Counterpunch Articles

Bojo Johnson’s Latest Scurvy Trick

Photograph Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office – CC BY 2.0

Boris Johnson (“BoJo”) has long had a reputation for seedy opportunism and rampant dishonesty— principles and scruples being as unfamiliar to him as sleeping on a bed or using a flush toilet was for Crocodile Dundee in that eponymous film.

Brexit is due to come about on 31st October.

MPs are now on their summer recess, and due to return to Westminster on 3rd September. The traditional break for the political-party annual conferences is scheduled to begin on 13th September, and should have lasted until about 8th October.

BoJo’s wish, which the queen approved pro forma since she can’t overrule parliament or “her” government, is for this break to begin a few days earlier, and continue until 14th October when the Queen’s Speech is scheduled to open the next parliamentary session.

Given that a full week (i.e. 5 working days) is devoted to debates on the Queen’s Speech– in which the government sets out its legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session– no significant attention will therefore be paid to Brexit business until 21st October.

This leaves only 9 parliamentary working days before the 31st October deadline, and since the UK’s Brexit plan (if there is to be one) will have to be solidified at least a few days before and sent to Brussels for consideration, this means there will hardly be any time for MPs to iron-out any such Brexit proposals.

BoJo’s clear aim is thus to leave no time for anything but his No Deal Brexit, even as he lies unconvincingly that he is still working to get a deal with Brussels. He’s even told his cabinet there was a 50/50 chance of a deal!

Angela Merkel gave him a 30-day deadline to deliver his proposed alternative to the hard border in Ireland, and although only 20 days are left of this deadline, Johnson has not met any leaders from the north and south of Ireland to hash-out something that can be put to the EU on the border issue– despite having been told by Brussels he will get no deal from the EU if he does not have an adequate resolution of the Irish “backstop” problem.

However the above-mentioned parliamentary timetable is not cast in stone. The estimable Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, has called Johnson’s move a “constitutional outrage”, and will certainly be supportive of any procedural moves to slow-down or impede what BoJo has set in motion.

While the Speaker can’t initiate these moves himself, he could shepherd through any initiatives taken by MPs.

There are moves afoot for MPs to pass a “Standing Order 24” motion as soon as parliament reconvenes (Tuesday night). This would allow them to take charge of the timetable on Wednesday, thereby making room for rebel MPs to pass a bill forcing Johnson to seek an extension of the UK’s EU membership beyond the 31st October deadline.

The parliamentary schedule may have to be altered in any case because an appeal on the official UK Government and Parliament Petitions website that secures 100,000 signatures has to be advanced to the petitions committee who will consider it for debate by MPs. 1.4 million people signed this petition on the first day alone.

While MPs can’t overturn the prorogation, challenges to it can be made through the courts, and a number of these have already begun, in the north of Ireland, Scotland, and London.

Even without recourse to the legal system, the Labour opposition can call for a “no confidence” vote on Johnson when parliament reconvenes on 3rd September.

If Johnson loses this vote, there are 2 likely outcomes: (i) Johnson resigns and calls immediately for a “people vs the parliament” general election; (ii) Johnson resigns without calling for a general election, in which case Corbyn is then invited by the Queen to form a new government, and he will call a general election to secure a mandate for Labour. The latter seems less likely than the former.

The problem with option (i) is that Tory MPs may be reluctant to risk a general election in which many could lose their seats in a public backlash against the prime minister and his hardline base.

Johnson has done much to bring back to life the independence movement in Scotland, which has 13 Tory MPs.

Losing half of these Scottish seats would make it almost impossible for the Tories to remain in office, unless they pick up seats elsewhere in the UK (which is unlikely, given the fact that the Tory lurch to the right under BoJo will make it harder for them to attract voters from that proverbial “middle ground” in electoral politics).

The leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Ruth Davidson, has resigned from that position in protest at the prorogation, while also citing family reasons.

Another imponderable in any attempt to bring down the Tories in a “no confidence” vote will be the intentions of the 27 Labour MPs who are committed to a divorce from the EU. While few of these 27 are likely to support a No Deal Brexit, any abstentions among their number in this vote will make it harder to topple the Tories.

The Tories are clearly preparing for a snap general election, having loosened the austerity noose in recent weeks by a series of opportunely timed announcements on new spending– £1.8bn/$2.2bn for the NHS, £4bn/$5bn for schools, £7bn/$8.5bn to raise the income tax threshold, £1bn/$1.22bn for more police officers, and tens of billions on free ports, fibre-optic broadband, and the HS3 rail link between Leeds and Manchester.

This is an astonishing reversal from a government which only a few months ago was saying there are “no magic money trees” for more spending on health and education.

BoJo is now claiming there is “fiscal headroom” for this largesse and for another round of tax cuts for the rich, and the government is poised to borrow more in a situation in which global growth is faltering and Brexit uncertainty is exerting a drag effect on the UK economy.

BoJo’s strategy is evident.

Given the high probability of an election in the coming weeks or months, the only way his party can win is for it not to have Tory voters defect in large numbers to the even more hardline party on the right of the Tories on Brexit, namely, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Farage’s party is a one-man show, pledged to support a Brexit come what may and at all costs, with no proposals of any kind on how this this can be accomplished without severely disadvantaging the UK’s economy, and all that ensues from the almost certain subsequent tanking of the economy.

Any wavering by BoJo’s Tories on a commitment to an “at all costs” Brexit could induce the party’s hardliners, most of whom are Little Englander ideologues barely in touch with political and economic reality (shades of Trump’s supporters), to give their votes to Farage in a general election.

Farage has already given a signal of his intentions by asking BoJo for a “non-aggression pact” in an election.

Such a pact would of course be on Farage’s terms, that is, a commitment to a No Deal Brexit regardless of any consequences.

BoJo’s strategy is thus determined almost entirely by domestic politics, with Brexit as the background on which this will be played out.

For now Farage has BoJo hostage to electoral fortune, and all the latter can do is show he has the balls to match, step by step, the former’s reckless prospectus for a forthcoming election.

The only way for BoJo to survive is thus for him is to match the mirage represented Farage and his Little Englander fantasist supporters.

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Apartheid Had Always Been the Plan

The north entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado – Public Domain

What do wealthy capitalists do in response to the ever present threat of nuclear annihilation or a biosphere teetering on the edge of collapse? Why they build enormous, fortified bunkers deep underground, of course. Here they can live like the descendants of the mammals that survived the extinction of the dinosaurs in the late Cretaceous and early Paleocene around 65 to 100 million years ago. The long deceased necrolestes patagonensis, whose shockingly appropriate meaning for this comparison is “grave robber,” are the descendants of the cronopio who narrowly escaped the dinosaurs’ fate by burrowing deep under the earth’s soil.

But these modern day mammals will apparently live in far greater luxury than these furry predecessors when the planet suffers from the next cataclysmic event. Several of these soon to be denizens of the lavish underworld are showcased in a recent article by Julie Turkewitz in the New York Times entitled “A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists.” And their lairs, while devoid of anything remotely tasteful, are bedecked in the latest technological conveniences and comforts, including movie theatres, swimming pools and yoga studios. What would it feel like to be doing a hatha stretch beneath a deadened world?

These kinds of news items often make a joke out of our collective predicament. After all, most of us understand that wealth does not beget intelligence or a sense of decency. But the existential crisis we are all facing is not funny. Climate change induced ecological collapse and the ever present threat of nuclear devastation or even annihilation loom ever large. The latter issue recently came to the fore following a disastrous accident in the Russian Federation involving a nuclear fueled missile test. Several scientists were killed, many others suffered from radiation poisoning, and an entire area has been closed off due to fallout contamination. This event, exacerbated by the Trump administration’s threatened abandonment of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, has stoked fears of a renewed and emboldened arms race.

But it is pollution and climate change and their concomitant degradation of the world’s ecosystem’s which pose the greatest threat because they are multilayered issues involving transnational corporations, the global finance sector, governments, and the military industrial complex; and they are unfolding in a way that often gets overlooked. This is a problem that terrifyingly translates into existing systems of class, power and wealth disparity. A recent report by Philip Alston, the UN Special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, underscored these inequities. He warned:

“We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer. The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex.”

But let’s not be silly here. Apartheid has always been the plan. Separate housing. Separate education. Separate infrastructure. Separate education. Separate justice. Separate environment. And when it comes to the unfolding climate catastrophe we can see how this plays out in a variety of places. In the US, Australia and in Europe, the wealthy easily rebuild their damaged or destroyed mansions when they are burned to ash by raging wildfires or inundated in floods. In India, millionaires and their families are able to escape the sweltering heat in air-conditioned high rises and on palatial, sprawling estates. And in places like Indonesia, the wealthy just move an entire city. As the capital Jakarta sinks in the mud beneath a rising sea, the elite are planning to move to a new one in Borneo.

Jakarta is, by many accounts, a textbook example of a burgeoning system of economic apartheid with the vast majority of its inhabitants living below the global poverty index level. It would be exceedingly naïve to believe that the Indonesian ruling class, which is mired in corruption, reactionary religious and political ideologies, caste discrimination, and a fascism born of decades of US backed brutality, would relocate its poor to the new city. No, they will likely be the first to be abandoned.

And the new location is not some “land without a people” as the colonial myth so often goes. Borneo is home to the indigenous Dayak people, with many diverse communities and languages. Seeing how the country has colonized and mistreated indigenous Papuans for decades leaves little hope to how it will treat the native Dayak. The island also has some of the last tracts of undisturbed rainforest in a country with an extremely poor environmental record. Critically endangered orangutans and sun bears cling to a precarious existence here thanks to mining and massive palm oil deforestation. The orangutans may have only 10 years left according to some reports.

The remaining forests will undoubtedly be cleared, their timber sold to the US, EU, Australia and China, and the land will be developed by and for the elites. Shopping malls, golf courses and exclusive housing complexes will be cordoned off from the rest of the island’s inhabitants with elaborate surveillance and security systems protecting them. Pollution, which has plagued Jakarta thanks to unregulated industries and lack of infrastructure, will now defile a new place in the heart of Borneo’s rainforest.

But Indonesia does not exist in a vacuum. It belongs to the “global south,” that designated sacrifice zone by the elite of far more wealthier nations. The elite who use the World Bank and other agencies of control to maintain a deeply feudalistic system of concentrated wealth and power. Who greenwash our environmental crisis. Who meet in boardrooms or on the driving range, who go to the same fundraisers, weddings and dinner parties, and who dwell in posh homes in London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Singapore or Zurich. And to a lesser extent Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Riyadh, Taipei or Beijing. The elite who meet in Biarritz and who cast crumbs to their lesser pawns who do their bidding in looting their nation’s resources and keeping dissent at bay. Who soothe their moribund consciences by throwing paltry funds at world problems and calamity. These elite jet off to wherever they please on this rapidly warming sphere protected by the ill-gotten gains of their amassed fortune. In other words: legalized plunder.

The global economic arrangement is nothing more than organized crime. The imposition of the will of the wealthy over the poor and working classes through violent repression. Indeed, they have the military industrial complex and the surveillance state as their greatest leverage against the masses. Enforcers of the “interests of capital.” And in an age of constant existential angst, this leverage is turning out to be good business.

The burning of the Amazon rainforest or the melting ice sheets of Greenland present an opportunity either for exploitation of resources or for the commodification of nature itself, greenwashed as “protecting the rainforest” by privatizing it. After all, more forests around the world are felled, fouled or cleared by corporations and the military than by individual farmers or ranchers. Therefore, any New Green Deal, if it does not address the military industrial complex and its relation to the protection of capital, or is not thoroughly vetted and written by the poor, the working class, environmental activists and indigenous peoples, will only serve to save capitalism, albeit for a short time and for the very few, from the maw of its own insatiable greed. It will be a Ponzi scheme of privatization designed by the corporate, neoliberal ghouls and marketing strategists who helped create the problems in the first place.

To be sure, if this arrangement is allowed to persist, apartheid is the future they have in store for us all. In truth, it always has been this way. One which is militarized and surveilled, filled with private roads, security walls, and gated communities. Where spectacle reigns and the jet set and celebrities are lauded endlessly by their corporate owned media. Where displaced peoples fleeing for their lives are demonized and rounded up. Where their children are torn from their arms, caged and denied soap or even an assuring embrace by jackbooted officers. One where the right to food and clean water is considered a privilege. Where documents control who gets to live and who dies. Where the working poor are denied their ancestral homes or rendered invisible. One where endangered species are considered expendable, where ancient forests are razed and rivers are used as dumping grounds for industry and the military. This is the world that exists now in places the global north seldom hears of or even gives a second thought.

The global ruling class has no plan to address or mitigate our existential crisis sans the status quo of capitalist plunder. They see no options outside of the preservation of this arrangement, either through distraction or the exploitation of fear, or in escaping its enormous human and ecological cost altogether. Apartheid, separation from us, the “dirty, unwashed masses of humanity,” has always been their way, ethos, and plan. So with this in mind, we can only hope that they will do us all a favor and scurry into one of those high priced bunkers in the ground a little earlier than planned.


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Killing the Ocean

Photograph Source: Tiago Fioreze – CC BY-SA 3.0

The oceans are “crying for mercy,” a fact that is starkly revealed in a telling 900-page draft of a forthcoming UN report due for release September 25th. The draft report obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP) assesses the status of the oceans and cyrosphere. It’s a landmark UN report, and it’s not a pretty picture.

In the final analysis, the report amounts to self-destruction that’s largely ignored by most of the leading countries throughout the world. It’s all about greenhouse gassing as a result of human interference in the climate system. People are heat machines!

The opening statement in AFP’s news release states: “The same oceans that nourished human evolution are poised to unleash misery on a global scale unless the carbon pollution destabilizing Earth’s marine environment is brought to heel.” (Source: Oceans Turning From Friend to Foe, Warns Landmark UN Climate Report, Agence France Presse, August 29, 2019)

This Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “Special Report” states “destructive changes are already set in motion,” referencing loss of fish stocks, a 100-fold increase in super-storm damage, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising sea levels. A 100-fold increase of super-storms plus 100s of millions of displaced should draw immediate political action, like a WWII Marshall Plan to fight anthropogenic climate change, but will it happen?

Not only that, powerful evidence of the human link to radical biological shifts in the world’s oceans is poignantly described in Dahr Jamail’s brilliant book: The End of Ice (The New Press, 2019)

Dahr describes a personal visit with Bruce Wright, senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and former section chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for eleven years, to wit:

By 1975, the water in the Gulf of Alaska had already warmed up 2c. At the time the entire biological system shifted, causing the Alaska Fish and Game Department to “shut down the fisheries to protect what was left… The dramatic shift across the biological system in the Gulf of Alaska in the 1970s was the first evidence of profound change that Wright witnessed and he attributed it directly to the waters being warmed by climate disruption.” (Jamail pg. 60)

Thereafter, Dahr fast-forwards to 2016 with shocking descriptions of the ravages of human-generated climate change, Jamail pgs. 60-64, as follows below:

“This last summer, the gulf warmed up 15°C warmer than normal in some areas,’ Wright told me, ‘Yes, you heard me right, 15°C. And it is now, overall, 5°C above normal in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, and has been all winter long.”

“My head swam (Jamail). The biological shift that caused the fisheries to close in the 1970s came from a 2°C change in water temperature… Imagine what is going on out in the Gulf of Alaska right now,’ he said, giving several examples, including die-offs among fin whales.”

“We (Jamail and Wright) spoke about the declining numbers of halibut… The massive die-off of murres across the entirety of Alaska had been dominating the local news… witnessing the largest murre die-off in the state’s recorded history… starvation… striking numbers, by tens of thousands… the result of water temperatures so high that ‘we not only had extensive paralytic shellfish poisoning, we had a huge bloom of Alexandrium… sand lances had become toxic from feeding on marine PSP toxin… These toxins moved up the food chain. Nearly every animal, from salmon to whales to cod to diving birds, like puffins, auks, cormorants, and terns eat the sand lances or the larvae… Sea otters, steller sea lions, and northern fur seals have all seen shocking population declines across western Alaska… All of our oceans are being affected by these toxic, harmful algal blooms now.”

“Later that summer, National Geographic reported how toxic algal blooms (as a result of warming oceans) were spreading across the planet, poisoning both people and marine life.”

“Wright was certain the driving factor was climate disruption, which was warming the North Pacific and Bering Sea and leading to a dramatic increase in PSP. Anyone foolish enough to come to the Aleutians and eat forage fish is playing Russian roulette with their life, he said. Alaska Division of Public Health states clearly that ‘some of these toxins are 1,000 times more potent than cyanide, and toxin levels contained in a single shellfish can be fatal to humans.”

Meanwhile, “Earth’s oceans continue to absorb over 90 percent of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” It’s that source of ocean heat that’s primarily extinguishing marine life.

As such, civilization in toto is subjecting itself to suicidal behavior by failing to listen to scientists and failing to enact emergency measures to convert fossil fuels to renewables. It’s a deadly situation, but still not resonating nearly enough to save the oceans.

Additionally, according to the aforementioned AFP report, without cuts in human-caused emissions, at a minimum, 30% of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost will melt this century, which would release billions upon billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which is already filled to the brim with greenhouse gases, thereby accelerating global warming.

All in all, the overall tragedy of the ocean crisis prompts obvious questions: What does it take for world political leadership (especially in America, purportedly, the leader of the free world) to push the big red emergency buttons? Should political leaders be transported to see first-hand sea animal deaths? Should world leaders be “challenged” to eat Alaskan forage fish?

Seabirds are literally falling out of the sky along the West Pacific Coast (For Five Years Running Now, Mass Seabird Mortality Events Continue in Alaska Waters Which Continue to be Warmer Than Normal, Alaska Nature & Science, August 2019); sea lion carcasses line beaches from Vancouver Island to Southern California (Surge in Sick, Hungry Sea Lions Off California’s Coast Puzzles Marine Biologists, The Sacramento Bee, July 4, 2019) ; whale deaths are disturbingly too frequent (Feds Declare Emergency as Grey Whale Deaths Reach Highest Level in Nearly 20 Years,, June 4, 2019); the largest toxic algal bloom ever recorded shut down California’s crab industry for months; Alaska is experiencing spikes in deaths of sea otters (Officials Investigate Otter Deaths in Southwestern Alaska, KTOO, Public Media, March 2018) as well as abrupt deaths of several whale species.

Mass sea animal deaths, year after year, are not normal!

The world community must hold its political leaders accountable for abject failure to react. If it were otherwise, meaning, listening to science and acting accordingly, then emergency governmental acts would be underway all across the globe… they’re not!

After all, it’s truly a life and death matter that is hidden from public view, as global warming hits hardest where the fewest people live but where the world’s most elementary and primary food chain is rapidly coming apart at the seams.

Imagine toxins 1,000 times more toxic than cyanide spreading throughout the world’s oceans. Actually, no imagination is necessary because it’s already started in Alaska. For Pete’s sake, first-hand evidence is readily available by simply talking to “locals,” similar to what Dahr Jamail did prior to writing his book.

At some point in time in the near future, it is highly probable that environmental degradation will “force the hand” of the public into open rebellion. Throughout history, it happens “out of the blue.” Ka-boom!

Postscript: The Trump administration is changing how the federal government “implements key laws” under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Henceforth, governmental agencies will be able to (1) “ignore” climate change implications of their actions as well as (2) “avoid” public disclosure of their scheming. This is extreme radical departure from the original “legal intent” of the NEPA.

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German Elections: a Mixture of Joy and Great Sorrow

State elections in eastern Germany on September 1 brought mixed joy to some and great sorrow to others.

With many, it was less joy than sighs of relief; neither Saxon nor Brandenburg voters gave the far-right, fascist-leaning Alternative for Germany (AfD) the Number One position it had hungered for.

In Saxony this was prevented by the rightist but not extremist Christian Democrat Union (CDU), which held on to the first place it has held there since German unification in 1990.

But its present coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) is no longer possible; to obtain the 50 % of parliamentary seats needed to form a government it must now form a trio. Since for it the AfD and the LINKE (Left) are taboo, a strange manège-a-trois seems inevitable: CDU, SPD and the Greens.

In Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin, an AfD victory was also averted when the Social Democrats retained the first place it holds there since reunification. But its current duet with the greatly weakened LINKE (Left) must give way to a trio. The Greens are sure to be invited in as second violin. Will the LINKE be called in again or, now seen as out of tune, be replaced by the CDU, thus moving this state toward the right? Either decision is possible.

Thus, in both states, the leading parties held their lead and headed off the threat by the AfD. But in both states they were painfully weakened. In Saxony the poor Social Democrats, currently losing strength everywhere as they feverishly hunt for new national leaders, got the lowest state election vote in their post-war history – less than eight percent!

There could be no happy clinking of champagne glasses in either party headquarters.

As for the Greens, they could be quite satisfied. Until now they were very weak in East Germany. Now they improved their standing by three or four points and would now be represented in both states’ new governments, and soft, warm cabinet seats are far more comfortable than colder, harder chairs in the opposition. They also offer many more opportunities, both political and personal.

The AfD missed the victories it had aimed for but had no reason to complain: In Saxony it jumped from 9.7 % in 2014 to a new high of 23.5 %; in Brandenburg it soared from 9.7 % to a very strong 27.5 %. It thus became the biggest opposition party in both states; swift progress for a six-year-old. The opposition benches did not feel so hard after all (especially if iron crosses and swastikas were tattooed under parliamentary trousers. The AfD could be more than happy; everyone else was well-advised to remain fearful or – far better – to keep alert.

But alas, hélas, ay, ach and oy vey: the party suffering most last Sunday was the LINKE. In Saxony, where it had long been the main opposition party, it sank from nearly 19 % to 10.4 %; it was similar in Brandenburg; until now junior coalition partner, it now it dropped from 18.6 % in 2014 (and 28 % in 2004) to 10.7 % on Sunday. The fitting word is “devastating”!

What explains this? Many faithful old GDR leftists are dying out. Just as important, for years the LINKE was seen as a protest party, fighting hardest for working people in the former East German Democratic Republic, who still feel they are treated as second-class citizens. Compared with western Germany, wages and conditions are worse and industry has never really recovered from its nearly total destruction when East Germany was “united” (many now say “colonized”) and West Germans took control in almost every sphere of society. They have largely kept it until today; entire regions are economically arid, empty, deprived of important but less profitable shops and transportation.

After the early 90s, years of extreme suppression and discrimination, the LINKE (or Party of Democratic Socialism before it united with a West German party in 2007) gradually achieved a more respectable status and won elective positions on local and state levels, especially in cities like Dresden, Leipzig, Frankfurt (Oder). This varied. In Saxony the ruling CDU constantly equated the LINKE, the GDR and all socialist ideas and ideals with fascism and fascists. In some hard-hit towns such well-nurtured prejudices encouraged fascist elements, often in cahoots with Christian Democratic mayors, police and other authorities, to attack and sometimes prevent LINKE activities. The stench and threat of violence was often in the air – and often enough reality.

But a wholly different problem arose in cities and areas where the LINKE regained strength, often with 20 %, 25 % or more voters, it occasionally won political positions as mayor, county chair or Bundestag deputy. Ironically, however, even a LINKE mayor felt it necessary to attract West German or foreign companies so as to get badly needed jobs (and taxes for schools, street lamps or other needs. But support of workers’ demands and struggles for higher pay and better conditions was not exactly a strong inducement for such companies. Which way should a LINKE mayor turn? Or a member of a coalition government? Many found it wise to remain loyal to “economic progress”.

No matter what they decided on, the media was sure to distort it, viciously but cleverly! The result and a main factor in the Sunday defeats: many East Germans came to view the LINKE as part of the despised, even hated “establishment” – especially, as was mostly the case, when the LINKE appeared “moderate”! And, may thought, at least the AfD was no part of that “bunch up there”!

There are some parallels with post-Civil War USA. The upper classes in North and South were able to funnel the resentment and bitterness of the “losers”, all white, into hatred for “the others”, the ex-slaves, thus misdirecting any opposition to their brutal control in both North and South.

In East Germany, where so many rightly feel they were the losers, deluded, deprived, discriminated against by condescending “Wessis” who took over, the AfD has been able to misdirect a quarter of the population into taking out their frustration against those who speak German with an accent, wear unusual clothes or believe in that so constantly denounced Islam. “The ‘others’ were being favored – at our cost”! – Shades of Trump!


The severe defeat, like the miserable 5.5 % result in the European Union election, demands vigorous re-thinking on policy, strategy and tactics. It would seem urgently necessary to patch up the year’s nasty quarrel about the formation of the “Aufstehen” (Stand Up”) movement led by caucus co-chair Sahra Wagenknecht which undoubtedly hurt the party severely in the public eye.

I was not in Brandenburg or Saxony this past year and cannot criticize. But the problems of the LINKE are national in nature, indeed, often international. I see solutions in far more militant fights for working people’s rights. Though always an integral part of LINKE programs and electoral campaigns, I think that words in programs, on posters or declaimed in parliamentary speeches with TV sound bites should form only a background for highly visible shows of strength by “ordinary people”. Despite the malicious media, clever actions must be sought which bring people away from an overwhelming stress on multiple apps, video games and the like, and toward outdoor activities where they join hands and combine both heads and moving feet to advance their own cause. These should stress friendship and solidarity with immigrant groups and never neglect the emotional value of songs and the arts. Many a movement, from Marseilles to Santiago, from the Civil War to the civil rights struggle, has benefited greatly from good, fighting songs, often in varied languages.

In the course of such actions it can be explained, though never looking down a wiseacre nose, that unaffordable housing costs, bad jobs, uncertain jobs, or no jobs, fears for the future of one’s offspring are closely connected with support for lives in dignity and peace on other continents.

A new home or better school is connected with larger issues like armament costs, war and peace, and in the long run with a future goal of system-changing. That would mean (in East Germany for the second time) confiscating the immense wealth and power of a small clique of giants profiteers, from farm seeds to pharmaceutics, from media control to missile construction, from guzzling cars to guzzling retail emperors, breaking their grip on all those cheated and exploited, from the Amazon warehouse in Berlin to the sweatshop in Bangla Desh. The hopes of seeing workshops run by those who work in them need to be kept alive or reawakened.

Would bold moves like these revive LINKE strength? Some on the left have given up on the LINKE, which was also riven by internal quarrels about a movement called “Aufstehen”, led by the great LINKE speaker Sahra Wagenknecht, but which split the party rather than strengthening it. But if the party should sink lower with the voters, or split and then disappear, there would be no loudly audible voice or vote in the Bundestag or the states to oppose wars in Afghanistan or Mali, to clearly oppose the fascist danger, to speak out for the rights of working people.

If only it can learn from the disaster on September 1st and engage in militant, well-aimed, visible struggles at the grass roots level, the LINKE can be rescued before it is too late. In this powerful country, in these increasingly difficult times, this is desperately necessary!


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Grizzly Secrets: How the Trump Administration Keeps the Public in the Dark About Yellowstone’s Bears

Photograph Source: USFWS Mountain-Prairie – CC BY 2.0

A memo recently leaked from the Trump administration to the Center for Biological Diversity confirmed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is directing its staff to withhold certain public records about how the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is being implemented. This includes instances where recommendations by career wildlife scientists may have been overridden by political appointees in the Trump administration.

The memo confirms that FWS has already applied this guidance in deliberations related to its 2017 decision to prematurely remove ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears, as well as in the aftermath of a 2018 court order that relisted the population.

Although the ESA requires FWS to make decisions about listed species based on the best available science, too often partisan politics rule the day. This is especially true for the controversial grizzly bear.

Well-heeled industries devoted to exploiting our natural environment have, hand-in-hand with trophy-hunting groups such as the NRA and Safari Club, long agitated to strip federal grizzly bear protections. They have no better friend than the current occupant of the White House with his “damn the torpedoes” approach to exploiting wildlife and wildlands. The Administration is clearly hiding the ball in its efforts to circumvent the law, science, and dissenting views within the government itself.

Transparency is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy, in contrast to totalitarian regimes such as China that thrive on keeping citizens in the dark. Yet that is happening here, with one of our most iconic and nationally-cherished species.

Citizen watchdogs, including myself, have long worked to ensure transparency and government accountability, often relying on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to force agencies to disclose the information about decisions that they should make available to the public as a normal part of business.

This memo confirms suspicions that the Trump administration is deliberately hiding information about all sorts of things, including decisions about Yellowstone’s grizzlies. During Trump’s tenure, colleagues and I have been routinely denied the kind of information that had been previously accessible under both Republican and Democrat administrations.

Of particular concern is FWS’ stonewalling of details surrounding skyrocketing grizzly bear deaths that now threaten the hard-fought progress towards recovery. These deaths underscore the need to redouble efforts to reduce conflicts, and raise doubts about the wisdom of delisting. But FWS has been flogged by top officials in the Administration to kill more bears and hasten the institution of a trophy hunt. Not surprisingly, FWS has fallen in line. Admitting to unsustainable and possibly malicious bear deaths could undermine the ideological agenda of removing ESA protections.

Grizzly bear deaths have consistently shattered records since 2015. During the brief interlude in 2017-2018 when grizzlies were off the endangered species list, a shocking 126 grizzlies died, almost all killed by humans, and this out of a population of about 700 bears. Official data show suspicious spikes in killing right after Judge Christensen banned Wyoming’s planned trophy hunt last fall and restored protections. Was poaching involved? And, what can we do to prevent unnecessary deaths?

I sought to learn more about all of this through a FOIA request to FWS. For the first time, the agency replied that it had no detailed information, despite having the legal obligation to monitor the status of grizzlies 5 years after delisting. FWS suggested I ask the states for details. Montana and Idaho denied my requests for details, and instead sent trite and incomplete information that I had already obtained online. Wyoming demanded a prohibitive $12,000 for the data.

Clearly, government agencies are pursuing a coordinated plan to keep key information from public view. What have they got to hide?

In the past, under FWS’ direction, grizzly bear managers have pursued laudable efforts to prevent conflicts while keeping the public informed. As a professional wildlife advocate for 30 years, I collaborated with the government in a number of successful coexistence projects.

FWS is now running away from those policies and programs that prevented grizzlies from winking out in and around Yellowstone — while obscuring the reasons why.

Growth of Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population has stalled for nearly 20 years, with death rates on steroids. Losses of key native foods to anthropogenic causes, including climate change, have driven grizzlies to forage more widely, resulting in more conflicts and more dead bears. Yet the government denies that climate change or resulting excessive deaths are a problem—for reasons that reek of political subterfuge.

The public has a right to see how its government makes decisions. Keeping citizens in the dark is how dictators work, not democratic governments.

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Reflections of a White Studies Survivor

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Hello, my name is Alvaro Huerta and I’m a White Studies Survivor.”

What does White Studies mean? (Thank you for asking.) It basically refers to a Euro-centric philosophy or curriculum taught in U.S. schools (and beyond), where there’s a racist assumption—perpetuated by the dominant culture and elites—that individuals of European origin (or white people) and their history, etc., are “inherently superior” to non-whites.

As a U.S.-born citizen, while spending the first four years of my life in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, I survived numerous educational years in White Studies. This includes K-12 education at LAUSD (13 years); undergraduate studies at UCLA (4 years); graduate studies (master’s) at UCLA (2 years); and graduate studies (doctorate) at UC Berkeley (5 years). That adds up to 24 years of indoctrination …I mean…education in White Studies!

When you’re poor and brown and everyone else around you is the same, as I’ve previously argued, you’re not often cognizant of your class status and race. It’s only until you exit your segregated community that you’ll be reminded and treated (micro and macro levels) by members of the dominant culture that you’re not only different, but also inferior compared to whites! (I’m sure there are some execptions to my generalization, like in the cases of Republican Senators’ Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.)

As a 12-year-old Chicano kid from East Los Angeles’ notorious Ramona Gardens housing project (or Big Hazard projects), I, along with childhood friends, was part of a desegregation busing program to Mt. Gleason Jr. High School in Sunland, Tujunga—a then-white suburb of Los Angeles. On the first day of school, I was quickly reminded of my class status and race when “greeted” by a bunch of white kids (more like white mob!): “Wetback!” “Beaner!” “Lowrider!” “Go back to where you came from!”

Did I mention that they also threw rocks at us while riding in our yellow LAUSD bus? (To be honest, the rocks didn’t faze me since I grew up in the projects where violence was omnipresent.)

While I didn’t experience the same racist atmosphere in high school, the outcome was the similar in terms of the mostly white faculty and Euro-centric curriculum. It wasn’t until I took my first Chicana/o history class with Professor Juan Gómez-Quiñones at UCLA when I first learned about my people—the Chicanas/os and Mexicans in el norte. Since Professor Gómez-Quiñones—now a long-time friend, fellow activist and colleague—also grew up in East Los Angeles and looked like me (not sure if he’s better looking?), I also learned that Chicanas/os had a rightful place at elite institituations without compromising their values and heritage.

Thus, as a strong supporter of Ethnic Studies—K-12 and higher education—I don’t want any current/future generations of brown students to wait until college/university to take an Ethnic Studies class—if they make it that far, given structural racism—to learn about their rich history and be proud of their beautiful heritage!


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Colombian Peace Agreement in Peril: Rebels Return to Armed Struggle   

Photograph Source: Ministerio de Defensa del Perú – CC BY 2.0

Civil war in Colombia may have a new lease on life. Appearing in a video released on August 29, Iván Márquez (formerly Luciano Marín Arango) spoke for former FARC guerrillas accompanying him.  He announced they had returned “to the mountain,” to armed struggle.

Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had fought Colombia’s government since 1964. In late 2016, the FARC and that government signed a peace agreement. A war ended which, from 1980 on, had led to 220,000 deaths, mostly at the hands of paramilitaries and government forces. Now a precarious peace agreement is in intensive care.

Márquez, head FARC negotiator at the peace talks, explained why his group acted and what they hope for. The dissident FARC members joining him included Jesús Santrich (formerly Seuxis Pausias Hernández Solarte), also a former peace negotiator. The number of newly armed FARC guerrillas is unknown.

Approximately 2000 recalcitrant FARC members remained armed after the agreement. The others, numbering at least 6000, formed a socialist political party. The agreement, awarded the party ten seats in Colombia’s Congress. Márquez and Santrich occupied two of them. The new party, called the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC), issued a statement rejecting the return to arms.

Colombian President Iván Duque ordered that FARC members under arms be captured. The Defense Ministry indicated nine of them had been killed.

Background information is relevant as to why Márquez, Santrich, and the others acted:

1. During the four year-long peace negotiations, Márquez and Santrich had opposed relinquishing arms at once, which is what occurred. They preferred doing so in stages.

2. Colombian authorities arrested and jailed Santrich on April 9, 2018. Their plans were to extradite him to the United States on drug-selling charges. Prosecutors there were holding Marlon Marín, Iván Márquez’s nephew, to testify against Santrich. Santrich left prison on May 30, 2019 after convoluted judicial processes, abuse, a hunger strike, and a suicide attempt. He disappeared in July.

3. Perhaps in response to Santrich’s capture, Márquez disappeared in August, 2018. The fate of Simón Trinidad is an object lesson. Colombia extradited that FARC commander to the United States in 2004. Convicted on spurious charges, he is serving a 60-year sentence in a high security U.S. prison.

4. Demobilized FARC insurgents risk death. Since the peace agreement presumed paramilitaries have murdered 150 of them, plus 500 community and political leaders in rural areas. From 1986 on, they killed ex-FARC guerrillas and Communist Party members belonging to the Patriotic Union electoral coalition, around 5000 in all.

In his video presentation, Marquez surveys the government’s failures in implementing the peace agreement. Through “treason,” the government, he says, enables the killings, hasn’t addressed land reform, hasn’t allowed for conversion to legal crops (The agreement provides for both), did deprive demobilized guerrillas of full political participation, unilaterally introduced a plebiscite for endorsing the peace agreement, unilaterally modified the agreement’s language, and allowed “third parties” – a reference to paramilitaries – to escape punishment for crimes.

The “strategic objective” of the newly re-armed FARC insurgents is “peace in Colombia with social justice, democracy, sovereignty, and honor.” Márquez envisions a “great coalition of forces for life, social justice and democracy.” They will create “a new government [and] a new dialogue for peace.”

Márquez anticipates cooperation with guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN). A mainly defensive war will target corruption, impunity, and particularly “the oligarchy,” but will respect “the soldier, police, and lower officials [as] class brothers.” He calls for a constituent assembly. Under a “new order of sovereignty of the homeland,” there will be no extradition of citizens, no free rein for multinationals … and no foreign military bases.”

A video appeared on September 1 in which Jesús Santrich, attended by comrades, reiterated themes put forth by Márquez. He spoke of a universal right to revolution.

Prospects for implementation of the peace agreement, obviously grim in the eyes of these FARC rebels, rest fundamentally on whether their government wants war or peace. The odds are on war.

In that regard a recent report attributed to the Observatory of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law describes government prioritization of rural “developmental projects serving an extractive economy.” The report notes that, “Connections with narco-trafficking and illegal mining, connivance with paramilitaries, and a vast project of military control are not hidden.” The projects take root in what the government calls “Strategic Zones of Comprehensive Intervention.” Militarization of these rural zones has paralyzed land reform and stymied compliance with the peace accords.

The report attributes extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances to the military’s new rapid response teams. In fact, “the areas that are most militarized are those where illegal economies expand, and where illegal actors prevail, particularly the ELN, FARC dissident groups, and paramilitary groups above all.”

The existence of a powerful military force of 481,000 troops likewise suggests a disposition to war, just as does the government’s war-making partnership with the United States. Colombia hosts U.S. troops, intelligence operatives, and military bases, seven of them. Its government buys weapons from the United States. Currently pending is the delivery of anti- aircraft missiles and 15 F-16 combat planes.

Colombia plays a crucial role in aiding U.S. aggression against Venezuela.  According to one observer, the United States “has stationed special forces and equipment along the Venezuelan-Colombian border,” “the Duque government leads a diplomatic and propaganda war against Venezuela,” and officials are “docile captives of the interests of the United States.” Colombia’s government tolerates or encourages Colombian paramilitary incursions inside Venezuela.

In Colombia silence reigns as regards support for re-armed FARC insurgents, A voice identified as “We Defend the Peace,” asserts that “no justification, no excuse … can be considered as valid” for efforts favoring “armed violence.” Former ELN guerrilla commander and prisoner of war Carlos Arturo Velandia counsels patience: “Peace … is built day by day.”

On the basis of “democratic struggle in the country,” the Communist Party joined the Patriotic Union – the latter survived the massacre noted above – in condemning “a political action with grave consequences for the process of implementing the peace agreement.”

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American Gulag: Our Prisons Get More Oppressive by the Day

“The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

— Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History

This is how freedom dies.

This is how you condition a populace to life as prisoners in a police state: by brainwashing them into believing they are free so that they will march in lockstep with the state and be incapable of recognizing the prison walls that surround them.

Face the facts: we are no longer free.

We in the American Police State may enjoy the illusion of freedom, but that is all it is: an elaborate deception, rooted in denial and delusion, that hides the grasping, greedy, power-hungry, megalomaniacal force that lurks beneath the surface.

Brick by brick, the prison walls being erected around us by the government and its corporate partners-in-crime grow more oppressive and more pervasive by the day.

Brick by brick, we are finding there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Brick by brick, we are being walled in, locked down and locked up.

That’s the curious thing about walls: they not only keep those on the outside from getting in, they also keep those on the inside from getting out.

Consider, if you will, some of the “bricks” in the police state’s wall that serve to imprison the citizenry: Red flag gun laws that strip citizens of their rights based on the flimsiest of pretexts concocted by self-serving politicians. Overcriminalization resulting in jail time for nonviolent offenses such as feeding stray cats and buying foreign honey. Military training drills—showy exercises in armed intimidation—and live action “role playing” between soldiers and “freedom fighters” staged in small rural communities throughout the country. Profit-driven speed and red light cameras that do little for safety while padding the pockets of government agencies. Overt surveillance that turns citizens into suspects.

Police-run facial recognition software that mistakenly labels law-abiding citizens as criminals. Punitive programs that strip citizens of their passports and right to travel over unpaid taxes. Government agents that view segments of the populace as “subhuman” and treat them accordingly. A social credit system (similar to China’s) that rewards behavior deemed “acceptable” and punishes behavior the government and its corporate allies find offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

These are just a small sampling of the oppressive measures used by the government to control and constrict the American people.

What these despotic tactics add up to is an authoritarian prison in every sense of the word.

Granted this prison may not appear as overtly bleak as the soul-destroying gulags described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago, but that’s just a matter of aesthetics.

Strip away the surface embellishments and you’ll find the core is no less sinister than that of the gulags of the Cold War-era Soviet Union.

Those gulags, according to historian Anne Applebaum, used as a form of “administrative exile—which required no trial and no sentencing procedure—was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.”

The word “gulag” refers to a labor or concentration camp where prisoners (oftentimes political prisoners or so-called “enemies of the state,” real or imagined) were imprisoned as punishment for their crimes against the state. As Applebaum explains:

Over time, the word “Gulag” has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself, in all its forms and varieties: labor camps, punishment camps, criminal and political camps, women’s camps, children’s camps, transit camps. Even more broadly, “Gulag” has come to mean the Soviet repressive system itself, the set of procedures that prisoners once called the “meat-grinder”: the arrests, the interrogations, the transport in unheated cattle cars, the forced labor, the destruction of families, the years spent in exile, the early and unnecessary deaths.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was such a political prisoner.

For the crime of daring to criticize Stalin in a private letter to a school friend, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in exile in a labor camp.

That was before psychiatry paved the way for totalitarian regimes such as the Soviet Union to declare dissidents mentally ill and consign political prisoners to prisons disguised as psychiatric hospitals, where they could be isolated from the rest of society, their ideas discredited, and subjected to electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures to break them physically and mentally.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers. Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years.

Warrantless seizures, surveillance, indefinite detention, isolation, exile… sound familiar?

It should.

The age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by making them disappear—or forcing them to flee—or exiling them literally or figuratively or virtually from their fellow citizens—is happening with increasing frequency in America.

We saw it happen with Julian Assange. With Edward Snowden. With Bradley Manning.

They, too, were exiled for daring to challenge the powers-that-be.

It happened to 26-year-old decorated Marine Brandon Raub, who was targeted because of his Facebook posts, interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

Raub’s case exposed the seedy underbelly of a governmental system that is targeting Americans—especially military veterans—for expressing their discontent over America’s rapid transition to a police state.

Now, through the use of red flag laws, behavioral threat assessments, and pre-crime policing prevention programs, the government is laying the groundwork that would allow it to weaponize the label of mental illness as a means of exiling those whistleblowers, dissidents and freedom fighters who refuse to march in lockstep with its dictates.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) its critics is diabolically brilliant. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these individuals are declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

These developments are merely the realization of various U.S. government initiatives dating back to 2009, including one dubbed Operation Vigilant Eagle which calls for surveillance of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, characterizing them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the report on “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” issued by the Department of Homeland Security (curiously enough, a Soviet term), which broadly defines rightwing extremists as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government. Although these initiatives caused an initial uproar when announced in 2009, they were quickly subsumed by the ever-shifting cacophony of the news media and its ten-day cycles.

Yet while the American public may have forgotten about the government’s plans to identify and disable anyone deemed a potential “threat,” the government has put its plan into action.

Thus, what began as a blueprint under the Bush administration has become an operation manual under the Obama and Trump administrations to exile those who are challenging the government’s authority.

An important point to consider, however, is that the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is locking up individuals trained in military warfare who are voicing feelings of discontent.

Under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as ticking time bombs in need of intervention.

For instance, the Justice Department launched a pilot program aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

One tactic being used to deal with so-called “mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare” is through the use of civil commitment laws, found in all states and employed throughout American history to not only silence but cause dissidents to disappear.

For example, in 2006, NSA officials attempted to label former employee Russ Tice, who was willing to testify in Congress about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, as “mentally unbalanced” based upon two psychiatric evaluations ordered by his superiors.

In 2009, NYPD Officer Adrian Schoolcraft had his home raided, and he was handcuffed to a gurney and taken into emergency custody for an alleged psychiatric episode. It was later discovered by way of an internal investigation that his superiors were retaliating against him for reporting police misconduct. Schoolcraft spent six days in the mental facility, and as a further indignity, was presented with a bill for $7,185 upon his release.

In 2012, it was Virginia’s civil commitment law that was used to justify arresting and detaining Marine Brandon Raub—a 9/11 truther—in a psychiatric ward based on posts he had made on his Facebook page that were critical of the government.

Incredibly, in Virginia alone, over 20,000 people annually are forced into psychiatric wards by way of so-called Emergency Custody Orders and civil commitment procedures.

Each state has its own set of civil, or involuntary, commitment laws. These laws are extensions of two legal principles: parens patriae Parens patriae (Latin for “parent of the country”), which allows the government to intervene on behalf of citizens who cannot act in their own best interest, and police power, which requires a state to protect the interests of its citizens.

The fusion of these two principles, coupled with a shift towards a dangerousness standard, has resulted in a Nanny State mindset carried out with the militant force of the Police State.

The problem, of course, is that the diagnosis of mental illness, while a legitimate concern for some Americans, has over time become a convenient means by which the government and its corporate partners can penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors.

In fact, in recent years, we have witnessed the pathologizing of individuals who resist authority as suffering from oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), defined as “a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures.” Under such a definition, every activist of note throughout our history—from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr.—could be classified as suffering from an ODD mental disorder.

Of course, this is all part of a larger trend in American governance whereby dissent is criminalized and pathologized, and dissenters are censored, silenced, declared unfit for society, labelled dangerous or extremist, or turned into outcasts and exiled.

Red flag gun laws, growing in popularity as a legislative means by which to seize guns from individuals viewed as a danger to themselves or others, are a perfect example of this mindset at work. “We need to stop dangerous people before they act”: that’s the rationale behind the NRA’s support of these red flag laws, and at first glance, it appears to be perfectly reasonable to want to disarm individuals who are clearly suicidal and/or pose an “immediate danger” to themselves or others.

Where the problem arises, of course, is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.

Remember, this is the same government that uses the words “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably.

This is the same government whose agents are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies to identify potential threats.

This is the same government that keeps re-upping the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to detain American citizens with no access to friends, family or the courts if the government believes them to be a threat.

This is the same government that has a growing list—shared with fusion centers and law enforcement agencies—of ideologies, behaviors, affiliations and other characteristics that could flag someone as suspicious and result in their being labeled potential enemies of the state.

This is the same government that has, along with its corporate counterparts (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.), made it abundantly clear at all levels (whether it be the FBI, NSA, local police, school personnel, etc.) that they want no one challenging their authority.

This is a government that pays lip service to the nation’s freedom principles while working overtime to shred the Constitution.

Yes, this is a prison alright.

Thus, for those who take to the streets to constitutionally express their opinions and beliefs, rows of riot police, clad in jackboots, military vests, and helmets, holding batons, stun guns, assault rifles, and sometimes even grenade launchers, are there to keep them in line.

For those who take to social media to express their opinions and beliefs, squadrons of AI censors are there to shadowban them and keep them in line.

As for that wall President Trump keeps promising to build, it’s already being built, one tyranny at a time, transforming our constitutional republic into a carceral state.

Yet be warned: in a carceral state, there are only two kinds of people: the prisoners and the prison guards.

In a carceral state—a.k.a. a prison state or a police state—there is no difference between the treatment meted out to a law-abiding citizen and a convicted felon: both are equally suspect and treated as criminals, without any of the special rights and privileges reserved for the governing elite.

With every new law enacted by federal and state legislatures, every new ruling handed down by government courts, and every new military weapon, invasive tactic and egregious protocol employed by government agents, “we the people”—the prisoners of the American police state—are being pushed that much further into a corner, our backs against the prison wall.

This concept of a carceral state in which we possess no rights except for that which the government grants on an as-needed basis is the only way I can begin to comprehend, let alone articulate, the irrational, surreal, topsy-turvy, through-the-looking-glass state of affairs that is being imposed upon us in America today.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we who pretend we are free are no different from those who spend their lives behind bars.

You see, by gradually whittling away at our freedoms—free speech, assembly, due process, privacy, etc.—the government has, in effect, liberated itself from its contractual agreement to respect the constitutional rights of the citizenry while resetting the calendar back to a time when we had no Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the government.

Aided and abetted by the legislatures, the courts and Corporate America, the government has been busily rewriting the contract (a.k.a. the Constitution) that establishes the citizenry as the masters and agents of the government as the servants. We are now only as good as we are useful, and our usefulness is calculated on an economic scale by how much we are worth—in terms of profit and resale value—to our “owners.”

Under the new terms of this revised, one-sided agreement, the government and its many operatives have all the privileges and rights and “we the prisoners” have none.

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Fighting Fossil Fuels in South Africa: Campaigners Invoke Specters of Climate Chaos

South Africa is one of the most difficult places to combat fossil fuels, including the petrochemical complexes that regularly poison the third largest city, Durban, founded by white settlers on the east coast in the mid-19th century. The average South African emits 9 tons of CO2 annually, which is the 11th highest among countries with at least 10 million residents. And measured in CO2/capita/GDP – in order to assess an economy’s carbon intensity – it the world’s third highest level, behind only Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic.

There is no average, though, because the racial Apartheid system that ended in 1994, at least politically, and the ‘class Apartheid’ processes that took its place, meant that wealthy white males still retain enormous power and wealth, and they vastly over-pollute. Two thirds of the country’s citizens – mostly blacks and women – live in poverty, below the official line of $3.30/day. With the rise in electricity prices, their power supplies are increasingly, dangerously dirty: wood, coal or paraffin for heating, lamps and stoves. They have ‘energy-switched’ backwards in time, unable to pay the parastatal Eskom’s retail electricity bills. The price of a kiloWatt hour quadrupled in price over the last decade due to a decision to build the world’s two largest coal-fired generators now under construction. Corruption, delays and the incompetent boiler manufacturer Hitachi doubled the construction costs of the two 4800 MegaWatt plants from $8 billion each when financing was arranged in 2010 (primarily by the World Bank, in its largest ever loan) to $15 billion each today.

Can these contradiction-riddled conditions at the national scale give rise to a deeper Climate Justice (‘CJ’) movement, drawing on local strengths, and adding the renewed power of the youth? This is the question posed by many of the country’s environmental-justice and eco-socialist strategists, after a quarter-century of political liberation. But freedom has been profoundly distorted by neoliberal-nationalist ideology and crony-capitalist practices, including periodic repression of socio-economic rebellions. In the process, environmental justice has been side-lined.

Locally, fossil fuels are facing opposition. A petrochemical complex regularly poisons the third largest city, Durban, founded by white settlers on the east coast in the mid-19th century. There, Africa’s largest oil refinery comes under repeated attack for both local and global pollution by the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA). The quarter-century battle heated up in 2019 because, 1200 km down the Indian Ocean cost, 45 billion cubic meters (300 million barrels worth) of new offshore oil and gas condensate were discovered by Total. Announced by excitable politicians with great fanfare, doubts have subsequently developed about the extremely difficult conditions for extraction.

In the other direction, 2800km up the coast at Rovuma in northern Mozambique, are even greater quantities of gas ($20 billion worth is thrown around), some of which Total is buying from Anardarko, with ExxonMobil and Eni hot on its heels. Older gas fields at Pande and Temane, in the middle of the country, are being drained by Sasol, of which 20% creates energy for local consumption and 80% is pumped 900km to South Africa’s main inland refinery in Secunda. There, drips of liquid petroleum are squeezed with such an intense application of energy that this small city of 40,000 is the world’s single largest CO2 emissions point source. Local activists fighting hard here are led by the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance.

In between, in Durban, oil companies are swarming 3kms offshore with exploratory drills nearly 4km deep in the Agulhas Current, the second most turbulent ocean waterway, after the Gulf Coast. But notwithstanding all the anti-oil activism – divestment, ‘unburnable carbon’ and ‘stranded asset’ pressures, as well as direct-action protests – against the oil majors, four of them anticipate billions of dollars in profits once they set up rigs: ExxonMobil, Statoil, Eni and Sasol, respectively the biggest from the U.S., Norway, Italy and South Africa.

Durban is already the regional oil hub for refiners Shell and BP, alongside Malaysian-owned Engen. Nearby, within Africa’s largest container harbour, are more massive oil storage facilities. On South Africa’s cold Atlantic coast at Saldanha, Saudi Arabia’s Aramco is also considering a major investment in oil storage. And two hours north of Durban at Richards Bay – home to one of world’s largest coal export terminals – the parastatal port manager, Transnet, aims to set up an LPG terminal. In all this seaside ecological risk-taking, the corporations are being encouraged by government’s ‘Blue Economy’ propaganda.

SDCEA, the country’s leading anti-oil campaigning force, regularly links local health and ecological damage to climate change, and opposes ocean degradation on behalf of local residents, thousands of fisherfolk, coastal small farms and even surfers. Victories have included lowering refinery sulphur emissions and delaying the nearby port-petrochemical complex’s $25 billion expansion. The asthma rate in the Settlers Primary School, between the two mega-refineries, had peaked at 52% of children in attendance in 2004, but is now substantially lower. But the group hasn’t yet shut down the refineries – SDCDEA’s objective – or even lowered their 350,000 barrels/day capacity. And while SDCEA insists that no more offshore oil and gas exploration occur, it is – and most dangerously, the parastatal firm Transnet doubled the size of an oil pipeline from Durban to the main consumption site, Johannesburg, in a controversial $1.8 billion project from 2005-18.

Joining SDCEA, which is based in Durban’s black communities of Wentworth, Merebank, Clairwood and Umlazi (and to some extent also the Bluff, a formerly white residential area), are conservationists from Oceans Not Oil and Wild Oceans. But SDCEA has taken the lead, alongside its groundWork NGO allies, in working against offshore oil and gas, up and down the coastline from Mozambique to Cape Town. Inland, there is also courtroom guerrilla warfare by farmers and environmentalists to counteract threats by the U.S. firm Rhino to frack in the beautiful Drakensburg mountain range and nearby KwaZulu-Natal farmland. In the semi-desert Karoo, Shell’s fracking division is retreating after a courtroom setback. Nevertheless, still lacking climate consciousness, the government’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is planning a massive gas pipeline across the country.

‘Coalanization’ continues

Coal mines supply 90% of Eskom’s generation inputs, as well as around 80 million tons of exports. The main battles against coal occur because of its local damage to public health, water, land and air. On grounds of climate change, war is being consistently waged by three forces: NGOs, lawyers and communities in destructive coal zones. Unfortunately organized labor is basically pro-coal, though that could change.

In general, local activists are not yet as militant and effective as, for example, Germany’s Ende Gelände annual movement, in part because the society is still poorly organized for understanding and acting on climate politics. So progress currently relies upon pressure against financiers, legal strategies on difficult terrain, and mainly localistic protests. Some community disruptions occur in the immediate vicinity of coal mines and coal-fired power plants, such as road blockages, while others are using the courts to prevent two privatized coal-fired plants from being built, so far successfully.

Fragmentation has prevented the emergence of a general movement against coal, and indeed against climate change. Some NGOs with specific agendas are internationally affiliated. Greenpeace Africa, for example, issues important research against the coal industry’s air and water pollution, and periodically engages in direct actions against the main electricity company and state officials, although these are mostly small-scale and symbolic. The South Africa branch of specifically targets coal industry financiers – successful against several local banks – and is central to the broader “decoalonize Africa” campaign. (Its main success was claimed this year in Lamu, Kenya – against a Chinese project with anticipated South African coal imports until Kenyan mines are developed). Unfortunately the CJ angle is quite weakly articulated by these NGOs, whether because they are so single-issue in nature or simply not yet sufficiently sensitive to race, class, gender, generational and other inequities.

Those with a forthright CJ orientation include local NGOs who have their own community-based partners. The most prominent is “Life after Coal,” consisting of the hard-working groups Earthlife Africa and groundWork, and progressive lawyers at the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER). Sometimes they attempt creative objections to Environmental Impact Assessments on grounds that climate change is not properly incorporated into planning, and they harass state agencies for disclosure and stronger enforcement of environmental regulations. Sometimes their partners are involved in mass-based protest, although the last substantial one – with at least 10,000 marching – was in late 2011 when Durban hosted the UN annual climate summit. The counter-summit was messy, as it revealed persistent splits between the two philosophies: CJ (led at the time by the Democratic Left Front, which is now dormant) and Climate Action (mainstream NGOs such as WWF).

Today, the most militant network of grassroots anti-coal activists is Mining Affected Communities United in Action. Others include the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa and Women from Mining Affected Communities United in Action. In the coal-rich Mpumalanga province, especially around the most affected two towns, Emalahleni (Witbank) and Carolina, these groups and the Southern African Green Revolutionary Council have an important impact, both in organizing and motivating an eco-socialist ideology. However, no major victories can yet be claimed, aside from Earthlife and CER using an Environmental Impact Assessment to slow construction of new privatized coal-fired power plants.

The highest-profile battle against coal is being waged on the border of Africa’s oldest wildlife reserve, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, famed for conservationist Ian Player’s breeding of white rhinos when they were on the verge of extinction a half-century ago. At the park’s southeastern entrance are two neighbouring villages: Somkhele – where activists have attempted to close down one fast-growing coal mine – and Fuleni, where they have so far prevented another from opening. Within Somkhele, the Johannesburg-based Tendele mining house and local elites are opposed by the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organization, backed by ecologists in Player’s tradition, especially attorney Kirsten Youens and the Global Environmental Trust. The latter group explains, “For seven years, the mine operated without a valid water use license. The mine also exhumed and relocated hundreds of graves without necessary permits and reneged on its agreed compensation to families for the exhumation of the remains of their ancestors – a very serious matter in Zulu culture. The mine has taken the property of hundreds of people without compensating them for their land, only for their homes.”

But tensions have risen between Somkhele men expressing a desperate need for work – even in the hazardous coal mine – on the one hand, and women articulating their self-preservation of homes, clean air, water access, small farms and livelihoods on the other. Mineworkers and ethnic leaders in league with the coal company won the latest round – a dispute over expanding the existing Somkhele mine – in an August 2018 court battle, but the case is on appeal. It illustrates the desperate need for a Just Transition strategy and sufficient funding for alternative employment of an ecologically constructive, meaningful character, instead of coal mining.

Scenes from Somkhele mine, Fuleni resistance and a 2018 showdown at court

Source: Global Environmental Trust (Rob Symons)

In Johannesburg, the Somkhele and Fuleni activists have another vital ally: the eco-feminist fusion of continent-wide women farmers, environmentalists and sophisticated NGO critics in the group African Women Unite against Destructive Extraction, better known as WoMin. They are the most explicit in fighting coal using climate change narratives.

Movements like these fighting against coal are sometimes working at cross-purposes with a different set of NGOs whose aim is to merely ameliorate local damage from mining, and who rarely if ever consider climate change or the massive economic loss caused by non-renewable resource depletion. Such arguments are ‘outside box’ for reformist NGOs insofar as acknowledging their logic would justify leaving minerals, oil and gas underground. Their annual Cape Town meeting occurs at the same time the mining industry gathers for their ‘Mining Indaba’ (the latter word meaning consultation) and is known as the Alternative Mining Indaba.

Since the NGO-driven event generally fails to ‘connect the dots’ between micro-mining grievances and bigger-picture problems like climate, energy choices and general resource looting, critics organized the November 2018 Thematic Social Forum on Mining and Extractivism in Johannesburg. It offered a much more critical perspective, demanding “the right to say no!” to corporate land and mineral grabs. CJ was a consistent theme there, too.

Two cyclones and a rain bomb

In mid-2019, the contradictions and limits of all these approaches came into focus when hundreds of regional activists in the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network held their annual meeting at the national museum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Rural Women’s Assembly members who offered testimonials from cyclone-affected sites in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa. It was their mutual aid against flooding, during the terrifying weeks of March-April 2019, that allowed survival in the face of an unprecedented double-whammy of cyclones.

Idai and Kenneth were the worst cyclones on record in this region, and in between was a ‘Rain Bomb’ on Easter Monday that devastated South Durban and areas further down the coast. Scientists agree that these storms were more vicious due to climate change, for the temperature of the Indian Ocean offshore Beira, Mozambique was recently higher than normal by more than 2 degrees, the impact of which was to make Idai much more intense. With sustained winds of 195 kph at peak, Idai was the Southern Hemisphere’s third most destructive storm in recorded history (following cyclones in Madagascar in 1892 and Indonesia in 1973).

Governments estimated Idai’s fatalities at 1,078: 602 Mozambicans, 415 Zimbabweans, and 60 Malawians, with more than two million people suffering other loss and damage, and sustained threats of cholera. Two thirds of Mozambique’s and Zimbabwe’s staple maize crop was destroyed, not only by the flooding but also drought that hit elsewhere.

Zimbabwe’s low rainfall is unprecedented. The country’s main power source, the Zambezi River, dropped sufficiently low as to extinguish hydropower supply at the Kariba Dam, the world’s largest artificial lake. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery confirms, “Mozambique ranks third among African countries most exposed to multiple weather-related hazards and suffers from periodic cyclones, droughts, floods, and related epidemics.”

The links between Cyclone Idai and climate change were acknowledged here by those with a social conscience. The South African government mainly sent their armed forces and technicians to help rebuild pylons to restore the main electricity supply from Mozambique, from the Cahorra Bassa mega-dam on the Zambezi River. South Africa suffered a major set of blackouts the week Idai hit, due to the disruption of more than 1 MW supply. The main agency assisting Mozambicans was a famous South African charity, Gift of the Givers, which provides relief support across the world.

Five weeks later, on April 22, 170 mm of rain fell on Durban and its southern hinterlands, leaving 71 dead. The prior record was October 2017 when only 108 mm fell in a day. And the following week, Cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique – near the newly-discovered northern oil and gas fields – at the scarcely-populated border with Tanzania, so although winds reached 225 km/hour, there were only a few deaths.

The cyclones and rain bomb revealed the region’s terrible vulnerabilities, as did the 2019 drought in South Africa’s, Mozambique’s and Zimbabwe’s main food producing areas and the Cape Town water shortage that from 2015-18 left the city’s residential taps nearly bone dry. As Mozambique began to recover, the most popular television talkshow – the SA Broadcasting Corporation’s Big Debatemade Cyclone Idai a central point in a furious two-hour dispute over how to link the energy and climate crises, and solve both.

What is also much clearer after the 2019 extreme weather, is South Africa’s ‘subimperial’ role in the region, including as a central force behind environmental damage. It is increasingly important – and easy – to show that the wealthiest South Africans have a ‘climate debt’ liability for this damage. Fewer than three dozen corporations operating in South Africa – led by BHP Billiton, Sasol, Glencore, Anglo American, Arcelor Mittal and other smelting and mining houses in the Energy Intensive Users Group – are responsible for 40% of the electricity consumption. In general, as University of Manchester climate scientist Kevin Anderson points out, “Almost 50% of global carbon emissions arise from the activities of around 10% of the global population,” an indicator of how extreme climate injustice has become.

Climate Justice requires that not only the historically highest emitters internationally, but also South African ‘Global North’ residents and corporations, start to acknowledge guilt, and identify ways to both pay reparations for damage, according to standard polluter-pays principles, and forthwith reduce emissions with a clear phase-out strategy.

This point was made after Cyclone Idai by the Rural Women’s Assembly: “The three countries now affected by this unfolding disaster – Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi – have among the world’s lowest emissions rates. We demand that rich countries who continue to pollute the Earth’s atmosphere with greenhouse gas emissions commit to pay compensation for the damage and loss of life resulting from this latest storm.”

As expressed by Anabela Lemos, director of Justiça Ambiental! (Friends of the Earth Moçambique), “People in Mozambique know this is climate chaos. They know what’s going on. They are going to come and challenge everyone in northern countries and ask: why are you continuing to do this to us? Stop this genocide.”

The Harare-based Centre for Natural Resource Governance in Harare released a statement specifying how reparations could be made:

the rich countries must pay their climate debt to the Zimbabwean people – but the Zanu PF government and Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube cannot be trusted to manage the payments. Instead, we need trusted agencies in civil society to receive aid and direct transfers to the ordinary people affected. This could be done simply by arranging payout systems in the affected parts of Zimbabwe, so that everyone living in those areas would get a reparations payment. There is need to compensate families for loss of lives, destruction of homes and even loss of food, livestock and domestic utensils. The situation is dire in fragile states where governments have misplaced priorities – which relegates human security to humanitarian work of NGOs and well-wishers.

This doesn’t yet change everything – but could and should

Even though these extreme incidents of climate damage are becoming more obvious, the construction of a South African CJ movement has been elusive. One reason is the philosophical differences between the environmental justice and conservation movements. Occasionally these movements come together in specific sites of unity, such as defending against coal mining on the border of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi reserve (where the white rhino was saved from extinction).

But there are several missing links before they can generate a national movement with equivalent weight to, say, the Treatment Action Campaign which demanded that generic AIDS medicines be universally available. Their victory raised life expectancy from 52 to 64 years from 2005-15, by getting life-saving drugs to five million South Africans who previously could not afford them.

One gap in climate activism is the failure to reframe climate change the way Naomi Klein did in 2014: This Changes Everything. That would entail conjoining all manner of struggles over energy, transport, agricultural, production, suburbanization and waste disposal processes that cause climate change – each step of the way, insisting on ‘Just Transition’ policies and projects that switch workers from dirty to clean jobs with no loss of pay, and with sensitivity to geographical impact.

The climate movement would then need more unity of purpose in everything from popular education, to militant activism, to media advocacy, to watchdogging the national policy process to lobbying legislatures, to filing regulatory objections – since Pretoria’s environment and mining ministries generally behave as if they were in the pockets of the polluters – to building up climate-conscious case law in the courts. It would require more support from the various foundations and funding organizations that currently amplify infighting, turf wars and ‘silo’ politics. Also required is stronger youth leadership, where signs include several local manifestations of the Climate Strike: strongest in Cape Town and Johannesburg, but with potential to spread across the country and continent. One promising network was the South African Youth Climate Change Coalition.

Strategically-minded intellectuals were occasionally involved in CJ activism, particularly the group of eco-socialists assembled by University of the Witwatersrand political economist Vishwas Satgar to develop a book-length Climate Crisis critique. Satgar also helped mobilize the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign which in 2018 established a People’s Climate Justice Charter. A team at the Alternative Information and Development Centre put together a 2017 Million Climate Jobs booklet and campaign to support decarbonization, including in the coal fields. Some of the best anti-coal research comes from groundwork. Investigative journalists with a climate focus can be read regularly at Daily Maverick (led by Kevin Bloom) and the Mail & Guardian (especially Sipho Kings).

South Africa’s CJ ideas are recognized as being very different than the Climate Action approach, thanks to 1990s traditions of environmental justice and the 2004 founding of the (international) Durban Group for Climate Justice. However, South Africa remains the world’s most unequal society and cultures of activism differ dramatically from the components that would need to fuse for a proper national CJ movement to emerge: environmental justice advocates (including in the conscientized middle-class), low-income communities, women, labor and especially the youth.

In contrast, the top-down SA Climate Action Network has many more resources and insider credibility with the state and capital, but has a much lower-profile presence in the vital concrete struggles – and too often, insiderism means endorsing weak climate policies such as the UNFCCC, or South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan for energy and Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios for decarbonization. Very few groups bridge this gap.

Red and green fragments, not fusions – but in future?

As a final and perhaps most important consideration, South Africa also reveals age-old conflicts between environmentalists and organized labor over employment. Often insensitively, Greenpeace fought periodically with two of the largest trade unions, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and National Union of Mineworkers, whose members include workers in carbon-intensive sectors. Their struggles for better wages in the electricity plants, auto factories, mines, smelters and other heavy industries were openly waged since unions re-emerged during the 1970s, and their strength of purpose was vital to ending apartheid. But they remained opposed to the loss of 100,000 jobs in the main coal district, Mpumalanga, because the government never provided details on what it meant by the oft-repeated mantra, a Just Transition.

Numsa’s staff were once visionary advocates of renewable energy democracy, and by the early 2010s, the union had developed one of the world’s most ambitious Just Transition statements. But Numsa then turned in 2017-19 to fighting against Climate-Action environmentalists over the 10,000 MW of privatized solar and wind projects being installed mainly by European corporations.

As the union’s deputy leader Karl Cloete explained, “the mandate of Renewable Energy projects must be to achieve service provision, meet universal needs, decommodify energy and provide an equitable dividend to communities and workers directly involved in production and consumption of energy.”

The president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Joseph Mathunjwa, agreed that the privatized model should be discarded: “If we leave it to the market, we will not get to the roots of the climate and environmental crisis and workers will be discarded in the existing mining and energy sectors.”

The 800,000-strong SA Federation of Trade Unions held a mid-2018 Working Class Summit with similar rhetoric: “We must mobilize for a deep transformation of the current economic system of production and consumption, while at the same time including protecting workers’ shop-floor concerns. We have to find a way of reconciling the interests of workers in energy-related industries and those of the working class facing the impacts of climate change.”

In short, the battle lines between labor and climate activists were drawn across five fields of action: speed, scale, scope, space and the state:

+ The unions – especially Numsa – wanted a slower transition to renewables due to fear the state won’t protect jobs.

+ Their ideal of the appropriate scale for electricity generation, grid transmission and distribution was always national, not the decentralized, “small scale embedded generation” strategies favoured by Climate Action neoliberals (the latter approach makes wide-scale electricity redistribution from rich to poor more difficult).

+ The scope demanded by unions is often narrower – in protecting existing dirty-energy jobs – but in Numsa’s case, it has also advocated for a more expansive post-capitalist vision.

+ The geographical dilemma – ‘space’ – is thorny, since the sunny, windy and tidal-power areas of South Africa generally don’t overlap with the inland coal fields and power plants, so CJ advocates found themselves challenged to address this disjuncture more explicitly.

+ Finally, there were diverging views of the role of the state, particularly the parastatal Eskom, since Numsa and other unions insisted on rescuing it as part of their explicitly socialist political agenda, while many citizens and CJ activists had already given up as a result of the energy agency’s deep-rooted corruption and pro-coal bias.

There are very few encouraging sites of joint work where these five divides in emphasis can be reconciled. The Million Climate Jobs approach to a Just Transition did not take root. Unions were too defensive. Many environmentalists – especially from the white middle classes – were unconscious of justice concerns.

Although in 2015 a major summit between Numsa, environmentalists and social movements addressed energy and climate change with great promise, at a time of consistent shortages and blackouts, there was no follow up. The summit declared opposition to “false solutions such as the introduction of nuclear energy on a huge scale, fracking, agrofuels/biofuels, carbon trading, ‘clean coal’ and carbon sequestration.” But the need for unifying, joint demands on the state for a Just Transition has, since then, yet to be explored, much less realized.

The working class does have a few cases where, if not production, at least the consumption of coal-generated power is being politicized. Perhaps the most climate-conscious urban social movement of the post-apartheid era was the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, fighting a two-decade long struggle for energy justice. In part they were popular through encouraging 85% of the huge township’s residents to think of power as a ‘commons,’ hence illegally connecting electricity supply. They justified this in part because their visionary leaders regularly critique and protest Eskom’s coal-based generation. “For as long as Eskom uses coal, I won’t pay,” one leader told MSN news in March, refusing to change her stance “unless they connect us to the solar system grid.”

This then was, in 2019, the current unsatisfying hybrid-CJ politics unfolding. There was a mix of consumer-based pro-commoning militancy, in which the leading activists demanded that fossil fuels should be phased out and solar access made universal, combined with tough community struggles against the exploration, extraction, refining and combustion of coal, oil and gas. The leftist trade unions proposed radical versions of eco-socialism but defended their jobs with an understandable desperation. A burgeoning youth and ecologically-aware middle-class feinted towards CJ, but their stamina had not been tested. The mainstream Climate Action scene remained predictably tame and unambitious.

In this context, the vast majority of citizens were apathetic, and the upper-income elites lived in conditions akin to the richest First World habitats. These were the men and a few women who occupied the commanding heights of fossilized power, where profits and new discoveries were too sweet to kick their addictions – unless those promoting CJ politics became much better organized, and brave enough for the conflagration that inevitably lay ahead.

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 The Impossibility of Intransigent Transcendence

On Thursday, August 22, 2019, the Resolutions Committee of the Democrat’s National Committee (of Super-delegates) voted 17 to 8 against the possibility of a debate between their presidential candidates focussed on climate change. That means that slightly over 2/3rds of the Resolution Committee opposes such a debate.

On Saturday, August 24, 2019, the DNC (of Super-delegates) voted 222 to 137 against having a forum ( instead of a debate) focussed on climate change. That means that just under 2/3rds of the DNC opposes the presidential candidates gathering to discuss climate change.

At about the same time, Nina Turner, one of Bernie Sanders’ campaign co-chairs was speaking out about how the supposed United States of America was in need of a moment of “national transcendence” wherein the people could rise above partisanship and imagine/envision a better world than what is possible under the privately corporatized status quo. It has been reported that when she learned of the DNC Resolution Committee’s denial of a debate on climate change, she encouraged the candidates to try to work against the DNC’s dictate.

There is an elephantine ass in the room.

If any of the candidates and their supporters believe that climate change must be discussed because it is something which humans can affect and if they believe that climate change is an imminent threat to many or most  forms of life on this planet, why are they subservient democrats or republicans?

Is the answer to that question the same reason there has not been any  “national transcendence?”

There are recent surveys of voters which clearly indicate that approximately 2/3rds of democrats consider climate change a major, serious threat to our wellbeing. With republicans, only about 2/10ths (1/5th) think it is a concern. If comparing it with these these two identity groups, it is clear the preference of the DNC is much more in line with the beliefs of republican voters.

The actions of the majority of the DNC seem to, once again, prioritize – above all else – the calculating desire to appeal to vain republican intransigence and a stubbornly smug opposition to discussions which might lead to responsible and egalitarian behavior. The DNC want republican votes and to get them they are willing to appeal to and promote the crudest motivations. Clearly, they are not going to allow socially and environmentally responsible behavior to get in the way of their shared game of winning a trophy presidency through their republican-supporting worship of militarized, dehumanizing, unrestrained, privatized monetary accumulation. If they were to worry about the effects they have on other people or the environment it would be seen as heresy within their shared religion.

The central question remains.

Why are supposed ”progressives” insisting that they stay inside of, and pour their energy into, an organization which clearly sees them as losers? If looked at from an historical perspective, it seems to lead to a strong likelihood that the DNC has plenty of electoral proofs that the supposed “progressive” wing of their party is a whiny bunch of masochists who get some kind of delight out of punishment. This chronic tendency of supposed progressives to fall in line with those who prefer to silence their concerns and to abandon their priorities (once they have been used in the game of corporate dominance) makes it more than understandable that the DNC is confidently pissing on the would-be progressives. The DNC is confident that their self-captured would-be progressives lack the stamina (much less, the courage) to resist the privatizing republican corporatism which is central to the Super-delegated DNC. The answer to the paragraph’s opening question can be found in the behavior of those whose brainwashed religiosity stops them from repudiating the long-standing, blatant corruption of their religion. In short, they do not need to necessarily believe what they say they believe as much as they need to identify as members of a delusional, corrupt, republican-preferring, deregulating, capitalist religiosity.

The intransigence of the stated desires of the so-called “progressive democrats” is, at least partially, their own doing. As long as they cling to the abusiveness of their beloved DNC piracy, they will be treated with the same disdain. “Progressive democrats” are a guarantee of failure. They are their own worst enemies. Their submissive complicity is well established and it is abundantly obvious to the DNC that supposed progressive democrats are primarily delusional participants with imaginary friends.

Hypocrisy and piracy are rampant in the capitalist parties. Getting on board those ships only guarantees the vision of the Jolly Roger and a continuation of social and environmental debauchery.

The majority of voters in the faking USA are republican capitalists – even as a majority of them seem to believe otherwise. Working within the current system is only a guarantee of its continuing self-destructiveness.

There is no need for passion.

A standing apart from the corruption is the needed first step toward a necessary integrity and the subsequent possibility of any transcendence (the possibility of which becomes less with every submission to the arrogant corruptions promulgated by the DNC and their allied RNC).  To anyone who claims to be a progressive democrat I can only say – your bondage (and the connected toxicity) must be seen as being of your own making and unmaking. They do not need you. They tolerate and use you for private gain. Why do you believe that you need them?

If you fear for the way things are going to become worse and you cling to the agents of the cause of your fear, you need to face your own hypocrisy and say, “ I will no longer countenance my complicity.”

You must also be prepared for their attacks. Attacking others is their chief delight and, even as democrats and republicans attack each other, anyone who steps beyond their pirate ships is a more likely target of their mutual disdain.

So, at this late date I can only ask, what kind of loser do you want to be, Inside or outside?






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Losing My Religion

“I should have known better” begins an old Beatles tune, and I really should have known better than to involve myself in the losing battle with organized religion. But I didn’t and now I’m out a few bucks and I think that I’ve been chastened enough to have learned a lesson.

The learning experience came in the way of an item from the rabbi of the temple to which we  (my wife Jan and I) belong. It blindsided me, but I needed to have known better because there’s a segment of leadership within Judaism that remains either strongly Zionist, or supports Israel in less stringent ways. An aspect of that support often has a military piece. Some religious leaders will not endorse the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement vis-a-vis Israel, but have strongly endorsed the establishment of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Most people in the US who identify as Jews support the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Here’s how I view Judaism. I believe that the worship of a deity is sort of like worshiping the tooth fairy. I do see, however, that strong moral-ethical principles can have their origins in organized religion, even though those beliefs don’t need a white-bearded guy in the sky to validate them.

The primary ethical tenet of Judaism is represented, from my view, in Hillel’s admonition not to do to the other that which one abhors. In other words, if you would not like to be enslaved yourself, or tormented because of your, or your group’s identity, then don’t foist aberrant beliefs and actions on others (What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn). Readers can easily conclude where this argument is going in terms of a Palestinian state.

The principles that follow on the heels of the admonition above are simple to express. Honor learning; take the side of the little person; support the rights of minorities; and stay as far away from war and the preparations for war as possible. Also, a profound respect for the natural environment fits nicely into this philosophy. Finally, the need to agitate against the forces of evil makes a rounded out version of my views about Judaism.

Readers can easily discern the difference between the majority of Jews in the US and the majority of Jews in Israel, with the lopsided rejection of Trump and his hate-filled agenda by most Jews in the US, and the majority of Jews in Israel who support him.

It is more than a perverse manipulation of organized religion and turning religious principles on their heads in having a President of the US preside over a hate-filled agenda and support for those “very fine people” who commit murder in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere.

But the latter is not what galled me about the entry in the weekly newsletter that I receive from the temple to which I belong, incidentally a membership that was motivated by the massacre committed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The atmosphere at the temple is extremely welcoming and a guess is that many of the members support the establishment of a Palestinian state. That said, however, I was not prepared for the bald-face support of militarism that the temple’s rabbi included in her most recent communication.

I need to preface this by my experience with the same subject. A few years ago, my wife and I noticed a mass of US flags waving in the distance in Washington Park in Albany, New York. We walked the few hundred yards to where the flags flew and saw a group of leather-clad bikers beside the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that is transported around the country as part of the Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. As a war resister and veteran of the Vietnam era, I have issues with how that war is remembered because of the lack of formal recognition of the millions dead in Southeast Asia and the continuing toll from the effects of the defoliant Agent Orange among US veterans of the war, and the lingering effects of that chemical on generations of those in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Unexploded ordinance from that war continues to kill large numbers of people each year. These issues don’t take into account the additional and long-lasting angst and suffering the war created for so many.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC is an appropriate recognition of those who died in that war.

It was more than the moving wall in Albany that drew my attention. POW and MIA flags flew among the US flags in the park and were yet another reminder of how the history of the war had been portrayed since Reagan’s “noble cause,” when in fact the war was genocidal. Had the US come to terms with the legacy of that war, then reparations would have been granted to the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but how could that ever have been expected when repatriations for slavery in the US remain a distant and generally unpopular issue because of ingrained racism in this society. Racism operated freely during the Vietnam War. During military training, I recall the people of Vietnam repeatedly referred to as “gooks” and “Charlie.”

The Vietnam Full Disclosure project presents a balanced approach to the history of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon, however, remains a purveyor of disinformation about the Vietnam War and how it is, and has been, portrayed.

Here are the rabbi’s words regarding the moving Vietnam Wall memorial at which she delivered the benediction in a community in nearby upstate New York:

I was moved to tears repeatedly at the Opening Ceremony of The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall. The Keynote Speaker [name removed] spoke exquisitely. The innovation by Rev. [name removed] was made even more meaningful by a fly over during the prayer. I was truly humbled and honored to offer the benediction. May the memory of every patriot whose name is on the memorial be blessed

Thank you to everyone responsible for making this happen.

I was moved to tears by the Vietnam War and the toll it took on so many of us, but most importantly on the dead and injured in Southeast Asia and in the US. In just a few short months, in May 1970, the 50th anniversary marking that war coming home to the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State will take place.

An attempt to build a monument recognizing the war resisters who left the US for Canada during the Vietnam War was shut down. Democracy Now presented short excerpts from some who weighed in on the issue of the monument in “Controversy Over Monument in Canadian Town for U.S. Resisters to Vietnam War,” (October 15, 2004).

The war that won’t go away is still an important part of the lives of millions of people and flyovers and easy patriotic tributes from those with no skin in the game alarm me as much now as they did so many decades ago. Perhaps it’s the entirely secular Jew in me that informs me that the first premise in life is to stop doing to others that which you find aberrant. A thoroughly militarized society that celebrates war won’t allow the reality of the gore and brutality of war to enter into public debate. It is not uncommon to find people associated with organized religion to be part of normalizing militarism and that easy militarism can be found in every major organized religious group. Now, with anti-Semitism on the rise in the US and across the globe, there aren’t many besides Trump and Netanyahu who dare to call Jews disloyal who criticize Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, or who find militarism abhorrent.

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Wildfires: Focus on Defensible Space, Not Large Scale Logging

It seems both major parties can be sadly misinformed about forests and fires. The president recently promoted logging as a way to curb fires even though studies have clearly shown it to be ineffective. Now two western Senators, Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., intend to introduce legislation to further Trump’s agenda.

The most comprehensive scientific analysis conducted on the issue of forest management and fire intensity found that forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging actually tended to burn much more intensely, not less. For instance, the Camp Fire which destroyed the town of Paradise, Calif., began in an area that had burned a mere ten years before and was then salvage logged.

Research on the “home ignition zone” by Dr. Jack Cohen of the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Science Laboratory makes clear that the only strategy that consistently works for reducing fire impacts to human habitation, is to focus on the land within 100 feet of houses, not logging distant forests.

Defensible space

Reducing flammability within this 100-foot “defensible space” involves basic precautions such as fire-resistant roofing, pruning branches and small trees, and keeping gutters clear of dry leaves and needles. Also keep in mind that more than half of all the acreage that recently burned in the West occurred in non-forest vegetation like chaparral, sagebrush, and grasslands.

But it’s always the same prescription for our National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands: We need more stumps. Stumps for timber, stumps for wildlife management, stumps for restoration, and now stumps for fire management. The underlying consistency behind these rationalizations is the habitual dismissal of the critical importance of old and dead trees, wilderness conditions, natural disturbances, and limited roads to healthy forests.

In this case, both the Dec. 21 Executive Order (Federal Register Jan. 7, 2019) – that expedited logging on an area of our public lands larger than the entire state of Massachusetts – and now the Feinstein-Daines bill, use a tragedy to push the same thing that would be pushed even if the tragedy didn’t happen. Disregarded are fire drivers such as previous logging and extreme weather events. Not a peep about defensible space. No, instead come up with ‘more stumps!’

Pre-empting lawsuits

And this benighted approach to forests gets even worse. To expedite logging, Daines and Feinstein plan to legislatively slow or stop so-called “frivolous” lawsuits, in effect locking the public out of management decisions on our public lands. Whenever politicians feel compelled to pre-emptively lock the public out of our day in court, it’s a sure tell that something is rotten.

They must know that their proposal won’t withstand scrutiny in any court worth its name. Here’s a message to Daines and all those who think like him: Americans involved in legal efforts to stop the desecration of our public lands and their wildlife are not frivolous. According to you, we “frivolous” taxpayers get to subsidize the degradation and destruction of our precious homelands, we just don’t get to have a real say in it.

We do need new legislation, but not the toxic brew Feinstein and Daines are cooking up. We need legislation and policies that free the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management from the internal and external pressures that promote and prioritize commercial logging and other exploitation. The focus must be on real protection, not legislation that exacerbates both the pressures and the underlying fire problem. Congress needs to drop this disastrous bill and instead facilitate protection of the “defensible space” around homes and development. And then pass legislation that puts an end to the ongoing logging-grazing-drilling-mining horror show on our public lands once and for all.

Steven Krichbaum, PhD, conservation biologist, forest protection activist for 30 years with grassroots groups. He lives in Staunton, Virginia.


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When Evil Devoured a Good Man

Wedat Aydin. Photo courtesy of Sukran Aydin.

Wedat Aydin didn’t have a say in why he was born a Kurd in an international colony called Kurdistan part of which is now reeling under the jackboots of the Turkish Army.

Nor did he have a say in why he was born in 1954 only to be kidnapped and brutally murdered by monsters masquerading as Turkish police in 1991.

But he had a say in how he lived in 37 years that were allotted to him on this earth. He led an honorable life: as many as 100,000 Kurds attended his funeral rite.

We are gathered here on this special day designated by the United Nations for victims of enforced disappearances to reflect on a life cut short.

Wedat Aydin was decent.

He was brave.

He was addicted to freedom.

Unfortunately for humanity, he was born before his times.

Kurdish was his mother tongue. Turkish was his foreign language. He also knew a smattering of English.

He excelled in his studies, attending the School of Education in Amed, the provincial capital of his hometown, Bismil.

Education transformed him into a fearless, self-sacrificing champion for downtrodden Kurds.

But those who ruled the Kurds, then as well as now, primarily Turks, Persians and Arabs, don’t like combinations like educated Kurds, fearless Kurds, resourceful Kurds or God forbid patriotic selfless Kurds.

They prefer: clueless Kurds. Fearful Kurds. Helpless Kurds. Or their favorite: happy-go-lucky Kurds.

Wedat Aydin didn’t fit any of these prescribed molds. He became a living, breathing, moving provocative act in the eyes of colonial Turkish administrators.

He needed to be taught a lesson in servility.

Failing that—given a one-way ticket to hell.

His first brush with evil came in 1980 when he was 26. He was arrested, thrown into Amed Military Prison for four years, and horribly tortured—repeatedly ordered to forsake freedom.

But he took their beatings with the patience of Prophet Job, unswerving in his devotion to liberty.

He saw 57 inmates meet untimely deaths. He vowed to remain true to their ideals for as long as he lived.

His second brush with evil came in 1990. He was then 36, attending a conference of human rights activists in Ankara, Turkey.

Thinking that he was among friends, he spoke in Kurdish, a prohibited language, with a friend translating his remarks into Turkish.

Some of his Turkish friends, terrified, ran for cover.

Most of his Kurdish friends stood their ground and gave him a standing ovation.

Police burst in and arrested Wedat Aydin. He spent three months in jail for speaking Kurdish in public.

Jail and torture are favorite tools of colonialists, but Wedat Aydin remained defiant—infuriating his oppressors all the more.


He fought nonviolently and magnificently to expand the boundaries of freedom and liberty in Kurdistan, in Turkey, and the greater Middle East.

He joined the first Kurdish party in Turkey, People’s Labor Party (HEP), and became its president for the city of Amed—the London or Cairo of Kurdistan.


For Turks who spied on his every move, this was the last straw.

They placed him into their crosshairs of death.


They chose July 5, 1991 for their wicked act.


Wedat Aydin started that fateful day, like any normal Friday, calling friends to contribute to freedom’s coffers and urging lukewarm acquaintances to close ranks behind HEP.

At 7:30 pm, he came home in a borrowed car, had a light dinner with his wife, Sukran Aydin, went out for some ice cream with their children, and made plans to relax at Lake Hazar next morning.

But morning never came: only a black night of indescribable cruelty.

It began with a knock on the door just before the midnight.


Wedat Aydin answered in his pajamas.

He then told his wife he had to go with police to the station.

She checked the street for police cars, but saw only two unmarked ones.

That, plus heavily armed men at her door scared her.

But she could do nothing—except obey her husband telling her to notify HEP officials and their lawyer.

He added, “Take care of your children.”

He had often used that expression—implying that he had dedicated himself to the emancipation of Kurds… and the raising of their children had become her task by default.

But when she never saw him again, she always remembered these last words of him before his death.

She has taken care of their children all right. They are all adults now. One of them has married and has blessed Sukran with a granddaughter, Solin.

But you couldn’t have known what was in store for Sukran or her three small children on that sleepless night and the excruciating days that followed.

Amed bristled with Turkish police—all supposedly deaf, dumb and blind to Wedat Aydin’s whereabouts.

Three days later, his decomposing body was identified in the neighboring town of Maden.

He had been horribly tortured—then shot eight times.

The enraged people of Amed sent a 6,000-car convoy to pick up his mangled body.

He was washed and reverently wrapped with a white shroud in the Kurdish tradition.

He was buried July 10, as 100,000 sorrowing Kurds honored him as their greatest martyr.

But Turkish police, seeking to mock their devotion, found it when our impatient youth threw rocks at Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) office and Mardin Gate Police Station.

Heavily armed hoodlums mercilessly fired at the mourning Kurds.

23 died. Hundreds more were seriously injured.

17,000 civilian Kurds have been killed since Wedat Aydin’s disappearance—point-blank, or thrown from helicopters to certain death.

792 families still don’t know the whereabouts of their loved ones.

We are in Washington, DC and I feel compelled to address the US attitude on the Kurdish nightmare in Turkey.

In the beginning, Washington bought into the Turkish fiction that only Turks lived in Asia Minor.

As Kurdish struggle came into the open, the US sided with Turkey, because of its membership in NATO.

The support was bipartisan, wholehearted and included America’s deadliest weapons including helicopters.

The relationship is under a lot of strain now because of President Erdogan’s covert alliances with shadowy jihadi groups.

In Syria, Americans have discovered secular Kurds who are a lot closer to Jefferson’s followers than the minions of Erdogan.

An American folk saying goes, “The sun doesn’t shine on the same dog’s back forever.”

Closer to the Middle East, our Great Saladin noted, “Spilt blood doesn’t sleep.”

Both sayings are harbingers of a better future in the Middle East and we will be there to grab it.

The Kurds of Saladin’s generation subscribed to a religious war and fought the combined forces of Europe in the Middle East.

They prevailed.

Our lifetime subscription is to the cause of liberty and we want to secure its blessings for our children in the land of our fathers and mothers.

We will as well.

Thank you for merging the story of Wedat Aydin into your life.

Perhaps you will consider making his fondest dream, expanding the boundaries of freedom and liberty, yours!

If you do, a radiant smile would cross his face—in heaven and we will all remember our Wedat Aydin and say, you did not die in vain.

August 30, 2019 has been observed as United Nations day for victims of enforced disappearances. This eulogy of Wedat Aydin was delivered at National Press Club in Washington, DC. You could also watch the video of the whole statement on Facebook.

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East Timor and Australia: a Loveless Affair at Twenty

Cringe worthy, a touch molesting in sentiment: this was the celebratory occasion of the gathering of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his East Timorese counterparts. During the course of its history, the state has been pillaged and bombed, its residents massacred and its politicians spied upon. The exposure of that seedy little matter of espionage came in December 2013, when it was revealed that an Australian intelligence officer known as Witness K had spilled the beans on how his masters were attempting to undercut the East Timorese in their 2004 negotiations for a maritime boundary. The Australian delegation had eyes on underwater oil and gas revenue; nothing would be left to chance.

Because of such cheery sentiment, the cabinet offices of the East Timorese were bugged by agents of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). “It was outrageous,” recalled the lead negotiator on behalf of the East Timorese, the seasoned US diplomat Peter Galbraith. “I’d taken protective measures against Australian espionage, which I thought would be based on cell phones and internet, but I thought it was pretty crude to be bugging the prime minister’s offices.” In Galbraith’s view, Australian politicians had been accessories to corporate greed (a condition familiar to the US political classes).

Witness K initially took the matter to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, and obtained approval to consult Bernard Collaery, barrister and former attorney general of the Australian Capital Territory. This put into motion an effort, led by Collaery, to challenge the validity of the treaty, which had granted the Australians a distinctly generous equal share of the revenue.

The revelations also armed East Timor with modest ammunition to trigger the UN conciliation process, retrospectively praised by embarrassed Australian politicians as revolutionary. Deemed heroes by former Timor-Leste president José Ramos-Horta for their “conscience and courage”, both Witness K and Collaery have been prosecuted in the finest traditions of the Australian national security state: those two will forever be associated with foiling Australian efforts of corporate plunder.

The bugging affair was merely symptomatic of a broader sociopathic tendency shown towards the territory. The intervention of an Australian-led force in September 1999 has been taken as a cathartic act of history. But the muse of history tells a different story. Australia was deeply reluctant to send forces, taking issue with a prevailing view in some circles of the US State Department that something should be done. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was keen to avoid agitating Indonesia, despite the murderous antics of pro-Jakarta supporters running riot in the aftermath of the independence referendum.

When such reluctance was reported in the Sunday Age on August 1, 1999. Downer saw off such claims, which involved a said meeting between Ashton Calvert, head of the Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs, and Stanley Roth, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, as “completely false”. Roth, it transpired, felt the need for an international presence to arrest escalating violence. Downer preferred another approach: plugging leaks and concealing Australia’s role in rejecting US offers for a coordinated deployment in East Timor.

The fear of precipitating showers of Indonesian indignation was not new. In 1975, the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, lionised by the Australian Labour Party as a doyen of progressive enlightenment, gave the nod to Indonesia’s bloodthirsty president Suharto that the territory could be annexed without much fuss. While it was never for Australia to agree or disagree with the expansionist move, the bend-over-backwards assurance was needlessly ingratiating, assisted by the paternalistic view that an independent East Timor was simply not viable, politically or economically. Whitlam would subsequently reassure himself that the Indonesian military might have been benevolent occupiers, a spectacularly foolish assumption.

Now, Australia has expressed undying fraternal support, loftily insisting it was generous in letting an impoverished Timor-Leste receive a 70 percent share of future revenue from the Great Sunrise gas-field. In Dili to ratify a new maritime boundary treaty with East Timor’s Taur Matan Ruak, not all was calm in the ceremonial mood. East Timor prefers processing the gas for export in Dili; the Australians and project developer Woodside have opted for a more self-beneficial floating platform.

Nor has the Morrison government been open to suggestions that Australia compensate Dili for billions of dollars obtained in gas royalties under the previous maritime border agreement. “What we have been doing in the last 20 years,” deflected Morrison, “has been investing as the principal development partner in Timor-Leste. Australia has invested some $1.7 billon directly through our various programs and we continue to invest now over $100 million.” Never you mind that this is dwarfed by the $5 billion amount being suggested to right the imbalance.

Whether it is natural resources or the matter of regional security, Timor-Leste has again made a mark on Canberra’s radar. The usual culprits insisting on Australian rough riding in the region have come out with blazing enthusiasm. Such places require Canberra’s attention lest the devil that is Beijing creep up on Australia’s interests. “While Australia has been focused on the Pacific ‘step-up’,” writes The Australian, “East Timor had until recently dropped off the radar.” The views of former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, are noted in the paper. “Every time I go to Timor now I see Chinese delegations. I don’t see any Australians.”

The neo-colonial footprint has been easing off, leaving the strategists worried. It was left to Morrison and his foreign minister, Marise Payne, to announce what was advertised as a “new maritime security package” featuring the gifting of two patrol boats from Australia in 2023 and funding to modernise a current naval base. A promise to back an underwater fibre optic cable, intended to connect Timor-Leste to the North-West Cable System between Darwin and Port Headland, was also thrown in. If wise heads prevail in Dili, money and investment from both Australian and Chinese sources will be pouring in. Juggling their influences would be a fitting rebuke to the marked callousness that has characterised Australian foreign policy.

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Replacing Ideology With Class

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable.”

—Andrea Dworkin

There is something very peculiar about how politics is talked about. The things that are true and proven to work are called “left” while the things that are false and are proven to fail are called “right”. This is why upon education most everyone becomes left, barring a greater force than truth itself in one’s interest in education. This is an unprecedented dynamic. Take any other field. In mathematics, in science, in language, truth is proven and then more or less accepted. In politics this isn’t the case. Despite things such as socialism, peace, education, regulation, housing and equality always working, there remains a debate about whether or not these things work.

This dynamic never occurs in other fields. Chomsky talks about how democratic the phone lines are on sports radio, for example. The reason politics is reduced to a political spectrum rather than what is true is because the stakes are just too high. The class warfare has too high stakes for there to be an honest assessment of it.

For example, say one gets sick and goes to two different doctors for consultations. There may be some disagreement about the best practice to take, but generally there is accepted medicine and procedures across the board. Imagine if Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were the two doctors one went to see. They are the two most prominent politicians in the United States and they disagree on everything. Say a patient came in feeling fatigued all the time. Bernie would likely prescribe the patient with a treatment, maybe involving some combination of medicine, rest and diet, with the advice of checking back in soon if the patient was not feeling any better. Donald Trump would simply hand the patient a gun and tell them to point it at their head and pull the trigger. Such disagreements within the medical field would naturally seem nonsensical, but is widely accepted in politics.

So this brings one to a new conclusion. The so-called political spectrum simply has to do with one’s relationship to power. What is traditionally left rebels against the rich and powerful, what is traditionally right acts in the interest of the rich and powerful. Hence, the class warfare.

There is a debate which works better for the ruling class. This is a debate between left or right. This is a false debate. The left always works better. But there are benefits to being right wing. There always are benefits to taking the side of power. The difference boils down to this: right wing ideology works because one gets direst rewards from the powerful while left wing ideology works because you take power away from the powerful.

Therefore one has to conclude that the debate over left and right is itself a ruling class construction made to obscure the real relationship between the classes which is by definition a conflicting one.

The left could also should be called an ideology in favor of community as a whole while the right is an ideology in favor of the individual or extensions of the individual such as the family, nation, gender or race. The appeal of being right wing is that it can often help the individual and those around them. But if everyone was right wing then the community as a whole gets very little benefit as it relies upon selfishness at the expense of the community. Just as if everyone was left wing we’d see a benefit for the masses because anytime people work as a team a larger goal can be achieved. These are basic facts that are widely agreed upon but rarely acknowledged when the ruling class frames politics as equivocally as “right to left”.

Look no further than the fates of anyone who takes the positions in question. Take someone who is on the left. If they are active politically they will go to jail, get fired, smeared, be poor or even be killed. The fate of most truly radical leftists is prison or death. On the contrary, someone who is an extreme conservative will likely make a lot of money, be hailed as a genius, live a long and comfortable life and keep many of their friends because of their material success. Naturally most of us navigate somewhere in the middle. Most people have some level of conscious but most are also not willing to make tremendous sacrifices for their morals. Therefore these conflicting fates are navigated.

Indeed the reason most people may take up a political position is their strategic goal in life. Someone feeling like doing good for others may turn left but then when discovering the perils of this position revert back to the right. Or someone may go right, feel some guilt and go left once more. So, one should be left whenever they can afford to be. And if the world is to become a better place many people will have to be left when they can’t afford it.

All of this is to say that the traditional framing of two equal sides is wrong. People have material interests and moral interests in life and it is only afterwards that a political ideology is made to justify it. Now many people have this connection unknowingly. Few on the right are thinking “let’s be selfish today”. But it is a strategic decision that comes out of fear or cynicism or even to be more charitable to them, desperation or despair. Hence one sees the inherent irrationality of most of the populist right that merely echoes the fear of their masters. Immigrants, regulation and taxation hardly are scary for the poor. They keep the poor afloat. But they do scare the rich. And if the strategic goal of the right is to align with power then of course they will mirror the fears of the rich.

But we see how one really comes before the other. A deeper fear of the rich and submission to them comes before this alignment that theoretically meets a consistent political ideology that has legitimacy. This sounds like a damning critique of the right, which it is. But why not then simply be left-wing?

The reason is this: the political spectrum itself is a construction by the ruling class meant to obscure the more fundamental class struggle that is at the root of our lives. Based on our material condition and both the formal and informal education we have received to tell us about this condition we come to certain conclusions about the strategies to deal with this condition and these strategies fall somewhere along the political spectrum. By accepting the construct of the political spectrum we keep our minds colonized in a space that is one step removed from our oppressor.

This is only one reason. If the position of left-wing resulted in the same ideology as a living fulfillment of the class condition then we might say nothing is at stake here beyond the clarity and urgency necessary to deal with the ruling class. It is however not that simple. Accepting any set of beliefs leaves one blind to the more material necessities of the time.

Politics is no different than religion in this way. While both attempt to explain the material condition both always fall short of accurately evaluating because the material condition itself is a mystery beyond comprehension and therefore is fluid. Based on this evaluation religion may get more right than politics, but that is for another day. Why must an unknown be fluid? Because there are constantly new discoveries of it by the individual and the community at large.

Therefore ideology can keep the subject stagnant and reactionary, or even manipulated. But what this mean in a practical sense? Some new ways of dealing with things outside of the political spectrum. Firstly, rather than evaluate every figure, institution or policy based on its relationship to an artificial spectrum of beliefs, why not directly relate this quantity to power and money itself?

One of the ruling class tricks the left tends to fall for is to evaluate all thrusts against power within its own rather rigid and purist ideas. This can lead to a self-sabotage of thrusts against power. There is still a spectrum thinking here which is flawed. Are you on my side or their side? Too often one needs to be completely to one side to justify their act against power or else it is seen as not worthy.

Rather we should live by the principle of give what you can, when you can. We should be able to evaluate actions not on their relationship to the achievement of some grandiose revolution but on the practical implications of them for the working class. This means being able to evaluate every action and being able to accurately see what its practical gains and practical flaws are as well as the choices within the actions at hand.

If we operate on the assumption that the left is simply an opposition against power while the right is simply an acceptance of it we can see how if power is sophisticated it can actually trick both sides as easily as the other. Power on the right is “honest”. One actually hears this about right-leaning politicians. They aren’t hypocrites. The right will take the side of power no matter what. So if power were to lie for the right and advocate something that takes away from their power we would see the right accidentally becoming opposed to power by promoting power’s own stance against itself. No need. The right easily accepts oppression by believing whatever awful things their leaders say.

The left appears to be harder to wrangle. But not so much. Power needs to say they are doing something beneficial for the working class. The left, being opposed to power, finds a stance that contradicts power no matter what. Therefore the left ends up opposing what is actually beneficial simply because they are stuck in the propaganda loop. Furthermore, real power that brands itself as insurrection against the rule of the time can often present a charisma too romantic for the left to deny even when this power must be questioned in an unabating manner. This coopting of anti-power by power itself must always be interrogated because the ruling class naturally has an interest in silencing the real working class skeptics, even if they must appear to listen to the working class along the way.

This is not to draw false equivalencies. The left values thinking, while the right values order. Yet by remaining on the “left” our position can and will be obscured and manipulated by the people in power. The 1% often smears and criminalizes the left. People can only believe these punishments to be just because the left can be framed in a way it is not simply because the term “left” means nothing. Without understanding the central relationship to power the left often appears as a threat to the timid and powerless because the left threatens the order of things. Therefore their punishment is often supported because people are scared of change. But no one says this, or says it clearly enough. People may be very sympathetic to the left, or even ‘convert’ to the left if it was understood that the real goal of the left is to oppose power and empower people.

The debate remains to the side of what it is. Theorists line up with conflicting theories. None of the experts can agree, they often say the opposite thing. There is a common theme. Anyone who takes the side of power is promoted, and anyone who isn’t is punished. This should give us more hints about who is right and who is wrong than the ruling class debate between what is right and left.

There also may be blind spots for the left when power itself calls itself left, and then becomes above criticism. It is in this instance the left forgets its more fundamental role of class subversion. Likewise, the tendency to dismiss degrees of variance within a system that will always oppress the poor to various degrees is a miscalculation. Study history and one will find that very often the revolutions themselves were class violence and the propaganda promoting them were ruling class. Even when revolutions do benefit the working class, the ruling class will always be fighting back under capitalism. Therefore it remains perilous to fall for any revolution as a utopian goal. The gains will always need protection and also no gains should be dismissed as the absence of revolution.

If an action helps one working class person, it should be embraced. If an action hurts one working class person, it should be opposed. With of course realistic knowledge of what possibilities are in mind and what power is doing to channel less radical ideas into our minds. But the struggle must remain material and never should it erase history or real gains for some ideology created by the ruling class.

The origins of the terms right and left, according to Wikipedia: “The terms right and left refer to political affiliations originating early in the French Revolutionary era of 1789–1799 and referred originally to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France.[1] As seen from the Speaker’s seat at the front of the Assembly, the aristocracy sat on the right (traditionally the seat of honor) and the commoners sat on the left, hence the terms right-wing politics and left-wing politics.[1]” There is basic distinction here. If it was understood by the working class there would be much better conditions for everyone on the whole.

It also can be said that the left is in part responsible for its own lack of people power. This comes with an allegiance to the power of revolution or authoritarianism that is practically quite bad for most working people even when it generally calls itself left precisely because it pushes back against the so-called neoliberal rule of the day, which is undoubtedly a complete disaster and tragedy for the planet and the working class.

The fight against power must remain constant and it must be recognized as an eternal struggle that is fundamental to the human condition. It is in this sense that the revolutionary mindset is extremely beneficial. Chris Hedges, one of the most admirable resisters of power in this country, says a phrase that at one point sounded profound but now seems to miss the mark. It went something like this: “we don’t fight fascists because we will win, we fight fascists because they are fascists.”

This phrase, while with good intentions characterizes the self-defeating nature of a fight for a materially blind goal. There are always victories. Even in times of complete chaos. There are also losses. Even in times of communist rule. What matters is the strength of utility of every living being in the present and in the future. Not utility in the reductive economic sense, but the utility of happiness in a deeply human sense, in which material gains are central to the fundamental struggle of life. Ideology can and should be used to further these gains but to do so in the most practical way we must invert our order of operations.

In the modern sense of the political spectrum we have seen how the literal spatial difference between the classes have been devoured by neoliberal capital rule. It once was acknowledged that the difference between left and right was merely a class difference. A literal separation, not an ideological one. Now billionaire liberal capitalists are called leftists and dirt poor fascists are said to be on the right.

A poor person on the right is a contradiction. A pillar to the theory of Karl Marx is that the subject is alienated from themselves under capitalism. Desire is formed and manipulated by the need to survive and the means to get there in a society that has hungry and homeless people simply because people are too greedy to give up their excess money. A poor person who sides with the rich is only on the right in the modern sense where capitalists produce propaganda at a record rate via the Internet. In a material sense, the poor person is always on the left and the rich person is always on the right. And this is the paramount material divide that creates class conflict.

To excuse the modern right and their affiliation with power is not the point. It is rather to examine the way the system itself colonizes the mind and makes siding with power an incentive. Only by expanding the material possibilities of the masses beyond survival and production of capital will a society form that checks itself in an honest way. In this way public education is at once a necessity and also a potential tool of power that too should be questioned precisely because of its potential for positive or negative influence on a mass level. The privatization, automation and even militarization of the public school system as well as the clear class differences in funding for both teachers and students should be a leading battle going forward.

Ideology makes us blind to the material reality in front of us. It makes us blind to others as the ideology becomes an extension of self. It is only by continuing breaking down the formations of the prejudice of any ideology that the subject can land at a state that is close to revolutionary truth. It is by continuously breaking down the formations of ego and hierarchy that a community stays democratic, just and equal. It is only through an incessant questioning, evaluation and confrontation of power itself that any society stays free of oppression. In this historical moment it is the 1% and the system of capital that enslaves the bodies, minds, and time of the working class that acts as the chief and central oppressor. If such a statement is left wing in the modern sense of the word then it is only by a lack of attrition from the original meaning of the term.

There should be a radical reclaiming of the original meaning of “left-wing”. As the French was first forming its new government, the term was purely a spatial class difference. Reclaiming this definition is urgent. Discovering our spatial relationship to the ruling class is pertinent when one considers the way the ruling class functions.

For example, as climate change, imperialism and globalization uproots families from their homes, space is manipulated by the ruling class through fascist immigration policies that clearly state that our country is “full” and anyone who tries to get in is welcome to die, go to prison or get their children taken away from them. The freeing of capital means trade deals such as NAFTA which can operate throughout space while leaving the working class at home with diminishing and precarious returns..The space of the home remains a colonized space where men are allowed to leave the home and women are forced to stay inside of it to bear children for the reproduction of capital and the male ego and disregard that is quintessential to this formation of capital.

Additionally, the concept of space is necessary to examine the ways that communities within the United States are separated through institutional classism and racism that creates disturbing disparities in things such as: air and water quality, access to healthy food, access to dignified public schools, and freedom from a lawless police state. Connected to this is the glaring mass incarceration state which uses space as a confine to distinguish class difference as well as make money off of the disciplining of the poor. Similarly, one sees how imperialism and colonialism create disparities in the world’s wealth and systematically employ violence, slavery and pollution in spaces the most poor and least white.

The right will continue to side with the ruling class, and often in very dangerous and destructive ways. By understanding the spatial implications of such actions we can identify the true violence by every member of the right. This may be a class expression, but that does not mean the right should be met with a class excuse. Taking the side of the ruling class will always hurt other people and this is the selfish choice the right has made and it reflects a soullessness that will not be solved through political ideological debate. Rather the right must be exposed for who it is: the individual choosing to rule over a society rather than act within a society that has concern for the people or earth around them.

The term ‘left’ then can reflect both the perils of the time and the heroics of the group if it reclaims its origin as a spatial and class relation. The American Dream collapses on itself, American Empire expands to an irrational and hidden purveyor of violence in every corner of the globe, the economy is deregulated, social programs are gutted, inequality rises, social conservatism speaks again as the fascism it always was, the propaganda consolidates into a more and more obtuse, yet also more present form, and climate change creates a chaotic and uncertain present and an unrecognizable future. Such conditions open up the possibility for us all to identify with the left side of the class spectrum that we truly occupy in the age of a global oligarchy. Such conditions also make identifying with this oligarch power through right-wing ideology all the more appealing. Both sides can be seen clearly through this new framing and politics can reclaim its significance as the struggle for material survival within the structures of capitalist class rule.

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Chaos and Old Night: Fracking’s Hell Fires Still Burn Bright in Colorado

Photograph Source: Joshua Doubek – CC BY-SA 3.0

A funny thing happened on the way to the Colorado Capitol this past winter.  The new Democratic majority passed a bill that would end the oil industry’s reign of terror over the people in the fracking fields of Colorado. The new law, known as SB 181, made the protection of public health, safety, and the environment a condition that had to be met before any new oil and gas wells could be drilled or other infrastructure approved.

When the smoke cleared and the jubilant Democratic legislators had gone home to be crowned with laurel, the new governor, Jared Polis, a centrist Democrat, took over administration of the new law.

Lo and behold, it was only a matter of days thereafter that the future started to look a lot like the past, a past that was and is a living hell for those in the fracking fields.

The many citizens who believe Governor Polis is slow-walking implementation of SB 181 were served no surprise the other night.  These citizens now know with certainty the Governor will not implement the new law any time soon. In place of SB 181 is a fabricated set of sixteen “Objective Criteria” established by Jeffrey Robbins — Polis’s new head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, COGCC and his former attorney who pushed drillers back from the Governor’s country estate a few years ago.

Robbins was invited to speak in suburban Thornton recently to a group of citizens threatened by what the writer Rob Nixon has termed the slow violence of fracking. It was there that Robbins explained his sixteen  “Objective Criteria.” He told the crowd these criteria are the law, and will remain the law until new rules governing the real law, SB 181, could be promulgated.

He defended this position by noting that as the head of the COGCC it was his responsibility alone to come up with an implementation plan within 30 days of the SB 181’s passage.  Indeed, in his view, the law made him Czar, his term, of all things oil and gas in the state of Colorado.

A fairer reading of the legislation would be for Robbins to set out in detail within 30 days of the law’s passage how he, as the state’s designated representative, was going to swiftly and faithfully implement SB 181. This bill’s intent is guided by the precautionary principle that when there is doubt about the impacts of an oil and gas activity on the public’s health or the environment, precaution requires the government not to proceed until those doubts are reasonably settled. But such an approach would inevitably cause delays in approving oil- and gas-drilling permits.  This appears to be the reason Robbins has ignored the precautionary principle to date.

Robbins’ approach has been the opposite. It appears to have been developed not from the language of the bill, but from the announcements of expected results by some high-ranking Democrats, particularly those Governor Polis made at the bill’s April 16th signing where he said, “This is an important step forward for the stability of Colorado, to end the oil and gas wars in a way that everybody wins.”

On its face, this statement may be dismissed as just one of those meaningless politician-speak cliches. The oil and gas industry clearly lost the legislative battle on SB 181 because the state went from fostering oil and gas development as its top priority to protecting the public and the environment as a condition for permitting new development.  Legitimate rulemaking by Robbins and the COGCC as it pertains to SB 181, would mean the real war had only just begun.

The only way Polis’ “end of the war” proclamation could be true is if SB 181 were to be used as a prop to disguise a business as usual approach adorned in vague promises of future enforcement. At this point it appears that is exactly what the Governor intended.

At the Thornton meeting, Robbins emphasized the Governor opposed any statewide ban or moratorium. And he made it clear the Governor favored the “Criteria” and undoubtedly approved them before their issuance.

It’s all about our health

The 6th edition of The Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) was released in June of this year.

The Compendium is recognized as the definitive source for scientific and cultural information on fracking. It has been translated into Spanish and used as a source and reference document in the European Union, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Australia, Mexico, and Argentina. The vast majority of the studies and articles it contains expose fracking as a prevailing threat to the planet and most life on it.  These are a few of the study results.

      Wastewater samples collected from 329 fracked oil wells found that virtually all—98 percent—contained benzene at levels that exceeded standards for permissible concentrations in drinking water.  (Note: Benzene is a carcinogen and is unsafe to humans at any concentration.)

      By April 2019, the amount of natural gas burned off via flaring in the Permian oil fields in Texas reached a record high, exceeding the amount of gas needed to power every residence in that state.  (Note: Flaring and venting of natural gas in Colorado is also common. Drillers want the oil, but methane comes up with it. In many cases, the cost of getting the methane to market is greater than its market value so it is simply released into the atmosphere where, according to the IPCC — the United Nations panel on climate — it has 125 times the heat trapping potential of CO2 over the critical time frame of 10 years. That’s the same time frame the IPCC recently warned we have left to control climate warming or face a perilous future.)

      Over 90 percent of all original research studies published from 2016-2018 on the health impacts of fracking find a positive association with immediate or potential harm. (Note: In the scientific world 90 percent agreement constitutes consensus and cannot be legitimately ignored by any government serious about protecting public health and the environment.)

Mr. Robbins’ sixteen “Objective Criteria” do not acknowledge any of the more than 340 pages of abstracted scientific studies and articles documented in the Compendium. Instead, he simply asks that any drilling permits in an urban environment that are within 1500 feet of people’s homes be sent to him for review.  He, as Czar, will decide whether they pose a threat to public health and the environment.  Rural folk and their proximity to proposed wells are apparently outside his purview.

To date over 450 wells have been approved since SB 181 was signed into law. Roughly 1500 permits have been approved since Polis took office in January. Thus, from all appearances, the transition from the Hickenlooper to the Polis administration has been substantively seamless for oil industry interests despite all the shouts and murmurs that this would not be the case. One thing can be said with certainty; all the scientific evidence concerning fracking’s health and environmental impacts is not going to inform the Polis administration’s decision process any time soon. It will be done with Robbins, in witless imitation of Johnny Carson’s old Carnac the Magnificent, performing magic tricks designed to gull the public.

Lest you think I exaggerate, a woman at the Thornton meeting — hand picked out of the audience by Robbins — gushed that Robbins had been successful in getting a driller to change his fracking formula, thus lessening the resulting stench in her neighborhood. But our review of the chemicals exchanged, indicate both were diesel based. Thus both contained benzene. So it appears there was a placebo effect — the smell got better — but the threat probably didn’t.

The true extent of the toxic releases from the fracking operation would have been known had a continuous monitoring system been in place at those wells as required by SB 181, but the realization of that requirement now appears to be years out. Until that far off day we’ll have to rely on testimonials from nose-sensitive neighbors on how the poisons from urban fracking can be ameliorated if you just know the right person.

It is indeed fortunate for Robbins that the latest statistical study from Dr. Lisa McKenzie at the Colorado School of Public Health was not released until a day or two after his meeting in Thornton.  McKenzie’s peer-reviewed study indicates pregnant women living in proximity to fracking activity have up to a 70-percent-increased chance of giving birth to children with heart defects compared to pregnant women living away from fracking during pregnancy.

During his Thornton presentation, an activist in the audience interrupted Robbins to say his sixteen “Objective Criteria” were actually sixteen “Subjective Criteria,” noting they weren’t based on any objective scientific information.  He replied dismissively and somewhat nonsensically “that could be your opinion.”

The differences between the Robbins Law and SB 181, the law written to protect the people and the environment, are vast and numerous.  Here are but a few of the more significant differences.


One of the long-festering controversies over fracking has been the proper setback distance needed to protect human health.  Fires and explosions are not uncommon at oil and gas facilities. Leaks and discharges of toxins, such as benzene, are ubiquitous. A significant number of deaths from explosion and fire have occurred.   The state has continually increased the setbacks as a sop to the public’s clamor for better protection. Robbins’ 1500-foot setback is simply the latest example in this official policy based on nothing more substantial than dampening public unrest whenever it reaches what the neoliberal establishment thinks is the boiling point.

A citizen sponsored setback initiative, called Prop 112, was on the November election ballot. It called for a setback distance of 2500 feet from where people live and work. It was opposed by establishment Democrats, including Polis, who explained his opposition with the trifling sound bite: “one size doesn’t fit all.”

A compliant press never asked the future Governor what that statement meant. Certainly it could be reasoned to mean that some people deserved more protection than others — particularly in light of the Robbins “Criteria” which gives urban people a small amount of additional protection while excluding rural people from any additional setback protections.

In part, it seems SB 181 was a peace offering to the proponents of Prop 112.  The sincerity of the legislative effort, given present enforcement, could be called into doubt. As a participant in all the hearings on this bill and someone who even drafted language for it when asked, I believe the bill’s sponsors were sincere.

It is unfortunate that a couple of them were prodded into denying industry claims that the purpose of the bill was to ban fracking. This created a talking point for the industry who knew the actual purpose of the legislation is to protect the public and the environment. But what is required to protect the people and the environment will not soon be known or enforced given the Polis administration’s dallying. Director Robbins magisterially peering at some drilling applications, to the exclusion of others, is not a valid test for fracking’s wide range of negative and dangerous impacts.

A mountain of scientific information exists suggesting setbacks, no matter how large, won’t mitigate the many harms of fracking. There are simply too many other factors that must be weighed and aggregated in any mature effort to evaluate the risks today’s drilling practices pose to people, the environment, and the planet.

This is not to say setbacks are not important.  They are the first line of defense for people living in the fracking fields of Colorado. But 1500 feet is nowhere near adequate to protect human health. Fire lines in Colorado for oil and gas fires are 1/2 to 1 mile. Impacts on the fetus of pregnant women have been measured up to 10 miles away from extraction operations.

In fact, the 1,500-foot Robbins’ setback of choice really isn’t a setback.  It’s just a standard.  Those permit applications with less than a 1500-foot setback will still be reviewed and a permit could be issued. For those with at least a 1,500-foot setback, no review, no problem — except near schools where a 2,000-foot setback has now been arbitrarily dictated by Robbins.

It seems no coincidence that 1,500-foot setbacks was the compromise position developed for the oil industry by RS Energy last year during the battle over Prop 112. The industry study prepared at the time found that at 1500 feet, the setbacks impacts on the industry’s core holdings would be minimal.  Even Extraction Oil and Gas, whose business model is based on urban drilling, sometimes within shouting distance of little Dick and Jane’s swing set, would have been only moderately impacted.

Financial Assurance  

SB 181 has a requirement that every driller, in order to get a new drilling permit, must present financial evidence that the company is capable of fulfilling his obligations to monitor, maintain, and eventually close, plug and reclaim the wells being permitted. Though not a public health issue (except when wells are improperly plugged), this test for “can and will” is necessary to protect the public welfare and is one of the SB 181’s specific requirements.  It is not covered in Robbins’ sixteen “Objective Criteria.”

The question of financial solvency has long plagued the industry. It has never made a sustainable profit from horizontally drilling and fracking shale formations. Its expenses have always exceeded the income generated from its oil and gas production from this expensive process.  In 2017, the Wall Street Journal estimated the industry had debt totaling $280 billion. Its debt has only increased since then.

It wasn’t long ago that some Wall Street analysts were saying Elon Musk would have to sell Tesla when his debt load reached $10 billion. That prophesy has not come true, because the big difference between Musk and the frackers is that Musk can work himself out of debt if he can just build enough cars. He makes a profit on each one of them. The very opposite is true of today’s shale oil and gas industry — the more they drill the more they lose, and that has always been the case.

In the past, the industry was able to get the Wall Street investors to bet on its future. But those investors are now rightfully leery of continued funding for what appears to be a losing proposition. Without tremendous amounts of new borrowed money the overall oil and gas shale extraction industry simply cannot survive at current market prices or even much higher prices.

A recent report from one of the world’s leading banks warned that “the economics of renewables are impossible for oil to compete with.” It is their opinion that all the money presently being spent for developing new oil is a waste, and could amount to as much as $24 trillion in lost investment capital for gas alone in the next 25 years if there isn’t a strategic U-turn in energy policy.

This calculation does not include health and environmental costs. For example, another new study found that “coastal communities in the U.S. must spend upwards of $400 billion at a minimum in the next five to 10 years to protect property from sea level rise.”  Colorado won’t have to worry about ocean flooding, but increased flash flooding, wild fires, and drought are also impacts of climate warming and instability.  And they do carry costs.

The evidence suggests the Polis administration does not believe in U-turns, even though the legislature provided a usable road map in the form of SB 181. The result of ignoring the realities of shale-oil-extraction economics is that the public will very likely one day have to pick up the tab for the closing, plugging and remediation of many, if not most, of the wells in this state, of which there are approximately 100 thousand. The costs will be many, many billions of dollars and will strain the state’s budget to the point of breaking.


SB 181 directs the COGCC to revisit the bonding requirements to determine what amount of insurance is needed to adequately protect the public from someday inheriting the costs of closing and maintaining the industry’s old, played-out wells.  Presently, drillers have to post a $10,000 bond for one well, but bonding is capped at a laughable $100,000 for all wells a driller owns and/or operates. Noble Energy, though the second largest producer in the state, has the most wells, more than 7,000. At $10,000 per well, that would require a bond of some $70 million not the $100,000 the current law requires.

Last year about $5 million had to be allocated from the state’s general fund to close a few old, abandoned wells the COGCC had determined were an immediate health and safety risk. The cost came to about $250,000 per well. The COGCC has identified 365 more abandoned wells that should be likewise closed soon for public health and safety reasons. The legislature will likely have to allocate at least $91 million from the general fund to close them, and that’s only if there are no surprises. In California, the cost of closing two old wells in Hollywood recently ran to about a $1 million each.  It is almost axiomatic that the closer fracked wells are to people and important public resources such as water supplies, the greater the costs of closing, plugging and monitoring.

A leaked government report from the Canadian province of Alberta set the likely cost of closing all old wells and attendant infrastructure in the province at $130 billion. The province has less than $1 billion in a trust fund for environmental restoration. Colorado has no funds set aside by the legislature and no trust fund.  Colorado has about half of Alberta’s 200,000 wells.

The immediate question becomes how are we the people going to pay for the closing of old wells, how many will there be, and how likely is it they will become a long-term publ ic liability?

It is very likely the public will have to pay to close the majority of the wells in the state for the reasons discussed in the previous section on industry finances. It is a lead pipe cinch that the taxpayers will have to pay for the long-term maintenance of these wells, because the industry will be long gone in 20 years, replaced by renewables, assuming, of course, we humans are interested in and capable of self preservation.  Engineering studies show that old wells have to be resealed repeatedly, on average, every 20 years—concrete decays and steel corrodes. The costs tend to increase with re-closings.  They are potentially a horrendous public cost. And still our elected officials treat the oil and gas industry as an economic positive to our state as opposed to the devastating liability it actually represents.

This raises the question of why would the state not close off this obvious, known subsidy to the industry at the earliest opportunity? It is likely most of the 450 drilling permits issued since SB 181 became law were deemed bonded under the old system, so the drillers paid nothing, having already posted their $100,000 maximum. Thus, a $113 million taxpayer subsidy has likely been extended to the industry just since the April passage of SB 181 and Robbins’ sixteen “Criteria” replaced it as state law shortly thereafter. Robbins’ Law does not address subsides or bonding, though bonding rulemaking is promised soon, perhaps.

In another example of what the future holds, Anadarko, the largest producer in the state, was recently bought for $38 billion by Occidental Petroleum. As a condition for approving transfer of ownership under SB 181’s financial assurance requirements, the Polis administration could have insisted that new bonding was required. That could have allowed the $100,000 cap on bonding for Anadarko’s estimated 6300 wells to have been increased to $1.6 billion at $250,000 per well, a much more realistic projection of what will eventually be needed.

Still, the only reasonable way to get the funding needed to establish an adequate trust for closing wells is to raise the severance tax. Bonding increases would not be totally adequate to the job ahead since there are already about 100,000 wells in the state with inadequate or zero bonding, many of which are owned by small operators the state recognizes as financially distressed.  A new requirement for permitting new wells should carry a caveat that all wells owned by the operator seeking the permit must be updated to at least a bond of $250,000 per well and more for wells in sensitive locations such as near neighborhoods, water supplies, etc. This bonding could also apply to any ownership transfer or financial assurance review, which SB 181 specifies must be conducted annually. This would undoubtedly result in a coincidental reduction in new drilling permits.

The organization I am member of, Be the Change-Colorado, floated a finished bill to increase the severance tax before Democratic leaders last year. It was not taken up. The Democrats felt that too much had been done with SB 181 on the docket.

The severance tax in this state is now an effective .6 percent, ten times lower than neighboring Wyoming’s which funds a good portion of its school system from a trust established with this tax. Colorado’s severance tax is the lowest by far of all western states largely because Colorado allows local property taxes paid to the counties to be deducted from the severance tax bill owed the state.

The state also allows other industry operating costs such as transportation, processing, and manufacturing to be deducted from the severance tax. As a result in 2017, the severance revenues ran in the red by over $14 million. Money had to be allocated from the general fund just to keep the COGCC afloat and well permitting humming.

The overall effect is that in three of the last ten years, Weld County operators paid no severance tax to Colorado at all, even though Weld is by far the largest oil-producing county in the state.

Ironically state law also calls for a portion of the severance tax collected to go back to oil producing counties to cover oil and gas impacts even if they pay nothing into the state severance tax that year.  For instance Weld County collected about $490 million in property taxes from the oil industry in 2017, but paid no severance tax to the state. Yet, it received several million from the severance tax pot, a pot into which it had paid nothing.

There is some talk at the legislature that a bill will be introduced in 2020 to eliminate the property tax deduction from the county severance tax calculation. That would of course help, as would eliminating the exception for stripper wells, those wells that produce less than 15 barrels of oil and/or 90 thousand cubic feet of gas per day on average over the year. Over 70 percent of the wells in the state are stripper wells and thus pay no severance tax.  Plus, strippers are ever increasing in number since production from new fracked wells declines steeply, often to stripper status within two years.

But these measures alone would not realize enough revenue to bankroll the prospect of closing, plugging, remediating and maintaining all the wells in this state.

An increase in the severance tax to at least an effective 9 percent, a rate similar to North Dakota’s severance tax, would raise enough money to at least start a trust fund for long term maintenance of this well system. It goes without saying that the idiotic present redistribution of the severance tax back to the counties, as well as the state water program, must cease and be placed instead into this dedicated trust.

Such action would unleash the Furies of the oil industry as nothing else has. But in the end, there is no other way to start making inroads into the environmental debt coming to the citizens of this state. And make no mistake, the citizens in the gas and oil-producing counties will not be asked to pay the tab alone.  It will be all Colorado taxpayers, no matter where they live.

Polis’ temporizing over implementation of SB 181 appears to be an almost reflexive neoliberal reaction to balance the vested economic interests of corporate America, of which he is a prominent member, against the interests of the people and their constitutional rights to protection. Balancing these interests was a central precept of the old law. SB 181 was intended to turn the tables. Polis has simply not accepted the change, and as a consequence has made SB 181 a nullity, at least in the short term.

In summary there is a wellspring of official tax breaks and subsidies the oil industry enjoys that SB 181 could help correct if it were to be faithfully implemented. Robbins’ sixteen “Objective criteria” protect the industry from paying more. The health and safety requirements in SB 181 would protect the people if implemented, but any such action by Robbins and the COGCC are being pushed so far into the future as to create doubt they will ever be implemented.

Last month the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg spoke before the French parliament.  These were her words: “I believe that the biggest danger is not our inaction. The real danger is when companies and politicians are making it look like real action is happening when, in fact, almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”  It is unfortunate Polis and his lieutenants were not there to hear.

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Boris Johnson’s Slo-Motion Coup Eerily Recalls the Rise of Erdogan

Photograph Source: UK Prime Minister – OGL 3

Britain is experiencing a slow-moving coup d’etat in which a right-wing government progressively closes down or marginalises effective opposition to its rule. It concentrates power in its own hands by stifling parliament, denouncing its opponents as traitors to the nation, displacing critics in its own ranks, and purging non-partisan civil servants.

Some describe this as “a very British coup”, which gives the operation a warmer and fuzzier feeling than it deserves. It is, in fact, distinctly “un-British” in the sense that the coup makers ignore or manipulate the traditional unwritten rules of British politics over the past 400 years whereby no single faction or institution monopolises authority.

What we are seeing has nothing to do with the British past but a very modern coup in which a demagogic nationalist populist authoritarian leader vaults into power through quasi-democratic means and makes sure that he cannot be removed.

This new method of seizing power has largely replaced the old-fashioned military coup d’etat in which soldiers and tanks captured headquarters and hubs in the capital and took over the TV and radio stations. Likely opponents were rounded up or fled the country. The military leaders sought popular passivity rather than vocal support.

I first witnessed the new type of coup in action three years ago in Turkeywhen it took place in reaction to an old-fashioned military coup. Part of the Turkish army tried to stage a military putsch on 15 July 2016 and provided the then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with what appeared to him to be a heaven-sent opportunity to install an elective dictatorship in which subsequent elections and the real distribution of power could be pre-determined by control of the media, judiciary, civil service, security services and, if people still stubbornly voted against the government, by outright electoral fraud.

I spoke to plenty of people in Istanbul in the days after the abortive military coup who saw clearly that its failure meant that they might have escaped rule by the army, but only at the cost of being gripped ever more tightly by civilian authoritarian rule.

“Erdogan’s lust for power is too great for him to show restraint in stifling opposition in general,” predicted one intellectual who, like almost everybody I was interviewing at this time, would only speak anonymously. This was certainly wise: TV stations, radios, newspapers, critics of all sorts were being closed down by the minute. When one small-circulation satirical magazine dared to publish a cartoon mildly critical of the government, the police went from shop to shop confiscating copies.

Some Turks comforted themselves by quoting the saying that in government “the worst politician is better than the best general”. Three years later, those not forced into silence, in exile or in prison may not be so certain that the difference between a civilian and a military dictatorship is quite so great.

Less than a year after the failed military coup, Erdogan held a blatantly rigged referendum which marginalised parliament and gave him dictatorial powers. Despite the harassment and silencing of critics, it passed by only 51.4 per cent in favour of these constitutional changes as opposed to 48.6 per cent against. Even this narrow majority was only achieved late on election night when the head of the electoral board overseeing the election decided that votes not stamped as legally valid, numbering as many as 1.5 million, would be counted as valid, quite contrary to practice in previous Turkish elections.

By the day of the referendum in 2017, some 145,000 people had been detained, 134,000 sacked, and 150 media outlets closed. No act of persecution was too petty or cruel: one opposition MP, who denounced the “yes” vote, found that his 88-year-old mother had been discharged by way of retaliation from a hospital where she had been under treatment for two-and-a-half years.

Turkish elections are not a complete farce as in Egypt and Syria, as was shown by the election of an opposition candidate as mayor of Istanbul earlier this year. But the political process as a whole is now so skewed towards Erdogan that it will be extraordinarily difficult to dislodge him. This is a feature of the 21st-century type coup: once in office, leaders are proving more difficult to evict than a junta of military officers a century earlier.

Could the same thing happen here in Britain? This is one of the strengths of the Johnson coup: many people cannot believe that it has happened. British exceptionalism means that foreign experience is not relevant. Few knew or cared that Turkey had a strong tradition of parliamentary democracy as well as a grim record of military takeovers. But it is these slow-burn civilian coups which are such a feature of the modern world that we should be looking at – and trying to learn from – and nor what happened in Britain in the 1630s when Charles I sought to impose arbitrary government.

Opponents of the suspension of the parliament have a touching faith that the present government will stick by the historic rules of the political game when everything it has done so far shows a determination to manipulate and misuse these rules to gain and keep political power.

Many in Britain are now springing to the defence of parliament and elected representation, but they should have sprung a bit earlier. Those in the Labour Party who were neutral about Brexit – or even saw it as a welcome disruption of the status quo and an opportunity for radical reform – only now seem to be noticing that Brexit was always a vehicle whereby the hard right could take over the government.

Progressive Turks have been down this road and knew all too well what lay at the end of it. Revolutionaries on the left suddenly discover that the right also stages revolutions and that there is virtue in a fairly elected parliament. “So here I am, gone from post-structuralist anarchist to ballot-box monitor,” tweeted one Turkish convert to this view as he vainly tried to thwart fraudulent elections.

The quote comes from How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, the compelling and instructive book by the Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran which forecast a year ago where the Brexit crisis was heading. Her work should be prescribed reading for anybody seeking to understand and resist the global trend she describes.

A weakness of such resistance is that its potential leaders, including supposed radicals like Jeremy Corbyn, really do look at Britain’s past as a guide. It is those who have been mocked for trying to recreate a fantasy England, such as Johnson and his chief lieutenants, who are much more in tune with the modern world and instinctively follow in the footsteps of Trump, Erdogan and their like from Washington to Sao Paolo and Budapest to Manila.

The annus mirabilis of the new populist nationalist authoritarians was 2016: the Brexit referendum took place in June, the Turkish military coup and Erdogan’s counter-coup in July, and Donald Trump’s election as president in November. Johnson, Erdogan and Trump are alike in specialising in aggressive patriotism, defence of an endangered national independence, and nostalgia for past glories.

Successful resistance to this toxic trend means learning from the fresh experience of other nations similarly blighted and not from British history.

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Living With Grizzlies

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Grizzly bears indisputably create challenges for those of us privileged to live among them. Our food is their food. Grizzlies are also among the largest of large carnivores in North America. Because of their size and sometimes aggressive defense of personal space they can be dangerous, enough so to have killed around 70 people since the turn of the previous century. And they are, indeed, showing up more often in our backyards, pastures and fields.

But that is only part of the story.

We humans are far more lethal to grizzly bears than they ever will be to us. Between 80-90% of all the adolescent and adult bears that die do so because a human kills them, amounting to a human-caused toll of nearly a thousand bears since the mid-1970s. By contrast, the odds of any one of us being mauled, much less killed, by a grizzly during a close encounter are trivially small, somewhere around 3 to 6 out of 1,000 — about the same as me being savaged by a squirrel in my yard.

Moreover, in contrast to the comparative trickle of grizzly bears into what we consider our back yards, we humans are a veritable tsunami overrunning their wildlands. As anyone knows who has been around northwestern Montana for even the last 10 years, ever more land is being gobbled up by residential developments that intrude on previously wild country. The associated influx of people has spawned ever more day hikers, mountain bikers and traffic, along with a burgeoning of domestic animals, fruit trees, lawns, and garbage that attract bears to the places we live. Anymore, the Flathead Valley and Missoula environs are a veritable wall of lethal humanity.

But the plains and into the valleys. The official mantra is that mounting numbers of bears have saturated carrying capacity in the backcountry, impelling them outward onto the peripheries of historical range. Buried in this narrative are the assumptions that increases in distribution have been proportional to increases in bear numbers and, moreover, that carrying capacity is static.

Neither is true. Increases in bear distributions in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone have far outstripped even the most optimistic estimates of population growth. And carrying capacity is not static. Notably, important bear foods have been lost and habitats destabilized by rapidly changing environments and climates. Whitebark pine is functionally gone as a bear food, at the same time that transient unproductive habitats have spread in the aftermath of escalating wildfires.

Meanwhile, the cattle that are drawing bears ever farther out from the Rocky Mountain Front have reached near record numbers since low ebb a decade before. Compounding all of this, berry famines drive spikes in grizzly bear mortalities that foreshadow what will happen if, as projected, berry-producing shrubs and their pollinators are devastated by human-caused changes to the environment. In other words, habitat matters.

The world is not static for grizzly bears. In fact, they are probably under more duress now than they have been for decades. Grizzly bears are not the problem. We are the problem. One-sided stories that lack context will only make it more difficult to grapple with the challenges and complexities of living with grizzlies.

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East German Neo-Nazis Celebrate After Big Election Win

On the day of the 80th anniversary of Germany’s Nazi-Wehrmacht rolling into Poland – 1st of September 1939, starting the antisemitic race war to total annihilation – two local elections were held in the East-German states of Brandenburg (2.4 million people) and Saxony (4 million people). In both states, Germany’s semi-Neo-Nazi party, the AfD made significant gains with about 2/3 of the voting population actually voting. In the East-German state of Brandenburg that surrounds Germany’s capital of Berlin, the AfD almost doubled its results from 12.2% to 23.5%.


Traditionally, Brandenburg has had a strong social-democratic (SPD) voting population. It also used to have a strong working class milieu as shown in Berthold Brecht’s Kuhle Wampe. During the 1920s, even Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was fearful of the strongly social-democratic Brandenburg. Hitler’s Nazis needed what the Nazis called the Preussenschlag to eliminate the strong social-democratic opposition. Today, whilst the once mighty SPD still remains the strongest political party in Brandenburg with 26.2%, it is closely followed by the AfD (23.5%) and after the recent election, the AfD is the strongest opposition party in Brandenburg.

Merkel’s conservatives, the CDU won 15.6% of the overall vote in Brandenburg, losing 7.4%. Germany’s Greens gained 4.6% ending up with 10.8%. The Greens continued their strong upward trend shown throughout Germany. Their strong showing came even though – or perhaps better: because of – the Greens have moved towards what is jokingly called Bio-FDP. Bio-FDP indicates that the Greens have merged neoliberalism (with the small FDP being Germany’s only neoliberal party) with environmentalism (bio). While embracing neoliberalism, many Greens have said farewell to their progressive origins.

Overall, Germany’s social-democratic party just scraped in with just two seats more than the crypto-Nazis of the AfD. A coalition government consisting of Brandenburg’s democratic parties will – most likely – keep the AfD in opposition even though its electoral win will give the AfD increasing powers. In a recent poll, 77% of Brandenburg’s AfD voters said “they like second class citizens”. Splitting German voters into them versus us and West-Germans against East-Germans assisted the AfD in addition to its usual themes of racism, xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, anti-Muslim, and Antisemitism, etc.

Looking at the electoral map shows that there is a strong East-West difference even within the two states of Saxony and Brandenburg. In short, the more East one goes, the more likely one finds AfD strongholds. Perhaps this is an indicator of the term Dim-GermanyDunkeldeutschland, i.e. those parts of Eastern Germany furthest removed from Germany’s centre. These remote and often rural locations are also called ‘valleys of the clueless’. The valley-term hits the AfD voter on the head. Indeed, most AfD voters have no clue. They live inside AfD echo-chambers (Facebook) believing everything their leaders – Führer – say. Key to understand the AfD voter are: they are old, they are white, they are men, they use the Internet as the main source of information, and they are racist. More than indicators like unemployment, etc. it is plain racism that defines the AfD voter.


The electoral map of Saxony confirms this – the more East, the more likely the AfD triumphs. Unlike in the more social-democratic Brandenburg, in Saxony it is not the social-democratic SPD but Merkel’s CDU that holds up strong in the Western parts while Saxony’s Eastern parts are covered in AfD blue. By the way, blue. Blue is the semi-official and self-assigned colour of the AfD. It camouflages the AfD’s true ideology of right-wing extremism mixed with racism and spiced up with Neo-Nazism. A more truthful reflection came from one of Germany’s national newspapers, the daily – The Tageszeitung. The TAZ has started to assign the colour brown to the AfD. Brown is the traditional colour of the Nazis (Hitler) and Neo-Nazis (today). The colour brown is based on the colour of Hitler’s SA uniforms.

Unlike Merkel’s CDU that lost 7.3%, the AfD almost tripled its results in Saxony from 9.7% in 2014 to today’s 27.5%, gaining a whopping 17.7% – unmatched by any other party. Germany’s socialists – Die Linke – lost 8.5% and the social-democratic SPD lost 4.7% in Saxony. In other words, the AfD won stronger in conservative Saxony compared to the more social-democratic Brandenburg. In Germany’s far east, the SPD has been reduced to a micro-party holding a mere 7.7%. In Brandenburg as in Saxony, the SPD is continuing its overall decline that is recognisable throughout Germany. Recent leadership quarrels may exasperate the downward trend of the party.

In Saxony, the SPD will have just ten seats compared to Merkel’s CDU mainlining a substantial level of support with 45 seats. The second strongest party, the AfD, came in at 38 seats. Saxony’s present prime minister – Kretschmer (CDU) – believes that the AfD is a serious threat to democracy. A somewhat late realisation because the AfD has just become the second strongest party in parliament – just as it did in Brandenburg.

Still, many had predicted that the AfD would beat the CDU in Saxony and the SPD in Brandenburg to become the strongest political force in two substantial East-German states. This did not happen. In other words, Germany’s two main parties – the conservative CDU and the social-democratic SPD – were able to maintain their position in Saxony and Brandenburg albeit with heavy losses to the AfD.

Meanwhile at the AfD’s election party in Saxony’s capital Dresden, members and attending Neo-Nazis celebrated whenever losses of Germany’s democratic parties became visible at the TV screens. Celebrating was also Brandenburg’s populist AfD boss, ex-paratrooper and ex-Neo-Nazi camp attendee, Andreas Kalbitz. Kalbitz is ideologically linked to the AfD’s real Führer Björn Höcke. Kalbitz follows Höcke’s ultra-nationalistic and racist Flügel – most creatively called the wing. While Björn Höcke used to write under the false name of Landolf Ladig for Neo-Nazi papers, Kalbitz prefers to wave Hitler’s swastika flag from a hotel balcony together with attending Neo-Nazi Udo Vogt.

Kalbitz’s counterpart in Saxony is Jörg Urban who, unlike Kalbitz (born in Munich), Björn Höcke (born in Lünen), and Gauland (ex-CDU-Hessen), is actually from East-Germany. Why is this relevant? It is relevant because in Brandenburg as in Saxony, the AfD runs a strong ticket on what it calls Wende 2.0. It claims to complete the change from state-socialism (1949-1989) to West-German capitalism (1990) through what the AfD calls a second change – change 2.0 or Wende 2.0. In the dreams of many AfD politicians and Neo-Nazi supporters this so-called second revolution should lead to the mythical Aryan Volksgemeinschaft. Meanwhile, many people who have been instrumental to the real change in 1989 despise the AfD because of the party’s strong anti-democratic stance. Beyond that, West-imports like Björn Höcke (imported into the East-German state of Thuringia) tell his electorate, we East-Germans will complete the revolution – only Björn Höcke is from the West-German state of Hessen and not from East-Germany. But Germany’s right-wing and Nazi voters have never bothered with such details, believing Adolf Hitler when he spoke of our Germany – only Hitler was from Austria, not Germany.

What Happens Next

While the AfD has made very strong gains in both states – Brandenburg and Saxony – it failed to reach its target of becoming the strongest political party in both states. The next step will be the formation of coalition governments. Germany’s electoral system is based on proportional representation. This means coalition building. In both states, the still strong social-democratic SPD (Brandenburg) and the conservative CDU (Saxony) are unlikely to enter into a coalition government with an anti-democratic party.

As much as the AfD may seek a hazelnut collation that unites conservatives (black) with the AfD (brown), this remains a most unlikely option. However, in both states coalition building will become harder and parliamentarian work more difficult. Many studies have shown that the AfD is not interested in democracy and parliamentarian work. Instead, it sees parliaments as arenas for shouting matches, abuses, personal insults, and right-wing extremist propaganda. This will become worse as recent electoral gains will energise the AfD, right-wing extremists and Neo-Nazis.

Thomas Klikauer is the author of a book entitled The AfD to be published by Sussex Academia Press in early 2020.


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No Recession for 2020

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

These days the business press is full of predictions of recessions. This could get people worried, except that the track record of economists in predicting recessions is basically awful. As much fun as a bunch of scary warnings from economists is, it is best to look at the data.

At the most basic level it is important to recognize that some sectors are very cyclical, meaning they grow rapidly in upturns and fall sharply in recessions, and others tend not to fluctuate very much over the course of a business cycle. The cyclical group is led by housing construction, durable goods consumption (cars and big household appliances), non-residential construction, equipment investment, and inventories. These components of demand tend to plunge in a recession.

On the other hand, we have several components of demand that are mostly unresponsive to the business cycle. Spending on consumer services (largely medical spending and rent) varies little over the course of the business cycle. Spending on consumer services fell just 0.3 percent in 2009 and actually rose through all prior post-war recessions.

The story is similar for investment in intellectual products like software and pharmaceutical research. This component of GDP fell by just 0.5 percent in 2009. While this category of spending did fall slightly in the recession following the late 1990s tech boom, the decline from 2000 to 2001 (the sharpest annual falloff) was just 0.8 percent.

This point about the varying cyclicality of different sectors matters for recession predictions, because the highly cyclical components have shrunk sharply as a share of the economy in the last four decades, as the less cyclical components have grown.

This is seen most clearly with residential construction, the most cyclical component of GDP. Residential construction peaked at 6.7 percent of GDP during the housing boom before the Great Recession, it was just 3.7 percent of GDP in the most recent quarter. It was 5.7 percent of GDP before the 1980-82 recessions and 4.8 percent of GDP before Fed interest rate hikes began slowing construction in advance of the 1990 recession.

Recession driven plunges in housing construction can be dramatic. Residential construction fell by almost 60 percent from its peak in the third quarter of 2005 to the recession trough in the second quarter of 2009. This drop was extreme because of the huge housing bubble, but if we take a more typical recession, say the 1990 to 1991 recession, the fall from peak to trough in housing construction was still almost 25 percent.

If residential construction fell by 25 percent compared with current levels, the direct hit to GDP would be just 0.9 percentage points. That is substantial, but even with the multiplier effect, this is not likely a recession story.

The difference in composition also matters hugely with durable goods consumption.  Durable goods consumption was over 9.0 percent of GDP just before the 1990-91 recession. It was just 7.1 percent of GDP in the most recent data. Furthermore, close to half of this spending is now going to imports. Either the item itself is imported or many of the parts are. There are few U.S. made cars that don’t have at least 25 percent foreign components, and the same would be true for refrigerators, dishwashers, and most other major appliances.

If we use the 50 percent figure, then consumer durables only account for 3.6 percent of GDP. Again, even a large percentage hit to this sector has only a limited impact on GDP.

There is similar story with the other highly cyclical components of GDP. Investment in non-residential structures is just 3.0 percent of GDP, it peaked at over 4.0 percent of GDP in 2008 just as the recession was taking hold. (A little known secret of the Great Recession was that there was a bubble in non-residential real estate that grew just as the bubble in residential real estate started to deflate. Most economists don’t realize this because it would require looking at GDP data.)

Equipment investment stands at 5.9 percent in the most recent quarters. It was slightly over 6.0 percent before the Great Recession and peaked at more than 7.5 percent before the 2001 recession. As with consumer durables, close to half of equipment investment is now comprised of imported value-added. This means that there is a limited impact on the domestic economy of any falloff in demand.

Inventories are probably the most cyclical component of GDP. This is because we are actually measuring the change in inventories, quarter to quarter or year to year. When we go into a recession, inventories typically contract, meaning this figure will be negative for several quarters. While inventories are undoubtedly still highly cyclical, they just matter less as we move to an economy that is more service based.

In the four years before the 2001 recession, the growth in inventories averaged 0.65 percent of GDP. In the four years before the 1980 recession, inventory accumulations averaged 0.95 percent of GDP. In the last four years they have averaged just 0.3 percent of GDP. Furthermore, close to half of these inventories are now imported. This means a slowdown or reversal in inventory accumulation will not have too large an impact on the economy.

While this simple arithmetic doesn’t rule out the possibility of a recession, it does mean that a recession will not look like ones we have seen in the past. It is very hard to envision the classic story of the Fed raising rates to slow inflation, which leads to a sharp slowing of residential construction and car-buying.

First, there is no plausible inflation story where the Fed will need to suddenly jack up rates sharply. Second, even if it did start jacking up rates, the impact on growth is likely to be far smaller than in the past.

The other recession story is the bursting of an asset bubble. There is huge sloppiness on this topic in the business press. The story of the Great Recession was the collapse of a bubble (housing) that was driving the economy, not the financial panic, which was a sidebar. There is no bubble now driving the economy, so there is nothing whose collapse will lead to a recession.

In short, there is not an obvious recession story on the horizon. (Maybe someone has one, but I haven’t seen it.) That doesn’t mean that the economy can’t slow substantially, with the result being higher unemployment and a weakening labor market.

There is evidence this is already the case. The growth numbers for the first half of 2019 are markedly slower than 2018. This was expected as the stimulus from the tax cut wore off. The Trump administration is further slowing growth, both by raising taxes (tariffs) and the uncertainty it is creating by its trade war, which is slowing investment. The latest Trump threats will almost certainly mean an even greater hit to investment.

The jobs numbers still look reasonably strong and the unemployment rate remains at historically low levels, but it is virtually certain that job growth will slow in the second half of the year. The sharp downward revision (501,000) to job growth previously reported from March of 2018 to 2019 shows growth over this period was not nearly as strong as we thought. Furthermore, we don’t know the distribution of this adjustment, but if it was skewed toward the end of the period, then it implies sharply lower growth in the first three months of 2019. It’s also worth noting that the last time we saw downward revision of this size were in 2002 and 2009, both recession years.

A weaker labor market could explain the modest slowing in the rate of real wage growth, from a peak of 3.4 percent year over year at the start of 2019, to 3.2 percent in the July data. The slowdown is even sharper if we annualize the rate of growth over the last three months (May, June, July) compared with the prior three months (February, March, April). This fell from a peak of 3.5 percent in November to 2.8 percent in the most recent data.

And, as I and others have argued, a weaker labor market will hit the most disadvantaged hardest. So the good stories of the last few years, like increasing employment rates among blacks and Hispanics, and people with disabilities and criminal records, will come to an end. That may not mean a recession, but it will be serious bad news.

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

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