Counterpunch Articles

The American West as Judeo-Christian Artifact

Storm over the Madison Range, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I.

It is fair to say that most people in the modern world regard nature as a collection of “resources” that exist solely for our aggrandizement. Even the foremost putative “progressives” now on the national stage (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, et al.) argue that we should continue to exploit resources to keep the capitalist growth machine humming, but that we must do it more gently, more ”sustainably,” with more intensive application of advanced technology, with “green” production of energy from wind, solar, hydro, and the like.

The central problem of our time, I’ve come to conclude, is that humanity now consists predominantly of “resourcists” — which is to say, humanists. I mean humanists in the ugliest and most benighted sense of that word: that man is the center and measure of all things, and all other life is subordinate, reduced to a resource.

Too much of Earth, as we know, has been subjugated by techno-industrial Homo sapiens, and that we regard this collectively not with the horror it merits is a testament to our complacent self-regard as vaunted humanists. Maybe in this late hour of modernity, when our dominance is leading to suicide via capitalogenic climate upheaval, it is time to imbibe a dose of anti-humanism.

Toward that end, I would suggest a strenuous interrogation of the anthropocentric principles at the core of Western civilization, which is fundamentally a Judeo-Christian civilization. This sounds like an odd place to start for the establishment of a truly progressive view of the natural world. Bear with me.

In 1966, a professor of medieval history named Lynn White Jr., attending the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, presented a lecture that would go on to live in infamy. Later published in Science, it was titled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis.” Ending the ecological crisis was White’s primary concern. White singled out Judeo-Christian religion as the historical villain, calling it “the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen.”

He argued that the Judeo-Christian conception of a planet made solely for man’s exploitation, as laid out in the book of Genesis, freed humankind to lay waste to the environment. The message of Judeo-Christianity is that man alone is infused with the spirit of the one true God while everything else is soulless matter relegated to human use.

Pause a moment to recall the words of Genesis:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

It was this worldview, White argued, that replaced pagan animism, with profound consequences. In pagan animism, “every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own genius loci, its guardian spirit,” wrote White. “Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain, or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated. By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects.” With this disenchantment “man’s effective monopoly on spirit [was] confirmed” — and the inhibitions that held back the total pillage of the natural world crumbled.

Then White made a fascinating leap:

The present increasing disruption of the global environment is the product of a dynamic technology and science which [originated] in the Western medieval world [and which] cannot be understood historically apart from distinctive attitudes toward nature which are deeply grounded in Christian dogma. The fact that most people do not think of these attitudes as Christian is irrelevant. No new set of basic values has been accepted in our society to displace those of Christianity. Hence we shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.

This was the claim which earned him infamy: that the ideology of techno-scientific humanism, forged in the crucible of the European Middle Ages and bequeathed to the world by Western civilization — an ideology that now holds sway over every corner of the planet — grew directly out of Judeo-Christian values. Humanism was the secular realization “of the Christian dogma of man’s transcendence of, and rightful mastery over, nature.”

II.

The subject of This Land, my first book, is the American West, a region that can be understood in part as a Judeo-Christian artifact, as a province whose native people and wildlife have been colonized by a civilization that regards nature, and will never regard it otherwise, as an object to be exploited. Dig beneath the skin of the livestock rancher, the oilman, the coal miner, the logger, the wildlife manager, the Chamber of Commerce official, the tourism booster — you’ll find a dominionist.

The killing of wild predators to protect cattle, the damming of wild rivers for hydro energy and irrigation to feed industrial agriculture, the logging of forests for what the timber industry calls “sustained yield,” the landscape-scale fracking of the public domain, the management of national parks as zoos for mass visitation: they are all expressions of the same urge to use and control, with wild nature as an afterthought, subsidiary to the all-encompassing vision of resourcism.

It’s always about use — and that’s the problem. That’s where we are intellectually defective, unable to grasp what’s at hand, unable to forge a humble, reverent, altruistic relationship with the natural world. Even among those who claim to be environmentalists I see a secularized variant of this same toxic Judeo-Christian anthropocentrism that views the natural world as providing, for example, “ecosystem services” — clean air, clean water. A resource!

But what about the natural world that doesn’t provide any resource for the chosen ones? What about the rich tapestry of useless lovely wild things whose vast intelligence we will never know? Unveiling and celebrating the wild that serves no human end is the unspoken purpose of my book.

A version of this article originally appeared on Powells.com

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Whitewashing American History: the WPA Mural Controversy in San Francisco

Painting by Gilbert Stuart – Public Domain

There has a been a controversy percolating the last couple of years over protests against the “Life of Washington” murals painted in 1935-36 by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artist Victor Arnautoff that are on display at George Washington High School in San Francisco. These murals dared to challenge the patriotic stereotype of Washington, instead portraying him as a slaveholder and military commander overseeing the genocide of American Indians. Seeking to portray the brutal reality of U.S. history, a reality that the ruling class – and textbooks – has always sought to falsify and obscure, the radical artist was in many ways far ahead of his time.

Yet now, the San Francisco Board of Education has voted to obliterate this militantly anti-racist artist’s depiction of history that the racist rulers sought to deny. The argument justifying this censorship is that the images were “disturbing” to students. The threat to freedom of expression and free speech is real, and its real targets are the left, labor and those who understand that historical truth is a weapon for the oppressed and exploited. Here this vital freedom is being undermined not only by white supremacists and Trump but by “identity politics” Democrats.

A petition signed by more than 400 academics and educators from across the country and around the world calls for saving the Arnautoff murals. Historian/activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, warned,

“The liberal campaign to destroy the Arnautoff timeline parallels the age of Trump that has found liberal Democrats invoking founding fathers, the constitution, American values, as patriotic “Hamilton: The Musical” has been introduced at a lightning rate into public school curricula. I think it possible that there is actually a deep well of US patriotism that lurks behind the anti-mural campaign.”

Defending the Arnautoff Murals

Every year in San Francisco during the entire month of July, Labor Fest celebrates workers history and culture. At International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 34 on July 9, Labor Fest held a panel discussion on the controversy over the Arnautoff murals including S.F. State University history professor emeritus Robert Cherney, Washington High School Alumni Association Vice President Lope Yap, Jr., and African American art professor and muralist Dewey Crumpler who painted the “response” murals at the high school in 1968-1974. All of the panelists opposed the destruction of the Arnautoff murals. (See this video for the powerful commentary by Crumpler, who states that obliteration of the Arnautoff murals would render his own “irrelevant.”)

Describing in detail how Arnautoff’s murals “critique the mythology of George Washington, in a moving KGO radio interview in June, Crumpler recounts how as a six-year-old boy living in the then-segregated Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, he was horrified seeing the image in Jet magazine of the grotesquely disfigured corpse of 14-year-old African American Emmett Till lynched in Mississippi for “offending” a white woman. That image was “indelibly imprinted in my head.” “That trauma worked its way through me and made me into an artist,” Crumpler declares. “I showed that image to my children because like my mother, I wanted them to confront this horror….” The image of Emmett Till’s body is “why black people all over America got in the streets and made it better for every person in this country.”

When Professor Cherney, who wrote a biography of Victor Arnautoff, began speaking at the panel discussion, a handful of people who favor destroying the murals harangued and disrupted the meeting for 20 minutes. The standing room only audience of mostly older leftists, veterans of labor, anti-war, anti-apartheid and civil rights struggles responded with “Shame, shame, shame!” The mainly white disrupters continued, grotesquely smearing those opposed to destruction of anti-racist art with shouts of “white supremacists“!

San Francisco’s Board of Mis-Education Teaches Identity Politics, Political Correctness and “Safe” Spaces

At the start of the June 25 San Francisco Board of Education meeting, President Stevon Cook purloined and misused a quote from literary giant and activist Alice Walker. Had he known that Walker, a defender of freedom of expression, had written a letter to the Oakland School Board in 2014 objecting to their capitulation to the Oakland police demanding the censorship of a new curriculum on the writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the racist death penalty, perhaps he would not have cited her. Cook’s criticism of the Arnautoff murals as “violent images that are offensive to certain communities” sounds perversely like the OPD slanders of Mumia.

First to speak during the discussion were those who supported maintaining these historic murals, including Choctaw Indian elder Tamaka Bailey, Lope Yap, Jr., Vice President of the GW High School Alumni Association, artists, a librarian and a number of trade unionists. The Board turned a deaf ear to those defending Arnautoff’s radical murals and voted unanimously to paint them over in line with the argument that students need to be sheltered from images such as that of a dead Native American at Washington’s feet. The Board is reviving the work of right-wing predecessors who did not want students to learn about the historical truths Arnautoff and other leftist artists sought to expose.

A committee, the Reflection and Action Working Group, has been selected to determine how to destroy the mural. But the Alumni Association is collecting donations reportedly for a court suit to stop the removal and destruction of the murals.

Radical Murals Rooted in Class Struggle

This is not the first time radical murals have been under attack. The same year as the 1934 San Francisco General Strike, capitalist titan Nelson Rockefeller was destroying a mural, “The Future of Mankind,” painted by communist muralist Diego Rivera at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Why? Because it prominently featured Lenin and Trotsky, the leaders of the Russian Revolution, as well as Karl Marx.

That year there were two other militant strikes that caused the pillars of the Pacific Stock Exchange and Wall Street capitalists to shake: the Minneapolis Teamsters strike and the Toledo Auto-lite strike. All three of these strikes had things in common: avowed communists were in the leadership of the strikes; the National Guard was called out to bolster police forces suppressing the strike; workers were killed by police and martyred in these strikes overwhelmingly supported by working people. Additionally, the Minneapolis Teamsters subsequently organized workers defense guards to stave off attacks by the fascist Silver Shirts (who copied Hitler’s Brown Shirts in Germany). Roosevelt had the Trotskyist-led Minneapolis Teamsters jailed during WWII.

During the anti-red McCarthy witch hunts, Victor Arnautoff, a professor at Stanford and avowed Communist, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). His HUAC dossier was read into the Record by California Congressman Donald L. Jackson, representing Santa Monica, who replaced future president Richard Nixon on the committee. Why was Arnautoff brought before the witch-hunters? Because he was defending his comrade, Anton Refregier, who was under attack for his Rincon Annex post office murals in San Francisco. These are seen as subversive because they depicted Chinese workers building the Trans-Continental Railroad and later under attack by racist, xenophobic mobs. These murals showed longshore workers fighting for a union hiring hall, and a commemoration of the two strikers killed by police in the ’34 maritime strike, precipitating the San Francisco General Strike.

The Refregier murals were targeted by HUAC, which claimed they “tend to promote racial hatred and class warfare.” (See Grey Brechin, “Trial of the Rincon Annex Murals”.) The longshore union organized black workers into the union, showing class solidarity 31 years before the Civil Rights Act (which long-time Dixiecrat Lyndon Johnson signed in 1965, while escalating U.S. imperialism’s war on Vietnam. “Racial hatred?” This was how red-hunters smeared radical artists’ depiction of militant struggles against racial oppression. An Arnautoff mural in Richmond, California, painted in 1936, just two years after the tumultuous maritime strike, prominently show an integrated longshore work force which made class struggle possible.

Defending the Refregier murals telling the true history of those strikes were the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the ILWU, which denounced the “Hearst-inspired attempt to suppress the work of art” (ILWU’s The Dispatcher, 2 April 1948). The Young Democrats of San Francisco charged the murals with being “little short of treason,” while the American Legion expressed concern that the murals would “expose thousands of school children” to “communistic propaganda” from which they needed to be protected.

What and Who Is Behind the “Paint It Down Crowd”:
School Privatizers and Guilty White Liberals

Vince Matthews, the privatizing Superintendent of the San Francisco School District, is front and center in today’s anti-mural campaign. He was principal of the notorious Edison Schools Inc.’s for-profit San Francisco charter school that was forced to close in 2001 because of opposition from the community and the school board. A school district investigation found evidence the public school run by the Edison privateers had been purging its student body of black kids, poor kids, special-needs kids. And now he has the nerve to present himself as being “sensitive” to the needs of minority children.

From 2007 to 2009, Matthews was the third and last state administrator of the Oakland Unified School District under state takeover. A union buster, he took a hard line in bargaining with the teachers union (OEA, the Oakland Education Association), as he insisted on no pay raise for the lowest-paid teachers in the county and demanded larger class sizes. When the state takeover ended, he stayed on as state trustee with power to veto contracts. He continued to insist on a hard line in bargaining, which led to the district imposing hard terms on the teachers in spring 2010. Throughout his tenure as state administrator and state trustee, he approved outsourcing to private consultants at a per capita rate double that of the average California school district.

Along with hard-core privatizer and union-basher Matthews, Stevon Cook, president of the S.F. Board of Education, opines that Arnautoff’s 13 mural panels contain “violent images that are offensive to certain communities.” Board vice president Mark Sanchez has used a program, “peer assisted review,” supposedly set up to help teachers, as a tool to target black, Latino, senior and dissident teachers. He justifies this by saying it’s legal – meaning he can get away with it – echoing other notorious union busters from Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair to Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Now Sanchez is pushing for the school board to spend $600,000 to “paint it [the Arnautoff mural] down.” Meanwhile, the state of California is 41st on spending per student, but first in per prisoner expenses.

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a “progressive” group that has been organizing to rid the school of these “dangerous” murals. On their web page they pose for a photo of about 100 people (overwhelmingly white, except for one black man) with signs, many of them reading “End White Silence.” Yet they are helping to silence and blot out the anti-racist voice of a red painter who was an artistic pioneer in speaking and showing the truth of how U.S. capitalism was rooted in slavery and genocide.

Ironically, this site of the photo – which illustrates SURJ’s “Open Letter on the Life of Washington Murals” – is Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building in San Francisco. It’s named for one of the longshore leaders of the 1934 “Big Strike” that gave rise to the ILWU, a momentous class struggle which was won through the unity of white and black workers. The longshore union, one of the first to integrate, has been a supporter of Arnautoff’s murals from the beginning. In 2017, the ILWU newspaper, The Dispatcher (November 2017) ran an article highlighting the artistic contributions of Arnautoff before an exhibition of his at SF State.  In fact, the artist’s two sons became members of the longshore union.

In SURJ’s “Open Letter,” they call for schools to be made “culturally safe” by not exposing students to images where “Indigenous people are portrayed as shirtless savages and Black people as meek slaves.” This willful distortion smears Arnautoff’s work in the service of “safe space” guilty white liberalism, which is counterposed to militant struggle to uproot racial oppression. Actually Arnautoff’s critical murals depict just the opposite, proud Native Americans in war dress defending themselves against colonists’ slaughter and the first president Washington’s slaves working his plantation. Black muralist Dewey Crumpler notes that the image of a murdered Native American “represents all those Native Americans who died at war” against genocidal “founding fathers” like Washington. Crumpler stated clearly, “I cannot abide by the destruction of art … in order [to] remove all those things that are traumatic in our lives,” so that “then when we argue for remedy… we have no history to prove the murderous process”.

Defending Art that Seeks to Tell the Truth About History

Victor Arnautoff, who became a Stanford professor, had been an assistant in Mexico to the communist muralist Diego Rivera, who not only influenced his work – as vividly shown by the murals – but his politics. Arnautoff, who in his youth had fought on the wrong side in the Russian Civil War after the Bolshevik Revolution, under Rivera’s tutelage became a Communist. Others like performing artists Paul Robeson and Woody Guthrie, who were his comrades, would doubtless be standing shoulder to shoulder with those defending his murals.

The ILWU had a close relationship with the work of WPA artists since the ’30s. While the union bureaucracy has worked overtime to tame it in the service of the bosses’ rules and Democratic Party, longshore workers’ militant tradition of fighting the capitalist bosses and racists continues to reverberate today. We’ve marched for immigrant workers rights; shut down ports against U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal and an end to racist killings by the police.

In 2016, a contingent of longshore workers travelled to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to stand strong with the Sioux people against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The following year, the longshore union voted to mobilize to stop the fascist Patriotic Prayer group from rallying in San Francisco, a union stronghold. The fascists called off their rally. Where were the identity politics folks during these real struggles in defense of Native Americans and African Americans? Liberal white guilt groups like SURJ seeking “culturally safe” schools (!) by censoring radical anti-racist art certainly won’t stop the racists.

To stop the mural-destroying liberals, there needs to be an outpouring of opposition, particularly from students and teachers and transport unions, like the demonstrations in 1948 that saved the Refregier murals at San Francisco’s Rincon Annex Post Office. It should demand “Hands Off the WPA Murals!” and “Don’t Whitewash Our Militant History.”

Jack Heyman is a retired Bay Area longshore activist. When he got up to defend the Arnautoff murals at the June 25 SF school board meeting, speaking about the 1934 general strike, he was cut off after one minute by the would-be mural censors.

This essay first appeared on first ran on The Internationalist.

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Through the Climate Looking Glass into Grizzly Wonderland

 

Strangely enough, grizzly bear researchers and managers seem to have integrated a faith-based version of climate-change-denial into their collective world view. In fact, these ostensibly well-educated men and women bring to mind well-schooled ecclesiastics professing a belief system: “Grizzly bears are omnivores. Grizzly bears are adaptable. Grizzly bears are unaffected by changes in habitat and foods. Climate change has not affected grizzly bears. Climate change will not affect grizzly bears.” The US Fish & Wildlife Service has gone so far as to baldly assert “…ever,” which is, needless to say, a very long time.

Or, alternately, an image comes to mind of grade-schoolers sitting rigidly at attention reciting their multiplication tables, only, in this case, the recitation is: “Two times two equals four. Three times three equals six. Four times four equals eight…” There is a certain superficial logic that nonetheless perverts reality.

With perhaps a bit more disingenuousness, researchers on Yellowstone’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team routinely dissemble: “We looked really hard to find any effect of climate change on grizzly bears but just couldn’t find any. In any case, we found that grizzlies eat more than 200 different foods.” A conclusion, it turns out, that is not a result of studious independent-minded inquiry, but rather the outcome of poorly-designed, prejudiced, and unreplicable science.

All of this is a problem, especially for those of us who look for fact rather than fiction and faith as a basis for crafting and fulfilling public policy—including in our treatment of grizzly bears.

A Corrective for the Rhetoric

Despite Trump’s record-breaking efforts to substitute fiction for fact, I can only hope that the truth still matters to most people. Based on this perhaps blithe hope, a corrective to the climate-change-denial rhetoric of grizzly bear researchers and managers is warranted. With this purpose in mind, what follows are my thoughts, point by point, in response to the government mantra:

Grizzly Bears are Omnivores, But…

Grizzly bears are omnivores, but as with all omnivores, including humans, this does not mean that they fare well on all foods. As it turns out, the digestibility and nutritional quality of bear foods vary by orders-of-magnitude. A salad does not equal a steak. Moreover, bears, like humans, need a balance of energy and nutrients, which means that an endless diet of either steak or blueberries can be problematic in its own right.

Grizzly Bears are Adaptable, But…

Grizzly bears are adaptable, but not infinitely so. There are real-life consequences for their survival and reproduction depending on what, when, and where foods are available, especially vis-à-vis people, who kill roughly 80-90% of all the adolescent and adult bears that die, but also vis-à-vis other bears, that routinely kill cubs and compete for food.

Grizzly Bears are Affected by Habitats and Diets

Grizzly bears are affected by changes in habitat and foods. At the risk of being repetitive, omnivory does not make them immune to changes in food quality and quantity, nor does “adaptability” make them immune from the human- and bear-related hazards associated with eating certain foods in certain areas.

Evidence for this can be found in the fact that rates and causes of bear deaths have changed dramatically in the Yellowstone ecosystem as a direct result of shifts in distributions and diets, driven by changes in food availability (e.g., whitebark pine, cutthroat trout, army cutworm moths, elk, and bison)—driven in turn by wildfires (whitebark pine), drought (elk), pathogens (whitebark pine and trout), sport harvests (elk), perverse politics (bison), and invasions of non-native species (whitebark pine and trout, again).

More conclusively, the profound effect of habitats and diets is evident in orders-of-magnitude differences in densities of grizzly and brown bears worldwide unambiguously rooted in the quality, quantity, and distributions of foods.

Grizzly Bears Have Been Adversely Affected by Climate Change

Grizzly bears have been affected by climate change. Our most conclusive evidence comes from the Yellowstone ecosystem where dietary staples have already been more or less driven off the menu by climate change, with resulting deleterious changes in bear behaviors.

Whitebark pine has been functionally eliminated in most parts of the ecosystem as a result of bark-beetle-caused mortality unleashed by climate warming in the formerly frigid haunts of whitebark pine. Cutthroat trout has been devastated by predation from a non-native predatory fish—Lake trout—but with the effects of this predation compounded by deteriorating hydrologic conditions in streams used by cutthroat trout to spawn. Elk herds have declined, even plummeted, from a lethal brew of stressors that include deteriorating range conditions during late summer caused by climate warming. Increased predation by grizzly bears on elk calves has exacerbated negative trends. Notably, much of this predation by bears is probably compensatory for losses of cutthroat trout and whitebark pine.

Compounding problems for the grizzlies, their quest for dietary alternatives has led them to more often contest elk carcasses with hunters during fall and scavenge or prey on livestock during summer. As a consequence, the rates at which hunters, ranchers, and managers kill grizzlies has skyrocketed in lock step with increased depredations of livestock and close encounters with hunters in the backcountry. Mothers, moreover, are losing more cubs to predatory males as they turn to eating more meat to compensate for losses of especially whitebark pine, which was historically a particularly important food for females.

Nearly all of these dynamics are, in fact, rooted in the recent but comparatively minor 0.9oC post-industrial-revolution warming of our climate, most of which has occurred since the mid-1970s.

Grizzly Bears Will Be Adversely Affected by Future Climate Change

And, grizzly bears will be affected by future climate change. Wildfires will become even more frequent and extensive. Whitebark pine will be doomed to functional extirpation. Berry-producing shrubs will be diminished—some species dramatically so. Pollinators needed for fruit-set will continue to tank. Tundra flowers that concentrate army cutworm moths in alpine talus slopes, where grizzlies currently consume them, will almost totally disappear. Drought and earlier snowmelt will continue to compromise any prospects for recovery of cutthroat trout. Elk populations will likewise be affected by evermore prolonged and severe droughts. Ad nauseam.

At the same time, species that are blithely invoked by dangerously ignorant bear biologists as the presumed replacement for food-sources we stand to lose are either unidentified, of lesser quality, or, as in the case of Gambel oak, unlikely to colonize emerging suitable habitat at a pace even close to that at which we lose extant foods. As a friend of mine put it, this factor alone guarantees that we will be living in a world of weeds 100 years from now—if not sooner.

And all of this is forecast to transpire within a blink of the eye—the next 70 to 100 years—which will be only a first installment of the consequences arising from temperatures likely to broil the Earth a mere 300 or so years from now.

And Yet More Government Inanities

I recently reread a publication from 2010 reporting on the outcome of a workshop comprised of grizzly bear biologists assembled by the (then) USFWS Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, Chris Servheen, together with a functionary of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Molly Cross, to render their purported expert opinion on how climate change would affect grizzlies. I personally know all of the twelve assembled bear biologists. None were experts on climate change. Only one had studied any aspect of linkages between changes in habitats driven by climate change, and potential responses by grizzly bears or grizzly bear populations. Most were apologists for the status quo. Two were near-professional nay-sayers of the threat posed by climate change, including the USFWS Recovery Coordinator and the single biologist from Yellowstone.

There are a few worthwhile nuggets scattered throughout the report, including recognition that changes in habitat could may changes in diet that could reconfigure exposure of grizzlies to humans, with resulting effects on levels of conflict. But it is largely populated with platitudes, most prominently that grizzlies are “adaptable omnivores.” There were some evident glimmerings of intelligent life, all apparently crushed under the steamroller of political expediency and the common denominator.

This report, together with a single research paper published by Alberta researchers in 2014, became the basis for the USFWS claiming that climate change “had not been” and “would never be” a threat to grizzly bears—more specifically those in Yellowstone where, ironically, the best evidence for effects of past climate change are to be found. Parenthetically, the 2014 publication modeled prospective changes in distributions of plant foods of Alberta grizzly bears, concluding, tritely enough, that some would diminish and some would increase. Curiously—or perhaps not—little or no consideration was given to the orders-of-magnitude differences in food qualities, the complicating facet of colonization rates, or, in the case of berry-producing shrubs, fates of pollinators.

The paradigm seems to be: feature uncertainty, assume the best, and then deal with the predictable worse-case scenario after most options have evaporated. Clearly, a little information filtered through ample arrogance leavened by enthusiastic extrapolation into the realm of ignorance yields an inane outcome.

A Permian Parable

This amalgam of ignorance, indifference, and even willful denial has left me grappling for a manageable emotional response, especially given that we face a patently human-driven cataclysm threatening not only grizzly bears, but also most of life on Earth.

Apropos, I recommend that anyone with even a modicum of interest read about the end-Permian extinctions—notably in Peter Ward’s Under a Green Sky, Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World, and related scientific publications. The Permian-Triassic extinctions around 252-million years ago are the most catastrophic of any since the emergence of multi-cellular life, accounting for the demise of an estimated 80-95% of species that existed at that time. More than any other, this extinction event brings home the defining role of atmospheric chemistry in shaping life on Earth.

Relentless end-Permian eruptions of massive flood basalts from the Siberian Traps spanned roughly 900,000 years and spewed gigatons of SO2 and CO2 into the atmosphere, causing acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer, and rapid climate oscillations that ultimately settled into global warming culminating in an increase of around 9-12oC. Warming oceans stopped circulating and became increasingly hypoxic, allowing for the proliferation of sulfate-reducing bacteria and the thaw of abyssal frozen methane hydrate that was then released in a massive prolonged belch—leading to yet more warming compounded by the depletion of atmospheric oxygen as plant life died.

Our Current Plight

There are more than a few alarming similarities between what happened 252-million years ago and what’s happening now, noting first, that our global temperature baseline is 14oC, not that different from the Permian baseline of 18oC.  Our global temperatures will likely increase by at least 2oC during the next 70 years. However, given that we have blown by every conservative estimate for the rapidity of warming and CO2 proliferation, we are likely headed for what is called a “hothouse scenario”—yielding temperature increases of around 4-8oC. During the next three centuries, global temperatures will likely warm an additional 2-6oC, culminating in a total increase of around 10oC.

Lest you weren’t keeping track, an increase of this magnitude is comparable to what happened during end-Permian times, but at a rate >500 times faster. A heating of this combined magnitude and rapidity has never before been recorded in Earth history.

Already the symptoms are multiplying. Rapidly melting ice sheets together with warming and acidifying ocean waters have bleached massive tracts of coral, slowed ocean circulation, and led to a proliferation of hypoxic “dead zones,” including along the Oregon and Namibian coasts. Jet streams are becoming stuck as atmospheric circulation slows, resulting in ever-more frequent extreme weather—including, as I write, record-breaking hot June temperatures in Europe. Over a million species are on the precipice of extinction. And this is only the beginning.

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

Meanwhile, bear biologists sit around tables drinking coffee, pontificating about the insignificance of climate change, or exert themselves writing rules that lessen protections for grizzly bears, attesting to the presumed non-effects of climate warming—as have Chris Servheen and Hilary Cooley, our past and present Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinators. Perhaps charitably, their heads are in a place “…darker’n a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night” (The Stranger in The Big Lebowski). Less charitably, they could be viewed as aiding and abetting a crime.

Regardless, we are probably screwed unless we speedily sequester massive amounts of carbon, transition to carbon-neutral energy production, and institute effective worldwide birth control. The rapid emergence of a highly lethal and communicable human disease would also probably benefit other life on Earth. Of these, the last seems the most likely to happen.

Perhaps at a minimum, we can approach management and conservation of our threatened grizzly bears in a more enlightened, responsible, and humble manner. As Bob Dylan so eloquently sang in All Along the Watch Tower, “…let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

For a selection of scientific literature relevant to all of this, follow this link.

 

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Paul Krassner and Me

Photograph Source: Heidi De Vries from Berkeley, CA – CC BY 2.0

“If life isn’t a mystery, then what the fuck is it??”

–Paul Krassner

I can’t remember exactly where or when I first met Paul Krassner, but it had to have been in the mid-1980s, and was almost certain to have been at a local club where Paul was doing stand-up comedy, performing before tiny but greatly appreciative audiences.

I must have talked to him after the show, and we sort of hit it off. Anyway, over the years the two personal things that I most remember about him were his wonderful generosity and his keen and totally understandable interest in earning money.

Not that every writer isn’t looking to be compensated, but in Paul Krassner’s case—having never had a “real” payroll-type job or a decent medical or dental plan—getting paid meant everything.

We all have known wealthy people. But considering that Paul had more talent—more creativity, more wit, more wisdom, and more common decency—in his left nut than these rich folks had in their entire bodies, him being “poor” was an outrage. One is reminded of the Dorothy Parker quote: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people He gave it to.”

Not that I was a prolific writer, but every time I got something published Paul wanted to know if I had gotten paid for it, and if I had, how much it was, because he wanted to add that particular publication to his list of places that paid. Writers don’t like telling citizens what they got paid for a piece, but they’ll always tell another writer.

I once wrote a labor piece for the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times. Paul saw it and asked me how much I’d gotten paid. This was easily 20 years ago, probably longer. I still recall exactly how much because it was a big deal to get an op-ed piece printed in a major newspaper. It was $300 for a roughly 700-word piece. Paul was pleased to hear it.

Paul went out of his way to get me published in the old New York Press. I had done an interview with Mort Sahl that the LA Times Calendar Section was interested in, but at the last minute they decided to pass on it, which irked me because I was counting on it.

I whined to Paul about it. He knew the NY Press editor, told me to query him about the article, and to be sure to use his name as a reference. Which I did. Thanks to Paul’s generosity, the interview was published and I was paid.

In 1978 he was brutally beaten by a San Francisco cop during the “White Riot” following the Dan White sentencing for the murder of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. In truth, it was more a “protest” than a riot. It was the maniacal and ferocious response of the local police that turned it into a riot.

Paul suffered a serious injury. And not having any health insurance, and believing that he was still young and spry enough for the brutal attack to heal itself, he didn’t seek medical assistance. It turned out to be an unwise move. The shattered bone never healed properly, and he was left with a severe and painful limp.

During one of his last public appearances, doing stand-up at a tiny club in LA, he stumbled and fell hard as he entered the stage. The audience gasped. But Paul was not only able to leap to his feet, when he reached the mic, he relaxed the audience by making a joke of it. “I want you all to know…I do that on purpose,” he said. “It’s a great way to get sympathy.”

Rest in peace, my friend. There will never be another one like you.

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Peckerwood Populism is About Political Strategy, Not Personal Belief

Photograph Source: Darron Birgenheier from Reno, NV, USA – CC BY-SA 2.0

The controversy around President Donald Trump’s recent tweets targeting “The Squad” — four Democratic members of Congress who are all women, all people “of color,” and all of whom Trump seems to think aren’t “from America” (one came from Somalia as a young woman and became a US citizen at 17; the rest are “natural born” US citizens) — largely centers around perceptions of his personal bigotry.

Is Trump a racist? A xenophobe? A misogynist? His public history, going back at least to the early 1970s, offers evidence for all three accusations. Some people find that evidence compelling, some don’t.

But to focus on Trump’s personal beliefs in any of those areas is to miss the point. He’s not an individual actor living out his life in private. He’s a public actor, leading a major political party, occupying the highest political office America has to offer, and campaigning for re-election to that office.

A decade ago, I began writing on a phenomenon I call “Peckerwood Populism” (“peckerwood,” a regional version of “woodpecker,” became first a slur used by poor southern black Americans to describe poor southern white Americans, then a self-descriptor and symbol proudly used by white racists). Here’s my description of Peckerwood Populist politicians circa 2009:

“While the average Peckerwood Populist is probably not affiliated with overtly white separatist/supremacist groups, he buys into that stereotype of the voter he’s pursuing. He’s pitching his product to blue collar white voters.  … I’m not saying that the average white, blue collar voter is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate. For that matter, I’m not even necessarily saying that the Peckerwood Populist agitator is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate. What I am saying is that the Peckerwood Populist agitator believes that … he can get his hooks into the voter by playing on those assumed sentiments.”

Sound familiar?

At one time, overt Peckerwood Populism was the mainstream in southern politics, preached by segregationist Democrats and, as it lost popularity, “Dixiecrats.” As it became even less popular and less overt and switched parties (with Nixon’s “southern strategy”), its reach expanded outside the south and loomed large in American politics until at least as late as 1988 (remember the Willie Horton ads?).

Peckerwood Populism is enjoying a nasty resurgence in the Age of Trump (and Trump is far from its sole practitioner).

Why? Because the Republican Party has failed to expand its base. The core GOP voting demographic is still white, blue collar, and male. The party has failed to appeal to black, Latinx, and female voters to expand that base.

If you can’t expand your base, you win by working harder to get more of that base out to the polls. You throw them lots and lots of red, racist, xenophobic, misogynist meat.

That’s exactly what Trump is doing. Whether he really means the crazy things he says is (mostly) beside the point. He believes his base believes those crazy things. If he’s right, that’s a far bigger problem than Trump himself.

 

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Assange and His Wiki Wicked leaks

“But all the same,” insisted the Savage, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone—quite alone, in the night, thinking about death…”

“But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.” Brave New World (17.31-3)

There’ll come a time when you’ve gone too far with your thinking. You’ve crossed the Imaginot line. Which is to say, à la Descartes, that you’ve gone too far with your being. Cogito ergo sum. A knock comes on your door. You open to find an agent of information (AI) say, “We have so much information on you. Please, follow me. We need to blow out your candles. Have your cake and eat it too. A long convalescence. Some adjustments and renewal.” They’re not asking and God help anyone who tries to stop them.

Amazon, Google, Facebook. Recorded Future, predictions of what you’ll do. MyActvity, the copious details of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and implicitly what you’ve thought.. Algorithms up the yinyang. Fused databases, a life’s postings of “thoughts”. Cogitos you cannot defend. Offenses “Made” on the run, arbitrary, charges bespoken, tailored to your presumed needs. You’ve always been a criminal — like, say, Trevor Noah — but never knew until the fascists came to collect you. To blow your mind to kingdom come. And reset to factory default.

As in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’ll be the Savages who want to be left alone, off the grid, who appreciate the value of privacy, who will be targeted, breaking as they do from the conditioning required by late metastatic Techno-Capitalism breaking real bad. In an information age your cogito is the final frontier for economic growth, your thoughts mere commodities. Settled into Soma, you’ll soon be swimming with the endolphins and feeling new porpoise, but the reality is that the sharks are swimming all around you in algorithmic circles. Only a savage would want to be free.

In a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Huxley discusses his new book Enemies of Freedom (retitled Brave New World Revisited) and the myriad ways growing technology can be used to influence mass thinking, and suggests ways that a candidate could be pushed by subliminal forces to elect a person that reasoned consideration would otherwise have rejected. One thinks of Trump, the pushing of emotional buttons, the swarming action, the slogans, rallies, and Triumph of the Buffoon’s Will.

One also thinks of the frenzied Joseph Kony campaign, the sudden swarming by millions of largely white, clueless suburban teenagers invited to join an intervention to capture an evil, but obscure African warlord in a staggering display of militarized political correctness. Lots of money raised. Congress, which can do nothing about gun control, immediately mobilized to pass a bill to allow American soldiers to foot-down in Uganda, where oil, by coincidence, is in great supply. Nobody’s looking for Kony today; nobody any longer cares. Kony is said to be alive and still kickin’ in Central Congo.

The Trump and Kony campaigns highlight how the Internet can be used and abused by nefarious forces to create flash floods of chaos online and in the ‘hood. It’s exactly the kind of desecration and trashing that has put the father of the Web, Tim Berners Lee, into teary despair. It’ll get worse: we know now the US military regards the Internet as a battlefield, needing constant reconnaissance, and a look-out for spies. We’ve come to see that ordinary citizens can be mobilized in an instant by government agents, some of whom may not have democracy’s best interest in mind.

We’ve gone way beyond just needing to Keep the Bastards Honest. As we’ve been reminded often enough, ex-general Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his final presidential address, warned explicitly about the threat to democracy by the secretive powers and influences of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Only a well-informed democratic populace is capable of keeping the bastards honest. That’s the job of the Fourth Estate. Today, through mergers and shutdowns, there are fewer and fewer newspapers, and only three global mainstream newspapers of record: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Guardian. But they aren’t trustworthy.

The NYT once quashed a crucial story by its prize-winning staff journalist James Risen about the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying on American citizens — a story that might have derailed Bush’s re-election a couple of weeks later. The NYT claimed that they didn’t want to influence the election; but not running the story did just that. The Washington Post has, primarily through owner Jeff Bezo’s work with the CIA, been undermined; and they have worked to defame legitimate alternative news sources, such as CounterPunch and Black Agenda Report. The Guardian, while famous for helping to report on Edward Snowden’s leaks and a one-time partner with Julian Assange, has curiously withdrawn a vigor of reportage on national security issues and seemingly gone to war with Assange.

It seems like Julian Assange has been at war with the MIC forever. At least, that’s how he’s been depicted. He’s always known the Bastards couldn’t be kept honest by simple, ordinary mainstream means — not when they’ve turned into paper tigers and no longer practice adversarial journalism (their approach to Trump being the exception — and instructive). He also seems to appreciate the Abbie Hoffman yippie credo: Revolution — for the Hell of It. And he understands that the Cogito is facing extinction, threatened like never before by the forces of conditioning that will only deepen as we approach the Singularity. He’s even written an extremely thoughtful book about cryptography, how it will be required to protect privacy in the future.

In his 2012 Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, which he calls a “warning” rather than a “manifesto, Assange writes, “The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen…within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.” Hacker, certified, ethical or otherwise, Assange has demonstrated he is a kind of hero for the new dark digital age. And he’s provided tools to fight back to a new generation of ethicists.

Rewatching “Collateral Damage,” the Wikileaks video from 2010 that shows an American Apache gunship firing on unsuspecting Iraqi civilians, one is awed not only by the brazen cold-blooded murder depicted but also what the incident encapsulated: The war on journalism; the disgusting impunity the War on Terror has engendered; the secrecy and lack of accountabilty; and the sheer pleasure in the double-tap murder exhibited that goes against all the boastful bullshit of democratic America’s exceptionalist imperialism.

Well, Assange may end up a martyr for the freedom we all threw away, cogs instead of cogitos, locked away in America after an Espionage Act conviction in a max security prison, in the hole, his privacy ‘privileges’ taken away, hosed down constantly by the surveillance camera hanging from the ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see if the MSM comes to his emotional rescue when he goes on trial, criminally charged with the adversarial journalism they’ve so often neglected in the name of protecting what used to be called the bourgeoisie.

For now, they treat him like he’s all wrapped up like a douche in the night, comparing the wicked leaks of his condom one night to his wikileaks, the idea being in each case that he’s careless with the information he disseminates, and leaves behind questions as to whether his hacking was ethical or not. While the ‘vast conspiracy’ of right wing sexual hypocrites continue to press for his annihilation, Assanges and his work endures. Keeping these secrets, our thoughts — this is the last frontier. “If we do not [redefine force relations], the universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.”

John Kendall Hawkins is an American expat freelancer based in Australia. He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times. He can be reached at his blog.

 

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What Has Happened to the U.S. Since the Kids Left Woodstock?

A next-door neighbor recently said that she can’t remember much about being at Woodstock, although she was there. I watched from afar at a camp for disabled kids near New London, Connecticut. I was a kind of cultural voyeur, looking on jealously at the photographs on the covers of major weekly magazines. For many of the baby boomer generation, not being there was a major miss in the cultural experience of a decade and perhaps a lifetime. Music was a large part of the 60s’ generation.

Now, we’ll be 50 years out on August 15th and the yardstick of that intervening history begs to be recounted. I often ask myself how we could have come to this disastrous juncture as a society, but the signs were always there if one cared to pay attention. If Woodstock celebrated peace, love, and music, then the war we were in set the tone for what was to come. Some say that Woodstock was a brief and welcome interlude from that war where America lost its soul.

Eight months after Woodstock, this society was already on the path that the loss of soul marked. The shots fired at Kent State and Jackson State were the first benchmarks on that journey.

People need work and the beginning of the move to a global marketplace was well under way and that move would undermine what it meant to earn a living. Industries shifted to sites across the world and a sizable number of workers in the U.S. became untethered from economic security. It happened in auto production, steel, and textiles among many other industries, some of which had enormous fossil fuel footprints.

The revolution in Iran was the next pivotal moment in world history. Revolutionaries threw off the shackles that had called the tune in a repressive regime led by the shah who had replaced a democratically elected government in the 1950s. That CIA-driven regime tortured its opponents and the reaction to the overthrow of the shah’s rule morphed into a repressive theocracy. But that theocracy did not represent all the people of Iran.

The taking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the machinations around the release of its staff precipitated the ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency and the beginning of the massive economic and social realignment that is now so obvious in the person of Trump. There is a direct line in the sand that can be seen from the Great Communicator to his Republican cohorts and heirs, passing with minor adjustments through Clinton and Obama.

The Great Communicator, always an enemy of free speech and antiwar protest (he had called for a bloodbath to end the Vietnam peace movement and we got that), knew that the Vietnam Syndrome (a reticence in the U.S. to engage in foreign wars) would call for a slow approach to resuming the bellicose foreign policy of the U.S. in his implementation of low-intensity warfare in countries in Central America, El Salvador and Nicaragua being the most notable. The U.S. trained terrorists to man death squads and paid for mercenary military forces.

Then came George H.W. Bush, the former CIA director.  Bush would begin the unraveling of Iraq as a nation in answer to its invasion of oil fields in neighboring Kuwait. The “turkey shoot” of fleeing Iraqi forces from Kuwait would mark the end of the Vietnam Syndrome and the beginning of a return to war as a tool of foreign policy over diplomacy. The nation would celebrate war once again.

Clinton, the neoliberal, had a brief stint as commander-in-chief in the former Yugoslavia where ethnic cleansing was taking place and padded his zest for neoliberalism with the opening of the floodgates of mass incarceration that had already been going on for a decade as a partial answer to an unnecessary workforce that globalization had sidelined. His criminalization of even minor drug offenses, his end of welfare, his opening of an easier pathway for executions all make his kiss and not telling in the White House a kind of bad joke.

George W. Bush was inept until Osama bin Laden gave him the opportunity to begin the endless wars we witness today in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and created the conditions of instability that launched wars in other countries and other continents, and turned, to a degree, the Middle East into a permanent shooting gallery and the trough at which the military-industrial-financial complex could endlessly feed. It was during Bush II’s tenure that the society witnessed the steady loss of civil liberties and the attempt of spy agencies to monitor all communications around the world and to look at something as innocuous as the reading habits of ordinary people at libraries. Here was the beginning of the end of habeas corpus and the CIA black sites where torture was practiced under the tutelage of U.S. psychologists.

With the exit of Bush, the society once again returned to the false hope and change of Barack Obama, who would cast off his base of supporters with a disregard that is breathtaking. Obama proved true to neoliberalism. He enlarged the war in Afghanistan with the now-famous troop surge of that era and Iraq became the base of yet another group of murderers who had filled the space created by Bush II’s destabilizing of the country’s infrastructure and government. Under Obama, citizens of the U.S. could be summarily executed without the due process of the law. Obama continued the neoliberal debacle in his reaction to the Great Recession of 2007-2008, which saw the massive loss of homes and home equity values that were felt the hardest in Black and Latino/Latina communities. Those who were too big to fail did well at the trough of federal taxpayer bailout funds. Even a casual observer, sitting outside all of this mess, could see that both the right and neoliberals were paving the way for the authoritarian know-nothing Trump.

Trump, an early member of the generation of baby boomers, was born with a real estate silver spoon in his mouth, and along with his father, Fred, honed a form of racism that was applied to their rental housing. Trump knew how to leave workers and contractors at his many projects high and dry, while he talked of making America Great Again and bringing back jobs to the U.S. And while many have prospered under Trump’s wealth transfer though taxes and tax laws, it remains to be seen if the economy will tank once again and require yet another bailout at the expense of ordinary people, many of whom don’t have the cash to meet even a minor personal or family emergency.

It seems that trying to view the world once again through the eyes of a kid, who would go down to a peaceful Connecticut lake near the sea with a fellow camp counselor and look up at the night sky and wonder just what the Apollo mission was all about, and whether the war half a world away would come crashing in on the quietude of the cricket chorus that made that summer night so close and wondrous.

The moon walk was only hours away, as Nixon bombed the hell out of the Vietnamese people through his secret plan for peace. My Lai and the Tet Offensive were already behind us, while the carnage of Kent State and Jackson State and the expansion of the war in Cambodia was just ahead.

Fifty years ago the Congress and the judiciary were no help in protest against the war, but the protest movement was vibrant and focused. It came out of the civil rights movement and gave rise to many, many movements of protest in the coming decades.

A person could stand on that coastal plain in Connecticut today and look back over his or her shoulder and see the sweep of history that is breathtaking. Vietnam was not an existential threat, even though it felt that way to many of us. Now, we face the actual existential threat of environmental destruction that will wipe out species and obliterate every high achievement that humanity has ever accomplished. The latter is especially true so close to the sea all these years later.

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“How Could They?” Why Some Americans Were Drawn to the Communist Party in the 1940s

Kevin Baker, reviewing “A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father” by David Maraniss for the New York Times, asks “…what were his parents, and especially his father, doing in the Communist Party in the first place?…”

This moved me to ask myself the same question: How in the world could I too join that party in July 1945, despite “dreary Russian dogma” and “the horrors of the Soviet Union” which – later revealed in detail by Khrushchev in 1956 – we vigorously denied but at least partially suspected?

Looking back, I do recall a few reasons which may help explain this puzzle. Even at 17 I knew that Communists were a major force in building the labor union movement, especially the CIO, in the steel, auto, electrical appliance industries, among seamen, West Coast dockers, New York subway workers, southern sharecroppers and tobacco workers, white and black together – and not without bloodshed. This new strength was a key factor in achieving social security and the 40 hour week. I knew of the Communists’ major role in fighting evictions and personally knew a black Communist woman who rallied neighbors to carry furniture back into the home of an evicted white family.

I knew that the Communist Party, almost alone at first, had fought to save the lives of the nine framed-up black “Scottsboro boys”, mobilizing international solidarity in doing so.

Perhaps most dramatic of all, I knew that Communists formed a majority of the young men and women who overcame countless hardships, risking and often losing their lives to save a democratically elected government in Spain and prevent fascist Italy and Nazi Germany from preparing for a new world war. Their sacrifices were especially bitter because, while only the USSR and Mexico supplied the Madrid government, Britain, France permitted only Franco to obtain a victorious supply of tanks, planes, trucks and fuel from Hitler and Mussolini – and US corporations.

Indeed, I learned that Soviet Foreign Minister Litvinov had been virtually ignored by the western democracies when he called for “collective security” against fascist takeovers of Spain, Manchuria, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. I was then saddened and disturbed – but understood all too clearly why the USSR felt compelled to counter western moves to appease Hitler and push him into a conflict and defeat of the “Bolshevik threat.” Seeing their repeated preference for Nazis over Communists, as demonstrated in Spain and at Munich, it resorted to the Hitler-Stalin pact, odious as it was, in order to prevent a united attempt to destroy the USSR. This gained two precious years to build tanks, planes and other weapons in preparation for the inevitable Nazi invasion.

And how could I forget in 1945 that while battles such as Anzio or Normandy were costly and valiant, they were immensely outweighed in scope by the four years’ struggle of the Red Army in defeating perhaps 80% of the fascist armies. Nor could I overlook the immense sacrifices of the Soviet people, with more than four times as many Soviet citizens murdered by the Nazi aggressors, a majority civilians, than were killed in the horrors of the Holocaust. More than three million Soviet POWs were deliberately starved to death by the Nazis, after first shooting Jews and Communists. Such facts doubtless helped me digest some “dreary dogma”. Giant battles in the ruins of Stalingrad or crossing the Oder had also saved me, at seventeen, from being drafted and sent to some dangerous frontline.

And was it really all so dreary? In those years so many great artists, writers, musicians and film-makers were still either Communists or close to them. Theodore Dreiser, Arthur Miller, Richard Wright, Clifford Odets, Howard Fast, Langston Hughes, Shostakovich, Aaron Copeland, Marc Blitzstein, David Siqueiros, Picasso, William Gropper, Rockwell Kent, Maxim Gorki, Romaine Rolland, Martin Anderson Nexo, Mikhail Sholokhov, Ilya Ehrenburg, Louis Aragon, Sean O’Casey, Pablo Neruda, Anna Seghers, Bertolt Brecht, Mike Gold, Orson Welles, Earl Robinson (“Joe Hill” and “Ballad for Americans”) and so many others! Plus the wonderful singers I loved: Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the great Ernst Busch, who made Spanish Civil War songs known world-wide!

As for the members of my Communist Party group at Harvard, secretive because of increasingly icy Cold War tentacles, they were among the most brilliant students; witty, well-read not only in Marxism (even today not seen by everyone as dreary) but in world literature and political developments. At least seven – though later no longer Communist Party members – became leading professors in philosophy, sociology, mathematics, linguistics, Asian languages and other fields.

Yes, terrible things had happened and were still happening in the USSR. But we did not become Communists because of any adoration of Stalin. We wanted a better world, one in peace, and we admired the giant achievements of the Soviet people in overcoming illiteracy and building a giant industrial base which proved so vital in defeating the Nazis. We also admired an economy which suffered no joblessness while nearly the entire world groaned under the Great Depression.

Then too, looking backward at judging nations, I ask myself: How should a citizen of the world, or the USA, regard the deaths of three million North Koreans, the destruction of every building over one story (and allegedly some reservoir dams)? Or the killing of up to three million Vietnamese, poisoning their forests and their genes for generations, plus the mining and bombing of Laos and Cambodia with no discernable excuse? Or the support of murderous Latin American dictators, Anastasio Somoza, Alfredo Stroessner, Fulgencio Batista, Papa Doc and a dozen others, most dramatically Pinochet in Chile, the support of apartheid in South Africa almost to the bitter end, perhaps including a CIA betrayal of Nelson Mandela to the police? Or unwarranted destruction and more death from the sky in distant Serbia, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen – none of them a threat to the USA?

Should one conclude, as some do with Russia, that the USA is totally diabolic, to be hated and threatened in every way? I think not. As an ex-pat for much of my life, an exile of the McCarthy era, I have always refused to give up my patriotic feelings for my native USA – but based on the actions of its genuine heroes: John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Thoreau, Mark Twain, Eugene V. Debs, Albert and Lucy Parsons; “Big Bill” Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Professor DuBois and Martin Luther King – and so many, many others, known or unknown. Those were fellow Americans who made me proud. But I could also admire great fighters of other lands, from Karl Marx to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, Fidel and Che, Amílcar Cabral and Patrice Lumumba who fought for African freedom, Ho Chi Minh and Manolis Glezos, who tore the swastika from the Parthenon in 1941, and the brave partisans in World War Two, so often led by Communists. And also the exhausted Soviet soldiers who fought for every room in embattled Stalingrad or the tens of thousands who died in finally liberating Berlin from the Nazi monsters in the city where I have been living for so many years.

No, many countries have suffered horrors, and many had heroes, heroines as well as oppressors. Upheavals and disappointments have driven home the message that blind, inflexible allegiance to any person, policy or ideology, political or religious, must be avoided.  But the world still needs changing. Those resisting this, greedier, wealthier, more brutal than ever, still stand in the way. I feel no remorse about my choice in 1945.

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Minnesota, White People, Lutherans and Ilhan Omar

Interesting that Trump’s current opportunistic vilification campaign focuses on a congresswoman from Minnesota.

My late mother was from Minnesota. Daughter of an immigrant Swedish father and a mother born of Norwegian immigrants, she had a kind of Ingrid Bergman look. The hospital record describes her as “comely” (as though this were a technical term) at age 80.

I recall a black girl at Walter Reed Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia telling me circa 1966: “Yo mama’s cute!” My fifth grade brain registered appreciation that she would admire a white woman’s looks. The “racial tension” in that newly-integrated school was palpable.

My mom complained to me that in her parent-teacher conference with our teacher (“Ms. Calhoun”) she’d been shocked by the latter’s bold-faced racism. The school had just been integrated a couple years before and Ms. Calhoun was not a happy camper.

Having attended schools on military bases, most recently Ramstein AFB, Germany, which were of course integrated, I was challenged by the ambient tension in Arlington. I made black friends easily but also had one fist fight with a black kid named Alvin who ripped the buttons off my shirt. The fight was a draw and we were friends afterwards. As I recall my mom was forgiving, about the shirt.

Just random memories of my Minnesota mom, and those times.

I later attended Swanson Junior High School down the street, another newly-integrated school, from 1968 to 1970. A lot of heavy stuff happened across the Potomac in those years: massive antiwar demonstrations, ferocious “race riots,” counter-culture explosions. My father, a career military officer, responded to the changing times with fear and defensiveness; he did not respond well to my opposition to the Vietnam War as a middle schooler. He became impossible to talk to, while my Mom would always listen.

“Why are you listening to that Negro music?” she once asked, referring to Motown on the radio. I said I like it. The Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips. She got used to it.

My mom became more progressive over time, although when we moved to Hawai’i—so that my father could work at CINCPAC—she was concerned about her sons developing relations with Asian women. (That in fact happened but she adjusted; her racist views faded over time.)

My mom had not met a black person until she took the train from Minnesota to Alabama to get married in 1954; both my parents grew up in lightly populated parts of the mid-west where everyone was white. Mom was born and raised in Moorhead, in the Red River Valley, sister city to Fargo, North Dakota. (You’ve seen the movie. Yes, that’s how people talk in Fargo. I have aunts who talk that way.) My father was born in the middle of North Dakota, in a village of 300 white people visited sometimes by some Lakota Sioux. This was then total-white territory.

My parents met while he studied at North Dakota State University in Fargo—where Ilhan Omar would study many years later. My mom worked as a telephone operator in Moorhead next door. She was the youngest of six siblings, raised after her father’s premature death by a mother who did laundry and sewing, and by older siblings before they left for the war. My father was the oldest of five, son of the leading merchant in his tiny hometown, always full of confidence and arrogance. The two shared a Lutheran faith, my father as a pro forma matter, my mother more genuinely pious. (She badly wanted me to study theology and become a Lutheran minister and was saddened when I abandoned Christianity.)

I visited the Midwest many times in my childhood, seeing relatives in both states. I thought my Minnesota relatives (my mom’s people) fun to be with: we share to this day a dry Nordic humor and general tolerance for diversity. On the other hand I thought my paternal relatives repressed and humorless. (“Germanic,” I thought). My great-great-grandfather was a Swiss theologian who immigrated to the U.S. during the Civil War. I think he was trained in Calvinist theology in Basel but found employment in Lutheran churches; I wonder how he resolved the ideological contradiction. But all his books and notes were lost in a Red River flood so I have no basis to analyze.

Anyway, with such Midwest roots I rejoice in the knowledge that the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) have come to host the largest community of Somali immigrants in the U.S. And that the fifth congressional district of Minnesota, covering Minneapolis, is represented by Ilhan Omar. Her constituency is 67% white, 17% black (including Somali immigrants), 9% Asian and 1% Native American.

Omar’s warm airport welcome when she returned to Minneapolis suggests she has endeared herself to base that is overwhelmingly white. By one calculation, Minnesota is the 13th “whitest” state in the nation. It is among the most Christian states, with about a quarter Lutherans and a quarter Catholic. (One of my aunts married a Catholic in the 50s and there was a terrible fuss.) It is a Bible-reading population.

The Bible teaches that the Creator of all things chose the descendants of Abraham, his Chosen People, to possess the Promised Land. The New Testament teaches that Jesus will return to Jerusalem during the End Times. Some Bible prophetic texts can be construed as predicting (and justifying) the reestablishment of a Jewish state in Israel.

Christian Zionists feel passionately supportive of Israel, and are generally disinterested in the details of Palestinian oppression. Their pastors preach from the pulpit that we must all support Israel because God Himself calls on us to do so. Organized Christianity in this country remains largely pro-Zionist, and the Israel Lobby increasingly conflates any criticism of Israel’s (rather obvious, egregious) crimes—and even any promotion of boycotts of Israeli products—with “anti-Semitism.”

The president least sensitive to issues of bigotry and racism suddenly is bursting with indignation that Omar has said “terrible things about Israel.” An obvious ploy and sop to his most backward followers.

But if the plan is to hurt Omar’s political fortunes, it might not work in Minnesota. The locally powerful Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, and support for the BDS movement, until the Israelis stop colonizing the West Bank. They have been protesting the separation wall since at least 2005. They are Christians with a conscience, paying attention to the real world rather than fantasizing about the Rapture.

I think of one of my Minnesota aunts, on the repressed Germanic side, the Lutheran who boldly married the Catholic in the 1950s when it was controversial (“inter-faith marriage”), chatting with me in her hometown in North Dakota in 2000. We were talking about Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy whose fate was then in the balance. She opined he should be returned to his dad in Cuba of course—as though it were obvious. I felt so pleased by her rationality, in a family that I suspect at present as I speak continues to include Trump supporters. She still strikes me as a model Minnesotan, upright, energetic, reasonable, thoughtful, compassionate. Like my mom.

The thought that white, Scandinavian-American, German-American, Lutheran Minnesotans are chatting in church basements over lutefish at the smorgasbord, drinking strong black coffee and praising this woman for her courage is pleasing. May white people in Minnesota and elsewhere dignify themselves by standing up for Ilhan Omar in these disturbing times.

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Lunar Narratives: Landing on the Moon, Politics and the Cold War

Anniversaries are occasions to distort records. The intoxicated recounting of the past faces a record in need of correction. Couples long married hide their differences before guests. Creases are covered; the make-up is applied generously. Defects become virtues, if, indeed they were ever there to begin with. In historical commemoration, the same is true. The moon landing anniversary his weekend was given a vigorous clean-up, with the Cold War finding a back seat when it was, in fact, the main driver.

The moon project was a fundamental political poke, soaked by competitive drives. The science was the instrumental ballast and has come to provide the heavy cosmetics to romanticise what is, at best, an effigy. When President John F. Kennedy proclaimed his wish for the United States to land a man on the moon and safely return him by the end of the 1960s, he was google-eyed by Cold War syndrome. The Soviets had been making advances in the space race, and paranoia at Red exploits was catching. A godless state had launched the nerve wracking Sputnik in 1957 and in 1961 put Yuri Gagarin into space.

While the Soviet Union is only mentioned once in his speech at Rice University, the competitive dig, the putdown, did come. Balance had to be restored. “Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were ‘made in the United States of America’ and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.” When he mentions being “behind for some time in manned flight”, there is little doubt who the bogeyman to beat is. We do not, he said reassuringly to his audience, “intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.”

Combating the Soviet Union, and communism more broadly, was simply one aspect of an aggrandised fist fight, to be fought on the ground, the seas, and in space. While it has become a charming conceit to suggest that JFK had intended to take the brakes off US commitments to stemming the Communist contagion in Vietnam, his administration saw a spike in the deployment of resources and advisors to the South. He had to be seen to be aggressive in all theatres of endeavour.

Domestically, selling the moon mission was not popular, and the post-landing effort to scrub away voices of opposition in the historical record has been vigorous. Space historian Roger Launius notes the sentiment at the time. “Consistently throughout the 1960s a majority of Americans did not believe Apollo was worth the cost, with the one exception to this poll taken at the time of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in July 1969.”

In 1964, the sociologist Amitai Etzioni published the despairing, blistering work that deserves a good dive into. The Moon-Doggle: Domestic and International Implications of the Space Race notes scientific opposition to the space program, at least in so far as it was not balanced. The space race, with its immortalisation of gadgets, glorified “rocket-powered jumps” and “extrovert activism”, had been “used as an escape”. The obsession with the moon delayed “facing ourselves, as Americans and citizens of the earth.”

Earthly concerns were considered more pressing. Civil rights leaders in the United States feared a loss of focus. While a million people gathered along Florida’s Space Coast to watch the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969, some 500 protestors, mostly African-American and led by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, paid a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre. He had in tow a wooden wagon and two mules, a deliciously confronting contrast between the Saturn V rocket and the impecunious life. “$12 a day to feed an astronaut, we could feed a child for $8,” read the protest signs.

NASA administrator Thomas Paine ventured out to meet Abernathy, subsequently recounting the concerns of the reverend. “The money for the space program, he stated, should be spent to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, and house the shelterless.”

Behind the project lay other dark forces whose roles have been obscured by propagandists of a romantic lunar narrative. The amoral genius that was Wernher von Braun, given the moniker of Missileman, was an illustration that science might well lack an ethical compass, even if it worked. Tom Lehrer’s lines from 1967 were hitting in their aptness:

Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That’s not my department, says Wernher von Braun.

Kennedy was himself keen to justify the reason for going to the moon not because it made sense for humans to do so but because it was hard. His Rice University address couples banalities, the human urge to engage and achieve the impossible expounded. “Why climb the highest mountain?” he rhetorically poses. Or fly the Atlantic? “Why does Rice play Texas?” Going to the moon was a goal that would “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

What mattered was getting the job done with a kind of mechanistic fanaticism: working labourers to death in Mittelbau-Dora in making V-2 rockets to target civilians during the Second World War was as worthy as beating the Soviets in the space game. In Disney’s 1955 television production Man and the Moon, von Braun, the then director of development at the US Army Ballistic Missile Agency, spoke of a nuclear-powered space station that would propel Americans to the moon.

A decade before, von Braun was part of a scooping operation conducted by US personnel to nab the best and brightest of German science, a process that did much to ensure a good deal of whitewashing of industrialised murder. In the gathering were the signs of the Cold War to come; the Soviets conducted their own version of Operation Paperclip, plundering the brainboxes of Teutonic engineering. To the victors went the corrupted spoils.

Von Braun was treated and feted, plied with generous budgets and resources. The missiles duly came. He led a team that developed Redstone, the first US ballistic missile capable of propelling a nuclear warhead to distances of 250 miles. Then came the Jupiter-C in 1958, which shot the first US satellite, Explorer 1, into space. The famed Saturn V rocket was created while von Braun was director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre. The line between concentration camp and the moon landing was established, as was the role of the smooth scientist communicator trading on human wonder.

Colossal human stupidity, and moral shakiness, tend to find ways into the grandiose and the grand. As a species, hubris has proven a common trait. Technological mastery comes torrentially more easily than luminous ethical insight. France’s courtly Charles De Gaulle was reflective on this point: humans might well have mastered the way of getting to the moon but it could hardly be said to be far. “The greatest distance we have to cover still lies within us.” Humankind has yet to master its more terrestrial problems. Any future exploration and colonisation is bound to see humans bringing their own complement of problems to the frontiers of space. Facing ourselves continues to be a delayed enterprise of arrested development.

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Free La Donalda!

The Queen was in a furious passion, and went stamping about, and shouting, “Off with his head!” or “Off with her head!” about once in a minute. 

For whom sleep is possible comes a measure of solace, only to awaken each day to a nightmare that far exceeds anything our dreamscapes can manufacture. It’s not just the mad queen that has us walking through a house of horrors on DMT, it’s the unraveling of all certainties that used to offer at least a simulacrum of a toehold. No more. The human race has gone certifiably, glitheringly, bonkers. So belly up to the bar, baby, and have a drink with me and ole Jack Torrance. Cast aside that doleful countenance for a moment. Stash that anxiety, confusion, and sorrow in a ziplock and let’s enjoy ourselves!

Granted, this lunacy has always been the case with our beloved species, but when your planet is turning into a filthy, overcrowded, overheated rat cage in the basement of a deranged pharmaceutical researcher in the employ of the Sackler family, things tend to go a little crackers. The researcher is wearing strange clothes and making videos of herself doing odd things, neglecting the tender care and feeding of her subjects, while they, the rats, armed to the teeth, are doing vicious, ugly things to each other.

So come on, let’s lighten up here and have some fun! It’s all going to shit anyway, right? What’s wrong with a little spin on the Good Ship Lollipop? Admit it, you’d love, just for once in your dreary, boring life, to cast aside the hair shirt of this socially constructed, stultifying “normality” and give free rein to that repressed, brilliantly-colored bird of paradise that flitters around inside. You know you would! Don’t just leave it to the other rats who’ve clawed their way to the top of the bloody heap!

Now, our mad queen. The tortured soul that currently inhabits the “white” house (white, not the absence of color but a composite of all the others!) is, indubitably, the ne plus ultra of our collective torment and repressed longings. We must feel as deep a compassion for him as we would for ourselves. We must yearn for his whiteness, in his whitest of houses, to pass through the prism of liberation and allow his true, brilliant colors to be visible for all to see, and for him to finally, joyfully, realize. There is not a moment to lose, for the longer this tragic repression exits deep within the soul of this sorrowful creature, the more perilous our enterprise becomes. Free La Donalda before it’s too late!

I see La Donalda revealing her true identity for the first time at the Palace Bar in Miami Beach (“Every Queen Needs a Palace”), a touristy, open air joint something like the Café du Monde sans beignets but with an extra, colorful twist. This would be a good place for her to break in, get a feel for it. She could dip her fungal-infected big toe in at “Friday Drag Madness.” See how the secretaries from Omaha respond. Get some feedback from the regulars. You know she’s practiced plenty in her little white house. Nix those rumors of prancing about in a bathrobe tweeting at five PM. The tweets, sure, whatever supermarket confectionary madness slithers into her ravaged calabaza, but the monogramed, velvet bathrobe, no! At that hour (not even his secret service detail knows) the glittering wardrobes come out of the vast, well-appointed closet, the boas, the sequins, the red vinyl gogo boots, the camel toe panties, that special bra, the décolletage, all of it! After a few appearances at “Friday Drag Madness,” feeling secure and comfortable in her new identity, La Donalda could go on to more exotic venues, the identity of which my prudent lips will never divulge. Surely La Donalda knows whereof I speak…

So come on, citizens, it’s our civic duty to liberate this, er, man! Let’s chip in with some encouraging tweets, calls (202-456-1111), post cards, (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500), or emails. Get those Facebook posts going! The signs have always been there. The fixation on “pussies,” the curious effeminate locution, the odd, epicene gestures with those little fingers, the terrible hate and anger, the hyper-masculinity, all point to a classical Freudian desire to escape the boundaries of his cruelly-appointed genetics. He wants out, folks! Let’s give him the encouragement he needs before it’s too late!

 

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U.S. Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses

Photograph Source: Trending Topics 2019 – CC BY 2.0

Today’s world is at war on many fronts. The rules of international law and order put in place toward the end of World War II are being broken by U.S. foreign policy escalating its confrontation with countries that refrain from giving its companies control of their economic surpluses. Countries that do not give the United States control their oil and financial sectors or privatize their key sectors are being isolated by the United States imposing trade sanctions and unilateral tariffs giving special advantages to U.S. producers in violation of free trade agreements with European, Asian and other countries.

This global fracture has an increasingly military cast. U.S. officials justify tariffs and import quotas illegal under WTO rules on “national security” grounds, claiming that the United States can do whatever it wants as the world’s “exceptional” nation. U.S. officials explain that this means that their nation is not obliged to adhere to international agreements or even to its own treaties and promises. This allegedly sovereign right to ignore on its international agreements was made explicit after Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeline Albright broke the promise by President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would not expand eastward after 1991. (“You didn’t get it in writing,” was the U.S. response to the verbal agreements that were made.)

Likewise, the Trump administration repudiated the multilateral Iranian nuclear agreement signed by the Obama administration, and is escalating warfare with its proxy armies in the Near East. U.S. politicians are waging a New Cold War against Russia, China, Iran, and oil-exporting countries that the United States is seeking to isolate if cannot control their governments, central bank and foreign diplomacy.

* Keynote Paper delivered at the 14th Forum of the World Association for Political Economy, July 21, 2019.

The international framework that originally seemed equitable was pro-U.S. from the outset. In 1945 this was seen as a natural result of the fact that the U.S. economy was the least war-damaged and held by far most of the world’s monetary gold. Still, the postwar trade and financial framework was ostensibly set up on fair and equitable international principles. Other countries were expected to recover and grow, creating diplomatic, financial and trade parity with each other.

But the past decade has seen U.S. diplomacy become one-sided in turning the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, SWIFT bank-clearing system and world trade into an asymmetrically exploitative system. This unilateral U.S.-centered array of institutions is coming to be widely seen not only as unfair, but as blocking the progress of other countries whose growth and prosperity is seen by U.S. foreign policy as a threat to unilateral U.S. hegemony. What began as an ostensibly international order to promote peaceful prosperity has turned increasingly into an extension of U.S. nationalism, predatory rent-extraction and a more dangerous military confrontation.

Deterioration of international diplomacy into a more nakedly explicit pro-U.S. financial, trade and military aggression was implicit in the way in which economic diplomacy was shaped when the United Nations, IMF and World Bank were shaped mainly by U.S. economic strategists. Their economic belligerence is driving countries to withdraw from the global financial and trade order that has been turned into a New Cold War vehicle to impose unilateral U.S. hegemony. Nationalistic reactions are consolidating into new economic and political alliances from Europe to Asia.

We are still mired in the Oil War that escalated in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, which quickly spread to Libya and Syria. American foreign policy has long been based largely on control of oil. This has led the United States to oppose the Paris accords to stem global warming. Its aim is to give U.S. officials the power to impose energy sanctions forcing other countries to “freeze in the dark” if they do not follow U.S. leadership.

To expand its oil monopoly, America is pressuring Europe to oppose the Nordstream II gas pipeline from Russia, claiming that this would make Germany and other countries dependent on Russia instead of on U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG). Likewise, American oil diplomacy has imposed unilateral sanctions against Iranian oil exports, until such time as a regime change opens up that country’s oil reserves to U.S., French, British and other allied oil majors.

U.S. control of dollarized money and credit is critical to this hegemony. As Congressman Brad Sherman of Los Angeles told a House Financial Services Committee hearing on May 9, 2019: “An awful lot of our international power comes from the fact that the U.S. dollar is the standard unit of international finance and transactions. Clearing through the New York Fed is critical for major oil and other transactions. It is the announced purpose of the supporters of cryptocurrency to take that power away from us, to put us in a position where the most significant sanctions we have against Iran, for example, would become irrelevant.”[1]

The U.S. aim is to keep the dollar as the transactions currency for world trade, savings, central bank reserves and international lending. This monopoly status enables the U.S. Treasury and State Department to disrupt the financial payments system and trade for countries with which the United States is at economic or outright military war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly responded by describing how “the degeneration of the universalist globalization model [is] turning into a parody, a caricature of itself, where common international rules are replaced with the laws… of one country.”[2] That is the trajectory on which this deterioration of formerly open international trade and finance is now moving. It has been building up for a decade. On June 5, 2009, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cited this same disruptive U.S. dynamic at work in the wake of the U.S. junk mortgage and bank fraud crisis.

Those whose job it was to forecast events … were not ready for the depth of the crisis and turned out to be too rigid, unwieldy and slow in their response. The international financial organisations – and I think we need to state this up front and not try to hide it – were not up to their responsibilities, as has been said quite unambiguously at a number of major international events such as the two recent G20 summits of the world’s largest economies.

Furthermore, we have had confirmation that our pre-crisis analysis of global economic trends and the global economic system were correct. The artificially maintained uni-polar system and preservation of monopolies in key global economic sectors are root causes of the crisis. One big centre of consumption, financed by a growing deficit, and thus growing debts, one formerly strong reserve currency, and one dominant system of assessing assets and risks – these are all factors that led to an overall drop in the quality of regulation and the economic justification of assessments made, including assessments of macroeconomic policy. As a result, there was no avoiding a global crisis.[3]

That crisis is what is now causing today’s break in global trade and payments.

Warfare on many fronts, with Dollarization being the main arena

Dissolution of the Soviet Union 1991 did not bring the disarmament that was widely expected. U.S. leadership celebrated the Soviet demise as signaling the end of foreign opposition to U.S.-sponsored neoliberalism and even as the End of History. NATO expanded to encircle Russia and sponsored “color revolutions” from Georgia to Ukraine, while carving up former Yugoslavia into small statelets. American diplomacy created a foreign legion of Wahabi fundamentalists from Afghanistan to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya in support of Saudi Arabian extremism and Israeli expansionism.

The United States is waging war for control of oil against Venezuela, where a military coup failed a few years ago, as did the 2018-19 stunt to recognize an unelected pro-American puppet regime. The Honduran coup under President Obama was more successful in overthrowing an elected president advocating land reform, continuing the tradition dating back to 1954 when the CIA overthrew Guatemala’s Arbenz regime.

U.S. officials bear a special hatred for countries that they have injured, ranging from Guatemala in 1954 to Iran, whose regime it overthrew to install the Shah as military dictator. Claiming to promote “democracy,” U.S. diplomacy has redefined the word to mean pro-American, and opposing land reform, national ownership of raw materials and public subsidy of foreign agriculture or industry as an “undemocratic” attack on “free markets,” meaning markets controlled by U.S. financial interests and absentee owners of land, natural resources and banks.

A major byproduct of warfare has always been refugees, and today’s wave fleeing ISIS, Al Qaeda and other U.S.-backed Near Eastern proxies is flooding Europe. A similar wave is fleeing the dictatorial regimes backed by the United States from Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia and neighboring countries. The refugee crisis has become a major factor leading to the resurgence of nationalist parties throughout Europe and for the white nationalism of Donald Trump in the United States.

Dollarization as the vehicle for U.S. nationalism

The Dollar Standard – U.S. Treasury debt to foreigners held by the world’s central banks – has replaced the gold-exchange standard for the world’s central bank reserves to settle payments imbalances among themselves. This has enabled the United States to uniquely run balance-of-payments deficits for nearly seventy years, despite the fact that these Treasury IOUs have little visible likelihood of being repaid except under arrangements where U.S. rent-seeking and outright financial tribute from other enables it to liquidate its official foreign debt.

The United States is the only nation that can run sustained balance-of-payments deficits without having to sell off its assets or raise interest rates to borrow foreign money. No other national economy in the world can could afford foreign military expenditures on any major scale without losing its exchange value. Without the Treasury-bill standard, the United States would be in this same position along with other nations. That is why Russia, China and other powers that U.S. strategists deem to be strategic rivals and enemies are looking to restore gold’s role as the preferred asset to settle payments imbalances.

The U.S. response is to impose regime change on countries that prefer gold or other foreign currencies to dollars for their exchange reserves. A case in point is the overthrow of Libya’s Omar Kaddafi after he sought to base his nation’s international reserves on gold. His liquidation stands as a military warning to other countries.

Thanks to the fact that payments-surplus economies invest their dollar inflows in U.S. Treasury bonds, the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit finances its domestic budget deficit. This foreign central-bank recycling of U.S. overseas military spending into purchases of U.S. Treasury securities gives the United States a free ride, financing its budget – also mainly military in character – so that it can taxing its own citizens.

Trump is forcing other countries to create an alternative to the Dollar Standard

The fact that Donald Trump’s economic policies are proving ineffective in restoring American manufacturing is creating rising nationalist pressure to exploit foreigners by arbitrary tariffs without regard for international law, and to impose trade sanctions and diplomatic meddling to disrupt regimes that pursue policies that U.S. diplomats do not like.

There is a parallel here with Rome in the late 1st century BC. It stripped its provinces to pay for its military deficit, the grain dole and land redistribution at the expense of Italian cities and Asia Minor. This created foreign opposition to drive Rome out. The U.S. economy is similar to Rome’s: extractive rather than productive, based mainly on land rents and money-interest. As the domestic market is impoverished, U.S. politicians are seeking to take from abroad what no longer is being produced at home.

What is so ironic – and so self-defeating of America’s free global ride – is that Trump’s simplistic aim of lowering the dollar’s exchange rate to make U.S. exports more price-competitive. He imagines commodity trade to be the entire balance of payments, as if there were no military spending, not to mention lending and investment. To lower the dollar’s exchange rate, he is demanding that China’s central bank and those of other countries stop supporting the dollar by recycling the dollars they receive for their exports into holdings of U.S. Treasury securities.

This tunnel vision leaves out of account the fact that the trade balance is not simply a matter of comparative international price levels. The United States has dissipated its supply of spare manufacturing capacity and local suppliers of parts and materials, while much of its industrial engineering and skilled manufacturing labor has retired. An immense shortfall must be filled by new capital investment, education and public infrastructure, whose charges are far above those of other economics.

Trump’s infrastructure ideology is a Public-Private Partnership characterized by high-cost financialization demanding high monopoly rents to cover its interest charges, stock dividends and management fees. This neoliberal policy raises the cost of living for the U.S. labor force, making it uncompetitive. The United States is unable to produce more at any price right now, because its has spent the past half-century dismantling its infrastructure, closing down its part suppliers and outsourcing its industrial technology.

The United States has privatized and financialized infrastructure and basic needs such as public health and medical care, education and transportation that other countries have kept in their public domain to make their economies more cost-efficient by providing essential services at subsidized prices or freely. The United States also has led the practice of debt pyramiding, from housing to corporate finance. This financial engineering and wealth creation by inflating debt-financed real estate and stock market bubbles has made the United States a high-cost economy that cannot compete successfully with well-managed mixed economies.

Unable to recover dominance in manufacturing, the United States is concentrating on rent-extracting sectors that it hopes monopolize, headed by information technology and military production. On the industrial front, it threatens disrupt China and other mixed economies by imposing trade and financial sanctions.

The great gamble is whether these other countries will defend themselves by joining in alliances enabling them to bypass the U.S. economy. American strategists imagine their country to be the world’s essential economy, without whose market other countries must suffer depression. The Trump Administration thinks that There Is No Alternative (TINA) for other countries except for their own financial systems to rely on U.S. dollar credit.

To protect themselves from U.S. sanctions, countries would have to avoid using the dollar, and hence U.S. banks. This would require creation of a non-dollarized financial system for use among themselves, including their own alternative to the SWIFT bank clearing system. Table 1 lists some possible related defenses against U.S. nationalistic diplomacy.

As noted above, what also is ironic in President Trump’s accusation of China and other countries of artificially manipulating their exchange rate against the dollar (by recycling their trade and payments surpluses into Treasury securities to hold down their currency’s dollar valuation) involves dismantling the Treasury-bill standard. The main way that foreign economies have stabilized their exchange rate since 1971 has indeed been to recycle their dollar inflows into U.S. Treasury securities. Letting their currency’s value rise would threaten their export competitiveness against their rivals, although not necessarily benefit the United States.

Ending this practice leaves countries with the main way to protect their currencies from rising against the dollar is to reduce dollar inflows by blocking U.S. lending to domestic borrowers. They may levy floating tariffs proportioned to the dollar’s declining value. The U.S. has a long history since the 1920s of raising its tariffs against currencies that are depreciating: the American Selling Price (ASP) system. Other countries can impose their own floating tariffs against U.S. goods.

Trade dependency as an aim of the World Bank, IMF and US AID

The world today faces a problem much like what it faced on the eve of World War II. Like Germany then, the United States now poses the main threat of war, and equally destructive neoliberal economic regimes imposing austerity, economic shrinkage and depopulation. U.S. diplomats are threatening to destroy regimes and entire economies that seek to remain independent of this system, by trade and financial sanctions backed by direct military force.

Dedollarization will require creation of multilateral alternatives to U.S. “front” institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and other agencies in which the United States holds veto power to block any alternative policies deemed not to let it “win.” U.S. trade policy through the World Bank and U.S. foreign aid agencies aims at promoting dependency on U.S. food exports and other key commodities, while hiring U.S. engineering firms to build up export infrastructure to subsidize U.S. and other natural-resource investors.[4] The financing is mainly in dollars, providing risk-free bonds to U.S. and other financial institutions. The resulting commercial and financial “interdependency” has led to a situation in which a sudden interruption of supply would disrupt foreign economies by causing a breakdown in their chain of payments and production. The effect is to lock client countries into dependency on the U.S. economy and its diplomacy, euphemized as “promoting growth and development.”

U.S. neoliberal policy via the IMF imposes austerity and opposes debt writedowns. Its economic model pretends that debtor countries can pay any volume of dollar debt simply by reducing wages to squeeze more income out of the labor force to pay foreign creditors. This ignores the fact that solving the domestic “budget problem” by taxing local revenue still faces the “transfer problem” of converting it into dollars or other hard currencies in which most international debt is denominated. The result is that the IMF’s “stabilization” programs actually destabilize and impoverish countries forced into following its advice.

IMF loans support pro-U.S. regimes such as Ukraine, and subsidize capital flight by supporting local currencies long enough to enable U.S. client oligarchies to flee their currencies at a pre-devaluation exchange rate for the dollar. When the local currency finally is allowed to collapse, debtor countries are advised to impose anti-labor austerity. This globalizes the class war of capital against labor while keeping debtor countries on a short U.S. financial leash.

U.S. diplomacy is capped by trade sanctions to disrupt economies that break away from U.S. aims. Sanctions are a form of economic sabotage, as lethal as outright military warfare in establishing U.S. control over foreign economies. The threat is to impoverish civilian populations, in the belief that this will lead them to replace their governments with pro-American regimes promising to restore prosperity by selling off their domestic infrastructure to U.S. and other multinational investors.

There are alternatives, on many fronts

Militarily, today’s leading alternative to NATO expansionism is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with Europe following France’s example under Charles de Gaulle and withdrawing. After all, there is no real threat of military invasion today in Europe. No nation can occupy another without an enormous military draft and such heavy personnel losses that domestic protests would unseat the government waging such a war. The U.S. anti-war movement in the 1960s signaled the end of the military draft, not only in the United States but in nearly all democratic countries. (Israel, Switzerland, Brazil and North Korea are exceptions.)

The enormous spending on armaments for a kind of war unlikely to be fought is not really military, but simply to provide profits to the military industrial complex. The arms are not really to be used. They are simply to be bought, and ultimately scrapped. The danger, of course, is that these not-for-use arms actually might be used, if only to create a need for new profitable production.

Likewise, foreign holdings of dollars are not really to be spent on purchases of U.S. exports or investments. They are like fine-wine collectibles, for saving rather than for drinking. The alternative to such dollarized holdings is to create a mutual use of national currencies, and a domestic bank-clearing payments system as an alternative to SWIFT. Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela already are said to be developing a crypto-currency payments to circumvent U.S. sanctions and hence financial control.

In the World Trade Organization, the United States has tried to claim that any industry receiving public infrastructure or credit subsidy deserves tariff retaliation in order to force privatization. In response to WTO rulings that U.S. tariffs are illegally imposed, the United States “has blocked all new appointments to the seven-member appellate body in protest, leaving it in danger of collapse because it may not have enough judges to allow it to hear new cases.”[5] In the U.S. view, only privatized trade financed by private rather than public banks is “fair” trade.

An alternative to the WTO (or removal of its veto privilege given to the U.S. bloc) is needed to cope with U.S. neoliberal ideology and, most recently, the U.S. travesty claiming “national security” exemption to free-trade treaties, impose tariffs on steel, aluminum, and on European countries that circumvent sanctions on Iran or threaten to buy oil from Russia via the Nordstream II pipeline instead of high-cost liquified “freedom gas” from the United States.

In the realm of development lending, China’s bank along with its Belt and Road initiative is an incipient alternative to the World Bank, whose main role has been to promote foreign dependency on U.S. suppliers. The IMF for its part now functions as an extension of the U.S. Department of Defense to subsidize client regimes such as Ukraine while financially isolating countries not subservient to U.S. diplomacy.

To save debt-strapped economies suffering Greek-style austerity, the world needs to replace neoliberal economic theory with an analytic logic for debt writedowns based on the ability to pay. The guiding principle of the needed development-oriented logic of international law should be that no nation should be obliged to pay foreign creditors by having to sell of the public domain and rent-extraction rights to foreign creditors. The defining character of nationhood should be the fiscal right to tax natural resource rents and financial returns, and to create its own monetary system.

The United States refuses to join the International Criminal Court. To be effective, it needs enforcement power for its judgments and penalties, capped by the ability to bring charges of war crimes in the tradition of the Nuremberg tribunal. U.S. to such a court, combined with its military buildup now threatening World War III, suggests a new alignment of countries akin to the Non-Aligned Nations movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Non-aligned in this case means freedom from U.S. diplomatic control or threats.

Such institutions require a more realistic economic theory and philosophy of operations to replace the neoliberal logic for anti-government privatization, anti-labor austerity, and opposition to domestic budget deficits and debt writedowns. Today’s neoliberal doctrine counts financial late fees and rising housing prices as adding to “real output” (GDP), but deems public investment as deadweight spending, not a contribution to output. The aim of such logic is to convince governments to pay their foreign creditors by selling off their public infrastructure and other assets in the public domain.

Just as the “capacity to pay” principle was the foundation stone of the Bank for International Settlements in 1931, a similar basis is needed to measure today’s ability to pay debts and hence to write down bad loans that have been made without a corresponding ability of debtors to pay. Without such an institution and body of analysis, the IMF’s neoliberal principle of imposing economic depression and falling living standards to pay U.S. and other foreign creditors will impose global poverty.

The above proposals provide an alternative to the U.S. “exceptionalist” refusal to join any international organization that has a say over its affairs. Other countries must be willing to turn the tables and isolate U.S. banks, U.S. exporters, and to avoid using U.S. dollars and routing payments via U.S. banks. To protect their ability to create a countervailing power requires an international court and its sponsoring organization.

Summary

The first existential objective is to avoid the current threat of war by winding down U.S. military interference in foreign countries and removing U.S. military bases as relics of neocolonialism. Their danger to world peace and prosperity threatens a reversion to the pre-World War II colonialism, ruling by client elites along lines similar to the 2014 Ukrainian coup by neo-Nazi groups sponsored by the U.S. State Department and National Endowment for Democracy. Such control recalls the dictators that U.S. diplomacy established throughout Latin America in the 1950s. Today’s ethnic terrorism by U.S.-sponsored Wahabi-Saudi Islam recalls the behavior of Nazi Germany in the 1940s.

Global warming is the second major existentialist threat. Blocking attempts to reverse it is a bedrock of American foreign policy, because it is based on control of oil. So the military, refugee and global warming threats are interconnected.

The U.S. military poses the greatest immediate danger. Today’s warfare is fundamentally changed from what it used to be. Prior to the 1970s, nations conquering others had to invade and occupy them with armies recruited by a military draft. But no democracy in today’s world can revive such a draft without triggering widespread refusal to fight, voting the government out of power. The only way the United States – or other countries – can fight other nations is to bomb them. And as noted above, economic sanctions have as destructive an effect on civilian populations in countries deemed to be U.S. adversaries as overt warfare. The United States can sponsor political coups (as in Honduras and Pinochet’s Chile), but cannot occupy. It is unwilling to rebuild, to say nothing of taking responsibility for the waves of refugees that our bombing and sanctions are causing from Latin America to the Near East.

U.S. ideologues view their nation’s coercive military expansion and political subversion and neoliberal economic policy of privatization and financialization as an irreversible victory signaling the End of History. To the rest of the world it is a threat to human survival.

The American promise is that the victory of neoliberalism is the End of History, offering prosperity to the entire world. But beneath the rhetoric of free choice and free markets is the reality of corruption, subversion, coercion, debt peonage and neofeudalism. The reality is the creation and subsidy of polarized economies bifurcated between a privileged rentier class and its clients, eir debtors and renters. America is to be permitted to monopolize trade in oil and food grains, and high-technology rent-yielding monopolies, living off its dependent customers. Unlike medieval serfdom, people subject to this End of History scenario can choose to live wherever they want. But wherever they live, they must take on a lifetime of debt to obtain access to a home of their own, and rely on U.S.-sponsored control of their basic needs, money and credit by adhering to U.S. financial planning of their economies. This dystopian scenario confirms Rosa Luxemburg’s recognition that the ultimate choice facing nations in today’s world is between socialism and barbarism.

Notes.

1. Billy Bambrough, “Bitcoin Threatens To ‘Take Power’ From The U.S. Federal Reserve,” Forbes, May 15, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/billybambrough/2019/05/15/a-u-s-congressman-is-so-scared-of-bitcoin-and-crypto-he-wants-it-banned/#36b2700b6405.

2. Vladimir Putin, keynote address to the Economic Forum, June 5-6 2019. Putin went on to warn of “a policy of completely unlimited economic egoism and a forced breakdown.” This fragmenting of the global economic space “is the road to endless conflict, trade wars and maybe not just trade wars. Figuratively, this is the road to the ultimate fight of all against all.”

3. Address to St Petersburg International Economic Forum’s Plenary Session, St Petersburg, Kremlin.ru, June 5, 2009, from Johnson’s Russia List, June 8, 2009, #8,

4. https://www.rt.com/business/464013-china-russia-cryptocurrency-dollar-dethrone/. Already in the late 1950s the Forgash Plan proposed a World Bank for Economic Acceleration. Designed by Terence McCarthy and sponsored by Florida Senator Morris Forgash, the bank would have been a more truly development-oriented institution to guide foreign development to create balanced economies self-sufficient in food and other essentials. The proposal was opposed by U.S. interests on the ground that countries pursuing land reform tended to be anti-American. More to the point, they would have avoided trade and financial dependency on U.S. suppliers and banks, and hence on U.S. trade and financial sanctions to prevent them from following policies at odds with U.S. diplomatic demands. 

5. Don Weinland, “WTO rules against US in tariff dispute with China,” Financial Times, July 17, 2019.

 

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If Japan Continues Slaughtering Whales, Boycott the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Photograph Source: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service – CC BY-SA 3.0

Japan is hosting the July 24 – August 9, 2020 Olympics. However, Japan is, once again, hunting and killing whales in “Japanese waters.” Japan used to hunt whales for years under the masks of culture and scientific research. Now, in 2019, Japan dropped those fraudulent claims and it is sending its fleets against whales.

This Japanese whaling is unnecessary and wrong. Japan is no longer the post-WWII defeated and hungry country. It’s a wealthy nation that does not need whales for survival.

Moreover, whaling is a slap in the face of the International Whaling Commission representing nations that used to kill whales but no longer do. The persistence of Japan in killing whales might convince other countries doing the same thing. This would be catastrophic for whales and the planet.

The ecological state of the world is so fragile that all bets are off. Killing the largest sea animals might just bring the Earth closer to ecological collapse.

The Trump effect

Next to Japan, the other source of instability is the United States, especially president Trump. He is claiming climate change is a hoax. Such illiterate and irresponsible suggestion has consequences. The entire US government is in turmoil, most bureaucrats not knowing if they should keep protecting people and the environment from pollution. Federal departments like the giant Department of Agricultureis waging war against science and forcing hundreds of its climate and agriculture experts to quit.

This is music to the ears of polluters who increase their criminal activities under dark. They are embolden to come out in the open in their ravaging of the natural world. Even other countries follow suit.

Why is Japan killing whales, again

Japan’s pirate commercial whaling is probably a result of the lawlessness sparked by Trump. Japan remains a US colony, so Trump is the real power behind the Japanese throne.

Japanese killing of whales serves two purposes. The Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is up for reelection in 2021. His whaling policy is a desperate effort of economic nationalism. He ignored the 1986 ban on killing whales by the International Whaling Commission and the 2014 decision of the International Court of Justice prohibiting Japan’s slaughter of whales on unconvincing science grounds. Abe is showing to the Japanese he means business. Second, his crude breaking of international law brings him close to Trump who has contempt for international agreements.

Abe is butchering whales in order to show off his affection for Trump, while satisfying parochial commercial interests of plundering the seas for free whaling meat.

This abhorrent Japanese policy reminds the world that, down deep, Japan probably remains the country that brought so much suffering and death to so many countries during WWII.

Second, and just as fundamentally important, is that killing whales is offensive to the ideals of the Olympics.

Boycott the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

It would be morally unacceptable for a whaling Japan sponsoring the Olympics. If the International Olympics Committee is unwilling to pull the Olympics out of Japan, a global boycott of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is in order.

Killing whales is just as bad as over fishing. It is a deadly blow against whales and against marine life. Biological diversity in the seas has been under attack by a continuing flood of plastics in the waters of the oceans and chemical pollution. In addition, mechanized factory fishing is extremely destructive of marine ecosystems. In this man-made chaos, global warming, another product of human irresponsibility, adds a pall on the survival of life in the oceans and land.

Rising global temperature

Rising temperatures and the melting of sea ice is undermining the food ecosystems that  make life possible. Large animals like whales have to try harder and travel longer distances to find food.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who is running for president, is right saying climate change is a global emergency and existential threat to both people and wildlife.

Olympics and ecocide don’t mix

This new ecological and political reality makes the slaughter of whales a global crime against nature and civilization. Whaling becomes war.

War is the antithesis of the Olympics. These two human enterprises don’t mix. The Greeks invented and employed the Olympics to honor Zeus, the greatest of the gods. Second, the Olympics and other Panhellenic athletic and cultural festivals brought the Greeks together from all over the Mediterranean, giving them an opportunity  to get to know each other better in order to bring warfare to an end. At the very least, during the Olympics all conflicts and wars ceased.

Whaling Japan violates the Olympics

Modern Olympics continue, to some degree, the virtues of the Greek Olympics. They, too, encourage international friendship and cooperation. Their purpose is to strengthen, support, and promote international peace.

Japan has to decide and choose the road of peace — and the Olympics. However, staying and continuing as a pariah and business-as-usual rogue state, it disqualifies Japan from any association with the Olympics. The honest thing to do is to cease whaling for ever and honor itself with the privilege of the Olympics.

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Emergency Alert For the Wild Rockies

Beartooth Mountains, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

We need your help to keep fighting Trump, we are desperate.

Inspired by Yellowstone grizzly bear scientists Frank and John Craighead, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies formed in 1988 to protect the whole ecosystems and connecting wildlife corridors that comprise the Wild Rockies bioregion.  Our mission is to protect habitat, especially the unprotected roadless/undeveloped areas that make the region the wildest remaining in the Lower 48.

The Trump Administration, many western politicians, the timber industry, and collaborative environmental groups complain that the Alliance for the Wild Rockies files and wins too many lawsuits on illegal national forest timber sales.  Isn’t it odd that none of these groups have a problem with the Forest Service, BLM, or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services breaking federal laws when they propose to clearcut forests that provide habitat for elk, native fish, and grizzly bears — but they do have a problem with a very small non-profit group exercising our First Amendment rights to challenge government decisions?

The problem is because we are not afraid to stand up to Trump and the timber industry we are almost out of money to keep fighting for habitat for native species.  All of our lawsuits against the Trump administration has drained our bank account. We need help now or many of the Trump administration’s plans for massive clearcuts and bulldozing roads into roadies areas will go unchallenged.

This is an emergency.  We are down to a few months of operating expenses.  Please consider donating the Alliance for the Wild Rockies by going to our website.

Or you can mail us a check.  Our address is:

Alliance for the Wild Rockies
P.O. Box 505
Helena, MT 59624

Trump, the timber industry and their allies seem to have forgotten that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution very specifically guarantees all Americans the right to challenge government decisions. Just to refresh their memory, here’s the exact text of the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

But we need money to do this. We are one of the smallest environmental groups in the country yet nobody wins more cases against the Forest Service than the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson put it in great perspective in a recent op-ed column, writing: “Most constitutional rights are not lost by coup d’etat — at least not in America. When we forfeit our constitutional rights, we do so because of neglect, ignorance and attrition — the old adage of ‘use it or lose it.’ We don’t; and we are.”  If we don’t have the money to keep suing the federal government, these rights and the habitat for native species such as grizzly bears and lynx could be lost.

Thanks to your donations, the Alliance will continue to work to make the federal government follow the laws and start following the recommendations of their own scientists — which have clearly found logging doesn’t reduce wildfires. The only difference more logging makes is more roads will be built, more streams will be filled with silt, more elk habitat will be clearcut, and timber corporations will get hundreds of millions more in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Please help us exercise oversight of the federal agencies tasked with managing this precious resource before more native species go extinct.  Please help the Alliance for the Wild Rockies keep fighting for native species.

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The U.S.-China Trade War: Will Workers Lose?

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

One of the central themes in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was that U.S. workers were being badly hurt by trade. His story was that the country had signed bad trade deals that were put together by “stupid” trade negotiators.

Trump’s story was half right. Workers in the United States were badly hurt by trade, a fact that many in the mainstream are still reluctant to acknowledge in spite of overwhelming evidence.

The basic point is a simple one that has a long pedigree in economics dating back to the famous Stolper-Samuelson trade theorem. The United States has relatively more highly-educated workers (college degree or more) than developing countries and relatively fewer less-educated workers (less than a college degree). This means that when we open trade to China and other developing countries, we would expect to see more highly educated workers benefit and less highly educated workers lose.

We saw this story in action in the last decade in a really big way. From 2000 to 2007 we lost 20 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the United States. (This is before the Great Recession; the job loss was due to the explosion of the trade deficit in these years, not the collapse of the housing bubble.) We lost 40 percent of the jobs held by union members in manufacturing in these years.

It is important to remember that the Stolper-Samuelson prediction on non-college educated workers being losers (roughly two-thirds of the labor force) is a balanced trade story. The picture is of course worse when the U.S. runs a large trade deficit, since most of what we import is manufactured goods, a sector which employs a disproportionate number of non-college educated workers.

The Stolper-Samuelson effect is also amplified by the fact that we don’t have free trade in the items produced by the most highly educated workers. Doctors and other highly paid professionals from foreign countries cannot freely compete with our professionals. We have maintained and even strengthened professional barriers that keep pay for our doctors far above levels in other wealthy countries and even further above their pay in the developing world.

In short, our trade deals had the predicted and actual effect of redistributing income upward. But this wasn’t because our trade negotiators were stupid, as Donald Trump charged. In fact, I’m sure the vast majority of our trade negotiators were hard-working highly intelligent people. They crafted deals that redistributed income upward because they were working for the beneficiaries of this upward redistribution.

They wanted trade deals that would make it easier for Boeing and GE to outsource jobs to take advantage of cheap labor in the developing world. They wanted deals that would make it easier for Walmart to set up a low cost supply chain to undercut competitors. They wanted to increase Goldman Sachs’ market access in China and elsewhere. And, they wanted Pfizer and Microsoft, and now Facebook and Google, to get more money from patent, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property.

Our trade negotiators did their jobs very well. The problem is that their goals were largely antithetical to the interests of most American workers.

Okay, but now Donald Trump has declared trade war against China, in the name of the American worker. What are the prospects?

Unfortunately, the picture does not look bright.  Although “currency manipulation” by China was a major theme in Trump’s campaign, this issue seems to have largely disappeared from his trade war agenda. (I prefer to say that China “manages” its currency, since there is nothing hidden or sneaky about China’s intervention; it has an official exchange rate that it acts to maintain.)

Many economists insist retrospectively, that China did deliberately keep down the value of its currency in the past (they did not acknowledge this fact at the time), but it is not currently doing so. The argument is that China has stopped buying large amounts of reserves of foreign currencies, the tool used to suppress the value of the yuan. What these economists ignore is that China continues to hold massive amounts of reserves, which lowers the value of the yuan relative to what its value would be if China held more normal amounts in reserve.

China’s reserve holdings have the same effect on the value of its currency as the Fed’s asset holdings does in keeping down long-term interest rates. While most economists acknowledge the impact of the Fed’s asset holdings, for some reason they ignore the impact of China’s reserve holdings. No one ever said economists were consistent.

By keeping its currency below market levels, China’s products become more competitive internationally. This allows it to continue to run large trade surpluses, even though a fast-growing country like China would typically be expected to run large trade deficits.

If Trump focused on currency, he would likely be able to reach an agreement with China, which would reduce its trade surplus with the United States. This would create more jobs for US manufacturing workers, which would likely be a boost to the large segment of the work force without college degrees.

But currency no longer seems to be a focus of Trump’s trade war agenda. Instead, he is pushing for policies like requiring China to show more respect for the intellectual property claims of US corporations. That may be good for Boeing, Pfizer, Merck and other companies that are heavily dependent on intellectual property for their profits, but it is bad news for most American workers.

There are three reasons that most workers should not want to see Trump win his battles on intellectual property. The first is obvious. If major US companies know that they can offshore operations to China without having to worry about transferring technology to China (a frequent complaint), they will be more likely to offshore operations to China.

It is really amazing that this obvious point never seems to appear in discussions about the U.S. trade war with China. How would workers in the U.S. benefit from a policy that would make it more profitable for large U.S. companies to outsource jobs to China?

The second reason is a tiny bit more complicated. If China has to pay Merck and Microsoft more money for their patents and copyrights, it will have less money to spend on other US goods and services.

The way this works out practically is that, other things equal, the money China needs to pay Merck and Microsoft, will increase their demand for dollars. For example, if they need an extra hundred billion dollars annually to pay royalties and licensing fees to U.S. corporations, then this increases the demand for dollars in international currency markets by $100 billion annually. That will raise the value of the dollar against the yuan, making other US goods and services less competitive than if China was not paying Merck, Microsoft, and the rest for their intellectual property.

The third point is that by increasing the enforcement of intellectual property claims, both in the US and overseas, the government is redistributing even more income to those at the top. If you need a visual aid to understand this point, think of Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest people. If the government did not threaten to imprison anyone who made copies of Microsoft software without Gates’ permission, it is likely that he would still be working for a living.

Economists often talk about how technology is rewarding people with technical skills in areas like computer science and biotech. That’s a lie. It is our intellectual property policy on technology that has explicitly structured the market to give more money to the Bill Gates crowd.

Rather than challenge a policy that has been a huge part of the upward redistribution of the last decade, Trump’s China policy seems to be a further step in this direction. It is absurd to both complain about the upward redistribution of income, as do most progressives, and then support a trade policy that is explicitly designed to make the rich even richer.

The refusal of most progressives to understand the ways in which we structure markets to redistribute upward is striking. I will skip amateur psychology, but it is worth noting that the standard view, that the winners in the market economy did it through their hard work and natural abilities, is flattering to those who come out on top. It is even flattering to those who might favor a policy of redistributing downward through taxes and transfers.

Getting back to the China trade war, an agreement crafted to help workers would instead focus on sharing knowledge and technology. China, along with India, Brazil, and many other developing countries, has actually been pushing in this direction in the case of pharmaceuticals. If we had some mechanism for sharing research costs across countries, then new drugs could sell for a few dollars per prescription, instead of a few thousand dollars, since the research costs would have already been paid.

There is a similar story with clean technology. China has more installed wind and solar power than the rest of the world combined. It also sells more electric cars. A forward-looking administration would be negotiating ways that we could share these technologies as quickly as possible, not have them locked up with patent and copyright monopolies.

At this point it is too early to tell who will win the U.S. –China trade war, but given the turf on which the war is being waged, we can be pretty certain that U.S. workers will be losers.

This article was originally published on Dean Baker’s Patreon page.

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Paul Krassner, 1932-2019: American Satirist 

Photograph Source: Heidi De Vries from Berkeley, CA – CC BY 2.0

“He’s gone. Feel free to spread the word,” Michael Simmons said in an email that went out to a few dozen or so of the usual suspects, including Wavy Gravy, Judy Gumbo, Larry (Ratzo) Sloman, Jim Fouratt, Rex Weiner, Aron Kay, Kate Coleman, Jeffrey St. Clair, and Barbara Garson, some of whom had been Yippies, Zippies and their fellow travelers.

“He” who was now gone at the age of 87, was Paul Krassner, who took up where Lenny Bruce left off, edited The Realist, reinvigorated satire, defended free speech at every opportunity and who lived at the end of his life in Desert Hot Springs, California in part because of the climate and also because he could afford to live there.

Before long there will be hefty biographies of Paul that describe his birth and his childhood in Brooklyn, his days and nights in Chicago during the infamous Conspiracy Trial, his provocative piece about LBJ and the Kennedy Assassination, and his performances as a standup comedian who seemed to find less and less to laugh about, and more and more to fret about in a world gone awry. The atomic bomb and nuclear paranoia was something Krassner could laugh about; not so Putin, Trump, the plutocrats and the kleptocrats of the twenty-first century.

Before the formal obituaries that are sure to show up in all the major U.S. newspapers, and before the pundits weigh-in on the significance of Krassner, it might make sense to say here that Paul was irascible and cantankerous, true to his core beliefs and that there were zero sacred cows in his universe, at least at the beginning of his career.

I met him in 1970. Soon afterward, he published in The Realist a piece I wrote about Eldridge Cleaver, Timothy Leary and their wives, but not before he’d turned it from something tame into something irreverent.

Over the years, I saw him in New York and in San Francisco. From 2015 to 2018, I interviewed Paul several times and published most of our conversations in print and online. In 2018, I collected all of them in a booklet titled Paul Krassner Speaks: From Lenny Bruce and Obama to Hebdo. 

Here are a few of the things he had to say:

“Satire has a truth embedded in the laughter and it can serve to wake people up from their cultural brainwashing.”

“Free speech demands a sense of responsibility.”

“I think every child is born with innocent irreverence, but it’s cancelled by the osmosis of cultural repression.”

“What I’d like to forget and can’t is that there are so many prisoners serving time, as Lenny Bruce said, ‘for smoking flowers.’”

“My slogan for The Realist used to be ‘Irreverence is our only sacred cow,’ but I’ve had second thoughts. Irreverence has become an industry and can become irreverence for its own sake. Mean-spirited stereotypes in the guise of satire.”

Thanks, Paul.

 

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U.S. Troops Back in Saudi Arabia: What Could Go Wrong?

Photograph Source: PHAN CHAD VANN – Public Domain

The First Gulf War back in 1990 was a big huge success. One of the things it accomplished was a major U.S. troop presence in Saudi Arabia. Muslims around the world were outraged. Bombs were repeatedly set off at Khobar Towers where troops were stationed. In 1998 Osama Bin Laden declared:

“For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. . . . The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.”

In 2001, the World Trade Center in New York was destroyed and the Pentagon damaged. A year and a half later, the United States removed most of its troops from Saudi Arabia, leaving some behind with various excuses and under various euphemistic labels. When Barack Obama was president, the CIA opened a drone base in Saudi Arabia from which to murder people in Yemen with missiles from robotic airplanes. This, of course, stabilized Yemen which has known peace and prosperity ever since, or something. Now, in 2019, the United States is sending more troops into Saudi Arabia again.

What could go wrong?

Well, let’s state the obvious in order to move on to stating the obvious. Killing people is insane and evil. Religion is insane and evil (except yours, dear reader). Killing people because of your religion is insane and evil. Nothing whatsoever, no insane and evil killing, can justify any other insane and evil killing.

Now, moving on to the obvious, let me quote from Peace Science Digest: “Deployment of troops to another country increases the chance of attacks from terror organizations from that country. Weapons exports to another country increase the chance of attacks from terror organizations from that country. 95% of all suicide terrorist attacks are conducted to encourage foreign occupiers to leave the terrorist’s home country.”

I’m not aware of a foreign terrorist threat, attempt, or action against the United States, in which a motivation was stated, where that motivation was anything other than opposition to U.S. military imperialism. Statistically, religion doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it. If you occupy another country, people get mad — with or without religion.

This is part of a broader picture of counter-productive self-defeating masochism. Terrorism has predictably increased during the war on terrorism (as measured by the Global Terrorism Index). 99.5% of terrorist attacks occur in countries engaged in wars and/or engaged in abuses such as imprisonment without trial, torture, or lawless killing. The highest rates of terrorism are in “liberated” and “democratized” Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorist groups responsible for the most terrorism (that is, non-state, politically motivated violence) around the world have grown out of U.S. wars against terrorism.

So, why did I say that the war that launched all of this was a big huge success? Well, it depends on your perspective. If the goal is to sell weapons, putting more troops into Saudi Arabia is brilliant. If the goal is to provoke more violence and get more wars going, nothing could be better. If the goal is persuading people that you are attacking their religion and will listen to nothing other than violence, everything seems right on course. You’re winning. Pretty soon, as Trump promised, a lot of us are going to be truly sick of all this winning.

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American Visitors to the Gestapo Museum Draw Their Own Conclusions

Photograph Source: Bryan MacKinnon – CC BY-SA 4.0

The words would melt a heart of stone – save for those of the Gestapo torturers upstairs. The prisoners wrote their stories, their poems, their last pre-execution laments on the walls of their cells – which you can still read in the basement of the old Nazi secret police headquarters in Cologne. I spent hours there this week, reading the names and messages.

Cut into one cell wall are written these lines, in Russian, by a young woman condemned to death, apparently a slave labourer in Cologne who had joined a resistance movement in 1944:

“Here was held in custody Vallja Baran, who was betrayed by her own Russian compatriots. My husband and I were both put away in one cell … we will be facing the gallows, my only regret is to be separated [now] from the beloved husband and the whole wide world. Oh, girls, why is our youth such a botch-up? I am now 18 years old, pregnant and would love to see my first-born child. Well, this will not be possible, I have to die.”

The cells still bear their original numbers. They are complete with the massive, heavy grey-painted doors through which the Gestapo could peer at their victims, sometimes 30 to a room intended for only two or three prisoners, so many that even the local Gestapo complained to Berlin about the overcrowding.

Walking from cell to cell, I noticed a visitors’ book lying on a table between them. And in it, this week, an American couple had written these words. “Never again means never again. From Palestine to the USA-Mexico border.”

I instinctively recoiled from this trite, crude, simplistic remark. How can the human rights crimes and colonial land theft committed by the Israeli government in the occupied West Bank and the overcrowding and child-separation in the refugee camps on the US border – for I presume the recorded Gestapo complaint prompted this reference in the visitors’ book – be compared to the iniquities of Nazi Germany? There must surely be a sense of perspective, at least some reluctance before committing oneself to such comparisons, most of all here, in this place of horror.

At times, more women prisoners were held here than men. Jews were kept in these cells, German Jews, and members of the German Eidelweiss Pirates, a slightly Bohemian, songs-and-guitar anti-Nazi Jugend movement which despised the Nazis. They died here, too. They were also publicly hanged in Cologne in 1944, six of them teenagers, on Himmler’s orders.

There is a sequence of photographs, of youths ascending a scaffold, some already hanging, their necks snapped by the rope, others staring petrified at the corpses of their friends as they were carefully made to stand before their own individual noose. The gallows in the courtyard of the Gestapo headquarters at 23-25 Appellhofplatz could take seven condemned men and women at one execution session.

Was this therefore the place to compare the evil of Nazi Germany with Israeli cruelty and the racist ideology of Trump and his crackpot administration? I could sympathise with the American couple who wrote those words; they were searching for a way to express their fear of the present and their hatred of injustice. But they were making an implicit parallel between the Nazis and the Israelis. I could see how easy it would be to claim – even though the word “Israel” did not exist in their message – that their contribution in the visitors’ book was antisemitic.

Let’s return for a moment to those messages on the walls, scratched with nails, screws and fingernails, but sometimes using lipstick. Here’s another that readers are unlikely to forget, again by a woman, written in pencil in September 1944. She is a German woman. She even identifies her Gestapo torturers, underlining their names.

“Mr Schmitz and Mr Hans Krug. I would be ashamed to even treat an animal in this way, as you tried to subdue me yesterday … Even if I worked above and was very happy to receive the recognition of a lady from Aachen … who made me a present of three tomatoes … I have already heard how Mr Krug told her: ‘You can eat everything but E. K. is not to have anything to eat’ … I am imprisoned in my cell without a bucket and with only one blanket.”

Already, of course, we want to know what happened to the two Gestapo men. Schmitz, it turned out, was caught after the war, briefly tried – and then freed. Krug disappeared in 1945. “The gentlemen know exactly how my situation is,” the prisoner wrote the year before. “Since three months I’ve been in the family way from a German officer. The Russian woman Maria next to me, who has three blankets and one bucket, was allowed to eat the tomatoes that had been given to me. These two gentlemen … [mis]treated by many other…a German woman, who carries a child beneath her heart. Ms. Else Kollmann. 29/9/44”

By that date, almost all the Jews in Cologne – their population in the Weimar Republic was around 16,000 – had been transported in cattle trains running to the Litzmannstadt ghetto in Lodz and to Riga, another directly to Sobibor. The documentation centre in the old Gestapo building – ironically the structure survived the war intact, its last hanging just a day before the first US troops entered Cologne – contains thousands of documents on the fate of the city’s Jews, even a postcard thrown out of a transport in March 1943 by 24-year old Helmut Goldschmidt. Incredibly, he survived Buchenwald and was freed in April 1945.

The archives at 23-25 Appellhofplatz also contain concentration camp documents: Karola Wolf, for example, work number 37725 marked “TRANSPORT 10/3/44”. Attached to it is a photograph of a young woman with short, neatly combed hair wearing a dark blouse with buttons at the front. Her mouth is set, slightly smiling, perhaps grimacing at the flashlight of the camera. She died in Belsen in May 1945.

There is another document, a snapshot this time, of a woman and two children walking past snow-covered buildings in Lodz. In the foreground is a scaffold with a man’s body hanging from it, head shaven, it would appear – the picture was obviously taken secretly – and hands tied behind his back. The date is 21 February 1942. “The executed man,” says the caption, “is Max Hertz from Cologne.”

Thank God, you keep saying to yourself as you move through the old Gestapo building, that Germans today keep these essential historical memories alive in the most physical, tactile way. An official tells me the documentation centre and museum received 80,000 visitors last year, mostly foreigners but many of them German schoolchildren. Good, I say to him. They are the people who should come here. The people of Cologne are not spared. There are photographs of their corpses, piled high after RAF bombings – especially the first thousand-bomber raid on the city.

But there are also pictures sent home to their families by soldiers from Cologne who served in the Wehrmacht on the eastern front. They are of Russian partisans hanging from gallows, of Jews lying murdered in the streets of Polish and Russian towns. These were not sent home as proof of atrocities. They were souvenirs from sons and fathers and lovers at the front, horror postcards sent through the mail as others might have sent holiday pictures of crowded beaches or snow-covered mountains.

So how could those two Americans have visited this place – there are eyewitness descriptions obtained after the war of ferocious beatings administered in the Cologne cells – and thought of Palestine and Trump’s disgusting treatment of refugees on the Mexican border? Was this not, at the least, lacking in respect for the victims of infinitely more terrible acts of inhumanity?

I was going to conclude that this was true. There is proof enough of Israeli torture of imprisoned Palestinians, of mass Israeli killing on the Gaza border – but not on this scale. Gaza is a Palestinian Arab ghetto but there are no gas chambers awaiting its imprisoned people. No-one is being hanged or shot down by firing squads in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. And then I am struck by an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz by my old journalist friend Gideon Levy.

He was commenting on the German parliament’s vote two months ago to condemn the Palestinian boycott movement of Israel as antisemitic, accusing it of using “patterns and methods” used by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is also supported by liberal Jews – especially in America – urges its supporters to maintain academic, business and cultural boycotts of Israel in an attempt to force its army’s withdrawal from the occupied West Bank, and to remove the vast wall that Israel has built, much of it on Arab land, between Israel and the occupied territory.

But Israel – and now the German parliament – have claimed that the boycott is Nazi-like in its methods. “‘Don’t buy’ stickers of the BDS movement on Israeli products,” the non-binding German resolution stated, “remind one [sic] of inevitable associations with the Nazi call ‘Don’t buy from the Jews’, and other corresponding graffiti on facades and shop windows.” And so even though the BDS movement is concerned with Palestinian rights and Israel’s failures in international law, its supporters are to be condemned as akin to Nazis.

So now who is associating the Palestinian tragedy and Israeli occupation with the Nazis? German legislators are doing this. In Gideon Levy’s words in his Israeli newspaper column, “a non-violent struggle against war crimes will be declared illegal” if the German government adopts what he calls “this delusional resolution”. Levy writes of “the emotional blackmailing of Germany”, calls it “a march of folly” and scorns the Israeli authorities for adopting these tactics. “Fighting antisemitism,” he wrote, “solves any problems associated with explaining Israel’s actions. Just say ‘antisemitism’ and the world is paralysed. One can kill children in Gaza, then say ‘antisemitism!’ and squelch any criticism.”

And here lies a problem which the museum and archives of the old Gestapo building in Cologne cannot resolve. There are real antisemites in this world of ours. There are real racists, Trump is one of them. And Israel does itself no favours by falsely accusing honourable and decent men and women of being Nazis. We should all be fighting real antisemitism not “kotowing” (Levy’s word) to Israeli propaganda.

Yet now Trump himself joins in. He accuses four American congresswomen of using antisemitic language and of opposing Israel – thus conflating racism with anyone who objects to the Israeli government’s disgraceful policies towards the Palestinians. By the same token, it buys into the supposed relationship between the Nazis and anyone who demands justice for the poor, the occupied, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

We must draw our conclusions. The truth is that a boycott of Jews in Cologne preceded the deportation of Jews; the Nazis believed that their Jews were not German – just as Trump clearly believes that the four congresswomen are not American.

So can I really object this week to the words in the visitors book at the old Gestapo torture centre? If the Israelis make the connection to the Nazis, why can’t the two Americans who wrote those words in Cologne make a connection to Palestine? If Trump can urge a section of his own American people to leave their country – which was Hitler’s policy towards the Jews even before his genocidal intentions were clear to the rest of the world – then how can we escape the actions of Messers Schmitz and Krug? After all, they got away with it.

There are some valiant female voices memorialised on those cell walls. Who, for example, cannot warm to the soul who wrote this: “Girls, don’t subject yourselves to these sons of bitches! Be courageous and brave, even if you are facing a severe punishment.” Yes, of course, the circumstances were different. But when I came to the following cry from a French woman – it appears to have been written in pencil – how could I not think of the separation of children from their families in another country today?

“If there is a Frenchwoman, one day whose child is taken from her, against her will at the age of 11 days, you will understand what separation means and if I’m still alive that is only for my child, without her I would have long since left this world … the guard … tells me I am sick, well, if one of you passes through here, she will understand the pain of a mother who has been separated from her child … She’s three weeks old today.”

And when I read those words, I realised that the American visitors were entirely correct when they inscribed their words in the visitors book.

The post American Visitors to the Gestapo Museum Draw Their Own Conclusions appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump’s Send-Them-Back Doctrine

During the height of Stalin’s purges, the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich kept a packed suitcase near the door of his apartment.

The Black Marias, the vehicle of choice for the secret police, would traditionally arrive in the middle of the night to ferry “undesirables” to interrogation cells. Shostakovich wanted to be ready at any moment for possible exile to Siberia. He was a much-celebrated figure in the Soviet Union, but Stalin had taken a dislike to his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District. The Soviet dictator was like that: unpredictable.

The Soviets executed more than a half a million people in 1937-1938, while about 18 million people were imprisoned in the gulags from 1929 to 1953. Shostakovich had good reason to be fearful. In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, a significant portion of the population lived in fear of arrest, then execution or internal exile.

Today, in the United States, a vast population of the undocumented live in constant fear of arrest and exile, not to some far-flung area of the United States but back to their countries of birth.

Some of them, like Shostakovich, have packed their bags in advance. In East Tennessee, Alberto Librado’s 11-year-old daughter has two suitcases always ready so that she can accompany her father back to Mexico, even though she, born in the United States, could legally stay behind. The Librados and so many other families await the Black Marias of ICE.

In contrast to those who feared Stalin’s wrath, the undocumented won’t be interrogated and forced to sign incriminating confessions. Nor will they be executed. But many left their countries because of a well-justified fear of persecution or harm. Their deportation may indeed be a death sentence.

The overwhelming majority of those who died during Stalin’s reign served the Communist state faithfully. Likewise, the overwhelming majority of the undocumented have labored hard here in the United States, usually at jobs that the native-born simply don’t want — in the sweltering fields of Florida or the frigid slaughterhouses of the South and Midwest. At a time of low unemployment, their labor is needed more than ever. The state’s push to deport them seems irrational and self-defeating, just like the Soviet Communist Party’s decision to persecute its own loyal members.

The deportations that Trump has threatened did not begin with him. The Clinton administration deported more than 12 million people, the George W. Bush administration more than 10 million, and the Obama administration more than 5 million. But there was a difference. “During Obama, the overwhelming majority of enforcement actions targeted criminal aliens,” John Cohen, former acting under secretary at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, told The New York Times. Trump’s “operation apparently specifically targets families who for the most part present no risk.”

Moreover, the Trump administration has demonized the undocumented like never before. “They aren’t people,” Trump has said, “they are animals.” The administration has revived the practice of workplace raids. It has tried to roll back protection for the “dreamers,” young people who came to America as minors. It has removed “temporary protective status” for over 300,000 people from six countries.

And this week the administration announced that it will end most asylum-seeking at the border by blocking anyone who has passed through a third country — mostly Mexico — to the U.S. border. That means a big cold shoulder to anyone fleeing violence and persecution from Central America.

The latest round of ICE raids was supposed to begin this weekend but they were scaled back because targeted communities had advanced notice thanks to media reports. But Trump will be keeping this issue in the news until Election Day 2020. The immigration issue is a sure-fire method of firing up his base.

It also fits into his larger framing of the issue, which is a profound and malignant redefinition of “we the people.”

Forget about Minorities

Before the last G-20 meeting last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to the Financial Times. His description of liberalism as “obsolete” received a lot of media coverage. But it was his itemization of liberalism’s defects that deserves greater attention.

For Putin, liberalism’s greatest failing is its emphasis on minority protections, which conflict with “the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.” Those minority protections include LGBT rights, which Putin sees in conflict with “the culture, traditions, and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.”

Right-wing populists, because they so often represent minority constituencies like the rich or the outwardly racist, have to reconceive the “people” in order to demonstrate that they reflect the majority. Populists speak on behalf of this imagined majority when they suppress the rights of minorities, as Putin as done. They also do their best to dismantle the democratic institutions of the state that protect the interests of minorities, going after one group after another in a game of divide and rule.

The most disturbing example of this marshalling of an imagined majority against a beleaguered minority is the attack on migrants and refugees. Putin zeroes in on liberalism’s approach to non-citizens, particularly Germany’s embrace of a million desperate souls from the wars convulsing the Middle East.

“This liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done,” Putin argues. “That migrants can kill, plunder, and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected.”

That’s of course absurd. Migrants, like everyone else, are subject to the rule of law in Germany or the United States. It’s the height of hypocrisy for Putin to make this assertion, given that he kills and plunders with impunity. But that’s what distinguishes liberalism from the Russian president’s self-proclaimed illiberalism, which puts himself above the law.

Here the symmetry between Putin and Trump becomes all too clear. Trump is not Putin’s spy. He is Putin’s student. Together they attribute all social evils to the outsider — so as to preserve an illusion that the “core population” (including, of course, themselves) is blameless.

Trump has gone even further than Putin in his understanding of who constitutes a migrant. The president’s recent tweets that certain progressive Democrats — obviously Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — should “go back” to the “places from which they came” are an extraordinary elevation of street insult to state-sanctioned racism. All four politicians are American citizens, and three of them were born in this country.

And the response from Trump’s Republican supporters? “They are American citizens,” Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said. “They won an election. Take on their policies. The bottom line here is this is a diverse country. Mr. President, you’re right about their policies. You’re right about where they will take the country. Just aim higher.”

And how does Graham characterize their policies? “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists,” Graham said. “They hate Israel, they hate our own country.”

Graham, a fervent supporter of gun rights, knows all about “aiming higher.” He’s not talking about elevating the discourse. He’s talking about shooting to kill (politically) by using some tried-and-true bullets (anti-Communism, anti-Semitism).

All of which is to say that the Republican Party has various ways of demonizing minorities and distinguishing them from a red-blooded American majority. Putin is right: liberalism has become obsolete, at least for much of the ruling elite in the United States.

They’re Real People

One reason that Trump and the Republican right have gotten away with their anti-immigrant sentiment is that “average Americans” don’t have much contact with the undocumented. Direct contact, that is. So much of the conveniences of modern life depend on the labor provided by the undocumented: tomatoes, chicken wings, manicured lawns, clean office spaces.

What separates the documented and the undocumented is a wall of language, of economic stratification, of cultural segregation. This is the real wall that Trump is reinforcing every day.

But sometimes that wall is breached.

Consider the following story from a recent This American Life episode, about an ICE raid on a slaughterhouse in Bean Station, Tennessee — where Alberto Librado worked before he was detained — and the reaction of Trump supporter Krista Etter.

Etter had to go to a local vigil for the parents that ICE rounded up in order to take pictures of it for the local paper. And she started to listen to the children talking at the microphone.

There was a young man. He was a teenager, 14, 15 years old, that said, he just wanted his mom to come home. He didn’t have anybody else. He just wanted his mom to come home. It just really, just shook my soul. It was — it was almost overwhelming, because there were so many children speaking. And — and, I actually kind of had to get out of there. Because I was like, it’s getting hot. And I have health issues. And I was like, I need to — I have to remove myself, you know, walk out to my car, get a breath.

You can almost hear how this new information begins to transform Etter’s thinking:

Because when I heard crack down on illegal immigration, I interpreted it as a crackdown on illegal immigrants that were criminals. If there was a drug situation, you know, violent criminals, pedophile, any kind of situation of that nature. That’s what I expected.

And I really believe I’m not the only one who did that. I don’t think anybody ever really stopped to think that they were going to go after the family man working at the meatpacking plant. That’s not what I had in mind.

I’m still a President Trump supporter. I guess, I have to hold out hope that maybe he didn’t understand he was going after the guy in the meatpacking plant. I mean, I guess he probably does.

It wasn’t just Etter whose mind was changing. The mayor of Morristown, where many of the Bean Station workers lived, calls himself a “lifelong Republican of the Reagan variety.” Gary Chesney is not the kind of mayor interested in setting up a sanctuary city. “We’ve been following the rules and guidelines here,” he told The New Yorker. “But the innocent victims were the kids whose parents were picked up. I was also proud that our locals took care of the innocent folks.”

The mayor’s thinking is still evolving — note his distinction between the “innocent” children and the presumably “guilty” parents who have been working so hard at the nearby slaughterhouse. Still, the mayor admits: “We all get a little bit smarter as the issue gets more personal.”

The issue has never gotten personal for Trump, even though he has employed plenty of undocumented folks at his enterprises going all the way back to the start of his career. Undocumented Polish workers who built Trump Tower later sued Trump. They reported “nightmare memories of backbreaking 12-hour shifts and of being cheated with 200 other undocumented Polish immigrants out of meager wages and fringe benefits.”

The issue has never gotten personal for Trump, even though his wife’s parents obtained American citizenship by using the same method of “chain migration” that the president has declared “must end now.”

The issue has never gotten person for Trump because he has not gotten even “a little bit smarter” about immigration. He used the undocumented to build his buildings, to construct his brand, to win the White House. It was despicable then on a local level, and it’s despicable now at a global level.

He will stop only when enough Krista Etters see through the canard.

The post Trump’s Send-Them-Back Doctrine appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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