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It Was Never Just About the Chat: Ruminations on a Puerto Rican Revolution.

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Photograph Source: Old School WWC Fan – CC BY-SA 4.0

“In the colonial context there is no truthful behavior. And good is quite simply what hurts them most.”

-Frantz Fanon

“And I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that out of all the colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries, there could not come a single human value.”

-Aimé Césaire

“Puta”

-Ricardo Rosselló

Let’s get something out of the way quickly: this was never about the goddamned Telegram group chat. The chat messages were the proverbial anvil that fell on the camel and broke its back, drowning the poor dromedary in a cup that runneth over, but it was not the sole reason why Fortaleza Street was on fire a few nights back. Yes, I have no doubt that any mentions about current Puerto Rican woes will focus exclusively on those cursed chat messages. And why is that? Well, simply, put, because it’s much more damned convenient to blame a group chat filled written by privileged men-children with the most reprehensible content imaginable than it is to engage with the more complex reality. This revolt-in-progress is the end product of a simmering anger fed by five centuries of uninterrupted imperialism, free-market disaster capitalism, an imposed dictatorial fiscal control board controlled by the very same people that bankrupted the island, and a storm of the century which was fueled by climate change. Avoiding these small troublesome details allows for the creation of a happier narrative that both conservatives AND liberals can get behind; a nice, convenient way to pretend that whatever the Hell is going on in that dog patch of a shithole island in the middle of all that “big water” has absolutely, positively nothing to do with the good ol’ US of A. It’s all just corrupt brown people with funny sounding names that speak Mexican being stupid.

Now, having written all of that, allow me to learn ya’ somethin’ nice and neat about how this whole mess really got started. This article that you have taken the time to peruse through, dear reader, is a meandering mess, a free-flow rumination on resistance to ruination, and an on-the-fly primer on Puerto Rican revolution, so it would behoove you to not expect a polished exegesis on the intellectual fundamentals of post-colonial resistance designed to impress an academic audience. No, this piece is not intended to be a blow-by-blow replay of how we got here. Think of this piece as a scream against authority. More than a last hoorah about a failed governor, it is but one small part of a particularly loud “fuck you” to one of the worst mass-murderers in the history of my very own and beloved forever colony: Governor Ricardo Rosselló, son of former Governor Pedro Rosselló.

As you’ve seen by now, dear reader, this article will be seasoned with expletives, both my own and my governments’, as well as jubilant dirty words as I celebrate how my people have taken to the streets as one. Seasoning is a Caribbean thing, so please be mindful of its presence. As a famous Internet meme says, we Latino and Caribbean folk keep seasoning until our ancestors tell us to stop, and they have not said a word to me about stopping. On the contrary, our honored departed demand justice. And justice is what this revolution is all about. Justice for the living as well as justice for the dead.

The current upcoming generation of Puerto Ricans has galvanized those that came before in a way never before seen on the island. What musician and up-and-coming founding parent Bad Bunny called the “no more” generation has taken to the streets. Hell, they have taken the streets! And they keep coming back, day after day, beating after beating carried out by cops driven more and more unhinged. They have pushed back the armored thugs of the Puerto Rican Police Department, consistently ranked as the worst and most violent in the United States, as well as its vaunted SWAT teams. Plastic pellets shot at point-blank range and gas canisters purposefully fired into the crowd had little effect on a moving, living sea of outrage and anger other than to piss people off even further.

The sight of the government’s testosterone-and-steroid-filled storm troopers driven back—to see actual terror in their eyes—was an Earth-shattering event for me. I have been face-to-face with these thugs in uniform before, as a student attending the University of Puerto Rico, where it’s almost a sacrament required to confront these beasts every time we would go on strike. State repression on the island is an old story, regardless of the party in power, but more on that later.

If I meander a bit more, dear reader, I do humbly apologize, but I must be frank with you. You see I have barely slept since this whole business with the governor started. “Ah, the chat messages”, you might be tempted to say. Alas, no. What did I just say about the chats? No, if my obsession-driven insomnia were chat-based, then it would have granted me a couple of days of sleep that I did not get. No, I am referring specifically to the arrest-a-thon performed by the (usually hated by me, but for this they get a pass) Federal Bureau of Investigations last week, when they arrested one of Rosselló’s minions: former Secretary of Education, and generally unpleasant person, Julia Keleher.

Keleher, known by many as “the gringa”, is, well, a gringa brought to the island by the opposition party to the one currently in power (remember when I said that it didn’t matter who was in charge? We’ll get back to this in a bit). She was tasked with an “advisory” role in education. In reality, Keleher is cut from the same cloth as Betsy DeVos, another creature of darkness. Keleher was brought to the island with just one goal: to destroy the public schools system and force the adoption of private charter schools, changing the public system into a for-profit one. Dozens of schools were closed and sold off. One, I believe, was sold to one of the reactionary far-right anti-everything churches that favored the incumbent New Progressive Party for one dollar. It was a holiday of corruption, and lo, everyone in power and in Wall Street was merry.

“Ah”, you might be tempted to say, dear reader, “then that means that President Trump was right when he called your government out on its corruption.” Well, let’s play that one by ear, shall we? And oh, joy, it seems like we have reached the obligatory history lesson! Now, now, please, indulge me. I’m a historian by training, so I must bore you at least once per piece, but I’ll try to make it interesting. In order to explain the Puerto Rican government’s corruption problem, I have to explain just what the Hell Puerto Rico is, and that would be a colony.

First, what is colonialism? Well, allow me to attempt a creative example: Imagine that you own a house. Then, one day, someone that is whiter than you because it’s always someone that is whiter than you, walks in one day and says that they own this house because they say so. They’re bigger than you are. If you resist they beat you up. If you don’t resist they beat you up a little less. Then, after they steal your house they wreak its foundations and strip it of every piece of furniture. That nice silverware that grandma left you? Gone. Then, to add insult to injury, imagine that you are forced to pay rent to live in your own house, and when you complain about how messed up the house is they turn around and blame you for it. Then they beat you up again and take away what little you had left. Now, imagine that another set of white dudes comes in, kicks the other white dudes out, and keeps your home for themselves, saying that you now have to pay them rent. Stretch that little drama for five hundred years and that, dear reader, is Puerto Rico’s colonial experience. It is what I grew up with back home, where we are all abused tenants in our own home.

Trump is the new head mobster of the American Empire’s Cosa Nostra, the crew that’s had their boots on our necks since 1898. We cannot make any commercial deals without their consent. We cannot move any goods without using their merchant navy. Once they decided to take away their heavy industries to places where they could pay lower slave wages they did, leaving us without a huge part of our economy. We were granted citizenship in 1917 so that we could be used as cannon fodder during the First World War, but we are unwanted second-class citizens at best. We are reminded of that fact any time we move around the United States. A whisper here, a comment there, and so many dirty looks. We were, are, and always will be unwanted spics. We knew this to be a fact, so we looked inward. We fought amongst ourselves over politics, by design, and drank the status Kool-Aid.

I have used this analogy before, and it bears repeating here. Puerto Rican politics are a three-headed bloated hydra. Each head is a political party. Two of those heads, the Popular Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrático, or PPD) and the New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista, or PNP) are roughly the same size. The third head, almost vestigial, is the Puerto Rican Independence Party (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño, or PIP), and it is almost inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. All three parties are tasked with managing the colony and keeping the status quo. To that end they have created a local political class, like in all colonies: a group of collaborators mostly drawn from historically rich families, most powerful attorneys, all career political operatives. Some kingmakers, others no more than useful fools, but all responding to the interests of the elite, regardless of any claims to the contrary. In the past few years a few non-traditional political movements have come into existence here and there, similar to Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, but on a much smaller scale. They are, if anything, small warts on the hydra’s body politic, nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

What is most important about all of this, dear reader, is that all political life on the island is subservient to the needs of maintaining the colonial status quo running smoothly, just like all political activity in the United States is designed around keeping capitalism intact. This is where the wicked genius of the colonial system in Puerto Rico shines: they have convinced the populace that by voting for a particular party they are in fact voting to maintain or alter the current relationship with the United States. As such, loyalty to the party must be unquestioning and absolute. For voters of the party currently in office, the PNP, this means voting for statehood, or permanent incorporation into the union. They have been trying this since there were 48 stars on the American flag. They’re still trying.

Voters of the PPD believe that they are preserving a mythical “estado libre asociado” or “commonwealth”, a nicer word for colony that is somehow a “pact” with the United States, even though we are not, and have never been, equal. Voters of the PIP believe that independence for the island is achievable via the ballot box and respond to a watered-down rhetoric of cultural nationalism. Traditional nationalists, much lower in number than even the PIP voters, do not vote at all in what they consider to be an imposed imperial system, a laudable conclusion. Their rhetoric and heraldry are reminiscent of earlier Twentieth-Century nationalisms, and just as problematic.

At this point, dear reader, you might be asking yourself, “why the info dump?” The reason is obvious: you need to understand how the colony works in order to see how it no longer works. There are two main reasons as to why the colonial system has broken down so severely recently. The first was Hurricane María.

Hurricane María made landfall on 20th September 2017. It was a devastating natural disaster made worse by the austerity policies imposed by the dictatorial fiscal control board, a grandiose victory of bipartisanship that essentially sold off what was left of the island to vulture capitalists for the next four decades. Puerto Rico faced the uncertainty of a complete collapse of communications, utilities, and transportation in the storm’s wake. And all of this happened with an incompetent president in the White House and an incompetent governor entrenched in his mansion of La Fortaleza, San Juan, like some overgrown tick. While mainland liberals rediscovered Puerto Rico for a few weeks after Trump’s paper towel-throwing incident, they paid no attention to the island’s Democratically aligned petty tyrant. For weeks Ricardo Rosselló engaged in a public relations campaign. Instead of desperately needed food and water, Puerto Ricans got Rosselló on a helicopter, or Rosselló with a military helmet on, out on the road with the National Guard (even though he never really goes anywhere). Attempts were clumsy and haphazard, FEMA was completely useless, and President Dumbass insisted that it was difficult to move aid to the island because of all the “big water”. The island’s First Lady gifted small handmade candles to the mayors of the municipalities that were hit the worst by the monster hurricane. One candle per municipality, mind you. ONE. Many of these places had been without power for months. Their very public responses were less than delicate.

Nearly five thousand people died after María. Some to suicide, others from preventable illnesses. Some died due to complications from not receiving dialysis treatments. I lost someone because of that. Some people asphyxiated from a lack of oxygen or power. Newborn babies died in hospitals. Some starved, some died of thirst. The old and infirm died in their homes, sometimes alone, sometimes with relatives. Many were buried there, in their backyards. Many more would never be found. To this day both the federal government and the Puerto Rican government are in full denial of the thousands of lives lost. But the dead demand justice.

The second reason for systemic collapse is the recent arrests of Keleher and others of her ilk in charges of conspiracy to defraud as well as a host of other crimes. Keleher was intimately connected to Rosselló and his government. She knew secrets. Widely despised, she resigned earlier this year, then moved back to the United States, where members of the Puerto Rican diaspora occasionally hounded her. She was widely known to be corrupt, but no evidence had been provided. When she was finally arrested it was like a psychic damn had been broken. Elation followed by rage was palpable. How could the government feign ignorance? Ricardo Rosselló’s father, former governor Pedro Rosselló, had presided over the, until recently, most corrupt government in the history of the island. His son has not only carried on the family’s legacy of corruption but also made it his very own, besting his father’s record in every way.

These two things had primed the country towards an explosion. Puerto Ricans had desperately clung to a sense of normalcy after María. They believed that going back to their ways would work, just as it had before. But something was fundamentally broken. The island never felt the same way again. Everything came off as performative, precisely because it was. Beneath a veneer of normalcy stood a stark reality of a permanent state of emergency. It was communal post-traumatic stress disorder. The whole island was in shock.

The text messages broke that shock, and it became incredulity. Incredulity, however, quickly turned into outrage, and then into anger. Once the chat was uncovered Puerto Ricans finally had proof. Proof that what they imagined about their political class was true all along: That the parties played favorites with the local press; that they manipulated news and figures, buried stories, lied every minute of every day; that they made fun of ordinary citizens behind their backs; that they used sexist and homophobic remarks in a sickeningly casual way; that they held democratic institutions in contempt; that they considered themselves above the law. Anger quickly set in.

Then the jokes about the dead surfaced. After María there was no room for the corpses. They were placed in cargo containers, waiting to be processed. It became a national scandal that was clumsily buried by the press, like so many scandals. The hundreds of thousands of pounds of supplies in hidden caches all over the island, and how this life-saving cargo never arrived for mysterious reasons. But the jokes about needing carrion birds to devour the dead, that was the lit match. The chat messages didn’t start this. They primed the fuse. The detonator was Ricardo Rosselló himself, when he refused to step down. Anger gave way to rage, and here we are.

Historically, there has never been a successful revolution in Puerto Rico. Both major attempts in Lares in 1868 and in Jayuya in 1950 ended in failure after fierce repression. This, however, is different. There have been huge marches before, yet there has never been such a monumental shift in Puerto Rican attitudes. After the messages broke, the political class deployed its old weapons of misinformation and partisanship. They bounced off the populace. They then shifted to their old allies in the media, with Rosselló using the very same people singled out in the chat as the government’s stooges to try and sway public opinion. It backfired, and the rest of the press, emboldened by communal rage, has not allowed the Rosselló regime to lie its way out of this situation.

After the first Battle of San Juan this past week, when police attempted to sell the lie, saying that protesters had thrown tear gas canisters at police, the press aggressively pinned them down with a barrage of questions and with photographic and video evidence showing that it was in fact the police that had initiated hostilities. Faced with an enraged press the government took the unbelievable course of action of abruptly calling off their very own press conference. From that point on the regime has known no peace with the press, as the crowds swell up every day. And I choose to call this government a regime, as it has no backing from the people whatsoever. Meanwhile, as the very last survivors of the post-Chatergate purge insist on television that all is normal, the streets overflow with Puerto Rican flags in their normal colors as well as in black and white, the mourning flag, adopted after the fiscal control board took over the island. There is no sign of this momentum stopping. Perhaps for their first time in history, Puerto Ricans have found a voice so loud that even Secretary of State and CIA straw man Mike Pompeo himself was forced to cancel his announced flash visit to the island.

Puerto Ricans have long accepted the imposed opinion, first by the Spaniards and then by the Americans, that they were a peaceful people who abhorred violent confrontation and welcomed authority. It played well during the Cold War, but after Hurricane María Puerto Ricans discovered something about themselves: that they could do anything. Left to rot, they rediscovered community and strength through unity. They realized that, perhaps, the Americans really did not give a damn about them after all. And while they tried to bury that realization behind a comfortable masquerade of normality, it never worked. The spell was broken. The arrests proved that they were indeed living a lie, and the revelations of that Telegram chat proved to be too much. This rage, this new reality, has proven that the Puerto Rican will is strong, fiery, and founded on resistance, and resistance breeds determination. Determination breeds bravery. And when a population that has been crushed for centuries discovers its inner bravery, well, that’s when history is made. As of the writing of this article, there were more than 50,000 people in Old San Juan alone, with countless thousands still flooding towards the old city, and thousands more marching across the island. With the whole country on the move, the governor still refuses to budge. The people are not budging either. So excuse the mess. We’re carrying out a revolution and putting our house back in order. You might get an eviction notice, dear reader. Please, don’t take it personally. This house was never yours to begin with.

 

System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics

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The Democratic primary season is upon us, and the party’s candidate list is a useful starting point for assessing the impact of affluence on American politics. Classic works by sociologists of decades past, including C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff, posited that U.S. political institutions were captured by elite economic actors, who seek to enhance their own material positions at the expense of the many.

It’s no accident that affluence is tied to political elitism. Donald Trump is the wealthiest U.S. President in modern history, and is one of the most pro-business in his policies, pursuing tax cuts for the wealthy, and pushing environmental and health care policies to benefit health insurance corporations and the fossil fuel industry, at the expense of access to quality care and environmental sustainability.

We see a similar trend of elitism when examining the current crop of Democratic candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination. Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Joe Biden rank as three of the four wealthiest candidates (O’Rourke at $9.9 million, and Harris and Biden each at $4 million in net worth), and they are well to the right in their economic policies compared to more progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. O’Rourke built his national image in the Barack Obama vein, via a storied Texas Senate campaign against Ted Cruz that emphasized generic themes such as national unity, while his presidential campaign thus far has been thin in terms of laying out a left economic policy agenda. Harris’s most prominent achievement thus far is lashing out at Joe Biden for his opposition to busing, while herself failing to establish a vision herself for how to tackle the powder keg of U.S. racial segregation. Harris has contradicted herself on health care policy, rhetorically supporting Medicare-for-all, then walking back that support in favor of privatized care. Finally, Joe Biden is an arch neoliberal, as demonstrated by his tenure in office as Vice President during an Obama presidency that saw much by way of promises for progressive reform, accompanied by a pro-Wall Street agenda that produced growing inequality. Biden, revealingly, has promised wealthy Americans that “nothing” of any significance “would change” regarding their position of privilege, should he be elected.

Numerous social scientists, including Benjamin Page, Martin Gilens, Nicholas Carnes, and others have identified how the top 10 percent of American income earners (and white collar professionals more generally) dominate the policy process. Sociologist Rachel Sherman documents how the top one percent of earners construct notions of “hard work” and “worthiness” to justify their extreme wealth in an era of growing inequality. But for all its novelty, Sherman’s book only looks at a small number of decadent Americans living in one city: New York. It cannot generalize about upper-class Americans across the United States. Furthermore, the current research on the political values of economic elites (the top one percenters) by Page and his associates (see here and here) is geographically limited to wealthy Americans in the Midwest.

Finding surveys with a large enough sample of upper-class Americans to generalize from has historically been a great challenge for pollsters. To my knowledge, there has not yet been a single national study examining the role of upper-class affluence in impacting the political preferences of the wealthy. So my findings here represent a first effort to address the role of upper-class elitism on attitude formation. Sadly, they suggest that little is likely to change in the future in terms of prospects for a “Green New Deal” or the introduction of a progressive governing regime, so long as wealthy individuals continue to dominate American politics. To better understand the politics of affluence, I examined national survey data from the 2010s from Princeton University’s Pew Research Center, which queried Americans on their self-described economic status as “upper,” “upper-middle,” “middle,” “lower-middle,” and “lower-class.” Only about 1 percent of Americans self-identify in these surveys as “upper-class” when asked, speaking to their exclusive economic status. Unsurprisingly, upper-class status is tightly linked with income, as the majority of those identifying as upper-class (60 percent in 2016) reported making incomes over $150,000 a year. These upper-class Americans are significantly different from the rest of the population, particularly when it comes to economic issues in which there is the potential to adopt stances rejecting the ruling economic order. For all of the survey questions I examined, upper-class Americans were from 20 to 30 percentage points more likely than the rest of the population to embrace conservative values, and to reject progressive ones. Upper-class Americans were significantly more likely: to embrace the claim that the economy is “fair to most all Americans”; to disagree that “too much power” exists “in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations”; to agree with the meritocratic claim that “if you work hard, you can get ahead” in America; to disagree that the U.S. is “divided” between “haves and have-nots”; to reject the position that U.S. “financial institutions and banks are a major threat to society”; to agree that “Wall Street helps the economy more than it hurts”; and to oppose progressive-left protest groups like Occupy Wall Street, which sought to spotlight issues such as economic stagnation, corporate greed, and Wall Street political power. One’s upper-class status is a highly significant predictor of economic attitudes, after statistically accounting for survey respondents’ other demographics, including partisanship, education level, gender, race, ideology, and age.

My findings are significant for the 2020 Democratic Primary race considering recent research that examines how political officials’ affluence impacts how they behave once in office. Carnes documents the substantive differences between U.S. political leaders with prior white-collar and blue-collar professional backgrounds, and how these differences impact their voting toward progressive-left economic policy proposals. His study shows that the relationship between economic elitism and conservative policymaking is longstanding, spanning decades in the United States. We would do well to heed Carnes’ warning about the dangers of elite capture of government in a time of rising inequality, which has occurred amidst rising family stress and work hours, stagnating incomes, and constant cost of living increases for essential goods like health care and education beyond the inflation rate. When Americans find themselves falling further and further behind in the “land of opportunity,” electing more elites to the highest office of the land is likely to exacerbate inequality and strengthen the democratic deficit between what the masses expect from government and the policies that it actually produces.

Early polling data suggests that Democratic partisans have continued to elevate neoliberal “electable” Dems when it comes to the highest office in the land, although progressive candidates are gaining ground. Polling from mid-July of this year reveals that Joe Biden leads all candidates, with 32 percent support. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not far behind, each polling at 19 and 14 percent respectively, while Kamala Harris stands at 13 percent support. These results suggest that there is a real struggle among Democratic partisans to determine the future direction of the party, with the top four candidates as of mid-2019 split between establishment neoliberals on the one hand, and New Dealer-style liberal-progressive reformers on the other. Whoever prevails in the primaries, one thing appears clear. Should a neoliberal candidate win the 2020 nomination, there is little reason to expect a reverse in the status quo-elitism of the Democratic Party.

South Carolina Speaks for Whom?

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Image Source: Flag of South Carolina – Public Domain

Because the African American vote is crucial, the conventional wisdom nowadays is that for Democrats to end up with a nominee who can defeat Donald Trump, Democratic candidates must win over African Americans’ hearts and minds. This is a rare case in which the conventional wisdom is spot on.

Because South Carolina will be the first state to hold a primary or caucus in which a majority of likely Democratic voters are African American, its primary is bound to draw more national attention next year than it usually does. South Carolina is where candidates will do their best to figure out which way the wind is blowing. It is where they will put the most effort into tailoring their messages and marketing schemes to appeal to African American voters.

But because demography is destiny, and because generals are always fighting the last battle, the thinking behind the conventional wisdom is, by now, somewhat superseded.

Trump and his racist co-thinkers – there are alarmingly many of them – seem to have figured this out, at least on an intuitive level. Democrats are slower.

But even they have got it enough right to realize that, if Trump’s luck holds – in other words, if his “base” remains more or less intact — the South Carolina primary will ultimately be more important than, say, the one in New Hampshire.

Things are no longer quite as black and white as they used to be.

Ironically, Trump’s white nationalist politics, so far from exacerbating tensions between “whites” and “persons of color,” as is plainly Trump’s intention, has actually reconfigured the racial landscape in ways that bring issues of race and class closer together than they were just a few years ago.

Understanding this is crucial for reflecting constructively on the importance of next year’s South Carolina primary, and ultimately for acting on what becomes evident from that perspective.

* * *

Decades ago, but still in living memory, white rule made the black vote in South Carolina, and nearly everywhere else in the South, inconsequential.

It still is in a way because, as we have learned to our misery twice already in this century, in presidential elections, the Electoral College is where the action is.

Barring a revolution more profound than anything the Bernie Sanders inspired “Our Revolution”” imagines, it is already predictable, with 99.9 percent certainty that the Palmetto State’s Electoral College votes will go to the Republican candidate in the 2020 general election.

Unless his diet and lifestyle or the rapidly deteriorating mental state of that “very stable genius” undo him first, they will go to Donald Trump.

Why, then, would anyone care who wins in South Carolina?

No one could reasonably deny that general election will matter because it will determine who will run on the Democratic line for state and local offices, and for Congress. In all likelihood, these outcomes are affected, at least to some extent, by the name at the top of the ticket. Generally, though, connections between down ticket elections and the contest for the presidential nomination are attenuated at best.

Thanks to gerrymandering, both duopoly parties get their (unfair) share of Congressional seats. When Republicans run states, this is likely to mean that Democrats get less than their fair share. Vice versa when Democrats call the shots, though they are often too high-minded to be anywhere near as blatant as Republicans generally are.

Even so, unlike in the bad (that is even worse than now) old days, in South Carolina and throughout the latter-day Solid (that is, Republican) South, there are seats that are all but officially allotted to Democrats.

For that, we can thank past struggles for voting rights. Before long, we could lose even that – now that corruption rules with Trump in charge, and now that Trump’s troglodyte Supreme Court Justices, along with the “conservatives” already there, have ruled that political gerrymandering cases cannot be contested in federal courts.

More likely, Republican state governments will regulate themselves as well, or nearly as well, as Trump-beholden judges would, given their own right turns in recent years. The political representatives of the money interests nowadays seem to have come to the realization that they and their bosses are generally better off throwing a few crumbs to the less well-off than by cutting them out altogether. Trump’s signature piece of legislation, his tax scam undertaken on behalf of corporations and the hyper-rich, reflects this awareness perfectly.

It should be remembered too that the situation in South Carolina, like everywhere else, is not written in stone. Thanks to shifting demographics and the vagaries of the Zeitgeist, gerrymandered allotments are sometimes contested, and sometimes even change hands.

Whenever that happens, primary elections play a crucial role – both in engineering and certifying changes underway. However, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly momentous along these lines in the offing in South Carolina in 2020. This far in advance, though, no one really can say.

A presidential primary can have all kinds of effects on matters not directly concerned with the choice of a nominee for president, but this is not the reason for the interest the South Carolina primary is already attracting. That has mainly to do with the state of race relations in recent years – after Obama and as the Trump era grinds on, driving the moral and intellectual level of the ambient political culture beneath a rock bottom that itself seemed out of the question just a few years ago.

In South Carolina as in nearly all other states, electors are elected on a winner-take-all basis. Whichever party wins the statewide popular vote gets all the electors the state has.

Voter suppression is the GOP’s forte, but that shouldn’t be an issue in a Democratic primary. It probably won’t be an issue even in the ensuing general election. In South Carolina, Republicans still have demographics on their side; and, thanks to Fox News, they have a full-service propaganda operation working overtime on their behalf.

Thus, despite pockets of enlightenment scattered around the state, South Carolina is still home to some of the most benighted white folk in the Land of the Free. For sheer vileness and execrability, many of them could even give the Donald a run for the money.

Therefore, in a statewide contest, whomever the Democrats ultimately choose for a standard-bearer, the result will be the same: the state’s electoral votes will go to Trump.

***

Working hand in hand with anti-Trump Republican pundits and their pre-Trumpian media flunkies, Democratic Party establishment types been pursuing the line throughout the country that “electability” – in an election in which the more odious duopoly party is running Trump – is and ought to be not just the main consideration in selecting a nominee, but, for all intents and purposes, the only consideration.

According to the conventional wisdom too, the African American vote is monolithic enough to warrant the assumption that what is the case in South Carolina is the case throughout the United States.

I suspect that this was much more the case years ago, when veterans of the civil rights movement, many of them from South Carolina and places like it, successfully fought their way into the electoral arena, becoming de facto leaders of African American communities across the nation.

They succeeded too well – to such an extent that they can no longer everywhere be said unequivocally to be “part of the solution.”

Years ago, black and white radicals were already aware of the dangers of cooptation. Their instincts were sound. In one way or another, nearly everyone who was not crushed by the system they were fighting against is now, in one way or another, working within it – and if not for it, then not against it either. African Americans were no better or worse than the others; the political machines they built in South Carolina and elsewhere are no more nefarious. But it would be foolish to claim that they come anywhere close to realizing the promise that they once seemed to offer.

But now the pendulum is swinging back as the old order ages. For that, we have not only the passage of time to thank, but also the resumption of radical organizing under the aegis of the Black Lives Matter movement among others, and rising militancy brought on by disgust with neoliberal economic policies and the outright racism of Trump and his kakistoratic minions. [Kakistocracy: rule of the worst, the most vile and inept].

The Clintons were not the only mainstream Democratic Party liberals to draw aging black militants into their fold. They may have thought they were doing God’s work; what they were actually doing was creating a bulwark against radical dissent.

As for over the hill militants, South Carolina is riddled with them, including a few “icons” from decades ago who, despite have lost their edge, seem to iconic to fault.

Their influence was plain in 2016, as they helped secure the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders would surely have done more for African Americans than she, if he had a chance.

On the other hand, he could have done more to appeal to African American voters or at least to make himself known in their communities. In personality driven electoral contests, having better policies is not enough. Clinton, though no prize, was the devil they knew. They therefore stuck with her.

But we mustn’t blame Sanders too much for his poor showing in African American communities. It was the political machines that the Clintons helped shape over the years that ultimately did him in; allowing the old centers of power in the Democratic Party to maintain control a while longer.

Even now, they function, as best they can, in tandem with the other ways the old guard maintains its power, to stifle militancy and support the status quo.

If their power could be broken over South Carolina it would be all for the good. But the Joe Bidens of the world are working overtime, calling in their chits to make sure it won’t happen.

This is why the South Carolina primary is shaping up to matter more than most. It is where the old guard’s last hurrah either will or will not occur.

This will be happening, however, at a time when the political scene is becoming less black and white than it used to be, and more brown – or, rather, more “of color.”

***

As recently as a decade ago, one heard more about “minorities” than “persons of color.” The reason why is partly demographic; as more of America becomes “majority minority,” “minority” loses its bite, especially when “minorities” think of themselves not so much as rivals of one another, as many of them once did, but as fellow combatants in a protracted struggle for full-scale substantive, not just formally equal, citizenship rights, and for the respect that human beings are due.

Much of that struggle has, so far, mainly had to do with words. This is regrettable, but words can be important in their own right.

Racist societies employ racial taxonomies peculiar to their own situations and concerns. Thus, in South Africa, “colored” has a different meaning than in the United States. It designates persons of mainly, but not exclusively, indigenous African ancestry.

There was a time when the worst, or at least the least genteel but not outright derogatory, name for persons we would now call African Americans, was “colored.” At a verbal level, the difference between “colored” and “of color” is barely even stylistic.

Before the civil rights movement morphed into the “black power” and “black liberation” movements of the late sixties and early seventies, “Negro” was still a respectable word. In short order, though, it became even worse than “colored” – to such an extent that it has all but passed out of common usage.

For a while, “black” was the “politically correct” designation. Then came “Afro-American” and eventually “African American.”

“Black,” however, is still often used. This is ironic because “Negro” is the Spanish word for “black.”

And so, inevitably, we have gotten also to “brown.”

That word used to be more regional than national – it referred to people in California and the Southwest, territories taken by war from Mexico and never entirely ethnically cleansed. When the civil rights movement was going full steam, there were a few Mexican neighborhoods in Chicago and a few other Midwestern cities, but there was a time when, for instance, you couldn’t even get decent Mexican food in New York City. Not too many years before that, Carmen Miranda was advertised as “a Latin from Manhattan,” the implication being that this was a rare and exotic phenomenon.

Well-entrenched African American machine politicians who came of age politically at a time when, especially in the South, racial divisions were almost entirely black and white must feel put out by the ways the world has changed just as much as white Southerners did. No wonder that as much or more than other old line Democrats, they could be mobilized to maintain the status quo.

“Brown” and “black” together are not quite the same as “of color.” That term is used more generically, to refer to anyone who is not “white.” Not that “white” means white anymore; old, biologically meaningless, pseudo-scientific racial categories notwithstanding, “white,” to Trump and persons of his ilk, now seems to mean something more like “European, but not Muslim.”

In effect, anyone Trump would send back to “where they came from” is “of color.” Thus through sheer vileness, that miscreant has effectively joined blacks, like Ayanna Presley with former “whites” – Arabs, for instance, like Rashida Tlaib — just as the evolving political consciousness of progressive thinkers and activists in the forefront of the opposition is doing. The irony is wonderful.

Black, brown, yellow, red – all are all “of color,” and they are all increasingly where the action is.

The political machines of the Clinton era are not by any means gone, but, as agents of change, they are rapidly becoming obsolete.

Along with ever increasing numbers of progressives, young and old and not of color, the four freshmen women Trump is targeting with a level of viciousness remarkable even for Republicans today are transforming the political scene in the United States profoundly – much to the discontent of corporate Democrats like the comparatively progressive and politically able Nancy Pelosi, who though good on bathrooms, remains, in the final analysis, on the wrong side of the class struggle.

Which side are South Carolina Democrats now on? Are they still in thrall to their icons and their icons’ Clintonite friends or are they in league with “the squad”? As the South Carolina primary looms, we will find out soon enough,

Roaming Charges: Big Man, Pig Man

Counterpunch Articles -

Torso in a box, Nathan Purifoy Outdoor Museum, Joshua Tree. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ After the scenes of mass psychosis in North Carolina on Wednesday night, you’d think the Democrats would finally extinguish their happy trope about “bringing the country together”, concentrate on protecting their most valuable assets (the 4 Horsewomen of the Political Apocalypse), and throw themselves into taking POWER. As Hobbes, the English Machiavelli understood perhaps better than anyone, power is the name of the game in any kind of representative government, especially one which masquerades as a democracy. But they can’t, because deep down the Democratic leadership is a Botoxed version of the odious thing we all just witnessed.

+ Thomas Hobbes: “Reputation of power, is Power; because it draweth with it the adhaerence of those that need protection. So is Reputation of love of a mans Country, (called popularity,) for the same Reason. Also, what quality soever maketh a man beloved, or feared of many; or the reputation of such quality, is Power; because it is a means to have the assistance, and service of many.”

+ A Vietnam War draft-dodger being embraced by the hard right for saying “Love It or Leave It” is a spectacle that’s almost impossible to imagine happening 50 years ago. You’ve come a long way America.

+ It looks like Trump’s trying to morph Ilhan (the Indomitable) Omar, a sitting member of Congress, into this campaign’s Willie Horton.

+ During her evisceration of Elliot Abrams (the butcher of El Salvador) Ilhan Omar showed the Democrats how the Trump administration could be dismantled limb by rotting limb on live TV. Instead of following her example, her own party turned on Ilhan & allowed her to become a target for Trump & FoxNews’ overt racism.

+ Before stepping on the helicopter for his Reichsparteitag in North Carolina on Wednesday night, Trump slimed Ilhan Omar with the bogus slur that she might have “married her brother.” (This coming from the guy who is sexually attracted to his own daughter.)

Days suggesting Ilhan Omar should go back to Somali, Trump spreads unfounded conspiracy theories about her: "There's a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother. I know nothing about it … I don't know but I'm sure that somebody would be looking at that." pic.twitter.com/XapFKFgEXH

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 17, 2019

+ Ilhan Omar has been a US citizen six years longer than Melania Trump, who worked illegally in the US for 5 years before obtaining her “Einstein Visa” for modeling.

+ Hey, GOP, while you’re searching for the anti-Semitic remarks Ilhan Omar didn’t make, let us know if you stumble upon the husband-brother she didn’t marry.

+ Omar doesn’t wilt under pressure. At the very moment she’s being trashed for being an “anti-Semite,” she moved to introduce a resolution reaffirming the right of Americans to boycott Israel

+ Still, I worry about Omar’s safety. I know she’s perhaps one of the most courageous people on Earth. But the president has put a huge target on her back and incited his most cultish followers to believe that she is not only “un” American but “anti-“American, whatever that may mean in their fermented minds, and therefore fair game for them to attack.

+ Don’t forget that the reason AOC, Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are being slimed by Trump is that they were attacking him for running concentration camps on the border and challenging Pelosi for doing nothing to stop him.

+ Nancy Pelosi’s calculated putdown down of “the Squad” is her Sister Souljah moment. This act of public discipline and punishment is an example of the kind of soft racism perfected by Bill Clinton and used to periodically remind the Blue Dog Democrats that he wasn’t beholden to minorities–that he was, in fact, their political master. We saw it with the harsh way Bubba treated Lani Guinier, Jocelyn Elders and, lethally, Ricky Ray Rector, who he executed to boost his polls numbers during the primary campaign. Sacrificing AOC & company to the Blue Dogs is today’s equivalent of Biden’s dealmaking with the “segregationists”. And Trump is salivating at the prospect of amplifying every slur.

+ The fact that Trump is launching racist tweets and verbal taunts at AOC, Pressley, Tlaib, and Omar and defending Pelosi, tells you almost all you need to know about the current state of politics in the USA.

+ David Swanson: “If a Trump supporter kills a Congresswoman at his bidding, will Pelosi believe an impeachable offense has been committed? If so, why can’t she now before that happens?”

+ Trump and AOC were born in hospitals that are roughly 12 miles from each other.

+ Joe Biden: “There has never been a President in American history who has been so openly racist and divisive as this man.”

+ Five Presidents just as openly racist as Trump: Jackson, Fillmore, Buchanan, A. Johnson, Wilson.

+ Generally, it’s not the “openly racist” politicians you have to worry the most about. You can see them coming and organize against them. It’s the covert racists, like Clinton and Biden, who often inflict the most damage on minority groups.

+ One could argue that Trump’s lasting contribution to history is his revelation that there is no dignity to the office of the presidency, that many of the things presidents do are “degenerate” & that racism & narcissism are normal characteristics for the occupant of the office.

+ How Democrats tie themselves into knots: Instead of impeaching Trump or doing anything meaningful about the concentration camps on the border, Pelosi wants to pass a resolution censuring his racism. But it turns out that there’s a rule in the House that you can’t call someone a racist, even if they are one. Oh my…

+ Of course, Republicans whining about how the using the word “racist” to describe Trump’s tweets violated House rules is pretty rich. Aren’t they the ones crusading against the constraints of political correctness?

+ When asked why the House is going to vote to condemn the president’s tweets instead of censure the president, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said he hopes Republicans vote for it, choosing country over party. (How’d that work out for you, Hakeem. Four votes?) Is there anything this party will fight for? Anything at all? It’s mega-donors perhaps?

+ The handbook of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says the use of phrases like “Go back where you came from” in the workplace violates US law…

+ Nick Estes (author of the must-read Our History is the Future): “They told us Natives to go back to where we came from. So we did. And we were arrested for trespassing.”

+ I challenge Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi to cite one remark that Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib has said that rivals the hours of anti-semitic rants Nixon engaged in with Haldeman, Ehrlichman and BILLY GRAHAM. It’s all on tape. Just put your earbuds on and press play…Here’s a random sample.

President: “Aren’t the Chicago Seven all Jews? [Rennie] Davis is a Jew, you know.”

Haldeman: “I don’t think Davis is.”

President: “Hoffman, Hoffman’s a Jew.”

Haldeman: “Abbie Hoffman is…”

President: “About half of these are Jews.”

+ Nancy Pelosi is beginning to shuffle down the hall with a Neville Chamberlain-like gait, though his speeches still sound more resolute…

+ Long before Pelosi’s deprecations of Omar and Tlaib and Trump’s vile targeting of them as America-hating anti-semitic Communists, there was…yes…Chelsea Clinton sowing the seeds.

+ Speaking of “going back to your country”…. During the Japanese internment, a federal judge in Portland, Ore. stripped the citizenship of a natural-born US citizen in part because he believed (incorrectly) that the man practiced Shintoism (ancestor worship, the judge said) & thus had to be still loyal to Japan. The Supremes overturned this odious ruling, but decided that the loyalty of ALL Japanese-Americans was suspect, just because…

+ Trump gleefully retweeted Senator John Kennedy‘s bigoted swipe at AOC, Tlaib, Pressley and Omar calling them “the four horsewomen of the apocalypse. I’m entitled to say that they’re Wack Jobs.” All of those prayer breakfasts and Trump still doesn’t understand what happens in the Book of Revelations…

+ Kennedy considers himself the comedian of the Senate. But his routines are much too manufactured, as if he’d been practicing them all morning in the senate shower stall where they elicited a snort from Rand Paul. He’s a second rate Alan Simpson, whose humor had a cruel and vicious edge to it.

+ If Trump keeps insisting that his Tweets aren’t racist will he finally start to lose some of those hardcore followers?

+ Liz Cheney is now being presented as a “GOP leader.” All you really need to know…

+ Many of Trump’s former business associates have said that he simply doesn’t understand numbers, which may explain all of the bankruptcies (including the trillion dollar deficit he’s run up in 2.5 years). Apparently, he’s passed the trait on to his son Eric, who claimed this week that his dad had the approval of “95% of Americans.” Trump is achieving levels of popularity that Stalin didn’t reach even at gunpoint…

+ When Trump said he “doesn’t have a racist bone” in his body, he was, of course, plagiarizing the Great Plagiarist himself, Joe Biden, who weakly invoked the same phrase in his own self-defense a mere two weeks ago.

+ “When Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” said a former employee of Trump’s Castle, in Atlantic City.

+ Mitch McConnell, a descendent of slave owners, assures the nation that Donald Trump’s “not a racist.” (McConnell, by the way, is the only US Senator more unpopular than Susan Collins.)

+ “You know, they talk about people of color,” Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania told Vice News in defense of Trump. “I’m a person of color. I’m white. I’m an Anglo Saxon. People say things all the time, but I don’t get offended.”

Kelly might be surprised to learn that recent research challenges the entire notion of an “Anglo-Saxon” England. The genetic and cultural evidence of an Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain after the Roman abandonment is scant at best, with the historiography coming largely from a few suspect passages in Gildas and the perhaps not-so-venerable Bede. See Susan Oosthuizen’s recent book, The Emergence of the English.

+ It is un-American to criticize the nation while I’m running it. It is your patriotic duty to trash the nation when the other woman’s running it.

+ Where did Kellyanne Conway want Jewish reporter Andrew Feinberg to “go back to”, Bergen-Belsen?

+ Trump’s approval rating among Republicans edged upward after three days of  nonstop coverage of his racist Tweets.

+ Sen. Tom Tillis, who was at the president’s rally last night, on his impression of the Send Her Back chants: “A group of people chanted, he didn’t ask them to chant it. You can’t control that any more than you can control the reaction at a rock concert.” Tillis, of course, was the annoying guy who, high on Mexican weed for the first time, kept yelling FREEBIRD! during the Rascal Flatts show at the Ryman Auditorium…

+ If Chuck Schumer isn’t glorifying John McCain, then Nancy Pelosi is extolling the gentle wisdom of Ronald Reagan

+ Chuck Schumer’s pockets are deep, but never too full to refuse money from Wall Street super-predators

+ “Speaker Pelosi clarified today she is not calling Trump a racist, she is calling Trump’s words racist.” (We understood you all along, Nancy.)

+ Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin quickly dismissed any implication that Trump’s tweets were racist. Mnuchin himself comes from the most “crime-infested” neighborhood in the US…Wall Street.

+ Whoopie? Joy? Someone, anyone, please make her stop…

+ We all know that McCain’s protégé Lindsey Graham wants to sound like Joe McCarthy but does he really scare anyone, except his own constituents? “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of Communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own Country, they’re calling the guards along our Border (the Border Patrol Agents) Concentration Camp Guards, they accuse people who support Israel as doing it for the Benjamin’s, they are Anti-Semitic, they are Anti-America, we don’t need to know anything about them personally…”

+ Over the past five years, Immigration Judge Agnelis Reese (who is also a pastor at the St. Luke African Methodist Church in Montgomery, Louisiana) has heard more than 200 asylum claims for entry into the United States. She is the only immigration judge in the country to have rejected each case. Nationally, such claims are granted 35% of the time. Reese, a registered Democrat, was appointed by Bill Clinton.

+ A 13-year-old girl hung herself because her father, despite trying three times, couldn’t make it across the border to be with her.

+ On the occasion of Mike Pence’s scripted visit to a border concentration camp, I recommend reading Andrea Pitzer’s account in One Long Night of the lengths the Soviets went to coverup the horrifying conditions at the infamous Solovki camp for a visit by Maxim Gorky who emerged saying the concentration camp was “absolutely necessary … and only by this road would the State achieve in the fastest possible time one of its aims: to get rid of prisons.” The year was 1929.

+ Our very own IG Farben…Six officials at Southwest Key, a nonprofit that runs migrant child shelters, earned more than $1 million in 2017.

+ Invoking a 37-year old law called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, passed after disclosures of ex-CIA agent Philip Agee, is trying once again to make it easier to prosecute journalists for exposing agency malfeasance.

+ So Rand Paul has placed a senatorial hold on the 9/11 victim compensation fund. Imagine, for a moment, the national hysteria if Ilhan Omar had done the same (instead of co-sponoring the bill)…

+ Paul claims that he is not “blocking the bill” merely stalling it until the Senate agrees to vote on his amendment to “offset the costs.” Where was this kind of fortitude in the face of humanity when it came to Trump’s tax cuts?

+ In 1824, John Quincy Adams (one of the better humans to serve as president, if not a great president) lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson by 10.44%, but prevailed in the Electoral College by almost 2%, thus postponing the Jacksonian terror for 4 years. The others who lost the popular vote but won the presidency through the intervention of the electoral college are some of the most dismal figures in American political history (George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison). Trump seems poised to do it twice.

+ Let’s not forget that Trump’s political role model is Richard Nixon, who thought nothing of explaining his debased views about blacks to his secretary Rosemary Woods while (thankfully) the White House tape machine was rolling:

Bill Rogers [then Nixon’s Secretary of State] has got — to his credit it’s a decent feeling — but somewhat sort of a blind spot on the black thing because he’s been in New York. He says well, ‘They are coming along, and that after all they are going to strengthen our country in the end because they are strong physically and some of them are smart.’ So forth and so on….My own view is I think he’s right if you’re talking in terms of 500 years. I think it’s wrong if you’re talking in terms of 50 years. What has to happen is they have to be, frankly, inbred. And, you just, that’s the only thing that’s going to do it, Rose.

+ I find it fascinating that these sexually-insecure politicians are not afraid of being alone with other men. Those are always the morally fraught situations that get the Almighty so pissed off he whips up tornadoes, floods and earthquakes, according to the extreme weather alerts on the 700 Club…

+ With Beto running on his own fumes, we badly needed another comic figure to enliven the Democratic debates. Enter billionaire Tom Steyer, here offering his deepest thoughts on the nature of inequality: “Karl Marx failed to consider software.”

+ House Democrats who voted today against raising the federal minimum wage, including our very own Kurt Schrader…

Anthony Brindisi (NY-22)
Joe Cunningham (SC-01)
Kendra Horn (OK-05)
Ben McAdams (UT-04)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02)

+ So when Biden starts compromising with “the other side” will he begin with the Democratic House members who voted against raising the federal minimum wage or jump right to Louie Gohmert?

+ Matt Negrin: “The Republican Party protected a child rapist, endorsed a child molester for Senate, is bragging about putting children in concentration camps… and the Democratic leadership’s message is “soon they will realize the folly of their ways and we will work together with them”

+ Biden, who lies as regularly as Trump though much less smoothly, tried to smear Sanders and Warren with a false charge that moving to a single payer health care system would harm cancer patients by causing a “hiatus” in their treatments. He just made that shit up.

+ Joe Biden, in New Hampshire, trying to rationalize his Iraq war vote : “The mistake I made was trusting President Bush, who gave me his word he was using it for the purpose of getting inspectors in to see what was going on, whether they were producing a nuclear weapon.”

You’d have to be dumber to swallow this explanation, than Biden was to trust Bush…

+ The only policies where there are sharp differences between Biden and Trump are on trade and the Iraq war, both of which are advantages to Trump. Trump even curtailed some of the worst features of Biden’s crime bill. It’s easy to see how this campaign will unfold…

+ There’s a theory, zealously promoted by NYT op-ed writers from Maureen Dowd to Frank Bruni, that Trump really wants to run against AOC. He likes to take pot shots from the safety of his Twitter account, but he doesn’t want to meet her face-to-face. AOC embodies almost everything Trump fears most in life. I think she’d eat him alive…

+ What AOC & Co. are up against: the Dems are an aging party that values loyalty to leadership and seniority more than , ideas, vigor & innovation. In the House, there are 20 standing committees, only 4 are chaired by people younger than the ave retirement age in the US (62). Three are chaired by people 80 or older. Is it any wonder their policies are so immune to any kind of change?

+ Post-ISIS horror in Syria: more than 4,760 bodies have been exhumed from a series of mass graves in and around Raqqa since January 2018.

+ Asked about Amazon’s meeting with ICE to sell face Rekognition technology, a company executive said: “We believe the government should have the best available technology.”

+ In 1992, Trump invited Jeffrey Epstein to Mar-a-Lago for a party featuring dozens of young women, including a group of cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills. At one point Trump leans next to the convicted child rapist and says, ““Look at her, back there. She’s hot.” At another point, Trump roughly gropes one of the cheerleaders from behind. The footage comes from a NBC show hosted by Faith Daniels, during her interview with Trump she recalls how surprised her by kissing her on the mouth at a Celebrity Chef event. He grins foulishly and says, “I did it when your husband wasn’t looking.”

+ Rafi Peretz, Israel’s minister of education, announced his support this week for “gay conversion therapy.” I wonder if he’s a follower of the Gabbard Method?

+ Bernie Sanders: “If we could implement Medicare without computers in 1966 in twelve months we can manage the implementation of Medicare for All now.”

+ U.S. military operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have released 766 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, from 2001 through 2017. That includes 400 million tons emitted in major conflict zones. Add in facilities and other routine factors, and the total carbon footprint over those years rises to 1.2 billion tons.

+ A senior DOJ official said AG Barr made final call on decision not to move forward in prosecuting Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Eric Garner’s murder, siding with EDNY recommendation over DOJ’s own Civil Rights division, which recommended prosecution.

+ Christian Book Distributors (CBD) is changing its name to ChristianBook because people kept confusing it with a marijuana distributor…

The B-I-B-L-E
Yes, that’s the book for me
I get so high
I can touch the sky
Sniffin’ those pages of CBD

+ A man from Colombia was arrested at the international airport in Barcelona after Spanish police discovered a half-kilo of cocaine hidden in his wig. I wonder if that’s why Hound Dog Taylor was so desperate to get his back…

+ Police pull over a car with expired plates. The car turns out to be stolen. The driver license is expired. His passenger has a gun. (At this point, almost any black person would have been shot.) She is a felon. Under the driver’s seat the cops find a bottle of whiskey. In the backseat, there’s a terrarium housing a rattlesnake. In the trunk, there’s a canister of uranium. Just another day in Guthrie, Oklahoma, the FrackQuake Capital of the USA (341 in the last 365 days).

+ The last worthy Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens who died this week at 99, was Justice Stevens was in the stands when Babe Ruth called his home-run shot during the 1932 World Series.

+ The slide in Black homeownership didn’t start under Trump, but he’ll probably find a way to brag about bringing it to a record (low) level …

+ Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Roger Stone violated her gag order and banned him from using any social media until his trial is over.

They’ll ground you when you’re tweeting in your car
They’ll ground you when you’re tweeting from afar
They’ll ground you when you’re putting on your drawers
They’ll ground you when you’re on the Infowars
But I would not feel so all alone
For now, they’re only grounding Roger Stone…

+ For the Dime’s Worth of Difference file: John Ehrlichman: “I wasn’t a huge of fan of Nixon’s politics. If someone had asked me to work for Kennedy, I would have.” (From the wonderful documentary, Our Nixon. Much of the footage is from home movies filmed by Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman. It’s on Amazon Prime.)

+ Nuclear Power: the grift that keeps on taking…the shutdown of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plants, some 40 years in the making, will cost at least $1.2 billion.

+ After having screened all six episodes of Chernobyl and found it benign, the members of Trump’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission are considering a plan to reduce inspections at aging nuclear plants in the United States.

+ You have to give the Trumpers this much. They’re not just willing to sacrifice honeybees to the chemical poison industry. They’ll willing to expose human children to these carcinogens as well.

+ A new study from the University of Arkansas details how climate change has intensified the drought in regions of the US: “Higher temperatures brought about by climate change led to an increased ‘coupling’ of land and atmosphere, which further increased the severity of heatwaves.” You’d think that word “coupling” would catch Trump’s eye…

+ In 60 years over one-third of the Earth’s population could be exposed to dangerous heat conditions of 127 degrees Fahrenheit (53°C) or more.

+ Hottest Global Mean Temperature ever recorded for the month of June…and July is sizzling.

+ By 2070, Joshua Tree National Park won’t have any Joshua trees and Glacier National Park won’t have any glaciers. But there’ll still be cannonballs and headstones at Gettysburg–if they don’t build condos over them…

+ Russia’s permafrost is melting, to deploy one of Trump’s favorite phrases, like no one’s ever seen before. The Alaskan permafrost may even be melting at a faster rate. The consequences for the planet will be dire. In fact, it could all unravel in real, as opposed to geological, time.

+ Alaska’s not only melting, it’s also burning, with more 550,000 acres now on fire and another 1.5 million acres already burned, the third largest amount on record.

+ Hurricane Barry set an all-time rainfall record in the state of Arkansas for a single cyclone event: 16.56 inches.

+ Half of all food-insecure countries are experiencing decreases in crop production — and so are some affluent industrialized countries in Western Europe.

+ Of the nine tiger species, three are already extinct, and the remaining six remain at risk of the same fate.

+ Charlie Hill, Oneida-Mohawk-Cree: “A Redneck told me to go back where I came from, so I put a tipi in his backyard.”

+ Police in Alabama issued a warning that flushing drugs is creating meth-fueled alligators.

Sweet home Alabama
Your swamps are the best
Sweet home Alabama
Where all the gators are on meth

+ Quentin Tarantino says his version of Star Trek will be “Pulp Fiction in space.” So basically the same thing Trump has in mind for Space Force…

+ Sidney Lumet on cinematic style: “Critics talk about style as something apart from the movie because they need the style to be obvious. The reason they need it to be obvious is that they don’t really see. If the movie looks like a Ford or Coca-Cola commercial, they think that’s style. And it is. It’s trying to sell you something you don’t need and is stylistically geared to that goal.”

+ Beware the writer as houseguest? The first time Cockburn came to stay with us he arrived four hours late in the Imperial, which was leaking oil and took up half the parking slots on our block, with an unannounced houseguest (female), his Fax machine, typewriter, a leather bag with half a roasted chicken, two bottles of hard cider, and some salmon that had begun to emit a foul odor. He was late for his LA Times column, so he promptly began working on an antique desk, which he soon spilled ink and Turkish coffee on. The Fax began spitting out dozens of pages from his intern at the Nation, which soon covered the living room floor in a blizzard of paper. He tended to scoot back in his chair to proof his pages before faxing them to LA, leaving deep gouges in the wooden floor. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship…(Things weren’t quite as messy after we got him on his first Blueberry i-Book.)

Ha, Ha Charade You Are….

Booked Up 

What I’m reading this week…

American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump
Tim Alberta
(Harper)

The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America
Daniel Okrent
(Scriber)

Seasons: Desert Sketches
Ellen Meloy
(Torrey House)

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

The Long Goodbye
Pere Ubu
(Cherry Red)

Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent
Lewis Capaldi
(Capitol)

Then I Try Some More
Joanna Sternberg
(Team Love Records)

Silence is Pessimism

Carlos Fuentes: “I discovered very quickly that criticism is a form of optimism, and that when you are silent about the shortcomings of your society, you’re very pessimistic about that society. And it’s only when you speak truthfully about it that you show your faith in that society.”

 

The Groundbreaking Public Health Study That Should Change U.S. Society—But Won’t

Counterpunch Articles -

Image Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Public Domain

What variable is associated with a 12 times greater likelihood of a suicide attempt—and also doubles the likelihood of cancer, heart disease, or stroke?

In the late 1990s, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study revealed a stunningly powerful relationship between childhood trauma and later adult emotional difficulties and physical health problems. Two decades after the ACE Study was published, it has finally become politically correct for U.S. politicians to acknowledge its significance, and for Congress to respond with legislation. However, U.S. history tells us that even when politicians finally acknowledge an ignored truth, given their allegiance to the U.S. societal status quo, their reactions routinely neglect the most embarrassing implications of that truth—before getting to that, a summary of the ACE Study.

The ACE Study

The ACE Study compared current adult emotional and physical health status to research subjects’ childhood traumatic experiences. The study was triggered by the 1980s observations of physician and researcher Vincent Felitti (head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego) who found a strong relationship between childhood sexual abuse and adult obesity.

In the mid-1990s, Felitti and Robert Anda (at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) surveyed the adverse childhood experiences of 17,431 Kaiser Permanente patient volunteers. Since the average study participant was 57 years old and their adult health status was known, the ACE Study could correlate adverse childhood experiences with adult health status decades later. Of note, this was a middle-to-upper-middle-class population—74% had attended college, and all had higher-end medical insurance.

Subjects were given one point for each Yes answer to the following 10 categories of childhood household trauma, and so their ACE score ranged from 0 to 10:

1. Recurrent emotional abuse such as humiliation (Were you routinely insulted, for example, told by parent you are stupid?).

2. Recurrent physical abuse (Were you beaten with fists or objects, beaten to the point of injury?).

3. Sexual abuse by older family member (Were you fondled or was anal, oral, or vaginal intercourse attempted on you?).

4. Major emotional neglect (Did you feel that no one in your family thought you were important or special?).

5. Major physical neglect (Can you recall not having enough to eat or enough clothing to wear or not being taken to the doctor if you were sick?).

6. Parental absence (Were your parents separated or divorced?).

7. Exposure to domestic violence (Did you grow up in home with a mother who was physically violated?).

8. Household substance abuse (Did you grow up in home with a problem drinker or drug abuser?).

9. Household extreme emotional problems (Did you grow up in home with someone who was suicidal, severely depressed, or diagnosed with severe mental illness?).

10. Household member incarcerated (Did you grow up in home with household member who went to prison?).

ACE findings produced two areas of unexpected results for the researchers. The first area was the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences in a relatively well-off population in the United States. The second area was the strength of the relationship between adverse childhood experiences with adult emotional problems and physical health issues—while unsurprising for many ACE victims, this has been groundbreaking for medical authorities.

Prevalence. More than a quarter of subjects grew up in a household with an alcoholic or a drug user; 23% had experienced severe physical abuse; and 28% of women had been sexually abused as children (16% of men). More than half of the subjects reported at least one adverse childhood experience, and one-quarter reported two or more.

It is important to keep in mind that ACE examined middle-to-upper-middle-class subjects, and we know from other research that abuse and neglect is far higher for children from financially impoverished households (the National Incidence Study of Abuse and Neglect reported: “Children in low socioeconomic status households. . . . experienced some type of maltreatment at more than 5 times the rate of other children; they were more than 3 times as likely to be abused and about 7 times as likely to be neglected”).

The finding that abuse and neglect are so common in well-off U.S. households—where, for example, 28% of girls are sexually abused—is so unpleasant that some defenders of the U.S. societal status quo have attempted to marginalize the ACE study by arguing that it is unreliable because it relies on the memory and credibility of respondents. The reality, Felitti and Anda have responded, is that underreporting of trauma is more likely than overreporting. Common sense tells us that, for example, a woman would be reluctant to discuss her childhood sexual abuse; and my experience of more than 30 years of clinical practice validates Felitti, Anda, and common sense—that underreporting is far more likely than overreporting.

Correlations Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Negative Adult Health. While apologists of the U.S. societal status quo are embarrassed by the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences for well-off American children, what has been groundbreaking for medical authorities is the finding of such a powerful relationship between childhood trauma and adult serious emotional problems and physical health problems.

Returning to the initial question: What variable is associated with 12 times greater likelihood we make a suicide attempt and which also doubles the likelihood we get cancer, heart disease, or have a stroke? That variable is an ACE score of 4 or more as compared to adults with an ACE score of 0. This same variable also is associated with: a 4 times greater likelihood we have emphysema or chronic bronchitis; more than 4 times greater likelihood we have had a depressive episode in the past year; 7 times greater likelihood we become an alcoholic; and 10 times greater likelihood to have injected illegal drugs.

Moreover, correlations followed a “dose-response” model, which means that the higher the ACE score, the worse the outcome. So for example, Felitti notes that an ACE score of 6 compared to an ACE score of 0 makes it 46 times more likely that a person will have injected illegal drugs.

ACE Study Implications

The more extensive our childhood abuse and neglect, the greater our lifelong chronic stress, and the more likely we, throughout our lives, “medicate” the emotional pain of unhealed trauma by smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using dangerous illegal and psychiatric drugs, compulsively eating, and engaging in other destructive behaviors. Our physical health is damaged not only by toxins such as cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs; even for those with high ACE scores who don’t engage in these self-destructive behaviors, the chronic unrelieved stress of unhealed trauma increases the wear and tear on the body by, for example, overloading our bodies with adrenalin and cortisol which compromise our immune systems.

While ACE findings of the prevalence of household dysfunction in well-off American households is embarrassing for apologists of the U.S. societal status quo, even more taboo (and uncounted in the ACE Study) are adverse childhood experiences outside the household—traumatizing childhood experiences created by U.S. societal authorities and institutions. In my clinical experience, patients have often told me that their most painful adverse childhood experiences have been created by (1) schooling; (2) psychiatric treatment; and (3) state coercions.

In their schooling, my experience is that what has driven adolescents to feel stressed, hopeless, and suicidal even more often than peer bullying are school authorities’ coercions and threats of dire consequences for academic noncompliance and failure. Oppressive psychiatric treatment—e.g., the use of drugs to control bothersome behaviors instead of receiving caring for the emotional pain fueling such behaviors—is also a major adverse childhood experience. The adverse childhood experience that dominated my adolescence was the U.S. state terrorism of the Vietnam War and the draft, which filled me with a chronic fear that I was going to get maimed or killed in Vietnam unless I became a fugitive. Today, many adolescents are overwhelmed with anxiety owing to a range of societally generated terrors—e.g., they are all pressured to go to college but well aware that a college degree may result only in a low-paying job, crippling student-loan debt, and failure to avoid becoming one of life’s “losers.”

For a sane society, the most obvious implication of the ACE Study would be prioritizing the prevention of preventable adverse childhood experiences. A sane society would be asking questions about the very nature of a society and culture that creates so much trauma for children. However, we do not live in a sane society. We live in a society that prioritizes profits for large corporations and power for large institutions. We live in a society in which, for example, the cause of depression and suicide has been, for decades, falsely attributed by psychiatry and Big Pharma to a chemical imbalance theory long known to be untrue—an untruth that has made billions of dollars for drug companies and increased power for psychiatry through increased use of antidepressants which are known to actually increase suicide. This is just one of many examples that we do not live in a sane society.

U.S. Politicians’ Response vs. A Sane Society’s Response

Owing to the great efforts of Felitti, Anda, and others getting the word out on the ACE Study, twenty years after its publication, it is no longer possible for politicians to simply ignore its findings. In June of 2019, the RISE From Trauma Act was introduced with bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, its stated purpose: “To improve the identification and support of children and families who experience trauma.” It allocates $50 million in grants, spread over 2020 to 2023, for institutions such as child welfare agencies, hospitals, and schools for research; to build awareness, and to assess, prevent, and treat youth and their families who have experienced trauma or at risk of experiencing it.

In her Mad in America article about the RISE From Trauma Act, Leah Harris provides examples of how states have created initiatives in schools to be more “trauma sensitive.” In response to the idea of creating more trauma sensitive schools, one young man I know with an ACE score of 8—but who feels as traumatized by his school experience as by his household ones—was cynical, rhetorically asking me: “Are schools going to include ACE screening day with lice screening day? Are they going to report ACE scores to parents—parents who will then abuse the kid even more for talking to authorities about their shit parents?”

In response to Harris’s article, there were many comments by Mad in America readers who had negatively experienced psychiatric treatment, and almost all were concerned that the legislation would result in more such treatment that would be re-traumatizing. Felliti himself has concerns about typical mental health services that primarily treat traumatized patients with drugs, noting, “Back when I was at Kaiser Permanente, I was afraid to send patients to psychiatrists.”

In a sane society, treatment for traumatized young people would be quite different than the treatment routinely provided. A sane society would not equate treatment with drugging the symptoms of trauma; and it would not be self-satisfied with quick-and-easy behavioral “trauma informed focused treatments” (such as “cognitive processing therapy” and “prolonged exposure”). A sane society would recognize that real healing involves providing safe, caring, and loving relationships, which may or may not be possible within a paid therapeutic relationship; and so all efforts would be made to re-make society so that safe, caring, and loving relationships could be found in daily life.

A sane society would also be asking this: What is it about U.S. society that creates so many abusive and neglectful adults? A sane society would acknowledge that such adults have themselves likely not only been traumatized as children but continue to be traumatized in their adult lives—e.g., alienated and humiliated in their jobs; and given the general message that they are simply objects and tools, and to the extent that they cannot be used to make some rich asshole even richer or some powerful institution more powerful, they will be discarded. A sane society would not be surprised that such adults often have little patience for the normal but sometimes frustrating behaviors of children, and react with abuse and neglect.

 

How the Trump Administration is Eviscerating the Federal Government

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The federal government is by no means a perfect organization. It mirrors society. Yet it is the only saving grace that prevents the collapse of society under the stress of capitalism. It funds the military establishment and provides socialist medical care to its veteran soldiers – and members of Congress.

The federal government also employs thousands of outstanding scientists, engineers, medical doctors, economists and analysts of all kinds of specializations. These talented people work for federal departments, national laboratories, or institutes.

Altogether, government scientists and institutions form a matchless infrastructure for the production of knowledge for the good of society.

This socialist federal government is an asset of great import. It invents new knowledge and technology, which it spreads to private institutions and businesses, giving them seed, funds and purpose. They, in turn, hire workers for the production of goods and services society needs.

When the president is wise and thinks and works for the wellbeing and protection of all Americans, the federal government becomes even more of a great ethical engine of democracy, international cooperation, innovation, social equity and human and environmental protection.

Franklin Roosevelt was such a politician. The destitution of the economic collapse of the 1930s and World War II helped him in putting to place policies and institutions that saved America from revolution. Roosevelt capitalism had a human and democratic face.

Just as fundamental for the future of the country, Roosevelt taxed the rich. He used that money for hiring millions of Americans for land restoration, conservation, family farming, parks, full employment, and health and social security.

Presidents after Roosevelt, however, started disrupting his great edifice of civilization, nation-building, and safety net. They triggered the Cold War in order to recreate the supremacy of the moneyed class. They claimed the rich paid too much, hence they deserved lower taxes and tax cuts. They also have been deregulating Wall Street and business.

Environmental protection had barely come to the attention of the public in the 1960s and 1970s with the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. But starting with president Reagan in the 1980s, it slowly disappeared from any serious political discourse. Economists dismissed pollution and climate change by defining them as externalities, meaning nothing to worry about. The bottom line remains the order of the day.

This dangerous nonsense became the official dogma of the Trump administration that came to power in 2017. Enough with regulations is enough, the Trump agents of Wall Street said. Get rid of them. Climate change is a hoax.

Trump

I was thunderstruck Americans “elected” Trump. This is a thoroughly unqualified person for the office of the presidency. He is selfish and illiterate. He is the son of a real estate business man. He inherited money and real estate. His purpose is to enrich himself, his family and nobody else. There’s no public consciousness, ethics or patriotism in Trump. He would be happy in a guarded golf course.

An editorial of the Los Angeles Times (July 16, 2019) painted this succinct portrait:

“Trump is the most intolerant, mean-spirited, dangerous president this country has elected in years; insulting, degrading and polarizing Americans is second nature to him.”

Inequality is the trade mark of degradation and polarization. Once in power, Trump became the champion of inequality. He handed the rich minority of Americans a tax cut and less taxation worth billions. They (a few thousands who own most of America) in turn are funding his reelection with some of the ill-gotten public billions Trump sent them.

To get reelected and help his billionaire class continue looting America, Trump went to the playbook of Reagan. He appointed shady billionaires to run the federal government. They drafted Trump’s executive orders for deregulation, which means pollution goes back to being an externality: no problem.

Shutting down science

Second, to keep up with such silly but extremely dangerous farce of deregulation, Trump and his billionaire friends concluded they had to silence federal employees.

Thousands of those employees are scientists doing necessary climate and agricultural research or funding important research in a large variety of science disciplines. The findings of this national research guide the country’s domestic and international priorities.

Trump, however, has no need for science or climate or farm research. He does not have a clue of what agriculture or global warming are all about.

Federal scientists have been reporting the bad and emergency consequences of the burning of fossil fuels. This disturbs the oil, natural gas and coal industry executives profoundly. Some of the climate change findings of federal scientists suggest global warming is not good for food production.

This scientific evidence and the Trump administration pretense of business as usual is telling Americans and the world that Trump (and his coterie of billionaire advisors) are utterly stupid and selfish, putting their temporal wealth above the health and security of America and the world.

It’s for this reason that Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture shut down science at US Department of Agriculture. This is an animal factory and agribusiness executive by the name of Sonny Perdue. He eviscerated the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. These two organizations alone have been having hundreds of scientists and economists studying agriculture from a variety of perspectives. That includes learning as much as possible about the effects of climate change on food production.

Perdue ordered hundreds of these USDA employees to move to Kansas City or lose their jobs. The American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing the scientists and economists of USDA, described this ruthless action as “catastrophic attrition.”

War on environmental protection

The other government department that suffered similar evisceration was the EPA. Deregulation did more than defang EPA. It destroyed the union representing thousands of employees under stress.

Jeff Ruch, Pacific Director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a non-profit organization for government workers, said:

“Not only is the Trump White House waging war on environmental protection, rolling back regulations and gutting enforcement, but it is targeting the dedicated professionals [scientists, engineers, attorneys and other specialists] laboring  through very difficult circumstances within EPA. Fear should not be the governing principle for public service.”

All Seemed Possible When the Sandinistas Took Power 40 years Ago

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Image Source: Fuimos siempre ladrones nacionales – Public Domain

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Sandinistas taking power in Nicaragua, a milestone that merits celebration regardless of our opinions on how the Sandinista Revolution evolved. Nor should the hand of United States imperialism in distorting that revolution be ignored — the huge cost exacted by the U.S.-directed and -funded Contras totaled more than four years of Nicaragua’s gross domestic product.

Just as many of the tactics the U.S. government and those on its payroll are using in its all-out economic war against Venezuela replicate what was done to Chile during the era of Salvador Allende (including blowing up power plants to cause widespread blackouts), there are parallels with U.S. tactics against the Sandinistas. Pressuring opposition parties to boycott elections, then declaring those elections fraudulent, was a tactic used by the Reagan administration in 1984, just as the Trump administration is doing in Venezuela today following the attempts to delegitimize the Bolivarian Revolution by the Bush II/Cheney and Obama administrations.

Another parallel between the Bolivarian Revolution of the past 20 years and the Sandinista Revolution of the 1980s is the creation of a mixed economy. The intention of the Sandinistas was to build a mixed economy, one with socialist elements but that would leave much of the economy in the hands of Nicaragua’s big capitalists. The Bolivarian Revolution, although intended to progress toward a not necessarily strongly defined “socialism for the 21st century,” has struggled to advance beyond a stage of ameliorating the conditions of capitalism, although by any reasonable standard Venezuela does considerably more there than any so-called “social democratic” government has done.

The bottom line, however is this: Even when political power is taken out of the hands of a country’s capitalists, if economic power is left in those hands, that economic power will eventually enable the holders of that power (industrialists and bankers) to wrest control of the economy and ultimately force the government to bend to their will. That happened in Nicaragua — ultimately, the devastation wrought by the Contras, the financial blockade imposed by the U.S. and the contradictions arising from the Sandinistas giving ever more concessions and subsidies to Nicaragua’s capitalists resulted in the Sandinista government imposing an austerity program reminiscent of those imposed by the International Monetary Fund, excepting the dubious value of the IMF or World Bank loans.

All of that would be years in the future after the takeover. On July 17, 1979, dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled the country after years of waging war on his country and muscling in on so many businesses that even some of Nicaragua’s bourgeoisie wanted him gone. Years of tireless work by Sandinista militants, often at the risk of their lives, led to that day. Two days later, on July 19, the Sandinistas marched triumphantly into Managua, the capital, having already captured control of much the country in the late stages of the insurrection.

Nonetheless, in the early years the Sandinistas made good on most of the promises they had put forth in their 1969 Historical Program. Nor should the vast array of problems left behind by the Somoza dictatorship be forgotten. The following excerpt from It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment discusses the new revolutionary government’s struggles with restarting a shattered economy, meeting the expectations of its millions of supporters and attempting to keep industrialists from stripping their businesses of assets while seeking to create a democracy deeper than what is possible in capitalist countries and simultaneously preparing to defend itself against the inevitable counterattack from the U.S. government.

***

New government begins process of rebuilding, with strains showing early

The nature of the enormous problems the Sandinistas faced had similarities to what the young Soviet Union faced in the early 1920s. A revolution had succeeded at enormous cost, with a civil war fought savagely by the revolution’s opponents wreaking staggering economic damage; the revolution faced hostile, much stronger foreign powers; the country was dependent on agricultural exports and could adjust that dependency only with difficulty and at the risk of potentially wrenching changes internally; expanding a small industrial sector was desirable but a goal for which the fulfillment would be partly in contradiction to its agricultural base; and a population that had lived in miserable poverty expected its material needs and wants to be met faster than the country’s shattered material base was capable of doing. Somehow these problems had to be solved by men and women with energy and determination but a lack of administrative experience.

Nicaragua’s militants who had participated in the revolution and found themselves in responsible positions upon the revolution’s victory had no experience in the affairs of state, because they had been shut out of public participation, and if their attempts at organizing became known to Somoza’s authorities, the prisons and torture chambers of the National Guard awaited.

So mistakes, many of them, were made in the early days of the revolution. How could it be otherwise? It is not remarkable that the Sandinistas made mistakes; what it remarkable is their willingness to learn from them and often correct them, sometimes effecting sharp reversals of bad policies.

The early Bolshevik cadres, similarly, couldn’t help but make mistakes when they were placed in responsible positions, having also been shut out of societal participation. But that is enough comparison; it would be too easy to overgeneralize and there were more differences than commonalities between the Soviet Union of the early 1920s and Nicaragua at the end of the 1970s. And the Sandinistas certainly carried out policies drastically different than did the Bolsheviks, having the experience of many revolutions from which to learn, but also having carried out a revolution on their own terms, with a mix of ideologies and strategies rooted in their own and their country’s historical experience. They could not have led a successful revolution otherwise.

And the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) did it with much help from inside the country, and very little from outside the country.

The Soviet Union’s theorists had consistently held the position that conditions were nowhere near ripe for a revolution in Central America, and because challenging official dogma in the Soviet Union was anathema, that viewpoint could not in those years be challenged. Indeed, the Soviet Union, since Stalin’s assumption of power, had opposed revolutions everywhere. True, it did use the Red Army to impose régimes in Central Europe, but that, too, went against the spirit of Marxism that believes revolutions can only be made by a people themselves, not imposed from outside. Stalin opposed home-grown communist revolutions in China, Yugoslavia and Greece — counseling revolutionary leaders to stop and instead back their nationalist capitalists in the first two and refusing to lift a finger for the third when its revolution was drowned in blood by the United Kingdom. All of Stalin’s successors held fast to this refusal to back revolutions elsewhere; partly this was out of ideological rigidity tinged with a lack of confidence in other peoples, but perhaps more it reflected a desire to maintain peace with the capitalist West at any cost.

Tomás Borge, the only FSLN founder who lived to see the revolution, spoke frankly during an interview conducted eight years after the Sandinistas took power. “Since it was not easy to see the prospects for such a change — even revolutionary forces in the world had not grasped the imminence of victory and had adopted a rather indifferent attitude — we did not receive support during the war from any of the socialist countries, except Cuba,” Borge said, without judgment.

“The Soviet Union and others did not support us because they believed that only the Latin American Communist parties were the representatives of revolutionary changes, and it was not possible for them to think otherwise at that time. They had been through a whole series of experiences, developing ideas in distant countries that divorced them from particular realities. … I am not blaming those countries, simply pointing out an objective fact. … It cannot be said — in that idiotic language that is sometimes used — that Nicaragua’s revolution was the fruit of Moscow gold. Not even the Soviets, the Soviet revolutionaries, believed in revolutionary change in Nicaragua. So how were they going to help us!”

Official commentary in the Soviet Union’s leading theoretical journal stressed the prevailing viewpoint that armed struggle was hopeless and that Latin Americans should use peaceful tactics while participating in broad coalitions — a view echoed by the head of the El Salvador Communist Party, who went so far as to call those who advocated armed struggle “nihilists.”

The behavior of the Moscow-aligned Nicaraguan Socialist Party can best be explained in this context. The party was a participant in the Sandinista governing structure, but less than two months after the FSLN took power, it issued a formal resolution calling on the FSLN to

“be sensitive to the demands and interests of the capitalist class allies. Putting aside or neglecting those interests, in the name of excessive revolutionary radicalism, will not only lead to losing those allies but will strengthen the counter-revolution. … [T]his revolution must be conducted in such a way as to prevent the influence of tendencies seeking to skip stages or leap arbitrarily over the necessary stages and their corresponding transformations.”

Overall, a statement quite consistent with the Nicaraguan Socialists’ long-standing resistance to revolution. The party’s resolution might reasonably be read as a warning against moving too fast, but regardless of how that resolution is interpreted, it is quite far removed from a “revolutionary” mindset. Continual shrieking about Soviet bogeymen under every rock ceases being comical at some point and becomes simply morbid.

Triumphing with a large coalition

Regardless, there was no need to worry about precipitous moves. The FSLN had consistently carried out its line of encouraging mass participation, creating the largest possible coalition in the final months of the insurrection and leaving plenty of room for political participation by sectors of society ranging from Marxist parties to its Left all the way to capitalist organizations on the moderate Right. Most of the eighteen ministers in the first government lineup were capitalist figures and two of the five seats on the executive body of the provisional government, the Junta of National Reconstruction, were held by prominent capitalists.

The FSLN had adopted Augusto Sandino’s motto, “Implacable in struggle, generous in victory,” and applied that generosity even to the National Guard. Seeking to avoid a bloody revenge, Borge recalled, “When they tried to lynch the [Somozist] prisoners who were in the Red Cross building, I personally went to see the relatives of our martyrs … and convinced them not to do it by saying, ‘So why did we make this revolution, if we are going to do the same things they used to do?’ ” Borge had the moral authority to make that plea, for he suffered through two prison terms in Somoza’s prisons, undergoing torture and being held in solitary confinement, and his wife was tortured to death by the National Guard. Borge had been involved in struggles against Somoza since the late 1940s.

Borge was one of nine members of the FSLN National Directorate, which was the ultimate authority after Somoza fled. The directorate’s structure was based on unity — when the three tendencies reunited, each tendency was represented by three leaders. Daniel Ortega, of the Tercerista tendency, as the one directorate member who also sat on the five-member Junta of National Reconstruction, became the Junta’s chair.

Ortega assumed his roles because the Terceristas were the dominant faction due to their strategy proving successful and because their tactics could include the other two tendencies’ strategies, giving them a moral authority within the FSLN. Ortega had a long history of political work, joining the student protest movement as a teenager despite the disapproval of his accountant father who had once been a fighter for Augusto Sandino. Interestingly, Ortega also gave bible lessons when a student. He joined the FSLN at age eighteen in 1963, becoming a resistance fighter before spending seven years in jail, where he was tortured.

The new Sandinista government may have shown generosity in victory, but it was going to consolidate that victory. An FSLN commander, Bayardo Arce, put it this way: “This is a Sandinista State; it is a state where the majority of our people subscribe to the political philosophy of Sandisimo, that is why the Council of State has to reflect this majority.” Arce was referring to a new legislative body that would soon be formed, but, more generally, he was noting the reality of Nicaragua. The revolution had been fought under the Sandinista banner, the Sandinistas had organized the insurrection and protected people from the wrath of Somoza’s goons as best they could; there simply would not have been a revolution without them. So while Arce’s words may have been difficult to hear for some, it was a plain statement of how most Nicaraguans felt.

Formally, the five-member Junta of National Reconstruction headed the government as a collective executive, and it ruled by decree for a year until the Council of State convened. Although the FSLN National Directorate was the true center of power, setting overall policy, the Junta worked by consensus in forming policies to implement the Directorate’s broad policy decisions, and the capitalists also had opportunity to affect the carrying out of policy through their ministerial positions. The Directorate worked in a collegial fashion, creating a collective style of leadership. The Sandinistas did not wish to have a dominant personality, nor were there any candidates for such a role; only Carlos Fonseca, killed in a National Guard ambush in 1976, had any potential to do so and it is an open question as to whether he could have. Among other reasons, Fonseca advocated the Prolonged People’s War line, not that of the Terceristas.

The nationalization of Somoza’s stolen property

One of the Junta’s first acts, in Decree Number 3, was to confiscate and nationalize the property of Somoza, his family and a few very close associates. Somoza’s business empire was so extensive that the Sandinista’s new state-controlled sector represented one-quarter of the economy. Included in the nationalization were Somoza’s landholdings, which constituted 23 percent of the country’s farmland. More than 90 percent of the confiscated lands consisted of the largest plantations, those more than three and a half square kilometers (875 acres).

This decree was followed by the creation of the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Reform, and, unlike other ministries, this important department was put in Sandinista hands from the start, under the direction of Jaime Wheelock, a National Directorate member and a Proletarian Tendency leader. Wheelock had originally wished to implement his tendency’s more radical agricultural program, but a more modest program was implemented under Directorate consensus. And, already, the Sandinistas were holding back landless agricultural workers from seizing more land.

The Rural Workers Association had emerged a few years earlier, organizing farm workers, particularly day laborers, and created a national organization by early 1978. The association not only organized guerrilla units and coordinated armed actions with the FSLN, but in the final months before the takeover backed spontaneous land takeovers. The land seizures assured there was sufficient food for the liberated areas; the seized lands were collectively farmed and managed, and not parceled into individual plots.

Other early acts of the Junta were nationalization of banks, insurance and foreign trade. Nicaragua’s banks, however, had collapsed; therefore taking them over meant taking over responsibility for the banks’ debts. As that amounted to a bailout, the capitalists were happy to go along with this decree. But this aspect of the nationalizations had its firm logic, as well — the banks had played a large role in the massive corruption under Somoza’s reign and the insurance companies were unable to cope with the country’s massive economic damage. Nicaragua’s foreign minister, Miguel D’Escoto, explained the banking and insurance takeovers in a letter to his embassies and consulates: “In this case, we were forced to act in response to economic necessity rather than ideological preference. The financial institutions were bankrupt. The nationalization of the banks was, in effect, the nationalization of their debt. In order to reopen the banks, the government has assumed an additional debt of $230 million.” That debt was on top of the $1.6 billion foreign debt that Somoza had saddled the country with, which the Junta agreed to honor.

The government takeover of foreign trade was also in effect a subsidy to capitalists, primarily agricultural exporters. The confiscation of Somoza’s properties put some of this sector under state control, but private plantation owners still commanded about three-quarters of the country’s agricultural exports, primarily cotton, coffee, beef and sugar. Maintaining agricultural exports was critical to economic recovery — they accounted for 80 percent of Nicaragua’s exports. Under the nationalization of foreign trade, the state sold imported inputs to exporters at the official exchange rate and purchased their production for export at guaranteed prices better than the exchange rates.

The state was guaranteeing the exporters a higher price, with the state absorbing the difference between the guaranteed higher price and the price set by the international market. The beneficiaries of this subsidy were overwhelmingly large plantation owners. A government pamphlet later explained that “100 percent of the private sector’s needs for working capital and investment” were now financed by the public, whereas never more than 70 percent of these needs had been subsidized under Somoza. The pamphlet continued, “Despite the fact that the private sector has made significant profits [in 1980 and 1981], the producers in this sector have not been forced to use these profits to meet their own needs for working and investment capital.”

Despite subsidies and guaranteed profits, the big capitalists continued to chafe at not being in charge politically. A class that believes it is entitled to exercise political control found it increasingly difficult to remain part of the government, and the contradictions between what the big capitalists wanted and the many policies of the Sandinistas that sought to provide better wages, benefits and working conditions, and new democratic structures, for urban and rural working people — the overwhelming majority of the population and the classes who made the revolution — slowly intensified.

Shifts in the government as the revolution advances

Those stresses caused a major shift in the cabinet. In December 1979 and February 1980, a series of resignations and reshuffles, along with shifts to the Left by other ministers, resulted in a radically different cabinet, with almost all ministries now headed by Sandinistas. Several members of the FSLN National Directorate assumed important ministerial positions. The work of the ministries were difficult at first; most of the bureaucrats who had worked in government before the takeover had fled. But the Junta asked lower- and middle-level employees to return, and about 90 percent did so. A new culture of honesty in the ranks of the ministries was created, and dedication and sacrifice were rewarded; massive corruption had been the norm under Somoza.

A new type of temporary legislature, the Council of State, convened on May 4, 1980. The council had 51 seats, each reserved for organized groups — eight political parties, three mass-participation and community organizations, seven labor organizations, seven professional guilds, five employer organizations and the armed forces. The Council originated most of the legislation and could pass or reject legislation introduced by the Junta of National Reconstruction, although the Junta could veto Council-passed legislation.

There had been hope among the employers that they would be able to control the Council of State, but when mass organizations aligned with the Sandinistas were granted seats, one of the capitalist members of the Junta, Alfonso Robelo, used that as an excuse to resign. Days earlier, the other capitalist Junta member, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, had stepped down. Both were replaced by industrialists. The mass-participation organizations deserved representation, the Sandinistas argued, because of their massive growth during the past year. Robelo had wanted a guaranteed majority for capitalists on the Council, but walked out when a majority instead went to the organizations that had carried out the work of the revolution — the members of which had literally put their lives on the line for it and constituted a large majority of the country’s population.

The Sandinistas were also faced with the massive task of building a court system. Unlike in the ministries, it would not be possible to use the bricks of the past to rebuild; the court system had been a completely servile instrument of Somoza’s dictatorship. Plus there was the need to have trials for the thousands of imprisoned National Guardsmen. Special tribunals were created to try Somoza’s war criminals in which the defendants were afforded vastly more rights than political defendants had been under Somoza, and the trials were open to the international press, another change.

“We didn’t have anything,” said Nora Astorga, a trained lawyer who was selected to be the prosecutor at the trials of the Guardsmen. “They gave you a job and you had to do everything from finding people to do it and a house to do it in, to inventing the mechanisms. From nothing. They’d say to you, ‘You’re in charge.’ And you had to figure out how to do it.” Astorga found prosecuting Guardsmen difficult because many had wives and young children living in poverty. She had the authority to release them without trial, and did so in about one-fifth of the 6,000 cases she handled, and most of those who were convicted received sentences of five or less years. No more than fifteen percent received the maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment; the Sandinistas had immediately abolished the death penalty.

Astorga said, “We had a group of compañeros who could go where the Guard member had lived to get information, to investigate why he joined the Guard, how he had behaved, what he had done. … I’m not saying we were never unjust. It’s difficult to be fair 100 percent of the time, but we made a tremendous effort.”

Citations are omitted from the above excerpt from the book It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist ExperimentThe omitted sources cited in this excerpt are: Alan Benjamin, Nicaragua: Dynamic of an Unfinished Revolution [Walnut Publishing, 1989]; John A. Booth, The End and the Beginning: The Nicaraguan Revolution [Westview Press, 1985]; Forrest D. Colburn, Post-Revolutionary Nicaragua: State, Class, and the Dilemmas of Agrarian Policy [University of California Press, 1986]; Carmen Diana Deere and Peter Marchetti, “The Worker-Peasant Alliance in the First Year of the Nicaraguan Agrarian Reform,” Latin American Perspectives, Spring 1981; Gary Ruchwarger, “The Campesino Road to Socialism? The Sandinistas and Rural Co-operatives,” The Socialist Register, 1988; Richard Stahler-Sholk, “Stabilization, Destabilization, and the Popular Classes in Nicaragua, 1979-1988,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. XXV, No. 3 (1990); and “Nora Astorga In Her Own Words,” Envío, April 1988

Who Killed Oscar and Valeria: The Inconvenient History of the Refugee Crisis

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Photograph Source: Nofx221984 – Public Domain

History never truly retires. Every event of the past, however inconsequential, reverberates throughout and, to an extent, shapes our present, and our future as well

The haunting image of the bodies of Salvadoran father, Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, Valeria, who were washed ashore at a riverbank on the Mexico-US border cannot be understood separately from El Salvador’s painful past.

Valeria’s arms were still wrapped around her father’s neck, even as both lay, face down, dead on the Mexican side of the river, ushering the end of their desperate and, ultimately, failed attempt at reaching the US. The little girl was only 23-months-old.

Following the release of the photo, media and political debates in the US focused partly on Donald Trump’s administration’s inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrants. For Democrats, it was a chance at scoring points against Trump, prior to the start of presidential election campaigning. Republicans, naturally, went on the defensive.

Aside from a few alternative media sources, little has been said about the US role in Oscar and Valeria’s deaths, starting with its funding of El Salvador’s “dirty war” in the 1980s. The outcome of that war continues to shape the present, thus the future of that poor South American nation.

Oscar and Valeria were merely escaping ‘violence’ and the drug wars in El Salvador, many US media sources reported, but little was said of the US government’s support of El Salvador’s brutal regimes in the past as they battled Marxist guerrillas. Massive amounts of US military aid was poured into a country that was in urgent need for true democracy, basic human rights and sustainable economic infrastructure.

Back then, the US “went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador,” wrote Raymond Bonner in the Nation. “The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.”

These crimes, included the butchering of 700 innocent people, many of them children, by the US-trained Atlacatl Battalion in the village of El Mozote, in the northeastern part of the country. Leaving El Salvador teetering between organized criminal violence and the status of a failed state, the US continued to use the country as a vassal for its misguided foreign policy to this day. Top US diplomats, like Elliott Abraham, who channeled support to the Salvadoran regime in the 1980s carried on with a successful political career, unhindered.

To understand the tragic death of Oscar and Valeria in any other way would be a dishonest interpretation of a historical tragedy.

The dominant discourse on the growing refugee crisis around the world has been shaped by this deception. Instead of honestly examining the roots of the global refugee crisis, many of us often oscillate between self-gratifying humanitarianism, jingoism or utter indifference. It is as if the story of Oscar and Valeria began the moment they decided to cross a river between Mexico and the US, not decades earlier. Every possible context before that decision is conveniently dropped.

The politics of many countries around the world have been shaped by the debate on refugees, as if basic human rights should be subject to discussion. In Italy, the ever-opportunistic Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, has successfully shaped a whole national conversation around refugees.

Like other far-right European politicians, Salvini continues to blatantly manipulate collective Italian fear and discontent regarding the state of their economy by framing all of the country’s troubles around the subject of African migrants and refugees. 52% of Italians believe that migrants and refugees are a burden to their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

Those who subscribe to Salvini’s self-serving logic are blinded by far-right rhetoric and outright ignorance. To demonstrate this assertion, one only needs to examine the reality of Italian intervention in Libya, as part of the NATO war on that country in March 2011.

Without a doubt, the war on Libya, justified on the basis of a flawed interpretation of United Nations Resolution 1973, was the main reason behind the surge of refugees and migrants to Italy, en-route to Europe.

According to the Migration Policy Center, prior to the 2011 war, “outward migration was not an issue for the Libyan population.” This changed, following the lethal NATO war on Libya, which pushed the country squarely into the status of failed states.

Between the start of the war on March 19 and June 8, 2011, 422,912 Libyans and 768,372 foreign nationals fled the country, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). Many of those refugees sought asylum in Europe. Salvini’s virulent anti-refugee discourse is bereft of any reference to that shameful, self-indicting reality.

In fact, Salvini’s own Lega party was a member of the Italian coalition which took part in NATO’s war on Libya. Not only is Salvini refusing to acknowledge his country’s role in fostering the current refugee crisis, but he is designating as an ‘enemy’ humanitarian NGOs that are active in rescuing stranded refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHRC), an estimated 2,275 people drowned while attempting to cross to Europe in 2018 alone. Thousands of precious lives, like those of Oscar and Valeria, would have been spared, had NATO not intervened on the pretext of wanting to save lives in Libya in 2011.

According to UNHRC, as of June 19, 2019, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; of them, 41.3 million are internally displaced people, while 25.9 million are refugees who crossed international borders.

Yet, despite the massive influx of refugees, and the obvious logic between political meddling (as in El Salvador) and military intervention (as in Libya), no western government is yet to accept any moral – let alone legal – accountability for the massive human suffering underway.

Italy, France, Britain, and other NATO members who took part in bombing Libya in 2013 are guilty of fueling today’s refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Similarly, the supposedly random ‘violence’ and drug wars in El Salvador must be seen within the political context of misguided American interventionism. Were it not for such violent interventions, Oscar, Valeria and millions of innocent people would have still been alive today.

Dancing with Dr. Benway

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Photograph Source: Re-cropped derivative work: Burn t (talk) Burroughs1983_cropped.jpg: Chuck Patch – CC BY-SA 2.0

William S. Burroughs was a writer and a wreck; a cynic and a seer, a misanthrope and a muse. He was not really the hero type; he lacked the wholesomeness those seeking heroes are looking for. Nor was he a rock star. However, his books and approach to life inspired rock musicians, guitar heroes and otherwise. Numerous songs, a few band and even album titles were either stolen from Burroughs’ writing or inspired by his characters and situations. Older than many of those musicians who looked to his life and work for inspiration and guidance, Burroughs remains essentially timeless. From his junky days in New York City in the late 1940s to his relative stardom in the 1990s, Burroughs remained uncompromising, provocative, iconoclastic and insightful. His dark vision becomes more real with each and every day. Indeed, the current political, social and environmental situation we find ourselves in seems lifted from one of the many hellish scenarios found throughout his works.

Perhaps it is this that makes him so appealing to those rock musicians who attempt to define our world and remake their own. This possibility is but one of the subjects Casey Rae imagines in his new biography of Mr. Burroughs. Titled William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ‘n Roll, Rae’s text is a fundamentally comprehensive look at Burroughs’ influence on the songs and culture of rock music. Expectedly, there are descriptions and discussions of the relationships Burroughs had with David Bowie, Patti Smith, Lou Reed and Kurt Cobain. More interesting to this reviewer were the pages Rae spends writing about Burroughs’ meetings and influences on Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, and the founder of the industrial band Throbbing Gristle. All of these musicians, plus a few others Rae discusses, were drawn to Burroughs’ outlaw mystique and literary genius. Bob Dylan’s album Highway 61 Revisited not only reads like an excerpt from a Burroughs’ novel, but according to Rae it even includes a nod to the man himself when Dylan sings in Tombstone Blues: “I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill….”

There was a period in Burroughs’ literary life where he worked using a method of composition known as the cut-up method. In short, this involved writing out sentences, fragments and paragraphs, then cutting the paper they were on into smaller pieces. After this part of the process was complete, the author(s) randomly take the strips of paper and arrange them. This new arrangement then becomes the text. Different claims are made about this technique, but the essential element for this review is that almost all of the rock composers discussed in William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock n’ Roll used it in at least some of their compositions. The aforementioned disc from Bob Dylan is a perfect example, especially the song “Desolation Row.” Musically, the early live work of the Grateful Dead includes elements of cut-up collage, as does some of the music recorded by David Bowie on the trio of albums that make up his Berlin Trilogy.

I became aware of Burroughs in 1968 when Esquire magazine published his article on the Democratic Convention in Chicago. The article, titled “The Coming of the Purple One,” is an indictment of the failing American republic, a history lesson and a portrait of a tragedy. The fact that reportage from Jean Genet, Terry Southern and John Sack only served to further widen the lesion in my teenage American mind. The nation I was told I lived in was turning out to be quite different than the one I had seen on television during the convention. That series of articles in Esquire helped me understand why. In the latter half of the twentieth century, William S. Burroughs was better at revealing the truth than almost any journalist one could read in the mainstream press. A few years later, he came to Washington, DC with a troupe that included Ken Kesey and a few Merry Pranksters, among others. Kesey and the Pranksters showed an hour or so of the unedited footage from the bus trip made famous by Tom Wolfe. Mr. Burroughs read from his works, old and not-yet-published. I mention this as a means of getting across just how much his work influenced those who could not accept the prevailing narrative. Among those people are the musicians considered in Rae’s book.

As much a biography of Burroughs as it is a critical examination of his influence on rock music and its culture, William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock n’ Roll is an important addition to the always growing library of rock music literature. In addition, it continues the never-ending collection of materials published about the Beats and their influence. Written by a fan of the music and the work of the writer, the text provides a critical and informed analysis of both in a style that is both interesting and intellectually engaging.

Gaming the Climate

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Photograph Source: Jessie Eastland – CC BY-SA 4.0

The greater divisiveness of the various warring factions in Game of Thrones places our own national divisiveness on to small, less frightening screen only because our divisiveness does not include White Walkers and their Army of the Dead. The Thrones is a world of all against all far more confusing than our own U.S. war of all against all. Or is it?

An on-line questioner asked: “When did all this happen?” Another asked: “Does Game of Thrones use CGI?” I am led to think there is indeed confusion in fictional and real worlds but most certainly in the minds of perceivers. One of the great difficulties we have in deleting irrational narratives, formerly referred to as arguments, and thus discarding illegitimate claims to our attention is the fact that our ways of knowing have been confounded.

Believing that dragons and the walking dead were filmed on location or that the historical setting for Game of Thrones can be found in any number of texts in the Library of Congress suggests that we’ve slipped away from reality. I supposed when the Babel of cyberspace is a preferred “reality platform” than reality itself, much that can’t exist and much that can’t be reasonably said does exist and is said.

Our slipping away from reality does not mean that reality has given us a pass. Quite the contrary. Right now, we are facing our own Army of the Dead and we have mustered it into being. I refer to the way the planet is slowly heating up, an invasion of heat, flood, drought, starvation, disease, extinction.

Survival will return to the entire planet as motive. All else, from the rise or collapse of the stock market, whether America becomes white again or brown, gay and socialist, how many Twitter followers you have, whose “woke” and whose not, whether government is the problem or Tech the answer, whether Executive privilege will crush Congressional oversight, and on and on….will not matter.

But what will matter regarding the crucial issue of humanity’s survival as the army of global warming heats the Earth to disastrous levels is whether the current president gets another four years in the White House. Nothing but his own survival means anything to this 73-year-old man who knows nothing of mortality, his, his family’s, ours or the planet’s. He denies the existence of this existential threat to life on this planet.

We humans are a confident, cocky bunch, relying on a record of dominating and conquering Nature to pull us through. The “real excitement is playing the game” as our President attests, the clever gaming systems that to which others bend the knee. But Nature is not a system that bends to our knee.

This arrogance and stupidity in the face of a future that scientists are clearly warning us to prepare for can be detailed more descriptively than as simply an ideology or wealth divide. Consider the investment, meritocratic, and technocratic mindsets. And then consider a fourth, an isolated number, much larger than the others, not a mindset or attitude contingent but one solely determined by pain. Consider those in pain, on every level a human can experience pain, those who the President has thus far been able to draw into his own self-worship. But pain is not a mindset but a vacating of mind and an installation of itself, pain, as the only determinant. It is masterless.

The players of the investment class are determined to look upon any crisis or catastrophe as a buying opportunity. The attitude expressed by a Goldman-Sachs VP during the 2008 crash seems not to have become extinct as we face our new global threat: “The whole building is about to collapse anytime now…Only potential survivor Fabulous Fab[rice Tourre.” A rotting amour de soi which can never recognize a threat to itself.

The meritocratic/gentrifying elite are determined to assert the power of their own privileged personal choices to overcome any disaster, to put up privacy gating between their family, stock portfolio and luxury possessions and the ravages of global warming. They are self- assured that they cannot fail to choose the higher, safer ground. Illusions of autonomous choosing misjudge the power of external forces.

The technocrat billionaire entrepreneurs are determined to come up with a technocratic solution involving AI and robotics, one in which The Singularity melds human with machine, a robotic existence in which temperature, food, water, oxygen are no longer needed. This technophilia is itself the root cause of the threat we face to the life of the planet.

Those in pain are determined by their pain, both of mind and body, and thus the threat of a warming planet is a pain far off, a pain meaningless to those living so close to the edge of apprehending nothingness that a planet heated to the edge of human extinction means nothing.

But the brash attitudes in which our personal choosing to win under any circumstances brooks no objection are frightening. We are programmed in our technophilic age to think that we won’t come up with a hi-tech/AI/robotic solution to global warming just in time. The Nerds will do it just in time. Doesn’t production now run on a “Just-in-Time” schedule?

It’s almost impossible for the Wall St. player of spectacular returns on investment to foresee a time when crisis cannot be turned to profit. It is almost impossible for the meritocratic elite to recognize that global warming is not a test they can personally score high on and thus rise one more step up the ladder.

And for those in which such presumption and arrogance has had no opportunity to enter their lives, those in whose lives pain rules, that pain makes rational consideration of anything impossible. For those who are not capitalism’s players, for those who have never entered the meritocratic contest, the last thing needed is to put worry about something that might happen in the future alongside worries that are causing real pain now.

And yet….

“If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt, it would raise sea levels 23 feet, submerging some coastal cities.” (Aylin Woodward, “Greenland is approaching the threshold of an irreversible melt, and the consequences for coastal cities could be dire,” Business Insider, April 23, 2019)

“The world is on track for around 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century if it doesn’t make major reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. It could breach 1.5 °C sometime between 2030 and 2052 if global warming continues at its current rate.” (Jeff Tollefson, “Limiting Warming to 1.5° Celsius Will Require Drastic Action, IPCC Says,” Scientific American, Oct. 2018).

“My view is that 2 degrees is aspirational and 1.5 degrees is ridiculously aspirational” said Gary Yohe, an environmental economist at Wesleyan University. “They are good targets to aim for, but we need to face the fact that we might not hit them and start thinking more seriously about what a 2.5 degree or 3 degree world might look like.” (Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, “Why a Half a Degree of Global Warming is a Big Deal,” The New York Times, Oct. 2018).

In Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, the Bastard, believes that if he captures one of the zombies in the Army of the Dead and brings it to Cersei Lannister, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, she will put aside all enmity toward everyone and join in a defense against the Army of the Dead. She’ll join the coalition, adhere to the agreement. In current terms, she’ll rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and make the reading of all climate change assessments of The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mandatory in all schools.

None of this happens in the HBO show, just as dragons don’t happen in real life.

What this ruler does on the show is deny the existence of an Army of the Dead threat. When she is confronted with this threat, she agrees to a truce and a joining in the defense. But only idiots, in her view, would honor that pledge. What’s smart in this ruler’s calculation is for the others to fight the Dead, for others to assume the cost in treasure and lives.

I cannot but see President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change as a Queen Cersei move. Let the other countries fight to mitigate global warming. Meanwhile, the kind of winning, hard nose capitalism the President admires will continue without abatement in the U.S.

He’s very likely not alone in this self-interest and thus in this calculus. He has the technophiles, “My choices rule!” gentrifying, self-empowered, and the “Crisis is Opportunity!” investor-philes on his side. Illusions such as believing disaster boosts your investment return, or that planet destroying technocracy is itself the remedy to that destruction, or that a 23-foot rise in sea level won’t happen if you personally choose it not to happen are pre-Trump illusions. They are deeply rooted in the American cultural imaginary, as is his presidency a natural product of that imaginary.

The numbers are not with these contingents but rather with the many in pain, the many, who in a constitutional republic/representative democracy should rule in elections. Because, however, their pain dries up interest in anything but the pain, makes them impatient for quick relief, leaves them vulnerable to quack and quackery, we cannot expect much attention given to a future crisis, one which their President says is quackery promoted by quacks.

If you add to this the army of lobbyists, hucksters, paid stupefiers and confounders employed by plutocrats intent on protecting their privilege from electoral power, you can see that millionaires will probably flood the Congress and a huckster will get into the White House.

The fact that this 215 year old republic has run a 2016 election which led to the presidency of a man whose presence has a hyperreal dimension to it that makes it more unbelievable than any horrifying character in the fictional world of Game of Thrones warns us that we don’t have a democratic, constitutional order of things that can save itself.

And yet, our elections, which we now see as so vulnerable, must be won by those who will engage our own Army of the Dead, the devastations of increasing global warming.

We can say that the Russians hijacked the election, or that Hillary hijacked Bernie’s chances, or that the media followed Trump from the start because his bullshit boosted ratings, or that social media flooded the American brainpan with so many mind-numbing posts and tweets that reasoning couldn’t break through. But we need to own all this because our democratic structure, such as it is, contained and represented all of it. What is truly exceptional is our belief that our democratic processes were invulnerable to the assault of a Caliban and to the so-called “democratization” of all voices that break loose when, as Margaret Thatcher affirmed, “there is no such thing as society.”

Our system, our resident order of things, has given four years of rule to a Caliban, a “wicked dew” that has covered the whole country in slime, and that same system may give him another four years. Unless reason takes political control, disasters, that Trump and most in Congress will not live long enough to see, will be our destiny.

The following words revealing the incoherence of a darkened Mad Hatter mind were nonetheless repeatedly interrupted with loud applause:

 A politician that hears somebody where we’re at war with Al Qaida and sees somebody talking about how great Al Qaida is. Pick out her statement. That was Omar. How great Al Qaida is when you hear that and we’re losing great soldiers to Al Qaida, when you see the World Trade Center gets knocked down and you see the statements about the World Trade Center all the death and destruction. I’ll tell you what–I’m not happy with them. And it’s very easy to say oh, gee, well, it’s OK. If weak politicians want to say and the democrats in this case if they want to gear their wagons around these four people I think they are going to have a very tough election. Because I don’t think the people of the United States will stand for it.

Whether the underneath of our “exceptional” democracy is as dark and fractured in its syntax as this man’s mind, and thus in need of all the remedy measures proposed by the “Leftists,” young and old of the Congress, we cannot judge with certainty. We can be more certain that the disruptions to Nature engineered by the ambitions and presumptions of human reasoning and now unaddressed by the blight of our present rule darken all horizons.

The Numbers are In, and Trump’s Tax Cuts are a Bust

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The most commonly heard refrain when Donald Trump and the GOP were seeking to pass some version of corporate tax reform went something like this: There are literally trillions of dollars trapped in offshore dollar deposits which, because of America’s uncompetitive tax rates, cannot be brought back home. Cut the corporate tax rate and get those dollars repatriated, thereby unleashing a flood of new job-creating investment in the process. Or so the pitch went.

It’s not new and has never really stood up to scrutiny. Yet virtually every single figure who lobbied for corporate tax reform has made a version of this argument. In the past, Congress couldn’t or wouldn’t take up the cause, but, desperate for a political win after the loss on health care, Trump and the GOP leadership ran with a recycled version of this argument, and Congress finally passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on December 22, 2017. The headline feature was a cut in the official corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

So did reality correspond to the theoretical case made for the tax reform bill? We now have enough information to make a reasonably informed assessment. Unless you think that tax havens like Ireland, Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, all of which continue to feature as major foreign holders of U.S. Treasuries, have suddenly emerged as economic superpowers, the more realistic interpretation of the data shows the president’s much-vaunted claims about the tax reform to be bogus on a number of levels. Even though some dollars have been “brought home,” there remain trillions of dollars domiciled in these countries (at least in an accounting sense, which I’ll discuss in a moment). If anything, the key provisions of the new legislation have given even greater incentives for U.S. corporations to shift production abroad, engage in yet more tax avoidance activities and thereby exacerbate prevailing economic inequality. Which, knowing Donald Trump, was probably the whole point in the first place.

This tax bill was constructed on a foundation of lies. To cite one obvious example, the real U.S. corporate tax rate has never been near the oft-cited 35 percent level. As recently as 2014, the Congressional Research Service estimated that the effective rate (the net rate paid after deductions and credits) was around 27.1 percent, which was well in line with America’s international competitors.

But even the new and supposedly more competitive 21 percent rate has not been as advertised. As Brad Setser (a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations) has illustrated, the new tax bill also included a provision that enabled “companies that shift their profits abroad to pay tax at a rate well below the already-reduced corporate income tax…Why would any multinational corporation pay America’s 21 percent tax rate when it could pay the new ‘global minimum’ rate of 10.5 percent on profits shifted to tax havens, particularly when there are few restrictions on how money can be moved around a company and its foreign subsidiaries?” The upshot, as Setser concludes, is that “the global distribution of corporations’ offshore profits—our best measure of their tax avoidance gymnastics—hasn’t budged from the prevailing trend.”

Although this new 10.5 percent rate applies to “global intangibles,” such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, the legislation still creates incentives for companies (notably pharmaceuticals and high-tech companies) to shift investment in tangible assets as well (such as factories) in order to maximize the benefits of this global rate on intangibles.

Many anticipated this result at the time the new law was enacted. The legislation incentivizes increased offshore investment in real assets such as factories, because the more companies invest in these “tangibles” in offshore low tax jurisdictions such as Ireland, the easier it becomes to incur a “calculated minimum tax on your offshore intangible income (the patents and the like on a new drug, for example),” according to Setser.  The effect is also to exacerbate the trade deficit. A $20 billion jump in the pharmaceutical trade deficit last year provides excellent evidence of this trend. Ironically, this works at variance with Trump’s “America First” trade nationalism, and his concomitant efforts to wield the tariff weapon in order to disrupt global supply chains and get corporate America to re-domicile investment at home.

Parenthetically, a further political by-product has been to give the deficit hawks more political ammunition in their goal to cut supposedly “unsustainable” social welfare expenditures, perpetuating even greater economic inequality, on the grounds of insufficient tax revenues to “fund” these programs. That is another lie (see this New York Times op-ed by Stephanie Kelton to understand why).

As for the other bogus arguments used to justify this legislation, it is worth noting that most of dollars allegedly “trapped” overseas are in fact domiciled in the U.S. They have been classified as “offshore” purely for tax accounting purposes. Yves Smith of “Naked Capitalism,” for example, has pointed out that Apple stored the dollars “related to its Irish sub in banks in the US and managed it out of an internal hedge fund in Arizona.” Similarly, the Brookings Institute notes that American tax accounting rules do not place geographic restrictions on where those U.S. dollars are actually held, even if the Treasury data records them as “offshore” for tax purposes. Quite the contrary: “[T]he financial statements of the companies with large stocks of overseas earnings, like Apple, Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Oracle, or Merck…show most of it is in U.S. treasuries, U.S. agency securities, U.S. mortgage backed securities, or U.S. dollar-denominated corporate notes and bonds.” In other words, the dollars are “home” and invested in the U.S. financial system.

So in what ways are the dollars actually “trapped” (i.e., unavailable for domestic use without severe tax repercussions)? They have never been so in reality. Through financial engineering, the banks that have held the dollars “offshore” on behalf of these American multinationals have extended loans against the stockpile so as to “liberate” the capital to be used as the companies saw fit. It’s a form of hypothecated lending. Not only has the resultant “synthetic cash repatriation” provided a nice margin for what are effectively risk-free loans, but it also has enabled the beneficiary companies to deploy the dollars within the U.S. while avoiding tax penalties.

But here’s the key point: instead of investing in new plants and equipment, a large proportion of these dollars have instead been used for share buybacks or distributed back to shareholders via dividend payments. Anne Marie Knott of Forbes.com quantifies the totals: “For the first three quarters of 2018, buybacks were $583.4 billion (up 52.6% from 2017). In contrast, aggregate capital investment increased 8.8% over 2017, while R&D investment growth at US public companies increased 12.5% over 2017 growth.” So the top tier again wins in all ways: net profits are fattened, shareholders get more cash, and CEO compensation is elevated, as the value of the stock prices goes higher via share buybacks.

The dollars, in other words, have only been “trapped” to the extent that corporate management has chosen not to deploy them to foster real economic activity. “Punitive” corporate tax rates, in other words, have been a fig leaf. But the American worker has derived no real benefit from this repatriation, which was the political premise used to sell the bill in the first place.

Since the passage of the tax bill, the data show no significant evidence of corporate America bringing back jobs or profits from abroad. In fact, there is much to suggest the opposite: namely, that tax avoidance is accelerating in the wake of the legislation’s passage, rather than decreasing. Consider that the number of companies paying no taxes has gone from 30 to 60 since the bill’s enactment.

But it’s worse than that, as Setser highlights:

“Well over half the profits that American companies report earning abroad are still booked in only a few low-tax nations—places that, of course, are not actually home to the customers, workers and taxpayers facilitating most of their business. A multinational corporation can route its global sales through Ireland, pay royalties to its Dutch subsidiary and then funnel income to its Bermudian subsidiary—taking advantage of Bermuda’s corporate tax rate of zero.”

Again, the money itself does not make this circuitous voyage. These are all bookkeeping entries for accounting purposes. In another report, Setser estimates the totals in revenue not accrued by the U.S. Treasury to be equivalent to 1.5 percent of GDP, or some $300 billion that is theoretically unavailable for use on the home front.

Global tax arbitrage, therefore, runs in parallel with global labor arbitrage. That’s the real story behind globalization, which its champions never seem to mention, as they paint a story of worldwide prosperity pulling millions out of poverty. However, as I’ve written before, “a big portion of Trump voters were working-class Americans displaced from their jobs by globalization, automation, and the shifting balance in manufacturing from the importance of the raw materials that go into products to that of the engineering expertise that designs them.” During the 2016 election and beyond, Trump has consistently addressed his appeals to these “forgotten men and women.” Yet the president’s signature legislative achievement, corporate tax reform, suggests that his base continues to receive nothing but a few crumbs off the table. The tax reform also works at variance with the main thrust of his trade policy or, indeed, his restrictionist immigration policies (and it’s questionable whether these forgotten voters are actually deriving much benefit from those policies either). Not for the first time, therefore, the president’s left hand is working at cross-purposes with the right. The very base to whom he continues to direct his re-election appeals get nothing. And the country as a whole remains far worse off as a result of his policy incoherence and mendacity.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

Wild Thoughts About the Wild Gallatin

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Gallatin Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For the last 30 years a view of the stunning Gallatin Range has greeted me nearly every morning. Our window looks out on three dark green hogbacks that link the broad belly of Paradise Valley to the spine of the Gallatin Mountains. Her expression shapes my day, sometimes glowering, radiant, or showing off a new white cap. Her moods are quicksilver and sometimes terrifying, as in August 2001, when high winds bellowed the Gallatin’s Fridley fire and etched the night horizon with a curled lip of angry orange.

Today, white and grey clouds roll in from the north like the mane on a galloping horse, presaging a squall. But the Gallatin Range – the largest unprotected roadless expanse in the Greater Yellowstone — knows nothing about the raging political storm that will soon shape her fate.

I did not foresee — but should have – that warming temperatures would disfigure even her most remote ridge tops. Or that so many people would so crowd her flanks as every day, Bozeman more closely resembles Boulder, Colorado. What will happen to the Gallatin’s wild heart?

To keep it beating we need to save more wilderness, a buffer against the ravages of humanity, now including a climate turned to broil. I learned that mantra at the start of my conservation career, first as a volunteer advocate in Wyoming; then over 30 years ago as Program Director for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC). The message was conveyed differently by different teachers:  with a twinkle in his eye by geologist David Love, my mentor; with a ferocious gleam by Luna Leopold, son of iconic conservationist Aldo Leopold; with gentle encouragement by Mardy Murie, wilderness champion and wife of Olaus Murie, scientist and president of The Wilderness Society.

These giants are gone but their voices are not, reminding me of the job still before us. As the Custer-Gallatin National Forest revises its Forest Plan during the next year, we have the chance to steer a new course for a Forest that has long been hostile to designating more Wilderness. Oddly, the resistance of the Forest Service has solidified over the years, even though its appetite for clearcutting and roading every drainage has lessened. Disputes over logging and roads still happen, but the big battles now are over snowmobiles and off-road vehicles, and increasingly mountain bikes, as new toys spawn new ways to enjoy — and exploit — the natural world.

But the battles have been fundamentally the same for decades: a debate over what values should prevail in decisions over public lands – transcendence or selfishness, short-term profit or long-term benefit. As I reflect, ghost warriors for wilderness, proponents of the long view and a higher path, parade before my eyes. I found inspiration and wisdom in the company of Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg, John and Phoebe Montagne, and Doris Milner — all gone now – even as they had previously found inspiration in Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Perhaps more precisely, I slept on some of their couches. When I arrived in Bozeman in 1985, still giddy from my first taste of success with passage of the Wyoming Wilderness Act, Joan Montagne and her husband Cliff, John and Phoebe’s son, fed me and let me camp in their home as I set roots in my new home town. Leaders of the Montana Wilderness Association, the Montagnes introduced me to other veterans of the movement from across the state. I tagged along on lobbying trips to Washington DC, and before too long, led my own. I never succeeded in emulating the graciousness of Mardy Murie, or the quiet dignity of John Montagne, and instead found myself following more in the footsteps of Brandy, perhaps too often breaking china and stepping on toes.

But being an effective advocate for wilderness meant that I first had to know it.

Getting to Know the Gallatin

Forming the northwest arm of the Greater Yellowstone, the 230,000-acre wild spine of the Gallatin Range extends from Yellowstone Park nearly to Bozeman, between the Madison Range to the west and North Absaroka Mountains to the east. It provides a critical link to ecosystems westward to central Idaho, northward to Glacier, and eastward to the Pryor and Bighorn Mountains. Grizzlies and wolves are now finding these connections with their paws.

During my early days at GYC, I made a commitment to myself to traverse on foot each of the 23 mountain ranges in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as a way of getting to know the country I was trying to protect. It took nearly two decades to realize that dream.

My first trip across the Gallatin Range took me from Tom Miner Basin in the east to Buffalo Horn in farther west, with a long detour north along the Gallatin’s rolling alpine crest. My late summer trek was colored with blue harebells, purple asters, scraggly white yarrow, and golden grass against a mostly blue sky. I saw moose, elk, and a lot of grizzly sign in the still-healthy whitebark pine forests—but no bear in the flesh. There was no hope of spotting wolves, which were not reintroduced to Yellowstone until nearly a decade later. We were only then beginning to reimagine restoring this maligned yet vital predator, the only missing link in the ecological fabric of Greater Yellowstone. Few of us foresaw that the battle would take nearly a decade – and indeed would never end.

I was enchanted by rocks in those days, none more than those in the Gallatin Petrified Forest, which had been born by exploding volcanoes roughly 50 million years ago.  One of the largest petrified forests preserved during the Eocene Epoch, the Gallatin boasts stands of redwoods and temperate hardwoods that were buried, regrew, then buried again — perhaps 27 times — by ash and lava. Minerals leaked from volcanic debris into the groundwater and were slowly incorporated by the trees, becoming rock but retaining the wood’s ancient grain. On my trek I was startled to see where explosives had been used to dislodge whole trees that had then been hauled away by ATVs – with the Forest Service assiduously looking the other way. Old photos still show the rock forests as they had been in their glory, some trees still in the upright positions where they grew when ash swallowed them whole.

After that trip, I never forgot to speak for the Petrified Forest whenever I testified before Congress in support of preserving the Gallatin Range. Even today, whenever I see intact petrified trees, I still hear the voice of geologist John Montagne, who had first unveiled the magic of their creation.

Time for Wilderness?

During the late 1980s into the 1990s, many of us still believed that a statewide wilderness bill was possible and imminent, one that would protect the Gallatins, Crazies, and Pryors, along with additions to the existing Absaroka-Beartooth and Lee Metcalf Wilderness Areas. But the years drug on, along with unrelenting trips to DC, often during the sweltering summers when alpine wildflowers beckoned.

The fever to congressionally protect wilderness throughout Montana cooled after President Reagan vetoed the 1.4 million-acre Montana Wilderness bill in 1988 – a then unprecedented but, in the end, successful act of political meddling to elect a Republican over a Democrat in Congress.  (Republican senatorial candidate Conrad Burns defeated the Democratic incumbent, John Melcher.) After this, the battle shifted closer to home to unrelenting fights against the Forest Service’s invariably destructive timber sales and roads, as well as inane and perverse provisions in the first generation of Forest Plans, including the Gallatin’s.

But, in those days, allies seemed to be everywhere, inside and outside the government. One of the first – and fiercest — Gallatin wilderness advocates I met was Joe Gutkoski, a retired Forest Service landscape architect.  Self-effacing  and courteous, Joe hardly comes across as “the toughest man in the West,” as Field & Stream magazine called him. Nonetheless, with disregard for his modest exterior, Joe, at 91 years, is still leading the charge to protect the Gallatin Wilderness.

And Joe was hardly the only Forest Service advocate. Indeed, some of the strongest voices for wildlife and wildlands on the Gallatin were employees of the agency, including the indominable forest biologist Sara Johnson, feisty economist Mike Shaw, and recreation manager Susan Marsh, who laughed at one of my early timber sale appeals, saying: “I could have done a better job than that.”

Consciously or not, Joe, Sara, Mike, and Susan were following in the footsteps of other wilderness champions who also chafed inside a hostile Forest Service. And fortunately, they have successors today, who are best left unnamed.

Killing the Thing You Love

It seemed almost an accident that our National Forests were ever created in the first place. In 1891, with little fanfare, the otherwise unmemorable President Benjamin Harrison set aside about 13 million acres of the public domain as National Forest Preserves, including lands around Yellowstone Park.

During the next decade President Teddy Roosevelt added over 5 million acres of Forest Reserves around Yellowstone Park. Determined to prevent  obscenely rich timber and railroad Barons from pillaging the last intact forests, Teddy enlisted the help of his boxing and skinning-dipping pal, Forest Service Chief Gifford “Giff” Pinchot.

The Chief inspired an army of twenty-something proteges, “Little Giffs,” who fanned out across the West to survey the tracts that would become today’s National Forests. Among these was Elers Koch of Bozeman who surveyed the boundaries of the Gallatin, and, after surviving the terrifying blazes of 1910, became an early advocate for wilderness as well as an opponent of throwing millions of dollars into unsuccessful attempts to suppress back-country fires.

Gifford himself crisscrossed the country numerous times, exploring the wilds and checking on the progress of his Little Giffs. The elk-rich southern portion of the Gallatin caught his eye, which Pinchot recommended be a wildlife refuge in 1910.

Other voices for preservation soon followed, including Aldo Leopold (who I have written about here and here and here), Bob Marshall, and Arthur Carhart — men who had gone to work with high hopes for the Forest Service, but were shocked at what they saw: liquidation of forests, bulldozing of roads, damming of rivers, and  industrial-scale recreation. Something had to be done – fast.  The idea of legislating Wilderness was born out of the ashes of its destruction.

Writing nearly 80 years ago, Aldo Leopold presciently observed: “Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”

And this: “An incredible number of complications and obstacles… arise from the fact that the wilderness idea was born after, rather than before, the normal course of commercial development had begun. The existence of these complications is nobody’s fault. But it will be everybody’s fault if they do not serve as a warning against delaying the immediate inauguration of a comprehensive system of wilderness areas in the West, where there is a still relatively unimpeded field of action.”

These were men and women of action, who were joined by others, including Olaus and Mardy Murie; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner; and Howard Zahnizer, a minister’s son who drafted the 1964 Wilderness Act giving Congress the authority to protect Wilderness even over objections of Forest Service bureaucrats.

Mardy is the only one of these luminaries I personally knew, but she was more than enough — a combination fairy godmother and female role model. Before moving to Bozeman from Jackson, I made a pilgrimage to her familiar log cabin below the Tetons – hardly alone among my friends in seeking her blessing before a big transition. She told me how she and Olaus loved the wildlands of the Gallatin Range where they had gone on a pack trip in the late 1950s. “And you are going to love them too!” You were so right, Mardy.

In one letter she shared with me, Olaus had written: “I have traveled in many wilderness areas, and while I feel that public wilderness use is a perfectly legitimate use of national forest lands and needs no apology, this Gallatin area impressed me strongly as being preeminently suitable for such designation without encroachment on other interests.”

Arriving in Bozeman at the same age as the Little Giffs when they fanned out across the West during the early 1900s, I was determined to preserve the wild places that I loved. But it proved much harder than I could have imagined.

A Checkered History

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, wilderness in the Gallatin Range remained in limbo. For years, a main impediment was the complicated checkerboard arrangement of private lands in the Gallatin, a legacy of President Abraham Lincoln. So strong had been Lincoln’s zeal to settle the West that he insisted that Congress pass the Northern Pacific Land Grant Act in 1864 even as the Civil War raged. This gave alternate sections of land, including in the Gallatin and Crazy Mountains, to railroad companies to fuel their race to build the transcontinental railroads.

Over time, the railroads sold these lands to large timber companies, which typically cut and ran. In the case of the Gallatin, Burlington Northern sold to Plum Creek Timber, which then sold to an unsavory developer named Tim Blixeth. The railroad sections in the Crazies ended up in the hands of rich owners of big local ranches.

In 1977, even as Montana Senator Lee Metcalf designated Wilderness elsewhere in the nearby Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains and Great Burn, he balked at the Gallatin’s checkerboards, opting instead on interim protection for a portion, designating the Hyalite – Porcupine – Buffalo Horn as a Wilderness Study Area within which logging, roadbuilding, and motorized vehicles were banned. Any hopes that he might do more for the Gallatin and other Montana wildlands were dashed with his premature death the following year.

Although the Forest Service turned a blind eye to motorized vehicles illegally invading the Wilderness Study Area, punching roads into its heart was going too far. When Tim Blixeth threatened to build roads into the wilds of the Gallatin Range in the early 1990s, the Forest Service ran to Congress for help. What the sleazy developer was after was a real estate deal that consolidated his holdings at the base of the lucrative Big Sky Ski Area. And he got it with passage in 1993 of the Gallatin Range Consolidation Act. Meanwhile, since Reagan’s 1988 veto, nothing has been done to try to consolidate National Forest lands in the Crazies.

A Blind Eye 

Although the Gallatin’s checkerboard problem has been resolved, the Forest Service continues to willfully ignore its wilderness potential. Predictably, the agency’s obsessive focus on fighting wildfires has abetted its perverse inattention to mounting incursions into the wildlands with which it has been entrusted.  More people are piling into Bozeman and the Paradise Valley with new toys that allow them to get further faster into the backcountry, catalyzing illegal construction of trails where mountain bikes and motorized vehicles are ostensibly banned.

Not even successful litigation has slowed the stampede. The obsession to build roads into the last wilderness has been replaced by a fever to build trails for people on their mechanized toys. Regardless of whether powered by engines or feet, the urge to tame and dominate is eerily similar to that of our European ancestors four hundred years ago when our current ecological crisis was launched.

And even some conservation groups, including the Leopolds’ and Muries’ Wilderness Society and my beloved Greater Yellowstone Coalition, seem to have caught the disease, recommending only the portion of suitable wilderness that the bikers don’t want.  Ever content to let the public fight it out, the Forest Service has been sitting on the sidelines.

That is why Indians have jumped again into the fray.

Indians Re-Enter the Fray

Dozens of Tribes lived, hunted, and traveled through what is now the 3 million-acre Custer Gallatin Forest. Concerned that their sacred lands are being violated by mechanized travel and industrial-scale recreation, Tribes are redoubling demands for a voice in management.

Recently, Crow Tribal Chair A.J. Not Afraid and others again requested protection for the Crazies, which they call Awaxaawippiia or Ominous Mountains. Here in 1860, Crow Chief Plenty Coups was fasting and praying when he had a prophetic dream of bison disappearing into the earth and being replaced by cattle – a dream that shaped the Tribe’s relations with settlers, who were allowed to pass without conflict through the Yellowstone Valley.

The Crow still pray in the Crazies, as I learned a few decades ago from traditional elder Burton Pretty on Top, who had more than enough spiritual authority to on his own prevent the Forest Service from logging these sacred mountains — without my help.

Having seen the power of tribal involvement in a shared fight to protect the sacred Medicine Wheel on the nearby Bighorn Forest, I have never understood why the Custer-Gallatin continues to champion bigotry and fight co-management by tribal peoples. The day of reckoning may be coming, however, with more than 270 Tribes and tribal members from across the country demanding a larger role in recovering regional grizzly bears.

Every Last Square Inch

Scientists too are being ignored. Researchers who study wide-ranging species such as wolverine, lynx, wolves, elk, and grizzlies, have long argued for protecting more wilderness and reconnecting the remaining wild ecosystems of the Northern Rockies. Pioneer grizzly bear researchers John and Frank Craighead coined the term “Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” to describe the 6 million acres of wildlands needed to sustain grizzlies — and tirelessly advocated for wilderness.

While the question “how much wilderness is enough?” has always dogged the political debate, the answers given by independent scientists have been remarkably consistent — and passionate. The response of Conservation Biologist Dr. Peter Brussard is typical. The otherwise deliberate and soft-spoken, Montana State University professor flushed, raised his hands and blurted: “every last square inch – and then some.”

That was 1988. Since then the clamor among scientists for more wilderness protection has become more of a roar.

The latest and most thorough scientific analysis behind protecting the Gallatin as wilderness was done by Frank Craighead’s son Lance in 2015. Climate change, he wrote, creates new urgency for preservation. Few foresaw that warming temperatures would unleash deadly mountain pines beetles in Yellowstone’s high elevation whitebark pine forests, now mostly grey ghosts of once live trees that until 15 years ago had fed grizzlies, nutcrackers, squirrels and more. Yellowstone Cutthroat trout are functionally gone from the heart of Yellowstone Park due to the combined effects of climate change and an introduced predatory fish, Lake trout.

Needless-to-say, none of the projected changes are positive. Scientists now predict the collapse of key berry-producing shrubs and army cutworm moth populations, each either a current or prospective future key food for grizzlies. The shrubs will be killed by drought and heat; the moths will disappear as the tundra and alpine flowers they depend on are driven off the tops of our highest mountains.

We must act now, say scientists. Saving wilderness is key to saving species that depend on wild ecosystems that are at risk of unraveling.

New Blast of Support for Gallatin Wilderness 

Last month, the most prestigious group of scientists and political leaders to date have spoken out for the Gallatin. The “who’s who” of the nation’s biologists, hydrologists, and fisheries experts, including Conservation Biologist Reed Noss and National Academy of Sciences member Cathy Whitlock,  were joined by former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, former Yellowstone Park Superintendent Mike Finley, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, and songwriter Carole King in signing a letter advocating protection off all roadless lands on the Gallatin Range.

The signers included many familiar wilderness war horses too – among them Joan Montagne, who lent me her couch; Franz Camenzind, who authored an early paper on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; Tom Lovejoy, called a “godfather of biodiversity;” Doug Peacock, aka Ed Abbey’s G.W. Heyduke; David Wilcove, global champion of endangered species; and Howie Wolke, who took me under his wing in Wyoming and taught me how to fight for wilderness.

The signatures of Babbitt and Finley are reminders that protecting wilderness is a political process. Now as in the Muries’ time, the Forest Service cannot be trusted – a fact that underscores the wisdom of asking for everything possible in the current planning process.

Yvon Chouinard’s voice underscores the economic and moral imperative of saving our last wild places. And Carole King’s signature matters too: she has long championed an intriguing and bold proposal–a five-state wilderness bill called the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act that has been introduced again in Congress and needs our support.

David and I were delighted to sign the letter because protecting the wildlands of the Gallatin – not to mention the Crazies, Pryors, and additions to the North Absarokas and Beartooths — is the least we can do. As we face unthinkable challenges that include the specter of half of the planet’s mammalian species winking out during the next century, we can start by protecting what wilderness we have in our back yard.

Today, I am hobbling around in the aftermath of yet another back surgery, paying the price of carrying too-heavy packs for too many years up and down our mountains. But I find solace and even joy in gazing at the wild Gallatin, who grumbles as a storm moves in, flashes a quick white grin, then grumbles some more.

It is obvious now that the job of protecting wilderness will never be over, because success depends on humility and generosity in a world that seems ever more self-centered and short-sighted. And the future will not be shaped by what Teddy and Giff or Zahnizer and Lee Metcalf did, as laudable as their efforts were. With so many of us – and our toys — it is easier than ever to kill the wilderness that is all but impossible to recreate. Teddy and others gave us a fighting chance, but we are still faced with deciding what matters most – which means confronting and hopefully mastering our fears, doubts, ego, and even greed for ever more profits and ever more thrills.

The ghostly champions of the past can yet embolden us. As ever, I find inspiration in Aldo Leopold’s words: “… too much safety seems to yield only danger in the long run. Perhaps this is behind Thoreau’s dictum: In wildness is the salvation of the world. Perhaps this is the hidden meaning in the howl of the wolf, long known among mountains, but seldom perceived among men.”

Many thanks to Nancy Ostlie and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, George Wuerthner, Gonnie Siebel, Don Bachman, Phil Knight, and Montanans for Gallatin Wilderness for their tireless efforts! Though the formal comment period over the forest plan has passed, the Forest Service is always open to hearing from its public owners. Let Supervisor Mary Erickson (mcerickson@fs.fed.us) hear from you!

Stranger Things, Stranger Times

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To say we live in extraordinarily strange times is perhaps the ultimate understatement. Strange times indeed, and terrifying as well. Rising global fascism, the continued threat of nuclear war, an imperiled biosphere and a climate that is rapidly heating up. In the US it is even more apparent. There are concentration camps on the southern US border where children are being separated from their parents. Children are being forced to share lice combs and told to drink toilet water. Several have died. People arrested for leaving out water for dehydrated immigrants in the desert. Jackbooted raids are being threatened against undocumented people by President Trump as institutions like ICE reveal a staggering level of racism and blatant fascism. The orange hued megalomaniac in the Oval Office routinely tweets racist screeds or threatens the annihilation of millions of people, from Iran to North Korea. The US military is engaged in several wars of imperialism abroad. And homeless encampments in and around US cities are exploding.

But to watch American mass media one might feel they are in a parallel universe. Case in point, the popular Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I will confess that I do enjoy watching many series on Netflix, including this particular one, mostly for their entertainment value. And I have a bit of an addiction to pop culture. But when I watched the recent third season I was astonished by the level of blatant American propaganda on display, without even a morsel of ambiguity.

If you haven’t watched the previous seasons or this one, don’t worry. I won’t spoil the ending. But the series generally revolves around a group of kids in suburban, middle America in the 1980s. They become swept up in a whirlwind of events involving the US Department of Energy, secret government experiments and a dark power that threatens to destroy everything in the world we know. The entire set and character development is steeped in 80’s kitsch, but it deserves credit for its fast pace, special effects and endearing characters; and there have been some truly remarkable moments of humanity in relation to the struggles of a young and psychokinetically talented girl named Eleven, “El” for short, in earlier seasons.

But in this last season the nefarious machinations of Department of Energy and other US agencies have been jettisoned to focus on the “evil Russians.” No, really. They actually use the term “evil Russians” several times throughout the show. That, along with “Soviet scum.” Now, anyone who has studied American mass media understands how Hollywood has long parroted the talking points of the US ruling establishment and the Pentagon. Russophobia has always been a common plotline. But this is a time where #Russiagate has flooded the consciousness of the American liberal bourgeoisie. Anyone who expresses doubts about the extent of Russian meddling in US electoral politics, even if they are staunchly opposed to the fascism of Donald Trump as I am, are often branded as “Russian bots” or on the Kremlin’s payroll. Pundits like Rachel Maddow and many in the Democratic Party establishment have devoted themselves to the #Russiagate narrative 24/7. So this is not merely done in a vacuum. It plays neatly into American reactionary politics.

In fact, many productions to this day have active CIA, DHS and DoD agents sitting on their sets in advisory roles, and US military hardware has been made readily available for those studios and productions who follow the script, so to speak. So the dialogue of Stranger Things should not come as a surprise. But there are other examples. One scientist, Alexei, expresses a desire to become an American scientist after seeing the “evil” of his government. And an enormous Soviet base, for instance, built deep in the bedrock beneath a shopping mall in the small Indiana town of Hawkins. The silliness of this aside, the fact that the USSR was at the beginning of an economic death spiral at the time is one issue, but the Soviet operatives here are given an almost supernatural physical strength in most cases.

Now of course none of this is to defend the anti-democratic leanings, human rights violations, attacks on journalists, political opponents or LGBTQ people, atrocities, militarism or war crimes of the former USSR or of the current Russian Federation under Putin; but it is to say that US propaganda is alive and well in mass media. And there is a nationalistic impulse for collective amnesia when it comes to the US role in toppling democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran, Honduras, etc), gross anti-democratic and authoritarian atrocities (the internment of Japanese Americans, Red Scare and Jim Crow for three glaring 20th century examples), or enormous war crimes (the nuking of civilians in Japan, carpet bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, Libya, etc.), or crimes against humanity (see Marshall Islands nuke testing, Tuskegee experiments, COINTELPRO, etc.) committed by the American government and military. This rebranded propaganda appears to have resurfaced for a new generation.

In addition to the obvious Russophobia there is another component of the plot in Stranger Things that is striking for the current age. An evil “Mind Flayer” from the dark world of the “Upside Down” takes over the minds and wills of various townspeople. With the backdrop of a “communist menace” various conclusions can be drawn about American Red Scare and its fearmongering about collectivism.  Think: Invasion of the Body Snatchers redux. But one character, a little precocious black girl named Erica Sinclair, makes several pronouncements on the virtues of capitalism. She proclaims at one point: “know what I love more about this country? Capitalism. Do you know what capitalism means? It means this is free market system. which means people get paid for their services, depending on how valuable their contributions are.”

Now little Erica can be forgiven for her ignorance, but the reality for millions of other black kids in 1980s America (or before and since for that matter) was far less forgiving. This was an era marked by Reagan’s ruthless neoliberal order, a “trickle-down” economy that never managed to trickle any material benefits to working class black and brown people, let alone working class whites. And the show never touches on any of the rampant racism at play in the 1980s either; although it includes a palpable identity politics drenched, au courant, bourgeois-based, sexist conscious component of the #MeToo variety.

But the producers of Stranger Things, brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, are the real culprits here. Their net worth is reported to be around $12 million each, so they have certainly benefited from that “free market” capitalism Erica boasts about. One wonders if they notice the mega shantytowns on their way to the studio each day. The ones that are burgeoning throughout California and around the country. I doubt many of them would share Erica’s enthusiasm for the current economic order.

The third season of Stranger Things encapsulates the angst of the American bourgeoisie today. Its appeal to a nostalgia is seen in the excess emphasis on sentimentality and kitsch; and there is a nod of acceptance of authoritarianism in the liberties taken by police chief Jim Hopper, or “Hop,” where his abuses are portrayed humorously. And this at a time where police brutality is off the charts. Its conformity is evident in the constant promotion of corporate products, consumerism and the dominant shopping mall milieu. Nationalism and jingoism are predominant with the US military and 4th of July symbolism playing a key role in the defeat of evil. And there is an ever present fear of an “other” who threatens everything America supposedly stands for: individualism, liberty and shopping, of course.

The American bourgeoisie is in an existential crisis. It is overworked, in perpetual fear of debt or bankruptcy due to healthcare costs, mortgage and rent, education and the costs of daily living. Its privileged status stands threatened by the natural trajectory of capitalism toward gross economic inequity, avarice fueled corruption, the capriciousness of a sadistic “free market,” rising fascism, militarism and an imperiled biosphere that stands to topple the entire house of cards. The so-called “opposition” to the tyrant in the White House has been playing a game of appeasement and focusing on outside “threats” like Russia, instead of tackling the real enemy: the American ruling class establishment. But mass media is incapable of reflecting this reality. To do so, it would need to examine American history accurately, honestly, and with humility, and face the truth about the past and the current untenable arrangement. And that would undoubtedly be the strangest thing of all.

Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem

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Gallatin Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For decades the timber industry and its political allies have claimed that efforts to maintain Montana’s functioning forest ecosystems and native wildlife have “shut down” logging.  But two recent articles reveal that the basic economic principles of over-supply and over-production in the timber industry are the real problems, not environmentalists, the Endangered Species Act, or being “locked out” of national forests by wilderness designations.   But don’t take my word on it, read on to see what the industry itself has to say.

As Julia Altemus, logging lobbyist and director of the Montana Wood Products Association, told the Missoulian’s Rob Chaney:

“There’s been a lot of over-production across the board.  We have too much wood in the system and people weren’t building. That will make it tougher for us. What would help is if we could find new markets.”

When asked why Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. cut back its mill production cycle from 80 to 50 hours weekly, manager Paul McKenzie told the Hungry Horse News: “It’s purely market driven…demand for lumber across the country is down.”  As reported: “He also said supply has actually been good.”

In fact the “supply” of national forest trees is more than just good.  Last year the Forest Service received no bids on 15.6% of the timber it offered.  That’s 559.5 million board feet of timber that wasn’t cut because the timber industry did not bid on it.  It would take 112,000 log trucks lined up from Missoula to Fargo, North Dakota, to haul that many logs.  That means more than twice as much timber cut on all the national forests in Montana last year didn’t even draw a bid.

For some reason, these timber industry realities don’t seem to matter to Montana’s congressional delegation.  Rep. Gianforte wrote: “Unfortunately, fringe environmental groups…have nearly succeeded in closing our forests to timber management.”  Senator Daines regularly blames “radical environmentalists who are locking us out of our forests.”  And Senator Tester was given Four Pinocchios by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker for his false claim that environmentalists shut down logging in Montana.

Last year the Region One Forest Service, which includes Montana, met 90.9% of their timber sale target, which has risen a stunning 141% in the last ten years.  Due to the over-cutting and over-supply the price offered for standing timber has now fallen.  But the cost to taxpayers continues to climb to staggering heights.

new report by the Center for a Sustainable Economy found “taxpayer losses of nearly $2 billion a year associated with the federal logging program carried out on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Despite these losses, the Trump Administration plans to significantly increase logging on these lands in the years ahead, a move that would plunge taxpayers into even greater debt.”

There’s also a significant cost to our public lands when more logging roads get bulldozed into unroaded areas as streams are filled with sediment and logging pushes big game onto private lands as forest hiding cover is clearcut.

In conclusion, the baseless demand for more logging by Montana’s congressional delegation, the timber industry, and collaborator groups is actually having the opposite effect: it’s reducing production, increasing job losses, and lowering standing timber value — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Contrast this with Montana’s booming tourism economy and it’s clear our forested roadless areas are worth more designated as wilderness, as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would do, or simply left standing instead of being clearcut for an industry that, by its own admission, is wallowing in oversupply.

Cuban Workers Celebrate Salary Rise From New Economic Measures

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‘Today is Cuban workers’ day!’ a Cuban friend told me in late June, beaming at the news that all employees of the island’s ‘budgeted’ state sector would receive significant salary rises, commencing from 1 July 2019. Cuba’s budgeted sector incorporates organisations and entities which operate with a state budget and mostly provide services free to the population without returning revenue to the state. This includes public health, education, culture and sport, public administration, community services, housing and defence. Every one of the 1,470,736 workers in this sector will receive the pay rise, at a cost to the Cuban state of over seven billion Cuban pesos annually. Simultaneously, 1,281,523 pensions will rise, costing an additional 838 million pesos a year and taking the number of direct beneficiaries to over 2.75 million Cubans.

Announcing the salary rise and outlining a set of economic reforms to follow, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and other government Ministers have framed the measures in relation to several factors. First, aggressive steps by the US Trump administration to strangle the Cuban economy by strengthening the US blockade, particularly through the spring 2019 implementation of ‘Title III’ of the Helms-Burton Act, under which US citizens can sue Cuban and foreign interests who ‘traffic’ (engage in any way) in properties they, or their predecessors, owned prior to the nationalisations carried out by Cuba’s revolutionary government from 1960.

Second, determination not to return to the hardships suffered by the Cuban population during Special Period of economic crisis in the 1990s. Díaz-Canel referred to creative measures taken in that period which are currently under study. Third, the demand from Cubans and their organisations for a pay rise, communicated directly to the President and ministers during their regular tours of Cuban provinces, in recent Congresses of the Cuban Workers’ Confederation (CTC) and the National Association of Cuban Economists (ANEC), as well as during public debates over the new Constitution approved in February 2019. Fourth, the measure acknowledges the loyalty and commitment of workers who have stayed in state employment, often in the lowest paid jobs, defending the ‘conquests’ of Cuba’s socialist revolution in health, education, culture, sport and community and social welfare, providing essential services for all Cubans.

Finally, the salary rise is a step towards a broader economic restructuring, comprising changes to the way salaries and prices are set, more flexibility introduced into the planning process with greater initial input from workers, the elimination of the dual currency, more cooperation between state enterprises and non-state entities and foreign investors and greater financial autonomy for state enterprises. These measures aim to boost national production and improve Cuba’s balance of payments, so to withstand the onslaught of US imperialism by advancing the national development plan through to 2030.

Having announced the pay rise on 27 June in Pinar del Rio, Díaz-Canel participated in a two-hour, live broadcast of the daily current affairs programme, the ‘Mesa-Redonda’ (Round Table) on 2 July, explaining the measures with the Minister of the Economy and Planning, the Minister of Work and Social Security and the Minister of Finance and Prices. The following day, a second Mesa Redonda with the same participants largely answered the public’s queries and concerns.

Cuba’s state sector employs over 3 million workers, compared to some 1.4 million in the non-state sector, which consists of cooperatives, private farmers, usufruct farmers (who use state land under rent-free loan), the self-employed and small businesses. Of the state sector workforce, 52%, or 1.6 million workers, are in the ‘enterprise sector’, consisting of productive and commercial entities which sell, trade and receive revenues. Since 2014, many workers in the enterprise sector benefited from incentives to increase production, linking pay to performance, removing salary caps, and providing payment in hard currency (Cuban Convertible Peso [CUC] are received by 60% of workers in the sector). The new salary rise does not apply to them, but to the 48% of state sector workers in the budgeted sector. Some groups of workers in the latter, including healthcare workers, received a pay rise in recent years, but others, including the education sector, were left behind. Workers in the political organisations of People’s Power and a group in public administration had not received a pay rise since 2005.

The new salary scale both raises the incomes of the lowest earners (the minimum monthly salary rises from 225 pesos to 400, up from 125 in 2005) and expands the wage differential between these and the highest earners from between 2.9 to 7.5 times. This aims to ‘reverse the pyramid’ so jobs of greater complexity and responsibility, requiring higher qualifications, receive substantially higher remuneration, serving as an incentive to work towards leadership positions. The average monthly salary in the budgeted sector has risen from 634 pesos in June, to 1065 pesos in July; above the 2018 average salary in state enterprises, which was 871 pesos (up from 600 in 2014). Salaries in the budgeted sector are capped at 3,000 pesos; only those earning over 2,500 pay individual income tax. All employees will now pay towards social security; 2.5% for those earning less than 500 pesos and 5% for those above. Social security payments, including some pensions, were last raised in November 2018; pensions were raised again to a minimum of 280 pesos and all those with pensions under 500 pesos see incomes rise.

Challenges: avoiding inflation and increase national production

While celebrated, the salary rise provokes two issues of immediate concern; the danger of inflation (rising prices) and the need to meet the additional costs to the state without exceeding the previously planned deficit (spending above revenue). Inflation will undermine the positive effect of the pay rise, increased purchasing power, to the detriment of all Cubans, not just the beneficiaries. In a market economy, inflation is caused by increasing the supply of money without a concomitant increase in the value of the goods and services produced.

Economy Minister, Alejandro Gil explained that in Cuba’s planned economy, the salary rise should not cause inflation because: (a) the budgeted sector provides free goods and services, so increased salaries cannot push up non-existent sale prices; (b) most retail trade is under state control and subject to administrative controls, that is, fixed or capped prices; (c) the state is not raising wholesale or retail prices, taxes or other payments. Consequently, said Gil, the non-state sector had no excuse for raising prices. Prices in all sectors will be closely monitored and the public was urged to report ‘irresponsible’ and ‘opportunistic’ price raises to authorities to prevent abuses and speculation.

With inflation ‘repressed’, the danger is that as beneficiaries buy more they will quickly exhaust the retails goods currently available, generating scarcity. Already in May 2019 some new limits were introduced for basic foodstuffs purchases following scarcities blamed on the tightening US blockade. To prevent either inflation or scarcity, the Cuban economy must expand the supply of goods and services to the population. Minister Gil revealed plans to develop new and diverse services, like national tourism, which had grown 13% since the start of the year, eating out and communications, including internet access and phone credit.

Although currently excluded from the salary rise, workers in the state enterprise sector can increase their incomes, said Gil, by producing more, but not by charging more. Local development will be fostered on the basis of local resources to meet demand without increasing imports (which bleeds much needed hard currency). Other measures are being designed to retain the hard currency which Cubans receive as pay or remittances, and which is often leaves the country, for example when individuals travel abroad to purchase goods to bring back to Cuba. Instead of prohibiting this, the economy will be directed to meet the demand for such goods and services domestically. New financial services products are being created to encourage savings.

The cost of the salary and pension rise for one year is greater than the 6.4 billion pesos social security budget for 2019 and the planned budget deficit at 6.1 billion pesos.[1] How can the state cover the additional cost without increasing the deficit? The ministers talked in general terms about re-directing investment funds from unimplemented projects and said planned budgets to all entities will be reduced by some 10%, obliging them to prioritise their spending. Meanwhile, all social programmes will be preserved. Some Cubans immediately responded to the news by seeking (re)employment in the state sector, but ministers warned against a return to inflated state sector payrolls stating that only essential workers should be recruited.

Broader economic reforms

The broader economic strategy seeks to strengthen national production and state enterprises, the diversity and quantity of exports, import substitution, productive linkages, self-sufficiency in the municipalities, local development projects, investments, retail trade circulation, agricultural production, food sovereignty and implementation of the housing policy. Diaz-Canel talked about overcoming the obstacles and bureaucracy which Cubans refer to as the ‘internal blockade’ and breaking the pattern of relying on imports. Cuba’s principal imports are food and fuels, which drain billions in hard currency. A critical solution is to increase agricultural production and use of renewable energies. Moving Cuba towards food and fuel sovereignty is a political necessity given the aggressive, extraterritorial imposition of the US blockade. Gil said that the new measures aimed to ‘break the pattern of turning to imports to foster our national industry’; nothing should be imported that could be produced domestically. Cuban workers had long complained about this, he said.

To achieve this, state enterprises will be given more independence in planning, financing, investment, collaboration, and incentives for workers. In turn they must eliminate budget deficits and stop using budgets without proper cost assessments. The ministers talked about replacing ‘administrative controls’ with ‘financial and economic mechanisms’, that is, increasing individual material incentives for workers to expand domestic production, exports and import substitution, essential both to save hard currency and balance the books. Where surpluses rise, bonuses can take workers’ pay up to five times the average salary (currently capped at three times). These measures mean a shift from rigid planning which discourages innovations outside the plan. ‘Anything that increases efficiency must be evaluated for incorporation into the plan’, said Gil. Decentralising the plan implies decentralising access to resources, and so increased autonomy for state enterprises.

State enterprises whose exports exceed the plan will retain all or part of the extra hard currency earnings (after meeting obligations to the state) and can use those funds for essential imports or to pay other national producers. Similarly, non-exporting state enterprises can retain surplus revenues, after payments due to the central fund, and decide how to invest those, including in projects with domestic non-state enterprises and foreign companies. Restrictions on relations between these entities will be removed. Cuban enterprises which supply domestic products and services to foreign businesses operating in the Mariel Special Development Zone will be permitted to retain 50% of their profits. State enterprises will be allowed to sell excess production over their plan in the domestic market. Non-state enterprises may be facilitated to export through arrangements with state entities. The aim is to keep hard currency in the country and foster productive chains in the domestic economy. Other incentives will foster municipal self-sufficiency and increased agricultural productivity.

FINATUR, an existing financial institution in the tourism sector, will provide investment credit directly to enterprises, outside allocations from the Central Fund, to reduce delays and bureaucracy in funding investments. Accordingly, enterprises will be responsible for paying off their own debt to FINATUR. Given US persecution of Cuba’s use of the US dollar, the utility of adopting a crypto currency for commercial transactions is also being evaluated. To prevent the ongoing theft of fuel, GPS will be placed on fuel transporters and the use of digital cards for the purchase of fuels extended.

The National Assembly will discuss the proposed reforms in late July. Díaz-Canel recognised the risks and the importance of the population’s support. ‘In the most difficult times, Fidel and Raul always went to the people.’ This was the essence of the revolution, he said, as the people were the source of wisdom and creation.

Helen Yaffe is a lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow, specialising in Cuban and Latin American development. She is the author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution and co-author with Gavin Brown of Youth Activism and Solidarity: the Non-Stop Picket against Apartheid. Her forthcoming book We Are Cuba! How a Revolutionary People have survived in a Post-Soviet World will be published in early 2020.

This article was written for the August/September issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

Notes.

1. However, as the salary & pension rises commence half way through the year, the cost of 2019 is half the annual cost.

 

What You Don’t Want to be in Trump’s America

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Life can be bright in America —
If you can fight in America;
Life is all right in America —
If you’re all-white in America.

West Side Story, film version October 1961.

1961 is way back in history, the year of John F Kennedy’s election, the Bay of Pigs, the first man in space, and lots of racism which was highlighted by the actions of the Freedom Riders, a bunch of studentswho traveled on buses from Washington, DC to Jackson, Mississippi “to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals.”  They were riding to deep trouble because the whites in the South realized that their racist supremacy was being threatened.

When they got to Anniston in Alabama on May 14 they “were met by a violent mob of over 100 [white] people. Before the buses’ arrival, Anniston local authorities had given permission to the Ku Klux Klan to strike against the freedom riders without fear of arrest. As the first bus pulled up, the driver yelled outside, ‘Well, boys, here they are. I brought you some niggers and nigger-lovers’.” And they were attacked and beaten up. No white person was charged with any infraction of the laws of the United States. Oh happy days!

Which brings us to 2019 and this week’s report about the death in New York of a black man called Eric Garner in 2014. It has taken five years to decide that the policeman who subjected Mr Garner to a choke-hold, a form of seizure that the police department “had banned more than two decades ago” should not be prosecuted.   Mr Garnet died from the effects of the choke-hold and the weight of other policemen piling on him and his last words were “I can’t breath” just before he was proved terminally correct.

The number of black men killed by police continues to rise and if you want to read the chilling details just go to NewsOne and see all about the 60 who have died recently.  You can also see and hear a Montgomery County Policewoman, Danielle Olsen, on camera on May 9 saying “Hey, we’re trying, you want to get out of here fast, right? Y’all niggas been tryin’ to somethin’. If you want to get out of here faster, we have more of our friends to help you get out faster.”

Back to Alabama!

And on to Washington, where the President of the United States also wants to get colored people out faster.  Out of the United States, that is.

Everyone knows the story about Trump’s racist tweets concerning the four colored female members of Congress, so there’s no point in going over it again, but his dramatic assertion of July 16 does merit mention, because when he declared that “Those Tweets were NOT Racist. I don’t have a Racist bone in my body!” he was getting close to speaking a partial truth, for once.

Trump’s tweets reeked of bigotry, and he’s an unrepentant racist, but sure, he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body —  because he hasn’t got any bones at all and is morally spineless and totally devoid of any anatomical material that would make him upright, principled and honorable.

His inherent racism stems from the same source as his so-called bone-spurs that prevented him from going off like the 2.2 million draftees who had to hazard their lives in Vietnam, where over 50,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese and other Asians died in a useless war.  He was a yellow-bellied chicken-hearted coward in the 1960s and hasn’t changed a bit. Those of us who served in Vietnam (sure, I was an Australian, but we were all on the same side, however wrong we all were about a useless war) can have nothing but contempt for the lily-livered Trump and his ilk who partied on back home while so many of their contemporaries took their chances against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army.

As recorded in the New York Times,

“Back in 1968, at the age of 22, Donald J Trump seemed the picture of health. He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished . . . But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels.”

Excuse me while I puke.

Remember US infantry officer Captain Humayun Khan who died in Iraq?  As reported in the UK’s Daily Telegraph,  Khan “was killed in 2004 by a suicide car bomb. He ran toward the suspicious vehicle after ordering his men back, and it detonated outside the gates of a compound where hundreds were eating breakfast. He was the only military casualty” and was awarded a Bronze Star. The gallant Humayun Khan was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, of immigrant Pakistani parents.

Humayun Khan’s father dared to speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, “criticising Mr Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and questioning whether he had read the US Constitution.”  He said, perceptively, that Trump had “sacrificed nothing and no one” and was then subjected to a tirade of abuse by the presidential candidate who wasn’t going to let a Muslim immigrant Gold Star parent say things like that.

Does that remind you of any other outbursts of invective involving a target with more courage in his left pinkie than Trump has in his entire boneless body?  His cheap vileness about John McCain struck a low, even for Trump, for after McCain had the temerity to criticise Trump for a racist outburst about Mexican migrants (“they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”),  the bone-spur hero “went on a Twitter spree, hurling some 21 insults at McCain in just five days. On July 18 [2015] Trump escalated the tension when he said McCain was not a war hero ‘because he was captured’ and ‘I like people who weren’t captured’.”

It is very difficult to understand why so many Americans voted in favour of Trump, knowing that he sneered at a Vietnam war veteran who had been tortured by his captors, but that’s the way things are in the USA today. And there’s plenty of evidence that Trump’s nauseating attitude strikes a deep and popular chord with many millions.

In a packed arena at East Carolina University on July 17 Trump told the crowd that the four Members of Congress he had spitefully abused are nothing less than “hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down. They don’t love our country. I think, in some cases, they hate our country. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” He specifically named Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who was born in Somalia, and in response to his venomous hate-filled tirade, the crown chanted “Send her back! Send her back!”

Trump is taking America right back to the era of racial intolerance, hatred and bigotry.  He’s Alabama-bound, and happy racist days are on the dark horizon.

I beg you, Americans: get rid of this man before he destroys your wonderful country.

The Inequality of Equal Pay

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“Equal pay! Equal pay!” the crowd chanted at the rally for the women’s soccer team after the ticker tape World Cup victory parade in New York. They were loud and insistent—and they didn’t mean it.

Team captain Megan Rapinoe confirmed this in her speech during the rally. She didn’t merely call for equal pay. She also thanked her teammates for their part in the triumph and then specified the contributions by the obscure uncelebs who bolstered them. She named the coaching staff, technical staff, medical staff, support staff, massage therapists, videographers, chef, security and media people.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “You make our jobs so easy. We don’t have to focus on anything other than what we have to do on the field. Thank you for that.”

The Thailand team didn’t have this level of support. They lost to the Americans 13-0. The teams that kept the score closer, like Spain and France, probably didn’t have such thorough assistance either. So they lost too.

Although Rapinoe rightly cited the support personnel as necessary for her team’s success, she didn’t say they should get equal pay. Nor did the countless commentators also demanding Equal Pay! They want the players to get paid on a par with members of the US men’s team. Or as Rapinoe said, the women should get double their current pay, and then double or quadruple that next time. The crowd claps and cheers.

But why should only the stars get the celestial rewards? They couldn’t be stars without the helpers Rapinoe listed.

Whatever the Market Will Bear

The traditional answer has been that everybody should get equal pay for equal work, as political party platforms have often said in appealing to women voters. Do professionals with salaries boosted by university degrees really work more than the janitors who clean their offices? Do money shufflers snagging millions per year really work more than the farm laborers gathering their food? Put the shufflers out in the fields and they will wilt faster than the crops they’re picking.

These brain teases have no clear or easy answers. So the usual resolution has been to concede that compensation should be whatever The Market will bear, with occasional stipulations that this ought not to be skewed by gender, race, ethnicity and such. But that solution supposes The Market is some disembodied entity, like the laws of physics, that impersonally grinds out ordained consequences.

It’s not. It’s a human contrivance that systematically favors some and punishes others. Rapinoe’s recitation of her team’s non-starring members proves this. The support staff were not players on the field but they were part of the team. Yet only the players became celebrities who can command bigger paychecks and endorsement deals bigger than that, because the global sports and media apparatus turned them into stars. This is The Market at work.

But take away the support staff and the team will get crushed like Thailand. Take away the decades of public policy and dollars devoted to developing women’s athletics in secondary schools and universities, and there won’t even be a squad capable of competing at the international level.

The team couldn’t function without the support, just as the hedge fund office couldn’t function without the janitors working overnight to prepare the place for the next day’s operations. These drudges are essential personnel, otherwise they wouldn’t have their jobs and meager paychecks at all.

So why do the stars get vastly greater rewards in money and acclaim? That’s hardly equal pay for equal work.

Dynastic Alliances

Or why did MacKenzie Bezos get just $38 billion in her recent divorce settlement with Jeff. Forbes estimates his net worth at $110 billion, most of which he accumulated during their marriage. Her share reflects only a portion of his Amazon stock. And she got no part of his Blue Origin space exploration toy, nor any of his Washington Post media toy. The settlement didn’t specify which one of them got which of their six properties (apparently meaning homes, mansions, ranches and the like). Whatever, she got far less than half of the couple’s assets. That’s hardly equal pay for equal work.

If she gets hitched again, it won’t be with the stable boy. Wealth tends to merge with wealth.

Consider some Hollywood sorts lately in the news. Camille Grammer was married to the actor Kelsey, until she wasn’t anymore. Upon departure she collected a $30 million settlement, which was deserving because “I just didn’t sit back, buying fancy clothes and shoving bonbons in my face. I mean, I worked hard.” Then she married an attorney at Arant Fox, one of the most gilded law firms catering to the bi-coastal Midases.

Love and romance may waft through these arrangements. But they are also dynastic alliances, which have a very long history, and not just because they unify and preserve fortunes. They also consolidate the power that property confers and transfer it through generations.

If the demand for equal pay does not pay attention to this, it will become a demand for ever greater dynastic consolidation.

Adventures in Script-Writing

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Over the years I’ve had approximately twenty scripts produced at small theaters in and around Hollywood and Orange County. None of these plays were celebrated or spectacular, mind you, just some offbeat comedies (in what might be called the “minimalist” tradition) that were fortunate enough to attract modest audiences willing to pay $25.

Live theater, particularly when you’re doing original scripts, is a fascinating process. You start by submitting a script to the artistic director of a theater. If they agree to produce it, you hold auditions, cast the roles, conduct rehearsals (usually four to six weeks), have your “tech week” (where the cast dresses in their costumes, and all the technical stuff—lights, musical cues, and special effects—are integrated into the performance), followed by opening night. Which is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Original plays are also challenging in ways that established plays are not. The difference between an actor doing material by a dead playwright like Arthur Miller or Agatha Christie, and doing material by a famous but living playwright like Christopher Durang or Beth Henley, is that the actor is never going to suggest to the director that the script be changed. Not in his or her wildest dreams would they suggest such a thing. (“Can’t we shorten that speech by Hamlet?” Make it lighter?”)

But it’s different when they’re working off a script that has not made it to Broadway or has not and never will be memorialized. And it’s especially different when the playwright himself is not only sitting in the room, but is apparently willing to listen to ways of making the play “better.” Let me make clear that this is not a complaint, because it largely derives from one of my own suggestions.

At the traditional “read-through”—where the principals meet for the first time, introduce themselves, and then proceed to read the script aloud from cover to cover—I make a point of telling everyone, in that spirit of camaraderie and hearty fellowship that has defined “theater people” for centuries, that I am open to suggestions. Please feel free.

Alas, some of those suggestions, while offered earnestly and sincerely, have annoyed me. Here are two examples.

One of my previous scripts had a scene in it where an obnoxious and offensive medical doctor belittles a patient by screaming insults at him. “You dumb son of a bitch,” she shouts at him, “I’m telling you there’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata!”

I’m not suggesting that her line was so funny it would have the audience rolling in the aisles, but—don’t ask me why—I’ve always considered the term “medulla oblongata” to be intrinsically humorous. Hearing that term has always made me smile.

But one of our actors politely took me aside and informed me that, given the man’s symptoms (as I recall, something to do with motor skills), the proper reference point would be the “cerebral cortex” and not the medulla oblongata.

It was clear he was sincerely interested in improving the play, and had come to me in the belief that being “anatomically correct” would help us. Not wanting him to feel I was blowing him off, I agreed to change it. Dumb move. The term “cerebral cortex” was greeted with dead silence. It didn’t get so much as a courtesy chuckle.

The other suggestion spoke of political correctness. The play in question was set 100 years in the future, a literary device that writers love to fiddle with as it gives them free license to make up all kinds of sociological and philosophical stuff that indirectly serves as an indictment of our contemporary values.

The protagonist is a “regular guy,” a file clerk diagnosed with a terminal disease in 2017, who has himself cryogenically frozen and thawed out a century later, in the hope that science now has a cure for what ails him. To the extent that terminal cancer can be made funny, this was a comedy.

One of the things this “Everyman” learns, to his shock, about the world one-hundred years in the future is that cosmetic surgery is now very much in vogue. One instance of a new trend is the huge increase in the number of penis transplants.

The way it works is that a wealthy, youngish but undersized Japanese businessman swaps his penis with an elderly, “well-hung” Norwegian lumberjack. The Japanese businessman is surgically outfitted with a much larger penis, and the Norwegian gentleman receives a smaller but perfectly functional unit, plus a very generous pile of cash.

Without going into details, toward the end of the play our protagonist becomes upset at hearing some terrible news. He freaks. In a fit of despair, he shouts in agony to a group of doctors, “I would’ve been better off selling my pecker to some little Jap!!” To be absolutely clear, using this pejorative language is exactly how this coarse and ignorant man would speak.

The director called me at home and told me the cast was uncomfortable with the term “little Jap.” They viewed it as “racist.” Up to this point in rehearsals, they were doing a magnificent job. I was in awe of their talent. So it stunned (and annoyed) me that at this late stage of the game they would suddenly cite objections to the script.

It turns out that it wasn’t “sudden.” They’d been uncomfortable with the terminology all along, but didn’t speak up until now. The director also said that the cast—both men and women—found the phrase “well-hung” to be offensive.

The way I saw it, I had only three choices. I could meet with the cast and try to make the case for leaving the language in, by asking them to consider the source and context. I could tell them to behave as professionals, and just play the goddamn part the way it was written. Or I could omit the whole penis transplant segment, and move on. I chose the third option.

To confess, once I got over the sting of being “scolded,” I admired their sentiments. These were men and women in their late twenties and thirties, and I was old enough to be their father. They honestly didn’t enjoy trafficking in the glib ethnic stereotypes common to my generation, not for a cheap joke. And for that they had my respect.

That said, I’m still nursing a grudge for having, in a weak moment, agreed to remove “medulla oblongata.” It will take me years to get over it.

Say Goodbye to MAD, But Remember the Fight for Free Expression

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The Los Angeles Timesand other media outlets recently announced that MAD magazine was going to cease publishing a hard copy or newsstand edition and will only be available through subscription and in comic-book stores.  More troubling, at year’s end it will cease being published.  Say goodbye to the ever-subversive freckled-faced of Alfred E. Neuman.

Comedian “Weird Al” Yankovic was MAD’s first guest editor and moaned the announcement, tweeting: “I am profoundly sad to hear that after 67 years, MAD Magazine is ceasing publication. I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid — it’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird.  Goodbye to one of the all-time greatest American institutions.”

MAD was introduced in 1952 as a comic book, the first issue written by its editor, Harvey Kurtzman.  In ’55, Bill Gaines, head of Educational Comics (EC), a small New York publisher at 225 Lafayette Street, launched it as a magazine.  It was billed as “Tales calculated to drive you MAD?  Humor in a Jugular Vein.”  It initially adhered to the 32-page comic-book convention, offering four stories that parodied other EC comics and sold for 10¢.

Its readership peaked in 1974 at more than 2 million but in recent years it seems no longer relevant.  MAD joins a growing number of satirical publications that have disappeared.  Spy, founded and edited by Graydon Carter and Kurt Anderson, closed in 1998 and The Onion ceased as a print publication in 2013, though it continues online.

***

The sad state of American journalism is reflected in the fact that none of the innumerable media reports about the impending closing of MAD mentioned the battle Gains fought with the post-WW-II culture-war censors.

Looking back in 1983, Gaines recalled, “In the ’50s I was an extreme liberal.”  He admitted, “I’m not against abortion, I’m not against pornography, I’m not against living together without getting married because I’ve been doing it with my dear young lady here for 10 years, and the last thing in the world I would do is get married because I’m convinced that will wreck it.”  Gaines was a classic Brooklyn liberal who had backed Pres. Roosevelt and fought in the war.

When the war ended, comics were a mass-market phenomenon.  In 1945, the Market Research Company of America estimated that 70 million Americans (about half the nation’s population) read comic books.  The greatest number of these readers was young people between 6 and 11 years; it reported that 95 percent of boys and 91 percent of girls read them.  It also found that adults between 18 to 30 years were avid comic consumers; 41 percent of men and 28 percent of women reported regularly reading comics. One study estimated that in 1946 nearly 540 million comics were published and, by the mid-‘50s, monthly sales had skyrocketed to an estimated 90 million.

No one knew what comic book would find an audience, so innovation was encouraged – and knockoffs were an accepted feature of the business.  People from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life, including precocious youths, African-Americans and even women, got their start working in comics, including such popular authors as Patricia Highsmith, Stanley Kauffmann and Mickey Spillane.  The media “establishment” — consisting of “serious” writers, artists and critics — looked down on comics, dismissing them as an unsophisticated kids medium.

Comics were part of an insurgent youth-oriented culture, a consumerism complemented by movies, music, fashion and cigarette smoking. It was a subversive culture rooted in rebellion, challenging parental authority and sexual standards.  It was a culture threatening established order; juvenile delinquency represented stepping over the line.  The battle over delinquency would remake the nation’s moral order.

Between 1941 and 1957, the FBI found in its 1959 Uniform Crime Reports, juvenile court cases increased 220 percent.  While predominately an urban phenomenon, it reported that in 1957 youth crime increased7 percent increase in the suburbs and 15 percent increase in rural areas.  FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover joined the chorus of those exhorting Americans to “stop mollycoddling juvenile criminals. It is against the instincts of most Americans to get tough with children.”  He added, “But the time has come when we must impose sterner penalties and restrictions on young lawbreakers for the protection of the law abiding.”

In late-1953, the U.S. Senate established a special subcommittee to investigate juvenile delinquency.  As part of its efforts, it held public and private hearings in Washington, DC, Boston, Denver and Philadelphia that culminating, in April ’54, in New York.  Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN), an ambitious politician, was a member of the subcommittee. He believed “obscene” media came in all forms and contributed to the rise of youth crime.  However, he singled out comic books, especially those labeled crime and horror, for promoting violence.

Kefauver was not alone in assailing comic books.  In 1954, the Book-of-the-Month Club assailed Batman: “It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”  The media decried Superman, some wondering if he was not a fascist; Wonder Woman was condemned as “a morbid ideal. … Her followers are the gay girls.”  And Cat-woman was attacked because she was “… vicious and uses a whip.”  Popular comics like The Crypt of Terror and The Vault of Horror were denounced as “sex horror serials” and “pulp paper nightmares” that created “ethical confusion.”

The Senate’s hearings on juvenile delinquency and comics was held in New York on April 21, 1954, and continued the next day, the 22nd, and concluded on June 4th.  Kefauver made a short introductory comment, adding the FBI’s authority to his remarks: “I think it is also important to point out that Mr. J. Edgar Hoover’s report of yesterday shows … juveniles … comprise 53.6 percent of those arrested for stealing automobiles.”

Fredric Wertham, a noted psychiatrist and author of Seduction of the Innocent (1954), testified as an expert witness on the effects of comic books.  He insisted that comic-book advertisements promoted unhealthy products, including rifles, knives, daggers and even whips.  He argued that comics perpetuate racial stereotypes; heroes were nearly always white, while the villains were often portrayed as ethnic minorities whether foreign born, Orientals, Italian or of dark-skinned races.  And he claimed, “all comic books have a very bad effect on teaching the youngest children the proper reading technique, to learn to read from left to right.”

Wertham concluded his testimony with these memorable lines: “Well, I hate to say that, Senator, but I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry. They get the children much younger. They teach them race hatred at the age of 4 before they can read.”

After a lunch break, Gains took the witness stand.  He was alone among comic book publishersto voluntarily appear before the committee.  A WW-II veteran, he took the proverbial bull by the horn and challenged the committee’s underlying premise. “I was the first publisher in these United States to publish horror comics.  I am responsible, I started them,” he proclaimed.

Gains then directly challenged Wertham.  “It would be just as difficult to explain the harmless thrill of a horror story to a Dr. Wertham as it would be to explain the sublimity of love to a frigid old maid.”  Going further, he insisted, “Pleasure is what we sell, entertainment, reading enjoyment.   Entertaining reading has never harmed anyone.” He invoked Judge John M. Woolsey’s 1934 decision, U.S. v. One Book Entitled Ulysses by James Joyce, lifting the ban on the legendary novel to legitimize horror as a form of free speech.

Following his opening remarks, committee members took up the battle with Gaines over horror comics.  Kefauver challenged Gains:

Kefauver:  Here is your May issue. This seems to be a man with a bloody ax holding a woman’s head up which has been severed from her body. Do you think that’s in good taste?

Gaines:   Yes sir, I do – for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding her head a little higher so that blood could be seen dripping from it and moving the body a little further over so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.

Kefauver: You’ve got blood coming out of her mouth.

Gaines:  A little.

The afternoon’s sessions ended with brief appearances three creative industry representatives.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” Gaines later admitted I was so nervous when I was up there that I barely knew what I was doing,”. “First of all, I’d been up all night writing my introductory speech, which I wrote with Lyle Stuart [EC’s business manager].”  He had been up every night during the preceding week, dropping Dexedrine tablets and drinking coffee nonstop to keep going.  “And when I got into the Senate Subcommittee hearings my Dexedrine wore off,” he lamented.  “A wet sponge, that’s how I felt.  And I didn’t know what I was doing.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.”  The committee faced him like a “prosecuting attorney” and he felt shamed, guilty.  “… It was rough answering all these questions.  Everybody looking at you like you’re a freak and a criminal and so on and so forth.”

It its final report, Kefauver’s subcommittee warned: “This country cannot afford the calculated risk involved in feeding its children, through comic books, a concentrated diet of crime, horror and violence …. Rather, the aim should be to eliminate all materials that potentially exert detrimental effects. To achieve this end, it will require continuing vigilance on the part of parents, publishers and citizens’ groups.”

***

During the postwar period, comic books were subject to repeated waves of censorship campaigns, including comic-book burnings.  During the period of 1947 to ’49, more than one hundred cities across the country, big and small, passed laws or ordinances to ban the display or sale of comic books. These campaigns took place in Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles; in Baltimore, Cleveland, Hartford, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Sacramento as well as Ann Arbor (MI), Coral Gables (FL), Falls Church (VA), Hillsdale (MI), Mt. Prospect (IL) and Nashua (NH).

The anti-comics climate heated up in ’54 and ’55 with more than a dozen states either considering or enacting legislature to regulate or suppress comic books.  Among those states were California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

The most contentious efforts to censor comics took place in New York State because a good number of the publishers operated out of Gotham.  In 1948, the U.S.Supreme Court, in Winters vs. New York, struck down as unconstitutional a state law prohibiting the publication and/or distribution of material “principally made up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures, or stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime.” However, in ’49,NYS assemblyman James Fitzpatrick organized the Joint LegislativeCommittee to Study the Publication of Comics to fashion legislature to circumvent the Court’s ruling.  In ‘54, the state legislators passed a number of bills to restrict comic books, but Governor Thomas Dewey vetoed them on constitutional grounds.  However, in ’55, the new governor, Averill Harriman, approved what was dubbed the “Fitzpatrick Act” restricting comics.

Ray Bradbury published his sci-fi classic, Fahrenheit 451, in 1953.  The title signifies the temperature at which book-paper burns.  It’s a dystopian novel about postmodern “firemen” who censor threatening texts by burning them and the small, isolated communities of people committed to keeping the written word — as a memorized, spoken text — alive.  Bradbury wrote his classic tale against a background of book burnings taking place in communities around the country.

In 1945, students of Saints Peter and Paul School, in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, participated in a school-sponsored comic-book collection drive and then burned the comics.  Other book burnings took place in West Virginia, Illinois and New York.  In Cape Girardeau, MO, the Girl Scouts led the charge.  They collected comics and brought them to St. Mary’s, a local Catholic high school, where students held a mock trial as to whether comics were “leading young people astray and building up false conceptions in the minds of youth.” The student jury found the comics guilt and the students burned them.

MAD was radical not in an ideological or conventional leftist sense, but subversive in that nothing was above critical exposure and mockery.  It mocked Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Superman and even Sen. McCarthy.  In a 1954 piece entitled, “What’s My Shine!,” it linked the popular game show, “What’s My Line,” to the Army-McCarthy hearings, punning one of McCarthy’s closest aides, David Schine.  For some, MAD was more radical than contemporary “progressive” publications like DissentCommentaryPartisan Review and The New Leader.

One can well image Bill Gaines roaring in his grave, gleeful over how he ultimately got his sweet revenge.  The moralists who so persecuted him, most notably Kefauver and Wertham, have long been relegated to the dustbin of history.  And the comic business that he spent more than three-decades of nurturing – soon to pass into the magazine graveyard – is today a multi-billion-dollar, international industry.

This Is Heaven!: A Journey to the Pearly Gates with Chuck Mertz

Counterpunch Articles -

Note: This is merely a humble recount of a vision and it in no way reflects the *real actions of Chuck Mertz, Jesus Christ or anyone else.

Note: This is a translation of a dream-like state and therefore cannot be fully understood within the constraints of narrative and the naturally alienating medium of reconstruction of experiences through words that cannot fully capture the original feeling. Alas, we are left with only memories, shades of what could have been for another person, in another time. Brother Mertz brings us closest to the radical imagination necessary for empathy. Empathy, or even better democracy, leads to an explosion of new states of mind that enriches the remarkable human mind which is perpetually bound by capital and survival, which both frightens away imagination and leaves no energy or utility for it. A free market relies on competition and fear for creation and therefore can only create more intricate modes of destruction and imprisonment. Rather, Brother Chuck, teach us your ways of looking deep into the soul of another and finding that at least for a moment, one can exit the constraints of the ego, and become radically different, not only in the liberal sense of distance—which is categorical but in the biotic sense that finds the lion lies with the lamb not out of kindness—but rather out of mercy. Find whatever truth in these words from Brother Chuck, and leave the rest.

I passed through what felt like a million tight doors made of gelatin to reach a land that was pure, good and above all, honest. Waiting on the other side, and this really was the other side, was a man who I thought I recognized immediately as radio man Chuck Mertz. Chuck had an uncommon glow surrounding him. In fairness, it may be a feature of the man you just miss on the radio, but upon further examination, I had to conclude that there was something different about this man. Something divine, that is.

Chuck looked like a cross between the same three pictures of Chuck online and the millions of pictures of Jesus Christ. Needless to say, the Chuck was clear, the Jesus, murky. Chuck wore a tattered sweatshirt and was accompanied by a floating microphone. He wore sandals, although seeing there were only pictures of Chuck from the chest up on *Google, much of in between was missing.

Chuck and I found ourselves facing each other in a capacious field. The silence wasn’t deafening, it was absolute. The background sounds and smells so common to our ungodly earth were taken out and I felt no bothers at all. The scene begged for addition, seeing subtraction was impossible. It remained unlikely that I would be the one to bring anything more, fearing to upset the balance that could only be described as seraphic.

I didn’t feel it was right to speak in the presence of such unworldly power so I stayed silent for what seemed like days. It was hard to tell because the sun never set here. Alarmingly I wasn’t thirsty or hungry either. I was never tired, but that may have been because I was dreaming. I never had to use the restroom. Nor did I need to wear anything to protect me from the sun, which was full and radiant.

Chuck seemed at peace with this scenario. I knew he was a chill guy but his calmness now made me restless, or it should have. Could Chuck really stand this long without distressing about late-stage capitalism? This was where I felt the need to assert myself. I took a deep breath and cried out, with a crack in my voice: “Where am I?”

Chuck spoke back with a pace that was as graceful as the finest dancer and it seemed like his words could neither tip the balance one way or the other.

“My brother” he began, and I felt perturbed by this use of direct language, “why does it matter?” I began to think, and having not come up with a reason, for I was perfectly content, said nothing. This time, Chuck did not let the quiet linger and he continued:

“You are in heaven. I know no other word to describe this place. Although even that word does not do it justice.”

“So, I am dead?” I wasn’t ready for his answer, because I hoped I was.

“As you would understand it, yes. Are you uncomfortable?”

I didn’t know what to make of this question. I was perfectly comfortable, in the comforting sense of the word. Why would I care though, about comfort having just found out I was dead? Upon contemplation the question had some wisdom precisely because the comfort was so pristine I truly did not care that I was dead, and I had no desire to be alive again.

“I am comfortable. In fact, I have no desires of any kind.”

“That is because they are all fulfilled. You must be wondering where everyone else is, yes? What the rest of heaven is like? It’s not just me in a field.”

I was wondering that, now that he brought it up. I hadn’t thought of it before. I was overwhelmed by contentment. This alarmed me, but why should it? Sensing me, Chuck went on.

“We can go to see them. Now, or whenever you want.” Before I saw them, I needed a question answered that I had always had about heaven, and it kept, even as all other questions had deserted me in the face of a state that defied improvement.

“Is heaven different for every person?”

“Everything is different, for everyone.” This was true, and my mind rested. Chuck went on, answering my question after his point was proven.

“Heaven is not a place, exactly. You shouldn’t worry. Never worry.” This helped me even less in answering the question, and only helped me in forgetting it.

“Come, my brother” and I followed Chuck. As we began to move my mind became preoccupied with earthly questions. How did everyone in heaven have time to meet with Chuck, if there were billions of people who needed him? How was it possible that everyone had their desires fulfilled when on earth there was always conflict between what each of us wanted? I thought the first question could be answered, and the second question wouldn’t be. So I asked about Chuck’s schedule and he said:

“I am having office hours at Cary’s Lounge. You’re welcome to join, my brother.” Giving up on any answers, I let my mind evaporate into a stupor that was both pleasant and hallow. We came to a single window, that stood on its own, at about the perfect place for breaking it.

“You want to break the window, yes?” Chuck asked. I did. And a rock formed in my hand. I threw the rock and the window shattered. To my amazement, there was not a mess on the ground. I was, as Chuck had taught me, suspicious, but he urged me on:

“Don’t worry. Please, come.” And so I came through the window and we were met by a familiar face. The great Ralph Nader! Ralph looked well, although he was hard to read.

“Mr. Nader here is our driver. He is taking us to heaven.” So we got in the car and it was the smoothest ride imaginable. The car didn’t have seatbelts, and I was almost sure we didn’t need them. Still, I had to wonder what Mr. Nader, who is the reason we have seatbelts in cars now, thought about that.

Chuck told me that this was merely a tour. I could live here soon, but only if I wanted to. I couldn’t imagine not wanting to. I was so stupefied by the entire situation that I didn’t ask what he meant. Chuck told me that we would be passing by all my fulfilled desires. All I needed to do was tell Mr. Nader what they were and he would drive by where they were currently being fulfilled.

So we passed by everything I thought I needed. Lavish homes, beautiful women, pressed clothes and no labor to speak of. Money, I thought to myself, need not spin its evil web here, and money was gone. Children who looked up to me as a hero. A muscular body. A bountiful feast. Even magic powers. Captive friends. Land to protect and cultivate. Creepy paintings. Fast cars. A camera on the savages for entertainment. And, almost as an afterthought, no homeless people (too messy).

On that thought, the car dragged to a halt.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. I was angry. I had forgot about Ralph.

“My brother” Chuck said, “we have reached what Marx called a contradiction. It is here where Ralph stops the car because he does not know which way to go.”

“What do you mean, Chuck?”

“For example, say that you wished that your heaven had no Chuck Mertz.”

“I would never wish that!” I tried to defend myself at what felt like an attack.

“No, I must say this position of Jesus is a rather new one for me. I think your love for me is pure.”

“Pure! Yes, it is all pure!”

“Yes, but you see purity is where we find our contradiction. “

“Go on!” I urged Chuck, for he was pausing again. Seeing the relationship to time was detached, I couldn’t say how long he paused for. Weeks, months, years.

“If you really wanted me to go on, I would already be going on. This is heaven. You make all of the rules. You are only having me pause because you do not want to hear the rest, or are not ready to.”

“Does that mean I am also making up everything you say, Brother Chuck?”

“Remember the Albus Dumbledore quote: “Of course this is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

“So am I merely constructing a recreation of my generation’s Bible? With myself cast as the protagonist?”

“At least this one has a happy ending” Chuck said with a glitter in his bluest eye.

I must have been ready for my original question, as the answer flowed from Chuck’s inner depths, without a prompting.

“Remember back to when you learned about Santa Claus. The first question the child asks is: how does Santa make it to every house? From a young age we are aware of the material limitations of the world. It is at that age that we are more aware than ever of these constraints. At that age, a cookie on top of the countertop is out of reach. Even if we were a baby that was 100 feet tall with arms the size of tree trunks this cookie would be out of reach. It is not the physical and mental restrictions that limit the child, but the place the child is given in society. The child is aware that there are rules because she is always breaking them. Once we gain power in the world this changes. Once we trade in the natural inclinations of our soul and opt instead for society’s acceptance, approval, reward, and most importantly mercy, it is only then that we begin to forget how materially restricted our world is for both the underprivileged and rebellious. As a child we know that Santa could not come to every house in one night because we know that the world has its ecological and physical limits, as we run up against them everyday. It is only when we become old enough to conquer the world that we begin to forget the process of our own fragile and vain existence.”

We were interrupted by the snores of Brother Ralph from the front seat. I began to laugh, but Chuck scolded me.

“You must have thought it was funny to have a man of such importance fall asleep during my speech. A cheap and ageist joke.”

Stunned at this shift in tone from the comic Chuck, I was let off the hook when he continued:

“Although you did want to be scolded for it. Good for you.” Was this heaven after all? I was being complemented for seeking punishment, but it was only years later that I discovered that Chuck was joking here, and may have been joking the whole time, for all I know.

“We’ll keep Ralph snoring. You see the Santa Claus paradox?”

“Yes, I do. Santa Claus cannot exist because it would be materially impossible for him to reach every house.”

“We are living in a world that believes that it can and should fill every material gap. This is a world that stops at nothing to achieve its most ludicrous desires. Even when these desires are fulfilled there remains a longing and we come across a class of elites that will never be satisfied. Every corner of the earth must be drilled and extracted from, every person worked to the bone, for every last drop of fantastical valor. And yet, we judge the poor the most harshly. I am a man of judgment, my brother. Make no mistake.”

“How does Santa then exist in the modern world?”

“He very well may come true, in his own way. Not just through bums hired in malls to play him. Could we not imagine that the world needs a certain fantasy so much that we would be willing to sacrifice all our loved ones and liberties to achieve it? And most horrifying, we wouldn’t even notice what we have lost, except in passing, as just another thought on the bullet train of overstimulation on the road to alienation from the fundamental human condition.”

“Brother Chuck, wasn’t it you who just said that if it happens inside your head, then it must be real?”

“Let me answer that. There is truth that no experience, by any person, in any time, is any more real than another. Each of us is truly as valuable and beautiful as the next. Each of us belongs to the same kingdom of God and each of us at our base have the same soul and essence. So in that sense, the scare about the loss of religion is quite overblown. I would argue that religion never existed as the pure truth we think of. In all its forms it has always been a way to explain the human condition when used sincerely. In this way we could say there has never been a time when we have been closer to God than we are now. This is because we are discovering ourselves in ways that are not bound by historical institutions that attempt, but always fail, to explain God. This is what we remember. If all things earthly are imperfect, then all attempts to find the true religion have failed. The only blasphemy that one can have is to pretend to have found the answer and call your sister lost just because her path is different than yours.”

“But Brother Chuck, weren’t you just saying we have been in a state of moral decay?”

“What we have is the actualization of conquest over the earth in its most severe form to date. And our conquest over each other within the human race is at a notable, although certainly not singular high in many respects, such as wealth inequality. So in that sense, we are destroying ourselves willfully, although not completely knowingly because there remains the distance between the different segments of God’s soul. These different segments occupy different bodies, or even different groups of bodies, but we all are all one. In that sense, I do find the modern subject, so entranced by their own ascetic to be one that is not immoral per se, but simply unknowingly self-destructive precisely because the self is miscalculated within a body that will never reach perfection and a mind that will never find resolve. It is in this way that the singular unit of God’s world must become chaotic as its innards compete for God’s reward of salvation. Which is silly, really. We are all God, we are all saved. The only risk of falling from God’s grace is to become something you are not, for we are all God until we destroy ourselves.”

“What does any of this have to do with heaven?”

“Brother, I am coming. Heaven is much the same way. We have our own desires but they have material limits. To live in heaven, where all one’s desires are achieved, is possible. Anything is possible. However it comes within a context of other actors within the world. The most painful thing for anyone to hear is that their own desires may stomp on someone else’s. This is why we find that heaven remains a mathematical impossibility, although there will always be someone who tries. It is through this process that God wields his justice—and it is only here where he has no mercy. On the poor man, God has mercy. He brings him truth, or at least death. The rich man is abandoned by God—left to live within his own misery and regret.”

“It is worse than that, Chuck. It is anguish. I am living in this heaven, where I have all I want. And yet all I feel is desperation. I want to hurl myself off a bridge and never look back.”

“How would that help you? You are already dead.”

“It will be like this, forever, then?”

“Forever and always. Your only job now is to make sense of it. Your only job is to enjoy it as much as possible.”

“Why? Why can’t it change?”

“Because this is what you want. You asked for all of this, and now you have it. You know that the world slaves for your benefit, you know that the world burns for your energy, and you know that in every crying child, you see yourself. You are yourself. You cannot escape that part of you is crying. Yet to know truly how this child is, you would have to become her. You would have to know that you, like the child, suffers, toils and is never rewarded for it. You would have to know the world has no fair rules and that the sole merit in this life is finding yourself in all its unexpected places. You will never find yourself here. You will never escape your box of glory and excess because you can’t.”

“I want to see. I want to see how this is made. How this world runs and who it runs on.”

“And then what will you do? You will never be happy and the whole world will always be sad.”

“Chuck! Stop this Chuck! Stop it now! I am dying inside. Never has there been a pain this great. Never known to man.”

“I think you should ask your slaves about that.” Chuck knew that would get me but it also made me feel better. Finally an acknowledgement of the real.

“The left leg cannot walk forward the same time as the right leg. We are one body but we are not the same. We are of one spirit but we can never know exactly what the rest of the body is thinking.”

“What is it thinking?”

“The same as you. How can I end this?”

“Why did I choose this? Why couldn’t I have saved them? Wouldn’t we all feel better?”

“Perhaps. And yet you question me now. How can you doubt fate? This is exactly who you are meant to be. You want to help these people? Stop looking back. You left them here. You left them here to die. And you chose to do that. Maybe you felt scared. Maybe you just had the wrong instincts. But look at you now. Look at you learning, growing, thinking.”

“You haven’t told me how I can help them.”

“Become the world again. Return to it and soon this instinct of helping yourself will spread.”

“It is kindness, that you seek, Brother Chuck?”

“Kindness dies in darkness. What I am looking for is wisdom. Wisdom to know that there has never been a happy man who acts against himself. If you know this. If you trust this. Then when the time comes, you will do what you must, and you will feel better.”

“It won’t get better, will it?”

“No. They will suffer. You can’t save them. But it is here where I say you save yourself. You are no good to this heaven a dead man. You may not be worth it. But none of us are. All of us are nothing in God’s kingdom. All you can do is become something.”

“What can I become in a world like this? All the people, enslaved in my name. All the earth, owned in my name. I am all of it already.”

“Are you? Or do you just own it? Let it go. Let it grow. What was once your purity is now your power. Today you let that go. Let the world flourish and you will find to your comfort that it is just as capable of neglect as you are. It remains just as afraid. Just as alone. Life is all a misunderstanding. We all want to do something. We all want to be adjusted. We all want what is right. But none of it makes sense. There are so many contradictions that you will never be satisfied. Therefore you must do what you must.”

“How is this heaven? Why am I such a coward? And why did you put me here? Do you want to punish me?”

“Yes, of course I do. Look what you did to my people. You are being punished. What is a greater curse than perfection? Therefore I suggest you be just a little grateful for your regret and your despair about the conditions you have created. It is the one ounce of humanity I have left for you. If not for this, what would you feel? What would you remember?”

“Will I ever be happy, Chuck? Will I ever recover?”

“Unlikely. How would I know? If this remains your question, you have a long way to go.”

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