Counterpunch Articles

Sanders vs. the Establishment Democrats: McGovern All Over Again?


It’s a perfect time to recall a famous quote from one of the nation’s foremost philosophers, Yogi Berra: Its “déjà vu all over again.”

Is the Democratic Party replaying the lost saga of 2016 but with a very 2020 twist?  Bernie Sander (D-VT) appears to have been robbed of the 2016 nomination, beaten out by Hillary Clinton (Sec. of State).  Mrs. Clinton won because the Democratic Party establishment – the “superdelegates” – trumped the popular vote, securing for her the nomination.  Following the 2016 fiasco, Sanders’ forces secured changes in the Democratic Party rules preventing superdelegates from casting votes during the first round.

Sanders won the Iowa caucuses in total votes and followed by a modest victory in New Hampshire.  What if these early victories lead to a groundswell of popular support first on February 22nd in Nevada, followed on February 29th in South Carolina, then on March 3rd — “Super Tuesday” — in California and other states, and on June 2nd with the final primaries in the District of Columbia, Montana and New Jersey?

Such a groundswell is not impossible as it could reimagine the Trump campaign but from the left.  For all the hype the Trump administration – and the mainstream media – reports about how great the economy is, an ever-growing number of Americans are dissatisfied with their lives.  They know the game is rigged and even if they blame the targeted “other” – whether migrant or immigrant, person of color or women worker – it doesn’t explain why the rich keep getting richer and personal debt for the rest of us only grows. More troubling, in the wake of the Mueller report and the Democrats failed impeachment effort, Trump’s is becoming even more arrogant, strutting like a demonic petty dictator.

So, what if Sanders became the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate? What would the deeply entrenched Establishment Dems do? Would they be willing to support a 21st century version of the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination battle between the more populist George McGovern and the establishment candidate Hubert Humphrey?  Would they undercut Sanders’ efforts – and that of the more “progressive” forces within the party – to stop the growing grassroots insurgency that appears to be recasting the party?  Would they be willing to usher in four more years of Trump then see a “democratic socialist” as president?

Bill Schneider, a professor at George Mason University, raised this question in a recent opinion piece in The Hill, noting “Democratic elected officials are already expressing concern about their ability to survive with a self-proclaimed socialist at the top of the ticket.”  He adds, “a ‘Stop Sanders’ movement is likely to emerge. The question is, will it get any further than the ‘Never Trump’ movement did in 2016?”  He also notes:

The risk of backlash for an anti-Sanders Democrat is real. A Democratic super-PAC was about to run an anti-Sanders attack ad in Iowa, but Sanders beat them to the punch. He posted a video to his supporters arguing that “the big money interests . . . are now running ads against us in Iowa. The billionaire class is getting nervous.”

He concludes by reminding readers: “As a result, the Sanders campaign raised over a million dollars in one day.”

The mainstream media is actively promoting an anti-Sanders effort. Gary Leupp’s recent piece in CounterPunch discusses this effort as does a 2019 piece in Politico that details the Washington Post’s editorial campaign against Sanders.

More revealing, the Associated Press recently detailed the concerns among influential figures within the Democratic Establishment about Sanders growing popularity.  It reminds readers that Mrs. Clinton still blames Sanders for her loss to Trump and other mainstream Dems accuse him of not fully using his grassroots base to push for Clinton.  Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor and Pres. Obama senior aide, joined the chorus of Establishment Dems warning that being a “socialist” and the call for “Medicare for All” will undermine Sanders’ campaign and the Democrats chances in general.

Another former Obama aide, Ben LaBolt, says that Sanders “has now emerged as somebody who’s got the ability to win the nomination.”  However, he opposes Sanders, claiming that as a Senator he accomplished little.  “He’s more concerned about shouting in the wilderness to make an ideological point than getting things done,” he claimed. Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), a leader of the Congressional Campaign Committee, warned that many of the 40-plus Dems in competitive districts will “run away” from Sanders if he’s the nominee.

Most revealing might be the comments of Marshall Matz, a former adviser for McGovern’s failed president campaign.  He noted that McGovern generated large crowds and enthusiasm just as Sanders has but warned, “I think he would not just lose but would lose badly — and I don’t think the country can afford that.”

These concerns are not going unnoticed by the Sanders’ campaign. Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ chief strategist, takes it all in stride.  “People in establishment Washington are terrified by Bernie Sanders,” he observed.  “The truth of the matter is that their centrist tacking over the years has led us to the place where someone like Donald Trump can get elected.”

But can the Sanders’ team so easily dismiss the growing dissention among Establishment Democrats?  The unasked question facing the these Democrats if Sanders is nominated to run against Trump is whether they will sit on their hands and let a worst-case scenario play itself out?  Will they attempt to hold onto their relative power, however tenuous, and face defeat in many but not all the most Democratically entrenched districts?

Clearly, the 2020 presidential nominations and election is not that of 1972.  In ’72, Pres. Richard Nixon was running for reelection, having defeated Hubert Humphrey in ’68, benefiting from the assassination of Robert Kennedy.  In ’72, the Democratic establishment forged the “ABM coalition” – i.e. Anybody But McGovern – that included a variety of Dems, including Humphrey.  However, a grassroots insurgency pushed the more liberal McGovern — he was the anti-Vietnam War candidate, inheriting the RFK mantle. However, Nixon’s ’68 “southern strategy” began to reconfigure the political landscape, undercutting the not only McGovern’s chances but the Democratic Party itself.  In ’64, the Dems got 61.1 percent of the presidential popular vote, whereas in ’68 its support fall to 42.7 percent. By ’72, the Democratic vote shrank further to 37.5 percent.

The outcome of the 2020 elections will involve not only the presidency but also control of both Houses of Congress.  Yes, a lot is at stake in the 2020 election.  But faced with deepening global capitalist restructuring and deepening inequality in the U.S., perhaps Sanders’ “democratic socialism” is but a 21st century version of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” The great historical challenge facing the Establishment Democrats is whether they can get behind a “New” New Deal?

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Marx, Lincoln and Project 1619

Branding Slaves, from William Blake’s The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade.

It must have enraged the historians who signed Sean Wilentz’s open letter to the New York Times and their World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) allies to see Abraham Lincoln knocked off his pedestal. How insolent for Nikole Hannah-Jones to write in her introductory essay for Project 1619 that “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity.” Lincoln was not only an iconic figure for the average American. Karl Marx admired him as well for his war on slavery. Since the primary goal of the critics of Project 1619 was to prioritize class over “identity”, naturally Karl Marx was just the authority to help make their case against the bourgeois New York Times intent on dividing the working-class.

Since the WSWS sets itself up as a Marxist gate-keeper par excellence, we can assume that the historians also had the Karl Marx-Abraham Lincoln in mind when they hooked up with the Trotskyist sect. James McPherson is probably the closest to WSWS ideologically, having granted them interviews over the years. When they asked him if he read Karl Marx’s writings on the Civil War, the historian replied, “Well, I think they have a lot of very good insight into what was going on in the American Civil War. Marx certainly saw the abolition of slavery as a kind of bourgeois revolution that paved the way for the proletarian revolution that he hoped would come in another generation or so. It was a crucial step on the way to the eventual proletarian revolution, as Marx perceived it.”

In this article, I will look critically at what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about these questions. Although I have been a Marxist for 52 years, I have little patience with those who put him (or Lenin and Trotsky) on a pedestal. I believe that Nikole Hannah-Jones had good reasons to question his sanctity. More to the point, I will argue that Marx and Engels lacked the political foresight to see how black Americans would be short-changed after the Civil War. Keeping in mind that the first socialist international was located in the United States, we must examine its relationship to the newly emancipated black population. Based on my reading of Timothy Messer-Kruse’s “The Yankee International,” my conclusion is that it fell short.

Messer-Kruse’s 1998 book explores the split between the orthodox Marxist faction led by Friedrich Sorge and the decidedly non-orthodox faction led by Victoria Woodhull. While obscure perhaps to many CounterPunch readers, the two symbolize opposing poles on the American left. Sorge is a forerunner to the Socialist Equality Party that publishes WSWS. In the same way that they smeared the Black Lives Matter movement as embodying a “racialist perspective…mired in the dead-end of identity politics,” so did Friedrich Sorge demonstrate a preference for organizing white Irish workers over newly emancipated blacks.

The first question that might occur is whether Sorge was acting on a misinterpretation of Marx’s writings. To provide an answer, it is necessary to look at what Marx wrote in a well-known salute to the Republican president on behalf of the first socialist international that would soon relocate to the United States. Written on January 28, 1865 and presented to the American ambassador in London, it begins, “We congratulate the American people upon your re-election by a large majority. If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.”

The next to last paragraph is a bit more worrisome:

While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation; but this barrier to progress has been swept off by the red sea of civil war.

A careful reading might suggest that slavery held back the “white-skinned laborer” that Marx saw as the revolutionary subject. He certainly understood that slavery was evil, but Marx was no moralist. He was a historical materialist searching for the class forces that could lead to socialism and, as such, might have little identification with the religious motivations of a John Brown or William Lloyd Garrison.

Granted that Marx and Engels might have considered their correspondence to be a strictly private matter, it does shed light on their racial outlook when we read a letter Engels wrote to Marx on July 15, 1865. By this date, Andrew Johnson had succeeded Lincoln, who died three months earlier at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. Engels wrote, “Mr Johnson’s policy is less and less to my liking, too. Nigger-hatred is coming out more and more violently, and he is relinquishing all his power vis-à-vis the old lords in the South.” One possibility of defeating Johnson’s bid to restore the slavocracy to its former status was “coloured suffrage.” But a more likely outcome will be northerners coming south and buying land on the cheap. In such an event, what will happen to the emancipated blacks? Engels coolly appraises the situation: “The niggers will probably turn into small squatters as in Jamaica. Thus ultimately the oligarchy will go to pot after all, but the process could be accomplished immediately at one fell swoop, whereas it is now being drawn out.”

To give you an idea of how racism could infect the left, a presumably Communist Party editor of the collected Marx-Engels added this footnote: “’Nigger’ did not have quite the pejorative meaning in 19th Century England that use of the word later acquired.” As if the “quite” might assuage the reader.

From the very beginning, there was both a cultural and political clash between the Americans and the foreign-born Marxists over how to build a socialist movement in the USA. For people like Victoria Woodhull and her sister Tennessee Claflin, the movement rested upon prior struggles, especially the abolitionist movement. Friedrich Sorge, an old friend of Marx and Engels, had little experience in the U.S. He was undoubtedly a dedicated revolutionary who took up arms in the 1848 struggle against a feudal state in Germany. After living precariously in Europe for the next four years trying to avoid German executioners, he relocated to Hoboken, New Jersey where he became a music teacher. A year after Marx and Engels founded the first socialist international in 1864, called the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), Sorge began building “sections” in the U.S. They generally attracted European immigrants who often had experiences taking up arms against the monarchies.

Until 1871, the IWA had limited growth. All that changed after the Paris Commune. Despite its defeat, it became an inspiration to both foreign-born workers and the people Messer-Kruse dubbed as Yankees. He gives an example of how veteran abolitionists hailed the Commune:

Amidst the tidal swell of denunciation that roared from American presses, the formerly abolitionist journals stood apart in their uncompromising support for the Commune. The National Anti-Slavery Standard, for example, featured the Paris dispatches of W.J. Linton, a radical who had cut his teeth in the struggles of Chartism in Britain and who was one of the most outspoken defenders of the Commune in America. Linton’s articles explained the Commune not as the anarchic government of a mad rabble bent on looting, but as the rebellion of republicans against dictatorship and aristocracy. Linton provided many a radical with debating points by carefully exposing the distortions and lies of the daily press. The Standard kept its readers abreast of the progress of the trials and sentencing of the Commune leaders. Taking a literary turn, it featured a sympathetic poem on its front page, entitled “A Woman’s Execution, Paris, May, `71,” which ended with the slogan, “Vive la Commune!”

However, the Yankees couched their enthusiasm in terms that failed to meet Friedrich Sorge’s ideological litmus test. The radical movement in the U.S. was a product of various strands that did not qualify as “scientific socialism.” First and foremost, there was a strong spiritualist component that Mark Lause examined in his 2016 “Free Spirits: “Spiritualism, Republicanism, and Radicalism in the Civil War Era.” Lause, a veteran socialist, got it right when he wrote:

Unlike other “faiths,” spiritualism proposed to place religion within a rational understanding of the natural, material world. Then, too, faith that human affairs formed part of the natural world fostered an assumption that scientific inquiry into the human condition might produce new insights with far-reaching implications. Most fundamentally, a generation before Karl Marx’s socialism presented itself as a scientific approach to the human condition, spiritualism offered a strangely rational intellectual challenge to the fundamental hierarchies of civilization. The spiritualist embrace indicated their adoption of Benjamin Franklin as a spirit guide and the technological language of “the telegraph.”

This sort of thing gave Friedrich Sorge the heebie-jeebies. It also didn’t help that Victoria Woodhull, the leader of the Yankee faction, was a professional spiritualist who operated in much the same manner as those little shops in New York with their mediums that can con you out of your hard-earned money. One of the people Woodhull might have “healed” was none other than the 73-year old Cornelius Vanderbilt, the nation’s richest man. So smitten was he by Woodhull and her sister Tennessee that he advanced them the funds they needed to open the first woman-owned stock brokerage on Wall Street. The money they earned allowed them to start the Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly that not only defended the Paris Commune but the need for socialism—at least how they understood it. In addition, they were suffragists and advocates of “free love.” Way ahead of her time, Woodhull wrote:

To woman, by nature, belongs the right of sexual determination. When the instinct is aroused in her, then and then only should commerce follow. When woman rises from sexual slavery to sexual freedom, into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom, then will this instinct become pure and holy; then will woman be raised from the iniquity and morbidness in which she now wallows for existence, and the intensity and glory of her creative functions be increased a hundred-fold…

This open sexuality was enough to push Sorge over the edge. After accumulating sufficient evidence that the Yankees were pseudo-socialists, as WSWS would put it, Sorge called for a meeting of the IWA in 1872 that would read them out of the movement. Marx wrote up invective-filled charges against Woodhull. He called her “a banker’s woman, free-lover, and general humbug.” It annoyed Sorge to no end that she had the temerity to run for president that year as the candidate of the Equal Rights Party. Like the anarchists, he thought that running for office was a diversion not worth the workers’ time. His complaint was included in Marx’s diatribe: “[F]or the present the International cannot and should not be taken in tow by any American political party; for none of them represents the workers’ aspirations; none of them has for its objective the economic emancipation of the workers…our sole objective ought to be, for the present, the organization and the solidarity of the working class in America.”

It did not seem to matter to Sorge or Marx that Woodhull’s running-mate was none other than Frederick Douglass. His willingness to join her had a lot to do with the respect that her section in N.Y. had earned. They were showing solidarity with the black liberation movement of the time on a consistent basis. Indeed, when the Yankee socialists called for a mass demonstration in New York City to commemorate the martyrs of the Paris Commune, the first rank in the parade went to a company of black soldiers known as the Skidmore Guard. The demonstration passed by a quarter-million spectators. The sight of armed black men in the vanguard was electrifying. Sorge’s group complained that the demonstration was a distraction from working-class struggles, whose participants would lose a day’s pay by participating. He called for a boycott.

Black militias were an essential fixture of northern urban politics in this period. When black men donned uniforms and marched in formation, they were making a statement not only about their full rights as citizens but their determination to back these rights by any means necessary. The black Eighty-Fifth Regiment in NYC was one of the more radical and internationalist militias in the city. They had marched alongside Irish New Yorkers in honor of Fenian heroes and gave their units names like the “[Crispus] Attucks Guards” and “Free Soil Guards.” This regiment decided to name Tennessee Claflin, Victoria Woodhull’s sister, their commander, and supplied her with a uniform.

Sorge looked elsewhere for allies. He tried to recruit the Irish immigrants that Marx and Engels considered key to the building of a revolutionary workers movement. This was easier said than done. In a letter to Marx in August of 1871, Sorge wrote, “We have made great efforts for inducing the Irish Workingmen of this country to join the I.W.A., but religious and political prejudices and above all — their leaders have to this day withstood all our efforts. . . . Still we do not give it up & hope yet to gain a firm foothold amongst the Irish.”

As it happens, the Irish were strong supporters of the Democratic Party. Wooing them would be almost impossible if Sorge’s faction was equally disposed to the black workers who understandably voted Republican. In Noel Ignatiev’s “How the Irish Became White,” he refers to the loyalty the Irish had to the slavery-supporting party:

The fact of Irish attachment to the Democratic Party has been well established. By 1844, the Irish were the most solid voting bloc in the country, except for the free Negroes (who cast their ballots in the opposite direction from the Irish), and it was widely believed that Irish votes provided Polk’s margin of victory in that years. The special relationship between the Irish and the Democratic Party was not an automatic attachment, nor a simple legacy of the “civil revolution” of 1800, but a bond renewed in the Jacksonian upsurge, and continuously thereafter.

In essence, Sorge was chasing after a working-class that was revolutionary in the abstract but reactionary in the concrete. It was hardly surprising that given this orientation, the IWA he captured with Marx’s aid rapidly fell apart.

As for the Yankee socialists, they found other causes to embrace. Some of their leaders became devoted to the Knights of Labor, a profoundly egalitarian union movement consistent with their abolitionist past. In this case, they were committed to ending wage slavery in the same way they fought to abolish chattel slavery.

One of the few native-born workers who joined Friedrich Sorge’s rump IWA was a cigarmaker named Samuel Gompers. He would have nothing to do with the Yankees, who he regarded as “dominated by a brilliant group of faddists, reformers, and sensation-loving spirits.” Attending a reading group of Marxist literature, Gompers found its rigor invigorating. It was about as far from the Yankee radicals’ obsession with egalitarianism as he could have imagined.

As he moved upwards in the ranks of the cigarmakers union, Gompers found himself at odds with the growing participation of females in the trade, many of whom lived in the poorer working-class neighborhoods of the Lower East Side. His right-hand man in the union, a German-American named Adolph Strasser, who also was an IWA member, referred to them as “tenement house scum.” Whenever their paths crossed with the Knights of Labor, they saw them as an obstacle to the kind of union they wanted to build.

Gompers went on to found the American Federation of Labor, a craft union built on the principle of “pure and simple unionism,” as Gompers put it. Between 1952 and 1955, George Meany served as its president. After it merged with the CIO, Meany continued as the top officer. During the Vietnam War, Meany became notorious for his insistence that the AFL-CIO give its full support to LBJ’s genocidal colonial war. Meany was also hostile to any affirmative action that would have allowed blacks to get skilled jobs rather than forced into sweeping floors or mopping restrooms. He said it was “nuts…to say that we’ve got to sacrifice our kids and our rights to take care of people who merely say that we’ve got to be employed because our skin is black.”

Is it any wonder that Nikole Hannah-Jones’s concluded that “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country, as does the belief, so well articulated by Lincoln, that black people are the obstacle to national unity?” Obviously, the reference to DNA is metaphorical, but there certainly is a continuity between Sorge, Gompers and Meany. If not to speak of the Socialist Equality Party. Whether or not this is Marx’s fault or not might be a topic for further discussion.

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Amazon Onslaught

This month Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro proposed a new bill promoting mining, expanded agriculture, and energy production on indigenous lands in the Amazon. Accordingly, private developers as well as private hedge funds will occupy and develop land that’s been home to indigenous people for thousands of years.

Meantime during Bolsonaro’s first full year in office, deforestation increased by 85%. More on this eye-popping number follows.

Of recent, there have been several deeply disturbing developments in the Amazon. Less than two months ago the world’s leading Amazonian scientists, Thomas Lovejoy (George Mason University) and Carlos Nobre (University of Sao Paulo) issued a harsh warning to the people of the world: “Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” (Source: Amazon Tipping Point: Last Chance for Action, Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 12, December 20, 2019).

Tipping points are final acts in nature, meaning points of no return for ecosystems, as functionality turns sour. Regarding the vastness of the Amazonian rainforest, its functionality is so worldly powerful that loss is incomprehensible and likely indicative of an impending final act for civilized, as well as uncivilized, life on the planet.

Nevertheless, recklessly flirting with extreme potent danger, the “tipping point warning” by leading scientists is brushed aside by Bolsonaro’s government, as the Amazon rainforest suffers direct attack on all fronts; it’s like an Anti-Climate Change Crusade, meaning, clearing the planet of all life forms, except for humans, but that can only last for so long before “thudding humans” start reverberating throughout the planet.

Already, the belated impact of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming over the decades has only now started clobbering the Amazon with three 100-year droughts, back-to-back-to-back every 5 years. It’s unprecedented, never happened before, until excessive levels of CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere.

According to NASA, serious, likely permanent, damaging episodes of drought in 2005, 2010, and 2015 have literally changed the Amazon, losing its special “carbon sink status.” As such, the Amazon’s sphere of influence in various regions throughout the rainforest transforms from preserving humanity via its powerful “carbon sink” capabilities to morphing into a shameful “carbon emitter,” same as coal-fired power plants spewing CO2, but not as sooty.

Unprecedented 100/year droughts occurring every five years sends a clear resounding signal to the world that something is horribly wrong.

Consider: According to NASA, the timing between drought sequences has impeded regrowth. The rainforest just doesn’t react like it used to. It does not have enough time between droughts to heal itself and regrow. Throughout all of recorded history, this has never been witnessed before. The implications are downright dreadful. (Source: NASA Finds Amazon Drought Leaves Long Legacy of Damage, NASA Earth Science News Team, August 9, 2018)

Meanwhile and regrettably, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, deforestation of the Amazon surged by 85% in 2019. Wall Street brokers would kill for a stock that increased by 85% in one year, and they would not blink an eye over a bloody mess, if necessary, to achieve such spectacular results, which, in a sense, is equivalent to the 85% Amazonian deforestation scenario. Which will likely get worse in 2020.

Not only that, killing indigenous tribal people is on the rise as private adventurers take Bolsonaro’s rightwing sentiments to heart, intruding into the Amazon. They’re armed for self-defense as well as to assault new lands. One never knows when a barefooted half-naked man carrying a thin wooden spear may appear from within the bush on his sacred homeland.

As if the situation couldn’t get much worse, the outlook for 2020 is simply awful! According to MapBiomas, a Brazilian organization in collaboration with universities, NGOs, and technology companies that monitor deforestation: “It would be expected that it will be worse than last year unless something really big happens in the next two or three months to avoid the high season of deforestation that starts in May (2020), according to Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of a group called MapBiomas.” (Source: Victoria Klesty, Amazon Deforestation Could Speed Up In 2020: Expert, Reuters January 15, 2020)

What’s worse than 85% deforestation? Is it 100% or maybe more now that Bolsonaro is so anxious to open up the Amazon to the deep-seated impulses of neoliberal-neocolonial capitalism (1) privatize (2) extract (3) monetize, as quickly as humanly possible, no questions asked.

Going forward, and assuming the Bolsonaro Amazon Extraction Scheme works as planned and passes muster in the hallowed halls of The National Congress of Brazil (Brasilia), it likely puts at risk essential life-sourcing features of the Amazon: Without its wondrous strength and power to generate (1) hydrologic systems (rivers across the sky as far north as Iowa), (2) absorb and store carbon (CO2) and (3) miraculous life-giving endless supply of oxygen, civilization would cease to exist beyond scattered tribes, here and there.

In all, it’s obvious where the Amazonian affair is headed, especially giving consideration to “civilization ceasing to exist beyond scattered tribes, here and there.”

Fortuitously, the infrastructure is already in place for that new world order. There are 305 Brazilian tribes, population 900,000, already in place to teach civilized society how to act and behave and live within natural ecosystems that fundamentally support the planet with vital life-giving resources… for free!

Postscript: An excellent new film by ScientistsWarning.TV (Stuart Scott, Executive Director) “Rollbacks – An Assault Against Life on Earth” is an exposé of Trump’s attack on the environment.

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NPR and the Escalating Attack on Single-Payer Health Care

Photograph Source: Todd Huffman – CC BY 2.0

National Public Radio’s Mara Liasson this weekend entered a new term into the corporate liberal establishment’s attack on single payer healthcare.

Mandatory Medicare for All.

As in — do you want Bernie Sanders’ Mandatory Medicare for All — or Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Voluntary Medicare for Those Who Want It?

It was the first time that the term “Mandatory Medicare for All” popped into the mainstream debate over single payer national health insurance.

On NPR’s Weekend Edition broadcast, Liasson reported that Buttigieg “has been pushing back against Sanders’ more extreme positions, like mandatory ‘Medicare for All’ with his own voluntary Medicare buy-in for those who want it.”

She then reported that Sanders “is one of the most ideologically defined politicians in America. He’s been saying the same things for 40 years. And many of the things he’s calling for, whether it’s mandatory Medicare for All or taxing everyone to pay for it, are majority unpopular positions in battleground states.”

Leaders of the single payer movement were taken aback by the use of the term and did not know where it came from.

Andrea Witte, a single payer activist from Tucson, Arizona, said she had not heard the expression before.

“Like other Medicare for All naysayers in the corporate media, Liasson is trying to indict Medicare for All by adding the negative right-wing framing of ‘mandatory government program,’ while she contrasts it with Buttigieg’s ‘voluntary; public option,” Witte said. “It’s like saying ‘mandatory clean air and water’ or ‘mandatory fire department coverage’ to try to drive down support for those public goods. Also, I do not know about any polls that back her claim that Medicare for All is unpopular in battleground states — especially in a Democratic primary.”

“I do not know where the phrasing originated but certainly it sounds like campaign rhetoric,” said Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project. “As to what I think about it, I don’t mind it except to the extent that it is used to suggest Mayor Pete’s plan is a purely voluntary affair. It is not. Under his plan, employers can change or eliminate your health insurance any time they want, including putting you on to his public option whether you want to be on it or not. In his plan, uninsured people will be fined upwards of $7,000 per year in a supercharged version of the unpopular Obamacare mandate. All health care proposals serious about universal coverage require these kinds of rules. Mayor Pete’s is no different in that regard. It just applies it’s coercion towards a worse end than Medicare for All, namely worse coverage at a higher cost.”

Kevin Zeese of Health Over Profit for Everyone (HOPE) called the phrase “creative propaganda.”

“This is the first time I’ve heard this poll and focus group tested PR term,” Zeese said. “The thieves that rip people off with insurance and high prices are good at inflammatory words to confuse people. And, ‘liberal’ NPR is the perfect place to get the phrase out.”

“The way mandatory is being used by NPR is to make Buttigieg’s completely unworkable ‘Medicare for those who want it’ sound appealing and Sanders’ Medicare for All sound extreme,” said HOPE’s Margaret Flowers. “Buttigieg’s plan would keep our current complicated expensive and unjust system intact and would continue the same problems we have now of people not having health insurance and even if they do have insurance, not being able to afford care. Medicare for all means everyone can get healthcare if they want it. Nothing is forced. It just means that if someone needs or wants to go to the doctor they can.”

“The current Medicare is complicated,” Flowers said. “Everyone is enrolled in the traditional Medicare plan, but if you want a supplemental plan or a pharmaceutical plan, you have to enroll in that yourself separately. Medicare for All would mean that everyone could get the healthcare they need under one system.”

Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Program said that the term mandatory Medicare “does feed into the moderates’ view that single payer Medicare for All represents government overreach.”

“A better term would be automatic Medicare,” McCanne said.  “Everyone would automatically be enrolled in Medicare for All regardless of the taxes that they may or may not be required to pay to finance the system. People who qualify don’t reject Medicare today. Why would they reject Medicare in a truly universal program that is affordable for each of us?”

Dr. John Geyman, author of a number of books on single payer, says that this is the first he’s heard of the term “mandatory Medicare.”

“It looks like a gambit against progressive challenges on health care,” Geyman said. “There is no credibility to the argument against Medicare for All that it will cost Americans a lot more through new taxes. That ignores all the big savings that go with it. The work of the two economist groups at the University of Massachusetts Amherst show how we will pay for it through progressive taxes whereby only those with annual incomes more than $400,000 will pay more. The moderate Democrats have no answer to health care reform, just delaying the inevitable by such approaches as the public option.”

Former insurance industry public relations executive Wendell Potter, who is currently with Business for Medicare for All, says this was the first time he’s seen the term used.

“It could be a term that some in the media — and single payer opponents — are using as a shorthand way of saying there would not be a private insurance option and everyone would be required to enroll in Medicare,” Potter said.  “My feeling is that it has negative connotations and that we very likely will see it show up more in the future. My team and I will monitor the use of the term.”

David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, two founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, said that they too had never heard the term.

“Medicare for All would be, and should be, mandatory, just as Medicare is currently mandatory,” they said.  “At present, everyone eligible for Medicare is automatically enrolled.”

This article first appeared in the Corporate Crime Reporter.

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Breaking with Washington: Arabs and Muslims Must Take a United Stance for Palestine

A negotiated solution to the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’, at least the way envisaged by successive US administrations, has failed. Now, Palestinians and their allies would have to explore a whole new path of liberation that does not go through Washington.

It is easy to place all the blame on the current US administration, setting apart dodgy characters such as the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the man who has single-handedly diminished any real chances for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

The truth, however, greatly differs from conveniently molded assumptions. The US-championed ‘peace process’ has been in a hiatus since the last negotiations in 2014. For years prior to the announcement of Donald Trump’s ‘Middle East Plan’ on January 28, Israel did everything in its power to ensure Palestinians can never have a state of their own. Not only did Israeli officials openly speak of their desire to illegally annex much of the occupied territories, but the Israeli government has taken numerous steps to ensure the constant expansion of illegal Jewish settlements.

One would have to be politically naive and morally blind to assume that the Israeli government, at any point in the past, had an iota of interest in a just peace that would guarantee the Palestinian people a minimum amount of dignity, freedom and justice.

Yet, everyone has played along: Israel complained that it has no peace partner while simultaneously entrenching its military occupation and expanding its colonial regime; the Palestinian Authority (PA) of President Mahmoud Abbas ceaselessly waved empty threats, which ultimately amounted to nothing; the Americans urged both parties to return to ‘unconditional negotiations’, all the while funding, to the amount of $3.8 billion, the Israeli military and economy; the United Nations and the European Union followed a predictable political script that was seen as more ‘moderate’ than that of Washington, yet failed to take a single meaningful action to discourage Israel from further violations of international law.

Meanwhile, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who are arguably Palestine’s more solid and consistent allies, remained marginal and, by far, the least relevant of all parties. Their occasional statements in support of Palestinians and condemnation of the Israeli occupation became so predictable and ineffectual. Aside from Abbas and his Authority, ordinary Palestinians saw no value in verbal support that hardly ever translated into tangible action.

Somehow, this skewed paradigm sustained itself for many years, partly because it suited everyone except the Palestinian people, of course, whose subjugation and humiliation by Israel carried on unhindered.

Presently, there are two different currents fighting to define the situation in Palestine in the post-‘Deal of the Century’ era.

First, Israel and the United States, who are keen to translate the ‘Middle East plan’ into rapid and irreversible action. They are eager to annex the illegal settlements of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley (approximately 30% of the total size of the West Bank). Moreover, Washington would like to see its diligent, clandestine efforts aimed at normalization between Arabs and Israel translate into actual agreements and, eventually, full diplomatic ties.

Second, the Palestinian Authority, the EU, the UN, the Arab League and the OIC, want the ‘Deal of the Century’ defeated, but they have no alternative path to follow. They insist on respect for international law and remain die-hard supporters of the unfeasible two-state paradigm, but they have no actual strategy, let alone an enforcement mechanism to make that happen.

The pro-PA camp reeks with contradictions, that are no less obvious than that of Abbas’ Authority, which speaks of ‘popular resistance’ while, jointly with Israel, is suppressing any attempt aimed at challenging the Israeli occupation.

A perfect example of the contradictions in this camp is that only two days after the Arab League issued its statement rejecting the ‘Deal of the Century’, the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, met with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Uganda. Burhan is hoping to swap normalization with Israel for Washington’s favors.

Another example is reflected in the behavior of Abbas himself, who, on February 1, declared that he would sever all contacts with Israel, including the so-called security coordination, a main pillar in the Oslo agreement, which practically employs PA security forces in the service of the Israeli occupation.

This is not the first time that Abbas has resorted to this lifeline, but he has never gone through with his promises. We have no reason to believe that this time is any different.

There is little hope that the pro-PA camp, as exemplified in the current political structure, can truly defeat the ‘Deal of the Century’.

The final statements resulting from the Arab League summit in Cairo and the OIC summit in Jeddah on February 1 and 3 respectively, is a repeat of numerous past conferences, where promises were made and condemnations were leveled, with no follow-up nor any action.

If Arabs and Muslims are, indeed, sincere in their desire to confront US-Israeli plotting, they ought to go beyond this stifling pattern of impractical politics. It is not enough to reject Washington’s stratagem and to denounce Israeli action. They ought to muster enough courage to turn their statements into an actual, unified strategy, and their strategy into action, using all means at their disposal.

Arab countries enjoy massive economic and political leverage in Washington and throughout the world. What’s the value of all of this leverage if not used in defense of Palestine and her people?

Washington and Tel Aviv are counting on the fact that anger at the ‘Deal of the Century’ among Arabs and Muslims will eventually peter out, exactly as happened after Trump recognized all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving his country’s embassy there in May 2018.

If Arabs and Muslims fail Palestine again, then, once more, the Palestinian people will find themselves alone in this desperate fight, which they have no other alternative but to undergo. And when Palestinians rise, as they surely will, their uprising will challenge not just Israel but the entire regional and international apparatus that allowed the Israeli occupation to go unchallenged for so many years.

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Race and Class: Overcoming the Divides

Photograph Source: Paul Sableman – CC BY 2.0

Preface

The forthcoming 2020 election is again highlighting the country’s apparently deep divides on race and class. A common formulation is that a hopelessly racist White working class is locked into the new Trump Republican Party which consciously has adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy based on race. The mainstream Democratic Party hope is that an electoral coalition of the young, women, suburban middle-class and union loyalists will provide a majority to dump Trump. The Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren challenge claims that White working class people can be won with an economic justice program that recognizes how insecure they really are and offers universal benefits that lift all working people economically, including African-Americans, Latinos and other economically marginalized groups.

The campaign also offers an opportunity to look more deeply into these divisions that have plagued efforts to build majorities for economic and social justice programs. But before going there, let me make this stipulation: racial prejudice and discrimination against African-Americans runs deep in American culture and experience; all White people have in one-way-or-another, whether consciously or unconsciously imbibe in it. Prejudice + discrimination practiced by decision makers in powerful institutions constitutes racism; all-powerful American institutions have engaged in this practice. Saying this is a necessary step to understanding, and developing a strategy to end, racism. It is not a sufficient one. Sufficiency requires distinctions that I hope are illustrated in what follows.

The Redlining Example

Nothing better illustrates divide and conquer, White working class “ethnics” pitted against Black working and middle class people struggling to get out of the inner-city and its slums, than historic redlining. What precisely was involved?

Often adjacent to White ethnic working/lower middle-class neighborhoods was the Black ghetto which included both the very poor and the emerging working and middle-class. The latter had the income to put down-payments on homes, but there was no place where they buy. The caste line kept them enclosed in overcrowded, under-served by government (everything from police to street sweeping and garbage removal), slums.

Typically across a wide boulevard or on the other side of a freeway was a White ethnic neighborhood where housing prices were well within the range of Black people seeking to buy. The percent of White ownership may have been high—into the 80s, and perhaps higher. Many of the Whites purchased their homes a number of years earlier. They had substantial equity in their property—typically the largest single source of equity they possessed. Experience and rumor told them that if a single Black family moved in, the value of their homes would significantly decline thus destroying equity they had spent years building.

Then along came a combination of a “block-buster” realtor and red-lining lenders and insurers. Homeowners in the White neighborhood seeking home improvement loans would be told, “They’re not available; the neighborhood is deteriorating. It’s not a good investment.” That set them up.

Realtors engaged in “panic peddling” told Whites, “You better sell now, Blacks are going to be moving in. Your property is going to plummet in value.” They literally broke blocks—thus the term to describe them. The realtor purchased at a lower than previous market value price because the homeowner feared an even greater drop in value. The realtor then sold at a significantly higher than his purchase price to a Black family that had accumulated sufficient savings for a down-payment. The lender who made up the rest of the now-inflated purchase price typically provided a mortgage at a higher-than-market interest rate. Or there might not even be a standard mortgage; instead a “contract for purchase” is entered into. It had none of a mortgage’s protections for the new owner. For example, miss a payment and title to the property is assumed by the lender; the equity is gone!

The presence of the first Black families set in motion a self-fulfilling prophesy: more and more Whites sold, more-and-more cheaply, because panic-peddling had taken hold. The turnover from White to Black could be a matter of months. Observing this phenomenon in the next urban ring of neighborhoods were other White ethnics. The lesson they learned from the stories they heard from friends, relatives, co-workers, co-congregants or fellow parishioners, as well as from their own experience: “Keep the Blacks out!”

Where in this tale are the victims and the executioners? Is it adequate to call the White homeowners “racists”—a term generally used to imply prejudice and discrimination + power? Should the same term be used for the bankers, insurers, Black realtors, planners, zoning commissioners and politicians who were all part of the conspiracy that kept this process going? Should we think of the White homeowners as bearers of “white privilege”? (After all, they could buy in a further out still lily-White neighborhood.)

As this cycle played itself out over the years, a new dimension was added to the picture more recently when housing prices looked like they would forever rise: lower-income people were targeted for lending. By the late 1900s, Blacks and Latinos had broken into the suburbs—a victory won by the civil rights movement. But their housing problems did not end. New forms of exploitation were devised. Balloon-payment loans—in which a large payment was due five-or-so years into the loan—were made to those who didn’t qualify. Given what was promised as endlessly increasing prices for homes, the idea was that increased equity would allow an owner to re-finance and pay off a loan before the balloon payment was due. The loans were profitable and risk-free because they were immediately packaged and sold off by the lenders to Wall Street investors. And there was this public relations side-benefit: lenders claimed they were helping minorities buy homes in neighborhoods they hadn’t previously been able to afford! Then came the housing crisis of 2007-2009.

Here’s what the Center for Responsible Lending says on the matter.

…During the first three years of the foreclosure crisis, from January 2007 through the end of 2009, we estimate that 2.5 million foreclosures were completed. The vast majority of these foreclosures were on owner-occupied properties with mortgages that were originated between 2005 and 2008.1 • The majority (an estimated 56%) of families who lost homes were non-Hispanic and white, but African-American and Latino families were disproportionately affected relative to their share of mortgage originations.

…Combining borrowers who are two or more payments behind on their mortgage with those who are in the foreclosure process, we estimate that there are 5.7 million borrowers at imminent risk of foreclosure. Looking ahead, independent analysts have projected that between 10 and 13 million foreclosures will have occurred by the time the crisis abates…

[Marketplace December, 2018 says, “Nearly 10 million homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure sales in the U.S. between 2006 and 2014. The effects of the subprime mortgage crisis are not only still being felt today, they have indelibly changed the way Americans view homeownership and the way we live.]

…Even if foreclosures represented nothing more than a one-time cost only to the families involved, these findings would be troubling. But the costs are extensive, multifaceted and long-term, extending far beyond individual families to their neighbors, communities, cities and states…

The high cost of foreclosures highlights the negative consequences of reckless and inadequately monitored lending. With millions of foreclosures still ahead, there is an urgent need for policymakers to take stronger actions to stabilize the housing market, keep families in their homes and prevent destructive lending practices in the future.

(“Foreclosures by Race and Ethnicity: The Demographics of a Crisis.” CRL Research Report. Debbie Gruenstein Bocian, Wei Li, and Keith S. Ernst. June 18, 2010.)

Implications for Strategy

We can, as most of the media has done, focus on racial and ethnic disparity. The figures clearly demonstrate African-American and Latino households were hit proportionately higher than Whites. That is wrong, and the history of it is long, going back to Federal policies adopted in the New Deal and racial covenants that preceded them.

Is that what we want to do? Will that build the power to make some kind of restitution program possible? If that approach is taken, what is the message sent to Whites who also lost their homes, and to those around them? To whom will African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders look for support against those who took their homes?

It follows that it is middle-to-upper-middle class White people who are viewed as possible allies. They are the only group left if we toss out the White working class. Will these middle class people support:

+ putting bankers in jail so massive foreclosures due to loans that shouldn’t have been made doesn’t happen again?

+ reparations funded by progressive taxes to restore people to their homes (or similar ones)?

+ breaking up the banks so they don’t have the power they now have over the regulators who are supposed to stop them from doing what they did in the first place?

There is little reason to think that going to the centrist/moderate end of the Democratic Party spectrum is where allies will be found for the more fundamental changes required to begin to turn the ship of state around.

Thought of in new ways, it is possible to find in almost every area of social and economic concern “wedge issues” that can divide Donald Trump and his Republicans from White working class people. Thus far, it is only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who are thinking in these terms. Are they going to break into White working class voters—a precondition to one of them getting the Democratic Party’s nomination for President? And if they do, will the program that accomplished that result be one that keeps the Centrists at home in the general election?

Short Term…Long Term

Until recently, I thought of Trump as a vulgar extension of much of what had preceded him, including from Democrats and Republicans. While there is a great deal of truth in that view, it fails to take into account how dangerous he is. If you’re not persuaded of that by this time, nothing I can say here will change your mind. But if you are, I think you will share these fears of mine: on the one hand, too many years of betrayal of white working class values and interests—going all the way back to 1966 when Lyndon Johnson was President and the Democrats lost their substantial majority in the House of Representatives through Jimmy Carter, and especially including Bill Clinton and NAFTA—will preclude the possibility of substantially winning their votes in 2020, or, on the other, that the Keynesian-New Deal economics voiced by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are now viewed by centrists as “too far left” for them to turn out in the numbers required to defeat Trump in November, 2020. I hope I’m wrong.

Whatever the 2020 outcome might be, however, a longer term strategy cannot rely on politicians of whatever stripe to build the relational bridges, overcome cultural divides, and develop the programmatic alternatives necessary to build a new American majority capable of slowing, halting and reversing current trends of increasing concentration of wealth, income, status and power in an ever-smaller number of hands. That will require deep organizing outside the framework of the political parties—an organizing that we would have to look to 90 years ago that took place in some of the industrial unions of the CIO, an organizing that said and meant, “Black and White: United and Fight”.

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Timeline: How the DNC Manipulated 2016 Presidential Race 

Photograph Source: Nathania Johnson – CC BY 2.0

December 16, 2014: President Obama signs into law omnibus spending bill that increases maximum possible individual political contributions from $129,600 annually to $777,600, substantially increasing the amount of money flowing through party committees. (Congressional Research Services)

April 7, 2015: A Clinton campaign memo to the DNC articulates “Pied Piper” strategy to elevate the most extreme Republican candidates: “Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to a majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal: 1) Force all Republican candidates to lock themselves into extreme conservative positions that will hurt them in a general election; 2) Undermine any credibility/trust Republican presidential candidates have to make inroads to our coalition or independents; 3) Muddy the waters on any potential attack lodged against HRC.” (Salon)

May 26, 2015: An updated confidential Clinton campaign memo to the DNC is circulated, including new language (as disclosed by “Guccifer 2.0” on 6/15/16): “3) Use specific hits to muddy the waters around ethics, transparency and campaign finance attacks on HRC… Working through the DNC and others, we should use background briefings, prep with reporters for interviews with GOP candidates, off-the-record conversations and oppo pitches to help pitch stories with no fingerprints and utilize reporters to drive a message.”

August 27, 2015: DNC announces “Hillary Victory Fund” joint fundraising agreement with Hillary Clinton’s campaign with a maximum possible individual contribution of $356,100 ($2,700 to Hillary for America, $33,400 to the DNC, and $10,000 to 32 of the state parties).

November 13, 2015: Associated Press releases a widely-cited survey of superdelegates’ public support: 359 for Clinton, 8 for Bernie Sanders, 2 for Martin O’Malley, and 210 uncommitted.

February 21, 2016: New York Times publishes front-page story proclaiming Sanders faces “steep climb” in delegates, despite trailing Clinton by only one pledged delegate following the Nevada caucus. Clinton’s “inevitability” narrative was largely based on the implicit assumption that her institutional support — including public commitments by superdelegates — would be too powerful for Sanders’ insurgency to overcome.

March 5, 2016: DNC vice-chair Donna Brazile provides Clinton with a debate question on the Flint water crisis the day prior (as disclosed by Wikileaks on 10/11/16).

March 12, 2016: Brazile shares question with Clinton on the death penalty the day before a CNN town hall (as disclosed by Wikileaks on 10/11/16). (Washington Post)

April 19, 2016: More than 117,000 Brooklyn voters are unable to cast their New York primary vote due to illegal “voter purges” by the New York City Board of Elections. (New York Times)

April 26, 2016: DNC staffer shares messaging preparing for when Sanders ends his campaign (as disclosed by Wikileaks on 7/22/16). (The Intercept)

May 2, 2016: Politico reports bombshell on how the Hillary Victory Fund was being utilized to circumvent campaign contribution limits by the Clinton campaign and DNC.

May 5, 2016: DNC officials conspire “atheist” smear against Sanders: “It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist,” said DNC CFO Brad Marshall (as disclosed by Wikileaks on 7/22/16). (Washington Post)

May 14, 2016: The Nevada Democratic convention unfolds chaotically: Chairwoman Roberta Lange passes a motion to arbitrate unverified voice votes. 56 Sanders delegates were denied voting status for administrative reasons, swinging the at-large and party leaders pool to Clinton. Lange rejected a voice vote to reconsider the delegates’ rejection and abruptly adjourned the convention to the dismay of Sanders’ supporters. Despite no evidence suggesting violence, major outlets uncritically repeat the myth of “pro-Sanders violence and chair throwing.“

May 17, 2016: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz calls Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver a “damn liar” in DNC internal emails (as disclosed by Wikileaks on 7/22/16).

May 18, 2016: Wasserman-Schultz promotes “pro-Sanders violence at Nevada convention” myth on MSNBC.

May 21, 2016: DNC national press secretary pitches an anti-Sanders story to DNC comms director: “Wondering if there’s a good Bernie narrative for a story, which is that Bernie never ever had his act together, that his campaign was a mess,” (as disclosed by Wikileaks on 7/22/16). (The Intercept)

June 6, 2016: On eve of the second biggest primary day (California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota), Associated Press publishes major story calling the primary for Clinton: “Clinton has delegates to win Democratic nomination.” This count includes public superdelegate commitments who will not vote until July 25.

June 15, 2016: “Guccifer 2.0” releases documents stolen from the DNC server including opposition research on Donald Trump, Clinton donor information, and the 5/26/15 strategy memo.

June 28, 2016: Donors to Sanders file a class action lawsuit against the DNC and Wasserman Schultz alleging fraud, specifically that they violated Article 5, Section 4 of the Charter of the Democratic Party: “…the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process.”

July 22, 2016: Wikileaks releases first batch of DNC emails three days before the Democratic National Convention, demonstrating anti-Sanders bias from senior DNC officials.

July 24, 2016: DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigns on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. (Reuters)

July 26, 2016: Sen. Nina Turner, a prominent Sanders surrogate, is prohibited from joining Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for Sanders’ nominating speech. Following the roll call vote nominating Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate, hundreds of Sanders delegates stage a “No Voice No Unity” walkout protest off the convention floor.

October 11, 2016: Wikileaks releases “The Podesta Emails Part 3,” revealing collusion between Donna Brazile and Clinton.

April 25, 2017: In class action lawsuit alleging DNC fraud, DNC attorney argues the party has the right to ignore primary voters: “The party has the freedom of association to decide how it’s gonna select its representatives to the convention and to the state party. Even to define what constitutes evenhandedness and impartiality really would already drag the court well into a political question and a question of how the party runs its own affairs. The party could have favored a candidate. I’ll put it that way… We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way.’”(See Newsweek: “Was the Election Rigged Against Bernie Sanders? Dnc Lawsuit Demands Repayment for Campaign Donors.”)

August 25, 2017: Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit on lack of standing: “Not one of them alleges that they ever read the DNC’s charter or heard the statements they now claim are false before making their donations. And not one of them alleges that they took action in reliance on the DNC’s charter or the statements identified in the First Amended Complaint. Absent such allegations, these Plaintiffs lack standing.” (Washington Post)

November 2, 2017: Brazile reveals Hillary Victory Fund agreement “specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised… [Clinton’s] campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.” (Vox)

Michael Brennan is a graduate student in public policy at the University of Maryland and a past intern at the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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U. S. Lies and Deaths in Afghanistan

Photograph Source: The U.S. Army – CC BY 2.0

Last December the Washington Post published secret Pentagon documents showing the official lies that have undergirded the U.S. war on Afghanistan for the past 18 years. The opening paragraph of the article puts the matter bluntly:  “A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

I can’t help but wonder whether Sgt. First Class Javier Gutierrez, of San Antonio, Texas, and Sgt. First Class Rey Rodriguez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, read that article. Both men were killed last Saturday in an attack on a joint-U.S. military operation in Afghanistan. Both were 28 years old.

In fact, I can’t help but wonder whether their families read the article. If so, what will be going through their minds at the funerals of both men, when some Pentagon spokesman states that they died fighting for “our freedom.” Won’t both families know deep down that that’s just one more lie piled onto all the other lies?

The truth, as painful as it might be, is that both men have died for nothing. They certainly didn’t die protecting our freedom because our freedom is not being threatened by anyone in Afghanistan or by anyone else. All that one has to do is visit the east coast and west coast and see that no enemy nation is invading the United States. The same holds true for the U.S. northern and southern borders.

The two men died for the “right” of the Pentagon and the CIA to meddle and intervene in the Afghanistan and other parts of the world. They died for what is called interventionism, which is the same as dying for nothing because interventionism is not worth dying for. For that matter, it’s also not worth killing for.

U.S. soldiers don’t belong in Afghanistan. They belong here at home. Those people who are killing them want to rid their country of foreign troops. Americans would do the same if there were foreign troops occupying the United States.

There are currently 12,000-13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s policy is to slowly bring them home.

That is a ludicrous policy. The more they bring some home, the more dangerous it becomes for the smaller number left behind. They become more vulnerable to the types of attacks that killed Gutierrez and Rodriguez.

Even one more U.S. soldier killing and dying for interventionism and more Pentagon lies is one too many. It’s obviously too late for Javier Gutierrez and Rey Rodriguez and their families. But it’s not too late for the others who are still there. Bring them all home, now.

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Trump Served Up Projection at the National Prayer Breakfast

One would think that a National Prayer Breakfast would encourage transparency and truth; as prayer is a primary spiritual means of self-examination, confession, reconciliation, and moral resolve. The opposite was on display at the recent National Prayer Breakfast, attended by over 3500 guests, including dignitaries from over 140 countries, Congress persons, business officials, and faith leaders. There President Donald Trump wrapped one falsehood after another in the language of faith, sadly to the repeated applause of many attendees.

President Trump began his Prayer Breakfast speech by attacking Sen. Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, who, at Trump’s Senate trial the day before, “swore an oath before God to apply impartial justice,” which led him to become the only Republican to vote to convict and remove Trump from office for his abuse of power. Trump criticized Romney’s faith-based act of conscience, saying, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” That’s the very deception Trump himself proceeded to employ – in a speech in which he repeatedly used religious terminology to cover up his wrongs. He began:

In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers. . . . In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God. (Applause)

(“Remarks by President Trump st the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast,” www.whitehouse.gov, Feb. 6, 2020)

“In America . . . We raise our sights to the Glory of God.” Unless it is a devout Mormon senator, who “swore an oath before God to apply impartial justice.” Never mind that Republican Sen. Romney believed that he was raising his “sights to the Glory of God” in voting to remove Trump from office.

“In America, we don’t punish prayer.” Unless it is a practicing Catholic, leader of the House of Representatives, who said she prays for the president every day — because “he’s so off track.” No one dare pray that way for the self- assumed “very stable genius.” Such prayer indicates he is imperfect and in need of prayer, which is contrary to his narcissistic self-image. Thus at the Prayer Breakfast, after depreciating Sen. Romney’s act of conscience, Trump said to his faith-oriented audience, ”Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,” when they know that’s not so.” Here again he presumes to know other people’s motive — especially the “dishonest” motives of those criticizing him. A National Prayer breakfast where a certain kind of prayer was condemned.

“We don’t muzzle preachers.” A reported President Trump just muzzled the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon D. Sondland, for testifying against him at Trump’s House of Representatives impeachment hearings. And, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the reported “decorated Iraq war veteran on the National Security Council staff,” who also testified against Trump, “was marched out of the White House by security guards.” (‘TRUMP HITS BACK, FIRING WITNESSES AFTER ACQUITAL,’ By Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, Danny Hakim and Michael S. Schmidt, The New Yprk Times, Feb. 8, 2020) Trump’s history is one of muzzling truth and threatening those who tell the truth.

President Trump continued his pretense at the National Prayer Breakfast: “At every stage, our nation’s long march for civil rights was inspired, sustained, and uplifted by faith, prayer, and devotion of religious believers.” (Ibid)

What “was inspired, sustained and uplifted” by the civil rights movement’s “religious believers?” President Trump doesn’t’ say. He makes no reference to the history of racism in America, or to specific discrimination and struggles for justice and equality. With civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday celebrated just three weeks before, Trump could have quoted King. Like, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy.” (“17 Inspiring Quotes by Martin Luther King Jr.,” www.biography.com)

But such an act of conscience is not where President Trump is at. When neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched on Charlottesville. VA in 2017, and one drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer, President Trump said that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

At the Prayer Breakfast, it sounds good to make a generalized, religiously dressed, statement about “our nation’s long march for civil rights.” With President Trump in office, that “long march” got longer. According to “a new Washington Post-Ipsos poll . . . “83% of African Americans across the country believe President Trump is a racist and he’s exacerbated the country’s race problems while in office.” And “9 out of 10 disapprove of Trump’s overall job performance.” (“New poll: 83% of African Americans say Trump is a racist,” By Rashaan Ayesh, AXIOS, Jan,. 15, 2020)

In his National Prayer Breakfast speech, President Trump stated, “In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom. (Applause) . . . To protect faith communities, I have taken the historic action to defend religious liberty, including the constitutional right to pray in public schools. (Applause)” (“Remarks by President Trump at the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast,” Ibid)

“Protect[ing] . . . religious freedom” and “defend[ing] religious liberty” are code words for giving evangelical Christians’ the “right” to use The Bible as a weapon to discriminate against LGBTQ persons and deny their inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. It is not just about the authority of The Bible, but the authority select anti-homosexual passages of The Bible give to traditionalist Christians in their need to gain power over people and punish those judged to be biblical outcasts. Sadly, for many white evangelical Christians, faith is about right belief, not just behavior.

Pushing prayer in public schools may serve a similar discriminatory purpose. Reported is the Trump administration’s intent “to decrease the Education Department’s funding by $7.1 billion” in 2020. “The budget proposal suggests eliminating 29 programs, including after-school and summer programs for students in high-poverty areas, among other things.” While the proposal is unlikely to be approved, it shows “the Trump administration priorities” for 2020. (“Trump administration proposes $7.1 billion funding cut to Education Department,” By Sophie Tatum, ABC News, Mar. 11, 2019; see also “Trump’s $4.5 Trillion Budget Would Cut Safety Net Programs and Boost Defense,” by Jim Tankersley, Margot Sanger-Katz, Alan Rappeport and Emily Cochrane, The New York Times, Feb. 10, 2020)

President Trump’s priorities do not include economically disadvantaged students. A sleight of hand here of pushing prayer in public schools, while robbing students of programs that nourish mind, body and spirit. How much of that $7.1 billion could end up in the pockets, as tax breaks, for the wealthiest Americans?

The boasting in President Trump’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast was a far cry from Jesus’ teaching about prayer. Jesus compared the prayers of a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee boasted about his own greatness and thanked God that “I am not like other people.” Conversely, the tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus ended with, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. ”(Luke 18: 10-14)

President Trump repeatedly exalted himself in a speech that was contrary to the spirit of a reflective and introspective prayerful gathering. Here are examples:

I don’t think anybody has done more than all of us together during these last three years. . . . On Tuesday, I addressed Congress on the state of the Union and the great American comeback. That’s what it is. (Applause)

Our country has never done better than it is doing right now. . . . According to the latest Gallup Poll . . . American satisfaction is at its highest level ever recorded. . . . In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom. (Applause) . . . We’re upholding the sanctity of life. (Applause). And we are doing that like nobody has ever done before in this position. . . . The best unemployment numbers in the history of our country. We’re doing things that nobody thought possible. . . . We are standing up for persecuted Christians and minorities all over the world — (Applause) – like nobody has ever done. . . . Certain Religions are under siege. . . . We are going to protect our religions [and] Christianity [and]great ministers and pastors and rabbis and all the people that we so cherish and that we so respect. . . . We want every nation to look up to us like they are right now. We were not a respected nation a few years ago. We had lost our way . Our country is respected again by everybody. (“Remarks by President Trump at the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast.” (Ibid)

President Trump also said to his Prayer Breakfast listeners. “God is with the people in this room.” (Ibid) In January, Trump, as reported, “told thousands of cheering evangelical Christians” at a political rally in Florida. “’We have God on our side.’” The rally was the day after he ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an air strike. (“Trump tells evangelicals, ‘We have God on our side for 2020 election; hails end of Soleimani’s ‘bloody rampage,’” By Danielle Wallace, Fox News, Jan. 4, 2020) Trump professes a god who takes sides between people, rather than creates solidarity among people.

President Trump’s speech to the prayerful assembly was not only an exercise in self-aggrandizement; it was filled with delusional falsehoods. Such as, “Together, we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society. We are lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed.” (“Remarks by President Trump at the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast,” Ibid)

What President Trump has been building are walls to keep Central Americans out and bans to keep Muslims from coming in. He is courting a base that includes white supremacists, and white Christians who believe in the supremacy of their evangelical Christian faith. In the face of this ethnocentrism and divisive religious supremacy, Trump even said, “We’re declaring that America will always shine as a land of liberty and light unto all nations of the world.” (Ibid)

The result is not an “inclusive society,” but a country divided. That divisiveness has intensified because of who Trump is: an authoritarian, devoid of empathy, and driven by an obsessive need is to gain power over people, and to punish those who disobey his dictates.

Another of President Trump’s falsehoods should have been met with a frown by his prayerful audience, but it was applauded. He said, “And we’re pursuing medical breakthroughs to save premature babies because every child is a sacred gift from God.” (Ibid) Not the Central American babies at the Mexican border, who, with their parents are seeking safety and freedom in the United States. Trump’s policy is to separate these families and put the children in cages. Nor does he think kindly of children from “shit-hole countries.” And if “every child is a sacred gift from God,” why, as reported, is the Trump administration proposing to cut food stamps for “about 2.2 million U. S. Households, or almost 4 million people?” (“Trump administration proposes $7.1 billion funding cut to Education Department,” By Sophie Tatum, abcnews.go.com, March 11, 2019) For political purposes, he believes in the sanctity of life before birth, but afterwards children are on their own.

Arthur Brooks, Harvard Kennedy School professor and author of the book Love Your Enemies, was a keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast. Speaking right before President Trump did, Brooks told the audience that being tolerant of and civil toward others was not enough. He challenged his listeners to, “Love your enemies.” (“Love your enemies? Nah,says Trump,” by Daniel Burke, CNN, Feb. 6, 2020)

Up next, President Trump was evidently taken aback by Professor Brooks’ challenge. Trump referred to everyone gathered as “fighters,” who “like people. And sometimes they hate people. I’m sorry. I apologize,” he went on. “I’m trying to learn,” he added to laughter. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy,” which elicited applause. He then said, “When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks,” which provoked laughter. “I do my best,” which was met with applause. (“Remarks by President Trump at the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast,” Ibid)

A few days later Trump fired Lt. Col. Vindman and European Union Ambassador Sondland, for testifying against him at the House of Representatives impeachment hearings. He is reported to have “railed about those who stood against him, calling them “’evil,’ ‘corrupt,’ and ‘crooked,’ while his press secretary declared that those who hurt the president ‘should pay for’ it.” (‘TRUMP HITS BACK, FIRING WITNESSES AFTER ACQUITTAL, Ibid)

Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is “not easy” for President Trump, because his enemies list keeps growing and growing. One either accommodates his authoritarian demands, or is seen as an enemy to depreciate, bully and punish. Trump is incapable of responding with mutual respect, which is the basis for democratic give and take.

The National Prayer Breakfast provides a commentary on the people of faith who sat there and applauded and laughed as this lying con man put on a narcissistic and manipulative exhibition. It is sad indeed that no one had the courage to get up and leave in protest. Sad also that many American faith leaders still lack the courage to publicly render “impartial justice” in response to the great threat facing our country and the world: President Donald J. Trump.

The post Trump Served Up Projection at the National Prayer Breakfast appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Overwhelming Sex Appeal Of Bernie Sanders

“the obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points…that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us” —Michel Foucault

Happy Valentines Day to all Bernie Bros, Bernie Gals, and non-binary Berners.

The first time I heard the Daddy component of Bernie Sanders explained was when Jeffrey St. Clair described the devoted young female support for Bernie in 2016. The second time I got a whiff of Bernie in this form was when the young female rapper Cardi B advised us to: “Vote for Daddy Bernie”.

In my first piece ever for Counterpunch I lamented that Donald Trump had captured America’s heart because he had the most sex appeal of any candidate. I underestimated Sanders. Since this time I have become far more open-minded to other people’s sexual preferences. I’ve never had the hots for Sanders. But I’m a modern man. I’m in a word, open to it.

For some reason America really seems to be looking for some sort of Father figure in its elections. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is just corporate media bias towards traditional hierarchy. The second reason may be that the sexual revolution has come too fast and too soon and Americans are trying to hold on to the old through a counterrevolution that “forgets” our new awakening. Sorry, this is impossible. Innocence will not be returned to the American mind. The third reason may be that neoliberal global capital has left us in such a precarious position we are left looking for that traditional paternal figure to lead us.

Bernie and Trump are both sexy old men who arouse interest by loudly proclaiming a new day, despite years of normalcy and establishment careers. Ultimately the symbolic Daddy only mediates the path we are already going down. For Bernie, it is the path of revolution, up-ending norms, while Trump is the counter-revolution—returning to them.

Both men have effectively capitalized on the loss of interest in traditional corporate centrism which no longer speaks to enough within the American Empire to have any relevance. The crisis for establishment politics today is quite frankly that it doesn’t solve a problem, when there clearly is one. Bernie and Trump provide opposite answers, but both ask remarkably similar questions: what do we lack? How can Daddy fix it?

The mainstream media is so frightened of the working class that it will compare Bernie and Trump. Absolutely outrageous. Bernie and Trump are at opposite ends of the establishment. It is for this reason that Bernie is the only candidate who can beat Trump. He proves answers to the lack, just as Trump did. Bernie says our lack comes from the 1% taking what we had, Trump says our lack comes from the poor immigrant taking what we had. Everyone else may admit to a lack but nobody but these two leaders put lack as their central thesis.

This is because no other candidates put sex at the center of their political philosophy. For the middle of the road politicians, our lives are already fulfilled, and this is why they hold no purpose for us beyond superficial brand identification. For them, our lives are fulfilled one step removed from the carnal. Their worth is commodified through ideological values. Buy this, you will get this. Vote for me, you will get this. Bernie and Trump cut deeper. I am this, I am that. I am the revolution, I am the return. For Bernie and Trump there is no mediator, they act for us directly, not through traditional political values but through unique charisma.

If it wasn’t clear before, it is clear now, rather than strive for progress, human nature drives us towards death. After all what could be more deadly than the progress of industry and agriculture, which gave us more immediate pleasure in exchange for total extinction.

Here we must begin making distinctions or risk sounding like a total prude. The liberator and the capitalist both have a death drive. The liberator opts for symbolic death, death through surrender to a higher ideal, while the capitalist simply offers real death, a sincere belief. In reading Susan Block’s book on Bonobo sex, I have become more and more convinced of the idea of sex and war being the opposites, and simultaneously the same, almost like Bernie and Trump.

What do we make of the fact that Bernie is pro-war? Cost of admission to American politics? We’ll come back to that.

Let’s start abstractly with the idea of the alternative visions of death purposed by Bernie and Trump. First off, why death? Americans are losing control, whether that be wealth inequality, climate change or globalization, we feel like we are dying. Death drive gives us control of our inevitable conclusion. So, the question is, which kind of death?

Bernie offers a symbolic death: join me, in my revolution, we’ll lose ourselves in a rave or ecstasy. We will die trying, but we will die on our terms. Trump offers real death: I’ll poison your water, take your money, but here watch this immigrant die first. You will die, but you’ll have control over who dies first.

And I hate to be a downer in the middle of a fun piece about sex, but Bernie is the symbolic order, and Trump is the real order. Bernie, as long as he does not challenge the Democratic Party, capitalism, and the American Empire, remains a symbolic revolution, a chance only for a lesser death, a failure that feels good. He does not provide the opportunity for real death because he does not offer real revolution and therefore real rebirth is impossible. Trump simply is at the last step: death. Real death. Fast death. And have fun doing it.

If defeating Donald Trump is the real political goal, that road will go through Bernie Sanders. Such a fixation feels like a white flag. After all, is this not just political theatre? Who knows. I refuse cynicism either way. We should both refuse the narrowness of Sanders and the narrowness of defeating Trump while also refusing the cynicism of believing that people coming together to achieve these goals will not be one step closer to the climax we seek. And I actually think electing Sanders and defeating Trump are the same goal. The Democrats are so damn uninspiring, that no other option will do.

On Democracy Now the other day I heard a conservative reference Mr. Sanders’ outdated views on sexuality. They were referencing old essays. These essays are insane! Mr. Sanders, as a young man, clearly had a very different, and very sexual idea of his revolution. Makes me wonder what will happen to me when I age. Makes me wonder too, what kind of quotes could be pulled if I ran for political office!

Still, the essays are worth going into. Clearly America’s young people have a very sexual idea of Mr. Sanders. This is the age demographic who is thinking the most about sex and it clearly has chosen Sanders. It is also the generation most sexually free, although this is complicated too. Mr. Trump does well for the sexually frustrated—controlling husbands, suburban housewives, the socially alienated and angry, and those with a race complex, not to mention daughter complex!

But Sanders speaks to this sexual moment. I don’t think his essays made me like him more. Despite their shocking content, they aren’t that inconsistent with how I imagine him sexually. I did write recently how efforts by heteronormative white women Warren and Clinton to paint Sanders as the traditional man with the phallus simply didn’t work. No, the young people are asking for more from their Daddy these days.

Let’s quote Bernie directly, and then dissect. First off, we see how Bernie developed his Medicare for All plan: “What do you think it really means when 3 doctors, after intense study, write that ‘of the 26 patients (who developed breast cancer) below 51 (years of age), one was sexually adjusted.’ It means, very bluntly, that the manner in which you bring up your daughter with regard to sexual attitudes may very well determine whether or not she will develop breast cancer, among other things.”

What would modern anti-identity politics Bernie say? That corporate greed causes health care disparities? That probably is a more important political point but I like his idea here too. That sexual repression literally leads to cancer in the sexual organs. But would this play well in his base today?

I wonder, and here’s why. I think the #1 appeal of Bernie sexually is that he’s sexually safe. Trust me, from growing up around the Midwest and seeing how miserable everyone is, I think America, and perhaps especially young Americans love to be shamed for sex. Which is why we are constantly confessing it. Foucault is just so essiential on the idea of confession. And he developed his theory before social media, which has only proved him right.

Bernie offers the type of safe sex revolution that tickles your parents but never escapes the repressive apparatus of control adults put on children’s behavior. Bernie: I am doing it (revolution, socialism, etc), I am saying it, stop me, stop me, stop me. It’s a demand to be policed, it’s a source of conflict where all sides are ultimately comfortable.

Take this paradox of modern life: the subject is always confessing their newfound sexuality and yet the sexual satisfaction remains almost entirely in the sphere of the internet and the performative. It is as if the continued discourse and multiplication of sex replaces sex itself. Not just in terms of outward performance, but inward fulfillment.

Such is the same with the Sanders spectacle. Now please be patient here. I say this all as a sexually repressed Sanders supporter myself. How much attention does this guy get for the vote machines screwing him over in Iowa? Ok, it’s horrible, the media hates him, yes, absolutely. But the media hates poor people, the climate, foreigners, trans folks, I mean the list goes on, right? I just find the outrage around Sanders getting screwed to be slightly misplaced? I think we shouldn’t care so much about what the media and billionaires and Clintons have to say. Like their opinion on all things suck, not just on Sanders. I worry that like Trump, Sanders is swallowing up a real moment of universal class warfare here.

And yet, and yet! Let’s not let good be the enemy of great. Yes, we should encourage our young people to develop their own sexuality, even if it’s not sexual fulfillment. Just as we should encourage our young people to go to Sanders, even if it’s not revolution. This is where I have a slight disagreement with the sheepdog narrative. Sure, Sanders himself is a sheepdog, but we aren’t sheep! Who knows what good will come of people joining together? Think of all things as a first step, rather than a replacement for the final solution, and we feel a lot better about any sort of naive exploration. Isn’t that how we all learned who we were?

Back to Sanders, I’m sorry, this is wonderful. Trump could learn something from this: “How much guilt, nervousness have you imbued in your daughter with regard to sex? If she is 16, 3 years beyond puberty and the time which nature set forth for childbearing, and spent a night out with her boyfriend, what is your reaction? Do you take her to a psychiatrist because she is “maladjusted,” or a “prostitute,” or are you happy that she has found someone with whom she can share love? Are you concerned about HER happiness, or about your “reputation” in the community.

With regard to the schools that you send your children to, are you concerned that many of these institutions serve no other function than to squash the life, joy and curiosity out of kids. When a doctor writes that the cancer personality “represses hate, anger, dissatisfaction and grudges, or on the other hand, is a ‘good’ person, who is consumed with self pity, suffers in stoic silence”, do you know what he is talking about, and what this has to do with children, parents, and schools.”

Would Bernie the politician ever say this? That doctors and parents and school and the whole damn system cause cancer? Unlikely. I do think it’s worth noting here, that the policing of the child’s behavior is not so much about reputation of the parent, who is after all secretly proud his child is desired because that means the parent is desired. No, I think, it’s worse. I think the policing of the child is plain and simple: the parent wants the child to themselves. I’m not saying this necessarily manifests itself in physical abuse but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the way adults treat children is that it generally isn’t about making the adult publicly proud, it is more about the adult having their private desires fulfilled.

Back to Sanders: “All aspects of life are intimately related—and it is only a schizophrenic society such as ours which segregates them and puts them into separate little boxes. We go to school and study ‘education’ and ‘psychology’ and ‘sexuality’ (if it’s a ‘progressive’ school). How absurd: all of life is one and if we want to know, for example, how our nation can napalm children in Vietnam—AND NOT CARE—it is necessary to go well beyond ‘politics.’ We have got to get into the areas of feeling and emotion, pain and love—and how people related to each other and how people shut off their feelings. And all of this takes us way back to our mommies and to the way they dealt with us when we were infants.”

Wow! Which is more a surprise? Sanders saying “mommy” or “napalm”? But once again, he’s spot on. How can we not care? Does this have to do with emotional repression? Is not the purpose of all education and parenting to protect the child—protect the child from the truth about our capitalist imperialist system or else this child would simply self-destruct—the world would become too much to bear.

Yes, I think that’s pretty much it. But in all this effort to control, to keep this one thing innocent for our own gain, don’t we create the repression necessary to repeat the horror? Who is spared? Nobody. The radical argument by Sanders here is that the maladjustment literally kills us.

Now it’s not deadly in the same way Trump’s EPA is. This is the symbolic death, although Sanders is not entirely wrong to link it to the real death. I do wonder if we can trace the Sanders experiment. He moves from cause in his youth (control of young) to result in his old age (corporate capital).

Bernie, the anti-capitalist: “In Vermont, at a state beach, a mother is reprimanded by Authority for allowing her 6 month old daughter to go about without her diapers on. Now, if children go around naked, they are liable to see each others sexual organs, and maybe even touch them. Terrible thing! If we [raise] children up like this it will probably ruin the whole pornography business, not to mention the large segment of the general economy which makes its money by playing on peoples sexual frustrations.” Where did he go?

And then, all of a sudden, he addresses the drive! “The years come and go, the suicide, nervous breakdown, cancer, sexual deadness, heart attack, alcoholism, sensibility at 50. Slow, death, fast, death. DEATH.” This climax, this uncontrollable fit of madness here is just so unlike the coached Sanders of today that has hit the comfort zone of millions of Americans. Give him credit for channeling this energy, but man would it be cool to see him lose control more often.

“The Revolution is coming and it is a very beautiful revolution. It is beautiful because, in its deepest sense, it is quiet, gentle, and all pervasive. It KNOWS. What is most important in this revolution will require no guns, no commandants, no screaming “leaders,” and no vicious publications accusing everyone else of being counter-revolutionary. The revolution comes when two strangers smile at each other, when a father refuses to send his child to school because schools destroy children, when a commune is started and people begin to trust each other, when a young man refuses to go to war, and when a girl pushes aside all that her mother has ‘taught’ her and accepts her boyfriend’s love.

The revolution comes when young people throughout the world take control of their own lives and when people everywhere begin to look each other in the eyes and say hello, without fear. This is the revolution, this is the strength, and with this behind us no politician or general will ever stop us. We shall win.”

Schools destroy children! Yes! Now it’s all about raising teachers salaries. I’m glad, obviously. But we see the cost of compromise. I still wonder if any of the children escape the alienation of capitalism with better payed teachers or even a higher minimum wage. What we need is a full scale global assault on the system that drives a wedge between us, the natural world, and even our own souls. Yes, we have to tear down not just Wall St. but every damn capitalist institution which continues to normalize the present era of cruelty and unhappiness. We must stop this merciless system and tear down every aspect of it, even the parts we like.

I also find the example of a girlfriend pushing aside her mother and joining her boyfriend to be quite amusing as a young man myself. Bernie was feeling the Bern! I especially like the hello without fear. Today every greeting, at least in America, is fearful. We are afraid of love and intimacy and basic decency. We are afraid of respect, fun and most of all joy. And so much of this is repressed into the ultimately meaningless sexual expression that means nothing as long as capitalism still controls the interaction.

Let me elaborate here. I have found America to be a horribly confusing place to grow up in. Like Slavoj Zizek, I felt a tremendous pressure to have sex, and to more generally be “free and open” and all that bullshit. There was always an expectation here in liberal land that one must be completely reckless, have no self-worth, no respect for others, no appreciation for the mundane, no satisfaction within your own skin, we must be constantly performing, especially sexually or else we are supposedly not happy.

But to this I ask, what is happiness? Is it really the endless pursuit of goals that capitalism demands, forcing us to always be busy, always be lacking, always be screwing each other over so we can get what we want, supposedly so badly? Or is happiness mutual love, material stability, and deep purpose?

Then there is the easier to target essay from Sanders, the rape essay. We could actually learn a lot from it. Particularly about the commander in chief, who is a rapist, who was elected likely because, not in spite of, this fact.

First off, let’s give Sanders credit for confronting the violence and the horror head on. “He writes: A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused….A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.” Now here we have something radical, which only a few feminists have even stated. Consent isn’t good enough. What are the social expectations and material conditions that problematize a seemingly free interaction under capital?

Ok, a delightful anecdote: “The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday — and go to Church, or maybe to their ‘revolutionary’ political meeting.” Maybe that is where they’re going!

Sanders is so optimistic at the end: “And she said, ‘You wanted me not as a woman, or a lover, or a friend, but as a submissive woman, or submissive friend, or submissive lover…’

“And he said, ‘You’re full of ______.’

“And they never again made love together (which they had each liked to do more than anything) or never saw each other one more time.”” Even in the face of horror, he believes love to be the thing both parties ultimately want. That’s politically incorrect, but it’s the sort of attitude we need if we want to change society. The problem is not just “good and evil” it is the alienation from love itself that creates a context for epidemics of violence. Sanders though has never addressed domestic violence or the horrors of the family in his campaign.

Sanders and Trump, the good and bad Dad double, is a binary worth addressing. Just like any binary, we can recognize it as a binary not only because of differences, but because of similarities. So a quick word In response to homophobia and transphobia. The future is pansexual, pansexuality, pangender. The jailed sexual binary that Mr. Sanders addresses in his essay relies not only on the sexual difference, but sexual similarity. There is an idea that somehow the heterosexual relationship, the family relationship has some form of completion to it. Man completes woman, woman completes man. Together they function fully. Conflict is natural, makes us complete, etc.

Let’s push back on this. I think it is fairly obvious that a certain amount, perhaps an overwhelming amount of similarity is needed for a relationship to function in this way, where the differences are seen to complete each other. If the difference is too wide, there simply is too much to complete. Too much work to do.

Why don’t we fall in love with say, a chair? A chair is much more different than a human than we are from each other. Well, it is because chairs are too different from us. So it becomes upsetting for people when gay or trans people seem too similar, but isn’t this a sort of Goldilocks predicament? Not too different, not too similar, but just right. In fact, we couldn’t even isolate the differences in each other unless we were overwhelmingly similar. That’s how differences seem obvious.

So what actually happens is the difference itself is fetishized and isolated. It becomes a completely narcissistic question: what do I lack? How do I fill it?

How does one describe the appeal of Bernie Sanders? It isn’t, it can’t be, the imperialist capitalist policy that continues to co-opt with the Democratic Party? What’s exciting about that? Yes, take a close look and Bernie is mostly a pop culture sheepdog for the very establishment he rails against. However, this does not mean that America isn’t taking steps forward in its confrontation of class contradictions.

But American elections aren’t about the working class. The working class knows that the only victories are in protest, and that nine times out of ten, there won’t be victories at all.

America has the choice between a Father who says no and a Daddy who says yes. The mainstream media is doing everything in its power to prevent this showdown between Trump and Sanders. Sex is hard to repress. It may be the one thing the oligarchs can’t control. Oh well, that’s just more Daddy for us.

I’d like to purpose a more radical future. Why buy into any version of Daddy? The pansexual revolution seems to be even more inevitable than the communist revolution. Dad will say no, Daddy will say yes, but what do we think? How do we feel? America then is just in its revolutionary puberty, as Daddy Bernie enthusiastically tosses us condoms.

Our purpose is not to continue Daddy’s line, or even our own. Our purpose is to die in the arms of another (or several others), not necessarily in a sexual or literal way but in a radically communal one. Ultimately all progress, all revolution, comes from a death of an old order, and a birth of a new one. The only way to break our own selves, our own perception, our own smallness, is to learn and experience this world, as someone else. From here our fragility and our futility are apparent and revolution is not only easy, it is natural. For we are no longer completing our own lack but adding the lack of the Other. Life multiplies and we feel invincible—and all over again we fall in love with this world. This all must be done soon, before the real death eclipses the symbolic one.

The post The Overwhelming Sex Appeal Of Bernie Sanders appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Why This Election Is Different

Elections, I think most of us can agree, usually bring out the idiocy, superficiality, and illogic in everyone who can muster any. Imagine supporting, as many did, Sanders and then Trump because they were both “outsiders.” On Tuesday, I heard somebody on CNN announce that Sanders and Klobuchar were both “change candidates” (because you’d have to change every bit of the platform of one of them to match that of the other?). Tokenism no longer embarrasses voters or even the candidates who openly campaign on it. When voters are asked on television how they choose a candidate, they talk about temperament, personality, debating skills, and intelligence.

U.S. presidents 43, 44, and 45 have been, respectively, a nitwit, a smart guy, and a dumbfuck. The policies have been variations on the theme of rolling catastrophe regardless. Climate collapse is ever nearer, and nuclear apocalypse is more likely than ever before (according to the Doomsday Clock). By the time we work our way through horrible presidents of every sex, race, sexual orientation, and ethnicity, the idea of humanity surviving on earth will be a sadder joke than Rachel Maddow’s latest Russian revelation. We can elect the very best prom king or queen, the person we’d like to have a beer with, the “outsider,” the “change candidate,” or some other vacuous label, but none of that will steer the world away from the cliff it’s rushing toward.

If representative government is supposed to approximate democracy, then we have to figure out what we want and who will come closest to representing it. Do we want a civilized healthcare system like the rest of the wealthy nations of the world have long had? Or do we want to spend more money for less health but keep our beloved insurance companies or our pathetic union contract privileges? Do we want to put up a serious struggle to stop destroying the earth’s habitability? Or do we want to avoid any radical changes to a planned and consciously pursued disaster? Do we want to make college part of public education as other countries do with great success? Or do we want to stay ignorant and broke enough to never quite become aware of what imbeciles we’re being? Do we want to go on subsidizing fossil fuels, enriching multi-billionaires, and dumping $1.25 trillion a year into wars and preparations for more wars, or do we want to try a wiser approach tested and proven for decades by societies around the world?

The United States is a freak global outlier in its enrichment of the rich, its acceptance of poverty, its military spending, and it’s shunning of basic human rights to housing, education, and healthcare. Bernie Sanders is a moderate candidate promoting popular programs that have been used more and with more success than the policies that he proposes abandoning.

Most people will tell you that voting for a third-party candidate in the United States is a lifestyle choice, an act of purity, the enactment of a worldview. Similarly, donning a clothespin and voting for a lesser-evil two-party candidate is supposedly the outcome of a particular inclination toward reform instead of revolution, or a rational choice based on the short-term options available. The same ideas are widely held about protesting versus lobbying.

But what if you actually want something of a government? What if you actually act as a member of the informed public that a government is supposed to represent? Then, wouldn’t you lobby when something decent was under consideration, but protest when nothing was? Wouldn’t you vote for a third-party candidate when the two parties were clearly headed toward apocalypse, but back a two-party candidate if one appeared who was less enough evil? You can grade the world on a curve only if you have no independent standards, such as sustainability for your species.

That’s the difference in this election. Bernie Sanders is a million miles from perfect. But he is radically superior to who he was four years ago, to the other Democratic candidates, and to the past 45 presidents. A greatly enlarged movement will need to move him and the Congress and the whole society in the right direction, but such a movement will be in a far better place with him than with any of the other candidates. If we must be tokenists, let’s just declare it time to elect a Jew. But if we care about the earth, let’s declare it time to stop being morons.

Why would anyone elect another same-old schmuck? Why is this even a question? A billionaire who buys his way in and lies about his racially targeted sadism? A slimy small-town mayor who backs what billionaires tell him to back? A senator who seems to think Hillary’s only mistake was being too inspiring? A senile former vice president whose bloody fingerprints are on every act of cruelty to come out of Washington for generations? Are you kidding me?

Turn off your televisions! Avoid debates! Read the candidates’ websites. They tell you what they are proposing to do. It’s not secret information. But here’s an important secret that I’ll let you in on. The candidate who excites you and others is, for that very reason, the candidate most likely to win. The idea that the candidate who’s not offering anything people give two damns for is the “electable” candidate is an insidious creation of the corporate media, the people who assured you Trump would never win, the people who swore that Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and Pakistan and Somalia and Yemen and Syria would be improved by bombing, the people who are now claiming that Bernie has “flat lined in first place” while the “serious” candidates are “surging” into second and third and fourth place.

The revolution will not be televised.

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Western States Petroleum Association Tops CA Lobbying Expenses with $8.8 Million Spent in 2019

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, placed first in the annual lobbying “competition” in California in 2019 with $8.8 million spent on influencing legislators, the Governor’s office and other state officials, a position it captures most years.

The San Ramon-based Chevron spent the third most money on lobbying in California last year, spending a total of $5.9 million.

When you add the $8.8 million from WSPA and the $5.9 million from Chevron, that comes to a total of $14.7 million spent of lobbying between the two oil industry giants.

Most notably, the money spent on lobbying by WSPA, Chevron and other oil companies was successful in preventing the Legislature from approving Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi’s AB 345, a bill to ensure that new oil and gas wells not on federal land are located 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds and health clinics,

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez made it into a two-old bill after pulling the bill from the Assembly Appropriations Committee that she chairs on May 16.

According to state campaign finance data unveiled by investigative journalist Steve Horn for the Real News, Gonzalez has received campaign money throughout her career from Tesoro ($13,000) ExxonMobil ($3,500) CA Independent Petroleum Association ($7,000), Chevron ($11,300), CA Building Industry Association ($10,300), and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California PAC ($34,300). For more information, read: Why Did the California Assembly Table Oil Setbacks Bill? therealnews.com/…

Unlike many other oil and gas producing states including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, supposedly “green” California currently has no health and safety zones around oil and gas drilling operations.

For example, the state of Texas requires the fracking operations maintain 250 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other facilities while the City of Dallas mandates 1500 foot setbacks around oil and gas wells.

However, despite the flurry of oil industry spending on AB 345 and other bills last year, the bill has made considerable progress this year in the Legislature, passing the Assembly Floor by a vote 42 to 30 on January 27:  www.dailykos.com/…

AB 345 is now in the Senate. The bill has been read for the first time and has gone on to the  Committee on Revenue & Taxation (RLS) for assignment.

The increase in oil and gas drilling permits in recent years — and fact that California has no health and safety setbacks like many other states do — is a result of the millions of dollars every year that WSPA and oil companies spend every year on lobbying state officials, including the Governor’s Office and state regulatory agencies, as well as the many millions spent by the oil industry on campaign contributions to politicians and campaign committees.

Both the Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom administrations expanded oil and gas drilling in California in recent years. The Brown administration approved 21,000 new or reworked well permits and Newsom’s regulators had approved over 4,049 new or reworked permits as of November 4, 2019. In addition, state regulators, while opposing new offshore drilling leases in federal waters off California, have increased offshore drilling permits in state waters under existing leases.

At the same time that California officials are approving new oil and gas wells, a report by the California Council on Science & Technology reveals that California taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $500 million to plug thousands of “orphan” wells drilled and abandoned by oil and gas companies.

The study, “Orphan Wells in California: An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities to Plug and Decommission Orphan Oil and Gas Wells,” was conducted at the request of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), now called the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), under the California Department of Conservation.

“An initial analysis of readily available information suggests that 5,540 wells in California are, as defined, likely orphan wells or are at high risk of becoming orphan wells in the near future,” the report states. “The State’s potential net liability (subtracting available bonds held by CalGEM) for these wells is estimated to be about $500 million.”

The Western States Petroleum Association (www.wspa.org) describes itself as “a non-profit trade association that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in the five western states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.” WSPA’s headquarters is located in Sacramento, California. Additional WSPA locations include offices in Torrance, Concord, Ventura, Bakersfield, and Olympia, Washington.

The association is led by Catherine Reheis-Boyd-Boyd, the WSPA President and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” off the Southern California Coast.

The group spent $2,482,133 lobbying in 2019’s third quarter after spending $4,126,703 in the first 2 quarters of the year. WSPA’s expenses for the fourth quarter of 2019 were $2,216,688.92. Here are the expenses as listed on the California Secretary of State’s website:

For the entire 2017-2018 Session, WSPA spent a total of $15,768,069. The group spent $7,874, 807 to influence California government officials in 2018. Of the four quarters, WSPA spent its most money lobbying, $2,649,018, in the eighth quarter, from October 1 to December 31, 2018.

Over the past decade, WSPA and Big Oil have topped the list of spenders on lobbying the Legislature in California. During the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, the oil industry spent a historic $36.1 million to lobby lawmakers and officials in California.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

According to Cal Matters, here are the five top spenders of 2019:

* Western States Petroleum Association, $8.8. million.

* California Teachers Association, the public school teachers’ union, $6.9 million.

* Chevron, $5.9 million

* California State Council of Service Employees, representing state workers, $4.4 million.

* Edison International, $3.3 million

Here are the five top spenders over the past five years:

* Western States Petroleum Association, $43.3 million.

* California State Council of Service Employees, $24.3 million.

* Chevron, $19.9 million

* PG&E, $18 million

* California Hospital Association, $17.5 million.

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The Medium Warps the Message Straight to Our Extinction

I’ve been working lately on an article about Extinction Rebellion, the direct action movement that emerged out of England in 2019 and has since gone worldwide to spread the message that radical civil disobedience is the only way to alter our deranged course toward climate catastrophe.

XR, as the movement is known, espouses a noble cause, and its co-founder, Roger Hallam, is a radical who announces with clarion voice that system change can only happen if enough people organize together to force it to happen.

Now, reader, traipse blithely across the internet looking for articles about Mr. Hallam, and you will find, for example, this sympathetic and informative piece published at Vox.com on Jan 14 of this year.   It’s an interview with Hallam.

Try – I dare you – to read the interview.

For as you scroll through the text, you will find that your mind wanders in the debilitating way that Nicholas Carr described in his 2011 book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.

The Shallows is a deconstruction of the mental disability – one of constant distraction, inability to focus, inability to think deeply, to ponder and mull – that results from the typical reading platform on the internet in which hyperlinks and blinking images abound.

Forget about Extinction Rebellion and the fight for a livable planet for our children; forget about Hallam’s insights.

Instead: constant flashing video snippets alongside the Vox interview with him advertise the network premiere of a series on ABC called “For Life.”  I have no idea what the series is about, nor do I care to know what it’s about.   As I attempted in vain to finish the interview, I came to wish for a slow death for the producers of “For Life” and all the people involved in it.

Point is: The medium by which information is imparted, as Marshall McLuhan informed us decades ago, often matters a whole lot more than the information itself.

One sits in front of a screen trying to understand issues of immense importance for our collective future, as expressed by Hallam, but it is impossible to do so with a clear mind – because of advertising that provides the revenue that pays Vox’s reporter to conduct its interview with him.

In the end, though, it’s not a matter of profiteering advertisements, however  detestable these are.  Nicholas Carr argues, rightly, that every internet article, published by a for-profit or a non-profit or fly-by-night self-published ranters (yours truly), contains within it the seeds of distraction when it links to something else.

The bind in which we find ourselves is the obvious one: that the very system of communication we are forced (or, more accurately, acquiesce) to employ to share the needed knowledge to spread rebellion against the status quo – the status quo that leads to catastrophe – might in fact make organizing that rebellion impossible to achieve.   (The technophiles will cry, What about Facebook?  What about Twitter? Well, what about them?  Nothing significant in the power relations in global society has changed with their advent — nothing except that rebellions against entrenched power are now more easily surveilled and squelched under the all-seeing eye of the panopticon.)

Granted, I have no suggestion for an alternative.  Here am I, writing an article on the godforsaken internet, communicating to you on a screen, and my article contains within it a link, which surely you have clicked on – and that clicking is just one example of the distracted imbecilic mindlessness that besets us broadly as an advanced technological civilization and that will lead ultimately, I believe, to the self-immolation of humankind.

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Trump’s Gutting of NEPA Will Cut the Public Out of Public Lands Decisions

Mt. Hood from Lookout Peak, Badger Creek Wilderness. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The Trump administration is stampeding ahead with a rewrite of the regulationsimplementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This landmark law requires federal agencies to study—and let the public weigh in on—the environmental impacts of federal actions. Ironically, given NEPA’s central purpose of including the public in environmental decision-making, the Trump administration is already cutting the public out of its regulatory overhaul.

I know firsthand: As the director of the nation’s leading environmental group addressing public lands livestock grazing, I am blocked from giving testimony at the public hearing on new NEPA regulations that govern, among other things, livestock grazing on America’s public lands. The Council on Environmental Quality held a lottery to attend the Denver public hearing, and the tickets were gone in a matter of minutes. I got a ticket to sit in the audience and watch as the Trump administration unravels this critical environmental law, but I won’t be permitted to provide my organization’s expertise on NEPA and its nexus with public lands management. Many other conservationists got locked out entirely.

Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1970, after more than a century of private industries running roughshod over public lands. The headlong rush to exploit public lands for economic gain, particularly in the West, led to genocide of native peoples, desertification by cattle and sheep, loss of trout and salmon populations, destruction of old-growth forests, decimation of native wildlife, and widespread air and water pollution.

NEPA has three basic – and commonsense – requirements. In conducting the legally required environmental reviews, federal agencies must look before they leap, examining the environmental consequences of proposed actions before they are approved. Science plays a central role. They must examine a range of alternatives, including alternatives more compatible with environmental protection than the original proposal. The public is entitled to an opportunity for meaningful input, and agencies must respond to public comments.

The federal government manages National Parks and Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, and Bureau of Land Management lands in trust, on behalf of the American public. NEPA is the sole means for the public to have a voice in how these public lands are managed. Will they be managed for public enjoyment or benefit? Or primarily to generate private profits for commercial and industrial interests? And to what degree, if any, will safeguards be required to protect the environment, and public use and enjoyment?

The proposed regulations erect roadblocks to prevent public oversight and participation, expanding the use of “categorical exclusions.” These loopholes that allow agencies to approve environmentally destructive actions with no public input and without a thorough environmental review. The proposed regulations also open the door for states – that may be actively hostile to federal protections, as in Utah and Wyoming – to dictate uses of public lands that they have no legal authority to manage.

The new regulations only require public involvement at the “scoping” stage, before alternatives are explained and impacts are disclosed. This essentially blocks the public from providing information about the agency’s alternatives or about the level of impact projected for a proposed action.

Draconian deadlines and page limits would reduce the thoroughness and quality of scientific analysis in NEPA documents, and Environmental Assessments would no longer have to have detailed explanations of alternatives. Without a detailed discussion of each alternative, of course, independent verification of an alternative’s impacts would be impossible. Fast-tracking project approvals and short-cutting scientific analysis of impacts inevitably results in hasty decisions and environmentally damaging mistakes – exactly the problem NEPA was drafted to solve.

The new regulations eliminate the legal requirement to examine cumulative impacts, allowing agencies to consider impacts of individual projects in a vacuum. In Wyoming, state agencies consider each oil or gas well in a field an individual industrial site for air quality compliance, instead of considering the cumulative pollution generated by thousands of wells in a single wellfield. This is how Pinedale, Wyoming got worse air pollution than Los Angeles, and the attendant lung disease problems. Under the new NEPA regulations, the BLM could follow Wyoming’s example and approve thousands of individual wells — authorizing massive oil and gas fields piecemeal with devastating effects on sage grouse populations, big game herds, migration corridors, or air quality — while ignoring the magnitude of those impacts.

The proposed new regulations also mount a major attack on NEPA by abandoning the long tradition of requiring a thorough Environmental Impact Statement to carefully consider environmental impacts of large-scale “programmatic” decisions, like land-use plans that govern millions of acres of public land. Forest Plans and other land-use plans govern where industrial destruction will be allowed, and where it won’t. They also identify the terms and conditions (notably mandatory environmental protections) that must be applied. Without a NEPA process, these zoning decisions occur in the dark, without consideration of public health or environmental protection, and indeed without any consideration of the consequences.

The new regulations also seek to frustrate judicial oversight. They set up barriers for environmental groups even getting to challenge unlawful decisions in court, and once there, they eliminate the presumption that a federal agency violating NEPA is itself a harm that justifies halting the action being challenged. In this way, the NEPA regs go beyond violating NEPA itself and violate the separation of powers guaranteed in the Constitution.

These problems are only the tip of the iceberg, yet they show the severity of the Trump administration’s attack on our nation’s public lands by tampering with NEPA’s regulations. Since the Trump administration is shutting conservationists out of “public” meetings, they can now read about it in the press.

Erik Molvar is Executive Director for Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit environmental conservation group working to protect and restore watersheds and wildlife throughout the American West.

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Tulsi Gabbard: A Political Postmortem

The all-or-nothing New Hampshire gamble of Tulsi Gabbard has come up snake eyes.

As I write, with 97 percent of the vote tallied, she is in seventh place, with a meager 3.3 percent of the vote, behind Tom Steyer. It is hard to imagine any path forward for her. And, frankly, one must acknowledge that this was a debacle of her own making.

Yes, she suffered the slings and arrows of the neoliberal political/media establishment on the few occasions it deigned to take note of her. But it seems to me that her vexing waffling on key issues is what did her in. A former all-out supporter of Medicare for all, she began, last fall, to echo neoliberals like Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden with a plan for a misguided public/private hybrid, variously dubbed “Medicare Choice” or “Medicare Plus,” reserving people’s right to retain their private insurance. (“I support a single-payer system that will allow individuals to access private insurance if they choose,” she states on her campaign Web site.) But what kind of private insurance? For basic services, which would thus compete with the main public plan and thus render it fiscally unsustainable? Or for just elective and boutique services, as in Canada? She has never spelled this out. Moreover, she demurred on sponsoring the Green New Deal bill. These equivocations have placed her closer to the establishment than to the independent left on the two most critical issues facing the electorate.

Then came two other odd overt tilts to the right: favoring charter schools and “school choice” and opposing the cancelation of student debt (she told a college student, “I think there’s a responsibility there that students need to bear,” and then emitted a four-minute rhetorical fog designed to obscure her real position). It’s as though she thought she could attract wavering votes from the middle lane while trying to appear to bear left. But exactly how does this calculation differ from Warren’s duplicitous feints to the left while winking right? To add egregious insult to these political injuries, ten days ago Gabbard Tweeted out her “love” to the scurrilous bigot and neo-fascist radio pit bull Rush Limbaugh upon hearing the news of his lung cancer. That is beyond comprehension or excuse. I think, in the end, these suspect political tergiversations cost her a good deal of credibility and energy among her progressive followers while failing to peel off any of the centrist gravitation toward Buttigieg and Klobuchar. That’s how you end up with 3.3 percent after moving to New Hampshire and shoving all your chips onto that table.

We can still admire Gabbard on many grounds: the unrivaled boldness—among major party candidates, at least—of her denunciations of US regime-change interventionism; her potent one-punch knockout blow against the rising neoliberal star Kamala Harris at last July’s Detroit debate; her resistance to the PC establishment siren songs of identity politics, Russiagate, Ukrainegate, and impeachment while Bernie and AOC ran with those diversionary DNC stampedes; her unsparing honesty in denouncing the “rot” of the Democratic Party and her calling out Hillary Clinton as the “queen of warmongers” before suing her for defamation for the infamous “Russian asset” slur; her defense of Bernie Sanders against Elizabeth Warren’s clumsy imputations of sexism just before and after last month’s Iowa debate; and her open disdain of conventional political careerism in resigning from the DNC in 2016 in order to support Sanders’s presidential bid. These gestures of principle marked her out as a candidate of unique vision and independence who refused to run with this or that political herd or fashion. But in the end, she was too indecisive and equivocal for her own good: in politics, if you run with no crowd at all, you run alone—or with 3.3 percent.

I’ve defended Gabbard against her detractors on the left who have falsely maligned her as a Hindu nationalist, Modi surrogate or, strangely, closet militarist. But her political identity crisis of the past months won her few new friends and cost her too many of her old ones. Whatever her blindest and most ardent supporters imagined her to be politically, it appears that she isn’t all that. What exactly she is, and where she will end up, is far from clear right now. She has vowed to press on, but with modest resources and dwindling grass-roots support, her campaign has morphed overnight from quixotic crusade to self-serving fantasy.

Tulsi Gabbard: like Walter Mitty, inscrutable to the last.

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The Lies of Industry and the Liars Who Sell Them

Climate change isn’t real.  Tobacco isn’t as bad as people say.  Monsanto’s RoundUp doesn’t cause cancer.  The fact that these statements are still considered valid by some people is not because they might be true or because some people are just stupid.  That some deny these and other scientifically proven phenomena is testament to the power of what researcher David Michaels calls the product defense industry.  His new book, titled The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception, is an expose of this industry and how it works to enable those industries who profit from the sale of carcinogens and other poisons.

Michaels is a scientist who has spent much of his professional life researching and exposing products sold to the US public despite the manufacturer knowing of their potential dangers.  When he worked for the US Occupational Safety and Health Association under Barack Obama, he brought his knowledge into a government regulatory agency.  This work enabled him to help create regulations regarding the proliferation of silica dust in workplaces around the world.  It also provided him with a close up look at the politics and commercial pressures involved in trying to make American workplaces safer places to work.  Perhaps the ultimate expression of those pressures came after Donald Trump moved into the White House and appointed Michaels’ replacement—an industry hack who immediately challenged the silica dust regulations.  Silica dust is created in many construction and industrial operations and has been linked to various lung diseases.  Michaels describes the court case, astounded at the pathetic case put forth by the Trump administration.  Fortunately for many US workers who work around this potentially deadly dust, the judge rejected the Trump administration’s joke of a case.  Many of those workers whose jobs involve the creation of this dust are now protected by devices attached to all power tools and machines that might produce the poisonous dust.

Michaels introduces his book with a discussion of the 2015 Deflategate “scandal” around Tom Brady, the New England Patriots and the National Football League.  After explaining the issue, he takes apart the NFL’s accusations and their use of a firm that “produce(s) reports that predictably reach conclusions favorable to their clients.”  The point he is trying to make is that there is an entire industry devoted to lying for corporations and their profits.  Furthermore, this industry has supposedly objective scientists in their back pocket; scientists willing to manipulate studies and the results of those studies to serve their paymasters.  If these scientists cannot tell outright lies, they use their status to sow doubt about genuinely objective studies.  Douglas appropriately labels such scientists “mercenary scientists.”  He spends the rest of the book presenting this commonplace practice in the United States.

The boilerplate for the science of deception industry Michaels describes can be found in the decades-long battle against the tobacco industry. A chapter in the text briefly discusses this battle that ultimately found the industry liable for much of the damage its products caused.  Throughout the rest of the text, the author refers the reader back to this string of cases and the firms hired by the tobacco giants.  His point is that, although the product being fought over might have changed, the product defense industry’s tactics remain pretty much the same.  Whether the product is OxyContin or sugar, alcoholic beverages or diesel engines, Michaels makes his point that corrupted science not only distorts public health and safety, it does so with intent and a callous disregard for the public.  Furthermore, the government agencies and the politicians who are supposed to oversee them are all too often just as corrupt.  In part, this is due to the defunding of the agencies by politicians beholden to industry.  However, it is often considerably more blatant, with high-level executives appointed to head the very agencies their companies are subject to oversight from.  This latter phenomenon tends to occur most often when the Republicans control the White House.  Democrats are a bit more subtle, as a rule.

After presenting his case in a general way; then highlighting various industries and the attempts at lies and manufacturing doubt from paid-off scientists in the product defense business, Michaels closes the text with a brief list of suggestions he thinks are necessary to protect the US consumer.  The specific steps he suggests include the use of scientists untainted by the product industry they are evaluating, complete disclosure of who funds the tests and the institutes conducting those tests, protecting the public from entire classes of chemicals, not just individual ones, and recognizing the important role litigation can play in protecting the public’s health.  Ultimately, however, Michaels acknowledges (and clearly states) that as long as short term profits are considered more important than public and planetary health, there is little chance that the poisons unnecessarily present in our lives will go away.  Most politicians and the profiteers so many of them serve will only do the right thing when they have little or no other choice.  This, he insists, is why we must organize against the system that puts profits before people and change it to its opposite.

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Menace on the Menu in Post-EU Britain

Environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason has just written the report ‘Bayer Crop Science rules Britain after Brexit – the public and the press are being poisoned by pesticides’. It has been sent to editors of major media outlets in the UK. In it, she outlines her concerns for pesticide regulation, health and the environment in a post-Brexit landscape. This article presents some of the report’s key points.

PM Boris Johnson is planning to do a trade deal with the US that could see the gutting of food and environment standards. However, Johnson recently suggested that the UK will be “governed by science, not mumbo-jumbo” on food imports. He has called for an end to “hysterical” fears about US food coming to the UK as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.

In a speech setting out his goals for trade after Brexit, he talked up the prospect of an agreement with Washington and downplayed the need for one with Brussels – if the EU insists the UK must stick to its regulatory regime. In other words, he wants to ditch EU regulations.

Just as concerning is who has the ear of government. Rosemary Mason notes that, in February 2019, at a Brexit meeting on the UK chemicals sector, UK regulators and senior officials from government departments listened to the priorities of the Bayer Crop Science Division. During the meeting (Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum Keynote Seminar: Priorities for UK chemicals sector – challenges, opportunities and the future for regulation post-Brexit), Janet Williams, head of regulatory science at Bayer Crop Science Division, made her priorities for agricultural chemical manufacturers known.

Dave Bench was also a speaker. Bench is a senior scientist at the UK Chemicals, Health and Safety Executive and director of the agency’s EU exit plan and has previously stated that the regulatory system for pesticides is robust and balances the risks of pesticides against the benefits to society.

In a recent open letter to Bench, Mason states:

“That statement is rubbish. It is for the benefit of the agrochemical industry. The industry (for it is the industry that does the testing, on behalf of regulators) only tests one pesticide at a time, whereas farmers spray a cocktail of pesticides, including over children and babies, without warning.”

Furthermore, Mason has presented to him and other officials statistics on the spiralling rates of disease and illness among the UK public which correlate with the increasing use of agrochemicals, especially glyphosate.

While the UK was officially no longer part of the EU as of 1 February 2020, it will continue to follow EU rules on pesticide authorisations during a transition period lasting at least until 31 December 2020. But when the transition period ends, the UK could choose to go its own way, with major implications for several significant pesticides, including glyphosate and neonicotinoids.

In her new report, Mason discusses the health dangers of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide and an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and numerous other products. These dangers (along with corrupt practices that have kept it on the market) have been documented many times in Mason’s various open letters to officials.

Glyphosate is authorised in the EU until 2022. Reauthorisation will therefore be considered after the end of the Brexit transition period. Luxembourg is now phasing out its use and will become the first EU country to permanently ban glyphosate. EU countries only narrowly approved its reauthorisation in 2017. The exit of the UK from the soon to be 27-country bloc could tip the voting scales against the substance in 2022.

On the other hand, however, Mason concludes that it is highly likely that the UK will authorise the continued use of glyphosate given the influence of industry.

As for neonicotinoids–seed-coating insecticides that have been linked to harming to bees – Mason concludes that it is difficult to say whether the UK would stick to its most recent position in favour of a ban on clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. She advises officials to take notice of Dr Henk Tennekes’ toxicological studies on systemic neonicotinoid insecticides from 2010. Tennekes says that unwarranted product defence by Bayer and Syngenta may have had catastrophic consequences for the environment.

Human health and glyphosate

Boris Johnson said on 3 February 2020:

“I look at the Americans, they look pretty well nourished to me. And I don’t hear any of these critics of American food coming back from the United States and complaining… So, let’s take some of the paranoia out of this argument.”

Mason’s response is that to judge the health of a nation by claiming “they look well nourished to me” is pure nonsense: the US has the most obese citizens in the world and Britain has the second. In her numerous reports over the past 10 years, she has been consistently documenting a major public health crisis which is affecting both countries as a result of the chemical contamination of food and crops.

Of course, with a US trade deal in the pipeline, there are major concerns about GMOs, chlorinated chickens and the lowering of food standards across the board. But for Mason, glyphosate is a big concern.

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests found glyphosate on 63 percent of corn samples and 67 percent of soybean samples. But the FDA did not test any oats and wheat, the two main crops where glyphosate is used as a pre-harvest drying agent, resulting in glyphosate contamination of foods such as Cheerios and some brands of granola.

Olga Naidenko, senior science advisor for children’s health at the Environment Working Group (EWG) has responded by saying:

“FDA’s failure to test for glyphosate in the foods where it’s most likely to be found is inexcusable.”

In August, tests commissioned by EWG found glyphosate residues on popular oat cereals, oatmeal, granola and snack bars. Almost three-fourths of the 45 samples tested had glyphosate levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety.

Mason says that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals: diseases skip a generation. Washington State University researchers have found a variety of diseases and other health problems in the second- and third-generation offspring of rats exposed to glyphosate. In the first study of its kind, the researchers saw descendants of exposed rats developing prostate, kidney and ovarian diseases, obesity and birth abnormalities.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers say they saw “dramatic increases” in several pathologies affecting the second and third generations. The second generation had “significant increases” in testis, ovary and mammary gland diseases, as well as obesity. In third-generation males, the researchers saw a 30 percent incidence of prostate disease — three times the rate of a control population. The third generation of females had a 40 percent incidence of kidney disease, or four times the rate of the controls.

More than one-third of the second-generation mothers had unsuccessful pregnancies, with most of those affected dying. Two out of five males and females in the third generation were obese.

Mason notes that researchers call this phenomenon “generational toxicology” and they’ve seen it over the years in fungicides, pesticides, jet fuel, the plastics compound bisphenol A, the insect repellent DEET and the herbicide atrazine. At work are epigenetic changes that turn genes on and off, often because of environmental influences.

Glyphosate has been the subject of numerous studies about its health effects. This recent study is the third in the past few months out of Washington alone. A study published in February found the chemical increased the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by as much as 41 percent. A Washington State University study published in December found state residents living close to areas subject to treatments with the herbicide are one-third more likely to die an early death from Parkinson’s disease.

This research adds to long-held health-related concerns about glyphosate.

Robert F Kennedy Jr, one of the attorney’s fighting Bayer (which has bought Monsanto) in the US courts, has explained that for four decades Monsanto manoeuvred to conceal Roundup’s carcinogenicity by capturing regulatory agencies, corrupting public officials, bribing scientists and engaging in scientific fraud to delay its day of reckoning. He says that Monsanto also faces cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts.

Moreover, strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

Nevertheless, Mason notes, senior officials in the UK trot out platitudes about glyphosate being harmless and refer to flawed procedures and biased assessments that overlooked key studies.

With these health issues in mind, we should remind ourselves of Boris Johnson’s first speech to parliament as PM. In it, he said:

“Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules…”

This could mean the irresponsible introduction of genetically modified Roundup Ready food crops to the UK, which would see the amount of glyphosate in British food reaching new levels (levels which are already disturbing).

In finishing, it is worth mentioning that Mason makes some very pertinent points about the Conservative government in the UK, accusing it of working hand in glove with Monsanto and now Bayer. Yet, as IG Farben, Bayer collaborated with the Nazis and had a factory and prisoner of war camp at Auschwitz. For Mason, the fact that the UK media remain silent on this and has run smear campaigns about Labour and Jeremy Corbyn being anti-semitic is as disgraceful as it is hypocritical.

The UK media do not mention the US lawsuits against Monsanto-Bayer and all the diseases that Roundup brings. The media also ignore every report Mason sends to them in the hope mainstream journalists will inform the public of the dangers of pesticides and pressurise the government to act.

In the meantime, Boris Johnson is attempting to soften up the public on behalf of the corporate interests he represents. Based on no science (or scruples) whatsoever, Johnson says US citizens are fit and healthy and dismisses valid science-based concerns about the food system as “mumbo jumbo” and hysteria. He hopes the public will fall for his knockabout schtick and will remain blissfully ignorant of the reality. With the media’s compliance, the majority of people may well do.

Readers are urged to read Rosemary Mason’s new report, which contains all relevant references and additional information to that which has been outlined in this article. It can be accessed on the academia.edu website along with dozens of her previous reports

The post Menace on the Menu in Post-EU Britain appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Mnangagwa’s Neoliberal Assault on the Zimbabwean People

As Zimbabwe’s economy continues its descent since a military coup installed Emmerson Mnangagwa as the nation’s ruler in November 2017, his government’s response has been to double down on its ruinous neoliberal reform program.

How much more austerity the Zimbabwean people can endure is another question, following an economic downturn of 6.5% last year and an unemployment rate that is said to stand at 95%. [1] The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) slams the additional austerity measures that were “implemented in 2019 against the backdrop of deep socio-economic woes,” charging that “they cultivated an enabling environment for inequality to thrive,” while budget cuts have “further relegated ordinary citizens to abject poverty.” [2]

Privatization and Privation

Mnangagwa’s aim is nothing less than the total transformation of the economy, and Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mthuli Ncube has proclaimed, “We will be privatizing the banking assets that we own; we are going to make a lot of progress this year, and we want to make sure that we really create a private sector-led economy in Zimbabwe.” [3]

On October 5, 2018, Mnangagwa’s government published its Transitional Stabilization Program (TSP), which detailed the reform measures that the government planned to implement over the following two years. In the document’s preface, Mnangagwa stated that the policy “will inevitably be driven by the private sector,” which will entail “opening the country to international investors and financiers.” The Civil Service is being repurposed so that it focuses on serving the needs of private capital. Mnangagwa wants the government to create “an enabling environment for state and non-state actors, including the private sector and communities in the delivery of public goods and services, and development.” [4]

The aim of what the TSP terms an “entrepreneurial Civil Service” is to facilitate “the identification and creation of opportunities” for investors looking to establish “service delivery and enterprises.” State and private sector actors will team in producing “the delivery of public goods and services, and development.” [5] Investors taking over privatized public services will undoubtedly be motivated by profit-seeking rather than serving the common good, while the role of government is to provide business with profitable opportunities.

A key goal of the stabilization program is to dismantle much of the public sector. As the document phrases it, the objective is to “scale down” government support for “public entities and local authorities,” in favor of “deepening synergies with the private sector.” [6] As interpreted by privatization-inclined officials, where there can be “efficiency gains, it will be desirable for Government entities and local authorities to move out in favor of private sector service provision.” [7] Since no amount of evidence can persuade the neoliberal mind that there could ever be a case of efficient public service, this amounts to coded language for near-total privatization.

The first phase of privatization is slated to be completed by the end of 2020. By that time, eleven state-owned enterprises should be privatized, along with 23 subsidiaries of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation. Additionally, two state-owned firms and three IDC subsidiaries are to be liquidated altogether. [8]

The privatization effort is an ongoing process, and many other public enterprises will undergo performance reviews, which will “recommend to Government on the best options for reforming these.” [9] Initially, more than half of 107 state entities will be “undergoing reform.” [10] While investors can seize the chance to purchase state-owned enterprises at bargain-basement prices, government workers will follow a different economic trajectory, as the program promises that “the salary and benefits freeze imposed on all State Entities…remains in force.” [11] Those enterprises not immediately privatized will have the groundwork laid for their eventual disposal, as the plan calls for the “introduction of more private-sector experts in overseeing management of public enterprises.” [12]

Mnangagwa’s economic policymakers want to pit provinces and localities against each other in lowering costs to compete in attracting investors. “Marketwise,” the policy document states, “each province and Local Authority will transform itself into an investment and economic zone,” in order to make themselves “attractive for both local and foreign investment.” [13] The logic of the approach is that the return for maximizing profitability for investors will be a downward spiral in living standards for ordinary workers, as they are compelled to undercut other areas.

Except for diamonds and platinum, Mnangagwa had already jettisoned Zimbabwe’s Indigenization and Empowerment Act, which had mandated a minimum of 51% local ownership in mining companies. Now he has also eliminated the local ownership provision for diamond and platinum mining operations. [14] As Minister Ncube explains, “We say Zimbabwe is open for business; you can only be open if you allow ownership of 100 percent.” [15] As a further inducement to foreign investors, the royalty rate on diamond mining is being reduced by one third this year. [16]

When a government is more eager to please Western investors than its people, the conventional approach is to seek the advice of the IMF, and Mnangagwa’s government is no different. It asked the IMF to help direct and manage its neoliberal stabilization program through a Staff-Monitored Program (SMP) for the period of May 15, 2019, to March 15, 2020, [17] which presumably may be extended. Not surprisingly, the advice the IMF has to offer adheres to its customary tried-and-failed approach. The IMF says the SMP “is designed to support the authorities’ reform agenda,” which, among other structural measures, includes a “market-based foreign exchange,” and “steps to reform and privatize state-owned enterprises.” [18]

As an inducement to the IMF, Minister Ncube attached a letter in his request to the IMF to establish the SMP, offering two carrots that would be enough to gladden the heart of any public-sector slashing wrecker. He pointed out that Zimbabwe’s budget “will reduce the real wages of public servants,” while state-owned enterprises “have been earmarked for privatization, liquidation, or merger.” As for the agricultural sector, Ncube assured the IMF that “our objective is to reorient the financing model for agriculture to crowd in private-sector financing, reduce significantly government footprint in production, and lessen the dependence on the budget.” [19]

The IMF applauded the government’s 2019 budget cuts that targeted programs that benefit the population at large, including “further fiscal consolidation by containing the wage bill, reducing transfers to SOEs [State Owned Enterprises] and improving the design of agricultural subsidies.” [20] What the IMF meant by its use of the word ‘improving’ was made more explicit when it noted that Zimbabwe’s budget “envisages a gradual phasing out of these subsidies, allowing the private sector to take the lead in driving” what it rather imaginatively termed “sustainable growth in the agricultural sector.” [21]

Despite all these steps, the government’s drive to liberalize the economy has not been fast enough to suit the IMF, as Zimbabwe has missed hitting some IMF-set targets. A meeting will be held in Washington, DC later this month to determine “the way forward.” [22]

A standard aim of neoliberal economic policy is to shift costs from the wealthy onto working people. Following that prescription, Zimbabwe has raised fuel costs until the nation now has the world’s highest-priced gasoline. [23] In a further blow to a population reeling from the impact of hyperinflation caused by Mnangagwa’s misconceived launch of a new currency, the government boosted the average tariff on electricity by 320%. Worse yet, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority announced that the tax would be indexed to the U.S. dollar. [24] Given the rapidly declining value of Zimbabwe’s dollar relative to the U.S. dollar, in real terms the increase is far larger for the average person receiving pay in local currency.

Meanwhile, this year’s budget reduces the corporate tax rate to less than 25%. [25] Western corporations investing in Zimbabwe’s Special Economic Zones can enjoy zero tax for the first five years, followed by 15% after that. They are also granted an allowance of 50% of costs in the first year, and 25% for the next two years, as well as an array of other benefits. [26] Contrast that with the tax on individuals. There is a value-added tax rate of 14.5%, which by its nature disproportionally impacts working people. Personal income over US$3,601 is taxed at 25%, topping the corporate rate. Anything earned above US$12,001 is taxed at 30% and so on, in steps reaching to the maximum 40%. [27]

Mnangagwa’s Transitional Stabilization Program is still in its early stages, but already the harm that it has caused is such that one can say it would be more accurate to preface the word stabilization with ‘de-.‘ Or as Minister Ncube rather revealingly put it, “Zimbabwe is easily the biggest buy in Africa right now.” [28] Whether the Zimbabwean people are quite as keen on selling out their country is another matter.

Dismantling Land Reform in Slow Motion

Fast-track land reform in Zimbabwe was an ambitious program that counteracted many of the inequities inherited from the periods of colonial and apartheid rule. The program retains considerable popularity, which has the effect of blocking Mnangagwa from launching a frontal attack against it. However, the program is vulnerable to being chipped away through indirect means.

Historically, reliance on private financing in Zimbabwe has disadvantaged farmers who raise crops for domestic consumption, as banks preferred to support export-oriented operations. Small farm holders have not always had access to the inputs they needed to achieve full productivity. Because private contract farming focused mainly on the export market, the government of Zimbabwe stepped in and established its Command Agriculture program in 2016, as a state-run project to provide much-needed inputs and a ready market for farmers producing crops oriented for domestic consumption.

Command Agriculture prioritized the needs of farmers and the nation over banking and Western interests. As four prominent agricultural specialists concluded in an analysis published by Agrarian South, “Command Agriculture has been a direct challenge to World Bank policy recommendations and Western think tanks, which see no role for the state in agricultural financing and marketing, save for the provision of infrastructural development.” [29]

The success of farming operations is highly dependent on the provision of sufficient and timely inputs. Although Western sanctions hampered the government, it “provided much-needed inputs…albeit in varying quantities and with inadequate supply of inputs and late input distribution.” Nevertheless, this was a decided improvement over the lack of support from private contract farming. Command Agriculture “also provided a ready market for the maize, favorable prices and much-needed extension services,” the Agrarian South report added, based on observation in the Zvimba district. [30]

Because agriculture is a crucial pillar in Zimbabwe’s economy, it is a prime target for neoliberal transformation. Indeed, land issues have been at the forefront of Western hostility. Mnangagwa hungers for Western approval, but he cannot win that until he he demonstrates progress in undoing land reform to a noticeable extent and in liberalizing the agricultural sector.

A joint review by the World Bank and Zimbabwean government officials identifies agriculture as “a top priority” under the Transitional Stabilization Program.[31] Under Mnangagwa’s direction, ‘Command Agriculture’ has been rechristened as ‘Smart Agriculture,’ and financing is being shifted from the government back to the same banks that had consistently proved recalcitrant in engaging with domestically-oriented farming operations.

One will not hear this from Mnangagwa’s officials, but Command Agriculture showed immediate and positive results, and maize production jumped by 321% in the 2016/2017 season. By comparison, production languished for those commercial grain crops that had not been covered by Command Agriculture support. As a result of the support given to farmers, the area planted in maize exceeded that of any time in the previous ten years, and “yields were also high, surpassing the national maize requirements for the first time in many years.” [32]

The World Bank concedes that the government’s “agricultural support, notably the Special Maize Program, did support agricultural production – without such programs, output and thus revenue would have declined, but adds that “it is difficult to disentangle the impact of government support from the effects of the rebound from the drought.”[33] Certainly, improving weather that season was a factor, but given that non-supported grain crops fared far worse during the same planting season points to the efficacy of Command Agriculture.

No matter the results, Command Agriculture had to go. The joint World Bank-Zimbabwe government report complains that “continued pressure from Command Agriculture on public spending…makes restoring macroeconomic stability difficult,” thus making it a prime target for budget-cutting. To no one’s surprise, the report advocates “reforming” the program and “reducing its cost.” [34]

The stabilization program calls for agricultural growth that is “premised on performance of cash crops such as tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and soya beans” aimed at the export market. [35] This goal dovetails with the program’s call for “greater involvement of the domestic financial system in underpinning financing of agriculture.” [36] Under Mnangagwa, the government’s role will be withdrawn while “private sector support gathers[s] momentum.” [37]

Tradable new leases are replacing Zimbabwe’s system of 99-year land leases. [38] That systemic change is in line with the recommendation of the World Bank-Zimbabwe report, which asserts, “Zimbabwe should aspire to a well-functioning commercial agriculture sector that should be able to finance most of its working capital and capital expenditure needs through lines of credit with banks.” [39]

According to Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, and Rural Resettlement Perrance Shiri, “Previously we used not to allow joint ventures but we have relaxed the law and our people are now free to borrow using land.” [40] People will also be free to lose land, now that it is to be used as collateral in commercial loans or subjected to unequal economic relationships in joint ventures. The inevitable outcome of this policy change will be to consolidate land into fewer and more economically advantaged hands.

In an assessment by ZIMCODD, the shift to “commercialization of agriculture through shrinking of agricultural subsidies” is a “purely neo-liberal ideology” that will disadvantage small farm holders. “Giving room for private sector support is a way of privatizing the agricultural sector, a move that threatens food security for the nation.” [41] The baleful impact on the agricultural sector is a factor that Shiri elides in his celebration of the commercialization of land.

The Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies warns that “contract farming and joint ventures spearheaded by private capital” have the “potential of undermining the peasantry base through land alienation, in some cases, labor exploitation, and unequal exchange of surplus value which occurs through input and output markets.” There is historical precedent, and the institute points to the example of Mozambique, where “a majority of peasants lost their land when they entered into asymmetrical relationships with domestic and foreign agrarian capital in sugar cane farming.” [42]

For peasants, “property loss through market effects happens through mechanisms of distress sales, economic recession, bad harvest, illness or death in the family, or calamity, and through mortgage default.” Markets provide an unequal playing surface, favoring “strong market actors, that is, those with the capital, know-how, and information to protect and expand their property rights, and to buffer themselves against risk.” Over time, more and more land is transferred to “capital-rich actors.” [43]

Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector must cope with two serious challenges. Western sanctions remain in place, aimed at depriving the nation of access to financial resources. Worse yet, the Southern Africa region is expected to be among the hardest hit by climate change. Nothing can alter the fact that the extent and quality of arable land in Zimbabwe will steadily decline in the years ahead.

Already, drought has struck Zimbabwe for two years running, and the current one is the worst in nearly forty years. Grain reserves are nearly depleted, and the World Food Program classifies half of Zimbabwe’s population as “food insecure.”

Neither of those is the key issue, according to the Transitional Stabilization Program, which blames the decrease in agricultural productivity on “declining investment, and lack of know-how, among others.” The solution, as Mnangagwa’s government sees, lies in “embracing former displaced white farmers to form joint venture partnerships with the beneficiary A1 [small-scale] and A2 [medium- and large-scale] farmers.” Acting as “anchor farmers to other beneficiaries,” white farmers will, it is claimed, “ensure increased production on the farms.” [44] Never mind the parlous impact of sanctions or climate change; according to the TSP, bringing back wealthy white farmers will turn around production.

And where are these anchor farms to be formed? Minister Perrance Shiri says, “The time will come when the government may really consider taking back all underutilized land and allocate it to other potential users.” [45] Mnangagwa is already defining “underutilized” in a politically expedient way, targeting individuals who had opposed his scheming and were therefore forced to flee the country after the military coup, even though some of their farms continue to be fully operational. [46]

It does not require much imagination to anticipate how ‘anchor farms’ may be established. First, specific tracts of land are identified. Then excuses will be sought to define that land as ‘underutilized.’ Small farm holders dealing with the impact of drought or facing temporary economic challenges may have their land handed over to returning wealthy white farmers.

Astonishingly, the Transitional Stabilization Program argues that “the New Dispensation will also tap into the vast agricultural knowledge, skills, experience, and farming competencies that are inherent in the operations of most of those former farmers who lost farms and are currently without access to land,” thereby “ensuring the revival of the agricultural sector.” [47]

Note the usage of the word ‘inherent’ in the above quotation. Such language embraces the insulting and misleading Western narrative that white large farm owners are uniquely knowledgeable, capable, and efficient, while black farmers inherently lack ability. This concept is problematic on so many levels. For one thing, it confuses wealth and privilege with ability. It also discounts the disparity in wealth imposed by colonialism and apartheid.

Two decades have passed since fast-track land reform. Surely resettled black farmers have learned a thing or two in all that time! Moreover, many of them had previously managed farms in the arid communal areas, so their experience extends even further back. Reestablishing extreme economic disparity in the agricultural sector is not a solution to productivity. Nor do black farmers need wealthy white farmers to “advise” them on what they already know from long experience. Basing agricultural policy on demeaning mythology can only have a damaging effect.

What is needed is to provide farmers with the support they need to do the job they are quite capable of doing. That is precisely what Command Agriculture is designed to do. Field studies by experts such as Sam Moyo, Ian Scoones, and others have shown how productive resettled farmers have been when supplied with adequate inputs, and in many cases, even when not.

Command Agriculture should be expanded to enhance reliability and timeliness in the provision of inputs. An ambitious government-supported program to broaden water access and extend irrigation infrastructure would help to counteract the effects of climate change. None of that fits with the free-market mentality. Instead, Mnangagwa is eliminating Command Agriculture and commercializing production.

Mnangagwa’s vision, as he puts it, is that “critically…we must be a destination where capital feels safe to come, and to do so we had to introduce various economic measures to attract global capital into our jurisdiction.” [48] If only he had a care for the economic safety of the Zimbabwean people.

Western leaders demand nothing less than total subjugation, and while Mnangagwa has made significant strides in that direction, more is expected from him. Western capital is waiting for further concessions. Responding to such concerns, Mnangagwa assured Western diplomats that he would “accelerate” neoliberal reforms. In what can only portend more hardship for the Zimbabwean people, he added that this year, “elaborate plans will be implemented to achieve our key objectives.” [49]

The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, offers no alternative, as Mnangagwa has mostly adopted its neoliberal program. At any rate, it may be difficult to dislodge ‘president’ Emmerson Mnangagwa and ‘vice president’ Constantino Chiwenga, the former general who led the military coup that brought them both to power. One doesn’t seize political power through military violence, only to willingly relinquish it.

Sadly, as long as Zimbabwe remains in the hands of self-serving usurpers, the nation can only look forward to a protracted period of economic dislocation.

Notes.

1. Victor Bhoroma, “Zim Economy Re-dollarising Rapidly,” Zimbabwe Independent, January 31, 2020.

2. Tafadzwa Mhlanga, “ZINCODD Bemoans Inequality in Zim,” The Standard, January 26, 2020.

3. Tendai Matunhu, “Government to Create a Private Sector Led Economy,” Harare Post, January 23, 2020.

4. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” preface, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

5. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 362, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

6. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” sections 380-381, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

7. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 382, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

8. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 387, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

9. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” sections 389-393, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

10. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 413, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

11. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 427, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

12. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 432, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

13. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” sections 499-500, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

14. Fazila Mohamed, “Zimbabwe Repeals Diamond and Platinum Laws,” 7D News, September 9, 2019.

15. Felix Njini, Godfrey Marawanyika, Antony Sguazzin, “Zimbabwe to Scrap Platinum and Diamond Mine Ownership Rules,” Bloomberg, March 6, 2019.

16. “Zimbabwe to Reduce Royalty on Mined Diamonds to 10% from 15%,” The Diamond Loupe, November 18, 2019.

17. Letter of Intent, from Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mthuli Ncube and Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe John P. Mangudya to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, May 13, 2019.

18. Press Release No. 19/189, “IMF Managing Director Approves a Staff-Monitored Program for Zimbabwe,” International Monetary Fund, May 31, 2019.

19. Letter of Intent: Attachment 1 – Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies,” May 13, 2019.

20. Zimbabwe Staff-Monitored Program: Executive Summary,” International Monetary Fund, May 21, 2019.

21. Zimbabwe Staff-Monitored Program: Executive Summary,” International Monetary Fund, May 21, 2019.

22. Kudzai Kuwaza and Bridget Mananavire, “Zim Eyes Rescue from IMF Crunch Meeting,” Zimbabwe Independent, January 24, 2020.

23. Max Bearak, “Zimbabwe’s President Raised Fuel Prices Above $12 a Gallon and Then Jetted Off to Russia. Deadly Chaos Ensued,” Washington Post, January 15, 2019.“Zimbabwe Hikes Fuel Prices 12% in Another Blow to Inflation-weary Consumers,” Reuters, October 29, 2019.

24. MacDonald Dzirutwe, “Zimbabwe Quadruples Prices, Pummelling Impoverished Consumers,” Reuters, October 9, 2019.

25. http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/ID/Zimbabwe-Corporate-Taxes-on-corporate-income

26. Oliver Kazunga, “4 Parastatals to be Listed on ZSE,” Chronicle, October 15, 2019.

27. https://www.bdo.global/en-gb/microsites/tax-newsletters/world-wide-tax-news/issue-53-december-2019/zimbabwe-2020-budget

28. CNN Quest Means Business program, December 5, 2018.

29. Freedom Mazwi, Abel Chemura, George T. Mudimu, Walter Chambati, “Political Economy of Command Agriculture in Zimbabwe: A State-led Contract Farming Model,” Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 8(1–2), 232–257.

30. Freedom Mazwi, Abel Chemura, George T. Mudimu, Walter Chambati, “Political Economy of Command Agriculture in Zimbabwe: A State-led Contract Farming Model,” Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 8(1–2), 232–257.

31. “Zimbabwe Public Expenditure Review with a Focus on Agriculture,” p vii, World Bank, 2019.

32. Freedom Mazwi, Abel Chemura, George T. Mudimu, Walter Chambati, “Political Economy of Command Agriculture in Zimbabwe: A State-led Contract Farming Model,” Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy, 8(1–2), 232–257.

33. “Zimbabwe Public Expenditure Review with a Focus on Agriculture,” p 43, World Bank, 2019.

34. “Zimbabwe Public Expenditure Review with a Focus on Agriculture,” p 46, World Bank, 2019.

35. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 696, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

36. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 703, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

37. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” section 710, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

38.  “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” sections 712-716, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

39. “Zimbabwe Public Expenditure Review with a Focus on Agriculture,” p 50, World Bank, 2019.

40. Michael Tome and Leroy Mphambela, “Govt to Repossess Underutilised Farms,” The Herald, February 7, 2020.

41. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme, October 2018 to December 2020: Summary and Analysis from a Socioeconomic Justice Perspective,” Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt & Development, November 7, 2018.

42. Freedom Mazwi, Newman Tekwa, Walter Chambati, George T. Mudimu, “Locating the Position of Peasants Under the ‘New Dispensation’: A Focus on Land Tenure Issues,” Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Policy Brief Issue: 03/2018.

43. Freedom Mazwi, Newman Tekwa, Walter Chambati, George T. Mudimu, “Locating the Position of Peasants Under the ‘New Dispensation’: A Focus on Land Tenure Issues,” Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies, Policy Brief Issue: 03/2018.

44. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” sections 973 and 975, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

45. Michael Tome and Leroy Mphambela, “Govt to Repossess Underutilised Farms,” The Herald, February 7, 2020.

46. Everson Mushava, “Mnangagwa Goes for Broke,” The Standard, January 26, 2020.

47. “Transitional Stabilisation Programme: Reforms Agenda,” sections 979 and 980, Zimbabwe Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, October 5, 2018

48. “We Must Be a Destination Where Capital Feels Safe,” Sunday Mail, June 23, 2019.

49. Fairai Machivenyika, “Zim to Speed Up Reforms: ED,” The Herald, February 7, 2020.

 

The post Mnangagwa’s Neoliberal Assault on the Zimbabwean People appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Lies of Industry and the Liars Who Sell Them

Climate change isn’t real. Tobacco isn’t as bad as people say. Monsanto’s RoundUp doesn’t cause cancer. The fact that these statements are still considered valid by some people is not because they might be true or because some people are just stupid. That some deny these and other scientifically proven phenomena is testament to the power of what researcher David Michaels calls the product defense industry. His new book, titled The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception, is an expose of this industry and how it works to enable those industries who profit from the sale of carcinogens and other poisons.

Michaels is a scientist who has spent much of his professional life researching and exposing products sold to the US public despite the manufacturer knowing of their potential dangers. When he worked for the US Occupational Safety and Health Association under Barack Obama, he brought his knowledge into a government regulatory agency. This work enabled him to help create regulations regarding the proliferation of silica dust in workplaces around the world. It also provided him with a close up look at the politics and commercial pressures involved in trying to make American workplaces safer places to work. Perhaps the ultimate expression of those pressures came after Donald Trump moved into the White House and appointed Michaels’ replacement—an industry hack who immediately challenged the silica dust regulations. Silica dust is created in many construction and industrial operations and has been linked to various lung diseases. Michaels describes the court case, astounded at the pathetic case put forth by the Trump administration. Fortunately for many US workers who work around this potentially deadly dust, the judge rejected the Trump administration’s joke of a case. Many of those workers whose jobs involve the creation of this dust are now protected by devices attached to all power tools and machines that might produce the poisonous dust.

Michaels introduces his book with a discussion of the 2015 Deflategate “scandal” around Tom Brady, the New England Patriots and the National Football League. After explaining the issue, he takes apart the NFL’s accusations and their use of a firm that “produce(s) reports that predictably reach conclusions favorable to their clients.” The point he is trying to make is that there is an entire industry devoted to lying for corporations and their profits. Furthermore, this industry has supposedly objective scientists in their back pocket; scientists willing to manipulate studies and the results of those studies to serve their paymasters. If these scientists cannot tell outright lies, they use their status to sow doubt about genuinely objective studies. Douglas appropriately labels such scientists “mercenary scientists.” He spends the rest of the book presenting this commonplace practice in the United States.

The boilerplate for the science of deception industry Michaels describes can be found in the decades-long battle against the tobacco industry. A chapter in the text briefly discusses this battle that ultimately found the industry liable for much of the damage its products caused. Throughout the rest of the text, the author refers the reader back to this string of cases and the firms hired by the tobacco giants. His point is that, although the product being fought over might have changed, the product defense industry’s tactics remain pretty much the same. Whether the product is OxyContin or sugar, alcoholic beverages or diesel engines, Michaels makes his point that corrupted science not only distorts public health and safety, it does so with intent and a callous disregard for the public. Furthermore, the government agencies and the politicians who are supposed to oversee them are all too often just as corrupt. In part, this is due to the defunding of the agencies by politicians beholden to industry. However, it is often considerably more blatant, with high-level executives appointed to head the very agencies their companies are subject to oversight from. This latter phenomenon tends to occur most often when the Republicans control the White House. Democrats are a bit more subtle, as a rule.

After presenting his case in a general way; then highlighting various industries and the attempts at lies and manufacturing doubt from paid-off scientists in the product defense business, Michaels closes the text with a brief list of suggestions he thinks are necessary to protect the US consumer. The specific steps he suggests include the use of scientists untainted by the product industry they are evaluating, complete disclosure of who funds the tests and the institutes conducting those tests, protecting the public from entire classes of chemicals, not just individual ones, and recognizing the important role litigation can play in protecting the public’s health. Ultimately, however, Michaels acknowledges (and clearly states) that as long as short term profits are considered more important than public and planetary health, there is little chance that the poisons unnecessarily present in our lives will go away. Most politicians and the profiteers so many of them serve will only do the right thing when they have little or no other choice. This, he insists, is why we must organize against the system that puts profits before people and change it to its opposite.

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Subverting the Blacklist: Kirk Douglas’s Modest Contribution

Leaving aside the content of the spectacular, embellished account that became Spartacus, Kirk Douglas, whose life ticked over into a century and a few years, left his own distinct mark on US cultural politics. At the very least, he managed to fashion a spear to direct through the Hollywood blacklist, an infamous compilation of the supposedly unpatriotic naughties in the film business who had sympathies, proven or otherwise, with communism. The justified question, however, is how significant his role actually was. Celebrities and thespians often assume a heft they do not have, a significance they lack.

What was certain was that Hollywood was pullulating with its own host of Red Baiters and the sort that Gore Vidal called American Sissies, all keen to do their bit for the House Un-American Activities Committee. John Wayne, an old John Bircher, tended to take the lead in that regard, seeing the film industry as a patriotic preserve that did not need any Commie contaminant.

Douglas recalled the chilling effect of the Cold War as it iced writers and actors in a 2015 interview. His co-star in Detective Story (1951), Lee Grant, was refused work for twelve years after refusing “to testify against her husband before the House Un-American Activities Committee.”

The case of Dalton Trumbo’s ostracising was one that particularly exercised Douglas. HUAC had eyed him as a notable enough threat (he had been a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s) to require scrubbing from the industry. He went into pseudonymous territory, scripting Roman Holiday and The Brave One, winning an Oscar for the latter under the name Robert Rich. Along with nine other writers and directors, he made up the Hollywood Ten, jailed for contempt of Congress in 1950 for refusing to collude in the collective hysteria of political cleansing.

When the time came for the release of Spartacus, Douglas, having assumed the role of both protagonist of the film and its direction, insisted that Trumbo’s name appear in the credits. The act was both testament to the exaggerated quality of protest inherent in film, and the strength of illusions in the Dream Factory. The masquerade,” concluded Douglas, “was over.” Despite being told that placing Trumbo in prime position on the credits would terminate his career, “the blacklist was broken.”

Thespians are in the business of stretching the record, and while Douglas, in his own way, made an impression, it was hardly a protest of profound radicalism. Sizeable pebbles were fashioned, but they remained pebbles. There was room for some daring. Besides, Otto Preminger, who directed Exodus, was saddled with a less than negligible contribution against the ban, a point noted in the New York Times, opining in a January 20, 1960 piece that his acknowledgment of Trumbo’s role was “the first open defiance by a producer-director of Hollywood’s ‘blacklist’.” Exodus was released in December; Spartacus had already been showing since October.

Trumbo’s widow, Cleo, certainly felt that the compass was out of kilter on the point of contributions. In 1991, when the Writers Guild of America invited her to attend its annual awards dinner, she feared witnessing the presentation of the Robert F. Meltzer Award to Kirk Douglas as the sole saboteur of the blacklist. At the invitation, she wrote back with a degree of curtness: “It is important to remember it was Otto Preminger who first announced that Dalton Trumbo’s name would appear on his film, Exodus… This observation is not meant to diminish Mr Douglas’ actions, for what he did required courage, but merely to put them in perspective”.

Cleo went on to suggest that, had her husband still been living to witness this, he would have thought “it unconscionable that Otto Preminger would be ignored and only Kirk Douglas honoured by the Guild for his contribution to destroy the blacklist. I am also certain that he would not attend a ceremony which sanctioned such a distortion of actual events.” She did not attend the event.

As she subsequently reiterated in 2002 in a note to the Los Angeles Times, having expressed being “deeply disturbed” by a letter from Jack Valenti, long-time president of the Motion Picture Association of America, it was all a question of balanced agency; “no single person can be credited with breaking the blacklist”. More, she argued, should be attributed to the daring of the scribes themselves. “For more than 12 years these men and women continued to write without credit at a fraction of what they had earned before.” They wrote polemics pleading their cause, issued pamphlets, filed lawsuits. “By the time Trumbo’s name appeared on Spartacus and Exodus the ground had been well prepared by the ceaseless efforts of blacklisted writers.”

In 2012, Trumbo’s daughter Mitzi also weighed in with a corrective in Salon, assembling her mother’s previously directed barbs in an attempt to take some of the polish and shine off Douglas’ claims. One point of irritation stood out: the bombastic assertions made by Douglas in his book I am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, leaving a record that “has not only inflated his role” but left “incidents that did not happen.” Mitzi went to work on Douglas, claiming that Trumbo did not lunch with Douglas at the Universal studio commissary, nor attend a screening in disguise. Nor did that doyen of British cinema, Laurence Olivier, ever dine at the Trumbo household. “He has also asserted a brand-new claim,” she wrote sourly, “that he, not my father, wrote the iconic ‘I am Spartacus’ scene from the film.”

Memories are imperfect repositories, but there is something to be said about those of actors being particularly susceptible. The actor, after all, is essentially a dissimulator of reality. Posterity supplies the siren call, and the inventive pen follows. In the case of Douglas, his role in overturning a sordid episode in US cinematic history was not inconsiderable, but nor was it earth shattering.

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