Counterpunch Articles

“Everywhere is Kashmir”: Unraveling Weaponized, Corporatized Hindustan in India’s Northeast

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

“In India today,” said an Indigenous activist I recently interviewed in the northeastern Indian state of Jharkhand, “everywhere is Kashmir.”

At first glance, this statement seems overblown, perhaps even outrageous. No other part of India is as much of a consolidated internal colony as Kashmir. For that matter, Palestine is one of the only other parts of the world that that can match or exceed Kashmir’s horrific past and renewed present of curfews, communication blackouts, transportation blockades, forced disappearances, and military and paramilitary brutality and bloodshed. (India’s ever-closer collaboration with Israel gives these parallels a particularly timely and unsettling significance.) In so many ways, nowhere is Kashmir but Kashmir itself.

And yet, the seeds of Kashmir’s never-ending misery are bearing poisonous fruit all across India. Animated by the interlocking forces of neoliberal capitalism and Hindu nationalism, the Indian state’s insatiable appetite for natural resources, ironclad commitment to elite-led economic growth, and gleeful deployment of grassroots fascist thugs and police, military, and paramilitary forces have fueled a mounting avalanche of tragedies across the country. Together, these priorities and capacities have caused an ongoing parade of stomach-churning mob lynchings; the harassment, imprisonment, and even assassinations of dissenters like Gladson Dungdung, Stan Swamy, and Gauri Lankesh; and the gagging, obstruction, and expulsion of civil society organizations like the Lawyers Collective and the Navsarjan Trust. If Kashmir’s condition can be described as a syndrome brought on by a shamelessly chauvinistic, mercilessly exploitative, and openly repressive state, its early and intermediate symptoms are increasingly visible everywhere.

The widespread nature of these symptoms should not, by any means, normalize Kashmir’s nightmare. If anything, it should stimulate solidarity-building between the state’s besieged population and the many others who find themselves more and more at the mercy of the Modi regime’s push for a Hindi-speaking Hindu Indian nation ruled by a handful of billionaires and their state collaborators. I dare suggest that I found traces of Kashmir on the streets and in the forests of Jharkhand. I offer the reflections below on my time there in the hopes that they will illustrate the need to confront combined weaponized, religiously sanctioned economic occupation as the defining political mode of the prevailing Indian state and its subcomponents.

The Investment Decimation

Billboards all over Ranchi, Jharkhand’s capital city, promote Momentum Jharkhand, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government’s tireless campaign to convert Jharkhand into “The Investment Destination.” This campaign exemplifies Jharkhand’s approach to economic growth by any means necessary since achieving statehood in 2000: successive Jharkhandi governments have signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with public and private corporations across a range of industries, from steelmaking to agriculture to digital technology. At the inauguration of Momentum Jharkhand in 2017, reigning Chief Minister Raghubar Das signed no less than 209 MOUs worth Rs. 3 lakh crore or 42 billion USD, receiving New Delhi’s wholehearted approval and support in the process; one activist described Modi and Das as “brothers” for all intents and purposes.

From the Oracle Corporation to the Tata Group to hatemongering godman Baba Ramdev, Jharkhand’s investors have promised benefits galore to the residents of their host state, from jobs to educational institutions to technological innovation to support systems for small farmers and business people. In exchange, they have demanded uninhibited access to Jharkhandi land and the riches it contains; Jharkhand, after all, is home to 40% of India’s mineral wealth, including sizeable deposits of coal, bauxite, uranium, and gold. Jharkhand’s leaders have been more than happy to meet these demands: here, as elsewhere in Modi’s India, the irresistible spoils of economic occupation dissolve the notorious inefficiencies of bureaucratic and parliamentary institutions, forging public-private partnerships in which the actual public is a passive, if not entirely absent, actor.

The acquisition of land, however, has proven a crucial stumbling block to the state-backed corporatization of Jharkhand. Landforms the basis of traditional socioecological, sociopolitical, and sociocultural life for the state’s adivasis or Indigenous peoples, who account for 27% of Jharkhand’s population. “Our religion is our land,” explained renowned adivasi journalist and activist Dayamani Barla. “If it is taken away, nothing can live.” Between 2006 and 2010, Barla spearheaded a mass movement against the proposed establishment of two steel plants by global steel giant Arcelor-Mittal, which had signed an MOU with the Jharkhand government worth roughly 9.6 billion USD in 2005. Barla and her fellow protestors waged an effective public awareness campaign showing that the project, like so many other similar proposed and completed projects, would displace 30 to 40 villages, destroy adivasi sacred sites, key ecosystems, and prime agricultural land, and provide meagre compensation for these gross transgressions. In the course of her work, Barla received repeated death threats from middle-men subcontracted by the state and the company to secure the land in question, who assured her that her loved ones would not be able to identify her body once they were finished with her.

Barla and her compatriots prevailed in the face of these prospects of unspeakable violence; as of today, Arcelor-Mittal’s plans for Jharkhand remain in limbo. However, other corporations have made their marks all too clearly on Jharkhand’s landscape. “Every river in Northern Jharkhand has died, and every forest is black,” laments Barla. Furthermore, the Das government has only stepped up its efforts to facilitate the expropriation of land by public and private interests. In late 2016, it unilaterally passed a bill to amend the colonial-era Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act and Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, which prevent the sale of adivasi land to non-adivasis. The abrogation of Article 35A of the Constitution, which limits the right to buy and own property to Kashmir’s permanent residents, echoes this bill in striking ways. Though it was forced to withdraw the bill in response to the public outcry that followed, the Jharkhandi state has attempted to divorce adivasis from their homelands by other, far more insidious means.

Death by Conversion

“Adivasis are not Hindus.” Virtually every activist, journalist, and intellectual I interviewed in Jharkhand drove home this point. It is a dangerously defiant response to the narrative spun by the BJP and, moreover, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the massive paramilitary volunteer organization that Arundhati Roy deems the “mothership” of the Hindu Right. The RSS has operated in the jungles of Jharkhand since at least the 1980s; in that time, it has done everything in its power to convince adivasis that their traditional beliefs and practices are squarely situated within its brand of casteist, patriarchal, materialistic Hinduism, despite countless scholarly texts and oral testimonies that indicate otherwise. RSS missionaries have offered numerous material incentives for conversion, from subsidies to the saving-and-investment schemes that have become the hallmarks of neoliberal “good governance” and “participatory development” across India and the Global South as a whole. Material enticements go hand-in-hand with symbolic warfare in Jharkhand’s public and private spheres: a prominent statue of legendary adivasi leader Birsa Munda was recently encircled with saffron flags, which also fly from every other rooftop in Ranchi and vie with red-and-white-striped adivasi sarna flags for dominion over the city’s street dividers and roundabouts. By reincarnating adivasis as Hindus, the RSS can defuse battles over land and forest rights before they can even begin, minimizing the costs associated with these battles: economic occupation in Modi’s India is a divine mandate underwritten by financial prudence.

To draw attention away from its own conversion programs, the RSS and its allies have attempted to stoke public paranoia around the boogeyman of forced conversions by the diverse Christian denominations that have been active in Jharkhand since 1845. In 2017, the Das government passed a hugely controversial anti-conversion bill that has served as a pretext for a heightened crackdown on Christian civil society actors. This is not to say, of course, that the state requires a sound legal basis for lashing out against religious dissenters and scapegoats: Jharkhand has witnessed 17 mob lynchings over the past three years, a good number of them carried out by gau rakshaks or cow protectors against Dalits, adivasis, and Muslims accused of slaughtering cattle or transporting them for slaughter. “It’s everyone against the Muslims,” remarked economist and activist Jean Drèze, encapsulating the Hindu Right’s deadly effectiveness at pitting the various victims of its policies against each other, in Jharkhand and beyond.

Fortress Jharkhand

As should be evident by now, legislated repression and extrajudicial violence work in tandem in Jharkhand. When middlemen and gau rakshaks prove insufficient to achieve its ends, the state can leverage its monopoly on legitimate violence by calling upon the myriad police, military, and paramilitary forces at its disposal. Securitization secures investments and conversions for Hindutva, Inc. at gunpoint by making non-compliance a blasphemous act of high treason, punishable by death. Ranchi’s glistening shopping centers teem with rifle-toting, khaki-suited personnel from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has incidentally become synonymous with extrajudicial detention, disappearances, and executions in Kashmir. The Indian Army, meanwhile, maintains a cantonment or barracks area with a population of over 50,000 in Ramgarh, which just happens to home to several exceedingly rich mineral fields, including one of the region’s largest coalfields. Jharkhand’s security forces also drive dislocation, dispossession, and environmental degradation in and of themselves: for over thirty years, the Army’s has attempted to acquire 1,471 sq km of land in the Gumla and Latehar districts for the Neterhat Artillery Firing Range, which would permanently displace 100,000 adivasis and periodically displace another 150,000.

In the past 16 years, Jharkhandi police have opened fire upon adivasis protesting land acquisitions for development projects at least 16 times, proving their vital roles as day-to-day, ground-level enforcers of the state’s repressive extractivist agenda. Arbitrary arrests and staged “encounters” with alleged terrorists abound in Jharkhand: in 2015, the police gunned down 12 villagers with no criminal background whatsoever in the Latehar district, subsequently branding them Maoist insurgents; in early 2019, they arrested 20 young people in the Khunti district on the grounds that they shared seditious sentiments on social media. When heinous crimes do occur–such as the gang rape of five anti-human trafficking activists or the cold-blooded murders of anti-mining activist Suresh Oraon and journalist Amit Topno–the police either leap at the opportunity to frame pre-designated troublemakers or drag their feet when investigating the matters at hand. Under the circumstances of occupation, in which lawlessness is codified into law and smash-and-grab capitalism is the order of the day, calling upon the police to uphold law and order is a suicidal exercise in futility.

Battling Occupation Everywhere

Adivasi activists in Jharkhand and across India are alarmed by the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A for very concrete reasons. For a start, it could pave the way for the abrogation of Article 371, which provide vital special provisions for the states of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and, by extension, their sizeable tribal populations.

Indians across the country, and people of conscience across the world, should be just as alarmed, even if not for the same exact reasons. India as a whole is under occupation by the hydra-headed forces of militarized, corporatized Hindustan. The blacked-out streets of Kashmir and the blackened forests of Jharkhand prove the cannibalistic nature of these forces. Instead of merely endangering the country’s overly idealized secular liberal democratic values, they threaten to devour virtually all of the human beings, ecosystems, and belief systems in their path, even those supposedly out of harm’s way. India is a sea of saffron at the moment, but, even in the handful of areas not controlled by the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance, the RSS is hard at work establishing shakhas or local branches; Arcelor-Mittal, Reliance, Tata, and Mahindra are hard at work setting up steel mills, supermarkets, and world cities; and local police, the CRPF, and the military are hard at work keeping the peace by normalizing war against the burgeoning ranks of the destitute. Bracketing Jharkhand and Kashmir as exceptional cases only provide time and space for these exceptions to become the rule; the most vulnerable members of Indian society will pay for this process of becoming with their lives even if it cannot achieve its genocidal goals.

India’s current sacred political economy of occupation is thus ontological in its orientation: it is an all-out attack on the very material and spiritual core of India’s being itself. And it can only be overcome in the final estimation by ontological means: by reclaiming the land itself from the sovereign political domain of the autocratic state and establishing autonomy, dignity, equity, justice, and resilience at the most basic levels of political life. Kashmiris across the ethno-religious spectrum have continued to courageously insist that their struggle cannot be reduced to a geopolitical tug-of-war between India and Pakistan and that they must be allowed to determine their own fate. Similarly, adivasis involved with the Pathalgadi movement that erupted across the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh in early 2017 have refused to negotiate with the public authorities and private enterprises that threaten their very existence: they have erected massive stone slabs that list their constitutional and legal rights, using these declarations to keep out all hostile outsiders and construct their own banks, schools, and self-defence mechanisms. The brutal repression of both mobilizations possibly reflects the fear that they inspire in the combined powers they confront–fear of the emergence or re-emergence of other worlds and worldviews that, for all of their admitted limitations and contradictions, disrupt the relentless onward march of the bloodthirsty, privately incorporated Hindu nationalist juggernaut.

Everywhere in India today is Kashmir insofar as it is in the clutches or within the reach of neoliberal Hindu nationalist occupation. Everyone in India must now fight alongside Kashmiris–and Jharkhandi adivasis–to resist this occupation by any means necessary.

The post “Everywhere is Kashmir”: Unraveling Weaponized, Corporatized Hindustan in India’s Northeast appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The War Ahead: Netanyahu’s Elections Gamble Will be Costly for Israel

On September 1, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevitable response to a series of Israeli strikes that targeted four different Arab countries in the matter of two days.

The Lebanese response, accompanied by jubilation throughout Lebanon, shows that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have overplayed his cards. However, for Netanyahu it was a worthy gamble, as the Israeli leader is desperate for any new political capital that could shield him against increasingly emboldened contenders in the country’s September 17 general elections.

A fundamental question that could influence any analysis of the decision to strike Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza is whether the strategy originated from the Israeli government or the limited personal calculations of Netanyahu himself. I contend that the latter is true.

Israel has already violated the sovereignty of all of these regions, bombing some of them hundreds of times in the past, but striking all at once is unprecedented. Since neither Israel, nor its US allies offered any convincing military logic behind the campaign, there can be no other conclusion that the objectives were entirely political.

One obvious sign that the attacks were meant to benefit Netanyahu, and Netanyahu only, is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister violated an old Israeli protocol of staying mum following this type of cross-border violence. It is also uncommon for top Israeli officials to brag about their country’s intelligence outreach and military capabilities. Israel, for example, has bombed Syria hundreds of times in recent years, yet rarely taken responsibility for any of these attacks.

Compare this with Netanyahu’s remarks following the two-day strikes of August 24-25. Only minutes after the Israeli strikes, Netanyahu hailed the army’s “major operational effort”, declaring that “Iran has no immunity anywhere.”

Regarding the attack on the southeast region of Aqraba in Syria, Netanyahu went into detail, describing the nature of the target and the identities of the enemy as well.

Two of the Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria were identified by the Israeli army, which distributed their photographs while allegedly travelling on the Iranian airline, Mahan “which Israel and the United States have identified as a major transporter of weaponry and materiel to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria and Lebanon,” according to the Times of Israel.

Why would Israel go to this extent, which will surely help the targeted countries in uncovering some of Israel’s intelligence sources?

The Economist revealed that “some … in Israel’s security and political establishments are uncomfortable” with Netanyahu’s tireless extolling of “Israel’s intelligence-gathering and operational successes in surprising detail.”

The explanation lies in one single phrase: the September 17 elections.

In recent months, Netanyahu has finally managed to wrestle the title: the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, a designation that the Israeli leader has earned, despite his checkered legacy dotted with abuse of power, self-serving agenda and several major corruption cases that rope in Netanyahu directly, along with his wife and closest aides.

Yet, it remains unclear whether Netanyahu can hang on for much longer. Following the April 9 elections, the embattled Israeli leader tried to form a government of like-minded right-wing politicians, but failed. It was this setback that pushed for the dissolution of the Israeli Knesset on May 29 and the call for a new election. While Israeli politics is typically turbulent, holding two general elections within such a short period of time is very rare, and, among other things, it demonstrates Netanyahu’s faltering grip on power.

Equally important is that, for the first time in years, Netanyahu and his Likud party are facing real competition. These rivals, led by Benjamin Gantz of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) centrist party are keen on denying Netanyahu’s every possible constituency, including his own pro-illegal settlements and pro-war supporters.

Statements made by Gantz in recent months are hardly consistent with the presumed ideological discourse of the political center, anywhere. The former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli army is a strong supporter of illegal Jewish settlements and an avid promoter of war on Gaza. Last June, Gantz went as far as accusing Netanyahu of “diminishing Israel’s deterrence” policy in Gaza, which “is being interpreted by Iran as a sign of weakness.”

In fact, the terms “weak” or “weakness” have been ascribed repeatedly to Netanyahu by his political rivals, including top officials within his own right-wing camp. The man who has staked his reputation on tough personal or unhindered violence in the name of Israeli security is now struggling to protect his image.

This analysis does not in any way discount the regional and international objectives of Netanyahu’s calculations, leading amongst them his desire to stifle any political dialogue between Tehran and Washington, an idea that began taking shape at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. But even that is insufficient to offer a rounded understanding of Netanyahu’s motives, especially because the Israeli leader is wholly focused on his own survival, as opposed to future regional scenarios.

However, the “Mr. Security” credentials that Netanyahu aimed to achieve by bombing multiple targets in four countries might not yield the desired dividends. Israeli media is conveying a sense of panic among Israelis, especially those living in the northern parts of the country and in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Golan Heights.

This is hardly the strong and mighty image that Netanyahu was hoping to convey through his military gamble. None of the thousands of Israelis who are currently being trained on surviving Lebanese retaliations are particularity reassured regarding the power of their country.

Netanyahu is, of course, not the first Israeli leader to use the military to achieve domestic political ends. Late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, has done so in 1996 but failed miserably, but only after killing over 100 Lebanese and United Nations peacekeepers in the Southern Lebanese village of Qana.

The consequences of Netanyahu’s gamble might come at a worse price for him than simply losing the elections. Opening a multi-front war is a conflict that Israel cannot win, at least, not any more.

The post The War Ahead: Netanyahu’s Elections Gamble Will be Costly for Israel appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Tax the Rich Before the Rest

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work.

This richest 0.1 percent receives two-thirds of their income from investments, while most working families have little capital income and depend on wages. But our rigged system taxes most investment income from wealth at a top rate of about 24 percent — considerably lower than the top 37 percent rate for work.

One way to ensure that the wealthy pay first is to institute a 10 percent surtax on incomes over $2 million. This “multi-millionaire surtax” would raise nearly $600 billion in revenue over 10 years, according to an upcoming study from the Tax Policy Center.

The surtax would apply to income earned from work (wages and salaries) and to investment income gained from wealth, including capital gains and dividends. So those with capital income over $2 million would not get a preferential tax rate.

The multi-millionaire surtax is easy to understand, simple to apply, and effective — because it covers all kinds of income, making it difficult for the wealthy to avoid.

And it is laser focused on the super-rich. Anyone earning below $2 million a year will not pay a dime.

As a nation, we will need to raise trillions to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and to address urgent priorities such as health care, climate change, child care, higher education, opioid addiction, and more.

The middle class should have 100 percent confidence that they won’t be asked to pony up until Wall Street speculators and billionaires pay the piper.  A multi-millionaire surtax is a good first step.

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Extinction Via Rugged Individualism

Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Greycliff, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I was recently amused by a train of thought on Twitter excoriating Henry David Thoreau for his experiment in self-sufficient living. True, he was on the land of his wealthy neighbor, his mother did his laundry (and brought him old-timey donuts to eat), but it was rugged, dammit. Okay, it was something akin to a 10 year old living in a tree-house in the backyard with mom sending up sandwiches in one of those nifty rope and bucket contraptions, but this was a white man doing something and writing about it so of course it’s monumental and imbued with all sorts of significance. This to me, is a perfect analogy for America and its early beginnings. Never mind the back-breaking labor provided by the women, the horrendous slave trade and lethal work that made the infrastructure possible–the convenient clearing (genocide) of the already here peoples through illness and murder……. the narrative is that it was magically produced by powdered wig donning men who weren’t just all about a self-serving course correction. This fallacy has permeated the psyche of most Americans, and doesn’t allow for adequate self-reflection or improvement, and I would say is a path to eventual extinction if a new narrative and belief system isn’t adopted.

Nature gives us ample metaphor to realize the interconnectedness of our lives. I can never look at an Aspen grove and not consider the exquisite synergy of the system.  All tethered together in an interlocking root system—what affects one tree, manifests in the whole. The 80,000 year old Pando grove in Utah has managed this interplay.  For perspective, the last Neanderthals in Europe seem to have been around about 40,000 years ago. Working together has its benefits. We’ve managed to do incredible harm in only about 300 years. We could be gone rapidly and take Pando with us at this rate.

The individual setting out and removing the self from collective responsibilities is a common theme that is celebrated, even worldwide, not just the US. Though I think there is quite a lot of value in Buddhism and its tenets, the fact that its founder left his child and wife so he could find “enlightenment”…..well, maybe enlightenment is realizing the things that he did while still taking care of your child and not abandoning the wife…… wouldn’t that be more of a feat? To discover the sublime while washing the dishes kind of thing? Can you imagine this tale if it had been the mother who walked out “to find herself”? There’s a common-sense middle ground the world needs to begin to savor. Loving and caring for those near to us, and having a broader based stewardship of our human family and ecosystem—that’s how I would put it.

You can look at any of the enormous societal problems currently plaguing the US and the world, really, as an extension of short-sided self-interest. A rising tide will sink all of us, thanks to the pesky melt-a-thon we are experiencing.

One clear example of individualism being at odds with the greater good is the gun nightmare going on in America–this plays into the individualistic view of the world—that problems are solved in a one-dimensional way. And that dimension is the trajectory of a bullet. Even in the wake of so many mass shootings, the answer is always that a good guy with a gun (or thoughts and prayers) will be the answer. There’s not much of a look at why these guys are losing it (why is this culture such a pressure cooker) and why do they need to have access to an extension of their id that can kill so many, so quickly?

There is some uniquely American notion that having a gun will protect the owner in most situations, despite a ’93 study that showed having guns in the home makes it more dangerous to live there than not having one. Overall, the gun is a terrible roommate. Even if it pretends to be gay to fool Mr. Roper. The woman who recently shot her daughter for coming home from college early to surprise her is recent evidence of that. Think how often this type of scenario happens every day in the US. Probably in response to this ’93 study, the Dickey amendment was added to a ’96 bill that largely stopped research on gun violence. I thought the bill was an attempt to not fund any studies that tried to prove correlation between dick size and gun ownership, well—maybe it was—the name, right? But my point is that rather than learn more and reflect, the US took the path of rabid individualism and willful ignorance instead of looking at facts. Sorry, about the cheap dick size/gun thing mention. I know that’s been done to death, but at least I try not to be a stereotype. I am a 50 year old woman and I try really hard to keep the “can I talk to the manager” shit to a minimum. Except that one time with the rental car. I also try to never interfere with people of color having picnics. I’m just saying that your gun fetish is not a good look if you’re trying for manliness.

Anyway– we won’t last 80,000 years with this type of cooperation; that’s a certainty. The gun issue is just one facet of this. Strength will have to be reevaluated as having the ability to bring people together and protect them through making sure they have healthcare, that they don’t have so much pressure from our culture that they lose their minds, etc…….we can’t continue being stand-alone caricatures, modeling a pathetic pseudo-strength. Thoreau in his tree-house, the dude (or dudette) packing heat, the industry CEOs with no notion of broad-based decent society, only plunder—it will be the death of us all. And incrementalism is not the answer. A guy like Biden, pandering and looking like Cotton Hill if he still had his shins saying things that would work as ointment in 1991–that won’t cut it either. More radical change in action and belief systems will be required. Most people deep down want to help the person next to them. Conservatives seem to have difficulty extending concern and care beyond their immediate family and their needs, and sometimes leftists like myself don’t do a good enough job caring about the pressing needs of those nearby, our heads can be in the stratosphere grasping at the big fixes when we don’t notice someone close-by—something we can actually help with. I put an Aspen tree tattoo on my leg to remind me when I forget these things. We are all connected. Try not to harm. Take care of others—we just need to work to align these needs and realize that it will be a form of collective well being that we need to strive for. There is no individual solution to any of this; we are social creatures that need each other. It’s unlikely it will work, of course, but at least we will go down trying– and perhaps we can take better care of each other on the way down—the trip will be worthwhile if it is filled with more love and less lonely individualism.

 

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The Political Economy of the Opioid Epidemic

Late this October, in Ohio, a jury will begin hearing evidence against the pharmaceutical giants that have manufactured — and profited royally from — the opioid epidemic.

This Ohio trial will be the most significant courtroom skirmish yet between Big Pharma and the over 2,000 states, localities, and other complainants that have filed suit against America’s biggest corporate pill pushers. Opioid overdoses have left over 400,000 dead since the late 1990s.

The federal judge overseeing the consolidated lawsuits against Big Pharma would rather not see this trial happen. He’d like to see the parties come to some sort of pre-trial settlement, and this past Tuesday brought the first sign of serious movement on the settlement front. A press leak has revealed that a deal with Purdue Pharma — the corporation that ignited the opioid epidemic — may be in the offing.

That deal, according to press reports, would have the Sackler family —  the clan behind Purdue Pharma — turn over to states and localities some $3 billion. These billions would come directly out of the Sackler family private personal fortune. Up to $9 billion more would come from Purdue Pharma as a corporate entity.

None of this, of course, may actually happen. In fact, some fear that the news leak might scuttle the talks and prevent any deal’s completion. But if this particular deal should go through, would that be cause for celebration? Or just represent another end run around justice for Corporate America?

The Sacklers would certainly have cause for celebration. They would gain peace of mind — protection from future lawsuits — at a relatively affordable price. This past March, the Bloomberg Billionaire Index conservatively estimated their combined personal and corporate fortune at $13 billion. The personal and corporate payout the leaked deal envisions would leave the Sacklers, Bloomberg calculates, with at least $1.5 billion in their personal portfolios.

And — special bonus — not one Sackler would have to spend time in a prison cell.

A PLAUSIBLE POLITICAL PATH

. . . to the end of CEO pay excess

What about the states and localities that have brought suit against Purdue Pharma? Does this deal make financial sense for them?

Some figures worth contemplating: The current effort to treat opioid overdosing and prevent prescription drug dependence, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports, is costing Americans $78.5 billion a year. The White House Council of Economic Advisers, in an analysis of 2015 figures, puts the overall economic cost of the opioid epidemic at over $500 billion a year.

The Purdue Pharma settlement, if accompanied by similar settlements with other Big Pharma corporations, could put a significant dent into these costs. But we know from the landmark 1998 tobacco industry settlement that cash from a settlement deal doesn’t always end up where that cash ought to be going. Of the $125 billion that has gone to states since the 1998 tobacco settlement, only 3 percent has gone to fighting smoking and helping tobacco’s victims.

The rest has gone to general expenses of various sorts. In some states, tobacco settlement revenue may even be filling revenue holes left by tax cuts for the rich.

So does that leave the leaked Purdue Pharma settlement little more than a big nothingburger? Maybe not. The settlement, as reported, may offer a template for a broader restructuring of Big Pharma.

Under the settlement deal, the Sackler family would lose all its ownership stake in Purdue Pharma. The company would become a “public beneficiary corporation,” run by three independent court-appointed trustees and a new board of directors these trustees would name. All corporate earnings from this new “public beneficiary corporation” would go the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Purdue Pharma.

This could prove to be an interesting model. Purdue Pharma, under the guidance of independent representatives of the public interest, could cease to be a company that makes billions pushing dangerously addictive pills on America’s most vulnerable communities.

Imagine if this approach became the model for dealing with all the Big Pharma drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers that bear responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of opioid dead. Big Pharma would soon become, in effect, a publicenterprise.

We could encourage this new corporate public spiritedness by legislating checks on the corporate pay incentives that have fueled the opioid crisis. We could, for instance, tax corporations that pay their top execs excessively more than their workers at higher rates than corporations that pay executives less and workers more.

In 2018, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky pulled down $20.1 million, 268 times the pay of Johnson & Johnson’s typical employee. Earlier this week, a judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson guilty of  getting doctors to overprescribe its opioid-based medications. Over one recent six-year period, Gorsky’s CEO counterpart at drug distributor McKesson had his company drop over 14.1 billion opioid pills on U.S. communities. That CEO, John Hammergren, retired this past April, after pocketing nearly $800 million over his over 16-year CEO stint at McKesson.

Outrageous rewards like these incentivize outrageous behaviors. By legislating tax penalties for companies with wide CEO-worker pay gaps, we could tamp down these incentives and help ensure that future “public beneficiary corporations” serve the public interest.

So let’s get at it. Let’s not just insist that Big Pharma corporations pay up. Let’s change America’s corporate pay rules — and change Big Pharma in the process.

This column first appeared on Inequality.org.

The post The Political Economy of the Opioid Epidemic appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Burning Down the House

Doesn’t idiocy ever take a vacation?

As August wound down, the populist troika of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Jair Bolsonaro proved once again that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil would be better off with no leaders rather than the dubious characters that currently pretend to govern these countries.

In all three cases, these leaders escalated their nationally destructive policies as summer wound down in ways that have alienated even their erstwhile supporters. Once again, they have demonstrated that they have no interest in making America, Great Britain, or Brazil great again. They are only interested in doing as much damage as they can before they are ultimately dragged out of office.

Johnson Tries a Coup

Boris Johnson is a bumbling blowhard with but one current obsession: Brexit. He has promised to sever the UK’s relationship with the European Union by October 31 even if it means doing so without a deal that would mitigate the pain of separation.

The Halloween deadline is grimly appropriate. A No-Deal Brexit would make for a blood-curdling horror film. Just slap a Ghostface mask on the British prime minister, give him a knife to cut the umbilicus with Europe, and voila: Scream 5.

Johnson’s latest tactic to get what he wants is to suspend Parliament for five weeks this fall to limit debate on alternatives to his doomsday option. He hopes to make it impossible for parliament to pass even emergency legislation banning a no-deal Brexit. Believe it or not, the British system allows for such maneuvers – so Queen Elizabeth had to give her blessing to the suspension.

When Trump engages in anti-democratic activities, the Republican Party by and large indulges him. Not so in the UK, where even conservatives are up in arms over Johnson’s silent coup. After the prime minister’s announcement of the suspension, the government’s whip in the House of Lords resigned, as did the head of the Scottish Conservative Party. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, meanwhile, has pilloried Johnson and joined a legal challenge to the suspension.

This week, Johnson lost his one-vote majority in parliament when Conservative member Philip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrats even as the prime minister was addressing the chamber.

Most parliamentary members, including quite a few Conservatives, oppose a no-deal exit. No matter: Johnson is following Trump’s script by remaking the Conservative Party in his own image, threatening to purge anyone who doesn’t follow his hard line. After losing a vote that will allow parliament to introduce legislation to delay Brexit, Johnson expelled 21 dissidents, including a number of former ministers and one grandson of Winston Churchill.

Now Johnson is talking about holding a snap election in mid-October. The Conservatives are comfortably outpolling Labor, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. However, if all the Remain forces unite against Johnson, they could eke out a victory. But Johnson could also promise an election for October 14 and then, surprise, postpone it until after Halloween, making Brexit a fait accompli.

Johnson once said, “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a titanic success of it.” Determined to do the wrong thing even though he knows it’s wrong, Johnson is steering the United Kingdom straight into an iceberg. Nigel Farage is his chief navigator, and the rest of the country is clustered on the bow, bracing for impact.

With a second referendum, wiser heads could wrest control of the helm and prevent disaster, but Johnson is doing everything he can to fast-track Brexit on the principle that it doesn’t matter where you’re going as long as you get there fast.

Bolsonaro Fans the Flames

Idiocy loves company.

Jair Bolsonaro styles himself the Trump of the tropics. The comparison is apt. Some future poet, in describing the inferno of the present, will stuff Trump, Bolsonaro, and Johnson feet first into the mouth of Satan in the ninth circle. Having stoked the fires of climate change, Bolsonaro will richly deserve such an afterlife.

As The Economist points out, Bolsonaro as a candidate…

promised to end fines for violations of environmental law, shrink the protected areas that account for half of the Brazilian Amazon and fight NGOs, for which he has a visceral hatred. In office, his government has gutted the environment ministry and Ibama, the quasi-autonomous environmental agency. Six of the ten senior posts in the ministry’s department of forests and sustainable development are vacant, according to its website. The government talks of “monetizing” the Amazon but sabotaged a $1.3bn European fund that aims to give value to the standing forest.

As a result of Bolsonaro’s hands-off policy, deforestation in the Amazon has been out of control this year. Emboldened by their president’s actions, Brazilian farmers organized a “fire day” to clear land for planting. “We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is to knock (the forest) down. And to form and clean our pastures, it is with fire,” said one of the organizers of the Fire Day. The number of fires in the Amazon nearly doubled this year over the same period last year.

It’s not as if the world wasn’t warned. Time magazine put the burning Amazon on its cover exactly 30 years ago!

The impact this time around is straight-forward. The Amazon is a huge carbon sink. Burn it up and global warming will accelerate. There will also be irreversible loss of biodiversity. And the upside? More soybeans, which Brazil can sell to China because the latter is no longer buying the harvests of U.S. farmers.

Oh, and more profits into the pockets of Bolsonaro’s friends in the industries that are paving the paradise of the Amazon and putting up a parking lot.

Trump Trashes the Planet

Donald Trump is a moth that can’t stop itself from flying directly at the flame of fame (or, more accurately, the inferno of infamy). He could stay off Twitter, but instead his tweets piss off one group of voters after another. He could stay away from the press, but his lies, gaffes, and personal attacks are amplified throughout the media universe. Arguably, this is a strategy to solidify the base and reinforce Trump’s reputation as an anti-establishment gadfly.

But there’s no political strategy behind his trade war with China and his impulsive threats last month to further escalate tariffs on Chinese goods. The sectoral damage to his base worries his political advisors: say goodbye to the farm vote, a good chunk of blue-collar voters thrown out of work, and a bunch of average consumers angry at shelling out more money for their holiday gifts.

Worse would be a more general economic recession brought on by this needless trade war, which would doom the president’s reelection chances. Yes, the U.S. economy is due for a “correction,” particularly because of Trump’s tax cuts and over-the-top spending. But if Trump played it safe, he could have probably postponed the recession until after the 2020 election. Instead, he’s doing everything he can to ensure that it makes landfall smack dab during the presidential race.

Trump isn’t just self-destructive. He continued over the last couple weeks to destroy U.S. alliances, most recently by expressing interest in buying Greenland from Denmark. The land wasn’t on the market, as the Danish government reminded the president, which prompted Trump to cancel his trip to the country.

Greenland? Really?! Perhaps Trump was making an indirect acknowledgement of the effects of climate change, attempting a land grab up north to secure a spot for Ivanka and Jared’s summer palace.

Meanwhile, Trump is powering full speed ahead toward climate apocalypse. The administration’s latest move is to remove restrictions on methane emissions, a more potent contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide. The effort is designed to reduce costs for oil and gas companies. But guess what? Even some of the top energy companies are opposed to Trump’s move.

“Last year we announced our support for the direct regulation of methane emissions for new and existing oil and gas facilities,” Exxon Mobil spokesperson Scott Silvestri said. “That hasn’t changed. We will continue to urge the EPA to retain the main features of the existing methane rule.” After all, Exxon, BP, and others are trying to position natural gas as part of the solution to climate change, and the Trump administration is busy undermining this argument.

The methane restrictions that Trump is trying to unravel date back to the Obama administration. But the current administration wants to tear up much older agreements as well. The Clinton administration protected Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from logging and mining. But Trump wants to open up this 16.7 million-acre sanctuary to the usual suspects in the extractive industries. This is no small land parcel. It represents half the world’s temperate rainforest.

Bolstonaro, at least, is only interested in trashing a rainforest (albeit a large one). Boris Johnson is content to trash a country (albeit a rich one). Donald Trump, with that ego of his, aspires to trash an entire planet. Yes, all three will eventually flame out. But not before they’ve scorched the earth clean.

An environmentalist told journalist Alan Weisman before the 2016 elections that she was considering voting for Trump. “The way I see it,” she said, “it’s either four more years on life support with Hillary, or letting this maniac tear the house down. Maybe then we can pick up the pieces and finally start rebuilding.”

The philosophy of “things have to get worse before they get better” has sometimes worked out in the past. But that’s the past.

Unless we stop him, we’ll be rooting around in the post-Trump ashes in vain for the pieces. The house will be gone. And there will be nothing we can salvage to rebuild it.

The post Burning Down the House appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

A Battle for Existence

They are landscapes my mind escapes to regularly. The painted canyons in eastern Montana and the Zion region of Utah. Forests of huge conifers in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The incredible arid desolation of Utah west of Salt Lake City and the deserts of Nevada. Sagebrushed plains in the Southwest. I spent many hours standing by the side of roads observing these and other landscapes in the western United States. Occasionally, I saw an elk herd in the distance or giant raptors flying above me. Once, I ended up covered in some kind of flying insects when I sat down either on or close to their nests in the Colorado heat south of Colorado Springs. Lizards often played on rocks nearby and I remained ever wary of snakes in crevices and shadows. There were a couple summers when I left the road and hiked into the mountains of Theodore Roosevelt National Forest near Boulder, CO. Just me, a sleeping bag and backpack with a little food, a collapsible fishing pole, some whiskey and some weed. Years have passed since those adventures.

Author Christopher Ketcham opens his book This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West with a similar reminiscence. In the book’s second chapter, he gets specific. He is in the Escalante region of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The year is recent. The Trump administration has made clear its intention to shrink the monument’s acreage in favor of private interests. This time it’s cattlemen who consider the land to be theirs to destroy. All in the name of cowboy culture and rancher’s profits. Fittingly, the tale turns to the story of Clive and Ammon Bundy. These were the men who led the takeover of public lands in defense of their right to graze without paying a cent and then, after getting away with that, staged an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. As Ketcham describes the events, he also provides the history behind these actions. In short, the Bundy dramas were part of an ongoing battle over who should control those lands legally considered to belong to all US citizens.

Ketcham does not stop with the Bundys and their ilk–men who are actually bit players in the ongoing war between private interests and the public good. As his text moves forward, Ketcham casts his scrutinizing pen on the role played by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wildlife Services and the Department of the Interior—to name just a few of the government agencies involved—in the selloff of the lands. The story he tells is one of species threatened and species destroyed. It is also one that involves death threats and loss of employment to employees of those agencies who act as if their job is to protect the wild. It is a story that involves other powerful institutions in a conspiracy mired in greed and hubris: the Mormon church, the energy industry, agribusiness, and both political parties.

While it is clear that Ketcham’s purpose in writing this book is to bring attention to the abuse of the wilderness and to name those most responsible for its abuse, it is also apparent that he has an appreciation, indeed, a love, for the lands and animals he describes. His prose when describing these aspects moves beyond the merely factual and into the poetic. So do his profiles of the women and men fighting the behemoth intent on destruction. Conversely, his anger at those who pretend to be friends of the forests, grasslands and the animals who live there is specific, biting and without regret. Indeed, his discussion of those organizations and individuals who call themselves “green” while they work with industry in destroying the wilderness for the profits of the cattle and extraction interests includes some of his harshest words. Likewise, he spares nothing when discussing the Obama administration, which gave away more wilderness to those interests than the Bush administration preceding it. In the final pages, Ketcham makes it clear: if you want to save the environment, you must oppose capitalism. There is no other way.

Relentless, well written and informed, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West is an angry masterpiece. It eloquently describes an ecosystem disintegrating because of greed, ignorance, and the arrogance of humans. The heroes include the wolves, the grizzlies, the bison and the ravens, trying to survive against a conspiracy that only capitalism and a compliant and compromised civil authority could create.

At the end of the day, Ketcham’s text not only channeled my anger at those whose profits depend on intentionally destroying the environment, it also reminded me of the rapturous and synchronous beauty that so desperately requires us to battle for its existence.

The post A Battle for Existence appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Case Against the Zionist “left”

Zionist historical revisionism constructs an erroneous presentation of Israel as accommodating a left-to-right political milieu, the left-flank of which amenable to a peaceful resolution of “the conflict”, instead of recognizing the entirety of Zionism, including its “liberal” faction, as inherently white supremacist, settler colonialist and genocidal.

The supposed left, “liberal” wing of Zionism, comprising Israeli political parties, non-profit organizations and media organs in Israel and outside it, serves to promote Zionist propaganda, which renders occupation, apartheid and genocide of Indigenous Palestinian people palatable to audiences in Israel and worldwide.

Liberal Zionism intrinsically promotes reactionary regimes and interest groups, which share Zionism’s ethnocentric, xenophobic, misogynistic and hyper-capitalist worldviews, including Trump’s United States, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Duterte’s Philippines, Orban’s Hungary and Modi’s India, among others.

Why is it important to recognize and dismantle liberal Zionist propaganda?

The Zionist “left” in Britain

The corruption of the Zionist “left”, i.e. liberal Zionism, and its ensuing damage to democracy is evident in the UK Labour Party.

Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley has reported extensively on the development of this manufactured crisis, which exemplifies the dangers of a major anti-Semitic Zionist propaganda fallacy – the conflation of Zionism with Judaism and its effectiveness in torpedoing social justice.

In fact, a recent Al-Jazeera documentary – The Lobby – exposed the extent to which the Labour Party has been infiltrated by Israeli/Zionist interests via The Labour Friends of Israel.

Jackie Walker, an anti-Zionist, Black Jewish ex-Labour Party member and vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn was recently expelled as a result of this fallacious campaign on trumped up charges of “anti-Semitism”. Chris Williamson is the most recent example. Additionally, in a blatant attack on press freedom, Labour revoked Winstanley’s press pass for its upcoming conference.

The Zionist “left” in the US

The fiasco involving Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib has become a teaching moment for pro-Palestinian activists.

An important lesson from the campaign, outlined by Noura Erakat and Fadi Quran in their recent article, is the evident lack of Palestinian sovereignty both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in spite of Israel’s claims to the contrary.

Thus, Israel’s self-aggrandizing, manufactured image as “the only democracy in the Middle East” is once again rendered null and void, in line with its crimes and long list of discriminatory laws.

Similarly, the banning of Omar and Tlaib has exposed once again Israel’s white supremacist nature, consequent to its Christian Evangelical, anti-Semitic origins and supporters.

Further, the targeting of Omar and Tlaib demonstrates the powerful threat of intersectional politics to reactionary regimes. In fact, the Zionist Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs quickly recognized the danger intersectionality poses to their discriminatory colonial agendas.

However, no less important than these, is a crucial lesson quickly whitewashed – the campaign against Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib was instigated by a liberal Zionist editor at The Forward – Batya Ungar-Sargon – opportunistically picked up by corporate Democrats, and unsurprisingly adopted by Republicans, including President Donald Trump and a host of American-Zionist lackeys as a wedge issue to split their opposition.

It is all too easy to blame Trump and his racist supporters, including within the Israeli government, for the campaign against Omar and Tlaib. Yet whitewashing liberal Zionist culpability sets the stage for additional smears instrumentalizing the “new anti-Semitism”, i.e. the canard that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, including against progressive front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President – Senator Bernie Sanders.

Notably, Sanders is a liberal Zionist himself, yet has conveyed support for Omar and Tlaib, as well as harsh criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli apartheid policies. The UK example suggests Sanders’ surge in the race and his (relatively) pro-Palestinian rhetoric will likely lead to an increase in Zionist-led attacks on his intersectional campaign, including against grassroots supporters. In fact, concurrent to Sanders’ recent rise in the polls, liberal Zionist Haaretz published an anti-Semitic opinion piece echoing fascistic propaganda, calling Sanders “the last Jewish Bolshevik”. Sanders, of course. is a Democratic Socialist far closer to an FDR-style, new deal Democrat.

The Forward has played a major role in the smear campaign against progressive Democrats Omar and Tlaib. In addition to its initiation by opinion editor Ungar-Sargon, who has been working assiduously to jam Zionism down the left’s throat, or else, senior columnist Peter Beinart whitewashed the outlet’s culpability.

Beinart blamed Omar for being “wrong”, “inaccurate” and “irresponsible” for her accurate tweet describing the corrupting influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on politics in Washington, and praised her for her unnecessary apology, while conveniently shifting blame from The Forward’s dishonest liberal Zionism and its allegiance with corporate Democrats to Trump’s grotesque anti-Semitism and Republicans such as Lee Zeldin. Remarkably, in a masterful display of false equivalencies and straw man fallacies, Beinart did not mention Zionism at all, a likely prerequisite for safeguarding his position as a CNN commentator. Just ask Marc Lamont Hill. Unfortunately, Omar decided to promote Beinart on her Twitter feed.

Beinart’s column also demonstrates what is perhaps the most egregious of liberal Zionist contortions – the promotion of the fallacy of “the occupation” existing since 1967, not 1948, i.e limited to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This false assertion, also echoed by the American Jewish progressive group IfNotNow, erases the rights of millions of Palestinians in the shattat, including their right to return home.

The Zionist “left” in Israel

A careful examination of the Zionist/Israeli political spectrum leading up to parliamentary elections on September 17th, including the “opposition”, reveals an assortment of reactionary parties seeking power without providing any hope for equality and justice for Palestinians. Even the anti/non-Zionist Joint List, recently showed a desperate interest in working with the Zionist “left”, to the dismay of many.

To quote Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan:

While a so-called leftist discourse in Israel is usually perceived as revolving around liberal and humanistic values, no discussion exists concerning the deeply-rooted supremacist character of the state, its inherent anti-democratic nature, nor the fate of those who have been disenfranchised, oppressed, subjugated and terrorized for the past seven decades by Israel — the Palestinians.

In an article for (wait for it) The Forward, Stav Shaffir – previously of the liberal Zionist Labor Party, now of the Democratic Union Party – engaged in some break-neck political yoga in an effort to smear the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, while attempting to maintain her faux-left cred.

In another recent piece, Yossi Gurvitz accurately demonstrates the inherent contradictory nature of “left” and “Zionism”. Here, Gurvitz laments the deal brokered between the liberal Zionist Meretz party and corrupt war criminal and ex-PM Ehud Barak to form the Democratic Union Party, which also includes BDS-bashing Shaffir. Gurvitz’s impressive survey of Barak’s crimes falls short when he attributes Meretz’s selling out as a “wish to be, for once, on the winning side”. Gurvitz correctly identifies the reasoning as flawed yet does not lay out the hard truth, in which liberal Zionists opt habitually for apartheid over equality and naturally assume their role as propagandists while lambasting the adoption of an ideologically consistent, left-wing, anti-Zionist stance.

Significantly, the anti-Zionist, anti-racist framework intrinsic to the BDS movement and other campaigns, has yielded far more impressive gains for Palestinians than any collaboration with white saviors and/or liberal Zionist entities.  In fact, a principled anti-Zionism, with a focus on BDS provides real hope for Palestinians, Jews and others seeking an end to the ongoing injustice between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

An intersectional alliance between all victims of white supremacy, including Palestinians, Black and Brown people, women, Indigenous groups, immigrants, the disabled and others, effectively exposes and dismantles all Zionist propaganda, en route to the promotion of equality and justice for all.

The post The Case Against the Zionist “left” appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Axis of Atrocity

If daymare isn’t a word, it should be.  We’re living one.  And the shameless,  infantile ugliness that rules America today was predicted by visionaries and poets long ago.  H.L. Mencken nailed it nearly a century back:

“Before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying the mob with him by force of personality. But when the field is nationwide all odds are on the man most devious and mediocre—who can most easily disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.  The Presidency tends to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Ecce homo.  So much for our “democracy”.  But this plague is not confined to The Empire.  The blood-dimmed tide Yeats felt coming has inundated the world.  Three Cynosures of Psychosis suggest themselves aggressively today, each a match in his way for our Cretin Caligula who thought he’d snag Greenland on the cheap, as if it were a trashed Bronx tenement.

Bolsonaro, Reichsmarshall of Brazil, in recent frothing fury, blamed his own Neronian burning of the Amazon on NGOs, lying about his direct pitch to scofflaw ranchers to turn it, once burnt off, into a Confined Animal Feeding Operation.  Gringo beef dollars matter, nao?; rainforest, not so much.

Then, there’s Modi–the Hindu Ubermensch–who, having presided over a massacre in Gujarat that elevated him to racist icon status, has spiked both the laws of Jammu and Kashmir and his own nation in a brutal anschluss that made a bullied territory into a free fire zone and Moslem dungeon.

Of course, neither of these Sturmbahnfuhrers can claim parity with the past master of venomous race hatred, that brazen liar, shameless provocateur, and criminal fabulist, Netanyahu, regent of the Fascist State of Israel.  This clinical embodiment of the abused become abuser, in exacerbating the worst elements of Israeli character–bone deep racism and paranoia; the arrogant claim to superiority that’s the warp and weft of its religion; the babaric cruelty urged by its gruesome, twisted, medieval rabbinical voices–has goaded Israel to embrace and celebrate its most hideous attributes and flaunt them in the face of an increasingly appalled world.

How is it these four sick horsemen of the coming apocalypse have clotted together now like a rancid, congealing gravy of dead tissue?  Serendipity wouldn’t account for it.  Nor probability predict it… What if  emergence of such pure evil simultaneously results from peer group patterning in which the rabidity of the top dog sets a template others are then induced to emulate?  There is precedence for the idea.  When Stalin ran the Soviet world, he and his system were replicated across it.  When JFK flashed his Camelot style, “Free World” leaders strove to mimic his elegant finesse.

Having been pretty much gifted with the Presidency–because of wholesale abandonment by the Democratic Party of anyone who ever had to earn a living and obliteration of all concern for ordinary citizenry–Trump set the tone for his solipsistic funhouse from day one, sending his twitter yawp of vulgarity, dishonesty and cruelty out to a gobsmacked world, while these sociopaths watched, pondered, and then acted.  Could it be clearer that the key enabling factor for the rise of this set of human monsters was our morally null, ethically vacant, childishly vindictive Pathogen-in-Chief?

The supreme tragedy of our age–for us and the world–is that there is no countervailing force in our country, no powerful, principled dynamic the sheer gravitational force of which might coalesce what exists of the vast hunger for wisdom, justice and decency latent in a majority of our people.  America is full of conned, tranquilized, intimidated folk who nevertheless have a strong residual inclination toward fairness and honor and humanity, and who are deeply offended, saddened, and ashamed that our country has become the most viciously murderous engine of evil on the planet.

Due to the fact that the Democratic Party has repudiated and betrayed the principle that made it a compelling, dominant social and political force–its core pledge to represent reliably, and legislate predictably, for the good of a citizenry of all colors and conditions–it represents no refuge at all to an electorate finally fully aware of its callous indifference to their well-being.

For most adults’ lifetime experience–say, from the JFK/LBJ era on–the Democratic Party has done nothing to advance the general welfare and economic security of the great majority of working Americans, while deceiving them endlessly with cynical, rhetorical jive.  Their cop-out from Obama back to the 60s has been that Republicans blocked every effort, that their good ideas and benevolent plans were killed, that they failed in spite of good intentions, but this is just dishonest.  The fact is that even when they had power and numbers in Congress, they never rose up, took a stand, and fought hard for legislation to advance the common good.  All their defeats have been essentially capitulations, and self-inflicted.

When Lew Powell issued his warning Bull to Capitalists in the 70s about the frightful danger that The People, aroused and militant, represented to Omnicratic Capitalism, Big Corporate Money began to flow lavishly to reactionary Republicans.  Democrats, outfunded, outspent, took shocking electoral hits that terrified their politburo and convinced them that politics was only about money and that they had to get a lot of it, whatever it took to do it.  What they decided it took was to abandon their traditional support base in the vast Middle and Under classes, and to seek the dollars where they lived, with Corporate Capitalist elites.  This turn was completed under Clinton, who concluded that to stand for anything beneficial for The People was to risk status and office.  Hence, his dropping the fight for decent health care legisation, among other spineless and disgraceful retreats.

In that decision the Democrats blew it. They failed to make the choice that could have empowered them and would have consolidated progressive politics far into the future: to champion The People.  Of course, there would have been grave risk.  It would have taken great resolve and courage, but more importantly, the element that was completely absent in them: intent.

Politics is only about money when it is not substantively about anything else.  The fierce passion and phenomenal power of a people, when they know their leaders are truly committed to vigorously champion their welfare, is a force that no amount of private wealth can obstruct, let alone defeat.

America was at a crisis, when what was to be determined was whether the country would be run in the interests of its citizens or in that of its Capitalist masters.  Official Democrats, intellectually co-opted already, elected to represent the giants.  In that action, they walked away from a path that would have enabled them to remake the world in justice, and sank to the sorry, contemptible nullity they are today.  Rejecting their way to greatness, they condemned themselves to extinction.

And, in the long run, may have done the same for us all.

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Chuck Todd, Labor Day, and Getting Serious

Labor Day has come and gone. To most people it’s a day off and a splash of sales. The symbolism and meaning that inspired this national holiday back in 1894 has long since dissipated. Labor Day parades are affairs of the past, with very few exceptions, and those that still exist are facing dwindling participation – in the era of Donald the corporatist, no less.

Part of this neglect stems from major unions and their large locals. Labor leaders, year after year, miss the opportunity to speak through the local and national media about what’s on their mind regarding the state of workers today. I have urged labor leaders to develop a media strategy for Labor Day, since it is their one big day to give interviews and submit op-eds. Having major events or demonstrations on the needs of working families would invite coverage.

Even the usual excuse that the corporate press is not that interested goes away on Labor Day. The major labor chiefs just don’t take advantage of this yearly opportunity. That is one reason why over the years, raising the minimum wage; adopting card checks for union-desiring workers; pressing for full Medicare for All; and repealing the notorious, anti-union Taft Hartley Act of 1947 have remained at such low visibility.

On the other hand, the editors and reporters are not exactly reaching out for, say, interviews of Richard Trumka, the former coal miner who rose through the ranks and became the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Washington, DC. Trumka vs. Trump has a nice ring to it, but someone has to hit the bell.

This Labor Day, The Washington Post and the New York Times had touching stories of workers in various jobs from a human interest point of view. There was little space devoted to labor policies, labor reforms, worker safety, the persistent private pension crisis, and the huge power imbalance in labor/management relations.

NBC’s Meet the Press, anchored by Chuck Todd, is symptomatic of the media’s indifference to showcasing Labor leaders on Labor Day.

Chuck Todd, the quick witted former citizen organizer, has lost control of his show to his corporate masters in New York City. He cannot even stop them from replacing his show entirely on the few Sundays when the NBC profiteers think there are more profits showing a major tennis, golf, or soccer tournament. My repeated complaints about this blackout to NBC chief, Andrew Lack, or to the corporatist chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, have received no reply.

Obviously, Chuck is working in a tough environment for any self-respecting journalist. But this past Sunday, Meet the Press reached a new low from its beginnings under the news-savvy Lawrence Spivak over 70 years ago. Meet the Press has become a ditto-head to the regular news shows’ saturation coverage. Todd covered Hurricane Dorian and the shootout in Texas, along with whether Joe Biden is too old for the Presidency. Repetitious and dull – he added nothing new for the audience.

The shrinking range of Meet the Press has been going on for some years. It focuses, with other network shows, on questioning politicians or their surrogates – sometimes the same guests on multiple shows – about inconsistencies, gaffes, thoughtless statements, or current political controversies. We don’t need to see yet another round with Trump’s Kellyanne Conway, who plays with Todd’s sharp questions.

The NBC corporate masters tell or signal to Todd who he can invite for his roundtable. He should never have corporatists from the American Enterprise Institute without having people from the Economic Policy Institute, Public Citizen, or Common Cause.

Brit Hume, before he went over to Fox, once told me that the real purpose of the Sunday shows was to let the Washington politicians have their say so they stay off the back of the networks. That was his way of explaining why the questions put to them were not as tough or deep as they could be.

Todd can be a tough questioner, but he is trapped in a cul-de-sac of predictability, trivia, and redundancy that demeans his talents.

Along with the other Sunday morning network news shows, Todd stays away from the all-important civic community – historically and presently the fountainhead for our democratic society. It is hard to name any blessing of America, great or small, that did not start with the work or demands of citizens. Improved civil rights and liberties, safer consumer products, workplace conditions and environments, nuclear arms treaties, and much more began this way. Citizen groups continue as watchdogs, documenting, litigating, lobbying, and pushing the powers that be on behalf of the American people.

In 1966, I was invited on Meet the Press by the legendary Lawrence Spivak to first highlight, on Sunday national TV, what needs to be done about unsafe cars. That helped auto safety action to move faster in Congress. The civic leaders of today are largely shut out from these forums. Civic startups cannot reach larger audiences and shape the politics of the day.

None of this is unknown to Chuck Todd. He has allowed his hands to be tied with golden handcuffs. One can almost sense his impatience with his roundtable guests spouting guarded opinions or conventional speculations suited to their current careers. But Chuck is very polite with them and his interviewees. As he has said, if you really go after these guests, they won’t come back next time. But why such a small pool? There are plenty of other fresh, courageous, accurate voices he can invite “next time.” It’s that his corporate bosses won’t let him.

Todd has much more potential than to continue his increasingly trivialized, though sometimes temporarily sensationalized, role as an anchor of a withering show “brought to you by Boeing.” He should request reassignment or resign for more significant journalistic challenges. He really doesn’t need the money anymore.

The post Chuck Todd, Labor Day, and Getting Serious appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Billionaires Who Promise to Save Journalism

Let’s talk about fraud: “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities,” the dictionary calls it.

Let’s also discuss breach of contract. “A breach of contract occurs when the promise of the contract is not kept, because one party has failed to fulfill their agreed-upon obligations, according to the terms of the contract. Breaching can occur when one party fails to deliver in the appropriate time frame, does not meet the terms of the agreement, or fails perform at all,” says a random legal website I googled. Sounds right.

Pierre Omidyar cofounded eBay. He became a billionaire at age 31 when eBay went public. Forbes says he’s now worth $12.8 billion.

As you know, journalism is in trouble. So it sounded almost too good to be true when Omidyar lured Glenn Greenwald, who famously received the Edward Snowden stash of secret documents that proved the U.S. government is spying on us, away from the UK Guardian in order to helm a new, fearless, left-leaning journalism organization by the name of First Look Media.

Best of all, Omidyar promised to fix the biggest problem faced by 21st century journalists: shrinking budgets. First Look Media, Omidyar said, would get a whopping $250 million in order to support “independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest.”

Geld macht frei.

Watch this crazy announcement video from 2013. No, really, watch.

First Look Media, Omidyar promises in his video, would feature a “flagship” online magazine—The Intercept, edited by Greenwald—that would “cover news and stories from entertainment and sports to politics and business.” In addition, he pledged, there would be “a family of digital magazines.” (Spoiler: the sports, business and entertainment stuff never materialized.)

One of First Look’s “verticals,” in publishing vernacular, was to be called Racket, “a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy” to be edited by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. (Disclosure: I met with Taibbi to discuss the possibility of working for him. Another disclosure: I talked to a reporter at The Intercept about covering my lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times. He was excited but went cold after he pitched it to his editors.)

According to Taibbi and also Greenwald, Taibbi chafed under Omidyar’s incessant micromanaging on everything from whom he could hire to where they would sit. Taibbi quit and returned to Rolling Stone. That was the end of Racket.

Then the fickle billionaire pulled the plug on his other playthings. “Omidyar made clear that there were no plans to launch any more digital magazines in the near term,” Greenwald wrote in 2014. First Look did pick up the cartoon site The Nib in 2016 and added the nonfiction storytelling publication Topic in 2017, only to cancel both and fire their staffs as part of “cost-cutting moves” in 2019.

Omidyar did not explain why an organization backed by a man worth $12.8 billion needs to cut costs, nor how he reconciles his fickleness with that I’ve-got-your-back video. Really, watch it! (To put this in terms a normal person can understand, if you’re worth $500,000, Omidyar’s $250 million pledge is equivalent to $9,000. If you have $500,000 and you can’t spare $9,000 you’re doing something wrong.)

Earlier this year, Omidyar decided to shut down First Look’s maintenance of the Snowden archive. Given that that trove was the company’s original raison d’être, alongside its dedication to investigative journalism, it left loyalists like First Look cofounder Laura Poitras scratching their heads. In March the company laid off its team of researchers.

The point of First Look, remember, was to give good reporters plenty of cash so they could focus on writing and research.

According to Columbia Journalism Review Omidyar has made good on just $90 million of his $250 million commitment. Which is still a lot of money, but it won’t last forever when you’re burning up cash paying exorbitant wages to editors like Greenwald. He collected $1.6 million between 2014 and 2017 while entry-level grunts are making do with $55,000 in a Manhattan where one-bedroom apartments go for $3,500 a month.

Left-leaning journalism types have been whispering about the shenanigans at First Look for years. But few are willing to speak out in public. Omidyar is powerful and wealthy. What if you might want to work for him someday?

Billionaires are purchasing social good will in the hope that they will be “credited with the accomplishments or qualities” of contributing to the “public good,” as Omidyar says in his over-the-top video.

And I’m fine with that—as long as they don’t breach their contract with the public. Omidyar promised us a passel of verticals/online magazines. Where are they? He promised journalists virtually unlimited freedom to investigate, travel, whatever it takes to do their jobs. Budget cuts and mass layoffs are a clear violation of that pledge. He cheated us. He should be held accountable.

Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong is another billionaire, this one from biotech, who has burnished his image as a savior of American journalism by purchasing The Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper. Soon-Shiong is purportedly worth $7.1 billion.

But there’s already a stink, and I’m not talking about the smell of jet fuel raining down on the Times’ new low-budget office building in El Segundo, directly under the flight approach to LAX. The Times previous home was an art deco gem downtown on Times-Mirror Square. Why, one wonders, can’t a man worth $7.1 billion shell out the $50 million-ish cost of a downtown office building rather than move reporters a three-hour drive away from some parts of the city they’re supposed to be covering? (That’s $3,500 for someone worth $500,000.) Why do so many of his new hires skew so young, Millennial and thus so cheaply five-digit?

Despite slavishly sucking up to him in public statements, the union representing Times employees has been rewarded with contempt by Soon-Shiong, who refuses to negotiate in good faith.

Jeff Bezos, self-proclaimed savior of The Washington Post, has a similar attitude toward workers at his newspaper.

I don’t have a problem with derps derping, even when they’re running major news outlets. What seriously pisses me off is when those derps are billionaires who market themselves as saviors to be admired, when they’re anything but.

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Why Hong Kong Should Have Self-Rule

Hong Kongers have earned the right to genuine self-rule. This could still happen even within the framework of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong police have now shot real as well as rubber bullets and used water cannon against demonstrators. People’s Liberation Army forces have been reinforced in Hong Kong.

Even as threats from Beijing and Hong Kong authorities mount, pro-democracy demonstrations continue. Why? The Hong Kong journalist Thomas Hon Wing Polin writes (CounterPunch, September 2, 2019) that the root problem is the “enemy within”—large swathes of the Hong Kong civil service “attached to Western values” and not to the rightful “sovereign,” i.e., Chjna. Indeed, some 80 percent of Hong Kong judges, Polin laments, are “pro-democracy.” How horrific!

In the same vein as Mr. Polin, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa asserted last July that the civics class mandatory in high school since 2009 is “one of the reasons behind the youths’ problems today.” The “liberal studies curriculum is a failure,” he said. According to Tiffany May and Amy Qin (New York Times, September 2, 2019), liberal studies was introduced by British colonial authorities as an elective in 1992 Its advocates now say the course teaches students to be analytical and objective, even when it comes to examining the Communist Party’s flaws. In mainland schools, by contrast, children as young as age seven are taught to love the party and embrace “Xi Jinping Thought.” Ideological purity—not truth—is the priority. Authorities in Beijing and in Hong Kong are discussing how to reshape Hong Kong education. The city’s education bureau has told teachers that if asked “difficult questions” about current events, they should reply, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand it either.’ But the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union declared its support this summer for students participating in peaceful protests.

Jonathan Power offers a very different explanation of Hong Kong unrest. The British gave China too good a deal “in accepting limits on Hong Kong’s democracy.” Indeed, they should have given Hong Kongers more self-role before departing as they did in India and Nigeria. Still, Power concedes, British governor-negotiator Chris Patten probably did all that he could to protect Hong Kong’s fledgling democracy (CounterPunch, August 30, 2019).

Like many Western leaders and observers, Patten had some grounds to hope that mainland China would gradually become more liberal or, even if this did not happen, Beijing would not smash the golden egg of a rather independent Hong Kong. Since 2012, however, Xi Jinping has tightened the screws within Han China, in Tibet and Xinjiang, and also in Hong Kong. All this adds to the reasons why Hong Kongers want guarantees against Being’s interventions.

While pro-Chinese and critics of China take sides, the reality is that Hong Kongers—the general public, civil service, educators, and business tycoons have produced an astonishing societal and commercial success. They have distinguished themselves from the “sovereign” in many profound dimensions. Hong Kong has skyrocketed to 7th in the world in “human development,” according to the UN Human Development Programme–far ahead of the United States at 13th and China at 84th. Hong Kong has the world’s highest expected life expectancy, 84.1–much higher than the USA, 79.5, and China, 76.4. Per capita income in Hong Kong is $58,420, again much better than the USA at $54,941 or China with $15,270.

Wealth gaps and high housing costs are serious problems, but Hong Kong has the means and brains to ameliorate them. The World Economic Forum says Hong Kong is the 7th most competitive economy in a world where the USA is still number one; where the United Kingdom ranks 8th and China is 28th. Hong Kong’s skill base is strong. Expected years of schooling in Hong Kong is 16.3 years, nearly equal to the USA at 16.5, and far ahead of China at 13.8. For its 7.4 million people Hong Kong has seven universities, available at low cost.

Unlike most Chinese, Hong Kongers have full access to the world. Some 88% of Hong Kongers use the Internet, far above the 76% in the USA or the 53% in China, where a great wall blocks access to many sites. There are 240 cell phone subscriptions for every 100 persons in Hong Kong versus 123 in the United States and 97 in China.

Freedom House ranks Hong Kong as partly free—strong in civil liberties but weak in political rights, while China is quite unfree in both domains. Transparency International says Hong Kong is the world’s 14th least corrupt country; China, the 87th.

Just over half of Hong Kongers (and mainland Chinese) in 2017 said they were overall satisfied with life compared to 70% of Americans. In 2019, however, as central authorities tighten their grip across all of China, large numbers of Hong Kongers have for months defied official admonitions, police tear gas and bullets, white shirted mercenary thugs, and military threats from Beijing. Hong Kong civil servants and other professionals have joined students to demand withdrawal of the notorious extradition bill. Whereas protests of just 2.5 percent of the population achieved major political change in Algeria and Sudan more than one in five or six Hong Kongers have taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations. They have done so with minimal support from Western governments, not even from Great Britain, whose 1984 joint declaration with China, according to Beijing, is now a non-binding historical document “lacking any practical significance.“

Hong Kong protests go far beyond the extradition bill. They challenge the premise that Hong Kong’s way of life can continue when subject to an increasingly repressive totalitarian dictatorship in Beijing. Like the American colonials who defied King George in the 1770s, Hong Kongers demand self-government. Like Americans then, Hong Kongers share much of the oppressor’s culture. Unlike the Americans, Hong Kongers speak a language, Cantonese, incomprehensible to most authorities in Beijing, and dislike being forced to learn and communicate in Mandarin. Unlike the Americans, Hong Kongers are too small in number and too close to the “sovereign” oppressor to fight for their freedom. But they are demonstrating their solidarity in ways that trouble Chinese authorities concerned for their reputation and image.

Americans won their freedom not just by arms but also by the moral appeal of their demand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They claimed that if government undermines these goals, people have a right to alter/abolish it and institute a new government. It is nearly unthinkable that Beijing would countenance independent statehood for Hong Kong. But authorities in Beijing could compromise with guarantees of real self-rule in Hong Kong. The “one country, two systems” principle would be modified to reserve all powers to Hong Kong except those specifically allotted to the central government in Beijing. It would ban all dictates and controls from the mainland on Hong Kong’s government, educational system, business practices, or way of life.

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Concealing the Truth

Concealing the truth from the people is not unusual in politics. It is perhaps more pronounced in global politics partly because it is more difficult to hold powerful global actors accountable. That might is right is an adage that rings true at the international level more than in the domestic arena.

There are currently a number of international issues where the truth is concealed or camouflaged. The demonstrations in Hong Kong for instance which have gone on for weeks are perceived by a lot of people as a struggle for freedom and democracy against an authoritarian government in Beijing. The truth may be a little more complex. It may be in the interest of certain elements in some Western capitals to encourage mass protests in Hong Kong as part of their larger agenda to create instability in China. This in turn may be aimed at curbing China’s rise as a global power which its adversaries perceive as a challenge to their hegemony of the planet.

The crisis in Kashmir is another example of an issue where the entire story may not be known to the people. While changes made to the Indian Constitution have been presented by the government in New Delhi as an attempt to integrate the disputed territory into the national structure, the real reason may be more closely aligned to the ideological orientation of the present BJP leadership. This is why it may have serious repercussions for India’s religious diversity which has been its civilizational hallmark.

A third region in crisis may also reveal that the underlying causes may be quite different from what has been portrayed in the media. Iran has been depicted as the country that is responsible for the present tensions in West Asia. Even if we confined our observation to the immediate circumstance, it is obvious that it is the United States’ decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal of July 2015 that is the real reason for the tensions. Why President Trump moved in that direction has a lot to do with increased Israeli and Saudi influence over the White House and their misperception of the power dynamics in West Asia.

Perhaps an even more blatant instance of concealing the truth is the continuing crisis in Venezuela. The US and some of its allies are trying to convey the impression that if the oil-rich state is grappling with serious economic challenges it is due entirely to an oppressive leadership pursuing socialist policies. The truth is that unending schemes and ploys by the US since the presidency of Hugo Chavez which even witnessed a failed coup against him in April 2002 are the main cause of Venezuela’s woes.

If the truth about what is happening in relation to Venezuela, Iran, Kashmir and Hong Kong is not widely known it is largely because the media, old and new, serve the interests of the powerful. This may not be obvious to many of us because these are on-going crises in constant flux. A quick look at some past episodes may be useful.

In August 1964, the US leadership alleged that North Vietnamese ships had fired at US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The allegation provided the justification for the US to intensify its aggression against North Vietnam. The truth is there was no North Vietnamese attack against US ships. The incident was invented as the US Secretary of Defence at that time Robert McNamara admitted years later.

To justify US military action against Iraq when the latter invaded Kuwait in August 1990, a story was concocted that accused Iraqi soldiers of plucking babies out of their incubators and throwing them onto the floor of a hospital in Kuwait. The fabrication was designed to incite public anger against an “utterly brutal and inhuman regime” in Baghdad. A few years later a monstrous lie was invented about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in order to convince the world that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was totally justified.

A more recent example of political lying was the accusation that Bashar Al-Assad of Syria was responsible for a chemical gas attack in Eastern Ghouta on the 21st of August 2013. It was the celebrated investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who revealed the truth: that the Western backed rebels were behind the chemical attack.

More than any country in West Asia it is tiny Cuba that has borne the brunt of its huge neighbour’s lies and distortions. Since its Revolution in 1959, it has been constantly accused of fomenting instability and violence in Latin America. And yet, it is the US through its agents and proxies that has orchestrated acts of terror against Cuba the most infamous of which was the downing of a Cuban commercial plane on the 6th of October 1976 that killed 73 people including a number of children. The mastermind of that heinous crime Posada Carilles was given protection in the US until his death in May 2018.

Why lies are propagated so frequently and the truth sacrificed so easily, it is not difficult to understand. It is because the powerful want to protect their power at all costs. Sometimes this would require targeting their foes without proof.

This may be true of two final episodes which I have kept to the end because both have not been investigated thoroughly and therefore one cannot draw definite conclusions. The 9-11 tragedy and the MH 17 disaster though different in many ways are similar in some respects. In both cases, a certain party pointed fingers at the “culprits” almost immediately without presenting an iota of evidence. US officials and the media accused Osama bin Laden of planning 9-11 within hours of the attacks upon the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Similarly, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry stated that “There is overwhelming evidence of Russia complicity in the downing of a Malaysia airline plane,” as quoted in the BBC on the 21st of July 2014, 4 days after the disaster. Kerry did not bother to provide any evidence.

It is equally significant that in both cases important questions about the actual episodes have remained unanswered. In the 9-11 episode, it is still unclear what caused the collapse of a third tower in the vicinity of the Twin Towers and what exactly hit the Pentagon. Likewise, in the case of MH 17, the official version of what had caused the downing of the plane does not blend with some eye-witness accounts or with expert analysis of the nature of the damage to the cockpit.

9-11 was the raison d’etre for the US led onslaught on Afghanistan on the 7th of October 2001. More important, it ignited the US led War on Terror that lasted more than a decade and was seen by many Muslims as an affront to their identity and their dignity. Is it a coincidence that after the July 17th air disaster — the overwhelming majority killed were Europeans —- European governments were more supportive of severe economic sanctions against Russia proposed by the US some months before? Did the disaster unwittingly achieve some geopolitical objective?

It is only if we continue to ask probing questions that the truth that is concealed will be revealed for the good of everyone.

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Predator of Our Public Lands

Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For generations, our country has been Mother Nature’s steward, setting aside and protecting important expanses of public lands for posterity. But what if these lands and natural resources suddenly got a “steward” who was a predator, rather than a protector?

Meet William Perry Pendley. For more than 40 years, he’s been a fringe political operative and lawyer for a network of loopy, anti-environmental extremists intent on helping corporate predators grab and plunder our national assets for their private profit.

And now — Holy Teddy Roosevelt! — developer-in-chief Donald Trump has named Pendley to be acting head of the Bureau of Land Management.

Yes, a guy who favors the wholesale privatization of your and my public lands is to oversee the future of America’s public lands. Indeed, Pendley has been lost in the ultra-right-wing weeds for years, screeching that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”

That’s nuts, but nuttier yet is Pendley’s listing of a sextet of demons he believes are “at war” with western civilization: radical environmentalists, federal bureaucrats, the media, academia, Hollywood, and “ignorant” Americans who are “easily panicked” into believing in things like climate change.

But this caped corporate crusader saves most of his manic fury for the environmental movement, bizarrely proclaiming that its millions of adherents “don’t believe in human beings.”

Also, with funding from the Koch brothers and Big Oil, Pendley has been a fanatical fossil fuel proselytizer, even declaring in a moment of rapture that fracking is “an energy, economic, and environmental miracle!”

Don’t just keep an eye on this corporate extremist — don’t even blink! For updates, contact Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility at peer.org.

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War in All But Name as US State Department Offers Bribes to Pirates of Iranian Ships

If at first you don’t succeed, spread some money around. The Financial Times reports that the US State Department is offering cash bribes to captains of Iranian ships if they sail those ships into ports where the US government can seize them.

The offers are funded from a “Rewards for Justice” program authorizing payouts of up to $15 million for “counter-terrorism” purposes. It’s  not about counter-terrorism, though. It’s about doubling down on US President Donald Trump’s decision to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, usually called the “Iran Nuclear Deal.”

The other parties to the deal –especially France, the UK, and Germany — don’t want to let the deal go, but also don’t want to enrage Trump by violating the unilateral sanctions he’s imposed on Iran. The Iranians, on the other hand, have made it clear that unless those other countries find ways to deliver meaningful sanctions relief, they’re abandoning the deal too. They’ve started taking concrete steps in that direction.

On July 4 — Independence Day in the United States — members of the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines boarded an Iranian oil tanker, the Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. They seized ship, crew, and cargo in an act of open piracy.

The pretext for the seizure was that selling oil to Syria violates European Union sanctions. But neither Iran nor Syria are EU member states, and the tanker was taken in international “transit passage” waters. That’s like giving a speeding ticket to a driver in Hungary for violating  Kazakhstan’s speed limits.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, plausibly asserted that the seizure was requested by the US government. The ship was released after Iran agreed that the oil would not go to Syria (its whereabouts and destination remain unknown as of this writing).

In the meantime, a US court had issued a seizure warrant — for an Iranian vessel, carrying Iranian oil, to a non-US destination, clearly outside any reasonable definition of US jurisdiction. And the Iranians had hijacked a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in reprisal for the taking of Grace 1.

So now the US State Department is reduced to simple bribery in its attempts to clean up after Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to get the US out of the “nuclear deal.”

Under the deal, the Iranians went beyond their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “end” a nuclear weapons program which the US intelligence community didn’t even believe existed. All they got out of it was some relief from sanctions that should never have been imposed, and the return of some money stolen by the US government decades ago. All the US got out of it was an empty propaganda victory.

But electoral politics required Trump to throw even that tiny trophy away. He had to either promise foreign policy belligerence SOMEWHERE or risk establishment mockery as a peacenik. Enter the Israeli lobby and Sheldon Adelson’s millions. Iran drew the short straw.

So did we. This is war in all but name and only likely to escalate as Election 2020 draws nigh.

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Any War on Terror is Bullshit

The saying goes that the greatest trick the devil ever played was fooling the world that he doesn’t exist. I’ve long said that the greatest trick the state ever played was fooling the world that only its existence could keep the devil at bay. The devil in this case being a constantly evolving crop of scapegoats often labeled terrorists. Then again the Old Testament interpretation of the devil has always been the ultimate scapegoat. Lucifer’s great crime was trying to mimic god’s omnipotence with a failed coup. God cast the rebellious angel out of heaven but allowed him to continue to play god in hell because his existence served as the ultimate excuse for god’s unlimited power. My childhood priest, Father Foster, probably wouldn’t agree with this interpretation, but as a budding young anarchist, this is the way the tale sounded to me. The devil’s very existence was defined by god and god in turn needed the devil to justify his power. And this is what I see when I look at the issue of terrorism.

Terrorist attacks aren’t prevalent in peaceful nations. No one’s blowing up Lichtenstein. It’s violence that perpetuates violence. So it only seems natural to me that America, a state with an epic reputation for violence, both at home and abroad, should become a magnet for copycat killers. The United States makes over a hundred attempts to wack Fidel Castro and Lee Harvey Oswald guns down the president. The United States turns the jungles of Vietnam into a massive killing field and Charles Whitman turns the University of Texas into a free fire zone. The United States burns a compound full of women and children alive in Waco and Timothy McVeigh blows the Murray Building to smithereens. The United States hollows out a skyscraper in Serbia with hellfire missiles and our former client in the Balkans, Osama bin Laden, takes down two towers with hijacked commercial airliners. The United States wipes out an entire village in Yemen with a Navy Seal death squad and a white nationalist dressed in Navy Seal cosplay turns himself into a one man death squad and wipes out a bustling Walmart full of brown civilians.

I may be something of a wonk when it comes to mass violence, it’s a peculiar hobby that goes back to my peculiar Catholic childhood, but I take very little pride when I tell you that I could quite literally go on like this all fucking day. As Malcolm X astutely observed about the Kennedy Assassination, these are all simply tragic cases of the chickens coming home to roost.

It’s amazing to me how many scapegoats the mainstream media can drum up for these atrocities, from Grand Theft Auto to Marilyn Manson, without drawing the most blatantly obvious conclusion that those living beneath the yoke of the most violent empire on earth might be a bit more susceptible to becoming copycats of state violence than most. It’s less amazing to me that the agents of this state fail to make this same conclusion once you realize that their very existence relies upon this demonic proliferation of mass violence. This becomes a sort of twisted self-fulfilling prophecy machine that the state inspires terrorism with acts of terrorism launched to combat terrorism. But with the very American reaction to the latest spree of mass killings, we see a new and dangerous trend. The state has finally given birth to the ultimate scapegoat, the Alt-Right lone wolf.

In the past twenty years, America has used its reactionary War on Terror to rapidly expand the police-warfare state by scapegoating the world’s fastest growing religion of Islam. They skillfully used the attack that their own barbaric foreign policy invited on 9/11 to justify an endless forever war across the ever-expanding Muslim world. Perhaps even scarier is the Orwellian nightmare state created on the home front, which subjects us all to near full spectrum surveillance 24/7. While the FBI kept up a steady quota of Muslim headhunting by entrapping mentally feeble brown kids online, most of the police state’s attention was directed towards the existential threat of radical tree-huggers and wily peace activists. But in our PC age of racial sensitivity, this brown-baiting bait and switch has become an increasingly tough sell even for the most prudent statist lunkhead. The specter of the white nationalist is the perfect upgrade. After all, even child pornographers are sickened by Nazis.

But the mainstream interpretation of this right-wing radicalism is recklessly vague. With every virtue signalling call from Time Magazine to Elizabeth Warren to declare all out war on the radical right there is often a half-whispered addendum of “…and other anti-government extremists.” But what constitutes an anti-government extremist? Well, dearest motherfuckers, whoever the fuck you want, or rather whoever the fuck our lethal executive office wants. Me, you, Ilhan Omar, Black Lives Matter, with a thin skinned lunatic like Trump in the White House, whoever criticizes his tie or suggests he pees sitting down. The Resistance clamoring for these knee-jerk state reactions to state inspired violence seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that they’re merrily building their own fucking caskets. Just as Obama’s hope-and-change posse handed an orangutan an Uzi by allowing Barack to turn the Oval Office into a drone-strike internet cafe, today’s self-proclaimed leftists are pushing for sharper fangs on the state without even considering the possibility that they could get bit.

But what is even more terrifying than further empowering our hollow-point presidency is the fortification of the permanent state in the police/intelligence community. According to disturbingly influential Russophobic crowd exciters like Rachel Maddow and Alexander Reid Ross (no relation, thank Christ), the entire spectrum of the anti-authoritarian fringe from left to right is part of one big John Nash-style spiderweb of red-brown Putin puppets. Everyone from Ron Paul to Jill Stein is a part of this neo-McCarthyite orbit and we’re all connected by dots to angry white men in white sheets. You don’t have to be an Alt-Right nut-job to recognize how dangerous this philosophy has become, especially once it’s made official state policy. After all, according to this increasingly mainstream conspiracy theory, anybody who doesn’t vote for a Bush or a Clinton is now an honorary Alt-Right nut-job anyway. See you at the next cross burning.

At the end of the day, all acts of mass violence are acts of terrorism, regardless of whether they’re committed by skinheads or cops, and the last time I checked, the cops have a way bigger body count of brown and queer civilians. Do we really wan’t to give them Bazookas to chase after their own shadows? Does anybody honestly believe that they would even be the primary targets? I ain’t biting, dearest motherfuckers and neither should you. In our current national hell, all non-state terrorists are convenient scapegoats for the state that births them. And any war on terror is bullshit.

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Inevitable Withdrawal: The US-Taliban Deal

It took gallons and flagons of blood, but it eventuated, a squeeze of history into a parchment of possibility: the Taliban eventually pushed the sole superpower on this expiring earth to a deal of some consequence. (The stress is on the some – the consequence is almost always unknown.) “In principle, on paper, yes we have reached an agreement,” claimed the US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on the Afghan channel ToloNews. “But it is not final until the president of the United States also agrees to it.”

The agreement entails the withdrawal (the public relations feature of the exercise teasingly calls this “pulling out”) of 5,400 troops from the current complement of 14,000 within 135 days of signature. Five military bases will close or be transferred to the Afghan government. In return, the Taliban has given an undertaking never to host forces with the intention of attacking the US and its interests.

Exactitude, however, is eluding the press and those keen to get to the marrow. Word on the policy grapevine is that this is part of an inexorable process that will see a full evacuation within 16 months, though this remains gossip.

The entire process has its exclusions, qualifications and mutual deceptions. In it is a concession, reluctant but ultimately accepted, that the Taliban was a credible power that could never be ignored. To date, the US has held nine rounds of talks, a seemingly dragged out process with one ultimate outcome: a reduction, and ultimate exit of combat forces.

The Taliban was not, as the thesis of certain US strategists, a foreign bacillus moving its way through the Afghan body politic, the imposition of a global fundamentalist corporation. Corrupt local officials of the second rank, however, were also very much part and parcel of the effort, rendering any containment strategy meaningless.

A narrative popular and equally fallacious was the notion that the Taliban had suffered defeat and would miraculously move into the back pages of history. Similar views were expressed during the failed effort by the United States to combat the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. An elaborate calculus was created, a mirage facilitated through language: the body count became a means of confusing numbers with political effect.

Time and time again, the Taliban demonstrated that B52s, well-equipped foreign forces and cruise missiles could not extricate them from the land that has claimed so many empires. Politics can only ever be the realisation of tribes, collectives, peoples; weapons and material are unkind and useful companions, but never viable electors or officials.

Even now, the desire to remain from those in overfunded think tanks and well-furnished boardrooms, namely former diplomats engaged on the Afghan project, is stubborn and delusionary. If withdrawal is to take place, goes that tune, it should hinge on a pre-existing peace agreement. An open letter published by the Atlantic Council by nine former US State Department officials previously connected with the country is a babbling affair. “If a peace agreement is going to succeed, we and others need to be committed to continued support for peace consolidation. This will require monitoring compliance, tamping down of those extremists opposed to peace, and supporting good governance and economic growth with international assistance.”

The presumptuousness of this tone is remarkable, heavy with work planning jargon and spread sheet nonsense. There is no peace to keep, nor governance worth preserving. Instead, the authors of the note, including such failed bureaucratic luminaries as John Negroponte, Robert P. Finn and Ronald E. Neumann, opt for the imperial line: the US can afford staying in Afghanistan because the Afghans are the ones fighting and dying. (Again, this is Vietnam redux, an Afghan equivalent of Vietnamisation.) In their words, “US fatalities are tragic, but the number of those killed in combat make up less than 20 percent of the US troops who died in non-combat training incidents.” All good, then.

In a sign of ruthless bargaining, the Taliban continued the bloodletting even as the deal was being ironed of evident wrinkles. This movement knows nothing of peace but all about the life of war: death is its sovereign; corpses, its crop. On Monday, the Green Village in Kabul was targeted by a truck bomb, leaving 16 dead (this toll being bound to rise). It was a reminder that the Taliban, masters of whole swathes of the countryside, can also strike deep in the capital itself. The killings also supplied the Afghan government a salutary reminder of its impotence, underscored by the fact that President Ashraf Ghani played no role in the Qatar talks.

This leaves us with the realisation that much cruelty is on the horizon. The victory of the Taliban is an occasion to cheer the bloodying of the imperialist’s nose. But they will not leave documents of enlightenment, speeches to inspire. This agreement will provide little comfort for those keen to read a text unmolested or seek an education free of crippling dogma. Interior cannibalisation is assured, with civil war a distinct possibility. Tribal war is bound to continue.

As this takes place, the hope for President Donald Trump and his officials will no doubt be similar to the British when they finally upped stakes on instruction from Prime Minister David Cameron: forget that the whole thing ever happened.

The post Inevitable Withdrawal: The US-Taliban Deal appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Get Ready for Unnatural Disasters This Hurricane Season

Donald Trump discusses immigration as if the benefits of residence in the U.S. are a pie. When immigrants get more, the people who were already here get less.

In general, that’s not true. When immigrants come here, they don’t just take some jobs (often low-wage jobs U.S. citizens don’t want), they also create new jobs. They need housing, transportation, food, and clothes, and they buy all of those things, creating more jobs for other people in this country.

However, in one way, Trump is turning his viewpoint into a self-fulfilling prophecy: He’s using our finite government funds to pay for incarcerating immigrants in detention facilities, which means he’s shifting that money away from other uses that could benefit the American people.

In that sense, it’s not immigrants who are taking from us. It’s Trump.

For example, disaster relief. Trump’s using over $100 million in federal disaster aid money to pay for detention centers for immigrants — even as hurricane season gets underway.

Does that worry him? Apparently not.

When asked about Hurricane Dorian, which was then a category 5 storm nearing the Atlantic coast, Trump actually said: “I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of a category 5.” He said the same thing last year about Hurricane Michael. And the same thing again the year before, about Hurricane Irma.

Hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters are threats that definitely harm Americans. Historically, we as a nation take care of one another by appropriating some of our tax dollars for federal disaster relief.

Nobody plans to be the victim of a natural disaster, and we can’t predict which communities will be hit by them. We can prepare for them as a nation so that when they happen, we are as ready as we can be, and we have the resources to deal with the aftermath.

While we can’t control whether or not we get hit by hurricanes or tornadoes, we can control whether we invest in being prepared — or whether we waste that money instead on locking up immigrants in taxpayer-funded detention facilities.

We don’t need to do that.

When we take money from disaster relief and use it to imprison people who pose no safety threat to the American people, we are also harming the victims of natural disasters who need aid they won’t receive.

By moving money within the Department of Homeland Security from other areas (the Coast Guard, FEMA, etc.) to pay for beds in detention centers for people who have crossed the border illegally but represent no safety threat to this country, the Trump administration could leave America open to other types of threats instead.

Rather than spending tax dollars needed for actual threats to national security on detaining immigrants, we need comprehensive and humane immigration reform that keeps families together. Then we can use our money on what we actually need, like disaster relief.

The post Get Ready for Unnatural Disasters This Hurricane Season appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Juniper Removal is a Red Herring

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has launched a massive juniper removal project in Idaho and plans to expand it throughout the Great Basin. Juniper is a common native species that grow in arid landscapes along with sagebrush and grasses.

The rationale given for the juniper removal is to improve sage grouse habitat. However, that is a red herring. The real reason is to create more forage for private livestock. Juniper removal gives the public the impression that the agencies are doing “something” to enhance sage grouse survival.

https://www.theolympian.com/news/state/washington/article234351727.html

The BLM and the livestock industry suggest that juniper deforestation will benefit sage grouse because the juniper is occasionally used as perches by avian predators.

There are no studies that I’m aware of that demonstrate that use of juniper as perches by sage grouse raptor predators is common.

Furthermore, much of the habitat where juniper removal is occurring is steeper ground not typically utilized by sage grouse.

There is one paper that suggests that juniper removal potentially increases sage grouse nest and adult survival by up to 25% which they attribute to removal of perches for birds of prey.  However, like other papers, the authors do not demonstrate that birds of prey are the main culprit for sage grouse mortality. They assume that juniper removal reduces avian predator losses, but the evidence is not conclusive.

Ravens, another bird that occasionally preys on nests and eggs, will use scattered juniper for perches. However, this does not appear to be common.

Plus there is evidence that the presence of livestock (dead livestock and afterbirth) leads to higher raven numbers.

However, many studies show that birds of prey like golden eagles use fence posts for perching.  In areas where junipers have been removed, sage grouse tend to avoid the areas that have fences.

Besides, up to 30% of the mortality of sage grouse in some areas is due to collision with fences. Thus, if the BLM were genuinely concerned about the future of sage grouse, it would be eliminating or decreasing fences, not juniper.

Livestock degrades sagebrush habitat by eating and trampling and thereby, decreasing the hiding cover of grass exposing the bird to higher predation losses.

The bulk of BLM lands are in poor to fair condition, meaning grass cover is less than desirable. It’s possible that removing or reducing livestock grazing might lead to much higher sage grouse survival than juniper removal.  However, this alternative is never considered by the BLM due to its strong alliance to the livestock industry.

Livestock production also impacts sage grouse by the damage done to wetlands and riparian areas from trampling, the resultant soil compaction, and loss of vegetative cover due to livestock grazing. Sage grouse chicks are dependent on these wet areas where they feed on insects and specific flowers.

Livestock water troughs are used by mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus, which can cause significant mortality in sage grouse.

Sage grouse avoid flying over vast expanses of non-sagebrush habitat created by hay fields. Considering many valley bottoms around the West have been converted to hay production, the resulting habitat fragmentation is significant.

Perhaps one of the main ways that livestock production harms sage grouse is by the spread of cheatgrass. Cheatgrass is an alien annual grass that is highly flammable. Cheatgrass spread is facilitated by livestock due to the selective grazing of native grasses. Removal of native grasses by livestock gives cheatgrass a competitive advantage in the competition for resources like water.

Furthermore, cattle hooves trample soil biocrusts, which generally grow in the spaces between native bunchgrasses. Biocrusts inhibit the establishment of cheatgrass.

Collectively all these livestock production factors create a “headwind” for sage grouse survival in many parts of the West. (Energy production, conversion of sagebrush habitat to wheat and hayfields, and so forth are also factors in sage grouse decline).

Another problem associated with the BLM justification for juniper removal is the use of old ideas about juniper and fire. According to the standard party line given by range conservationists and range professors (both of whom indirectly work on behalf of the livestock industry), juniper is “invading” due to “fire suppression.”

This myth was created by a range professor from Oregon State University Range Department who asserted that since range fires were frequent and low severity, burning sagebrush ecosystems every 10-25 years. Such recurrent blazes would logically preclude the establishment of juniper except on rocky sites and other areas where a fire was excluded.

However, more recent research has concluded that most sagebrush species typically burn on a 50-400 year fire rotation. So this creates a problem for the BLM argument that “frequent” fires limited juniper since it turns out that fires were not that regular.

In a more recent review of juniper fire ecology, the researchers concluded that “spreading, low-severity surface fires were likely not common.” Instead of low severity fires, the researchers found that “nearly all observed fires since EuroAmerican settlement in these woodlands were high-severity fires.”

Several more recent studies on juniper have verified this long rotation. For instance, a survey conducted in Dinosaur National Monument found that juniper fire rotations were 550 years. Similar long fire rotations of 400 years in one case, 480 years in the other have been reported.

Therefore, much of what is viewed as juniper “expansion” may be recolonization after high severity fires. Climate change may also be contributing to juniper expansion.  Juniper establishment only occurs when there are favorable conditions for seed production and seedling survival.  Seedling survival is better in disturbed rangelands where livestock have decreased the competition from other vegetation.

All of which the BLM appears to ignore because it doesn’t fit the paradigm that justifies juniper removal.

The BLM does not address that juniper removal, and the disturbance that comes with it promotes the establishment and spread of cheatgrass. The highly flammable cheatgrass by shortening the regular fire rotation is a far greater threat to sagebrush ecosystems and sage grouse survival than the presence of juniper.

It’s essential to keep in mind that range conservationists and/or range professors/researchers whose jobs depend on the continuation of livestock grazing are the primary advocates of juniper removal. Just follow the money.

To the degree, that juniper removal might, in some cases, benefit sage grouse is a distraction or smoke screen. The more significant factors contributing to sage grouse declines, which include the cumulative impacts of livestock production continued to be ignored.

The post Juniper Removal is a Red Herring appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Existential Despair

Decades ago, Edward Said remarked that contemporary life is characterized by a “generalized condition of homelessness.” Decades earlier, Heidegger had written that “Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world.” Around the same time, fascists were invoking the themes of blood and soil, nation, race, community, as intoxicating antidotes to the mass anonymity and depersonalization of modern life. Twenty or thirty years later, the New Left, in its Port Huron Statement, lamented the corruption and degradation of such values as love, freedom, creativity, and community:

Loneliness, estrangement, isolation describe the vast distance between man and man today. These dominant tendencies cannot be overcome by better personnel management, nor by improved gadgets, but only when a love of man overcomes the idolatrous worship of things by man…

Over a hundred years earlier, Karl Marx had already understood it was capitalism that was responsible for all this collective anguish. “All fixed, fast-frozen relations…are swept away,” he wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…” Home, community, the family, one’s very relation to oneself—all are mediated by money, the commodity function, “reification,” exploitation of one form or another.

And now here we are in 2019, when the alienation and atomization have reached such a state that it seems as if the world is in danger of ending. The phenomenology, the “structure of feeling,” of living in this society is that everything is transient and “up in the air,” human survival is in question, a hectored, bureaucratized anonymity chases us from morning till night, nothing really matters, no one gets their just deserts. Young people are refraining from having children. There is certainly no collective sense of belonging—that’s long gone. We’re les étrangers, passively consuming distractions as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Meanwhile, we read of little else but agonized suffering, from children in cages to rainforests burning, from opioid epidemics to rampaging neofascists.

The case for socialism is usually made, rightly, from the perspective of its justice. It would be just to have economic and social democracy, for one thing because it is intrinsically right that people not be forced to rent themselves to a business owner who exploits them for profit but instead that they collectively control economic activities and distribute rewards as they see fit. Moreover, economic democracy, whether in the form of worker cooperatives or democratic government control, would essentially make impossible the extreme income inequality that corrodes political democracy and ultimately unravels the social fabric.

But it’s also worth broadcasting the message that even from an existentialist point of view, our only hope is socialism. Certain types of conservatives (usually religious) like to complain about the demise of the family, the community, non-hedonistic interpersonal ties, and the sense of meaning in our lives, a demise for which they blame such nebulous phenomena as secularism, “humanism,” communism, and liberalism. That is, everything except what really matters: capitalism, the reduction of multifaceted life to the monomaniacal pursuit of profit, property, and power. So these conservatives end up in the realm of fascism or neofascism, which promises only to complete the destruction of family and community.

The truth is that only socialism, or an economically democratic society in which there is no capitalist class, could possibly usher in a world in which the existentialist howl of Camus and Sartre didn’t have universal resonance. Mass loneliness, “homelessness,” and the gnawing sense of meaninglessness are not timeless conditions; they’re predictable expressions of a commoditized, privatized, bureaucratized civilization. Do away with the agent of enforced commoditization, privatization, and hyper-bureaucratization-for-the-sake-of-social-control—i.e., the capitalist class—and you’ll do away with the despair that arises from these things.

It’s true that the current suicide epidemic in the U.S. and the mental illness epidemic around the world have more specific causes than simply “capitalism.” They have to do with high unemployment, deindustrialization, underfunded hospitals and community outreach programs, job-related stress, social isolation, etc. In other words, they have to do with the particularly vicious and virulent forms that capitalism takes in the neoliberal period. But long before this period, widespread disaffection and mental illness characterized capitalist society.

Now, in light of global warming and ecological destruction, it’s possible that humanity won’t last much longer anyway, in which case capitalism will never be overcome and our collective existential anguish is perfectly appropriate. But nothing is certain at this point. Except that we have a moral imperative to do all we can to fight for socialism. “By any means necessary.” It is what justice demands, and it offers the only hope that even we privileged people—not to mention the less privileged majority—can know what it is to truly have a home.

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