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The Trump Files: Donald Tried to Make His Ghostwriter Pay for His Book Party

Mother Jones Magazine -

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current president—on July 22, 2016.

Donald Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, helped secure his public image as a real estate genius and an ultimate symbol of the filthy rich. But that didn’t stop him from trying to charge the man who actually wrote the book for him, former magazine writer Tony Schwartz, hundreds of thousands of dollars after Trump threw a book party filled with “nine hundred second-rate celebrities” in December 1987.

Schwartz had just spent a year and a half shadowing Trump for the book, a process that, he told The New Yorker, was “draining” and “deadening.” But now his book was on the New York Times bestseller list, and Trump was throwing an over-the-top party to match. “Klieg lights lit a red carpet outside the building,” The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer writes. “Inside, nearly a thousand guests, in black tie, were served champagne and fed slices of a giant cake replica of Trump Tower, which was wheeled in by a parade of women waving red sparklers. The boxing promoter Don King greeted the crowd in a floor-length mink coat, and the comedian Jackie Mason introduced Donald and Ivana with the words ‘Here comes the king and queen!'”

But the next day, Trump called Schwartz and told him to pay up. “After chatting briefly about the party, Trump informed Schwartz that, as his ghostwriter, he owed him for half the event’s cost, which was in the six figures,” Mayer writes.

Instead, Schwartz used Trump’s own evasive tactics on the mogul. “He drastically negotiated down the amount that he agreed to pay, to a few thousand dollars, and then wrote Trump a letter promising to write a check not to Trump but to a charity of Schwartz’s choosing,” Mayer writes. “It was a page out of Trump’s playbook. In the past seven years, Trump has promised to give millions of dollars to charity, but reporters for the Washington Post found that they could document only ten thousand dollars in donations—and they uncovered no direct evidence that Trump made charitable contributions from money earned by ‘The Art of the Deal.'”

Schwartz may have escaped being nickel and dimed by the billionaire—and he earned half of the book’s substantial royalties—but he doesn’t look back fondly on The Art of the Deal. “I put lipstick on a pig,” he told Mayer. “I feel a deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is.”

 

One Journalist Is Chronicling San Quentin’s Huge COVID-19 Outbreak—While Locked Inside

Mother Jones Magazine -

On the top bunk of his cell in San Quentin State Prison, Kevin Sawyer has been chronicling one of the country’s fastest spreading coronavirus outbreaks on a Brother ML-300 typewriter.

Sawyer, 56, is serving a 48-year-to-life sentence. He’s also associate editor of the San Quentin News, one of a small number of newspapers in the country produced entirely by incarcerated people. When California prisons went on lockdown in March, San Quentin prison officials suspended the newspaper’s operations. “Luckily,” he wrote on his typewriter soon after, “San Quentin State Prison hasn’t been faced with the challenge to maneuver through the crisis on the same scale that has overwhelmed the nation, at least not yet. But if COVID-19 does strike California’s oldest prison, the inmates there are doomed, because the state, like the rest of America, does not appear to have a viable plan to handle this kind of emergency.”

Even though San Quentin had no cases of COVID-19 at that time, inmates had to spend almost all day in their housing units out of precaution. Sawyer was determined to keep reporting, even if he would have to conduct his interviews by passing notes between cells.

In April, after we’d been writing letters to each other for a few weeks, he wrote to me to explain the creative ways he produces journalism behind bars:

I collect memos and fliers that are posted around the prison or passed out to each cell. Sometimes I document what’s posted on the bulletin boards located in the West Block housing unit. I interview inmates when we are released to go to the recreation yard every few days. I record what my five senses reveal to me. I take all of the lose papers and organize them in chronological order. (Oops! I’m not on a word processor so I spelled loose incorrectly.) Then I string a storyline together, handwritten. Because I have a portable word processor (NEO, made by Alphasmart), I’m able to organize this information into what I hope is a cogent and interesting story for readers. The NEO can output information to a PC via a USB cable, but because that’s not an option inside a prison cell, I scroll through the 5” x 2” LCD screen and retype the text on my Brother ML-300 electric typewriter.

In my cell, I keep names and addresses of outside media (including yours, obviously) that I acquired over the years. In a single word, prepared is what I am. I was that way before prison so it wasn’t a major shift in consciousness for me.

In anticipation of a lockdown or some other untimely event, I keep extra typewriter ribbons in my cell, typing paper, stationary, pens, Post-It note pads, carbon paper (to maintain a record or backup copy), Penal Code, two legal dictionaries, a regular dictionary and thesaurus, California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Prisoners Self-Help Litigation Handbook, California State Prisoners Handbook (published by the Prison Law Office), California Rules of Court, a Spanish-English dictionary, a French-English dictionary, regular lined paper, 28-line legal paper, felt pens that highlight, notes from the 400-plus books that I’ve read in the last 23 years, envelopes, postage stamps, The Bedford Handbook for Writers, The Blue Book (A system of uniform legal citation—think AP style guide), and probably a few things I’ve overlooked like paper clips.

One way I do interviews on lockdown is to write notes with questions. Inmates are sometimes more willing to write about what’s happening to them instead of filing a grievance. Because of my tenure and reputation with San Quentin News, they know me and trust that I will not exploit them or place them in a negative light. Sometimes I interview using the NEO or I’ll simply use pen and paper to do a one-on-one. If I have to send a note to an inmate while I’m in my cell, I’ll ask a porter or someone who’s out on the tier to take the note to the person. If it’s in a sealed envelope I have to inform the “runner” of the “kite” (prison slang for a letter or note) that it’s not “hot.” That means there is no incriminating or illegal information in the note, that if intercepted by a correctional officer during a random search it will not subject the runner to disciplinary treatment. Believe me, it happens. Not with me, but I still follow prison etiquette and protocol when asking for a favor. It’s all about trust and one’s reputation, so it’s never cool to put someone in a situation that they are not aware of or willing to accept the consequences.

If it’s in a sealed envelope I have to inform the ‘runner’ of the ‘kite’ (prison slang for a letter or note) that it’s not ‘hot.'”

Because there are so many prisoners in one building, I have unfettered access to them. The interviewing is easy, but I like to add “different facts and data to stories. Sometimes I’m able to overcome that obstacle by watching television news or referring to information in newspapers, magazines, books, and other material I may have in my cell, such as law books.

You asked, “What’s it like to write on a typewriter, and where did (I) get it?” If you weren’t a reporter, I’d say you’re nosey (smile). Have you ever typed on a typewriter? It’s actually really easy, even fun. Once my work is organized and edited on paper, the typewriter serves as another means of outputting the information. I’m 56 years old, so I grew up using typewriters. In junior high school I learned to type on a manual typewriter. Other than correcting mistakes (like “lose” versus “loose”) with correction tape instead of a software insert, it’s no big deal. And I type from the home key position, without looking. Mr. Talerico (Hillview Jr. High) would be proud of me. My late mother purchased the typewriter for me in 2003 from the vendor Walkenhorst’s, mainly to do legal work, but it has served many other purposes. I think it cost about $150.

Sawyer was born in San Francisco. He dreamed of majoring in business in college, but he dropped out after his son was born, and started working at a telecommunications company. This, in some ways, started him down the road toward journalism. “When I went back to school in 1990, I wanted to major in telecommunication, but California State University Hayward (now East Bay) had no such major,” he wrote to me. “The closest thing to telecom was mass communication, which focused on public relations, advertising, broadcasting and print journalism.” After graduating, he landed in prison in 1998. He soon felt the urge to write:

The two years I spent in county jail fighting the numerous charges against me (Trina Thompson, the Ghost Ship trial judge, was my first private attorney), I wrote about the experience in 23 different journals on the same sized paper that you used to handwrite your last letter to me. One of those journals (#9) got me a trip to the hole for 90 days. When I arrived in state prison, I started writing personal political essays and memoirs. I had my college AP book sent to me but never found a use for it because there wasn’t a newspaper to write for and I was an unknown in the journalism world. I kept writing and reading, though.

By the time I arrived at San Quentin, I’d been incarcerated 15 years, and I’d read 296 books that I’d extracted many notes from. By then I’d also written quite a bit. Then I discovered a little prison publication called San Quentin News. I joined its journalism guild immediately, but I didn’t want to be a staff writer. A job assignment washing dirty food trays at 3:00 a.m. changed my mind. A few months after being hired I was asked to run the guild. Reluctantly, I accepted and did the job for three years. Many of the operating procedures that are in place today, I established. I moved to the associate editor position about four years ago. Technically, I am the paper’s number two man who runs the business side of the operation. That involves me overseeing that the five of us handle all letters, email, Twitter (Instagram is coming and we’re reviving Facebook), website post, circulation/distribution, newsletters, donations, monthly reports, working with our outside development manager, project director for the nonprofit Friends of San Quentin (using the fiscal sponsor Social Good Fund), and other duties as needed. 

In 2016, Hunter College in New York named him the winner of the Aronson Award for Community Journalism, after he covered a Legionnaire’s outbreak at his prison that left scores of men sick with pneumonia-like symptoms. A couple of years earlier, the San Quentin News was honored by the national Society of Professional Journalists for “accomplishing extraordinary journalism under extraordinary circumstances.” 

“In a single word, prepared is what I am.”

When I first reached out to Sawyer in March, I asked him if life had changed in the prison after mayors in surrounding towns called on residents to shelter in place. “So funny, when your letter was handed to me through the bars, I was in the process of making and taking mental and written notes about our conditions of confinement during the coronavirus quarantine. By the time you receive this letter, I should have the first draft of a story completed,” he wrote back within days. He planned to submit the piece to major newspapers. 

He wanted to explain how social distancing inside San Quentin was impossible, how the prison cells housed two men each but were built for just one. He wanted to record how they were eating cold food served on paper trays, a change for the worse since the pandemic started, and the fact that incarcerated men weren’t initially given face masks. When officers moved some of the guys from the dorm to a gym to make more space, he asked the prison’s public information officer to send him the press releases that had gone out to journalists on the outside. “But I never got a response,” he told me. He was undeterred, and he continued drafting his account. In April, he gave me an update:

What am I learning as I try to write this important story? Not much, to be honest. Nothing surprises me about prison, and the level of dysfunction in society is a mere reflection of what gets funneled into prison. My reason for writing is to document this for the future. My work will hopefully give others a better version of what takes place in prison, instead of relying on prison administrators whose first obligation is to shield the state from civil liability because of mismanagement and neglect. I’ve also had poems and short stories published. I’m really trying to establish myself as a writer and producer (I love documentary films.) It’s why I don’t want to be catalogued as an expert on prison, even if I am because of my News reporting.

I think I’ve made it through your questions, and I’m still healthy. My back hurts though from standing on a bucket to type. I’m on the top bunk which is where I place my typewriter in my “office.” 

Until next time, take good care of yourself.

Kevin Sawyer

“The level of dysfunction in society is a mere reflection of what gets funneled into prison.”

Soon after he sent me that letter in April, Sawyer completed his roughly 8,000-word story about life at San Quentin during the first seven weeks of the pandemic. His fellow inmates watched Gov. Gavin Newsom’s press briefings daily. Some prisoners were prepared for the lockdown with mini survival kits of coffee, ramen noodles, toothpaste, soap, paper, ink pens, stamps, and envelopes, and other supplies. But they were still afraid. “Once we get it, it’s like a petri dish in here,” an incarcerated man in his 30s told Sawyer. “It’s just a matter of time [until] they take us to a makeshift morgue.” Men who had been imprisoned for years knew to take special precautions.Most of the ‘the West Block OGs’…defer to health care professional’s recommendations and confine themselves to their cells. OGs didn’t grow old in prison being fools.”

Up until this point, San Quentin had zero cases of COVID-19. But on May 30, the California corrections department transferred 121 people to San Quentin from a virus-plagued prison in Southern California. Some of the transferred men hadn’t been tested for the coronavirus in weeks. The virus ripped through San Quentin: Within a month, about 1 in 3 prisoners there had tested positive, along with more than 100 prison staffers. At one point, San Quentin accounted for nearly half of the active coronavirus cases in the state’s prisons. By now, more than 2,000 people at the prison have tested positive, and at least 23 have died.

“There’s people just going crazy with anxiety,” Kerry Rudd, who’s incarcerated in a San Quentin dorm with about 100 people, told my colleague Madison Pauly. “It’s like a horror movie when you’re watching like a monster inch its way towards you and you haven’t no way out, you have nowhere to run. Us being locked in here, it’s like we’re watching this virus get steadily closer to us and there’s nothing we can do.” 

I worried about Sawyer’s safety and sent him another letter in June. On July 1, he wrote back to say he was still healthy. He and his cellmate were being vigilant, he said. But just a few weeks later, I received another letter, this one hand-written instead of typed on his trusty typewriter.

He’d tested positive for the virus, he explained, and was now writing from inside a tent city that prison officials had erected outside to quarantine people. There were at least nine air-conditioned tents sprawled across a baseball field on the prison grounds, with space for more than 150 people. Sawyer—who described his tent like a “military field hospital,” similar to “the 1970s television show MASH”—said he’d have to stay there for 21 days, though he was thankfully asymptomatic.

Twice a day, nurses took his blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and oxygen levels. He worried about his friends inside his housing unit, West Block. A man one cell over from him had died already. “It was terrible the week of July 4th,” he recalled in his letter to me on July 29, about two weeks into his stay in the tent city. “Inmates were falling out all day, every day. Alarms went off in the building so much that I lost count.”

“Inmates were falling out all day, every day. Alarms went off in the building so much that I lost count.”

Even from his tent, without his supplies and his typewriter, writing was top of mind. He was determined to craft a second installation of his article, to update people on how the situation had deteriorated. “Everything is happening so fast I have little time to write a story, but I’m working on it,” he wrote to me. He was taking detailed notes and had gotten his hands on a copy of a lawsuit about prison medical conditions. Soon he’d be cleared to go back to his housing unit. “So I have to gather more Tent City interviews before returning to one of the cell blocks,” he wrote.

“I’ll keep you in my thoughts,” he added as he signed off his latest dispatch to me, and “thanks for thinking of me.” He promised to keep reporting. “Life at San Quentin has changed in more ways since mid-March than I care to describe in a letter. A story is the only way to do this situation justice.”

The COVID Interregnum

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A little over 500 years ago, Europeans, driven by a lust for riches and enabled by new technologies, colonized the Americas and set about making them productive in an entirely new way. The reasonably self-sustaining economies of the indigenous peoples were swept away and the organic and mineral resources of their lands were incorporated into systems of production that generated surplus wealth, by serving newly established markets in the Americas and around the world. Thus, was the New World enfolded into the then emerging system of capitalism.

In the early 1980’s, Margaret Thatcher was fond, in defending her policies, of stating emphatically that, ‘There Is No Alternative.’ Establishing this kind of rhetorical endgame became her way of cutting off debate and signaling an iron-willed determination to pursue her chosen plan of action. For almost forty years, the neoliberal states of the world, including those in Western Europe, the Americas and parts of Asia, have lived by her credo and refused to countenance any alternative to the privatization of social services; the globalization of trade, tourism and culture; and the financialization of everything. Now enabled by technologies unimaginable in the fifteenth century, these arrangements of our social, political and economic life encourage rapacious production by corporations serving ever-increasing popular consumption. The corporations, in turn, richly reward their executives while, for the most part, paying poverty wages to their employees.

This is the system which Mark Fisher describes in Capitalist Realism (2009) in which capital is exposed as it really is, “…rapacious, indifferent, inhuman.” Harking back to the 1980’s, as neoliberalism was being established in Britain, Fisher writes, “Margaret Thatcher’s doctrine that, ‘There Is No Alternative’ – as succinct a slogan of capitalist realism as you could hope for – became a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Following the financial crash of 2008, there were hopes that the system might be undermined, but the massive scale of the bank bailouts reaffirmed its inevitable survival and were a resounding vindication of her dictum.

Between the global shutdown in response to the COVID pandemic and some imagined future when communities around the world are all fully reopened, there is the opportunity to review the narratives that underpin neoliberalism – the ideology that supports current, post-industrial, capitalism. In the United States, this time of sheltering from the ravening appetite of the virus has been replete with street violence, urban occupation, sloganeering, wheat-pasting, spray painted graffiti, and the physical destruction of public monuments.

This broadly based unrest recapitulates the historical record of protest since the 1960’s. Racial injustice, economic injustice, police brutality and degradation of the environment remain at the forefront of the protesters’, and the wider public’s, concerns. But something new has arisen. The public iconography of racism and oppression which reflects the progress of Western civilization through the New World, is being dismantled. The monuments that often memorialize those responsible for the most egregious acts of commercial exploitation and extraction, or the military practice of genocide, or the defense of enslavement, are being excised from the public square. This editing of the nation’s historical narrative, as it has come to be expressed in bronze and stone, echoes revisions that have already have begun to be made within academia, but is now being undertaken by those whose lives remain constrained and exploited by the oppressive power of the class, race, sex, and economic prejudices contained within it.

As the statues have tumbled across the land, there is an understanding that we will emerge from what might be called the COVID-Interregnum as a much-altered nation – our histories reimagined, and our values reconfigured. A significant driver of this change is the perception that it is people from communities of color, immigrants, the poor and the marginalized – the very people who have been largely discounted in the nation’s history – that now constitute the majority of the nation’s critical workers. It is they, during this pandemic, who keep the country running and provide the essential services we all rely on. Their service to this country has become apparent while many of their communities are the most severely impacted by the virus – both because of their inhabitants’ exposure in the workplace and because those communities are often ‘underserved’ and already suffering gross racial, economic and environmental inequities.

It is a truism to suggest that the public has now been replaced by the consumer; that the public good has been replaced by individual desire; that public space has been reduced to the private visions of the individual; that democracy has been sacrificed on the altar of economics. As Wendy Brown writes, in, Undoing the Demos, 2012, “Neoliberal reason, ubiquitous today in statecraft and the workplace, in jurisprudence, education, culture, and a vast range of quotidian activity, is converting the distinctly political character, meaning, and operation of democracy’s constituent elements into economic ones.”. Thus, the Left’s traditional urge to build a bureaucracy that restrains predatory commerce in the interest of the public good is subverted by the growth of a corporate state designed to suppress its vestigial caring dimension.

This neoliberal attribute fatally weakens the viability of the obvious ‘Alternative’ to which Thatcher was so averse, that of democratic socialism, which thrived in post-war Western Europe as it emerged from the worldwide crisis. Those governments were driven by a mission: to embrace responsibility for the health of all of their citizens – rather than let it be controlled by black marketeers or corporate looters; to ensure that elder care, youth services and childcare be freely available – not powered by profit; to provide good, free education to all – not restricted by its expense to the privileged few; to declare that housing and adequate nutrition are a human right – not resources to be leveraged by the financially strong; to assert that homelessness has no place in an enlightened state – not accepted as a necessary alternative to the supposed evils of welfare; to declare that the mentally ill, together with the anxious and alienated, find a haven in adequate social services – not left to swell the ranks of mendicant street people; and to ensure that public order is maintained without a militarized police force supporting the criminalization of poverty, the presumption of Black and minority criminality and the thuggish treatment of those it arrests. All these beneficent outcomes must now be sought elsewhere. As Bruno Latour points out in his recent essay, ‘Are you ready to extract yourself from the Economy?’, “After a hundred years devoted to socialism limited just to the redistribution of the benefits of the economy, it might now be more a matter of inventing a socialism that contests production itself”.

Latour makes the point that in the miraculous COVID-inspired halting of production, travel and pollution, the world discovered a hitherto unsuspected superpower – the power of interruption. We have the ability, collectively, it now seems, to become globalization interrupters, neoliberalism interrupters and interrupters of all those modes of production that are destroying the habitability of the earth for humans and our neighboring species. He suggests we have an opportunity of, “Getting away from production as the overriding principle of our relationship to the world.” This constitutes a retreat from the very principle that informed the colonization of the Americas and continues to inform its despoliation.

In the City of Ventura, along California’s central coast some twenty miles from where I live, a large bronze statue of Junipero Serra has been officially removed from outside of City Hall, signaling an understanding that the Spanish colonial project, the Catholic Church, the Franciscan Order, and Serra, as founder of the Mission system, bear responsibility for the almost total destruction of the native Chumash people who had peopled the area for some fifteen thousand years prior to the Spanish invasion of California in 1769. The City has also promised to remove the image of Serra from its official seal.

The City has interrupted what once was cast in bronze, set in stone, and typeset in Grade Four histories – a veneration not for the people who had a complex and symbiotic relationship with the world but for the exploiters, the desecrators and the mercenary agents of their destruction, who for so long have been the heroes of Californian and American history. The Franciscan Order and the Government of Spain under Charles III planned to generate great agricultural wealth in California by using a feudal system in which the native peoples worked as serfs building infrastructure and tending irrigated crops, whilst at the same time undergoing a conversion to Christianity. One of Spain’s goals in building the Mission system, of sending vast remittances back to the home country failed utterly, but not before their efforts resulted in the effective genocide of the local Chumash peoples.

On the coastal plains of Ventura, in the Central Valley and elsewhere in California, industrial agriculture now generates wealth beyond the imagining of the Franciscans and their military detail, but its production still comes at vast human and environmental costs. The predominantly Latinx field workers have suffered withering rates of COVID infection, and their communities’ health resources have been correspondingly stressed. As essential workers, they continue to toil in the sun – growing fruits and vegetables sold across the country in an industry dedicated to generating a surplus rather than a sufficiency; to growing food as a product rather than as a staple source of nutrition.

The removal of Serra from California’s pantheon of those who have historically privileged the value of production over humanity (an essential quality of capitalist realism) is a valuable symbolic gesture. Its real power, however, can only be unleashed if it also signals an interruption of those values of exploitation and extraction which he embodied, and which remain embedded in the economy of the state. As with the toppling of other contested historical statues across the country, such protests will mean little if they do not result in the broader interruption of the ideologies these erstwhile exalted figures represent.

Perhaps the COVID-interregnum has indeed halted the inevitability of the neoliberal continuum. The door has been opened to an ‘Alternative’, but It requires that we push on it, as Latour advises, by considering an exit from the economy rather than helping in the warp-speed recovery most heartily wished for by the guardians of neoliberalism. Our economization, our existence as droids devoted to consumption in support of the G.D.P., has given us the power to change our world. In applauding the destruction of the iconography of our past do we now have the courage to change the future?

The post The COVID Interregnum appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19

Counterpunch Articles -

Transfer of Qayara Airfield West from Operation Inherent Resolve to Iraqi security forces – Public Domain

I was in the Iraqi Kurdistan region when COVID-19 hit the world hard in March of this year. Suddenly, all airports, roads between cities in Iraq, and life itself were shut down in Iraq and many countries around the world. A strict curfew was imposed while I was visiting my relatives in Duhok city. The curfew kept getting extended, mostly two weeks at a time with no end in sight. I decided to remain calm and maintain my equilibrium. After everything I have experienced in Iraq over the years, there is hardly any disaster that can take me by surprise, I thought to myself. Not even death itself will get the pleasure of taking me by surprise at this point.

In fact, in case the world still doesn’t get it, the current worldwide measures of quarantine combined with the shortages of food and medical supplies in many parts of the world, in many ways, resemble the strict and criminal sanctions that were imposed on Iraqi people by the so-called “civilized world” from 1990 until 2003. Furthermore, this sudden inability to travel and move around has always been the reality for millions of people who come from marginalized countries; people who hold passports that are not viewed favorably by those who like to call themselves “more fortunate”.

After months of lockdown in Duhok, I finally managed to find a flight from Erbil’s International Airport in early July. Following a long and tiring trip, I arrived in the US. The trip itself is another story that I will share with you another time. From March until July of this year, to cope with the curfews and quarantines while in Iraq, I wrote short postcard-length reflections that I shared with some close friends. In these postcards, I captured simple daily moments, reflections, and images from life in a world struck by a pandemic. Today, Dear Friends, I want to put these fleeting moments in your hands and in the hands of Time.

Postcard 1

When the room becomes too tight. When the world becomes too narrow like the narrow alleys of childhood. When you are surrounded by four walls to confront everything that has ever happened to you, everything that has ever been done to you. When even books, writing, cooking, and the people around you can’t provide any solace or explanations to what is happening. When you get really close to understanding that split second in which a heart attack takes place!

Postcard 2

“It is complicated,” they say. I am so sick of this response. Many people use it repeatedly to escape depth and confront reality. They use it to take solace in the fact that they don’t know (or don’t wish to know) the ugly truth of what is happening right in front of their eyes. They reduce crimes, injustice, war, pain, hunger, rape, and everything that must be unpacked, dissected, and confronted to this: “It is complicated.” They say this about COVID-19, too. Oh, how I have grown to hate this response. Every time I hear this statement from someone, it sounds like “I am a loser” to my ears. “It is complicated” is the favorite response of lazy brains that refuse to think and do. Oh, my friends, I insist it is not complicated. If you really want to know, it is not so complicated. However, if you are really looking for reasons and excuses to justify your silence, complicity, and to protect your self-interest, then you are absolutely right – it is complicated!

Postcard 3

I don’t know if we should call it the banality of being locked down or is it that quarantine simply exposes the banality and fragility of certain personalities who are afraid of solitude, thinking, and paying a visit to their soul and conscience. While in quarantine, I found that many people do everything they can to avoid solitude. I feel tired of all these phone calls and messages I receive from people to supposedly check on my well-being. Most of them end up being like therapy sessions about how lonely the caller on the other side is feeling! I often wanted to remind the callers of Sartre’s words: “If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” Why are we so afraid of confronting ourselves? Why do we always use the loud noises of the outside world to mute what our inner voice is trying to tell us?

Postcard 4

Next time you call me or message me, please don’t ask me “how are you?” I am not well. I am under a curfew. You, wherever you are, aren’t well either. We are in a world struck by a pandemic, so let’s talk about how unwell we are. Let’s get to the point.  I am quarantined. Let’s talk about all the damage we humans we have inflicted on this beautiful planet. Oh, dear Mother Earth, I am so sorry I have lived long enough to see what has been done to you. If it matters, let me whisper a secret in your ears: I have always felt that I was in the wrong place and the wrong time. I am forever out of time and out of place. Oh, Mother Earth, I can only imagine how you feel having to deal with the misfortune of being inhabited by us humans.

Postcard 5

With all this hoarding, alarm, deceit, lack of information, plethora of disinformation, ambiguity, and confusion, I wonder whether it is time for us to start drafting a post-coronavirus manifesto? Perhaps it should contain all the things we don’t want the world to become after this pandemic is over. There are many alienating powers out there that thrived on keeping us quarantined, at distance, and distrustful of each other way before COVID-19. There are systems that thrive on our loneliness, and fear. There are institutions dedicated to make sure that we don’t help each other so that we turn to them for help. I am thinking of places like the World Bank and any institutions that operate according to their ethics. Let’s not allow them to get their way once this pandemic is over! Let’s make sure that we create a world in which such blood suckers are not needed in the first place. Oh, my friends, let’s beware of the ways disaster capitalism is using the pandemic for its benefit.

Postcard 6

For decades, the exploitative capitalist system and neoliberalism have been trying to persuade the world that it is for our best interest to reduce (or even erase) the public sector and give more power to the greedy private sector. They have been pushing -with great success – for the privatization of every service that can benefit the poor and marginalized people. They have and still are trying to get rid of universal healthcare anywhere their hands can reach. Why do they do so? The answer is simpler than we think: it is to keep people at the mercy of the greedy capitalist system that sees individuals as either potential cheap laborers to benefit from or a burden to dispose of when no longer usable. This global pandemic should be a wake-up call to all of us about how duped the world has been all along by this narrative. How many more disasters and pandemics will it take for the world to wake up?

Postcard 7

The rising infections and deaths resulting from COVID-19 in Italy coincide with my re-reading of parts of  Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s brilliant novel, The Leopard. One line that caught my attention, which I find timely, is when the Prince of Salina, Don Fabrizio Corbera says: “Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” What is particularly insightful about this line is the context in which the statement is made. The Prince of Salina, a 19th-centruy Sicilian man from a noble family, is encountering the upheaval of a revolution to change the status quo in Italy. The biggest threat for the Prince is the newly acquired wealth and power by the peasants. As such, as the novel progresses, the Prince finds himself forced to either continue to live in denial by maintaining his family’s vain upper-class values and appearances, leading to his demise, or to adapt to change to salvage his luxurious life. This made me think of our current and post-pandemic world. I already imagine how the 1% of the rich and powerful will capitalize on the pandemic to use it to further plunder this planet and exploit its wretched people (AKA disaster capitalism). They will use people’s fear and uncertainty to rob them even more than before. Like the Prince in the novel, the powerful elites in most countries realize now that change is inevitable. They are concerned that people won’t accept things to remain the way they were before this pandemic. Therefore, they are preparing to find ways to co-opt, hijack, and silence people’s efforts towards change. And because they have no interest in changing the status quo from which they greatly benefit, I am afraid they will change everything in such ways that everything remains the same for them!

Postcard 8

Everyone is talking about how great technology is to allow many of us to continue working, learning, and doing many things remotely. This is true. Everyone is talking about the value of the virtual world keeping us connected in the age of COVID-19. It is indeed valuable. Yet, perhaps because many of us are used to asking the wrong questions or remain fixated on the discourse we are fed by the media, we may want to take some time to reflect on the value of working together face-to-face. We may want to reflect on the indispensable value of going offline to have a clearer vision of our lives and our world.

Postcard 9

Since the quarantine became a reality in most parts of the world, I have been hearing many stories about couples who are spending “too much time together”, or “being in each other’s face for way too long”. I am hearing many accounts on how this is making many couples get frustrated, tired, sick, or fed up with each other. One friend told me: “my wife and I will start the day just fine. Then we argue over a stupid matter. Then we make up in the afternoons or early evenings. Then, before the night comes, we may repeat the above cycle one more time before going to bed.” This made me think of many questions about love and relationships. Do we always love our partners, or do we simply get used to them? Can we really coexist with our partners or are there cases in which we learn to coexist despite not fully accepting or getting used to each other? How many partners out there still mistake possessiveness for love? Do relationships suffer when we don’t learn how to be protective of each other’s solitude even when we are stuck together?

Postcard 10

The AIDS pandemic forced humans to cover their genitals with condoms. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing them to put on masks. It is as if many people weren’t already going through life putting on a million masks and changing them based on convenience and self-interest. It is as if countless humans on this planet weren’t already forced to keep their mouths shut and endure the misfortunes imposed on them by the “fortunate” few. I wonder which body part we will be forced to cover next. I wonder if, in the first place, all of this is happening because our eyes were covered all along. Are we heading to a time when staying safe becomes akin to a death sentence with stay of execution?

Postcard 11

I was walking in an old, poor neighborhood in Duhok city. I saw a woman begging. She was sitting on the ground with a child in her lap. She was wearing gloves and a mask. She is a beggar in the age of COVID-19. I thought to myself: how has life changed for this woman or for billions of other poor people around the world? It looks like nothing has changed other than, on top of the pain of having to beg, now they must do so while wearing a mask. I imagined that this beggar knows more than anyone else how just when one thinks life can’t get worse, it does!

Postcard 12

I see all these corrupt politicians on TV wearing masks and/or gloves. I don’t see them as people protecting themselves and others from the virus. What I see is just thieves disguised in masks as they continue stealing, exploiting, and misleading people. I don’t know why they look a lot like those masked criminals robbing banks while holding employees at a gunpoint.

Postcard 13

The curfew hours have become more flexible as of early May in Iraq. I am now able to go on longer walks. I went to the old bazaar in Duhok. I was delighted to hear all the sellers loudly advertising for their fresh fruits and vegetables. Each one is claiming that his prices are the best. Each fruit seller is claiming his fruits are the sweetest and tastiest of all. Like my childhood days, I heard the voice of the watermelon seller shouting: “The sweetest watermelons are here! Conditional upon a knife cut!” I realized how much I missed this statement which simply means that the seller will cut a piece of the watermelon right in front of you, and you will only pay if it is red and sweet! And like my working class father used to do when I was a child after a long and hard summer day of work, I saw a working father with dirty and shabby clothes carrying a watermelon in one arm and holding the hand of his little son with the other hand. I thought of all the poor working men and women in Iraq who barely make money to buy some vegetables and a watermelon. I took solace in the fact that poor people who can only afford vegetables and fruit, ironically, live and look healthier than many rich Iraqi people gaining weight on Americanized foods and ways of eating. The latter type never stops talking about new diets, recipes, and “proven ways” to lose weight. Apparently, nobody has told them that the best and most proven diet in human history has always been one and the same: eat less, share more, work hard, and don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Postcard 14

Many people in Iraq are still not taking COVID-19 seriously. They are not always following the recommended precautions to stay safe. There are moments that show how people are simply struggling to get used to this new reality. They are not used to doing away with their hospitality and expressing the daily human sentiments. Several memorable moments come to mind here. One day I was walking in the bazaar with a friend in Erbil. We wanted to enter a shop to buy something. Before entering, I noticed the shop owner was sitting alone with a mask on. As we entered and started chatting, he put his mask down and started joking around and laughing with us! He then offered us water and tea, which we respectfully declined. Another moment happened as I was walking in the working-class “industrial area” in Duhok. I passed a car mechanic shop. In it, I saw two young men in their twenties sitting on a small shabby and worn out couch in the shop with arms wrapped around each other. They were both looking at their iPhones with sinister smiles on their faces!

Postcard 15

On one of the early days after the curfew was relaxed, I went out walking in a touristy area near the Duhok dam where both locals and visitors of the city drive to buy refreshments and enjoy the scenery. Most people cruise the area in their cars, so I was one of few individuals walking. It was a beautiful summer evening. The moon was spying on the place from between the trees on both sides of the mountain. Almost every car that passed me had the windows rolled down with loud music blasting. As a pedestrian, the experience of hearing the blasting music from every passing car is not enjoyable. In fact, it is disturbing. With every passing car, I thought the music was loud, lacking taste, and I was never able to hear enough to enjoy any part of any song. Before I could even guess the song played, the blasting music from the next car was already piercing my eardrums. At that moment, it occurred to me that maybe, in a way, this is just like the human condition. Everyone wants to blast their music, to impose their voice and opinion, to make noise that is loud enough to cover every other voice around them. I wondered what would happen if we truly gave each other a chance and listened carefully to the tunes played by the fancy or broken instruments of each lonely soul around us?

Postcard 16

After months of being stranded, here I am heading to the airport. Over the years, I have grown to love airports, despite all the travel inconveniences which are getting worse every year. I don’t know why I have this strong desire to depart; to always be somewhere else. Maybe getting displaced and being forced out of my home as a result of war has turned me into a permanent nomad? Since I left Iraq for the first time in 2005, I almost always have a plane, bus, or train ticket to go somewhere. Sometimes I think of the mothers who abandon their unwanted babies at the doors of churches and mosques. I imagine that my mother, too, had left me at the door of an airport with a plane ticket instead of a pacifier in my mouth! And since then, I have been moving everywhere and arriving nowhere. Could it be that disillusion takes place precisely at the moment we arrive at a certain destination? I don’t know why I love airports. Is it because I spent so much time at airports? Is it because of the many possibilities and ideas that I get while in transits and long layovers? There is a certain clarity that comes when writing at airports that is beautifully described by the Syrian writer, Ghada Al-Samman, who writes, “vision is more transparent at airport transits covered with grey dawns, drowsiness, exhaustion, and the smokes of departing planes.”

Postcard 17

At the Erbil International airport, while waiting in line to check in my luggage to Istanbul, I saw a beautiful middle-aged Iraqi woman dressed elegantly. When it was her turn to check in her suitcases, I imagine she was told she had excess luggage, so she either had to pay or do something about her overweight luggage. I saw how stressed she got suddenly. She started sweating and her make up mixed up with her sweat. She opened both of her two suitcases and started shuffling things around, moving loads from one suitcase to another. She had many boxes of baklava, Turkish delight, spices, and other cherished Iraqi delicacies. I wondered who is she taking these to? Perhaps, like most Iraqis, she is taking a taste from home to many loved ones scattered here and there. I tried to imagine her life story in Iraq: how she left for another country because of the war, how she returned to visit, and how she is returning now to some foreign country with nothing but more sad memories and some Iraqi delicacies to give her a fleeting connection with a lost life and a lost home. I don’t know why her image, especially how stressed she looked as she was dealing with the overweight suitcases, and the moment when her hair claw fell on the floor while she was shuffling things around can’t leave my head.

Postcard 18

During my long transit in Istanbul, I spent some time walking around one of the huge souvenir shops at the airport. Melancholy pervades me every time I enter a souvenir shop. I have been to many of them around the world. I try not to buy anything for multiple reasons. One of them is because I find the way souvenir shops represent a country or a culture problematic, to say the least. The items you find there are almost always either much better or much worse than the way locals do things. Each item is glorified or trivialized – depending on the taste of the manufacturer and the demand of the buyers. They are always designed to give you a presumed idyllic and warm feeling about the country from which you buy them. In reality, many locals strive to get close to owning some of the items displayed in souvenir shops. Moreover, even if locals use items like those displayed, their daily lives are never as romantic and as smooth as the feeling you get in these shops. In a sense, then, souvenir shops are places where people and their cultures are objectified and romanticized par excellence. Their human joys are amplified. Their grand sorrows are downplayed or buried altogether. Their real histories are either erased or diluted at best. Nevertheless, I confess to you, I always end up buying honey. Perhaps because bees represent life to me. Perhaps because, I find that healthy bees and wildlife speak volumes about the overall health of a place and its people?

Postcard 19

Here I am in the US once again after months of separation. I came to a totally different home raging with the fires of racism, protests, the devastating effects of the pandemic. All of this, while our politicians are watching indifferently and arguing over the most trivial matters. The first thing that caught my attention was the trendy masks that some people were wearing to look “cool” or “sexy” in the age of the pandemic. I don’t know why people wearing these presumably stylish masks bothered me. Maybe because they are the same people who insist on keeping the old game of looking good, healthy, and sexy no matter what? I can’t explain it better than that. What I can say is that there is definitely nothing sexy or stylish about how our complicity has caused so much damage to this planet that our chances of survival are getting slimmer by the day. If we don’t make immediate changes to how this beautiful planet has been exploited and destroyed, we are risking not being around to make any changes at all.

Postcard 20

I am finally home in North Carolina. As I self-quarantined for two weeks, I went through my notes from my time in Iraq and decided to put these twenty postcard-length reflections together to share with you. When I was a child, I read a sentence in the Iraqi magazine, Ali Baa, which was an interview with a writer whose name I don’t remember. What I remember is a haunting sentence (written in bold). It read: “I love reading old letters and postcards because they don’t need to be responded to anymore.” And in that spirit, Dear Friends, I put these postcards in your hands. And so, however you feel about them, they are history now and they don’t need to be responded to anymore.

The post 20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19 appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast

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Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The struggle against Covid-19 has often been compared to fighting a war. Much of this rhetoric is bombast, but the similarities between the struggle against the virus and against human enemies are real enough. War reporting and pandemic reporting likewise have much in common because, in both cases, journalists are dealing with and describing matters of life and death. Public interest is fueled by deep fears, often more intense during an epidemic because the whole population is at risk. In a war, aside from military occupation and area bombing, terror is at its height among those closest to the battlefield.

The nature of the dangers stemming from military violence and the outbreak of a deadly disease may appear very different. But looked at from the point of view of a government, they both pose an existential threat because failure in either crisis may provoke some version of regime change. People seldom forgive governments that get them involved in losing wars or that fail to cope adequately with a natural disaster like the coronavirus. The powers-that-be know that they must fight for their political lives, perhaps even their physical existence, claiming any success as their own and doing their best to escape blame for what has gone wrong.

My First Pandemic

I first experienced a pandemic in the summer of 1956 when, at the age of six, I caught polio in Cork, Ireland. The epidemic there began soon after virologist Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for it in the United States, but before it was available in Europe. Polio epidemics were at their height in the first half of the twentieth century and, in a number of respects, closely resembled the Covid-19 experience: many people caught the disease but only a minority were permanently disabled by or died of it. In contrast with Covid-19, however, it was young children, not the old, who were most at risk. The terror caused by poliomyelitis, to use its full name, was even higher than during the present epidemic exactly because it targeted the very young and its victims did not generally disappear into the cemetery but were highly visible on crutches and in wheelchairs, or prone in iron lungs.

Parents were mystified by the source of the illness because it was spread by great numbers of asymptomatic carriers who did not know they had it. The worst outbreaks were in the better-off parts of modern cities like Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, Melbourne, New York, and Stockholm. People living there enjoyed a good supply of clean water and had effective sewage disposal, but did not realize that all of this robbed them of their natural immunity to the polio virus. The pattern in Cork was the same: most of the sick came from the more affluent parts of the city, while people living in the slums were largely unaffected. Everywhere, there was a frantic search to identify those, like foreign immigrants, who might be responsible for spreading the disease. In the New York epidemic of 1916, even animals were suspected of doing so and 72,000 cats and 8,000 dogs were hunted down and killed.

The illness weakened my legs permanently and I have a severe limp so, even reporting in dangerous circumstances in the Middle East, I could only walk, not run. I was very conscious of my disabilities from the first, but did not think much about how I had acquired them or the epidemic itself until perhaps four decades later. It was the 1990s and I was then visiting ill-supplied hospitals in Iraq as that country’s health system was collapsing under the weight of U.N. sanctions. As a child, I had once been a patient in an almost equally grim hospital in Ireland and it occurred to me then, as I saw children in those desperate circumstances in Iraq, that I ought to know more about what had happened to me. At that time, my ignorance was remarkably complete. I did not even know the year when the polio epidemic had happened in Ireland, nor could I say if it was caused by a virus or a bacterium.

So I read up on the outbreak in newspapers of the time and Irish Health Ministry files, while interviewing surviving doctors, nurses, and patients. Kathleen O’Callaghan, a doctor at St. Finbarr’s hospital, where I had been brought from my home when first diagnosed, said that people in the city were so frightened “they would cross the road rather than walk past the walls of the fever hospital.” My father recalled that the police had to deliver food to infected homes because no one else would go near them. A Red Cross nurse, Maureen O’Sullivan, who drove an ambulance at the time, told me that, even after the epidemic was over, people would quail at the sight of her ambulance, claiming “the polio is back again” and dragging their children into their houses or they might even fall to their knees to pray.

The local authorities in a poor little city like Cork where I grew up understood better than national governments today that fear is a main feature of epidemics. They tried then to steer public opinion between panic and complacency by keeping control of the news of the outbreak. When British newspapers like the Times reported that polio was rampant in Cork, they called this typical British slander and exaggeration. But their efforts to suppress the news never worked as well as they hoped. Instead, they dented their own credibility by trying to play down what was happening. In that pre-television era, the main source of information in my hometown was the Cork Examiner, which, after the first polio infections were announced at the beginning of July 1956, accurately reported on the number of cases, but systematically underrated their seriousness.

Headlines about polio like “Panic Reaction Without Justification” and “Outbreak Not Yet Dangerous” regularly ran below the fold on its front page. Above it were the screaming ones about the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian uprising of that year. In the end, this treatment only served to spread alarm in Cork where many people were convinced that the death toll was much higher than the officially announced one and that bodies were being secretly carried out of the hospitals at night.

My father said that, in the end, a delegation of local businessmen, the owners of the biggest shops, approached the owners of the Cork Examiner, threatening to withdraw their advertising unless it stopped reporting the epidemic. I was dubious about this story, but when I checked the newspaper files many years later, I found that he was correct and the paper had almost entirely stopped reporting on the epidemic just as sick children were pouring into St. Finbarr’s hospital.

The Misreporting of Wars and Epidemics

By the time I started to research a book about the Cork polio epidemic that would be titled Broken Boy, I had been reporting wars for 25 years, starting with the Northern Irish Troubles in the 1970s, then the Lebanese civil war, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the war that followed Washington’s post-9/11 takeover of Afghanistan, and the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq. After publication of the book, I went on covering these endless conflicts for the British paper the Independent as well as new conflicts sparked in 2011 by the Arab Spring in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

As the coronavirus pandemic began this January, I was finishing a book (just published), War in the Age of Trump: The Defeat of Isis, the Fall of the Kurds, the Confrontation with Iran. Almost immediately, I noticed strong parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and the polio epidemic 64 years earlier. Pervasive fear was perhaps the common factor, though little grasped by governments of this moment. Boris Johnson’s in Great Britain, where I was living, was typical in believing that people had to be frightened into lockdown, when, in fact, so many were already terrified and needed to be reassured.

I also noticed ominous similarities between the ways in which epidemics and wars are misreported. Those in positions of responsibility — Donald Trump represents an extreme version of this — invariably claim victories and successes even as they fail and suffer defeats. The words of the Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson came to mind. On surveying ground that had only recently been a battlefield, he asked an aide: “Did you ever think, sir, what an opportunity a battlefield affords liars?”

This has certainly been true of wars, but no less so, it seemed to me, of epidemics, as President Trump was indeed soon to demonstrate (over and over and over again). At least in retrospect, disinformation campaigns in wars tend to get bad press and be the subject of much finger wagging. But think about it a moment: it stands to reason that people trying to kill each other will not hesitate to lie about each other as well. While the glib saying that “truth is the first casualty of war” has often proven a dangerous escape hatch for poor reporting or unthinking acceptance of a self-serving version of battlefield realities (spoon-fed by the powers-that-be to a credulous media), it could equally be said that truth is the first casualty of pandemics. The inevitable chaos that follows in the wake of the swift spread of a deadly disease and the desperation of those in power to avoid being held responsible for the soaring loss of life lead in the same direction.

There is, of course, nothing inevitable about the suppression of truth when it comes to wars, epidemics, or anything else for that matter. Journalists, individually and collectively, will always be engaged in a struggle with propagandists and PR men, one in which victory for either side is never inevitable.

Unfortunately, wars and epidemics are melodramatic events and melodrama militates against real understanding. “If it bleeds, it leads” is true of news priorities when it comes to an intensive care unit in Texas or a missile strike in Afghanistan. Such scenes are shocking but do not necessarily tell us much about what is actually going on.

The recent history of war reporting is not encouraging. Journalists will always have to fight propagandists working for the powers-that-be. Sadly, I have had the depressing feeling since Washington’s first Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991 that the propagandists are increasingly winning the news battle and that accurate journalism, actual eyewitness reporting, is in retreat.

Disappearing News

By its nature, reporting wars is always going to be difficult and dangerous work, but it has become more so in these years. Coverage of Washington’s Afghan and Iraqi wars was often inadequate, but not as bad as the more recent reporting from war-torn Libya and Syria or its near total absence from the disaster that is Yemen. This lack fostered misconceptions even when it came to fundamental questions like who is actually fighting whom, for what reasons, and just who are the real prospective winners and losers.

Of course, there is little new about propaganda, controlling the news, or spreading “false facts.” Ancient Egyptian pharaohs inscribed self-glorifying and mendacious accounts of their battles on monuments, now thousands of years old, in which their defeats are lauded as heroic victories. What is new about war reporting in recent decades is the far greater sophistication and resources that governments can deploy in shaping the news. With opponents like longtime Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, demonization was never too difficult a task because he was a genuinely demonic autocrat.

Yet the most influential news story about the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait in 1990 and the U.S.-led counter-invasion proved to be a fake. This was a report that, in August 1990, invading Iraqi soldiers had tipped babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital and left them to die on the floor. A Kuwaiti girl reported to have been working as a volunteer in the hospital swore before a U.S. congressional committee that she had witnessed that very atrocity. Her story was hugely influential in mobilizing international support for the war effort of the administration of President George H.W. Bush and the U.S. allies he teamed up with.

In reality it proved purely fictional. The supposed hospital volunteer turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador in Washington. Several journalists and human rights specialists expressed skepticism at the time, but their voices were drowned out by the outrage the tale provoked. It was a classic example of a successful propaganda coup: instantly newsworthy, not easy to disprove, and when it was — long after the war — it had already had the necessary impact, creating support for the U.S.-led coalition going to war with Iraq.

In a similar fashion, I reported on the American war in Afghanistan in 2001-2002 at a time when coverage in the international media had left the impression that the Taliban had been decisively defeated by the U.S. military and its Afghan allies. Television showed dramatic shots of bombs and missiles exploding on the Taliban front lines and Northern Alliance opposition forces advancing unopposed to “liberate” the Afghan capital, Kabul.

When, however, I followed the Taliban retreating south to Kandahar Province, it became clear to me that they were not by any normal definition a beaten force, that their units were simply under orders to disperse and go home. Their leaders had clearly grasped that they were over-matched and that it would be better to wait until conditions changed in their favor, something that had distinctly happened by 2006, when they went back to war in a big way. They then continued to fight in a determined fashion to the present day. By 2009, it was already dangerous to drive beyond the southernmost police station in Kabul due to the risk that Taliban patrols might create pop-up checkpoints anywhere along the road.

None of the wars I covered then have ever really ended. What has happened, however, is that they have largely ended up receding, if not disappearing, from the news agenda. I suspect that, if a successful vaccine for Covid-19 isn’t found and used globally, something of the same sort could happen with the coronavirus pandemic as well. Given the way news about it now dominates, even overwhelms, the present news agenda, this may seem unlikely, but there are precedents. In 1918, with World War I in progress, governments dealt with what came to be called the Spanish Flu by simply suppressing information about it. Spain, as a non-combatant in that war, did not censor the news of the outbreak in the same fashion and so the disease was most unfairly named “the Spanish Flu,” though it probably began in the United States.

The polio epidemic in Cork supposedly ended abruptly in mid-September 1956 when the local press stopped reporting on it, but that was at least two weeks before many children like me caught it. In a similar fashion, right now, wars in the Middle East and north Africa like the ongoing disasters in Libya and Syria that once got significant coverage now barely get a mention much of the time.

In the years to come, the same thing could happen to the coronavirus.

This essay first appeared on TomDispatch.

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Fixing the COVID Numbers

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Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Right on schedule, when the death rate started to rise again, the Trump regime put the kibosh on any further CDC covid reporting. In the weeks before this death-rate spike, as the covid conflagration burned through Trump country, regime spokesmen crowed about the death rate being flat. No matter that all health experts warned death is a lagging indicator. No matter that the plague roared out of control. The Trump regime had a plan. Like any good banana republic, when the news got bad, the strongman stopped the news.

He did so just in time for his insane push to reopen schools, which will doubtless be as successful as his lethal push to reopen the economy. But hey? Does the Trump regime learn from experience? How about this experience: Israel, where they reopened schools and it was catastrophic – gasoline on the covid fire, now burning out of control throughout the country. Israel may have to lock down again. So, if they had any sense, the Trump regime would pause to consider this data. But don’t hold your breath.

The strategy is to suppress the facts and, as Steve Bannon memorably described dealing with the media, “flood the zone with shit.” The latest flood was Trump’s reported claim that if we didn’t test, we wouldn’t have cases. Why just limit this preposterous approach to covid? Pick your malady, Trump has the cure: don’t diagnose it, ignore it.

Trump dislikes testing because it makes him look bad. Too bad that it’s a vital diagnostic tool, without which one cannot control the pandemic by isolating the infected or plan to keep hospitals from becoming swamped. He aims to suppress it. He doesn’t like those death statistics being public either. They could interfere with his reelection campaign, though recently he was very occupied with his role as the law-and-order candidate, a performance that happily kept him too busy to do more covid damage.

When Trump’s aversion to science just involved climate change, Washington was happy to ignore it. But now Americans are dropping like flies, with well over 150,000 dead so far and 173,000 projected to be dead by August 22. Even concealing statistics won’t cover this mess up. People will find out. They’ll know someone who died of covid. Or they’ll see those telltale refrigerated trucks in the hospital parking lot. The Trump regime’s incompetent response to this plague is an international scandal, one the rest of Washington knows very cannot be swept under the rug. Indeed, seven governors acknowledged as much this week, by forming a pact to purchase tests for their states. They know they won’t get adequate testing gear from the national government. That’s led by someone who’s against tests because they’re bad for his image.

“Most states are failing to report critical information needed to track and control the resurgence of Covid-19,” the Washington Post reported on July 21. “In the absence of a national strategy to fight the pandemic, states have had to develop their own metrics for tracking and controlling Covid-19…the data are inconsistent and incomplete.” So even before the Trump loyalists in HHS commandeered the data from the CDC, we were already blind in one eye. Now the regime tries to blind both eyes.

Reopening was botched because it was rushed and because states with Trump-friendly Republican governors did not follow a plan. They just reopened, willy nilly, with a sigh of relief – “now life can return to normal.” Except it couldn’t, and it may never. The virus is out there. Return to “normal” and cases and deaths will spike, as is happening now. This rush to deny the covid problem killed people. Just as the rush to produce a vaccine could well produce a flop – and kill people.

Vaccine trials have protocols for several reasons – to learn if there are dangerous side-effects, to learn if it produces antibodies, to assess how effective it is – 60%? 70%? – and how long its protection will last – a month, six months, a year? Currently the Trump regime is all “hurry, hurry, hurry, make a vaccine in record time, preferably before the election.” This is a recipe for failure, just like rushing reopening was. It is impatient, thoughtless and ignorant.

How will vaccine researchers gauge the effectiveness of their medicine if they must get it to market by October? There won’t be time to do so. One pharmaceutical spokesman recently threw cold water on the white house’s vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed, saying that researchers must follow protocol and take the necessary time to develop a covid vaccine. And according to Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, as quoted in Science online: “One of the things I think is disturbing is I don’t want people to imagine that…it’s all going to get taken care of in 12 months. It’s not. These things take a long time.” Just don’t tell that to Jared Kushner, who sits in on the vaccine development meetings to make sure one’s available by the election.

Six vaccines are now in phase 3 large-scale efficacy trials. But how will researchers confirm their effectiveness? Will the thousands of people who receive a placebo be careless and expose themselves to covid? For that matter, will those who receive the real vaccine be protected when exposed? And how do we measure the extent of that protection? This process, if handled responsibly, lasts quite a while. That’s a reason why vaccine trials usually take years.

Another problem with this plague is that apparently people who’ve had it can get it again, like herpes. This does not bode well for a vaccine. But never mind – we’re in a blind rush for a silver bullet. Back in 2009, the UK rushed an H1N1 vaccine to market, and thousands of people who got it suffered brain damage. It may have even killed some people. When the new polio vaccine came out in the 1950s, mistakes with it killed and paralyzed lots of people. But don’t worry. If that happens with our new super duper covid vaccine, the Trump regime will just hide the data.77

The post Fixing the COVID Numbers appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose

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Still from “Every Which Way But Loose.”

“And through the fog of the plague, most art withered into journalism.”

— Pete Hamill

+ Four years of Trump, the most precipitous collapse of the US economy in history and one killer pandemic later and we’re right back to where we were in the late summer of 2016…

Joe Biden's national polling lead is almost exactly where Clinton's was at this time in 2016: https://t.co/cwudOqvOJF pic.twitter.com/7RWQ3JD7cx

— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) August 6, 2020

 

+ How could this possibly be, you ask? Well, here’s Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee in hiding, demanding to know if a black journalist, who asked him a question he didn’t like, is junkie…

Biden: “Why the hell would I take a test?…C’mon man. That’s like saying, ‘You — before you got on this program you took a test where you’re taking cocaine or not, what do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?’”

WATCH: Biden pushes back on cognitive test question: ‘Why the hell would I take a test?'

“C’mon man. That’s like saying, ‘You — before you got on this program you took a test where you’re taking cocaine or not, what do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?’” https://t.co/zMBd4PkQg9 pic.twitter.com/Vcdsso4zxU

— Yahoo News (@YahooNews) August 5, 2020

 

+ Biden could pick Angela Davis as his VP nominee and it wouldn’t be enough to mask his innate racism, which is deeply encoded into almost every strand of his political DNA.

+ Given every advantage, Biden will still stumble into every which way to lose, from scolding the progressive base to sabotaging his own roster of VP candidates…

+ Thousands are dying every day, millions are unemployed, their benefits running out, millions more are facing eviction and Biden’s driving around in his Corvette, cosplaying Steve McQueen? WTFingF…

There's been a lot of talk about my vetting process lately. Here’s an inside look: pic.twitter.com/tFRKJOE3hi

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 5, 2020

+ These attacks on Karen Bass are getting more and more grotesque and nonsensical. All of the neocons who slithered out of the Reagan administration, including two presidents and two presidential nominees, backed the Apartheid regime as ADULTS, as did the top US client state (Israel), while the Cubans were helping to eradicate apartheidism across southern Africa…

+ Let’s a have an election about Cuba, starting with how many lives Cuban doctors have saved…

Rep. Karen Bass just said that she was a naive 19 year old in visiting Cuba. However, in 2016, she praised Casto (a man who killed reporters and dissenters by the thousands) as "the passing of the Comandante en Jefe." He was the enemy of free speech and free press rights…

— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) August 2, 2020

+ Covid-19 deaths per million

Cuba: 8
Florida: 361

+ Biden sat mute as Democrats & Republicans savaged the estimable Karen Bass for a few bland remarks she made about Cuba and Fidel Castro, then hired a rightwing, viciously anti-Cuba Republican hack named Ana Navarro to “rev up” Latinx for his campaign…

+ Bass is also getting shivved in the media for speaking at the dedication of a new Scientology center near her district in Los Angeles, an entirely normal event for politicians. Are the Scientologists any worse than the Catholics, Mormons, Southern Baptists or Hare Krishnas? Cockburn had a fruitful relationship with their former supremo, Heber Jentzsch, who I believe the church has now disappeared. They’d done a lot of litigation against the CIA, drug companies, FBI and shared some of their discovery with us, which proved very useful in the writing of Whiteout. I never met Heber, a former journalist with LA Free Press, but I talked to him many times until he went missing in 2004. Now when I drive by that sprawling building in Hollywood, I wonder if he’s locked in one of those dark rooms, getting “readjusted”…

+ Ken Salazar, the man who gave us Deepwater Horizon, is now advising Joe on energy policy

+ “There is a lot of room in there for oil and gas,” said Matt Gallagher, the president of Parsley Energy, a West Texas oil producer, after getting a peak at Biden’s energy plan.

+ Gordon Chang: “China Prefers a Biden Presidency.” First good foreign policy reason I’ve yet heard to cast a vote for Biden. Unfortunately, you can’t believe a word Gordon Chang says.

+ During the foreclosure crisis of 2008/9, the Democrats bailed out the banks instead of the people losing their homes. During the eviction crisis of 2020, they’re about to bail out the landlords instead of the people being kicked out on the streets.

+ More than half of low-income communities in the USA have no ICU beds, yet another reason the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately killing the poor.

+ An analysis of census data shows the Portland, Oregon neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 are the same places, most of them east of 82nd Avenue, where poor people are packed into extremely tight quarters.

+ Even though US taxpayers are paying for 100% of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine development, the company told its investors that it will be charging the highest price yet for a coronavirus vaccine, essentially forcing a COVID-battered nation buy back a vaccine developed with its own tax dollars.

+ It looks like the early COVID-19 precautions taken by Tribal Nations in Wisconsin have paid off. Their rate of infection is half that of the other residents of the state.

+ Apparently, Gavin “Gruesome” Newsom is complaining that Californians are suffering from “corona fatigue,” hence the state’s spiking COVID numbers. Fatique? It’s only been six months. Wait until southern California goes six years without rain…

+ A few years ago the university system of Georgia privatized many of its dorms. Those companies are now using their contracts to force universities to fill those dorms to near-capacity to protect their profits during a killer pandemic…

+ According to complaints from Colorado State athletes and staffers: Coaches have told players not to report COVID-19 symptoms, threatened players with reduced playing time if they quarantine and claim that CSU is altering contact tracing records to keep players practicing. This is outrageous, if not criminal, behavior by a university that is charged with protecting the health of its student body.

+ Meanwhile, school security officers with SEIU73 have come out against police in Chicago schools, saying no armed officers should be in schools, and that most security can be handled by trained security officers. “The presence of police officers in our schools is traumatizing, and this first hand and second hand trauma has been a barrier to their [students] success” says Jasmine Williams, former CPS student and now security officer at Gage Park HS.

+ From a student at Georgia’s North Paulding High School, where the student nurse resigned on Wednesday. Students have been warned by the administration that they risk suspension and expulsion if they post anything negative about the school online and at least two have already been sanctioned, including 15-year old Hannah Watters, who was suspended for five days for posting images of the crowded hallways on Twitter…

+ “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Justice Abe Fortas, Tinker v. Des Moines

+ Sorry you’re now in quarantine, kids. It looks like you just got “Penced!

+ “Thigh Land” was the movie he watched last night…twice.

President Trump pronounces Thailand "thigh land" before correcting himself." pic.twitter.com/P2uWWcJ0kn

— The Hill (@thehill) August 6, 2020

+ Apparently, “Thigh Land” was showing on a double bill in the White House screening room with “The Adventures of Yo-Semite Sam.” (The White House has yet to reply to my query as to whether Trump also watched “Babes in Thigh Land, the Epstein Cut.”)

+ Adorno: “All modern fascist movements, including the practices of contemporary American demagogues, have aimed at the ignorant; they have consciously manipulated the facts in a way that could lead to success only with those who were not acquainted with the facts.”

+ It’s getting harder and harder not to feel we’re doomed, as species if not a planet: The Amazon in flames, paramilitaries slaughtering hundreds a month in the favelas, 100,000-plus dead from coronavirus and Bolsonaro still far ahead in the polls…

+ Bolsonaro’s campaign to expand large-scale mining and ranching in the Amazon has cause an increase of deforestation on indigenous land by 74% from 2018 to 2019. Of the 24 murders of land defenders in Brazil, 90% occurred in the Amazon.

+ Who lost China Redux: Apparently one of Trump and Pompeo Maximus’ pre-election ploys is to base US troops in the country Rogers Waters called “a shoe factory called Taiwan.” One of the bizarro conditions: that they withdraw from the WHO, which is apparently the message Alex Azar is set to deliver when he arrives in Taipei.

+ The Lenin Moreno government in Ecuador is seeking to block the main opposition party, which almost certainly will win if Rafael Correa is on the ballot, from participating in the upcoming elections. Where’s the OAS?

+ When Trump announced to the world he believed the explosion in Beirut was “an attack. It was a bomb of some kind,” I knew with certainty it was an horrific accident.

+  The new “low-yield” version of the W76 nuclear weapon, whose development was started by Obama and finalized by Trump, has an explosive power of 5 to 7 kilotons, about 10 times bigger than the Beirut explosion.

+ So Macron is heading off to Beirut to lend his neoliberal ministrations to France’s former protectorate, no doubt prescribing the austerity measures they must impose in exchange for emergency aid from the French treasury. “Protectorate” is such a quaint word the colonial powers used to describe their grip on the world. What did France ever “protect” Lebanon from except it’s own independence?

+ Joey Ayoub: “My mom has been doing stained glass for three decades. She’s 60 and has a small workshop with just her and one colleague. They did dozens of churches together. She’s still receiving calls two days later.  All her work in Beirut completely destroyed. The entire workshop is also gone.”

+ Here’s Moshe Feiglin, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, gloating over the Beirut blast as a “gift from god“:

“Today is Tu B’Av, a day of joy, and a true and huge thank you to G-d and all the geniuses and heroes really (!) who organized for us this wonderful celebration in honor of the day of love…You don’t really believe that this was some messy fuel warehouse, yeah? Do you understand that this hell was supposed to fall on us as a rain of missiles?! I have some experience with explosives. The largest explosion I took part in was 2.5 tons of TNT…What we saw yesterday at the Port of Beirut was much bigger. The destructive effect (without the radiation) was like a nuclear bomb…If it was us, and I hope it was us, then we should be proud of it, and with that we will create a balance of terror. By avoiding saying it’s us – we are putting ourselves on the dark side of morality…We are all allowed to rejoice that it exploded in the port of Beirut and not in Tel Aviv.

+ UNICEF estimates that 80,000+ children have been displaced by the explosion in Beirut.

+ The last photo of a group of Lebanese firefighters as they deployed to extinguish the blaze from the first explosion…

+ One man’s “hideous guard dog” is another man’s (yes, I’m talking about you, Tom Cotton) “necessary evil“….

+ Welcome to the Resistance© … uhm … Oliver North?

+ Number of people killed by police in the USA since the death of George Floyd on May 25th: 147.

+ Police unions are suing so they can continue to choke people to death with impunity…

+ New report confirms that the highly disproportionate policing of Black Portlanders continues unabated, including stops, searches, arrests, and use of force. Study after study shows the same thing. Study after study changes nothing.

+ UPDATE: Cities with the most police brutality incidents since 5/26 (Welcome to the club, Columbus and Des Moines!)…

1. Portland – 223
2. NYC –97
3. Seattle –54
4. LA –43
5. D.C.–28
6. Minneapolis –27
7. Denver -25
8. Columbus -22
9. Chicago –20
10. Richmond -19
11. Louisville -18
12. Austin –17
13. Philly –12
14. Des Moines–12
15. Detroit –11

+ US District Court Judge Michael Simon on extending the restraining order against federal agents from assaulting PDX journalists: “Given that we still have federal officers here and what has been said by them and by the administration, that’s sufficient for good cause to extend.”

+ The Roberts Court reverts to its default position of legalized sadism…By a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court just lifted an order that had required the Orange County Jail to implement safety measures to curb its COVID-19 outbreak…

+ By almost any standard, John Roberts is a hardcore conservative, far to the right of even Rehnquist. Yet he is now being attacked as a sellout by Pence and others. This is the lesson Democrats never learn. The GOP always holds its politicians and judges strictly accountable to their rightwing ideology, which gets more and more rigid and reactionary each year. The Democrats on the other hand, instead of enforcing the same kind of discipline, urge moderation, conciliation and compromise. It’s no surprise who has been winning for the last 40 years, with dire consequences for the environment, civil rights, reproductive rights and criminal justice.

+ Claire Glenn, a public defender in Prince George’s County, Maryland: “PG judges are now scheduling trials for people out of jail AND refusing to schedule trials for people in jail. Meaning my jailed clients are detained indefinitely, while my out-of-jail clients are expected to risk Covid-19 for a misdemeanor trial, facing jail if convicted.”

+ Can the Louisiana Purchase be invalidated? “Arrested at 38, Mr. Bryant has already spent nearly 23 yrs in prison and is now over 60 yrs old. If he lives another 20 yrs, LA taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish [him] for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers.”

+ Prisons within Prisons: on July 28, 2020 there were 1001 people caged in “segregation,” or solitary confinement inside Alabama prisons. 705 of them were Black, or more than 70%, according to a notice filed by attorneys over recent suicides.

+ Treating addiction as a crime is the real crime

+ California prison system hit a milestone last week, the population falling below a 100,000 for the first time in several decades. After peaking at 176,000, there’s been no statewide surge in crime.

+ Even the networks were seduced into feting Obama’s birthday this week. But have we gotten a precise accounting on the number people who didn’t get to celebrate another birthday as a result of drone and missile strikes (450 + civilians), coups, sanctions and deportations (>45) back to death squad-ridden countries during Obama’s presidency?

FROM SENATOR TO PRESIDENT: As former Pres. Barack Obama celebrates his birthday, a look back at his journey to the White House: https://t.co/OB9y9UUzS2 pic.twitter.com/6HnqLWDhTM

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) August 4, 2020

+ Flight tracker data, analyzed by Willamette Week, shows that on at least three occasions, airplanes owned by the Department of Homeland Security circled for hours over Portland protests.

+ Border Patrol is still expelling babies, some as young as 8 months old, of parents seeking asylum. DHS’s “reputation” wasn’t ruined in Portland. It was confirmed.

+ Stuart Newman: “Trump’s China blame story is easily refuted. At worst, China’s withholding of evidence just delayed knowledge of person-to-person transmission by a week or two. Trump dragged his feet for two months when the full dimensions were known. Why do no journalists say this?”

+ This is, course, precisely what the Trumpers accused China of doing for a few weeks on a much smaller scale. Why did they accuse China of a cover up? Because it’s exactly what they would have done and in fact are doing in the face of mass illness and death…

Since #Trump admin stripped #COVID19 data collection out of @CDCgov & put it in 2 private companies (under no-bid contracts) answering to @HHSGov we have NO RELIABLE DATA.
But @washingtonpost obtained @FEMA dataset, and it's terrifying.
MOREhttps://t.co/9p1E8laGZd

— Laurie Garrett (@Laurie_Garrett) August 2, 2020

+ “Florida Man” Alert…(After an extensive background check it has been determined that the man who spit in a child’s face for having the audacity to wear a mask in public and told him he “now has coronavirus” is not, I repeat not, a card-carrying member of Antifa)….

+ Hannah Arendt: “Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity.”

+ Trump on Biden “No religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt … God. He’s against God, he’s against guns.” Biden goes to Mass twice a week (non-Opus Dei sect), which probably makes him close to the anti-Christ in the eyes of many of Trump’s evangelical followers, somewhere between Romney and Ilhan Omar on the demonological threat scale.

Trump on Biden: "No religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt … God. He's against God, he's against guns." pic.twitter.com/oiIdPcY2vl

— The Recount (@therecount) August 6, 2020

+ I’m reminded of Norman Mailer’s concept of the existential god, which could be hurt, maimed or killed, and perhaps was, if not by Nietzsche or Auschwitz, then certainly by the Apollo moonshot and The Pill. I’m sure Trump never read any Mailer, except for the title of Advertisements for Myself, which he fully embraced and then absconded with…

+ Trump can’t stop COVID. Trump is God’s anointed leader on Earth. Therefore, COVID is God’s plan to glean the faithful from the apostates. The faithful either survive or are Raptured. The faithless either die or, worse, are forced to live under Trump’s second term …

+ I don’t give Trump credit for much, but I will hand him this: he has singlehandedly laid waste to the fatuous academic field of “political science.”

+ The seasonal forecast from Colorado State University has increased and now calls for extremely active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season: 24 named storms (including nine that have already formed), 12 hurricanes (including two that have already formed) and five major (Category 3+) hurricanes.

+ One of the big reasons for increased hurricane forecast is very weak vertical wind shear in July, the second lowest on record (since 1979), behind only 2005. Weak vertical wind shear aids in hurricane development and intensification.

+ The last drilling rig in Wyoming was shuttered this week, marking only the second time the state’s rig count has reached zero since 1884, six years before Wyoming became a state.

+ This week Peabody Coal’s CEO Glenn Kellow announced a $1.42B “impairment” in the vast Powder River Basin mine: “To date, we’ve made significant progress, and we have needed to, yet still more needs to be done”…the reduction of $1.43 billion in coal revenues is the equivalent of 692.7 million tons of coal, more than the entire US produces in a year. Wyoming’s energy boom will be nothing on the economic Richter scale compared to the explosive bust it’s now experiencing……

+ So far this summer, the state of Utah has seen 951 wildfires, 73 new fires in the last week alone. That pace is well ahead of the record numbers from 2018 and 2019.

+ July 2020 was the third warmest July on record, 0.49°C warmer than average.

+ The Rio Grande has shriveled to its lowest levels for this time of year since the 1980s…

+ Trump’s EPA is working hard every day to ensure that comorbidities are the birthright of every American.

+ Sunnie Clachchischiligi has written a very disturbing account for Searchlight New Mexico of the dire conditions many Navajo elders are enduring as COVID-19 sweeps across the Big Rez…

+ RIP Pete Hamill, who wrote so vividly about the NYC I knew in the 70s and 80s . His death is a good reason to watch (or re-watch) the Hamill/Breslin documentary that came out last year, which also features a cameo of Cockburn…

+ Pete Hamill in 1989 on Donald Trump’s call for the execution of the Central Park 5: “Snarling and heartless and fraudulently tough, insisting on the virtue of stupidity, it was the epitome of blind negation. Hate was just another luxury…. And Trump stood naked revealed as the spokesman for that tiny minority of Americans who live well-defended lives. Forget poverty and its causes. Forget the degradation and squalor of millions. Fry them into passivity.” (h/t Dave Zirin)

+ I’d forgotten that Pete Hamill wrote the terrific liner notes for Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, which begins “in the end, the plague touched us all.” (I wish Pete had advised Dylan to stick with the original plan to record the album with an electric band led by Michael Bloomfield, instead of the dreary & monotonous version he settled on, which was an insult to the songs he’d written…I’d encourage you to read Jon Landau’s early and scathing review of BotT for Rolling Stone, which still rings true to me, despite my deep affection for the record.

+ Democrats are frothing at the news that three GOP operatives are helping Kanye West get his name on the ballots for the fall election. And yet it seems like half of the people working to get Biden elected served in the George W. Bush administration…

+ The legacy of the recently rehabilitated George W. Bush, as quoted in Robert Draper’s To Start a War: “Fuck diplomacy. We’re going to war.” Will it be a plank in Biden’s platform?

+ A few months ago Ralph Nader called the CounterPunch offices and said, “Why don’t you publish a book before the election on how the Democrats and Obama have enabled Trump for the last four years? No one else will touch it.” Good idea, as usual, Ralph. Josh and I couldn’t think of anyone better equipped to write such a heretical text than Paul Street. After a few weeks of intense scribbling, the forbidden text, The Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement, is now at the printer and we’re offering it to you this week at a discounted price of $15.95.

+ Ornette Coleman on Bucky Fuller: “Fuller said there was no such thing as up and down. There was only OUT. That was the first time I was ever aesthetically touched by a scientist. When he illustrated his geodesic dome concept, I saw we were brothers.” Coleman’s Prime Design / Time Design was a tribute to Fuller’s concept of the birth of the universe, of finding harmony (and perhaps “harmolodics”) in chaos.

+ So there’s a big stir about removing Flannery O’Connor’s name from a building at Loyola University in Maryland. I’ve read her neolithic novels and stories of Catholic angst in the Deep South. But the idea of naming buildings after writers is ridiculous to begin with. University buildings should be named after apex swindlers and arms dealers, like the Kashoggi Center at my old school, American University.

+ David Kipen has written a clever interview with an imaginary Thomas Pynchon, which prompted my pal Richard Klin to say: “I always wished I liked his writing more than I do–I’d be a much cooler person.” I told Richard he retained all rights to his coolness, since, in my experience at least, it’s the “uncool” people who find refuge in Pynchon’s writing–us glozing neuters, outcasts in high school, too nerdy to be hip, too stoned to be nerds.

+ According to the new documentary on Creem magazine (the only rock periodical I ever subscribed to), editor (and frequent CounterPunch contributor) Dave Marsh got so frustrated with writer Lester Bangs that he stuffed turds from Bangs’ dog into his typewriter. As so often happened, a fight broke out. “We had rolled out into the driveway,” Marsh recalled, “and I got my head smacked into an open car door. That’s OK, he wasn’t trying to hurt me, he was just trying to win.”

+ Joe Strummer: “Punk rock isn’t something you grow out of. Punk rock is an attitude, and the essence of that attitude is ‘give us some truth’.”

+ I was asked in an interview this week who is the most famous person I’ve found myself sitting near in a restaurant? I don’t know if he’s the most “famous,” but the most thrilling for me was Albert King, in the dingy and cramped (but still legendary) John’s Famous Stew in Indianapolis back in 1975, at the very moment I was becoming intoxicated by the blues. King was gracious enough to spend a few moments with an annoying white kid who kept interrupting his spoonfuls of some of the hottest fare north of Cajun country and kindly left tickets for his show that night at a now shuttered blues venue on North Capitol. What I didn’t process until later was that King was eating with two jazz legends from Naptown both of whom sat in with him later that night: Buddy and Monk Montgomery, brothers of the great Wes Montgomery, whose lightness of touch King replicated in a blues format.

Evil as a Man Can Be

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

True Crimes and Misdemeanors: the Investigations of Donald Trump
Jeffrey Toobin
(Doubleday)

Owls of the Eastern Ice: the Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl
Jonathon C. Slaght
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Up a Creek, with a Paddle: Tales of Canoeing and Life
James W. Loewen
(PM Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Data Lords
Maria Schneider
(ArtistShare)

Keepin’ It Real
Bobby Watson and the Horizon Band
(Smoke Sessions)

Silo
The Altogether
(Bandcamp)

Why Are They Making New Things?

“I returned to civilization shortly after that [the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] and went to Cornell to teach, and my first impression was a very strange one. I can’t understand it any more, but I felt very strongly then. I sat in a restaurant in New York, for example, and I looked out at the buildings and I began to think, you know, about how much the radius of the Hiroshima bomb damage was and so forth… How far from here was 34th street?… All those buildings, all smashed — and so on. And I would go along and I would see people building a bridge, or they’d be making a new road, and I thought, they’re crazy, they just don’t understand, they don’t understand. Why are they making new things? It’s so useless.” (Richard Feynman)

The post Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph Source: Felton Davis – CC BY 2.0


Sorry,
Trump’s Not Conceding

I have been hearing liberals and lefties fantasizing that Donald Trump is conceding the presidency to Joe Biden.

The evidence for this curious thesis? 1. Biden’s significant polling lead over Trump not just nationally but in the battleground states where the presidency is contested. 2. The real or rumored pulling of some recent Trump campaign commercials. 3.Trump’s failure to embrace a big new stimulus bill with generous benefits for the poor and jobless amidst the COVID-19 Depression. If Trump wanted and still believed he could get a second term, the argument goes, he would be eager to identify himself with an expansion of the safety net.

So, goodbye Trump nightmare and Hello Joe “Empathy” Biden. Grab some popcorn and enjoy watching the Donald get dumped by Melania, start up the Trump Television Network, and scramble to stay out of prison. Right?

Wrong. This is not the proper take on Trump and where we are now. This is not a dystopian reality television show.

Donald “Total Domination” Trump is a sadistic malignant narcissist and neofascist who means it when he “jokes” that he’d like to be “president for life.”

Trump believes it when he says the U.S. Constitution gives him “the power to do whatever I want.”

He honestly does consider himself a Chosen One above the rule of law and elections.

He is serious when he claims that he cannot be fairly removed from office. He’s been seeding that narrative from the beginning of his presidency with his baseless claim to have been denied a popular vote victory by illegal voters in 2016. He’s been calling for “tough guys,” meaning cops, “bikers,” and soldiers (we can certainly include right-wing militia and various other neofascists) to wage “civil war” if and when “radical Left Democrats” (his absurd but revealingly fascistic description of corporate centrists like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden) try to use constitutional processes likes impeachment and elections to remove him from power.

On top of this, he knows he could be looking legal penalties once he no longer has the presidency to shield him from prosecution. Trump may well reason that he needs to keep the White House to keep out of jail.

The Plan is to F the Election, Not Win It

It is true the Trump isn’t really trying to win the election. But the liberal fantasists are wrong to think that Trump is looking forward to retirement from the presidency next January.

What gives? The catch is this: while Trump is not ruling out a straight-up above-the board electoral stomping of “Sleepy Joe” Biden on November 3rd, the main Trump and Republican 2020 plan is to steal, muddle, wreck, and poison and ruin the election with racist and partisan voter suppression (including closed polling stations and the enforcement of discriminatory voter ID laws), legal obstruction, physical intimidation, possible states of emergency, and a killer pandemic.

It’s not for nothing that Trump’s party has been trying to assemble an army of 50,000 “poll watchers” for November, “part of a multimillion-dollar effort to police who votes and how” (NBC News). The “poll watchers” will be brutish voter-intimidators specially deployed to minority polling locations in key battleground cities.

At the same time, Trump has been claiming without evidence that mail-in voting will result in widespread voter fraud. (Except, he now hilariously says, in places under sound Republican control.) Mail-in voting is required by the pandemic that Nancy Pelosi is right to call “the Trump Virus” (give the imperialist House Speaker due credit for this accurate trademark). But without the slightest hint of proof and contrary to everything we know, Trump repeatedly insists that an election reliant on mail-in ballots will be a “disgrace” and “disaster” that could take “months,” even “years”(!) to tabulate. The implication is clear: we’ll have to leave the widely hated beast in power and suspend the election until COVID-19 “just,” as Trump still says, “goes away.”

Trump floated the idea of suspending the election (because of mail-in voting’s supposedly flawed nature) via Twitter (which just banned the Trump campaign for claiming that children don’t really get COVID-19) last week.

In an obvious attempt to provide self-fulfilling proof for his thesis, Trump is having his recently appointed Postmaster General (a major Trump donor and fundraiser) produce mail backlogs meant to demonstrate that the U.S. Postal Service is “a mess” (Trump’s description) and therefore incapable of processing ballots in a fair and timely fashion.

It’s an authoritarian two-fer. The point is to discourage voting (“it’s just a big uncountable clusterf*#k so why bother?”) and to discredit a potential Biden victory in preparation of a legal challenge advanced Trump’s fascist Attorney General William Barr.

If he can’t cancel or suspend the election, Trump wants a long period of uncertainty after a vote not to his liking, a period in which he, his minions, and his white-nationalist (Republican) party can manipulate events.

We must be on the alert for various August, September, and October, November, December, and January surprises, including likely false claims to have shepherded a successful COVID-19 vaccine or cure. Other possibilities include a conflict with China (or perhaps Iran), a real or concocted terrorist attack, a charge of Chinese election interference on behalf of the Democrats, and a high-profile indictment of some Democrat (maybe Biden himself) in connection with “Obamagate.” Gird your loins for Barr’s Durham Report, certain to be released before the election.

COVID-19 is Part of the Evil Game

Like the wannabe dictator here is, Trump will be looking for pretexts to declare a state of emergency before, during, or after the election. Sickeningly enough, COVID-19 is part of the strategy. If anything, the virulent racist and Social Darwinist president has been encouraged to let the virus spread by data showing (as explained to him by white supremacists like his top political adviser Stephen Miller) that COVID-19 most particularly kills the poor, vulnerable, and nonwhite. But there are related electoral/anti-electoral considerations as well. We know from a recent in-depth Vanity Fair report that Trump’s sociopathic son-and-law Jared Kushner squashed a plan for national coronavirus testing last March and April after determining that the virus was hitting Democratic states the hardest and that the White House would be able to blame its spread on the nation’s fifty state governors.

Let that sink in. Talk about pure, distilled, and unmitigated evil.

We are five months into the pandemic hitting the U.S. The self-declared “world’s greatest democracy” accounts for more than a quarter of world’s COVID-19 cases but just of twentieth of the world’s population. At the currently spiking rates of spread, the Trump Virus will have killed more than a quarter million Americans by Election Day. And still there is no serious national public health response.

That would be a political disaster for a president seeking a second term in the standard bourgeois-electoral way. But COVID-45 is not a “normal” bourgeois politician. He’s a demonic and reptilian fascist committed to ruling in ways outside the usual ruling class parliamentary and constitutional norms. And from his twisted angle of vision, the pandemic is a chaos-generating and shock-administering plus. From the heartless Chosen One’s perspective, the disease that rightfully bears his name sows welcome chaos and fear, pulverizing and paralyzing the populace while providing pretexts for him to assault the rule of law and so-called “electoral democracy.” (No, he does not grasp this at any remotely intelligent ideological or doctrinal level, but he doesn’t have to; people around him do get it that way. And his instinctual, “honey-badger” grasp is quite strong).

“Come On, Man!” (Thanks Obama, Part 64)

Speaking of America’s supposed great electoral democracy (an Orwellian myth), there’s another reason Trump isn’t conceding the White House in 2021: Joe F’ing Biden, a cognitively crippled right-wing corporatist and imperialist who says he would veto Medicare for All (supported by seven in ten Americans) if it came to his desk as president. Joe Biden, a man who says he has “no empathy, give me a break” for the economic and environmental plight of Millennials in the savagely unequal and eco-cidal world he helped create over decades of abjectly corporatist, imperialist, and racist “public service.”

Given the obviously deteriorating state of Joe “You Know the Thing” Biden’s mind, Trump has good reason to guess that the fading 77-year-old Biden will blow-up much of his polling lead as the former Vice President’s cognitive difficulties are exposed under hot campaign lights. Here is some of the latest “oh my God” verbal confusion from Joe:

+ “I believe this every fiber of my being. We’re posed..[loses sentence, meant to say poised] …. what I’ve proposed is…[loses sentence]…it [what?] can be done! I think we’re in a position to really make it [what?] happen and my team and your team already working closely together to light up the path forward here. Critical lawks like the pro-act to strengthen collective bargaining. On politics, like prevailing and fer….[loses train of thought and frowns-]…look, I’m taking too much time here.”

+ “I had a nurse, uh, nurses at, uh, [looks lost]…Walter Reed Hospital who would bend down and whisper in my ear, and go home and get me pillows…they would make sure they’d, actually, probably nothing ever taught in, uh, you can’t do it in the covid time, but they’d actually breathe in my nostrils to make me [arms in the air] move, to get me moving.”

+ This, when asked by a reporter if he had followed Trump in taking a basic reasoning exam investigating his mental functioning: “No, I haven’t taken a [cognitive] test. Why the Hell would I take a test? Come on, man. That’s like saying you — before you got on this program, you take a test where you’re taking cocaine or not. What do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?” (That was a fail right there. Biden’s analogy was thoroughly and obviously false.)

And just now, as I complete this essay, we have disturbing news that Joe “You Ain’t Black” Biden actually said this to the convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists: “And by the way, what you all know, but most people don’t know, unlike the African American community, with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things.”

Gee, thanks, Obama. (Biden is still a thing on the national stage in this perilous time thanks to Obama no less than Sarah Palin ever became a thing because of John McCain.)

Shameless plug: please pre-order my new book Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement. Its fifth chapter, titled “‘VOTE’ – For Who?” digs into Obama’s pivot role in bringing about Biden’s troubling and reckless nomination.

This is Happening Here

It is depressing to hear moderate, liberal, and progressive Democrats wax knowingly about what a slam dunk it is that Trump will be gone because of the Constitution and “the rule of law.”

“Bless their hearts,” as they say in the South. Since when has Donald Trump given a flying f*#k about constitutional checks and balances and the rule of law? Have these been following the Trump presidency the last three and a half years? Hello?

Seattle’s mayor Jenny Durkin wasn’t just “liberal bed-wetting” when she said that Trump’s deployment of federal paramilitaries to American cities is a “dress rehearsal for martial law.”

No shit. “Unidentified camouflage-wearing militia jumping out of vans to snatch people off the street without stating cause or crime,” says Revolutionary Communist Party spokesperson Andy Zee: “That’s police state shit. Not a made-for-tv movie, but real, setting precedent with the possibility of becoming the norm.”

What is a paramilitary force? As Zee explains: “armed forces who function like military but are made up other kinds of irregular forces not subject to the same rules and constraints as the military – rules that are, yes, broken consistently the U.S. military in their wars of occupation. But the paramilitary here is officially accountable only to Trump via his henchmen in the Department of Homeland Security.”

It’s a nasty and fascistic bunch of “federal agents” that Trump sent to Portland and is now deploying to other “homeland” (a lovely imperial word) cities under the chilling codename “Operation Diligent Valor” – and under the implausible pretext that the virulent racist Trump wants to stamp out so-called Black-on-Black violence in the nation’s ghettoes. As Zee explains:

“The core of this heavily armed force is made up of federal agents of Homeland Security with a strong presence of the Border Patrol Tactical Team, which is known as BORTAC. This is a special operations unit that is based on the U.S.-Mexico border and has been deployed overseas, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. These are forces that have demonstrated particular loyalty to Trump and his fascist program. And, as is well known (there is public record of this), these forces, like the local police, are riddled with fascists who, when off duty, are part of fascist thug forces and who do the same when they’re in their uniforms. This is the making of a fascist state. There is a rough analogy here to how Hitler developed the Gestapo out of the thug forces who were loyal to him.”

But don’t take your sense (I hope) of menace from an F-word-using radical like me or Zee. Read between the lines of the esteemed liberal Yale historian Timothy Snyder’s haunting reflections on the meaning of bringing gendarmes from frontier borderlands to “homeland” cities on the imperialist Rachel Maddow’s MSDNC show two weeks ago:

“[Empires’ authoritarian] violence [against their own citizens] starts at the borderland. People [gendarmes] can become accustomed to violence at the border. And then what an authoritarian regime does is it brings those people [gendarmes] back into the cities and uses them against protesters in the cities. People who are trained to think of Others as ‘not like us,’ as aliens, as foreigners are then told ‘oh, well there happen to be people inland who are also not like us…A similar aspect here is the detention centers. We have this huge network of detention centers, which are basically lawless zones. Another historical pattern [in the development of authoritarian states] is that people who are trained in lawless zones such as detention centers or concentration camps are then released into cities later on and they behave the same way. They behave the way they’ve been trained.”

That’s a key point: “they behave the way they’ve been trained.” Much of the nation’s military and vast police state structure will follow orders if Trump and his minions like Barr, Stephen Miller (a flat out white-supremacist), and Pence devise some marginally saleable pretext for physically suspending the election, the electoral count, or the installation of a new president.

I am quite familiar with the Chicago Police and with relevant research on the authoritarian, even fascist world view that is common among the nation’s “law enforcement” personnel.

This is happening here. If you are still calling Trump just a “clown” (seriously?) three and a half years into his reign, please at least have the decency to see him as Pennywise the Dancing Clown and not friendly Bozo.

I urge all Americans left of the nation’s Amerikaner-Trumpenvolk to start organizing and hitting the streets now, even before the election. These are things we need to get extremely good at as soon as possible. Even the elementary project of holding and carrying to fruition a bourgeois election is now going to require mass popular action.

“Everything is Broken”: Beyond Grief, Revolution

I would also suggest that people begin strategizing to confront not just Pennywise Trump and his dancing fascist minions but the entire, richly bipartisan class-rule system that put neofascistic psycho-killers like Donald Trump and Jared Kushner (among others) into the White House in the first place. “When things break,” Phil A. Neel writes in his haunting book Hinterland: America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict, “it only shows that everything is broken.” America was already broken long before Trump came in, before COVID-19. The breaking goes way, way back. I overuse the following dead-on passage from Chris Hedges two years ago but I’m going to quote it yet one more time:

“The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural, and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience.… If we do not stand up, we will enter a new dark age.”

This was written, under the prescient title “The Coming Collapse,” well before COVID-19 and the new Great Depression the pandemic sparked. The “new dark age” is underway. We have nothing left to lose. Thanks to the ongoing march of capitalogenic ecocide – a Trump-intensified menace intimately related to and yet even graver than 21st Century fascism (strange as that sounds to say) – it is “[eco-]socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky…If there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time,” Istvan Meszaros wrote two decades ago, “there can be no future for humanity itself.”

The post Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The World on Fire

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Massive uncontrolled unprecedented wild fires are consuming portions of the Amazon rainforest and several regions of the Arctic. Somebody somewhere must be asking why all of a sudden in unison, all over creation, two of the planets largest ecosystems are going up in smoke. It’s eerily spine chilling.

“Major fires have hit the Amazon and the Arctic for the second year in a row.” (Source: NewScientist, June 26, 2020)

Where’s the world’s largest fire alarm when so desperately needed?

Sure, all of mainstream press covers the fires and people hear about the fires and read about the fires. But that’s the end of any sort of impact because the sensationalism of reading about and hearing about massive fires thousands of miles away in vast wilderness areas doesn’t move the needle enough for people to express serious concern or even go so far as to panic. Maybe they should.

These are not regular ole run of the mill fires. Rather, these are firestorms so powerful that they create their own wind systems and self-perpetuate. More to the point, the world is on a biblical fire alert that posits the Book of Revelations 16:8 smack dab into contemporary society, to wit: Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the Sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat.

For example, recent bushfires in Australia (2019) were not just unprecedented. They were “deadly catastrophic,” thus leaving some ecosystems “forever changed.” The conflagrations obliterated landscapes, not just patches of landscape but entire landscapes.

Why obliteration? Climate change is the villain. It supercharged the wildfires by turning landscapes into tinder. As such, and contrary to political opinions by right-wing whacko nutcases, climate change does not constitute surreal events in thin air, rather, it’s power-packed hard-hitting damage to our “one and only” planet. It’s authentic.

Australia’s wildfires convulsed above and beyond any known scale of normal fires, from which animals are usually able to escape. They didn’t. They couldn’t run fast enough! The fires took out entire landscapes, not patches of landscape that leave behind pockets of safety untouched for scampering animals. Nothing was left untouched by the hot lapping flames.

The wildfires permanently crippled iconic habitats that make Australia an ecological wonder for all to behold. From loss of crucial plant life to decimation of species that serve as a meal for a higher species, the ripple effects remain unaccountable, extensively beyond human calculation.

Now, two of the world’s largest, and most significant, ecosystems are on fire like never before, similar to Australia’s biblical fires of a year ago, as more, and more, precious natural resources suffer waves of obliteration. Of course, normal fires in the wild are healthy; however, these fires are anything but normal. There’re truly biblical in scale.

“Six months of record-breaking temperatures have sparked massive fires in the Siberian Arctic this year. Great plumes of smoke were visible on satellite… temperatures more than 5°C above average over much of Siberia… A Met Office-led international study has concluded this period of exceptional weather would have been impossible had the world not been warmed by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. (Source: New Warning Over Climate Change From Siberian Arctic, BBC News, July 15, 2020)

“What we’re seeing really is unprecedented… we’ve never seen the probability of a change of an event of more than 600 times. We’ve never seen a result like that, Professor Peter Stott, Met Office,” Ibid.

“Looking at the geologic record, we don’t think we’ve ever seen CO2 levels this high in about 5 million years… We are in uncharted territory, Dr. Katharine Hendry,” Ibid.

Meanwhile, bad vibes with strong undertones of contempt upend civilized society, as follows: America’s president Don Trump has tweeted 120 posts that variously poke fun at, and ridicule, climate change. Moreover, he has issued dozens of tweets claiming that “cold weather” disproves climate change. It should be noted that 62 million people voted for Trump in 2016 and many “live by his words.”

At the same time, in the real world of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported 6,803 fires in the Amazon in July 2020 alone, nearly 30% more than July 2019 when the Western world went bananas over the loss of rainforest due to human-set fires. When in fact fires are not a regular feature of rainforests.

Now, environmentalists are going batty because August is traditionally the start of the human-generated fire season, but it already has a roaring head of steam. Not only that, but according to INPE data, the first six months of 2020 are already the worst on record for deforestation. Yes, “the worst on record.”

Sure enough, the Amazon rainforest, similar to landscapes in Australia in 2019, is subjected to obliteration forces, and it’s not just deforestation as the root cause. Climate change has kicked into high gear all across the magnificent rainforest with devastating drought conditions galore!

Excessive drought conditions, in part, originate early in the morning in garages around the world as fossil-fueled gasoline engines crank up, spewing out CO2, and the whir of a jet engine igniting, the blast of a diesel train engine cranking up, the murmur of a jet ski, ignition of hot coals for an electricity-generating plant, a furnace blast molding steel, all are the basis, the origin, of greenhouse gases that blanket the atmosphere, in turn, enhancing devastating severe droughts.

According to a landmark Amazonian rainforest in-depth analysis: “Several studies indicate that the region has been suffering severe drought since the end of the last century, as in 1997/1998, 2005, 2010 and 2015. The intensity and frequency of these extreme drought episodes in the AB during the last years, approximately one episode every five years with a significant increase in the coverage area, is remarkable.” (Beatriz Nunes Garcia, et al, Extreme Drought Events Over the Amazon Basin: The Perspective from the Reconstruction of South American Hydroclimate, Departamento de Meteorologia, Instituto de Geociências, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Nov. 7, 2018)

Back-to-back-to-back-to-back 100/yr. drought events, every 5 years, are not normal, meaning something somewhere is horribly wrong. After all, major ecosystems that profoundly influence all aspects of the planet’s health and well-being are burning, collapsing, melting like there’s no tomorrow. The message is clear.

Along the way, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro feigns attempts to limit rainforest damage, but experts say the government’s response has been largely ineffective, more symbolic than real. In truth, he’s the primary driving force behind record-setting deforestation. Similar to Trump, on the world stage he’s a laughing stock and archenemy of the planet.

According to NASA, this year’s dry season will be more prone to fires than last year’s record-setting affair. Moreover, according to NASA, warmer ocean surface temps in the North Atlantic (global heating at work) create conditions for more extreme drought in the Amazon, as excessive ocean heat brings on far-flung damage. Everything in nature is somehow connected.

“The world on fire” is merely a prelude to a climate “gone berserk” disaster scenario that’s almost certain to eventually take civilization down to its knees, by all appearances sooner than mainstream science suggests, but frankly scientists don’t make such predictions.

Yet, isn’t a climate gone berserk scenario already playing out in real time, e.g., in Siberia, in the Amazon, in Australia?

Meanwhile, climate-related crises on a grand scale never before recorded throughout human history continue building to a crescendo, in earnest, right before society’s “eyes wide shut.”

Postscript: Reports out of the London School of Economics claim one-half of the Arctic fires are peat soil, normally too wet and too cold to burn, but now burning because of powerful intense heat… peat soil is carbon-rich and can burn for months/years, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). (Source: Arctic Fires Released More Carbon in Two Months Than Scandinavia Will All Year, Grist, Aug. 4, 2020)

Speechless, once again!

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Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left

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Photograph Source: Topher McCulloch – CC BY 2.0

The rapid end to the electoral fortunes of the Anglo-American left in 2020 was engineered by radical centrists for the benefit of capital. What was banished, in addition to vibrant and informed opposition to an atrophied political class, was the prospect of Federal government programs that are both desired and needed by the American people. Even if the agents of atrophy get it together in coming weeks to toss a few crumbs to those economically displaced by the pandemic, current woes arrived decades into engineered economic decline.

Politically attuned readers will no doubt take issue with the blanket statement that the left was banished by citing electoral victories at the state and local levels. And to the extent that this is the realm that corporate-state entities like ALEC have targeted, the victories are indeed important. However, the unwillingness of the electoral gatekeepers to run open and transparent elections shifts the realm of contestation away from electoral politics. And the ascendance of identity politics supports the reactionary agenda of neoliberalism in ways apparently invisible to its adherents.

For five decades now the serial solution to periodic crises of capitalism has been to make the rich richer and life more precarious, unjust, and brutal for everyone else. The method has been through deference to functionally meaningless ‘markets.’ The gladiatorial contest for employment that fails to sustain workers in terms of pay, benefits, or participation in the human community, has left the U.S. with the highest suicide rate and shortest life expectancy in the so-called developed world. That the engineers of this travesty are put forward to solve it illustrates the totalizing and impenetrable nature of so-called democracy under capitalism.

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Graph: While it’s widely understood that concentrated economic power is a problem across Western economies, the U.S. is still an outlier. One percent of the U.S. population owns nearly half of the national wealth. This approximates the distribution of political power as well, with both of the political parties dropping even the pretense of democratic accountability, replaced by genuflection to the rich. It appears that U.S. political problems are the result of economic maldistribution. Source: inequality.org.

In contrast to how they are popularly portrayed, each of these areas of political dysfunction— the inability to develop and implement programs in the public interest, deference to a temporally constrained, classical liberal, conception of human being as the center of left political theory, and the assertion of a natural order that is optimally expressed through markets, define the realm of Western politics through a neoliberal prism. Through this prism, capital is the optimal instrument for solving social problems— including righting social wrongs. That these social wrongs exist five decades into neoliberal political economy suggests that this theory doesn’t match its facts.

To state the obvious: the existing healthcare system in the U.S. is the most expensive amongst rich countries with the worst health outcomes. While there is plenty of blame to go around, this system produced among the world’s worst relative and absolute outcomes in the pandemic. A Federal government job guarantee at a living wage could pay people to stay home until the pandemic has subsided and be used to rebuild the economy afterwards. And a Green New Deal premised in meeting IPCC objectives for reducing carbon emissions and supporting biodiversity could forestall or preclude environmental catastrophe.

In other words, one could lose the ‘team left’ concept to identify the major problems that we collectively face in the West, and develop solutions in terms of improving human welfare and perpetuating human life, and they would look just like the social democratic policies put forward by the American left in the Democratic primaries. The problem isn’t simply that the Anglo-American left was defeated politically. The ideas and programs necessary to maintaining social stability and the perpetuation of the species were unceremoniously tossed in the garbage in favor of a primary victory to nowhere.

Graph: With Joe Biden claiming that the U.S. can’t afford Medicare for All, what is obvious from the graph is that the U.S. can’t afford the present system. Medical costs normalized by GDP have consistently been nearly twice as high in the U.S. as in Britain. Obamacare has been in place since 2013, seven years, with no demonstrable change in this relationship. Additionally, for twice the money we get half the benefit. U.S. healthcare outcomes are near or at the bottom amongst rich countries. Source: commonwealthfund.org.

Liberals keep asserting that the Democrats need a political program to win, when they had one and pushed one another out of the way to kill it. The second order claim is that the left political program isn’t popular when polls suggest otherwise. When Medicare for All is explained accurately, and honest explanations of how to pay for it are provided, a large majority of people support it. It is telling that Joe Biden simply lied about the cost of Medicare for All. If he really believes his program is superior, why not defend it on its merits? The establishment Democrats would rather lose elections than put forward policies that their donors object to.

Lest this remain unclear, it wasn’t the radical right that defeated this program, it was the radical center. The donor class doesn’t want these programs because it is fatter and happier than at any other time in living memory. The rich have seen their fortunes skyrocket through Federal ‘pandemic’ bailouts of their investments. The pandemic has benefited them almost as much as the Great Recession did. The radical centrists exist to undermine and destroy programs in the public interest because the rich gain power and wealth when everyone else loses it.

This raises the puzzle of how the radical center can plausibly be interested in racial and gender justice when it benefits from economic injustice? A Job Guarantee would benefit blacks proportionately more than whites because the black unemployment rate is permanently higher than for whites. Medicare for All would benefit blacks proportionately more than whites because blacks receive less healthcare. And reducing environmental degradation would benefit blacks proportionately more than whites because black neighborhoods are more heavily polluted.

Whatever the personal sentiments of politicians regarding social justice, bipartisan support for capitalism renders them irrelevant. Again, it wasn’t Republicans who prevented Medicare for All, a Federal Job Guarantee and a large-scale program to fix environmental problems, from being put in front of voters in the general election. It was kente-cloth wearing, Kaepernick kneeling, Democrats who did. And they did so while claiming that they support racial and gender justice.

The neoliberal view that dominates Washington is that capital can provide solutions to social ills better than government ‘interference’ in markets. A cottage industry has grown on the left responding to the cottage industry that grew from the radical center around ‘white fragility,’ the neoliberal explanation of racially disparate outcomes. Missing from both sides of this cottage industry cottage industry, is that corporate functionaries care about avoiding lawsuits, not social justice. White fragility is a corporate insurance scheme. It is no more ‘left’ than pet insurance.

The political problem for corporations and the rich is how to explain ‘inequality’ in terms that don’t require the redistribution of political and economic power. This is the challenge for neoliberal Democrats as well with respect to their donor class. Equality of opportunity, the neoliberal mantra 1980 – 2007, was put forward just as the concentration of wealth went vertical. It is no longer plausible as a tool of class management. However, if racism, sexism and inequality are caused by individual propensities, then addressing these individual propensities is where the solution lies, goes the sales pitch.

This point is blown out below via the inability to reconcile neoliberal economic theories with the existence of racism and sexism. On the one hand, there are a lot of sincere people who have strong opinions regarding social justice issues. On the other, establishment politicians and corporate functionaries see social justice as an opportunity for career advancement. This isn’t intended to be as cynical as it probably reads. Through a worldview of relentless self-interest, there is no justice aside from what can be gained or lost in trade.

Assuming for the moment that racism, sexism, etc. aren’t the product of capitalist social relations, five decades of neoliberalism haven’t solved them. Why this matters conceptually is that capitalist economics don’t ‘work,’ in the sense of producing the outcomes promised, unless people are motivated by economic self-interest. Racists and sexists are therefore either motivated by economic self-interest or the base assumption of capitalism is wrong. The question then is how does rational self-interest support racism and sexism?

To approach the question from another direction, in labor markets the ability to buy underpriced labor due to racism and sexism represents an arbitrage opportunity, a no risk way to earn excess profits. If markets work as advertised, race and gender-based pay differences should be arbitraged away. The two possible interpretations of their continued existence are (1) they represent real differences in economic value or (2) markets don’t work as advertised. The first provides a ‘natural’ basis for racism and sexism. The latter means that neoliberalism has a flaw.

This leaves establishment Democrats and their IDPOL supporters solving racism by either dumping capitalism or concluding that racism and sexism are legitimate market outcomes based on intrinsic characteristics tied to race and gender. Ironically, or not, the latter is the Democrat’s approach. Capitalism pays people what they are worth, goes the theory, therefore racial and gender disparities are based on differences in human capital. In other words, systemic racial disparities represent the correct ordering of the world. Because people are paid what they are worth, racism has no bearing on economic outcomes.

This becomes theoretically incoherent when ‘systemic racism’ is raised. Systemic differences in economic outcomes by race and gender aren’t possible (in capitalist theory) for the reasons given. They are either based in ‘real’ differences reflected in race and gender— the racialist explanation, or they are market failures that call all of capitalist distribution into question. As with slavery, a market ‘distortion’ of this sort affects distribution more broadly. But more fundamentally, if capitalism doesn’t ‘work’ regarding race and gender, where does the confidence come from that it works anywhere? Social divisions exist along an infinite number of axes.

There are complications with blanket assertions that this neoliberal frame is incoherent. Differences in ‘human capital’ function to explain individual differences in economic outcomes in theory, but not systemic differences, e.g. by race or gender, unless race or gender determine the process of acquiring human capital. In the latter case, markets perpetuate the cycle of systemic economic exclusion while delivering economic outcomes that are as they should be (in neoliberal theory). Ironically, neoliberal theories of racism like white fragility specifically reject the redistribution of political and economic power needed to break this cycle because doing do would be ‘interference’ in markets. Equality of opportunity is less plausible than it was for this very reason.

Five decades of neoliberalism produced the conditions that are now the target of nationwide protests. The left program put forward in the Democratic primary was the last, best hope for solving what ails us. The political kneecapping carried out by radical centrists was to keep capital in the middle of all large public initiatives. The elected political leadership exists to maintain this relationship no matter how many people have their lives destroyed or die from their efforts. The upcoming election is an effort to lay this political dysfunction at our feet. Don’t fall for it.

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USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany

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Hamburg, Germany

With this week’s commemorations of the US atomic massacres at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there will be countless hours spent on speeches, sermons, hymns, and warnings; tons of ink spilled in op/eds, editorials and articles. All will solemnly promote the need to pursue a world without nuclear weapons. However, many of the same voices will negate their own words by advocating a wait-and-see, what-about-the-other-guy, business-as-usual support of “deterrence.” (Never mind that Navy Secretary, Cold War hawk and Reagan presidential advisor Paul Nitze publicly demolished the rationale for deterrence 21 years ago, and that the International Committee of the Red Cross has since then declared that the direct medical effects of nuclear war are so vast and overwhelming that they cannot be ameliorated.)

One man who’s free of this hypocrisy is Dennis DuVall — a US citizen and resident of Radeberg, Germany, near Nuremberg — who will continue his genuine and consistent opposition to nuclear weapons on August 4, 2020, as a defendant in the dock at Justice Court in Koblenz, Germany.

DuVall, 78, is a US Air Force Veteran of the US War in Vietnam and a longtime member of Veterans for Peace. Last May 11 he was convicted by a lower court of trespassing and property damage at the German airbase Büchel — where about 20 US Air Force hydrogen bombs are maintained and readied for use — and has appealed to the court in Koblenz. Because he has promised the German court authorities he will not pay a fine, DuVall if he is again convicted could be jailed.

DuVall’s court case stems from the much-publicized “go-in” action of July 15, 2018, when 18 people in five groups clipped through the base’s old chain-link fence in five separate places, in broad daylight, and clamored over razor wire to get inside. The nonviolent action was part of the long-running campaign in Germany that demands removal of the remaining US nuclear weapons, cancellation of the US bombs’ planned replacement, and German government ratification of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“Büchel protesters are doing what the nuclear weapons states should have been doing for the last 50 years. We are honoring the words and spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in stimulating ‘good faith’ debate of nuclear weapons leading to nuclear disarmament,” DuVall says in a statement he prepared for court. DuVall is one of at least 93 protesters who currently face charges for “go-in” protests over the last four years at the German/NATO nuclear weapons base.

Büchel protesters contend the 20 US B61 hydrogen bombs (along with the US H-bombs in Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Turkey), violate the two principle articles of the NPT, as well as other binding international humanitarian laws, and that their minor disruptions are justified acts of crime prevention. “Trespassing and damage to a fence are minor offenses that are trivial compared to the threat of nuclear annihilation readied inside the bunkers at Büchel AFB,” DuVall’s court statement says.

DuVall has said he “will refuse to pay a fine for his nonviolent civil resistance,” and that he “expects to be incarcerated ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs.’”

Photo: Denis Duvall is at left in photo wearing mask, during the July 16, 2020 blockade of Büchel air base’s main gate. Photo by John LaForge.

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Clyburn’s Complaint

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Photograph Source: Donald Baker – Public Domain

For the most part, when people use words like “sick” or “demented” or “insane” in political contexts, they are speaking metaphorically or for rhetorical effect. Sometimes, however, these and related words actually do denote phenomena of clinical interest.

The latest edition of the DSM, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. was published in 2013, when a prime example, relevant to the American political scene nowadays, was still in its infancy. That was one reason why it didn’t make it into the list of official diagnoses.

It likely never will — because psychiatrists and psychologists feel obliged to be, or seem to be, above politics as they discharge their professional duties. However, a mental disorder is precisely what it is.

Democrats suffer from it most, but it is a bipartisan affliction. It “presents” by rendering persons unable to think clearly or even sensibly about Vladimir Putin, an awful political figure no doubt, but one no worse than many others around the world and also, for that matter, on “both sides of the aisle.”

Now as a rank amateur in these matters, as far removed from the clinical priesthood as can be, who finds it difficult even to think about most members of the political class without becoming facetious and lapsing into sarcasm, my opinions on clinical matters that bear on real world politics should be taken with many grains of salt.

Nevertheless, for reasons I will presently explain, I would propose not only that this malady receive official recognition, but also that it be called “Clyburn’s Complaint” — in honor (or dishonor?) of House Majority Whip, James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina

***

First, some perspective.

Donald Trump is defeating himself – so thoroughly that, no matter how much skullduggery he and his minions contrive, he cannot possibly win in 2020, as he did in 2016. He was hard at it from Day One, long before the covid-19 pandemic struck, and he has upped the pace substantially in the past few weeks.

Nevertheless, by none too subtly disparaging and sometimes outright harming black and brown people, Muslims, women, and liberals, he still has a “base” that some observers have likened to a cult.

Within its ambit, no one seems to care that Trump is a vile ignoramus bereft of any moral compass whatsoever, or that he has turned the once great Land of the Free and Home of the Brave into a pitied laughing-stock around the world.

The Trump base has never consisted of more than some forty percent of the electorate. Therefore, in a political regime that was (small-d) democratic enough for anything like majority rule to prevail, he would never have been elected in the first place and would certainly not be reelected for a second term.

But we Americans are encumbered by electoral institutions that are not democratic enough even for that.

Worse, we live in the grip of a de facto duopoly party system in which two “bourgeois” parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, cut from the same capitalist cloth, are and long have been at each other’s throats over cultural matters and other issues peripheral to the usual bases of political contestation.

Therefore, while it was overwhelmingly likely in the pre-pandemic days, that Trump would lose this November, it was not a sure thing – not with Democrats for opponents.

Robert Frost famously said that “a liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.” That certainly goes for all but the most progressive and therefore marginalized Democrats It is why Democrats are born to lose, and always would lose without a substantial assist from the other party.

But times are changing.

Despite the best efforts of Democratic Party leaders, donors, and media flacks, the party is growing a new left wing, the old one having been wounded and left to die by the Clintons and others of their ilk.

More important for the months ahead, Trump’s monumental ineptitude in the face of the pandemic he has done so much to exacerbate is beginning to register in “the hearts and minds” of potential Trump voters.

So is the catastrophic economic crisis that the pandemic and Trump’s reaction to it has precipitated.

After decades of neoliberal attacks on egalitarian fiscal policies, organized labor, and social spending beneficial to ninety percent or more of the population, it was a miracle that the economy had not already crashed months or even years ago.

It had not, however, mainly because tax cuts for corporations and the hyper-rich, and reckless relaxations of social and ecologically vital regulations gave the economy a sugar-high that was taking an inordinately long time to pass.

But the covid-19 pandemic has made the fault lines in this latest phase of the class struggle so plainly visible that only the densest and most benighted Trump supporters could now fail to see how profoundly snookered they had been.

But, of course, there are still plenty of terminally dense and benighted Trump supporters out and about, and with money pouring into rightwing propaganda outlets, they may not all disappear in the next three months.

Now is therefore not a time to stop worrying altogether, but it is certainly a time to be more than cautiously, perhaps even a little bit rashly, optimistic.

It is no secret that black and brown people, especially those hailing from south of the border, are suffering most. But so too are long in the tooth white men without college degrees, along with others in the so-called Trump demographic. And, unlike as recently as just a few weeks ago, those who live in rural areas in Republican-led states are no safer than anyone else.

Conman Trump is more than willing to put his marks, their families, their friends, and their neighbors in mortal jeopardy. He likes them well enough, of course, when they come to his rallies, but he is happy to treat them as collateral damage whenever he the need arises. He will do anything to secure a second term.

For what it’s worth, I would blame his fixation on being reelected, at least in part, on clinically diagnosable delusions of grandeur. There is also another reason too that must also be factored in: once he is out of the White House, he could well be looking at criminal prosecutions for any of a zillion of plainly actionable offenses. And while the man is plainly not all there upstairs, he would get nowhere pleading insanity and throwing himself on the mercy of the court.

Bush-Cheney era war criminals could count on Barack Obama and Eric Holder to let them off scot-free. This time, it will be a lot harder for a Democratic president to do anything of the sort; and, beyond that, there is also, always, New York state.

Therefore, even Joe Biden, a doddering doofus well past his prime, a man who was seldom right about anything in all his many years in public life, should be able to glide to victory this November. Thanks to Trump as well, the Trump Party, formerly known as the GOP, should easily lose control of the Senate too.

Therefore, the more they make the election about Trump, and the less about Biden, the better Democrats will do.

Unfortunately, it seems that Democrats and their pundits think otherwise. But Trump’s presidency has been so godawful that, this time around, even they will have a hard time replicating the fiasco of four years ago.

Who would have thought that anti-Trump Republicans, former Bush and Romney supporters, would be so much smarter than the leading lights of the lesser evil party! But there it is. Anyone who doubts that this is the case should compare the ads produced by the Lincoln Project, by far the best thing to come along in this presidential contest so far, to the jibber-jabber on MSNBC.

What a loser Trump is! Even in comparison to other real estate machers, casino magnates, reality TV personalities, and hucksters of fraudulent commercial ventures, he is plainly second- or third-rate.

He may not even be the most loathsome autocrat in charge of a nominally democratic country on the world stage today, as citizens of the Philippines, Brazil, Turkey, Hungary, and elsewhere could well attest. But as a president of a country with the largest economy and the most lethal military in the world, he is a disaster of unspeakable dimensions.

It is not for nothing that his niece has called him “the most dangerous man in the world”; and, in view of the power he wields thanks to the office he holds, it would even be fair to say, as Noam Chomsky has, that he is the most dangerous man in the history of the world.

In the face of that, it seems almost churlish to complain about the pathological obsessions of leading Democrats. But, once Trump and his underlings are gone, unless those Democrats too are called to account, we could well find ourselves back where we were four years ago, with someone more capable than Trump, and therefore more dangerous, waiting to carry on where his predecessor left off.

***

Cold Wars are godsends for ruling classes.

The Great Fear of our own titans of industry, finance, and commerce at the end of World War II was that without wartime spending, Depression conditions would resume. And so, along with Stalin and his successors, acting for self-interested reasons of their own, they figured out how they could harvest the benefits of war, without paying all the costs. They got a Cold War going, and kept it going for more than forty years.

During this time, there were proxy hot wars, of course – mainly, but not only, in Korea and Vietnam – and there were times when tensions ran dangerously high. However, thanks mainly to incredibly good luck, organized human life survived.

Because “Red China” was never quite the Soviet satellite it was made out to be in the fifties, and because it became impossible to maintain that fiction for long, the geopolitical situation became complicated as the Cold War wore on. Nevertheless, its basic contours never changed.

The end of the Communism – or, in the Chinese case, its radical transformation into a kind of managed capitalism — and then the demise of the Soviet Union itself, therefore posed a challenge to the principal beneficiaries of the post-war capitalist order that they were never quite able adequately to address. Even so, they managed somehow to muddle through.

For a while, the stewards of the old regime made do with “end of history” delusions, and with visions of a beneficent pax Americana.

When that was beginning to seem too hollow to last, blowback from Western, mainly American, predations in the historically Muslim world provided them with pretexts for greater and lesser, but always low grade, perpetual wars. By taking full advantage, they were able to transform America in ways that made everything worse for everybody except themselves.

Even so, from a ruling class perspective, there really was no satisfactory substitute for the Cold War that came to an end after 1989 and 1991.

Indeed, over the past seventy-five years, with only two impermanent interruptions – during World War II and then for the two decades or so that Russia, having taken a capitalist turn, was, for all practical purposes, reduced to a basket case — we Americans, along with many others around the world, grew up on Cold War nostrums and certainties. It is as if we imbibed them with our mothers’ milk.

In Too Much and Never Enough, her account of the ways that her family, her grandfather especially, created the monster that Donald Trump became, Trump’s niece, Mary, a trained psychologist, provides a great deal of information and insight into the relationship that obtained between her uncle and his mother. There were dysfunctionalities aplenty.

Could these account for Trump’s “Putinophelia”—in other words, his apparent immunity from Clyburn’s Complaint? The facetious answer would be: yes. As an amateur, thoroughly uncredentialed, psychiatrist, I stand by that answer, but, at the same time, I would also note that there are more straightforwardly pecuniary explanations, some of which may become clearer if and when the public finally gets to see the tax returns Trump refuses to make public.

Whatever the reasons, one of the very few things that one used to be able to say in Trump’s favor is that, with respect to Russia, he wanted to make “deals,” not wars. For a while, it could even seem that, unlike Hillary Clinton and the liberal imperialist advisors around her, he was not a Cold War revivalist at all.

But now that his electoral fortunes are sinking, this is no longer the case. For whatever reason, Trump is still there for his pal Vlad, but he is as ardent a Cold Warrior as anybody on the Democratic side, as ardent even as Clyburn himself. It is just that he wants China, not Russia, to play the enemy role.

Thus, within the duopoly fold, we have yet another far-reaching partisan divide. Cold War revivalists on the Democratic side target Russia, Trump Party Cold War revivalists target China instead.

Thus, they are the more batshit crazy of the two. After all, if the idea is to rev up a Cold War for prosperity’s sake, why make the enemy a country with a massive economy upon which America’s prosperity thoroughly depends?

There is the race factor, of course. Many non-white, non-Christian peoples live within Russia’s borders, but, in the minds of Trump and his followers, Russia is a great white nation. China, on the other hand, is a “yellow peril.”

This might explain why, along with Democratic governors and mayors, Trump blames the Chinese for the covid-19 pandemic; why he calls covid-19 “the Chinese virus.”

But still, if the idea is to launch a practicable Cold War capable of keeping an overripe capitalist economy going, you don’t do it in a way that will bring that economy to ruin. This is not a subtle or complicated point; even Trump’s “very big brain” should be capable of comprehending it.

Hardcore sufferers of Clyburn’s Complaint are harder to set right. For them, economic analyses and geopolitical considerations are irrelevant; the therapy they need would have to go a lot deeper than that. They need something more like psychoanalysis than philosophical or political analysis.

Needless to say, Clyburn is hardly the most afflicted of the lot. On either of the two “liberal” cable networks at virtually any time of the day or night, chances are that someone as bad or worse will be going on about Russia just as passionately, indeed just as obsessively.

But, for as long as there has been opposition to Clintonian politics within the Democratic Party’s ambit, Clyburn has been hard at work quashing it for the benefit of his party’s establishment.

He is tailor made for the role: a civil-rights “icon,” with a sophisticated political machine, from South Carolina, a state that, though staunchly red (in the CNN-MSNBC sense), nowadays plays an inordinately important role in selecting the Democratic nominee, thanks to the date of its primary and the fact that, in that still retrograde, still essentially segregated, Southern state, most Democrats are African American.

Clyburn worked tirelessly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Biden, Pelosi and the whole motley, Wall Street friendly, corporate crew this year – always to the detriment of the insurgency that, in both election years, grew up in and around the campaign of Bernie Sanders.

In short, he epitomizes the syndrome; hence, the appropriateness of its name.

Like most other Democratic politicians and liberal pundits who have lately taken to pontificating on the topic, Clyburn is a tad weak on the history of intra-war European politics. He is therefore prone to blowing out ahistorical howlers when the topic arises.

But how could he, or anyone not in the disabling grip of some diagnosable lunacy, come up with the one he let loose on August 2 in an interview on CNN with Dana Bash, in which he likened Donald Trump to Mussolini and Vladimir Putin to Hitler?

That is not just a case of a run-of-the-mill politician’s historical illiteracy; it is a genuinely demented utterance.

On the Trump-Mussolini connection, he could be forgiven; allowing for all the many differences, superficial similarities do abound, and he has ample company.

But Putin and Hitler?

As I have already made plain, Putin is no saint; quite to the contrary. It may even be the case that, in many respects, his instincts are as illiberal as Trump’s or as those of any of the other “strongmen” – Duterte, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Orbán, and so on – that Trump admires.

But on the scale of world leaders, he is not all that bad – especially on matters pertaining to the rights of nation states, and the requirements of international law. In these respect and many others, he is no worse than his American counterparts – not just in the Trump era, but, in the Western hemisphere, going back to the early days of the republic; in east Asia and the Pacific to the late nineteenth century; and in Europe, Africa, and southern and south-east Asia since the end of the Second World War.

Perhaps he did “meddle” in the 2016 election, though the evidence is still unclear, and, in any case, nobody claims that his meddling was in any significant way consequential.

On the other hand, the United States has meddled as much as it could in Soviet affairs and in the Soviet sphere of influence from the moment the Soviet Union was formed. It meddled assiduously in the Soviet “satellites” established after World War II, and then, after 1989, in the former Soviet satellites. It has meddled and continues to meddle in the affairs of former Soviet republics since even before the Soviet Union imploded; Ukraine is just the most blatant example.

Compared to every American president since Harry Truman, Putin is, if anything, a hands-off guy in the meddling department. And the machinations he undertakes are almost always entirely of a defensive nature.

None of this puts him on the side of the angels, but neither does it make him in any relevant way like Hitler.

It bears mention too that before Russophobia reemerged as a chronic Democratic Party disease, partly in consequence of Russian reactions to blatant American meddling in Ukraine, Putin saved Obama from many a misstep in Syria and throughout the Middle East.

Had he not, we might long ago have had troops committed to fighting in Syria and the never-ending Iraq war might well have taken a turn for the worse.

The Clinton State Department’s clueless meddling into situations arising out of the Arab Spring created all kinds of problems throughout the region. The consequences of many of them are still very much with us. They would be even more damaging than they are, but for the generally salutary role Russian diplomacy has played.

Again, all things considered, Putin is a bad guy for sure. But a Hitler?

That a Democrat could say that, and actually be praised for it, only attests to the urgency of the need, after Trump goes, to smash the actually existing Democratic Party, to transform it even more radically than the insurgencies Clyburn inveighed against envisioned.

Hitler’s name has, for the past eight decades, been virtually synonymous with evil itself. And yet, Clyburn likens Putin to him? In what universe? Certainly none of more than clinical interest.

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Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19

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Image Source: UK Government – Public Domain

Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959), a British economist, is well known for his contributions to welfare economics. One of the most prolific writers of his time, Pigou wrote over a dozen books and more than 100 articles and pamphlets dealing with both theoretical and practical aspects of welfare economics. His writings cover a wide range of human welfare issues from unemployment to housing to taxation.

Some of his most famous books include Wealth and Welfare (1912), The Economics of Welfare (1920), A Capital Levy and a Levy on War Wealth (1920), The Political Economy of War (1921), and The Theory of Unemployment (1933).

The Pigouvian Taxes

In the 1920s, Pigou gave an analytical solution to the concept of externalities that occur when external costs and benefits spill over to third parties. He advocated a tax on any market activity that creates negative externality (spillover costs to third parties). A typical example of a negative externality is pollution. A variety of Pigouvian taxes are prevalent today to address negative externalities. Carbon taxes on fossil fuels are an excellent example of a Pigovian tax. Similarly, taxes on tobacco, sugary drinks, and plastic bags are imposed to reduce consumption and to create a more socially optimal outcome.

On the other hand, a positive externality occurs when benefits spill over to third parties. Pigou advocated that governments should encourage positive externalities by subsidizing goods and services (such as education and health) that generate spillover benefits. In sum, the Pigouvian taxes and subsidies are aimed at maximizing economic welfare.

A Levy on Capital

The four years of the First World War (1914-18) left Britain mired in debt. By the end of the war, Britain’s national debt stood at £7.1 billion, and the interest payments alone were equal to nearly one-third of government revenue. In 1920, Britain’s debt-to-GDP ratio was five times as large as it was in 1914. The key reason behind deteriorating public finance was heavy reliance by the British government on borrowings (rather than taxation) to finance wartime expenditure. The bulk of borrowings were in the form of floating debt and long-term loans. Taxes only contributed to just one-fourth of total wartime expenditure.

Right from the beginning of World War I, Pigou extensively contributed to domestic policy discussions on managing the fiscal burden of war finances. One of Pigou’s key recommendations was a one-time capital levy of 25 percent on the owners of capital or other wealth to reduce Britain’s fiscal burden. He elaborated on this idea at great length in several publications, including his two books (A Capital Levy and a Levy on War Wealth and The Political Economy of War).

The idea of a one-time capital levy to settle the war debt received broad political support in Britain after the end of the war. The proposal was endorsed by the Labour Party, Trade Union Congress, and others. The Labour Party fought the 1924 election on the platform of the capital levy.

Pigou’s capital levy proposal was severely criticized over the concerns related to administrative costs, disincentives for savings, and an exodus of capital from Britain. In response to such concerns, Pigou gave a point-by-point rebuttal and forcefully argued that a one-time capital levy would not affect the total amount of capital but would only transfer income and wealth from rich individuals to others via taxation. In his opinion, a one-time capital levy is a much better option than facing the prospect of at least five decades of heavy taxation. However, the Treasury rejected the levy proposal on the grounds that it would depress asset prices.

Taxing the Rich

Pigou called for a more progressive tax system in Britain. He was unequivocally in favor of imposing higher tax rates on the rich, albeit temporarily. In his view, higher taxes on the rich were the best way to raise financial resources and should be “levied on an exceptional occasion for the purpose of financing an unprecedented war.” He contended that just like stronger men are needed to fight the battle, the economically stronger should also bear the extra tax burden.

He firmly believed that the British government had “committed a serious mistake in taxing so little and borrowing so much” to finance wartime expenditure. He was against indiscriminate government borrowing as it would necessitate higher taxes on the shoulders of poor people. Pigou wanted to shift the tax burden to those with the broadest shoulders. He explained that taxing the wealthy individuals would be the best option to reduce the war debt at once as the government cannot generate substantial additional revenue by taxing the poor.

In the words of Pigou: “In the present cataclysmic and exceptional war, the very rich and the rich ought to bear a proportion of the objective burden very much larger than that [in peacetime]. There is one way, and one way only, in which this result can be brought about. The ratio in which the war is financed with money borrowed from people with large incomes should be much diminished: and the ratio in which it is financed with money collected from them under some form of progressive taxation should be much increased.”

Pigou’s proposals for a capital levy and higher taxes on the wealthy individuals need to be revisited in the light of triple crises of coronavirus: a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a financial crisis.

Covid-19: An Existential Threat

Many world leaders have described the Covid-19 pandemic as the greatest threat faced by their countries since World War II. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is “the most challenging crisis we have faced since World War II” and “it has an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.” In India, some state governments (including Delhi and Karnataka) have set up dedicated ‘Covid-19 War Rooms’ to closely monitor and manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pundits have often used the war metaphor to explain the gravity of the health pandemic and its associated economic challenges. Even though the comparisons of coronavirus pandemic to war have inherent limitations, it is not hard to imagine that the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide could be far greater than the damage caused by World War II.

If not a war, Covid-19 is undoubtedly a public health emergency that has brought the global economy to a standstill and pushed the world into a recession that would be much worse than the 2008 global financial crisis.

Bigger Economic Challenges Lie Ahead

In many important ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed the existing fault lines in societies and economies around the world. Presently, we are witnessing only the beginning of social and economic impacts. More significant social and economic challenges lie ahead, especially for the poor and developing countries.

There are growing fears that the Covid-19-induced recession may last longer than initially anticipated – potentially into 2021 and even beyond. Although it is difficult to predict the shape of economic recovery, most economists foresee a ‘U’ or ‘W’ shaped economic recovery, rather than a ‘V’ shaped.

While it is too early to comprehend the full impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the global poverty levels, the World Bank has recently estimated that the crisis could potentially push 71 million to 100 million into extreme poverty. In particular, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa regions would witness a substantial increase in the number of poor people.

The International Labour Organization has estimated that nearly 400 million full-time jobs (based on a 48-hour working week) were lost in the second quarter of 2020, and the labor market recovery will remain uncertain and incomplete during the second half of 2020. Needless to add, the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the UN are under threat from the coronavirus pandemic.

The governments around the globe are struggling with a “scissors effect” of decreasing tax revenues due to sudden stop in economic activity and rising expenditure due to a higher demand for health and social protection in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Apart from strengthening public health infrastructure, there have been renewed demands across countries for ensuring basic minimum income for the poor and most vulnerable households.

To mitigate the economic catastrophe, governments need plenty of money. Now the moot question is: Where will the money come from? A country may choose to borrow money from official or private lenders, but it would entail a higher debt burden on future generations. Another option is to print money and spend it, albeit with some constraints. Another option is to introduce a wealth tax or impose higher taxes on the rich. As discussed in Briefing Paper # 37, governments could raise substantial revenues in a fair and efficient manner by introducing wealth taxes on wealthy individuals to meet Covid-19-related costs, without placing additional burdens on future generations.

Covid-19 Crisis: An Opportune Time for a Wealth Tax

Contrary to popular perception, wealth taxes are not new. Many countries (from India to South Africa to Canada) levied a variety of wealth taxes in the past. With the advent of neoliberal economic policies in the 1990s, wealth taxes went out of fashion. Some European countries (Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium) still enforce a wealth tax.

Wealth taxes could be applied to a variety of assets, including cash, bank deposits, stocks, real estate, personal cars, etc. Wealth taxes could be levied sporadically (in the form of a capital levy) or an annual or regular basis. They could be levied on an individual’s wealth as well as on a transfer of wealth.

The imposition of a wealth tax on wealthy individuals becomes even more critical in the present time as the wealth of global billionaires is rapidly increasing since the onset of Covid-19. Amid the pandemic, the net worth of the world’s leading billionaires spiked while millions of poor people across the globe lost their jobs and livelihoods.

According to a recent report by the Institute of Policy Studies, US billionaires saw their total wealth surged by over $755 billion between March 18 and July 23, 2020, while over 52.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits during the same period. Somewhat similar trends could also be seen across countries. In India, for instance, Mukesh Ambani added $15.5 billion (Rs 1.16 lakh crore) to his fortune in July alone following a series of capital raising deals with global investment and technology firms. As per the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Ambani is the fifth-wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $78.9 billion as of July 30, 2020. In contrast, the pandemic could push 260 million Indians into poverty, according to the estimates by the United Nations and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative.

The Revenue Potential

So what could be the revenue-generating potential of a capital levy in the US? Ian Kumekawa has estimated in a back-of-the-envelope exercise that a 5 percent levy on the US’s richest 1 percent could raise $1tn and an additional 5 percent levy on the wealthiest 0.1 percent could furnish half a trillion more, thereby covering half of the US’s pandemic fiscal stimulus. If carefully designed and implemented, a one-time levy or a continued wealth tax could mobilize a portion of funds needed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in other countries too.

Although Pigou had proposed the wealth tax as a one-time levy to pay off the national debt, the idea of a continued wealth tax on super-wealthy is gaining traction in Latin America. In April 2020, Peru announced a solidarity tax on wealthy Peruvians with an objective that they should shoulder a larger share of the economic burden of the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar wealth taxes have also been endorsed by opposition candidates and parties in Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador to fill the massive fiscal holes created by the pandemic.

In the US, even before Covid-19, the Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders advocated wealth taxes to increase tax revenues and to reduce inequality.

The unprecedented nature of the Covid-19 pandemic offers a new window of opportunity to governments to introduce wealth taxes on wealthy sections of society. Specifically targeted only at wealthy individuals, wealth taxes (in myriad forms) need immediate consideration by policymakers to mobilize the resources required to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again

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Hubert Humphrey campaigning for President in 1968. Photo Source: Kheel Center – Flickr: Louis Stulberg – CC BY 2.0

“In our countercultural bubble, we assumed everyone watching the convention shared our feelings of revolt, but the spectacle in Chicago, as history showed us, had an unintended effect. It was the ‘law-and-order’ [Richard] Nixon who got elected.”

This statement comes from David Ansen in “First Look at Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Vanity Fair, July 22, 2020). It reminds us that Sorkin’s new movie about the 1968 Democratic Convention will provoke previews and reviews that mangle the history of that year.

Every four years since 1968, the same cautionary tale is retold: If the Vietnam War protesters had been well-behaved at the Chicago Democratic Convention and campaigned for Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, he would have defeated Richard Nixon and ended the war. Therefore, the peace movement shares the blame for millions of casualties in the last six and a half years of the war.

The only problem with this accusation is it does not make sense.

The flaw is in the story’s premise: that the election was so tight Humphrey would have won with a little more support.

Nixon and Humphrey were less than one percent apart in the popular vote. That sounds close, except that the national popular vote has nothing to do with who wins presidential elections. The electoral college picks presidents, and Nixon won 301 electoral votes to Humphrey’s 191. Not at all close.

After the election someone calculated that with a shift in just x-thousand votes in this state, and y-thousand in another state, and so on, the 1968 electoral margin would have disappeared. They did not take the next step, which would have been to calculate the actual probability of all these what-ifs happening at once and no counteracting changes happening at all. They would have found the chances to be miniscule.

Meanwhile, why did Richard Nixon win? Many historians point to his invention of a diabolical “Southern Strategy,” which employed racially charged issues such as law and order and welfare fraud to win racist votes in the eleven Confederate states.

This story is wrong, too. While Nixon used racism, of course, he did not invent the Southern Strategy. Southern slaveholders invented it at the founding of the republic, and it has become a regular feature of American politics.

For example, the former Confederate states were part of the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition. Southern support did not come for free. Franklin Roosevelt’s programs were confined in what historian Ira Katznelson has called the “southern cage.” That is why the Social Security Act did not apply to agricultural and domestic workers, the only jobs many African Americans in the south could get. This was FDR’s Southern Strategy.

In 1980, after the Republican National Convention, nominee Ronald Reagan chose to begin his campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi. This small county is known for only one thing, the 1964 Ku Klux Klan murder of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. It was one of the worst atrocities of the civil rights era. When Reagan told the crowd, “I believe in states’ rights,” everyone knew what he meant. That was his 1980 Southern Strategy.

On July 26 of this year, Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he thought slavery was a “necessary evil.” Why? He was getting an early start on his 2024 Southern Strategy.

The outcome of the 1968 election had been decided four years earlier. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Congress realigned the American political parties. They kicked the Confederacy out of the New Deal coalition by passing the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and Medicaid in 1964 and 1965.

The southern states had nowhere to go except the Republican Party, which is what they proceeded to do. In 1968, Democrat Humphrey won only one of the eleven Confederate states. The rest split between Nixon and third-party candidate George Wallace, a former Alabama governor and a raw segregationist. Polls showed if Wallace had not run, his votes would have gone to Nixon by a two-to-one margin. Nixon’s electoral vote margin over Humphrey would have been even larger than it was.

Except when Jimmy Carter won one term due to the Watergate scandal. Republicans owned the White House for the next twenty-four years. And since 1964, no Democratic presidential candidate has won the majority of white votes in the South or nationwide.

Why does this history make a difference today?

Every landmark advance for freedom in this country can be credited to a social movement. This no mystery. Only social movements have enough energy to carry out such work.

The three most powerful social movements in U.S. history were centered on the 1860s, 1930s, and 1960s. No one knows yet whether the 2020 street uprisings will be the beginning of another movement of the same magnitude. If so, it will have been the most consequential development of 2020.

This frightens those with a personal stake in the status quo. The last thing they want is to face a social movement. That’s why they malign or erase the history of earlier movements, as in the two examples about the peace movement and the Southern Strategy.

First, the ridiculous slander that the peace movement doubled the length of the Vietnam War comes up every four years for a reason. It leads to this advice: “Don’t bungle things like we did in 1968. Don’t waste time with independent movements. And don’t think for yourself. Just do what the Democratic Party tells you to do.”

Second, as we saw, the proximate cause of the 1968 party realignment was not Nixon, it was Johnson and the 1964-1965 Congress. The ultimate cause, however, was the civil rights movement. It had acquired an unstoppable momentum over the ten years since Emmet Till’s lynching in 1955. The movement had made civil rights a domestic crisis and a national disgrace around the world. It made the realignment unavoidable. Attributing the outcome of the 1968 election to “Nixon’s Southern Strategy” is an attempt to make the civil rights movement disappear from our history.

The post Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet

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Kashmir Region – Public Domain

Jammu and Kashmir, widely referred to as Kashmir, has had many designations since India and Pakistan were partitioned by Britain and gained their respective independence from the Empire: a Princely State, a State, a Union Territory. The 86,000 mile, Muslim-majority region sits in the Himalayas on the border with China. It is of strategic significance to both India and Pakistan, primarily because of the Siachen Glacier which brings freshwater the drought-ridden nations. India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons: armaments of such destruction that even a “minor” regional war would cause more than a decade of global nuclear winter.

Both countries have already fought several times over Kashmir. With India going down the route of Hindu fanaticism and Pakistan gripped by Islamism, both nations compound their irrationalities with a different form of religious extremism exported from the West, namely neoliberal economics. The chances of global survival diminish. The question is what we in the West can do to pressure our governments to de-escalate the conflict and cease exacerbating it.

JAMMU AND KASHMIR

The princely state of Kashmir was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja, Hari Singh. Following independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistani fighters invaded Kashmir. Singh signed the Instrument of Accession to India, igniting war between India and Pakistan, which lasted for two years. Two-thirds of Kashmir fell under Indian control. Both states violated UN Security Council Resolution 47: India refused to hold an election, which would have allowed the Muslim-majority population to decide their future, and Pakistan never withdrew its troops. India subsequently opposed UN involvement in the dispute.

In 1965, Pakistan infiltrated troops into the Indian zones in an apparent effort to incite a counter-India insurgency. Around 6,000 people were killed during the 17-day Indian counter-offensive. The war ended with the so-called Line of Control, created by the Simla Agreement of 1972, which followed another conflict in Kashmir and basically existed until India’s annexation of Kashmir in 2019. Following a growing independence movement among Kashmiris, India passed the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978, which led to the disappearances of around 8,000 Kashmiris and the indefinite detention of hundreds more.

In a repeat of 1965, India tried to seize the high ground of Kargil in 1999. A few years later, two Kashmiri groups based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, attacked the Indian Parliament, nearly triggering war. A so-called Composite Dialogue was established, seeking to bring the more moderate independence groups into negotiations. This led to a ceasefire.

In 2007, a bilateral peace plan was nearly finalized, but collapsed due to Pakistan’s internal problems. Pro-independence demonstrations ended in violence in 2010. Tensions rose again in 2016, with India’s murder of Burhan Wani, the leader of the group Hizbul Mujahedin. Hundreds were detained and dozens killed, following more protests. In 2017, the Indian government declared its lack of interest in peace talks as curfews were imposed. However, India employed the ex-intelligence officer, intelligence official, Dineshwar Sharma, to seek a consensus for peace. This was scuppered by Pakistan’s decision to release from house arrest, Hafiz Saaed of Lashkar-e-Taiba.

In 2019, India bombed Pakistan in retaliation for an SUV attack in Kashmir, attributed to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad. In August, India’s ultra-Hindu nationalist BJP party revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, effectively ending Jammu and Kashmir’s formal autonomy and leading to its de facto annexation.

REPONSES

How are Britain and the U.S. responding? In 2017, the UK exported £370m-worth of military equipment to India, including components for aerial targeting equipment, RADAR, technology for military space craft, viruses (yes, viruses), and nuclear detection equipment and graphite; an element used in nuclear weapons production. In the same year, the UK exported £14m-worth of military equipment to Pakistan, including aerial targeting equipment and deuterium compounds, which can also be used in nuclear reactors. After the declaration of ceasefire in 2018, the UK continued to feed the war machine. In that year, it exported £164m-worth of similar military equipment to India and £19m-worth to Pakistan.

India has had the atomic bomb since 1974, when it conducted an underground test (“Smiling Buddha”). In1998, India began testing again, allegedly prompting Pakistan to test and formally declare possession. Like Israel, neither country is party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. During the 1980s, the U.S. Reagan administration allowed Pakistan’s dictator Zia ul-Haq to develop nuclear weapons, partly in exchange for using Pakistan as a base to recruit and transport anti-Soviet Mujahiddeen, later rebranded “al-Qaeda” by the CIA. In 2006, the U.S. lifted sanctions on India, enabling it to import nuclear materials.

In July, shortly before India’s unilateral annexation, Trump told India’s PM Modi that the U.S. would be willing to act as a moderator between the two states over Kashmir. This gave Modi leverage to annex: the logic being that India seizes the main prize and “negotiates” smaller ones. This tactic is modelled on Israel’s theft of Palestine and its sham “peace process.” Indeed, these events occurred around the time that Israeli PM Netanyahu was greenlighted by Trump to formally annex parts of Palestine. India is mimicking Israel in other ways. Just as Israel holds 1.8m Gazans hostage behind a wall, India is keeping Bangladeshis locked into their poverty by constructing a “security fence” on the border. Just as Israel cries “anti-Semitism” whenever pressure is put upon it to treat Palestinians with minimal decency, BJP apologists accuse Modi opponents of “Hinduphobia.”

As Britain’s Lord Desai signed a letter denouncing alleged anti-Semitism within the UK Labour Party under the lefty leader and anti-occupation activist, Jeremy Corbyn, Desai appeared on television in praise of India’s lockdown Kashmir. Labour’s new leader, Keir Starmer, seems to be to the left of the party on social issues (at the moment), thanks to pressure from the grassroots. But Starmer is a Blarite in his approach to foreign policy. A lawyer and former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Sir Keir said: “Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully.”

CONCLUSION

Every few years, scientists model nuclear winter. Recently, climatologists modelled “the potential effects” of nuclear powers detonating “50 Hiroshima-size bombs—less than 1 percent of the estimated world arsenal.” They found that at least five million tons of soot would block out the Sun for fifteen years and reduce global crop production by 11 percent. In 2015, Pakistan declared that it had developed tactical nukes, which are usually of a small yield and therefore more dangerous because they increase the likelihood of being used. India’s nukes are more advanced and capable of being delivered from sea, on land, and dropped from the air.

Nearly three decades ago, Hindus razed a mosque in Ayodhya, India, said to have been built on the site of the Hindu god, Ram. Today, Modi is back at the site to inaugurate the construction of a Hindu temple. Zafaryab Jilani, General Secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, says: “It is against the letter and spirit of India’s secular constitution for the prime minister in his official capacity to attend such a religious event.”

With these underlying cultural tensions creating a psychology of illogicality, a war sparked in Kashmir over, for instance, access to water from the Siachen Glacier, could prove fatal for us all. We will have ourselves to blame, in part, for not pressuring our leaders to forge peace: if there’s anyone left to blame after the atoms are split.

 

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Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Although it gives me no pleasure to report this, while growing up in the shady suburban confines of Southern California, in the Sixties, I probably knew half a dozen guys who—other than being middle or lower middle-class rather wealthy, and shorter rather than taller—were otherwise exactly like President Trump.

I’m also certain that I never met anyone quite as polished as Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama. In truth, I have difficulty imagining any of these grown men as teenagers whom I would have hung around with (or who would’ve hung around with me).

Richard Nixon as a 14-year old wearing a dark blue suit? Please. These men were self-confident, ambitious, outgoing, and articulate. Even George W. Bush could likely be impressive under the right circumstances, and I say that as a lifelong Democrat. But Trump reminds us of guys we all knew…and not in a good way.

And I don’t consider myself exceptional in this regard. Indeed, I will go out on a limb and say that most American men, after considering these traits in the context I present, would admit to the same thing. We’ve all known guys like him. And it’s no coincidence that they are almost always guys. Men. For whatever reasons, you rarely find women displaying these character traits.

So what is this context we refer to? What specific masculine traits are we talking about here? Specifically, there are four: (1) bullying, (2) bragging, (3) alibiing, and (4) displaying a level of insecurity and neediness that goes beyond what anyone thought possible.

One could make the case that these four elements not only conspicuously reside in Donald Trump, but that they go a long way toward defining him. All of which, using syllogistic logic, combine to render this man considerably more “common” than “uncommon.” To those voters who long for a political leader who isn’t “elite,” but is one who represents the “common folk,” you’ve got your wish, baby. He’s as common as dirt.

We had a neighbor kid, Ricky, to whom my mother comically assigned the well-traveled nickname, “Alibi Ike.” Ricky literally had an excuse for everything—not only for things that he did or didn’t do, and for things that his family did or didn’t do, but even for his dog’s behavior.

He said they didn’t own a color TV because they didn’t want one; they were glad their dog ran away because he “needed to”; Ricky could easily get A’s, but C’s were better because he didn’t want to look like a “teacher’s pet”; his house had a foul odor because him mom liked to cook cabbage; he wouldn’t go out for the team because “sports were boring.” Etc.). His alibis were so numerous, they were actually funny rather than offensive. My parents found young Ricky endearing, and naturally assumed he would outgrow it.

After leaving the neighborhood, going off to college, and entering the forbidding realm of “responsible adulthood,” I never dreamed I would ever come across another person more pathetically insecure and “uncentered” than Ricky. It goes without saying that the last place I’d expect to find so desperately needy a person was in the White House.

Unlike women, men tend to brag incessantly about past deeds, even (and especially) the fictitious ones. They’ll brag about how many women they’ve bedded, about how good they were in high school sports, about how well they did academically, and after being hired someplace, they’ll brag/fib about how much money they make. To their credit, women tend not to do that.

But Trump lies about all those things.

It’s pitiful, actually.

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