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The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution

Signing the Constitution, September 17, 1787 – Public Domain

It has been amusing to hear liberal commentators say over and over that the malignant racist rogue president Donald “I am the World’s Greatest Person” Trump is precisely the sort of terrible tyrant the United States Founding Fathers had in mind when they devised their “genius” Constitutional system of “checks and balances.” The Tiny-fingered, Tangerine-Tinted, Twitter-Tantruming Tyrant Trump (hereafter “T7”) owes his ascendancy to the White House and his continued presence there largely to the U.S. Constitution.

Ballot-marked by roughly a quarter of eligible U.S. voters in 2016, the venal aspiring fascist strongman T7 remains too transparently terrible a human being to win support from most U.S.-American voters. But so what? The hallowed 1787 parchment’s Electoral College system permits someone to ascend to the White House without winning a majority in the national popular presidential vote. Majority support is not required under the constitutionally prescribed U.S. electoral system. A President Elect does not have to win most of the votes from the very modest majority (just 55% in 2016) of the U.S. electorate that bothers to participate in the nation’s money- marinated presidential elections. The Constitution’s absurd, democracy-flunking Electoral College significantly inflates the “democratic” electoral voice of the nation’s most reactionary, white, racist, rural, and “red” (Republican) states by rendering popular vote totals irrelevant in more urban, racially diverse, high population, and reliably “blue” (Democratic) states. It grants slightly populated “red” states a disproportionately high number of collegiate Electors.

It is openly ridiculous, from a democratic, one-person-one vote perspective.

(Incidentally, Puerto Rico is a preponderantly Latinx U.S. territory that is home to more than three million people who pay U.S. [payroll, business, and estate] taxes but have no Electoral College votes even as they help fund the U.S. government [The same is true for other U.S. territories]. It has a bigger population than do seventeen U.S. states, all of whom have at least three presidential Electors and four of which [Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, and Nevada] have six Electors. The combined total population of the nation’s four least populous states [Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and North Dakota] is less than that of Puerto Rico alone. Those very predominantly white four states together have twelve presidential Electors.)

A different way in which T7 (the tiny-fingered, tangerine-tinted, Twitter-tantruming tyrant Trump) owes his 2016 victory to the Constitution is less obvious. As has been documented at length, T7 was elected largely because the neoliberal-corporate-globalist Obama-Clinton Democrats demobilized the nation’s all-too silent progressive majority. The dismal-dollar-drenched Democratic Party – the nation’s perennial Inauthentic Opposition and Fake Resistance – is vote-depressingly awful thanks in great part to the distorting role big-money campaign contributions play in determining the outcomes of the nation’s ever more preposterously expensive elections. And that role is attributable in no small measure to the holy Constitution. The Founders created the Supreme Court as a critical, presidentially appointed-for-life check on the popular will. And in two landmark decisions, Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United (2010), the high court has ruled (in total violation of majority public opinion) that private campaign contributions are “free speech” and that there are no limits to be legally set on how much the rich and powerful can invest in the giant organized bribery project that is U.S. campaign finance. With full Supreme Court approval, the American money-politics system subjects U.S. candidates to what current US Congressman Jamin Raskin (D-MD) once accurately described as “the wealth primary” – the requirement that one either possess vast personal wealth or access to others’ vast personal wealth in order to make viable runs for elective office. T7 rode the money-politics “wealth primary” to power indirectly, through election investors’ demobilizing impact on the Democratic vote, and directly, through Trump’s self-financing (decisive in the primaries along with massive free media promotion) and campaign backing from right-wing moguls like Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson (critical to T7’s success in the general election).

Equally if not more horrendous is the Constitution’s role in preventing T7’s properly rapid removal. T7 announced its wretched unsuitability for the office to which it had arisen on its very first day in power. That’s when it gave a mind-bogglingly moronic, delusional, and disjointed “speech” at the CIA’s headquarters. It blustered that “we should have kept [Iraq’s] oil” and that “maybe you’ll have another chance” (to get “the oil”).   The dementia-addled low-lights included passages like these:

“I know a lot about West Point…Every time I say I had an uncle who was a great math professor at MIT…who did a fantastic job …and then they say, Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart person…You know, when I was young. Of course I feel young – I feel like I was 30, 35….39…Somebody said are you young? I said I think I’m young…I remember hearing from one of my instructors, the United States has never lost a war. And then, after that, it’s like we haven’t won anything. You know the old expression, to the victory belongs the spoils? You remember I always say keep the oil….we should have kept the oil….But okay, maybe you’ll have another chance ….as you know I have a running war with the media, they are among the most dishonest human beings on earth…”

“In the seconds after [T7’s CIA monologue] finished,” Michael Wolff has recounted, “you could hear a pin drop.” The rest, as the saying goes, is history: think Charlottesville, “shithole nations,” concentration camps, the fake national emergency, the Nativist Wall, the criminal diversion of taxpayer funds, “go back to the crime-ridden countries you came from,” Kavanaugh, reckless environmental deregulation, the abrogation of asylum rights, record-setting drone war, “fire and fury,” “I might end birthright citizenship,” threats of “tough guy” violence if Congress or voters try to remove him from office, disfigured weather maps, the torture of Puerto Rico, covering for Saudi Arabia’s dismemberment of a dissident journalist, the torture of Yemen, 10,000 false statements, Alabama Hurricane threat, “no obstruction,” “the Blacks love me,” “my perfect phone call,” “the Kurds are very happy,” “this phony emoluments clause”….the maddening list of T7’s offenses goes on and on and on. An activist Website gives the following daunting list of offenses for which the aspiring fascist strongman deserves impeachment: Violation of Constitution on Domestic Emoluments; Violation of Constitution on Foreign Emoluments; Incitement of Violence; Interference With Voting Rights; Discrimination Based On Religion; Illegal War; Illegal Threat of Nuclear War; Abuse of Pardon Power; Obstruction of Justice; Politicizing Prosecutions; Failure to Reasonably Prepare for or Respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria; Separating Children and Infants from Families; Illegally Attempting to Influence an Election Tax Fraud and Public Misrepresentation; Assaulting Freedom of the Press; Supporting a Coup in Venezuela; Unconstitutional Declaration of Emergency; Instructing Border Patrol to Violate the Law; Refusal to Comply With Subpoenas; Declaration of Emergency Without Basis In Order to Violate the Will of Congress; Illegal Proliferation of Nuclear Technology; Illegally Removing the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. I would add one: the criminal acceleration of Ecocide, the biggest issue of our or any time. Trump has brazenly violated his oath to serve the General Welfare by doing everything he can to turn the world into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber as soon as possible. (Where Burisma-Biden-Gate ranks on this list is a matter of ideologically mediated interpretation.) Meanwhile, T7’s dreadful and Huxwellian womanchild adviser Kellyanne Conway tells us that it “needs to tweet like the rest of us need to eat.”

But right on Day One, with T7’s insane, rambling CIA oration, it should have been clear as day that Malignant Orange was mentally (as well as morally) unfit for the demanding position to which it had been so absurdly yet constitutionally elevated. The “Stable Genius” is, among other terrible things, an abject dotard. An immediate Vote of No Confidence should have been immediately held in Congress, mandating the calling of a new national presidential election as soon as possible.

But, of course, no such commonsensical parliamentary procedure is permitted under the U.S. Constitution, which mandates absurdly time-staggered and strictly scheduled presidential elections just once every four years. That’s the ridiculously brief and spaced-out window when the corporate-managed citizenry gets it absurdly filtered (Electorally Collegialized) “input” on who sits in the nation’s most powerful job (the world’s most powerful job after 1945): two minutes once every 1460 days.

There is, it is true, a Constitutional procedure for the removal of a president on the grounds of incapacity – the 25th Amendment. But nobody takes this remedy seriously, short of a finally crippling presidential stroke or some other White House calamity/Godsend that renders T7 unable to tweet. Even if T7 could be Twenty-Fifthed out of the Oval Office, the process would only give the White House (under our “genius” Constitution) to demented evangelical fascist, Mike Pence. Who wants his apocalyptic fingers on the nuclear codes even for one day?

There is of course the impeachment path. Impeachment is now very likely thanks to the Democrats’ electoral takeover of the House of Representatives and to T7 getting its venal little red hands caught in the “deep state” Ukraine-Biden-Burisma cookie jar (Burisma-Biden Gate). But actual removal is unlikely under the nation’s sacred parchment because the U.S. Senate is majority Republican and therefore likely to hand T7 an “exoneration” he could use as an electoral asset next November. It requires just a simple majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach but two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to remove a president under “our” beloved Constitution. We’ve had two presidential impeachments (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton) in U.S. history but no removals, though the evil nut-job Richard Nixon (who Trump thinks was “framed”) would have been both impeached and removed had he not resigned first

It might seem absurd that the U.S. Senate is majority-Republican given the fact the Trumpified Republican Party is widely hated and deeply unpopular in the United States. But this irrationality (from a democratic perspective, at least) is fully constitutional, for the nation’s unjustly hallowed charter grossly exaggerates the Senate voice of the nation’s whitest, most reactionary, Republican, gun-addicted, racist, and proto-fascistic regions. The Constitution assigns two Senators to each U.S. state regardless of (steep) differences in state population.

Like the Electoral College, it’s totally ludicrous from a democratic standpoint. “Red” (Republican) Wyoming, home to 573,720 Americans, holds U.S. Senatorial parity with “blue” (Democratic) California, where more than 39 million Americans reside. That’s one U.S. Senator for every 19.5 million Californians versus one U.S. Senator for every 287,000 Wyoming residents.

Just one of New York City’s 5 boroughs, bright-blue Brooklyn, has 2.6 million people. If Brooklyn were a state and US Senators were apportioned there with the same populace-to-Senator ratio as red Wyoming, Brooklyn would have 9 U.S. Senators, al Democrats.

The following 13 states together have a combined population of roughly 34. 4 million: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.  Together these 13 “red states” send 26 Republicans to the U.S. Senate. The single “blue state” of California, with a population more than 5 million higher than these 13 states combined, sends 2 Democrats to the upper chamber of Congress.

Due to “a growing population shift from the agricultural interior to crowded corridors along the coast,” Daniel Lazare noted two years ago, it is mathematically possible now to “cobble together a Senate majority with states that account for just 17.6 percent of the popular vote.”

(And by the way, the bright blue District of Columbia is home to 693,972 people, more than all of Wyoming and just roughly 46,000 less than that of Alaska.  It is absurdly denied voting representation in either the House or the Senate.)

This preposterous (from a pro-democracy perspective) apportionment system means that the Republican Senate majority answers to a very disproportionately white, rural, and reactionary section of the electorate.

How idiotic (from a democracy standpoint) is that?

And what, by the way, would the impeachment and removal of Herr Donald give the nation under the “genius” Constitution but the presidency of the arch-right-wing Christian Fascist Mike Pence? There’s a case to be made for impeaching and removing Trump anyway, but Pence’s constitutionally ordained ascendancy is no small negative incentive.

Look at the following passage from Nancy Pelosi’s recent House floor speech in support of open impeachment hearings on the orange malignancy’s abuse of power in the Biden-Burisma Gate case:

“And, what is at stake?  What is at stake, in all of this, is nothing less than our democracy…I proudly stand next to the flag…which stands for our democracy. When Benjamin Franklin came out of Independence Hall –  you heard this over and over – on September 17, 1787, the day our Constitution was adopted, he came out of Independence Hall, people said to him, ‘Dr. Franklin, what do we have a monarchy or a republic?’  And, he said, as you know, he said, ‘A republic, if we can keep it.’  If we can keep it.”

“And this Constitution is the blueprint for our republic and not a monarchy.  But, when we have a President who says, ‘Article II says I can do whatever I want,’ that is in defiance of the separation of powers.  That’s not what our Constitution says. So, what is at stake is our democracy.  What are we fighting for?  Defending our democracy for the people.”

You know in the early days of our revolution, Thomas Paine said, ‘The times have found us.’  The times found our Founders to declare independence from a monarchy, to fight a war of independence, write our founding documents and thank God they made them amendable so we can always be expanding freedom.  And, the genius, again that genius of that Constitution was the separation of power.  Any usurping of that power is a violation of our oath of office.  So, proudly, you all, we all raised our hands to protect and defend and support the Constitution of the United States.  That’s what this vote is about.”

“Today – we think the time found our Founders, the times found others in the course of our history to protect our democracy, to keep our country united.  The times have found each and every one of us in this room and in our country to pay attention to how we protect and defend the Constitution of the United States – honoring the vision of our Founders who declared independence from a monarch and established a country contrary to that principle, honoring men and women in uniform who fight for our freedom and for our democracy and honoring the aspirations of our children so that no President, whoever he or she may be in the future, could decide that Article II says they can do whatever they want… let us honor our oath of office.  Let us defend our democracy” (emphasis added).

Notice anything wrong here? Pelosi accurately described the nature of the government blueprinted by the ruling-class Founders just one time: a republic. She got it wrong six times when she called it “our democracy.” As I have shown (with no special claim of originality) here and elsewhere on numerous occasions, democracy – the rule of the popular majority – was the last thing the Founding Fathers of the United States ever wanted to see break out in their newly created white male property-holders’ republic, which later developed into a corporate state-capitalist oligarchy. Their charter was brilliantly crafted precisely to keep democracy at bay in numerous ways that cripple our efforts to practice serious popular sovereignty 232 years later.

At the same time, even the explicitly non-democratic “small-r” republican promise of intra-elite checks and balances is undermined today by hyper-partisan politics so extreme that 9 in 10 Republicans oppose the House impeachment inquiry while 9 in 10 Democrats support it. The Founders’ “genius” scheme was always flawed by the possibility, indeed likelihood, of party politics overriding the Constitution’s heralded checks and balances. What does Congress’ and/or the Supreme Court’s supposedly grand institutional power to check the tyranny of the imperial presidency really mean when Congress’s powerful upper body (the Senate) and the high court (whose presidential for-life appointees are approved only by the Senate) is controlled by the same party that controls the White House?

Candidate Trump was not that far off when he said that his Red State party base would still back him even if he “st[ood] in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot somebody.” None of T7’s long list of sickening outrages (of which the Ukraine-Biden scandal is just one example and arguably not the worst one) have shaken the dedicated support T7’s white-Amerikaner “heartland” fans give their Dear “Make America Hate Again” Leader. At this point, one has to wonder if real-time video of the orange malignancy dismembering and eating live children could dent their faith in the Great God Trump. T7 taps his neofascist base’s lust for an authoritarian master who smites liberal and left elites and puts brown-skinned people back in “their place.” The herrenvolk are sticking by their Manimal president come Hell or high water. Many among the nation’s heavily armed white male militia cohort are ready to go “full animal” themselves, proclaiming their readiness to act on the Great God’s not-so veiled call for “Civil War” if Congress acts seriously on its constitutional duty to check the current tyrannical POTUS. Even Major League Baseball umpire Rob Blake has tweeted that he will buy an assault rifle to use in “CIVAL WAR” if Trump is impeached.

It’s depressing that a third or so of the electorate clings so tenaciously to the noxious neofascist sociopath in the White House. But it is equally demoralizing that T7’s “deplorable” (something horrible Hillary got right) base enjoys such absurdly outsized political voice in the fake-democracy granted to us by our slave-owning “founders,” for whom popular sovereignty (democracy) was a dreadful specter much to be checkmated in advance.

To no small degree, “our” (their) archaic Constitution is the constitutional crisis. It helped hatched the Trumpenstein and it is helping keep it in office perhaps for five or, God help us, more years. The way to get rid of this terrible tyrant is through a mass and prolonged popular rebellion that includes among its demands the call for a new national charter, one that includes among its provisions (just for starters) the abolition of anti-democratic absurdities like the Electoral College, the disenfranchisements of Puerto Rico and Washington DC, the provision of two Senators to each state regardless of its population size, the lifetime appointment of Supreme Court Justices, and the eviction of private money from public elections. The whole damn system that spat up/shat out Malignant Orange is guilty as Hell. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote not long before his death, “the real issue to be faced” beyond superficial matters is “the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

The post The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

My Friend Was Murdered for Trying to Save the Amazon

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, known as Kwahu, was shot dead following an ambush by loggers. He was a Guardian of the Amazon, a group of indigenous men from the Guajajara tribe who protect their territory from loggers.

“They’re watching us,” the Guardians whispered, as we walked in the dark. “But we’re watching them, and this is our forest. We know it inside out. We’ll catch them.” We were heading deeper into the forest, towards an illegal logging hotspot.

I was on an operation with the Guardians of the Amazon, indigenous people from the Guajajara tribe with one clear objective: to protect their land. They do this not only for their own families, but also to protect their uncontacted neighbors, people from the Awá tribe, who share this territory. I was invited to join them as part of my work for Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples, who support the Guardians’ work and help amplify their voices on the global stage.

The anger and the urgency among the Guardians was palpable. We couldn’t even wait until morning; the loggers were in the forest now. So we headed out into the night, eyes adjusted to the darkness, with only the low, dim, on-and-off light of a few torches covered in cloth and pointed down at our feet. Any more light risked being seen, and the loggers are armed, aggressive, and ruthless.

At the time of this visit last April, the loggers had already assassinated three Guardians. Just a few days ago, I received news that my friend Paulino Paulo Guajajara had been fatally shot, and another friend, Tainaky Tenetehar, had been seriously wounded; he only just escaped from loggers, who had ambushed them while they were out hunting.

Paulino on a mission with the Guardians, wearing Sarah’s hat.

The hat Paulino is wearing in this picture used to be mine. We cut two eye holes in it and, when we passed through particularly dangerous areas, he’d pull it down over his face so as not to be recognized by loggers. He said that this hat could save his life, as he could be targeted any minute, and that it was well worth the sweat. When the coast was clear, he’d pull it back up with his trademark grin.

Paulino paid with his life for trying save his tribe’s forest, the Arariboia Indigenous Territory, in the north-east Amazon. It is being destroyed at a terrifying rate: President Bolsonaro’s racist words and genocidal proposals to steal indigenous land are encouraging illegal loggers to operate with renewed zeal, confident that they can make quick cash and get away with it. The number of invasions of indigenous territories, and attacks on communities, has sky-rocketed since Bolsonaro took office.

“The President has made it clear that he won’t protect even one more millimeter of indigenous land. They want to kill us all and take our land,” Tainaky himself told me. We saw countless patches of newly chopped-down forest, where dozens of trees felled by the invaders lay like corpses on the side of the paths, ready to be transported and sold on the black market.

Paulino was with us too that day, and he was upset by what we saw. “It makes me so mad to see this! These people think they can come here, into our home, and help themselves to our forest? No. We won’t allow it. We don’t break into their houses and rob them, do we? My blood is boiling, I’m so angry,” he told me.

Paulino was wearing the hat I gave him the day he was killed, but this time it didn’t protect him. Paulino and Tainaky didn’t think they were under threat when were ambushed because they weren’t looking for loggers at the time.

The Guardians respect and protect their forest as an integral part of their daily life because it gives them their food, shelter, medicine — it’s their everything. “We indigenous people know our forest better than anyone else. We’ll fight as long as we live,” Tainaky said. “There’s no other option.”

Satellite image of the Guajajara’s territory, Araribóia, showing their land as an island of green in a sea of deforestation.

If you look at Araribóia in satellite imagery, you are struck by the contrast in color at its borders. It’s an island of green amid a sea of destruction. It’s no surprise; indigenous peoples look after their land better than anyone else. They have done so for generations and, unlike many other societies, their forest stewardship does not require detailed planning, million-dollar projects, debates in international fora or the Paris climate agreement.

We set up camp at a junction where two logging paths converged. There were snapped twigs on the forest floor — breaks which the Guardians could identify as being just hours old. The loggers were nearby. We slept around a fire — just enough flames to cook the one slab of remaining meat, but not enough to be seen. At dawn we continued, going ever deeper into the forest. I knew we were getting closer: there were constant signs of intruders.

One result of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency is that there are more eyes on the forest: of those wanting to steal it, but also of those wanting to protect it. It’s buzzing with all the attention, and the fatal fires now ravaging vast areas are now drawing many more. All these eyes on the Amazon are provoking fights, grabbing headlines and building resistance. All of us can be allies in this resistance, but we will never truly know what people like the Guardians of the Amazon face on a daily basis. I will never truly know what Paulino went through.

Hours passed on our mission, and eventually we found the loggers’ camp. We approached cautiously, in a line, as silent as we could be. But nobody was there. The loggers had fled in a rush, leaving behind some clothes, cooking utensils, a pumpkin, and half a dozen eggs. The Guardians were quick to set the loggers’ camp alight, and burnt it to the ground.

The invaders had almost definitely been tipped off by one of their spies. They would rather flee and abandon “their” logs than cross paths with the forest’s defenders. They know the Guardians’ operations are succeeding in gradually pushing the loggers out.

Around the world, people are uniting with Brazil’s indigenous peoples to #StopBrazilsGenocide. During Bolsonaro’s first month in office, thousands took part in the biggest ever international protest for indigenous rights. The resistance is stopping Bolsonaro in his tracks.

For the future of Arariboia and other indigenous lands — the most biodiverse places on Earth, and lifelines for us all — let’s keep our eyes on the forest, and support the indigenous eyes IN the forest. We honour the life of Paulino and others like him; they will never know how grateful we all are, and we will never understand how much we really owe them. They’re the ones on the front line, day and night, of this fight for indigenous peoples, for nature, and for all humanity.

If you want to support the work of the Guardians of the Amazon, please click here

Sarah Shenker is a Senior Research and Advocacy Officer at Survival International. She works mainly on Survival’s Uncontacted Tribes and Tribal Conservationists campaigns and coordinates Survival’s Tribal Voice project. She has visited many indigenous communities in Brazil, Venezuela, Paraguay, Mexico and India. You can find her on Twitter @SarahDeeSvl

The post My Friend Was Murdered for Trying to Save the Amazon appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Left is the New Right, or Why Marx Matters

Photograph Source: Soman – CC BY-SA 2.5

The American obsession with electoral politics is odd in that ‘the people’ have so little say in electoral outcomes and that the outcomes only dance around the edges of most people’s lives. It isn’t so much that the actions of elected leaders are inconsequential as that other factors— economic, historical, structural and institutional, do more to determine ‘politics.’ To use an agrarian metaphor, it’s as if the miller was put forward as determining the harvest.

The American left has had an outsider role in this politics from the inception of the nation as a capitalist oligarchy to the improbable cobbling together of the idea that popular democracy can exist alongside concentrated wealth. If the powers that be wanted popular democracy, they could stop impeding its creation. The ‘first mover’ advantage, that once gained, power is used to close the door behind it, has be understood for centuries in the realms of commerce and politics.

As was probably the intent, the 2016 presidential outcome was used by the more persistent powers to divide the American left. The neoliberal left moved to a reflexive nationalism tied through class interests to state-corporatism in defense of the realm. Carnival barker Trump, an American political archetype for at least two centuries, was portrayed as a traitor to capitalist democracy— from the left. Emptied of analytical content, left affiliation was made a ‘brand.’

In more constructive terms, Bernie Sanders reached into red state territory to facilitate a class-based left political response to the failures of capitalism by promoting social welfare programs with historical precedent in the New Deal. Tied to an analytically sophisticated effort to shift power down and across political and economic hierarchies, something akin to popular democracy is in the process of confronting its long-mythologized ghost.

Graph: It is hardly incidental that as wealth has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, its power to affect political outcomes has been codified through official determinations like Citizens United. While the domination of politics by concentrated wealth may seem new, it ties to the conception of the U.S. as a capitalist oligarchy where rich, white, slavers determined political outcomes. The Senate, the U.S. ‘House of Lords,’ wasn’t popularly elected until the twentieth century. Source: inequality.org.

Part of the challenge of addressing this politics comes through dubious parsing of ‘the political’ from its objects. If an agent of the government tells people when to wake, what to wear, what they can and can’t say and what to spend their time doing, that is authoritarian. When an employer determines these, it is considered ‘free choice.’ In the neoliberal frame, economics is only political to the extent that elected leaders promote specific economic policies.

Even with the realization of late that money determines political outcomes, the distribution of income and wealth is considered economics while the use that these are put to in the political arena is considered politics. The unvirtuous circle of capitalism, where concentrated income and wealth are used to affect political outcomes so as to increase concentrated income and wealth, ties economics to politics through the incompatibility of capitalism with democracy.

Modern electoral politics replaces this relationship of economics to politics with color-coded branding— red or blue, where ‘our guy’ is what is good and true about America. The other party exists to pin ‘our guy’ into a corner that prevents him / her from acting on this goodness. Barack Obama was prevented from enacting his ‘true’ progressive agenda by Republican obstructionists. Donald Trump is being persecuted by deep-state, snowflake, socialists.

Left unaddressed and largely unconsidered has been the persistence of class relations. The rich continue to get richer, the rest of us, not so much. For all of the claims of political dysfunction, when it comes to bailouts and tax cuts, wars and weaponry and policing and surveillance, these opposition parties can be counted on to come together to overcome their differences. Likewise, when it comes to the public interest, partisan differences are put forward to explain why nothing is possible.

Graph: as illustrated above, in recent decades the greatest gains in the relative wealth of the rich came during the terms of liberal Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Lest this seem— or be framed as, incidental, the liberal Democrat’s support for the mechanism of this enrichment, Wall Street, explains the relationship. In economic terms, Democrats have been the party of the radical right— financialized, neoliberal capitalism, since the inception of neoliberalism in the 1970s. Source: inequality.org.

The unitary direction of this government response in favor of the rich may seem accidental, a byproduct of ‘our system’ of governance. In fact, the defining political ideology of the last half-century has been neoliberalism, defined here as imperialist, state-corporatism, controlled by oligarchs. And contrary to assertions that neoliberalism is a figment of the imagination of the left, its basic tenets were codified in the late 1980s under the term ‘Washington Consensus.’

What the Washington Consensus lays out is the support role that government plays for capitalism. Its tenets are short and highly readable. They provide a blueprint that ties Democratic to Republican political programs since the 1980s. They also tie neoliberalism to the Marxist / Leninist conception of the capitalist state as existing to promote the interests of connected capitalists. Left out, no doubt by accident (not), was / is a theory of class struggle.

When Donald Trump passed tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the rich and corporations, this was the Washington Consensus. When Barack Obama put ‘market mechanisms’ into Obamacare and promoted the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), this was the Washington Consensus. When Bill Clinton tried to privatize Social Security, this was the Washington Consensus. The alleged ‘opposition parties’ have been working together from a single blueprint for governance for four decades.

The intended beneficiary of this unified effort is ‘capitalism,’ conceived as multinational corporations operating with state support to promote a narrowly conceived national interest. An ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) clause was included in NAFTA when Bill Clinton promoted and signed it. An even more intrusive ISDS clause was included in the TPP when Barack Obama promoted it. The intent of these ISDS clauses is to give the prerogative of governance (sovereign power) to corporations.

It is no secret in Washington and outside of it that multinational corporations pay few, if any, taxes. The logic of this is two sided. On the one side, the neoliberal / Washington Consensus premise is that corporations can put the money to better use than government. The other is that the role of government is to support capitalism, not to constrain it. Barack Obama’s consequence-free bailouts of Wall Street, often at the expense of ordinary citizens, possessed an internal logic when considered through this frame.

An historical analog can be found in the relationship of the East India Company to the British empire. The East India Company drew financial, tactical and military support from the British monarchy as its global reach made it a key institution of imperial expansion. Its economic ties gave it a depth and breadth of reach that military occupation alone couldn’t achieve. Centuries later, Mr. Obama made this point when he argued that the TPP was crucial to ‘countering China.’

The rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s was intended to address the alleged failures of the New Deal. By the late 1980s, this new-old ideology had been codified as the Washington Consensus. Its proponents amongst national Democrats morphed into the New Democrats / DLC just as the Soviet Union was coming unwound. The twin ‘failures’ of the New Deal and communism led to the revival of dogmatic capitalism that saw the state as an appendage of capitalist institutions. Bill Clinton was more likely than not sincere when he declared that ‘the era of big government is over.’

The conflation of Democrats with ‘the left’ that first emerged to counter the New Deal in the 1930s, persisted through the 1990s and the 2000s because it was useful to both political parties. Republicans were the party of business while Democrats claimed to be the party of the people. While the New Deal was in place and from a liberal perspective, the Democrats did support a limited conception of the public interest domestically. However, by the time that Bill Clinton entered office, the public interest had been redefined to mean corporate interests.

This tension can be seen more clearly in the fight over NAFTA, which Republicans had been unable to pass before Mr. Clinton entered office. Mr. Clinton was able to use his liberal bona fides— and the fact that he wasn’t a Republican, to bring over just enough Democrats in congress to get NAFTA passed. He went on to divide bourgeois Democrats from the broader Democratic constituency through the use of race and class dog whistles. In this sense, he presaged Donald Trump. The net effect was to successfully divide the Democrat’s constituency by class.

Before Bill Clinton, the anti-NAFTA fight had a clear class component. Organized labor had lined up against the free-trade agenda that was being promoted by Reaganite Republicans. Through his rhetoric of ‘fair’ capitalism and a ‘level playing field,’ Mr. Clinton gave a liberal patina to an utterly retrograde, pre-Great Depression, form of capitalism. With no apparent irony, the Washington Consensus applied a Marxist / Leninist conception of the capitalist state without any pretense of it mitigating capitalist excess.

The clutter of party politics creates differences where there are none, or where they are different than as posed. Prior to being elected president, Barack Obama used the frame of the Washington Consensus to give an ideologically coherent explanation of why he wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare. It is one with the Republican explanation. It ties to his inclusion of neoliberal ‘market mechanisms’ in Obamacare. And it ties to his pivot to cut public expenditures—a.k.a. ‘austerity,’ by early 2010. And it ties to his support for the TPP.

As with Bill Clinton before him, Mr. Obama had a clear ideological predisposition that was at odds with how liberals and his supporters perceived and / or explained them. The historically based conflation of Democrats with ‘the left’ was a misrepresentation of the ideological drivers of the New Democrat’s policies. In significant ways, Messrs. Clinton and Obama were ideologically to the right of their Republican colleagues. And they governed like this was the case.

The invisibility of this shared ideology to most Democrats and liberals came through general ignorance of the genesis and tenets of the Washington Consensus, its relationship to neoliberalism, and the closed nature of Washington political culture. In a Gramscian sense, it reflects the belief system of ruling oligarchs, an ideology based on the interests of the rich submitted from above. The historical precedent was the use of American foreign policy to promote the business interests of connected industrialists and the corporations they controlled.

Why any of this matters is that capitalism has been tried and its consequences are becoming increasingly untenable. Environmental ills appear intractable, capitalist political economy is being held together with increasingly desperate measures, and its human toll can be measured in foreign genocides and domestic deaths of despair. Given the nature of neoliberal recessions, the U.S. is but one recession away from wholesale economic and political rebellion. And that recession is on the way. The value of left analysis is that it opens the range of political possibilities.

 

The post Left is the New Right, or Why Marx Matters appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

What Rises to the Level of Impeachability?

Photograph Source: Mike Maguire – CC BY 2.0

Despite Nancy Pelosi’s “prayerful” concerns and the cowardice of the party she leads, impeachment time has come at last! Republicans must now decide whether to flee their Dear Leader, like rats on a sinking ship, or to stand by his big and very stable brain.

As of now, the smart money has them remaining on board – agonizing over their own fates.

Agonize away, miscreants! When bad things happen to bad people, it “proves the heavens more just.”

Republican – that is, Trump Party — strategists, in the White House and Congress, know that defending Trump on the merits, on any merits, is out of the question.

They have also come around to the realization that, even with Fox and Worse behind them, they can no longer defend him by complaining about the procedures Democrats have put in place in their impeachment inquiries – not with “the revolution,” or whatever it is, about to be televised.

And so, by all accounts, they are about to concede that, yes, Donald Trump is guilty as charged. Since there will soon no longer be any remotely plausible way to claim that the Democrats have not been fair to a fault, they will stop harping on that too.

What they will do instead is insist that the case against Trump somehow doesn’t “rise to the level” required for impeachment.

But for the fact that hardcore Trump supporters are unmoved by reason and could care less about evidence, that line of defense would qualify technically as a “hail Mary pass.” Anyone who doesn’t know what I mean by that should check with the Chamber of Commerce or, better yet, the hapless mayor of South Bend, Indiana, home of the Fighting Irish.

Republicans, especially the Republican Senators now gearing up to keep Trump in office after the House impeaches him, seem to think that they can ride out whatever comes their way as long as the economy doesn’t turn south in time to matter in next year’s election.

They are also counting on the suckers Trump has bamboozled – in America, it seems, there really is one born every minute — hanging onto the belief that even if their man is an asshole, a swindler, and a moral reprobate, at least he is their asshole, swindler and reprobate.

Their expectations are not unreasonable. Evangelicals have been with Trump, the personification of all they supposedly abhor, since Day One; why not the rest of his vaunted base as well?

They will also argue, of course, that the Democratic nominee is too far out in left field to win.

That will be their contention even if, through some aberration in the light of reason, the Democrats nominate Joe Biden or that ridiculous South Bend mayor or any other “moderate” – in other words, anyone who defends the status quo within the Democratic Party and in the larger society by seeming to oppose at least some of what is driving the views of many potential Democratic voters far to the left of their party’s leaders.

Our “democratic” institutions make a mockery of such core democratic notions as political equality, equality of political influence, one person one vote, and so on; they also make it extremely difficult to reverse bad electoral choices, regardless what most citizens demand.

In line with that, Republicans, finding all other avenues exhausted, now want Trump’s fate to hinge on what counts as an impeachable offense. The trouble with that is that everything or nothing could, as it were, “rise” to that level.

What is impeachable is whatever the House and Senate say is impeachable. According to any remotely plausible reading of a Constitution that all sides claim to regard as the supreme authority on the matter, there is no principled way to gainsay their judgment; they are, for all practical purposes, more infallible than the Pope.

There has long been ample evidence supporting Samuel Johnson’s claim that “patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” In the Land of the Free, we have scoundrels aplenty; in recent years, the escapades of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, his éminence grise, produced a bumper crop.

But because Trump makes everything worse, Johnson’s contention must now be revised. Patriotism is no less noxious than it used to be, but, in our time and place, it is no longer the very last refuge of scoundrels. Lawyerly gobbledygook is. Who’d have thunk it?

***

When first developed more than a century ago, the jurisprudential doctrine now called “legal realism” was of a piece with the pragmatist philosophies of the time. Like the pragmatists, legal realists were naturalists. Thus, in their view, laws are not grounded in any special rationally accessible or theologically prescribed authority; they are, and ought to be, based on empirically accessible matters of fact.

As such, they are, in the final analysis, neither more nor less than, as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it, “predictions” of what courts will do.

For a long time now, most legal theorists have distanced themselves from views like Holmes’, arguing, in various ways, that reasons to respect laws and follow their dictates are defensible in their own right, irrespective of contingent matters of fact.

This is not the place to engage the several debates that raged around these issues, except to note that everyone involved in them took for granted the basic probity of the legal system itself.

Those who held that legal arguments are ultimately mere formalities that are justifiable or not depending on facts about human nature, the human condition, and the circumstances at hand, and those who claimed that they articulate rationally defensible substantive constraints on what courts my rightfully do, agreed that, for the most part, the American legal system could be counted on to do the right thing.

The American public thought so too.

Not only did confidence that this was the case run deep; for a long time, it seemed entirely justified. It survived Nixon and Reagan and the Bushes diminished, but still basically intact. The judges that Republican presidents nominated, retrograde as they often were, were still, for the most part, faithful guardians of the rule of law. Even the diminution of privacy rights and the attacks on civil liberties brought on by the Bush-Obama “war on terror” changed nothing fundamental in that respect.

But Trump makes everything worse. With the villainous Mitch McConnell doing the heavy lifting, and with the Republican Senate in tow, he has made assumptions about the basic probity of the federal judiciary a lot harder to sustain.

McConnell has done his level best to pack the federal judiciary with troglodyte judges, and the Trump-Barr Justice Department cannot be counted on to uphold anything like the rule of law, at least not when the matters in dispute involve Trump himself.

With two Trump appointees now joining the rightwing menagerie already there, the Supreme Court itself could soon follow suit. For years after Trump is gone, the consequences will reverberate.

What to do about this is among the most important questions of this historical moment; its urgency will become acute if all goes well, or at least not too disastrously, next November.

But with Trump’s defenders now reduced to playing a legalistic jibber-jabber card of their own contrivance, a low-grade battle is already on.

It has therefore become timely to ask what does “rise to the level,” as they say, of an impeachable offence? Liberal columnists in the “quality press” and the talking heads featured on the liberal cable networks – most of them former Republicans or unreconstructed Democratic centrists – nowadays write or talk about little else.

What they have to say, however, is not exactly clarifying.

For one thing, they tell us that impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. What might that mean?

It could mean that it is not about following precedents or legal principles, even if there were suitable ones to follow, but about doing what legislatures are supposed to do. On some not too outlandish views, that would involve trying to figure out what would be the best thing to do.

Engage that issue and it becomes glaringly obvious that it should be easy, not practically impossible, to get rid of a sitting president as awful and dangerous as the one with whom the United States and the entire world must now contend.

To hear leading Democrats and their media flunkies tell it, impeachment is such a monumental act that Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who think like her, or say that they do, are, or claim to be, reduced to fear and trembling by the gravity of their task, even to the point of prayerfully asking (or, in case there is no one there to answer, thinking that they are asking) God for guidance.

The gravity of the situation is not caused just by the Constitutional strictures that make the impeachment process hard to execute. Democrats are at fault too; for their role in the bipartisan effort to take up where the Constitution leaves off – by turning impeachment into a quasi-legal process, after all.

This makes the whole business a lot like going after Al Capone for taxes. Capone, by the way, must be turning over in his grave, seeing a man not half the crook he was, getting away with whatever it is he is keeping the IRS from revealing. How ironic!

It was like that with Nixon too. Much of what he did was a lot worse than what he would have been impeached for, had he not resigned first. The disparity is even more extreme in Bill Clinton’s case. In his circumstances, can anyone really blame him for falling for Monica Lewinsky or even, to save his ass, for lying about it.

Now it is Trump’s turn. Reasons why he should be removed from office are as plentiful as the stars in the sky. If not quite with every breath he takes, then with every barely literate rant he tweets, he adds to their number.

But count on him being impeached for almost none of it, and certainly not for the worst things he has done. Indeed, Pelosi and Company seem about to insist that the House Judiciary Committee go no farther than some comparatively harmless extortion and obstruction of justice offenses.

In fairness, we do not yet know what the articles of impeachment that the House will finally settle on will be. But it is far more likely than not that they will barely scratch the surface of Trump’s iniquity. If Pelosi gets her way, they could well involve nothing more than Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine for help in smearing the Bidens, Hunter and Joe.

One of the myths surrounding Trump is that he is, or was, a great businessman. What he was great at is taking advantage of the political juice bequeathed him by his father, his father’s cronies, and sleazeballs like Roy Cohn, weaseling out of debts to creditors, stiffing contractors and workers in his employ, and using bankruptcy laws to his advantage. Yet the myth survives, no matter how often and how compellingly investigative journalists make mishmash of it.

Another myth is that the Donald is a great political tactician. If he were, why would he target the one Democrat with any chance of becoming the Democratic nominee who could blow an easy victory in 2020 just as surely as Hillary Clinton did in 2016?

Biden is cut from the same center-right cloth as Clinton. The difference is that he is goofier and even more inept. He is also more “moderate” and “pragmatic – in other words, more rightwing.

It took a Clinton to lose to Trump; what kind of “very stable genius” could think that Biden, a lesser Hillary by any measure, is the biggest threat to his reelection now?

Democrats who favor Biden because they consider him more electable than Sanders or Warren or any of the other contenders seeking their party’s nomination are not exactly geniuses either. They are all confounding the skills of a political tactician with those of a snake oil salesman running a con.

That is what Trump is. That is how he built his base and how he keeps the thirty-five to forty percent of Americans who still support him on board.

He is not half bad either at recruiting and retaining his marks; for that, he is more than cunning enough. But if he thinks Biden is all that stands between him and a second term, he is even more of an idiot than he seems.

Meanwhile, Pelosi has taken the place formerly occupied by G-man Mueller in the imaginations of liberals and others who cannot wait for Trump to be gone and for the Trump era to be over.

The consensus among them is that, unlike Trump, she really is a master tactician. Apparently, Steve Bannon thinks so too. That is a good sign. Bannon is evil but, unlike nearly everyone else in Trump’s camp, he is capable of thinking clearly.

If the consensus view is sound, then, since removing the menace Trump poses – or, failing that, hobbling him beyond repair — is the most urgent task at hand, accepting Pelosi’s leadership on impeachment may actually be wise.

As a good liberal, she is useless for addressing systemic causes. But she can be good for dealing with some of their effects. Until the ambient political culture radicalizes a good deal more than it already has or soon will, there really is no alternative but to make common cause with her and her cohort, and to make the best of it.

***

This is not incompatible with also addressing matters beyond the liberal ken.

It would be a shame, after all, not to take advantage of the opportunity impeachment presents for making the impeachment question less about what Southern planters and wealthy merchants in the Mid- Atlantic and New England states thought some two and a half centuries ago, and more about what makes the most sense here and now.

If there is bipartisan agreement that impeachment should be treated as a legal, or quasi-legal, proceeding, despite all the talk about how it is a political, not a legal process, then now is a time to expose the incoherence of the consensus view, not to embrace it.

After all, unlike in true legal contexts, there really are no precedents that could plausibly be considered binding; there are no overarching principles that could be appealed to either.

Therefore, even if our legislators and others who talk about what does and does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, are, for whatever reason, intent on mimicking proceedings in American courts, they are nevertheless free to create relevant precedents and principles as they go along, whether they realize it or not.

Now is therefore a time to go on the offensive against those who, whenever Constitutional issues arise, gravitate towards the “originalism” of the Scalias and the Kavanaughs and others of their ilk. What a strange bunch those bozos are! How odd that so many of them are Catholics defending what is essentially a Protestant ethos, according to which a sacred text, though susceptible to countless interpretations, is nevertheless deemed inerrantly correct.

This is one thing that cannot be blamed on Trump. The oddness of their thinking predates the Trump era; it is one of the few facets of our political culture that he has had almost nothing to do with and has therefore been unable to make worse. But, in order to keep his Evangelical backers on board, he has done all he can to give them the retrograde judges they crave – effectively normalizing originalist nonsense and making it the dominant view.

Thus, across what passes for a political spectrum, nearly the entire political class is, or claims to be, determined to work within parameters set by social and economic elites in a pre-industrial era, structured, in both the North and the South, by the exigencies of the Atlantic slave trade.

Needless to say, The Federalist Papers are well worth studying; there is much in them from which readers today can learn many things, including much that is relevant to legislators about to impeach the worst American president ever.

But none of it justifies viewing what the authors of the Constitution wrote, including the Constitution itself, as if it were Holy Writ.

We are not dealing, after all, with revealed truths, but with a philosophically insightful and relevant, but nevertheless historically particular, line of thought.

From the sixteenth century until the early nineteenth, Topic A for many of the best political minds in Europe, in France especially, was the suitability of various forms of executive power for different kinds of emerging nation states. The contenders were essentially those that Aristotle had discussed nearly two millennia earlier.

The authors of the American Constitution were immersed in that literature.

How ironic that what gave them the leisure to philosophize and then to concoct “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men (sic) are created equal” was a slave economy — directly in the South, especially in Virginia, home of the most gifted thinkers among them, and indirectly everywhere else.

How remarkable too that, even nowadays, in on-going discussions about grounds for impeachment, hardly anyone comments on this. Even Black Lives Matter militants seem, on this issue at least, to excuse those founding fathers of ours for being in the grip of contemporaneous norms.

Evidently, we Americans, like those Enlightened late eighteenth century Virginians, are good at compartmentalizing.

The consensus view among nearly everybody who thought about the issue in that long-ago historical period was that the larger the political community, the more concentrated and powerful, and therefore the less democratic, a state’s executive branch should be. In the same vein, it was widely believed that, up to a point, democracy does better the weaker the state is.

Updating these thoughts somewhat, we might say that empires need a strong executive branch, and that democracies do better when the executive power is weak.

As everyone knows, the founding fathers wanted a republic, not a monarchy.

Of course, the monarchies they had in mind were not the benign, effectively powerless, kind that can now be found in the UK – note the irony there! – or in Japan or in the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. What they opposed were the absolutist monarchies of the emerging Western European nation states of the early modern period.

The founders wanted a republic, but they could already see that the country whose institutions they were constructing would discover its “manifest destiny” expanding westward, eventually controlling large swathes of the North American continent. They could already see that the United States of America would not be a republic in the classical sense. If anything, it would be the antithesis of that; it would be an empire.

But not an empire of the kind found elsewhere, seemingly from time immemorial. It would however grow out of an imperial project and was therefore in need of an executive stronger than the kind generally deemed appropriate for a democratically governed republic.

No doubt, this consideration at least partly explains why those founders were so ambivalent about impeachment; why they thought of it as something that should somehow be, at the same time, both easy and impossibly hard to do.

In a parliamentary democracy, a vote of “no confidence” would suffice to make short order of a rogue executive branch. That can sometimes be difficult to pull off too, but the founding father’s way compounds the difficulty many times over.

Or, rather it does, when the consensus view has it that the words of the founders, like the word of God, must be called upon to deem an offense impeachable.

Surely, the time is past due to put that notion to rest. Should it really be necessary to fashion legalistic arguments, grounded in indefensible premises, to rid the world, as swiftly and thoroughly as possible, of a president who poses a clear and present danger to life on earth as we know it?

Shouldn’t those who, at least on this, are effectively founders themselves simply be free to do what is so plainly the right thing, the more democratic thing, just because it accords with what reason, not ersatz Scripture, demands?

What rises to the level of impeachability? The short answer is or ought to be: pretty much everything Trump does.

The post What Rises to the Level of Impeachability? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Enter Sondland

Abandoned shoes, Old Town, Portland. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ One of the useful life-lessons Roy Cohn taught the young Donald Trump was always to have a fall guy, a patsy on retainer to take the blame when a deal goes sour. In the Ukraine extortion scheme, the patsy was supposed to be Gordon Sondland. Sondland was a guy who, though not exactly an intellectual, understood how quid pro quos work. After all, he sank $1 million into Trump’s coffers with the expectation of landing an ambassadorship in the administration. He got the gig he wanted, ambassador to the EU, but perhaps not the assignment he expected: shake down the new Ukrainian regime to provide political favors to Trump. Sondland was meant to be Trump’s stooge, one of the three amigos (along with Rick Perry and Kurt Volker), who would blindly do Trump and Rudy’s bidding even if he didn’t have a clue about the consequences or precarious legality of his mission. After all, Sondland wasn’t a real diplomat. Like Trump, he was in the hospitality business (Provenance Hotels). He aimed to please. His were the fingerprints meant to be left on the extortion scheme, if it was ever exposed.  So imagine Trump’s surprise, when even the ass-lickers like Sondland started to cover their own asses, at his expense.

+ This is what happens, Trump, when you hire someone richer than you who only wanted the gig to attend ambassadorial parties across Europe with his investment banker wife, Katherine Durant. The Sondland’s have a cushy life they want to go back to in Seattle. No loyalty. Better call, Rudy, Trump, and sleep with one eye open, before you enter Sondland…

+ Trump on Schiff: “He is a proven liar, leaker & freak who is really the one who should be impeached!” Adam Schiff is many things and probably a liar and leaker but the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers assure me that he is not a member of their seditious tribe…

+ According to a story in the Washington Post, several GOP senators are ready to acknowledge that Trump did demand a quid pro quo deal with Ukraine. They were left with no choice after Giuliani was captured making incriminating statements on his own Quid goPro Quo camera…

+ Finally a “win-win solution” we can all get behind! Ukrainegate takes down Trump and Biden, whose son Hunter was named-dropped by the Blue Sky influence-peddling outfit to try to gain access to the Obama State Department…

+ Unity is a one-way street for the Dems. One must never criticize the candidate of the party elites or risk being tarred as an outsider or malcontent. The elites are under no similar stricture to remain mute about progressives. In fact, it’s their job to tear them apart live on CNN.

+ Here comes Hillary to denounce Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-All Plan as dead on arrival. She would know, of course, having been a single-payer assassin since 1993.

She’s as cold as ice
She’s willing to sacrifice (your loved ones)
She’ll never take advice
She’ll make the sick pay the price
She’s done it before
It happens all the time
She closes the hospital door
And leaves the Bill behind…

+ The more trouble Trump gets in, the more visible HRC becomes, which makes it more likely Trump will get reelected, just like the first time. There must be some kind of secret quid pro quo, right?

+ With the Republican Michael Bloomberg now entering the Democratic Party primary race will the DNC finally stop blathering about Bernie not being a member of the party? Don’t count on it. Neoliberals can move seamlessly between the two parties without even a visa. It’s the Henry Wallace liberals they feel compelled to watch out for…

+ Here’s Mayor Stop-and-Frisk speaking at the 2004 RNC Convention in NYC, during the height of the Iraq war, while the NYPD was arresting and roughing up protesters across the city: “The president deserves our support. We are here to support him.” (Thanks to Tom Robbins, the journalist not the novelist.)

+ Trump apparently believes that he could not only shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and win Kansas, but that he could kill off half the farmers in the state and their relatives would still vote for him…and he may be right.

+ Socialism in Trump country…in 2019 40% of all farm income will derive from federal aid and crop insurance.

+ William Roebuck, the US envoy to Syria, wrote a blistering memo complaining that the Trump Administration didn’t do enough militarily to counter the Turkish invasion of Kurdish held territory in Syria. Of course, short of using tactical nukes, no amount of military force would be enough to satisfy of these guys…

+ Will abandoning the Kurds to the Turks, Syrians and Russians, Trump ordered expanded military operations to seize oil fields in northern Syria. Last time I checked, looting was still a war crime.

+ Trump ignored Native American Heritage Month and instead, pandering to his 7th Cavalry base, proclaimed November “National American History and Founders Month…”

+ How Caroline Winne, the wife of a US Army doctor, reported the assassination of Crazy Horse…

+ These day’s a lot of controversy in Indian Country about the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota and I feel partly culpable for its construction. When I was 10, I saved up money from cutting lawns and sent 20 hard-earned bucks, all ones as I recall, off to South Dakota to Korczak Ziolkowski, who I’d read about in National Geographic. A few weeks later, his office sent back a plaster of Paris model of the monument. It’s been on my desk for the last 50 years, a little battered from many moves, but still one of my favorite possessions, guilty as I may now feel about it.

+ From Pekka Hamalainen’s compelling new book, Lakota America: a New History of Indigenous Power: “Lakotas were fighting for survival but they were also fighting to keep alive a broader vision, where coexistence through right thoughts and acts might be possible.”

+ Trump blew up the Iran nuclear deal and Iranians got the message. Now 70 percent of Iranians think the main lesson of the JCPOA is that “it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of an agreement.”

+ A federal judge slammed the Trump administration again, blocking its vicious plan to bar immigrants who can’t pay for health care. One should be able to make an argument that repeatedly enacting policies that violate the Constitution is an impeachable offense. But the Democrats refuse to go there, perhaps because they fear it blowing back on their own savage policies.

+ Yet nothing seems to deter them in their drive to harass migrants. According to documents unearthed by Pro Publica, the Trump administration is creating a center that will give immigration agents access to information from U.S. intelligence agencies. Migrants and others denied entry will be unable to see the evidence against them because it is classified.

+ Let’s check the scoreboard for the Neoliberals vs. the Rest of Us: The wealthiest 10% of adults own 82% of the world’s wealth. The bottom 50% account for less than 1%.

+ Looks like they finally found some spies on Twitter. Turns out they were working fo the Saudis not the Russians. Whoops.

+ This week Joe Biden attacked Warren and Sanders for “elitism.” The venue for this assertion of populist sentiment? A big donor fundraiser featuring the “president of Pittsburgh-based developer Castlebrook Development” and “chairman of Millcraft Investments.”

+ According to the latest Morning Consult poll there are only two candidates (Williamson & Gabbard) whose unfavorable ratings surpass their favorable ratings and neither is named Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. What’s wrong with you people? What’s Marianne ever done to any of you?

+ Politics in the age of billionaires…an aide to Tom Steyer reportedly offer cash to Iowa politicians who would endorse Steyer’s doomed presidential bid. And this guy was supposed to be an apex investor?

+ Phony Betomania has bitten the dust

+ This week Georgia began purging 300,000 voters from its rolls. Who needs a Poll Tax to suppress the black vote, when you’ve got a Poll Axe?

+ The Constitution basically locks the US into a two-party system. Yet we’re rapidly (though not rapidly enough) approaching the point where the combined support for both parties is less than 50% of eligible voters. What then?

+ Israel killed 222 Palestinian protesters in Gaza since 2018. Only one solider has been indicted….

+ Former IDF Navy commander and chief of Shin Bet, Ami Ayalon, called for strong Jewish opposition to Israel’s savage war against Palestinians, which he says is fueling anti-Semitism all over the world. This was the thrust of argument of book The Politics of Antisemitism.

+ Spreading democracy Israeli-style, one expulsion at a time. The latest target: Omar Shakir, director of Human Rights Watch for Israel and Palestine.

+ Meanwhile, an Israeli firm funded by Microsoft has been identified as using facial recognition software to spy on Palestinian activists in the West Bank.

+ In the 1920s, one in three “eligible” men living in Dallas were members of the KKK. Eligible for what you might ask, appearing on the Dating Game? Behind the white hood, bachelor Number Two…Apparently, it refers to being eligible to join the Klan: white, Protestant, over 21.

+ According to a new poll, 70% of Americans want peace with North Korea. Will someone please inform the Democrats?

+ The New York Times is calling for a US intervention in Haiti: “Decades of misrule have kept Haiti poor and on the verge of collapse. Its neighbors — including the United States — need to step in to help.” In fact, Haiti’s history has been blighted by one instance of the US “stepping in to help” after another, leaving it in the ruinous state it’s now in…

+ Remember when the Clinton administration offered “medical assistance” to Haiti’s women by offering them Norplant birth control implants in exchange for food?

+ As Jim Kavanaugh remarked, “When Cuba sends medical help, they send doctors, not Marines.”

+ According to David Cay Johnston, “adopting French or German universal care is statistical savings equivalent of exempting from income tax everyone making less than $500,000.”

+ He’s got the magic touch…Trump vowed to eliminate the trade deficit. It’s expanded to $500 billion over the last nine months.

+ The  “Cockburn” who writes for the Spectator using the third person, is not one of our Cockburns; yet his story about Kushner and MBS is explosive, if even remotely true: “According to Cockburn’s source about the seven whistleblowers, there’s more. It is that Kushner (allegedly) gave the green light to MBS to arrest the dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was later murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.”

+ Darth Vader on the utility of ISIS…Henry Kissinger rose from his crypt this week to warn that the destruction of ISIS might fuel the rise of an “Iranian radical empire!

+ Retiring  Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who led the department after the murder of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a white officer, and was recently discovered asleep in a parked care: “I’ve actually never encountered police misconduct.”

+ Is it a surprise to anyone that Trump’s “criminal justice” reforms are turning out to be just as hollow as his “withdrawals” from Syria and Afghanistan?

+ The Bush-Obama-Trump Economy (oh, hell, just call it neoliberalism) at work…the incomes of America’s poorest have fallen by 7 percent since 2004.

+ Many people are starting to get it. A Financial Times poll showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t feel like their economic situation has improved under Trump. And it hasn’t.

+ In the San Francisco Bay Area, 676,000 jobs have been added over the past eight years, compared with 176,000 new housing units. Corporate contributions, like that recently made by Apple, won’t do much of anything to stem the crisis.

+ Trump’s new spiritual advisor, the prosperity pastor Paula White, has been leading prayers against Trump’s opponents, who she says are practicing “witchcraft and sorcery” against the president. “Sorcery and witchcraft” probably have a better chance of defeating Trump than what the DNC has tried for the last four years…

+ White, who has been married three times, currently to Jonathan Cain the keyboardist Journey, described her relationship to Trump this way: “God used Donald Trump in my life as much as I was used in his life…”

+ How’s that Roger Stone trial going? Here’s one of the email exchanges between Stone and radio host Randy Credico, who Stone tried to throw under the bus. Credico writes to Stone via email on 4/07/2018: “You had nothing to do on any level with Assange as much as you [threw] Hail Marys to Guccifer and WikiLeaks and you know it…” Credico urges Stone to tell the truth. Stone replies: “Why does your breath smell of Ari Melber’s cock?”

+ According to the “humanitarian” bombers at Freedom House, the Internet is “less free” than it was a decade ago. But it was never free. The Internet started as a virtual Panopticon developed, as Yasha Levine documents in his book Surveillance Valley, by the defense and intelligence agencies that most people willingly entered and locked themselves up inside. The walls have been closing ever since…

+ In his new book, Don Jr describes a visit to Arlington National Cemetery before his father’s inauguration and compares the sacrifice of the slain soldiers to “all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed….Frankly, it was a big sacrifice, costing us millions and millions of dollars annually.” Thanks Don, that pretty much sums up Trumpism for me.

+ Where is the love? Where is the love, you said you’d give to me?

+ If Don Jr and Eduardo Bolsonaro are any indication, the next generation of despots looks like they will prove to be even worse than their fathers…

+ I skimmed through the recently released Mueller memos and didn’t see much of interest except for the amusing escapade of the two real estate tycoons from Kyrgyzstan pitching dirt on Clinton to Team Trump. You just can hear Trump’s response, “Kyrgywhatever, a place nobody’s heard of, but with a lot of potential.”

+ We’re constantly being told about the new Texas. Perhaps. But the state still seems to be incredibly eager to execute an innocent man, just like the good old days under Bush and Perry…

+ For years at Florida’s largest women’s prison, guard Keith Turner was accused of countless abuses of inmates. He wasn’t fired. “Instead, he was promoted to lieutenant.” Then he almost beat an inmate to death

+ What members of the G7 will miss out on now that the meeting won’t be held at Trump’s Doral golf resort:

+ Views of 2 different garbage dumps.
+ Mold on an A/C vent in the lobby and “on nearly every chaise-lounge by the pools.”
+ Lingering fumes from jets on approach to MIA
+ Bed bugs

+ E. Jean Carroll on why she’s suing Trump for defamation: “I am filing this on behalf of every woman who has ever been harassed, assaulted, silenced, or spoken up only to be shamed, fired, ridiculed and belittled…No person in this country should be above the law – including the president.

+ Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle (word is he and his wife are members of the DSA) on why he refused an invitation to the White House: “My wife and I stand for inclusion and acceptance, and we’ve done work with refugees, people that come from, you know, the ‘shithole countries,”

+ A new study suggests that regular exercise might improve memory and stave off dementia. Which begs the question: do we really want to remember the era we’re living in? Hell, I still remember the Reagan administration, which, I suppose, is the definition of dementia…

+ The rise of the Pew Brothers, who not only brought us the modern GOP, but also managed, through the Pew Charitable Trusts, the leveraged buyout of the environmental movement along the way….

+ Gina McCarthy, the woman who as head of Obama’s EPA turned her back on Flint is the new CEO and board president of the neoliberal “eco” group NRDC…

+ The CEO of NRDC was making well over $100K 20 years ago, when I profiled them for CounterPunch. One of NRDC’s founders, John Bryson, went on to become the CEO of So Cal Edison and spearheaded the energy deregulation bill that has now turned PG&E into nation’s most notorious arsonist.

+ Meanwhile, the kids of Flint still doesn’t have safe water

+ In a report published in Nature, scientists using NASA imagery estimated that 10% of the places in California releasing methane — including landfills, natural gas facilities and dairy farms — are responsible for more than half of the state’s total emissions. And a fraction of the 272,000 sources surveyed — just 0.2%, so-called super-emitters — account for as much as 46%.

+ The always engaging John Bellamy Foster in Monthly Review: “Solving climate change will require huge shifts in the economy, moving away from fossil fuels & restructuring whole energy systems.… [raising] fundamental questions about production & consumption & along with it the rule of capital.”

+ Trump officially pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accords. Good riddance. The Paris Climate Accords aren’t worth saving. The more enlightened nation’s on the planet (like, well, let’s see… Bhutan, maybe?) should use Trump’s petulant pullout as an excuse to trash that deal and forge a global policy strong enough that it might actually work.

+ Sea levels will continue to rise for CENTURIES even if emissions targets are met. As Suetonius quoted Caesar, “Iacta alea est”…

+ 248 locations recorded one of their top 10 warmest Octobers on record. Of those, 30 locations had (or tied) their warmest October EVER, including-

Vero Beach
Tampa
Sarasota/Bradenton
West Palm Beach
Miami
Orlando
Fort Myers
Daytona Beach

+ Nome, Alaska’s 5-year running average temperatures are now 5F above the 20th century average and are much higher than any time in the past century.

+ The air in the West has been this toxic since 2009: “Between 2016 and 2018, the levels of fine particulate matter — inhalable specks of liquids and solids that make up air pollution — increased by 11.5%.”

+ Roxanne Amico: “Making America Gag Again.”

+ Toxic smog is choking Delhi. What a fine job we’ve done with this place we live on…

+ I think all trapping should be illegal, but this interactive map published by the Albuquerque Journal is a useful reminder that traps don’t discriminate between rare species, protected species your dog or your kid…

+ $20 billion: the amount of deferred maintenance that has accrued in federal land management agencies.

+ One more lane will fix it!

1970: One more lane will fix it.
1980: One more lane will fix it.
1990: One more lane will fix it.
2000: One more lane will fix it.
2010: One more lane will fix it.
2020: ?pic.twitter.com/NjS1IPORG2
via @avelezig

— Urban Planning & Mobility (@urbanthoughts11) November 4, 2019

+ Fuck cars, up with Good Samaritan bears!

+ In April, a bankruptcy court approved bonuses for arsonists. Then six months later PG&E struck again…

+ PG&E: Pacific Gaslighting & Evasion.

+ The risk of wildfires in California is predicted to be extreme into December.

+ Should they call them “wildfires,” when PG&E is starting most of them? At latest count, PG&E has been responsible for starting more than 1,500 fires in the last 6 years alone.

+ The sudden relocation of the Conference of Parties (COP) from Chile to Madrid has left hundreds of activists in the Global South stranded and unable to attend. There need to be climate conferences that activists don’t have to “attend” by flying halfway around the world to get there, burning carbon all the way there and back. That’s what video-conferencing is for…

+ A new billboard sprouted along I-5 in Oregon this week shaming PNW “environmental” groups for failing to protect endangered species such as the spotted owl…

+ Care about endangered species in the ancient forests of the Northwest? Donate money to Eco-Advocates NW instead.

+ I highly recommend the Netflix documentary The Devil Next Door, on the Demjanyuk case. It has a bit of everything: Ukrainian Nazis, possible Russian (Soviet) meddling, forgeries, nationalism, prosecutors who destroy exculpatory evidence, the fallibility of eyewitness testimony (even from Holocaust survivors), and the US embrace of “former” Nazis, as long as they were anti-Communist. It was so compelling that I watched all 5 episodes in one sitting. Ironically, I happened to be reading Roth’s Operation Shylock, a faux-memoir where Roth encounters another “Philip Roth” in Jerusalem while covering the Demjanjuk trial, who is advocating the repatriation of Jews from Israel to Europe. The novel was published before the  resolution of the case, which as the doc shows remains ambiguous, but gets at the essence. There were two Demjanjuks: one who was Ivan the Terrible only in the eyes of Treblinka survivors and the other who wasn’t at Treblinka but was killing Jews at Sobibor.

+ Speaking of Roth, he reportedly left $2 million to his local library in Newark. What would Portnoy’s mother say? “Alexander, first the disgusting thing with the liver, now this? How much more do you expect a mother, even a dead one, to take? Didn’t I tell you charity begins at home? Think of your nieces and nephews! You want they should go penniless?”

+ Film historian Ben Schwartz writes that “As movie cops grew more amoral and violent after 1971s “Dirty Harry,” it makes perfect sense that by 1988 Die Hard would be a story told in the language of a horror film.” Dirty Harry? What about Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958)? Hard to get more amoral and violent than that, which was also told in the language of a horror film.

+ Delta, which edited out the lesbian sex scene from Olivia Wilde’s terrific film Booksmart, is the Mormon Church of Airlines…

+ Yet another reason to avoid the absurd spectacle of the Academy Awards: the Nigerian entry was rejected because it contained “too much English.” English is the official language of Nigeria.

+ We needed a film of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn like we needed a film of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

+ The NYT obit for the great Ernest J. Gaines, quotes a review from one of my old professors at AU, longtime friend and current CounterPunch book reviewer, Chuck Larson. “Charles R. Larson, reviewing it in The Chicago Tribune, wrote, “This majestic, moving novel is an instant classic, a book that will be read, discussed and taught beyond the rest of our lives.””

+ What’s the concussion rate for e-sports?

+ If you thought Dylan was a prickly interview subject, check out this bracing encounter with Van Morrison about his new record, Three Chords and the Truth.

+ I remember when Dave Marsh interviewed Morrison for his Sirius show, around the time of the Hank Williams record. Dave was very solicitous but still didn’t get much out of him. A lot grunting, as I recall. As a writer, I don’t know why writers and musicians should be expected to explain their work or their work habits. As an interviewer, I wish they’d answer the fucking questions. As a reader, I wish they’d spend more time spreading salacious gossip about their rivals and trashing their critics.

+ And Jesus said, “What you would render unto Caesar, Caesar will render unto Kanye…”

+ Bassist Avery Sharpe on the challenge of composing the songs for his new album 400: An African American Musical Portrait: “The hardest part was to try and condense 400 years into 60 minutes.”

+ Detroit jazz great Barry Harris needs our help. Harris fell ill in Bologna and desperately needs a medical air transport back to the states. Consider pitching in a few bucks on his Go Fund Me site

I Point the Gun, They Shoot for Fun

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Dirty Jokes and Bawdy Songs: the Uncensored Life of Gershon Legman
Susan Davis
(Illinois)

Floating Coast: an Environmental History of the Bering Sea
Bathsheba DeMuth
(Norton)

The Storyteller Essays
Walter Benjamin
Trans. Tess Lewis
(NYRB)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Networker
Omni
(SubPop)

Note by Note
Booker T.
(Edith Street)

Kiwanuka
Michael Kiwanuka
(Interscope)

Images in the Stream
What I’m streaming this week…

The Devil Next Door
Directors: Yossi Bloch & Daniel Sivan
(2019)

The Jazz Loft, According to W. Eugene Smith
Director: Sarah Fishko
(2016)

Even Worse Than TV

Donald Fagen: “I tried to grow up. Honest. Didn’t quite happen. I guess I’m someone for whom youth still seems more real than the present, or the half century in between. And why not? I’m deeply underwhelmed by most contemporary art, literature, music, films, TV, the heinous little phones, money talk, real estate talk, all that stuff. The Internet, which at first seemed so fascinating, appears to be evolving into something even worse than TV.” (Eminent Hipsters)

The post Roaming Charges: Enter Sondland appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

And the Armies That Remained Suffer’d: Veterans, Moral Injury and Suicide

Photograph Source: USAG- Humphreys – CC BY 2.0

I was very pleased to see the New York Times editorial on November 1, 2019, Suicide Has Been Deadlier than Combat for the Military. As a combat veteran myself and someone who has struggled with suicidality since the Iraq war I am grateful for such public attention to the issue of veteran suicides, particularly as I know many who have been lost to it. However, the Times editorial board made a serious error when it stated “Military officials note that the suicide rates for service members and veterans are comparable to the general population after adjusting for the military’s demographics, predominantly young and male.” By incorrectly stating veteran suicide rates* are comparable to civilian suicide rates the Times makes the consequences of war seem tragic yet statistically insignificant. The reality is that deaths by suicide often kill veterans at a level greater than combat, while the primary reason for these deaths lie in the immoral and ghastly nature of war itself.

To the Times’ discredit annual suicide data provided by the Veterans Administration (VA) since 2012 clearly notes that veteran suicide rates when compared with the civilian population are adjusted for age and sex. In the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report on pages 10 and 11 the VA reports that adjusted for age and sex the suicide rate for the veteran population is 1.5 times that of the civilian population; military veterans make up 8% of the US adult population, but account for 13.5% of the adult suicides in the US (page 5).

As one notes the differences in populations of veterans, specifically, between veterans who have seen combat and those that have not seen combat, one sees a much higher likelihood of suicide among veterans with combat exposure. VA data shows among veterans that had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, those in the youngest cohort, i.e. those most likely to have seen combat, had suicide rates, again adjusted for age and sex, 4-10 times higher than their civilian peers. Studies outside the VA that focus on veterans who have seen combat, because not all veterans who deploy to a war zone are engaged in combat, confirm higher rates of suicide. In a 2015 New York Times story a Marine Corps infantry unit that was tracked after coming home from war saw suicide rates among its young men 4 times greater than other young male veterans and 14 times that of civilians. This increased risk of suicide for veterans who served during war holds true for all generations of veterans, including the Greatest Generation. A study in 2010 by The Bay Citizen and New America Media, as reported by Aaron Glantz, found the current suicide rate for WWII veterans to be 4 times higher than for their civilian peers, while VA data, released since 2015, show rates for WWII veterans well elevated above their civilian peers. A 2012 VA study found that Vietnam veterans with killing experiences had twice the odds of suicidal ideation than those with lower or no killing experiences, even after adjusting for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and depression.

The VA’s Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), one of many programs of support unavailable to previous generations of veterans, is a good measure of how intense the current struggle with veteran suicide is for the VA and caregivers. Since its opening in 2007 through the end of 2018, VCL responders “have answered more than 3.9 million calls, conducted more than 467,000 online chats and responded to more than 123,000 texts. Their efforts have resulted in the dispatch of emergency services nearly 119,000 times to Veterans in need.” Putting that last statistic into context more than 30 times a day VCL responders call police, fire or EMS to intervene in a suicide situation, again a service that was not available prior to 2007. The VCL is just one part of a larger support system for suicidal veterans and there are undoubtedly many more than 30 needed emergency interventions for veterans each day, just note the oft mentioned number of 20 veteran suicides a day. That number of men and women who die by suicide each day, without end, brings the true costs of war: bodies buried, families and friends destroyed, resources expended, back to a nation that has always thought itself protected from war by its two protecting oceans. How tragic do Abraham Lincoln’s words now sound when the thought of the consequences of the wars the US has brought to others return home to us:

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

This high rate of suicide in veterans leads to a total number of deaths of combat troops at home that surpasses the totals killed in war. In 2011, Glantz and The Bay Citizen “using public health records, reported that 1,000 California veterans under 35 died from 2005 to 2008 — three times the number killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.” The VA data tells us that close to two Afghan and Iraq veterans die by suicide each day on average, meaning the estimated 7,300 veterans who have killed themselves since just 2009, after coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, are greater in number than the 7,012 service members killed in those wars since 2001. To visually understand this concept that the killing in war does not end when the soldiers come home, think of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, The Wall, with its 58,000 names. Now visualize The Wall but lengthen it by some 1,000-2,000 feet to include the 100,000 to 200,000 plus Vietnam veterans who are estimated to have been lost to suicide, while keeping space available to continue to add names for as long as Vietnam veterans survive, because the suicides will never stop. (Include the victims of Agent Orange, another example of how wars never end, and The Wall extends past the Washington Monument).

The mental, emotional and spiritual injuries that come with surviving war are not unique to the United States or the modern age. Disparate historical sources, such as Roman and Native American accounts, tell of the psychological and psychiatric wounds of war, and what was done for returning soldiers, while in both Homer and Shakespeare we find clear references to the lasting invisible wounds of war. Contemporary literature and newspapers of the post Civil War era chronicled the consequences of that war on the minds, emotions and health of Civil War veterans by documenting the prevalence of afflicted veterans in cities and towns all across the United States. Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of men died in the decades after the Civil War from suicide, alcoholism , drug overdoses and the effects of homelessness induced by what they had done and seen in the war. Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, primarily an elegy to Abraham Lincoln, pays tribute to all who suffered after the war was over on the battlefields, but not in minds or memories:

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc’d with missiles I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

Digging further into the data on veterans suicide provided by the VA one finds still another chilling statistic. It is difficult to truly ascertain an exact ratio of suicide attempts to death by suicide. Among US adults the CDC and other sources report that there are roughly 25-30 attempts for each death. Looking at information from the VA it appears that this ratio is much lower, perhaps in the single digits, perhaps as low as 5 or 6 attempts for each death. The primary explanation for this seems to be that veterans are much more likely to use a firearm for suicide than civilians; it’s not hard to understand how using a gun is a much more likely way to kill oneself than by other methods. Data shows the lethality of using a firearm for suicide is above 85%, while other methods of death by suicide have only a 5% success rate. This does not satisfy the question though as to why veterans have a stronger intention of killing themselves than civilians; why do veterans reach a place of distress and despair in their suicidality that initiates such a serious determination to end their lives?

Multiple answers have been offered to this question. Some suggest veterans struggle to reintegrate into society, while others believe the culture of the military dissuades veterans from asking for help. Other thoughts extend to the idea that because veterans are trained in violence they are more likely to turn to violence as a solution, while another line of thinking is that because a high number of veterans own guns the solution to their problems is in their immediate possession. There are studies that show of predispositions to suicide or the relationship between opiates and suicide. In all these suggested answers there are elements that are partiality true or complement a larger reason, but they are incomplete and are ultimately belied, because if these were the reasons for elevated veteran suicides then the entire veteran population should respond in a similar manner. However, as noted above, veterans who have been to war and who have seen combat have higher rates of suicide than veterans who did not go to war or experience combat.

The answer to this question of veteran suicide is simply there is a clear link between combat and suicide. This link has been confirmed over and over again in peer reviewed research by the VA and US universities. In a 2015 meta-analyis by the University of Utah National Center for Veteran Studies researchers found 21 of 22 previously conducted peer reviewed studies investigating the link between combat and suicide confirmed a clear relationship between the two.** Titled “Combat Exposure and Risk for Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors Among Military Personnel and Veterans: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis”, the researchers concluded: “The study found a 43 percent increased suicide risk when people were exposed to killing and atrocity compared to just 25 percent when looking at deployment [to a war zone] in general.”

There are very real connections between PTSD and traumatic brain injury and suicide, both conditions often being the result of combat. Additionally, combat veterans experience high levels of depression, substance abuse and homelessness. However, the primary cause of suicidality in combat veterans I believe is not something biological, physical or psychiatric, but rather something that in recent times has come to be known as moral injury. Moral injury is a wounding of the soul and spirit caused when a person transgress against her or his values, beliefs, expectations, etc. Very often moral injury occurs when someone does something or fails to do something, eg. I shot and killed that lady or I failed to save my friend from dying because I saved myself. Moral injury can also occur when a person is betrayed by others or by an institution, such as when one is sent to a war based on lies or is raped by their fellow soldiers and then denied justice by their commanders.

An equivalent for moral injury is guilt, but such an equivalence is too simple, as the severity of moral injury transmits to not just a blackness of the soul and spirit, but also to a deconstruction of one’s own self. In my own case it was as if the foundations of my life, my existence, were cut out from underneath me. This is what drove me to suicidality. My conversations with fellow veterans inflicted with moral injury attest to the same.

For decades the importance of moral injury, whether or not this exact term has been utilized, has been understood in literature examining suicide among veterans. As early as 1991 the VA identified the best predictor of suicide in Vietnam veterans as being “intensive combat related guilt”. In the aforementioned meta-analysis of studies examining the relationship of combat and suicide by the University of Utah, multiple studies speak to the importance of “guilt, shame, regret, and negative self-perceptions” in the suicidal ideation of combat veterans.

Killing in war does not come natural to young men and women. They have to be conditioned to do so and the US government has spent tens of billions of dollars, if not more, perfecting the process of conditioning young men and women to kill. When a young man enters the Marine Corps to become a rifleman he will go through 13 weeks of recruit training. He will then go for six to eight weeks of additional weapons and tactics training. During all these months he will be conditioned to kill. When receiving an order he will not say “yes, sir” or “aye, sir” but will respond with the yell “Kill!”. This will last for months of his life in an environment where the self is replaced with unquestioning group think in a training environment perfected over centuries to create disciplined and aggressive killers. After his initial training as a rifleman, this young man will report to his unit where he will spend the rest of his enlistment, approximately 3 ½ years, doing only one thing: training to kill. All of this is necessary to ensure the Marine will engage and kill his enemy with certainty and without hesitation. It is a non-stop, academically and scientifically proven process unmatched within anything in the civilian world. Without such conditioning men and women will not pull the trigger, at least not as many of them as the generals want; studies of past wars showed the majority of soldiers did not fire their weapons in battle unless they were conditioned to do so.

Upon release from the military, upon returning from war, the conditioning to kill no longer serves a purpose outside of combat and the bubble of military life. Conditioning is not brain washing and like physical conditioning such mental, emotional and spiritual conditioning can and will atrophy. Faced with himself in society, allowed to view the world, life and humans as he once knew them a dissonance between what he was conditioned to in the Marine Corps and what he once knew of himself now exists. Values he was taught by his family, his teachers or coaches, his church, synagogue or mosque; things he learned from the books he read and the movies he watched; and the good person he always thought he was to be return, and that dissonance between what he did in war and what and who he believed himself to be results in moral injury.

Although there are many reasons people join the military, such as the economic draft, the majority of young men and women who join the US Armed Forces do so with the intention of helping others, they view themselves, rightly or wrongly, as being someone with a white hat on. This role of hero is further inculcated through military training, as well as through our society’s near-deification of the military; witness the continued and unquestioning reverence of soldiers whether it be at sporting events, in movies, or on the political campaign trail. However, the experience of veterans at war is often that the people who were occupied and to whom the war was brought didn’t view US soldiers as wearing white hats, but rather black ones. Here, again, a dissonance exists within a veteran’s mind and soul, between what society and the military tells him and what he has truly experienced. The moral injury sets in and leads to a despair and distress to which, in the end, only suicide seems to provides relief.

I mentioned Shakespeare before and it is to him I often return when I speak of moral injury and death by suicide in veterans. Remember Lady MacBeth and her words in Act 5, Scene 1 of MacBeth:

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him…

The thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?—What, will these hands ne’er be clean?—No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that. You mar all with this starting…

Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!

Think now of young men or women home from Iraq or Afghanistan, Somalia or Panama, Vietnam or Korea, the woods of Europe or the islands of the Pacific, what they have done cannot be undone, all the words of assurance that their actions were not murder cannot be justified, and nothing can clean the haunting blood from their hands. That in essence is moral injury, the reason why warriors throughout history have killed themselves long after coming home from war. And that is why the only way to prevent veterans from killing themselves is to prevent them from going to war.

Notes.

*With regards to active duty military suicides, active duty suicide rates are comparable to civilian rates of suicide, when adjusted for age and sex, however, it is important to note that prior to the post 9/11 years suicide rates were as little as half that of the civilian population among active duty service members (the Pentagon did not start tracking suicides until 1980 so data on previous wars in incomplete or non-existent for active duty forces).

**The study that did not confirm a link between suicide and combat was inconclusive due to methodology issues.

The post And the Armies That Remained Suffer’d: Veterans, Moral Injury and Suicide appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

2020: The Incipient Bet

Frame-breakers, or Luddites, smashing a loom – Public Domain

In the fall of 1992, after I finished my second round of speeches for the Quincentennial of America’s “discovery,” drawing on my book about Columbus that had been published in 1990, I started on a book on a subject that had long fascinated me and I knew was just as timely as the Columbus book had been. It was a history of the Luddites, that group of workers in the mid-country of England who had resisted the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800’s by breaking offensive machines and had thus become the prototype of people who supposedly always resisted technology.

There had been no book published in this country telling the full story of the Luddites and only two books reprinted from meager English sources, so I knew that a book just now, when the internet was just beginning to be a means of communication beyond the scientific community that had developed it in the 1980’s, and computers were becoming ubiquitous, would certainly be needed.

And so I went to work, impelled by the need to give a sympathetic telling of the long-forgotten cause and a desire to put the Luddite tale of resistance to the machine before a public, given the increasing impact of the computer-created second Industrial Revolution then upon daily life, that might well might be in the mood to wonder about people who had suffered from the first. The book came out in the spring of 1995 to some modest praise and, from the mainstream press, some perplexity that anyone would want to bring up those people again, particularly because they had failed in their attempts to stem the tide of progress. And among a small but growing number of people, critics of the modern version of that tide who were beginning to call themselves “neo-Luddites,” it became what one of them called “the bible for our movement.”

I was not of course neutral in my retelling of the Luddite tale nor in using it as a theoretical guide in analyzing and castigating our contemporary economy. My analysis of this second Industrial Revolution ended this way:

Neither the means nor ends of this revolution make any pretense to nobility, nor does it claim to have a vision much grander than that of prosperity, perhaps longevity, both of which have seriously damaging environmental consequences. By and large its adherents would disclaim grand-sounding motives or methods, arguing them irrelevant: enough that progress may be presumed meritorious and material affluence desirable and longer life positive. If industrialism is the working-out in economic terms of certain immutable laws of science and technology, of human evolution, the questions of benign-malignant hardly apply. Those who want to wring hands at this inequity or that injustice are essentially irrelevant, whether or not they are correct: the terms of the game are material betterment for as many as possible, as much as possible as fast as possible, and matters of morality or appropriateness are really considerations of a different game.

Viewing the issue on its own terms, the question would then seem to come down to the practical one of the price by which the second Industrial Revolution has been won and whether it is too high, or soon will prove to be. The burden of this chapter is that there are no two ways of answering that question: the price, particularly in social decay and environmental destruction, has been unbearably high, and neither the societies nor ecosystems of the world will be able to bear it for more than a few decades longer, if they have not already been overstressed and impoverished beyond redemption.

To put it simply, modern technology enables us to do the bad things we’re doing faster and more efficiently than ever before.

You can imagine what the reaction of the champions of that Revolution must have been. Various Silicon Valley pundits were quick to denounce such heresy and among the crowd in California who had always looked favorably on technology—the patrons of the Whole Earth Catalog (an “access to tools” that prefigured the web) in the 1960’s—there was a feeling that a counterattack ought to be mustered as soon as possible.

It was in just such a role that one day in 1995 Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine in San Francisco called me in New York and asked for an interview. I had never heard of either one, but I agreed, went out and bought a couple of copies, and discovered that Wired was wide-eyed and indiscriminate in its love of technology and apparently blind to whatever downside it may have; Kelly, 42, was the executive editor. A few days later he came to my office in my apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village and set up a recorder to interview me.

He made no attempt to pretend impartiality, his questions were hostile from the first. But he let me lay out my ideas about the Luddites, about the relevance of their resistance to the machine, about the dangers that machines far more powerful than theirs were doing today and were likely to do in the coming decades. Kelly some years later said, “I was irked by his assertions of the coming collapse of civilization” and he challenged me to spell out in exactly which ways modern technology would likely cause the collapse of civilization as we know it—and when that would happen.

I was stumped for a bit because first of all it was hard to isolate just a few ways in which such a monumental catastrophe would come about and secondly I had given absolutely no thought as to when. Finally I blurted out “2020” because it had a nice familiar ophthalmological ring and at that time it seemed far, far away, and I tried to lay out in as succinct a way as I could how it could happen.

First, an economic collapse. I posited that it might take the form of a worldwide currency devaluation, in which the dollar loses its standing as the world’s reserve currency and becomes effectively worthless even in this country, and a global stock-market crash and depression.

Second, a political collapse, with upheavals both within nation-states and between. I saw the collapsed economy leading to maybe the bottom fifth of society in the developed world, no longer bought off with alcohol and drugs and celebrity and consumerism, rising up in rebellion and creating havoc and disarray throughout; at the same time a similar rebellion of the poor nations, no longer content to take the crumbs from the table of the rich, and simultaneously fighting violent guerrilla wars and flooding into the developed nations to escape their misery.

And finally, perhaps over-arching, an environmental collapse, in which global warming and ozone depletion, for example, made some areas like Australia and Africa unlivable and caused ice packs to melt, and old diseases, released from melting ice and deforested swamplands, mixed with new and spread deadly infections to all continents.

In truth, I had read a good deal on prognostications about future calamities—the Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, had issued a “warning to humanity” about “vast human misery” in 1992—but I had not before ever formulated them, never tried to be specific about the ways they would come about. So this was a first stab, quickly contrived and very imperfect, at what kinds of things I thought might befall the earth—nothing like what I could formulate just a decade later in another book.

It was enough for Kelly. With some sense of triumph, he whipped out a check for a thousand dollars and said, “I bet you US$1000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe.” He had obviously planned to maneuver me into this kind of challenge from the beginning. “We won’t even be close. I’ll bet on my optimism.”

Well, a thousand dollars in those days was a lot of money, period, and especially for me, a serious independent writer whose book sales were respectable but not spectacular. A thousand was about all I had in my checking account. But then I thought: what the hell, if I’m right, nobody is going to win a bet in 2020, and if I’m wrong the dollar still won’t be worth very much by that time.

I reached into my desk for the checkbook and quickly wrote out a $1000 check, dated March 6, 2020. I handed it to Kelly, shook his hand, and he said, “Oh, boy, this is easy money—but, you know, besides the money, I really hope I am right.”

After just a moment I said, “I hope you are right, too.”

We are now approaching that date—March 2020—and I thought it would make sense to see how close Western civilization has come to the predicted collapse in the year I predicted.

So I embarked on a book to find and assess the evidence.

It wasn’t hard to find environmental evidence—the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whatever one thinks of its modeling abilities, has come up with lots of scary statistics and NASA and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration gve confincing proof that the ten hottest years have been between 2005 and 2019 and the last five have been the hottest by far. Who cares what caused it, but such heat is sure to have dire effects on both lands and oceans.

As to political collapse, there are now 65 countries (a third of the world) fighting wars and in addition 638 conflicts between various insurgent militias, armed drug bands, and terrorist organizations, all this leading to nearly 300 million immigrants worldwide. And organizations that track these things say that there are now 76 nations in various stages of collapse, a dozen completely failed, and within even nominally stable nations unprecedented political rifts have caused violent street protests, legislative deadlocks, attempted coups (as here), and simply unworkable governments.

And the economic collapse that half the world’s economists are predicting would seem to include the consequences of unprecedented and ever-increasing debt (a global figure of $247 trillion), a worldwide move from the dollar to gold, an American banking system upheld by central bank money-printing, and financial inequality increasing blatantly at all levels, national to global.

Well, no, the collapse hasn’t come yet and I cannot give any guarantee that it will come in the next 12 months. But there is no doubt that industrial civilization is in a mess and collapse certainly does not seem impossible.

If I could find a publisher for this book, it would at least start to direct people’s attention to these crises and bring home the fact that they are all connected, interrelated so tightly that a failure at one point will bring failures at several others. It might also give people a chance to figure out how they will face the world when the collapse does happen.

The post 2020: The Incipient Bet appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Growing Ecological Civilization in China

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences invited me to an international ecological conference in Jinan, Shandong Province. The Academy gave the conference a provocative and insightful title: a Paradigm Shift: Towards Ecological Civilization: China and the World.

I listened to several Chinese and non-Chinese experts talk about a variety of issues (political, economic and ecological) touching on our present world crisis.

The discussion tool place during the  last two days of October 2019. Chinese speakers had reasons for being exuberant. They merged their ecological dreams with their celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Revolution.

Chinese forum speakers stressed their ideological victories of having institutions dedicated to the exploration of ecological civilization in all its complexity. In such pioneering task, they have the blessings of Xi Jinping, president of China. A section of the forum examined “the world significance of Xi Jinping’s thought on ecological civilization and Chinese traditional ecological wisdom.”

Western participants like me brought out the looming threats industrialized civilization poses to human health and the health and very survival of the natural world.

Theory

The picture that emerged was by no means pretty: the world is upside down. Politicians, scholars and scientists spoke, sometimes passionately, about how to make China and the world better places, especially how to avoid the worst effects of climate change. A former German politician, Hans-Josef Fell, warned us of existential threats, even cataclysmic consequences of business as usual. Fell is right. American and UN climate scientists give world leaders no more than ten years to get their house in order: primarily banning fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable and non-polluting energy.

Leaving fossil fuels in the ground would be a boon to public health. Moreover, stopping burning them would put a break to global warming. Healthy alternatives exist. We can get the energy we need from the inexhaustible Sun and other non-polluting sources like wind, geothermal energy and water.

There’s little doubt in my mind we better act now (in the next ten years) to make the fundamental changes necessary in slowing down the awaken climate monster. Yes, no more petroleum, natural gas and coal. But we also need to change our mentality: the ways of seeing the world, both that of the Earth and that of the cosmos.

The ancient Greeks worshipped the Sun god Helios for millennia. Did they know something about the cosmos that, in our hubris, we ignore? That the Sun is forever? That the Sun is life-giving and light-giving? The Greeks called the Sun Helios because Helios means the gathering of people observing the rise and setting of this magnificent star.

The Greeks put the Earth (Gaia) at the center of the universe. We describe that cosmological design as the geocentric universe. This shows the immense respect Greeks had for the Earth as a living being, even the oldest of the gods, according to Plato. But then in the third century BCE, another natural philosopher, Aristarchos of Samos, put the Sun at the center of the cosmos. Aristarchos’ heliocentric cosmology best explains how the universe works. It’s our cosmology.

However, the rulers of the planet and most scientists look at the Earth as a mine for resources, not a living world. That explains the hunting and killing of wildlife and the ruthless treatment of our terrestrial home: perpetual clearcutting of forests, exploitation and pollution of the seas, and the transformation of ancient and gentle and ecological practices of growing food to mechanical factories that poison the land and the very food people eat.

I focused my remarks at the Jenin conference on the so-called industrialized agriculture. I tried to convey the fact that making farming a mechanical factory was no less a grave error than becoming addicted to petroleum, natural gas, and coal: we have been undermining our health and the health and survival of the natural world.

Here’s how it happens.

America, Europe, China and the affluent classes of most other nations have embraced giant farms growing a few selected crops. These large pieces of land are the 2019 version of medieval plantations and state farms of the twentieth century. Their corporate, state or private owners manage these farms like factories. They employ machines, genetic engineering for the modification of crops, and neurotoxic pesticides.

The toxic cover of such large agricultural territories and the crops themselves are often fatal to pollinating honeybees, other insects, birds and wildlife. Poisons sip into the land and devastate microorganisms responsible for carrying nutrients to the crops. In addition, spayed neurotoxins become airborne and travel with the winds. They contaminate the environment, including organic farms.

The conversion of forests to industrial farms and the concentration of thousands of animals in gigantic animal factories make a substantial contribution to greenhouse gases warming the planet.

I urged China to take the initiative in sponsoring a World Environment Organization for collective international activities for the transition of the world economy away from fossil fuels. Such actions and policies must be compatible to the awesome emergency of climate change and over-industrialization of farms and food production.

Praxis

The second part of my visit to Jinan was praxis. I spent a day visiting a distinguished Chinese scientist by the name of Jiang Gaoming. He works in the Hongyi Organic Farm, his land in the village that gave him birth.

Vegetable garden. Hongyi organic Farm. Jiang Family Village. Photo: EV.

A Dutch colleague, Harris Tiddens, and I went from Jinan to Qufu, the hometown of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius who flourished in late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE. From Qufu we travelled to the Jiang Family Village located in Pingyi County, Linyi City.

Jiang Gaoming is a man of knowledge and passion for organic food and ecological civilization. He is associated with the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shandong Province that funds his research. He is a prolific botanist interested in public health and the health of natural world. He grows organic food and tests plants for their food and medicinal virtues.

Jiang Gaoming showing off his vegetables. EV.

Jiang Gaoming, his two graduate students, the farm manager, Harris Tiddens, Gao Yuan, a graduate student in the philosophy of science at Beijing Normal University, and I sat on a round wooden table for dinner. Five bowls included delicious vegetables, noodles, and rice. Each of us had two wooden chopsticks for taking food from the bowls. In addition, Jiang Gaoming kept filling our tiny glasses with a drink from sorghum and sweet wine.

This memorable symposium led to extensive talk. I listened to him describing his work and marveled at the breadth of interest and deep knowledge he possesses. He is a professor of plant ecological physiology. In other words, he is inventing the natural history of plants that make life possible. Ecology is his mission. He and his graduate students are paving the path for China to enter the scientific and political realms of ecological civilization.

The next half a day Gaoming gave us a tour of the various strips of land where he and his graduate students are testing plants. His German shepherd dog, Tiger, followed us everywhere. We even went to the center of his village where a small store holds his books for sale.

I departed China with the botany professor in mind.

Talk about ecological civilization is sweet. No one knows what ecological civilization was, is or if it is possible among humans. But we know traditional Greek and Chinese wisdom and institutions are the closest possible models of ecological civilization.

Yet it’s great to have gigantic dreams of one day converting semi-barbarian humans hooked on petroleum and pollution to caring for the Earth like ancient Greeks and ancient Chinese did.

It’s never too late, except basic questions for survival must be resolved in the next ten years. In November 5, 2019, in the journal BioScience, 11,000 scientists from 150 countries issued a warning to the leaders of the world:

“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament… The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected… It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity… Especially worrisome are potential irreversible climate tipping points and nature’s reinforcing feedbacks (atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial) that could lead to a catastrophic “hothouse Earth,” well beyond the control of humans… These climate chain reactions could cause significant disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies, potentially making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.”

President Xi Jinping would do well to heed the advice of these scientists and dramatically cut China’s gigantic carbon emissions. Start the conversation with our hospitable, friendly, and ingenious professor Jiang Gaoming. He is growing a new species of ecological civilization.

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Middle East: a Complex Re-alignment

Image Source: Turkish Flame – Public Domain

The fallout from the September attack on Saudi Arabia’s Aramco oil facilities is continuing to reverberate throughout the Middle East, sidelining old enmities—sometimes for new ones—and re-drawing traditional alliances. While Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria is grabbing the headlines, the bigger story may be that major regional players are contemplating some historic re-alignments.

After years of bitter rivalry, the Saudis and the Iranians are considering how they can dial down their mutual animosity. The formerly powerful Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of Persian Gulf monarchs is atomizing because Saudi Arabia is losing its grip. And Washington’s former domination of the region appears to be in decline.

Some of these developments are long-standing, pre-dating the cruise missile and drone assault that knocked out 50 percent of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. But the double shock—Turkey’s lunge into Syria and the September missile attack—is accelerating these changes.

Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, recently flew to Iran and then on to Saudi Arabia to lobby for détente between Teheran and Riyadh and to head off any possibility of hostilities between the two countries. “What should never happen is a war,” Khan said, “because this will not just affect the whole region…this will cause poverty in the world. Oil prices will go up.”

According to Khan, both sides have agreed to talk, although the Yemen War is a stumbling block. But there are straws in the wind on that front, too. A partial ceasefire seems to be holding, and there are back channel talks going on between the Houthis and the Saudis.

The Saudi intervention in Yemen’s civil war was supposed to last three months, but it has dragged on for over four years. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was to supply the ground troops and the Saudis the airpower. But the Saudi-UAE alliance has made little progress against the battle-hardened Houthis, who have been strengthened by defections from the regular Yemeni army.

Air wars without supporting ground troops are almost always a failure, and they are very expensive. The drain on the Saudi treasury is significant, and the country’s wealth is not bottomless.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to shift the Saudi economy from its overreliance on petroleum, but he needs outside money to do that and he is not getting it. The Yemen War—which, according to the United Nations is the worst humanitarian disaster on the planet—and the Prince’s involvement with the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has spooked many investors.

Without outside investment, the Saudi’s have to use their oil revenues, but the price per barrel is below what the Kingdom needs to fulfill its budget goals, and world demand is falling off. The Chinese economy is slowing— the trade war with the US has had an impact—and European growth is sluggish. There is a whiff of recession in the air, and that’s bad news for oil producers.

Riyadh is also losing allies. The UAE is negotiating with the Houthis and withdrawing their troops, in part because the Abu Dhabi has different goals in Yemen than Saudi Arabia, and because in any dustup with Iran, the UAE would be ground zero. US generals are fond of calling the UAE “little Sparta” because of its well trained army, but the operational word for Abu Dhabi is “little”: the Emirate’s army can muster 20,000 troops, Iran can field more than 800,000 soldiers.

Saudi Arabia’s goals in Yemen are to support the government-in-exile of President Rabho Mansour Hadi, control its southern border and challenge Iran’s support of the Houthis. The UAE, on the other hand, is less concerned with the Houthis but quite focused on backing the anti-Hadi Southern Transitional Council, which is trying to re-create south Yemen as a separate country. North and south Yemen were merged in 1990, largely as a result of Saudi pressure, and it has never been a comfortable marriage.

Riyadh has also lost its grip on the Gulf Cooperation Council. Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar continue to trade with Iran in spite of efforts by the Saudis to isolate Teheran,

The UAE and Saudi Arabia recently hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin, who pressed for the 22-member Arab League to re-admit Syria. GCC member Bahrain has already re-established diplomatic relations with Damascus. Putin is pushing for a multilateral security umbrella for the Middle East, which includes China.

“While Russia is a reliable ally, the US is not,” Middle East scholar Mark Katz told the South Asia Journal. And while many in the region have no love for Syria’s Assad, “they respect Vladimir Putin for sticking by Russia’s ally.”

The Arab League—with the exception of Qatar—denounced the Turkish invasion and called for a withdrawal of Ankara’s troops. Qatar is currently being blockaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE for pursuing an independent foreign policy and backing a different horse in the Libyan civil war. Turkey is Qatar’s main ally.

Russia’s 10-point agreement with Turkey on Syria has generally gone down well with Arab League members, largely because the Turks agreed to respect Damascus’s sovereignty and eventually withdraw all troops. Of course, “eventually” is a shifty word, especially because Turkey’s goals are hardly clear.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to drive the Syrian Kurds away from the Turkish border and move millions of Syrian refugees into a strip of land some 19 miles deep and 275 miles wide. The Kurds may move out, but the Russian and Syrian military—filling in the vacuum left by President Trump’s withdrawal of American forces—have blocked the Turks from holding more than the border and one deep enclave, certainly not one big enough to house millions of refugees.

Erdogan’s invasion is popular at home—nationalism plays well with the Turkish population and most Turks are unhappy with the Syrian refugees—but for how long? The Turkish economy is in trouble and invasions cost a lot of money. Ankara is using proxies for much of the fighting, but without lots of Turkish support those proxies are no match for the Kurds—let alone the Syrian and Russian military.

That would mainly mean airpower, and Turkish airpower is restrained by the threat of Syrian anti-aircraft and Russian fighters, not to mention the fact that the Americans still control the airspace. The Russians have deployed their latest fifth-generation stealth fighter, the SU-57, and a number of MiG-29s and SU-27s, not planes the Turks would wish to tangle with. The Russians also have their new mobile S-400 anti-aircraft system, and the Syrians have the older, but still effective, S-300s.

In short, things could get really messy if Turkey decided to push their proxies or their army into areas occupied by Russian or Syrian troops. There are reports of clashes in Syria’s northeast and casualties among the Kurds and Syrian Army, but a serious attempt to push the Russians and the Syrians out seems questionable.

The goal of resettling refugees is unlikely to go anywhere. It will cost some $53 billion to build an infrastructure and move two million refugees into Syria, money that Turkey doesn’t have. The European Union has made it clear it won’t offer a nickel, and the UN can’t step in because the invasion is a violation of international law.

When those facts sink in, Erdogan might find that Turkish nationalism will not be enough to support his Syrian adventure if it turns into an occupation.

The Middle East that is emerging from the current crisis may be very different than the one that existed before those cruise missiles and drones tipped over the chessboard. The Yemen War might finally end. Iran may, at least partly, break out of the political and economic blockade that Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel has imposed on it. Syria’s civil war will recede.  And the Americans, who have dominated the Middle East since 1945, will become simply one of several international players in the region, along with China, Russia, India and the European Union.

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Ignoring Climate Catastrophes

Photograph Source: Nathaniel St. Clair

The planet is coming apart at the seams right before the eyes of scientists at work in remote fringe areas of the North where permafrost crumbles and collapses. It’s abrupt climate change at work in real time, but the governing leaders of the world either don’t care or don’t know. If they did, there would already be a worldwide Climate Marshall Plan to save civilization from early warning signals of utter chaos.

“Across 9 million square miles at the top of the planet, climate change is writing a new chapter. Arctic permafrost isn’t thawing gradually, as scientists once predicted. Geologically speaking, it’s thawing almost overnight.” (Source: Arctic Permafrost Is Thawing Fast. That Affects Us All, National Geographic, September 2019 Issue)

After all, collapsing permafrost is the leading edge of cataclysmal global warming as it precedes additional catastrophes that follow one after another, and then another. All of which happen unannounced, known as abrupt climate change events.

The modern world’s First Near-Catastrophe, the Ozone Hole (1980s), was luckily avoided 40 years ago, more on this fascinating story later. It was the planet’s closest brush with nearly total extinction ever since the Permian-Triassic event took down 95% of all life 252 million years ago.

Meanwhile, the concern is whether cascading permafrost will end up as the world’s Second Near-Catastrophe, meaning it gets attended to, or will it lead to something much worse, as in “catastrophes that follow one after another, and then another?”

Cherskiy, Russia, which is home to the Northeast Science Station at 69°N, far above the Arctic Circle, is a year-round base for an international research station that studies Arctic biology and climate change. It is 60 miles inland from the East Siberian Sea (another high risk area in the Arctic).

In January of 2018 something unheard of happened at Cherskiy. The topsoil that has maintained frozen permafrost for eons was not refreezing like it had every year for as long as records were kept. Whereas, January in Siberia is normally so brutally cold that human breath can freeze with a “tinkling sound” that locals refer to as “the whisper of stars.”

“Three years ago, the temperature in the ground above our permafrost was minus 3 degrees Celsius (-27 degrees Fahrenheit),’ Sergey Zimov (an ecologist) said, ‘Then it was minus 2. Then it was minus one. This year, the temperature was plus 2 degrees,” Ibid.

The aforementioned example of abrupt climate change in Siberia is a beckoning out of the North, warning that the past 10,000 years of the Holocene era, earmarked by a Goldilocks Wonder World “not too hot, not too cold,” has ended, as excessive heat tears apart regions of the planet, piece by piece. Thereby sounding the alarm and threatening comfy lifestyles in every country in existence today, but is it a warning signal with a short fuse or a long fuse?

Human-generated greenhouse gases have kicked nature into high gear, competing with humanity by emitting tons of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, even in the winter in Siberia above the Arctic Circle. It’s earth-shattering news that should cause sleepless nights for world leaders, but it doesn’t alarm them. Otherwise, they’d already be taking emergency measures. They’re not!

As it happens, world leadership is sacrificing their constituencies on the altar of fossil fuel profits and a brand of capitalism that recklessly consumes everything in site. Therefore emphasizing consequences such as, Alaska’s North Slope has seen temperatures spike 11°F in 30 years as temperatures hit 90°F 240 miles above the Arctic Circle, challenging Florida’s balmy weather.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change struggles to keep up with ever-faster climate change disaster scenarios that unfold right under their noses, the world’s leadership looks like a herd of deer frozen in headlights. Meanwhile, the risks of excessive global warming, or heat, is not properly understood by the public in the following ‘double-scary’ context:

“Large abrupt climate changes have repeatedly affected much or all of the earth, locally reaching as much as 10°C change in 10 years.” (Source: Alley, Richard B. Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises, Washington D.C. National Academy Press, 2002)

That description of abrupt climate change (10°C in 10 years) by Richard B. Alley, Evan Pugh Professor, Penn State University, is based upon paleoclimate data. However, that same risk is not considered by the IPCC or included in scientists’ models, thus it qualifies as one of the least expected climate events. But, it has happened in the past… more than once!

Frankly, society can’t handle 10°C in 10 years, whether “locally,” as stated by Dr. Alley, or universally.

Which prompts the daunting notion of what happens when nature is “goosed up” by the sudden advent of the Human Heat Machine: 7,500,000,000 people, 1,400,000,000 cars, 22,500,000 commercial vehicles, 3,500,000 heavy trucks, 425,000 buses, 39,000 commercial and military airplanes, 62,500 power plants, 996,000,000 cattle all simultaneously emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as CO2 emissions set new records year after year after year?

In all, 80-90% of the above-listed statistics occurred in only 70 years, whereas it took modern humans nearly 200,000 years to reach two billion in population. Today, it’s the Great Acceleration at work as post WWII 5.5 billion newbies forage the planet, all within one lifetime. Amazing!

As a result, we are the biggest experiment the planet has ever encountered. Meanwhile, scientific knowledge that establishes “a firm link” between (1) carbon dioxide emissions and (2) excessive global heat brings forth far-reaching unknowns for today’s carbon dioxide-fueled world. As such, the climate status/integrity of the planet has become a gamble, a crapshoot.

For example, the temperature/CO2 relationship over the past 400,000 years is saw-toothed, as demonstrated so clearly in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006): When CO2 hits a high of 280 ppm, temperatures, like clock-work, increase by 5°C (hot cycle) and when CO2 hits a low of 180 ppm, like clock-work, temperatures decrease by -5°C (cold cycle) every 100,00 years over the past 400,000.

Although, temperature change (the wild card) is all about timing, meaning does it take centuries or decades or years for temperature to react to CO2 levels in the atmosphere? In that regard, Dr. Alley’s “10°C in 10 years” is not encouraging, but nobody knows for sure what will happen tomorrow.

Speaking of which, today’s CO2 at 410+ ppm has powered through nature’s rhythmic cycles of 180 (low) to 280 (high) over the past 400,000 years. Now what?

Assuming global warming reacts accordingly, one possible scenario: “In a 4°C world, in which local temperature increases of 5 to 10 degrees will affect many areas, the impact on food production may be catastrophic.” (Source: Angus, Ian, Facing the Anthropocene, Monthly Review Press, 2016, pg. 102)

Today’s collapsing permafrost is eerily similar to the circumstances that surrounded the world’s First Near-Catastrophe, the notorious Ozone Hole, as explained in chapter 5 “The First Near-Catastrophe” of Ian Angus’ profoundly brilliant and indispensible book. The world has already faced that First Near-Catastrophe and luckily got through it.

Similar to ignoring abrupt climate change today, back in the 1970s-80s, no one predicted the speed and magnitude of the steep decline in levels of ozone because of damage by CFCs produced by DuPont ever since the 1930s. In fact, back in the day, NASA had predicted that ozone levels might decline 5 to 9 percent by 2050. But, surprise, surprise, surprise! Ozone levels dropped by 60% by the mid 1980s. Scientists were dumbfounded! And scared!

Without the protective ozone layer, 10-20 miles above Earth, which absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, life literally burns to a crisp.

In a masterful-less stroke of good luck, a handful of scientists brought the impending disaster of the ozone hole to the attention of the world community. If not for the British Antarctic Survey that worked on a shoestring budget of $18,000/year, the world wouldn’t have known of the threat to all humanity. Since 1957, they monitored the ozone layer from the Halley Bay Observatory in Antarctica but never suspected human-generated chemicals would attack and destroy the ozone layer.

For 50 years the CFC industry was able to avoid a ban on sales of CFCs due to an absence of hard scientific data showing a decline in ozone levels. In 1979, DuPont officials said: “No ozone depletion has ever been detected despite the most sophisticated analysis… All ozone depletion figures to date are computer projections based on a series of uncertain assumptions,” Ibid, pg. 84.

Similar to CO2 in the atmosphere today, “CFCs had been entering the atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts since the early 1930s. The pre-1980 measurements from Halley Bay undoubtedly included their effect on the ozone layer above Antarctica, but in 1979, what had been a gradual linear process crossed a tipping point, becoming rapid and nonlinear,” Ibid, pg. 85.

Thus, giving birth to an Abrupt Climate Change event that could have destroyed life on Earth. Thankfully, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed in 1987. It saved the world from sure-fire destruction, blind-sided by its own chemical devices.

After reviewing the history of CFCs and the ozone layer, Paul Crutzen (Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist) commented: “I can only conclude that mankind has been extremely lucky,” Ibid, pg. 87.

Now: Is permafrost collapse the Second Near-Catastrophe or something worse?

Hopefully, the answer is not “something worse” because dissimilar to the Ozone Hole crisis, which was solved by a handful of companies and industries implementing a technical fix and banning CFCs, the process of eliminating greenhouse gas emissions is universal, requiring decades of transforming the global economy, a gargantuan task when compared to civilization’s First Near-Catastrophe.

Similar to the Ozone Hole, which hit a tipping point 40 years after CFCs began emitting, collapsing permafrost first happens by inches, then by feet, then by portions of miles, when it is finally recognized as exceeding a tipping point, likely what’s happening today in Siberia, and throughout the far reaches of the Northern Hemisphere where massive levels of permafrost cover 25% of the hemisphere buried in frozen soil for eons, holding more than twice the amount of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.

Permafrost collapse is as alarming, maybe more so, as the Ozone Hole threat, but only a handful of scientists see it and believe it. Sound familiar?

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Repatriate the Children of the Jihad

Photograph Source: Y. Boechat (VOA) – Public Domain

“Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? … And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension. Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn’t grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. … [The higher harmony] is not worth the tears of that one tortured child … And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.”

— Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

According to the NGO Save the Children, close to two hundred children born to French mothers or parents, most of them less than five years old, are confined to detainment camps with their mothers in northeastern Syria. Marie Dosé, a lawyer who filed a complaint before the UN Committee on Children’s Rights against France on behalf of these families in February, states that she has identified 149 French children in the camps.

The French authorities have facilitated the return of seventeen orphans and abandoned children but have yet to communicate the number of children and mothers in the camps who are French citizens. The children detained with their mothers are every bit as innocent as the orphans. How can this distinction be justified, either legally or in terms of the principles of protection of children?

For more than two years, these children have been subject to deplorable physical and mental health conditions, hapless victims of the unspeakable cruelty and brutality surrounding them. The infant mortality rate in these camps is the highest in the world: 144 per 1,000 children under the age of five. This means that one out of seven children will not live to see their fifth birthday. Dozens are orphans while many still have their mothers with them, and all of them have families residing in France who are anxious to take them in, school them, and help them reintegrate into a community of which they are rightful citizens.

An article in the June 29 issue of the French newspaper Le Monde described the gut-wrenching odyssey through Syria of the grandparents of the four Lopez children, who are held with their mother in the Roj camp in Al-Muabbada. The oldest child is nine and the father, Léonard Lopez, is awaiting execution by hanging in a Baghdad prison, where he was tried after being transferred from Syria under circumstances that led Agnés Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, who is French, to officially challenge the French authorities.

France has signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN General Assembly thirty years ago this November 20. Every year, French citizens generously donate some fifty million euros to support the French National Committee to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Nevertheless, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights found themselves forced to urge France to repatriate the children with their mothers from the Syrian camps “in the best interests of the child”.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs hoped that the French men and women detained in Syrian camps could be tried in local courts, whether Syrian, run by the Turkish occupation authorities, or Iraqi, after illegal transfer to that country. France’s chief diplomat for foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was in Baghdad on October 17 to discuss the possible transfer to Iraq of foreign ISIS fighters held by the Kurds in Syria, no doubt anxious to take advantage of the ceasefire negotiated by the U.S. administration and President Erdogan. Iraq, whose courts offer no guarantee of fairness, has refused to try women and children. The Iraqi authorities did agree to try combatants who are French nationals, but only in return for payment, a sum that Paris has been careful not to reveal: a special synallagmatic contract, against any rule of law.

The Kurds, who have done most of the fighting on the ground against ISIS in Syria, are now suffering the offensive by the Turkish army and their Syrian auxiliaries. Hundreds of mothers and children escaped the Aïn Issa camp on October 11 as a result of Turkish bombing. Now forced to wander in search of food and shelter, these children have certainly gained nothing in terms of security or safety. The threat to the detainment camps from this offensive partly explains Le Drian’s request to Baghdad and his recent visit to Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. But how will the indictment of children and their mothers in Iraqi special courts help them resolve their legal issues, and, most importantly, help minimize the risk of their future or renewed radicalization after they are released from the Iraqi jails?

In an article in the October 24 issue of The New York Times, the journalists Neil Collier and Ben Laffin described the living conditions in the Al Hol camp, where children under twelve make up two thirds of some nine thousand foreign (non-Syrian) detainees. France has not had diplomatic relations with the Assad regime since 2012: its embassy in Damascus and consulates in Aleppo and Latakia were shuttered in November 2011. The children born there of French mothers are in a legal limbo: we saw this in June when dozens of French mothers, transferred from the Al Hol camp to the city of Raqqa (trusteeship administration), were unable to register their children at the vital records office, making it impossible to enroll them in the healthcare system or in school, or to find a way to reduce the terrible risks of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking to which they are exposed.

It is urgent, while the camps are still under Kurdish control, to initiate emergency repatriation of these traumatized children and their distressed mothers under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and to implement, under the authority of a judge-commissioner, a receiving facility where they will be safe and able to receive medical and psychological care in liaison with their family members residing in France. The mothers thus repatriated, guided, and resocialized will have a chance to reintegrate into society and atone for their tragic misadventures and failings. There is no alternative in terms of humanitarian principles or security concerns.

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Neoliberalism’s Children Rise Up to Demand Justice in Chile and the World

Photograph Source: Hugo Morales – CC BY-SA 4.0

Uprisings against the corrupt, generation-long dominance of neoliberal “center-right” and “center-left” governments that benefit the wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of working people are sweeping country after country all over the world. 

In this Autumn of Discontent, people from Chile, Haiti and Honduras to Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon are rising up against neoliberalism, which has in many cases been imposed on them by U.S. invasions, coups and other brutal uses of force. The repression against activists has been savage, with more than 250 protesters killed in Iraq in October alone, but the protests have continued and grown. Some movements, such as in Algeria and Sudan, have already forced the downfall of long-entrenched, corrupt governments.    A country that is emblematic of the uprisings against neoliberalism is Chile. On October 25, 2019, a million Chileans–out of a population of about 18 million–took to the streets across the country, unbowed by government repression that has killed at least 20 of them and injured hundreds more. Two days later, Chile’s billionaire president Sebastian Piñera fired his entire cabinet and declared, “We are in a new reality. Chile is different from what it was a week ago.”   The people of Chile appear to have validated Erica Chenoweth’s research on non-violent protest movements, in which she found that once over 3.5% of a population rise up to non-violently demand political and economic change, no government can resist their demands. It remains to be seen whether Piñera’s response will be enough to save his own job, or whether he will be the next casualty of the 3.5% rule.   It is entirely fitting that Chile should be in the vanguard of the protests sweeping the world in this Autumn of Discontent, since Chile served as the laboratory for the neoliberal transformation of economics and politics that has swept the world since the 1970s.    When Chile’s socialist leader Salvador Allende was elected in 1970, after a 6-year-long covert CIA operation to prevent his election, President Nixon ordered U.S. sanctions to “make the economy scream.”    In his first year in office, Allende’s progressive economic policies led to a 22% increase in real wages, as work began on 120,000 new housing units and he started to nationalize copper mines and other major industries. But growth slowed in 1972 and 1973 under the pressure of brutal U.S. sanctions, as in Venezuela and Iran today. U.S. sabotage of the new government intensified, and on September 11th, 1973, Allende was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup. The new leader, General Augusto Pinochet, executed or disappeared at least 3,200 people, held 80,000 political prisoners in his jails and ruled Chile as a brutal dictator until 1990, with the full support of the U.S. and other Western governments.    Under Pinochet, Chile’s economy was submitted to radical “free market” restructuring by the “Chicago Boys,” a team of Chilean economics students trained at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Milton Friedman for the express purpose of conducting this brutal experiment on their country. U.S. sanctions were lifted and Pinochet sold off Chile’s public assets to U.S. corporations and wealthy investors. Their program of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, together with privatization and cuts in pensions, healthcare, education and other public services, has since been duplicated across the world.    The Chicago Boys pointed to rising economic growth rates in Chile as evidence of the success of their neoliberal program, but by 1988, 48% of Chileans were living below the poverty line. Chile was and still is the wealthiest country in Latin America, but it is also the country with the largest gulf between rich and poor.  The governments elected after Pinochet stepped down in 1990 have followed the neoliberal model of alternating pro-corporate “center-right” and “center-left” governments, as in the U.S. and other developed countries. Neither respond to the needs of the poor or working class, who pay higher taxes than their tax-evading bosses, on top of ever-rising living costs, stagnant wages and limited access to voucherized education and a stratified public-private healthcare system. Indigenous communities are at the very bottom of this corrupt social and economic order. Voter turnout has predictably declined from 95% in 1989 to 47% in the most recent presidential election in 2017.   If Chenoweth is right and the million Chileans in the street have breached the tipping point for successful non-violent popular democracy, Chile may be leading the way to a global political and economic revolution.

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From Canada’s Election to Public Action: Beyond the Moral Tumor of Alberta Tar-Sands

Photograph Source: thekirbster – CC BY 2.0

For months during and after Canada’s 2019 federal election campaign, corporate media provided daily frontline news space for non-stop Alberta demands for more tar-sands export infrastructure through British Columbia, as well as discrediting stories on the Trudeau government for questionable legal protection of a Quebec big business to his playing blackface in a youthful costume.

No-one joined the dots or mentioned the words ‘Big Oil’.

Throughout fury was daily reported from provincial Alberta coinciding with federal environmental reviews, court proceedings and limits on planned massive transportation of Alberta’s US-dominated tar-sand crude through Canada and First Nations’ territories.

Media Scrubbed

The critical spotlight on Trudeau was never associated with the powerful oil lobby across borders or the Koch brothers and the US Republican far right.

Although all the signs were all there, they were media-scrubbed for ‘Western alienation’ into November after the federal election. What ruling-party politics and media see instead is a fabled Canada resource going under without more expansion and exports for needy Alberta to export it.

At the front of the dominant narrative is the Conservative Party. No longer ‘Progressive Conservative’ as in the historic centrist days, this century’s Conservative rulers are essentially US Republicans North with the same hate of central government. They are alike blind to the Big-Oil cause of the climate crisis even as the wild-fires rage from Alberta to California.

What all especially blinker out is that tar-sand crude is the dirtiest and most toxic fossil-fuel on the planet, multiplies carbon pollution against international commitment, and is increasingly unacceptable to the public and investors.

In the face of the growing climate and pollution crisis of industrial civilization, Canada’s right log ago attached themselves to an unnamed backroom plan for a right-wing tsunami over Canada’s then governing Liberals.

Canada’s Strategic Vote for Public Action against Conservative Social Reverse

With falling provincial governments, media scandals and Trudeau government inability to keep public-action promises, the planned Conservative regime change across America to Canada seemed a sure thing.

But it was defeated in the federal election by a cross-country campaign and voter shift to a non-establishment mass move for the common good which, beneath notice, distinguishes multicultural Canada.

Programs for progressive public action from all other parties – the NDP (New Democratic Party), the Green Party and the Quebec Bloc – combined with the Liberals against the publicly known Conservative wrecking balls on the public sector, health and social security programs, and environmental regulations.

Yet the corporate media continued to run the campaign of ‘Alberta fury, ‘Western alienation’, and even a Conservative-rump Senate ‘Wexit’ to force Trudeau to appease them after their defeat and blanket-Conservative Alberta-Saskatchewan votes.

Alberta’s Big-Oil Premier Kenney continued to provide red meat with calls for an immediate pipeline over BC, a provincial referendum for separation from Canada, and an end to the historic federal equalization program as his ‘very reasonable’ positions.

That Liberal carbon-pricing and regulations are backed by two-thirds of Canadians in polls and electoral seats, and that all other parties and programs oppose the TMX (trans-mountain BC) pipeline, while the Liberals have in fact over-supported it throughout but within the rule of law, are facts which do not compute to ‘Western alienation’.

‘Canada has never been so divided’ mourn Conservatives across the land.

Yet the tar-sand crude fount of free money to Alberta and US Big-Oil refinement-management-export coffers is on the ropes for reasons their value system cannot comprehend – public action on all fronts to ground in life on Earth against pervasive fossil-fuel pollution, corporate deregulation, and collective life capital destruction.

The Long-Kept Secret: The Koch Driver of the Tar-Sands Juggernaut

What has been above all whited out of Canada’s corporate culture is the long Koch-brother domination of the US-driven tar-sand juggernaut siphoning and mass-polluting the once pristine Athabaska River valley to export the most toxic fossil-fuel raw crude in existence.

The Koch brothers have, in repressed public fact, made most of their Big Oil fortune from refining tar-sands crude in the US which has, in turn, produced the tides of hidden ‘dark money’ to finance right wing-extremism in the US (and Canada without any media investigating it).

At the same time, they have bought licenses for up to two million hectares of the tar-sands upstream to control the gargantuan carbon-polluting cycle with silent Alberta support. Yet as far as the Canadian public and commentators are concerned, these monstrous facts do not exist, and are even now never mentioned in the media or public discourse as the Kochs have sold off their licenses once exposed.

Instead, the virulent realities of Alberta’s wealth are buried behind a pervasive promotion of the “necessity of Alberta to get its oil to market”.

Stampeded by the multi-media campaign of ‘Western alienation’ and the absurd claim that the fall of Alberta tar-sands “is a deliberate policy of the Trudeau government”, the Trudeau Liberals have been rushing to provide representation to it.

No-one in public translates ‘Alberta’s oil seeking outlet to market’ into what it is in fact for Canada – a massive pipe-line of treated sludge crude through the unspoiled Rocky Mountains of BC to the world’s most beautiful inland-ocean waterways for multiplied monster tankers ploughing the majestic habitats of the non-Albertan West coast to unnamed buyers – now across the Pacific Ocean- to buy a toxic, globally carbon-flooding crude that has slid towards cost-profit obsolescence.

In fact, months before the much publicized Decana head-office move to the US, , the Big Oil players have already sold off their Alberta licenses to extract the vast tar-sands in a race away from the financial as well as ecological black hole that is Alberta’s tar-sand crude.

As for the tar-sand crude still wanted for the Beast, Big Oil may soon be able to go back to Venezuela if US-led ‘regime change’ succeeds with the internationally lawless support of Canada Foreign Affairs – the Ottawa end of the mindless branch-plant avarice around natural resources for global corporate empire.

Alberta’s Cover Story Still Not Exposed

Alberta’s favorite cover story of anger against Ottawa still holds the political commentators of official culture in thrall – with every resistance or review of Alberta’s long Koch-led ecocidal project denounced as ‘an attack on Alberta’.

Throughout, the covert Koch master-control and rich processing profits have been so kept out of sight that not even the ever-rising opposition to the Trans-Mountain Pipeline have named it.

As I write, the Keystone Pipeline carrying Alberta’s toxic crude is found to have leaked 383,000 gallons in North Dakota on the very day Trump state department’s one-day hearing is pushed through against prolonged fierce resistance from indigenous people (the Squamish, Tsleil Waututh, Colwater and Secwemepec Nations,) as well as multiple environmental groups.

From 2011 to 2018, this Keystone pipeline of toxic Canadian crude has multiplied its pipeline flood by over 30-times from 14,000 barrels to 480,000 gallons through 8 US states. At the same time, less known Enbridge’s Line 67 carries tar sands crude from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin and the Koch refineries there. The Trump administration just approved a permit to nearly double its flow at the US border.

The Trans-Mountain Pipeline across BC is solely to super-tanker far more tar-sands crude beyond the US to unnamed buyers and refineries across the Pacific Ocean with all the further tides of carbon pollution entailed by planned multiplied extraction, global transportation, end-use emissions, and inevitable leaks and spills of the heavy-weight tar-oil impossible to clean up in deep water.

The Liberals and Trudeau have more or less complied with the whole ecocidal project except at the legal margins. In truth, the only thing stopping ever more of this ecocidal tra-sand cycle widening across the world against Canada’s public commitment to the Paris Agreement is that the expected super-profits have been reversed by cheaper competition.

Alberta-raw crude is now close to costing more to extract than it can sell for in a fallen market while at the same time being forced out by the shale-oil revolution, Saudi-to-Iran underselling of far higher quality oil, a public increasingly waking up to the climate crisis, and non-carbon energy exponentially rising in scale volume and lower unit pricing.

Yet the cover story of ‘Western alienation’ is still featured by the mainstream media with interminable public-relations commentators lazing past the physical facts in role-playing perspectives and wringing hands on Canada’s divides.

The Silenced Facts of Conservative Misrule Ready to Explode?

In Canada and the US, extreme-right lies, misrule and demands may have reached their breaking point.

The unspoken realities of Conservative misrule in Alberta go back a long way. The moral of the story begins with Conservative Alberta – “let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark” – hitching itself entirely to a US Big-Oil driven commodity boom as a bottomless resource-revenue pork-barrel and pissing away all the revenues.

A few decades down the road, Conservative Party rule has squandered away its potentially multi-hundred billion-dollar Alberta Heritage Fund in such policies as foreign corporate giveaways and zero sales tax (compared to 20% in social-democrat Norway whose public capital Oil Fund, now worth over $1000-billion because it has been protected from the political raids as in Conservative Alberta).

Conservative policies to get re-elected have boasted by far the lowest taxes in Canada, giveaways at all levels to foreign corporations including the world’s lowest royalties, populist cash-bribes to voters to stay in power, and big-mouth boasting of how other provinces and the government of Canada must get in line with its free-royalties rule and a population less than two-thirds of greater Toronto.

Even now, the main public problem with pipelines out of Alberta is tar-sands crude not refined in Alberta. Refinement in Alberta of the over-60% going to the US could have produced far more jobs than export of the monster-extraction tar-sand crude could ever do. It could have made the oil far safer with spills recoverable. It could have brought in far greater revenues than the exiting Kochs and oil barons have been enriched by instead.

It hates public capital and action as ‘socialist’ as much as Republicans depend on it in the US. Throughout its fall, its raw tar-sands resource (once sparingly used for indigenous canoes) has been privatized and mainly for foreign Big Oil.

Passive royalty reception and spending it away with nothing to show for it are the financial story. Extreme right-wing politics and a culture of bullying what public economy Canada has managed to develop are the untold political story.

Alberta has militantly opposed federal taxation for public investment and social programs, provincial equalization payments to sustain a secure and unified country, a once-leading Petro-Canada public corporation from which all citizens could buy their fuel, and environmental regulation of pollution across provincial and international borders.

Alberta Conservatives have all the while continuously insulted the rest of Canada with non-stop rightist rhetoric against federal public action in all forms except subsidizing Big Oil. Ignoring every reality of its wastrel management and dependency on free foreign money for its unearned natural resources, Conservative Premier Jason Kenney now fills corporate-media news and commentary with accusations of Canada’s government for its loss of wealth.

In fact, the world has changed around the ‘alienated West’ narrative. The global market fossil-fuel industry has radically changed in new sources of oil and gas, in OPEC glut, in climate change emergency, in non-carbon alternatives, in falling price for tar-oil most of all.

The standby Republican-Conservative scapegoat of “federal government” has no control over these, or whatever else it is blamed for by the Ameri-Canadian right.

With no saved oil revenues for public capital base like Norway and even Alaska, right-wing Alberta and US karmically choose their own fate.

But will anyone in public affairs wake up to the depredatory reality going fatal for the world?

Or will they join in the fear and hatred of public capital and action as ‘socialist’- as is being used as I write by the Republicans to win Kentucky for a corrupt governor, and is Trump’s only card against the Democrat Party for Sanders?

New Government for Public Action

Canada voters have already decided beneath the dog-whistle politics.

More deeply than the old spectacles and fights diverting public attention, the greatest crisis of all life support systems in history still grows, and the public action it demands across borders has remained blocked by parties in power.

None of this computes within the private money-multiplication robotics still ruling the world.

The common cause of the ecological and social death spiral across borders rules as a meta program that is unseen.

It is the master form behind the ever-changing image reality of the global corporate Cave whose shadows dance in incoherent distractions.

In terms of Canada politics, the past Liberal majority regime has remained inside the Cave.

It has already gone too far in favoring Alberta’s Koch-led schemes, and has in the main offered only false promises against Conservative public-economy demolition.

It has bent over backwards in enabling the whole tars-sands-to-trans-oceanic markets which multiplies carbon pollution further, another unspeakable topic in the corporate media.

The Liberal majority even spent 4.5 billion dollars of Canada taxpayers’ money to buy an old and degraded pipeline to ensure this toxic result, more than on the Pharmacare it promised. Both Liberal and Conservative governments have threatened armed force to force the pipeline across BC sworn to stop it.

While the Conservatives have turned a blind eye to the ecological and climate crisis and are as hostile to social policy and the public economy as US Republicans, the Liberals talk nice. Yet Canada’s Paris objective has been more pretense than reality in fact, and the carbon tax for ‘polluters to pay a price’ for carbon pollution has avoided taxing the giant corporate polluters themselves.

But the fatal spiral has been seamlessly broken by the October federal election. Can a similar shift occur in the US and Britain?

Canada’s Parliament is now enabled to stand for the common life interest of Canada and Canadians in place of Liberal public relations alone and Conservative-Republican predation of collective life support systems.

In Canada after the federal election, tar-sand Alberta and the corporate Conservative Party are now powerless in the context of a great majority of the House of Commons seeking carbon reduction and progressive public policy at once.

Trudeau’s government has already made a major move in this direction which incensed the US-led, Alberta-fronted tar-sand lobby, but has the overwhelming support of Canadians outside the Western Conservative rump. It actually drew a line on the ever-widening tar-sand ecocide. A federal ban was instituted on heavy-tanker traffic on the Norther BC Coast up to Alaska – Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, a few months before the election on June 21, 2019.

The line of clean-up can now follow back to the economically collapsing US-driven tar-sands themselves now that Big Oil is deserting there.

The Canadian Public has Repudiated the Right-Wing Wave

Former Liberal leader and avowed environmentalist Stephane Dion long ago admitted the Alberta tar-sands had “too much money” in them to regulate, and Conservative party rulers tried to show why.

Federal Conservative policies promised Alberta Big Oil everything it wanted – no more delays, no more carbon tax, no more court challenges, no ban on tankers on the North BC coast, and even an East-West pipeline opposed by Quebec.

Yet US-style destabilization by attack-dog politics never letting up for months on end before elections has failed. The planned government destruction on the agenda from before the October federal campaign has come a cropper.

Conservative backrooms in response have shown they have no comprehension of the situation now in place. In perpetual regression to ad-hominem insults and derogatory buzz phrases, the old failed leader of the Party, Peter MacKay, has said that the current leader, Andrew Scheer, “failed to score on an empty net”. They will roil around in their unrealities for the indefinite future.

While they still oppose carbon pricing in ostentatious concern for the poor working families having to pay a tax, the public has not been duped. The carbon tax is rebated to the families, and the very people and families in need are, in any case, those whom Republican-like Conservative rule invariably dispossesses by slashing social services on which they most of all depend.

Without any levers left, only media-trumped ‘threats to Canada’s unity’ from ‘Western separatist sentiments’ ramp on into the has-been-Tory Senate.

Alberta’s Premier Kenney even promoted the unrefined raw toxic crude extracted by and diluted with more water daily polluted than used by the people of Alberta as “Canada’s primary source of wealth” and “the golden goose that lays the golden egg“ (in fact, an estimated 1.7% of GDP).

The Silenced Meaning: Towards Recovery of a Public Economy

The scare stories and regime change of Canada have failed. The planned right-wing tide over a scandal-weakened Trudeau government has been voted down.

Meanwhile beneath any official notice, the minority Liberal government is now far more progressively stabilized and policy-oriented than before the election.

With the Conservatives now isolated and defeated, it has New Democratic Party (NDP) seats and social democratic Bloc Quebecois support for a whopping majority to enact the real program of public action it has promised.

What has been missing until this federal election has been a parliamentary force to hold the Liberals to their promises – not only for sovereign reduction of carbon pollution, but for the collectively life-enabling programs Liberals have falsely promised without action and Conservatives have slashed wherever in office.

NDP policies provide explicit support for all such progressive public actions, and a social-democratic Bloc program compounds the balance of power to get it substantially done.

In the background are the illustrious Red Tories of the Progressive Conservative years of good government now condemned as ‘Liberals’.

The Life-Sustaining Policies of Public Action Crossing Regional Borders

‘Cutting climate pollution to create new jobs’ with new funds to do so from ‘making big polluters pay rather than profit’ is along the same lines as the Green New Deal led by Bernie Sanders in the US.

So too more advanced than the US Green New Deal, the NDP promises to enact what the Liberals have promised but failed to do – ‘Pharmacare for all’ as well as ‘dental care, eye care, mental health care’ and ‘child care when needed’.

‘Upholding indigenous rights’, ‘making higher education affordable without mounting debt’, ‘stopping speculators in housing’, and ‘minimum wage’ and ‘sustainable jobs’ are further policy advances with majority support, and all connect in a unifying direction of Canada’s history of civil commons evolution.

They are also all supported by the progressive wing of the US Democrat Party and the Green New Deal.

Together they form a common life-value ground which has been increasingly divided and devoured since private financialization usurped the public economy with the Reagan-Thatcher turn, followed rapidly by the destruction of the mixed socialist world, and then the Wall-Street 2007-08 crash and austerity crippling of social states across the globe.

What unites all of the resurgent public policies in Canada, the UK and the Sanders-Democrat US is the moral logic of protecting and enabling human and ecological life capacities which are systematically selected against by a life-blindly self-maximizing, private money-value program across borders miscalled ‘freedom’.

Public revenues for implementation of these public capital policies and actions include the hundreds of billions of unnecessary tax giveaways and public subsidies in numberless forms to ‘multi-millionaires and mega corporations’ under such wholly disproven fantasies as ‘trickle-down economics’ and ‘Laffer’s curve’.

The Ultimate Choice Space

The ultimate imperative of evolved planetary life is to prevent cumulative ruin by competitively life-blind money-sequencing to ever more as an end-in-itself.

This borderless fanaticism of instituted avarice without limit or regulation has cumulatively destabilized and collapsed organic, social and ecological life support systems across the planet as ‘freedom’.

Life security at all levels is now in more extreme systemic danger than any time before in history, or indeed mammalian evolution.

Every step of the public action program defined in Canada’s election, and in formation under the Green New Deal of the US for its federal election a year from now, is a step in a unifying project to recover civil and ecological life support systems to sustain rather than reverse life organization and evolution on the planet.

All private-money-to-more-money forces and their current captive-state formations are structured to eliminate any such public life capital and action.

The dots of human choice for and against evolved life on the planet are not yet fully joined. But they are more understood towards public policy and action after Canada’s 2019 election than before. A history-deciding cycle of English-speaking elections is in motion.

John McMurtry is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada whose work is translated across the world. He is the author of the three-volume Philosophy and World Problems published by UNESCO’s Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), and his most recent book is The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: from Crisis to Cure.

 

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Pacifica’s WBAI Back on the Air But Fight for Non-Corporate Radio Continues

Logo for WBAI – License

New York City’s Pacifica radio station, WBAI, was back on the air as of midnight this past Wednesday, but the struggle to keep it a community radio station is far from over.

Three and a half weeks after a corporate coup abruptly shut down the listener-supported station, a favorable ruling by a state-court judge effectively put the station back in the control of its staff. But none of the activists who worked to bring about the reversal of the coup are under the illusion that this latest struggle is anywhere near over.

The coup was hatched on October 7 when the Pacifica interim executive director, John Vernile, arrived with security guards and summarily announced that everybody was fired and must vacate immediately. The team led by Mr. Vernile that descended on the station that morning dismantled studio equipment, rendering it impossible to broadcast; seized the station bank account; took checks left in the office; put padlocks on the doors; and told the station’s landlord she should find a new tenant while cutting off rent payments.

In the place of WBAI’s 104 programs, 97 of which are local, Mr. Vernile substituted syndicated programming almost entirely consisting of California shows discussing local California issues. Fine for California but not relevant to listeners 3,000 miles away.

After several trips to court, the judge finally handed down a ruling on Wednesday afternoon. It was a narrow ruling based on interpreting the plain meaning of the Pacifica bylaws, which Mr. Vernile and the minority pro-coup faction on the Pacifica National Board had flagrantly violated. The coup was executed in secret with no authorization, and when the National Board was convened via phone conference in an attempt to provide retroactive approval, five board members had their phones muted and were blocked from voting because the pro-coup faction knew they would lose the vote.

Two subsequent meetings were convened using a different system that didn’t enable muting, with the full board voting both times to reverse the coup. The coupsters tried to claim only the first vote was valid, and the legal proceedings centered on the validity of the votes. In her decision, the judge put stress on the unfairness of blocking board members from voting simply because some disagreed with them. In brief, the judge ruled that the latter two votes were valid, rejecting the weak arguments of the lawyer representing the coup faction (with no board authorization).

The coupsters’ lawyer was reduced to repeatedly trying to raise objections to the WBAI lawyer filing amendments to earlier filings, causing the judge to finally declare “I’ve already ruled on that.” Arguing that the latter votes should be ruled invalid because board members were not notified by phone calls ahead of time — a procedure that hadn’t been used in 20 years and was also not followed in the first vote the coupsters wanted to be counted — is sophistry. That facts or the bylaw couldn’t be cited speaks for itself.

So why isn’t this fight over? Because the takeover, which must have been plotted in secret for several weeks given the multiple points of attack, is only one strand of a plan intended to sell off WBAI and use the proceeds to benefit the remaining stations. Many listeners and staff at those other stations, it must be noted, oppose this action and have showed solidarity with WBAI and its listeners. Further, the 12 board members opposing the coup, who are a majority of the National Board, include at least one director from each of the five Pacifica stations.

As one of the leaders of the WBAI Fightback group that quickly coalesced, Mimi Rosenberg, put it, there is the “white-collar” line of attack and the “thuggish” line of attack. The brutal shutting down of the station represented the “thuggish” strategy. The “white-collar” strategy is an attempt to change the Pacifica bylaws to eliminate democratic accountability. That fight, unfortunately, has only begun.

Under the current bylaws, listeners elect local station boards to each of the five network stations, and those local station boards in turn seat the Pacifica National Board from their ranks. Thus there is accountability to listeners. Such democratic structures are an impediment to corporate takeovers. To eliminate the irritant of democracy, a grouping based at the two California stations, KPFA in Berkeley and KPFK in Los Angeles, want to eliminate the local station boards and appoint a new National Board with no democratic input. In other words, a self-selecting board that would be free to impose watered-down, weak-tea liberal programming, most likely from a central source.

A self-selecting board with no accountability would also be free to sell off WBAI. Such an unaccountable board led to the lockout of KPFA in 1999 and the Christmas Coup at WBAI in 2000, triggering a long struggle that culminated in the current democratic bylaws.

The possibility of selling WBAI, despite the pious denials of Mr. Vernile and those backing him, is widely believed by opponents of the coup to be the true goal. Advocacy of a sale, and the scapegoating of WBAI for network-wide financial difficulties, has gone on for years.

In support of that goal, a lawsuit was filed in California state court, seeking to force a referendum to change the bylaws to be put before the members of all of the network’s five stations. Thus far, it appears that this suit will succeed, and listener-members will be asked to vote on this drastic change to the bylaws. This is a well-organized attempt; a petition circulated to force a referendum drew hundreds of signatures, a necessary step under current bylaws for anyone wanting to change them.

People who believe in community radio that is democratically accountable will have to quickly organize, a challenge made more difficult in the New York area because the syndicated, irrelevant programming that had been broadcast over WBAI’s frequency during the coup drove away listeners. How quickly WBAI can attract its past listenership, and new listeners, is an open question. That the station was shut down in the midst of a fund drive — the coup was clearly timed to inflict the maximum damage — adds to the challenge.

Now that the latest votes of the National Board have been declared legal, Mr. Vernile is suspended, and two board members told me there is an intention to fire him. But as despicable as his dictatorial, destructive actions are, this is a fight much bigger than any one person. What is not disputable to any reasonable observer is that immense damage has been done to WBAI. There are few radio stations in the United States that are independent of corporate control in this era of ever-increasing inequality. We can’t afford to lose any of them.

The post Pacifica’s WBAI Back on the Air But Fight for Non-Corporate Radio Continues appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Eating the Amazon

NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview – Public Domain

Catastrophic fires have been burning all over the world, not just in Amazonia, but also in Siberia, Indonesia, and the Congo basin. These fires are ecological weapons of mass destruction and displacement resulting in habitat destruction and extermination of other species, violent land grabs from Indigenous peoples, murder of forest protectors, and climate refugees. Most of the disastrous fires in the Amazon are the result of clearing forests for cattle pasture or for crops to feed the cattle. In response to the intentional conflagrations in the Amazon, the actor Leonardo DiCaprio was chided recently for daring to suggest a way to significantly deal with the destruction: People can simply stop eating cattle.

The knee-jerk reaction to his common-sense statement makes clear that, though its harmful impacts are obvious, Big Meat is the great untouchable in America. One writer even accused DiCaprio of “blaming cows”. Cattle, however, are neither starting the fires nor voluntarily throwing themselves on the butchers’ blocks. Nor are the fires being set because people love cattle so much and want to provide them with habitat. No, the burning and looting are done to cater to those who eat the cattle. Mr. DiCaprio is not blaming cows.

He simply recognizes that much of the burning, land theft, and ecosystem destruction in Amazonia would not be happening if cows were not being eaten. Some defend this situation with a variation of the statement I saw in Georgia years ago: “Trees is jobs.” Well, so is cancer, and so was zyklon B. What he suggests is not the be all and end all, but it does buy us some time, and land and biodiversity, until we come to our senses (or not) and confront endless population growth and the paradigm of endless economic expansion on a finite planet; bringing an end to what Ed Abbey referred to as the ideology of the cancer cell.

Americans in particular, and humans in general, are not so exceptional that laws of thermodynamics do not apply to us. When plants are cycled through animals and then the animals eaten, only a tiny portion of the original plant-based calories are available. In addition, annexation of land to provide for feeding human populations means there is less habitat available for other species, an ecological process/principle called competitive exclusion that is now a global human phenomenon. This habitat loss is the most significant driver threatening a million species with extinction, with agricultural expansion being the most widespread form of land-use change. For example, the 2019 IPBES report estimated that cattle ranching caused the loss of 100 million acres of tropical forest in Latin America just from 1980 to 2000. A diet switch away from cattle and other animals also greatly reduces our health care costs and carbon footprint.

Globally, almost 80% of all agricultural land is dedicated to grazing or croplands for livestock feed, making it the largest user of land resources. In the US, around 75% of the grains and soybeans grown are fed to livestock. However, when the corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops currently fed to livestock are directly consumed by people, only a fraction of the acreage currently devoted to livestock feed would be necessary. This would free-up hundreds of millions of acres of land previously used to feed billions of Chickens, Pigs, Cattle, and Turkeys, that can instead be replanted with hemp, orchards, tree plantations, or allowed to recover to native habitat, all of which would significantly reduce deforestation.

Hemp can be used for paper, cardboard, and building materials, as well as medicines, oils, and plastics. And it requires little or no pesticides or fertilizers. Some of these lands currently devoted to animal feedstocks can be reforested, that not only can provide habitat for wildlife and sequester carbon, but also offer a multitude of other desirable benefits, conditions, and resources, one of which is reducing or even eliminating the need to cut natural forests, especially leaving mature forests intact. From a climate standpoint, reducing deforestation and forest degradation, plus accomplishing reforestation, are every bit as important as reducing emissions (see August 2019 IPCC report).

Livestock production now contributes nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, even more than the transportation sector. IATP estimated that just the 3 largest meat and dairy companies were responsible for greenhouse gas emissions greater than that of France, one of Europe’s largest emitters. And consider the astounding amounts of water used and fecal waste and pollution generated by animal agribusiness.

Does the mass production of dead flesh involve respect and compassion for all those individuals involuntarily providing that flesh? In the USA alone, over 10 BILLION Chickens, Turkeys, Pigs, and Cattle are slaughtered every year, to say nothing of the billions of fish and other “sea food”. Day in day out, 32.9 million per day, 1.37 million per hour, 22,830 per minute, 380/second. Mass consumption by hundreds of millions of people demands the horrific abuses inherent in a system of mass imprisonment and mass destruction and mass disassembly. These will not and cannot be regulated away.

Most of us don’t want to inflict cruelty upon animals, we simply don’t know the reality of the situation or block it from our minds. But mass consumption begets mass cruelty; and those supplying the consumption know it.  Why else do the laws prohibiting cruelty to animals specifically exclude farmed animals? Why else have so many ‘ag-gag’ laws been passed that insulate purveyors of industrial-scale abuse from scrutiny?  Out of sight, out of mind. Those who expose the atrocities on the factory ‘farms’ and slaughterhouses can now even be charged as “terrorists”. As John Whitehead observed, “When exposing a crime is made a crime, we are being ruled by criminals.” In a truly just and compassionate world, the atrocious cruelty and suffering meted out to food animals daily would be considered intolerable and criminal. Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Isaac Singer summed it up perfectly: For animals, every day is Treblinka.

In contrast, there are certainly some positive things that governments can do — such as stopping the tax breaks, trade deals, and subsidies to Big Meat, which includes grazing on public lands. And stiff sanctions can be applied to Brazil and others for aiding and abetting the burning of the Amazon and other forests. But don’t hold your breath waiting for any of this to happen. Without all the externalized costs and direct and indirect subsidies, such as for petrochemicals and massive amounts of water, it is estimated that a hamburger could cost $14 or more.

In this case, personal action is essential given the empirical evidence — namely, the past and ongoing failures of governments and business to adequately respond to wretched situations; for instance, look at their decades of delay in addressing apartheid or divestiture.  Yes, as Dr. Pahnke wrote, it is important to identify and pressure the multinational actors behind the ongoing Big Meat smokescreen, such as Cargill, JPS, Tyson, and BlackRock. But don’t expect the corporations and their government pawns to take the lead on this. Even for those meat corporations that are moving into plant-based protein, their immense size and inherent economic constraints make change extremely slow at best. As usual, they will have to be dragged along in our wake.

Feeding people while fighting climate change and mass extinction means a transition to food systems that hinge on small-scale producers, agro-ecology, edible plants, and local markets. In other words, redirecting public money and personal decisions away from meat and huge agribusiness towards small-scale agro-ecological farms and plant-based diets. Of course, in most places this is not the current trajectory. As Big Meat promoter US Secretary of Agriculture Perdue recently told small farmers in Wisconsin, “the big get bigger and the small go out.”

Regardless of the impediments and resistance to sustainable biodiversity-based agriculture, there are now a multitude of flesh alternatives that are inexpensive and taste delicious. It is easier than ever for individuals to smoothly transition. To ignore this and accept the dictates of multinational corporate interests is to perpetuate the thoughtless exploitation and deprivation inflicted upon all the mere “meat” who share our world, be it through confinement and slaughter, extermination, pollution, or habitat destruction. Instead, we can embody a true reverence for life, expanding the sphere of our compassion and consideration beyond our particular nation, tribe, race, gender, and species (see the film “We Are One”.

Here on Earth, diet is a complex issue that involves differences in energy inputs, trophic efficiencies, ecological impacts, moral considerations, and ethical behavior. Nonetheless, there are positive actions that are practical and that we can take right now. One of these is as Mr. DiCaprio said. Be it eating less meat or stopping altogether, this option is open to all of us. Regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, political affiliation, nationality, religion, or age.

We can make a difference. And it doesn’t take an act of Congress, it doesn’t take a stack of regulations, doesn’t take lawsuits, doesn’t take lobbyists, more research or studies, the compliance of corporations, a team of attorneys, government subsidies, a billionaire trickling down on you, servile obedience to authority, special athletic or intellectual abilities, wealth or political influence, state-imposed austerity measures, or a technological breakthrough (although that is available now with cell-cultured meat), and it doesn’t take heavenly intervention.

It doesn’t take anything but an act of individual decision. That’s the beauty of it. You and I can just do it. Anybody can. We can make a difference. Right now. Hundreds of millions of us. One by one. We’re free! What are you waiting for?

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A Socialist Party in Our Time?

Photograph Source: David Shankbone – CC BY 3.0

Nearly two years ago, Eric Blanc wrote an article for Jacobin that justified socialists running on the Democratic Party primary ballot as a “dirty break” from the two-party system. Eugene V. Debs’s Socialist Party, to which Jacobin pays lip-service, instead supported a “clean break”, as did the Communist Party until Stalin ordered it to back FDR. Ultimately, the idea of a “dirty break” (or its close relative, an “inside-outside” orientation to the Democratic Party) has little to do with Marxism. It is instead old-fashioned pragmatism that has led liberals to support the Democratic Party for generations. When I was young, it was what led SDS to raise the slogan “Part of the Way with LBJ.” After I voted for him in 1964 and faced the draft not much later, I “parted ways” with the Democratic Party.

In the trail blazed by Eric Blanc, other articles have followed suit in Jacobin along the same lines. Blanc is associated with the Bread and Roses caucus of DSA that stresses its rock-ribbed adherence to Marxist principles in The Call. This website that is unsurpassed in terms of its ability to make pro-Democratic Party tactics sound like a daring initiative. Many of the caucus members are either graduate students or young professors skilled in the art of casuistry. In an article on the DSA for the New Republic, Doug Henwood referred to the reputation Bread and Roses has with other DSA’ers. “The strong presence on the NPC [National Political Committee] and the affiliation with Jacobin, the most influential publication on the American socialist left these days, gets people to talking about a sect with its own propaganda arm plotting to control the organization.”

Blanc is (or was) a Ph.D. student in the NYU Sociology department, one of the few in the country where an aspiring Marxist can get the credentials needed to land a position in a tight job market. Among the highest profile professors in the department is one Vivek Chibber, who is the editor of Catalyst Magazine, an offspring of Sunkara’s Jacobin. Chibber is best-known for his strident defense of Political Marxism, a school around UCLA Professor Emeritus Robert Brenner. The PM’ers believe that capitalism began in the British countryside almost accidentally and that it had nothing to do with colonialism or slavery.

For reasons that remain obscure, Chibber fired Brenner from his position as co-editor of Catalyst last year. Sunkara backed Chibber to the hilt, as might be expected given his status as one of the NYU professor’s proteges. He touchingly acknowledged Chibber in “The Socialist Manifesto”: “I’d be remiss if I failed to mention how much I’ve learned from New York University professor Vivek Chibber over the years. If he’s a great chef, I’m doing to his recipes what Chef Boyardee did to pasta. I happen to like SpaghettiOs. I hope you do too.”

Until now, Catalyst has not published an article defending the “dirty break”, “inside-outside” tactic. In the latest issue, however, you can read a gargantuan article (14,258 words) titled “A Socialist Party in Our Time?” that is behind a paywall. One imagines (ahem) that getting a copy will not be that difficult in an age when information yearns to be free.

The co-authors are graduate students, Jared Abbott at Harvard and Dustin Guastella at Rutgers. Both are also DSA members and—I’ll bet—Bread and Roses members. They start by offering a socialist version of the Goldilocks story. On the American left, there are three beds. One is “movementist”, preferring demonstrations to electoral politics. But it is too “narrow” a bed since it cannot translate its street actions into policy. The other bed is also too narrow since it belongs to the “sectarian” left that stubbornly avoids all contact with the Democratic Party and sees the fight for socialism only possible by joining up with one of their Leninist groupuscules.

Abbot and Guastella invite us to snuggle up into the only bed that is the right size for any sensible person. It is “like the mass parties of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: an organization that competes for elections, mobilizes a mass base, and has a democratic internal structure.” This describes the socialist parties of the early 20th century and the Communist Parties later on. Since the DSA is too small to effectuate a “clean break” for such a party, it instead has to be tactically clever and oh-so dirty.

It can build a “party-surrogate” that is independent of the Democrats but exploits the Democratic Party ballot line to make inroads politically. What bed is right for a Green Party supporter like me? After all, I am no “movementist” or “sectarian”. I am loyal to the party that soldiers on despite being plagued by structural problems created by “Demogreens” like David Cobb. And what about the millions of working-class people who have become fed up with the Democratic Party, even to the point of being unmoved by Bernie Sanders? What bed is right for them?

At the risk of undermining their case, Abbott and Guastella document how the Democratic Party prevents it from becoming the socialist party they favor. Unlike parliamentary systems elsewhere, the odds are stacked against the formation of such a party as was the intention of Washington, Jefferson and the other landed gentry. A “presidentialist” system such as ours creates a dynamic in which a presidential candidate tries to be all things to all people—a popularity contest that even allowed FDR to win the 1932 election with a platform having little to do with the New Deal.

All this pales in comparison to the number one problem: money’s domination. Despite Sanders’s ability to raise millions from small donations, “the proportion of campaign finance coming from the superrich has increased dramatically over the past three decades, and since access to campaign finance plays a critical role in determining a candidate’s viability, the declining proportion of campaign finance available to candidates not supported by the superrich makes their capacity to win elections increasingly slim.”

After reviewing the obstacles to turning the Democratic Party into a socialist party, or even one conforming to Bernie Sanders’s vision of an updated version of FDR’s New Deal, Abbot and Guastella lay out a party-surrogate strategy. This strategy rests on the class analysis of the late Eric Olin Wright, whose Marxist sociology had a great impact on young scholars like the authors. In my view, Wright was much more capable of making sense out of class formation than he was at offering political solutions that might finally put an end to class oppression. Back in 2007, Wright generously engaged in a debate with me over his “Envisioning Real Utopias”, a book that saw the compass as a metaphor for socialist strategy. It could identify the general direction of the class struggle but little else. As a professional sociologist, Wright sought to identify “ideal-types”, a category having more in common with Max Weber than Karl Marx. As much as I admired his work, I was appalled by his inclusion of the Israeli kibbutzim within the ideal-type of socialism.

Wright’s value to Abbot and Guastella lies in his ability to draw distinctions between the Professional Middle Class (PMC) and the working-class. The PMC has done well in the past few decades. It benefited from globalization and its employment in high-tech and finance that have withstood the pains of neoliberalism. It is this class that the Democrats have oriented to rather than the working-class that, if not avid Trump supporters, was alienated enough by the Clinton campaign in 2016 to stay at home on election day.

After decades of economic decline, the working-class has finally begun to assert itself through high-profile strikes. First was those mounted by public school teachers in Red States. Recently we had the UAW strike that, while failing to make an impact on the two-tier wage system, at least gave workers a feeling that they had social and economic power. Abbot and Guastella see Bernie Sanders as the benefactor of these trends: “Additionally, the involvement of important sectors of organized labor in Sanders’s 2016 Democratic primary campaign suggests that more unions are willing to take a risk on outsider candidates, provided those candidates have a viable path to power and a working-class political program. Specifically, seven national labor unions representing approximately 1.25 million workers (just under 9 percent of all organized workers in the United States) backed Sanders, as did more than seventy union locals within national unions that did not endorse Sanders.”

Given the willingness of workers to engage in militant strikes for the first time in decades and the respect paid to Bernie Sanders, conditions are now ripe for creating a party-surrogate. To make this embryonic form of a socialist party happen, the DSA must roll up its sleeves and get started. If the DSA concentrated its electoral resources in key areas, developed a pro-working class program, and drew upon a large number of candidates from within its activist base, it could provide the initial scaffolding for a mass party-surrogate.

The final 3,000 words of the article boil are nothing less than the current electoral strategy of the Jacobin/DSA. Whether all these words were necessary to make sure that everybody remained on board with “democratic socialist” orthodoxy is open to question. Since the driving ideological impetus behind the article is pragmatism, everything hinges on getting results. Like many of the thousands of articles written about electoral politics in the past few decades, the authors are consumed with the question of electability. For example, they write that a surrogate must find a way to convince strong candidates that it represents a credible path to electoral success while assuring voters that it “can be competitive and perform well in office.” Be competitive and perform well in office? Was that Eugene V. Debs’s ambition?

With all due respect to Eugene V. Debs, it took the Russian Revolution to help socialist-minded people to put elections into perspective. Unlike the German social democracy, Lenin only saw elections as a way to spread socialist ideas. Given the mystification of bourgeois democracy promoted by the Cadets, Czarist Russia’s version of the Democratic Party, Lenin saw Bolshevik election campaigns as a way of educating workers about the need to break with both wings of the ruling class. The Black Hundreds were the MAGA faction of their day, just as the Cadets were Clinton-style Democrats. They were probably more hostile to the idea of a socialist revolution than they were of Czarist misrule.

What we have seen so far of the Sanders campaign of 2016 and 2020 leaves little doubt that he is nothing more than a liberal politician who uses the word “socialist” a lot. The enemy is the “billionaire class”, not the private ownership of the means of production. All of the changes he advocates would make the USA much more like Norway, but given the declining rate of profit globally, it is difficult to see how that would take place. Without some violent attack on the working class, either domestically or abroad, there is no possibility of a new round of capital accumulation. After all, it was WWII that made the USA a place for which Sanders and Michael Moore remain nostalgic, not the WPA.

In this epoch, when extinction and nuclear war loom large, the electoral pettifoggery of the Abbott and Guastella article is a sad commentary on the inability of the educated and largely academic base of Jacobin and Catalyst authors to rise to the occasion. The idea of spending the next twenty-five years of creating a party-surrogate through electoral “dirty breaks” while flooded coastal cities create tens of millions of refugees and insects become extinct, shows misplaced priorities.

There is one point I agree with. There is a need for something like “the mass parties of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: an organization that competes for elections, mobilizes a mass base, and has a democratic internal structure” with just a couple of changes. I worry less about competing for elections than I do about the need for using them to challenge the capitalist system. Peter Camejo ran for governor in California three times, the last run in 2006 just two years before his death. His highest vote total was 5.3% in 2002. Even if he didn’t get elected, his speeches did a lot to wake Californians up to the terrible future that laid in store for them as a result of climate change.

In 2004, Peter was Ralph Nader’s VP candidate. In the face of vicious attacks by Democratic Party lawyers on their right to be on the ballot, Peter wrote:

The Democrats are on an all-out effort to attack the Nader/Camejo campaign because if voters begin to vote for what they want the entire electoral system will unravel. If twenty million citizens voted for Nader it would be the beginning of the end of the two-party system. The Democrats would enter into a crisis, the ability of money to control people would begin to crack and the possibility of a democracy where citizens could vote for what they believe would be born.

The Democrats are determined, not to beat Bush but to stop Nader, to protect the two-party pro-corporate rule that America lives under.

I would expect the nucleus of a socialist party in the USA to take such as stance so different from the weak tea of the party-surrogate. Accepted universally by Jacobin, Catalyst and the Bread and Roses caucus, it amounts to prescribing aspirin for cancer.

Back in August of 2018, when the Bread and Roses caucus launched The Call, it announced that “We don’t take any writer as gospel. But we believe that as socialists and Marxists we are carrying on a proud tradition. In the course of almost two centuries of struggle, organizers and writers have been able to capture certain enduring truths about politics.” As proof of that, they posted an article written by Peter Camejo titled “Liberalism, Ultra-leftism, or Mass Action” that I heard him deliver on multiple occasions when we worked closely together in the Boston branch of the SWP.

In the speech, Peter defends the electoral strategy of the SWP that we all understood as an adaptation of Bolshevik policies to the USA:

In our election campaigns we’ve got to emphasize that it’s not the individual candidate that is decisive but his or her party and which social layer the party serves. That is the real question: which social layer, which class, rules? And the Socialist Workers Party campaigns will be saying clearly, “Don’t vote for the parties of war! We in the SWP, our program — not the Democrats’ — represents the interests of the masses of people.”

The SWP was one of the narrow-bed sectarian groups Abbott and Guastella referred to at the beginning of their article. As someone who supported and learned from Peter after he broke with such sectarianism, we had hopes that a new radicalization could retain the militancy of the SWP but upon a much broader framework. As the capitalist crisis of the 21st century deepens, there will be an urgent need for such a socialist party. I have no doubts that Abbott and Guastella sincerely wish that one might evolve. I only hope that that they make a clean break with dirty break politics for the sake of the revolution we so desperately need.

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The Crass Warfare of Billionaires Against Sanders and Warren


For many decades, any politician daring to fight for economic justice was liable to be denounced for engaging in “class warfare.” It was always a grimly laughable accusation, coming from wealthy elites as well as their functionaries in corporate media and elective office. In the real world, class warfare — or whatever you want to call it — has always been an economic and political reality.

In recent decades, class war in the USA has become increasingly lopsided. The steady decline in union membership, the worsening of income inequality and the hollowing out of the public sector have been some results of ongoing assaults on social decency and countless human lives. Corporate power has run amuck.

Now, the billionaire class is worried. For the first time in memory, there’s a real chance that the next president could threaten the very existence of billionaires — or at least significantly reduce their unconscionable rate of wealth accumulation — in a country and on a planet with so much human misery due to extreme economic disparities.

In early fall, when Bernie Sanders said “I don’t think that billionaires should exist,” many billionaires heard an existential threat. It was hardly a one-off comment; the Bernie 2020 campaign followed up with national distribution of a bumper sticker saying “Billionaires should not exist.”

When Elizabeth Warren stands on a debate stage and argues for a targeted marginal tax on the astronomically rich, such advocacy is anathema to those who believe that the only legitimate class war is the kind waged from the top down. In early autumn, CNBC reported that “Democratic donors on Wall Street and in big business are preparing to sit out the presidential campaign fundraising cycle — or even back President Donald Trump — if Sen. Elizabeth Warren wins the party’s nomination.”

As for Bernie Sanders — less than four years after he carried every county in West Virginia against Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary — the state’s Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin flatly declared last week that if Sanders wins the nomination, he would not vote for his party’s nominee against Trump in November 2020.

Some billionaires support Trump and some don’t. But few billionaires have a good word to say about Sanders or Warren. And the pattern of billionaires backing their Democratic rivals is illuminating.

“Dozens of American billionaires have pulled out their checkbooks to support candidates engaged in a wide-open battle for the Democratic presidential nomination,” Forbes reported this summer. The dollar total of those donations given directly to a campaign (which federal law limits to $2,800 each) is less significant than the sentiment they reflect. And people with huge wealth are able to dump hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars at once into a Super PAC, which grassroots-parched AstroTurf candidate Joe Biden greenlighted last month.

The donations from billionaires to the current Democratic candidates could be viewed as a kind of Oligarchy Confidence Index, based on data from the Federal Election Commission. As reported by Forbes, Pete Buttigieg leads all the candidates with 23 billionaire donors, followed by 18 for Cory Booker, and 17 for Kamala Harris. Among the other candidates who have qualified for the debate coming up later this month, Biden has 13 billionaire donors and Amy Klobuchar has 8, followed by 3 for Elizabeth Warren, 1 for Tulsi Gabbard, and 1 for Andrew Yang. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has zero billionaire donors.

(The tenth person who has qualified for the next debate, self-funding billionaire candidate Tom Steyer, is in a class by himself.)

Meanwhile, relying on contributions from small donors, Sanders and Warren “eagerly bait, troll and bash billionaires at every opportunity,” in the words of a recent Los Angeles Times news story. “They send out missives to donors boasting how much damage their plans would inflict on the wallets of specific wealthy families and corporations.”

The newspaper added: “Sanders boasts that his wealth tax would cost Amazon owner Jeff Bezos $8.9 billion per year. He even championed a bill with the acronym BEZOS: The Stop Bad Employers By Zeroing Out Subsidies Act would have forced Amazon and other large firms to pay the full cost of food stamps and other benefits received by their lowest-wage employees.”

For extremely rich people who confuse net worth with human worth, the prospect of losing out on billions is an outrageous possibility. And so, a few months ago, Facebook mega-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg expressed his antipathy toward Warren while meeting with employees. As a transcript of leaked audio makes clear, Warren’s vision of using anti-trust laws to break up Big Tech virtual monopolies was more than Facebook’s head could stand to contemplate.

“But look,” Zuckerberg said, “at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and you fight.”

The fight happening now for the Democratic presidential nomination largely amounts to class warfare. And the forces that have triumphed in the past are outraged that they currently have to deal with so much progressive opposition. As Carl von Clausewitz observed, “A conqueror is always a lover of peace.”

 

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Microsoft Should Not Fund Israeli Spying on Palestinians

Photograph Source: Coolcaesar – CC BY-SA 4.0

The act of Palestinian activists covering their faces during anti-Israeli occupation rallies is an old practice that spans decades. The masking of the face, often by Kufyias – traditional Palestinian scarves that grew to symbolize Palestinian resistance – is far from being a fashion statement. Instead, it is a survival technique, without it, activists are likely to be arrested in subsequent nightly raids; at times, even assassinated.

In the past, Israel used basic technologies to identify Palestinians who take part in protests and mobilize the people in various popular activities. TV news footage or newspaper photos were thoroughly deciphered, often with the help of Israel’s collaborators in the Occupied Territories, and the ‘culprits’ would be identified, summoned to meet Shin Bet intelligence officers or arrested from their homes.

That old technique was eventually replaced by more advanced technology, countless images transmitted directly through Israeli drones – the flagship of Israel’s “security industry”. Thousands of Palestinians were detained and hundreds were assassinated in recent years as a result of drones data, analyzed through Israel’s burgeoning facial recognition software.

If, in the past, Palestinian activists were keen on keeping their identity hidden, now they have much more compelling reasons to ensure the complete secrecy of their work. Considering the information sharing between the Israeli army and illegal Jewish settlers and their armed militias in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians face the double threat of being targeted by armed settlers as well as by Israeli soldiers.

True, when it comes to Israel, such a grim reality is hardly surprising. But what is truly disturbing is the direct involvement of international corporate giants, the likes of Microsoft, in facilitating the work of the Israeli military, whose sole aim is to crush any form of dissent among Palestinians.

Microsoft prides itself on being a leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR), emphasizing that “privacy (is) a fundamental human right.”

The Washington-State based software giant dedicates much attention, at least on paper, to the subject of human rights. “Microsoft is committed to respecting human rights,” Microsoft Global Human Rights Statement asserts. “We do this by harnessing the beneficial power of technology to help realize and sustain human rights everywhere.”

In practice, however, Microsoft’s words are hardly in line with its action, at least not when its human rights maxims are applied to occupied and besieged Palestinians.

Writing in the American news network NBC News on October 27, Olivia Solon reported on Microsoft funding of the Israeli firm, AnyVision, which uses facial recognition “to secretly watch West Bank Palestinians”.

Through its venture capital arm M12, Microsoft has reportedly invested $78 million in the Israeli startup company that “uses facial recognition to surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank, in spite of the tech giant’s public pledge to avoid using the technology if it encroaches on democratic freedoms”.

AnyVision had developed an “advanced tactical surveillance” software system, dubbed “Better Tomorrow” that, according to a joint NBC News-Haaretz investigation, “lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds.”

As disquieting as “Better Tomorrow’s” mission sounds, it takes on a truly sinister objective in Palestine. “According to five sources familiar with the matter,” wrote Solon, “AnyVision’s technology powers a secret military surveillance project throughout the West Bank.”

“One source said the project is nicknamed ‘Google Ayosh,’ where ‘Ayosh’ means occupied Palestinian territories and ‘Google’ denotes the technology’s ability to search for people.”

Headquartered in Israel, AnyVision has several offices around the world, including the US, the UK and Singapore. Considering the nature of AnyVision’s work, and the intrinsic link between Israel’s technology sector and the country’s military, it should have been assumed that the company’s software is likely used to track down Palestinian dissidents.

In July, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out that “AnyVision is taking part in two special projects in assisting the Israeli army in the West Bank. One involves a system that it has installed at army checkpoints that thousands of Palestinians pass through each day on their way to work from the West Bank.”

Former AnyVision employees spoke to NBC News about their experiences with the company, one even asserting that he/she “saw no evidence that ethical considerations drove any business decisions” at the firm.

The alarming reports invited strong protests by human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Alas, Microsoft carried on with supporting AnyVision’s work unhindered.

This is not the first time that Microsoft is caught red-handed in its support of the Israeli military or criticized for other unethical practices.

Unlike Facebook, Google and others, who are constantly, albeit deservingly being chastised for violating privacy rules or allowing politics to influence their editorial agenda, Microsoft has been left largely outside the brewing controversies. But, like the rest, Microsoft should be held to account.

In its ‘Human Rights Statement’, Microsoft declared its respect for human rights based on international conventions, starting with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In occupying and oppressing Palestinians, Israel violates every article of that declaration, starting with Article 1, which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and including Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

It will take Microsoft more than hyperlinking to a UN document to show true and sincere respect for human rights.

Indeed, for a company that enjoys great popularity throughout the Middle East and in Palestine itself, an inevitable first step towards respecting human rights is to immediately divest from AnyVision, coupled with an apology for all of those who have already paid the price for that ominous Israeli technology.

The post Microsoft Should Not Fund Israeli Spying on Palestinians appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Nelson Algren and the Pathologies of Life in the USA

Colin Asher’s Never a Lovely So Real: The Life and Work of Nelson Algren is both a top-notch work of research and an elegantly written profile of a great writer who is too little remembered today. Unlike too many contemporary biographies, which tend to be either research dumps badly in need of editing or axe-grinding treatises with one major argument repeated ad nauseam, Asher’s book tells the story of a 20th Century literary giant with grace and clarity.

Algren grew up and lived most of his life in Chicago, the city he is closely associated with, thanks to his most famous novel, The Man With the Golden Arm (1949), about a card dealer with a heroin problem, and the epic prose poem Chicago: City on the Make (1951). A child of poor Polish immigrants, his early life was profoundly shaped by the Great Depression of the 1930s; after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from the University of Illinois in 1931 and subsequently being unable to find a job at a newspaper, he resorted to riding freights and hitch-hiking in search of employment. He traveled through many states but barely found any paid work. The few menial jobs he secured didn’t last long.

Having experienced first-hand the dire failures of capitalism during the Depression, Algren wrote his first novel, Somebody in Boots, in 1935. The book included characters and situations loosely taken from Algren’s time on the road in the American South, including a stint in a Texas jail for stealing a typewriter, an experience that profoundly affected him. The book received some positive notices but barely sold. Its frank sex and violence put off some readers; some saw it as too radical while would-be revolutionaries thought it wasn’t radical enough. While Algren did join the Communist Party, he was not one to shape his writing to fit a party line.

Algren’s second novel, Never Come Morning (1942), received enthusiastic support from his friend Richard Wright, author of the best selling Native Son, and seemed poised to find much more popular success than Somebody in Boots. The influential critic Malcolm Cowley praised the new novel, ranking it alongside Native Son. But the Polish slum dwellers who populate Algren’s book include prostitutes and hard men, and their behavior does not mark them as exemplary role models. Overlooking Algren’s inherent sympathy for even the most violent of his characters, the Polish Roman Catholic Union launched a campaign against the book, which they deemed anti-Polish. That pressure largely squelched the momentum of the book’s initial release. The famous war correspondent, and wife of Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn wrote this blurb which was used to promote a second printing: “Never Come Morning hasn’t a dull or useless sentence in it. Nelson Algren has done something wonderfully exciting to words, so that they look and sound new.” But sales didn’t follow, and Algren was soon broke again.

Algren’s work, always gritty and uncompromising but also shot through with mordant wit, continued to garner critical acclaim through the remainder of the 1940s, which saw the release of the stellar short story collection The Neon Wilderness (1947). But financial security only came in short-lived bursts. Many people assumed that Algren enjoyed a financial windfall after his masterpiece The Man With the Golden Arm was sold to a Hollywood producer and Otto Preminger directed the Frank Sinatra vehicle of the same name. That was not the case, and the combination of feeling ripped off by a cut-rate movie deal and being severely underwhelmed by the cinematic bowdlerization of his book contributed to a bitterness that worsened in Algren’s later years.

In Never a Lovely So Real, Asher lays bare a previously under-emphasized factor behind many of the roadblocks and frustrations the novelist encountered in his career and personal life: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The biographer’s Freedom of Information Act requests yielded Algren’s entire FBI file, begun in 1940, which no previous biographer had seen.

Algren married a woman named Amanda Kontowicz in 1937. They later divorced, then subsequently remarried and divorced a second time. But the most famous phase of Algren’s love life was his long-term affair with the French novelist and feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote about their liaison in her novel The Mandarins, as well as in her memoirs. De Beauvoir met Algren while she was visiting the US in 1947. Yearning for her companionship after they became lovers, Algren became dead set on leaving the US to spend more time with de Beauvoir, who was involved romantically with Jean-Paul Sartre when not with Algren in the US. But his requests for a passport were repeatedly turned down. Algren’s spirits were crushed by this denial, and further limits on his travel contributed to struggles with depression, which had also bedeviled him earlier in his life. His state of mind did not improve when de Beauvoir threw him over for Sartre.

The suppression of Algren’s freedom to travel was only one part of the FBI’s harassment of the writer. Algren wrote a caustic political broadside called Nonconformity in the early 1950s which the Bureau successfully pressured his publisher to jettison. Algren was also investigated and almost prosecuted for perjury and defrauding the US government.

As the 1950s wore on, literary and academic professionals lost their enthusiasm for left-leaning social realism, and mainstream reviewers tended to write off Algren’s work. Critic Orville Prescott wrote in the New York Times that A Walk on the Wild Side (1956) was “a series of offences against decency,” while in another Times review Alfred Kazin accused Algren of “puerile sentimentality.” The Reporter even called Algren, who stuck to his radical commitment to give voice to the urban poor, “a museum piece.” It wasn’t a good era for an author with the guts to write, as Algren did in Chicago: City on the Make, “You can’t make an arsenal of a nation and yet expect its great cities to produce artists. It’s in the nature of the overbraided brass to build walls about the minds of men – as it is in the nature of the arts to tear those dark walls down. Today, under the name of ‘security,’ the dark shades are being drawn.”

After the 1950s, Algren had neither the stamina nor the confidence, much less the support from a publisher, to continue writing novels that took years to finish. In the past he had spent months getting to know the men and women, including heroin addicts and petty criminals, who his characters were based on. He did endless revisions, refusing to write anything tossed off. But by the 1960s, he worked mostly as a journalist, producing pieces that kept him in money for rent and his worsening gambling habit but that varied wildly in quality, as Asher doesn’t shy away from noting. Personally, he could be mean-spirited and difficult in his later years but he was still also frequently generous and wildly funny. Not to mention idiosyncratic: What other world-famous man of letters would keep a complete collection of Police Chief magazine so that he could “keep an eye on the opposition”?

When he died in 1981, Algren was working on a book called The Devil’s Stocking, based on the police railroading of black boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter. The book started as nonfiction but Algren transformed it into a novel, which was released posthumously in an unfinished form. True to Algren’s lifelong radicalism, this final work focused on a marginalized, poor outsider screwed by corrupt law enforcement and judicial systems.

Asher does an excellent job of showing how prescient Algren’s insights into the pathologies of life in the US still are. Comparing Algren’s take on the post-WWII US to that of George Orwell’s vision of a nightmarish all-powerful state, Asher writes, “Nelson feared a different, but not less despairing future. Instead of looking to the government for guidance, he studied the class of people who had not benefited from the wartime recovery or the postwar economic boom. The thinness of the American Century’s promise was evident in the qualities of their lives, he believed, and he intuited that their fates foretold everyone else’s. He looked at them and saw an atomized society where no one felt at home any longer, and masses of people cycled through prisons and jails – a place where irrelevance was both sin and punishment, and there was no need for a totalitarian government to stifle dissent because everybody was only out for themselves.”

Because of Algren’s sympathies with the downtrodden and the desperate underdogs he spent time with, he had little interest in playing what the writer and Algren friend Terry Southern would later call “the Quality Lit Game.” Though Algren wanted to make a living from writing, he didn’t ever consider relocating from Chicago to New York, the epicenter of the literary world, which would likely have been a savvy career move. In Asher’s words, “He foreswore luxury, scoffed at chasing status, trained like a boxer to keep his mind sharp, and avoided the company of writers – because writers who spend time with writers write books about writers who spend time with writers, so that their work will be read by other writers. He was never interested in that, so instead, he wandered the neon wilderness by night, and stalked people who lived behind billboards or slept in cage hotels. They were the story no one saw, and he believed it was possible to forecast the future by reading their scars.”

Never a Lovely So Real is clearly a labor of love, a work of impressive research and sharp insights into Nelson Algren’s work and life that should be read by anyone who appreciates literature about the people left behind by the American Dream, or who is looking for some sharply-honed truths about our society.

The post Nelson Algren and the Pathologies of Life in the USA appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Flying Leaps, 30 Years Later

I never imagined that the US would use the Stasi playbook as the template for its own state sponsored surveillance regime and turning not only its own citizens into virtual persons of interest, but also millions of citizens in the rest of the world.

– NSA Whistleblower Thomas Drake, testifying before the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on September 30, 2013.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989 is, for many, one of those historical moments that you say of, later, “I know where I was when I heard the news.” Well, I was in Boston – but the sweet mellifluous significance of the news never quite permeated the membrane of my consciousness; or maybe I just didn’t care. I vaguely remember it was early evening; Tom Brokaw beaming, his eyes all souped-up on scoop juice, and wild celebrations outside Brandenburg Gate, spontaneously jubilant dancers atop the graffiti-sprayed Wall. Totally unexpected event (because, in fact, it was accidental).

Like most Americans, I didn’t give much thought to Europe or Germany or any other place beyond the rather parochial limits of my immediate needs and desires. My marriage and finances were in freefall. And I’d quit my post at a daily newspaper (which I loved) over a salary dispute, and was now a newly trained claims representative for the Social Security Administration (which I detested). I was down, baby.

But many Americans were also down, still struggling to recover from the economic damage of 1987, the record fall of the Wall Street stocks on Black Monday, thanks to the likes of true-life Gordon Geckos and their “Greed Is Good” meme, so deftly deconstructed in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street that same year.

In Boston, as elsewhere, within a couple of weeks of the Wall’s rapturous rupture, keychains with tiny chunks went on sale in the Downstairs basement of the Upstairs department store, Filene’s. Triumphalism had set in. When the Wall began to be disassembled in earnest a few months later, the corporates and statesmen stepped forward to get a big taste of the mortar pie.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates put up a huge slab of graffiti-sprayed wall in his art museum. GHW Bush got gifted a large sculpture of several wild horses running from a slab of Wall, supposedly depicting the spirit of humanity, but it could easily have been figures of unbridled capitalism loosed, or, hell, the horses of the Apocalypse, if there is even any difference. That seemed reason enough to forget the whole thing right there.

The general assumption was that the Wall had fallen that night due to the triumphant pincer movements of democracy and capitalism against the socialist bladder, resulting in a pressure build-up at various checkpoints until finally there came that breaking point where a disembodied voice seemed to cry out: osmosis, come to take you to the promised land. And people flooded free in high arched bourées and leapt in grand jetes toward the new Valhalla, neo-Nibelungen winking and nodding and waiting for them at desks on the other side, holding out credit applications for usurious fool’s gold. Herr Lurch shuddered to think. He’d seen this prostate problem before.

Though I spent much of my late teens and early 20s submersed in German lit, classical music, and philosophy, my wall of ignorance was high regarding her larger historical roots and culture. Then many years later, after lots of travel and extended ventures to the Middle East, Asia and Europe, I settled in Melbourne, Australia to raise a family and began freelancing part-time, including regular contributions to the Prague Post.

One day in the summer of 1998, I saw in the local paper a picture of Conrad Schumann and did a double-take. I’d seen it a long time before in childhood and instantly recognized it. I wrote in the Post:

“The photo captures a deserting 19-year-old East German soldier, Conrad Schumann, as he hurtles over a coil of barbed wire, discards a machine gun in mid-air, and virtually leaps from the frame out of East Berlin and into the viewer’s world of assumed freedoms. The 1961 photo quickly became a Cold War icon for the democratic world and made its way into U.S. classrooms — always cited as a self-evident expression of the human desire for freedom at all costs. And now, here was the photo again, published as a memento mori following Conrad Schumann’s apparent suicide by hanging at his home in Bavaria on June 20. This time his leap was into the abyss.”

Of course, I was saddened by the news of his demise, saddened not so much in a personal way, for I did not know Schumann, but by the death of a symbol. It was like the disillusionment of discovering a false memory. I tried to speculate on scant information about the whys and wherefores of his suicide – “Had it suddenly dawned on him that his dash to freedom had merely taken him from one bleak Orwellian world into another, wherein he found it impossible to tell, in the end, the difference between totalitarian brutes and democratic humanists?” – a futile pursuit.

What I’ve discovered is that to get a better understanding of Schumann and his motives – for fleeing and, later, for dying – you have to first go through Walter Ulbricht, the head of the East German government from 1960-71 and the principal “architect” of the Berlin Wall. Frederick Kempe’s Berlin 1961 (2011) proved to be a revealing primer. Ulbricht was a dummkopf to many, had a squeaky, high pitched voice, like a German Willy Whistle, and listeners were said to do double-takes when he gave speeches, turning to each other to huff, “Sag was?”

He’d had his scrapes with Nazis in the pre-war years, maybe killed a couple, before finding himself exiled in Prague in the ’30s, and, in 1968, showed his gratitude for the Bohemian hospitality by applauding vigorously when the Soviets rolled in tanks to crush the Prague Spring. Ulbricht, the “idiot,” had helped bring about the mass exodus to the west with his industrialization policies that neglected consumers and left them jealous of their Western compatriots.

Nevertheless, for most of the post-war years leading up to 1961, East Germans had relative freedom to travel abroad to Hungary, which had fewer restrictions, and locally were able to hop on a train and commute to West Berlin without much worry. The economy was bad, but probably no worse than many of the countries suffering under austerity measures today.

However, under Ulbricht’s too-long leadership, East Germans lost hope and were more and more drawn by the allure of the strong and ever-growing West German economy. According to Kempe, in the 1950s up to 60 percent of the 1.2 million Germans who “escaped” to the West did so by simply traveling to West Berlin, where they were protected by Allied occupying forces.

By 1961 that figure had risen to 90 percent and a panicky Ulbricht, whose “scientific” economics were as popular and workable as the practice of eugenics on angels, decided the best thing to do was turn East Berlin into a concentration camp. Attack dogs were ordered, searchlight towers were erected, guards were given shoot-to-kill orders, and, eerily, though East German trains still ran through West Berlin, they no longer stopped and the line was filled with ghost stations.

But in August 1961, just as they began rolling out the barbed wire and unloading the mortar blocks in preparation for the Wall construction, there stood Conrad Schumann at the border, West Berliners just yards away urging him to leap before it was too late, and so, impulsively, he leapt. (An excellent account of this moment and others in Schumann’s life can be found here.). Schumann missed out on witnessing possibly the most dangerous moment in civilization’s fragile history — one more fraught than even the Cuban Missile Crisis to come a year later— the confrontation at Checkpoint Charlie.

The atmosphere is captured brilliantly by Frederick Kempe. He writes that American General Lucius Clay, who had overseen the Berlin airlift of 1948-49 and was now assigned a command position in the city, was determined to knock down the newly formed walls with tanks. Kempe writes:

“Undaunted by the damp, dangerous night, Berliners gathered on the narrow side streets opening up onto Checkpoint Charlie. The next morning’s newspapers would estimate their numbers at about five hundred, a considerable crowd considering that they might have been witnesses to the first shots of a thermonuclear war. After six days of escalating tensions, American M48 Patton and Soviet T-54 tanks were facing off just a stone’s throw from one another–ten on each side, with roughly two dozen more in nearby reserve.

Reuters correspondent Adam Kellett-Long, who rushed to Checkpoint Charlie to file the first report on the showdown, worried as he monitored an anxious African American soldier manning the machine gun atop one of the tanks. “If his hand shook any harder, I feared his gun would go off and he would have started World War III,” Kellett-Long thought to himself.

After the Wall went up tensions remained ratcheted up for decades.

Depending on who you want to believe, life in East Berlin became much like that represented in the film, The Lives of Others, tightly controlled movements, suppressed expression, and all-pervasive, privacy-eroding surveillance. As one early scene in the film suggests, the communist overseers (eavesdroppers), actually felt a sense of ideological betrayal at the mass exodus of citizens to the West and their failure to understand the essential humanity embedded in their totalitarianism. Naturally, in the post-Assange/Snowden era, there are some valuable lessons to be gleaned from this quality film.

But maybe it wasn’t any drearier than other places you might have been in America. Drive quickly through the heart of Erie, Pennsylvania some time, if you want a special taste of urban blight, or, if sadistic governance is your cup of TNT, check out Flint, where water supplies have squeezed for years, and gentrification has broken-hearted humans fleeing from their homes like a stampede of bewildered beasts.

Another alternative view of East Berlin in the years of the Wall was posted at the CounterPunch at the time: In “The Berlin Wall: Another Cold War Myth,” William Blum suggests an extraordinarily high degree of Western economic espionage in East Germany, as spies and saboteurs exploited the free-flow of traffic between the two Berlins. Blum writes that East Germany was entirely de-Nazified, as you’d expect from staunch communists led by Ulbricht.

On the other hand, “in West Germany for more than a decade after the war, the highest government positions in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches contained numerous former and ‘former’ Nazis.” Blum sagely cites the post-unification proverb: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth.”

The lip-doodling debate over what really brought down the Wall continues, of course. Some say it was the work of Reagan – all that tough talk he remembered from his wartime training film days paying off (or maybe he was bequeathing to Bush one of his back-up October Surprises to make up for handing him that lethal ‘voodoo economics’ doll).

Others point to the ghoulish Hungarians, who flaunted their own free-access to the West, while enticing Easties to freedom picnics from whence they would scatter like deeply disturbed ants to safe houses in the West. Personally, I’m moved by the Bruce Springsteen Theory. The Boss and his E Street Band performed in Berlin in 1988, the first live concert there by a Western rock group, and while Bruce said he wasn’t there to preach politics, I doubt that there was a dry eye in the house when he sang “Hungry Heart” and a cover of Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.”

But in America, though there was a great sense of relief, public response to the Wall’s fall was rather restrained by comparison. Coming out of an era of industrial mergers, union-bashing, high unemployment and recession, most Americans did not see the correlation of the European events to their own lives.

Thus, in 1991, when Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, opened a speech on the Cold War’s demise with, “We won!” Americans accepted her words at face value, but there were no parades down Main Street, U.S.A. For many, capitalism during the Cold War era, had not made America “a kinder, gentler” place.

They did not hear her simple exclamation for what it was – the starting pistol at a gold rush for industrialists, who saw the Wall’s fall as a symbol of capitalism’s moral rectitude and a mandate for gleeful expansion. A generation ;ater, it’s still an expansion intent on accomplishing what Ghengis Khan couldn’t: reaching, breaching, and crumbling the Great Wall into keychains for the Western masses, while the corporates and NGOs haul away their neo-structuralist art installations to discuss at loud soirees, all spiced up with Übermensch™ cologne.

Somewhere along the line from 1989 to the present, American Democracy was executed gangland style, a point blank double-tap to the back of Lady Liberty’s head. In his memoir, Permanent Record, self-described Deep Stater Edward Snowden describes where we’re at now, “…everyone’s information was being collected, which was tantamount to a government threat: If you ever get out of line, we’ll use your private life against you.” In short, Stasi on steroids. Dystopian psychotronic nightmare stuff.

Self-proclaimed little demi-gods you can’t help telling to go take a flying leap.

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