Counterpunch Articles

Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die

Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die
(Parody of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg)

Somewhere beyond corporate media Yemenis die,
Folk rarely heard of, yet our weapons they’re killed by.
Somewhere beyond corporate media Al Qaeda of AP expands,
Saudi/US war crime crony, sanctity of human life be damned.

Yemenis wish the stripes and stars
Americans would end these wars.
Stop cluster bombs over chimney tops,
starvation, cholera holocausts.

No prob for U.S. politicians.
Put profits over lives of children.
Whether SA, NRA, capitalism rules.
Unmoved by violence in their own schools.

As Deep State spreads global trauma
special thanks Bush, Trump, Obama.
America’s conscience a pathetic mess.
Its heart deep-frozen by the mainstream press.

Don’t you, too, dread the return of karma?
Our country’s totally tanked its honor.
Somewhere beyond corporate media bluebirds flew.
Despite all that’s been ravaged, US is in no way through.

Control Bab-el-Mandeb Strait is neocons’ plan,
Plunder Yemen oil (entangling Iran),
Expanding the carnage to full Yemen genocide
As US joins Hitler on history’s other side!

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Let Them Eat Cake: a Journey into Edward Said’s Humanism

Photograph Source: Briantrejo – CC BY-SA 3.0

It was April 27, 1974, the day of my bar mitzvah. The food at the reception was unremarkable with the exception of the dessert, a big yellow cake in my honor that happened to be shaped like the state of Israel. I liked cake, especially yellow cake.

I don’t know who among the guests got served a piece of the West Bank. But those slices came shaded with hatching formed out of lines of brown icing. The baker must have been studying Middle East affairs in night school because not only the West Bank but other swathes of contested land such as the Sinai and the Golan Heights and even the small Gaza Strip—all seized in the 1967 Six-Day War—had been marked off. Miniature Israeli flags had been planted in the cake to underscore the triumph of the Jewish people in what is certainly one of the most fraught pieces of earth on the planet. Why the cake was partly shaded was a question that never crossed my mind.

We had learned in Hebrew school that Israel was a land without people for a people without land. Perfect, I thought. People gave me bar mitzvah gifts including certificates for trees planted there in my honor. A land without people suggested barrenness to me. Trees seemed like a sensible idea.

* * *

In 1976 I visited Israel and was escorted around by a fellow named Alex who understandably enough called me by my Hebrew name. We visited a number of the places marked off with hatching on the cake including Hebron, located in the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

When we arrived in the Golan Heights I stepped out of the car and threw up, though I was not making any kind of political statement. Alex had a heavy foot. I saw trees on our journey but none planted in my name as we sped toward a kibbutz named Kfar Giladi located near the border with Lebanon. The next day we drove south to Jerusalem through what Alex called a “liberated area.” I am sure I had no idea what that meant. I only wanted to get to Jerusalem without throwing up again.

I learned that when the Zionists arrived they found an empty land, a wasteland in desperate need of improvement. And improvement is precisely what the industrious Jews did, making the desert bloom. Everywhere we went, Alex told the same story: Before the Jews came, there was nothing here. Now look at it. A beautiful, domesticated landscape humming along to the tune of modern life.

* * *

In college I figured out that there were these people. Call them the Palestinians. Golda Meir, the prime minister at the time of my bar mitzvah, famously said that as for the Palestinian people, “they did not exist.” No one ever spoke about Palestinians in temple or on the trip to Israel. It was always Arabs that I heard about, never Palestinian Arabs.

There was this guy circulating around Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where I went to college, who routinely talked about these mysterious Palestinian people. I thought he was called Norm, as in Norman Chomsky.

Chomsky referred to the Palestinians as an indigenous people. No one had told me. He said the Palestinians had a legitimate claim to my bar mitzvah cake, though he didn’t quite put it that way.

I was wandering around a Cambridge bookstore when I stumbled onto a book called “The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians” (1983). The author was Noam Chomsky, a professor at M.I.T., the same person I had once seen holding forth on the Palestinians. He certainly had a different understanding of Israel’s role in the world than Sanford Saperstein, my rabbi back home, who called Israel the lone democracy in an embattled region beset by terrorists seeking to push the Jews into the sea.

* * *

A few years later, I ran across “Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question” (1988). One of the co-editors was someone named Edward Said.

Born in West Jerusalem in 1935, Said had left Palestine for Cairo in 1947. Four years later, he moved to the United States, where his parents had connections. (Said’s father studied at Case Western Reserve University, where I currently teach.) A transgressive child who took his share of beatings, Said attended a boarding school in the Connecticut River Valley, a natural environment that—given his upbringing in a desert—only seemed to add to his sense of alienation (“snow signified a kind of death,” he would later write). Moving on to study at Princeton and Harvard and then joining the Columbia University faculty in English and Comparative Literature in 1963, Said, who met Chomsky during the height of the protests over Vietnam, emerged as one of the most prominent dissident intellectuals of the twentieth century.

An immensely learned man who saw the intellectual as humanity’s best defense against an “ahistorical, forgetting world,” Said took a hard left turn after the Six-Day War. He recalled finding Martin Luther King’s warmth toward Israel’s triumph in the battle vexing, presumably because it was based on the assumption that the Palestinians simply did not exist. As Said wrote in 1968, “Palestine is imagined as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom, its inhabitants inconsequential nomads possessing no stable claim to the land and therefore no cultural permanence.” For this and similar attempts to overturn establishment views, Said was vilified as an anti-Semite and a “professor of terror.”

Said was living proof that my Hebrew school education wasn’t an education at all. A land without people? Empty? Palestinians don’t exist? Israel’s public relations onslaught, designed to overturn the fact that the founding of the country entailed the dispossession of the indigenous peoples, worked brilliantly.

A year after my bar mitzvah, Said had testified before a committee of Congress. Imagine, he said, “that by some malicious irony you found yourselves declared foreigners in your own country. This is the essence of the Palestinians’ fate during the twentieth century.” Said titled his 1999 memoir “Out of Place” in reference to his life spent struggling with the pain of exile.

Said’s humanity allowed him to see the struggle in this corner of the world in terms that captured the true tragedy involved. As he wrote, “The dawning awareness all around was of two peoples locked in a terrible struggle over the same territory, in which one, bent beneath a horrific past of systematic persecution and extermination, was in the position of an oppressor towards the other people.” Though advocating for the rights of Palestinians, Said always acknowledged the reality that Zionism evolved as it did because of the persecution and genocide that the Jews suffered.

After the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Said uncovered something Chomsky ignored: that despite the imbalance in power, the Palestinians had agency, a point underscored by the First Intifada, a sustained anti-colonial insurrection that began in 1987, the year before I sat down to read Mr. Said.

Said’s intellect, his political engagement, and, most of all, the actions of ordinary Palestinians seeking liberation helped to change how the Israeli authorities viewed the Palestinian people—they were no longer rendered nonexistent, for how could a resistance movement not have some unifying identity? Israeli leaders in the 1980s began to describe the Palestinians variously as “jackals” (General Moshe Dayan), “grasshoppers” (Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir), “vermin” (Prime Minister Menachem Begin), and “roaches” (General Rafael Eitan). Said wrote: “Perhaps we can someday look forward to achieving the status of cattle or of monkeys.”

In 1988, Said participated in an event held in New York with the philosopher Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study. A Jew known for his progressive politics, Walzer criticized Said for harping on the past when, he argued, the issue with respect to the Palestinians was the future. Said was speechless. At which point a woman in the audience named Hilda Silverstein went on the attack, asking Walzer: “How dare you say that to anybody. Because of all the people in the world, we ask the world to remember our past. And you’re telling a Palestinian to forget the past? How dare you?”

Said would not return to his place of birth until the evening of June 12, 1992, forty-five years after he last stepped foot there. He had no way of knowing about my cake and subsequent romp around his homeland where I felt eminently welcomed.

* * *

I wonder whether I would remember my bar mitzvah cake were it not for the photographers from Field Studios located in Brooklyn. They produced a small monument in honor of the affair: a four-inch thick album with eighth-of-an-inch-thick gilded-edge pages that immortalized the confection. There I am in my first suit with a large fuchsia bowtie (clip-on) exploding from under my chin. The photographer had me pose with my arms resting on the table, which caused me to lean in and gaze at the expansive Israeli state rendered in beige, brown, and red icing.

For years that turned into decades, the hulking bar mitzvah album sat on the shelf in the family room of my childhood home. These were the inter-cake years when the confection slipped into the recesses of my personal history. And there it rested until it vaulted into consciousness again in the spring of 2010.

By this point in my life I was a college professor and had been for more than two decades. I was in an unfortunate meeting about the propriety of including a donor on a university hiring committee for an endowed professorship in Judaic studies when I launched into a discussion of my thirty-five-year-old cake. The hiring committee also included, astonishingly, a faculty member in physics who just happened to be a Zionist, and who had no academic credentials for weighing in on the matter.

Edward Said long ago exposed the ways in which intellectuals helped to legitimize the status quo. Allowing a donor and a scientist to help hire a humanities scholar was a recipe for more legitimation. Bringing up the obnoxious cake was my way of drawing attention to the offensive process.

Apparently the vulgarity of my holy land confection fell on deaf ears because a few years later, in 2015, two donors from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland—committed in its own words to “support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”—participated in another university job search in Judaic studies. This faculty position was funded with a gift, mandating donor participation, named in honor of Abba Hillel Silver. As Walter Hixon shows in “Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict” (2019), Silver played a key role in linking Jewish identity to the Zionist project and emerged as one of the architects of the Israel lobby, which has worked relentlessly to undermine justice for the Palestinian people. How fitting that Jewish Federation donors should help vet the job applications! Mercifully, Said, who by this point was buried in the mountains of Lebanon, missed all of this.

* * *

I recently incorporated the settler colonial cake into a lecture titled “Who’s Afraid of Edward Said?” The talk tries to address this question while offering the example of my own personal shift in thinking about Israel and the Palestinians as a way of illustrating that our version of truth is shaped not simply by logic and evidence but by our experiences in life. My cake was the perfect foil to Said’s vision of a more equal and democratic world based on shared access to the earth, self-determination, and mutuality. The cake’s flags and lines are about nationalism and possession, about what divides us from one another, a grim world that is as hopeless as it is bankrupt.

Who is afraid of Edward Said? The list is long and goes well beyond celebrities like Alan Dershowitz who used the occasion of Said’s death from cancer in 2003 to compare him, in probably the most tortured analogy ever to be concocted, to Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, a violent anti-Arab, Jewish nationalist group.

Around the same time, neoconservative Martin Kramer also indicted Said, whom he called an “aggrieved Palestinian.” Kramer resented Said for helping to give birth to postcolonialism, which examines imperialism and radically unequal relations of power in the shaping of the world. In Kramer’s bizarre rendering, postcolonialism overturned Middle East studies and sent it into a tailspin that ended by eliminating what he called “disinterested objectivity.” It apparently never occurred to this highly pedigreed chap, with three different degrees from Princeton, that politics and scholarship are not two separate departments in the game of intellectual life. “No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life,” Said wrote in his 1978 classic “Orientalism.” Which explains why Kramer is associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank closely tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group that markets itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.”

These are the kinds of donnybrooks that periodically break out in the academic world; it is easy to dismiss them. But then I learned of a Columbia alumnus, who had studied English, but who refused to take a class with Said because his rabbi portrayed him as the devil incarnate. The student, who went on to graduate school at Emory University, finally figured out the truth about Said. Indeed, the student felt so guilty about his misconception that when Said visited Emory he tried to apologize by bending over backward in order to convince Said to let him take him to the airport.

At another extreme in regard to openness was a high school student from the Bronx who took the 2010 English AP test. The exam included a quotation from Said that read: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and its native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” There is no reference to Israel or Palestine in the passage. But the mere mention of Said’s name caused the student to object to the question, calling it “very reflective of the widespread use of education and testing as a platform for anti-Israel propaganda.”

Above all, Said’s greatest commitment was to humanism, which he defined as the attempt “to dissolve Blake’s mind-forg’d manacles so as to be able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure.” Embracing humanism means rejecting state power in the name of critical thought. It means, as he wrote near the end of his life, “a process of unending disclosure, discovery, self-criticism, and liberation.” Said held humanism in such high regard that he viewed it as “the only, I would go so far as to say, the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.” The quotation is inscribed around a mural erected at San Francisco State University in Said’s honor.

Humanism is not about rallying around a flag or “the national war of the moment,” as Said once put it. It’s not about scarfing down a cake that celebrates dispossession and exile, but about what unites us as human beings on this pale blue planet: our attachment to place; our connections to each other; our ability to feel emotion and experience an essential humanity in the face of whatever differences we might have.

Ted Steinberg teaches at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York.


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Racism is About Power, Not Unpleasant Sentiments

In September of 2011, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis— a man who the best evidence suggested was innocent. On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered by self-appointed community ‘guardian’ George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Then Michael Brown was murdered by the Ferguson police and his lifeless body was left lying in the street for hours. And then Freddie Gray was murdered by the Baltimore police. And on, and on.

These references, now long surpassed by crimes equally as brutal and egregious, are used to mark a moment in political history. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter arose to challenge the power that both motivated and legitimated them. The goal wasn’t to replace one oppressive power with another. It was to end repressive power. This clarity of purpose was lost following the election of Donald Trump.

The threads that linked these murders were 1) state, or quasi-state power (Zimmerman), being used in 2) racially targeted murders. As illustrated by the inclusion of George Zimmerman, and later Dylann Roof, precise delineation of state power is tenuous because it is sometimes ambiguous. The prosecutorial fail against Mr. Zimmerman could have been contested at the Federal level. But the Obama administration chose not to do so. Dylann Roof was charged, prosecuted and is in prison.

The killers who aren’t in prison are the front-line representatives of state power— the police. To write that these cops are racist misrepresents the broader political context of their actions. The laws they are sent out to enforce exist predominantly to protect the ‘property’ of those who have it from those who don’t. And the system of adjudication is pay-to-play— the people who spend time in prison generally can’t afford adequate legal representation.

Understanding this relation of the police, and policing, to property is crucial. It ties the power that the police are given— both its type and extent, to maintaining an economic order. Racism alone doesn’t explain how and why laws are written as they are— or who writes them. Or why the judicial and carceral functions are class-based. When viewed through a prism of race, mass incarceration is racist. But when viewed through both race and class, racial bias is relocated to class position. It is poor people who are put in prison.

Through a binary constraint of black and white, race is the only possible explanation of social outcomes. This is a taxonomic, epistemic or ontological point— depending on one’s view of how these things get sorted. In other words, it is a limit on understanding by design. As is laid out below, economic explanations of race relations can accommodate racism, but essentialist / neoliberal explanations can’t accommodate economic explanations.

To bring this back to politics for a moment, following the election of Donald Trump, ‘fighting racism’ shifted from involved analyses of race and power to doing street battle with middle- and working-class jackasses. The very same police who murdered Mike Brown and Freddie Gray were recast as slightly right-of-neutral arbiters in a battle between fascists and anti-fascists. Surveillance and defense industry hacks in the CIA, NSA and FBI were recast as frontline protectors against incipient fascism.

This latter point comes via simplifying assumptions. The motive is shorthand, not deception. Through Russiagate, these Federal agencies came to the defense of liberalism. Individual representatives expanded on the base thesis of an attack on liberal democracy. Implied was / is that liberal democracy is both liberal and democratic. When combined with charges of a fascist insurgency, a reactionary response to restore the status quo emerged.

In other words, a thin theory of race and racism was used to shift social struggle against power into a struggle in support of power. History was reset to have begun in 2016. Democrats who had previously railed against immigrants and deported them in record numbers became beacons of light. Democrats who posed at Stone Mountain, home of the modern KKK, and who spent their time in office putting poor people in prison, were recast as great liberators.

Importantly, a public narrative regarding class was shifted back in favor of the rich. This thin theory of race was used to flatten power, to pose displaced manufacturing workers as the social equivalents of Charles Koch and Bill Gates through ‘whiteness.’ And this narrow conception of power ties up to American imperial power. George W. Bush can slaughter a million-brown people in Iraq, but the ‘problem of race’ is 300 tiki-torchers in Charlottesville?

This isn’t just a matter of numbers. Small groups can have outsized cultural and political influence. Ralph Nader makes this argument vis-a-vis fascism and Mr. Trump quite succinctly here. As it applies otherwise, the problem lies in the parsing. Barack Obama was brutal and relentless with immigrant deportations. And Donald Trump more likely than not based his racist and xenophobic appeals on how well they served Bill Clinton. If you want to claim alarming difference, know your history.

The small-to-middling political problem here is this: political solutions will require forming political coalitions with people we may not agree with. Despite liberal assurances to the contrary, many of Mr. Trump’s working-class voters know more about the Democrats’ policies than Democrats do. For this reason, they see liberal objections to Mr. Trump as either effete or ill-informed. By treating people like they aren’t stupid, political hay can be made.

And lest this point be lost, the rich most certainly agree with the current crop of anti-fascists that the problem is poor people. Pejorative terms for the poor and working class can be found all through leftish chatter. Marx and Gramsci must be rolling in their graves. Dave Chappelle jokes that black people prefer rich white people. What he left out is that white people prefer rich black people. Implication: only the rich can save us?

Elsewhere, when the mortgage lenders who disappeared the preponderance of black wealth in the late 2000s were bailed out, people with few resources, many of whom had lived in their homes for decades, were left homeless and destitute. This economic dispossession should read as familiar. The U.S. is now five decades into it.

If a loan can’t be repaid, it is an entry on a balance sheet. Mr. Obama demonstrated that banks won’t be allowed to fail. However, in the case of black wealth, working- and middle-class people were made homeless and destitute. Foreclosures ruin people’s credit. Without an address and telephone number, finding employment is close to impossible. Most landlords do credit checks, as do cell phone providers.

Mr. Obama’s bailouts weren’t for the benefit of racists. He was bailing out bankers. With respect to charging blacks higher interest rates, the lenders saw an angle to earn larger commissions and they used it. This is capitalism 101— find an opportunity and exploit it. If exploiting people’s vulnerabilities is a problem, end political economy that is premised on doing so.

Notice the trend here. The cops who shoot unarmed black youth are given immunity from prosecution. The bankers who charged blacks a higher interest rate on mortgage loans were bailed out. What ties these together is service to the existing economic order.

Emotive theories of racism focus on narrow motivations. What adds racial meaning to the ‘disappearance of black wealth’ is the intersection of race and class that is a function of history. If the lenders weren’t explicit racists— weren’t motivated by racial animus (they weren’t), then the theory must be broadened until it sticks to ‘work’ (e.g. racist people => racist group=> racist organization=> racist society).

In this particular case, blacks were charged higher interest rates because lenders could. They could because of power differentials that are the result of history and class. The explanation that fits is that racial / economic history landed these people in the class position they occupy. It only reduces to ‘racism’ when a sledgehammer is applied to it.

Almost all of these same power differentials impact whites as well. Through risk pricing based on ‘objective’ criteria, poor and economically vulnerable whites pay higher interest rates than the rich. That is, those least able to pay high interest rates are charged the highest interest rates. This is why capitalists love to operate in poor neighborhoods.

Consider for a moment the discourse around ‘deplorables’ — economically anxious whites who because of their racist views, deserve whatever comes their way. Add the liberal ‘criminal blacks’ canard and you have dispossessed blacks ‘getting what they deserve’ as well. This is class warfare from the perspective of the rich.

It is likely that many of those passionate about ending racism don’t understand its conceptual structure. Vile blather from the 1940s about ‘demonic races’ and ‘dead souls’ is now regularly put forward with ‘white’ being substituted for ‘black.’ In addition to dubious sources and tenor, broad characteristics attributed to any race represent claims of intrinsic— essential, difference. This, dear readers, is the KKK’s theory of race.

Whether intended or not, this thin view of racism works against the idea of economic exploitation. If interactions are motivated by racial animus, then 1) why are they taking place at all— what is the motivation for doing so, and 2) what distributional assumptions would support a conception of exploitation, if there is one? In fact, American slavery as an institution adheres quite closely to the form and function of capitalism.

The argument that it is lousy capitalism, either through the use of coercion to expropriate labor or through its toxic social consequences, is laughable. Two- and one-half centuries ago Adam Smith recognized that ‘employer combines’ gave employers the power to coerce and exploit labor. And capitalism has been in crisis almost as often as it hasn’t since the early nineteenth century.

Oddly, the thesis of settler colonialism, which is perfectly serviceable as a description of historical events, has likewise been used to flatten power, to equate the power of monarchs and oligarchs with that of the rabble. First, few people willingly leave their homes unless they have to. Second, granting that settlers willingly and enthusiastically pursued brutal campaigns of murder, rape, pillage and dispossession, their actions were conceived from above and disproportionately benefited oligarchs.

Whatever the sentiments and animosities of settlers, they served a political role that was conceived and set in motion from above. American slavery and genocide weren’t cases of self-organizing rabble deciding to brutalize people for the hell of it. Slavery was brought from Britain by oligarchs. Many of these oligarchs were slavers. Placing culpability where it belongs requires recognizing the institutional role that elites played.

The histories being written in the settler-colonial frame are more nuanced than portrayed here. However, interpretation has, once again, flattened power to place settlers and oligarchs as equals in political culpability. A contemporary analog is the role that Israeli settlers play in the systematic dispossession of Palestinians. The settler movement is sanctioned and backed by the power of the Israeli government. And implicitly, by the U.S.

When this logic is applied back to the street battles being fought in Charlottesville and Portland, what stands out is how narrow the theories of race and power are to perceive these movements as something new, and therefore insurrectionary. That is, they are significant locally and to the people to whom they are significant. But in terms of their collective political impact, that has been spread out over two or more centuries, not concentrated in the present as seems to be the sentiment. Formal state violence points to the loci of power, not a few hundred angry bullies lashing out.

The argument that these right-wing movements are the avant-garde of a fascist insurgency grants them more power than they currently possess. Only to the extent that they have the support of the oligarchs do they have power. So, is the problem street fighters or the power of the oligarchs?

Phrased differently, if the street fighters were to renounce their evil ways, wouldn’t the oligarchs still have the power to do as they wish? If they wish to do evil, say by launching a neoliberal revolution that dispossesses tens of millions of workers, sets the environment on fire, results in multiple murderous and strategically disastrous wars and brings one of their own to power, will it be racists, fascists and neo-Nazis who they turn to to accomplish it? History suggests no.

Put differently still, between the street fighters in Charlottesville and Portland and the oligarchs, who has the power to make sure that a Green New Deal, a Job Guaranty and Medicare for All don’t come to fruition? Who has the power to build more nuclear weapons rather than reducing the existing supply? And who, in the absence of something akin to a revolution, has the power to make sure that Bernie Sanders doesn’t find his way to the White House?

Finally, the way that liberal groups and the press decided to include black nationalists in counts of ‘hate’ and ‘racist’ groups is politically defenestrating, which is probably why they did it. The term ‘hate’ applies emotive character to political organizing. It implies that class struggle and other forms of political opposition are emotional responses to reasonable circumstances. This tactic has been used liberals and the right to delegitimate the left for decades.

The application of the term ‘racist’ likewise implies a dubious equivalence. White nationalists have a long history of racist violence, black nationalists don’t. White nationalism was closely aligned with state power, although less so today. Black nationalism hasn’t been so aligned. White nationalists adhere to essential theories of racial difference. Black nationalists do so to a much lesser extent.

These differences suggest that the (neo)liberal conception of racism that spread following the 2016 election is both politically loaded and reactionary. Fanonists, anarchists and anti-fascists may want to consider this in their thinking.


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No Joe: On Character, Quality and Authenticity

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Democratic Party establishment might want to heed Santayana’s warning about how people who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. One of the many lessons of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign is that your candidate better damn well possess strong quality and character if you are going to run on, well, candidate quality and character.

The Clinton campaign might have prevailed over the Malignant One if it hadn’t made egregiously stupid mistakes. It failed to set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic convention or to purchase campaign ads in Michigan. Clinton got caught telling wealthy New York City donors that half of Trump’s supporters were “a basket of [racist, white, working-class] deplorables”—a hideous mistake hauntingly akin to Mitt Romney’s gaffe in 2012 when he was recorded telling elite donors that 47 percent of the population were a bunch of lazy welfare dependents.

Also problematic was the Clinton team’s decision to run almost completely on the issue of candidate quality and quality – on the undeniable awfulness of Trump. This was a blunder, given Hillary’s weak character standing with voters, already low before the e-mail scandal that FBI Director James Comey re-ignited late in the season.

Which brings us to Joe Biden. Like Hillary (and Bill) Clinton, he represents the corporate-establishmentarian wing of the Democratic Party. Also like Hillary, his main hook is the undisputable dreadfulness of the Donald.

So what, then, about Biden? Democrats need to talk about Joe. There’s little doubt that the 77-year-year-old former U.S Vice President is suffering from some measure of dementia. Confusing New Hampshire with Vermont, not knowing the name of the college where he just spoke, thinking that he met with Parkland school shooting victims when he was vice president, invading the centrist MSDNC host Joy Reid’s physical space to claim that she advocates “physical revolution,” inappropriate public touching (and sniffing), forgetting thoughts in mid-sentence, saying that the recent Dayton and El Paso mass shootings took place in “Michigan” and “Houston” – all of this and more (including the alarming frequency with which he looks lost and confused) suggest that Biden’s elevator is no longer running all the way to the top floor (if it ever was) as he nears his ninth decade of life. Executive function is no small matter. This is about aging, which some people (e.g. the still on-point Bernie Sanders) do more gracefully and cogently than others (e.g. Joe).

Long before Biden’s gray cells got so much grayer, however, he showed signs of moral decrepitude. During his dismally unsuccessful campaign for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden stole key lines and themes from the British Labor Party candidate Neil Kinnock, falsely portraying himself as a working-class hero who rose up from generations of coal miners. After it came out that Biden had ripped off the English politician, Biden gave a speech crediting Kinnock but claiming that he’d received a videotape of the Kinnock speech he plagiarized from “a leader of another country.” In reality, Biden got the speech from a Washington political consultant who had made the tape available to numerous candidates.

Joe’s oratorical pilfering of Kinnock was not plagiarism technically speaking since political speeches don’t bear copyrights. During law school, however, Biden committed plagiarism the real thing. He took five pages from a law review article for a brief he wrote in a legal methodology course. Biden was penalized with an ‘F’ for the course, which he had to repeat.

Another example of morally problematic deception in Biden’s political career concerns the tragic death of his young wife and infant daughter in a traffic accident in December of 1972. In September of 2001, one week after the 9/11 jetliner attacks, Biden told nearly three thousand people at the University of Delaware that his wife and daughter had been killed by “an errant driver who stopped to drink instead of drive.”

Six years later, while running for president again in Iowa, he told an Iowa City audience that the driver of the truck that hit his wife and daughter “allegedly drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch.”

This was false. As Politico senior staff writer Michael Kruse reported last January:

“The problem was it wasn’t true. The driver of the truck, Curtis C. Dunn of Pennsylvania, was not charged with drunk driving. He wasn’t charged with anything. The accident was an accident, and though the police file no longer exists, coverage in the newspapers at the time made it clear that fault was not in question. For whatever reason, Neilia Biden, who was holding the baby, ended up in the right of way of Dunn’s truck coming down a long hill.”

“‘She had a stop sign. The truck driver did not,’ Jerome Herlihy told me. He’s a retired judge who then was a deputy attorney general and once was a neighbor to Biden and remains friendly. A pal of Biden at the time asked Herlihy ‘to go out to the state police troop where the driver of the other vehicle was to make sure everything was going all right,’ and so he did. ‘In the end,’ Herlihy said, ‘I concurred in their decision that there was no fault on his part’.”

Biden’s lie, centered on the deaths of his first wife and baby daughter, upset the family of Curtis Dunn, who died in 1999. Dunn had lived his last twenty-seven years with the painful memory of what happened when Biden’s first wife recklessly pulled out in front of him with her baby in her lap.

What could have led Biden to falsely attribute the tragedy to a drunk driver? Kruse bends over backwards to provide psychological rationalizations (he speculates that Biden used the lie to make the deaths “more palatable” and that Biden just likes to stretch the truth) but the 2007 version of the lie, uttered in the context of his Iowa presidential campaign, surely reflected a desire to curry sympathy points from voters. It’s not a pretty picture.

Consistent with concerns that Biden bends the truth for political advantage, the Washington Post recently outed him for concocting a ridiculous tale about his heroic role in honoring a medal-winning U.S. soldier in a war zone as vice president. It was no small fib. By the Post’s account, “Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the military branch, and the rank of the recipient wrong as well as his own role in the ceremony.” Pathetic.

But Biden’s worst deception is his pretense of being regular old working-class “lunch-bucket” Joe, a great product and friend of ordinary working people. His fiercely corporatist and pro-Wall Street record militates strongly against this faux blue-collar branding:

+ Voting to rollback bankruptcy protections for college graduates (1978) and vocational school graduates (1984) with federal student loans.

+Working with Republican allies to pass the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which put traditional “clean slate” Chapter 7 bankruptcy out of reach for millions of ordinary Americans and thousands of small businesses (2005).

+Voting against a bill that would have compelled credit card companies to warn customers of the costs of only making minimum payments.

+Honoring campaign donations from Coca-Cola by cosponsoring a bill that permitted soft-drink producers to skirt antitrust laws (1979).

+ Joining just one other Congressional Democrat to vote against a Judiciary Committee measure to increase consumers’ rights to sue corporations for price-fixing (1979).

+Strongly supporting the 1999 Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which permitted the re-merging of investment and commercial banking by repealing the Depression-era Glass–Steagall Act. (This helped create the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession.)

+Supporting the corporate-neoliberal North American Free Trade agreement and the globalist investor rights Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Adding clumsy neoliberal insult to concrete neoliberal policy injury, Biden now absurdly criticizes those who advocate a universal basic income of “selling American workers short” and undermining the “dignity” of work. He opposes calls for free college tuition and Single Payer health insurance. He defends Big Business from popular criticism, writing in 2017 that “Some want to single out big corporations for all the blame. … But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy.” That’s called propagating a fantasy – the existence of a democratic political system in which the working-class majority has the power to hold concentrated wealth accountable.

“I don’t think five hundred billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys,” Biden sickeningly told the Brookings Institution last year – this as he claimed to worry about how the “gap is yawning” between the American super-rich and everyone else.

Most nauseating of all, “blue-collar” Biden says that he has “no empathy” for Millennials’ struggle to get by in the savagely unequal and insecure precariat economy he helped create over his many years of abject service to the Lords of Capital. “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are—give me a break,” said Biden, while speaking to Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times last year. “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

Read that a second time: “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

So what if Millennials face a significant diminution of opportunity, wealth, income and security compared to the Baby Boomers with whom Biden identifies? Who cares if “lunch bucket Joe” helped shrink the American Dream for young people with the neoliberal policies and politics he helped advance?

Biden’s incredibly low standing with young Americans – he is backed by just 7 percent (!) of U.S. voters under 30 – is richly deserved.

Sadly enough, Biden is the preferred candidate of older Black voters reached by pollsters so far. That position is richly undeserved. Proud of his onetime alliance with openly segregationist, racially terrorist Jim Crow U.S. Senators like James O. Eastland – the one who Biden (forgetting his own skin color?) says “never called me ‘boy’” – Biden backed the racist mass incarceration state by supporting Bill Clinton’s ‘Three Strikes” crime and prison bill along with Clinton and Newt Gingrich vicious abolition of Aid for Families with Dependent Children. Biden took his embrace of the supposedly sacred virtue of bipartisanship to the grotesque level of forming close friendships with virulent southern white racists like Republican Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, not to mention the frothing warmonger John McCain – a natural ally given Biden’s longstanding imperialism.

Trump won in 2016 thanks in no small part to the Democrats’ longstanding inauthenticity problem. In the U.S. as in other countries “reactionary populist” fascist-style leaders score “authenticity” points by seeming to “speak their minds” and “gut” in ugly but “genuine” if “politically incorrect” ways while “politically correct” liberal and social-democratish politicians look fake and untrustworthy (and inauthentic) as their pretense of representing the interests of the working and middle class majority is belied by their cringing subservience to the globalist rich and powerful. As the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh recently commented, reflecting on how “a guy like Donald Trump won”:

“They [voters] understood where he was coming from. That Trump is just a blowhard. They laughed at him. They knew Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Trump wasn’t the same old big smile and a lot of good words. The Democrats have been going around saying, ‘We’re for the people, we’re for the little guy.’ And all they do is run to Wall Street for money. And the one guy that didn’t, Bernie Sanders, was sabotaged by the Democratic National Committee.”

That’s the core systemic inauthenticity of U.S. politics right there, consistent with a still-left Christopher Hitchens’ onetime description of “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Throw in unmistakable signs of deeply flawed personal character like Hillary’s covering for her husband’s serial sexual assaults and Biden’s history of plagiarism and lying and you have big problems for Democratic presidential candidates in an ever more savagely unequal nation where, as Bernie keeps pointing out, three absurdly rich people now possess between them as much wealth as the bottom fifty percent.

The best alternative from an electability standpoint would be for the Democrats to run Sanders, an authentically progressive, social-democratish neo- and green-New Dealer running without and indeed against Big Business sponsorship and (imagine) in accord with majority left-of-center public policy opinion. But the Democratic Party isn’t primarily about winning elections, much less advancing social justice and environmental sanity. It’s about serving elite corporate and financial interests and those interests would prefer to see a creeping fascist and eco-exterminist Neanderthal in the White House over a genuine “populist progressive.”

Wall Street’s top pick Biden would probably need a recession between now and the first Tuesday in November of next year to defeat Trump. Sanders would not. If Joe finally proves too obviously dementia-addled and truth-challenged to be sold as a credible challenger to the tariff- and Twittter-tantruming Trump baby and no dependable neoliberal substitute can be found (Kamala Harris and Pete Butiggieg have faded of late), capital may do its best to cut a deal with the vaguely half-progressive policy maven Elizabeth Warren, who comforted corporate election investors by standing to applaud (unlike Sanders) when Donito Assolini called for Congress to pledge that “America will never be a socialist country” during his State of the Union Address last January.

But Warren has her own authenticity and political correctness problems, to say the least – problems that don’t haunt Sanders. As the clever and idiosyncratic Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote two days ago, “the charade of representing herself as a Native American, and the catastrophe of her DNA test turns off working-class families” that “Democrats need” to defeat the “aspiring fascist leader” (Eric Draitster) who currently contaminates the White House. Kass is right, I think, to counsel Warren to “drop out and back Bernie” in the interest of unifying the (what Kass calls the) “hard left” Democratic voting base (I doubt Kass knows what the actual “hard left” is) to prevent the hapless prevaricator Biden from “rid[ing] his whoppers to the Democratic nomination.”

“Joe adrift, list in his multiverse of fabrication and moist feelings, like a sad sci-fi astronaut with gleaming white teeth in a Netflix movie” (Kass) is a Trump asset. Warren may turn out to be one too. The still sharp and genuinely progressive Sanders (well to my right) is not. He “has,” Kass writes, “the necessary authenticity.”

Look for those atop the Inauthentic Opposition (the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s dead on term to describe the neoliberal-era Democratic Party) to do everything they can to prevent their fiefdom from running its most viable candidate against the authentically gruesome ecofascist Donald Trump.

Please help Street keep writing here.

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Roaming Charges: Blood in the Eye of the Storm

Inside the eye of Dorian. Photo: NOAA.

+ Joe Biden, who is now claiming he opposed the Iraq War from Day One, (after speaking on the senate floor in favor of it and then voting for it) on September 9, 2003, 6 months after the first bombs fell on Baghdad.

Fareed Zakaria: “You supported the war. Are you having any second thoughts?”

Biden: “No I’m not having second — I’m having second thoughts only about the degree of confidence I placed in the administration to know what to do after Saddam was taken down.”

+ Biden on the day before Iraq war resolution passed, arguing for passage of the Lieberman-Warner amendment to the final bill: “Unlike my colleagues from West Virginia and Maryland, I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it’s a march to peace and security.”

+ Joe “Tiny Steps” Biden: “At CNN’s climate town hall, Biden refused to commit to a ban on fracking, offering a state’s rights defense and reminding the audience that, “everything is incremental.” State’s rights and incrementalism. Well, at least Biden’s been consistent his entire career on his two core beliefs.

+ Biden, who has been caught in one fabulation after another, is now reduced to saying that “the details don’t matter.” This won’t surprise anyone who is familiar with his record writing criminal justice legislation.

+ Suspender Your Disbelief: When Gramps called for the criminalization of “raves.”

+ Biden is already bleeding and Sanders, Warren and Trump haven’t even thrown a punch yet…

+ The day after CNN’s climate forum, Joe Biden headed to Houston for a fundraiser hosted by fossil fuel executive, Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of Western LNG. Biden claimed he had no idea that Goldman was in the oil and gas business.

+ Biden is quietly violating his pledge not to take money from lobbyists by shaking down the “influence industry” for campaign cash. Of course, at this point who else would be willing to invest in his campaign?

+ In 1988, soon after Congress passed the first reforms of the federal welfare system in decades, Biden wrote an oped that trafficked in some of the most noxious racial stereotypes of the Reagan era:

“We are all too familiar with the stories of welfare mothers driving luxury cars and leading lifestyles that mirror the rich and famous. Whether they are exaggerated or not, these stories underlie a broad social concern that the welfare system has broken down—that it only parcels out welfare checks and does nothing to help the poor find productive jobs.”

Really? This is your guy, Democrats?

+ After a series of malaprops, gaffes and tall tales, Biden was sent out to calm anxious supporters in New Hampshire and demonstrate that he still had all his faculties, as limited as those might be. “I’m not going nuts,” he proclaimed. File this with the president who vowed “I’m not a crook” and the Senate candidate who declared: “I am not a witch!” Expect Trump to  recycle endlessly.

+ The Biden campaign now concedes it could lose Iowa. Not to worry, they say, Uncle Joe could lose the first several primaries and still win the nomination. The question is: does Biden have to win any primaries to secure the nomination Probably not, given the DNC’s current rules…

+ But why do you want to be president, Joe?
Well, uh, you see…what was the question again?

+ John McCain was many things, but “civil” was not one of them. They called him “McNasty” for a reason, Joe. McCain tried (at least once) to assault some of his constituents in his congressional office, as I reported here

+ Biden’s political career is a forty-year long train wreck in progress. No wonder he’s an Amtrak guy.

+ Dorian’s storm surge on Grand Bahama was estimated at 18-23 feet, which submerged all of the areas in green (0-15 feet elevation) and much of what’s yellow (16-30 feet elevation)…

+ CNN’s Patrick Oppmann on Grand Bahama: “There are no walls left of the Freeport airport. There is not a wall left…The level of devastation is breathtaking…Part of a plane is deposited in the middle of the terminal.”

+ If you keep a close eye on the market, you too can be a predatory capitalist, feasting off the misery of the victims of Climate Chaos…

+ In the last 169 years, only 35 Atlantic hurricanes have attained Category 5 status. Five of them in the last 4 years.

2019 – Dorian
2018 – Michael
2017 – Irma & Maria
2016 – Matthew

+ Trump on Cat 5 hurricanes…

+ Trump is rightly being ridiculed for wanting to nuke a hurricane. But how many recall that the Obama adm considered detonating a nuke in the Gulf of Mexico as a way to plug the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that its own (de)regulators were responsible for to begin with?

+ Deep Thoughts From Fox & Friends…

Brian Kilmeade: You’ll say this is crazy, but I’ve always thought to myself, isn’t there anything we can do to stop a Hurricane!?

Steve Doocy: I don’t think an atomic bomb is a way to do it.

Brian Kilmeade: With all the progress we’re making w/ driverless cars and Instagram could we stop one?

+ Catastrophic storms and destructively high tides used to occur once each decade, but could become regular as three to 15 times each year by 2100 in Bangladesh, a country that is literally disappearing under rising sea levels.

+ It looks like the oil companies finally did what JFK, LBJ, and Nixon, couldn’t: destroy the Mekong Delta. According to new research, more 12 million people could be “displaced” by flooding in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta within half a century. The Mekong’s elevation averages just 0.8 meter, almost two meters lower than commonly quoted estimates.

+ Raoni Metuktire: “So why do you do this? So that some of you can get a great deal of money. In the Kayapó language we call your money piu caprim, ‘sad leaves’, because it is a dead and useless thing, and it brings only harm and sadness.”

+ Imagine losing the Amazon and the Antarctic ice sheets. Well, it’s happening: “The estimated mass of particulate organic carbon held in sediments beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet is up to an order of magnitude greater than that associated with northern hemisphere permafrost.”

+ Amount the G-7 countries (US excluded) agreed to spend to f help Amazon countries fight wildfires: $20 million.
Amount USA spends per hour on GWOT: $34 million.

+ How many of those “carbon offsets” are now going up in smoke in Amazonia?

+ “The sea is eating all the sand,” says Leitu Frank, a native of Tuvalu, a Polynesian archipelago in Oceania. “Before, the sand used to stretch out far, and when we swam we could see the sea floor, and the coral. Now, it is cloudy all the time, and the coral is dead. Tuvalu is sinking.”

+ Cecil Roberts, President of United Mine Workers of America: “We need to develop technology to remove carbon from the burning of coal or you’re never, write that word down, never going to resolve climate change. Never.” Sorry, Cecil, for the sake of the planet (not to mention the health of your workers), we need to stop burning coal PERIOD.

+ In yet another fit of personal pique, Trump has instructed the EPA to revoke California’s ability to set its own clean air standards. So much for the shibboleth of the “state’s rights.”

+ The Sun wins the Headline of the Week award…

+ As my friend Laleh Khalili notes: “Boz (or Boris) sounds like baws which in Scots equals balls. So he has also been kicked in the nuts!”

+ Boris Johnson’s younger (and smarter) brother, Jo Johnson, resigned from the government and parliament on Thursday, exasperated by his brother’s madcap maneuvering this week. What goes around comes around, Boris: “We don’t do things that way, that’s a very left-wing thing,” Boris Johnson said when Ed Miliband stood against his brother David for Labour Party leader in 2010 . “Only a socialist could do that to his brother, only a socialist could regard familial ties as being so trivial as to shaft his own brother…Only lefties can think like that. They see people as discrete agents devoid of ties to society or to each other, and that’s how Stalin could murder 20 million people.”

+ Irish actor Chris O’Dowd on Brexit:

“It seems oddly fitting to the people of Ireland that Brexit is coming down to the backstop. The suggestion that the British government is making – that they won’t fuck us over – is laughable. That’s what they have done for 800 years. People growing up in Britain won’t have much sense of that. Their history books don’t really dwell on the depraved way Britain has treated its closest neighbour. What do I think will happen? Irish prosperity and peace are going to be completely usurped by Westminster. Again.”

+ In Weds. morning’s edition of the Dutch paper, NRC…

+ How long before Trump washes his hands of Boris Johnson?

+ Over to you, Ox…

+ Remember when Jesus threw the sick migrant children out of the camp?

+ In Trump’s border concentration camps menstruating girls are being denied tampons and sanitary napkins and are left to bleed through their underwear and pants.

“One young woman told lawyers that menstruating youngsters were permitted only one tampon, or sanitary pad, a day. After that, at least one girl ‘had no choice but to continue to wear her soiled underwear’ and clothes.”

+ A Las Vegas ICE official griped that it just takes too long for the US Gestapo to deport mothers with no criminal record: “She could have three more babies.

+ Imagine living in such horrifying conditions that you have PTSD at the age of five. Now imagine that these conditions are managed with that very purpose in mind by the US government.

+ Trump is diverting $3.6 billion from the Pentagon to begin construction of his border wall. Some Democrats have decried the move as an effort to “starve” the Pentagon. But the rest of us should thank Trump for setting a useful precedent that will make it that much easier to transfer the rest of the Pentagon’s budget to fund national health care.

+ Jim Naureckas: “I’d love to see someone conduct a poll: “If you were already getting free public health insurance, would you like to have the option to pay thousands of dollars a year to get the same kind of coverage from a for-profit insurer?”

+ So much for “the sacred right of property…” In September, Trump instructed his flacks to “take the land” and build his wall by election day and not to worry if they broke the law because he’d pardon them.

+ This week 9 Arizona State students from China were detained at LAX airport and denied admission to U.S. If this keeps up, they’ll be shuttering the math and physics departments faster than schools are dropping their Humanities programs.

+ Into the hands of Cruella…migrant children are turned over to an adoption agency linked to Betsy DeVos.

+ What “winning” looks like…the manufacturing sector has shrunk for the first time in more than three years.

+ The high desert country of eastern Oregon is tilting toward recession, as Trump’s trade war with China and Japan begins to bite the wheat industry. Trump rubbed salt in the wounds by deprecating the farmers and their crop.  “They (Japan) send thousands and thousands — millions — of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat! That’s not a good deal. And they don’t even want our wheat. They do it because they want us to at least feel that we’re okay. You know, they do it to make us feel good.”

+ Meanwhile, in Wisconsin farm loan delinquencies have soared to their highest level since 2001.

+ When they finally return from a prolonged summer vacation, House Democrats plan on launching an inquiry into…his payments to silence women he had sex with. Really? How about an inquiry into his role in silencing scientists at EPA, NOAA, Interior and Agriculture?

+ After 40 years of wandering in the political desert, finally a T-Exodus for the GOP?

+ It looks like Netanyahu is headed for re-election, which isn’t all that surprising since he perfectly embodies the Israeli mindset …

Israel, Midgam poll:
Who would you prefer as Prime Minister?

Netanyahu (Likud-ECR): 39% (-4%)
Gantz (B&W-Centrists): 30% (+1)
Neither: 17% (-2)
DK: 9% (-)

+/- 28/08/19

+ Even so, Netanyahu seems to be cracking under the strain a little more each day…

+ Give him credit. Netanyahu has dropped all pretense, claiming this week that Israel with assert absolute sovereignty over the West Bank. Here ends the fantasy of a two-state “solution”…

+ Trump’s Middle East peace coordinator, Jason Greenblat, who pushed zealously for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for seizure of the Golan Heights as Israeli land in the name of ‘peace,’ is out.  He’ll be replaced Jared Kushner’s assistant and coffee boy, Avi Berkowitz. Berkowitz is 28. He graduated from law school in 2016.

+ 18 years of the GWOT and counting, military suicides are now claiming more lives than the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS combined.

+ Paid vacation days (guaranteed by law):

25 – Finland
25 – France
25 – Norway
25 – Sweden
22 – Portugal
20 – Australia
20 – United Kingdom
10 – Canada
10 – Japan
6 – Mexico
0 – United States

+ How the economy works (for Them)…

+ Time to boycott the anti-union not-so-fast food joint Burgerville, the “In-and-Out Burger” of the Pacific Northwest…

+ The tale of the (ticker) tape…

+ According to economist Benyamin Appelbaum: “Life expectancy rose for the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans between 1980 and 2010… declined for the poorest 20 percent of Americans. Shockingly, the difference… between poor and wealthy women widened from 3.9 years to 13.6 years.”

+ It turns out that Tomi Lahren’s American-flag themed yoga clothing is … made in China. Just call her Shanghai Barbie.

+ Torturing the homeless with “music” From CNN:

If you were to walk at night along the waterfront in West Palm Beach, Florida, you might hear something strange: A playlist of annoyingly catchy children’s songs — including “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” — blared on loop all night to deter homeless people from sleeping near an event center. The Waterfront Lake Pavilion, a luxury venue that can be rented for $250 to $500 per hour, doesn’t want rough sleepers on its patio, so the city’s parks and recreation department devised the sonic deterrent.

+ Some might call it triangulation, others a perfect fit: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in talks to join a “consulting firm” founded by two former Clinton staffers.

+ Alabama Governor Kay Ivey apologized for parading around in blackface during college, but said it was nothing to resign over.

+ Samuel Sinyangwe: “America has more governors who’ve worn blackface than black governors.”

+ “Some of our Hispanic pros with smaller hands, this is perfect for them,” proclaimed Lowe’s executive Joe McFarland, while trying to pitch a DeWalt 12-volt cordless power drill. I get you’re a racist and you talk like this while dove “hunting” and draining six-packs of Coors Lite. But on your company’s TV show, while trying to sell product?

I get you’re a racist and you talk like this while dove “hunting” and draining six-packs of Coors Lite. But on your company’s TV show, while trying to sell product?

+ US Rep Ralph Abraham’s pharmacies dispensed 1.5 MILLION doses of opioids in two rural Louisiana towns with a total population of 6,000 and yet when it came to marijuana he was a hardass drug warrior: “Again, as a physician, let me tell you. What I see in my practice, from any level of marijuana use, is bad. I’m against recreational, I’m against medical…we have other alternatives that work better, Dilaudid, OxyContin, you name it…”

+ Lindsey Graham is hellbent to put Obama under oath and interrogate him about Russiagate. Go for it, Lindsey, but don’t stop there: haul Bush and Cheney before your tribunal to answer for the deaths of 100s of thousands.

+ In the past decade, white men have fallen from 60% to 39% of all House Democrats. Meanwhile, they’ve risen from 87% to 90% of all House Republicans.

+ The US Army is stacking the deck against Iran.

+ An editorial from North Korea’s KCNA sums up Senator Ted Cruz as “an ultra-rightist detested by everyone”, “a liar” and “a demon in human shape” … “His behavior is sure to make everyone take him as a remnant of Nazis with extreme misanthropy or a hysteric psychopath bereft of reason.”

+ Trump: Colombia, you said? … The country?

+ Has there been a single word about the US-backed massacres in Yemen (the latest of which is the bombing of a detention camp killing at least 100 people) in the Democratic debates?

+ Texas Gov Greg Abbott in 2015: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.” Cheer up, Gov., you’re still #1 in mass shootings!

+ A former US Marine from Oregon named Shane Kohfield was arrested this week after threatening to slaughter Antifa. “Kohfield told Rep Dan Crenshaw that Congress needed to take immediate steps to declare antifa a terrorist organization. Otherwise, he and other veterans would have no choice but to begin systematically killing antifa members “until we have achieved genocide.” This vigilant fellow lives just down the road from me, where he lives with, yes, his parents…

+ Children killed or wounded by gun violence in the U.S. so far this year: 2,529. (If only their parents had armed them.)

+ There’s really no place quite like America: in Ohio armed school guards are being advised, “You understand that you might have to shoot a student, right?”

+ A contrite McKrae Graham, a founder of Hope for Wholeness, one of the nation’s largest conversion therapy groups, came out as gay this week. Will Mike Pence be next?

+ Jeff Sharlet: “For all of you who think Pence is anti-gay, he will be meeting his best gay friends tomorrow [at a pub in Ireland], who aren’t actually his friends. Also, Mother will be there in case they try to gay sex him or make him drink beer.”

+ The Collected Thoughts & Prayers of Mike Pence…


+ Bernie Sanders has introduced a plan to relieve medical debt. This should strike a chord across the country, since 46 million people have experienced the financial trauma of having at least one unpaid medical bill that was sent to a collection agency later show up as a red flag on their credit report.

+ Reports leaking out of the White House suggest that National Security Adviser John Bolton has been locked out of policy meetings on Afghanistan. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving psychopath…

+ India now has 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir to police a population of only 7 million.

+ The number of electronic devices that customs agents are looking at when people enter the United States is increasing, according to Customs and Border Patrol data and an ACLU and EFF lawsuit:

8,500 in 2015
19,000 in 2016
30,000 in 2017

+ Brett Chapman (Ponca): “In my opinion Columbus Day should be changed to February 24 because it was that day in 1495 the first 550 Native Americans he enslaved were forced onto a little slave ship bound for the slave market in Spain. 200 died en route and the Spanish dumped their bodies in the sea.”

+ So Barbara Boxer, once the doyenne of the liberals, left the senate and took a job with Lyft, and is now scribbling op-eds opposing labor regulations in California that would extend employment rights to Lyft & Uber drivers.

+ Since 2011 cyclists have killed 7 pedestrians on NYC streets, less than one a year. In the same period, drivers killed 1,110 pedestrians. Meanwhile, 9 cyclists have been killed by cars in NYC since June. Guess which group the New York Post thinks is an unchecked menace to the city?

+ Calling Dr. Laing. Doesn’t “managing” your mental illness, which many of us have worked hard to cultivate, defeat the point of having one?

+ When Trump visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, was advised that the president was in a “foul mood” and not to show him any “difficult stuff.” When Trump observed the exhibit on the Dutch role in the global slave trade his countenance brightened and he boasted, “You know, they love me in the Netherlands.”

+ It’s early hours yet, but it looks like David Vest and Schooley are leading the pack for winning the Internet for the Week…

+ Trump, his first primary challenger (Bill Weld), and the three top Democratic contenders were all born in the 1940s.

+ But our nuclear plants are even more decrepit than our politicians…

+ Tricolored blackbirds have declined by nearly 90 percent since the 1930s. Not enough, apparently, to warrant them protection under what’s left of the Endangered Species Act.

+ They’re clearcutting the Grand Staircase-Escalante for the benefit of … COWS.

+ From 2001 to 2018, Cambodia lost 2.17 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 25% decrease, according to data analysis by Global Forest Watch.

+ Women in Africa are having, on average, three fewer children than African women were in 1980.

+ Heat deaths are soaring across the Southwest. “There’s only so much our bodies can take,” Rupa Basu, chief of the air and climate epidemiological section for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California, where the number of heat-related deaths doubled between 2015 and 2017. “I think we’re going beyond that temperature threshold.”

+ I stopped at Bonneville Dam last week hoping to get a view of the migrating salmon and steelhead making their way up the giant fish ladders. The dam now resembles an armed camp. A guard stopped me at the gate: “Are you carrying a firearm or a drone?” “No,” I said, chuckling. He looked at me and pointed, “Pull over there, please, and step out of the vehicle.” Yes, he said “vehicle.” Then he strip-searched my car, even opening the hood, an unlikely hiding place for a drone, taking out the spare tire. By the time he was done, it was 4:45 and the dam site closed to public at 5. I thanked him for his service in protecting such a monument to industry and extinction and left. Was it the Hayduke Lives! sticker that aroused his suspicions?

+ Psychologist (and frequent CounterPunch contributor) Roy Eidelson is offering free copies of his important new book Political Mind Games. You can download a pdf copy here.

+ What’s the “Foreclosure Footprint” of Ken Burns’ new Bank of America-sponsored documentary (sure to be tedious) on country music?

+ Linda Ronstadt is now nearly paralyzed by Parkinson’s Disease, but she’s still talking smartly on just about everything, including growing up in the Sonoran desert on the Arizona/Mexico border:

“The stores are wiped out because they don’t get any trade from the United States anymore. There’s concertina wire on the Mexican side that the Americans put up. Animals are getting trapped in there. Children are getting cut on it. It’s completely unnecessary. In the meantime, you see people serenely skateboarding and girls with their rollerskates, kids playing in the park. And you think, We’re afraid of this? They’re just regular kids!”

+ The only thing that makes the slightest sense to me in this long interview with Ram Dass (aka, Richard Alpert) is the following:

Q. Ever want to take acid again for old times’ sake?
A. Yeah.

+ Love in Leather:

Kanye: How did you realize I was the one for you?

Kim: When I went to New York and we went to dinner and the movies, it was just so much fun. I remember I wore a Givenchy feather jacket and leather pants.

+ “Roy Cohn did the impossible,” says Matt Tyrnauer, director of the new documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?”. “He created a president from beyond the grave. I don’t think there’s any disputing that. The basic lessons that Trump learned from Cohn were: Never apologize. If someone hits you, hit them back a thousand times harder. Any publicity is good publicity. And find an ‘other.’”

+ “One day they’ll make a film about the first public screening of “The Painted Bird” at Venice,” wrote Xan Brook in The Guardian. “It will feature the man who fell full-length on the steps in his effort to escape and the well-dressed woman who became so frantic to get out that she hit the stranger in the next seat…The centrepiece will be the moment 12 viewers broke for the doors only to discover that the exit had been locked.”

+ Vaclav Marhoul’s cinematic horrorshow sounds like it’s true to the source material in several respects. Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, which originally was marketed as a thinly veiled account of his experiences during the Holocaust, was revealed to be a complete fabrication by Norman Finkelstein and others. Some accused Kosinski of plagiarizing passages from other Polish writers. While essayist Eliot Weinberger alleged in his book Karmic Traces that Kosinski didn’t write the novel at all. According to my friend Yasha Levine, who has seen Marhoul’s film of the novel, the movie is a “hack job,” with some of the best sequences lifted from Russian directors, while pushing a narrative that repeatedly equates Nazis and communists, with Nazis coming out as superior beings on the morality scale. It sounds like a movie that would warm David Irving’s denialist heart.

+ I met Kosinski a couple of times while he was in DC for the filming of his novel Being There. Kosinski was friends with one of my professors at American University, Arnost Lustig. Lustig was another Holocaust survivor who turned his harrowing experience in eastern Europe as a kid into a career as a novelist (Dita Saxova and Darkness Casts No Shadow) and screenwriter (A Prayer For Katerina Horowitzowa and Diamonds of the Night). Kosinski and Lustig were both charmers and fabulists about some aspects of their own lives. Over drinks at Jakes in Georgetown, Kosinski told us an elaborate story about how he was saved from being slaughtered by the Manson gang by inept baggage handlers at JFK, causing him to miss his flight to LA on the day of the slayings on Cielo Drive.

+ Whatever his dubious merits as a novelist, Kosinski proved himself an able actor during his most famous film role, as Grigory Zinoviev in Warren Beatty’s “Reds.”

Kosinski as Zinoviev in “Reds.”

+On August 30 1963, a “Hot Line” communications link was established between the White House and Kremlin designed to dramatically speed up diplomatic exchanges between the two nations’ leaders in the event of an emergency.

It’s remarkable how much Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick got exactly right about the absurd dynamics of the Cold War in Dr. Strangelove, including the “hot line.”

[the President calls the Soviet Premier]

Hello?… Uh… Hello D- uh hello Dmitri? Listen uh uh I can’t hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? … Oh-ho, that’s much better… yeah… huh… yes… Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri… Clear and plain and coming through fine… I’m coming through fine, too, eh?… Good, then… well, then, as you say, we’re both coming through fine… Good… Well, it’s good that you’re fine and… and I’m fine… I agree with you, it’s great to be fine… a-ha-ha-ha-ha… Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb… The bomb, Dmitri… The hydrogen bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ahm… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?… Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?… Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?… Of course I like to speak to you!… Of course I like to say hello!… Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened… It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call… Listen, if it wasn’t friendly… you probably wouldn’t have even got it… They will not reach their targets for at least another hour… I am… I am positive, Dmitri… Listen, I’ve been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick… Well, I’ll tell you. We’d like to give your air staff a complete run-down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes… Yes! I mean i-i-i-if we’re unable to recall the planes, then… I’d say that, ah… well, ah… we’re just gonna have to help you destroy them, Dmitri… I know they’re our boys… All right, well listen now. Who should we call?… Who should we call, Dmitri? The… wha-whe, the People… you, sorry, you faded away there… The People’s Central Air Defense Headquarters… Where is that, Dmitri?… In Omsk… Right… Yes… Oh, you’ll call them first, will you?… Uh-huh… Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dmitri?… Whe-ah, what? I see, just ask for Omsk information… Ah-ah-eh-uhm-hm… I’m sorry, too, Dmitri… I’m very sorry… All right, you’re sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well… I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don’t say that you’re more sorry than I am, because I’m capable of being just as sorry as you are… So we’re both sorry, all right?… All right.”

Here’s to You, Joe…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Violence of Innocence: a Jungian Inquiry Into the American Psyche
Ipek S. Burnett

The Intervals of Cinema
Jacques Rancière
Translated by John Howe

The Memory Police
Yoko Ogawa
Translated by Stephen Snyder

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Jimmy Lee
Raphael Saadiq

While I’m Livin’
Tanya Tucker

Prison on a Hill
(Tiny Engines)

Images in the Stream
What I’m watching this week...

Director: Laurent Jaoui
Raspail Productions, 2010.

The Art Dealer
Director: François Margolin
Margo Cinema, 2015.

Le Chat dans la sac
Director: Gilles Groulx
(Featuring John Coltrane’s only soundtrack.)
Pathé, 1964.

He had No Money, No family, No friends–Only Hurricanes

Erik Larson: “I relied on an unpublished report by Jose Fernandez-Partagas, a late-twentieth-century meteorologist who recreated for the National Hurricane Center the tracks of many historical hurricanes, among them the Galveston Hurricane. He was a meticulous researcher given to long hours in the library of the University of Miami, where he died on August 25, 1997, in his favorite couch. He had no money, no family, no friends–only hurricanes. The hurricane center claimed his body, had him cremated, and on August 31, 1998, launched his ashes through the drop-port of a P-3 Orion hurricane hunter into the heart of Hurricane Danielle. His remains entered the atmosphere at 28 N., 74.2 W., about three hundred miles due east of Daytona Beach.” (Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History)






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A Different​ War Story: the Soldier and Veteran Resistance Against the War in Vietnam

Photograph Source: U.S. Information Agency – Public Domain

The battle over American war stories began during the peak of the last revolution. Millions of Americans and tens of thousands of veterans and soldiers opposed the war in Vietnam. In the war’s moral outrages, crimes and betrayals, many saw the US empire for the first time. [1]

For the last 40 years, the ruling class has been running away from the problems revealed by the Vietnam War.

The disruptions caused by the Vietnam Era anti-war movement are part of an unfinished revolution that still begs questions. How can a nation that does not practice democracy — or a government that attacks the Bill of Rights at home — convincingly claim it is “a force for good in the world?” How can a military that drives climate change and guarantees the global interests of bankers and oil companies claim to protect or defend anything at all? How can an empire, as large and militaristic as ours, co-exist with democratic rule at home?

American exceptionalism — the idea that we are a chosen people, inherently good, and outside of the normal constraints and contradictions of history —  is one of the founding ideas of American culture. But, when the empire lurches from crisis to crisis even culture as deeply rooted as exceptionalism can be dragged into consciousness and challenged.

As long-time Vietnam Veterans Against the War leader and former Vets for Peace President Dave Cline once told me, “”Vietnam is where all that history changed.”

The Vietnam Legacy They Want You to Forget

US Involvement in South East Asia began as an effort to restore the French and British Empire in Asia. But neither imperial power could weather the storm of WWII or defeat the national liberation struggles that followed.  Soon enough the empire was ours — all ours — and so were the wars. Anti-communism and the Cold War positioned the US as “leader of the free world” and insisted that the Vietnam War was the moral equivalent of WWII.

The enchanting idea of “nation-building” cast the war effort as benign, high-minded and helpful. But the Vietnamese victory over US forces and the peace movement broke the spell and momentarily revealed the empire for what it truly was.

What cannot be honestly explained must be hidden. Because of its revolutionary implications — and its contradictory nature — the history of the soldier and veteran anti-war movements have been largely forgotten. It’s way past time to remember.

Since the Vietnam War the media has censored war news by listing it low on their agenda, omitting it altogether, or, today, marginalizing anti-war social media sites. The government stopped the formal draft and reduced their reliance on US troops to a mere .5% of the population making soldiers and veterans and war casualties less visible.

In order to keep the numbers down, the military brass cynically abused and wounded their own soldiers by forcing them into multiple tours with far too much exposure to combat. Those that endured the ordeal had some serious survival issues returning to “normal” life. Over twenty soldiers and veterans commit suicide each day. It’s hard to fudge that data.

The military had to attack its own soldiers to avoid the reemergence of a Vietnam era style anti-war movement. It was then that a massive peace movement — in the context of the civil rights/black power, student and women’s movement — became not just a movement against the war and — for millions of Americans at least– against empire itself.

By the early 1970s, the political heart of this wide-ranging peace movement was soldier and veteran dissent. Their power came from two sources. First was the fact that soldier resistance was a real material constraint on military operations and — second to the bloody sacrifices of the Vietnamese people themselves — was a major factor limiting the military’s ability to wage war.

Just as important, the soldiers and veterans had the cultural and political credibility to help working-class Americans question and challenge the war and, in some cases, the existing order itself.

“The most common charge leveled against the antiwar movement is that it was composed of cowards and draft dodgers. To have in it people who had served in the military…who were in fact patriots by the prowar folks own definition was a tremendous thing. VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) in 1970 and 1971 was unlike almost anything I’d seen in terms of its impact on the public…We took away more and more of the symbolic and rhetorical tools available to the prowar folks–just gradually squeezed them into a corner…we took away little by little the reasons people had not to listen to the antiwar movement.” [2]

“We took away more and more of the symbolic and rhetorical tools available to the prowar folks.” This is the transformative dynamic at the heart of military resistance which made it both revolutionary, deeply contradictory and hard for people to understand.

Ideals like the “citizen-solder” were claimed by the military because they motivated soldiers with high moral appeals. But under the conditions of the period, such ideals were transformed, refashioned and repurposed into a new service ideal that would wage — not war — but peace. They rocked the foundation of military culture not simply by criticizing it or repudiating it — that’s easy — but by transforming it — that’s the hardest thing in the world. Transformation is what revolutions are made of.

The Vietnam legacy reveals the importance of supporting anti-war soldiers and veterans because they have power far beyond their numbers. This argument is not idle speculation. Although I am not a veteran, I was nearly drafted into the Army in 1971-2. It made me rethink my life. Then I got involved as a young activist and organizer in the anti-war and radical movements of the period. Inspired by a few anti-war veterans I knew, I spent a decade researching the soldier and veteran anti-war movement and wrote New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era.

Here is the shortest possible summary of a movement that came to speak for approximately half of all soldiers and veterans of the time:

During the American War in Vietnam, soldiers refused to go into combat and resisted commands of all kinds. The lowly foot soldier demanded democracy inside their combat units by insisted on discussing actions rather than simply following orders. They marched in protest and sent tens of thousands of letters to Congress opposing the war. In desperation, they attacked reckless officers — their own officers. An international underground newspaper network spread the word. Thousands resisted the war effort in ways large and small.

Massive prison riots of US soldiers in American military jails in Vietnam — like the uprising at Long Binh Jail — disrupted military command. Over 600 cases of combat refusal rose to the level of a court-martial, some involving entire units. US soldiers violently attacked US officers over a thousand times. Urban rebellions at home and the assassination of Martin Luther King had a profound impact pushing black troops toward war resistance.

The military brass lost their ability to enforce discipline and wage war. In 1971 Colonel Robert D. Heinl claimed:

“The morale, discipline, and battle-worthiness of the US armed forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.”

From the bottom up, US troops replaced “search and destroy” missions with “search and avoid” missions. In some areas of Vietnam “search and avoid” became a way of life. A US Army Colonel recalls:

“I had influence over an entire province. I put my men to work helping with the harvest…Once the NVA understood what I was doing they eased up. I am talking to you about a defacto truce you understand. The war stopped in most of the province. It’s the kind of history that doesn’t get recorded. Few people even know it happened and no one will ever admit that it happened.”[3]

Anti-war soldiers were simultaneously on the front lines of war and the front lines of the anti-war movement.[4]

When they came home veterans became the leading protestors as the civilian movement fractured. Black veterans joined civil rights groups or revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panthers that connected peace and internationalism with local community service.

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) had at least 25,000 members — 80% were combat veterans –and the VVAW became leaders in the anti-war movement in the early 1970’s.

The VVAW kicked off some of the largest civil disobedience protests against the war. In one of the most stirring moments of the entire peace movement veterans returned their medals on the steps of the US capital.

This was the most important working-class peace movement in American history. Since those days there has been an unbroken tradition of opposition to war from service members, veterans and their families. Today the tradition is carried on by the Veterans For Peace, About Face: Veterans Against War, Military Families Speak Out.

The VVAW remains the only peace group founded during the Vietnam resistance still in existence today.

Soldier and veteran resistance was a blow against the empire. Can it become one again?


1/ See, New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam War.

2/ Ben Chitty is quoted in, New Winter Soldiers, p.130

3/ Moser, p. 132

4/ See a new collection of essays Waging Peace in Vietnam, Edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright and Barbara Doherty



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9/11 and the American Orwellian Nightmare

Total Information Awareness logo.

Next week will mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Politicians and bureaucrats wasted no time after that carnage to unleash the Surveillance State on average Americans, treating every citizen like a terrorist suspect.   Since the government failed to protect the public, Americans somehow forfeited their constitutional right to privacy. Despite heroic efforts by former NSA staffer Edward Snowden and a host of activists and freedom fighters, the government continues ravaging American privacy.

Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo sent a secret memo to the Bush White House declaring that the Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches was null and void: “If the government’s heightened interest in self-defense justifies the use of deadly force, then it also certainly would justify warrantless searches.” Yoo is best known for writing a harebrained memo on why presidents can order torture but he also helped sanctify the wholesale demolition of privacy.

Two of the largest leaps towards an American “1984” Orwellian nightmare began in 2002. Though neither the Justice Department’s Operation TIPS nor the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program was brought to completion, perverse parcels and precedents from each program profoundly influenced subsequent federal policies.

In July 2002, the Justice Department unveiled Operation TIPS — the Terrorism Information and Prevention System. According to the Justice Department website, TIPS would be “a nationwide program giving millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity.” TIPSters would be people who, “in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to serve as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement.” The feds aimed to recruit people in jobs that “make them uniquely well positioned to understand the ordinary course of business in the area they serve, and to identify things that are out of the ordinary.” Homeland Security boss Tom Ridge said that observers in certain occupations “might pick up a break in the certain rhythm or pattern of a community.” The feds planned to enlist as many as 10 million people to watch other people’s “rhythms.” Best of all, TIPsters could gather and report personal information on people without the nuisance of acquiring a search warrant.

The Justice Department provided no definition of “suspicious behavior” to guide its vigilantes. But the notion of recruiting millions of run-a-muk informants spurred protests; even the U.S. Postal Service briefly balked at participating in the program. Ridge insisted that TIPS “is not a government intrusion.” He declared, “The last thing we want is Americans spying on Americans. That’s just not what the president is all about, and not what the TIPS program is all about.” Ridge refrained from christening the program with the motto: “Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”

When Attorney General John Ashcroft was cross-examined by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on TIPS at a Judiciary Committee hearing on July 25, he insisted that “the TIPS program is something requested by industry to allow them to talk about anomalies that they encounter.” But, when President Bush had initially portrayed the program as an administration initiative. Did thousands of Teamsters Union members petition 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to join the fight against fellow citizens’ “anomalies”? Senator Leahy asked whether reports to the TIPS hotline would become part of a federal database with millions of unsubstantiated allegations against American citizens. Ashcroft told Leahy, “I have recommended that there would be none, and I’ve been given assurance that the TIPS program would not maintain a database.” But Ashcroft could not reveal which federal official had given him the assurance.

The ACLU’s Laura Murphy observed, “This is a program where people’s activities, statements, posters in their windows or on their walls, nationality, and religious practices will be reported by untrained individuals without any relationship to criminal activity.” San Diego law professor Marjorie Cohn observed, “Operation TIPS … will encourage neighbors to snitch on neighbors and won’t distinguish between real and fabricated tips. Anyone with a grudge or vendetta against another can provide false information to the government, which will then enter the national database.”

On August 9, the Justice Department announced it was fine-tuning TIPS, abandoning any “plan to ask thousands of mail carriers, utility workers, and others with access to private homes to report suspected terrorist activity,” the Washington Post reported. People who had enlisted to be TIPSters received an email notice from Uncle Sam that “only those who work in the trucking, maritime, shipping, and mass transit industries will be eligible to participate in this information referral service.” But the Justice Department continued refusing to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee who would have access to the TIPS reports.

After the proposal created a fierce backlash across the political board, House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Tex.) attached an amendment to homeland security legislation that declared, “Any and all activities of the federal government to implement the proposed component program of the Citizen Corps known as Operation TIPS are hereby prohibited.” But the Bush administration and later the Obama administration pursued the same information roundup with federally funded fusion centers that encouraged people to file “suspicious activity reports” for a bizarre array of innocuous behavior such as taking photos, waiting too long for a bus, having “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper stickers. Those reports continue to be dumped into secret federal databases that can vex innocent citizens in perpetuity.

Operation TIPS illustrated how the momentum of intrusion spurred government to propose programs that it never would have attempted before 9/11. If Bush had proposed in August 2001 to recruit 10 million Americans to snitch on any neighbors they suspected of being potential troublemakers, the public might have concluded the president had gone berserk. Instead, the federal government proceeded to vacuum up info like the Home Owners Association From Hell.

Total Information Awareness: 300 million dossiers

The USA PATRIOT Act created a new Information Office in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In January 2002, the White House chose retired admiral John Poindexter to head the new office. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explained, “Admiral Poindexter is somebody who this administration thinks is an outstanding American, an outstanding citizen, who has done a very good job in what he has done for our country, serving the military.” It was unclear whether the Bush administration chose Poindexter because of or in spite of his five felony convictions for false testimony to Congress and destruction of evidence during the investigation of the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages exchange. Poindexter’s convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court, which cited the immunity Congress granted his testimony.

Poindexter committed the new Pentagon office to achieving Total Information Awareness (TIA). TIA’s mission is “to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists — and decipher their plans — and thereby enable the U.S. to take timely action to successfully preempt and defeat terrorist acts,” according to DARPA. According to Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge, TIA would seek to discover “connections between transactions — such as passports; visas; work permits; driver’s licenses; credit cards; airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases — and events — such as arrests or suspicious activities and so forth.” Aldridge agreed that every phone call a person made or received could be entered into the database. With “voice recognition” software, the actual text of the call could also go onto a permanent record.

TIA would also strive to achieve “Human Identification at a Distance” (HumanID), including “Face Recognition,” “Iris Recognition,” and “Gait Recognition.” The Pentagon issued a request for proposals to develop an “odor recognition” surveillance system that would help the feds identify people by their sweat or urine — potentially creating a wealth of new job opportunities for deviants.

TIA’s goal was to stockpile as much information as possible about everyone on Earth — thereby allowing government to protect everyone from everything. New York Times columnist William Safire captured the sweep of the new surveillance system: “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book, and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’” Columnist Ted Rall noted that the feds would even scan “veterinary records. The TIA believes that knowing if and when Fluffy got spayed — and whether your son stopped torturing Fluffy after you put him on Ritalin — will help the military stop terrorists before they strike.”

Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, an Atlanta-based public-interest law firm, warned that TIA was “the most sweeping threat to civil liberties since the Japanese-American internment.” The ACLU’s Jay Stanley labeled TIA “the mother of all privacy invasions. It would amount to a picture of your life so complete, it’s equivalent to somebody following you around all day with a video camera.” A coalition of civil-liberties groups protested to Senate leaders, “There are no systems of oversight or accountability contemplated in the TIA project. DARPA itself has resisted lawful requests for information about the Program pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.”

Bush administration officials were outraged by such criticisms. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared, “The hype and alarm approach is a disservice to the public…. I would recommend people take a nice deep breath. Nothing terrible is going to happen.” Poindexter promised that TIA would be designed to “preserve rights and protect people’s privacy while helping to make us all safer.” (Poindexter was not under oath at the time of his statement.)

TIA was defended on the basis that “nobody has been searched” until the feds decide to have him arrested on the basis of data the feds snared. Undersecretary Aldridge declared, “It is absurd to think that DARPA is somehow trying to become another police agency. DARPA’s purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of this technology. If it proves useful, TIA will then be turned over to the intelligence, counterintelligence, and law-enforcement communities as a tool to help them in their battle against domestic terrorism.” The FBI joined the fun, working on a memorandum of understanding with the Pentagon “for possible experimentation” with TIA. Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Security Paul McHale later confirmed that the Pentagon would turn TIA over to law-enforcement agencies once the system was ready to roll.

In response to its paranoid critics, DARPA removed the spooky Information Awareness Office logo from the program’s website. That logo showed a giant green eye atop a pyramid, covering half the globe with a peculiar yellow haze and the motto “Scientia est Potentia” (Knowledge is Power). DARPA received no credit for refraining from using a more honest maxim such as “You’re Screwed.”

In April 2003, DARPA program manager Lt. Col. Doug Dyer publicly announced that Americans are obliged to sacrifice some privacy in the name of security: “When you consider the potential effect of a terrorist attack against the privacy of an entire population, there has to be some trade-off.” But nothing in the U.S. Constitution entitled the Pentagon to decree how much privacy or liberty American citizens deserve.

In September 2003, Congress passed an amendment abolishing the Pentagon’s Information Office and ending TIA funding. But by that point, DARPA had already awarded 26 contracts for dozens of private research projects to develop components for TIA and a working protype already existed. The facial recognition software now being deployed at the U.S. border and at airports may be one legacy of that program.

While specific policies or proposals have been rebuffed since 9/11, there has been no turning of the tide against the Orwellian nightmare federal agencies have spawned. From the TSA to the National Security Agency to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, our privacy continues to be ravaged in ways that would have mortified earlier generations of Americans.  But nothing happened on 9/11 that made the federal government more trustworthy.

An earlier version of this essay was published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

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Killing Ideology: A Defense of Postmodernism

Photograph Source: Data.Tron [8K Enhanced Version] by Ryoji Ikeda on show in transmediale 10 – Shervinafshar – CC BY-SA 3.0

There still remains much confusion over what postmodernity actually means, so take this sentence as only one attempt, courtesy of Urban Dictionary: “A term that you keep on hearing about in college and have to look up on Wikipedia. Basically says “fuck it” to the search for any intellectual conclusions.” Or, with less hostility from the same website: “The idea that there is no objective meaning, only subjective meaning, the meaning one brings to a thing, irrespective of the intent of the author, or of the Author, or of reality.”

Intellectuals who have fundamentally misunderstood postmodernism have claimed that it represents nothing—that the only purpose of said philosophy is to evade conclusion and remain aloof from the material condition of the common man. Criticisms of postmodernism intrude from both the left and right. From the right-wing, postmodernity may be associated with cultural Marxism—which is a way of both dismissing Marx and liberalism at once, and perhaps more importantly to link them in their same shared safe space of victimhood that will never be taken seriously by the right precisely because if the right were to see hierarchy, power, oppression, or privilege, it would no longer be able to look in the mirror.

More troubling is the critique of postmodernism from the left, where leftists may associate this grand theory with neoliberalism’s ethos of immorality and individualism. In short, the left is getting postmodernism completely backward when one thinks of it this way. Postmodernism is actually a way to build on Marxism, rather than replace it or distract from it. Any other conclusion would be buying the false divide between intersectional forms of liberation.

What postmodernity claims is that there is no truth precisely because the individual subject has a cultural/historical context—which seems directly in line with Marx’s radical humanism that treated human beings as actors and victims of a system, rather than competitive and unworthy figures.

To claim that subjectivity is nothing would be not dissimilar to Mr. Trump’s claim that all news is fake. Critics of postmodernity see it as the other way around. They assume that denying the existence of objective truth is denying truth altogether. Even Michel Foucalt, perhaps the most famous quote on quote postmodernist rejected the label because he wanted to be seen as someone who questioned the system. Mr. Foucalt should have embraced the label because the claim that there is no objectivity not only naturally favors the unheard (class and otherwise), we see that it fundamentally rejects the authoritarianism of even its own voice.

Even the best of critics of the corporate distribution of information and art in today’s neoliberal global economy find themselves in a position of totalitarianism. This is because they undergo the following process, which is the same as Mr. Trump’s analysis, even if far more accurate in its attempt at objectivity. Step 1 is to take what is accepted as the objective truth (accepted mainstream history, news, art, etc.) and point to its corruption (primarily financial but also could be ethnic or any other type of supposed imperfection, or a linkage, such as Jewish owned media smears). Once the objective truth of the “ruling class” is accepted by the consumer as merely subjective propaganda, we find the next step is to insert one’s own subjective interpretation of reality as objective truth, rather than, as a normal person might do, offering up your ideas as subjective alternatives. Now we find that there is new authority in the rogue subject and truth comes to gain meaning not through proof, but through the authority of the actor involved.

So, when postmodern folks claim subjectivity it is not that they are saying nothing, it is that they are acknowledging both their own flaws and the need for constant interrogation of the facts laid out before us. The idea that one must come to a conclusion in order to find truth is actually the definition of fascism. If a dictionary must appear in its final form, who says the human race must not also? And how would such a society deal with change—specifically that of cultural migration and economic unease.

So, hopefully, this at least establishes the urgent need to abandon the very concept of objective truth. Objective truth is anti-democratic. There is no such thing as an unbiased statement that has not been shaped by elements of power or hierarchy. There is no such thing as a random statement, and there is no such thing as a true statement. In fact, a random statement and a true statement amount to the same thing, and it is only by connecting them that we can give meaning to either.

I can hear the grumbles now. Saying truth is the same as randomness is actually saying nothing! Really? Then why on earth react to it at all? If this statement really said nothing, wouldn’t a more adequate response be: ‘what do you think?’ or even, just in case ‘can you speak up?’ No, but truth, in how we arrive at its exact conclusions, can only retain any meaning if we acknowledge how arbitrary it is to get to that exact spot of perfection. It is only then that we can begin to unpack the biases that got us to that spot, which of course aren’t random at all, and link throughout history, sociology, geography, physics and biology. It is only after we unmask the assumption that is in authority that we can dethrone it and restore democracy.

Now, there is nothing true about democracy either. Each person operates within their own distance from the truth but at least, to borrow Marx, implies ownership of the production of truth, rather than the blind following of it. Does such a philosophy naturally imply the free market, rather than Marxism? Not necessarily. The distribution of goods, the control over the means of production, those sorts of things are not the same as ideas, let alone people. It could be very possible to have a centralized form of economics that thrived for diverse ideas and people. In fact, such a neutral form of economics—pure in its democracy and lack of discrimination—would imply absolute blindness to differences and a replacement of this hierarchy of difference with universal human rights. That doesn’t mean that each difference wouldn’t get a say, it is to say that each would have a right, no matter their say.

It is fairly obvious that an economy that has no such tools to guarantee human rights would naturally create hierarchies to (re) order distribution and create profits. The idea that one must have an objective idea of truth to reject neoliberalism implies that the neoliberalism was a cultural, not an economic counter-revolution. This seems to apply a backward order of operations. Even though the neoliberal has assaulted the cultural and the personal, it a truly perplexing leap for Marxists to make the claim that as soon as the economic theory of their “objective” choice falls out of favor, we suddenly are not talking about economics anymore, but culture that drives the economy. Just dead wrong.

The goal of the lie of objective truth is to establish power for a certain group of people, so that they can therefore profit from and exploit the people whose truth does not fit the proper definition of normality. That’s why Foucalt saw prisons so clearly. What is a prison? And who decides it?

The corporate class accomplishes their goal by constructing the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” and then implying that the world runs on a war of ideas (culture) rather than a war of resources (economics). Let’s look at the origin of the terms left and right, which like Mr. Foucalt, must be excused (more like celebrated) as French!

During the French Revolution, the terms left and right merely referred to which side along a row one sat. The rich noble folk were on the right, the working class challengers on the left. It was simply a geographical distinction of interests (I was going to say class but that is not even exact, as we’ll discuss in a moment). The key point here is that people didn’t have different ideas about what was most “effective” in politics, the sides simply had different goals.

In fact, one doesn’t ever have an idea if it does not fit the goal they have in mind. It is said that the only people who believe in love are rich men and pretty women because why else would they get married? Now, if one gets the joke there it is simply that one can come to believe an ideology because it is convenient for them to do so. If one runs an oil company, it is convenient to believe climate change is not real. If this oil executive has an ocean front property, perhaps the more convenient idea becomes that poor people are lazy and deserve to die, seeing that denying climate change would lose them their home. Now, not everything is self-interested as I describe above, I would like to think most things aren’t, but it is all goal-oriented, many times altruistic.

But a pure all-knowing form of truth? Impossible! Fascist! And above all arrogant and blasphemous.

So when one sees a framing such a debate between left and right we must expose it. Firstly, such framing trivializes matter to personal preference, rather than material existence. The truth is that politics decides who lives, who dies, who cries, and who laughs. It is not enough to say people have an ideological disagreement. Do some people really favor death? And some sadness? While the other half of people favor life and happiness? Seems unlikely.

An idea is only seen as “working” by the corporate-controlled media if it gains profit. The truth is that the more a company neglects their consumers and workers, the more profit they will gain, and the more this company will grow. So a company that loses money is most likely “good” for most people, just not for their CEO. This is why there should be no private companies, only government ones that lose boatloads of money and provide for consumers and workers alike.

In a previous article, I argued that we should replace ideology with class but I have since come to recognize that class itself is just one of many material conditions (even if it is, as Marxists say, the defining one). Ultimately the role that class plays in the argument we have outlined is no different a role than any other group and therefore in political terms should exist not as a passive condition but an active group in which to organize common interests.

This is why it is astounding that many on the left and right agree that identity politics is bad or “gone too far” or something. Class, as the lettered John Helmeke points out, is an identity. This is not just superficially, obviously, but materially. Which is true for all identity politics, and this is why the materialist left should be pro-identity politics.

The argument against postmodernism is that it takes what was once concrete class and labor-based criticism and obscures it into liberal cultural nonsense. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that culture has multiplied and thus so should criticism? It surely is true that labor and class in the corporate media is the last thing to get talked about, and in that sense cultural radicalism will always be taken more seriously than economic radicalism in these spaces.

Still, should resentment of this fact really drive any discussion? Should we really be so keen on the objective, measurable role of wealth inequality that we reject all nuance and democratic possibility in our discourse?

This is not to say that the postmodern tilt to inaction and uncertainty is not in many ways perfect for the corporate bottom line. However, what we must begin to understand is that the tyranny of intolerance comes from the consolidation of ideas and diversification of economics. What the anti-modern subject of today argues is that the ideas have become too astray from their everyday lives while economics have become too centralized in a few hands.

This seems to be a backwards critique. Competition of economics is naturally bad for it allows companies to compete for the lowest price, thus the worst working conditions or the most environmental exploitation. If there was a government monopoly with no interest in price, this would never happen, barring corruption, which is cited as an inevitable form of communism. Surely that is true, but corruption is exactly where capitalism starts, so if communism was to end there, we’d find ourselves no worse in trying. On the other hand, anti-modern folks find that the diversity of ideas, the decentralizing of traditional social structures and the increasing intelligence of the average person must be alienating from the natural human way.

Here we find the great blind spot in an objective reality that is so resistant to change, or ironically, to truth. Postmodernity may be ahead spin but isn’t that the point of any worthy idea? To improve, rather than dull the masses? Would babying people under the guise of anti-intellectualism be anything more than privileged and condescending reductive assumptions about the so-called common man?

The greatest artists leave the viewer with a question, with a hunger to learn more, with possibility, with uncertainty, and with joy in the process. It is past time to reclaim postmodernism as the future of humanity. We have come too far to limit ourselves to concrete truths when the everyday concrete struggle for water, food, shelter, health care and peace remain so allusive. Why limit our thoughts in the same way we limit resources? Why can’t our ideas be bold enough to expand, to multiply, to breathe?

If the postmodern critics throw stones out of insecurity and shame for their lack of understanding, let me assure them that there is no need. No one understands it, and that is the beauty of every important idea, and the beauty of every stranger. To react with so much intolerance to ideas that challenge makes one wonder about the durability of tolerance for the Other, which will be the central question of our times as the old becomes uprooted and often dropped at our doorsteps, challenging the welcome mat, or even the 2nd amendment warning on the door.

It is true that every objective truth, ever marker of grand civilization, has been built on the back of the common man (especially common woman) and common beast. To ask the subjective truth its thoughts on such a matter naturally invites the Other in, and reminds us not that there is no objective truth, but there are always many sides unheard in its effects. Until every side, at every time is heard, by everyone, can the truth ever be known, or can it only be thrived for? The only lie is to say that truth has already been found. Such is the tyranny of Mr. Trump has he attempts to replace democratic education with the adoration of authority.

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Extinction Rebellion: What is it?

The climate crisis is turning average law-abiding people into raging law-breaking eco rebels, by boatloads. Extinction Rebellion (ER) is at the forefront, demanding that governments declare climate emergencies and take urgent action.

In that regard, ER, which started in the UK, says government must reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2025, or else! Social chaos will spring loose from within the darkened shadows of a raging climate, bringing civilized society to its knees and within current lifetimes. For proof, read the science, which says it all. We’re doomed without taking action to cut greenhouse emissions to Net Zero.

In that regard, in November 2018 ER activist extraordinaire Jenny Shearer super glued herself to a railing outside the glorious golden-trimmed gates of Buckingham Palace in expectation that: “This will get the Royal family to come and join us.” Meanwhile, another 2,000 ER activists brought a coffin, which symbolized a “sure-fire death sentence” facing the “next generation” vestiges of the present-day crisis.

For ER warriors, the climate crisis is like a freight train with failing breaks barreling down a mountainside headed for a massive wipeout of society. Regrettably, it’ll happen way too soon to take comfort today.

This coming October 31st marks the one-year anniversary of ER from beginnings on Parliament Square on October 31st 2018 when the ER leaders announced a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK government, expecting a couple hundred people to attend. Surprisingly, 1,500 showed up to exercise their right to peaceful civil disobedience whilst breaking the law and getting arrested.

Shortly thereafter, 6,000 ER activists peacefully blocked five major bridges across the River Thames. They planted trees in the middle of Parliament Square, and dug a hole for a coffin. Additionally, they lie down in streets or at entryways to public buildings, bringing parts of London and other UK cities to a standstill.

Roger Hallam, an organic farmer and Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University and Co-Founder of Extinction Rebellion, was recently interview on BBC’s Hard Talk hosted by Stephen Sackur d/d August 2019.

When asked why ER?

Hallam responded: “Millions of people around the world have realized, or have come to the point where something drastic has to happen… And, um… nothing is happening, and that means you have to start breaking the law in order to make change happen.”

According to Hallam, people are waking up to the fact that governments have been lying about the issue of global warming for the past 30 years and experts have been lying about the consequences, fudging the data or low-balling. Over the years, elites and governments have said carbon emissions would go down, but they haven’t; they’ve gone up 60% since 1990, and they’re still going up. This was supposed to be the decade when all sorts of positive stuff would happen, but it’s not happening.

“As a result, people are very angry. People are in a rage. People don’t want their kids to die. There are no words to describe how serious it is.”

According to Hallam, other organized groups, like Greenpeace, have “fundamentally failed” to alter the climate crisis. Across the board, everybody has failed.

“The fact of the matter is we are facing mass starvation within the next 10 years, social collapse, and the possible extinction of humans. It couldn’t be worse. This situation has come about after 30 years of failure, failure by the elites, failure by the governments, and failure by campaigners.” (Hallam)

As a result, the table has been set for a powerful aggressive hands-on approach to resolving the crisis, and ER is the most successful climate change movement in the UK. In the first year, 100,000 people signed up. As such, ER has changed the conversation in the UK because it is “dedicated to telling the truth,” and the truth is governments and elites have been lying to people for 30 years.

The truth is all about hard physics… the science is real, meaning: “We face social collapse as and when weather systems around the world collapse because of rampant climate change.”

As Hallam describes it, if there is no fundamental change in the structure of the global economy in the next ten years, then we’re headed for global catastrophe, and for certain mass social collapse with concomitant mass starvation.

BBC’s Sackur challenged ER’s ability to gain public support for its radicalized programs by utilizing a negative approach. In response, Hallam explained how before 1,200 arrests of ER eco radicals in the streets of London in April of this year in the biggest civil disobedience demonstration in British history, the British public didn’t have any opinion on climate emergency. Afterwards, 67% of the British public agreed there is an emergency. That is a remarkable achievement and enormously telling of hidden awareness by the general public.

Not only, but according to Hallam, the capitalistic system is in the process of destroying itself because it is destroying the climate. Increasingly, people in the streets are aware of this. Thus, socialism is no longer irreverent, as it gains credibility because the capitalist state of affairs ignores the crisis, and in fact feeds into it, which the general public understands much better than realized.

In celebration of a year’s resounding success, this coming October 2019 there will be thousands of people in massive civil disturbances in the streets of London, nonviolent, respectful, but disruptive. That’s ER’s methodology, and it works, as it additionally spreads to America and the world.

According to Hallam, unless governments and elites undertake immediate action, the trajectory for the planet is the death of six billion people this century.

Still, ER has experienced defections. Simon McKibbin, a lecturer at Cambridge University, left ER because of Hallam’s plan to shut down Heathrow Airport with drones. McKibben said: Flying drones into busy airspace is a departure from nonviolence. It threatens people and creates the potential of losing the good will of the public.

However, Hallam, who said he is not yet committed to using drones at Heathrow, is resolute, stating that if nonviolence does not work, then the next hurdle for society is bound to be the desperation of violence, which ER avoids. He says it is inevitable that ER will win the hearts and minds of the public as they awaken to the fact that their governments have failed them in this crucial life and death struggle.

After all, climate change/global warming is one of the most recognizable things in human history, but maybe that’s part of the problem, as familiarity nurtures solace. Which is one more reason why Extinction Rebellion is so important in rescuing civilization from falling into the surrealism pit of a very strange rabbit hole.

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The VA as Workers’ Comp: Why Socialized Medicine for Veterans is Worth Defending

Think of America’s forever wars as a funnel between the largest and second largest federal government departments.

Entering at the top of the funnel, via the Department of Defense (DOD), are poor and working-class men and women who enlist in the military, often to escape difficult economic circumstances.

After being sent abroad, hundreds of thousands end up in a world of hurt and further financial distress. Their later need for disability benefits or health care—“workers’ compensation” as it’s called in the civilian world—is met, at the other end of the funnel, by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Despite the many costly and disastrous foreign interventions planned by the DOD, it has a far bigger fan club on Capitol Hill than the VA.  The latter runs a Veterans Health Administration (VHA), serving nine million patients, which is the continual target of bipartisan political attacks, privatization schemes, and underfunding.

When the DOD (or the White House acting on its behalf) asks for a bigger budget, the House and Senate—with few dissenters—vies for which body can allocate more money faster.

On June 12, the House passed a military spending bill that would give the Pentagon another $733 billion. According to the New York Timesmoderate Democrats were “reluctant to cut that number” because it was less than the $750 annual budget previously approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

In the House Democratic caucus, among those carrying the ball for the DOD was Mikie Sherrill, an ex-Navy pilot elected last year. She criticized her liberal colleagues for not believing “in a muscular foreign policy and muscular national defense like I do.” Meanwhile, even the former military officers, like Sherrill, who sit in Congress and lead the charge for the Pentagon, tend to be far less “muscular” in their defense of veterans’ healthcare.

In 2018, Democrats on the Hill helped conservative Republicans and the Trump Administration pass the VA MISSION  Act. As currently being implemented, this legislation will siphon billions of dollars away from the VHA’s budget and direct that money toward private doctors and for-profit hospitals often ill-prepared to treat veterans.

As the VHA is starved of needed funding, its staffing levels will further decline and then its nationwide network of public hospitals and clinics will be dismantled. (According to union estimates, there are already 49,000 existing vacancies.)

Rather than expanding veterans’ access to high quality care,  Republicans—backed by the Koch Brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America—and their Democratic Party enablers are laying the groundwork for complete privatization of veterans’ healthcare.

Under the guise of saving taxpayers money and giving veterans more “choice,” these bipartisan opponents of Medicare for All want our best working model of single-payer healthcare to become a poster child for its “failure.”

On the left, M4A advocates like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez well understand this threat to health care reform for everyone. Sanders has long championed veterans’ health care improvements in Vermont and nationally when he was chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Ocasio-Cortez recently joined forces with Veterans for Peace and VHA nurses, who work in her Bronx-Queens district, to hold a town hall  meeting against privatization.

VA Care As Workers’ Comp

Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Government and Policy Affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America, is a leading defender of the VHA who notes, with wry understatement, that “the military is a collection of very dangerous occupations.”

The best-known hazards of military service are encountered in combat, of course. Enlisted men and women assigned to front-line duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere have returned with gun-shot wounds, lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD or MST, and respiratory problems from burn-pit exposure.

During non-combat duty, even more military personnel suffer job-related injuries or illnesses similar to those experienced by millions of blue-collar workers in civilian life.

Most American workers who get hurt on the job or develop an occupational disease soon become familiar with the shortcomings of our fifty-state system of workers’ compensation. Benefit levels are too low. Private employers fight their claims. Rehabilitation services are fragmented and managed by private insurers.  Workers who get approved treatment for specific work-related conditions may not be able to return to work. At some point, this deprives them of job-based medical coverage for themselves and their families. So even successful workers’ comp claimants can end up in personal bankruptcy due to unpaid bills for other care.

In contrast, veterans who qualify for VHA medical benefits, due to their low income or service related condition, land on an island of socialized medicine within our larger system of private insurance and for-profit health care providers.

After getting a disability rating based on a particular service-related illness or injury, a veteran enters the VHA system and becomes eligible for  unrelated treatment, then or later–from hip replacements to cancer surgery and hospice care.

Like residents of the UK covered by the National Health Service, VHA patients get the benefit of an integrated national network of public hospitals and clinics. All VHA doctors, nurses, and therapists are salaried, not paid on a “fee for service” basis. About a third of the VHA’s 300,000 staff members are veterans themselves. This helps create a unique culture of empathy and solidarity between patients and providers that has no counterpart in American medicine.


Healing Shattered Minds

Due to the fact that the DOD is not the most safety-minded employer in the world, many VHA patients have medical conditions attributable to the military’s own failure to provide them with adequate protective equipment or even hazard exposure warnings.

In their new book Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets investigative reporters Robert H. Bauman and Dina Rasor describe how most troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were never issued relatively inexpensive helmet pads that would have better shielded them from the impact of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and the risk of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)

As Bauman and Rasor report, service members had to order state-of-the-art pads at their own expense or get help modifying their helmets from a non-profit group called Operation Helmet. The authors estimate that supplying troops with properly engineered helmet pads could have prevented between 300,000 and 400,000 TBIs.

A more common, less serious, service related complaint of VHA patients is hearing loss and tinnitus. That’s because almost every branch of the military exposes enlisted men and women to high levels of noise. In the Air Force and Navy, there’s the constant roar of jet engines. In the Navy, there’s the metallic clanking that rebounds through the echo chamber of a submarine or other naval vessels. You don’t have to deploy to the Middle East to be deafened by explosions. Just going through basic training with the U.S. military’s own ordinance can be enough to insure diminished hearing capacity later in life.

Similarly, infantry training leads to musculoskeletal problems because it involves hauling around sixty- to one hundred-pound packs that place an excessive burden on necks, shoulders, knees, backs and ankles.

Veterans also bring signature issues from particular eras. In Vietnam, draftees and enlisted men were exposed to Agent Orange. Other Cold-war era soldiers and sailors found themselves involved in chemical warfare experiments, nuclear weapons testing, and base cleanups with little personal protection. Troops sent to liberate Kuwait came back with symptoms of “Gulf War Syndrome.” Veterans of multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan were often exposed to lung damaging and cancer causing toxic burn-pits. Insurgent use of IEDs in those two countries has led the VHA to become a leading center of research on and treatment of traumatic brain injuriessuffered by thousands of troops and professional football players, who now arrange to have their brains sent to the VHA for post-mortem verification of their condition.


Veterans’ Suicide Risk

Combat veterans often suffer from mental health issues, like PTSD. Even men now in their eighties or nineties, who witnessed nightmarish scenes of death and destruction many decades ago in Korea or World War II, seek VHA help for disturbed sleep today. Veterans who suffer from mental and behavioral health problems—whether acquired in or exacerbated by military service— are more prone to substance abuse, particularly opioid use if chronic pain is involved.

They also become a bigger suicide risk. An estimated 20 veterans a day kill themselves, although three-quarters of those have never been to the VHA for treatment. Between 2006 and 2015, the number of veterans receiving specialized mental health care at the VHA rose from 900,000 annually to 1.6 million, a reflection of the ongoing collateral damage from never-ending foreign wars.

VHA caregivers are trained to identify and treat these very specific wounds of war.  Every VHA employee receives training in how to better recognize and assist patients who are suicidal. Thousands of VHA mental health providers are taught the latest evidence-based treatments for PTSD. (Outside the VHA, only 30% of private sector providers use such treatments).  And primary care providers and specialists alike recognize the kind of diseases produced by toxic exposures, such as Agent Orange related diabetes or burn-pit created respiratory problems.

The VHA ranks with Kaiser Permanente as one of the most heavily unionized health care systems in the country. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), National Nurses United (NNU),  the Service Employees International Union and the Machinist-affiliated National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) have more than 120,000 members serving veterans. Thanks to this union presence—currently under attack by the White House—veterans’ hospital management pays more attention to the kinds of occupational hazards that are rampant in health care work , particularly in non-union facilities.

For example, the VHA was the first – and may be one of the only U.S. healthcare systems – to install the kind of lift equipment that helps nursing staff avoid debilitating and often career ending back, neck and shoulder injuries.

Due to the troubled and occasionally violent behavior of some patients, the VHA also goes to great lengths to insure a safe workplace for its mental health care providers. (Unfortunately, as documented in a recent Intercept report, the overly aggressive behavior of some Veterans Affairs police officers is not contributing to a safer work environment.)

Less Than Honorable?

VHA eligibility rules are also in need of reform. Congress has allowed the Pentagon to give hundreds of thousands of veterans other than honorable discharges, making them ineligible for VHA care. In some cases, soldiers have been discharged for active duty misconduct related to PTSD or brain injuries – yet they, more than anybody, need later treatment.

Congress has also left the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) consistently understaffed and overburdened. VBA is the separate agency that determines whether former military personnel have actually suffered from an occupational illness or injury—and to what degree of disability. After veterans leave the service, they encounter far too many eligibility determination disputes and delays before they can become VHA patients.

But most constructive VA critics know that further outsourcing of veterans’ care is not the answer. That’s why VHA care givers, and their unions and allied veterans organizations, are opposed to  privatization and President Trump’s related undermining of federal employee rights.

This is not just a fight to maintain decent medical coverage for eligible veterans or to protect the union contracts of those who serve them. It’s a struggle to defend a national healthcare system far superior to the state-based workers’ comp programs covering millions of workers in the private sector, and which, someday, might be a model for better care for them too.

Suzanne Gordon is an award-winning journalist and author of many books about healthcare, including Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans. A longtime advocate of Medicare for All, Steve Early has aided workplace struggles over health and safety since the mid-1970s–first as a United Mine Workers staff member and then as an organizer and contract negotiator for the Communications Workers of America. They are collaborating on a book about veterans and can be reached at

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Koch’s America: the Rule of the New Robber Barons

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

The U.S. is a capitalist country and capitalist control the country.  The recent death of David Koch [pronounced “coke”], principle co-owner with his brother, Charles, of the Koch Industries, reminds Americas once again that those with the power and money determine the destinies of everyone else.

A century ago the country was ruled by a cabal popularly known as the Robber Barons that included such greedy notables such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.  A century later, their rapacious reputations white-washed later by charitable foundations.

Today, the country is witnessing the return of a new generation of Robber Barons best exemplified by the Koch brothers.  They possess a combination of greed and political cunning that enables them to have considerable influence, if not control, over the federal and state governments throughout the country.  Like the Robber Barons of old, today’s baron’s ruthless business and political practices are masked, like the flesh of a fan dancers, by their support for major bourgeois cultural institutions.  For Koch, it was the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

In Christopher Leonard’s new and exhaustive study, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, the author reports, “Koch Industries’ annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined,” he acknowledges. He also points out that the two men who jointly own Koch Industries together are worth $120 billion, with fortunes “larger than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, or Microsoft founder Bill Gates.”

Since taking the helm of the company from his father in 1967, Charles Koch has maintained complete and absolute control of this privately held conglomerate.  It generates $110 billion in annual revenue and employs over 120,000 people. Its seven core operating units are: Flint Hills Resources (fuel processing); Georgia-Pacific (pulp and paper); Guardian Industries (glass manufacturer); Invista (textile manufacturing); Molex (electronic technologies); Koch Ag & Energy Solutions (fertilizer and agricultural products); and Koch Pipeline Company (oil and gas pipelines). In addition, Koch controls a handful of smaller entities.

Koch business and political practices are grounded in a fundamentalist capitalist philosophy, what Charles Koch dubbed “Market-Based Management” (MBM). This approach is best understood as a radical libertarianism based on the writings of Ludwig von Mises and Frederick Hayek. (Like the Kochs, both economists came from well-to-do and well-connected families and opposed the 8-hr day, unemployment insurance, welfare and other “progressive” reforms.)  In 2007, Koch published The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company.For Koch, MBM is company’s operating ethos and is taught – like a religious ideology – to new company employees in days-long seminars.

Koch’s businesses have faced numerous labor, environmental and other challenges and the company used management skills, endless legal challenges and political influence to defeat. For example, it faceda major challenge at its Pine Bend Refinery, located near Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.

Confronting an environmental failure at the Pine Bend refinery, Leonard notes, “Koch’s management team felt that the state had no right to know what happened inside the fence line of Kock’s properties. Managers obeyed a code of silence to maintain this wall round Koch operations.” He reveals how this shared mindset led to an environmental crisis at Pine Bend and a similar one at the Corpus Christie, TX, refinery. The bad publicity and fines led Koch to adhere to environmental regulations conglomerate wide.

One of Leonard’s most illuminating analyses involves how Koch not merely survived but prospered amidst the banking crisis – or Great Recession — of 2008.  He notes that “the bloodletting at Koch [Industries], while rapid and unprecedented in size, was mild compared to the rest of the economy.” Koch was deeply opposed to the Obama administration – and the Democratic-controlled Congress – bailout of the banks and the follow-up stimulus plan.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the crisis, Kock Industries became a vast corporate superpower.  “The company’s operations touched the daily lives of virtually everyone who use gasoline, wore spandex, lived in a home with gypsum-paneled walls, swaddled their children in diapers, and counted on the heat to come on when they adjusted their thermostat,” notes Leonard.  “Koch Industries had a hand in all of it.”

Such wealth and power led the Kochs to seek ever-greater political influence. They established a number of “nonpolitical” foundations that support more than a dozen conservative andlibertarian groups. These groups include the Law & Economics Center (George Mason University), the Cato Institute, Freedom Partners, the State Policy Network, the Federalist Society, the Mercatus Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

However, the Kochs most effect grassroots front-group is Americans for Prosperity (AfP).  Together with Exxon, they spent millions opposing the notions of climate change and global warming.  The AfP opposed proposed “cap-and-trade” legislation and the Waxman-Markey law. Koch forces aligned with the Republican Tea Party coalition to undo Democratic control of Congress and contain the Obama presidency with regard to health care and banking regulations.  However, when Republicans challenged Koch interests over, for example, the proposed Border Adjustment Tax (BAT), the company and its lobbyists promoted more favorable Republicans – and succeeded in killing the proposed act.

The Koch influence in the Trump administration runs deep.  While the Kochs originally opposed Trump, his nomination and victory turned them into loyal supporters.  VP Mike Pence has long benefited from the Koch political machine.  In addition, Mike Pompeo, Sec. of State; Betsy DeVos, Sec. of Education; and Scott Pruitt, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency have long times to the Koch fortune. Numerous other second-tier Trump administration officials have ties to Koch enterprises.

As Jane Mayer reported, Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist, famously warned, if Pence replace Trump, he would “be a President that the Kochs would own.”Marc Short is key to Pence’s relationship with the Kochs. In 2008, he became Pence’s chief of staff at the Republican Conference and now serves as the head of White House legislative affairs. As a Congressman, Pence signed onto the AfP’s “No Climate Tax Pledge”.  Pence facilitated the rapprochement between the Kochs and Trump that helped him secure the VP slot .

Pompeo has long been in the pocked of the Koch operation. Before he ran for elected office, the Kochs invested in Pompeo aerospace business that – with him as CEO – went bust. As a congressman, he represented Charles Koch’s district, in Wichita (KS) and often attended Koch-back events. According Open Secrets, Pompeo received $400,500 from Koch interests.

David and Charles Koch grew up under the supervision of a demanding father, Fred Koch, a chemical engineer and entrepreneur who founded Koch Industries, an oil refinery firm.  As Jane Mayer reports, “Unable to succeed at home, Koch found work in the Soviet Union.”  He also helped build one of the largest refiners in Nazi Germany, one which was personally approved by Hitler.Returning to the States, he became a founding member of the John Birch Society and held chapter meetings in the basement of his family’s Wichita home.

Now that David Koch is dead and brother Charles is getting on in years (b. 1935), the question is not who will take over Koch enterprises when Charles steps down but whether that person will embrace the ultra-right-wing, libertarian outlook that guided the first two generations of postmodern Robber Barons?

Nevertheless, the new Robber Barons – like their older grandfathers – will continue to wield economic and political tyranny that only deepens inequality in America.

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Trump Year Three: Three Random Late Summer Thoughts

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The underlying premise was never plausible, but for a while it was still possible to hope that, under Trump, American foreign policy would be less bellicose than it would have been had Hillary Clinton not managed to lose the 2016 election.

Trump did, after all, seem less enthusiastic about restoring the Cold War that the almighty military-industrial complex and the liberal imperialists and neocons in the Obama-Clinton era foreign policy establishment, fed up with wars on historically Muslim lands, so plainly yearned for.

To this day, Trump’s words are less war mongering than, say, Adam Schiff’s or Rachel Maddow’s or any of the superannuated “experts” Obama and Clinton brought on board who now draw paychecks from MSNBC and CNN.

It is far from clear, however, that his practice has been any more benign than Clinton’s would have been, despite the past, present and future business interests he is still pursing in the former Soviet Union, and despite his much publicized fondness for Vladimir Putin.

In time, we will learn what, if anything, Russian intelligence agencies and Russian oligarchs have on him, and how much, if at all, it influences what Trump says. So far at least, it hasn’t influenced what he does.

Otherwise, it is fair to say that Trump’s foreign policy has been unequivocally worse than Clinton’s would have been.

Notwithstanding her support for the 2009 coup in Honduras, it would be hard for her post-2016 machinations in Central America to be worse than Trump’s have been. On Mexico and Cuba, following Obama’s lead, she would surely have been less malign. On Venezuela, she could hardly have been worse.

But for Trump, Jair Bolsonaro would probably still be on the margins of political life in Brazil. With Trump’s support, he is superintending the wanton destruction of the Amazon rain forests and the cultural and physical genocide of the indigenous peoples of that vast region. Except for Trump himself, Bolsonaro is perhaps the premier environmental criminal on the planet.

Clinton would not have scrapped the Iran nuclear deal and would not have moved the American embassy to Jerusalem or otherwise made common cause with the Netanyahu government, at least not as brazenly as Trump has done.

For both ideological and self-serving reasons, Netanyahu is now escalating Israel’s longstanding efforts to draw the United States into a war with Iran.

Inasmuch as Christian Zionists, more numerous than the entire Jewish population of the United States, along with most obscenely rich Jewish Zionists, are nowadays steadfast Republicans, and inasmuch as increasingly many American Jews, especially younger ones, are becoming too indifferent towards or embarrassed by Israel to care, Clinton might actually have found the courage to resist Netanyahu’s entreaties.

On the other hand, with his son-in-law and his New York real estate cronies urging him on, Trump has been easy prey.

Needless to say, an Iran War would be many times more devastating in nearly every relevant way than the never-ending Bush-Cheney-Obama Afghanistan and Iraq Wars have been.

Three years ago, it was still possible to hope that “the adults in the room” – one called “Mad Dog,” the other named “Rex” – would keep this and other catastrophes-in-waiting at bay.

But those two and others like them are ancient history now. Rex is enjoying the ill-gotten riches he acquired working for and then running ExxonMobil; Mad Dog, aided and abetted by liberal media news and opinion outlets, is peddling a book he wrote, or had written for him, to cash in on the managerial “wisdom” he acquired commanding Marines.

Meanwhile Trump is busy salivating at the prospect of yet more Saudi and Gulf money flowing his way. The Clintons are corrupt as sin, but in the corruption department, the Trumps and Kushners have them beat by a mile.

Then there is Europe.

NATO ought long ago to have gone the way of the Warsaw Pact; instead, it has become the vehicle for American world domination that the United Nations could never be – not with Russia and China on the Security Council and with the General Assembly full of representatives from what Trump calls “shithole nations.”

Harm done to NATO is therefore potentially a good thing. But Trump hasn’t done any. Instead he just mouths off from time to time, for all the wrong reasons and with no practical effect.

The EU once seemed on its way to becoming a super-national welfare state, and perhaps, in time, a political and even military alternative to the declining American hegemon. Instead, it has become a vehicle for imposing austerity on all but the richest Europeans, and for conferring the many other “blessings” of the existing, American dominated, neoliberal world order.

Clinton could have been counted on to keep US-NATO and US-EU relations more or less unchanged. There is nothing to praise in that, and Trump’s badmouthing of both, and of America’s traditionally subservient allies, is not to be despised. But, on this too, all he has done is blow air. He has done it in ways that have energized rightwing “populist” forces every bit as racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic as the ones he unleashed in the United States.

Obama and Clinton and her successor at the State Department, John Kerry, were already doing their best “to pivot towards Asia” – that is, to contain China, militarily and diplomatically, with a view to bending its policies on trade, intellectual property and other matters of interest to American capitalists.

In 2016, under pressure from Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Clinton did say that she would not go ahead with Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hardly anyone believed her, however; at most, she would have insisted on a few cosmetic fixes to the TPP’s most egregious, anti-worker provisions.

But no matter what she would ultimately have done, a full-fledged trade war with China was not on her agenda. It took a Trump to do something that stupid and ruinous.

Therefore, it is now clear beyond a reasonable doubt that, apart from dealing a blow to a Clinton and to Clintonism, there were no silver linings in Trump’s electoral victory.

What we got was what was already evident three years ago to all but the willfully blind: unmitigated stupidity, vileness, nativism, racism, and illiberalism.

We also got crimes against the environment that are already wreaking havoc upon the earth and all that dwell therein.


Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg is this summer’s foremost anti-Trump; she inspires hope while all he inspires in anyone whose moral sense is intact is despair for the human race.

However, her arrival in the United States – on a solar-powered, state-of-the art 60 ft. Malizia II racing yacht – also raises one of the deepest perennial questions of activist politics: how to resolve the inevitable tensions that arise between saving oneself and changing the world.

Thanks to Thunberg’s efforts, it is now widely understood that airplanes leave huge “carbon footprints.” This will continue to be the case for a long time to come, no matter how inspiring her example may be.

Not nearly enough people to make a noticeable difference will forsake air travel; the planes will fly anyway, and there are no technological fixes in the offing. In the years ahead, the problem will only get worse.

From an ecological point of view, and also from at least one venerable ethical perspective, the kind that eschews adding up costs and benefits, Thunberg did the right thing; she was on the side of the angels. But was her decision wise?

Probably not, if we do take costs and benefits into account. It could certainly be argued that the harm flying does can be and generally is outweighed by the good that results from people being able to move around the world easily and efficiently.

Ironically, Thunberg’s case provides an extreme example. She came to New York to speak at the United Nations on global warming and related matters. While in the United States, she will be giving talks and participating in demonstrations and generally helping the environmental movement grow. Later, she will make her way to Chile, to speak at a conference on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. That is a hell of a lot of good.

And, although the benefits are seldom as dramatic, are there not nearly always good, sometimes even compelling, reasons for people to travel by air? How then do the reckonings go when costs and benefits are added up?

In my view, not usually the way that way people who won’t fly suppose. But there is no incontrovertibly correct way to tell — in part because the benefits and at least some of the costs involved with air travel are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but also, more importantly, because the relevant goods and bads are often incommensurable and nearly always subject to dispute.

The calculations that went into Thunberg’s decision not to fly, though arguably defensible, were hardly rationally compelling, even if we only focus myopically on the trip itself. Expand the vantage point slightly and the situation becomes more complicated still.

How, for example, should we factor in the environmental costs of two crewmembers now having to fly to New York to take the yacht back to England? What about the environmental costs of her travels around North America and then to Chile? And how will she get back to Sweden this winter without flying at least part of the way?

These and other complications notwithstanding, I have no doubt at all that what she did was well worth doing – not so much for its impact on public policy, but for its educational value. It was an example of a form of activism as old as political engagement itself: some call it “propaganda of the deed.” As such, it was an unqualified success. Greta Thunberg brought the harm air travel causes into public awareness to a degree that nothing else has.

There is a vast literature that bears on the larger philosophical issues that her voyage raised. There have been times in the not too distant past when, thanks to prevailing circumstances, they have been much discussed.

To cite just one by now almost canonical example, they were Topic A, in the French theater in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War – as in Albert Camus’ drama “Les Justes” (“The Just Assassins”) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Les Mains Sales” (“Dirty Hands”).

Perhaps the most insightful presentation of the problem can be found in Max Weber’s deservedly celebrated essay, “Politics as a Vocation” (1919), where that magisterial social theorist distinguishes what he called “an ethic of responsibility” from “an ethic of ultimate ends.”

The latter articulates the Kantian – ultimately Christian – idea inherent in the Golden Rule: that in moral deliberation, what distinguishes one person from another does not matter; what matters instead is what oneself and others have in common.

For Kant, and arguably too for the authors of the New Testament, that entails that persons never the treated only as means, not even for bringing about better outcomes, but always as “ends in themselves.”

An ethic of responsibility, on the other hand, is all about realizing particular objectives, a task that can and often does involve treating oneself and others as means only. In Weber’s view, even the most scrupulously Kantian (or Golden Rule Christian) political actors have no choice but to think, deliberate, and act in these ways.

For the most part, the two ethics, though distinct, do not conflict — but not necessarily and not always.

The “dialectic” between them can therefore be problematic. And in rare but extreme cases, the two opposites can sometimes meld together and become one, as when Martin Luther, pushed to the limit, declared “here I stand, I can do no other.”

The situation that led Thunberg to spend two weeks on a sea-tossed racing yacht — “like camping on a roller coaster,” she reportedly said — was not like that.

But, as Weber would surely have acknowledged, her decision to cross the ocean in a way that would minimize her carbon footprint was exemplary.

Indeed, it exhibited the qualities that Weber most esteemed in anyone setting out upon a political life: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and, because she was doing propaganda above all, a sense of proportion as well. Thus in her own small but thoroughly edifying way, Thunberg helped make the world a better place.

The contrast with Trump could hardly be more stark.


Finally, since for Trump, the political is personal, some revealing palace gossip is worth reflecting upon briefly, before a torrent of increasingly short-lived news cycles pushes the episode down into the public’s collective memory hole.

My first thought – and hope – when the news came that Trump’s “gatekeeper,” Madeleine Westerhout, had been kicked off Team Trump after talking to reporters from The New York Times was that all the ruckus over the Donald’s old buddy, Jeffrey Epstein, had caused him to take up pussy-grabbing again. Westerhout certainly met his much publicized “aesthetic” standards, and was always by his side; how could she not have become a target?

Not that this would have mattered to Trump supporters. It would, however, have strengthened everyone else’s resolve, especially now that so many other examples of his untrammeled moral depravity are in the news. His administration’s recent attempt to kick out brown and black children in the United States for medical treatment unavailable in their home countries is a case in point.

It turns out, though, that Westerhout had been blabbing about something of far less prurient interest: the Trump family, Tiffany especially.

It is hardly a secret that the children that really matter to the Don are the three that came out of his first wife, Ivana: the peerless Ivanka, of course, and the two idiot sons, Qusay and Uday, or, as others call them, Eric and Don Junior.

Barron is still too young for Trump to care much about him; that is Melania’s job. For this, he should consider himself one lucky little rich kid.

And then there is Tiffany.

According to some reports, what got Trump’s goat was Westerhout telling reporters that her father doesn’t like her all that much, and that he thinks she is too fat. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

I have a beef with Tiffany too, but it has nothing to do with her weight. It is that she could be doing her country and the world a whole lot of good with just a little innocent lèse-majesté.

Instead, according to press reports, she is more interested in partying up a storm – much as the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara or, as they were known at the time, Gin and Tonic, used to do.

I have no reason to think well of Tiffany, but I do imagine that she is more morally and intellectually developed than her siblings. Having grown up without having her father much in her life, how could she not be?

I therefore suppose, based on no evidence at all, that, from time to time, she thinks about doing the right thing. One thing she could do in that regard is use her mother’s name.

There is a precedent for that — Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s daughter Ann.

To be sure, “Ann” is a less distinctive name than “Tiffany” and “Davis” could be anybody, whereas the surname “Maples,” especially paired with “Tiffany,” could only be the worst president ever’s second daughter.

But then the point would not be anonymity. It would be to make a statement – that it isn’t just morally and intellectually normal people who hate the Donald’s guts, but that it is possible even for those who share his genes to be aware of his odiousness too.

A second daughter surname change would do far more good than the FLOTUS’s body language has been doing since Day One. By now, like Trump’s incoherent and barely literate tweets, or the fact that he cannot open his mouth to speak without uttering lies, that hardly even bears mention.

I have just about given up on the third Mrs. Trump. I had high hopes for her when the Faustian bargain she struck a decade and a half ago – a cloistered life in a vulgar but gilded Fifth Avenue palace in exchange for occasional legally recognized “sexual congress” with a physically and morally repellent real estate tycoon, failed casino entrepreneur, and reality TV personality – unexpectedly caused her to find herself a president’s wife.

All she had to do was embarrass the Don in a way the he could not ignore. Instead, coward that she is, she has taken the path of least resistance. Shame on her!

Melania could do something good in her life, for once, but Tiffany could do so much more – because, in the reality TV cum infomercial world we now inhabit, spunky second daughters have far more power to embarrass than aging, gold-digging trophy brides.

Again, I am assuming that Tiffany’s head is screwed on right, which it probably is not. To the best of my knowledge, though, there is so far no non-genealogical reason to assume the worst.

I am also assuming that her father’s “Godfather” ways run deep enough to overcome the narcissistic noxiousness he exudes; that when it comes down to it, he would put Corleone family values – Vito’s, not Mike’s — ahead of even his own cupidity.

However, this too is probably too much to expect. More likely than not, the Don considers Tiffany dispensable. Hell, he would probably throw even his precious Ivanka under the bus if it came down to it.

“The weak in courage are strong in cunning,” William Blake taught us long ago. Thus we underestimate Trump’s cunning at our peril.

Even so, we should take care not to give him and his wretched family more credit than they deserve. They are a sorry lot, nearly as pitiful as the rank-and-file denizens of his base.

With Democrats for opponents and supporters dumbed down by Fox News and worse, Trump probably could get away with shooting someone dead on Fifth Avenue. But there is nothing remarkable in that, not in our degraded political culture.

The sad fact is that, even in their villainy, neither Trump nor his family – except perhaps Tiffany, the jury is still out on that — rise to the level of ordinary, pedestrian mediocrity.

The Donald cannot stand it when that is pointed out. Therefore, the thing to do is to point it out at every opportunity. As a Rashida Tlaib, channeling W. C. Fields, might put it: “never give a mother fucker an even break.”

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“Everywhere is Kashmir”: Unraveling Weaponized, Corporatized Hindustan in India’s Northeast

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

“In India today,” said an Indigenous activist I recently interviewed in the northeastern Indian state of Jharkhand, “everywhere is Kashmir.”

At first glance, this statement seems overblown, perhaps even outrageous. No other part of India is as much of a consolidated internal colony as Kashmir. For that matter, Palestine is one of the only other parts of the world that that can match or exceed Kashmir’s horrific past and renewed present of curfews, communication blackouts, transportation blockades, forced disappearances, and military and paramilitary brutality and bloodshed. (India’s ever-closer collaboration with Israel gives these parallels a particularly timely and unsettling significance.) In so many ways, nowhere is Kashmir but Kashmir itself.

And yet, the seeds of Kashmir’s never-ending misery are bearing poisonous fruit all across India. Animated by the interlocking forces of neoliberal capitalism and Hindu nationalism, the Indian state’s insatiable appetite for natural resources, ironclad commitment to elite-led economic growth, and gleeful deployment of grassroots fascist thugs and police, military, and paramilitary forces have fueled a mounting avalanche of tragedies across the country. Together, these priorities and capacities have caused an ongoing parade of stomach-churning mob lynchings; the harassment, imprisonment, and even assassinations of dissenters like Gladson Dungdung, Stan Swamy, and Gauri Lankesh; and the gagging, obstruction, and expulsion of civil society organizations like the Lawyers Collective and the Navsarjan Trust. If Kashmir’s condition can be described as a syndrome brought on by a shamelessly chauvinistic, mercilessly exploitative, and openly repressive state, its early and intermediate symptoms are increasingly visible everywhere.

The widespread nature of these symptoms should not, by any means, normalize Kashmir’s nightmare. If anything, it should stimulate solidarity-building between the state’s besieged population and the many others who find themselves more and more at the mercy of the Modi regime’s push for a Hindi-speaking Hindu Indian nation ruled by a handful of billionaires and their state collaborators. I dare suggest that I found traces of Kashmir on the streets and in the forests of Jharkhand. I offer the reflections below on my time there in the hopes that they will illustrate the need to confront combined weaponized, religiously sanctioned economic occupation as the defining political mode of the prevailing Indian state and its subcomponents.

The Investment Decimation

Billboards all over Ranchi, Jharkhand’s capital city, promote Momentum Jharkhand, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government’s tireless campaign to convert Jharkhand into “The Investment Destination.” This campaign exemplifies Jharkhand’s approach to economic growth by any means necessary since achieving statehood in 2000: successive Jharkhandi governments have signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with public and private corporations across a range of industries, from steelmaking to agriculture to digital technology. At the inauguration of Momentum Jharkhand in 2017, reigning Chief Minister Raghubar Das signed no less than 209 MOUs worth Rs. 3 lakh crore or 42 billion USD, receiving New Delhi’s wholehearted approval and support in the process; one activist described Modi and Das as “brothers” for all intents and purposes.

From the Oracle Corporation to the Tata Group to hatemongering godman Baba Ramdev, Jharkhand’s investors have promised benefits galore to the residents of their host state, from jobs to educational institutions to technological innovation to support systems for small farmers and business people. In exchange, they have demanded uninhibited access to Jharkhandi land and the riches it contains; Jharkhand, after all, is home to 40% of India’s mineral wealth, including sizeable deposits of coal, bauxite, uranium, and gold. Jharkhand’s leaders have been more than happy to meet these demands: here, as elsewhere in Modi’s India, the irresistible spoils of economic occupation dissolve the notorious inefficiencies of bureaucratic and parliamentary institutions, forging public-private partnerships in which the actual public is a passive, if not entirely absent, actor.

The acquisition of land, however, has proven a crucial stumbling block to the state-backed corporatization of Jharkhand. Landforms the basis of traditional socioecological, sociopolitical, and sociocultural life for the state’s adivasis or Indigenous peoples, who account for 27% of Jharkhand’s population. “Our religion is our land,” explained renowned adivasi journalist and activist Dayamani Barla. “If it is taken away, nothing can live.” Between 2006 and 2010, Barla spearheaded a mass movement against the proposed establishment of two steel plants by global steel giant Arcelor-Mittal, which had signed an MOU with the Jharkhand government worth roughly 9.6 billion USD in 2005. Barla and her fellow protestors waged an effective public awareness campaign showing that the project, like so many other similar proposed and completed projects, would displace 30 to 40 villages, destroy adivasi sacred sites, key ecosystems, and prime agricultural land, and provide meagre compensation for these gross transgressions. In the course of her work, Barla received repeated death threats from middle-men subcontracted by the state and the company to secure the land in question, who assured her that her loved ones would not be able to identify her body once they were finished with her.

Barla and her compatriots prevailed in the face of these prospects of unspeakable violence; as of today, Arcelor-Mittal’s plans for Jharkhand remain in limbo. However, other corporations have made their marks all too clearly on Jharkhand’s landscape. “Every river in Northern Jharkhand has died, and every forest is black,” laments Barla. Furthermore, the Das government has only stepped up its efforts to facilitate the expropriation of land by public and private interests. In late 2016, it unilaterally passed a bill to amend the colonial-era Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act and Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, which prevent the sale of adivasi land to non-adivasis. The abrogation of Article 35A of the Constitution, which limits the right to buy and own property to Kashmir’s permanent residents, echoes this bill in striking ways. Though it was forced to withdraw the bill in response to the public outcry that followed, the Jharkhandi state has attempted to divorce adivasis from their homelands by other, far more insidious means.

Death by Conversion

“Adivasis are not Hindus.” Virtually every activist, journalist, and intellectual I interviewed in Jharkhand drove home this point. It is a dangerously defiant response to the narrative spun by the BJP and, moreover, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the massive paramilitary volunteer organization that Arundhati Roy deems the “mothership” of the Hindu Right. The RSS has operated in the jungles of Jharkhand since at least the 1980s; in that time, it has done everything in its power to convince adivasis that their traditional beliefs and practices are squarely situated within its brand of casteist, patriarchal, materialistic Hinduism, despite countless scholarly texts and oral testimonies that indicate otherwise. RSS missionaries have offered numerous material incentives for conversion, from subsidies to the saving-and-investment schemes that have become the hallmarks of neoliberal “good governance” and “participatory development” across India and the Global South as a whole. Material enticements go hand-in-hand with symbolic warfare in Jharkhand’s public and private spheres: a prominent statue of legendary adivasi leader Birsa Munda was recently encircled with saffron flags, which also fly from every other rooftop in Ranchi and vie with red-and-white-striped adivasi sarna flags for dominion over the city’s street dividers and roundabouts. By reincarnating adivasis as Hindus, the RSS can defuse battles over land and forest rights before they can even begin, minimizing the costs associated with these battles: economic occupation in Modi’s India is a divine mandate underwritten by financial prudence.

To draw attention away from its own conversion programs, the RSS and its allies have attempted to stoke public paranoia around the boogeyman of forced conversions by the diverse Christian denominations that have been active in Jharkhand since 1845. In 2017, the Das government passed a hugely controversial anti-conversion bill that has served as a pretext for a heightened crackdown on Christian civil society actors. This is not to say, of course, that the state requires a sound legal basis for lashing out against religious dissenters and scapegoats: Jharkhand has witnessed 17 mob lynchings over the past three years, a good number of them carried out by gau rakshaks or cow protectors against Dalits, adivasis, and Muslims accused of slaughtering cattle or transporting them for slaughter. “It’s everyone against the Muslims,” remarked economist and activist Jean Drèze, encapsulating the Hindu Right’s deadly effectiveness at pitting the various victims of its policies against each other, in Jharkhand and beyond.

Fortress Jharkhand

As should be evident by now, legislated repression and extrajudicial violence work in tandem in Jharkhand. When middlemen and gau rakshaks prove insufficient to achieve its ends, the state can leverage its monopoly on legitimate violence by calling upon the myriad police, military, and paramilitary forces at its disposal. Securitization secures investments and conversions for Hindutva, Inc. at gunpoint by making non-compliance a blasphemous act of high treason, punishable by death. Ranchi’s glistening shopping centers teem with rifle-toting, khaki-suited personnel from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has incidentally become synonymous with extrajudicial detention, disappearances, and executions in Kashmir. The Indian Army, meanwhile, maintains a cantonment or barracks area with a population of over 50,000 in Ramgarh, which just happens to home to several exceedingly rich mineral fields, including one of the region’s largest coalfields. Jharkhand’s security forces also drive dislocation, dispossession, and environmental degradation in and of themselves: for over thirty years, the Army’s has attempted to acquire 1,471 sq km of land in the Gumla and Latehar districts for the Neterhat Artillery Firing Range, which would permanently displace 100,000 adivasis and periodically displace another 150,000.

In the past 16 years, Jharkhandi police have opened fire upon adivasis protesting land acquisitions for development projects at least 16 times, proving their vital roles as day-to-day, ground-level enforcers of the state’s repressive extractivist agenda. Arbitrary arrests and staged “encounters” with alleged terrorists abound in Jharkhand: in 2015, the police gunned down 12 villagers with no criminal background whatsoever in the Latehar district, subsequently branding them Maoist insurgents; in early 2019, they arrested 20 young people in the Khunti district on the grounds that they shared seditious sentiments on social media. When heinous crimes do occur–such as the gang rape of five anti-human trafficking activists or the cold-blooded murders of anti-mining activist Suresh Oraon and journalist Amit Topno–the police either leap at the opportunity to frame pre-designated troublemakers or drag their feet when investigating the matters at hand. Under the circumstances of occupation, in which lawlessness is codified into law and smash-and-grab capitalism is the order of the day, calling upon the police to uphold law and order is a suicidal exercise in futility.

Battling Occupation Everywhere

Adivasi activists in Jharkhand and across India are alarmed by the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A for very concrete reasons. For a start, it could pave the way for the abrogation of Article 371, which provide vital special provisions for the states of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and, by extension, their sizeable tribal populations.

Indians across the country, and people of conscience across the world, should be just as alarmed, even if not for the same exact reasons. India as a whole is under occupation by the hydra-headed forces of militarized, corporatized Hindustan. The blacked-out streets of Kashmir and the blackened forests of Jharkhand prove the cannibalistic nature of these forces. Instead of merely endangering the country’s overly idealized secular liberal democratic values, they threaten to devour virtually all of the human beings, ecosystems, and belief systems in their path, even those supposedly out of harm’s way. India is a sea of saffron at the moment, but, even in the handful of areas not controlled by the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance, the RSS is hard at work establishing shakhas or local branches; Arcelor-Mittal, Reliance, Tata, and Mahindra are hard at work setting up steel mills, supermarkets, and world cities; and local police, the CRPF, and the military are hard at work keeping the peace by normalizing war against the burgeoning ranks of the destitute. Bracketing Jharkhand and Kashmir as exceptional cases only provide time and space for these exceptions to become the rule; the most vulnerable members of Indian society will pay for this process of becoming with their lives even if it cannot achieve its genocidal goals.

India’s current sacred political economy of occupation is thus ontological in its orientation: it is an all-out attack on the very material and spiritual core of India’s being itself. And it can only be overcome in the final estimation by ontological means: by reclaiming the land itself from the sovereign political domain of the autocratic state and establishing autonomy, dignity, equity, justice, and resilience at the most basic levels of political life. Kashmiris across the ethno-religious spectrum have continued to courageously insist that their struggle cannot be reduced to a geopolitical tug-of-war between India and Pakistan and that they must be allowed to determine their own fate. Similarly, adivasis involved with the Pathalgadi movement that erupted across the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh in early 2017 have refused to negotiate with the public authorities and private enterprises that threaten their very existence: they have erected massive stone slabs that list their constitutional and legal rights, using these declarations to keep out all hostile outsiders and construct their own banks, schools, and self-defence mechanisms. The brutal repression of both mobilizations possibly reflects the fear that they inspire in the combined powers they confront–fear of the emergence or re-emergence of other worlds and worldviews that, for all of their admitted limitations and contradictions, disrupt the relentless onward march of the bloodthirsty, privately incorporated Hindu nationalist juggernaut.

Everywhere in India today is Kashmir insofar as it is in the clutches or within the reach of neoliberal Hindu nationalist occupation. Everyone in India must now fight alongside Kashmiris–and Jharkhandi adivasis–to resist this occupation by any means necessary.

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The War Ahead: Netanyahu’s Elections Gamble Will be Costly for Israel

On September 1, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevitable response to a series of Israeli strikes that targeted four different Arab countries in the matter of two days.

The Lebanese response, accompanied by jubilation throughout Lebanon, shows that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have overplayed his cards. However, for Netanyahu it was a worthy gamble, as the Israeli leader is desperate for any new political capital that could shield him against increasingly emboldened contenders in the country’s September 17 general elections.

A fundamental question that could influence any analysis of the decision to strike Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza is whether the strategy originated from the Israeli government or the limited personal calculations of Netanyahu himself. I contend that the latter is true.

Israel has already violated the sovereignty of all of these regions, bombing some of them hundreds of times in the past, but striking all at once is unprecedented. Since neither Israel, nor its US allies offered any convincing military logic behind the campaign, there can be no other conclusion that the objectives were entirely political.

One obvious sign that the attacks were meant to benefit Netanyahu, and Netanyahu only, is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister violated an old Israeli protocol of staying mum following this type of cross-border violence. It is also uncommon for top Israeli officials to brag about their country’s intelligence outreach and military capabilities. Israel, for example, has bombed Syria hundreds of times in recent years, yet rarely taken responsibility for any of these attacks.

Compare this with Netanyahu’s remarks following the two-day strikes of August 24-25. Only minutes after the Israeli strikes, Netanyahu hailed the army’s “major operational effort”, declaring that “Iran has no immunity anywhere.”

Regarding the attack on the southeast region of Aqraba in Syria, Netanyahu went into detail, describing the nature of the target and the identities of the enemy as well.

Two of the Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria were identified by the Israeli army, which distributed their photographs while allegedly travelling on the Iranian airline, Mahan “which Israel and the United States have identified as a major transporter of weaponry and materiel to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria and Lebanon,” according to the Times of Israel.

Why would Israel go to this extent, which will surely help the targeted countries in uncovering some of Israel’s intelligence sources?

The Economist revealed that “some … in Israel’s security and political establishments are uncomfortable” with Netanyahu’s tireless extolling of “Israel’s intelligence-gathering and operational successes in surprising detail.”

The explanation lies in one single phrase: the September 17 elections.

In recent months, Netanyahu has finally managed to wrestle the title: the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, a designation that the Israeli leader has earned, despite his checkered legacy dotted with abuse of power, self-serving agenda and several major corruption cases that rope in Netanyahu directly, along with his wife and closest aides.

Yet, it remains unclear whether Netanyahu can hang on for much longer. Following the April 9 elections, the embattled Israeli leader tried to form a government of like-minded right-wing politicians, but failed. It was this setback that pushed for the dissolution of the Israeli Knesset on May 29 and the call for a new election. While Israeli politics is typically turbulent, holding two general elections within such a short period of time is very rare, and, among other things, it demonstrates Netanyahu’s faltering grip on power.

Equally important is that, for the first time in years, Netanyahu and his Likud party are facing real competition. These rivals, led by Benjamin Gantz of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) centrist party are keen on denying Netanyahu’s every possible constituency, including his own pro-illegal settlements and pro-war supporters.

Statements made by Gantz in recent months are hardly consistent with the presumed ideological discourse of the political center, anywhere. The former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli army is a strong supporter of illegal Jewish settlements and an avid promoter of war on Gaza. Last June, Gantz went as far as accusing Netanyahu of “diminishing Israel’s deterrence” policy in Gaza, which “is being interpreted by Iran as a sign of weakness.”

In fact, the terms “weak” or “weakness” have been ascribed repeatedly to Netanyahu by his political rivals, including top officials within his own right-wing camp. The man who has staked his reputation on tough personal or unhindered violence in the name of Israeli security is now struggling to protect his image.

This analysis does not in any way discount the regional and international objectives of Netanyahu’s calculations, leading amongst them his desire to stifle any political dialogue between Tehran and Washington, an idea that began taking shape at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. But even that is insufficient to offer a rounded understanding of Netanyahu’s motives, especially because the Israeli leader is wholly focused on his own survival, as opposed to future regional scenarios.

However, the “Mr. Security” credentials that Netanyahu aimed to achieve by bombing multiple targets in four countries might not yield the desired dividends. Israeli media is conveying a sense of panic among Israelis, especially those living in the northern parts of the country and in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Golan Heights.

This is hardly the strong and mighty image that Netanyahu was hoping to convey through his military gamble. None of the thousands of Israelis who are currently being trained on surviving Lebanese retaliations are particularity reassured regarding the power of their country.

Netanyahu is, of course, not the first Israeli leader to use the military to achieve domestic political ends. Late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, has done so in 1996 but failed miserably, but only after killing over 100 Lebanese and United Nations peacekeepers in the Southern Lebanese village of Qana.

The consequences of Netanyahu’s gamble might come at a worse price for him than simply losing the elections. Opening a multi-front war is a conflict that Israel cannot win, at least, not any more.

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Tax the Rich Before the Rest

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work.

This richest 0.1 percent receives two-thirds of their income from investments, while most working families have little capital income and depend on wages. But our rigged system taxes most investment income from wealth at a top rate of about 24 percent — considerably lower than the top 37 percent rate for work.

One way to ensure that the wealthy pay first is to institute a 10 percent surtax on incomes over $2 million. This “multi-millionaire surtax” would raise nearly $600 billion in revenue over 10 years, according to an upcoming study from the Tax Policy Center.

The surtax would apply to income earned from work (wages and salaries) and to investment income gained from wealth, including capital gains and dividends. So those with capital income over $2 million would not get a preferential tax rate.

The multi-millionaire surtax is easy to understand, simple to apply, and effective — because it covers all kinds of income, making it difficult for the wealthy to avoid.

And it is laser focused on the super-rich. Anyone earning below $2 million a year will not pay a dime.

As a nation, we will need to raise trillions to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and to address urgent priorities such as health care, climate change, child care, higher education, opioid addiction, and more.

The middle class should have 100 percent confidence that they won’t be asked to pony up until Wall Street speculators and billionaires pay the piper.  A multi-millionaire surtax is a good first step.

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Extinction Via Rugged Individualism

Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Greycliff, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I was recently amused by a train of thought on Twitter excoriating Henry David Thoreau for his experiment in self-sufficient living. True, he was on the land of his wealthy neighbor, his mother did his laundry (and brought him old-timey donuts to eat), but it was rugged, dammit. Okay, it was something akin to a 10 year old living in a tree-house in the backyard with mom sending up sandwiches in one of those nifty rope and bucket contraptions, but this was a white man doing something and writing about it so of course it’s monumental and imbued with all sorts of significance. This to me, is a perfect analogy for America and its early beginnings. Never mind the back-breaking labor provided by the women, the horrendous slave trade and lethal work that made the infrastructure possible–the convenient clearing (genocide) of the already here peoples through illness and murder……. the narrative is that it was magically produced by powdered wig donning men who weren’t just all about a self-serving course correction. This fallacy has permeated the psyche of most Americans, and doesn’t allow for adequate self-reflection or improvement, and I would say is a path to eventual extinction if a new narrative and belief system isn’t adopted.

Nature gives us ample metaphor to realize the interconnectedness of our lives. I can never look at an Aspen grove and not consider the exquisite synergy of the system.  All tethered together in an interlocking root system—what affects one tree, manifests in the whole. The 80,000 year old Pando grove in Utah has managed this interplay.  For perspective, the last Neanderthals in Europe seem to have been around about 40,000 years ago. Working together has its benefits. We’ve managed to do incredible harm in only about 300 years. We could be gone rapidly and take Pando with us at this rate.

The individual setting out and removing the self from collective responsibilities is a common theme that is celebrated, even worldwide, not just the US. Though I think there is quite a lot of value in Buddhism and its tenets, the fact that its founder left his child and wife so he could find “enlightenment”…..well, maybe enlightenment is realizing the things that he did while still taking care of your child and not abandoning the wife…… wouldn’t that be more of a feat? To discover the sublime while washing the dishes kind of thing? Can you imagine this tale if it had been the mother who walked out “to find herself”? There’s a common-sense middle ground the world needs to begin to savor. Loving and caring for those near to us, and having a broader based stewardship of our human family and ecosystem—that’s how I would put it.

You can look at any of the enormous societal problems currently plaguing the US and the world, really, as an extension of short-sided self-interest. A rising tide will sink all of us, thanks to the pesky melt-a-thon we are experiencing.

One clear example of individualism being at odds with the greater good is the gun nightmare going on in America–this plays into the individualistic view of the world—that problems are solved in a one-dimensional way. And that dimension is the trajectory of a bullet. Even in the wake of so many mass shootings, the answer is always that a good guy with a gun (or thoughts and prayers) will be the answer. There’s not much of a look at why these guys are losing it (why is this culture such a pressure cooker) and why do they need to have access to an extension of their id that can kill so many, so quickly?

There is some uniquely American notion that having a gun will protect the owner in most situations, despite a ’93 study that showed having guns in the home makes it more dangerous to live there than not having one. Overall, the gun is a terrible roommate. Even if it pretends to be gay to fool Mr. Roper. The woman who recently shot her daughter for coming home from college early to surprise her is recent evidence of that. Think how often this type of scenario happens every day in the US. Probably in response to this ’93 study, the Dickey amendment was added to a ’96 bill that largely stopped research on gun violence. I thought the bill was an attempt to not fund any studies that tried to prove correlation between dick size and gun ownership, well—maybe it was—the name, right? But my point is that rather than learn more and reflect, the US took the path of rabid individualism and willful ignorance instead of looking at facts. Sorry, about the cheap dick size/gun thing mention. I know that’s been done to death, but at least I try not to be a stereotype. I am a 50 year old woman and I try really hard to keep the “can I talk to the manager” shit to a minimum. Except that one time with the rental car. I also try to never interfere with people of color having picnics. I’m just saying that your gun fetish is not a good look if you’re trying for manliness.

Anyway– we won’t last 80,000 years with this type of cooperation; that’s a certainty. The gun issue is just one facet of this. Strength will have to be reevaluated as having the ability to bring people together and protect them through making sure they have healthcare, that they don’t have so much pressure from our culture that they lose their minds, etc…….we can’t continue being stand-alone caricatures, modeling a pathetic pseudo-strength. Thoreau in his tree-house, the dude (or dudette) packing heat, the industry CEOs with no notion of broad-based decent society, only plunder—it will be the death of us all. And incrementalism is not the answer. A guy like Biden, pandering and looking like Cotton Hill if he still had his shins saying things that would work as ointment in 1991–that won’t cut it either. More radical change in action and belief systems will be required. Most people deep down want to help the person next to them. Conservatives seem to have difficulty extending concern and care beyond their immediate family and their needs, and sometimes leftists like myself don’t do a good enough job caring about the pressing needs of those nearby, our heads can be in the stratosphere grasping at the big fixes when we don’t notice someone close-by—something we can actually help with. I put an Aspen tree tattoo on my leg to remind me when I forget these things. We are all connected. Try not to harm. Take care of others—we just need to work to align these needs and realize that it will be a form of collective well being that we need to strive for. There is no individual solution to any of this; we are social creatures that need each other. It’s unlikely it will work, of course, but at least we will go down trying– and perhaps we can take better care of each other on the way down—the trip will be worthwhile if it is filled with more love and less lonely individualism.


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The Political Economy of the Opioid Epidemic

Late this October, in Ohio, a jury will begin hearing evidence against the pharmaceutical giants that have manufactured — and profited royally from — the opioid epidemic.

This Ohio trial will be the most significant courtroom skirmish yet between Big Pharma and the over 2,000 states, localities, and other complainants that have filed suit against America’s biggest corporate pill pushers. Opioid overdoses have left over 400,000 dead since the late 1990s.

The federal judge overseeing the consolidated lawsuits against Big Pharma would rather not see this trial happen. He’d like to see the parties come to some sort of pre-trial settlement, and this past Tuesday brought the first sign of serious movement on the settlement front. A press leak has revealed that a deal with Purdue Pharma — the corporation that ignited the opioid epidemic — may be in the offing.

That deal, according to press reports, would have the Sackler family —  the clan behind Purdue Pharma — turn over to states and localities some $3 billion. These billions would come directly out of the Sackler family private personal fortune. Up to $9 billion more would come from Purdue Pharma as a corporate entity.

None of this, of course, may actually happen. In fact, some fear that the news leak might scuttle the talks and prevent any deal’s completion. But if this particular deal should go through, would that be cause for celebration? Or just represent another end run around justice for Corporate America?

The Sacklers would certainly have cause for celebration. They would gain peace of mind — protection from future lawsuits — at a relatively affordable price. This past March, the Bloomberg Billionaire Index conservatively estimated their combined personal and corporate fortune at $13 billion. The personal and corporate payout the leaked deal envisions would leave the Sacklers, Bloomberg calculates, with at least $1.5 billion in their personal portfolios.

And — special bonus — not one Sackler would have to spend time in a prison cell.


. . . to the end of CEO pay excess

What about the states and localities that have brought suit against Purdue Pharma? Does this deal make financial sense for them?

Some figures worth contemplating: The current effort to treat opioid overdosing and prevent prescription drug dependence, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports, is costing Americans $78.5 billion a year. The White House Council of Economic Advisers, in an analysis of 2015 figures, puts the overall economic cost of the opioid epidemic at over $500 billion a year.

The Purdue Pharma settlement, if accompanied by similar settlements with other Big Pharma corporations, could put a significant dent into these costs. But we know from the landmark 1998 tobacco industry settlement that cash from a settlement deal doesn’t always end up where that cash ought to be going. Of the $125 billion that has gone to states since the 1998 tobacco settlement, only 3 percent has gone to fighting smoking and helping tobacco’s victims.

The rest has gone to general expenses of various sorts. In some states, tobacco settlement revenue may even be filling revenue holes left by tax cuts for the rich.

So does that leave the leaked Purdue Pharma settlement little more than a big nothingburger? Maybe not. The settlement, as reported, may offer a template for a broader restructuring of Big Pharma.

Under the settlement deal, the Sackler family would lose all its ownership stake in Purdue Pharma. The company would become a “public beneficiary corporation,” run by three independent court-appointed trustees and a new board of directors these trustees would name. All corporate earnings from this new “public beneficiary corporation” would go the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Purdue Pharma.

This could prove to be an interesting model. Purdue Pharma, under the guidance of independent representatives of the public interest, could cease to be a company that makes billions pushing dangerously addictive pills on America’s most vulnerable communities.

Imagine if this approach became the model for dealing with all the Big Pharma drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers that bear responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of opioid dead. Big Pharma would soon become, in effect, a publicenterprise.

We could encourage this new corporate public spiritedness by legislating checks on the corporate pay incentives that have fueled the opioid crisis. We could, for instance, tax corporations that pay their top execs excessively more than their workers at higher rates than corporations that pay executives less and workers more.

In 2018, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky pulled down $20.1 million, 268 times the pay of Johnson & Johnson’s typical employee. Earlier this week, a judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson guilty of  getting doctors to overprescribe its opioid-based medications. Over one recent six-year period, Gorsky’s CEO counterpart at drug distributor McKesson had his company drop over 14.1 billion opioid pills on U.S. communities. That CEO, John Hammergren, retired this past April, after pocketing nearly $800 million over his over 16-year CEO stint at McKesson.

Outrageous rewards like these incentivize outrageous behaviors. By legislating tax penalties for companies with wide CEO-worker pay gaps, we could tamp down these incentives and help ensure that future “public beneficiary corporations” serve the public interest.

So let’s get at it. Let’s not just insist that Big Pharma corporations pay up. Let’s change America’s corporate pay rules — and change Big Pharma in the process.

This column first appeared on

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Burning Down the House

Doesn’t idiocy ever take a vacation?

As August wound down, the populist troika of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Jair Bolsonaro proved once again that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil would be better off with no leaders rather than the dubious characters that currently pretend to govern these countries.

In all three cases, these leaders escalated their nationally destructive policies as summer wound down in ways that have alienated even their erstwhile supporters. Once again, they have demonstrated that they have no interest in making America, Great Britain, or Brazil great again. They are only interested in doing as much damage as they can before they are ultimately dragged out of office.

Johnson Tries a Coup

Boris Johnson is a bumbling blowhard with but one current obsession: Brexit. He has promised to sever the UK’s relationship with the European Union by October 31 even if it means doing so without a deal that would mitigate the pain of separation.

The Halloween deadline is grimly appropriate. A No-Deal Brexit would make for a blood-curdling horror film. Just slap a Ghostface mask on the British prime minister, give him a knife to cut the umbilicus with Europe, and voila: Scream 5.

Johnson’s latest tactic to get what he wants is to suspend Parliament for five weeks this fall to limit debate on alternatives to his doomsday option. He hopes to make it impossible for parliament to pass even emergency legislation banning a no-deal Brexit. Believe it or not, the British system allows for such maneuvers – so Queen Elizabeth had to give her blessing to the suspension.

When Trump engages in anti-democratic activities, the Republican Party by and large indulges him. Not so in the UK, where even conservatives are up in arms over Johnson’s silent coup. After the prime minister’s announcement of the suspension, the government’s whip in the House of Lords resigned, as did the head of the Scottish Conservative Party. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, meanwhile, has pilloried Johnson and joined a legal challenge to the suspension.

This week, Johnson lost his one-vote majority in parliament when Conservative member Philip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrats even as the prime minister was addressing the chamber.

Most parliamentary members, including quite a few Conservatives, oppose a no-deal exit. No matter: Johnson is following Trump’s script by remaking the Conservative Party in his own image, threatening to purge anyone who doesn’t follow his hard line. After losing a vote that will allow parliament to introduce legislation to delay Brexit, Johnson expelled 21 dissidents, including a number of former ministers and one grandson of Winston Churchill.

Now Johnson is talking about holding a snap election in mid-October. The Conservatives are comfortably outpolling Labor, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. However, if all the Remain forces unite against Johnson, they could eke out a victory. But Johnson could also promise an election for October 14 and then, surprise, postpone it until after Halloween, making Brexit a fait accompli.

Johnson once said, “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a titanic success of it.” Determined to do the wrong thing even though he knows it’s wrong, Johnson is steering the United Kingdom straight into an iceberg. Nigel Farage is his chief navigator, and the rest of the country is clustered on the bow, bracing for impact.

With a second referendum, wiser heads could wrest control of the helm and prevent disaster, but Johnson is doing everything he can to fast-track Brexit on the principle that it doesn’t matter where you’re going as long as you get there fast.

Bolsonaro Fans the Flames

Idiocy loves company.

Jair Bolsonaro styles himself the Trump of the tropics. The comparison is apt. Some future poet, in describing the inferno of the present, will stuff Trump, Bolsonaro, and Johnson feet first into the mouth of Satan in the ninth circle. Having stoked the fires of climate change, Bolsonaro will richly deserve such an afterlife.

As The Economist points out, Bolsonaro as a candidate…

promised to end fines for violations of environmental law, shrink the protected areas that account for half of the Brazilian Amazon and fight NGOs, for which he has a visceral hatred. In office, his government has gutted the environment ministry and Ibama, the quasi-autonomous environmental agency. Six of the ten senior posts in the ministry’s department of forests and sustainable development are vacant, according to its website. The government talks of “monetizing” the Amazon but sabotaged a $1.3bn European fund that aims to give value to the standing forest.

As a result of Bolsonaro’s hands-off policy, deforestation in the Amazon has been out of control this year. Emboldened by their president’s actions, Brazilian farmers organized a “fire day” to clear land for planting. “We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is to knock (the forest) down. And to form and clean our pastures, it is with fire,” said one of the organizers of the Fire Day. The number of fires in the Amazon nearly doubled this year over the same period last year.

It’s not as if the world wasn’t warned. Time magazine put the burning Amazon on its cover exactly 30 years ago!

The impact this time around is straight-forward. The Amazon is a huge carbon sink. Burn it up and global warming will accelerate. There will also be irreversible loss of biodiversity. And the upside? More soybeans, which Brazil can sell to China because the latter is no longer buying the harvests of U.S. farmers.

Oh, and more profits into the pockets of Bolsonaro’s friends in the industries that are paving the paradise of the Amazon and putting up a parking lot.

Trump Trashes the Planet

Donald Trump is a moth that can’t stop itself from flying directly at the flame of fame (or, more accurately, the inferno of infamy). He could stay off Twitter, but instead his tweets piss off one group of voters after another. He could stay away from the press, but his lies, gaffes, and personal attacks are amplified throughout the media universe. Arguably, this is a strategy to solidify the base and reinforce Trump’s reputation as an anti-establishment gadfly.

But there’s no political strategy behind his trade war with China and his impulsive threats last month to further escalate tariffs on Chinese goods. The sectoral damage to his base worries his political advisors: say goodbye to the farm vote, a good chunk of blue-collar voters thrown out of work, and a bunch of average consumers angry at shelling out more money for their holiday gifts.

Worse would be a more general economic recession brought on by this needless trade war, which would doom the president’s reelection chances. Yes, the U.S. economy is due for a “correction,” particularly because of Trump’s tax cuts and over-the-top spending. But if Trump played it safe, he could have probably postponed the recession until after the 2020 election. Instead, he’s doing everything he can to ensure that it makes landfall smack dab during the presidential race.

Trump isn’t just self-destructive. He continued over the last couple weeks to destroy U.S. alliances, most recently by expressing interest in buying Greenland from Denmark. The land wasn’t on the market, as the Danish government reminded the president, which prompted Trump to cancel his trip to the country.

Greenland? Really?! Perhaps Trump was making an indirect acknowledgement of the effects of climate change, attempting a land grab up north to secure a spot for Ivanka and Jared’s summer palace.

Meanwhile, Trump is powering full speed ahead toward climate apocalypse. The administration’s latest move is to remove restrictions on methane emissions, a more potent contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide. The effort is designed to reduce costs for oil and gas companies. But guess what? Even some of the top energy companies are opposed to Trump’s move.

“Last year we announced our support for the direct regulation of methane emissions for new and existing oil and gas facilities,” Exxon Mobil spokesperson Scott Silvestri said. “That hasn’t changed. We will continue to urge the EPA to retain the main features of the existing methane rule.” After all, Exxon, BP, and others are trying to position natural gas as part of the solution to climate change, and the Trump administration is busy undermining this argument.

The methane restrictions that Trump is trying to unravel date back to the Obama administration. But the current administration wants to tear up much older agreements as well. The Clinton administration protected Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from logging and mining. But Trump wants to open up this 16.7 million-acre sanctuary to the usual suspects in the extractive industries. This is no small land parcel. It represents half the world’s temperate rainforest.

Bolstonaro, at least, is only interested in trashing a rainforest (albeit a large one). Boris Johnson is content to trash a country (albeit a rich one). Donald Trump, with that ego of his, aspires to trash an entire planet. Yes, all three will eventually flame out. But not before they’ve scorched the earth clean.

An environmentalist told journalist Alan Weisman before the 2016 elections that she was considering voting for Trump. “The way I see it,” she said, “it’s either four more years on life support with Hillary, or letting this maniac tear the house down. Maybe then we can pick up the pieces and finally start rebuilding.”

The philosophy of “things have to get worse before they get better” has sometimes worked out in the past. But that’s the past.

Unless we stop him, we’ll be rooting around in the post-Trump ashes in vain for the pieces. The house will be gone. And there will be nothing we can salvage to rebuild it.

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A Battle for Existence

They are landscapes my mind escapes to regularly. The painted canyons in eastern Montana and the Zion region of Utah. Forests of huge conifers in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The incredible arid desolation of Utah west of Salt Lake City and the deserts of Nevada. Sagebrushed plains in the Southwest. I spent many hours standing by the side of roads observing these and other landscapes in the western United States. Occasionally, I saw an elk herd in the distance or giant raptors flying above me. Once, I ended up covered in some kind of flying insects when I sat down either on or close to their nests in the Colorado heat south of Colorado Springs. Lizards often played on rocks nearby and I remained ever wary of snakes in crevices and shadows. There were a couple summers when I left the road and hiked into the mountains of Theodore Roosevelt National Forest near Boulder, CO. Just me, a sleeping bag and backpack with a little food, a collapsible fishing pole, some whiskey and some weed. Years have passed since those adventures.

Author Christopher Ketcham opens his book This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West with a similar reminiscence. In the book’s second chapter, he gets specific. He is in the Escalante region of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The year is recent. The Trump administration has made clear its intention to shrink the monument’s acreage in favor of private interests. This time it’s cattlemen who consider the land to be theirs to destroy. All in the name of cowboy culture and rancher’s profits. Fittingly, the tale turns to the story of Clive and Ammon Bundy. These were the men who led the takeover of public lands in defense of their right to graze without paying a cent and then, after getting away with that, staged an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. As Ketcham describes the events, he also provides the history behind these actions. In short, the Bundy dramas were part of an ongoing battle over who should control those lands legally considered to belong to all US citizens.

Ketcham does not stop with the Bundys and their ilk–men who are actually bit players in the ongoing war between private interests and the public good. As his text moves forward, Ketcham casts his scrutinizing pen on the role played by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wildlife Services and the Department of the Interior—to name just a few of the government agencies involved—in the selloff of the lands. The story he tells is one of species threatened and species destroyed. It is also one that involves death threats and loss of employment to employees of those agencies who act as if their job is to protect the wild. It is a story that involves other powerful institutions in a conspiracy mired in greed and hubris: the Mormon church, the energy industry, agribusiness, and both political parties.

While it is clear that Ketcham’s purpose in writing this book is to bring attention to the abuse of the wilderness and to name those most responsible for its abuse, it is also apparent that he has an appreciation, indeed, a love, for the lands and animals he describes. His prose when describing these aspects moves beyond the merely factual and into the poetic. So do his profiles of the women and men fighting the behemoth intent on destruction. Conversely, his anger at those who pretend to be friends of the forests, grasslands and the animals who live there is specific, biting and without regret. Indeed, his discussion of those organizations and individuals who call themselves “green” while they work with industry in destroying the wilderness for the profits of the cattle and extraction interests includes some of his harshest words. Likewise, he spares nothing when discussing the Obama administration, which gave away more wilderness to those interests than the Bush administration preceding it. In the final pages, Ketcham makes it clear: if you want to save the environment, you must oppose capitalism. There is no other way.

Relentless, well written and informed, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West is an angry masterpiece. It eloquently describes an ecosystem disintegrating because of greed, ignorance, and the arrogance of humans. The heroes include the wolves, the grizzlies, the bison and the ravens, trying to survive against a conspiracy that only capitalism and a compliant and compromised civil authority could create.

At the end of the day, Ketcham’s text not only channeled my anger at those whose profits depend on intentionally destroying the environment, it also reminded me of the rapturous and synchronous beauty that so desperately requires us to battle for its existence.

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