Counterpunch Articles

My Life in the Plague

Photograph Source: thierry ehrmann – CC BY 2.0

I spend most of my days and nights in a relatively small room, about 20 feet by 20 feet with about 8 feet headroom. I refer to it as my “cell” and like to say I have entered “the monastic phase” of my life. I sleep in my cell and write and read in my cell. I have just moved here after living in a much larger space, and also after having lived for the past twenty years by myself. I was alone but not lonely. Now I share space with the 84-year-old woman who owns the place and who has her bedroom on the opposite side of the house. We met in the kitchen and the living room, occasionally eat together and share a common bathroom. The rent is good: $475 a month, including utilities, plus there’s free WIFI.

Living with another person takes some adjustment, especially now with the coronavirus. We use separate dishes and silverware, wash our hands frequently and make jokes about washing and wiping surfaces. We also laugh about consumers buying and stockpiling more toilet paper than they’ll ever use in a year. That compulsion strikes me as an index of the ways that the virus hits people on a primal level. “Yeah,” Thora, my housemate, said last night when we were watching the news on PBS, which heightens my anxiety level. Thora added, “It’s life and death.” When I lived by myself for 20 years I did not own a TV, and rarely if ever watched the news on TV. Thora watches religiously and surfs from station to station. She’s an addict. I can only take it in very small doses.

One thing I have noticed, after watching TV news with her for two weeks, is how repetitive it is and how one-dimensional and simplified. The anchors, reporters and the so-called experts who are called upon to comment, sound like talking machines who don’t think much, if at all. In the wake of the crisis, I have put myself under a kind of house arrest, though I can and do go outside, get into my car, drive, go shopping in Cotati, to the local library for DVDs, and to the bank to deposit checks. I have thought about what many of us have gone through over the past five or six years: drought followed by fire, and smoke, forced evacuations, and now the coronavirus. It feels biblical.

Indeed, it’s the plague, which is why I went to the library and borrowed Albert Camus 1947 novel, La Peste, which was translated into English in 1948 published as The Plague. I’m a Camus fan and am looking forward to reading the book and wondering in what ways it’s revealing about the current pandemic. I happen to prefer the word “plague” which conjures up all kinds of horrible images.

I’m inside my cell right now, on my computer. Occasionally, I look out at the flowers in bloom. I listen to the bird songs. I can hear, in the distance, the sound of traffic on Old Redwood Highway, which runs in front of the house where I am now living. Thora’s daughter and son-in-law have a house next door. I often visit them; we also eat together. It’s not communal but it has some aspects of communal living, including shared food and appliances such as a machine to wash clothes, and a line to hang them in the backyard.

I’m at Thora’s because I was evicted from the place where I was living. The landlord sold the property and the new owners wanted to occupy the house, after ripping it apart and remodeling big time. One of the great pluses about moving has been downsizing. I threw away tons of stuff and I’ve stowed papers in Cotati. I also sold some of my archive to the University of Texas. I feel lighter. I like having nearly everything I want and need in my cell, with the kitchen a few steps away and the bathroom around the corner.

Thora spreads out and makes messes. She seems to be incapable of throwing stuff away. She can also be forgetful. The hard part about living here is being in someone else’s space. It’s Thora’s house. She doesn’t have many rules, but she has some, including no watching sports on her TV. I can live with that. I like living through the plague with a small community. I know I can count on Thora, whom I have known for 40-years, and on her daughter and son-in-law. If we have to go down, we can go down together. I expect the plague will get worse and that it will linger. People I know and love will probably die. I think about the writers and thinkers who have urged all of us to be hopeful, to create community and to solve our own problems independent of governments. I know that some of that is possible. I also believe that the only way to survive the plague is if and when governments act in concert. Too bad Trump doesn’t know how to cooperate or tell the truth. Meanwhile, I’m trying not to touch my face with my own hands.

The post My Life in the Plague appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump’s Coronavirus Lies: Deception and Incompetence in Service of Authoritarianism

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

After weeks of deceiving the public, President Donald Trump finally delivered two addresses to the nation last week that acknowledged what half the country already knew – that coronavirus represents a serious public health crisis. The World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic made it increasingly difficult for Trump to play dumb, as did the reality that investors on Wall Street understand that the volatility and instability associated with the virus’s spread represents a danger to economies and markets across the globe.

In his first address, Trump leveled with the nation about the need to “impede the transmission of the virus,” about the high risk for “the elderly population” among those “with underlying health conditions,” and recognized the need to “significantly impede the transmission of the virus.” He declared a national emergency in his second speech, freeing up $50 billion to combat the virus, although he stopped short of more encompassing measures such as bans on public gatherings, forced closings of restaurants and bars, or the suspension of domestic air travel.

Trump’s belated recognition of the coronavirus threat speaks to the reality that this president, through his own continued deception and incompetence, is responsible for intensifying the spread of the disease within the U.S. This is a president who told the public on numerous occasions that the coronavirus was nothing to worry about. He told Americans that the virus would be defeated and “disappear” due to spring weather, since “the heat generally kills this kind of virus.” He argued that the flu was a greater danger than coronavirus, despite the mortality rate of the latter being somewhere between 10 to 34 times higher than the former. He claimed that Americans could go to work, even if they had the virus, without much concern. And he and his reactionary supporters in the media attacked those warning about the virus’s spread for perpetuating a “fake news” hysteria.

We now know that Trump, a notorious “germaphobe,” privately expressed deep concerns about the very real danger of a coronavirus spread. Reporting from late-February described Trump as “furious” over the State Department’s decision mid-month to admit 14 Americans into the country from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, a story reported by the New York Times a full two-weeks before the President’s Wednesday speech to the nation. The timing reveals that Trump expressed private concerns about the risk of bringing Americans with the virus into the country, despite the refusal to share his worries with the American people. Publicly, Trump was lying through his teeth about the risks, as he claimed in his March 5th interview with Fox News that Americans could “get better” by “going to work,” and considering his March 9th attacks on Democrats and the media for pushing “fake news” due to their warning the public about coronavirus.

Some commentators have provided cover for Trump by claiming that his complaint about the entry of the 14 Diamond Princess passengers was more about optics than outright deception. Allegedly, Trump didn’t like the idea of the number of Americans with confirmed coronavirus doubling with the admittance of these individuals, suggesting that his concerns were primarily about the bad PR associated with their entry. But this claim misses the larger point: Trump has repeated history of lying about the dangers of coronavirus. Not only were his public announcements the opposite of the concerns he privately expressed, as related to the Diamond Princess passengers. But more recently, Trump has insisted that he is not personally worried about contracting the virus, while claiming that the risk to the large majority of Americans is “very, very low” – thereby downplaying the dangers associated with its spread. Privately, he is expressing serious concerns about being exposed to, and contracting the virus. To put it simply, Trump has a history of repeatedly lying to the public about the seriousness of coronavirus.

The above revelations are disturbing, not only in terms of demonstrating Trump’s deception, but because of what they tell us of his likely motives. The President seems to care more about his approval ratings, the state of the stock market, and his reelection prospects, than he does about heading off a dangerous and highly contagious virus, and he has acted accordingly to downplay an emerging pandemic and public health crisis in pursuit of his own narrow political and economic interests.

Trump’s duplicity has had a debilitating effect on the country. It is not hard to understand why U.S. health experts by early March were calling for “stricter measures” to curb the spread of the virus. As polling from early-to-mid-month reveals, large numbers of Americans are appallingly ignorant about the risks they are facing with coronavirus. Most simply aren’t taking the emerging pandemic seriously. Forty-two percent of Americans have said they are not concerned that the coronavirus will “disrupt their daily lives,” and another 46 percent have indicated they are not concerned that “they or someone they know will be infected” by the virus. A shocking 53 percent have said they have “confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle the coronavirus,” despite the president’s own efforts to suppress the dangers associated with the virus’s spread, and despite the reality that this administration spectacularly failed to prepare for this virus by cutting almost all of the CDC’s funds for combating global disease outbreaks.

Disturbingly, half of the American public has not taken the coronavirus seriously, as evidenced by the fact that 43 percent give Trump a positive approval rating in his response to the virus’s spread. And according to the latest IPSOS-USA Today poll, most don’t plan on making serious changes to their lifestyles to combat the spread of the virus. Only 25 percent say they will “stop attending social events” in response to coronavirus, while just 18 percent say they will shift their shopping from stores to online purchases, and only 17 percent say they will “cancel a personal trip.”

The above numbers are disturbing, not only in terms of exposing mass public ignorance, but because they suggest that large numbers of Americans simply aren’t taking the precautions necessary to limit the spread of the virus. Why would these Americans take seriously their responsibility to limit their exposure to the virus, or try to prevent its spread, if they aren’t concerned with contracting it, if they believe the government has things well in hand, and if they have little concern that coronavirus is going to disrupt their daily lives? Because of this shocking level of ignorance, the virus was allowed to spread undetected across most of the United States, and it is rapidly proliferating in communities where it has materialized.

Trump’s speech last Wednesday raises other concerns about the state of the nation. The president is still not leveling with the public about the threat of coronavirus to the economy and to global markets. He boasted that “we have the greatest economy anywhere in the world, by far,” and touted American “banks and financial institutions as “fully capitalized and incredibly strong.” He claimed that “this is not a financial crisis,” but “just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation.” No one on Wall Street was listening to the President’s delusions, however, as witnessed by the rapid collapse of trading markets in the run-up to Trump’s speech, and in the following day. Fortune reported that the NASDAQ, DOW, and S&P 500 experienced their “worst day” of decline “in a decade” on March 10th, while the markets opened to a second crash following the imposition of Trump’s 30 day European travel ban, as the New York Times warned of an emerging “bear market” following an immediate 7 percent drop in the S&P. The March 10th and March 12th declines were so big that they prompted a halt in trading, in an effort to stave off further losses. Under these conditions, Trump’s words about the fundamental soundness of the U.S. economy ring hollow. Market traders are responding with panic at the spread of the virus, and in reaction to Trump’s own failure to limit its spread.

Finally, there is the concern with the Trump administration using coronavirus as an excuse to further its reactionary pre-existing immigration agenda, and as related to the president’s announcement of a 30-day European travel ban. The ban makes little sense in terms of preventing the spread of a virus that’s already reached the United States, and which is already rapidly spreading across the nation. The World Health Organization has concluded that travel bans are ineffective as a means of stopping the transmission of viruses, as previous efforts to impede their spread through this method have failed.

To make matters even worse, the European travel ban has made the spread of coronavirus even more likely. Many rushed back from European countries in an effort to re-enter before the ban on all travel was instated, while others in countries without a ban (so far) have sought to return before they are locked out. Under these conditions, major airports have become jammed, amidst higher than normal traffic and coronavirus screenings, thereby providing scores of new hosts for spreading the virus. These conditions reveal the folly of a travel ban that has now been actively weaponized as a vessel for intensifying the pandemic.

Stopping the spread of coronavirus was never a serious priority for Trump, as should be painfully clear. The dramatic curtailment of travel and the shutting of U.S. borders, however, does much to further Trump’s own xenophobic nationalism, thereby reinforcing an “us versus them” political culture that can be mobilized to help him strengthen his reelection efforts, while intensifying America’s increasingly authoritarian political system. The travel ban may be good for reinforcing Trump’s reactionary political agenda, but it has done little but spread the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic is a teachable moment. It reveals the dangers endemic in the rise of authoritarianism, as personified by Trump and his reactionary immigration agenda. In this crisis, we see at work the dual threats of the partisan manipulation of science and medicine, coupled with the empowerment of a reactionary President who has brazenly used a global pandemic to consolidate his xenophobic immigration politics. And now we’ve seen how quickly a crisis can be weaponized by those who are shamelessly committed to enhancing their own political power, and at the expense of the public good. These dangers are confounded by the very real public health risk of coronavirus, which by mid-March was infecting 500 people a day, and which the CDC warns could infect as many as 160 million to 214 million people, and could result in as many as 200,000 to 1.7 million deaths. We should keep these human costs in mind when we interact with family, friends, and peers who try to downplay the dangers of this rising public health crisis.

The post Trump’s Coronavirus Lies: Deception and Incompetence in Service of Authoritarianism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

I Reject Using My Unjust Conviction Against Julian Assange

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

In 2015 I was wrongfully convicted of, and imprisoned for, violating the U.S. Espionage Act. Now, while there is no question that I stand in solidarity with WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange in a British court as he fights extradition, little did I know that my presence is also there as fodder to support extradition. If I am going to be used in such a way, there should at least be a modicum of truth to my inclusion. I found nothing reasonable about being persecuted and sentenced to prison under the Espionage Act.

On the first day of the recent extradition proceedings in London, James Lewis QC, representing the U.S. government, attempted to counter arguments about the potential prison sentence Assange faces if convicted of violating the Espionage Act by stating that individuals such as myself serve as “benchmarks” for what Assange is facing. To Lewis and the U.S. government, my 42-month sentence or the range of 40-60 months is “reasonable.” Such use of my experience fighting the Espionage Act in order to quell concerns about Assange’s potential sentence is misleading without providing context.

As a U.S. citizen, I was ostensibly armed with certain rights going into a Virginia courtroom to fight for my freedom. I was woefully mistaken. The court in Virginia where Assange would be tried is the same court that prevented me from suing the Central Intelligence Agency for employment discrimination, on grounds that it would pose a threat to the national security of the United States. To that court and to the U.S. government, an African American fighting for his supposedly guaranteed civil rights is a threat to national security. Going to trial in 2015 as one of an ever-growing number being charged with violating the Espionage Act, I was, therefore, facing a court and judicial system that had a history of disregarding me as a living breathing citizen with any rights. The result of that one-sided CIA show-trial was my “reasonable” 42-month prison sentence. If supposed inalienable rights were not guaranteed to me as a U.S. citizen, Assange is only guaranteed to be prosecuted.

In maximum terms, Assange is facing 175 years in prison. For the charges against me, I was also facing over 100 years maximum sentence. The fact that I was sentenced to 42 months should not be any benchmark of reasonableness when the Espionage Act and the court in Virginia where the U.S. wants Assange extradited to are involved.

In a final moment of clarity after a long delay before sentencing, Judge Leonie Brinkema commented that the sentencing guidelines were “way off” and chose 42 months as my sentence. That “reasonableness” was most likely not out of any benevolence on her part. It might have been that Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the court requesting fairness, or maybe she was moved by the fact that I was convicted by a government-leaning jury on absolutely no evidence. The prosecutor was visibly livid as he obviously was hoping for a much, much longer sentence. His continual questioning, if not pleading of the judge to explain the sentence was finally silenced when the judge stated, “That’s it.”  I fear that Assange will face a less reasonable court and sentence.

And Lewis failed to mention how conditions in U.S. prisons will be a part of that benchmark. The U.S. prison system is one of deplorable living conditions, disregard for human life, and perpetual punishment. And given Assange’s health, he will be lucky to receive adequate care. While I was in a U.S. prison, it took the intervention of a U.S. Senator for me to receive the health care that quite possibly saved my life. Should not this reality be part of Lewis’ benchmark?

Given the long history of the U.S. government’s pursuit of Assange and the obvious political nature of his potential prosecution, I fear there will be nothing reasonable with regard to any sentence to be imposed. My prosecution should serve not as a benchmark for being sentenced under the Espionage Act, but rather a warning about how the perverse use of the Espionage Act started by the Obama administration and continued by the Trump administration to quell and silence dissent is a threat to free speech, not only in my country, and as the extradition proceedings demonstrate, in the entire world.

The post I Reject Using My Unjust Conviction Against Julian Assange appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Dependency, Distress and No Durable Agronomic Benefits: The Story of Bt Cotton in India

Photograph Source: Abhishek Srivastava – CC BY 2.0

In the early 2000s, genetically modified (GM) Bt insecticidal cotton was being heavily promoted in India on the basis that it would cut pesticide use dramatically, boost yields and contribute to the financial well-being of farmers. Private sector Bt cotton hybrids now cover over 90% of the area under cotton.

Supporters of Bt cotton have wasted little time in claiming that GM technology has increased cotton yields, reduced pesticide use and has been of enormous benefit to farmers due to increased crop profitability. If we consider Prof Glenn Stone’s 2012 paper ‘Constructing Facts: Bt Cotton Narratives in India’, however, it becomes clear that such claims are too often weaved from flawed data and studies and merely serve to bolster vested interests.

In an attempt to shed further light on the role of Bt cotton in India, Glenn Stone (Washington University in St Louis) and his colleague K R Kranthi (International Cotton Advisory Committee) have jointly authored a new paper – ‘Long-term impacts of Bt Cotton in India’ – that appears in the journal Nature Plants (March 2020). Unlike previous assessments, the paper is quite unique as it is based on a long-term analysis that spans a period of 20 years.

While proponents of Bt cotton say that GM technology is responsible for tripling cotton production between 2002 (when Bt cotton was commercialised in India) and 2014, Stone argues that the largest production gains came prior to widespread GM seed adoption and must be viewed in line with changes in fertilisation practices and other pest population dynamics.

Stone says:

“There are two particularly devastating caterpillar pests for cotton in India, and, from the beginning, Bt cotton did control one of them: the (misnamed) American bollworm. It initially controlled the other one, too – the pink bollworm – but that pest quickly developed resistance and now it is a worse problem than ever.”

He adds that Bt plants were highly vulnerable to other insect pests that proliferated as more and more farmers adopted the crop.

According to Stone:

“Farmers are now spending much more on insecticides than before they had ever heard of Bt cotton. And the situation is worsening.”

Although yields in all crops jumped in 2003, the increase was especially large in cotton.

However, Stone says:

“… Bt cotton had virtually no effect on the rise in cotton yields because it accounted for less than 5% of India’s cotton crop at the time.”

Stone argues that any changes in productivity have more to do with huge increases in insecticides and fertilisers and that farmers in India are now spending more on seeds, more on fertiliser and more on insecticides.

So, what has been the overall impact of Bt cotton in India?

Stone says that Bt cotton’s primary impact on agriculture will be its role in making farming more capital-intensive, rather than any enduring agronomic benefits. And this conclusion appears to confirm what others have been saying in recent years.

During a September 2019 media event in Delhi, for instance, Aruna Rodrigues and Vandana Shiva showed that pesticide use is back to pre-Bt levels and yields have stagnated or are falling. Moreover, they noted that some 31 countries rank above India in terms of cotton yield and of these only 10 grow GM cotton. They concluded that farmers now find themselves on a (capital-intensive) chemical-biotech treadmill and have to deal with an increasing number of Bt/insecticide resistant pests and rising costs of production.

Their data indicated that overall net profit for cotton farmers in the pre-Bt era had plummeted to average net losses  in 2015, while fertiliser use kg/ha had exhibited a 2.2-fold increase. As Bt technology was being rolled out, costs of production were thus increasing. And these costs have increased in the face of stagnant yields. They too indicated that increased fertiliser and insecticides along with high-yielding hybrid trait value (independent of Bt technology) and increased acreage under cotton cultivation were responsible for any increase in productivity.

In fact, based on his own research, Prof A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put many farmers in a corporate noose. Although Bt cotton hybrids perform better under irrigation, 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of highly variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use and debt have placed many poor (marginal) smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.

Based on extensive field research in India, cultural anthropologist Andrew Flachs argues that independent cultivators have become dependent on corporate products, including off-farm commodified corporate knowledge. In the past, they cultivated, saved and exchanged seeds; now, as far as cotton cultivation is concerned, they must purchase GM hybrid seeds (and necessary chemical inputs) each year.

While Bt cotton farmers are losing their traditional knowledge and skills due to increasing market dependency, they are now trapped in a scenario of debt and rising input costs. In the meantime, maybe one in four seasons a farmer will attain a good enough yield to break even. Flachs notes that negotiating risk and gambling on seeds, weather and pesticide use have become an integral part of the corporate cotton seed and chemical treadmill.

It all begs the question: just who has benefitted from Bt cotton? For the answer to this, let us turn to Imran Siddiqi from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, who notes that India opted to use hybrids seeds for Bt technology. Hybrids are made by crossing two parent strains having different genetic characters and the plants have more biomass than both parents and capacity for greater yields. But they also require more inputs, including fertiliser and water, and require suboptimal planting (more space).

Siddiqi notes that all other cotton-producing countries grow cotton not as hybrids but varieties for which seeds are produced by self-fertilisation. He argues that  the advantages of non-hybrids are considerable: twice the productivity, half the fertiliser, reduced water requirement and less vulnerability to pest damage due to a shorter field duration. He concludes that agricultural distress is extremely high among Indian cotton farmers and the combination of high input and high risk has likely been a contributing factor.

The introduction of hybrids disallowed seed saving, forcing farmers to purchase new, expensive hybrid Bt cotton seed each year, as hybridisation – unlike pure line varieties – affords one-time vigour. The use of hybrids in India gave pricing control to seed companies and Monsanto that issued licenses for the technology, while ensuring a continuous market.

When viewed in this light, Bt hybrid cotton technology has been integral to what veteran rural reporter P Sainath terms the ‘predatory commercialisation of the countryside’ by corporate interests. Its main role from the outset has been value capture and the creation of market dependency. It this respect, Bt cotton has been an outstanding success.

The post Dependency, Distress and No Durable Agronomic Benefits: The Story of Bt Cotton in India appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Tom Turnipseed: Race Treason and the Promise of Left Populism

“I was worse than George Wallace,” Tom Turnipseed, once told me. “I really was a racist, while he only pretended to be one.” Turnipseed, who was Wallace’s 1968 National Campaign Director before dedicating his life to antiracist, anti-corporate and ecological struggles, died last week at the age of 83. His is a fascinating story of personal transformation and one that illuminates some of both the dangers and potential of populism today.

Turnipseed was born in 1936 in Mobile, Alabama, the grandson of a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. After attending the University of North Carolina for both his B.A. and law degrees, he moved to Columbia, South Carolina in the early 1960s, where he joined the white southern fight against postwar changes in the US racial order. As southern school districts were slowly compelled to desegregate, South Carolina, like other southern states, responded by building private academies for the education of white children. In this Turnipseed became a key player: as the first director of the South Carolina Independent School District, Turnipseed helped create a network of private secondary academies, which asked for tax exempt status from the state.

For these efforts Turnipseed was tapped by Wallace’s people to lead his 1968 presidential campaign. Wallace claimed to “stand up for the working man,” extolling the virtues of “this bus driver, this beautician, this policeman on the beat” while railing against liberal elites, permissive judges, and both major parties, of whom he said there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference.”

Turnipseed once told an interviewer, “George Wallace was an anti-establishment person, and that appealed to me. I always had a lot of rebel in me, and here was George Wallace taking on the Yankees again, taking on the liberals, taking on the Civil Rights Movement, and so forth. And doing it in a way that appealed to the average person in the South, the little guy.” Charming and garrulous, Turnipseed was a good choice for knitting together a national coalition of diverse regional and political characteristics – southern Democrats, white ethnics in northeastern and Midwest industrial cities, and hard-right conservatives in the west.

The Wallace campaign’s goal of achieving ballot status in all fifty states depended on building a network of John Birch Society members, neo-Nazis, Minutemen, and other far-right groups and individuals – a challenging task, and one that made Turnipseed wonder what kind of movement they were actually building. During the California ballot drive for instance, one of the chief Wallace organizers in Los Angeles revealed to Turnipseed a cache of artillery in the back of a pickup truck. As Turnipseed later recounted, “I asked the guy, ‘What’s going on?’ He told me, ‘We’re doing maneuvers.’ ‘Well, with who?’ I asked him, ‘The National Guard?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘we’re a private group, a militia.’ So I asked him, ‘Well who are you armed against? The Communists gonna get you?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘we’re more concerned with Rockefeller interests and the Trilateral Commission.’ I just looked at the guy, you know? What could I say?”

1968 was a turbulent and violent year. Martin Luther King’s assassination and the uprisings that followed underscored the sharp political and racial divides in the country, as did the constant fights and occasional shootings that erupted at Wallace campaign events. Turnipseed was forced to begin to reckon on the race hatred at the heart of Wallaceism. He later recounted an exchange he had with a bartender in the town of Webster, MA during the campaign: “[The bartender] said, ‘Now, when George Wallace is elected president, he’s going to line up all the n*****s and kill them, isn’t he?’ And all of a sudden, I realized the man was serious, and I said, ‘Hell, no. I mean, he’s worried about this and that and the other thing, but nothing like that.’ And it kind of got to me to know that these people really felt that way, that they wanted to kill Black people, you know, and it got me starting to think in changing my views from that point on, I guess. I mean, subconsciously, at least.”

Turnipseed helped Wallace win over 13 percent of the vote in the general election, and pushing the eventual winner, Richard Nixon, rightward on issues of busing and “law and order.” Turnipseed, now a seasoned veteran of southern and national politics, might have concluded that while open white supremacy was a mistake, a more coded politics that focused on issues of crime, welfare and ‘states’ rights’ would be an acceptable alternative; alloyed to a politics of economic conservatism. This was the message of Wallace’s GOP rival, Richard Nixon, and it was the path taken by a generation of white Southern Democrats who began to vote Republican in the decades after 1968. Many successful political careers were forged in this transformation, from Jesse Helms to Trent Lott to Newt Gingrich – following the lead of former Dixiecrat Presidential candidate, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. But that wasn’t the choice he made.

Turnipseed and his wife Judy moved back to Columbia, South Carolina, where he returned to politics. In 1973, he ran for state attorney general, choosing utility rate regulation as one of his first public issues. He filed a lawsuit against South Carolina Electric and Gas for taking advantage of a state law allowing utilities to implement rate increases without a hearing before the Public Service Commission. “We were taking on the power structure, and the allies we needed to help us build a coalition were the working-class poor,” Turnipseed said later. This coalition-building brought him into black neighborhoods, to meetings with black organizations, and to an understanding of populist struggle that was truly multiracial. “The rate hike hearings offered an opportunity to bridge the divide between poor blacks and whites,” Turnipseed reflected. “Our successful coalition helped me realize how prejudiced I had been against black people.”

As a progressive Democrat, Turnipseed served in the State House and ran for Congress, Governor, Attorney General and other positions, always taking aim at the rich and powerful. He lost more often than he won, but was always able to inject a disruptive sense of the popular will into the politics of the state. As one reporter described him, “As a South Carolina state senator in the late 1970’s, he was dapper and charming, outrageous and impolite–affronting his legislative colleagues by, among other things, appearing with a couple of disc jockey buddies on the floor of the Senate and singing country songs about rising gas prices.”

He was also an early victim of GOP operative Lee Atwater in a race for the second congressional district. Working for Turnipseed’s Republican opponent, Atwater discovered that Turnipseed had received electroshock therapy for depression as a teenager, and leaked to the press that he had “been hooked up to jumper cables.” Turnipseed lost that race, but afterwards spoke openly about his early depression, and served as a member of the board of the state Mental Health Association.

As civil litigation lawyer, Turnipseed was co-counsel for the African-American Macedonia Baptist Church, successfully suing the Klan in 1997 for burning down its church sanctuary for $37 million in damages. He served as chairman of the Board of the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the Anti-Klan Network), and was a longtime board member of the South Carolina NAACP.

In recent decades he was active in anti-war protests, the Occupy movement, and immigrant rights struggles. He and Judy focused particularly on issues of homelessness. For 17 years they shared food with hungry and homeless people every Sunday with the anarchist collective, Food Not Bombs.

How was it that Turnipseed could call himself a populist from the time he worked for Wallace until the end of his life? Populism is a tradition steeped in the white supremacy of populist leaders like South Carolina’s “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, demagogues who railed against “the big interests” above while blaming black people below. But it is also the tradition of radical democracy that produced alliances between black and white farmers, sharecroppers and agrarian laborers against both the planter class and the plutocrats of the late 19th century. These are distinct traditions, but in a country where popular sovereignty and white supremacy have both been central to American national identity, lines between them can blur. Georgia Farmers’ Alliance leader Tom Watson championed the cause of black and white farmers before turning later in his career to rank white supremacy. George Wallace began his own career as an opponent of white supremacy, like his mentor, Alabama Governor “Big” Jim Folsom, a fiercely antiracist populist. Opportunism got the better of Wallace, who turned white resentment into racist votes.

Turnipseed went the opposite direction, realizing that working-class African Americans, whites, and Latino immigrants all shared the same fate, and the same enemies. “Think of the tremendous power that people have if they just get together,” he once told an interviewer. “We can’t let money rule us, just absolutely rule every phase and aspect of our lives.” He remained a powerful critic of elites in both political parties who put the interests of capital and empire before people and the planet.

Reporter Frye Gailliard wrote about Turnipseed when he lost the race for Lieutenant Governor in 1982, “He was angry and shrill, and even some of the people who agreed with him finally wished he’d go away. So he lost. That’s a shame, however, because politics can do with a little more passion. And particularly so when that sense of being right comes, as Turnipseed’s did, from a deeply felt knowledge of what it means to be wrong.”

As someone who helped launch the very right-wing populist movement that would eventually bring Donald Trump to power, Turnipseed knew that people’s rage against elites in and of itself wasn’t the problem. The question is which people – a question which he ultimately answered with great political clarity.

The post Tom Turnipseed: Race Treason and the Promise of Left Populism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Sanders Goes Full FDR in COVID-19 Speech

Bernie Sanders just gave the speech of his life — one that everyone planning to vote in the Democratic primaries ahead should watch before making an decision between Sanders and Joe Biden. In fact, look at the Sanders video, and then read about the press conference Biden held and his anemic proposed response Biden offered to the coronavirus pandemic.

In this video the man often mocked in the corporate media for his shaggy, unkempt appearance looks like a president, and sounds like FDR addressing the savage Great Depression and explaining what he intended to do about it. He stands in such stark contrast, not just visually, but in his speech and most importantly in what he has to say to the American public, to both Trump and Biden, that it’s hard to imagine anyone watching or even just hearing or reading his words could vote for either of those other two clowns.

He begins by laying out the gravity of the current crisis.  As I sit here in Montgomery County, PA, the large suburban and rural country that wraps around most of Philadelphia which Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf just this afternoon ordered to go on total lockdown, ordering the closure of all public schools and universities, gyms and theaters, and requesting the closure of all stores except groceries and pharmacies, and hear Sanders say:

“Let me be absolutely clear: in terms of potential deaths the impact on our economy, the crisis we face from coronavirus is on the scale of a major war, and we must act accordingly.

“Nobody knows how many fatalities we may see, but they could equal or surpass the US casualties we saw in World War II.

“It is an absolute moral imperative that our response — as a government, as a society, as business communities, and as individuals — meets the enormity of this crisis.

“As people work from home and are directed to quarantine, it will be easy to feel like we are in this alone, or that we must only worry about ourselves and let everyone else fend for themselves.

“That is a very dangerous mistake. First and foremost, we must remember that we are in this together.

“Now is the time for solidarity. We must fight with love and compassion for those most vulnerable to the effects of this pandemic.

“If our neighbor or co-worker gets sick, we have the potential to get sick. If our neighbors lose their jobs, then our local economies suffer, and we may lose our jobs. If doctors and nurses do not have the equipment and staffing capacity they need now, people we know and love may die.”

This is the kind of “pull-together, we are one people, one nation” kind of thing we haven’t heard in years, and we need  it now.

Having set the stage he goes on to call on the president to declare a national emergency, but then says that if the president is “unable and unwilling to lead selflessly, we must immediately convene an emergency, bipartisan authority of experts to support and direct a response that is comprehensive, compassionate and based first and foremost on science and fact.”

What a brilliant stroke! Just bypass the president and have Congress run this campaign against COVID-19! Sanders then goes on to call for a program that is transparent (Trump has made discussions of the White House coronavirus response classified and closed-door), has called on focussing on the care of the “most vulnerable” in society:  “those in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, those confined in immigration detention centers, those who are currently incarcerated, and all people regardless of immigration status.”

Then he gets to the nut of the crisis, saying: 

“Unfortunately, the United States is at a severe disadvantage because unlike every other major country on earth, we do not guarantee health care as a human right. The result is that millions of people in this country cannot afford to go to a doctor, let alone pay for a coronavirus test. So while we work to pass a Medicare for All single-payer system, the United States government must be clear that in the midst of this emergency, that everyone in our country — regardless of income or where they live — must be able to get all of the health care they need without cost…We cannot live in a nation where if you have the money you get the treatment you need to survive, but if you’re working class or poor you get to the end of the line. That would be morally unacceptable.”

He goes on to call for emergency funding for paid family and medical leave for all workers, including those working in the “gig” economy as independent con tractors, for expanded federal health centers, quick development and production of coronavirus tests, which must be free along with treatment for those who have contracted the virus.

Sanders offers other ideas too. Quickly expanding available hospital beds and ICU rooms, knowing that the virus is infecting new people at a rate that doubles the number each week and will soon surpass national capacity to care for victims, and a program to bring on interns, residents and retired physicians to help provide care.

He has other good ideas for right now also, including expand unemployment insurance coverage, higher weekly benefits for those unemployed by the crisis who are at the low-income end of the scale, and than adds:

“And in this moment, we need to make sure that in the future after this crisis is behind us, we build a health care system that makes sure that every person in this country is guaranteed the health care that they need.”

It’s perfect. Already the media are ignoring his talk just as they used to ignore his campaign until he began topping the polls. CNBC, for example, ran an article on Biden’s lackluster and wholly inadequate proposals for dealing with the coronavirus. Suffice to say Biden called for free testing, but didn’t mention who would pay for treatment for the 87 million Americans with no insurance or with insurance with deductibles so high they would have to pay for care out of pocket themselves.

That being the case, we all need to get this speech out there into the hands of everyone we know — especially those who are still arguing that Biden is the candidate who can “beat Trump.”

Sanders has demonstrated that he’s the president in waiting, and the person needed to take charge of this existential health crisis facing the country and the world.  Will Americans realize this in the face of a media blitz trying to give the Democratic nomination to Biden, whose whole campaign comes down to an empty claim that “I can beat Trump”?  I’m not sure.

I have a feeling, though, that the people in this locked down county of Pennsylvania are going to be looking favorably at Bernie Sanders when this state votes on April 28. And if enough other states, cities and counties go into lockdown as the numbers of corona victims soars, so will other voters.

This ain’t over yet.

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Spiritual: How McCoy Tyner Lives On

 

 

It isn’t quite true that McCoy Tyner, who died earlier this month, was the last survivor of the John Coltrane Quartet. Reggie Workman, who for a while held the string bass chair that Jimmy Garrison would claim until Trane’s death, is alive and well, 82 years young, living, teaching and gigging in and around New York City.

There are many reasons to acknowledge Workman. One is that he played on and contributed mightily to what, in my view, stands, nearly sixty years on, as jazz music’s most stirring and emblematic performance: “Spiritual,” from Nov. 3, 1961, recorded near the end of the Coltrane band’s two-week residence at New York’s famed Village Vanguard night club.

The same can be said of McCoy Tyner’s piano playing on “Spiritual.” Indeed, the two of them, Workman and Tyner, don’t merely propel Coltrane, playing tenor and soprano saxophone, and Eric Dolphy, playing bass clarinet, to majestic heights. Each note by them, each chord, is, in its own right, dazzling and profound.

Nearly 14 minutes long, “Spiritual” unfolds through six more or less symmetrical sections. Parts one and six have Trane on saxophone stating the incantatory C-minor theme, resolutely and mournfully in the opening, more urgently and passionately at the close. (The theme is drawn from the song “Nobody Knows De Trouble I’ve Seen,” which Coltrane likely saw notated in his copy of James Weldon Johnson’s Books of American Negro Spirituals, as scholar Lewis Porter reported in his Coltrane biography.) Parts two and five are given over to Coltrane improvisations, first on tenor saxophone, with which he opened the song, and then on soprano sax, with which he ends. Dolphy’s solo is part three, and Tyner’s follows, part four.

Tyner’s piano solo is, for me, the heart of the piece, as well as the pivot point from Dolphy’s almost-jaunty solo, in C major, back to the tune’s native C minor.

Starting with seven measures of major chords before U-turning back to the minor key, it will cover nearly three and a half minutes, about as long as Coltrane’s opening solo. Outwardly, it typifies Tyner’s improvisations throughout his five years playing with Coltrane: single-note passages in the right hand framed by left-hand “stacks of harmony,” as one commentator described his distinctive, intentionally ambiguous chord voicings. These eventually culminate in climactic ten-fingers-together passages, with the chords’ top notes forming compelling melodic sequences of their own.

Whereas Coltrane’s earlier tenor solo revolved around the “tonic” C and, secondarily, G, the other prime note in the C minor scale, Tyner constructs much of his single-note improvisation around F, which in the key of C is the “response” note in the traditional blues call-and-response. Not only does this help differentiate Tyner’s melodies from Coltrane’s; it also imbues them with a bluesy sense, yet free of any blues cliché that might detract from the overall spiritual feeling.

The second half of Tyner’s solo is mostly given over to his majestic two-hand chord melodies — bright blocks of sounds that build, breathe, ascend, gather and build again. This stringing together of chords with stacked harmonies would become a signature of Tyner’s style with Coltrane, with no two sequences quite the same. Each was stamped with its own flavor.

Somehow, Tyner’s chord sequences on “Spiritual” seem infused with, well, spirituality. There’s a sense of devotion in them, as they strive toward some summit, striding forward with only the briefest pauses. At last, returning from the mountaintop and finished with melody, Tyner largely confines himself to two alternating C minor chords in the piano’s middle register. The chords, capped with the note G and differing in just one or two interior notes, create a comforting appetency. Tyner is consecrating the ground for Coltrane’s second, searing solo, this one on soprano saxophone.

That is McCoy Tyner, a month shy of his 23rd birthday. (For a rich portrait of Tyner’s six-decade career, see David Yearsley’s Mountains of Sound, published here last week.) Alongside him, Reggie Workman, one year older, is anchoring the ensemble on his string bass and propelling it with buoyant authority.

For much of Coltrane’s and Tyner’s solos, Workman’s task will be to carry “Spiritual” on a simple, resonant C-minor phrase: C – G – F – Eb, then back to C. He will frequently repeat the phrase for six measures and devote the seventh and eighth to a turnaround cadence in G that resolves satisfyingly to C minor to begin the pattern again.

But that is the barest description, akin to calling a towering redwood a mere tree. Workman’s variations on this frame are richly melodic and filled with bends, thrusts and throbs that seem uncannily attuned to where the soloist has just been and is now headed. Or do Tyner and Coltrane go where Workman has pointed? It is impossible to tell, this is jazz at the fullest level of communion.

Listen to Workman’s stabbing, extending bass notes at the transition from Tyner solo to Coltrane’s, at 10:10. Or his bass strumming, playing two notes at once, around 10:50, something almost unheard of for backing a jazz solo, but here an insistent beating heart that will not be quieted.

I’ve said only a little about Dolphy and haven’t mentioned Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones. Dolphy’s solo, with its playful, bubbly bass clarinet, its intentional choice of a major key, and its easy, loping phrases, is a cheering contrast to Coltrane’s and Tyner’s austere, minor-key grandeur. Dolphy’s presence is also felt in the opening and closing sections, where his lower-register honking appends an almost physical flesh to Tyner’s and Workman’s roiling piano and bass beneath Coltrane’s incantations.

Jones, for the most part, is neither polyrhythmic, as he will soon be on Coltrane recordings like “Out of This World” and “Your Lady,” nor explosive, befitting the composition’s worshipful quality. He comes especially to the fore toward the end of Tyner’s solo, lending drive to the gently swaying chords; in Coltrane’s soprano solo, during Workman’s bass strumming; and in the closing expression of the theme as he surrounds Coltrane’s horn in shimmering sheets of cymbals.

As for Coltrane himself, there is little to add to what has been said about his stature and accomplishments as instrumentalist, composer, innovator and exemplar. In The Atlantic in 1987, twenty years after Coltrane’s death, one writer spoke of Coltrane’s “world-weary melancholy and transcendental yearning” — a description that is eerily apposite to “Spiritual.”

Heard today, Trane’s initial, tenor solo seems to transcend melancholia. It feels suffused with grief — not just from three-and-a-half centuries of subjugation, but as a premonition. Africa was in liberation, the Freedom Rides were in full swing, Martin and Malcolm were at the height of their powers . . . yet in the tenderness of Coltrane’s improvisation there is almost a foretelling of the suffering to come. Through his horn, Coltrane seems to be singing, “Hear me, listen to me, abide with me.”

His soprano solo toward the end is replete with not just yearning but struggle, as if surging against the shackles of times past, present and future. When Coltrane relents, it is to repair to the “Nobody Knows” spiritual from which he built the tune. There is a final flourish, with the entire band — Dolphy, Tyner, Workman and Jones — whirling and thrashing around him, until they too subside, leaving Workman to close, alone, plucking his bass strings, three times, C – G – C, it is finished.

The applause that follows — remember, this is a “live” recording, before one or two hundred people in a cellar on Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village — sounds heartfelt, if perhaps stunned. Since Impulse Records released “Spiritual” in 1962 on the Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard LP, I have listened to it a thousand times. Each time I too am overcome.

This music has guided and carried me almost all of my life, filled me with awe and gratitude for the men who made it. As a pianist who can sense if not fully grasp what McCoy Tyner did, I want to say that a world that can give us Mr. Tyner is a dear thing. Rest in everlasting peace.

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Trump as Political Hit Man

Donald Trump filed his paperwork to run for reelection only hours after his inauguration in January 2017, setting a presidential record, the first of his many dubious achievements. For a man who relished the adulation and bombast of campaigning, it should have surprised no one that he charged out of the starting gate so quickly for 2020 as well. After all, he’d already spent much of the December before his inauguration on a ”thank you” tour of the swing states that had unexpectedly supported him on Election Day — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — and visited Florida for a rally only a couple of weeks after he took the oath of office. In much the same way that Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky once embraced “permanent revolution,” Donald Trump embarked on a “permanent campaign.”

But The Donald was fixated on 2020 even before he pulled off the upset of the century on November 8, 2016. After all, no one seems to have been more surprised by his victory that day than Trump himself.

According to Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and his personal attorney Michael Cohen, even on election night 2016, the billionaire tycoon didn’t think he’d win his first presidential bid. His wife, Melania, assured by her husband that he’d lose, reportedly wept as the news came in that she would indeed be heading for the White House. Before his surprise victory, Trump described the election many times as “rigged” and seemed poised to declare the vote illegitimate as soon as the final returns rolled in. The attacks he’d launched on Hillary Clinton during the campaign — on her health, her integrity, her email account — were not only designed to savage an opponent but also to undermine in advance the person that everyone expected to be the next president.

In other words, Trump was already gearing up to go after her in 2020. And this wasn’t even a commitment to run again for president. Although he reveled in all the media attention during the 2016 campaign, he was far more focused on the economic benefits to his cohort, his businesses, his family, and above all himself. He understood that attacking Clinton had real potential to become a post-election profession.

Before Election Day, for instance, Trump was already exploring the possibility of establishing his own TV network to cater to the anti-Clinton base he’d mobilized. The relentless stigmatizing of the Democratic standard bearer — the threats of legal action, the “lock her up” chants, the hints at dark conspiracies — could easily have morphed into a new “birther” movement led by Trump himself. With Clinton in the White House, he could have continued in quasi-campaign mode as a kind of shadow president, without all the onerous tasks of an actual commander-in-chief.

Thanks to 77,744 voters in three key states on November 8, 2016, the Electoral College not only catapulted a bemused Trump into the White House but eliminated his chief electoral rival. Hillary Clinton’s political career was effectively over and Donald Trump suddenly found himself alone in the boxing ring, his very identity as a boxer at risk.

As president, however, he soon discovered that a ruthless and amoral executive could wield almost unlimited power in the Oval Office. Ever since, he’s used that power to harvest a bumper crop of carrots: windfall profits at his hotels, international contracts for his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s family business, not to speak of fat consulting gigs and other goodies for his cronies. Trump is a carrot-lover from way back. But ever vengeful, he loves sticks even more. He’s used those sticks to punish his enemies, real or imagined, in the media, in business, and most saliently in politics. His tenuous sense of self requires such enemies.

Even as president, Trump thrives as an underdog, beset on all sides. Over the last three years, he turned the world of politics into a target-rich environment. He’s attacked one international leader after another — though not the autocrats — for failing to show sufficient fealty. At home, he’s blasted the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives with a special focus on Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He’s lashed out against “deep state” opponents within the government, particularly those with the temerity to speak honestly during the impeachment hearings. He typically took time at a rally in Mississippi to besmirch the reputation of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court aspirant Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. He’s even regularly gone after members of his inner circle, from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, blaming them for his own policy failures.

Those relentless attacks constitute the ambient noise of the Trump era. But a clear signal has emerged from this background chatter. Since committing to run for a second term, he’s mounted one campaign of political assassination after another against any would-be successor to Hillary Clinton. Just as he ran a unique campaign in 2016 and has governed in an unprecedented manner, Donald Trump is launching what will be a one-of-a-kind reelection effort. This is no normal primary season to be followed by run-of-the-mill party conventions and a general election like every other.

Trump isn’t just determined to destroy politics as usual with his incendiary rhetoric, his Twitter end runs around the media, or his authoritarian governing style. He wants to destroy politics itself, full stop.

Last Man Standing

Over the course of 40 seasons, the American reality show Survivor has been filmed at many different locations and in a variety of formats. Still, the basic rules have remained the same. Contestants are divided into different “tribes” that must survive in adverse conditions and face extraordinary challenges. A series of votes in Tribal Councils then determine who can stay on the island. Sometimes, tribes or individuals win temporary immunity from expulsion. As the numbers dwindle, the tribes merge and individuals begin to compete more directly against one another. A Final Tribal Council determines the winner among the two or three remaining contestants.

What makes Survivor different from typical game shows — and arguably explains its enduring success — is that contestants don’t win simply by besting their adversaries in head-to-head battles as in Jeopardy or American Idol. Instead, they have to avoid getting voted off the island by fellow contestants. You win, in other words, through persuasion, negotiation, and manipulation.

The first season’s victor, Richard Hatch, “was not the most physically able of the contestants,” psychologist Vivian Zayas once explained. “In fact, out of the twelve individual Challenges, he only won one. Richard was also not the most liked. He was perceived as arrogant and overly confident, and even picked by some to be one of the first to get voted off the island.” Ultimately, what made Hatch successful was his ability to form alliances.

To put it in Trumpian terms, you win Survivor by being best at the art of the deal. At times, this requires ruthlessness, wheedling, and outright lies. It makes perfect sense that Trump would revive his stagnant career by translating Survivor into the business world in his show, The Apprentice. Less predictable perhaps was his application of this strategy to electoral politics.

The 2020 election resembles nothing less than a political version of the Survivor franchise. Donald Trump fully intends to be the last man standing. To do so, however, he must contrive to get everyone else voted off the island. The first to go was the tribe of Republican rivals he defeated in the 2016 primary and who no longer pose a political threat. Next to exit, in the general election, was the leader of the rival tribe of Democrats, Hillary Clinton.

In 2020, having won the equivalent of Survivor’s immunity prize, Trump has earned a pass to the final round in November. He faces no significant challenge within the Republican Party. In fact, nine states — Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, South Carolina and Wisconsin — have scrapped their primaries altogether and pledged their delegates to him. In the remaining primaries, he’s racking up the kinds of results that only totalitarian leaders typically enjoy like the 97% of caucus delegates he captured in Iowa, the 97% of primary voters in Arkansas, and his 86% margin of victory in New Hampshire.

As befits a political survivor, Trump has excelled at forging alliances. An irreligious and profane man, he still managed to win over the evangelical community. Despite his previously liberal record on social issues, he successfully courted the anti-abortion vote. A draft dodger, he’s effectively pandered to veterans and active-duty soldiers. And though he’s a billionaire given to grossly conspicuous consumption, he even managed to woo the disenfranchised in the Rust Belt and elsewhere. After capturing the Republican Party in this way, he then purged it of just about anyone without the requisite level of sycophancy to the commander-in-chief. In 2016, he also fashioned informal alliances with disgruntled Democrats and independent voters. Since then, he’s tried to make further inroads in the Democratic Party by persuading a few politicians like New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew to switch parties. His pardon of corrupt Democratic pol Rod Blagojevich might even win him some additional crossover votes in Illinois.

Trump hopes, of course, that the 2016 alliances he forged among Democratic and independent voters in key swing states will produce the same results in 2020. Indeed, those voters may well pull the lever for him again, even if they supported Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. It’s not just his politically incorrect personality that has won them over. During his presidency, he’s used the power of the state to direct significant resources toward such constituencies.

To compensate, for instance, for losses incurred in his trade war with China, he’s provided $28 billion in farm subsidies over the last two years. Even with the first part of a Sino-American trade deal in place, the president has promised critical rural voters yet more handouts in this election year. Although his tax cuts have certainly put plenty of extra money in the pockets of his wealthy supporters and affluent suburbanites, there’s evidence that those cuts have also advantaged red states over blue ones, just as job growth has favored such states, in part because of the help his administration has given to specific economic sectors like the oil, coal, and chemical industries.

All of this, however, could mean little if Donald Trump faces a popular Democrat in November. So the president has gone into overdrive to ensure that those he considers his strongest potential rivals are voted off the island before the ultimate contest begins.

Going After Biden

Joe Biden formally threw his hat into the presidential ring on April 25, 2019. But Donald Trump’s anxiety about running against him had begun much earlier. In July 2018, according to campaign advisers, the president was already fretting Biden might win back some white, working-class voters in swing states like Pennsylvania. However, the president promptly began to insist that Biden would be a “dream candidate,” resorting to his common and often effective strategy of saying the opposite of what he really thought.

That summer, Trump was well aware that, in election 2020 polls, he was seven points behind his possible future Democratic opponent. So he began to go after “sleepy Joe” (as he nicknamed him) on Twitter. He insulted Biden’s age, intelligence, and political record, but a true hatchet job required a sharper hatchet.

Trump had long sought a lawyer who could do some of his hatchet work for him, a figure akin to Roy Cohn, the anti-Communist huckster who assisted Senator Joe McCarthy and later served as The Donald’s mentor. Several people aspired to play that very role, including Michael Cohen, who became the president’s personal lawyer. But like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in the end, he proved insufficiently loyal in the president’s eyes.

Rudy Giuliani has emerged as the latest in this line of fixers. He endorsed Trump in 2016 and then entered his administration as an adviser on cybersecurity. In April 2018, after the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office, Giuliani joined Trump’s legal team. He immediately went to work exploiting his past connections in Ukraine as part of an effort to shift blame to that country for Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections. At some point in the fall of 2018, hooking up with two shady operators, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, he began to investigate Biden, his son Hunter, and the latter’s links to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. When Volodymyr Zelensky became that country’s president in April 2019, Trump felt emboldened, thanks to Giuliani, to press the new leader to relaunch an investigation into the Biden family even though the previous effort had produced nothing.

It was an extraordinarily risky move, coming just after Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in his long-awaited report, had described Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump administration’s attempts to cover up its Kremlin connections. But that’s how much Trump worried about the man he then expected to be his foremost political rival in 2020. For reelection, Giuliani and Trump knew that nothing illicit actually had to be nailed down when it came to Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian activities. They simply had to damage his father’s reputation through insinuation.

Trump was furious at the impeachment inquiry that followed his “perfect” phone call with Zelensky on July 25, 2019. In the end, however, even though the House investigation exonerated Biden and implicated Trump, it was the Democrat’s reputation that suffered the greater hit.

As Peter Beinart wrote in The Atlantic:

By keeping Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine in the news, they have turned them into a rough analogue to Hillary Clinton’s missing emails in 2016 — a pseudo-scandal that undermines a leading Democratic candidate’s reputation for honesty. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee last fall launched a $10 million advertising blitz aimed at convincing Americans that Joe Biden’s behavior toward Ukraine was corrupt.

Biden’s national poll numbers didn’t actually suffer much during the impeachment investigation, but his leads in the early state primaries did. Beginning with an ad campaign in Iowa, the president seemed determined to kneecap Biden in those very primaries. True, the Democratic candidate did himself no favors with lackluster debate performances and his usual verbal gaffes. Trump’s strategy, however, helped ensure that the residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada nearly voted the competing tribe’s leading candidate off the island before the big Tribal Council on Super Tuesday. Only a resounding victory in South Carolina kept Biden in the race, propelling him to a surprising comeback on Super Tuesday.

Targeting the Rest

Trump deployed his traditional strategy of attack to minimize the other Democratic candidates for 2020 as well. He ridiculed Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas,” made fun of Mike Bloomberg’s height, and intentionally garbled Pete Buttigieg’s last name. But the candidate Trump seemed most worried about replacing Biden as the party’s nominee was Bernie Sanders.

After all, Sanders has some of the very strengths that made Trump such an attractive candidate in 2016. The Vermont independent is a political outsider who can credibly distance himself from the failings of both major parties. He has an authentically populist agenda that targets the very corporate fat cats who are Trump’s closest friends, allies, and supporters. He can potentially appeal to voters who didn’t go to the polls in 2016, those who voted for Trump but haven’t been able to stomach his performance in the White House, and young people who otherwise might not bother to turn out at all.

This profile has, for instance, attracted the endorsement of popular libertarian podcaster Joe Rogan. Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, who voted for Trump in 2016 before challenging the president for the party’s nomination this year, has already pledged to vote for Sanders if he becomes the nominee. Even far-right pundit Ann Coulter, once an ardent Trump supporter, declared last yearthat she’d consider voting for Sanders if he took a harder stance on immigration. “I don’t care about the rest of the socialist stuff,” she told PBS. “Just: can we do something for ordinary Americans?”

Trump himself has expressed concerns about taking on Sanders. “Frankly, I would rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders,” Trump told reporters last month. “Because Sanders has real followers, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not — I happen to think it’s terrible what he says — but he has followers.”

A significant number of those followers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania switched parties to vote for Trump in 2016. If they were to go back to Sanders in 2020 — and if the Democrats who voted for Clinton generally maintained their party loyalty — the Vermont independent could win those three states and probably the election in November.

Of course, in his worrying about Sanders, Trump could well be using his simplistic version of reverse psychology. The president could be pretending to be scared of Sanders when he really wants to run against a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” next fall. Citing Republican Party sources, for instance, the New York Times concluded in January that “President Trump’s advisers see Senator Bernie Sanders as their ideal Democratic opponent in November and have been doing what they can to elevate his profile and bolster his chances of winning the Iowa caucuses.” These advisers are well aware that, according to a November poll by NPR/PBS and an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last March, only 20%-25% of Americans are enthusiastic about a “socialist” candidate. For these reasons, Trump urged South Carolina Republicans to cross the aisle to back Sanders in the Democratic primary in order to shut down Biden once and for all.

To play it safe, however, the president has also begun to focus a portion of his considerable ire on Sanders. He’s already mounted vigorous attacks on his approach to health-care reform, his oppositionto the assassination of the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, his supposed hypocrisy as a “wealthy, fossil fuel-guzzling millionaire,” and above all that socialism of his. It’s just a taste of what’s to come. According to someone who saw the opposition research the Republicans compiled on Sanders in 2016, it “was so massive it had to be transported on a cart.”

And that’s before Trump blows all this material out of proportion through outright lies and misrepresentation.

And the Winner Is…

At the end of August, Donald Trump heads into the Republican Party’s nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, with some advantages he didn’t have four years ago.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton had raised nearly twice as much money as he did. This time, the president has already collected more than $100 million. (Barack Obama had $82 million at this point in 2012.) A war chest like that supports a large ground operation eager to flip some blue states like Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, and even New Mexico. Trump has the authority of incumbency, plus a reputation for invincibility that’s been enhanced by his surviving both the Mueller investigation and impeachment by the House. As long as a coronavirus pandemic doesn’t truly shut down the global economy, he will continue to claim, misleadingly, that low unemployment figures and modest growth are his personal achievements.

In a normal political contest, Trump would have to deal with a raft of negatives, including his relative unpopularity, his many policy failures, his embarrassments on the global stage, and of course, the cutshis administration has made in funds to prepare for a possible pandemic. Election 2020, however, is anything but a normal political contest. Trump has been busy gaming the system, focusing virtually all his efforts on Electoral College swing states, while Republicans do their damnedest to purge voter rolls, suppress turnout, and ignore warnings from the U.S. intelligence community of coming Russian election interference.

Donald Trump has also been hard at work stripping politics of its content, a longer-term trend for which he’s anything but the sole culprit. Still, more than any other candidate in memory, he’s boiled elections down to pissing contests and personality clashes. In addition, his nonstop barrage of lies has thoroughly confused voters about what his administration has and hasn’t done. In the process, he’s delegitimized the mainstream media, placed himself above the law, and reduced American politics to a litmus test of loyalty.

It’s not yet possible to predict the winner of the 2020 election, but the loser is already clear: the American public. Trump has sabotaged in a significant way the normal give-and-take, compromise, and negotiation once at the heart of everyday politics. He believes only in power, the more naked the better. He long ago gave up on elite opinion. Now, he doesn’t want to take any chances on the vagaries of popular choice either.

Trump believes that he already owns the island, that he’s now the survivor-in-chief. To maintain that illusion, he’ll do anything in his power to ensure that he’s never voted off the island, certainly not by something beyond his control like actual democracy.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

The post Trump as Political Hit Man appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Algerian Revolution: the Struggle for Decolonization Continues

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

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

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

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

ACHIEVEMENTS AND VICTORIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

IT IS A REVOLUTION!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANTI-COLONIAL AND SOVEREIGN AT HEART

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

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

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

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

CHALLENGES FACING THE HIRAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREPARING FOR THE LONG STRUGGLE AHEAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article first appeared on ROAR.

The post The Algerian Revolution: the Struggle for Decolonization Continues appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What If They Held a Revolution and No One Came?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Statue of Liberty’s Torch

The Statue of Liberty’s Torch


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

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

LAPD, NYPD, CPB
And ICE
That’s simple self-defense/
Defense of others, right?

We see, the danger’s clear
It’s here

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

Those’ll burn well
Oh say, can you tell

From the smell
If they’ve vanished yet?

 

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Nobel Oblige

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

– Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What Is Covid-19 Trying to Teach Us?

Photograph Source: NIAID – CC BY 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post What Is Covid-19 Trying to Teach Us? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse

Photograph Source: Studio Incendo – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising From the Ruins?

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

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

Notes.

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

[2] King, Darryn. “Steven Pinker on the Past, Present, and Future of Optimism” (OneZero, Jan 10, 2019) https://onezero.medium.com/steven-pinker-on-the-past-present-and-future-of-optimism-f362398c604b

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

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

[5] For more on catabolic capitalism see: Collins, Craig. “Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future,”CounterPunch (Nov. 1, 2018). https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/11/01/catabolism-capitalisms-frightening-future/

[6] Carrington, Damian. “New Study: Humans Just 0.01% Of All Life But Have Destroyed 83% Of Wild Mammals,” The Guardian (May 21, 2018). https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

[7] Ceballos, Ehrlich, Barnosky, Garcia, Pringle & Palmer. “Accelerated Modern Human-Induced Species Losses: Entering The 6th Mass Extinction,” Science Advances. (June 19, 2015). http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253

The post Four Reasons Civilization Won’t Decline: It Will Collapse appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Going Viral

The Black Death by Hieronymus Bosch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

A previous tweet of this quote did not make it adequately clear that it is Trump who did not push for adequate testing, not Secretary of Health and Human Services Azar. Here is the whole quote for context. @ddiamond pic.twitter.com/ZZ2aPF53m6

— Fresh Air (@nprfreshair) March 12, 2020

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZERO tests conducted today by CDC.

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

EIGHT.

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

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

(1/11) The #NYC Region is in trouble. Our #COVID19 case load is growing so quickly that we risk running out of hospital beds in UNDER TWO WEEKS. To avoid a crisis at our hospitals, we need to act now. 1,200 hospital beds are not enough. @BilldeBlasio @NYCSpeakerCoJo @NYGovCuomo pic.twitter.com/QLpWr6bIWQ

— Michael Donnelly (@donnellymjd) March 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) March 12, 2020

+ From The Plague:

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

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

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

“Comprehension.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beto O'Rourke: "We need somebody who can reestablish the moral authority of the United States. We need somebody who will fight for democracy here and abroad, because democracy is under attack here and abroad. We need Joe Biden." https://t.co/yXqjtQn9dX pic.twitter.com/wx4LwyRMRK

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

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

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

+ The real origin of Planet of the Apes?

Hundreds of hungry monkeys swarm across Thai street as 'rival gangs' fight over food after tourists who normally feed them stay away because of coronavirus https://t.co/lQZ0sOzwDF pic.twitter.com/8TgrCTBrQ8

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

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

BEN CARSON: They’re coming up with one

S: It docks tomorrow

C: The plan will be in place

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

C: It hasn’t been fully formulated

+ Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain…

Did no one in the room know CSPAN was broadcasting before remarks?? #CoronaVirusUpdate #PresidentialAddress pic.twitter.com/KbacrVBfjT

— ThurstonHumbolt (@ThurstonHumbolt) March 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ Welcome back to Michigan, NAFTA Joe…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sick-boy, Black Leather Jacket Scene….

 

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

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

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

Funny Man: Mel Brooks
Patrick McGilligan
(HarperCollins)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

The Big Exercise
Homesick
(SubPop)

A Simple Trick to Happiness
Lisa Loeb
(Furious Rose)

Across the Universe
Al DiMeola
(Earmusic)

Pestilence and Silence

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

 

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COVID-19 Side Effects: Reality and Clarity

Photograph Source: Steve Bowbrick – CC BY 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph Source: Alper Çuğun – CC BY 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The Evangelical Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Shit-Life Syndrome Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Stock Market/Money-Grubber Fundamentalist Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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