Counterpunch Articles

Don’t Leave Equality to the Supreme Court

Are you a woman? Imagine if you were fired for wearing a skirt to work.

Are you a man? Imagine getting fired for not wearing a skirt to work.

This sounds ridiculous, right? It sounds unfair. But for many Americans, it’s a reality we must face every day.

Take the case of Aimee Stephens, a Detroit funeral home employee. Aimee is transgender, a woman assigned male sex at birth.

For most of her career, she went undercover, wearing men’s clothing every day and pretending to be a man. When she finally told her boss that she was in fact a woman and would like to start wearing work-appropriate women’s clothing, she was fired.

In 29 states, there are no protections against workplace discrimination of this sort for transgender people like me. If I lived in Michigan like Aimee, my employer could fire me at will, just because I’m transgender. (In fact, I could also be denied housing, credit, or public accommodations.)

Facing this injustice, Aimee Stephens sued. Her case against her employer has now made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

The court will decide whether firing someone because they’re transgender constitutes discrimination “on the basis of sex,” which would be illegal under the Civil Rights Act. If they rule in favor of Stephens, transgender Americans would finally be afforded the same protections that everyone else has as a right.

The Trump administration has argued that the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But advocates have countered that it does apply, since discrimination along these lines punishes people who defy stereotypes attached to their assigned sex.

Whatever the court decides, there’s no disputing that transgender people in the United States face alarmingly high rates of unemployment and poverty. In fact, we’re twice as likely to live in poverty as the general population, and 30 percent of us have experienced homelessness at some point.

Against this backdrop, housing and employment discrimination are an added devastation — and in all likelihood part of the reason these numbers are so high in the first place.

So it’s no exaggeration to say the Supreme Court’s ruling will have a drastic material impact on the millions of transgender people living in the United States. Allowing this discrimination to continue will threaten many more with unemployment and economic hardship.

With the court’s current right-wing majority, that’s a real danger. But Congress could address it by explicitly legislating anti-discrimination protections — for the workplace, housing, credit, and everything else — for this vulnerable group.

In fact, the House of Representatives has already passed the Equality Act, which would clearly codify the inclusion of gay, lesbian, transgender, and non-binary people in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, the GOP-controlled Senate has refused to consider it.

Without this legislation, the rights of millions of Americans like me are at the mercy of this Supreme Court.

No matter how the court rules, it’s the responsibility of Congress to ensure that “freedom and justice for all” includes transgender Americans, too. We need laws to prevent people like Aimee Stephens from losing their livelihoods due to employer prejudice.

We’re supposed to be a free country. We’re supposed to be an equal country. It’s time to make it that way.

Theo Wuest is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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To His Wealthy Donors, Trump is the Grifter

To decipher President Donald Trump’s presidency, apply the basic rule of politics: Follow the money.

Last month, for example, Trump performed at rallies in North Carolina and in New Mexico. He entertained adoring crowds, clad in Trump’s MAGA caps and T-shirts.

The rallies got featured on Fox and other news stations.

Then Trump flew to California and went to a series of big-dollar fundraisers that were closed to the public, pocketing what his campaign boasted as more than $15 million in campaign funding, largely from anonymous wealthy donors.

This is only a small part of the record campaign war chest that the wealthy are building for Trump’s re-election campaign.

The press treats the overwhelmingly white, working class audiences at Trump’s rallies as his “base.” But they are more his marks than his base. The anonymous wealthy donors in California have a far better claim to be the base that he serves.

The donors got the tax cuts; the working people at his rallies got health care cuts. The CEOs got the roll-back of clean water and clean air regulations; his rally audiences got the fouled water and more kids with emphysema.

Big oil and coal executives got lavish public subsidies; teachers and parents got cuts in school funding. Big Agra got billions in payoffs to make up for Trump’s trade war; family farmers were casualties, many bankrupted by the loss of markets, with Wisconsin’s small farmers suffering the worst.

Auto executives enjoyed record profits; auto workers suffered more layoffs and plant closings. The rich saw their wealth soar; working people faced rising prices in housing, health care, college, cars — with incomes that didn’t keep up.

Trump brags on the record-low unemployment numbers, but the jobs too often don’t pay a living wage and Trump and Republicans won’t even allow a vote on raising the minimum wage.

Not surprisingly, workers are beginning to protest.

GM autoworkers are involved in the largest strike in years. Teachers in red states across the country have gone on strike to demand greater investment in schools. Nurses are on strike for decent wages and better staffing of hospitals and clinics.

Fast food and restaurant workers have led marches for a $15 minimum wage and a union. Young people are marching to protest Trump’s refusal to address the clear and present threat posed by catastrophic climate change.

Trump regales the crowds at his rallies with scurrilous attacks on his opponents, lies and tales about his accomplishments, and boasts about the economy. He panders to their fears, fanning racial division, railing against immigrants and Muslims and the homeless.

He’s pugnacious, funny and outrageous. They know he’s a bad guy, but they think he’s their bad guy. And that is the con.

The anonymous donors who are contributing record amounts to Trump’s campaign don’t wear MAGA hats. They don’t go to public rallies.

They roll their eyes at Trump’s rambling rants and racial taunts. They aren’t on strike or in the streets. They are getting a great return on their investment and are happy to ante up again.

The Trump economy doesn’t work for most Americans, but it works for them. Trump keeps his promises — and his payoffs — to them.

They know Trump is a grifter, but he’s their grifter. They are all in on the con.

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Pathways to Peace

Remarks on October 4, 2019 at NoWar 2019 in Limerick, Ireland.

I am very happy to be with you all at this conference. I would like to thank David Swanson and World Beyond War for organizing this important event and also all those attending for their work for peace.

I have long been inspired by the American Peace activists and it is a joy to be with some of you at this conference. A long time ago, as a teenager living in Belfast, and social activist, I was inspired by the life of Dorothy Day, of the Catholic Worker. Dorothy, a nonviolent Prophet, called for an end to war and the money from militarism, to be used to help alleviate poverty.   Alas, if today Dorothy (RIP) knew that one in six individuals in the USA is in the Military-Media-Industrial-Complex and armament costs continue to rise daily, how disappointed she would be. Indeed, one third of the USA military budget would eliminate the entire poverty in the USA.

We need to offer new hope to a humanity suffering under the scourge of militarism and war. People are tired of armaments and war. People want Peace. They have seen that militarism does not solve problems, but is a part of the problem. The Global Climate crisis is added to by the emissions of US military, the greatest polluter in the World. Militarism also creates uncontrollable forms of tribalism and nationalism. These are a dangerous and murderous form of identity and about which we need to take steps to transcend, lest we unleash further dreadful violence upon the world. To do this we need to acknowledge that our common humanity and human dignity is more important than our different traditions.   We need to recognize our life and the lives of others (and Nature) are sacred and we can solve our problems without killing each other.   We need to accept and celebrate diversity and otherness. We need to work to heal the old divisions and misunderstandings, give and accept forgiveness and choose nonkilling and nonviolence as ways to solve our problems.

We are also challenged to build structures through which we can co-operate and which reflect our interconnected and inter-dependent relationships. The vision of the European Union founders to link countries together economically unfortunately has lost its way as we are witnessing the growing militarization of Europe, its role as a driving force for armaments, and the dangerous path, under the leadership of the USA/NATO towards a new cold war and military aggression with the building up of battle groups and a European army. I believe the European countries, who used to take initiatives in the UN for peaceful settlements of conflicts, particularly allegedly peaceful countries, like Norway and Sweden, are now one of the USA/NATO’s most important war assets. The EU is a threat to the survival of neutrality and has been drawn into being complicit in breaking international law through so many illegal and immoral wars since 9/ll. I therefore believe NATO should be abolished, and the myth of military security replaced by Human Security, through International Law and implementation of Peace Architecture. The Science of Peace and implementation of Nonkilling/Nonviolent Political Science will help us transcend violent thinking and replace a culture of violence with a culture of nonkilling/nonviolence in our homes, our societies, our world.

Also the UN should be reformed and should actively take up their mandate to save the world from the scourge of war.   People and Governments should be encouraged to evoke moral and ethical standards in our own personal lives and for Public Standards. As we have abolished slavery, so too we can abolish militarism and war in our world.

I believe if we are to survive as the human family, we must end Militarism and War and have a policy of general and complete disarmament. In order to do so, we have to look at what is sold to us as the driving forces for militarism and war.

Who are the real beneficiaries of war?   So to begin we are sold the wars under democracy, the fight against terrorism, but history has taught us wars proceeded the fight against terrorism. Greed and Colonialism and seizing of resources proceeded terrorism and the fight for so called democracy proceeded terrorism by thousands of years. We now live in an age of Western Colonialism disguised as a fight for freedom, civil rights, religious wars, right to Protect.   Under the premises we are sold the opinion that by sending our troops there and facilitating this, we are bringing democracy, rights for women, education, and for the more slightly astute of us, for those of us who see through this war propaganda,we are told that this has benefits for our countries. For those of us who are slightly more realistic about our countries goals in these countries we see an economic benefit for cheap oil, tax revenues from companies expansion into these countries, through mining, oil, resources in general and arms sale.

So at this point we are questioned morally for the good of our own country, or for our own morals.  The majority of us do not own shares, in Shell, BP, Raytheon, Halliburton, etc., Shares that skyrocketed (including Raytheon) three fold since the Syrian proxy war began. The major US military firms are:

  1. Lockheed Martin
  2. Boeing
  3. Raytheon
  4. BAE Systems
  5. Northrop Grumman
  6. General Dynamics
  7. Airbus
  8. Thales

The General Public do not benefit from the massive tax expenditure incurred by these wars. In the end these benefits are funneled towards the top. Shareholders benefit and the top l% who run our media, and the military industrial complex, will be the beneficiaries of war.   So we find ourselves in a world of endless wars, as large arms companies, and the people who benefit the most have no financial incentives for peace in these countries.


I would first like to address all Americans and thank the young soldiers and all Americans and give them my deepest condolences as I am truly sorry so many soldiers, and civilians, have been injured or killed in these US/NATO wars.  It is with great regret that the American people have paid a high price, as have the Iraqi, Syrians, Libyans, Afghans, Somalis, but we must call it what it is. America is a Colonial Power, much like the British Empire.   They may not plant their flag or change the currency but when you have 800 USA bases in over 80 countries and you can dictate what currency someone sells their oil in and when you use the economic and financial banking system to cripple countries and you push which leaders you wish to control a country, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Venezuela, I feel it is Western Imperialism with a modern twist.

In Ireland we suffered our own Colonialism for over 800 years. Ironically, it was the American/Irish that put pressure on the British Empire to give the Republic of Ireland its freedom. So as Irish people to-day we must question our own morals and look to the future and wonder how our children will judge us. Were we the people who facilitated the mass movement of weapons, political prisoners, civilians, through Shannon Airport, to facilitate Imperial powers to slaughter the people in far off lands, and for what end so that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, will continue to provide jobs in Ireland?   How much blood of women and children, has been spilt overseas? How many countries have we, by facilitating USA/NATO forces going through Shannon Airport, helped to destroy? So I ask the people of Ireland, how does this sit with you? I have visited Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Syria and seen the devastation and destruction caused by military intervention in these countries. I believe it is time to abolish militarism and solve our problems through International Law,mediation, dialogue and negotiations. As an allegedly neutral country it is important that the Irish Government ensures that Shannon Airport is used for civilian purposes and not used to facilitate US military occupations, invasions, renditions, and war purposes. The Irish people strongly support neutrality but this is being negated by the use of Shannon airport by US Military.

Ireland and the Irish people are much loved and respected around the world and seen as a country that has contributed much to the development of many countries, particularly through education, health care, arts and music. However, this history is endangered by the Government’s accommodating the US Military in Shannon Airport also by its participation in NATO-led forces such as ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan.

Ireland’s neutrality places it in an important position and arising out of its experience in peace making and conflict resolution at home, it could be a Mediator in General and Complete Disarmament and conflict resolution, in other countries caught in the tragedy of violence and war. (It also has an important role in upholding the Good Friday agreement and helping with the restoration of the Stormont Parliament in the North of Ireland.}

I am very hopeful for the future as I believe if we can reject militarism in its entirety as the aberration/dysfunction it is in human history, and all of us who no matter what area of change we work in, can unite and agree we want to see a demilitarized unarmed world. We can do this together. Let us remember in human history, people abolished slavery, piracy, we can abolish militarism and war, and relegate these barbaric ways into the dustbin of history.

And finally let us look to some of the Heroes of our times. Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, to mention a few. Julian Assange is currently being persecuted by British authorities over his role as a publisher and author. Julian’s ground breaking journalism exposing government crimes during Iraqi/Afghan war has saved many lives, but cost him his own freedom and perhaps his own life. He is being tortured psychologically and psychically in a British prison, and threatened with extradition to USA to face a Grand Jury, simply by doing his job as a journalist exposing the truth. Let us do all we can we work for his freedom and demand he will not be extradited to USA.  Julian’s father said after visiting his son in hospital in Prison, ‘they’re murdering my Son’. Please ask yourself, what can you do to help Julian get his freedom?


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Logging Wild and Scenic River Corridors in the Name of Reducing Wildfires is a Really Bad Idea

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is proposing to log the Lostine Wild and Scenic River corridor. The basic justification is to reduce the potential for large wildfires.

Yet according to the Oregon Department of Forestry, in 2019 only 16,868 acres burned in the state, compared to 846,411 acres burned last year. Why the big difference? Is there that much less fuel? If fuel is the reason we are seeing large acreages burn, then why so little this past year?

The obvious reason and what the research shows is that climate/weather is the dominant factor in all large wildfires. If you have drought, low humidity, high temperatures and high winds, you get large fires — regardless of the fuel load. That is why even though the Oregon Coast forests have some of the highest “fuel loadings” in the nation, they seldom burn.

Yet the Forest Service and its lackeys from the Oregon State Forestry School (which gets funding from the timber industry) continues to “sell” the myth that fuels are the problem and logging our forests is the solution.

The Forest Service continues to ignore the growing science that calls into question the efficiency and effectiveness of fuel reductions. 

For instance, in a paper that looked at thinning and ponderosa pine forest, Rhodes and Baker found a very low probability of a thinned site encountering a fire during the narrow window when tree density is lowest.

Another review paper by fire specialists at the Missoula, Montana, Fire Lab about fuel reductions concluded: “The majority of acreage burned by wildfire in the U.S. occurs in very few wildfires under extreme conditions. Under these extreme conditions, suppression efforts are largely ineffective.” 

The authors go on to suggest: “Extreme environmental conditions … overwhelmed most fuel treatment effects. This included almost all treatment methods including prescribed burning and thinning. Suppression efforts had little benefit from fuel modifications.”

The Congressional Research Service found that: “From a quantitative perspective, the CRS study indicates a very weak relationship between acres logged and the extent and severity of forest fires. The data indicate that fewer acres burned in areas where logging activity was limited.”

Another review paper published in 2017 found: “Managing forest fuels are often invoked in policy discussions as a means of minimizing the growing threat of wildfire to ecosystems and wildland-urban interface communities across the West. However, the effectiveness of this approach at broad scales is limited.… Regionally, the area treated has little relationship to trends in the area burned, which is influenced primarily by patterns of drought and warming.”

Dr. Jack Cohen, who recently retired from the Forest Service Fire Lab in Missoula, Montana, has written extensively about fires and home protection and concluded that: “Wildland fuel reduction may be inefficient and ineffective for reducing home losses, for extensive wildland fuel reduction on public lands does not effectively reduce home ignitability on private lands.”

In a 2018 letter to Congress, more than 200 scientists questioned the fuel reduction strategy. To quote from the scientists’ letter: “Thinning is most often proposed to reduce fire risk and lower fire intensity.… However, as the climate changes, most of our fires will occur during extreme fire-weather — high winds and temperatures, low humidity, low vegetation moisture. These fires, like the ones burning in the West this summer, will affect large landscapes, regardless of thinning, and, in some cases, burn hundreds or thousands of acres in just a few days.”

This is only a small sampling of the science that calls into question the effectiveness of fuel reductions.

Nevertheless, the Forest Service will degrade the forest and scenic corridor largely to provide fodder for the timber industry.

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We Can’t Hug Away Injustice

We caught a glimpse of humanity recently when Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer convicted of murdering Botham Jean, was embraced with compassion by the victim’s brother.

Guyger shot Jean in his own apartment while he was sitting on his couch eating ice cream. Though Guyger lived on an entirely different floor, she thought she was entering her own home after a long shift.

Guyger’s defense was that she felt “scared she would be killed” upon seeing Jean’s silhouette. Instead of calling for backup, Guyger drew her weapon and fired. She didn’t even attempt to resuscitate Jean after killing him.

Yet at her sentencing hearing, Botham’s brother Brandt Jean offered Guyger his forgiveness, saying he felt no need to see her imprisoned. He even asked the judge if he could give Guyger a hug, and images of their embrace quickly spread.

It was a touching image —and, for many members of the Black community, a frustrating one. For many of us, it feels like we’re constantly being expected to show compassion for the perpetrators of violence towards us.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz almost said as much directly, when he patronizingly praised the Jean family’s actions as a “demonstration of Christian love” — as though they were meeting a divine obligation to embrace Botham’s killer.

The shock of what happened in that courtroom overshadows the long odds that Guyger was going to be convicted at all. CNN’s headline on the verdict said it all: “Prosecutors Won a Rare Murder Conviction in a Police-Involved Shooting.”

It was rare, indeed. Whether you’re Philando Castile at a routine traffic stop, Tamir Rice playing with a toy gun, or one of the countless victims of lynching during the era of Jim Crow, justice for Black lives is hard-won when police are involved.

Many of us felt a terrible anxiety that, like the perpetrators in those cases, Guyger would get off scot-free. And for a convicted murderer, Jean’s killer nearly did. Guyger, who was off duty at the time of Jean’s death, received a lenient 10-year sentence, with eligibility for parole after five.

I don’t think this sentence fits the crime. But when Black lives don’t matter, what can one expect?

From the beginning, America’s “law and order” meant the surveillance of non-white minorities.

Policing itself in the United States can be traced back to the 1700s, when “slave patrols” were instituted to monitor and enforce discipline on enslaved Africans. Made up of armed white men, these patrols evolved into state militias and, eventually, modern-day police forces.

That’s why the justice system continues to be unjust for people of color — it was designed that way.

It’s why many Black Americans increasingly feel that Black grace isn’t something to be celebrated.

And it’s why, after Black parishioners of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston publicly forgave the neo-Nazi who massacred nine of their members, some of us worried that our “forgiveness” perpetuated a “slave mentality” that absolved our oppressors.

Having been on the receiving end of centuries of white terror and racism, we know all too well the costs of not receiving grace or humanity in return.

Despite the Jean family’s forgiveness, reports emerged that Joshua Brown — a key witness in the case against Guyger — had been murdered just 10 days after his testimony. Was it retribution? How can we not wonder?

“Our lives must move on,” Botham Jean’s mother said after the trial, “but our lives must move on with change.” She called out the Dallas police department, shaming it for its racist biases and corrupt handling of the case.

For the Jeans, change not only looks like hugs and forgiveness. Change also looks like ensuring Black lives matter in a court of law.

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Why Are Americans So Confused About the Meaning of “Democratic Socialism”?

The meaning of democratic socialism―a mixture of political and economic democracy―should be no mystery to Americans. After all, socialist programs have been adopted in most other democratic nations. And, in fact, Americans appear happy enough with a wide range of democratic socialist institutions in the United States, including public schools, public parks, minimum wage laws, Social Security, public radio, unemployment insurance, public universities, Medicare, public libraries, the U.S. postal service, public roads, and high taxes on the wealthy.

Even so, large numbers of Americans seem remarkably confused about democratic socialism. This April, at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, an attendee complained to Senator Bernie Sanders, a leading proponent of democratic socialism, that her father’s family left the Soviet Union, “fleeing from some of the very socialist policies that you seem eager to implement in this country.” Sanders responded: “Is it your assumption that I supported or believe in authoritarian communism that existed in the Soviet Union? I don’t. I never have, and I opposed it.” He added: “What democratic socialism means to me is we expand Medicare, we provide educational opportunity to all Americans, we rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”

But, despite Sanders’ personal popularity and the popularity of the programs he advocates, large numbers of Americans―especially from older generations―remain uneasy about “socialism.” Not surprisingly, Donald Trump and other rightwing Republicans have seized on this to brand the Democrats as the party of socialist dictatorship.

Why does socialism―even something as innocuously labeled as democratic socialism―have this stigma?

Originally, “socialism” was a vague term, encompassing a variety of different approaches to securing greater economic equality. These included Christian socialism, utopian socialism, Marxian socialism, syndicalism, evolutionary socialism, and revolutionary socialism. For a time, Socialist parties in many countries, including the Socialist Party of America, housed these differing tendencies.

But the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led to a lasting division in the world socialist movement. The Bolsheviks, grim survivors of Russia’s centuries-old Czarist tyranny and vigorous proponents of socialist revolution, regarded the democratic, parliamentary path followed by the Socialist parties of other countries with scorn. Consequently, renaming themselves Communists, they established Communist parties in other lands and called upon “true revolutionaries” to join them. Many did so. As a result, the world socialist movement became divided between Socialist parties (championing multi-party elections and civil liberties) and rival Communist parties (championing violent revolution followed by a Communist Party dictatorship).

Despite the clear difference between Socialist parties (promoting democratic socialism, often termed social democracy) and Communist parties (promoting the authoritarian Soviet model and Soviet interests), plus the bitter hostility that often existed between them, many Americans associated one with the other.

This confusion was enhanced, in subsequent decades, by the tendency of Communists to cling to the term “socialist.” As “socialism” had positive connotations for many people around the world, Communist leaders frequently argued that Socialists weren’t “socialist” at all, and that Communists were the only true “socialists.” Communist-led nations alone, they claimed, represented “real socialism.”

Actually, Communist and Socialist parties didn’t have much in common. The Soviet government and later unelected Communist regimes―much like fascist and other rightwing governments―became notorious as brutal tyrannies that instituted mass imprisonment, torture, and murder. In reaction, many Communists grew disillusioned, quit their parties, or sought to reform them, while popular uprisings toppled Communist dictatorships. By contrast, Socialist parties won elections repeatedly and governed numerous nations where, less dramatically, they enacted democratic socialist programs. Nowhere did these programs lead to the destruction of political democracy.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party of America gradually disintegrated. One reason for its decline was government repression during World War I and the postwar “Red Scare.” Another was that, in the 1930s, the Democratic Party adopted some of its platform (including a massive jobs program, Social Security, a wealth tax, union rights for workers, and minimum wage legislation) and absorbed most of its constituency. Rather than acknowledge the socialist roots of these popular policies, President Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats chose to talk of a New Deal for “the common man.” This sleight of hand boosted the Democrats and further undermined the dwindling Socialist Party.

In response, conservatives―especially big business, its wealthy owners, and their political defenders―acted as if a Red revolution had arrived. Assailing Social Security, Republican Congressman Daniel Reed predicted that “the lash of the dictator will be felt.” In January 1936, at a gala dinner sponsored by the American Liberty League, a group of wealthy business and conservative leaders, Al Smith―the former New York Governor who had turned sharply against the Roosevelt administration―addressed the gathering and a national radio audience. Charging that New Dealers had enacted “the Socialist platform,” he asserted that “there can be only one capital, Washington or Moscow. There can be only one atmosphere of government, the clear, pure, fresh air of free America, or the foul breath of communistic Russia.”

During America’s Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, conservatives frequently employed this line of attack. “If Medicare passes into law, the consequences will be dire beyond imagining,” Ronald Reagan warned a radio audience in the early 1960s. “You and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Against this backdrop, most Democrats kept their distance from the word “socialism,” while much of the public simply wrote it off as meaning tanks in Moscow’s Red Square.

More recently, of course, the disappearance of the Soviet Union and most other Communist nations, rising economic inequality, the attractive model of Scandinavian democratic socialism, and Bernie Sanders’ Americanization of “socialism” have enhanced the popularity of “socialism”―in its democratic socialist form―in the United States.

It’s probably premature to predict that most Americans will finally recognize the democratic socialist nature of many programs they admire. But that’s certainly a possibility.

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The Impeachment of Trump Is a Deep-Democratic Coup Against Elizabeth Warren

Some Republicans see the Ukraine/Biden impeachment inquiry as a deep-state coup attempt against President Trump. Some progressives are beginning to scratch the surface of an alternative, but equally cynical, analysis that I think leftists ought to consider:

The impeachment of Donald Trump is a DNC/centrist coup attempt against progressives inside the Democratic Party.

Democrats could have launched impeachment proceedings over any number of more compelling issues: Trump’s child separation policy at the border, the Muslim travel banemoluments, the president’s erratic behavior on social media. Why the Ukraine/Biden affair?

The House inquiry is hardly ideal from a framing perspective. The only conceivable reason that the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma hired Vice President Biden’s screw-up drug addict alcoholic son, with zero experience in the energy sector, to sit on its board of directors for $50,000 a month was that he was the vice president’s son. Vox notes that “the situation constituted the kind of conflict of interest that was normally considered inappropriate in Washington.” Pre-impeachment, no one knew about this sleaze.

Knowing that his worthless son was working a no-show “job” there for a company brazenly trying to buy his influence, Vice President Biden ought to have been the last Obama Administration official to call the president of Ukraine about anything. Democratic leaders, corporatists to a man and firmly on team Biden, nonetheless are aware that their impeachment inquiry risks exposing their preferred candidate to the kind of scrutiny that can lose an election.

Biden apologists like the New York Times’ resident conservative columnist Ross Douthat are furiously spinning the argument that Americans should ignore Biden’s corruption to focus on Trump’s worse corruption. “Hypocrisy is better than naked vice, soft corruption is better than the more open sort, and what the president appears to have done in leaning on the Ukrainian government is much worse than Hunter Biden’s overseas arrangements,” argues the Dout. But impeachment is a political, not a legal (or legalistic) process. We knew what Trump was when we elected him; this point goes to the president.

So why go after Trump over Ukraine/Biden and not, say, the fact that he’s nuts?

Risks aside, the Democrats’ Ukraine investigation transforms—not successfully, I think, but anyway, it tries—to rescue Biden’s flagging campaign by transforming him into a victim. Liberals love victim narratives.

And now the crux: Elizabeth Warren. When Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry, the self-styled progressive from Massachusetts was rising in the polls so fast that many analysts, me included, believed that she had become the most likely nominee. I still do. That goes double following Bernie Sanders’ heart attack, which fuels concerns about his age.

As impeachment proceedings do, the current effort to sanction Trump—remember, odds of getting 67 senators to vote to remove him from office are exceedingly long—will dominate news coverage as long as they go on. It’s going to be impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, 24-7.

The drone of impeachment will eclipse Warren’s remarkably disciplined campaign. She has a plan for everything but the media won’t cover them. Warren trails Biden on name recognition; how will voters get to know her? I’d be spitting bullets if I were her campaign manager.

As I’ve written for The Wall Street Journal, progressive ideas are dominating the current presidential campaign cycle on the Democratic side. Most of the top candidates have endorsed Bernie Sanders’ key 2016 promises: free college, Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage. Nearly three out of four Democratic voters self-identify as progressives.

Bernie lost the Battle of 2016 to Hillary Clinton but he won the war. Corporatists still control the DNC but the vast majority of Democrats lean left. Before Biden entered the 2020 campaign it seemed clear that four decades of Third Way/Democratic Leadership Council/New Democrats/Clintonite rule of the party was coming to an end. A progressive, either Sanders or Warren, would almost certainly be the nominee.

Biden’s campaign is about one thing: blocking progressives.

Samuel Moyn, interviewed in Jacobin, sort of gets it. “[Democratic Congressman] Adam Schiff and many others are not concerned about saving the Democratic Party from its historical errors, including its own disaster in 2016,” Moyn says. “If impeachment becomes a distraction from that much more pressing campaign to save the Democratic Party for the Left, then it will have been a disaster.”

What better way for moderates to recapture control of the Democratic party than by impeaching Donald Trump? The impeachment brigade has progressive allies like AOC’s “squad.” But the pro-impeachment Democrats who are getting airtime on MSNBC, unofficial broadcast organ of the Democratic Party, are the centrist/DNC “national security Democrats.” (Note the new/old branding. Scoop Jackson, call your office.)

Impeaching Trump may not be a fiendishly clever conspiracy to recapture the Democratic Party from the left. It may simply work out that way—dumb luck for dumb corporatists. Regardless, pro-impeachment progressives are dupes.

Why impeach Trump when it seems so unlikely to result in his removal from office? Why risk energizing and further unifying the Republican Party?
As their backing of Hillary over the more popular Bernie in 2016 showed, the old DLC cabal is more interested in getting rid of the progressives in their own party than in defeating Donald Trump. Impeachment may not nominate, much less elect, Joe Biden. But it just might neutralize Elizabeth Warren.

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Climate Cthulhu: A Post-Modern Horror Story

It is October 2019, dearest motherfuckers, and we are living in a horror story. To say that these are apocalyptic times seems to be a gross understatement. The Biblical notion of Armageddon, what with the gnashing of teeth and pillars of salt, seems almost quaint in our age, like some new attraction at Disney World where the Dipping Dots are served up to the kiddos by friendly leather-clad catamites. The Thunderdome looks like a goddamn jungle gym when compared to the Lovecraftian horrors of climate change. Mankind itself is being stalked by a colossal beast of our own creation with tentacles reaching far and wide across the globe.

From the sinking islands of the South Pacific, which are being swallowed whole like pills by the sea, to the frontiers of Alaska, where the once long frozen tundras are being set ablaze in massive god-size funeral pyres. From the tropical jungles of Central Africa, being erased from the globe by a tidal wave of rapidly expanding Saharan dunes, to the urban jungles of South Asia, where the sun burns so hot that the pavement of the streets themselves melts like ice cream in an oven and the sadhus shrivel up like burnt jerky on the blistering sidewalks. This beast has killed millions. This beast has slaughtered whole civilizations, liquidated glaciers the size of continents and murdered entire seasons in cold blood. Spring and Fall have been burned from the fucking calendar and Winter is next. This beast is just getting started and soon the dog days will last forever, or at least until forever too falls victim to this environmental Cthulhu. Howard Philips shrieks as Mother Nature wails. Ladies and gentleman, we are fucked. The killer has us cornered in the attic and their will be no final girls in this slasher nightmare.

This beast of which I speak, call it climate change, call it global warming, call it whatever the hell you like, is the bastard creation of a Doctor Frankenstein which too goes by many names; globalism, capitalism, neoliberalism, consumerism, industrialism, imperialism. All just different genres of that fickle vice known as modernity, a fork in the road of human evolution where the brightest monkeys fooled themselves into believing that their self-serving technology made them superior to the rest of the living world. As usual, Marx was right and Marx was wrong. Marx was right to observe that capitalism, one of modernity’s more garish offspring, thrived on the nihilistic, almost vampiric thirst for constant expansion. He was wrong however to assume that capitalism’s insatiable hunger would inevitably lead to its own demise. There is another, far more unsavory, end game for the capitalist beast besides the karma of popular revolution, and that is a mass murder-suicide by expansion itself. Marx never imagined, even in his most fevered dreams, that humanity could be so ruthless as to destroy itself with toxic pleasure and use the old Kraut’s beloved industrialism to do it. It took mad men like Theodore Kaczynski to see that coming. Now Ted sits in his concrete tomb in Colorado, too sickened by his own vision to even snarl “I told you so!” to the once smug guards who’s homes are now on fire in the Rockies.

I avoided writing on this topic for years. Not simply because it is incredibly unpleasant. I’ve spent my life in the shadows of exceptable human behavior, cross-dressing and burning flags just for kicks. Unpleasant is a second language to me. I’ve avoided writing on the Climate Cthulhu largely because I felt I lacked the proper vocabulary to capture it truthfully. Like many Americans, I know little of science. I can grasp the importance and meaning behind the terminology but I lack the basic right-brain skill set to properly explain it. But as I find myself entering the thirty-first October of my short existence, I realize that climate change is not merely a scientific story, but a horror story for the post-modern era. That is the kind of story I can tell. And the most truly horrific detail of this grisly tale is the simple, almost unpalatable, fact that it is likely too little too late for a happy ending. We have taken our greed and our vanity and fucked the earth herself. Now the earth must correct us before we can rape her to death with our “progress.” Our best case scenario as a species is that billions will die, society as we know it will collapse and a few pockets of humanity will adapt and survive.

There are people who don’t want you to believe this. Powerful people offering us the opium of hope. But let there be no question that this is a poison gift delivered by the fathers of the beast themselves. That global virus of big business and big government created this nightmare. Trusting them to fix it, especially by awarding there institutions like the United Nations and the American Federal Government more power, more money, more expansion, is a tragic fool’s errand and we can’t afford to be the errand boys of the bourgeoisie anymore. The UN and the Davos set will not save us. They wouldn’t even if they could. They will take our money and our sovereignty and our dwindling resources and use them to save themselves. They will live out a Caligulaesque post-apocalyptic existence in fortified bunkers and space colonies while the rest of us suffer and toil and disintegrate in the fires of the hell their greed made possible.

So, is there any hope? Perhaps, but very little. The monster of climate change was birthed in the cesspool of imperial mass society. Our best hope, our only hope, is to unite beneath a drop-out culture of total retreat from this modern monstrosity we dare call civilization. We must look inwards, towards our own communities, embrace the communalism of our tribal heritage and reject the poison fruit of bigness. We must take care of each other by taking care of our own. Only radical localism can combat radical globalism. However, in order for this strategy to have any impact beyond that of a suicide mission, we will require mass grassroots mobilization. The children of the climate resistance movement have shown us that the possibilities of decentralized global revolt can still shake the towers of the elites.

Sadly, the learned helplessness driven into the subconscious of these kids by statist institutionalism has rendered their otherwise admirable actions impotent. It is a heart-wrenching lesson in the power of manufactured consent that now even our youth revolts have been rendered to the status of begging the adults of the global elite to save us from their own tyranny. I weep at the feet of Greta Thunberg. In any other era she would have been a pubescent warlord like Joan of Arc, bringing the big men of this world to their knees to beg her sword for mercy. In the sickness of our current age she has been reduced to the roll of a glorified dominatrix. The powerful wait in line to be scolded and humiliated by her razor tongue before posing for a fist-bumping selfie and returning to their private jets as they pat themselves on the back and quip “I deserved that.”

Well they deserve worse. We need to step it up and stop begging for scraps at the master’s table. We can no longer afford to be their dogs. If these are the last days of human existence then I say we go down biting the hand that feeds. These kids need to realize how dangerous they are. They should take their boycotts to the next level and stop engaging in the fascism of compulsory schooling altogether. They shouldn’t settle for flight shaming. They should lay their bodies across the tarmac and slash the tires of the private jets of glad-handing climate charlatans like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio. And we the adults should do our part by doing more than just wallowing in our guilt. We should boycott the beast itself by refusing to pay the taxes that feed it. We should chase the multinationals from our neighborhoods, villages and cities with pitchforks and torches. We should use those torches to burn down our SUVs and suburbs, and we should use the insurance money to by dirt bikes and tepees in the woods. We should hurl toxic waste in the faces of the developers and bankers and lobbyists and oilmen so even they cant hide from the monstrosity of their deeds. These are the do-or-die times and we need to become fucking savages again.

But we also need to prepare ourselves for the worst, dearest motherfuckers. The rich are already in survival mode. They are using the specter of the beast they built to consolidate their power. We need to stop wasting our time on the circus of electoral pageantry and impeachment hearings erected to distract us from a burning world while the arsonists loot from the ashes. We need to direct our attention not just to crippling the beast but to protecting our families, our communities, our tribes, our people. We need to gather with those who mean the most to us and map out a strategy for survival and foster the sense of communal responsibility that progress robbed us of when they began this horror story many years ago. This may not be the happy ending we want but, if we’re lucky and we fight like hell for what really matters, it may be the bittersweet ending we deserve.

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Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon

It will not be long before Trump is out of the White House and off the 2020 presidential ballot.

In spite of what virtually all the mainstream media have been saying about impeachment going nowhere in the Senate, I am very confident that Trump will not be president and will not be on the ballot for the 2020 presidential election.

Here’s why. At least five polls have shown a fast, big shift in support by the public towards supporting both an impeachment investigation and full impeachment.

Worse, all the polls are showing Trump will lose the Whitehouse. The GOP does its own polling and I am sure it is seeing that not only Trump will lose, but if he is at the top of the ballot he will take down a huge percentage of the down ballot candidates on the ticket– US Senators and Congresspeople, state legislators, governors, even school board members and judges. If Trump stays at the top of the ticket, it will energize a massive swell of anti-Trump voters.

But I don’t think this necessarily means Trump will be impeached.

The GOP’s polling will show that keeping Trump on the ballot will lead to the GOP losing the White House, losing further ground in the House and it will also lose the Senate. The internal polls the GOP runs will show this. They will have to take action. It could happen very quickly. Already, former AZ Senator Jeff Flake has said that if GOP Senators could vote anonymously, 35 of them would vote to impeach. Already some of the big talking heads on Fox News are saying that what Trump did was impeachable. This morning Lindsay Graham called Trump a liar for claiming that all of Isis had been removed from Syria. Several Republican Senators and House members have already come out with concerns about Trump’s actions. These are tremors in what will become an eight on the Richter scale earthquake.

This will not take long. When Nixon and Clinton were facing similar situations, they put together robust defense teams. Trump has recruited his son-in-law. That’s laughable. Tweeting insults and attacks on his investigators is not a viable defense strategy.

The Republicans are going to have to give Trump an ultimatum: resign and you will be pardoned by Mike Pence or, we already have the votes and we will have to impeach you and you will face charges.

Trump will cave and resign. Most likely Mitch McConnell will deliver the ultimatum to Trump and probably stand by Trump’s side as Trump tells some lie about why he is resigning, after making the US the best it has ever been.

Mike Pence will become president and probably put his name up as a candidate for the 2020 election. It won’t take long for Cruz and Rubio to get in the running. The domain has already been registered with ownership information redacted. My guess is former governor and UN ambassador Niki Haley will win the primary. That will massively change the polling. And whoever the GOP chooses it will wipe out Joe Biden’s main campaign claim.

The best thing possible for Democratic party election hopes, for all levels on the ballot would be for Trump to stay in office and stay on the ballot. But I think events are rapidly emerging that will make that less and less likely.

I’ve written before how, with chaos theory, emergence of new trends can happen very quickly, so a 50% plus one majority is not necessary. (Fractal Revolution: A Systems, Non-Linear View of Change)

The ultimatum from the GOP to Trump could come before December and almost certainly before the Iowa primaries on February 3rd. The GOP will want to give its candidates time to get their campaigns running. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing at least one or two Fox News talking heads testing the waters, calling for the GOP to do the necessary, maybe Andrew Napolitano or Shep Smith.

But will taking out Trump be enough? He’s rebuilt the swamp in Washington D.C.. Will Pence face the reality that there is massive enmity towards not only Trump, but his appointees, and replace them? If he doesn’t, the GOP’s removal of Trump will be less effective in ameliorating the damage Trump has done to GOP 2020 election prospects.

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Lebanon, Dreamland

In 1928 my father, César Assad Chelala, emigrated from Lebanon to Argentina and made there his permanent home. The love for his country remained unaltered, and for the rest of his life he dreamt of going back. Although he never fulfilled his wish, he transmitted to us, his children, the love for his new country. He came to live in Tucumán, a city in the North of Argentina, where he already had some relatives.

Among the earliest memories I have of my father were his permanent comments on how everything was more beautiful in Lebanon. The apples were bigger, the oranges tastier, the tomatoes the richest in the world. The love for his native country was present at every moment. I also remember when I sometimes accompanied him to breakfast with his friends and saw how they enjoyed eating exotic culinary combinations, such as fresh fruits with different types of cheeses. Only when I grew up I could appreciate how tasty those combinations were.

During those breakfasts it was impossible for me to understand their conversations as they always discussed the latest political events in their home country, which they followed greedily. Today, I live in New York, thousands of miles from Argentina, and I keep his example, following closely the political events of Argentina, my native country.

When they emigrate, the Lebanese are exemplary citizens and adapt easily to their new country. However, they never lose contact with the country where they were born. That adaptation was emphasized during the Lebanese President Camille Chamoun’s visit to Argentina in 1954. He met then Argentina’s President, Juan Domingo Perón, who proudly told him how Lebanese dressed as gauchos could be found in the farthest corners of the country.

The Lebanese in the world

Another instance of the total integration of the Lebanese into the countries to which they emigrate is shown by something that happened to me during a mission for the United Nations that I carried out in Equatorial Guinea in the 1990s. When a colleague learned that I was of Lebanese origin she told me: “This Sunday I will give you a surprise, get ready for a trip to the interior.” That day we left in her car towards a small village located three hours from the capital of Malabo through a winding – and dangerous – mountain road.

We arrived at a small town and headed to a small restaurant that was almost empty. We were welcomed by a middle-aged man, with obvious Middle Eastern features. “Nabil,” she told him, “here I bring you something you can’t imagine. This man is an Argentine doctor who is here on a mission for the United Nations and is the son of a Lebanese.” Nabil, who was born in Lebanon, looked at me with huge eyes and we hugged each other. “Since I arrived here 5 years ago I have not seen any Lebanese coming to this place,” he said excitedly. “What’s your name?” When I told him my name he almost fainted. “Are you related to the Beit Chelala village family?” he asked. “Of course,” I replied, “we are the same family.” “What a coincidence,” he told me, “I used to go through that town frequently when I lived in Lebanon.” Immediately, a strong bond was established between us. “Wait,” he told us, “I’ll bring you something to snack on,” and disappeared behind a curtain.

A long time passed, and Nabil did not return. We were very hungry after the trip and were already beginning to get restless and wondering what happened when we saw Nabil coming out of the kitchen with a huge tray. It had Arab bread and typical Lebanese dishes such as hummus, babaganoush, mujadara, and turnip pickles. I was in the fifth heaven of contentment since I had been in Equatorial Guinea for several weeks and had not eaten any of those foods that are part of my daily diet in New York. When we finished, we exchanged more memories and I joined him in a bear hug before returning to the capital city. That day I had won a new friend.

Another curious incident happened to me a few years ago in New York. I was visiting the art gallery of my friend Sundaram Tagore, great-grandson of the famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. I was joking with him about the origin of our families when I mentioned that my family came from a town in Lebanon called Beit Chelala. A man in his 60s who was in the gallery asked me: “Excuse me, did you say Beit Chelala?” Yes” I replied, “Why?” He looked into my eyes with a smile and said, “Because my name is Edward Shalala (as our name is often spelled in English) and my whole family comes from that town.” We started talking and discovered that our grandparents were first cousins​. A great friendship was born there, that still endures.

Lebanon and Argentina

Lebanon and Argentina now have important diplomatic relations, related to the history of Lebanese immigration to Argentina. Today, there are approximately one and a half million Lebanese-Argentines in Argentina who constitute, after Spain and Italy, the third-largest immigrant community in the country. In addition, Argentina today has the second largest Lebanese community in Latin America, second only to Brazil.

A sample of the Lebanese contribution to the culture of our country is the foundation in Tucumán of the Gibran Khalil Gibrán Cultural Athenaeum, carried out through the personal effort of three friends: my father, César Assad Chelala, Professor Manuel Serrano Pérez and the notable Tucumanian philosopher Víctor Massuh. Although many decades have passed since the Athenaeum ceased its activities, Tucumán’s intellectuals still remember with nostalgia the lectures that the most prominent representatives of world culture gave in my native city, which were sponsored by the Athenaeum.

What does Lebanon, its history and its culture have that maintains the devotion and interest of those who were born there and want to perpetuate their culture in all the places where they live? Without any doubt its ancient history, the beauty of its landscapes, and the contribution of its artists, doctors, writers, architects and merchants, who have played an important role in creating a culture and a unique personality in the Middle East. For me, it also is the country where my father was born, a source of pride for my father and a source of enchantment for me.

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A Sacramento King’s Ransom: Local Tax Dollars and the Owner’s Wealth

It was an historic first of local, national and global scope. The Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team played an exhibition game against the Indian Pacers in Mumbai, India recently. Reporting in a flagship U.S. newspaper is instructive.

Sopan Deb, a culture reporter for the New York Times, in his laudatory coverage of that game, deftly sidestepped the financial role of Sacramento taxpayers in subsidizing the Kings to accumulate wealth for Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Kings. What is it by the numbers, according to a critic? I asked Craig Powell, an attorney and head of Eye on Sacramento, a fiscal watchdog group.

“Based on current valuations of NBA franchises, Ranadive and his partners stand to make a windfall profit of nearly $1.5 billion on their $534 million purchase price for the Kings,” Powel said in an email. “It can be accurately characterized as a “windfall” profit because it was made possible by the $330 million city taxpayers’ subsidy of the construction of the Golden 1 Center, the sports palace where the Kings play their games.”

The NYT’s reporter described Mr. Ranadive as a believer in social justice. I read that and thought of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, awash in corporate greenbacks, who opposes the Green New Deal and single-payer Medicare for All health care, calling herself a “progressive.” Oy vey.

“If Mr. Ranadive truly believes in “social justice issues” and that the Kings’ franchise “belongs to the city” and its “fans,” as he so piously claims,” Powell said and then suggested a different course of action. “He could and should rectify the palpable injustice of his pocketing a third of a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies by now granting the City of Sacramento and its beleaguered taxpayers a one-third ownership stake in his $1.5 billion financial windfall. Now that would be true justice.”

Pigs will fly across the morning sky first without organized resistance to the current fiscal priorities in Sacramento. Dissidents are up against the usual suspects, the financial and real estate interests that demand and get public dollars. In the case of the Golden 1 Center and Mr. Ranadive’s wealth, the economics of global sports such as the NBA begins with local politics.

Meanwhile, the Kings can continue to miss the postseason playoffs in the competitive Western Conference of the NBA and the team’s market valuation will continue to rise. One need not have a Ph.D. in economics to understand this upward trend.

The anticipation of the future audience growth from bringing NBA teams such as the Kings and Pacers to play in India, the most populous nation on planet Earth with scores of actual and potential fans to watch games and buy NBA-related goods and services, is driving up the market valuation of the Kings. Mr. Ranadive, born into a well-heeled family in Mumbai, is sitting pretty to deliver fellow Indians into the tender clutches of moneyed interests set to grow their investment capital. This is not rocket science, folks.

Securing tax dollars from working class pockets as an NBA investment policy is a win-win for the owner of the Kings. It is nice work for those who can get it. Just ask Mr. Ranadive, unlike an NYT reporter.

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Cougar 2020?

It’s Kink Month, and the U.S. Presidential Election is getting its kink-on. No, the Trumpus isn’t getting spanked by Ivanka or cuckolded by Melania (then again, maybe he is).

But the other day, the goofball grifter team of Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman held a bizarre, quasi-kinky press conference on the front porch of somebody’s red-brick condo, guarded by a nervous-looking, slightly out-of-shape bouncer named Louis.

A couple of far-right tRump supporters and notorious “sexual assault” fraudsters, Wohl (soon to be arraigned for illegal securities trading) and Burkman, aka Jacob and Jack, are at it again. Having ineptly attempted to smear former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and U.S. Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg, the duplicitous duo are now vigorously playing the same lame blame game with a different Democratic candidate.

You know who it is before they even start the press conference, what with the screen on the condo stairwell reading “Elizabeth WARREN Cougar?”

A “cougar” is a large American wildcat. That’s the standard definition. Like a puma or panther, the cougar is one powerful pussy who could possibly eat you alive, if she’s hungry.

The other, more urban meaning of “cougar” is “an ‘older,’ experienced woman who happens to find herself in a sexual relationship (committed or not) with a younger man” (sometimes called a “cub”).

This is obviously the definition that Wohl is going for on his screen, emblazoned with an American flag behind a photo of Senator Warren with her mouth open, speaking or maybe looking… hungry?

Speaking of mouths, Jacob Wohl also lets it be known that he is a man who sucks BBC (in this case, those famous initials stand for “big brown cigar”).

So, with great sanctimonious verbiage and fanfare, drawing derisive laughter from the journalists and jokesters on the front lawn below them, the bloviating, blundering Wohl and Burkman comedy couple present the leading man of their latest slapstick project.

Kelvin Whelly is a 25-year-old, “decorated,” hunky, but not-too-sure-of-his-script Marine/escort/cub who claims he was Elizabeth Warren’s BDSM sex slave or Master or whatever (where’s that script?) for $1000 a visit, more or less, plus tips and Uber rides.

Struggling to smother their own giggles, the Three Stooges team of Whelly, Wohl and Burkman proceed to tell the torrid—and hilariously inconsistent—tale of Whelly’s “deviant sexual activities” with Warren.

As music plays and vehicles roar by, a stuttering Whelly begins his fanciful story with the Senator first contacting him through an escort ad on the website “Cowboys for Angels.”

Details ensue, tales of taking planes and Ubers to the hotels where Senator Warren was staying and “complying” with her requests to have “not just rough sex, but extensive BDSM play.”

Poor widdle Whelly! Though “experienced” in the cougar escort trade, he was “shocked at the sheer intensity, duration and violence of what Senator Warren wanted.”

Whew! 50 Shades of Plans to “Fix America”… while letting your kink flag fly.

The Senator insisted on being “whipped 22 times prior to having intercourse,” Whelly divulges, emphasizing the number “22” as if it is of Kabbalistic significance, though he doesn’t explain the meaning. Maybe that will be clarified in the soon-to-be released docudrama. Graphic novella? Porn Parody? Trump tweet?

Young Kelvin moves on to describe the kinky Senator’s desire to be flogged with a Cat ‘O Nine Tails (which he procures from Amazon, “as we all do”), and to have a threesome with him and a beautiful busty female friend of his “from high school.”

Between guffaws and groans from the peanut gallery below, Whelly blurts something about a “lime green strap-on dildo,” and the disturbing image of Sean Spicer in “Dancing with the Stars” comes to mind.

Exhibit A is Whelly’s back with scars supposedly sustained by Warren the “dominatrix” whipping him (though his stories are all about him whipping her, but never mind… check out those sexy scratched-up rhomboids!), below and to the left of his XXX Vin Diesel tattoo, evidence, Wohl chirps, of “Senator Warren’s transgressions.”

The same tattoo shows up with a different scar on an Instagram account purported to be Whelly’s. Indeed, between military combat and cougar-serving duties, a Marine/escort, even a fake one, is bound to get a few scratches and bites (meow!), wounds of love and war.

Nevertheless, the alleged affair was totally consensual. It wasn’t even cheating, as Warren assured Whelly, and Whelly assures all of us that the Senator and her husband are in an “open relationship.”

“So what’s the big deal?” shouts an all-too sensible journalist from the lawn.

“We know that women are more hormonal than men,” intones Wohl… though he starts by stammering that “women are more ‘whore moral’” or something like that, to the groans and guffaws of the audience. “Trump is a peak alpha male… so him engaging in an extra-marital affair—if that’s even true, I don’t think it is—would be understandable, would be normal, would be average.”

Apparently, the hoary, patriarchal double standard is held high as Old Glory in Wohl World, where Elizabeth Warren, “a frail old woman, is going to be hormonally challenged by…”—well, Wohl can’t figure out what to say next, perhaps suddenly realizing that his hoary “whore moan” theory runs counter to Whelly’s story of hot marathon kinky sex with this “frail old woman.” So, he thrusts the mic at Burkman in the middle of his own sentence.

It all looks as bona fide bogus as everything Jacob Wohl says and does, and it’s a testament to American journalism’s descent into the depths of tabloid poppycock that these inadvertently hilarious, slime-spreading, misogynistic exhibitionists get the media attention they crave.

However, if Elizabeth Warren really is a kinky cougar wielding a cat o’ nine tails and a strap-on dildo of any color on a hunky twenty-something cub, well, more power to her. As long as they practice safe sex (no mention of that at the press conference), hot consensual lovemaking generally helps to keep a mature woman youthful and vital.

Moreover, if Liz can dominate a Marine, maybe she can make tRump her Pussy Ass Bitch. I’m sure I’m not the only Filthy Mouthed Wife who would love to see that.

But will Cougar Power rule in the voting booth?

Me, I’m still a Bernie Bro. But I’m also an Anyone-But-Trump Gal; I’m so tired of the Baby-Fingered Bully-in-Chief. So, if Bernie drops out due to health issues, or if the Bernie-phobic Dems coronate Liz who is, more or less (at least, compared to the other candidates), “Bernie-lite,” then it’s Cougar2020 all the way.

Yes, Liz has been in bed with Wall Street, and that’s a lot worse than sleeping with a Marine.

Still, better lusty Liz than bumbling Biden or incarcerating Kamala.

And with this revelation—real or fake news—I like Liz even more. Better to be called a “Dominatrix” than “Pocahontas.” It gives the wonky schoolmarm some much-needed sex appeal. I think that many people—whether young men with cougar dreams or older women with 50 Shades fantasies—share those feelings.

Get it Girl!” is one of the most common responses to Whelly and Wohl’s revelations.

Fantasy or reality, the Liz-the-Cougar concept is very bonoboesque, as the Make-Love-Not-War bonobos empower the females more than any other great ape culture. Many of these empowered females have sex with younger males. All that cougar sex (and other kinds of lovemaking) among bonobos helps them make “peace through pleasure,” creating a society in which no bonobo has ever been seen killing another bonobo in the wild or captivity.

As for that aforementioned porn parody, “Hello Cougar” comedienne Sally Mullins, aka porn star Jamie Foster, is a ringer for Warren and ready to pounce on it. With titles like “Jizz on Liz” and “Whorin’ for Warren,” how can she miss?

So, despite Wohl, Whelly and Burkman’s best efforts, most of us (though we don’t believe these grade-D grifters), are happy that Senator Warren might be having kinky cougar sex.

We especially appreciate Liz herself tweeting a snappy response to the accusations, establishing herself as America’s Queen of Shade (at least for that media cycle), slapping the douchebags down, making a titillating little pun, and staying on point with her “plan” for canceling student debt:

“It’s always a good day to be reminded that I got where I am because a great education was available for $50 a semester at the University of Houston (go Cougars!). We need to cancel student debt and make college free for everyone who wants it.”

Go Cougars!

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Mother Mallard’s Little Boy Grows Up

Photo: David Yearsley.

Not long after humans landed on the moon, Robert Moog’s synthesizers landed near the top of the charts. A month before Apollo’s lunar module had touched down at 41 degrees north and 26 degrees east on the Sea of Tranquility in July of 1969, Wendy Carlos piloted the many modules of Moog’s modular synthesizer to the most distant coordinates ever imagined for the music of J. S. Bach: reanimated by Moog’s invention, Bach’s Inventions (along with a sinfonia, chorale prelude, chorus, and concerto) broke through to Billboard’s Top Ten in April of 1969. In the fall of that year Moog’s synthesizer climbed to no. 1 with the release of the Beatle’s Abbey Road, fifty years ago this month.

Checking in with ground control at the Canadian Broadcasting Company, that most gifted of musical space cadets, Glenn Gould extolled Carlos’s Switched-on Bach as “the record of the year — no, let’s go all the way, the decade.” Gould stopped short of saying the “century” or even “millennium,” both then nearing their end. The decade in question was safe: Gould’s two famed (to some, notorious) recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations were made in 1955 and 1981.

Carlos’ disc had been issued in 1968, the same year the Byrd’s had used Moog’s new machine for their “Space Odyssey.”  But synthesized Bach was the real music of the heavens. Here’s betting that Switched-on Bach had more than just a subliminal effect on the Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan, who put a bunch of Bach on the Golden Record carried towards the cosmos by both Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977 and now gliding through the airless beyond of interstellar space to the silent strains of the second Brandenburg Concerto.

Moog had long had an ear for the celestial. As a teenager in the early 1950s he began making and selling Theremin kits. While pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at Cornell in the 60s, Moog dedicated himself to developing his synthesizers just up Lake Cayuga from the university in the village of Trumansburg. These revolutionary devices have secured him his place among—perhaps atop—the most important inventors of musical instruments of the last century.

While Billboard charts and lunar surfaces were being probed, deeper insights and bolder advances were being achieved not in the heavens or the headlines but in Moog’s shop down on planet earth.

A musical avant-gardist with an abiding admiration for past masters from Bach-and-before to Count Basie-and-after, composer-keyboardist David Borden had been blown into Ithaca by Cold War winds and monies. After musical studies at Eastman, a Fulbright year in Berlin before the Wall went up, and graduate work in composition at Harvard, Borden arrived in central New York under the auspices of the Ford Foundation to teach in the public schools. Eventually he was hired as the founding director of electroacoustic music at Cornell, a position he held until his retirement in 2005. Friend of Philip Glass, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and sometime accompanist of pioneering modernist choreographers Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, Borden’s art and interests do not obey categories and commonplaces.

From 1967 to 1971 Borden learned what he calls “synthesizer technique” directly from the inventor himself, a life-long friend until Moog’s death in 2005. At the Moog shop Borden had a key and carte blanche. He was the Samsonite gorilla of the synthesizer. If it could be broken, he would break it. If there was a way to be flummoxed by the new technology, Borden would find a way to be flummoxed. Moog benefitted, too, from this beta-testing à la Borden. The keyboardist-composer’s always brilliant, but often baffled confrontation with the electronic medium of his art continues, now fifty years after founding the world’s first synthesizer trio, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company in that same modular year of 1969.

Borden’s vast corpus of music, both for electronic and “traditional” (though his work breaks down that often arbitrary distinction) is always intelligent but never snobbish, seemingly mechanistic, but also deeply expressive—not through Romantic surges of sound but by allowing emotion to find its own course through myriad, ever-shifting patterns. Though Borden’s compositions can seem serious and governed by a logic, there is a thrumming chaos behind the sheen of efficiency: chance and calculation in continuous flux, oscillating like the oscillators within the Moog synthesizers themselves. Borden’s irreverent humor (often delivered with the canny application of his native Boston accent) and his interest in the irrational enliven his musical genius and his admirable ability to resist and recast convention.

His sprawling twelve-part masterpiece The Continuing Story of Counterpoint reflects these dualities:

“The Continuing Story of Counterpoint (hereafter referred to as TCSOC) was begun in 1976 and completed in 1987, and derives its title from several sources. At Phil Glass’s Town Hall concert of 1974 he and his ensemble premiered a couple of pieces from a new cycle he called Another Look at Harmony. These pieces later became assimilated into Einstein on the Beach, but the original title struck a chord with me. My approach had always been contrapuntal, so I filed away in my mind the idea of using the word counterpoint in the title of a future series of pieces. When I actually started composing the first of these pieces (1976) the soap opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was becoming a huge success on television. This gave me the idea to give the series a title that sounded like a soap opera. And lastly, although it was purely subconscious, I think I must have had The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, the title of a tune from the Beatles White Album floating around in my psyche somewhere. It fit the bill perfectly. It didn’t sound didactic, it alluded to history, and it contained a few multi-syllabic words instead of those awful one-word titles of foreign origin used by so many academic composers.”

Borden claims not to hear function—that goal-oriented drive of one chord towards the next. Instead he perceives each sonority as autonomous and therefore free from the perceived obligations that have accrued through centuries of accepted practices in European art music. But this does not mean his music is fragmented. Paradoxically, it speeds along often with unabashed virtuosic flamboyance, the six hands of the three keyboardists at maximum speed or holding long-note skeins that suggest melody, but are too drawn-out and partial to cohere. The music doesn’t coerce one into hearing a certain way, but rather offers, even encourages, myriad routes through its labyrinths. The notation is exacting, but the sonorous result refuses to be fixed by human perception.

The mind imposes its own momentary order on the ever-changing soundscape. The fingers require hours of repetitive practice to learn the patterns with sufficient rigor to make it through some of the Continuing Story’s epic movements extending to a quarter-of-an-hour. There is the time necessary to coordinate the ensemble.

Those digits must often ignore the cognitive impulses of the brain hearing for the first time (even after dozens of rehearsals and performances) suddenly different shapes in the music. Performing Borden’s music is often an exercise in concentrating intensely while simultaneously letting go of control lest the muscles, distracted by the ears, misfire and derail the speeding contrapuntal train. I’m not sure whether that means relying on the Cartesian separation between mind and body, or dismantling it.

I joined the ensemble in 2000; a few years later we had gone fully digital. This development allowed the group to travel more easily for appearances in New York City and elsewhere, and even to the famed festival of electronic music, BERLIN ATONAL in 2015. (A review in the Guardian can be read here.)

In this Mother Mallard’s fiftieth anniversary, one that also allows us to celebrate David Borden at 80, we have gone back to those analog days by reassembling the original gear—Minimoogs, a Moog Voyager, a pair of Juno synthesizers, a Fender-Rhoades piano, and an RMI keyboard. At Cornell’s Barnes Hall and Johnson Art Museum Mother Mallard we will perform the Continuing Story of Counterpoint in two November concerts.

A half-century has passed since 1969, but time will never catch up with this music.

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Taking Out Columbus

Taking Out Columbus

Everyone wants to kill Hitler
On the battlefield in Ypres
via time machine
Though, what do you think
About going back further
And taking out Captain Columbus
Instead — landing, let’s say,
On the Santa Maria —
And aiding the mutineers back then?
Maybe so much of the globe,
Today — New York Harbor, Guantanamo
Bay — would still smell like flowers


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The Green New Deal and Accursed Wealth

Pulp mills, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Accursed Wealth! O’er bounding human laws,
Of every evil thou remains’t the cause:
Victims of want, those wretches such as me,
Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee:
Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed,
And thine our loss of labour and of bread.

Al Gore missed this memo, written at some time between 1809 and 1813, by the poet John Clare in Norhamptonshire, England. However, in his latest op-ed, It’s Not too Late – The climate crisis is the battle of our time and we can win, in the New York Times, September 22, 2019, the former Vice President helpfully notes that the fastest-growing occupation in the United States is solar installer and the second fastest- growing is wind turbine service technician. The loss of Clare’s world is un-remediated. The loss of our world, apparently, is salved by the growth of mostly low-wage ‘green-tech’ jobs. Clare, at least, identifies the cause of his loss – Accursed Wealth, or, as we might call it today, capitalism.

Gore, in his best, ever youthful, Gee-Wiz journalese proclaims that, “…we are in the early stages of a sustainable revolution that will achieve the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution and the speed of the digital revolution, made possible by new digital tools”. John Clare’s erstwhile bucolic freedom had been proscribed by the British parliament’s Enclosure Acts early in the nineteenth century, under which he lost his rights to the common lands that were seized for the benefit of proto-capitalist land-owners newly cognizant of the wealth generated by grazing sheep. Wool, like cotton, was a fiber fundamental to the modern capitalist ethos whereby the acquisition of wealth transcended the interests of both humanity and the natural world.

There is, it must be admitted, something quite wonderful about wearing a sweater knitted for one by someone near-and-dear, of hand spun wool. Similarly, there is enormous gratification in living in a house that produces all its power needs through panels attached to its roof; but we should not for a moment imagine that wool and photovoltaics, despite their benign potential, are not grist to the capitalist mill. As Clare recognized over two hundred years ago, ‘Accursed Wealth’ had overtrodden human laws. As many understand today, capitalism is the financial system that while it seemingly underpins our entire civilization and is responsible for many of its most alluring aspects, has also fatally wounded what Earth-system scientists understand as a coupled human-natural order.

After two hundred years or more of extravagant exploitation, it is getting increasingly difficult, as Jason W. Moore writes in Capitalism in the Web of Life, 2015, “to get nature, including human nature, to yield its ‘free gifts’ on the cheap” – be they land for grazing sheep or producing the rare earth elements such as indium and tellurium, used in photovoltaics.

Gore is an unrepentant capitalist, eager to put nature to work in new and different ways. An exploitative capitalism is similarly baked into the Green New Deal (Resolution 109 of the 116th Congress). While the Resolution promotes “a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era”, and resolves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through “economic transformation”, it remains premised on the same economic model that sparked the Industrial Revolution. It is this economic model, however dressed in green vestments, that now ravages the planet with for-profit industrial, commercial and institutional development, as well as connective and energy infrastructure – all of which feed on labor and resources brutishly extracted from the earth, albeit with sophisticated electronic assists.

Resolution further notes that climate change, pollution and environmental destruction have exacerbated the ‘systemic injustices’ which afflict ‘frontline and vulnerable communities’. In response, the Green New Deal is charged with creating millions of high-paying jobs, unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security which will counteract systemic injustice. How will this be achieved? By a combination of federal and state incentives to individuals and businesses resolved to fix the problems within the same old economic parameters. The United States will achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, create new ‘green’ jobs, invest in infrastructure and secure clean air and water, promote climate and community resilience and ensure ‘access to nature’ and a sustainable environment within an economic ideology that presumes a supine natural world, that as Moore notes, “has sustained capital accumulation over the past five centuries”.

Given this failure to imagine epochal change it’s all too plausible to conjure a future incarnation of Sarah Palin decrying, at some point during the program’s projected ten-year mobilization, “How’s that Green New Dealy thang going for yah?”

On reading Al Gore’s hopelessly Pollyannaish and wrong-headed op-ed, I was emboldened to return to his seminal work, Earth in the Balance – Ecology and the Human Spirit, 1992. Maybe ‘return’ is too strong a word. Full disclosure – although the hardback book had sat on my classroom shelves in the room where I taught ‘Green World History’ to 10th graders in the mid ‘90’s, I had never gotten much further than the blurbs on the back cover by the redoubtable, Bill Moyers, M. Scott Peck and Carl Sagan. Having now read it, I realize that although Al Gore may not have invented the internet, he can certainly lay claim to a good portion of the intellectual authorship of the Green New Deal.

Earth in the Balance rose to number four and remained in the top ten of the New Times Non-Fiction Best Seller List for almost six months after its publication in June 1992. But it was, I suspect, a book much purchased, and little read. Resolution 109 has the virtue of brevity – but in many respects, it ploughs the same ground. Gore’s exposition of the ills that plague the planet is admirable: melting icecaps, methane release in thawing tundra, desertification, deforestation, species extinction, a prediction of on-going increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing “catastrophic changes in global climate patterns”, loss of wetlands, the privatization of seed genetics and the loss of germplasm resources in wild refuges threatened by development, atmospheric pollution, toxic waste, the plethora of plastics, and methane production from garbage dumps – it is all there. In short, he claims we are “bulldozing the Garden of Eden”. However, as Timothy Morton might suggest, whatever its veracity, it is also horseshoe-in-a-boxing-glove propaganda, and like most tomes dedicated to the ecological apocalypse, its impact can be relied upon to be in inverse proportion to the gloom of its dystopian vision. Nonetheless, it is an encyclopedic review of the most pressing environmental issues, extant early 1990’s, and is important in its recognition of the “intricate and interdependent web of life” in which both humans and non-human species are entwined.

His solution to the planet’s dilemma covered in the last one hundred pages of the book is the development of a ‘Common Purpose’ which makes “the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization”. He proposes ‘A Global Marshall Plan’ which will contain five strategic goals: stabilizing world population; development of environmentally appropriate technologies; economic ‘rules of the road’ under which the ecological consequences of production are reflected in the market place; international agreements that will ensure the success of the scheme; and the establishment of a cooperative plan for educating the world’s citizens about our global environment.

In Gore’s vision, the United States will take the lead and primary financial burden in attaining the goals of this ambitious project – with the success of which, if you will allow a moment of extreme understatement, the last twenty-seven years has not dealt kindly. Do we have any reasonable hope that the next decade will prove more receptive of the Green New Deal?

Moore suggests that the theoretical separation of mind and body promoted by Descartes, was shadowed by the similar binary of Society and Nature. It was these foundational intellectual presumptions of Modernity, he suggests, that allowed for, “the exploitation of labor-power and the appropriation of nature” which led to the half-a-millennium drive towards capitalist commodification, now manifested in a planetary crisis. The Green New Deal, like its antecedent, Gore’s ‘Global Marshall Plan’, will create barely a bump along this road to perdition.

Considering global warming, Moore writes, “…the appropriation of Cheap Nature has not only compelled capital to seek out new sources of cheap labor-power, food energy, and raw materials, but to ‘enclose’ the atmosphere as a gigantic dumping ground for greenhouse gases”. This is perhaps, to turn on a word, the new ‘Enclosure Movement, accidentally engineered as a convenience to capitalism and as dramatic in consequence to our daily freedoms as the eponymous nineteenth century movement that foreclosed the options of young John Clare, the poet, along with millions of others throughout the British Isles. In its new guise, it is foreclosing the future of billions.

It was the ideas of Descartes and Bacon that created a space, in the early seventeenth century, for a scientifically founded modernity. The climate emergency – the planetary crisis – now demands, not a Green New Deal which recycles Gore’s still-born ‘Global Marshall Plan’, but the attempted closure of modernity through a complementary revolution in thought – an intellectual foment capable of turning back the rapacious appetites of capitalism.

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History at the Barricades: Evo Morales and the Power of the Past in Bolivian Politics

A portrait of Túpac Katari on display at the ruins of Tiwanaku during Evo Morales’s ceremonial inauguration on January 22, 2015. This portrait is made out of corn husks, beans, carrots, and potatoes. Photographer: Benjamin Dangl.

A caravan of buses, security vehicles, indigenous leaders, and backpackers with Che Guevara T-shirts wove their way down a muddy road through farmers’ fields to the precolonial city of Tiwanaku. Folk music played throughout the cool day of January 22, 2015, as indigenous priests conducted complex rituals to prepare Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, for a third term in office. His ceremonial inauguration in the ancient city’s ruins was marked by many layers of symbolic meaning.

“Today is a special day, a historic day reaffirming our identity,” Morales said in his speech, given in front of an elaborately carved stone doorway. “For more than five hundred years, we have suffered darkness, hatred, racism, discrimination, and individualism, ever since the strange [Spanish] men arrived, telling us that we had to modernize, that we had to civilize ourselves… But to modernize us, to civilize us, first they had to make the indigenous peoples of the world disappear.”

Morales had been reelected the previous October with more than 60 percent of the vote. His popularity was largely due to his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party’s success in reducing poverty, empowering marginalized sectors of society, and using funds from state-run industries for hospitals, schools, and much-needed public works projects across Bolivia.

“I would like to tell you, sisters and brothers,” Morales continued, “especially those invited here internationally, what did they used to say? ‘The Indians, the indigenous people, are only for voting and not for governing.’ And now the indigenous people, the unions, we have all demonstrated that we also know how to govern better than them.”

For most of those in attendance, the event was a time to reflect on the economic and social progress enjoyed under the Morales administration and to recognize how far the country had come in overcoming five hundred years of subjugation of its indigenous majority since the conquest of the Americas.

“This event is very important for us, for the Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní people,” Ismael Quispe Ticona, an indigenous leader from La Paz, told me. “[Evo Morales] is our brother who is in power now after more than five hundred years of slavery. Therefore, this ceremony has a lot of importance for us… We consider this a huge celebration.”

For critics on the political left, the Tiwanaku event embodied the contradictions of a president who championed indigenous rights at the same time that he silenced and undermined grassroots indigenous dissidents, and who spoke of respect for Mother Earth while deepening an extractive economy based on gas and mining industries. Indeed, the way the MAS used the ruins of Tiwanaku for political ends, as it had in past inaugurations, appeared shameful and opportunistic to some critics.

But such uses of historical symbols by Morales were part of a long political tradition in Bolivia. From campesino (rural worker) and indigenous movements in the 1970s to the MAS party today, indigenous activists and leftist politicians have claimed links with indigenous histories of oppression and resistance to legitimize their demands and guide their contested processes of decolonization.

When Evo Morales walked through the doors of Tiwanaku amid smoking incense and the prayers of Andean priests, for many Bolivians it was a profound moment marking the third term in office for the country’s first indigenous president. It was also just another day in a country where the politics of the present are steeped in the past.

The Morales government typically portrays itself as a political force that has realized the thwarted dreams of eighteenth-century indigenous rebel Túpac Katari, who organized an insurrection against the Spanish in an attempt to reassert indigenous rule in the Andes. This was underlined in the recent naming of Bolivia’s first satellite, Túpac Katari. The launching of the satellite was broadcast live in the central Plaza Murillo in La Paz, an event accompanied by Andean spiritual leaders who conducted rituals to honor Mother Earth. The government has also named state-owned planes after Katari. That Katari’s legacy could be put to use in such a way speaks to the enduring political capital of the indigenous leader.

Túpac Katari’s Symbolic Return

Over two hundred years before the Morales government launched a satellite bearing his name, the Aymara indigenous rebel Katari led a 109-day siege of La Paz that rattled Spanish colonial rule. Katari’s revolt was part of an indigenous insurrection across the Andes launched in 1780 from Cuzco and Potosí, and spread by Katari to La Paz in March 1781. A central demand of the revolts was that governance of the region be placed back into indigenous hands.

The Spanish eventually crushed the rebellion and captured Katari. It is widely understood that moments before his execution, Katari promised, “I will return as millions.” Indeed, though his dream of overthrowing the Spanish and gaining indigenous self-rule was crushed, during the hundreds of years that have passed since his execution, this martyr and his struggle have been taken up as symbols of indigenous resistance by countless movement participants, activist-scholars, and union leaders in Bolivia.

Activists have erected Katari statues, his name and portrait have graced placards and the titles of campesino unions, and his legacy has fueled dozens of indigenous ideologies, manifestos, and political parties. Katari’s street barricade strategies have been taken up again by twenty-first-century rebels, and the satellite named after him circles the globe.

Katari’s symbolism travels well. In April 2000, the specter of Katari returned in the form of a series of Aymara-led protests against water privatization and neoliberal policies. The protests involved road blockades that cut off La Paz from the rest of the country. Marxa Chávez, an Aymara sociologist with rural roots, became involved in the uprising. She told me that activists took turns maintaining the barricades and established vigils along the highways to signal when locals, visitors, and the military were arriving.

The very act of blockading roads to strangle La Paz recalled Katari’s struggle. “The blockade is a form of remembering the siege,” Chávez explained. The movement’s organization of road blockades utilized practical knowledge that had been “transmitted basically by oral memory.” For example, “there was a form of convening people in the Túpac Katari uprising which was to light bonfires in the hills so that other communities would see them, and it was a symbol of alert.” In the blockades of 2000, activists used the same style of fires to summon people. “That’s why hundreds of people later arrived in [the highland town of] Achacachi to face off with the military, because they had seen the smoke.” She placed the origins of the technique in the “unwritten memory in the communities.”

Three years later, another siege would rock La Paz, this time led by the same highland communities and spreading to El Alto. For weeks on end, Aymara activists maintained barricades surrounding La Paz to protest government repression and a plan to privatize and export Bolivian gas. The protests ousted the neoliberal president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and ushered in a new phase of grassroots organizing and leftist politics that paved the way for Morales’s election in 2005.

The Five Hundred Year Rebellion demonstrates how the grassroots production and mobilization of indigenous people’s history by activists in Bolivia was a crucial element for empowering, orienting, and legitimizing indigenous movements from 1970s post-revolutionary Bolivia to the uprisings of the 2000s and into today. For these activists, the past was an important tool used to motivate citizens to take action for social change, to develop new political projects and proposals, and to provide alternative models of governance, agricultural production, and social relationships. Their revival of historical events, personalities, and symbols in protests, manifestos, banners, oral histories, pamphlets, and street barricades helped set in motion a wave of indigenous movements and politics that is still rocking the country.

As contemporary Bolivian politics and movements demonstrate, the struggle to wield people’s histories as tools for indigenous liberation is far from over.

Coca Fields and Street Rebellions

The road to Evo Morales’s election was a long and tumultuous one, forged in coca fields and street rebellions. Morales is a former coca grower and union leader who rose up from the grassroots as an activist fighting against the US militarization of the tropical coca-growing region of the Chapare in the central part of the country. (Although it is a key ingredient in cocaine, the coca leaf is used legally for medicinal and cultural purposes in Bolivia.) Morales and other coca farmers saw the US-led drug war in the country as an attempt to undermine radical political movements, such as the coca unions Morales led. He became an early figurehead and dissident congressman in the MAS political party, which grew in part out of the coca unions and ran a nearly successful presidential bid by Morales against neoliberal president Sánchez de Lozada in 2002.

The MAS has always defined itself as a political instrument of the social movements from which it emerged. During the early 2000s, Bolivia saw numerous uprisings. In the 2000 Cochabamba Water War, the people of that city rose up against the privatization of their water by Bechtel, a multinational corporation. After weeks of protests, the company was kicked out of the city, and the water went back into public hands. In February 2003, police, students, public workers, and regular citizens across the country led an insurrection against an IMF-backed plan to cut wages and increase income taxes on a poverty-stricken population. The revolt forced the government and IMF to surrender to movement demands and to rescind the public wage and tax policies, ushering in a new period of unity and solidarity between movements as civil dissatisfaction gathered heat, reaching a boiling point during what came to be called the Gas War.

The Gas War, which took place in September and October 2003, was a national uprising that emerged among diverse sectors of society against a plan to sell Bolivian natural gas via Chile to the United States for eighteen cents per thousand cubic feet, only to be resold in the United States for approximately four dollars per thousand cubic feet. In a move that was all too familiar to citizens in a country famous for its cheap raw materials, the right-wing Sánchez de Lozada government worked with private companies to design a plan in which Chilean and US businesses would benefit more from Bolivia’s natural wealth than Bolivian citizens themselves would. Bolivians from across class and ethnic lines united in nationwide protests, strikes, and road blockades against the exportation plan. They demanded that the gas be nationalized and industrialized in Bolivia so that the profits from the industry could go to government development projects and social programs.

Neighborhood councils in the city of El Alto, many with ex- miners as members, banded together to block roads in their city. The height of the Gas War recalled Katari’s siege as it involved thousands of El Alto residents, organized largely through neighborhood councils, blocking off La Paz from the rest of the country and finally facing down the military. The government’s crackdown intensified as state forces in helicopters above shot the civilians below, leaving over sixty people dead. The repression pushed movements in the city into a fury that emboldened their resistance. By mid-October, the people successfully ousted Sánchez de Lozada and rejected the gas exportation plan, pointing the way toward nationalization.

The Evo Morales Government

Such protests and others promoting land reform and demanding a new, progressive constitution opened up new spaces for radical alternatives to the neocolonial state, putting Bolivian sovereignty and a full rejection of the neoliberal model at the center of the country’s politics. The MAS and Morales emerged from this period of discontent as the most adept at channeling the energy and demands of the grassroots while navigating the country’s national political landscape—one dominated at the time by right-wing political parties.

In 2005, Morales won the presidential election, largely thanks to the political space and popular hope inspired by social movement victories in the previous five years. Because he was the first indigenous president of Bolivia, his election was seen as a watershed moment in a nation where the majority was poor and indigenous. That Morales could be elected on a socialist, anti-imperialist platform after roughly twenty years of neoliberalism was historic. Perhaps even more significant was that, in a nation rife with racism and neocolonialism, an indigenous man from a humble background could take up residence in the presidential palace.

Shortly after assuming office, Morales moved quickly to institutionalize many of the social movement victories that had been won in the streets. He nationalized sectors of Bolivia’s rich gas industry, convened an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution, and followed through on many of his campaign pledges to alleviate poverty and empower the poor and indigenous people living on the margins of society. His election notably took place at a time in Latin America when other progressive presidents were in power; from Argentina to Venezuela, Morales was not alone in asserting national sovereignty and rejecting imperialism.

The economic changes in the country point to some of the reasons Morales was so popular throughout much of his time in office. Bolivia’s GDP rose steadily from 2009 to 2013, contributing to what the UN called the highest rate of poverty reduction in the region, with a 32.2 percent drop between 2000 and 2012. The rates of employment and pay went up, buoyed by a 20 percent minimum wage increase. Much of this economic success can be tied to the government placing many industries and businesses—from mines to telephone companies—under state control, thus generating funds for the MAS government’s popular social programs, including projects seeking to lift mothers, children, and the elderly out of poverty. Thanks to a successful literacy program, UNESCO has declared the country free of illiteracy. Much of the funding created by nationalization also pays for infrastructure and highway development, as only 10 percent of the country’s roads are paved.

The MAS political project has not been without its pitfalls and structural problems. Some of the same indigenous and rural communities that the Morales government seeks to support with its social programs and politics have been displaced by extractive industries. Fields of GMO soy, accompanied by toxic pesticides, are expanding across rural areas in the eastern part of the country with the government’s support. Abortion is still largely illegal in Bolivia, and rates of domestic abuse against women and femicide have been on the rise. Major corruption scandals have beset the MAS and its movement allies, including the CSUTCB and the Bartolina Sisa movement. Morales is pushing forward with a controversial nuclear power plant to be built near earthquake-prone La Paz, and the MAS plans to build a highway through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), a move which has sparked protests. (More recently, Morales has come under attack for policies that led to the wide-spread fires in the country.)

The contradictions inherent in the Morales administration’s decision to deepen extractivist projects in mining, gas, and mega-dams while simultaneously cheerleading Mother Earth will impact the nation and its indigenous movements for decades to come.

“The Open Veins of Latin America are Still Bleeding”

When I sat down in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2003 for an early morning interview with Evo Morales, then a coca farmer leader and congressman, he was drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice and ignoring the constant ringing of the landline phone at his union’s office. Just a few weeks before our meeting, a nationwide social movement demanded that Bolivia’s natural gas reserves be put under state control. How the wealth underground could benefit the poor majority aboveground was on everybody’s mind. As far as his political ambitions were concerned, Morales wanted natural resources to “construct a political instrument of liberation and unity for Latin America.” He was widely considered a popular contender for the presidency and was clear that the indigenous politics he sought to mobilize as a leader were tied to a vision of Bolivia recovering its natural wealth for national development. “We, the indigenous people, after five hundred years of resistance, are retaking power,” he said. “This retaking of power is oriented towards the recovery of our own riches, our own natural resources.” Two years later he was elected president.

Fast-forward to March 2014. It was a sunny Saturday morning in downtown La Paz, and street vendors were putting up their stalls for the day alongside a rock band that was organizing a small concert in a pedestrian walkway. I was meeting with Mama Nilda Rojas, a leader of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, an indigenous organization then facing repression from the MAS for its critiques of government policy. Rojas, along with her colleagues and family, had been persecuted by the Morales government in part for her activism against mining and other extractive industries.

“The indigenous territories are in resistance,” she said, “because the open veins of Latin America are still bleeding, still covering the earth with blood. This blood is being taken away by all the extractive industries.” While Morales saw the wealth underground as a tool for liberation, Rojas saw the president as someone who was pressing forward with extractive industries without concern for the environmental destruction and displacement of rural indigenous communities they left in their wake. “This government has given a false discourse on an international level, defending Pachamama, defending Mother Earth,” Rojas explained, while the reality in Bolivia is quite a different story: “Mother Earth is tired.”

Critiques of the MAS and Morales are rampant among Bolivia’s dissident indigenous movements and thinkers.

“I had so much hope at the moment when Evo Morales came into the government,” Bolivian sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui explained. “But he has come to crave centralized power, which has become a part of Bolivia’s dominant culture since the 1952 revolution. The idea that Bolivia is a weak state and needs to be a strong state—this is such a recurrent idea, and it is becoming the self-suicide of revolution. Because the revolution is what the people do—and what the people do is decentralized.” She continued, “I would say that the strength of Bolivia is not the state but the people.”

The Power of the Past

While Bolivia’s diverse social and indigenous movements wield power from the streets, the MAS and Morales have successfully maintained and deepened their influence in part by mobilizing indigenous and working-class identity as an extension of party politics. The coca leaf is often used by the MAS in political campaigning as a symbol both of indigenous history and of the fight against US imperialism. Similarly, the government’s championing of indigenous culture more broadly, and its connecting that culture to a nationalist project of liberation and development, resonates with many voters who felt they had been manipulated by previous political leaders who, rather than seeking to decolonize and refound the nation on the basis of its indigenous roots, instead wanted to turn Bolivia into a mirror image of the West.

Many of the same histories, discourses of indigenous resistance, and symbols of revolt produced and promoted from below by indigenous movements over the period examined here are now celebrated as part of official state policy and rhetoric under Morales. The administration has made the wiphala part of the official national flag, granted new rights and power to indigenous communities, named a satellite after Katari, and published new editions of the works of indigenous philosopher Fausto Reinaga and other formerly dissident thinkers and historians.

Some of these government approaches have popularized images of Katari more as a distinguished head of state—to suit Morales’s position—than as a rebel leader. Katari has been portrayed in a number of ways throughout Bolivian history: during the MNR revolutionary period he was sometimes depicted in paintings holding a gun, and the Kataristas saw him as a defiant, chain-breaking symbol of their struggle.

During its first months in office, the MAS government chose another version that represented Katari as a stately leader, not a revolutionary. This version of Katari was requested in 2005 by former president Carlos Mesa, not Morales. In the portrait, scholars Vincent Nicolas and Pablo Quisbert explain, “Katari is no longer represented as a rebel, but as a dignitary of the State, dressed in a kind of jacket and a modern shirt, covered in an elegant poncho adorned with textile figures, and grasping a special staff of authority, a symbol of his power.” Though produced before Morales’s election, this image was taken up by his administration and widely distributed to tie Morales to Katari. “The Evo-Katari affiliation,” Nicolas and Quisbert write, “has been supported very much in this iconography, and is placed as a kind of backdrop to Morales himself.”

Such political uses of the past and historical symbols can be traced in part to the government’s Vice Ministry of Decolonization, which was created in 2009 and works with other sectors of government to promote, for example, indigenous language education, gender parity in government, indigenous forms of justice, antiracism initiatives, indigenous autonomy, and the strengthening of indigenous traditions, symbols, and histories.

One of the people involved in such decolonization efforts in the vice ministry was Elisa Vega Sillo, a former leader in the Bartolina Sisa movement and a member of the Kallawaya indigenous nation. She told me of the process of decolonizing indigenous history in Bolivia.

“We try and recover an anticolonial vision above all,” she said, focusing on how indigenous people, over centuries of resistance, “rebelled to get rid of oppression, the slavery in the haciendas, the taking over of land, of our wealth in Cerro Rico in Potosí, our trees, our knowledge—they rebelled against all of this. But in the official history, the colonial history, they tell us that the bad ones were the indigenous people, and that they deserved what they got.” She explained, “We recuperate our own history, a history of how we were in constant rebellion and how they were never able to subdue us.”

As a part of these efforts, government-led rituals now take place every November 14 to mark the death of Túpac Katari. Yet, sociologist Pablo Mamani asks, why remember Katari only every November 14, as though he is dead? “We must put this kind of ritual behind us to enter a more everyday rituality,” he explains. Mamani sees no need to remember Katari just one day a year, because “Túpac Katari has returned and is among us, and we, ourselves, are the thousands of men and women that we have in these territories, and we are on our feet, walking.”

This essay is excerpted from the Dangl’s book, The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia

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Entangling Alliances Make For Forever Wars

Photograph Source: Lance Cpl. James Clark – Public Domain

In March of 2018, US president Donald Trump promised “we’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon.” That December, he issued an order to begin withdrawing US troops. Apparently the order never got executed. Most of a year later, US forces remain.

Now Trump and his opponents are arguing over his decision to move a few dozen of those troops around within Syria, to get them out of the way of a Turkish invasion force massing on the border. Both sides are pretending that a tiny troop movement constitutes the supposed withdrawal he ordered last December.

This minor situation illustrates a major problem  that two early presidents warned us about.

“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world,” George Washington said in his farewell address.

Four years later, Thomas Jefferson called for “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none” in his inaugural address.

I wonder what Washington and Jefferson would think of the continued presence of US troops in Europe and Japan  75 years after the end of World War Two, or in South Korea 66 years after the ceasefire on that peninsula?

I wonder what they’d have to say about NATO, a multi-country military alliance still operating three decades after the collapse and disappearance of the enemy it was supposedly formed to guard against?

Because Trump failed to follow through on his promise to get out of Syria, he now finds himself caught between two putative allies: NATO member Turkey on one side, the Kurds (an ethnic group which Washington periodically uses in its regional wars then invariably  abandons) on the other.

The Turks and the Kurds have a long and antagonistic shared history.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to invade Syria to establish a “safe zone,” by which he means a “zone without armed Kurds in it.” He wants US troops out of the way.

The Kurds, having carved out something resembling a small nation-state of their own in northern Syria with US assistance and as a side effect of chasing the Islamic State out of the area,  would rather those US troops stayed so that the Turks won’t have as free a killing hand.

Given the choice between pleasing Turkey (a major regional power and a NATO ally) or pleasing the Kurds (who have no internationally recognized state of their own and depend entirely on the US for the viability of their enclave), I can’t say I blame Trump for caving to Erdogan’s demands.

But if the US hadn’t invaded Syria in the first place (under former president Barack Obama), or if Trump hadn’t escalated the war instead of ending it when he took office, or if he had kept his subsequent promise to withdraw US forces, he wouldn’t have found himself in the current situation.

Like adhesive bandages, entangling alliances cover ugly wounds and seldom come off without pain. But leaving them in place and letting the wounds fester is even worse.

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The Real Cover-Up: Putting Donald Trump’s Impeachment in Context

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

There is blood in the water and frenzied sharks are closing in for the kill. Or so they think.

From the time of Donald Trump’s election, American elites have hungered for this moment. At long last, they have the 45th president of the United States cornered. In typically ham-handed fashion, Trump has given his adversaries the very means to destroy him politically. They will not waste the opportunity. Impeachment now — finally, some will say — qualifies as a virtual certainty.

No doubt many surprises lie ahead. Yet the Democrats controlling the House of Representatives have passed the point of no return. The time for prudential judgments — the Republican-controlled Senate will never convict, so why bother? — is gone for good. To back down now would expose the president’s pursuers as spineless cowards. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC would not soon forgive such craven behavior.

So, as President Woodrow Wilson, speaking in 1919 put it, “The stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God.” Of course, the issue back then was a notably weighty one: whether to ratify the Versailles Treaty. That it now concerns a “Mafia-like shakedown” orchestrated by one of Wilson’s successors tells us something about the trajectory of American politics over the course of the last century and it has not been a story of ascent.

The effort to boot the president from office is certain to yield a memorable spectacle. The rancor and contempt that have clogged American politics like a backed-up sewer since the day of Donald Trump’s election will now find release. Watergate will pale by comparison. The uproar triggered by Bill Clinton’s “sexual relations” will be nothing by comparison. A de factocollaboration between Trump, those who despise him, and those who despise his critics all but guarantees that this story will dominate the news, undoubtedly for months to come.

As this process unspools, what politicians like to call “the people’s business” will go essentially unattended. So while Congress considers whether or not to remove Trump from office, gun-control legislation will languish, the deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure will proceed apace, needed healthcare reforms will be tabled, the military-industrial complex will waste yet more billions, and the national debt, already at $22 trillion — larger, that is, than the entire economy — will continue to surge. The looming threat posed by climate change, much talked about of late, will proceed all but unchecked. For those of us preoccupied with America’s role in the world, the obsolete assumptions and habits undergirding what’s still called “national security” will continue to evade examination. Our endless wars will remain endless and pointless.

By way of compensation, we might wonder what benefits impeachment is likely to yield. Answering that question requires examining four scenarios that describe the range of possibilities awaiting the nation.

The first and most to be desired (but least likely) is that Trump will tire of being a public piñata and just quit. With the thrill of flying in Air Force One having worn off, being president can’t be as much fun these days. Why put up with further grief? How much more entertaining for Trump to retire to the political sidelines where he can tweet up a storm and indulge his penchant for name-calling. And think of the “deals” an ex-president could make in countries like Israel, North Korea, Poland, and Saudi Arabia on which he’s bestowed favors. Cha-ching! As of yet, however, the president shows no signs of taking the easy (and lucrative) way out.

The second possible outcome sounds almost as good but is no less implausible: a sufficient number of Republican senators rediscover their moral compass and “do the right thing,” joining with Democrats to create the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump and send him packing. In the Washington of that classic twentieth-century film director Frank Capra, with Jimmy Stewart holding forth on the Senate floor and a moist-eyed Jean Arthur cheering him on from the gallery, this might have happened. In the real Washington of “Moscow Mitch” McConnell, think again.

The third somewhat seamier outcome mightseem a tad more likely. It postulates that McConnell and various GOP senators facing reelection in 2020 or 2022 will calculate that turning on Trump just might offer the best way of saving their own skins. The president’s loyalty to just about anyone, wives included, has always been highly contingent, the people streaming out of his administration routinely making the point. So why should senatorial loyalty to the president be any different? At the moment, however, indications that Trump loyalists out in the hinterlands will reward such turncoats are just about nonexistent. Unless that base were to flip, don’t expect Republican senators to do anything but flop.

That leaves outcome number four, easily the most probable: while the House will impeach, the Senate will decline to convict. Trump will therefore stay right where he is, with the matter of his fitness for office effectively deferred to the November 2020 elections. Except as a source of sadomasochistic diversion, the entire agonizing experience will, therefore, prove to be a colossal waste of time and blather.

Furthermore, Donald Trump might well emerge from this national ordeal with his reelection chances enhanced. Such a prospect is belatedly insinuating itself into public discourse. For that reason, certain anti-Trump pundits are already showing signs of going wobbly, suggesting, for instance, that censure rather than outright impeachment might suffice as punishment for the president’s various offenses. Yet censuring Trump while allowing him to stay in office would be the equivalent of letting Harvey Weinstein off with a good tongue-lashing so that he can get back to making movies. Censure is for wimps.

Besides, as Trump campaigns for a second term, he would almost surely wear censure like a badge of honor. Keep in mind that Congress’s approval ratingsare considerably worse than his. To more than a few members of the public, a black mark awarded by Congress might look like a gold star.

Not Removal But Restoration

So if Trump finds himself backed into a corner, Democrats aren’t necessarilyin a more favorable position. And that ain’t the half of it. Let me suggest that, while Trump is being pursued, it’s you, my fellow Americans, who are really being played. The unspoken purpose of impeachment is not removal, but restoration. The overarching aim is not to replace Trump with Mike Pence — the equivalent of exchanging Groucho for Harpo. No, the object of the exercise is to return power to those who created the conditions that enabled Trump to win the White House in the first place.

Just recently, for instance, Hillary Clinton declared Trump to be an “illegitimate president.” Implicit in her charge is the conviction — no doubt sincere — that people like Donald Trump are not supposed to be president. People like Hillary Clinton — people possessing credentials like hers and sharing her values — should be the chosen ones. Here we glimpse the true meaning of legitimacy in this context. Whatever the vote in the Electoral College, Trump doesn’t deserve to be president and never did.

For many of the main participants in this melodrama, the actual but unstated purpose of impeachment is to correct this great wrong and thereby restore history to its anointed path.

In a recent column in the Guardian, Professor Samuel Moyn makes the essential point: Removing from office a vulgar, dishonest, and utterly incompetent president comes nowhere close to capturing what’s going on here. To the elites most intent on ousting Trump, far more important than anything he may say or do is what he signifies. He is a walking, talking repudiation of everything they believe and, by extension, of a future they had come to see as foreordained.

Moyn styles these anti-Trump elites as “centrists,” members of the post-Cold War political mainstream that allowed ample room for nominally conservative Bushes and nominally liberal Clintons, while leaving just enough space for Barack Obama’s promise of hope-and-(not-too-much) change.

These centrists share a common worldview. They believe in the universality of freedom as defined and practiced within the United States. They believe in corporate capitalism operating on a planetary scale. They believe in American primacy, with the United States presiding over a global order as the sole superpower. They believe in “American global leadership,” which they define as primarily a military enterprise. And perhaps most of all, while collecting degrees from Georgetown, Harvard, Oxford, Wellesley, the University of Chicago, and Yale, they came to believe in a so-called meritocracy as the preferred mechanism for allocating wealth, power, and privilege. All of these together comprise the sacred scripture of contemporary American political elites. And if Donald Trump’s antagonists have their way, his removal will restore that sacred scripture to its proper place as the basis of policy.

“For all their appeals to enduring moral values,” Moyn writes, “the centrists are deploying a transparent strategy to return to power.” Destruction of the Trump presidency is a necessary precondition for achieving that goal. “Centrists simply want to return to the status quo interrupted by Trump, their reputations laundered by their courageous opposition to his mercurial reign, and their policies restored to credibility.” Precisely.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

For such a scheme to succeed, however, laundering reputations alone will not suffice. Equally important will be to bury any recollection of the catastrophes that paved the way for an über-qualified centrist to lose to an indisputably unqualified and unprincipled political novice in 2016.

Holding promised security assistance hostage unless a foreign leader agrees to do you political favors is obviously and indisputably wrong. Trump’s antics regarding Ukraine may even meet some definition of criminal. Still, how does such misconduct compare to the calamities engineered by the “centrists” who preceded him? Consider, in particular, the George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 (along with the spin-off wars that followed). Consider, too, the reckless economic policies that produced the Great Recession of 2007-2008. As measured by the harm inflicted on the American people (and others), the offenses for which Trump is being impeached qualify as mere misdemeanors.

Honest people may differ on whether to attribute the Iraq War to outright lies or monumental hubris. When it comes to tallying up the consequences, however, the intentions of those who sold the war don’t particularly matter. The results include thousands of Americans killed; tens of thousands wounded, many grievously, or left to struggle with the effects of PTSD; hundreds of thousands of non-Americans killed or injured; millions displaced; trillions of dollars expended; radical groups like ISIS empowered (and in its case even formed inside a U.S. prison in Iraq); and the Persian Gulf region plunged into turmoil from which it has yet to recover. How do Trump’s crimes stack up against these?

The Great Recession stemmed directly from economic policies implemented during the administration of President Bill Clinton and continued by his successor. Deregulating the banking sector was projected to produce a bonanza in which all would share. Yet, as a direct result of the ensuing chicanery, nearly nine million Americans lost their jobs, while overall unemployment shot up to 10%. Roughly four million Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. The stock market cratered and millions saw their life savings evaporate. Again, the question must be asked: How do these results compare to Trump’s dubious dealings with Ukraine?

Trump’s critics speak with one voice in demanding accountability. Yet virtually no one has been held accountable for the pain, suffering, and loss inflicted by the architects of the Iraq War and the Great Recession. Why is that? As another presidential election approaches, the question not only goes unanswered, but unasked.

To win reelection, Trump, a corrupt con man (who jumped ship on his own bankrupt casinos, money in hand, leaving others holding the bag) will cheat and lie. Yet, in the politics of the last half-century, these do not qualify as novelties. (Indeed, apart from being the son of a sitting U.S. vice president, what made Hunter Biden worth $50Gs per month to a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch?  I’m curious.) That the president and his associates are engaging in a cover-up is doubtless the case. Yet another cover-up proceeds in broad daylight on a vastly larger scale. “Trump’s shambolic presidency somehow seems less unsavory,” Moyn writes, when considering the fact that his critics refuse “to admit how massively his election signified the failure of their policies, from endless war to economic inequality.” Just so.

What are the real crimes? Who are the real criminals? No matter what happens in the coming months, don’t expect the Trump impeachment proceedings to come within a country mile of addressing such questions.

This article was first published by TomDispatch.

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The Latest in the Diplomatic War Against Venezuela

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

According to conventional wisdom, the Trump administration, as well as its regional allies in the Lima Group and the Venezuelan opposition, were set to intensify the diplomatic war on the Venezuelan government at the UN General Assembly. However, they only managed to demonstrate how far removed their coalition against President Maduro is from convincing the international community that deadly sanctions and a coup are the way forward for Venezuela.

Their plan had several goals: increase the number of countries that recognize Juan Guaidó (the president of the National Assembly who was anointed interim president of Venezuela by the Trump administration); link Venezuela to Colombian guerrilla groups; and convince more countries to impose sanctions. There was even a plot “to revoke Venezuela’s status at the United Nations,” as the Grayzone’s Anya Parampil reported.

On the first point, the Trump administration remains unsuccessful. Fifty-four countries announced their support for Guaidó’s coup over a period of weeks in January and February of this year, leading Trump officials to believe that more countries would join every week. Now, eight months after the coup began, the number has remained almost stagnant; it is currently at 55 after El Salvador elected a neoliberal government. In fact, as it has become clearer that the Guaidó coup has failed, several European governments, including Spain, Portugal and Germany, have tried to play it both ways: recognizing Guaidó while carrying on relations with the Maduro government.

Although 55 seems like a large coalition, it is dwarfed by the rest of the world. The other 138 countries in the United Nations—representing 80 percent of humanity—have refused to back the coup. This includes countries such as Norway, Italy, Mexico, Uruguay, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa and Nigeria.

While there is a lot of hand-wringing over China and Russia recognizing Nicolás Maduro as president, there has been very little scrutiny of the countries that are included in the 55-nation coalition, which features human rights violators and governments in crisis. In particular, it is worth looking at the human rights records of the coalition members within the region. In Colombia, for example, more than 700 social leaders and human rights activists have been murdered in the past three years. The Ecuadorian government declared a state of emergency as mass protests are rocking the country following an announcement of neoliberal reforms mandated by the International Monetary Fund. The Honduran government is mired in allegations of drug trafficking at the highest levels. The Argentinean government has seen poverty double during its economic crisis (and will likely be voted out on October 27; the new government is expected to recognize the Maduro government). In Peru, their unelected president has just dissolved the legislature as state-backed xenophobia terrorizes Venezuelan migrants. In Brazil, the Amazon burns, black people are killed with impunity and massive protests flood the streets. These countries use Venezuela as a prop to divert attention from their own problems, much like President Trump, whose anti-socialist discourse on the campaign trail consistently features Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

At the United Nations and its dozens of affiliated institutions, like the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Human Rights Council, there is no doubt who Venezuela’s legitimate leaders are. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Venezuelan opposition sought a Commission of Inquiry into the country’s human rights record. Instead, what they got was a fact-finding mission (which is of a lesser category than a commission) and an unintended consequence: the Council reiterated that Venezuela “needs a solution reached by Venezuelans without foreign interference” and denounced the impact of U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan people’s human rights.

In New York, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez addressed the UN General Assembly and met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to whom she presented the recently signed agreement between the government and opposition sectors. In a blow to the opposition, the secretary-general refused to meet with Juan Guaidó. Instead, the governments of Honduras, Brazil and Colombia invited opposition representatives to sit with their delegations.

The presidents of these three countries joined President Trump in mentioning Venezuela in their UN speeches, though in fairness, their addresses were not as isolationist, nationalist and frankly, as boring, as Mr. Trump’s. The Honduran president—in power because of a coup and subsequent fraudulent elections—astonished listeners by accusing Venezuela of engaging in “fourth generation warfare” against his government. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil—another coup beneficiary who was elected because the country’s most popular politician is in jail—denounced the alleged presence of 60,000 Cuban “agents” in Venezuela, although considering his country’s health care policies, perhaps he was referring to Cuban doctors. His speech was condemned by Amazon Watch as “outrageous, undemocratic, racist, and deeply violent.”

But it was Colombian President Iván Duque who ended up embarrassing himself the most. For several weeks, the Colombian government and the Venezuelan opposition had been hyping President Duque’s speech, where he was to present a report and show definitive proof of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela. The report, which has yet to be released to the public, is based on an article in Colombian magazine Semana that has already been debunked. The “proof” consisted of four photographs of guerrilla training camps, which Mr. Duque claimed were taken in Venezuela. Within hours of his speech, it was revealed that one of the photographs was taken by newspaper El Colombiano in the Colombian region of Cauca in 2015. The other three were later proven to have been taken in Colombia by AFP. This is not the first time that fake or mislabeled images have been used in attempts to discredit Venezuela. The blunder cost Colombia’s chief of military intelligence his job and has led to international mockery of President Duque.

Just prior to the UN General Assembly, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic joined the United States and Guaidó’s representatives in invoking the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, or Rio Treaty. This treaty, a Cold War relic signed in 1947, was last invoked after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and establishes that an attack on one country is an attack on all. However, the treaty’s validity is undermined by the fact that it has been losing members left and right. Mexico withdrew in 2004, followed by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua in 2012. The latest to withdraw is Uruguay, which denounced the treaty days after it was activated against Venezuela and warned that it was “opening a path to armed intervention.” For its part, the State Department claims the treaty will allow regional countries to have a framework for imposing broad economic sanctions against Venezuela. Yet its own rhetoric leaves open the possibility that it can be used for an invasion, with language declaring the treaty as the “supreme law of the land,” raising questions of whether the Rio Treaty could be used to circumvent Congress and the War Powers Act.

Even if the treaty is only used for the imposition of sanctions, one of the immediate goals of its invocation is to pressure European countries to follow the U.S.’s agenda against Venezuela. Although the European Union has imposed sanctions on individuals and on the sale of arms, they have so far refused to apply economic sanctions. Broader sanctions from Latin American countries would give the Europeans cover for imposing similar sanctions. Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, traveled to Europe in September as part of this pressure campaign and made the ridiculous claim that sanctions would offer “a better chance for negotiations to succeed.” (The sanctions are the greatest impediment to a negotiated agreement, as the Venezuelan government insists upon the lifting of sanctions, yet the opposition has no control over them.) The Europeans refused to take the bait, even while they imposed travel and financial restrictions on seven intelligence officials. These sorts of individual sanctions have a much lesser impact on the population at large than President Trump’s killer sanctions and they are far from what the Trump administration and Venezuelan opposition desired.

It is a wonder that more heads haven’t rolled at the White House and State Department over their repeated failures to overthrow the Maduro government, especially considering the most recent humiliations at the UN General Assembly. The State Department’s primary responsibility has been to carry out the diplomatic front of the war on Venezuela, yet the coalition they have built has been unable to convince the world to join them, has failed at imposing multilateral sanctions, and relies almost entirely on regional allies that are undergoing crises of their own. So far, the diplomatic war is being won by the Maduro government, but the Venezuelan people continue to suffer from the brutal U.S. sanctions.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and campaigner with CODEPINK.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.


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Immanuel Wallerstein, a Belated Farewell

Alas, I have not written about Immanuel Wallerstein right after his death, as I should have. The electoral campaign for Moscow City Duma demanded all my time and attention, so I limited myself to a short post on social media and promised to write an article later.

Now, after the election has come and gone, the time has come to deliver on my promise.

Of course, Wallerstein deserves not just a column, not even just an article, but a major biographical study. Everybody still remembers him as a living classic, a maître of historical sociology, but for a better understanding of his intellectual journey we should return to its very origins–to the 1960s, when a young American sociologist was trying to answer the question: what is not right with the development of the African countries?

From the beginning, many predicted a great future for Wallerstein. He secured a brilliant academic career starting as an instructor at his alma mater, Columbia University, in 1959, immediately after receiving his doctorate degree at the age of 29. Then, the young researcher surprised his colleagues and supporters: he concluded that the modernization theory which he was taught, and which he set off to develop further, is not correct. Worse than that, when student unrest started in New York in 1968, as it did throughout the world, he joined the rebels and became one of their ideologues.

Modernization theory, which was popular in the West in the 1950s, was bourgeois interpretation of the Soviet experience of industrial development during the 1930-40s. As a matter of fact, it reproduced an orthodox Marxist concept formulated by Karl Kautsky and G.V. Plekhanov. According to these views, all countries go through the same stages of development. It is impossible to skip a stage, but the experience of the more developed countries can be used to accelerate the process. If a country is currently in a feudal stage, a bourgeois revolution is needed to create the conditions for a welfare state, which, in turn, would allow a transition from capitalism to socialism.

In the modernization theory framework, transition to socialism was, naturally, not an issue, and thus a different terminology was used: the place of “capitalism” and “socialism” was taken by the “industrialized society.” Western countries served as a model of such society; however, an alternative – the Soviet model – was also acknowledged. One way or another, the developing world was prescribed a consecutive set of measures, institutions, and technologies, so that after passing several stages, they could join the “civilized world” and create a “normal” modern society. It is clear now why Soviet sociologists who preached Kautsky’s paradigm as a basic principle of Marxism-Leninism easily transitioned in the 1990s into a specific version of the modernization theory, according to which Russia should stop socialist experiments and return to the “main path of development” by joining the West, which was now not just the best kind of an industrial society, but the only possible one. The problem is that the unsoundness of this idea was demonstrated by Wallerstein and his followers in the beginning of the 1970s.

Strictly speaking, Kautsky’s concept was already overturned by the Russian revolution in 1917 which, according to his views, could not happen, or at least could not be socialist. Antonio Gramsci was the first to notice this. He called it the revolution against “Capital,” while Kautsky could never bring himself to accept this event which overturned his harmonious theory.

On the contrary, Soviet ideologues after Lenin’s death not only stayed loyal to Kautsky’s ideas despite their own historical experience, but also turned them into a dogma. This is not surprising: such a scheme is easy to teach and to accept.

Meanwhile, in the beginning of the 20th century, Rosa Luxemburg and Mikhail Pokrovskiy already showed that capitalism develops not as a sum of national economies which live and progress side by side, but rather as a unified system where “underdevelopment” (“backwardness”) of some and the “successful development” of the others are, as a matter of fact, interconnected, and cannot exist without one another. Moreover, the issue lies not only in the exploitation of colonies, but in the complex logic of the system, within which the center and the periphery develop spontaneously. Wallerstein went further, showing how the process of capital accumulation within such a system naturally creates a tendency to redistribute resources and benefits from the periphery to the center.

Having already published the first volume of his main work, “The Modern World-System,” Wallerstein demonstrated that capitalism first emerges as a global economic system, and only then are “national capitalisms” formed within it. As for the countries of the periphery, all sorts of manifestations of backwardness become not only a “brake for development,” but also a kind of competitive advantage, which the elites of these countries use in order to fit into the world system more effectively: slave labor allows the production of cheap goods, the absence of an independent court and universal corruption is a way to simplify investment processes, hired killers are cheaper than lawyers, etc.

Leaving Africa, the British and French colonizers left behind almost the full range of democratic institutions in most countries – parties, courts, and parliaments, but almost nowhere has it been possible to maintain this democratic order in the conditions of independence. Unlike those who attributed the events to the cultural or racial backwardness of the “natives,” Wallerstein realized that these were systemic limitations. By and large, the full spectrum of all democratic freedoms, rights, and institutions is only necessary in the countries of the core. For the periphery, these rights and freedoms are redundant regarding the interests of capitalist accumulation. Furthermore, even if they are available, they limit bourgeois development rather than stimulate it. They are not generated by the capitalist order but rather are imposed on the ruling class by social resistance or by the balance of the internal societal forces.

The political conclusions that stem from the world-systems theory may seem pessimistic at first glance: it is, at the very minimum, difficult to break the system and build a new society in one single country. The Soviet revolutionary burst, despite its grandiose achievements, ended with the restoration of capitalism. In the 1990s, Wallerstein established the fact that all three alternatives to the bourgeois order that arose in the 20th century – the communist movement, social democracy, and the national liberation movements of the countries of the periphery – all were equally defeated.

This, however, does not mean that the capitalist world system is invincible. On the contrary, no matter what condition its adversaries are in, it faces internal contradictions that inevitably undermine its stability and ultimately doom it to a collapse once its historical potential is exhausted.

The logic of universal global engagement has not only a dark side but also a bright side. Any revolution in the capitalist world already reflects not only the level of development of the productive forces in a single country, but to a certain extent, in the entire world-system and in the global bourgeois economy. Any national revolution is a factor in changing the nature of not only a single territory’s development, but also of the entire system. In this regard, modern capitalism is a product of the Russian Revolution and Soviet industrialization, Chinese communist experiments, and anti-colonial uprisings in the Third World not less, but perhaps even more than of the processes occurring in Western industrial countries.

As early as the late 1990s, Wallerstein forecast the impending decay and demise of the capitalist world-system, which he predicted to happen in the next half a century. What new world-system will replace it, the researcher stated, depends on many circumstances. It hasn’t developed yet and we can’t say in advance what it will be like. We can’t even say in advance that it will be better. The only thing we know for sure is that it will be different.

The last time I had the opportunity to talk to Wallerstein one-on-one was during the social forum in Porto Alegre, where we happened to encounter each other near a table with a book display. We drank coffee and talked about the future – is there a chance for a revival of the left movement in the coming years? What would it be like?

At that time, Wallerstein was finishing the fourth volume of his fundamental work. After three previous volumes, which have become classics, the continuation was met with respect and interest by colleagues, but without much enthusiasm – all the main ideas of the work were already formulated in the previous sections.

The last, fifth volume dedicated to the era of anti-bourgeois revolutions remained unwritten. There is some symbolism in this – many great texts of the social and political sciences, including Karl Marx’s “Capital” and Lenin’s “State and Revolution” remained unfinished. Research and transformation of society has no predetermined limit, much less a predictable result. History should not only be studied, but also created.

The question of how the crisis of the capitalist world system will turn out for humanity and my country and what will replace it is not purely theoretical. The answer to this question is up to us, those who live and act in our crucial era.

Translated by Natasha Minkovsky


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