to let you know who they were. If the glass was emptied, you are dealing with a poor person, who was thirsty, or even simply a so-called degenerate who is willing to steal. Which is more dangerous here? Clearly it is the one filling the glass. Emptying the glass is something done without malice. This is why Bloomberg is trying to frame himself as someone who empties the glass (searches for his identity, swagger, etc.). This is what Trump did: empty the glass, and there seemingly is no ill will by it, even if there are ill consequences.

If Bernie is coffee (the good life) then he is coffee without milk, and Trump is coffee (the good life) and he must be coffee without cream. This is the same subject of the good life but what it lacks is different. Bernie’s milk is billionaires. Trump’s cream is immigrants. Neither exists in the ideal world for each “coffee” but the difference in negativity does matter.

It is true though. The only support I have for Bernie Sanders is ironic. It doesn’t mean that sincere work hasn’t been done on my part and others. It does mean that it is a project that expects to fail. I am not saying it will either. It just is designed to, like Bloomberg and Trump. It is how the modern subject, perhaps all subjects, move a project forward—by sincerely believing in its failure. This, after all, is love itself. It is not when we believe in something for its own sake, it is when we believe in something in spite of itself (which is true belief).

Now the reason I am a Bernie Bro is this: I believe, with sincerity, that democratic socialism is a paradox, the Democratic Party is not democratic, and capital erodes the social. This is why, exactly, I believe in the paradox of democratic socialism. Not because it fails but because it exposes a contradiction which will bring forward society once it is revealed that it fails. However, it is sort of a win-win. Say the cynical belief is proven wrong. It’s hedging the bet. You are wrong. But you wanted to believe you were wrong. You wanted democratic socialism to succeed. So here, even in losing, you win.

Believing what you want to believe rather than what you actually believe may be the only way to change anything. It is in this sense that one can say a sincere belief in Sanders is not so much buying his revolution simply because of its negative relation to the mainstream press and establishment as a whole. Rather, sincere belief in the said revolution is to believe that the current iteration will fail and yet succeed in its goal, which of course, is a level of failure that makes its success possible. An ironic and self-aware calculation instead of “real” socialism. But it is not only believing that this will win. It is also believing that in loss, it will succeed to bring something that will never lose—a series of partial losses and reloading on the right side of things.

Here’s the case for this: Bernie Sanders is popular despite being almost the most left person who could run for President now. His colleagues are all right-wing and despite a claim that he is too far left, going further left only increases his support. Proof that he could succeed at all demonstrated that if anything, politics could move far to the left and be more representative. It is in this spirit that somehow society is brought leftward by this ever-increasing confrontation of class contradictions.

What does it mean to support Bernie Sanders then? One can and should exit ideological analysis and instead focus on the ways he makes all of our lives better. Still, I hope this is helpful in clarifying the path to revolution: we are drinking coffee without milk, without cream. But soon coffee without milk and cream will be possible. The material limitations of such counters will become even more glaring as the best job in town becomes making memes promoting billionaires. And yet, this disparity will only accelerate the class war. If a coffee knows it has no cream, no milk, etc. then it can certainly know what it wants.

It is here where the demands become ideological, to our great relief. So, still, I think the question remains, why support Bernie Sanders if you don’t believe a single thing he is saying? I think it is a reason: it is because if he fails, he succeeds, and if he succeeds, he succeeds. Take for example Bernie’s recent claim about his supporters “I hate harassment, I don’t stand for it, and so on.” No loyalty there to his base. Completely buying the lies of the ruling class. He could have said: “The media makes this up because we are challenging corporate rule” but no, it is always this collapsing of the opposition. Tell a lie and the lie itself isn’t refuted, you just present yourself as different from the lie, while accepting the general lie as true.

As appalling as this may be, it does present two splits that are positive: the first split is that the lie itself is seen as something different from its original authority of truth. The second possibility is that the lie is embraced and we become exactly who they thought we were, but aren’t ashamed of it. Here we have to fail and succeeding as well as succeeding and succeeding. I am a good boy, even though you say I’m bad. Good boy gets treats. I am a bad boy, and you say I’m bad. Bad boy becomes himself.

In a way, both endings seem impossible. The idea of the ruling class playing ball with Bernie seems overly idealistic. But the opposite is also true: the idea of capitalism truly collapsing within this grand compromise also seems overly idealistic. Therefore the tension in-between seems like the perfect stage—one pure of any commitment. John Helmeke has always noted Bernie strikes the perfect balance between left and liberal.

It is then not so much the final solution we are interested in, so to speak. Whatever we imagine—revolution, compromise, nothing, everything, will ultimately find it collides against something before its absolute. Such is the class war struggle that eludes material strategy. It is here where we find that stripped naked of all context that yes, the class struggle is far too serious to be ironic about. Is money then going to buy these elections, more and more, as inequality rises and rises? Yes, but who says that finding a new venue, free of the electoral politics spectacle, is not just what the doctor ordered.

Yes, the confounding thing about Mr. Sanders is he means what he says. What remains titillating about Sanders is how he doesn’t say. Ask him a direct question you will get a response that keeps him on the offensive side. There is never an engagement with anything outside of the focus of his campaign.

This is once again, a negative appeal. Ask Sanders something and what do you get? The same answer as if you asked him something else entirely. This is so far from the layers of irony in Mr. Bloomberg. Bloomberg could operate in reverse. Ask the same question and get a different answer, depending on the audience.

No it seems the focus and directness here is itself overwhelming for the postmodern subject. Sanders, in a word, drinks his coffee black. Extend the coffee metaphor. If the modern subject orders their own drink that is already customized on the menu (an option already available to them despite or even because of its individual complexity, alienation, allusiveness). Then when Sanders orders his coffee black it appears extremely simple but in reality it is disarming. Coffee black: so without cream, without milk, without caramel swirl, etc. Likely Sanders knows that his order is actually more customized because of this discipline. Therefore there is both a universality (everyone) and a limitation (establishment). This is the threading of the needle the Sanders campaign succeeds at: on the one hand be a universal for the anonymous masses, on the other hand be a universal against the anonymous norm.

It is here where true revolution is a waste of time for Sanders because it upends the universality necessary to confront the universal problem. A revolution would be far more controversial than so-called decency.

It is in this way that we can return to the self-aware irony here. When Sanders says “revolution” it is what Bloomberg says when he says “I’m cool”. You don’t believe it, but you like that they said it. You like that Sanders wants revolution (even if he doesn’t), and you like that Bloomberg makes fun of himself (even if he doesn’t). The difference though is key: Sanders engages with a political question, which is more than the identity playground popularity politics that Trump/Bloomberg ignites.

Thus I do see the inevitable failing of idealism to bring us forward either way. I love the Batman quote here: die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. Yes, either idealism will fail because it is tried and then squashed by material outside of it, or idealism will fail because it was tried and then sabotaged by itself. I think either way you have the act of the radical confrontation with established norms. Even in telegraphed failure, we see an eagerness to fail at the right question. This is a step forward, a point of class struggle with no return.

So we can trace the self-aware irony of both sides of the Democrats: I am the revolution, but I’m a Democrat, or I am the oligarchy, but I’m a Democrat. I would actually argue that both sides of the split demonstrate a crisis. Both sides present a clear path forward, a clearer strategy than incremental liberal capitalism but neither side can ever actually square its own contradiction the way that traditional neoliberalism could. Neoliberalism held no contradiction. It stated quite sincerely: I believe in your right to succeed, but I can’t guarantee it, only you can. That works as long as a certain number of middle-class people are winning. It held a radical distance, never willing to take responsibility, only asserting your own right to freedom.

A new system is what we want. One with help from someone who can help us: whether that be the rich guy who can overpower the political system or a communal government that can. These are disturbing times. The power of capital may be too great to achieve the latter. Our alienation and pessimism may be too strong. It is, however, an inevitable and worthwhile battle and the gains will for once, not be completely ironic.

The point, after all, is not revolution, but as Slavoj Zizek challenges us to think about: the day after. We seek to have our basic human rights met. Call it what you will, but the American people are saying: enough is enough. It is here where the positive formulation hardly matters. Our coffee has no cream, our coffee has no milk. Whether you want cream or milk, you have a right to it. The most important thing is to be engaging across the coffee spectrum here.

Donald Trump wants to make us believe that we are bound by some positive force. You are white, you are rich, you are male, you are American, you matter. This is false. These false categories are only true in the eyes of the ruling class who has the audacity to think they can pick and choose who matters. What we are bound by is our lack. The incompleteness of not just the human condition, but the political condition. It is time for us to come together, and demand milk for our neighbor, even if we want to cream ourselves.

This, Mr. Zizek notes, is something machines simply can’t quantify—this negative formulation. Capital can always determine our worth. It always has some excuse to dispose of us. But we can do something much greater. We can calculate our lack. For the ruling class, Trump, Bloomberg and company have a clear worth. They keep the machine coming. But we can see the lack. We feel the lack. We are not machines. We will fight back. No amount of money can have us believe in Bloomberg or Trump. No amount of irony can have us forget who we are.

The truth beats in each of our own hearts, and we ask for coffee WITH truth.

Democratic Subject: I would like coffee.

Capitalist: That will be two dollars.

Democratic Subject: I would like to add truth to my coffee.

Capitalist: That will be 1,000, 002 dollars.

Democratic Subject: Can I have my coffee without lies instead?

Capitalist: We don’t have lies. You can have your coffee without cream for two dollars. Or without milk (my favorite) for two dollars.

Democratic Subject: Ok, skip the coffee, I’ll just buy the truth.

Capitalist: No we cannot do that, what on earth would we hold the truth in?

Democratic Subject: I am a Marxist, I believe in materialism, hold the truth in a cup.

Capitalist: But what would you be drinking?

In this scenario, Mr. Sanders is the coffee. He is not the truth, but he is the symbol that the American public is holding truth in. The cup may be the electoral process itself, something we feel like we need even though what we actually seek is much more totalizing.

This is the crisis on clear display in American democracy. The limits and wonders of democracy are on display at the same time. The massive inequality makes democracy a near impossibility as one person has more money to play with than the entire American public. This is not an exaggeration, despite the fundraising of Mr. Sanders being historic (5 million-plus donations in 2019 alone) we see that one person can easily outspend him. Not only this, but this billionaire can buy labor to convince people he has the right ideas. However, the backbone of the American public is just as inspiring. Despite the constant propaganda against proposals such as Medicare For All, the popularity of these proposals remains near-universal. Even more, no amount of vote stealing and DNC sabotage of the Sanders campaign can totally derail his lead. The fix is in, but the game still hasn’t been fixed. This is a near miracle.

What else could explain this miracle besides the sheer will of millions of Americans taking the long and tiring road against fascism and oligarchy? This is not an easy choice, but most do so anyway, whether that be out of moral obligation, love for humanity or sheer necessity. Yes, God bless this wretched species. Love is a miracle, and it is a miracle witnessed every day.

Things will only get more calamitous for the ruling class as the inevitable arm of communism comes down upon them. As the phrase goes, if you can see it from the front, wait until you see it from the back. Right now the resistance is in front of the ruling class. They fear it now. But they haven’t begun their nightmare. Once the revolution has happened the ruling class will be in jail.

This jailing won’t even bother them. What will bother them is that the jails in this new society are so humane. Worse still, the ruling class will be offered coffee, despite being the lowest of the low criminals. There will be a cream shortage or a milk shortage, and the ruling class will lay awake at night, not wondering how their cruel regime was overthrown, but which coffee they had this morning: was it without cream, or without milk? The one jouissance we will maintain for ourselves is only giving them ironic answers to this existential question.

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A Trillion Trees in Rep. Westerman’s Hands Means a Trillion Stumps

Photograph Source: Sam Beebe – CC BY 2.0

In an effort to springboard off President Trump’s recent pledge to join the global community in planting a trillion trees to increase the amount of carbon drawn out of the atmosphere and help us to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis, Rep. Bruce Westerman, a pro-logging advocate from Arkansas, along with several Republican colleagues introduced legislation entitled the Trillion Trees Act.  While planting trees, especially in urban areas, can indeed have climate benefits, from absorbing CO2 to providing shade to lower energy use, the real contribution to be made by trees in drawing down atmospheric carbon comes from protecting them as part of existing forests ecosystems here in the U.S. and around the world.  If forest ecosystems are protected from logging and development they can actually contribute between one-third and one-half of our carbon/climate mitigation goals (Griscom et al. 2017, Erb et al. 2018).  Unfortunately, not only does Rep. Westerman’s bill literally miss the forest for the trees, it doesn’t really even acknowledge the trees themselves, only the wood that they contain.

Exploiting the language of climate change while never actually acknowledging that human-caused climate change is happening, the Act purports to put the U.S. on a mission to assess the maximum amount of carbon that can be stored through increased “wood growth” and “wood volume”, and then devise a plan to ensure that these so-called ‘targets’ can be met.  Sounds good, right?  Unfortunately, the devil is in the details, and here is where the trillion trees morph into a trillion stumps.  The Act does not define “wood growth” or “wood volume” but it becomes clear that the Act means wood products–i.e., lumber. Also, the Act directs that any plan that is developed to maximize carbon storage in trees is prohibited from containing recommendations that would curtail or inhibit domestic logging levels, and all recommendations must stimulate the domestic and international timber markets and increase logging levels each year (Sec. 102).  Hmmm.  The Act goes on to direct the creation of a lifecycle analysis (a model that will be utilized to come up with the carbon storage potential targets) which conveniently leaves out of its equation the carbon emissions that are associated with the logging activities themselves.  Id., Sec. 103(b).  A bold move to be sure, considering that the logging of trees for lumber actually results in the emitting of about 80% of the carbon that had been stored in a given tree.  This figure, high as it is, still fails to account for carbon sequestration loss associated with killing mature live trees, nor is the figure adjusted to include the carbon cost that results from damaging the ecosystem with logging equipment and removing nutrients from the forest.  A recent study found that logging in US forests emits over 600 million tons of CO2 each year, and reduces CO2 absorption by a similar amount annually (Harris et al. 2016), creating an adverse climate impact that is similar to annual US coal consumption.

The Act claims to establish a reforestation program, while never actually mandating the planting of a single tree. Title I, Sec. 104.  It also amends other laws, like removing a provision to analyze “[urban forestry] opportunities to mitigate the buildup of atmospheric carbon and reduce the risk of global climate change”. Instead, it replaces this language with a directive to analyze the “potential for increased atmospheric carbon storage through forest wood products and biproducts”.  While it is unclear why an act that purports to want to plant trees would eliminate from analysis the climate benefits of planting trees in urban areas, it is equally as clear that under no scenario can a wood product increase the amount of carbon stored above the amount stored in the tree (alive or dead) from which it was made. Title II of the Act helps to illuminate the true purpose behind these changes: the fact that at its heart the Trillion Trees Act is simply another Westerman logging bill.

Title II of the Act includes catch-all categories for any type of logging activity (hidden behind words such as restoration, reforestation or active management), with enough categories to ensure that all public lands logging could fall under this section, and then eliminates key environmental procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act, including the need to address significant new information, provide notice to the public of planned logging operations or accept and respond to public comments. Title II, Sec. 201. This title of the Act also interferes with a judge’s ability to weigh the evidence when considering a request to stop illegal logging activities (Title II, Sect 202) and attempts to make permanent a falsehood that has infected the appropriations process for years – that burning woody biomass for energy is carbon neutral. It would actually be hard to get farther away from the truth than this statement takes us.  Title II, Sec. 302. Not only does logging our forests to generate energy decimate the very ecosystems which, if protected, could bring us up to 50% closer to meeting the atmospheric carbon reduction goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, but burning woody biomass generates more CO2, for the amount of energy produced, than burning coal. Logging for biomass is not carbon neutral.

Finally, weaved throughout Title II is yet another tired attempt to pit natural processes, such as wildland fires and cyclical tree mortality from drought and native bark beetles, against logging, falsely implying that logging is the true solution to our climate crisis, claiming that emissions from these ecosystem fluctuations are greater than the carbon emissions and loss of forest sequestration capacity which logging creates.  Of course, this is an easy claim to make, when you attempt to create a forest carbon storage model that never even looks at the carbon costs of logging.  In reality, logging in US forests emits 10 times more carbon than forest fires and bark beetles combined (Harris et al. 2016).  Steeped in mythology, the Act further intimates that forests do not grow back after natural disturbance events, and thus reforestation is required, when in reality it is not the natural disturbances which impede a forests’ return, but the clearcut logging which often follows them. Forests naturally regenerate vigorously after fires, including very large ones (Owen et al. 2017, Hanson 2018).

Naturally regenerating unlogged forest in the Rim Fire burn area, Stanislaus National Forest.

Rim Fire burn area that was logged after fire under a “restoration and reforestation” plan.

Rep. Westerman’s singular focus on increasing the creation of wood products and enlarging timber markets, combined with his failure to gain traction with a straight-up logging bill, has culminated in this attempt to legislate climate denial.  Don’t be fooled.  While some trees may be planted under the Trillion Trees Act,  many more will be killed and removed from our public lands and globally.  We simply do not have time to waste counting stumps while pretending that logging will clear the way to climate salvation!

Rachel M. Fazio is associate director and staff attorney at the John Muir Project.

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Break With Two-Party Capitalist Duopoly!

Glory hallelujah! If the Lord’s “terrible swift sword” had descended from the heavens to witness the Democratic Party’s congressional delegation’s standing ovation in response to Donald Trump’s State of Union introduction of his despicably appointed Venezuelan presidential pretender Juan Guaidó, the Democrats would be dead in the water. But there is no God in American politics; the only certainty lies in a clear understanding that the election game is rigged from start to finish, that the only serious entrance fee to the current two year long, $8 billion spectacle is a war chest of hundreds of millions—even billions—of dollars, privileged access to the corporate media and a pledge in advance to abide by whichever Democrat or Republican emerges as the candidate. And what is true for the present election charade is magnified a thousand fold with regard to the corporate control of every aspect of the multi-trillion dollar U.S. economy, where every critical decision, every budget item, every penny, more or less, allocated in Trump’s present $4.7 trillion budget proposal is determined in advance by a slew of corporate technocrats in the pay of the billionaire elites who really run the country.

Bernie Sanders’ pledge of Democratic Party unity at the outset of his campaign, dramatically repeated to cheering supporters following his primary victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, informs us that Bernie’s “revolution” and “democratic socialism” notwithstanding, nothing will change should he beat the odds to advance as the Democrats’ candidate—or even if he emerges victorious in the November presidential elections. Capitalism will remain intact, unless and until the mass independent power of the working class is brought to bear to smash it—from its foundations to its superstructure.

The bi-partisan ovation for Juan Guaidó, the right-wing U.S.-chosen agent of Trump’s CIA-orchestrated coup in Venezuela, gave proof that the warmongering Democrats are indistinguishable from their Republican counterparts. Indeed, the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives upped Trump’s proposed military budget by some $40 billion. Similarly, the Democrats’ failed Trump impeachment effort was based on the proposition that the Democrats favored arming the Ukrainian government that was brought into being by the U.S.-backed fascist coup of 2014. Of the thousand issues that could have been raised to discredit the monstrous racist, sexist, imperialist president, the Democrats raised none! Their calculations of gaining an electoral leg up dramatically backfired when post-impeachment polls showed Trump registering his highest approval ratings—49 percent against the Democrats’ 42 percent.

After voting throughout his congressional career for nearly every military budget before him, Sanders today claims that he might seek to trim that budget somewhere down the line. The U.S. currently maintains troops in 150 nations along with 1100 military bases. Its death squad Special Forces, according to a February New York Times report, operate in 90 nations – in every instance to guarantee U.S. “national security” interests by any means necessary. Trump’s new budget includes constructing state-of-the-art submarines capable of launching “tactical” nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. These are to be complemented by Trump’s plan to build untold numbers of “tactical” nuclear weapon, perhaps with the president’s own finger on the launch button. The last and only finger to launch such weapons belonged to the liberal Democrat Harry Truman whose doomsday decision in 1945 instantly obliterated 500,000 Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The construction of the bomb was authorized by the great corporate liberal of the time, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who died of natural causes several months earlier.

Trump’s touted economic gains

The economic achievements Trump claimed in his State of the Union, politely applauded by the Democrats, were lies pure and simple. His “lowest unemployment rates ever” were the same fabrications touted by the Democrats under the Obama administration.

• 83 percent of Trump’s claimed new jobs are low quality jobs in low wage sectors, that is, where pay is usually at the poverty level or lower.

•  37 percent of these, where 57 million people are “employed,” are in the “gig economy,” wherein hours are part time and uncertain from week to week, and wages are low.

• 40 percent of US wage workers between the ages of 26 and 32 do not know their work schedule a week in advance.

• Low wage workers are increasingly forced to work less than 30 hours per week to allow employers to escape paying various required benefits, such as health insurance.

• Trump’s overall unemployment figure of 3.5 percent excludes “discouraged workers” and other Bureau of Labor Statistics categories that disappear the unemployed and underemployed and include workers who appear on the books for just one-quarter of the year and are jobless thereafter. A more accurate figure indicates that the overall employment rate, the “labor force participation rate,” as it is called, was 63.4% in January 2020, up from 63.2% in December 2019.

That is, according to government figures, some 37 percent have no jobs!

All these figures generally replicate those of the Obama administration. The only economic miracles registered by both parties are the massive redistribution of the nation’s wealth from the vast majority to the one percent and the massive rise of the casino capitalist stock market.

The examples of NAFTA and the Tax Cuts  

Trump’s $1.4 trillion December 2019 tax cut bill for the corporate elite was a bi-partisan affair as was his new NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), named USMCA (U.S.-Mexico-Canada). The latter simply rewrote various tariff provisions to further advantage the U.S. corporate elite. These two aspects of ruling class economic policies are instructive, if not decisive in understanding “how the system works.” Two thousand pages of the old NAFTA were revised last year to further benefit U.S. corporations over their Canadian and Mexican competitors. The remaining 7,000 pages were left intact. A single, seemingly innocuous change from the old NAFTA to the new USMCA was the insertion of a tiny provision, perhaps a few sentences, that requires Canadian supermarkets in British Columbia to allocate equal shelf space to California wines alongside displays of British Colombia-grown wines. Trivial? Perhaps. But California winemaking and distribution are multi-billion-dollar enterprises that operate worldwide. I can only imagine seeing one of their representatives handing over to Trump’s NAFTA re-negotiators their proposed written insertions to USMCA that guarantee a greater market share to California billionaires as against their lesser Canadian competitors. Multiply this minute example several-thousand-fold and a pristine picture emerges detailing how corporate America defends and advances its corporate interests at the expense of its rivals.

The same holds for the U.S. Tax Code and the U.S. Budget, both enormous tomes of virtually impenetrable figures known only to the literal handful of its overseers and perhaps a few thousand lobbyists and their experts who craft U.S. economic policy. The latter always alternate from the corporate world to high government posts. The generals and top executives of the military-industrial complex routinely exchange their corporate posts for government positions, where they advise the House Armed Services Committee on how to construct their annual trillion-dollar, ever-rising budget requests that exceed the combined military spending of the next ten nations.

Betsy Davos family tree

Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy Devos is a Republican known for her support for school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools. These are the all code words for privatized-for-profit education and directly counterposed to what Trump sneeringly called “government schools” in his State of Union address. Devos is a former board member of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She has served as board chair of the Alliance for School Choice and the Acton Institute and headed the All Children Matter political action committee. All these are in the business of extracting billions of dollars from public education funds at the state and federal levels and transferring these billions to the pockets of the corporate elite.
DeVos’ family tree is instructive. She is married to Dick DeVos, the former CEO of the multi-level marketing company Amway and is the daughter-in-law of Amway’s billionaire co-founder, Richard DeVos. Her brother, Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, is the founder of Blackwater USA, the private army corporation that contracted with the U.S. government to send paid mercenary armies to the Middle East and elsewhere to police the world for U.S. corporations.

The same interpenetration of the corporate and government worlds is the rule with regard to literally every decisive aspect of the U.S. economic and political-juridical system. They are inseparable, aside from an occasional dispute among them as to which elements of the ruling rich predominates in the exploitation of working people at any particular moment.

Trump’s new budget proposes to extend his trillions in tax breaks to the rich for another ten years. There will be zero opposition from the Democrats. There was zero opposition to his generous gifts last year to the same elite. There has never been opposition to the government’s routine yearly $4 trillion corporate welfare and handouts to the one percent, all built into the very fabric of U.S. tax codes and budgets. The same with Trump’s proposed trillion dollar budget deficit, with the national debt projected by the Congressional Budget Office to rise over the next decade to $31 trillion by 2030, an amount that will exceed the entire U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This follows virtually the same multi-trillion dollar “quantitative easing” program of the Obama administration which in 2008 distributed trillions in bailouts and near-zero interest loans to the same superrich that Trump is beholden to today.

Trump’s “new” Israel plan

Trump’s new plan for “peace” between Israel and Palestine, a peace without Palestinians, is a virtual duplicate of the bi-partisan U.S. policy that has rendered what remains of historic Palestine a tiny, isolated, Israeli military-patrolled, economically unviable Bantustan akin to the racist policies of apartheid South Africa in decades past. Trump merely seeks to formalize what has been U.S. policy under every administration since Israel’s illegitimate colonial-settler state formation in 1947. Not a hint of opposition from the Democrats, who, like Trump, prioritize Israel funding to the tune of $3 billion annually – a sum that exceeds “foreign aid” to any other nation.

Trump’s anti-abortion politics mirror Democrats

In contrast to Trump and Co., the Democratic Party platform purports to support abortion rights, supposedly in accord with the 60 percent of all U.S. women who favor abortion. But Democrats have played virtually no role in thwarting the plethora of anti-abortion laws approved in recent years across the country. To be sure, no Democratic Party president has ever seriously moved abolish the infamous 1976 Hyde Amendment, named after former Representative Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois. This amendment to a House appropriations bill bans the expenditure of federal funds to pay for abortions, except in extremely limited circumstances. The amendment, which effects millions of women, especially working class and poor women, has remained in force today when eighty-seven percent of all U.S. counties have no abortion provider whatsoever.

The Democrats’ election time rhetoric in June 2019 included statements that all of its then 21 Democratic Party presidential candidates, except Joe Biden, favored the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. Biden soon after also whistled a pro-abortion tune. But after 44 years on the books and regardless of which of the twin parties of capital are in power, the Hyde prohibition remains in place!

Nancy Pelosi’s dramatic gesture

At the conclusion of Trump’s State of the Union address, in full public view, and while Trump gloated at the praise from his fawning Republican cohorts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing behind him, tore up Trump’s speech, demonstratively and repeatedly picking up bunched pages which she shredded with an angry grimace. But Pelosi’s Democrats on the critical issues of the day stand shoulder to shoulder with their corporate peers on the other side of the isle.

It is in this context that an honest evaluation of Bernie Sanders and his Democratic Party primary contenders must be made. “How will you fund your Medicare for All proposal?” Sanders is repeatedly asked, as if the costs were prohibitive in today’s economy. Sanders has been repeatedly vague on this critical issue, but not because he seeks to back off on advocating for a proposal that is the norm in most industrialized nations. Sanders, whose “radical” proposals to tax the wealth of the nations’ billionaire at a rate of 2 or 3 percent after their first $50 million and then increase the rate progressively until the wealth of billionaires is subjected to tax rates of a few points higher, is incapable of uttering the simple response, “I would tax the corporate elite down to the nails in the shoes on their feet.”

The same with Sanders’ Green New Deal, where he proposes a ten-year, $17 trillion program to end the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels without a full and immediate government takeover of the entire multi- trillion dollar fossil fuel industry and its rapid conversion to a safe and sustainable energy system with all workers fully protected in the transition. Sanders’ Green New Deal, in truth and in the context of its co-existence with the capitalist system itself, amounts to rhetorical election campaign bluster and bluff. The same with his utterances regarding unspecified cuts in the military and any other proposals that effectively challenges capitalist prerogatives. To do so would necessarily challenge the legitimacy of the rapacious capitalist system itself, a move that all of Sanders’ leading team insists would undermine his “electability.”

In truth, today’s crisis-ridden capitalism seriously needs a Bernie Sanders on the ballot, traversing the country and breathing hope into millions of people increasingly dispossessed, without opportunities to live a decent life. Sanders asks his youthful, multi-racial and multi-generational supporters to storm the heavens to make him the Democrats’ presidential candidate and future president. He has prevailed to date in Iowa and New Hampshire in the face of a conscious effort by Democratic Party elites and the corporate media to place one obstacle after another in his path—from the current array of media-promoted “moderates” and “left centrists” like previously unknown South Bend, Indiana mayor Peter Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, to the yesterday “left,” today more “moderate,” former Republican-turned Democrat Elizabeth Warren, not to mention the former Obama Vice President and semi-segregationist Joseph Biden. Billionaire 62 times over Michael Bloomberg, NYC’s former “progressive” mayor, who boasts of his willingness to spend an unlimited amount of his fortune on his campaign—and had already spent $200 million of it by the end of last year—has also thrown in his hat.

While Sanders rails at the billionaire candidates he confronts, his repeated assertions that he will be a loyal supporter of whomever emerges from the current pack, as he did in 2016 after losing to Hillary Clinton, constitutes his unquestioned allegiance to the capitalist system of perpetual war, racism, sexism, LGBTQI discrimination, exploitation, poverty and environmental catastrophe. Tragically, much of today’s “left” has once again rejected independent working class politics, that is, a clear and clean break with Democrats. Once again, the siren call of lesser-evilism has led many on the left to rationalize support for Sanders, and indeed, to “anyone but Trump” in 2020.

Building the socialist alternative begins with a clear break with capitalist politics in all its manifestations.

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Impunity Guaranteed for Torturers (and Presidents)

On February 5th, the Senate voted to acquit President Donald J. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In other words, Trump’s pre-election boast that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters” proved something more than high-flown hyperbole. (To be fair, he did lose one Republican “voter” in the Senate — Mitt Romney — but it wasn’t enough to matter.)

The Senate’s failure to convict the president will only confirm his conception of his office as a seat of absolute power (which, as we’ve been told, “corrupts absolutely”). This is the man, after all, who told a convention of student activists, “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president. But I don’t even talk about that.” Except, of course, he does.

The day after the Senate vote, a decidedly unchastened Trump spoke at a National Prayer Breakfast, brandishing a copy of USA Today whose banner headline contained a single word: “Acquitted.” After disagreeing with the prayerful suggestion offered by Arthur Brooks, former head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute (and a couple of millennia earlier by one Jesus of Nazareth), that we should love our enemies, the president promptly accused both Mitt Romney and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of inadequate prayerfulness. He lumped Romney in with people “who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong” and accused Pelosi, not for the first time, of lying when she says she prays for him.

Trump’s endless boasting about his invulnerability can certainly be blamed on the dismal swamp of his own psyche, but there’s another at least partial explanation for it — and it lies in the country’s collective failure to hold anyone responsible for crimes committed since 2001 in the “war on terror.” If one administration can get away with confining detainees in coffinlike boxes and torturing them in myriad other ways, why shouldn’t a later one go unpunished for, to take but one example, putting migrant children in cages?

Forward, Not Backwards

In 2009, Barack Obama prepared to enter the Oval Office promising to end the worst excesses of the previous administration’s war on terror. Although he did close the CIA’s detention centers and prohibit torture, he also quickly signaled that no one would be held accountable for the already well-documented practice of torture promoted by the administration of George W. Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney. A week or so before Obama’s inauguration, the president-elect was already assuring ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that, although there would be prosecutions if “somebody has blatantly broken the law,” on the whole he believed “that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

In particular, Obama was concerned that government operatives should not be hampered in the future by fear of prosecution for past acts sanctioned by top officials:

“And part of my job is to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders.”

As it turned out, they need not have worried. On April 17, 2009, as Carrie Johnson and Julie Tate reported in the Washington Post, “President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. reassured CIA employees anew yesterday that interrogators would not face criminal prosecution so long as they followed legal advice.” As Holder put it, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.”

The legal advice in question had been contained in a series of infamous memos written by that department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) between 2002 and 2005. In them, the legal definition of torture was “clarified” for a nervous attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, and the CIA. One memo, drafted by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and signed by Assistant Attorney General for the OLC Jay Bybee, explained that to “constitute torture” under the law, physical pain “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” To meet the legal definition of psychological torture, mental suffering “must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”

Not surprisingly, despite the previous administration’s stamp of approval on what were euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a three-year investigation by the Obama Justice Department into CIA interrogation practices came to a whimpering end in August 2012, when Holder announced that the only two remaining torture cases, both of which involved deaths in U.S. custody, would be dropped.

A year earlier, as Glenn Greenwald reported in the Guardian, Holder had decided not to prosecute anyone in 99 other cases of “severe detainee abuse.” The two remaining cases concerned the death by torture and hypothermia of Gul Rahman in the CIA’s notorious Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan in 2002 and that of “Manadel al-Jamadi, who died in CIA custody after he was beaten, stripped, had cold water poured on him, and then [was] shackled to the wall” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Among those Holder presumably chose not to charge were the men responsible for designing and implementing the protocols that led to Rahman’s death, along with tortures like waterboarding and “walling” (the slamming of the back of a prisoner’s head repeatedly into a wall). Thus ended any hope of holding torturers legally accountable in the United States of America, early proof of the kind of impunity that has, in the Trump years, spread elsewhere.

Torturer Redux

Shortly before Donald Trump’s recent triumph in the Senate, one of those “extraordinarily talented people” hailed by President Obama resurfaced in a courtroom not as a defendant, but as a hostile witness. James Mitchell was called to the stand by the defense at pre-trial hearings at the Guantánamo detention facility in Cuba, the offshore prison for detainees in the war on terror set up by the Bush administration in 2002. In the dock almost 18 years later are five men, long held there, who have been accused of involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The most notorious is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, often described as 9/11’s “mastermind.”

Mitchell is one of the two psychologists — the other being John “Bruce” Jessen — who designed the CIA’s main torture program. He has the honor of being considered the inventor of waterboarding, a series of techniques aimed at producing water-induced suffering that have formed part of the armamentarium of torturers for centuries. (Perhaps “reinventor” would be the more accurate term.) Mitchell was, in fact, the first person to perform waterboarding in the war on terror, as well as being the architect of walling, of confining victims in tiny boxes, and of a variety of other grim “enhanced interrogation techniques” first employed at CIA “black sites” set up around the world in those years.

Called by defense attorneys to describe the torture their clients endured, a “defiant” Mitchell told the courtroom, “I’d get up today and do it again.”

As New York Times reporter Carol Rosenberg explained, Mitchell was not actually talking about what he did to any of the five defendants in the dock at Guantánamo, although he did torture some of them. He was referring to the first prisoner to be waterboarded under the CIA torture program, Saudi national Abu Zubaydah who was waterboarded a total of 83 times over the course of a single month. President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, claimed (falsely, as it turned out) that he was “if not the number two, very close to the number-two person in” al-Qaeda and that he had run an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

In fact, as the Obama administration acknowledged in 2010, Abu Zubaydah was never even a member of that group, let alone one of its key lieutenants. Captured in a joint CIA-FBI operation in Pakistan in 2002, he would be shuffled between CIA black sites for the next four-and-a-half years, including the Agency’s secret “Strawberry Fields” site at Guantánamo. In part because of what the CIA did to him, Abu Zubaydah remains imprisoned there to this day. According to CIA recommendations, he is never to be “placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.”

Nevertheless, Mitchell oversaw the 83 times Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded in a single month at a CIA black site in Thailand, during which he came close to death by drowning. On one of those occasions, as the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2014 report on CIA torture revealed, he was observed to be “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Not unlike our president, Mitchell seems to be deeply hurt by what he perceives as unfair criticism. “You folks have been saying untrue and malicious things about me and Dr. Jessen for years,” he complained to defense attorneys at the Guantánamo hearing. People may have said mean things about him, but in reality, far from being held accountable for torture, James Mitchell has luxuriated in his impunity, earning royalties from his book Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America and giving speeches arranged through the Worldwide Speakers Group (which advertises him as “psychologist, CIA interrogator, author”) at $15,000 to $25,000 a pop.

Nor did Mitchell fare poorly while employed by the CIA.  In fact, the Agency paid the company Mitchell and Jessen formed $81 million for their work. In addition, their contract included language guaranteeing that the U.S. government would cover any legal costs they incurred as a result of that work through the year 2021. This would turn out to come in handy when, in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the two of them on behalf of three of their victims: Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed ben Soud, and the family of Gul Rahman, the detainee who had died of exposure to cold at the Salt Pit. Mitchell and Jessen settled the case in 2017 for an undisclosed sum, also paid by the U.S. government.

It Never Gets Easier

You’d think it would get easier over time. For almost two decades, I’ve been writing about torture. By now, you might imagine that I’d be at least somewhat desensitized to details about and descriptions of it. Instead, each time I dive into that cesspool, it appears even more disgusting and frightening.

If it’s hard for me, someone who has never been tortured and has spoken face-to-face with only a few torture survivors, imagine what it must be like for those who have survived the Bush-era torture programs, which went on for an unknown number of years. Actually, you don’t have to do too much imagining, since their testimony about how such abuse affected some of them and how lasting those effects were is available. In 2016, New York Timesreporters Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink, and James Risen published a series of articles under the title “How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds.”

One of those profiled was Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a plaintiff in the ACLU suit against Mitchell and Jessen. A Tanzanian native, Salim was picked up in Mogadishu, Somalia, and turned over to U.S. operatives for reasons that remain murky. It’s most likely he was a victim of mistaken identity (and he wouldn’t have been the only such prisoner in the war on terror). We know, at least, that the Americans who bundled him onto a plane were expecting a Yemeni Arab and someone with much lighter skin. He ended up in Afghanistan at a black site he recalls as “the Darkness,” which was, in fact, the Salt Pit. There he was beaten, walled, shackled in complete darkness, exposed to relentless loud music, confined in a coffinlike box, repeatedly hung by the wrists — once for 48 hours straight — and drenched at times with ice water until he feared he was drowning.

Eventually, the CIA moved Salim to a prison at Bagram Airbase outside the Afghan capital, Kabul. In 2008, he was turned loose in Afghanistan with only the clothes he was wearing. The International Red Cross arranged a flight home to Zanzibar, Tanzania, where he still lives, haunted by the Darkness.

In 2010, the Times‘ Risen wrote, “Dr. Sondra Crosby of the Boston University School of Medicine, a physician, a Navy reservist and an expert on torture, was asked by Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based group, to evaluate Mr. Salim.” She found that he was emaciated “like a skeleton” and “plagued by profound distress, inability to eat, and inability to sleep.” Risen’s report continues:

“‘He describes himself as a ghost walking around the town,’ she added. She noted other symptoms: flashbacks, short- and long-term memory loss, distress at seeing anyone in a military uniform, hopelessness about the future and a strong avoidance of noise. ‘He reports that his head feels empty — like an empty box,’ she said.”

The Times series also chronicled the suffering of another plaintiff in the case against Mitchell and Jessen: Mohamed ben Soud. He, too, was held at the Salt Pit, where his ordeal involved many of the same torture methods Salim had endured. Today, he has full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder. “He is racked with self-doubt and struggles to make simple decisions. His moods swing dramatically,” reported the Times.

First, Do No Harm?

The pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo have also revealed the rarely discussed role of doctors and other medical workers in the U.S. torture program. Apparently the reason we know that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times is that, as James Mitchell testified in January, a doctor was indeed present inside the torture chamber and used a little metal click-counter to keep track. According to the Times’s Rosenberg, however, doctors

“did more than count waterboarding sessions. Government investigations and evidence in the pretrial hearings of the men… show doctors conducted ‘rectal rehydration,’ carried out rectal cavity searches, and examined swollen feet and legs of captives who were sleep deprived for days by being shackled in painful positions.”

There is undoubtedly more to be uncovered about the role of medical personnel at the CIA’s global black sites. Indeed, there is more to be uncovered about all the ways in which detainees were stripped not only of their human rights but, at least in the minds of their tormentors, of their very humanity. At one point in his testimony, for instance, Mitchell turned to the attorney for Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five 9/11 defendants. Speaking of Charlie Wise, the CIA interrogation chief and the rest of his crew, Mitchell said, “Looks like they used your client as a training prop.” According to the Guardian’s Julian Borger, in fact, under Wise’s leadership, “trainees had to use each of their techniques on Baluchi and other inmates in order to earn certification.”

And Mitchell himself used Abu Zubaydah as a demonstration prop, so bigwigs at the CIA would be implicated in what he was doing. Borger reports that “he waterboarded Abu Zubaydah even though he was quite sure the detainee had no actionable intelligence to surrender. It was done purely as a demonstration for the agency VIPs.”

The Price of Impunity

Thanks to the cowardice of the Obama administration, no CIA officer or any higher official in the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, no psychologist, no doctor, no one at all has yet been held accountable for the years of torture practiced on a global scale in the war on terror. Donald Trump himself, of course, got elected while publicly proclaiming about waterboarding that “I like it a lot” and he reportedly considered Gina Haspel’s black-site torture experiences a positive part of her resume when considering her for CIA director. Mitchell, of course, continues to make speeches and collect his royalties. George W. Bush has been rehabilitated as a kindly portrait painter.

Is it really so surprising, then, that we now have a man in the Oval Office who believes he has “the right to do whatever I want as president”? The history of the twenty-first-century war on terror suggests that, if he doesn’t have the right, he certainly appears to have the power.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

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The CIA’s Role in Operation Condor

The Washington Post reported that top secret documents confirm the role that the CIA played in Operation Condor, the international state-sponsored assassination, kidnapping, torture, and murder ring run by U.S.-supported military dictatorships in South America in the late 1970s. The documents confirm that the CIA’s role in the operation was to provide communications equipment to the ring, which enabled them to coordinate cross-border efforts to kidnap, torture, and kill suspected communists, which, of course, were nothing more than people who believed in socialism or communism.

The Post article makes it clear that the CIA was fully aware of the horrific human-rights abuses that the Latin America military regimes were engaged in and said and did nothing to prevent them.

One of the most laughable parts of the secret documents are ones that imply that the CIA struggled on whether it should do anything about the abuses.

Why is that laughable?

Because it is clearly nothing more than a “cover ourselves” protection in the event that Operation Condor ever was uncovered.

How do we know that?

Because the Operation Condor goons were doing precisely what the U.S. national-security apparatus wanted them to do — eradicate the threat of communism in the Americas!

The Cold War

Remember: This was the Cold War, when the U.S. national security establishment was 100 percent convinced that there was a worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the United States and the rest of the world, a conspiracy that was supposedly based in Moscow, Russia. (Yes, that Russia!)

The American people were exhorted to be on the constant lookout for communists. “Security” was the byword. People were looking for communists in the State Department, the military, Congress, Hollywood, and lots of other places. Suspected communists were hauled before Congress and asked whether they had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Even Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was suspected in some circles of being a communist agent.

If you want to get a sense of what life was like in the United States during the Cold War, take all the national-security hoopla surrounding the “war on terrorism” and multiply it by about a thousand.

After World War II, the federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state, a type of totalitarian governmental structure with omnipotent, dark-side powers, such as the powers to assassinate, kidnap, and torture suspected communists.

For example, unbeknownst to the American people at the time, the CIA entered into a secret conspiracy with the Mafia to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro, even though Cuba had never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Former President Lyndon Johnson would later refer to the CIA’s assassination program as a “damned Murder Inc.”

In principle, Operation Condor’s assassination program was no different from the CIA’s assassination program.

The Chilean coup

It was the national-security state’s obsessive fear of communism that led to the CIA’s orchestration of the coup in Chile in 1973 that ousted the democratically elected socialist president of the country, Salvador Allende, and replaced him with the brutal right-wing unelected military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Although it appears that Allende ended up committing suicide, no doubt to avoid being tortured, there is no doubt that at the inception of the coup, the Chilean national-security establishment was trying to assassinate him with missiles fired from Chilean fighter planes into Allende’s position in the national palace, with the full approval of its counterparts in the U.S. national-security establishment.

Moreover, we mustn’t forget the CIA’s kidnapping and murder of Gen. Rene Schneider, the head of Chile’s armed forces. They targeted him because he was opposed to the U.S.-orchestrated coup. He took the position that his oath to support and defend the constitution of Chile superseded US. demands for a coup to protect Chile from Allende’s socialism. Thus, U.S. officials targeted him for removal.

After Pinochet took power, he instituted a reign of terror in which his national-security henchmen kidnapped, tortured, raped, disappeared, or murdered tens of thousands of suspected communists, with the full support of U.S. officials.

Operation Condor

Operation Condor followed from that reign of terror. To ensure that suspected communists could not escape to neighboring countries, several other South American right-wing military dictatorships conspired with the Pinochet military dictatorship to coordinate efforts to ensure that no suspected communists could not get away. As the secret documents revealed in the Washington Post article confirm, the CIA/s role in this Cold War operation was to provide the communications equipment that enabled its Latin American counterparts to efficiently coordinate their efforts.

Moreover, don’t forget also that the Pentagon and the CIA had just been defeated by the communists in Vietnam. Given their mindsets that the communists were winning and that America was now in greater danger than ever before of being taken over by the Reds, the Operation Condor brutes were viewed as great heroes for protecting America and the world from a  communist takeover.

The people who paid the price for this sordid, dark-side paranoia, of course were the tens of thousands of innocent people who were rounded up, tortured, raped, abused, disappeared, assassinated, and murdered.

The worst mistake the American people have ever made was permitting the federal government to be converted from a limited government republic to a national-security state. That conversion perverted America’s sense of moral values, conscience, and right conduct. Operation Condor is further proof of that fact.

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Let Rome Burn

Hear ye, hear ye!  I say unto thee that thou shall follow these hallowed and sacred rules of white liberalism as we enter the Holiest of Holy Epochs known as the presidential primaries, and they are thus:

If thine conservative-leaning sensibilities are offended by the leftism of others, read thee thine New York Times and Washington Post.

If thine centrism is slighted, vote thee for your favorite capitalist police officer and enabler of white imperialism.

If thine internalized racism is offended, vote thee for one of the two conservative billionaire xenophobes.

But do not, I say, claim to be progressive. Do not, I besiege thee, claim to be an ally. And do not dare, I sternly warn thee, claim to be a “socialist;” for not even the simple act of backing Bernard Sanders absolves thee of active participation in the white supremacist security-turned-police state that is the failing American Empire.

Let this be a new catechism, a catechism of silence and pain.

So sayeth the diabetics that must do without insulin and the women forced into unsafe pregnancies or illegal abortions.

So sayeth the weeping children kept in cages and those that have perished in concentration camps, cold, malnourished, sick, kept under the cruel eye of America’s Gestapo.

So sayeth the dead black faces of those shot, beaten and choked by the cruel uniformed plantation keepers as they dispense their twisted sense of justice. So sayeth those that cannot breathe and the orphaned children of so many extinguished lives.

So sayeth those that are judged to be sick for being in love, or those that seek to escape the prison of an assigned gender not their own, or to embrace a life free of binary predetermination.

So sayeth the truth that is the Scream of the Unheard. The lifeblood of a country, a continent, a hemisphere, a globe, a species! Those that lie crushed underfoot, massacred, jailed, beaten, ignored, assaulted. They are the hated invisible: the help, the unwashed masses, the under-educated or over-educated and under-employed. The ones that for decades have written in ink and blood their stories and theories only for those same words to be taken by whites and claimed as their own.

But we see you… allies… for what you really are. We see your lies. And to those lies, I say, let Rome burn.

You will claim to be “giving voice to the voiceless.” Lies. Invisiblization is the cruelest form of humiliation. You will wear safety pins and pussy hats while drinking some Mexican-sounding concoction and claim to care. You will happily scream towards the Heavens that you can NEVER be racist, because you have black friends. You dated a Puerto Rican once, and wow, they’re so spicy! You even get along with the gays! Yas, queen, YAS!

How fucking progressive you surely are! A unicorn, a blessed exception to the unfortunate rule of the melanin-challenged majority! And thank you for reminding all of us at every chance you get that you are… oh, how impossible it is to forget such colorful language… so WOKE.

But stop and frisk your brains for just one second there, dear Super Karen and Mighty Chad.

There are Nazis marching across this country, Karen and Chad. Not in the “I don’t agree with your tastes in furniture choices, therefore you’re a Nazi” way, but in the “flying a freaking swastika and screaming out death threats” way.  Donald Trump’s personal political storm troopers, ICE, are openly militarizing and being moved into sanctuary cities to literally hunt down human beings, Karen and Chad.

Don’t forget to hand out some safety pins to those “dirty Mexicans” while they’re lying on the floor with literal jackboots on their necks as you rush to yoga class, friends!

There are Nazis in my local farmer’s market, Karen and Chad. No, I know, freedom of speech. I’m supposed to let them tell me why I should die, my best gay friend should die, my dear black friends should die, my Jewish friends and professors should die, my Muslim friends should die, my Asian friends should die. Yes, Karen and Chad, their precious feelings MUST BE PROTECTED AT ALL COSTS. Oh, and my city bought a tank, Karen and Chad! It’s a progressive tank, so I don’t worry all that much. I’m sure it shoots social justice and runs on positive vibes. And those Nazis are SO NICE, aren’t they!? “They have never been rude!”

I hear you everywhere, pretending not to notice me as you complain loudly about disruption and protesters ruining your beautiful progressive town. “Those evil ANTIFA, though… those are surely criminal! They dress in black… ugh, how late nineties! And they’re so negative… ANTIFA… anti-fascists. Why do they have to be against anyone’s opinion!” All lives matter, right, Karen and Chad?! You don’t even see colors, but you can certainly see Chinese Communist infiltrators!

My island of Puerto Rico was virtually destroyed by Hurricane María in 2017 and damaged further by still-ongoing earthquakes since December of last year, Karen and Chad. Did you know? It’s not like it got covered by the media all that much. Ah, it’s not important, got it. Oh, but you watched that Super Bowl half-time show and thought it was bitchin’! “What a pretty Cuban flag on J-lo’s dress, right? No, was it the Texan flag?” I keep forgetting that you’re not too good with flags. Geography’s hard, so I’ll let it go. And I’m sure your Puerto Rican liberal friends felt SO REPRESENTED AND PROUD, so everything’s ok, now!

As you pay Juan for mowing your lawn and down that last shot of tequila after Taco Tuesday I’m sure you will say that you will hold your nose and vote for anyone but Trump this coming election. You know better. Even you realize that this hilarious charade of a democracy is a palliative offered by the elite of this dying oligarchic excrement of a nation. Even you know that only one of those candidates has a chance at beating the orange fool. And yet you persist in your delusions, because you HATE. You hate the idea of even the smallest hint of wealth redistribution and social justice. You hate the idea of having “those people” for neighbors, or their kids going to the same school that your kids go to. You hate that women of color and black and brown members of the LGBTQ+ family speak out, rather than the Will & Grace crowd of the rich and privileged playing at heteronormativity. Anyone but Trump is really anyone but Sanders, and even Sanders’s mild FDR-social democrat stance is alarming to you.

And you will hold your nose. Vote. The cycle continues. You say that is the only logical choice of action.

I say let Rome burn.

I have learned that there are no true white allies. Not really. Not while they harbor even a slight sense of liberalism. Even gay liberals and liberals of color are not allies if they cling to respectability and representational politics. Only those that have, through radical politics, de-colonized themselves of all traces of American exceptionalism can ever truly be allies. And only those that have stepped away from this country’s engineered political ignorance have any chance of true allegiance. For only those that openly denounce empire and capitalism while embracing truly emancipatory beliefs of intersectional action can be trusted to mean what they say.

You say that it’s impossible. “That it’s not our way to rock the boat! Let ‘democracy’ take its course!”

I say it’s time to cauterize the seeping wound. I say let Rome burn.

The failed American experiment slithers ever onwards on the blood and tears of its dispossessed and murdered minorities. Gore feeds the engine of empire. Come this November, I want you to feel your shame increase as our rage grows. And I challenge you with a demand of my own:

Be a match. Let Rome burn. So sayeth the truth of the Scream of the Unheard: If thine nose offends thee rip it off.

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Reforming Expectations to Save Western Rivers

The Dalles Dam. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Recently, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt proposed an alternative to the highly controversial yet difficult-to-kill Gila River diversion project, which would dam and divert water from the last free-flowing river in New Mexico (“Damming the Gila a vampire proposal,” My View, Feb. 2).

While the Gila proposal already is on life support because of missed deadlines and waning public and political support, water managers refuse to abandon it because a legal “right” to that water remains.

While Babbitt’s proposal waves the white flag on the Gila diversion project, he suggests as a path forward stealing the 4.6 billion gallons (14,000 acre-feet) of water from another source in the Colorado River Basin — the San Juan River near Chama.

The San Juan River, like the Gila, is a spectacular Western river. It is home to a full suite of recreational opportunities, supports communities and Native cultures in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, and it provides refuge to more than a half-dozen native fish, including the endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. The San Juan River, like almost every remaining Western river, cannot afford to sacrifice one more drop.

Babbitt claims that such a diversion will “have a negligible effect on the San Juan River.” This is simply untrue and is based on institutional climate denial. In fact, a recent study by Katrina E. Bennett, et al., found that climate change will significantly impact water supplies in the San Juan River basin and concluded that even just “meeting minimum flow requirements is likely to be a major challenge.”

The truth is any diversion project — whether from the Gila or the San Juan River — is a bankrupt deal based on the already extreme overallocation of the Colorado River Basin and climate change.

So, the question becomes, when are we going to realize that water in Western rivers is not unlimited and that the promises of the past and the expectations surrounding them for the future need to be fundamentally reformed?

The “water buffalos” — those water engineers, lawyers and politicians who built the pyramid of “entitlements” and “rights” — have created an intractable system. Rather than recognizing water and rivers as “the commons” that are held in trust for all people and the environment, water has become a commodity to be bought, sold and moved to the highest bidder in order to perpetuate this unsustainable shell game.

Instead of holding these “entitlements” — like the 14,000 acre-feet that State Engineer Steve Reynolds negotiated for New Mexico in the 20th century — as sacrosanct, we need to eliminate the demand by simply retiring the right back to the river.

This may seem like a radical idea, but climate scientists and others are starting to express this reality. Bradley Udall was recently quoted in the NM Political Report saying, “We’re going to have to look at demand and how we manage to shed demand [in a way] that does the least amount of damage to communities and the environment and our economy.”

The water crisis before us is very similar to the climate crisis that is upon us. To slow climate change, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This transition will not be easy but is imperative. Likewise, to ease the impending water crisis, we need to stop taking more water from Western rivers, eliminate any remaining pie-in-the-sky entitlements and stop the construction of new dams and diversions.

To be sure, water demands over the next century will increase given population growth and climate change; however, until we learn to conserve water and live within our rivers’ means, no river will be safe from future dams, diversions and destruction.

Jen Pelz is a river lover, activist and lawyer. A native of the Southwest, she directs the Wild Rivers Program for WildEarth Guardians and is the Rio Grande waterkeeper.

This column first appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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