Counterpunch Articles

If Trump’s the Symptom, Then What’s the Disease?

Don’t try to deny it! The political temperature of this country is rising fast. Call it Trump change or Trump warming, if you want, but grasp one thing: increasingly, you’re in a different land and, whatever happens to Donald Trump, the results down the line are likely to be ever less pretty. Trump change isn’t just an American phenomenon, it’s distinctly global. After all, from Australia to India, the Philippines to Hungary, Donald Trumps and their supporters keep getting elected or reelected and, according to a recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans think Trump himself will win again in 2020 (though, at the moment, battleground-state polls look grim for him).

Still, whether or not he gets a second term in the White House, he only seems like the problem, partially because no president, no politician, no one in history has ever gotten such 24/7 media coverage of every twitch, tweet, bizarre statement, falsehood, or fantasy he expresses (or even the clothes he wears). Think of it this way: we’re in a moment in which the only thing the media can’t imagine saying about Donald Trump is: “You’re fired!” And believe me, that’s just one sign of a media — and a country — with a temperature that’s anything but 98.6.

Since you-know-who is always there, always being discussed, always @(un)realdonaldtrump, it’s easy enough to imagine that everything that’s going wrong — or, if you happen to be part of his famed base, right (even if that right isn’t so damned hot for you) — is due to him. When we’re gripped by such thinking and the temperature’s rising, it hardly matters that just about everything he’s “done” actually preceded him. That includes favoring the 1%, deporting record numbers of illegal immigrants, and making war(unsuccessfully) or threatening to do so across significant parts of the planet.

Here, then, is the question of the day, the sort you’d ask about any patient with a rising temperature: If Donald Trump is only the symptom, what’s the disease?

Blowback Central

Let me say that the late Chalmers Johnson would have understood President Trump perfectly. The Donald clearly arrived on the scene as blowback — the CIA term of tradecraft Johnson first put into our everyday vocabulary — from at least two things: an American imperium gone wrong with its never-ending wars, ever-rising military budgets, and ever-expanding national security state, and a new “gilded age” in which three men (Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett) have more wealth than the bottom half of society and the .01% have one of their own, a billionaire, in the Oval Office. (If you want to add a third blowback factor, try a media turned upside down by new ways of communicating and increasingly desperate to glue eyes to screens as ad revenues, budgets, and staffs shrank and the talking heads of cable news multiplied.)

Now, I don’t mean to sell Donald Trump short in any way. Give that former reality TV star credit. Unlike either Hillary Clinton or any of his Republican opponents in the 2016 election campaign, he sensed that there were voters in profusion in the American heartland who felt that things were not going well and were eager for a candidate just like the one he was ready to become. (There were, of course, other natural audiences for a disruptive, self-promoting billionaire as well, including various millionaires and billionaires ready to support him, the Russians, the Saudis… well, you know the list). His skill, however, never lay in what he could actually do (mainly, in these years, cut taxes for the wealthy, impose tariffs, and tweet his head off). It lay in his ability to catch the blowback mood of that moment in a single slogan — Make America Great Again, or MAGA — that he trademarked in November 2012, only days after Mitt Romney lost his bid for the presidency to Barack Obama.

Yes, four years later in the 2016 election, others began to notice the impact of that slogan. You couldn’t miss the multiplying MAGA hats, after all. Hillary Clinton’s advisers even briefly came up with the lamest response imaginable to it: Make America Whole Again, or MAWA. But what few at the time really noted was the crucial word in that phrase: “again.” Politically speaking, that single blowback word might then have been the most daring in the English language. In 2016, Donald Trump functionally said what no other candidate or politician of any significance in America dared to say: that the United States was no longer the greatest, most indispensable, most exceptionable nation or superpower or hyper-power ever to exist on Planet Earth.

That represented a groundbreaking recognition of reality. At the time, it didn’t matter whether you were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Marco Rubio, you had to acknowledge some version of that formula of exceptionalism. Trump didn’t and, believe me, that rang a bell in the American heartland, where lots of people had felt, however indirectly, the blowback from all those years of taxpayer-funded fruitless war, while not benefitting from infrastructure building or much of anything else. They experienced blowback from a country in which new billionaires were constantly being created, while the financial distance between CEO salaries and those of workers grew exponentially vaster by the year, and the financing of the political system became a 1% affair.

With that slogan, The Donald caught the spirit of a moment in which both imperial and economic decline, however unacknowledged by the Washington political elite, had indeed begun. In the process, as I wrote at that time, he crossed a psychologically taboo line and became America’s first declinist candidate for president. MAGA captured a feeling already at large that tomorrow would be worse than today, which was already worse than yesterday. As it turned out, it mattered not at all that the billionaire conman spouting that trademarked phrase had long been part of the problem, not the solution.

He caught the essence of the moment, in other words, but certainly didn’t faintly cause it in the years when he financed Trump Tower, watched his five Atlantic City casinos go bankrupt, and hosted The Apprentice. In that election campaign, he captured a previously forbidden reality of the twenty-first century. For example, I was already writing this in June 2016, five months before he was elected president:

“In its halcyon days, Washington could overthrow governments, install Shahs or other rulers, do more or less what it wanted across significant parts of the globe and reap rewards, while (as in the case of Iran) not paying any price, blowback-style, for decades, if at all. That was imperial power in the blaze of the noonday sun. These days, in case you hadn’t noticed, blowback for our imperial actions seems to arrive as if by high-speed rail (of which by the way, the greatest power on the planet has yet to build a single mile, if you want a quick measure of decline).

“Despite having a more massive, technologically advanced, and better funded military than any other power or even group of powers on the planet, in the last decade and a half of constant war across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, the U.S. has won nothing, nada, zilch. Its unending wars have, in fact, led nowhere in a world growing more chaotic by the second.”

Mind you, three years later the United States remains a staggeringly powerful imperial force, with hundreds of military bases still scattered across the globe, while its economic clout — its corporations control about half the planet’s wealth — similarly remains beyond compare. Yet, even in 2016, it shouldn’t have been hard to see that the American Century was indeed ending well before its 100 years were up. It shouldn’t have been hard to grasp, as Donald Trump intuitively did, that this country, however powerful, was already both a declining empire — thank you, George W. Bush for invading Iraq! Mission Accomplished! — and a declining economic system (both of which still looked great indeed, if you happened to be profiting from them). That intuition and that slogan gave Trump his moment in… well, dare I call it “the afternoon sun”? They made him president.

MTPGA

In a sense, all of this should have been expectable enough. Despite the oddity of Donald Trump himself, there was little new in it, even for the imperial power that its enthusiasts once thought stood at “the end of history.” You don’t need to look far, after all, for evidence of the decline of empires. You don’t even have to think back to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost three decades ago in what now seems like the Stone Age. (Admittedly, Russian President Vladimir Putin, a brilliant imagineer, has brought back a facsimile of the old Soviet Union, even if, in reality, Russia is now a rickety, fraying petro-state.)

Just take a glance across the Atlantic at Great Britain at this moment. And imagine that three-quarters of a century ago, that modest-sized island nation still controlled all of India, colonies across the planet, and an impressive military and colonial service. Go back even further and you’ll find yourself in a time when it was the true superpower of planet Earth. What a force it was — industrially, militarily, colonially — until, of course, it wasn’t.

If you happen to be looking for imperial lessons, you could perhaps say that some empires end not with a bang but with a Brexit. Despite all the pomp and circumstance (tweeting and insults) during the visit of the Trump royal family (Donald, Melania, Ivanka, Jared, Donald Jr., Eric, and Tiffany) to the British royals, led by a queen who, at 93, can remember better days, here’s something hard to deny: with Brexit (no matter how it turns out), the Earth’s former superpower has landed in the sub-basement of history. Great Britain? Obviously that adjective has to change.

In the meantime, across the planet, China, another once great imperial power, perhaps the greatest in the long history of this planet, is clearly on the rise again from another kind of sub-basement. That, in turn, is deeply worrying the leadership, civilian and military, of the planet’s “lone superpower.” Its president, in response, is wielding his weapon of choice — tariffs — while the U.S. military prepares for an almost unimaginable future war with that upstart nation, possibly starting in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, the still-dominant power on the planet is, however incrementally, heading down. It’s nowhere near that sub-basement, of course — anything but. It’s still a rich, immensely powerful land. Its unsuccessful wars, however, go on without surcease, the political temperature rises, and democratic institutions continue to fray — all of which began well before Donald Trump entered the Oval Office and, in fact, helped ensure that he would make it there in the first place.

And yet none of this, not even imperial decline itself, quite captures the “disease” of which The Donald is now such an obvious symptom. After all, while the rise and fall of imperial powers has been an essential part of history, the planetary context for that process is now changing in an unprecedented way. And that’s not just because, since the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, growing numbers of countries have come to possess the power to take the planet down in a cataclysm of fire and ice (as in nuclear winter). It’s also because history, as we’ve known it, including the rise and fall of empires, is now, in a sense, melting away.

Trump change, the rising political temperature stirred by the growing populist right, is taking place in the context of (and, worse yet, aiding and abetting) record global temperatures, the melting of ice across the planet, the rise of sea levels and the future drowning of coastlines (and cities), the creation of yet more refugees, the increasing fierceness of fires and droughts, and the intensification of storms. In the midst of it all, an almost unimaginable wave of extinctions is occurring, with a possible million plant and animal species, some crucial to human existence, already on the verge of departure.

Never before in history has the rise and decline of imperial powers taken place in the context of the decline of the planet itself. Try, for instance, to imagine what a “risen” China will look like in an age in which one of its most populous regions, the north China plain, may by century’s end be next to uninhabitable, given the killing heat waves of the future.

In the context of both Trump change and climate change, we’re obviously still awaiting our true transformative president, the one who is not a symptom of decline, but a factor in trying to right this country and the Earth before it’s too late. You know, the one who will take as his or her slogan, MTPGA (Make The Planet Great Again).

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence

Pictures of Daniel Ezzedine show him to be a fresh-faced 17-year-old with a warm cheerful smile. His parents are Lebanese but he was brought up in Germany where he had just left school. His teachers brought him to celebrate his graduation on a trip to Canterbury, where he was assaulted and beaten half to death by a gang of youths in what local people are convinced was a racist attack.

It took place at 6pm on 6 June in Rose Lane in the centre of the city about 250 yards from Canterbury Cathedral. Daniel received a merciless beating from his numerous attackers, which left him close to death. Rushed to hospital in London by helicopter, he is still in a coma and doctors initially gave him only a 30 per cent chance of surviving. Seven people were arrested – six of them teenagers – but none have been charged.

The family had difficulty at first in getting visas to enter Britain to see their son because they are not German citizens, though they have lived in Germany for 30 years. “I pray and ask Allah for mercy and that you will soon be on your legs again my little brother,” wrote Bassam, one of Daniel’s five brothers. “You don’t deserve the dead!”

I live in Canterbury and often pass the spot near Tesco, Marks and Spencer and HSBC where Daniel was set upon. Details of what happened are sparse because the police are not saying what they know and Daniel remains in a coma. But it is telling that the gang chose a Lebanese Muslim to target out of all the passers-by in this well-frequented part of Canterbury.

The attack took place close to a pretty little park called Dane John, which in recent years has become a notorious haunt for gangs selling drugs. I asked one young man if he walked through the park at night. “I do not like to walk through it in day time,” he replied. He said that gangs there are often looking for victims and might easily target a Muslim or anybody different from themselves. A well-attended march against racism took place through the city on Wednesday.

The fate of Daniel Ezzedine is evidence that Britain is becoming a more racist country since the Brexit referendum. Pro-Brexit politicians like Michael Gove deny this, but a poll by Opinium found that overt ethnic abuse and discrimination reported by ethnic minorities has risen from 64 per cent at the beginning of 2016 to 76 per cent today.

But this understates the change for the worse that we are seeing. The Brexit vote promoted English national identity and questions about who is and who is not English – increasingly distinguished from being British – to the top of the political agenda, and this is not going away. One can see this in Canterbury, normally a liberally-minded and tolerant little city accustomed to large numbers of foreign visitors and students.

But since 2016 expressions of gut racism have become much more common. Soon after the poll, an Argentinian woman asked for directions from a guard at Canterbury Cathedral and was told: “That way to Dover, love.” More recently, a homeless person in the high street told a friend of mine: “Soon the immigrants will go and I will be able to get a job.”

I have been travelling around the UK writing a series about “Britain in the age of Brexit” and I wondered if members of ethnic minorities believed that racism and racist harassment had increased. I asked three people in south Wales – chosen because it is so different from south-east England – from diverse backgrounds (Pakistani, Sikh, Caribbean, Portuguese) if they had experienced greater racist abuse since the Brexit vote.

Shavanah Taj, a national officer for the Public and Commercial Services Union, whose father came from Pakistan to work in a steel plant in south Wales in 1958-59, said that racist harassment had risen in the past three or four years, though it had also been bad in the past: “In the 1980s, we used to regularly have dog shit in Tesco bags pushed through our letter box and ‘Pakis Out’ in big letters written on the side wall of our house.” That sort of thing had ebbed but is now back and more virulent than before.

As an Asian woman with two small children, she finds her way often deliberately blocked by white men in the street. She and her Nigerian husband have asked themselves for the first time “if we will get to the point when we will no longer think of this country as our home”.

Amarjite Singh, a Sikh who works for the Royal Mail and wears a distinctive red turban, agrees that open racism fell away from the end of the 1980s up to 2016. He is alarmed today by the degree to which the far right is more active, holding rallies up and down the country at the same time. He says that many Sikhs – there are about 2,500 in Cardiff – voted Leave because they feared that their jobs were threatened by East European immigration, but they found that they were also being subjected to anti-immigrant abuse.

Singh speaks of one incident that struck him as a sign of escalating racism: “Two weeks ago I was on a bus and there was a Somali woman with a baby in a pram which could not be put in the space allotted for it because a young man was blocking it. When the bus driver told him to let her park the pram there, the young man replied: ‘Who does she think she is? She’s only a foreigner.’”

Andrew Woodman, whose mother came here from Portugal in 1952 and his father from Guyana, says that the Brexit vote has emboldened people, “as it does in Trump’s America, to say in public what they used to say in private. I have been called the N-word and that had rarely happened in recent years”. He adds that all you need to generate racial hatred “is to persuade people that those who are different from themselves are the reason they are poor”.

Al-Qaeda and Isis attacks from 9/11 to London Bridge all contributed to Islamophobia, but the Brexit crisis is having much greater and longer-term impact because it is redefining English nationalism in a more exclusive and confrontational way. This affects women of Pakistani origin shopping with their children, but it also leads – so a university vice chancellor was telling me this week – to a high flying German scientist, who can easily get a job elsewhere, deciding that he no longer likes the UK and going back to Germany.

Eurosceptic leaders are in denial about the degree to which the Brexit project depended on beating the anti-immigrant drum. But look at how many Conservative and Brexit Eurosceptics found time this week to denounce Jo Brand and the BBC for expressing purely rhetorical violence. And then consider how few of them have expressed dismay at the real violence that inflicted terrible injuries on young Daniel Ezzedine in the centre of Canterbury.

Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran

Remember the Vincennes?

That’s the name of the U.S. Navy warship that shot down an Iranian airliner with missiles in 1988, killing all 290 people aboard that airplane.

That shootdown, where 60 children perished, was an accident, according to the U.S. Navy’s official report. However, many, including military personnel, considered that report a whitewash.

That U.S. military attack on a civilian airliner occurred during a time when the administration of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan was all but openly supporting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who had launched a war of aggression against Iran – the nation now in the crosshairs of the President Donald Trump Administration.

The Vincennes incident is instructive as the Trump Administration is seemingly searching for a ripe moment to launch a war against Iran, an action long sought by right-wing forces in the United States along with U.S. Middle East allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Similar to U.S. anti-Iran stances in the 1980s when the U.S. pressured Iran as part of its tilt toward the invading but quickly battered Iraqis, the Trump Administration is waging an economic war against Iran through economy-crippling sanctions. The goal is to bludgeon Iran after Trump unilaterally withdrew from a nuclear non-proliferation treaty that had Iran’s full compliance.

The July 3, 1988 Vincennes incident is also instructive because it vividly displayed of how things can go horribly wrong really quick and how the U.S. government will brazenly lie to evade liability for its criminal misconduct.

With the U.S. playing a ‘Top Cop’ role in the Persian Gulf – today as in the 1980s ostensibly to contain Iran – it’s interesting that the U.S. Navy’s defense of that indefensible 1988 airliner shootdown contained components of excuses utter persistently by American police in instances of fatal shootings of unarmed civilians.

In the cases of those murdered by American cops, the offending officer immediately declares he or she fired because they feared for their life. The captain of the Vincennes declared he ordered the airliner to be shot down because he feared for his life…the life of his ship and crew allegedly endangered by an unarmed civilian airliner.

Like the standard cop defense of supposedly seeing a gun in the hand of the unarmed suspect, Vincennes Captain Will Rogers claimed he saw a jet fighter descending in fast attack approach not a widebody airliner ascending after taking off from an airport.

Like the physical evidence in too many cop shootings that contradict cop claims, data from the sophisticated combat control computer system onboard the Vincennes contradicted the contentions of its captain. Top Navy and Reagan Administration officials later accepted that captain’s claims as valid.

Another parallel between cop shootings and the airliner shootdown is the blame-the-victim reflex.

The Vincennes captain, Navy brass, top Reagan Administration officials (along with much of the American mainstream news media) blamed Iran for allowing its airliner to fly outside the corridor for commercial airliners, allowing that airliner to operate without using identification signals for civilian airplanes and allowing the airliner to fly over a skirmish where lightly armed Iranian military motorboats were allegedly harassing the Vincennes, a heavily armed cruiser larger in size than any U.S. naval vessel except an aircraft carrier.

As in the case of American cop shootings of unarmed civilians, that blame-the-victim reflex quickly feell apart. Yet,  those discredited blame remain in the Navy’s official report [white-wash] of the incident.

Here’s the truth about that horrible incident:

The Iranian airliner flew in the proper corridor for civilian aircraft.

The Iranian airliner used the proper civilian identification signals.

And neither the airliner pilot or Iranian air traffic controllers could have known that the Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters to attack non-menacing motorboats minutes before the airliner’s take-off.

(Other Navy personnel in the area had dubbed the Vincennes ‘Robo Cruiser’ for Captain Rogers’ aggressive behavior toward Iranian assets. Many police involved in fatal shootings are likewise known for their aggressiveness.)

Similar to cop shootings, Navy officials concocted an explanation to rationalize the irrational, criminal action of the Vincennes captain and his crew.

Navy officials asserted that the reason why Captain Rogers misinterpreted data from the Vincennes advanced Aegis Combat System was “scenario fulfillment” –- a situation where available evidence is rejected through an unconscious attempt to accept a preconceived notion…another twist on the old:  I-think-I’m-in-danger-so-I-gotta-shoot excuse.

A few weeks before the arguable war crime airliner shootdown by the Vincennes, the U.S. Navy destroyed half of Iran’s Navy after Reagan officials blamed Iran for planting a sea mine that damaged a U.S. warship.

Recently, the Trump Administration quickly blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Trump officials claimed Iranian forces attacked the ships with naval mines and/or torpedoes.

But the Japanese company that owned one of the tankers said crew members saw flying objects coming toward that ship before explosions rocked that vessel.

Damage to that tanker is above that ship’s waterline – improbable damage from a mine or torpedo that would occur below the waterline. (Japan’s Prime Minister was on an official visit in Iran at the very time of the attack on the Japanese tanker,  leading some to wonder why Iran would execute such an act at that time.)

A double-standard element in the Vincennes incident is that while American officials condemned Iran for the Vincennes destruction of Iran Flight 655, months earlier those same officials coddled an aggressor for an act that killed American sailors and badly damaged a U.S. warship.

On May 17, 1987 an Iraqi fighter jet fired missiles into the U.S.S. Stark, killing 37 sailors.

American officials accepted assertions from its then erstwhile ally Saddam Hussein that the Iraqi jet attack on the Stark was an accident where the pilot mistook the Stark for an Iranian warship.

While Navy brass bashed Stark commanders for failures, the confirmed failures of the Vincennes captain and crew were brushed off. Navy officials who sunk the career of the Stark’s captain, on the other  hand, issued the Vincennes captain and crew medals and combat ribbons.

 

 

 

 

Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited

 

Communing with nature: Camping in the Adirondacks, 1874. Wood engraving by Winslow Homer.

“Life is already too short to waste on speed.”

~Edward Abbey

Harper’s Magazine published this bucolic scene of camping in New York’s Adirondack Mountains captured by up-and-coming artist Winslow Homer in 1874. It’s one of many illustrations he turned out in competition with Currier & Ives in the mid-to-late 19th century for magazines and newspapers, most depicting Americans comporting themselves out-of-doors in cities, towns, villages, and hinterlands, in an age unmarred by automobiles, aircraft, telephones, and digitalia.

But even by then, the accelerating pace of progress had decimated the vast Adirondack region in its voracious demand for lumber, paper, and charcoal. In the mid-1880s, after much environmentalist agitation and corporate opposition, New York’s legislature designated much of the area as a forest preserve. Ten years hence, after the preserve’s stewards were exposed as corrupt, the state constitution was amended to protect the 6.3M-acre region (almost the size of Vermont) “forever.” The amendment was all of two sentences, but it did the trick:

“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”

And so, were you to visit the location in Homer’s illustration, it might still look pretty much the same as when he depicted it, except, perhaps, for the campers and the campsite. Hardy hikers and boaters still improvise shelters like the branch-and-blanket lean-to these dudes put together some 150 years ago, but camping and its attendant gear and expectations has changed radically since, and with it the very notion of what it means to confront and commune with nature.

While a healthy number of extreme outdoorists still pride themselves on packing as little gear as possible to escape from civilization, most Americans prefer to bring as many comforts of home as possible (including phones, satellite TV, and internet) when they park their overstuffed vehicles and bodies at campsites. It’s yet another depressing symptom of how utterly well-wrapped we are in our thickening technological cocoons. Even atop Mt. Everest, it’s quite impossible to get away from it all.

Campers still arrive at destinations travelling light by canoe and by kayak, but most check in on four or more wheels, in cars, trucks, SUVs, and RVs, guided by satellite instead of by lodestone, sun, and stars. A dog, as Homer’s dudes seem to have brought along, might accompany the crew. If their vehicle can’t accommodate sleepers, instead of pitching a tent they might unfold a trailer. Out will come hampers of food and drink, cold chests, gas grill, pots and utensils, folding furniture, and perhaps a cabana or beach umbrella. Bicycles, mopeds, or watercraft may adorn the roof or rear of their vehicle for off-road or waterborne adventures. Mobility-obsessed campers and day-trippers turn it up a notch with powerboats, all-terrain vehicles, or snowmobiles that spook wildlife and enhance the wonders of nature with exhaust fumes and high-decibel noise. They will continue to impair their hearing and atrophy their muscles so long as gasoline is still plentiful and flora and fauna remain to be flattened. And speaking of snowmobiles, Edward Abbey had this to say:

“The purpose of snowmobile recreation is not to get anywhere, see anybody or understand anything but to generate noise, poison the air, crush vegetation, destroy wildlife, waste energy, promote entropy and accelerate the unfoldings of the second law of thermodynamics…

Everyone knows that.”

From Hayduke Lives!, Boston: Little, Brown, 1990, pp. 128-129.

All that semi-off-the-grid technology distracts us from experiencing the outdoors when it’s not cluttering our homes and garages. But it doesn’t have to; instead of burdening themselves with a ton of gear to experience the outdoors, vacationers of sufficient means can book into a luxurious outdoorsy retreat offering all-inclusive close-to-nature posh. It’s called glamping (glamor camping, “where stunning nature meets modern luxury” according to glamping.com, whose motto is “Travel…evolved”). You should be itching to, they say, “experience the untamed and completely unique parts of the world—without having to sacrifice creature comforts. … You can wake up in a yurt on a mountaintop. Reside in the forest canopy in a treehouse. Take in the panoramic views in an eco-lodge. And that’s just to name a few.” Let them further explain in aspirational words and pictures what you’ve missed if you’ve never glamped:

Experiential travel, they call it, as if only high-priced retreats qualify as a holiday experience. Jetting to an upscale tent city to be treated as an ersatz potentate while we pretend we’re roughing it is truly camp. Glamping—and car camping too—fulfill bourgeois fantasies of being served by locals while living better than them. More than the journey or the destination, it’s about pampering ourselves. By making us feel safe, comfy, and special, all this evolved travel mediates our outdoor encounters. From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with Styrofoam, dwelling in our portable playpens and paradise playhouses distances us from nature by circumscribing our experiential horizon around the familiar objects at hand and focusing on our own enjoyment. Are we having fun yet?

* * *

After we have made the planet one vast brownfield, you’ll be able to trudge through clear-cut forests, scale mountains of mine tailings, or paddle along dead rivers in VR goggles that display the glories of wilderness in 3D as it once was or might be once we’re no longer around to trash it.

But why wait to inconvenience yourself and waste gasoline to experience nature virtually, second-hand? Soon, if not already, some clever innovator will open an indoor hiking range with programmable treadmills, where you don headgear and dial up a trail in a virtual mountain, desert, tundra, jungle or arctic landscape with surround sound. But until then, you can take virtual hikes on YouTube, such as this one and others from Tall Sky (boots optional). If you’re the competitive type, “forward motion video technology” (aka a GoPro cam movie) lets you experience running in a road race at home from start to finish (treadmill optional but recommended). And, if killing large animals is your thing, you can hunt big game from the comfort of your lounge chair (camouflage optional). With technology, the possibilities for physically isolating ourselves from nature and one another are endless, and there are more than enough clever entrepreneurs and marketers out there to keep it happening.

Earth First’s tomahawk and monkey wrench logo.

And happen it will unless we turn away from the mediated life to regard and protect nature. You might not be the sort to join the radical Earth First movement (motto: “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth”), pour sand into the crankcase of an earthmover, chain yourself to old-growth tree trunks, or drive spikes into trees slated to be clear-cut, but consider supporting them and coalitions of indigenous people who are on the front lines of resistance to the abuse of public lands, fracking, pipelines, big dams, and other environmental assaults.

The Adirondacks were saved by a handful of citizen activists who persuaded politicians and the public of dire downstream consequences should nothing be done to end their plunder and despoliation. Environmental challenges from corporate greed and compromised stewardship are much more daunting today, but if not now, when?

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”

~Edward Abbey

* * *

Inspired by re-reading Edward Abbey’s radical and raunchy 1975 fictional epistle against ecocide, The Monkey-Wrench Gang. See Robert Macfarlane’s retrospective review in The Guardian for more about the lasting influence of his environmentalist credo.

Here’s the full Edward Abbey quote that speaks of speed:

“There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated and anyone can transport himself anywhere, instantly. Big deal, Buckminster. To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”

~ Walking, from The Journey Home, p. 205

Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 

For the first time in 16 years, Michigan elected a Democrat as their Attorney General and Dana Nessel’s first major decision was to dismiss all pending criminal charges against the state and city officials responsible for Flint Michigan’s polluted drinking water this past weekend. Mainstream media commentators were critical of her decision as well as Flint residents, who saw this move as further evidence that no justice would be pursued for the toxic water conditions which exposed up to 42,000 children under 2 years of age to lead poisoning. Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint resident who is the director of the grassroots group Flint Rising, told the Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan. that the announcement came as “a slap in the face to Flint residents” and “it doesn’t seem like justice is coming.”

But in reading through Egan’s article, additional pieces of this puzzling decision hinted that the coverup, by the accused officials, may actually have continued to the extent of endangering the investigation. In other words, there may be a legitimate reason for redoing the criminal charges. Although new cases will cost additional public money, Nessel says she made this decision precisely to save tax payer’s money from being wasted on faulty work by the former Republican State Attorney General, Bill Schuette. She said, his cases “have gone on for years and have cost the taxpayers of this state millions of dollars. It’s time for resolution and justice for the people of Flint.”
Schuette was overseeing the investigation and he has not been sympathetic to Flint residents in the past.  In 2017, he had been admonished by an Eastern District of United States of Michigan Judge for opposing the State of Michigan supplying bottled water to Flint residents who lack tap filters to protect them from the toxic drinking water. The judge suggested  he had engaged in “superficial posturing” in being concerned about Flint’s water contamination.

That opinion of Schuette, was mild in comparison to the findings of Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud, who is currently handling the criminal cases, and is the first Muslim Solicitor General in US. She found that not all evidence was pursued by Schultte and his special prosecutor Todd Flood, who was a prominent donor to then Republican Governor Rick Snyder. In addition, Schuette and Flood wrongly allowed private law firms representing Snyder and other defendants to have “a role in deciding what information would be turned over to law enforcement.”

This scenario closely follows the prior coverups that officials, who were being charged, carried out in order to keep Flint residents ignorant of their unhealthy drinking water. This episode is covered in detail by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s book What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance and Hope American City. I reviewed it here.

As a pediatrician working at Flint’s Hurley Hospital, she intimately understood how public officials ignored the concerns of Flints residents, where 57 percent are black and only 37 percent white, and where a kid born in Flint will live 15 years less than one born in the neighboring communities.

The water problem began when Flint had to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River to lower its costs and government agencies were not properly checking for lead in the water supply. Marc Edwards, a self-described conservative Republican and civil-engineering professor from Virginia Tech, saw that even though the federal law required proper inspections, “The EPA and the states work hand in hand to bury problems.” And those EPA employees who did try to protect the public, were punished. An EPA manager, who issued a report to his supervisors that he found high levels of lead in Flint’s water supply, was reprimanded and labeled “a rogue employee.”

The local county’s health-department representative was no better than the EPA, telling Dr. Hanna-Attisha that lead in the water was not a concern of theirs, only lead from paint chips and dust. However, something was obviously wrong. Just six months after the water switch, General Motors got a government waiver to go back to using Lake Huron water. The company noticed that its engine parts were being corroded after the switch.

The highest public official, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, was at the heart of the problem by supporting a law that allowed him to appoint powerful emergency managers (EM) of cities whose budgets were deeply in debt. The EMs were accountable to the governor, not local governments, to pursue strong austerity measures. Because it was too costly, Flint’s EM rejected the city-council vote to go back to Detroit’s water supply due to consumer-health complaints.

Given Gov. Snyder’s role in allowing the Flint water crises to unfold without intervening, Solicitor General Hammoud was rightfully concerned how  prior Attorney General Schuette’s special prosecutor Todd Flood let Snyder decide what information would be turned over to law enforcement. Just as Schuette had been accused by a federal judge as “superficial posturing” to appear to support Flint residents, the same deceptive practice may have been carried out again by him in cooperation with Gov. Snyder, by presenting a weak prosecution of those accused of propagating the Flint water crises.

As a Democratic Candidate for State Attorney General, Dana Nessel said she would “take a second look at the investigation, make certain that all of the people who have charges pending have been charged properly and look to see if there’s anyone who should have been charged, but who hasn’t been.” Upon dismissing the current charges, she repeated that sentiment by stating that she did not preclude recharging the original defendants or adding new ones.

The next step in pursuing a new set of charges against those responsible for Flint’s water contamination and health hazard will take place June 28 in a Flint “community conversation” with Solicitor General Hammoud. She will explain Nessel’s decision and answer questions. Community activists are the ones who uncovered this travesty and demanded prosecution of those responsible. They will be present at the meeting and will hold Hammoud and Nessel to their promise to seek justice and not abandon it.

Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics

The Home Secretary of the United Kingdom did his thing, which was little in the way of disagreement. The superpower has issued a request; the retainer would comply. This week, the US Department Justice Department formally sought the extradition of Julian Assange. The process was certified by Sajid Javid, a man rather distracted of late. He is, after all, seeking to win the hearts of the Conservatives and replace Theresa May as Prime Minster. Boris Johnson, not Wikileaks and press freedom, is on his mind.

The WikiLeaks front man had failed to satisfy Javid that there were exceptions warranting the refusal to sign off on the request. A spokesman explained the matter in dull terms. “The Home Secretary must certify a valid request for extradition… unless certain narrow exceptions to section 70 of the Extradition Act 2003 apply.” Robotic compliance was almost expected.

The exceptions outlined in the section note that the Secretary may refuse to issue a certificate in circumstances where it may be deferred; where the person being extradited is recorded as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Convention; or where, having been granted leave to enter or remain in the UK, Articles 2 or 3 of the Human Rights Convention would be breached if removal of the person to the extraditing territory would take place.

The European Convention on Human Rights expressly prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, with Article 3 also prohibiting the extradition of a person to a foreign state if they are likely to be subjected to torture.

Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, is certain that the Wikileaks publisher will suffer grave mistreatment if extradited to the United States. “The British government must not accede to the US extradition request for Julian Assange as he faces a real risk of serious human right violations if sent there.” This will further add substance to the potential breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, a point reiterated by Agnes Callamard, Special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions. Ecuador, she argues, permitted Assange to be expelled and arrested by the UK, taking him a step closer to extradition to the US which would expose him to “serious human rights violations.” The UK had “arbitrary [sic] detained Mr Assange possibly endangering his life for the last 7 years.”

On May 31, Nils Melzer, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, concluded after visiting Assange in detention that the publisher’s isolation and repeated belittling constituted “progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.”

The issue of Assange’s failing health is critical. An important feature of his legal team’s argument is the role played by the UK authorities in ensuring his decline in physical and mental terms. The argument in rebuttal, disingenuous as it was, never deviated: you will get treatment as long as you step out of the Ecuadorean embassy.

There is also another dimension which the distracted Javid failed to articulate: the sheer political character of the offences Assange is being accused of. Espionage is a political offence par excellence, and the UK-US extradition treaty, for all its faults, retains under Article 4 the prohibition against extraditing someone accused of political offences, including espionage, sedition, and treason. As John T. Nelson notes in Just Security, “Each of Assange’s possible defences are strengthened by the 17 counts of espionage”.

The prosecutors heading the effort against Assange were not content with keeping matters confined to the single count of conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Had they done so, the narrow scope would have made the challenge from Assange’s legal team more difficult. Hacking is an artificial fault line in the world of publishing and revealing classified material; such individuals have been quarantined and treated as standard middle-of-the-road vigilantes who fiddle computer systems.

Assange, as he has done so often, blurred the lines: the youthful hacker as political activist; the more mature warrior of information transparency. The Justice Department’s efforts, at least initially, involved divorcing Assange the publisher from Assange the hacker. According to Steve Vladeck, a legal boffin versed in national security law, “the more the US is able to sell the British government, sell British courts the idea that [the CFAA charge] is the heart of the matter, I think the more of a slam dunk it will be for extradition.”

Assange’s legal team were ready for the Home Secretary’s decision, but their case has been hampered. Supporters such as the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei have been perturbed by the way Assange has been hamstrung in case preparations. “The big problem there is that Julian has no access to the means to prepare his case. And his case, I think, has another two months before its full hearing. He needs more access to the means to prepare his defence against this terrible extradition order.”

The enormity of the case against the Assange team, prosecuted by an assemblage of security machinery wonks and a sociopathic establishment, has presented WikiLeaks with its greatest challenge. In the information war environment, it has thrived; in the legal warfare environment, the circumstances are upended. But the legal grounds are there to defeat the case; the question, more to the point, is where Britain’s scales of justice, rather unbalanced on the issue of dealing with classified information, will be tipped.

 

Democracy Faces a Global Crisis

If you’re a supporter of Donald Trump — or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or Matteo Salvini in Italy — you probably think that democracy has never been in better health.

Recent elections in these countries didn’t just serve to rotate the elite from the conventional parties. Voters went to the polls and elected outsiders who promised to transform their political systems. That demonstrates that the system, that democracy itself, is not rigged in favor of the “deep state” or the Bilderberg global elite — or the plain vanilla leaders of the center left and center right.

Moreover, from the perspective of this populist voter, these outsiders have continued to play by the democratic rules. They are pushing for specific pieces of legislation. They are making all manner of political and judicial appointments. They are trying to nudge the economy one way or another. They are standing up to outside forces who threaten to undermine sovereignty, the bedrock of any democratic system.

Sure, these outsiders might make intemperate statements. They might lie. They might indulge in a bit of demagoguery. But politicians have always sinned in this way. Democracy carries on regardless.

You don’t have to be a supporter of right-wing populists to believe that democracy is in fine fettle. The European Union just held elections to the European Parliament. The turnout was over 50 percent, the highest in two decades.

True, right-wing populists increased their share from one-fifth to one-fourth of the chamber, with Marine Le Pen’s party coming out on top in France, Salvini’s Liga taking first place in Italy, and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party winning in the UK. But on the other side of the spectrum, the Greens came in second in Germany and expanded their stake of the European parliament from 7 to 9 percent. And for the first time, two pan-European parties ran candidates. The multi-issue progressive Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM 25) received more than 1.4 million votes (but failed to win any seats).

Or maybe you’re an activist fighting for democracy in an authoritarian state. In some countries, you have reason to celebrate. You just succeeded in forcing out the long-serving leader of long-suffering Sudan. You just booted the old, sick, corrupt head of Algeria. You’ve seen some important steps forward in terms of greater political pluralism in Ethiopia, in Malaysia, in Mexico.

You can cherry-pick such examples and perspectives to build a case that the world is continuing to march, albeit two steps forward and one step back, towards a more democratic future.

But you’d be wrong. Democracy faces a global crisis. And this crisis couldn’t be coming at a worse time.

Democracy’s Fourth Wave

In 1991, political scientist Samuel Huntington published his much-cited book, The Third Wave. After a first wave of democratization in the nineteenth century and a second wave after World War II, Huntington argued, a third wave began to sweep through the world with the overthrow of dictatorship in Portugal in 1974 and leading all the way up to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of apartheid in South Africa.

It was at this time, too, that Francis Fukuyama and others were talking about the inevitable spread of democracy — hand in hand with the market — to every corner of the globe. Democratic politics appeared to be an indispensable element of modernity. As countries hit a certain economic, social, and technological threshold, a more educated and economically successful population demands greater political participation as a matter of course.

Of course, democracy doesn’t just arrive like a prize when a country achieves a certain level of GDP. Movements of civil society, often assisted by reformers in government, push for free and fair elections, greater government transparency, equal rights for minorities, and so on.

Sometimes, too, outside actors play a role — providing trainings or financing for those movements of civil society. Sometimes democratic nations sanction undemocratic governments for their violations of human rights. Sometimes more aggressive actors, like U.S. neoconservatives in the 2000s, push for military intervention in support of a regime change (ostensibly to democracy), as was the case in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.

However, the modernization thesis generates too many exceptions to remain credible. Both China and Saudi Arabia function at a high economic level without democracy. Russia and Turkey, both modern countries, have backslid into illiberal states. Of the countries that experienced Arab Spring revolutions in 2011, only Tunisia has managed to maintain a democracy — as civil war overtook Libya, a military coup displaced a democratically elected government in Egypt, Bashar al-Assad beat back various challenges in Syria, and the Gulf States repressed one mass demonstration after another.

More recently, backed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the military in Sudan is using violence to resist the demands of democracy activists to turn over government to civilian hands. In Algeria, the military hasn’t resorted to violence, but it also hasn’t stepped out of the way.

Move back a few steps to get the bigger picture and the retreat of democracy looks like a global rout. Here, for instance, is Nic Cheeseman’s and Jeffrey Smith’s take on Africa in Foreign Affairs:

In Tanzania, President John Magufuli has clamped down on the opposition and censored the media. His Zambian counterpart, President Edgar Lungu, recently arrested the main opposition leader on trumped-up charges of treason and is seeking to extend his stay in power to a third term. This reflects a broader trend. According to Freedom House, a think tank, just 11 percent of the continent is politically “free,” and the average level of democracy, understood as respect for political rights and civil liberties, fell in each of the last 14 years.

Or let’s take a look at Southeast Asia, courtesy of Josh Kurlantzick:

Cambodia’s government transformed from an autocratic regime where there was still some (minimal) space for opposition parties into a fully one-party regime. Thailand’s junta continued to repress the population, attempting to control the run-up to elections still planned in February 2019. The Myanmar government continued to stonewall a real investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity in Rakhine State, despite significant international pressure to allow an investigation. And even in Indonesia, one of the freest states in the region, the Jokowi government has given off worrying signs of increasingly authoritarian tendencies.

Or how about this assessment of Latin America from The Washington Post last year (before the Brazilian election):

Brazil is not the only Latin American country with troubled politics. Democracy has collapsed in Nicaragua and Venezuela and is in serious trouble in countries such as Bolivia and Honduras. In El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, just as in Brazil, criminal organizations rule the poorer parts of many cities, weakening democracy and undermining the rule of law.

Waves, of course, go both ways. And the fourth democratic tide definitely seems to be going in the wrong direction.

The 2019 Freedom House report, entitled “Democracy in Retreat,” chronicles 13 years of decline. The V-Dem Institute in Sweden, in its 2019 report on the state of global democracy, identifies a “third wave of autocratization” affecting 24 countries (including the United States). The Economist Intelligence Unit is somewhat more optimistic, arguing that “the retreat of global democracy ended in 2018.”

But all the threats itemized in the Unit’s actual report are a reminder that this optimism stems from the fact that the terrible state of democracy didn’t get demonstrably worse last year. And, the report concludes, the decline must just have paused last year before continuing on its dismal trajectory.

Democracy’s Dial-Up Dilemma

I’ve written extensively about how Donald Trump has undermined U.S. democracy with his rhetoric, his appointments, his attacks on the press, his executive actions, his self-serving financial decisions, and so on. I’ve connected the attacks on democracy in the United States to trends toward autocracy in East-Central Europe from the 1990s onward. I’ve compared Trump’s politics to the majoritarian aspirations of Narendra Modi in India, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia, and Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Maybe it’s a positive sign that an outsider won the 2016 elections (putting aside Russian interference for the moment). If Donald Trump can do it, so perhaps can Bernie Sanders or the Green Party. Another politics is indeed possible. But everything else about Trump is profoundly anti-democratic.

Worse, he’s part of a more general trend.

Democracy’s troubles do not simply result from generals seizing power (as in Thailand or Egypt), undemocratic rulers consolidating power (like Xi Jinping in China), or illiberal leaders weakening the institutions of democratic governance (like Victor Orban in Hungary, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines).

In other words, democracy’s discontents are not solely external to democracy itself. There’s a deeper vein of popular dissatisfaction. According to Pew research from 2018, a majority of people (out of 27 at least formally democratic countries polled) are dissatisfied with democracy. And for good reason. They are disgusted with the corruption of elected leaders. They are unhappy with economic policies that continue to widen the gap between rich and poor. They are fed up with politicians for not responding with sufficient urgency to global problems like climate change or refugees.

Here’s an equally disturbing possibility. Even in the so-called advanced democracies, the political software has become outdated, full of bugs, susceptible to hacking. Put simply, democracy requires a thorough update to deal with the tasks at hand.

So, for instance, democratic institutions have failed to get a handle on the flow of capital, licit and illicit, that forms the circulatory system of the global economy. The corruption outlined in the Panama Papers, the Russian laundromat, and the Odebrecht scandal, among others, reveal just how weak the checks and balances of democracy have been. Watchdog institutions — media, inter-governmental authorities — have been playing catch up as the financial world devises new instruments to “create” wealth and criminals come up with new scams to steal wealth.

The Internet and social media have been hailed as great opportunities for democracy. States can use electronic referenda to encourage greater civic participation. Democracy activists can use Twitter to organize protests at the drop of a hashtag. But the speed of new technologies also establishes certain expectations in the electorate. Citizens expect lightning fast responses from their email, texts, web searches, and streaming services. But government seems stuck in the dial-up age. It takes forever to get legislation passed. The lines at social service centers are long and frustrating.

In some cases, the slowness of government response is more than just irritating.

The last IPCC report suggests that the world has only a dozen years to deal with climate change before it’s too late. All of the patient diplomacy of states leading up to the Paris climate deal, which itself was an insufficient response to the crisis, was then undone by the results of… American democracy.

It’s no surprise, then, that voters have gravitated toward right-wing politicians who promise fast results and easy solutions, however illusory those might be. In other words, these leaders have the opposite appeal of democracy, which is so often slow and messy. Right-wing populists are disruptive technologies that destroy existing structures. That’s why I’ve called populist leaders “disruptors in chief.”

There are no instruction manuals on how to fix hardware and software simultaneously, on how to address climate change at the same time as fixing the political systems that have hitherto failed to tackle the problem. But democracy definitely needs a reboot. Right-wing populists have offered their illiberal fix. Despite the hype, those “solutions” aren’t working, not on climate change, not on refugees, not on trade, not on international disputes with Iran, North Korea, or Venezuela.

So, now it’s time for the rest of us to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.

Revamping Grizzly Bear Recovery

The enthusiasm expressed for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposed grizzly bear advisory council promises to enhance coexistence efforts at a time when, with each new year, grizzly bear deaths shatter records. But Montana’s efforts must be nested within a larger national framework of grizzly bear recovery.

The grizzly is an iconic species of global concern. Families from across America and the world are flocking to Yellowstone and Glacier hoping to see a grizzly bear. Montana recognizes the public’s passion for grizzlies and other wildlife — and their economic contribution to numerous communities — evident in widespread promotion of our state animal.

In giving grizzly bears Endangered Species Act protections, the federal government long ago recognized that state management was inadequate. The Fish and Wildlife Service has played a vital role since 1975 in reversing the decline of grizzly bear populations in the Northern Rockies, a decline states had perpetuated with trophy hunts. By banning hunting, setting high fines to deter poaching, and establishing tough regulations to keep human foods away from bears, the FWS, along with the Forest Service, National Park Service and states, has improved the health of Montana’s grizzlies.

Progress has been slow. Low reproductive rates exacerbate the continued excessive rates at which grizzlies die. Yellowstone and Glacier bear populations have flat-lined during the last 15 years and could even be in decline — contrary to inflated claims of government biologists. States can continue to make a positive difference, but only under oversight by a federal government charged with protecting the interests of all Americans.

Twenty years ago, governors of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming set up a “round table” process similar to the current advisory council. Unfortunately, it proved to be little more than a vehicle for promoting premature delisting and limiting grizzlies to isolated island ecosystems — despite overwhelming scientific evidence that lasting recovery can only be achieved by reconnecting grizzly bear ecosystems. In the aftermath, Montana undertook a costly and unsuccessful fight to grab power from the federal government, reduce grizzly populations and disenfranchise the national public.

The federal government should not tolerate a repeat of this cynical exercise. Grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide, Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak are still federally protected as are Yellowstone grizzlies following last fall’s court order. The FWS continues to be accountable for promoting meaningful recovery and for giving all Americans a voice in the process.

But the Fish and Wildlife Service  has been abdicating its responsibility, wasting time and taxpayer dollars challenging the relisting ruling, which even Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator Hilary Cooley says is a lost cause. The agency has also been also looking the other way as grizzly bear deaths mount, despite maintaining that most of these deaths were avoidable. Other than keeping a rote tally, the agency has no records during the last two years detailing how a staggering 131 grizzlies died in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

FWS must provide better oversight of the states, including Montana’s new council. Together, federal and state stakeholders can improve coexistence efforts. We have learned a lot about how to prevent conflicts, with the help of bear pepper spray, bear-proof garbage bins, and electric fences around beehives and chicken coops. Much can be gleaned from successful coexistence work in the Madison and Blackfoot Valleys to improve practices elsewhere.

Climate warming and massive wildfires have already clobbered native bear foods, forcing bears to forage more widely and boosting human conflicts. Montana’s Grizzly Bear Council could help navigate the new reality, while allowing more bears to live in the ample suitable habitat we still have.

People outside Montana cannot and should not be ignored. During the last 20 years, citizens from around our country have overwhelmingly and consistently supported stronger protections for grizzlies through comments on more than a dozen federal and state decisions. Nearly 1 million people commented on the 2016 draft rule to remove ESA protections for Yellowstone’s grizzlies. More than 99.99% supported stronger, not weaker, protections. They deserve a seat at the table.

Meaningful recovery of grizzlies can only be achieved through a combination of local, state and national efforts. With 150 applicants for 15 seats on the Grizzly Bear Council, Montanans have shown a keen interest in constructive progress. The challenge now is to frame that work within an effective and coordinated national effort. The FWS must wake up and engage — on behalf of all of us.

“Wheel! Of! Fortune!” (A Vegas Story)

Wall and Trump Vegas. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

An unnaturally tan woman with metallic blond hair and garish makeup has hit a bonus. Automated applause, bells, whistles, whoops, and all manner of artificial sounds ring out. Flashing in the acrid, recycled air, pixelated explosions of light refract off of the woman’s painted face, glistening and oily underneath all that goop.

Sighing, smiling with crooked and stained teeth at no one in particular, the woman reaches into her worn but still violently red leather handbag. Effortlessly freeing a cigarette and pulling it to her lips, she lights it, and swiveling in her chair, takes in the swath of the casino floor. Not seeing anything or anyone that can save her, she takes a deep drag, and reflexively pulls her machine’s lever. Not a winner (this time), she still smiles –  sickly sweet, still at no one – and exhales.

Mechanically, maniacally, a nearby machine exclaims (and explains?) to the woman, and to anyone else who’ll listen: “Wheel! Of! Fortune!”

Two giggly and pale swim-suited young women with high-pitched foreign accents, a swan-headed swim ring encircling their lithe, still-dripping bodies, stumble by. They’ve had too many jello shots. Happily, nimbly, seeming to notice no one and no one seeming to take any notice of them, they do an exaggerated shimmy down the gleaming, just-shined imitation-marble floor. Later, at night, they’ll sell their flesh, but it’s daytime still despite the dreary, omnipresent nighttime feel of the casino.

Nearby at the entrance to the richly appointed “high limit slots” room, a middle-aged Latina woman looks up at them knowingly from the floor. Made to look matronly in her uniform’s unflattering cut, she’s possessed of a proud and regal bearing even now, on her hands and knees; she’s extracting gum or candy mashed in the carpet she’s responsible for keeping spotlessly clean – cheerfully and efficiently, eight to ten hours each day, six days a week, for minimum wage, maximum stress, backbreaking toil, and no benefits. This woman survived civil war, crushing poverty, violent crime, all manner of physical and mental abuse, while single-handedly raising five children. Her eldest son lost a leg fighting for the United States in combat. Still, just last week, her legal aid lawyer gave her the news: She might be deported soon. “And there’s nothing I can do,” he said.

“Wheel! Of! Fortune!”

It’s not a refrain, it’s shorthand for the story of that struggling freelance writer over there – you see that guy? The squirrelly looking fellow, the one who’s nursing his drink, alone, at the bar – the one who looks like any other sappy writer stupidly sitting in a casino – looking desperately, oh so desperately, for material. Or salvation. But he’d settle for material.

“Life. Civilization. Humanity. It’s all here,” a bartender says mellifluously as he tops off the freelance writer’s drink. He’s a dead-ringer for that creepy, long-faced bartender who served cocktails to that lunatic writer terrifyingly played by Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

“Don’t you know what Thoreau wrote about this in Walden?,” the bartender asks the writer, winking and gesturing at the casino floor: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation . . . . A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.”

“Now I know that one can easily be made to feel depressed by this,” the bartender continued dolorously. “Before you fall into that, remember always the enduring truth Jack London proclaimed in his novel The Sea Wolf; for this more than anything has the potential to unlock a keen insight into everything you’re observing here, in Vegas, and also, I dare say, in many if not most other places in the world, too: ‘Life itself is unsatisfaction, but to look ahead to death is greater unsatisfaction.’”

 

Let Us Laugh Together, On Principle

The New York Times International Edition has decided to no longer publish political cartoons. The decision follows a scandal about a cartoon that appeared last April in which a blind President Donald Trump is holding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – depicted as a guide dog – on a leash. Trump is wearing a yarmulke; Netanyahu has a Star of David around his throat. Some critics deemed the cartoon offensive and anti-Semitic, the Times apologized, and the responsible editor was sanctioned. Now the paper of record – “All The News That’s Fit To Print – has decided to stop publishing political cartoons.

What is the role of humor? Satire? The Geneva cartoonist Patrick Chappatte wrote a cartoon with the words “Without humor we are all dead” after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in 2015. At the same time, I quoted the political theorist William E. Connolly “Let us laugh together, on principle.”

The outcry against the Times’ decision is obvious. Chappatte wrote: “I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in…In the insane world we live in, the art of the visual commentary is needed more than ever. And so is humor.”

What is the role of humor and satire “in the insane world we live in”? The United States has had great political humorists. When the stodgy former President Calvin Coolidge died in 1933, Dorothy Parker asked, “How did they know?” The actor, humorist and columnist Will Rogers ran for president in 1928. Since he thought all campaigning was bunk, he ran as the “bunkless candidate,” promising that if elected he would resign. On election night, he declared victory and resigned. Mort Sahl, wearing his cashmere sweater and with a newspaper in hand, made outstanding barbs during the Kennedy era.

But Parker’s, Rogers’ and Sahl’s humor was not railing against an “insane world.” When Henry Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his role in ending the Vietnam War, the songwriter and satirist Tom Lehrer said, “When Kissinger won the Nobel peace prize, satire died.”

There is a very thin line between jokes, satire and appropriateness. I remember Lenny Bruce screaming “nigger” in a Brooklyn theatre in the late 1960s. He was not trying to be funny; he was trying to make a point about taboos and inhibitions to an audience that was mostly white. He wanted us to feel uncomfortable, to make us reflect on our attitudes to people of color.

Chappatte’s political cartoons, like those of his French colleague Jean Plantureux (“Plantu”) and other members of the Cartooning for Peace organization, are purposefully edgy. Their role is to provoke. Some, like Musa Kart in Turkey, have been imprisoned. The charges against Kart are for “supporting terrorism.” Those in power do not always appreciate edgy cartoons or criticisms.

The Timeshas gone one step further. The self- proclaimed paper of record has abandoned its role of provoking. And not just because of one ill-conceived cartoon. The editorial page editor, James Bennett, explained that “for well over a year we have been considering bringing that [international] edition into line with the domestic paper by ending daily political cartoons and will do so beginning July 1.” Given the sensitivity of political dialogue today – such as “safe places” at universities and the SafePlacesNationalNetwork– there remains little space for humor or satire.

Can we still laugh together, on principle? Is this “insane world” beyond humor and satire? Chappatte’s point, as well as Connolly’s, is that humor is part of our being. To not to be able to laugh, to not to be able to make fun of someone or something in an appropriate manner, condemns us all to be as dour and sullen as the faces of John Knox, William Farel, John Calvin, and Theodore Beza – the ultimate Grumpuses – on the Reformation Wall in Geneva. Do we really want to return to that puritanical era?

You will ask what is meant by appropriate? One can easily condemn the Trump/Netanyahu cartoon as inappropriate or even anti-Semitic. But does one cartoon merit condemning many others? Humor and satire walk a very thin line, as I have said. There are always risks in telling jokes that people may not appreciate. That is the definition of edgy.

When I look at the statues on the Reformation Wall, I think of book burning and theological terrorism. Geneva’s experience with theocracy in the 16thcentury was a time of limited freedom. The Spanish doctor Michael Servetus was burned at the stake because he opposed Calvin’s view of predestination. And he was not the only one condemned because of “radical” ideas.

Let us all laugh together, on principle. As Chappatte wrote, and it bears repeating, “Without humor we are all dead.”

Trump Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative

The foreign and domestic policies of the US Administration appear to be guided by a combination of financial greed, the desire to exploit weakness for the sake of doing so, a partiality for malevolence, and determination to be spiteful. In no manner, domestically, has the last been more effectively demonstrated than by Trump’s treatment of the children of illegal immigrants.

On June 5 the Washington Post reported that in its most recent persecution of migrant children “The Trump administration is cancelling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide.” One shelter employee spoke for all civilised people when he said that “educational classes and sports activities are crucial to maintaining physical and mental health while the children are in custody” but this means nothing to Trump and his followers, so many of whom seem to be bigots who actually take pleasure in making life disagreeable and distressing for people who have done them no harm but have in some fashion displeased them.

The hostility of members of the Washington Establishment to those considered to be non-conformist extends world-wide, being displayed in the main by the massive US military presence in all parts of the globe. The aim appears to be world domination, and it is therefore not surprising that a major target is China’s Belt and Road initiative, about which the Council on Foreign Relations observed that “in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road infrastructure development and investment initiatives that would stretch from East Asia to Europe. The project, eventually termed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) . . . is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived.” It is intended to facilitate international trade and improve the economies of participating nations.

President Putin noted that the BRI “is aimed at strengthening the constructive cooperation of the Eurasian states. Its truly unifying goal is to ensure harmonious and sustainable economic development and economic growth throughout the Eurasian space.”

The BRI is drawing nations together, and Trump Washington doesn’t like this sort of thing, except on its own strict terms. The mammoth project that is intended to benefit all who care to join it is anathema to a country that Trump declares is “the greatest place on earth,” and whose representatives seek every opportunity to denigrate the venture which, so far, involves over sixty nations.

At the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Vice President Pence told

21 national leaders (including President Xi) that the United States doesn’t “offer a constricting belt or a one-way road” and in March 2019 Secretary of State Pompeo declared the BRI to be “a non-economic offer,” against which Washington is “working diligently to make sure everyone in the world understands that threat.”

The accusation by Pence that the BRI is “constricting” or “a one-way road” is absurd. As pointed out by the economist Yaseen Anwar, “[the] initiative gives access to capital for those connected emerging markets that have not had the necessary investment grade ratings to tap international bond markets. These economies have never had the opportunity to attract offshore investors who require ratings dictated by their corporate policies.” The BRI is widening economic opportunities, not constricting them, and the “one-way” contention is equally ludicrous, because China’s aim, as made clear by President Xi in St Petersburg on 8 June, is to “stick to the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, and work together to create an open and pluralistic world economy.”

The only “one-way” evident at the moment is Washington’s blinkered determination to destroy development of the Belt and Road infrastructure, which would obstruct development intended to benefit hundreds of millions of people.

One major US objection to the BRI is that its supporters consider protection of the environment to be important. In April, at the second Belt and Road Forum, it was unanimously agreed that progress would be “along a green, low-carbon and sustainable development path,” which is a decidedly two-way affair, benefiting all concerned. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, strongly endorsed this approach by stating he considers the BRI “an important space where green principles can be reflected in green action . . . Fully expanding our policy options for green and sustainable development backed by green financing instruments must become the new norm.”

Much of the Washington Establishment refuses to acknowledge the fact of climate change and agree with Trump’s tweet that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive” which is one of the most foolish of his many assertions. He wilfully ignored the US Congress report of 2018 which determined that “Without substantial and sustained global mitigation and regional adaptation efforts, climate change is expected to cause growing losses to American infrastructure and property and impede the rate of economic growth over this century.”

On June 8 the Washington Post reported that “White House officials barred a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony this week to the House Intelligence Committee warning that human-caused climate change could be “possibly catastrophic.” The move came after State officials refused to excise the document’s references to federal scientific findings on climate change.” There appears to be no end to the depths to which the White House will sink in its determination to deny climate change and convince American citizens that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese.”

As with President Xi and Secretary General Guterres, President Putin is apprehensive about climate change, and on June 8 at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum he warned that “Exacerbating environmental and climatic challenges that present a direct threat to the socioeconomic well-being of all humankind are making the [poverty and under-development] crisis even worse. Climate and the environment have become an objective factor in global development and a problem fraught with large-scale shocks, including another uncontrolled surge in migration, more instability and undermined security in key regions of the planet. At the same time, there is a high risk that instead of joint efforts to address environmental and climate issues, we will run into attempts to use this issue for unfair competition.”

Regrettably, that seems to be exactly what is happening — and although President Putin observed that the BRI “brings opportunities to all countries” it will continue to be aggressively opposed by the US. There is harmony among BRI nations, but implacable hostility from Trump Washington.

A version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on June 11.

Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0

Photograph Source: PAS China – Public Domain

President Trump has threatened China’s President Xi that if they don’t meet and talk at the upcoming G20 meetings in Japan, June 29-30, the United States will not soften its tariff war and economic sanctions against Chinese exports and technology.

Some meeting between Chinese and U.S. leaders will indeed take place, but it cannot be anything like a real negotiation. Such meetings normally are planned in advance, by specialized officials working together to prepare an agreement to be announced by their heads of state. No such preparation has taken place, or can take place. Mr. Trump doesn’t delegate authority.

Trump opens negotiations with a threat. That costs nothing, and you never know (or at least, he never knows) whether he can get a freebee. His threat is that the U.S. can hurt its adversary unless that country agrees to abide by America’s wish-list. But in this case the list is so unrealistic that the media are embarrassed to talk about it. The US is making impossible demands for economic surrender – that no country could accept. What appears on the surface to be only a trade war is really a full-fledged Cold War 2.0.

America’s wish list: other countries’ neoliberal subservience

At stake is whether China will agree to do what Russia did in the 1990s: put a Yeltsin-like puppet of neoliberal planners in place to shift control of its economy from its government to the U.S. financial sector and its planners. So the fight really is over what kind of planning China and the rest of the world should have: by governments to raise prosperity, or by the financial sector to extract revenue and impose austerity.

U.S. diplomacy aims to make other countries dependent on its agricultural exports, its oil (or oil in countries that U.S. majors and allies control), information and military technology. This trade dependency will enable U.S. strategists to impose sanctions that would deprive economies of basic food, energy, communications and replacement parts if they resist U.S. demands.

The objective is to gain financial control of global resources and make trade “partners” pay interest, licensing fees and high prices for products in which the United States enjoys monopoly pricing “rights” for intellectual property. A trade war thus aims to make other countries dependent on U.S.-controlled food, oil, banking and finance, or high-technology goods whose disruption will cause austerity and suffering until the trade “partner” surrenders.

China’s willingness to give Trump a “win”

Threats are cheap, but Mr. Trump can’t really follow through without turning farmers, Wall Street and the stock market, Walmart and much of the IT sector against him at election time if his tariffs on China increase the cost of living and doing business. His diplomatic threat is really that the US will cut its own economic throat, imposing sanctions on its own importers and investors if China does not acquiesce.

It is easy to see what China’s answer will be. It will stand aside and let the US self-destruct. Its negotiators are quite happy to “offer” whatever China has planned to do anyway, and let Trump brag that this is a “concession” he has won.

China has a great sweetener that I think President Xi Jinping should offer: It can nominate Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize. We know that he wants what his predecessor Barack Obama got. And doesn’t he deserve it more? After all, he is helping to bring Eurasia together, driving China and Russia into an alliance with neighboring counties, reaching out to Europe.

Trump may be too narcissistic to realize the irony here. Catalyzing Asian and European trade independence, financial independence, food independence and IT independence from the threat of U.S. sanctions will leave the U.S. isolated in the emerging multilateralism.

America’s wish for a neoliberal Chinese Yeltsin (and another Russian Yeltsin for that matter)

A good diplomat does not make demands to which the only answer can be “No.” There is no way that China will dismantle its mixed economy and turn it over to U.S. and other global investors. It is no secret that the United States achieved world industrial supremacy in the late 19th and early 20th century by heavy public-sector subsidy of education, roads, communication and other basic infrastructure. Today’s privatized, financialized and “Thatcherized” economies are high-cost and inefficient.

Yet U.S. officials persist in their dream of promoting some neoliberal Chinese leader or “free market” party to wreak the damage that Yeltsin and his American advisors wrought on Russia. The U.S. idea of a “win-win” agreement is one in which China will be “permitted” to grow as long as it agrees to become a U.S. financial and trade satellite, not an independent competitor.

Trump’s trade tantrum is that other countries are simply following the same economic strategy that once made America great, but which neoliberals have destroyed here and in much of Europe. U.S. negotiators are unwilling to acknowledge that the United States has lost its competitive industrial advantage and become a high-cost rentier economy. Its GDP is “empty,” consisting mainly of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) rents, profits and capital gains while the nation’s infrastructure decays and its labor is reduced to a prat-time “gig” economy. Under these conditions the effect of trade threats can only be to speed up the drive by other countries to become economically self-reliant.

Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry

The Friends of the People caricatured by Isaac Cruikshank, November 15, 1792, Joseph Priestley and Thomas Paine are surrounded by incendiary items

Beyond Common Sense, most Americans know little about Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Few know that at the end of Paine’s life, he had become a pariah in U.S. society, and for many years after his death, he was either ignored or excoriated—the price he paid for The Age of Reason and its disparagement of religious institutions, especially Christianity.

Early in The Age of Reason, Paine attacks the hypocrisy of religious professionals: “When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury.”

If alive today, Paine may well have been even rougher on psychiatrists. Paine revered science, and he would have been enraged by professionals who pretend to embrace science by using its jargon but in fact make pseudoscientific proclamations that purposely deceive suffering people. “To subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe” is exactly what many modern psychiatrists are routinely guilty of—this by their own recent admissions. Before detailing this “perjury,” a little bit about Paine and his compulsion to confront all illegitimate authorities.

Beginning in 1776, both Common Sense and then The American Crisis made Thomas Paine a hero for insurgent American colonials. Following the successful American revolt against British rule, the globetrotting revolutionary Paine returned to England where his Rights of Man enraged William Pitt. Narrowly escaping arrest by Pitt’s goons, Paine fled to revolutionary France, where Paine then narrowly survived the disloyalty of his “friend” George Washington—a betrayal that kept Paine (a victim of the Jacobins-Girondins gang war) rotting in Luxembourg Prison. Only with great luck would Paine avoid Robespierre’s guillotine so as to return to the United States.

Bertrand Russell (the English philosopher, mathematician, historian, and social critic) observed that Paine “incurred the bitter hostility of three men not generally united: Pitt, Robespierre, and Washington. Of these, the first two sought his death, while the third carefully abstained from measures designed to save his life. Pitt and Washington hated him because he was a democrat; Robespierre, because he opposed the execution of the King and the Reign of Terror.”

No one could intimidate Paine into shutting up, but he could be marginalized. By the end of his life, owing to his The Age of Reason and its disparagement of Christianity, Paine was ostracized, even refused service by many innkeepers. Historian Eric Foner notes: “Paine slipped into obscurity. His final years were ones of lonely, private misery.” Moreover, for many years after his death, Paine was either ignored or attacked by the American political and cultural elite; as even in 1888, Theodore Roosevelt scored political points by calling Paine a “filthy little atheist.”

Paine, in truth, was not an atheist but a deist. He states at the beginning of The Age of Reason: “I believe in one God, and no more.” While it was Paine’s trashing of Christianity in The Age of Reason that made him an outcast, he also made clear in it that “all national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

Paine had respect for Jesus (noting that “He was a virtuous and an amiable man”); however, Paine had no respect for Christianity, for which Paine pulled no punches: “Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics. As an engine of power it serves the purpose of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter.”

As maddening as Christianity was for Paine, unlike psychiatry, Christianity didn’t pour salt into Paine’s wounds by pretending to embrace his beloved science. It is quite possible that Paine would be even more appalled by today’s psychiatrists who claim the authority of science but who, in reality, have debased it. Paine’s rebuke of clergy—“to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe”—perfectly fits psychiatrists with regard to both (1) their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly known as the DSM), and (2) their doctrine that has the greatest effect on treatment, the “chemical-imbalance theory of mental illness.”

The DSM is a publication of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which is psychiatry’s guild organization; and the DSM is often referred to as the “diagnostic bible” of psychiatry. The initial DSM (1952) has been followed by several “new testaments”: DSM-II (1968), DSM-III (1980), DSM-III-R (1987), DSM-IV (1994), DSM-5 (2013, foregoing Roman numerals).

Many mental health professionals have long recognized the lack of scientific validity of the DSM, and its pseudoscience has at times become so obvious so as to be a public embarrassment for psychiatry. Prior to 1973, owing clearly to prejudice and not science, homosexuality was a DSM mental illness. Since what enters and exits the DSM has nothing to do with science (the actual criteria for DSM “illness” being what behaviors make an APA committee uncomfortable enough), homosexuality could only be eliminated as a DSM illness by political activism, which occurred in the early 1970s; and homosexuality was omitted from the 1980 DSM-III.

In that same DSM-III, however, again owning to prejudice and not science, a new mental illness for kids was invented by psychiatry: “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD), the so-called symptoms including “often argues with authority figures” and “often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules.” ODD is categorized as a “disruptive disorder,” and today disruptive-disordered kids are being increasingly medicated.

Thomas Paine would have immediately seen the political/pseudoscientific nature of the DSM; and given how oppositional and defiant Paine was with illegitimate authorities, I think it’s safe to say that he would have mocked specifically ODD and generally the entire DSM, perhaps even more so than he derided the Bible and the New Testament.

What may have inflamed Paine even more than pseudoscientific DSM mental illness proclamations would be psychiatry’s perjury about it. “To subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe” is exactly what has been the case for psychiatry with respect to the DSM. Psychiatrist Allen Frances had been the lead editor of DSM-IV, but in 2010 when the APA was in the process of creating DSM-5, Frances stated in an interview in Wired that “there is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bullshit. I mean, you just can’t define it.” Frances, who lost his DSM-IV royalty share ($10,000 per year) once DSM-5 was available, published Saving Normal in 2014, a book trashing the new DSM-5.

With respect to treatment, even more influential than the DSM has been psychiatry’s “chemical imbalance theory of mental illness,” the doctrine which has convinced emotionally suffering patients that taking psychiatric drugs is as responsible as taking insulin for diabetes.

The lack of science behind the “chemical imbalance theory of mental illness” is no longer controversial. In 2014 in CounterPunch, I documented acknowledgements by establishment psychiatrists of this theory’s lack of scientific validity, including psychiatrist Ronald Pies, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Psychiatric Times who stated in 2011: “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.” In my 2014 article, I also reviewed how psychiatrists justified their promulgating this mythology by rationalizing that it would make it easier for patients to accept their emotional difficulties as illnesses and to take psychiatric medication. Leading psychiatrists actually confessed to pushing a theory that they don’t believe.

There is, however, something even worse than bullshitting about bullshit—that is attempting to bullshit us that that one has never bullshitted us about bullshit. The previously mentioned psychiatrist Ronald Pies, whose position makes him sort of a Cardinal Emeritus in psychiatry, is now telling us that his profession of psychiatry is not responsible for the fact that damn near everyone believes in an untrue chemical imbalance theory of mental illness.

On April 30, 2019, Pies told us in the Psychiatric Times that “anti-psychiatry groups are quite right in heaping scorn on the ‘chemical imbalance theory’ of mental illness, but not for the reasons they usually give.” Pies expects us to believe that “psychiatry as a profession and medical specialty never endorsed such a bogus ‘theory.’” For Pies, people wrongly believe in this theory because of drug companies’ mendacity and because psychiatry critics have falsely accused psychiatry of promoting it.

But there is a problem with Pies’s alibi for his profession—the truth. In 2001, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) president Richard Harding, writing for the general public in Family Circle, stated: “We now know that mental illnesses—such as depression or schizophrenia—are not ‘moral weaknesses’ or ‘imagined’ but real diseases caused by abnormalities of brain structure and imbalances of chemicals in the brain.”

Pies, undaunted by the facts, responded in his 2019 article: “Critics of my thesis are inordinately fond of citing a dozen or so statements by various psychiatric luminaries—yes, including two former APA presidents—that do, indeed, invoke the phrase, ‘chemical imbalance.’ By cherry-picking quotes of this nature, anti-psychiatry groups and bloggers believe they have demonstrated that ‘Psychiatry’ (with a capital ‘P’) has defended a bogus chemical imbalance theory. These critics are simply wrong.”

The reality is that the APA itself, even in recent years, has continued to promote the chemical imbalance theory. In Psychiatry Under the Influence, journalist Robert Whitaker and psychologist Lisa Cosgrove point out: “Even in the summer of 2014, the APA’s website, in a section titled ‘Let’s Talk Facts’ about depression, informed the public that ‘antidepressants may be prescribed to correct imbalances in the levels of chemicals in the brain.’”

Noting the obvious, Whitaker and Cosgrove point out: “The pharmaceutical companies couldn’t promote the chemical imbalance story without the tacit assent of the psychiatric profession, as our society sees academic doctors and professional organizations—and not the drug industry—as the trusted sources for information about medical maladies.”

In closing, an odd connection between psychiatry and Thomas Paine in the person of Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813), who is well-known among psychiatrists as “the father of American psychiatry,” his image adorning the APA seal.

After Paine immigrated to Philadelphia in 1774, he and Rush became friends. At first somewhat protective of the audacious Paine, Rush cautioned Paine against his use of the then-taboo word independence in Common Sense, but Paine disregarded Rush using that word many times in it. Later on, after The Age of Reason made Paine an outcast, Rush refused to see Paine.

In addition to abandoning Paine, Rush attempted to gain favor with the new ruling class in the United States another way. In 1805, Rush diagnosed those rebelling against the newly centralized federal authority as having an “excess of the passion for liberty” that “constituted a species of insanity,” which he labeled as the disease of anarchia—this an earlier version of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). In this and several other ways, Dr. Benjamin Rush is the perfect person to be the father of psychiatry.

Rush was a progressive of his era, but “liberal” in the same sense that Phil Ochs—nicknamed “Tom Paine with a guitar” —mocked hypocritical liberals. For example, Rush proclaimed himself a slave abolitionist, however, he had purchased a child slave named William Grubber in 1776, continued to own Grubber after he had joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society a decade later, and would own Gruber until 1794 when he freed him for compensation. Rush’s “progressive” views on race also included his idea that blackness in skin color was caused by leprosy, and Rush advocated “curing” skin color, changing it from black to white. Rush believed he could abolish slavery by curing black people’s blackness.

Rush also invented some frightening treatments. Based on an earlier imbalance theory that improper flow of blood caused madness, Rush devised two mechanical devices to treat madness: a “tranquilizing chair” and a “gyrator,” not any fun for patients unless they enjoyed being strapped down, immobilized, and violently spun.

Rush considered himself as an expert not just on madness but on every illness, and for virtually all of them, Rush utilized bloodletting as his primary treatment, even at a time when bloodletting was falling out of favor. In “Benjamin Rush, MD: Assassin or Beloved Healer?” (2000), physician Robert L. North reports that in Rush’s era, “The majority of the medical community, especially the members of the College of Physicians, rejected Rush and his cures, using terms and phrases like ‘murderous.’”

William Cobbett, a journalist in Rush’s era, mocked Rush’s treatments (which also included mercury) as “one of those great discoveries which have contributed to the depopulation of the earth,” and Cobbett accused Rush of killing more patients than he had saved. (Cobbett is better known today for his ill-fated plan to provide Thomas Paine with a proper heroic reburial by moving Paine’s remains back to England.)

By the early twentieth century, medical historians were viewing Benjamin Rush as one of the most embarrassing figures in the history of American medicine. North quotes the 1929 History of the Medical Department of the United States Army on Rush’s disastrous impact: “Benjamin Rush had more influence upon American medicine and was more potent in propagation and long perpetuation of medical errors than any man of his day. To him, more than any other man in America, was due the great vogue of vomits, purging, and especially of bleeding, salivation and blistering, which blackened the record of medicine and afflicted the sick almost to the time of the Civil War.”

You would think that the American Psychiatric Association would not want such an historical embarrassment as their father figure. But perhaps the APA believes that the prestige of Rush being a signer of the Declaration of Independence trumps both his being a slave owner and his lethality as a physician.

Actually, Rush was not a complete loser, as he sued the journalist Cobbett for libel and won; and perhaps this legal triumph is inspirational for the APA and modern psychiatrists—providing them with hope that they too can triumph over truth tellers.

Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models (AK Press). His Web site is brucelevine.net

 

Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism


In Cormac McCarthy’s consummate work of apocalyptic dread The Road, about a perished world, the narrator dreams of life with his former bride, a mere memory come to haunt his cold nights. Yet rather than embrace such crepuscular balms, he finds them suspicious. “He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of langour and of death.”

I imagine this is how neoliberals think about socialism. As a call of langour and death. Fearful of being gulled by fantasies, they resist idealistic barnstormers with the same intensity with which they reject base fascists. There must be some deep inbuilt bias against reachable idealism in some, and against unpleasant truths in others. But the latter seem more numbersome. And yet so much of the world we inhabit, in all its gray capitalist drudgery, in all its gaudy pomp, its tatty circumstance, its bricolage culture, is a product of our acquiescence. The notion of the unreachable distance of the ideal may represent more a failure of collective imagination than a material impediment. How many of us are convinced that there is no alternative to capitalism? How many have ingested that neoliberal narcotic of foreclosed imaginations?

Then, as a nation of small minds, we accept the tutelage of small men. We acquiesce to the dimmed horizons of candidates like Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose cheaply bought lunchpail posturing is a transparent farce to anyone with a passing knowledge of his record. His like is a metastasizing presence on a crowded campaign trail. The elder Biden is flanked by moderate Republican Beto O’Rourke, doing his best to be Obama-lite, a young, idealistic avatar of hope, full of windy platitudes and a believer’s mien; Elizabeth Warren, whose latest brainstorm is to make the violent hegemonic armed forces more environmentally friendly, a kind of last consolation on the downslope to extinction; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose cheery multiculturalism faintly veils a familiar and spineless centrism; self-absorbed Kathleen Harris, who giggles at jailing truants; and friend-of-the-people, friend-of-Pharma, Cory Booker. Yet the half of the electorate that remains engaged in the roiling fraud of elections quickly fall to debating the manifold vices and minor virtues of these candidates, petitioners all for the role of caretaker of the public weal.

And all of this, this wan acceptance, this it-is-what-it-is-ism, this dread of dreams, is itself a product of media conditioning. I think it was Deepak Chopra, of all people, who said the dream of social conditioning is only escaped by sages and psychotics. Which is why if media is the culprit of our condition, then capturing media should be the letter of transit to a social consciousness of a different kind. After all, the February revolution in Russia unseated the tsar but put the bourgeoisie in its place, who happily went about shedding what radical garb they transiently wore. The Bolsheviks understood this wasn’t enough and, rather than try to stage a new rebellion on the heels of that one, instead went into the countryside to convince the workers and peasants that February wasn’t enough. Only then did October come.

But to take stock of the present situation (or ‘Current Affairs’, as Barnes & Noble would so blandly have it) is an exercise in incredulity. Looking about oneself, the media landscape is littered with one garbage heap after another, filth factories that sunnily prostitute themselves to power, the doxies of journalism nearly blotting out the horizon.

Sycophant NGOs

One of the crucial aspects of media propaganda is the use of apparently authoritative sources. This is done in a couple of ways. One is to establish new organizations that parade themselves beneath a banner of impartiality but do the work of elite capital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, PropOrNot, and the Alliance for Securing Democracy and its infamous “Hamilton 68” dashboard supposedly designed to identify Russian bots on social media. The National Endowment for Democracy, created in the Reagan era, is perhaps a seminal example of the creation of front organizations that profess neutral and angelic intentions while in actuality work to savage the reputation of progressive movements, domestically and internationally.

Perhaps an even better way to deliver ostensibly authoritative news to the population is by co-opting existing organizations. This has been effectively done across a range of international institutions. Think of the Bretton Woods institutions of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank (originating out of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), etc. All have more or less been captured by Washington’s neoliberal zealotry. Think of Congress, for that matter. But for matters of imperial aggression, few organizations are better situated to sway public opinion than longstanding NGOs, which has in recent years fallen afoul of American subversion. Once compromised, their findings can be usefully employed by the MSM to solidify arguments in favor of imperial violence, crucially under the guise of humanitarian goodwill.

Take for instance Amnesty International. Once and still perceived, to some extent, as a kind of pillar of rectitude in a boozy, braindead consumer culture, that NGO has made itself supplicant to Washington, and was perhaps always anxious to evade the censure of the metropole. It now openly campaigns for war. Of course, it varies the lexicon slightly, using terms like “grave” to preface perceived injustices and peppers in suggestive terms like “crimes against humanity” to stir the juices of the settled intelligentsia, those miseducated haute bourgeois that think they know better than the working class, despite being sheltered from most of the damage done by neoliberalism. Once there’s a generalized panic afoot about how to put somebody else’s house in order, Amnesty rolls out the heavy artillery: this “must not go unpunished” and that surely requires a “vigorous response”. Words like “probably” and “almost certainly” are sprinkled into the mix to provide an impression of veracity. This is how imperial violence happens. It is justified before a boot ever settles on the soft earth of an “emerging” nation (never to emerge precisely because of that folderol from the respectable press).

Human Rights Watch, another turncoat org, is led by a kind of frail, blue-veined Savonarola in Executive Director Kenneth Roth. Taking to Twitter, Roth rampages across the media plain on a high horse of pious cant, denouncing Nicolas Maduro as a vicious dictator and supporting the overthrow of the government by a ferociously stupid cabal of neoliberals backed by American power. Another warmonger, Roth. He is in good company. Inverting reality for its bylines, Atlantic writers call the violent opposition of parliamentarian Juan Guaido “pro-democracy.” The Wall Street Journal calls them, “democratic forces.” Despite Maduro’s standing as the elected leader of Venezuela, government forces are often referred to as, ‘forces loyal to Maduro.’ Democracy is canceled when it contravenes imperial capitalism. Always.

The now growing animus toward Iran, a nation that hasn’t started a war in centuries, has been long reinforced by biased reportage from around the MSM. It is always anonymous sources from the U.S. military or from its sprawling corrupt bureaucracy that peddle the state line to credulous young reporters (and older disillusioned reporters) from the Times, perhaps guttural utterances whispered in a shadowy oilslick parking garage. A Fair survey of media coverage on Venezuela found that 54 of 76 articles were openly in favor of regime change, while the rest either provided a raft of ambiguous banalities while being careful not to oppose the machinations of the garrison state.

Drubbing the Idealists

If the media is actively supporting imperialism internationally, it must fight a companion war on the homefront. Namely, the defeat of progressive movements that call for policies that would threaten the imperial treasury. Programs like Medicare for All, easily within reach of a nation that wanted it and whose government represented the populace, is considered wildly idealistic and unworkable in the mainstream press, which has conditioned an essential slice of the voting population. In reality, such proposals are banal. The argument over single-payer has been settled in saner circles. But in the fantasyland of the mainstream, it is a sensational concept, hamstrung by a leftist idealism detached from the reality of elitism. Hence the blizzard of dismissive prose.

It’s chief proponent, Vermont “independent” Senator Bernie Sanders, is being quietly shaped as anti-American for the upcoming election: a delusive scold who clings to the rhetorical tropes of New Dealers and Anti-Vietnam protestors, having been bypassed by the enlightened wisdom of imperial humanitarianism. His press coverage will not amount to half of Joe Biden’s or Beto O’Rourke’s. He will be calmly buried in the media, and then sundered by the sword of his own fealty to neoliberal Democrats. Sanders will doubtless receive more coverage this election, largely because in the last he had little name recognition and was easily ignored by the corporate media. Now that he’s a household name, it must cover him to maintain its semblance of neutrality. That coverage, though, will be decidedly negative and deceitful, attacking his socialist-lite programs and absurdly questioning his ability to rally support among his strongest cohorts.

Even before he declared for the presidency, Biden was scoring major media coverage, nearly besting Sanders, who was crisscrossing the country at seemingly breakneck pace. Biden seems to have already been anointed as the chosen foot soldier to shepherd imperialism back beneath its tawdry banner of ‘respectability’. His nascent campaign has already aligned itself with the imperial state. Like Hillary Clinton before him, Biden was a proponent of regime change war in Iraq and an architect of a crime bill that laid yet more punitive measures on disenfranchised African-Americans. His efforts to destabilize Ukraine on behalf of western capital should not be forgotten either, not to mention Syria and Honduras and other lamentable projects he enthusiastically cheered on. Prior to being VP during the halcyon days of neoliberal icon Barack Obama’s administration, Biden was considered to be a rhetorical loose cannon, a faithful servant of capital who tried to clothe himself in the blue-collar swagger of the working man. His collective profile was more Pagliacci than paladin. It remains to be seen whether the corporate media will be able to craft a suitably presidential persona for this graft-happy grifter. One image prevails in your author’s mind, served up no doubt in one of the MSM’s countless insider paeans to the Obama administration. It is the image of Biden marching around the White House, a crazed grin on his face, the starry-eyed face of a witless acolyte, telling himself again and again that General Motors was alive and bin Laden was dead. As if this bizarre polarity was all the proof the ersatz Delaware senator needed to know that Obama had resurrected American exceptionalism. And perhaps it was.

Narrative Rollback and a Culture of Death

Mainstream America, indifferent to art, enthralled by money, ignorant of history, is the outgrowth of a triptych of vile powers: the neoliberal party, the imperial state, and the capitalist media. Each of these entities has vested interests in advancing the cause of violent western hegemony. It is the media, though, and the control of media, that casts the patina of legitimacy on the party and state which enable it to act with relative impunity. To reinforce the false historical narrative and reign in the increasingly rogue cabal of soothsayers roaming the ridges of the web, a vast social media crackdown and pitiless prosecution of whistleblowers has doubtless had a chilling effect on alternative news sources. Their visibility has been and will be dramatically diminished, and the almost unimaginable courage and risk-taking of people like Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning to out state crimes will be sorely tested by the limitless power of the Espionage Act. As alternative forms of fact-finding are rolled back, the mainstream narratives will again assume an authority they neither have nor deserve. All of this is, typically, nothing new. The story of Eugene Debs is a reminder of the wantonness of state power, the Wilson-led entry into the First World War of the power of the state to shape public opinion. As austerity and inflation bites deeper into our quality of life, the government will becoming increasingly fascist and reactionary, as our deranged Commander in Chief reminds us daily.

The bourgeois intellectual culture we live beneath is ethically and spiritually bankrupt. It can rationalize away any and all cruelties in the name of “democracy”. The imparting of false crimes to foreign states and the savaging of domestic proposals for social uplift are the least of it. The latest international targets include Venezuela and Nicaragua, of course. But these embargoes and sanctions and cheaply rationalized crimes can be traced nearly word-for-word to the Eighties, when the National Review and Wall Street Journal, among many others, were sniffing about exporting democracy to wayward Latin nations and quite openly countenancing huge civilian casualties if the result was democracy. This was when Hollywood B-lister Ronald Reagan was hyperventilating about Communism and declared Nicaragua an ‘extraordinary’ threat to the United States, instancing the contra wars. Barack Obama resuscitated this halfwit measure when he targeted Venezuela during his second term, calling it, too, an ‘extraordinary’ threat to national security. Donald Trump has resurrected a sociopathic Reagan foot soldier in Elliot Abrams to manage the latest regime change efforts in the Southern hemisphere. All in the name of ‘democracy’, a word flung about the mediascape amid pithy emotional outbursts, as pundits declare themselves terribly worried about the wellbeing of Latinos thousands of miles away, though of another class, of another tongue, and another reviled political disposition.

Hiding in Plain Print

Yet the corporate use of the word democracy has no relation to the word’s philosophical definition. It is merely a portmanteau for all manner of plunder, the techniques of which include first evicting the wayward socialist in power, by sanction or sabotage or shotgun, then implanting a pliable stooge in power, implementing economic austerity, and selling off state-owned assets (held in the name of the people) to U.S. multinationals. Meanwhile the population stews in a cauldron of social and economic chaos. The pundits then clamor to administer more of the same, calling it a cure, but knowing it isn’t.

The wreckage entrained by this turn of events is nearly wholly hidden by the corporate press. But the events occur nonetheless. The ‘pliable stooges’ are referred to in Communist lore as ‘comprador elite’. Effectively, Washington buys off an elitist in the target country–there are always plenty, most of them educated in some American re-education camp disguised as an Ivy League Elysium–and supplies him or her with a prefabricated policy playbook drawn up inside the beltway by congeries of Chicago School fantasists. Then our obtuse organs of capitalist oligarchy will provide military aid in the form of weapons and training that will almost certainly be necessary to put down the social unrest caused by the austerity policies. Austerity means slashing social spending, which depletes economic demand, which shrinks the economy, which causes international lenders (read Washington-directed banks) to step in, wringing their hands in brotherly concern for their Latin lessers, and hold out a dollar-based loan package stippled with conditionalities.

These conditions include budget caps, the violation of which will trigger punitive measures, and the dropping of tariff regimes that protect domestic industry in favor of “FDI” or Foreign Direct Investment, a pseudo-economic term for a firesale of national resources at deep discounts to foreign corporations. This is also referred to as ‘privatization’ which is said to be necessary in order to raise funds for the government to pay back the onerous loan, which was naturally signed off on by the comprador elite in charge, a traitor who betrays his own population, impoverishes them, and fences their own wealth for what amounts to a transaction fee, which he then pockets before absconding to foreign climes. (Think of the Shah of Iran being granted admission to the United States for medical treatment after being chased from the country by the revolution). This makes the loan odious as well as onerous, but this is disregarded by the debt collectors.

Additional costs come in the form of ‘externalities’, the second best trick of capitalist exploitation. The first is when capital captures the surplus value from labor (which means you will never be paid your true worth in a capitalist system). The second is when capital socializes the steep costs of production. Here the costs often materialize in the form of ecological depredations, as when corporations strip mine mountaintops (see West Virginia or Jharkhand, India, where slag and sulfur wreck native habitats). These actions often proceed protected by the infamous ‘MOU’ or Memorandum of Understanding that permits domestic and foreign corporations to mine under the aegis of the federal state. Yet how much of this is shared in the tepid correspondence between the monolithic institutions of corporate media and their million minor outlets?

Coda to Media Crimes

McCarthy’s The Road delivers a far bleaker picture than the one just described, but it articulates and anticipates a possible outcome of our puerile system of social organization. A system which decimates our land, disfigures our psyches, deforms our bodies, and desiccates our dreams on behalf of a chiseling syndicate of elites. Elites who appear to neither know nor feel compassion except for their blood relations, which are presently being primed to assume the mantle of exploitation once decrepitude descends on their vile forbearers. All the more reason to uproot corporate media and begin the mind work of calling a population back to its truer instincts, where peaceful cooperation trumps cutthroat competition. Those instincts are currently papered over by a phalange of specious argument, emotional manipulation, and the bludgeon of perpetual news. The elites that helm this system of deceits were recently sharing new world order ideas over champagne and canapes in Switzerland at their annual Bilderberg summit, breathlessly sketching their latest vision for the planet, one we will neither see nor vote on until it is visibly underway.

How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions

James River mill, West Linn, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Each year, human beings release an increasing amount of carbon dioxide (C02) into the atmosphere; at present, around 40 billion tons per annum. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, 8.4 billion tons are attributed to the burning of fossil fuels; primarily coal, gas and oil. The European Commission and Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency lists the most polluting countries (including the EU as a whole and each of its member states). They are China, the US, the EU, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada and Brazil. When measured in terms of per capita emissions, the US and Canada are the biggest culprits, with each Canadian and American emitting an average of >15 tonnes of CO2 per annum (“carbon footprint”). This is a result of commuting, consumption, domestic energy use, leisure and travel.

CO2 accounts for approximate 76 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that combustion (of coal, gas and oil) is the main human activity that releases CO2. Electrical production, which uses coal combustion for its generation, accounts for 32.9% of US CO2 emissions. Transport accounts for 34.2%, which is where oil comes in, as most transport (cars, trucks, planes and ships) relies on petroleum. Industry is responsible for 15.4% of emissions and residential/commercial for 10%.

One barrel consists of 42 gallons (159 liters) of oil. Each day, 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels are consumed worldwide. This equates to 35 billion barrels a year. Vehicles are significant C02 emitters. The majority of vehicles run on oil. There are 800 million cars in the world. According to Automotive Industry Solutions, there are 253 million cars and trucks in use in the US. There are 234 million cars on the roads of Western Europe in a sector that employs 13 million people. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that half of all carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and a quarter of aromatic hydrocarbons, released each year can be attributed to transport. The Union further notes that much of the pollution could be easily reduced by clean vehicle fuel technologies. It’s not just the use of vehicles which causes pollution. The Union also points out that from design, to manufacture, to disposal, vehicle-related pollution is significant.

China’s global CO2 emissions are twice those of US emissions. China equalled and surpassed US emissions more than ten years ago. China’s emissions are largely due to the use of coal and are disproportionately larger than US emissions because of the size of China’s population (there are 1.3 billion Chinese compared to 327 million Americans). Despite having a quarter of China’s population, American per capita CO2 emissions more than double China’s. Personal energy consumption is a major factor. The average Chinese person uses 3,500 kilowatts of energy per hour (kWh) compared with the average American, who uses over 12,000. Personal transportation is another factor. By 2011, in China, there were 68.9 motor vehicles per 1,000 people. In the US, were 786 per 1,000. Consider also the impact of food consumption on emissions. By 2008, the average daily calorie intake in China was 2,900. In the US, it was 3,750.8

 

Among the poorer countries, the biggest polluters (Brazil, China and India) have the lowest per capita emissions compared to the “developed” nations. By far the least polluting continent is Africa, with some of the most Westernized countries (Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa) emitting the most C02. It is also worth remembering that the poor countries serve as providers of resources, including oil and other raw materials for the West. Factories and assembly plants that use a lot of energy pollute because they produce goods for export to Europe and North America, making shipping and air travel big CO2 emitters. Liberia’s shipping exports, for instance, make it a significant polluter.

The more Westernized countries become, the more likely they are to pollute. In the 1980s, China adopted US-style privatization programs, agreeing to huge inflows of US capital. Within twenty years, China had equalled America’s record on annual CO2 emissions. By the year 2000, US corporations were investing $11.14 billion in China. By 2007, they were investing $29.71bn. This leapt to $53.93bn in 2008 and climbed to $65.77bn by 2014.

Much of the so-called investment is internal to US corporations, as companies looking for cheap labour outsource to China and other poor countries. For example, in 2010 the trade journal Manufacturing and Technology News reported that “[h]undreds of major American corporations are shipping thousands of jobs overseas,” where workers’ rights, pay and health and safety standards are lower. Some foreign countries offer huge tax breaks and foreign direct investment. Big companies and their subsidiaries and divisions offshoring to China, Mexico and other poor countries with low environmental standards, include: AT&T, Boeing, General Dynamics, Hewlett Packard, IBM, International Paper, Kingston Technology, Motorola, Nordex, Rockwell Automation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Staples, Tenneco Automotive and Tyco Electronics.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that air pollution kills 200,000 Americans every year. MIT’s Laboratory of Aviation and the Environment tracked emissions at ground-level, from industrial smokestacks, vehicles, railways and residential heating. Road vehicle emissions alone kill 53,000 and power generators kill 52,000. California has the worst air quality, with 21,000 persons dying prematurely each year. On average, sulphur, carbon monoxide and other pollutants shorten the lifespans of those affected by a decade. Researchers found that congestion is one of the reasons for large numbers of vehicle-related deaths. Where traffic flows in less populated areas, fewer people are affected. Commercial and private pollution was highest in the Midwest, from the industrialized cities and stretching down to or across Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and LA.

 

According to the World Health Organization, 7 million people die each year as a result of exposure to air pollution. This equates to one in eight global deaths. Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk and more than doubles previous estimates. Indoor and outdoor pollution are linked to cancer, ischaemic (artery) heart disease and strokes. Poor and less developed countries have the worst air quality, with particularly toxic air in South and East Asia and the Western Pacific. 3.3 million deaths in those regions are attributed to indoor pollution (including work-related air quality) and 2.6 million to outdoor pollution.

 

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, WHO’s Assistant Director-General of Family, Women and Children’s Health, says: “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cooking stoves.” Coal is a particularly bad pollutant, hence its contribution as the second largest cause of air pollution-related deaths in the US. Dr. Carlos Dora, WHO’s Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, says: “Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry.”

The pollutants that drive anthropogenic climate change are not only bad for global temperatures and weather, they are bad for human and animal health, too. But hope is not lost. There are major and important changes occurring among grassroots activists, like the Extinction Rebellion, and the possibility of a Green New Deal at the political level. These movements need to endure and expand.

This article is a modified excerpt from my new book, Privatized Planet: “Free Trade” as a Weapon Against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment (2019, New Internationalist).

 

Whither The Trump Paradox?

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

That Donald Trump is a vulgar, self-aggrandizing narcissist was obvious decades before that day of infamy in 2015 when he and his well-preserved trophy bride descended the Trump Tower escalator to kick off his presidential campaign.

His strategy then was clear: stir up nativist animosities by calling immigrants and asylum seekers from south of the border rapists, drug dealers, and gang members.

Also: rev up America’s ambient Islamophobia, “dog whistle” support for the “alt-right,” pander to Evangelicals, and give crony capitalists anything and everything they want. In Trumpland, crony capitalists are capitalists who pay homage to Trump and who act as if they owe him fealty.

Trump’s strategy has evolved only slightly since then, mainly to take account of changing circumstances and evolving business opportunities.

High on the list of changing circumstances is the bromance between the best foreign customer of America’s death merchants, the murderous Mohammad bin Salman, one of the most retrograde potentates on earth, and First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, Trump’s unofficial Secretary of Everything and BFF, best friend forever, of the latest generation of ethnic cleansers of the Promised Land.

Once it became clear that Trump was serious about running for president, that his and Melania’s performance on the escalator wasn’t just a publicity stunt intended to call attention to the brand, Trump’s unsuitability for the office he sought became even more obvious than it had seemed before; and now that he has been in the White House for two and a half years, the unfitness of that most “stable genius” has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

There was, and astonishingly still is, reluctance on the part of some voters to acknowledge the obvious because the idea that the rich and heinous are praiseworthy and smart is a dogma of the American civil religion, and because it is widely assumed that a buffoonish, gangsterish real estate and gambling tycoon, best known as a reality TV star, could never make it all the way to the White House if he didn’t have at least a few estimable qualities.

Perhaps he really is a dealmaker extraordinaire – just not so as anyone can see it. How much more likely is it, though, that what he had going for him was his father’s money and influence, and that what he is good at is conning the terminally gullible and gaming the system.

The charge that Trump is in way over his head, that he is an ignoramus with the emotional maturity and moral sense of an adolescent bully, is beyond serious dispute. So are charges of corruption, overall sleaziness, and “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

None of this can be kept out of public consciousness indefinitely. Presidents, especially ones who, like Trump, are voracious publicity hounds, are so much in the public eye, and the evidence is so overwhelming, that only diehard fanatics could keep the faith for long.

And yet, it is widely accepted that unless a bad diet or a thunderbolt from heaven get him first, Trump could actually win a second term. More distressing even than that, there are vast swathes of the country where he actually enjoys majority support.

How can this be? How can Trump not just be Trump, but act like Trump, and still have roughly two fifths of the electorate supporting him? Granted – it is only at the very bottom of Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” that he elicits much enthusiasm, and many of his supporters are happy to state their misgivings. Nevertheless, the basket is large and its denizens do stand by their man.

Even those of us who expect less than nothing from an electorate that could elect the likes of, say, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, find “the Trump base” – that is the current euphemism – shocking and ultimately incomprehensible.

This, then, is the Trump Paradox: each day he is more awful than the last. He makes no secret of it; he flaunts it. And yet each day his boast about how he would only gain support if he walked out onto Fifth Avenue and shot some random person becomes less hyperbolic – to a point where, even now, if it happened, nobody would be especially surprised.

It is possible, of course, that the reality is not quite as paradoxical as it seems; that the nature and extent of Trump’s support might seem more formidable than it actually is.

Nearly everybody underestimated Trump’s appeal in 2016; overestimating it could be an understandable psychological reaction to that. The polls got it wrong in 2016; perhaps we are now experiencing backlash from that as well.

Or perhaps it is “fake news,” driven by greed. Corporate media stand to make a lot more money from a nail biter than from a contest in which the outcome is predictable with a high degree of certainty.

That would be the case in a Trump versus practically anybody contest in an environment in which rationality and basic decency were driving voters’ choices. But this is not the case in our world today. Since even before Inauguration Day 2017, rationality and decency have been hanging by a thread.

There could also be a lot of fear mongering going on, engineered by Democratic Party operatives and their media allies. Nothing is better for motivating Democratic voters than the prospect of four more years of the Trumpian menace.

It is probably safe to wager that, against Trump, a Democrat cannot lose in 2020; especially if the Democrats don’t nominate someone like, but even worse, than last time’s loser – in other words, if they don’t nominate Joe Biden or any “centrist” like him.

Therefore, it would probably be fair to conclude that there is not much of a Trump paradox, after all, and that there is no reason to panic on its account. But until nuclear disarmament is achieved and global warming stopped in its tracks, extreme aversion to risk is the wisest course.

Therefore, when and insofar as it matters politically, it makes sense to act as if two-fifths of the electorate is indeed standing by their man, and to assume that most of those people are not going to cast off their delusions before November 2020. For at least the next year and a half, the way forward is to regard the Trump paradox as a specter haunting the next presidential election, and, in view of what is at take, to proceed accordingly.

It is therefore timely to reflect on what hardcore Trumpians, the true believers, think they are doing. It hardly matters whether there really are some forty million of them or many less.

We can begin by acknowledging that anyone who supports Trump who does not have a major stake in the fossil fuel industry or in a handful of other enterprises that really are “enemies of the people,” or who is not filthy rich and grotesquely greedy, has no material interests that would put him or her on Trump’s side.

It is tempting, at this point, to invoke that old standby, “false consciousness.” No doubt, there is a lot of that around. But the Trump phenomenon it is too irrational, too surreal, to be explained entirely by concepts developed in saner times.

Could it be that the Trump forty percent is so propagandized and dumbed down by Fox and such that they are unable to see how irrational they are or, if they do, to grasp the full extent?

Or maybe they see all they need to, but don’t care; perhaps because they feel compelled to act out.

Or, as many a cable news channel talking head has claimed, they have “agendas,” pecuniary or, as in the case of Evangelicals, religious, which they think that Trump will help them advance. They could be right about that, even if, as some of them surely realize, he could care less about their agendas or about them.

Or maybe the problem just is that Trump’s marks cannot or will not admit to themselves that they have been conned? That would at least be humanly understandable.

Two and a half years ago, there was a rationale for siding with Trump over Clinton that is not entirely without merit, though, even back then, only a fool would have found it compelling. It was that a vote for Trump was a vote against the neoliberal, liberal imperialist order that the Clintons did so much to promote and with which they are so thoroughly identified.

A vote for Trump was a vote for someone who railed against that, albeit in a distinctively inchoate way, and whom nearly the entire power structure of our increasingly inegalitarian ancien régime could not abide. This was a cri de coeur, a plea from the heart; as such, there was something appealing about it.

But that was before Trump’s flaws became too glaring to overlook or deny.

It was still possible, back in 2016, to believe that although what Trump did or said or tweeted seemed insane, maybe what it really was is crazy like a fox; that maybe he really is a master deal-maker, a strategist thinking, as a chess master would, many steps ahead.

That argument is rarely floated nowadays. One reason why is that, to anyone who has wallowed in Trumpland for two and a half years, it rings hollow — like a nasty joke, which, in the final analysis, is all that it is.

The several explanations sketched above, and others that could be added to them, do have merit; but, separately or together, they don’t quite succeed in making sense of the Trump phenomenon. Perhaps there is nothing to do except to concede that it defies explanation; it is that bizarre.

***

This is why I would conjecture that, barring radical and unforeseeable changes in circumstances, the ninety-nine percent or so of Trump voters whose minds now seem hopelessly out to lunch will remain solidly pro-Trump until the economy takes a nosedive in ways that even they will be unable to ignore or deny.

Even before Marx’s investigations of endogenous developmental tendencies in economic systems, it was understood that capitalist economies go through cycles of boom and bust that governmental actions affect in various ways, but that ultimately lie beyond government control. As a general rule, governments in capitalist states are better at making situations worse than at making them better.

When the economic news is good, Trump takes credit for it; when it is bad, he blames Obama. In truth we are now in the tenth year of recovery from the worst downturn since the great depression of the 1930s. The entire system of global finance that had developed over decades very nearly came undone.

Obama could have done better than he did, but he did help save the day, especially in the financial sector. Insofar as anyone can claim credit for what was largely inherent in the developmental trajectory of the system itself, it is Obama, not Trump.

Of course, he did much less than he could have for the financial “industry’s” principal victims, the men and women lured into and then stuck with unmanageable levels of debt, and he let the banksters who enriched themselves egregious by creating this situation get out of jail free. But credit where credit is due; he did do some good; he saved the day. It is far from clear that Trump has done any good at all.

And now, with the long delayed end of the recovery looming, Trump is undoing much of the good the Obama administration did, all but assuring that when the pendulum swings back, as it inevitably will, it will swing back hard.

Thanks to Trump’s inequality enhancing tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and the crumbs he and his minions have been tossing to enough others to generate a sense of calm as his nostrums begin to take effect, it is all but certain that a train wreck is coming.

Will the gods whose playthings we are hold it off long enough for there to be at least some chance that Trump’s base will desert him in time for the 2020 election?

I used to think that there was not a chance of that happening, that it just wasn’t in the karma of a nation that has done so much harm to so many for so long.

But now there are indications that the end of the recovery may be coming sooner than most economists used to think. It is getting to be the consensus view that prosperity, such as it is, doesn’t have many more months still to run.

I remembered too that Trump and his minions have no monopoly on the absurd; that, comforting illusions of heaven and hell and karmic justice notwithstanding, the universe itself is absurd as it gets.

And then there is the incompetence of our “stable genius,” a man who knows nothing and everything at once, and who is becoming increasingly desperate mentally and emotionally. He can barely hold a thought, much less an idea, but on matters that reflect his own animosities, bigotry, and narcissistic delusions, he does have fairly stable attitudes. They endear him to the retrogrades in his base, but they also turn him into his own worst enemy.

It was plain from Day One that Trump was obsessed not just by Muslims, but also, even more, by the thought of brown-skinned rapists invading the Land of the Free from south of the border.

What was less clear was that he was also a tariffs buff. Trump knows less than nothing about tariffs, but he believes in them absolutely. In his mind, they are the artful dealmaker’s best friends.

We should be grateful for this. Instead of threatening tariffs hither and yon, raising the blood pressures of investors the world over, but not quite killing or maiming anyone, he could be starting wars. That would be more in line with what “normal” presidents, like the Bushes and Obama, used to do.

Those who thought Trump more likely than Hillary to promote détente with Russia and China were hoodwinked, but so far at least, to his credit, Trump, for all his mindless bluster and bullying, has kept the United States out of military engagements of his own contrivance.

Democrats, eager to hasten Obama’s canonization, ought to give this some thought; so should we all as we contemplate where we would now be had Hillary won.

Like most Democrats, she and Madeleine Albright, her husband’s last Secretary of State, are of one mind in thinking that inasmuch as America has lethal force to spare, it ought to use it from time to time – if only to enhance its creditability. It can be useful for hegemons, and also for imperial powers in decline, to shore their credibility up from time to time.

So far, Trump has not gone down that path; intentionally or not, he has become credibility’s worst nightmare. Teddy Roosevelt advised speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Trump speaks loudly, and carries a stock that is vanishingly small.

This doesn’t stop him, however, from brandishing it; making himself, and the country for which he stands, ridiculous.

This is one of many reasons why he is loathed in elite quarters. But with the still basically unreconstructed Democratic Party for an opposition, even our grandees, accustomed as they are in general to getting their way, find themselves pulling their punches.

This is hardly surprising: notwithstanding the support of the majority of voters, America’s political leaders cannot get rid of him, and cannot even do much to hobble him – not with the institutions our vaunted “founders” bequeathed us.

However, Trump can hobble himself. If our luck and the world’s holds, he will keep on doing just that for the next year and a half.

That is a big “if,” however, because nobody flip-flops like the Donald. Countless times since his inauguration, he has changed his mind on a dime — or on the advice of one or another Fox News bloviator whose views struck a responsive chord in the booming buzzing confusion of his mind.

But, as almost happened last week with Mexico, if he doesn’t flip-flop, or if he stumbles into something he really doesn’t want but feels he cannot avoid, he could find himself in what the late George H. W. Bush used to call “deep doodoo.” At that point, like rats fleeing a sinking ship, GOP Senators might actually break free from under his thumb.

After all, the captains of commerce and industry who own those Senators don’t care for tariffs any more than garden variety, Clintonite (neoliberal) Democrats do.

From the time Trump secured the GOP nomination in 2016, Republican legislators have lived in mortal fear of him, licking his boots whenever he demanded it of them. But their real bosses are the neoliberal – and therefore anti-tariff — capitalists they exist to serve.

If they call for it, and if push comes to shove, those Senators might find it necessary to overcome the cult-like servility that has become their signature stance, the better to serve their true masters directly rather than through the intermediary of a conman who has fallen for his own con.

Then anarchy might erupt in what is still reaction’s finest redoubt. This could be enough to give Mitch McConnell a stroke; it couldn’t happen to a more worthy fellow.

McConnell did his best to block Obama at every turn and to render the Democratic Party impotent; and, in both cases, he was good at it. But by far his most deleterious role in the politics of the past decade or more has been to fashion a troglodyte judiciary that will continue to afflict the body politic for decades to come.

He has so far succeeded mightily in this endeavor. But his plans could be thwarted, and some of his accomplishments might even be reversed, if the Republican monolith crumbles.

That just might be starting to happen now, as tariffs and uncertainty about tariffs take hold, and the first inklings of the next economic downturn emerge.

It is still more likely than not that the Trump Paradox, with or more likely without Trump, will be a factor in the life of the nation for a long time to come. But since the 2018 midterm elections, this seems a lot less inevitable than it used to – because now the broad outlines of a genuine opposition party capable of moving history forward are coming into view.

It won’t help that thanks to those damn founders and the institution builders that came after them, this will more likely be a reformed and reconstructed Democratic Party than something genuinely new, a fresh start as it were. But this problem, though debilitating, is not fatal; it can be overcome.

It will not be overcome, however, if there is a return to pre-Trumpian “normalcy.” Then, the best we will be able to hope for will be a return to the conditions that made Trump possible and arguably even inevitable.

But if the AOCs of the (already somewhat) new Democratic Party take charge, if they are able to prevail over defenders of the status quo while Joe Biden and others of his ilk suffer an historic defeat, then it will no longer be quite as unreasonable as it now is to dare to hope.

And then, building on that foundation and if all goes well, the Trump Paradox will fade back into the Nothingness from whence it came.

Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues

Mexican wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ This seems like a big deal to me, but then I don’t get out much: The world’s seed-bearing plants have been disappearing at a rate of nearly three species a year since 1900.

+ From 2001 to 2017, the Pentagon’s emissions totaled 766 million metric tons, according to a new Brown University report. That makes the U.S. military by far the world’s largest single source of CO2 emissions.

+ The planet’s carbon concentration jumped 3.5 parts per million last year—more than twice as fast as it grew as recently as the 1980s and 50% faster than the average this decade.

+ The Greenland ice sheet is experiencing an unprecedented spasm of melting this week, losing half of its surface cover in a matter of days…It hasn’t happened before. But almost certainly will again.

+ What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic…

+ 14 of the 15 cities with the worst air pollution in the world are in India, where simply breathing is like smoking a 1/2 pack of cigarettes per day. The toxic particles in India’s air ultimately end up in the country’s lakes and rivers, — 70% of which are dangerously contaminated. All of this is wrecking havoc on the health of India’s human population, where the dirty air is reducing life expectancy by at least 2.6 years.  Air pollution is now the third leading cause of death.

+ Climate change is fast-forwarding the development patterns of sockeye salmon

+ CO2 emissions from international flights leaving from California have increased by 40% in the last five years. (Don’t worry the airlines are compensating by investing in palm oil biomass plants as “carbon neutral” offsets!)

+ To date, 195 countries have signed the Paris climate agreement, and 183 have submitted their own decarbonization targets. Even if all these countries were to meet their goals, global CO2 emissions would stay about the same or even increase slightly until at least 2030.

+ Destined for Bartlett’s Book of Quotations. Trump: “China, India, Russia, many other nations, they have not very good air, not very good water, and the sense of pollution. If you go to certain cities, you can’t even breathe, and now that air is going up. They don’t do the responsibility.”

+ Joe Biden, who once plagiarized from Neil Kinnock and Martin Luther King Jr, is now reduced to lifting innocuous passages on climate change from Beto O’Rouke, who was one of the leading recipients of oil & gas largesse in Congress…

+ More journalists have lost their jobs in the last 15 years than coal miners….

+ A lot of people in Flint won’t get no justice tonight

+ Flint ain’t got safe water and Whitey goin’ to Mars (of which the Moon is a part)

I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And Mars looks very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Mars has stolen the Moon
And there’s nothing I can do…

+ The cost of cleaning up Alberta’s tar sands zone: $260 billion.

Number of years it could take for the tar sands zone to be cleaned up: 2,800.

+ In 2002, Ireland became the first nation to regulate the distribution of plastic bags…

1999: 328 bags per capita
2002: Government regulations enacted
2016: 12 bags per capita

+ Bison evolved as migratory animals. Now they’re slaughtered (by our govt.) for crossing imaginary boundaries in search of forage…

+ The Trump administration secretly reversed its own policy and is now permitting the body parts of slaughtered elephants to be imported into the United States. Do you think Don Jr. & Stephen Miller have brainstorming sessions over a tub of Chick-Fil-A and a case of Coors to come up with the most disgusting things imaginable the Trump administration could legalize? Or does it just come naturally to them?

+ The Trump administration is also moving to expand hunting inside National Wildlife Refuges. “Refuge” has always been a misnomer for what most of these places actually are, which is shooting galleries…

+ A distressing note about grizzlies from Louisa Willcox:

“An astonishing 11 grizzlies are dead this year in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, one for killing “several” chickens. Despite the availability of nearly free electric fencing from at least 3 nonprofits, the handful of chickens were not protected by electric fence. And the involved subadult male appears not to have had a record of prior conflicts with humans.

“Back to the lander” chicken farmers are exploding in the remaining stronghold for the 900 grizzlies in the NCDE, that are part of the 2% remnant of the grizzlies that we once had. Former Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Coordinator Chris Servheen has called chickens “the new garbage.” About 410,000 chickens are raised in Montana, very few as a commercial venture.

Meanwhile 3 grizzlies have been killed in the Selkirks in north Idaho – a population of perhaps only 40 grizzlies – in retaliation for depredation on domestic sheep, another bear food that is notoriously incompatible with recovery of endangered grizzlies.”

+ In 2018, USDA’s Wildlife “Services,” mercenaries for Big Ag, killed 22,000 beavers, 515,000 red-winged black birds, 19,000 mourning doves, 17,000 black tailed prairie dogs, 552 great blue herons, 357 wolves, scores of owls and much more.

+ According to the Living Planet Index, more than half of all living creatures have died out in the last 40 years.

+ Not content with harassing whales with sonar, explosions and ship strikes, the Navy now wants to invade one of the quietest places in the lower-48 with the screaming engines of its training flights: Olympic National Park.

+ Tables are turning: Cheyenne River Sioux tribal police stopped workers on the Keystone XL pipeline and transported them off the reservation…

+ Four of Alexander Cockburn’s old pals arrested on Rainbow Ridge blocking logging operations in critical salmon habitat by Humboldt Redwoods: David & Jane Simpson, Ellen Taylor and Michael Evenson…Respect!

+ Did any mad scientist ever brew up a more evil potion than Round-Up?

+ Health insurance costs across the US jumped 1.5 percent in May, up 12.4 percent over last year. (You see what can happen when Obama and Trump work together to create something special for the American people?)

+ Even Bloomberg rates the US health care system as one of the most costly and least effective in the world, just behind Russia but still (barely) ahead of Bulgaria.

+ Nations which have somehow found a way to provide their citizens with universal health care…

Australia
Austria
Belgium
Canada
Chile
Cuba
Czech Republic
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Iceland
Israel
Italy
Japan
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Poland
Portugal
S Korea
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Turkey
UK
Venezuela

+ Living in an economy that kills

+ DH Lawrence declared that “the essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” The statistics suggests this wasn’t hyperbole.

+ Many retirees in the US, Canada and Europe are running out of money a decade before their deaths. Of course, Social Security was built on the assumption that most working-class people would die before they got back everything they’d paid into it…

+ The war on the poor never ends…now the Trump administration wants to charge stores a fee to accept food stamps.

+ Can anyone cite one issue where Biden is more progressive than Hillary Clinton? What kind of institutional laughing gas have the Democrats been inhaling to convince themselves that another center-right candidate with even less rhetorical skills than HRC could defeat Trump?

+ Biden in Iowa on his desire (compulsion?) to work with Republicans if elected: “With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change. Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”

+ This week’s Monmouth poll out of Nevada is the first in any early primary state that shows Warren over Sanders.:

Biden – 36%
Warren – 19%
Sanders – 13%
Buttigieg – 7%
Harris – 6%

+ Strange allies: In the Morning Consult poll, Joe Biden is the second choice for 33% of Bernie Sanders voters, the highest level for Biden among any of the contenders. While Sanders is the second choice for 30% of Biden voters (the only candidate for whom Sanders is the second choice.) So much for ideology. Is it the geezer factor that unites them?

+ Biden’s numbers are already falling. The only thing that’s keeping him in the lead is that he hasn’t started campaigning yet…

+ Finally an answer to what women want: Socialism!

+ So, if socialism is rising, why is Sanders struggling? You can’t sustain the role of “insurgent” after endorsing and campaigning for the villainous politician you strived to overthrow. Bernie is now just another Left Democrat, a party loyalist with many excellent positions and some serious baggage.

+ The Koch brothers funding network is opening its checkbooks to Democrats. Why? Because the old Paul Ryan Republicans are the new Democrats…

+ In spite of Trump’s tariffs, the budget deficit has swelled to $739 billion in May–an increase of 38.8 percent over a year ago. Of course, this was always the plan: cut taxes for corporations and the super-rich, pump up defense spending, explode the deficit and use the deficit as a pretext to eviscerate entitlements.

+ Robert Reich: “So far Trump’s tariffs have cost each American household $850. If Trump slaps a 25% tariff on all Chinese goods, it will be $2100. If he raises all tariffs he’s threatened, $4000 — the same amount he promised would trickle down from his giant corporate tax cut but didn’t.”

+ This is one of those rare occasions where Reich’s analysis is backed up Goldman Sachs, which suggests that the entire burden of Trump’s tariffs falls on American businesses and consumers.

+ How the FDR administration propagandized its concentration camps…

+ Following in the footsteps of the Greatest Generation, the Trump Administration plans lock up migrant children at Fort Sill, which once served as a detention camp for Japanese-Americans and before that Native Americans, including Geronimo

+ One of the most important points historian Andrea Pitzer (One Long Night: a Global History of Concentration Camps) made in her too-brief appearance on MSDNC was that once concentration camps are opened they don’t close. They set down roots and grow, often into something even more malign, as in her examples of the French Camps from the Spanish Civil War and Gitmo.

+ Depravity as policy: doctors claim that migrant patients are being treated like felons, which is both an indictment how migrants and prisoners are treated by the government.

+ Thank you for your service…ICE is routinely deporting veterans without screening their records.

+ If you can’t send the entire regime to Hell, at least send them to The Hague: DHS stuffed 900 detainees into a “facility” that had a capacity of 125 people.

+ Ralph Nader: “The biggest hole on our southern border is Trump’s giant, open mouth threatening to close the border, to end asylum, and cut off poverty aid to Central American countries. No wonder desperate families are streaming north before its to late.”

+ Nancy Pelosi says the House shouldn’t impeach Trump because it will go nowhere in the Senate. Of course, that’s also true of every piece of legislation that the House passes.

+ At least 406 people have been killed by police in 2019.

+ The DC police department denied every request by families for body-camera footage for police killings in 2018.

+ Biden: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ‘60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and…in order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start or even hold the white man back.… I don’t buy that.”

+ Trump bellowed on Wednesday that “never in his life” had he ever considered calling the FBI about anything. He is conveniently forgetting about that time he offered to be an FBI snitch to cover his own ass.

+ Pompeo Maximus told a group of Jewish leaders that he would intervene in British elections to keep Corbyn from becoming PM…

+ The combined support for the Tories and Labour in the UK has dropped to about 40%—the lowest share since 1979.

+ How pathetic is Kamala Harris? Even DiFi signed the relatively modest resolution introduced by Warren and Sanders condemning Netanyahu’s land theft scheme for the West Bank  and Madame Prosecutor refused…

+ US diplomats have never been “honest brokers” in the Middle East and now they don’t even pretend to be

+ Once she was a cause célèbre of the human rights crowd. Now Aung San Suu Kyi’s a xenophobic, anti-Muslim bigot who is making common cause with the likes of Orban…

+ Embattled tenants in NYC score a rare victory against the slumlords, and for once Governor Andrew Cuomo sided with them…

+ In downtown San Diego, homeowners are paying as much as $90,000 for a single parking spot…

+ A survey of CEO confidence in the economy has dropped to the lowest level in the Trump presidency. Trump must be doing something right…

+ Joe Biden met a voter’s granddaughter in an Iowa coffee shop and asked her age. She told him she was 13. He addresses her brothers. “You’ve got one job here, keep the guys away from your sister.” I hope they started by giving Biden a swift kick in the nuts…

+ Biden: “William Barr one of the BEST attorneys general.”

+ Ronald Reagan, 1961: “Medicare will bring a socialist dictatorship.” (Still waiting…)

+ The New York Times will no longer run editorial cartoons. Take heart. Many of their stories will continue to read like cartoons…

+ Trump just used the south lawn of the White House as a showroom for Bernie Sanders’ favorite boondoggle:  the F-35, the world’s most expensive and useless fighter-jet. Last year, the president seemed to believe the plane was invisible.

+ At least 22 foreign governments have spent money at Trump properties since he became president. Remember when Jimmy Carter was forced to put his peanut farm in a blind trust?

+ Barbara Ehrenreich: “Trump invites foreign nations to come and influence our elections. The only condition is that any agents they send here stay in Trump hotels.”

+ Dear Ilhan Omar,

Impeach Trump for things he does (locking kids in cages, lying us into war with Iran, killing 40,000 Venezuelans with vicious sanctions, suppressing science on planet-killing climate change) not bullshit he says.

One word: Impeachment. https://t.co/U0VP8GTyHR

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 13, 2019

+ Trump on his speech in Poland last year: “I can say it but I don’t want to say it but some people said it was the best speech ever made by a president in Europe. But I did not say that, I’m just quoting other people.” (Can he name one?)

+ Joe Biden was the chief architect of one of the most noxious tentacles of the war on drugs, the asset seizure program.

+ Who will tell AIPAC? Israel isn’t a top issue for American Jews who care about Israel…

+ Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Iran would not repeat the “bitter experience” of negotiating with Trump: “The U.S. president, after a meeting with you and discussions on Iran, imposed sanctions on Iranian petrochemical sector. Is this a message of honesty? Does that show he seeks honest negotiations?”

+ Proconsul Pompeo Maximus just blamed Iran for attacks on an oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, while the Japanese prime minister was in Tehran trying to negotiate a relief of sanctions. Doesn’t make any sense for the Iranians to have done this, while many others in the region stand to benefit from instigating a hot war with Iran…

+ Pompeo Maximus presented no evidence for his claim that the Iranians targeted oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Apparently, they’ve learned the lesson of the Bush administration. Don’t put forth any evidence that can later be exposed as fabricated. Just say it and walk away without any questions.

+ More deadly presents for the Saudis, more in-your-face provocations for Iran…

+ Saree Makdisi: “Crisis in the Gulf: on the one hand, a careful, canny, prudent, calculating & strategically rational power, and on the other hand, the USA.”

+ In Trump’s first year in office, formal complaints about Hatch Act violations increased by 30%. The most frequent violator was Kellyanne Conway. The Office of Special Counsel just recommended that she “be removed from the federal service.”

+ Sen. Mark Warner (Demwit-VA): “The Intelligence Community has stayed true to its mission of … SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER.”

+ Trump just used the south lawn of the White House as a showroom for a flyover by the F-35, the world’s most expensive and useless fighter-jet. Last year, he seemed to believe the plane was invisible.

+ Biden: “I did not find anywhere in the record on that issue where he [Clarence Thomas] evidenced extreme views ― where he said ― where he, on the face of what he said, as anything extreme or an explicit endorsement,” Biden said to the women who testified on Sept. 19, adding that they showed a “failure of logic” in coming to such a conclusion.

+ Priorities, priorities: Alabama has moved to protect the parental rights of rapists.

+ The Hyde Amendment was passed just three years after Roe v. Wade. For more than 40 years, the Democratic Party has been just fine with Joe Biden and the fact that the Constitutional right to an abortion was restricted for poor, minority and young women soon after it was granted.

+ Bernie Sanders claimed that he consistently voted against the Hyde Amendment and his supporters have slammed Elizabeth Warren (and others) for voting for spending bills containing the Amendment. In fact, Sanders voted against bills containing the Hyde Amendment 4 times (good for him) & FOR it 26 times!

+ From Michael Wolff’s Siege on how Trump would do an abortion: “When Marla Maples became pregnant in the early 1990s, before their marriage, he debated with one friend how he could avoid both the marriage and the baby. The scenarios included pushing Marla down the stairs to cause a miscarriage.” Over to you, Tiffany…

+ More evidence Biden is entering his second childhood, which of course might not be a bad thing if he regresses far enough…

Happy #BestFriendsDay to my friend, @BarackObama. pic.twitter.com/JTd1t7NtyL

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 9, 2019

+ Millennials are posing a huge challenge to the advertising industry. How do convince a generation that is broke and hounded relentlessly by creditors to buy shit they don’t need?

+ LAX is ranked by Fodor’s as the worst airport in the world and it is awful, but in my experience the Las Vegas airport is the worst. It’s dirty, always packed, and many people are drunk, depressed and distraught about having lost money they didn’t really have…

+ LA has also been rated the most “stressed out” city in the US. I can understand why. A few weeks ago, I took Uber from Sherman Oaks to UCLA campus, about 6 miles. This was 11 am. Far from rush hour. We avoided the dreaded 405 by taking twisty Beverley Glen over the hills and down the canyon. It still took almost an hour. I asked the Uber driver if his passengers understood he had no control over LA traffic and travel times. He said, “Hell, no and I’m moving back to Sheboygan as soon as I can…”

+ LA’s homeless population is surging. The official count is now 59,000 living on the streets–the real number of homeless is probably more than 100,000. Why? An Angeleno would need to earn $47.52 an hour just to afford the median monthly rent in Los Angeles.

+ John Dean testified this week about how Nixon ordered the firebombing of the Brookings Institute. How times have changed. These days it’s Brookings which is doing the firebombing (Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia…)

+ The Democratic Resistance© is now attacking Trump for opposing the Vietnam War. At least they’re consistent. JFK started the war. LBJ propelled it to its maximum carnage and then the DNC sabotaged its own antiwar candidates, McCarthy in 68 and McGovern in 72.

+ Three of the last four US presidents evaded the Vietnam War. This should be a cause for celebration during Trump’s 4th of July gig. I hope he pays homage to the other 500,000 men who served their country by resisting a genocidal war. They get my vote for the “Greatest Generation”…

+ NEWSFLASH: After a meticulous analysis of his Normandy speech, Trump has now been declared “presidential”, according to MSDNC’s Andrea Mitchell.

+ To totally eliminate tuition for California residents at University of California and Cal State would cost the state $4.3 billion. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only 3% of the state’s general fund.

+ Headline of the week: Phony Betomania Has Bitten the Dust.

+ Some shows are just beyond parody…

Fox & Friends discusses Texas' new "Save Chick-fil-A" law while eating a large pile of Chick-fil-A food, and warning opponents of its anti-LGBTQ practices that "every time you try to stop Chick-fil-A, you help Chick-fil-A." pic.twitter.com/j6NIlWPqaz

— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) June 12, 2019

+ There’s only one tyranny honest, red-blooded Americans find more odious than the metric system and that’s the autocracy of orthography. Here we cherish the right to spell (whales, wales, wails) as we damn well please…Death to Spellcheckers, human and automated!

+ 11% of visitors to Portland in 2017 said they came to experience legal weed…And from the traffic jams on the 205 it looks like most of them forgot their way home.

+ Trump doesn’t want Americans visit to Cuba anymore, but you can spend two refreshing weeks vacationing in Saudi Arabia.

+ Fidel Castro, ever the optimist: “Many peoples of the world will look hopefully to the American people as the only one capable of putting a straightjacket on, or stopping, the bigots in their lust for power, abuse and conflict…”

+ When You See Us, the dramatized account of the Central Park jogger case, has been the most watched show on Netflix every day since its release.

+ Good riddance to  Elizabeth Lederer, the prosecutor in the Central Park jogger trials, though a stain remains on Columbia Law School for not dropping her and allowing her to drop them

+ Flashback: Pat Buchanan on the Central Park 5: “If the eldest of that wolf pack were tried, convicted and hanged in Central Park, by June 1, and the 13- and 14-year-olds were stripped, horsewhipped, and sent to prison, the park might soon be safe again for women.”

+ Need another reason to hate the Patriots? Thomas Boswell (the great baseball writer at the Washington Post): “Two months after Tom Seaver’s family announced he was suffering from dementia & retiring from public life, Tom Brady wants to steal his nickname –Tom Terrific– and trademark it so he can slap it on his merchandise crap. Time for Brady to let some air out of his ego.”

+ Kick-ass version of Hard Rain from the Scorcese docu-fable Rolling Thunder Revue: a Bob Dylan Story….with Mick Ronson doing much of the ass-kicking.

+ Ronee Blakley: “Mick, don’t you just love Bob?”
Mick Ronson: “I don’t know. He’s never spoken to me.”

+ Sam Shepard: New England was just experiencing the backbone of that economic fallout. You know, way back then, it was desolate, really, really difficult economic times. People suffering behind that. You know? And rock-n-roll was some kind of medicine or something…

Interviewer: Wasn’t that [Rolling Thunder] the year of the Bicentennial?

Sam Shepard: The Bicentennial, particularly in the little towns, they didn’t give a shit, you know? What is the Bicentennial, you know what I mean? They certainly weren’t celebrating the birth of America.”

+ From Ian McLagan’s fantastic memoir, All the Rage:

“Hello, Bob. I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin.”

“I don’t come to you with my problems,” Dylan snapped.

+ Drink like Thomas Pynchon.

+ I’ve been listening to Milestones all week. If Kind of Blue is modal jazz at its most mannered, Milestones is where the band first started exploring that approach. One of the key differences between the two records, both of which are seminal recordings, is at the keys. Milestones swings in ways that Kind of Blue doesn’t and that’s largely attributed to Red Garland’s playing. Bill Evans was going down different sonic corridors.

+ In 2002, Buddy Gist gave the University of North Carolina at Greensboro the trumpet his friend Miles Davis played during the Kind of Blue sessions. Soon afterward, the University had the trumpet appraised at $1.6 million. Two years before his death in 2010, Gist was homeless, sleeping in Greensboro’s Center City Park.

We Miss You Already, Roky…

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Tuscaloosa by Neil Young and the Stray Gators (Reprise)

Rainford by Lee “Scratch” Perry (On U Sound)

History by Youssou N’Dour (Naïve/Believe)

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Book Reports: a Music Critic on His First Love, Which was Reading by Robert Christgau (Duke)

Stalingrad by Vasily Grossman (NYRB)

Dark Day, Dark Night by Jonah Raskin (McCaa)

Something to Do With Cats

Seymour Hersh: “I came out of a lower-middle-class background. At that time, everyone used to define themselves: Stalinist, Maoist, whatever. I thought they meant ‘miaowist’. Seriously! Something to do with cats.”

It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC


It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’ who brought on the…Fascist Dictatorship…

* Doremus Jessup, a liberal and social democrat, reflecting ruefully from an American fascist prison in Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935)

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

* Buffalo Springfield, 1966

Sinclair Lewis’s widely read and semi-satirical 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here resonates chillingly with current events in the United States. Published as fascism rose to power in Germany, the dystopian novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a bombastic and “populist” demagogue elected President of the United States in 1936. Windrip’s campaign combines a pledge for sweeping social reform with calls for a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. It is crafted by a shrewd and sinister newspaperman named Lee Sarason. Sarason believes in propaganda, not science, facts, and truth. He argues that real information “is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them [and tries]…. to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.”

Sarason ghost-writes Windrip’s widely read volume Zero Hour, a jeremiad against national decline and a call to Nativist action on behalf of “real Americanism.” Zero Hour upholds an idealized notion of a lost, betrayed and (supposedly) idyllic patriarchal and white-supremacist national past.

Windrip’s campaign channels white male hatred of racial minorities, Mexicans, uppity women, and liberal and Left “elites.” These ugly sentiments inform his election platform, labeled “Fifteen Points of Victory for the Forgotten Man.”

After he’s inaugurated, Windrip creates a paramilitary auxiliary to the United States Army called the Minute Men. The Minute Men arrest the Supreme Court and most of Congress. They suppress protests and arrest dissidents while the new “corpo” government passes draconian measures that oppress women, Blacks, and Jews.

Most U.S. citizens initially approve of Windrip’s authoritarian measures, thinking them necessary to restore American “greatness,” power and prosperity. Others dislike Windrip’s “corporatism” but take assurance in the comforting idea that fascism can’t really “happen here” – not in the “democratic” and “republican” United States, the land of liberty.

It Can’t Happen Here’s main protagonist is a liberal social-democrat and upper middle-class journalist named Doremus Jessup. As Windrip implements his agenda, leading to the incarceration of Jessup and many others, it dawns on the journalist that he and his fellow liberal elites are largely responsible for the national nightmare. “It’s my sort, the Responsible Citizens who’ve felt superior because we’ve been well-to-do and what we thought was ‘educated,’” Jessup reflects, “who brought on the…Fascist Dictatorship… I can blame no Buzz Windrip, but only my own timid soul and drowsy mind…Forgive, O Lord. Is it too late?”

Jessup and his and his fellow comfortable New Deal liberals’ main mistake is their failure to respond with adequate seriousness and alar, to the threat posed by the outwardly clownish Windrip. Jessup “simply did not believe that this comic tyranny could endure.” Jessup and his ilk don’t fight back soon or hard enough because they are certain Windrip’s popularity will sputter. They underestimate the depth and the degree of popular anger and resentment Windrip exploits. By the time Jessup and other liberals and leftists catch up to the existential gravity of the American-fascist peril it’s too late.

Windrip is later removed by Sarason, who is in turn ousted by the right-wing General Dewey Haik. A government weakened by internal division among its top leaders faces a mass rebellion and the country descends into Civil War.

***

The differences between Lewis’ nightmarish scenario and the Trump election and presidency are numerous and significant, as one would expect when comparing a political novel from the mid-1930s with real political history eight decades later.

Windrip wins as a Democrat, having defeated New Deal champion Franklin Roosevelt and turning the New Deal in a fascist direction. Trump won as a Republican in the wake of the Democratic corporate-neoliberal Barack Obama’s distinctly non-/post-New Deal presidency.

Windrip comes from humble origins in a small New England town. His rustic “heartland” appeal is rooted partly in his own background even if it is manipulated by Sarason.

The purported billionaire New Yorker Trump was born into wealth and rose to prominence atop the booming urban real estate and media markets of the 1980s and 1990s. His “folksiness” and rural, small-town “red state” allure is more obviously contrived.

Windrip’s brief reign occurs amidst the most widespread and prolonged mass unemployment in U.S. history, the Great Depression. Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” by restoring prosperity to the onetime industrial and agricultural “heartland” resonated with many white voters reeling from the 2008 Great Recession and the weak recovery that followed. But Americans’ economic difficulties during the Obama years paled before the scale of what the nation’s populace faced during the early 1930s. Trump has held the White House during a long job-generating economic expansion inherited from Obama.

Windrip rises to power largely on the anger and mobilization of the nation’s wage-earning and unemployed majority. Contrary to the widespread narrative that Trump was elected by the “white working-class,” Trump’s voting base has not been particularly proletarian. He ascended largely through the political demobilization, atomization, and alienation of working-class people, whites included.

Windrip sweeps into office as a quasi-socialist. He promises $3,000 to $5,000 ($44,334 to $74,890 in 2017 dollars) for every “real American family,” the setting of strict upper limits on upper-class incomes and wealth, and the placement of the nation’s leading banks under federal control.

Trump (whose sole legislative triumph during his first year in office was a giant tax cut for the already super-rich and their corporations) may have made populist-sounding noises on the 2015-16 campaign trail, but he has never approached Windrip when it comes to mimicking socialism or pledging economic redistribution.

Windrip campaigns as a chaste, morally and religiously devout man of small-town Protestant virtue. He “vomit[s] Biblical wrath” during his campaign speeches. He bans atheists and Jews who do not believe in the New Testament from public offices and key professions.

Trump, a product of the 1960s, is a longtime playboy with two divorces and numerous extramarital affairs under his belt. He was caught on tape boasting about sexually assaulting women. His outward pretense of Christianity is obviously insincere. By all indications, Trump (despite being an abject Twitter-addicted dotard) acknowledges no greater cosmic authority than his own “stable genius” self.

Windrip starts out with majority support. Trump has been plagued by significant majority disapproval from the beginning of his presidency.

Windrip mobilized masses in the streets and at the polls. Trump is a symptom of what the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin called “inverted totalitarianism,” wherein corporations attain complete control of government and politics through mass popular demobilization, atomization, and depoliticization.

Windrip wipes out Congress and turns it into his adjunct. Trump has struggled with the legislative branch and lost one its two main chambers, the House of Representatives, to the Democrats in the 2018 mid-terms. The House has been locked in outward partisan warfare with Trump ever since.

There was a significant communist and socialist Left – a standard leading political bogeyman and bete noire of fascist movements – for fascists, including the fictional Windrip, to rail against in the United States in the 1930s. The big “radical socialist Left” Left that Trump, other Republicans, FOX News, and rightwing talk-radio harp on in the 21st century is largely a mirage.

Windrip succeeds in setting up an authoritarian, fascist-style government, replete with concentration camps for political enemies and government-affiliated paramilitary forces that crush dissent. Everyday Americans are afraid to openly oppose and criticize Windrip’s fascist state.

The aspiring fascist leader Trump has obviously achieved nothing like that. Trump has been relentlessly and openly mocked and criticized in most of the nation’s corporate media beyond FOX News and right-wing talk radio. He is a regular sick-puppy lightning rod for late night comedians and talk show hosts and a daily target of withering criticism at CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets. The armed right-wing groups that identify with Trump are not affiliated with the federal government. They lack the power to crush his political enemies and enforce his policies.

Trump faced a massive two-year Justice Department-appointed special prosecutor’s investigation into his relationships with Russia and into his efforts to obstruct that inquiry. The resulting April 2019 Mueller Report amounted to a referral for impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, where a growing number of Democrats have advocated the initiation of constitutional processes to remove Trump.

The gravest threat to humanity, exacerbated by Windrip, in the 1930s is global fascism and the related prospect of world war. The grimmest threat to the species today, crassly exacerbated by the climate-denying fossil fool Trump, is Ecocide – the capitalist war on livable ecology.

***

Still, there are haunting and uncanny parallels between Windrip and Trump, and between Windrip’s movement and Trumpism. As with Windrip, the dangerous and sinister nature of the Trump candidacy and presidency has been cloaked to no small extent by a clownishness and buffoonery that has encouraged many Americans not to take him or his backers seriously.

Like the fictional Windrip and other real-life fascist-style politicos past and present, Trump has used brutish tactlessness and contempt for liberal political correctness and established norms of civic decency to distinguish himself from his political opponents – and to win a special place in the hearts of his followers.

Like Windrip, the real-life creeping fascist Trump has built his campaign and much of his rhetoric around the stoking and tapping of white and male resentment of supposedly undeserving racial and ethnic minorities and women perceived as having stepped outside their proper roles.

Like Windrip, Trump has made a political punching bag out of Mexico.

Like Windrip, Trump has diverted ordinary white citizens’ attention and anger away from the United States’ oligarchical wealth and power concentrations created by modern state capitalism and on to racial, ethnic, foreign, and cultural scapegoats: minorities, feminists, intellectuals, immigrants, socialists, environmentalists, and various perceived foreign state adversaries.

Like Windrip, Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump has appealed to the myth of an elite-betrayed past of racial, ethnic, patriarchal, and moral purity – a glorious “homeland” and “heartland” history to which the revered “blood and soil” nation needs to return.

While he has never allowed anybody to become as influential in his campaign and presidency as Lee Sarason is for Windrip, Trump’s campaign success in the late summer and fall of 2016 relied heavily on the direction he got from the evil white nationalist and global fascist strategist Steve Bannon. By late 2018, Trump appeared to have given over much of his domestic political program to the spooky white nationalist Stephen Miller, a Bannon-acolyte.

Like Windrip, Trump tapped rural and small- town white resentment of an urban and comparatively educated, cosmopolitan, and multiethnic “liberal elite” seen (with some good reasons) as having snubbed its nose at a sullen and “silent majority” of ordinary white people – white men without college degrees and professional classifications especially. Like the fictional Windrip and real-life fascists past and present, Trump has appealed to his white “heartland” base’s sense of having been victimized by arrogant and politically correct left and liberal elites. Like Windrip’s frothing backers, Trump’s angry Caucasian base lusts for retribution against immigrants, minorities, lazy “bums,” and uppity women who are supposed to have unjustly gotten ahead of the virtuous white male citizenry – and against the sneering “know-it-all” elites who are accused of letting allegedly unworthy “line-cutters” supposedly advance ahead of the nation’s hard-working white majority. Trump promises his resentful base payback against both supposedly undeserving and disproportionately nonwhite Others and the stuck-up big-shots who allegedly promote them over “real Americans.”

Windrip’s angry white base enjoys big rallies where their hero mocks and lambasts liberal elites and demonizes the “Radical Left” and other nefarious scapegoats, promising jail and violence to those who oppose him and thereby threaten the greatness of the white nation. The threat of violence against his and hence America’s perceived enemies at home and abroad hangs constantly over the Windrip campaign gatherings and his presidency.

In much the same vein. Trump’s many fascist-like rallies and many of his menacing comments and Tweets have communicated much the same angry, ominous, and atavistic message. Real and threatened violence against his and hence “America’s” perceived adversaries and critics has been a consistent theme in the Trump phenomenon and presidency.

Like fictional president Windrip, real president Trump has appointed unqualified political hacks to sensitive political positions because of their perceived loyalty to him.

Trump may not be much of a Christian, but the organized Christian-fascist right has been a key part of his collation and movement, as it is for Windrip.

Like Windrip and like other real-life fascists past and present, the “Great God Trump” became something of a strangely “charismatic” cult figure– a supposedly all-powerful champion who could do no wrong – for his fervent and frothing fans.

Like Windrip’s Depression- and New Deal-era economic populism (modeled largely on Louisiana governor Huey Long), Trump’s far less robust economic populism is deceptive and manipulative. The real beneficiaries of his polices are the wealthy corporate and financial Few.

Like Windrip, Trump has made grandiose promises on behalf of ordinary working people while governing on behalf of the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money – its corporate oligarchy.

Like Windrip and non-fiction fascists past and present, Donald “Drain the Swam” Trump regularly accuses political opponents of corruption even while he and the people around him are monumentally corrupt (witness the latest scandals surrounding Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao).

Like Windrip, Trump makes no bones about embodying crassly selfish and openly national ambitions for himself and the United States. “America First” has been Trump’s foreign policy rallying cry, harkening back to the right-wing American nationalism of the 1930s and 1940s. He celebrated his first day in the White House by telling the CIA that America should have “kept the oil” when it invaded Iraq and suggesting that the U.S. might to back into Iraq to “get the oil” under his presidency. He bemoaned the fact that America no longer “wins wars,” forsaking the standard American Exceptionalist rule whereby U.S. foreign policy-makers claim that wars are last resorts and that Washington fights them not for the sake of glorious victory in and of itself, but in defense of higher ideals: democracy, freedom, peace and security.

Later in his presidency, Trump openly justified the continued U.S. sale of lethal arms to the despotic Saudi Arabian government because “they buy a lot of weapons from us” – this even after that government was shown to have murderously dismembered a dissident journalist employed by The Washington Post (not to mention the Saudis’ savage, U.S.-assisted assault on Yemen, creating an epic humanitarian catastrophe there)

Glorification of the military are key fascist themes shared by nonfiction Trump (who has wanted to hold a U.S. military parade), the fictional Windrip, and nonfiction fascists past and present.

Another Trump theme shared with Windrip is contempt for journalists and press freedoms. Trump has repeatedly called the media and its personnel “the enemy of the people,” describing reporters as “some of the worst people in the world,” among other insults. Trump has encouraged violence against journalists, as does Windrip, who jails media operatives who don’t follow his line.

Like Windrip, Trump has glorified ignorance and repudiated intellectual rigor and expertise. He idiotically doubts the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and its causes.

Like the fictitious Windrip, nonfiction Trump lies and misrepresents facts habitually, launching an open assault on truth. Trump’s war on reality is historically epic: the Washington Post reported in January of 2019 that he had uttered and tweeted no less than 8,158 documented false statements during his first two years in office. (That was certainly an all-time record for any politician over a comparable period of time. Trump’s mind-numbing rate of misstatement and mendacity rose as the nation moved further into 2020 election mode.).

It isn’t just about the sheer and astonishing number of lies and falsehoods that Trump advanced. With Trump as with Windrip and with real-life fascist and non-fascist totalitarians across the ages, constant mendacity in service to political propaganda is the name of the game. The aim isn’t merely to manipulate opinion around specific charges and issues. The deeper goal is to advance what the leading theorist of totalitarianism Hannah Arendt called “the permanent lie.” The aim is to undermine citizens’ capacity to trust their own ability to understand truth and reality.

Like Windrip, Trump has exhibited cold authoritarian contempt for the rule of law and the power of Congress while packing the federal judiciary with right-wing toadies. Last February, Trump declared a (fake) “national emergency” as a pretext for doing an end run around Congress’s refusal to fund his great white nationalist and nativist political vanity project: the completion of a “big beautiful wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump just recently declared another national emergency to justify defying both chambers of Congress to push through more than $8 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates while they conduct an air war that created a humanitarian disaster and killed many thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Trump has openly and criminally defied Congress’s demand that his Internal Revenue Service release his tax returns for public scrutiny. He has criminally ordered current and former aides not to testify before Congress on his connections to Russia, his criminal efforts to obstruct Justice Department and Congressional investigations, and other matters. He has absurdly claimed that he could go the Supreme Court to block impeachment. He has ludicrously called the Mueller investigation an attempt by “sick people” to “overthrow the United States government.” He preposterously calls the Mueller Report a “total exoneration” of his conduct – ab abject Orwellian falsehood. He has accused those who dared to investigate and oversee him of “treason,” a capital offense.

Last month. Trump’s lawyers actually argued in federal court that Congress had no constitutional authority to investigate the White House for wrongdoing, Trump then told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer that no legislation would occur in the United States unless and until Congress stopped investigating him.

Trump has even sent out signals that he will not honor the results of the 2020 presidential election if it does not go his way – and that paramilitary and police state violence might occur if his enemies try to remove him from office. He has made the disturbing suggestion that his “tough” backers, including “bikers,” police officers, and soldiers would respond with violence to any effort to remove him from office. Sinclair Lewis’s Buzz Windrip would certainly approve.

“If you’re not terrified,” the distinguished liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman told CNN’s nonplussed anchor Anderson Cooper with good reason in mid-April of 2019, “you’re not paying attention.”

***

Also like fictional Depression-era Windrip, 21st century nonfiction Trump rose to power thanks in no small part to weak opponents who failed to resist with sufficient speed and force partly because of the false belief that the blustering and buffoonish demagogue’s popularity would dwindle once he was properly exposed as an outrageous lout and charlatan. That’s how many U.S. liberals and leftists (myself included at times) reacted to the rise of Trump in 2015 and much of 2016.

The Clinton Democrats even worked to promote Trump in the primaries because they assumed his clownish conduct and personal and cultural offensiveness would render him unviable in the general election. They called it their “Pied Piper” strategy.

Congress may have remained in session and caused Trump considerable consternation over the last two and half years. Still, the current Democratic majority House of Representatives has yet to demonstrate the elementary gumption to act on its basic constitutional duty to begin the process of impeaching Trump for any among his many and endless “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The Trumpified Republican Party holds the U.S. Senate, rendering removal of the president impossible even if House Democrats develop the courage to impeach the orange monstrosity.

The Democrats and their many media allies have continued their longstanding neoliberal- era role as an “Inauthentic Opposition” (Sheldon Wolin’s 2008 term) party. Instead of meaningfully confronting the white nationalist and eco-exterminist Republican Party-in-power for its menacing assaults on democracy, racial justice, equality, and livable ecology, they have instead handed the president and the GOP a great political victory by focusing their criticism of Trump on a politically and legally dubious claim of campaign collusion with Russia. Their fanatical determination to paint out Trump as a tool of Russia has enhanced his chances of re-election by turning the public focus away from his worst sins in office. As the journalist Alan Nairn observed on Democracy Now! last May 23rd:

“If you turn on CNN and MSNBC these days, unless you’re someone who has been following these channels avidly, you’ll find a lot of that they’re talking about is incomprehensible gobbledygook, because they go on and on about Don McGhan and these all these [other RussiaGate] figures who most people don’t know who they are, rather than talking about the substantive issues of the atrocities that Trump is committing daily – the abduction and de facto murder of children on the border, the gutting of labor rights, the gutting of environmental protections…Instead, the Democrats are going off on a tangent, and they’re handing Trump a political gift. If you’re going to impeach him, impeach him on substance, not a Russia plot, which Mueller already concluded Trump didn’t criminally participate in.”

Meanwhile, the reigning “Stop Sanders” corporate Democrats are working to keep the lid on the leftish and progressive forces in their own party – the Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez Democrats who might actually defeat Trump.

Why bother to incarcerate the Inauthentic Opposition party when it plays so pathetically if predictably into the hands of the aspiring fascist leader?

The American liberal class’s existential ineffectuality in the face of Windrip is an especially rich parallel between Lewis’s 1935 novel and the real-life Trump nightmare. In ways that Lewis would certainly appreciate, this failure is based to no small degree on the fatal American-exceptionalist miscalculation that a totalitarian and fascist regime just “can’t happen here” – not in what is supposedly the world’s leading example and headquarters of “freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.” Beneath that critical error lay an upper and middle-class underestimation of how oppressed, depressed, and angry much of the population feels under the nation’s reigning and arrogant business and professional classes. One of the more poignant if discomforting parallels between It Can’t Happen Here and the real life 21st century Trump story emerged when candidate Trump started calling his backers “the forgotten people.” Windrip aligns with “The League of Forgotten Men,” a large group of evangelically mobilized white men who feel disenfranchised – like “Strangers in Their Own Land” (the title of sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s widely read study of white Tea Partiers and Trump supporters in Republican Louisiana) – from the country they claim to love and defend.

It isn’t just that these people feel disremembered, left-behind, passed over and marginalized by the corporate, financial, and professional class establishment. They feel positively insulted and enraged by the elite’s dismissal of them as backwards and under-educated rubes and dolts, unfit “deplorables” (to use Hillary Clinton’s infamous September 2016 description of Trump’s white base) on the wrong side of the elite’s self-satisfied meritocratic ideology.

Meanwhile, not-so liberal talking heads and commentators at CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets warn repeatedly and loudly about the supposed grave dangers of the S-word, socialism – this while finding it excessively difficult to say and write the F-word, fascism.. They seem to think, like Windrip’s Doremus Jessup in 1936, that fascism can’t happen here. They also seem to prefer to losing to the right, even a fascistic right, over losing to the left, even just a mildly social-democratic left (the dreaded “socialist” specter of Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who would like to save prospects for a decent human future with a Green New Deal) in their own party.

The progressive Sanders Democrats would far better against Trump and the GOP than would the dismal, dollar-drenched, demobilizing corporate-centrist neoliberal neo-Doremus Dems, currently congealing around the vapid right-wing corporatist-imperialist Joe Biden. But so what? The Inauthentic Opposition isn’t primarily about winning elections, much less about social justice and democracy or ecological survival. It’s about serving corporate sponsors.

***

Lewis’s novel ironically resonates with the United States’ political reality far more today than it did when it was published. It is an understatement to say that Lewis’s dystopian vision of a fascist America was not realized in 1935 and 1936. As Germany descended further into the grip of fascist dictatorship under Adolph Hitler, the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved into its leftmost historical moment of political and social democracy: the rise and consolidation of the “second” New Deal, accompanied by the emergence and early victory of the militant industrial unionism of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The passage of the Wagner Act (which legalized collective bargaining for industrial unions), the Social Security Act (old age pensions partially funded by the federal government), the Fair Labor Standards Act (establishing a federal minimum wage) and other progressive New Deal measures including significant new public works and relief programs marked a new high water mark of left-liberal and progressive, social-democratish policy in U.S. history. After crushing his Republican opponent (Alf Landon) with a giant wave of working-and middle-class votes in 1936, Roosevelt stood atop a New Deal Democratic coalition that ruled all three branches of the federal government. The United States shifted portside, moving towards expanded popular sovereignty while Germany fell under the iron grip of the racist and warmongering Nazi state.

The United States would generate fascist-style politicos and political moments in subsequent decades. If the venerable Left analyst Carl Boggs is correct (my sense on that is affirmative), the United States began to develop the objective institutional framework for a distinctively U.S.-American equivalent to objective democracy-cancelling fascism in the post-World War II years – a framework that all too easily yielded a corporate-managed form of “inverted totalitarianism” (Wolin again) with the onset of the so-called neoliberal era (“neoliberalism” is really just Western capitalism turning to its longstanding regressive and reactionary norm). Still, it is only with the rise of Donald Trump – with his call for a giant nativist Wall on the Southern U.S. border, his threat to incarcerate his political enemies, his openly racist portrayal of Mexican and Central American immigrants, his open embrace of foreign dictators and arch-authoritarians, his unprecedentedly brazen defiance of Congress and law, his open flirtation with violence as a political tool, his not-so hidden threat to cancel elections, his relentless Orwellian-Huxleyan assault on truth, his recurrent racist and hate-filled rallies, his constant personalized name-calling, his bizarre cult of malignant personality, his open irrationality, and more – that we can talk seriously about a fascist or at least fascist-equivalent movement with a distinctly fascist-like base and a morally senseless, norm-smashing wannabe fascist strongman taking power and threatening to foreclose on the last remnants of American democracy.

Why now? Trump and Trumpism represent a kind of nationalist, racist, patriarchal, and authoritarian fascist politics that is hardly unique to United States history. But, as the left historian Greg Grandin suggests in his latest book The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America, both this kind of noxious far-right politics and the very different and egalitarian politics of “socialism” have heretofore been consigned to the fringes of U.S. political history. Until now. How did these previously contained tendencies – the barbarism, even fascism of the white-nationalist right and the “socialism” or social democracy of the Bernie Sanders left – come to dominate the national political contest in 2016 and perhaps in 2020? Grandin makes an essential historical point. “Trumpism,” symbolized above all by the Wall, “becomes nationalized,” Grandin told the Real News Network last February, “after the empire fails. Trumpism is what happens after empire” – after the “escape valve” of endless growth is closed off:

“The border wall has supplanted the frontier as the national myth. I link it to a number of things that have foreclosed on the possibility of growth. One is the disaster of 9/11, the response to 9/11. The endless, unwinnable wars that the United States threw itself into. [Then there’s] the financial catastrophe of 2007-2008 which foreclosed on a kind of–even during the recovery it’s kind of revealed an entrenched inequality. And of course the–perhaps the biggest limit to growth is the ecological crisis; the fact that the world stands on the precipice of collapse. All of these things help explain the ascension of Trumpism…The myth of the frontier…allowed for the maintenance of a centrism – the idea of a vital centrism in which extremism was marginalized. Two kinds of extremism. The extremism of the white supremacist, but also the extremism of socialism, of property-claiming social movements. As long as the U.S. had that option towards moving out in the world, it could respond to those two politics by marginalizing them. And now what we’re seeing, and we saw it in the 2016 campaign, is that the United States is finally being forced to confront an option that other countries were forced to confront in the past, but that the United States deferred and deflected because of its unique prerogative of expansion and growth, and that’s the choice between barbarism and socialism…political tendencies that frontier universalism marginalized in the past.”

Both Trumpism-fascism and Sanders-style “socialism” reflect the loss of the United States’ breathing room in an age of imperial, economic, and ecological decline. A reckoning has arrived. The safety-valve of endless expansion that previously permitted U.S. capitalism to escape its inner driving and taproot oppositions has been sealed off. The global, military, and economic “Open Door” that replaced the literal Western North American frontier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries has closed in a world that is full of capital, technology, competition, and environmental poison. Quantitative growth paths (both up and out) – the various forms of enlargement whereby the nation has acted on U.S. Founder James Madison’s admonition to “extend the sphere” (so as to keep class conflict and factionalism at bay) – are no longer sufficient to displace and dilute the nation’s steep internal and qualitative contradictions, its dynamic and propelling rifts of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and ecological exhaustion.

The squeeze is on. An accounting has come due and the center cannot hold. It’s either redistribute wealth and power downward and democratically and eco-sustainably restructure society or speed faster and further down the path of racism, accelerated classism, hyper-inequality, sexism, militarism, fascism, and ecocide. The centrist contest between Wall Street-globalist corporate Democrats and Wall Street-globalist corporate Republicans has given way to the struggle between authoritarian barbarism and democratic socialism.

We know, or at least should know, which way Germany went when that failed national contender for world capitalist supremacy (beaten out by the United States as successor to England in the role of the world system’s hegemonic power) ran out of breathing room in the first half of the last century. Humanity paid the price with 50 million killed before Nazi-led global fascism was defeated. The stakes are even bigger today – the very prospect of a decent organized human existence – in an age of eco-exterminist, fossil-fuel driven global warming and deadly nuclear proliferation. It’s (eco-) “socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky” now, as Istvan Meszaros pointed out 18 years ago.

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