Counterpunch Articles

Roaming Charges: Under Furious Skies

+ I’m writing this late on Thursday afternoon. The sky is the color of rust. Neil Young’s live rust. The sun is a crimson orb that occasionally bores through the enveloping pall, then recedes. We are under evacuation orders. The fires which have steadily gnawed their way toward us since Monday have reached the upper forks of our canyon outside of Oregon City. We’ve done a quick triage of our belongings. Stuffed the cars with clothes, diapers, food, photographs, books, a couple of small paintings by friends. So much stuff, accumulated over 4o years. What was it all for? There’s the smell of burning trees, cars, houses in the air. Even the evacuation center is now under evacuation.

+ It started on Labor Day. On my morning stroll with the enfant terrible, the sky was clear, cloudless, a sharp blue typical of late summer in the Willamette Valley. By the time we reached the crest of the canyon and looked to the east, we could see that the Cascade Mountains, were obscured behind a scrim of smoke from the fires on the eastside of the range, some 70 miles away. Then the winds shifted and began to reverse their normal westerly flow and rotate out of the east, pulling the smoke down the Columbia Gorge and over the Cascade Range itself. Within an hour or so, our canyon was clotted with sweet orange smoke which flared into a sunset worthy of Turner.

+ Tuesday morning the smoke had retreated, but the winds had picked up and were now blowing at a steady 15 to 20 miles per hour from the ENE. An ominous augury of the menace to come. By early afternoon the smoke had crept back, thicker, blacker, giving the sky a bruised almost furious look. Then around 9 pm, the internet went down, followed by the power and unbeknownst to us our cell service, which is always frail here in the canyon. What we didn’t know because there was no way to warn us is that later that night a fire had ignited on the eastern rim of Newell Canyon and another to the northeast along the Clackamas River, both dangerously close to us given the fierce wind conditions. Evacuation orders had been issued and we slept right through them.

+ I woke up on Wednesday morning to find power still out and one flickering bar of connectivity on my iPhone, despite the grandiose claims of universal coverage and outlandish monthly charges from ATT. There were power outages across western Oregon, 6500 homes in our small town alone, as shown on this map.

+ The enfant terrible and I found one of the outages on our walk, the power line, downed by a fallen cottonwood, had melted into the asphalt of a parking lot…

+ Meanwhile, a quick look at the fire risk map showed that the danger for today was going to be extreme across almost all of the Pacific Northwest….

+ This satellite image from NOAA of the smoke from the West Coast fires confirm the grim outlook….

+ Here’s some stunning aerial footage of the confluence of smoke plumes from the eastern Washington and Oregon fires, as the winds shifted and pulled the smoke through the Columbia Gorge…

Some Mad Max stuff right here.

The same animation with borders to help. pic.twitter.com/XFqsMbGyzO

— Dakota Smith (@weatherdak) September 8, 2020

+This is what it looked like 40 miles to the south in Stayton, Oregon around noon…

This is nuts. Downtown Stayton at 12:22pm. Be safe, everyone. #KGW #Oregon #Fire #Smoke #LionsheadFire @KGWNews pic.twitter.com/ff4MKKU4qm

— Christine Pitawanich (@CPitawanichKGW) September 8, 2020

+ Meanwhile, Trump has diverted Oregon National Guard helicopters for use in Afghan War: “Six of the state’s 10 firefighting helicopters, the CH-47 Chinooks, are not available because they have been deployed to Afghanistan at the request of the Department of Defense to aid in military missions.”

+ The Cold Springs Fire in eastern Washington has burned a 50+ mile path…just today.

+ Really thick smoke here in Oregon City on Thursday morning. I got up early and went to nearby Clackamas Community College, which is serving as an evacuation center, to drop off some coffee water and food. About a thousand people camped there in RVs, cars, tents or sleeping bags out on the fields, right along side their animals: Llamas, ponies, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, dogs, alpaca, ducks. All seeming to get along, as if it were Dr. Doolittle’s ranch transported to Mars…

 

+ Soon, the evacuation center itself would need to be evacuated, a few miles north, to the vast parking lot of a ghost mall, emptied by the specter of Covid…

+ The visibility in Oregon City at noon on Thursday, according to my iPhone, was 437.5 yards, which seems a touch generous. Don’t want to scare off future tourists, I guess…

+ By 3PM on Thursday, the mandatory evacuation orders had moved to the upper reaches of our canyon. Kimberly, Zen and the enfant terrible had evacuated to Astoria. I’m trying to find the cat, thinking about what to pack–the 1st edition of Gravity’s Rainbow? the photo of James Joyce Cockburn gave us? a wolf’s bone from Hudson’s Bay?–and watching the ash drift down like hot September snow …

+ Instead of simply releasing nonviolent prisoners as Jay Inslee did in Washington, Oregon Governor Kate Brown moved them to an overcrowded COVID hot spot in order to avoid advancing wildfires. Oregon Department of Corrections had to evacuate over 1,000 women prisoners to Deer Ridge–a men’s prison in Madras–after the prison became filled with smoke from nearby wildfires, causing nosebleeds and widespread panic.

+ Leah Sottile: “As I’m packing up my home, preparing to evacuate, I’m thinking about how the eyes of the national media were on Oregon for one square block of protests. But now? When the state is actually on fire? Barely a mention by most media.”

+ The massive August Complex fire is now officially the largest blaze in California history, burning across more than 471,000 acres.

+ COVID-19 slashed global carbon emissions by about 7%, which also happens to be the least of what we need to do every year to avoid a climate catastrophe…

+ On Thursday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced an outright ban on CS gas (tear gas), a mere 100 days after he was asked to do so. But, in true Wheeler style, the order contains a cynical loophole that may allow the police to continue using OC (oleoresin capsicum), a kind of weaponized pepper spray, the deployment of which is alleged to be more “targeted,” although it is often fired with impact munitions that have inflicted serious injuries among protesters.

+ According to the GAO there are 25 domestic federal “special operations” or “special response” tactical teams deployed to quell civilian protesters.

+ New research shows that the coronavirus has the capacity to invade brain cells, attacking them to make copies of itself and starving the nearby cells to death.

+ The University of Wisconsin-Madison has canceled in-person classes after more than 1,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 just five days into the fall semester….

+ Come join the Snopes Family Frat! As the number of cases at University of Mississippi and in Oxford spiked, several fraternities hosted large gatherings outside of their respective houses to celebrate “bid day.”

+ According to a new US senate report, all of the mail-order pharmacies that are heavily reliant on USPS for delivery of mail-order drugs reported an increase in average delivery times, ranging from 18-32%…

+ One in five Oregonians is currently at risk for eviction, according to the Aspen Institute’s COVID-19 Defense Project.

+ The pipeline executives and their rent-a-cops should be the ones in prison: Standing Rock water protector Red Fawn Fallis will finally be released after being a political prisoner for four years…

+ Asked if he understood why he and Bob Woodward needed to work harder to understand the black experience in America, Trump snapped, “No…You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.” Give him points for honesty…

+ Those who can’t perform like to “watch”…

"I watched Liz McDonald. She's fantastic. I watched Fox Business. I watched Lou Dobbs last night, Sean Hannity last night, Tucker last night, Laura. I watched Fox & Friends in the morning." — Trump pic.twitter.com/ORuXQRptJf

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 10, 2020

+ In reference to Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha shooter, Don Jr. posited that “we all do stupid things at 17.” Over to you, Central Park Five…

+ A video circulated by GOP operatives showing Kamala Harris laughing at “violent” protests was an obvious fake. Madam Prosecutor would have directing the cops who to shoot, who to gas and who to arrest…

+ This kind of provocative and deracinated  bullshit being spread by the Qanon right is going to get people killed. There is no “Pallet Company” in Oregon City. The Douglas County Sheriff (200 miles to the south) doesn’t have any Antifa members in custody and the fires have not been set by anarchists. Fires have been ignited at lumber mills, in clearcuts, by sparks from an RV, by lightning, at a small factory in southeast Portland, an illegal campfire…

+ Despite the internet rumors there is no Antifa camp in downtown Portland. Antifa, come home!

+ The four costliest settlements involving Portland police all involved people with a mental illness being severely injured or killed by police officers.

+ Mississippi election commissioner Gail Welch posted in a Facebook comment the following warning to her white constituents, “I’m concerned about voter registration in Mississippi. The blacks are having lots (of) events for voter registration. People in Mississippi have to get involved, too.” PEOPLE…!

+ All of Washington is still in a snit about the Jeffrey Goldberg story in the Atlantic about Trump deprecated American veterans, especially the dead and the wounded, as “losers” and “suckers.” Typically, Trump didn’t back down when confronted with the story, instead lashing out at the military brass who probably leaked the presidential slurs to Goldberg. According to Trump, the generals main goal was securing fat contracts for weapons makers, even if it meant engineering wars to do so. Didn’t Ike say the same thing, except in more detail and in complete sentences? And, unlike Trump who has given the military-industrial complex every thing it wanted and more in three of the biggest Pentagon budgets in history, Ike meant what he said, although he waited until he was walking out the door to say it….

+ Trump’s assault on Lauren Powell Jobs is typically vile, but it must be noted that Jeffrey Goldberg also spent much of his career helping one of the most evil and corrupt regimes in American history fabricate a case for invading Iraq and overthrowing its government…

The Atlantic's editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, on whether Trump's tweet targeting Laurene Powell Jobs should be seen as a threat:

"I spent a lot of my career covering dictatorships… It is a threat. It is meant to intimidate." pic.twitter.com/gkiReKyrNr

— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) September 6, 2020

+ When the Bush administration needed help convincing a dubious public and reluctant Congress to greenlight its war on Iraq, it had the help of 3 journalists who, at one time or another, positioned themselves on the Left: Judith Miller, Christopher Hitchens and Jeffrey Goldberg.

+ So Bob Woodward has known since March that Trump understood the danger COVID posed to the public health, but was lying about it publicly in order to keep the Dow and his poll numbers from falling.

+ What’s Woodward’s share of the body count?

+ On the other hand,  the Associated Press obtained government documents in April showing that leaders in Beijing knew the potential scale of the COVID threat by January 14th, but Xi waited six DAYS before warning the public.

+ In throwing his support behind perpetually concerned Senator Susan Collins, Joe Lieberman, the sleaziest man in politics (and Barack Obama’s senator mentor), referred to himself as a “lifelong Democrat.” Recall that John McCain really wanted Lieberman as his VP running mate, but was talked into Palin and on the very day that Mueller was named Special Prosecutor, Lieberman was at the White House offering himself as a candidate to replace James Comey as FBI director…

+ Biden dusts off the HRC playbook: “Have a public position and a private position.”

+  According to the Associated Press, Biden and Trump are presenting “dizzyingly different versions of reality“, neither of which are recognizable to me (or most of America, I’d wager)…

+ In his speech before the AFL-CIO, Biden pledged to be the “strongest labor president you’ve ever had.” Surely some of the labor bosses will recall that this Working Class Hero helped ram NAFTA through the US senate…

+ Vote shaming should be a civil rights violation. If Joe Biden needs Susan Sarandon’s vote to win NY, he’s going to get creamed anyway. If Biden wins & there’s no pressure from the Left, he’ll institute many of Trump’s policies against little resistance because he “seems” less insane.

+ According to the New York Times, more than 37 million people have been “displaced” by the US “War on Terror.” Though “displaced” is an anodyne way of putting it…

+ The French government, even under the austerity-minded Macron, will continue paying up to 84% of salaries for furloughed workers “until next summer,” as a consequence of the prolonged economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Why can’t we have nice things?

+ Chema Vera, executive director of Oxfam International: “COVID-19 has been tragic for the many but good for a privileged few. The economic crisis we are suffering because of the pandemic has been fueled by a rigged economic model. The world’s largest corporations are making billions at the expense of low wage workers and funneling profits to shareholders and billionaires — a small group of largely white men in rich nations.”

+ A little background on the Jared Kushner brokered UAE-Israel deal from Michael Schmidt’s new book, Donald Trump vs. the United States: Kushner’s security clearance was downgraded partly due to questionable business dealings with UAE. Also, an NSA intercept recorded the UAE amb. saying he wanted to “help Jared & Ivanka get a house in DC.”

+ Check your calendar: It’s 2020 and segregated lunch counters have come to (check your map) Dearborn, Michigan…

+ Jim Tourtelott: “Anybody can have a bad idea. But some are so bad that the very next thought should be, ‘Shit, that’s a bad idea.’ And then there’s this one.”

+ It’s hard to tell what Trump is most agitated about, in making the case to the Brits for equivocations on abortion: His sick fantasy of Ivanka getting raped or her getting pregnant by a black or Hispanic man. “‘Imagine some animal with tattoos raping your daughter and then she gets pregnant.”

+  Smithfield Foods of Sioux Falls, South Dakota has been “fined” a mere $13,494 by OSHA for its failure to mitigate worker exposure to the coronavirus. Nearly 1,300 Smithfield employees tested positive for COVID-19, 43 were hospitalized, and 4 died between March 22 and June 16.

+ Total Arctic sea ice volume was 55% below the 1979-2019 average in August 2020…

+ Woodland Hills and Chino hit 120 Fahrenheit on Sunday the highest temperatures ever recorded west of the mountains in Southern California. San Luis Obispo topped out at 120, the highest temperature ever recorded that close to an ocean in the Americas…

+ David Wallace-Wells: “The last time Los Angeles was this hot, Homo sapiens were just venturing out of Africa for the first time.”

+ When Rudolph M Schindler, perhaps LA’s greatest and most politically radical architect, designed his home/studio in West Hollywood in the 20s, instead of bedrooms, he made outdoor “sleeping porches”, which soon proved much too cold for comfortable sleeping even on summer nights. Schindler was 100 years ahead of his time.

Schindler house and studio. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ A federal report, commissioned by President Trump’s own Commodity Futures Trading Commission, issued dire warnings about climate change’s impact on the markets, predicting “financial havoc” from the consequences of climate change. Not shit..

+ There were four named Tropical Storms brewing in the Atlantic already in September…Nana, Omar, Paulette and Rene.

+ The Democrat elite seem to think that it’s enough to say climate change is real, as if this elevates their moral superiority above their GOP rivals. But I find their position morally worse than the unbelievers & professional deniers. The Democrats profess to believe in science, understand what’s driving catastrophic climate change, and comprehend the risks to the planet. Yet still remain subservient to the fossil fuel industry.

+ Who says gender isn’t at the root of all of our problems? Fire officials say “a smoke generating pyrotechnic device” used during a gender reveal party caused San Bernadino County’s El Dorado Fire in Southern California.

+ Bureau of Land Management recently approved both the Gemini and Yellow Pine Solar Projects in Southern Nevada. In total, this will damage over 10,000 acres of habitat for threatened Desert Tortoise, yet most major environmental organizations refuse to oppose these incursions. Industrial solar is an environmental travesty not a solution to climate change. Solar panels belong on buildings and rooftops.

+ First Al Kaline, then Tom Seaver, now the Swift One, Lou Brock. The idols of my youth are falling fast.

+ Brock batted .391 with 4 homers and 14 stolen bases in 21 career World Series games.

+ My old friend Chuck D and I had a little colloquy on Elvis that pissed off a lot of folks on Twitter this week…

+ Elvis could have done so many little things as a down payment on the debt he owed to the music he absorbed on the radio & from the black churches in Tupelo & from the adjacent studios at SUN. Imagine him touring the southland w/ Jr Parker & Big Mama Thornton? He never even tried.

+ Elvis’ liberal defenders always blame “Colonel” Parker for actions that contradict their view of Elvis as a force of liberation, as if Elvis was an eternal juvenile, unable to formulate his own opinions or make his own decisions, his brain softened by Dilaudid and fried bananas

+ For the first time in 34 years, sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S. Too bad it’s all melting…

+ I’ve been listening to 100 Years of Solitude while strolling the enfant terrible each day, captivated once again by its spiraling narratives, which seem to encapsulate the entire political history, past and future, of the western hemisphere and was amused to recall that, like one of us today in the checkout line at Safeway, Col. Aureliano Buendia would only stand in public inside a chalk circle drawn by his attendants, “putting 10 feet between himself and the rest of humanity.”

+ Losing David Graeber and Kevin Zeese in a week is an incalculable to blow to the Left. Among other things Kevin, who had been writing for CounterPunch since 2006, helped organize the very spirited OWS encampment in DC in 2011, and, unlike many of the other OWS sites, kept the focus squarely on the Obama Democrats’ abandonment of workers, the foreclosed and the sick.

Don’t play with me and you won’t get burned…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-80
Rick Pearlstein
(Simon & Schuster)

Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World
Lesley M.M. Blume
(Simon & Schuster)

Siren Song: Understanding Pakistan Through Its Women Singers
Fawzia Afzul-Khan
(Oxford University Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Dinner Party
Terrace Martin/Robert Glasper/9th Wonder/Kamasi Washington
(Sounds of Crenshaw/Empire)

Lead Belly Re-Imagined
Adam Nussbaum
(Sunnyside)

All Rise
Gregory Porter
(Blue Note)

A Constellation of Ignited Eyes

“It was a lone tree burning on the desert. A heraldic tree that the passing storm had left afire. The solitary pilgrim drawn up before it had traveled far to be here and he knelt in the hot sand and held his numbed hands out while all about in that circle attended companies of lesser auxiliaries routed forth into the inordinate day, small owls that crouched silently and stood from foot to foot and tarantulas and solpugas and vinegarroons and the vicious mygale spiders and beaded lizards with mouths black as a chowdog’s, deadly to man, and the little desert basilisks that jet blood from their eyes and the small sandvipers like seemly gods, silent and the same, in Jeda, in Babylon. A constellation of ignited eyes that edged the ring of light all bound in a precarious truce before this torch whose brightness had set back the stars in their sockets.” (Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West)

The post Roaming Charges: Under Furious Skies appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Elections and the Problem of Politics

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

For most readers of political commentary, the human consequences of deindustrialization, the 1994 Crime Bill, the bailouts of Wall Street, etc., are abstractions. Deindustrialization left capable adults with the choice of taking low-wage, low-status service jobs or muddling through in the informal economy. The 1994 Crime Bill built out the infrastructure of policing and prisons to make the reach of official power more punitive and onerous. The bailouts of Wall Street re-started the reorganization of economic life around financialization and the commodification of everything. The bailouts also shored-up the distribution of political and economic power between capital, the oligarchs, and the PMC.

What are abstractions to some, define the contours of the lives of others. In theory, democracy is the mechanism that maintains the relationship between political decisions and their social consequences. The political problem with class difference is that it separates the power of political decision making from those who bear its consequences. For instance, if the rich and powerful got their healthcare through Obamacare, it would be replaced with a functioning healthcare system overnight. But they don’t. The rich and powerful decide what healthcare system the rest of us get. And they profit from our inability to vote in functioning healthcare.

Additionally, class power means that one class gets to tell the story of all of the classes. In poor and working class neighborhoods, deindustrialization left little economic alternative but to join the informal economy, meaning the illicit drug trade. The 1994 Crime Bill increased the capacity of the police and the carceral system to imprison those who turned to the drug trade. In urban neighborhoods across the country, three or more generations of fathers, brothers, uncles, and community elders are, or have been, in prison. In rural areas, alcoholism and drug addiction have consumed entire communities, leaving them bereft of the people needed to provide core social functions.

Their stories, as told in the bourgeois press, are of self-generated moral debasement. The language has changed as liberals have moved into the space formerly occupied by political conservatives in chiding the lesser classes. By degree, formerly functioning neighborhoods and societies turned to the drug trade, prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide through the moral failings of their citizens (goes the chide). That the centers and sources of economic life around which they were built— most prominently industry, were relocated for the benefit of capital, has no bearing, go the stories. Economic apartheid assures that the bourgeois only rarely come face-to-face with the people whose circumstances they claim to have knowledge of.

The politics that the American distribution of political and economic power produces isn’t left / right, but rather an official politics that serves the interests of capital through acting as the (only) legitimate field of political contestation. This was made evident when interloper (Donald) Trump dared to treat the ‘process’ as the farce it is to get elected. The political not-skill that it takes to make Mr. Trump appear to be an anti-establishment outsider demonstrates how fragile this process is. In terms of left / right, Joe Biden is to the right of used-car-salesman cum oligarch Trump in almost every dimension. Even in the Newspeak of identity, anyone with an interest can hear Biden match Trump word for word with vile racist and xenophobic rants on YouTube.

In a nation where political campaigns are funded by and for the rich, the improbability that denizens of the deindustrialized heartland, motivated by racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and unreasoned resentment toward their educated and virtuous betters, hoisted Trump into the furniture formerly occupied by the likes of Bush the Elder, Clinton the Despoiler, Bush the Younger and Barack the Ambivalent, suggests that there is more to the story than meets the eye. That B the E sold chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein, C the D has a record of raping young women, B the Y destroyed an entire region of the world and B the A just elevated Joe Biden, taken together suggests that Trump the In-Over-His-Head is in the company he deserves.

To be clear, this isn’t support for Trump the In-Over-His-Head. There is a special circle of hell reserved for the entire American political class. The problem is temporal. In one sense, there is now and speculation regarding the future. In another, it is an absolute guarantee that Joe Biden as President is going to suck ten times worse than the outer bounds of current imagination. The #Resistance heroes of late will return to being the lying, murdering, war mongers and domestic spies they are. And in a similar turn-of-the-prism moment, Biden himself will be the retrograde stooge that is exactly what Donald Trump meant by ‘make America great again.’

The flip side of the bourgeois getting to write the stories of all of the classes is that just because they write them doesn’t mean that ‘we’ have to believe them. And various aggregations of ‘we’ most certainly don’t. Writing from Trump country, the class division behind the hatred of ‘liberals’ is framed in aesthetic terms to avoid the contradiction between class antagonism and support for ‘their’ oligarchs. A similar story emerges from bourgeois loathing of the lesser classes, where oppression was frozen in time in an ‘earlier period’ to distinguish its rightful from wrongful forms. Righteous oppression is that which aids bourgeois self-realization in case there was any confusion.

More broadly, political aesthetics and aesthetic politics are capitalist versions on simulated democracy where voting is an act of identity creation rather than political participation. In simulated democracy, voters treat voting as an exercise in aesthetic self-realization— people ‘are’ who they vote for. This is particularly true of the American bourgeois. They imagine that so-called elected officials promote the programs and policies that their respective political parties pretend to represent. As long as all involved stick to the script, the powers-that-be can go about their business, and political self-realization (and ‘healing’) can proceed through the experience of the act of voting.

It is noteworthy that neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden are offering political programs. And if they were, no one over the age of nine or so years -would believe that they intended to follow through if elected. They are selling ‘feelings’ about the nature and character of the nation. Mr. Trump is selling nostalgia for an age that never was. And Mr. Biden is selling a ‘return to normalcy’ and ‘restoring integrity.’ In an age of rapidly accumulating social¸ political and economic problems that require substantive social solutions, what is needed are political programs. And in fact, both Trump and Biden are selling de facto political programs through their respective versions of the status quo. Through the anti-politics of capitalist political choice, political aesthetics are all that can plausibly be claimed to differentiate them.

So again, the difference between the candidates isn’t right and left. Left isn’t on the ballot. The difference is between aesthetic factions of the capitalist party. To the extent that right versus left applies, the dominant tendencies are imperialist, militaristic, and toward crushing all power that threatens the rule of capital and the oligarchs. But these are already baked into any possible electoral outcome. Trump and Biden are the end of a political process, not the beginning. The restoration of ‘normalcy’ means a return to the conditions that got Donald Trump elected. And it seems logical to assume that up-and-coming politicians have been taking notes should the radical center once again lose its grip, as it did with Trump.

Political aesthetics are evidence of both the totalizing nature of capitalist logic and its takeover of the public realm. It is ‘consumer choice’ applied to politics. As with the choice between products on store shelves, every relevant decision that went into production was made before the products made an appearance. The decision to make the product, the terms under which it was produced, the political economy of the inputs and the mechanics of distribution, the very idea of store, and the political decision to base domestic political stability around capitalist consumption. Sure, people can choose between products, but doing so is to forego political participation, not an expression of it.

Graph: following WWII, the American model of industrial production was distributed around the globe under the theory that it would produce political stability. In fact, the most capitalist country, the U.S., has also been the most militaristic. Back-and-forth over environmental issues has posed them as partisan— internal to the political deliberations of the U.S., while their cause in industrialization means that they are economic in nature. By focusing on political, rather than economic, organization, the misdirection is put forward that electing better leaders, rather than radically curtailing industrial production, is the solution. As long as capital controls political outcomes, how would leaders determined to curb the power of capital get elected? Source: c2es.org.

The 2020 presidential election demonstrates this consumer choice view of politics quite clearly. Following a Democratic primary ‘process’ in which the major vote counts were conspicuously indeterminate (Iowa, the delay in California), a group of party insiders led by Barack Obama reorganized the competitive field to unify support for Joe Biden while leaving it divided on the social democratic side. The result: the candidate that best represents bi-partisan establishment interests, and through it the interests of capital, miraculously emerged as the Democrat’s ‘choice.’ The retort of ‘that’s politics’ doesn’t explain the forced gravitation toward the generic (commodity) candidate. Adding to this farcical nature is that reform Democrats actually believed they had forced concessions from the party insiders that would make the primaries fair and transparent.

And again, in terms of political programs, the open secret is that both parties are offering business as usual. Donald Trump is going to create ‘law and order’ and Joe Biden is going to ‘advocate for’ a Green New Deal. These are advertising slogans, with details to be filled in, or not, at some later date. What they do is tell voters about themselves (voters) for the purpose of self-gratification through self-realization. The political content is the ‘message’ they are sending by voting. But the oligarchs, party apparatchiks and candidates couldn’t care less about ‘messages.’ This leaves voters sending messages to themselves.

With more young people in the streets than has been the case for several decades, the political establishment is a wall of NO against responsive governance. But this NO isn’t a political reaction. It connotes the utter irrelevance to them of proclamations, acts or protests that don’t emanate from capital, the oligarchs, and / or corporate executives. A few decades ago about 10% of the population, the aforementioned chair-sitters of good fortune plus the PMC, decided which way the wind was going to blow and situated themselves accordingly. Until countervailing forces set the wind to blow in a different direction, the (mis)fortunes of we little people are but ambient noise— background chatter really, that official misdirection is put forward to silence.

The post Elections and the Problem of Politics appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump Tries to Change the Subject From Covid to Violence

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

With over 185,000 covid corpses in the U.S., Trump needs to change the subject. What better way than promoting mayhem in American cities by routinely portraying Black Lives Matter protesters as violent, angry mobs intent on looting? Granted he gets a big assist on this from Fox News, which has screamed about black insurrection for months. But Trump deserves lots of credit. He mobilized his base, shrieked about second amendment rights, telegraphed his support of violent, right-wing militias and voila! Confrontation and murder in American cities – most of them conveniently run by the opposition party. Trump needs blood in the streets to have a shot at winning the election. So you can be sure there will be blood in the streets. Or rather, more blood.

The Trump campaign claims these riots are what we can expect from a Biden presidency…except they’re happening during a Trump presidency. In fact, we hadn’t seen this level of unrest and violence for years – not until Trump came along, fanning sectarian flames, egging on fascist militias, aggravating racial division and adding his own novel twist – sending in federal police, against the wishes of local elected officials, to act as storm troopers. This president has not just taken a page out of the fascist playbook. He has taken whole chapters. He owns them. When he loses in November, the stage will be set for his authoritarian rejection of election results. And when his pugnacious followers take to the streets, don’t expect Trump to do anything other than throw gasoline on the fire of their rage. Because he’s doing so already.

When Kyle Rittenhouse reportedly murdered two left-wing protesters, radical right-wingers and Trump excused it as self-defense. The second murder – maybe. But the first one? That appeared to be cold-blooded first-degree murder, and the cops treated the killer with kid gloves. Very different from how they treated the leftist, Michael Reinoehl, who shot a radical right-winger while defending his companions. The police murdered Reinoehl, taking him into custody. So there are two justice systems in the U.S. – one for those police and Trump approve of and another for those they don’t.

Trump, the president of only half of America, has of course taken a side. He is hostile to BLM and supports the police. The police know this and they, in turn, support radical right-wing vigilantes. As Greg Sargent wrote in the Washington Post on August 31, “Trump unleashed a vile and frenzied tweetstorm,” that combined “superficial law-and-order appeals with open contempt for the rule of law.” Then Trump gave an interview to the very friendly reactionary Fox host, Laura Ingram, whom even he astonished with his bizarre claims about a planeload of black-clad anarchists coming to Washington, D.C. As he becomes more desperate, his fabulations become wilder, because Trump has learned one thing from making stuff up these last four years: the rubes in his base rarely hold it against him. Yeah, they know he’s fabricating, they’re not so stupid as to swallow the entire mess of lies. But some of it sticks. And Trump, with help from Fox, is trying to get them to believe more.

Except that it’s not working. A Reuters/Ipsos poll on September 2 showed Trump with no bounce from his new role as law-and-order Duce. All his screaming about insurgent African Americans has failed to shift attention away from the Trump regime’s inept handling of the covid crisis. People understand that this tough-on-crime business is Trump’s latest pose. For many in his base that’s fine. They know Trump’s an actor. But they don’t want to die a miserable death from a lethal pandemic that he has failed utterly to contain. And they can look around and see that other leaders in other countries – China, Vietnam, New Zealand, Germany, South Korea – have controlled the covid monster. The logical questions is, why can’t Trump?

Or, why won’t Trump? On September 9 the blockbuster revelation landed on newspaper front-pages that Trump knew how lethal covid was back in January and deliberately covered it up. So when he called the pandemic a Democratic hoax, he knew that in fact it was deadly serious, but lied to Americans, thus encouraging them not to protect themselves and causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. On CNN, Carl Bernstein called this a felony. It certainly bolsters the description of what the president has done as mass negligent homicide. And it certainly won’t help Trump’s poll numbers.

The Reuters poll showed Biden’s lead pretty much unchanged over the preceding weeks – weeks during which Trump bellowed about civil unrest and tried to paint his opponent – a centrist Democrat to the right of Eisenhower – as a radical left-wing communist. “But the poll showed the majority,” Reuters reported “78 percent, remain ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about the coronavirus.” Nearly 60 percent blamed Trump for the country’s economic woes and for the high number of U.S. covid cases, according to Reuters. “By contrast most Americans do not see crime as a major priority and do not think it is increasing in their communities.” That includes 65 percent of Republicans.

You can’t blame Americans for doubting Trump. After all, this is a president who said in July: “And you have people coming over with bags of soup and the anarchists…start throwing it at our cops…And if it hits you, that’s worse than a brick, because that’s got force…And when they get caught they say, ‘No, this is just soup for my family.’” No, changing the subject to rioting Bolsheviks won’t cut it. Covid is out there. It’s a killer. Anyone could get it. And President Trump has no plan to deal with it.

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The War on You: How the Pentagon is Militarizing Social Control

Photograph Source: torbakhopper – CC BY 2.0


Neoliberalism benefits the few and makes life for the many increasingly impossible. Big data and blanket surveillance give state and corporate intelligence confidence that they can pre-empt and manage mass, social reactions to neoliberalism. This article is an excerpt from my new book, The War on You.

TARGET: “EVERYONE”

In 1997, the U.S. Space Command published its Vision for 2020. The Vision says that military force is necessary to “protect” U.S. trade and investment. Colonial forces repelled Native American attacks, Navies enforced sea-based commerce, the Air Force had the advantage of the “high ground.” In modern times, space is an additional domain of warfare. The technologies that we take for granted—cargo tankers, computers, e-commerce, drones, GPS, the internet, jet aircraft, touchscreens, and the satellites that make these things possible—were developed in the military sector with public treasure before their transfer to private, for-profit corporations. This, says the Space Command, will lead to “Full Spectrum Dominance.”

A few years later, Dennis M. Bushnell, the chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, gave a presentation based on the work of a host of powerful U.S. (and other) institutions, including: the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Forces Command, the National Research Council, and many others.

Entitled Future Strategic Issues/Future Warfare [Circa 2025], the PowerPoint presentation anticipates: a) scenarios created by U.S. forces and agencies and b) scenarios to which they might have to respond. The projection is contingent on the use of hi-technology. According to the report there are/will be six Technological Ages of Humankind: “Hunter/killer groups (sic) [million BC-10K BC]; Agriculture [10K BC-1800 AD]; Industrial [1800-1950]; IT [1950-2020]; Bio/Nano [2020-?]; Virtual.”

In the past, “Hunter/gatherer” groups fought over “hunting grounds” against other “tribal bands” and used “handheld/thrown” weapons. In the agricultural era, “professional armies” also used “handheld/thrown” weapons to fight over “farm lands.” In the industrial era, conscripted armies fought over “natural resources,” using “mechanical and chemical” weapons. In our time, “IT/Bio/Bots” (robots) are used to prevent “societal disruption.” The new enemy is “everyone.” “Everyone.”

Similarly, a British Ministry of Defence projection to the year 2050 states: “Warfare could become ever more personalised with individuals and their families being targeted in novel ways.”

“KNOWLEDGE DOMINANCE”

The war on you is the militarization of everyday life with the express goal of controlling society, including your thoughts and actions.

A U.S. Army document on information operations from 2003 specifically cites activists as potential threats to elite interests. “Nonstate actors, ranging from drug cartels to social activists, are taking advantage of the possibilities the information environment offers,” particularly with the commercialization of the internet. “Info dominance” as the Space Command calls it can counter these threats: “these actors use the international news media to attempt to influence global public opinion and shape decision-maker perceptions.” Founded in 1977, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command featured an Information Dominance Center, itself founded in 1999 by the private, veteran-owned company, IIT.

“Information Operations in support of civil-military interactions is becoming increasingly more important as non-kinetic courses-of-action are required,” wrote two researchers for the military in 1999. They also said that information operations, as defined by the Joint Chiefs of Staff JP 3-13 (1998) publication, “are aimed at influencing the information and information systems of an adversary.” They also confirm that “[s]uch operations require the continuous and close integration of offensive and defensive activities … and may involve public and civil affairs-related actions.” They conclude: “This capability begins the transition from Information Dominance to Knowledge Dominance.”

“ATTUNED TO DISPARITIES”

The lines between law enforcement and militarism are blurred, as are the lines between military technology and civilian technology. Some police forces carry military-grade weapons. The same satellites that enable us to use smartphones enable the armed forces to operate.

In a projection out to the year 2036, the British Ministry of Defence says that “[t]he clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants will be increasingly difficult to discern,” as “the urban poor will be employed in the informal sector and will be highly vulnerable to externally-derived economic shocks and illicit exploitation” (emphasize in original). This comes as Boris Johnson threatens to criminalize Extinction Rebellion and Donald Trump labels Black Lives Matter domestic terrorists.

In 2017, the U.S. Army published The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare. The report reads: “The convergence of more information and more people with fewer state resources will constrain governments’ efforts to address rampant poverty, violence, and pollution, and create a breeding ground for dissatisfaction among increasingly aware, yet still disempowered populations.”

The U.S. military, in some ways, survives by maintaining the unjust status quo. It justifies its existence to policymakers as the guarantor of the economic order. However, “[a] global populace that is increasingly attuned and sensitive to disparities in economic resources and the diffusion of social influence,” thanks in part to the internet and instant communication, “will lead to further challenges to the status quo and lead to system rattling events.” These, according to the military, include “the Arab Spring, the Color Revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Greek monetary crisis, BREXIT, and the mass migrations to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa.”

The document might have also added to the list of unpredictable, life-changing political events COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, sparked them time ‘round by the police murder of George Floyd.

“ZBELLION”

The majority of BLM protestors in the U.S. and around the world are Millennials (people born between circa mid-1980s and late-1990s) and Generation Z (GenZ, those born after circa late-‘90s). The Pentagon is worried about GenZ. Millennials matured as their dreams and aspirations crumbled in the wake of major geopolitical and financial events, meaning that they were demoralized in their teens and easier to control. But the more cynical GenZ was born into misery. Unlike Millennials, who learned how to use and indeed pioneered much of the technology available today, i.e., they were one step behind their rulers, GenZ was born hyper-connected, giving them unique opportunities to harness for a better world the very technologies that the Pentagon utilizes as tools of oppression. These views are expressed by military planners in their Joint Land, Air and Sea Strategic Special Program (JLASS).

Providing no small insight into the thinking of the top generals, U.S. military war colleges planned to stop an imagined “Zbellion” in the year 2025. “Although Millennials experienced [9/11 and the Great Recession] during their coming of age, Gen Z lived through them as part of their childhood, affecting their realism and world view,” says the projection. The younger generation is the “least likely to believe there is such a thing as the ‘American Dream,’ and that the ‘system is rigged’ against them. Frequently seeing themselves as agents for social change, they crave fulfillment and excitement in their job to help ‘move the world forward’”—a dangerous proposition from elite viewpoints.

CONCLUSION

The seeds of resistance are taking root. The Progressive International has been established to counter the global political shift to the far-right. Extinction Rebellion activists risk prison and hefty fines to halt the climate emergency. Black Lives Matter activists are taking direct action to make both sides of the political establishment bend to their demands for justice and dignity. Thanks to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party in the UK has been dragged kicking and screaming to the left. In the Fifth république, the pro-immigrant, anti-climate change, La France insoumise (France Unbowed) has 500,000 members, despite being just four years old. In the U.S., progressives are rejecting the Republican Party that calls itself the Democratic Party and forming a long-overdue, third organization: Movement for a People’s Party.

People are taking action against the war on them and, in the spirit of international solidarity, could soon be active against the wars on others.

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Trump’s Deadly Mistake

Donald Trump made the biggest mistake of his tumultuous presidential career in not telling the American people the coronavirus was far more dangerous than he had let on, keeping a secret that led surely to serious repercussions.

He virtually ignored it, possibly being responsible for the loss of who knows how many American lives. His Democratic election opponent, Joe Biden, called it “almost criminal.”

Trump knew in January the coronavirus was more deadly than the seasonal flu, which is what he had been passing it off as. But he coaxed the American people instead to think it would pass swiftly, according to the book “Rage” by Washington Post Associate Editor Bob Woodward. He even called the disease a “hoax” and said it again and again.

Withholding crucial information from the public about a COVID-19 pandemic that could kill them – nearly 190,000 Americans have died from it and 6.3 million others are infected – is beyond excuse. If he has any decency, he should resign.

Remember this: “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he replied when asked early on if he felt responsible for the coronavirus.

Of all the more than his 20,000 lies and misleading statements recorded by The Washington Post since Trump took office, this falsehood to the people he was elected to “faithfully” serve as president is beyond a reasonable doubt the most dangerous and egregious. There can be no excuse, no denials, because it’s all on tape.

Questions, chiefly by journalists, also have arisen about why Woodward didn’t
immediately write a news story once he learned of Trump’s revelation so the American people would be informed. He told the Post’s media reporter, Margaret Sullivan, that his “biggest problem . . . is I didn’t know if it was true.”

Trump didn’t learn about the coronavirus until a Jan. 28 intelligence briefing and was told by his national security adviser Robert O’Brien that “this is going to be the roughest thing you face,” according to a Post story about the book. O’Brien’s deputy, Matthew Pottinger, said it was comparable to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, the book said.

The president’s lack of a leadership role in combatting the coronavirus when he knew the scale of its potential loss of lives could sink his chance at re-election.

The president called Woodward Feb. 7, telling him the virus was more serious than he had been telling the American people.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” he said. “And so that’s a very tricky one. It’s also more deadly than your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff.”

If he knew you could breathe in the coronavirus, then why didn’t he urge people to wear masks? Why did he instead flamboyantly flout not wearing a mask, encouraging others to follow his absurd lead?

Trump told Woodward March 19 that he purposely dismissed the danger, saying “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Knowing what he did, Trump had an obligation to make a public statement, probably even in a televised prime time appearance, to alert millions of people about the seriousness of the disease that was making its way toward the United States from Wuhan, China, and Europe so that they could begin to take precautions.

Instead, he put everyone in peril, at risk.

Were White House officials advising him to go public? What were the conversations in the White House about this? Were congressional intelligence committees briefed on the deadliness of the coronavirus?

The Post quoted Woodward, “Trump never did seem willing to fully mobilize the federal government and continually seemed to push problems off on the states. There was no real management theory of the case or how to organize a massive enterprise to deal with one of the most complex emergencies the United
States had ever faced.”

If nothing else, Trump’s lack of even a common sense response to the virus and then the COVID-19 it causes is proof positive that he is totally unfit to be the president. His vice president and cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and get him out of office as rapidly as possible. Have Mike Pence run for president in his place.

Biden, campaigning in Michigan Wednesday, exploded against Trump in reaction to the revelation about his in-depth knowledge of the seriousness of the disease.

“He knew how dangerous it was,” the former vice president said, according to The New York Times. “And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life- and-death betrayal of the American people.”

Biden added, “It’s beyond despicable. It’s a dereliction of duty. It’s a disgrace.”

Biden also told CNN, “He waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn’t do a damn thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do. It’s almost criminal.”

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As Washington Retreats, Eastern Mediterranean Conflict Further Marginalizes NATO

Photograph Source: DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison – Public Domain

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance in name alone. Recent events notwithstanding, the brewing conflict over territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean indicates that the military union between mostly Western countries is faltering.

The current Turkish-Greek tension is only one facet of a much larger conflict involving, aside from the two Mediterranean countries, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, France, Libya and other Mediterranean and European countries. Notably absent from the list are the United States and Russia; the latter, in particular, stands to gain or lose much economic leverage, depending on the outcome of the conflict.

Conflicts of this nature tend to have historic roots – Turkey and Greece fought a brief but consequential war in 1974. Of relevance to the current conflagration is an agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Nicos Anastasiades, respectively, on January 2. The agreement envisages the establishment of the EastMed pipeline which, once finalized, is projected to flood Europe with Israeli natural gas, pumped mostly from the Leviathan Basin.

Several European countries are keen on being part of, and profiting from, the project. But Europe’s gain is not just economic but also geostrategic. Cheap Israeli gas will lessen Europe’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas which arrives in Europe through two pipelines, Nord Stream and Gazprom, the latter extending through Turkey.

Gazprom alone supplies Europe with an estimated 40% of its natural gas needs, thus giving Russia significant economic and political leverage. Some European countries, especially France, have labored to liberate themselves from what they see as a Russian economic chokehold on their economies.

Indeed, the French and Italian rivalry currently under way in Libya is tantamount to colonial expeditions aimed at balancing out the over-reliance on Russian and Turkish supplies of gas and other sources of energy.

Fully aware of France’s and Italy’s intentions in Libya, the Russians and Turks are wholly involved in Libya’s military showdown between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces in the East, loyal to General Khalifa Haftar.

While the conflict in Libya has been under way for years, the Israel-et al EastMed pipeline has added fuel to the fire: infuriating Turkey, which is excluded from the agreement; worrying Russia, whose gas arrives in Europe partially via Turkey, and empowering Israel, which may now cement its economic integration with the European continent.

Anticipating the Israel-led alliance, on November 28, 2019, Turkey and Libya signed a Maritime Boundary Treaty, an agreement that gave Ankara access to Libya’s territorial waters. The bold maneuver allows Turkey to claim territorial rights for gas exploration in a massive region that extends from the Turkish southern coast to Libya’s north-east coast.

The ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ) is unacceptable in Europe because, if it remains in effect, it will cancel out the ambitious EastMed project and fundamentally alter the geopolitics – largely dictated by Europe and guaranteed by NATO – of this region.

However, NATO is no longer the once formidable and unified power. Since its inception in 1949, NATO has been on the rise. NATO members have fought major wars in the name of defending one another and also to protect ‘the West’ from the ‘Soviet menace’.

NATO remained strong and relatively unified even after the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the abrupt collapse, in 1991, of its Warsaw Pact. NATO managed to sustain a degree of unity, despite its raison d’être – defeating the Soviets – being no longer a factor, because Washington wished to maintain its military hegemony, especially in the Middle East.

While the Iraq war of 1991 was the first powerful expression of NATO’s new mission, the Iraq war of 2003 was NATO’s undoing. After failing to achieve any of its goals in Iraq, the US adopted an ‘exit strategy’ that foresaw a gradual American retreat from Iraq while, simultaneously, ‘pivoting to Asia’ in the desperate hope of slowing down China’s military encroachment in the Pacific.

The best expression of the American decision to divest militarily from the Middle East was NATO’s war on Libya in March 2011. Military strategists had to devise a bewildering term, ‘leading from behind’, to describe the role of the US in the Libya conflict. For the first time since the establishment of NATO, the US was part of a conflict that was largely controlled by comparatively smaller and weaker NATO members – Italy, France, Britain and others.

While former US President, Barack Obama, insisted on the centrality of NATO in US military strategies, it was evident that the once-powerful alliance had outweighed its usefulness for Washington.

France, in particular, continues to fight for NATO with the same ferocity it fought to keep the European Union intact. It is this French faith in European and Western ideals that has compelled Paris to fill the gap left by the gradual American withdrawal. France is currently playing the role of the military hegemon and political leader in many of the Middle East’s ongoing crises, including the flaring East Mediterranean conflict.

On December 3, 2019, France’s Emmanuel Macron stood up to US President Donald Trump, at the NATO summit in London. Here, Trump chastised NATO for its reliance on American defense and threatened to pull out of the alliance altogether if NATO members did not compensate Washington for its protection.

It’s a strange and unprecedented spectacle when countries like Israel, Greece, Egypt, Libya, Turkey and others lay claims over the Mediterranean, while NATO scrambles to stave off an outright war, among its own members. Even stranger, to see France and Germany taking over the leadership of NATO while the US remains, thus far, almost completely absent.

It is hard to imagine the reinvention of NATO, at least a NATO that caters to Washington’s interests and diktats. Judging by France’s recent behavior, the future may hold irreversible paradigm shifts. In November 2018, Macron made what then seemed as a baffling suggestion, a ‘true, European army’. Considering the rapid regional developments and the incremental collapse of NATO, Macron may one day get his army, after all.

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Biden Next Time

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I hesitate to attribute settled views or even consistent attitudes to Donald Trump; his mind, such as it is, isn’t up to it.

Nevertheless, even as his manifest unfitness for the office he holds is, by now, beyond serious dispute, it is tempting to think that anybody who hates John McCain and thinks ill of NATO, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon brass, Cold War revivalists (even if only the ones that target Russia), white Christian evangelicals, and other blots on the political landscape cannot be all bad. But Trump is.

With Democrats running Joe Biden and championing all that Trump (more often than not) inveighs against, this simple truth can be hard to bear in mind.

It must be, however, in order to defeat a menace of unprecedented gravity.

For the time being, no matter how distasteful the prospect, it is necessary to make common cause with even the most godawful Democrats. This will be the case until the dangers Trump poses are defeated or at least severely mitigated.

Thus, now is a time to go after Trump and Trumpism by any means necessary. Biden’s turn, and the turn for Democrats like him, the ones still calling the shots, is next.

**

By playing the decency card well, Biden is playing to his greatest strength. He couldn’t do it without Trump’s help, but the more indecent, stupid, and inept Trump is, and the more his most shameless lies are exposed, he has that by the truckload.

It would be better, of course, if Biden could somehow remain out of sight, and out of mind too, except as a notional alternative to Trump and Trumpism. But helpful as that would be, with Election Day less than two months away, he cannot stay holed up in his basement while Trump decomposes mentally in full public view.

The best he can do instead is put his ordinary human decency on display, turning the election into a referendum on Trump. With Trump acting out and mentally decomposing, that is almost as good – especially now that Trump has all but declared himself a deceiver and a fraud.

What an indictment of what passes for democracy in America!

Forget about thoughtful deliberation over policies and political visions. The task now is to secure the election of a center right, past his prime, mainstream mediocrity – because there is no other feasible way to save the world from the whims and wiles of a sociopathic ignoramus, a hapless septuagenarian with the mind of a troubled male adolescent.

And what an indictment of the millions of Americans who still, despite everything, stand by their man! What the hell is the matter with them?

No doubt, social media, along with Fox News and other, even more noxious, rightwing propaganda outlets are partly to blame, but how could so many seemingly normal people be so bereft of basic decency and intelligence?

If nothing else, how could they not recoil at the contempt Trump shows for them – by, among so many other things, exacerbating the inequalities from which they suffer, and encouraging them to put themselves and their families in mortal jeopardy from covid-19 disease for the sake of his own vainglory, cupidity, and determination to stay out of prison for the many actionable crimes he has plainly committed.

To be sure, increasing inequality was a problem before Trump came on the scene, and he didn’t set the covid-19 pandemic in motion. But, as with everything else he does, he has made those problems worse, a lot worse.

As everybody nowadays knows, black and brown people bear the brunt, but the white folks in “the Trump demographic” are not much better off. And yet they don’t defect. He has conned them well. How pathetic is that!

How sad too that there seems to be no “bombshell,” no outrage, that will move them to turn against the Donald, no straw that will break the proverbial camel’s back.

To hear the interviews aired on NPR, MSNBC and CNN, many of Trump’s marks seem to have learned nothing in the past four years. They still think that their Dear Leader is still a business genius who can “fix” almost anything. Some of them even go on about what a great father he is. In what universe is that?

Rats are supposed to desert a sinking ship. Hardcore Trump supporters stay on board. How is it possible that they would be bereft even of good, solid rat-sense?

There is however one, numerically small but not entirely insignificant group of 2016 Trump supporters who do seem to have wised up a little: those who naively, but not too foolishly, construed Trump’s words in ways that allowed them to imagine that, in at least some respects, he would, if elected, do more good (or less harm) than Hillary Clinton.

Tempting as it may be, when, for example, Democrats go on about “Russiagate,” no sane person who has been paying even the slightest attention could do that now; not with evidence of Trump’s incompetence – and malevolence – as overwhelming as it has since become.

Thus, four years ago, it was still possible to think that Trump would institute trade policies that would improve the condition of American workers.

That displaced American workers would be attracted by that prospect is entirely understandable. The neoliberal world order championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, and by the economic elites of all the world’s major capitalist powers, is an increasingly onerous burden for them to bear. Trump railed against it. What was there not to like in that?

Clinton – and Biden and, of course, Obama too – personified the politics that created and sustained those trade policies. There was every reason to think that, as president, she would maintain and perhaps even expand them. Trump seemed to offer an alternative.

It was also still possible to suppose that Trump would be less inclined than Clinton to launch or continue or otherwise promote wars that were in no way defensive of anything other than the interests of the “defense” industry and our bloated Department of “Defense.”

Four years ago too, the darker implications and resonances of Trump’s “America first” jibber-jabber were not as widely appreciated as they have since become.

Meanwhile, the moral and intellectual poverty of imperialism’s apologists – whether liberal or, insofar as there is a difference, neoconservative – has hardly abated, and neither have the many other problems sustained by mainstream Democratic Party orthodoxies.

But no thinking person in 2020 who has any idea of what has been going on under Trump’s aegis could possibly imagine that Trump would undo any of that. He could care less; and neither could the hardcore denizens of his base.

But not all the onus is on them; far from it. Trump enablers in powerful and influential positions are far more culpable.

That would be the entire Republican Party at the national level and at nearly all state and local levels too. It would be their media flacks. And it would be liberal corporate media too, on the principle that, even as they deride Trump and evince nothing but hatred of him, the publicity and therefore the legitimacy they lavish upon him does him more good than harm.

Most culpable of all, of course, are the plutocrats who see the Donald as a class brother, good for their bottom lines.

They have at least as much to answer for as the misogynists, nativists, Islamophobes, and bona fide white supremacists whom Trump has enabled, even as they enable him.

***

Trump is a narcissistic ignoramus, weak in courage, bereft of morality, but strong in cunning.

He is also fixed in his ways. Thus, in 2020, in 2016, he speaks with the same forked tongue. However, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

There is no way on earth that anyone could find anything to applaud in the mindless blather of anyone who would separate children from their parents and keep them in cages. That is vileness, pure and simple. It is the same with Trump’s zeal in calling forth “the darker angels of our nature.”

It is also impossible to find anything to praise in Trump’s self-serving contempt for scientific expertise, now the source of so much depraved indifference to human life and well-being, or in his lawlessness and corruption.

And while our political culture is replete with norms “honored more in the breach than the observance,” Trump’s likely refusal, in the face of electoral defeat, to cede power graciously or even peacefully, will merit serious prison time, not praise.

However, by overlooking the evidence of the past four years, persons with progressive values who find mainstream Democrats intolerably appalling can still construe at least some of what Trump says some of the time in ways that accord with their hopes.

This is only to be expected. Trump is a conman by nature; he knows instinctively how to equivocate in ways that can appeal simultaneously to gullible but unlike-minded audiences.

In 2016, that skill mattered more than it now does because, for all practical purposes, there are no “undecideds” anymore. This election therefore has less to do with winning over “hearts and minds” than the 2016 election did — or than did any other presidential election in living memory.

Meanwhile Biden and Harris go on about how now is a time to “think big.”

For the next two months at least, they have every reason to convey the impression that that is indeed what they are about to do – not because they need to convince anybody to prefer them to Trump, everybody whose head is screwed on right already does, but because they have to convince people who already would rather have them win to bother to vote at all.

If they pick up the votes of any Trump supporters in the process, that will help too, but good luck with that.

If the polls are right, no matter how much more outrageous Trump becomes, no matter how much more he mentally decomposes in ways that even the willfully blind cannot fail to see, very few – probably, not more than two or three percent — of his supporters are likely to defect. How much, if at all, that will help with the Electoral College is anybody’s guess.

For Biden, therefore, it all comes down to “turnout.” In practice, this means getting voters whose enthusiasm for Biden is (justifiably) nil, to vote for him anyway – because, if they don’t, Trump might actually pull off another upset victory, with consequences too dire to contemplate.

This is why the pillars of the party and the donors behind them cannot afford to alienate Sanders and Warren voters, or to get voters “of color” and younger voters of all colors eager for genuine, not Obama style, “hope and change” to vote in the numbers they did when Obama was the nominee.

Even so, it is plain that Biden and Harris are not about to tamper with the status quo in any serious way. In other words, they are not about to think big enough to embrace policies that many, probably most, potential Democratic voters want – a Green New Deal, for instance, and Medicare for all, or measures that would significantly regulate or re-regulate what politicians and commentators nowadays euphemistically call “the financial sector.”

Neither are they about to undo or seriously diminish the stranglehold that America’s military-industrial-national security state complex has held over the body politic since the end of World War II, much less institute an alternative industrial policy more suited to the needs of the vast majority of the American people.

Were they not concerned about losing the support of the millions of voters who much preferred Sanders to Biden or any other “moderate” Democrat, they would be as content as Trump himself to call even the most anodyne advances over the Clinton-Obama status quo “socialist,” and to take for granted that this is somehow a bad thing.

Trump is their Number One enemy, and they will do anything to rid the body politic of him. Beyond that, however, the last thing they want is to move society in a genuinely socialist direction – say, by altering the balance of power between Capital and everyone else, organized labor above all.

Thus, they even seem eager to stifle talk of “democratic socialism” within the party’s ranks – not because anyone is proposing anything particularly radical, much less anti-capitalist, under that rubric, but because they don’t want to encourage even anodyne challenges to the capitalist order. Who knows, after all, where such talk might lead.

Still, compared to where the Democratic Party was just four years ago, they will be a lot better, whether they want to be or not. They will also be more likely than the Obama administration was, to do the right thing when politically compelled.

Therefore, even with Biden at the helm, there is no reason to abandon all hope – not just because a new Democratic Party is slowly but inexorably coming into being despite the best efforts of Democratic mandarins to quash it, but also because, even at the top, there will probably be enough flexibility to move forward at least a little bit.

In that regard, the more Harris calls the shots, and the less Biden does, the better. Her politics is somewhat better (less stone age) than his, and she seems less wedded to the bad old ways.

But, so far at least, hopes for anything good coming from a return to pre-Trumpian “normalcy,” with or without Democrats “thinking big,” vanish at the water’s edge.

Trump-style “America First” foreign policy has made America a global laughingstock and an object of pity around the world. But whatever Biden and his co-thinkers believe, this is not an altogether bad thing, and efforts to restore pre-Trumpian American global hegemony should be challenged, not encouraged.

Would they, if successful, be better than Trumpian chaos? Very likely, they would. But this does not alter the fact that the foreign policy Biden favors, essentially the evolving but generally stable foreign policy orientation of the American imperium since World War II, is what has made the world the perilous place it is.

But no one should take Trump to be an ally in the struggle against any of that, regardless the words that he sometimes utters or tweets as they take shape in the blooming buzzing confusion of his mind.

What he says as he rants on, mercurially and obsessively, in response to perceived failures on the part of others to appreciate his greatness is of clinical interest only. It was arguably excusable not to realize this four years ago; it no longer is.

When, for example, he depicts “his generals” as base and servile tools of death merchants, it is not because he has anything against the military-industrial complex; quite to the contrary, he loves all those malefactors to pieces, at least when they sing his praises. It is only when somebody at the Pentagon or some “defense” contractor says or does something to which he takes offense or fails to offer him what he considers due obeisance, that he rails against them.

Or when he decided not to go to the Aisne-Marne cemetery in France to honor American Marines killed at Belleau Wood and in the Battle of Château-Thierry in the First World War, it is not because he wants to make a point about the senselessness of the carnage in that, or any other, inter-imperialist war. More likely, it was, as reported, because he didn’t want to muss his hair.

It is the same many times over when he calls amputees, veterans, and active duty soldiers, along with the war dead, “losers” and “suckers.”

He is not pointing out that all the wars America has waged — except perhaps for World War II (and then only in the European theater) – were basically wars of choice that that the United States didn’t even actually win in any clear or unequivocal sense; that all those wars did was kill and maim a lot of people, squander a lot of treasure, and perpetuate a social and economic order based on war and preparations for war.

He was only voicing the gangsterish view that anything not done for the basest, most self-serving reasons is not worth doing at all.

There is nothing praiseworthy in that, nothing that could be construed in ways that, in comparison, don’t make even Biden look good.

This is why, for now, ridding the body politic of Trump and all things Trumpian takes precedence over everything else. It is of paramount importance and, thanks to the laws that determine when elections are held, its urgency is undeniable.

Ridding the body politic of Biden and the politics he represents must therefore be put off, or rather put on the proverbial back burner, for a while.

But, for anyone even remotely interested in creating a substantively better possible world, that is, if anything, an even more important task.

Its time will come – soon, if all goes well – but, in any case, next.

The post Biden Next Time appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression’

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Two well-known and highly respected mainstream economists, Carmen Reinhart, a chief economist for the World Bank, and Vincent Reinhart, chief economist for Morgan Stanley bank, have recently published an article in the widely read and influential capitalist source, Foreign Affairs, entitled ‘The Pandemic Depression’.  Arguing primarily from a global perspective, the economists have concluded the US economy as of the 3rd quarter 2020 is not merely now experiencing a ‘great recession’ but now qualifies as another Great Depression.

There is another perspective, however, from which to also argue the US economy is in a bona fide Great Depression. It is from the perspective of the US Labor Market. For as of the late 3rd quarter 2020 the US economy suffers from an unemployment rate of no less than 25%–i.e. the same rate during the worst years and quarters of 1932-33, the depths of the 1930s Great Depression.  Yet what we hear from the media and politicians of both wings of the Corporate Party of America—aka the Republicans and Democrats—is that unemployment is only 8.4%! That’s barely one-third of 25%.

Republicans and Trump have used the low-balled number of 8.4% as the main excuse to prevent any further economic stimulus. The Democrats have voiced no effective rebuttal since they too have accepted the 8.4%. So what is it? 8.4% and not even a great recession any longer? Or 25% and the possibility the ranks of unemployed are about to grow even further?

What follows is a debunking of the 8.4% unemployment rate and a quantitative explanation why that rate is 25%–as well as why the forces behind it will likely result in an even further deterioration in that unemployment rate in the 2020-21 period ahead.

(25% & 40 Million Are Still Unemployed)

After the massive job implosion last spring, a weak rebound in jobs has occurred as the economy reopened over the early summer. But that jobs rebound has shown clear signs of faltering by late July and has clearly deteriorated by late August as unemployment claims have risen in recent weeks. Even more ominous, as that near term condition of jobs has worsened, parallel indications show the emergence of a second, more permanent phase of job loss.

Since early March 2020, more than 55m workers have filed for, and received, unemployment insurance benefits.

According to official government data, as of the end of August, 29.5 million US workers were still getting benefits. That 29.5m reflects 18.4% workers clearly unemployed. But it’s also a subset of the total jobless, since millions haven’t been able to get benefits. So the actual number of jobless as of labor day 2020 is north of 29.5m and 18.4%  Nevertheless, the statistic we hear is 8.4% unemployment rate and 13.4 million unemployed. What gives?

Some of the 55 million who received benefits at some point over the course of the last six months of the pandemic began returning to work starting in May. The number returning grew in June, but then began slowing once again in July and August as the rebound in jobs began to falter in July-August.

Others of the 55 million have simply exhausted their benefits. Many are still unemployed but no longer part of the 29.5 million that remain on benefits.

In addition, millions more workers since March have entered the labor force for the first time but they too have not been eligible to receive benefits due to lack of prior work history as first time job seekers—which precludes them from receiving unemployment benefits. Like those having exhausted their benefits, they too are unemployed but not part of the 29.5m still getting benefits at the end of August.

Joining the ranks of those unemployed but not receiving benefits are the millions who never got benefits because they simply gave up looking for work for various reasons and dropped out of the labor force—which puts them in a category in which, according to US labor department methodology, they aren’t counted as unemployed. They may be out of work, but given the oxymoronic way the US defines unemployed they aren’t considered unemployed for purposes of calculating the unemployment rate!

Finally, there are the additional millions more who never were able to get benefits since March even though they tried, due to various bureaucratic reasons.

Whether having exhausted their benefits, or first time entrants to the labor force not eligible for benefits, or whether they’ve dropped out of the labor force, or were denied benefits for bureaucratic reasons—all these groups are nonetheless part of the unemployed, even though they are not counted among the 29.5m still getting unemployment benefits.

In short, the 55m who got benefits at some point since March, and the 29.5m who are still getting them, are in both cases just a subset of a much larger number of jobless. There are millions more unemployed who never got on the unemployment benefits rolls since March and still not able to get benefits.  There’s at least 10-15 million more jobless but without benefits. That means an unemployment rate, at minimum, of 25%–not the 8.4% peddled by the media apologists for Wall St. and the politicians of the Corporate Party of America (aka Trumpublicans and Democrat wings of that party).

Last April 2020 perhaps as much as 50% of the total US labor force of 160 million workers was jobless for approximately two months. As of today, Labor Day 2020, at minimum a fourth, or 25%, still remains so.

That 25% is about the same jobless rate as occurred during the worst years of the 1930s Great Depression, 1932-33!

Here’s why it’s 25% at minimum today, Labor Day, and quite possibly even more:

(Dissecting the Government’s Low-Ball U-3/8.4% Unemployment Rate)

Despite an actual 25% unemployment rate (i.e. 40 million still jobless) what we hear from the media and politicians is that the unemployment rate is only 8.4%. And thus the total unemployed is only 13.4 million. (When 8.4% is calculated on the 160 million total US labor force, the number unemployed comes to 13.4 million).

The official government statistic of 8.4% jobless is repeated ad nauseam in the media. It’s then picked up by politicians, commentators, and even progressives who should know better and parroted back to the public. But 8.4% is nonsense. A purposely low-balled, cherry-picked number for public consumption. Here’s why:

To begin with, the 8.4% is the government’s official U-3 unemployment rate. The problem with U-3, however, is that it represents only full time workers who became unemployed. But there are at least 50 million workers in the US economy who are not ‘full time’, but part time, discouraged and what the government calls the ‘missing labor force’. The government adds these groups to its U-3 and 8.4%.  That raises the unemployment rate in August to 14.2%–not 8.4%. And that translates to a total unemployed of 22.7 million—not 13.4 million.

The 14.2%/22.7 million numbers are carefully avoided in media reporting. One almost never hears the 14.2% and virtually always only the 8.4%, regardless that both are official government statistics.

But even that 14.2%/22.7m is grossly under-estimating the total unemployed. Remember that other government statistic, i.e. those receiving unemployment benefits?  Workers receiving benefits as of late August was 29.5 million. And that represents a 18.4% jobless rate.  Obviously, if a worker is getting benefits, he/she must be unemployed, right?  But you’ll hear 29.5 million and 18.4% in the media even less than the 14.2% and 22.7 million.

In the case of the 29.5 million, moreover, we have another example of ‘low-balling’ and cherry-picking a statistic –not unlike cherry-picking the U-3 stat instead of the U-6.  The media reports the number of workers getting benefits at only 16 or 17 million, not 29.5 million!

But here’s what they don’t explain when citing only 16-17 million getting benefits:  That number accounts only for workers receiving unemployment benefits under the traditional State Unemployment Benefits system.  The 16-17 million excludes independent contract workers, gig, freelance, and others getting benefits under the supplemental Pandemic Unemployment Insurance (PUC) program created last March as part of the Cares Act.  In other words, there’s two unemployment benefits systems and the media typically chooses to report only the one when indicating workers getting benefits. There’s the traditional State Unemployment Benefits system and the new Supplemental PUC system that for the first time ever has provided benefits for the 50m non-traditional workers who were before March never eligible for benefits but are now and will continue to be eligible at least through December 2020 when that PUC system expires. Once again, it’s media cherry-picking and number low-balling time.

The State system and the PUC system together comprise the 29.5 million workers still getting unemployment benefits.  29.5m receiving benefits is certainly more than 22.7m (U-6) and even more so than 13.4m. It’s not that the government job statistics consciously lie (although in some cases they come quite close). It’s just that the government produces low ball numbers for the media to pick up, which they do and pound away at. And then commentators, politicians, business sources play their role of spreading the low ball numbers and conveniently ignoring other data.

How then did the US economy get to 29.5 million and 18.4%? Here’s the trajectory: In April more than 6 million workers filed for benefits every week for two weeks, followed by 3-5 million more for several more weeks thereafter! The weekly new benefits filing rate declined as the economy began to reopen in May. However, after May new State unemployment benefit claims still averaged 1 to 2 million every week through July; In addition, the number of PUC initial benefit claims per week also exceeded 1 million a week, every week, through July as well. The combined totals of the two programs—State and PUC— thus never fell below 2 million initial filings a week throughout the period of the reopening of the economy, from May through July. It has also remained a combined more than 1.5m/week throughout August. That’s 6 million new unemployment filing claims—i.e. 6 million newly unemployed—in just the last month of August. Bringing the total on unemployment benefits to the 29.5 million.

But wait! The 29.5m represents only unemployed workers who were able to get benefits. There’s many more workers who became jobless but were unable to successfully get benefits; or who gave up even trying in the first place and simply dropped out of the labor force altogether. Who are they? And how great are their numbers?

Their numbers are well north of even the 29.5 million and 18.4% unemployment rate. The true total jobless includes their numbers plus the 29.5 million.

For the 29.5m receiving benefits as of Labor Day 2020 excludes those jobless who were unable to get benefits in the first place, who filed unsuccessfully for benefits, who got lost in the bureaucratic process of filing and never got benefits, or who just couldn’t figure out how to file and were not helped and gave up. The 29.5m also represents those having exhausted benefits during the last six months. And those who chose not to file even though unemployed. Finally, the 29.5m excludes new entrants to the labor force over the past six months who weren’t eligible for benefits but haven’t been able nonetheless to find work given the collapse of the economy! All these categories of jobless workers represent the unemployed as much as those receiving benefits include the obviously unemployed. So the number of jobless is actually much higher than even 29.5 million. The 29.5m is therefore just a subset of the true total unemployed.

So how many more are jobless but not getting benefits as of Labor Day 2020?

(Estimating the Actual Jobless—With & Without Benefits)

You won’t get an accurate number from the government of the total unemployed who didn’t get benefits but have been, and remain, nonetheless jobless since February 2020.

However, private research surveys do give us an idea.  MarketWatch, a business research and media company, published an interesting feature story in Fidelity.com this past week, based on its survey of the Philadephia/Mid-Atlantic region of the economy. That case example survey provides a reasonable estimate of the magnitude of those jobless since March 2020 but not among the 29.5m that succeeded in obtaining unemployment benefits.

Of the total number of workers in the Philadelphia, Mid-Atlantic US region who lost their jobs since February, MarketWatch reports that only 87% actually filed successfully for benefits. And of that 87%, only 65% who bothered to file actually ended up getting benefits. That means only 52%, or roughly half of the unemployed in the Philadelphia area, actually got unemployment benefits. The other 48% were just as much out of work, but without benefits.

If Philadelphia represents a microcosm and relatively accurate sample of the entire US economy labor market, simple extrapolation means that the 55 million who successfully got benefits since March 2020 may represent barely half of the total of those who have been unemployed since March!

That means the 29.5 million still getting benefits may represent barely half of all those still unemployed. There may therefore be between 40 and 50 million workers in America still jobless—those still getting benefits (the 29.5m) and those without benefits (10m to 20m).

Thus, the oft-reported official US numbers of 8.4% unemployment rate and 13.4 million total out of work is dwarfed not only by the government’s own alternative U-6 data, as well as by its own data showing 29.5 million jobless getting benefits, but also by the fact the total jobless without benefits may be nearly as large as those with benefits.

Assuming the low-end estimate of 10 million still jobless but without benefits, and adding that to the government data that shows 29.5 million still on benefits, a total jobless of at least 40 million is the result. And that’s the low end assumption. It may be well over 40 million as of end of August 2020.

40 million is 25% of the labor force. And it’s far greater than the 8.4% and 13.4 million that the media and politicians keep drumming into our ears. What the media and politicians are telling us is only one-third of the total unemployed!

Corroborating this estimate of at least 25% unemployed today is yet another government statistic called the labor force participation rate, or LFPR. It represents workers who have dropped out of the labor force altogether.  It’s in addition to the 29.5m and 18.4% rate since, by government guidelines and definitions, those who drop out of the labor force cannot receive benefits.

(Labor Force Participation Rate Suggests 5.5 Million Dropped Out)

The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is the percent of working age Americans who have left the Labor Force. They are neither working nor actively looking for work. But they are jobless nonetheless and should be considered among the unemployed.  The LFPR was 63.4% of the 164.5 million civilian labor force in February 2020. By August the LFPR dropped to 61.7% out of a 160 million labor force. The difference translates into approximately 5.5 million workers who dropped out of the labor force since February 2020. Having dropped out they are not actively looking for work and therefore not considered unemployed by the government for purposes of calculating unemployment rates. Nor are they eligible to receive benefits since, as drop outs, they are not actively looking for work. However they are nevertheless unemployed and their 5.5 million are additional to the 13.4 million U-3 and 22.7 million U-6 unemployed or the 29.5 million getting benefits.  They are among the ‘other’ 10-20 million jobless but not counted by the U-3/U-6 or included in those receiving benefits. Their number strongly corroborates that there are many millions more unemployed—not getting benefits or ignored by the government’s official monthly jobless numbers.

Let’s look at the latest of those government monthly employment numbers. Once again what appears is a fudging and manipulation of the numbers in yet other ways as well.

(August 2020 Government Employment Report)

The first thing to know about the August Employment Report is that it isn’t for the month of August. It is only for the first two weeks of the month (and the last two weeks of July). The data cuts off around the 12th of the month. So what we’re looking at in a ‘August’ report is really July 13 to August 12 jobs data—i.e. before unemployment claims began to rise again in late August.

Second, it’s important to understand that the August jobs numbers are not the actual number of jobs created July 13-August 12. It is not the raw data of actual jobs created or lost that’s reported—for August or for any month in the Labor Dept jobs reports.

The government takes the actual raw data and performs various statistical operations on that raw jobs data and reports that adjusted statistic as the actual number of jobs, even though it isn’t. But that’s what all statistics are—an operation and adjustment on the actual raw data.  Moreover, the August raw data itself may be over-stated as well, not just altered by the statistical operation(s).

Raw (actual) jobs data comes from several sources: Large businesses report to the government changes in employment, layoffs, hires, etc. (called the Establishment Survey) The government also surveys a sample of households monthly (called the Population Survey). But there’s a third, more questionable source, based on data from the creation and destruction of small businesses, called the (net) New Business Development survey (NBD). That NBD data, however, represents businesses destroyed or created 6 to 9 months before the month in question—i.e. in this case August. So we get six to nine month old data integrated with current data from the Establishment and Population surveys. Mixing such older data with more recent is a questionable statistical practice.  It means adding positive net new business development pre-March and Covid, in January-February, to current jobs data. That has the effect of dampening the actual numbers of August jobs unemployment. That is, it adds to and over-estimates the number of jobs created in August. If net business development for July were used—not January/February—it would mean integrating massive small business destruction that has occurred under Covid since March. That would have the opposite effect: it would dampen job creation numbers in August and increase unemployment numbers.

That’s just one example how ‘statistical operations’ on data can serve to exaggerate job growth and under-estimate unemployment.

Another sometimes questionable statistical operation is called the Seasonality adjustment.  The seasonality statistical adjustment in August reduced the number of new filings for unemployment benefits in just the last week of August by 130,000. The government then reported a ‘seasonally adjusted’ 881,000 new unemployment claims for the week ending August 29, when the actual number was 1,011,000.

Similarly, in August there were 9,118,000 reported as unemployed in August when the actual data, not seasonally adjusted, for August showed 9,286,000 actually unemployed—i.e. a difference of 1,168,000. Put another way, there were 1.1m more jobless in actuality than reported as unemployed.  1.1m were artificially reduced from the unemployed ranks due to statistical operations involving just seasonality alone!

The statistical models assume more return to work at the end of summer than, say for instance, at the end of spring. But the point is these models are based on assumptions developed in normal times under normal conditions. Since Covid neither times or conditions are ‘normal’. Yet the government continues to use the same assumptions, models, and statistical operations to change the actual data, the actual number of employed and unemployed, to the statistical representations of the actual numbers!

The latest August official Labor Dept. job data report says 1.37m new jobs were created. This is the statistic. But the actual data, for above reasons, is far fewer new jobs and far more unemployed.

The August Report is biased in yet another way. It purports to show the condition of the US private sector economy.  But 238,000 new US census workers were hired in August who’ll be gone by October. Take away the seasonality adjustment of 1.1 million jobs and the 238,000 very temporary government Census workers, and the private sector actual job gain in August was nearly flat. Even without the deduction of seasonality, the private job report company, ADP, often cited as a check on government job reports, reported only 428,000 net jobs growth in August—i.e. less than a third of the government’s August jobs report.

1.37m new jobs reported, minus the 1.1m seasonal upward adjustment and minus the 238,000 Census workers, and the difference is a mere 32,000 actual net private sector jobs created in August.

Even accepting the government’s own inflated monthly jobs numbers, the rate of monthly job growth has been slowing rapidly since May 2020: In May 3.4 million new jobs were reported as created. In June, as the economy reopened virtually everywhere, 4.7 million new jobs. But in July, as the economic rebound began to fade, only 1.5 million, and now as of August 12, only 1.37m. In short, even questionable statistical operations cannot total cover up the obvious downward trend.

Perhaps a better indicator of this downward trend post-August 12, is the more than 4 million workers who have newly filed for unemployment benefits the last three weeks, and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands more were also newly jobless but who were not able to get benefits or just dropped out of the labor force giving up searching for a job in today’s deeply depressed labor market.

And yet we read and hear from the media and politicians that the job market is healing rapidly and job recovery is accelerating—even as data show it is in fact deteriorating. We hear unemployment is declining fast when in fact it has begun to rise once again.

(Summing Up Jobs: March Through August 2020)

To sum up the bigger true picture of jobless during the first six months of the Covid era:

+ 55 million filed for benefits, state and PUC, since last February, out of 160m labor force

+ Tens of millions more failed to file or filed unsuccessfully and didn’t get benefits

+ 29+ million are still getting benefits as of September Labor Day 2020

+ 10-20 million still unemployed but not getting benefits as of Labor Day 2020

+ 1.5 million are continuing to file first time for benefits weekly as of early September

+ 8.4%/13.4m official U-3 jobless rate is the preferred ‘cherry picked’ media number

·       14.2%/22.7m is government’s alternative data (U-6) yet ignored by media & politicians

+ 13.4 or 22.7m still falls far short of the 29.5m/18.4% actually still getting benefits

+ At least 5.5m dropped out of labor force the past 6 mo. but not considered unemployed

+ The actual unemployment rate is 25% and 40 million are still jobless, at minimum

+ Even government monthly stats show a sharp slowing of new jobs added each month

As bad as the picture looks for Phase 1 (March-to Labor Day 2020) of the current crisis, future prospects for jobs for American workers after Labor Day 2020 appear even bleaker.

(2nd Wave of Restructuring & Permanent Job Loss)

The Covid virus did not cause the current economic crisis—i.e. the 2nd Great Recession. It did precipitate and accelerate and deepen that crisis, however. The US economy was weakening steadily throughout 2019, with the important sectors of business investment and manufacturing actually contracting throughout the year. Should the virus therefore disappear overnight, the deep wounds to the US economy will remain. Many of the 40 million furloughed starting in March and still jobless will not soon be recalled to their prior work—if at all. Entire industries like travel, entertainment, food & lodging, and others will not return to the ‘old normal’ of pre-Covid. A new normal will occur, but it will be one based on a much reduced output in various industries and companies and therefore employment.

Many major corporations have already announced thousands—and in some cases tens of thousands—of permanent layoffs that will take effect in the coming months. These layoffs will be permanent. They represent the leading edge of a coming second wave of job loss.

Industries deepest affected by the growing permanent restructuring and downsizing include Airlines, surface transportation, cruise lines, resorts and hotels, casinos, malls and retail services, education services, local food services, and many sectors of manufacturing that support all these industries with products and maintenance services. This is a large swath of the US economy, in both GDP and employment terms. A clearer picture of which industries, and how deeply impacted, will be clearer after September 30 when the government publishes its quarterly  industry-specific statistics for the second quarter 2020.

In the meantime, announcements of thousands of planned layoffs are being announced weekly by United, American, and other airlines; by Boeing and other aerospace suppliers; by big box mall-based retail companies like JC Penneys, Kohls, Nieman Marcus and others; Movie Theater chains AMC and Cinemark;  oil drilling and fracking companies; hospitals’ non-Covid related services health workers; beverage suppliers to hotels and restaurants like Coca Cola—to mention just those making front business page news in recent weeks. Tech companies are all restructuring despite healthy profits performance, shifting to remote employment on a major scale that reduces employment costs via layoffs. They will require therefore fewer building support and operations employees. Many other businesses may also shift to remote activity, with the result that urban office buildings will become less employment populated and much of the local city support services for the office building sector will dramatically downsize in employment as well.

The Federal Reserve Bank’s latest ‘Beige Book’ summary of the US economy warned that millions of workers temporarily furloughed since March may have been permanently laid off by August and more may become so.  This shift of temporary laid off to permanent layoff status is corroborated by a survey that showed 3.4 million workers believe they won’t be recalled because their companies have either permanently closed or said they planned to close.

Added to this leading edge of the next wave of layoffs due to business restructuring and downsizing is the likelihood of millions more public sector state and local government layoffs. More than a million government workers have been already laid off since March. Budget and deficit problems accelerating rapidly for state and local governments due to the Covid pandemic (i.e. more expenses amidst collapsing tax revenues) will result in still more public employee layoffs.  It’s been estimated these governments will need between $500 billion and $940 billion in bailout rescue in a new stimulus bill from Congress to avoid the mass layoffs. However, it appears extremely unlikely they’ll get much, if anything, in a next Congressional stimulus bill in 2020. Layoffs are therefore inevitable and in some of the larger states and cities they will be significant and forthcoming before 2020 year end.

Small business failures and permanent closures are already rising significantly. As small businesses close, jobs associated with them will disappear.  And the numbers could easily amount in the millions by the end of 2021.

There are roughly 30 million small businesses in the US economy. Millions of those temporarily closed since March will fail to reopen. And the worse may be yet to come. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, an industry trade group for small business, forecasts 21% will likely fail within another six months. That’s one-fifth of the 30 million or about 6 million. Even if a high end estimate, the number is still unprecedented. At the low end is the US Census ‘Business Pulse’ survey that predicts a 5% small business job loss. That’s 1.5 million closures. Whether 6 or 1.5 million, it’s a large number with an even larger number of employees thrown out of work as the businesses close in coming months.

Other forces driving a second wave of layoffs are more difficult to estimate but no less likely. Among them include the Covid related requirement that K-12 schools implement home remote school education services.  Many working class households are two-parent wage earners. They lack resources to pay for babysitters or nannies. Those with K-6 year old children in particular will be forced to have one parent quit and stay at home to ensure home schooling. These ‘quits’ will not show up as unemployed, since the parent is ‘out of work’ but not actively ‘looking for work’. They will show up as labor force drop outs. But they will be unemployed nonetheless! It’s uncertain how wide spread the remote K-8 education services will be this fall, or how long it will last. One recent estimate, however, by Brevan Howard Asset Management to its investors, concluded no fewer than 4.3 million US workers could stay home given lack of child care arrangements.  A resurgence of Covid may mean millions more may have to quit their jobs and choose unemployment in order to provide their young children education via remote learning.

Another development that for now is difficult to estimate as well is the impact on employment of the lack of a necessary fiscal stimulus for households. The elimination of the $600 supplement pandemic unemployment benefit at the end of July has resulted in a reduction of no less than $65 billion in consumption spending per month starting this past August.  Evictions and mortgage foreclosures will also have a negative impact on consumer household spending, which is nearly 70% of the economy and US GDP.  Already the loss of the $600 benefit, combined with rising evictions,  is having a major effect on consumer confidence which in August began falling again sharply.  This could be exacerbated by an inadequate stimulus bill in September. Reduced working class benefits and household incomes will have an impact on consumer demand for products and services in the economy across the board, affecting nearly all sectors of businesses. And as that demand drops, it will almost certainly lead in turn to less consumer spending and in turn to more layoffs.

The preceding five forces—i.e. large corporate restructurings and permanent downsizing, a sharp rise in public sector layoffs, unprecedented business closures, remote schooling requirements of two working parent families, and general demand reduction due to inadequate next stimulus—all translate into a second wave of layoffs now emerging.

These longer term job reduction forces mean the recent tepid rebound in jobs during May-July will likely give way to a relapse in the US labor markets in coming months and a rise in unemployment.  The trend may already be appearing as of late August as first time claims for unemployment benefits have begun to rise once again.

And then there are still the ‘known unknowns’ that could exacerbate conditions further: the increasingly likelihood of a historic political crisis surrounding the November 3 elections. That will breed massive uncertainty and potentially an even worse economic crisis and associated layoffs. Or the Covid virus could resurge significantly once again as winter sets in, as many fear will happen. That too will lead to more shutdowns and furloughing of jobs once again.  Even further down the road is the 2021 ‘black swan’ event of another financial crisis, as businesses, households, and local governments begin to default on their debts and precipitate another financial crisis similar to 2008-09.

The post America’s Current Jobs ‘Great Depression’ appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Biden’s Transition Team Isn’t a “Team” and It’s Not Promising Much of a Transition

Photograph Source: Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA – CC BY 2.0

On September 5th, Joe Biden added four new members to his transition team, which was not really a team. It consisted only of Ted Kaufman, the 81-year old Democratic senator from Delaware. Considering Kaufman’s reputation as a deficit hawk and his advanced age, Biden had to cover his left flank and give the appearance of diversity.

Nobody would see his choices as going overboard. There’s only one new member who has the appearance of being progressive enough to get Bernie Sanders salivating: New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. She’s a Mexican-American that Daily Kos described as “the TYPE of VP candidate that could rally all of us together — progressives, mainstream Dems, working class, suburbanites, people of color, etc. — to take back our country.”

Joe Monahan, who blogs about New Mexico politics, was less impressed. In an article that had hanging on her own petard, we learned of her disgust with Green New Deal type activists in the Democratic Party. “They’ve lost their minds. We’re the third-largest oil producer in the country. I’m going to get a benefit from that.” With fracking polluting the state’s water, a dubious benefit, Lujan blithely gave the green light to the oil and gas industry. The Santa Fe-New Mexican reported, “Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an energy conference Tuesday that her administration aims to work with oil and gas on key issues, a message that appeared to delight industry representatives.”  This must have recommended her to Biden, who said the following in a Pittsburgh speech, “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”

To cover his African-American base, Biden named Louisiana House of Representative member Cedric Richmond, formerly the head of the Black Congressional Caucus and served as co-chair of Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. To show his proper anti-racist credentials, Richmond joined Jerrold Nadler in calling for a censure of Donald Trump in 2018 because of his “obscenity-laced racist remarks.”

While James Clymer and John Lewis got most of the credit for helping to tilt the scales in favor of Joe Biden in the South Carolina primary, Richmond was also instrumental in casting Bernie Sanders into oblivion. He joined them in denouncing calls for free public higher education as “irresponsible” because “there are no free lunches.” Like Lujan, Richmond has learned to cater to the needs of corporate polluters. Receiving $128,000 from chemical companies, he barely seemed interested what two constituents had to say. They came to Washington to get him to do something about a local plant generating chloroprene, a carcinogen that had cost numerous relatives’ lives. The Guardian reported on their reaction to the two-minute session with the hack politician: “Looking at his face, it didn’t really seem like he was interested. It was like he was trying to brush us off.” Richmond also gave The Guardian a brush off:

The congressman, who declined interview requests, also declined to provide evidence of correspondence related to the plant. He also declined to answer a list of detailed questions despite multiple requested deadline extensions. Shortly after receiving the Guardian’s questions, Richmond’s communications director, Jalina Porter, blocked both authors of this article on social media.

The other two choices were straight out of the traditional Democratic Party corporate, neoliberal bag, who backed up Biden’s promise to rich donors that “Nothing would fundamentally change” if he’s elected.

Nobody symbolizes the status quo better than Jeffrey Zients, who served as head of Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. Jeffrey St. Clair summed him up in a 2013 CounterPunch article:

Well, he was a top executive at Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, plotting takeovers, mass firings, raids on pensions and de-unionization of factories. He did so well at this grim job that his net worth now tops $100 million. One might view this appointment as an act of casual sadism, rubbing salt in the wounds of progressives. But the Left is so moribund, so deeply immured in a political coma that the insult didn’t even prompt the slightest protest, not even a vestigial yelp for old time’s sake.

With a background like that, no wonder Obama’s VP would reserve a seat at the table for him.

Then, there is Anita Dunn, who was Obama’s Communications Director in 2009. Once her job ended, she joined a PR firm called SKDKnickerbocker that hoped to connect the Obama administration to the wealthy clients they represented. One of them was TransCanada Corp., the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that enraged American Indians and environmentalists. Obama eventually dropped support for the pipeline but only after oil prices crashed in 2014. Dunn also did PR consulting for NSO, the Israeli spyware firm former Israeli intelligence officers founded. NSO created the infamous Pegasus tool that repressive governments have used against Indian, Mexican and Saudi journalists. The Saudis reportedly used Pegasus to keep track of Jamal Khashoggi.

Let me conclude this dreary tour with the aforementioned Senator Ted Kaufman. The Nation warned Biden about taking advice from a deficit hawk. John Nichols wrote:

Unfortunately, even as the candidate was putting the finishing touches on his speech, creating doubts about whether the nominee is prepared to match words with deeds.. “When we get in, the pantry is going to be bare,” longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman told The Wall Street Journal in an article published Wednesday, the third day of the convention. “When you see what Trump’s done to the deficit…forget about Covid-19, all the deficits that he built with the incredible tax cuts. So we’re going to be limited.”

Odd that The Nation would be so worried since Bernie Sanders is ready to take the word of Joe Biden, who told him that he could become the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Sanders added, “He understands the severity of this moment.” Right, that’s why he named such a bunch of sleazy bastards to his transition team.

Let’s catch up with “the squad.” They must be more willing to take on such an utter disregard for the growing power of the “class-struggle” wing of the Democratic Party.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, their standard-bearer, might have spent her two minutes of fame nominating Bernie Sanders at the DP convention but don’t assume that she will dig in her heels at Biden’s transition team. Someone like her, committed to realigning the Democratic Party, has to be more “political”, just like Bayard Rustin, who backed seating the Mississippi racists at the 1964 convention rather than the Freedom Democrats.

A. O-C has been relatively quiet about Biden ever since serving on the climate change panel that Sanders and Biden set up. With Biden sticking to his guns on fracking, it’s probably better that she pretended she didn’t hear him. On the other hand, she was ecstatic over Ed Markey’s victory, whose support for a Green New Deal earned her endorsement. Then again, being for a Green New Deal comes easy, even for Joe Biden, who “believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” So what if he puts people on his transition team that gives frackers carte blanche in New Mexico or do PR for TransCanada. As Bernie Sanders said, “He understands the severity of this moment.”

There was not much to expect from Ayanna Pressley, one of the squad’s lesser-known members, who voted to oppose BDS last summer. There was probably no good reason to include her in the squad in the first place, and even less now. When Biden picked Kamala Harris as his VP running mate, Pressley was exuberant. “Throughout her career, she has been unafraid, an inspiration to millions of women who see themselves in her. As our vice presidential nominee, Kamala is making history.” Before long, there will be little difference between Pressley and any other “progressive.” Despite the hopes of realignment advocates like A. O-C, the DP is likely using them rather than vice versa.

Showing an affinity for Orwell’s doublethink, Rashida Tlaib promised to deliver her district to Biden, but hasn’t endorsed him. According to the Detroit News, Tlaib has been talking to Biden’s team for weeks, but wants him to come to her district and talk about problems like water shutoffs and pollution. I don’t know why should have any great expectations since former Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder has endorsed Joe Biden. Was there something that Snyder, the man most responsible for Flint’s toxic water, saw that Tlaib could not?

Ilhan Omar, arguably the most radical squad member, is also on the Biden bandwagon. Along with other elected Muslim elected officials like Keith Ellison, Omar signed an open letter that asserted, “We anticipate that a Biden administration would provide Muslim American communities platforms to speak on issues affecting us, represent us within the administration and in policymaking discourses.” How that squares with his intervention to keep the word “occupation” out of the official Democratic platform is anybody’s guess.

Over the past month or so, I have seen countless warnings from Facebook friends about the need to “stop fascism,” with some arguing that the election will be as pivotal as the 1932 election was for Germans. There are analogies to be drawn with the Weimar Republic but not one that Biden supporters grasp.

In 1932, the Social Democrats backed Paul Von Hindenburg, who did have some similarities with Joe Biden as a “lesser evil.” Like the Democratic Party, they cut deals with the rightwing opposition parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same sell-out policies that centrist DP presidents like Clinton and Obama made infamous.

For example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals, but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the government abandon free meals to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller could not persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations, you are right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists, but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The Müller government’s ineffectiveness led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Austerity led only to a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually, Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Now we are in a period hardly resembling the final days of the Weimar Republic. The good news is that a fascist takeover is highly unlikely since parliamentary democracy is more than adequate to keep the working class under control. On the other hand, the bad news is that the left is so inconsequential and the trade unions so weak that there is no need for fascism.

But who knows? Another decade or so of declining wages and cops killing Black people might precipitate the rise of a left party that has learned to avoid the reformist stupidity of the German SP and the suicidal ultra-leftism of the Stalinists. It is highly likely that people hostile to Howie Hawkin’s campaign today will find a way to argue for continuing DP support when that moment arrives. Instead of the lesser evil, let’s opt for the greater good.

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Americans Have Always Been “Suckers” for War

Photograph Source: David – CC BY 2.0

Trump’s reported comments about the dead soldiers of World War I as “suckers” and “losers” has caused a well-deserved uproar. We may never know whether Trump actually said those things, but the sentiments are certainly in line with the brute cruelty and lack of empathy that marks his long career in business and politics.

However, the evident callousness of Trump’s remarks does not mean that the fallen US soldiers in fact died in a good and noble cause. The majority of the wars fought by the US. have been promoted by elites for profit or territorial expansion. Most Americans have always been “suckers” for these wars. World War I was no exception.

Some of the many wars the US has fought over its history were for legitimate causes or self-defense. The American Revolution/War of Independence, the Civil War and the Second World War in which the US was attacked can be justified in one way or another, though not 100 per cent so. Recall that one of the causes of the American revolt was to overcome British opposition to westward expansion of the colonies and further dispossession of indigenous peoples. Africans enslaved by the American colonists who joined the British cause were offered and received their freedom. Most northern supporters of the Civil War against the slave holders did not initially see emancipation as the main war aim, though the abolition of slavery did eventually became the key outcome. Supporter of the 1812 war with Britain hoped for the US to annex Canada.

Of our other military conflicts, few would argue today, that the Mexican-American War of 1846-7 and the Spanish-American War of 1898 – both widely “popular” at the time — were anything less than imperialist land-grabs. The US annexed half of Mexico and absorbed a string of Spanish colonies in these wars.  In 1898 and after, more US soldiers lost their lives suppressing the Philippine movement for independence than had fallen in combat against Spain. The tens of thousands of US soldiers who were killed in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, died for “a mistake” as apologists may claim – or more realistically just illegal wars of aggression.

Even the 1941-45 conflict, often remembered by Americans as “The Good War,” had some very mixed elements. In Europe, the anti-fascist character of the war became paramount, especially after the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, but we should recall that some of the key battles were fought over colonial terrain in North Africa and the Middle East. In the Pacific, though Japan launched the war with its “Day of Infamy” attack on December 7, 1941, the inter-colonial or imperial nature of the conflict was predominant. After all, the Japanese bombed a US base at Pearl Harbor which was part of the Hawaiian Islands seized by the US from its indigenous people in 1893 and formally annexed a few years later. Many of the initial Japanese conquests took place against European or American colonial possessions like French Indochina, British Malaya, Dutch Indonesia – and the US Philippine Islands.  Japanese rule in these conquered lands was no doubt cruel, though not different in principle from the dirty history of European colonization. In East Asia and the Pacific, of the major powers only the Chinese fought a wholly defensive and justified war against Japanese aggression.

What about the First World War?  Pres. Woodrow Wilson had campaigned for re-election in 1916 under the slogan “He kept us out of war!” But early in his second term Wilson changed his tune and began to agitate for the US to join the conflict. Congress duly complied with a declaration of war in April 1917.  Wilson, the patron saint of liberal interventionists ever since, asserted that it was a war “to make the world safe for democracy.” How true was that?

The principal US allies in the conflict included Tsarist Russia, whose continental expansion across Europe and Asia had subdued dozens of indigenous nations; Britain and France, the other major powers on “our” side were the world-spanning colonial empires. Less prominent European allies were monarchical Italy and a number of Balkan kingdoms, all of which aimed at territorial expansion through conquest. In the Pacific, the most important US co-belligerent was imperial Japan. Of the US allies, only France then had a republican government which included unrestricted (male) voting rights. Ironically, the “enemy” nations of Germany and Austria had more universal suffrage rights than most of the “democracies” fighting against them. Pre-war Germany had also instituted the most progressive health and social security system anywhere in the world.

As for the US itself, democracy was limited at best. Like in all the other allies, women could not vote, but the US, then at the height of the Jim Crow era, also severely restricted African-American voting rights in the South and racial segregation was the rule almost everywhere. Pres. Wilson himself, born into a slave-holding family in pre-Civil War Virginia, was an ardent racist. He held a special screening at the White House of the vicious pro-Klan epic film “Birth of a Nation” and introduced Jim Crow segregation into the DC governing institutions.  Wilson claimed to support “self-determination” but the US maintained its own empire in the Caribbean and the Pacific, while dispatching the marines  to invade Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Cuba, among other places. Opponents of the war and union activists were regularly arrested, deported or jailed.

It is true that in the post-war years women gradually succeeded in gaining the right to vote in most of the belligerent nations on both sides.  But this was the result of decades of agitation – often at great personal sacrifice – that began  decades earlier. In the US, it took generations more for African-Americans to achieve practical voting rights in much of the country.

And as for “self-determination,” not a single European or American colony won its independent after the war ended.  National rights were in those days matters reserved only for white peoples. Instead of liberation, the African and Asian colonial possessions of the losing powers were simply redistributed as war spoils among the victors. It wasn’t until after another world war that colonial independence movements achieved much success, often after brutal liberation wars.  In many parts of the globe, especially the Middle East, we are still living with the dire consequences of European colonialism that was, if anything, reinforced by the First World War.

So the 1914-18 war did nothing to “make the world safe for democracy.” Some grudging progress was made after the fighting ended but as a whole the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians achieved little of value.

During that war, more than a hundred thousand US soldiers died and tens of thousands more were severely wounded out of the millions of American troops sent into the maelstrom of inter-state and imperialist conflict in Europe. Others were killed during US interventions in Siberia and Murmansk, along with its allies, to overturn the Russian revolution and reinstall the Whites into power. These US deployments, including units that were transferred to Siberia from anti-insurgency operations in the Philippines, continued for two years after the First World War had supposedly ended. The US troops were withdrawn only after concerted protests by the soldiers and their relatives back in the US. Hundreds of them died in these useless interventions.

However much Trump’s alleged remarks may have been heartless and cruel, it doesn’t follow that we should consider the US soldiers killed in the First World War as “heroes.” No doubt many of them fought and died heroically. Some may even have believed idealistically in the allied mission, but most were draftees who knew little about the roots of the war. It is hard be a “hero” for a bad cause.

If it is callous for Trump to refer to those Americans who died fighting in 1917-18 as “losers” then perhaps it is more accurate to call most of them simply “victims.” The same may be true for the tens of thousands of US soldiers who died later in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Jeff Klein is an author and speaker on Middle East issues who travels frequently to the region, who writes about history from anti-war and anti-colonialist perspective.  He can be reached at jjk123@comcast.net.

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Fascism and the Quickening of History

Over the last few months I have been revisiting research I did a long time ago on fascism. Pinochet’s Chile, Sukarno’s Indonesia, Montt’s Guatemala, Hitler’s Germany and beyond. I’ve spent time poring over the accounts of the survivors, the details of the crimes, the descriptions of the torture, of the camps, the ghettos, the dehumanization, the cruelty, the terror, the photos of the train cars headed to concentration camps, the mass graves, the massacres, the piles of corpses. And reading through the accounts of people who knew things were going in this direction, that something ghastly was being done to other people, yet did nothing, not even raised their voice when they had the chance.

Sadly, I have come to believe that it is, once again, reasserting itself globally and more overtly. And it isn’t just in incendiary speeches from the US president or others who stoke the flames of racism, and scapegoat and demonize the poor, the immigrant, the marginalized, or the oppressed. In recent days, I have seen far right trolls on social media sharing memes with gruesome photos of the deceased in Kenosha. Photos mocking them, memes celebrating it, and cheering on more of the same, and worse. From my research, I realized that this is how it all started. How fascism became normalized in those societies that fell to its barbarism. A level of callous dehumanization that cannot be sated. Cannot be reasoned with. And that, when joined with state agencies, becomes a force that is lethal and next to impossible to stop. I can tell you, the research has taken an emotional and spiritual toll, and led to many sleepless nights.

But Americans have already tolerated the precursors of fascism. The atrocities they have largely chosen to look away from, or normalize, or conveniently blame on one president. They know of the imperialistic invasions and bombings of scores of non-Americans in the Global South by the US military. And at home, they have seen immigrant and refugee families torn apart and put in cages. They have heard the sobbing of children in detention camps. They have seen people prosecuted for daring to help these people in the scorching desert. They have seen police departments acquire tanks and armour, and use tear gas and fire at people on their front porches. They have seen unarmed protesters beaten, and maimed, and disappeared in unmarked government vans. And much of this was happening long before Donald Trump darkened the doors of the White House. To be sure, fascism has always simmered just below the surface in the United States. History’s pages, dripping with the blood of Indigenous genocide and the suffering of African slaves, has nurtured the ground for fascism to flourish whenever the conditions were ripe for it. Indeed, the Nazis took lessons from America’s ruthless systemic supremacism. So anyone who argues that “it can’t happen here” has no interest in this history. Because it already has happened here, it just hasn’t affected the majority of white Americans yet.

As the election looms closer it has become undeniable that the proto-fascist in the Oval Office will do everything within he can to stop his potential removal from office. Indeed, Trump has already started pulling the levers of power available to him, from attacks on the US Postal Service to casting doubt on process itself. He is employing one of the few gifts he possesses, incitement, to activate his far right base, including armed white supremacist militias. He has accelerated his demonization of opponents and any political group who dissents, including anarchists and Black Lives Matter activists. And he has aligned himself with the most unhinged and violent factions of the notorious conspiracy engine known as QAnon. If anyone thinks he will leave office without trying to cause immeasurable chaos and misery, they have not been paying attention to the last four years. And his opposition comes from the most stale, neoliberal precincts in recent memory. A cadre of ghouls and grifters for the interests of capital, who offer little hope outside of platitudes to the millions of Americans struggling with a pandemic, an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression, as well as climate change fueled catastrophes.

And so how then shall we proceed? How shall people of conscience, those who reside at the margins of an empire in a state of collapse, live? There are times when history feels quickened. When the merciless maw of barbarism cannot be avoided. But there are moments every step along the way which give us a window of reprieve. A chance at redemption. A space to build solidarity with others of like mind and spirit. Others who cannot stand silent or paralyzed while the heel of ruthless hatred stamps out our very humanity. It is up to us to seize those moments when we can, because they can often lead us toward preventing unthinkable atrocities. I believe this is one of those moments, but I also believe that it is rapidly fading away.

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Banana Strings and the Military-Industrial Complex

How did we ever arrive at this unfamiliar destination with a strangely morphing reality—writhing and shifting at an ever-accelerating pace? 8 months ago, the notion that a pandemic could alter our social interactions to this extent was not really considered to be a possibility. Now it feels as if life was always this way. Added to this massive change is an undeniable new reality associated with climate change.  The warnings for severe and unpredictable weather that would ensue without appreciable change in human-carbon interactions—well it politely knocked on the door ever so quietly the last few decades, a loud rap here and there, but overall, something ignorable for the vast majority. The denialists shrugged and turned up their television to drown out the knock. Now climate change has opted for a battering ram to the door–just this last week we had record highs in places like San Francisco along with 90+ weather giving way to snow the next very next day in Colorado. It’s enough to make one feel like the fabric of reality is unraveling, and really it is. The concept that we live in a somewhat static environment is being challenged daily. The bizarre nature of the Trump presidency only adds to the Salvador Dali-esque atmosphere, but instead of clocks melting, we have Andy Warhol’s soup cans shifting about, the deadly weapon of choice for the new anarchist.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf3b1AJNAR8

How much more can we all handle without going irreversibly insane?

This may be the moment before the crack in the ego—the moment that all notion of personal control freakery ends. The instant the insane cackling begins, hopefully followed by relief that others feel the same way.  The moment to connect with others and create anew. There’s going to be a realization that if all this absurdity can have an official stamp on it, then this by no means needs to be our reality going forward. Why should such a system be protected, coddled, and advanced? The answer is that it should not.

The unwritten contract that a government must provide something of value to its citizens and the citizens will diligently prop up the government has been shown to be a farce. It always has been, but we’ve played our parts in this crappy grade school level theatrical production since the start of feudalism and the new names we’ve called it over the ages. We have been infantilized, bickered with our brothers and sisters, basically surrendered agency to groups of individuals that couldn’t even be trusted to feed your pets or not molest your kids. They play the populace for fools and the populace does not disappoint. We need to become the vessels of decency and kindness that our leaders are not. And they need to no longer be our leaders.

In the United States, we have a military the likes of which would make Odin blush. But our government refuses to make any legitimate attempts to protect us from something around 0.125 microns in size. What is the use of such expensive “protection”? The truth of it is that the military industrial complex is nothing but a sham and I think deep down we all know it, even those who thump their chests the loudest. The priest who questions a god’s existence, the soldier that wonders what it’s all for…… those moments of doubt need to be nurtured to arrive at a truth beyond the level of magical thinking and jingoism. Our holy is this earth; our protection is each other and empathy.

The fact that we are all deemed to be a commodity with those of advanced age being even more expendable……where is the social contract in that? The nation was held together somewhat with a notion of caring for those who “put in their time”, but even that is now gone. It’s a vicious situation and it will only get worse if we allow the current trajectory to continue. I think of a time back in the 80’s. I was a horribly nerdy junior high age kid with a summer of a lot of nothing to do planned. I decided to become an intellectual. I went to the library and opted for two very thick books. Because, hey “intellectual”! Those books were Atlas Shrugged and The Grapes of Wrath. I left that summer more awkward and nerdy, socially unfit– not an intellectual, but with a firm notion that one of those books had value. The other was a recipe for disaster. If an idiot kid in the 80’s could figure that out…. I think humans that do not want to go extinct can arrive at the same conclusions. The truth is like clean, fresh water. Atlas Shrugged is like swallowing poison. That weird summer experiment in reading fat books changed me as a person and we need to never underestimate what art, story-telling and appeals to kindness can achieve. I know we are facing literal Neo-Nazis. But for every single one of those who may be lost for good, there is also a confused majority with shifting alliances and perhaps less intellectual curiosity, but the ability to be steered to the light.

But our present reality….all those damn leaders read Atlas Shrugged….and they internalized its poison. It fuels the parasitism, not democracy or any other nifty term that boils down to mean nothing. Such is the ludicrous nature of this predatory relationship between the average citizen and the state. We are hearing the old refrain, that the anarchists are the danger. This happens when the veil is lifting because they know it’s a sham and the most dangerous individuals are the ones who have cleared the toxic belief system from their minds. The poison that tells them rules and police guide and save society, but somehow humans have lived their vast majority of time on earth without such constraints. In fact, the most lethal times have come sprung out of “civilization”. Large scale wars, plagues caused by filthy living conditions and the mistreatment of animals, the pyromaniac treatment of the world’s sequestered carbon—all from these civilized times. They know this system is artificial and is in existence to unnaturally prop up a ruling class who knows nothing but plunder. It takes a lot of work to keep something so patently illogical and evil chugging along. Lots of firepower and lots of propaganda.

And almost always, this works, the majority of the population being veterans of “The Battle of Who Could Care Less”. General Apathy and Major Boredom serving with distinction, thank you Ben Folds Five. This disregard for the large questions can’t continue. The current situation is going to force everyone to take notice.

We have so much more in common with each other than anyone fully realizes. Other than the personality disorder riddled ruling classes, we all want love, safety, and meaning in our life. We have connections to all living things and it’s an artificial existence that’s been foisted upon us. We’re Vitamin D deficient because we’re walled up in buildings, doing Bullshit Jobs (RIP David Graeber) and this incongruity with what we need wells up in toxic anger that we place on each other.

If you want to consider how we are all connected (the animal kingdom too, of which we are obviously a part) consider this clip that says more about our similarities than words ever could.

None of us like those strings.

 

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From Hoovervilles to Trumpvilles: Homeless Crisis Deepens

Nearly a century ago, when the Great Depression descended on New York in 1929, Gotham, like cities around the country, sprouted Hoovervilles, homeless encampments. In New York, a dozen or so were in Central Park and dubbed “Hoover Valley,” “Shanty Town,” “Squatters Village,” “Forgotten Men’s Gulch” and “Rockside Inn.”

Other Manhattan encampments included “Hardlucksville,” the city’s largest encampment, at 10th Street on the East River, and “Camp Thomas Paine” in Riverside Park and the West 70s. Farther uptown, the homeless found residence in floating shanties along the Harlem River around 207th Street; at Camp Dyckman, which consisted mostly of World War I veterans; and at Marble Hill, just across the Spuyten Duyvil, where Sarah J. Atwood and her daughter, Mavis, ran a boxcar village.

The outer boroughs were also home to encampments. In Brooklyn, a large facility operated on Columbia Street, in Red Hook, and near today’s Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, some six hundred people lived in “Hoover City.” Writer Edward Newhouse lived for three weeks in a Queens encampment to do research for his novel You Can’t Live Here.

A new generation of homeless encampments – Trumpvilles – are spreading throughout the country. In New York, they have popped up in each of the five boroughs as recent press reports indicate. Three examples are suggestive:

+ In Manhattan – there was a homeless encampment on Sixth Avenue between West 23rd and 24th Streets.

+ In Elmhurst, Queens – an original encampment of around 15 to 20 expanded to 60 and 70 people.

+ In Staten Island – an encampment sprouted outside the Richmond County Bank Ballpark in St. George, home of the Staten Island Yankees.

Throughout the nation, Trumpvilles are multiplying:

+ NPR reported in January — “Across California and other parts of the country, these growing homeless encampments evoke shantytown ‘Hoovervilles,’ where hundreds of thousands of destitute Americans lived during the Great Depression.”

+ In Berkeley, CA — Berkeley Fire Department doused a fire at the city’s largest encampment, at University Avenue just west of Interstate 80.

+ In Philadelphia, PA – there was an encampment on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Ridge Avenue.

+ In Minnesota – homeless Native American men, women and families build a tent colony at the Wall of Forgotten Natives near Hiawatha and Franklin Avenues.

+ In Tacoma, WA – the city government reports: “… the number of homeless individuals exceeds the number of local available shelters. Finding immediate shelter options for people being displaced from encampments continues to be an ongoing challenge.

+ In Seattle, WA– an unmanaged encampment was recently removed in the area behind the Navigation Center on a public stairwell.

Trumpville homeless encampments are spreading throughout the country.

***

Once upon a time, immigrants came to America – and more specifically New York – believing that the streets were paved with gold. Then, the U.S. represented the opportunity for a new, better life. Those days are over and the streets of America, especially in New York and other cities and rural communities, are increasingly paved with homeless lost souls.

As the Covid-19 pandemic eases up, the number of homeless people is increasing. Walking through almost any New York neighborhood or riding on subway trains one is struck by the growing number of people asking for a handout, waiting at a church/community food shelter or sleeping at a city shelter, on the street or in subway a car. The crisis is likely to only get worse as evictions are expected to increase as the weather gets colder.

New York’s Coalition for the Homeless reports that as of June 2020 there were 58,736 homeless people sleeping each night in the municipal shelter system. This included 13,275 homeless families with 19,626 homeless children; families make up two-thirds of the homeless shelter population.

It reports that the number of homeless New Yorkers sleeping each night in municipal shelters is now 59 percent higher than it was ten years ago. The number of homeless single adults is 132 percent higher than it was ten years ago.

Making matters worse, each night thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleep on the streets or in doorways, in subway cars and in other public spaces. The Coalition warns, “There is no accurate measurement of city’s unsheltered homeless population, and recent City surveys significantly underestimate the number of unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.”

Most disturbing is the racial composition of city’s homelessness population. The City government provides the following data for families with children as of March 2020:

+ Black/non-Hispanic = 54.1 percent

+ Hispanic = 39.9 percent

+ White non-Hispanic = 2.9 percent

+ Other (Native American, Asian/Pacific Islander) = 1.0 percent

+ Unknown = 2.0 percent

Six months later and as the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on city life, these number are problem far worse.

***

Brendan O’Flaherty, a Columbia University economics professor, projects an increase in national homeless rate by 40-45 percent this year compared to January 2019. (HUD reports that as of January 2019 the nation-wide homeless level reached 567,715 people.) O’Flaherty projects that upwards of nearly 250,000 people will become homeless “if homelessness follows unemployment the way that it has done so in the earlier part of this century,” thus reaching over 800,000 people.

In September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the jobless rate in April reached 14.7% — “a level not seen since the Great Depression.” O’Flaherty notes that this level of unemployment “is unprecedented.” And adds, “No one living has seen an increase of 10% of unemployment in a month.” Making matters worse, O’Flaherty does not address the problem of increased evictions and foreclosures that is being to take place.

The U.S. is not New York so the composition of homeless is different. In January 2020, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that for 2019 states with the highest rates of homelessness per 10,000 people were New York (46), Hawaii (45), California (38), Oregon (38), and Washington (29). It noted each state was “significantly higher than the national average of 17 persons per 10,000. The District of Columbia had a homelessness rate of 94 people per 10,000.”

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) reports, “deliberately-racist economic and housing policies, communities of color have always disproportionately experienced homelessness and housing insecurity.” It notes that “people of color experience homelessness at disproportionate rates. Black, Latinx, Native American, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities experience compared to White and Asian communities.”

The NLCHP offers insight into the all-to-often forgotten fact that White people make up a larger proportion of the homeless that any other group. It notes that nearly half (47.7%) of the homes are White while about two-fifths (39.8) are Black and one-fifth (22%) are Hispanic.

***

In March, as the Covid-19 pandemic spread and the economic impact mounted, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion economic stimulus. It included a limited ban on evictions of tenants living in federally subsidized housing that were unable to pay their rent. The ban halted evictions for 12.3 million households, about 28.1 percent of all federal renter households. The ban ended on July 24th.

However, Census data for July 9-14, 2020, show that 13.8 million adults in rental housing — 1 in 5 renters — report being behind on rent. It notes that households of people of color reported higher rates of missed payments compared to the national average.

On September 1st, as the social crisis resulting from coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession continued, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) banned evictions of tenants from any residential property because of nonpayment of rent through December 31, 2020. It applies to only people who lost work as a result of the pandemic and permits landlords to charge late fees and other penalties as permitted.

The CDC’s ban does not relieve tenants from the obligation to pay rent—all of it comes due on January 1, 2021—and it allows landlords to continue to charge late fees and other penalties as permitted by law.

In addition, about 20 states have implemented moratoriums of their own.

Most troubling, if the eviction ban is not again extended after the New Year, a considerable number of households and people are at risk of being evicted from the homes for an inability to pay their current rent and that owned due to earlier bans. Estimates of the number of tenants at risk of eviction vary but each is alarming. Three of these estimates are frightening:

+ The Aspen Institute notes that “if conditions do not change, 29-43% of renter households could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year.” It estimates that between 28.9 million to 39.9 million people are at risk.

+ Stout Risius Ross, a management consulting firm, estimates that 40.56 percent of renter households are going to experience rental shortfall and 12 million households will face eviction over the next four months.

+ The NLIHC estimates that between 30 and 40 million people in the U.S. could be at risk of eviction in the next several months.

In an attempt to deal with the need to find the money to pay the rent, Americans are shuffling their limited resources. Some renters are using money from government assistance programs, borrowing from friends and relatives, seeking loans and using their credit cards to pay the rent. More and more families are using a greater proportion of their budget to pay their rent and a staggering number of Americans are turning to food banks to meet their household food needs.

Like his predecessor Herbert Hoover, in time Donald Trump’s presidency might only be remembered for its Trumpvilles.

The post From Hoovervilles to Trumpvilles: Homeless Crisis Deepens appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Assange’s Fourth Day at the Old Bailey: COVID in the Courtroom

As James Lewis QC for the prosecution, representing the US government, revealed, “I’m just saying about my charger.  It’s in court and I’m going to run out of battery.”  It was one of those moments that said much about the fourth day of proceedings at the Old Bailey regarding one Julian Assange, publisher, Australian national and wanted by the US Department of Justice for incongruous charges of espionage.

It all had the appropriate Orwellian shades and show trial trimmings.  The US prosecution team had gone remote; Assange’s legal team was physically present and masked.  Technology again did its bedevilling magic at the Central Criminal Court.  At one point, Joel Smith for the prosecution was attempting to get the attention of Judge Vanessa Baraitser to inform her that nothing could be heard in the court room.  The screen of chief prosecutor Lewis had also frozen.

Unlike the previous three days of these extradition proceedings, the central contentions were not Assange the public interest journalist, the discloser of informant names, or President Donald J. Trump’s war on the Fourth Estate. It was the revelation that COVID-19 had found its way into the Old Bailey. On Wednesday night, Judge Baraitser was told that a member of one of the legal teams may have been exposed to the coronavirus.  As was announced on Court News, “Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey today will not be going ahead because the husband of one of the US lawyers has come down with COVID-like symptoms.  Once he gets the result of a test the judge will determine how best to proceed.”

Assange would have had reason to reflect upon this moment with bitter mockery.  His conditions in Her Majesty’s Belmarsh Prison have been a picture of shoddy treatment, both physically and symbolically.  Access to his legal team has been scandalously scant, exacerbated by pandemic lockdown conditions.  The entire institutional treatment of the Australian has been considered nothing less than that of a tortured figure, “shocking and excessive”, to use the words of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.   His supporters, fearful, see him at risk of contracting coronavirus and suffering, in his frail state, the gruelling effects of COVID-19.

His efforts to seek bail in order to escape the dangers of viral transmission have been foiled by the pitiless Baraitser.  In March, Edward Fitzgerald QC attempted to convince the judge that medical “experts consider that [Assange] is particularly at risk of developing coronavirus and, if he does, that it develops into very severe complications for him.”  Should he contract it, “it would be very doubtful that Belmarsh would be able to cope with his condition.”

Swatting such concerns away, Baraitser saw little reason for concern: there were no instances of COVID-19 at Belmarsh, a reckless conclusion to draw given the self-isolation measures imposed upon a hundred personnel at the time.  The group Doctors for Assange were shaken by the ruling. In their March 27 statement, they vented.  “Despite our prior unequivocal statement that Mr Assange is at increased risk of serious illness and death were he to contract coronavirus and the evidence of medical experts, Baraitser dismissed the risk, citing UK guidelines for prisons in responding to the global pandemic.”  The editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson was furious.  “To expose another human being to serious illness, and to the threat of losing their life, is grotesque and quite unnecessary.”

In June, Doctors for Assange reiterated the call that Assange be granted bail, having met “internationally recommended criteria for prisoner release during COVID-19.”  Globally, prisons were being emptied of inmates to prevent the march of COVID-19.  Assange remained the exception.

On September 10, 2020, history grimaced with irony. It was the prosecutors for the United States, Assange’s incessant harassers, who had been potentially infected.  Notwithstanding this, Judge Baraitser was not averse to pushing onto a fifth day of proceedings, a point that agitated the legal teams and seemed to be as quixotic as it was indifferent.

Fitzgerald, representing Assange, urged the court to accept the logical assumption that “COVID will be in the courtroom.”  The staff of the court would themselves be “at risk, and you yourself may well be at risk.”  It was a good ploy on Fitzgerald’s part to mention the court as the primary consideration, reserving the concerns of his client for last.  “Finally, our client Mr Assange, who is vulnerable you are aware, would be at risk in court.”  His request for adjournment struck a common chord with Lewis.  Proceedings will be postponed until September 14, awaiting the test results.  In the meantime, the defence and prosecution will make interest of justice submissions on how they wish to proceed in the event the test is positive for coronavirus.

In the meantime, the rest of the Old Bailey will continue to grind.  A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation was businesslike in moving forward.  “The Central Criminal Court is deep cleaned every day in accordance with government guidelines and will remain open.”

It was left to Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof to sum up the day’s sentiment in wry fashion: “Looking forward to the courtroom sketch of Assange in a glass box with only the judge in the room as we proceed virtually.  That’ll be [sic] quite appropriate image for this case.”  Lewis, in the meantime, might be able to obtain his charger.

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Why Many Police Are Barely Distinguishable From Racist Vigilantes

Police in America, whose mottos claim to “protect and serve” us, have been openly declaring allegiance with the forces of white supremacy. It is no coincidence that this has become a hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency. Trump defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old white suspect in the shooting deaths of two activists in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the days following the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake.

Implying that the suspected shooter was acting in self-defense against Black Lives Matter protesters, Trump said, “He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like… He probably would have been killed.” Later, in a Fox News interview, he defended police in a similar manner, saying they were “under siege” and using a golf analogy to explain why they routinely kill unarmed people: “just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt.”

Across social media, those claiming to “Back the Blue,” and that “Blue Lives Matter,” have taken their cues from the president and declared Rittenhouse a hero. The 17-year-old idolized police. And they clearly felt comforted by the presence of his armed group.

In a video capturing their close collaboration, Kenosha police officers were seen going out of their way to ensure that Rittenhouse and the vigilantes that had gathered in their city had plenty of water. At the same time, they were enforcing the city’s curfew against someone else, announcing aggressively over a bullhorn, “You are a civilian. This area is closed to all. You are trespassing. Leave. Leave now.” Seconds later, the same officer is heard saying to Rittenhouse and his colleagues, “We appreciate you guys—we really do.” If ever there was doubt that police and armed white vigilantes see themselves as part of the same club, this interaction dispelled it.

Later, when the teenager walked toward police with his hands up soon after he allegedly shot protesters, officers ignored him, seeing him as no threat. Many have rightly questioned if law enforcement would have simply ignored a similarly clad Black teenager carrying a rifle that he was clearly too young to legally own.

Right-wing extremist armed vigilantes and police officers are cut from the same ideological cloth of American society that feels entitled to patrol the collective behavior of nonwhites, women, etc. While not entirely white and male, both police and armed vigilantes are largely white men. In urban areas in particular, research shows that law enforcement officers are far less racially diverse than the communities they police and are overwhelmingly male. They epitomize the white male authority that armed vigilante groups aspire to. When armed groups show up to protests, police embrace their presence and see them as allies.

A new report published by the Brennan Center for Justice explores the overlap between these two groups at length. Written by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent Michael German, it traces the history of American police, which is more relevant than ever today. “Slave patrols were among the first public policing organizations formed in the American colonies,” writes German. He adds, “Put simply, white supremacy was the law these earliest public officials were sworn to enforce.” Judging by police actions, especially over the last several months, this historical framework of policing appears to be intact hundreds of years later. Even the FBI has warned that “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,” and German points out that in internal documents, the Bureau warns of the “active links” between extremist groups and law enforcement officials.

Trump is hardly responsible for creating the mess we find ourselves in. But he has ended the very modest police reforms that were put into place under Obama, and law enforcement has in turn signaled that it appreciates Trump. In fact, the National Association of Police Organizations, which had previously endorsed Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden in 2008 and 2012, has now switched its support to Trump.

What’s worse is that there are few elected officials offering us protection from racist police violence, let alone armed white vigilantes. It is no coincidence that so many fatal incidents at the hands of police have taken place in liberal, Democrat-run cities where politicians pay lip service to safety but give a free pass to police. Even in liberal California, the Democrat-dominated state legislature could not bring itself to strip officers of their badges when they commit crimes.

Within such a context, the disproportionate killing of Black Americans by police is rightly condemned as the ugly hallmark of a violently racist society. When Trump supporters claim that Black people are only killed because they resist instead of acquiescing to brutality, they conveniently overlook the fact that police manage to preserve the lives of white peoplewho fight back when arrested.

From California to New York and everywhere in between, police treat Black and Brown people like target practice at best, and animals at worse. A Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy-turned-whistleblower has detailed the existence of a violent gang within the department called the Executioners, which he said requires aspiring members to kill someone or commit other violent acts as an initiation rite. Two sheriff’s deputies implicated in the shooting death of an 18-year-old Latino man named Andres Guardado were apparently prospective members of the gang. Guardado was shot five times in the back. In New York, a video emerged recently of Rochester police covering the head of a Black man named Daniel Prude with a hood and suffocating him to death. Prude was naked and defenseless in the middle of the street when he was killed like an animal.

These are only two examples out of countless violent incidents where police have claimed the lives of people of color. And such incidents are precisely why white conservatives support and defend police. They see law enforcement as keeping Black and Brown masses in check. They see their own armed groups as supplementary paramilitary forces to bolster law enforcement. And they see Trump, their president, supporting these cozy ties and close collaboration.

Against a well-armed police force linked to white supremacists, what chance do communities of color have at leading dignified lives free of police harassment, targeting, and killing? According to German, “the Justice Department has no national strategy designed to identify white supremacist police officers or to protect the safety and civil rights of the communities they patrol.” And this is precisely how Trump likes it.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Trump vs. the Marines: Semper Lactentum

We don’t really know (and probably never will) whether President Donald Trump really called America’s World War One dead “losers” and “suckers,” as Jeffrey Goldberg claims in a September 3 piece in The Atlantic.

On one hand, the claim rings true. Trump has a history of publicly spitting in the faces of war veterans both individually (calling Vietnam POW John McCain a “loser,” vilifying administration appointees who even briefly remove their lips from his posterior, etc.) and collectively (for example, pardoning war criminal Eddie Gallagher in the face of his comrades’ reports of his atrocities).

On the other hand, that it rings true makes it somewhat irrelevant. His “pro-military” supporters knew he was a snake when they picked him up, and they’ve continued to embrace him no matter often or brazenly he sinks his fangs into their favored people and causes.

Amid the howling commentary and “analysis,” what I’ve not seen is any substantial discussion of two questions: Were US troops in World War One “losers?” Were the Marines who died at Belleau Wood “suckers?”

“Losers,” I think, is pretty much an obvious falsehood. The US and its allies won that war, the Central Powers lost it, and the entry of US forces almost certainly changed that outcome from stalemate to rout.

Ever since boot camp in 1985, I’ve loved — and steeped myself in — Marine Corps history, and Belleau Wood looms large in that history. First Sergeant Dan Daly, already the winner of two Medals of Honor, is said to have yelled “come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” as he led his Marines into the fray. To this day, members of the Fifth and Sixth Marine Regiments wear the French fourragere in recognition of their units’ valor at Belleau Wood. The Marines carried the day at Belleau Wood. “Losers?” Nope.

But “suckers?” Well, maybe.

More than four million Americans volunteered for, or allowed themselves to be conscripted into, military service in World War One. 117,000 of them died. Hundreds of thousands more bore wounds that pained them for life.

And for what?

Certainly not, as US President Woodrow Wilson claimed, to make the world “safe for democracy.” Among America’s allies, Russia was an outright autocracy, while Britain and France, formally democratic at home, ran global and distinctly non-democratic empires. And Wilson himself instituted an anti-democratic police state at home, censoring and jailing opponents of the war.

Nor, as it turned out, was World War One “the war to end all wars.” US entry into the war turned a likely status quo ante into an ersatz “peace” that led directly to World War Two, as the allies divvied up new suzerainties from the Central Powers’ colonial remnants and imposed crushing reparations on Germany.

That — and everything that followed from it, including a warfare-welfare state that, like a vampire latched firmly onto his victim’s jugular, sucks peace and prosperity from Americans’ lives to this very day — is what the Marines at Belleau Wood died for.

“Suckers” sounds fair.

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A Daughter of Beirut Recovers the Memory of Her Father, Lost to Espionage at the Dawn of the Modern Oil Age

Have you ever put down a Tom Clancy novel and wondered what the work of a real spy is like?

Charlotte Dennett’s new book, “The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, a Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil” provides a riveting, personal glimpse of what this world was about at a pivotal time in postwar WW II history.

Charlotte’s father Daniel Dennett was from the world of academia. He loved history and language. His peers regarded him as brilliantly erudite. He taught at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, during the early 1930s, and returned home in 1937 to complete a PhD in Islamic Studies.

In 1943, this scholar was recruited to “serve as cultural attaché at the US Legation in Beirut”. In fact, his job was to oversee intelligence operations for The Office of Strategic Services and its post-war successor, the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) in the Middle East.

When Dennett arrived in Beirut, most of the Nazis had been eliminated. A new geo-strategic landscape was emerging, as former allies competed over control of the burgeoning Middle East oil reserves. Instead, he spied on the British, the French and the Soviets.

The British were still the main overseers of much of the Middle East. They wanted to protect their concessions from both Soviet and American encroachment. The Americans had established themselves in the oil rich area of eastern Saudi Arabia. To reach markets in war-torn Europe, they proposed the creation of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, or TAPLINE, to transport oil overland to the Mediterranean.

There were two options for the Mediterranean terminal. Haifa, Palestine, was considered the most efficient, but Palestine was besieged with political instability as Jews attempted to overthrow the British Mandate. The Saudis did not want the TAPLINE terminating in what was to become Israel. The other option, favored by Dennett, was Sidon, in southern Lebanon.

By March, 1947, Dennett had completed this top secret mission to Saudi Arabia to determine the TAPLINE route and was sent on to Ethiopia, whose southeastern Ogaden was rich with major oil deposits. The U.S.’s Sinclair Oil was actively exploring the area. Dennett, along with the U.S. petroleum attaché and a communications specialist, were to meet with Sinclair officials in Addis Ababa. They never made it: their plane crashed into a mountain, killing all six on board.

Daniel Dennett’s daughter Charlotte was six weeks old at the time.

Charlotte’s quest

Growing up, Charlotte heard stories about her dad and always knew that he was a spy, without thinking much about it. When she returned to the States in 1975 after a two year stint as a Middle East reporter, it occurred to her that she had been following in her father’s footsteps. At a Christmas family get-together, she recalled that there was a steamer trunk in the attic that she had noticed as a child. She ran up the stairs, and with considerable apprehension, pried it open. To her amazement, she discovered a scrap book full of her father’s letters – including his last letter home and his last official report concerning the Middle East. This discovery launched her into a decades long crusade to uncover the forces behind her dad’s demise.

Her quest began in the National Archives. While there, archivists introduced her to a former spy who told her “Oh, Dan Dennett, what a loss. Of course, I know about the plane crash. We always thought it was sabotage but couldn’t prove it”. After years of unanswered requests for information, she sued the CIA for hundreds of documents, but they were heavily redacted and they stopped altogether from the period during and after the crash.

This only steadied her resolve. Charlotte began to delve deeply into the geo-strategic context within which Dennett was operating. It wasn’t long before the name of the most famous 20th century spy and double agent cropped up: Kim Philby.

Philby had been assigned by Britain’s MI 6 intelligence corps to Istanbul, Turkey in 1946 and was head of Middle East counterintelligence. This made him Dennett’s direct counterpart. They were surely aware of each other, as Philby had tutored all OSS officers in spycraft in London; they were even likely working together, sharing valuable information. Yet there was not even the faintest hint in the heavily redacted CIA records that Philby existed.

Philby’s appointment came six weeks before the announcement of The Truman Doctrine, designed to contain Soviet expansion. Turkey, the bridge between Western Europe and the Middle East and its oil, was a hot Soviet intelligence target. As a double agent, Philby had to prove his worth to the British with information about the Russian and the Americans, while providing information to the Russians on both the British and the Americans to prove his loyalty. The Soviets had already penetrated Beirut, and were alarmed over the construction of TAPLINE, fearing that this would lead to the establishment of U.S. military power in the Middle East. The British, for their part, also feared America’s control growing over the rest of the Arabian peninsula and beyond and were deeply resentful of America’s meddling in Ethiopia.

Britain then controlled Ethiopia’s resources, its military, its foreign policy, its communications, even its airspace. With Sinclair Oil obtaining an exclusive oil concession and promoting the establishment of a TWA-managed Ethiopian Airlines, what would Philby have revealed to the Soviets and the British about Dennett’s activities?

Who Did It?

There will be no spoilers here: suffice to say that the British, the Russians, and members of the Zionist Irgun (who in March 1947 escaped from a British prison in neighboring Eritrea into Ethiopia) each had reasons to get Dennett out of the way. As U.S. policymakers were themselves divided on the question of a Jewish state, Americans may have played a role.

(Dennett’s closest friend in Lebanon, a Druze prince named Najib Alamuddin, insisted that Dennett was killed by “one of his own”.)

With that said, her book stands on the shoulders of years of meticulous research. The investigation was helped along by prior work she did with her husband, Gerard Colby, on another tome, “Thy Will Be Done”, a similarly exhaustive look into the role of the Rockefellers and evangelical organizations in the genocide of indigenous populations in the Amazon in an effort to extract oil and gas. Charlotte weaves this information to other events spanning regions and decades that will challenge and surprise you, and provides the reader with questions about the kind of world we have built for ourselves consequential to the forces that led to her father’s death and the price we have paid and will continue to pay, especially with the rapidly oncoming climate crisis.

The CIA Reexamines Its Own Memory

The CIA honors those who gave their lives in service with a star on a “Wall of Honor” in its lobby. Dennett, having died 6 months before the CIG became the CIA, was missing from this wall. Coincidentally, in the spring of 2019, as Charlotte was completing her book, the CIA rectified what it considered an “amnesia” and honored Dennett as its “First Fallen Star” at its annual ceremony commemorating fallen heroes, adding Dennett’s star to the wall.

Charlotte was invited to the ceremony and spent the day at Langley, where she met with “Bloody” Gina Haspel, the CIA’s director. Charlotte showed Haspel a heavily redacted 1944 “Analysis of Work” by Dennett and asked for the redactions to be removed. Gina promised that she would get on it and, while earnestly shaking Charlotte’s hand, encouraged her to “keep at it”. Charlotte wondered what Haspel actually meant by that. Six months later, Charlotte received a “clean,” declassified copy of her father’s Analysis.

Worldviews in Conflict?

At a meeting to prepare for this ceremony, a CIA officer asked Charlotte , “You’re smart, curious, and fearless, all qualities that we look for when we recruit. Why didn’t you ever come to work for us?”

It is the child that Dennett barely knew as a tiny infant – Charlotte, the youngest of three – whose efforts resuscitated the memory of his work and life. One wonders what they might have had to say to each other had he survived.

She does mention Dennett’s statement before an academic audience in 1942, “God help us if we ever send troops into the Middle East” and she recalls her father’s sensitivity to Arab nationalism, which he gained from teaching at the American University of Beirut. Beyond this, she sheds little light on her father’s political orientation other than his hating of fascism and his having deep reservations over the partitioning of Palestine.

As for Charlotte, given the fact that her friends and colleagues must have gotten a chuckle out of her getting feted by the CIA, one gets the sense that she is sometimes holding back. There are no outbursts such as “Dad, what were you thinking?” These days even breathing is political: maybe the author was bending over backward to guard against polemical tangents and chose to impose strict journalistic instincts, stick to what she knows, leave the loose threads dangling and the rest unsaid. In the end, it gives the facts room to breathe and leaves them for the reader to ponder over and talk about as they go through this remarkable and ultimately heartrending story, a story that should make you forget that there ever was this other writer named Tom Clancy.

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Is German Society Becoming Fascist?

Without any doubt, Germany’s most successful right-wing extremist – some say neo-Nazi Neo-Nazi – party has been the AfD. The Alternative for Germany or AfD Alternative für Deutschland received sufficient votes in 2017 to enter into Germany’s Federal Parl;ament, the Reichstag 12.6%. Before that, the AfD has already managed to gain seats in several regional state parliaments. By 2020, there was not a single state left in which the AfD was not represented. While the AfD has succeeded in Germany’s formal side of politics–together other right-wing and Neo-Nazi and other extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi organisations – it has also made inroads into civil society.

The situation in the United States in the fourth year of Donald Trump’s presidency has many parallels or, at least, significant analogies. Not only has Trump taken over and completely transformed the Republican Party, but he has issued a slew of executive decrees that have undermined the constitutionally ordained checks and balances between the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches of government. His supporters include gangs of thugs, street brawling bullies and armed militias. By not filling many positions in various departments—not least many diplomatic posts in key allied capitals–he moves ever closer to one-man autocratic rule. If what is going on in America often mirrors the behaviour of extremists in Germany, it is frightening to see German neo-Nazis carrying posters with Trump’s face as though he legitimized their ideology of hatred and bigotry.

The most recent demonstration of right-wing extremist infiltration into mainstream German society occurred on Saturday 29th August 2020 when, as Time Magazine put it, Germany’s “Far-Right Attempted to Storm the Reichstag.” This is a wake-up sign, if ever there one, that dangerous things happening in Germany. At an anti-Coronavirus rally, right-wing extremists waved Neo-Nazi flags, while attacking the seat of German democracy. The AfD’s top apparatchik von Storch announced: “We had a good day”. Yes, to put it mildly, another indication of the AfD’s rejection of democracy.

As is happening elsewhere in the world, from Lukushenko’s Belarus to Trump’s America, the infiltration of Germany’s right-wing extremists into many areas of civil society continues. In Germany, the right-wing targets five key areas: workplaces, churches, welfare organisations, sporting clubs, and cultural organisations. One might like to distinguish here between right-wing populism, i.e., setting the pure Volk against the elite and right-wing extremism, i.e., Neo-Nazis. American voters ought, as the campaign for and against the re-election of Donald Trump looms, to note similarities to the various violent clashes between extremist groups on all sides, but predominantly on the right. Patriotic slogans, flag-waving and appeals to rabid nationalism encode deeply divisive ideological and racist tensions.

One of Germany’s leading sporting organizations Otto Brenner Foundation, for example, sees right-wing populism as working within a democratic framework. By contrast, the extremists are set to destroy democracy in favour of a new fascism fascist dictatorship. However, neither is as neatly separated from the other as academic categories might like to have it. Borders are soft and in some cases simply non-existent. It all depends on how sensitive the observer is to the use of language, the display of images and the performance of gestures. In the end, what matters is what is done on the streets and in the chambers of government.

Things get a little clearer when you realise that right-wing populism the populists operate within a rather simplistic them-vs.-us ideology. It is insider (good Aryans) against outsider (bad immigrants). Germany’s right-wing extremists follow the ideology of Nazism and its not so subtle history of distorted language. Thus, on the one hand, right-wing populism tends to limit itself to themes of resentment, xenophobia, and racial stereotypes; while on the other hand, right-wing extremism never stops there and calls for, in the secret language of the Hitler regime, eradication, incarceration, expulsion and murder of the unwanted other. Rub the two models of German extreme nationalism together—the figure is of an assayer’s touchstone—and there emerges a powerful and irrational anti-humanism uniting both groups. In many cases, too, right-wing populism builds bridges to right-wing extremism.

In any case, the somewhat weaker-appearing right-wing populism is not properly targeted by Germany’s very powerful Verfassungsschutz Once a political party, like the AfD, crosses over into right-wing extremism, the secret police might get involved. Units of the AfD are already under investigation by the Verfassungschutz because they seek to destroy Germany’s democratic institutions. But the differentiation is just a trick to try to outwit voters and police.

Unlike the way democratic institutions function widely and openly in Germany, the infiltration of right-wing extremists–and of the AfD in particular—infiltration takes place in civil society , but not in parliaments. It happens in the part of society that is neither run by the state nor by business. In particular, the AfD and other right-wing organisations target Germany’s organised civil society: workplaces, churches and religious groups, welfare organisations, sport clubs, and cultural institutions.

Unlike the influence of National Socialists in the 1930s, this time around civil society organisations do not appear to have handed themselves over to Nazism. In recent years, in fact, civil organisations have successfully resisted the infiltration of right-wing extremists. They do so in three ways. Firstly, they act as though a democratic society can safely incorporate right-wing extremists into its democratic institutions. They do not see the implications of this weak form of resistance,, thus leaving themselves vulnerable to manipulation from within. Secondly, they ignore the radical right. Although it is only a relatively few organisations who have kept aloof from right-wing extremism, they do not form a bloc to protect themselves from moral and political corruption.. Finally, the most common form of resistance of democratic organisations is that of confrontation, rejection, and an active fight against right-wing extremism.

Working Life

Apart from managers, corporate apparatchiks and the like, Germany’s working life is largely governed by two democratic forces: legally elected works councils works councils and trade unions. Traditionally, both have resisted the infiltration by right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazis. Still, the AfD has infiltrated the system sufficiently to set up two right-wing organisations. The more known organisation is Zentrum-automobil Deutschland “Zentrum Automobil” – centre for cars and other private vehicles. The second organisation is IG Beruf und Familie, a trade union for jobs and family. Rather stupid names, to be sure, but nobody has ever accused the Nazism of being smart, linguistically refined, or intelligent. Overall, both of these clunky entities remain fringe organisations incapable of challenging Germany’s 5.9 million trade union members.

On the downside, however, trade union members are represented disproportionately among AfD voters (15%) compared to the overall population (12.6%). This does not indicate that Germany’s right-wing extremism is strongly supported by the working class. Still, 15% is way too high. Support for the AfD has infiltrated into too many workplaces. Inside German car factories, for example, Zentrum Automobile has made an untoward appearance at Mercedes-Benz. It gained eight out of 106 seats on works councils in recent elections. At Porsche, it received two out of 33 seats on the works council and at BWM’s East-German Leipzig factory it got four out of 35 seats. In other words, the AfD and its radical right ideology is now represented in a few German car factories. A few of these trouble-makers is always too many.

Overall, however, there is no nation-wide, industry-wide or even factory-wide coverage of right-wing extremism. Still, in those isolated cases where right-wing extremists, including the AfD, made an appearance, they always found willing supporters. On the whole however, they remain a fringe issue. Their key ideological task remains to undermine the legitimacy of trade unions. The radical right claims – somewhat similar to the early Nazi movement during the 1920s – that trade unions are in the pockets of big business. Then as today, this is a tactical move to entice some to join the radical right by presenting itself as an anti-capitalism forces.

In any case, the Zentrum Automobile is well connected to Germany’s right-wing extremism even though his boss – Oliver Hilburger – originated from Germany’s rather small Christian union movement. Meanwhile, Beruf-and-Familie boss Frank Neufert is a member of the AfD. Beyond these rather isolated successes, the AfD has also setup an internal organisation called “Employees for the AfD”. Its boss is the former social-democrat and public service union official Robert Buck.

As a reaction to all this, many German trade unions have written exclusion clauses which state that membership in the AfD and in a trade union is incompatible with one another even though such a clause might contradict Germany’s constitutional right to belong to a trade union. In any case, German trade unions strongly reject and isolate right-wingers and the AfD.

In conservative Bavaria, two-hundred metal-union member resigned after they participated in the AfD’s street-fighting movement called PEGIDA PEGIDA. PEGIDA’s boss, Lutz Bachman, likes to dress up as Adolf Hitler. The 200 were ordinary union members but chose to give their support for PEGIDA. Among trade union officials, an Otto Brenner poll found no support for the AfD, right-wing extremists, or right-wing populism. Instead, the union officials strongly denounced right-wing ideologies. These union officials were, at the same time, fighting against company-based workplace agreements initiated by the extreme right that favour German workers over non-German workers.

Trade unionists at Volkswagen even ran a campaign called “clear cut” [Klare Kante] that protects non-German workers from such right-wing extremists. One of the most outspoken fighters against the radical right and Neo-Nazis is a works council member at Mercedes-Benz. Even though the radical right has made some inroads into these councils, their electoral gains did not come from Germany’s powerful metal workers union, IG Metali IGM but from the smaller Christian unions.

While the AfD’s Zentrum Automobile remains active at Mercedes-Benz running their own website, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels, the effects are minimal. Overall, despite a few attempts to infiltrate Germany’s union movement, the workers’ councils have been highly successful in rejecting right-wing extremists.

Religion

With 55% of all Germans affiliated to churches, organised religion still remains important in Germany. The country has about 23 million Catholics and 21 million Protestants. Both churches employ roughly 1,5 million workers. Churches remain one of the largest employers in Germany. Even though, the radical right, including the AfD, likes to present itself as a defender of Christianity and has placed this in its election platform, Germany’s churches strongly reject attempts by right-wing populism to infiltrate them.

In 2017, Church members rallied against the AfD. One of the more noted rejections of the AfD came from Cardinal Woelki. He ordered the lights at Cologne Cathedral to be switched off during a rally of PEGIDA near the city’s famed Cathedral. In their rejection of the AfD’s xenophobia, churches have issued what they call “church-asylum,” a traditional way of protecting refugees from deportation. Five years after the arrival of about one million refugees and Angela Merkel’s statement that “we will make it” the AfD launched a campaign of fear mongering about the non-existent crisis, chaos, and rising crime rate. The refugee intake is widely regarded as a success, with only a few minor glitches in the early stages of absorption success. Germany’s churches have worked hard to ensure this success. At church conventions, the AfD is not invited. Instead, religious organizations run a programme called “seek peace – not the AfD”. German churches see themselves as in the forefront of opposition, as highly visible anti-fascists strongly rejecting the AfD.

Church official Heinrich Bedford-Strohm says that the AfD stands for antisemitism, racism, and inhumanity. These ideologies are not compatible with the Christian belief. Still, deaf to the voice of the majority of German believers, the AfD has organised a group called “Christians in the AfD” to which the aforementioned right-wing nationalist leader von Storch belongs. Her forefathers were real Nazis working for Adolf Hitler. People like von Storch seek to infiltrate Germany’s Christian institutions through a conservative Bible interpretation and, especially, the issue of abortion. So far, these attempts have failed—comprehensively.

In contemporary America, most of Trump’s so called base consists of Evangelical Protestant churches and other dissenting sects. For them the key issues include extreme anti-abortionist views (they advocate blocking and bombing family-planning clinics, murdering doctors and other clinicians), gun control (which they take as a “God-given right” based on a spurious interpretation of the Second Amendment), family values (coded language for male domination and physical punishment of children and homophobia in general) and law and order (in the sense of white nationalism, more prisons for social deviance and the death penalty). In designating Trump as “the chosen one”, put in the White House by God, these anti-rationalists and anti-science activists, promote the idea of a leader (der Führer) who is above and beyond the law. In the patriotic ideology of America First, the president is a messiah, thus making any opposing individual an anti-Christ or group the Party of Satan,

Social Welfare Organisations

Whereas America’s right-wing opposition groups decry any social welfare or national health care as socialism and pandering to lazy people of colour and immigrants, Germany has a sizable non-government sector of welfare organisations that engage largely with childcare, social work, homelessness, and age care. The movement’s social and moral roots suggest a strong determination to act against racism and discrimination. This is an obligation of its roughly two million employees and its three million volunteers. As a consequence, the sector rejects any division between German and non-German welfare recipients so strongly favoured by the AfD. For Germany’s welfare organisations, such a division would violate their ethical foundation found in human dignity.

Attacks from the AfD on the welfare sector came largely through AfD parliamentarians. Inside parliaments, the AfD consistently seeks to undermine the welfare sector by questioning the legitimacy of state support for the sector. AfD apparatchik Thomas de Jesus Fernandez even suggested that Germany’s welfare sector represents a “dark Mafia clan”. Set against such attacks is, for example, the Red Cross’ campaign “together against hatred”.

A rather typical attack by the AfD occurred in Passau where the AfD wanted to donate 600 cups of soup but only on condition that they be allowed to (mis)use the donation for their own propagandistic purposes electoral campaign. Welfare organisations rejected the AfD’s attempts to appropriate them for the AfD’s right-wing ideology. At same time, church oriented welfare organisations like the Catholic Diakonie powerfully stated that the inhumanity of the AfD represents views incompatible with the Diakonie’s beliefs.

Sport and Recreation

Since around the time of the year 2000, Germany’s radical right has increased its attempts to infiltrate German sport. Nevertheless, most attempts to penetrate sporting organisations have, so far, failed bitterly. Still, there have been plenty of racist incidents in sport. In soccer, for example, games are used by right-wing extremists to push a “them-vs.-us” ideology framing other teams as enemies to be destroyed. Much of this is highly important since there about 88.000 sporting organisations in Germany with roughly 27.6 million members, about one-third of Germany population.

Soccer remains a favourite of the radical right, its Neo-Nazis and hooligans. Soccer gives the radical right a platform to push nationalism and racism. Meanwhile, the AfD focuses on national identity and chauvinism. For the AfD, sport represents Germanic ideas like honour, discipline, punctuality, law & order, hard work, and duty.

Furthermore, the radical right also tries to use private gyms for their ideological activities. From there, right-wing extremists organise boxing and fighting clubs as well as war games. Its Boxing Club Bautzen (East-Germany) recruits young men into the local Neo-Nazi scene. Similarly, the soccer club Chemnitz FC includes Neo-Nazi fans waving Nazi flags and singing Nazi songs while also running a right-wing extremist WhatsApp group.

AfD and PEGIDA member Achim Exner was security boss at Dynamo Dresden, a East-German soccer club. At the same time, a trainer at the soccer club Lokomotive Leipzig showed a photo of himself performing the Hitler salute. This is illegal even in East-Germany. Building a bridge between populism and right-wing extremism, the AfD works towards the normalisation of radical right ideologies. This is what Henry Giroux calls “mainstreaming fascism”.

Making the radical right accepted also occurred when the captain of the Chemnitz FC wears a t-shirt labelled “support your local hooligans” and when the local “NS Boys” (NS stands for National Socialism, or Nazi) sign the clubs guest book. When sports clubs act against that and issue decrees that nobody can be a member in a soccer club who is a racist and spreads inhuman ideologies, the AfD is there to take such a club to the court accusing the soccer club of defamation.

More than in the western parts of Germany, these things occur in East-Germany where sports clubs are engaged in an intense battle against the radical right. On the field, soccer clubs have introduced a three strike rule to fight against the racism that all too often occurs during soccer games:

1) the game will pause after a racist incident;

2) the game will be interrupted, players leave the field; and

3) the game will end if racist attacks continue.

In Trump’s America where institutionalized and historically deep-seated racist attitudes persist against blacks and other people of colour, sporting bodies play a major part in keeping resistance in the public eye. Because Afro-Americans play a highly visible part in many sports, and black athletes are considered iconic celebrities, kneeling at games is a mark of defiance, walk-outs when yet another instance of police brutality occurs creates an occasion for discussion, and delay or deferral of games involves the public ibn acts of solidarity.

These visible displays of opposition to injustices in the American way of life—not only by openly racist, right-wing militia groups, but by insidiously subtle and secretive judges, police unions, conservative legislators and even White House officials—hit at the heart of the struggle for equal justice, fair treatment and proper support for civil rights. German and American sportsmen and women, as well as sporting bodies, have much to teach one another about the fight against fascism.

German clubs have already issued fines of up to €1,000 ($1,200) for racist offenses. Overall, German sports club are one of the main battle fields when it comes to right-wing extremism and the AfD. Overall, clubs have developed workable instruments to reject attempts to infiltrate their sport.

Cultural Organisations

Germany’s culture and art scene might be divided into visual art (paintings, graphics, photos, etc.) and performing art (theatre, orchestra, etc.). Germany has about 200 private and 150 state theatres, 130 orchestras with 65,000 events per year in state theatres and 46,000 in private theatres. While art sees itself as a multi-cultural event, the AfD sees it the other way around advocating a Germanic leitmotif for the arts. The AfD seeks a return to German-dominated culture. Top AfD apparatchiks like Jens Maier want to move culture and art into the direction of a “völkische-nationalism”. The word “völkisch” is inextricably linked to Hitler’s deeply racist and anti-Semitic idée fixe (obsession) of a Volksgemeinschaft. Most Americans wouldn’t know a Gemeinschaft from a mine shaft!

American cinema, radio, television, stage, television and video celebrities are starting to play a key role in raising awareness both of cultural inequalities in the structure of companies and networks that produce and distribute material for highbrow and middlebrow audiences and of the historical tendency to generate the images and sounds of a narrow band of supposedly genuine white culture. Change is on the way, but more is needed to bolster the ability of the system to resist the return of fascist and racist dominance.

Refugees from Nazi and Fascist countries during the 1930s and 1940s helped create a latent tendency towards such resistance, but the McCarthy era in the 1950s and the sweep of corporate take-overs since the 1960s has weakened those structures. The susceptibility of digital versions of film and television, as well as of recording studios, to racial and anti-democratic forces should raise eyebrows and cause individuals and groups to become wary of what is probably on the way. Right-wing radio talk-back hosts and anti-social social media sites spread fake news, alternative facts and toxic appeals fir violence and rebellion. Trump’s use of a daily barrage of twitter messages to obfuscate, confuse and arouse hatred against his political opponents is notorious.

The AfD in southern Germany even sought to get a number of German and non-German artists into the department of culture. This effort was resolutely rejected because it smacked of the infamous Nazi exhibitions of so-called degenerate art, monumenta, archktecture bssed on fascist realism and public book-burnings. Aryernachweis. In another case, the AfD sought to end state support for the Maxim Gorki theatre. Again their attempts were without success. The AfD is trying to undermine culture and art by seeking to force parliaments to withdraw state funding from liberal, left-wing, avant-garde and progressive enterprises, just as the Nazis did in the 1930s.

Since the appearance of the AfD, Frankfurt’s book fair has been targeted by the party along with a cohort of right-wing extremists. There are fights regularly between the radical right and Germany’s liberal book scene at the fair. This is something never experienced before the appearance of the AfD. Right-winger Marc Jongen is the AfD’s spokesperson for culture. He seeks to end what he calls the “anti-fascist indoctrination” that is supposed to take place in Germany’s theatres. Perhaps he wants to bring back a fascist education.

Similarly worrying is the stratospheric rise of right-wing extremism in music. Neo-Nazi rock events attract thousands of people. Among them are many young people. Right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazis have established their own record labels, music venues and events, set up right-wing homepages selling Neo-Nazi rock. While Germany’s culture and art scene rejects right-wing infiltration and has successful fought against the AfD, right-wing extremists, and Neo-Nazis, it has not found a “one best way” to deal with attempts by the radical right to penetrate culture and art.

Undermining Germany’s Civil Society

Overall, the most visible intrusion of the AfD, as well as right-wing extremism, has been a subject for legislatures. Nevertheless, the AfD and its radical right is always seeking to infiltrate and undermine Germany’s civil society. So far Germany’s civil society has not found a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to fight the radical right–and perhaps there is no such a thing as a one-size-fits-all strategy. In general, right-wing extremism and the AfD have not penetrated Germany’s civil society. So far, institutions and organisations of Germany’s civil society have been able to fend off the AfD and right-wing extremism.

Even though attacks on Germany’s civil society have increased in recent years, perhaps furnished by public visibility of the AfD, no deeper structural change in Germany’s civil society has been found. So far, thankfully, the institutions and organisations of civil society have not moved towards the radical right or have they been infiltrated by the AfD and its radical right ideology. If anything, the rise of the AfD has made civil society more aware of the problems of antisemitism, xenophobia, nationalism and racism. It is almost as if civil society has been strengthened in its determination to reject the AfD’s radical right ideology since the rise of the AfD.

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Patton and Westy Meet in a Bar: a Play of Many Parts in One Act

It’s only mid-afternoon and Army Lieutenant General Victor Constant has already had a bad day.1 Soon after he arrived at the office at 0700, the Chief2had called. “Come see me. We need to talk.”

The call was not unexpected. Any day now, POTUS3 will announce the next four-star to command the war effort in Afghanistan — how many have there been? — and Constant felt certain that he’d be tapped for the job. He’d certainly earned it. Multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and, worse still, at the Pentagon. If anyone deserved that fourth star, he did.

Unfortunately, the Chief sees things differently. “Time’s up, Vic. I need you to retire.” Thirty-three years of service and this is what you get: your walking papers, with maybe a medal thrown in.

Constant returns to his office, then abruptly tells his staff that he needs some personal time. A 10-minute drive and he’s at the O-Club, where the bar is just opening. “Barkeep,” he growls. “Bourbon. Double. Rocks.” On the job long enough to have seen more than a few senior officers get the axe, the bartender quietly complies.

Constant has some thinking to do. For the first time in his adult life, he’s about to become unemployed. His alimony payments and college tuition bills are already killing him. When he and Sally have to move out of quarters,4she’s going to expect that fancy house in McLean or Potomac that he had hinted at when they were dating. But where’s the money going to come from?

He needs a plan. “Barkeep. Another.” Lost in thought, Constant doesn’t notice that he’s no longer alone. Two soldiers — one boisterous, the other melancholy — have arrived and are occupying adjacent bar stools.

The first of them smells of horses. To judge by his jodhpurs and riding crop, he’s just returned from playing polo. He has thinning gray hair, small uneven teeth, a high-pitched voice, and a grin that says: I know things you never will, you dumb sonofabitch. He exudes arrogance and charisma. He is George S. Patton. He orders whiskey with a beer chaser.

The second wears Vietnam-era jungle fatigues, starched. His jump boots glisten.5 On his ballcap, which he carefully sets aside, are four embroidered silver stars. He is impeccably groomed and manicured. The nametape over his breast pocket reads: WESTMORELAND. He exudes the resentment of someone who has been treated unfairly — or thinks he has.

“Westy! Damned if you still don’t look like TIME’s Man of the Year back in ’65! Ease up, man! Have a drink. What’ll it be?”

“Just water for me, General. It’s a bit early in the day.”

“Shit. Water? You think my guys beat the Nazis by filling their canteens with water?”

Westmoreland sniffs. “Alcohol consumption does not correlate with battlefield performance — although my troops did not suffer from a shortage of drink. They never suffered from shortages of anything.”

Patton guffaws. “But you lost! That’s the point, ain’t it? You lost!”

The bickering draws Victor Constant out of his reverie. “Gentlemen, please.”

“Who are you, bucko?” asks Patton.

“I am Lieutenant General Victor Constant, U.S. Army. To my friends, I’m VC.”

“VC!” Westy nearly falls off of his stool. “My army has generals named after the Vietcong?”

Patton intervenes. “Well, VC, tell us old timers what you’re famous for and why you’re here, drinking in uniform during duty hours.

“Well, sir, first of all, I’m a warrior. I commanded a company in combat, then a battalion, then a brigade, then a division. But I’m here now because the chief just told me that I need to retire. That came as a bit of a blow. I don’t know what Sally is going to say.” He stares at his drink.

Patton snorts. “Well, my young friend, sounds like you’ve seen plenty of action. All that fighting translates into how many wins?”

“Wins?” VC doesn’t quite grasp the question.

“Wins,” Patton says again. “You know, victories. The enemy surrenders. Their flag comes down and ours goes up. The troops go home to a heroes’ welcome. Polo resumes.”

Westy interjects. “Wins? Are you that out of touch, George? The answer is: none. These so-called warriors haven’t won anything.”

“With all due respect, sir, I don’t think that’s fair. Everyone agrees that, back in ’91, Operation Desert Storm was a historic victory. I know. I was there, fresh out of West Point.”

Patton smirks. “Then why did you have to go back and do it again in 2003? And why has your army been stuck in Iraq ever since? Not to mention Syria! And don’t get me started on Afghanistan or Somalia! The truth is your record isn’t any better than Westy’s.”

“Now, see here, George. You’re being unreasonable. We never lost a fight in Vietnam.” He pauses and corrects himself. “Well, maybe not never, but very rarely.”

“Rarely lost a fight!” Patton roars. “What does that have to do with anything? That’s like you and your thing with body counts! Dammit, Westy, don’t you know anything about war?”

VC ventures an opinion. “General Westmoreland, sir, I’m going to have to agree with General Patton on this one. You picked the wrong metric to measure progress. We don’t do body counts anymore.”

“Well, what’s your metric, sonny?”

VC squirms and falls silent.

His hackles up, Westy continues. “First of all, the whole body-count business was the fault of the politicians. We knew exactly how to defeat North Vietnam. Invade the country, destroy the NVA,6 occupy Hanoi. Just like World War II: Mission accomplished. Not complicated.”

He pauses to take a breath. “But LBJ and that arrogant fool McNamara7wouldn’t let us. They imposed limits. They wouldn’t even mobilize the reserves. They set restrictions on where we could go, what we could attack. General Patton here had none of those problems in ’44-’45. And then the press turned on us. And the smartass college kids who should have been fighting communists started protesting. Nothing like it before or since — the home front collaborating with the enemy.”

Westy changes his mind about having a drink. “Give me a gin martini,” he barks. “Straight up. Twist of lemon. And give VC here” — his voice drips with contempt — “another of whatever he’s having.”

The bartender, who has been eavesdropping while pretending to polish glassware, grabs a bottle and pours.

“Hearts and minds, Westy, hearts and minds.” Patton taunts, obviously enjoying himself.

“Yes, hearts and minds. Don’t you think, George, that we understood the importance of winning over the South Vietnamese? But after Diem’s assassination,8 the Republic of Vietnam consisted of little more than a flag. After D-Day, you didn’t need to create France. You just needed to kick out the Germans and hand matters over to De Gaulle.”9

Westmoreland is becoming increasingly animated. “And you fought alongside the Brits. We were shackled to a Vietnamese army that was miserably led and not eager to fight either.”

“Monty was a horse’s ass,”10 Patton interjects, apropos of nothing.

“The point is,” Westmoreland continues, “liberating Europe was politically simple. Defending South Vietnam came with complications you could never have dreamed of. Did the New York Times pester you about killing civilians? All you had to do to keep the press on your side was not to get caught slapping your own soldiers.”

“That was an isolated incident and I apologized,” Patton replies, with a tight smile. “But the fact is, Westy, all your talk about ‘firepower and mobility’ didn’t work. ‘Search and destroy’? Hell, you damn near destroyed the whole U.S. Army. And the war ended with the North Vietnamese sitting in Saigon.”

“Ho Chi Minh City,” Victor Constant offers by way of correction.

“Oh, shut up,” Patton and Westmoreland respond simultaneously.

Patton leans menacingly toward Victor Constant and looks him right in the eye. “Have you seen my movie, son?”11

“Yes, of course, sir. Several times.”

“Then you should understand what war is all about. You ‘hold onto him by the nose’ and you ‘kick him in the ass.’ That’s what I said in the movie. Why is that so hard to understand? How is it that my soldiers could defeat those Hun bastards and you and your crew can’t manage to take care of a few thousand ‘militants’ who don’t have tanks or an air force or even decent uniforms, for God’s sake?”

“Hearts and minds, George, hearts and minds.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Westy?”

“Your kick-them-in-the-ass approach isn’t good enough these days. You studied Clausewitz — war is politics with guns. Now, I’ll give you this much: in Vietnam, we never got the politics right. We couldn’t solve the puzzle of making war work politically. Maybe there wasn’t a solution. Maybe the war was already lost the day I showed up. So we just killed to no purpose. That’s a failure I took to my grave.”

A bead of perspiration is forming on Westmoreland’s lip. “But these guys” — he nods toward Constant — “now, we’ve got a generation of generals who think they’ve seen a lot of war but don’t know squat about politics — and don’t even want to know. And we’ve got a generation of politicians who don’t know squat about war, but keep doling out the money. There’s no dialogue, no strategy, no connecting war and politics.”

Victor Constant is mystified. Dialogue? He rouses himself to defend his service. “Gentlemen, let me remind you that the United States Army today is far and away the world’s finest military force. No one else comes close.”

Westy just presses on. “So what has your experience in war taught you? What have you learned?”

Patton repeats the question. “What have you learned, Mr. Warrior? Tell us.”

Learned? After several drinks, Victor Constant is not at his best. “Well, I’ve learned a lot. The whole army has.”

He struggles to recall recent PowerPoint briefings that he’s dozed through. Random phrases come to mind. “Leap-ahead technology. Dominant maneuver in an ever-enlarging battlespace. Simultaneous and sequential operations. Artificial Intelligence. Quantum computing. Remote sensing. Machine learning. Big data analytics. 5G technology. High-fidelity, multi-domain training.”

However dimly, VC realizes he’s babbling. He pauses to catch his breath. “It’s all coming, if they’ll just give us the money.”

Patton stares at him silently. Victor Constant senses that it’s time to go home.

“Can I call you a taxi?” Westmoreland asks.

“No, sir, thank you.” With as much dignity as he can muster, Victor Constant straightens his tie, finds his headgear, and walks unsteadily toward the door.

What have I learned? What did they even mean? He was a general officer in the best army in the world. Maybe the best army ever. Wasn’t that enough? He needed to ask Sally.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

The post Patton and Westy Meet in a Bar: a Play of Many Parts in One Act appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Regular People: Who Are They? Why Don’t They Ever Speak for Themselves?

Regular people.  Normal people.  Ordinary people.  Average people.  Everyday people.  (No, not the song whose chorus is likely stuck in your head right now.)

The masses.  Salt of the earth.  The working class.

“Regular people.”

“The working class.”

We hear a lot about them in leftist discourses (of the North American variety).  Who are they?  We don’t know.  We only know them as rhetorical devices for online persuasion, as instruments to berate competitors in the marketplace of ideas.

While their true identity remains murky, we know a few things about them.  On the whole, they’re a delicate bunch.  They’re baffled by debates about identity.  They don’t understand why all those people (other regular people, but from out of town) keep taking to the streets.  They think tearing down statues is silly.  They like cops.  They hate pronouns.

We also know that they’re white, because their personhood is modified by regularity, and because of their timeless association with building the world.  Their whiteness is sensitive, too.  Emphasize things like Black liberation or U.S. imperialism and they’re liable to run into the welcoming arms of the KKK.

They are key to the success of any revolution, but lack revolutionary ambition.  They wish only to nourish the earth with the sweat of their brows and earn a fair wage for their labor.  They are simple people with a humble appetite for a world demarcated by two clear genders.  They are suspicious of erudition.  They talk in a secret language accessible only to the most authentic pundits.  They are creatures of the soil who found life through Bernie Sanders.

Regular people despise media elites.  They have no time to read Marx.  And they don’t give a shit about what happens on Twitter.  Persuading them to vote Democrat is the intellectual’s noblest pursuit.

In the end, all they really want to do is join a union.  (Preferably the AFL-CIO.)

So say media elites, anyway.  With graduate degrees.  In urban enclaves.  On Twitter.  Or to paying subscribers, because talking is the purest form of work.

You may be wondering if regular people ever raise their own voices.  They do.  Frequently.  That’s usually the point at which their champions accuse them of destroying free expression.

This column originally appeared on Steven Salaita’s blog No Flags, No Slogans.

The post Regular People: Who Are They? Why Don’t They Ever Speak for Themselves? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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