Counterpunch Articles

Cookie Monster: the Nuts and Bolts of Online Tracking

Photograph Source: Peter Mooney – CC BY 2.0

Big Tech has become notorious for its hoarding of its users’ personal data, collected with great breadth and down to minute details. Billions have been paid by online platforms to settle legal charges over their invasive and reckless privacy follies. Facebook in particular is associated with this, especially after a series of major scandals involving leaks or hacks of personal data. But Google is inarguably the greediest of these companies in its data collection, to an extent that can surprise even jaded users. This makes sense economically, since the collection of data is a key part of the network effect of online search—more searches and click data mean algorithms that deliver more accurate searches, attracting more users and searches, in the familiar positive feedback cycle of what economists call “network effects.”

From early days, Google held onto all the data it could get its hands on—who searched for what, what kind of results were likely desired, where searches came from, and so on. A major step in this was the release of Google’s email service, Gmail. It caused a large stir itself as users learned the free, high-storage email service served ads on-screen that were targeted to the user by scanning the text of their emails. The scanning was conducted automatically by software algorithms similar to those used to filter out spam from inboxes, but the company was completely unprepared for the backlash, not realizing that their huge scale and power made such moves feel creepier. However the service had a crucial ancillary benefit for the company—it required a login. With that, Google could cross-reference people’s email data with their search history on Google and their YouTube platform (which also required login to post video), along with precise location data from Maps and GPS data from phones running Android—the beginning of its program to synthesize its data into comprehensive individual profiles.

But the real turning point was the acquisition of the major display ad agency DoubleClick, which brought pivotal changes to the company’s “cookies.” Cookies are pieces of software planted on your computer or phone by sites as you browse the Web, recording where you’ve been for the purpose of presenting ads you’re likely to be interested in. Cookies are now stupendously widespread—visiting a typical websites like CNN or dictionary.com can put dozens of them on your PC or phone.

Google’s AdSense system had always used these cookies, but the escalation was dramatic, as Wired’s pro-industry reporter Steven Levy wrote covered in his book In the Plex. He reported that the company gained “an omniscient cookie that no other company could match.” As a user browses, the cookie:

develops into a rather lengthy log that provides a fully fleshed out profile of the user’s interests…virtually all of it compiled by stealth. Though savvy and motivated consumers could block or delete the cookies, very few knew about this possibility and even fewer took advantage of it. The information in the DoubleClick cookie was limited, however. It logged visits only to sites that ran DoubleClick’s display ads, typically large commercial websites. Many sites on the Internet were smaller ones that didn’t use big ad networks…Millions of those smaller sites, however, did use an advertising network: Google’s AdSense. AdSense had its own cookie, but it was not as snoopy as DoubleClick’s. Only when the user actually clicked on an ad would the AdSense cookie log the presence of the user on the site. This ‘cookie on click’ process was lauded by privacy experts…Google now owned an ad network whose business hinged on a cookie that peered over the shoulder of users as it viewed their ads and logged their travels on much of the web. This was no longer a third-party cookie; DoubleClick was Google. Google became the only company with the ability to pull together user data on both the fat head and the long tail of the Internet. The question was, would Google aggregate that data to track the complete activity of Internet users? The answer was yes…after FTC regulators approved the DoubleClick purchase, Google quietly made the change that created the most powerful cookie on the Internet. It did away with the AdSense cookie entirely and instead arranged to drop the DoubleClick cookie when someone visited a site with an AdSense ad…Now Google would record users’ presence when they visited those sites. And it would combine that information with all the other data in the DoubleClick cookie. That single cookie, unique to Google, could track a user to every corner of the Internet.

Amazingly, Google co-founder Sergei Brin dismissed fears about this mega-cookie as “more of the Big Brother type,” meaning exaggerated. But even that might be putting a positive gloss on today’s data hoarding—Lawrence Lessig, who has defended the company in areas like its book scanning, noted that in Orwell’s book 1984 where Big Brother was introduced, at least the characters “knew where the telescreen was…In the Internet, you have no idea who is being watched by whom. In a world where everything is surveilled, how to protect privacy?”

And in 2016, Google went even further by changing its terms of service, asking users to activate new functions that would give them more control over their data, and let Google serve more relevant ads. But what the change did was merge its tracking data with your search history and the personal information in your Gmail/YouTube/Google + accounts, into “super-profiles.” And Google wasn’t done—beside using the mega-cookie to record our browsing history, combined with our search logs and Gmail contents, Google “Now Tracks Your Credit Card Purchases and Connects Them to Its Online Profile of You,” as a recent MIT Technology Review headline indicates. By contracting with third party data firms that track 70% of all credit and debit card purchases, Google can now offer advertisers further confirmation of which ads are working, not just to the point of clicking but to the point of sale.

With its new TOS, Google does let users view some of the data it holds on them, but it takes “an esoteric process of clicks,” as Ken Auletta put it in his book Googled, and again most users are unaware of these issues in the first place, and since we’re opted in, most fail to view their data files. Additionally, each Google service has its own privacy terms and settings, and they change without warning, so we have to be constantly vigilant for their changes and subtleties. And Google joins the tech community in its use of “dark patterns,” repetitive tactics that wear down users into allowing data access. And finally, even opting-out of customization doesn’t end the data collection, just the use of it to target ads to you—your movements, browsing, searching, emailing and credit card buying are all still compiled. In time Google announced it would soon stop the unpopular scanning of Gmail text to place ads—the catch was that the company had enough data on users from its super-profiles that it could personalize them without the scanning.

And for all its hoarding, the pile isn’t secure—Google had allowed software developers to design applications like games for Google +, the company’s unsuccessful attempt to compete with Facebook in social media. But a glitch in the software allowed developers access to private portions of Google + user profiles over a three-year period before its discovery, including full names, email, gender, pictures, locations, occupation and marital status. An internal memo indicates that as with Facebook’s own developer data leaks, there’s no way to know if the data was misused in any way. But most important, Google learned of the issue in spring 2018 but refused to announce or disclose it, fearing “reputational damage” to itself.

Whatever this company is, it rhymes with “shmevil.”

Rob Larson is Professor of Economics at Tacoma Community College and author Bit Tyrants: The Political Economy of Silicon Valley, out now from Haymarket Books.

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Joe Biden is Demented Racist Shark Food

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson – CC BY 2.0

I suppose the politically correct thing is to pretend that corporate-imperialist Joe Biden winning the Black vote isn’t like the late Jeffrey Epstein being hailed as a mentor of teenage girls.

Sorry, I don’t do politically correct.

Biden helped author and worked to pass the racist federal mass incarceration Three Strikes crime bill of 1994.  He has boasted of his ability to work with segregationists as a U.S. senator in the 1970s, when he opposed federal desegregation busing orders and worried about sending his children to desegregated schools.

He boasts about his ability to work with racist Republicans today.

He offered creepy racialized praise for presidential candidate Barack Obama by calling him “articulate” and “clean.”

He has invoked George Wallace, the former arch-racist Alabama governor and segregationist, to denounce Trump.

During Biden’s first White House bid in the 1980s, he bragged about receiving an award from Wallace while campaigning in the South.

Biden says that “poor kids” can do just as well in school “as white kids.”

He weirdly defended his past alliance with the racist Jim Crow Senator James O. Eastland by saying that Eastland “never called me ‘boy.’”

He thinks he endears himself to Black voters by telling a bizarre story about an alleged past swimming pool confrontation with a young Black tough named “Corn Pop.”

Last September, during the third Democratic presidential debate, a Black female ABC moderator asked Biden the following question about segregated schools, the legacy of slavery, and his past dismissal of the notion of reparations for slavery:

“Mr. Vice President, I want to come to you and talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, ‘I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather… and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago…’ You said that some 40 years ago. But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

Biden sneered and laughed – yes, sneered (or smirked, if you prefer) and laughed (go here to 2:06:49-53) – as the moderator began her question. Then came Sleep Joe’s pathetic, jumbled, evasive, and raving response (see here at 2:07:23-2:08:44):

“Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where — look, you talk about education…make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.”

This was absurd. It was not true that his “deceased wife is a teacher.” How could she have been decades after her death?

Biden’s current wife was/is not an inner-city teacher: she was an English professor who teaches mostly white college students.

Biden’s “record player” line was widely and justly mocked at a comedic level: had Biden not heard about CD and DVDs yet?

Had he never heard of books, and of parents reading to their children?

Did Biden propose to initiate a federal program to distribute phonographs to poor families – a Vinyl New Deal?

The main things to take critical note of were twofold:

1) his complete evasion of the main question the ABC moderator asked him about – his 1975 dismissal of the notion that white America owes Black America anything for centuries of slavery and Jim Crow.

2) the single most coherent thread in Biden’s response: victim blaming. Consistent with his failure to seriously address segregation (a critical lynchpin of racial inequalitysince where one lives is intimately related to the social resources and opportunity one can access) and his total dodging of the reparations question, Biden reflexively defaulted to a vicious neoliberal narrative that placed the blame for Black poverty not on institutions, not on the un-addressed and far-reaching and living reach of the slave system and the racist terror regimes that succeeded that system, but on Black parents who don’t know how to raise their kids the right way.

The writer Anand Giridharadas got it right. “Is this not one of the most explicitly racist moments of all time in a Democratic primary debate?” Giridharadas tweeted. “Asked about his past comments denying responsibility, as a white man, for America’s sins, he gives an answer insinuating that Black parents don’t know how to raise kids….Joe Biden’s answer on how to address the legacy of slavery was appalling…It ended in a sermon implying that black parents don’t know how to raise their own children.”

I’ll leave it to others to explain the complex factors behind Biden’s success “winning the Black vote” in the 2020 primaries – the representational/symbolic association with the nation’s first Black president Barack Obama  (unmentionably himself an objectively white-supremacist POTUS); the special noxious role of Black Misleader and South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn’s shameful endorsement; the “pragmatic” (if false) calculation that Biden is more likely to defeat the fascistic Trump than Sanders; Black voters’ doubt that most whites would back a leftish progressive who might actually do something good and real for people of color and the nation’s disproportionately nonwhite poor and working classes; the influx of Democratic money and advertisements into Black South Carolina.

I don’t deny the relevance of those factors.  Just don’t tell me that the racist and dementia-addled right-wing clown Joe Biden winning the Black vote isn’t a pathetic statement about the state of racial politics in the U.S. today.

And don’t tell me that the coming nomination of Joe Biden isn’t another sick victory for the Inauthentic Opposition Party of Fake Resistance. Sadly, Biden, with his brains coming out of his ears for years now, is slated to become a squealing seal in the jaws of the Great Orange Shark Donald J. Trump [1].  As Newsweek reported yesterday:

“Joe Biden mistakenly endorsed President Donald Trump during a speech in St. Louis, and Donald Trump responded with ‘I agree with Joe!’ on Twitter. In his speech, former vice president Joe Biden said, ‘We cannot get reelected, we cannot win this reelection, excuse me, we can only re-elect Donald Trump.’ “

“Dan Scavino, Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media at the White House, tweeted a video of Biden’s mistake and called him Sleepy Joe, which is the President’s nickname for Biden. Trump then retweeted the video, agreeing with Biden’s mistaken endorsement.”

“Biden has made similar gaffes recently, including calling himself an ‘O-Biden Bama democrat’ and saying that he is running for the United States Senate…Trump recently mocked Biden over a mistake when Biden said he was looking forward to Super Thursday instead of Super Tuesday. At a campaign rally in Texas, Biden said, ‘Look, tomorrow is Super Thur… Super Tuesday,’ and realizing what he had said, added, “I tell you what, I’m rushing ahead, aren’t I?’”

“Then during a campaign speech in North Carolina, Trump commented on the mistake and said, ‘I thought he gave up the presidency the other day. He said he’s running for the Senate. I looked at the first lady, I said, Hey, he’s running for the senate. Trump then added, ‘And today, he just said ‘Super Thursday.’ He’s looking forward to Super Thursday.’”

Any chance of an intervention here? We are all looking forward to the 2020 Death of Democracy Dementia Debates!

The “pragmatic” calculation is false.  Racist tragedies will escalate along with other ones when Biden “can only,” as he says, “Re-Elect Donald Trump.”

Endnote

1) My sea animal metaphor is admittedly flawed. As John Chrisman wrote me: “The shark is at least merciful enough to make quick work out of the seal. Trump will delight in making the dismemberment of Biden as protracted and as excruciating as he can make it. Trump will be the bored cat who amuses himself with the mouse he has pinned under his paw.”

 

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They Stripped Us of Our Clothes and Assigned Us a Number

Photograph Source: John Woodruff – Public Domain

Scholarship on Indigenous affairs is sophisticated, contentious and radically revisionary. And Canadians, myself included, have not yet faced up to the fundamental meaning of the Canadian government (supported by the churches)’s all-out assault on Indigenous cultures, beliefs, values, language and forms of knowing.

How can one begin to excavate the horrors of a radical resocialization project (from roughly 1876 to 1986) to transform “savages” into “civilized” citizens? In turning First Nations societies upside down, the government and the churches ended up turning themselves upside down, evident in the spiritual and moral degradation of themselves and students under their care.

As I read A Knock on the Door: the Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2016), I scribbled down phrases that jumped out at me. Here are words from some Indigenous children.

“There’s a whole plane crying.”

“We all gathered in a corner, meaning that we came together, and there we cried. Our nights were like that.”

“I could see my hair falling.”

“They took off my clothes and they deloused me.”

“I was taken to a strange land.”

“How will I make people understand what I am saying?”

“They stripped us of our clothes and moccasins and they were thrown in the garbage.”

“I was assigned a number.”

“We walked with the numbers on us.”

“Every day was, you were in constant fear that, your hope was that it wasn’t you today that was going to be the target, the victim.”

“I learned how to fear, how to be so fearful as six years old. It was instilled in me.”

“Children tried to weep silently.”

“You started crying, nobody comforted you.”

“No hugs, nothing, no comfort.”

“School taught us not to trust anyone.”

“We were fed a substandard diet and given a substandard education and worked too hard.”

“The discipline was harsh and unregulated.”

“Mary John said she could speak her own language only in whispers.”

“The priests ate the apples, we ate the peelings. That is what they fed us. We never ate bread. They were stingy then, their own, their own baking.”

A knock on the door contains many shocking comments from TRC writers. Here are but a few.

“The harsh discipline and jail-like nature of life in the schools meant that many students sought to run away. To prevent this, many schools deliberately ignored government institutions in relation to fire drills and fire escapes”

“The extent of the health crisis was so severe that some people within the federal government and Protestant churches became convinced that the only solution was to close the schools and replace them with day schools.”

“As late as 1958, Indian Affairs refused to return the body of a boy who had died at a hospital in Edmonton to his northern home community in the Yukon.”

The boys at Anglican schools were “chained together for running away.”

“Many students compared residential schools to jails; some spoke of being locked up in dorms, broom closets, basements, and even crawl spaces.”

“The door had been opened early to an appalling level of physical and sexual abuse of students, and it remained open throughout the existence of the system.”

“Many students spoke of having being raped at school.”

“It was not uncommon for the parents of an entire community or region to refuse to send their children to school.”

Many Native children tried to run away from their schools. At least 33 students died due to exposure. The most poignant case was that of Duncan Sticks, photographed with other boys out cutting wood, seated on giant logs around 1902. John Milloy reported (in A National Crime: the Canadian government and the residential school system, 1879 to 1986) that at dusk on February 10, 1902 Johnny Sticks found the body of his eight-year old son, Duncan, dead from exposure.

He had fled from the Williams Lake, BC Industrial School. He lay, so his father reported, “75 yards off the road in the snow—he was quite dead, but not frozen. There were marks of blood on his nose and forehead. His face was partially eaten. Sticks took him home on a sleigh. The school had not notified him that Duncan had run off.

Duncan Sticks deserves to live in our consciousness as a symbol of so many missing Indigenous children, men and women. To this very day Native people cry out at vigils or demonstrations about those sixteen to forty women who disappeared along the Highway of Tears, a 720 km. corridor of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, beginning in 1970. There are many others, too many. Their ghosts will continue to haunt us for a long time coming.

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Coronavirus is Good for You

Photograph Source: John Woodruff – CC BY 2.0

My, my, how reality can turn on a dime, even if perception lags behind.

March 1st Bernie had the Democratic nomination in the bag, and anyone truly concerned about the coronavirus pandemic was a bit deluded or selling surgical masks.

Today America is waking up to a deadly epidemic that will claim tens of thousands of lives in the months ahead, flood and overwhelm hospital rooms, and sicken millions leaving them economically worse off in an economy sinking into recession faster than you can say “Iceberg ahead!”

First, the political Titanic:  You didn’t really think that the super rich who own and control the Democrats and the corporate media were going to let Bernie win the nomination, did you?  Every imaginable smear and fear has been unleashed against him in an epic counterattack that resembles the ending of Bonnie and Clyde.  Sorry kids, but its worse than 2016 all over again.  Bernie will be urging his movement to Vote Blue No Matter Who They Screw, along with all the rest of the liberal and left pantheon of Blue cheerleaders.  Gotta dump Trump!

Bernie fans are furiously trying to expose Crazy Joe for the evil and apparently demented beast he is, a true loser to Trump.  But that doesn’t really seem to be working.

The Democrats and their scared, propagandized centrist voters are in a first things first mood, and agenda item one is stopping this democratic socialist threat in their midst whose wild in the streets throngs would force the Party to stand for all those rhetorical niceties it always betrays, like real health care for all.

Real health care for all will become much more popular in the months ahead as the coronavirus hits hard and suddenly.  But it won’t get a debate at the convention because there won’t be a convention.  Like Comicon in Seattle and SXSW in Austin, the Democratic Convention such as it will be, will exist on telephone lines, websites, YouTube, but not in a sweaty crowded convention hall in Milwaukee.   Any week now the DNC will happily cancel it due to #CoronaVirusUSA

We have entered a period of fast collapse.  The Bernie tale has a moral which is this:  don’t tie movements to leader worship, especially when the leader is a politician beholden to one of the two Parties owned by the Oligarchy.  Movements need to be accountable to themselves and decentralized, organizing for radical changes that benefit the majority, not begging them from the oligarchy’s mandarins.

Regarding the coronavirus, the seemingly draconian measures being used to slow it down really are necessary.  It is now a tidal wave, about to swamp an American medical and public health system that is not equipped for it.  It can’t be stopped, it can only be mitigated, and yes it will cause a global economic recession.

If there is a silver lining it might be that more people will learn that America needs a health care system which is paid for with public money and available to everyone, like all the other so-called developed countries.

Americans are deeply divided and will remain so, but maybe the agony ahead will help build a movement for Medicare for All or something better, even as the one candidate most committed to it is taken down by the super rich, their Party and Media.

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Don’t Expect a Democratic President to Roll Back Trump’s Policies

America’s health care, its poor, its black and Hispanic minorities and the contest between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders don’t amount to a hill of beans in the Middle East.

And many American voters – save for pro-Israeli lobbyists, liberal Jewish groups and disparate Muslim organisations  – don’t care a hill of beans about the fears of Israel and the Arabs. But both Muslims and Jews in the region have been carefully studying what the three remaining Democrat contenders have said about two-state solutions, Israeli colonies in the West Bank and the US embassy, currently in Jerusalem courtesy of Donald Trump. It’s time we did the same.

First of all, despair all ye who think the Democrats are going to reverse Trump’s disastrous transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those who believe that a Democrat president will simply roll back on Trump’s disastrous policies – not just over the embassy but anywhere else in the Middle East – had better shake off their illusions. History doesn’t go backwards. None of the Democratic candidates would commit to reversing Trump’s embassy decision when asked; only Sanders spoke vaguely of returning it to Tel Aviv. The rest chickened out by suggesting, rather outrageously, that the existence of the embassy in Jerusalem would become part of future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – something which was never part of the original Oslo negotiations nor any UN resolution.

Elizabeth Warren announced in the South Carolina debate last month that the decision should be left up to “Israel and Palestine” – presumably suggesting that the ‘capital’ of a two-state solution was up to them, even though Bibi Netanyahu believes it’s all wrapped up – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, full stop. And “Palestine”, Warren should have been aware, doesn’t as a state actually exist.

“But it’s not up to us to determine what the terms of a two-state solution are,” quoth she. “…The best way to do that is to encourage the parties to get to the negotiating table themselves.” Repeatedly asked if she would move the embassy back to Tel Aviv, Warren equally repeatedly said that “we should let the parties determine the capital.” Later she rather eerily referred to “capitals” – without explaining if she was thinking of a Palestinian “capital” in the village of Abu Dis, the grim little solution that Madeleine Albright half-heartedly supported two decades ago.

Sanders, of course, captured the imagination and fury of Arabs and Israelis (and Israel’s supposed friends in America) by his characterisation of Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist” – a description he may now choose to soften. Faced with Zionism at its most aggressive, most US presidents tend to mellow, discovering long-standing friendships among those who most infuriate them. But Sanders has talked of Palestinian suffering and dignity on numerous occasions – which neither Biden nor Warren have yet chosen to do on the campaign – and his contention that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) promotes “bigotry” aroused perhaps too much fury from the pro-Israeli lobby group.

Its boss, Howard Kohr, is well aware that neither Sanders nor Warren – nor, apparently, Biden, though we’ll see about this — had any interest in attending this year’s AIPAC conference. His latest remarks, clearly directed at the man who could be America’s first Jewish president, are worthy of serious examination. “A growing and highly vocal and energised part of the electorate fundamentally rejects the value of the US-Israeli alliance,” he said. “…The leaders of this movement…say they support Israel’s right to defend herself. But every time Israel exercises that right, they condemn Israel.”

Kohr wasn’t referring here to BDS, the boycott, divest and sanctions movement which does frighten Israeli leaders, but the increasingly worried men and women in America – young Jewish liberals prominent among them – who are disgusted by the suffering faced by the Palestinians in Gaza. Unafraid of Sanders’ unwise use of the word “socialism” – which used to be quite acceptable in Israel many years ago – they are searching, I suspect, for a morality in international politics which the US regularly suspends when confronted by Israel’s colonial project in the West Bank.

“Israel cannot afford false friends,” Kohr continued in a very clear assault on Sanders’ condemnation of the Israeli government and its now yet-again elected prime minister, an attack he described as “demonising Israel”. Last spring, Kohr spoke of the “intense hatred” of Israel which, he contended, was moving from the margins to the centre of US politics. “…Israel has been able to count on its friendship with the United States,” he now says.

But George W Bush and Obama “each understood that America’s commitment to Israel’s safety must be consistent, it must be unequivocal [sic], and it must be dependable.” In reality – a quality often lost in any discussion of US-Israeli relations in Washington – Obama was angered by Netanyahu’s constant interference in US politics, his lone appeals to Congress over the president’s head and his absolute refusal to postpone or close down or abandon the steady theft of Palestinian Arab land for Jewish colonies between Jerusalem and the Jordan river. Kohr’s reference to the necessity of America’s “unequivocal” support is not quite what he meant.

The correct word – had he dared to say it – would have been “uncritical”. And Sanders is not uncritical. In the strait-jacket, fearful debates which pass for serious television discussion in the United States, condemnation of Israel and its grotesque occupation of another people’s land – if not splashed with accusations of antisemitism – is regarded as off-limits, unacceptable, even immoral.

Sanders has broken this silly convention. And thus he must be dismissed as a “socialist’ (this is partly his fault, of course) and a “radical”, a word which my elderly Dad would probably have interpreted as a ‘Bolshie’. Sanders is not a Bolshevik – though he sometimes looks like one when he’s on the stump – and his real threat to Israel is that in the eyes of his supporters, he is honest, and seen to be honest. The fact that Sanders is Jewish and represents the bravest of America’s liberal Jewish community is all the more frightening to Israel’s right-wing supporters.

And so we come to Joe Biden, a man whom Netanyahu used to run rings around when Biden was Obama’s vice president. In 2010, the Netanyahu government blithely announced 1,600 new settlement houses on occupied Palestinian land shortly after Biden’s arrival on an official visit to Israel. Huffily arriving 90 minutes late for dinner with Netanyahu, Biden condemned the decision – and said no more. Four years later, addressing the Saban Forum, part of the right-wing Brookings Institute, Biden spent much time condemning Iran, praising Obama’s $17 billion financial support for Israel’s military – which he calculated at $8.5 million a day – and referring obliquely to the grave reservations which the Obama administration had about Israel as “tactical disagreements”, “tactical divides”, “normal disagreements” and “different perspectives”.

Only at the very end of his 2014 peroration did Biden mildly condemn “expanding settlement activity and construction…and the demolition of homes of attackers [sic]” as “counterproductive”. He referred to “terrorist” attacks by Palestinians and “vigilante attacks” by Jewish settlers. And that’s pretty much what we can expect of a Biden presidency.

He might, conceivably, try to roll back Trump’s destruction of the Iranian nuclear agreement into which Obama put so much energy – but just as he will not commit himself to reversing Trump’s decision on the US embassy transfer to Jerusalem, he’s likely to search for another nuclear agreement to take the place of the Obama one – which, in his perverse and hopeless way, is what Trump has been suggesting.

The trouble is that while former Democrat candidates are now ganging up to destroy Sanders’ chances of nomination – along with a significant portion of the US “liberal” press – Trump, barring a virus-induced economic collapse, is unlikely to spend much time worrying about a Biden candidacy.

Just as they prefer a “safe pair of hands” to protect the party, so the Democrat elite and the “old” liberals fear the moral crusade upon which Sanders might embark – about health and human rights just as much as the Middle East. Better to avoid conflict with Israel, too. And that was Hilary Clinton’s policy, wasn’t it? And that’s how Sanders went off the rails in the last presidential election, finally asking his supporters to give their vote to Hillary, as they shouted: “No! No! No!”

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Why the Trump/Modi Relationship is So Dangerous

In May 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi was reelected in India, a development many of us concerned about social, economic, and environmental justice denounced as very dangerous.

We were wrong. It turned out to be exponentially more dangerous than we had imagined.

In its second term in office, the BJP government has moved with unexpected speed and decisiveness to take India down the road to full-fledged fascism. In this, they’ve enjoyed the apparent support of the United States.

But before we examine what they did, let’s step back and examine the understandably loaded term “fascism.”

The BJP’s Unapologetically Fascist Roots

The fascist roots of the BJP run deep.

The BJP is (by its own admission) a political front for an organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which dates back to the 1920s. B.S. Moonje, a mentor of RSS founder K.B. Hegdewar, visited Italy and personally met with Mussolini.

He was very impressed by what he termed the “military regeneration of Italy” under Mussolini, and wanted to recreate it in India—  but, in very telling language, he referred to his idea as the “military regeneration” of the majority Hindu community. The weaponization of Hindu identity by today’s BJP (and the unquestioned equation of India with Hinduism) goes back almost a hundred years.

Another early RSS leader, M.S. Golwalkar, praised Nazi Germany in his writings, asserting that the Nazi purge of Jews was intended to “keep up the purity of the nation and its culture,” and that this was a “good lesson for us in [India] to learn and profit by.” Golwalkar never retracted these views, and the RSS only belatedly rejected them after nearly seven decades.

V.D. Savarkar, another early Hindu nationalist leader (and the architect of the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi), explicitly connected Nazi ideology with Hindu nationalist views about Muslims. He claimed in a 1939 speech that “Indian Muslims are on the whole more inclined to identify themselves and their interests with Muslims outside India than Hindus who live next door, like Jews in Germany.” Note the identification of Indian Muslims and German Jews as the “other,” outside the body of the “nation.”

This history is worth delving into, not for its academic value, but to fully understand the far-right political project in India as unapologetic fascism.

Lockdowns and Concentration Camps

The BJP government’s actions since being reelected last May represent a fundamental continuity with this ideological foundation. The best-known example internationally is Kashmir, where the Indian government has intentionally escalated a decades-long conflict driven by Kashmiri demands for self-determination.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir (in which Muslim-majority Kashmir is the most populous region) has long enjoyed a special legal status in India, with Article 370 of the Indian Constitution providing the state a certain degree of autonomy. It’s important to understand that this was the condition for the state’s accession to India in the first place, not an act of appeasement, as Hindu rightists portray it.

Last August, the Modi used a parliamentary procedure of dubious legality to scrap Article 370, sent even more troops to the already heavily militarized region, and imposed a communications blockade with no internet, mobile, or landline service — evidently to cover up horrific human rights abuses, with reports of deaths, torture, and detention (including detention of children) at the hands of Indian forces.

The Modi government was even willing to risk a confrontation with neighboring Pakistan (which could even lead to a regional nuclear war) with its actions in Kashmir. Both countries have nuclear weapons, and have a long history of conflict, much of it revolving around their rival territorial claims over Kashmir.

The BJP government has also embarked on an overtly fascist project of using ethnonationalist criteria to define who is (and by extension, who isn’t) deserving of Indian citizenship. In the northeastern state of Assam, which borders Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the government required every single resident to prove their citizenship, claiming that there were large numbers of undocumented Bangladeshi migrants in Assam.

Of the 2 million people stripped of citizenship because of their failure to provide documentation (in a country in which many of the rural poor lack birth certificates), most are Muslim. And a disproportionate number are transgender — another vulnerable minority who can be conveniently scapegoated and demonized.

In a move that will be eerily familiar to U.S. readers, the government is building concentration campsto house people (including children) rendered stateless by design.

Full-Fledged Authoritarianism

Last December, the government went further down the slippery slope to full-fledged authoritarianism by passing a bill called the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that provided citizenship to undocumented non-Muslim immigrants from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.

There are two key reasons why this represents an escalation, beyond what the government has done in Kashmir and Assam.

First, in Kashmir and Assam, there’s a little bit of plausible deniability, even if the anti-Muslim intent of the government is clear. Kashmir is, after all, experiencing a revolt against Indian rule, so the government can claim that its response is for national security reasons. Likewise, in Assam, there’s no dispute about the fact that there are undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh (leaving aside the questions of how many, how one finds out who is or isn’t undocumented, and most importantly, how a state that values human rights and dignity deals with the presence of undocumented immigrants).

With the CAA, though, the mask has come off, with explicit exclusion of Muslims from citizenship written into law. Many argue that it’s a clear violation of India’s secular constitution, which declares all people to be equal regardless of a number of criteria, including religious belief. Secular politics had been foundational to India’s national identity before Hindu nationalist ideology started undermining it.

Politically, though, there’s another factor at play. Both Kashmir and Assam are border states on India’s periphery, far from its major population centers. A large majority of Indians don’t live there, have never been there, and likely don’t know anyone from there. But when the government targets Muslims more broadly, the distant suddenly becomes real for Muslims throughout India, as well as for countless others.

This includes other religious minorities such as Christians, as well as Dalits (Hindus who are lowest in the caste hierarchy), who, along with Muslims, have been targeted for violent attacks by Hindu nationalist hate groups. It includes all Indians who care about human rights of people with a different identity, or about secular constitutional principles and the idea of a pluralist state.

Trump Comes to Modi’s Rescue

In a hopeful sign, the CAA has been the proverbial last straw and sparked massive protests throughout the country. Protesters have faced vicious attacks from right-wing Hindu mobs, with the police acting as hapless spectators (or worse still, joining in the attacks). But the intimidation and violence haven’t stopped the protests.

In this climate of growing dissent in India, and growing international recognition of the grave human rights situation in the country, the Modi government may have been feeling under siege. But a powerful figure on the world stage recently came to the government’s rescue.

U.S. President Donald Trump, in his recent visit to India, clearly indicated that he was on the side of the fascist government, making the preposterous claim that the BJP government “worked very hard to have great and open religious freedom.” Trump shared the stage with Modi at a campaign-style rallyof 125,000 supporters, demonstrating a level of support that goes way beyond the usual formalities of a state visit. And just to drive home the point, the U.S. signed a $3.5 billion deal with India for advanced military equipment.

Words matter. Barely after Trump left India, Hindu nationalist mobs started openly attacking Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship in Delhi, the national capital, chanting that India belongs to Hindus.

Hate crimes and pogroms against Muslims (as well as Dalits, Sikhs, and others) often occur in India, and Modi has been implicated in covering up one such pogrom when he was the leader of Gujarat state years ago. What makes this recent upsurge different is that it happened in the national capital while the global media spotlight was still on Delhi because of Trump’s visit. Clearly, the support of the president of the world’s most powerful country has emboldened Hindu fascist leadership.

As fascism takes hold of India, it will be with active U.S. support. The “friendship” of the Trump regime with the Modi regime is disastrous for countless Indians.

An Omen for the U.S.

People in the United States should be very concerned about the Trump-Modi friendship as well, and not just because it represents an egregiously unethical foreign policy choice by the U.S. Of course it is. But it also has ominous implications for domestic politics in the U.S.

The Trump-Modi friendship is not just a cynical decision by the U.S. to support an oppressive but powerful country with the world’s fifth highest GDP and a lucrative domestic market for U.S. businesses to export to, or invest in. Sure, that’s a factor. But there’s more to the story.

At its core, the friendship is about a shared far-right ideology. The U.S. and India are part of a growing number of authoritarian far-right governments in the world, whose members include Brazil, the Philippines, Hungary, and more, as my colleague John Feffer has articulated so clearly in a recent report.

The parallels between the BJP’s Hindu supremacist politics in India and Trump’s white supremacist politics in the U.S. are many — and frightening. These include writing Islamophobia into law and policy, dehumanizing and detaining undocumented immigrants (including children), and criminalizingIndigenous-led movements against ecologically destructive resource extraction (and even conflatingthese movements with “terrorism”).

The dangerous political agendas of Trump and his Indian fascist friends do not stop at the boundaries of official government policy. In the fashion of demagogues throughout history, both the U.S. and Indian regimes are adept at encouraging open violence by hate groups in their political base against those perceived as “other.”

The particular significance of these parallels for people in the U.S. lies in the fact that the Modi government in India became a lot bolder about pursuing its exclusionary ethnonationalist agenda in its entirety in its second term, viewing reelection as a mandate to fulfill the fevered fascist dreams of ideological forebears such as Golwalkar and Savarkar.

In the U.S., we should be similarly concerned about the Trump regime being reelected in November. Yes, we have a government that detains children in concentration camps, writes anti-LGBTQ hate into law, and openly rewards politically favored oligarchs in their pursuit of profit at the expense of most of humanity. But as the experience in India shows, things could get dramatically worse here if the Trump regime returns to power.

For the sake of humanity’s future, the “wider alliance between authoritarian and far-right political formations across the world” (as a politically astute protester in India said to the media) must be stopped in its tracks – in the U.S. elections, and in global solidarity to isolate and defeat the Modi regime in India, the Bolsonaro regime in Brazil, and everywhere else that the new fascism has reared its ugly head.

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The Inside/Outside Strategy Revisited

What is Strategy?

Strategy is a plan — a proposed course of action. Strategy demands the analysis of current conditions and statements of desired goals. But, the primary focus of strategy is “how.”  How do we work the transition between what is and what ought to be?

An effective strategy proposes how existing consciousness, resources, and capacities can achieve a range of political ends. Strategy tries to answer the hardest questions of all: what to do next and how to do it?

While strategic thinking often relies on one political theory or other it is not the same exact thing as theory — its nothing as orderly or elegant as that.

Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) is an approach to organizing and movement building that emphasizes learning from and coordination with resistance movements that have political positions you do not completely agree with.

IOS is an inclusive rather than an exclusive approach. A “both/and” attitude can help us resolve the static binaries and false choices that divide us and waste our energies. IOS is an alternative to the endless arguments and fragmentation that characterize the conventional left-wing pursuit of the “correct line.” IOS is particularly useful in organizing mass movements, coalitions, big-tent political parties, and revolutions.

Effective organizations regularly use a strategic planning process. While there are variations all include an assessment of the various forces in play; yourself, allies and adversaries; a shortlist of goals; the selection of tactics and demands; and most crucially — matching the tactics and tasks to the organizational resources already in hand.

In the spirit of experimentation, the results must be evaluated, criticized and the plan revised. But always, we start from where we are — not where we’d like to be or hope to be.

Strategy is permanently provisional. Strategy is a work in progress, an unending discussion open to revision based on practice and the constantly shifting political context. Strategy does not provide certainty but is a guide to action. But the sad fact remains that much activism is simply reactive or willfully avoids strategic work.

The IOS Remains A Coherent Strategic Framework For An Incoherent World

In 2014, when I started writing about IOS, I was hard-pressed to find good sources and examples — the discussion was just getting underway. A lot has changed since then. IOS has become a topic of discussion among strategy-minded activists.

IOS reaches its greatest potential as an overall strategy for social transformation.  It can be applied to a wide variety of situations and movements. Still, most discussions of IOS focus narrowly on the relationships between social movements or organizing on the one hand and electoral work on the other.

IOS emphasizes experimentation in practice rather than doctrinal rigor or ideological clarity as a way of rebalancing a movement drunk on polemics and the hangover of analysis paralysis. IOS gives priority to engagement with the millions rather than debates between or within organizations.

Personal experience is the best teacher by far and that is why job #1 is to encourage people to take action. Real change becomes possible when millions act on the stage of history and not before. And when the millions move they will burst every comfortable category the “left” prizes so dearly. Change will not be orderly.

The mixed reaction of the US and French left to the Yellow Vests is just one example of our inability to deal with the contradictions unfolding before us. It reminds me of Lenin’s observations of the 1916 Irish Revolution.

“To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression…against national oppression, etc.-to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will he a social revolution!

Lenin continues:

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.

The socialist revolution…cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible….”

Let’s start working on the world as we find it not as we wish it to be.[1] That in no way means we accept the world the way it is. But, it does mean we are working toward a strategy that is far more effective than moral outrage or ideological precision.

It’s not that raising consciousness is a waste of time — it is vitally important. We need to bring the empire into view first and foremost because that is where the crisis cooks the hottest. Yes, we need the ideological struggle but tempered and trained by the complicated political context we find ourselves in. And, there is nothing more full of contradictions than revolution — nothing.

Deal with that or we deal ourselves a losing hand.

Notes.

1. While the concept of “working with the world the way we find it,” is most often associated with Saul Alinsky it is a really just a practical application of the most useful insight Marx and Engles ever offered: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

 

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COVID-19 and the Working Class

US politicians and media are reporting approximately 500 cases of the virus in the US as of March 8. The actual number is almost certainly much higher, however. Perhaps as much as 10-fold that number, according to some sources. Why?

There’s the problem of reporting only tested cases so far, and there’s still a lack of available tests even to test and to verify all those infected without symptoms.. And even those showing symptoms may have been determined initially as not infected by the tests, since reportedly many of the early test kits were defective. Meanwhile, those without symptoms or pre-symptomatic are not being tested at all.

The Fiction of Voluntary Quarantine

Then there’s the policy of voluntary quarantining those who have come into contact with someone who was tested and found infected. It’s not working very well. Those who have come in contact with carriers of the virus are asked simply to stay home. But do they? There’s no way to know, or even enforce that. The case example why voluntary quarantining doesn’t work well is Italy.

Most of the northern Lombardy region, including the financial center of Milan in that country, is in ‘lock down’ right now. But all that means is voluntary quarantining. People are asked not to leave their town, or the larger region. But is that stopping them traveling around their town in public places? Or within the larger region? And spreading the virus there? Apparently not. Reportedly, infection for those tested have risen in just two weeks to more than 6,000 in Northern Italy. CNBC reports that, in just one day this weekend, that number increased by 1200! So much for voluntary quarantines. There’s no way, no sufficient personnel, not even accepted procedures, with which to daily check on those (in Italy that means hundreds of thousands) in voluntary quarantine.

The Real Costs to Workers

Average working class folks cannot afford to voluntary quarantine themselves. Or to stay home from work for any reason. Even if they have symptoms. They will continue going to work. They have to, in order to economically survive.

Consider the typical scenario in the US: there are literally tens of millions of workers who have no more than $400 for an emergency. As many perhaps as half of the work force of 165 million. They live paycheck to paycheck. They can’t afford to miss any days of work. Millions of them have no paid sick leave. The US is the worst of all advanced economies in terms of providing paid sick leave. Even union workers with some paid sick leave in their contracts have, at best, only six days on average. If they stay home sick, they’ll be asked by their employer the reason for doing so in order to collect that paid sick leave. And even when they don’t have sick leave. Paid leave or not, many will be required to provide a doctor’s slip indicating the nature of the illness. But doctors are refusing to hold office visits for patients who may have the virus. They can’t do anything about it, so they don’t want them to come in and possibly contaminate others or themselves. So a worker sick has to go to the hospital emergency room.

That raises another problem. A trip to the emergency room costs on average at least a $1,000. More if special tests are done. If the worker has no health insurance (30 million still don’t), that’s an out of pocket cost he/she can’t afford. They know it. So they don’t go to the hospital emergency room, and they can’t get an appointment at the doctor’s office. Result: they don’t get tested, refuse to go get tested, and they continue to go to work. The virus spreads.

Even if they have health insurance coverage, the deductible today is usually $500 to $2000. Most don’t have that kind of savings to spend either. Not to mention copays. So even those insured take a pass on going to the hospital to get tested, even if they have symptoms.

The media doesn’t help here either. Reports are typically that those who are young, middle age, and in reasonable good health and without other complicating conditions don’t die. It’s the older folks, retirees with Medicare, or with serious other conditions, that typically die from the virus. Workers hear this and that supports their decision not to go to the hospital or get tested as well.

Then there’s the further complication concerning employment if they do go to the hospital. The hospital will (soon) test them. If found infected, they will send them home…for voluntary quarantine for 14 days! Now the financial crises really begins. The hospital will inform their employer. Staying at home for 14 days will result in financial disaster, since the employer has no obligation to continue to pay them their wages while not at work, unless they have some minimal paid sick leave which, as noted, the vast majority don’t have. Nor does the employer have any obligation legally to even keep them employed for 14 days (or even less) if the employer determines they are not likely to return to work after 14 days (or even less). They therefore get fired if they go to the hospital after it reports to the employer they have the virus. Just another good reason not to go to the hospital.

In other words, here’s all kind of major economic disincentives to keep an illness confidential, to go to work, not go to the hospital (and can’t go to the doctor). That risks passing on the highly contagion bug to others–which has been happening and will continue to happen.

Here’s another financial hit for the working class: child care. Schools are beginning to shut down. Even where no cases are yet confirmed. Stanford University just decided to discontinue all in class sessions and revert to all online education. But what about K-6 and pre-school? Or even Jr. high schools? When they shut down, kids must stay at home. But most working class parents can’t afford nannys or baby-sitters. Not everyone works in an occupation or company where they can ‘work from home’. Do they send the young kids to grandma’s and grandpa’s, who are more susceptible to the virus? With their kids required to stay home, they must miss work, and risk even losing their jobs. We’re talking about millions of families with 6 to 12 year olds. And who knows how long the schools will remain shut down.

In short, wages lost due to self-quarantining, forced voluntary quarantining after hospital testing, the cost of hospital emergency room visits (whether insured or not), the unknown cost of the tests themselves (the government says it will reimburse them but they don’t have the $1,000 or more cash out of pocket in the first place), the cost of paying for nannys or baby-sitters for young school age children when schools shut down–i.e. all result in a massive out of pocket expense for most workers that they don’t have.

Workers figure all these possibilities of financial disaster pretty quick and know that the virus will mean a big financial hit if they miss a day’s work, or even if they don’t. So they keep working, hoping they’ll recover on their own, refusing to get tested because of the potential loss of work, wages, and income, and crossing their fingers that their kids’ school districts don’t shut down.

Economic Contagion Channels: Supply Chains, Demand, Asset Deflation, Defaults & Credit Crunch

What this all means for the US economy is obvious. Household consumption was already weakening at the end of last year. Most of consumption was driven by accelerating stock valuations, which affect those in the top 10% who own stocks; or by taking on more credit–credit cards, which affects the middle class and below.

Over $1 trillion in credit card debt is what has been largely driving middle income and below consumption. Mainstream economists argue that defaults on credit card debt are only 3% or so, and thus not a problem. But that’s a gross average across all 130 million households. When this data are broken down, middle income and below family credit card debt is around 9%, a very high number more like 2007 when the last economic recession began.

Then there’s auto debt. As of 2018, reportedly 7 million turned in their keys on their auto loans. As in the case of credit cards, auto debt defaults will rise as well in 2020. Then there’s student debt, over $1.6 Trillion now. Defaults there are much higher than reported as well, since actual defaults (defined as failure to pay either principal or interest) have been redefined to something else other than actual default.

Add to all this the likelihood is very high that job layoffs will now begin by April, as the global supply chain crisis due to virus-related cuts in production and trade.  More job loss means less wage income and thus less household spending and more inability to deal with the costs of the virus for most working class families.

Let’s not also forget the price gouging for certain products that is beginning now to appear, both online and in stores. That reduces working class real incomes and thus consumption too. Meanwhile, certain industries are already taking a big hit and layoffs are looming in travel companies of all kinds (airlines, cruise ships, hotels, entertainment). In places where the virus effect is already large, a big decline in restaurant, sports and concerts, movies, etc. has also begun.

The two big economic contagion channels impacting employment thus far are supply chain production and distribution reductions, and local demand for certain services (travel, retail, hospitality, etc.).

But a third major channel has just begun to emerge: that’s financial asset deflation in stocks, oil & commodity futures, junk bonds & leveraged loans, and currency devaluations.

Stocks’ price collapse leads to business shelving investment and even cutting back production. That means more job loss, reduced wage incomes, less spending, and economic slowdown.

Oil and commodity prices now collapsing also lead to energy industry layoffs. More importantly, in turn that will lead to energy junk bond market collapse–potentially spreading to all junk bonds, leveraged loans, and even BBB grade corporate bonds (which are really redefined junk bonds not investment grade bonds).

In other words, the collapse of supply chains, production-distribution, and industry by industry demand in the US may become even worse should the financial markets price collapse can lead to a general credit crunch. And that translates into a general economic real contraction. That’s precisely what happened in 2008, in a similar chain reaction from financial crisis to real economic crisis.

Workers are aware of all this possibly leading to longer run economic stress. In the short run, they consider possible wages loss if they reveal or report they have the virus, or get tested: i.e. lost wage incomes: the cost of immediate medical care; the cost of child care, etc. Better to tough it through and continue to go to work is a typical, and rational, response.

This is already going on. Hundreds of thousands with, and without, symptoms are not being tested; nor will most of them volunteer to be. Except for those on cruise ships who are forced to be tested (and they’re mostly retirees and elderly), few workers can afford to allow themselves to be. The infection rate is thus already much higher and will continue to rise. Voluntary quarantining doesn’t work much (again just look at Italy, or even Germany, where in one week cases (tested) rose from 66 to more than 1000). So out of economic necessity and to avoid personal economic devastation, they continue to work. But that doesn’t have to be.

US Policy Response: No Help for Working Class

US policy has been, is, and will continue to be a disaster. Trump’s cuts to health and human services in the past seriously hampered the US initial response. Tests had to be sent to Atlanta and the CDC for processing. Early test kits often failed. Only now are they getting to the states–to late to have a positive initial effect on the spread. Those suspected of exposure to others confirmed infected were simply sent home for ‘voluntary quarantine’. Initial legislation of $8.3 billion just passed by Congress provides for ‘reimbursement’ for voluntary testing, with no clarification if that covers the $1,000 hospital visit as well or just the cost of the actual test!

There could be, however, a government response that financially supports workers and allows them to be properly tested and treated.

An Alternative Policy Response

Why doesn’t the government simply say ‘go get tested for free’ and the hospital will bill the government for the costs? Not the worker pay up front with money he/she likely doesn’t have. Why isn’t there emergency legislation by Congress or the states to require employers to provide at least 14 days of paid sick leave, like other countries? And law guaranteeing employers can’t fire a worker sick with the virus for any reason? Or tax credits to working class families for the full cost of child care–paid to a nanny or to the worker–if they have to stay home in the event of a school district shutdown?

While business-investor tax cuts will almost certainly be the official government response, few of the above measures for working class Americans are likely. In America working class folks always get the short end of the economic stick. Congress and presidents pass trillions of dollars in tax cut legislation ($15 trillion since 2001 to investors, businesses and the 1%), but have raised taxes on the working class. Companies with billions of dollars in annual profits pay nothing in taxes–and actually get a subsidy check from the government to boot. Just ask Amazon, IBM, many big banks, pharmaceutical companies and more!

It can be expected the virus will have a large negative impact the standard of living and wages of millions of working class families. They will have to bear the burden of the cost with little help from their government. Meanwhile, businesses and investors will get bailed out, ‘made whole’, once again. In the process Consumption spending–the only area holding up the economy in 2019–will take a big hit. That means recession starting next quarter is more than a 50-50 likelihood.

In fact, the investment bank, Goldman Sachs, has just forecast that the effect on the US economy in the coming second quarter of this year will be a collapse of GDP to 0% growth.

 

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Cheatgrass, Wildfire and Livestock Grazing

Cow beat lands, Whitehorse Butte Allotment, Trout Creek Mountains, Oregon

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is rewriting its grazing regulations to allow more “flexibility” into range management. The agency even proposes increases in grazing seasons and numbers. All of this, of course, is the result of the pressure from the fox (Trump administration) guarding the hen house.

I think most career BLM employees know these changes will only lead to further degradation of our rangelands. Unfortunately, if you are a BLM employee, you must keep your head down, or you will be out of a job.

One of the excuses used to expand grazing is to reduce wildfires. While grazing grasses might appear to make sense as a fuel reduction effort to those who are unfamiliar with fire ecology, the reality is more nuanced.

Reducing the invasion of cheatgrass is given as the rationale for more livestock grazing, however, the agency, ranchers, range “scientists ignore the many studies that link livestock grazing and cheatgrass spread.

For instance, a recent paper concluded: “Results also suggest that cattle grazing reduces invasion resistance (to cheatgrass) by decreasing bunchgrass abundance, shifting bunchgrass composition, and thereby increasing connectivity of gaps between perennial plants while trampling further reduces resistance by reducing BSC (biological soil crusts).”

Except in the early spring, cheatgrass is not a preferred forage. As a result, livestock preferentially graze native perennial grasses and reduce their overall vigor, either directly eliminating them from the site, or decreasing their ability to compete against cheatgrass for nutrients and water.

Native plants weakened by a blaze are particularly vulnerable to cheatgrass competition. This is why permitting cattle to graze burned sites a few years after a blaze (as commonly is practiced on BLM and FS allotments) is counterproductive, and only enhances cheatgrass spread.

Another study looked at wildfire, cheatgrass, and livestock grazing. The scientists concluded that “Increased site resistance (to cheatgrass invasion) following fire was associated with higher bunch grass cover and recovery of bunchgrasses and mosses with time since fire. Evidence of grazing was more pronounced on burned sites and was positively correlated with the cover of B. tectorum, indicating an interaction between fire and grazing that decreases site resistance.”

A third paper just published this winter found that “biocrusts increase site resistance to invasion (by cheatgrass) at a landscape scale and mediate the effects of disturbance. Biocrust species richness, which is reduced by livestock grazing, also appears to promote native perennial grasses.”

Beyond the fact that livestock grazing promotes the spread of cheatgrass, a further issue is that “fuel reduction” by grazing has complicating factors.

Extreme fire weather drives nearly all large fires. Under such weather conditions, I’ve seen high winds drive blazes through even 1-inch stubble.

In a widely cited paper by U of Arizona researchers who looked at targeted grazing as a fire reduction measure, and concluded that their results only worked under “moderate” fire weather conditions. Under moderate fire weather conditions, it’s relatively easy to stop or suppress a wildfire, so any advantages gained in fire suppression are marginal. Grazing won’t prevent the large fires that burn tens or even hundreds of thousands of acres.

The BLM, nor livestock promoters readily admit these problems of cheatgrass, wildfire, and livestock grazing. The fact remains the proposed regulation changes will make it more difficult to hold accountable the BLM and the livestock industry who are directly culpable for the on-going degradation of our public lands.

To share your views before March 10th, please go here.

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Defender of Europe 2020: a Dangerous Provocation on Russia’s Border

At this very moment thousands of US soldiers are disembarking from troop transports in six European countries and rushing toward prepositioned munitions around Europe, to deploy weapons as swiftly as possible.

This excitement marks the beginning of “Defender Europe 2020”, the largest military exercises to be staged in Europe in over 25 years. Strategists will record how swiftly our forces can reach the Russian border, and test our NATO allies.

There has already been a massive US build-up in the countries bordering Russia.

In the words of Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, “The last 18 years of conflict built muscle memory in counterinsurgency, but with this came atrophy in other areas. We are now engaging these other muscle groups.”

General Tod Wolters, Commander of US forces in Europe and of NATO, has stated, “I’m in favor of a flexible first-use (nuclear weapon) policy.”

The US has withdrawn from the INF treaty.

Most diabolical and chilling of all: the exercises will come to a climax in June, which is the 75th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, which killed 27 million people. Russians born in 1930 turn 90 this year. They remember. The heart and soul of Russia remembers as well.

Russian Chief General Gerasimov is convinced the US is preparing for war. All it would take for an attack is one false-flag operation.

The people of the world lie in helpless ignorance. And the Doomsday clock moves 20 seconds closer to midnight.

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Patterns of Occupied Palestine and Kashmir: Part 4 of Uncountable

Aaj Woh Kashmir Hai Mehkoom-O-Faqeer
Kal Jise Ahl-E-Nazar Kehte Thay Iran-E-Sagheer

(Today that land of Kashmir, under the heels of the enemy, has become weak, helpless and poor/Once known among the wise as Little Iran)

— Allama Muhammad Iqbal, poet and philosopher of Kashmiri origin, “The Poet who Introduced Language of Resistance in Kashmir,” New Frame, July 11, 2019

 

 On June 14, 2018 two people representing similar struggles in two different parts of the world were murdered. One of them, 21-year-old Ahmad Ziad Tawfiq al-‘Aassi lived in occupied Palestine, and the other, 50-year-old Shujaat Bukhari lived in occupied Kashmir.

For almost half a century, Kashmir has been ruled from Delhi with the utmost brutality… Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi… are now passionate bedfellows, and Israeli “advisers” have been seen again in recent years in Kashmir renewing the close intelligence and security cooperation that dates from the early 2000s. The revocation of Article 370, which protected Kashmir’s demography by restricting residency to Kashmiris alone and, under a sub-section known as Article 35A, forbade the sale of property to non-Kashmiris, and the planned division of Kashmir into three separate Bantustan statelets, bear hallmarks of the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

—Tariq Ali, “Kashmir on the Edge of the Abyss,” NYR Daily, August 10, 2019

When it comes to heinous atrocities committed daily by Israel on the Palestinians, and  by India on the people of Kashmir, there is zero accountability. The vicious cycle of impunity enjoyed by these two occupying powers has deep roots in their respective exceptionalist ideologies: Zionism and Hindutva. As pointed out by the online news organization MEE, “Modi and Netanyahu quickly bonded in 2014 over their zealous objective to consolidate total and absolute power over their territories. They also recognized in each other the similarity of their ambitions to build supremacist democratic states with a single culture, a single race and a single nation.” 

Cross-pollinate Zionism and Hindutva and you get Zionutva — a hybrid fantasy.

The ultimate goal for Zionism is to slowly but surely establish a Greater Israel; for Hindutva it is to slowly but surely establish a Hindu Rashtra, or a Hindu nation-state. In the process, Zionutva will make second-class citizens of both the Palestinians in historic Palestine and the Muslims and other minorities in India and Kashmir.

 This is all bullshit… They [Hindutva] are actually hiding a dark Hindu fantasy of destroying Kashmiri Muslims and reducing them to a minuscule minority so that they can always rule them and they will be enslaved. Overnight their identity, their dignity, their everything has been lost. Kashmir has a 5000 years history as a country, all that goes down the drain…

— Prof. Hameeda Nayeem, “The Protests in Kashmir That India Didn’t Want You to See,” VICE News, August 16, 2019

Zionutva’s a fantasy, because as Prof. Nayeem describes, there can never finally be a Hindu Rashtra, or for that matter a Greater Israel on this dying planet. Before that can happen, the doomsday clock will strike midnight. Israel and India, along with bipartisan support from the United States of America — all of whom have nuclear weapons — have made it clear that they will use their ill-gotten freedom and democracy to deny the occupied Palestinians and Kashmiris their freedom and rights to self-determination. And the people of Palestine and Kashmir for their part have made it even more clear that they will stop short of nothing but getting their Azadi (Freedom) from the occupying fantasies of Zionutva. Their resistance to occupation will continue till the end of everything, or Azadi, whichever comes first.

So who are these faces and places of resistance? These stone-throwers and their brothers and sisters; these children lined up in white shrouds; these women and their sons; these obliterated families; these olive orchards with occupier-felled trees; these warehouses full of rotting apples that never made it to the market because of Kashmir’s communication lockdown; these chests wearing PRESS vests who never made it home?

Or what about these pairs of Palestinians and Kashmiris who were killed by Zionutva forces on the same day, like journalist Shujaat Bukhari and protester Ahmad Ziad; these barricaded farmlands; these artisans of vanishing crafts; these martyred “militants”; these unmarked gravesites; these endangered creatures; these stolen streams, mountains, villages and neighborhoods; these prescient professors like Hameeda Nayeem; these old and young enveloped in a debris of memories; these everything that has been occupied? Slowly but surely.

 

I have a very profound belief that it is difficult to have peace in the Middle East without minimal accountability certainly for the largest crimes.

— Shibli Mallat, a human rights lawyer, Sharon’s Dark Past

Estimates suggest that between 750 and 3,500 Palestinians were killed in the Sabra and Shatila massacre between September 16 and 18, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The massacre was carried out by Phalange, a right-wing Maronite Christian militia with full support and coordination of the Israelis.

According to Shibli Mallat “hundreds of Palestinians were rounded up [and taken to the stadium in Beirut] under the supervision and control and with interrogation of the Israeli forces.”  A cameramen who was there filmed the scene and said that the interrogations took place after the massacre.

According to Mahmoud Younis, a dental technician in Shatila, “the militia took us to the sports stadium and put us under the stairs. There were many women and children. Behind the sandbank Israeli soldiers were standing with Lebanese forces. They were together.” Mahmoud was only 12 when the massacre happened and lost his father, uncle, three brothers and three cousins.

18-month-old Ali, along with his mother Reham and farther Saad were killed in an arson attack carried out by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Duma in the Occupied West Bank on July 31, 2015. Ali was burnt alive in the incident, while Reham and Saad succumbed to their injuries in the coming weeks. Ali’s brother Ahmad, now 9, suffered burns on 60 percent of his body and survived the attack.

In a 2017 interview with Al Jazeera, Hussein Dawabsheh, Ahmad’s grandfather said that “when Ahmad goes to take a shower he looks at his body and asks why is my body like that? What shall I do? Why did they do that to me?”

“They,” the Israeli settlers, did this to Ahmad’s body because they can. They, along with Israeli Occupation Forces want to make an example of him, and Ali, and Reham and Saad, and other Palestinian families like them. Otherwise why would they make statements like this today and get away with it: “We will burn you as we did with Dawabsheh’s family?” After all, reports openDemocracy “Less than 9% of the settlers’ attacks committed against Palestinians as well as their properties are punished.”

Whether you’re a journalist or a protester or a farmer or an exporter of farm produce in occupied Palestine and Kashmir, Zionutva strikes you indiscriminately and with uninterrupted impunity. Take for instance these portraits of Shujaat Bukhari and Abdul Hameed Khan in Kashmir and Ahmad Ziad Tawfiq al-‘Aassi and Yusef a-Shawamreh in Palestine:

In a July 2016 BBC News article titled “My Kashmir Newspaper Has Been Shut Down, And I’m Not Surprised,” Shujaat Bukhari, a senior journalist and editor of the English paper daily Rising Kashmir, wrote that “for us these restrictions [imposed by an information blockade] are not new. Since the outbreak of armed rebellion in Kashmir in early 1990, media in the region has had to work on a razor’s edge in what is effectively the world’s most heavily militarized zone… Threats to life, intimidation, assault, arrest and censorship have been part of the life of a typical local journalist.” Two years after Bukhari wrote that article, on the night before Eid-ul-Fitr, he would become one of 19 journalists murdered in Kashmir since 1990. 

On that same day, on June 14, 2018, in occupied Palestine, Ahmad Ziad Tawfiq al-‘Aassi would die of serious wounds to the head that he had suffered days earlier in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. His death would bring the number of Palestinians killed by occupation forces in the context of the Great March of Return protests to 126, including 2 journalists.

14-year-old Palestinian Yusef a-Shawamreh was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers on March 19, 2014, as he crossed the Separation Barrier to pick Gundelia from his family’s farmland that lies on the other side of the fence. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Gundelia is “a thistle-like edible plant annually harvested at this time of year that serves as an important source of income” for the residents of the village of Deir al-‘Asal al-Foqa in the occupied West Bank where Yusef was from. “Shawamreh was shot when he and two friends… were going through a wide breach in the Separation Barrier.” There has been no justice for the killing of Yusef.

And Abdul Hameed Khan, a victim of India’s recent assault on Kashmir’s autonomy, tells us that “each year I export about 200,000 boxes of apples in the domestic markets across India. This year, because of the situation, farmers aren’t able to send their produce to market. They don’t know where to send it because communications lines aren’t working.”

 

Today is the second anniversary of the Intifada — the popular uprising of the Palestinian people. In the past two years over 800 people have been killed, and tens of thousands have been arrested. Because media coverage of the Intifada is incomplete and inconsistent it is difficult to know exactly what the situation really is in Occupied Palestine… Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid and the tear gas the Israeli military uses is made in the United States.

The Michigan Daily, December 8, 1989

15-year-old Ashraf Eid was one of those hundreds killed in the first Palestinian Intifada. There is no record of the day he died.

These faces look out at us from within the debris of these hollowed-out democracies and the uncountable memories of occupation.

The post Patterns of Occupied Palestine and Kashmir: Part 4 of Uncountable appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Industrialized Misery

Industrialized Misery

It’s funny but
There is no sound or rational
Argument
From environmentalists or those
Who claim to love animals…
For not
becoming vegan.
(Shock horror.)

It’s funny but
There are no maps
To our industrialised abattoirs.
They hide in the landscape
Like secret, sound-proofed, cathedrals
To hell…
While on the dairy farm
Laughing cows are impregnated and
Harvested
For milk and parmesan…

The post Industrialized Misery appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Neoliberal Plague

Cover of the first edition of The Plague – Public Domain

For those who aren’t familiar with Albert Camus’ The Plague, disparate lives are brought together during a plague that sweeps through an Algerian city. Today, by way of the emergence of a lethal and highly communicable virus (Coronavirus), we— the people of the West, have an opportunity to reconsider what we mean to one another. The existential lesson is that through dread and angst we can choose to live, with the responsibilities that the choice entails, or just fade away.

Through the virus, a new light is being shone on four decades of neoliberal reorganization of political economy. The combination of widespread economic marginalization and a lack of paid time off means that sick and highly contagious workers will have little economic choice but to spread the virus. And the insurance company pricing mechanism intended to dissuade people from overusing health care (‘skin in the game’) means that only very sick people will ‘buy’ health care they can’t afford.

Market provision of virus test kits, vaccines and basic sanitary aids will, in the absence of government coercion, follow the monopolist’s model of under-provision at prices that are unaffordable for most people. The most fiscally responsible route, in the sense of assuring that the rich don’t pay taxes, is to let those who can’t afford health care die. If this means that tens of millions of people die unnecessarily, markets are a harsh taskmaster. (3.4% mortality rate @ 2X – 3X the contagion rate of the Spanish Flu @ 4 X 1918 population).

If this last part reads like (Ayn) Randian social theory as interpreted by a budding sociopath in the basement of his dead parent’s crumbling tract home, it is basic neoliberal ideology applied to circumstances that we can see playing out in real time. According to Ryan Grim of The Intercept, Bill Clinton eliminated the ‘reasonable pricing’ requirement for drugs made by companies that receive government funding. This has bearing on both commercially developed Coronavirus test kits and vaccines.

Leaving aside technical difficulties that either will or won’t be resolved, how would any substantial portion of the 80% of the population that lives hand-to-mouth be effectively quarantined when losing an income creates a cascade effect of evictions, foreclosures, starvation, repossessions, shut-off utilities, etc.? The current system conceived and organized to make desperate and near desperate workers labor with the minimum of pay and benefits is a public health disaster by design.

While the American response to the Coronavirus threat seems to be less than robust, there was a near instantaneous response from the Federal Reserve to a 10% decline in stock prices. The same Federal Reserve that has been engineering a non-stop rise in stock prices since Wall Street was bailed out in 2009 knows perfectly well how narrowly stock ownership is concentrated amongst the rich— it publishes the data. It quickly lowered the cost of financial speculation as the cost of Coronavirus tests and a vaccine— and the question of who will bear them, remain indeterminate.

If priorities seem misplaced, you haven’t been paying attention. The statistics on suicides, divorces, drug addiction and self-destructive behavior that result from the loss of employment were understood and widely published by the early 1990s, at the peak of that era’s round of mass layoffs. Creating employment insecurity was the entire point of neoliberal reforms such as outsourcing, de-skilling and contingent employment. Neoliberal theory had it that desperate workers work both longer and harder. And they die younger.

The brutality of the logic used by the Obama administration in constructing the ACA, Obamacare, is worthy of exploration. The premise behind the ‘skin in the game’ idea is neoliberalism 101, developed by a founder of neoliberalism, economist Milton Friedman, to ration health care. The basic idea is that without a price attached to it, people will ‘demand’ more health care than they need. That from a public health perspective, oversupplying health care is better than undersupplying it, is ignored under the premise that public health concerns are communistic. (Read Friedman).

But how likely is it that people will ‘demand’ too much healthcare? The starting position of Obamacare was that the American healthcare system provided half the benefit at twice the price of comparable systems. Through the ‘market’ pricing mechanism that existed, the incentive was for people to avoid purchasing healthcare because it was / is wildly overpriced. Not considered was that through geographical and specialist ‘natural monopolies,’ health care providers had an incentive to undersupply health care by providing high-margin services to the rich.

Furthermore, why would a healthcare system be considered from the perspective of individual users? In contrast to the temporal sleight-of-hand where Obamacare ‘customers’ are expected to anticipate their illnesses and buy insurance plans that cover them, the entire premise of health insurance is that illnesses are unpredictable. Isn’t the Coronavirus evidence of this unpredictable nature? And through the nature of pandemics, it is known that some people will get sick and other people won’t. Not known is precisely who will get sick and who won’t.

While there are public health emergency provisions in Obamacare that may or may not be invoked, why does it make sense in any case to require that people anticipate future illnesses? Such a program isn’t health care and it isn’t even health insurance. It is gambling. Guess right and you live. Guess wrong and you die. Why should we be guessing at all? Prior to Obamacare, health insurance companies gamed the system with life and death decisions. In true neoliberal fashion, Obamacare randomized the process as health insurers continue to game the system.

As I understand it, the public health emergency provision in Obamacare might cover virus testing and the cost of a vaccine if one is ever found. Great. What about care? How many readers chose a plan that covers Coronavirus? How many days can you go without a paycheck if you get sick or are quarantined? Who will take care of your children and for how long? How will you pay your rent or mortgage? Who will deliver groceries to your house and how will you pay for them? How will you make the car payment before they repossess it and how will you get to work without it if you recover?

The rank idiocy— and the political content, of the frame of individual ‘consumers’ overusing health care quickly devolves to the fact that some large portion of the American people can’t afford to go to the doctor when they need to. Even if they can afford the direct costs, they can’t afford the indirect costs. When Obamacare was passed, the U.S. had the worst health care outcomes among rich countries. Ten years later, the U.S. has the worst healthcare outcomes among rich countries. And medical bankruptcies are virtually unchanged since Obamacare was passed.

The reason for focusing on Obamacare is it is the system through which we encounter the Coronavirus. In the narrow political sense of getting a health care bill passed, Obamacare may or may not have been ‘pragmatic.’ In a public health care sense, it is a disaster decades in the making. The problem wasn’t / isn’t Mr. Obama per se. It is the radical ideology behind it that was posed as pragmatism. Mr. Obama’s success was to get a bill passed— a political accomplishment. It wasn’t to create a functioning healthcare system.

The otherworldly nature of neoliberal theory has led to a most brutal of social philosophies. Mr. Obama later put his energy into lengthening drug company patents to give drug companies an economic advantage provided by the government. Economist Dean Baker has made a career out of hammering this general point home. Michael Bloomberg benefited from government support for both technology and finance. His fortune of $16 billion in 2009 followed stock prices higher to land him at $64.2 billion in 2020.

Donald Trump inherited a large fortune that likewise followed stock and Manhattan real estate prices higher. Both he and Mr. Bloomberg could have put their early fortunes into passive portfolios and received the returns that they claim to be the product of superior intelligence and hard work. Analytically, if the variability of these fortunes tracks systemic, rather than personal, factors, then systemic factors explain them. The same is true of most of the great fortunes of the epoch of finance capitalism that began around 1978.

The point of merging these issues is that they represent flip sides of the neoliberal coin. In a broad sense, neoliberalism is premised on economic Darwinism, the quasi-religious (it isn’t Darwin) idea that people land where they deserve to land in the social order. This same idea, that systemic differences in economic outcomes are evidence of systemic causes, applies here. However, differences in intelligence, initiative and talent don’t map to systemic outcomes, meaning that concentrated wealth isn’t a reward for these.

The ignorant brutality of this system appears to be on its way to getting a reality check through a tiny virus. Unless the Federal government figures this out really fast, most of the bodies will be carried out of poor and working class neighborhoods like mine. Few here have health insurance and most health care providers in the area don’t take the insurance they do have. More than a day away from work and many of my neighbors will no longer have jobs. Evictions are a regular state of affairs in good times. There are no resources to facilitate a larger-picture response.

Liberalism, of which neoliberalism is a cranky cousin, lives through a patina of pragmatism until the nukes start flying or a virus hits. Getting healthcare ‘consumers’ to consider their market choices follows a narrow logic up to the point where none of the choices are relevant to a public health emergency. One I plus another I plus another I doesn’t equal us. The fundamental premise of neoliberalism, the Robinsonade I, has always been a cynical dodge to let rich people keep their loot.

The mortality rate and contagion factor recently reported for Coronavirus (links at top) place it above the modern benchmark of the Spanish Flu of 1918 in terms of potential lethality. What should make people angry is how the reconfiguration of political economy intended to make a few people really rich has put the rest of us at increased risk. These are real people’s lives and they matter.

Finally, for students of neoliberalism: there is no conflation of neoliberalism with neoclassical economics here. Milton Friedman, one of the founders of neoliberalism through the Mont Pelerin Society, produced a long career’s worth of half-baked garbage economics. On the rare occasions when he wasn’t helping Chilean fascists toss students out of airplanes in flight, he was pawning his infantile theories off on future Chamber of Commerce and ALEC predators. His positivism was already known to be a farce when he took it up. Here is a primer that explains why it is, and always will be, a farce.

 

The post The Neoliberal Plague appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

They Rule: No Easter Bernie

Photograph Source: Mike Mozart – CC BY 2.0

A Witch Out of Dickens

Former MSNBC (MSDNC) talk show host Chris Matthews’ execution by the Bernie Sanders campaign today was quick and painless. A guillotine was set up near Central Park’s Pond & Gapstow Bridge. A crowd of 15,000 applauded politely after Matthews’ head was held up and placed inside a model Cold War era television. Ticket fees (ranging from $27 to $200) were dedicated to the Sanders campaign. Sanders addressed the crowd, calmly explaining why Matthews had been condemned. Sanders asked attendees to go to berniesanders.com to contribute further to his campaign and to nominate other broadcast journalists for execution in Central Park “or in any other major metropolitan park across our great country.”

That story is obviously made-up, though richly deserved given Matthews’ career-ending (finally!) comments trying to link Sanders to “Castro and the Reds” and “executions in Central Park.”

This is not made up: last Tuesday morning, as Super Tuesday voting was just underway, MSDN’C’s self-caricaturing and Bernie Sanders’-hating morning host Stephanie Class-Ruhle had on (I am not joking) daytime television’s vicious small-claims court Judge Judy to denounce Sanders and promote Mike Bloomberg. I remember watching Judge Judy while home with the flu years ago. She is a loathsome bourgeois witch, a miserable shaming villain straight out of Charles Dickens. She hands down mean-spirited judgments against poor people of color, coupling her verdicts with noxious lectures on their personal and cultural responsibility for their positions at the bottom of the nation’s deep wells of social injustice.

Stephanie Class Ruhle is a global derivatives trader who calls Wall Street her “favorite place” and lives in luxury in East Central Park. She smiled so hard her cheekbones seemed at risk while Judge Judy proclaimed that “This is the greatest country in the world. Nobody wants to leave it. It could use some tweaking, some incremental change.” Judge Judy said that “Bernie’s revolution is a joke” because “it is fiscally irresponsible” and it’s been tried and failed “in Venezuela.” Judge Judy said that people might want “a revolution” in their youth but then “young people grow up.” Judge Judy said that Sanders’ call for “revolution” is “unfair” and “unjust.”

Bloomberg, Judge Judy said, “is the reason I am out from behind the cloak.”

Wall Street Steph said it “was an honor and a privilege” to give Judge Judy a platform for her vile views.

You can’t make shit like this up.

As would never cross Steph and Judy’s bourgeois minds, Sanders is advocating for incremental change. Single Payer, an increase in the minimum wage, free public college, and green jobs programs are not the nationalization of the means of production and the dismantlement of the American Empire. They are reforms under capitalism. I know plenty of people, including lots of middle-aged and senior folks, who would love to see an actual democratic people’s and socialist revolution in the United States. I also know many who would like to leave this country. They are sick of in a nation so pathetically corporate-dominated and reactionary that something as simple, decent, and cost-saving as taking corporate profit out of health insurance and making health care a human right – Medicare for All – is considered unaffordable and dangerously “radical.”

Next up in Central Park: Stephanie Ruhle and the virulent center-right pretend liberal Joy Reid, who has been inserted into the now “retired” Matthews’ old 7 pm MSDNC slot to knife Sanders and his backers in a far more sophisticated and identity-correct fashion.

A Sick Society

Speaking of corporate health insurance and sick societies, here was an interesting news item from the day after Ms. Class-Ruhle and her fellow fake-progressive talking heads at MSDNC and CNN helped Sanders lose to the right-wing buffoon Joe Biden:

“UnitedHealth’s Stock Soars After Biden’s Strong Showing…Shares of UnitedHealth Group Inc. UNH, -2.93% soared 10.4% in premarket trading Wednesday, as Joe Biden’s strong showing on Super Tuesday assuaged fears over the potential negative impact from “Medicare for All” being proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders. The stock’s implied price gain would add about 185 points to the Dow Jones Industrial Average’s DJIA, -3.73% price, while Dow futures YMH20, -3.11% surged 643 points. Among others in the managed care business, shares of Anthem Inc. ANTM, -4.51% hiked up 9.6% ahead of the open, Humana Inc. HUM, +0.24% jumped 7.8%, Centene Corp. CNC, -3.54% ran up 8.3% and Cigna Corp. C, -5.34% surged 10.9%.”

Do we live in an evil country or what? A presidential candidate whose dream is to make health care a human right got beat up and a leading mafia outfit’s share price went up 180 points! I am reminded of something two exiled German communists wrote in 1848:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”

“An Orwellian Masterpiece”

Speaking of CNN, MSDNC, and Biden’s big bourgeois Super Tuesday adventure, I hope I am not the only one who noticed that both of the cable networks’ expert panels were chock full of former Obama staffers and current Obama pals like Van Jones, Robert Gibbs, David Ploufe, and David Axelrod. It is, as Terry Thomas says, “an Orwellian masterpiece” for the corporate media to pretend to dispassionately report and comment on the very same political history that it is itself endeavoring to make. The capitalist print and broadcast media, with MSDNC in the vanguard, has been leading a full-frontal ideological offensive on “radical” Sanders, replete with neo-McCarthyite fearmongering, red-baiting, and serial fabrication and distortion. CNN even allowed one of its more subhuman chattering skulls (the reactionary cretin Michael Smerconish) to liken Sanders and his supporters to the coronavirus. (Historically astute readers may be aware that the Nazis described Jews and socialists as viral infections.)

Speaking of the bourgeois darling Obama – himself a noted Wall Street agent and Single Payer-killer who has been reaping the financial rewards of dedicated service to the nation’s corporate oligarchy ever since handing the White House to Trump: who you do think made he calls that commanded Alfred E. Wine Cave (Buttigieg) and Amy Klobuchar to shut down their campaigns and endorse the dollar-drenched dotard from Delaware, soon to be the next squealing centrist seal to be devoured by the Great Orange Shark? (It was amusing to watch Obama’s former campaign chief and top political advisor Axelrod report that Obama may have reached out to Buttigieg and Klobuchar when Axelrod might well have been in on the calls himself.)

Turn[ab]out Fear is Fair Play

Turnabout, the old saying goes, is fair play. One of the key tools the corporate media and the “moderate” (right-wing) Democratic presidential candidates have used against Sanders is fear – fear of the supposed socialist Bernie menace (absurd since Bernie’s a social democrat at leftmost, not a socialist)and real socialism is the best thing that could happen to us) and fear of Sanders’ alleged un-electability. Are progressives not supposed to reply by warning people about the real menace of the billionaire-backed Biden’s right-wing corporatism and his intimately related un-electability?

The gaffe machine Biden’s brains have been coming out of his ears for years and it’s only going to get worse in coming weeks, months, and years. His lack of impulse control is a telling sign of his dementia. His body men struggle to prevent him from rubbing women’s’ backs and sniffing their hair. He told a Warren supporter in Iowa that he was “too old to vote,” calling the gentleman “fat” along the way. He called a young woman a “lying dog-faced pony-soldier.’ He accused the centrist Joy Reid of wanting a leftist “physical revolution.”

He loses his train of thought in mid-sentence. He forgets what state he’s in and what day it is. He idiotically defends his past alliance with a racial-terrorist segregationist senator by saying that “he never called me boy.” He boasts that he would have beaten up Trump behind the gym in high school. He tells outlandish stories about past swimming pool confrontations with angry young Black men named “Corn Pop.” He babbles idiotically about young Black children who like to watch the hair curl up his legs. He calls for the use of “record players” as a solution to inner-city poverty. He has to rescind a preposterous claim to have gotten arrested trying to visit Nelson Mandela in apartheid South Africa.

Seriously? Joe Biden? The man is way past his bedtime. And he was a terrible lying candidate and a serial plagiarist long before his mind stared fading. (Besides being morally and ideologically offensive, the promotion of Biden speaks to our abject ignorance about mental health in the USA: if people can’t see that Biden is suffering from dementia and it’s only going to get worse and worse, it’s hard to know what to say. Imagine the 2020 debates between Trump and Biden. In one corner a full-on level-one malignant narcissist who is practically illiterate and innumerate, besides being an at least instinctual fascist: Trump. In the other corner, a right-wing Dem corporatist who doesn’t know what state he’s in or how to tie his shoelaces: Biden.)

On top of which, Biden’s corporate-funded record stands well to the right of the majority-progressive values of the Democratic base on issue after issue: public health insurance, the protection of Social Security, bankruptcy law, credit card interest rates, racist mass incarceration, the arch-criminal invasion of Iraq, student debt, tuition, the minimum wage, climate, and more.

Evil Trump will squash “Sleepy Joe” like a bug. Be afraid, very afraid, of a Joe Biden nomination. As Conor Lynch notes, “Joe Biden Be Trump’s Dream Opponent.” Understand that millions and millions of Democratic voters who were inspired by Sanders’ progressive populism will simply not turnout to vote for Joe Biden no matter how much Bernie will (sadly) plead for them to do so. Michael Tracy (asking “What Could Divide the Democrats More Than Conspiring to Stop Sanders?”) is dead-on here:

“The moderate 11th-hour dropouts [Buttigieg and Klobuchar] are craven, not courageous…The logic set forth by Klobuchar in her endorsement speech, which is no doubt shared across vast stretches of the Democratic professional/media class, is that Bernie would ‘divide the party’ and therefore hand Trump an easy win in November [same for Buttigieg’s nauseating endorsement oration, which absurdly hailed Biden as a progressive – P.S.]. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to occur to them that this coordinated establishment intervention done for the purposes of blocking Bernie will also inevitably ‘divide the party’, and probably more gravely so. Bernie’s most ardent backers are already absolutely incensed. They will not fall in line behind…Joe Biden. They just won’t…. If you enrage and alienate them by appearing to rig the process against their candidate (for the second time) then you are inescapably ‘dividing the party’ and in all likelihood assuring a Trump victory.” (emphasis added)

A Biden nomination will amount to the Corporate-Neoliberal Inauthentic Opposition Party of Fake Resistance mounting a Campaign to Re-Elect “the Most Dangerous Criminal in Human History” (Noam Chomsky’s accurate and recent description of Trump).

They Don’t Care

And here’s something to reflect on: The Democratic establishment won’t care. They don’t care. Please let that sink in, dear progressives: THEY DO NOT CARE. Put this on your record player: the Dem establishment will gladly enable a second fascistic and ecocidal Trump term before it will get behind a progressive Dem/Sanders nomination. They would rather to lose to the rightmost party, even an ever-more fascistic and apocalyptic GOP, than to the moderately social-democratic left wing of their own party.

Never forget that Trump has been very, very good for ratings and commercial revenues at MSDNC and CNN. Steph, Joy, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo. Rachel Maddow, Joe Scarborough, Nicolle Wallace, Lawrence O’Donnell, and the rest (and here I need to sadly add the clever Catholic comedian Stephen Colbert) and their corporate cable employers have some very good reasons to look forward to four (how about eight or nine or more?) more years of “the most dangerous criminal in human history” in the world’s most powerful (and dangerous) office.

The Party’s Over: Sanders “Fighting on two Fronts”

The party’s over, folks. Sorry. This right-wing Joe Corn Pop-a-bin Biden, champion of the Vinyl New Deal, is the “opposition” candidate. Biden is going to the Democratic National Convention with a plurality of delegates and will of course have all or nearly all the openly authoritarian corporate-Democratic super-delegates if he needs them on the convention’s second ballot. Biden also has the corporate media, which is reporting history it helped make, “an Orwellian masterpiece.” (Biden got Maine and Massachusetts without even opening offices there —- that’s the power of name recognition and corporate media. Process that.)

“Sanders,” Takashi Shimura writes from Iowa City, “the most popular candidate in the race, is fighting on two fronts, on the one hand his own party, and on the other the party’s corporate media. There are so many attacks on Sanders, more than even in 2016, that voters have to be diligent in finding real news and be belligerent against the noise of negativity. I’m seeing stuff in the corporate media that I have never seen before” [like likening a major party presidential candidate to a deadly virus? – P.S.]

“[MSDNC talking head] Nicole Wallace,” Ted Sirota writes from Chicago, “said ‘the establishment didn’t have anything to do with Biden’s comeback. It was African-American voters, and Jim Clyburn.’ And nobody said that ‘Jim Clyburn IS the Democratic establishment.’ Just nodded.” (Wallace is a former top George W. Bush campaign staffer, for what that’s worth).

Keen observations!

Bracing for the Best

“Your call for revolution seems to be becoming the only way,” a friend wrote me from Ohio two nights ago, adding this: “We will lose with Joe just like we lost with Hillary just like we lost with John Kerry.” Well, yes: The institutions are captive to the ruling class. It’s not complicated. Nothing new here. Please read my book They Rule: The1% v. Democracy. It’s a decent historical analysis of how the ruling class rules. Which is a good thing to study if and when we ever decide to take it on in a serious way – in the streets, on the shop-floors, in the offices, on the runways, in the pipeline construction sites, around the Pentagon, at the corporate headquarters, in the face of repression. Voting for Bernie isn’t really taking it on all that much I’m afraid.

“I’m bracing for the worst,” a friend from Madison, Wisconsin (an old research and drinking haunt of mine) writes. Not me: the big bourgeois Biden counterattack could have revolutionary implications. It could help us finally knock left politics and activism off the vicious death circle of the endless major party candidate-centered election cycle. One by one the total un- and anti-democratic inadequacy of the reigning bourgeois institutions and processes are being exposed as social and political democracy fails as the insane Trump administration pushes the deadly authority and stupidity envelope ever closer to true disaster:

+ The 2016 electoral process, rigged against Sanders and then even against horrible Hillary.

+ “Adults in the room” in the Cabinet and executive branch agencies.

+ The Justice Department’s and corporate media’s absurd and diversionary three-year Russia Gate investigation.

+ The federal courts.

+ The centrist House Dems’ impeachment, which avoided and diverted from Trump’s worst crimes and had no chance of leading to removal in the Senate.

+ The deeply conservative U.S. Constitution itself.

+ The 2020 presidential candidate selection process.

The “normal” constitutional and electoral paths of “resistance” are a complete fail. The system is a ruling class-imposed travesty, delivering us to tragedy on a mass scale.

Actual leftists need to take advantage of this. This is what we have been saying. The major party ballot box is the coffin of class consciousness. The Sanders thing and indeed social democratic politics in the U.S. are over: trade in your ballot for a yellow vest.

The bourgeoisie will not be unseated – as it needs to be for humanity to survive – through the existing constitutional and electoral channels. It just won’t. The U.S. party and elections system broadly understood (to include the media, among other things) is owned and managed by and for the capitalist elite — and that elite doesn’t want anything to do with even mild social democracy or environmental sanity, even if both are required for human survival.

We will not get rid of that elite at the ballot box. I wish we could, but we can’t, and we won’t. Sorry. There’s no electoral politics Santa Claus, not even an Easter Bunny/Bernie.

How much longer are we going to let them rule? As Istvan Meszaros wrote nineteen years ago, in an age of clear capitalogenic Ecocide, “it’s socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky.”

This kind of commentary comes with costs. Please helps Street keep writing here.

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Cancer in US Navy Nuclear Powered Ships

USS Ronald Reagan, Kitty Hawk and Abraham Lincoln. Photo: U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Todd P. Cichonowicz.

Here is a good one. In 2011, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan was about 100km off the coast of Japan at the time of the Tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima reactor explosions. It was directed by the US government to ride to the rescue in what was later called Operation Tomodachi (friendship)–to provide assistance to the victims of the floods. What no-one on board was told was that the reactors had exploded and a plume of highly radioactive material was blowing east from the site into the path of the vessel. Of course, when this arrived, all the radiation monitors on the boat started screaming, and the planes and helicopters that had flown the rescue sorties were contaminated.

In 2014 I was engaged by some California attorneys to advise on a court case being taken against the Japanese company TEPCO and the US reactor makers GEC on behalf of the sailors who served on the aircraft-carrier. A significant number of the Ronald Reagan crew were reporting a wide range of weird illnesses including cancers, all of which they were attributing to their radiation exposures. Between 2014 and now, the court arguments were all about procedure: whether the cases should be heard in Japan or in the California where the vessel’s home port of San Diego was. There was a lot of publicity [1]. Eventually, and recently, the California judge decided that the case had to be heard in Japan. This is (in passing) monstrously unjust since Japanese law is different and the sailors cannot afford to go to Japan and hire Japanese lawyers. But this is not the story here.

In 2014, following all the publicity about the cancers, a number of US Senators and important people were asking pertinent questions—the Navy had to do something to answer the accusations that the Fukushima radiation was killing those who sailed on Operation Tomodachi. They panicked. A big report was prepared by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), entitled: Final Report to the Congressional Defense Committees in Response to the Joint Explanatory Statement Accompanying the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, page 90, “Radiation Exposure” [2]. Never use one word when ten will do.

This report rambled on about how low the Fukushima doses were, how everyone acted wonderfully and how all the radioactivity was rapidly cleaned up. The dose reconstruction showed no one got more than a fraction of the Natural Background dose and so forth. We have been here regularly. (The methodology for the dose reconstruction has since disappeared from the link given in the report). Since no-one believes any of this dose bullshit any more, to prove that there was no cancer excess, the Navy took one step too far. They reported the results of their own epidemiology study which they carried out on the Ronald Reagan sailors. This compared the illness yield (including cancers) of the 4,843 RR sailors with a matched control group of 65,269 sailors on nuclear powered ships that were not anywhere near Fukushima. The period of analysis was from 2011 to 2013, about 3 years. This showed that there were more cancers in the control group over that period. The idea clearly was to knock on the head any suggestion that the radiation from Fukushima was the cause of the cancers and other stuff that was the basis of the court case. And this it apparently did.

Their move was to compare the matched “unexposed” control group with the Ronald Reagan group. There were 30% more cancers in the control group after adjusting for age. But what I did was to compare the control group with the National population, using data on cancer rates by age group from the SEER database [3]. The result showed an astonishing 9.2-fold excess of cancer in the sailors on nuclear-powered vessels. There were 121 cancers predicted on the basis of the national rates, and 1119 reported by the DTRA study. For the Reagans it was about 6-fold with 46 reported and 7.76 expected. Now this result is astonishing. I wrote my study up for a good scientific peer reviewed journal, and it was published last week [4]. You can find it on academia.edu if you can’t afford the journal cost.

What I discuss in the paper to explain the result is my usual argument about how the radiation protection legislation is wildly incorrect when dealing with internal contamination from radionuclides. The legal limits in USA and the West are based on the comparison of cancers in those exposed to acute external gamma ray doses to the Japanese A-Bomb populations and cannot apply to internal exposures to substances which target DNA (Uranium, Strontium-90) or which provide huge local ionisation to some living cells but nothing at all to others (DU particles, reactor discharge particles).

But this time it really is a big deal. Nine times the expected rates? What are they going to do? It is their own data which they stupidly released. It shows that all the sailors on nuclear powered Navy ships are dying from cancer. You can bet the telephone lines are hot, and that we won’t see any coverage of this in the Theatre newspapers and media. But the sailors themselves and the veterans? What will they think when they find this online but not reported?

Studies of nuclear workers have been the new battleground for this Chess game since it became apparent in the last few years that the Japanese A-Bomb studies were dishonestly manipulated and ignored internal exposures to fallout and rainout [5]. We have seen a number of attempts to kill the argument about low dose radiation and health using nuclear worker studies. There was the Lancet publication in year 2015 [6]. There was the desperate and disgraceful Royal Society publication last year [7]. The late Alexei Yablokov and I wrote to the Lancet Editor on behalf of the Independent WHO [8] asking if we could point out in the journal that the Lancet articles reassuring everyone that the science of radiation risk was secure were written by nuclear industry scientists and were unsafe. The Lancet refused. I wrote to the Royal Society. They also refused to publish anything. What is Truth—says Pilate—waits for no answer.

Nuclear workers work outside at a nuclear site where the discharges get dispersed. Nuclear sailors live in a tin box that also contains the reactors. Nuclear worker studies are based on data that is provided by the nuclear industry to show there are no cancers. The DTRA study had to show more cancers in order to swamp the Ronald Reagan sailors’ cancers. But to do this, they brought out their Queen. And it was taken

Anyway, let’s not walk further into the What is Truth swamp and discuss the News Theatre. Thankfully this story shows that in this truth argument there are two last frontiers. These are the scientific peer-review literature and the courts. I am representing the widow of a UK nuclear submariner, a man who was a reactor servicing technician and who died from cancer. Let’s see what the Scottish court makes of this paper. Read it yourself and have a laugh. If you are a Navy sailor on a nuclear-powered ship, be very frightened. Write to your Senator. Kick up a fuss.

Notes.

1) https://www.courthousenews.com/us-sailors-face-grim-diagnoses-after-fukushima-mission/

2) Radiation Exposure Report – Health.mil www.health.mil › Reference-Center › Reports › 2014/06/19 › Radiati…

3) https://seer.cancer.gov/data/

4) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07357907.2020.1731526?journalCode=icnv20

5) https://www.genetics.org/content/204/4/1627

6) https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2017.1070

7) https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2017.1070

8) https://independentwho.org/en/our-demands-to-who/

 

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The Super Tuesday Sting

This is the sixth of a periodic series on the early primaries and caucuses. The other pieces can be found here.

Joe and Jill Biden on the campaign trail. Photo by Matthew Stevenson.

The fix on Super Tuesday in the presidential election was a clubhouse deal in which the elders of the Democratic Party, led by Barack Obama, shook down the primary system to teach Bernie Sanders a civics lesson, which is that the party ideals must remain convertible into gold or silver.

I know that, at least on paper, the current Democratic Party is the heir of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, not to mention Franklin Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan (who in 1896 championed silver and what was called “bimetallism”), and in theory it is in the game to articulate progressive ideas for social change and betterment.

Hence all the primary blather in this cycle about addressing climate change and righting economic inequality.

It sounds good at a New Hampshire town meeting, but when the SUV rubber meets the road in a candidate’s motorcade, the Democratic Party is a protection racket for corporate placemen and military contractors (as is, I might add, the Republican Party).

Hence the Biden resurrection in the days leading up to the Super Tuesday vote, in which a 77-year-old surgically enhanced, clinically dead candidate was brought back to life as Woodrow Wilson. (They would have thrown in fourteen points, if any of the fix-it men thought Joe could remember more than half of them.)

Why the rage against Bernie? Granted, Sanders is a grouchy old man (Hillary: “No one likes him…”) with his own ideas on wealth and power who has rarely “self-identified” as a Democrat.

Sanders was also the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and in various runs for the House and Senate he’s flown independent flags of convenience more than those of Democratic Party loyalty.

Just to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016 Bernie had to register as a Democrat, and in that election, when it looked as though he might defeat the party’s preordained candidate of choice, the organization’s machinery was pressed into high gear to bring him down on Super Tuesday. It’s his Ides of March.

In 2020, the fix was made in a series of phone calls to the likes of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, neither of whom (I presume) would have been delighted to hear that, after campaigning for more than a year, they were 1) dropping out of the race before Super Tuesday and 2) endorsing Joe Biden.

Word has it that Obama called Buttigieg with this happy news. I cannot verify that he did, but certainly he or someone in his circle would have made the calls, with the message along the lines of “we know where you live.” (Just before dropping out Buttigieg tapped his wine cavemen for another round of campaign donations; I am sure they loved how that tasted, especially after their sommelier quit a few days later.)

Why Buttigieg and Klobuchar went along with the Democratic grifters is also easy to imagine. Vain and singing songs of himself, Buttigieg, I am sure, was told he had “run well” and had “a great future,” and that if he got out now, the boys in the clubhouse would “remember him” down the road.

For Klobuchar, the deal would have gone down like this: “Get out now when your five percent in the polls has some value, and, while we can’t promise you anything, Joe will put you on the shortlist for vice-presidential consideration once he wraps up the nomination. Otherwise, don’t let the door hit you on your way back to Minnesota…”

Buttigieg and Klobuchar were both made to understand that they would have nothing to gain from an alliance with Bernie. Protection schemes operate in the same fashion.

Why would Obama orchestrate such a fix against Sanders and, at the same time, give the equally progressive Elizabeth Warren, who once worked for him, the back of his hand?

I know that in the thumb-worn copies of Dreams From My Father, Obama is eternally the Chicago community organizer and people’s tribune. But that imagery was always just another campaign bumper sticker.

Obama 2.0 is a Washington insider with a $14 million house on Martha’s Vineyard and a private jet to visit the Clooneys’ vacation home in Italy or Richard Branson’s yacht in the Pacific, and he would have heard Bernie’s soak-the-rich speeches with the same horror as would have his friends at the Columbia Country Club.

For the Democratic establishment, which happily bailed out the banks in 2009 to the tune of trillions, at the very least Biden is an accommodating cog in the machine who will steady roiling markets, appoint compliant judges, fix contracts with Lockheed, and make nice to Israel (much like Obama and unlike Bernie).

In a historical context, Biden is best understood as a clubhouse-directed pol who will happily follow orders. Although he was Republican, Chester A. Arthur played this role for Roscoe Conkling, much as Democrats Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk took their instructions from the Andrew Jackson cohort.

Or there’s the Tammany Hall-controlled mayor of New York City who, upon his election, was asked who would be his chief of police. His answer: “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten the word yet.”

Leading up to the March 3 primaries in fourteen states, the cards for Biden fell into place as if in one of those stacked decks in The Sting, where Paul Newman and Robert Redford play con artists. (Doyle Lonnegan: “Your boss is quite a card player, Mr. Kelly; how does he do it?” Johnny Hooker: “He cheats.”)

On Super Tuesday Bernie was hung out to dry and left to run against the pumped-up Biden, a limping Bloomberg, and an isolated Warren. The rest of the field had vanished, although Tulsi Gabbard was present.

I am sure the Democratic establishment made an effort to get Bloomberg out of the race before Super Tuesday but that he would not budge, and probably only left afterward with the promise that he will get to be secretary of the Treasury in a forthcoming Biden administration.

At least they talked him out of running as an independent, and no doubt touched him up for several hundred million in campaign donations.

The party would have been happy to leave Warren in place on all those Super Tuesday ballots, there to bleed Sanders all the more.

Warren was the second chump in what went down before Super Tuesday and came away with nothing, despite having done the party’s bidding and taken down loose cannon Bloomberg.  She quit the race without endorsing Biden or Sanders, in effect scattering her supporters to the winds. I suspect she’s angry at both men: at Biden for using her to weaken Sanders on Super Tuesday; and at Sanders for their earlier unpleasant exchanges over whether he had said a woman cannot win in 2020. At least by not winning the nomination, Warren spares herself eight month’s on the receiving end of Trump’s Twitter bile.

Will the Biden sting hold? The problem is that, even now as the frontrunner, he remains a terrible candidate, and, if required to debate Sanders, may be exposed as an empty suit prone to speaking gibberish.

Biden’s handlers can be happy that the next scheduled debate on March 15 is only after the vote in Michigan, which could be decisive.

Biden is what in the nineteenth century was called a “hurrah” candidate, for which the only requirement of his supporters was to shout “hurrah” whenever his name was mentioned. But in this election his new-found enemies will also get a chance to vote, if not to stuff their own ballot boxes.

Bernie’s nuclear option is a third-party candidacy, in the tradition of his hero, Eugene V. Debs, who ran for president five times with the Socialist Party in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, advocating many of the same ideas that Sanders articulates today.

A third-party run, or at least the threat of one, is not as far-fetched as it seems, given the screwing that the Democrats have given Bernie in 2016 and now in 2020. Certainly Sanders supporters aren’t feeling much burn these days for the Democratic Party.

On the debate stages Bernie has pledged to support the eventual Democratic nominee and has championed the idea that the candidate with a plurality of delegates at the convention should be the candidate. But somewhere in Bernie’s mind he must be thinking: “I didn’t sign up for a tilted roulette wheel or loaded dice.”

For better and for worse, fielding a third-party candidates is one of the time-honored American ways to change the outcome of an election.

Running in 1912 as a “Bull Moose” (it’s formal name was the Progressive Party), Teddy Roosevelt denied the presidency to William Howard Taft, his successor from whom he had become estranged.

Other elections in which third-party candidates influenced the outcome took place in 1824 (Henry Clay delivered the presidency to John Quincy Adams, over Andrew Jackson), 1860 (actually there were four candidates, enabling Abraham Lincoln to defeat Douglas), 1968 (George Wallace took the Democratic South away from the Democrats and gave Richard Nixon the presidency), 1992 (Ross Perot helped to elect Bill Clinton) , and 2000 (Ralph Nader).

Bernie might like his chances as a third-party candidate, if only to send back a message to the Obama gang. He would have no trouble raising money or volunteers, and he would begin with a solid base of support.

Sanders could make the argument that Trump and Biden (not to mention their handlers) represent a discredited establishment of wealth and privilege.

Running as an independent could well speak to Bernie’s political past and soul, although he might be sensitive to the charge that he would be helping to re-elect Donald Trump.

Of course, standing against Bernie in a general election (as happened on Super Tuesday) would be the two parties’ long experience in stealing elections. It’s the great American political tradition.

In recent times the Republicans managed to fix the election in 2016 (Trump and the Russian bots), 2000 (the Supremes), and 1972 (Watergate), while the Democrats marked the cards in 1960 (the turnout from Mayor Daley’s Chicago graveyards).

By my counting, more than a quarter of American presidencies have been decided by factors other than the popular expression of the voters.

Maybe Biden will become the Rutherford B. Hayes of our times? He ran in the 1876 election against New York Governor Samuel J. Tilden, who won the popular vote and probably a majority in the electoral college.

Republican operatives, however, threw the election to Hayes, much as George W. Bush won the presidency through a stacked Supreme Court. Of Hayes, it was later said: “He did such a good job I almost wish he had been elected.”

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Russian Meddling Again

Photograph Source: thierry ehrmann – CC BY 2.0

Joe Biden is not the only bad idea, way past its “best if sold by” date, that the Clintonites who call the shots for the Democratic Party have resurrected; a Cold War with Russia and with China too, insofar as it can be done in a way that does not imperil the American economy, is another.

By “Clintonites,” I don’t just mean Bill and Hillary and their cohort, but all the Wall Street, military-industrial-national security state complex, corporate-friendly “liberals” who have made “Trumpism” inevitable.

By “Trumpism,” I mean Wall Street and corporate-friendly xenophobic, white supremacist, nationalism. The rapacious, self-aggrandizing ignoramus occupying the White House currently is a noxious promoter of this world-view. In light of his role in unleashing a particularly virulent strain of it, it is fair that it be named after him.

Alarmingly many people who ought to know better are looking to Clintonites – to Biden specifically — to defeat that miscreant in order to restore some semblance of the pre-Trump era status quo. To believe that the way to defeat Trump is by electing someone who personifies all that has made Trumpism possible is silliness on stilts.

Shame on them for being fooled into thinking that way; and shame on them too for believing that “moderates” are more suited for ridding the world of Trumpism than are those who would up-date and then continue the tradition of New Deal-Great Society liberalism or, insofar as there is a difference, construct a twenty-first century Americanized version of mid-century European social democracy.

Today’s Democratic Party moderates do want to send Trump and his minions packing; what minimally decent and sane person does not? But whether they know it or not, what they are actually doing is helping their party’s leaders and donors get what they want most of all. That would be to keep prevailing political and economic power relations as intact as possible in the face of the left-wing insurgency championed by Bernie Sanders and also, less conspicuously, by the two other, currently inactive progressive candidates, Elizabeth Warren and the good billionaire, Tom Steyer.

Shame therefore on all the moderates who threw in the towel so that Biden could lead the anti-progressive charge unimpeded — on Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar, on Beto O’Rourke and Harry Reid and all the other Democratic Party bigwigs who rushed to endorse Biden in the past week, and, above all, on Jim Clyburn and the other African American Clintonites who managed somehow to revive Biden’s moribund candidacy in the wink of an eye in that dreadful South Carolina primary.

Shame also on the comparatively thoughtful Clintonite whom Biden, feigning friendship and familiarity, and having once praised him for being an articulate and clean African American, has taken to calling “Barack.” Obama has yet to endorse his former Vice President officially, but, true to his nature, he was doubtless working hard behind the scenes to keep the Democratic Party on Wall Street’s side.

Better Sanders than Biden on any remotely relevant dimension, and better Bloomberg than Biden too — if only because, in a struggle against what Sanders calls “the billionaire class,” it would be cleaner, as it were, to smash the electoral prospects of a true billionaire rather than of some miserable billionaire flunky.

However, thanks to South Carolina, a more than typically retrograde Southern state whose electoral votes Democrats have no hope of winning in any case, this is not to be.

Indeed, as the dust from Super Tuesday was still settling, Bloomberg bowed out and, along with the others, endorsed Biden, pledging to do all he could to get the doofus elected. That would mean spending a lot of money on his behalf. Say what you will about Bloomberg, he puts the interest of his class first; unlike the Donald who puts his own interests first, last, and always.

That Biden and Democrats like him now seem capable of hanging onto power by the skins of their teeth – and with the help of servile corporate media and the financial aid of the very large anti-Trump fraction of the ruling class – is disappointing, to say the least.

Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s Cold War revivalism is more worrisome by far. It could easily lead not only to lethal proxy wars or “minor” skirmishes between major nuclear powers, but also to a war that, unlike what proponents of America’s entry into World War I promised, really would end all wars – not by institutionalizing world peace, but by ending life on earth “as we know it.”

When thinking about Russian meddling in American elections, it is well to keep that thought in mind.

***

When persons speaking for the United States, the world’s foremost serial meddler in the affairs of other nations, complain that Russia is meddling in American elections, their hypocrisy, irony, and unmitigated gall is stupefying.

Along with the other former Soviet republics and the USSR’s former Eastern European “satellites,” Russia has been the prime target of American meddlers for more than the last hundred years.

One also has to wonder what all that Russian meddling has been about. Corporate media assure us that Vladimir Putin — by their lights, the twenty-first century’s foremost demon — interfered with the 2016 election, and that he and minions are hard at work meddling this election season too. No matter that precisely what they are supposed to have done or to be doing now is far from clear.

The most that the authorities tell us is that it has something to do with sowing seeds of discontent on social media. Perhaps someday, when they are able finally to concoct a plausible, evidence-based account, they will be more specific.

There are those who sometimes say, not too facetiously, that foreigners ought to meddle in American elections — maybe even have a vote — because what American presidents do directly affects them, along with nearly everybody else on the planet.

Nobody takes this suggestion seriously, but the thinking behind it is not entirely disregarded. It figures, for example, in the fact that the American political class has seldom had a problem with Israeli meddling, even when Israel’s aim is to cause the United States to go to war. That the Israelis would nowadays like to stir up animosities between the United State and Iran is not exactly a state secret.

Indeed, from time to time, Congress has actively encouraged Israeli meddling. To be sure, much of it is carried out under the pretense that nothing more nefarious is going on than garden variety interest-group domestic politics. But the reasons why, for example, AIPAC and other fixtures of the Israel lobby are not forced to register as agents of a foreign government are almost entirely political, no matter what legalistic technicalities are invoked, when necessary, to keep that from happening.

The meddling that Democrats and others are currently so worked up over, even if it is actually going on, would likely seem trivial, but for the current spate of efforts to revive the Cold War – in other words, but for the unholy alliance between the Democratic Party and its media flacks, on the one hand, and the CIA and other pillars of “the intelligence community” on the other.

The original Cold War era began at the end of World War II and continued until 1989, with the demise of Communism in the Soviet Union and throughout its sphere of influence, and in 1991 with the implosion of the Soviet Union itself.

By then, Biden – known at the time as “Plagiarism Joe,” for having stolen a few lines from a speech given by the British Labor Party’s leader, Neil Kinnock – had already tried and failed to get the Democratic Party nomination for president once. That role fell instead to the similarly hapless Michael Dukakis.

In those saner times, assurances from the CIA would be more likely to be greeted with well-justified skepticism than accepted as gospel truth. In liberal circles especially, a CIA connection of any sort was about as welcome as leprosy in Biblical times.

Back then too, it was hardly expected that members of the military would be routinely thanked for “their service.” Evidently, the advances in public consciousness that emerged in the sixties and seventies and that lingered on for another decade or so have largely disappeared without a trace.

From the very first days of Donald Trump’s run for the White House four years ago, it was well understood by everyone paying attention that his election would pose a clear and present danger to the body politic and indeed the entire world. However, the extent to which he would become the worst American president ever was not yet entirely clear.

Nevertheless, Trump’s barely literate and often incoherent tweets and his rants at shamelessly fascistic campaign rallies suggested that his heart was not exactly into Cold War revivalism. In this one respect, it was arguably almost reasonable to regard him, not Hillary Clinton and the Clintonite Democrats behind her, as the lesser evil.

Perhaps it was because he saw some percentage in it for himself. Perhaps, as many informed observers have suggested, his expressed fondness for Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders was of more clinical than pecuniary interest.

Whatever the reasons, for those who tried hard enough or who were capable of deceiving themselves extensively enough, a Trump presidency could actually seem less likely to take a disastrously, perhaps even catastrophically, lethal turn than a Clinton presidency would.

The idea that Trump might actually have been less bellicose than Clinton is harder to sustain now than it was four years ago. This is not because the mainstream Democratic Party has gotten better; it is still as much a part of the problem, and as far from being part of the solution, as it ever was. It is because Trump’s limitations are nowadays more widely acknowledged than they used to be, and because, as the Donald ages gracelessly, he has been mentally decomposing in plain view and for all to see.

Contrary to the notion that corporate media have worked so hard to turn into “common sense,” Sanders, were he to become the Democrats’ nominee, would go on to defeat Trump more easily than Biden has any chance of doing, and the struggle against Trumpism could then proceed under conditions more favorable than those that would otherwise obtain.

But the results from Super Tuesday have made this prospect less likely than it seemed to be only minutes before the results began to come in. In any case, even if the tide turns again and all goes exceptionally well after that, it would still be a long way from here to there.

It is possible, though, that as a Democratic Left at last takes shape, at least some of today’s “moderates” will morph into genuine “centrists.” Centrists occupy middle positions on actually existing political spectra in times of political stability or quiescence. In times of comparative instability, they gravitate towards the poles, more or less in proportion to how the winds are blowing at the time.

***

Before the First World War, public opinion in the United States was not particularly anti-Russian; the general view, in enlightened circles, was that Russia was an economically backward, priest-ridden country, and that it lagged behind most of Europe in many, though hardly all, important respects. There was no particular animosity, however.

This changed radically after the Bolshevik Revolution. Then the idea, driven home relentlessly by the media of the day, was that the West and the Soviet Union had incompatible political-economic systems and that the world was not big enough, as it were, for the two of them to coexist.

That sense of things never entirely disappeared, though, before long, the focus drifted away from the view that Communist Russia posed a geopolitical threat to the United States, and towards the rather different notion that the Communist regime in place there aggravated class struggles in the capitalist West – through the force of example and, more importantly, thanks to its meddling.

However, with the rise of Nazi Germany and the emergence of other fascist movements around the world, geopolitical concerns soon took center stage again. Thus, during World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies.

Then, with the onset of the Cold War, the idea that “godless atheistic Communism” was the mortal enemy of “truth, justice, and the American way,” reemerged with a vengeance, supplemented by the slightly preposterous notion that Communist Russia, barely able to defend itself, was hellbent on world domination.

No doubt, many of the people promoting that contention believed their own propaganda to some extent. But even the most deluded must have realized at some level that what was really going on had mainly to do with domestic politics; specifically, with maintaining or at least not seriously challenging or in any significant way diminishing the economic and political power of the economically and politically powerful.

There were, to be sure, geopolitical considerations in play as well. The United States was intent, as it always is, on extending its sphere of influence, the better to serve the interests of American capitalism; the Soviet Union was intent on dominating countries around its borders so as better to protect itself from Western aggression.

On the Soviet side, the Cold War was also good for maintaining and expanding Stalin’s and then his successors’ control over state and party institutions, and over what there was of a civil society.

On the American side, the main thing was to make the world safe for the emerging military-industrial complex; it already having become a settled opinion in ruling circles, as the war wound down, that when peace finally came, the economic outlook would be at least as gloomy as it had been during the Depression years — unless military spending could somehow be maintained at a level sufficient for continuing to spur the economy on to wartime levels.

How impertinent, therefore, of those pesky Russians; threatening, by self-immolation, to deprive the American economy of an enemy to die for! And how foolish of anyone to think that would actually happen.

When it comes to feathering their own nests, American capitalists and the politicians that serve them are ingenious and determined. They saw to it that the goose laying the golden eggs keeping them afloat hardly even needed to slacken her pace. “Peace dividends” be damned; military spending was back up and running at respectable levels in hardly any time at all.

Religious fanatics in the Muslim world, conjured into being in part by the machinations of the Brzezinski State Department in the waning days of the Carter administration and by the CIA was good for that, for a while; it still is, but not good enough.

For a truly serviceable Cold War, a worthy adversary is indispensable. Thus, it eventually became clear that, after milking “the clash of civilizations” for all that it is worth and finding it not nearly up to the task, the time had come, for want of a better alternative, to revive the clash of nuclear superpowers that had been presumed dead for almost three decades.

The problem with that, though, is that it was no longer possible to talk of a clash of political-economic systems. The Soviets of yesteryear are capitalists now. So, alas, is everyone else.

Some capitalisms are sleazier than others; the Russian variety scores high on that metric. Some, like the Chinese variety, involve the state more directly than American capitalism does; others, elsewhere in east Asia, do much the same thing though in different ways. These are only details, however. It is no longer possible to concoct Cold Wars out of clashes of political-economic systems.

The sad fact is, though, that this hardly matters.

If Clintonites and the media that serve them can make a comeback kid out of a doddering doofus who is even more feckless than Hillary Clinton, they can certainly conjure up enough anti-Communist nostalgia to get a serviceable Cold War going again.

Desperate to find excuses for losing to the likes of a Donald Trump, they had ample motive, and with their CIA friends and the “quality press” and “liberal” cable channels behind them, they had the means and the opportunities.

And so, Clintonites “don’t need no stinkin’ Communists” to revive a Cold War that was originally fought ostensibly to battle Communism any more than in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” the bandits needed “stinkin’ badges” to get what they wanted.

The Sanders movement is the only thing that can stop the Clintonites now; and, thanks to the speed and efficiency with which Democratic Party honchos moved to crush the Sanders insurgency, the perfidy of Clintonite African American politicians, and the failure of so many younger voters to bother to vote, the Sanders campaign is now on the ropes.

One can only wonder what harm those Russian meddlers could hope to do that we Americans have not done many times more effectively to ourselves.

Think of it. In the last presidential election, voters had to choose between two god-awful candidates, one clearly less odious than the other, but both more than odious enough to cause a thinking person to despair.

Four years later, after so much time, effort and treasure have been expended to make it better this time around, the likelihood is that it will be even worse: because Trump is a far worse choice now than he was four years ago and because, awful as Clinton was and is, Biden is, by any plausible measure, more awful still.

Therefore, even if there really is something that the Russian government would actually hope to gain from meddling in the election next November, they would be better off just lying back and letting homegrown Clintonites and Trumpians do the heavy lifting. Nobody does it better.

The post Russian Meddling Again appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Super Tuesday at Manzanar

Watchtower, Manzanar. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

My plan to spend Super Tuesday scaling the eastern flank of Mt. Whitney until my knees or lungs gave out was foiled by the closure of the Whitney Portal Road, which was buried under a late, but welcome, snowstorm. I had no interest in returning to the motel to watch the Democratic Party self-destruct again, so I headed through the fractured boulders of the Alabama Hills north about 8 miles to visit the ruins of Manzanar, the desert concentration camp named after an apple orchard.

I entered Manzanar from the south, drove past the two stone guard houses and stopped at the marker for the foundation of the first building. The sign read: “Internal Police.” Next to it were the cornerstones for the “Manzanar Free Press,” the camp paper run by detainees under the censorious eye of guards. The proximity of the two buildings seemed symbolic of our current predicament.

There are ghost towns, abandoned ranches and mining camps all over the Owens Valley. But Manzanar was wiped clean after the prison closed. The tarpaper barracks were chopped up and sold as cheap housing to returning GIs. The watchtowers were torn down, the spotlights and machine guns returned to Army bases in California and Nevada. They didn’t even leave the hospital, which could have served the local residents of Lone Pine and Independence and the few Owens Valley Paiute who hadn’t been uprooted by the government and relocated to Fresno, LA and San Francisco. It’s as if they wanted to wipe the memory of what happened here off the surface of the desert.

Perimeter fence, Manzanar. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

And Manzanar is a desert, averaging about 5 inches of rain year. Though, 110 years ago, it was a relatively lush one thanks to the meandering Owens River, which using the old ditch irrigation system first developed by the Paiutes enabled the valley to grow fruit trees, melons, beans, potatoes and alfalfa. That all ended in 1913 when the city of Los Angeles covertly acquired most of the land and all of the water rights in the valley and diverted the water into the Los Angeles aqueduct. Even today, the aqueduct remains locked behind gates and barbed wire fences, as if the water itself were a prisoner.

LA Power & Water owned the 6,000 acres of land that became Manzanar Concentration Camp, which it leased to the US Army in 1942. Many of the construction workers who built the camp formerly lived in the area until they lost their water to LA, including some members of the Paiute tribe. Sixty years early, the US Army had been dispatched to the Owens Valley to forcibly relocate more than 1000 Paiutes to Fort Tejan in order to clear the Manzanar area for white farmers, ranchers and miners.

Today the winds are fierce coming down off the Sierras, snow is flaring off the summit of Mt. Williamson and dust devils are dancing across the grounds of Manzanar. I park near the Internal Police site and walk into the heart of the concentration camp. Manzanar is laid out in a grid pattern of 68 “blocks”, which often contained 16 tarpaper barracks. All of them were removed shortly after then end of the war. In an attempt to make Manzanar a tourist destination, the Park Service has recreated several structures in Block 14: a mess hall, a barrack, and a women’s latrine, which includes toilets and showers. I got the impression that they included the showers to suggest that the US Army’s concentration camps weren’t like the Nazis’ camps. After all, they didn’t make replicas of the stockade or military police buildings.

Women’s showers, Manzanar. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I search for the stone foundations, the water pipes, and rock gardens made by the detainees themselves as the real evidence of what happened here. You can’t help being disoriented by the dissonance of this place. There is no more beautiful landscape on the continent than the Owens Valley in late winter with the snow-capped granite ramparts of the Sierra to the west and the dark swell of the Inyo Range to the east. Yet this is crime scene. And I, somewhat shamefully, can’t stop taking photos of the place.

I’m reminded of the Japanese-American photographer Toyo Miyatake. Miyatake was born in Japan in 1896 and immigrated with his parents to Los Angeles in 1909. In his 20s, Miyatake started working as a photographer and opened his own studio in Little Tokyo, where he eventually became friends with the young Edward Weston. Miyatake gave Weston his first gallery show. In 1942, Miyatake and his wife and four children were swept up by immigration police and sent to Manzanar. He smuggled a camera lens into the camp and later had a camera body manufactured from wood. A friend supplied Miyatake with film. He hid the camera in a hole in the barracks and rose early in the morning to secretly photograph the conditions of life in the camp. In a camp crawling with spies and undercover agents, Miyatake was soon discovered and his camera seized. He appealed to camp superintendent Ralph Merritt, pleading with Merritt to name him official camp photographer, so he could at least photograph weddings and birthdays. Merritt eventually agreed, but stipulated that while Miyatake could frame the shot and focus the lens the actual shutter release had to be done by a camp guard. After a few weeks, this bizarre condition was eventually lifted, after the guards complained about having follow Miyatake around all day. Miyatake’s photographs, which were published along with his friend Ansel Adams’ portraits of the camp in the exhibition and book Two Views of Manzanar, are some of the most intimate images ever made of life inside of a concentration camp.

Barracks, Manzanar. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I meandered west through the camp toward the gleaming pyramid of Mt. Williamson, the second tallest peak in the Sierras. The mountain is named after Lt. Robert Stockton Williamson, who conducted the surveys for the rail system that would eventually haul Japanese-Americans to the concentration camp. I stopped at a small rock garden in Block 22, which had been designed and constructed by a detainee named Harry Ueno. Ueno was born in the Hawaiian village of Pa’auilo in 1907. His parents were field laborers from Hiroshima, who came to Hawaii to work on the pineapple plantations. Ueno was what was known as a Kibei, a Japanese-American who had been educated in Japanese schools. This made him a marked man for the US government after Pearl Harbor. By 1930, Ueno was living in LA, with his Japanese-born wife, Yaso, working at a fruit stand. He and Yaso, and their three sons, were sent to Manzanar in 1942, along with 10,000 other inmates, mostly from the Los Angeles. At Manzanar, Ueno cut sagebrush for a few weeks, then went to work as the cook’s assistant in the mess hall on Block 22. He build the rock garden and pond as a meditation spot for the internees as they waited in line to get their meals. It wasn’t long before Ueno discovered that food supplies, especially sugar, were going missing. Ueno put together a workers committee to investigate and soon fingered the culprit as the camp’s assistant director, Ned Campbell, who had been sneaking 100-pound sugar sacks out of the camp for sale on the black market.

Japanese-American cemetery, Manzanar. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In response to the wretched working conditions at Manzanar, Ueno formed the Mess Hall Workers Union, which was a provocative violation of camp rules. But Ueno had many of the internees on his side. Of the 4,000 workers at Manzanar more than 1,500 worked in the kitchens, many of them, like Ueno, were Kibei. Ueno’s formation of the union eventually led to what became known as the Manzanar Riots, after Ueno and two other union members were arrested for beating up a suspected undercover FBI informant in the camp. Ueno was probably not involved in the beating, at least directly, and his arrest prompted 4,000 internees to rush jail, demanding his release. The camp superintendent called in the military police and ordered them to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd. But several of the police began shooting into the crowd with rifle fire instead, killing two people, including a 13-year old Nisei boy, and wounding 8 others. Ueno was quickly spirited out Manzanar and into the detention prisons for suspected Japanese-American radicals: Moab Isolation Center, the Leupp Isolation Center and, finally, the ultimate prison within a prison facility, the Tule Lake Segregation Center in the lava beds of northern California, where Ueno spent the last bleak years of the war.

But Ueno’s rock garden, not even considered worthy of destruction by the merciless managers of Manzanar, survived as the rest of the camp was leveled, chopped up, and carted off–beautiful stones of resistance, intruding through the dust, as immutable as the Sierras themselves. Only the water, once more back in the grip of Los Angeles Water and Power, is missing.

Stone garden, Manzanar. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

 

 

 

 

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Yes, Trump Should Talk with the Taliban

Map of the War in Afghanistan (2015–19) – Source: Ali Zifan – CC BY 2.0

On March 3, US president Donald Trump spoke (via telephone) with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, chief of the Taliban’s Doha diplomatic office and signer, on behalf of his organization, of the recently concluded Afghanistan “peace deal.”

“The direct contact between an American president and a top Taliban leader would once have been unthinkable,” writes Michael Crowley at the New York Times.

Why? Crowley doesn’t elaborate, but in my opinion the claim of unthinkability goes a long way toward explaining why the US government spent nearly two decades unsuccessfully attempting to wrest control of Afghanistan from the Taliban before coming to its senses — in the person of Donald Trump — and seeking to bring the folly begun by George W. Bush and continued by Barack Obama to an end.

It was, in a word, “unthinkable,” for the longest time, that a bunch of Central Asian hillbillies might successfully resist the will of Washington for five times as long as Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia did.

It was “unthinkable” that US forces better armed, better trained, and more lavishly funded than those who landed at Normandy or took Okinawa could possibly be brought low by light infantry with no air force, no artillery, and no safe logistical haven, wielding weapons scavenged from a war which ended 30 years ago.

But that’s what happened.

When a war ends, it’s reasonable to expect that the losing regime’s head of state will talk to and treat with whomever the winning team designates as its representative, if that’s what the winning team demands.

The word isn’t being openly used by either side, but let’s call it what it is: Surrender.

The US government has surrendered in Afghanistan.

No, not unconditionally. But it has surrendered nonetheless.

And that’s a good thing.

The war became obviously doomed to go down as a fiasco within weeks of the US invasion, when the Bush administration stopped pretending the US presence was about liquidating al Qaeda and started in with a bunch of “nation-building” nonsense.

Eighteen years — not to mention several thousand American and more than 100,000 Afghan deaths — later, the Taliban controls more of the country than it did those few weeks after the invasion.

The US was never going to win the war.

The only question was how long the US would spend losing the war before admitting it had lost the war.

That question has now been answered: Eighteen years, four months, and 25 days.

If part of the price of extricating the US armed forces from the Afghan quagmire is a phone call between the losing side’s president and the winning side’s chosen representative, that’s not just “thinkable,” it’s a price we should all applaud Trump for paying.

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