Counterpunch Articles

The Roots of Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist Resistance in the US

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” has been a popular protest chant since the New York real-estate mogul and former reality TV star became the 45th president of the United States. This was no mere rhetorical flourish. We saw a surge in the ranks of white nationalists and the “alt-right,” an escalation of domestic terrorist attacks on Black and Brown people, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community. The road to a “Fascist USA” took a deadly turn after Trump indirectly condoned the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which an assembly of Klansmen, “alt Knights,” neo-Nazis, and white nationalist militias inspired one of their number to mow down anti-racist protesters with his car.

A consensus took hold that Trump’s election, along with the campaign to remove Confederate monuments following the 2015 massacre of nine Black worshippers in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, had emboldened militant white supremacists. Books, articles, and blog posts linked Trump’s ascendance directly to white nationalism, even reminding readers of his daddy’s ties to the Klan.

A fair share of liberal intellectuals and pundits set about explaining the roots of contemporary white supremacy by tracing the events in Charlottesville to the history of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. This is understandable. The “second Klan” enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy, and its xenophobic slogans—“America First” and “100% Americanism”—were echoed by the Trump administration. Besides, most of the recent scholarship on the Klan focuses on the 1920s, precisely because, in spite of its virulence, its values and ideology were not far from the American mainstream.

But why go back to the 1920s when the militant white supremacists of current generation are either products of, or influenced by, the “third Klan” of the 1970s and 1980s? Between 1974 and 1981, Klan membership grew from about 1,500 to more than 10,000. In the course of a decade, a resurgent Klan formed paramilitary units, burned crosses, organized rallies in cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Meriden, Connecticut, and prepared to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border as an auxiliary to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Their leaders also attained enough legitimacy to enter mainstream politics and run for public office. In 1980, Tom Metzger, the “Grand Dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan, garnered enough votes to win the Democratic primary in Southern California’s 43rd Congressional district. Similarly, in 1989 David Duke, former Klansman and founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives.

The spectacular rise of the Klan, the American Nazi Party, skinheads, and various white Christian nationalist militias opened the floodgates for a reign of terror by adherents and lone wolves targeting African Americans, Jews, and Mexican and Vietnamese immigrants. Homes, churches, synagogues, and schools across the country were firebombed. Between 1979 and 1980, two dozen Black people and two white women in interracial relationships were murdered in seven different cities. In Buffalo, New York, two Black taxi drivers were found dead with their hearts cut out, and two weeks later in that same city a white sniper took the lives of four African Americans. Meanwhile, between 1979 and 1981, twenty-eight children, adolescents, and adults were mysteriously murdered in Atlanta. Other murders were not so mysterious. In Mobile, Alabama, in 1981, members of the United Klans of America kidnapped, tortured, and hanged a Black teenager named Michael Donald.

Why, in an effort to understand the Trump era, have the pundits, the press, even some of our finest historians ignored this crucial period of white racist violence? Why do most Americans believe that such virulent expressions of white supremacy died with Jim Crow, leaving in its wake more indirect or benign forms of racism—employment and housing discrimination, a biased criminal justice system, the dismantling of affirmative action, and the like?

One recent exception that has garnered significant attention is Spike Lee’s Oscar-nominated BlacKKKlansman, based on the true story of how a Black undercover cop, Ron Stallworth, infiltrated the Klan in Colorado Springs in 1978. But Lee’s film elides the fact that Stallworth also infiltrated the Klan’s chief opposition, the International Committee Against Racism, a mass organization formed by the Progressive Labor Party. By transforming an undercover cop into a Black freedom fighter and presenting the police as the first line of defense against white nationalists, BlacKKKlansman fundamentally distorts the history of the Klan, the police, and the period.

Neither the soft power of historical revision and erasure nor the hard power of lynch law could keep Black people down.

Fortunately for us, Hilary Moore and James Tracy have written a magnificent book that not only corrects the record but helps explain the mercurial rise of white supremacist organizations in the 1970s, how the Klan was (temporarily) defeated, and why this period has been largely ignored. No Fascist USA! is not a history of the Klan, per se, but rather a history of anti-racist, anti-fascist resistance in the United States, from the post-1968 insurgencies through the Reagan-era counterrevolution. We learn that opposition to the Klan was militant, uncompromising, and effective, mobilizing more white people to confront violent white supremacist organizations than at any other time in history. And, contrary to popular stereotypes, the Klan was no joke. Its members were not poor, frustrated, ignorant outcasts out of step with modernity but often men and women of standing who held positions of power and authority in state institutions—police forces, prisons, jails, and local government.

No Fascist USA! radically shifts our perspective, challenging the prevailing wisdom that racist terrorism rises in response to economic downturns, because of white downward mobility, or in a vacuum created by a lack of progressive alternatives. On the contrary, the Klan’s resurrection was a reaction to the radical insurgencies of the era: Black and Brown rebellions, struggles for gender equality and sexual freedom, the defeat of U.S. imperialism from Vietnam to Tehran—real movements for democracy and social transformation. The same can be said for the original Klan, formed in 1866 as a reaction to Emancipation and the struggle of formerly enslaved people to establish a real democracy in the South.

With the military defeat of the first Klan in 1871, the Southern Bourbon Democrats reverted to the reign of terror, though it took them another three decades to crush abolition democracy and install the Jim Crow regime. And even then, Black resistance to white supremacy persisted. Indeed, the resurrection of the Klan in 1915 and its growth in the 1920s ought to be seen as a reaction to a new wave of democratic insurgencies—notably Black, immigrant, pro-labor, and feminist.

Its initial inspiration derived from a national campaign to erase the history of Reconstruction. “Colonel” William Joseph Simmons revived the Ku Klux Klan after seeing D.W. Griffith’s 1915 masterwork of racist propaganda, The Birth of a Nation. The film was historical alchemy, turning terrorists into saviors, rapists into chivalrous protectors of white female virtue and racial purity, and courageous and visionary Black men and women into idle, irresponsible ignoramuses, rapists, jezebels, and sexually depraved mulattoes. By circulating old racial fabulations and new fictions in the service of New South capitalism and modern white supremacy, The Birth of a Nation attempted to obliterate all vestiges of the Black struggle for social democracy during Reconstruction. Respectable white supremacist groups such as the Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the United Daughters of the Confederacy waged their own soft power campaign of building Confederate monuments throughout the region and around the nation’s capital. One of the most elaborate statues, erected at Arlington cemetery in 1914, depicted an enslaved Black man marching into battle alongside his master, and a faithful “mammy” caring for her charge as the child’s uniformed father heads off to fight the dreaded Yankees.

In a particularly ironic twist, the myth of “mammy” was weaponized by the federal government to buttress the hard power of Jim Crow. In 1922, the U.S. Senate approved a monument dedicated to “Mammy” in Washington, D.C., just weeks before allowing a Southern filibuster to defeat an anti-lynching bill. Not surprisingly, Black leaders not only excoriated the Senate’s failure to pass the bill but thoroughly rejected commemorating a stereotype. The Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, proposed an alternative monument to the “White Daddy” showing an adult Black woman (“mammy”) looking on helplessly as the white master assaults a small child—presumably his child with “mammy,” born of rape.

The truth is, neither the soft power of historical revision and erasure nor the hard power of lynch law could keep Black people down. Despite the Klan’s best efforts, Black people fled the old plantations for the industrial plantations of the urban North. They founded new organizations, exercised the franchise, continued the fight for democracy, and called themselves “New Negroes.” These New Negroes refused Griffith’s racial and national fabulations; fought back with pickets and boycotts, speeches and editorials, scholarship and art, and outright rebellion; called on their country to get out of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Mexico; and exposed the United States for what it was—the tyranny of white supremacy masquerading as enlightened democracy.

The new Klan hoped to make America great again by purging it of un-American (read: radical) influences—Negroes, immigrants (except for those of Anglo and Scandinavian stock), Catholics, and Jews. The Klan’s pursuit of severe immigration restriction was driven not only by xenophobia but by anti-communism. Immigrant workers from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia populated the burgeoning socialist, anarchist, and communist organizations and were often outspoken opponents of the First World War. The Second Klan emerged against a backdrop of state and federal anti-sedition laws, the Mexican Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, and a wave of deportations of immigrants accused of subversive activities. In January 1920 alone, some four thousand people were rounded up all over the country, held in seclusion for long periods of time, tried in secret hearings, and deported.

So we should not be surprised that the Third Klan arose at the height of insurgent movements in the United States, when the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and local police red squads surveilled and jailed key leaders just as prison organizing reached its apex. According to Moore and Tracy, the catalyst for the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC) came from Black activists within the prisons, who warned that the Klan was not only growing but occupied important positions within prison administration. The call to resist the Klan galvanized white radicals on the outside who engaged in prison solidarity work. In other words, the Committee was formed not by naïve do-good liberals but by folks associated with the organized Left. Many of their principal leaders came out of cadre organizations committed to the larger project of socialist revolution and self-determination for oppressed nationalities. They saw themselves as comrades, not allies, in a life-and-death struggle to stop fascism in its tracks.

The perils of fighting the Klan were made abundantly clear on November 3, 1979, when the members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP) held an anti-Klan march at a predominantly African American housing project in Greensboro, North Carolina. As the demonstration was about the begin, a nine-car caravan pulled up carrying thirty-five armed members of the United Racist Front, an umbrella organization consisting of Klansmen and Nazis. In the space of eighty-eight seconds, they emptied more than twenty rounds of ammunition into the multiracial crowd, wounding a dozen people and killing five of the march leaders: Dr. James Waller, William Sampson, Sandra Smith, Cesar Cauce, and Dr. Michael Nathan. Three of the victims were white men, Cauce was originally a Cuban immigrant, Sandi Smith was an African American woman. All were veterans of the student anti-war and Black liberation movements, and all but Nathan were members of the Communist Workers Party. Despite the fact that a local news station captured the entire ambush on camera, two all-white juries acquitted the Klan-Nazi defendants of criminal charges in the Greensboro murders. In a civil trial in 1985, a third jury held two Greensboro police officers, the Klan–police informant, and four Klan-Nazi gunmen liable for wrongful death. The trials exposed not only the complicity of the local police but the fact that a federal agent of the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Bernard Butkovich, who was working undercover in the American Nazi Party, encouraged members to come to the demonstration armed and never informed the police or FBI of their plans. As a consequence of the civil suit, the city of Greensboro paid a paltry $351,000 to Dr. Martha Nathan, widow of Dr. Michael Nathan.

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee showed unfathomable courage.

How could this be? Why, as we prepare to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Greensboro massacre, is this incident not part of our collective memory, our national trauma? For the same reasons that so little is known about the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. In the political culture of the Cold War, Communists spouting “Death to the Klan” were  the principal threat, not armed white supremacists. Indeed, Klan-Nazi defense in the second trial rested on the argument that they were fighting communists, and therefore their actions had no racist intent! Members of the Communist Workers Party, like their counterparts in the John Brown organization, would not play the victim or turn the other cheek. They believed in armed self-defense and famously refused to testify in the first trial out of principled opposition to a criminal justice system that targeted them.

The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee showed unfathomable courage. Their numbers were always small; unlike Antifa and other anti-fascist protesters today, they rarely outnumbered the racists. The Klan and local police could identify them by name, knew where they lived, knew what kind of cars they drove. Committee members endured potentially deadly attacks—cut brake lines, slashed tires, burglaries, rocks thrown, and even gunfire were not uncommon. Moreover, in exposing the depths of the Klan’s paramilitary operations and the level of violence that members of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee were up against, No Fascist USA! overturns one of the most common narratives of the era: that the Black freedom movement’s presumed shift from nonviolence to violence led to its downfall. Instead, the 1970s and early 1980s were marked by the unabated escalation of violence perpetrated by white supremacists, often with tacit support or indifference from federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities. As No Fascist USA! demonstrates, the police and feds appeared to devote more energy and resources   to surveilling and prosecuting anti-Klan activists than to corralling the Klan itself.

Members of the John Brown organization understood this all too well and, like their namesake, recognized that the resurgence of white terrorism was not a regional problem but a national one. Lest we forget, John Brown originally planned to initiate a war against slavery by dispatching guerrilla armies to raid plantations in Virginia and retreat to the hills, freeing slaves and causing havoc until the system was no longer profitable. He assumed that once an armed attack began, enslaved people would join the revolt. But by 1857–58, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Dred Scott convinced Brown to strike the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry instead. Why? Because the Dred Scott decision proved to Brown that while slaveholders were morally accountable for holding human beings in bondage, it was the federal government that sanctioned and sustained the institution of slavery. Slavery was a national crime, and the federal government was slavery’s prime source of authority and protection. We tend to remember one line from Chief Justice Roger Taney’s majority opinion: that Black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” But John Brown and his crew understood that what was at stake extended beyond Black citizenship. The ruling effectively rendered the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, opening the door to make slavery legal everywhere in the United States. The majority ruled that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories because it never had the power to govern territories, and that denying the right to own slaves violated the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declared that no person can be deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” John Brown now understood the task ahead as a struggle to remake the country. So in 1858, in preparation for the raid on Harpers Ferry, he drafted “A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America” and what he called a “Provisional Constitution and Ordinance for the People of the United States.” Its preamble called slavery “a most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude or absolute extermination,”  and it declared the newly created body a provisional government committed to the destruction of slavery.

While the prevailing consensus has deemed John Brown’s raid a failure, the attempt, more than any other event, provoked Southern secession and launched the Civil War, which ultimately ended chattel slavery.

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Blowing in the Whirlwind: As Ye Sow, Joe Shall Ye Reap

Joe Biden’s manifold and manifest vulnerabilities in a contest with the obviously addled but still media-savvy Donald Trump are often offered by supporters of Bernie Sanders as a reason to back their man as the more likely winner.  “Biden will lose,” they say; “if you really want to defeat Trump, then Sanders is the only one who can do it.”

There are strong arguments for that case – not least the fact that Sanders has consistently, since 2015, outdone every Democrat in head-to-head polls against Trump. Certainly, I would rather see Sanders as the nominee. And certainly, I have been railing against Biden in print and on line for more than 20 years, excoriating him as a corporate bagman who has played a key role in inflicting enormous suffering on ordinary Americans with his draconian bankruptcy and crime bill obsessions, not to mention the multitudes of innocent people around the world who have died from the hawkish warmongering policies he has unfailingly supported.

But while I sorely hate undercutting any argument against Biden, I do believe it is possible for old Joe to defeat Trump. Here’s how it’s likely to play out, if Biden is the nominee.

Both he and Trump will lumber around the country for months, dribbling out word salad to adoring supporters who don’t have the slightest interest in what the doddering old men at the rostrum are saying. Both will spout inane and barely coherent platitudes without offering anything remotely resembling actual policies or programs or solutions to the myriad of dire crises we face. Both will have their contentless, incoherent ramblings presented as cogent “debating points” and “policy positions” suitable for “deep analysis” by the shallow savants of the national press. There will be various gaffes, outrages, mini-scandals, along with a crazy quilt of polling numbers changing wildly by the day, even by the hour.

And none of it will matter. America’s electoral politics are so far removed from the actual reality of how power is really exercised in our society – and from the actual state of degeneration our dying society is really in – that it is nothing more than a badly rendered cartoon, a medicine show with clowns and con-men, a white noise machine howling down any genuine thought and feeling. It is, quite literally, sound and fury, signifying nothing: precisely because it no longer has any connection to the true operations of power and the reality of decay.

Trump recognized this first, but the Democrats have caught up. You don’t have to have any real policies. You don’t have to offer any real hope. You don’t even have to make any sense. Most people are so battered by the decay and tormented by the white noise that all they can do is grab hold of some emblematic figure offered to them by the system and project all their hopes and dreams and fears and desires onto them. Even if the offered figures are a pair of doddering, blubbering old men, lumbering around the country dribbling out word salad.

Sanders’ defeat in Michigan will for many signal the end, or the beginning of the end, of his nomination quest. And in the wake of that defeat, Sanders supporters will – very rightly – point out DNC rigging and interference in the campaign, the astonishing series of  “problems” with every vote count that might benefit him, the outsized role that Big Money played (exemplified by new Biden supporter Mike Bloomberg and the Wall Street tycoons that Biden is floating as possible cabinet members), and, perhaps most crucial of all, the fact that Sanders has been relentlessly, ceaselessly, mercilessly demonized and vilified by the media – and by the “liberal” media most of all.

For it’s a fact that most Americans – who get what little political news they care to imbibe from casual glances at the media – will never have heard a single report about Sanders that wasn’t negative in some respect, or in all respects. Again, this goes double for casually liberal Democrats, who get their news and views from the NYT, MSNBC, NPR, CNN, CBS, ABC, WP, etc. There, Sanders is portrayed either as the horned spawn of Chavez and Che, come to ravage your 401k and execute millionaires in Central Park – or else as a unicorn-chasing fantasist with no sense of gritty, savvy realpolitik, which dictates that we must always hew slavishly to the centrist mean. (Whatever that happens to be in any given year – although, whatever it is, it is always to the right of what it was before.)

Sanders has had to wage his campaign with the entire weight of the bipartisan power structure against him: the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Wall Street, the Pentagon, the “security organs,” the national media across the board. The vote counts in caucuses and primaries are obviously being obfuscated or, when all else fails, simply left uncounted in large numbers, as in Texas and California.

But if and when the Sanders’ campaign is subsequently derailed down the road, I no longer think it can be laid entirely at the door of the conniving players in the power structure. The lion’s share, perhaps – but there seems to be something else in the air of Campaign 2020. (Aside from Covid-19.) I think, perhaps, that we have come to such a crisis point on so many fronts that things are simply too overwhelming for most people to process, much less deal with, in any realistic way. Some strange combination of fatalism and magical thinking seems to have taken hold of large swathes of the electorate.

There seems to be the feeling that we can’t really do anything at all about the problems that are bearing down on us like a runaway train – climate disruption and all its ever-rippling repercussions;  the rise of hyper-powerful rich elites manipulating our increasingly hollowed-out institutions for their own benefit; the economic demise of industry after industry, region after region, community after community; the endless wars, covert and overt, with their gargantuan corruption and pointless cycles of violence; the healthcare atrocities that leave millions of people literally begging on the internet to obtain even the barest minimum of medical help, and so on. In the face of all this, many people long to embrace some figure or another who promises us a return to the “status quo”: either some mythologized post-war era when America was “great,” or just back to the Obama years, when things were “normal.”

Overwhelmed, battered, beset, anxiety-ridden, suffering, confused, many people don’t want to hear that hard work and big changes will be necessary if we are to have a chance for things to get better. They just want to latch on to something that will let them feel – if only for a moment – that the anxiety can go away, that someone up there in the circles of power will take care of it for us.

This is not the wisest course when faced with overwhelming crises – but it is an entirely natural and understandable one. When you couple this natural reaction to extremity with the aforementioned systematic effort to undermine and thwart the Sanders’ campaign, then it’s not surprising you end up with a blank screen like Joe Biden as your candidate.

And consider this: the blank screen of Donald Trump has now had four years in power, yet still those overwhelming, battering, confusing anxieties have not gone away – indeed, they’ve only multiplied. In this situation, it’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that enough people will turn away from the torn screen of Trump and try a new cure for their anxiety.

So yes, I think it’s very possible for Biden to beat Trump. Because for so many people, it doesn’t matter what Biden says or doesn’t say, how incoherent he is, how many outright lies he tells, how atrocious his record is or how diligently he is serving the domineering elites who have blighted our society to such a degree. It doesn’t matter that he has made it clear that he is not going to do anything about climate change, student debt, the healthcare crisis, rampant militarism, police brutality, economic injustice, low pay, ICE, and on and on. What matters that he is a fresh screen where our most unworthy fears and unrealistic hopes can be projected, for a time; where we can forget, for a time, the massive disasters that are looming ahead and pretend that things can somehow go back to “normal.”

Of course, this can only be done by ignoring that it was the previous “normality” that brought us here in the first place – and by ignoring the fact that big changes and upheavals are coming no matter who is elected.  We can’t escape it. The only question is: do we want to try to manage these big changes for the greater common good – or will we just allow them to ravage our lives in the worst way possible while we pine for a status quo of peace and quiet that never was, and thus can never return?

I fear the answer to this, my friend, is blowing in the whirlwind: the one we are reaping after sowing the wind for so many years with so many misdeeds – and which we apparently do not have the wisdom even to mitigate, much less avoid.

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at His twitter feed is @empireburlesque.



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Peer Pressure? Too Little and Way Too Late for the Climate Emergency

Photograph by Jeffrey St. Clair

In a Washington Post opinion piece last month, Robert Frank sought to instruct us in how peer pressure can “help stop climate change.” He wasn’t very convincing on that point; he did help, however, to inadvertently make the case that collective efforts, ones much more sweeping than individual role-modeling, are necessary to staving off climate catastrophe.

Franks argued that “social contagion” can trigger a proliferation of climate-friendly actions, writing, “It’s when we consider the effects of our behavior on our peers, and vice versa, that the consequences of individual decisions to reduce carbon use start to grow in importance.” His marquee examples of peer pressure at work were the purchase of hybrid cars and the installation of residential solar energy equipment.

Regarding vehicular example-setting, Franks cited research that measured the power of social contagion by comparing brisk sales of the Toyota Prius since the early 2000s with anemic sales of the Honda Civic hybrid. The popularity of the “distinctively shaped Prius,” he wrote, could be attributed to the power that “environmental status signaling” wields over other potential car buyers.

The Civic hybrid never sold well (and was discontinued in 2015) because—writes Frank, citing research—it has “similar environmental advantages but looks exactly like the standard Civic, except for a subtle badge. The Civic sends a very weak ‘signal’ to onlookers.”

“Status signaling” may have been good for Prius sales, but its effect on the nation’s greenhouse emissions was undetectable. Annual Prius sales peaked in 2013, according to Frank, at 500,000 cars. An impressive number, but it means that the new crop of hybrids came in at just 0.2 percent of the total U.S. car/SUV/pickup fleet that year. Meanwhile, petroleum use in the United States escalated at a rate of 1.3 percent per year from 2012 to 2018, thanks largely to the soaring popularity of pickup trucks and other large vehicles (more social contagion?), along with increased air travel.

The climate emergency has reached a point at which it’s way too late to depend on lifestyle changes and market signaling. Hair-raising scientific reports coming through the UN Environment Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018-19 made clear that fossil fuel use must be reduced by 5 to 10 percent annually, starting now. Market forces will never produce such rapid rates of decline, whether or not peer pressure, carbon taxes, or other nudges are applied.

Consider Franks’ other peer-pressure poster child, rooftop solar. It is an excellent home feature to install if you can afford it. But if you do go solar, don’t expect to kick off a climatic revolution. According to Franks himself, “In the average-size Zip code . . . each new installation raised the daily probability of another installation by 0.78 percentage points.”

Such gentle prodding of the market cannot create a solar energy boom, let alone drive fossil fuel use down at the necessarily rapid rate. In fact, history and research show that with economic growth, new energy sources simply add to existing energy supplies; they don’t displace them.

Research by Richard York and Shannon Elizabeth Bell shows, in their words, that “simply promoting renewables will not lead to a full transition. What is necessary is an active suppression of fossil fuels. Simply expanding renewables is unlikely to be effective, since, all else equal, adding more energy to the energy supply suppresses prices and, therefore, helps to spur consumption.”

To be effective, active suppression will require impervious statutory caps on the total barrels of oil, cubic feet of gas, and tons of coal that can enter the U.S. economy, with those caps lowering quickly year by year until they reach zero on schedule. The buildup of wind and solar farms will not be able to proceed fast enough to compensate fully for the necessary withdrawal of fossil energy from the economy; furthermore, there will be permanent technical and ecological limits on the total quantity of renewable energy that can be generated. In short, this society must learn to run on much less energy.

With a smaller energy supply, communities across the country will have strong incentives to mobilize for energy conservation, public transportation, and local renewable energy generation. The necessary transformation of production and consumption must happen through collective action, not status signaling.

America needs to decrease its consumption of energy and other resources, and that is not going to happen one household or one purchase at a time. Driving greenhouse emissions down to zero soon enough to prevent runaway heating of the Earth will require a collective decision, arrived at through democratic processes, to end all fossil-fuel extraction and burning on a crash schedule.

Adapting this economy and society to the rapid elimination of oil, gas, and coal will require a nationwide focus on production that meets everyone’s need for basic goods and services, along with a halt to wasteful or superfluous production. The goal must be sufficiency for all and excess for none.

Robert Frank’s Post piece and his recent book Under the Influence have spurred widespread giddiness over the peer-pressure panacea. Example-setting can indeed be effective—not against greenhouse warming but rather in helping generate creative ideas for adapting, collectively and justly, to universal limits on energy and materials. Such limits must be established right away if we are to eradicate greenhouse emissions before it’s too late.

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Trump vs. Sanders—Comparisons for Voters

Photograph Source: Becker1999 – CC BY 2.0

It isn’t un-American for voters to do some homework before voting. Here’s a “concise guide” for the voter with limited time who might want more information.

The corporate Democratic Partiers keep questioning the electability of candidates they do not like, namely Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Really? These leading progressives are absurdly presumed to be “unelectable” compared to Trump?

Consider an election where Bernie is up against Trump. The differences are night and day. Start with the all-important issue of character. Trump lies every day, tweeting misinformation and falsifying what is and what is not going on in our country. Just as bad, Trump’s tactics rely entirely on lying about or misrepresenting what he is doing to handle large and small problems. Trump has made over 16,000 false or misleading claims since January 2017. Bernie bluntly tells the truth.

Trump is a bigot/racist who uses dog whistles to promote, implement, and enforce racist policies. Bernie is a civil rights fighter going back to the nineteen sixties.

Bernie respects women and champions their causes. Donald is a savage sexual predator, has boasted about his sexual conquests, and was a serial adulterer.

Bernie talks of peace and rule of law. Donald incites violence and believes in the rule of raw power by a president who is lawless and daily violates our Constitution. Recall his ominous declaration that “I have an Article 2 where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Compare what Trump and Sanders do in public office. When there is a conflict between big business and the public good, on labor rights, consumer rights, small taxpayer respect, and environmental protections, Bernie has stood with the people. Bernie has the best Congressional record of fighting corporate abuses. Meanwhile, Trump, really a corporation masquerading as a human being, works to line the pockets of corporate fat cats. Bernie fights for unions, living wages, and workplace safety; Donald hates unions, and has no problem freezing the $7.25 per hour minimum wage and dismantling serious worker health and safety protections.

Bernie is a consumer champion who wants to cancel crushing student loan debt and reverse the dangerous outsourcing of production of medicine to China, leaving us defenseless. Trump is close to shutting down the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other consumer safety agencies such as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For three years he crazily pushed cuts for health and pandemic research. It took a spreading coronavirus for him to face reality and his response has been too little, too late.

Trump was a corporate welfare king with a failed gambling business who used, in his brazen words, “bankruptcy as a competitive advantage.” He’s busy shoveling all kinds of subsidies, giveaways, bailouts, and giant tax escapes to profitable big companies, at the expense of smaller taxpayers. Bernie is strongly against most of this corporate “socialism for the rich.”

On the environment, Bernie has a good, though not perfect, record. Trump has no problem with deadly corporate pollution—such as coal ash, mercury, methane, diesel particulates degrading your health. Trump is preventing federal efforts from combating climate disruptions, talks about “clean, beautiful coal,” and even forbids the use of the term “climate change” (which he believes is a hoax). Bernie campaigns all over the country talking about public investments in climate preparedness—paid for by restoration of corporate taxes that Trump would like to further cut. Only by using all available resources can the U.S. contain immensely costly runaway fires, floods, tornadoes, droughts, and already rising sea levels caused by climate disruption.

Bernie releases his tax returns while Trump hides them and gets a major tax cut for his family through Congress.

Donald says he’s never done anything wrong and never needs to apologize. Bernie recognizes his mistakes when he is wrong. Donald breaks promises—on lower drug prices, on cleaner air and water, on more manufacturing jobs, and on expanded health care insurance. Trump has, in fact, actively damaged the environment and hurt these workers and consumers.

Bernie and Trump have superficial similarities. Both rarely smile. Both can be gruff and have trouble taking advice. But Bernie reads, thinks, and empathizes with people who desperately need universal healthcare and endure daily poverty. Frantically tweeting Donald doesn’t read or think, and is devoid of empathy, preferring to use his office to enrich Trump family businesses. Instead of spending his time working to understand the problems of working people, thin-skinned Donald spends his time blaming others and viciously nick-naming political opponents.

Bernie is a “democratic socialist,” advocating for improvements that western European counties have had for decades as well as ones we had decades ago—like nearly tuition free higher education after World War II at state universities from California to New York and even an early sales tax on Wall Street trading.

Donald is a corporate socialist and a champion of the dictatorial, corporate state (Wall Street owning Washington) that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “fascism” in a message to Congress in 1938.

Bernie is a good, crisp debater. Donald is a shouter, stage liar, and evader-in-chief. Bernie refuses corporate PAC money and has millions of people funding the campaign with small donations. Trump goes for the zillionaires. I could go on. For more usable information, read the new book, Fake President, by Mark Green and me.

According to the number one Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump is “a crook, a thief, a liar. He should be in prison.” Can anybody think honest Bernie is not electable against corrupt Donald?

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Turkey’s Migrant Weapon Against Greece

It comes as no surprise that Greeks and Turks don’t like each other. They have been enemies for more than a thousand years. The Turks are Mongols who appeared for the first time in Asia Minor in the eleventh century when Asia Minor or Anatolia was the home of the Greeks.

The Anatolian cataclysm of 1071

Immediately, the Turks started raiding the rich lands and cities of medieval Greek Anatolia. In 1071, they defeated the Greek army and conquered most of Asia Minor. Spyros Vryonis, a distinguished historian of medieval Greece, described that defeat as “the Anatolian cataclysm of 1071” (The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, 1971, 69).

The Great Schism

That cataclysm did not impress the Western Christian states. They might in fact have celebrated over the misfortunes of the Greeks. Latins and Greeks were already at each other’s throats. In 1054, the Catholic pope and the Greek Orthodox patriarch excommunicated each other. The result was the Great Schism that defined poisoned Easy-West relations for centuries.

The Great Schism became catastrophic in the Fourth Crusade of 1204. Germans, Venetians and French captured and dismembered medieval Greece, thus preparing the ground for the 1453 occupation of Greece by the Turks. That was another cataclysm that sowed the seeds for everlasting enmity between Greeks and Turks.

Turkish Islam

The Turks are followers of Islam, even pretending to be its most fervent faithful. Islam is not exactly a favorable religion and culture in the Christian and capitalist West that rules the world. Besides, the Greeks have been reminding Westerners they cannot trust Turkey. They survived a lengthy Turkish occupation and won freedom and political independence primarily with their own courage and enormous sacrifices.

Yet, the Turks seem to believe they can, if not reconquer Greece, at least, destabilize the country. They are eighty-two million strong, while Greece has about eleven million people.

Like  in medieval times, the Turks continue to harass and raid Greece along their common land border of the Evros River, and especially at the most vulnerable Greek frontier: the Aegean Sea full of Greek islands.

American power

Like in the 1000s when Christianity kept Europe divided, now in 2020 capitalism has replaced Christianity as the most disrupting force in Western civilization.

Superpower America has had a tremendous influence in Europe. It invented NATO in the 1940s as a first line of defense against the communist Soviet Union (Russia). The United States then as now knows there’s no defense against nuclear weapons, which have made up its armaments and those of the Soviet Union (Russia).

Nevertheless, America recruited Turkey for NATO, despite the perfidious anti-Christian and Anti-Western civilization metaphysics and history of Turkey. Aside from selfish “strategic” reasons, the only connection between America and Turkey is that both countries practiced genocide on a massive scale.

The Turks stole Anatolia from the Greeks, violently converting them to Islam, killing about a million of them, and murdering more than a million Armenians. The Americans wiped out millions of Native Americans.

European powers also went to bed with Turkey. In fact, Turkey survived primarily because the European powers competed with each other so fiercely. With the rare occasion of destroying the Turkish and Egyptian navies in 1827 in support of the Greek revolutionaries, they remained divided over Turkey.

However, the United States has gone overboard in its support of Turkey. Like the Nazi scientists the US brought to America, the Turks were supposed to embrace Western values, especially American culture.

The Turks did not buy America’s ideology, but they bought American weapons. They exploited Christian and capitalist divisions and convinced the Pentagon they were on America’s side and against the Soviet Union (Russia).

With this willful misunderstanding, in 1974, America blessed the Turkish invasion and conquest of about half of the Greek island of Cyprus. America continues ignoring the aggressive Turkish policy in the Aegean.

EU-IMF crashing Greece

Meanwhile, the 2008 financial meltdown, brought about by American banks, triggered a fourth crusade-like treatment of Greece by its allies: the European Union and America.

The Greek government had borrowed more money from American and European banks than could pay back. In 2009, the American-born and educated Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou precipitated the humiliation of Greece by “inviting” the EU and America’s International Monetary Fund to get Greek finances in order.

Instead, the EU and IMF imposed on Greece devastating “austerity” measures resembling starvation-like policies: bringing Greece’s euro supply to a trickle, all but shutting down the economy, triggering tremendous unemployment, slashing the monthly pension of retired Greeks, firing government workers, selling all state assets, and privatizing airports and telephones to Germany, railroads to Italy, and ports. The country’s largest port of Piraeus is being managed by China.

Greece spent more than the second decade of the twenty-first century prostrate, without sovereignty, begging EU and IMF for money, its international reputation and self-esteem disappearing in the smoke and shame of unforgettable humiliation.

Turkey weaponizing Moslem migrants 

The Turks were delighted watching the EU-IMF doing their bidding in Greece: essentially weakening their Greek enemies. They geared up for adding insult to injury. They accelerated their violations of the Greek air space in the Aegean. But their chief weapon against Greece has been the desperate migrants from the Middle East wars started by the United States in 2001.

The American bombing and destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq opened the floodgates of desperation and fear. Turning Iraq upside down brought civil war, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and rivers of refugees. Iraqis started leaving their ruined country by the thousands. Then the war spread to Syria, the Americans were determined to get rid of the “regime” of President Bashar al-Assad. However, Russia went to the assistance of Assad. Then Turkey saw an opportunity to show off its Islamic faith and sent troops to Syria where American troops used to support anti-Assad Syrian forces.

This happened because Trump has his name on a tower in Istanbul, Turkey. To continue making money from that tower, Trump facilitated the dirty work of the Turks. He abandoned America’s most faithful ally in the Middle East, the Kurds. The Turks promptly slaughtered the Kurds.

The Middle East wars enriched munition manufacturers. They did nothing to strengthen America or democracy or fight “terrorism.” On the contrary, these wars brought to the Middle East another thirteenth century Mongol-like devastation.

The wars, however, produced countless thousands of mostly Moslem migrants. Many of those desperate people walked or found their way to Turkey, which immediately weaponized them.

First of all, in 2016, Turkey demanded and got billions of euros from the EU for “keeping” the migrants out of Europe. Turkey, however, planned to blast those migrants against Greece.

The Turkish reasoning must have been that dumping enough Moslems on austerity-ravaged Christian Greece would, sooner or later, be fatal to the country. Moslems have many children, Greeks have few if any children. The EU would continue to demand that Greece keeps accepting more and more Moslem refugees. And the weak Greek government would be unable to resist the constant influx of Moslem migrants.

The Turks deceived the migrants with promises of Western Europe, if only they agreed to first land on the Greek islands. The Turks gave the migrants flimsy plastic boats, sufficient to cross the few miles of water from the Turkish coast to the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesbos.

This migrant exodus from Turkey to Greece took a dramatic turn for the worst in 2016 and after under the leadership of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who sees himself as a Sultan resurrecting the Ottoman empire. Taking advantage of Trump and his sole concern for money, Erdogan sent troops to Libya and Syria and, in both cases, Turkish aggression hit a wall of resistance. Angry Erdogan, lashed against the EU and Greece, saying he was opening his border to anyone wishing to cross into Greece.

As a result of this threat, hundreds of migrants reached Samos, Chios and Lesbos, already full to the brim with Moslem migrants and refugees. The Greek government appropriated land in the islands for building refugee camps, but the local population said no more refugees. They took their anger to the streets and refused to obey the government, fighting pitched battles with the local police and additional security forces sent to the islands.

The second, even more violent migrant crisis, took place in late February-early March 2020 when thousands of migrants attacked the guards protecting the Greek land border with Turkey along the Evros River. The conflict had the appearance of small-scale war fought with tear gas, stun grenades but without live bullets, though the Turks spoke of dead migrants. Greek authorities denied those allegations as fake news. They said they prevented more than 26,000 migrants from crossing the border. The chaos lasted for several days.

Is the EU changing?

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the area of conflict with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. Mitsotakis and von der Leyen denounced the misuse of migrants by Turkey. Von der Leyen assured Greece and the world that the Greek border is also a European border.

The French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Turkey of using the migrants for blackmailing Europe. And the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz denounced the Turkish scheme of weaponizing the migrants.

One hopes that the criticism of Turkish aggression by these senior EU politicians mirrors a changing EU attitude towards Greece.

That may be true, but actions speak louder than words. Greece needs EU assistance, both financial and military.

Time has come for EU to treat Greece with respect and equality. Reduce the Greek debt and invest heavily in the country. Make Greece a European center for fighting climate change. Greece has a high level of educated people that could make a difference in our struggle to move from fossil fuels to zero-carbon technologies and energy.

It won’t be easy to undo the EU humiliation of Greece. But it would help if the EU really acted in defending with Greece the Greek-European border.

This is urgent because Turkey is slowly turning the migrant weapon into war. It is reinforcing its border with policemen to prevent the Greeks from pushing the invading migrants back to the Turkish frontier. That could trigger war.

The next step should be for a unified defense force for EU. It does not make sense for countries of a union to spend countless billions for individual defense. Such a step would immediately freeze Turkey in its war path.

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Abortion and the 2020 Elections

On March 4th the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly June Medical Services v. Gee), a case challenging Louisiana’s Act 620, a law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. It is an effort to restrict a women’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

In 2016, the Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt unconstitutional a Texas law that placed restrictions on the delivery of abortion services. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in the wake of that decision, Act 620 was initially found unconstitutional by a federal district court, but an appeals court reversed the decision. And now the case is before Supreme Court. Many medical and other organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have filed an amicus brief arguing hospital admitting privileges are not medically justified. The Court’s decision is not expected until later this year but will likely have implications for Roe v. Wade.

The year 2020 will mark a half-century of the culture wars – and the possible reelection of Donald Trump. Prior to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, the culture wars had waned. Moralists still fumed over a woman’s right to an abortion and conservative state legislatures passed laws restricting abortion access, targeting Planned Parenthood and seeking to end young people’s access to birth control. But the fury seemed out of their sails.

Sadly, Trump’s victory reinvigorated the religious right and arch conservatives of every stripe, including white nationalists. His election occurred as Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and he successfully appointed two conservatives to the Court – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – consolidating the right’s control of state power.

Equally troubling, as Vox reports, “in less than three years, Trump has named a total of 50 judges to these courts [of appeal] — compared to the 55 Obama appointed during his entire presidency.” It notes the following:

At this point in the Obama presidency, Obama had appointed only 30 court of appeals judges, meaning that Trump is appointing appellate judges 60 percent faster than Obama. At a similar point in their presidencies, President George W. Bush had filled only 34 seats on the federal appellate bench; President Clinton, 30; President George H.W. Bush, 35; and President Reagan, 25.

Making matters worse, Trump has delegated the selection of judicial appointments to the Federalist Society, a powerful conservative lawyers association.

When Trump took office, he pledged to fulfill the 2016 Republican Party’s platform that asserted:

Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values. We condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which wrongly removed the ability of Congress to define marriage policy in federal law.

Trump reiterated his pledge in May 2018 when he gave the keynote speech for the Susan BAnthony List annual “Campaign for Life,” a gathering to support political candidates who oppose abortion.  “When I ran for office, I pledged to stand for life,” he proclaimed. “And as president, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And I have kept my promise, and I think everybody here understands that fully.”

Going further, Trump made a commitment to those in attendance: “We’re also seeking passage of the 20-week abortion bill, which would end painful, late-term abortions nationwide.” Trump’s campaign, and his support from the moralist right, has sought to fulfill the original conservative vision formulated in the early-1970s when the culture wars were launched, and the New Christian Right was in its ascendency.

In addition, it has sought to bar birth-control coverage from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), opposed funding for Planned Parenthood and stopped funding fetal-tissue research. It has also taken international actions, including restricting Planned Parenthood support and ending support for the UN Population Fund.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the agencies leading the anti-abortion charge, including support for the questionable anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC). CPCs are insidious establishment, falsely branded under a variety of misleading names like “pregnancy resource centers,” “pregnancy care centers,” “pregnancy support centers” or simply “pregnancy centers.” Individual CPCs normally provide a pregnancy test and anti-abortion propaganda. In May 2018, Diane Foley, MD, an OBGYN, was appointed HHS deputy assistant secretary for population affairs where she will oversee the Title X federal family planning program. She is a staunch “anti-choice” activist, the former CEO of Life Network, a company that operates two CPCs in Colorado.

Estimates vary as to the number of CPCs – and abortion clinics – that currently operate in the country. On estimate claims that there are between 2,300 to 3,500 CPCs in the U.S. while there are only 1,800 abortion clinics; another suggests that there 2,700 CPCs and only 800 abortion clinics. In any case, as an NPR report notes, “far more low-income women will be exposed to their [CPC] deceptive practices instead of being informed of their range of reproductive health-care options.”

The 2020 election campaign is underway. When the Democrats took control of the House in January 2019, the political spotlight shifted ever-more intensely on Pres. Trump. A host of smoldering issues have been actively taken-up, including Muller’s report regarding “Russia Gate,” innumerable corruption issues (e.g., the Trump foundation, Trump hotels), questionable practices by administration officials (e.g., Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt), Trump’s commercial sexual relations with — and reported criminal abuse of – women and Trump’s impeachment. The outcome of these investigations may influence the 2020 election.

However the Trump saga plays out, the religious right’s culture wars helped propel him. Over the last century-and-a-half, America has been a terrain of repeated battles over moral values. These “wars” pitted secular forces pushing to modernize cultural standards, to make people’s life “freer,” against traditionalists seeking to contain unacceptable changes in American life, thus preserving established values.

Today’s culture wars are not unlike three previous eras of struggles over moral values — during the Civil War era over the utopian and “free love” movements; during the 1920s over the new woman, jazz and alcohol consumption; and during the 1950s over communism, obscenity and homosexuality. Those previous “wars” passed as will this one.

Nevertheless, the war over a woman’s right to an abortion will likely persist. Moralists have given up on many of the issues that defined the initial phase of this round of the culture wars – premarital sex, women serving in the military, homosexuality, age-appropriate teen sex and pornography, to name but five. But the right for a woman to terminate a male-induced fetus will remain a contested issue. The right to abort an unwanted fetus marks a critical boundary of patriarch, thus one of the last domains of male power in an increasing degendered world. For the foreseeable future, the war over abortion – like racism and imperialism — will remain an endemic feature of American society.

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Wanting to Cut Social Security Along With Everything Else is Still Wanting to Cut Social Security

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, has a tough job. He tries to sort of what is true and what is false in the various claims made by public figures. I don’t always agree with his calls, but I know he tries to be fair in his approach.

Recognizing this fact, I think he made the wrong call in criticizing a Bernie Sanders campaign ad that went after Joe Biden for repeated efforts to cut Social Security. The gist of Kessler’s criticism is that Biden was never singling out Social Security for cuts, he was including the program in proposals that involved across the board cuts. He takes Sanders to task for not pointing this out.

This is an unfair call. First, on the basic point, the fact that you want to cut Social Security along with everything else, does not mean that you are not proposing to cut Social Security. So, Sanders is 100 percent right on this point. Also, it is reasonable to assume that any Democrat is not going to single out Social Security as a program they want to cut, so the fact that Sanders did not give the full context hardly seems a major failing in a political ad.

Perhaps more importantly, there is a point as to whether Social Security would be singled out as a program to be protected, even when other programs are on the table. In this respect, it is important to note that Social Security is not actually part of the official budget. This is because it has a designated tax and revenue stream. It was designed to be separate from the official budget. In this respect, it is worth noting that, under the law, if the designated revenue stream is insufficient to pay full benefits, then they will not be paid.

There is also a powerful moral point here. Workers are effectively paying for their benefits through the Social Security tax. And, as many of us have pointed out, it is a very regressive tax. This tax can be justified in the context of a program with a very progressive payback structure, but no one would every seriously propose financing the general budget with a regressive payroll tax.

In this context, reducing promised benefits can be seen as taking away something for which people have already worked. It would be comparable to telling a worker that we’re going to 10 percent out of their paycheck at the end of the pay period, because we need that money for other things. This is especially pernicious when we are referring to cutting benefits for people who already retired, since they will have little ability to work more to make up for lost benefits.

For these reasons, many Democrats have insisted that Social Security not be on the table in any efforts to reduce budget deficits. Sanders has consistently been among this group. Biden has not been. That is an important distinction and it is totally appropriate for Sanders to be making it as part of his campaign.

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

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Crimes in Afghanistan: Fatou Bensouda’s Investigative Mission

It seemed an unlikely prospect. The International Criminal Court has tended to find itself accused of chasing up the inhumane rogues of Africa rather than those from any other continent. It has also been accused of having an overly burdensome machinery and lethargy more caught up with procedure than substance. Critics fearing a behemoth snatching soldiers from the armed forces of various states could rest easy, at least in part.

Law tends to be a manifestation of power and international law, in particular, tends to be a manifestation of consensus. And the powerful rarely give their consent in matters of trying crimes against humanity when it comes to their own citizens. Qualifications and exemptions abound, often cited with a certain sneer.

This explains the sheer fury and curiosity caused by the decision of the ICC’s Appeals Chamber on March 5 authorising Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to proceed with an investigation into alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan from 2003. The interest was not merely in the commission of crimes by any one force: the Taliban and various “armed groups”, members of the Afghan armed forces and “alleged crimes by the US Forces and the CIA” featured. But the actions of US and Afghan forces was bound to arouse much interest, given a UN report alleging more killings in the first three months of 2019 than attributed to the Taliban. (The figures, respectively, were 227 civilians killed by insurgent groups and 305 deaths caused by Afghan and international forces.)

The initial decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber II (April 12 2019) had gone against the Prosecutor’s efforts that had commenced in November 2017. While the pre-trial chamber accepted that the brief established a reasonable basis to consider crimes that fell within the jurisdiction of the ICC, time had elapsed since the preliminary examination in 2006 and the evolving political scene in Afghanistan.

As ever, the jurisdiction of war crimes and crimes against humanity is a political thing: to authorise such an investigation, in the words of the 2019 media release, would have diverted “valuable resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.” Nor had cooperation with the Prosecutor been forthcoming in Afghanistan itself. It was a decision that caused a fair share of consternation among human rights critics and activists. One question kept being asked: Had the ICC folded before pressure from the Trump administration?

The argument of pressure was a hard one to dispel. In 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would revoke or deny visas to any members of the ICC connected with investigating alleged war crimes by US personnel in Afghanistan. That body, charged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was “attacking America’s rule of law,” an interesting formulation suggesting how partial that rule can be for a certain country.

Despite this backdrop of intimidation, the Appeals Chamber had a change of heart. According to presiding judge Piotr Hofmański, “The prosecutor is authorised to commence an investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, as well as other alleged crimes that have a nexus to the armed conflict in Afghanistan.” The pre-trial chamber had erred in identifying “additional considerations” as to whether the prosecutor could proceed with the investigation. It was not for the body to consider “the interests of justice” as part of that authorisation, merely whether there was “a reasonable factual basis to proceed with an investigation, in the sense of whether crimes have been committed, and whether potential cases(s) arising from such an investigation appear to fall within the Court’s jurisdiction.”

Pompeo was sufficiently incensed by the decision to call the ruling a “truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body.” He also had the prospects of peace on his mind, considering the ruling disruptive given that it came “just days after the United States signed a historic peace deal on Afghanistan.”

Resistance against the ICC from the United States is far from new. Henry Kissinger feared it, and said so, suggesting it would preside in thuggish majesty and impunity citing universal jurisdiction as its basis of operation. His views were rebuked by former Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor Benjamin B. Ferencz. “The innocent,” he remarked pointedly, “need not fear the rule of law.”

But fear and loathing for the ICC has been a recurrent theme. In 2018, then national security adviser John R. Bolton, famed for his opposition to international institutions, insisted that the US would not “cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And we certainly will not join the ICC. We let the ICC die on its own.”

Such a view sits in that particularly odd canon of US political thinking that dismisses aspects of international law – notably those involving breaches of human rights – as matters of convenience and sentiment. Such a view holds that Washington’s enemies deserve trial and punishment at the hands of international law; alleged offences by US forces should be a matter of US jurisdiction.

It also bucks the idea put forth by US prosecutor Robert H. Jackson at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in November 1945 that international tribunals are not products “of abstract speculations nor … created to vindicate legalistic theories.” Jackson’s enunciated views would see US officials participate, extensively, in the creation of tribunals in the Balkans and Rwanda. Indeed, as Ferencz observed in 2001, numerous former presidents of the American Society of International Law and the American Bar Association acknowledged that “it would be in the best interests of the United States and its military personnel of the United States to accept” such a body.

While it is hard to see the US surrendering any soldiers for trial before judges of the ICC, the very acceptance that it has jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes committed by such personnel enlarges its traditional and cautious scope. International law has seen a turn up for the books.

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The Democratic Party on the Brink

The failure to see the need to manage change, and instead adhere to a traditional and increasingly unresponsive status quo, is a formula for failure. Still, recognizing the need, and then managing it can be a difficult. Here we will define managing change, admittedly rather vaguely, as addressing disaffection in a timely and enlightened way. The recent history of the Republican Party shows what happens when an institution fails to respond to discord in such a way. It may now be that the Democratic Party is following the same self-destructive path.

Background: The Republicans Self-Destruct

The failure to manage change in the face of internal discord destroyed the Republican Party. In the year 2009 rightwing Tea Party rebels began taking over party positions at the state and local level. Simultaneously, the national party infrastructure started to slip from the hands of “moderates,” or what used to be called Rockefeller Republicans. This set the scene for the eventual rise to power of autocratic and irrational leadership in the person of Donald Trump. At that point most of the “moderate” conservatives fled into the ranks of the independents. Trump proceeded to recruit their replacements from a rightwing amalgamation of racists, misogynists, conspiracy theorists, gun fanatics, and religious fundamentalists yearning for Armageddon. These are Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”—an accurate, if impolitic, label. At the national level, the “deplorables” marginalized the Tea Party advocates.

As if to prove this point, President Trump hosted 200 rightist media leaders at the White House on 11 July 2019. It was a who’s who of boosters for the reworked, now radical Republican Party (a very different crowd from the  post-Civil War element of the same name). What seemed to unite them all was the was the willingness to exploit the negative emotions and imagined grievances that collect over time within the boorish disaffected element of any population: hatred of “the other,” anger at the “establishment,” resentment of those less well-off than themselves (presumably because such folks take public assistance), jealousy of those better off then themselves, and a general feeling of alienation the cause of which they attribute to all of the above. Trump’s accomplishment was to bring this ragtag group together under the banner of his ersatz Republican Party. Soon, the “deplorables” started to act like Eric Hoffer’s True Believers.

Thanks to subsequent Democratic Party mistakes, these radical Republicans squeaked out a win in 2016 and took control of the federal government. We—and by this I mean not only American citizens but also most of the rest of the planet—have been living with the consequences ever since. For the sake of American democracy, the world climate crisis, and an assortment of other important issues, the crucial question is whether the Democratic Party can get it together to prevent Trump and his mercenary lot from staying in office. The answer to this question is uncertain.

The Democratic Party and the Pressures for Change

While Trump was transforming the Republican Party for the worse, the Democratic leadership ignored the possibility that they too might be facing trouble. They missed the message that the disintegration of the Republican Party was caused by a failure to address emerging social pressures and demands. So, myopically assuming that the problems were solely Republican ones, the Democratic party leaders gave little thought to the demand for change coming from sections of their own voter base. But the problems were not just Republican ones. They were American problems that had split the country nearly in two.

The problems and pressures arose, in great part, from a culture war (which grew to encompass economic and political issues) that has been going on since the 1960s (see my analysis, A Culture War Against Tolerance). It had created powerful reactionary forces on the right that had now found a home in the new radical Republican Party. However, this same “war” generated a growing pool of progressives who found leaders in Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have sought to move the Democratic Party to the left. This was the demand for change that the Democratic leadership was called upon to creatively manage.

To date they have not done so. Instead they have decided to hold fast to tradition and meet the challenge of the upcoming 2020 election by sustaining the presidential candidacy of Joe Biden—a mediocrity whose stated goal is to return the nation “back like we used to be” before Donald Trump’s ascendency. In other words, Biden is a status quo ante candidate. Instead of creatively managing change, Joe Biden’s job is twofold: to defeat Trump and simultaneously shut down the progressive pressures impacting the Democratic Party.

A Pivotal Choice for the Democrats

As the primary season plays itself out, the Democratic establishment, whether it cares to admit it or not, is slowly coming to face a pivotal choice. That choice has recently been set forth by the progressive leader Bernie Sanders. Let’s lay this out point by point:

—“In an interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Sen. Bernie Sanders said if former Vice President Joe Biden had a plurality of delegates entering the convention he should be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee.”

—In other words, Sanders is asserting that the democratic principle of popular choice should guide the Democratic Party process of choosing a presidential candidate for the 2020 election.

—If Biden proves to be the popular choice by winning a plurality of delegates in the party’s various primary contests, then Sanders would step aside in Biden’s favor. This is a significant compromise on Sanders’s part and probably signals his recognition that, in 2020, the main object of the November election is to turn Trump out of office. It also means that if Biden legitimately wins the nomination, he will probably receive at least some progressive support.

—However, Sanders then went on to say, “it would be unfair and a disaster if superdelegates selected a candidate on the second ballot that had earned fewer delegates than another candidate in the primary race.” This translates as follows: the Democratic Party has invented “superdelegates.” These are unelected delegates to the party’s nominating convention made up of folks connected to, or supportive of, the established party leadership. Sanders is saying that to bring them into play in order to give the nomination to someone other than the candidate with the most elected delegates is undemocratic and should not be allowed. It is easy to understand why Sanders feels so strongly about this. It was Hillary Clinton’s reliance on such irregular delegates that shunted Sanders aside at the 2016 Democratic Party convention.

—And now comes the Democratic Party’s pivotal choice. Sanders’s position implies a tit for tat: just as he would step aside and support Biden if he proved to garner the most elected delegates, Sanders would expect Biden and the Democratic establishment to support his candidacy if he legitimately wins enough elected delegates to take the nomination. Given that the Democratic Party establishment has backed Biden in part to shut down Sanders’s progressive movement, what are the chances of that?

A Pending Disaster?

Jeet Heer, the national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine, tells us that the Democratic Party establishment is ready to “risk intraparty damage to stop his [Bernie Sanders’s] nomination.” If this is true, the Democratic establishment can not be relied upon to be as magnanimous as Sanders. Their hostility to the left wing of their own party may prove greater than their dedication to ultimate Democratic victory in November. That does not necessarily mean the Democratic “moderates,” faced with a Sanders nomination, would actively support Trump. They could passively support him by just staying home during the campaign and  November election. Yet, this would certainly be a disaster for the future of the Democratic Party, just as four more years of radical Republican rule would be a disaster for American and, arguably, the world as a whole.

So, as they say, the ball is in the Democratic Party’s court. The radical Republicans are beatable if those Americans who find them a danger to the country, not to mention the planet, come together and work for their defeat. But, this scenario may depend on the Democratic establishment’s willingness to manage change in an enlightened fashion—to find a way to address the many culture war issues through progressives and traditionalists working together. As it looks now the odds are not good. Elizabeth Warren noted that a big  reason she withdrew from the Democratic race was because she could find “no political opening between the established candidates of the party’s left and center.” Such are the signs of stupidity. Right now too many Democrats are putting on ideological blinkers that will cause them to ignore the fact that there is a greater evil out there—one that should frighten them enough to find that “political opening.” His name is Donald Trump.


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Lift the Embargo on Cuba

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been in effect for 60 years. It’s time to end it.

The embargo makes it a criminal offense for any American to spend money in Cuba or to do business in Cuba. If an American travels to Cuba and spends money there or does business there, he is subject to criminal prosecution, conviction, fine, and imprisonment by his own government upon his return to the United States.

The purpose of the embargo is regime change. The idea is to squeeze the Cuban people economically with the aim of causing discontent against Cuba’s communist regime. If the discontent gets significant enough, U.S. officials believe, the population will revolt and re-install a pro-U.S. regime into power.

Where is the morality in targeting the civilian population with death and impoverishment with the aim of achieving a political goal? Isn’t that why we condemn terrorism?

I say “re-install” because Cuba had a pro-U.S. dictator in power before the Cuban revolution installed Fidel Castro into power. The country was ruled by a man named Fulgencio Batista, one of the most brutal and corrupt dictators in the world. U.S. officials didn’t care about his tyranny because he was a pro-U.S. dictator — that is, one who could be counted on to do the bidding of the U.S. government.

But the Cuban people, who were suffering under Batista’s regime, revolted against it. Successfully ousting Batista from power, new Cuban dictator Fidel Castro made it clear that he would be no such puppet. In the eyes of U.S. officials, that made him a threat to “national security.”

What many Americans fail to realize is that the embargo is actually an infringement on their liberty. Under principles of freedom, people have the natural, God-given right to travel anywhere they want and spend their money any way they want. Freedom of travel and economic liberty are encompassed by the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness that the Declaration of Independence enumerates as rights that preexist government.

When the American people agreed to this fundamental infringement on their rights and liberty, it was at the height of the Cold War. U.S. officials told them that there was a worldwide communist conspiracy based in Russia to take over the world, especially the United States. Cuba, U.S. officials said, was a spearhead in that effort. If a communist regime was permitted to remain in Cuba, which is only 90 miles away from U.S. shores, they said, there was no way to keep America from going Red.

The irony is that America was already going socialist and without an invasion by Cuba. That was reflected by the U.S. embrace of such socialist programs as Social Security, Medicare, public schooling, immigration controls, and a central bank, all of which are core elements of Cuba’s socialist economic system.

Terribly fearful of this supposed communist threat to conquer the United States, the American people traded away their rights and liberties for the sake of purported safety and security from communism.

The irony is that Cuba never attacked the United States and never even threatened to do so. Throughout the Cold War, it remained an impoverished Third World nation that never posed any military threat to the United States.

Instead, throughout the Cold War it was always the U.S. government that was the aggressor against Cuba. Not only did the U.S. government target the Cuban people with its embargo, it also secretly partnered with the Mafia to assassinate Castro.

In fact, the reason that Castro invited the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba was not to attack the United States but rather to deter the U.S. government from invading Cuba a second time or to defend Cuba in the event of another U.S. invasion of the island.

The Cold War ended some 30 years ago, but not for the Cuban people. When it comes to freedom and prosperity, they have been left behind, squeezed in a vise that consists of socialism on the one side and the U.S. embargo on the other.

Fidel Castro outlasted the embargo and the U.S.-Mafia murder attempts on his life and ended up dying four years ago. Nonetheless, the embargo goes on.

It’s time to bring an end to this sordid, immoral behavior on the part of U.S. officials. Leave the Cuban people alone, and restore freedom to the American people. If Cubans want to end their socialist system, that’s up to them to do so. The U.S. government has no legitimate business contributing to their suffering with its brutal economic embargo.

Moreover, the American people have the right to the restoration of their rights of freedom of travel and economic liberty, which should never have been traded away in the first place. The U.S. government has no legitimate authority to be prosecuting and punishing Americans for exercising what are natural, God-given rights.

Lift the embargo, now. It’s the morally and economically sound thing to do.

This article first appeared on FFF.

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Nukes: The Unmentionable Election Issue

One of these days, national security policy will get a few minutes of campaign debate time. And when that day occurs, perhaps—just perhaps—attention will turn to a matter of some urgency: the continuing threat posed by nuclear weapons. As both the US and Russia pursue MADness (mutually assured destruction) with steep investments in nuclear weapons, they use the same distorted logic to justify them that has been used throughout the nuclear age.

The fundamental issue with nuclear weapons at this moment is that, as happened in the Reagan era, a US administration is playing with the idea of having usable nukes for a variety of conflicts, non-nuclear as well as nuclear. This comes as no surprise, since the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review in 2018 previewed just such a strategy. Among the specific purposes of nuclear weapons, the NPR states, are to

hedge against the potential rapid growth or emergence of nuclear and non-nuclear strategic threats, including chemical, biological, cyber, and large-scale conventional aggression. . . .the United States will enhance the flexibility and range of its tailored deterrence options. … Expanding flexible US nuclear options now, to include low-yield options, is important for the preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression.

Accordingly, Trump’s defense department announced last month that a new, “low-yield” nuclear warhead for submarines will be deployed, supposedly in order to make deterrence of a nuclear attack more credible.

It is not as though the US ability to deter attack has been weakened. Its current stock of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles remains more than adequate to deter any adversary. The total US nuclear weapon inventory is about 5,800 warheads, of which about 1,750 are deployed—about 900 on submarines, which are invulnerable, and 400 on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. The remaining 2,000 or so warheads are stored at more than 20 sites in the US and Europe. As for launchers, under Trump new generations of strategic bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and missiles are in research or production. Overkill, in short, has acquired a new life.

Needless and destabilizing

The history of planning for nuclear weapons tells us that the introduction of a new weapon is inherently destabilizing; it makes actual use more rather than less likely, because it introduces greater uncertainty than before about the other side’s intentions. Nuclear war due to a miscalculation, accidental use, or false alarm becomes an increased possibility, and deterrence becomes more a matter of guesswork than ever. The idea that a Russian leader, for example, would believe the United States would not respond if it initiated use of a “low-yield” nuclear weapon rather than some blockbuster is absurd. As a group of former officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense William Perry, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2019:

We write to respectfully request that Congress reject the Trump administration’s request for new, more usable, ‘low-yield’ nuclear warheads for Trident [submarine] missiles. There is no need for such weapons and building them would make the United States less safe. These so-called ‘low-yield’ weapons are a gateway to nuclear catastrophe and should not be pursued.

Presidential candidates should also be drawing attention to the costs of modernizing the nuclear arsenal. As three experienced analysts point out, the defense department’s “projected expenditures on nuclear weapons for the period 2025–34 are at a level that was exceeded only twice during the Cold War,” meaning over $400 billion (Physics Today, April 2018). The major corporations that produce the weapons benefit from enormous investments. According to one report from PAX, a Netherlands peace group:

When examining the top companies involved in the nuclear weapon industry, we found over 748 billion USD invested in these companies by 325 financial institutions between January 2017 and January 2019. This reflects investments in the top 18 nuclear weapon producing companies.

In a word, nuclear weapons are big business, and so long as “deterrence” dominates discussion, companies that invest in them will always thrive.

Part 2, Getting to Zero, will appear next week.

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​ MLK, Qassem Soleimani and the Folly of American Exceptionalism

In April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. powerfully condemned U.S. militarism and the war in Indochina. His speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” defied his closest advisers, who feared it would alienate war supporters within the white liberal establishment. I recommend it to all Americans whether they support or oppose the recent assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

King said that the hopes of the poor were shattered and broken because “of a society gone mad on war.” He warned “that America would never invest the necessary funds” to end poverty “so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.”

He warned that “Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves” organizing against other wars “for the next generation.”

The United States had fallen “victim to … deadly Western arrogance,” King said. Americans could only be seen “as strange liberators,” and our nation had become “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

Many Americans prefer “I have a dream” to King’s prophetic denunciations of U.S. militarism and American exceptionalism. If taken seriously, they require us to assess how and why the United States became a permanent warfare state, particularly as a result of the Iraq war.

Pundits justify the killing of Qassem Soleimani in Iraq because he meddled in affairs outside Iran’s borders in ways that clashed with U.S. interests; and he helped Iraqis develop unconventional warfare strategies which led to the death of American soldiers. These charges conveniently ignore that the United States is itself an outside power and that U.S. soldiers were killed after invading and occupying Iraq.

After the Iraqi government ordered U.S. troops to leave in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters: “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region … which should be freed from outside interference.”

Steeped in American exceptionalism, we fail to see the irony: The United States invades and occupies other nations, maintains more than 700 permanent military bases outside its borders, divides the world into combatant commands with geographically defined missions and deploys Special Operations Forces in more than 100 nations — but never sees itself as a meddling, outside power.

Justifying Soleimani’s assassination by citing his role in promoting unconventional warfare is equally spurious. It implies that people who embrace asymmetrical warfare when resisting an occupying army aren’t fighting fairly. They must accept the edicts of a foreign military superpower or fight a conventional war they have no capacity to wage and no chance of winning.

U.S. leaders know that our military dominance forces adversaries to use unconventional tactics. In 1998, Presidential Decision Directive 62 stated: “America’s unrivaled military superiority means that potential enemies (whether nations or terrorist groups) that choose to attack us will be more likely to resort to terror instead of conventional military assault.” The Defense Science Board noted in 1997: “… the military asymmetry that denies nation states the ability to engage in overt attacks against the United States drives the use of transnational actors.”

King’s critique of U.S. militarism and American exceptionalism, and the assassination of Soleimani, require us to explore why the United States meddled in Iraq’s affairs and the nature of the interests the United States pursued there. Shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a Wall Street Journal reporter told a high-level official in the George W. Bush administration that the war would be disastrous for the United States and Iraq. He was rebuffed: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” Months after the invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife’s Christmas card included a quote that seriously distorted a New Testament passage: “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without His aid.”

These arrogant, fancifully optimist claims had deep roots among the architects of the Iraq war who believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union presented them with opportunities to reshape and dominate the world. Their ambitions were clearly stated in a 1992 Defense Policy Guidance (DPG) draft written by Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

The DPG highlighted three things. First, U.S. foreign policy must prevent any nation or group of nations from challenging U.S. supremacy. Our “first objective” is to “maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” Second, the United States faces no serious rival and therefore should aggressively use military power worldwide to secure its advantages. Third, the United States should act unilaterally and not be constrained by international agreements and laws.

These radical ideas were developed further throughout the 1990s in well-funded conservative think tanks. Their clearest articulation appeared in a September 2000 report titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (RAD) from the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). It was written by Wolfowitz and others who would soon be put in charge of U.S. foreign policy and champion the Iraq war during the administrations of George W. Bush.

RAD started by affirming the 1992 DPG as “a blueprint for maintaining pre-eminence.” It laid out “America’s Grand Strategy” to achieve permanent global domination. Among its notable components were these recommendations: dramatically increase military spending; increase the number of foreign military bases and deploy U.S. troops throughout the Middle East and world because the “presence of American forces in critical regions … is the visible expression of America’s status as a superpower”; replace policies that seek to contain adversaries with those that seek “regime change”; prevent other nations from having nuclear weapons because it is difficult to impose our will on those who have them; and militarize space because “space dominance may become so essential to the preservation of American military pre-eminence that it may require a separate service.”

The authors of RAD saw a unique historical opportunity for the United States to achieve permanent global domination. They also realized that the U.S. people wouldn’t be willing to pay the enormous costs in lives and treasure that would be required to implement their plan unless they could be galvanized by a traumatic event. Writing a year before 9/11, the authors of RAD put it this way: “the process of transformation … is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a New Pearl Harbor.”

This last sentence need not spawn conspiracies that 9/11 was an inside job. What is clear is that the people who orchestrated the Iraq war were the same people who developed “America’s Grand Strategy” and they used 9/11 as a pretext to implement their preplanned agenda. They consciously cultivated fear to galvanize support for a war that was their opening salvo in an ambitious campaign to dominate the world. “Keep elevating the threat,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld urged his subordinates following 9/11. “Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists.”

When the United States assassinates an Iranian general for interfering with U.S. interests, it is a minimal moral requirement that we honestly assess the nature of those interests. The United States has no moral authority or unique calling, no economic capacity, no effective military means and no security need that justifies embracing permanent war, invading and occupying other nations, or continuing wasteful military spending.

The collapse of all past empires was accelerated by imperial military overreach. Perhaps we can begin to see ourselves in Joseph Schumpeter’s description of imperial Rome: “There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. … The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs.”

As we commemorate Martin Luther King, let’s reject American exceptionalism and pledge ourselves to build alternatives to our permanent warfare state. And let us be guided by King, who reminds us that our “choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.”

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer is an emeritus professor of justice and peace studies, University of St. Thomas.

This article first appeared as an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.


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Truthdig Employees Stop Work to Protest Labor Conditions

Senior editors and contributors at Truthdig, including Executive Editor Kasia Anderson, Managing Editor, Jacob Sugarman, Foreign Editor Natasha Hakimi Zapata and Book Editor Eunice Wong, along with columnists Chris Hedges, Lee Camp and Paul Street and the cartoonist Dwayne Booth, aka Mr. Fish, as well as blogger Ilana Novick, announced in a joint letter today they were beginning a work stoppage today to protest what they describe as unfair labor conditions and the effort by the publisher, Zuade Kaufman, to remove the site’s founding Editor-in-Chief and co-owner Robert Scheer.

The letter, posted briefly on the site before being taken down and sent out to the 45,000 people on Truthdig’s email list read:

This letter is to announce that the undersigned members of Truthdig’s editorial team, Executive Editor Kasia Anderson, Managing Editor Jacob Sugarman, Foreign Editor Natasha Hakimi Zapata, Book Editor Eunice Wong and blogger Ilana Novick, along with columnists Chris Hedges, Lee Camp and Paul Street and cartoonist Mr. Fish will begin a work stoppage, effective immediately. 

In recent months, as has been publicly reported, Truthdig Publisher Zuade Kaufman and Editor in Chief Robert Scheer have been engaged in an ongoing dispute. That dispute is approaching its nadir as we are concerned Ms. Kaufman is attempting to take control of Truthdig, thus effectively removing Mr. Scheer from the website he co-owns and co-founded. This is unacceptable to us.

Since the website’s launch in 2005, Robert has helped guide Truthdig’s editorial voice, fearlessly exposing the corruption of Republican and Democratic administrations alike—an exception that proves the rule in progressive media. While liberals have largely turned their back on Julian Assange in recent years, Robert has remained one of his greatest champions. And as the mainstream media has resorted to the most cynical form of red-baiting against Sen. Bernie Sanders this election cycle, he has pushed back against it at every turn. 

Robert is the rare editor who urges readers to examine the legitimate alienation and rage of those pushed aside by globalization and de-industrialization, rather than allow the election of Donald Trump to be blamed on Vladimir Putin and Russia. Under his guidance, Truthdig has stood beside Occupy Wall Street, Wikileaks, the indigenous people of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and countless other protest movements that have challenged entrenched power. We believe that he is irreplaceable.

 But this work stoppage is ultimately about more than just Robert. For years, the Truthdig staff has worked under conditions that it feels fall well short of the website’s progressive values. Those include, but are not limited to, employment conditions that very possibly flout California’s labor laws. To ameliorate this situation, we are asking that management honor the following requests:

*Robert retain his position as Truthdig’s editor in chief 

*The editorial team retain its independence from publishing

*Full-time staffers (anyone working more than 32-hour weeks) receive no less than 10 paid vacation days per year, excluding national holidays. Those working between 20 and 30 hours per week will receive 7 paid vacation days, while those working between 10 and 20 hours per week will receive 5 paid vacation days, respectively

*Full-time staffers be compensated if they are ineligible for the company’s health insurance plan

*Full-time staffers receive four month’s paid parental leave

*Copy editors be compensated for full shifts 

*All staffers be paid double for federal holidays or enjoy a full day off at normal rates

*All staffers receive annual performance reviews and scheduled pay increases

*All staffers be issued new contracts to ensure compliance with labor laws

This list remains a work in progress, but management’s willingness to negotiate with the editorial team would demonstrate that all are acting in good faith, paving the way for future unionization. We maintain that a progressive publication cannot, and more essentially should not, exist without a union. 

To reiterate, we are not striking because we want to harm Truthdig or anyone at the publication. Quite the opposite: We are striking because we care deeply about the website and are committed to its long-term health. We hope to receive a response in a timely fashion and that this work stoppage will be short-lived.


Chris Hedges
Kasia Anderson
Jacob Sugarman
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Eunice Wong
Ilana Novick
Mr. Fish
Paul Street
Lee Camp           

 The editors and contributors also said they objected to new contracts being sent by the publisher to contract and other workers that despite Robert’s role as editorial director, stated that those working for the site would be reporting to Kaufman.  The contracts, none of which were evidently seen or approved by Scheer, also ask workers to surrender most of their labor and civil rights in apparent violation of the state of California’s labor laws.

The passage in the contract under the clause Waiver and Release reads:

In exchange for the signing bonus and other consideration provided for in this Agreement, you agree to waive any and all claims against the Company, its parent, subsidiary and affiliated corporations, and their respective successors, assignees, representatives, agents, shareholders, officers, directors, executives and employees, both  current and former (collectively, the “Releasees”), and to release and discharge the   Releases at any time prior to and including the date you sign this Agreement, whether known or unknown to you, including but not limited to any claims arising under any federal, state or local law, rule or ordinance, tort, employment contract (express or implied), independent contractor agreement or classification, public policy, or any other  obligation, including without limitation, any claims arising under the Age Discrimination  in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1985, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Age Discrimination Act, the California Constitution, the California Labor Code, the California Wage Orders, the Private Attorneys General Act, the Califonria Business and Professions Code, the Laws established by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the California Family Rights Act, and any other federal, state or local labor, employee relations, wage/hour, and/or fair employment practices statute, rule or ordinance, as well as all claims for attorneys’ fees.  This waiver and release does not include (i) claims that may  arise after you execute this Agreement, (ii) claims that cannot be waived as a matter of law or public policy, (iii) claims to vested pension benefits, and/or (iv) the right to seek  enforcement of this Agreement.

You hereby expressly waive and relinquish all rights and benefits afforded to you by  Section 1542 of the Civil Code of California and do so understanding and acknowledging the significance and consequence of such specific waiver of Section 1542.  Section 1542  of the Civil Code of California states as follows:


Thus, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 1542, and for the purpose of implementing a full and complete release as set forth herein, you expressly acknowledge that this Agreement is also intended to include in its effect, without limitation, all claims that you do not know or suspect to exist at the time of your execution of this Agreement, and that this Agreement contemplates the extinguishment of any such claim or claims.

Media contact: Amelia Pang (202)-677-8132


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The Organization of American States Is Eroding Faith in Democracy

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of State from United States – Public Domain

Experts at MIT recently concluded that there is no statistical evidence of fraud in the results of the Bolivian presidential elections last October. These findings debunk an earlier report by the Organization of American States (OAS), which were used to justify a right-wing coup d’etat in the Andean nation.

“All in all, the OAS’ statistical analysis and conclusions would appear deeply flawed,” the researchers, John Curiel and Jack R. Williams of the Election Data and Science Lab, wrote in the Washington Post. They added that the incumbent, Evo Morales, very likely garnered more than the 10 percent margin needed to avoid a second round vote.

The announcement has caused an international uproar.

The OAS mission’s report alleging “intentional manipulation” to favor Morales’ re-election led to an insurrection by the Bolivian armed forces and ultra right parties, as well as violent conflict in the streets. To date, an interim government headed by a minor member of parliament, Jeanine Añez, remains in power. Scores of pro-Morales protesters were killed in the mayhem that ensued after the regional organization called into question the legitimacy of the electoral process and ignited the chain of events that led to the coup.

As it turns out, Bolivia isn’t the only election where the OAS has played a role in steering results, rather than monitoring and assuring democratic practice.

An analysis of recent election observation missions and statements by Secretary General Luis Almagro reveals a disturbing pattern of bias and a willingness to manipulate events and data for political purposes. More broadly, the Secretary General’s revival of Cold War ideology and allegiance to the Trump administration has created a pattern that consistently favors right-wing governments and forces, while attacking or attempting to eliminate the left in power.

This behavior in a regional forum founded to resolve controversy poses a serious threat to democratic practice as well as the self-determination of nations.


The actions of the OAS Electoral Mission in Bolivia, headed by the Costa Rican Manuel González Sanz, triggered a break with the democratic order, leading not only to the coup but the subsequent killings of pro-Morales protesters by security forces, who specifically targeted indigenous supporters of the nation’s first indigenous president.

Indeed, the OAS accusations of “manipulation” in the Bolivian presidential elections catalyzed violent protests and unleashed massive human rights violations. As if awaiting a cue, armed right-wing forces mobilized to overthrow the elected government. The president and vice president, along with other high-level elected officials of the ruling MAS party, were forced to flee when their houses were set on fire and they came under attack.

Just hours after the polls closed, the OAS mission issued a press release before the vote count was finished, followed up two days later by a preliminary report calling into question Morales’ lead of just over 10 percent. The report cited a “hard to explain” pause in the rapid count and other criticisms of the process.

Based on the report, right-wing forces that had hoped to gain power by forcing Morales into a second round of voting, protested. They were joined by some social organizations, staging demonstrations as well as burning buildings. When the armed forces stepped in threatening a coup, Morales resigned to avoid further bloodshed. A government of ultra-right-wing political figures took power, unleashing the attacks on indigenous peoples and Morales supporters.

An earlier analysis of the OAS reports by the Center for Economic and Policy Research showed that the mission provided no proof of fraud, and that the timing and accusations of the report played a critical political role in the subsequent chain of events. On February 27, the study by the MIT Election Data and Science Lab concluded:

“The OAS’s claim that the stopping of the TREP [Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results] during the Bolivian election produced an oddity in the voting trend is contradicted by the data. While there was a break in the reporting of votes, the substance of those later-reporting votes could be determined prior to the break. Therefore, we cannot find results that would lead us to the same conclusion as the OAS. We find it is very likely that Morales won the required 10 percentage point margin to win in the first round of the election on October 20, 2019.”

By using its electoral mission to rashly question official elections results, the OAS report contributed to mob violence and the fall of the elected government. The openly racist and misogynist rightwing forces that came to power carried out at least one documented massacre of indigenous peoples.

When national and international voices protested the Bolivian coup d’etat, the OAS Secretary General retorted: “Yes, there was a coup in Bolivia on October 20, when Evo Morales committed electoral fraud” — an unsubstantiated assertion that did not express a consensus view within the organization nor even reflect the language of the mission.

Following publication of the expert analysis, the OAS wrote a letter to the Washington Post, complaining that the study “is not honest, fact-based, or exhaustive.” However, the organization has not presented a full scientific rebuttal or specific reasons for its assertion. In view of the doubts and the dire impact, the Mexican government has demanded an explanation from the OAS. Neither the OAS leadership nor the mission have responded to the request.

There are reports that the OAS followed the political dictates of the U.S. government in precipitating the Bolivian coup. The Los Angeles Times reported:

“Carlos Trujillo, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, had steered the group’s election-monitoring team to report widespread fraud and pushed the Trump administration to support the ouster of Morales. (The State Department denied Trujillo exercised undue influence on the report and said it respects the autonomy of the OAS. Trujillo, through a spokesman, declined a request for an interview.)”

The OAS’s lack of transparency regarding its mission to Bolivia has compounded suspicions. Unlike other election observations, all of which should be included in the OAS public database, the 2019 Bolivia mission does not appear at all. The OAS press office has not responded to numerous queries regarding the omission of the data on the Bolivian mission, including the names of the members and other pertinent information.


The November 2017 presidential elections in Honduras provide another example of the OAS’s political agenda. That year, right-wing incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernandez ran despite a ban on his seeking re-election, which was suspended by a highly questionable court ruling that declared the constitution itself unconstitutional.

On election night, after announcing that the opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla had established an “irreversible” lead, the Electoral Tribunal shut down the vote count and later returned to announce the incumbent’s unlikely victory amid massive disbelief. The OAS mission questioned the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, known as JOH by his initials, and announced the elections too dirty to call. Almagro called for new elections.

By contrast, the Trump administration immediately endorsed the Honduran Electoral Tribunal’s position and congratulated Orlando Herndandez on his supposed victory, while pressuring allies to do the same. Following the U.S. lead, Almagro eventually backed down from his insistence on new elections and accepted the incumbent government.

The Hondurans administration brutally repressed widespread popular protests following the election, leaving more than 30 opposition demonstrators dead. While the direct blame lies with the Honduran government, the OAS’s inability to assure or restore clean elections, and its compliance with U.S. policy causing it to reverse its original position, contributed to the breakdown of rule of law in the country.

Today the political crisis continues to claim lives and forces thousands of Hondurans to emigrate every month.

Dominican Republic 

OAS actions in the Dominican Republic’s botched local elections on February 20 again reveal its bias.

The OAS pressured the island government to adopt an automated voting system that went bonkers on polling day. When Dominicans tried to vote, the names of certain candidates did not appear on the screens in nearly half the precincts. The OAS Electoral Observation Mission promised to study the failure, but to date has not been able to identify the technical problem, which it was its job to avoid, or explain why it didn’t catch it earlier.

The Elections Board suspended the elections just hours after the polls opened and rescheduled them for March. Although local elections may seem minor, they are the forerunner to presidential elections in May and the results affect the campaigns. Dominicans are marching to demand the resignation of the Elections Board and call for fair elections, amid claims of fraud and sabotage.

Contrary to its actions in Bolivia, after the Dominican elections fiasco, the OAS mission did not immediately release a destabilizing report alleging manipulation. Instead, it supported the Elections Board’s decision to reschedule elections and scrap the U.S.-based automated system, which cost the island a reported $80 million between equipment and the aborted elections.

Faced with a major breakdown in the system in the Dominican Republic, the OAS mission and its Secretary General did not point fingers, stating prudently: “To date there is no evidence to indicate a willful misuse of the electronic instruments designed for automated voting.”

Despite the obvious discrepancy between the two cases, however, the OAS’s press release used the opportunity to defend its Bolivia mission, promising to apply “the same standards of  technical quality and professional rigor as the process that was recently carried out in Bolivia” — leading some Dominicans to note on Twitter that the comparison was not reassuring.

Commentators have blamed the OAS in part for the breakdown in the Dominican system. In New York City, Dominican immigrants demonstrated in front of OAS headquarters against the “elections disaster” and called for to respect the vote. U.S. Congressman Adriano Epaillat demanded that the head of the Elections Board resign. But the scores of OAS observers working on-site in the country before, during, and after the events, have discreetly not criticized the government or explained what went wrong.

Protestors insist that the system failure favors the ruling Dominican Liberation Party by buying them an extra month. The ruling party’s presidential candidate trails in polls for the May elections. President Danilo Medina has a close relationship with the U.S. government — he met with Trump and four other leaders of Caribbean nations at Mar-a-Lago March 21, 2019 to consolidate support for Trump administration policies to remove Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro from office and support Almagro’s OAS re-election bid, apparently in return for investments in their nations.


Almagro is invested in the results of elections in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) holds 14 of the 34 votes in the OAS.

The small island nation of Dominica recently denounced Almagro’s interference in its own December 6 elections. Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who has publicly rejected “interference in the internal affairs of any country” — including Venezuela — won reelection handily.

But just days before the voting, Almagro tweeted support for opposition demands, as demonstrations by anti-Skerrit forces grew violent. Dominica’s foreign minister, Francine Baron, said to the OAS: “We are concerned by public pronouncements that have been made by the Secretary General, which display bias, disregard for the governments of member states, and call into question his role and the organization’s role as an honest broker.”

Democracy at Stake

Speaking in Mexico in August 2019, Almagro stated that if the public does not trust election results, it severely affects the quality of a democracy. However, his partisan role and the biased and dishonest actions of OAS election observation missions have severely undermined democracy in the region.

The region faces major challenges in the near future: 2020 presidential elections in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, an upcoming Chilean constitutional referendum, and 2021 key presidential elections in Nicaragua, Peru, and Ecuador. These elections could either resolve or enflame political crises.

Impartial election observation by qualified experts can instill trust in the electoral process, expose corrupt and anti-democratic practices, and head off post-electoral conflicts. The region urgently needs an organization that is willing and able to play this role professionally — and not act in favor of other regional interests and powers.

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Global Warming on a Rampage

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Global warming is not waiting around for the signatories to the Paris climate accord ‘15 to go to net zero emissions 2030/50. Sorry, those bold plans are way too little way too late. Already, across the board, the planet is on a hot streak that defies all projections. It’s starting to look downright scary!

Listen… when Helsinki has no snow in January/February accompanied by inordinate heat, it’s a powerful signal that “something is not right.” According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute: “Monthly records were not just broken, they were shattered with large margins.” (Source: 9 Freaky Phenomena Revealing How Warm This Winter Was, Treehugger, March 3, 2020)

Not only that, across the planet, heat-heat-heat too much heat is altering ecosystems beyond expectations, as, for example, an “uncharted granite island” suddenly emerged from rapidly melting ice in Antarctica, surprising researchers stationed off the coast of the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, which has the troubling distinction as one of the fastest retreating glaciers in the world. The research team named the new discovery Sif Island.

Similar to global warming’s recent onslaught, Pine Island Glacier also is not waiting around for Paris ’15 signatories to take mitigation steps to avert catastrophic “Global Warming,” which likely will be officially renamed “Global Heating” at some point in time in the near future, not global warming, which term is already out-of-date.

Perilously, Pine Island Glacier experienced yet another monster iceberg calving event February 2020 the size of a U.S. state. Monster calving events used to occur every 5-6-7 years but have become annual events. Making matters scarier yet, “large cracks in the ice shelf are forming in places that scientists hadn’t seen before, such as the middle of the ice shelf.” (Source: Iceberg That’s Twice the Size of Washington Cleaves off Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, in a Sign of Warming, The Washington Post, February 10, 2020)

Scientists are deeply concerned and closely monitoring Pine Island Glacier and nearby Thwaites Glacier for signals of “runaway melting” that would free up inland ice flow. The ice shelves that are calving hold back rapid glacial flow to the sea. According to NASA, just those two glaciers hold back a surrounding region of potential glacial ice flow that could raise sea levels by 4 feet, which is a mere 2% of total Antarctic sea level rise locked in ice.

Therefore, the sudden emergence of Sif Island out of the blue is not a comforting signal. Not only that, but according to Carlos Schaefer, a Brazilian government scientist who’s analyzing recent Antarctica temperatures of 68°F (sizzling hot for Antarctica): “We have never seen anything like this.”

Dreadfully, the entire planet is being hit with hot stuff. French ski resorts had to import snow with helicopters. Snow-less Moscow shattered previous record temperatures by an astonishing 3.5°C.

And, heaping one disaster on top of another disaster, Japan’s Daisen White Ski Resort had to shut down early in January because it was so hot that fake-generated snow melted as soon as it was generated. And, for the first time ever, ever, ever Germany was unable to make ice-wine in any of the German wine regions. The 2019 ice-wine vintage will go down as the first-ever no harvest. It was too hot!

Still, by all appearances, global average temperatures are a misleading indicator for public instruction of global warming’s true impact. Global averages miss the true impact of regional global warming events that have the power to undercut life, as we know it.

For example, Yakutia, an eastern Siberian federal Russian republic, has heated up by more than 3°C preindustrial or three-times the global average, bringing on disastrous results. Yakutia, one-third the size of the U.S., has seen its arable land for farming plummet by more than 50% as a result of cascading permafrost. And, buildings are sagging into the ground, hillsides are collapsing, and lakes suddenly appear throughout the region. Life is turning chaotic.

All of which brings to mind the ever-dicey East Siberian Arctic Shelf where massive quantities of subsea permafrost contains and holds back vast reservoirs of methane frozen in ice in extremely shallow waters, unfortunately. Even though mainstream science believes the risks are low of a major eruption of methane out of the ESAS, which in turn could ignite powerful damaging Runaway Global Warming, there are serious scientists who have studied the ESAS in detail and who adamantly claim otherwise by assigning a high risk to the event, which would take civilization down to its knees by decimating agricultural regions across the planet as well as turning several latitudinal zones uninhabitable.

Meanwhile, according to the IEA (International Energy Agency) fossil fuel companies plan on increasing oil and gas production by 120% to 2030. Demand for oil is irrepressible. And, not only that, China is embarking on mega-mega construction plans for new coal-burning power plants, and so is India, and Japan recently announced its intention of building 22 new coal-burning plants over the next 5 years.

All of that in the face of irrefutable evidence of acceleration of climate change well beyond the influence of natural events. Still, Trumpers refuse to recognize and act upon that reality, thus unofficially blessing other nations increases in fossil fuel usage and thus silently encouraging rejection of Paris ’15. Is that wayward influence a plot hatched in America?

As a result, and with great fanfare, trumpets blaring, and drums rolling, Trump has been crowned “the Worst President for our Environment in History” by nine major green orgs: Alaska Wilderness League Action, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, EDF Action, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society. Trump is Global Warming’s Man of the Year 2019.

The year 2019 is the 43rd consecutive year, since 1977, with both land and ocean temperatures above the global 20th century average. And, of extreme significant deep concern, the global rate of global warming has doubled, specifically since 1977. That is an ominous and clear signal of acceleration of an unwelcoming rate of global warming. Frankly, it’s horrible news. Brace yourself!

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Will COVID-19 Kill Globalization?

Photograph Source: CDC/Dr. Fred Murphy – Public Domain

At a dinner party in mid-February, an architect told me that he was having a problem finishing his building projects. It was the carpets.

Most wall-to-wall carpeting for big construction projects in the United States, he explained, comes from China. The coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan — and the subsequent shutdown of many Chinese factories — was having a ripple effect across the global economy all the way down to the carpeting in U.S. buildings.

The global spread of a new pathogen has exposed the fragility of modern life. As it moves around the world, the coronavirus has compromised the circulatory system of globalization, dramatically reducing the international flow of money, goods, and people. The disease has done so rather economically, by infecting fewer than 100,000 people so far. Extrapolation and fear have done most of the work for it.

In the world of things, the coronavirus has infected the global supply chains that connect manufacturers and consumers. Port traffic in Los Angeles, the largest U.S. port, declined by 25 percent in February. Container traffic in general was down over 10 percent last month.

Manufacturers that depend on the sourcing of components in far-off countries had already been rethinking their participation in the global assembly line because of tariffs, the costs of transport, and increased automation. This “reshoring” will get a boost from the disruptions of the coronavirus.

People, too, are not moving around as much. Airline service in and out of emerging hot spots — South Korea, Italy — has been cancelled. Airline ticket sales last week were down 10 percent over the same period last year. The cruise industry, after outbreaks on a couple big ships, has taken a major hit.

After blithely ignoring the coronavirus outbreak in China for most of February, markets took a major dive in the final week of the month. The stock market lost $6 trillion in value last week, its worst showing since the financial crisis of a decade ago. This is testament to both the persistence of the disease and the incompetence of certain national leaders, notably Donald Trump. Despite the intervention of the Federal Reserve and other central banks, market volatility continues.

It might seem ridiculous to expect that a pathogen, even one that spreads at the rate of a pandemic, could reverse an economic trajectory that’s more than a century in the making. But the coronavirus outbreak coincides with attacks on economic globalization from many different quarters.

Environmentalists, for instance, have long been skeptical of unrestrained global economic growth. The threat of climate change has sharpened that critique and placed it squarely in the middle of mainstream debate.

Meanwhile, worsening economic inequality has called into question the capacity of economic globalization to lift all boats in a rising tide. Even the IMF has acknowledged the pernicious impact of this inequality (but without engaging in the necessary institutional overhaul to address the problem).

Finally, a slowing of global economic integration over the last decade suggests that the world may already have passed peak globalization.

On top of these systemic challenges, a rising political populism has targeted the global economic elite as the enemy of “the people.” Donald Trump challenged this elite and their orthodoxy of free trade by imposing tariffs on allies and adversaries alike and by withdrawing U.S. participation in big trade pacts, like the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The trade war he began with China has had perhaps the greatest impact. It has hit both economies hard, with job loss, higher bills for consumers, and lost markets for manufacturers and farmers. The recent agreement between Beijing and Washington notwithstanding, most of the tariffs remain in place.

Meanwhile, the UK finally pulled out of the European Union this year, which was a victory for economic nationalists. Populists elsewhere have railed against what Steve Bannon calls the “Davos class.” Neoliberal orthodoxy has given way to pronouncements of America First, Brazil First, and the like.

Such a setback is not necessarily fatal. Globalization has been challenged before by financial crises, pandemics like the Hong Kong Flu, even the specter of Y2K.

This time around, however, the failure of the global community to establish new rules of the road for the economy, the environment, and health care is creating a perfect storm of international disfunction. If something with a relatively low mortality rate like the coronavirus — between one percent and four percent, compared to 50 percent for Ebola — can do such a number on the global economy, perhaps the patient was already suffering from some pretty dire underlying conditions.


When people travel, they bring all sorts of luggage, including pathogens.

Thus was the great era of exploration also the dismal era of genocide. Explorers to the New World brought a panoply of diseases like smallpox and measles that were new to the indigenous communities. The colonial invaders subjected the Americas to war and slavery. But it was those diseases that were largely responsible for a catastrophic reduction in populations up and down the Americas. As many as 56 million people, or 10 percent of the world population at the time, died by the beginning of the 1600s. The mortality rate for the indigenous communities was an astonishing 90 percent.

In exchange, the explorers returned to their native countries with syphilis, a horrible disease to be sure, but it didn’t radically depopulate Europe.

Pandemics are closely associated with the movement of traders and soldiers. Roman soldiers returning from Mesopotamia were responsible for the plague that ravaged the empire in the second century AD, one of several pandemics that helped end Rome’s global dominance. The bubonic plague of the fourteenth century began in China and reached Europe via merchant ships carrying flea-infested rats. In the modern era, soldiers returning home from fighting in World War I spread the Spanish flu, killing up to 50 million people.

This last pandemic was one of the factors behind the collapse of the first wave of modern globalization. Prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the world had never been more tightly connected with steamships, trains, and the telegraph serving as the connective tissue. Trade as a proportion of GDP stood at 14 percent on the eve of the war.

The devastation of World War I followed by the flu epidemic dealt a heavy blow to world trade and economic integration. The global economic depression of the 1920s, the rise of various types of nationalism, and a second world war ensured that, by 1945, trade as a proportion of GDP had dropped to a mere 5 percent.

Modern globalization is made possible by modern medicine. A couple of pandemics have broken out since 1945, but they haven’t disrupted the global circulatory system. In the ancient Akkadian language, the word for epidemic disease meant “certain death.” Only recently have medical professionals been able to handle outbreaks of disease on such a scale.

Thanks to a second wave of globalization, trade would rise again to the levels it registered in 1914 — but only by the late 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, a third wave of globalization removed more barriers to the movement of goods and money. Even China, a nominally Communist country, joined the World Trade Organization at the end of 2001. It has since offered its own version of globalization through the Belt and Road initiative that places China at the center of a burgeoning network of trade and finance.

The coronavirus, by itself, will not put an end to this most recent wave of globalization. Like the flu pandemic of 1918, it could contribute to a trend of greater fragmentation. Or, by serving as a reminder of how the health of humanity has been mutually dependent across borders for millennia, the latest outbreak could prompt a rethinking of how the world works together.

Things Fall Apart?

China will prove pivotal in determining which direction the world heads.

At the moment, economic pundits in the West are exhibiting a degree of schadenfreude at Beijing’s difficulties. Kenneth Rapoza, for instance, argues in Forbes that “The new coronavirus Covid-19 will end up being the final curtain on China’s nearly 30 year role as the world’s leading manufacturer.” The global assembly line was already shifting away from Chinese sources as a result of Trump’s tariffs, so the pandemic only reinforces this trend.

China could still come out a winner in all of this. No longer dependent on low-end manufacturing, it could invest its surplus capital into an even greater push toward higher value-added production, particularly in the digital sphere. This shift could facilitate a major reduction in the country’s carbon footprint as well.

Much depends on the U.S.-China relationship. Long before the coronavirus crisis, the U.S. policy elite had already moved away from supporting engagement with China. China was already prepared for disengagement. It had laid the groundwork for an alternative globalization, denominated in the renminbi and financed by the country’s considerable trade surpluses. Many countries in China’s vicinity opted to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative and receive financing from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

At the very moment that China and the United States need to forge a new consensus on economy and environment, the two countries are heading in different directions. And that will make it very difficult for the international community, such that it is, to come up with global solutions to what are increasingly global problems such as climate change and pandemics.

Because of the coronavirus, China has rediscovered how dependent it is on the rest of the world — to buy Chinese products, to supply Chinese consumers, to provide raw materials for Chinese business, to service Chinese tourists.

China’s projected growth rate for 2020 has been revised down from 6 percent to 5 percent, but it might drop even further. Sociologist Walden Bello has long argued that the Chinese economy is in fact quite fragile — with overcapacity in the manufacturing sector, a real-estate bubble, high rates of debt, and growing inequality.

With the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing was hoping it could grow its way out of these problems. That strategy depends on a number of unknown variables, which in the short term include the persistence of the pandemic and the results of the upcoming presidential election in the United States.

The coronavirus is a wake-up call for both Beijing and Washington. The new status quo of a revived Cold War between the two hegemons is unworkable. It’s time for another wave of globalization, but this time one that reduces carbon emissions, proceeds more equitably, and strengthens the capacity of international institutions to fight pandemics.

It won’t happen without U.S.-China cooperation. And that won’t happen without a different U.S. president and a different approach in Beijing.

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Toilet Paper Blues: Coronavirus and Pandemic Pantries

Photograph Source: U.S. Department of State from United States – CC BY 2.0

Fears of imminent apocalypse tend to be midwives to absurdity.  The stockpiling fever that has gripped various populaces in response to the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has taken various forms.  “Pandemic pantries” are becoming the norm, suggesting that hoarding in the crisis tends to be a precursor to petty crime.

In the United Sates, the price of hand sanitizers has risen by 73 percent in dollar value since February 22.  A Nielsen report on these trends reads glumly: “Consumers around the world are actively stockpiling emergency supplies as concerns grow that the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) could become a worldwide pandemic.”  But the focus of such purchases lies beyond such supplies, including “basic foodstuffs, including canned goods, flour, sugar and bottled water.”  Non-food essentials also feature in buying behaviour, including first aid-kits.

One item has risen in prominence in the purchasing schedule.  A visit to various shopping outlets in Australia – at least in cities – will greet the customer with shelves emptied of toilet paper.  The phenomenon struck the BBC as amusing enough to run an image of a toilet roll emptied of paper with the question: “Does this strike fear into your heart?”

Australia’s chief medical officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, did his bit, albeit a touch officiously, by suggesting that such empty lavatory rolls were not to be feared.  “We are trying to reassure people,” he told Australian parliamentarians, “that removing all the lavatory paper from the shelves of supermarkets probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do at this time.”

This fevered rush prompted a veteran journalist of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to issue a curt reminder. “Most, if not all, toilet paper is made in Australia.  It is NOT imported,” tweeted a grumpy Michael Rowland.  “The manufacturers are ramping up production to replenish shelves stripped bare by panic buying.  Australia will not run out of toilet paper.  So everybody can calm down.”

Not quite everybody.  On social media, the viral nature of COVID-19 trends alongside that other viral spread: the hashtag.  These include #toiletpapergate, #toiletpapercrisis and, as of today, #toiletpaperemergency.  Limits on the number of rolls have been imposed in some supermarket chains.  Woolworths has capped the limit at four to, in the words of a spokesman, ensure “more customers have access to the products”. The limit would “help shore up stock levels as suppliers ramp up local production and deliveries in response to higher than usual demand.”

One contributor to a Facebook group page made her feelings clear about the whole business.  “So I just went to Woolies (in Perth),” wrote a troubled Amy Bainbridge on Mums Who Budget & Save, “and found there’s a 4 packlimit on toilet paper during this ‘shortage’.  Our store only had a few 4 roll Kleenex $7 packs which I had to succumb to due to 6 kids!”  An Aldi Mums Facebook group was filled with indignation.  “Panic buying causes hysteria,” observed one furious contributor.  “People who really need these products won’t be able to get them because of this madness.”

As tempting as it would be to see Australians as being idiosyncratic in this regard, other countries affected by COVID-19 have also gone on the toilet paper purchase spree.  Over the weekend, shoppers descended upon Costco, WinCo and Fred Meyer in Oregon on hearing word that COVID-19 cases had been found in the Portland area.  For David Dunstan, manager of Tigard WinCo foods the purchasing patterns seemed odd.  “Honestly – they’re just stocking up, preparing for the end of the world.”

In Japan, toilets for customers are replete with threatening language promising to punish the paper pinchers.  Restrooms have been closed.  The country had descended, wrote a hyperbolic correspondent for the Financial Times, “into Lord of the Flies-style depravity.”  A country proud of its chatty, multi-functional toilets, the envy of the world, is taking a battering in image.  The authorities, from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe down, are not deemed credible.  “On this matter,” went the view of one shopper as noted by the FT, “we cannot trust Abe.  He says Japan is self-sufficient in toilet paper, but anyone can see the shops are empty.”

In Hong Kong, toilet paper larceny has made a very public appearance.  Three masked men took some HK$1,600 worth of toilet paper last month – some 600 rolls in 50 packets in Mong Kok. “This is a senseless act,” a grave spokeswoman for the Wellcome store chain explained to journalists, “and we are shocked.”  The fact that the items were toilet paper would not necessarily lead to a lenient appraisal of the court. “Whether it is money or toilet paper being robbed,” opined barrister Albert Luk Wai, “that’s not the most important consideration by the court.”

Be it heists, panic buying, the emergence of pandemic pantries, the coronavirus phenomenon is itself becoming merely a part of various other outbreaks.  “Consumers’ irrational behaviour,” Allen Adamson of New York University’s Stern School of Business tells us tritely, “will certainly do more damage than reality will.”  The reaction to COVID-19 threatens a slowing economic growth, disrupting supply chains and perpetrating a shortage of necessaries.  But most disturbing of all, it has nourished the undergrowth of suspicion against fellow human and the authorities.

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The Immigration Churn

Photograph Source: Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General – Public Domain

Rochester NY pastor Katie Jo Suddaby was recently on the Southern border and witnessed first-hand the horrors the US is perpetrating on Central American migrants there. She reported about this at The Historic Calvary at Andrews Church; what follows is my writeup of her talk.

Rev Suddaby started with the central, chilling point she wanted us, above all, to take away from the talk, namely that the US is regularly torturing innocent men, women and children in our name, within concentration camps on the border not unlike those in Nazi Germany. These facilities are so crowded that migrants have to take turns lying or sitting down. All the camps have or will have an “Ice Box,” a room kept at freezing temperatures to torture  migrants for between 24 hrs and several months. ICE is stopping volunteer doctors from providing vaccines and is withholding vital medication (such as insulin or  antiseizure drugs) from people while they are in the Ice Box. Food provided is often spoiled or otherwise inedible, no soap or toothbrushes are provided, and conditions are horribly unsanitary. Family separation is used regularly as a torture tactic, and people of all ages are dying in US custody. The stated purpose of all these horrific practices is to deter other migrants from attempting to come to the US. Why, then, are all these migrants leaving their countries to risk the arduous journey to come here? Ironically, US foreign policy has itself created this humanitarian disaster and desperate “invading caravan.”

US regime change policies in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and other Central American countries over recent decades have destabilized their governments and empowered criminal elements such as drug cartels. The cartels force Mexican and Central American farmers to grow poppies, staying poor with no feasible alternative. Small business owners and others are also controlled by the cartels.The US is the main market for these drug cartels since Americans consume and are often addicted to the vast majority of Central American and Mexican-made drugs. This means we provide the demand that funds the cartels, which makes them powerful, in collaboration with the oppressive, corrupt governments we put in power in these countries.  These entities can then afford to buy the guns we sell in massive quantities to these Central American countries. The resulting armed lawlessness in these countries causes families in Central America and Southern Mexico to flee for safety, at great risk and hardship, to our Southern Border.

We’ve seen what awaits them when they get here. But most don’t even get through when they seek asylum. The US places legal, physical, and psychological barriers against all immigrants (both legal and illegal), creating a humanitarian crisis at the border. While in Mexico, migrants often cannot work, and they are vulnerable to the very cartels they escaped as well as to criminals. Mexico is not a “safe third country,” as claimed by the US administration turning its back on asylum seekers. Central American and Mexican cartels have connections in border cities, Mexican police are paid by cartels to find and kill people who have escaped, and Mexican criminals prey on the displaced because they are an easy target for kidnapping and ransom.

It is illegal for the US government to turn away an asylum seeker, and Mexico also cannot legally turn away asylum seekers or participate in the US’s illegal actions. Neither government is legally allowed to “manage” a number system whereby asylum seekers are given a number that determines their court date. So the governments have turned the management of the illegal number system over to a group of migrants. This group records people’s numbers by hand in a notebook and gives out numbers on a slip of paper. The US tells them how many (arbitrarily determined) numbers they can call per day. People wait months in Mexico for their “credible fear” interview to justify their need for asylum in a US court.

Often when the asylum seeker reports to the border for their next court date, they find that it has not been registered with the Mexican (or American) border patrol, so they are not allowed to cross to make their court date. Their case is then dismissed for “failure to appear.”

Legal help is regularly unavailable because US Border officers are “flagging” the US Passports of legal aid workers volunteering in Mexico so that the volunteers are stopped, subjected to extra searches and delays, and sometimes not allowed into Mexico for days or weeks at a time. They cannot help asylum seekers prepare their cases. All paperwork submitted to an immigration hearing has to be in English. And asylum seekers are required to afford and provide their own US lawyer.

The rabidly anti-immigrant US government, along with the private prison companies that profit massively from the detention center costs, spread the message that we need more horrific concentration camps, both to house alleged migrant “criminals” and drug traffickers and to deter others from trying to come. So the cycle, the “immigration churn,” continues unabated and the needless, endless suffering goes on and on.

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Jobs Before COVID-19: Strong Employment Numbers, Weak Wage Growth

Wage growth slowed further in February to just 3.0 percent over the last year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy added 273,000 jobs in February. The January figure was revised up to the same number, which, along with an upward revision to December’s number, brought the three-month average to a very strong 243,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate edged back down to 3.5 percent, reversing the January rise. However, the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) also edged down 0.1 percentage points from the recovery high reached in January. The EPOP for prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54) also edged down by 0.1 percentage points to 80.5 percent, but it is still 0.6 percentage points above its year-ago level.

In spite of the strong job growth, wage growth continues to weaken. Over the last year, the average hourly wage has risen by just 3.0 percent. The annualized rate for the last three months (December, January, February) compared with the prior three months (September, October, November) was 2.8 percent, suggesting further slowing.

A factor supporting the view that the labor market is weaker than suggested by the unemployment rate is the drop in the share of unemployment due to voluntary quits to 13.4 percent. The year-round average in 2000 was 13.7 percent, with a peak of 15.2 percent.

Other data in the household survey were mixed. There were few major changes in unemployment or employment rates for major demographic groups; although the EPOP for Hispanics rose 0.2 percentage points to 65.1 percent, a new high for the recovery. The duration measures of unemployment all fell slightly.

On the other side, the number of people involuntarily working part-time increased by 136,000 to 4,318,000. This is now slightly above its year-ago level. There was also a modest rise in voluntary part-time employment to 22,175,000.

The share of voluntary part-time employment in total employment had been on a downward path until the Affordable Care Act took full effect in 2014, as people had improved access to health care outside of employment. This was most important for young mothers who opted to work part-time to spend more time with their kids. However, the share seems to be headed downward again in the last two years.

The employment gains in the establishment survey were broadly spread across sectors. Construction had another strong month, adding 42,000 in February after adding 49,000 in January. This was likely in part attributable to unusually warm winter weather in the Northeast and Midwest. Manufacturing added 15,000 jobs, after shedding 20,000 in January. Employment in the sector is up by 31,000 from its year-ago level.

Coal mining was a job loser in February, shedding 500 jobs, which is just under 1.0 percent of employment in the sector. The current number of 50,600 is 300 fewer than when Trump took office.

Health care added 31,600 jobs, close to its average of 30,600 over the last year. There was a big jump of 52,600 in restaurant employment, well above the average of 25,300 over the last year. This is another piece of evidence suggesting weakness in the labor market. In a tight labor market, this low-paying sector should be having trouble finding workers.

The government sector was a big contributor to job growth, adding 45,000 in February after a gain of 51,000 in January. This compares to an average of just 21,800 over the last year.

Professional and technical services added 32,300 jobs in February, somewhat above its average of 23,800 over the last year. Retail lost 7,000 jobs in February, bringing its loss over the last year to 7,800.

While this report can be seen on the whole as positive, given the strong job growth and the sharp upward revisions to the prior two months’ numbers, there is also clear evidence that the labor market is not as tight as it could be. The slowing of wage growth is the most important factor, but the relatively low share of unemployment due to voluntary quits, along with the sharp growth in restaurant employment suggest workers do not have their choice of jobs.

This report is sort of a calm-before-the-storm, since there was no coronavirus effect at the time of the survey in mid-February. On the plus side, this should give the Fed and Congress confidence that they can move forward with stimulatory measures without any fear of overheating the labor market.

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

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Time to Stop Pretending People With Serious Psychosis Can be “Independent”

On 30 March last year, a man suffering from severe mental illness walked out of his flat in north London and stabbed a woman in the back with a knife, inflicting injuries that left her paralysed for life. She was a complete stranger to him, as were the four other people whom he met by chance in the street over the next three days and stabbed in the back.

Jason Kakaire, 30, had a long history of psychotic illness. He had once been in sheltered accommodation, but that had closed because of a lack of money. At the time of the attacks, he was living in a seventh-floor flat in a run-down tower block in Edmonton, where he was visited once a month by a mental health team that gave him his medication.

He later told psychiatrists that he suffered from hallucinations and heard voices in his head that told him to kill himself. In the days before he began stabbing strangers, these voices became more threatening, telling him that they were going to kill him. He said that he felt that “he needed to go out and kill people to prevent himself from being killed”.

Kakaire was going to stand trial for attempted murder, but admitted this week to 10 charges of wounding with intent and possessing a knife. He will be sentenced in May.

The case has become something of a cause celebre, because it shows up the failure of the NHS – and of health services around the world – to stop disasters like this. “No question it could have been prevented,” says Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of mental health charity Sane, who has come to know the Kakaire family well.

She asks why somebody as sick as Kakaire, pursued by demons in his head, should have been assessed as low risk to himself and others. Described as a polite, lonely individual, he was too frightened by his voices to leave the building to go to an outpatient appointment. When his mother reported that he was thinking about suicide, she was told to seal up the windows in his flat so he could not jump out.

Fifty years ago, the severity of Kakaire’s psychosis would probably have meant that he would have been given a bed in a mental hospital, but these beds no longer exist. Despite repeated government claims that it is prioritising mental health, the number of beds available for people with acute mental illness fell by 30 per cent between 2009 and 2018, from 26,448 to 18,082. The number of mental health nurses dropped by 6,000, the number of specialist doctors by 600, over the same period.

Tragically, the provision of help to those with serious mental illness has been squeezed from both right and left over the last half century. Hospital care was supposed to have been replaced by “care in the community”, which makes an appealing but deceptive slogan, but has turned out to mean, as one former government minister put it: “Couldn’t-care-less in the community.”

A great attraction of this approach from the point of view of governments and health authorities is that it saves a great deal of money. If you compare the financial cost of treating a mentally ill person through an occasional visit by a care team with giving them a hospital bed, the care team is an estimated 44 times cheaper than the hospital, says Wallace. She stresses that the vast majority of mentally ill people are non-violent, but says that research by Sane showed that more than half of the 120 homicides committed annually by mentally ill people in the UK happened because of multiple failures by care services. The most common of these is simply not listening to repeated warnings from mentally ill people or their families about what they might do.

The running down of hospitals and other institutions caring for the mentally ill is one of the cruellest and most regressive developments of our era. Government has justified it, in the UK as elsewhere, by claiming from the 1950s onwards that “de-institutionalisation” was in the interests of patients. In reality, it was often exchanging one institution (a psychiatric hospital) for another (prison).

One reason why mentally ill people are so often being left to sink or swim on their own is that people of goodwill seldom have much understanding of the causes and treatment of mental illness. There is what some call the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” attitude, fostered by the film of the same name, which saw mental hospitals as essentially places of incarceration. It stood to reason, in this view, that patients would be better off free, and relied instead on some form of benign but unspecified communal care.

A more serious argument was that advances in medicine since the 1950s enabled doctors to control, though not cure, many aspects of mental illness. Moreover, these new medications did not require the patient to be in hospital because most of them (though not the most effective ones) could be administered by slow-acting injection.

The problem is that there are many gradations of mental illness, but this perception has been blurred by a well-intentioned but counterproductive effort to stop the mentally ill being marginalised. Rachel Jenkins, professor emeritus at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London, says that “in order to avoid stigma over the last 20 years, people have been calling mental illness ‘mental health issues’, thus creating endless confusions.”

Jenkins says that we are really talking about three distinct categories of mental illness: acute psychosis, which may require hospitalisation; non-psychotic mental disorders such as depression and anxiety; and people with lesser mental problems, which includes a large proportion of the population. People who are psychotic need to be treated very differently from the others.

People with serious psychosis frequently cannot look after themselves, and may be a risk to themselves and others. Looking after them and trying to improve their condition requires great resources, but these have been steadily stripped away since the mid-20th century. As a result, “care in the community” usually ends up meaning care by one’s family, so its degree depends on that family’s resources and income.

By trying to avoid frightening words like “madness” and “insanity”, people who had the laudable intention of destigmatising mental illness have ended up diluting the traditional – and quite correct – belief that acute psychosis is a shattering experience. The pretense that a psychotic person can take rational decisions in their own interests may appear to be a humane approach – but it sends out the message that a person who would once have been considered in desperate need of help can be left to their own devices – or, as happened to Kakaire, to their own voices.

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