Counterpunch Articles

Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?

Starting as Armistice Day, celebrated for the first time November 11, 1919–the first anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918—what we now call Veterans Day is the observance of thanks to those who have served military duty. It acknowledges the living and the dead for honorably representing the country during peacetime and war. This year it is imperative that people understand that honor and the name Donald Trump cannot fit in the same sentence. His dishonor to the service and sacrifice of American service members in Syria and to our Kurdish allies is the epitome of disgraceful.

This was the offense too much for General James Mattis to stomach, the reason he resigned from his position as Secretary of Defense, because nothing is more dishonorable than betraying and turning your back on those who sacrificed right next to you. Mattis could not countenance the resultant resurgence of ISIS in the region, and the escape of the ISIS soldiers during predictable episodes of Turkish violence. It is the neglect of honor—the abdication of core values—that makes working with and for a grifting narcissist like Trump nauseating.

There is a long string of such disgrace. He offers no empathy to prisoners of war; he likes it better when they avoid capture. Instead of reflecting on the trauma of those who were led to participate in the crimes against humanity in Vietnam and Cambodia, he said avoiding STDs was his own personal Vietnam—he partied after his fake bone spur exemption while others were drafted and died. It happens when he calls Purple Heart recipients disloyal, or dual loyal, because the only service he cares about is blind loyalty to him. Lt. Col. Vindman is just one in an incredibly long string to receive Trump treatment for simply speaking the truth. Gold Star families, relatives of those who  paid the ultimate price defending  the U.S., deserve no esteem from Trump, and are disrespected by him again and again. He really does not care about anyone but himself, careers of dedicated service be damned!

As one who carries these convictions, I know that one can be anti-war, pro-peace, and honor veterans. These are not mutually exclusive beliefs or feelings, and they represent long thought, listening, and learning.

Twenty years ago I used to listen to unimaginable stories. A regular customer at the pizza place I worked at told me I reminded him of a guy he shared a foxhole with. I just listened. He never recovered from Vietnam—he self-medicated with alcohol—and he just needed someone to listen. I’ve heard hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories from people deployed all over the planet, students, friends, strangers… Empathy and compassion are the first step toward honoring those tortured souls.

It is not enough to look to the bully-in-charge. Maybe he’ll manage to avoid tossing out insults for a half-dozen tweets, maybe he will not. Trump is a coward and a bully, and he is unlikely to change–at this point he is a bitter lost cause. The real point is to look to all those supporting, promoting, or enabling his reprehensible behavior and ask them to re-evaluate.

A deep appreciation for honoring Veterans must go deeper. Defending them against those who insult, defame, and betray their service only scratches the surface. We need to stop electing the kinds of representatives who use them as pawns serving political purposes instead of simply defending the country. No civil society should write blank checks for military force while leaving more than 40,000 veterans homeless and hundreds of thousands more to live with food insecurity and poverty. We must stop electing representatives who believe these people are disposable.

The deepest commitment is a patriotic commitment to the protection of the fundamental principles of our constitutional democracy. The fascist and authoritarian tendencies of this White House and those who cling to their loyalty to Donald Trump are the greatest dishonor to those who swore oaths to protect this country from enemies “foreign and domestic.” Want to honor veterans? Get out in the streets—protest for an end of the tenure of the criminal in the White House. Veterans have not fought to remove dictators in other countries to see a President ignoring checks and balances while insisting that he is above the law in their home country.

On November 11th, Donald Trump will share his usual lies. Just remember this is the man who avoided a Republican debate in 2016 so that he could purportedly raise money for veterans. Remember that he held onto millions of dollars raised for veterans—instead of sending it to where it was needed. The Trump Foundation was no charity at all, its primary purpose, “little more than a [personal] checkbook […]to pay off the legal obligations of entities he controlled.” Then find the protest nearest you, #OutNow is one source of information, because the disgrace in the White House is not going to resign on his own, and everyone deserves better than this, especially those who risk death for what they believe is defending our country.

The post Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer

M S Swaminathan is often referred to as the ‘father’ of India’s Green Revolution. In 2009, he said that no scientific evidence had emerged to justify concerns about genetically modified (GM) crops, often regarded as stage two of the Green Revolution.

In a December 2018 paper in the journal Current Science, however, it was argued that Bt insecticidal cotton (India’s only officially approved commercial GM crop) is a failure and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.

The paper attracted a good deal of attention because, along with scientist P C Kesavan, Swaminathan was the co-author.

They concluded that globally both Bt crops and herbicide-tolerant crops are unsustainable and have not decreased the need for toxic chemical pesticides, the reason for these GM crops in the first place. Attention was also drawn to evidence that indicates Bt toxins are toxic to all organisms.

Kesavan and Swaminathan mounted a general critique of the GM paradigm. They noted that glyphosate-based herbicides, used on most GM crops in the world, and their active ingredient glyphosate, are genotoxic, cause birth defects and are carcinogenic. They also asserted that GM crop yields are no better than that of non-GM crops.

The authors concluded that genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be need based. In more than 99% of cases, they said that time-honoured conventional breeding is sufficient.

In fact, Kesavan and Swaminathan argued that a sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’ based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’ would guarantee equitable food security by ensuring access of rural communities to food.

Part of the pushback against Kevasan and Swaminathan has come from Dr Deepak Pental, developer and promoter of GM mustard at Delhi University. He responded to their piece with an article in September 2019, again in Current Science.

He argued that Kesavan and Swaminathan have unequivocally aligned themselves with overzealous environmentalists and ideologues, who have mindlessly attacked the use of GM technology to improve crops required for meeting the food and nutritional needs of a global population that is predicted to peak out at 11.2 billion. Pental added that the two authors’ analysis of modern breeding technologies is a reflection of their ideological proclivities.

By resorting to such statements, Pental was drawing on industry-inspired spin: criticisms of GM are driven by ideology not fact and GM is required to ‘feed the world’. Both assertions are baseless but are employed time and again across the globe by the pro-GM lobby in an attempt to discredit inconvenient scientific findings and campaigners who forward valid criticisms.

In response to Pental, Andrew Paul Gutierrez, Peter E. Kenmore and Aruna Rodrigues hit back with a piece in a November 2019 edition of the same journal, ‘When biotechnologists lack objectivity’. In it, they argue:

“The need to counter Pental is critical because of his influence as part of a lobbying force for unbridled legislation for GE technologies and as a purveyor of scare tactics that food security in India will be compromised without them.”

They continue:

“We question his failure to consider whether genetically modified crops (GMOs) are safe for human and ecological health, increase yield and quality, are rigorously tested using proper risk assessment biosafety protocols, and whether biosafety research level (BRL) mechanisms for GMOs field testing under various programmes are being implemented? These are the major themes of our rebuttal.”

The authors indicate the adverse impacts on human health of GMOs and associated agrochemical inputs and the very real risk of gene flow and other ways by which non-GM crops and seeds can be contaminated by their GM counterparts:

“Genetic contamination is of special concern in India which has rich genetic diversity of crops/plants, and yet there are ongoing efforts to release GMO herbicide tolerant mustard (Brassica juncea) in India, which is a centre of diversity and domestication of over 5,000 wild and domesticated varieties of mustard and the wider ‘family’ of brassicas that includes 9,720 accessions… We must question why regulators would ever consider approval of GMOs of native species (e.g. of Desi cottons, brinjal eggplant, mustard, rice, among others).”

As alluded to in the above extract, India has a wealth of plant species that have evolved and been adapted over millennia. The country has good-quality traditional seeds which are ideally suited for local soils, climates and pests. And these seeds are less resource intensive. We must therefore question why Pental’s GM mustard is being pushed so hard when it does not out-yield certain mustard species that India has already.

While touching on serious conflicts of interest within regulatory bodies, the authors also discuss Bt cotton and GM mustard, the commercialisation of which is currently held up due to a public litigation case with Aruna Rodrigues acting as lead petitioner.

They provide data to highlight the myth of Bt cotton success in India. However, GM promoters continue to peddle the story of Bt cotton success and aim to drive the full-scale introduction of GM crops into Indian agriculture on the back of this false narrative.

The authors explain that the current GM Bt cotton hybrids in India were indeed developed as a ‘value capture’ mechanism that enabled the seed industry to side-step intractable legal intellectual property rights: the interests of poor farmers were sacrificed for corporate commercial benefit.

In the article, data is also presented for GM mustard and the authors argue that it shows no yield advantage and its testing and evaluation have involved protocol violations.

In India, various high-level reports have advised against the adoption of GM crops. Appointed by the Supreme Court, the ‘Technical Expert Committee (TEC) Final Report’ (2013) was scathing about the prevailing regulatory system and highlighted its inadequacies and serious inherent conflicts of interest. The TEC recommended a 10-year moratorium on the commercial release of all GM crops.

Kesavan and Swaminathan, in their piece. also criticised India’s GM regulating bodies due to a lack of competency and endemic conflicts of interest and a lack of expertise in GM risk assessment protocols, including food safety assessment and the assessment of environmental impacts. They also questioned regulators’ failure to carry out a socio-economic assessment of GM impacts on resource-poor small and marginal farmers and called for “able economists who are familiar with and will prioritize rural livelihoods, and the interests of resource-poor small and marginal farmers rather than serve corporate interests and their profits.”

As we have seen with the push to get GM mustard commercialised, the problems described by the TEC persist. Through her numerous submissions to the Supreme Court, Rodrigues has asserted that GM mustard is being pushed for commercialisation based on flawed tests (or no tests) and a lack of public scrutiny. In effect, she argues, there has been unremitting scientific fraud and outright regulatory delinquency. It must also be noted that this crop is herbicide-tolerant (HT), which, as stated by the TEC, is wholly inappropriate for India with its small biodiverse, multi-cropping farms.

Rodrigues has for a long time contended that GM ‘regulation’ in India occurs in a system dogged by serious conflicts of interest: funders, promoters and regulators are basically one and the same. She argues that agricultural institutions and numerous public sector scientists working within these bodies along with a powerful lobbying force are joined at the hip in pushing for GM.

GM Silver bullet misses the target

If the pro-GM lobby is genuinely concerned about ‘feeding the world’, it should really be questioning why the world already produces enough to feed 10 million people but over two billion are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies (of which over 800 million are classed as chronically undernourished); why we are seeing rising rates of obesity, diabetes and a range of other health-related conditions; and why, post-Green Revolution, the range of crops grown has narrowed and the nutrient content of food and diets has diminished.

The answers lie with the practices, processes and toxic inputs that are integral to the prevailing model of chemical-intensive, industrial agriculture and the dynamics of the globalised capitalist food system. Throughout the world, this model has become tied to agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land), sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives, the outcomes of which have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of rapacious global agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries into food deficit areas.

Global food insecurity and malnutrition are therefore not the result of a lack of productivity.

As for India, although it fares poorly in world hunger assessments, the country has more than enough food to feed its 1.3 billion-plus population and with appropriate policy support measures could draw on its own indigenous agroecological know-how to do so.

Where farmers’ livelihoods are concerned, the pro-GM lobby says GM will boost productivity and help secure cultivators a better income. This too is misleading and again ignores crucial political and economic contexts. For instance, to gain brief insight into the nature of India’s agrarian crisis and why farmers are leaving the sector, let us turn to renowned journalist P Sainath who says:

“The agrarian crises in five words is: hijack of agriculture by corporations. The process by which it is done in five words: predatory commercialisation of the countryside. When your cultivation costs have risen 500 per cent over a decade, the result of that crisis, that process in five words: biggest displacement in our history.”

Little surprise, therefore, that even with bumper harvests, Indian farmers still find themselves in financial distress.

India’s farmers are not experiencing financial hardship due to low productivity. They are reeling under the effects of neoliberal policies, years of neglect and a deliberate strategy to displace smallholder agriculture at the behest of the World Bank and global agri-food corporations. And people are not hungry in India because its farmers do not produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition result from various factors, not least poor food distribution, lack of infrastructure, (gender) inequality and poverty.

However, aside from putting a positive spin on the questionable performance of GM agriculture, the pro-GM lobby, both outside of India and within, has wasted no time in wrenching these issues from their political contexts to use the notions of ‘helping farmers’ and ‘feeding the world’ as lynchpins of its promotional strategy.

The post Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later

Walls have always served a dual purpose: they keep people in, and others out. The mentality of the wall is one of imprisonment and exclusion. Three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we see such infrastructure, both symbolically and in actuality, potent.

On August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic began construction of the structure officially dubbed the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall ostensibly to keep fascism at bay. More astute observers felt that this was a survival strategy, one initiated to halt the flow of GDR residents to the West to prevent the disintegration of the state. It seemed, to use Neal Ascherson’s words, “a piece of sadism in concrete”, but possessed a certain cruel logic arising out of great power constipation to come to a solution without conflict. It was also very much a statement of GDR general secretary Erich Honecker’s own view that socialism and capitalism were essentially irreconcilable opposites, as fire and water.

According to Frederick Taylor, who visited Berlin in 1965 as a school boy, the wall and the state that created it were expressions of power, pure and simple. “East Germany, I realised, might pretend to be the workers’ paradise, but when you came down to it and put to one side the free nursery-school places… the place was about power. Unrestrained, unmitigated power. The kind of power that could build a wall to keep 17 million people captive.”

The captives, in turn, did what asylum seekers and refugees do now: pay for flight; seek sponsorship for illegal exits; speculate about how best to tunnel under the infrastructure of death. The fatalities during the period of the Wall’s standing is put at 140, though this figure also takes into account the deaths of eight East German border guards and those who, despite not intending to flee, also suffered death.

Eventually, history proved its own corrosive agent, making apertures in the foundation that led to the opening of the barrier on November 9, 1989. The previous month, the Soviet Union’s last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, was attending festivities in East Berlin commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the GDR’s foundation. “As I stood on the nostrum, greeting the columns of participants in the parade,” he reflected, “I felt almost physically the people’s discontent.” Not even a handpicked parade could dispel that sense.

Few then would forget the press conference in East Berlin presided over by the Socialist Unity Party media spokesman Günter Schabowski. It was one riddled with uncertainty, given the increasing number of East Germans who had been fleeing to the West that summer. What, for instance, did he mean by the making of permanent exit applications that might be done immediately? It brought forth a media storm, and eventually, the words of a functionary became the wisdom of permissive movement, with media outlets such as Reuters and Associated Press deducing that the borders between the GDR the Federal Republic had been opened. With the Soviet Union keeping its soldiers in barracks, despite pleas for interference from the GDR leadership, the process for the dissolution of both the wall and the state commenced.

The removal of such barriers served a structural purpose, but did not result in total catharsis; psychic disturbances gnawed and remained. East Germans had lost their sense of home, the ridding of their Heimat as a biographical aberration; West Germans had to shoulder their poorer cousins, something done with mixed generosity. As an East German dissident remarked on the GDR’s absorption into the Federal Republic, “Yes, West Germany has swallowed us, but soon it will be having indigestion.” Novelist Peter Schneider described the condition in exemplary fashion as “the wall within the head”.

It did not take much time for some form of nostalgia, born of disaffection, to take root. West German firms preferred to focus to their patch, feeling little obligation to invest in the east. Besides, East German labour could be called upon to swell their ranks. The ill-regarded Treuhandanstalt, or Handover Agency, was tasked with the mass privatisation of enterprises, a cumbersome legalistic process that consumed viable concerns while also embedding corruption. This left a telling legacy: no notable companies have their headquarters in the East.

In 2001, then president of the German parliament and deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Wolfgang Thierse warned that, “Any honest appraisal must establish that East Germany’s social and economic situation is approaching the brink.” Its de-industrialisation and underdevelopment had led to the region moving from one “in transition” to becoming a “second rate [area] in perpetuity.” The former GDR had become, essentially, an internalised colony.

East Germans came to be seen as a drain. Productivity fell in agriculture, machine production and textiles. Unemployment rose, as did emigration. (In 2018, the average unemployment in the former GDR was 6.9 percent; in the West, 4.8 percent.) The political conditions were duly created for a spike in nationalist sentiment. Resentment found, and continues to find voice, at the polling booth. In 2017, the right wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) stormed onto the German political scene by winning 94 seats in the Bundestag. It also succeeded in pushing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives into third place in regional elections in Thuringia. But gains have also been made by the left party, Die Linke.

In less belligerent and political form, nostalgia became Ostalgia for products from the GDR and their consumption: mustard from Bautzen, Spreewald gherkins, ClubCola, and Rotkäppchen sparkling wine from Freyburg. The marketization of such products has become capitalism’s great rebuke: the system in that form, at least, has won, and reduces all opposition and contradiction by way of a consumerist act. Memories can be purchased; historical re-enactments can be rented.

Beyond the market system lies ideology as concrete and barriers: the state keen to control the movement of populations; the state niggled by fears of losing control of borders. Walls are torn down, but also have a lingering habit of remaining in mind and material. The Berlin Wall is gone, but Germany, and Europe, is in the process of erecting new ones.

The post Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica

Recently, CounterPunch published two articles by Pete Dolack on WBAI Pacifica.

Oct 18: ‘The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup at Pacifica Has Only Begun

Nov 8: ‘Pacifica’s WBAI Back on the Air but Fight for Non-Corporate Radio Continues

In the Oct 18 article, Mr. Dolack wrote, “So what is the takeover really about? Although there is a widespread belief that the real intention is to sell off the station’s license, despite the denials of the coup mongers, speculation is all that can be done for now. And perhaps there are other reasons.”

The reason Pacifica National Office intervened at WBAI was because the station was not able to make payroll, and there was no further money to give to the station. The reason for this is the lack of competent financial oversight and planning for many years at the very top of our governance structure.

In response to the Oct 18 article, on 11/4/19, I pointed out to Mr. Dolack that the current Bylaws preclude sale of any station without a membership vote.

On 11/4/19, Mr. Dolack replied. “You are quite correct that the members must vote on it, according to the bylaws. But the “sell WBAI” faction is also attempting to change the bylaws, eliminate democratically elected LSBs and PNB, and replace them with an appointed national board. My understanding is that a lawsuit has been filed in California court (presumably Alameda County) to impose these changes.”

On 11/5/19, I wrote to Mr. Dolack that, “You can download the proposed Bylaws and the supporting documents at a website that was used to get petition signatures for the new Bylaws.”

(The proposed Bylaws also preclude sale of any station without a membership vote.)

However, in the Nov 10 article Mr. Dolack repeated the claims he made on Oct 18: “To eliminate the irritant of democracy, a grouping based at the two California stations, KPFA in Berkeley and KPFK in Los Angeles, want to eliminate the local station boards and appoint a new National Board with no democratic input. In other words, a self-selecting board that would be free to impose watered-down, weak-tea liberal programming, most likely from a central source. A self-selecting board with no accountability would also be free to sell off WBAI.”

Anyone who follows Pacifica knows that there actually was a coup in 1999. In response, the current Bylaws were drafted by a committee, which called for Local Board of Delegates elected by the members, and a National Board of Directors, elected by the Delegates. However, the National and Local Boards have divided into factions which do not work together. The business of the Foundation is secondary to the battle between the factions. The result has been the lack of fiscal oversight which has led to the current financial crisis at Pacifica and a critical one at WBAI.

Words like ‘coup’, ‘corporate takeover’, ‘union busting’, ‘anti-democratic’ are not new to the battle at WBAI. They are the rhetoric used in the factional battles over the years.

After 16 years’ experience with the factional and dysfunctional board, a group of people, undertook to write a new set of bylaws which tried to avoid the perils of self-selected board which resulted in the 1999 crisis, as well as the shortcomings of the current elected board which resulted in the current financial crisis.

The proposed Bylaws call for 5 elected Directors, who are elected by each stations’ listeners and staff members, and 6 term-limited at-large Directors, who are selected by the board as a whole for their experience and expertise.

The proposed Bylaws preclude the sale of assets without the vote of the members as do the current Bylaws, and also precludes changing the board makeup of elected and at-large Directors without a vote of the members.

Mr. Dolack’s allegation that “lawsuit has been filed in California court (presumably Alameda County) to impose these changes” is not correct. A Petition was filed to require Pacifica to allow its members to vote on the new Bylaws, which the Pacifica Board was refusing to do. The Court granted the Petition, and the vote of the members should take place in December.

Voting to change the governance structure is not quite as dramatic as ‘The Fight to Overturn the Latest Corporate Coup’, but it is an important step to take to ensure the future of a financially healthy non-corporate Pacifica.

To be fully informed, people can read the provisions of the proposed Bylaws and supporting documentations at: https://form.jotformpro.com/42244096312953

The real danger to Pacifica is not a ‘corporate coup’. The real danger is a financial failure which is what the current governance structure has brought about.

The post Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque

With the imposition of Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, (which authorizes an executive magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than four people in any area), in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, mainland India gets a small smattering of what Kashmir has been facing since August 5.

A disused sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya, the Babri Masjid, was demolished by Hindu supporters of the Saffron movement who hoped to construct a temple, the Ram Janmabhoomi, on that site. Hindu-Muslim riots swept Northern India in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation in 1992.

Both sides attempted to create a new past for the nation. In the case of the majority Hindus, the militant Hinduism that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement incited challenged the basic principle that the nation was founded on: democracy.

Bigotry defined identities and ideologies, treating the idea of a multilingual, multiethnic, and secular nation as if it were a myth.

The Babri Masjid, an obscure little mosque, was destroyed by an unruly mob that rallied around the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in 1992 was the second largest political party in India. By blatantly advocating and supporting the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its followers negated the legislation of the highest court of law in the land that sought to protect the site by staying its appropriation by any political party.

Today, the BJP is the largest political party in India, and the Supreme Court of the country has cleared the way for a temple to be built on the disputed site. Brute majoritarianism has superseded the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

National pride in BJP’s India is synonymous with majoritarianism and contempt for civility. It also reinforces the claims of right-wingers who label present-day Muslims “outsiders” or “invaders” in India.

Such claims ignore how communities grow historically within the framework created by a dialogic discourse.

The post Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President

In yet another example of the Liberals saying one thing and doing another, Justin Trudeau’s government has supported the ouster of Evo Morales. The Liberals’ position on Bolivia’s first-ever indigenous president stands in stark contrast with their backing of embattled pro-corporate presidents in the region.

Hours after the military command forced Morales to resign as president of the most indigenous nation in the Americas, Chrystia Freeland endorsed the coup. Canada’s foreign affairs minister released a statement noting “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people. We note the resignation of President Morales and will continue to support Bolivia during this transition and the new elections.” Freeland’s statement had no hint of criticism of Morales’ ouster, who still has two months left on his 2015 election mandate. Elsewhere, leaders from Argentina to Cuba, Venezuela to Mexico, condemned Morales’ forced resignation.

Ten days ago Global Affairs Canada echoed the Trump administration’s criticism of Morales’ first-round election victory. “It is not possible to accept the outcome under these circumstances,” said a Global Affairs statement. “We join our international partners in calling for a second round of elections to restore credibility in the electoral process.”

The Canadian government also financed and promoted an Organization of American States effort to discredit Bolivia’s presidential election. In a statement titled “Canadawelcomes results of OAS electoral audit mission to Bolivia” Freeland noted,“Canada commends the invaluable work of the OAS audit mission in ensuring a fair and transparent process, which we supported financially and through our expertise.”

The OAS played a crucial role in bolstering right-wing anti-Morales protests after the presidential election on October 20. Morales won the first round, which no one seriously disputes. The dispute is about whether he won by a 10% margin, which is the threshold required to avoid a second-round runoff. The official result was 47.07 percent for Morales and 36.51 percent for US-backed candidate Carlos Mesa.

Immediately after the election, the OAS cried foul. But, the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s report “What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count? The Role of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission” challenges the OAS claims. The CEPR concludes that there is no evidence the election results were affected by fraud or irregularities.

CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot criticized the OAS for questioning the election results without providing any evidence. “The OAS press statement of October 21 and its preliminary report on the Bolivian elections raise disturbing questions about the organization’s commitment to impartial, professional, electoral observation,” said Weisbrot. “The OAS should investigate to find out how such statements, which may have contributed to political conflict in Bolivia, were made without any evidence whatsoever.”

While backing the ouster of Morales, Trudeau has offered support for beleaguered right-wing leaders in the region. Amidst massive demonstrations against his government, the Prime Minister held a phone conversation 10 days ago with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera who has a 14% approval rating. According to the published report of the conversation, Trudeau criticized “election irregularities in Bolivia”and discussed their joint campaign to remove Venezuela’s president. A CTV story noted, “a summary from the Prime Minister’s Office of Trudeau’s phone call with Pinera made no direct mention of the ongoing turmoil in Chile, a thriving country with which Canada has negotiated a free trade agreement.”

In Haiti, the only reasonJovenel Moïse remains president is because of backing of Ottawa, Washington and other members of the so-called “Core Group”. Unlike Bolivia, Haiti is not divided. Basically, everyone wants Moïse to go. Reliable polling is limited, but a poll last month found that 81% of Haitianswanted the president to leave. Many are strongly committed to that view, which is why the country’s urban areas have been largely paralyzed since early September.

the Trudeau government is obviously following the Trump administration in backing the removal of Morales. But, there has also been a conflict between Canadian capital and the Morales government. Executives of Canadian mining companies have criticizedMorales andexpressed fear over “resource nationalism” in the region more generally. In 2012 weeks of protest against South American Silver’s operations in central Bolivia — that saw an indigenous activist killed— prompted the Morales government to nationalize the Vancouver-based company’s mine. Ottawa immediately went to bat for South American Silver. Ed Fast’s spokesman Rudy Husny told the Vancouver Sun the trade minister instructed Canadian officials to “intensify their engagement with the Bolivian government in order to protect and defend Canadian interests and seek a productive resolution of this matter.”

Once again our government has prioritized the interests of Canadian corporations over the interest of indigenous people. Shame on Trudeau for supporting the ouster of Evo Morales.

The post Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Class War Violence: Centralia 1919

“The Resurrection of Wesley Everest,” mural depicting IWW figures from the Centralia Massacre. Photograph Source: Richard Coit – CC BY-SA 4.0


November 11, 2019, will mark the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice Day Tragedy in Centralia, Washington, a horrible event in Pacific Northwest history. On Armistice Day, 1919, a mob of American Legionaires raided the Centralia Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) hall and later lynched Wesley Everest, an IWW logger.

Many Pacific Northwest residents remain engaged in debates about the facts of the incident. Unfortunately, it’s common to hear calls for “balance” in discussions of the tragedy. Balance? Balance between the perspectives of the vigilante lynch mob and the working-class radicals fighting to form a union? Balance between the wealthy men who raided union halls and lynched Wesley Everest, and those who struggled to improve their worklives?

Those who support the employer, vigilante, and American Legion perspective are in luck. In downtown Centralia, they have a monument to the bosses who terrorized working-class radicals throughout the Pacific Northwest. Walking through downtown Centralia today, it’s difficult to miss the massive “Sentinel” statue, a tribute to the American Legion vigilantes who died while attacking the IWW hall.

Rejecting the false “balance” between working-class activist and employing-class vigilante, Brian Barnes and Roger Snider joined me in penning The Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Southwest Washington, published earlier this year by Oregon State University Press. We aimed to provide a working-class perspective on many of the labor struggles of the early twentieth century Pacific Northwest, including the Armistice Day Tragedy in Centralia. What follows is a chapter from the book entitled “Class War: Centralia 1919.”

Excerpt from The Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Southwest Washington by Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider, copyright © 2019. Available from booksellers or from Oregon State University Press, 1-800-621-2736.

“Around Centralia are wooded hills; men have been beaten beneath these trees and lynched from them. The beautiful Chehalis River flows near by; Wesley Everest was left dangling from one of its bridges. But Centralia is provokingly pretty for all that. It is small wonder that lumber trust henchmen wish to keep it all for themselves.”

– Ralph Chaplin, The Centralia Conspiracy

The Centralia American Legion and the leading businessmen of that city had more than a parade in mind when they gathered on November 11, 1919, to celebrate Armistice Day. Apparently believing that the spectacle of political violence would enhance the patriotic experience, they concocted a plan to raid the Centralia IWW Hall. IWW halls were of great practical and symbolic importance to workers. As Wobbly activist and historian Ralph Chaplin explains, the halls were loved by workers, but despised by employers. These “churches of the movement,” as public historian Robert Weyeneth called them, represented the closest thing to a home for many wandering IWW members. Chaplin noted:

“It is here the men can gather around a crackling wood fire, smoke their pipes and warm their souls with the glow of comradeship. Here they can, between jobs or after work, discuss the vicissitudes of their daily lives, read their books and magazines and sing their songs of solidarity, or merely listen to the “tinned” humor or harmony of the much prized Victrola. Also they here attend to the affairs of their union—line up members, hold business and educational meetings and a weekly “open forum.”

So, as the parading legionnaires passed the hall for the second time, they paused, then charged the hall, only to be surprised by the spirited defense they encountered. A volley of gunfire dropped three of the attackers, but the mob continued to press home its attack, capturing the hall. One additional legionnaire was killed in pursuit of Wesley Everest, who escaped out the back but was later captured and dragged by the neck to the jail. Later that night, he joined the ranks of IWW martyrs when he was lynched at the hands of Centralia businessmen and patriots, none of whom were ever prosecuted for his gruesome murder.

The Armistice Day 1919 Centralia event is perhaps the single most written about event involving the IWW in the entire state of Washington. Analysis of the event has been extremely polarized, as interests representing the employing class and the working class have contested its meaning. And because of competing accounts, affidavits, and testimony, even some of the most basic facts of the case will probably never be established conclusively. What is perfectly clear is that the Centralia story must be understood in the context of the class struggle that had been raging on the Red Coast for over a decade and which had surfaced in Centralia since at least 1914. As all of the working-class accounts of the Centralia event note, violence and lawlessness were defining characteristics of the employers’ approach to this conflict.

The IWW served as the most logical target of employers’ violence and repression because, since its inception in 1905, it represented the most advanced, class conscious, and revolutionary element of the working class in this country. The patriotic fervor of the First World War and fear that the Russian Revolution would heighten class consciousness among American workers only intensified persecution of the Wobblies. Sensing an opportunity, employers engaged both the state and the public in their efforts to crush the hated IWW. Nationally, the federal government enforced the wartime Espionage and Sedition Acts against the IWW and other radicals to imprison and deport many. In September of 1917, the federal government raided IWW halls across the country and indicted more than 160 leaders of the organization.

At the state and local level, class warfare raged as employers mobilized both the state and the mob to lash out at class-conscious workers. Washington State was one of the great theaters of this conflict, as the teens witnessed the Grays Harbor and Pacific County Lumber Strike of 1912, multiple free speech fights, the 1916 Everett Massacre, and the 1919 Seattle General Strike.

In Centralia, this war against workers effectively merged employers’ traditional weapons—a cooperative police, a captive legal system, and vigilante citizens’ committees—with the anti-radicalism and patriotism of the American Legion, a veterans’ organization at the fore of anti-radical activities.

The American Legion described Centralia like this: “The city is the center of a rich timber district and the logging camps of the northwest are infested with bearers of the red card, who boast that in many districts membership in the I.W.W. is a requisite to employment.” The leadership of the Centralia Legion read like a roster of Centralia businessmen and the Legion became essentially a front organization, even the vanguard, for Northwest lumber bosses. In the words of Wobbly Ralph Chaplin, “The American Legion began to function as a cat’s paw for the men behind the scenes.” Indeed, there was nothing secret about the role of the Legion in the class war. The National Commander of the American Legion declared in 1923: “If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country’s institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy. . . . Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.”

Representatives of capital did not shy away from class conflict. An IWW organizer was run out of Centralia by the sheriff in 1914, and in early 1915 more Wobblies were “escorted” out of town by police and vigilantes. According to historian John McClelland, the local paper, the Centralia Chronicle, applauded anti-Wobbly repression and stated that it was everyone’s responsibility to keep rebel workers out of Centralia. Tom Lassiter, a partially blind newsstand operator whose stock included labor and radical papers, was victimized by the business interest on several occasions. At various times, his radical papers were destroyed, he was threatened, arrested, kidnapped, and dumped in a ditch. Yet no one was ever prosecuted for any of these acts of class violence. In Centralia, it was clear, the law was a weapon in the hands of the propertied class.

Perhaps inevitably, class conflict in Centralia came to center on the struggle to establish and defend an IWW union hall. As Chaplin notes, the “union halls were a standing challenge to their [the employers’] hitherto undisputed right to the complete domination of the forests. . . . They were not going to tolerate the encroachments of the One Big Union of the lumber workers.” In 1917, an IWW attempt to establish a hall was met with great hostility in the employer-dominated town, and the landlord evicted the Wobblies on learning of their identity. In the spring of 1918, Centralia employers targeted the town’s new IWW hall. During a Red Cross parade, prominent businessmen, including members of the Centralia Elks, and political officials attacked and destroyed it. They beat IWW members and burned hall property and records in a street bonfire. F. B. Hubbard, the most prominent of the Centralia timber barons and president of the Washington Employers’ Association, stole the desk from the Wobbly Hall and donated it to the local Chamber of Commerce. Despite the intimidation of the business leaders, the local IWW secretary, Britt Smith, opened a new hall on north Tower Avenue on September 1, 1919. It was clear for all to see that the IWW was not easily intimidated, but neither were their enemies.

In July 1919, George Russell, secretary of the Washington Employers’ Association, called a meeting of the Centralia Chamber of Commerce to find a way to destroy the IWW. F. B. Hubbard was picked to head a group designed to accomplish that objective. Although this was not the first meeting of Centralia business interests to combat the Wobbly threat, it marked a new level of organization on the part of capital that would not tolerate the affront the new IWW Hall afforded to its dominance.

Plans to rid themselves of the enemy intensified with the formation of the Centralia Citizens Protective Association, the purpose of which, according to one local paper, was “to combat IWW activities in this vicinity.” Local businessmen were members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Centralia Elks, and the American Legion; many belonged to more than one of these organizations. Although the plans called for greater secrecy as to the specific methods to rid themselves of the Wobblies, too many people were aware of the plans to keep it secret. Word began to leak out, and soon it became public knowledge that the IWW would be driven out of town. Once the Armistice Day Parade was planned, the Wobblies knew that this was the pretense to attack their hall, destroy their property, and assault them.

Initially, IWW members acted with uncommon prudence in attempting to prevent a violent attack on their hall. The owners of the Roderick Hotel, which housed the union hall and from whom the IWW rented, went to the local police with information about the planned attack. IWW members requested police protection. A trusted attorney, Elmer Smith, sought help from Governor Louis F. Hart in Olympia. The Wobblies even made a desperate appeal to the entire community. They distributed a lengthy handbill “to the law-abiding citizens of Centralia and to the working class in general,” which said, in part, “The profiteering class of Centralia have of late been waving the flag of our country in an endeavor to incite the lawless element of our city to raid our hall and club us out of town.” But Wobbly pleas to avoid violence fell on deaf ears, and the police chief declined protection.

Finally, as a last resort, the Wobblies sought legal advice from attorney Elmer Smith to determine whether they had the legal right to defend their hall with arms. Smith affirmed that they did. This was a major move on the part of the IWW. Although it had always shown remarkable restraint, the IWW was a defiant and proud group of class-conscious workers, and by November 1919 in Centralia Washington the Wobblies had had enough of the beatings, enough of the tar and featherings, enough of the destruction of their meager property, enough of the humiliation, and enough of the criminally brutal business-patriotic element. They would defend their hall, and plans for its self-defense were laid. Radical historian Harvey O’Conner opined: “Prudent men, valuing their own skins, would have closed the hall in the face of the obvious threat. But prudence was not a Wobbly trait. Rather their shining glory stood out

in audacity, courage, and stubbornness in defense of their rights, and for that they are remembered in history.”

As the Armistice Day Parade got under way on the drizzly and ill-fated afternoon of November 11, 1919, the Wobblies made ready to defend their hall. They positioned armed men inside the hall and also in three locations outside the hall: in the Avalon and Arnold Hotels on the opposite (east) side of the street, and on Seminary Hill which overlooked the street from some considerable distance away. The parade route took the marchers north on Tower Avenue past the main business district to Third Street, the next side street past the IWW Hall, in a section of town occupied by businesses catering to the working class. At Third Street the marchers reversed direction to return now southbound on Tower Avenue with the Centralia American Legion contingent making up the rear of the parade. In front of the IWW Hall, the marchers paused and then rushed the hall.

Shots rang out from the hall and then from Seminary Hill and the Avalon Hotel. Three Legionnaires—Warren Grimm, Arthur McElfresh, and Ben Cassagranda—received fatal wounds on the streets near the hall, and Dale Hubbard, the nephew of the lumbar baron F. B. Hubbard, was shot by a fleeing Wesley Everest at the edge of the Skookumchuck river. Hubbard died later that night. Several other marchers were injured, and the IWW Hall was smashed and its contents dragged to the street and burned. Wesley Everest was severely beaten and dragged back into town and thrown in a heap on the jail floor. One of the marchers who pursued Everest to the river and presumably helped drag him to the jail was Legionnaire Ed Cunningham, who was picked by the American Legion to become the Special Prosecutor in the trial against the Centralia Wobblies. According to the Legion account, “Cunningham was able to use his first-hand knowledge of the tragedy to telling effect.”

In many of their clashes with the working class, employers hired detective agencies or relied on local or state police to combat workers, but in Centralia the American Legion served as the armed guard of the employing class. As news of the event spread, the American Legion assumed control of the town, controlled the flow of information, formed vigilante groups to hunt down suspected Wobblies, and raided establishments and homes. In touting the Legion takeover, the American Legion Weekly stated, “Though the office of the Sheriff and the Chief of Police assisted as much as possible, their forces were small and their aid nominal,” and “Posses which scoured the country about Centralia in search of fugitives were made up almost exclusively of American Legion men”

That evening, two meetings were held at the Elks Club in which the murder of Wesley Everest was conceivably planned. At about five o’clock a group of men was told to go the armory for weapons and return to the Elks at six o’clock. At the six o’clock meeting, all assembled men who were not members of the Elks or the American Legion were asked to leave. In effect, this left the established business class and the Legion, those that could most be trusted to carry out a class lynching and protect those involved in it. This meeting lasted until about seven o’clock. At seven-thirty, someone visited the city’s power station and shut off all the lights in Centralia. Meanwhile, a lynching party entered the jail where Wesley Everest was held. The lynching party—meeting no opposition from the jailer—seized Everest and dragged him to a waiting automobile.

The automobile that held Everest fell in with a procession of automobiles containing Centralia’s most prominent citizens, and proceeded to the Chehalis River Bridge. Radical author Harvey O’Conner graphically described the scene:

“At the bridge Everest was dragged out and rope knotted around his neck, and his body flung over. Everest clutched at a plank; Legionnaires stamped on his fingers, and he fell. Dissatisfied with the knot, the lynchers pulled the body back up and used a longer rope, and hurled the body over again. Still dissatisfied, they hauled Everest body up a third time—by then he must have been dead—and tied a more professional knot on a longer rope and flung the body over. Then with carlights playing on the scene, they amused themselves awhile by shooting at the swaying body. Satiated at last, the mob left and darkness returned. Next morning somebody cut the rope and the body fell into the Chehalis River.”

The next day, Everest’s mutilated body was retrieved from the river, dumped on the jail floor, and left for two days in plain view of his imprisoned fellow workers. As Centralia’s authorities were no doubt complicit in the lynching, no attempt was ever made to bring the Everest’s murderers to justice. As the Legion-led posses combed the surrounding area for more Wobblies, state authorities interrogated the jailed Wobblies by day as the enraged mobs terrorized them by night. In the woods surrounding Centralia, one posse member was shot and killed when he was mistaken by another for a Wobbly. This shooting, first reported as a murder committed by a Wobbly, was later ruled an accident.

As this reign of terror continued in southwest Washington, the commercial press continued to churn out propagandistic accounts of how the Wobblies ambushed and murdered America’s finest young men in the streets of Centralia. Characteristic of this treatment was the front-page article in the Chehalis Bee-Nugget: “IWW Shoot into Armistice Day Parade in Centralia Tuesday. Warren Grimm, Arthur McElfresh, Dale Hubbard, and Ben Cassagranda Killed by the Assassins.” Authorities, businessmen, and Legionnaires combined to attack workers in other parts of the state and in neighboring Oregon. In Seattle, the Department of Justice seized the Union Record, the official organ of the Seattle Central Labor Council, and arrested its staff, including Harry Ault and Anna Louise Strong, on charges of sedition.

The passions that this class war engendered were still highly visible on January 26, 1920, when eleven Wobblies, including Elmer Smith, the attorney who advised the IWW members that they had the legal right to defend their hall, were brought to trial in the town of Montesano, the county seat of neighboring Grays Harbor County. The defense faced many obstacles in the trial, beginning with a huge resource disparity. The Wobblies were represented by George Vanderveer with occasional help from his law partner, Ralph Pierce, and attorney Elmer Smith, himself a defendant in the case. Meanwhile, Special Prosecutor Ed Cunningham led a staff of six attorneys, whom Vanderveer referred to as the attorneys for the lumber trust. The Luke May Secret Service, a private detective agency paid for by lumber company funds, aided them.

Finally, the American Legion recruited some fifty uniformed veterans to sit in on the trial by day, presumably to influence the jury. They were paid four dollars a day from funds contributed by the lumber companies and the Elks. The prosecution certainly lived up to its reputation as the counsel for the lumber trust. Special Prosecutor Cunningham was himself deeply involved in the Armistice Day violence. He was one of the members of the mob that pursued Everest to the Skookumchuck River and helped drag him to jail. He watched while the mob broke into the jail and kidnapped Everest, and was alleged to have witnessed his murder. Historian Tom Copeland observed that “as Cunningham built the case against the Wobblies, he was also shielding himself from any potential legal action for his role in the raid and lynching.”

Cunningham’s team successfully fought off a change of venue request, claiming there was no prejudice against the IWW in either Centralia or Montesano. In a clear attempt to intimidate anyone willing to testify for the defense, the prosecution had two defense witnesses arrested for perjury when they finished their testimony. The prosecution called on the governor to have troops from Camp Lewis sent to Montesano to stand guard outside the courtroom, thereby frightening the jury into thinking that an IWW attack was imminent.

The trial was, in fact, a mere extension of the class war, a political trial in which the authorities put the IWW on trial while pretending to adhere to the rule of law. The judge, John M. Wilson, insisted that he could try the case impartially, despite the fact that he had delivered an anti-IWW speech in the nearby town of Bucoda and had addressed the memorial service at the Centralia Elks commemorating the Legionnaires who had been killed during the Armistice Day Parade. Wilson rejected the defense’s request for a change of venue from Montesano, disallowed much of the evidence that Vanderveer tried to introduce during the trial, and made numerous prejudicial rulings that favored the prosecution and infuriated the defense. Vanderveer captured the trial’s essence in his closing statement. The prosecutors, he told the jury, “have told you this was a murder trial, and not a labor trial. But vastly more than the lives of ten men are the stakes in the big gamble here; for the right of workers to organize for the bettering of their own condition is on trial; the right of free assemblage is on trial; democracy and Americanism are on trial.”

“In view of such a charged atmosphere,” Albert Gunns contended, “the final verdict of the jury was moderate.” The prosecution sought a first-degree murder verdict for all of the defendants, but the jury did not agree. Elmer Smith, the Wobbly attorney, was acquitted, along with one other defendant. Seven defendants were convicted of second-degree murder, and one young defendant was judged legally insane. The jury attached to their verdict a written request for leniency in sentencing, but Judge Wilson rendered stiff sentences ranging from 25 to 40 years in the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Irish immigrant James McInerney, himself a veteran of the Everett Massacre and victim of torture while in the Centralia jail, died while imprisoned, “murdered,” the Industrial Worker proclaimed, “by the Capitalist class.” Most of the remaining prisoners remained incarcerated until 1933, when Governor Clarence Martin commuted their sentences.

Several jurors were clearly uneasy with their decision, believing that they were not allowed to hear all of the important evidence. “Remarkably, two years after the trial,” Robert Weyeneth concludes, “seven of the twelve jurors voluntarily repudiated their verdict.” No member of the employing class or its “cat paws” was ever charged or even investigated for Everest’s murder or the Armistice Day hall raid that ushered in the Centralia Tragedy.

Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes and Roger Snider are authors of The Red Coast: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Southwest Washington (Oregon State University Press, 2019).

The post Class War Violence: Centralia 1919 appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

“Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits

Photograph Source: Elvert Barnes – CC BY-SA 2.0

On Veterans Day this year, in a nation now reflexively thankful for military service of all kinds, nearly 500,000 former service members are not included in our official expressions of gratitude.

These forgotten men and women had the misfortune to leave active duty with what’s called “bad paper.” That means they were discharged under conditions “other than honorable,” a determination made without the benefit of consistent standards applying to personnel decisions by all military branches or even individual commanders.

In civilian life, when a coal miner or construction worker gets fired from a hazardous job–for cursing out a supervisor, fighting  with a co-worker, or engaging in other misbehavior–their loss of employment doesn’t render them ineligible to receive state or federal workers compensation for a documented job-related injury or illness (like black lung or asbestosis).

Yet, in each branch of the U.S. military, when you’re drummed out for misconduct in uniform, the punishment is loss of similar benefits—including Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare, disability pay, and access to GI bill programs that make higher education and housing more affordable for those who have served.

Among those adversely affected by this disqualification are

many men and women who need specialized treatment for traumatic brain injuries or PTSD which they acquired during repeated combat deployments or through military sexual assault. Soldiers who might have performed well before experiencing such physical and mental wounds often misbehave as a result of them—getting into fights, going AWOL, or abusing prescription drugs and alcohol. The result can be an “other than honorable” discharge that denies them later VA care.

A Model Marine

Consider, for example, the experience of 36-year old ex-Marine Tyson Manker, now the lead plaintiff in class action litigation handled by the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale. As the New York Times reported last year, this lawsuit alleges that the Navy appeals board which considers “bad paper” cases “currently denies upgrades even to veterans with clear diagnoses of PTSD whose enlistments ended with a single instance of relatively minor misconduct.”

Manker is one of those veterans today, but fifteen years ago, his record was exemplary. He was the top-rated Marine in his platoon, the first promoted to corporal, and then, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was put in charge of his own squad.

At the end of his combat deployment, Manker was given a one-page questionnaire to screen for post-traumatic stress. As reported by the Times, his completed form disclosed personal exposure “to nearly every type of trauma listed, including seeing dead civilians and Marines, killing enemy fighters and civilians, and experiencing nightmares and hyper vigilance.”

There was no follow up response from the Marines. Yet his commander acted much faster when Manker was caught smoking marijuana back in the U.S., near the end of his enlistment period. His “other than honorable” discharge, pitched him back into civilian life, with none of the social supports that VA coverage and GI bill benefits provide. That’s a fate shared by 125,000 other post-9/11 veterans.

Fortunately, Manker had “supportive friends and family who cared about his well-being,” during a period of personal misfortune that included “a random, near fatal stabbing attack.” He was able to get costly private treatment for anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abused caused by PTSD. With the help of student loans, Manker put himself through college and law school, becoming a licensed attorney and business law professor in Illinois.

In 2016, he was national coordinator of Veterans for Bernie and also ran for district attorney in a heavily Republican county in rural Illinois. His platform called for greater use of court diversion programs for veterans guilty of minor crimes. He’s now working on a book about the history of veterans’ benefits, while awaiting a federal judge’s ruling on the government’s motion to dismiss his class action case.

An Unprecedented Abandonment

Manker’s campaign for justice for vets with “bad paper” has been embraced by veterans’ organizations like Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco, a major source of private help for former military personnel who are jobless or homeless.

A recent Swords report, found that veteran benefit disqualifications, based on bad paper discharges, now affect “6.5% of all who served since 2001, compared to 2.8% of Vietnam Era veterans and 1.7% of World War II era veterans.”

“At no point in history,” the report notes, “has a greater share of veterans been denied basic services intended to care and compensate for service-related injuries. (See https://www.swords-to-plowshares.org/2016/03/30/Underserved/)

One remedy to what Swords calls an “historically unprecedented abandonment of America’s veterans” was proposed to the Obama Administration three years ago by the Yale Law School experts now assisting Manker. They produced a legal memo arguing that “the President has the legal authority to pardon veterans with an other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge whose misconduct stemmed from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues, including pre-existing conditions.”

Instead, during Obama’s second term, his Secretary of Defense only directed some of the DOD administrative boards that consider discharge upgrade requests to “give more liberal consideration to applications that include evidence of PTSD.”

In response to high veteran suicide rates, Donald Trump’s first Secretary of Veterans Affairs authorized the delivery of emergency mental health services for up to ninety days to veterans with other than honorable discharges.

This measure was expanded by Congress in 2018, but sponsors of that legislation and some veterans’ groups were critical of how 477,000 eligible veterans were notified of their new but limited VA access. Nationwide, less than one percent of veterans with “bad paper” initially benefited from any short-term mental health treatment.

Plus, as VA unions complained, the Administration did not seek any additional funding or staff necessary to handle the larger number of new patients who might use the program, if they could find out about it. The narrow clinical parameters of the program left VA therapists with with no way to address service-related physical conditions, like chronic pain, that can trigger depression, suicidal tendencies, or substance abuse among veterans long denied VA care.

Curing Past Injustice

The current crop of Democratic presidential primary candidates are being pressed to improve on that Obama/Trump record. During his 2016 campaign for the nomination, Bernie Sanders, former chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, held a veterans’ event in Gettysburg, PA. where, according to Manker, he expressed support for using presidential pardon powers to cure the injustice of bad paper.

This time around, with four veterans in the original field of candidates, several other would-be opponents of Trump have addressed the issue. In a recent interview with Task and Purposea military affairs publication, Mayor Pete Buttigieg declared that:

 “No current or former military member of the military should ever be denied mental health care period.  Veterans who have service-related PTSD and currently have bad paper discharges ought to have their discharges upgraded so they can receive the VA care and benefits that we owe them. Going forward, active duty service members with a service-related behavior health issue should not receive a bad paper discharge.  

At a Vote Vets forum, held in New Hampshire in September, California Senator Kamala Harris was less specific. But she did agree that “people with PTSD tend to act out” so their misbehavior in uniform should not disqualify them from getting needed VA treatment later on.

In the meantime, the current wielder of presidential pardon power has been rattling that saber on behalf of men in uniform, whose conduct has definitely been less than honorable. Last Spring, Donald Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, an ex-army officer convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner.

As Mark Bowden reports in The Atlantic this month, the White House also “asked the Justice Department to prepare pardon materials for a number of American servicemen and contractors who were charged with murder and desecration of corpses, including Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy Seal who stood accused by his own team members of fatally stabbing a teenage ISIS prisoner and shooting unarmed civilians.”

Since then, Gallagher was acquitted of murder but convicted of posing for a photo with an ISIS fighter killed during his fifth combat deployment. The top Navy brass, clearly intimidated by Trump’s personal meddling in this controversial case, ended up punishing Gallagher with a brief pay cut and a one grade reduction in rank that will reduce the amount of his pension, when he retires.

Via twitter, Trump congratulated Gallagher on his acquittal, saying: “Glad, I could help.” Unfortunately, those are not words that hundreds of thousands of vets with bad paper will be hearing anytime soon from this president, whose lawyers continue to fight Tyson Manker’s case and others like it.

The post “Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Worm in the Apple

Image: Celebration erupts after the amendment is passed by the House of Representatives – Public Domain

The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Slavery remains a punishment for crime; imprisonment is a continuation of slavery. That is the clause which in the view of Ava DuVernay and her many collaborators was weaponized to become a powerful legitimating tool of the segregation of the old Jim Crow, the convict leasing system, the new Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. Her film is therefore called “13th.”

The story of criminalization, the film suggests, began after the Emancipation Proclamation. However, the story helps us see the similar process in the formation of working-class, and the divisions within it, elsewhere.

The English working class as a self-conscious historical force is said to have had its origin with the London Corresponding Society of 1792. The first page of The Making of the English Working Class proudly enunciated in its title the democratic principle of the L.C.S., “Members Unlimited.” But the membership was limited because we read on the same page that members were required to agree “that the welfare of these kingdoms require that every adult person, in possession of his reason, and not incapacitated by crimes, should have a vote for a Member of Parliament.” Prisoners were thus excluded.

That’s why years ago, inspired by Malcolm X, many of us scholars studied crime and began to make the acquaintance of folks in prison. We learned that the story of capitalism and democracy began earlier. Criminalization was necessary to both. It is coeval with capitalism. It is parallel to capitalism. It is conterminous with the commodity form. In fact, criminalization belongs to the essence of capitalism.

The U.S. Constitution begins with a phrase borrowed from the Levellers, “We the people.” The Levellers during the English Revolution of the 1640s had also apparently advocated universal suffrage, or real democracy. Yet on closer examination this first democratic political party had qualified this grand ideal in ways similar to the L.C.S. or the 13th Amendment. The Levellers’ petition of January 1648 excluded from the franchise those who “are not, or shall not be legally disfranchised for some criminal cause, or are not under 21 years of age, or servants, or beggars.” Beggars didn’t work and servants had masters. Women, too, were silently excluded. The Levellers put emphasis on the “free-born Englishman” and for the next two or three centuries the figure of “the free-born Englishman” reigned supreme in the popular imaginary. But delinquency or criminality forfeited that birthright. Criminalizing was a weapon of state to deny people the vote.

My point is that criminalization has been a weapon against workers from day one. As a little litigious clause in a great amendment, or as a sly afterthought in Leveller petitions, or even as a limitation to “Members Unlimited” this kind of qualification to the meanings of freedom has been a nasty worm in the apple. Democracy was not for delinquents, the vote was not for those convicted in court. Freedom was not for all; slavery persisted. The state project of criminalization rots the orchard.

What the 13th Amendment did was consistent with more than two hundred years of working-class history. Slavery, servitude, and the poor are parts of, or aspects to, the class that is forced to work not for subsistence but profit, producing wealth for others. Watch the documentary film, the “13th” because it is a fundamental introduction to criminalization. Having done that, then we may with Eugene Debs ponder this thought, “While there is a soul in prison I am not free.”

Finally, we cannot shirk from the questions, what is crime? who are the real criminals? Freedom begins with our answers.

The post The Worm in the Apple appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

In the Looming Shadow of Civil War

Photograph Source: Roscoe Myrick – CC BY 2.0

“If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal,”

– Donald J. Trump, tweet

“The mood of the country has been more poisonous that this; at the time of Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970, and again in the run-up to the Iraq War. Worse, yes; but it has never been crazier.”

– David Bromwich, London Review of Books, 24 October 2019

I. The Combatants

The President of the United States urges Republicans to get tougher and fight an illegitimate impeachment. It seems we may soon have to choose which side we are on in our deep cultural divide. The President’s long game may be to take the whole issue to the Supreme Count where another Gore/Bush decision will come down. Much will fester during this wait.

But if a civil war were to come if Trump wins or if Trump loses the election or a Supreme Court battle, this war wouldn’t have a casus belli anything like ending slavery. Never Trump and Forever Trump are very sad casus belli, although they would feed the ego of Trump. Given that, it would still be a humiliating and disgusting episode in American history, were that to come.

What brand of Republican would be fighting what brand of Democrat? Or would it be the Trumpians rebelling against the tyranny of the Never Trumpians? Perhaps it would be a religious war: those fighting on the side of abortion and LGBTQ rights lining up against those who have made Jesus their personal savior?

Reasons, not forthcoming, aside we can yet see the battle lines joined on a level of passions. Liberals retain the old tax and spend/baby killing on demand profile, taking from working Americans and giving to lazy shirkers and on the way killing babies. The profile grows darker: gay marriage, gender choice, LGBTQ rights, amnesty to illegal aliens, open borders, confiscation of guns, cars, cattle, Jesus, Robert E. Lee and white privilege.

The “extreme Left” and Progressives have a thinner profile: Communists.

Republicans have not been labelled so colorfully by Democrats because both share a deep respect for the continuous growth of profit. The differences regarding what to do with the consequences of a rapacious economic system have not been sufficient for Democrats to paint a damning portrait of Republicans. That’s been the case until Bernie Sanders, a class warrior not silenced by those who have made this label synonymous with traitor, terrorist, Communist.

The splinter Trump faction now both tormenting and keeping the Republican Party alive is colorfully stereotyped by Liberals and Progressives. Donald J. Trump led them to this profile simply by being elected the 45th President of the United States. What sort of voter would vote for a man who during the campaign aroused anger and hate, racism, bigotry and misogyny, who had 25 women accusing him of sexual misconduct, who refused to pay hundred of workers, who nastily ridiculed his opponents?

The profile then of the Trumpian placed both ignorance and stupidity at the top of the list, followed by racist, bigoted, misogynist and homophobic. In brief, if you voted for Trump, you were a troglodyte with a gun.

For these two stereotypified factions to clash, American culture would have to stop pulsating like a nerve end on opioids. Because we interface in cyberspace to a greater extent every day and that alternate reality makes second by second change its métier, we cannot expect a passionate clash now will remain in our digitalized memory banks.

Although there is no clarity to what might be the casus belli of a coming civil war, there is clarity to the history taking us to where we are now.

It deserves to be summarized if we are to position ourselves reliably in our 2020 election decisions.

II. The Journey to Where We Are Now

The Dow Jones didn’t cross the 1000 mark until 1972. Savings accounts paid 8% and so no one was pushed into the stock market. The market climbed when Reagan replaced a reliable income based on wages with speculative investment, which spurred the growth of the financial sector.

Working for wages and savings accounts with reputable returns were replaced by investing in a stochastic market and pipe dreams of a bottom 40% starting a business. Profiteers of Viet-nam with loads of money to invest in the tax friendly environment that Reagan created replaced the now diminished “working class hero,” the lunch pail, GI Joe who with the help of the G.I. Bill, the unionizing victories of John L. Lewis and Walter Reuter, among many others, shaped a middle class.

Economic theory set up market rule as the horse driving the cart of egalitarian democracy. It drove that cart right into plutarchy. Labor failed to set up its own political party and suffered the consequences, until by the time Bill Clinton was in office the assaults on workers and wages meant very little in a Democratic Party focused on leaning into neoliberal economics and soon into multicultural and identity politics. At a time when wages hadn’t gone beyond 1973 levels, Democrats were concentrating on bathroom rights.

By 2004, the effects of market rule, of making interest and dividends from investment a fulfillment of the American dream as money compounded into ever increasing amounts of money, siloed from any injurious taxation, some 80% of the population were hurting but also befuddled, rather like someone in a dark closet being hit but blind to who the hitter might be.

Obama’s “Yes, We Can!” met the emotional needs of this suffering class, which like the big skies of Montana do not pay the grocery bills. It was as passionate an attachment to voters as Trump was to achieve 12 years later, the passions though being diametrically opposed. Obama was at first not aware of the conditions on the ground, of the battle he was in but when awareness arrived, he leaned into the Clintonian affinities with neoliberalism. He put all his eggs into health care, a consequence of something and not the root cause, a symptom of an economic travesty he failed to recognize.

When it became crystal clear after the Great Depression of 2017 that a runaway financial sector had played a long grift on the whole country but paid no price, both Dubya and Obama assuring that no felon would be indicted, the price to be paid was forwarded to the present in the shape of this 40% who want that whole whatever it was that wrecked their lives to be taken apart.

The failure over the course of eight years of a Democratic presidency to focus directly and totally on market rule’s demolishing of a middle class that buffered the country from a fall into plutarchy made the country vulnerable to an autocratic takeover. It should be no surprise that the American version of an autocratic demagogue would be some sort of spin, spectacle and glitz celebrity, perhaps a Reality TV celebrity, a clown in orange wig and makeup, the American version of an autocrat. We go hyperreal as naturally as tides follow the moon.

Some 80% of the population has been in various stages of demolishment since Reagan and they have solid reasons for messing with the Democratic/Republican order of things, something that Trump does to his followers’ cheers.

Sixteen years of Clinton and Obama did nothing to end this travesty: Five Americans have as much wealth…. It’s an astonishing failure. Wages sank beneath inflation as corporate decisions not to raise them faced no challenge by diminished unions or Republican legislatures. Clinton and Obama adopted the same view of unions as did the Republicans: they were run by gangsters and impeded economic growth.

Our politics pretends to be pitching from two different directions but it’s not.

It’s been a profits first, Market Rule one party system since Reagan. Until Bernie Sanders came on the scene, there has been no attack on unbridled capitalism that was launched by Democrats, who have a New Deal behind them while the Republicans have Reagan’s Voodoo economics.

The DNC undermined Bernie’s chances to win the 2016 Democratic Primary because his platform touched a third rail that they share with Republicans. Bernie dared to attack capitalism. Elizabeth Warren has more cleverly planned her attack now, admitting she is a “capitalist to the bone,” by which she means a foundational capitalism and not the politically uncontrollable Devourer Demogorgon that it has become.

III. Where We Are Now

We should, by now have reached the point in the road in which we try to avoid the worst in us being encouraged or elected into office. We should be able to recognize when we’re being incited to riot, to hate, to drown out other voices, to be ready to do “whatever is necessary” as if there was ever a justifying end.

Passions are not reasons, but actually devoid of reason. And, as passions do, they have a short fuse life span. Volatile emotional responses must be rekindled, stoked and fired up, sometimes with a tweet in the early morning hours. Buttons must be pushed and re-pushed in a society that effervesces at nano speed.

Donald J. Trump has obliged this need, although it’s clear that he’s digging what he calls the Losers into a hole they can only get out of if they don’t respond to all the buttons of irrational response.

And we must admit that some productions of our reptilian brain, of the darker devils of our humanity, the twisted tree of our nature from homophobia and racism to misogyny and every variety of ethnic and religious prejudice have deep roots. Neither Marx nor Adam Smith have cured the disease at these roots; neither the Bible or the Koran, Sophocles or Shakespeare, prosperity gospel preacher, Paula White or Lao Tzu, Jeff Bezos or Pierre Joseph-Proudhon. A political or economic solution to the worst in us is itself a kind of hubris.

We have been deterred and detoured from reaching that point in the road where we recognize how democracy has moved to plutocracy, and how the White House is now occupied by a man who broadcasts his vileness on Twitter.

Detoured from reason, perhaps, because our Market Rule pushes the same buttons while ridiculing and extracting efforts to educate, to inform and critically think, politics is not going to follow the path of rational dialogue, but those advertising, marketing and branding practices that pitch low to reach the many.

Confused and confounded, perhaps, because we spend so much time in a cyberspace alternate reality in which all our blindness and stupidities, all our thoughtlessness and baseless opinions find a welcoming home. Errant minds can easily find there other misguided, errant wanderers in a digital world, a confused, tangled world, curated in soundproof silos.

It’s a space new, except to those who have been born within it and the “off-line”world, and so how it affects our politics is something we are in the process of learning. Our elections. Yes. The President’s hold on his followers. Yes. The rise of neo-fascist/white supremacist groups. Yes. The failure of 4th and 8th graders to pass reading comprehension tests. Yes.

My assumption in this last tragedy is that social media, texting and tweeting and posting photos are productive if the goal is to reduce the cognitive faculties of a mass of people scheduled for extinction axiomatically by techno-semio capitalism. In this scenario, the Smartphone is a handheld soma tablet.

We would not be urged to just read the transcript of Trump’s phone conversation with Zelensky in order to conclude with the President that it was a “perfect” call if the American public were able to find meaning in words resistant to spin and alternative meanings. Or, more precisely, we are at a place where words mean as Humpty Dumpty said they mean: “What any speaker says they mean.” Speakers in position of power, as our friend Humpty presumes himself to me, want words to bend to their will.

But all is not spun and manufactured in spite of the fact that we live in a morass of mindless opinions.

In our present looming shadow of war among ourselves, there are legitimate grievances, anger and worn out patience, a lingering sense of having been cheated that has been in search of some relief since Reagan activated a collapse of a middle class and headed us toward a new Middle Ages. So many have been in search of a personality who could make them feel good about themselves again. I say personality and not ideas because America personalizes, it doesn’t theorize.

Donald J. Trump filled that role of watchable personality but remember passions not reasons led a forever unknown number of the 40% of the population to him. A red hat with a slogan does not necessarily mean racist or even “un-woke.” It doesn’t mean Burke style conservative or Friedman style neoliberal or Clinton style globalist. We have warring camps of not ideas but red baseball hats and rainbow flags.

Another unknown portion of the Republican Party has reasons to stay with Trump, dollars and cents reasons. One has to allow that very many Democratic portfolio holders who shout “Never Trump” will in the privacy of the voting booth vote for dollars and cents reasons.

The portfolio dividend class, which spans both parties, will have thought deeply about what, say, a President Elizabeth Warren will do to their stock portfolio.

Perhaps, their perception that this man, President Trump, is a very low form of life and that another four years of him will put the country where the climate is, that is, on an irreparable road to ruin, propel them to vote for a woman who has a plan to reverse what Ronald Reagan did in two terms as president, i.e., fashion a Winner/Loser culture, serfs and peasants/aristos and moguls and schedule the middle class for extinction. As the saying goes, I wouldn’t hold my breath for this.

There is only one way most likely that would bring the portfolio class of Trump supporters over to Warren’s side: a promise not to mess with their wealth amassing arrangements.

Warren won’t do this and neither would Bernie. For all the rest, notably Biden and Buttigieg, they have to signal that, except for a few tweaks, the sort of “free enterprise” that has made five individuals more prosperous than 50% of the entire population will be preserved. That order of things, which suits a top 1% and the next 20% meritocratic/professional class that serves them, can go on relatively undisturbed.

Mayor Pete, after all, is a perfect product of this chosen meritocratic means to preserve our egalitarian democracy. Sarcasm aside, it’s a terrible means given the fact that our societal level playing field is about as level as it was in France before their revolution. For every American born into the bottom quintile who rises up the meritocratic ladder and avoids imprisonment, there are multitudes who compost right in the lowly digs where they started.

It doesn’t matter if in the next quarter century, the middle class changes from white dominant to race-plural if reading levels of African Americans and Hispanics remain the same. And judging by the direction education is taking under DeVoss, but more significantly, the way in which investors see education as a new marketing frontier, a race-plural middle class will not climb the meritocratic ladder as Mayor Pete has.

The circumstances that enabled his rise cannot become a template and neither can a product of such arrange the change that is needed.

Middle Class Joe Biden is also for the portfolio class a tempting alternative to Trump.

If Biden were a race horse, you could pedigree him this way: Biden out of Obama out of the Clinton’s out of Third Way out of neoliberal economics. Third Way is what an FDR kind of Democratic Party collapsed into once they decided a Democratic had to lean into the Republican political party and give capitalism its head, no pulling on the reins, otherwise the whole foundation of globalized supremacy would collapse.

Biden would be in a dead heat to out trump Trump in the key rust belt states, but if he did win, the country would wake up to find they were in the same place they were before Trump came along. And that means some new version of Trump, like Nero succeeded Caligula, is in the wings.

One problem with one or the other of these middle of the road candidates is that they won’t do much to allay the fears, hatreds, bitterness, confusions and a revolutionary’s sense of being cheated, over and over again.

A Democratic president at this time would be like a shot fired at Fort Sumter. Amend that: Elizabeth Warren would be that. The others would be Roman candles.

No moderate Democrat can moderate the furor resulting from a Trump loss, especially if he rallies his followers behind “Fraud at the Poll!”

The immediate relief a President Warren would give all the Rust Belt states is by taking away their employee and union medical benefits and asking them to queue up at the nearest Social Security Office where a Federal Government they have learned to love and trust will call their number in several hours. If they are aware of this on election day, Trump will get his second term.

Thus far, none of the Democratic candidates have a “gone viral” on YouTube celebrity status, a requirement now for our hyperreal politics as hyperreal entertainment. None now seem likely to out bluster and bullshit Trump in any debate.

Unfortunately, the candidate who has the presence and especially the gravelly, many roads travelled voice — Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown — to win over the rust belt demographic, and also charismatically school Trump in any debate, is not running. The crime here is that the DNC made no all out effort to induce him to run.

A party pitching its tent in choosing a candidate who represents every form of diversity of the population is as interested in a 66 year old white, heterosexual male candidate as they were interested in a socialist candidate in 2016.

Unfortunately, the states needed for an Electoral College win – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – may not be as attracted to a diversity candidate as the Democratic Party is. They also continue to be not overly interested in candidates who base their politics on the working class and their fall from honored or even reputable status in the U.S. It’s their identity Brown focuses on.

The only reason why we’re talking about Biden and not Sherrod Brown early on is name recognition. And that can be traced to a portfolio class’s uninterest in supporting a labor candidate. Buttigieg, who had less name recognition than Brown, seems to have no trouble pulling in funding from the financial sector, which in itself should be a warning.

IV. Over and Over Again Impeachment

Regardless of the obtuse and lackluster Democratic field, the portfolio Republicans may chance a bet on any Democrat but Warren simply because they know another four years of Donald will most certainly mean another House impeachment.

For the preservation of our balance of powers democracy, it doesn’t matter if Mitch McConnell dismisses the Articles as soon as they are brought up. What matters is getting the House’s reasons for impeachment on the record. This President was impeached but not convicted. The House doesn’t have to wait for the election. They could bring another round of impeachment charges, all those in the Mueller report as well as all those out of Trump’s own mouth.

Once Trump is not convicted in the Senate, he will not only take a victory lap, he’ll push ahead with even more flagrant abuses of executive authority. Because he is only familiar with his own understanding of anything, he remains capable of abuses that more historically savvy and informed autocrats, some as equally vile but not as ego swollen, of the past would hesitate to commit. Trump shows no signs of hesitancy; Twitter reversals are made as boldly as Twitter declarations.

How many times can Republicans dismiss all the Articles of Impeachment the House of Representative sends to them before their moral nerve is touched, when the occasion for a moral review materializes?

Actually, if there were a moral sense floating around in the Republican Party, dollars and lobbyists would guide its expression.

“Moral hazard,” for instance, is not faced when a legislator shills for a transparently mad, bad and dangerous to know president. Nor does it kick in when you survey the Trump Twitter Archive  which eventually will fill a Trump Library as a terrible lesson never to be forgotten, a visit to a Holocaust library.

It’s ironic that those who have been crushed beneath “supply-side/Laffer Curve” economics look to a rich, unscrupulous capitalist as their savior. Ironic, yet again, that those who vote based on their moral obligations adhere to Trump’s “grab them by their pussy” beatitude. But irony doesn’t ring when the Reptilian brain is directing traffic.

Most of the country that David Brooks toured to gauge where The People were at regarding impeachment didn’t seem much interested. If Trump wins a second term, they will most likely remain uninterested, more interested in climate change, especially if fire, drought, flood and wind has ruined their homestead. (The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2019_

Where Donald J. Trump will take the portfolio class, the throng in red hats, the gentrifiers, the Coastals and everyone in “fly over” America in his second term will probably be where a gone wild autocrat unchecked by a Congress or by a “fake news” press or by his own intelligence community or by any of his acting cabinet appointees or by his trophy wife or by Ivanka and Jared takes him and them.

Adam Schiff may find himself under arrest; Pelosi cellmates with Hillary; Bernie and Warren held on treason charges; Bezos’s holdings shut down; The New York Times building a victim of eminent domain; the Congress abolished. And so on.

As long as the market grows and preserves the wealth of the top 20% and as long as second term President Trump entertains his followers with new targets to hate, most Americans can continue to be uninterested in the crimes committed against themselves and their country.

Winning control of the Senate and retaining control of the House is more vital in the 2020 election than who becomes president.

In that way, the inevitable abuses of power that President Trump commits in that second term will not go without impeachment and conviction.

If the second Civil War begins then one could conclude that Trump’s followers’ anger has segued into war, that passions had a sustaining force that thought could not interrupt.

The post In the Looming Shadow of Civil War appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces”

Photograph Source: Qasioun News Agency – CC BY 3.0

That wars end very differently to our own expectations – or our plans – was established long ago. That “we” won the Second World War did not mean the Americans would win the Vietnam war, or that France would vanquish its enemies in Algeria. Yet the moment we decide who the good guys are, and who the evil monsters whom we must destroy, we relapse again into our old mistakes.

Because we hate, loathe and demonise Saddam or Gaddafi or Assad, we are sure – we are absolutely convinced – that they will be dethroned and that the blue skies of freedom will shine down upon their broken lands. This is childish, immature, infantile (although, given the trash we are prepared to consume over Brexit, it’s not, I suppose, very surprising).

Well, Saddam’s demise brought upon Iraq the most unimaginable suffering. So too Gaddafi’s assassination beside the most famous sewer in Libya. As for Bashar al-Assad, far from being overthrown, he has emerged as the biggest winner of the Syrian war. Still we insist that he must go. Still we intend to try Syrian war criminals – and rightly so – but the Syrian regime has emerged above the blood-tide of war intact, alive, and with the most reliable superpower ally any Middle East state could have: the Kremlin.

I despise the word “curate”. Everyone seems to be curating scenarios, curating political conversations or curating business portfolios. We seem to be addicted to these awful curio words. But for once I’m going to use it in real form: those who curated the story – the narrative – of the Syrian war, got it all wrong from the start.

Bashar would go. The Free Syrian Army, supposedly made up of tens of thousands of Syrian army deserters and the unarmed demonstrators of Darayya, Damascus and Homs, would force the Assad family from power. And, of course, western-style democracy would break out, and secularism – which was in fact supposed to be the foundation of the Baath party – would become the basis of a new and liberal Arab state. We shall leave aside for now one of the real reasons for the west’s support of the rebellion: to destroy Iran’s only Arab ally.

We didn’t predict the arrival of al-Qaeda, now purified with the name of Nusrah. We did not imagine that the Isis nightmare would emerge like a genie from the eastern deserts. Nor did we understand – nor were we told – how these Islamist cults could consume the people’s revolution in which we believed.

Still today, I am only beginning to learn how Syria’s “moderate” rebellion turned into the apocalyptic killing machine of the Islamic State. Some Islamist groups (not all, by any means, and it was not a simple transition) were there from the start. They were in Homs as early as 2012.

This does not mean that Syrian rebels were not brave, democratically minded figures. But they were mightily exaggerated in the west. While David Cameron was fantasising about the 70,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) “moderates” fighting the Assad regime – there were never more than perhaps 7,000, at the most – the Syrian army was already talking to them, sometimes directly by mobile phone, to persuade them to return to their original government army units or to abandon a town without fighting or to swap the bodies of government soldiers for food. Syrian officers would say that they always preferred to fight the FSA because they ran away; Nusrah and Isis did not.

Yet now, today, as we report the results of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, we are using a weird expression for Turkey’s Arab militia allies. They are called the “Syrian National Army” – as opposed to the Assad government’s original and still very extant Syrian Arab Army. Vincent Durac, a professor in Middle East politics in Dublin, even wrote last week that these Arab militia allies were “a creation of Turkey”.

This is nonsense. They are the wreckage of the original and now utterly discredited Free Syrian Army – David Cameron’s mythical legions whose mysterious composition, I recall, was once explained to British MPs by the gloriously named General Messenger. Very few reporters (with the honourable exception of those reporting for Channel 4 News) have explained this all-important fact of the war, even though some footage clearly showed the Turkish-paid militiamen brandishing the old Free Syrian Army green, white and black flag.

It was this same ex-FSA rabble who entered the Kurdish enclave of Afrin last year and helped their Nusrah colleagues loot Kurdish homes and businesses. The Turks called this violent act of occupation “Operation Olive Branch”. Even more preposterous, its latest invasion is named “Operation Peace Spring”.

There was a time when this would have provoked ribaldry and contempt. No longer. Today, the media have largely treated this ridiculous nomenclature with something approaching respect.

We have been playing the same tricks with the so-called “American-backed” Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). As I’ve said before, almost all the SDF are Kurds, and they have never been elected, chosen, or joined the SDF democratically. Indeed there was nothing at all democratic about the militia, and its “force” existed only so long as it was supported by US air power. Yet the Syrian Democratic Forces kept their title unscathed and largely unquestioned by the media.

But when the Turks invaded Syria, to drive them from the Syrian-Turkish border, they were suddenly transformed by us into “Kurdish forces” – which they largely were – who had been betrayed by the Americans – which they very definitely were.

An irony, which is either forgotten or simply unknown, is that when fighting began in Aleppo in 2012, the Kurds helped the FSA grab several areas of the city. The two were fighting each other seven years later when the Turks invaded the “free” Kurdish borderland of Rojava. Even less advertised was the fact that the Turkish-FSA advance into Syria allowed thousands of Arab Syrian villagers to return to homes taken over by the Kurds when they set up their doomed statelet after the war began.

But the narrative of this war is now being further skewed by our suspension of any critical understanding of Saudi Arabia’s new role in the Syrian debacle.

Deny and deny and deny is the Saudi policy, when asked what assistance it gave to the anti-Assad Islamist rebels in Syria. Even when I found Bosnian weapons documents in a Nusrah base in Aleppo, signed off by an arms manufacturer near Sarajevo called Ifet Krnjic – and even when I tracked down Krnjic himself, who explained how the weapons had been sent to Saudi Arabia (he even described the Saudi officials whom he spoke to in his factory) – the Saudis denied the facts.

Yet today, almost incredibly, it seems the Saudis themselves are now contemplating an entirely new approach to Syria. Already their United Arab Emirates allies in the Yemeni war (another Saudi catastrophe) have reopened their embassy in Damascus: a highly significant decision by the Gulf state, although largely ignored in the west. Now, it seems, the Saudis are thinking of strengthening their cooperation with Russia by financing, along with the Emiratis and perhaps also Kuwait, the reconstruction of Syria.

Thus the Saudis would become more important to the Syrian regime than sanctions-cracked Iran, and would perhaps forestall Qatar’s own increasingly warm – if very discreet – relations with Bashar al-Assad. The Qataris, despite their Al-Jazeera worldwide empire, want to expand their power over real, physical land; and Syria is an obvious target for their generosity and wealth. But if the Saudis decided to take on this onerous role, the kingdom would at one and the same time muscle both Iran and Qatar aside. Or so it believes. The Syrians – whose principle policy in such times is to wait, and wait, and wait – will, of course, decide how to play with their neighbours’ ambitions.

But Saudi interest in Syria is not merely conjecture. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remarked to Time magazine in August last year that “Bashar is going to stay. But I believe that Bashar’s interest is not to let the Iranians do whatever they want to do.” The Syrians and the Bahrainis are talking regularly about the post-war Levant. The Emirates might even negotiate between the Saudis and the Syrians. The Gulf states are now saying that it was a mistake to suspend Syria’s membership of the Arab League.

In other words, Syria – with Russian encouragement – is steadily resuming the role it maintained before the 2011 revolt.

This wasn’t what we in the west imagined then, when our ambassadors in Damascus were encouraging the Syrian street demonstrators to keep up their struggle against the regime; indeed, when they specifically told the protestors not even to talk or negotiate with the Assad government.

But those were in the days before two crazed elements emerged to smash all our assumptions, sowing fear and distrust across the Middle East: Donald Trump and Isis.

The post How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership

Photograph Source: Tom Evans – OGL

Critics lament the disintegration of the British political establishment under the impact of repeated shocks from the Brexit earthquake. Competent politicians and experienced civil servants head for the exit or are evicted to make way for more ideologically acceptable successors. Whatever one thought of the members of Theresa May’s final cabinet they were better than the clutch of opportunists and fanatics appointed by Boris Johnson.

The Brexit crisis has become an all-encompassing explanation of all that is wrong with Britain, with many idealising the sunlit uplands where we dwelt before the 2016 referendum. Retired civil service mandarins and politicians recall how everything used to run smoothly and sweetly before the Brexit barbarians stormed the gates and they lost their jobs.

It should be easy enough to check such rosy recollections because many of the retired politicians – if not the mandarins – use their retirement to write memoirs of great length and detail that need to appear swiftly if carefully hoarded nuggets of secret information are to appeal to the reader.

Publishers publicise such books by talking up those revelatory chunks where the author is rude about his successor or exposes the treachery and incompetence of old friends and allies. Editors and reviewers scan the index to see what old scores are being settled. Often ignored in all this, and dismissed as yesterday’s news, is fascinating information about what some powerful figure actually thought and did when he or she was in charge.

David Cameron’s autobiography For The Record is one such recently published volume that is deeply illuminating about how the author, as prime minister, responded to issues of war and peace. As one would expect from his public persona, he is fluent and plausible in describing his role in the wars in Libya and Syria sparked by the Arab Spring, but he is shallow and ill-informed about the forces at play. What comes across is that, like many more openly bellicose political leaders, the mild-mannered Cameron liked playing general and did so with enthusiastic but wrongheaded amateurism.

Cameron recalls with pride his role in the bombing of Libya in 2011, justifying it on the grounds that Muammar Gaddafi’s tanks and troops were advancing on Benghazi where they would massacre the population. He says that “on 20 March, American, British and French aircraft destroyed Gaddafi’s tanks, armoured carriers and rocket launchers, and his forces began to retreat. Benghazi was saved, and a Srebrenica-style slaughter averted. I’ve never known relief like it.”

There are a few things wrong with this as a description of what happened: a report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee later revealed that the belief that Gaddafi would “massacre the civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence”. It pointed out that Gaddafi had retaken other towns from the rebels and not attacked the civilian population.

Nor was Benghazi saved: drone footage of the city taken recently show that the centre of the city has been destroyed, not by Gaddafi’s soldiers but in the fighting over many years between the militias that overthrew him. Had Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton not intervened militarily in the Libyan civil war then Benghazi might really have been saved, along with those who were killed and wounded in the long years of fighting that followed foreign intervention.

I was particularly interested in Cameron’s take on the Libyan conflict because, soon after the bombing started, I visited the frontline south of Benghazi where more journalists were visible than rebels. There was the occasional puff of smoke on the horizon when a shell exploded, but otherwise not much fighting going on.

This phoney war did not last long and Cameron explains why: “By May 2011 the war had sunk into stalemate, and needed a renewed focus. I agreed deals with France to commit Apache helicopters to help the rebels. I was on the phone to the leaders of the Gulf states to encourage their continued involvement which turned out to be crucial.”

In other words, Gaddafi was overthrown primarily by foreign powers and not by an indigenous rebellion. It requires considerable naivete on Cameron’s part to imagine that the Gulf states, the last absolute monarchies on earth, planned to replace Gaddafi with a secular democracy.

A dangerous blindness similarly pervades Cameron’s chapter on his frustrated attempts to take military action in Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. He is disappointed that Barack Obama is not as gung-ho as himself and sometime feels that he picks up more information from the members of the Syrian diaspora he runs into than he does from his own diplomats.

He is angered by the action of the House of Commons and Obama in refusing to sanction air strikes in Syria after the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Damascus in August 2013. It becomes clear, however, that he never decided if this was to be a prolonged air campaign in support of the rebels until they were victorious or a slap on the wrist for Assad with a one-off cruise missile attack,which he would certainly have shrugged off, as he was to do when the US did launch such an attack in 2018.

It is worth studying what Cameron did, or thought he was doing in the Libyan and Syrian conflicts, because war reveals a political leader’s level of judgement as does nothing else. There has been much criticism of Cameron’s decision to first hold, and then lose, the referendum on membership of the European Union, but his second-rate attributes as a leader were already evident in his decisions about these two wars.

These failings are not confined to Cameron, but to what used to be called the British ruling class as a whole: its members have a a certain provinciality and sense of superiority that makes it difficult for them to play a weak hand well when negotiating with the EU. Such assumptions blend with inner self-doubt which sees Cameron continually trotting off to see Obama or Vladimir Putin, though this never seems to get him very far.

It is worth reading Cameron’s book to understand his failings since most of the party leaders in the upcoming general election are even worse.

The post David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All

It’s a tale for all time. What might be the greatest scam in history or, at least, the one that threatens to take history down with it. Think of it as the climate-change scam that beat science, big time.

Scientists have been seriously investigating the subject of human-made climate change since the late 1950s and political leaders have been discussing it for nearly as long. In 1961, Alvin Weinberg, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, called carbon dioxide one of the “big problems” of the world “on whose solution the entire future of the human race depends.” Fast-forward nearly 30 years and, in 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promising“concrete action to protect the planet.”

Today, with Puerto Rico still recovering from Hurricane Maria and fires burning across California, we know that did not happen. Despite hundreds of scientific reports and assessments, tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, and countless conferences on the issue, man-made climate change is now a living crisis on this planet. Universities, foundations, churches, and individuals have indeed divested from fossil fuel companies and, led by a 16-year-old Swedish girl, citizens across the globe have taken to the streets to express their outrage. Children have refused to go to school on Fridays to protest the potential loss of their future. And if you need a measure of how long some of us have been at this, in December, the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC will meet for the 25th time.

Scientists working on the issue have often told me that, once upon a time, they assumed, if they did their jobs, politicians would act upon the information. That, of course, hasn’t happened. Anything but, across much of the planet. Worse yet, science failed to have the necessary impact in significant part because of disinformation promoted by the major fossil-fuel companies, which have succeeded in diverting attention from climate change and successfully blocking meaningful action.

Making Climate Change Go Away

Much focus has been put on ExxonMobil’s history of disseminating disinformation, partly because of the documented discrepancies between what that company said in public about climate change and what its officials said (and funded) in private. Recently, a trial began in New York City accusing the company of misleading its investors, while Massachusetts is prosecutingExxonMobil for misleading consumers as well.

If only it had just been that one company, but for more than 30 years, the fossil-fuel industry and its allies have denied the truth about anthropogenic global warming. They have systematically misled the American people and so purposely contributed to endless delays in dealing with the issue by, among other things, discounting and disparaging climate science, mispresenting scientific findings, and attempting to discredit climate scientists. These activities are documented in great detail in How Americans Were Deliberately Misled about Climate Change, a report I recently co-authored, as well as in my 2010 book and 2014 film, Merchants of Doubt.

A key aspect of the fossil-fuel industry’s disinformation campaign was the mobilization of “third-party allies”: organizations and groups with which it would collaborate and that, in some cases, it would be responsible for creating.

In the 1990s, these allied outfits included the Global Climate Coalition, the Cooler Heads Coalition, Informed Citizens for the Environment, and the Greening Earth Society. Like ExxonMobil, such groups endlessly promoted a public message of denial and doubt: that we weren’t really sure if climate change was happening; that the science wasn’t settled; that humanity could, in any case, readily adapt at a later date to any changes that did occur; and that addressing climate change directly would wreck the American economy. Two of these groups — Informed Citizens for the Environment and the Greening Earth Society — were, in fact, AstroTurf organizations, created and funded by a coal industry trade association but dressed up to look like grass-roots citizens’ action organizations.

Similar messaging was pursued by a network of think tanks promoting free market solutions to social problems, many with ties to the fossil-fuel industry. These included the George C. Marshall Institute, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Often their politically motivated contrarian claims were presented in formats that make them look like the scientific reports whose findings they were contradicting.

In 2009, for instance, the Cato Institute issued a report that precisely mimicked the format, layout, and structure of the government’s U.S. National Climate Assessment. Of course, it made claims thoroughly at odds with the actual report’s science. The industry also promoted disinformation through its trade associations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers.

Both think tanks and trade organizations have been involved in personal attacks on the reputations of scientists. One of the earliest documented was on climate scientist Benjamin Santer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who showed that the observed increase in global temperatures could not be attributed to increased solar radiation. He served as the lead author of the Second Assessment Report of the U.N.’s prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, responsible for the 1995 conclusion that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human impact on the climate system.” Santer became the target of a vicious, arguably defamatory attack by physicists from the George C. Marshall Institute and the Global Climate Coalition, who accused him of fraud. Other climate scientists, including Michael Mann, Jonathan Overpeck, Malcolm Hughes, Ray Bradley, Katharine Hayhoe, and, I should note, myself, have been subject to harassment, investigation, hacked emails, and politically motivated freedom-of-information attacks.

How to Play Climate Change for a Fool

When it came to industry disinformation, the role of third-party allies was on full display at the House Committee on Oversight hearings on climate change in late October. As their sole witness, the Republicans on that committee invited Mandy Gunasekera, the founder and president of Energy45, a group whose purpose, in its own words, is to “support the Trump energy agenda.”

Energy45 is part of a group known, bluntly enough, as the CO2 Coalition and is a perfect example of what I’ve long thought of as zombie denialism in which older players spouting industry arguments suddenly reappear in new forms. In this case, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the George C. Marshall Institute was a leader in climate-change disinformation. From 1974-1999, its director, William O’Keefe, had also been the executive vice president and later CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. The Marshall Institute itself closed in 2015, only to re-emerge a few years later as the CO2Coalition.

The comments of Republican committee members offer a sense of just how deeply the climate-change disinformation campaign is now lodged in the heart of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans as 2019 draws to an end and the planet visibly heats. Consider just six of their “facts”:

1) The misleading claim that climate change will be “mild and manageable.”There is no scientific evidence to support this. On the contrary, literally hundreds of scientific reports over the past few decades, including those U.S. National Climate Assessments, have affirmed that any warming above 2 degrees Centigrade will lead to grave and perhaps catastrophic effects on “health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth.” The U.N.’s IPCC has recently noted that avoiding the worst impacts of global warming will “require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy… infrastructure… and industrial systems.”

Recent events surrounding Hurricanes Sandy, Michael, Harvey, Maria, and Dorian, as well as the devastating wildfire at the ironically named town of Paradise, California, in 2018 and the fires across much of that state this fall, have shown that the impacts of climate change are already part of our lives and becoming unmanageable. Or if you want another sign of where this country is at this moment, consider a new report from the Army War College indicating that “the Department of Defense (DoD) is precariously unprepared for the national security implications of climate change-induced global security challenges.” And if the Pentagon isn’t prepared to manage climate change, it’s hard to imagine any part of the U.S. government that might be.

2) The misleading claim that global prosperity is actually being driven by fossil fuels. No one denies that fossil fuels drove the Industrial Revolution and, in doing so, contributed substantively to rising living standards for hundreds of millions of people in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. But the claim that fossil fuels are the essence of global prosperity today is, at best, a half-truth because what is at stake here isn’t the past but the future. Disruptive climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions from the use of oil, coal, and natural gas now threatens both the prosperity that parts of this planet have already achieved and future economic growth of just about any sort. Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank and one of the foremost experts on the economics of climate change, has put our situation succinctly this way: “High carbon growth self-destructs.”

3) A misleading claim that fossil fuels represent “cheap energy.” Fossil fuels are not cheap. When their external costs are included — that is, not just the price of extracting, distributing, and profiting from them, but what it will cost in all our lives once you add in the fires, extreme storms, flooding, health effects, and everything else that their carbon emissions into the atmosphere will bring about — they couldn’t be more expensive. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the cost to consumers above and beyond what we pay at the pump or in our electricity bills already comes to more than $5 trillion dollars annually. That’s trillion, not billion. Put another way, we are all paying a massive, largely unnoticed subsidy to the oil, gas, and coal industry to destroy our civilization. Among other things, those subsidiesalready “damage the environment, caus[e]… premature deaths through local air pollution, [and] exacerbat[e] congestion and other adverse side effects of vehicle use.”

4) A misleading claim about poverty and fossil fuels. That fossil fuels are the solution to the energy needs of the world’s poor is a tale being heavily promoted by ExxonMobil, among others. The idea that ExxonMobil is suddenly concerned about the plight of the global poor is, of course, laughable or its executives wouldn’t be planning (as they are) for significant increases in fossil-fuel production between now and 2030, while downplaying the threat of climate change. As Pope Francis, global justice leader Mary Robinson, and former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon — as well as countless scientists and advocates of poverty reduction and global justice — have repeatedly emphasized, climate change will, above all, hurt the poor. It is they who will first be uprooted from their homes (and homelands); it is they who will be migrating into an increasingly hostile and walled-in world; it is they who will truly feel the heat, literal and figurative, of it all. A fossil-fuel company that cared about the poor would obviously not be committed, above all else, to pursuing a business model based on oil and gas exploration and development. The cynicism of this argument is truly astonishing.

Moreover, while it’s true that the poor need affordable energy, it is not true that they need fossil fuels. More than a billion people worldwide lack access (or, at least, reliable access) to electricity, but many of them also lack access to an electricity grid, which means fossil fuels are of little use to them. For such communities, solar and wind power are the only reasonable ways to go, the only ones that could rapidly and affordably be put in place and made available.

5) Misleading assertions about the costs of renewable energy. The cheap fossil fuel narrative is regularly coupled with misleading assertions about the allegedly high costs of renewable energy. According to Bloomberg News, however, in two-thirds of the world, solar is already the cheapest form of newly installed electricity generation, cheaper than nuclear, natural gas, or coal. Improvements in energy storage are needed to maximize the penetration of renewables, particularly in developed countries, but such improvements are happening quickly. Between 2010 and 2017, the price of battery storage decreased a startling 79% and most experts believe that, in the near future, many of the storage problems can and will be solved.

6) The false claim that, under President Trump, the U.S. has actually cut greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans have claimed not only that such emissions have fallen but that the United States under President Trump has done more to reduce emissions than any other country on the planet. One environmental reporter, who has described herself as “accustomed to hearing a lot of misinformation” about climate change, characterized this statement as “brazenly false.” In fact, U.S. CO2 emissions spiked in 2018, increasing by 3.1% over 2017. Methane emissions are also on the rise and President Trump’s proposal to rollback methane standards will ensure that unhappy trend continues.

Science Isn’t Enough

And by the way, when it comes to the oil companies, that’s just to start down a far longer list of misinformation and false claims they’ve been peddling for years. In our 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, Erik Conway and I showed that the strategies and tactics used by Big Energy to deny the harm of fossil-fuel use were, in many cases, remarkably similar to those long used by the tobacco industry to deny the harm of tobacco use — and this was no coincidence. Many of the same PR firms, advertising agencies, and institutions were involved in both cases.

The tobacco industry was finally prosecuted by the Department of Justice, in part because of the ways in which the individual companies coordinated with each other and with third-party allies to present false information to consumers. Through congressional hearings and legal discovery, the industry was pegged with a wide range of activities it funded to mislead the American people. Something similar has occurred with Big Energy and the harm fossil fuels are doing to our lives, our civilization, our planet.

Still, a crucial question about the fossil-fuel industry remains to be fully explored: Which of its companies have funded the activities of the trade organizations and other third-party allies who deny the facts about climate change? In some cases, we already know the answers. In 2006, for instance, the Royal Society of the United Kingdom documented ExxonMobil’s funding of 39 organizations that promoted “inaccurate and misleading” views of climate science. The Society was able to identify $2.9 million spent to that end by that company in the year 2005 alone. That, of course, was just one year and clearly anything but the whole story.

Nearly all of these third-party allies are incorporated as 501(c)(3) institutions, which means they must be non-profit and nonpartisan. Often they claim to be involved in education (though mis-education would be the more accurate term). But they are clearly also involved in supporting an industry — Big Energy — that couldn’t be more for-profit and they have done many things to support what could only be called a partisan political agenda as well. After all, by its own admission, Energy45, to take just one example, exists to support the “Trump Energy Agenda.”

I’m an educator, not a lawyer, but as one I can say with confidence that the activities of these organizations are the opposite of educational. Typically, the Heartland Institute, for instance, has explicitly targeted schoolteachers with disinformation. In 2017, the institute sent a booklet to more than 200,000 of them, repeating the oft-cited contrarian claims that climate science is still a highly unsettled subject and that, even if climate change were occurring, it “would probably not be harmful.” Of this booklet, the director of the National Center for Science Education said, “It’s not science, but it’s dressed up to look like science. It’s clearly intended to confuse teachers.” The National Science Teaching Association has called it “propaganda” and advised teachers to place their copies in the recycling bin.

Yet, as much as we know about the activities of Heartland and other third-party allies of the fossil-fuel industry, because of loopholes in our laws we still lack basic information about who has funded and sustained them. Much of the funding at the moment still qualifies as “dark money.” Isn’t it time for citizens to demand that Congress investigate this network, as it and the Department of Justice once investigated the tobacco industry and its networks?

ExxonMobil loves to accuse me of being “an activist.” I am, in fact, a teacher and a scholar. Most of the time, I’d rather be home working on my next book, but that increasingly seems like less of an option when Big Energy’s climate-change scam is ongoing and our civilization is, quite literally, at stake. When citizens are inactive, democracy fails — and this time, if democracy fails, as burning California shows, so much else could fail as well. Science isn’t enough. The rest of us are needed. And we are needed now.

Naomi Oreskes is professor of the history of science and affiliated professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard University. She is coauthor, with Erik Conway, of Merchants of Doubt. Her latest book is Why Trust Science?

This essay first appeared on TomDispatch.

The post The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission

“Trump’s Opposition to ‘Endless Wars’ Appeals to Those Who Fought Them” read the headline above a front-page story by Jennifer Steinhauer in the New York Times November 1. The percentage of vets deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan who disapprove of US intervention there has almost doubled since 2011! Key excerpts follow.

Among veterans, 64 percent say the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, slightly higher than the 62 percent of civilians who feel the same way. Disagreement with the conflict in Afghanistan is lower — 58 percent of veterans and 59 percent of the general public believe that was not a worthy war. While some veterans support continued military engagement in Syria, more than half — 55 percent — oppose it…

Many who served are concerned that the suicide rate among veterans outpaces that of the civilian population and is rising faster among younger veterans. Thousands who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling with life-altering injuries that would have killed veterans of previous wars. And homelessness is a stubborn problem — only 7 percent of Americans are veterans, but they make up about 11 percent of the homeless population…

Support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was already declining a decade after the terrorist attacks on the United States, with Pew finding in 2011 that about one-third of veterans of the post-9/11 cohort believed those conflicts were a bad idea. Disagreement with the policy was found to have almost doubled in the more recent Pew poll among this cohort. The latest Pew study found that neither rank nor combat experience differentiated veterans’ views of the wars…

Steinhauer contrasts the anti-war views now coming from Iraq/Afghanistan vets and those expressed by Vietnam vets.

The regret over the wars among these veterans is distinct from the feelings of veterans of the Vietnam era. Many served in that war only because they were drafted, and it prompted widespread public protests. Veterans of all ages have soured on the latest conflicts, which unlike Vietnam have been fought with an all-volunteer force that seems proud of its decision to choose public service and feels embraced by American civilians regardless of whether they supported the wars in the Middle East.

In Vietnam, draftees’ resentment contributed to some anti-war sentiment; but it was mainly what they saw in country that led them and the Regular Army GIs serving three-year hitches to conclude that they should not have been sent there —just as the volunteer-Army vets who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are now doing. Veterans of all three wars came to feel that US intervention was wrong after they were deployed and saw how the locals felt about the situation and the level of destruction being wrought.

Most so-called volunteers are driven to enlist by socioeconomic pressure. Steinhauer quotes an Iraq vet named Daniel Schick, who joined the military because “I wanted out of Podunk; I wanted upward mobility.”  Schick lost seven members of his unit in one deployment. “I kind of developed a cathartic bitterness,” he said, reflecting on his service. “It was a waste of blood and treasure and destroyed what little infrastructure that the Iraqi people had.”

“Cathartic bitterness” is a brilliant description of the attitude that enabled Daniel Schick to deal with the trauma he lived through in Iraq. He now lives in Oregon and is working for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The news that a majority of vets not  disparage the US role in Iraq and Afghanistan did not require an upcoming-election angle, but as the headline showed, the editors of the Times (and the think-tank fellows at PEW) are preoccupied with Donald Trump and 2020. Steinhauer duly analyzes  the impact antiwar vets might have on the re-election of a President who claims to want to put an end to “Endless Wars.” She notes that Trump has hardly reduced the number of US troops1 stationed overseas (about 200,000), and that his announced withdrawal of troops from Syria turns out to be only a partial withdrawal. The Pew Research Center study that the Times story is based on was published July 10.

Implications for Medical MJ Proponents

Many military vets have found that marijuana provides relief from PTSD2, and proponents have implored the federal government to let VA doctors approve its use by patients. The VA has stonewalled for years citing a lack of any clinical trials confirming the widespread claim of benefit3.

Arizona psychiatrist Sue Sisley, MD, finally got federal approval to conduct such a trial after many years of trying. Her protocol stated that the study would “explore whether smoked marijuana can help reduce PTSD symptoms in 76 U.S. veterans with chronic, treatment-resistant posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants must be U.S. veterans, men or women, aged 18 or older with a diagnosis of PTSD that has not improved after trying either medication or psychotherapy.”

With a grant of $2,156,000 from the state of Colorado and the help of veterans’ groups, Sisley enrolled 76 qualified patients. (The original criteria for participants included combat experience but that was waived when recruitment proved difficult.) The trial was completed in February of this year.  The data was then prepared for publication in a peer-reviewed journal by co-investigator Paula Riggs, MD, and Marcel Bonn-Miller, PhD, whose title was “Coordinating Principal Investigator.” Neither of them interviewed any vets; that was Sisley’s role. The results have yet to be published and revealing them in advance would get their paper spiked. (Why a medical journal requires a scoop doesn’t make sense to your correspondent.)

Sisley was appalled by the quality of the herb provided by NIDA’s only supplier, Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly of the University of Mississippi. This is how she described the stuff to Randy Robinson of Merry Jane:

It comes in these generic batches of either high-THC, high-CBD, or placebo cannabis. You have a very limited menu there, and they come in these ziplock bags. When you open it, it’s a greenish powder filled with extraneous plant material. So, there’s some flower; there’s some mixed stems and leaves, just ground-up fragments of the plant. It’s not just the tops of the plant — the flower — which is what we’d like to study…

There’s no transparency. Normally, when you do clinical trials — and for years I did trials for Big Pharma — you get a complete drug master file that would give you all the details about the drug: its properties, how it was manufactured, et cetera. There’s none of that available.

Even though the DEA takes millions of dollars of taxpayer money, they provide zero transparency. You’re not allowed access to the drug master file, which would be normal operation procedure in any other FDA trial.

The only other federal agency who has access to the file is the FDA, and they refuse to share that with the public, which is already an abomination in my opinion. It should be challenged.

I shared Jennifer Steinhauer’s Times story with Dr. Sisley and was disappointed to learn that the vets in her study had not been asked about their attitude towards the mission itself. If you feel the mission was truly to protect America people, then the impact of horrific personal memories might be tempered somewhat by a sense of having done some good. But if you feel the intervention was greed-driven and of no use to your people, there is no buffer when the nightmare images of death and destruction flood your brain. “Moral injury” is an apt term for the loss of that buffer. Cannabis might help veterans cope, and so might cathartic bitterness.

Notes.

1. Such numbers are misleadingly low as a measure of the empire’s military might because armed contractors are not “US troops.”

2. A most insightful commentary by Tod Mikuriya, MD on how cannabis helps people cope with PTSD ran in O’Shaughnessy’s, Summer 2006

3. Here is a transcript of Arizona vets providing strong anecdotal evidence on the subject in a piece recounting the runaround Dr. Sisley was getting from the federal government.

 

The post Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance

On its face, it seems insane, but we are living in the most insane of times! The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island has been thwarted in his effort to install washing machines in local public schools. The mayor read that a school district in another state had installed washing machines in its schools and that it had encouraged some students to attend classes because the machines had eliminated the stigma of wearing dirty clothes to school. Dirty clothes, or insufficient clothing, in a society of such unparalleled wealth is difficult to comprehend, unless readers take into account the massive level of income inequality in the contemporary US.

Not since the Warwick public schools in Rhode Island threatened to take action against students who owed money for school lunches has such utter nonsense been aired. Those who have catalogued the attacks against public schooling in the US need only recall how the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, tried to make ketchup qualify as a vegetable choice on school lunch menus. Perhaps the Great Communicator thought freeing schools from serving real vegetables would save money needed to fuel his arms race with the former Soviet Union? Maybe it worked in the long run since the Soviet Union fell apart only a few years later. That was an easy win for the US… thousands of kids potentially going without a vegetable at lunch in service to the expansion of the US nuclear arsenal.  Ketchup for bombs. The whole episode fills me with inexpressible pride.

Back to the takeover of the Providence schools because of student performance, among many other ills plaguing the state’s capital city’s schools. The governor of the state has installed her own choices to staff some upper administration positions in the schools while the district is under state control. The latter does not bode well for those schools because Governor Raimondo has had those schools in her sights for privatization through increasing the number of charter schools in the district. Diane Ravitch, an expert on the failures of school privatization and charter schools, and a former member of both the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, writes about Raimondo’s plans at Common Dreams (Providence Plans to Defund Its Public Schools to Expand “No Excuses” Charter,”August 24, 2019).

Those who read these pages may recall that the governor, Raimondo, then general treasurer of the state, was successful at one of the most bald-faced attacks against public employees in her campaign to eliminate, for all intents and purposes, the cost-of-living pension increases that were legally guaranteed to public sector employees in Rhode Island who were members of the state retirement program. She  had the help of a former governor, the state legislature, and carefully molded public opinion.  I know because Raimondo had her hands in my pockets, just as she had with all other public retirees in that state. Readers can imagine an older person, or a physically challenged person at a crosswalk, and a bully coming along and pushing that person out of the way to get across the street faster. The public pension raid on retirees’ pockets became a model for other states that wanted to limit legally negotiated pensions for retirees. Matt Taibbi wrote an excellent article in Rolling Stone about Raimondo’s pension raid (“Looting the Pension Funds,”September 26, 2013).

Rumors abound that Raimondo, a former Rhodes scholar and venture capitalist, has hopes of becoming a bigwig in a future national administration, or run for national office. As readers are aware, the US political system needs another vulture neoliberal. Looking at Raimondo’s anti-student, anti-retiree, and anti-union track record, she never should have risen above the role as a local dog catcher (no offense intended since these people do important work and could very well be union members). Maybe a club of former Rhodes scholars could be established for the likes of Gina Raimondo and Bill Clinton, both of whom have wrongly harmed others.

Teachers, principals, specialists, librarians, counselors, nurses, well-built schools, and materials help students. Washing machines do not; Neither do neoliberals!

The post The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity

Once again the international community represented at the United Nations General Assembly on November 7 has spoken and voted to reject overwhelmingly the financial and economic blockade (embargo) imposed by the United States against Cuba through unilateral sanctions. The US blockade has been imposed in an escalating progression over the last 57 years with the most damaging rapid increase in the last few months under the Trump administration. Yet, Cuba thrives socially and internationally, if not economically. Despite the undeniable negative impact of the blockade on the population, by and large the majority of Cubans are confidently committed to resisting and enduring. But what motivates that courageous resilience and the international support for Cuba?

The UN vote was on a resolution presented by Cuba based on its report titled “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. The vote resulted in 187 in favor of ending the US blockade of Cuba, 3 (US, “Israel” and Brazil) against, and 2 (Colombia and Ukraine ) abstained.

This is not the first time that such a vote has taken place and therefore it should not catch us by surprise. A similar vote has been called for the last 28 years where Cuba has received majority support. In 2018 only two nations voted against, the United States and “Israel”.

The reason for Cuba’s persistent international denunciation of the US-driven blockade is that it is illegal, unfair and harmful to all Cubans. In just one year from April 2018 to March 2019 it has brought losses to Cuba for US$4.3 billion.

The Obama administration had eased restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba, which led the way to reopening embassies in Washington and Havana in 2014 and to Obama’s visit to Havana in 2016. With the exception of the embassies that remain open, the Trump administration has reversed those policies and added more. In 2018, former US National Security Advisor John Bolton included Cuba in what he called the “Troika of tyranny” together with Venezuela and Nicaragua. But more threatening has been the activation for the first time since 1996 of the section Title III of the Helms-Burton Act that allows Cuban-Americans and US citizens to sue Cuban companies and potentially foreign companies in US courts for “trafficking” in properties legally nationalised by the Cuban government. Most nations have accepted compensation, the US has refused.

Unfortunately, there are no consequences for any of the US actions, or following such an overwhelming international condemnation, which speaks to the ineffectiveness of a dysfunctional United Nations as a balancing force for the maintenance of fairness and justice for those nations that are unable to defend themselves from aggressive and threatening nations. The UN cannot even defend effectively its own Charter that is trampled daily.

It would be tempting to focus our criticism on the institutional inadequacy of the UN in enforcing accountability for the members’ actions even in clear cut cases as the illegal US sanctions on Cuba, or on the dozens of other cases around the world for that matter. However, we choose to focus on the positive outcome of the vote because this is a success story that is not happening by accident and it is important to understand the secret of Cuba’s success.

I have asked myself many times, how has this small nation survived actions of terrorism, invasions, ostracism from sister nations, sanctions and other interferences since 1959 and more severe ones since the early 1990s, and still managed to politically defeat the most powerful country in the world for almost 60 years? Besides the many political arguments that can be brought to bear, for me there is one factor that stands out. One factor that has a stronger human element and a lesser political one: international solidarity.

Solidarity is a notion that is frequently used by people on the left of the political spectrum. In fact, in some case it may have a rebellion connotation, which may explain why rightwing politics seldom use the word. Cuba has made solidarity a central piece of its foreign policy as stated on its website, that is grounded in respect, genuine cooperation, and shared aspirations; it embraces causes rather than self-interests, and is capable of producing long-lasting connections that are stronger and more meaningful than diplomatic ties. It is a relation where people, rather than ideology, are at the centre of policies.

Examples of Cuba’s people-oriented international relations are shown by its readiness to be part of regional institutions that promote cooperation over competition like ALBA and CELAC, but perhaps its single most valuable international solidarity contribution is provided by the medical missions of around 50,000 doctors to about 67 countries in the most remote areas of the world. The first Cuban medical brigade was sent to Argelia in 1963. But the most outstanding medical collaboration as an expression of solidarity and internationalism happened in 1998 after hurricane Mitch hit Central America, especially Honduras and Guatemala. To be clear, in some cases for Cuba it is also a source of revenue for the services it provides. For instance, in the case of Venezuela, Cuba is remunerated with much needed oil in a fair cooperative exchange.

The World Health Organization has praised the Cuban primary health care system as fundamental to providing good healthcare, and criticism of the Cuban medical cooperation has been defended.

The Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez, has harshly denounced at the UN the upsurge of US hostile aggression and made a special mention of the lies about the medical international cooperation used to sabotage and “attack a program based on genuine conceptions of South-South cooperation.”

Ultimately nations are on their own fighting back political aggression, however, there is such thing as international solidarity that can be used as an effective counteroffensive. To the extent that solidarity is a unifying concept that provides cohesive strength as in the case of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia among other nations, the US has only one tool to break people’s unity, and that is the use of lies through its controlled corporate media. We have seen numerous examples of that.

However, as the UN vote has just shown, lies don’t always work. 187 nations (out of 193 UN member States) have supported Cuba (and by implication condemned the US). Many of those nations have likely received Cuba’s solidarity through its medical missions and understand the meaning of cooperation.

 

The post The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections

An enduring US political tradition was in evidence in Seattle recently. Amazon had decided that the city council elections would be too important to leave alone. Seattle was their city after all. The aim of the company was much in keeping with the manor lord who prosecutes keen poachers: fund pro-business candidates sympathetic to its cause and defeat such Amazon critics as Kshama Sawant in their home town.

Councilmember Sawant has become something of a minor celebrity and hate figure in Seattle political circles, having battled for a $15 minimum wage in 2014, and promoted the merits of an employee head tax in 2018. That tax policy, entailing a levy of $275 per employee on Seattle businesses making more than $20 million a year, was duly repealed in the face of heartily aggressive business opposition. Amazon preferred the blackmailing solution, floating the suggestion that it might leave Seattle, and halting construction projects. The seeds of fear were sown.

Business figures justified their opposition on the grounds that taxes are not solutions. Homelessness, for one, did not abate. When invited to participate in a task force seeking explore possible “progressive sources of revenue” in 2017, local businesses turned up their noses at the chance. According to Heather Redman of the venture capital firm Flying Fish Partners, this was so because “it was showing up to something where you are going to be yelled at, and you will not be listened to.”

In the scheme of things, Amazon was throwing a modest sum in this campaign: $1.45 million to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), a political action committee proudly supported by Seattle’s chamber of commerce. CASE, in turn, was backing candidates in seven seats of the nine member city council, hiring canvassers for door knocking efforts and purchasing advertisements. Whatever crumbs Amazon offered the Super PAC in question dwarfed its donation from four years ago, an alms-for-the-poor $25,000.

The funding spike by Amazon did not go unnoticed in the federal scene. This was Corporate Mammon having a splash, and presidential aspirants Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were concerned. Last month, Sanders noted that, “In a city struggling with homelessness, Amazon is dropping an outrageous amount of money to defeat progressive candidates fighting for working people.” Amazon’s conduct was “a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.”

Senator Warren openly expressed her support “with the Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon”. This also gave her a chance to reiterate her point that, “Corporations aren’t people, and I have a plan to get big money out of politics.” US Rep. Pramila Jayapal was similarly troubled, claiming that Amazon had placed, “Not just a thumb, but a fistful of cash, on the scales of democracy”.

Amazon spokesman Aaron Toso responded the way of all companies who wish to diddle democracy: cite efficiency, smooth running operations and the merits of business acumen. “We are engaging in this election because we want Seattle to have a city government that works. Seattle deserves a council that delivers results for all of its residents on issues that matter, like homelessness, transportation, climate change and public safety.”

This rather cheeky take is elementary enough: Amazon will get candidates across the line who will be more active supposedly tackling problems that Amazon helped, if not create then certainly feed. Progressive candidates and incumbents can be accordingly blamed for not addressing homelessness and having a fetish for regulations and the deity of red tape. But the reason behind the company’s response lies in the ills of taxation: why tax these great American patriots who do so much for the reputation of Seattle?

Amazon is certainly correct in pointing out that opposing candidates have also received their donations. Being the United States, land of speaking money and action committees, funding has also been forthcoming from venture capitalist Nick Hausner, service workers unions, and hotel worker union Unite Here.

Nothing, however, can quite compare to the scale of Amazon’s influence, which amounts to an uncivil religion of sorts. Akin to a monstrous church organisation, it can afford to sin and forgive sinning. It offers dispensations and punishments. It can also absolve itself. One such gesture came in the form of building a homeless shelter crudely described as “state-of-the-art” (because you know they are worth it). Its singular feature? Being located in an Amazon corporate building. A charming move for a company famously resistant to paying its share of tax.

The council race has not quite gone the way of Amazon. On Tuesday, the CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Marilyn Strickland, proved hesitant in making any pronouncements. “Tonight’s initial returns are not definitive enough to call these close races.”

Seattle City councilmember Lorena Gonzalez was more forward in an interview with KIRO Radio. “This is not a city council that the Chamber and Amazon wanted or expected to see after (their) investment.” The corporate dollar had not stretched with conviction.

Sawant has made a good fist of things despite initially trailing in District 3 by more than 8 points. “We faced an onslaught of corporate cash,” she explained to supporters at an election night party. “If anything we underestimated the brazenness of (Amazon CEO Jeff) Bezos, corporate real estate, and big business.” After Thursday’s ballot drop, she was within 2.5 points of challenger Egan Orion. But irrespective of what happens in District 3, the role of Amazon in this electoral contest is symptomatic of a broader, and biting issue of US politics. Companies have no need to run for office to change policies inimical to their revenue; they just have to buy the relevant elected chamber. That said, voters of the more progressive persuasion can at least take heart that such efforts of purchase do not always succeed.

The post Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal

“Change was a part of life, Crazy Horse advised. Yet it is wise to hang onto the things that make us all happy and worthwhile as Lakota….Many were so blinded by the white man’s things that they could no longer see the goodness and strength of the Lakota way. Joseph M. Marshall III, The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History

That [his Anarchist society on Anarres } had fallen short of the ideal did not…lessen his responsibility to it…With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual, but never compromise… Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed

For after all…it was joy they were both after—the completeness of being. If you evade suffering you also evade the chance of joy. The pleasure you may get, or pleasures, but you will not be fulfilled. You will not know what it is to come home. – Ibid.

Many liberals will readily agree that our white supremacist civilization has all along shown contempt for human beings and for the earth. Native author Joseph Marshall tells us the Lakota people watching the 19th-century white incursion on their lands saw the white soldiers as killers, not braves. Further, some of us on the so-called left can agree that civilization’s modern avatar, late-capitalist neoliberalism, constitutes what Hannah Arendt called “radical evil” in its perfection of that contempt for all human beings. It’s not so difficult to name evil, nor even to realistically prophecy our civilization will “get what it deserves,” and the “common lot” go back to “brutish, nasty and short.” The difficult thing, because it requires much more than simply reaching a logical conclusion that allows us to continue our way of life without changing, is to find, and to act upon, radical good. This is the one thing that has not been tried on a large scale, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Why on earth would you concern yourself with restoring the conviction of intrinsic self-worth when it works far better – for those at the top and for those determined to stay off the bottom – that human beings remain convinced of our worthlessness, capable of attaining only the limited self-worth that can be demonstrated in material success?

Radical evil can be challenged only by “radical good,” the quest for which will never come from the top – including the dominant ego-centric consciousness; it can come only from the bottom.

But first, those of us who’ve had the good fortune to be spared “the bottom,” must find it! For such a revolution, not only would black lives, and all “others,” – from immigrants to LGBT people to poor people – matter, not only the land, air, rivers and trees would matter. Every liberal middle-class white individual must have the conviction of mattering, not as now, in the form of the unconscious white bourgeois supremacy, but at the psycho-spiritual “bottom” where each soul wills itself (or is willed?) to consciousness. This would be a radically different “goodness” than can ever be grasped by neoliberal consensus consciousness. To achieve it, each (white) person need go after his/her own irreducible sense of self-worth, a going down to meet whatever awaits her in the inner wilderness of her own psyche. Until an individual enters the wilderness where creative imagination lives, she can never find home, nor be at home, nor stop herself from unintentionally destroying the at-homeness, the alive cultures, of other beings. She will never be able effectively to fight for a human future including its embodiments, her children and grandchildren.

In this ass-backward way of life I’ve chosen, living in the neoliberal sacrifice zone of Upstate NY and struggling to maintain a small anarchist-inspired family business here, the very greatest reward, the reliable confirmation that goodness is real, is (are) our two grandchildren, Nico and Cora, ages 4 and 2. Not only their existence but the fact they live here, only a few blocks from my house – a 20-minute walk at most – provides meaning for me at the primordial level of blood and generativity. My life and theirs, at this point, and I pray this happy proximity will last as long as I do, are firmly interwoven. As they are source of delight and wonder in my life, in theirs I will be, for as long as they live, “Grandma D.” Fortunately for me and for them, my role is just grandmother; their parents, despite the terrible stresses and strains of modern living, hold up their end, leaving me free to improvise on mine. Though I dare not entertain the illusion that dreadful modernity has not already left its mark on the children’s souls, we give our best shot at protecting them from it, in large part by maintaining a local community around them, our version of utopia-building that can offer some alternative to the dominant reality. They are growing up contained within a rich diversity of well-meaning adults, some of them family, some not, whom they meet almost daily at the Cafe, at their Dad’s beer pub, in their Uptown neighborhood, and who gather with them nearly every Sunday at family dinners.

Commonly, grandparents who are my contemporaries joke about their special freedom to “spoil the grandkids.” Surely, if that were all we’re meant for, grandparenthood would be entirely banal, though I well understand the temptation. Faced with the awesome wonder of these two “freshly-minted” children, their openness to experience, their healthy appetite for learning, their natural love of make-believe and pretend games, their radiance that recalls the angelic realm – it’s easy to treat them like a wonderful consumable, as if they were here for our enjoyment.

If I made my home in the neoliberal bubble that excludes dark reality in favor of faith in progress and is no “home” in any meaningful sense of that word, my grandchildren might be in danger of being “consumed” in this way. But in fact, I have to quell my shame at knowing just how unworthy of them is this world – my world – ruled by “radical evil;” I owe something to them for having ventured into this world and this life, for bringing into it the hope for a future that every new life, every beginning, brings with it. My shame is useless to them, as is denial. If they are not protected from it, my world will teach them they are discardable and worthless except instrumentally, as employees and consumers; to survive, they will develop either a hard shell of cynicism or be well-socialized players, insiders to the system. Grandma wants for the children neither outsider cynicism nor insider compliance. I want for them that they be able to protect humanity itself, that is, to first be able to protect their own human nature in its full-as-possible spectrum.

Nothing, under capitalism, can teach them this. Capitalism teaches only that there are winners and losers. Common sense tells us we must determine to be among the winners, or at least, not be a loser. What this common-sense determination costs to our humanity, we less and less know. By now, most middle-class white people do not know what you are talking about when you use a phrase like “protecting our humanity,” or the “process of becoming human.”

Though I want the children to be their individual selves, (using LeGuin’s fictional Anarrestian terms, to be “characters,” not “groupers” ) it will not be by making them outsiders too early, misanthropes or cynics. I mean to neither contradict nor defy parental practices or authority, which is providing them solid socialization, including “good” television, plentiful art-making supplies, a stockpile of toys and books that should be adequate to any number of rainy days, an at-home Dad, and excellent pre-school. On one hand, the parents are simply providing the best for their children; on the other, the pre-school is preparing them for the compulsory schooling process that sorts human beings into “winners” and “losers” that our soulless society has perfected. How can both their basic right to be socialized and their right to be protected from society be met?

How then, in a society ruled by a political economy that values profits not people, when most people I know are, though conventionally good, feckless in regards to their endangered humanity, can children be imparted a healthy, positive sense of opposition to morally illegitimate authority? How can they cultivate contrariness based not in self-serving cynicism, not in frustrated impotence, but in that something in them, in their innate dignity and core of worth – their “will to be” – that can be basis for creative alliances with self and with others? Especially for the white middle class, who are unaware of their “bottom,” this something is fragile and needs protection from the seductions of materialist, techno-worshipping, media-deformed culture. I know parents who, in doing their best for their children, have produced delicate adults, well-educated and well-traveled, but not sturdily independent, not capable of separation from parents or parent replacements, anxiety-filled, vulnerable to the solid allure of the “good job,” habituated to “faking it.” Facebook people.

Protecting the children from materialist America is not a project that can be undertaken by that incubator for bourgeois liberalism called the “nuclear family,” even when that is all we have. And thus, to the question of how to protect the full humanity of children (i.e., their true strength), mine is a more “process” answer: we must be elders consciously committed to building the utopian society. Because of what we know about the pitfalls of utopian idealism this must be an improvisational process, and depends, as Ursula LeGuin expresses it in The Dispossessed, on the recognition that we must drop “the expectation of ever stopping anywhere [such that] all responsibilities, all commitments [take] on substance and duration.”

How hard it is to practice “trust in the process” in a time when the majority, without comment or protest, accepts the given top-down terms of bourgeois reality when the silence of what people are not talking about is deafening! Speaking personally, though my soul stands up with constancy for the utopian ideal, I am tilted many times daily; the social silence, exacerbated perhaps by devotion to screens, engenders in me relentless self-doubt. Battling with shape-changing interior “beings” that have the absolute power to crush my ideals to nothing, I’m repeatedly convinced that the problems or situations I cannot change are emblems of my worthlessness. These torments must sound weird to most people – the poor woman must have experienced terrible trauma in childhood (how sad for her!) But I understand it this way: Disobedience to neoliberal totality opens me to these ordeals that I would be saved from if I would just “say yes.” This disobedience allows one to understand, more deeply than many Christians, what the phrase “picking up one’s cross” means, as well as what it means to be an elder.

Neither the liberals who want to feel everybody’s oppression and keep living in their clueless bubble nor the angry anti-intellectual “rightwingers” who think Jesus wants them to throw all the losers under the bus can build the world worthy of Nico’s and Cora’s nascent humanity. A different kind of help and guidance in the impossible utopia-building task is needed.

The answer to radical evil which undermines the self-worth of every person, must itself be radical, way beyond the politics of identity. To become the singular expression of humanity each soul is, one must radically disobey the ruling zeitgeist, whose throne is not in a palace or in front of a TV camera, but in the core of the self. Even the most fervent atheists and secular believers must see that the problem we have is that the Devil now makes his home comfortably in the “homeland” within, his conquest simplified by each individual’s abandonment of her/his “bottom.”

Throughout history, courageous souls, always a minority, have stood fast against this permanent night. It’s now the case that each one is called to thus be “exceptional,” to be a brave in the battle for souls. Mass civil disobedience can take many forms, but it must be rooted radically, in “original goodness.” For white liberals, this distinction is crucial, for we prefer to defend the rights of others, even to defend the souls of others (i.e., native Americans), rather than our own. This exchange of priceless intrinsic worth for trinkets and false promises is the liberal disease and the greatest strategic victory for radical evil.

The post To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Veterans’ Day: Four Poems

He Would Tell You

Here in the secret chambers
Of my darkest heart are things
I will never tell:
Here is oily blood and brittle bone
Here are clotted lips, frothy lungs
Decomposed and muted tongues
Here twisted cloth lays strangely stiff
In a powdery triptych pit
Where a dumbstruck man and wife
Lock quick lime arms round their
Dream face child, here
Past the grave yards fragrant stones
Memory’s nightmare head will not lay prone
Its battlefields etched on a red brocade
Inlaid with a crown of skull and bones
Yes, here in the busy chambers of my
Heart are things I will never tell
Though I swear we did not mutilate-
Only booby trapped or ransacked-
Disdained from taking human souvenirs.
No, we did not do that.
So, though I nearly did
Let me never tell you
Things you cannot know
Let me never tell you
Things that won’t let go.


Portrait Of a Boy At Dawn

The green metal bird shimmies
North along the muddy banks
Sweeps south, flying high, low
A risky business feeling them out
The tall slender reeds bowing
Beneath us.
Blowing the green curtain down
The boy equally stunned
His mud laden AK no match
In the forever time
His astonished face, his forever No!
When brrraaapp flips him backward
His starry cartwheel a bloody splash
Dissolved in mud.
In the cool morning air we nose up
Thankfully pull away, his immense
Frightened eyes follow me
Forever wake me at home.


Portrait of a Young Girl at Dawn

In the breeze
The sudden quiver and sway
The shadow of bamboo leaves
Twirling onto the hot dry earth,
The squad standing quiet
Over the stiffening
Man, made headless
By the machine gun team.
Weapons and water
Scattered about,
The twice shot girl
Reaching for my canteen.
What to do? What?
I patch her wounds,
Splint her legs
With rotted bamboo.
There is the sudden sound
Of yellow smoke.
The medivac dips,
Kicks out a litter.
We lift her up,
They haul her in.
Beneath the whirling blades
She is spinning, spinning
She is floating away.


Casualty Poem

At dusk, what hand dropped the metal bulb
Down the narrow tube, lifting it skyward?
I was dreaming the moment the plummeting
Brightness struck, a dim noise, I was lifted
Floating above myself, below
The soft fiery puffs of mortar shells
The firefly tracer paths
The glow of skittering shrapnel
Then all at once
When I crashed down
This lifting gift upended.
In my absence, only my beating
Heart, everything breathing.
Turning about, I woke to help them
But stumbled, fell
The back of my head, my chest, too wet
Too warm for comfort. Someone
Held my arms, legs, pressed white cloth
Dim voices, “…not gonna make it.”
Then waiting in the green trembling thing
Doctors and more blood, this time good.
A year of red dust, red rain.
Years to unlearn it.
Of late, in the hills where I live,
When the moon is low
The frozen sky flecked by starlight
In those still moments, by that hand
My darkness disarmed, I am uplifted.

The post Veterans’ Day: Four Poems appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Pages