Counterpunch Articles

The 9% Lie: Industrial Food and Climate Change

The Climate Emergency is finally getting the attention of the media and the U.S. (and world) body politic, as well as a growing number of politicians, activists and even U.S. farmers.

This great awakening has arrived just in time, given the record-breaking temperatures, violent weather, crop failures and massive waves of forced migrationthat are quickly becoming the norm. Global scientists have dropped their customary caution. They now warn us that we have to drastically reduce global emissions – by at least 45 percent – over the next decade. Otherwise, we’ll pass the point of no return – defined as reaching 450 ppm or more of CO2 in the atmosphere sometime between 2030 and 2050 – when our climate crisis will morph into a climate catastrophe. That’s when the melting polar ice and Arctic permafrost will trigger catastrophic sea rise, fueling deadly forest fires, climate chaos, crop failures, famine and the widespread disintegration of society as we know it.

Most people now understand that we must quickly move to renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar, and reduce our fossil fuel emissions as much as possible. But it’s far less widely understood that energy conservation and renewables can’t do the job alone.

Alongside the massive political and economic campaign to move to 100% (or nearly 100%) renewable energy as soon as possible, we must put an end to the massive emissions of our corporate-dominated food and farming system and start drawing down and sequestering in our soils and forests billions of tons of “legacy” CO2 from the atmosphere, utilizing the enhanced photosynthesis of regenerative farming, reforestation and land restoration.

Regenerative Agriculture” refers to farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. This results in both carbon drawdown and improved water infiltration and storage in soils. Regenerative practices include:

• Reduction/elimination of tillage and use of synthetic chemicals.

• The use of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures.

• Integrating animals with perennial and annual plants to create a biologically diverse ecosystem on the farm.

• Grazing and pasturing animals on grass, and more specifically using a planned multi-paddock rotation system.

• Raising animals in conditions that mimic their natural habitat.

If regenerative food, farming and land use – which is essentially moving to the next stage of organic farming, free-range livestock grazing and eco-system restoration – are just as essential to our survival as moving beyond fossil fuels, why aren’t more people talking about this? Why is it that moving beyond industrial agriculture, factory farms, agro-exports and highly-processed junk food to regenerating soils and forests and drawing down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to re-stabilize our climate is getting so little attention from the media, politicians and the general public?

The International Food Information Council Foundation released a poll on May 22, 2019, that found that “22 percent [of Americans] had heard of regenerative agriculture and 55 percent said they had not heard of it but were interested in learning more.”

Why don’t more people know about the incredible potential of regenerative agriculture, or more precisely regenerative food, farming and land-use practices, to fix our climate, restore the environment, improve the livelihoods of farmers and rural communities and produce more nutritious food? Why is it that the U.S. and global climate movement until recently has focused almost exclusively on reducing emissions through renewable energy?

Our collective ignorance on this crucial topic may have something to do with the fact that we never learned about these things in school, or even college, and until recently there was very little discussion of regeneration in the mass media, or even the alternative media.

But there’s another reason regeneration as a climate solution doesn’t get its due in Congress or in the media: powerful corporations in the food, farming and forestry sector, along with their indentured politicians, don’t want to admit that their current degenerate, climate-destabilizing, “profit-at-any-cost” production practices and business priorities are threatening our very survival.

And government agencies are right there, helping corporate agribusiness and Big Food bury the evidence that these industries’ energy-intensive, chemical-intensive industrial agricultural and food production practices contribute more to global warming than the fossil fuel industry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) repeatedly claim that industrial agriculture is responsible for a mere 9 percent of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. As the EPA explains, GHG “emissions from agriculture come from livestock such as cows, agricultural soils and rice production.”

After hearing this 9-percent figure regurgitated over and over again in the media, most people draw the conclusion that food and farming aren’t that important of a factor in global warming, especially when compared with transportation, electricity generation, manufacturing and heating and cooling our buildings.

What the EPA, USDA, Big Ag, chemical, and food corporations are conveniently hiding from the public is that there’s no way to separate “U.S. agriculture” from our “food system” as a whole. Their faulty math (i.e. concealing food and farming emissions under the categories of transportation, manufacturing, etc.) is nothing but a smokescreen to hide the massive fossil fuel use and emissions currently belched out by our enormously wasteful, environmentally destructive, climate-destabilizing (and globalized) food system.

USDA and EPA’s nine-percent figure is ridiculous. What about the massive use of petroleum products and fossil fuels to power U.S. tractors and farm equipment, and to manufacture the billions of pounds of pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are dumped and sprayed on farmlands?

What about the ethanol industry that eats up 40 percent of our chemical- and energy-intensive GMO corn production? Among other environmental crimes, the ethanol industry incentivizes farmers to drain wetlands and damage fragile lands. Taking the entire process into account, corn production for ethanol produces more emissions than it supposedly saves when burned in our cars and trucks.

What about the massive release of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from factory farms and the GMO, monocrop industrial grain farms that supply these feedlots and CAFOs with animal feed?

What about the methane emissions from the fracking wells that produce the natural gas that is used in prodigious amounts to manufacture the nitrogen fertilizer dumped on farmlands – fertilizer that then pollutes our waterways and creates oceanic dead zones as well as releasing massive amounts of nitrous oxide (300 percent more damaging than even CO2) into our already oversaturated atmosphere?

What about the 15-20 percent of global fossil fuel emissions that come from processing, packaging (most often non-recycled plastic), refrigerating and transporting our highly processed (mainly junk) food and agricultural commodities on the average 1,500 miles before they reach the consumer?

What about the enormous amounts of GHG emissions, deforestation and ecosystem destruction in the international supply chain enabling Big Box stores, supermarket chains and junk food purveyors to sell imported cheap food, in many cases “food-like substances” from China and overseas to undernourished and supersized U.S. consumers?

What about the enormous emissions from U.S. landfills where wasted food (30-50 percent of our entire production) rots and releases methane, when it could be used to produce compost to replace synthetic fertilizers?

A more accurate estimate of GHG emissions from U.S. and international food, farming and land use is 44-57 percent, not the 9 percent, as the EPA and USDA suggest.

We’re never going to reach net zero emissions in the U.S. by 2030, as the Green New Deal calls for, without a profound change, in fact a revolution, in our food, farming, and land use practices.

This essay is part of The Organic Consumers Association’s Regenerative Agriculture campaign. To sign their petition in support of a Green New Deal that puts regenerative food, farming, and land use front and center, sign here if you’re a farmer, and here if you’re an activist or a green consumer.

The post The 9% Lie: Industrial Food and Climate Change appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

An Open Letter to Paulo Coelho

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

—Voltaire

Dear Mr. Coelho,

You are hot news in Kurdistan—among our literati so to speak.

But we can’t yet award you any literary prize for honoring our homeland and its hapless children in your novel, Eleven Minutes.

Perhaps we should.

We genuinely thank you for publicly exposing Brazil for supplying Turkey with tear gas canisters that have brutalized our children seeking basic human rights.

You have come to our current conversation via our Turkish neighbors who apparently love your books as we do, but can’t fathom the fixation of Maria, Eleven Minutes’ protagonist, with such words as Kurds and Kurdistan.

They have arbitrarily corrected you and her—making Maria speak as Turks do—so when she discovers that the Kurds are from Kurdistan, they have her say, in Turkish, that we are from the “Middle East.”

Yes, Turks are a funny people, Mr. Coelho—believing they can bury entire countries like Kurdistan, the way we entomb dead people.

They have, alas, never heard of the time-tested observation of Dr. King: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

Two Kurds, Murad Dildar and Jehat Kilic, discovered the oddity between the English and Turkish translations of your novel.

They alerted the Kurds who had read your book of Maria’s long-buried little-known secret that the Kurds were not from the “Middle East,” but a country of their own: Kurdistan.

Thus, for fifteen years—since the publication of your novel in Turkey, millions of Turks were not exposed to the observation of Maria about the reality of Kurdistan in your work.

The translator of your novel, Saadet Ozen, says she can’t recall the passage about the homeland of Kurds and thinks it was censored after her submission to the printing house.

The printing house owner, Can Oz, doesn’t know why Kurdistan was deleted either, but has offered to recall the unsold books from the bookstores and publish a new version with the censored word intact, all nine letters … the way you had it in your book.

You and readers of this open letter may think this is very good news, that Turks are no longer afraid of the word, Kurdistan, but the news from Trabzon, a Turkish province, is completely the opposite.

On Thursday, a group of Kurdish tourists were on the shores of its Uzungol—meaning long-lake in Turkish, peacefully enjoying the views and taking pictures.

But one of them made the unforgivable mistake of apparently posing with a Kurdish scarf—with Kurdish colors and the word “Kurdistan.”

That infuriated a brutish Turkish mob, which violently beat the unsuspecting Kurds forcing them to flee for their lives.

Fortunately, the Turkish police were nearby and saved them from lynching, but they were still arrested and deported to neighboring Iraq. The assailants, yes, it is hard to believe this, were left alone and free!

Kurds and Kurdistan remain in the crosshairs of many in the Middle East even though we look forward to seeing the name of our homeland in your work.

Some Kurds, you may not be aware of it, have sent you tweets alerting you to the blatant racism of Turks hoping you would weigh in on the obscene Turkish censorship of your work with a tweet or statement of your own.

Alas, you have not taken a position so far.

I am writing this open letter to you in hopes of remedying the situation. Please Mr. Coelho, go to your Twitter feed and say something worthy of your friend Shimon Peres, the late president of Israel.

He was, as you know, a good friend of our people and you are affiliated with his Peres Center for Peace. Mr. Peres urged President Obama to support Kurdish statehood the way President Truman had given a helping hand to the state of Israel at its birth.

Unfortunately, the American president—whose own children are the descendants of slaves—couldn’t be bothered with the emancipation of Kurds and liberation of our homeland.

But you, Mr. Coelho, with your gift of crafting the best-selling novels in the world—selling 350 million books thus far—may want to consider embracing our quest for freedom in your next work of fiction.

It could perhaps highlight the challenge of transforming the Middle East from the epicenter of beheadings to a place worthy of its glorious beginnings where freedom is welcomed and everyone enjoys basic human liberties!

Will you?

You would be honoring your readers, including Kurds, your friend Shimon Peres, your protagonist Maria and the beautiful baritone singer of human rights, Dr. King.

Please, Mr. Coelho, help the crushed truth about the Kurds and Kurdistan rise to its feet in spite of those who would like to bury it six feet under.

It will add luster to your name and halt the rivers of blood that Kurdish patriots have shed to reclaim their ancient homeland for their children.

I remain truly yours,

Kani Xulam

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Asylum as a Human Right

In the past year the Trump administration has been applying increasingly restrictive policies to block asylum seekers from pursuing their claims in the U.S. The most recent measure, now temporarily barred by a federal judge’s injunction, would have required migrants traveling through another country such as Mexico to show proof that they had applied for, and were denied, asylum in that country. That policy would most likely have barred almost all migrants from Central America, as well as many Africans, Haitians, and Cubans traveling through Mexico. This policy comes on top of other restrictive measures, including a practice called “metering,” which limits the number of asylum applications processed each day, as well as “Remain in Mexico,” which requires asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until the day of their hearing.

The results of these policies have forced thousands of people to languish in shelters and camps in Mexico, while thousands who have managed to cross the border are detained in overcrowded, squalid facilities that were cited in a recent report by the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of Inspector General. News about these conditions, along with the family separations dominating headlines last year, have brought asylum, the right to safe haven from persecution, to public consciousness in a way that it never has been before.

Yet the importance of asylum to the migration crisis facing our country has not been fully understood for a variety of reasons, including Donald Trump’s constant harping on his political opponents’ advocacy of “open borders.” This claim, of course, is a canard. U.S. borders have not been “open” in any meaningful sense for 100 years, nor is it likely that candidates for Trump’s job would advocate such a change, any more than they would advocate eliminating TSA screenings or customs inspections at U.S. airports.

Yet the phrase “open borders” still resonates for many people who fear the influx of thousands of people into the country. To a large extent, Julian Castro and other Democratic presidential candidates have sought to address these fears by calling for a decriminalization of illegal entry and making such an entry a civil, rather than a criminal, violation.

But this position fails to address the critical significance of asylum itself as the underlying issue in the debates over immigration. On a practical level, as a number of immigration experts have pointed out, the closing off of access to asylum processing only magnifies people’s motivation to enter the U.S. illegally, increasing the number of illegal crossings and putting thousands of adults and children at risk of serious injury and death. As many observers have reported, individuals are willing to take these risks because the alternatives available to them and their children in their home countries – fates involving destitution, violence, or death – have left them little choice.

This is why a human rights perspective, centered on asylum as articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in U.S. federal law, is critical to any discussions of the border and to immigration in general. Human rights are grounded in a recognition of human dignity – the intrinsic worth of every human being – no matter what his or her background or identity may be. This recognition, allied closely to empathy and compassion, helps undergird a responsibility to protect the rights of others, not just one’s own. From a human rights perspective, democracy itself is sustained by understanding our interdependence, our mutual ties to one another: ties that cross borders and boundaries.

And contrary to Trump’s claims, the U.S. needs immigrants; demographers and economists have pointed to a falling birth rate and to the aging of our population, trends that threaten economic growth and the vitality of our cities and rural areas. Our economy and our communities need workers, and the communities that have welcomed immigrants have tended to thrive economically.

This is one reason why, if asylum is to be fully recognized along with the other rights we value as Americans, we need to disentangle the asylum process from the institutions and political culture of mass incarceration. Today people undergo harrowing journeys and present themselves at our border, only to find themselves degraded and dehumanized in prison conditions. We need to abolish detention altogether and substitute for it community-based, alternative-to-detention programs that are humane and cost-effective.

Making this change will involve many obstacles, but a number of Democratic presidential candidates have made proposals, including the proposal to end for-profit detention facilities, that point in the right direction. These moves constitute a meaningful start. But considering the magnitude and urgency of human suffering involved, the larger task ahead will be to foster a rights awareness that will lead to genuine, substantive change in the foreseeable future.

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Newsom Tours Kern County Oil Spill as Locals Call for Immediate Health and Safety Protections

MCKITTRICK, CA 

At a time when oil and gas drilling continues to expand in California, Governor Gavin Newsom on July 24 visited the site of a big oil spill in Chevron’s Cymric oilfield in Kern County,  

The spill has seeped 974,400 gallons of a hazardous mix of oil and wastewater into the surrounding area for over two months, according to the latest data from the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) of the California Department of Conservation, the agency responsible for regulating the fossil fuel industry in the state.

In both the map of the incident (Cymric Surface Expressions) and the update on their website, they refer to the oil spill as a “surface expression” or “surface expressions.”

“I’m seeing progress,” Newsom told reporters during a media availability during his visit to the site, where the oil and water mixture has spilled into a dry creek bed. 

During the media availability, the governor pledged to continue his work reforming DOGGR following his firing of the head of the agency after the Fracktracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog released a report revealing that fracking permits had increased during his time in office.

“I want to focus not just on demand but supply, and that, I think, is a new approach in this state with this new administration,” the governor told The LA Times. 

However, on the day after the Governor fired the DOGGR head, Newsom said he does not have the legal authority to impose a moratorium on permits for fracking operations in California, according to Ted Goldberg at KQED.

“The governor of California cannot do that,” Newsom told reporters on July 12. However, representatives of frontline communities believe that there is more that the Governor can do right now.

The spill has occurred at a site that employs steam injection, described as an “extreme oil-extraction technique” by environmental justice advocates. The site continues to leak and rather than focusing on stopping the spill, Chevron officials said Monday that the company plans to appeal a state-mandated order to ‘take all measures’ to stop it and prevent future occurrences, according to a statement from the Last Chance Alliance.

While environmental justice, climate and community groups in the Central Valley affiliated with the Last Chance Alliance say they are encouraged by the governor’s visit to the site of the spill, they are urging him to take immediate action to protect Californians against the state’s fossil fuel industry, the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento.

“While this incident occurred in an isolated area, other similar oil production-related incidents have occurred in proximity to Kern County communities,” said Juan Flores, a Kern County community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “It is time that state leadership and decision-makers take action and pay attention to the gravity of such incidents. It is time that we put our money where our mouth is and set in place a buffer zone of no less than 2,500 feet to protect our communities, ecological areas and the environment as a whole.”

“We applaud the governor for coming to see first-hand the McKittrick spill,” said Cesar Aguirre, a Kern County organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network. “The McKittrick spill goes to show that both the regulated industry and regulators are not meeting their responsibility to protect public health and the environment.”

“Even after the governor and his administration requested that action be taken immediately, the spill continued – to what end do you regulate a declining and irresponsible industry? We have seen issues like this before with Nelson Court, where families are still dealing with the ramifications of a leaking gas pipe. CCEJN would like to invite the governor on a tour throughout Kern County to see how this industry devastates the health of communities to understand the full scope of the oil and gas industry’s impact,” Aguirre concluded.

The oil and gas mixture continues to seep at the spill site. On July 18, DOGGR issued a statement that on Wednesday, July 17, “DOGGR field inspectors reported a small seepage of oil and water from one of three surface expression vents where the flow had previously ceased.”  

“DOGGR notified Chevron, and the Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor amended the July 1, 2019 Notice of Violation to expand the well shut-in radius from 600 to 1,200 feet. The Acting Oil and Gas Supervisor and DOGGR field engineers were on site Thursday,” reported DOGGR.  

On Friday, July 12, Jason Marshall, the acting oil and gas supervisor at DOGGR, ordered Chevron to immediately “take all measures” to the stop the flow and “prevent any new surface expressions” near the oil well site.

The huge oil spill should be no surprise, according to environmental justice advocates. The agency responsible for regulating the fossil fuel industry in California, (DOGGR), “adopted weaker restrictions on the practice earlier this year, making these operations even more dangerous,” according to the Last Chance Coalition.

Despite California’s “green” image, Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved over 21,000 new oil and gas wells, including over 200 new offshore wells, according to a 2018 analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fracktracker Alliance. The approval of oil and gas drilling permits has increased even more under the Newsom Administration to date.

Background: Oil and gas drilling has expanded under  Newsom

The news of the Kern County spill came just hours after Governor Newsom fired DOGGR head Ken Harris for doubling the fracking permits issued during his time as governor — without his knowledge, according to Newsom – and reports of conflicts of interest among eight senior officials, as documented in my article on a groundbreaking report by Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance.

From January 1 to June 3 of 2018, the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) approved 2,365 new oil and gas well permits and 191 fracking permits, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by the two groups.

The data reveals that this year regulators have increased the number of permits granted for drilling new wells by 35.3%, well reworks by 28.3%, and fracking by 103.2%, as compared to the permitting rate during the final year of the Brown administration in 2018.

Even more alarming, of the 2,365 well permits issued, 1064 or 45% of them benefitted oil companies invested in by DOGGR officials, the groups reported.  

This latest disaster takes place in a state where Big Oil and Big Gas have captured the regulators from top to bottom. The oil industry is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the trade association for the oil industry in California and other Western states, is the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization.

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Why I Write Murder Mysteries

 “The Valley is a good place to write about  precisely because behind the white picket fences  and the mansions with their green lawns and  swimming pools, you will find the kinds of  human dramas that inspired Hammett, Chandler  and Dorothy Hughes, another great California  mystery writer who ought to be better known  than she is.”

– Jonah Raskin

The other day at Peet’s Coffee on Broadway in the town of Sonoma, I had a conversation with a young woman I have known for years, but have never really gotten to know. Let’s call her J. She is white, tall, fit and single, though her hard-working parents live close by. J has four jobs to make ends meet; all of them require physical labor, some more than others. She also interacts with people at all of her jobs. That means that she has to have communication skills and be savvy about human relationships.

At one of her jobs, she’s a caterer for a large catering company. J prepares food, serves food and cleans up after every event, which is usually in a private home. “It’s all old money,” she told me. A friend who was sitting next to me smiled and asked, “Do you get a chance to talk to people at these parties?” J raised her eyebrows and responded, “No, not at all. I never speak to anyone, unless someone speaks to me first. That’s one of the biggest rules. I’m there to do what I’m told to do. I show up. I work. I leave. I have no personal relationship with anyone, except to pick up after the hosts and the guests, take out the garbage and go home. These people would never think of touching garbage.”

When J. left Peet’s with her iced coffee and made her way to her next job, I turned to my friend and said, “I can’t write about J’s experiences with old wealth families in any of the newspapers or magazines around here. I’d have to smuggle her, under a different name, into a novel.” My friend said, “Yes, if you want to keep your job you’ll have to fictionalize.”

J is way savvier about life in the Valley than most of my friends. She knows that there’s “old money” and “new money.” That’s big.

For the past three years, I have been writing fiction about old money and new money in “The Valley” where J lives and works. My novels are noir murder mysteries in the vein of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Some of the characters are inspired by rich and powerful people in the Valley, though at the front of the book there’s the customary advisory, “This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

Recently, I managed to persuade one of the reporters for the Valley’s main newspaper to insert an announcement for a reading I was to give at the public library. Though I didn’t ask him about his job, he must have sensed what I wanted to ask and hear. “There are a lot of scandals here, but we’re not allowed to write about them because this is a family newspaper and family newspapers don’t write about scandals,” he said. There are more than just scandals. There are also real crimes—murders, sexual assaults, fraud and more—though ask citizens who live in the Valley about crime in the Valley and they invariably say, “There is no crime in the Valley.”

In my experience, when my neighbors talk about crime and corruption they point to Washington D.C. and to big, distant cities. They don’t point to their own backyards and their own newspapers, wealthy families and civic institutions. They are in denial. If you want to see the corrosive impact of wealth and power by all means look at Washington, D.C., but also look at valleys where women like J don’t speak unless spoken to, and where reporters don’t cover scandals because they work for a family newspaper.

I have lived in and around the Valley for 45 years. The Valley is the first place where I heard the expression: “It’s all good,” uttered without irony or sarcasm. Soon after I heard it I repeated it to friends in New York. The immediate response was, “No, it’s not all good.” A month ago, while back in New York again, and having lunch in a restaurant, I played the part of the reporter and asked the waitress how she was. “Livin’ the dream,” she said sarcastically and added, “Someone else’s dream.” In the Valley where I live, work and write, citizens think they live in a paradise, though the real life, near-by town of Paradise recently burned down in a huge fire.

The Valley is a good place to write about precisely because behind the white picket fences and the mansions with their green lawns and swimming pools, you will find the kinds of human dramas that inspired Hammett, Chandler and Dorothy Hughes, another great California mystery writer who ought to be better known than she is.

My Valley is a feudal society, with brown skinned people (and some whites like J) at or near the bottom. The higher you go on the social ladder, the whiter the color of the skin, the older the money and the larger the sense of entitlement.

The Valley’s oligarchs give millions to charity, perhaps to assuage their sense of guilty, perhaps because they wish to be perceived as good folk who care about those less fortunate than them. The Valley newspapers and magazines I write for rarely rock the boat. The wine, the weed and the tourist industries float the publications. Editors and publishers are disinclined to bite the hands that feed them. And wouldn’t you know it, some of the same people who own the hotels and the wineries also own the newspapers and magazines that cater to the tourists and show them where to spend their money.

I’m working on my next murder mystery now. The first is “Dark Land, Dark Mirror,” the second “Dark Day, Dark Night.” I think I’ll call the third, “Dark Page, Dark Rage.” I expect there’s going to be a rebellion in the pages of the next novel. And who knows? Maybe it will inspire citizens to rise up in anger.

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Blame a Snowflake

These days it’s clear that the lessons provided by history are not being learned. In August of 1925 the Ku Klux Klan marched on Washington D.C. to express their views of white nationalism. In order for the 50,000 members to get permission to march they had to make a concession, they wore their pointy tipped hoods, but they could not wear masks. There were millions of KKK members in the U.S. and the marchers were not afraid of having their racism exposed. Almost one-hundred years later we see Donald Trump receiving the glowing endorsement of the KKK for the 2016 election while he borrows their slogan: America First.

For Trump racism is not embarrassing. In business he practiced discrimination throughout his entire career. When laws have been put in place to prohibit the practice he breaks them, he clearly prefers doing business his way—the path of hateful bigotry. In the 1970’s he chose paying fines rather than making real estate available to black and brown people. The Fair Housing Act was a Trump no-no.

But it is really just one example in a life full of them. He has no shame in any of his racist adventures, no apology for birtherism or vilifying the Central Park Five. They were exonerated, not that it matters to someone as openly racist as Trump. His immoral hijinks have included affairs during all his marriages, but that is something he is willing to go to great lengths (and expense) to cover up and keep secret, but not his racism.

Sure Trump inspires outrage. He has locked up children in cages and placed concentration camps at the border to detain people who are trying to legally obtain asylum because he believes this type of cruelty will deter others from following in their footsteps. Just like when the Klan whipped people into a frenzy singing the classic “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” the kneejerk is severe with each maleficent maneuver. But I must concede: the snowflakes are failing.

From the urban dictionary:

Snowflake: Began being used extensively as a putdown for someone, usually on the political left, who is easily offended or felt they needed a “safe space” away from the harsh realities of the world, but now has morphed into a general putdown for anyone that complains about any subject.

On the one hand, I openly confess I’ve failed to get a single conservative to turn on Trump. The deference to his racism is too much for me; some people won’t admit it, some just don’t care, and some openly approve. On the other, I’ve also received notes of appreciation from African-Americans thanking me for attempting to get the Republican party they’ve left to account for that party’s invidious reality. It’s another unethically cunning move on Trump’s part–the white nationalist dog-whistles gain him more support than he loses. Trump played race cards to help him win in 2016, and he’s playing them now toward 2020.

Trump stays in now because of the failure of snowflakes to utilize people power. Puerto Rico is a great example; the people said: “Ricky, te botamos!” (“Ricky, we threw you out!”) after forcing his resignation. Setting aside Trump’s obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia, his racist policies alone should be treated as the impeachable offense. Abraham Lincoln’s words “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” are more than enough to set and reflect this standard. The United States of America’s most sacred value—what sets us apart from the world—is a foundation of equality. Donald Trump is the living breathing tweeting dereliction of this duty.

Trump has surrounded himself with fellow cesspool people who refuse to tell him that he has no clothes, or that his xenophobia is appalling… A snowflake would be silly to expect this broken system to fix itself when racism has proven so rewarding. No, the snowflakes must accept their failure in waiting for Robert Mueller to catalyze impeachment. The power is in the hands of the people and it is time that we made our collective voices heard. When the people unite in delivering the message that we will not tolerate this hate in our country or our Extra-White House, then we can return to addressing the important challenges of our times. If we do not resist the intolerable behavior with all the energy we can spare, then we only have ourselves to blame. Far Right extremists already push for the next Civil War, but it is “united we stand” not “united we wait” so if we do not pay attention to the lessons we have been given it is going to be a very ugly slide to autocracy and reversal of half a century of hard-won gains in human rights and civil rights.

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How NAFTA Killed the Green New Deal

Image Source: Heraldry – CC BY-SA 3.0

In a fundamental way, the 2020 election will be about unfinished business. The neoliberal order that emerged from the 1970s remained viable until 2008. Since then it has retained legitimacy in the centers of power, due no doubt to the highly stratified economic outcomes it produces. However, its social logic was never evident in the hinterlands. This distance reframed the adversarial posture of the political parties as an insider’s game that is largely unrelated to the public interest.

Oddly, or perhaps not, the Democrats deemed most likely to unseat Donald Trump have the policies most like his. Joe Biden is a racially challenged neoliberal operator with a long history of toadying to corporate interests. The irony, to the extent the term fits, is that the less distinct the candidates’ policies are from Mr. Trump’s, the less motivation there is to unseat him. By implication, the centrist Democrats assert that Mr. Trump is a legitimate president.

The emergent left has the ideas and the programs, but no real entre into the political process. Outside of large-scale political unrest that seems unlikely at present, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that the left’s programs will be enacted through official channels. What appears to be widely misunderstood is why this is the case. On the one hand, the programs are in the public interest. And when they are presented fairly, they are wildly popular.

On the other hand, the public interest is antithetical to that of American power. To back into this argument, there are reasons why the U.S. has been the chief adversary of democratic movements around the globe over the last century. From its inception to the present, the state has been the political projection of the business interests of the oligarchs— a/k/a capitalist class. However, even this formulation supports a dubious distinction.

In the limited conception, politics is about lawmaking and the defense of the realm, while the economy is about making and distributing things. But what of the politics of making and distributing things? Trade agreements are one example. The broad governmental mechanics used to create ‘private’ enterprises is another. This flawed distinction has led to a potent and persistent myopia.

This isn’t simply a matter of creating and enforcing the legal framework in which capitalism operates. Nor is it the ‘mixed economy’ where government funds and manages the public realm while leaving the private realm to its own devices. It is the state apparatus from whence the private realm emerges. For instance, where do the land, transportation systems and military muscle that facilitate private enterprise come from?

Since WWII, the Pentagon has been conceived and managed as an engine of economic growth (and destruction). All the major American industries are related to it by degree— and they all benefit from the relationship. What then is capitalism when key components of so-called private enterprise emerge from the public realm? And what of private interests like Wall Street that are treated as extensions of state power?

When prominent politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaim that ‘America is capitalist,’ on whose behalf and in what capacity is she acting? With environmental crises, the threat of nuclear annihilation, runaway militarism and dysfunctional and exclusionary pollical economy now defining Western modernity, where, precisely, is the locus of resolution?

Another way to get at this is to pose the question: why would American politicians be opposed to socialist forms like worker collectives? Cubans were working with towns and villages in Venezuela to integrate worker collectives into local forms of democratic governance. And yet the U.S. is working with corrupt Venezuelan oligarchs to impose externally controlled (by the U.S.) governance in order to control Venezuela’s oil.

The point: the public interest isn’t simply left unconsidered by American politicians, it is antithetical to their program. And this isn’t just in the realm of the national interest. Much is being made of the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by congressional Democrats that precludes large-scale public spending on programs like a Green New Deal, Medicare for All and a Job Guarantee in 2021.

House Democrats poisoned the well vis-à-vis what programs progressive candidates will be able to deliver if elected. They had already indicated that they wouldn’t pass Medicare for All regardless of the electoral outcome. This leaves progressive / left candidates to either promise programs knowing they can’t deliver them in 2021 or to forego promising them.

The Democrat’s gamesmanship is premised in apparent certainty that these policies are inconsequential and / or undesirable. However, assuming that voters elected a progressive / left candidate on the basis of these programs and the public interest, it is both the (semblance of) democracy and the public interest that are being undermined.

Globalization, now well into the third great expansion, is post-national by design. Capitalist enterprises that are fostered, funded and supported by national governments, have by-and-large been granted transnational legal status to avoid their being regulated and made to pay taxes to their sponsoring governments. When this extralegal status is cited as the reason why national governments have no power over them, the answer back is simple: then stop supporting them.

The immediate reason for this long introduction is an article at commondreams.org making the point that American trade agreements include provisions that preclude key aspects of a Green New Deal. NAFTA, passed by Democrats Joe Biden and Bill Clinton, and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) heavily promoted by Barack Obama, both include provisions (ISDS— Investor-State Dispute Settlement) that impede environmental regulation.

What this means is that leading Democrats have acted to undermine their stated environmental policies using ‘economic’ devices like trade agreements.

These stealth policies are more insidious than blatant anti-environmental legislation because 1) they are hidden, 2) they accomplish their goals by shifting decision making authority away from governments to corporate representatives and 3) they are difficult or impossible to renegotiate. This makes them profoundly anti-democratic.

Moreover, these trade agreements are suicide pacts in that they require super-majorities to make even minor changes. As the article (link above) makes clear, the Obama administration sued India over its state-subsidized green production, forcing it to shut the program down. A Job Guarantee included in an American Green New Deal would also violate key provisions of existing trade agreements to the extent it is used to subsidize green production.

Most other state-subsidized green production would violate these provisions as well. Political pragmatists would be well-advised to understand exactly what it is that has been traded away. If the choice is between a revolution or twenty-five years of litigation against well-funded and well lawyered opposition as the planet cooks, the pragmatic choice might be revolution.

The notion of power that motivates trade agreements considers only economic power. The concern is that states will interfere with markets by subsidizing select industries. But these subsidies are an afterthought with respect to most economic production. What of the history that preceded market exchange— the resource wars, the contested labor relations and the international power relations that constitute the backdrop of markets?

When it comes to solving environmental problems, both the facts and idea of history have bearing. Assuming for the moment that putting a price on carbon emissions is a good idea, what should the price be? A typical modeling exercise might be to project low and high carbon futures to get a price in the middle.

But what if even the low carbon future will produce catastrophic climate change because greenhouse processes that aren’t currently understood have already been set in motion? Lest this seem far-fetched, this is the exact position that carbon pricers would have found themselves in at any time over the last three hundred years.

Or working backwards, why haven’t carbon emissions always been priced to account for climate change? The answer gets to the heart of the matter: climate change is an historical process that market exchange has no way of accounting for. Aggregated carbon emissions are external to individual emission decisions. This is true at both the firm and the national levels.

Assessing the environmental impact of particular greenhouse gas emissions requires knowing all future greenhouse gas emissions. And to Gresham’s law: underpricing carbon emissions and / or cheating will give firms that do so a competitive advantage that will put firms that adequately and transparently price emissions out of business.

In practical terms, were a Green New Deal and / or a Job Guaranty to be passed legislatively, the trade issues would be quickly brought to the fore. Getting the supermajority consent needed to make large-scale environmental programs allowable seems unlikely, particularly given the unilateral trade decisions that have been made by the U.S. over the last two years.

This leaves as options 1) unilaterally abrogating the agreements, which reduces chances for international cooperation on environmental issues going forward, or 2) foregoing environmental programs.

To reiterate, the position that these trade agreements put the U.S. in vis-à-vis future environmental programs was well understood by Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden when they were promoting them. It isn’t difficult to understand why Messrs. Obama and Biden put themselves forward as environmental stewards— doing so provided political benefits at no cost to them. The question is why Democrats let them get away with it?

The leverage still exists through government spending and other forms of support to force large-scale changes in environmental practices. This is in part why Reaganite / Thatcherite privatization has continued, and even accelerated, under Democratic Party control. Private ownership shifts the legal balance of power to private interests.

This is most certainly the rationale for the ISDS provisions in the Democrat’s trade agreements. While corporate lawyers negotiate the terms, the chief trade negotiators are political appointees and the ISDS tribunals are given supranational authority to demand recompense for corporate litigants. Shifting sovereign power to capitalists was / is the point.

The establishment Democrat’s near panic at the rise of a vocal and insistent left goes well beyond politics. If they had any leftward tendency, Democrats would welcome being pulled in that direction. But there is none.

Given the popularity of programs like a Green New Deal, Medicare for All and a Job Guaranty, Democrats could expand the electorate to win elections at little cost in terms of campaign contributions per vote gained. Not only are they not interested in this approach, but they are busy burying bombs like the debt ceiling renegotiation to undermine both the popular will and the public interest.

An ongoing limitation of the left has been misunderstanding the nature of the state. The state’s role in capitalism goes beyond facilitation to that of fundamental component. Viewed reverse-wise, it is hardly incidental that privatization has embedded capitalism deep in the basic functioning of the state.

This written, the levers remain to force environmental and social justice issues. What is needed is the will. And that will require large-scale political action.

 

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The Tragic Inevitability of Boris Johnson PM

Photograph Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office – CC BY 2.0

The ruling classes are generally intelligent, in a devious way, of course. You don’t get to be a billionaire and keep your billions through idiocy. The indoctrination system of private schools and Ivy League colleges trains the young of the ruling classes in how to maintain and expand their power. But even the most cunning individual can fall victim to the pitfalls of human foibles and systemic changes. The Republican Party is a case in point. The anti-tax fanatics of the Tea Party movement symbolized the first of the hard-right’s feet in the door of the White House. Inspired by the potential of the Tea Party, millionaire ex-Goldman Sachs banker, Steve Bannon, co-founded Breitbart News in an effort to mobilize disaffected, largely middle class voters who had seen their wealth decline over the 40 year period of neoliberalism. Bannon did so by using Breitbart to whip up all manner of hate against Muslims, progressives, “globalists,” feminists, and the Left in general. At the same time, a billionaire opportunist named Donald Trump used the hard-right faction of the GOP, along with far-right voters on the periphery, to become President.

Trump, Bannon, and their mega-wealthy colleagues, like hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, were part of the pro-Brexit push in the UK. Brexit has caused deep divisions in the UK political establishment: half of whom feel more comfortable in the neoliberal, anti-democratic European Union, while the other half see opportunities for an ultra-neoliberal form of nationalism outside of the EU, which they hope will involve signing a “free trade” deal with the U.S.; which means privatizing what’s left of British public services and capturing volatile British financial markets.

But the intelligence of those who expand their wealth has limits, especially when they fight each other, as is now happening.

Boris Johnson (BoJo) is an MP for Uxbridge. Born into wealth and privilege, the millionaire once described his £250,000 a year salary as a columnist for The Telegraph as “chicken feed.” In his role as Brussels correspondent, he spread what one Telegraph editor described as fake news about the European Union. Having served as Mayor of London and Foreign Secretary, BoJo is in some ways a typical Conservative (Tory). According to a voting analysis website, he: “Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas”; “Consistently voted for the Iraq war” (2002-2003); “Almost always voted for replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system”; “Consistently voted for military action against ISIL (Daesh)”; “Has never voted on reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the ‘bedroom tax’)” (abstaining on such a bill effectively means voting for it); “Almost always voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability”; “Almost always voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits”; “Consistently voted against higher taxes on banks”; “Generally voted for more restrictive regulation of trade union activity”; “Generally voted for reducing capital gains tax”; “Almost always voted for reducing the rate of corporation tax”; “Generally voted for a stricter asylum system”; “Generally voted for stronger enforcement of immigration rules”; “Consistently voted for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities”; “Almost always voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life”; and so on.

BoJo’s donations in the prime ministerial campaign 2019 are not surprising, either. In addition to getting a political endorsement from Donald Trump, receiving advice on speeches from the racist (that’s “a badge of honor” for him) Steve Bannon, and rhetorically championing the former pair’s pro-Brexit ideology, Reuters reports that BoJo had “broken the record for the most money raised by a British politician.”

Just as Trump’s backing came largely from hedge funds, BoJo’s also came from hedge funds and “companies based in tax havens” (Reuters). Two Tories, Terence Mordaunt and Sir David Ord, donated to BoJo’s campaign via their company Bristol Port’s subsidiary, First Corporate Shipping. But Mordaunt is a director of the climate change-questioning Global Warming Policy Forum, an arm of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Greenpeace criticized the group, which could explain why a group of Greenpeace protestors tried to block the motorcade taking BoJo to meet the queen and get approval to form his government.

In other ways, BoJo is unlike other leading Tory politicians. Where their racism is implicit (such as then-Home Secretary Theresa May’s Go Home vans targeted at “illegal” immigrants (read: a dog-whistle against all immigrants)), BoJo is explicitly racist: Africans are “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”; women in burqas look like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”; Muslim women have to go to university “to find men to marry”; the cultural influence of China is “nil,” so it’s not important to teach children Mandarin; Obama may have hated the UK because of his “ancestral dislike” of the British Empire; and on and on. (Sources for most of these quotes can be found in my book, The Great Brexit Swindle, 2016.)

BoJo is also unusual in that his colleagues see him as an utter liability. His resignation from the Foreign Office is referred to by its employees as “liberation day,” with colleagues describing him in the role of Foreign Secretary as unfocused, unreliable, and self-centered. BoJo’s appointment as PM in Britain’s “democracy” was made by 0.3 percent of the electorate; namely Tory party members: the vast majority being rich, white, male, and older-to-elderly. Sixty percent of them think that Islam is a threat to “Western civilisation.” According to the Lord Ashcroft polls, these are the same kind of people who voted for Brexit and who believe that internationalism, feminism, environmentalism, and immigration are to blame for supposed cultural collapse. In other words, deluded wingnuts. In fact, the Tory grassroots, admittedly with some entryism from the hard-right UK Independence Party and Brexit Party, have gone off the wall: a majority would rather see the end of the Tory Party and indeed of the nation as a United Kingdom (i.e., allowing the pro-EU Northern Ireland and Scotland to secede) than not get their Brexit.

Who better to take charge of such a mess than a clown?

From the mid-2000s on, these kind of views were pushed to the fringes of the Parliamentary Conservative Party in its effort to win votes from the more sane elements of the broader population. This, as well as the general centralization of power within the party, caused despair among the Tory grassroots, who felt that the political class were not responsive to their interests. But the Trump-supporting Brexit Party, led by ex-City trader and Trump pal, Nigel Farage, changed all that. Suddenly, Tory MPs saw the value of having a BoJo-led government. Theirs is a cynical effort to compete with the Brexit Party during the next election. Once the fabled “men in gray suits” told PM Theresa May to get lost, grassroots Tories had new lease of life and voted overwhelmingly for BoJo to become their–and thus the people of the UK’s–new PM.

All of this was tragically inevitable and echoes what happened in the US, especially the split between the grassroots GOP (many of whom love Trump) and their “representatives” in Congress (many of whom loathe him). But not all Tory MPs are happy. They know that according to survey agency YouGov, BoJo is a divisive figure, with 43 percent of the general public describing him as “likable” and 41 percent as “dislikable.” But 58 percent to 31 percent have a unfavorable view of the “circus act,” as former Foreign Minister Alan Duncan describes him; clownery being another trait shared by Trump and BoJo. The Scots, who have traditionally hated Tories, have changed their opinion about wanting their country to remain part of the UK. Now that BoJo is PM, a slight majority of Scots want to secede from the United Kingdom and join the EU as a newly sovereign nation-state.

The tragic inevitability of BoJo, the racist clown, entering No. 10 is a sign that the cunning with which the ruling classes have so far governed has faltered under the weight of their greed; in this case to maximize their already obscene profits by leaving the EU. Instead of going with the flow, they have torn each other apart over their ideologies. The pro-Brexit faction has learned the art of self-deception; that somehow the election by a hard-right, privileged 0.3 percent of the population (in a Parliamentary democracy) of a bigoted, politically unpopular buffoon with no mandate, hated by many of his own colleagues, is the golden path towards “liberation” from the EU and certain victory at the next general election.

In the real world, this can only be a good thing for the working classes, because it could hasten the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the now-genuine Labour Party, to No. 10: assuming that the deep state and right-wing elements within the Labour Party fail to pull out all the stops to prevent Corbyn’s election.

 

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Witness for the Non-Prosecution: Mueller, Pelosi and Trump’s Likely Triumph

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Robert Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday was the very definition of anti-climax. After months of frantic build-up by the ‘Resistance’ (“At last, Mueller is going to nail Trump to the wall!”) Mueller merely noted — mildly, haltingly but rightly — that his report laid out evidence of obstruction of justice, and that is up to the House of Representatives to decide whether to use this evidence to impeach the president or not. This is precisely what we knew months ago. The report he released had already said all he had to say. His testimony was never going to add anything to this. Democratic leaders knew this, but they used the months of legal machinations that it took to secure his testimony as a craven way to avoid their responsibility for this decision a little longer. So we are now where we were before: does the House want to bring articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice in the ‘Russiagate’ case, or not? Mueller cannot and never could do this for them.

Of course, as I have noted here and elsewhere ad nauseam, I believe there are many other, more clear-cut grounds for impeachment that the House could bring right now, without any reference to Mueller’s investigation at all. This includes violations of emoluments clause, as Trump personally and directly enriches himself every day with money from foreign states and their bagmen at his resorts and hotels: a clear violation of the constitution. The Democrats decided instead to put all their eggs in Mueller’s basket. OK, fine. He made his investigation into what was ultimately a very small corner of Trump’s vast heap of high crimes and misdemeanors; and from this, he produced evidence to impeach on grounds of obstruction of justice, as Trump and his minions clearly tried to impede the investigation into a conspiracy with the Russians. (A conspiracy for which, he again noted, he found no evidence. But obstruction of an official investigation is still a serious crime in itself, whatever the veracity of the underlying cause for the investigation.)

So: will the House take the single egg of obstruction in Mueller’s basket (from which they once hoped to procure a cornucopia of conspiracy charges) — or not? I think we already have our answer. They could have used his report to initiate impeachment on these grounds long ago. His testimony added nothing to what they already had. (And they knew it wouldn’t.) The only real effect of the hearings was to prove what we already knew: that the Democrats are not as good at inquisitorial theater as the Republicans (“Benghazi!!!”).

Nancy Pelosi continues to insist that there can be no impeachment without charges so flagrant that even hardcore extremist Republicans will go along with them. And she knows — as we all do — that there will never be any charges, however flagrant or heinous, that will compel these extremists to support impeachment.** She has adopted a threshold for impeachment that she knows will not and cannot ever be reached. So there will be no impeachment of Trump by this House as long as Pelosi and her cohort are in charge. Not for obstruction; not for emoluments; not for anything.

Yet anything less than impeachment benefits Trump. Anything less than the formal, legal, relentless, daily, national hearings on his malfeasance that impeachment would produce benefits Trump. Yes, he knows, as we all know, that the Republican-led Senate will not vote to convict him. But it is undeniable that an impeachment process that would compel constant media attention to the careful, documented laying out of his crimes and misdemeanors would inflict heavy political damage and force the Trumpists to expend enormous amounts of time, energy, money and attention to fighting the charges. It would also be the right and dutiful thing to do, if that matters.

It doesn’t take any special insight to see this. It’s as plain as the scorching sun beating down on our burning world at midday. I can see it. You can see it. And it is certain that Nancy Pelosi and her cohorts can see it. So we come back to the same question that’s vexed our politics since the Democrats wrested back control of the House: why doesn’t Nancy Pelosi and her cohorts do anything about it?

And, tragically, we can only keep coming back to the same answer: because THEY DO NOT WANT TO. And so until our ‘Resistance’ recognizes this incontrovertible fact, we will continue on a course that seems more and more likely to end in Trump’s re-election — and the unimaginable horrors that will follow.

(**Just as there would never have been any Democratic support for impeaching Barack Obama for, say, colluding with Saudi Arabia to impose mass death, famine and other war crimes on Yemen.)

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Roaming Charges: And Then There Were Three

Looking for the Mueller hearings at the Nathan Purifoy Outdoor Museum, Joshua Tree. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Trump wants to make AOC, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Than Omar the faces of the Democratic Party. The Democrats, whose current faces of the party are Schumer, Pelosi, Hoyer and Biden, should say, thank you very much, Mr. President, for doing what we should’ve done ourselves. (Curiously, they haven’t shown such gratitude.)

+ In targeting Ilhan Omar, Trump, who usually picks on the weakest and meekest, a chose the wrong person, someone who counterpunches like Sugar Ray Robinson, but knocks you out with a killer smile…

+ Some of the creative types in the Illinois GOP came up with this meme and it’s going to sell a lot of tickets to the next appearances by AOC, Tlaib, Pressley and Omar. It might even entice Tarantino direct the movie, though based on the hippie-bashing (literally) scenes in Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood it seems that Quentin is sucker-punching from the other side.

+ The GOP plan, in league with Nancy Pelosi’s kennel of Blue Dogs, is to target the “Squad” as “far left,” which in the Democratic Party basically means that you support public transit or, at the very least, a study on the cost/benefits of public transit.

+ Joe Biden is a walking (barely) Republican talking point: “They’re [young Americans] looking for somebody who can, in fact, articulate what they believe. This is not a hit on Bernie, my word, but this is not a generation of socialists.”

+ With Trump it’s America First, but Israel’s a close second and gaining fast…

+ Build a wall where no wall should be. Then use the wall as an excuse to evict Palestinians, demolish their homes and seize their land.

+ As Israeli bulldozers were flattening Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the House voted 398-17 (with 5 voting present) to condemn US citizens for exercising their First Amendment right to boycott for Palestinian rights.

+ Here are the 22 members of the House who refused to trample the First Amendment by voting for the Pelosi sponsored resolution to criminalize criticism of Israel…

+ And then there were three: Squad member Ayanna Pressley voted for this crap, even though she had to know such a craven act of capitulation won’t get Trump, Pelosi or AIPAC off her back. Pressley’s rationale for this betrayal of her squadmates was as muddled and hypocritical as you might expect from a former staffer for John “I was for it, before I was against it” Kerry.

+ Most snippets of John Kerry’s most notorious quote leave out the kicker line, which also implicates Biden: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.  Joe [Biden] and I brought an amendment to the $87 billion, and we said, `This should be paid for now, not adding to the deficit’.”

+ This was an easy vote, Rep. Pressley, if you had merely defended the Constitution’s guarantee of free political speech. Your vote violated your oath of office, regardless of how you feel about the human rights crimes committed against Palestinians.

+ Tulsi Gabbard has missed 25% of the votes in the House this year, including two crucial votes to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But her friends the Adelsons will surely be proud of Gabbard for showing up to cast a stout “yes” vote on the anti-BDS resolution, once again demonstrating her loyalty to the Zionist project…

+ John Lewis in a nutshell…

+ Bernie Sanders’ position on Israel continues to be problematic. This week he said he probably wouldn’t reverse Trump’s provocative decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Good grief, Bernie. The main reason to encourage someone like Sanders to run in the Democratic primary is that knowing he has little to no shot at winning he is free to speak the truth about US economic and foreign policy. Then Sanders gets it into his head he might actually win and he retreats to his safe space…

+ When the Israelis finally seize all Palestinian lands, will there be chants in the Knesset to “send them back” to …. southern Europe?

+ More Jews than Christians say Trump is showing too much deference to Israel…

+ Israeli diplomacy in action…”Israel is the only country in the world that has been killing Iranians for two years,” boasted Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s Regional Cooperation Minister.

+ As the House Judiciary Committee hearing opened, Mueller looked physically and mentally frail. He may have been better advised to have brought a doctor than a lawyer to sit next to him.

+ “Can you repeat that?” Mueller said repeatedly, as if auditioning for a hearing aid ad with Sanders and Biden.

+ Rep. Ratcliffe (McCarthyite-TX) to Mueller: “The socialists on the other side of the aisle would have us believe…”

+ The Democrats had months to orchestrate this hearing and the flow & content of their questions sounds like something as obtuse and dissonant as Schoenberg might have scribbled on a cocktail napkin one night at Musso & Frank’s.

+ Even under friendly questioning, Mueller looked shakier than Angela Merkel….

+ Poor Russia. It just can’t win. Even in the GOP’s alt theory of the 2016 elections Putin plays the role of mastermind, his agents feeding specious stories about Trump mendacities to Christopher Steele, compiler of the famous dossier, and conspiring with Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS to entrap the naive Trump campaign team at the Trump Tower meeting with the lure of manufactured smut on HRC. Why Putin wanted HRC to prevail in this scenario remains more than a little murky.

+ Mueller sounded like a character in a late play by Samuel Beckett, reduced to a vocabulary of a dozen words, spoken in a fractured voice, unsure of where he is and who he’s talking to.

+ Louie Louie Gohmert is the best act on morning television. Too bad he couldn’t ask all of the questions for the GOP.

+ If you had the words “correct,” “refer,” or “what?” in the Mueller drinking game, you’ve probably already passed out and the rest of us left watching are envious of your plunge into unconsciousness…

+ Mueller can’t even recall his own resumé.

Q. Wasn’t it President Reagan who appointed you as US attorney?

Mueller: I have no recollection of that…

+ Mueller: 100 deflections or lack of recollections in the first hearing. That’s worse than Trump’s performance in his take-home exam…

+ According to a CNN survey, 97% of Americans didn’t read the Mueller Report, including, based on his performance, Robert Mueller, which means the document is something like a James Patterson novel: the author didn’t write it and didn’t read it. He realizes its his because his name is on the cover, but since it lacks any cover art, he has little idea what it’s all about.

+ After watching those seven hours of inept questioning and stammering answers, my brain now feels as demyelinated as Mueller’s…

+ A full day after listening to all seven hours of the Mueller hearings, I’m beginning to suffer some of the same aural hallucinations and migraines as the US ‘diplomats’ who’d been stationed in Havana. Perhaps the source of their symptoms was also emanated from much closer to home…

+ Wake me when the Resistance©, fueled with all its Hollywood and Technopolis money, can put together a protest half as energetic as what we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.

+ Tulsi Gabbard voted for the anti-democratic, austerity-driven PROMESA, which has inflicted nearly as much long-term misery for Puerto Ricans as Hurricane Maria.

+ From CounterPunch pollster Doug Johnson: Biden’s Net Favorability (-7) in the new YouGovUS release is equivalent to Donald Trump’s net job approval rating (-7).

+ This is just in from one of MSDNC’s prosecutor-analysts Mimi Rocah: “I’m not the political analyst but just as a woman, Sanders makes my skin crawl. I can’t identify for you what exactly it is, but just as a woman I see him as a not pro-woman candidate.” Could the thing she “can’t identify” (or at least won’t say on the air) be that she just doesn’t like Jews, especially secular ones who are moderately critical of Israel and doesn’t (fully) buy into the RussiaGate hysteria? (Mimi’s the one on the left, geographically speaking.)

+ Mayor Butter&Eggs: “We are suffering from the loss of US credibility.” Can you point to the last moment when the US enjoyed credibility, Pete? Within a decade or two would suffice…

+ The inequities of private equities: According to a study by the Center for Public Democracy and United4Respect, private equity’s raids on the retail industry has killed 1.3 million jobs, most of them held by women and minorities.

+ The Economist Poll on Socialism: (Note the 11% of conservatives who support socialism. These people must be defense contractors, oil companies, failing Wall Street banks and public lands grazers. )

% Fav/Unfav
Voters 34/49
Dem 52/19
GOP 11/77
Ind 23/43
Men 30/47
Women 29/41
White 29/51
Black 36/16
Hispanic 26/36
Lib 65/17
Mod 28/39
Con 11/80
Age 18-29: 34/32
Age 30-44: 35/34
Age 45-64: 26/51
Age 65+: 26/57

+ The horrid conditions in Trump’s border concentration camps were meant to act as some kind of sadistic deterrent. That’s not working. So I guess the conditions will worsen, day-by-day as a matter of policy, until the child concentration camps become de facto death camps…

+ The final tally from Trump’s much-hype ICE operation, which targeted more than 2,000 migrants: 18 family members were arrested. ICE also arrested another 17 undocumented immigrants in s0-called collateral arrests.

+ One of the best things about Trump is that he has largely proven impotent when it comes to implementing his worst plans…After 30 months in office, he hasn’t built one new mile of border wall.

+ ICE kidnapped an 18-year-old American citizen and have kept him incarcerated for 3 weeks even after his mother presented a valid birth certificate.

+ In Nashville this week, a group of people formed a human chain keeping ICE from arresting one of their neighbors. One of them said,  “Our kids play with their kids. It’s just one big community. And we don’t want to see anything happen to them.” Why is this humane sentiment so hard for the jackasses to understand?

+ Trump bellowing to a gathering of the TrumpJugend on Tuesday: “In California and numerous other states’ elections are rigged because undocumented immigrants vote many times — not just twice.”

+ Before he disgorged this stream of bilge,  Trump unwittingly (one presumes) stood before a punked version of the presidential seal featuring the double-headed imperial eagle of Putin’s (and the Romanovs’) Russia clutching a bag of golf clubs instead of arrows, wallowing in what he took be the adulation of blonde-haired, blue-eyed American youth. Those kids!

+ Here’s another Constitutional Moment from Donald J Trump: “I have an Article II , where I had the right to do whatever I want as president.”

+ Richard Nixon: “If the president does it that means it’s not a crime.”

+ Louis XIV: “L’etat est moi.”

+ At least 12 US presidents were slave owners during their lifetimes. Of these, eight held slaves while in office.

+ The rule that a sitting President can’t be called a racist on the floor of the House, invoked last week by the GOP against Pelosi, derives from a Parliamentary handbook written by the first child-rapist president (Sally Hemmings was 13 when he first forced her into his bed), Thomas Jefferson, slave owner.

+ Trump doesn’t want to be the “world’s policeman,” he wants the US to serve as a mercenary force and arms dealer for the regional ambitions of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

+ Trump: “When we took over our military was depleted and in the past 2.5 years we’ve undepleted it, to put it mildly.”

+ So it looks like Trump could lose the the next election by 5 million votes and still win via the electoral college. One of the reasons we have anti-democratic institutions like the Electoral College is that most of the founders, including the ones who wrote the Constitution, feared democracy, and few were more hostile than James Madison: “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” And that view among the propertied classes hasn’t changed much since Madison wrote Federalist 10.

+ The Trump administration is set to beginning executing federal prisoners on death row for the first time since 2003. Biden is partially culpable for this act of politically-motivated savagery, since his “Crime” Bill authorized the largest expansion of the federal death penalty in history. As for Obama, he claimed to have “serious reservations” about the death penalty and had it in his power to commute the sentences of all federal prisoners on death row, but, demonstrating his customary lack of nerve, didn’t…

+ In one of the most explosive leaks since the Panama Papers, Barrett Brown and Emma Best have unloaded 85 gigabytes of leaked emails, phone calls, faxes, and other documents from a  outfit called Formations House, where over 2K companies hid assets and money. Over the next few weeks, journalists from CounterPunch, and a few other carefully selected outlets, will be drilling through the strata of documents in search of the dirt that is surely buried there. Be sure to read Brown’s preview of this trove of corruption and villainy.

+ One take away from this study from the National Bureau of Economic Research is that the Supreme Court’s fatal decision to allow states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion killed nearly 16,000 people. Call Sarah Palin, it looks like we’ve found your “death panel.”

+ Doesn’t the “biggest bull market ever” depend on there being “disaster for millions“?

+ The Indian government emphatically denied Trump’s assertion that Modi asked him to arbitrate a solution to the Kashmir dispute. I’m sure that Modi would prefer that his admirer Tulsi Gabbard serve as mediator…

+ Trump on Kashmir: “‘Cause I’ve heard so much about Kashmir. Such a beautiful name. It’s supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world. But right now there’s just bombs all over the place. They say everywhere you go, you have bombs.”

And not a word I heard could I relate
The story was quite clear

+ It’s not exactly breaking news, but the New York Times reported breathlessly this week that while Trump uses populist rhetoric, his policies almost always favor corporations and the financial elite. Of course, he learned this from watching the Democrats over the last 40 years.

+ Even if you smoke a pack of Camels a day, you can still add years to your life by skipping those Thomas Friedman columns

+ Trump keeps saying Congress “handed Puerto Rico $92 billion.” Not even close. The estimate of what PR needs is $92 billion, certainly an underestimate. Congress authorized as much as $42.5 billion, but FEMA is only obligated to spend $20.6 billion. So far PR has received a little more than $13.6 billion…

 

+ Rashida Tlaib, who this week proposed a $20 an hour minimum wage, is shrewd enough to use the attention Trump is giving her to advance policies that might appeal to some of Trump’s working class voters (or voters who aspire to be working class)…

+ Dentists in the U.S. prescribe opioids at a rate SEVENTY times higher than dentists in England.

+ Penn Law Professor Amy Wax, who said the U.S. would be “better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites,” says she doesn’t plan to leave the school. “The students need me. When I’m gone, the place goes full North Korea. (It’s 95% there).”

+ FBI Director Christopher Wray in congressional testimony this week: “A majority of the domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

+ Rudy Giuliani says that Biden’s “not smart enough” to serve as president. I’m not disagreeing with Rudy, but what is the minimum intellectual level required to be president? Does Shrub represent the Mendoza Line? Reagan after 6 pm? Gerald Ford? Truman? Coolidge? Andrew Johnson? Ulysses S. Grant, sober (on the basis of his memoirs, he was much shrewder drunk)?

+ Nicholas Burns, who helped sell the Iraq war, joins the team of Joe Biden, one of the guys who bought what Burns was selling…

+ I always thought that Reagan’s “Alzheimers” was planted in the press by people like Michael Deaver, Don Regan and Nancy, in order to increase the plausibility of Ronnie’s deniability in Iran/contra…

+ The preposterous Max Boot warns that what comes after Trump (Tucker Carlson) may be “even worse.” trictly in terms of body count, so was what came before him. (I’m thinking specifically of Boot’s hero George W. Bush, but Obama also racked up two regime changes on his crime blotter.)

+ The dusty city of Modesto, birthplace of gay icon Carol Channing (and, in karmic balance, Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels), is the latest to announce a “straight pride” parade that will defiantly proclaim the virtues of Western Civilization. Didn’t Western “Civilization” start in a City State of intellectual and political elites who openly practiced and promoted the virtues of homosexuality?

+ UK neo-nativist PM Boris Johnson was born on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

+ Priti Patel will be the first British Home Secretary in 30 years to have said they’re in favor of hanging. Will someone could out in favor of drawing-and-quatering? Posting decapitated heads on Tower Bridge?

+ Former Manhattan DA Robert Morganthau died this week at 99 and the media beatification was almost unanimous. But Morgentahu’s record is forever stained by the Central Park Five case. It was his decision to put the vicious Linda Fairstein in charge of the investigations and prosecutions. The fact that his office later vacated the convictions doesn’t obviate the original mistakes, which were grievous.

+ Eve Ottenberg: “Plenty of other things blighted Morgenthau’s record, starting way back in the ’60s, with his aggressive and barely constitutional (according to Hentoff) prosecutions of anti-war and civil rights radicals.”

+ A court ruled this week that it was perfectly legal for a prison in Illinois to force 200 women inmates to strip, remove tampons if they had their periods, then squat and bend over while guards searched their vaginal & anal cavities, as part of a training exercise for cadets.

+ The drug war seems to be unfolding as viciously as ever in the South. Marijuana arrests in Virginia have spiked to their highest level in more than 20 years.

+ In Montana, 99% of people who completed the required 10 years of payments on their student loans were denied loan forgiveness.

+ Average length of a football game: 3 hours
Amount of time the ball is in play: 11 minutes

+ A study by FAIR reports that the New York Times, ever nervous about the leftwing threat to the Democratic Party, hasn’t used the phrase “rightwing Democrat” in more than 30 years.

Spelling bee proctor: The word is “Rightwing-Democrat.”
Contestant: Can you use that in a sentence?
Spelling bee proctor, checks notes: Uh, it seems like it has never been used in a sentence.

+ So it turns out that AOC was being optimistic when she said we only have 12 years to save the planet. It may be closer to 18 months

+ Mike Roselle: “I gave it twenty years, forty years ago.”

+ The history of life on Earth is melting away. Soon there will only be 6000 years of ice left and Biblical estimates of the age of the Earth will be fulfilled…

+ The biggest cities in the US are leaking methane at twice the rate scientists once thought: “When burned for heat or power, methane emits less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels such as coal. But when leaked directly into the atmosphere, its warming effect can be dozens of times stronger than CO2.”

+ The current rate of ocean warming is equal to five Hiroshima-size atomic bombs exploding every second.

+ Speaking of atomic bombs, a few days ago there was a wildfire sweeping across Hanford, where much of the soil and many of the trees, scrub and sagebrush are contaminated with radioactive particles. Then a few days later, one broke out at the equally leaky nuclear “lab” in Idaho, burning 90,000 acres in a single day. Climate change as WMD…

+ Dozens of all-time and monthly records broken on Tuesday in cities across France as temperatures soared to 108.6ºF amid an intense European heat wave. I thought of what a day like today might have been like for Marcel Proust, confined in his cork-lined room on the Boulevard Hausmann, all his tasty Madelienes baking on the nightstand….

+ Both Netherlands and Belgium each recorded the highest temperatures in their history this week.

+ The hottest summers in Europe over the past 500 years have ALL occurred in the past 17 years.

+ James Kilgore: “Heat Wave. My last day in prison in Tracy, CA it was 114 degrees. We smashed out every window to get some air. Then the water went out and the toilets wouldn’t flush. Silicon Valley was 50 miles away. I wonder if their water went out too?”

+ You don’t have to go to the beach, the beach is coming to you“Sous la plage, les pavés!”

+ During her acceptance speech for the Freedom Prize, Greta Thornberg, the Malala of the climate movement, demanded that “adults be held accountable” for the climate crisis. How about holding corporations, private equity, hedge funds and the military industrial complex accountable for climate change, Greta?

+ For the first 205 days of the year, the average temperatures on the Arctic Coast of Alaska have been 9°F above normal.

Do you realize, Greta, that thousands of activists, ecologists and scientists around the world have been fighting the coal companies, oil and gas companies and the military on the ground, in the courts and in congress for decades now and that they have a pretty clear idea of where the political and economic pressure points are, don’t you? Greta is a novelty act, supported by foundations that have been hostile the very kind of radical change that is needed to confront the thing she warns about it.

+ In 2016, US farms used 1.2 billion lbs of pesticides. More than one-fourth — 322 million lbs — were pesticides banned in the EU. 26 million lbs were banned in Brazil. 40 million lbs were outlawed by China.

+ Permian Basin water use grew nearly ninefold from 2011-2016 as drillers added more than 10,000 wells. An average Permian well in 2018 used more than 15 million gallons, compared with 7 million in 2013. Water = 54% of fracking costs in Permian.

+ Air pollution kills more than 30,000 people in the US every year.

+ Air pollution is a bigger threat to your life than smoking.

+ According to a study from NIH, “infants born to women exposed to high levels of air pollution in the week before delivery are more likely to be admitted to NICU. Depending on the type of pollution, chances for NICU admission increased between 4% and 147%.”

+ Mining companies have rarely been held accountable for the ruins they’ve made in the past. Now they won’t even have to pretend to make an effort.

+ A Day at the Beach: If it ain’t covered in oil, plastic or dead whales, it’s awash in human shit

+ Michael Colby: “There were 2400 Vermont family dairy farmers when Bernie first went to Congress to “fix the problem.” There are now 675 left, and he’s done nothing to stop the downward spiral.”

+ Robin Silver, MD: “Say we’re driving from Texas and just go through these rivers: Rio Grande is dead, and then you start moving into Arizona. The Gila, dead. Santa Cruz, dead. Salt, dead. You cross the San Pedro at Benson, it’s pretty dead, but the river flows from Mexico as you go south and it’s still alive. Same thing with the Verde.”

+ Last week, Bernie Sanders posted a tweet supporting Native Hawai’ians in their fight against the Thirty Meter Telescope on the sacred summit of Mauna Kea, then mysteriously deleted it. Sanders still hasn’t explained why. C’mon, Bernie, say something.

+ Oregon State University’s School of Forestry, recently embarrassed for cutting down ancient trees, has been training people to log 400-year old trees for 100 years. They probably trained the people who logged the 800-year old trees in Millennium Grove…

+ If you were to ask me what’s the most effective and fearless environmental group in the US is, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer: the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. I’ve followed their work for 30 years. They operate on a shoestring budget. They spend their money where it matters: appeals, lawsuits, and in developing the most visionary wildland protection bill ever introduced into Congress: the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection. They’ve hit a financial crisis this summer and the future of this grassroots, no compromise group is very much in doubt at the worst possible moment. I urge you to pitch in what you can and know that it will all be used to help protect wolves & grizzlies, lynx & bull trout, wild rivers and roadless forests.

+ Thanks to the warming climate, we’re living on a more tick-friendly planet, where you can be infected with a tick-borne disease (tularemia, anaplasmosis, Colorado tick fever, Powassin encephalitis, relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, et al.) in as little as 15 minutes after a tick attaches itself to your scalp, long before you return home from your hike with your Labradoodle and begin extracting the tiny arachnids. One of my favorite rock art images is of an engorged tick in a small cave high above the Columbia Gorge. It was probably some kind of shamanic symbol near a vision quest site. I was once told by an elder of the Yakima Nation that ticks have mystical power because they are shape-shifters who sustain themselves on human blood.

Tick pictograph, Columbia Gorge. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ Ben Jaffe, leader of Preservation Hall Jazz Band: “You can’t understand the music of New Orleans without understanding the music of Cuba.”

RIP Art Neville

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Order of the Day
Éric Vuillard
(Other Press)

Lemon Jail: On the Road with the Replacements
Bill Sullivan
(University of Minnesota)

Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon
Tucker Malarky
(Spiegel & Grau)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Got to be Real: the Columbia Anthology
Cheryl Lynn
(Soul Music)

Samsara
Los Coast
(New West)

Roots of Confusion, Seeds of Joy (Vinyl)
Major Stars
(Drag City)

The Basic Reality of Chaos

William Gaddis: “Has it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from outside. In fact it’s exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos.” (JR)

 

The post Roaming Charges: And Then There Were Three appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Records Show Palantir Made $60 Million Contracting with ICE for Mobile App

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Palantir, the secretive data company founded by billionaire Trump surrogate and well-known Silicon Valley techno-goblin Peter Thiel, has come under fire in recent months for its work with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other government agencies involved in implementing Trump’s racist anti-immigrant policies. Protests organized both from within the tech community and from immigrants’ rights organizations have highlighted the essential role that Palantir plays in keeping the wheels of ICE raids turning.

A critical July 2019 exposé from WNYC based on documents obtained via FOIA request shows how Palantir’s proprietary software, in this case the FALCON mobile app, is essential to the removal operations of ICE and related agencies. As WNYC explained, “FALCON mobile allows agents in the field to search through a fusion of law enforcement databases that include information on people’s immigration histories, family relationships, and past border crossings.”

But while the information contained in the WNYC story, as well as reporting from other news outlets, is important for what it reveals about how Palantir collaborates with the deportation machine, we have not yet had the financial side of the Palantir-ICE relationship come into focus. Until now.

CounterPunch has learned that since 2016, Palantir has made more than $60 million in contract awards from ICE for access to FALCON and for Operations & Maintenance (O&M) for the mobile application. This, of course, is solely for FALCON and related services, and likely just scratches the surface of the true scope of Palantir’s profits from collaboration with ICE, to say nothing of Palantir’s lucrative relations with other government agencies such as CIA, DoD, etc.

“We Just Provide the Tools”

Peter Thiel and his fellow ghoul, Palantir CEO Alexander Karp, are fond of describing Palantir’s mission as simply providing the US government and other clients with the best data aggregating tools available. Oh, Palantir isn’t responsible for any of the abuses of its technology, nor is it directly involved in their application to policies in violation of international law and human rights. No. Palantir simply develops the technology and sells it, right?

Well, that’s certainly the cover story that Thiel, Karp et al like to employ. But US Government financial records reveal a much more direct and intimate collaboration between Palantir and ICE, down to the individual user level. As the documents obtained by WNYC reveal:

In one email from April of last year, a Palantir staffer notifies an ICE agent that they should test out their FALCON mobile application because of his or her “possible involvement in an upcoming operation.” Another message, in April 2017, shows a Palantir support representative instructing an agent on how to classify a datapoint, so that Palantir’s Investigative Case Management [ICM] platform could properly ingest records of a cell phone seizure.

What these emails show in glimpses is a company that is much more than a mere third-party vendor. Rather, Palantir’s relationship with ICE is more that of an intimate partner involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. Karp and Palantir are more than just “providing the tools,” they’re providing the brains. The speed and scope of ICE operations would be impossible were it nor for FALCON and Palantir’s hand-holding.

To be fair to Karp, Thiel, and their army of orcs in t-shirts and blazers, nothing that Palantir is doing today is out of step with the crimes it has previously been involved in.

Palantir: Thiel’s Own Totalitarian Collective

In his 2009 essay for the right-wing Cato Institute, Thiel wrote:

I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years: to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself “libertarian.”

Interestingly, while Thiel was busily virtue-signaling his hatred of “totalitarian collectives” he was even busier expanding a company that rightly is seen as a primary node in the architecture of contemporary authoritarianism, and a linchpin of a totalitarian future.

In 2011, journalist Barrett Brown and his colleagues revealed a plot by a consortium of powerful private intelligence contractors intending to target activists, journalists, and those associated with WikiLeaks on behalf of its wealthy US private clients.

Called “Team Themis” the plan was to use Palantir, in collaboration with intelligence contractors HBGary and Berico, to gather information and intelligence on journalists like Glenn Greenwald (among others) and use that information for the purposes of infiltration, intimidation, and disruption of groups organizing against the financial interests of Team Themis’s clients. The tactics ranged from intelligence gathering and data analysis to outright targeting of activists, journalists, and their families.

While the Team Themis plot was exposed after an Anonymous hack of HBGary led to the publication of thousands of internal emails, the underlying strategic thinking behind such a plan remained in place. Essentially, Palantir was moving out of the realm of software development where it had styled itself a mere toolmaker and into the realm of corporate espionage. This early foray into the world of spies and intelligence work highlighted the increasingly broad, and truly dangerous, scope of Palantir’s capabilities.

The Many-Headed Hydra

Today Palantir is a world unto itself, with its fingers in just about every spook pie one could imagine. As Prof. Sarah Brayne, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas-Austin wrote in her 2017 study Big Data Surveillance: The Case of Policing, Palantir has become something of a “secondary surveillance network,” able to track individuals and those in their personal and social networks without any crime being committed or even a specific query about a person. In effect, Palantir has become the Orwellian Big Brother we have feared for decades.

Palantir software can be found in the hands of LAPD and NYPD cops using Gotham and similar programs to track individuals with almost no information; just a license plate number and name can be used to track every movement of an individual associated with a vehicle, every email address and cell phone number is catalogued, every bank account and family relationship, etc.

It can be found in corporate headquarters where data analysts use Palantir products to generate actionable information about customers, markets, investments, and more. It can be found on every battlefield where the US military is engaged, and in most major cities.

It can even be found in the election of Donald Trump, as revealed by the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie who told MPs in the UK that Palantir worked directly with SCL Group to harvest user data that was used directly in the election of Midtown Mussolini in 2016.

If there’s a data point, chances are Palantir has it stored or can access it.

In effect, Palantir’s products have transformed society into Bentham’s panopticon, a nightmarish vision from a Foucault fever dream. Sadly, this is our reality…and it’s monetized.

Palantir has made hundreds of millions of dollars collaborating with those elements of the military-industrial-intelligence complex that are paving the way for the true fascist state.

Or perhaps Thiel, Karp, and Palantir aren’t so much paving the way for the fascist state as announcing that it’s already here.

The post Records Show Palantir Made $60 Million Contracting with ICE for Mobile App appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

How the People Change History


The People Do Not Elect U.S. Presidents

United States Representative Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) lied on national television yesterday (Thursday, July 25th) morning. Now that impeachment is off the table in the wake of the final public Robert Mueller fiasco, Garcia told CNN, it’s “the people” who will remove Donald Trump from the presidency during the 2020 election.

The Democracy-Flunking Electoral College

The statement is false. As Garcia should know, U.S. presidents are not elected by majority popular vote under the American Electoral College system, explicitly crafted by the nation’s slave-owning and merchant capitalist founders to curb democracy. By giving each U.S. state an extra Electoral College tally for both Senators they send to Washington no matter how small or large each state’s populations, it triples the clout of the nation’s eight smallest states and doubles that of the next six smallest states relative to their populations.

For the fifth time in history and the second in this century, the Electoral College in 2017 installed a president who failed to win the national popular vote. Donald Trump, the biggest popular vote-loser to ever inhabit the White House, is a racist, sexist, authoritarian, and ecocidal climate change-denier who should not be allowed anywhere near the nation’s energy policy or nuclear codes. It’s not for nothing that even the depressing, highly unpopular “lying neoliberal warmonger” Hillary Clinton polled 2.8 million more votes than Trump did in November of 2016

The extensively despised orange monstrosity made it into the world’s most powerful and dangerous job thanks in no small part to the Electoral College. The democracy-flunking “college” renders presidential campaigning irrelevant (and close to nonexistent) in most of the nation. It gives absurdly outsized weight to disproportionately white and right-leaning rural states. It openly violates the core democratic principles of majority rule and one-person, one-vote. Trump’s chances of getting a second term after losing the popular vote yet again are pretty good.

We the People will not elect or un-elect Trump in 2020, undemocratic Electors will. Trump needs popular vote victories in just a few key battleground and contested states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania to come back for a second term. The votes of millions of citizens in giant blue states like California and New York and in vast red regions like most of the South will be immaterial.

The Electoral College is a far greater obstacle to democracy in the United States than the laughably minor problem of “Russian interference in our [supposed great] democracy” – the matter that Democrats and their many media allies sadly chose to roil the nation about, dangling the threat of impeachment, for the last two and half years.

A Gentleman’s Agreement”

Also of much greater significance than the comparatively marginal matter of “Russian interference” is the problem of state-level racist voter suppression and disenfranchisement. This openly anti-democratic form of suffrage obstruction has contributed significantly to the Republicans winning the presidency in 20002004, and 2016. A “gentleman’s agreement” (as Glen Ford calls it) between the two reigning corporate-military political parties pushes this disturbing problem to the margins of public discussion. “The United States,” political scientist David Schutlz noted on Counterpunch last year, is incidentally “the only country in the world that still does not have in its Constitution an explicit clause  affirmatively granting a right to vote for all or some of its citizens.”

“The Shadow Cast by Big Business”

Even more significantly trumping democracy in the nation’s presidential and other elections is the potent oligarchic role of big corporate and financial sector political money. The leading mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens find through exhaustive research that “the best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy.  Wealthy individuals and organized interest groups – especially business corporations – have had much more political clout.  When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless…Government policy,” Page and Gilens determined, “reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office.”

As the legendary veteran journalist Seymour Hersh recently commented, Trump will likely repeat in 2020 thanks largely to the transparently inauthentic establishment Democrats continuing practice of “going around saying, ‘We’re for the people, we’re for the little guy’” when “all they [really] do is run to Wall Street for money.” The “one guy that didn’t, Sanders,” Hersh rightly notes, “was sabotaged by the Democratic National Committee” in 2016. It’s happening again in the current cycle, Hersh might have added.

The controlling influence of corporate America and Wall Street isn’t just about campaign finance. As William Greider noted in his classic 1992 book Who Will Tell the People? The Betrayal of American Democracy, the organized bribery called campaign finance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how big corporations and financial institutions dominate U.S. politics and policy. “The effects of [campaign] money are real enough” Greider determined, “but the debilitating impact [of corporate wealth and power] on democracy would endure, even if money were magically eliminated from politics.” The many-sided methods and modes of moneyed-class power include:

+ The flooding of the nation’s capital and the 50 state capitals and an untold number of municipal and county governments with a gigantic army of corporate lobbyists.

+Massive investment in public relations and propaganda to influence the beliefs and values of citizens, politicians, and other “opinion-shapers” on matters of interest to corporations.

+Capture of key positions in government regulatory agencies by people who reasonably expect to work at increased levels of compensation in the regulated (and not-so-regulated) industries in the future.

+ “Cognitive” (ideological) capture of state officials, politicians, media personnel, educators, nonprofit managers to minimize public actions and sentiments that might harm business profits.

+The use by businesses of the threat of disinvestment, capital flight, and capital strike – resulting in the loss of jobs and tax revenue – to get what they want (i.e., reduced wages, reduced taxes, reduced environmental regulations, increased public subsidies…the list goes on) from governments, unions, and communities.

+The systematic destruction and undermining of organizations (i.e., labor unions) that might offer some countervailing power to that of big business in the political and policy realms.

+The offer of jobs, corporate board memberships, internships, and other perks and payments to public officials and their families and to other “influentials” and their families.

+Control of education and publishing (a) to filter out, repress, and marginalize “populist” and “radical” (democratic) critiques of the profits system, corporations, and capitalist culture and (b) to identify the public interest and the common good with the business bottom line.

+Ownership, monitoring, and management of mass media (including “entertainment” as well as public affairs news and commentary) for the same purposes.

+The systematic advance ruling-class vetting of potentially viable candidates for top elected office before they are put up for “democratic” selection.

Eighty-eight years ago, the great American philosopher John Dewey observed that “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” Dewey rightly prophesized that U.S. politics would stay that way as long as power resided in “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents, and other means of publicity and propaganda.”

“Ricky, te botamos!” (“Ricky, we threw you out!”) 

U.S.-Americans who want to know how the people might remove a viciously racist, sexist, and corrupt sociopath from office would have done well Thursday to turn their attention from the depressing live broadcast all-network and cable news fiasco of Robert Mueller trying to remember his own findings on RussiaGate in front of the House Judiciary Committee to the hundreds of thousands of everyday Puerto Ricans who took to the streets for days to force out the island’s governor Ricardo Rosali. Impeachment was on the table in the background of Rosali’s Thursday night resignation, but the real pressure came from the popular masses who came out essentially in a general political strike to shut the island colony down, bringing with them a host of issues beyond just the (now ex-)governor’s terrible character.

People power in the streets can be a remarkable thing. Through prolonged and militant outdoor disruption, the remarkable Gilets Jaunes forced the French government to humbly cancel a regressive fuel tax ordered by its vapid neoliberal present Emanuel Macron last winter. The populace in Hong Kong has engaged protracted mass street action to force the powerful and arch-authoritarian Chinese state to suspend a controversial extradition law.

If We Were Serious

Adding to his long list of insane autocratic outrages, the aspiring fascist strongman Donald Trump recently and absurdly told a crowd of right-wing teenagers that the Constitution allows “me to do anything I want as president.” (Anything he wants, like, …wipe Iran off the map with nuclear weapons “if I have to,” deport “the squad” to some “shit hole nation” in Africa, or send New York Times reporters to internment camps?) Trump’s idiotic hyperbole might be less disturbing if hadn’t shown so much fascist-style disdain for democratic and constitutional norms over his two-and-a-half years in the world’s most powerful office.

What should the populace do about the presence atop its “democratic” government of a soulless despot who thinks he’s above the law? Malignantly narcissistic tyrants who would rule like kings are supposed to face popular upheavals, aren’t they? You won’t hear word one about the need for disruptive mass U.S. action of the kind liberal talking heads and pundits support inside such officially designated enemy and “adversary” states as Venezuela, Russia and Iran. The implicit and sometimes explicit counsel here in the supposedly civilized homeland is to play by the rules: Be good citizens and let the supposedly democratic Constitution and he supposed “adults in the room” (the Democrats) do their purported good works.

The guidance is to chill and the let the business and professional class “experts” handle things. Keep calm and let the system work. Wait for the congressional investigations to reach fruition. Wait for the next quadrennial presidential electoral extravaganza to play itself out. Wait for the Democrats to nominate the right-wing, arch-corporatist-imperialist Joe Biden, adding the right-wing Kamala Harris to his ticket for some deceptive, fake-progressive race and gender identity ballast. Spend our time between now and then learning about all the interesting and wonderfully “diverse” Democratic presidential candidates as they fly around the country this year.

If we, the people, are serious about stopping the Trumpenstein and (more importantly) the system that hatched it, we’ll take to the streets en masse to engage in extensive and unrelenting civil disobedience. If we are serious about democracy beyond just the removal of a single noxious ogre, we won’t go home just because a narrow-spectrum, big money, major media candidate-centered election is being held on its regular, absurdly time-staggered, once-every-1,460-days schedule. We won’t go home even if Trump loses and agrees to leave without incident. If we’re serious about popular sovereignty, we’ll stick around to “dismantle the corporate state” (Chris Hedges) that birthed both Trump and the inauthentic opposition party (the neoliberal era Democrats), along with so much else that has long outlived its expiration date (i.e., the fossil fuel industry and the Pentagon system).

Russian collusion and interference would be very low on our list of issues if we ever got serious about democracy and took to the streets. Where to begin in listing things that matter so much more? I won’t attempt that here given space limits, but anyone who is inclined to read more on this score is invited to consult my February 2019 Counterpunch essay “31 Actual National Emergencies.” (One of the crises I discuss there is the American constitutional set-up, designed to keep popular sovereignty at bay by wealthy 18th century aristo-republicans for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare.)

None of these emergencies is more dire and urgently in need of massive institutional action than the climate-led environmental crisis. A global Green New Deal must be implemented in the next decade if homo sapiens wishes to avoid epic ecological catastrophe – the signs of which are already apparent. If there is any single issue on which Trump should first and foremost be removed from power, it is his determination to escalate Big Carbon’s eco-exterminist campaign to turn the entire planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber.

“Once You Put People in the Streets”…

Don’t hold your breath waiting for liberal talking heads or politicos to tell the people the truth about how they need to take to the streets to fight Trump. As the historian and journalist Terry Thomas told me last May:

“There are now legal scholars making the case on national television that the president must be judged by an entirely different standard than the rest of us lowly citizens. That’s how this works: Trump types keep pushing the envelope, and by doing so push the terrain of discourse ever closer to fascism. And if he has sufficiently captured the federal court system, Trump could win. I would say the proper response is for House Democrats to call for mass demonstrations to give evidence that people oppose this authoritarian shit. But they will never do it, in part because they are afraid of the people in the streets. It’s the centuries-old dilemma faced by the likes of John Adams in the American Revolution. Once you put the people in the streets, you run the risk of losing control of them.”

The elites run the risk of losing control not just of crowds’ immediate behaviors but of the issues that We the People bring to the table of public deliberation when they meet in public space on a massive and prolonged scale. People who come out into the invigorating air of mass resistance by marching and otherwise protesting in the streets – and in the workplaces, town halls, schools, and offices – have a knack of raising issues that go far beyond the immediate ones that initially brought them out of their private spaces. They have a way of raising questions about a “whole damn system” (to use the language of anti-racist police violence activists) that now puts the entire species at risk of extinction under “the shadow cast by Big Business” in a society based on “private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents, and other means of publicity and propaganda.”

Help Street keep writing here.

The post How the People Change History appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Vote Blue for Better Wage Slavery

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair


Democrats of all stripes continue to funnel workers into dead-end reformism

Some night soon, after you’ve finished clanging your pots and pans in the streets, calling for regime change in Washington, take a stroll through your local chain bookstore. If you look in the right places, you’ll find quality reading, of political, literary, and spiritual varieties. Despite its emphasis of salability over quality, capitalism has not yet sundered literature. The good capitalist does not have time to read the books he hawks, and thus does not notice the subversive fictions or outright manuals for revolution that are dispersed among the general pulp. Unfortunately, few have embraced Voltaire’s admonition that it is better to be silent than to increase the quantity of bad books in the world.

Look at the tables proudly displayed in the open spaces, away from the ponderous shelves of deepthink. You won’t find Marx or Chomsky or even Zizek here. These tables are reserved for the big sellers, the saccharine stenographers of Silicon Valley triumphalism, the piffle-brained champions of positive thinking, luck-struck billionaires and their gasbag leadership handbooks. Titles like, “The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People,” “The Motivation Manifesto: 9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power,” “Earn It! Know Your Value and Grow Your Career…,” “The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich,” “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” all play on emotion and inspiration, promising motivational tactics to inspire greater worker productivity and generate greater profits. Note how most of these don’t focus on money.

The sad reality is that these books never state plainly what most ails American workers. Firstly, not enough money (largely because massive productivity increases have been unhitched from wage increases). But also not enough meaningful work, not enough durable work, not enough programs of social uplift, and the consequent dependence on their corporate betters for their livelihood. They also often assign otherworldly agency to individuals without remotely representing structural inhibitors that often preclude people from achieving what they are incessantly being told they can achieve but for their own lack of motivation. In any event, these authors have little interest in system change, but rather better adapting workers to the existing system. Which is why they all spew senseless pop psychology solutions. This is nothing new. Sociologist Alex Carey revealed how numerous workplace studies in the 20th century all downplayed wages and salaries in their study of employee dissatisfaction. Capital knows what better wages do to profits, and it steers clear of the subject altogether.

If this is what Americans are being fed in the supposedly literate confines of the bookstore, it’s even worse when they flick on that necessary antidote to intellectualism, the television. There the promises they are fed are just as weightless and insubstantial as the spotlit tables of business literature. Like capitalists preaching corporate transformation, today’s democratic socialists preaching ‘radical change’ are offering nothing of the sort. It is worth looking at their promises through the lens of history and a more revolutionary perspective than the current candidates can muster.

Theater of the Banal

The Bernie “uprising” of 2016 had its moments. A crowded Washington Square with jubilant Millennials fueling the biting polemics of a surrogate FDR. There were the fear-filled eyes of establishment pundits gazing at their primary calculations with trembling uncertainty. Then there was the inevitable. The sleight of the Diebold hand. The heavy math of superdelegates. The graceless sidelining of the “loser’s” ideas. It was a cringeworthy charade watching Sanders’ proxies attempting to shovel their progressive reforms into the platform of the Democratic Party, a doomed prospect. The farce provided space for a few, like Cornell West, to eloquently exhibit their principals in refusing to lend their imprimatur to the final bourgeois document, all signs of progress papered over by vile Clintonite mediocrities.

One of the few changes Sanders was able to secure from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), was banning superdelegates from voting in the first round of the DNC nominating convention. If a candidate fails to win a majority of pledged delegates, a second round is called for. Of course, the superdelegates can vote in the second round. Whether because of this or by mere coincidence, an ocean of candidates have suddenly crowded into the race for the Democratic nomination, and we’re not even a year out yet. Votes that might have gone to Sanders will be siphoned off by minor candidates posing as left-leaning reformers. Which means there will be a second vote, at which point superdelegates will again be permitted to sway the nomination in the direction of their choosing (i.e., whomever has bought them off). The field is so packed with pseudo-leftist poseurs that it has had to host two debates on back-to-back nights as it was impossible to reasonably stage manage a single debate of some twenty candidates.

New debates are coming on July 30th and 31st. The first set was bad enough. All the candidates spent time qualifying their particular bona fides. The first. The only. The best. The issues were predictable: immigration, climate change, healthcare, and the apocalyptic “defeat Trump” rhetoric. The exception to this generally blasé liberalism was, of course, the wizened scold, Sanders himself. Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist” but is, in the end, more of a capitalist reformer in the mold of FDR, trying to conjure a populist rebellion by claiming one exists. The rueful reality is that there is nothing like the worker rebellion that frightened the ruling class into the New Deal. Everyone on stage for the Democrats was and will be a reformer quite amenable to capitalism.

The Long-Term Futility of Reformism

The banality of this kind of reformism is that it wants to reform its way to justice via the legislative and judicial and executive branches of a capitalist democracy that is, in essence, a plutocracy. These three branches are controlled by the very corporations that democratic socialism wants to reform. This appears to be the inevitable consequence of combining capitalism with democracy, with the former buying the latter and forestalling progressive challenges at nearly every turn.

Not only that, but a deeper look at the historical behaviors of “our democracy,” it becomes fairly obvious that radical democracy isn’t and was never the point of these institutions; they provide the illusion of popular control while in practice provide legislative pathways for corporate-friendly lawmaking; judicial avenues to protect property and lock in its profit-making potential; and executive routes to capitalist wars that generate new markets. The population hasn’t requested any of these measures; elite capital has. This disguise of democracy helps elites to keep wage and salary slaves pacified by the illusion of popular agency.

That’s why revolutionary socialists, tutored by the works of Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin, among others, argue that capsizing the capitalist class is an unavoidable step in the path to socialism. Only by the working class becoming a de facto dictatorship, Marxist-Leninists argue, can prosperity and health and education ever be realized on a mass scale, and that it simply isn’t in the DNA of capitalism to do this. The presence of a billionaire in the White House, three other billionaires owning as much wealth as 90 percent of the population, and an industrially induced extinction event, could be Exhibits A, B, and C in this case. The world picture shows where capitalism takes us. Mass wealth in few hands, mass poverty and near poverty for the masses.

The Certainty of Rollback

But this radical transformation is what democratic socialists deny. A program of that kind of revolutionary action seems almost unconscionable for democratic socialists like Sanders and AOC and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The limit of their vision is revision. The ceiling of their dreams is nonviolent reform that ameliorates but does not annihilate. But even the few poultices applied to the sick system, via the New Deal and the Great Society, have been ruthlessly clawed at by the paws of avarice, by capital itself. Think the eight-hour work day, the franchise, pro-union legislation, the EPA, banking legislation walling off investment banks from saving banks, programs like Social Security, Medicare, etc. These were all won in spite of capitalism, and often in spite of so-called democracy, by working class mobilization and the upward pressure it applied to its laconic but alarmed representation.

Yet all of these have been damaged by capital rollback. The work day has metastasized, erasing the border between work and home; voter rolls are massively shorn of citizens through incarceration and illegalization of status and by perverse practices like crosschecking and stringencies applied to personal identification; Glass-Steagall was repealed, entraining the 2007-2008 economic collapse; Social Security continues to lose ground to cost of living increases; the EPA and the SEC have been variously defunded.

Any yet, none of these ailing fixes even address the core target of genuine socialist resistance–the wage system itself. The democratic socialists address symptoms but not causes. Yet even successful attempts to ease the symptoms have been ruthlessly attacked by corporate capital. Why? Because working class uplift means ruling class decline. Profitability falls when wages rise. Profitability falls when corporate taxes rise. Profitability falls when regulations rise. When corporations are made to pay for their own externalized production costs, business models teeter in the wind.

Certainly hard-won freedoms are helpful for the working classes. Social Security has been a crucial safety net for American workers. Freedoms of speech and assembly are almost preconditions of revolutionary organization. But there is a limit to their efficacy. For low-wage earners, which are a majority of workers, Social Security pays out an annual total that’s beneath the poverty line.

Marx noted the core difference between socialists and democratic socialists simply by juxtaposing their slogans. One calls for, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work” while the other calls for, “Abolition of the wage system.” Reformers like Sanders reject what Marx once declared, that “no improvement of machinery, no appliance of science to production, no contrivances of communication, no new colonies, no emigration, no opening of markets, no free trade, nor all these things put together, will do away with the miseries of the industrious masses.”

Plenty of examples abound, even at Barnes & Noble. Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” aggregated immense amounts of economic data and distilled its essence into the dictum that over time capitalism increases inequality. This joins the earlier Princeton study that declared “our democracy” to be a thinly veiled plutocracy. Add to that the present experience of Venezuela. Despite the enormous success of the Bolivarian Revolution under Chavez and Maduro, they did not overthrow the capitalist class, but left it smoldering in opposition, from which emerged coup d’états, violent attacks on the state, and capital strikes, all funded by Washington. The Maduro government staggers forward on unsure footing. Same story in Brazil. Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores, or PT, is a worker’s party that actually grew large and took power, but electorally, leaving the capitalist jackals in play. Lula hastily launched some fantastic programs for working poor, but where is he now? Sitting in a prison on a trumped-up charge produced by a fixed prosecution. His successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached on an equally risible indictment. Now a jackboot fascist rules, happily dispensing corporate handouts.

Where to Turn?

If liberals think overthrowing the bourgeoisie is beyond the pale, why is that? Is it a naïve faith in reformism, an understandable fear of violence, a deeply inculcated belief in private property, an insistence that no armed revolt could ever be won against today’s repressive state apparatus? Where does that leave them? One could perhaps credibly argue for a nonviolent attempt at transformation based on worker strikes and consumer boycotts, divestments, and sanctions of capitalist enterprises. Or incredibly for more harebrained schemes like accumulated worker funds that eventually (and theoretically) purchase all the shares in conglomerates so that they become worker owned. Aside from that, there appears to be merely the prospect of revolution and all of its uncomfortable realities. It should be remembered that the Bolshevik Revolution had to fight off an imperial invasion of 14 countries, and an internal reactionary rebellion launched by the land-owning kulaks when the Soviet Union began to collectivize agriculture. And when American worker strikes were cruelly suppressed in the early decades of the 20th century, it was the capitalist police and armed forces and hired hands that launched the brutality. Same again during the Civil Rights Movement. Who drew first blood, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Bull Connor? The repressive violence comes, again and again, from capitalists, not workers. It is usually reactionary violence by elites when their property is being expropriated, to be sure, capital having expropriated the wealth in the first place, in the Marxist view. (As one who has encountered a wide array of immigrant bourgeois displaced by popular revolts in their home countries, let me assure you that hell hath no fury like an elite scorned.) And if it isn’t civil war, it is class war by other means, namely using the deep coffers and vast network of corporate power to attack rising labor solidarity.

Yet liberals denounce thoroughgoing socialists as some bloodthirsty camp of rebel idealists (issuing this denunciation just before they side with the corporate fascists). They envision scraggly bearded Castros and Ches, hidden in the plantation hills, readying themselves to swoop down and demolish their casino lifestyles, appropriate their second homes, and slaughter everyone in sight. They are half right, but they misinterpret the acceptance by revolutionary socialists of the need for revolt as a kind of roiling impatience in need of medication, rather than a conclusion drawn from history. Instead, manning the barricades of their cul-de-sacs, the democratic reformers leave you voting for blind men whose prophecies of mass prosperity never materialize.

Alienation Nation

The working class is not ultimately represented by either the Democrats or the Democratic Socialists of America. They work for change, sometimes laudable change, within the system of corporate profits. Although the ACA provided healthcare for a good slice of neglected citizens, it only did so by promising outsized profits for the insurance industry first. Take care of the donor class, then look to the peasants to secure re-election votes. Now over half of Americans skip healthcare because they can’t afford it. At the same time, in spite of decades of reforms, United Way reports that 43 percent of American households are, “asset limited, income constrained, employed” (or ALICE). The “basics of modern living” are increasingly unaffordable.

In other words, even the employed are being run down. The ‘middle class’ and the ‘working class’ are atrophied and atomized, parched herds lurching through a heat-waved desert. Thank neoliberal austerity for that. And this is why, when using the term, ‘working class’, one might include a cross-section of American workers, from the unemployed to the manufacturing workers endlessly hectored by floor managers while their wages and benefits decline beneath 9 percent real inflation and 21 percent real unemployment; deadpan service workers in dead-end big box stores, cashiering an endless line of consumers clutching overpriced toiletries and cheap cosmetics; hustling hospital techs and exhausted physicians strong-armed into a breathless practice of turnstile medicine and pushing product for giant manufacturers; corporate drones completing their carpal-tunnel tasks with numb hands and bleary screen-eyes, in the sickly light of their corporate tombs; in fact, everyone laboring with their minds or hands under a system that numbs their souls, saps their creativity, and kills off their best years laboring on behalf of a faceless corporation they neither like nor believe in; in a word, the alienated.

The alienated, of course, are the very people being obsessed over and flattered by the latest cluster of New/Global/Gig Economy prophets on display at Barnes & Noble. And like Bernie, they see promise in the confines of a capital-controlled economy, where workers submit to owner dictates. The solution is for the owners to either become nicer guys, or to be variously disciplined for their misbehavior. How we unshackle the institutions from the corporations is vague. Forgotten is Engels great admonition for the alienated working class (in England, in that case), “to refuse any longer to serve as the fag-end of the ‘great Liberal Party’ and to form an independent party of their own.” Instead, we have the predictable proposals to better integrate workers into capitalist society, the better for their exploitation. (How did microfinance work out for peasants, when the great ‘unbanked’ were targeted by capital?) In the end, all these fraudulent champions of the working class have digested the fatal myth of ‘doing well by doing good.’ The cost of supporting true, radical change was chillingly summed up by Frankfurt School luminary Max Horkheimer when he wrote, “A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, interesting research and professorial wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison, and a voyage into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief.” Don’t tell Cory Booker.

It might be said that few of us have the revolutionary mettle to suffer such depredations, but that shouldn’t preclude us from building consensus for a worker’s party and critiquing the declared promises of a political class to do what they will not in the end do. Engels described the reformist agenda as one that pushes the toppling of the capitalist system into the far distant future, a revolutionary matter for another generation and time. Instead, it funnels working class energy, “…to those petty-bourgeois patchwork reforms which, by providing the old order of society with new props, may perhaps transform the ultimate catastrophe into a gradual, piecemeal and as far as possible peaceful process of dissolution.” Talk about utopian. And yet what more should one expect from a corrupt, complacent, irrevocably corporatized party of jaded millionaires who have, for the better part of three generations, had 90 percent of society on mute?

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Trump: the GOP’s Exterminating Angel


Anyone with normal sensibilities who does not tune the world out completely cannot help but find the Trump presidency disorienting and upsetting – not only because the fate of the planet is in the hands of an illiberal, willfully ignorant, inept, sleaze ball with a Mussolini smirk, whose modus operandi is to stir up racial animosities, and who delights in gratuitous displays of cruelty towards black and brown people, but also in the way that people feel in the course of a nightmare from which they cannot awaken.

Democrats and Republicans have so far responded in different ways to this state of affairs. The effect on the Democratic Party has been at least potentially beneficial; the effect on Republicans has been devastating, and could become even worse.

Since even before the Wilson era, the Democratic Party has been, on the whole, more progressive than the GOP. But for most of its long history, it has also been the more racist of the two parties – not so much attitudinally, but at the policy level.

This began to change in the twenties, as immigrants from Europe were increasingly welcomed into the Democratic fold. Some of that good will carried over to African Americans in the larger towns and cities of the North.

However, with the Solid South an integral part of the national party, the Democrats retained a robust white supremacist wing for decades longer. The turning point was the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Southern Democrats didn’t give up the ghost right away, but the party’s segregationist wing fell into a prolonged decline after 1965, eventually reviving under the aegis of the GOP.

Overtly racist Southern Democrats therefore remained players at the national level well into the seventies and beyond. Since Senators serve six year terms and incumbents generally have a leg up getting reelected, it is not at all surprising that Joe Biden, coming on the scene in the early seventies, would have had good working relationships with Senators like James Eastland and Herman Tallmadge, unabashed segregationists whose racial view make even Donald Trump’s look good.

In the course of time, though, that wing of the party died off, and the tables turned. Thank the Richard Nixon – Pat Buchanan “Southern Strategy” for that. It gradually brought the old Confederate and Border states into the GOP orbit, along with much of rural America.

This was what Chester Riley might have called a “revolting development,” but it is not so revolting that Trump couldn’t make it worse. Under his aegis, the GOP has become an overtly white supremacist political party.

By no means, however, is it all Trump’s fault. The transformation has been underway for years. So has the de facto purge of liberal and moderate Republicans. In recent years, starting out from a bad place already, the Republican Party has moved farther to the right on almost every issue in creation.

Its trajectory has been so pronounced that, even as they too have all but kicked their party’s leftwing out, Democrats remain the lesser evil even more plainly than before.

That wretched party’s neoliberal turn in the late seventies and eighties has exacted a heavy toll. Many of the achievements of the New Deal and Great Society eras are endangered or on life support. The only exceptions are the party’s positions on social issues that cost donors little or nothing.

Even so, the party’s leaders have done hardly any leading at all. What has forced Democrats into the fray is public opinion as it has evolved with little or no help from the Democratic Party.

The Clintons were among the leaders of the transformed Democratic Party that took shape in the Reagan era; their name has become emblematic but they are by no means the only ones. The Democratic Party’s right turn has been a group effort.

For a while, it seemed that the entire party was Clintonite. The Occupy movement didn’t change that, and neither did the Sanders insurgency five years later – not in the short run, anyway.

Having lost in a process rigged against him, Sanders did his best to bring his supporters back into the Clinton fold. And so, he has lived to fight another day. I wish him well in that, but I think he made a mistake.

Had he led his supporters out of the duopoly’s stranglehold, we would be better off today; a chance as good or better to do that is not likely to come along soon. But, of course, then he would now be blamed for Trump – falsely, as we know in retrospect – just as surely as Ralph Nader is sometimes still blamed for George W. Bush, also falsely.

In any case, it took Trump, vileness incarnate, to make it possible for there to be candidates with backbones running on the Democratic line. Some of them have been around for a while, but were held back by the pusillanimity that basically defines the Democratic Party’s worldview; and some are newbies, untarnished by the party’s Clintonite past.

Thanks to Trump too, to his shamelessly nativist and misogynistic calumny, four among them – Ilyan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashid Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley – four exceptionally brave, intelligent, articulate and charismatic women, are laying the groundwork for the truly militant and authentic left opposition that the country and the world so desperately need.

The old guard and the donors they serve are fighting back with all they’ve got – including their cable networks and their “quality” press. With Nancy Pelosi leading the way, they have more than a fighting chance of quashing the rebellion. Or they could “get out of the way or even lend a hand … as the times, they are a’ changing”

For the enemies of Trump and all things Trumpian, this is disorienting, but in a good way. For the rest, it is, as Omar put it, Trump’s worst nightmare, and therefore their own.

***

For the Trump Party, formerly known as the GOP, the disorientation is on a different plane altogether.

This is why, like nearly everybody else, I was wrong about Trump.

I was wrong about what is eminently comprehensible, and I was wrong about what defies easy understanding.

In the former category, on the plus side, I thought that there was a good chance by now that Trump would have started a war, very likely a nuclear war, in a fit of pique. We have been lucky, however. So far, all he has done is bluster.

Indeed, up to this point, he has been our least lethal twenty-first century president. Obama got more people killed than Trump so far has, and Bush 43 has more blood on his hands than any American president since Richard Nixon.

And although, Trump has caused incalculable harm to Hispanics and Muslims, Obama is still the Deporter-in-Chief.

On the negative side, in many respects, he has turned out to be worse than I and most other Trump critics thought he would. I had thought that because he was interested only in enriching himself and feeding his grotesquely overblown sense of himself, that, instead of turning the government over to ideologically driven free marketeers, theocrats, and climate change deniers, that he would keep things much as they were.

The premise was correct, but not the conclusion. Trump has turned the government over to nefarious ideologues – not because his base demanded it, but because his cronies did, and because the ideologues were willing to govern, while Trump has no time for such things unless there is some percentage in it for him. The result is that, if the world as we know it survives, many of the foul deeds of the kakistocrats he has let loose upon the world will continue to harm the body politic for many years to come.

The more subtle mistake that I and others made was to think that the sense of a world out of joint that has afflicted us since Trump entered our lives would dissipate as our understanding of its causes – of Trump himself, of his supporters, and of their discontents – improved.

The idea that it is all a bad dream has been around for a while. But so has the idea that when it was over, as it soon would be, it would be forgotten, as nightmares usually are, and normalcy would return. It has become hard to think that still.

The problem is not that we don’t understand what has been going on as much as we should. We understand a great deal, perhaps even all that there is to understand.

It is dawning, however, that mere understanding is of no avail.

Before that day of infamy in which the Donald and his trophy bride stepped off a golden escalator in Trump Tower to announce his intention to run for president and to build a wall, paid for by Mexico, that would keep Mexican rapists and drug dealers –in other words, “Mexicans,” as they say in Trumpese — out of the Home of the Brave, our future Commander-in-Chief was known to the general public mainly through Atlantic City casinos, reality television shows, professional wrestling matches, New York City tabloids, and The National Enquirer.

It therefore took a few days for most observers to realize that Trump is not and never would be like other presidents; that he is “special.”

Before long, the word went out that pundits should keep their diagnoses to themselves; that only trained professionals working with the patient had a right to speak of narcissistic personality disorders or other forms of pathologically asocial behavior.

Fair enough, but since when did we decide that to know which way the wing blows, we do need a weatherman, after all?

What’s next: insisting on getting professional advice before saying that a troubled male adolescent is acting out? That is Trump’s thing too, after all, even though he is seventy-three years old.

For sheer villainy in an American president, Trump’s only rival in modern times is Richard Nixon. But Nixon was a complex and tormented man, a figure of almost Shakespearean depth. Trump is shallowness incarnate, as transparent as can be.

Nixon was a good Republican back in the day. It is telling that he was also our last liberal president – more progressive by far, in many respects, than today’s Democratic grandees. Trump isn’t even a bona fide troglodyte. He just plays one on TV because his base demands it of him.

We can therefore take it as given that upstairs, our leader, a self-declared “very stable genius” is not all there. This is troubling in countless ways. It is reason to impeach the bastard now — ten times over. But it doesn’t quite speak to the sense of dislocation and unease that have become emblematic of the Trump era.

Meanwhile, an entire cottage industry has sprung up explaining the Trump base – why they signed on in the first place and, more mysterious still, why they are standing by their man now – when there is no question what his views on ethnicity and race are, and when, by making America great again, he has turned it into a pathetic laughing-stock.

I’ve done hard time grappling with these questions; so have countless others – left, right, and center. It is not an edifying topic; two and a half years into Trump’s presidency, it is hard to think about the Trump base and not despair for the human race. But there is no way to make sense of our present predicament if the work is left undone.

Whenever one of Trump’s pathetic Nuremberg-style campaign rallies is broadcast on TV, it becomes hard to resist the Clintonian explanation: that we are dealing with “a basket of deplorables.” But inasmuch as many of those deplorables are there because they have been snookered by a conman, that smacks too much of blaming the victims. Also, it leads to hopelessness; to the conclusion that just as Trump will never change, neither will the many millions of American citizens who still support him.

Therefore, however much Trump supporters deserve to be castigated mercilessly, the wisest course is to account for them by appealing to factors other than their manifest ignorance and the noxiousness of the views they are psychologically inclined to support.

I am partial to explanations that attach a large part of the blame to the continuing effects of the neoliberal turn of the late Carter years and then to the deleterious cultural and psychological consequences of “the Reagan Revolution” and the Clinonization of the Democratic Party.

Although this is all part of a global phenomenon, I am more dubious of explanations that speak to a kinder, gentler Zeitgeist gone rogue. It is true that other countries are afflicted with functional equivalents of Trump and his base, but the impetus for this has come mainly from the pressures of neoliberal globalization and the decline of the labor movement and of many of the other institutional protections developed over decades to protect workers and the public generally from the predations of capitalism gone wild.

I would say, though, there is merit in nearly all the explanations out there. For the most part, they are complementary and mutually compatible, and each is explanatory in its own way.

In this case too, however, explanations are not exactly the point; at least not if to explain something is to make sense of it.

***

At this point, the recovering academic philosopher in me is tempted to quarrel with a remark attributed to Frank Ramsey, a mathematician and philosopher, who, seemingly taking issue with contemporaneous interpretations of the concluding aphorism of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), that, “of that of which one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent,” famously added that “we can’t whistle it either.”

That kerfuffle pertained to issues in philosophical logic and the philosophy of language, concerning such notions as meaningfulness and assertability, none of which bear any direct connection to the ways that, in addition to make everything worse, Trump has made everybody and everything crazy. On the other hand, Ramsey’s celebrated quip is arguably of some relevance.

Wittgenstein scholars nowadays say otherwise, but there are many still who take the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus – he would later alter his views radically — to be claiming that there is nothing that can be meaningfully deemed real beyond matters of fact that the sciences can in principle discover. Unstatable truths cannot be whistled – expressed musically – for example. If they cannot be spoken of, they cannot be expressed; end of story.

Needless to say, from time immemorial – long before anything like modern conceptions of matters of fact or the explanatory strategies deployed today in the sciences or, for that matter, in ordinary workaday discourse, even existed – people have looked to what we would now call the arts in order to find bearings in the profoundly bewildering world we human beings inhabit.

Roughly contemporaneously with Wittgenstein and Ramsey and the logical positivist movement that was, broadly speaking, like-minded, there were artists – poets, novelists, and cineastes mostly – mainly in Spain and France — who identified themselves as “surrealists.”

Freud was a major influence on their artistic productions; not so much his theory of the unconscious, but his account of dream work, of mental processes in which ordinary understandings of space, time, and causality are relaxed or eliminated altogether.

Many surrealists were Marxists or anarchists. Lodged mainly in historically Catholic countries, nearly all of them were anti-clerical and naturally anti-Catholic as well.

Nearly all were profoundly critical of bourgeois society; their hatred of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie was salutary and pure.

Ironically, though, even the most militantly irreligious among them, believed in Original Sin; they harbored no illusions about the depths of human depravity.

Thus their opposition to fascism was legion. The fascism they abhorred was, of course, the genuine article; not just the dime store Trumpian kind. But they would surely have hated that too. No doubt too, they would have been appalled, as I am, by pious Democrats’ calls for “bipartisanship,” for working “both sides of the aisle.”

In short, the surrealist movement has been defunct for a long time now, but the time is past due to appreciate how their work speaks to contemporary concerns.

A case in point is the film “The Exterminating Angel” (1962), a masterpiece written and directed by Luis Buñuel.

I would venture that, notwithstanding the cultural differences and the obvious anachronisms, that “art house” movie can be viewed as a timely rendering of what happens when humankind’s Fallen nature is unleashed, when it breaks free from civilization’s always-fragile constraints.

The movie’s plot lends itself to allegorical interpretations, just as dreams do. It can be taken as a story about the human condition in general or about the very particular condition of Spanish aristocrats in the later years of the Franco era, or about anything in between or on the side that, like Trump, brings out “the darker angels of our nature.”

Since it has more to do with perturbations of cosmic order than with facts of daily life, it can even now be seen, decades after the Donald was tending to his bone spurs, as an allegory of the condition of the Republican Party today.

The likes of Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham may be as lacking in “discreet charm” and cultural refinement as Trump himself, but the problems faced by the characters in “The Exterminating Angel” have less to do with their lifestyles or level of culture than with human nature and, as it were, with the games angels play.

The general plot line is unforgettable.

As a formal dinner party at a lavish mansion gets underway, the servants, for no apparent reason, depart. The dinner proceeds, followed by a concert, but as the evening draws to a close, the guests, again for no apparent reason, find themselves unable to leave.

They bed down on couches, chairs and the floor. They do not want to be there, and there is no physical barrier keeping them from leaving. Nevertheless, they do no leave. They simply cannot.

Days pass, drinks and food run out. They become increasingly thirsty, hungry, short tempered, quarrelsome, and hysterical.

When someone dies, his body is placed in a large cupboard. A couple lock themselves in a closet where they commit suicide.

By breaking down a wall, the guests gain access to a water pipe, enabling them to survive a while longer.

Before long, several sheep and a bear break loose from their bonds and find their way to the room. The guests take in the sheep and proceed to slaughter and roast them on fires made from floorboards and broken furniture.

The medicine of a dying cancer patient is stolen. A “Jewess” conducts a mystical ceremony based on the Kabbalah. However, still, no one can leave, and the few remaining veneers of civilization continue to disintegrate.

Before long, the guests revolt against the host, calling for him to be sacrificed. They are dissuaded by a doctor, a man of science, whose sanity seems still unimpaired.

Then a foreign guest notices that everyone is seated in the same positions as they were when the spell they are under began.

The group reconstructs the conversations and movements from the night of the party and, in time, they become free to leave the room.

Once outside, the guests are greeted by the police and the servants who had left the night before. Just as no one had been able to leave the house, neither the police nor the servants nor any of the townspeople had been able to enter it.

To give thanks for their salvation, the guests congregate in a nearby church, but, before long, the exterminating angel strikes again; no one can leave the church.

By that point, the original guests seem to have disappeared; their situation and fate is never made clear.

There is a riot on the streets causing the military to step in. They fire on the rioters. In the final scene, a flock of sheep enters the church in single file, accompanied by the sound of gunshots.

I like to think that the original guests are indeed no longer part of the story, and I like to think of their story allegorically, as the story of the GOP in the Age of Trump.

Buñuel, of course, had Spanish fascists, not GOP Senators and Representatives, on his mind. But surrealism lets us elide the one into the other, mutatis mutandis, allowing for all the necessary changes.

In his story, no one tears children away from their parents or forces them to survive on junk food or to drink out of toilets; no one sends asylum seekers back into danger. Ground zero for human depravity in Buñuel’s film is more genteel. But the basic point is the same.

I have no idea whether a possible world just like ours but without, say, mosquitoes would be better, from a human point of view, than the actual world. But there is little doubt that a world without Republicans would be vastly better.

Even if they wanted to, which they probably don’t, Democrats aren’t able to get us from here to there; they are too busy sniveling, kowtowing to donors, and generally being “moderate.” But Trump might. If he causes himself to fall hard, and if he takes the party he has hijacked down with him, it will be time, in his honor, to sing a hardy Hallelujah.

That third-rate charlatan is not good for much, but he would make one fine exterminating angel.

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Only Civic Driven Voter Turnout Can Defeat Tweeter Trump

Does the Democratic Party know how to defeat the foul-mouthed, bigoted, self-enriching crony capitalist Donald Trump? Trump pretends to be a populist. In reality he does the bidding of Wall Street instead of Main Street and weakens or repeals governmental health and safety programs.

Defeating corrupt, disgraceful, disastrous Donald should be easy. He is, on many documented fronts, the worst and most indictable president in U.S. history. Moreover, Trump is personally obscene and is a walking tortfeasor against women. He is a politician who doesn’t read and doesn’t think. He doesn’t know anything about government and doesn’t care about the rule of law. All he seems to know how to do is stoke the war machine with taxpayer dollars and shut down law enforcement agencies designed to protect the health, safety, and economic well-being of citizens from today’s Big Business robber barons.

Dumb as he is on the matters of public policies, Trump is a cunning schemer and a master of deflection. For Trump, every day is a reality show, in which he must dominate the news cycle with his destructive, personal politics of distraction. The mass media, looking for ratings and readers, can’t get off its Trump high. He even taunts them with this conceit.

In our autocratic two-party duopoly, the country is left with the anemic, corporatized Democratic Party establishment to save the country. Every day the Democratic National Committee (DNC) feverishly calls big donors. Most candidates are addicted to the narcotic of campaign money and think their pathetic political consultants will solve their electoral problems.

Then there are the twenty or so Democratic presidential candidates exhausting themselves by trying to stand out from one another while fitting into the straightjacket of the DNC’s rules and debate format. Some are advancing major changes and reforms, such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The DNC apparatchiks, however, would rather have Joe Biden. Even so, some party bosses worry that his age, gaffes, and past record could make him a Hillary redux, should his current makeover not stick.

None of the presidential candidates are taking on Trump directly. A few glancing ripostes, sure, but most Democratic candidates think attacking Trump is a distraction from their proposals for America. They don’t seem to be listening to viewpoints such as those stated by Ana Maria Archila, of the Center for Popular Democracy: “Don’t just condemn the racism and the language but use it as an opportunity to argue for a vision of the country in which we can all be included.” In reality, the Democratic candidates all fear taking Trump on daily in this way, because of his intimidating personal smear tactics supinely reported by the mass media, which rarely allows rebuttals to Trump’s trash talking.

Now comes the possible crucial third factor in the race. Well-funded, vigorous voter turnout drives in ten states that are driven exclusively by the civic community. Freed of the shackles of the serial loser DNC, this independent civic drive can easily turn the tide in these key electoral swing states. Based on past elections, there will be 120 million non-voters in 2020. Bringing out 10 million non-voters in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arizona, Colorado, and Montana could swamp Trump, who is stuck with greasing his minority base of frenzied supporters. Getting out the voters who stayed home four years ago is also a priority.

An independent civic initiative, funded by small and large donations, can also jettison the Republican control of the Senate and end the Republican stacking of the federal judiciary with corporate right-wing ideologues. The DNC can help ensure a Democratic Senate by convincing some tractionless presidential candidates to return to their states and run for the Senate. Governor Steve Bullock of Montana will be more valuable in the Senate than clinging to the debate stage.

Then there is the prospect of Trump defeating himself. He never recognizes any boundaries and is convinced that he can get away with anything because he always has. He is a repulsive loud-mouth and has been a serial fugitive from justice since his years as a shady businessman.

Trump knows that the Democrats don’t want to get down in the mud with him. So he makes the mud their quicksand, with the media dittoheads replaying his reality TV show monologues. If there are any Democratic Party activists who know how to goad Trump regularly, they had better step forward. The sum of Trump’s electoral strategy is lying by the hour, creating false scenarios, false achievements, and phony promises conveyed by relentless intimidation. His Achilles heel is being goaded by mockery and accusations symmetrical to what he is dishing out. That’s the way overreaching bullies are brought down.

His vanities are the roadmap. He is sensitive to charges of having a “low-IQ,” of his presidency being characterized as a “disaster,” of being anything other than “a stable genius,” of being nicknamed, of having a snarling visage with unattractive bulging body parts, of being a racist, a tool of Wall Street, wasteful of taxpayers’ money, and of not creating infrastructures, jobs he promised. The Trump presidency has brought us the first ever reduction of life expectancy in the U.S., the stagnation of wages, and an avalanche of cancerous particulates into the water and air of our country. Including his coal country base!

He gives his crowds verbal “red meat,” while giving Washington away to the big bankers and the “greed hounds” of big business. He is a flatterer and flummoxer of people who let their emotions displace what is best for the communities where they live, work, and raise their children. People are being battered by record-breaking intense heat, storms, floods, tornados, droughts, and Trump tells them the climate crisis is a hoax. All while his programs worsen the situation.

It is time to persuade a large majority of voters that Trump is the Fake President destroying the best in America and bringing out the worst. But he has to be directly confronted on all fronts. No more free rides for the Tweeter.

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Killing Tariq: Why We Must Rethink the Roots of Jewish Settlers Violence

Seven-year-old Tariq Zabania from Al-Khalil (Hebron) was killed on the spot when an Israeli Jewish settler ran his car over him on July 15. Little Tariq’s photograph, lying face down on the road, was circulated on social media. His untimely death is heartbreaking.

Tariq’s innocent blood must not go in vain. For this to happen, we are morally obliged to understand the nature of Jewish settler violence, which cannot be viewed in isolation from the inherent racism in Israeli society as a whole.

We are all often guilty of perpetuating the myth that militant Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories are a different and distinct category from other Israelis who live beyond the so-called “Green Line”.

Undoubtedly, the violent mentality that propels Israeli society, wherever it is located, is not governed by imaginary lines but by a racist ideology, of which disciples can be found everywhere in Israel, not just in the illegal Jewish colonies of the West Bank.

Israel is a sick society and its ailment is not confined to the 1967 Occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

While Palestinians are imprisoned behind walls, fences and enclosed regions, Israelis are a different kind of prisoners, too. “A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” wrote the late anti-Apartheid hero and long-time prisoner, Nelson Mandela.

It is this racism and bigotry that makes Tariq invisible to most Israelis. For most Israelis, Palestinian children do not exist as real human beings, deserving of a dignified life of freedom. This callousness is a defining quality, common among all sectors of Israeli society – right, left and center.

An example is the terrorist attack carried out by Jewish settlers against the Palestinian Dawabshe family in the village of Duma, in the northern West Bank in July 2015, resulting in the death of Riham and Sa’ed, along with their 18-months old son, Ali. The only member of the family spared that horrific death was Ahmad, 4, who was severely burned.

This cruelty was further accentuated in the episodes that followed this criminal incident. Later that year, Israeli wedding guests were caught on tape while dancing with knives, chanting in celebration of the death of the Palestinian baby.

Three years later, as the Dawabshe family members were leaving an Israeli court, accompanied by Arab parliamentarians, they were greeted by a crowd of Israelis chanting “Where is Ali? Ali’s dead” and “Ali’s on the grill”.

The passing of time only cemented Israelis’ hatred of a little child whose only crime was his Palestinian identity.

The only survivor, Ahmad, was punished thrice: when he lost his whole family; with his severe burns and when he was denied compensation. The then Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, simply resolved that the boy was not a “terror victim.” Case closed.

Although the Dawabshes were killed by Jewish settlers, the Israeli court, army and political system all conspired to ensure the protection of the killers from any accountability.

This was no different in the case of Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, who, on March 24, 2016, killed an unconscious Palestinian man in Hebron. In his defense, Azaria insisted that he was following army manual instructions in dealing with alleged attackers, while top Israeli government officials came out in droves to support him.

When Azaria was triumphantly released following only nine months in jail, he was hailed by many Israelis as a hero. Possibly, he will have a successful career in politics should he decide to pursue that route. In fact, he was courted by Israeli politicians to help them garner more votes in April’s general elections.

Condemning solely Jewish settlers while sparing the rest of Israeli society is equivalent to political whitewashing, one that presents Israel as a healthy society prior to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This view presents Jewish settlements as a cancerous disease that is eating up at the otherwise proud and noble achievements of early Zionists.

It is convenient to classify Jewish settlers as rightwing extremists and to link them with Israel’s ruling right-wing political parties. But history proves otherwise.

It was Israel’s Labor Party that created the settlement projects originally, soon after the colonization of the West Bank. Some of Israel’s largest, and most militant colonial enterprises, in occupied East Jerusalem – Ramat Eshkol, Gilo, Ramot and Armon Hanatziv – are all the creation of the Labor Party, not the Likud.

Neither is the ‘settler’ a new phenomenon. Historically, the early settlers who preceded the establishment of Israel in 1948 were idealized as true Zionists, celebrated as “cultural heroes” – the Jewish redeemers, who eventually ethnically cleansed historic Palestine from its native inhabitants.

“The original Labor movement,” wrote Amotz Asa-El in The Jerusalem Post, “never thought settling beyond the Green Line was illegal, much less immoral.” If there was any debate in Israel regarding settlements, it was never truly concerned with the issue of legitimacy or legality, but practicality: whether these colonial projects can be sustained or defended.

Protecting the settlements is now the overriding task of the Israeli occupation army. The Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, which monitors the conduct of the Israeli army and Jewish settlers in the West Bank, explained the nature of this relationship in a report published in November 2017.

“Israeli security forces not only allow settlers to harm Palestinians and their property as a matter of course – they often provide the perpetrators escort and back-up. In some cases, they even join in on the attack,” B’Tselem wrote.

Another Israeli organization, Yesh Din, concluded in a report published earlier that 85% of cases involving settler violence against Palestinians are never pursued by law. Of the remaining cases, only 1.9% led to conviction, which is likely to be inconsequential.

Jewish settler violence should not be analyzed separately from the violence meted out by the Israeli army, but seen within the larger context of the violent Zionist ideology that governs Israeli society entirely.

This violence can only end with the end of the racist ideology that rationalizes murder, like that of little Tariq Zabania.

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Brexit, Britain and the Permanent Crisis in the Gulf

What on Earth were the British politicians and officials thinking who gave the go-ahead for the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar on 4 July? Did they truly believe that the Iranians would not retaliate for what they see as a serious escalation in America’s economic war against them?

The British cover story that the sending of 30 Royal Marines by helicopter to take over the tanker was all to do with enforcing EU sanctions on Syria, and nothing to do with US sanctions on Iran, was always pretty thin.

The Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell, has said categorically that Britain took over the tanker “following a request from the United States to the United Kingdom”.

One fact about Iranian foreign policy should have been hardwired into the brain of every politician and diplomat in Britain, as it already is in the Middle East, which is that what you do to the Iranians they will do to youat a time and place of their own choosing.

The US and UK backed Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran in 1980, but this was not unconnected – though it was impossible to prove – with the suicide bombing that killed 241 US service personnel in the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

Commentators seeking an explanation for the UK’s seizure of the Grace 1 suggest that it was suckered into the action by super hawks in the US administration, such as the national security adviser John Bolton.

But, given the inevitability of the Iranian reaction against British naval forces too weak to defend British-flagged tankers, the British move looks more like a strategic choice dictated by a lack of other options.

Confrontation with the EU over Brexit means that Britain has no alternative but to ally itself ever more closely to the US.

Of course, this will scarcely be a new departure since Britain has glued itself to the US on almost all possible occasions since the Suez Crisis of 1956.

The lesson drawn from that debacle by Whitehall was that the UK needed to be always close to the US. The French drew the opposite conclusion that it must bond more closely with the continental European states in the shape of the European Economic Community.

The one-sided relationship between the US and UK was in operation in the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain walked into these quagmires to demonstrate its position as America’s most loyal ally while lacking a coherent policy and without adequate forces.

The Chilcot report said the only consistent theme that it could detect in British policy in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 was how to get its troops out of the country. Wanting to do it without offending the Americans, the British – in a major miscalculation – decided that this could be best done by relocating their forces to Afghanistan, where more than 400 of them were killed in action.

In its confrontation with Iran, Britain is in trouble because it is trying to ride several horses at the same time. It is supposedly seeking to adhere to the Iran nuclear deal and oppose US sanctions on Iran, but in practice it has done nothing of the sort and boarding the Grace 1 was a clear demonstration of this.

One feature of the present crisis is that the seizure of the Stena Impero is clearly tit-for-tat by Iran. It is, unlike past Iranian retaliatory actions, making no effort to conceal this, presumably calculating that there is not much Britain can do about it and it is a good time to demonstrate Iranian strength and British weakness.

Iran expresses no doubt that Britain is acting as a US proxy, though this has been true for a long time. But life as a proxy may be particularly dangerous in the Gulf at the moment because of the peculiar nature of the confrontation between the US and Iran in which neither side wants to engage in an all-out war.

This makes it necessary to act through proxies like the UK, an approach that minimises the chances of Americans being killed and Donald Trump having no option but to retaliate in kind.

Iran is being visibly hurt by sanctions but Iranians are more likely to blame the US for their sufferings than their own government. The US is not going to launch a ground invasion, as it did in Iraq in 2003, and, so long as this is off the table, Iran can sustain the military pressures.

In fact, a permanent crisis in the Gulf just below the level of a full-scale military conflict is in the interests of Iran and better than enduring a prolonged economic siege.

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ERA Back From the Grave?

“It’s been an especially rough few years for women in America,” John Oliver began his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, on Sunday, June 10th.  “Yeah, no shit, Zazu.”

 

In his highly-charged rant, Oliver reminded viewers that Pres. Donald Trump’s two-plus years in office have been a terrible period for women.  He and his administration have led the charge against a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy; Congressional Republicans scuttled the Violence Against Women Act and weakened Title IX protections; and he appointed two conservatives to the Supreme Court, most notably Brett – “I like beer” – Kavanaugh.

Oliver reminded viewers that June 4, 2019, marked the 100th anniversary of adoption of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.  He also noted that the 14th Amendment (adopted in 1868) granted citizenship to former African-American slaves: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

Oliver spent the rest of the show reminding viewers that in the 1980s the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was almost adopted.  He noted that following the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, the original ERA was crafted by Alice Paul of the National Women’s Party and introduced in Congress in 1923.  A half-century later, in 1970, the ERA was re-introduced in Congress and, on October 12, 1971, the House approved it by a vote of 354–24; five months later, on March 22, 1972, the Senate followed by a vote of 84–8. The approved amendment was then sent to the states for ratification.

Oliver stressed that the ERA makes legal, explicit, what is taken-for-granted but is actually questionable – that women are legally equal to men.  He stressed that as of June 2019, it needed only one more state’s approval to become the 28th Amendment.

The proposed ERA declares “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”  Oliver was rightly worried that conservative Supreme Court Justices, following in the fundamentalist footsteps of Justice Antonin Scalia, might find that neither the 14th nor the 19th Amendments protects the legal equality of women.  Scalia famously opined in 2011, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”

One of the first actions taken by the Democrats when they took control of the House of Representatives in January 2019 was an effort to secure the ERA’s adoption.  The effort involves two critical issues: (i) to resume the ratification process and (ii) to remove the decades-old deadline for ratification.

In the House, the bipartisan effort to restart the amendment’s ratification processwas led by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Tom Reed (R-NY); Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced a joint resolution to remove the ratification deadline.  In the Senate, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a companion joint resolution to remove the ratification deadline.

In April, the House Judiciary Committee held the first congressional hearings on the ERA in more than 35 years.

According to many legislators, ERA ratification needs the passage of the two critical congressional actions and approval by one more state for it to be adopted.  With Trump in office and Republicans controlling the Senate, it’s a long shot as to whether this will happen.

***

In ’72, following the House’s and Senate’s approval of the proposed amendment, the ERA was sent to the states for ratification.  Among the planks of the 25-point plan were support for ERA ratification; federal support for childcare; equal pay and equal access to credit for women; end to sexism in school curricula; and, most controversial, support for abortion and lesbian civil rights.

Long forgotten, it wassupported by Pres. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter; the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Teamsters, the National Education Association and the League of Women Voters backed it; popular female celebrities like Patty Duke, Ann Landers, Marlo Thomas, Carol Burnett and Jean Stapleton (Edith on All in the Family) championed it; and numerous women’s magazines, including RedbookGood Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan, promoted it.  Within twelve months, 30 states ratified the ERA. Nevertheless, on June 30, 1982,, the ERA failed to be ratified and, in that failure, today’s culture wars were launched.

The campaign to defeat the ERA was led by Phyllis Schlafly.  She and her husband, Fred, were very active in the anticommunist movement; they set up a grass-roots Catholic anti-communist foundation and were involved with the John Birch Society.  She was deeply upset by the Supreme Court’s 1962 ruling, Engel v. Vitale, that banned state-sponsored prayer in public schools and organized a grass-roots campaign composed of mostly Christian women in protest.  She was a strong supporter of Barry Goldwater’s (R-AZ) ’64 presidential bid and, in ’64, Schlafly’s self-published A Choice Not an Echo, a rousing endorsement of Goldwater that sold 3 million copies.

Schlafly strongly opposed Pres. Richard Nixon’s support a civil-rights plank in the Republican Party’s platform calling for “aggressive action to remove the remaining vestiges of segregation or discrimination in all areas of national life.” Upset by inherent sexism of the Republican Party, she protested: “The Republican Party is carried on the shoulders of the women who do the work in the precincts, ringing doorbells, distributing literature, and doing all the tiresome, repetitious campaign tasks.”  And added, “Many men in the Party frankly want to keep the women doing the menial work.”

In the wake of the ERA passage, Schlafly formed STOP-ERA (i.e., Stop Taking Our Privileges) and its defeat owes much to her political genius.  “I believe in equal pay for equal work,” Schlafly insisted. “The claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century. The truth is that the American woman has never had it so good. Why should we lower ourselves to ‘equal rights’ when we already have the status of special privilege?”  She blasted the emerging second-wave feminist movement:

Many women are under the mistaken impression that “women’s lib” means more job employment opportunities for women, equal pay for equal work, appointments of women to high positions, admitting more women to medical schools, and other desirable objectives which all women favor. … But all this is only a sweet syrup which covers the deadly poison masquerading as “women’s lib.”

Schlafly concluded, “The women’s libbers are radicals who are waging a total assault on the family, on marriage, and on children.”

Schlafly and other conservative critics raised questions that contributed to the ERA’s ultimate failure to be adopted. They ranged from the status of women in society (e.g., second-class citizens) to women’s roles in society (e.g., motherhood, breadwinner and divorce); from unacceptable “private” practices (e.g., abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage) to restricted social practices (e.g., military services and gender-specific bathrooms); and from jurisdictional issues (e.g., state vs federal jurisdiction, personal vs private matters) to constitutional concerns (e.g., whether women’s equal-rights was addressed by existing legislation, the 14th Amendment, known as “de-facto ERA”).

Equally critical, Schlafly built a powerful grassroots movement that, by early-73, boasted STOP-ERA groups in 26 states. These groups were made up of homemakers, mothers and working women who felt threatened by the proposed amendment. Among other groups that opposed the ERA were the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), originally established by National Conference of Catholic Bishops; Feminists for Life (Ohio); Women Who Want to be Women (Texas); the Power of Women (POW) (Wisconsin); Humanitarians Opposed to Degrading Our Girls (HOTDOG) (Utah); Happiness of Womanhood (HOW) (Los Angeles: and still other groups with names like Feminine Anti-Feminists, GiGi Gals Galore Against the ERA, and Winsome Wives and Homemakers.

The anti-ERA movement drew upon women activists who participated in local elections, campaigned for conservative candidates and who had strong personal networks.  Most importantly, many of these women had gained organizational, speaking and writing skills working in their local churches.  Schlafly conducted workshops with local groups on debating and testifying at public hearings.  She used herself as a model for how to act in public, stressing good grooming, suggesting what cloths — dresses, not slacks — and make-up to wear, what worked best on TV and to be “poised and smile when attacked.” She encouraged followers to arrive in state capitols bearing gifts, most often home-made baked goods, for legislators.

Political tensions mounted in the mid-70s in the wake of two Supreme Court decisions. In ’73, the Court granted women the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  In ’74, the it ruled — in Bob Jones University v. Simon— that the IRS could revoke the university’s tax-exempt status for practicing “racially discriminatory admissions policies” towards African-Americans. In ’75, the Stanton v. Stanton decision overturned a Utah law that defined the age of adulthood for males at 21 and for female at 18.

In January ’77, Dade County, FL, passed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodation.  Many were outraged, notably Anita Bryant, a Miss America runner-up and celebrity singer turned state orange-juice promoter, who organized Save Our Children, a political coalition to overturn the ordinance. Embracing points championed by Schlafly, Bryant argued that because homosexuals could not reproduce, they had to recruit children to promote their “lifestyle.”  On April 16, 1977, tensions came to a head when a pro-ERA activist, Aron Kay, hit Schlafly in the face with a pie.

Of June 30, 1982, the ERA failed to be ratified.  That evening Schlafly stood proudly at the center of the grand ballroom of Washington, D.C.’s, Shoreham Hotel celebrating the ERA’s defeat with 1,400 supporters.  Decked out with diamond earrings, a string of pearls and a gem-studded gold eagle brooch pinned to her blouse, she glowed: Victory was hers! Standing on stage and stage in her celebration stood Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and her gay son, John, a piano player, the evening’s musical accompanist.

***

Will the ERA be adopted this time around?  Calls for its support will likely increase, especially among Democrats, as the 2020 election draws closer.  And it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Democratic presidential candidates were asked their positions on ERA adoption at a public debate.

However, its chances seem slimmer today than it did in 1982.  No less a conservative puffer then George Will has downplayed its need or relevance.  Opining in The Washington Post, he mocked it accordingly:

Karl Marx was no more mistaken than usual when he said that historic people and events appear twice, first as tragedy, then as farce.  Today’s advocates of a musty fragment of the 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment, are demonstrating that something that begins as farce can reappear as tragedy, because abuse of the Constitution is tragic. …

In 1972, there were 13 women in the House and two in the Senate. Today there are 90 in the House and 23 in the Senate, reflecting 46 years of legal and social changes that a prompt ratification of the ERA would not have hastened and that consignment of the ERA to the attic of 1970s nostalgia — hip-hugging bell-bottoms, etc. — will not impede.

To succeed, the ERA needs to overcome two major obstacles.  The first involves a major Congressional challenge – the deadline for ratification needs to up-dated.  This seems especially difficulty as more conservative, mean-spirited Republicans control the Senate and the White House than in the ‘70s.

The second involves securing the final state ratification of the proposed amendment.  There are 13 hold-out states — Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.  Any one might flip but none are sure bets.  In March 2019, the ERA effort in Arizona failed, the third year in a row the Republican-controlled legislature refused to allow a vote on the ERA.

One can only wonder if a successful campaign for the final passage of the ERA might occur in 2023, a century after it was first proposed. This might happen if the Democrats control both Houses of Congress and the White House.

The post ERA Back From the Grave? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Germany and France: Old Demons

The suspension of arms sales is a classic instrument of diplomacy. It has been wielded on a number of occasions against nations whose governments and armed forces are accused of flagrant human rights violations. In May 1977, the U.S. administration under Jimmy Carter suspended arms sales to the Argentine military junta after the coup of March 24, 1976. In October 2013, President Obama’s administration temporarily froze arms sales to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime in Egypt after he orchestrated a coup against Mohamed Morsi and instituted a policy of repression. The U.S. has also considered halting sales of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia after it used one in an air raid that cost the lives of 155 people in October 2016 during a funeral in the capital of Yemen, and again in an attack on a Yemini school bus that killed forty children on August 9, 2018. The European Union imposed arms embargoes on 21 countries between 1986 (Libya) and 2017 (Venezuela). The European Parliament has repeatedly called upon nations to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.[1] On December 8, 2008, the European Council adopted a resolution defining common rules for granting arms export licenses, based on criteria that include the performance of the destination country as regards human rights.[2] Germany and France both signed and ratified the Arms Trade Treaty that entered into force on December 24, 2014, whose object includes “reducing human suffering” (Article 1).

It is thus not surprising that the Federal Republic of Germany deliberated to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the atrocious and brutal assassination of the journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Audio recordings supplied by the Turkish intelligence service provide irrefutable proof that the operation was carried out by a team of killers sent specifically for that purpose from Riyadh. Berlin then expanded and extended the temporary measure to September 30 in response to the humanitarian disaster caused by the war in Yemen. A report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has placed the number of victims from bombings and starvation at 233,000, of which 140,000 were infants below the age of 5, after the escalation of the conflict in 2014.[3] It might seem surprising, then, that French president Emmanuel Macron, who leads a country that helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, qualified this measure as “pure demagoguery” at his October 26, 2018 press conference during an official visit to Bratislava. At the very least, it runs counter to accepted diplomatic practice that a diplomatic representative—in this case the French ambassador to Berlin—should dare to challenge the German administration and criticize its decision, appealing to alleged bilateral or European industrial, economic, and defense priorities, when what is at stake—respect for the rule of law and ethics—should take precedence in the international arena, and all the more so within Europe, which has already suffered enough abuse.[4] In truth, respect for human rights has never been a priority of French foreign policy, whose inspiration and implementation is constitutionally entrusted to the Palais de l’Élysée (the President) and not to Quai d’Orsay (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) or Matignon (Prime Minister). We see this in French policy toward Libya, the United Arab Republic, and Yemen, where France maintains troops, toward Saudi Arabia, France’s third largest arms customer, and toward Egypt, its largest, receiving more than twenty-five percent of France’s arms exports. The Director General of DGSE, the French external intelligence agency, Bernard Émié, career diplomat, boasted recently “excellent relations” with the director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, “an exceptional woman whom I much admire”.[5] She was famously in charge of CIA covert operations, and particularly the CIA’s program of secret prisons (the Extraordinary Rendition and Detention Program) and the acts of torture committed against detainees. She ordered the destruction of videos of the interrogations just before the U.S. Senate began investigating the matter. In April, the French website Disclose, a partner in the French-German television network ARTE, published a confidential internal memo from the Direction Générale du Renseignement Intérieur (DGRI – Central Directorate of Internal Security) with a detailed list of French arms used by Saudi and UAR troops in Yemen. The two journalists were rewarded with a summons from the Directorate for having “compromised national defense secrets”. At that point the conflict had already caused tens of thousands of deaths and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Royal Saudi Air Force pilots are in training in image analysis at the École Militaire in France to improve their targeting capabilities. Action Sécurité Éthique Républicaines (ASER), an association campaigning in favor of the German initiative, filed a complaint on May 6 against the French government for violation of the Arms Trade Treaty. Prior to that, on April 25, eight associations, including Amnesty International and Médecins sans Frontières, sued to block the French decision to deliver coast guard vessels to the Libyan Navy, fearing that they would be used to perpetrate human rights violations against migrants.

The German initiative temporarily affects exports to Saudi Arabia of certain French and European weaponry manufactured using German-made parts. The CEOs of Airbus Defence & Space and of Rheinmetal strongly opposed the measure.[6] The assertion that it threatens European defense and arms projects—including the FCAS program (the combat aircraft slated to replace the Eurofighter and the Rafale by 2040), the MGCS (tank), Eurodrone, etc., which we are to understand should be exempted from any diplomatic constraint—is a manifest exaggeration. And attributing this initiative to “electoral schemes”, terming it “wishful thinking” subject to the “trend in the domestic policy debate”, as the French diplomat does, amounts to unconscionable derision of a worthy measure that has, to date, been approved by seven European countries[7] and enjoys the support of 75% of the French based on a survey conducted in March 2018.[8] Berlin has not forgotten France’s withdrawal from the European Fighter Aircraft program (EFA) in August 1985 to launch the Rafale, which French Prime Minister Michel Rocard (1988-1991) characterized as an “advanced industrial disaster” in September 1988, a program that cost French taxpayers more than 45 billion euros.

This difference in approach reveals a deeper issue between the two countries that is rarely addressed in the hallways of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs or in diplomatic telegrams. The historical partnership cultivated within the framework of the European Union, originally created to curb the rivalries and conflicts that once characterized relations among the two European nations, should not fool us. Given the economic, financial, commercial, and demographic characteristics of each, it is clear that the two countries have different stances and approaches in the international arena. And these differences will only be accentuated as time goes on, in spite of the buffering effect of the European Union. At the moment, they are relatively co-equal members, coexisting within this variegated array of 27 nations, where they alone represent half the GDP and more than a third of the budget and populations, and 30% of the seats on the European Council.

After German reunification, Germany’s development as an economic power and France’s as a military power no longer appear to be complementary. This asymmetry raises questions regarding France’s real capacity to take on a European leadership role and to hold its position in the world, even within the sphere of influence of its former African colonies, where its military interventions—in Mali and in the Central African Republic—are financially and logistically propped up by the United States. This gives us an image of France whose ambitions to be a European leader and great power, upholding multilateralism but wanting to play with the big boys, exceed its real capabilities. Certainly, France retains the attributes of power: a permanent seat on the Security Council, its nuclear deterrent force, the second largest army and second largest military budget in Europe after Russia, the second largest diplomatic network after the United States. Germany, its fingers burned after the Second World War, for which it bears the blame and the stigma, currently has none of these attributes. It practices a discreet and non-interventionist diplomacy in spite of its membership in NATO, somewhat of a burden as exemplified by the twenty U.S. nuclear warheads stored at Büchel Air Base. But it is one of the world’s most solid economies on the technological, financial, and social level: Germany now has all the resources of power. The crux of French-German relations lies wholly in this imbalance. But the current question of leadership in Europe is rooted in a common history, where France’s original European project was to control Germany and not emancipate it. The return of Germany “to the fold of civilized nations” after its “moral disintegration”,[9] must necessarily take place within the framework of Europe. While France witnessed German reunification without enthusiasm, it has been able to accept it without fear thanks to European institutions. It brings to mind the quip by the writer François Mauriac: “I love Germany so much that I am delighted that there are two of them.”

Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1982 wrote in his book Die Deutschen und ihre Nachbarn that for reasons of susceptibility and prestige, Bonn must not ever appear to be a leading power within the European Community, always deferring to Paris.[10] But this role of political assistant and economic subcontractor no longer suits Germany. Chancellor Merkel has never forgotten how she was sidelined in the spring of 2008 in Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union project and the pressure exerted on her to join in the military operations in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi, with all the well-known humanitarian and institutional consequences this produced for Libya and European immigration: more than 500,000 migrants have crossed the central Mediterranean from Libya since 2015.[11]

Emmanuel Macron’s open letter of March 5, 2019 to EU citizens published before the European Parliamentary elections scheduled for late May, France’s opposition to the Spitzenkandidat process, whereby a lead candidate is chosen from the election to run the EU executive as provided in Article 9 of the Treaty of Lisbon (with the candidate likely to be a German in the specific case), and the allusions made by the French president during his press conference on April 25 regarding the economic development of Germany[12] are all signs of a reawakened yearning for preeminence mentioned by the late former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. France may even agree to have a German heading the European Commission but the president has to be appointed with France’s agreement; without the legitimacy and the independence of a leader elected.

The historian Christian Hacke argues that the advantages of the French-German alliance are overestimated and suggests that Germany should rearm, including the acquisition of nuclear capability, if it want to hold its own among nations.[13] Germany’s military budget rose in 2018 to 38.95 billion euros or 1.25% of GDP. By comparison, France’s military budget is 34.2 billion euros (1.82% of GDP). At the NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018, Chancellor Merkel made assurances that her country would dedicate 1.5% of its GDP to defense spending from here to 2025 (a perhaps unrealistic objective, the percentage is unlikely to exceed the average seen in recent years of around 1.3%).[14] Echoing an opinion piece published by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who succeeded Angela Merkel as president of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), the German Chancellor argued last March that the European voices should be regrouped as a permanent member of the UN Security Council,[15] as was also suggested by the German finance minister, the social democrat Olaf Scholz, in November 2018. France is not against a reform of the United Nations Security Council but fiercely opposes any alterations or extensions to the veto right granted to the five existing permanent members.

Given its recent history, Germany has a major handicap in playing the role of European leader and in translating its economic prominence into diplomatic leadership. As former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said in 2009, the “enormous and unique burden of our history” weighs against it.[16]

France and Germany now coexist peacefully and, to all appearances, amicably reconciled within the European Union. The stability and durability of this heterogeneous and fragile grouping, to which the Norwegian Nobel Committee paid tribute by awarding it the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, lies in the union of these two former belligerents, nations with new generations who are confronted, as their economic asymmetry and geopolitical ambitions grow, with new conflicts, new rivalries, new challenges, and new temptations. As for the lessons of History, they have apparently not learned much: France and Germany are, respectively, the world’s third and fifth arms exporters. As William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Patrick Howlett-Martin, is an historian and a career diplomat from France Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He is the author of several books and articles on International Relations. The most recent: “Brazil, The Disputed Rise of a Regional Power (2003-2015)”. His mail : howlettpatrick@hotmail.com

Notes.

1. On February 25, 2016, November 30, 2017, and October 25, 2018.

2. Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment, December 8, 2008.

3. “Assessing The Impact of War on Development in Yemen”, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Sana’a, Republic of Yemen, 2019.

4. Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik Arbeitspapier Sicherheitspolitik Nr. 7/2019.

5. Politique internationale, no. 163, spring 2019.

6. “Rüstungsexporte nach Saudi-Arabien. Airbus will Bundesregierung verklagen”, Spiegel online, May 3, 2019; “Rheinmetall will Schadensersatz für Lieferstopp nach Saudi-Arabien”, Spiegel online, January 20, 2019.

7. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, and Spain.

8. YouGov survey for the NGO SumOfUs published on March 26, 2018.

9. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during a speech in Caen commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy.

10. Die Deutschen und ihre Nachbarn, Berlin, Siedler, 1990, p. 176.

11. Jérôme Gautheret and Julia Pascual, “Castaner accuse les ONG d’être ‘complices’ des passeurs”, Le Monde, April 6, 2019.

12. “Germany is clearly exhausting a growth model that has benefited a great deal from imbalances in the Euro Zone.”

13. Christian Hacke, “Why Germany Should Get The Bomb”, The National Interest, August 12, 2018.

14. Defense Expenditure of NATO Countries (2010-2017), NATO, June 2017.

15. Thomas Liabot, “Européennes : Merkel affiche ses divergences avec Macron”, Le Journal du Dimanche, 11

16. Helmut Schmidt, speech to the SPD congress in December 2011.

 

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