Counterpunch Articles

The IMF and World Bank: Partners in Backwardness

“The purpose of a military conquest is to take control of foreign economies, to take control of their land and impose tribute. The genius of the World Bank was to recognize that it’s not necessary to occupy a country in order to impose tribute, or to take over its industry, agriculture and land. Instead of bullets, it uses financial maneuvering. As long as other countries play an artificial economic game that U.S. diplomacy can control, finance is able to achieve today what used to require bombing and loss of life by soldiers.”

I’m Bonnie Faulkner. Today on Guns and Butter: Dr. Michael Hudson. Today’s show: The IMF and World Bank: Partners In Backwardness. Dr. Hudson is a financial economist and historian. He is President of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trend, a Wall Street Financial Analyst, and Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. His most recent books include “… and Forgive them Their Debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year”; Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy, and J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception. He is also author of Trade, Development and Foreign Debt, among many other books. We return today to a discussion of Dr. Hudson’s seminal 1972 book, Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire, a critique of how the United States exploited foreign economies through the IMF and World Bank, with a special emphasis on food imperialism.

Bonnie Faulkner: Michael Hudson, welcome back.

Michael Hudson: It’s good to be back, Bonnie.

Bonnie Faulkner: In your seminal work form 1972, Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire, you write: “The development lending of the World Bank has been dysfunctional from the outset.” When was the World Bank set up and by whom?

Michael Hudson: It was set up basically by the United States in 1944, along with its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their purpose was to create an international order like a funnel to make other countries economically dependent on the United States. To make sure that no other country or group of countries – even all the rest of the world – could not dictate U.S. policy. American diplomats insisted on the ability to veto any action by the World Bank or IMF. The aim of this veto power was to make sure that any policy was, in Donald Trump’s words, to put America first. “We’ve got to win and they’ve got to lose.”

The World Bank was set up from the outset as a branch of the military, of the Defense Department. John J. McCloy (Assistant Secretary of War, 1941-45), was the first full-time president. He later became Chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank (1953-60). McNamara was Secretary of Defense (1961-68), Paul Wolfowitz was Deputy and Under Secretary of Defense (1989-2005), and Robert Zoellick was Deputy Secretary of State. So I think you can look at the World Bank as the soft shoe of American diplomacy.

Bonnie Faulkner: What is the difference between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the IMF? Is there a difference?

Michael Hudson: Yes, there is. The World Bank was supposed to make loans for what they call international development. “Development” was their euphemism for dependency on U.S. exports and finance. This dependency entailed agricultural backwardness – opposing land reform, family farming to produce domestic food crops, and also monetary backwardness in basing their monetary system on the dollar.

The World Bank was supposed to provide infrastructure loans that other countries would go into debt to pay American engineering firms, to build up their export sectors and their plantation sectors by public investment roads and port development for imports and exports. Essentially, the Bank financed long- investments in the foreign trade sector, in a way that was a natural continuation of European colonialism.

In 1941, for example, C. L. R. James wrote an article on “Imperialism in Africa” pointing out the fiasco of European railroad investment in Africa: “Railways must serve flourishing industrial areas, or densely populated agricult5ural regions, or they must open up new land along which a thriving population develops and provides the railways with traffic. Except in the mining regions of South Africa, all these conditions are absent. Yet railways were needed, for the benefit of European investors and heavy industry.” That is why, James explained “only governments can afford to operate them,” while being burdened with heavy interest obligations.[1] What was “developed” was Africa’s mining and plantation export sector, not its domestic economies. The World Bank followed this pattern of “development” lending without apology.

The IMF was in charge of short-term foreign currency loans. Its aim was to prevent countries from imposing capital controls to protect their balance of payments. Many countries had a dual exchange rate: one for trade in goods and services, the other rate for capital movements. The function of the IMF and World Bank was essentially to make other countries borrow in dollars, not in their own currencies, and to make sure that if they could not pay their dollar-denominated debts, they had to impose austerity on the domestic economy – while subsidizing their import and export sectors and protecting foreign investors, creditors and client oligarchies from loss.

The IMF developed a junk-economics model pretending that any country can pay any amount of debt to the creditors if it just impoverishes its labor enough. So when countries were unable to pay their debt service, the IMF tells them to raise their interest rates to bring on a depression – austerity – and break up the labor unions. That is euphemized as “rationalizing labor markets.” The rationalizing is essentially to disable labor unions and the public sector. The aim – and effect – is to prevent countries from essentially following the line of development that had made the United States rich – by public subsidy and protection of domestic agriculture, public subsidy and protection of industry and an active government sector promoting a New Deal democracy. The IMF was essentially promoting and forcing other countries to balance their trade deficits by letting American and other investors buy control of their commanding heights, mainly their infrastructure monopolies, and to subsidize their capital flight.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Now, Michael, when you began speaking about the IMF and monetary controls, you mentioned that there were two exchange rates of currency in countries. What were you referring to?

MICHAEL HUDSON: When I went to work on Wall Street in the ‘60s, I was balance-of-payments economist for Chase Manhattan, and we used the IMF’s monthly International Financial Statistics every month. At the top of each country’s statistics would be the exchange-rate figures. Many countries had two rates: one for goods and services, which was set normally by the market, and then a different exchange rate that was managed for capital movements. That was because countries were trying to prevent capital flight. They didn’t want their wealthy classes or foreign investors to make a run on their own currency – an ever-present threat in Latin America.

The IMF and the World Bank backed the cosmopolitan classes, the wealthy. Instead of letting countries control their capital outflows and prevent capital flight, the IMF’s job is to protect the richest One Percent and foreign investors from balance-of-payments problems. The World Bank and American diplomacy have steered them into a chronic currency crisis. The IMF enables its wealthy constituency to move their money out of the country without taking a foreign-exchange loss. It makes loans to support capital flight out of domestic currencies into the dollar or other hard currencies. The IMF calls this a “stabilization” program. It is never effective in helping the debtor economy pay foreign debts out of growth. Instead, the IMF uses currency depreciation and sell-offs of public infrastructure and other assets to foreign investors after the flight capital has left and currency collapses. Wall Street speculators have sold the local currency short to make a killing, George-Soros style.

When the debtor-country currency collapses, the debts that these Latin American countries owe are in dollars, and now have to pay much more in their own currency to carry and pay off these debts. We’re talking about enormous penalty rates in domestic currency for these countries to pay foreign-currency debts – basically taking on to finance a non-development policy and to subsidize capital flight when that policy “fails” to achieve its pretended objective of growth.

All hyperinflations of Latin America – Chile early on, like Germany after World War I – come from trying to pay foreign debts beyond the ability to be paid. Local currency is thrown onto the foreign-exchange market for dollars, lowering the exchange rate. That increases import prices, raising a price umbrella for domestic products.

A really functional and progressive international monetary fund that would try to help countries develop would say: “Okay, banks and we (the IMF) have made bad loans that the country can’t pay. And the World Bank has given it bad advice, distorting its domestic development to serve foreign customers rather than its own growth. So we’re going to write down the loans to the ability to be paid.” That’s what happened in 1931, when the world finally stopped German reparations payments and Inter-Ally debts to the United States stemming from World War I.

Instead, the IMF says just the opposite: It acts to prevent any move by other countries to bring the debt volume within the ability to be paid. It uses debt leverage as a way to control the monetary lifeline of financially defeated debtor countries. So if they do something that U.S. diplomats don’t approve of, it can pull the plug financially, encouraging a run on their currency if they act independently of the United States instead of falling in line. This control by the U.S. financial system and its diplomacy has been built into the world system by the IMF and the World Bank claiming to be international instead of an expression of specifically U.S. New Cold War nationalism.

BONNIE FAULKNER: How do exchange rates contribute to capital flight?

MICHAEL HUDSON: It’s not the exchange rate that contributes. Suppose that you’re a millionaire, and you see that your country is unable to balance its trade under existing production patterns. The money that the government has under control is pesos, escudos, cruzeiros or some other currency, not dollars or euros. You see that your currency is going to go down relative to the dollar, so you want to get our money out of the country to preserve your purchasing power.

This has long been institutionalized. By 1990, for instance, Latin American countries had defaulted so much in the wake of the Mexico defaults in 1982 that I was hired by Scudder Stevens, to help start a Third World Bond Fund (called a “sovereign high-yield fund”). At the time, Argentina and Brazil were running such serious balance-of-payments deficits that they were having to pay 45 percent per year interest, in dollars, on their dollar debt. Mexico, was paying 22.5 percent on its tesobonos.

Scudders’ salesmen went around to the United States and tried to sell shares in the proposed fund, but no Americans would buy it, despite the enormous yields. They sent their salesmen to Europe and got a similar reaction. They had lost their shirts on Third World bonds and couldn’t see how these countries could pay.

Merrill Lynch was the fund’s underwriter. Its office in Brazil and in Argentina proved much more successful in selling investments in Scudder’s these offshore fund established in the Dutch West Indies. It was an offshore fund, so Americans were not able to buy it. But Brazilian and Argentinian rich families close to the central bank and the president became the major buyers. We realized that they were buying these funds because they knew that their government was indeed going to pay their stipulated interest charges. In effect, the bonds were owed ultimately to themselves. So these Yankee dollar bonds were being bought by Brazilians and other Latin Americans as a vehicle to move their money out of their soft local currency (which was going down), to buy bonds denominated in hard dollars.

BONNIE FAULKNER: If wealthy families from these countries bought these bonds denominated in dollars, knowing that they were going to be paid off, who was going to pay them off? The country that was going broke?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, countries don’t pay; the taxpayers pay, and in the end, labor pays. The IMF certainly doesn’t want to make its wealthy client oligarchies pay. It wants to squeeze ore economic surplus out of the labor force. So countries are told that the way they can afford to pay their enormously growing dollar-denominated debt is to lower wages even more.

Currency depreciation is an effective way to do this, because what is devalued is basically labor’s wages. Other elements of exports have a common world price: energy, raw materials, capital goods, and credit under the dollar-centered international monetary system that the IMF seeks to maintain as a financial strait jacket.

According to the IMF’s ideological models, there’s no limit to how far you can lower wages by enough to make labor competitive in producing exports. The IMF and World Bank thus use junk economics to pretend that the way to pay debts owed to the wealthiest creditors and investors is to lower wages and impose regressive excise taxes, to impose special taxes on necessities that labor needs, from food to energy and basic services supplied by public infrastructure.

BONNIE FAULKNER: So you’re saying that labor ultimately has to pay off these junk bonds?

MICHAEL HUDSON: That is the basic aim of IMF. I discuss its fallacies in my Trade Development and Foreign Debt, which is the academic sister volume to Super Imperialism. These two books show that the World Bank and IMF were viciously anti-labor from the very outset, working with domestic elites whose fortunes are tied to and loyal to the United States.

BONNIE FAULKNER: With regard to these junk bonds, who was it or what entity…

MICHAEL HUDSON: They weren’t junk bonds. They were called that because they were high-interest bonds, but they weren’t really junk because they actually were paid. Everybody thought they were junk because no American would have paid 45 percent interest. Any country that really was self-reliant and was promoting its own economic interest would have said, “You banks and the IMF have made bad loans, and you’ve made them under false pretenses – a trade theory that imposes austerity instead of leading to prosperity. We’re not going to pay.” They would have seized the capital flight of their comprador elites and said that these dollar bonds were a rip-off by the corrupt ruling class.

The same thing happened in Greece a few years ago, when almost all of Greece’s foreign debt was owed to Greek millionaires holding their money in Switzerland. The details were published in the “Legarde List.” But the IMF said, in effect that its loyalty was to the Greek millionaires who ha their money in Switzerland. The IMF could have seized this money to pay off the bondholders. Instead, it made the Greek economy pay. It found that it was worth wrecking the Greek economy, forcing emigration and wiping out Greek industry so that French and German bondholding banks would not have to take a loss. That is what makes the IMF so vicious an institution.

BONNIE FAULKNER: So these loans to foreign countries that were regarded as junk bonds really weren’t junk, because they were going to be paid. What group was it that jacked up these interest rates to 45 percent?

MICHAEL HUDSON: The market did. American banks, stock brokers and other investors looked at the balance of payments of these countries and could not see any reasonable way that they could pay their debts, so they were not going to buy their bonds. No country subject to democratic politics would have paid debts under these conditions. But the IMF, U.S. and Eurozone diplomacy overrode democratic choice.

Investors didn’t believe that the IMF and the World Bank had such a strangle hold over Latin American, Asian, and African countries that they could make the countries act in the interest of the United States and the cosmopolitan finance capital, instead of in their own national interest. They didn’t believe that countries would commit financial suicide just to pay their wealthy One Percent.

They were wrong, of course. Countries were quite willing to commit economic suicide if their governments were dictatorships propped up by the United States. That’s why the CIA has assassination teams and actively supports these countries to prevent any party coming to power that would act in their national interest instead of in the interest of a world division of labor and production along the lines that the U.S. planners want for the world. Under the banner of what they call a free market, you have the World Bank and the IMF engage in central planning of a distinctly anti-labor policy. Instead of calling them Third World bonds or junk bonds, you should call them anti-labor bonds, because they have become a lever to impose austerity throughout the world.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Well, that makes a lot of sense, Michael, and answers a lot of the questions I’ve put together to ask you. What about Puerto Rico writing down debt? I thought such debts couldn’t be written down.

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s what they all said, but the bonds were trading at about 45 cents on the dollar, the risk of their not being paid. The Wall Street Journal on June 17, reported that unsecured suppliers and creditors of Puerto Rico, would only get nine cents on the dollar. The secured bond holders would get maybe 65 cents on the dollar.

The terms are being written down because it’s obvious that Puerto Rico can’t pay, and that trying to do so is driving the population to move out of Puerto Rico to the United States. If you don’t want Puerto Ricans to act the same way Greeks did and leave Greece when their industry and economy was shut down, then you’re going to have to provide stability or else you’re going to have half of Puerto Rico living in Florida.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Who wrote down the Puerto Rican debt?

MICHAEL HUDSON: A committee was appointed, and it calculated how much Puerto Rico can afford to pay out of its taxes. Puerto Rico is a U.S. dependency, that is, an economic colony of the United States. It does not have domestic self-reliance. It’s the antithesis of democracy, so it’s never been in charge of its own economic policy and essentially has to do whatever the United States tells it to do. There was a reaction after the hurricane and insufficient U.S. support to protect the island and the enormous waste and corruption involved in the U.S. aid. The U.S. response was simply: “We won you fair and square in the Spanish-American war and you’re an occupied country, and we’re going to keep you that way.” Obviously this is causing a political resentment.

BONNIE FAULKNER: You’ve already touched on this, but why has the World Bank traditionally been headed by a U.S. secretary of defense?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Its job is to do in the financial sphere what, in the past, was done by military force. The purpose of a military conquest is to take control of foreign economies, to take control of their land and impose tribute. The genius of the World Bank was to recognize that it’s not necessary to occupy a country in order to impose tribute, or to take over its industry, agriculture and land. Instead of bullets, it uses financial maneuvering. As long as other countries play an artificial economic game that U.S. diplomacy can control, finance is able to achieve today what used to require bombing and loss of life by soldiers.

In this case the loss of life occurs in the debtor countries. Population growth shrinks, suicides go up. The World Bank engages in economic warfare that is just as destructive as military warfare. At the end of the Yeltsin period Russia’s President Putin said that American neoliberalism destroyed more of Russia’s population than did World War II. Such neoliberalism, which basically is the doctrine of American supremacy and foreign dependency, is the policy of the World Bank and IMF.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Why has World Bank policy since its inception been to provide loans for countries to devote their land to export crops instead of giving priority to feeding themselves? And if this is the case, why do countries want these loans?

MICHAEL HUDSON: One constant of American foreign policy is to make other countries dependent on American grain exports and food exports. The aim is to buttress America’s agricultural trade surplus. So the first thing that the World Bank has done is not to make any domestic currency loans to help food producers. Its lending has steered client countries to produce tropical export crops, mainly plantation crops that cannot be grown in the United States. Focusing on export crops leads client countries to become dependent on American farmers – and political sanctions.

In the 1950s, right after the Chinese revolution, the United States tried to prevent China from succeeding by imposing grain export controls to starve China into submission by putting sanctions on exports. Canada was the country that broke these export controls and helped feed China.

The idea is that if you can make other countries export plantation crops, the oversupply will drive down prices for cocoa and other tropical products, and they won’t feed themselves. So instead of backing family farms like the American agricultural policy does, the World Bank backed plantation agriculture. In Chile, which has the highest natural supply of fertilizer in the world from its guano deposits, exports guano instead of using it domestically. It also has the most unequal land distribution, blocking it from growing its own grain or food crops. It’s completely dependent on the United States for this, and it pays by exporting copper, guano and other natural resources.

The idea is to create interdependency – one-sided dependency on the U.S. economy. The United States has always aimed at being self-sufficient in its own essentials, so that no other country can pull the plug on our economy and say, “We’re going to starve you by not feeding you.” Americans can feed themselves. Other countries can’t say, “We’re going to let you freeze in the dark by not sending you oil,” because America’s independent in energy. But America can use the oil control to make other countries freeze in the dark, and it can starve other countries by food-export sanctions.

So the idea is to give the United States control of the key interconnections of other economies, without letting any country control something that is vital to the working of the American economy.

There’s a double standard here. The United States tells other countries: “Don’t do as we do. Do as we say.” The only way it can enforce this is by interfering in the politics of these countries, as it has interfered in Latin America, always pushing the right wing. For instance, when Hillary’s State Department overthrew the Honduras reformer who wanted to undertake land reform and feed the Hondurans, she said: “This person has to go.” That’s why there are so many Hondurans trying to get into the United States now, because they can’t live in their own country.

The effect of American coups is the same in Syria and Iraq. They force an exodus of people who no longer can make a living under the brutal dictatorships supported by the United States to enforce this international dependency system.

BONNIE FAULKNER: So when I asked you why countries would want these loans, I guess you’re saying that they wouldn’t, and that’s why the U.S. finds it necessary to control them politically.

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s a concise way of putting it Bonnie.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Why are World Bank loans only in foreign currency, not in the domestic currency of the country to which it is lending?

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s a good point. A basic principle should be to avoid borrowing in a foreign currency. A country can always pay the loans in its own currency, but there’s no way that it can print dollars or euros to pay loans denominated in these foreign currencies.

Making the dollar central forces other countries to interface with the U.S. banking system. So if a country decides to go its own way, as Iran did in 1953 when it wanted to take over its oil from British Petroleum (or Anglo Iranian Oil, as it was called back then), the United States can interfere and overthrow it. The idea is to be able to use the banking system’s interconnections to stop payments from being made.

After America installed the Shah’s dictatorship, they were overthrown by Khomeini, and Iran had run up a U.S. dollar debt under the Shah. It had plenty of dollars. I think Chase Manhattan was its paying agent. So when its quarterly or annual debt payment came due, Iran told Chase to draw on its accounts and pay the bondholders. But Chase took orders from the State Department or the Defense Department, I don’t know which, and refused to pay. When the payment was not made, America and its allies claimed that Iran was in default. They demanded the entire debt to be paid, as per the agreement that the Shah’s puppet government had signed. America simply grabbed the deposits that Iran had in the United States. This is the money that was finally returned to Iran without interest under the agreement of 2016.

America was able to grab all of Iran’s foreign exchange just by the banks interfering. The CIA has bragged that it can do the same thing with Russia. If Russia does something that U.S. diplomats don’t like, the U.S. can use the SWIFT bank payment system to exclude Russia from it, so the Russian banks and the Russian people and industry won’t be able to make payments to each other.

This prompted Russia to create its own bank-transfer system, and is leading China, Russia, India and Pakistan to draft plans to de-dollarize.

BONNIE FAULKNER: I was going to ask you, why would loans in a country’s domestic currency be preferable to the country taking out a loan in a foreign currency? I guess you’ve explained that if they took out a loan in a domestic currency, they would be able to repay it.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Whereas a loan in a foreign currency would cripple them.

MICHAEL HUDSON: Yes. You can’t create the money, especially if you’re running a balance of payments deficit and if U.S. foreign policy forces you into deficit by having someone like George Soros make a run on your currency. Look at the Asia crisis in 1997. Wall Street funds bet against foreign currencies, driving them way down, and then used the money to pick up industry cheap in Korea and other Asian countries. This was also done to Russia’s ruble. The only country that avoided this was Malaysia, under Mohamed Mahathir, by using capital controls. Malaysia is an object lesson in how to prevent a currency flight.

But for Latin America and other countries, much of their foreign debt is held by their own ruling class. Even though it’s denominated in dollars, Americans don’t own most of this debt. It’s their own ruling class. The IMF and World Bank dictate tax policy to Latin America – to un-tax wealth and shift the burden onto labor. Client kleptocracies take their money and run, moving it abroad to hard currency areas such as the United States, or at least keeping it in dollars in offshore banking centers instead of reinvesting it to help the country catch up by becoming independent agriculturally, in energy, finance and other sectors.

BONNIE FAULKNER: You say that: “While U.S. agricultural protectionism has been built into the postwar global system at its inception, foreign protectionism is to be nipped in the bud.” How has U.S. agricultural protectionism been built into the postwar global system?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Under Franklin Roosevelt the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 called for price supports for crops so that farmers could earn enough to invest in equipment and seeds. The Agriculture Department was a wonderful department in spurring new seed varieties, agricultural extension services, marketing and banking services. It provided public support so that productivity in American agriculture from the 1930s to ‘50s was higher over a prolonged period than that of any other sector in history.

But in shaping the World Trade Organization’s rules, the United States said that all countries had to promote free trade and could not have government support, except for countries that already had it. We’re the only country that had it. That’s what’s called “grandfathering”. The Americans said: “We already have this program on the books, so we can keep it. But no other country can succeed in agriculture in the way that we have done. You must keep your agriculture backward, except for the plantation crops and growing crops that we can’t grow in the United States.” That’s what’s so evil about the World Bank’s development plan.

BONNIE FAULKNER: According to your book: “Domestic currency is needed to provide price supports and agricultural extension services such as have made U.S. agriculture so productive.” Why can’t infrastructure costs be subsidized to keep down the economy’s overall cost structure if IMF loans are made in foreign currency?

MICHAEL HUDSON: If you’re a farmer in Brazil, Argentina or Chile, you’re doing business in domestic currency. It doesn’t help if somebody gives you dollars, because your expenses are in domestic currency. So if the World Bank and the IMF can prevent countries from providing domestic currency support, that means they’re not able to give price supports or provide government marketing services for their agriculture.

America is a mixed economy. Our government has always subsidized capital formation in agriculture and industry, but it insists that other countries are socialist or communist if they do what the United States is doing and use their government to support the economy. So it’s a double standard. Nobody calls America a socialist country for supporting its farmers, but other countries are called socialist and are overthrown if they attempt land reform or attempt to feed themselves.

This is what the Catholic Church’s Liberation Theology was all about. They backed land reform and agricultural self-sufficiency in food, realizing that if you’re going to support population growth, you have to support the means to feed it. That’s why the United States focused its assassination teams on priests and nuns in Guatemala and Central America for trying to promote domestic self-sufficiency.

BONNIE FAULKNER: If a country takes out an IMF loan, they’re obviously going to take it out in dollars. Why can’t they take the dollars and convert them into domestic currency to support local infrastructure costs?

MICHAEL HUDSON: You don’t need a dollar loan to do that. Now were getting in to MMT. Any country can create its own currency. There’s no reason to borrow in dollars to create your own currency. You can print it yourself or create it on your computers.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Well, exactly. So why don’t these countries simply print up their own domestic currency?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Their leaders don’t want to be assassinated. More immediately, if you look at the people in charge of foreign central banks, almost all have been educated in the United States and essentially brainwashed. It’s the mentality of foreign central bankers. The people who are promoted are those who feel personally loyal to the United States, because they that that’s how to get ahead. Essentially, they’re opportunists working against the interests of their own country. You won’t have socialist central bankers as long as central banks are dominated by the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements.

BONNIE FAULKNER: So we’re back to the main point: The control is by political means, and they control the politics and the power structure in these countries so that they don’t rebel.

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s right. When you have a dysfunctional economic theory that is destructive instead of productive, this is never an accident. It is always a result of junk economics and dependency economics being sponsored. I’ve talked to people at the U.S. Treasury and asked why they all end up following the United States. Treasury officials have told me: “We simply buy them off. They do it for the money.” So you don’t need to kill them. All you need to do is find people corrupt enough and opportunist enough to see where the money is, and you buy them off.

BONNIE FAULKNER: You write that “by following U.S. advice, countries have left themselves open to food blackmail.” What is food blackmail?

MICHAEL HUDSON: If you pursue a foreign policy that we don’t like—for instance, if you trade with Iran, which we’re trying to smash up to grab its oil—we’ll impose financial sanctions against you. We won’t sell you food, and you can starve. And because you’ve followed World Bank advice and not grown your own food, you will starve, because you’re dependent on us, the United States and our Free World allies. Canada will no longer follow its own policy independently of the United States, as it did with China in the 1950s when it sold it grain. Europe also is falling in line with U.S. policy.

BONNIE FAULKNER: You write that: “World Bank administrators demand that loan recipients pursue a policy of economic dependency above all on the United States as food supplier.” Was this done to support U.S. agriculture? Obviously it is, but were there other reasons as well?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Certainly the agricultural lobby was critical in all of this, and I’m not sure at what point this became thoroughly conscious. I knew some of the World Bank planners, and they had no anticipation that this dependency would be the result. They believed the free-trade junk economics that’s taught in the schools’ economics departments and for which Nobel prizes are awarded.

When we’re dealing with economic planners, we’re dealing with tunnel-visioned people. They stayed in the discipline despite its unreality because they sort of think that abstractly it makes sense. There’s something autistic about most economists, which is why the French had their non-autistic economic site for many years. The mentality at work is that every country should produce what it’s best at – not realizing that nations also need to be self-sufficient in essentials, because we’re in a real world of economic and military warfare.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Why does the World Bank prefer to perpetrate world poverty instead of adequate overseas capacity to feed the peoples of developing countries?

MICHAEL HUDSON: World poverty is viewed as solution, not a problem. The World Bank thinks of poverty as low-priced labor, creating a competitive advantage for countries that produce labor-intensive goods. So poverty and austerity for the World Bank and IMF is an economic solution that’s built into their models. I discuss these in my Trade, Development and Foreign Debt book. Poverty is to them the solution, because it means low-priced labor, and that means higher profits for the companies bought out by U.S., British, and European investors. So poverty is part of the class war: profits versus poverty.

BONNIE FAULKNER: In general, what is U.S. food imperialism? How would you characterize it?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Its aim is to make America the producer of essential foods and other countries producing inessential plantation crops, while remaining dependent on the United States for grain, soy beans and basic food crops.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Does World Bank lending encourage land reform in former colonies?

MICHAEL HUDSON: No. If there is land reform, the CIA sends its assassination teams in and you have mass murder, as you had in Guatemala, Ecuador, Central America and Columbia. The World Bank is absolutely committed against land reform. When the Forgash Plan for a World Bank for Economic Acceleration was proposed in the 1950s to emphasize land reform and local-currency loans, a Chase Manhattan economist to whom the plan was submitted warned that every country that had land reform turned out to be anti-American. That killed any alternative to the World Bank.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Does the World Bank insist on client governments privatizing their public domain? If so, why, and what is the effect?

MICHAEL HUDSON: It does indeed insist on privatization, pretending that this is efficient. But what it privatizes are natural monopolies – the electrical system, the water system and other basic needs. Foreigners take over, essentially finance them with foreign debt, build the foreign debt that they build into the cost structure, and raise the cost of living and doing business in these countries, thereby crippling them economically. The effect is to prevent them from competing with the United States and its European allies.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Would you say then that it is mainly America that has been aided, not foreign economies that borrow from the World Bank?

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s why the United States is the only country with veto power in the IMF and World Bank – to make sure that what you just described is exactly what happens.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Why do World Bank programs accelerate the exploitation of mineral deposits for use by other nations?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Most World Bank loans are for transportation, roads, harbor development and other infrastructure needed to export minerals and plantation crops. The World Bank doesn’t make loans for projects that help the country develop in its own currency. By making only foreign currency loans, in dollars or maybe euros now, the World Bank says that its clients have to repay by generating foreign currency. The only way they can repay the dollars spent on American engineering firms that have built their infrastructure is to export – to earn enough dollars to pay back for the money that the World Bank or IMF have lent.

This is what John Perkins’ book about being an economic hit man for the World Bank is all about. He realized that his job was to get countries to borrow dollars to build huge projects that could only be paid for by the country exporting more – which required breaking its labor unions and lowering wages so that it could be competitive in the race to the bottom that the World Bank and IMF encourage.

BONNIE FAULKNER: You also point out in Super Imperialism that mineral resources represent diminishing assets, so these countries that are exporting mineral resources are being depleted while the importing countries aren’t.

MICHAEL HUDSON: That’s right. They’ll end up like Canada. The end result is going to be a big hole in the ground. You’ve dug up all your minerals, and in the end you have a hole in the ground and a lot of the refuse and pollution – the mining slag and what Marx called the excrements of production.

This is not a sustainable development. The World Bank only promotes the U.S. pursuit of sustainable development. So naturally, they call their “Development,” but their focus is on the United States, not the World Bank’s client countries.

BONNIE FAULKNER: When Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire was originally published in 1972, how was it received?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Very positively. It enabled my career to take off. I received a phone call a month later by someone from the Bank of Montreal saying they had just made $240 million on the last paragraph of my book. They asked what it would cost to have me come up and give a lecture. I began lecturing once a month at $3,500 a day, moving up to $6,500 a day, and became the highest-paid per diem economist on Wall Street for a few years.

I was immediately hired by the Hudson Institute to explain Super Imperialism to the Defense Department. Herman Kahn said I showed how U.S. imperialism ran rings around European imperialism. They gave the Institute an $85,000 grant to have me go to the White House in Washington to explain how American imperialism worked. The Americans used it as a how-to-do-it book.

The socialists, whom I expected to have a response, decided to talk about other than economic topics. So, much to my surprise, it became a how-to-do-it book for imperialists. It was translated by, I think, the nephew of the Emperor of Japan into Japanese. He then wrote me that the United States opposed the book being translated into Japanese. It later was translated. It was received very positively in China, where I think it has sold more copies than in any other country. It was translated into Spanish, and most recently it was translated into German, and German officials have asked me to come and discuss it with them. So the book has been accepted all over the world as an explanation of how the system works.

BONNIE FAULKNER: In closing, do you really think that the U.S. government officials and others didn’t understand how their own system worked?

MICHAEL HUDSON: Many might not have understood in 1944 that this would be the consequence. But by the time 50 years went by, you had an organization called “Fifty Years Is Enough.” And by that time everybody should have understood. By the time Joe Stiglitz became the World Bank’s chief economist, there was no excuse for not understanding how the system worked. He was amazed to find that indeed it didn’t work as advertised, and resigned. But he should have known at the very beginning what it was all about. If he didn’t understand how it was until he actually went to work there, you can understand how hard it is for most academics to get through the vocabulary of junk economics, the patter-talk of free trade and free markets to understand how exploitative and destructive the system is.

BONNIE FAULKNER: Michael Hudson, thank you very much.

MICHAEL HUDSON: It’s always good to be here, Bonnie. I’m glad you ask questions like these.

Notes.

1. C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings, 1939-49 (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 1994), pp. 133f.

Guns and Butter is produced by Bonnie Faulkner, Yarrow Mahko and Tony Rango. Visit us at gunsandbutter.org to listen to past programs, comment on shows, or join our email list to receive our newsletter that includes recent shows and updates. Email us at faulkner@gunsandbutter.org. Follow us on Twitter at #gandbradio.

 

A Mostly Serious Response to the Semi-Satirical Ken Silverstein on Trump’s Second Term

Many if not most writers have penned and sent off for publication something that would have been best left on their laptop or in a drawer. Take Ken Silverstein’s recent depressing, semi-satirical Washington Babylon piece “Eight Reasons the Left Should Root for Donald Trump in 2020 in Ilhan Omar in 2024,” is a case in point.

Clearly the essay is an exercising in trolling (looking for views and reactions) and a kind of gaslighting, where the author messes with his readers’ sense of reality. It’s not full-on satire ala The Onion, where the trick is to make an openly and unashamedly absurd premise seem almost plausible but in ways that leave no doubt that the whole thing is a put-on. In Silverstein’s piece, the line between what he believes and what he doesn’t is never quite clear.

Online sources have reported different things on this. One informant, a Facebook commenter and French Revolution student named Shawn Parkhurst, told Street that Silverstein claimed to believe “eighty to ninety percent of what he wrote.” A different source, fellow Counterpuncher Andrew Stewart, reports Silverstein writing the following: “It seems like a perfectly practical, logical argument to me — and also one that was meant to be partly satirical and provocative and not meant in any way to suggest I support Trump for reelection. I don’t like him and have spent a great deal of the last year, when not working on Washington Babylon, covering his administration’s horrible immigration policies.”

It’s nice to know that Silverstein “do[es]n’t like [Donald] Trump.” We certainly didn’t think he did. Still, in what follows, we respond to his essay (somewhat semi-satirically) as if Silverstein really does believe much if not most of his eight-point argument. This is perhaps somewhat unfair, but we think it is useful for a depressing reason. Whatever percentage of the “perfectly practical, logical argument” Silverstein would seriously defend, his presentation of that argument channels some very real pathologies on the nominal Left, part of which can strangely enough be called (despite its outraged protests and denials, frequently combined with statements of dislike and even hatred for Trump) a TrumpenLeft.

On Not Liking Trump

One reason we don’t believe Silverstein “like[s] Trump” is that his essay starts with the author saying that “I don’t like Trump as a man and find most of his views repellent” (emphasis added). Cool. So that’s a thumbs-down on a malignantly narcissistic creeping fascist who makes fun of handicapped people, idolizes authoritarian despots around the world, locks migrant children up in cages, sexually assaults women, criticizes other peoples’ looks, begs off rape charges by saying his accusers “aren’t my type,” calls for violence against journalists, makes ten false statements a day, says that the falsely accused and subsequently exonerated Central Park Five should have been executed, half-jokes about staying in office beyond two terms, encourages violence against his political enemies and journalists, tries to kick millions of people off health insurance, provides cover for the Saudi regime’s vivisection of a Washington Post journalist, declares a national emergency to secure funding to help the Saudis kill more Yemeni children, tries to stage a coup in Venezuela, tortures Venezuela and Iran, turns the White House into a corrupt fiefdom, abrogates international asylum law, supports white supremacists, leads a tax cut for the already absurdly wealthy Few, does everything he can to advance the extermination of the human race by turning the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas chamber?

We could go on, of course. It’s good to not like Trump.

Silverstein says he doesn’t “like Trump as a man” but of course the real question is how he likes him as the chief executive of the most powerful nation on Earth. In his semi-satirical essay at least, his dislike isn’t great enough to stop him from presenting the “perfectly practical, logical” Trumpenlefty/Trumpenproletarian case for the monster getting a second term (how about a third?) in the White House. (We know he doesn’t really mean it, but, well, maybe he does a little, and see our fourth paragraph above…)

It’s a Done Deal So Let’s Get It Over With

Silverstein’s first semi-satirical reason for backing Trump is this:

“He’s going to win anyway, in all likelihood. The Democratic field is primarily a joke, filled with halfwits and cretins. You don’t like Trump’s misogyny? Me neither. I hope you feel good voting for Joe Biden. Elizabeth Warren. Spare me. She’s so robotic she makes Hillary Clinton look and sound authentic. The rest of the field has no chance, barring something like a stock market crash or nuclear holocaust that cause Trump’s poll numbers to drop. Let’s just get this shit show over with and accept the inevitable.”

We agree that Biden is a sexist. He is also something of an ongoing racist (despite his denials), an imperialist, and a revolting corporatist. Neither of us will be terribly surprised if Trump gets a second term over some creepy neoliberal Democrat like Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, or the new Wall Street darling Pete Butiggieg.

Still, it’s a little early in the game to be prognosticating the outcome. Trump’s approval numbers are not good. A stock market crash is a possibility. And Silverstein’s attack on Warren is excessive. “Robotic”? We have to wonder if he has paid much attention to Warren’s recent success in “connecting with voters” (as they say) on the campaign trail in ways that Hillary Clinton never did. (Of course, maybe Silverstein’s description of Warren is just a put-on – you never know with semi-satirical pieces).

We appreciate the dark cynicism of “let’s get this shit show over with the accept the accept the inevitable.” That’s kind of funny for a few seconds – and then it isn’t. Trump45 is evil and dangerous as Hell on numerous levels. With the reports of racist, sexist, and even fascist abuse coming out of Herr Donald’s nativist concentration camps this week, black humor seems a little out of place right now. It’s not about the crystal ball, it’s about getting this sick regime off the stage of history as soon as humanly possible.

Sadly, there is no reliable political science research on the electoral consequences of nuclear holocausts – though we should remind Silverstein that atom-bomber Harry Truman defeated Dewey in 1948.

We don’t like the Democratic field beyond Sanders either. Like Silverstein, we are both left of Bernie. But Silverstein’s first point is over the top, even for a semi-satirical piece.

DNC Overlords Will Block Sanders All Over Again

Silverstein’s second semi-satirical reason for Keeping America Great with Herr Donald in 2020 is that:

Bernie Sanders, whose politics are closest to my own among the major contenders [will be defeated] by the elite, [by a] …Democratic establishment and media [that] is never going to let Bernie win. He’s unacceptable and our overlords will block him, just as the DNC did in 2016 to keep him from winning the Democratic nomination and ensuring that Hillary Clinton did.”

We will not be surprised if this depressing outcome happens, but, again, Silverstein might want to take a more existentialist and less fatalistic approach. The defeat of Sanders within the Democratic primaries, caucuses, and convention may well occur (neither of us is betting it won’t). Or it may not. Who knows? Again, there’s the crystal ball and there’s human agency: why do they even play the NBA Finals instead of just letting the oddsmakers proclaim the winner in advance? Perhaps the odds of Sanders securing the nomination are just 2 in 10. Why does Silverstein want to help bring his favorite candidate’s chances down to zero in 10 by giving up in advance. If Sanders is Silverstein’s candidate (with reservations, to be sure), then maybe he’d like to do some work for the Sanders campaign when he feels up to it.

Dead (Literally) Bernie Walking

Silverstein’s third reason is especially hard to take seriously and probably isn’t supposed to be taken that way at all:

Let’s say I’m wrong and Bernie wins. Great, he’s old and he’ll die in office, and the shit vice presidential nominee he inevitably selects to reassure the ruling class and New York Times op-ed board will take over and really fuck things up. I want a generational, gender, racial and class change. Bernie is an old white guy and that’s not what the country needs.”

We assume Silverstein is joking around (darkly) here, but we semi-satirically wonder if he’s gotten ahold of Sanders’ blood work and knows something the rest of us don’t. Bernie is old, there’s no doubt about it, but he seems healthy and vibrant for his age. Some people have long lifespans and some people don’t. (Bertrand Russell was railing eloquently against the Vietnam War well into his nineties. Look at the remarkable insights flowing from the mind and pen of Noam Chomsky today). If Silverstein has gotten ahold of Bernie’s medical chart, he really should come clean.

We doubt Silverstein is serious about criticizing Sanders for being old, white, and male. He’s probably making fun of (neo-)liberal identity politics there. If that’s not a sarcastic fake-criticism, however, we’d like Silverstein to remember that the progressive and solidarity politics needed to meaningfully address the nation’s racial, ethnic, generational, and gender disparities is about much more than the color, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and class origin of “faces in high places.”

We agree that Sanders would likely be compelled to put some nasty corporate Democrat on his ticket in order to win the presidency.

After Trump, Us!

Silverstein’s fourth reason for backing (or pretending to back) a second (how about a third?) Trump term is (as probably intended) to be chilling:

“Let Trump win, destroy what’s left of the country and then the nation will be so angry that it will be ready for an Ilhan Omar/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ticket in 2024 (*). That’s a ticket I could get behind and would knock on doors for, and one that is plausible for 2024 given the sheer state of U.S. decline and carnage that will be the legacy of Trump’s second term….The media will rail and flail against an Omar/AOC ticket, but to no avail. By 2024, the media, and the political elite, will have zero credibility with the American people, representing a drop of about two percent from current levels. Most of the population doesn’t give a shit what the media thinks now and no one will by then. (*Yes, I realize that Omar cannot be president unless the U.S. constitution gets changed because she is not American-born. Don’t let reality intrude on my daydreams.)”

Hilarious – NOT. Perhaps Silverstein is making fun of accelerationist Maoist theories wherein making things even worse than they already are sharpens the contradictions to the dialectical point of revolutionary change. Or maybe he’s not poking fun and believes this paragraph – or some of it (who really knows? Semi-satire is hard to call). If he does believe it to any degree, we would suggest that the hastened destruction he rightly posits as a likely outcome of a second (and third?) term is just as probably give rise to something more like classic fascism (more on fascism below) than an Omar/AOC presidency.

Whatever, the awfulness of the Trump presidency and what it could become if given a second term is too depressing to contemplate with the bemused complacency that Silverstein exhibits. We asked the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas what he thought of Silverstein’s argument:

“I actually agree with most of his points (especially the stuff on HRC and foreign policy [ see below]), but that doesn’t lead me to consider Trump, either directly or indirectly, our best opportunity for radical change down the road (2024 or whatever.) I fear a second Trump term could mean all sorts of bad shit, including serious attacks on already eroded basic civil liberties and who knows what else. He’s pretty damn creative in coming up with malign things to perpetrate on the world’s people. How far he would go, I would just as soon not find out. I fear Trump more than this guy does. I especially fear what four more years of carbon infused Wall Street driven economic policy will do to climate change and economic inequality (emphasis added).”

“I don’t fear Trump enough to support the vast majority of Democrat Party alternatives. I think the author’s probably right that Sanders’s campaign is being marginalized in a shameful manner by the powers that be… I might be willing by default to take up this guy’s argument that four more years of Dumpster-fire might stir up sufficient opposition to produce a younger, more radical alternative in 2024, but that’s not a given at all. And of course, the issue of climate change remains. Unless serious action is taken immediately (preferably yesterday) a lot of this might be academic.”

We agree with less of Silverstein’s real/mock/semi-satirical Trumpenleft argument than Thomas does, but we think Thomas is correct to find Silverstein insufficiently alarmed about the prospects of a second Trump term. We share Thomas’ concern on the environmental issue. (One of us [Street] is on record repeatedly saying that the acceleration of ecocide is Trump’s worst sin among many.)

We would also take issue with the notion that electing (and re-electing) right-wing reactionaries is the best strategy for galvanizing mass disgust and progressive action and channeling it into eventual victories for left causes and electoral candidates. The recent history of social movements reveals how quickly the air is sucked out of the room when left movements run up against reactionary regimes. The beginning of the end for the Iraq anti-war movement was apparent after George W. Bush’s re-election in November 2004. Anti-war rallies saw turnouts in the hundreds of thousands from early 2003 to late 2004. But nothing remotely similar in scope was observed following Bush’s re-election, and the fall-off came quick after Bush began his second term. It was clear to at least one of us (DiMaggio) that Bush’s re-election was the kiss of death for the positive energy that had driven college anti-war activism in the early 2000s, as the utter defeatism among progressives was impossible to miss amidst the certainty of “four more years” for a president who could have cared less what anti-war activists had to say.

The poverty of the “elect a reactionary” approach to furthering progressive movements is undeniable late in Trump’s first term. While there were extensive mobilizations against Trump for the first six months following his election, those protests quickly dissipated as Republicans moved to enact their arch-reactionary social, political, and economic agenda on many fronts. Protest burnout quickly ensued, and now two and a half years into Trump’s first term, the momentum of the anti-Trump “movement” has completely dissipated. One can only imagine how dejected and resolved to failure the anti-Trump faction in this country will be should Trump win another four years in office.

Furthermore, other historical lessons are hardly comforting for those believing Trump’s re-election will mobilize “the left.” Remember the German Communist Party’s (KPD) argument in the early 1930s: “After Hitler Us?” That didn’t work out so hot. And eighty-plus years later, it isn’t just the specter of 21st century fascism (unduly dismissed by Silverstein – see below) we have to worry about now. It’s something even worse: Ecocide.

We question Silverstein’s semi-satirical tone when it comes to something as terrible as Trump coming back for four more years. It’s not an even darkly amusing possibility to contemplate.

(We admire Ilhan Omar. At the same time, since Silverstein acknowledges that the foreign-born Omar can’t run for the presidency and since he jokes about “reality intrud[in] on my daydreams,” we don’t really know quite how seriously to take his broader fourth point.)

Peace President

Silverstein’s fifth reason for semi-satirically backing a second Trump term is interesting:

“Trump is reckless and dangerous when it comes to foreign policy but if he doesn’t invade Venezuela or Iran or some other country — a big if admittedly — and continues only bombing a country or two with minor casualties and saying stupid things, he’ll have compiled a far better record than liberal-beloved Obama, who was at war with or bombing at least seven countries. And there is no doubt Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy would have been far more bellicose than Trump’s because, A) That’s just who she is, and B) She would have had to invade a country or two to prove that she had the balls it took to be a Republican war criminal.”

“Trump recently called off a last-minute strike on Iran, saying the Pentagon’s projected death toll of 150 Iranians was ‘disproportionate’ to Iran’s alleged downing of an unmanned drone. Name me a time that a U.S. president told the American people he would not go to war or launch air strikes because he didn’t want to kill foreign nationals, even though if he had it would have boosted his popularity immediately and won praise from the media. Go ahead, rack your brain and get back to me.”

“Trump is being goaded by evil people like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, but thus far, for whatever reason, he has not given in to their worst impulses. His policies have been dreadful in many instances — i.e. starving the Venezuelan people with sanctions and trying to overthrow that country’s government — but up until now, and this could change in an hour, he has not started a war. Good for him.”

This is probably Silverstein’s strongest point. Maybe Trump’s neo-isolationism is a big part of what has far kept a lid on full-on U.S. war-making over the last two-and-a-half years. Bush43 had Iraq – a monumentally criminal and mass-murderous regime-change war with disastrous consequences across the Middle East. Drone-killer Obama44 had Libya, a horribly criminal and mass-murderous regime-change war with horrible consequences across North Africa. God only knows what kind of chaos Hillary Clinton might have unleashed.

Still, Trump could give a flying fuck about peace or the lives of innocents abroad. Look at his economic sanctions against Venezuela and Iran. Look at the great extent to which he has gone to override Congress and sustain criminal U.S. funding of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen – a war that has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. Look at how close his insane tearing-up of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal has brought the U.S. to a shooting war with Iran.

Anyone who seriously thinks Trump’s stand-down from bombing Iran had anything to do with “not want[ing] to kill foreign nationals” is buying into White House manipulation. Trump held back because the Pentagon was surprised by Iran’s air defense capabilities and because a war with Iran would NOT work for him politically at all – quite the opposite.

At the same time, Trump has wondered aloud why the U.S. can’t use nuclear weapons. He is an avowed militarist wo has move forward with imperial Obama’s insane nuclear modernization program. He has asked for and received from a compliant Congress record-setting military budgets. He has openly threatened annihilation to North Korea and Iran.

The frothing imperialist war-mongers Bolton and Pompeo are his appointees. Trump put them in office. He could easily dog-wag and/or get manipulated by Bolton into a war.

Meanwhile, Trump’s gigantic defense budgets suck vast resources away from the world’s most powerful government’s capacity to meet human and social needs. Trump is waging lethal economic war on Venezuela and Iran, a nativist war on immigrants, and an ecocidal war on a livable environment. He’s a war president.

Anti-Neoliberal President

Silverstein scores a point or two with his sixth argument:

“Trump’s policies in other areas are better than standard Democratic policy. A few honest people in the labor movement — and there are very few — acknowledge that Trump’s policies on tariffs and free trade are better for working class people than what most leading Democratic candidates propose. That, and his natural skills as a communicator — to a significant section of the population, no matter what you personally think of him — is why he has a strong chance to again win Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin with significant support from workers. Professor Elizabeth Warren is going to appeal to that constituency? Fat chance. Joe Biden? Maybe, but Biden sucks. Bernie could but I’ve already said why I don’t want Bernie to win in 2020.”

There’s no doubt that the Democrats since the corporatist Clinton42 reign have been a pro-NAFTA and pro-Trans-Pacific Partnership party of globalization under the parasitic command of capital. There’s also no doubt that Trump’s tariff-wielding tirades against globalization, the “yellow peril” (China), and Mexico have been popular with certain “heartland” sections of the white working-class, including many union members. There’s no mystery there.

Still, Trump is a major if sloppily super-corrupt neoliberal when it comes to the evisceration of government regulation and the corporate take-over of state agencies and policy. Trump’s reactionary populism, which more than just borders on fascism (see the next section), is overlaid with thick layers of racism and nativism and a gigantic regressive tax cut for the wealthy few and their corporations. It bears no serious comparison with Bernie Sanders’ progressive populism, which calls for working-class solidarity across racial and ethnic liens and for social-democratic policies that most of the working-class and national majority support: Medicare for All, the restoration of union organizing rights and collective bargaining, a significant increase in the minimum wage, free college tuition, federal jobs programs, progressive taxation, and a Green New Deal that would put millions of people to work in jobs that could help save livable ecology.

Silverstein knows this very well but tells us again (essentially) that “Sanders will die in office.” What, and the great trade union leader (that’s a joke) Donald Trump, 73 years old, is going to live forever – on Big Macs, fries, and shakes?

“Fascism? Grow Up!”

Silverstein fails badly, we think, with his seventh point, semi-satirical or not:

Many will say that the U.S. is teetering on the brink of fascism and a Nazi regime under Trump is right around the corner. I believe that is completely ahistorical and dumb. This country is supremely fucked up but you can denounce Trump on the street and not go to jail and it requires no bravery at all to sit behind your laptop at a Starbuck’s and write up a blog post calling him a traitor. The secret police are not going to pick you up and drag you off to a concentration camp. [Note: If you are an immigrant without legal papers who runs a stop sign, they probably will.]”

“So grow up. We are going through a scary time and Trump has encouraged ignorant racists, but if Barack Obama had done anything serious to redistribute wealth and not been a Wall Street toady, or if Bill and Hillary Clinton had not successfully pushed for the 1994 crime bill that criminalized and led to the imprisonment of a good chunk of young African-Americans in this country, I might have more respect for the Democratic Party and take your claims of a GOP-led fascist takeover more seriously. But I don’t. This is a dangerous moment and the GOP is overwhelmingly populated at its leadership level by lunatics, but we in the United States are not living in the Weimar Republic. It’s a preposterous analogy.”

It is difficult to deny that the U.S. of 2019 isn’t quite the modern-day equivalent of mid-to-late 1930s Germany. But Silverstein would have benefitted from expanding his parochial understanding of fascism to encompass more nuanced discussions of the concept, which extend far behind the black and white “fascism-not fascism” distinction that frames fascism so starkly against the benchmarks of Hitler’s Third Reich or Mussolini’s corporatism. Much of the contemporary debate over right-wing white-nationalist extremism in the U.S. and other western countries rightly utilizes a “creeping fascist” framework, seeing contemporary fascism on a spectrum, rather than reflecting only one “classic” form that menaced Europe and the world 80 years ago. Many perceptive and knowledgeable Left intellectuals, including Henry Giroux, Carl Boggs, Alexander Reid Ross, Jason Stanley, Eric Draitser, Yoav Litvin, David Niewert, and Bertrand Gross (among others), have added critical distinction and depth to our understanding of fascism by exploring the many ways it manifests itself in divergent political and historical contexts, past and present.

Within a more expansive and nuanced understanding of fascism, there are many warning signs in the contemporary United States. Clearly there is an aspirational fascist impulse, apparent in Trump’s rhetoric, seen in his romanticizing of violence against critics and his flirtations with dictators. Trump has floated numerous creeping fascist trial balloons over the last year, pushing the envelope in his attacks on democratic and civil rights and the rule of law. One example was Trump’s firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions following the latter’s refusal to criminalize the New York Times after it ran an anonymous critical op-ed from a member of the administration. Trump attacked the Times as “treasonous,” and pressured the Department of Justice to consider taking legal action against the paper for running the embarrassing op-ed. Such actions are a classic sign of authoritarianism and should gravely concern those with even a minimal commitment to press freedom.

Even more disturbing is the embrace of fascistic politics among Trump’s base, much of which openly supports authoritarian, racist, and violent politics against immigrants, people of color, and other perceived enemies. One of us (DiMaggio) has documented this extremism in painstaking detail, including mass support among Trumpeters for engaging in violence against civilians for political, economic, and social causes, for the demonization and criminalization of immigrants, and for the president usurping power from and ignoring Congress and the courts with regard to policymaking. And this support for violence is not merely rhetorical. The rising frequency of mass shootings and domestic terrorism, committed mainly by members of the American right, raises the specter of full-blown fascism, rather than merely rhetorical or aspirational fascism.

A second trial balloon relates to Trump’s immigration policy. We ignore at our own peril the dangers of rising fascism at a time when the president of the United States has declared a national emergency to illegally confiscate national funds to build his wall with Mexico, rationalizing the power grab via his (and his son’s) comparison of unauthorized immigrants to animals, coupled with the institution of sadistic, nightmarish living conditions for those detained in immigration centers, which are being described by critics as concentration camps. It seems irresponsible and insensitive to dismiss concerns with fascism when Trump has: instituted needlessly and viciously punitive immigration policies against unauthorized immigrants, including mass separations of parents and children; imposed prolonged detentions in grossly overcrowded holding facilities (widely reported as “dangerous” and “ticking time bombs”); denied basic goods such as soap, toothpaste, and basic medical treatment to detained immigrants and asylum-seekers. The Trump administration’s flat-out racist and sexist dehumanization of immigrants, coupled with its assault on checks and balances and the rule of law, are hallmarks of authoritarian, fascist politics. Sadly, a discussion of fascism and the Trump administration is being preempted by the problem of white first-world privilege, which Silverstein falls into (either seriously or satirically) when he insists that Amerikaner fascism isn’t real because privileged liberals haven’t yet been imprisoned.

Silverstein concludes with some observations that we find uncontroversial in his eighth point:

“Trump is a cretin but he’s the son of a slumlord from Queens. What else would you expect? He wanted to join the social elite and craves their approval, but they rejected him because he’s too gauche. He likes his steak well done and smothered with ketchup. I find that disgusting — I prefer steak rare and smothered in garlic — but at bottom it’s this sort of thing that drives the elite crazy, not the fact that he robs from the poor to give to the rich. They love that part. The social and media elite spurned him and Trump, who has the emotional maturity of a kindergartner, is fucking with them to get his revenge. It’s fun to watch.”

We agree. That’s very well and cleverly said. Street doesn’t eat steak at all. DiMaggio eats steak occasionally and prefers it medium-rate, without ketchup or onions.

The Plot to Keep Jeremy Corbyn Out of Power

In the latest of the interminable media “furores” about Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed unfitness to lead Britain’s Labour party – let alone become prime minister – it is easy to forget where we were shortly before he won the support of an overwhelming majority of Labour members to head the party.

In the preceding two years, it was hard to avoid on TV the figure of Russell Brand, a comedian and minor film star who had reinvented himself, after years of battling addiction, as a spiritual guru-cum-political revolutionary.

Brand’s fast-talking, plain-speaking criticism of the existing political order, calling it discredited, unaccountable and unrepresentative, was greeted with smirking condescension by the political and media establishment. Nonetheless, in an era before Donald Trump had become president of the United States, the British media were happy to indulge Brand for a while, seemingly believing he or his ideas might prove a ratings winner with younger audiences.

But Brand started to look rather more impressive than anyone could have imagined. He took on supposed media heavyweights like the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman and Channel 4’s Jon Snow and charmed and shamed them into submission – both with his compassion and his thoughtful radicalism. Even in the gladiatorial-style battle of wits so beloved of modern TV, he made these titans of the political interview look mediocre, shallow and out of touch. Videos of these head-to-heads went viral, and Brand won hundreds of thousands of new followers.

Then he overstepped the mark.

Democracy as charade

Instead of simply criticising the political system, Brand argued that it was in fact so rigged by the powerful, by corporate interests, that western democracy had become a charade. Elections were pointless. Our votes were simply a fig-leaf, concealing the fact that our political leaders were there to represent not us but the interests of globe-spanning corporations. Political and media elites had been captured by unshored corporate money. Our voices had become irrelevant.

Brand didn’t just talk the talk. He started committing to direct action. He shamed our do-nothing politicians and corporate media – the devastating Grenfell Tower fire had yet to happen – by helping to gain attention for a group of poor tenants in London who were taking on the might of a corporation that had become their landlord and wanted to evict them to develop their homes for a much richer clientele. Brand’s revolutionary words had turned into revolutionary action.

But just as Brand’s rejection of the old politics began to articulate a wider mood, it was stopped in its tracks. After Corbyn was unexpectedly elected Labour leader, offering for the first time in living memory a politics that listened to people before money, Brand’s style of rejectionism looked a little too cynical, or at least premature.

While Corbyn’s victory marked a sea-change, it is worth recalling, however, that it occurred only because of a mistake. Or perhaps two.

The Corbyn accident

First, a handful of Labour MPs agreed to nominate Corbyn for the leadership contest, scraping him past the threshold needed to get on the ballot paper. Most backed him only because they wanted to give the impression of an election that was fair and open. After his victory, some loudly regretted having assisted him. None had thought a representative of the tiny and besieged left wing of the parliamentary party stood a chance of winning – not after Tony Blair and his acolytes had spent more than two decades remaking Labour, using their own version of entryism to eradicate any vestiges of socialism in the party. These “New Labour” MPs were there, just as Brand had noted, to represent the interests of a corporate class, not ordinary people.

Corbyn had very different ideas from most of his colleagues. Over the years he had broken with the consensus of the dominant Blairite faction time and again in parliamentary votes, consistently taking a minority view that later proved to be on the right side of history. He alone among the leadership contenders spoke unequivocally against austerity, regarding it as a way to leech away more public money to enrich the corporations and banks that had already pocketed vast sums from the public coffers – so much so that by 2008 they had nearly bankrupted the entire western economic system.

And second, Corbyn won because of a recent change in the party’s rulebook – one now much regretted by party managers. A new internal balloting system gave more weight to the votes of ordinary members than the parliamentary party. The members, unlike the party machine, wanted Corbyn.

Corbyn’s success didn’t really prove Brand wrong. Even the best designed systems have flaws, especially when the maintenance of the system’s image as benevolent is considered vitally important. It wasn’t that Corbyn’s election had shown Britain’s political system was representative and accountable. It was simply evidence that corporate power had made itself vulnerable to a potential accident by preferring to work out of sight, in the shadows, to maintain the illusion of democracy. Corbyn was that accident.

‘Brainwashing under freedom’

Corbyn’s success also wasn’t evidence that the power structure he challenged had weakened. The system was still in place and it still had a chokehold on the political and media establishments that exist to uphold its interests. Which is why it has been mobilising these forces endlessly to damage Corbyn and avert the risk of a further, even more disastrous “accident”, such as his becoming prime minister.

Listing the ways the state-corporate media have sought to undermine Corbyn would sound preposterous to anyone not deeply immersed in these media-constructed narratives. But almost all of us have been exposed to this kind of “brainwashing under freedom” since birth.

The initial attacks on Corbyn were for being poorly dressed, sexist, unstatesmanlike, a national security threat, a Communist spy – relentless, unsubstantiated smears the like of which no other party leader had ever faced. But over time the allegations became even more outrageously propagandistic as the campaign to undermine him not only failed but backfired – not least, because Labour membership rocketed under Corbyn to make the party the largest in Europe.

As the establishment’s need to keep him away from power has grown more urgent and desperate so has the nature of the attacks.

Redefining anti-semitism

Corbyn was extremely unusual in many ways as the leader of a western party within sight of power. Personally he was self-effacing and lived modestly. Ideologically he was resolutely against the thrust of four decades of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism unleashed by Thatcher and Reagan in the early 1980s; and he opposed foreign wars for empire, fashionable “humanitarian interventions” whose real goal was to attack other sovereign states either to control their resources, usually oil, or line the pockets of the military-industrial complex.

It was difficult to attack Corbyn directly for these positions. There was the danger that they might prove popular with voters. But Corbyn was seen to have an Achilles’ heel. He was a life-long anti-racism activist and well known for his support for the rights of the long-suffering Palestinians. The political and media establishments quickly learnt that they could recharacterise his support for the Palestinians and criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. He was soon being presented as a leader happy to preside over an “institutionally” anti-semitic party.

Under pressure of these attacks, Labour was forced to adopt a new and highly controversial definition of anti-semitism – one rejected by leading jurists and later repudiated by the lawyer who devised it – that expressly conflates criticism of Israel, and anti-Zionism, with Jew hatred. One by one Corbyn’s few ideological allies in the party – those outside the Blairite consensus – have been picked off as anti-semites. They have either fallen foul of this conflation or, as with Labour MP Chris Williamson, they have been tarred and feathered for trying to defend Labour’s record against the accusations of a supposed endemic anti-semitism in its ranks.

The bad faith of the anti-semitism smears were particularly clear in relation to Williamson. The comment that plunged him into so much trouble – now leading twice to his suspension – was videoed. In it he can be heard calling anti-semitism a “scourge” that must be confronted. But also, in line with all evidence, Williamson denied that Labour had any particular anti-semitism problem. In part he blamed the party for being too ready to concede unwarranted ground to critics, further stoking the attacks and smears. He noted that Labour had been “demonised as a racist, bigoted party”, adding: “Our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion … we’ve backed off far too much, we have given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.”

The Guardian has been typical in mischaracterising Williamson’s remarks not once but each time it has covered developments in his case. Every Guardian report has stated, against the audible evidence, that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic about anti-semitism”. In short, the Guardian and the rest of the media have insinuated that Williamson approves of anti-semitism. But what he actually said was that Labour was “too apologetic” when dealing with unfair or unreasonable allegations of anti-semitism, that it had too willingly accepted the unfounded premise of its critics that the party condoned racism.

Like the Salem witch-hunts

The McCarthyite nature of this process of misrepresentation and guilt by association was underscored when Jewish Voice for Labour, a group of Jewish party members who have defended Corbyn against the anti-semitism smears, voiced their support for Williamson. Jon Lansman, a founder of the Momentum group originally close to Corbyn, turned on the JVL calling them “part of the problem and not part of the solution to antisemitism in the Labour Party”. In an additional, ugly but increasingly normalised remark, he added: “Neither the vast majority of individual members of JVL nor the organisation itself can really be said to be part of the Jewish community.”

In this febrile atmosphere, Corbyn’s allies have been required to confess that the party is institutionally anti-semitic, to distance themselves from Corbyn and often to submit to anti-semitism training. To do otherwise, to deny the accusation is, as in the Salem witch-hunts, treated as proof of guilt.

The anti-semitism claims have been regurgitated almost daily across the narrow corporate media “spectrum”, even though they are unsupported by any actual evidence of an anti-semitism problem in Labour beyond a marginal one representative of wider British society. The allegations have reached such fever-pitch, stoked into a hysteria by the media, that the party is now under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – the only party apart from the neo-Nazi British National Party ever to face such an investigation.

These attacks have transformed the whole discursive landscape on Israel, the Palestinians, Zionism and anti-semitism in ways unimaginable 20 years ago, when I first started reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Then the claim that anti-Zionism – opposition to Israel as a state privileging Jews over non-Jews – was the same as anti-semitism sounded patently ridiculous. It was an idea promoted only by the most unhinged apologists for Israel.

Now, however, we have leading liberal commentators such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland claiming not only that Israel is integral to their Jewish identity but that they speak for all other Jews in making such an identification. To criticise Israel is to attack them as Jews, and by implication to attack all Jews. And therefore any Jew dissenting from this consensus, any Jew identifying as anti-Zionist, any Jew in Labour who supports Corbyn – and there are many, even if they are largely ignored – are denounced, in line wth Lansman, as the “wrong kind of Jews”. It may be absurd logic, but such ideas are now so commonplace as to be unremarkable.

In fact, the weaponisation of anti-semitism against Corbyn has become so normal that, even while I was writing this post, a new nadir was reached. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary who hopes to defeat Boris Johnson in the upcoming Tory leadership race, as good as accused Corbyn of being a new Hitler, a man who as prime minister might allow Jews to be exterminated, just as occurred in the Nazi death camps.

Too ‘frail’ to be PM

Although anti-semitism has become the favoured stick with which to beat Corbyn, other forms of attack regularly surface. The latest are comments by unnamed “senior civil servants” reported in the Times alleging that Corbyn is too physically frail and mentally ill-equipped to grasp the details necessary to serve as prime minister. It barely matters whether the comment was actually made by a senior official or simply concocted by the Times. It is yet further evidence of the political and media establishments’ anti-democratic efforts to discredit Corbyn as a general election looms.

One of the ironies is that media critics of Corbyn regularly accuse him of failing to make any political capital from the shambolic disarray of the ruling Conservative party, which is eating itself alive over the terms of Brexit, Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union. But it is the corporate media – which serves both as society’s main forum of debate and as a supposed watchdog on power – that is starkly failing to hold the Tories to account. While the media obsess about Corbyn’s supposed mental deficiencies, they have smoothed the path of Boris Johnson, a man who personifies the word “buffoon” like no one else in political life, to become the new leader of the Conservative party and therefore by default – and without an election – the next prime minister.

An indication of how the relentless character assassination of Corbyn is being coordinated was hinted at early on, months after his election as Labour leader in 2015. A British military general told the Times, again anonymously, that there would be “direct action” – what he also termed a “mutiny” – by the armed forces should Corbyn ever get in sight of power. The generals, he said, regarded Corbyn as a national security threat and would use any means, “fair or foul”, to prevent him implementing his political programme.

Running the gauntlet

But this campaign of domestic attacks on Corbyn needs to be understood in a still wider framework, which relates to Britain’s abiding Transatlantic “special relationship”, one that in reality means that the UK serves as Robin to the United States’ Batman, or as a very junior partner to the global hegemon.

Last month a private conversation concerning Corbyn between the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the heads of a handful of rightwing American Jewish organisations was leaked. Contrary to the refrain of the UK corporate media that Corbyn is so absurd a figure that he could never win an election, the fear expressed on both sides of that Washington conversation was that the Labour leader might soon become Britain’s prime minister.

Framing Corbyn yet again as an anti-semite, a US Jewish leader could be heard asking Pompeo if he would be “willing to work with us to take on actions if life becomes very difficult for Jews in the UK”. Pompeo responded that it was possible “Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected” – a telling phrase that attracted remarkably little attention, as did the story itself, given that it revealed one of the most senior Trump administration officials explicitly talking about meddling directly in the outcome of a UK election.

Here is the dictionary definition of “run the gauntlet”: to take part in a form of corporal punishment in which the party judged guilty is forced to run between two rows of soldiers, who strike out and attack him.

So Pompeo was suggesting that there already is a gauntlet – systematic and organised blows and strikes against Corbyn – that he is being made to run through. In fact, “running the gauntlet” precisely describes the experience Corbyn has faced since he was elected Labour leader – from the corporate media, from the dominant Blairite faction of his own party, from rightwing, pro-Israel Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies, and from anonymous generals and senior civil servants.

‘We cheated, we stole’

Pompeo continued: “You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.”

So, Washington’s view is that action must be taken before Corbyn reaches a position of power. To avoid any danger he might become the UK’s next prime minister, the US will do its “level best” to “push back”. Assuming that this hasn’t suddenly become the US administration’s priority, how much time does the US think it has before Corbyn might win power? How close is a UK election?

As everyone in Washington is only too keenly aware, a UK election has been a distinct possiblity since the Conservatives set up a minority goverment two years ago with the help of fickle, hardline Ulster loyalists. Elections have been looming ever since, as the UK ruling party has torn itself apart over Brexit, its MPs regularly defeating their own leader, prime minister Theresa May, in parliamentary votes.

So if Pompeo is saying, as he appears to be, that the US will do whatever it can to make sure Corbyn doesn’t win an election well before that election takes place, it means the US is already deeply mired in anti-Corbyn activity. Pompeo is not only saying that the US is ready to meddle in the UK’s election, which is bad enough; he is hinting that it is already meddling in UK politics to make sure the will of the British people does not bring to power the wrong leader.

Remember that Pompeo, a former CIA director, once effectively America’s spy chief, was unusually frank about what his agency got up to when he was in charge. He observed: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It’s – it was like – we had entire training courses.”

One would have to be remarkably naive to think that Pompeo changed the CIA’s culture during his short tenure. He simply became the figurehead of the world’s most powerful spying outfit, one that had spent decades developing the principles of US exceptionalism, that had lied its way to recent wars in Iraq and Libya, as it had done earlier in Vietnam and in justifying the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, and much more. Black ops and psyops were not invented by Pompeo. They have long been a mainstay of US foreign policy.

An eroding consensus

It takes a determined refusal to join the dots not to see a clear pattern here.

Brand was right that the system is rigged, that our political and media elites are captured, and that the power structure of our societies will defend itself by all means possible, “fair or foul”. Corbyn is far from alone in this treatment. The system is similarly rigged to stop a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders – though not a rich businessman like Donald Trump – winning the nomination for the US presidential race. It is also rigged to silence real journalists like Julian Assange who are trying to overturn the access journalism prized by the corporate media – with its reliance on official sources and insiders for stories – to divulge the secrets of the national security states we live in.

There is a conspiracy at work here, though it is not of the kind lampooned by critics: a small cabal of the rich secretly pullng the strings of our societies. The conspiracy operates at an institutional level, one that has evolved over time to create structures and refine and entrench values that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few. In that sense we are all part of the conspiracy. It is a conspiracy that embraces us every time we unquestioningly accept the “consensual” narratives laid out for us by our education systems, politicians and media. Our minds have been occupied with myths, fears and narratives that turned us into the turkeys that keep voting for Christmas.

That system is not impregnable, however. The consensus so carefully constructed over many decades is rapidly breaking down as the power structure that underpins it is forced to grapple with real-world problems it is entirely unsuited to resolve, such as the gradual collapse of western economies premised on infinite growth and a climate that is fighting back against our insatiable appetite for the planet’s resources.

As long as we colluded in the manufactured consensus of western societies, the system operated without challenge or meaningful dissent. A deeply ideological system destroying the planet was treated as if it was natural, immutable, the summit of human progress, the end of history. Those times are over. Accidents like Corbyn will happen more frequently, as will extreme climate events and economic crises. The power structures in place to prevent such accidents will by necessity grow more ham-fisted, more belligerent, less concealed to get their way. And we might finally understand that a system designed to pacify us while a few grow rich at the expense of our children’s future and our own does not have to continue. That we can raise our voices and loudly say: “No!”

U.S. Militarism and the One-Sided Class War

Despite capitalism’s internal contradictions, it can sustain itself in various forms – even fascism is a capitalist construct – as long as the bourgeois class is a “class for itself” and the working class is subjectively reduced to non-existence as a political force because of its lack of class consciousness. The various methods with which the rulers are able to leverage ideological consent from the oppressed don’t necessarily require extensive study of Gramsci, although it would help. Rather, it is only necessary to remind ourselves of the very simple but accurate observation provided by Marx that the dominant ideas of any society reflect the ideas of its dominant class.

While the modalities of how an increasingly small ruling element can sustain its rule in the midst of an ongoing capitalist crisis are an interesting and, indeed, critical subject, it is not the subject of this short essay. I will instead just focus on one issue unfolding in the public domain that I believe serves as an example of how this ideological feat is pulled off – the debate, or more actually, non-debate on militarism and the military budget.

Last week, as the public was being prepped for the first Democrat party debates in that ESPN style of reporting that now dominates at CNN and other cable stations which frame such political events as the debates as entertainment spectacles, the Senate passed (with the support of 36 Democrats), the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by a vote of 86 to 8 that gave the Trump administration $750 billion for the war machine – an increase that makes this military budget the largest in U.S. history. Only five Democrats voted against the bill; six others including Senator Sanders and Warren failed to vote because they were on the campaign trail running for President.

The $750 billion that the Senate approved will only have to be reconciled with the $733 billion military budget that the House had already indicated it will support. The $733 billion figure would also represent an historic increase in military spending and will be the third increase since Trump took office.

The military budget Trump inherited already eclipsed the military spending of China, Russia, France, India, the United Kingdom, and Japan combined. The $619 billion in 2016 under Obama grew to $700 billion in 2018 under Trump, then to an even more bloated $716 billion in 2019 and the $750 billion passed by the Senate on June 26. It would be tempting to suggest that it was only “Russiagate” that explains how someone who the Democrats claim to fundamentally oppose could, nevertheless, win bipartisan support for his request for increases in military spending that he even characterized as “crazy.”

As unstable as Trump is alleged to be, Democrats rejected calls from many quarters to oppose the administration’s inclusion in the NDAA to develop “usable” nuclear weapons as part of the drive to incorporate their tactical use. So-called usable nuclear weapons, lower-yield devices that can theoretically be used like conventional bombs, are now being advanced as a necessary part of the mainline “defense” strategy. Among the many problems with this position, the biggest is that this strategy has nothing to do with defense and everything to do with enhancing the capacity for a “nuclear first strike.” Interestingly, not only was opposition from Democrats MIA, but the lopsided vote indicates that they have fully embraced this insane policy that was first proposed under Barack Obama.

Senate Democrats even allowed Trump to get away with misappropriating billions of dollars granted by Congress to the Pentagon and divert the cash to construct the border wall by reimbursing the Pentagon for the use of those funds without any penalties. An offense, by the way, that could arguably be impeachable.

Why the bipartisanship on the military budget? The easy answer is that both parties share the strategic commitment to maintain U.S. global hegemony against all rivals, but especially against China and Russia, represented in the U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) document.

The NSS under Trump does not depart from the goals of previous administrations during the post-Cold War period. However, it does represent a more intense commitment to the use of coercive force to offset the gains being made by their capitalist rivals, mainly China and Russia. Though not directly referenced in the NSS, the Trump forces are now concerned with competition from the European Union, as it is being seen as an instrument and expression of the interests of German capital and the growing calls in Europe for an independent military force.

But all of this still begs the question: if the Republicans are supposed to be the party of war and the Democrats the sophisticated global cosmopolitans committed to peace, multilateralism and international law, why wouldn’t the Democrat party’s popular base react more vigorously to oppose the obscene squandering of public resources for the military?

There are two elements to this as an explanation. One I alluded to already, the diversionary impact of Russiagate, with the other element being the dramatic shift to the right in the consciousness of the Democrat party base as a result of the ideological influence of the Obama administration and Obama himself.

It continues to be a mistake by left and progressive forces to underestimate the ideological impact of Obama’s administration.

Unlike during the George W. Bush presidency when progressive and radical forces were in open opposition to the state, Obama lulled progressive forces to sleep and disarmed radicals, especially white radicals, who were reluctant to oppose his reactionary policies.

Obama’s ideological influence wasn’t just that he legitimized neoliberalism and the class and race interests it represented, but that he obscured those interests and the anti-people character of neoliberalism. Obama gave a respectability to policies that in an earlier era would have been seen as odious. From the support for coups in Honduras, Egypt, Ukraine and Brazil to the extra-judicial murder of U.S. citizens, including Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (the 16 year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki), the U.S. citizen murdered two weeks earlier, Obama was able to avoid the condemnation of his policies.

The dismaying result of Obama being in office is that it completely broke down the natural skepticism that is necessary in a state and society that is ruled by a minority elite. For many of Obama’s supporters, if he declared individuals or an entire nation terrorists, they blindly accepted it without demanding any evidence whatsoever.

Nevertheless, the ideological impact of the Obama years would have been mitigated if his policies had been given a full and critical assessment by the media. However, the private corporate media establishment has not only been incorporated as part of the state’s ideological apparatus, it has also been integrated into the partisan struggles among the ruling elite.

This collusion between the transnational rulers and the media continues in favor of the Democrats. Not able to successfully execute a constitutional coup, the capitalist establishment decided to use Russiagate to press for alterations in Trump’s nationalist program and to divert public attention away from the ongoing governmental decisions that were being delivered by the duopoly in their favor.

This is the context that informs what surfaces publicly or is allowed to be debated by mainstream politicians, even the new “radicals” in the Democrat party. For the centrists and the progressives, the issue of military spending and the ongoing wars represent issues that have not yet been designated as “debatable.”

War and militarism are class issues. It is the poor and working classes that have always fought the wars. The 60% of the federal discretionary budget that is now devoted to war and militarism means that all of the human rights of the people from housing to health care must be addressed in the 40% of the budget that remains.

This is class war. Not only the stealing of the surpluses from the people’s labor but the misappropriation of state spending for the special corporate interests that control electoral politics and the state.

We can reverse this. But we must present clear demands in order that these issues are addressed in the public square.

We must, for example, demand that all those running for office support efforts to initially cut the military budget by 50 percent and reallocate government spending to fully fund social programs and realize individual and collective human rights in areas of housing, education, healthcare, green jobs and public transportation. That they Oppose the Department of Defense 1033 program that transfers millions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to local police forces. That they advocate for the closing of the 800-plus U.S. foreign military bases and the ending of U.S. participation in the white supremacist NATO military structure. That they call for and work toward closing the U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) and withdrawal of all U.S. military personnel from Africa.

And finally, with the insanity of the drive toward nuclear war, they must sponsor legislation and/or resolutions at every level of government calling on the U.S. to support the United Nations resolution on the complete global abolishment of nuclear weapons passed by 122 nations in July 2017.

The class war that we are losing in the U.S. has consequences not only for the working class in the U.S. but the oppressed nations and peoples across the planet. This is a responsibility that we can no longer fail to live up to.

Bruce Dixon: A Giant Walks On

A giant has joined the ancestors. Black Agenda Report editor, lifelong organizer, and deep thinker Bruce Dixon made his transition on June 28, surrounded by his family in Atlanta, Georgia. I always hesitate to use a phrase like “joined the ancestors,” a phrase derived from African traditions, for fear of sounding like some white person who imagines they’re Black, but I think Bruce would be OK with it here. He often helped me navigate cross-cultural terrain.

Once I called to ask him whether “Black” was, as I imagined, a uniquely American construction. He told me it couldn’t be more American, and that James Brown had sealed the deal in 1968 when he recorded “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The term has been used in other contexts and countries, usually with a small “b,” but without reference to Black America’s distinct cultural heritage.

I told Bruce I’d used the term “Black” in conversation with some of my East African friends and one had responded, “We’re not black; we’re brown,” to which Bruce laughed and said, “What do they know?” He had a terrific sense of irony.

I had been writing for the Black Agenda Report for six or seven years by that time because its editors appreciate the time I’ve been willing to put into studying and writing about conflict in the African Great Lakes Region, most of all the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its eastern neighbors Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, all of which suffer from Congo’s unparalleled resource curse.

Bruce had asked me to write something about fearless Rwandan political prisoner Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and I soon found a lot more common ground with him and the other Black Agenda Report editors and contributors he introduced me to: Glen Ford, Margaret Kimberley, Ajamu Baraka, Danny Haiphong and more. I can’t quantify how much I’ve learned from them, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

Bruce grew up in one of Chicago’s working class neighborhoods and spent most of his life there. He joined the Black Panthers in the 1960s alongside Fred Hampton and organized in the city’s housing projects. He once told me about a time when he was still a kid and had more than one job just to keep it together. As a nighttime security guard, he would chew and swallow coffee beans to stay awake.

Despite numerous electoral successes, Bruce told me that the organizational success he took greatest pride in was recruiting and training the first Local School Improvement Councils for five Chicago public schools in the rough Cabrini Green neighborhood in the 1988-1991 period. He said the TV series “Good Times” rightly depicted a family struggling to do the best they could in the Cabrini Green housing projects.

Bruce went to college for only one year, but then educated himself and became widely known as one of the best organizers and deepest thinkers on the left. A year ago, after the Left Forum, he wrote “What Would an Authentic 21st Century US Left Look Like?,” which began with the realistic assessment he shares with other BAR writers: “Let’s face it, the US left is a long way right now from contending for power.” That was far from enough to make him give up; instead it made him think about why and what could be done. An authentic left, he concluded, must be independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties, independent of corporate and church philanthropy, unconditionally opposed to empire and white supremacy, and class conscious in its opposition to capitalism. He also wrote that it must give birth to a revolutionary working class party and create “economic and social organizations which prefigure the world we want to build.”

In 1983, Bruce went all in to elect Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, who served from the time of his election till his death shortly after his reelection in 1987. He organized and advised many Chicago campaigns that repeatedly beat the infamous Daley machine. He later spent years working for the Chicago Department of Elections.

After all that, however, he came to describe himself as a former Democrat in denial. Every time he and fellow organizers made electoral advances, he said, the Democratic Party changed the rules to undermine them. In 2006, after moving to Atlanta, he joined the Georgia Green Party.

Bruce and I were both active Greens, despite the party’s failures to get to the 5% threshold in a presidential race that would make it an official national party qualifying for general matching funds. After the 2016 election he said, “Who knows how many votes we really got?” with reference to widespread election fraud evidenced by Wikileaks’ release of the DNC and Podesta emails and multiple election irregularities.  However, that didn’t stop him; Bruce knew more about voting rights, elections, effective campaigning, and much needed electoral reforms than anyone I’ve ever met.

I once asked him whether the Greens might be better off putting their energy and resources into, for one, creating community gardens in major cities all over the country, and he responded that most of the community gardens he knew of had been shut down by those with wealth and power. There is indeed no sign left of Los Angeles’s famous South Central Farm, the largest urban farm and perhaps the greatest community organizing success in the US from 1994 till 2006, when it was bulldozed by a real estate developer.

Bruce gave far more thought than I ever have to what it would take to make the Green Party viable, and he invariably won me over to his thinking. The party, he said, should be supported by dues so that it could hire staff, rent space, and sustain effort. He also thought that instead of focusing solely on electoral politics, Greens should build the party into wraparound communities that serve the same social needs that churches do for many Americans. At the 2016 Green Party Convention in Houston, he explained that during a Georgia prison strike, the Atlanta party had needed space and more phone lines to field all the calls it was getting from prisoners and their families.

It’s often said that a politician, thinker, writer, or artist was a master of their craft but thoughtless or even mean in their personal relations, but nothing could be further from the truth with Bruce Dixon. He was kind, compassionate, loyal, and humble despite his many achievements. During the last year of his life, we often discussed his concerns for his family, including both his biological children and those of his second wife. One of his last personal struggles was to save one of his stepsons from being deported to Jamaica where the health care he needs will not be available.

You can read Bruce’s own account of his lifetime of commitment to social justice on his Green Party US page. You can also listen to Glen Ford’s tribute to Bruce at last weekend’s Left Forum panel “Black Strategies for Liberation in the Empire of Exceptionalism.” As he said:

It’s going to be quite difficult continuing without Brother Bruce. We’ll try because he didn’t let multiple myeloma slow him down until it stopped him cold. Up until the Wednesday before last he was determined to be here today, until the doctor told him to go into the hospital the next day and he never emerged. But Bruce will never leave Black Agenda Report. He is a permanent fixture. We must consider what Bruce would have said and how Bruce would have moved this project forward every time we come upon a problem, an idea, or an opportunity.

Can Trump Be Beaten, Regardless?

“[B]reaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age…”

– Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, 1966

During this too long Democratic presidential campaign season, we will be talking about immigration and the inhumane confinement of immigrants, asylum “reform,” restructuring capitalism, Medicare for all, who’s enjoying economic advance, free college education, the LGBTQ community’s rights, what to do about Iran and North Korea, alternative energy, Jared Kushner’s “pay the Palestinians off” peace plan, reparations to African Americans, whether to break up Big Tech, guaranteed minimum income, Congress vs. Trump, impeachment, and in the week before the election so what hashtags and videos go viral.

What we won’t talk about is what’s been increasingly on display since Trump became president. He stands before tanks, alongside military leaders, under a sky filled with jets performing at his command. He’s been on his way to autocratic rule and the Congress has been pitiable in its efforts to stop him. They can’t exert enough power to see his tax forms or get their subpoenas to be respected. It didn’t take much to show us the great fragility, the great vulnerability of our tri-partite, Constitutional based checks and balances democratic republic.

It only took one man who respects nothing but his own will to blow through long established respected informalities, customs and traditions, ways of communicating and behaving that only stood because we wanted them to stand. We now have a president who is, with each defiant tweet, showing us that it’s not the Emperor who has no clothes but our presumed, inviolable, not merely informal but rather legislated order of things.

This president has no such interest in preserving anything he can smack out of his way. His first assault was against any representation of truth and reality that was not his own representation. Those, like the free press, Federal judges, and the House of Representatives, offering a challenge had to be ridiculed, exposed as purveyors of fake news, and brashly denied any authority. The “wild profusion” that a charlatan needs to avoid exposure is now upon us. Consider that alternative facts are announced as having authority, and truth, we are told, isn’t truth, idiocy that has been absorbed as constructive memes.

Followers now merge with the President as the Magister Ludi, achieving a Oneness of identity. How do you beat this? How does one election vacate what continues “long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age. . .”

We are post-truth now, a development that precedes Trump but which we all share. But we are also divided between those who are post any truth the President doesn’t accept as truth and those fumbling to hold on to or even find the certain determinacy of that old time, evidentiary Truth, the “ordered surfaces” we cannot seem to recreate. So many don’t want to be post-truth, but it happened.

What we won’t talk about is the growing fear that our exceptional, longest running democracy was always so only in the way houses of straw and twigs seemed good enough but in fact would always fall if the wolf came along. Trump has come along and taken possession of the Justice Department, the Attorney General, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the Republican Party and now this Fourth of July is showing us all that the military is his as well. And we cannot leave off the fact that he owns the minds and hearts of some 45 million Americans who would continue to support him if he went out and randomly shot someone in the street.

We see that Everyday Americans, to use Hillary’s euphemism, have a thin, weak understanding of politics in America, a disinterest bred by decades of middle-class contentment and the invisibility of the suffering on the margins. Not enough political acumen was shaped in American education to enable enough voters in 2016 to see through the masquerade of a bullshitter wanting to be president.

But alongside this, we must recognize that America itself has a thin, weak hold on defending itself from the rampaging of that same bullshitter as autocrat, that the defenses and inherited structures of our constitutional republic can be rolled over like a panzer division through France.

Right now, about half the population is looking for salvation in a Democratic presidential candidate who can beat Trump. This is reminiscent of expecting Mueller to deliver the country from Trump, like a one-shot immunization. We see now that we can’t even immunize ourselves from measles, no less a mad president.

The President’s campaign to take the Iron Throne of lifetime rule is in your face obvious, not cleverly sly, not masterfully Iago but nevertheless we seem to have no challenge, no defense as direct and forceful as a Trump tweet. Getting on that battlefield in the first place was a mistake because it’s a field in which the long, discursive response that is required to explicate the complexities that have brought Trump to the presidency and are needed to extricate him – all this, like a long, periodic sentence – can no longer be tolerated. Not only have we lost sight of what establishes truth, but we have lost the attentiveness necessary to deal with the “wild profusion of existing things.”

There is now no communicative space within which the complexities of the “conditions on the ground” determining how and what we can think can be communicated. In the place of this what we focus on is a one individual solution, a version of a classic realist battle between good guy and bad guy, a fatal solution at a time and place where we can have no consensus as to what is good, bad, true, false, real, hyperreal.

Perhaps if Joe Biden makes it through the primary gauntlet, beaten up but still standing, we can expect President Trump will go after him like Jake La Motta in the 13th round. Perhaps Mayor Pete or Kamala Harris will convince the un-meritocratic populace that they speak the language of the Everyday American; or Warren or Bernie can convince the 35% moderates in the country that it’s too late for moderation, that a mass psyche that felt an ACA public option was a bridge too far, that loves the signifier “private” and cringes at the signifier “public” was ready for a Federally run health care system.

While we are focused on a one individual, super hero to replace the mad King, a web of complexity that has no one agent solution persists.

For instance, the fact remains that if the Democrats do not take the Senate but win the presidency, Mitch McConnell will do to President Buttigieg-Harris-Warren-Sanders what he did to Obama.

What President Democrat Super Hero will do with the disciples of Trump who, most likely under tweet direction from an ousted Trump will do everything but what President Pete quantitatively and qualitatively analyzes should be done.

What their response will be to President Warren’s new IRS investigating unit trying to find out how many yachts, Picassos, Lamborghini and precious stones the wealthy have so a wealth tax can be imposed on them stretches the imagination. This is a president who would punish you for having more than the other guy? Is that American?

Whatever President Sanders restructuring of capitalism turns out to be it won’t be tweeted as a victory for personal freedom but something like the breadline socialism implanted in the American mass knowing.

President Biden is least likely to upset the Trumpians, Wall Street or the Midwest but treading water from 2020-24 is a stupid strategy to adopt as flood waters rise.

Regardless of how all that may play out, it may not be “Grim Reaper” Mitch McConnell or the Trumpians or The Squad that President-elect Democrat must deal with but the self-appointed life time president, Donald J. Trump.

There are fifty ways to leave your lover but also fifty ways Donald J. Trump can throw the results of a 2020 election into a churner that will make the 2000 Florida chad fiasco look like a well-ordered July fourth picnic.

All it takes is a will to turn election results upside down and we now have both the man and the times in which that can be done, we have the man and the conditions to continue “long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age. . .”

Joe Biden’s Alternative White Reality

Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden is playing with a stacked racial deck. His recent pitch is that, as president, he would be a bipartisan consensus-builder. He cited the “civility” of the Senate in the past, when, as a young senator, he was able to work with avowed segregationists, Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, both Southern Democrats. “We didn’t agree on much of anything,” Biden said, but, “We got things done.” Unlike, “Today, when you look at the other side and you’re the enemy.” He even lifted Eastland up morally, saying, ”He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’“ ( “Biden Recalling ‘Civility’ in Senate, Invokes Two Segregationist Senators,” By Katie Glueck, The New York Times, June 19, 2019)

Joe Biden’s recollection of such past Senate “civility” led Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is black, to issue a statement, saying that Biden was “wrong” to use such divisive segregationists as examples of how to create common ground. He added, “You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys.’” Booker also said, “I’m disappointed that he hasn’t issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should.” Biden responded: “Apologize for what? Cory should apologize. He knows better. There’s not a racist bone in my body.” (Ibid; “Joe Biden Called Corey Booker. But Apologize? It’s Not the Biden Way,” By Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, The New York Times, June 20, 2019)

Evidently Joe Biden is confused about the racial make-up of his own body. Why would Sen. Eastland have called him ‘boy?’ Eastland obviously reserved that depreciating term for black men, whom he reportedly believed were “members of an ‘inferior race.’” (Ibid) Conversely, “Son” is the affectionate name for a member of one’s family – in this case, Eastland’s white family.

Perhaps Joe Biden’s eight years as vice president to black president Barack Obama led him to think that a certain amount of blackness had rubbed off on his “body.” If so, it did not prevent him from invoking these two staunch segregationists as examples of how to create cooperation and “get things done” — and “on the eve of Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery.” (“Biden, Recalling ‘Civility’ in Senate, Invokes Two Segregationist Senators,” Ibid)

While Joe Biden says, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” his “body” was apparently numb to Sen. Eastland’s blatant racism. In a New Republic article on “Joe Biden’s Racial Dog Whistle,” Matt Ford writes that “Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate recounts how Eastland spoke to a crowd during the Montgomery bus boycott with the language of a would-be genocidaire:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. . . . Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives. . . . All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of dead niggers.” (June 20, 2019)

Educator and author Jonathan Kozol writes in The Nation that Sen. Joe Biden not only “took a leading role” in opposing court-ordered busing to desegregate public schools; he “expressed thanks to [Sen.] Eastland for supporting anti-busing legislation that Biden introduced. ‘I want you to know that I very much appreciate your help . . . in attempting to bring my anti-busing legislation to a vote,’” Biden “wrote the Mississippi Democrat, a virulent opponent of civil rights who frequently referred to black people as ‘an inferior race.’” (“When Joe Biden Collaborated With Segregationists,” June 6, 2019)

Jonathan Kozol cites an ingrained reality that has benefited the bones in Joe Biden’s white “body.” “In a nation where residential segregation and unabated patterns of redlining have guaranteed the seemingly eternal sequestration of black and Hispanic children in poorly funded schools within their communities,” Kozol writes, “Biden’s many years of strident opposition to letting children ride the good old yellow bus represent a throwback to the age of Plessy v. Ferguson.” (Ibid) Joe Biden’s “body” inherited and flourished in an historic, white-controlled hierarchy of access to political, economic, legal and religious power.

Mr. Kozol concludes. “As the mainstream media repeatedly remind us, Biden is a likeable man in many ways. . . . But,” Kozol continues, “his likeability will not help Julia Walker’s grandkids and her great grandchildren and the children of her neighbors go to schools where they can get an equal shot at a first-rate education and where their young white classmates have a chance to get to know and value them and learn from them, as children do in ordinary ways when we take away the structures that divide them.” (Ibid)

Along with their shared anti-busing stance, Sen. Biden and Sen. Eastland, chairman of the powerful Judicial Committee, held similar beliefs about crime and punishment. Biden is reported to have “courted” Eastland, “who helped him land spots on the committee and subcommittees dealing with criminal justice and prisons, and became a close friend and legislative partner of another, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. At Biden’s request, Eastland “put him in charge of overseeing prisons and sentencing.” Soon, “with Mr. Eastland’s support, he pushed for mandatory minimum sentences that would limit judges’ discretion in sentencing.” (“’Lock the S. O. B.s Up’: Joe Biden and the Era of Mass Incarceration,” By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Astead W. Herndon, The New York Times, June 25, 2019)

Unlike other Democrats, Sen. Joe Biden was quoted as not being interested in dealing with the “ ‘root cause’ theory of crime,” such as “poverty and other social ills that breed criminal activity.” When violent crime was rising in 1989, he “lamented that the Republican president, George H.W. Bush, was not doing enough to put ‘violent thugs’ in prison. In 1993, he warned of ‘predators on our streets.’” Also, “in a 1994 Senate floor speech he likened himself to another Republican president: ‘Every time Richard Nixon, when he was running in 1972, would say, ‘Law and Order,’ the Democrats match or response was, ‘Law and order with justice’ – whatever that meant. And I would say, ‘Lock the S. O. B.s up.’” (Ibid) In 1993, Biden said, “It doesn’t matter whether or not they are victims of society . . . I don’t want to ask, ‘What made them do this?’ They must be taken off the street.” (Ibid)

For Sen. Biden, criminal justice was about adding police and building prisons, not addressing the systemic political, economic and legal discriminatory forces that keep doors of opportunity closed and suffocate aspirations. As reported, he and segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond “co-authored . . . a string of bills that effectively rewrote the nation’s criminal justice laws with an eye toward putting more criminals behind bars.” Those bills include “the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses; the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which dictated harsher sentences for possession of crack than for powder cocaine; and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a vast catchall tough-on-crime bill.” With a number of Democratic presidential candidates “calling for ambitious criminal justice reform,” it is assumed that Biden “must answer for his role in legislation that criminal justice experts and his critics say helped lay the groundwork for the mass incarceration that has devastated America’s black communities.” (Ibid)

What motivated Delaware’s Sen. Biden? “Harmon Carey, director of Wilmington’s Afro-American Historical Society, said, “Joe’s a decent fella, but he is doing what his white constituents wanted . . . The white people wanted to send people to prison. They wanted cops. And that’s what he did.” (Ibid)

Mr. Carey is believed to present a clue to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Biden appears to be unveiling his own version of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, by appealing to the white nationalist element in President Trump’s base. Thus Biden is quoted as saying that “he will win Republican-leaning states in the South,” like “’Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, believe it or not’” — and even “’Texas and Florida.’” (“Joe Biden says he’ll win Republican-leaning states in the South,” CBS NEWS. June 17, 2019)

It is assumed that Joe Biden’s Southern strategy helps to explain him lauding the “civility” he was able to establish with Southern segregationists Senators Eastland and Talmadge. And his, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” is shared by many white persons who chose not to be aware of their historic white-favored access to privilege and power in American society. Even President Trump often says to his base, “I am the least racist person that you have ever met.” If he is, so is his admiring base.

In a Delaware newspaper interview dug up by The Washington Post, Joe Biden expressed the denial of many white persons regarding their imbedded entitlement in society: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the 60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and . . . in order to even the score, we must now give the black man’ – no reference to black women – ‘a head start or even hold the white man back . . . I don’t buy that.’” (“When Joe Biden Collaborated With Segregationists, Ibid) Spoken like a man who doesn’t have a racist bone in his body – or in his country’s.

“No reference to black women.” Anita Hill would not be surprised. Here also the emphasis is on “hold[ing] the white man back,” not on helping black people catch up.

Many white persons reduce racism to interpersonal relationships with persons of color, convincing themselves that they are not racist because they have black friends and acquaintances. Perhaps Joe Biden didn’t believe he had a “racist bone” in his body because of his reported ability to “quickly position himself as a new type of white politician: always approachable, with meaningful relationships in black communities.” As Mr. Carey, Wilmington’s Afro-American Historical Society leader, testifies: Biden “often struck a careful balance, using personal relationships to maintain his good standing in Delaware’s black community, while carefully legislating in the more conservative interests of white voters and law enforcement.” (“’Lock the S.O.B.’s Up’: Joe Biden and the Era of Mass Incarceration,” Ibid)

The issue of racism in America is not about people getting along better, but getting by better. It is not just about interpersonal relationships, but about undoing America’s institutionalized white-favored hierarchy of access and power and creating a level economic, political and legal playing field.

Joe Biden is not up to this challenge, as he is reported to want it both ways. On the campaign trail, “he implicitly suggested that bold actions on a range of issues could be achieved without anyone being ‘punished,’ including the wealthy.” He said, “I got in trouble with some of the people in my team, on the Democratic side, because I said, ‘You know what I’ve found is rich people are just as patriotic as poor people . . . I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has money.” Then he did a shift: “At the same time, he warned, ‘when we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution.”,. (“Biden, Recalling ‘Civility’ in Senate, Invokes Two Segregationist Senators,” Ibid)

The issue is not about being “patriotic,” but about being in poverty. The wealthiest Americans have used their money to influence policies, including tax cuts, that have created “income inequality.” Biden is redefining the problem in favor of the “rich” in saying they should not be “punished.” This is the same presidential candidate who, years ago, said, I don’t buy . . . the concept . . . ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and . . . in order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start . or even hold the white man back.” It is not about “hold[ing] the white man back,” but enabling people of color to catch up. The fact that Biden does not want to “punish” the rich reveals who butters his capitalistic bread – and where his lucrative campaign funds come from.

“Rich people are just as patriotic as poor people.” They are probably more “patriotic’ than poor people, especially those whose wealth comes from their investment in the military/industrial/intelligence/complex. Their profits depend on America’s so-called “global war on terrorism” never ending. Regarding poor families, the only way most of their sons and daughters can hope to afford college is to join the military, which offers college education benefits – providing they don’t sacrifice their bodies and lives on the altar of American imperialism.

Joe Biden’s patriotism should give voters pause. In a Progressive article titled “The Other Reason Biden Shouldn’t Run,” political and international relations scholar Stephen Zunes writes, “As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, Biden stated that Saddam Hussein had a sizeable arsenal of chemical weapons, as well as biological weapons . . . despite inspectors reporting that Iraq no longer appeared to have any weaponized chemical or biological agents.” Biden refused to hear testimony from “leading anti-war scholars familiar with Iraq and the Middle East . . . nor . . . call some of the dissenting officials in the Pentagon or State Department who were willing to challenge the alarmist claims.”(April 2, 2019)

Prof. Zunes continues, “Even after the U.N. inspectors had been engaged in months of unfettered inspections in early 2003, Biden expressed no objections when Bush decided to invade anyway.” And when it became clear “that Iraq didn’t actually have these weapons, or weapons systems, Biden continued to falsely claim ‘everyone in the world thought he had them.’” And he “insisted that he still didn’t regret voting ‘to give the president the authority to use force in Iraq. I still believe my vote was just.’” Zunes ends: “Biden’s role in making possible the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the carnage and destabilization that resulted, is something for which he needs to be held accountable. It should be a central issue in the upcoming campaign.” (April 2, 2019)

At that first debate on June 27, Joe Biden’s final words were, “God bless you all and may God protect our troops.” (“2019 Democratic Debates, Night 2: Full Transcript,” The New York Times, June 28, 2019) His last words sound imperialistic, not conciliatory. Too bad Biden did not say, “May God protect all human beings everywhere.” This is the inclusive world view political leaders need that will keep “our troops” home and safe, with their families where they belong.

US is a Classic Empire and Is Becoming a Repressive Police State at Home

As I set out to fly home from the UK on Monday following a short film project in Cambridge, I found my boarding pass, which I had been blocked from obtaining online the night before, carrying a bold-faced SSSS stamp in the lower right corner. Asking about it I was told by the British employee at the United check-in counter, “That is because you are on a US Department of Homeland Security list, sir.”

Later, after my son and I got the boarding gate, my name was called and I was ushered through a door in the wall behind the gate desk where two British security agents pawed through my bag and ran a cloth over computer, phone and all the zippers on my suitcase and computer bag looking for traces of explosives. After that I was politely told that I and my son (whose luggage was left uninspected) could board the plane. When I asked why I, a journalist with no criminal record, was being treated like a suspected terrorist, they laughed and said I would have to inquire of the DHS.

It’s not the first time this has happened to me. The same thing happened when my wife and I flew to Vienna in March where she was playing a concert on Vienna State Radio. That time at a checkpoint between Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Terminal 2, my boarding pass was rejected, and when I got it reprinted a red stamp saying “ICE Security” was added. As on Monday, I was subjected to a special search in a separate location near the gate by an apologetic British security officer.

Today is July 4, and many American citizens will be bringing blankets and lawn chairs to local fireworks displays to celebrate American independence. Of course, those fireworks really hark back to the “rockets’ red glare” referred to in Francis Scott Key’s racist national anthem, which was largely a condemnation of the freed black slaves that the British employed in their effort to conquer Baltimore harbor during the War of 1812.

What, really, have we got to celebrate?

The US today is a global empire. Our country’s military, ballooning to some 2.1 million in uniform at a time that there is really no significant war underway. US military spending, greater in constant dollars than at any time since WWII, represents 34% of all global military spending, and the US military budget, depending on how one counts it, is larger than the next largest eight-to-ten countries’ military budgets combined. To show how ridiculously huge the US military is, consider that at $220 billion for fiscal year 2020, the US budget for Veterans Affairs alone (that’s the agency that provides assistance of all kinds, including medical, to those who served in the military, not counting career soldiers who receive a pension that is counted separately) this one military budget line item is larger than the entire military budget of China, and is more than three times as large as the entire military budget of Russia, considered by many to be our primary “adversary”!

And remember — US empire and militarism is and has always been supported by both political parties.

Here at home, our police are increasingly militarized to the point that most people now view the police as a potential threat, cowering politely in any interaction with cops, and fearing to assert their rights when they disagree with a stop for fear they will be cuffed, brutalized and arrested for speaking up. Our militarized, power-tripping law-enforcement officers insist on “respect,” are quick to make up reasons to take us down and take us in (like “resisting arrest” or “causing a disturbance”) if we don’t show it, and are quick to fire a taser or a gun if they “feel threatened,” knowing that prosecutors and the courts will almost always give them the benefit of the doubt even if video evidence shows them to have been in the wrong.

I’m 70, and the decline in freedom in this country has been a long but quite visible process back at least to when I was a young adult resisting the draft and the Vietnam War. Being on a “watch list” is nothing new for me. I learned from the FBI file I obtained back in the late ‘70s when the Freedom of Information Act was still actually working as originally intended, that I was on a list back during the war years and in fact was scheduled to be arrested by the US Attorney in Hartford, CT for draft resistance until the order, all unknown to me, was rescinded at the last minute. The FBI visited a colleague of my father’s at the UConn Engineering School in 1971 looking into an effort I and my wife made at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, Canada to obtain permission to visit China.

Is the US a police state? Yes, certainly it is for some people. It is certainly a police state for immigrants, legal and undocumented alike, for black people wherever they reside, for hispanics and Native Americans, and for those like myself who oppose the political policies and foreign policy of this country. And I guess that answers the question. One doesn’t define a police state as a place that represses everyone, since by definition those who keep their heads down, support the political status quo and those in power, are doing what the state wants them to do. There is no need to show the iron fist or the jackboot to them. A police state is a place that applies force and the tools of repression to those who challenge it. So even before we consider the concentration camps for immigrants along the border, the outrageous separation and imprisonment of babies, toddlers and children by Border Patrol thugs, and our latest president’s desire for military parades to honor himself on this day, the real answer is: Yes! the US must be considered, today, to be a police state.

So what’s to celebrate?

I read that a recent Gallup Organization poll shows a significant drop in the percentage of US Americans who are “extremely proud” of their country. True, 45% still say they are “proud” of America, but normally that is how many say they are “extremely proud” to be Americans. That’s a significant fall-off. Even among normally super-patriotic Republicans the percentage of those saying they are “extremely proud” this July 4 of this country was down to 76%, a 10% drop from 2003, and close to the 68% low point reached at one point during the Obama administration.

The main cause of the loss of patriotic ardor appears to be dismay or disgust with the US political system. According to the poll, only 32% of Americans say they are “proud” (forget “extremely proud”!) of America’s vaunted political system. In a close second for popular disgust, only 37% said they are “proud” of the US health care system.

So I guess I’m in pretty good company. I won’t be oohing and aaahing at the local fireworks display this year. It’s basically a glorification of US war-making anyhow, and there’s nothing at all to be proud of in that regard, particularly with the US in the midst of a $1.5-trillion upgrade of its nuclear arsenal, threatening war with Iran, pulling out of a Reagan-era treaty banning intermediate-range nuclear missiles, and embarking in a new arms race both in space and in virtually unstoppable hypersonic cruise missiles.

In my view, my country has become the world’s leading “rogue” nation, dismissive of all international laws and codes of conduct, actively attacking many countries on its own authority, without the support of UN Security Council resolutions, exonerating war crimes committed by its soldiers, and committed to the first use of nuclear weapons, both as a first strike against major power rivals like Russia and China, and against non-nuclear nations like Iran, and equally dismissive of all efforts, large and small, to respond to the crisis of catastrophic global heating. At home, the US legal system has become a supine supporter of virtually unlimited executive power, of unchecked police power, and of repressive actions against the supposedly constitutionally protected free press.

It’s tempting to hope that the decline noted by Gallup in the percent of Americans expressing “extreme pride” and even of “pride” in the US, but support for the US among the country’s citizens still remains shamefully high in the face of all these negatives.

Anyhow, count me among those who won’t be celebrating today’s July 4 national holiday.

Africa and Palestine: A Noble Legacy That Must Never Be Betrayed

Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest in 1881, but never ended. The attempt at dominating the continent using old and new strategies continues to define the western relationship with this rich continent.

This reality was further validated when I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on June 23. Although my objective was to address various Kenyan audiences at universities, public forums and the media, I also came here to learn. Kenya, like the rest of Africa, is a source of inspiration for all anti-colonial, liberation movements around the world. We, Palestinians, can learn a great deal from the Kenyan struggle.

Although African countries have fought valiant battles for their freedom against their western colonizers, neocolonialism now defines the relationship between many independent African countries and their former occupiers. Political meddling, economic control and, at times, military interventions, as in the recent cases of Libya and Mali, point to the unfortunate reality that Africa remains, in myriad ways, hostage to western priorities, interests and dictates.

In the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, western colonial regimes attempted to mediate among the various powers that were competing over Africa’s largesse. It assigned each with a share of the African continent, as if Africa was the property of the west and its white colonists. Millions of Africans died in that protracted, bloody episode unleashed by the west which, shamelessly, promoted its genocidal oppression as a civilizational project.

Like most colonized countries in the Southern hemisphere, Africans fought disproportionate battles to gain their precious freedom. Here in Kenya, which became an official British colony in the 1920s, Kenya’s freedom fighters rose in rebellion against the brutality of their oppressors. Most notable among the various resistance campaigns, the “Mau Mau” rebellion of the 1950s remains a stark example of the courage of Kenyans and the cruelty of colonial Britain. Thousands of people were killed, wounded, disappeared or were imprisoned under the harshest of conditions.

Palestine fell under Brtish occupation, the so-called British Mandate, around the period that Kenya also became a British colony. Palestinians, too, fought and fell in their thousands as they employed various methods of collective resistance, including the legendary strike and rebellion of 1936.

The same British killing machine that operated in Palestine and Kenya around that time, also operated, with the same degree of senseless violence, against numerous other nations around the world.

While Palestine was handed over to the Zionist Movement to establish the State of Israel in May 1948, Kenya achieved its independence in December 1963.

At one of my recent talks in Nairobi, I was asked by a young participant about “Palestinian terrorism”. I told her that Palestinian fighters of today are Kenya’s “Mau Mau” rebels of yesteryear. That, if we allow western and Israeli propaganda to define the discourse of national liberation on Palestine, then we condemn all national liberation movements throughout the Southern hemisphere, including Kenya’s own freedom fighters.

We, Palestinians, however, must shoulder part of the blame of why our narrative as an oppressed, colonized and resisting nation is now misunderstood in parts of Africa

When the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) committed its historical blunder by signing off Palestinian rights in Oslo in 1993, it abandoned a decades-long Palestinian discourse of resistance and liberation. Instead, it subscribed to a whole new discourse, riddled with carefully-worded language sanctioned by Washington and its European allies. Whenever Palestinians dared to deviate from their assigned role, they were decreed by the west to return to the negotiating table,” as the latter became a metaphor of obedience and submission.

Throughout these years, Palestinians mostly abandoned their far more meaningful alliances in Africa. Instead, they endlessly appealed to the goodwill of the west, hoping that the very colonial powers that have primarily created, sustained and armed Israel, would miraculously become more balanced and humane.

However, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., remained committed to Israel and, despite occasional polite criticism of the Israeli government, continued to channel their weapons, warplanes and submarines to every Israeli government that has ruled over Palestinians for the last seven decades.

Alas, while Palestinians were learning their painful lesson, betrayed repeatedly by those who avowed to respect democracy and human rights, many African nations began seeing in Israel a possible ally. Kenya is, sadly, one of those countries.

Understanding the significance of Africa in terms of its economic and political potential (support for Israel at the UN General Assembly), rightwing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has launched his own “Scramble for Africa”. Netanyahu’s diplomatic conquests on the continent have been celebrated by Israeli media as “historic”, while the Palestinian leadership remained oblivious to the rapidly changing political landscape.

Kenya is one of Israel’s success stories. In November 2017, Netanyahu attended the inauguration of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, who supposedly received an astonishing 98% of votes in the last elections. While Kenyans rose in rebellion against their corrupt ruling classes, Netanyahu was seen embracing Kenyatta as a dear friend and ally.

Netanyahu’s strategy in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – has been based on the same logic, where Israel would use its security technology to support corrupt and undemocratic regimes, in exchange for their political support.

Tel Aviv had hoped that the first-ever Israel-Africa summit in Togo would usher in a complete paradigm shift in Israeli-African relations. However, the October 2017 conference never actualized, due to pressure by various African countries, including South Africa. There is still enough support for Palestine on the continent to defeat Israeli stratagem. But that could change soon in favor of Israel if Palestinians and their allies do not wake up to the alarming reality.

The Palestinian leadership, intellectuals, artists and civil society ambassadors must shift their attention back to the Southern hemisphere – Africa, in particular – rediscovering the untapped wealth of true, unconditional human solidarity that is provided by the peoples of this ever-generous continent.

The legendary Tanzanian freedom fighter, Mwalimu Nyerere – who is also celebrated in Kenya – knew too well where his solidarity lay. “We have never hesitated in our support for the right of the people of Palestine to have their own land,” he once said, a sentiment that was repeated by the iconic late South African leader, Nelson Mandela, and many other African liberation leaders.

This generation of African leaders should not deviate from that noble legacy. If they betray it, they betray themselves, along with the righteous struggles of their own peoples.

Plotting Against Venezuela: Another Coup for Oil?

After the publication of Dan Kovalik’s four books since 2017 (The Plot to Scapegoat Russia, The Plot to Attack Iran, The Plot to Control the World and now The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela), I am finally honouring my promise to him to write a review, made at the time his first book was published two years ago. However, the review is of this fourth text, which just arrived last week. Although one could say “better late than never,” in this case, being “late” is actually a great advantage, as what is happening in Venezuela is, at this time, perhaps the single most important international issue.

It is no accident that commentators from Venezuela, Cuba, the rest of Latin America, the US itself and elsewhere are evaluating the Venezuelan experience as currently (and to differing degrees) occupying the epicentre of anti-imperialism or even the epicentre of the anti-imperialist left. The latter assessment is of great significance. Unlike Russia and Iran as the subjects of two of the three previous publications, the component of a new ideology – and the Venezuelan example with which we can identify – highlights the enormous international significance of this Latin American country for this entire hemisphere and beyond. A better world is indeed possible. This is not to underestimate or denigrate in any manner Iran, whose revolution I fully support, or Russia as a key player in support of a multi-polar world, one of whose key ingredients today is undoubtedly proud support for the Bolivarian Revolution and President Maduro. Irrespective of what one may think of these evaluations of Venezuela as the new epicentre, this country remains the focus of debate and discussion regarding international relations and, in particular, US policy toward the entire world.

In a gesture that Kovalik fully deserves, award-winning filmmaker and renowned author Oliver Stone wrote the foreword to the book. In it, he sets the tone for one of the main themes of the book and concerns in the US and internationally with regard to the US – and that is foreign policy, in general and including toward Venezuela. For example, Stone writes that “many Americans who should know better including many liberals and self-proclaimed ‘leftists,’ find themselves rooting against them and for the Empire and its culture of death.” Further, Stone indicates that “incredibly, many who claim to be in the ‘resistance’ against these thugs believe that somehow they can and will pull off a ‘humanitarian intervention in that country.’”

In the face of this almost unprecedented media campaign of lies, which has managed to capture the minds of people who are supposed to be immune to this, Kovalik steps up to the plate. This book is a page-turner. The author attracts the reader in time (a series of reader-friendly, sweeping, factual and historical surveys) and in space (Venezuela as part of Latin America and beyond as victims of US foreign policy toward the world, especially since World War II).

These dynamic and simultaneous surveys of both the historical background and current geopolitical conflicts are coupled in a talented and innovative manner that makes Kovalik’s vast fieldwork experiences from Venezuela and elsewhere modestly but movingly come to life throughout the book. While the reader is absorbed in the overall analysis, from time to time – and when it is most necessary – the lively human experiences that he has accumulated over the years seem to naturally blossom in the book to flesh out the investigation, providing innumerable treats for readers. Despite this, Kovalik is careful to make sure that the experiences are not about him but rather about the people interviewed: they are the protagonists in this book. Without exaggerating, the journey through the pages transports readers to the time and place under discussion as if it were a Google map zooming in on its subject from afar.

In addition, the author has crafted an original manner to completely and comprehensively refute US disinformation by turning American foreign policy against itself. For example, after fully demolishing the rejection by the US that the Venezuelan electrical power grid breakdown was not caused by the US but rather by Venezuelan mismanagement, the author provides the example of Puerto Rico. Its power grid is notorious for its dilapidated condition caused by the complete lack of concern and funds from Washington. The author comments, perhaps somewhat with tongue in cheek, “No one has ever claimed that this reality presents a legitimate reason for regime change, either in San Juan or in Washington.” Some may ask, is this an exaggerated comparison? I personally do not think so. What is the purpose of writing a book about Venezuela if it does not provocatively challenge the smug and arrogant US-centric thinking of the American elite toward other countries, such as Venezuela? These mainstream ideas and values have to be shaken up: the future of humankind depends on it.

Here is another of the many examples of the author’s approach to daring to challenge mainstream thinking. In confronting “humanitarian aid” as a pretext for the US to interfere in Venezuela, Kovalik surprises us with the example of Hurricane Katrina. Well done! We recall that while the US completely mismanaged the effects of Katrina, both Cuba and Venezuela offered important humanitarian aid (e.g. doctors and medicine) to the Katrina-affected area and its residents. The US refused the offer. Let that sink in. However, Kovalik calls the bluff: “Neither Castro nor Chávez threatened to storm the gates of the US to deliver the much-needed aid, and the press corps did not treat the US’s refusal as some high crime.”

Given the title of the book and its focus on oil, one might get the impression that the author does not deal with the issue of Chavismo as a very significant – and growing – ideo-political trend in Latin America. In fact, I had that misgiving – that is, before delving into the book. I discovered, as others surely will, nothing is further from the truth. In Chapters 3 and 4, both dealing with the background to the current situation, the reader is lured into the very heart of Chavismo. Yet, there is not even the slightest hint of the author’s ideological orientation, which I am not aware of. Rather, the facts and important anecdotes from direct experience, based on extensive and frequent visits to Venezuela, speak for themselves. Readers are left to reach their own conclusions about the basic features of this ideology as many people (individually and collectively) are exploring alternatives to the capitalist and aggressive imperialist status quo.

In Chapter 3, “1989 – The Year of Historic Massacres You’ve Never Heard Of,” the author makes sure that readers are fully aware of the historical significance of what happened that year. Never heard about it? Anecdotally, Kovalik reports that his spell-checker software recognizes the term Tiananmen but not Caracazo. (Neither does mine, I just checked!) The US has its favourite historical events to serve its own purposes, Caracazo was – and is not – such an event. After all, it was “just” a massive popular uprising against US-imposed neo-liberal policies that was crushed while hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Yet, as he brings us through that event, like many others in the book, we are treated to such gems as the following from the testimony of a former Catholic priest from the US who has lived in Venezuela for several years: regarding Chavez as a common soldier at the time of the 1989 uprising, the priest mused, “He [Chavez] probably wondered why soldiers kill hungry people for stealing spaghetti.”

Is this simply an anecdote or is it a vivid insight into what Chavismo is all about? Further, in line with the publication’s innovative feature, it also deals with Caracazo in terms of time and space. Are there other essentially American massacres that we have not heard about? Try this one on for size: Panama, December 1989, during the US invasion. Did you know that US soldiers killed more people then than were killed on 9/11? The double standard on massacres and killings is also illustrated in the context of the US foreign policy to assassinate progressive religious leaders and activists. In 1984, as Chomsky points out, one priest was killed in Poland – and that generated a good deal of coverage compared with the virtual news blackout regarding 72 religious people who were killed throughout Latin America between 1964 and 1978 by US-sponsored regimes.

In Chapter 4, “The Bolivarian Revolution,” and in this context, the rise of Chávez and the accompanying features of this revolution with its economic policy, its particular political options of democracy and race, and other issues, begin to merge with the issue of oil. A new period was ushered in with regard to the never-ending tug-of-war between the use of this resource for the benefit of the Venezuelan people versus its control by the US and its allies.

Kovalik quotes many of the thought-provoking sources on the evolution of Venezuela under Chávez’s leadership, in this case indicating that derisive references to “squalid ones” for the first time in the country’s history became the object of the government’s attention. At the heart of this orientation, we see the political idea that the Bolivarian Revolution is a revolution of the poor for the poor in conflict with a wealthy few who governed Venezuela with US support. To bear this out, data and analysis are deftly merged with on-the-ground experience and interactions that the author accumulated in Venezuela over the years. While it not the only book on Venezuela to highlight a similar approach since Chávez came to power in 1989–1990, this one deserves special attention. It is the first to come off the press, as far as I know, that deals with the aftermath of the coup attempt on January 23, 2019.

In the context of this current period when “fraudulent elections” just rolls off the tongues of the US and its apologists, the readers have at their fingertips the famous evaluation of Venezuela’s electoral system by someone who is neither a communist nor a revolutionary but rather former President Jimmy Carter. On the elections that he monitored, he states, “I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.” This same refrain is repeated continuously by the open mainstream media and, as Oliver Stone warns as he comes out of the gate, by some “leftists.” In this regard, Kovalik’s book will be a handy reference to have on your bookshelf and could come with a guarantee to not collect dust.

Racial equality as an integral part of the Bolivarian Revolution is dealt with frankly, in a way that I have yet to see in another publication. Of course, Kovalik has the advantage of writing in the post-January 23, 2019 coup context. The astute observer, not restricted by superficial American puritanical morality and political correctness, would notice on TV that the current conflict is largely white (the US and its puppet) versus coloured. Like many of us, the author, in a modest way true to his personality, confesses as a result of observing the April 11, 2013 elections:

“I witnessed a campaign rally for Maduro, and what occurred to me was that nearly everyone I saw at the rally was black. That is, they were of African descent. I had not thought much of about the racial composition of and divisions within Venezuela, but this cannot be overlooked when thinking of that country and of the Bolivarian Revolution.”

We learn that Venezuela is in fact 70% Mestizo, that is, a nation composed of people with mixed blood from Indian and African descent. On the other hand, we read that at the 2019 Guaidó opposition rallies, the crowds are almost entirely white.

Furthermore, as Kovalik points out once again in time and space, the US has always held a strong prejudice against blacks, not only in the US but also south of the border, providing an example of the historic resentment that the US bears against Haiti for its attempt to establish the first black republic in that part of the world. He also does not miss the occasion to point out that the US, whose political system thrives on “identity politics,” conveniently turns a blind eye to the glaring identity politics being played out in Venezuela.

Even though the dismal human rights and economic situation in Colombia is quite well known, Chapter 5 is entirely devoted to comparing Venezuela and its achievements from the Bolivarian Revolution with Colombia. He brings to light some features we did not necessarily think about or know, thanks in large part once again to the author’s fieldwork in that country, which is one of the main US allies in the drive for regime change in Venezuela. Thus, this chapter, far from being redundant, is on the contrary a most valuable addition as a source to argue against Colombia in its ongoing attempt on behalf of the US to violently overthrow the Maduro government. We see the desire to reach this objective continues today and will probably do so into the future.

In Chapter 6, Washington’s cynical recipe for a regime change is described as “‘Make the Economy Scream,’ Add Chaos and Stir” and is being applied to Venezuela at this time. However, this deadly foreign policy is well entrenched in Washington. The author takes us through the historical experiences in Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Brazil (the original imposition of the Brazilian dictatorship, not the more current one through the soft power of the Obama Administration’s approach, which is dealt with later) and Chile. This chapter proves to be a useful tool in the hands of those who are driven to oppose US interference, bullying and aggression on a global scale, with Venezuela being the most recent and perhaps most dramatic example of this policy.

One of the most important achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution consisted of forging international allies in political terms as well the extension of the benefits from oil extraction and its revenues to other countries in the region. Based on this common overall political outlook of independence and sovereignty versus the US’s insatiable goal of world domination, new Latin American and Caribbean regional blocks have been formed. This groundbreaking shift in the political landscape, of course, was not to the liking of Washington. Could it be only when the Republicans are in power?

No! Thus, conveniently for those who may be sincerely confused but are thirsting for some truth, readers are confronted with Chapter 8, titled “The US Takes Down Venezuela’s Allies One at a Time.” Take up the challenge. This chapter itself is worth its weight in gold today, because, as the world watches the current US presidential campaign, especially the Democratic Party candidates vying for power, there seems to be a certain amount of confusion and any number of illusions and misconceptions. This outlook regards the different Democratic Party candidates, especially those who are presented as the left wing of the Democratic Party or self-proclaimed “democratic socialists,” keeping in mind if one accepts (I do not) that it is possible to have a left wing of this party even though it has always been devoted to war and aggression in Latin America and the world.

Thus, this chapter deals with – “one at a time” – the coup in impoverished Haiti, whose crime was to have access to Venezuela’s oil, the 2009 Honduras coup (significant as, at the time these words are being written, the entire hemisphere is grappling with the 10th anniversary of the Obama/Biden/Clinton coup in Honduras), attempts in Nicaragua and, lastly, Brazil (where the plot – and a plot it was indeed – to overthrow Lula and Dilma has been revealed since the publication of the book to have been anchored in the Obama mandate, thus making the chapter even more relevant today).

While it is a known fact that the objective of the US in Venezuela is indeed oil (Kovalik himself quotes John Bolton, who indicates very clearly that the objective is oil), it is most valuable to have at one’s fingertips all the facts indicating that a war – war, not just some hypothetical future military intervention that has been clutched upon as a pretext to avoid taking a stand against the current war in the name of “humanitarian aid” – is being waged to capture that resource, as Chapter 9 illustrates through its appropriate title “The War for Venezuela’s Oil Intensifies.” While many liberals in the north clutch their pearls in horror in the face of a potential US direct military intervention, as it would in fact be abominable, they seem to be immune or they gloss over the fact that there is a war going on now against Venezuela. Of course, the uncomfortable fact is that the most recent offensive against Venezuela to capture the oil and to smash Chavismo was actually initiated by the Obama Administration.

The chapter details the manipulation of oil prices by the US and its allies, such as Saudi Arabia, back in 2014 (during the first Obama mandate). It was intended as leverage, mainly against US competition from Iran and Russia. However, we read that hardest hit was Venezuela.

Moreover, “if this were not enough, President Obama, smelling blood in proverbial water then began imposing sanctions against Venezuela in 2015.” What was the pretext? Kovalik does not miss the opportunity to indicate the parallel between Trump’s pretext for building the wall along the Mexican border and Obama’s excuse back in March 2015 (three months after the “thaw” with Venezuela’s ally Cuba) to go for the Venezuelan jugular, that is, declaring “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” Not only has the Obama approach mirrored Ronald Reagan’s 1985 declared pretext for war against Nicaragua, Obama’s plans for Venezuela “have only been accelerated by the presidency of Donald Trump.”

Along with the “humanitarian crisis,” the so-called “fraudulent elections” in May 2018 confirming Maduro as president constitute two of the major pieces of disinformation that the US has been fabricating as a pretext for foreign interference in Venezuela. Thus, the treatment of the presidential elections is described by Kovalik as part of the economic warfare against Bolivarian Venezuela: threatening Venezuela with more economic sanctions and even military intervention if they did not vote “the right way.” Kovalik, who together with many others from US and Canada as well as Europe and elsewhere who witnessed the elections, provides us the details of how the US tried to influence elections and came up with a fait accompli that they were fraudulent. It is very disconcerting to be confronted with some people on the left, “progressives” and so on, profusely quoted and provided space in the mainstream media, that they buy into the US narrative regarding the elections rather than the testimony of their own fellow citizens from these countries that had participated as observers in May 2018. However, this is what we are up against and, as such, the text is a must-read for anyone interested in Venezuela.

Chapter 10 is devoted to Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams. Taking just one of many examples that highlight the nature of US policy toward Venezuela, “as assistant secretary of state for human rights, Abrams sought to ensure that general Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s then-dictator, could carry out ‘acts of genocide’ – those are the legally binding words of Guatemala’s United Nations-backed Commission for Historical Clarification – against the indigenous people in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché, without any pesky interference from human rights organizations, much less the US government.” This is just one of many examples that are highlighted in this chapter. Thus, it does not come as a surprise; in fact, it is a very welcome commentary with which the author closes the chapter by asking “and now, we are to believe that Abrams has come to bring democracy and human rights to Venezuela. Of all the lies being told about US designs upon and operations against Venezuela, this may very well be the biggest and wildest.”

Nevertheless, there is still widespread bipartisan support for US policy based on “humanitarian aid” for Venezuela in Congress and, of course, in the mainstream media, especially CNN, at which Kovalik correctly points an accusing finger. This constitutes yet another reason that this book is not only a must-read, but that it should also be actively promoted in the US along with the other left-wing journalistic, independent endeavours, which are indeed generously quoted from one end of the book to the other, as Kovalik does not consider himself to be the only writer battling disinformation on Venezuela.

Speaking about left-wing or socialist alternatives, the last chapter analyzes how the Trump regime change policy is exacerbating the crisis in Venezuela and its relation to the American political landscape. It deals with how the US, as is its custom, often points to foreign devils in order to divert attention from its own domestic economic and political situation. The only quibble that I have with the publication is when the author indicates that the offensive against Venezuela is taking place in the context of a situation when “Americans are beginning to seriously talk about socialism.” The reference appears to be the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wing of the Democratic Party. However, far from fostering serious discussion about real socialism, these figures and their narrative serve the traditional role of the Democratic Party as the safeguard and shield against any revolutionary movement in the US. To put it more bluntly, as many US observers have charged, the Democratic Party is the gravedigger of any movement from the left or for socialism that dares to break out of the box of the two-party system.

If one reviews the last Democratic Party debate on TV in which Sanders participated, the transcript shows that Venezuela was not raised by any of the candidates nor by the hosts. It indicates the watertight grip that the elite have on the Venezuela narrative. It must, however, be admitted that foreign policy was not officially on the debate agenda.

Nevertheless, when one foreign country – Honduras – did come up, Sanders said the following in response to a comment by Joe Biden: “Picking up on the point that Joe made, we got a look at the root causes. And you have a situation where Honduras, among other things is a failing state, massive corruption…” CounterPunch editor and journalist Jeffrey St. Clair pointed out in a tweet, “Bernie called Honduras a ‘failing state’ without turning to Biden and saying ‘failing because of the coup your administration abetted.’” In addition, when Sanders was cornered by a journalist after the debate and queried on Venezuela, he dutifully proclaimed that, if elected, he will do everything he can to ensure “free and fair elections” in Venezuela against the Maduro “authoritarian” regime. What a progressive foreign affairs electoral plank! Sound familiar? There is a “humanitarian crisis” (as Sanders parroted on many occasions) in Venezuela and the US must come to the rescue. The defenders of this trend, either by blind conviction or lack of information, provide other examples of supposed opposition to wars or interference in the past and/or obvious real humanitarian crises, such as Yemen, to counter any criticism. However, more often than not, it amounts to “anti-war nostalgia” from the bygone days whereby it is now fashionable – from hindsight when all has since been exposed – to point out how wrong it was for the US to carry out its operations. Sorry, folks, but today the litmus test is Venezuela.

Thus, my only criticism is that by providing some credibility to the advocates of this so-called socialism, it negates the very real alternative to the status quo in the US offered by writers and journalists such as Kovalik himself, and the hundreds of other such activists and intellectuals quoted so justly throughout the book. In reading through the book, I was impressed but not surprised (being familiar with Kovalik’s work) that he proudly refers to the whole spectrum of the progressive American left, activists, writers as well as journalists.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the last part of the book review (and I hope that there will be other reviews from other writers) and struggling with the “norm” of writing a critical review and not only praise, I was stymied. I did not want to overdo it. It was the author himself who came to the rescue. I just came across the July 1 op-ed in the Boston Globe penned by Stone and Kovalik: “We must stop our nation’s push for relentless war.” In it, they appeal to Democratic Party presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, and not the so-called left or socialists, who will find no room to syphon any credibility.

This is what Congressperson Gabbard has previously said about Venezuela:

“The United States needs to stay out of Venezuela. Let the Venezuelan people determine their future. We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders. So, we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”

Note that Gabbard is not a socialist or even left-wing. Her claim to fame, as a former military member serving overseas, is to now take a stand in general against US interference and war. Admittedly, though, there is currently some controversy in social media as to whether or not one should give Gabbard a pass as an anti-war candidate. Ultimately, she volunteered for Iraq in 2004 after the Falluja massacre and the phony pretext for the war had been exposed and had become part of the public domain. Nonetheless, one must consider whether people can honestly and sincerely evolve. She more than makes up for her past, as she is not neutral on Venezuela, unlike the “socialist” wing of the Democratic Party. The latter’s silence on the issue is testimony to the cowardly “neutrality” that is disrupted from time to time by journalists (such as the one cited above questioning Sanders after the presidential debate), when the real nature of this centrism bears its ugly head: copy and paste of the Trump policy.

Now, if the left of the Democratic Party is nudged to take a stand like Gabbard, either as a result of the book’s circulation and other such endeavours on the journalistic or social media front, so be it. In any case, the book’s conclusion holds true: “None of us can stay neutral on this issue.”

 

Thoughts on the Impromptu Kim-Trump Summit

1. South Korean President Moon Jae-in told journalists a week before the DMZ meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump that it was likely to occur, and U.S. news reports also indicate that Trump’s tweeted invitation to the North Korean leader while in Osaka was not spontaneous.

2. Following Trump’s wild threats after his election to rain down “fire and fury” on the DPRK (and thus the entirety of the Korean Peninsula), South Korea and North Korea quickly joined together in an effort to cope with an obviously unstable, dangerous new world leader who could annihilate the whole Korean nation. In February 2017 a South Korean delegation delivered a letter from the North Korean leader to Trump proposing talks. South Korea has since played a de facto mediating role between the U.S. and Pyongyang, Moon repeatedly meeting with Kim and the two apparently coordinating relations with Trump.

3. Trump’s visit to Seoul after the Osaka G-20 summit had been announced in advance. Moon may himself have suggested that during the trip Trump meet Kim at the DMZ to indicate support for the ongoing process of normalized relations between north and south. (The U.S. press downplays or doesn’t grasp the significance of the two states’ declaration of the end to the state of war between them, and the launching of initiatives for rail links and expanded trade ties. Some pundits complain that South Korea is attempting to circumvent U.S. sanctions on the north. Pyongyang notes that since Seoul must obey the U.S., its own negotiations with the U.S. must be one-on-one, not mediated by the south.) Moon looked very pleased posing for photos with Kim and Trump at the DMZ.

4. Every student of Korean history knows that Korea’s fate has been largely determined by the relations between larger, more powerful neighboring nations: China, Japan and Russia. Since it occupied the southern part of the Korean Peninsula in 1945, the U.S. has also shaped that fate. China has been Korea’s historical protector, patron, and teacher; its ties with Korea are “as close as lips and teeth.” Japan has been Seoul’s antagonist, from the Wako pirate raids of the medieval period and the horrific Hideyoshi invasion in the 1590s to colonization in the twentieth century; Tokyo for its part has viewed Korea as “a dagger aimed at the heart of Japan.” Russia has been an opportunistic imperialist, hosting the Korean king in its Seoul legation in the 1890s during a period of instability, seeking trade advantages, installing Kim Il-song in the north in 1945.

All have an interest in maintaining stability on the peninsula. China dreads the prospect of a refugee crisis caused by war, and the reunification of Korea on U.S. imperialist terms. Russia is less concerned but keen on restoring full trade ties with both Koreas, and Putin is cultivating a reputation as a thoughtful statesman striving to facilitate peace (the Astana and Minsk processes, for example). So I would not be surprised if Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, or both, urged Trump to reach out again to Kim. They are no doubt saying: “Look this is our part of the world; North Korea is much closer to us than you and its nukes threaten us more than you. But you scare us more than the DPRK. We too want disarmament, we just want no more wild threats but rather calm protracted negotiations.”

5. The U.S. media’s general dismissal of the DMZ photo opportunity—as a mere political stunt producing no substance other than to unnecessarily elevate Chairman Kim’s stature in the world—is driven by anti-Trump sentiment rather than a critical examination of its meaning. An MSNBC talking head just stated that if the U.S. accepts a freeze on the DPRK nuclear program, that would change the balance of power in the region and pose an immanent threat to the United States. This remains the norm in televised analysis. Increasingly Trump is depicted as a threat to national security due to his “coddling of dictators” or unwillingness to confront them, Hillary Clinton-style (in Syria). He’s accused of being unpredictable, mercurial, spontaneous, rude to his subordinates and dismissive of their advice. But worst of all from some critics’ standpoint is his failure to maintain the status quo requiring ongoing confrontation.

One doesn’t hear common sense: that this was a rational friendly gesture towards a country that Trump has rationally decided not to attack.

6. The absence of John Bolton, assigned to diplomatic tasks in Mongolia, suggests that Trump wanted to message Kim that, yes, he had heard the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s criticisms of that war-monger and wanted to signify a departure from Bolton’s belligerent line. That the U.S. press would leak the information that Trump might accept a nuclear freeze by the DPRK in return for some sanctions relief, and that Bolton would immediately respond with an angry tweet dissociating himself from that position, suggests that Bolton is on his way out, which can only be good.

7. Is it not obvious that the South Korean state, with twice the North’s population and many times its GDP, and a huge well-equipped military, does not require the presence of 25,000 U.S. troops and the visitation of nuclear-armed aircraft carriers to defend it from the north, which hosts no foreign troops? Shouldn’t the world support the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula, and its peaceful gradual reunification? U.S. pundits want us to believe that U.S. troops everywhere in the world maintain “security” and “stability” and “defend our national interests.” (The latter should be understood to mean corporate interests, and geopolitical interests centering on capitalist profit.) But the Korean people would just as soon be left alone to work out their historical reconciliation, or assisted by interested parties (like the U.S. and China) in achieving that end. Trumps visit to the DMZ was welcomed by north and south Koreans, causing all to breathe easier.

The fact that Bolton (once described by North Korea as “human scum”) was 1200 miles away in Mongolia was additionally comforting.

The Falsity of America

All rise!  It is the anniversary of this conflicted, sclerotic, blind, self-destructive country.  There will be celebrations.   Glitzy extravaganzas of flash and fireworks providing the shimmering eye candy to camouflage the corpse of the myth that is centerpiece and theme our national shivaree.

A nation built on genocide and slavery, with a Constitution launched with sanctimonious pieties never meant to be honored, ranking property over people, with blood-and-guts Capitalism–wealth and privilege–enthroned to rule an emasculated citizenry concussed by propaganda: this is the “exceptional” America we swarm on this day to extol.

From infancy we are indoctrinated with the fairy tale of our own magnificence; inoculated with the toxic serum of race arrogance; infected with the poisonous virus of violence.

And what noble wonders has America wrought behind its hero story?  We’re told we won two World Wars.  In fact, we barely showed in the First, after Europe cannibalized itself; and we stalled until Russia, at staggering human cost, pulverized the Wehrmacht to win the Second.  We made the world safe, not for Democracy but for Wall Street Capitalism, which made a killing on both bloodbaths, and  on destroying and nukeing Bushido-addled fascist Japan.

Hey, but how about the job we did on Latin America?  We turned that entire continent into a ghastly vivisection lab for psychotic military monsters, paid to run their countries as Dachaus, gulags, for American Capital.  What we could not buy or steal, we raped.  Where we couldn’t install our native murderers and US-trained military brutes to crush their people we did our own crushing–in Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba–and where rebellion lived, we funded the murder of generations of defiant young idealists in Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  The dead hand of our “intelligence” vampires is at its grisly trade now, bleeding Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras.

And what of our notorious “Nation Building”, seeding our lethal “freedom and liberty” wherever there is some wealth we have not pirated, or some native eccentric that won’t sell his soul to our IMF ganefs.  This is best exemplified by the sickening, barbaric massacre of the simple, guiltless peasants of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. According to one sick US Harpy, “we” feel that killing their children is “worth it”.  The depraved Hillary, queried on our Libyan gorefest, cackled: “we came, we saw, he died”.

Ah, well, you will say, even if all that is true, you leave out the many grand, humane things America has done for its own people.  Yes…  And what are those things?

Social Security!  Medicare!  True, in 1935 the U.S. passed the Social Security Act and in ‘66, Medicare, programs that now rank below those of every developed nation on earth.  It has rued them ever since, damning both as unjustified “entitlements”, vowing that inadequate, inflation-devoured rates and benefits will not increase, but rather must be abolished as immoral.  Their doctrinal, fantasy “invisible hand of the market” exists only as a fist to smash the people, never to care for them, though they are the state.

Under both duller, dumber Republican, or slick, bullshitting Democrat presidencies, there has been total stagnation in workers’ wages for fifty years, jobs eliminated or exported, obscene profits only to the Super Rich. The gap between the .001% and the rest of us was not so vast even under J.P. Morgan and the Robber Barons.  Four men now have as much wealth as the lower 50% of the country.

But if you are fairly well off, have a soul and all this appalls you, you will retreat to the defensive posture you know:  No matter the evil and falsity of America, it has provided you a decent life, a home, a job, some comfort and safety.

And there’s the cognitive rub.  Americans are comfortable enjoying every privilege available at their level, from Bud Lite and food stamps to Romanee-Conti and Kobe Beef.

There is nothing inherently evil or even remarkable about this.  It’s what humans do.  What is disgraceful is to do it out of wilfull ignorance of how such privilege is possible. What is unforgivable is to know it is due to the rape and looting of the world and celebrate it… because it’s for you.

Post-Bouteflika Algeria: For a Democratic Transition

In Algeria, the slogan Yatnahaw ga’, “that they all blow off”, sums up the widely shared popular will to put an end to the “Bouteflika system”. It is a question of setting in motion a process of transition to a Second Republic.

In homage to Ramzi Yettou, a victim of repression who died at the age of 23, on Friday 19 April, of internal hemorrhage and head injuries after being beaten by the police during the big march on Friday 12 April. He is the second martyr since the beginning of the movement on 22 February after Hassan Benkhadda, son of Youcef Benkhedda, a great figure of nationalism and the anti-colonial Algerian revolution, who died on 1 March during a demonstration in Algiers in circumstances that have not yet been clarified. The online news media TSA (Tout sur l’Algérie) reminds us that “Hassan Benkhedda was also the nephew of the martyr Mohamed Al Ghazali Al Hafaf, the first to wave the Algerian flag on May 1, 1945, before being brutally killed by the French army”.

The words of the singer, musician, singer-songwriter and poet Kabyle Lounès Matoub, assassinated on 25 June 1998, have resonated, in consonance, in a different light since the insurrection of consciences in Algeria: “I do not expect anything from a corrupt power. And I expect nothing from the fundamentalist alternative. I do not expect anything from a power discredited by the entire population. The popular maturity exceeds the governmental maturity in our country. These murderers must appear before the courts. I am only a poet who has witnessed my time.”

Warrants of shame

In many African countries, heads of state enjoy substantial support from the system they set up to be in power at all costs, even if it means amending the constitution to seek new mandates, a democratic screen that cracks over time.

In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, elected in 2014 in a sham democratic election under the military regime he brutally reinstated in the summer of 2013, amends the constitution to increase his second term from four to six years, ending in 2024, giving him the opportunity to run for a third term… until 2030.

In Uganda, on 18 April, the Supreme Court approved a measure abolishing the age limit of 75 years for running for the post of president. This disputed provision adopted at the end of 2017 will allow President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, to run for a sixth term in 2021. The constitution had already been amended in 2005, allowing him to run for his 3rd, 4th and 5th terms at the head of the country

In Algeria, the people, in a coordinated and massive way, suddenly went beyond the sectoral demands that that they were raising so far, since February 22nd, the head of the state, Abdelaziz Bouteflika wanted to run for the fifth mandate. The most significant uprising since independence in 1962 was so intense that Bouteflika had to resign on Tuesday, April 2, under pressure from the street and the army.

Indeed, the Deputy Minister of Defense and Major General representing the military high command, Gaid Salah, who supported Bouteflika’s fifth term before retreating under popular pressure, took the opportunity to push him out in order to preserve the regime in place.

Bouteflika has thus been added to the list of president-dictators thrown out of power by the popular insurrections, from Ben Ali, who remained in power for 23 years in Tunisia, and Mubarak, almost 30 years at the head of Egypt, both overthrown in 2011, to Blaise Compaoré, 27 years President of Burkina Faso, who had to flee with the help of France in 2014, or most recently Omar al-Bashir, who remained in power for 30 years in Sudan… These personalities had plenty of time to shape a system that was tailor-made for them and difficult to deconstruct.

The popular insurrection thus succeeded in bringing down Bouteflika. Certainly a first victory, but not enough for the “Hirak”[1] demanding the exit of the “3B” or “4B”, referring to the interim president since April 9, Abdelkader Bensalah; prime minister Noureddine Bedoui; Tayeb Belaiz who finally resigned from the presidency of the Constitutional Council on April 16 under pressure from the popular movement and the president of the National People’s Assembly (APN, the lower house of Parliament) Mouad Bouchareb.

The slogan Yatnahaw ga’, “get rid of them all”, sums up the widely shared popular will to put an end to the “Bouteflika system” gangrened by corruption and clientelism. There is also a categorical refusal to let the regime’s personalities organize the presidential elections scheduled for 4 July by the government of Abdelkader Bensalah – a faithful member of the Bouteflika clan, a strong supporter of his candidacy for a fifth term -, representing a system in which, over the past twenty years, “pluralist” elections (reintroduced after decades of single party regime from 1965 and the civil war in the 1990s) have been marked by massive electoral fraud.

It is a question of starting a process of democratic transition, outside the institutions inherited from the Bouteflika system, in order to move towards a Second Republic. The army, or more precisely its high military command, is clearly a major obstacle, as evidenced with the failure of the revolution in Egypt in overcoming the military control in the post-Mubarak transition.

Impact on diplomacy and the role of the media

The 30th Summit of the League of Arab States finished on 31 March in Tunis but Arab diplomats have not yet issued any official statement since the announcement of Bouteflika’s resignation. In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who came to power following a military coup d’état smothering a massive popular movement in 2013, accused the protest movements of several states in the region of bringing “these countries” to their knees. “Currently, in the states of our region, people are talking about the economic situation and difficult living conditions. In this way, they are only ruining their country and leading it to its downfall,” he said in a television address.

In the Egyptian press, controlled or muzzled by the government, Bouteflika’s resignation and the demonstrations disrupting Algeria remain relatively unremembered. For its part, the French press confines itself to reporting the most significant events without going back on the connivance of the French State – which colonized Algeria for more than a century – with the regime or the claims of “second independence” while the first remains unfinished…

Indeed, it was only after independence on 5 July 1962 that Algeria put an end to 132 years of French colonialism. But this too “formal” independence leaves a bitter taste and many are demanding a second independence with a real sovereignty that puts an end to all foreign interference, the plundering of the country and its resources by the elites, especially in the Saharan region rich in gas and oil, where a strong resistance against the exploitation of shale gas emerged in 2015. An opinion that the regime does not like to hear.

This foreign control operates much more in the depths of the Algerian soil to extract resources from it rather than within the ongoing uprising in order to destabilize the country, as the Algerian regime claims in order to discredit the latter. On the contrary, in order to preserve its economic control, France has every interest in a rapid “return to calm” and a stable political situation; but since it cannot openly go against a massive and peaceful popular movement, the former colonial power remains cautious in its official statements.

Before becoming President of the French Republic, during a trip to Algeria on February 5, 2017, Emmanuel Macron stated that “colonization is a crime against humanity”. When asked by the online French journal Mediapart on May 5, he replied: “I will take strong action.” On this 8th May 2019, the sad anniversary of the bloody repression of the anti-colonial demonstrations in Setif, Guelma and Kherrata, which would have left between 15 to 45 thousands Algerians dead, it is essential to finally move from words to deeds, starting by correctly mentioning these events in history textbooks and programmes.

Translation: Sushovan Dhar

Original French version: CADTM

Notes.

1. The Hirak is an Arabic word meaning “movement” and is also used to refer to the popular protest movement that shook the Rif region of Morocco in 2016-2017, for example. This movement was severely repressed. Nasser Zefzafi, 39, and three other activists forming the hard core of the protest have been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

 

What Sanctions Mean for My Iranian-American Family

What’s wrong?” I asked my mother, as I saw her broken expression. She was on the phone, speaking with my grandparents in Iran. “A terrible thing has happened,” she replied.

My grandparent’s home in Tehran had been broken into. The thieves took everything they could carry — my grandmother’s jewelry, my uncle’s prized watch collection, his wedding band, and some cash. Perhaps the only thing left untouched was the grand, ornate Persian rug in their living room.

My grandfather had left the house for 10 minutes for afternoon prayers at the mosque. Now, he swears to never leave his home unattended again. He takes turns leaving the house with my grandmother, both in constant dread of another break-in.

Across Iran, such burglaries seem to be increasing as ordinary Iranian people face increased hardship from U.S.-imposed sanctions.

As a dual citizen, I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, but I’ve been traveling to Iran regularly ever since I was four months old.

I grew up in a household that taught me to love who I am, to see the wisdom in maintaining cultural intricacies, and to relish in the socio-religious traditions that keep life going. Words cannot do justice to the feeling of affinity that envelops me every time I step into my second home in Tehran.

My mother, in efforts to ease her old parents’ anxious hearts, could only repeat tavakol be khoda, or as we like to translate it: “Your faith must be stronger than your fear.”

President Trump has sought confrontation with Iran at every opportunity. Since America’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, the U.S. has re-imposed sanctions targeting critical sectors of Iran’s economy.

Since then, oil exports have more than halved, choking the main source of funding for the country. Iranian currency has lost almost 60 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar, reaching a record low.

Meanwhile, sanctions and problems in banking transfers have made it extremely hard to buy everything from food to medicine. In the past 12 months, the cost of red meat and poultry has increased by 57 percent. Physicians are forced to prescribe less effective drugs, while patients must wait longer for operations.

During my visit last December, I witnessed the desperation with my own eyes.

Children stood, begging on the streets, tapping on my car window, trying to sell flowers and CDs. Highly educated youth sat in their homes, unable to find employment. Families withstood long lines at government-subsidized grocery stores to receive rationed meat. Patients had to self-treat their illnesses because they couldn’t purchase proper medicine.

Day after day, I sit and watch my president come up with new ways to escalate tensions, like tweeting that we’re “cocked and loaded to retaliate,” and only barely calling off a strike that would have killed 150 people — potentially starting a war without congressional approval. Or imposing new sanctions on top Iranian officials, which could close off the road to diplomacy.

Yet the absence of armed conflict doesn’t mean that over 80 million innocent people aren’t tremendously hurting already — and for no good reason. Economic sanctions are a form of warfare on people who are just trying to make ends meet.

Trump has even configured a way to suppress the normal aspirational response to escape destitute living conditions — banning Iranians entry to the most promising nation on Earth with his Muslim travel ban.

Whether it’s Cuba or Venezuela or Iran, history shows that sanctions alone have never forced a change in policy by an adversary. Iranians and Americans alike deserve diplomacy, not war — and that includes war by economic means.

Can our faith be stronger than our fear?

Mina Shahinfar is a Next Leader on the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Abu Graib at Home in America

This is not what America is about” argues a U.S. reporter referring to revelations of misogynist, violent, racist behavior by employees of the U.S. Border Patrol ‘guarding’ migrants held in detention centers.Sorry Mr. Thompson (Pro Publica reporter who broke this story); THIS IS what America is about. Vulnerable people, i.e. women, men and children held in secret or without legal representation:– undocumented migrants, Americans in detention or serving sentences in prison, our indigent and our Black and Brown citizens in general, and foreign prisoners. We witness abuse, beatings and killings by ‘authorized’ armed personnel every day–every day– most of it carried out by our local police officers.

But that’s another long, sad story. Let’s get back to those border guards and their contempt for their wards. Where did we last see this shameless conduct on the scale of these recent revelations? Was it not Abu Graib in 2004? And Abu Graib was just one Iraqi prison where American excesses were exposed. One can find more references to extreme cruelty and sadistic acts by American and allied troops (all under earlier administrations) directed against prisoners in Afghanistan.

As much as our naïve public and the noble liberal wing of our press may wish to assign this newly revealed shame to the Trump administration, the ‘problem’ is much deeper.

I suggest it exists within the training of U.S. troops today and to the license given them in the Iraq and Afghan wars– a license to humiliate, mutilate, shame, torture and murder with impunity— people they have been taught to despise. Recall the report of an American verbally attacking a Muslim woman in the street not long ago proudly proclaiming: “I killed people like you over there!” (This week we had one U.S. veteran tried for just one murder by U.S. troops in Iraq; and he was acquitted.)

The U.S. is home to more than two million Iraq-Afghan war veterans who, when they announce they are veterans, we are obliged to hail with “Thank you for your service”. A huge percentage of these veterans are ill—little wonder, given crimes they have witnessed and committed. Of those, an undocumented number have become abusers and killers at home. Too often, if one searches through a news story we’ll find that many killings– of families by out-of-control husbands or fathers, or the perpetrators of mass shootings– are by veterans. A local New Hampshire paper carried a story in May about the murder of two enlisted women by a fellow soldier at their military base.

One threat of a mass shooting, by a military veteran, was thankfully intercepted more recently in Dallas, Texas.

A Mother Jones investigation of mass murders in the US and contributing factors offers no analysis about killers’ experiences in the armed services and in foreign wars.

What we need is a thorough, honest tally of the number of our prison guards, our border patrol guards, and policemen who’ve been in the U.S. military–policemen like those threatening the family in Phoenix.

Videos exposing this kind of terrorizing American urban police behavior may shock our largely white population. It will not shock Black Americans. Nor will it shock Afghans and Iraqis who doubtless witnessed countless such shameless, unrestrained murderous conduct by U.S. and other occupation troops in their neighborhoods.

A closer examination of prior military experience of those involved in the recently revealed activities towards would-be-migrants by border guards may well reveal a) racism, Islamophobia and misogyny perpetuated by our military establishment, and b) the culpability of all American administrations. The ugliness that faces us today cannot simply be laid on the shoulders of the current White House occupant.

Political Correctness Is Getting Out of Hand

On June 28, the New York Times published an article by Bari Weiss that wasn’t moronic.

Titled “San Francisco Will Spend $600,000 to Erase History,” it was about the school board’s unanimous decision to destroy a New Deal-era mural by the famous Communist painter Victor Arnautoff that’s painted on the walls of a local high school. Called “Life of Washington,” the mural depicts Washington’s slaves picking cotton at Mount Vernon as a group of colonizers walks past a dead Native American. The painting is clearly meant to oppose the sanitized versions of American history that are taught in most schools.

So you’d think “progressives” would support it. Instead, some of them, at least, find it so offensive they want it gone. “A grave mistake was made 80 years ago to paint a mural at a school without Native American or African-American input,” the school board’s vice president told Weiss. “For impressionable young people who attend school to have any representation that diminishes people, specifically students from communities that have already been diminished, it’s an aggressive thing. It’s hurtful and I don’t think our students need to bear that burden.”

It seems that most students object to the mural’s removal, though a number of community members support the board’s decision. “We know our history already,” a recent high school graduate and member of the Tohono O’odham tribe said. “Our students don’t need to see it every single time they walk into a public school.”

Predictably, Weiss’s article confines itself to admonishing liberals and leftists for being “un-American” snowflakes, failing to point out that conservatives are typically far more eager to censor than the left is. Bashing hyper-sensitive leftists seems to be Weiss’s favorite activity, aside from hyper-sensitively complaining about supposed instances of anti-Semitism that are usually nothing more than criticisms of Israel’s horrifying militarism and near-genocidal policies towards Palestinians. (I didn’t see her write a column bewailing what a “snowflake” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was for advocating the destruction of an “anti-Semitic” mural in L.A. that depicts Israel as the Grim Reaper.)

But leaving aside Weiss, who’s nothing but a vulgar propagandist, her column does raise an important issue. Censorship, the destruction of art, and the sanitizing of history are appropriate agendas for reactionaries and establishment-types like Weiss; progressives and radicals should certainly oppose them. And yet, in the age of “political correctness,” there’s a disturbing tendency for those on the left to adopt the repressive tactics of their enemies.

Whether on social media, on university campuses, or in cultural spaces of whatever sort, people are shunned, shamed, and silenced for not adhering wholeheartedly to a party line. A whiff of dissent brings down the wrath of the mob; a statement or an image that someone, somewhere, might find hurtful is enough to end your career or ruin your life. Magazine editors are fired for defending “cultural appropriation,” as in 2017 when an editor in Canada lost his job for the crime of defending the right of white authors to create characters from other backgrounds. Safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggression reporting systems, call-out culture, and other such devices become ever more ubiquitous, threatening to neuter culture and intimidate even fellow leftists into silence.

In the end, all this excess reaches truly farcical extremes: political correctness eats itself, as a wonderful old mural that tells a people’s history of the United States is destroyed for being “degrading.” A paradigm of identity politics that celebrates and weaponizes victimhood brings forth practitioners who claim they’re being victimized by having to be reminded of their history as victims. In the name of “empowerment,” they want to whitewash a mural whose existence is a blow against whitewashed history, which is the very thing to which identity politics indignantly objects. Political correctness chokes on itself and coughs up self-refuting paradoxes.

In this grotesque autosarcophagy we see the reductio ad absurdum of this whole mode of aggressive liberalism: it becomes a kind of void, a black hole of infinitely dense inhumanity, the postmodern left’s version of cultural totalitarianism. It becomes kitsch, virtually without content except to prevent members of “vulnerable” groups from ever feeling the slightest pang of discomfort. That’s the universal standard, the standard of acceptable art, acceptable speech, acceptable politics, and acceptable thought. And if you stray outside the bounds of acceptable thought, we’ll “cancel” you, hopefully most aspects of your identity: career, social life, public life, especially internet life, since the beautiful anonymity and atomization of the internet are what allow us to besiege you and call out your transgressions against orthodoxy. Ultimately it isn’t permitted—or at least it’s testing our good will—even to state manifest truths, such as that men on average are taller and physically stronger than women, or that, e.g., women tend to be attracted to male dominance (e.g., men taller than they) and the dominant male. No such truths we consider insulting to “marginalized” people can be acknowledged.

Now, as I said, these totalitarian trends are only the reductio ad absurdum of political correctness, and do not invalidate the entire phenomenon known as PC culture. Historically, this multicultural politics that emerged from the radical movements of the 1960s and ’70s has had very constructive effects on society. It has been integrally tied to the collective recognition of real history, the history of Native Americans, African-Americans, immigrants, women, and European colonialism. In educational curricula, it has effectively challenged the supremacy of the Western canon of white male writers, such that students now encounter voices from many different cultures and traditions.

Feminism has raised consciousness to a far more civilized level than in the 1960s, when Betty Friedan could write about “the feminine mystique” that dehumanized women. The MeToo moment is just the latest front in a long war to advance women’s rights. Similarly, we have identity politics to thank for the historic victories of the gay rights movement, which have at long last made homophobia disreputable.

Even the much-derided concept of “microaggressions” denotes a real situation that minorities and women face. Nathan Robinson of Current Affairs gives examples. When a female physician wearing a stethoscope is repeatedly mistaken for a nurse, that surely gets irritating and can be seen as offensive. When a white woman clutches her purse as a black or Hispanic man approaches, that’s a racist microaggression. A particularly egregious example is the time when a black student asked her academic advisor for information about majoring in biology and, “without being asked about her academic record (which was excellent), was casually directed to ‘look up less-challenging courses in African American Studies instead.’” Whatever the Supreme Court thinks, the U.S. is still saturated with racism, and unconscious racism is constantly revealing itself in trivial interactions in every social context.

Identity politics and political correctness are far from being the unmitigated evils Donald Trump and Bill Maher apparently think they are. And it’s true that in popular movements, excess is inevitable. From the French Revolution to the New Left—and now to the new New Left—popular enthusiasm has been apt to get out of control and become absurd and even violent (as with Antifa). But that doesn’t mean the excess shouldn’t be fought when it becomes truly damaging. When a mode of politics starts to ruin the lives of innocent people, discourage independent and honest thinking, and advocate the destruction of valuable works of art, it’s time to rein it in.

One of the most striking features of the extreme fringe of political correctness—a fringe that seems to dominate culture more and more—is one of the least talked about: often, it is just a sublimation of the very conditions of neoliberal capitalism that leftists hate. Interpersonal atomization and alienation, gleeful cruelty, schadenfreude run amok, censorship and suppression of dissent, a universal leveling that valorizes groupthink as the highest virtue, and surveillance of daily life and every interaction: these tendencies of late capitalism are somehow refracted into left-wing forms and concerns. The mechanism, actually, of this ironic ‘refraction’ is probably quite simple: society has become so inhuman and depersonalized, so bureaucratized and anonymized, that people all across the political spectrum—not only leftists—are made pettier, more insecure, sensitive to perceived slights, and mean-spirited (especially online).

We see the “Other” as oppressing us—however each of us defines the Other—and we lash out to punish it or those who we think manifest it at any given moment. This punitive mentality at least gives us little malicious pleasures that partly compensate for the indignities we’re constantly suffering.

But while it might be understandable, it’s hardly appropriate for people on the left to be so corrupted by the anti-humanism of a fragmented and paranoid capitalist society. From Karl Marx to Eugene Debs, from A. J. Muste to Noam Chomsky, the left has devoted itself to far more elevated causes than vindictively shaming people for, e.g., using the word fútbol despite not being Hispanic, or quietly telling a “sexist” joke to a friend within earshot of a woman who doesn’t like such jokes, or in general policing the world so that every space is “safe” and people are never uncomfortable. Some such policing, within reason, can be productive and important: people should be educated, to the extent possible, out of their unconscious biases and prejudices. But those who identify with the left should also identify with the tradition’s compassion and self-critical inclinations. Perhaps a little less puritanism is called for, and a little more understanding that even good people are imperfect and have lapses. And that no one, including the most eager shamer, is perfect.

Indeed, I’m tempted to say that the hyper-moralistic mindset doesn’t belong to the left at all. Its demand for purity is uncomfortably close to the puritan obsessions of the religious right, so vigilantly attuned to the merest indication of atheism, sex, homosexuality, coarse language, and humanism. At best, leftist puritanism represents an attenuated, enervated, decadent left, a strain of the left that has lost its love of people and become thin and narrow as a reed. Brittle, misanthropic, crabbed, ungenerous, ultra-judgmental, whiny, sickly—these are the words that come to mind to describe such a “left.”

How different from the humanism, compassion, and spiritual capaciousness of a Debs or a Chomsky!

The destruction of a left-wing mural for being “hurtful” may seem like a pretty minor affair, and compared to the catastrophes occurring every day all over the world, it is. But if the cultural tendencies that have eventuated in this crime against art are not checked, we’ll continue to see more such crimes, and not only against art. Against people, too, people who don’t deserve to be publicly shamed or ruined. The left should take care lest it lose its humanity and adopt the censorship-fetish of the fascist right.

Our Immigrant Prisons are an Atrocity

Over the past several weeks, the brutal terror that immigrants face at the hands of our government has come into even sharper focus.

As reports surface about immigrant children sleeping on concrete floors and people being forced to drink water from toilets, one fact has become unmistakably clear: It’s well past time to demand an end to Trump’s cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrants.

These reports come on the heels of Trump tapping extremists like former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli to head his immigration agencies. Cuccinelli’s extensive anti-immigrant record includes comparing immigrants to pests and rats and working with people like Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has publicly identifiedhimself as a white supremacist.

Appointments like these send a clear message that Trump will continue to weaponize federal agencies in his unrelenting assault against immigrants. But this administration’s dehumanizing treatment of immigrants isn’t just a political issue — it’s a moral one. Instead of providing immigrants the safety and security our country has long promised, Trump is violating their human rights and causing them to die.

On July 2, the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog released its latest report on the brutal living conditions of immigrant detention centers. Their findings paint a grim picture of severe overcrowding and denial of basic needs like food, beds, showers, functioning toilets, and vital medications.

In late June, they actually argued in court they aren’t required to provide small kids with soap, toothbrushes, or bedding.

Many Americans first learned of Trump’s dehumanizing treatment of immigrants last summer, and watched with horror as his administration separated thousands of immigrant children from their parents. But though that policy was supposedly rescinded a year ago, the practice has continued.

Since then, hundreds of young children and infants have since been ripped from their families. The youngestto be separated was only four months old.

Today, hundreds of children are still waiting to be reunited with their families, a process that could take up to two more years. Every day these children spend in detention centers without their families exacerbates their psychological (and in some cases, physical and even sexual) trauma.

Even during their last hours in government custody, innocent children endure needless harm. NBC recently released a horrifying set of emails outlining botched family reunification attempt that left children as young as 5 in sweltering vans for up to 39 hours.

Since Trump took office, at least 24 immigrants — including six children — have died in government custody. Before last December, no child had died under the care of border protection agents in a decade. That figure doesn’t include tragic deaths like the father and daughter who recently drowned after unsuccessfully trying to request asylum at a closed port of entry. (Cuccinelli blamed their deaths on the father’s poor judgment.)

With the unrelenting onslaught of chaos flowing from the White House, it’s exhausting to keep track of every horrific action or policy this administration pushes. But human lives are on the line.

Trump is tapping increasingly militant people to deny asylum seekers the safety and security they’re legally entitled to apply for and is threatening further deportations and other cruelties. Compassion and humanity have been replaced by hate.

This administration is moving full speed toward atrocity and the government-sanctioned traumatization of an entire community. But our country was founded upon the values of freedom, liberty, equality, and opportunity, even if we haven’t always lived up to them.

We have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the safety we promise to asylum seekers. Enough is enough.

Love and Rights: Contingent or Unconditional? 

Kali Akuno asks an important question: where would we be as a world today if people of the left had been as organized in 2008 when the financial crash hit as they’d been in 1980 before thirty years of neoliberalism?

Akuno, a co-founder and co-coordinator of Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi, asked this question this past Friday at a panel we were both part of at the annual Left Forum. It resonated with me especially this weekend as I took part in two of New York City’s three LGBTQIA marches. I say marches because, indeed, there were several. Lesbians and self-described dykes have, for many years, marched on the day before the big parade. The Dyke March is always a raucous, disobedient alternative to the staid and commercial official Pride Parade. This year, self-defined queers held a third march and rally too, for everyone seeking to reclaim some of Stonewall’s more radical and liberatory legacy.

Multiple marches spring from a multi-faceted history. After all, what’s remembered as the Stonewall Uprising took place over several nights with several different factions. Fifty years ago, things kicked off riotously early in the morning of June 28th when fed-up patrons—mostly young trans women, butch dykes and drag queens of color—fought off a police raid, refusing arrest. That night, a crowd gathered, curious, excited and eager to be part of something.

The night after that, when most of the most famous pictures were snapped, an even bigger group showed up and faced off against an even bigger mass of police, including the infamous Tactical Unit in riot gear. By the third day, the Village was in uproar, with more protest and organizing and also a backlash. More conservative gays, who’d been lobbying politely for their rights for years, pleaded for quiet: “WE HOMOSEXUALS PLEAD WITH OUR PEOPLE TO PLEASE MAINTAIN PEACEFUL AND QUIET CONDUCT ON THE STREETS OF THE VILLAGE,” they posted on a sign on the boarded up, broken bar window. 

And that’s the tension that has been with us ever since. Are rights things to be granted by the powerful to the deserving few, contingent on their obedience, someone’s convenience and adherence to the prevailing rules and conventions? Or are rights rather, as revolutionaries of very many stripes have said over many, many generations, “unalienable, endowed at birth”— which is to say, unconditional?

We would have fewer marches if we had more agreement. Meanwhile, I ask myself Kali’s question in a slightly amended form: where would we be today if more people were comfortable with being just a little bit uncomfortable and excited and eager to be part of something? Or, to put it another way, because Pride’s about nothing if it’s not about heart, if more of us loved ourselves, and one another, unconditionally? 

Highly Recommended Books for 2019 Summer Reading

1. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff (PublicAffairs, 2019): You’re already experiencing the early stages of Big Corporations becoming Big Brother while Big Government becomes the Big Pussycat. Unfortunately, indentured Members of Congress drink the milk of campaign contributions and dream of industry job offers. This constructive book is chilling and will curb your digital enthusiasm.

2. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban (Ecco, 2019): This book exposes the price gouging U.S. Drug Companies that are outsourcing production of medicines (and their active ingredients) to China and India with disastrous results. We are at the mercy of these largely uninspected, often contaminated, foreign labs and are not given labeling information regarding the country of origin of vital medicines. Did you know that the U.S. no longer produces antibiotics? Once you read Eban’s work, you won’t look at prescription medications the same way.

3. Strength Through Peace: How Demilitarization Led to Peace and Happiness in Costa Rica, and What the Rest of the World can Learn From a Tiny, Tropical Nation by Judith Lipton and David Barash (Oxford University Press, 2018): Lipton and Barash expertly tell the story of how Costa Rica outperforms the U.S. in meeting basic human needs. The book humbles our native ethnocentricity and our culturally accepted, elementary school-taught myth that the U.S. has little to learn from other countries.

4. Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age by Ellen Brown (Democracy Collaborative, 2019): Brown offers an in-depth exploration of the problems with big banks and the “shadow banking” industry. The book explains how reckless bankers affect your livelihood, waste your tax dollars, and unduly influence an increasingly corporate-owned government. Nestle with this book until you see the wonderful future that could be ours, by recovering control of OUR OWN MONEY.

5. The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption by Dahr Jamail (The New Press, 2019): The intrepid Jamail went to the shaken places where global warming is fracturing our planet in very plain sight. His book serves as a tour of climate disasters for the climate disruption deniers who ignore what is clearly happening before their very eyes.

6. Ethics, Politics, and Whistleblowing in Engineering by Nicholas Sakellariou and Rania Milleron (CRC Press, 2018): It is not only Boeing engineers whose better judgments about aircraft safety were overridden by profit-obsessed management (Axe the Boeing 737 Max!). Engineers in many industries provide expert judgments on the health, safety, and durability of products and processes. These experts are routinely ignored by avaricious corporate bosses looking to maximize profits at the public’s expense. A recent high profile example of this was the disastrous Boeing 737 Max crashes, which might have been prevented if Boeing management had heeded the advice of their more conscientious engineers. At last, there is a book with case studies, professional vision, and a cast of heroes for engineering students, practicing engineers, and all the rest of us that will raise our expectations for the engineering profession (Proud to say that Rania is my niece).

7. Conflicts of Interest In Science: How Corporate-Funded Academic Research Can Threaten Public Health by Sheldon Krimsky (Skyhorse Publishing, 2019): In this collection of articles, Krimsky delves into the devolution of scientific research from the integrity of academic science to the secret, profit-driven domination of corporate science. This book brings together many examples of the impact of corporate funded research on health and safety.  Taxpayer dollars and public trust are at risk in the current scientific climate. Krimsky compellingly advocates for full disclosure and the need to shield university scientists from the pressure or temptation to sell out consumers, workers, and the environment.

8. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right-and How We Can, Too by George Lakey (Melville House Books, 2016): Given the upcoming presidential primaries and elections, this book is a contemporary necessity. Lakey illustrates how Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland have used social democratic policies to make their citizens the world’s healthiest and happiest people. Relatively, the Nordic countries are a model for good governance, equitable prosperity, and responsible environmental leadership. This is the “most fun economics book” you’ve never read. Voters and candidates alike should read it before the November 2020 election.

9. Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider’s Account of the Politics of Intelligence by Melvin A. Goodman (City Lights Books, 2017): As a career CIA intelligence analyst and truth-teller Goodman shows how the secretive CIA has been anything but “intelligent.” The modern CIA blunders through the world with major, inaccurate forecasts, violent covert action, general lawlessness, and cover-ups that ignore President Harry Truman’s original intention for the organization. This book explains why CIA actions have contributed to our country’s disastrous foreign policy. A personal, readable, and authentically patriotic story.

10. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham (Simon and Schuster, 2019): Adam Higginbotham’s recent book prompted one reviewer to say that the author “gives us a glimpse of Armageddon.” The atomic power meltdown in Ukraine 33 years ago has produced a large uninhabitable region and driven deadly radiation effects, short and long term, into humans, their genes, and the flora and fauna. Together with the widely viewed HBO series on Chernobyl, this book explains why people should reject any notion that nuclear energy is a solution to global warming. Far, far better is to invest in energy conservation, solar energy, and wind energy – energy options that are cheaper, quicker, safer, and more community based. The catastrophic consequences and security threats posed by using nuclear power (the purpose of which is to boil water) are unacceptable. Remember —nuclear disasters can happen anywhere.

Trump Can’t Blame His Own Cruelty on Obama’s Flawed Record

Trump, under fire for separating immigrant children from their families and detaining them in inhumane conditions, has falsely claimed that Obama started the policy of family separation.

Obama’s policies for migrant children and immigration were not perfect. He presided over a record number of deportations, while also offering people brought here as children without documentation the right to legally stay and work in this country.

In 2014, the Obama administration sent over a thousand child migrants to the same Army base where Trump is being criticized for sending children now.

Obama was a mixed bag, and certainly flawed. But while his administration did detain child migrants who arrived alone, family separation was rare. And camp conditions appear to have been far more humane.

Back around 2010, I visited one of the group homes where undocumented immigrant children who’d come to this country unaccompanied were held under Obama. It was a group home, not a detention center.

The youngest were about 12. There were no infants and toddlers, because nobody sent infants and toddlers to a foreign country on their own. They stayed in the home until they could be reunited with their families.

The administration’s priority was reuniting families — either with family in the United States, or sometimes by deportation. It wasn’t a perfect policy, but it didn’t prioritize separation or deliberate mistreatment.

I visited because my friend was there working as the children’s therapist. (Note that the children had a therapist! The Trump administration has fought in court against admitting even medical doctors.) He invited me to come see his workplace one day.

Most of the kids were out on a field trip to a sports game. (They went on field trips!) I could see that all of the children had beds, and it felt a bit like a dorm.

It wasn’t ideal —  children should be with their families, not in detention centers. But I at least came away with the sense that the government was trying to solve that problem, not causing it on purpose.

The adults involved all cared about the children and wanted to do what they could for the kids’ well being. That was the impression I got, and my friend who worked as the children’s therapist concurs.

As you have likely seen in the news, that isn’t what is going on now. The U.S. government is now deliberately separating children from their parents, placing them in overcrowded detention centers (not group homes), and holding them in deeply inhumane conditions. I doubt they’re taking them on field trips.

When criticized, Trump often likes to blame things on Obama. He claims that Obama caused all the problems, and he is now solving them.

In this case, it’s hardly a matter of black and white. Obama’s record on immigration and undocumented children was flawed. But the small part that I saw wasn’t remotely as cruel as what we’re seeing now.

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