Counterpunch Articles

The Trump-Modi Lovefest: a Hideous Pseudo-Event

Donald Trump is back in the US from his trip to India. His visit overlapped with some of the time I spent in Delhi, and watching the saturation media-coverage of the visit was in turns painful (because of the grotesquerie on display) and an absolute hoot (again, because of the grotesquerie on display).

There was much ceremony, accompanied by Trump’s usual disjointed speech with the usual botched pronunciations, and mirth-inducing staged events that were possibly the work of a contemporary but hidden Charlie Chaplin.

Ahmedabad (the city where he attended a Namaste Trump rally in his honour) became “Ababaad”; namaste became “namuste”; India’s greatest modern cricketer Sachin Tendulkar became “Soochin”; a reference to Narendra Modi’s humble origins as a chaiwallah (street tea-seller) saw the chaiwallah-turned-prime minister become a “cheewallah”; Gujarat, Modi’s home state, was “Gujaat”; the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, became the “Vestas”; the famous spiritual leader Vivekananda was “Vivekamunand”; and this is just a sample.

Modi had begun proceedings at the rally by praising a certain “Dolan Trump”, so perhaps Trump thought he could out-do his host by flaunting his well-known repertoire of pronunciational blunders.

Trump’s stumbles over the simplest of names were a bonanza for trolls on Indian social media– truly, the Covfefe Curse follows that orange fellow around the world!

Security at the stadium in Ahmedabad included a squadron of 40 police officers mounted on camels.

The Village People’s “Macho Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones were among the musical items exploding from the stadium’s public address system.

The biggest cheer in the stadium came when Trump said the US and India were united in accepting the need to “defend ourselves from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism”.

Someone should have reminded the audience that many more Americans die each year from domestic gun violence than they do from “radical Islamic terrorism”.

Trump’s administration has said nothing about the BJP’s anti-Muslim ideology, and Trump himself refused to comment directly on the mayhem caused by Hindu nationalist mobs which attacked at least 10 Muslim neighbourhoods, where peaceful protests against the CAA were taking place.

In a news conference shortly before his departure from India Trump was asked about the violence, and said the issue was “up to India”, while also praising Modi’s “incredible” statements on religious freedom.

In sharp contrast, Trump’s administration has been vocal about China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslims, as well as blacklisting 8 Chinese companies whose products are used in the surveillance of Uighurs. Trump’s order bans US companies from exporting high-tech equipment to these firms.

So far 43 people have died from the violence, and hundreds more have been injured. Houses, shops, cars, and mosques have been gutted in these attacks.

There has been brutality on both sides, but all media reports confirm that the victims were overwhelmingly Muslim. Muslim men were asked for their IDs, and if these were not produced, their trousers were ripped off to see if they were circumcised (circumcision being required of Muslim men).

As with previous attacks on 2 universities with a reputation for being leftwing— Jamia Milia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University—the police were fully complicit with the Hindu mobs.

Police officers joined in the attacks, ambulances were prevented by the police from aiding the victims, and calls to police stations for help were ignored.

A video, authenticated by fact-checking organizations, is being circulated on social media, showing blood-bespattered Muslim men injured from police beatings being forced to sing the national anthem and patriotic songs while they prostrate themselves on the ground.

A Delhi judge who criticized the police and the BJP government’s handling of the crisis over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was packed-off to another state.

The CAA came into law in December last year, and provides a fast-track to citizenship for refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who sought refuge in India prior to 2015. The CAA excludes Muslims, while including Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Christian and Parsi refugees.

The Delhi high court judge Justice S. Muralidhar, in addition to criticizing the police, also called for an official investigation of BJP politicians who were inciting violence. Muralidhar was transferred to another state court the same day in a late-night order, in what many regard as a crude attempt to intimidate the judiciary.

Modi has responded to the violence by making a quite underwhelming and utterly inconsequential appeal for “peace and brotherhood”.

If history repeats itself– the precedent here is Modi’s time as chief minister of Gujarat when 1000 people, 800 of them Muslim, were killed in communal riots in 2002, while Modi was accused of turning a blind eye to the violence (later, a judicial commission cleared him of “collusion” with the rioters)–he will lie low for a while before resuming his old Hindu-nationalist tricks.

Modi has never expressed regret for the Gujarat pogrom, and it is unlikely that he will do so this time.

Meanwhile, after the Namaste Trump rally, Trump and his entourage visited the Gandhi ashram, where they had high tea. Gandhi was a vegetarian, so meat could hardly be served at the ashram meal. Trump, on the other hand, eats little apart from beefburgers, well-done steaks, and ice cream. Something had to give.

Despite the ashram chef’s best efforts to lay on a non-meat meal containing dishes that would be familiar to Trump (such as chocolate-chip cookies and apple pie), neither he nor Melania touched anything from the main part of the menu.

This included samosas stuffed with broccoli and sweetcorn (instead of the traditional potatoes and peas), which led to the hapless chef being flayed in the Indian media for this heretical deviation from the samosa’s traditional ingredients.

Trump was staying at the Taj hotel in Delhi, which assigned to the Trump entourage a chef who could cook the desired burnt meats to order, as well as having a good supply of cherry vanilla ice cream and Diet Coke.

Meanwhile back home Trump’s diet was also making news.

His previous White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, said he hid ice cream from his corpulent client and had to mix-in cauliflower with the president’s mashed potatoes, in a vain attempt to do something about Trump’s obesity.

Didn’t Jackson realize he could do the many Americans harmed by Trump’s policies a favour by adding heaps more double-cream and butter to Trump’s mash, in the hope that clogged arteries and their ramifications might precipitate a speedier ending to the latter’s term -of- office?

Apart from a weapons deal involving the purchase of 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from the US, to the tune of $3bn, nothing of substance was accomplished during Trump’s visit. India however continues to get most of its military hardware from Russia—India having just agreed to buy Moscow’s $5.4bn S-400 missile defence system despite the threat of US sanctions.

Moreover we have no idea if Ivanka and husband Jared (“Javanka” in the words of Steve Bannon), who tagged along, were making business deals for themselves while Daddy preened himself before fawning pro-Modi supporters.

The notion that this is the era of a “post-truth” politics was confirmed over and over by the patent falsehoods Modi and Trump uttered about each other and their respective countries.


+ “The leadership of President Trump has served humanity”.

+ “The whole world knows what President Trump has done to fulfil the dreams of America”.


+ “India’s rise as a prosperous and independent nation is an example to every nation in the world and one of the most outstanding achievements of our century…. [Y]ou have done it as a democratic country. You have done it as a peaceful country. You have done it as a tolerant country”.

+ “There is all the difference in the world between a nation that seeks power through coercion, intimidation and aggression, and a nation that rises by setting its people free and unleashing them to chase their dreams. And that is India”.

+ “This is truly an exciting time in the United States. Our economy is booming like never before. Our people are prospering and spirits are soaring. There is tremendous love, tremendous like. We like and we love everybody”.

As I was writing this piece, Andrew Bacevich wrote an article in CounterPunch in which he makes excellent use of Daniel Boorstin’s notion of a “pseudo-event” to characterize any number of Trump’s public performances. To quote Bacevich:

“Of course, almost all of these are carefully scripted performances that are devoid of authenticity. In short, they’re fraudulent. The politicians who participate in such performances know that it’s all a sham. So, too, do the reporters and commentators paid to “interpret” the news. So, too, does any semi-attentive, semi-informed citizen”.

Pseudo-events are designed to camouflage an underlying reality, and this was evident during Trump’s visit to India, and particularly so because he had in Modi a more than willing accomplice when it came to constructing this particular pseudo-event (or set of such events).

No other Asian leader, not even a US lackey such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe, and certainly none of his European counterparts (not even the New York-born Boris Johnson), would be up for a reciprocal pseudo-event construction of this magnitude.

Granted that India is more of democracy than the US, but none of this can be credited to Modi (it was mainly the doing of Nehru’s Congress Party), and for Trump to overlook India’s caste-ridden social system, massive economic inequalities, creaking bureaucracy (many Indians refer to this as “babudom”), and Modi’s Hindu chauvinism, while uttering banalities about “leadership”, “good friends”, “Islamic terrorism”, and so forth, is camouflage-construction par excellence on Modi’s behalf.

Likewise, Modi’s “great leader” and “servant of humanity” paeans when addressing Trump are impossible to square with the latter’s innumerable personal shortcomings and all-too-visible failings as a political leader, and this along with Modi’s pandering estimation of today’s crumbling American empire, merely enables a parallel camouflage-construction on Trump’s behalf.

The only non-pseudo-event surrounding Trump’s visit were the above-mentioned killings by Hindu-supremacist mobs– egged on by BJP politicians such as Kapil Mishra under the noses of the police, all caught on video.

With regard to this pogrom, the normally verbally-incontinent Trump bit his tongue.

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A Pandemic of Fear

A microscopic virus has been unsettling global business as usual: killing people all over the world, hospitalizing countless others, and spreading a pandemic of fear. The Los Angeles Times reported March 1, 2020, the novel corona virus “sends shudders daily across the planet.”

In an area the size of a quarter of the United States, China has locked down over 100 millions of its citizens. Travel restrictions are affecting 780 million Chinese.

The human machine

This unpredictable intrusion of an invisible being into the vast human machine is slowly grinding down the world in its deadly track.

The human machine is exceedingly complex. It’s made up of armies, nuclear bombs, international trade, construction, buying, selling, travelling, waging war, logging of forests, the burning of the Amazon, plundering each other and the natural world, rural exodus to the overcrowded cities, obese and hungry people sleeping next to each other: some sleeping in luxury and others in the streets. Meanwhile, in the midst of these social and ecological calamities, privileges rain on the rich and super rich billionaires.

Government officials and the World Health Organization see no connection between this hell on Earth, the failed international order and the virus. They confine themselves in issuing instructions on the magnitude and symptoms of the corona disease. Not a word that perhaps this sort of thing – anthropogenic onslaught on the Earth resembling biological warfare — is likely the explanation for the corona virus.

Too many people

This thinking is alien to societies / countries absorbed by their daily struggle for survival. They have populations growing out of bounds. In 1800, the planet had 1 billion people. In 2019, world population was 7.7 billion. The numbers of people keep increasing, even doubling every few decades. This assures class tensions, exploitation of the weak by the powerful, impoverishment of the natural world and perpetual waves of migrants and refugees seeking a better life.

Populations of tropical countries in the south are growing faster than those of the north. Some of them are exploding internally and spilling over borders. War, as in Syria, and higher temperatures make this population movement inevitable, tragic, and dangerous.

Climate chaos

At the same time, the world machine is being threatened by a different, much more dangerous climate. This is the result of decades-old apathy, especially on the part of northern countries, which have been responsible for most of the pollution of the Earth for more than a century. Yet they keep ignoring corporate and state decimation of forests, lands, and seas. The primary fuels behind such attacks include petroleum, natural gas, and coal.

Climate scientists have been telling “policy makers” the world over that burning fossil fuels is bad. It’s triggering the potential end of life. It’s morally abhorrent and monstrous. It’s undermining civilization.

Scientists explain that rising world temperature is melting the ice on mountains and seas, with the result rising and warmer sea and ocean waters are undermining seacoasts and islands.

Climate change is changing agriculture for the worst. Industrialized agriculture is becoming less productive and more deleterious. Corporate managers and scientists continue fiddling with the genetic engineering of crops. They also continue increasing the amounts of toxic and carcinogenic pesticides they spray the very food people eat.

Animal farms are major sources of greenhouse gases. However, they have become symbols of affluence. Mass slaughtering and eating of animals is fashionable and on the rise. Animal factories are now in China producing meat for hundreds of millions of urban people. Such dive into factory agriculture bodes ill for the efforts of China to get reacquainted with its ancient agrarian culture, much less ecological civilization.

Warmer seas and oceans are increasingly becoming less hospitable to life, including fish. Add commercial overfishing, and the future of fish supplementing human diet becomes problematic and dark.

Climate change sounds abstract. It is not. It’s a cosmic force brought to life by human ecocidal activities, especially industrialized agriculture, the logging and burning of forests, and the burning of fossil fuels. This awakened climate is a gigantic monster transforming the Earth into a hostile place for humans and wildlife.

Fragility of life

This is big deal because the Earth has always been Mother Earth: source of all life, animal and human, and civilization. Humans have reached a state of technological wherewithal that threatens their own existence (with any deployment of nuclear weapons) or the slower undermining of their civilization (with burning fossil fuels and aggressive ecocidal policies).

What should we say about these facts? Dare we connect them to science and progress?

I have been criticizing such abysmal and immoral developments for decades. It’s not that we have not had warnings about the fragility of life or the toxic effects of public policies for private profit rather than public good.

Euripides, that genius of a poet in fifth century BCE Athens, speaks as if he were alive today. He urges us to live responsibly every day as if that day was our last. Death, he says, is an obligation. It’s the price we all pay. No person alive today can speak with authority of being alive or dead tomorrow. No matter what scientific  studies you do, there’s no way of predicting the future. No man can pin down dark fortune. We are only humans, so think human thoughts. Pay attention to Aphrodite and the pleasures she brings. Drink some wine and you will enjoy yourself. Life for those solemn and irresponsible people is not life but catastrophe (Alcestis 780-802).

Inhuman power

That catastrophe has been encoded on the DNA of those who have been building nuclear bombs and still keep them as potential bullets against their enemies. Holding on to such destructive and genocidal weapons makes possible all other atrocities against the natural world and against humans. Nothing is worse that the obliteration of nuclear power. It freezes humans to the inhuman camp of exterminators.

Nuclear power is inhuman power. It has been normalizing all other evils in the world: burning and clearcutting of forests, mining the public lands for petroleum, plundering the natural world, industrializing farming to mine the land for food and the burning of fossil fuels and ignoring the consequences of climate change.

I don’t pretend to know the origins of corona virus: the source for the current worldwide health emergency. On February 28, 2020, Congressman Ami Bera, chairman, Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, described the corona virus as a “rapidly evolving public health threat.”

It would not be farfetched guessing, as I have already done, the origins of the virus pandemic in the deleterious human effects on the natural world, our Mother Earth. Biologists should be asking the scientific and philosophical question if undisturbed wild life is a source of deadly diseases. I doubt it is. Diseases come from ecological disturbances, too much cold, too much heat, bad food, no food, and pollution and wars. Conventional reports, however, suggest that the corona virus emerged in December 2019 in the wild animal markets of the large city of Wuhan, China.

Reimagining the world

If I am right in my speculation, a real rather than a cosmetic solution of the pandemic would require the remaking of our world: banning nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants; enforcing a strict worldwide population control like that of China; ending fossil fuels, replacing them with solar, wind and other renewable forms of energy; returning to small-scale democratic and ecological farming without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. And, of course, a worldwide ban of the plundering of the natural world.

I know this is a dream unlikely to go very far. But I am a dreamer in love with the good and the beautiful. The least I can do, and I am doing, is to speak truth to power.

UN and other climate scientists have given policy makers about ten years for the elimination of fossil fuels.

The challenge of reinventing and making the world is immense. The fire of Prometheus is still burning among us. Let’s use it for the benefit of all humanity. Focus in the restoration of environmental and public health. Nothing is possible without health. Herophilos, a third century BCE Greek physician, wrote in his “Regimen” that when health is absent wisdom all but disappears, science is obscure, strength dissipates, wealth is useless, and reasoning impossible (Sextus Empiricus, Against the Mathematicians 9.50).

In our case, the wealth of the billionaires the world over could be put to good use in this epic struggle of rebuilding our wrecked environment and civilization.

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A Terrifying Scenario: Coronavirus in ‘Quarantined’ Gaza

What if the Coronavirus reaches the besieged Gaza Strip?

While the question carries great urgency for all Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation, the Gaza situation is particularly complex and extremely worrying.

Nearly 50 countries have already reported cases of COVID-19 disease, one of several epidemics that are caused by the Coronavirus. If developed countries, such as Italy and South Korea, are struggling to contain the deadly virus, one can only imagine what occupied Palestinians would have to face should the virus strike.

In fact, according to official Palestinian reports, the Coronavirus has already reached Palestine following a visit by a South Korean delegation in the period between February 8 and 15, which included a tour in the major Palestinian cities of Jerusalem, Nablus, Jericho, Hebron, and Bethlehem.

The Palestinian Authority scrambled to contain the fallout of the news, which caused palpable panic among a population that has little faith in its leadership, to begin with. PA Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, “hoped” that the “owners of the unknown facilities” would exercise personal responsibility and shut down their business and other establishments that are open to the public.

The PA Ministry of Health followed this by declaring a “state of emergency” in all hospitals under PA jurisdiction in the West Bank, designating a quarantine center near Jericho for those arriving from China and other areas that are hard hit by the Coronavirus.

For Palestinians however, fighting an outbreak of the Coronavirus is not a straightforward matter, even if the dysfunctional PA facilities follow the instructions of the World Health Organization (WHO) to the letter.

Palestinians are separated by an Israeli matrix of control that has excluded many communities behind large cement walls, military checkpoints, and impossible to navigate army ordinances that are inherently designed to weaken the Palestinian community and to ease the Israeli government’s mission of controlling Palestinians and colonizing their land.

What can the PA do to come to the aid of tens of thousands of Palestinians in the so-called ‘Area C’ of the occupied West Bank? This region is entirely under the control of the Israeli army, which has little interest in the welfare of the Palestinian inhabitants there.

Such questions would have to be considered in the context of what WHO refers to as “health inequalities” among Palestinians, on the one hand, and between Palestinians and privileged illegal Jewish settlers, on the other.

In some way, many Palestinian communities are already ‘quarantined’ by Israel, but for political, not medical reasons. An outbreak of the Coronavirus in some of these communities, especially the ones that are cut off from proper healthcare and well-equipped medical facilities, would prove disastrous.

The worst of fates, however, awaits Gaza, should the deadly and fast-spreading virus find its way from all directions through the hermetic siege, which engulfs this minuscule, but densely populated region.

Gaza, which is enduring its 12th year of Israeli siege and is still reeling under the massive destruction of several Israeli wars, has already been declared “uninhabitable” by the United Nations.

However, the misery of Gaza never ceases to unfold. Not a single UN report on Gaza’s ailing medical facilities or preparedness for at least the last ten years has used any positive or even hopeful language.

Last March, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, bemoaned Gaza’s “chronic power outages, gaps in critical services, including mental health and psychosocial support, and shortages of essential medicines and supplies.”

In January, the Israeli rights group. B’Tselem, spoke of an unprecedented health crisis in besieged Gaza, one that is not fueled by the Coronavirus or any other such epidemics but by the fact that Gaza’s barely functioning hospitals are desperately trying to deal with the fall-out of the thousands of injuries resulting from the ‘Great March of Return’ which has taken place on the Gaza side of the dividing fence.

B’Tselem has already reported on “the unlawful open-fire policy Israel is using against these demonstrations, allowing soldiers to shoot live fire at unarmed protesters who endanger no one, has led to horrific results”.

The Israeli group cited moderate estimations provided by WHO that, by the end of 2019, Gaza physicians had to perform limb amputations on 155 protesters, a number that includes 30 children. This, in addition to dozens of protesters who have become permanently paralyzed because of spinal injuries.

This is only a small part of a much more multifaceted crisis. Not only measles and other highly contagious infectious diseases are finding their way back to Gaza, water-borne diseases are also spreading at an alarming rate.

97% of all of Gaza’s water is not fit for human consumption, according to the WHO, which begs the question: How could Gaza hospitals possibly confront the Coronavirus epidemic when, in some cases, clean water is not even available in Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa?

“Even when it is available, doctors and nurses are unable to sterilize their hands because of the water quality,” according to the RAND Corporation.

WHO director in Palestine, Gerald Rockenschaub, spoke assuredly about his meeting with PA Minister of Health, Mai Al-Kaila, in Ramallah on February 25, where they discussed the need for more “preparedness measures” and “additional priority preparedness actions” in the West Bank and Gaza.

WHO also announced that it is “coordinating with local authorities in Gaza” to ensure the Strip’s preparedness to cope with the Coronavirus.

Such soothing language, however, masks an ugly reality, one that WHO and the entire United Nations have failed to confront over the course of a decade.

All previous reports on Gaza by WHO, while accurately detailing the problem, did little to diagnose its roots or to fashion a permanent solution to it. Indeed, Gaza’s hospitals are as dysfunctional as ever, Gaza’s water is as dirty as ever and, despite repeated warnings, the Strip is still unfit for human habitation, thanks to the brutal Israeli siege and to the silence of the international community.

The truth is, no amount of ‘preparedness’ in Gaza – or, frankly, anywhere in occupied Palestine – can stop the spread of the Coronavirus. What is needed is a fundamental and structural change that would emancipate the Palestinian healthcare system from the horrific impact of the Israeli occupation and the Israeli government’s policies of perpetual siege and politically-imposed ‘quarantines’ – also known as apartheid.

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The Prospect of Peace in Afghanistan is Real…and Pakistan is the Key Player

The chasm between illusion and reality in politics remains perennial. Wars seldom ended according to the script of peace agreements. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 ending the Vietnam War, with defeated Americans hastily retreating in helicopters from the rooftop of their embassy, was not anticipated in the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973 that were painstakingly negotiated by Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Le Duc Tho.

Therefore, the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed in Doha on February 29 must be put in proper perspective. Indeed, there can’t be two opinions that the curtain is coming down on what U.S. President Donald Trump called the “endless war” in which America squandered away over a trillion dollars and lost thousands of lives with no victory in sight. Equally, without a doubt, this is the finest hour of Pakistan’s statecraft since the country’s creation in 1947.

The odds may seem loaded against the dawn of peace in Afghanistan. After all, it is a hopelessly fragmented country, desperately poor with a subsistence economy where opium production is the principal source of income, a critically important geopolitical fulcrum for the Eurasian supercontinent (full of very valuable resources and also a pipeline route for oil and natural gas) and, most importantly, a playpen for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

No doubt, each of these variables will surge in the coming weeks and months. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has already put a question mark on the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners from prison, which has been an important precondition that finds specific reference in the Doha pact.

However, in such pacts, what is more important is often what is not mentioned.

Clearly, Ghani fears that the formation of an interim government will become unavoidable to steer the inter-Afghan negotiation, and that he will be expected to walk into the sunset shortly. Ghani won’t like that prospect. But can he hold the peace process ahead to ransom?

Power flows through the barrel of the gun in conflict situations, but in Afghanistan, there’s the added reality that Ghani’s government will collapse the moment the U.S. ends its funding. This means that Washington calls the shots in calibrating the implementation of the Doha agreement. And Washington will not tolerate “spoilers”—Afghan or non-Afghan—on an enterprise where its core interests are at stake. Therefore, the Afghanistan peace process cannot be stopped even if it turns out to be tortuous and protracted.

On the other hand, the Doha pact is a step forward, because it rests on a “foundational agreement” in the nature of the matrix of mutual understanding between Washington and Islamabad, which provides its underpinning and also creates a road map for the period ahead.

This matrix surfaces in Trump’s startling disclosure on February 29 that he will be “meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not too distant future,” as also in the cryptic remark by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Doha on the same day that “We want a responsible [American] withdrawal [from Afghanistan].”

The legitimacy that Trump has given to the Taliban even before the inter-Afghan dialogue has commenced, and Pakistan and the Taliban’s consent to a “responsible” U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan form two key templates for the peace process.

Trump, in essence, has already determined that the U.S. can do business with the Taliban even before the latter gets mainstreamed. Trump has also signaled the inevitability of the Taliban being in a leadership role in Kabul in the very near future. Put differently, Pakistan becomes a stakeholder in the continued U.S. presence in the region, as hinted by Qureshi.

We may, therefore, expect a smaller U.S. footprint in Afghanistan with beefed-up intelligence capabilities, but quite obviously, the Trump administration still doesn’t plan on a full withdrawal. Pakistan and the Taliban are apparently quite amenable to that idea.

Fundamentally, the Afghan war is mutating. No surprises here, since this has been at its core all along a Clausewitzian war—continuation of politics by other means. The U.S. intends to keep select military bases in Afghanistan, which it rebuilt and equipped at very considerable costs, anticipating a long-term military/intelligence deployment.

What we may expect is that Afghanistan and Pakistan will be a pivotal turf of America’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The frontal assault recently on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and the unveiling of a new U.S. strategy toward Central Asia by the White House are significant pointers in this direction. (See my article “U.S. Rolls out New Central Asia Strategy.”)

Having said that, to be sure, a continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is in the Taliban’s interests too, which keenly sought all through the past quarter-century, with active Pakistani support, an engagement with Washington to mutual benefit. That is why deputy leader of the Taliban Sirajuddin Haqqani’s recent op-ed in the New York Times “What We, the Taliban, Want” becomes an important signpost.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the Haqqanis and the U.S. security establishment go back a long way. The well-known journalist and academic Steve Coll has given a graphic account in his masterly work The Bin Ladens (2008) of how in the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani (Sirajuddin’s late father) was cultivated as a “unilateral” asset of the CIA.

Jalaluddin was the only Mujahideen leader among the resistance commanders of the Afghan jihad whom former president of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq permitted the CIA to mentor directly. The Americans were generous in funding Jalaluddin and, surely, when the time came, it was to him that the U.S. would turn for help to protect Osama bin Laden, who was relocated from Yemen for building his own militia to fight Soviet-backed Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin’s mainstreaming (with U.S. acquiescence) is a guarantee for Pakistan that India’s influence with the Afghan security agencies will be terminated and its capacity to inflict damage on Pakistan’s national security interests will be rolled back. The U.S., arguably, has no quarrel with the legitimacy of Pakistan’s security concerns in this regard.

Pakistan’s main objectives are threefold: a friendly government in Kabul so that peace and tranquility prevail on the Durand Line; strategic depth vis-a-vis India; and a regional security paradigm where the U.S. geo-strategy remains critically dependent on Pakistani cooperation for a foreseeable future.

Pakistan’s trump card is that it is the only credible guarantor on the horizon who can reasonably assure the Western world that Afghanistan will not again become the revolving door for international terrorism. Trust Pakistan to play this card optimally.

The peace dividends are already appearing for Pakistan to garner. On February 27, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced the agreement to allow Pakistan to access $450 million out of a $6 billion bailout package. So much for the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force’s gray lists and blacklists of “Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories.”

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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How a Mockingbird Can Kill a Legacy

Each morning after working on my maiden novel from 5 am to 8:30 am I do what I always do: heat some filtered water in my electric kettle, carry it to the bedroom with an empty large cup, and watch the early morning news shows for a mental respite — MSNBC’s Morning Joe being my favorite.

This Particular blustery New York morning, (which for the record is, Feb 27th 2020) went virtually the way I expected it to — with a horrifying discourse on the Coronavirus — and 45’s puerile unstatesmanlike approach to this exigent global concern.

But as the show was wrapping up, something else was added to the dismal start of the day, mayor Bill de Blasio was coming on Morning Joe, after a final commercial break, to declare February 27th “To Kill A Mockingbird Day” in New York City. A two-pronged celebration of Ms. Harper Lee’s perpetually extolled novel, and the new (Scott Rudin, Barry Diller) Broadway version that premiered in a one-off show, a few blocks downtown, at the city’s most fabled haunt, Madison Square Garden.

The un-contexed announcement before the commercial break was already enough to send my brow caving to the upper bridge of my nose, due mainly to my critique of Ms. Lee’s classic, under a modern literary perspective. But when de Blasio went on air (with the show’s lead actor, Ed Harris) and predicated his motivation to commemorate the Broadway play, on the electricity that powers Black History Month, befuddlement quickly mutated into utter disgust.

For some reason it seems unwittingly easy to accept the mayor’s proclamation as a celebratory triumph of literary achievement, in the name of racial valor — but to do so is to plant that flag in segregated soil, from a uniformed, insensitive and insouciant white perspective.

In my (and many others) opinion, To Kill a Mockingbird’s narrative has always been one aimed at the white community, with a hand full of mute black characters placed on the chess board for strategic insignificant purpose. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. Ms. Lee, (God rest her soul) as with any author trying to convey their ideas, had license to achieve her objective anyway she chose. However, it seems to me, if a work of art is to be infused into Black History Month, and lauded for its contribution to a discussion that has a black and white perspective, both perspectives should be explored in said work of art. Which makes this particular Jim/Jane Crow tale unbefitting of the mayor’s annual plaudit — and makes de Blasio’s decision to choose this work of art, indifferent to the African American artistic contribution to the historical racial plight — and its presence in the celebration of Black History Month.

How a man married to a beautiful black woman, (who is an artist in her own right) can make such a blatant faux pas, bypasses my cognitive attributes. However, when I consider that Spike Lee, an artist I have profound respect for, was at the Madison Square Garden premier, co-signing the celebration, I may be underestimating the blind spot American society has for To Kill a Mockingbird. A novel that has been venerated for so long, and so hard, a lot of people might not be willing to acknowledge that it has not aged well, and reads as if it were being published today on the yellowed 1960 stationery it was conceived with.

Thank God I can’t say the same for the academic community, a society of teachers and scholars that have witnessed firsthand the insidious effects Mockingbird has had in classrooms across the country, especially with African American students.

In an intriguing piece titled, Forget Atticus: Why We Should Stop Teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird” — written by an English teacher named, Will Menarndt,  the author states, “(To Kill a Mockingbird has been) a fixture (on) school reading lists (for years), (and) as a high school English teacher, I have the chore of rereading the book annually, becoming more aware with each rereading of the damaging narrative it offers in dealing with present-day racism.”

Mr. Menarndt expounds even further: “The n-word is not just written on the page. As students read passages out loud, they say it to each other. They speak Atticus’s words, and they internalize his lessons. To call that experience “uncomfortable” is to disguise the pain of racial violence beneath a mask of euphemism.”

According to Mr. Menarndt “the school board in Biloxi, Mississippi, voted (in October of 2017) to ban To Kill a Mockingbird.” Journalist K.W. Colyard, confirms this fact in a conflicting piece he wrote for Bustle Magazine titled: “To Kill a Mockingbird” Shouldn’t Be Banned, But Students Deserve An Alternative To “White Savior Narratives.

In the essay Mr. Colyard interestingly asserts: “To Kill a Mockingbird is a fantastic work of literature, and removing it from a school’s curriculum because it makes white readers uncomfortable misses the point entirely. With that being said, Lee’s is not the best book to teach white kids about racism, because it grounds its narrative in the experience of a white narrator and presents her father as the white savior, in spite of the fact that he fails miserably at saving the man he was contractually obligated to rescue.”

No matter what pretzel of an opinion you identify with, the consistent salty, or provocative narrative seems to be, Mockingbird is no longer the go to whetstone one uses to intricately sharpen a humane racial perspective. And if that’s true, incorporating the tale into Black History Month, by chiseling a “To Kill a Mockingbird Day” into the New York city calendar, is a grotesque uneducated use of authority — especially when one considers the list of great dramatic titles (and novels), contributed by African American playwrights to the American literary cannon. Illustrious names like, Wilson, Hughes, Hansberry and Baraka quickly come to mind.

I hope I haven’t insinuated to any degree, and to anyone willing to engaged this correspondence, that Ms. Lee’s novel should be banned, and has no place on Broadway or in a nurturing intellectualenvironment and discussion, especially one that is willing to account for the skewed doctrines and culture of the brutal era that birthed the novel, and many others like it. If that’s how these passages read then I have failed as a writer.

That said, and since writing is hard and we are all capable of failure, let me end this essay with a statement that I hope clearly conveys what I am insinuating… A — “To Kill A Mockingbird Day”, dedicated in celebration of Black History Month, by way of  theatrical homage, cannot, and will not, ever, supersede an — “A Raisin In The Sun Day…” Not in the heart and mind of a true black art aesthete it won’t.

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Creating a National Insecurity State: Spending More, Seeing Less

Hold on to your helmets! It’s true the White House is reporting that its proposed new Pentagon budget is only $740.5 billion, a relatively small increase from the previous year’s staggering number. In reality, however, when you also include war and security costs buried in the budgets of other agencies, the actual national security figure comes in at more than $1.2 trillion, as the Trump administration continues to give the Pentagon free reign over taxpayer dollars.

You would think that the country’s congressional representatives might want to take control of this process and roll back that budget — especially given the way the White House has repeatedly violated its constitutional authority by essentially stealing billions of dollars from the Defense Department for the president’s “Great Wall” (that Congress refused to fund). Recently, even some of the usual congressional Pentagon budget boosters have begun to lament how difficult it is to take the Department’s requests for more money seriously, given the way the military continues to demand yet more (ever more expensive) weaponry and advanced technologies on the (largely bogus) grounds that Uncle Sam is losing an innovation war with Russia and China.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, keep in mind that the Defense Department remains the only major federal agency that has proven itself incapable of even passing an audit. An investigation by my colleague Jason Paladino at the Project On Government Oversight found that increased secrecy around the operations of the Pentagon is making it ever more difficult to assess whether any of its money is well spent, which is why it’s important to track where all the money in this country’s national security budget actually goes.

The Pentagon’s “Base” Budget

This year’s Pentagon request includes $636.4 billion for what’s called its “base” budget — for the routine expenses of the Defense Department. However, claiming that those funds were insufficient, Congress and the Pentagon created a separate slush fund to cover both actual war expenses and other items on their wish lists (on which more to come). Add in mandatory spending, which includes payments to veterans’ retirement and illness compensation funds and that base budget comes to $647.2 billion.

Ahead of the recent budget roll out, the Pentagon issued a review of potential “reforms” to supposedly cut or control soaring costs. While a few of them deserve serious consideration and debate, the majority reveal just how focused the Pentagon is on protecting its own interests. Ironically, one major area of investment it wants to slash involves oversight of the billions of dollars to be spent. Perhaps least surprising was a proposal to slash programs for operational testing and evaluation — otherwise known as the process of determining whether the billions Americans spend on shiny new weaponry will result in products that actually work. The Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation has found itself repeatedly under attack from arms manufacturers and their boosters who would prefer to be in charge of grading their own performances.

Reduced oversight becomes even more troubling when you look at where Pentagon policymakers want to move that money — to missile defense based on staggeringly expensive futuristic hypersonic weaponry. As my Project On Government Oversight colleague Mark Thompson has written, the idea that such weapons will offer a successful way of defending against enemy missiles “is a recipe for military futility and fiscal insanity.”

Another proposal — to cut A-10 “Warthogs” in the Pentagon’s arsenal in pursuit of a new generation of fighter planes — suggests just how cavalier a department eager for flashy new toys that mean large paydays for the giant defense contractors can be with service members’ lives. After all, no weapons platform more effectively protects ground troops at a relatively low cost than the A-10, yet that plane regularly ends up on the cut list, thanks to those eager to make money on a predictably less effective and vastly more expensivereplacement.

Many other proposed “cuts” are actually gambits to get Congress to pump yet more money into the Pentagon. For instance, a memo of supposed cuts to shipbuilding programs, leaked at the end of last year, drew predictable ire from members of Congress trying to protect jobs in their states. Similarly, don’t imagine for a second that purchases of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive weapons system in history, could possibly be slowed even though the latest testing report suggests that, among other things, it has a gun that still can’t shoot straight. That program is, however, a pork paradise for the military-industrial complex, claiming jobs spread across 45 states.

Many such proposals for cuts are nothing but deft deployments of the “Washington Monument strategy,” a classic tactic in which bureaucrats suggest slashing popular programs to avoid facing any cuts at all. The bureaucratic game is fairly simple: Never offer up anything that would actually appeal to Congress when it comes to reducing the bottom line. Recently, the Pentagon did exactly that in proposing cutsto popular weapons programs to pay for the president’s wall, knowing that no such thing would happen.

Believe it or not, however, there are actually a few proposed cuts that Congress might take seriously. Lockheed Martin’s and Austal’s Littoral Combat Ship program, for instance, has long been troubled, and the number of ships planned for purchase has been cut as problems operating such vessels or even ensuring that they might survive in combat have mounted. The Navy estimates that retiring the first four ships in the program, which would otherwise need significant and expensive upgrades to be deployable, would save $1.2 billion.

The Pentagon’s Slush Fund: the Overseas Contingency Operations Account

Both the Pentagon and Congress have used a war-spending slush fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, or OCO, as a mechanism to circumvent budget caps put into place in 2011 by the Budget Control Act. In 2021, that slush fund is expected to come in at $69 billion. As Taxpayers for Common Sense has pointed out, if OCO were an agency in itself, it would be the fourth largest in the government. In a welcome move towards transparency, this year’s request actually notes that $16 billion of its funds are for things that should be paid for by the base budget, just as last year’s OCO spending levels included $8 billion for the president’s false fund-the-wall “national emergency.”

Overseas Contingency Operations total: $69 billion

Running tally: $716.2 billion.

The Nuclear Budget

While most people may associate the Department of Energy with fracking, oil drilling, solar panels, and wind farms, more than half of its budget actually goes to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages the country’s nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, it has an even worse record than the Pentagon when it comes to mismanaging the tens of billions of dollars it receives every year. Its programs are regularly significantly behind schedule and over cost, more than $28 billion in such expenses over the past 20 years. It’s a track record of mismanagement woeful enough to leave even the White House’s budget geeks questioning nuclear weapons projects. In the end, though — and given military spending generally, this shouldn’t surprise you — the boosters of more nuclear weapons won and so the nuclear budget came in at $27.6 billion.

Nuclear Weapons Budget total: $27.6 billion

Running tally: $743.8 billion

“Defense-Related” Activities

At $9.7 billion, this budget item includes a number of miscellaneous national-security-related matters, including international FBI activities and payments to the CIA retirement fund.

Defense-Related Activities total: $9.7 billion

Running tally: $753.5 billion

The Intelligence Budget

Not surprisingly, since it’s often referred to as the “black budget,” there is relatively little information publicly available about intelligence community spending. According to recent press reports, however, defense firms are finding this area increasingly profitable, citing double-digit growth in just the last year. Unfortunately, Congress has little capacity to oversee this spending. A recent report by Demand Progress and the Project On Government Oversight found that, as of 2019, only 37 of 100 senators even have staff capable of accessing any kind of information about these programs, let alone the ability to conduct proper oversight of them.

However, we do know the total amount of money being requested for the 17 major agencies in the U.S. intelligence community: $85 billion. That money is split between the Pentagon’s intelligence programs and funding for the Central Intelligence Agency and other “civilian” outfits. This year, the military’s intelligence program requested $23.1 billion, and $61.9 billion was requested for the other agencies. Most of this funding is believed to be in the Pentagon’s budget, so it’s not included in the running tally below. If you want to know anything else about that spending you’re going to need to get a security clearance.

Intelligence budget total: $85 billion

Running tally: $753.5 billion

The Military and Defense Department Retirement and Health Budget

While you might assume that these costs would be included in the defense budget, this budget line shows that funds were paid by the Treasury Department for military retirement programs (minus interest and contributions from those accounts). While such retirement costs come to $700 million, the healthcare fund costs are actually a negative $8.5 billion.

Military and Department of Defense Retirement and Health Costs total: -$7.8 billion

Running tally: $745.7 billion

The Veterans Affairs Budget

The financial costs of war are far greater than what’s seen in the Pentagon budget. The most recent estimates by Brown University’s the Costs of War Project show that the total costs of the nation’s main post-9/11 wars through this fiscal year come to $6.4 trillion, including a minimum of $1 trillion for the costs of caring for veterans. This year the administration requested $238.4 billion for Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Affairs Budget: $238.4 billion

Running tally: $984.1 billion

The International Affairs Budget

The International Affairs budget includes funds for both the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Numerous defense secretaries and senior military leaders have urged public support for spending on diplomacy to prevent conflict and enhance security (and the State Department also engages in a number of military-related activities). In the Obama years, for instance, then-Marine General James Mattis typically quipped that without more funding for diplomacy he was going to need more bullets. Ahead of the introduction of this year’s budget, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Admiral Mike Mullen told congressional leaders that concerns about great-power competition with China and Russia meant that “cutting these critical investments would be out of touch with the reality around the world.”

The budget request for $51.1 billion, however, cuts State Department funding significantly and proposes keeping it at such a level for the foreseeable future.

International Affairs Total: $51.1 billion

Running tally: $1,035.2 billion

The Homeland Security Budget

The Department of Homeland Security consists of a hodgepodge of government agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, and the Coast Guard. In this year’s $49.7 billion budget, border security costs make up a third of total costs.

The department is also responsible for coordinating federal cyber-security efforts through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Despite growing domestic cyber concerns, however, the budget request for that agency has fallen since last year’s budget.

Homeland Security total: $52.1 billion

Running tally: $1,087.3 billion

Interest on the Debt

And don’t forget the national security state’s part in paying interest on the national debt. Its share, 21.5% of that debt, adds up to $123.6 billion.

Interest on the debt total: $123.6 billion

Final tally: $1,210.9 billion

The Budget’s Too Damn High

In other words, at $1.21 trillion, the actual national security budget is essentially twice the size of the announced Pentagon budget. It’s also a compendium of military-industrial waste and misspending. Yet those calling for higher budgets continue to argue that the only way to keep America safe is to pour in yet more tax dollars at a moment when remarkably little is going into, for instance, domestic infrastructure.

The U.S. already spends more than the next seven countries combined on a military that is seemingly incapable of either winning or ending any of the wars it’s been engaged in since September 2001. So isn’t it reasonable to suggest that the more that’s spent on what’s still called national security but should perhaps go by the term “national insecurity,” the less there is to show for it? More spending is never the solution to poor spending. Isn’t it about time, then, that the disastrously bloated “defense” budget experienced some meaningful cuts and shifts in priorities? Shouldn’t the U.S. military be made into a far leaner and more agile force geared to actual defense instead of disastrous wars (and preparations for more of the same) across a significant swath of the planet?

This story first appeared on TomDispatch.

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Strong Man Legacies: Burying Mubarak

Reviled strongmen of one era are often the celebrated ones of others. Citizens otherwise tormented find that replacements are poor, in some cases even crueller, than the original artefact. Such strongmen also serve as ideal alibis for rehabilitation: Look at who we have come to bury!

Fittingly, Egypt’s late Hosni Mubarak was given that most traditional of rehabilitative occasions, a military funeral that served to sanitise and restore. Unremarkably, the procession was led by the current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, accompanied by Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal.

Mubarak, on coming to power in 1981 in the aftermath of his predecessor’s assassination, intended to die in office, a legacy of durable presidents that had marked the Arab world’s dynastic families. During a three-decade rule, he survived various assassination attempts, contended, often brutally, with Islamic fundamentalism, and oversaw a vast imperium of cronyism. The legal conditions were maintained by an emergency law passed in the aftermath of Anwar el-Sadat’s killing, permitting enormous latitude to the security services to arrest and detain individuals without charge and restrict the right to assembly. Along the way, killings, torture and disappearances took place, with the Muslim Brotherhood proving to be a favourite target.

His projection as a man of stability and order was sold to Western powers, which supported him with weapons and assistance; his abiding by the peace plan signed with Israel by his slain predecessor, helped. But he was hardly a leader wedded to big picture visions for his country. “We are waiting,” surmised the journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal in 1986, “for the unknown.”

There was, for a time, some sense that Egypt might escape the orbit of military rule that had been the mainstay of the country since the Free Officers coup of 1952. This was to come in the form of the “Arab Spring”. The protests in Tahrir Square from January 25, 2011 seeking to oust Mubarak seemed to promise much. Mubarak felt he could weather the bad mood and reject the demands that he and his family be investigated for corruption. “Egypt and I shall not be parted until I am buried in her soil,” he countered. No fleeing was contemplated, no ignominious exit.

More than 800 protesters lost their lives in ensuing violence, leading to Mubarak’s arrest on charges of murder and corruption. He was subsequently tried and convicted, receiving a life sentence. An appeals court overturned the verdict, leading to a retrial which saw his acquittal. Thus began an effort to confect an image of a figure unjustifiably sinned against but restrained in retirement. “I preferred to give up my post as a president, placing the interest of the nation and its people over any other interest and I chose to keep away from the political life, wishing all the best and progress for Egypt and its people within the period ahead.”

It was the easy, and frequently lazy assessment about the effects of the Arab Spring, often by a western media that needed to identify a revolution in the first place. “Egypt was indispensable to the idea of an ‘Arab spring’,” Hugh Roberts would subsequently note, “and so it had to have had a revolution too.”

Arab Spring comparisons tend to be inevitable and often strained, but between, say, Tunisia and Egypt, key differences are evident. It can well be said that Tunisia had something of a genuine revolution, with its military cautious and resisting any broader blood lust. But the military remained significant in Egypt for never being neutral, giving some appearance of backing the protesters.

In 2013, the military’s influence was again evident with its termination of the discombobulated, fledging democracy and the suspension of the 2012 constitution. Cunningly and devilishly, military officials gave the impression that they were merely aiding the protesters against the Morsi government, partners in democratic change against sectarianism.

This proved short lived. Officials from the Mubarak regime were returned; mass death sentences were passed and some 34,000 people jailed. A brief hiatus followed in Egyptian-Western relations. The US imposed a ban on the transfer of weapons and aid but el-Sisi proved charming enough to convince Obama administration to restore the $1.3 billion a year package.

El-Sisi is now seen to be a more violent and heavy-handed version of Mubarak, exemplified by such campaigns as those of Karim Hussein, whose “I’m Sorry, Mr President” Facebook page gathered millions of followers. Last year, he was detained for 15 days on accusations of spreading false news and the misuse of social media. The same follower had also described Mubarak as “a first-rate military man. He was a commander during the 6 October War. He should be treated like a commander before being a president.”

Mubarak did achieve his goal of being buried in Egypt’s soil. The officer legacy remains, as does the firm grip of military rule. His tenure saw consolidation and centralisation to such an extent that genuine change was bound to be a herculean feat. That feat never materialised, furnishing the historical record with the hiccup of Mohamed Morsi. And the briefest of hiccups that proved to be.


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The Coronavirus Could Wreck the Economy. These Steps Would Help Limit the Damage

Though we don’t yet know the extent of its threat, a widespread coronavirus epidemic in the United States is increasingly possible. In addition to the downright scary health consequences, we think the virus will quickly do serious damage to the U.S. economy, reducing growth in at least the first half of this year, pushing up unemployment and possibly ending the historically long expansion. And we’re far from alone.

The economic challenges posed by the virus are unique in that they are already hitting supply and demand. The former refers to the inability of workers to go to work, because of quarantines either at their jobs or their kids’ schools, along with disruptions to the global flow of goods to retailers and factories. The latter refers to reduced spending at restaurants, movie theaters, stores, etc. Consider, for example, the many trips, vacations and conferences already being canceled. Add to that the chance that millions of workers without paid leave could lose paychecks, and you begin to get a sense of the sudden shock to commerce.

The combined effect of decreased demand and disrupted supply can lead to a serious recession. While we can hope the effects of the epidemic will be short-lived and the economy will quickly bounce back, we cannot take this for granted. Therefore, policymakers must move quickly to prepare effective economic countermeasures.

Among our most prominent concerns are the millions of employees who may be told not to come to work but who lack paid leave. While more than 70 percent of private-sector workers have some degree of paid sick leave, for workers in the bottom 25 percent of the wage scale, that share falls to 47 percent. Based on their low, often nonexistent, savings, such workers have little to fall back on if they’re not getting paid.

There are various ways to quickly provide the support these households need.

Unemployment insurance is often the first line of defense in a downturn, and we should be sure that state systems are ready to respond quickly. Two important considerations: Some big state trust funds (New York, California and Texas) are running low, and state agencies need to know that employees who are available for work but locked out because of a quarantine are eligible for unemployment insurance.

One fast way to administer help is for the government to send checks to low- and middle-income households, a measure that was last used in 2008, when the George W. Bush administration sent out about $100 billion in 2008 to about 70 million households, which got an average check of about $1,100 in today’s dollars. Research found these checks to be particularly useful to low-income households.

This intervention must be structured to reach low-income households without federal income-tax liabilities. (To be clear, these households do pay other federal taxes, most notably payroll taxes.) This is a huge limitation of the federal tax cuts under consideration by the Trump administration.

Something we really don’t want is for sick workers who don’t have paid leave to go to work, a known problem well before the coronavirus. Providing a generous tax break to employers (e.g. $800 per worker) to grant at least seven sick days a year to workers not covered would be a substantial incentive. In the same vein, we may also want to encourage employers to allow telecommuting, where possible. A modest credit for allowing telecommuting (e.g. $400) could increase the use of this option. An advantage of both these credits is that any changes are likely to be permanent.

At various times in the recent past, we’ve quickly put more money into workers’ paychecks by temporarily lowering their FICA (payroll) tax. This, too, requires legislation, a key part of which is to ensure that the Social Security Trust Fund is repaid through general revenue, as occurred the last time we tapped this source of quick relief.

All of the above are countercyclical fiscal measures: government spending to offset the shock. Monetary policy is also germane in this context, and the Federal Reserve has already signaled a willingness to cut the benchmark interest rate it controls to cheapen credit. There is, however, a good chance that rate cuts will be of limited help. First, credit is already cheap. But more important, if people are afraid of getting sick in public places, they won’t take trips or go out to eat no matter how low interest rates fall. Nor will rate cuts reopen workplaces, factories and schools that are closed because of the virus.

Turning to other ways in which the virus threatens family incomes, we need to be sure that people don’t avoid testing and treatment because of insurance and “surprise billing” concerns. The Affordable Care Act covers government-recommended vaccines, but that option is many months away. The broader public interest makes this a critical moment for the government to pick up the tab for coronavirus-related treatment. Congress should act quickly to require that insurers cover testing and treatment for the coronavirus in the same way they are required to cover various forms of preventive care at no charge to patients.

We can also improve on the process of developing a vaccine. As Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar testified recently, we don’t know whether a vaccine will be affordable because the holder of the patent will be able to charge whatever it wants.

This is unacceptable. It’s fine and necessary for the government to provide resources to private companies to speed up development and testing of the vaccine, but there need to be two conditions. First, all the findings have to be made public as quickly as is practical. We want researchers worldwide to be able to benefit from any new findings to get to an effective vaccine as quickly as possible. The model here is the Bermuda Principles for the Human Genome Project, where results were posted nightly.

Second, any patents resulting from this work will be in the public domain. This means a successful vaccine will be available as a cheap generic from day one. The companies don’t need to be compensated for their research because they’ve already been paid.

We may, of course, catch a break and not need to invoke these sorts of measures. But that benign outcome is looking increasingly unlikely. If our fears prove correct, no matter what we do, the economy will take a hit. But if we act aggressively now to get such measures in place, we can at least avoid a lot of unnecessary economic hardship.

This column first appeared in the Washington Post.

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It’s Rubbish to Trash China

In Munich this past weekend at the Security Conference the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, nailed her anti-Chinese colours to the mast. Despite being a liberal on many issues and the leader of the fight to impeach President Donald Trump, she has joined forces with Trump in preaching that the West must not allow itself to be penetrated by Huawei’s 5G phone technology, (which is cheaper than any Western counterpart).

But she appeared to have no response to a former Chinese ambassador to the UK who asked what was wrong with Huawei seeking Western markets when Microsoft, Google and Facebook were such big players in China.

The Chinese government didn’t feel its security was threatened by them.

He could also have added that if they do anything that the Chinese government doesn’t like China is always able to deal with it – it has blocked out on Facebook texts critical of the government and the voices of Chinese dissidents (1).

Likewise, the US could take countermeasures with a Huawei system if necessary.

Why this obsession with China’s supposed malevolence in trade matters – which Trump’s two Democratic Party predecessors also had and Democrat Nancy Pelosi has today?

Credit Suisse report that the tally of quotas and other non-tariff barriers against foreign goods shows that China has one-third of America’s.

The leadership from the top over the last three American presidencies has steadily pushed US public opinion from being friendly towards China in the direction of hostility.

Intellectual property theft is a widely used reason for giving China a hard time.

Yet in a recent survey made by the US-China Business Council, intellectual property protection ranked sixth on a list of pressing concerns among American companies which trade with China.

In 2014 China created its first specialized court to handle intellectual property cases. In 2015 plaintiffs brought before the court 63 cases. The court ruled for the foreign firms in all 63. China itself is clearly against the theft of business secrets.

How many people outside China are aware of the responsible way China acts internationally? Take the UN for example.

According to the respected journalist Fareed Zakaria, writing in this month’s Foreign Affairs, “Beijing is now the second-largest funder of the UN and UN peacekeepers.

It has deployed 2,500 peacekeepers, more than all the other permanent members of the Security Council combined. Between 2000 and 2008 it supported 182 of 190 Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on nations deemed to have violated international rules or norms”.

This is a very different China than the one projected by many Western politicians and journalists. Usually, China is reported as being an impediment at the Security Council, using its veto fast and furiously.

China has not gone to war since 1979.

It has not used lethal military force abroad since 1988. Nor has it funded proxies or armed insurgents anywhere in the world since the early 1980s. Believe it or not but it’s true that with this record of non-intervention China is unique among the world’s great powers.

China has had no permanent military presence outside China until recently when it finished building its first overseas base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa to protect the shipping of its oil through the unstable political waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean (It’s China that takes the largest portion of Gulf oil).

The US has 84 (2) bases and military presences around the world. China is angry when there is yet another incident of US spy planes flying through Chinese airspace or very close to it. China does not fly through US airspace. Its flights are on the other side of the world.

When it comes to the issue of its military expansion into the islands and atolls of the South and East China Seas China makes the point that this was historically in its area of influence and that even today the US falls back on the Monroe Doctrine, which deems Latin America to be off-limits to the great powers of Europe.

All this is rather different from the days of Mao Zedong. He was reported as saying, apropos of nuclear war, “If the worst came to the worse and half of mankind died the other half would remain while imperialism would be razed to the ground and the whole world would become socialist.”

Mao said that although the West had “nuclear teeth” it was in fact “a paper tiger”. This kind of rhetoric has long gone. Indeed, on most issues, China is a paid-up member of those who want to settle disputes calmly and sanely.

We should have learnt from the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West the consequences of painting a big power black. There were the evils of the McCarthy witch-hunt of American dissidents, which ruined many professional lives.

There was the bloody and counterproductive Vietnam War and countless other military interventions that nearly all ended in failure, at the cost of the deaths of hundreds of thousands, mostly innocent, people.

Between 1947 and the end of the Cold War the US attempted regime change around the world 72 times. There was the frightening development of large arsenals of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, which were nearly launched on more than a handful of occasions.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has asserted that the US and its allies must keep China in “its proper place”.

This wasn’t the kind of rhetoric of Richard Nixon with his opening to China half a century ago. Nor was it that of Jimmy Carter who gave full recognition to China. The clock needs to be wound back.

The US needs to negotiate with China in better faith than it has in recent years. And stop the slagging off.

Copyright: Jonathan Power.

Editor’s notes.

1) China blocks Facebook, not only parts of Facebook. But if you use a VPN – Virtual Private Network, you can access Facebook in/from China. More here.

2) The US has far more than 84 military bases worldwide – but it depends on how “base” is defined. More here. See also Alice Slater’s analysis here, that there are bases in around 80 countries.

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Pandora’s Grail 

Pandora’s Grail  If you visit the Brooklyn  Museum You may see their marble Pandora Examining her jar The same jar’s at the Met
Though carved from limestone
From Troyes — Held by Mary Magdalene
Is that strange?
The flow/the flower/the flock Seated on benches, with one sleeve rolled up
As pigeons — white and grey and black —
Flap — just above the overpass

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They Have the Watches, We Have the Time; US and Iran Hardliners Still Want War

Photograph Source: Michael Kumm – CC BY 2.0

When I was in Afghanistan, I often heard a Pashtun saying attributed to the Afghan Taliban strategy for war with the United States: “They have the watches, but we have the time”. I do not know the provenance of this saying and I do not know if the saying exists in other Muslim or Asian societies, but it certainly has held true in warfare over the centuries whether you understand it in terms of the United States Revolution, the Vietnamese war for liberation against the French, Japanese and the US, or the decades long struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It is a saying that, if translated from Afghanistan’s Pashto to Iran’s Farsi, could be very applicable to Iran right now.

After the assassination in January of Iranian General Soleimani by the US, many commentators, including myself, were alarmed and concerned about the prospects for war between the US and Iran. Aside from the morally and intellectually dishonest here in the US, who believe the wars of the last decades have somehow been effective and worthwhile in a manner other than for the profits of weapons companies and promotions for the generals, the remainder of those paying attention have understood the wars to have not just been staggering failures of misguided and malicious Western policies to forcibly mold and shape the Muslim world into a political order and system beholden to the US, the UK and Israel, but have also unleashed horrid and hellish sufferings on tens of millions of people, sufferings that seem to be unending. A war between the US and Iran would be no different. It would bring cruel and brutal suffering to the Iranian people, devastate another country through flattened cities and wrecked infrastructure, and, once again, validate the eternal adage that war is a breeding ground for unintended consequences.

I am thankful, of course, many of us have been wrong in our predictions and estimations, and I am glad the worst has not happened.

However, before we rest and believe such a war has been averted, I think it is correct to look at Iran through that Pashto saying about watches and time and for us to be vigilant about a possible US-Iran war, a war hawks in both countries have wanted for nearly my whole life.

My understanding of Iranian society and customs is not great, however I have had Iranians, in Iran, not expats, bring this first consideration directly to me. Iranians observed a 40 day mourning period for General Soleimani. This mourning period may have restricted them in their military and political planning and operations. That mourning period ended a couple of weeks ago, so it may be possible, in line with some Iranian statements, that more attacks from Iran may occur. Such attacks may well be being planned now and may occur in the next weeks, month or year. I have no knowledge of any such planning or attacks, there are conflicting Iranian statements saying there would be no more attacks, and I am the last person who wants to sound like John Bolton or Naftali Bennett – I can’t think of anything else I’d like less – but Iranian attacks, particularly non-conventional attacks, think of the Houthi drone strike on the Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia last year, are something still to be understood as possible. Best case regarding Iranian retaliation is Iranian leaders are thinking in political terms and will utilize their political and diplomatic weight to see an expulsion of US forces from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, rather than conventional or unconventional military action..

The next aspect of the early January warfare between the US and Iran to consider is the Iranians did make an honest try at retaliation. I am not in agreement with those who say the Iranians pulled their punches or missed on purpose. They fired, if I recall correctly, 16 ballistic missiles. 11 of them missed their targets and caused no damage, but 5, according to the satellite imagery released by a private company of Al Asad air base in Iraq after the attack, did strike the flight line and airfield operations area of the US air base.

The Iranians I believe were trying to cause harm and hit back strongly, but, because of decades of sanctions and embargoes, their weaponry and technology are not very good and we have here another example of an overblown enemy threat by the US and its allies (the peril of Iran’s ballistic missile force was a major stated reason behind President Trump’s withdrawal from President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran). So the Iranians, in my view, tried to hit Al Asad, but 2/3 of their missiles missed the target area, because, again, Iranian missiles are not very capable, which should be expected due to the sanctions, embargoes and the long history of the US over-hyping the dangers of its enemies.

Fortunately, advanced warning of the Iranian missile attack was received as the Iranians told the Iraqis of the impending attack and the Iraqis then told the US. US forces at Al Asad were protected in bunkers that evening and no deaths occurred. That might have been a different matter if more of the missiles struck the populated parts of the airbase, rather than falling into the unmanned and deserted grounds in and around the airbase. If deaths had occurred I think it would have been very difficult politically for Trump to not have responded and God knows where that could have ended up. We see this right now in Syria, where a war that continues to provide its people with new iterations of battles and killings enters a new phase between Syria/Russia and Turkey and Turkey’s Islamist allies.

We should also give credit to rational and intelligent men and women in Tehran. I have no doubt many in Iran understood the position they were in militarily and politically in that early part of January. Remember, Iran’s military had just shot down a civilian airliner and 2/3 of their missiles failed in their attack on the US airbase. Rational Iranian military and political leaders would not just be cautious about their own military capabilities, but would understand the danger they were in. The US Air Force and Navy can, in two or three weeks, destroy or severely damage every Iranian ship, plane, airfield, port, and military installation, as well as much of Iran’s critical civilian physical and cyber infrastructures. If I was an Iranian leader, it would be hard, but certainly I would swallow my pride and urge restraint. This is something I have said to Iranian television and university audiences twice: the danger of the US Air Force and Navy can not be exaggerated and must be respected due to the extreme violence and destruction the US can bring to any part of the planet through those unholy winged organs of empire.

Finally, I think many in Iranian military and government circles understood their own parliamentary elections to be coming up (held the last full weekend in February) and these elections had to be Iran’s priority this winter. A war, especially a disastrous one, could very well have upset the ruling religious leadership’s plans for the elections. The weighted, if not fully rigged, elections saw conservative politicians fill the parliament – an outcome not helpful for peace. Many in Tehran recognize as well the US presidential elections to be held in November, and with that, particularly with a potential Bernie Sanders presidency, a potential lessening of tensions between the US and Iran if there is a change in the White House. Benjamin Netanyahu’s challenger in Israel, Benny Gantz is a hawk on Iran, but how worse could Gantz be than Bibi? With Netanyahu’s indictment and another round of elections in Israel forthcoming, I think there are Iranian leaders who believe a change in US and Israeli leadership could be beneficial, a sort of the devil you don’t know is better than than the devil you do approach. Add in potential political unrest due to a strangled economy, and now the coronavirus outbreak, and for many Iranian leaders waiting for November and the US elections is worthwhile and prudent. Doing anything in the interim which would give the US and Trump the excuse to attack would be staggeringly foolish and self destructive.

In the summer of 2006, as I was preparing with my Marines and sailors to go to Iraq, in the chow hall aboard the Marine Corps base in 29 Palms, California, I would wonder at all of the excitement exhibited on the chow hall’s televisions by US political and media classes over Israel’s new war in southern Lebanon. Aren’t people pleased enough with the two wars the US currently has I thought. For the US Empire, and those relishing the responsibility for its maintenance and expansion, to include much of corporate media, there can simply not be too much war. There are hardliners in Iran who want confrontation and war with the US, just as for decades now we have had hardliners in the US start, prolong and sustain war after war, stretching from Western Africa to Pakistan. What we need to do, both Americans and Iranians, is to recognize the dangers within each of our own governments and not do anything to allow these hardliners to feed off each other, escalate crises and deliver the political space needed in both countries for war between the US and Iran to occur.

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Why Do Cars Kill More People in Unequal Nations?

Photograph Source: wordjunky – CC BY 2.0

Do you know someone who’s died in a car crash? If you live in the United States, the odds say you probably do. We’ve been averaging over 40,000 deaths a year for the past half-century.

The United States, of course, hardly rates as the only nation with ongoing highway carnage. Traffic deaths remain a problem all across the world. Car accidents globally are claiming 1.3 million lives a year, with 50 million additional people suffering serious injuries.

But these huge numbers obscure an equally troubling ongoing reality: The rates of auto deaths vary enormously by nation. Some societies are making remarkable progress on the traffic-death front. In Norway, for instance, the city of Oslo saw 41 auto-related deaths in 1975, only one last year.

The United States has also registered some progress on highway death rates, but not nearly as much as Norway and other nations. U.S. road fatalities, one 2018 study found, have fallen 23 percent over recent years. But our peer developed nations in Europe and elsewhere have dropped their death rates from between 26 and 64 percent over the same time span. The United States now has a higher per-capita road fatality rate than any other major developed nation.

“If the U.S. had the same crash death rate as Sweden,” notes one recent analysis, “about 24,000 fewer lives per year would be lost.”

Worse yet, current U.S. officials responsible for keeping our roads as safe as possible don’t particularly seem to care about stats like these. Last month, at a global road safety conference in Sweden that drew government ministers and experts from over 140 nations, only one nation refused to endorse the declaration that emerged out of the conference deliberations. That nation: the United States.

The landmark “Stockholm Declaration” that the U.S. delegation chose to reject describes “the overwhelming majority of road traffic deaths” as “preventable” and “a major development and public health problem that has broad social and economic consequences.”

The world’s nations, the Stockholm Declaration continues, should all “contribute to reducing road traffic deaths by at least 50 percent from 2020 to 2030.”

Why did the United States take exception? The U.S. delegation found it “necessary to dissociate ourselves from certain paragraphs” in the Declaration that “muddle our focus.” Issues like “climate change, gender equality, reduced inequalities, responsible consumption and production,” the delegation pronounced, do “not directly” relate to road safety.

Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf pronounced just the opposite when he opened the Stockholm gathering. The conference, he noted, represented “an “opportunity to link the road safety challenge to other sustainability challenges, such as climate change, health, equality, poverty and human rights.”

The delegates who gathered in Stockholm had plenty of reason to explore all those links, especially on equality. The nations with the lowest auto death rates just happen to be among the world’s nations with the smallest gaps between the wealthy and everyone else. Among major developed nations, the United States has both the highest traffic death rates and the most economic inequality.

Just coincidence? Or could maldistributions of income and wealth be contributing somehow to traffic tragedy?

Epidemiologists — the scientists who study the health of populations — have already linked societal death rates overall to inequality. People in more unequal nations, their research shows, live longer, healthier lives than people in more unequal nations.

Could the same dynamics be at play with traffic deaths? Could inequality impact what happens when people get behind steering wheels? Inequality most definitely could — and does.

Let’s start with the roads that stretch underneath our tires. These roads, if poorly maintained, can become hazards to our health. And roads across the United States have been poorly maintained — in no small part because America’s wealthy have been bankrolling tax-cut campaigns to keep their own taxes as low as they can get them. The richer America’s rich have become, the greater their interest in keeping taxes low and their greater their bankrolling capacity.

The tax-cuts the campaign contributions of the wealthy proliferate have starved state and local governments of the funding they need to adequately maintain our highways. The inevitable result? Highways get slick when rains come. Potholes have cars suddenly swerving. Faded traffic lane lines create driver confusion. The roads become more dangerous and driving more stressful.

Add to that stress the added daily tension of life in economically stratified social settings. Inequality, for instance, lengthens commuting times as average Americans have to locate themselves ever farther away from their jobs to find affordable housing. All this stress and tension ends up exploding into road rage, into the sorts of driving behaviors that make deadly traffic accidents much more likely.

But inequality doesn’t just nurture road rage. Research psychologists have also begun focusing attention on what we might call the “road arrogance” of the rich.

One new study, funded by the federal National Institutes of Health, has found drivers of expensive cars “less likely to stop for people on foot trying to cross the street.”

Drivers prone to “speeding, tailgating, passing without signaling, and generally driving aggressively tend to be men and tend to drive high-status cars,” adds the lead author of another recent study that appears in the Journal of International Psychiatry.

Both these studies build on research from psychologist Paul Piff that positively associates “higher social-class standing” with “increased feelings of entitlement and narcissism.”

Road rage. Road arrogance. Road disrepair. One other impact of inequality seems relevant here, what economist Robert Reich has dubbed the “secession of the successful.” Simply put, this thesis holds that the affluent, as levels of inequality increase, disengage from the rest of society. They live in their own separate world and don’t particularly fret about what’s happening outside their own social universe.

The most disengaged of all — our super rich — also have the most political power. They determine, to an exceptionally high degree, which problems get seriously addressed and which problems languish and fester. For our super rich, traffic safety simply doesn’t rate as a major concern.

These rich, after all, never hassle rush-hour traffic. They ride to work in the back seats of chauffeured limousines. They flip through spreadsheets and sip coffee while others stew and steam.

A deeply unequal society will always be unsafe.

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Checking in From Bernie World

They call it Town Meeting day in Vermont. The concept is a leftover from a simpler time. In the bigger towns, it’s really just election day. Unlike the rural hamlets and villages where residents actually hold a meeting, there are no debates, no show of hands and no shaking one’s head when the neighbor starts talking some point he saw online or in the newspaper. Just voting with mostly paper ballots and markers.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders decided to speak at the fairgrounds near Burlington, VT. after the polls closed. Those grounds are a couple of miles away from my place so I figured I’d go on up there. I’ve heard Sanders speak at rallies when we were organizing the first union at the University of Vermont–his speech didn’t change much in content but it boosted worker morale when management was making threats that certainly counted as unfair labor practices. I’ve also heard him at Labor Day picnics and talked with him in Burlington’s downtown. We say hello when we are on the same flight to Washington, DC. There’s were other more confrontational interactions after he came out in favor of bombing people in the disintegrating Yugoslavian nation. In fact, after sitting in his office with a couple of dozen other antiwarriors, we argued with him and a fellow from the 1999 version of the Democratic Socialists of America at a town meeting.

Anyhow, times have changed since then and Bernie Sanders is a popular candidate for president of this crazed republic. I thought I should check out the rally. At least I would be among predominantly friendly people.

So, on Tuesday evening just before the polls closed in Vermont, I got on the bus to the fairgrounds. It was packed with young people on their way to the rally. They conversed excitedly while keeping an eye on their phones and occasionally tapping the screen to reply to a text or get a news update. By the time the bus made it to the fairgrounds, Sanders had been projected as the winner in Vermont and Biden was on his way to victory in Virginia. I walked with the crowd onto the muddy fairgrounds; the melting snow enhanced by a steady drizzle had turned the parking lot into mud. It is Vermont and there is a season here known colloquially as mud season, after all.

The hall where the rally was being held is usually used for trade fairs throughout the year and product displays during the fair held there every August. It is cavernous and lit by hundreds of fluorescent lights. After going through the security routine at the door, I entered the main room. A guy behind me asked the security guard if they had found any guns. She told him no and added that the main thing they were finding that wasn’t allowed in were vape pens. Each person who had to leave a pen or backpack behind was given a ticket so they could retrieve their items on their way out. Cannabis is legal in Vermont, so vape pens are standard outfitting for many residents.

I would estimate that a thousand people were already inside when I arrived. The crowd would peak at around two thousand. It was the first political rally of any kind that I have attended where beer was for sale. In fact, it was a top-notch local craft brew called Fiddlehead. Sales were brisk before and during the musical set from the Maine band The Mallett Brothers who were joined by local heroes Phish members Michael Gordon and Jon Fishman. Although the acoustics were terrible in the hall, I was able to discern that their opening song was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” The band played for forty-five minutes or so and featured Gordon’s teen daughter singing lead and harmonies on a few of the tunes. Meanwhile, the visage of Wolf Blitzer glared from a very large television screen hung on a wall off to stage right. CNN graphics threw numbers into the audience while other talking heads appeared to be providing what they probably considered profundities about the election returns. It was fairly obvious from early on that it would be a decent night for the Democratic Party’s right-wing. The South was going Biden’s way and even the northeast was giving him more credit than he’s ever been due. Friends of mine who are emotionally involved in the Sanders campaign and the hope it represents were texting me. Their texts expressed sadness and anger. I had to remind them that the freaking campaign season has really only barely begun. Even though it seems like it’s been going on forever.

The electoral process in the United States is unnecessarily long and convoluted. It reminds me of a season in sports. To me, it most closely resembles going through a Major League Baseball season without the joy of watching a game. There are essentially two parts of the baseball season. There are two leagues and the first part of the season is known as the regular season and goes on for 162 games. It involves playing the same opponents multiple times. Mostly, each team plays other teams in their division and whichever team wins the most overall games in each division wins that division. Two other teams with the next highest number of wins become wild card contenders. Then comes the postseason wherein a formula designed to give the advantage to the teams with the best record—the five remaining teams in each league play each other, eventually winnowing the number of teams down to one in each league. Those two teams then play each other in a best-of-seven World Series. The winner of that series is the champion until the next World Series is over the following October.

Maintaining the analogy, that puts the current Democratic electoral process about one-third of the way through the season. As any baseball fan knows, the outcome of the season is rarely certain for their team. It is usually full of ups and downs; different teams slide in and out of first and second place in each division and the division leader at season’s end is not always the team that led the division over the summer. It’s an old baseball adage that the season is a marathon, not a sprint. This is true in Democratic Party politics, especially this year. As for the GOP, Donald Trump is like a team that can’t be bested record-wise by any team in its league. His competition is not worth noting. He will be the GOP team in the final contest of the election season.

I was at a family gathering a couple of weeks ago. Although politics is not a general topic of conversation at these events, it does come up. Now, my family is large. Our gatherings number in the several dozens. The political conversations I do have are revealing. When one lives in a progressive bubble-like Vermont, they tend to forget that the rest of the nation thinks differently. What I found remarkable at this most recent gathering was the seriousness with which people were considering Bernie Sanders as president. Even those in-laws and siblings (all-male, a few military vets and a couple small businessmen) who tend towards the rightwing side of things not only said they appreciate his campaign, but believe that his call for universal health care and free education beyond high school were great ideas. Their qualms about supporting him stemmed from an uncertainty about the socialist label he is hung with. I also sensed that they were afraid of immediate change and preferred something incremental, like restoring the ACA with a public option before going to single-payer. This openness to these ideas is new and seems to reflect an understanding that the super-wealthy are screwing us all. The female members of the family—my sisters, sisters-in-law and my nieces—were all behind either Sanders or Warren. I know this is anecdotal, but it is the change in the males’ attitudes which is worth noting. The Trumpist assault on the working people of the US has sharpened the contradictions, as the leftists like to say.

Back to the rally. After a few more speakers and a brief wait, Sanders finally took the stage. His speech was short and to the point. He noted the different circumstances he was now campaigning under and pointed out that he had two major opponents. The first and foremost is Donald Trump. The second is Joe Biden. Noting that Biden is the billionaires’ choice and that Bloomberg is actually a billionaire, Sanders cast himself as the candidate of the working class and told the audience that he is confident he and his movement will win in November.

I have not openly supported a candidate for US president since 1972 when I supported George McGovern. I’m not gong to start now. However, the fact that Sanders’ positions on most of the important issues in the US are positions which the other candidates have responded to not by dismissing them but by slightly modifying them, represents a shift leftward in establishment politics. The trick, then, is not to get hung up on the electoral fate of the candidate espousing those positions, but to organize around those issues. Then, even if the system does its dirty work and rejects the social democratic candidate, the fight for the issues that the candidate is running on will continue. I think Bernie Sanders understands this. It’s important that his supporters do too.

(As I got ready to submit this, I heard Bloomberg dropped out. So, his money will now go to moderate and right-wing Democrats. The billionaires are having their drivers circle their limousines. The Sanders campaign is also sharpening the contradictions, albeit in a different manner than Donald Trump. The icing on the cake is that we don’t have to see those obnoxious Mike Bloomberg commercials anymore).

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The Call for an Extinction Rebellion

Mexican Wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

In the age of coming climate apocalypse, the narcissistic self-regard of humans in their exploitive relationship with the natural world is so disgusting, so utterly reprehensible, so vain and vacuous and unworthy of intelligent beings that it makes me want to repudiate humanism altogether and call for humans to be wiped off the goddamn planet.

The film Planet of the Apes, issued in 1968, had it right when the apes quoted their sacred scrolls:

Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours.

There’s my rant, and enough of it.  I’m part of this absurdist cavalcade aimed at climate doom, I’m the problem as much as anyone else, and I haven’t any high horse on which to climb to judge my fellow beasts.

What I know is this: Humankind as currently organized – organized for ever-more unnecessary consumption – will burn in the hell of a climate-warmed world and will indeed make a desert of the place we called home.

Good riddance?  No way.  I have two daughters, aged 7 and 24, to think about.  Do we actually give a shit about these kids and their future?  Of course not. There are profits to be made.

Which is to say: let’s stab a knife in the back of my daughters and watch them bleed out in the street years hence.  Fuck the kids!  Let them die so we can have more and more in our imperious carbon-intensive moment of profligacy.

Like I said, it’s so disgusting, so dispiriting, that it could turn you into an anti-humanist, someone who might wish the filthy species of entitled shitheads to wipe itself out.

But then again: my daughters.  Humans, sweet and gentle and open and uncorrupted, not yet anyway, not if I can prevent it.

I want them to grow up in the world that I grew up in, a world of lovely natural rhythms, in which the biotic expressions of the complexity and richness of the other-than-human runs riot across the seasons.  Here – look, kids! – is the newness and strangeness and bewilderment of the repeating cycles of nature.   Here is the ground of our being.  Without it, we are nothing.  There is no humankind without nature.

And here, kids, is a smartphone which I smash with a hammer.  My seven-year-old, Josie, who walks the woods of the Catskills with me, finds this destructive idea at least as entertaining as tree identification.  (Note to parents: destroying phones with a hammer works – it is proven by physics.)

The point is this: whenever you feel the terrible weight of misanthropy – I feel it every time I wake up and look in the mirror – think of future generations, your love for them, your honoring of them, and try to militate against our economic system that condemns them to destruction.

I can think of one and only one political movement today that serves this purpose, and it is called Extinction Rebellion.   Check it out.  The idea behind Extinction Rebellion is that if we all get together and disobediently shut down the mad system, we might no longer have to feel ashamed at being the mere beast called man.

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Mixed Returns for the Huawei Bashing Tour

Photograph Source: Huawei – CC BY 2.0

The US imperium is rattled, so much so it’s letting everyone else know about it. Move over the trade war with its bitchy insistence on redressing imbalances, surpluses and deficits; the next phase of conflict with China is being waged in matters of technology, with Huawei’s 5G prowess featuring prominently. As the veteran Australian journalist Tony Walker soberly notes, “The ultimate destination of this conflict is unclear, but its ramifications will scar international relationships for decades to come.”

The Munich Security Conference saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper particularly vocal on the issue of Huawei. Both intended their visit to be a warning against European states who might succumb to China’s 5G temptation. “Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors,” warned Esper, “could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulations and espionage.” Cue the necessary critique of Beijing, which sounded like a faux Churchillian warning about imminent danger. “The Chinese Communist Party is heading even faster and further in the wrong direction with more internal repression, more predatory behaviour, more heavy-handedness and a more aggressive military posture. It is essential that the international community wake up to this challenge.”

Instructions were also relayed from the White House to Germany’s US ambassador Richard Grenell to “make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor” risked compromising intelligence sharing arrangements with the US “at the highest level”.

Even President Donald Trump’s opponents made an appearance. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was grim before delegates attending the MSC; dealing with the Chinese telco only offered absolutes, not degrees. “This is about choosing autocracy over democracy on the information highway.” Making arrangements with the company was akin to “putting the state police in the pocket of every consumer in these countries, because of the Chinese way.” Not exactly culturally fleet-footed, to say the least.

Pelosi had appeared in the full rhetorical regalia of a wounded, challenged empire. “This is the information highway of the now, and why should we want to give license to the Chinese to direct the traffic on that information highway of the future?”

The US has also been enlisting its support from loyal, unflinching deputies on the Huawei bashing circuit. Consider the solemn note in The Strategist by the Australian director of the signals directorate, Simeon Gilding. Its tone is one of sad resignation, regret, and schoolmarmish, notably on the British decision to permit Huawei some limited role. “It is disappointing that the Brits are doing the wrong thing on 5G, having not exhausted other possibilities. Instead they have doubled down on a flawed and outdated cybersecurity model to convince themselves that they can manage the risk that Chinese intelligence services could use Huawei’s access to UK telco networks to insert bad code.”

Australia, in fact, has gone beyond the call of ingratiation, a point that has not been lost on Beijing’s good offices. In 2018, Andrew Shearer, then deputy head of the Office of National Intelligence, and Alastair MacGibbon, formerly of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, took it upon themselves to demonise Huawei, paving the ground for the company’s exclusion from supplying 5G technology that same year. Both made it their missions to convince the United Kingdom to stay clear of the company.

As an unnamed source reported in The Sydney Morning Herald claimed at the time, “We made representations to the UK on why our stance was taken … it’s been respectful. It’s a bit like a fight at a family lunch where people might go home sore but they quickly realise blood is thicker than water.”

Last year, Australian officials scurried to New Delhi to drum up support against Huawei from their Indian counterparts. “Indian officials,” according to the Australian Financial Review, “were keen to get an understanding of how the Turnbull government arrived at the decision to ban Huawei, and multiple discussions have been held on the matter.”

This whole endeavour has been a bit much for China’s ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, who has been particularly vocal on the subject, describing the measure as “politically motivated”, “a discrimination against the Chinese company. At the same time, it doesn’t serve the best interest of the Australian companies and consumers.” For the ambassador, approaches have been made to the authorities in Canberra “to explore what security risks or concerns [they] have. And also they have pledged, I think publicly, to conclude a no-backdoor agreement.”

Gains made by the US side of the table at the Munich Security Conference, certainly on the issue of Huawei, were minimal. The Munich Security Report published this year spoke of “Westlessness”, though the US delegation bellowed the point “western values” were winning, whatever shape victory had taken. The only thing missing in Pompeo’s delivery was the draping of the Stars and Stripes. A sense of which way the wind was blowing was gathered in the opening remarks of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who landed a neat blow against Trump’s foreign policy. The US, he suggested, had rejected “the very concept of the international community … ‘Great again’ but at the expense of neighbours and partners.”

European counterparts such as French President Emmanuel Macron are intent on taking a line similar to the UK. The position on China is unsurprising, a traditional Gallic resentment at the flexing of US muscle. French junior economy minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told BFM Business television in November last year that, “The government will not exclude anyone. We are not following the position of the United States.” Huawei, she noted, had “a 25 percent market share” along with such tech giants as Nokia and Ericsson.” Samsung, she added, was also keen to be involved in supplying 5G in the French market.

US legislators detected some hope in Germany, with lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party backing a strategy paper with the potential to prevent Huawei’s involvement in the country’s 5G plans. But no outright ban is countenanced, with Merkel taking the cautious line that all companies be subject to similar security safeguards.

The outcome of the chattering, bickering and sides swiping from Munich, apart from limited success in the Huawei bashing stakes, was this: expect the information highway over the coming years, whoever is controlling it, setting the tolls, adjusting the metres, to be a rather potholed one.

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Relationships are Not the Monopoly of the State and Its Appendages

Photograph Source: irumge – CC BY 2.0

Human for those who labor under the delusion that the curtailment of civil liberties in Kashmir and persecution of minorities in Delhi are “internal” matters: India chose democracy, secularism, and socialism as its goals in 1947.

The first milestone on this road is democracy.

Democracy entails a lot more than merely conducting elections every five years. In substance, democracy is a way of life and a way of thinking.

In a democracy, the majority will prevail, but it is equally incumbent on the majority to respect and defend the legitimate interests and sentiments of minorities and to dispel their apprehensions.

The greatest test of the success of democracy lies in the extent to which its minorities feel secure.

Democracy and secularism in India will remain failed experiments so long as minorities are marginalized and brutalized.

I am not saying this as a Muslim, but as a South Asian and, more so, because I have never reconciled with the communalization of politics.

Muslims are part and parcel of South Asia’s history—past and future, and I am of the firm conviction that every inhabitant of India must be given a sense of participation in the country’s affairs.

In light of the complex political history of India, it becomes all the more important to ensure that the minorities of the country are satisfied with their relationship with mainland India.

It is regrettable that this complex political history has been ignored or left uncared for by the BJP as well as the Congress.

This grave lapse is responsible for breeding extremist national chauvinism, thereby weakening the secular character of the constitution and the country.

Amidst the bedlam and madness in Delhi, several unsung heroes are fighting to protect our common humanity.

From the Hindu man who sacrificed his life saving his six Muslim neighbors from the conflagration that engulfed them, to the Muslims who formed a human chain around a temple to prevent its desecration, humanity hasn’t perished.

Despite the apathy of law enforcement in Delhi and incendiary speeches of head honchos of the Bhajpa, several people have kept themselves away from the despicable influence of communalism.

Communalism and its propagation should be regarded as a serious offense.

Even today, there are people who do not tolerate an outlook that makes a distinction between communities.

Many of us were taught not to discriminate between Hindus and Muslims. We were taught that the life of a Hindu was as sacred to us as that of a Muslim. We were taught that any harm to a Hindu should be prevented at the cost of our lives, for our religion teaches us that it is our duty to defend and help our neighbor. I am proud to see people like the Muslims of Chand Bagh, who chose to protect a Hindu religious site, amidst the inferno.

Stories of Muslims saving Hindus and protecting their religious sites; Hindus warding off frenzied mobs, and giving refuge to endangered Muslims; and Sikhs opening relief camps for the sick, wounded, and vulnerable are manifestations of the indivisibility of the human bond.

People who recognize the inherent dignity of one another and are not swept away by the brutality of the mob are the real heroes. They ensure that the state and its appendages cannot claim monopoly of every human relationship.


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A World No Longer Shaped by Atlantic Powers

53rd Munich Security Conference 2017 – Public Domain

The annual Munich Security Conference that took place February 14-16 this year turned out to be an iconic event, drawing comparison with the one held in the same Bavarian city on February 10, 2007, where in a prophetic speech Russian President Vladimir Putin had criticized the world order characterized by the United States’ global hegemony and its “almost uncontained hyper use of force—military force—in international relations.”

If Putin’s 2007 Munich speech was prescient about an incoming new Cold War and the surge of tensions in Russia’s relations with the West, 13 years later, at the event this year, we witnessed that the transatlantic ties that evolved through the two world wars in the last century and blossomed into a full-fledged alliance system have reached a crossroads.

Deep cracks have appeared in the transatlantic relationship. In an extraordinary opening address, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an éminence grise in European diplomacy, accused Washington of rejecting “the very concept of an international community.”

Steinmeier acknowledged that there is no return to the halcyon days of close transatlantic partnership, as Europe and the U.S. are drifting away from each other. He warned, “If the European project fails, the lessons of German history, but perhaps also European history, will be called into question.”

Having said that, Steinmeier did not advocate that Europe could go it alone, either. Rather, “only a Europe that can and wants to protect itself credibly will be able to keep the U.S. in the alliance.”

But he regretted that “Europe is no longer as vital to the U.S. as it used to be. We must guard against the illusion that the United States’ dwindling interest in Europe is solely down to the current administration… For we know that this shift began a while ago, and it will continue even after this administration.”

The theme of European independence—Europe becoming a sovereign, strategic and political power—was also the leitmotif of a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron who brought a rare dynamism into the European debate, fighting spiritedly for a common European foreign and security policy. The German policymakers have signaled broad agreement with Macron’s idea that Europe must take charge of its own destiny.

In contrast, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had earlier insisted that the talk about the demise of the West is “grossly exaggerated,” and, in fact, “the West is winning. We are collectively winning. We are doing it together.”

Meanwhile, two subplots that kept appearing in the discussions were, one, the continued relevance of multilateralism in the international system and, two, deep anxiety over the current global security environment.

Steinmeier framed the concerns sharply, saying, “the idea of international community is not outmoded,” adding that “withdrawing into our national shells leads us into a dead end, into a truly dark age.”

All in all, these sharp exchanges between the Europeans and some of the American delegation confirmed, more than ever, the weakness and disunity of the West. A Politico report on the Munich Security Conference noted, “The two sides aren’t just far apart on the big questions facing the West (threats from Russia, Iran, China), they’re in parallel universes.”

One major issue that divided Munich was China. Neither Pompeo nor Defense Secretary Mark Esper left any doubt that Washington considers China to be a nefarious force in the world, representing a significant long-term threat. But that view is not shared by many countries in the EU. The underlying question is what posture the Western alliance should take toward China, which is a fundamental one with far-reaching consequences. Europe is deeply worried about the consequences that spurning Beijing would have on trade and investment.

It became apparent at the conference that there was no acceptance of Pompeo’s plea that China is the new enemy. His cautioning against the involvement of the Chinese tech company Huawei in the upcoming 5G rollout met with stony silence by European allies. The policy toward China could emerge as the biggest transatlantic divide.

Can the West regain its influence? The crux of the matter is that with the decline in material wealth and the decay of moral values, the capacity to influence has shrunk. And the West’s form of economic organization is no longer as appealing as it once was. Also, with the rise of China, rapid development of India, and the resurgence of Russia, a new dynamic of global power is taking shape.

As these and other emerging powers grow in strength, a dispersion of power and influence is bound to accelerate, and the West is unlikely to regain the preponderant influence it wielded in the post-World War II era.

This drain of influence might slow down if only a “new West” led by Europe that combined power and values reached out to powers such as India or Japan to build global alliances. But a major lacuna lies in the United States’ contempt of multilateralism and a rules-based order.

Equally, Washington’s push for trade-offs to advance its unilateral confrontations—be it with Russia and China or Iran and Venezuela—fails to strike a chord with its top Western partners, the majority of whom are averse to any form of confrontation, least of all with Beijing.

“We cannot be the United States’ junior partner,” said Macron, citing recent failures in the West’s policy of defiance. Clearly, internal divisions afflict the West, and it is hard to see how they can be overcome.

At best, coalitions of the willing may appear within and among the Western states on specific issues. But even then, the West can at best slow down its relative decline but nowhere near reverse it.

The heart of the matter is that the economic center of gravity in the world order and the ensuing global power equation is inexorably shifting away from the West, while on the other hand, there is no longer a “West” that is united behind principles, values, and policies.

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Kaia Rolle, Handcuffed and Arrested at 6: How Many More, and for How Long Will This Happen in America?

While fretting over refugee children in freezing tents along Turkey’s border, or Nargis Fazili’s family fleeing Afghanistan across Asia to Europe, or lone migrant children caged in U.S. detention centers, we may barely register what happens to American children like Kaia Rolle; she’s a 6-year-old student at a not unusual neighborhood school in Florida.

I suppose we should feel grateful for the body cameras which most American police are now required to wear to document their on-the-job encounters. Some police videos are made available to the public; some are lost. One recently released  records an incident last September:—the handcuffing of Kaia Rolle by policemen at her school. The manacled child was led to a squad car and, unaccompanied by any school official or relative, and taken to a detention center to be finger-printed and photographed. The video was likely edited to hide the child’s face, probably in compliance with a ‘civil-rights’ law that protects minors—thank you. But it illustrates enough for us to witness an all-too-common injustice.

It’s not the pleas of the weeping child that I find most disturbing; it’s the school staff’s passive witness to the child’s torture. None of the three women in the camera’s scope makes any attempt to protest, or to question the decision by we-don’t-known-whom, to subject the child to this unconscionable treatment.

To further emphasize the egregious behavior by the police, we hear one man –likely the school resource officer –chatting with the staff members without any hint of regret or hesitation about how he regularly arrests children. Arrests are a source of pride for him, it seems. “Six thousand arrests over 28 years”, he boasts, “the youngest, 7-years-old.” When informed that the latest victim is six, he quips: “She’s six; now that’s a record.” Dennis Turner is a policeman who, like many in his position, are hired after retirement as “school resource officers”.

These resource officers constitute a new class of law enforcement personnel employed by schools across America— they’re in my New York neighborhood schools too– our solution to school shootings, a nationwide policy to protect our children from gun wielding maniacs. While they wait for anything that threatens the school from outside, these officers are engaged in student discipline inside. Parents and school administrators, out of fear of armed assailants, are empowering these unsupervised, armed retirees and veterans of foreign conflict –men accustomed to manhandling mostly adult male suspects– to discipline troublesome children.

(In addition to their school salary, a wage often higher than teachers’, many of them enjoy a generous pension from their police or military service. What a boon for the profession of law enforcement!)

Attorney John Whitehead, of the Rutherford Institute, warning about our expanding police presence is so alarming that we are either too disturbed to register the details or we think he’s exaggerating. He is not.

Viewing this single video of an on-duty school guardian entrusted to protect children, one has to question how much more goes on that we are not privy to? And this in inside U.S.A. with its celebrated freedoms! (I cannot bear to imagine the experience of countless Iraqi and Afghan families subject to abuse by American military personnel.)

We are told Kaia was released and isn’t facing any charges. This doesn’t mollify me; nor am I gratified by the firing of that officer.)

The video of the child’s arrest is revealing about how the child is handled too. A school staff member calmly tells Kaia to “Go with them, baby girl.” As Kaia is handcuffed, we hear one officer gently say: “Come over here honey”, then “It’s not going to hurt”.

Later news clips of Kaia with her grandmother report that she is doing fine. That’s today. What about in the coming years?

This experience may embolden little Kaia to become an attorney or a civic leader, perhaps a policewoman to protect others from the cruelty she would never forget. Can we fault her, though, if she chooses violence as a way to defend herself when gentle people nearby fail her, or if they’re better informed about child victims of foreign aggression?


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Liberals Explain Things to Me … My Soul Rebels

…that awareness of a ubiquitous, arbitrary death—which descends like a medieval plague on the just and the unjust alike, without warning or reason—is, I think, central to our experience of the 20th century.

– A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide

“The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from human habitation—a book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

– Kafka, quoted in The Savage God

The institutionalizing of knowledge….makes people dependent on having their knowledge produced for them. It leads to a paralysis of the moral and political imagination.

– Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality

A Cafe customer and friend, Brian, handed me out of the box he was carrying copies of the August 18 issue of the New York Times magazine and the Times supplement that announce the launching of “the 1619 Project.” He had bought 50 of them in order to pass them on to anyone who might be interested. Somehow, I had missed the news of this worthy Project, aimed ambitiously and admirably at reframing American history to “make explicit that slavery is the foundation upon which this country is built”- a cause I wholeheartedly support.

Inwardly, and in the face of Brian’s (he is white) perpetual enthusiasm for the topic of race, I am tired. I could imagine myself reading the material, consoling myself and warming my soul with truthy facts from “peoples” history. An oasis right at the tip of my fingers wherefrom I can drink until satiated. But, instead of accepting the materials gracefully, I protested to Brian: “The problem is, knowing the facts doesn’t change people.” I gave him my example of all the customers we lose when their children arrive at school age, and the parents promptly move to the white suburbs with their “higher performing” schools. I emphasized, “These people are not racists; they are pro-social justice, good people. But their behavior will reflect their context, not what they are taught in a pro-social program at school. They will behave according to their fears, not their ideals.”

As I spoke, I had the familiar sensation of the microphone being clicked off. I am talking to myself.

The same day, I received from a friend via email a video that was apparently making the rounds among liberal intellectuals like herself, called The Day Democracy Died. In it, we are treated to delightfully inventive animated portraits of the Founding Fathers, singing to the tune of The Day the Music Died, smart lyrics about Trump and how people must not vote for him. I watched as George Washington, John Adams, and then James Madison sang their verses. I’m not sure I will watch the rest. All I can think of, watching it, is, yes, these are the smart clever guys, the educated liberals, who can put together such a satisfying few moments of …well…liberal satisfaction. I could not think what I had said that made my friend think this was something I would enjoy.

These days, I wonder if I can muster my energy anymore to make the response my soul wants to make to all this good “liberal-splaining.” The difficulty for me, as the ongoing catastrophe – climate – inequality – war – discardability of human beings – keeps advancing, of being continually bathed in a wash of liberal enthusiasms is to keep track of what’s missing, what keeps me from sharing their enthusiasm. Whatever it is, I have to summons it myself; the liberal thoughtworld that turns off the mic on me is singularly bent on forgetting its inner disquiet (or limiting it to “if we can just get rid of Trump!”).

It’s nothing personal, this microphone-switching. It’s what you do when someone is clearly coming from some foreign place whose thought patterns you cannot grasp because you do not know the culture, this “otherness” confronting you. Amongst my liberal friends, it is a general phenomenon, not a unique one; the liberal class believes it exists in a homogenous society marred by racism and poverty, when in fact the society is wholly segregated and stratified; they do not acknowledge “otherness” (other than in the approved categories, thus Kim cannot be an “other;” microphone clicks off). They do not become “others” themselves, unless something terrible befalls them and they fall out of the liberal class, and even that may not do it. What liberals need in order to stop collectively being an obstruction to change, besides turning off MSNBC news, is “soul facts” to stand against the “knowledge that has been produced for them,” dependence upon which is making them stupid. In Kafka’s sense, they should read a book but not another comfortable read by Naomi Klein or Ta-Nehisi Coates. It must be a confrontation with the knowledge that will chop “the frozen sea within,” the kind of soul meeting that society generally leaves to its artists.

The special character of art or creativity, its independence from “facts” due to the relationship of artists to the Muse (i.e., to their inwardness and imagination), allows the artist to function as society’s conduit for necessary compensatory “spiritual” knowledge. Compensatory because it comes from the Unconscious, the realm of the “deep Feminine,” that cannot be contacted via ordinary consciousness, this knowledge includes the stuff most of us don’t like to think about (i.e, death, decay, loss, failure and poverty); it both fascinates and repels. Consequently there’s a mystique about the artist; those who die at an early age (Keats) or by suicide (Plath) are romanticized or fetishized. In post- WW II, atomic-age America, the burden of the modern “awareness of ubiquitous, arbitrary death” was expressed in the bleakness and despair, alcoholism and suicide we associate with the artists of that era. Fast forward to our time: neoliberalism’s triumphal embrace of progress, its offer of salvation by technology, 24-7 media saturation etc., has resulted, catastrophically, in near-complete suppression of the “compensatory knowledge;” even art has come to serve neoliberalism’s benign totalitarianism, sacrificing imagination for the good of the bourgeois whole. In effect, neoliberalism has turned off the microphone for the spiritual voices of its poets, prophets, and mystics while keeping it on for the droning banality of MSNBC and NPR.

In The Savage God: A Study of Suicide (1970) author and literary critic A. Alvarez wrote of the artist in “totalitarian society:” “When the artist is valued …only to the extent to which he serves the policies of the state, then his art is reduced to propaganda…. The artist who refuses that role refuses everything; he becomes superfluous. In these circumstances the price of art in the traditional sense is suicide – or silence, which amounts to the same thing.”

Though I wasn’t sure if Alvarez referred to Soviet Russia or our own smiley-faced totalitarianism, we know the silence he is talking about. I am tempted to say of Alvarez that, having perceived the artist’s predicament as the choice between either artistic suicide or silence (i.e, professional suicide), he chose the former, as has much (not all!) of the art world since. As literary critic, he championed the confessional poets, many of them self-destructive. His doing so helped his career, and it helped to keep the art world in the popular media. As part of the media spectacle, artists no longer could serve as “conduit” for deep spiritual knowledge with its power to enliven us and make us feel our worth as human beings. With the art world largely having chosen artistic (spiritual), rather than professional suicide, and liberal society’s “microphone off,” a different way must be found for spiritual knowledge to be integrated if we are to be capable of imagining, much less retaining, the necessary conditions for our own humanity,

Fortunately for the human cause, other artists, both known and unknown, responded differently to the great evil of late-stage capitalism than those who succumbed to its darkness. They have consciously taken up the artist’s function as integrators of “compensatory knowledge.” I am particularly aware, from my own study, of contemporary writers and thinkers who were influenced by the poet Robert Bly. He, in turn, was influenced by Spanish surrealist poets, by Eastern spirituality and Sufism, by C.G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, Marie-Louise von Franz, etc., and also by people who, like Bly, were part of the spiritual recovery movements of the 1980’s. The result was a “new age” movement (derided and demeaned in mainstream liberal media) among these explorers of the Unconscious. By a process of descending into their darkness and despair – they learned that integration of darker knowledge could be achieved by means of the myth-informed imagination existing in the soul. Most importantly, those who descend into the indigenous layers of their own psyche, i.e., making the “hero’s journey” in the manner of the artist, can go beyond the stage of healing that just makes people functional enough to keep capitalism going. Men and women who enter and get “lost in the forest remote from human habitation” – a test of courage as perilous as any 19th century explorer of the Nile – can discover the great treasure of “eternal things” awaiting them there, the basis for their own subjective authority, i.e., for their individuality and their art.

Accustomed as I am to speaking with the microphone turned off, I prefer this “death” to the alternative, for without individual truth learned in soul facts, “vision” is limited to liberal consensus. Without a basis in “eternal things,” counter-cultural idealism – that is, the “unelectable,” funky and unfashionable idealism of peace, reconciliation, justice, between all living beings and with the earth – can’t exist. Only with the capacity to be grounded in one’s own subjectivity – precisely as if it mattered! – can a spirit for living humanly and nobly be found that does not shrink back, even in the face of the modern horrors. Built up over millennia of an ever-threatened human existence, the soul’s memory provides a basis for adhering to the center, rather than flying outward in the falcon’s ever-widening gyre (Yeats). Even the advancing threats of the 20th-21st centuries that fall “on the just and unjust alike” cannot vanquish its completely subjective, soul-based idealism.

I write about these ideas not to propagate a new dogma. (On the contrary, decision-making based in “soul facts” rather than in a science-based regime of official “facts,” makes this new heroism intrinsically de-centralized and non-authoritarian, anarchist without Anarchism.) I write purely in the interest of maintaining human aliveness, chiefly my own, so constantly threatened and demoralized in the neoliberal reality. I am willing to be “dead” in this world, as long as I can be livened by the subjective, creative reality within. Therefore, I decline to speak from or for the world based in institutionalized “fact” that’s designed to dominate over the fragile “soul fact,” and leaves all the “others” on the planet to grapple with feelings of smallness, or shame, or being dumb, failed, discardable, unwanted. The contrast provided by those who depend on soul facts, rather than on “the knowledge that’s been produced for them,” allows one to feel the difference between being a subjectively alive human being (i.e., “dead,” microphone off) and subjectively shit (i.e., functional).

The liberal class in America is now highly disturbed and disoriented by the instability of “facts,” the “two sides to every argument” and ”fake news” of neoliberalism’s brave new world. So much so, they will act as if all the error is on the other side, with those who will not listen to science, or reason. Really, though, this betrayal by fact-based, media-propagated “truth” is something we had coming. If liberal society had, after outgrowing religion, kept ears and eyes open to the artists and poets, mystics and prophets, and turned off the microphone on the MSNBC babblers and game players, we would have been better equipped for defending humanity against the increasingly violent forces of dehumanization. As it is now, humanity depends upon each person to be a hero in its defense; and this has to be our cause, over mere survival.


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Problems with Bible Classes

Here in Appalachia’s Bible Belt, conservatives in the Legislature want to force all West Virginia public high schools to teach Bible classes, as occurs in several other Republican-controlled states.

I wonder how such classes handle Bible topics like these:

First, the Bible decrees that gay males must be killed. Leviticus 20:13 says:

“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

Imagine classroom disputes that could erupt between Bible-believing students and others. Could classes turn violent? (Oddly, lesbians aren’t mentioned.) Now that America allows same-sex marriage, would classes conclude that America violates the Bible?

Next, the Bible decrees that those who work on Sunday must be killed. Exodus 31:15 decrees: “Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 35:2 is almost identical.

Would teachers apply this mandate to police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, hospital aides, paramedics, snowplow drivers, power repair crews, bus drivers, airline crews, radio and television staffs, store clerks and others who must work on Sundays? What about cooks and waitresses serving Sunday food? Come to think of it, ministers and church organists work on the Sabbath, don’t they?

The 22nd chapter of Deuteronomy commands that brides who aren’t virgins must be taken to their fathers’ doorsteps and stoned to death. (But non-virgin grooms aren’t mentioned.) With millions of unwed American couples living together, will students debate whether the execution decree applies to females among them?

The Bible endorses slavery. Leviticus 25:44 says: “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.” Exodus 21:7 gives rules when “a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant.”

Would high school students discuss buying slaves from neighbor nations, and selling daughters into servitude?

In 1 Samuel 15, God commands Hebrew soldiers to attack a neighbor tribe “and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” Numbers 31 does likewise, with this exception: “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” Would classes apply these decrees to U.S. soldiers today?

Many other Bible sections contain controversial commands that could provoke classroom disputes. Before the Bible-in-schools plan reaches final passage, I hope sponsors offer a way to prevent turmoil.

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