Counterpunch Articles

Can Coronavirus Force Policy Types to Think Clearly About Intellectual Property?

It will be hard to decide the most Trumpian moment in his dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but my nomination is Trump’s meeting with executives from several pharmaceutical companies, where he discussed developing a vaccine. According to Trump, he asked them to “speed it up,” and they said that they would.

The idea that Trump’s admonition to hasten the development of a vaccine would have any impact on these companies’ efforts is too loony to envision for anyone outside of Trumpland. These companies have every incentive in the world to move as quickly as possible to develop a vaccine. It can be hugely profitable for them to be the first company with an effective vaccine and I’m sure at least some of them also care about public health.

In this context, Trump’s urgings probably had about the same impact as the advice to “keep breathing.” It’s sound advice, but you don’t really need someone to tell you.

Anyhow, it is not just Donald Trump who has cloudy thinking about the development of vaccines, it’s pretty much the whole policy elite. In this situation we have a worldwide health crisis, with more than 100,000 people already affected and many tens of millions threatened. In this context, developing a vaccine as quickly as possible should be a top priority for the whole world.

While there are researchers all over the world working on developing a vaccine, they are to a large extent working in competition. Each team wants to be the first to develop a vaccine so that they can secure a patent and get immensely rich.

The prospect of a high-priced vaccine has already caught public attention, as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified that he couldn’t guarantee that a vaccine would be affordable. As Azar said, drug companies will have to recover their research costs.

This is one of the great absurdities of our system of relying on patent monopolies to finance the development of new drugs and vaccines. (This argument is laid out in chapter 5 of Rigged [it’s free.]) These government-granted monopolies make something that would almost invariably be cheap, into items that are very expensive. We then hope the government will take steps, such as price controls, to make drugs and vaccines affordable. But if the government didn’t grant the monopoly in the first place then there would be no problem. Drugs would be cheap, like paper clips or plastic cups.

But making drugs expensive is only part of the problem with patent financed research. Science advances most quickly when it is open and widely shared. Rather than having teams in China, Korea, Europe, the United States and elsewhere competing to develop a vaccine first, why wouldn’t we want them cooperating so that they all learned from each other’s successes and failures?

There is actually a good model for this sort of cooperation. The scientists working on the Human Genome Project posted their results on the web nightly. This rule was the centerpiece of the Bermuda Principles. The idea was that the mapping of the genome was a common project that people worked on collectively.

There should be a similar logic to developing a vaccine against coronavirus. And, since much of the research funding is already coming from the government, there is no reason that anyone should effectively be paid twice with a patent monopoly.  You get paid once for the research: full stop. If any researchers have a problem with that, they should go into a different line of work.

In making this argument with policy types, I am usually confronted with the argument that we want to pay people for results, not just twiddling their thumbs. This has always struck me as an unbelievably bizarre argument. I have known many academics over my life. The vast majority take considerable pride in their work, they would not just twiddle their thumbs even if they had the option to do so and still collect a paycheck.

But stepping beyond the idea of researchers being intrinsically motivated, they are working for pharmaceutical companies who have an incentive to produce actual results. Suppose that Acme Pharmaceutical Company got a big chunk of the funding for developing a vaccine and it hired researchers who just twiddled their thumbs rather than produce anything of value. Sure, the Acme folks could have a big laugh, but would the company ever get another dime of public money? (Okay, if the execs were members of Mar a Lago, but probably not in a normal world.)

This is more or less the logic of military contractors. They are awarded contracts to do work developing weapons, they don’t get a patent on a weapon system and then try to convince the government it is a good product. There are plenty of abuses in military contracts, but at the end of the day, contractors do generally develop effective systems. (I am not endorsing how they are used.)

And, this sort of advance payment system in developing drugs and vaccines would have a huge advantage over military research in that there is no excuse for secrecy. While we don’t want ISIS to get all the details on the latest weapon system the Pentagon is developing, we do want every researcher in the world, as well as interested lay people, to be able to learn of the latest developments in drug or vaccine research. It would likely be clear very quickly if a company was just paying people to twiddle their thumbs.

This sort of cooperative approach has troubled many people who worry that someone responsible for a great innovation may not get properly rewarded. After all, if someone makes a major breakthrough in developing a drug or vaccine that could save millions of lives, shouldn’t that person get incredibly rich?

This one is hard for me to understand. First of all, this person is already being paid for their work. If they didn’t consider the pay adequate, they shouldn’t have taken the job.

Second, there is little reason to think that we could actually identify the person who was responsible for an important breakthrough. After all, under the patent system, the party that gets the patent is often not the party that made the key breakthrough. Furthermore, since it will typically be a pharmaceutical company that gets the patent, there is little reason to believe that the scientist responsible for the breakthrough is actually getting the big bucks out the deal.

But does the researcher in some sense “deserve” a huge reward? This is one that is better left to philosophers than economists. Many people do things that have enormous value and don’t get paid commensurately. The firefighter who rescues two young children from a burning building should perhaps be paid millions, but they aren’t. Does this bother us?

How about the anti-smoking activists who led what must have often seemed like a quixotic campaign to restrict smoking in public places? As a result of their work, millions of people are living longer and healthier lives. How much did these people get paid? Does anyone even know their names?

Intellectual types seem really bothered by the idea that someone is not getting a reward that they think is due. I remember many years ago when I was teaching at a small college, we had a small award (I think it was $1,000 – which would be around $2,000 in today’s dollars) to give to the best senior economics major.

When our department voted we had a tie vote with four professors voting for one student and four voting for another. It seemed that none of us had both students so that they were in a position to make a direct comparison.

I suggested flipping a coin. Everyone then laughed. When I tried to get them to take the idea seriously they got angry at me, saying that they could not leave it to random chance. Instead, they had to pretend that they were really determining the best student, when they were actually engaged in a process whose outcome was going to depend on which side was more persistent in carrying through their argument.

Anyhow, we should just be prepared to accept that our system of rewards will not correspond perfectly to what people have contributed. If you have a problem with this, grow up.

There is one other point worth hammering home. People will invariably complain that it will be hard to work out appropriate mechanisms for sharing research costs internationally. That is correct, and anyone who has followed trade deals for the last quarter century knows that it is hard to work out mechanisms for sharing costs with the patent monopoly system as well.

Rules on intellectual property have been major sticking points in all our trade deals. In fact, the Trans—Pacific Partnership would almost certainly have been signed and approved under the Obama administration had it not been for the time it took to work out a deal on data exclusivity for biological drugs.

So yes, we would have to negotiate rules on the sharing of research costs. There will be conflicts and the rules will not be perfect, but so what?

One final point, if someone is really a “globalizer” they should support open research freely shared across borders. This is not Alice in Wonderland where the pharmaceutical industry and their elite supporters get to change the language to suit their purposes.

Those folks who support longer and stronger patent and related protections are anti-globalizers, trying to lock down technology. They are welcome to hold that position, but they are liars if they call themselves “globalizers.”

This article first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

The post Can Coronavirus Force Policy Types to Think Clearly About Intellectual Property? appeared first on

The Algerian Revolution: the Struggle for Decolonization Continues

Algiers, during the one-year anniversary of the Hirak. Photo: Riad Kaced.

Algeria is going through a revolutionary phase. The mass-scale uprising that started in February 2019 has been sustained for more than a year now and is showing an incredible resilience and soumoud (steadfastness in Arabic). Hundreds of thousands are still in the streets, joining huge weekly protests every Tuesday and Friday (and recently some Saturdays and Sundays), demanding radical democratic change and the demilitarization of the republic.

On February 22, 2020, the first anniversary of the popular movement’s emergence onto the political scene, millions of people renewed their belief in the revolution and expressed their determination to continue the struggle by organizing massive marches in various parts of the country. In reaction to the current President Tebboune’s announcement of marking the date as a national day of “cohesion between people and the army,” protesters chanted We didn’t come to celebrate; we’ve come to kick you out!”

The people reasserted their demand for a civilian state in a powerful slogan that has become symbolic of the uprising’s core aim, especially since the electoral masquerade of December 2019: Tebboune is a bogus president. He was imposed by the army and has no legitimacy…The people were liberated and it’s them who decide…A civilian state now!


Throughout the year, the popular movement (Al Hirak Ach’abi) accomplished a lot. The Hirak forced the Military High Command (MHC) to distance itself from the presidential clan and effectively deposed Bouteflika, president for the last 20 years. It also aborted two presidential elections: the first one in April, in which Bouteflika was running for a fifth term and the second one on July 4, which was seen as a front to maintain the primacy of the MHC. Whatever we think about the regime’s highly mediatized anti-corruption campaign — which is largely smokes and mirrors and settling of accounts between various factions — the fact that high profile oligarchs and once-powerful individuals, including former prime ministers, chiefs of security services and the deposed president’s brother, are in jail, is a big achievement in itself. This would not have happened without the popular mobilizations and calls for accountability and an end to corruption: “You devoured the country…Oh you thieves!”, “You will be all punished”…

Despite all the odds stacked against it and the state’s efforts to divide, co-opt and exhaust the movement, it maintained an exemplary unity and peacefulness. This was demonstrated in various slogans such as: Algerians are brothers and sisters, the people are united, you traitors.” Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the popular uprising is the change in political consciousness and the determination to fight for radical democratic change. People discovered their political will and realized they are in control of their own destiny. This liberatory process unleashed an unequaled amount of energy, confidence, creativity and subversion.

After decades of curtailing civil society, silencing dissent and atomizing the opposition, the fact that the movement is still going strong after more than one year on the streets, not retreating or subsiding but pushing forward, is truly remarkable and inspiring. The Hirak succeeded in unraveling the webs of deceit that were deployed by the MHC and its propaganda machine. Moreover, the evolution of its slogans, chants and forms of resistance is demonstrative of processes of politicization and popular education. The re-appropriation of public spaces created a kind of an agora where people discuss, debate, exchange views, talk strategy and perspectives, criticize each other or simply express themselves in many ways including through art and music. This opened up new horizons for resisting and building together. Those who pronounced the Hirak dead, got their rebuttal. The popular movement is here to stay and signaled its resolve to force the system to yield: “The people want independence!”, “It’s either us or you, we swear we are not stopping!”

Cultural production took on another meaning because it was associated with liberation and seen as a form of political action and solidarity. Far from the folkloric and sterile productions under the suffocating patronage of some authoritarian elites, we are seeing instead a culture that speaks to the peopleand advances their resistance and struggles through poetry, music, theater, cartoons and street-art.

Women also played — and still play — a crucial role in the uprising, as can be seen in their strong presence in marches and protests all over the country, including very conservative areas. They are actively involved in the students’ movement that managed to maintain its Tuesday marches for more than a year now. Some of them faced repression and even jail but they continue to show their unflinching dedication to the struggle. Some feminist organizations are doing their best to put women’s liberation at the center of this democratic revolution and the presence of revolutionary figures such as Djamila Bouhired and Louisette Ighilahriz denotes that the struggles for popular sovereignty and women’s liberation are interlinked and ongoing. On International Women’s Day (8th March), Algerian women chanted in the streets: “We are not here to celebrate, we are here to uproot you!”

This is not just a middle-class uprising. The popular classes from marginalized neighborhoods, the unemployed youth, the working poor are all involved, marching for freedom and equally voicing their indignation at their socio-economic exclusion and anger at the processes of pauperization they are subjected to. “Antouma Asbabna!” they shout, roughly meaning “You are responsible for our misery!” Many of the famous and poignant slogans and chants were the invention and creation of this “youth without horizons” that suddenly saw a light at the end of the tunnel. La Casa d’El Mouradia (in reference to the popular TV series La Casa de Papel) is one hymn of the revolution that originated from football fans and went beyond stadiums to embrace and embolden the Hirak.


Algeria has not witnessed such momentous events since independence from French colonial rule in 1962, and that is what makes this a revolutionary moment and a conjuncture full of potential for radicalization and escalation of the struggle.

The ongoing Algerian revolution might not fit the dominant imaginary about revolutions, that of mass-scale insurrections led by a vanguard revolutionary party toppling regimes and taking power, affecting a kind of a rupture with the past inevitably leading to the instauration of the new political and economic order with different ruling classes. These tend to be violent processes shaped by bloody confrontations with the state’s repressive apparatuses, sometimes through armed struggle.

In Lenin’s words, “For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for the lower classes not to want to live in the old way; it is also necessary that the upper classes should be unable to live in the old way.” When we apply this to Algeria, we can see that this is in fact what is happening: people are no longer accepting the status quo and the current ruling class is struggling to contain the movement, despite all the means at their disposal towards that purpose: repression, physical violence, arrests, imprisonment, restriction of freedom of movement, suppression of media freedoms, divide and rule tactics through hate propaganda, deceptive ploys to give the impression that change is happening, etc.

It is true that there is currently no revolutionary vanguard party representing the interest of the working poor and the popular masses capable of leading the revolution. It is also true that the workers are not actively participating in the revolution as workers due to the weakness and fragmentation of the independent trade union movement. And it is true that the uprising has not overhauled the system yet or managed to create a radical break with the ancien regime as the oligarchic-military elites are still in power, albeit with some reshuffling in the configuration of the ruling classes. However, the revolutionary character of the popular movement is there for all to see.

Over the past year, this movement has overcome so many obstacles and avoided dangerous polarizations and showed undeniable genius in seeing through the manoeuvres of the regime; always responding with very creative, flamboyant, clever and radical slogans and tactics. For example, the youth made it really difficult for the presidential candidates to carry out their campaigns in various places of the country by blocking access to their towns as well as disrupting meetings. People actively boycotted the elections of December 12 by closing down some electoral bureaus in the Kabylie region and organizing protests on the day of the elections. When results were announced the next day, people took to the streets once again to denounce the electoral charade.

Following the announcement that the multinationals-friendly hydrocarbon draft law would be discussed in parliament in November 2019, the people spontaneously went to the streets for a first time on a Sunday (the start of the working week in Algeria) to protest in front of the parliament denouncing the compardore elites’ attempts to further undermine their country’s sovereignty. And a similar reaction took place when president Tebboune announced in January that Algeria will be exploiting its shale gas potential. The people responded: “You frack in Paris, not here!” in reference to French multinationals like Total interested in exploiting shale resources in Algeria.

Algerians know what the military are capable of and despite the trauma of the black decade (the odious war against civilians of the 90s), they are bravely still insisting: A civilian state not a military one!” By doing so, the Algerian system is exposed for what it is: a military dictatorship hiding behind a “democratic” façade.


So beyond the largely semantic arguments around whether it is a movement, uprising, revolt or a revolution, one can say for sure that what is taking place these days in Algeria is a transformative process pregnant with emancipatory potential. The evolution of the movement and its demands specifically around “independence,” “sovereignty” and “an end of the pillage of the country’s resources” are fertile ground for anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and even ecological ideas and can open the way for a progressive struggle by mobilizing the relevant social forces: workers (formal and informal), peasants, unemployed youth, popular masses, etc.

What reinforces this assertion is the fact that this Algerian revolution, like its precedent in the 1950s, is deeply anti-colonial. This is a unique feature that differentiates it to a certain extent from the other uprisings in North Africa and West Asia, and in my view warrants more attention and analysis. Given their experiences suffering under one of the most cruel genocidal and racist settler colonialisms, many argue that Algerians have bred a deep sense of social justice, still present and noticeable till today. Algerians are making a direct link between their current struggle and the anti-French colonial struggle of the 1950s and see their efforts as the continuation of decolonization. When chanting “Generals to the dustbin and Algeria will be independent”, they are laying bare the vacuous official narrative (around the glorious revolution) and reveal that it has been shamelessly used by anti-national bourgeoisies to scandalously pursue personal enrichment.

Algerians are thus recovering the revolutionary credentials and reaffirming their desire of being the true heirs of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of this country. We have seen so many slogans and chants that captured this desire and made references to anti-colonial war veterans such as Ali La Pointe, Amirouche, Ben Mhidi and Abane: Oh Ali [la pointe] your descendents will never stop until they wrench their freedom!” and “We are the descendents of Amirouche and we will never go back!”

These anti-colonial sentiments and the reaffirmation that formal independence has no meaning without popular and national sovereignty are reasserted by a staunch hostility to any foreign interference and imperialist intervention. And that goes from Western powers to Russia, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc. Suffice to say that the Algerian Hirak is an anti-systemic movement with anti-colonial politics.


Like with any revolution, counter-revolutionary forces mobilize to derail, crush or contain it. And this is done at so many levels: political and economic, material and discursive, local and regional. For a detailed account of how counter-revolution manifested itself in Algeria, please see Brahim Rouabah’s essay on this matter. However, it is worth making a few points here.

Times of revolutions and uprisings can also be times of entrenching unpopular economic policies and extending more concessions to foreign investors. The cases of the budget law of 2020 and the new Hydrocarbon Law are edifying. The budget law is set to reopen the door for international borrowing, and impose harsh austerity measures by lifting various subsidies and cutting public spending. In the name of encouraging foreign direct investments (FDIs), it plans to exempt multinationals from tariffs and taxes and increase their share in the national economy by removing the 51/49 percent investment rule that limits the part of foreign investment in any project to 49 percent, undermining national sovereignty even more.

Concerning the new Hydrocarbon Law that came into effect in January 2020, the former Minister of Energy did not shy away from declaring last October that the proposed law was devised after “direct negotiations with the five oil majors.” The law is multinational-friendly and will allow oil corporations to secure long-term concessions, expatriate proceeds, absolve them from tax responsibilities and transfers of technology. Another positive signal to multinationals is the appointment of a new energy minister who has been instrumental in drawing up the new law, which on top of the incentives and concessions mentioned above opens the way to destructive projects such as exploitation of shale gas in the Sahara and offshore resources in the Mediterranean.

We cannot therefore fully appreciate the political situation in Algeria without scrutinizing foreign influences and interferences and apprehending the economic question from the angle of natural resource grabs, energy (neo)colonialism and extractivism. This includes the enormous concessions made to multinationals and the pressures coming from outside to execute further liberalization in order to remove all restrictions to international capital and fully integrate Algeria into the global economy in a totally subordinate position. It is within this context that we should see the recent trip of IMF staff to Algeria.

The counter-revolutionary campaign currently underway in Algeria is not driven solely at the local level but also by a constellation of regional and international state and corporate actors: regionally, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are leading the counter-revolution and using their money and influence to halt and crush potentially contagious waves of revolt in the region. It is known that the Algerian MHC (Military High Command) entertains very good relations with the Emiratis. The late head of the MHC, General Gaid Salah was harshly criticized by the popular movement of receiving orders from the UAE: Gaid Salah is the lackey of UAE. His successor, General Chengriha paid a visit to the country at the end of February and was shown around several arm fairs.

It is also revealing that President Tebboune chose Saudi Arabia as the destination of his first state-visit after his election. When it comes to Egypt, the collusion between the two brothers in crime has been obvious. In fact, el Sisi’s first state visit following the coup was to Algeria in June 2014, with the aim of discussing coordination on security and energy. Alongside the Saudis and Emiratis, Egyptians returned the favor through troll farms and disinformation campaigns in order to discredit the Algerian Hirak. At the global level, Western powers such as France, the US, the UK and Canada, along with their major corporations, are all complicit and supportive of the Algerian regime and do not want any threat to their economic and geostrategic interests.

Add to this the unfolding situation in neighboring Libya where a proxy war is taking place involving many actors: France, Italy, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Sudan, Jordan… What is happening there is deeply worrying for the revolutionary process in Algeria and beyond: an escalation of the war will not only destabilize the whole region but also will likely put a brake on the popular movement in Algeria.

Another challenge facing the Hirak is the prospect of further divisions that need to be absolutely avoided. The Hirak succeeded in overcoming divisions fostered by the regime for decades. We saw how people were chanting: Arabs, Kabyles, all brothers and sisters! in response to attempts to fan the flames of discord by pushing for a hate campaign against the Kabyles and banning the brandishing of the Amazigh cultural flag. The Algerian Hirak must show once again the same rejection of the old polarization “Islamists vs. Secularists” that tend to be enforced by les eradicateurs, those “secularists” (laïcards in French) and “democrats” who sided with the murderous military regime in its eradication campaign of all “Islamists” and their sympathizers in the 90s following the military coup.

First, not all Islamists are the same, and not all of them are preaching violence. Some of them learnt from past mistakes and evolved towards accepting democratic principles like the case of Al Nahda in Tunisia. And some of them have never been compromised by dealings with the regime in place. It seems that people who refuse to budge are those “democrat” eradicators who tend to be those francophone colonized elites that internalized an anti-religious (currently Islamophobic) conception of secularism (laïcité in French) and who should recognize that they committed a major political error siding with the military at the time. The current context of acceptance of the Other, where people resist and fight together —  whatever their social background and ideology — is a space where these kinds of divisive polarizations should be overcome. This has been demonstrated yet again by a new pertinent slogan: “It’s not Islamists, It’s not Secularists…..It’s the gang that is robbing us openly”.

In the absence of a hegemonic political force that is capable of leading the movement and transforming its demands into a coherent political and economic project, it becomes essential for all the opposition forces, either Islamists or secularists, right or left to create a tactical broad front to significantly shift the balance of forces on the ground towards the popular movement and force the military regime to negotiate and concede. This is one lesson that the Algerian uprising can learn from its counterpart in Sudan. The vacuum created by decades of political suppression, fragmentation and cooptation of political actors allows the regime to continue taking initiatives and even creating certain realities on the ground. This needs to be surpassed by rallying around a unified oppositional bloc that will advance an alternative transitional road map.

The condition of joining such a front/alliance should be the belief in a true democratic transition that will open the possibilities for radical change. It goes without saying that progressive and patriotic forces need to maintain their independence and continue the struggle at the socio-economic level against liberals either in their secular or Islamist variants and against all conservative forces that carry a reactionary social programme. The political elites need to rise up to the challenge and assume their historic responsibility.


The Algerian uprising embarked on its second year and despite the immense difficulties and challenges, the movement continues its huge weekly mobilizations. This first anniversary must be taken not just as a moment of celebration but also as a moment of collective reflection and learning about its achievements as well as its shortcomings and mistakes. We are in a situation of relative equilibrium in the balance of forces on the ground. The Hirak could not topple the regime and the latter could not exhaust the movement. The Algerians mobilized in the Hirak are not giving up and refuse endorsing the dictatorship’s democratic façade.

The system will not yield easily. For this reason, the balance of forces must be shifted significantly towards the masses by maintaining the resistance (marches, protests, occupations of public spaces, general strikes, other acts of civil disobedience, etc) to force the regime to give way to people’s demands. The Hirak must realize other gains and victories in order to consolidate and this needs to be done through:

1) Structuring the movement at the grassroots level by pushing and encouraging local self-organization at the workplace, through neighborhood committees, student and women collectives, independent local representations and the opening up of more spaces for discussion, debate and reflection in order to have a solid platform or a coherent program. This will inscribe the dynamic in the medium and long term and might enforce a situation of dual power.

2) Insisting on individual and collective freedoms of expression and organizing all the time and campaign tirelessly for the release of all political prisoners.

3) And finally wedding social justice and socio-economic rights to democratic demands. Because if Algeria continues on this path of liberalization and privatization, we will definitely see more social explosions and discontent as a social consensus cannot be achieved while the resulting pauperization, unemployment, and inequality continue.  The recent slump in oil prices may just hammer the final nail in the coffin of a rentier system that is highly dependent on oil and gas exports for its survival.

In this context, Algerians must not dig their own graves by halting their revolution halfway. The struggle for democratization will be long and must go on. Let’s just hope that 2020 would bring more victories to the Algerian people’s movement.

This article first appeared on ROAR.

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To Defeat Corporate Hate, Bernie Bros Must Channel Martin Luther King

Yes, I have been obsessed with understanding Bernie Sanders this year. Although increasingly I have become fascinated with the infamous Bernie Bro. The Bernie Bro is thought-provoking because of this simple paradox. On the one hand, the Bernie Bro is obsessed with personal attacks against him, yet on the other hand he says personality shouldn’t matter at all. If that’s the case, why be concerned so much with the personal? Why be so obsessed with Elizabeth Warren, or the mainstream media? He says his character doesn’t matter because of the class struggle, but why then get so burdened by the characters of others?

I love the Bernie Bro. I think they get it right: focus on the class struggle. But are they following their own rules? If not, I really don’t care. Once again, I do find the general point they are making is right: class is what matters. So why waste any time beating up the Bernie Bro for his unresolved paradox? It is precisely because of belief in the possibility of the Bernie Bro that they will be addressed here. This is why I’m often confused why the left gets so hindered by liberals. Does the left really believe in the radical possibility of liberals so much that they have to always be focused on them?

It is here where I want Bernie Bros to look at the greatest American of all time: Martin Luther King Jr. One has to ask this question, and I hope it doesn’t seem like a petty one. Would Dr. King be focused on bringing people down or lifting them up?

No, this is not to distract from the one and only priority (class warfare). It is rather to ask what is the most effective tactic? What is a politics that takes this struggle seriously? What is politics that breaks out of this colonized mindset of hate?

MLK was angry. He was tired, scared and beaten down just like the rest of us. Who wouldn’t be in this world? But he, at least for a moment, found a way to transcend his ruler’s tactics, not just their interests.

Just as we could ask, what would King do, we can ask, what are the ruling class most afraid of? Are they afraid of Bernie Bros who are rude and are mean to others? Maybe. But they are certainly afraid of people who lead with a big heart, rather than a big stick. There’s a reason that King was one of the few people to change an entire society. It is not because he compromised to the status quo but it also wasn’t because he degraded others.

True leadership, true revolution, that involves resisting not only the corporate economic structure but also the corporate mentality that aims to destroy other people. What all corporations want from their citizens is someone who “thinks for themselves”, but not for others. They want someone who can express emotion, but only when this emotion is anger that can be directed at an enemy.

Fascism is about us vs. them, as Jason Stanley points out in the latest episode of Counterpunch radio. An enemy is needed. I would never compare Bernie to Trump, or left to right. But we have to ask serious questions about how the present age of fascism has degraded our political life.

We aren’t talking about style here. We are talking about a principled resistance to the weakness of hate. It takes work. Just as resisting any form of power does.

And yet, we are also talking about freedom. The freedom to love, when you don’t know tomorrow. The freedom to love, because hate is another job too tiresome on top of your other three. The freedom to love, even when the whole society is normalizing meanness.

Look at the entertainment industry in this country. Most all of it is entertaining to people because it is about humiliation, if not outright violence. The viewer feels better when they see someone else taken down. There used to be more art than this. But this is what happens when corporations own the discourse.

Look at our President. He is a bully. He is popular because he brings down others. Whether or not we are right (and I know Bernie is, and I know the left is), we have to ask the critical question: is this any way to live? What happened to hippies on psychedelics? What happened to the days when we talked about what we loved, rather than what we hated? What happened to the days when we talking about loving peace, rather than hating war?

America is on the verge of spiritual collapse. Austerity has led to schools being gutted, communities being swallowed up by work, split up by climate disaster. Years of cuts to the core of the community has greatly hurt all of us. We do have the right material goals but I don’t think that’s good enough. Quite frankly, with the economic state of the country, the left should be more appealing and necessary than ever.

But what is the political left? Is it a stance where we say we love the homeless, love those working low wages, love those not working at all, love those marginalized, imprisoned, beaten down and neglected? Or is it too often a place where we get lost among the shuffle? Rather than reach a higher love, we let the corporate mentality in, which is saturated in our media, in our schools, on billboards, TV, everywhere. We internalize this mentality to say to others and to ourselves: you aren’t good enough.

We have internalized the aesthetic interest, even when our material and spiritual interests are starving for help. We have internalized the petty division of the bourgeoisie class itself. We have accepted the judgments of self-worth and the punishing state that goes along with it. We have become exhausted with just getting through the day without humiliation from our boss or the movies with rich people on screen. We feel powerless, and take it out on everyone, striking out not just at those targets we know to be the problem, but also those we feel power over.

With the constant barrage of technology and advisements, the longer hours at work and the decimation of the environment around us, we become lost in the urban wasteland. We imagine no other way out than the apocalypse itself and reimagine our deaths continually. We distrust love, we find victory when we are betrayed. We say we have our priorities straight, and many times we do, but ugliness seeps in as the real political losses pile up.

This is the intent of the ruling class, and resistance to this corporate meanness is hard. Harder than any economic emancipation is the emancipation of the soul. Becoming the “bigger person” in a world that makes us feel small is the greatest challenge. This is why so few could do what Dr. King did and why so many of us remain inspired by it.

This does not mean ignoring the real anger, or the real hopelessness of our condition. Rather, it is to demand the most challenging task, amidst the greatest ecological challenge in human history. We must love. Not because anyone deserves it, except maybe the lover themselves, but because it is the internal freedom we all deserve. It is the only way to beat back what corporations assume of us. The rich assume we are all like them. All self-interested, all mean and all unwilling to love or feel deeply. Now is the chance to break free from the colonized mindset of hate. Now is the time, in spite of it all, to love!

This is not about compromise, nor is it about denying one’s rights. We should fight for socialism. We should ditch the establishment (what King called white moderates). And we should argue about the right way to do it. Yet we must also embrace love as a right. Just as we should be able to speak, eat, get health care, water, air, education, control of our bodies, etc. we must also have the right to love. We must also say, in the face of corporate tyranny. I’m going to love my neighbor (hold them accountable, perhaps never even speak to them) but still yes, in my heart, love and cherish them.

Am I really supposed to care that Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want to endorse Bernie Sanders? When I found out that Bernie Sanders said a woman couldn’t be President, my support for Bernie didn’t waver. Why? Not because it “couldn’t be true” but because Bernie simply had the best platform. As someone who will support third parties without apology, I strongly disagreed with all the Bernie Bros calling for Warren to drop out and get behind Bernie. It’s a democracy. Let it play out. Besides, I thought Warren brought a lot to the race, and in many ways she was a different candidate than Bernie.

Bernie Bros got what they asked for in Michigan. The rest of the country will suffer for it. White Bros flocked from Bernie to Biden, finding no political consistency beside the Bro itself. Women rightly gave a middle finger to entitled Bros demanding Warren support their candidate, sounding more condescending than even Joe Biden’s explosion against a factory worker earlier this week. Young people didn’t show up for Bernie, putting in question the depth of his base. Bernie never had a chance with black folks, and no, I don’t think that’s because black people are “not radical”.

I think we have to ask serious questions about what the left is, and what is the best path forward. We shouldn’t double down on alienating tactics, but be serious about what victory would look like. In many ways Bernie has been a tremendous success in the face of corporate sabotage. But clearly we have to ask how do we better reach the poor, who still don’t vote, black folks, who still mostly don’t trust the left anymore than the liberals, and women, who often feel liberalism is the only ideology which has taken them seriously.

I say this as a Bernie Bro myself. It’s time to break free of corporate media, rather than just react to it. The Bernie Bro is the perfect corporate trap. Let’s take a look at how it played out in real-time. When I was hearing about the Bernie Bro thing coming up again, my first reaction, like much of the left, was a triggered one. I was in complete denial. And I think I was mostly right. Notably, it was actually after the accusation that we saw Bernie Bros coming out of the woodwork. As if answering the Bat-Signal, the Bernie Bros swarmed as only they know-how.

Rather than say, well, we’re actually pretty nice or whatever, Bernie Bros, so stuck in reactionary corporatism, instead began embracing the very cruelty that Bernie and their cause was fighting against. They said, well, wait a minute, the establishment doesn’t like meanness, well, hey, I’ll be mean! And here is the classism coming out, that deadly internalization of class hatred. The Bernie Bro, asserted that it was his natural state as a member of the underclass to be a nasty person.

Hold on a second, brother. And I’ll call you brother here, because you aren’t just my bro, some guy out there, you are my brother. Just pump the brakes on this one brother. Is it really the working class who are the nasty ones? Is it really the working class who is uncivilized? How about those ruling class gangsters robbing us of health care, bombing children and destroying everything on this green earth? Come on now brother, that is the nasty behavior. We aren’t impressing anyone but our corporate masters when we engage in this gangster posturing.

So we see how this works. The ruling class tells another lie about the working class. And those who are so bravely resisting the ruling class have begun to hate themselves because they believe this lie. And let’s not get confused here: as many bridges as the Bernie Bros have burned this is about self-hatred. And we can’t blame anyone for that either.

It is here where I think we have to talk about white masculinity specifically. And seriously love the Bernie Bro. Seriously, let’s love this brother. Yes, it’s not the most marginalized group but let me tell you this: no one more than the white male is taught that this hatred for others is a strength. And even when independent political thought arises, we can’t break out of these cycles. The suicide rate of this group keeps going by the way. It’s not just homicide for us. Maybe that’s no better, I would like to think it’s not. But feel for these Bernie Brothers here. This country socializes all of us in a certain way, yet it’s an especially vital role the white male plays in the class struggle. He has to gatekeep and keep all of his sisters and brothers down. It’s a privileged position but it’s also a painful one. Don’t get me twisted here, I love my Bernie Brother. Love him deeply.

Now I’m sure many people, if they haven’t given up on this tiresome piece yet, are thinking what the hell is this guy talking about? Maybe the Bernie Bro thing is a myth, as all the Bernie Bros keep telling me. Maybe! But even if this is all a myth, I think we’re all better if we at least listen to Dr. King. Even if we’re there already. Maybe the corporate media has fooled me into reading too much into all this. Maybe. It doesn’t erase the fact this is a real perception. A perception that turns people off who might be interested in the same goals of social justice. I think, and this might be the fairest way to put it, is that the left has an uphill battle in the face of corporate rule that strengthens by the day. We should leave no confusion about our capacity to love.

This is the thing about all of this that drives me crazy! For me at least the political left was the only group in society who really ever gave a damn about me or the people I love. That’s just the truth. It’s the only group that remains committed to fighting for those left behind and those who need help. There is a deep compassion and love here, inherently, that you can’t find anywhere else. So as soon as the corporate media says the left is toxic, what on earth does the left do? They say yes, we are toxic, and who cares? Because x, y and z is more important anyways. This is just the kind of self-hatred I can’t bare. The left doesn’t hate other people, like the right and center do. The left only claims to hate others because the corporate media told them to.

I’m sorry but am I missing something here? The same group who fights for affordable housing and medical care turns around and says: we’re mean and proud of it? That’s just fundamentally untrue. The left is nice. They don’t just hold the door open for you, they give you a spare bedroom. The left has always been nice. The left has always been civil. They want a functioning society while the rich want to destroy it.

Ok at the end of this rant, which I’m sure is also alienating to many who have lived a different experience, perhaps the leftist, free of his lecture from this corporate shill, quotes King: “Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.” Let’s get to King’s “Loving Your Enemies” sermon.

King begins by stressing how hard it is to love enemies. It is, just like a political struggle, a matter of resistance.

The key point is this one: “Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”

In any kind of defeat of another person, we feel that same sick feeling. That feeling that before I took down someone else, I was small. We don’t look at the system that rewards such behavior. We don’t ask in what way can I free myself from this feeling that brings both of us down? I see this temptation to become better than others through political expression. However, this mentality runs contrary to the political stance itself which is asking how can we all get to a better society. If we can accept that each of us is vulnerable, capable of both good and evil, each of us became who we are from the context we arose out of, then our only priority becomes changing the context itself to make it more enriching for all.

King wants us to look at ourselves: “That is why I say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual.” Note that King doesn’t condemn the Bernie Bro here, but he does want him to notice who he is and how he got here. Maybe it’s for good reasons that he is hated. That isn’t so much the issue for King.

King more so wants us to be the person we want to be, the world we want to see, throughout this process. The whole idea of “being an asshole because no one has health care” just wouldn’t make sense to him: “When we look at the methods of communism, a philosophy where somehow the end justifies the means, we cannot accept that because we believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the means.” Call this moral purity if you want but this was his sincere belief. This was a person who really took that discipline of living the life that fit with the end goal. This was a longer and harder road. No short cuts. However, it was effective. It disarmed his opponents. One could not beat Dr. King because in beating him you beat a good man. Every sincere ideologue has altruistic goals. The ethic is how you implement them. Form leads to function.

Dr. King: “I’ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves.” Bernie Bros have this dilemma. On the one hand, believing in a better society. On the other hand, using a worse society to get there because they see that hate is effective. And what is hate effective at? Only creating hate itself, to reference King again. Hate may very well be an effective tool but it is only a tool that can be used to build more hate. We aren’t the Democratic Party! We don’t need to “get things done”, we need to transform society itself.

How did Bernie lose his frontrunner status? More glory here: “Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.” No one likes a bro who rubs it in your face. Sorry. Someone who is self-assured, as King was, even as he marched to his own death, does not seek to make others small. His strength comes from within. No matter who you are in this world, rich or poor, black or white, male or female, what on earth makes us think we are better than anyone else?

King keeps returning to love being creative. Love is about creating a new reality. It is artistic in this sense: it doesn’t look to destroy. Even the most justified of hate has destruction as its destination. Love meanwhile, like art, creates.

I think I have to emphasize this point, especially in this toxic time, that King isn’t about compromising or lying or any of that. He isn’t about making friends with your enemy in the way we normally think of friends or even the way Bernie says he’s friends with Joe Biden. King isn’t asking us to sacrifice our principles. He is asking us to look at why we feel the need to, paraphrase Bernie, “love someone who you don’t know”.

Why on earth do we do this? Surely the left, in its brave stance against the death penalty, isn’t just loving the criminal for the crime, or for their possible innocence from it. No, if the left looks closely I think we find that universalism and radical humanism of King repressed in the left of today: “And it’s significant that he does not say, “Like your enemy.” Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them.”

I write all this not because I like the ruling class, but because I love the left, and I fear hate ruins the beautiful souls I feel so indebted to: “There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates.”

Even more so than love for the left, we have to adopt a better strategy to save the planet. Look at how fast the left burns out when it becomes distracted by hate. King points to neurosis, guilt and repression from doing hate. And this is happening on the left, not because the left did anything wrong, but because hate really is a painful thing to do, no matter how justified it is. King, the master strategist: “Keep loving them. Don’t do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they’re mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load.”

Bernie condemns his Bernie Bros, but he reduces it to an “everybody does it” argument, which actually takes away from the real passion of his supporters, and the legitimate feelings behind their mistakes which arise from greater class consciousness.

Imagine if a response to being called a hate-filled Bernie Bro went something like this: I choose not to profit off of other people’s suffering, I choose to oppose the system that does, I believe in love, the power of it, in both my heart and yours, I don’t hate you, in fact I love you, it is because of this that I come with my sincere message, no matter the cost to me, because I fear for our civilization and our planet. I believe in love, and despite this opportunity to present myself as someone superior to you, despite this opportunity to degrade you, I will not, I can only love you, and it is exactly this obligation to you, that is this obligation to myself, and to the entire world, it’s an obligation I can’t explain, it is one that in spite of it all, wants something good to happen.

Such is one form of resistance. It is nowhere near the most important, in a vacuum. But it may be the missing ingredient to the love revolution that the left wants, whether or not they admit to their commitment to love. I feel love from the left, and it makes me a little less alone. I hope that one day too, others can be transformed by this love from the political left. For this to ever happen the left must first be courageous enough to love themselves. It’s a tremendous challenge, but if any group can do this, it is the Bernie Bro, who is on her way to the mountaintop, and one day will return to bring us with her.

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What If They Held a Revolution and No One Came?

Bernie Sanders wanted a revolution but it appears that no one read the memo announcing it.

The hallmark of the Sanders’ presidential campaign was to defy conventional wisdom held by mainstream political science and political operatives.  This wisdom depicts American public opinion and voters as plotted along a bell curve from political left to right, with the median voter at the center.  The theory says that most voters are in the political center and that the battle for victory in presidential elections is to move to the center and capture the five or so percent of the electorate who are swings, especially in the critical presidential swing states that will determine the electoral college victory.  This model recognizes that perhaps only about 55% of the electorate votes and that it would be extremely difficult to bring new voters into the voting booth.

Sanders’ campaign challenged that.  The allegation is that the electorate is less of a bell curve and one that has become bimodal with a decreasing percentage of the voters located at the center.  The median voter still exists but largely is immaterial given the polarization and shift in American public opinion.  It is also a model that says that effectively swing centrist voters have  disappeared and racing to the center to find them is futile.  Better to try to mobilize many of the 45% who do not vote.  These are young people, people of color, urban liberals.  They chose not to vote because they do not like the political choices or policy options they are offered.

These non-voters, the theory goes, face an empirical reality different from voters.  Capitalism has not been kind to Millennials and Gen Z.  They face a wealth gap, high college costs, high housing costs, and an expensive medical and health care delivery system their Silent, Baby Boomer, and Gen Xers do not confront.  They are America’s future.  Speak to their concerns and issues and you move American politics to the left and build a movement and party for the future.

There is a lot of truth and empirical evidence to support Sanders’ theory.  The electorate has become bimodal.  There is evidence of a decreasing number of swing voters and the reality of the median voter.  The political attitudes of Millennials and Gen Z are very different from that of Silents and Boomers.    The problem seems to be the last leg of the theory–mobilize the young and non-voter.  This is not happening for Sanders this year.

We know now according to Pew Research that the Millennials this election are now the largest generational voting bloc, surpassing the Baby Boomers.  Millennials and Gen Z together are now 37% of the electorate–the 2020 election is the beginning of the end of the political era for Baby Boomers, and perhaps the last hurrah for the Silents.  Yet so far, younger voters have failed to turn out in the caucuses and primaries, with voting rates less than what they were in 2016. On average, turnout among younger voters is about 25% less than it was in 2016.  Why is Sanders’ revolution not happening?

There are many reasons.  First, he is an independent running as a Democrat and his politics is not within the mainstream of the party and so far the Millennials and Gen Zs are not in control of the party.  In fact, they do not like the Democratic Party as presently constituted, seeing it still as controlled by the Boomers.  That alone could be hurting him.  Two, he has done a bad job expanding his political coalition, including a failure to bring on African-Americans.

Moreover, Sanders might have done so well four years for three reasons not present now.  By that, many voters did not like Hillary Clinton and a vote for him was a protest vote.  Two, Sanders did well in caucus states (because the smaller numbers in those states favored a fervent few) and there are fewer of them this year.  Three, the depth of Democratic Party anger to beat Trump is greater this year than four years ago.  Pragmatism might be prevailing.

There are other possibilities.  Perhaps it is too soon for the revolution.  Godot has not arrived and we need to wait for more Boomers to die.  Some claim voter suppression, but there is not a lot of evidence that accounts for the dramatic voter downturn.  The rejection of electoral politics may be a factor, but rallies go only so far in an electoral political system.

Conventional political science and politicos may be wrong about the bell curve, median voter, and swing voter, but they still seem correct in regards to the difficulty of motivating the non-voter on the left.  Sanders is not crazy to look to bringing them into the political system to build a movement, yet his failure is that of not being able to figure out how to do that.  Where he and progressives need to go is to identify the real barriers to their disengagement and then determine the ways to bring them in politically.  Should the Democrats or a third party not do that longer term, America’s electorate will shrink dramatically over the next few years, perpetuating a base of voters who are not representative of the majority.

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The Statue of Liberty’s Torch

The Statue of Liberty’s Torch

The Statue of Liberty wears a crown
And is armed with a torch
To burn things down

Jails and prisons
Gas and logging
Enterprises’ offices — the capitalists,
and all their accomplices

That’s simple self-defense/
Defense of others, right?

We see, the danger’s clear
It’s here

The financiers, the banks
The records of the debts they let

Those’ll burn well
Oh say, can you tell

From the smell
If they’ve vanished yet?


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Nobel Oblige

Men prize the thing ungain’d more than it is.

– Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida

It’s hard not to feel sympathy for him.  It is so coveted, yet so elusive. And all his efforts to get it seem to be thwarted by events beyond his control.  As he observed at a rally in Toledo in January of this year, “I’m going to tell you about the Nobel Peace Prize.  I’ll tell you about that.  I  made a deal, I saved a country, and I just heard that the head of that country is now getting the Nobel Peace Prize for saving the country.  I said, “What, did I have something to do with it? Yeah but you know that’s all that matters. . . .I saved a big war.  I’ve saved a couple of them.”  In making those remarks the trump was thinking of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed.  He is the youngest head of government in Africa having assumed office in April 2018.

Since becoming prime minister President Ahmed has inaugurated major liberalizing reforms, freed thousands of opposition activists from jail, and made it possible for exiled dissidents to return to the country.  In awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize the Nobel Committee said it was because of his “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.”  According to reports, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia played important roles in helping to resolve the border conflict. The trump had very little to do with it.  But that, of course, is not how the trump sees it, and, to make matters worse, it is not the end of the indignities which are dashing the trump’s Nobel Peace Prize hopes.

Another was achieving a durable and lasting peace with North Korea.  Using the negotiating skills of which the trump is so proud, Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea,   became the president’s new VERY best friend after the trump became president and the two men exchanged what the trump described as “love letters.”  That those letters and the deep personal friendship that were created between the ruler of a country in which millions of people are starving, and a man who is the least intelligent and least capable person to have ever sat behind the desk in the Oval Office, was astonishing and hard to believe.  But there it was. And it  brought a sigh of relief to those who had feared that at some point there might be a conflagration between North Korea and the United States. And there can be no denying that as soon as the peace treaty is signed, it will provide the impetus for the Nobel committee to consider awarding the Peace Prize to the trump and Kim.

The only thing is that the two best friends have had a bit of a spat, as sometimes happens with best friends, and to let his friend know how he feels about the spat, on November 28, 2019, Kim watched as two rockets were launched by a “super large multiple rocket launcher” from North Korea’s east coast. And to give further vent to his petulance, on March 2 and March 9 Kim launched multiples projectiles off its east coast.

It is hard to believe that after such a fervent friendship between the trump and Kim, the firing of a few rockets would end their friendship, but should that happen, that friendship will no longer be a path to the longed-for Nobel Peace Prize.

And then, of course, there’s Afghanistan.  Just a few days ago what looked like a sure route to the prize was announced when a U.S.-Taliban agreement was announced.  That agreement will, among other things,  reduce the level of violence in the country and lead to the eventual withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.  It is conditioned, however,  on many things, one of them being the “expeditious”release of 5000 insurgents held by the Afghan government.  That may be one of many sticking points, and hostilities have resumed, although at a reduced scale.  Nonetheless, unless the disputes are resolved, another possible route to the trump longed for Nobel Peace Prize will have been blocked.

And, as if those potential blocks to the trump’s receiving the longed-for prize, were not enough, another indignity was bestowed on trump by Time magazine.  Remember Greta Thunberg? She  is the 17-year-old environmental activist who spoke at the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland in January.  Trump told the Wall Street Journal that “I really don’t know anything about her.” What he might have known (and been bothered by), was that in December 2019 she received Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award, the same award the trump got in 2016.  When the trump learned of her award, even though he knew nothing about her, he said that she “had an anger management problem.” (If there is one thing the trump is undeniably qualified to identify, it is people who have “anger management” problems.)  From the trump’s perspective, to have a 17-year old child receive the same award he received in 2016, not only lessens the value of the award, but is almost as bad as finding that the road to the Nobel Peace Prize seems to be blocked at every juncture.

The foregoing notwithstanding, it’s hard to feel sorry for the trump unless of course, he is not reelected president.  Then we can feel sorry for him and happy for the rest of the world and the country.


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What Is Covid-19 Trying to Teach Us?

Photograph Source: NIAID – CC BY 2.0

Some people see the world as an infinite number of prize fights, each with one winner and one loser. For them life is an unending series of these zero-sum games. Unfortunately, one of these people is the President of the United States.

One example of something that is not a zero-sum game is a global pandemic. Someone else’s sickness is for me not a gain but a threat. No nation gains from the toll in another nation. To fight against the contagion, the main weapon is cooperation, on all levels, from interpersonal to international. On the international level, sharing resources and information is essential, because any vulnerability of any nation threatens the people of all other nations.

The nations fighting one another in World War I thought the opposite. So each one, including the US, treated the growing epidemic of 1918 as a military secret. The existence of the killer virus became public only because Spain, which was not one of the warring nations, refused to censor news about the disease. Estimates of death from the 1918 pandemic range from 17 million to 100 million. The war directly killed 53,000 Americans. The virus killed between 500,000 and 675,000 Americans. A deeper look would reveal that the ravages of the war, together with the perverted culture of war, were the pandemic’s greatest enablers, if not its causes.

Today we no longer fight wars on the grand scale of World Wars I and II, the Korea War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War, at least for a couple of decades. We mainly fight what are called, euphemistically, low-intensity wars and trade wars. The United States in particular has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to destroy the economy and infrastructure of entire nations, even such developed nations as Venezuela and Iran, using only subversion, bribery, boycotts, sabotage, disinformation, and tariffs.

This raises some questions too big to answer well in a brief essay. Question 1: Didn’t this present preferred war-fighting strategy in fact destroy the Soviet Union, making the United States the winner of the Cold War? There were three attempts to use conventional armies to destroy to the Soviet Union. First was the coordinated invasion, launched in 1918 by Britain, France, the US, Japan, Australian, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Italy, Poland, Greece, and Romania. Second was the series of invasions by Japan, beginning in 1931 and ending with the Soviet destruction of Japan’s 6th Army in the historic Battle of Khalkin Gol in August 1939. Finally came the invasion by the Nazi juggernaut that had just easily conquered all its European adversaries. The USSR defeated even this military colossus in the decisive battle of World War II. Yet forty-five years of the Cold War left the USSR a dismembered giant corpse. Thus the second question: Could the strategy of Cold War destroy China, the latest contender to be the world’s largest and most technologically advanced nation? Even before Covid-19 arrived, Trump’s economic and political warfare against China was seriously damaging the Chinese economy as well as inflicting significant damage on its own. This leads to the most important question.


There was certainly a loser in the Cold War. But was the United States a winner? Looking at our abysmal health care statistics (including life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, drug addiction, and suicide), our collapsing infrastructure, our disgraceful public education and public ignorance, the grotesque inequality between the one percent and everyone else, and our dysfunctional political system, one might ask: What did we win? And what would our nation look like today if, instead of the Cold War, we had extended the wartime cooperation with the USSR? The only certain outcome of the Cold War is that both Russia and the United States each still possess a doomsday weapon that continually threatens to wipe out human civilization and perhaps our species.

Which brings us back to today’s bleak scene of crashing stock markets, a tragic-comic US election, and a disease threatening our personal freedom, our social pleasures, and our lives. China, seriously weakened by the US trade and political wars, made the same mistake as the World War I belligerent nations: trying to keep Covid-19 a secret. The Trump administration, among many other blunders and gaffes, is now making a worse and truly incomprehensible mistake: maintaining the tariffs and the rest of the trade war.

It is making the same mistake in relation to Iran. Before Covid-19 hit, the US had succeeded in wrecking much of Iran’s economy and infrastructure, leaving that nation unable to contain the disease. The zero-sum game thinking behind this US policy hardly helps us win the game of death the virus is playing against us.

Trump’s continuation of his trade war with China is also directly damaging the US and global economies, thus significantly exacerbating the crash of stock markets at home and around the world. This should be obvious to Washington policy makers, but perhaps not to someone who inherited 412 million dollars and proceeded to go bankrupt multiple times.

Trump is now blaming the stock market crashes on the media and Democrats for allegedly exaggerating the dangers of the virus. Covid-19 is certainly the event that triggered the crashes and it will certainly worsen the recession that now threatens. But remember that before the virus struck, there were already numerous warnings of both wildly overvalued markets and a possible recession looming in the months ahead. US manufacturing indices were already contracting. The Trump Administration was handing out tens of billions of dollars to bail out American farmers, to make up for their loss of markets due to Chinese retaliation. The yield curve had already inverted twice, usually a reliable indicator of coming recession. Long-term interest rates were so low that they were giving the lie to stock market’s wild euphoria (which often precedes a major selloff or crash). Trump desperately sought to keep the markets fat and happy and to postpone any recession until after his reelection. That’s why he was furiously bullying to Fed to cut interest rates drastically. He even urged the Fed to push into negative yield territory.

Now think back to late 2007 and 2008, when eight years of Republican recklessness in war and finance came perilously close to destroying the global banking system and did succeed in crashing the markets and plunging the nation, and the global economy, into what’s now called the Great Recession, the worst recession since the Depression of 1929 and the 1930s. The only one major nation that steered clear of recession was China. While demand was collapsing around the world, it was China, acting like some super engine, that pulled the global economy out of the quagmire. Continuing to wage economic war against China today is thus suicidally insane.

Neither Covid-19 nor a major recession poses a threat to our survival as a species. We do, however, face two existential threats, both created by our species, and each featuring our nation in the lead role. At the very moment when only global unity and cooperation can save us from threats of nuclear holocaust and environmental devastation, deadly nationalism is tearing our species apart. Can Covid-19 teach us that those two great menaces to our existence are also not zero-sum games? That our species either wins or we, as well as many other species, all lose?

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Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse

Photograph Source: Studio Incendo –

As modern civilization’s shelf life expires, more scholars have turned their attention to the decline and fall of civilizations past.  Their studies have generated rival explanations of why societies collapse and civilizations die.  Meanwhile, a lucrative market has emerged for post-apocalyptic novels, movies, TV shows, and video games for those who enjoy the vicarious thrill of dark, futuristic disaster and mayhem from the comfort of their cozy couch.  Of course, surviving the real thing will become a much different story.

The latent fear that civilization is living on borrowed time has also spawned a counter-market of “happily ever after” optimists who desperately cling to their belief in endless progress.  Popular Pollyannas, like cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, provide this anxious crowd with soothing assurances that the titanic ship of progress is unsinkable.  Pinker’s publications have made him the high priest of progress.[1] While civilization circles the drain, his ardent audiences find comfort in lectures and books brimming with cherry-picked evidence to prove that life is better than ever, and will surely keep improving.  Yet, when questioned, Pinker himself admits, “It’s incorrect to extrapolate that the fact that we’ve made progress is a prediction that we’re guaranteed to make progress.”[2]

Pinker’s rosy statistics cleverly disguise the fatal flaw in his argument.  The progress of the past was built by sacrificing the future—and the future is upon us.  All the happy facts he cites about living standards, life expectancy, and economic growth are the product of an industrial civilization that has pillaged and polluted the planet to produce temporary progress for a growing middle class—and enormous profits and power for a tiny elite.

Not everyone who understands that progress has been purchased at the expense of the future thinks that civilization’s collapse will be abrupt and bitter.  Scholars of ancient societies, like Jared Diamond and John Michael Greer, accurately point out that abrupt collapse is a rare historical phenomenon.  In The Long Descent, Greer assures his readers that, “The same pattern repeats over and over again in history.  Gradual disintegration, not sudden catastrophic collapse, is the way civilizations end.”  Greer estimates that it takes, on average, about 250 years for civilizations to decline and fall, and he finds no reason why modern civilization shouldn’t follow this “usual timeline.”[3]

But Greer’s assumption is built on shaky ground because industrial civilization differs from all past civilizations in four crucial ways.  And every one of them may accelerate and intensify the coming collapse while increasing the difficulty of recovery.

Difference #1:  Unlike all previous civilizations, modern industrial civilization is powered by an exceptionally rich, NON-renewable, and irreplaceable energy source—fossil fuels.  This unique energy base predisposes industrial civilization to a short, meteoric lifespan of unprecedented boom and drastic bust.  Megacities, globalized production, industrial agriculture, and a human population approaching 8 billion are all historically exceptional—and unsustainable—without fossil fuels.  Today, the rich easily exploited oilfields and coalmines of the past are mostly depleted.  And, while there are energy alternatives, there are no realistic replacements that can deliver the abundant net energy fossil fuels once provided.[4]  Our complex, expansive, high-speed civilization owes its brief lifespan to this one-time, rapidly dwindling energy bonanza.

Difference #2:  Unlike past civilizations, the economy of industrial society is capitalist.  Production for profit is its prime directive and driving force.  The unprecedented surplus energy supplied by fossil fuels has generated exceptional growth and enormous profits over the past two centuries.  But in the coming decades, these historic windfalls of abundant energy, constant growth, and rising profits will vanish.

However, unless it is abolished, capitalism will not disappear when boom turns to bust.  Instead, energy-starved, growth-less capitalism will turn catabolic.  Catabolismrefers to the condition whereby a living thing devours itself.  As profitable sources of production dry up, capitalism will be compelled to turn a profit by consuming the social assets it once created.  By cannibalizing itself, the profit motive will exacerbate industrial society’s dramatic decline.

Catabolic capitalism will profit from scarcity, crisis, disaster, and conflict.  Warfare, resource hoarding, ecological disaster, and pandemic diseases will become the big profit makers.  Capital will flow toward lucrative ventures like cybercrime, predatory lending, and financial fraud; bribery, corruption, and racketeering; weapons, drugs, and human trafficking.  Once disintegration and destruction become the primary source of profit, catabolic capitalism will rampage down the road to ruin, gorging itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.[5]

Difference #3:  Unlike past societies, industrial civilization isn’t Roman, Chinese, Egyptian, Aztec, or Mayan.  Modern civilization is HUMAN, PLANETARY, and ECOCIDAL.  Pre-industrial civilizations depleted their topsoil, felled their forests, and polluted their rivers.  But the harm was far more temporary and geographically limited. Once market incentives harnessed the colossal power of fossil fuels to exploit nature, the dire results were planetary.  Two centuries of fossil fuel combustion have saturated the biosphere with climate-altering carbon that will continue wreaking havoc for generations to come.  The damage to Earth’s living systems—the circulation and chemical composition of the atmosphere and the ocean; the stability of the hydrological and biogeochemical cycles; and the biodiversity of the entire planet—is essentially permanent.

Humans have become the most invasive species ever known.  Although we are a mere .01 percent of the planet’s biomass, our domesticated crops and livestock dominate life on Earth.  In terms of total biomass, 96 percent of all the mammals on Earth are livestock; only 4 percent are wild mammals.  Seventy percent of all birds are domesticated poultry, only 30 percent are wild.  About half the Earth’s wild animals are thought to have been lost in just the last 50 years.[6]  Scientists estimate that half of all remaining species will be extinct by the end of the century.[7] There are no more unspoiled ecosystems or new frontiers where people can escape the damage they’ve caused and recover from collapse.

Difference #4:  Human civilization’s collective capacity to confront its mounting crises is crippled by a fragmented political system of antagonistic nations ruled by corrupt elites who care more about power and wealth than people and the planet.  Humanity faces a perfect storm of converging global calamities.  Intersecting tribulations like climate chaos, rampant extinction, food and freshwater scarcity, poverty, extreme inequality, and the rise of global pandemics are rapidly eroding the foundations of modern life.

Yet, this fractious and fractured political system makes organizing and mounting a cooperative response nearly impossible.  And, the more catabolic industrial capitalism becomes, the greater the danger that hostile rulers will fan the flames of nationalism and go to war over scarce resources.  Of course, warfare is not new.  But modern warfare is so devastating, destructive, and toxic that little would remain in its aftermath.  This would be the final nail in civilization’s coffin.

Rising From the Ruins?

How people respond to the collapse of industrial civilization will determine how bad things get and what will replace it. The challenges are monumental.  They will force us to question our identities, our values, and our loyalties like no other experience in our history.  Who are we?  Are we, first and foremost, human beings struggling to raise our families, strengthen our communities, and coexist with the other inhabitants of Earth?  Or do our primary loyalties belong to our nation, our culture, our race, our ideology, or our religion?  Can we put the survival of our species and our planet first, or will we allow ourselves to become hopelessly divided along national, cultural, racial, religious, or party lines?

The eventual outcome of this great implosion is up for grabs.  Will we overcome denial and despair; kick our addiction to petroleum; and pull together to break the grip of corporate power over our lives?  Can we foster genuine democracy, harness renewable energy, reweave our communities, re-learn forgotten skills, and heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on the Earth?  Or will fear and prejudice drive us into hostile camps, fighting over the dwindling resources of a degraded planet?  The stakes could not be higher.


[1] His books include: The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.

[2] King, Darryn. “Steven Pinker on the Past, Present, and Future of Optimism” (OneZero, Jan 10, 2019)

[3] Greer, John Michael.  The Long Descent (New Society Publishers, 2008): 29.

[4] Heinberg, Richard. The End Of Growth. (New Society, 2011): 117.

[5] For more on catabolic capitalism see: Collins, Craig. “Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future,”CounterPunch (Nov. 1, 2018).

[6] Carrington, Damian. “New Study: Humans Just 0.01% Of All Life But Have Destroyed 83% Of Wild Mammals,” The Guardian (May 21, 2018).

[7] Ceballos, Ehrlich, Barnosky, Garcia, Pringle & Palmer. “Accelerated Modern Human-Induced Species Losses: Entering The 6th Mass Extinction,” Science Advances. (June 19, 2015).

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Roaming Charges: Going Viral

The Black Death by Hieronymus Bosch.

+ From Albert Camus’s The Plague, which is once again on my nightstand: “There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”

+ We are witnessing what happens to a country (this one) that faces a pandemic after it has privatized almost every aspect of its public social welfare and health systems & gutted the teaching of science in public schools so thoroughly that most people can’t even understand what’s coming at them …

+ Even as we are being told to distance ourselves from each other, we need more solidarity now than ever before, because the System we are living under has failed, failed to offer even a minimum level of protection to those most vulnerable, just as we all knew it would fail, in precisely the ways it was meant to fail.

+ Leave it to Mike Davis, who wrote a terrifying book a few years ago on Avian Flu, to give us a stark forecast for what we’re up against: “There is, however, more reliable data on the virus’s impact on certain groups in a few countries.  It is very scary.  Italy, for example, reports a staggering 23 per cent death rate among those over 65; in Britain the figure is now 18 per cent.  The ‘corona flu’ that Trump waves off is an unprecedented danger to geriatric populations, with a potential death toll in the millions.”

+ Six months from now, 75% of Americans will have a “pre-existing condition.” The other 25% will probably be composting…

+ When CDC Director Dr. Redfield was asked at a congressional hearing on Thursday morning who’s in charge of making sure coronavirus tests can be administered, he hesitated and then turned to Dr. Fauci, who said, “My colleague is looking at me to answer that…”

+ Do you REALLY want to give Trump those extreme powers, Bernie?

We are dealing with a national emergency and the president should declare one now.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 12, 2020

+ What fascism in the US will look like …under the sweeping “extraordinary powers” Trump just gave to Customs and Border Patrol, border cops will be allowed to surveil and detain people suspected of carrying the coronavirus indefinitely.

+ Trump, the petty tyro, is reportedly considering slapping bans on travel to and from Washington State and California. It’s an insane plan and he’s insane enough to do it.  The Pacific Northwest should take this opportunity to secede…

+ All of the financial elites who were willing to swallow Trump’s nativism, managerial incompetence and anti-science lunacies in exchange for tax cuts, gutted regulations and a bull market are getting their just desserts…but did they have to drag the rest of us down with them?

+ Consider how Border Patrol dealt with this horrific situation: An asylum-seeker who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted in front of her daughter, and tortured with acid begged US border officers not to send her back to the same Mexican city where the men attacked her. They did anyway. For about 12 days she was kept inside a dirty home, occasionally fed old food, and assaulted.

+ So according to a source for NPR, Trump rejected testing for coronavirus back in January because he thought it would harm his reelection chances. And they tried to impeach him for digging up dirt on Biden in Ukraine…!

A previous tweet of this quote did not make it adequately clear that it is Trump who did not push for adequate testing, not Secretary of Health and Human Services Azar. Here is the whole quote for context. @ddiamond

— Fresh Air (@nprfreshair) March 12, 2020


+ Quarantined, Italian-style: Pornhub Premium free in Italy during COVID-19 restrictions.

+ Are the faith healers still laying their hands on Trump?

+ The for-profit health care system in the US is already starting to crack under the pressure and the virus hasn’t even really hit yet…

+ Pence promised 8 million tests by the end of the week, but according to Lamar Alexander: “We are going to work as hard as we can to push this administration to continue to ramp up the number of tests but the reality is..they do not yet have the tests available and can’t give us a date.” South Korea, where the virus appeared about the same time it did in US, is testing 10,000 a day and has been for nearly a month.

+ Your country under neoliberalism: The CDC tested only 77 people this week for coronavirus.

+ Here in Oregon, the state health lab only has the capacity to perform 80 tests a day…but that’s still more than the CDC did all week.

+ Another sign of the impending crisis (and that ObamaCare was a disaster): The number of hospital beds in the US has fallen by 5% over the last ten years.

+ Larry Kudlow, who missed the great recession, “The virus is contained!”

+ On Weds night Sanjay Gupta asked CNN’s Don Lemon to read the CDC’s coronavirus testing stats off of his phone.

ZERO tests conducted today by CDC.

A grand total of 8 tests conducted by other public health agencies across the country.


+ The Republican Governor for Ohio Mike DeWine confirmed on Thursday that only 1,000 tests are available to 11.69 million citizens who live in the Buckeye State. He further said that projections are that more than 100,000 Ohioans will be infected with the coronavirus…

+ The projections for NYC are sobering, to say the least…

(1/11) The #NYC Region is in trouble. Our #COVID19 case load is growing so quickly that we risk running out of hospital beds in UNDER TWO WEEKS. To avoid a crisis at our hospitals, we need to act now. 1,200 hospital beds are not enough. @BilldeBlasio @NYCSpeakerCoJo @NYGovCuomo

— Michael Donnelly (@donnellymjd) March 12, 2020

+ If you’re looking for a short introduction to the nature and behavior of viruses, I highly recommend Carl Zimmer’s Planet of Viruses (2d ed). It’s a lucidly written book that makes complex and sometimes unsettling science comprehensible.

+ Rebecca Nagle: “Look, I fully support banning travel from Europe to prevent the spread of infectious disease. I just think it’s 528 years too late.”

+ Matt “Gas Mask” Gaetz, one of the most ridiculous buffoons in a Congress filled with them, voted against paid sick leave. Now he’s taking it, because he was exposed to COVID-19.

+ The Cuban health care system, whose doctors are even now in China testing interferon-based drugs against the virus, is going to look better and better to people in the US, as the COVID-19 does its thing here. Even the Miami Cuban nutcases may be singing Fidel’s praises before this is over….

+ Maybe Jay Inslee (who promised tests would be “free”) is a “snake” after all…

Maybe Inslee (who promised tests would be "free") is a "snake" after all…

Posted by Jeffrey St Clair on Thursday, March 12, 2020


+ The Senate won’t take up House coronavirus bill until after its recess. “The Senate will act when we come back and we have a clearer idea of what extra steps we need to take,” Sen. Lamar Alexander told reporters…What if they never come back? One can hope…

+ Why the Senate is refusing to act on COVID-19: “A key sticking point in the talks appears to be GOP demands to include Hyde amendment language in the bill to prevent federal funds from being used for abortion…” Priorities, priorities…

+ Joe Biden: “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” (Biden said this in 2006, not 1976.)

+ I guess Mitch McConnell, who vowed to kill the House Coronavirus bill, was serious when he called himself The Grim Reaper.

+ The World Health Organization has announced that dogs cannot contract Covid-19. Dogs previously held in quarantine can now be released. WHO let the dogs out! (The jokes will only get worse, as the virus spreads.)

+ To wit: Always scrub your hands like you just shook hands with the President…

+ Come back, Marianne, you’re country (if not your lamentable party) needs you!

Uh, maybe we should cancel that order for 100 B-21 Raiders all equipped with nuclear bombs at the rate of $560M each, and use the money instead to pay for free testing and coronavirus treatment… We need to change our thinking about all this, do it quickly, and speak it loudly.

— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) March 12, 2020

+ From The Plague:

“What on earth prompted you to take a hand in this, doctor?”

“I don’t know. My… my code of morals, perhaps.”

“Your code of morals. What code, if I may ask?”


+ According to Amazon’s rankings, Camus’ The Plague is now #7 in the Self-Help & Psychology Humor category, which is an irony Camus himself probably couldn’t have gotten away with. A viral pandemic is apparently what it takes to get Americans to read French existentialist literature…

+ “Carbon Joe” Biden’s entire climate change plan is budgeted at $1.7 trillion. The Fed just dropped that much on Wall Street in a single day without any public input…

+ And they said we “can’t afford” national health care!

+ Windmills don’t cause cancer, but the Karmic Wheel just might spread the coronoavirus in some deserving directions…

+ Sen. Tom Cotton’s WTF press release on Thursday morning: “We will emerge stronger from this challenge, we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world.” CPAC?

+ No, Iraq. Trump Wags the Virus, ordering airstrikes against Shia militia sites in Iraq.

+ Sorry, Beto, we don’t need any more “fight for democracy abroad”…

Beto O'Rourke: "We need somebody who can reestablish the moral authority of the United States. We need somebody who will fight for democracy here and abroad, because democracy is under attack here and abroad. We need Joe Biden."

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 3, 2020

+ Laleh Khalili: “The NY school system won’t shut down because over 100,000 students are homeless and will not get a meal otherwise. The US is the dystopia they imagine everywhere else being.”

+ “I haven’t touched my face in weeks,” Trump says during a meeting with airlines CEOs on responding to coronavirus. I wonder who orders to wipe his ass? Stephen Miller, I hope…

+ The real origin of Planet of the Apes?

Hundreds of hungry monkeys swarm across Thai street as 'rival gangs' fight over food after tourists who normally feed them stay away because of coronavirus

— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) March 12, 2020

+ GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The Grand Princess is docking tomorrow. What’s the plan for the 3,500 people on board?

BEN CARSON: They’re coming up with one

S: It docks tomorrow

C: The plan will be in place

S: Shouldn’t you be able to say what it is?

C: It hasn’t been fully formulated

+ Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain…

Did no one in the room know CSPAN was broadcasting before remarks?? #CoronaVirusUpdate #PresidentialAddress

— ThurstonHumbolt (@ThurstonHumbolt) March 12, 2020

+ Move over, Goldman-Sachs! “Confidants” to Joe Biden tell “Axios on HBO” that JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is being considered to head the Treasury:…..

+ The Malthusian power elite of Big Capital used to talk like this only in the privacy of their country clubs. Now they just write it openly. Here’s Jeremy Warner, “business” writer for The Telegraph: “From an entirely disinterested economic perspective, COVID-19 might even prove mildly BENEFICIAL in the long term by disproportionately CULLING elderly dependents”.

+ Charlie Chaplin: “America commitment to freedom is so iron-clad that it can’t tolerate freedom of speech.”

+ Two months after a powerful earthquake struck Puerto Rico, thousands of people are still homeless and living outside, ignored by FEMA, Congress and the Trump administration…

+ Like the Whitman Sampler, there really is a Trump tweet for every occasion…

+ Puerto Rican nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda, who died last week at the age of 89:  “I’ll work for the revolution until I die and if I’m lucky I may find a little time to sing to the children.”

+ Nike, the IG Farben of neoliberalism, is sourcing products from Chinese factories where Uuighur Muslims have been forced to work in sweatshop conditions…

+ I spent the day in the Yosemite Valley, contemplating for a couple of hours how the hell Alex Honnold free-climbed El Cap, rather than watch the slaughterhouse of the Mini-Super Tuesday returns, but the quick lesson from Michigan: this is a conservative country & the Democratic Party is a conservative party. So much money & time have been spent trying to “reform” it since Gene McCarthy, through Barry Commoner, Jesse Jackson and Bernie 2016 and it only lurches farther and farther to the right. When will progressives cut the cord and forge a new party?

Bridalveil Falls from the banks of the Merced. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Bidenism predated Clintonism and remains, in many respects, an even more reactionary political ideology.

+ The latest evidence Democrats hate Hillary and Bernie more than they hate Trump:

97% of precincts counted in Grand Traverse County, home of Sanders endorser Michael Moore’s film festival.

2016: Sanders 65%, Clinton 33%
2020: Biden 48%, Sanders 43%

+ Bernie is now being urged to “unify” the Democratic Party by the same people who threatened to sit out the election (or vote for Trump) if he won the nomination. What a den of snakes.

+ The Jim Crow Democrats are in the ascendancy again: “Biden said in 1977 that desegregation would create ‘a racial jungle.’” Kamala Harris had one mission in the primaries: Do to Biden what Warren did to Bloomberg. But she backed off, retreated and quit…

+ Welcome back to Michigan, NAFTA Joe…

+ This week Chelsea Manning was once more hauled out of her jail cell in the Alexandria Detention Center and compelled to testify before a federal grand jury, in an attempt to coerce testimony against Julian Assange. Manning refused, was returned to her cell and later tried to commit suicide. Two days later, Judge Anthony Trenga, the federal judge in the case, ordered her release from jail, noting that: “The Court finds that Ms. Manning’s appearance before the Grand Jury is no longer needed, in light of which her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose.” Her detention hadn’t served a “coercive purpose” in the last 10 months. Despite being fined $256,000, Manning said from the beginning that she would not testify. The horrific jail conditions led to her suicide attempt, a fate that many of her detractors, from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, seemed to relish.

+ Speaking frankly, Angela Merkel warned that 70% of the German population could contract COVID-19.

+ Biden has tried to cut (and privatize) Social Security four times…for weeks just like this one.

+ The UNHRC has been releasing the same statement for the past 30 years on the illegality of Israeli settlements, just hit resend: “UN expert says Israel’s recent announcement that it planned to build more than 8,000 settlement housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory amounts to “a significant breach of int’l law that must be meaningfully opposed by the int’l community.”

+ Arundhati Roy on the anti-Muslim rampages in India: “All the dead, wounded and devastated, Muslim as well as Hindu are victims of this regime headed by Narendra Modi, our nakedly fascist Prime Minister.”

+ One of my favorite minor characters in Faulkner is Wallstreet Panic Snopes, Eck’s son in The Hamlet, who explains: “If we named him Wallstreet Panic it might make him get rich like the folks that run that Wallstreet panic.”

+ Matthew Stevenson reminded me this morning of that old, but prescient, headline from the Onion about my second favorite Red Sox (my favorite being Bill “Spaceman” Lee): “Manny Ramirez Asks Red Sox If He Can Work From Home.”

+ Stephen King has been passing around this timely bit of advice…

+ According to a court ruling, the NYPD & the city’s lawyers destroyed a cop’s memo book documenting the department’s racial stop/arrest quotas.

+ Driving back to Portland from My First Winter in the Sierra, I listened to the fantastic audio recording of the final volume in Gore Vidal’s Empire series, Washington, DC. It’s jammed with one brilliant passage after another. On the morning after the Michigan/Washington primaries, when it looked like Biden had secured the nomination, I listened to a sharp piece of dialogue on the Truman’s first election that ends with this: “Elections in imperial democracies allow you to change the dictator but not the dictatorship.”

+ Who would want to consult science when developing (gutting) environmental rules (or responding to pandemics)….?

+ Round-Up is good for you: Monsanto has just been exposed as having ghost-writiten research papers for regulators and for using front groups to discredit critical scientists and journalists. How will the Trump administration make informed decisions without this kind of helpful input?

+ Air pollution led to 8.8 million premature deaths in 2015, a new study found. That translates to an average shortening of people’s lives by 2.9 years—an impact greater than smoking, HIV/AIDS, vector-borne diseases such as malaria, and violence.

+ Even large ecosystems the size of the Amazon rainforest can collapse in a few decades, according to a study that shows bigger biomes break up relatively faster than small ones….

+ Take that, President Dumbshit… “Trump Is Thwarted by Court in Bid to Log Biggest National Forest.” A brief reprieve for the Tongass, perhaps, but a welcome one.

+ Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is giving Wildlife “Services” (the Death Squads of the public lands ranchers) even more money to kill grizzly bears in Montana….

+ Sen. Tom Udall: “We are consuming a credit card’s worth of plastic each week,”  At events with constituents, he will brandish a Visa from his wallet and declare, “You’re eating this, folks!”

+ Between New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming 2,811 spills were reported last year. Those spills released an average of 2,716 gallons of crude oil and 19,587 gallons of toxic fracking water per day….

+ Here’s Edward Muybridge’s photograph of a Miwok sweat lodge in the Yosemite Valley, 1885.

+ In 1770, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber (Ursula LeGuin’s father) estimated that Miwok population was 11,000, almost certainly an undercount. By 1930, it had been reduced to a mere 410, or roughly the number of people scuffling down the trail to the Mariposa Grove every hour. I’d forgotten, if I ever knew it, that the Ewok in Return of the Jedi (the filming of which severely damaged some of the most spectacular redwood groves on the north coast) were named after the Miwok. Doubt the tribe got any residuals from the film or the merchandise from the exploitation of their name…

+ California just experienced its driest February on record. If LA would simply give the Owens Valley it’s river back,  perhaps the river gods will talk to the rain gods about that drought!

+ Barry Harris, who is still playing and giving bebop lessons for $15 a pop: “We believe in Bird, Dizz, Bud. We believe in Art Tatum. We believe in Cole Hawkins. These are the people we believe in. Nothing has swayed us.”

+ I’m slightly amazed that people still watch the professional bigot Bill Maher, who defended his odious pal Chris Matthews and trashed his victim, reporter Laura Barrett…

+ The great Max Von Sydow, who died this week at age 90: “I wish I could have a wider choice of roles in American productions, the kind of roles I get in Europe. Unfortunately, American film producers only offer you exact copies of roles you successfully performed before.”

+ A Giant Sequoia has fallen, jazz legend McCoy Tyner. Tyner was much more than John Coltrane’s piano player, although that gig alone would have put him in the pantheon. He was a musician of dazzling inventiveness, whose most challenging music always left an entry point for new listeners. His music was always sounded fresh and new, yet it built on the music of the past: the blues, bebop, classical and gospel. I saw Tyner three times: in DC in the 70s, in Indy in the 80s and in Eugene in the 90s, all in different groupings, but each performance had an electrifying intensity. Tyner’s music may have been abstract and experimental at times, but it was always palpable and intensely human. If you’re new to Tyner’s music, check out The Real McCoy or Fly With the Wind.

+ When Social Distortion reunites as Social Distance, you’ll know the LA punk scene is truly dead. In the meantime, hit it boys…

Sick-boy, Black Leather Jacket Scene….


Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Mirror and the Light
Hilary Mantel
(Henry Holt and Co.)

A Planet of Viruses (2nd Edition)
Carl Zimmer
(University of Chicago)

Funny Man: Mel Brooks
Patrick McGilligan

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

The Big Exercise

A Simple Trick to Happiness
Lisa Loeb
(Furious Rose)

Across the Universe
Al DiMeola

Pestilence and Silence

“At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth–in other words, to silence.” (Albert Camus, The Plague)


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COVID-19 Side Effects: Reality and Clarity

Photograph Source: Steve Bowbrick – CC BY 2.0

The fragility of our American system is about to be laid bare.

A foundation built on corporate welfare without any notion of a common welfare for the citizens can’t withstand an onslaught of reality. The corona virus has no interest in false economies or nonsensical patriotism. It can’t tell if it’s chomping into a billionaire or a homeless individual. It’s egalitarian in that sense—of course the wealthy can somewhat mitigate their risks, but as the incoming reports of sports superstars as well as Hollywood elites testing positive for the virus shows–they are simply pending germ factories to hijack, just like the rest of us.

Having no universal healthcare like other industrialized nations has been a moral lapse of incredible proportions. Trump certainly never advocated for such a thing and sadly Joe Biden says he will veto a bill for this should it land on his desk. This type of “choice” for voters doesn’t allow for any ethical path. Accepting this sort of situation broadens over to an acceptance of all manner of sociopathic individualism. Selfishness may not be called out immediately; the adults in the room sneer at the impossibility of what other nations have been doing for decades, but ultimately something akin to karma seems to arise. The success of humans was dependent on collective survival practice—this moment in time when the sociopaths are in charge is an aberration. They have convinced most Americans that somehow this is normal—for us to not let someone ever get sick (try it at a fast food job—no pay, then no food, then no home……in short, you are not allowed to be sick). This ludicrous situation is nothing but taking the human condition on as a commodity, wringing out the work, and allowing the hoarding of money for a minuscule top group of individuals. They could never in multiple lifetimes spend all that cash—all the while others can’t even get sick. We are asking the poor to be superhuman to swell the belly of the elite.

Comedian/writer etc. Megan Amran tweeted (I’ll clean it up a little) that COVID-19 is going to be a black light in a semen covered hotel room. The United States is that hotel room. In the daylight it looks pretty normal, but in reality…………….

We don’t have any notion of what is truly going on with the spread. Two strains? One much worse? There’s evidently been no systematic testing to even reliably know mortality rates. Are many infected with mild symptoms? The information is just not there for us in any reliable manner. We have the strength of the internet to disseminate information, but how can anyone know what is correct in this environment? Trump recently saying we’d be down to zero cases! How’s that working out? How long before he has it at this rate?

The indications that this thing would be dire came way back in January. I doubt the Chinese officials were welding doors to contain people in their apartments out of a love for welding. The videos were coming out many, many weeks ago. The time for preparation in the form of testing kit production was then. But we have a government that operates on holograms and empty rhetoric and a populace stunted in a daddy tell me what’s going on phase of development.

There is a potential at the end of all this for massive societal change. It’s all going to be laid bare—the rot of corruption, the filth of allowing hoarder billionaires to flourish while people die needlessly. All of this could have been avoided….all the way down to not allowing the misery of those open air food markets. Causing pain for any sentient creature is going to snowball and that’s what has happened here. All the great plagues seem to have come from wanton cruelty, whether sending out soldiers in huge numbers to kill each other during WW I or the European invasion of the New World —even Genghis Khan’s legions bringing sickness to invaded areas is implicated in plague distribution. Cruelty and a dismissal of the sanctity and worth of others….. well it just lets the microbes get in on the fun of destruction. Cruelty is the seed.

When the dust clears from this, hopefully the entire notion of trust in government may be gone. We can’t continue to mindlessly accept the hierarchy as it is, and a new age must emerge.

We are not here to work and toil for billionaires, and we must begin to care about others.

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Who Could Have Gotten Deserters from Trump’s Three Armies . . . and from Mine?

Photograph Source: Alper Çuğun – CC BY 2.0

Taking US national politics too seriously can make you hopelessly stupid, hopelessly cynical, or hopelessly suicidal.

Let’s see. We had a former Black Panther, Congressman Bobby Rush, endorsing search-and-frisk Bloomberg; while Mike Will Get It Done was making AP headlines: “Bloomberg Once Blamed End of ‘Redlining’ for 2008 Collapse.” We have evangelicals adulterating my I-71 Cincinnati-Columbus drive with giant billboards listing the Ten Commandments, and warning that Hell is Real for those who break them; while they overwhelmingly support “Grab Them By The Pussy” Donald Trump, commander in chief of Commandment breaking. And we have Bernie, who once produced a documentary about his hero Eugene Debs—the real-deal socialist/anti-imperialist imprisoned for speaking out against WWI, the capitalist war of his era; yet Debs would be greatly disappointed with Bring Those F-35 Jobs to Burlington Bernie who, in 2016, campaigned for Hillary Clinton, the great pal of war criminal Henry Kissinger.

Before Bernie Bros send me more hate mail—by the way, the best written of all hate mail I receive—let me be clear: I will vote for Bernie in the Ohio primary; and in the extremely unlikely event that the oligarchy hasn’t successfully orchestrated the nomination away from him, I’ll vote for him again in November. Why Bernie?

A few words to my group—those who recognize the necessity in life of compromise, but who refuse to debase themselves by voting for evil (i.e., politicians eager to serve the oligarchy in return for self-aggrandizement). Blue Team fundamentalists have their own version of Hell is Real, which they cast me in for my sin of not participating in the 2016 Trump-Clinton horror show, for my rejecting their lesser-of-two-evils theology, for not voting for Hillary the Lesser. The 2016 Trump-Clinton choice made me enlist in the “George Carlin—Why I Don’t Vote” army. Candidate Biden, smelling even worse than Hillary to many in my group, will enlarge the non-voter army with a huge chunk of Sandernistas who will question whether Biden—the Wall Street puppet instrumental in launching the Iraq War—is a lesser evil or an equal evil compared to Trump. Blue Team fundamentalists, of course, mock my group as hopelessly immature; we mock their motto, “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” as hopelessly stupid.

Bernie—in contrast to Trump, Clinton, and Biden—does not serve the oligarchy in return for self-aggrandizement. For his entire career, Bernie has been consistent and genuine in his contempt for billionaire oligarchs and in his concern for financially struggling people. Bernie has his hypocrisies; but he is no more hypocritical than the rest of us who, for example, demand other nations return occupied territories while denying the reality that all our homes sit on occupied Native American territory. Hypocrisy is our lifeblood. Bernie is not Gene Debs, but the overwhelming majority of us are no better than Bernie.

Not only could Bernie get deserters (such as myself) from that large army of cynical non-voters, but also deserters from Trump’s armies. While a Trump rally makes it appear that Trump has only one army, “Racist Nationalists” who will never desert him, Trump has other troops—some ready to ditch him. There are Trump soldiers who claim they don’t belong to any of the armies I will list; but most, for purposes of strategy, can be divided into the following three armies.

1. The Evangelical Army

This is Trump’s largest army. According to 2016 exit polls, Trump got 81% of the evangelical vote, and evangelicals made up 26% of the entire vote. This means that of the 138 million Americans who voted for president, roughly 36 million identified as evangelicals, and that Trump got somewhere near 29 million of them. In other words, evangelicals made up approximately 46% of Trump’s 63 million total. Is it possible to get some of Trump’s huge evangelical army to—if not vote for Sanders—at least stay home and not vote?

There is a long US tradition of the devoutly religious being devoutly hypocritical and devoutly cruel and cowardly. Frederick Douglass observed, “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.” However, the devoutly religious were not all scumbag slaveholders. John Brown, who Douglass knew and admired, was devoutly religious.

There are evangelicals who are worried that Trump is hurting the evangelical brand. On December 19, 2019, before retiring as editor in chief of Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, Mark Galli put out the following editorial: “Trump Should Be Removed from Office.” Galli proclaimed: “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” Galli warned evangelicals that support for Trump damages evangelical credibility:

To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?. . . It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel.

Using Galli’s words in a Biden campaign would ring hollow; Trump armies know that Biden too has a blackened moral record (called a “corruption problem” in the Guardian). But Bernie could use Galli’s words to put the attack-dog Trump and other Republican office seekers on their heels.

Beyond using Galli’s words, there may be some fun ways to get evangelicals to worry that supporting Trump is costing them their kids’ respect. Check out the 3 minute video: “Why Trump Curses: If The Trump Administration Were A Movie, It Would Be Rated?” One 15 second spot could use a 7 second segment from this video (from the 43 to the 50 second mark) of Trump growling: “You’re not going to raise that fuckin’ price, you understand me? Listen you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25%”; add another 8 seconds showing parents taking their young children to church with a voiceover stating: “How do I explain to my children why I voted for this man? Social-network this 15-second spot everywhere. Or utilize Trump’s tweet attempt to be as loving as Jesus: “Every time I speak of the haters and losers I do so with great love and affection. They cannot help the fact that they were born fucked up!”—makes for a nice poster.

Evangelical support for Trump is, in large part, based on Trump’s Machiavellian opposition to abortion. It is naïve to think that the majority of evangelicals are like Galli, caring more about evangelical credibility than abortion, but there are some evangelicals such as Galli. And it will take only a relative handful to turn the tide. With Hillary lowering the Dem 2016 turnout in key states, Trump won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes by 10,704; Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes by 22,748; and Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes by 44,292. That’s 46 electoral votes by a total of 77,744 votes. If Trump had not won those 46 electoral votes, the Blue Team would have won.

2. The Shit-Life Syndrome Army

Unlike evangelicals, there was no exit polling asking voters if they self-identify as a “shit-life syndrome” sufferer. In a piece earlier this year, “‘Shit-Life Syndrome,’” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems,” I quoted the 2019 Brookings Institution findings: “53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as ‘low-wage.’ Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000”; and I used Will Hutton’s 2018 Guardian definition of “shit-life syndrome”: “Poor working-age Americans of all races are locked in a cycle of poverty and neglect, amid wider affluence. . . . It is not just poverty, but growing relative poverty in an era of rising inequality, with all its psychological side-effects, that is the killer.”

Of course, not all Americans who are financially suffering, in physical misery and psychological despair, are Trump voters. There are Trump-hating penniless antifa anarchists, some sleeping on the streets of our cities. Among non-white Americans who are financially suffering, physically miserable and psychologically desperate, almost none are in Trump’s army.

Trump’s shit-life syndrome army is predominantly white and rural. I live in Cincinnati in Hamilton County, which went for Hillary; but 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties—rural, white, and mostly poorer ones—went for Trump, which helped give him Ohio by over 400,00 votes. Drive through rural sections of Ohio or its bordering states that also went for Trump—Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana—and you won’t find any Starbucks, but you can’t miss shit-life syndrome. And Alabama writer Curtis Price, in “‘Shit-Life Syndrome’ (Oxycontin Blues),” describes the syndrome in the Deep South.

If you are suffering from shit-life syndrome, it’s difficult to not feel like a victim. Suffering anarchists know that they are victims of billionaire oligarchs and socialism for the rich. Trump’s shit-life syndrome sufferers see themselves as victims as well, with many of them agreeing that they have been victimized by establishment politicians; though Trump’s army is certainly not on the same page with anarchists or socialists about other sources of their victimization.

In my previous piece, I recommended the Dems attempt to get a few of Trump’s shit-life army to stay home on Election Day by reminding them of how Trump betrayed them to gain favor with the establishment; but with an ultra-establishment Biden candidacy, this tactic will fail. Bernie, in contrast, could actually get deserters from this army to vote for him, especially if he channels a younger Bernie who pulled no punches criticizing the Democratic Party establishment.

In 2016, some in this army who went on to vote for Trump had affection for Sanders. Bernie could get some of them back by connecting with their victimization, pain, and craving for some joy in their lives. Unlike Biden, candidate Bernie could say: “I know how it feels to be shafted by establishment politicians—it happened to me in 2016 and that was painful, but I beat them in 2020 and that feels great. And now I’m going to beat Trump, who has lied to you about making Mexico pay for a wall, lied about getting you decent-paying jobs, and is simply a proven liar. You deserve a decent income and healthcare. Donald Trump’s billionaire cronies should not be the only ones having fun. You work hard, you deserve joy in your life.”

3. The Stock Market/Money-Grubber Fundamentalist Army

A little more than half of Americans own stock. Within this group—which includes those with $50,000 in a 401k along with those with $50 million in a hedge fund—more than a few are “one-issue voters,” caring only about the stock market. They couldn’t care less if Trump pardons Roger Stone or Charles Manson, as long as the market is up. After Trump’s first three years, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased approximately 49%, and they were pleased with Trump. However, this army has zero loyalty, and Trump knows this; and so he is terrified of a Dow plunge before Election Day 2020. After the 2008 stock market crash, this army was pissed off enough with the Republicans that the Blue Team could get an African American elected president; and in 2012, with the Dow increasing 65% in Obama’s first term, he got re-elected.

This army does not care that Trump’s tax cuts, deregulations, and luck won’t prop up the Dow forever. They do not care that the last time a Republican got re-elected, George W. Bush, the Dow plunged 21% over his second term. Most in this group don’t even take into account getting financially screwed by gigantic health insurance deductibles or by staggering student-loan debt for themselves or their children. They are addicts hooked on the Dow. In terms of “treatment” to deal with this army of junkies, I’ve got bupkis, but damn near anybody could beat Trump if the stock market crashes badly enough.

Returning to Trump’s evangelical and shit-life syndrome armies, I cannot resist considering this farfetched fantasy—which I provide only for fun and to provoke thought:

At a Sanders televised talk, let’s get Bernie supporter Cornel West to question him: “Brother Bernie, second only to Jesus, you are now the most famous Jew in the world who loves the poor and scorns the rich. This causes me to worry. Given the reality that the U.S. oligarchy regularly takes out leaders who walk with Jesus, and that the U.S. oligarchy subverts democratically elected democratic-socialist governments around the world, isn’t it naïve to think that after you get elected, we cannot expect a coup or an assassination attempt on you? So, Brother Bernie, after we elect you president, do you have a plan to counter such a coup or crucifixion?”

Thickening his Brooklyn tough-guy accent, Bernie responds: “I’m glad you asked that, Dr. West. The simple answer is yes, I have a plan. While those CountePunch critics have for years been calling me a hypocrite for my efforts at bringing those F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the Vermont Air National Guard, I was thinking ahead. Now that the F-35s are arriving in Vermont, I can tell you my plan. Bringing the F-35s to 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard is my ‘coup insurance.’ As we speak, the Green Mountain crews who will be flying them are being trained to come to my aid if there is a coup attempt by the deep state.”

Juxtaposing Jesus with Brother Bernie may be one of my dumber vote-getting ideas, but if Bernie uses the term deep state, he could well win over enough disenchanted shit-life syndrome Trump voters to take Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and maybe even my state, Ohio.

Exiting fantasy and returning to reality, I hear the “George Carlin—Why I Don’t Vote” army laughing and predicting the following: “Dumbed-down-Dem voters will fall for the corporate media propaganda that Bernie’s Medicare for All is unaffordable making him unelectable; Biden will be the nominee; short of a stock market crash, Trump will win with ads that will persuade shit-lifers and evangelicals that Hunter Biden’s dad is even more immoral and corrupt than Trump; unlike his hero Debs, Bernie, terrified of being ostracized like Ralph Nader, won’t make a third-party run; Bernie, despite dutifully supporting Biden, will still be crucified by Blue Team fundamentalists, who will blame Bernie for Biden’s defeat because Bernie rudely brought up Biden’s stands on social security, healthcare, and trade in debates.”

And once again, Carlin cynicism will ring true again for the army of non-voters, who will again feel validated.

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Dear Berners: Dementia Joe is How Much “Your” Party HATES You

“You Have Owners”

“Mr. [Bernie] Sanders,” the New York Times reported last Tuesday, “has built a following of voters who want and expect more from their [Democratic] party, from their government, and from their country.”

That’s true enough, with some key qualifications: it’s not “their party” any more than it’s “their government” or “their country.” Like the U.S. government and the nation, itself, the Democratic Party is owned by the capitalist class. Expecting anything decent from it is a fools’ game and always has been. It’s like George Carlin used to say:

“Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations; they’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the State houses, the City Halls; they’ve got the judges in their back pockets, and they own all the big media companies so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear.”

Feel the Hate

For many years I have been trying to tell “progressives” who cling to the quixotic notion of advancing social democracy, peace, and environmental sanity through the Democratic Party that the party’s corporate establishment hates them and would rather lose to the ever more fascistic Republican Party than to the moderately social-democratic wing of their own party.

The evidence of this hatred (not too strong a word) is plentiful. Think of Barack Obama’s future White House chief-of- staff and future racist Chicago “Mayor 1%” Rahm Emanuel working as a foulmouthed right-wing Congressional leader to purge antiwar candidates from the party’s 2006 House of Representatives candidate roster.

The sociopath Emanuel would go on to regularly threaten and abuse progressives who meekly tried to push the militantly neoliberal, Citigroup-captive Obama administration towards small measures of social and environmental decency. His corporatist blood brother Obama made sure to purge advocates of Single Payer health insurance – irrelevantly supported by most of the U.S. populace – from the national health care reform debate in 2009.

There was nothing new or surprising about all that. The second half of the Jimmy Carter administration was dedicated to corporate-friendly de-regulation that helped usher in the tragic two-term Reagan presidency after Carter kicked progressives to the curb. The Bill Clinton presidency was a monument to smug pro-corporate “free market” politics and policy, with the party’s progressive wing treated with contemptuous disdain. “

“David, tell me something interesting.” That was then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s dismissive response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program.  He had just told her about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public.  Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as “the most cost-effective plan on offer.”

The Democrats’ “contempt for their left flank,” Clark Iverson recently reminded me, “was laid bare in the 1968 [Chicago] police riot at the [Democratic National] convention, and it has basically remained in place ever since.”


An Unforgivable Sin: Complicating a Coronation (2016)

Four years ago, the moderately social-democratic progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders broke the rules by turning his 2016 presidential candidacy into something more than just a nice foil to make Hillary Clinton’s nomination seem like less of a pre-arranged corporate-Democratic nomination. It was an unforgivable sin. The Democratic establishment responded with venomous scorn. They called the senator from Vermont all kinds of nasty names and made sure to rig the primaries against “radical” Bernie, who nonetheless dutifully campaigned for the dismal, dollar-drenched, demobilizing, and doomed Hillary in the general election.

So what if Sanders was far better positioned to defeat the supremely dangerous fascist-style Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump? The Democrats are first and foremost about serving corporate sponsors, not winning elections, much less social justice or environmental sanity, and those sponsors did not and do not want even a mildly social-democratic candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket.

Democratic Red Baiters

The 2020 primary campaign has taken the elitist class hatred that reigns atop the Democratic Party and its many affiliated media outlets to a new level. I have been following the “liberal” elite’s unmitigated and corporate-funded loathing and ignoring of Bernie Sanders for much of the last year. It’s not a pretty story. The ruling class contempt has come replete with noxious red-baiting and flat-out slander combined with absurdly false claims that the richest country in world history “can’t afford” to make health care a human right or to move off the fossil fuel addiction that is collapsing human civilization.

“You Know the Thing”

All of this is as expected, as is the standard claim that the progressive candidate (Sanders) is “unelectable” even though he was the most electable potential Democratic nominee. This is standard operating procedure. What’s different this time is the extent to which the corporate Democratic media-politics machine is willing to make its determination to lose to the Republicans rather than to the progressive wing of its own party grotesquely obvious by advancing a candidate who is clearly losing his marbles.

I’d like to say that Biden is unelectable because he’s a corporatist and imperialist whose record and platform stand well to the right of majority-progressive public opinion on numerous key issues (health care, Social Security, climate change, the minimum wage, bankruptcy protection, financial regulation, the Pentagon budget, war, and more). All of that and more helps damage Biden as a presidential candidate, but the deepest nail in Biden’s electability coffin may be his obvious cognitive decline.

It’s clear as day. He confused his wife with his sister on stage last week. He sometimes doesn’t know what day it is or what state he’s in. He says he’s running for “the Senate.” He has impulse-control issues that are a classic sign of dementia. He called a Warren supporter in Iowa fat (“Look, fat”) and “too old to vote.” He called a young woman at one of his events “a lying, dog-faced pony-soldier.” He tells ridiculous and garbled stories about a parking lot confrontation with a Black tough named “Corn Pop.” He says he “learned about roaches” when he was a lifeguard and “likes it when kids sit on my lap.” He tells poor Black families to “put the television, I mean the record player on” so kids can hear “the words.” He can’t remember a key phrase (“all men are created equal”) from the Declaration of Independence and so tells a crowd you know the thing” — yes, you know the thing.

Deleting Dementia: A “Classic Orwellian” Moment

I could go on but won’t because doing so would be too depressing and start to feel like able-ism and elder-abuse. Glen Greenwald is correct:

“it is visible to the naked eye that the 77-year-old six-term Senator and two-term Vice President is in serious cognitive decline…That is a grave matter not just because the establishment wing of the Democratic Party wants to put him in charge of the world’s most dangerous nuclear arsenal, a large chunk of the planet’s health, and the welfare of hundreds of millions of people, but also because it directly pertains to whether he can sustain the rigors and spotlight of a General Election against the incumbent President. And multiple incidents over the past couple weeks — from Biden’s forgetting the words of the most iconic and memorized passage of the Declaration of Independence to confusing his wife for his sister to spouting sentences that make no sense — have only intensified those worries”(emphasis added).

Truly horrifying is the Democratic Party media and politics establishment’s Orwellian determination to squelch public discussion of Biden’s pitiful mental state – a problem of which the establishment is fully cognizant. It was Democrats who first raised the problem of Biden’s unmistakable cerebral bankruptcy, but, Greenwald notes:

“as the Democratic establishment has united with creepy speed and obedience behind Biden in order to stop the Sanders candidacy, those who now raise these concerns instantly come under a withering assault of insults and attacks from Democratic Party operatives along with their crucial media allies: thinly disguised pro-Biden reporters who continue to insist on wearing the unconvincing and fraudulent costume of neutrality. They are invoking the classic Orwellian formulation from the novel 1984: ‘The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command’” (emphasis added).

(Anyone who doubts that Biden is “going through some things” in his cognitive life should look at this clip of Biden being interviewed on Sanders and Hillary in 2016: he sounds remarkably lucid and intelligent smart compared to how he is now[1]. He’s just not the same guy in this interview anymore. Could Jill Biden say something, before it’s too late?)

This, “progressive Democrats,” is how much “your” (no, their) party’s establishment HATES you. It is determined to serve up a right-wing dementia victim as a toy mouse food item for the feral fascist feline Tabby Trump this summer and fall instead of mounting a serious challenge headed by the mentally agile progressive-populist Bernie Sanders.

Could it be any clearer that the Democratic Party privileges its clientage to capital over winning elections and defeating eco-cidal racism-sexism-nativism-fascism?

No Killer Instinct

Maybe someone should have started a petition to Bernie saying something like this: “Dear Senator Sanders, if you don’t bring up Joe Biden’s clear and obvious dementia in your next debate and in your campaign from now on, we demand the return of our contributions to your campaign. Your continuing silence on this matter will be proof that you have no serious intention of winning the nomination.”

Not that Sanders would have done the right thing. He doesn’t seem to have the killer instinct required to prevail.  He’s too polite and intimidated by the Democratic establishment.

You can bet “Honey Badger” Trump won’t hold back on Biden’s dementia.  He’s already locked in on “Sleepy Joe’s” palpable mental deterioration, which the Democratic establishment now insists on tossing down Orwell’s memory hole even as Biden’s memory card fades further in plain, nationally televised sight.

One thing you can’t say about Trump, who Noam Chomsky rightly describes as “the most dangerous criminal in human history,” is that he lacks the killer instinct required in high-stakes politics and heavyweight boxing.

Social Imperialism

With Demented Joe’s clear victory (his defeat of Sanders in Bernie’s Michigan “firewall” yesterday seals the deal – it’s over) in the nomination battle, Sanders can be expected in due time to honor his unfortunate advance “sheepdog” promise to support the eventual Democratic nominee, no matter who it is. What a sad that promises to be: stumping for the ridiculous and offensive right-wing corporate imperialist and dementia victim, his “friend” Joe Biden. It will be another great stain on his “socialist” legacy, along with his support for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (also promised in advance), his backing of an F-35 base in Vermont, his embrace of Bill Clinton’s war on Serbia, his vote for the 2001 Authorization of Unilateral Military Force Against Terrorists (the AUMF, which gave George W. Bush a green light to launch wars wherever he wished), his backing of Barack Obama’s Libyan fiasco, his support for an increased U.S role in the Syrian Civil War, and his two 1998 votes in support of U.S.-led regime change in Iraq.

Lenin had a phrase for European “socialists” like Karl Kautsky, who combined advocacy of left movements and reforms at home with support for imperial policies abroad: “social imperialists.” Lenin described such leftists as “socialist in words, imperialist in deeds.”

An Orwellian Masterpiece

“The media,” a left friend writes from Michigan, “did everything they could to paint Sanders as anti-American and radical and hide Biden’s awful record.”

“Why is it,” a mainstream, pro-establishment Michigan Democrat (MPEMD) responds, “that Bernie can’t just admit he lost without blaming it on a grand conspiracy? More voters voted for Biden because more voters wanted to.”

The MPEMD is off base. Bernie hasn’t acknowledged defeat yet and is too polite and respectful to blame his losses on a big plot. Call it a “grand conspiracy” of whatever you like, this is just an accurate description of historical reality: “the media …did everything they could to paint Sanders as anti-American and radical and hide Biden’s awful record.” That happened. It is precisely what occurred at “liberal” MSNBC (MSDNC) and CNN (and other outlets). MSDNC is reporting on history it helped make — “an Orwellian masterpiece” in the words of my friend Terry Thomas.

And now, as Greenwald argues, that same “liberal” media is hiding Biden’s dementia even though the media operatives and managers are fully aware of the former Vice President’s mental debilitation.

This isn’t about “conspiracies.” It’s about social and institutional power and George Carlin’s point: “we have owners.”


Voters who have been induced by their and the media’s owners to “want” Biden have “chosen” a candidate who is going to be a sacrificial seal in the jaws of the Great Orange Shark next November — unless a COVID-19 recession makes it possible for Biden to slip into an assisted care unit in the White House. Then perhaps a 25th Amendment removal, clearing the way for an Amy Klobuchar (AK-47) administration in October of 2021?

Biden Would Veto Medicare for All, So Reciprocate the Hate

Meanwhile, this was just sent to me: “Biden Indicates He’d Veto ‘Medicare-for-All.”

Just because it’s from FOX News doesn’t mean it’s not true. It’s accurate: Bernie’s (literally) demented “friend” Joe Biden would veto a measure to make health care a human right in the U.S. Think about that. Let that sink in. Biden is the very definition of a class enemy, comrades.

The corporate Democrats are Public Enemy #1 in my opinion. The Trumpenvolk would never ride without these sorry, sold out agents of capital posing as “democrats.”

“Progressive” Democrats, please have the mental and moral capacity to get and act on the simple and undeniable fact that “your” party’s establishment hates you. Hate them back. It’s okay: you need to turn your Bernie buttons in for Yellow Vests and gas masks.

Last Dance with Electoral Jane

“If voting changed anything,” Emma Goldman once said, “they would make it illegal.”

Caucusing for Sanders was my last half-hearted dance around that coffin of class consciousness known as the American ballot box.

Voting might change things in a decent way, one day, but not under the existing and overlapping U.S. party, elections, and media systems.

“Last dance with Mary Jane[2], one more time to kill the pain. I feel summer creeping in and I’m tired of this town again.”


1. The content of this interview is interesting and ironic: “Vice President Joe Biden offered effusive praise for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders Monday, lauding Hillary Clinton’s chief rival for doing a ‘heck of a job’ on the campaign trail and praising Sanders for offering an authentic voice on income inequality. And while Biden said Democrats had a slate of ‘great candidates’ running for president, he suggested Clinton was a newcomer to issues like the growing gap between rich and poor.

‘Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it,’ Biden said during an interview with CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. ‘It’s relatively new for Hillary to talk about that,’ Biden continued, acknowledging that Clinton has ‘come forward with some really thoughtful approaches to deal with the issue’ of income inequality.

‘Hillary’s focus has been other things up to now, and that’s been Bernie’s — no one questions Bernie’s authenticity on those issues,’ he said…Biden expressed little shock that Sanders was drawing ample support among Democrats, claiming that Sanders’ self-identification as a socialist mattered little to his party’s voters.

‘If Bernie Sanders never said he was a democratic socialist, based on what he’s saying people wouldn’t be calling him a democratic socialist,’ he said, claiming Clinton entered the race with an ‘awful high bar for her to meet…I never thought she was a prohibitive favorite,’ he said. ‘I don’t think she ever thought she was a prohibitive favorite. So I think it’s, you know, everything’s sort of coming down to Earth.’”

2. See the Vimeo video of that signature Tom Petty song – the creepy one where he tries to revive a corpse played by Kim Basinger. It’s an apt visual and musical metaphor for those of us on the left who got sucked into the money-drenched mortuary that is American capitalist “electoral democracy”again.

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Class Conflict is Stronger than Clan Conflict

Photograph Source: torbackhopper – CC BY 2.0

The Democratic party elites have shown that they prefer Trump to Sanders. That is, they prefer the real risk of a second Trump mandate to the real risk of a Sanders presidency.

How else can we explain the sudden coordinated rally around Biden, whose weakness and liabilities are obvious to all? No need to recount the list of his gaffes, incoherencies, gropings, scandals and dementia-induced blunders; it’s clear he is not fit to lead. The Democratic party decision-makers have watched his performance with their eyes open. Neither Obama nor the New York Times endorsed him. And suddenly, the day before Sanders was expected to gain a possibly “insurmountable lead,” they put all their money on Biden. The choreographed dropout of the other “moderate” candidates had its intended effect: raising a senile, volatile, scandal-ridden candidate to front runner status.

It is obvious to all that Trump will trounce Biden in the debates and will hurl Biden’s own dirt at him mercilessly. And yet, the Democratic leadership considers this extremely risky candidate to be preferable to Sanders.

This amounts to a decision that they would prefer to remain in the opposition for at least four more years, a situation that they are used to now, rather than allow a progressive to take power. They can handle losing temporarily in the clan conflict with Republicans. But they can’t let themselves lose in the class conflict – they can’t permit their class interests to be threatened by a president who geniunely represents the working class. The stakes are much higher.

Look at the kind of donors Buttigieg was attracting, now backing Biden: extremely wealthy corporate and banking elites. These backers have a lot to lose from Sanders’ corporate and wealth taxes, his regulations and worker-friendly programs. They have much less to lose from the Republican administration’s status quo. For these people, the goal of defeating Trump is secondary to defeating Sanders.

The DNC was never intending to allow a Sanders nomination. The recent coordinated dropping out of rival moderate candidates is only the latest of their roadblock tactics. After changing the convention rules to bring in the superdelegates in a second round of voting, a concession won by Sanders, they seem to have encouraged a wide field of candidates in order to water down the Sanders vote and to force the convention to go to a second round. A head to head battle between Sanders and Biden from the start would likely have favored Sanders. Multiple establishment candidates in the first round are no problem to them, as long as Sanders didn’t pull ahead too far; in the second round their delegates would consolidate behind one of them and the 771 superdelegates would clinch it.

But in February it looked like Sanders was on track to win a significant plurality, making it hard for the DNC to nominate someone else without a riot (though according to their rules, this would have been legal). So the panicking party elites changed tactics and suddenly cut the field back in order to funnel all the “moderate” votes toward Biden. It was a desperate bet to stall Sanders.

Warren played her part by staying in the race through Super Tuesday, absorbing some of what would otherwise have been Sanders’ delegates. She will probably hand them to Biden at the convention, given her continued attacks against Sanders.

Even if Sanders doesn’t take the nomination, his message is resonating and his movement is strong. His delegates will be in a position to fight to renegotiate the rules and the party platform at the convention, which is essential for the future of progressive politics within the Democratic party.

Some Sanders supporters feel that he has not been aggressive enough and that somehow he is to blame for his results these past two Tuesdays. This is unfair: Sanders is extraordinarily courageous, taking on the US establishment machine. The idea that Sanders is averse to attacking is ludicrous given the historic attack he has mounted, daring to speak plainly about class issues and building a movement that will outlive him.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the party is doing everything it can to undermine him. They’re just relieved that they don’t have to do it in a dirtier way, now. The US establishment elites in both parties don’t allow leaders like Sanders to take power in other countries – they stage coups d’état, assassinations, jail them for phony charges, slap their countries with sanctions and blockades, send in troops, and any number of other dirty and criminal imperialist tactics. We shouldn’t be naïve about what they are prepared to do when their class interests are threatened.

The Republican and Democratic parties are two different clans that squabble and feud, but like rival mafia clans they ultimately represent similar interests. Sanders represents the interests of the working class, and therefore necessarily enters into conflict with the establishment elite. And class conflict is stronger than clan conflict. The Democratic party elites knew what they were betting on when they got behind Biden: four more years of Trump. For them, it’s the safest bet.

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Coronavirus Reveals the Cracks in Globalization

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The coronavirus will eventually pass, but the same cannot be said for the Panglossian phenomenon known as “globalization.” Stripped of the romantic notion of a global village, the ugly process we’ve experienced over the past 40 years has been a case of governmental institutions being eclipsed by multinational corporations, acting to maximize profit in support of shareholders. To billions of us, it has resembled a looting process, of our social wealth, and political meaning. Governments that wanted to stay on top would have to learn to master soft power to learn to be relevant in a globalized world, mostly acting to smooth transactions and otherwise stay out of the way.

In a globalized world, nation-states were supposedly becoming relics. To the extent that they were needed, small national governments were said to equate to good government. This hollow philosophy’s main claims now appear badly exposed, as the supply chains wither, and the very interconnectedness of our global economy is becoming a vector of contagion. In the words of author David Goodhart, “We no longer need the help of rats or fleas to spread disease—we can do it ourselves thanks to mass international travel and supply chains.”

To be sure, there were many warning signs that called into question our hitherto benign assumptions about globalization: the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 (during which the Asian tiger economies were decimated by unconstrained speculative capital flows), the vast swaths of the Rust Belt’s industrial heartlands created by outsourcing to China’s export juggernaut, the concomitant rise in economic inequality and decline in quality of life in industrialized societies and, of course, the 2008 global financial crisis. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz described many of these pathologies in his book Globalization and Its Discontents, as did economist Barry Eichengreen, who lamented that “the nation state has fundamentally lost control of its destiny, surrendering to anonymous global forces.” Both noted that globalization was severing a working social contract between national governments and their citizens that had previously delivered rising prosperity for all.

Those who would argue that the inexorable march of globalization cannot be reversed should consider the parallel during the early 20th century. Globalized economic activity and free trade were dominant before the onset of World War I; in 1914, trade as a proportion of global GDP stood at 14 percent. Needless to say, two world wars, and the Great Depression (which brought us the Smoot-Hawley tariffs), reversed this trend. The Cold War sustained regionalization and bifurcated trading blocs. Its end, and China’s accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO), ushered in a new high-water mark in globalized trade.

But while it is true that viruses do not respect national boundaries, nothing has blown apart the pretensions of this New World Order as dramatically as the coronavirus, a pandemic now assuming global import, as international supply chains are severed, and global economic activity is brought to a screeching halt. We are increasingly seeing the hollow political content at the core of supranational entities such as the EU, structured more to comfort merged investor groups than strengthen public health systems.

Speaking of Europe, while the coronavirus started in China, its most long-lasting impact might be in the EU, as it has dramatically exposed the shortcomings of the latter’s institutional structures. Take Italy as the most vivid illustration: The spread of COVID-19 has been particularly acute there. Being a user of the euro (as opposed to an issuer of the currency) the Italian national government risks exposing itself to potential national bankruptcy (and the vicissitudes of the volatile private capital markets) if it responds with a robust fiscal response, absent the institutional support of Brussels and the European Central Bank (which is the sole issuer of the euro). According to MarketWatch, “Italy needs a €500 to €700 billion ($572 billion to $801 billion) precautionary bailout package to help reassure financial markets that the Italian government and banks can meet their debt payment obligations as [the] country’s economic and financial crisis becomes more fearsome.”

The tragic case of Italy (where the entire country is now in full quarantined lockdown) provides a particularly poignant example of the gaping lacunae at the heart of the eurozone. There is no supranational fiscal authority, so the Italian government has been largely left to fend for itself, as it is trying to do now, for example, providing income relief by suspending payments on mortgages across the entire country. Here is a perfect example of where European Central Bank support for the Italian banking system would go a long way toward mitigating any resultant financial contagion. But so far, as Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times has noted, the ECB remains in “monitoring” mode. Indeed, the eurozone as a whole lacks the institutional mechanisms to mobilize on a massive, coordinated scale, in contrast to the U.S. and UK, and eurozone finance ministers remain incapable of agreeing on a coordinated policy response.

Other eurozone countries may no longer be complacent about the threat posed by COVID-19, but their national governments are more focused on the need to stockpile their own national resources to protect their populations. Italy remains particularly vulnerable to the ravages of this virus, as it has an aging population, so if coronavirus runs rampant through the country, it could potentially crash the nation’s entire hospital system, as this account by an Italian doctor suggests.

EU solidarity, showing cracks on issues ranging from finance to immigration, increasingly resembles every country for itself.

Defenders of the EU may well retort that health care is designated as a “national competency” under the Treaty of Maastricht. But how does one expect national competencies to be carried out competently in an economic grouping devoid of national currencies (the key variable as far as supporting unconstrained fiscal capacity goes)? Additionally, the evil of decades of Brussels-imposed austerity has meant there aren’t enough hospital beds, materials and staff anywhere in Europe, let alone Italy. This might well represent the death knell for a European project based on aspirations for an “ever closer union.”

In spite of the manifest incompetence of the Trump administration, the U.S. at least has institutional mechanisms in place via the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide Americans with clear, credible instructions devoid of political spin. As Professor James Galbraith has persuasively argued, the U.S. government has the capacity to “establish a Health Finance Corporation on the model of the Depression-era Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Like the RFC, which built munitions factories and hospitals during and after World War II, the HFC should have broad powers to create public corporations, lend to private companies (to fund necessary production), and cover other emergency costs. Even more quickly, the National Guard can be deployed to deal with critical supply issues and to establish emergency facilities such as field hospitals and quarantine centers.” Likewise, Senator Marco Rubio has “sought to expand what’s called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which allows the Small Business Administration to start lending money directly instead of just encouraging banks to do so,” as Matt Stoller has written. Parenthetically, this represents a marked break with historic GOP policy, which for the most part has accepted the embedded assumptions inherent in globalization.

And while traditional monetary policy tools such as interest rate cuts are hardly adequate to stem a supply shock, Galbraith also points to the ability of the Federal Reserve to offer emergency financial support to help American companies through the worst of the coronavirus outbreak, by “buy[ing] up debt issued by hospitals and other health-care providers, as well as working to stabilize credit markets, as it did in 2008-09.” Andrew Bailey of the Bank of England has made similar recommendations to the UK government.

Even with the measures proposed by Galbraith, Bailey and Rubio, virtually all Western economies, having largely succumbed to the logic of globalization, are now vulnerable, as supply chains wither. China, the apex of these offshored manufacturing supply chains, is in shutdown mode. Likewise South Korea and Italy. Worse, there appears to be a singular lack of understanding on the part of many multinational companies as to how far these supply chains go: “Peter Guarraia, who leads the global supply chain practice at Bain & Co, estimated that up to 60 per cent of executives have no knowledge of the items in their supply chain beyond the tier one group,” reports the Financial Times.

A “tier one” company supplies components directly to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that sets up a global supply chain. But as is now becoming increasingly recognized, there are secondary-tier companies, which supply components or materials to those tier-one companies. When goods are widely dispersed geographically (instead of centered in a localized industrial ecosystem), it is harder for executives to have full knowledge of all of the items in their respective companies’ supply chains, so the deficiencies of the model only become apparent by the time it is too late to rectify.

In the U.S. specifically, the mass migration of manufacturing has seriously eroded the domestic capabilities needed to turn inventions into high-end products, damaging America’s ability to retain a lead in many sectors, let alone continue to manufacture products. The country has evolved from being a nation of industrialists to a nation of financial rentiers. And now the model has exposed the U.S. to significant risk during a time of national crisis, as the coronavirus potentially represents.

There is no national redundancy built into current supply networks, with the most problematic consequences now evident in the pharmaceutical markets. Countries such as China or India are beginning to restrict core components of important generic drugs to deal with their own domestic health crisis. This has the potential to create a major crisis, given that the U.S. “depend[s] on China for 80 percent of the core components to make our generic medicines,” writes Rosemary Gibson in the American Conservative. She also notes that “generic drugs are 90 percent of the medicines Americans take. Thousands of them, sold at corner drug stores, grocery store pharmacies, and big box stores, contain ingredients made in China.” Constraints on production, therefore, intensify as more and more of the manufacturing process pertaining to the drugs themselves is geographically globalized. And in regard specifically to research-intensive industries, such as pharmaceuticals or biotech, the value of closely integrating the R&D with manufacturing is extremely high, and the risks of separating them are enormous.

These are by no means new problems. We’ve been dealing with supply-side shocks emanating from hyper-globalization for decades, and the response of Western policymakers has largely been in the form of fiscal or monetary palliatives that seldom address the underlying structural challenges raised by these shortages. To the contrary: democratic caveats to globalization have been characterized as inefficient frictions that hinder consumer choice.

For now, we should start by reducing our supply chain vulnerabilities by building into our systems more of what engineers call redundancy—different ways of doing the same things—so as to mitigate undue reliance on foreign suppliers for strategically important industries. We need to mobilize national resources in a manner akin to the way a country does during wartime or during massive economic dislocation (such as the Great Depression)—comprehensive government-led actions (which runs in the face of much of today’s prevailing and increasingly outdated economic and political theology). In other words, the revival of a coherent national industrial policy.

To save the global economy, paradoxically, we need less of it. Not only does the private/public sector balance have to shift in favor of the latter, but so too does the multinational/national matrix in manufacturing. Otherwise, the coronavirus will simply represent yet another in a chain of catastrophes for global capitalism, rather than an opportunity to rethink our entire model of economic development.

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

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Biden’s Victory: A Blessing in Disguise?

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson – CC BY 2.0

It has been years since I last saw the great Alain Resnais film “La Guerre Est Finie” (The War Is Over, 1966), starring Yves Montand and Ingrid Thulin, in which, decades after the anti-fascists lost, a Communist veteran of the Spanish Civil War, still fighting the good fight, confronts the moral and political ambiguities of his situation. In that film, if I recall correctly, there is a saying attributed to Lenin, that I have never been able to track down, but which has stuck in my mind ever since: that patience and irony are the virtues of a Bolshevik.

For Plato, the virtue of a thing is that which makes it work well; thus, sharpness is the virtue of a knife. This is how Lenin or whomever, perhaps only the movies’ writers, understood that term.

As the sector of the ruling class that abhors Donald Trump but is nevertheless hellbent on holding onto its power, struck back against insurgent (small-d) democrats these past two weeks, catapulting hapless Joe Biden to front-runner status in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, the Bernie Sanders’ campaign, intent on seizing some of that power in order to lay the foundations for a better possible world, withstood a serious, probably fatal, blow. It is now hanging on by the skin of its teeth.

Biden is a relic of his wretched party’s inglorious, Clintonite past.

Notwithstanding his many capitulations over the years to the Democratic Party’s mainstream, Sanders is the most progressive, not entirely marginalized, American politician in living memory.

This sad and deplorable turn of events has caused me to reflect on how that possibly apocryphal remark of Lenin’s would apply not only to Bolsheviks, but also, in the right circumstances, to even the most anodyne “democratic socialists.”

Indeed, anyone who would challenge the status quo from the Left, no matter how kindly and gently, had better be able to navigate situations where patience is called for and in which ironies abound. Our political and economic elites don’t give in easily.

It is now clear that, even if Sanders stays in the race to the bitter end and stops pulling his punches, as he is inclined to do; and even if he wipes the floor with Biden in debate after debate, as he surely could do, he is not going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee. Those who feel threatened by the insurgency his campaign has sparked will make sure of that.

They – the party’s leaders, its “backbenchers,” and, above all, its major donors — are, after all, still calling the shots. For them, Sanders is good for keeping insurgent Democrats on board; beyond that, he is poison.

Had Sanders beaten down the “moderate” horde electorally, as he seemed to be on the way to doing two weeks ago, he might have been able to prevail anyway. But they beat him, and so, barring a miracle of deus ex machina proportions, this will not come to pass.

Jim Clyburn, the dean of African American machine politicians in retrograde Southern states, somehow managed to do for defenders of the existing power structure within the Democratic Party and in American society generally what Donald Trump did for racists, nativists, and Islamophobes. He liberated their authentic, deplorable selves.

AOC, organizer extraordinaire, counsels listening to, not blaming, the people that progressives are trying to bring on board. She has a point. But so does anyone who would point out how much better it would be if more of those people still had the sense they were born with.

Apparently, there are alarmingly many people born within the past twenty or thirty years – so-called millennials and GenZers – who fit that description. They couldn’t agree with Bernie more, but couldn’t be bothered to come out to vote.

And then there are the African Americans, not all of them geezers, for whom Biden, despite all he has done to harm black male youth, impede the rise of a black middle class, and put Social Security and other entitlement programs, including those involved with health care, in jeopardy, is comfort food.

Suburban ladies who would be Republicans if only Trump were a tad less embarrassing, but who think that Biden is just what the doctor ordered, deserve condemnation as well. If AOC and other organizers want to listen respectfully to their concerns, then more power to them. I would rather deride them; they deserve it amply.

Corporate media deserve condemnation most of all. They have been working assiduously against the Sanders insurgency from Day One, and their efforts have paid off.

Thanks to them all, the unjustified and unjustifiable false belief that the way to defeat Trump is to nominate a candidate whose politics made Trump and Trumpism all but inevitable has come to be regarded as gospel truth.

Even within the Sanders camp, many people seem to believe this nonsense; their argument is just that Bernie’s way is good enough too for sending Trump and his minions packing.

Arguably, weariness accounts for Biden’s sudden rise even more than the deplorability of Democrats. After more than three years of Trump-induced, mind-befuddling drama, people just want it to be over. Who could blame them?

But, of course, a Biden victory over Trump won’t bring peace of mind; it probably wouldn’t even lead to the kind of braindead “normalcy” that so many people who agree with Sanders on “the issues,” but then don’t come out to vote in anything like the numbers necessary to put him in office, seem to crave.

What is essentially a class war waged within the bowels of the Democratic Party will go on; the only question is what direction it will take.

For it to take one not mired in a sense of futility and despair, patience and irony are indeed indispensable.

With enough of those virtues on display, Biden’s victory need not be quite the disaster it feels like now; it could even be a blessing in disguise.

Had hardcore Democrats done better at keeping their deplorability under control, Sanders would become their nominee, and would then go on to defeat Trump in November even more handily than Democrats will defeat Trump with Biden for a standard-bearer.

But the difference hardly matters; Trump will defeat himself.

This was all but certain long before the covid-19 was on peoples’ minds. Now that it is, and now that Trump is flubbing the rapidly accelerating crisis that virus has brought on, spectacularly and in full public view, it is more certain than ever that Trump will lose.

It is becoming increasingly certain too that the house of cards economic “strength” he still boasts of is on the brink of falling down hard, partly on this account. This is yet another reason why Trump is toast.

That he is his own worst, and sometimes his only genuinely effective, enemy has been clear from Day One. This is why, even were it not so fundamentally wrong-headed, the Biden-is-more-electable argument, would be irrelevant.

Trump has already garnered all the supporters he has any chance of acquiring, and they will either stand by their man or not. Their numbers can only get smaller.

Therefore, no matter how inept Democrats are, even if they fall back to Hillary Clinton levels of ineptitude, the writing is on the wall: Trump is heading for a bad November indeed.

Thus, the question Democratic primary and caucus voters ought to be asking is not which candidate would do better against that loser, but which one they trust more to handle what may well come to pass if he decides not to turn power over peacefully or if he calls upon his supporters to rise up against the election winner.

These might seem like concern only paranoids would worry about, but is there anybody who doubts that Trump has it in him? He has already defied nearly every norm that has made the United States as estimable as it used to be, and largely still is. Why would he not go all the way?


It was reasonable to think that Democrats would be reasonable enough to choose Sanders over Biden, the best of the candidates running over the very worst. But then, with the Democratic Party as it is and as it will be in the immediate future, how reasonable was it to think that Sanders could then get much of anywhere laying down the foundations for a better possible world?

The short answer is: not very reasonable at all. The problem is not just that GOP legislators would block him at every turn. It is that Democratic legislators would too.

They would oppose Sanders in much the way that their counterparts opposed George McGovern forty-eight years ago. Back then, they started from even before the moment he was nominated. It is no different now.

It would be different, though, if instead of trying to forge ahead with a comparatively isolated leader at the top, there was a large and growing Left Opposition, working inside the Democratic Party, that its leaders thought needed to be placated, even if only for the sake of party unity.

With any Democrat, even Biden, in the White House, some measure of government competence would surely be restored; this would be an enormous gain. It is far from clear, though, that any Democratic president could do much more.

Sanders and Biden could not be more different but, in the circumstances that now obtain, it is far from clear that what they would be able to accomplish would differ all that much.

Even were there to be many more progressive House members after the 2020 election than there are now, and even were Democrats to take control the Senate, fundamental change would be as elusive as ever, even with Sanders in the White House.

The Senate especially would be a problem, partly because the average Democratic Senator makes even Biden look good, and also because that institution is, by design, exceptionally difficult to change, except in minor ways.

Thus, for now and the foreseeable future, Democratic Senators are more likely than not to stand in the way of fundamental, salutary changes than to support them.

But with a strong and principled Left Opposition threatening party unity, many of even the most retrograde Democratic Senators might find themselves effectively compelled to do the right thing.

Recovering some semblance of the party’s pre-Trumpian past is eminently doable, and so too, in the right circumstances, are bolder, more audacious, and urgently needed policy changes of the kind that Sanders and Elizabeth Warren put forward. It all depends on how well (small-d) democratic insurgents, operating within the Democratic fold, are able to leverage their power.

A revolution, even the saccharine kind Sanders talks about, would be better. It would be better too to let the mainstream Democratic Party wallow in its own wretchedness and inanity, while walking away from it and forming a genuine party of the Left.

However, the level of political radicalization that a revolution of any sort would require does not presently exist in the United States, and our deeply entrenched duopoly party system makes it all but impossible to create a Left party that is not thoroughly marginalized.

This could be accomplished more easily in a parliamentary system, especially one that allowed for proportional representation, but not in a system like ours.

Therefore, the best we can do now is what radical students in the early seventies in Germany and elsewhere, speaking in a Maoist idiom popular at the time, called “a long march through the institutions.”

It is profoundly regrettable that Biden will, in all likelihood, be the Democratic nominee. At the same time, though, it must be acknowledged that this is not an altogether bad thing.

Sparked by the corona virus and the self-serving sugar high economic measures Trump and his kakistocratic minions have imposed, it looks like the long delayed global recession is finally upon us.

Recessions are unavoidable in capitalist economies; the question was never whether, but when.

But this one is likely to be a doozy, especially with Trump having eliminated or neutered most ways of mitigating the effects of severe economic downturns.

A recession would make it more difficult than it would otherwise be for Sanders to implement many of the changes he talks about and that his supporters desperately want. Also, it would likely diminish whatever political capital he would have, were he to have become president.

Better, therefore, to let Biden take the blame. This would leave the Left undamaged in public opinion, and free to criticize the administration’s false moves and foibles.

There is also the mortality and morbidity question.

Sanders would assume office about a half year shy of his eightieth birthday; Biden is younger by about a year.

Sanders plainly has all his marbles and then some. But how will he be in four or eight years’ time? Inasmuch as our institutions, the Senate especially, are effectively engineered to impede change, he would need even more time than that to get his policy proposals fully up and running, much less carried through to anything like completion.

It would be the same with Biden, of course, but the valences are entirely different. So are the starting-points. Mentally, Sanders might as well be just now reaching his prime; Biden, never having been on a particularly high plateau, already seems well on his way to Reagan-like senility.

In both cases, though for different reasons, the choice of a running mate therefore matters a good deal more than it usually does.

Here, it is a wash. Sanders would surely find someone politically compatible but younger, and also female and “of color” or both. Biden would have to do so too, not out so much from immediate inclination as out of political necessity. Were he to choose someone as retrograde as he, the millions of otherwise unenthused Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters would sit this one out.

How ironic it would be if, by electing a doddering doofus septuagenarian white guy intent on reinstalling the old regime, we end up with a progressive in the White House or, even more likely, a woman, or both.

Another reason why Biden’s victory is not as awful a prospect as might appear has to do with those “darker angels of our nature” that Trump released and set in motion.

These would of course include anti-Semites who would be unlikely to take kindly to a Jewish socialist with a Brooklyn accent. If nothing else, at least a Biden victory would not rattle their cages in quite the way that a Sanders victory would, sparing us from the spectacle we saw in Charlottesville, of “good people,” in Trump’s view, chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

And, although Biden’s Zionism is beyond dispute, and his affinities with rightwing nationalists all over the world – very evident while Bill Clinton was doing his best to dismember Yugoslavia – are profound, we will also probably be spared the kind of nonsense leveled against critics of Israel and of the Zionist movement that rightwing Laborites in the UK, the counterparts of our “moderates,” invoked to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Left. Were Sanders the nominee, we would be hearing a lot of drivel about how anti-Zionists are anti-Semites or self-hating Jews; at least with Biden, we will be spared.

Finally, were Sanders the nominee, he would probably find it expedient to refrain more than he has been doing lately from speaking out about the injustices visited upon the Palestinian people by the state of Israel and about the positive achievements of the Cuban Revolution. He has said nothing that is not obviously true, but that sort of talk is poison in Florida retirement communities, and Florida is a swing state.

Were Sanders to go mum, it would be a loss. Expanding public discourse in the United States has been among his signal achievements over the years. More than anyone else, he helped make socialism – the word and, in some ways too, the idea – politically acceptable, to an extent that had been unthinkable in American politics for nearly a century. To the extent that he keeps on doing more of that, with regard to Israel-Palestine and Cuba especially, his legacy will be mightily enhanced.

There is no denying that Biden’s victory over Sanders is a bitter defeat. It would be fair to say too, however, that much good could come from it; that it is, or could also become, a blessing in disguise.

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A Machine to Beat President Trump

Democratic National Committee Secretary Alice Travis Germond opens the roll call of the states during the third day of the 2008 convention. Photograph Source: Qqqqqq – CC BY-SA 3.0

As different as night from day yet there’s one way that Bernie Sanders and President Trump are alike, and Joe Biden is different from both.

President Trump runs a one man show with a supporting cast. As we know from very recent history of this presidency, this liege cast either pays homage to President Trump or they are gone. They reveal their fealty in expressions such as “In the President’s vision,” as if a man without vocabulary could reveal a vision.

In short, President Trump fills the important positions of running government with those who mirror his hunches and gut feelings, his self-professed instinct for everything, including medical science and American mass psychology.

This autocratic buffoonery is a “whatever” matter if you are one of those who believe President Trump’s own assessment that he is a very stable genius and also believe that if he fucks with the governmental order, it’s about time because government, as Reagan said, is the problem

Now, Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is not a high-ranking member of The Order of Narcissism as is President Trump, but he has been for a long time a voice crying in the wilderness against our conversion of democracy to plutarchy, and now with President Trump, to a budding, vile autocracy. The isolation emerges from a fearless disregard for conditions “he finds close at hand,” namely, Americans have a two-fold relationship with the word “socialism.” They don’t understand it and they fear it. Bernie has also been isolated within the Democratic Party ideologically: economics and not identity politics being his huckleberry.

Results of this isolation both in the Democratic Party and in the American mass psyche? Not a large ready-to-go supporting cast. For instance, we know that if Joe Biden is nominated, who the field of VP’s might be. With Bernie Sanders? No idea. Someone else who tags himself or herself as a Social Democrat or a Democratic Socialist or just plain Socialist? Not much chance of beating back the President Trump blitz if the Democrats launch both Socialist prez and VP candidates.

It’s a three-pipe problem to see what kind of Camelot, to use the analogy made to JFK’s administration, with which Bernie Sanders would surround himself. Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren would be one clearly coming to mind for both a Sanders and a Biden administration. “The Wall Street Regulator.”

There’s certainly no Bernie Sanders machine in the wings, like the old pol bosses ran in Tammany Hall, no Leninist CPSU. What Democratic Party members are left with now is the weak power of their party organization and the Babel of strident voices on social media. (Of course, the Republican Party after Trump seems unlikely to disconnect itself from Trump.) The DNC was not a fan of Bernie Sanders’s in 2016 and they are not a fan now. Bernie Sanders does not have the kind of socialist talent available in his own party ready to go at Day One.

But they are certainly available at large and if a President Sanders were to create such an administration, including Treasury and Labor, this would be something the country hasn’t seen since FDR. If presidential candidate Sanders had made this eventuality clearer, he might have avoided the bad press surrounding his “socialist” tag.

He’s not a Democrat, as that Party is now constituted. Because we have no party that will declare itself opposed to the economic system now in sway, Bernie Sanders is an outlander. AOC and others — also not Democrats as the Hillary/Joe Biden/Bloomberg/Pelosi Democrats define the party — may, as a result of this Democratic Primary, which will surely end with Joe Biden as the nominee, expand their dissidence within the Party.

Surely, also, will be a Party takeover of that dissidence, formalizing it as mainstream, if President Trump batters and upends our democracy for another four years. There will be no middle ground or mediation politics when the Trump Leviathan tortures and ransacks for another four years the country in ways so transparently clear that even Mitch McConnell will join the revolutionary ranks.

There’s more than one improbability and one certain impossibility in the last sentence.

Right now, however, what sort of government Bernie Sanders would form and who would be heading all important posts is about as clear in the American imaginary as is his use of the signifier “socialist.”

Not so with Joe Biden.

President Trump tweeted that if Joe Biden is elected, he’s “just going to be sitting in a home someplace and people are going to be running it for him.” May it be so, Mr. President, except the home will be the White House and the people running things will be pulled into service out of the former administrations of both Obama and Clinton, as well as those who, like Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Yang, Harris, Booker, have yet to serve a president. However, depressing the re-emergence of this machine may be to the Bernie Bros, the re-election of Donald J. Trump would put them way beyond depression.

Bernie Sanders has not that candidate pool to draw from because his ideological purity cannot accept the position tempering a revolt from our winner take all capitalism. Capitulation and triage have been the Democratic position, one that has placed a fight for justice for all marginal lives as a centerpiece of a party that under FDR defined itself as a party of wage earners, of unions, of a bold fight in the battle of labor and capital.

Any denomination of socialist is in a fight is to create a level of economic equality that would quite naturally create a level of political equality sufficient to empower all differences and thus defeat the pernicious differences of obscene wealth divide. This priority of economics has not been the priority of the Democratic Party for decades.

Neither given the severity of our wealth divide is it rational to advocate a socialist strategy that leans into capital or triangulates or accepts a middle path when the victory of capital is a victory usurping labor totally. There’s a ground that Sanders stands on which unfortunately yet remains unclear: it is axiomatic in an unchained capitalism to accept no abridgement of profits unless forced to do so by Federal Government degree, by the functions of an uncorrupted Constitutionally designed system of checks and balances.

Bernie Sanders’s, integrity, his purity of purpose, and the certainty by which he holds his diagnosis of what ails this country, would make it difficult for him to accept a politics of the possible, a politics of compromise, which would be absolutely necessary given the present conditions on the ground, so to speak, in the U.S.

The dilemma then is this: plutocratic conditions undermining any hope of egalitarian democracy withstood by conditions defining any redress of this travesty as “radical Leftist,” “socialist,” and, most tellingly, tried and failed with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Because surrounding conditions are thus so very far from transparent determination, Bernie Sanders is both blind to and observant of the words of a man who captured the spirit of the 1848 revolutions in Europe:

“Man makes his own history, but he does not make it out of the whole cloth; he does not make it out of conditions chosen by himself, but out of such as he finds close at hand.”

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

In the presidency, Bernie Sanders may inevitably be forced to be President Trump-like in forming a body of supporters that support his purity of purpose and eject those who don’t. Just as the devoted Trumpians have faith that President Trump is that stable genius who can force the world into his own mirror image, Bernie Sanders Bros may follow Bernie Sanders in that same path of allegiance.

There is no democratic order in either situation.

After Joe Biden goes through the President Trump and Twitterati gauntlet and reaches, perhaps, victory, we can be assured that he will not be convinced of his own stable genius but rather he will be humbled, not crushed, because Joe Biden has already been through so much crushing stuff, but rather left open to the wisdom of those who have the wisdom to select the many who will perform the wisdom we need to stage a comeback from the ruins of Donald J. President Trump.

That see sawing sentence has as much idealistic conviction and fervor as Bernie Sanders transmits at every rally, at every debate, at every interview. There are no bounds in his view as to how much agitation suffices to achieve his revolutionary goals. How energetically do we respond to a house on fire? A planet? And how radical does such a response seem to those who see no fire, who see no threat except in the Agitators?

This unevenly divided American reality that we are in has settled into two realities, each inconceivable to the other, the top 20% only able to see what Bernie Sanders represents as a threat. Too great a percentage of the remaining majority accept that verdict, though the real threats of global warming, an expanding precariat and now a virus pandemic seem sure to globalize in ways that capital never has.


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“Now, Voyager” in Reverse

The untold want,
by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, Voyager,
sail thou forth to seek and find.

– Walt Whitman.

Recent events in the 2020 democrat campaigns for president have led my mind back to memories of the film “Now, Voyager” from 1942. The film is about an “ugly duckling”s transformation and personal liberation from an oppressive, patriarchy-enforcing, matriarch who only thinks in terms of consolidating greater power over others. While the film has a number of now sentimental, dated and, at times laughable, social manners (the focus on cigarette usage especially), its main message of personal evolution from self-loathing through caring and integrity into responsible behavior is what makes it cogent to current events.

In the film, Bette Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a very wealthy “spinster” who is having a nervous breakdown as a result of living under the tyranny of her socially powerful, bitter, manipulative, elderly mother. The film is set within what might be called an example of Wealthy (or White) Anglo-Saxon Protestant – WASP – domination of society in Boston and it is a presentation of how the richest (and thereby most powerful) people must connect with and use their privileges for those who are most vulnerable in order for everyone to become more humane. The key component presented in the story is the message that our achieving a state of beautiful humane-ness primarily rests upon our evolving into a self-effacing concern for the wellbeing of others as a necessary social responsibility. It is a message of proportional social responsibility which borders on an endorsement of socialism.

The cruelties of WASP domination of the so-called United States of America can be traced throughout its history. It was the great efforts for civil rights from the middle of the last century which were the most recent significant attempts at repudiating the domination of private, self-serving money and power in what is called the USA. Since that time, there has been an implementation of an even more socially debilitating, cynical, and delusional belief that liberation from WASP-like oppressiveness is best achieved through making its greed and lust for domination more widespread – as if these perversities will be the greatest expression of an assumed righteousness. Instead of the desire for greater egalitarian growth, the faking USA has become a more dictatorial and debasing display of monetary lust and privatized consolidation of power. This delusional WASP-like propriety is now like a virus which is infecting humanity across all borders – physical, mental, spiritual – around the planet.

The stimulus for my memory of Now, Voyager came the other day when, in response to Elizabeth Warren’s cancellation of her presidential bid, the president of the National Organization for Women – NOW – released a statement which misrepresented history and promoted a lie in a blatant effort to stop the Sanders campaign.

The president of NOW, Toni Van Pelt, was so desperate to push Elizabeth Warren away from possibly endorsing Bernie Sanders that she deliberately limited the focus to the fact that Joe Biden had led an effort which included the approval of the Violence Against Women Act – VAWA – which was meant to reduce domestic violence. This was true, but this focus was used to ignore a huge amount of contravening evidence that Biden has a lousy record in regard to the rights of women, especially poor women. Then, Van Pelt, it seems, could not resist using a lie to try to sabotage the Sanders campaign when she falsely stated that, “Sanders doesn’t have a record” and that he has, “done next to nothing for women and for our issues.”

What Van Pelt has done is unleash an attack on someone who does indeed “have a record” and it is a record which includes an abundance of attempts to support and protect the rights of women which is far better than the often detrimental, racist, right-wing schemes which are almost a hallmark of Joe Biden’s fakery. NOW has clearly jumped in the same capitalist, macho-rewarding bed as Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris ….

Consider these facts.

The VAWA was included within a Joe Biden sponsored bill called the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994” as a means of making this bill – which emphasized greater intolerance and greater police force against crimes which were more often associated with racial minorities and which helped increase the quantities of those minorities in prisons – look more appealing to help insure its passage. The VAWA has been cited as the main reason Bernie Sanders went along with the bill – which he otherwise saw as too right-wing.

Until last year, Biden had supported the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. Sanders has consistently opposed this ban because it is meant to restrict the power of women to make decisions regarding their own health.

Biden’s efforts to increase prisons and numbers of racial minorities in prison was then compounded by his support for reducing access to education for prisoners in his support for the perversely titled “Antiterrorism and EFFECTIVE Death Penalty Act” (emphasis added) of 1996. These actions were/are as harmful to women as they were/are to men and they followed the pattern of Reagan era love for incarceration which primarily affected increased numbers of people with darker skin color.

As a senator, Joe Biden successfully sought to restrict the voices of women who tried to tell their stories about interactions with Clarence Thomas and he thus succeeded in helping put Scalia’s patriarchal pet/partner on the so-called Supreme Court.

While Sanders worked for greater integration, Biden worked against busing as a means of desegregating schools for girls and boys.

However, by far the worst example of Biden’s disinterest in the wellbeing of women can be found in his smug, lie-based support for the war against Iraq. It clearly did not matter to Biden how many hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children would be slaughtered, maimed, and left homeless when he proudly helped unleash the horrors of war upon them. He has repeatedly and impatiently insisted that war is a necessity and he has shown little regard for how it overwhelmingly affects women negatively.

There are other examples which can be found which clearly show that Bernie Sanders has a much, much better record of supporting women’s rights and trying to improve their lives.

I am not a Sanders believer (because he is a democrat who uses words as if they have meaning to most democrats and republicans), but when compared to either Biden or Trump, the man is very appealing because he has more often allied himself with necessary changes in priorities.

After Betty Friedan wrote “the Feminine Mystique” she said that she saw a guy carrying a sign which said, “The first step in revolution is consciousness” and this helped her and her colleagues commit to take their consciousness and implement it revolutionarily as NOW. What, to me, is the only way I can make sense of the recent betrayal of that revolution (the stab at the consistent ally, Sanders) by Van Pelt is to see this as a neoliberal (right-wing) reversal of the story seen in the film “Now, Voyager.” As with the democrats as a party, it seems that the privatizing propertied priorities of the WASP establishment have become the religion of what are clearly now the establishment feminists.

For me, the best part of the film “Now, Voyager” comes when Charlotte responds to the man she loves (but can’t marry) when he tells her she should find some man to make her happy. In utter disbelief, she says, “Some man!” because she can’t comprehend how he could have thought she could be so untrue to herself and him. This then leads her to unleash her heartfelt anger because she needs him to be with her spiritually – more than physically.

The betrayal of women performed by Van Pelt is like a reversal of the story in Now, Voyager. Van Pelt seems to want the goals exemplified by the WASP mother in the film and she is willing to settle for a social-dominating status quo which turns a blind eye and a deaf ear toward the truth of the growing bipartisanly implemented, corporately biased injustices – of which she and NOW seems a willing partner.

These oppressive, entrenched, patriarchal priorities are now shared by a range of non-protestant identities. Feminists, Catholics, Blacks, Jews, Muslims, …, the list goes on and on, a WASP-like smugness and deviousness is being promoted by enormous numbers of desperately misguided power-hungry liberals. They are stupidly supporting the traps we are expected to think they oppose.

The organization known as NOW seems to have become NOWW – The National Organization for WASP-like Women – and that is a great shame.

The primal corporatistic drive of economics-power-focused-identity politics is reducing the civil rights of humanity and the quality of the environment to the same level as the bombed-out craters in Iraq which the neo-liberals would vainly have us ignore.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has lingered nearby the bed full of militarizing corporatists, seemingly unable to see how all of her campaign rhetoric becomes cheaper and cheaper the longer she lingers there. Her decision is between having integrity or undressing for the same, old, privatizing WASP-like, power which has more in common with Trump than with the words she used in her campaign.

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Can Biden Beat Trump?

This is the seventh of a periodic series on the primaries and caucuses. The other pieces can be found here.

Campaign 2020: A Trump Rally. Photo by Matthew Stevenson.

For the Democrats to lose in 2020 to President Donald Trump, they would have to be brain dead, and much evidence suggests that they are.

For this brief shining moment, Joe Biden is on his roll, winning primary states by large margins (even where he had no offices on the ground) and flooded with endorsements from Democratic stalwarts (hoping to become the vice-presidential candidate?) who have finally seen the light of Joe’s electoral brilliance.

The Biden camp has even had the hope that Senator Bernie Sanders would quit the race prior to Sunday night’s debate and spare the Democratic crown prince the indignity of a two-hour primetime face-off (not the best place to hide your candidate if you’re a Biden handler).

Now I am sure Joe’s aides will plead viral concerns to cancel what little chance Sanders might have to pull even with the former vice-president. Biden can rest assured that the fix against Sanders remains in, and that he will emerge from the Democratic primaries as the party’s nominee. But does he have a chance of winning the election in the fall?


Were Biden running in a normal year, I don’t think he would get anywhere against an incumbent president during a period of low unemployment and economic growth.

In a general election over many months, Biden would be shown for what he is—a party hack (well past his sell-by date) who in a career of stunning, compromised mediocrity has carried the bag for credit card companies, the trashers of Anita Hill, big oil, Strom Thurmond, the right-to-life crowd, profitable prisons, and the Iraq war (to list just a few of his paymasters).

Six months before the election, and Biden is already being handled as damaged electoral goods.

His staff knows not to schedule events in the afternoons (when he is probably, to use Dave Barry’s phrase about Reagan, “napping toward glory”). When they do release Joe to the public, it is with a prayer that he doesn’t drop too many f-bombs on those at his rallies. But that was pre-pandemic.

With the arrival of the coronavirus (yet more foreign interference in the innocent lives of the American electorate), two things have happened, both of which favor Biden.

One is that, on behalf of committee’s for public safely, Joe’s handlers can hide him in studio blue rooms and spin fairy tales about the scrappy lad from Scranton who became President Barack Obama’s point man on the great issues.

Second, with the virus extending its reach in the U.S., Donald Trump may have met his Waterloo. More and more he is looking like another pathetic figure on trial, pushing a walker into a courtroom of public opinion.

Before long, I suspect, Trump will become the presidential boy in the bubble, stashed away in some mountainside retreat, enshrouded in plastic with breathing and feed tubes, maintaining his tenuous connection to reality through Twitter and a few aides brave enough to meet the press.

George W. Bush on 9/11, hidden away at his underground bunker in Omaha, will look like Washington crossing the Delaware compared to Trump under siege, finally facing an opponent that his lawyers cannot buy off with hush money or that Senator Mitch McConnell cannot silence with congressional sleights of hand.


So what happens in a presidential race that features two incompetent men in their seventies, both of whom show signs of intellectual impairment and physical failings at a time when the country needs political and moral leadership?

Let’s start with the general election hopes of the Republicans, who have been whistling past many Trump graveyards—the president’s obstructions of justice, influence peddling around his hotels, Weinstein-ish treatment of women, and obsequious compromises with Saudi and Russian strongmen, among others.

As long as Trump could fill up his MAGA rallies with the party faithful and send money down the Republican food chain to Senate and House candidates, the president was safe from censure, as witnessed by his post-impeachment high fives to that White House gathering of his footmen.

I suspect that even in decline, the president’s hold on the Republican Party is sufficient to fend off a “dump Trump” movement at the national convention, but the prospect of losing the majority in the Senate is what could finally touch off a revolt in the ranks.

Nor will his media guys love it when Trump’s “what we call the flu…” quotes come back in thirty-second Biden ads. (Cut to Trump at the CDC saying: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president…” Cut to passengers being carried off cruise ships. “I’m Joe Biden, and I approve this message…”)

The coronavirus comes with two strains: the worldwide economic crisis, and the illness that comes with unwashed hands. Of the two, as a risk to Trump in the general election, economic decline outweighs pandemic pneumonia.

Never stand between an electorate and its investment portfolios, and on this point Stock-Jobber-in-Chief Trump, who has made the Dow Jones the pulse of his administration, is vulnerable.

For the Democrats’ election map a recession is manna from heaven.

Even before the stock market shocks and more medical incompetence (how did that National Guard unit do against those viral particles in New Rochelle?), the Democrats were ahead in such swing states as Maine and Arizona, and could well be competitive in Colorado and North Carolina, which, if they fell to the Democrats in the Senate (even with Doug Jones losing in Alabama), would put an end (the Senate would be 50-50) to Mitch McConnell’s reign of terror.

In 2008, the Great Recession doomed the electoral chances of John McCain, who was running on a ticket of Republican Continuum. If Trump is running against the same economic headwinds in 2020, there’s little that all the hotelier’s men can do to save him, unless of course the opposition is Joe Biden.


The Trump campaign’s only hope is that Biden turns out to be the gift candidate who keeps on giving.

The point about the Biden candidacy is that he shares many of the same vulnerabilities with Trump.

If you’re a Trump spin master worried about some aspects of your candidate, here’s a checklist to brighten your day:

—Feeling vulnerable about your man’s past treatment of women, especially as Harvey is being sent up the river for 23 years? Not to worry, as back-rub Joe will have little to say about compromising positions.

—Have children who are cashing in on your time in office? Again, no problem, as Hunter Biden is the antidote for any attacks on Jared’s sketchy Middle East overlords or Don Jr.’s hunting in foreign fields.

—Wish you had not decided to run on cuts for social security? We’ve got you covered with Joe’s soundbites on future reductions to entitlements.

—Think you’re vulnerable with a candidate who is obese and lives on cheeseburgers? Here’s the opposition candidate who is 77 and once had a brain aneurism.

—Hoping to capture some of the African-American vote? Cue up Joe’s Thurmond eulogy. (“The truth and genius and virtue of Strom Thurmond is what I choose and we all choose to remember today.”)

Sometimes I get the feeling that Joe Biden has walked off a backlot from Republican central casting.

No matter which way Trump turns, Biden has been there.

It’s what made Hillary such a weak candidate. In the 2016 election, she was time barred, as they say in court, from attacking Trump on his pussy-grabbing tape—for obvious family reasons. Nor could she go after him for economic sleaze, having served herself from the same troughs.

How can Biden attack Trump for being old and out of touch, when he’s even older and more out of touch? (Yesterday on a chat show, I listened to some talking heads make the point that Trump was “sharp,” at least when compared to Biden. I guess everything is relative.)


The advantage that Biden has over Trump in 2020 is that he is, comparatively speaking, the outsider, or at least not an incumbent at a moment when the country is in crisis.

In 2016, Trump won the election by less than 80,000 votes in three swing states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—all of which he carried.

Trump’s margin came from a larger than expected turnout among his dog-whistling base, and a lower than expected turnout for Clinton among working-class whites and African-Americans, who for various reasons had other things to do on election day.

For Trump, 2016 was a perfect storm, and the chances are remote—whatever Biden’s imperfections—that in 2020 the 5-6% bloc of undecided voters will all break again for the Republican candidate while other traditional Democratic voters stay home. (I suspect the Bernie Bros will not vote for Biden.)

Even if the bloc of undecided voters were to divide evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the Democratic candidate would win the general election.

Leaving aside for the moment that Biden is a dead man campaigning, I draw the electoral map as follows:

—The Democrats should win in Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Arizona, while Trump could well take Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

—In a recession, states such as North Carolina and Florida are very much in play for the Democrats.

—Even without North Carolina, the Democrats would win.

The question then becomes: will Biden blow it for the Democrats?


In the general election Biden is vulnerable if he becomes the poster b for mental incapacity, and if the election media spots become one long highlight reel of Joe telling some gun guy he’s “full of shit.” Already it’s a nightly refrain on social media, and many of these oppo tapes come from the Left.

Before the Virus Recession, Trump planned to run against Hunter Biden and Sleepy Joe, as place holders for the brave old-world Democratic operatives alive and well in the swamp.

In Virus America, however, Hunter Biden isn’t even a sideshow; he’s a footnote in an academic journal article about U.S.-Ukrainianoy relations.

One avenue of attack open to Trump and his hate machine will be to insist that in a time of crisis (at war with a deadly virus) you don’t change the commander-in-chief, even if he would seem to spend more time under his tanning lights than in meetings with medical advisors.

In response, Biden’s handlers—claiming the virus as a public health risk—can wall the candidate off from the public and craft a series of VR videos which project Joe in the tradition of FDR, JFK, and LBJ, great liberal progressive statesmen.

It’s been done before. While suffering from incipient dementia in 1984, Ronald Reagan won reelection, and many other candidates have won the presidency by hiding their vulnerabilities during the campaign.

Since 1896, variations on William McKinley’s front porch campaign have been the norm; crowds of supporters are stage props.

As the first AI candidate (the projection of many imaginations), Biden will run from a virtual front porch.

Besides, in 2020 few will be voting for Biden or his ideas (call me when you find a few). They will just be casting a ballot against Trump or airing some other grievance. “None of the Above” would do well as the Democratic nominee. Otherwise, it’s possible to imagine an election with two losers.


As for wild cards in the coming months, I can imagine several. If anything, 2020 has proved a year difficult to forecast.

Few predicted, for example, that the party’s elders could revive Biden, given all the Do Not Resuscitate orders affixed to the body of his campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Nor did anyone see Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg folding their hands on demand (after they collectively had anted up about $1 billion) and assigning the pot to Joe Biden, who was left in the game with a pair of threes.

In this year of campaigning dangerously, I could well imagine, for example, the Democratic National Committee trying to pressure a confused Biden from the ticket.

For all I know, the DNC may believe that Joe has served their purpose, denying the nomination to Bernie Sanders and his anarcho-syndicalism, and now it’s time move on.

Maybe Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton still have pretensions to the throne? Neither has ever really gone away, and their ambition knows no bounds.

I can also imagine either Biden or Trump having some kind of medical event that would force one or both from their tickets. At this point Biden looks hesitant and confused, while Trump is starting to glow in the dark.

Only in presidential politics is it a country for old men, and from what I gather there is something in the air.

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Bill de Blasio, Climate Troll

Bike ticket sting at 59th and 1st Avenue. Two cops ticketing, I think, when folks turn right on red coming south/off the Queensboro Bridge.

Good lord, how do you schedule the spring ticket traps at the same time as you tell people to bike to work?

Those tweets, from a bicycle commuter and local journalist, respectively, are New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a nutshell. While encouraging Coronavirus-concerned commuters to cycle to work, he not only fails to carve out special lanes on streets and bridges, he also lets NYPD conduct its customary cyclist-summonsing traps as if nothing has changed.

Same goes for climate. De Blasio makes a show of divesting from and suing fossil fuel companies, winning him the allegiance of the climate vanguard. Yet throughout his mayoralty he has doggedly rejected mounting pleas to “break car culture” in the very place where his authority matters. His administration gives drivers a free pass to contribute to rising global temperatures even as their driving repeatedly puts other New Yorkers at risk.

I have a foot in both the climate camp and New York’s “livable-streets” camp. I’ve fought fossil fuel use for almost half a century and currently head a militant pro-climate non-profit. Locally, I’ve been an architect of congestion pricing, a bicycling activist and a direct-action campaigner for pedestrians’ rights. The juxtaposition of de Blasio’s climate calls-to-arms with his pro-driving policies is head-spinning.

Is it worth calling out a lame-duck mayor’s complicity in car culture? Yes. New York retains an outsize influence on urban policy and culture. Actions here to de-emphasize automobiles could reverberate globally and help shrink burgeoning transportation emissions. Moreover, de Blasio recently returned to the national stage, stumping for Bernie Sanders. Before his self-proclaimed myth as climate mayor goes national, we should scrutinize his record.

De Blasio is M.I.A. on breaking car culture

Public interest in transit and traffic in New York City blossomed over the past decade. Ideas and activism abound. De Blasio remains oblivious.

Take congestion pricing. For years the mayor deflected talk about tolling drivers entering Manhattan with ginned-up sob stories about having to pay $12 to drive to $500 doctor visits. He got on board only after his hand was forced by the governor.

Or “Fair Fares,” a progressive idea to have city government pick up half of the cost of poor families’ Metrocards. De Blasio brushed it off until City Council activists attained a veto-proof majority. When it passed, City Hall slow-rolled the implementation.

Busways? Transit buses have hemorrhaged ridership for years, largely because mounting car and truck traffic has brought them nearly to a standstill. After de Blasio agreed to let transportation officials pilot car restrictions on one crosstown route, speeds and usage shot up. Yet the mayor won’t commit to replicating it elsewhere.

The story repeats on almost every transportation front. The mayor stood by as Uber and other ride-hailing services muscled into the Manhattan taxi franchise, bankrupting thousands of cab drivers, worsening traffic and undermining mass transit. He lets free-parking pleaders delay bicycle lanes even as biking fatalities hit a 20-year high. And de Blasio’s signature “Vision Zero” traffic-safety initiative is undermined daily by his denial of NYPD’s entrenched pro-driver bias. Police issued more summonses to bicycle riders than truck drivers last year. Unsurprisingly, pedestrian fatalities, many under the wheels of trucks, are on the rise.

The twin threads running through this account are passivity and fatalism. In de Blasio’s New York, everyone is a driver and every car and truck trip is sacrosanct.

Confronting Big Oil has delivered little

The mayor’s bold words on climate haven’t yielded much. On divestment, it took city officials two years simply to select advisers “to evaluate options and recommend actions.” The city’s lawsuit seeking to hold oil and gas companies liable for climate change harms was dismissed in federal district court, for pre-emption.

But a municipal climate strategy built on attacking Big Oil has a graver defect: Neither divestment nor litigation materially alters the systems of demand and supply that generate the carbon emissions that are wrecking the climate.

To be sure, divestment campaigns and demands to hold fossil fuel companies liable are contributing mightily to movement-building and elevating climate change politically. Because of these campaigns, climate advocacy is surging, which promises big policy dividends down the road.

But it’s also true that even if fossil fuel stocks are dumped from city pension portfolios, every drop of drivers’ demand for fossil fuel will still be met at the gas pump.

From a carbon standpoint, divestment, litigation and general saber-rattling against Big Oil are essentially performative acts. Any payoff will take decades to appear. Yet de Blasio holds the reins over a multiplicity of policies that determine how much New Yorkers drive and, thus, how much gasoline they burn. He simply chooses not to wield them.

Why “breaking car culture” is anathema to de Blasio

De Blasio’s disinterest in reducing automobile use in New York City is easily explained. He lives inside a windshield world.

Questioned not long ago about possibly converting “free” parking on residential streets to metered parking, de Blasio said:

“If we’re going to tell people they can’t park on their street, no, that does not ring true to me. If you go so far as telling people they can’t park on their street, no, I’m not there.”

Yet the idea put to the mayor wasn’t to ban street parking but to charge for it — which could make parking easier for most by inducing a fraction of residents to stop storing cars on the street.

The same reflexive identification with driving underlies de Blasio’s gut-level resistance to nearly every proposal to alter the city’s streetscapes so New Yorkers can safely and easily get around without a car.

As one City Hall reporter put it, “De Blasio is a driver. He’s also a very affluent man who views himself as an average middle class guy. So he genuinely believes ‘Oh this [congestion pricing] is going to hurt lots of regular Joes’ without examining any data behind that belief.”

Yet congestion pricing alone will cut New York City’s CO2 pollution by nearly a million metric tons a year, an amount nearly triple the drop in New York’s car and truck emissions from 2005 to 2017 (which came about only because federal mileage standards made new cars less inefficient).

And those million tons are just congestion pricing’s down payment for climate. As I wrote two years ago, when the mayor was still badmouthing the idea:

Congestion charging’s true climate payoff is in the households, jobs, and activities that will locate or remain in the city, rather than fleeing to the new exurban ring or the Sunbelt, which have carbon footprints many times larger than New York’s.

Is climate posturing de Blasio’s way to avoid reckoning with NYC’s car culture?

Notably absent from the livable-streets movement are most self-described climate activists —groups like Bill McKibben’s or Food and Water Watch. This prompts the question: are plaudits from climate leaders letting the mayor deflect efforts to downscale the primacy of cars and make the streets not just safer but more sustainable?

Make no mistake: the climate vanguard’s embrace of the mayor is powerful.

“New York City today becomes a capital of the fight against climate change on this planet,” McKibben enthused at City Hall in 2018, as de Blasio pledged to sue the oil companies and divest billions from fossil fuels. “Thanks to Mayor de Blasio and his team, the city is fighting back [against Big Oil], and in ways that will actually matter.”

Later that year McKibben amped up his praise, writing in The Guardian that “the biggest climate news of the year was probably New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to divest its giant pension funds from fossil fuels and sue the big oil companies.”

And last month, McKibben posted on Twitter:

Remarkable: in his State of the City address, @NYCMayor Bill de Blasio just said NYC will never again approve new fossil fuel infrastructure. That is, the fossil fuel age is now officially in its twilight in the world’s financial and diplomatic capital. (emphasis added)

McKibben’s fellow climate warrior Naomi Klein likewise congratulated de Blasio for “changing the economics of energy [and] speeding the transition from dirty to clean.” Tellingly, neither Klein nor McKibben has rebuked the mayor for doing so little to reduce car use.

New Yorkers by the thousands are organizing to win better subways, safe bicycling and vital public spaces — both for their own sakes and because they enable a city with fewer cars. The fossil fuel infrastructure confronting us daily is a hellscape of cars and trucks.

Livable-streets advocates are counting down the 22 months left in de Blasio’s second and final term. We’re weary of his inane climate pronouncements and his cluelessness about what being a climate mayor really means. We yearn to be free of the spectacle of a mayor pontificating about Greta Thunberg while refusing to use mass transit.

But mostly we long for, and are resolved to elect, a mayor who at long last understands that breaking car culture lies at the heart of urban climate action.

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