Counterpunch Articles

To Save Rural Hospitals, Enact Medicare-for-All

Medicare for All is a popular idea — 70 percent of Americans say they support it, including 52 percent of Republicans. Why? Because in red and blue states alike, they see the costs of a market-driven system that values profit over patients.

There’s perhaps no state in the nation making a better case for Medicare for All than Tennessee. Tennessee leads the nation in rural hospital closures and in the rate of medical bankruptcies. There are now 22 Tennessee counties without an emergency room.

Simply having private insurance is not enough to stem the crisis of medical debt. A fourth of all Tennesseans have medical debt in collections on their credit report. Most of them have health insurance, and still end up with medical debt they simply can’t afford to pay.

The most recent hospital closure happened in Fentress County, a rural farming community with just under 20,000 people and a median household income around $20,000. In early June, its Jamestown Regional Hospital announced it was “temporarily closed” with no immediate plans to reopen. The facility employed 150 people, making it one of the largest employers in the area.

Expanding Medicaid would mean access to coverage for as many as 300,000 Tennesseans. That would mean hospitals like the one in Jamestown wouldn’t be burdened with such a high rate of uncompensated care. But Governor Bill Lee and Republican lawmakers steadfastly refuse to accept the federal funds that would save the lives of their neighbors.

Instead of offering real solutions, Lee has proposed a “task force.” What’s worse, the legislature this year moved forward with a plan to ask the federal government for a Medicaid block grant (instead of an expansion), which health policy experts strongly suggest will result in a loss of coverage. Lee’s embrace of this misguided plan will only make it more likely that additional rural hospitals will close.

So, yes, failed leadership certainly plays a role in the health care crisis here. But digging deeper reveals more systemic problems.

Certainly, Tennessee should expand Medicaid immediately and accept the funds that would save or create some 15,000 jobs while preserving access to basic health care in our rural communities. But until every one of our citizens has access to health coverage, we’ll continue to see the devastating impacts of medical debt and struggling hospitals.

There is one policy solution that would alleviate these problems for Tennessee and the nation: Medicare for All.

With Medicare for All, there would be standardized reimbursement for coverage. And rural hospitals would be covered for the services they provide to people who currently have no health coverage.

Consider that Tennessee has more citizens working at the minimum wage per capita — $7.25 an hour —  than any other state. These jobs are less likely to offer private health insurance. Some of these workers may receive Medicaid (though not as many as if it were expanded), but Medicaid reimbursement rates are lower than those of Medicare — meaning hospitals get paid, but also struggle to maintain financial viability.

When every Tennessean — and every person in America — has Medicare, there will be a consistent, reliable payment system for doctors and hospitals. Citizens can be assured that when they need care, it will be available to them. Jobs in places like Jamestown can be preserved. Medical bankruptcies will be a thing of the past, freeing up money to be spent in local businesses and strengthening small towns.

Tennessee should move forward to expand Medicaid immediately in order to stop the bleeding in our rural areas. America needs Medicare for All to ensure a stronger, more prosperous climate for all our communities.

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The Ongoing Dread in Gaza: So Many Names, So Many Lives

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day, preparing for this talk”

– Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian from the territory of Gaza

Jehad Abusalim, a Palestinian now living in the United States, grew up Gaza. In Chicago last week, addressing activists committed to breaking the siege of Gaza,  he held up a stack of 31 papers. On each page were names of 1,254 Palestinians living in Gaza who had been killed in just one month of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” attacks five years ago.

“I felt shaky and uneasy all day preparing for this talk,” he told the group. He described his dismay when, looking through the list of names, he recognized one of a young man from his small town.

“He was always friendly to me,” Abusalim said. “I remember how he would greet me on the way to the mosque. His family and friends loved him, respected him.”

Abusalim recalled the intensity of losing loved ones and homes; of seeing livelihoods and infrastructure destroyed by aerial attacks; of being unable to protect the most vulnerable. He said it often takes ten years or more before Palestinian families traumatized by Israeli attacks can begin talking about what happened. Noting Israel’s major aerial attacks in 2009, 2013, and 2014, along with more recent attacks killing participants in the “Great March of Return,” he spoke of ongoing dread about what might befall Gaza’s children the next time an attack happens.

Eighty people gathered to hear Abusalim and Retired Colonel Ann Wright, of US Boat to Gaza, as they helped launch the “Free Gaza Chicago River Flotilla,” three days of action culminating on July 20 with a spirited demonstration by “kayactivists” and boaters, along with onshore protesters, calling for an end to the siege of Gaza. Wright resigned from her post as a U.S. diplomat when the United States launched the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq. Having participated in four previous internationals flotillas aiming to defy Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza’s shoreline, Wright is devoting her energies preparing for a fifth in 2020.

Another organizer and member of US Boat to Gaza, Elizabeth Murray, who like Wright formerly worked for the U.S. government, recalled being in a seminar sponsored by a prestigious think tank in Washington, D.C., when a panel member compared Israeli attacks against Palestinians with routine efforts to “mow the lawn.” She recounted hearing a light tittering as the D.C. audience members expressed amusement. But, Murray said, “Not a single person objected to the panelist’s remark.” This was in 2010, following Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,383 Palestinians, 333 of whom were children.

Abusalim’s colleague at the American Friends Service Committee, Jennifer Bing, had cautioned Chicago flotilla planners to carefully consider the tone of their actions. A colorful and lively event during a busy weekend morning along Chicago’s popular riverfront could be exciting and, yes, fun.

But Palestinians in Gaza cope with constant tension, she noted. Denied freedom of movement, they live in the world’s largest open-air prison, under conditions the United Nations has predicted will render their land uninhabitable by 2020. Households get four to six hours of electricity per day. According to UNICEF, “sewage treatment plants can’t operate fully and the equivalent of forty-three Olympic-sized swimming pools of raw or partly treated sewage is pumped into the sea every day.”

Facing cruel human rights violations on a daily basis, the organizers urge solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. U.S. residents bear particular responsibility for Israel’s military attacks against civilians, they note, as the United States has supplied Israel with billions of dollars for military buildup.

U.S. companies profit hugely from selling weapons to Israel. For example, Boeing, with headquarters in Chicago, sells Israel Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems and Small Diameter Bombs that deliver Dense Inert Metal Explosive munitions. All of these weapons have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas.

During the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, I was in Rafah, Gaza, listening to children explaining the difference between explosions caused by F-16 fighter jets dropping 500-pound bombs and Apache helicopters firing Hellfire missiles.

Israel continues using those weapons, and Israeli purchases fatten Boeing’s financial portfolios.

On July 19, young Palestinians outside of the Israeli consulate read aloud the names of people who had, five years ago, been killed in Gaza. We listened solemnly and then proceeded to Boeing’s Chicago headquarters, again listening as youngsters read more names, punctuated by a solemn gong after each victim was remembered. Ultimately, 2,104 Palestinians, more than two-thirds of whom were civilians, including 495 children, were killed during the seven-week attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

During the Free Gaza Chicago River flotilla on July 20, Husam Marajda, from the Arab American Action Network, sat in a small boat next to his grandfather, who was visiting from Palestine. His chant, “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!” echoed from the water to the shore. Banners were dropped from bridges above, the largest reading, “Israel, Stop Killing Palestinians.”

Kayakers wore red T-shirts announcing the “Gaza Unlocked” campaign and managed to display flags, connected by string, spelling out “Free Gaza.” Passengers on other boats flashed encouraging peace signs and thumbs up signals. Those processing along the shore line, carrying banners and signs, walked the entirety of our planned route before a sergeant from the Chicago Police Department arrived to say we needed a permit.

We can’t permit ourselves to remain silent. Following the energetic flotilla activity, I sat with several friends in a quiet spot. “So many names,” said one friend, thinking of the list Abusalim had held up. “So many lives,” said another.

A version of this article was published July 23rd at The Progressive 

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Extinction is Stalking Humanity

I have previously written a summary of the interrelated psychological, sociological, political-economic, military, nuclear, ecological and climate threats to human survival on Earth which threaten human extinction by 2026. See ‘Human Extinction by 2026? A Last Ditch Strategy to Fight for Human Survival’.

Rather than reiterate the evidence in the above article, I would like to add to it by focusing attention on three additional threats – geoengineering, medical vaccinations and electromagnetic radiation – that are less well-known (largely because the evidence is officially suppressed and only made available by conscientious investigative activists) and which, either separately or in combination with other threats, significantly increase the prospect of extinction for humans and most (and possibly all) life on Earth by the above date, particularly given the failure to respond strategically to these interrelated threats.

Before doing this, however, let me emphasize, yet again, that it is (unconscious) fear that is driving all of these crises in the first place and fear that underpins our collective failure to strategically address each of these interrelated threats in turn. And, as I have explained elsewhere and reiterate now, if we do not address this fear as a central feature of any overall strategy for survival, then extinction in the near term is certain. See, for example, ‘The Limited Mind: Why Fear is Driving Humanity to Extinction’.

So, beyond the usual issues that are considered imminent threats to human survival – particularly nuclear war, ecological collapse and climate catastrophe based on dysfunctional political, economic, legal and social institutions – let me briefly outline some of these other threats and, once again, invite a strategic response to each and all of these threats so that we give ourselves some chance of surviving.

In the ‘‘Human Extinction by 2026?’ article I cited above, I referred to the use of geoengineering to wage war on Earth’s climate, environment and ultimately ourselves. See, for example, ‘Engineered Climate Cataclysm: Hurricane Harvey’ and ‘The Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction: “Owning the Weather” for Military Use’.

But if you are unfamiliar with the evidence of how Earth is being geoengineered for catastrophe, by inflicting enormous damage on the biosphere, try watching this recent interview by Dane Wigington of Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt on the subject. Dr. Klinghardt carefully explains why geoengineering (simply: the high altitude aerial introduction of particulates – especially a synthesized compound of nanonized aluminium and the poison glyphosate in this case – into Earth’s atmosphere to manipulate the climate) creates a ‘supertoxin’ that is generating ‘a crisis of neurological diseases’ and, for example, crosses the blood-brain barrier causing diseases on the Autism spectrum (a spectrum of diseases virtually unknown prior to 1975 and now at epidemic proportions in countries, like the USA, where geoengineering is conducted extensively). See ‘World-Renowned Doctor Addresses Climate Engineering Dangers’.

While careful to distinguish the offending toxic compounds of aluminium and making the point that these adversely impact all lifeforms on the planet, Dr. Klinghardt nevertheless maintains that ‘Aluminium could be isolated as the single factor that is right now creating the mass extinction on the planet including our own’.

Because Dr. Klinghardt cites the corroborating research on glyophosate and aluminium by Dr Stephenie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, who investigates ‘the impact of nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins on human health’, you might like to consult relevant documentation from her research too – see Dr Stephenie Seneff – or watch one of her lectures on the subject. See ‘Autism Explained: Synergistic Poisoning from Aluminum and Glyphosate’.

Given the role of vaccination in precipitating autism, among a great many other disorders, by introducing into the body contaminants such as aluminium and glyphosate as well, you might also like to check out Sayer Ji’s 326 page bibliography with a vast number of references to the literature explaining the exceptional range of shocking dangers from vaccination. See ‘Vaccination’.

Or, if you wish to just read straightforward accounts of the history of vaccine damage and the ongoing dangers, see these articles by Gary G. Kohls MD: ‘A Comprehensive List of Vaccine-Associated Toxic Reactions’ and ‘Identifying the Vaccinology-Illiterate among Us’.

Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning that given his commitment to understanding the causes of, and healing, disorders on the autism spectrum but many others besides, Dr Klinghardt offers treatment protocols for many (now) chronic illnesses, including those on the autism spectrum, on his website: Klinghardt Academy or Institut für Neurobiologie.

But worse than these already horrible impacts, Dr Klinghardt also explains how the nanonized aluminium becomes embedded in our body, including the mitochondria (thus ‘jamming’ the body’s energy production ‘machinery’). More importantly, the metal reacts extremely negatively to electromagnetic radiation (such as wifi, which will get enormously worse as 5G is progressively introduced) and this destroys the mitochondria in the DNA very rapidly thus spelling ‘the end of higher evolution in the next six to eight years’. Why so soon? Dr Klinghardt carefully explains the exponential nature, a poorly understood concept, of what is taking place. See ‘World-Renowned Doctor Addresses Climate Engineering Dangers’.

Moreover, he explains, because geoengineering is not confined to what is sprayed over land masses but includes what is sprayed over the ocean as well, the world’s oceans effectively have a layer of microplastic and metal covering their surfaces creating the effect of confining the Earth’s oceans in a gigantic sealed plastic bag. As Dr Klinghardt explains: This has reduced the water content of the atmosphere by 40% in the past two decades, causing droughts and desertification throughout Europe and the Middle East, for example, and substantially reduced the capacity of algae in the ocean to produce oxygen.

Having mentioned 5G above, if you are not aware of the monumental hazards of this technology, which is already being introduced without informed public consultation, the following articles and videos will give you a solid understanding of key issues from the viewpoint of human and planetary well-being. See ‘5G Technology is Coming – Linked to Cancer, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Death’, ‘20,000 Satellites for 5G to be Launched Sending Focused Beams of Intense Microwave Radiation Over Entire Earth’, ‘Will 5G Cell Phone Technology Lead To Dramatic Population Reduction As Large Numbers Of Men Become Sterile?’, ‘The 5G Revolution: Millions of “Human Guinea Pigs” in Big Telecom’s Global Experiment’ and ‘5G Apocalypse – The Extinction Event’.

In essence then, there is enormous evidence that geoengineering, vaccinations and 5G technology pose a monumental (and, in key ways, interrelated) threat to human and planetary health and threaten near term extinction for humans and a vast number of other species. Of course, as mentioned above, these are not the only paths to extinction that we face.

How have these threats come about? Essentially because the insane global elite, over the past thousand years, has progressively secured control over world affairs in order to maximize its privilege, profit and power, at any cost to the Earth and its populations (and now, ultimately, even its own members), successfully co-opting all major political, economic, corporate, legal and social institutions and those who work in these institutions – see ‘The Global Elite is Insane Revisited’ – while the bulk of the human population has been terrorized and disempowered to such as extent that our resistance has been tokenistic and misdirected (almost invariably at governments). See, for example, ‘Why Activists Fail’.

And this is why, even now, as humanity stands at the brink of extinction, most people’s unconscious fear will prevent them from seeking out or considering the type of evidence offered in this article or, if they do read it, to dismiss it from their mind. That is how unconscious fear works: it eliminates unpalatable truths from awareness.

Fear and Extinction

So here we stand. We are on the brink of human extinction (with 200 species of life on Earth being driven to extinction daily) and most humans utterly oblivious to (or in denial of) the desperate nature and timeframe of our plight.

Why? Because the first three capacities that fear shuts down are awareness (of what is happening around us), faculties such as conscience and feelings (particularly the anger that gives us the courage to act) and intelligence (to analyze and strategize our response). Which is why I go to some pains to emphasize that our unconscious fear is the primary driver of our accelerating rush to extinction and I encourage you to seriously consider incorporating strategies to address this fear into any effort you make to defend ourselves from extinction.

‘But I am not afraid’ you (or someone else) might say. Aren’t you? Your unconscious mind has had years to learn the tricks it needed when you were a child to survive the onslaught of the violent parenting and schooling you suffered – see ‘Why Violence?’, ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’ and ‘Do We Want School or Education?’ – among the many other possibilities of violence, including those of a structural nature, that you will have also suffered.

But your mind only learned these ‘tricks’ – such as the trick of hiding your fear behind chronic overconsumption: see ‘Love Denied: The Psychology of Materialism, Violence and War’ – at great cost to your functionality and it now diverts the attention from reality of most people so effectively that they cannot even pay attention to the obvious and imminent threats to human survival, such as the threats of nuclear war, ecological collapse and climate catastrophe, let alone the many other issues including the more ‘obscure’ ones (if your attention has been successfully diverted) I touched on above.

The reality is that fear induces most people to live in delusion and to believe such garbage as ‘The Earth is bountiful’ (and can sustain endless economic growth) or that the ‘end of century’ is our timeframe for survival. But the fear works in a great many ways, only a few of which I have touched on in ‘The Limited Mind: Why Fear is Driving Humanity to Extinction’, for example.

Defending Ourselves from Extinction

So how do we defend ourselves from extinction, particularly when there is an insane global elite endlessly impeding our efforts to do so?

For most people, this will include starting with yourself. See ‘Putting Feelings First’.

For virtually all adults, it will include reviewing your relationship with children and, ideally, making ‘My Promise to Children’. Critically, this will include learning the skill of nisteling. See ‘Nisteling: The Art of Deep Listening’.

For those who feel courageous enough, consider campaigning strategically to achieve the outcomes we need, whether it is to end violence against children or end war (and the threat of nuclear war), halt geoengineering, stop the destruction of Earth’s climate, stop the deployment of 5G or end the destruction of Earth’s rainforests. See Nonviolent Campaign Strategy or Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy. A lot of people doing a bit here and there, or lobbying governments, is not going to get us out of this mess.

The global elite is deeply entrenched – fighting its wars, upgrading its nuclear arsenal, exploiting people, geoengineering the destruction of the biosphere, destroying the climate, invading/occupying resource-rich countries – and not about to give way without a concerted effort by many of us campaigning strategically on several key fronts. So strategy is imperative if we are to successfully deal with all of the issues that confront us in the time we have left.

If you recognize the pervasiveness of the fear-driven violence in our world, consider joining the global network of people resisting it by signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.

But if you do nothing else while understanding the simple point that Earth’s biosphere cannot sustain a human population of this magnitude of whom more than half endlessly over-consume, then consider accelerated participation in the strategy outlined in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’.

Or, if this feels too complicated, consider committing to:

The Earth Pledge

Out of love for the Earth and all of its creatures, and my respect for their needs, from this day onwards I pledge that:

1. I will listen deeply to children (see explanation above)

2. I will not travel by plane

3. I will not travel by car

4. I will not eat meat and fish

5. I will only eat organically/biodynamically grown food

6. I will minimize the amount of fresh water I use, including by minimizing my ownership and use of electronic devices

7. I will not buy rainforest timber

8. I will not buy or use single-use plastic, such as bags, bottles, containers, cups and straws

9. I will not use banks, superannuation (pension) funds or insurance companies that provide any service to corporations involved in fossil fuels, nuclear power and/or weapons

10. I will not accept employment from, or invest in, any organization that supports or participates in the exploitation of fellow human beings or profits from killing and/or destruction of the biosphere

11. I will not get news from the corporate media (mainstream newspapers, television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter…)

12. I will make the effort to learn a skill, such as food gardening or sewing, that makes me more self-reliant

13. I will gently encourage my family and friends to consider signing this pledge.

Sometime in the next few years, the overwhelming evidence is that homo sapiens will join other species that only exist as part of the fossil record.

Therefore, you have two vital choices to make: Will you fight for survival? And will you do it strategically?

If you do not make both choices consciously, your unconscious fear will make them for you.

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Smash All the Camps (Or Sympathy For Willem Van Spronsen)

I sympathize with Willem Van Spronsen. Maybe that’s a bad way to start this post but it feels like the most honest way to start this post. A mentally ill anarchist, not unlike myself, Willem wanted to end his life but he wanted to end it for a cause. So he attacked an ICE detention center with pipe bombs and let the cops do the rest. I’ve never made my disdain for Antifa a secret, I’ve befriended too many right-wing anti-imperialists caught in their crossfire, but god help me, this struck me as a move in the right direction for Pacific Northwest anarchists, who have lately been far too busy bombarding alt-right imbeciles to confront our growing police state.

My sympathy is not exclusively political however. My sympathy comes from a place of very personal outrage and my outrage comes from a deeply traumatic childhood. I can usually retain a pretty jaded gonzo snark with my writing, stemming from my misanthropic drag queen sense of humor. But when you’ve been fucked with by role-crazy adults as a child, part of you will always be that child. So when I see kids in fucking cages, I see myself brutally misgendered in a confessional waiting for hell. And that’s when I flip my proverbial shit and get downright histrionic. The only reason why I haven’t gone full Kaczynski like Willem, aside from the fact that my meds are working and I generally appose initiatory violence, is because I’m usually too livid in these moments to handle anarcho-home-ec projects like IED’s. I’m also probably too pissed off to write a completely lucid blog post, so this time I decided to wait a week and take a closer look at the issue of the camps.

It’s very tempting to drop the lion share of the blame on a loud-mouth bully like Trump. He’s certainly made the immigration issue more personal by declaring entire classes of people war criminals and encouraging his beloved gorilla juice-heads in ICE to get their Gestapo on. The harsh reality that the media has chosen to ignore however is that there is nothing particularly new about Orange-Man-Bad’s persecution of pint-sized undocumented line-crossers. In fact, the bastard still comes in fourth behind the last three presidents in mass deportations. The modern militarization of the boarder actually started decades before Trump with another sanction-happy rapist named Bill Clinton (I believe the two may have met once or twice at one of Jeffrey Epstein’s Pretty Baby-Eyes Wide Shut Parties) which was just one small part of his fascistic war on children, the hallmark of which was his draconian Biden-approved crime bill which essentially declared black childhood to be a felony. And this is where we meet the concentration camp question.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez generally puts me to shame in the histrionics department (the bitch also looks way better in heels) but she hit the nail on the head when she had the ovaries to call our countries desert tiger-cage day-care centers concentration camps. No single race of people owns the rights to that specific genre of inhumanity. This country had concentration camps for Indians long before Germany was even Germany. A concentration camp is anywhere where large groups of people are concentrated against their will behind bars and concertina wire. You don’t have to be a limp-wristed open-borders loving panarchist like me to find that concept repulsive, especially when it involves children. Ankle bracelets are cheap and locking up toddlers is terrorism. But why are we picking favorites here? When it all comes down to it, aren’t all prisons concentration camps?

There are millions of people in cages across this country, more than any other country, not just in general but per capita. We make China look like fucking Burning Man for Christ’s sake. And what does all this barbarism achieve? Nothing. Not rehabilitation. The American prison system is a factory that gobbles up the children our equally heinous public schools fail and spits out hardened criminals, pathologically incapable of existing anywhere but prison. It’s an emotional crippling machine. Recidivism rates are through the roof and a huge portion of this countries permanent prisoners suffer from untreated mental illness. That just leaves us with some hideously arcane Hobbesian sense of frontier justice where we essentially throw people’s lives away who hurt us because it makes us feel better about creating a society that makes this pain inevitable. Forgive my bluntness, but this is fucking stupid. We’re kicking the dog for biting us because we kicked the dog. Maybe if our schools weren’t glorified prisoner factories we would have learned that two wrong don’t make a right, two million wrongs makes a catastrophe and concentration camps are never right.

So I welcome Willem’s rage, but I also welcome it to be put in the proper perspective. If you appose the camps on the boarder, you should appose their northern supermax cousins. Tribes managed to effect restorative models of justice centuries before the relatively recent invention of the modern prison. There is no reason why our communities, towns and neighborhoods can’t do the same. When a society becomes too modern for mercy, it has ceased to evolve into anything worth protecting. Maybe we can get back on track by spending less time and money on violently reacting to societies ills and more time fixing them. The best way to prevent the proliferation of violence in society is to prevent child abuse. Let’s start by letting them out of those goddamn cages. Until then, I will continue to have more sympathy for the Willem Van Spronsen’s of this country than the comfortable state terrorists they assault. Make of that what you will.

Smash all the camps, dearest motherfuckers, from Yuma to Attica. Either we all get free or nobodies free. No justice? No peace.

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Can the Party of Lincoln be Racist? Absolutely

Republicans have a go-to line when it comes to deflecting charges of racism: We’re the party of Lincoln!

For instance, after President Trump spewed divisive, racist rhetoric toward Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tliab, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a ready response: “We are the party of Lincoln.” Any suggestion that the president was being racist was “politics,” he claimed.

To me, McCarthy’s response confirmed what we’ve known all along: The Republican Party is filled with racists.

Republicans almost uniformly failed to reject Trump’s racist tweets. Instead, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) said that he would personally “pay for the congresswomen’s tickets to leave this country.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated flat out that the president was “not a racist,” while Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) joined this collective shrug by saying, “I don’t see these as racial remarks.”

In a united front to defend the president, the entire Republican Party deflected blame to their “socialist colleagues,” and objected to a House resolution condemning Trump’s comments. Only four Republicans voted with Democrats to pass it.

Yes, the Republican Party is showing itself to be the Party of Lincoln, all right. Not when it comes to Lincoln’s strong moral code and supposed conviction that all men were created equal. But definitely when it comes to Lincoln’s personal racism.

Let’s not forget that the “Great Emancipator” himself was openly racist.

Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln perpetuated the myth of white superiority throughout his entire political career, spewing the same kind of racism that is alive and well in the Republican Party of today.

While Lincoln was vocal in his opposition to slavery, he also believed that blacks should be sent to Liberia — in Africa — because he did not believe freed blacks should live among whites in the United States.

What’s more, even though he held the conviction that all men, including blacks, “had the right to improve their condition in society and enjoy the fruits of their labor,” Lincoln didn’t think blacks should have the same social and political rights as white people.

In fact, during the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1854, Lincoln plainly stated: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” He continued that “while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

One might dare argue that Lincoln himself was a white nationalist, and the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Trump’s tweets were widely praised by open white nationalists — and then condoned by nearly the entire Republican Party.

What does set the party of Lincoln apart from today’s Republicans, however, is that Lincoln at least strived to keep the Union intact. While his Emancipation Proclamation was politically motivated, it was a risky strategy, nonetheless, to keep the nation undivided. That’s not what we’re seeing from this administration.

Slavery may have formally ended in 1865. But in 2019, the leader of the free world has the support of the Republican Party to send all black and brown people, be they asylum seekers or members of Congress born in this country who carry U.S. citizenship, back from whence they came.

It makes me wonder, whose party is it now?

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Retirement Shouldn’t Mean Poverty

Vivian Majors spent her life cleaning houses while her husband, Martin, worked as a carpenter.

Their bodies broke down in their 60s. Martin now lives in a nursing home and has Parkinson’s disease. Vivian, now 71, lives on her own and ekes by on a $960 in social security, plus $50 in food stamps.

Hardened by years of physically taxing work that left her hovering around the poverty line, Majors, now retired, is girding herself for more years of financial hardship.

Social Security supposedly wiped out the scourge of old-age poverty. But inequality has widened the gap between the secure and insecure in all age groups, exposing American seniors to financial distress in ways that often go unnoticed.

According to research from the University of Massachusetts Boston, material hardship bedevils millions of Americans like Majors.

Opelousas, Louisiana, where Majors and her husband grew up and raised their own children, has the highest rate of elderly poverty in the United States. Opelousas is home to men and women who have worked all their lives. But in 2017, the average per-capita income in the town was only $15,266 a year, and 45 percent of its population lived in poverty.

Few Opelousas retirees received sick leave or health care coverage while they were working, and virtually none can count on a pension. A lifetime of poverty rarely translates into what the rest of the country defines as true retirement. Instead, the working poor often stay on the job past retirement age.

Social Security has played a crucial role in bringing down poverty rates for Americans over 65. But the lives of older Americans are a natural extension of their experiences in their prime working years.

As inequality impacts more working-age Americans, the poverty they experience throughout life follows them into old age. The Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston found in 2016 that a majority of American seniors lacked “the financial resources required to pay for basic needs.”

The numbers are higher for those living alone than those in two-senior households, but overall the material hardship of the elderly is significant — especially for the large population living just a little above the official poverty line.

These households miss out on benefits — from food stamps to housing grants to Medicaid — designed to assist those in need. They’re on their own and yet facing significant shortfalls in the resources needed to survive at a minimally acceptable level.

The institute found that gaps were particularly problematic for women who, on average, received $4,500 less per year in Social Security benefits than men because they had lower lifetime earnings and worked fewer quarters to take time out for caregiving.

In this sense, elder poverty isn’t really about elders; it’s about whole lifetimes of economic marginality.

Poorer seniors are likely to have been poor, or among the working poor, most of their lives. They’ve held jobs that paid low wages, were often involuntarily part-time, provided for no sick leave or health insurance, and provided nothing at all in the way of pensions.

Majors is a frugal woman. She shuts down the air conditioner during humid Louisiana summers rather than see her electricity bill rise. Even in her old age, with such limited resources, she lends a hand to her grown children when they need it.

“A lot of people sometimes wonder how you’re making it,” she says. “But you manage, you know. You’re going to survive.”

That is no doubt true. Yet we can ask ourselves why merely being able to “manage” is the best that can be expected for a hardworking woman like Majors. Retirement shouldn’t mean hardship in the 21st century.

Katherine Newman is the interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. This piece was produced by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, first published by The Guardian, and adapted for distribution by

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The Strongest People on the Planet

“Send her back! Send her back!”

The chant: Is it merely a case study in collective stupidity or is it a signal of rising fascism? When I look at the viral video — the latest manifestation of Trumpism and the freeing of good old American racism from the constraints of political correctness — I can’t help but think of the 8-year-old girl I met the other day, who traveled two years with her mother to reach this country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The child, whose name I can’t use because her asylum case is still pending, lives with her mom, for the time being, at what is known as the House of Hospitality, a residence for refugees in Cicero, Illinois, just outside Chicago, that is run by the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants. This not-for-profit organization was founded a dozen years ago by two Sisters of Mercy to bring hope and crucial aid — legal, financial, spiritual — to emigrant detainees warehoused in various detention centers around Chicago.

The little girl is the face of struggle and courage, the embodiment of hope and interconnectedness. She is the refutation not merely of the chanting Trump supporters but of the nation’s bureaucratic cruelty and indifference to the plight and humanity of the global refugee flow, to the people who are seeking not simply “a better life” in the United States of America, but, as ICDI development director Ed Pratt put it, a life . . . a life!

I met recently with Ed, along with the organization’s executive director, Melanie Schikore, to learn about the work of ICDI and get a sense of the compassionate counterforce that exists in this country — a force in opposition to the concentration camps and ICE raids and “send her back” chants that dominate the news. A huge segment of the American population cares deeply about the refugees’ fate and welcomes them in every way possible.

The two nuns who founded ICDI in 2007 did so after being denied admittance to a detention center in Broadview, west of Chicago, where they had hoped to connect with detained refugees, many of whom were separated from their families, and see how they could help. Undeterred, they worked with other religious organizations — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — and eventually got a law passed in Illinois that gave detainees access to pastoral visitation.

At present, ICDI has over 350 volunteers who last year made over 8,000 visits to detention centers to provide solidarity and support to detainees. They have also been a court presence at immigration hearings. And the organization runs the House of Hospitality, which is currently providing housing for 15 refugees from 14 different countries.

Alas, ICDI recently lost its lease at the Cicero location — the building is a former convent owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago — and is now looking for a new site. They hope to find a building that will allow them to accommodate more families, which is currently the major need out there. Often families cannot be reunited unless they have housing and such housing is in pitifully short supply nationwide.

All of which brings me back to the 8-year-old girl I met last week. Perhaps I can call her “S.” Her story transcends anything I can imagine, even though only a small piece of it is known.

“S” and her mother fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo because her mother had been tortured there. They crossed the Atlantic (somehow: this part of their story is unknown) and arrived in Brazil. They then proceeded to walk from Brazil to the United States. In all, the journey took two years.

When they got here, rather than being welcomed with open arms, mother and child were yanked apart. The separation lasted four and a half months. They were only allowed to reunite because they had been able to attain housing.

“They reunited in our stairwell,” Ed said. The cries as they embraced tore people’s hearts. “They were like animal groans.”

Here’s what else I learned about “S”: She speaks five languages! Two of them, Lingala and French, are native to her home country. On the journey with her mother, she also picked up Portuguese, Spanish and, eventually, English.

The child I met was sheer 8-year-old — shy and charming and utterly huggable. Her English was flawless. So, apparently, is her Spanish. As Ed noted, she once served as translator for him with the Cuban cooks who work at the Hospitality House. His own Spanish wasn’t adequate to convey something to them, but “S” stepped in as translator and did the job. As I listened to this, my sense of awe kept expanding. This child, who has spent a huge piece of her life journeying with her mother, has gotten a global education. Her classroom has been the planet itself.

Being an emigrant, said Melanie “is an incredible journey. They’re pioneers! We hear so many stories. I frequently have the thought, I couldn’t survive that.

“Every story is different. All are heart-wrenching. Everyone has a story that, if you knew it, would break your heart. They are the strongest people on the planet. Who wouldn’t want them? They chose to come and made it.”

She added: “We’re all interconnected. If we don’t understand that we’re global citizens and need to take care of one another, then we’re doomed.”

What if this were government policy? ICE has an annual budget of around $7.5 billion, which is spent in absolute denial of our interconnectedness. It “protects” the country by defining emigrants as aliens and denying them virtually all basic rights.

In counterpoint to this sort of policy were the words that accompanied an elderly woman’s $25 donation to ICDI. She wrote on her check: “Your work is more important than my food.”

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South Carolina Heads Down a Dead-End Street in Rejecting Medicaid Expansion

South Carolina’s James Louis Petigru was a Civil War-era lawyer, judge, congressman and most notably the attorney general who opposed South Carolina’s use of nullification of federal laws and, after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, opposed state secession.

He famously quipped, after learning that his state had seceded from the Union, “South Carolina is too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.”

While not insane, the state was a little nutty when it rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). South Carolina has one of the highest percentages of uninsured people in the country.

The leaders of the state are leading the people down a dead-end street. They support tax cuts for the rich and health care cuts for the poor. South Carolina is a red state with blue needs — more health care, less poverty, better schools and fewer jails.

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and President Donald Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, a small city of approximately 3,600 people.

The Bamberg County Hospital, where Haley was born, closed on April 30, 2012 for lack of money. Not only did people lose health services but Bamberg County Hospital workers lost their jobs.

Many other small rural hospitals and workers faced the same fate in South Carolina when the state rejected the $10 billion over 10 years it would have received if it had expanded Medicaid.

A recent article in the Greenville News reported that when hospital beds fill up in the state, patients are boarded in emergency rooms. It is inhumane and economically foolish and morally wrong to argue against expanding Medicaid when 50,000 jobs and greater health care is involved.

Arguing against keeping rural hospitals open, like Bamberg County, makes no sense. It’s arguing for sickness and unnecessary death.

It’s a national problem, but recently South Carolina’s Greenville News documented the situation locally when 80-year-old Ron Miller of Pickens County collapsed at home two days after surgery and had to be rushed back to the hospital and readmitted. The problem was there were no available beds at that hospital or any of the hospitals in Greenville.

The paper reported, “The phenomenon, called boarding, occurs when hospitals hold patients in the ER until they find a bed for them on a medical floor.” Dr. Ryan Stanton, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, an ER physician with Central Emergency Physicians in Lexington, Kentucky, has indicated it’s a growing problem across the nation. It’s a simple problem of supply and demand.

There are more patients than there are beds. A further concern is whether patients forced to stay in the ER for long periods of time have the same equipment made available to them and receive the same level of care that those in hospital beds receive.

Expanding Medicaid could help, but South Carolina is a state that pretends to resent big government and federal dollars, even though 32 percent of its general revenue comes from Washington for education, health care, airports, highways, seaports, the big military presence in the state and more. South Carolina couldn’t exist without federal dollars. It, apparently, just doesn’t want to receive Medicaid funds for its neediest citizens.

There is a better South Carolina on the horizon and Congressman Joe Cunningham (SC-01) is an example. He’s the new Democrat from the Lowcountry and he’s worked to reinstate the ban on offshore drilling, protect Lowcountry jobs from damaging tariffs and fix South Carolina’s ailing infrastructure. On Jan. 3, 2019, he said he was “ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work” and he has. South Carolina needs more Joe Cunninghams.

We all do.

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From Porn to Tweets and Online Bullying; The Age of Abuse

As social divisions deepen, polarities spread, extremists rise, anger and abuse grows, is growing, is being legitimized, excused. Lies are sanctioned, truth dismissed. The abuser armed, flag-waving, ignorant, spewing vitriol and poisoning the collective psychological space, weaving a brittle web of insecurity.

There are multiple forms of abuse, from exploitation as in the case of modern day slavery, to torture and sexual violence including pornography – soft, medium and hard; insults, degradation, online and off. The motive is consistent, inflicting pain, physical or psychological, and in many cases both, one leading to the other, oftentimes laying a lifelong seed of suffering and trauma.

Pain is tied to pleasure, polarities of a time-bound movement of the self. And we live in a culture of pleasure, sensory, tied to desire: see it, want it, have it, discard it. Desire for stimulation, for comfort, for stuff, for prestige, desire to dominate, to control, to be superior. Desire entwined with competition strengthened by tribalism, extreme nationalism and religious ideological dogmatism; my nation is the greatest, my God the most Godly, etc.

The pursuit of pleasure, physiological, but more significantly psychological, in the form of security, status, comfort, and the avoidance of pain, fashions motive, determines action. In the world of pleasure and desire Love is lost, fear inevitable, and with it abuse.

The spread of competition into all areas, like a virus eating away healthy cells, coupled with conformity, act as agents of fear and division, and where these exist there will be conflict and abuse.

In search of group acceptance the individual conforms to The Power and Ignorance of the Pack; ‘Send her back, send her back.’ An atmosphere of abuse once established, its execution is guaranteed. Social, racial, gender and ethnic abuse meted out. Conformity weighs heavily, the division between the fact and the idealized image, leading to self-abuse – self harming, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse; self-loathing based on failure to fulfill expectations or to correspond to the hollow archetypes relentlessly promoted – to adopt the values and habits of The Pack.

A bully’s paradise

The Internet is the Wonder of the Modern Age, a library of unprecedented scope and scale democratizing information, dismantling distance, connecting billions around the world; a tool for creativity, knowledge and communication. In the hands of some, though, it is a weapon of humiliation, intimidation and abuse; a bully’s paradise. Twitter tirades from a racist US president, platforms of misinformation and dishonesty; politicians are intimidated and threatened, particularly women representatives: according to a global survey almost “half of women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.” Adults and children are attacked – in Britain an Ofcom report found that “23 per cent of children have been cyber bullied in the last year, while 39 per cent have been subjected to offensive language online,” the picture is similar throughout Europe. And in the US, a Pew Research Center study concluded that “41% of Americans (adults) have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online,” and 66% have “witnessed these behaviors directed at others.”

Terrorists, home grown or foreign based, employ cyberspace to advertise for recruits, connect to others, like minded, promote their ideology, demanding abuse and destruction; partners abuse trust, sharing intimate photographs of their lover, violent attacks are filmed, shared in ‘real time’. The number of websites specializing in child abuse, often disguised, sits at 78,589, up 37% on 2016, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). And the level of abuse shown on theses site is becoming more extreme, the content increasingly vile – rape and sexual torture of children has increased from 28% to 33% in three years. IWF’s CEO, “we are now receiving more reports of child sexual abuse content than ever before. This year we’re seeing offenders getting smarter and finding new ways to abuse legitimate Internet services.”

Huge quantities of porn, much of which shows abusive images: around a third of the www is dedicated to pornography. Billions of people every minute search for online pleasure, forming dependency, addiction in some cases, and is not addiction a form of self-abuse?

All this and more, including staggering levels of environmental vandalism, is a reflection of human consciousness, which is itself shaped by adopted values and existing systems, specifically the socio-economic model. Rooted in competition and greed, selfishness and pleasure, the pervasive modes of living aggravate the negative in humanity, are of themselves abusive, and, by encouraging division, foster abuse.

The Crisis of Abuse is being fanned by the actions, rhetoric and behavior of prominent political figures, from Trump to Viktor Orban and all extreme voices in between. It is not their creation though, nor is it the creation of some vague power separate from society, it is society and society with its structures and forms is the representation at any given time of the consciousness of those living within it: society is humanity.

Consciousness, as J. Krishnamurti repeatedly made clear, is its content, and is conditioned thereby. Among large numbers of people there is a substantive shift in consciousness taking place away from divisive ideals to more inclusive, tolerant ways of living. When, however, consciousness is filled with detritus, with the values of the market, of competition, nationalism and narrow ideological constructs, division, conflict – internal and external – and abuse follows.

A point of tension is being reached between the old decaying ways, and The New, between the imperative felt among many for fundamental change, and those backward-looking reactionary voices, that are feeding an atmosphere of abuse and division. Unity, cooperation and tolerance are the pre-eminent values of the time. Together with sharing and understanding these Principles of Goodness need to be, and (striking a cautious note of optimism), will increasingly form the foundations upon which the systems that dominate our lives are rebuilt, allowing the manifestation of the good to flourish.

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Rotary International as a Model for Statecraft

The established paradigm of nation-states formulating their policies on the basis of a limited vision of self-interest is dissolving on every level. Games of chicken test the limits of deterrence, any breakdown of which could be fatal in the nuclear age. Many of our challenges, the climate emergency first among equals, are no longer solvable by individual nations, no matter how powerful.

This radical interdependency points to the need for international laws which, even as they seem to challenge the sovereignty of all countries, will also strengthen the common good. Today nations go to war because we feel the menace of aggression along borders, pressure into spheres of influence, or threats against resource interests—leaving aside the many civil conflicts within nations. Tomorrow a more authentic cause for war might become a given nation failing to maintain ecological resources, like the rain forests which are the lungs of the planet, because that would become a security issue for all—though one might likely assume that a nation or nations inclined to so powerfully punish agents of climate chaos would also realize that war worsens our climate emergency and that might restrain the warmaker.

Indeed, war with such a radically different motivation could, like our ongoing wars today, end up costing more than any expected positive result. If all-out nuclear war is clearly obsolete, so is conventional war, not only because it is a step toward escalation into nuclear war, but also because the disintegration of war (viz. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen) compounds social and ecological chaos, setting up the context for further war.

Are there other models for strengthening security? One is the Marshall Plan. The United States had the hindsight to realize that a second world war had emerged out of our harsh treatment of Germany at the end of World War I and the foresight to obviate that with a generous peace toward Germany. Might it be in the self-interest of nations not only to talk to adversaries, but to jiu-jitsu all parties out of the paradigm of threat and counter-threat by offering Marshall Plan equivalents as a substitute for war rather than something to follow a chimerical “victory”?

Vast regions of Iran suffered major flooding back in April. How might it have changed the present dynamic of high tension if the U.S. had made aggressive offers to help rescue and feed the desperate across rural Iran? Our military represents an enormous logistical potentiality. My friend Adam Cote, a candidate for governor of Maine, managed to be a platoon leader while spearheading the “Adopt an Iraqi Village” program to distribute school supplies, kitchen and household items, toys, clothes and blankets to destitute Iraqis. Generating goodwill rather than fear changes responses, plans, and attitudes.

Another alternative is citizen initiatives. The vast majority of Iranians like and admire America, even as we continue to squeeze them mercilessly on the basis of the U.S. having bailed from a treaty the conditions of which Iran was by all accounts meeting. Iran writ large is not the Revolutionary Guard, just as the United States writ large is not the fever dreams of John Bolton. We desperately need to build relationships on the basis of common interests. It can be done. In the frigid depths of the Cold War, a small group of private citizens, working with the full knowledge of the State Department, successfully arranged a conference of leading Soviet and American scientific experts on accidental nuclear war. Much unforeseen good came out of this exercise, and it played a significant role in easing dangerous tensions.

With the failure of our gigantic military forces to achieve the vaunted “full-spectrum dominance,” there is an urgent need to make much greater use of non-military structures to meet on-the-ground challenges like literacy, clean water, and peaceful understanding between tribal and religious adversaries. One obvious model is Rotary International.

With 30,000 clubs distributed across 190 countries, Rotary is a planet-wide network of people who are building priceless relationships of friendship and mutual understanding on the basis of six crucial areas of focus: promoting peace, fighting disease, providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene, saving mothers and children, supporting education, and growing local economies.

It has for all practical purposes achieved its current goal number one, pursued doggedly for 20 years in cooperation with the Gates Foundation and others, of eliminating polio from the entire planet. Polio is now down to a few cases in rural Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. Through models like Rotary a world beyond war is assuming shape, step by slow step.

The superpowers, blessed with apparently unlimited resources to spend on ships and submarines and missiles and bases around the world, irrelevantly jostle for dominance as the planet continues to wither ecologically. Surely a question worth asking is why the United States will not take on the Rotary model as primary, allowing military force to take its place as truly a last resort. Please don’t argue that we can’t afford it. We have explored the moons of Jupiter and the deepest depths of the Pacific, but the Pentagon budget remains a black hole that sucks into itself the very light that accountants try to shine upon it. If we could rewind the tape and could choose between giving the U.S. government the $5 trillion we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan or giving it to Rotary, I would bet the latter could have provided massively more in real security.

For thousands of years war has been rationalized as unavoidable, worth the risk, a necessary fallback if we don’t get our way or if attacked. War has been used to exploit, to dominate, to exterminate, to acquire, to defend, to expand, to impose, to preserve, to preempt, even as sages keep advocating for the realism and practicality of the golden rule. The United States is strong enough to lead the way into a new paradigm of self-interest, where dominance is replaced by a global network attuned directly to meeting human and ecosystem needs. Anything less threatens everyone’s survival. If we can offer help to our adversaries because we see it as self-interest, a different world is possible.

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Review: Jake Wolff’s “The History of Living Forever”

Let’s begin with the same warning that Jake Wolff provides at the beginning of his provocative novel: The History of Living Forever. What he claims (although I haven’t verified this) is that “the first edition of a Woman’s Day cookbook in the late 1970s shipped with an error: its recipe for custard instructed readers to place a sealed can of condensed milk into a Crock-Pot for four hours.” You can guess what would happen if people followed that guideline. Wolff’s warning concludes: do not use the recipes in his novel; they will kill you. Guess what? As a read the novel, I totally forgot about his warning. I didn’t try to follow the recipes for living forever (the ingredients would be next to impossible to acquire) but I began to believe that the accounts of so-called real people, down through history, that are mixed in with his contemporary narrative) were genuine: that convincing is The History of Living Forever. And I kept sneaking a look at the index of the remaining chapter titles because I was so worried about the outcome for the main characters who I knew would eventually try one of the recipes. In short, that’s a pretty compelling story—or a page-turner to use another term, something not generally applied to an intellectual novel.

Here’s the contemporary story: Conrad Aybinder, a sixteen-year-old high school junior, falls in love with his science teacher and the two of them become sexually involved during the summer before the young man’s senior year. His teacher, Sammy Tampari, is not only a chemist but also an alchemist; and the older man dies suddenly just before Conrad’s senior year begins. Conrad is convinced that his death is a sign, a puzzle that he must put together, and if he can decode Sammy’s notebooks that he will be given a gift: a recipe to cure his own father’s alcoholism that will shortly kill him. Conrad relates the story of what he did years later after he is married and his husband has a brain tumor that may or may not be curable. We, as readers of the story, know that both men in Conrad’s life (his father and his husband) are likely to die without Sammy’s elixir of life recipe that he has gifted to Conrad by his own death.

If that sounds convoluted, it is because the notebooks that Sammy left Conrad not only reveal his own work to discover the elixir but, also, the personal aspects of his life. Sammy was brilliant and probably could have become a distinguished professor of chemistry had he not devoted himself to the elixir of life. He was also initially straight and had a lengthy relationship with a woman that crashed because of his dog headedness to pursue his impossible dream.

I call this a horror story because of the accounts of people dying from earlier attempts to discover the elixir, most of them by ingesting mercury. Even without an iota of knowledge about chemistry, I know that that’s a very dangerous thing to do, but I need to stress that in the vignettes interwoven throughout the contemporary story and in a timeline of “Notable Moments in Self-Experimentation” also at the beginning of the novel, I was convinced that Jake Wolff was not making this stuff up but relating actual events.

The novel’s sweep of Sammy’s life includes a lengthy section that takes place in Romania—the slowest part of the novel—that permits Conrad to meet Sadiq, who was Sammy’s first male lover. The Romanian section also introduces a couple of sleazy characters also supposedly involved in discovering a key to longevity. There are other surprises here that I will not divulge but, as crazy as some of them are, Conrad finally reaches a level of awareness about the entire debacle that unfolded because of his sexual relationship with Sammy:

“Sammy wrote that people see the elixir of life as against the laws of nature—to wish for it is amoral, to search for it is hubris. But I have wished for it, and I have searched for it, and here’s the closest I’ve come to a revelation: In hindsight, searching for Sammy’s elixir felt no different from searching for a job, for a boyfriend, for a house that’s big enough (but small enough) to call home. It’s just another thing I’ve wanted, among many other things, at some point in my life.”

Jake Wolff’s profound novel, The History of Living Forever, will entertain you and simultaneously make you think, make you question your own reasoning about living longer than what nature intended. It’s a question of beating the odds, of winning the lottery, or—for believers—of playing God. As for myself, I’m happy enough to accept what was served to me.

The History of Living Forever
Jake Wolff
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 384 pp. $27

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Disappearing Snails

Disappearing Snails

Snail shells — some are empty
Polished clean by ants
And, sometimes, the ants haven’t
finished the job yet
Sometimes they’re just getting started
So, we set them aside
To preserve them — rarities these days
As wolves were in these parts
Before they disappeared
As we will soon
The way things are heating
And look at you sitting there
Paying your loans
As though that’ll help
As though that’s not stoking the engine
As well

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Mothers Nature and Human: Another Blueprint for Survival

She Who Watches pictograph, Columbia Gorge. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.


Mother Nature is in dire straits! Industrialization is poisoning our world, pulling the atmosphere out of balance and creating climate chaos. It’s polluting our air and probably every organ in our bodies, including our brains.[1] It could be reducing fertility and increasing miscarriages, and so even stopping women from becoming mothers.[2] The plastic we pour into the oceans has infiltrated every site so far examined.[3] The degradation isn’t new, it started two or three centuries ago, but it’s now accelerating rapidly.[4]

Industrialization, beginning in northern Europe in the 18th century, needed armies of workers living near factories, so people were pushed off their land and whatever self-sufficiency they had was stripped from them. Life before was rarely a rural idyll – slavery, feudalism and war wrecked countless lives – but in the new era the poor in the industrializing countries had little option but to migrate to cities seeking work for derisory pay which barely kept their families in poverty. Overcrowding and bad sewerage formed a hothouse for lethal epidemics, though these were nothing new either. They had plagued humanity since the growth of cities thousands of years ago.

To avoid the nasty, brutish and short life in the factories of the Industrial Revolution, some people escaped to the colonies where many of its raw materials originated. They oversaw resource theft which imposed a similar pattern to Europe’s: The indigenous people were forced from their land into laboring for their new colonial masters as servants or for a pittance. Those who resisted faced death in colonial wars and massacres.

It brought immense wealth to very few. They justified their great fortune with a heartless ideology, bolstered by “scientific” racism, in which they believed they had attained a higher level of evolution and intelligence than those they ruled. Some also grasped to a theology which conveniently taught that they were closer to God than their slaves and workers. They had both a scientific and religious right to wealth and power.

Everything was given a price tag. It still is. Governments, their corporate backers and the media – all controlled by people from similar backgrounds – wage war against self-sufficiency. Their view of development is the prevailing global ideology. A family that’s reduced to laboring for starvation wages is supposedly richer than when it was living sustainably and comfortably from its own food, but without the pay. Taxable income is everything, the money is sucked upwards while those at the top find ways to pay little or nothing.

Although most people have been shown the same dream of eternal growth, only a few ever enjoy it and many are stuck in grinding poverty. The dime-store explanations proffered for this are ahistorical and facile, the inequality is supposedly the result of quirks of geography, the spirit of discovery, democracy or the rule of law. We’re told that poverty in the Global South is the fault of corrupt officials, but actually these are small fry, accounting for a tiny three per cent of the wealth siphoned off. The rest is stolen through legal corporate deals which funnel trillions of dollars into shareholders’ pockets and tax havens, established by and for the rich.[5] Africa remains as drained of wealth as under the old colonies.

Fewer than thirty individuals own the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity;[6] a fashion CEO is paid more in a week than a Bangladeshi garment worker earns in her lifetime. After centuries of industrialized growth, with its spectacular and undoubtedly helpful inventions, eight hundred million people will go to bed hungry tonight and the nights after, and not just in “poor” countries. Degrading poverty is also acute in North America and Europe.

None can escape pollution, but the heaviest burden falls on the poor. Highly-processed and cheap foods, with lots of sugar and salt, poison their children into obesity and diabetes. Manufacturers know this, just as they once knew that other products, like asbestos, weed killer and cigarettes, were lethal years before they were forced to admit it. Risks are buried for profit. No one knows if the things we’re sold today will be shown to be toxic tomorrow. More high-frequency radio waves are proposed from more masts to flood our mothers and babies, born and unborn, with ever more electromagnetism.[7] No one knows about any long-term effects, but the wavebands now proposed are the same as those used to disable people in “active denial” weapons.[8]

Most of us now live in cities, chasing paid work and competing for expensive housing. A self-sufficient family in the rural Global South might build a house in a few days, but a working family in Europe can take a lifetime to pay for theirs. Expert medical care works miracles, but is priced beyond the reach of many, even in the richest nation. Diseases once thought eradicated have returned. Allergies, eating disorders and self-harm are skyrocketing. Fifty million Americans suffer mental health problems every year. The principal cause of death of young people in Britain is suicide, and the real numbers are probably higher still as compassionate coroners might rule for “accidental death” when they hope to spare a bereaved mother yet more pain.

Few can doubt our society is broken, but if you’re in a refugee camp, a slum, an Aboriginal township, a Native American reservation, or a prison in Tennessee, it’s been broken for decades.

Many blame capitalism, but things can be even worse when industry is owned by the state in Russia or China, where the same individualistic acquisitiveness holds sway. Everywhere in the world, political and social agendas are determined by big business because corporate and political power overlap. Laws, policies and controls are routinely ignored. Certifications which exist to reassure us about the products they endorse turn out to be marketing tools meaning little or nothing.[9]

Environmentalists argue convincingly that fossil fuels are harmful. Paying for “carbon offsets” was contrived as a way out, but it turns out to be another scam for polluters to keep polluting. Energy from the wind or sun is an answer, but the batteries used to store it are made from toxic minerals, mined at terrible cost to workers and the surroundings.[10]

The environmental movement hardly ever complains that the TV films which shape its vision of Mother Nature, and the increasingly powerful internet it relies on to communicate, have massive carbon footprints, or that the biggest polluter of all is the manufacture, trade and constant firing of armaments,[11] which kill and maim all over the world, including inside primary schools, hospitals and places of worship.

We’re told that by joining this movement or that strike, or signing yet another petition we’re saving the planet, but we’re not told that many of these are also marketing gimmicks, using the overweening power of social media to capture the data on potential customers. We are pressed into buying more and more unnecessary stuff, “brands” worth little, or new models which do the same as old ones. To compound the waste, planned obsolescence is increasingly designed into consumer products. Things were once made to last, now they wear out quickly, forcing us to buy again and again.

We’re told that the solution to this predicament is to put a third, even half, the globe off limits to people, but not that this would entail a massive land grab leading inevitably to more famine, misery and war, and so bring yet more environmental destruction. We’re told to blame everything on migrants, on previous generations, on the rich, or perhaps worst of all given our new mental frailty, on humanity as a whole. This is the same misanthropic theology which teaches that human beings are basically evil; the fundamentalist conservationists who preach it are the new missionary zealots.

Civilization, even humankind and the entire ecosystem, is now given only a few years to survive. The cries are millenarian and unlikely to be true. They certainly slide over the fact that much of the world’s population, the slaves, the dispossessed, the cripplingly poor and disadvantaged, have been living and dying their own apocalypse for generations.

We’re fed a succession of easy ways out: Eat this but not that, favor diesel one year, shun it the next, don’t use plastic bags, but whatever you do, give someone somewhere more money or votes and they’ll make things better. None seem to offer much of a real solution, they largely tinker at the edges.

There is no doubt that we must act with urgent conviction and strength against the poisons which are killing us and our fellow travellers on planet Earth. But how? Is there any hope at all?


There are unlikely to be any guaranteed, quick fix solutions, but that needn’t stop action. The first and most obvious step towards improving things is that big consumers must simply consume less – somehow without it being allowed to threaten those who now depend on their profligacy! The second is through the protection and promotion of human diversity. Both would bring rapid change, both are cheap, but they are rarely advanced as solutions: The first because of industry’s stranglehold and the second because of deeply engrained prejudice.

All human beings are descended from the same African woman, through our mother’s mother’s line.[12] We are all relatives, but humanity has survived by growing into many different peoples and our diversity threatens centralized power and wealth. Imperial demands for everyone to follow a single religion are thousands of years old, and restricting an area to one “race” or forcing everyone to speak a single language were and are key weapons in colonialism. The Nazi slogan, “One people, one country, one leader,” points at the nub of the problem. The government-corporate axis, which subsumes academia, big foundations and NGOs, wants us to become evermore similar, to covet the same things, to be more predictable and easier to govern. Education and the media persuade us that this is all for our benefit. There is no option. They conjure the dream of a comfortable lifestyle built around the nuclear family buying more consumer stuff, welcoming being closely monitored, and not rocking the boat, at least never meaningfully enough to matter.

This can work well for a while, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. We may be herd animals, conditioned to follow the mob, but we are also individuals, with our own dreams of fulfilment. Even brutally imposed regimentation, as in China or North Korea, cannot endure indefinitely: Dissent roots and grows with time.

In reality, there are many ways to live including within the most highly “developed” and apparently uniform countries. Some hopefuls with a patch of land strive to live off their own produce as much as possible, even in big cities; it’s not just hippies who reject personal possessions in favor of communal ownership; a few robust people seek to live off grid or refuse a fixed address; and religious orders dwell and meditate silently in the heart of urban mayhem. The number of individuals involved in alternative lifestyles may be relatively small, and we don’t hear much about them, but they are there.

The furthest removed from the consumerist dream – and nightmare – are those who are most self-sufficient. With little carbon footprint, they are least responsible for poisoning the world. Those who are farthest of all, whether by choice or not, dwell mostly in the Global South, and the biggest experts in living the most differently are the world’s uncontacted tribes, well over a hundred of them, comprising a few thousand individuals. We now seem hell bent on bringing them to an end.

They live without industrialization’s benefits, and without its ills which are destroying us. Together with other tribal and indigenous peoples, totalling around 370 million individuals, they teach their children in thousands of complex languages which express a profound observation and understanding of their surroundings. They live where there is most of the planet’s biodiversity, an estimated eighty per cent of the total. That’s not by chance, they have long shaped their environment to that end because prolific biodiversity is the only way to ensure the long-term survival of life itself. When one place or species is weakened by disease or climate, others can be turned to. Throughout human evolution, our survival has hinged on our adaptability and our ability to embrace and shape faunal and floral diversity – we simply wouldn’t exist as a species if we hadn’t. Yet this has been massively eroded in a few generations: Most of humanity now depends on just three food plants – rice, maize and wheat – though we used to eat hundreds and tribal and indigenous people still do. With the world’s biodiversity largely under their care, they need no lesson from the rest of us about how to manage. We may not be able to live like them, but we can and should become their students.

It’s now widely accepted that biodiversity is vital, but we rarely acknowledge the importance of the human diversity which cares for it. We don’t see that welcoming diversity at home is crucial for encouraging it everywhere. Celebrating and caring for people in all their multiplicity – “race,” gender and preference, ability, belief and so on – improves life for all. There is an exception: It cannot include tolerating the intolerant, for intolerance hurts everyone. Intolerance damages nature.

If we care about the planet, environmental action must urgently embrace human diversity as a core, the core of biodiversity. Conservationists with old colonial ideas must stop pushing indigenous and other people off their land, stripping them of their self-sufficiency and plunging them into poverty and destitution where, if they survive at all, they can lose the ability or inclination to care for their surroundings. We must fight against the increasing destruction of the very people who hold at least some of the keys to our planetary survival.

The real fight for biodiversity is also a fight against prejudice and patriarchy, against inequality and cruelty. It’s a fight against the corrosive and self-defeating pretence that nature is separate from humanity. That’s simply not true: Both nature and humanity are our mother and each is part of the other, as everyone once knew and we must now learn afresh. Our fight must yoke human rights to environmental concerns and so point the way to the survival of a better and kinder world.



1. Carrington, Daniel. “Revealed: air pollution may be damaging ‘every organ in the body’.” The Guardian, May 17, 2019.

2. Davis, Nicola. Air pollution ‘may affect number of eggs ovaries can produce’. The Guardian, June 25, 2019.

3. Jamieson, Alan J., L. S. R. Brooks, W. D. K. Reid, S. B. Piertney, B. E. Narayanaswamy, and T. D. Linley. “Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth.” Royal Society open science 6, no. 2 (2019): 1806-67.

4. Smog killed about ten thousand Londoners in 1952, that’s more than the total number of British service personnel deaths in all wars since 1945. See:

Potenza, Alessandra. “In 1952 London, 12,000 people died from smog — here’s why that matters now.” The Verge, December 16, 2017.

 The Economist. “British military deaths”. July 16th 2016.

5. Hickel, Jason. “Flipping the corruption myth.” Al Jazeera, February 1, 2014.

6. Alvaredo, Facundo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, eds. World inequality report 2018. Belknap Press, 2018.

7. Kelley, Elizabeth Martin Blank, Henry Lai, Joel Moskowitz, & Magda Havas “International Appeal: Scientists call for protection from non-ionizing electromagnetic field exposure.” European Journal of Oncology. 20, no. 3/4 (2015): 180-182.

8. Reardon, Marguerite. “5G phones and your health: What you need to know”. Cnet, June 20, 2019. and

Federal Communications Commission. “GN Docket No. 14-177”. July 14, 2016. pp145-157 (Accessed on 15 July 2018)

9. For critique of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme please see:

Conniff, Richard. “Greenwashed Timber: How Sustainable Forest Certification Has Failed”. Yale Environment 360, February 20, 2018. (Accessed on July 15, 2019).

For critiques of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme see:

Christian, Claire, David Ainley, Megan Bailey, Paul Dayton, John Hocevar, Michael LeVine, Jordan Nikoloyuk et al. “A review of formal objections to Marine Stewardship Council fisheries certifications.” Biological Conservation 161 (2013): 10-17.

10. Tsurukawa, Nicolas, Siddharth Prakash, and Andreas Manhart. “Social impacts of artisanal cobalt mining in Katanga, Democratic Republic of Congo.” Öko-Institut eV, Freiburg, 2011: 27-39.

11. Belcher, Oliver, Patrick Bigger, Ben Neimark, and Cara Kennelly. “Hidden carbon costs of the “everywhere war”: Logistics, geopolitical ecology, and the carbon boot‐print of the US military.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 2019.

12. The existence of this “mitochondrial eve,” the matrilineal most recent common ancestor of all people now living, is a very strong genealogical theory. It’s not an origin story, and that individual, who lived some 150,000 years ago (or 50,000 years earlier or later), was not the “first woman,” nor the only one we are descended from matrilineally, but the most recent. We are all descended from her through our mother’s mother’s mother’s line. We are also all similarly descended from one man, “Y-chromosomal Adam” through our father’s father’s father’s line. He also lived in Africa, but not necessarily at the same time.


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Killer Heat Forever, From Our Fossil-Fueled Inertia

Tule Lake bed. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Sometime between 2070 and 2099, assuming “business as usual” between now and then as regards the use of fossil fuels, the following will occur:

+ For the equivalent of a week or more each year, about 120 million people across the U.S.A. will be exposed to conditions so hot, the heat index (or “feels like” temperature, which is produced by the combination of heat and humidity) will surpass the limits of the National Weather Service’s heat index charts. Depending on locality at that time, the upper limit of the heat index scale could be at or above 127°F (52.8°C);

+ In 47 of the lower 48 U.S. states, these “off-the-charts” conditions will occur in at least one county at least once a year. Historically, “off-the-charts” conditions have only occurred in the Sonoran Desert region, along the California-Arizona border, and only for a few days each year.

Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists released Killer Heat, a report analyzing how the frequency of days with a dangerously hot heat index — the combination of temperature and humidity the National Weather Service calls the “feels like” temperature — will change in response to the global emissions choices we make in the coming decades.

Kristy Dahl, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), briskly describes this quite likely hot late 21st century for the U.S.A. in (1); she was the lead scientific author of the research paper that arrived at the detailed geographical distribution and frequency of occurrence of these future high temperature conditions (2); and she was part of the team of Union of Concerned Scientists people who produced that agency’s report (3) and interactive website (4) for the informational benefit of the general public, about these looming national and regional climatic changes (for the worse),

The expected temperature conditions are reported for seven regions (in sum covering the 48 contiguous states): Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southern Great Plains, Northern Great Plains, Southwest, Northwest; and are also broken down with great specificity for each of the 3,109 counties of the contiguous U.S.

Kristy Dahl and the Union of Concerned Scientists have done a marvelous job of presenting the data very clearly, and of making its implications compellingly explicit.

Two lessons are available from this work:

1) The sooner we cease using fossil fuels to generate energy, and the more quickly and significantly we reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, the lower the excessive climatic heating we — and our descendants — will have to suffer through in the future. And that future will last a long time (200,000 years) because nature removes CO2 from the atmosphere very slowly;

2) Local and regional governments and public service agencies must devise strategies, programs, and procedures to provide public“heat relief” methods for the people living in the regions they serve (or ‘supervise’), and they must also create or expand facilities for achieving that end. Basically, we have to evolve our current system of episodic emergency services(like fire departments, rescue teams, and ambulance transports) into a public (i.e. free) system of chronic emergency services. “Help” will be needed widely “all the time.”

The reports produced by Kristy Dahl and her UCS colleagues give a vivid picture of an imminent swelteringly uncomfortable (and unhealthy) mid-range future — see them. The vividness of the image of that future discomfort is undoubtedly the most useful result of this work and its reporting, because that vividness may motivate more serious governmental efforts to swerve American society away from its mindless fossil-fueled consumerist (and militarist) obsession, which is increasingly cooking us and our children and grandchildren, etc.


(1) Will the U.S. Be a Dystopian Hellscape in 2100 if Emissions Keep Rising?, Kristy Dahl 22 July 2019, [news release and summary of findings in UCS report, (3)]

(2) Increased frequency of and population exposure to extreme heat index days in the United States during the 21st century, Kristy Dahl, et. al., 16 July 2019, [science paper]

(3) Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days (2019), Union of Concerned Scientist [report for the general public, based (2)]

(4) Killer Heat in the United States: The Future of Dangerously Hot Days, [Interactive Maps, from (3)]

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Mossadegh in Reverse

Photograph Source: Mossadegh under house arrest in Ahmadabad – Public Domain

“It may be easier to articulate the peculiar difficulty of constraining a Mossadegh by the use of threats when one is fresh from a vain attempt at using threats to keep a small child from hurting a dog or a small dog from hurting a child.”

— Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict

Donald Trump, our right-wing populist president, is in a trap. It is mostly of his own making, and he is desperate to escape it. The supreme irony is that Iran, a defiant foreign power, is springing this trap. Iran once had its very own populist leader, who was trapped and then deposed by the U.S.

Who was this Iranian populist, what was the nature of his trap, and how is his predicament similar to the one that Donald Trump now finds himself in? To answer these questions, we must delve into an important but often ignored part of the 20th century history of Iran, look at recent events in the Middle East, and, finally, consider the past and the present with the insights of Thomas Schelling, the Nobel Prize–winning conflict strategist.

All Iranians know the sad tale of Mohammad Mossadegh and the 1953 coup that removed him from power, even if pitifully few Americans know this story. Mossadegh was an advocate of self-determination for Iran and opposed the Western powers’ control of Iran’s most valuable natural resource, its oil. Mossadegh rode a wave of popularity and was nominated by the Iranian parliament and then appointed in 1951 by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as Iran’s 35th prime minister. He ranks high among the non–West’s larger-than-life leaders during the postwar “independence era”—the era of Nehru, Nasser, Sukarno, Nyerere, and others.

Mossadegh and his political allies in Tehran went to work immediately. Their most decisive move was to nationalize the oil industry, thereby taking control away from the Anglo–Persian Oil Company. The Iranian oil industry was birthed by British businessman William Knox D’Arcy, who was granted a concession by the Iranian government to conduct oil exploration in 1901. D’Arcy’s venture was costly and bore no fruit, but the British government organized a group of financiers to take over the enterprise, as the British were afraid to cede such a potential resource to Russia. Oil was struck in 1908, and a year later Anglo–Persian Oil was created. A few years further (1914), the British took majority control of the company, motivated by the desire to control a dedicated source of oil to fuel the British naval fleet.

From the time of D’Arcy’s original concession, resentment among Iranians grew over the majority of oil profits flowing to the West. Mossadegh inherited this climate of animosity, and his nationalization scheme reflected it.

But the nationalization policy immediately prompted an escalation of the friction between London and Tehran. The British withdrew their technical experts, abandoned the oil fields, and implemented an oil embargo, coordinated among the cartel of international oil companies known as the Seven Sisters. In response, Mossadegh addressed the United Nations Security Council to gather international support for his cause. American officials tried to act as intermediaries between Mossadegh and the British government, but the British refused to deal with Tehran at this point.

Now comes the crucial portion of the story, the part that has a direct analog in the modern-day struggle between Trump and Iran.

After returning to Iran in defeat, Mossadegh’s dreams of a nation that served its people rather than the Western powers were collapsing. Government revenues were running low. And at this point Mossadegh made a terminal error: He attempted to bluff the Americans into providing emergency funds by informing them that he would otherwise have to turn to the Soviet Union. This attempted leverage failed, and Mossadegh had destroyed his credibility in Washington. In consequence, it was at this point the U.S. and the British came to an agreement that Mossadegh had to go. After an intense propaganda campaign waged by the CIA, he was removed in the military coup of 1953.

Now we turn to the present at look at what Trump hath wrought.

Trump must please the hawks and neoconservatives who comprise the majority of his financial and media support by bringing the current leadership of Iran to heel. Trump had all along despised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“nuclear deal with Iran” in common parlance) because it was the Obama administration’s work, as revealed by a recently leaked diplomatic memo from Sir Kim Darroch, the just-resigned British ambassador to Washington. But he also had to please his foreign policy minders and has thus attempted to ratchet up the pressure on Iran by increasing economic sanctions.

Furthermore, the “Twitterer in chief” has escalated his social media threats. One notable tweet reads as follows:

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”

While alarming, such a claim has no credibility for multiple reasons. For one, the US does not have the troop strength to invade Iran and drive the ruling clerics from power. For another, the enthusiasm of the U.S. citizenry for yet another Middle Eastern military conflict is extremely low. Even if more drastic measures were taken, say by using nuclear weapons, the Iranians and their allies have threatened to react immediately and shut down the Strait of Hormuz while unleashing a massive arsenal of rockets on Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

At the very least, this would be a global economic catastrophe. At worst, this could spark a world war if Russia and China are pulled into the fray. At that point human civilization could be at risk. Needless to say, any of these outcomes would end Donald Trump’s chances of winning re-election in 2020, and Trump would go down in the history books as one of the worst presidents, if not the worst, in U.S. history.

How might one who specializes in the strategy of conflict view the events of the past and the present in respect of conflict with Iran?

Fortunately, we can consult a deceased master by referring to his manual on the subject. The Strategy of Conflict is the late Thomas Schelling’s most famous work. Schelling was a game theorist and economist who studied bargaining and conflict. The Strategy of Conflict provides a thorough analysis of the many features and varieties of conflict. It is by drawing from this work that one can spot the common critical flaws in the conflict strategies of Mossadegh and, seven and a half decades later, Trump. “While prudence suggests leaving open a way of escape when one threatens an adversary with mutually painful reprisal,” Schelling wrote, “any visible means of escape may make the threat less credible.”

To identify Trump’s mistake, one can reconsider the above-noted tweet, or read a curious report by Elijah Magnier, wherein the journalist and analyst indicates that Trump sought to negotiate a face-saving measure by begging the Iranian government, via diplomatic channels, to allow the U.S. to bomb a handful of unimportant Iranian sites immediately following the recent tanker-bombing episode. Having already shredded the JCPOA and his credibility, this was yet another mistake, as it signaled Trump’s fundamental weakness.

Mossadegh’s similar mistake, as stated earlier, was a bluff that shattered his credibility and led to the American-cultivated coup to depose him. In effect, Trump has made himself a mirror image—Mossadegh in reverse.

The Iranian leadership appears to be well aware of Trump’s lapsed credibility: They could hardly read the request Magnier reports any other way. The Iranians smell blood in the water. This is why they are increasing pressure on Trump by resuming the enrichment of uranium, among other actions.

Unlike Trump, the Iranian leadership seems to be fluent in Tom Schelling 101 and the concept of brinksmanship. As Schelling wrote of brinksmanship in The Strategy of Conflict, “It means harassing and intimidating an adversary by exposing him to a shared risk, or deterring him by showing that if he makes a contrary move he may disturb us so that we slip over the brink whether we want to or not, carrying him with us.”

Trump’s mistakes, and consequently his weak hand, are now on open display, while Iran is committed to resistance. In this sense, a sort of karmic justice seems to be at work, as it was the U.S. that once intervened in Iranian affairs and removed the Mossadegh from office. Now it seems possible that the faux-populist Trump, if he is not directly deposed, could be tossed out of office via the ballot box next year unless he returns to the JPCOA. For Trump that would be a loss of another kind—and a victory for the Iranians 76 years after the original American offense.

Haydar Khan is a former mathematics researcher and instructor at a public university in the U.S. South.


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It’s Important to Always Ignore Thomas Friedman

Photograph Source: Chatham House – CC BY 2.0

Whenever I read a column by the pustule called Thomas Friedman, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. To laugh at the hilarious attempts of an anthropoid carbuncle to sound vaguely human and Serious, or to cry at the fact that this abscess on the body politic is admired and deemed Serious by…all the polyps and tumors that run the media, the government, the corporate sector, the country, and the world. Even decent people who are influenced by the mass media are tricked into thinking that the incoherent ravings of an anti-human make sense! “I think Tom has made some excellent points here!” a friend of mine emails me, in reference to his recent column “Trump’s Going to Get Re-elected, Isn’t He?

Ugh, where to begin? I know I’m a little slow on the uptake regarding this latest Friedmanite obscenity—it was published on July 16—but I had refrained from reading it. “For once, be stronger than your masochism!” But I finally read it and decided it provided an opportunity to refute the fascist fallacies of the Moderates who run the Democratic Party and virtually everything else.

Now, it goes without saying that most Moderates, at least the powerful ones, are not acting in good faith. Their commitment to Moderation is less a function of their desire to unseat Trump (“The average voter is a moderate!”) than of their desire to maintain their power and avoid upsetting the status quo. When a Friedman says to Democrats, “please, spare me the revolution! It can wait. Win the presidency, hold the House and narrow the spread in the Senate, and a lot of good things still can be accomplished,” it’s clear that the bedrock of his Moderateness—which is just another word for conservatism, which is just another word for fascism—is his revulsion at the prospect of radical change. Not his pious hope to get rid of Trump.

“Dear Democrats,” little Tommy writes, as if he’s addressing his diary: “This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person [i.e., not a leftist], one committed to reunifying [?] the country and creating more good jobs [oh, you mean like Bernie Sanders?], a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans [who don’t exist] and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!

Oh, like Hillary Clinton won? That was your model moderate, moron. Remember how well she did against the Orange Blob, who should have been the most easily defeated candidate in recent history?

It would be surprising how slow some people are, if we didn’t already know it’s hard to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But while the Friedmans of the world don’t make arguments in good faith and shouldn’t be taken seriously, there doubtless are Moderates out there who should and can be convinced of the error of their ways. Both the strategic and the moral error. Strategically, for example, one might point out that, whatever this or that poll says on this or that issue, Americans tend to respect strong, committed, proud leadership with a clear vision for the future—even if they don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of that vision. The projection of self-certainty, moral clarity, honesty, and genuine concern for ordinary people is telegenic and polls well, as attested by Bernie Sanders’ greater popularity than Trump and Clinton in 2016. A hemming and hawing, “flip-flopping,” vacillating, calculating Moderate like the Clintons and John Kerry in 2004 often evokes contempt. (Obama was an exception because of his charisma, his “symbolic” skin color, and his hopey-changey rhetoric that people were hoodwinked into believing.)

In 2016, both the Moderate Republicans (Jeb, Rubio, Christie, Kasich, etc.) and the Moderate Democrat were dismally defeated by a shouting blubbering giant orange infant racist sex abuser who knew nothing about anything. Why? Newsflash: people want change. Radical change. They’re screaming for it. Trump was change (they hoped), like Obama was change (they hoped). In 2020, guess what: people will still want change, especially those who have been disappointed or disgusted by Trump.

This desire, by the way, is one reason that the horrifyingly “radical” Medicare for All polls well, and would likely poll even better if more people understood it (e.g., the fact that Sanders’ version would eliminate premiums and deductibles and bring down overall costs).

In short, let’s put to rest the notion that the Average Voter wants Moderation. A poll here and there might suggest that, just as other polls don’t. Questions about the Average Voter’s preferences cannot be answered in any precise or scientific way, and anyone who claims he knows how people will vote is a fraud. What we do know is that the (relative) left had significant victories in 2018 and came close to winning in other races (Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Beto O’Rourke), in several instances likely losing because of Republican foul play.

The pundits were wrong in 2016, and there’s no reason to believe they’re right this time around.

Even more important than electoral strategy is something that the Friedman anthropoid has little knowledge of: morality. “I was shocked,” he writes, quivering in righteous indignation, “that so many [in the June Democratic presidential debates] were ready to decriminalize illegal entry into our country. I think people should have to ring the doorbell before they enter my house or my country.” The usual nuanced analysis.

“I was shocked,” he continues, bewailing the injustice of the world, “at all those hands raised in support of providing comprehensive health coverage to undocumented immigrants. I think promises we’ve made to our fellow Americans should take priority, like to veterans in need of better health care.” How noble of you. Too bad you haven’t explained why the two goals are mutually exclusive.

This lack of concern for the downtrodden exposes the hollowness of the characteristic appeal to radicals to “wait.” “You’re going too fast!” the Moderate says. “You’re going to screw everything up if you don’t learn to be patient. Be reasonable! Act like the 1960s’ white liberals whom Martin Luther King Jr. excoriated in his Letter from a—oh, wait. Um… No. Yes. Act like them: he was wrong and they were right.”

The Moderate is either unaware or doesn’t care that every worthy political goal has been achieved only because “radicals” were clamoring for a revolution (or at least a mild Sanders-type “political revolution”). American independence? Those despised radicals Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and the rest—and even more so the ordinary farmers, artisans, sailors, laborers, and women—got fed up with “patience” and severed their ties with the imperial power, heedless of the sage counsel of conservatives.

White male suffrage? Agitators in the mode of Thomas Skidmore and Thomas Wilson Dorr demanded that it be granted. Patience and politeness would have got them nothing.

The end of slavery? Fiery abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown had the courage to ignore the Thomas Friedmans of their day and finally, after decades of struggle, stirred a nation to action.

Women’s suffrage? The Elizabeth Cady Stantons and Susan B. Anthonys, the Emmeline Pankhursts and Carrie Chapman Catts, organized and organized until the powerful could no longer ignore them.

The birth of the U.S. welfare state? Millions of unemployed in the Great Depression marched in the streets, resisted evictions, terrified authorities, demanded action, until the ruling class consented to the Social Security Act as a necessary concession to forestall revolution.

The civil rights movement? You can imagine what would have happened if activists had agreed to “wait”: Jim Crow would still exist today.

And so it goes, time and time again, always and forever. Feudalism collapsed not “automatically” from the spread of capitalism but because millions of peasants and urban workers resisted it and fought against it, from the 17th to the 20th centuries, until it was gone.

Today, if activists and political figures don’t talk ceaselessly and heedlessly about Medicare for All, a $15 national minimum wage, the abolition of ICE, abolition of student debt, free education for all, radical action to tackle global warming, demilitarization of the U.S. budget, and a dozen other urgent issues, nothing good will happen. The status quo will continue, and society will, in the end, collapse. Wild misery and injustice will only spread and consume the country and the world.

In order to “normalize” “radical” ideas, you have to talk about them. Wherever and whenever you can. The more you talk about them, the more likely it is that people will understand them, accept them, and eventually demand them. They’ll always be “too radical” if you put them on the back burner and focus on more “immediate” goals that are supposedly—but not really—in conflict with them.

Both strategically and morally, it is imperative for Democrats to move to the left, much further than they have. The more of them adopt the policies of “the Squad” (or rather more left-wing policies than the Squad’s), the more hope there is for the country. Ultimately, of course, the Democratic Party will likely remain “history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party,” but individual Democrats at least can try to break the mold and galvanize resistance.

As for little Tommy Friedman (he’s still learning how to write) and his Moderate pundit playmates, I’d only say to them: your grotesque amorality is rivaled only by your intellectual immaturity. Had you been writing in the 1850s, you’d be shameful little “compromise”-obsessed historical footnotes. As, indeed, you will undoubtedly be seen decades from now.

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It’s Un-American to be Anti-Free Speech

Photograph Source: Permanent Free Speech Wall in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. by Daniel Rothamel – CC BY 2.0

Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? The constitutional theory is that we the people are the sovereigns, the state and federal officials only our agents. We who have the final word can speak softly or angrily. We can seek to challenge and annoy, as we need not stay docile and quiet.

— Justice William O. Douglas

Unjust. Brutal. Criminal. Corrupt. Inept. Greedy. Power-hungry. Racist. Immoral. Murderous. Evil. Dishonest. Crooked. Excessive. Deceitful. Untrustworthy. Unreliable. Tyrannical.

These are all words that have at some time or other been used to describe the U.S. government.

These are all words that I have used at some time or other to describe the U.S. government. That I may feel morally compelled to call out the government for its wrongdoing does not make me any less of an American.

If I didn’t love this country, it would be easy to remain silent. However, it is because I love my country, because I believe fervently that if we lose freedom here, there will be no place to escape to, I will not remain silent.

Nor should you.

Nor should any other man, woman or child—no matter who they are, where they come from, what they look like, or what they believe.

This is the beauty of the dream-made-reality that is America. As Chelsea Manning recognized, “We’re citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear.

Indeed, the First Amendment does more than give us a right to criticize our country: it makes it a civic duty. Certainly, if there is one freedom among the many spelled out in the Bill of Rights that is especially patriotic, it is the right to criticize the government.

The right to speak out against government wrongdoing is the quintessential freedom.

Unfortunately, those who run the government don’t take kindly to individuals who speak truth to power. In fact, the government has become increasingly intolerant of speech that challenges its power, reveals its corruption, exposes its lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.

This is nothing new, nor is it unique to any particular presidential administration.

President Trump, who delights in exercising his right to speak (and tweet) freely about anything and everything that raises his ire, has shown himself to be far less tolerant of those with whom he disagrees, especially when they exercise their right to criticize the government.

In his first few years in office, Trump has declared the media to be “the enemy of the people,” suggested that protesting should be illegal, and that NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem “shouldn’t be in the country.” More recently, Trump lashed out at four Democratic members of Congress—all women of color— who have been particularly critical of his policies, suggesting that they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Fanning the flames of controversy, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway suggested that anyone who criticizes the country, disrespects the flag, and doesn’t support the Trump Administration’s policies should also leave the country.

The uproar over Trump’s “America—love it or leave it” remarks have largely focused on its racist overtones, but that misses the point: it’s un-American to be anti-free speech.

It’s unfortunate that Trump and his minions are so clueless about the Constitution. Then again, Trump is not alone in his presidential disregard for the rights of the citizenry, especially as it pertains to the right of the people to criticize those in power.

President Obama signed into law anti-protest legislation that makes it easier for the government to criminalize protest activities (10 years in prison for protesting anywhere in the vicinity of a Secret Service agent). The Obama Administration also waged a war on whistleblowers, which The Washington Post described as “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration,” and “spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records.”

Part of the Patriot Act signed into law by President George W. Bush made it a crime for an American citizen to engage in peaceful, lawful activity on behalf of any group designated by the government as a terrorist organization. Under this provision, even filing an amicus brief on behalf of an organization the government has labeled as terrorist would constitute breaking the law.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the FBI to censor all news and control communications in and out of the country in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt also signed into law the Smith Act, which made it a crime to advocate by way of speech for the overthrow of the U.S. government by force or violence.

President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which made it illegal to criticize the government’s war efforts.

President Abraham Lincoln seized telegraph lines, censored mail and newspaper dispatches, and shut down members of the press who criticized his administration.

In 1798, during the presidency of John Adams, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it a crime to “write, print, utter or publish … any false, scandalous, and malicious” statements against the government, Congress or president of the United States.

Clearly, the government has been undermining our free speech rights for quite a while now, but Trump’s antagonism towards free speech is much more overt.

For example, at a recent White House Social Media Summit, Trump defined free speech as follows: “To me free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposely write bad. To me that’s very dangerous speech, and you become angry at it. But that’s not free speech.”

Except Trump is about as wrong as one can be on this issue.

Good, bad or ugly, it’s all free speech unless as defined by the government it falls into one of the following categories: obscenity, fighting words, defamation (including libel and slander), child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats, and solicitations to commit crimes.

This idea of “dangerous” speech, on the other hand, is peculiarly authoritarian in nature. What it amounts to is speech that the government fears could challenge its chokehold on power.

The kinds of speech the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation, prosecution and outright elimination include: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, left-wing speech, extremist speech, politically incorrect speech, etc.

Conduct your own experiment into the government’s tolerance of speech that challenges its authority, and see for yourself.

Stand on a street corner—or in a courtroom, at a city council meeting or on a university campus—and recite some of the rhetoric used by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Adams and Thomas Paine without referencing them as the authors.

For that matter, just try reciting the Declaration of Independence, which rejects tyranny, establishes Americans as sovereign beings, recognizes God (not the government) as the Supreme power, portrays the government as evil, and provides a detailed laundry list of abuses that are as relevant today as they were 240-plus years ago.

My guess is that you won’t last long before you get thrown out, shut up, threatened with arrest or at the very least accused of being a radical, a troublemaker, a sovereign citizen, a conspiratorialist or an extremist.

Try suggesting, as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did, that Americans should not only take up arms but be prepared to shed blood in order to protect their liberties, and you might find yourself placed on a terrorist watch list and vulnerable to being rounded up by government agents.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” declared Jefferson. He also concluded that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Observed Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”

Better yet, try suggesting as Thomas Paine, Marquis De Lafayette, John Adams and Patrick Henry did that Americans should, if necessary, defend themselves against the government if it violates their rights, and you will be labeled a domestic extremist.

“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government,” insisted Paine. “When the government violates the people’s rights,” Lafayette warned, “insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” Adams cautioned, “A settled plan to deprive the people of all the benefits, blessings and ends of the contract, to subvert the fundamentals of the constitution, to deprive them of all share in making and executing laws, will justify a revolution.” And who could forget Patrick Henry with his ultimatum: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Then again, perhaps you don’t need to test the limits of free speech for yourself.

One such test is playing out before our very eyes on the national stage led by none other than the American Police State’s self-appointed Censor-in-Chief, who seems to believe that only individuals who agree with the government are entitled to the protections of the First Amendment.

To the contrary, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, was very clear about the fact that the First Amendment was established to protect the minority against the majority.

I’ll take that one step further: the First Amendment was intended to protect the citizenry from the government’s tendency to censor, silence and control what people say and think.

Having lost our tolerance for free speech in its most provocative, irritating and offensive forms, the American people have become easy prey for a police state where only government speech is allowed. You see, the powers-that-be understand that if the government can control speech, it controls thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

This is how freedom rises or falls.

As Hermann Goering, one of Hitler’s top military leaders, remarked during the Nuremberg trials:

It is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

It is working the same in this country, as well.

Americans of all stripes would do well to remember that those who question the motives of government provide a necessary counterpoint to those who would blindly follow where politicians choose to lead.

We don’t have to agree with every criticism of the government, but we must defend the rights of allindividuals to speak freely without fear of punishment or threat of banishment.

Never forget: what the architects of the police state want are submissive, compliant, cooperative, obedient, meek citizens who don’t talk back, don’t challenge government authority, don’t speak out against government misconduct, and don’t step out of line.

What the First Amendment protects—and a healthy constitutional republic requires—are citizens who routinely exercise their right to speak truth to power.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, tolerance for dissent is vital if we are to survive as a free nation.

While there are all kinds of labels being put on so-called “unacceptable” speech today, the real message being conveyed by those in power is that Americans don’t have a right to express themselves if what they are saying is unpopular, controversial or at odds with what the government determines to be acceptable.

By suppressing free speech, the government is contributing to a growing underclass of Americans who are being told that they can’t take part in American public life unless they “fit in.”

Mind you, it won’t be long before anyone who believes in holding the government accountable to respecting our rights and abiding by the rule of law is labeled an “extremist,” is relegated to an underclass that doesn’t fit in, must be watched all the time, and is rounded up when the government deems it necessary.

It doesn’t matter how much money you make, what politics you subscribe to, or what God you worship: we are all potential suspects, terrorists and lawbreakers in the eyes of the government.

In other words, if and when this nation falls to tyranny, we will all suffer the same fate: we will fall together.

The stamping boot of tyranny is but one crashing foot away.

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Reducing Carbon Emissions Must Not Be Done on the Backs of the World’s Poorest

Photograph Source: Milei.vencel – CC BY-SA 3.0

By all appearances, the economic positions of the world’s poorest people have improved considerably over the most recent three decades. Households living on $1.90 per capita per day have — on average — seen their real (inflation-adjusted) incomes grow approximately 4.2 percent per year for the last 30 years.

Consequently, less than 10 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty today, compared to about 40 percent in 1989. Going forward, we must both understand how this came about and remove barriers to continued progress. Specifically, poverty reduction requires the world to address the threat of climate change— to open up additional space for growth in the Global South without making the entire planet uninhabitable to humans.

Considering that this fall in the poverty rate was about twice that in the three decades prior, this ought to feel like quite a victory. And yet, something feels off. One reason: $1.90 per day is a terribly low threshold by which to define poverty. More than half the world’s population still lives on less than $7.40 per day — a mere $2,700 annually. Another reason is that almost all the accelerated poverty reduction took place in China and India.

These are very populous countries, and most of the world’s poor lived in these two countries during this period. What about poor people residing elsewhere? Over the last 30 years, their incomes grew at an average of only 2 percent per year — certainly an improvement over the 1980s when their incomes grew less than 0.2 percent per year, but far from the more dramatic income growth enjoyed by their peers in China and India.

Indeed, outside of China, the world saw almost no progress in reducing the rate of extreme poverty between the late 1970s and early 1990s. But the rise of China masked this broader failure. Most interestingly, China’s rise bucked the neoliberal “Washington Consensus.” As I wrote in a recent piece, “The History of Poverty Worldwide”:

the Chinese government played a central role in managing the economy. True, China has opened up to foreign investment; but it has done so with strong capital controls and foreign exchange management, imposition of myriad demands on would-be investors including significant transfer of technology, and lax enforcement of foreigners’ so-called intellectual property rights. Nor can China’s acceleration be attributed to neoliberal policy in the United States — see the negative economic experiences that most Latin American countries have seen with their increased exposure to the United States economy. Mexico, for example, had a higher poverty rate, and stagnant wages, after 20 years of NAFTA.

The rest of the world did eventually return to reasonable economic growth rates by the mid-2000s. By then, China had further accelerated its rate of growth, and — critically — amplified the effectiveness of growth in reducing poverty, bringing its poverty rate down toward 50 percent. Furthermore, India joined China in comparatively rapid economic growth, also pulling large numbers of people out of extreme poverty.

However, as the number of extremely poor people in these countries dwindles, global progress in poverty reduction necessarily slows. The world’s remaining poor should not be left behind, nor should we be content to have such a huge percentage of the world’s population living just above this poverty line. Rich countries would be outraged if significant numbers of their own people struggled with a mere $700 per month— let alone $700 per year. The very least bit of economic justice will allow the world’s poor to increase their consumption, more fully reducing extreme poverty and lifting more of the world’s poor out of poverty. This will mean either continued economic growth, a genuinely radical redistribution of global incomes, or some combination of the two.

Still, neither approach is sustainable without decarbonizing the world economy as rapidly as possible, with the intent to stave off catastrophe. As fast as carbon emissions have increased in the last half century, they must be cut twice as fast over the next two decades, and to zero by 2060, to keep the total increase in global warming above preindustrial levels under 1.5°C (2.7°F). Thereafter, we will need to remove — on net — carbon from the atmosphere. Because large-scale carbon capture technology is still out of reach, we must act immediately to minimize the damage by reducing emissions quickly and effectively.

It is possible for the world economy to continue growing without additional carbon emissions, but energy from coal, and thereafter petroleum, must be phased out as rapidly as possible. This means helping developing countries to invest heavily in renewable energy sources and to shift to less carbon-intensive forms of consumption. Land must be managed with an eye toward reducing emissions. (This means, for example, finding ways for Brazil to grow without permitting mining interests to deforest the Amazon.)

Finally, we may be able to extend gains in poverty reduction by slowing economic growth among the rich. The most productive economies in Europe compare favorably to the United States, but have lower emissions. In part, this is due to a social choice favoring leisure over consumption — converting productivity gains into longer vacations and shorter workweeks rather than bigger incomes in order to buy more goods. In the United States, this may also mean reducing inequality and addressing the high and rising cost of health care so that the bottom half of Americans see improvements in their standards of living.

This may buy us some time, but the time is now to address climate change head on and give developing countries space to grow and lift their populations out of poverty.

David Rosnick is an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research  in Washington, DC. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from N.C. State, a B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois, and an M.A. in Economics from George Washington.

This article first appeared on MarketWatch.

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The Great Reckoning A Look Back from Mid-Century

[Editorial note: This remnant of a manuscript, discovered in a vault near the coastal town of Walpole, Massachusetts, appears to have been part of a larger project, probably envisioned as an interpretive history of the United States since the year 2000. Only a single chapter, probably written near the midpoint of the twenty-first century, has survived. Whether the remainder of the manuscript has been lost or the author abandoned it before its completion is unknown.]

Chapter 1

The Launch

From our present vantage point, it seems clear that, by 2019, the United States had passed a point of no return. In retrospect, this was the moment when indications of things gone fundamentally awry should have become unmistakable. Although at the time much remained hidden in shadows, the historic pivot now commonly referred to as the Great Reckoning had commenced.

Even today, it remains difficult to understand why, given mounting evidence of a grave crisis, passivity persisted for so long across most sectors of society. An epidemic of anomie affected a large swath of the population. Faced with a blizzard of troubling developments, large and small, Americans found it difficult to put things into anything approximating useful perspective. Few even bothered to try. Fewer succeeded. As with predictions of cataclysmic earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, a not-in-my-lifetime mood generally prevailed.

During what was then misleadingly known as the Age of Trump, the political classes dithered. While the antics of President Donald Trump provoked intense interest — the word “intense” hardly covers the attention paid to him — they also provided a convenient excuse for letting partisan bickering take precedence over actual governance or problem solving of any sort. Meanwhile, “thought leaders” (a term then commonly used to describe pontificating windbags) indulged themselves with various pet projects.

In the midst of what commentators were pleased to call the Information Age, most ordinary Americans showed a pronounced affinity for trivia over matters of substance. A staggering number of citizens willingly traded freedom and privacy for convenience, bowing to the dictates of an ever-expanding array of personalized gadgetry. What was then called a “smartphone” functioned as a talisman of sorts, the electronic equivalent of a rosary or prayer beads. Especially among the young, separation from one’s “phone” for more than a few minutes could cause acute anxiety and distress. The novelty of “social media” had not yet worn off, with its most insidious implications just being discovered.

Divided, distracted, and desperately trying to keep up: these emerged then as the abiding traits of life in contemporary America. Craft beer, small-batch bourbon, and dining at the latest farm-to-table restaurant often seemed to matter more than the fate of the nation or, for that matter, the planet as a whole. But all that was about to change.

Scholars will undoubtedly locate the origins of the Great Reckoning well before 2019. Perhaps they will trace its source to the aftermath of the Cold War when American elites succumbed to a remarkable bout of imperial hubris, while ignoring (thanks in part to the efforts of Big Energy companies) the already growing body of information on the human-induced alteration of the planet, which came to be called “climate change” or “global warming.” While, generally speaking, the collective story of humankind unfolds along a continuum, by 2019 conditions conducive to disruptive change were forming. History was about to zig sharply off its expected course.

This disruption occurred, of course, within a specific context. During the first two decades of the twenty-first century, American society absorbed a series of punishing blows. First came the contested election of 2000, the president of the United States installed in office by a 5-4 vote of a politicized Supreme Court, which thereby effectively usurped the role of the electorate. And that was just for starters. Following in short order came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which the world’s (self-proclaimed) premier intelligence services failed to anticipate and the world’s preeminent military establishment failed to avert.

Less than two years later, the administration of George W. Bush, operating under the delusion that the ongoing war in Afghanistan was essentially won, ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq, a nation that had played no part in the events of 9/11. The result of this patently illegal war of aggression would not be victory, despite the president’s almost instant “mission accomplished” declaration, but a painful replay of the quagmire that U.S. troops had experienced decades before in Vietnam. Expectations of Iraq’s “liberation” paving the way for a broader Freedom Agenda that would democratize the Islamic world came to naught. The Iraq War and other armed interventions initiated during the first two decades of the century ended up costing trillionsof taxpayer dollars, while sowing the seeds of instability across much of the Greater Middle East and later Africa.

Then, in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf Coast, killing nearly 2,000 Americans. U.S. government agencies responded with breathtaking ineptitude, a sign of things to come, as nature itself was turning increasingly unruly. Other natural disasters of unnatural magnitude followed. In 2007, to cite but one example, more than 9,000 wildfires in California swept through more than a million acres. Like swarms of locusts, fires now became an annual (and worsening) plague ravaging the Golden State and the rest of the West Coast. If this weren’t enough of a harbinger of approaching environmental catastrophe, the populations of honeybees, vital to American agriculture, began to collapse in these very same years.

Americans were, as it turned out, largely indifferent to the fate of honeybees. They paid far greater attention to the economy, however, which experienced its own form of collapse in 2008. The ensuing Great Recession saw millions thrown out of work and millions more lose their homes as a result of fraudulent mortgage practices. None of the perpetrators were punished. The administration of President Barack Obama chose instead to bail out offending banks and large corporations. Record federal deficits resulted, as the government abandoned once and for all even the pretense of trying to balance the budget. And, of course, the nation’s multiple wars dragged on and on and on.

Through all these trials, the American people more or less persevered. If not altogether stoic, they remained largely compliant. As a result, few members of the nation’s political, economic, intellectual, or cultural elites showed any awareness that something fundamental might be amiss. The two established parties retained their monopoly on national politics. As late as 2016, the status quo appeared firmly intact. Only with that year’s presidential election did large numbers of citizens signal that they had had enough: wearing red MAGA caps rather than wielding pitchforks, they joined Donald Trump’s assault on that elite and, thumbing their noses at Washington, installed a reality TV star in the White House.

To the legions who had found the previous status quo agreeable, Trump’s ascent to the apex of American politics amounted to an unbearable affront. They might tolerate purposeless, endless wars, raise more or less any set of funds for the military that was so unsuccessfully fighting them, and turn a blind eye to economic arrangements that fostered inequality on a staggering scale. They might respond to the accelerating threat posed by climate change with lip service and, at best, quarter-measures. But Donald Trump in the Oval Office? That they could not abide.

As a result, from the moment of his election, Trump dominated the American scene. Yet the outrage that he provoked, day in and day out, had this unfortunate side effect: it obscured developments that would in time prove to be of far more importance than the 45th American president himself. Like the “noise” masking signals that, if detected and correctly interpreted, might have averted Pearl Harbor in December 1941 or, for that matter, 9/11, obsessing about Trump caused observers to regularly overlook or discount matters far transcending in significance the daily ration of presidential shenanigans.

Here, then, is a very partial listing of some of the most important of those signals then readily available to anyone bothering to pay attention. On the eve of the Great Reckoning, however, they were generally treated as mere curiosities or matters of limited urgency — problems to be deferred to a later, more congenial moment.

Item: The reality of climate change was now indisputable. All that remained in question was how rapidly it would occur and the extent (and again rapidity) of the devastation that it would ultimately inflict.

Item: Despite everything that was then known about the dangers of further carbon emissions, the major atmospheric contributor to global warming, they only continued to increase, despite the myriad conferences and agreements intended to curb them. (U.S. carbon emissions, in particular, were still risingthen, and global emissions were expected to rise by record or near-record amounts as 2019 began.)

Item: The polar icecap was disappearing, with scientists reporting that it had melted more in just 20 years than in the previous 10,000. This, in turn, meant that sea levels would continue to rise at record rates, posing an increasing threat to coastal cities.

Item: Deforestation and desertification were occurring at an alarming rate.

Item: Approximately eight million metric tons of plastic were seeping into the world’s oceans each year, from the ingestion of which vast numbers of seabirds, fish, and marine mammals were dying annually. Payback would come in the form of microplastics contained in seafood consumed by humans.

Item: With China and other Asian countries increasingly refusing to accept American recyclables, municipalities in the United States found themselves overwhelmed by accumulations of discarded glass, plastic, metal, cardboard, and paper. That year, the complete breakdown of the global recycling system already loomed as a possibility.

Item: Worldwide bird and insect populations were plummeting. In other words, the Sixth Mass Extinction had begun.

All of these fall into the category of what we recognize today as planetary issues of existential importance. But even in 2019 there were other matters of less than planetary significance that ought to have functioned as a wake-up call. Among them were:

Item: With the federal government demonstrably unable to secure U.S. borders, immigration authorities were seizing hundreds of thousands of migrants annually. By 2019, the Trump administration was confining significant numbers of those migrants, including small children, in what were, in effect, concentration camps.

Item: Cybercrime had become a major growth industry, on track to rake in $6 trillion annually by 2021. Hackers were already demonstrating the ability to hold large American cities hostage and the authorities proved incapable of catching up.

Item: With the three richest Americans — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet — controlling more wealth than the bottom 50% of the entire population, the United States had become a full-fledged oligarchy. While politicians occasionally expressed their dismay about this reality, prior to 2019 it was widely tolerated.

Item: As measured by roads, bridges, dams, or public transportation systems, the nation’s infrastructure was strikingly inferior to what it had been a half-century earlier. (By 2019, China, for instance, had built more than 19,000 miles of high-speed rail; the U.S., not one.) Agreement that this was a problem that needed fixing was universal; corrective action (and government financing), however, was not forthcoming.

Item: Military spending in constant dollars exceeded what it had been at the height of the Cold War when the country’s main adversary, the Soviet Union, had a large army with up-to-date equipment and an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In 2019, Iran, the country’s most likely adversary, had a modest army and no nuclear weapons.

Item: Incivility, rudeness, bullying, and general nastiness had become rampant, while the White House, once the site of solemn ceremony, deliberation, and decision, played host to politically divisive shouting matches and verbal brawls.

To say that Americans were oblivious to such matters would be inaccurate. Some were, for instance, considering a ban on plastic straws. Yet taken as a whole, the many indications of systemic and even planetary dysfunction received infinitely less popular attention than the pregnancies of British royals, the antics of the justifiably forgotten Kardashian clan, or fantasy football, a briefly popular early twenty-first century fad.

Of course, decades later, viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the implications of these various trends and data points seem painfully clear: the dominant ideological abstraction of late postmodernity — liberal democratic capitalism — was rapidly failing or had simply become irrelevant to the challenges facing the United States and the human species as a whole. To employ another then-popular phrase, liberal democratic capitalism had become an expression of “fake news,” a scam sold to the many for the benefit of the privileged few.

“Toward the end of an age,” historian John Lukacs (1924-2019) once observed, “more and more people lose faith in their institutions and finally they abandon their belief that these institutions might still be reformed from within.” Lukacs wrote those words in 1970, but they aptly described the situation that had come to exist in that turning-point year of 2019. Basic American institutions — the overworked U.S. military being a singular exception — no longer commanded popular respect.

In essence, the postmodern age was ending, though few seemed to know it — with elites, in particular, largely oblivious to what was occurring. What would replace postmodernity in a planet heading for ruin remained to be seen.

Only when…

[Editor’s note: Here the account breaks off.]

This essay first appeared on TomDispatch.

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Progressives to Democrats: We Are Watching the Way You Mistreat “the Squad”

Strictly speaking, Nancy Pelosi is right. Led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the four Congressional freshmen known as the Squad are, by Beltway standards, relatively powerless—just four votes, as the speaker said. They chair no committees and head no broad coalitions that can be counted upon to cast yeas and nays at their command. Yet they are important—and not merely due to their formidable social media following.

Building on Bernie Sanders’ outsider progressive legacy in the Senate and his two surprisingly successful presidential campaigns AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib are a symbol of the progressive challenge to a Democratic Party still controlled by Third Way/DLC/Clintonista/Rahm Emanuel corporatist right-wingers despite the fact that 72% of its voters are self-identified progressives.

Progressive voters are watching. Is there room for them inside the Democratic Party? The signs are hardly encouraging.

Left populist Democrats are still seething with disgust from 2016 when a DNC then chaired by Clinton hack Debbie Wasserman Schultz stacked superdelegates in favor of Clinton against Sanders, was accused of laundering money for the Clinton campaign, “forgot” to send party officials to count delegates and caucus goers in pro-Sanders counties and quashed pro-Sanders delegates’ speeches at the national convention.

During the fall campaign right-wing Democrats let progressives know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t need or want their support. Hillary Clinton announced a pivot from right to righter to appeal to anti-Trump Republicans. (There weren’t many of those.) She never considered Bernie for vice president or a cabinet position.

No one likes to be where they’re not wanted. So many progressives stayed home on election day that Trump won.

Rather than accept responsibility for their losing strategy, however, DNC corporatists blamed the progressives they’d treated like crap. Two months after Trump took office, they installed one of their own, Tom Perez, as DNC chairman. “Leading Democrats think Bernie Sanders’s wing of the party will come back into the fold — even without their choice of DNC chair,” Jeff Stein wrote in Vox.

Democrats won the 2018 midterms, taking back the House. The Squad rode that wave. These young women were young, unabashedly left, exciting. How would the establishment treat them?

Now we know the answer: like petulant children.

Pelosi should have expressed her annoyance at the Squad’s votes against a border patrol funding bill—imagine the audacity, they wanted increased protection of children and families—privately. Instead, like an idiot, she vented to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times that the Squad was impotent aside from “their public whatever and their Twitter world.” An ever-opportunistic President Trump leapt into the intraparty fray with a troll tweet pretending to defend Pelosi and calling for the Squad to be deported to, in the case of the three members who were born in the U.S….where? No one, Trump least of all, knows.

Eager to slap a Band-Aid on her deeply divided party, Pelosi engineered the passage of a toothless resolution to censure Trump’s racist remarks. As I said last week in The Wall Street Journal, it was too little too late. “It’s [now] possible,” I wrote, “to imagine a not-so-distant future in which progressive voters leave the Democrats to form a new party—or stop voting entirely.”

A series of tweets by CNN’s Jake Tapper revealed that the moderates still don’t get it. “House Democrats appeared unified in their votes this week but I’ve spent the day talking to a bunch of them and many are extremely frustrated,” Tapper said. “Other House Democrats are conflicted about having to defend the Squad given things they’ve said and done. House Dems cited: talk of supporting challengers to incumbent Dems in primaries, AOC’s use of the term ‘concentration camps,’ anti-Semitic comments by Tlaib & Omar.” (According to dictionaries, AOC is right. Neither Tlaib nor Omar are on record saying anything anti-Semitic.)

Tapper continued: “Others noted that this week the House Democratic Caucus stood by a group that is not perceived as standing by them…We were there for them; they should stop attacking us.”

Only in the vacuum-packed chambers of our do-nothing Congress does a consequence-free resolution pass as being “there for them.” Pelosi, Schumer and other Democratic leaders should have notified Trump that he must resign at once, that there would be no more business of any kind, including budgetary, passed in Washington until he leaves office. Repeatedly demanding that House members be “sent back” “where they came from” is intolerable—yet centrist Democrats continue to tolerate it.

Human beings are social animals. We feel comfortable when we feel welcomed and run away when we’re greeted with indifference or disdain. I remember joining Mensa at age 12. I was excited to attend my first meeting. But when I walked in, it was a cocktail party. Everyone was old. No one talked to me so I left and never went back. We were all smart but that wasn’t enough to make me want to hang out.

Progressives and liberals may both hate Trump but that doesn’t make them political allies. As even right-wing Democratic Times columnist remarked: “It is simply a fact that leftists, as well as the generally disaffected, need to be courted just as moderates do.” But the establishment right-wingers in charge of the Democratic Party are not only not courting leftists, they keep actively snubbing and insulting them. They’ve even renewed the last election cycle’s “Stop Sanders” propaganda campaign. Stopping progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appears to be the raison d’être of Joe Biden’s last-second candidacy.

Democrats’ dismissive and condescending treatment of the Squad sends a clear signal to progressives: We don’t like you. Go away.

They will.

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