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Live From New Hampshire: God, Country and Electability

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This is the fourth of periodic reports from the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and perhaps beyond, should the republic last until South Carolina and Nevada. This was written as the campaign entered its last days before the vote in New Hampshire. I managed to hear all the active candidates on both sides in the race, except Michael Bloomberg, who is running in his own reality.

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick campaigning in Durham, New Hampshire. Photo by Matthew Stevenson.

Even presidential primaries have snow days, and I have had two in New Hampshire. About four inches of snow fell on the first day, and on the second the weather turned to sleet and freezing rain. I know that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” should keep this “courier from the swift completion of [his] appointed rounds”, but when the choice was driving on frozen roads to hear Tulsi Gabbard address the Fireside Inn in Lebanon, NH, I couldn’t summon the energy to bear witness to someone who herself might not be present.

Searching for the White Whale of Centrist Electability

Actually, for my first small steps in New Hampshire, the campaign came to me in the form of John Bessler, who is the husband of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (of 12.3% fame in the Iowa caucus). He showed up about a mile from where I was staying, to speak at what used to be called “a tea” of concerned voters.

Bessler arrived on time, despite the rain and snow. He was wearing a (slightly rumpled) blue suit, which is the exception on the trail in 2020. (Last evening in Durham, I bumped into Colorado Senator Michael Bennett, who was wearing sneakers and looked as though he was about to coach a gym class.)

A tall man with a receding hairline, Bessler shook hands with everyone in the living room. We were a circle of about fourteen people, and he stood near the dining room table (in a beautiful house, owned by an Amy for America volunteer) and spoke for close to an hour on behalf of his wife’s candidacy.

Bessler said that he and Amy had been married for twenty-six years, and that they had one daughter, who, as it turned out, was one of the reasons that Klobuchar got involved with state politics in Minnesota.

When their daughter was born, she was not able to swallow properly, and required a feeding tube to survive. After about a day in the hospital, Amy was booted out of the maternity ward while the baby remained behind for treatment.

At the time Amy was a lawyer in Minneapolis, representing such clients as MCI (an upstart phone company challenging the bigger players). Her anger at being separated from her sick daughter pushed her to lobby the state legislature to pass a law allowing women to remain at least forty hours in the hospital after delivering a baby.

Those were Amy’s first baby steps in politics, and she went on to be elected three times to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota and now to stand as a presidential candidate.

From her first dealings with the legislature, she had an inkling, as John said, of “what an advocate can do.” She’s a midwestern pragmatist who can work with moderates in both parties.

Although John phrased the contrast diplomatically, he wanted the gathering to understand that Amy “gets things done”, while senators Sanders and Warren are better at talking the talk.

Klobuchar’s first elective office in Minnesota was as a county attorney, from which in 2006 she stood for the U.S. Senate and won, by an average margin of nine votes in the precincts across Minnesota. Her re-elections in 2012 and 2018 were more comfortable; those she carried by margins of 35 and 20 points.

John made the point that in 2018 Amy won 31 counties that in the 2016 presidential election had flipped from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, indicating that, as the nominee, she would be acceptable to moderates in both parties (unlike the bomb-throwing Sanders and Warren, although he didn’t say it like that).

The more I listened to Bessler lecture about “Amy Klobuchar’s Contract for American Renewal,” the more clearly she came into focus as a can-do midwestern senator, in the Progressive traditions of Senators Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and Walter Mondale.

Like Elizabeth Warren, Klobuchar has a fair number of plans, and Bessler went through her ideas to invest in American infrastructure, deal with climate change (she would increase gas mileage standards and renewable energy), dedicate resources to education and job training, and even squirrel away some resources to amortize some of the $23 trillion in national debt.

In all cases, John said, Amy was good (in their life together and in the Senate) at husbanding resources. In the Iowa caucuses, for example, she spent less money—only $3.9 million—than the other major candidates.

Bessler remarked that Klobuchar cares passionately about the enforcement of anti-trust legislation. It’s one of her committee assignments in the Senate, and trust busting (as it used to be called) is tied to her advocacy for level economic playing fields, fairness to consumers, and opposition to oligarchy.

He made the point that it was two Republicans, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, who first enforced anti-trust legislation (which was passed during the administration of Democrat Grover Cleveland but ignored by William McKinley, who was in the pocket of the bosses, notably business tycoon and fixer Mark Hanna).

The Only New Hampshire Issue is Electability

The question consistently posed to Amy’s husband was how, if she were the nominee, she would stand up to a lunatic such as Donald Trump, who campaigns as if he were Mussolini on his balcony.

What seemed to matter most to the people gathered (an older crowd with mid-day time on their hands) was beating Trump in the general election. In response, Bessler said that “Trump isn’t going to know how to deal with a strong-willed woman such as Amy.”

Over and over, he described her as task-oriented, detail-driven, and focused on the people’s business. He never entirely convinced me that Amy has Butch Cassidy’s wiliness, demonstrated in his knife fight with Harvey Logan, who challenged Butch for leadership of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. The movie script reads:

Butch Cassidy: [ as Harvey tenses to begin the fight] No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.

Harvey Logan: Rules? In a knife fight? No rules.

[Butch throws dirt in Harvey’s eyes and kicks him in the groin, causing him to collapse on the ground]

Everyone at the tea party wants Trump to be the Harvey Logan of American politics.

If there was a downside during the Q and A, it came when Bessler answered a question about how Amy will deal with Putin and Russia. His answer, which drifted back to her Senate committee work on cross-border trade with Mexico and Canada, indicated that she doesn’t have much feel for or experience with foreign affairs.

A lack of experience in foreign affairs isn’t fatal for a presidential candidate (I doubt Trump could point to Iran on a globe), but it could lead to discomfort on the campaign trail if Amy is ever challenged, for example, about the Macedonian Question.

The Student Debt Crisis: How to buy an education and influence people

Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts and the close friend of Barack Obama, has gotten little respect during this Democratic political campaign.

Except maybe in an early round, he has been excluded from the televised debates, and only because CNN needed to have an even number of guests was he included in the Town Hall series of primetime, hour-long interviews, although Patrick was put in the 11:00 p.m. slot, never ideal.

To my knowledge he did not campaign in Iowa, instead deciding to husband his resources for New Hampshire, where he could hope to trade off his name recognition as the former governor of Massachusetts.

Another former Massachusetts governor, William Weld on the Republican side, who is challenging Donald Trump, made the same calculation but he turned up for a whistle-stop tour (okay, in a rental car) in Iowa.

I tracked down Deval Patrick at a public event held at the University of New Hampshire, which is located in Durham, not far inland from the coast. Patrick was speaking at a conference entitled College Costs & Debt in the 2020 Elections.

The host was the UNH Carsey School for Public Policy, and the topic, I am sure, was chosen with the idea of luring some presidential hopefuls to campus.

As it turned out, only the second-team candidates accepted the invitation to speak. Hence the attendees were Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Michael Bennett, Weld, and Patrick. Gabbard bailed at the last minute, pleading the excuse of the weather (which remained a mixture of snow, rain, and ice).

William Weld’s Democrat-Republican Revival

Before Patrick, Weld spoke for about twenty minutes, and he summarized the crisis in higher education, saying that many students graduate with too much debt and too few job prospects.

I know that nominally he’s a fiscally conservative former governor, but on the stage at the UNH Carsey School he sounded like former presidential Democratic candidate George McGovern.

Weld said many college graduates had become “indentured students” to various student loan programs, and that the only way to get out from under the debt was to pay it off or die.

He cast the administrators of the federal government’s student loan programs in the guise of loan sharks, saying that if graduates missed payments on their debt, they were charged an assortment of fees and penalties, and that they were furthermore unable to benefit from a rate reduction because interest rates have trended lower.

Weld did not believe that graduates should have to begin servicing their loans until they were earning enough money on the job to be comfortable in making the monthly payments. He also advocated debt forgiveness for any graduates who serve adequate time in the military or in an equivalent public-service job.

Weld called it “the compounding problem,” when graduates are forced to work for years, often at uninspiring jobs, just to service their student loans. He also warned that with the development of artificial intelligence, many workers will lose their jobs (those for which they took on high debts).

Weld isn’t persuaded that everyone needs to attend a four-year college or university and, like others in the presidential campaign, spoke well of two-year community colleges and trade schools as often sufficient, and at much lower costs, for many high school graduates.

Weld was prompted to talk in a slightly discursive way about his own evolution from conservative Republican to someone who now believes that “government has a responsibility to look after its citizens…”, and with that mindset he didn’t like it that one aspect of public and private education has turned into a racket.

Weld himself went to Harvard where he studied classics. When I asked him about the books that inspired him, he mentioned Friedrich Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, which is a go-to treatise of libertarian political thought.

By the time that Weld spoke to the conference it was well after 6:00 p.m., and if the room had ever been full (which I doubt), now it was largely empty. We were perhaps a group of twenty-five, sitting in a hall that could easily accommodate a thousand people. (Even my own undergraduate classes in Greek military history drew a larger crowd.)

It highlighted one of the sadnesses of the presidential primary system, which is that it is front-loaded to track polling data, gaffs, soundbites, short TV interviews with big-foot anchors, and miscellany (Bailey Warren, Elizabeth’s dog) while the good government ideas are relegated to the not-ready-for-prime-time players.

Deval Patrick’s Journey From the South Side of Chicago to Harvard

Deval Patrick, another former Massachusetts governor, followed Weld to the stage, and for an applause line evoked yet a third former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, who had just voted to convict Donald Trump on one of the impeachment clauses.

Patrick also gave a shoutout to Weld, who after speaking had taken a seat in the audience to hear what Patrick had to say. (Not many candidates run in the listening mode.)

I had never heard Patrick speak, and he was more soft-spoken than I expected. His position in the race, other than running on the Largely Unknown ticket, is that of a career Democrat on the left who nonetheless would like to work with moderate Republicans (that category may be down to Weld and Romney).

Patrick is also unusual in candidate circles as he has had two distinct careers, one as a civic rights attorney in the Clinton justice department and the other in private equity, in which he was a senior officer at Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Mitt Romney helped to found. (Patrick came later to the company.)

Not all hard-left Democrats appreciate Patrick’s work on Wall Street, but unlike Tom Steyer, who tends to gloss over his deal-making life, Patrick is clear in wanting to involve the so-called “private sector” in solutions to government problems.

Patrick is close to Sanders and Warren in advocating forgiveness of student debt and free tuition, but he would not make college completely free for those who can afford the tuition and fees.

He, too, spoke of getting the government loan shark off the backs of graduates, by dropping interest rates on borrowed money to zero and by making community colleges and trade schools free for students (and retooling workers) who need certain basic job skills to enter the economy.

He made the point that in-state tuition for the University of New Hampshire is $34,000 while out-of-state costs are $54,000, which puts the school beyond the reach of many middle-class students, even those with moderate savings.

Later that same evening, on CNN’s Town Hall, Patrick spoke more generally about his bi-partisan credentials, his record as a two-term governor, his experience in business, and the sense fairness that he would bring to the White House.

Asked about his personal history, he talked about growing up poor on the south side of Chicago, in a home with his mother and grandmother. When he was accepted at Harvard and told his grandmother of the achievement, she congratulated him and then asked, “Now where is that?” No one in his family had ever been to college.

At Harvard, which he liked for its diversity, size, and challenging intellectual life, he said that he often had the uneasy feeling that someone might one day tap him on the shoulder and say it had all be a mistake and that he needed to go back to his cold-water tenement on Chicago’s south side. That never happened, and later Patrick flourished at law school.

Of late, because of low poll numbers and fund raising, Patrick had not made any of the debates, so he was running on the margins of the campaign, a bit like Spinal Tap playing in neighborhood rec rooms.

My sense is that he is soldiering on, perhaps to position himself as a potential vice-presidential nominee, in the event the nominee wants a centrist African-American pro-business Democrat with strong ties to the civil rights movement.

It’s not a bad bet in 2020, with so many older white men running for president (Patrick is only 63). And the African-American competitors for such a slot (Kamala Harris and Cory Booker) have already withdrawn from the race.

Tulsi Gabbard Goes to War at the Elks Club

It took me a while to track down Representative Tulsi Gabbard. She had not been in Iowa when I was there (except on billboards floating above the Iowa cornfields, a bit like Oz), and she was hard to find in New Hampshire.

At most she was only appearing at one or two events each day, and then usually at some remote VFW hall in a place such as Laconia, New Hampshire, which is an additional hour long drive from the Boston suburbs around Nashua and Manchester.

Finally I found the Gabbard candidacy in Rochester, New Hampshire, at an Elks club which was kitted out with American flags and enough chairs to seat an audience of perhaps 125 people.

Gabbard is the exception in the race for the Democratic nomination in that her campaign is focused on foreign affairs, notably the issue of bringing home the troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, and northern Syria.

Most of the other candidates only speak of foreign affairs in the context of the domestic budget (they want to cut military spending to devote resources to the opioid crisis or medicare for all).

Gabbard, however, speaks more openly and directly on behalf of the veterans (she is one of them) who were deployed to these savage wars of peace with no clear government objective behind them, and then largely ignored when they came home with post-stress traumatic disorders.

Gabbard is a major in the Hawaii national guard, and at times during her candidacy she has left the campaign trail for weekend or summer duty.

She speaks in the patient, direct, calming voice of a military briefing officer, although she didn’t have a relief map of the Middle East or one of those long pointers, and her principal message is that the United States needs to stop fighting “endless wars” in the Middle East.

But if anything has defined Gabbard’s candidacy in the 2020 Democratic race it is her ability to generate headlines that put her at odds with the mainstream Democratic leadership, which neither likes nor trust Tulsi.

Most recently Representative Gabbard voted “present” when the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump were brought before the full House of Representatives. She was the only Democrat not to vote for impeachment.

Other headline-generating events include her 2017 meeting with Syrian strongman and president, Bashar al-Assad, and her defamation lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who suggested in a tweet (without actually naming Gabbard) that the Hawaii’s member of Congress might well be a Russian agent or run by its bots.

Gabbard met with Assad to make the point back home that the United States was fighting on the wrong side in Syria. To CNN she justified her meeting by saying: “Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the President of Syria. In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur there has to be a conversation with him.”

At the Elks club she didn’t mention the meeting with Assad, but she did say several times that: “…as a veteran, I have been serving in the Army National Guard now for 16 years and continue to serve, served on two Middle East deployments. I have seen this cost of war firsthand, which is why I fight so hard for peace.”

Hillary Clinton’s view of Gabbard’s candidacy is that she’s part of an election hoax, on behalf of the Russian hacker state. Clinton said (clearly referring to Gabbard):

They’re also going to do third-party. I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far, and that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not, because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset, I mean totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate.

Against this claim, Gabbard filed a libel and defamation suit against Clinton, although I doubt it’s more than a campaign spot, as I cannot imagine Gabbard has the appetite to sustain a civil case for five years against Clinton. For the moment, however, it’s probably cheaper than running 30-second adds on Manchester television (“and I support this lawsuit….”).

At the same time as Gabbard is speaking for disgruntled Iraq and Afghanistan vets (“I want to challenge the war majority coming out of Washington…”), she’s also given to inflated boasting, notably her claim that she has the “most experience of any candidate in the race on foreign affairs, except maybe Joe Biden.” Actually she only speaks well on the wars in the Middle East (although more with emotion than as someone who understands political intricacies).

Later in her talk, Tulsi expanded the reach of her stump speech, and talked generally, as all candidates do, about health care, the opioid crisis, the Supreme Court, mental health, teacher pay, etc. and on those issues she might well be singing from the candidate hymnal.

By this point I was done with Gabbard but I did stick around to ask her a question about the unresolved European crisis in the Balkans. (To me the next European war, if it comes, will happen in or around Kosovo.) I figured she was fair game for the question as “the most qualified candidate in foreign affairs…”

Gabbard wanted nothing to do with my Balkan wars question. I even wondered if she knew where Kosovo was. Her facial expression was one of alarm and horror at the question.

She cut me off and said an aide would send me an email, and as I wandered back to my car in the Elks parking lot, I thought that even Hillary would have given me ten minutes on Albanian separatism. After all, in Pristina there’s a dress shop with her name on it.

James Carville Spins The Electorate

The last candidate on my list was Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado, who has campaigned across New Hampshire, without much response, as if running for local office in Denver.

I heard him speak at the Palace Theater in Manchester—actually the event was in a storefront next to the theater—and the only reason the event was packed was because CNN’s James Carville introduced Bennet and spoke about him as the second coming of Bill Clinton.

Actually, when Clinton was the “Comeback Kid” in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, he finished second, behind Paul Tsongas. But it was less than a month after Gennifer Flowers had gone public with the details of their affair (“he eats pussy like a champ…”) and the Clintons had held their Super Bowl halftime marriage therapy session, which Carville himself had helped to orchestrate.

I presume that Michael Bennet, a two-term Colorado senator, is a less complex than Bill Clinton. Bennet’s wife was at the rally (she pleaded his case in the prelims… “If you will just give him a chance….”) as were their three daughters.

The reason for the capacity crowd in the storefront wasn’t to hear from Bennet or his wife (although both speak well) but from Carville, for whom politics is a blood sport.

I had only ever seen Carville on television, and then in snippets after some debate, so I wasn’t quite ready for his one-man stage act, that of a Ragin’ Cajun.

Carville had on an LSU jersey and a Marine Corps veteran’s cap, and the waist on his ratty blue jeans was too big and cinched in to hold them up, giving him the look of a roped steer. On his feet were designer sneakers, the kind a Kardashian would wear along Rodeo Drive.

On stage Carville plays up his swamp cat, southern accent and uses the kind of expressions that must fly around Bayou drinking holes just before closing time.

Carville imagined Mitch McConnell’s facial expression if Republicans lost control of the Senate (“like he’d crapped a pineapple…”) and put the boot into Bernie for not appealing to southern or western Democrats (“they’ll run away from Bernie Sanders like the devil running away from holy water…”).

According to Carville, only Bennet could win the election (he’s won twice in the purple state of Colorado) and save the republic from Trump (“we’re gonna change thingswe’re gonna dream..”). And then Carville vanished from the stage, as though someone had switched off CNN.

Michael Bennet Runs Hard in the Shadows

It was hard for Bennet in person to live up to Carville’s hype. His main message was that he was the Democrat best able to defeat Donald Trump, as he had won several elections against Republican majorities in Colorado.

Earlier in his career, Bennet was superintendent of the Denver school system, and in many respects his political personality is that of a high school principal rallying the student body for the big game against Trump High. He speaks optimistically, and he believes that his students (in this case American voters) can always do better on their regent exams.

If Bennet has a cause about which he is passionate, it is to defeat Mitch McConnell and regain Democratic control of the Senate. More than once, I heard him say, “I can’t stand losing to Mitch McConnell”, and he believes that “no one should be as cynical or malevolent as Mitch McConnell.” He adds that Democrats need to be “as strategic” as the Senate majority leader.

Bennet’s problem as a candidate is that he’s running as a moderate in a body politic of extremes. He speaks well and seems to have a positive and pleasing personality, but in the polls I see in New Hampshire, Bennet hardly moves the dial.

Probably the best story he told at the rally was in response to a question about his mother, who escaped as a child from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.

When fighting engulfed Warsaw, she fled with her parents to a suburb, where they hid from the Germans and then the Russians.

After the war, her family went to Stockholm and then Mexico City, before coming to the United States. She had only a smattering of English when they arrived, but in the early 1960s she earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and married Michael’s father, who was an American diplomat and political aide within the Democratic hierarchy.

That Michael’s mother survived the Warsaw ghetto in World War II has no bearing on whether he would make a good president, but his telling of her ordeal suggested some understanding of European history, which otherwise is never mentioned on the campaign trail. Out here, it’s America First.

The Last Hurrah of Democratic Politics

On the last weekend before the vote, I crisscrossed much of New Hampshire and saw all of the remaining candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

Here are my notes of each candidate in the closing days of the campaign, in order of polling preference:

Bernie Sanders Plays the Role of Frontrunner:

Sanders is running as the confident frontrunner. His team in the field is young and what attracts most of his supporters are his stances on climate change and income inequality.

What people like about Sanders in New Hampshire is that he is familiar and speaks with passion. At a women’s rights forum, he drew applause for saying he would have a “litmus test” for judicial appointments and would not appoint anyone who did not support Roe v. Wade and abortion rights.

Sanders is vulnerable to a centrist challenge (Buttigieg in New Hampshire, Biden in South Carolina) because many voters, while believing in Bernie’s integrity, don’t think his medicare-for-all, free tuition numbers stand up.

Buttigieg, who has targeted Bernie as his chief rival for the primary win, asks repeatedly, “How are you going to pay for it?”

My feeling is that momentum will carry Bernie over the line in New Hampshire, ahead of Buttigieg and Klobuchar, although I do think that so-called “late undecided voters” will lean toward Pete, eve if they voted last time for Bernie.

I don’t think Bernie will win South Carolina, but will do well in Nevada, and he will be the frontrunner, perhaps against Michael Bloomberg, entering Super Tuesday.

If Bernie stumbles in New Hampshire and loses to Pete, all bets on his campaign will be off.

Pete Buttigieg Pitches God and Country:

The former mayor of South Bend wants to be all things to all men. He’s the outsider from Indiana challenging the covey of Washington insiders. He’s the antiwar Afghan war veteran (well, G.I. driver) who wants to “restore America’s standing in the world.”

He’s the liberal Democrat who talks about balancing the federal budget and paying down the deficit. He’s the McKinsey whizz kid who thinks it’s unfair that Amazon and Chevron don’t pay taxes. He’s the advocate of another Peace Corps who will turn up on Fox News. In short, he’s the Leonard Zelig of the Democratic primaries.

Pete is doing better in the polls because many of those casting votes in the primaries (New Hampshire is today) are asking themselves one question: Can this candidate beat Trump?

In Pete they see a centrist who can bring together the left and the right, the young and the restless, and at several crowded events it was clear to me that all sorts of voters were seeing in Pete things that they wanted to believe about a candidate.

I went to one of his last rallies in New Hampshire, and he spoke as if he had already won the Democratic nomination. About potential vice-presidential running mates, he said that senators Kamala Harris, Warren, and Klobuchar were all “people I admire,” and reached out to “future former Republicans,” something Sanders would never do.

In his speeches, Buttigieg lacks Bernie’s (or even Warren’s) fire and ice. He’s more of an itinerant faith healer than an old testament prophet (Bernie’s job description).

On subjects such as business, the military, and politics, Pete sounds like a graduate student sitting for his oral exams. I am sure he’s done the required reading and has carefully footnoted his thesis, but he’s not someone who can apply the practical experience of his life to his theories of government.

He has worked in business and done time in the military, but he has no critical insights into the modern corporation and its powers, and his observations about Afghanistan and Iraq sound like excerpts from a New York Times Op-ed piece. In most of his life endeavors, he was there, as they say in the army, to get “his ticket punched.”

He’s been lucky that the first two primaries have been in largely white and well-educated states; South Carolina will not be so forgiving.

Pete’s undoing in this election will be among African-American and young voters, who have a visceral dislike of the mayor (they see his home city as white privilege), but I can see him staying in the race for a while, as his vanilla messages (“I just want to say that I will not take away your social security benefits…”) have more reach than those of Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick, other centrists in the race.

Elizabeth Warren Will Have a Hard Time Changing Lanes:

If “Dandy” Dan Meredith, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Monday Night Football color man, were covering the Warren campaign, he would be singing: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…”

Warren, in the big game against the Bernie Raiders, is behind 27-7, and even though it’s the second quarter and Super Tuesday comes with a big half-time show, it’s still getting late early out there for Elizabeth.

Warren’s views are almost identical to those of Sanders, but voters think he speaks to them with conviction while Warren tends to lecture. He’s considered “passionate” while she’s dismissed as “strident”. (To many men she sounds like a divorce lawyer, coming for their BMW.)

Compared to Bernie, Warren has more executive experience, and she’s had fewer heart attacks. Plus she’s a little younger. But voters, at least in Iowa and New Hampshire, aren’t buying the pitch.

The word used most often among insiders in these primary is “lanes,” referring to a candidate’s chosen path through the electorate, in terms of the left, center, or right wings (here they become “lanes”).

Bernie’s lane is on the far left wing of the Democratic party, to the extent that he identifies with “democratic-socialism,” as if lining up with some European workers’ party.

In positioning her campaign, Warren chose to fight for Bernie’s lane on the far left, and she ceded the center to Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

Now that Sanders is winning his lane, there’s no place for Warren to go. If she shifts to the right, she will be branded a sellout for political expedience. And there’s no room to the left of Sanders, except perhaps with the Red Brigade or the Shining Path.

I listened to Warren at two get-out-the-vote rallies, and she hit all of her high notes: about how the economy “is working great if you’re a large corporation” and about how “working moms” are getting shafted in terms of their salaries and what it costs to pay a baby sitter.

She shares the pain of her questioners about the opioid crisis and crippling student debt. Or she talks about the “gun violence problem” or making Roe v. Wade “the law of the land.” Then she hangs around for pictures or offers up Bailey (her buffed up golden retriever) to play fetch in the selfie line.

It’s all well choreographed, a bit like an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show (without all the celebrity chefs and more about “extremists controlling our courts…”). But the ratings aren’t there.

Amy Klobuchar Decides How to Spin Another Fourth Place:

Amy for America, the Klobuchar organization, has everything you might want in a presidential campaign.

It has endorsements from the New York Times and other politically prominent newspapers. It has a 59-year-old well-spoken female candidate who has worked successfully in the Senate with Republicans and Democrats. It has a centrist message that ought to sell well in the mall of political America. And it has a flavor of midwestern, soccer mom sensibility in a campaign that has far too many old white guys from the East or West Coasts.

What Amy for America doesn’t have is much momentum, although she did well in recent debates, and there were many enthusiasts waving her kelly green signs at her get-out-the-vote rallies in New Hampshire.

It’s a shame, as Klobuchar is one of the few candidates (of the eleven that I have listened to in the last two weeks) who does not seem to entirely believe her own press releases and who has even delivered a few jokes. I think her midwestern nasal tone and slightly frumpy appearance have given voters a reason to overlook her qualities, which are many.

In New Hampshire, a win for Klobuchar would be to do better than Warren and Biden, and to stay close to Buttigieg (in that lane). A fourth or fifth place finish, behind Warren and Biden, would kill her candidacy, as neither South Carolina nor Nevada holds much promise for Amy’s can-do promises.

Joe Biden Waits on Godot in South Carolina:

The former vice-president can say he never expected to do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but if you’re leading in the national polls (although not the betting odds) and finish fourth in the first two primaries, I am not sure what’s left of your candidacy.

Losing badly in the first two primaries will kill fund raising for Super Tuesday, when Biden will have to face the flush campaigns of Bernie Sanders and, I presume, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Nor has Biden been particularly sharp in New Hampshire, after sleep-walking through Iowa. In the debates, he seemed to claim credit for every piece of social legislation that has passed since the Franklin Pierce administration. But not many in his audiences seem to connect Joe himself to the bills under review (health care, background checks for gun buyers, etc.).

It seems as if there are two Bidens running for president: the one of his imagination, and the one that the voters recall, whose main job during the Obama years was to fly to state funerals.

Nor do I think that the impeachment hearings did Biden any favors. I suspect more than a few voters think Trump used his office for political gain (just as they think about 24 impeachment counts could have been brought against the president and made to stick, without a stacked jury). At the same time they don’t quite believe Biden’s story that Hunter had qualities that would earn him $50,000 a month on most boards of directors.

I don’t see how Biden can lose in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then, by virtue of winning in South Carolina, get enough momentum to win the nomination on Super Tuesday.

He’s low on campaign funds, and Buttigieg and Klobuchar are crowding his lanes. Joe’s done, sooner than you think.

Tom Steyer Blows a Billion:

I guess a billion dollars means less than it used to, as Tom Steyer is going nowhere in the campaign, despite flooding the airways and highways with his paid political messages and billboards.

Steyer would love to be the People’s Bloomberg, and to corner the electoral market before Mike shows up with his own billions on Super Tuesday.

The problem with his campaign is that Tom sounds a bit like former third-party candidate and mogul, H. Ross Perot, a whiny speaker with a bunch of great ideas to get government working—on gun safety, climate control, health care, impeachment, free tuition, etc.

I am sure most Democrats support the ideas that Steyer articulates; they just don’t like them coming from him.

I assume that Bloomberg doesn’t get the same criticism because he was a three-term mayor of New York, while Steyer has never held or run for any political office.

Steyer does have street cred for organizing voter drives, especially among young people, and he has funded a grass-roots impeachment campaign against Donald Trump and devoted resources to fight climate change. But few are listening.

Andrew Yang Does His Best to Buy a Few Votes:

There’s probably less to Yang than appears at first impression, when his irreverent humor, tech savviness, and youthful appearance make him stand out in a field of seventy-year-old contenders who give the impression that they have yet to send an email.

I actually think Yang’s $1000-a-month giveaway to every citizen could be grounded in serious economics, but as he presents the idea—Robin Hood soaking the tech giants—it begins to sound glib, at least without the numbers needed to back up the idea.

Yang’s observations about the presence of technology in our lives, while on point at a seminar in Palo Alto, California, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, begin to sound extraneous in a political campaign, although personally I think he makes good points about Citizens United being one of the worst judicial judgments in recent years. (He would fund campaigns by giving everyone $100 in “democracy credits” that could then be given to a candidate of their choice.)

Yang might be among those who are running for president for reasons that have nothing to do with holding the political office. He might see it as a way to build “his personal brand,” possibly to position himself down the road as a CEO of a hedge fund or non-governmental organization. (Apparently, even failed candidates come away from the race with benefits and a few speaking gigs.)

For the moment, Yang’s new age, app-driven campaign has been more successful than some of the traditional ones, and I could see his campaign sticking around in the race longer than, say, Warren or Biden, if only because his message is carried farther on social media and at lower cost than those delivered in TV ads.

Michael Bloomberg’s Altered Primary State:

The $60-billion-dollar bionic man is not in New Hampshire. Nor was he in Iowa. But in both states, not to mention in Super Bowl ads, Bloomberg is the man who came to dinner. (It’s a Kaufman and Hart comedy from the 1940s, about a man who comes to a house for a dinner and never leaves, turning upside-down the lives of those in the house.)

Bloomberg is a bank account more than he’s a political idea. If he had only one billion and had never held office, I suppose he would be Tom Steyer, trying to buy a presidential lottery ticket. But with $60 billion and as someone who has run for office as both a Democrat and a Republican, Bloomberg is not just an uninvited house guest but, to many, a man for all seasons.

Bloomberg’s lane is down the center, which, if his expense budget were less, would relegate him to the worlds of Deval Patrick and Michael Bennett, both of whom can match Bloomberg for political experience but don’t have his resources.

Bloomberg’s strategy is to let the Democrats bloody themselves in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, and for the field to be winnowed from about nine to three or four.

Ideally Bloomberg would love a Democratic field that is down to Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden, and Yang, which, in his mind, he could divide and conquer, especially as only Sanders has the rank-and-file funding for a long-term national race.

In a race against Sanders, Bloomberg would make the point that he would have a better chance of defeating Trump than someone who is a self-proclaimed democratic-socialist.

This year, the Super Tuesday primaries are to be held on March 3 in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia, and at this point only Sanders (aside from Bloomberg) has the resources to mount a media campaign in all those states.

I think Bernie would beat Bloomberg in a head-to-head campaign (Bernie’s passion would play better than Mike’s millions), but what will it say about the Democratic party if the last candidates standing turn out to be three white guys (Sanders, Biden, and Bloomberg), all of whom are in their late seventies, napping toward glory. It will say the party’s over.

Trump and Pence Play Manchester, NH: Democracy’s End

For my last event in New Hampshire I decided to attend a Trump rally in Manchester, on the eve of the primary election. The event was taking place in the arena of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), not far from where I was staying, and a week after I had applied online, my press credential had come through for the Trump campaign.

I didn’t completely fancy spending another evening at one of Trump’s red-hat, red-meat rallies, but since I had seen him in Iowa, he had given his (shredded) state-of-the-union address and been acquitted on both impeachment charges in the Senate. After a week of Democratic events, maybe a Trump rally would shed light on the possible outcome of the general election?

The SNHU Arena is located in downtown Manchester, which is more of an inner-city suburb than a city. Blocks of small wooden frame houses surround downtown, which has the feel of a renovated mill city, although along the main street there are more bake shops and quirky cafés than law firms and corporate headquarters.

I parked my car several blocks from the SNHU arena and walked to the sound of the TV commentators. All around the arena, the local police and secret service had parked snow plows and garbage trucks to serve as makeshift road blocks, around which police and firemen, in security vests, were loitering as part of a thin yellow line to protect the president inside the hall.

When I reported to the press entrance, a secret service agent, wearing a flak jacket and gun, explained that I should have signed in by 4:30 p.m. (the speech started at 7:00 p.m.) and that the arena was now closed to the press. Just before I got to the gate, he had delivered the same news to another journalist, who was weeping at her exclusion.

For my part I heard the news as a reprieve and would have clicked my heels at being spared from another Trump rally, except that everyone around the gate was heavily armed.

Instead of taking my seat in the press gallery, I walked around to the front of the SNHU arena, where a large crowd had gathered around an outdoor jumbotron, as if for a World Cup match.

Mixed into the crowd where numerous card tables where Trump hats, bumper stickers, t-shirts, decals, and signs were on sale.

Along the barriers that lined the main street a crowd of Trump supporters was watching the giant TV screen, on which the president’s oldest son, Donald Jr., was warming up the crowd. He was dressed in a sports shirt and jacket. Otherwise, his tone was that of an attack dog lunging on his chain.

I had never actually heard Don Jr. speak in public, and what struck me was the contempt and hate in his voice. To be sure, he was introducing his father and delivering a speech to a partisan political crowd, but he did both with a scorn unusual even in the age of Trump’s bile.

Don Jr. ran down the Democrats, Bernie Sanders, Joe and Hunter Biden, and Elizabeth Warren (he didn’t call her Pocahantas, but analyzed her Native-American DNA claim, as if he were an external consultant for Ancestry.com). They were all socialists, terrorist enablers, and un-American, and if allowed in office would embrace open borders, late-term abortions, socialized medicine, and ruinous economic policies.

After Don Jr.’s hate speech, Mike Pence came on stage to deliver a litany of Trump sycophancy. One can imagine Trump himself, back in the green room, watching Pence’s delivery carefully, just to make sure that he repeated correctly all the words that Trump had chosen for him to say.

Pence repeated, almost word-for-word, what he said at the Trump rally in Iowa although here he added that the Senate had acquitted Trump of the impeachment charges “forever.” And Pence ended by saying, reverentially, of Trump that “the man is in the house.”

On the jumbotron I watched the first twenty minutes of “Trump: The Love Song,” that which he sings to himself at these rallies. It was a repeat performance of everything he said in Iowa, although on this occasion he updated his paeans to include new material about the impeachment, Nancy Pelosi (“a horrible woman”), and the state of the union (back from the insolvency of the Obama years).

When Trump began reading the speech from his teleprompters, I decided to leave. I had heard the canned messages of hate before, and Trump reading a prepared speech sounds like someone in a freshman-year language lab trying to read aloud a German text of Goethe.

Around me, whenever Trump mentioned someone on his enemies’ list, such as Mitt Romney or Nancy Pelosi, the crowd would break into chants of “Lock Her Up” or “U-S-A!” While they were chanting, Trump would smirk and preen, pleased with himself for having incited his followers to hate.

* * *

Will Trump or a Democrat win in November? After only three weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire, I cannot say, but based on the turnouts in both parties, at this point the Democrats look weak and divided, while Trump, mounted on his fascist hobby horse, has the look of a supreme leader, a man on horseback.

If the general election were held tomorrow, I could well imagine Trump winning, but that’s only because in a field of nine Democratic candidates it’s hard at this stage to take the measure of the opposition.

Nor can much be said about the eloquence of the various Democrats, many of whom, at least in the primaries, shout catch phrases more than they deliver speeches. It doesn’t help that eloquent candidates for the nomination—such as Deval Patrick and Michael Bennet—get excluded from the debates and shut out of any publicity.

I would like to believe that the republic is capable of overcoming Trump and his henchmen (Don Jr. among them), but if you spend time listening to the Democrats campaign and then hear the president on his gilded soap box, you do come away with the feeling that the United States has crossed a Rubicon, from which the round trip will not be easy.

The post Live From New Hampshire: God, Country and Electability appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The War on Wolves is Part of the Culture War

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Gray wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

Recently the Idaho Fish and Game changed its rules to allow any hunter or trapper to kill up to 30 wolves per year. And the state is considering a proposal to open much of the state to year-round wolf killing.

In Montana, the MDFWP is discussing increases from 5 to 10 wolf tags for some parts of the state.

In both states, we will be eliminating the ecological function of predators. Predators can change how large animals like elk use the landscape and can also preclude excessive browsing of critical areas like riparian zones. Also, wolf kills can provide an essential source of food for scavengers from magpies and eagles up to and including even grizzlies.

Is this hatred of wolves based on massive livestock losses or huge declines in elk numbers?

In 2019, Montana had about 2,550,000 cattle[i], and 108 confirmed cattle losses attributed to all predators, including wolves.[ii] That is such a small percentage as to be laughable.

By contrast, in 2018, Montana ranchers lost 37,000 cattle just to winter storms. The federal Livestock Indemnity Program (one of many rancher welfare programs) paid ranchers more $11.1 million of taxpayer funds.[iii]

How about predator impacts on hunting? In, 1995 when wolves were first restored to Yellowstone and Central Idaho, the Montana elk population was 109,500.

In 2019, Montana’s elk population was estimated at (134,557)[iv] Twenty-five percent over upper objective) and the 2018 elk harvest was 27,793.[v]

A similar situation exists in Idaho. The 1995 Idaho elk population was estimated to be 112,333, and the harvest that year was 22,400. In 2017, the Idaho elk population stood at 116,800 (4,000 more than when wolves arrived. In 2017 elk harvest in Idaho was 22,751—300 more animals that in 1995.

Ironically there is some scientific evidence that random (non-surgical killing) of wolves increase livestock conflicts and elk losses to predators.

Wolves are social animals. They work together to hunt their prey. When members of the pack are killed, it can disrupt the pack’s ability to hold its territory as well as hunt efficiently. Also, smaller packs kill more prey per animal than larger packs.

If a single or small group of wolves kill prey, they often must leave the kill site to bring food back to pups. During their absence, scavengers can consume much of a carcass, forcing the small pack to kill another animal. By contrast, a larger pack can guard its kill and consume it entirely.

Many of my colleagues, particularly in the larger middle of the road conservation groups, supported delisting of wolves arguing that once ranchers saw that wolves were responsible for almost insignificant losses and hunters found out that elk would continue to thrive over much of the West, opposition to predators would dissipate.

I disagreed because I did not think the opposition was based on rational ideas. Wolves, I suggested, were symbolic animals.  As wild animals, wolves represented the forces that neither ranchers nor hunters could control.

Wolves also represent to some people the actions of distant people (despised coastal residents) or a federal government which they too hate—except, of course, for all the federal welfare bestowed on them—also coming primarily from the same coastal residents who pay the bulk of all taxes.

The one take-home message from these actions is that the prediction that once the states were given management of wolves, we would see a rational, biologically informed management is inaccurate. The old bias against predators is based more on a cultural attitude as any scientific value.

I hope that younger ranchers and hunters will have a more sophisticated view of wolves and other predators. In the meantime, the only option for predator proponents is to continue to educate people on why wolves are an essential part of our wildlife heritage.

Notes.

[i] https://beef2live.com/story-cattle-inventory-vs-human-population-state-0-114255

[ii] http://liv.mt.gov/Attached-Agency-Boards/Livestock-Loss-Board/Livestock-Loss-Statistics-2019

[iii] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/montana/articles/2019-06-16/over-37-000-cattle-lost-during-brutal-2018-winter-in-montana

[iv] http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/elk/

[v] https://myfwp.mt.gov/fwpPub/harvestReports

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People are More Frightened of Coronavirus Than They Need to be, But the Culprit is not Who You Think

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Photograph Source: Dipartimento Protezione Civ – CC BY 2.0

If I was sitting in a restaurant and said in a loud voice that I had probably contracted coronavirus, many other customers might get up and leave. But I would be telling the literal truth: I have had a persistent sniffle for weeks and coronaviruses cause the common cold.

What I do not have is nCoV2019, the novel coronavirus from Wuhan that has so far killed over 600 people and infected 32,000 more. “Coronavirus” has swiftly joined AIDS, polio, syphilis, scarlet fever, bubonic plague and other devastating diseases, whose very names provoke, or used to provoke, a strong jolt of fear.

People are frightened because there is a good reason for their fear, though not as much as they think. The Wuhan variant of coronavirus has a death rate of about two per cent compared to 9.6 per cent for SARS and 34.4 per cent for MERS. But it is naïve to think that potential victims – all of us – will be reassured when we know that there is only a limited chance that we will die, because we were rather hoping not to die at all.

We do not normally think of ourselves as living in a great ocean of viruses and bacteria existing inside and outside our bodies, so the appearance of any virus that threatens our existence comes as a nasty shock. How many Americans know, for instance, that the US had a particularly severe flu epidemic in 2017/18 when 900,000 people were hospitalised and more than 80,000 died. Though between ten and 50 million Americans get the flu every year, this does not fuel public alarm about “a killer” illness sweeping through the country.

The present epidemic carries an extra charge of fear simply because the virus is new, initially unknown and the danger it poses, though limited so far, cannot be precisely calculated.

Governments and public health officials tend to be inept, for different reasons, in explaining the level of risk to people and quieting their understandable fears. They are caught in a vicious circle: if the authorities make gigantic efforts to control the epidemic, as in China, the very scale of their activities – 50 million people quarantined, hospitals built in a few days – are counterproductive because it convinces everybody that such great works must mean that they are facing terrible dangers.

Public health policy specialists speak of two different outbreaks: one of the coronavirus and the other of false and exaggerated news provoking an unnecessary panic. Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, and two of her colleagues write in the British Medical Journal that “there is a mismatch between the actual threat posed to the population by this newly emerging pathogen, and the perceived threat globally and nationally.” They say that “sensationalised panic and fear concerning the nCoV2019 outbreak” is the outcome of exaggerations by the media and misleading speculation by self-declared experts.

They criticise the World Health Organisation and Public Health England for failing to get a better grip on the news agenda, displacing “false facts” with authoritative and less alarmist reports. “Fear induced activity has supplanted the best public health activity,” Clare Denham told me, explaining that the evidence so far is that the risk of dying from the illness is low, the worst effected being the elderly and those suffering from other health conditions. She says that there were parallels between the over-reaction to the coronavirus and to BSE or “mad cow disease” over 20 years ago.

Public health experts blame the current hysteria over coronavirus on the media, and particularly social media, spreading rumours and myths. But I think that the problem is much older than that. Panic is an inescapable part of epidemics that cannot be dealt with simply by making authoritative facts more easily available.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my own experiences in the Cork polio epidemic of 1956, long before there was social media or even television in Ireland. The country then was wholly dissimilar from China today, but human reactions to the outbreak were very much the same as was the mix of good and bad information about what was happening.

Many of the uncertainties that people feel today in reacting to an epidemic are the same as they were centuries ago: wondering whether to stay or to flee, openness to rumours, searching for scapegoats, blaming the authorities for hiding the truth, doing the wrong thing and doing it late. Action of some sort is demanded, though doctors say that it will do no good.

Daniel Defoe wrote a historical novel, A Journal of the Plague Year, that purports to be a contemporary account of the bubonic plague that killed between 75,000 to 100,000 Londoners in 1665 and 1666, though it was written 60 years later.

By the time Defoe was writing, newspapers were being blamed for spreading false facts, much as social media is now, and he claimed to be grateful that newspapers did not exist during the plague “to spread rumours and reports of things; and to improve them by the invention of men.”

But I doubt if the presence or absence of the print media made much difference. Wars and epidemics produce a voracious hunger for news that will include rumours, myths, lies as well as a great deal of truth. Potential victims want those in authority to show that they know what to do, even when there is nothing to be done. They do not want to hear that the epidemic may just have to burn itself out.

Often the best advice is the simplest. Defoe would probably have agreed with the advice of the British government for its citizens to leave China, as he says that “the best physic against the plague is to run away from it”, adding that inertia had kept thousands in London “whose carcasses went into the great pits by cartloads”.

Media coverage of all disasters lean towards saying that things are bad and likely to get worse. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is an old American newspaper saying, but holds true wherever there is a free press. Reporters will refer to the “deadly” or “killer” coronavirus, though 98 per cent of its victims do not die. The problem for governments is that they need to convey a sense of emergency and calm at the same time and this cannot be done.

The post People are More Frightened of Coronavirus Than They Need to be, But the Culprit is not Who You Think appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Capitalism’s Political Servants: Trump and Johnson

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Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

For the last half-century, US and UK capitalisms led the way in undoing the parallel legacies of the New Deal and Europe’s social democracies. From its ascending Thatcher-Reagan couple to its descending Trump-Johnson imitation, neoliberal capitalism replaced Keynesian capitalism. Private corporate capitalists funded effective campaigns to celebrate neo-liberalism. The US and UK institutionalized it by de-regulating and privatizing further and faster than anywhere else

Over the same period, private capitalists attacked the working class on three fronts. Neo-liberalism provided ideological cover in that attack. Its ideologues insisted that their goals – deregulation and privatization – would bring prosperity and growth to all, a win-win program for everyone. Neoliberalism swept up many Keynesians and social democrats. They had wavered especially after the 1960s when they could no longer preserve, let alone advance, working-class gains won in the post-1929 depression. Resigned to neoliberalism, many leaders of center-left, labor and socialist parties redefined themselves as merely advocates for its less harsh forms.

The first front in capitalism’s attack was outsourcing production and jobs. At first, manufacturing moved from capitalism’s old centers (western Europe, US, Japan) to China, India, and other low-wage areas. Large profits gained by early outsourcers forced much competitive outsourcing later. Many service industries followed. Neo-liberals hailed “globalization.” To them it showed efficiency and prosperity delivered by deregulation and privatization.

Less movable employers (construction, retail trade, fast-food, etc.) raised profits by opening a second front against the working class. They chose increasingly to hire low wage immigrants desperate to escape from economic, political and military crises in their home countries. The undocumented were especially attractive: they lacked legal recourse for unpaid wages, illegal job conditions, etc. Their labor was unprotected.

The third front in the employers’ attack was more important than outsourcing or immigration. In a new automation wave, computers, robots, and artificial intelligence boosted profits by displacing workers. Automation enabled employers to cut wage bills relative to revenues from sales. Ideologues then attributed rising profits to neo-liberal capitalism’s win-win globalization.

Neo-liberal ideology did not last long. Widening gaps between winners and losers from globalization strengthened ideological critiques of win-win claims. Corporations, stock markets, venture capitalists, and the few they enriched (capital gains, dividends, merger fees, etc.) were clear winners. Top executives scored huge pay packages. Top “professional advisors” enjoyed big salaries and bonuses. Losers, on the other hand, were almost everyone else, a vast majority. Workers suffered stagnant wages and deteriorating jobs. Large industrial cities (Detroit, Cleveland, etc.) atrophied alongside small “rust belt” cities and much of rural America.

Average real wages stagnated since the 1970s. Chasing the “American Dream” drove millions to incur mounting personal debts (mortgage, auto loans, credit cards and then student loans). That added credit anxieties to their accumulating anguish over flat real wages, eroding benefits, and ever less job security. Capital’s three-pronged attack hurt.

Exporting jobs, importing low-wage immigrants, and automation combined to generate that great-for-capitalism mix of rising productivity and stagnant wages. Starting in the 1980s, profits soared and lifted stock markets. Those profits provided much of the money they loaned to a working class borrowing to offset stagnant wages. Rising personal debts proved a fragile economic foundation although they helped obscure the fast-growing rich-poor gap.

The 2008 crash rendered painfully visible what had been obscured. It broke the promises from politicians, academics and the media that lessons learned and reforms installed guaranteed that 1929-type crashes would never recur. The 2008 crash also exposed harsh social realities. The US and UK had become sharply more unequal economically and politically. Both governments quickly endorsed very expensive bailouts for the same banks that had helped cause the crash. Both governments paid for bailouts with decreasingly progressive tax revenues and still more borrowing. And both then pointed to rising government debt to justify austerity for everyone else. The only difference: Labor and the Democrats advocated a less harsh austerity than Conservatives and the Republicans.

Once exposed as performing so much better for the employer class than for the employee class, capitalisms run big risks. Systemic questions and criticisms arise, challenge the status quo, and strengthen social movements for systemic change. That happened during past capitalist crashes and certainly after 1929. Capitalism needs system-preserving political and ideological programs to “get through” crashes even more than it needs them between crashes.

Since 2008 nationalism once again played a key role in capitalism’s self-preservation. It had done so earlier in, for example, Mussolini’s and Hitler’s promises to make Italy and Germany “great again” against enemies – mostly foreign but also domestic (those not “genuinely” Italian or Aryan). Nationalist (in the sense of anti-foreign) ideology covered the state-managed (i.e., fascist) reinforcement or reconstruction of the employer-employee relationship that defines capitalism and that had been sharply challenged in and by the 1930s depression. Trump’s “Make America great again” plays to many Americans’ sense of loss before and after 2008. He attacks immigrants and “cheating” foreign trade partners as if they caused Americans’ felt losses. In the UK, Johnson’s Brexit program excoriates “Europeans,” as if they caused the UK’s deep economic and political inequalities. Bashing and limiting foreigners including immigrants are main themes of capitalism’s current political servants.

Those servants protect capitalism from its own crashes and from its highly unequal and very unpopular policy responses. They often choose nationalism because it serves them well. There is nothing new in that.

The left needs to respond in three key ways. First, it should stress how world war and holocaust resulted the last time post-crash capitalism used nationalism for scapegoating. Second, it should expose scapegoat politics as aimed to deflect working class anger from a crash-prone capitalism. Immigration, trade, tariff policies, or European integration define capitalism’s preferred terrain of debate, not a critical left’s. The left’s core response to capitalist nationalism should be this: capitalism is the problem and transition to a new, different, and fundamentally democratic system is the answer.

That answer focuses on the democratization of enterprises. Reforms of capitalism (welfare systems, New Deals, social democracies, etc.), however valuable and hard fought, are never secure while production is organized capitalistically. A small minority then owns and operates enterprises (public and/or private), reaps the profits, and rules each enterprise’s majority, its employees. It then uses those profits and that power to undo whatever reforms the working class has won.

The de-facto monarchy/oligarchy inside capitalist enterprises contradicts democracy today as utterly as monarchy and oligarchy outside enterprises did historically. Because reforms of kingdoms rarely endured, modern society eventually abolished monarchies. Reforms of capitalist enterprises likewise rarely endure. What we need are worker coops to democratize enterprises by displacing their capitalists.

Capitalism’s political servants, past and present, reformists and neoliberals, private boards of directors and public state managers, reproduce that system. After the 2008 crash, bailouts, austerity, and widening inequality, capitalism and its political servants are now especially vulnerable. System change is this historical moment’s opportunity. It should be our political project.

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U.S. Uneasy as Iraq Gets New Prime Minister

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Inside of the Baghdad Convention Center, where the Council of Representatives of Iraq meets. Photograph Source: James (Jim) Gordon – CC BY 2.0

In happier times, Washington and Tehran might well have zeroed in on Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as their consensus candidate for the post of Iraq’s prime minister.

Why not? He was opposed to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship—although, unlike most Shia politicians who fled from Saddam’s tyranny, he never lived in Iran but chose the United Kingdom.

However, unlike his famous (notorious) cousin Iyad Allawi who also lived in exile in the UK and whom the U.S. handpicked to head the first government during its occupation (2004-2005), Mohammed Allawi didn’t work for the Western intelligence.

Even detractors dare not say that he ever was on Tehran’s payroll. In fact, he wasn’t—unlike another famous relative of his, Ahmed Chalabi, who is an Iraqi politician.

Although part of the Iraqi Shia aristocracy, he was sensible enough as an aspiring Iraqi politician to have a good rapport with Iran.

Mohammed Allawi is said to be deeply religious and yet is secular-minded. He twice resigned from former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s cabinet protesting against the latter’s “sectarian agenda and political interference.”

There is no conceivable reason why the U.S. cannot be happy that Iran has failed at this crucial juncture in regional politics to insert a ‘yes man’ as the head of the new government in Baghdad.

But prioritizing Iraq’s stability more than anything else, Tehran welcomed Mohammed Allawi’s appointment. On the contrary, even after President Barham Salih gave him the appointment letter on February 1, Washington is still holding back.

American think-tankers wired into the U.S. establishment have run down Mohammed Allawi as a mere frontman of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Alliance and its rival, the Fatah Alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri. They anticipate that he is doomed to fail.

The heart of the matter is that there is much angst in the American mind that Mohammed Allawi, once confirmed as prime minister by the Iraqi parliament, may not only restructure U.S.-Iraqi relations, but eventually take the wind out of the sails of the so-called protests that Washington and its regional allies have inserted since October 2019, into the Iraqi body polity as an extra-constitutional center.

Today, the United States’ capacity to influence the Iraqi political elite—a vast unwieldy network of politicians, Shia political parties, security forces, militias, and religious figures that make up Iraq’s muhasasa (sectarian power-sharing) political system—stands much diminished. Clawing its way back up the greasy pole is difficult.

Thus, the protest movement in Iraq, which is now entering its fourth month, has come to be the principal instrument for Washington (and its Saudi and Emirati allies) to surreptitiously advance the broader geopolitical confrontation with Iran that is being played out within the country.

The Iraqi protest movement bears striking similarity with Hong Kong’s, which too had brought the local government down on its knees. In Iraq too, it is a remarkably young movement made up almost entirely of adolescents or youth below the age of 25 and has also seen significant female participation.

The movement in Hong Kong has an inchoate program that keeps mutating—ranging from electoral reforms to eradication of corruption—amidst the artistic graffiti, rap videos, and citizen journalism as modes of political activism and civic engagement.

The Iraqi protest movement too has no unified leadership and yet through its abstract calls for the removal of the current political elite it has worked to insert itself as a factor in the decision-making over the prime minister’s nomination. Some hidden forces are evidently pulling the strings from behind, as seen in Hong Kong.

The outgoing Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi bitterly complained in the Iraqi parliament on January 5 that in two telephone conversations, U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened him with precisely such protests to overthrow him if he didn’t comply with U.S. demands.

POTUS allegedly threatened to position U.S. Marine snipers “atop the highest buildings” to target and kill protesters and security forces alike in an attempt to pressure the prime minister.

Therefore, it is hugely significant that the Iraqi protesters have rejected Mohammed Allawi’s appointment. Iraq is now at a political impasse. In essence, Washington will do everything in its power to prevent the new government from settling in.

In Hong Kong, the turmoil began subsiding once the U.S.-China trade deal was signed. In Iraq, everything depends on the re-negotiation of the terms of engagement with the U.S. The amorphous nature of the protest movement means that it may meet with sudden death as well.

The Trump administration hopes to salvage relations with Baghdad and smother the Iraqi demand for American troop withdrawal. The top U.S. commander in the Middle East General Frank McKenzie visited Baghdad on Tuesday to get the ball rolling.

In a longer perspective, the U.S. hopes that the Sadrists (a movement led by Moqtada al-Sadr) could be exploited as a powerful driver of placing the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) structure under real controls of the government.

But there’s a caveat. As senior fellow at the Washington Institute Michael Knights puts it, “Moqtada also believes he has a role to play as a ‘guide’ focused on ‘social justice’… While unlikely to be a ruler in the mold of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Moqtada is also unlikely to be a ‘quietist’ cleric in the style of Sistani. Something in-between is more likely, raising parallels with Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. This is not a comparison that should reassure [Washington].”

In fact, on February 4, al-Sadr supporters took control of the iconic Tahir Square building in Baghdad and evicted the protesters ensconced there.

The bottom line is that although the level of emotion in the Sadrist discourse about American forces in Iraq is no more acute than it used to be a decade ago, it still remains a deeply held conviction of the movement, from Moqtada himself to the militant cadres, that the presence of foreign military forces should not become a proforma reality of Iraqi life.

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post U.S. Uneasy as Iraq Gets New Prime Minister appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Earth is Dying, But Not Fast Enough

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Power station and mill, Camas, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

We hear all the time that we are at the tipping point of a long history of increasing energy consumption. Unfettered energy use is eating up finite fuels, increasing planetary temperatures, releasing stored methane and other emissions into the atmosphere, and raising ocean temperatures to levels that threaten the world’s fisheries. Carbon emissions are now heating up the planet at a rate equivalent to the detonation of six atomic bombs per second.[1] At this rate, we are told, the Earth may become uninhabitable for humans by the end of the century.

This is more or less the prevailing environmental wisdom of our times, but we have got the cause of our current dilemma upside down. Big issues like this, however, have a habit of being much stranger than they first appear. The problem, in fact, is not that our planet cannot handle too much energy consumption but that it cannot handle too little. This is an extremely counter-intuitive idea but one that needs examining.

This history of runaway energy consumption began slowly with the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago, increasing only slightly with the rise of civilization around three thousand years ago, and then picking up sharply after industrialization in the late 19th century. The really big spike in energy use, however, began relatively recently. In just the last thirty years humans (some more than others) have come to consume vastly more energy than at any other point in history—twenty-four times as much as our hunter-gatherer ancestors to be precise.[2] The lesson seems clear: we are consuming far too much energy for our planet to keep supporting human life. We must renounce our impulse to consume and instead live more simply and conserve our resources more wisely.

The difficulty lies in the starting assumptions about the nature of energy. The first assumption is that it is only the impact of human energy use that has an effect on the planet and is worth calculating. The standard critique about the effects of increasing human energy consumption over time is not untrue. It represents, however, only a tiny fraction of the total planetary energy use. Trying to understand planetary energetics by looking only at human energy use is like trying to understand the world economy by looking only at the economy of Maine.

For starters, all matter is made of, or rather is, energy. This is the brilliant insight of Albert Einstein’s famous equation: energy equals mass times the speed of light squared (E=Mc2). When matter moves (as it all does) it releases some amount of energy, which in turn releases more energy and so on until, theoretically, all matter has been converted into energy and is dispersed. Energy itself is neither created nor destroyed, only dispersed faster or slower. Energy dispersal is energy consumption.

Humans naturally tend to focus on themselves, but if we take a step back from human history to consider planetary energy usage more broadly a very different picture emerges. The rate of energy consumption by the entire web of organisms and processes on Earth has been increasing, in fits and starts, over the entire course of its history. Each new development in the evolution of our planet (the emergence of the lithosphere, then atmosphere, then biosphere) has increased the rate of energy dispersal. If we take an even bigger step back we can see that the entire cosmos has also been increasing its rate of energy consumption/dispersal through fast-moving dissipative systems like galaxies and black holes. Throughout it’s 13.7 billion year-long history, our universe has evolved to increase its rate of energy use not to conserve or reduce it. This is the bigger picture we are failing to consider. In fact, the history of human energy use is absolutely dwarfed, by several orders of magnitude, by total planetary energy usage. Super volcanos, lightning strikes, animal migration, and plant processes all increase the rate of energy dissipation on earth with an ever-accelerating motion. For example, the average tree consumes several times more energy, through the transpiration of hundreds of tons of water per year, than most people do by burning fossil fuels over the same period. Thanks to recent light imaging technologies (LIDAR) we now know there are over three trillion trees on Earth. That adds up to a lot of energy consumption.

More astonishing still is that trees only conserve a mere 1% of all that energy in their own cells. Mature and diverse forest ecosystems around the world consume virtually all the solar energy that they are exposed to yet the vast majority of it is radiated back out as water and heat. But even the mere 1% that trees conserve as biomass dwarfs any level of energy use that humans could ever possibly produce. Specifically, the total amount of all current human energy consumption today is less than 1/1000th of the energy consumed by trees alone.[3] What is more, every time something eats something else in the food chain, it only uses about 1/10 of its available energy to survive. The rest is burned off as heat and waste. All living things live by destroying energy bonds, using a tiny portion of them, wasting the rest, and eventually dying. In short, excess consumption, waste, death, and decay are built-in features of nature not bugs or inefficiencies. The Earth (and Cosmos) evolved to increase dissipation and death not decrease it.

The second assumption of current environmental wisdom is that increased energy consumption is necessarily linked to ecological destruction. It is true that our methods of energy extraction and consumption have historically come at the cost of human lives and environmental blight, but it did not have to be this way, nor does all energy usage require this kind of ecocide. All of our planetary systems thrive on massive energy use, “waste,” and dissipation but do not result in environmental devastation. The fittest for survival are those who maximize planetary dissipation. For example, organisms like lichens and trees are still around because they help increase the rate of planetary energy consumption by dissipating or breaking down 99% of the energy they take in, not conserving it. Evolution favors efficient energy dissipators not conservers.

Our problem today is not that the Earth’s systems and inhabitants are consuming too much energy, but rather not using enough. From this perspective, it is not energy consumption as such; but that certain groups of people on this planet, over the course of human history, have destroyed a large portion of the Earth’s energy-consuming or dissipative processes. In particular, increased CO2 and methane are main reasons why net planetary energy use is down. Fossil fuel-based energy and industrial agricultural practices need to be changed so that the planetary energy can increase and we can all survive. Humans are currently .01% of global biomass and yet since the rise of civilization certain humans have killed off 85% of wild land animals, 80% of marine mammals, 14% of fish, and 41% of all insect species.[4] At the start of the most recent post-glacial period (the Holocene) there were six trillion trees on the planet. Some humans groups are responsible for destroying half the Earth’s forests, which make up 80% of total planetary biomass.

Contrarian as it sounds, humans have actually decreased total planetary energy use by more than half. They have literally conserved the Earth’s energy, resulting in a planet that is hotter and less diverse. When the Earth’s capacity to expend energy, to move into the cool, is damaged, the whole process goes haywire.

We tend to think of the world in terms of stasis and not process. And in our zeal to halt our runaway energy consumption, we act as if the goal was to conserve, accumulate, and stabilize energy use when in fact humans, as part of nature, evolved and exist alongside other life forms in a way that is designed to maximize collective energy use, flow, and movement. It has got to the point now that we won’t even let our trash degrade. We make things from plastics that last for tens of thousands of years and then bury them underground where nothing can break them down. Vast islands of plastic are floating in our oceans, nearly immortal. The net effect of all this is that planetary energy consumption is actually slowing down, with disastrous consequences.

How we respond depends a great deal on how we frame the problem. First, we need to change the way we understand natural processes. Nature is in a state of constant flux—always looking for new ways to use more energy and dissipate it faster. If we want to survive as a species, our best chance is to go with the flow: to contribute to this grand project of collective planetary energy use, and not sabotage it with fossil fuels. The conservationist logic of reducing carbon emissions and consumption alone will not save us. We need to increase the activity of the largest consumers of energy on the planet; not humans, but biodiverse forest ecosystems. Planting and preserving more trees will not only reverse the effects of climate change and increase biodiversity it will also increase planetary energy use.

We also need to find new and creative ways of consuming excess planetary energy, for example by composting everything. Think of how much more energy would be dissipated if even our waste was consumed by armies of insects, fungus, animals, and bacteria, and broken down into raw materials, energy, that fueled the growth of more plants and animals, in a literal “feedback loop” of rapid dissipation. If the more ways energy is consumed the better, then maximizing human and ecological diversity is also key to increasing planetary dissipation.

Even as our planet gets ever hotter, less stable, and less diverse, energy consumption is not the problem, it is the solution.

Notes

1. A Guardian calculation found the average heating across that 150-year period was equivalent to about 1.5 Hiroshima-size atomic bombs per second. But the heating has accelerated over that time as carbon emissions have risen, and was now the equivalent of between three and six atomic bombs per second.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/07/global-warming-of-oceans-equivalent-to-an-atomic-bomb-per-second

2. https://www.pnas.org/content/112/31/9511

3. list equation

4. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506

The post The Earth is Dying, But Not Fast Enough appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

About Last Week – and the Accelerated Drives to Extinction and Fascism

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Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

If, as some observers worry, the United States is undergoing an accelerated transition to full authoritarian class rule in the Donald Trump years, then the events of last week may be considered critical by later historians permitted to chronicle what happened.

Another Democratic Gift to “the Most Dangerous Criminal in History”

On Wednesday, the mock mistrial of the demented fascist oligarch Trump came to its foreordained conclusion. As Noam Chomsky says in a recent interview, the Senate “trial” was an “exhibition of pure farce.” The president was falsely “exonerated” for committing a clear criminal abuse of power. The stay-in-office verdict came courtesy of the totally Trumpified white-nationalist (neofascist) party in the U.S. Senate. The instantly demonized Mitt Romney was the only Republican Senator to vote in accord with Democratic House evidence showing that Trump set the Founding Fathers’ wigs on fire by trying to trade U.S. military assistance and a White House visit to Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodomyr Zelensky in return for Zelensky agreeing to hold a press conference announcing a corruption inquiry into Sleepy Joe Biden and his creepy son.

As many left critics, myself included, have argued, UkraineGate is far from the worst of the demented fascist oligarch Trump’s many offenses – try concentration camps on the southern border and the acceleration of capitalogenic global warming (the second is merely the worst crime in human history). “The impeachment effort,” Chomsky notes, was “another gift by the Democrats to Trump, much as the Mueller affair was.” It was also a great act of avoidance, reflecting the narrow priorities of ruling-class politicians. Chomsky’s comments merit lengthy quotation and sober reflection:

“Are the [UkraineGate] crimes discussed a basis for impeachment. Seems so to me. Has Trump vastly more serious crimes? That is hardly debatable. What might be debatable is whether he is indeed the most dangerous criminal in history (which happens to be my personal view). Hitler had been perhaps the leading candidate for this honor. His goal was to rid the German-run world of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other ‘deviants,’ along with tens of millions of Slav ‘Untermenschen.’ But Hitler was dedicated with fervor to destroying the prospects of organized human life on Earth in the not-distant future (along with millions of other species…The list of Trump’s crimes is immense, but none merit a nod in the impeachment proceedings. Trump is. And those who think he doesn’t know what he’s doing haven’t been looking closely.”

“…. Trump’s war on organized life on Earth is only the barest beginning. More narrowly, in recent days, the Chosen One has issued executive orders ridding the country of the plague of regulations that protect children from mercury poisoning and preserve the country’s water supplies and lands, along with other impediments to further enrichment of Trump’s primary constituency, extreme wealth and corporate power.”

“On the side, he has been casually proceeding to dismantle the last vestiges of the arms control regime that has provided some limited degree of security from terminal nuclear war, eliciting cheers from the military industry. And as we have just learned, the great pacifist who is committed to end interventions “dropped more bombs and other munitions in Afghanistan last year than any other year since documentation began in 2006, Air Force data shows. He is also ramping up his acts of war — which is what they are — against Iran. I won’t even go into his giving Israel what the Israeli press calls “a gift to the right,” formally giving the back of his imperial hand to international law, the World Court, the UN Security Council and overwhelming international opinion, while shoring up the Evangelical vote for the 2020 election. The prerogative of supreme power.”

“In brief, the list of Trump’s crimes is immense, not least the worst crime in human history. But none merit a nod in the impeachment proceedings. This is hardly a novelty; rather the norm. The current proceedings are often compared with Watergate. Nixon’s hideous crimes were eliminated from the charges against him despite the efforts of Rep. Robert Frederick Drinan and a few others. The Nixon impeachment charges focused on his illegal acts to harm Democrats.”

“Any resemblance to the farce that is now winding up? Does it suggest some insight into what motivates the powerful?”

There’s nothing noble or virtuous about the imperial New Cold War agenda shared by top Democrats. “Since Trump came to office three years ago,” the World Socialist Website (WSWS) notes, “Democrats have worked to channel mass opposition to his fascistic administration behind their own conflicts with Trump, centered on issues of foreign policy. This has culminated in the impeachment drive, which is focused on Trump’s decision to delay military aid to Ukraine in its proxy war with Russia” – a war that carries no small risks of escalation.

Chomsky might have added that Trump has recently acted to slash Food Stamps for 700,000 needy Americans, been upheld by his right-wing Supreme Court in his effort to deny public benefits to untold masses of immigrants, and now released a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon (the W-672) that promises to significantly escalate chances for nuclear war.

Trump is trying to move the Doomsday Clock right up to and past midnight. If I was religious and Christian, I might seriously consider Trump the Antichrist.

Bold New Open Steps Beyond the Rule of Law

The profound limits of the UkraineGate embarrassment don’t mean that the sham is without dark historical significance beyond its diversionary role. It is worth nothing that that Trump’s party decided (with the single exception of Romney) to make an open mockery of the rule of bourgeois law and to coldly deface the Constitution to which they took an oath. The neofascistic Republicans gave their Dear Leader a pass after absurdly refusing by open vote to hear witnesses and consider new and damning evidence. They did this in accord with openly grotesque “legal” arguments including Trump counsel Alan Dershowitz’s Orwellian notion that the Constitution lets the tyrant Trump do whatever he wants to bring about his re-election. These were bold steps beyond constitutional and legal checks and balances on path to dictatorship.

Mocking Jesus

Trump followed the Senate’s sham trial by going to the annual Christian National Prayer Breakfast last Thursday morning. Historically, the event has claimed to stand for national and bipartisan reconciliation and healing, shared mercy before the Lord. The malignantly narcissistic president had no interest in all that. He used the gathering to boast of his greatness and thrash his enemies. The crime-boss-in-chief held up headlines declaring his “exoneration.” He mocked Jesus’s call for the forgiveness of one’s enemies. Trump called the Democratic House leaders who impeached him “terrible” and “vicious” people. He persisted in his preposterous Big Brother claims that he committed no offenses and that his “treasonous” impeachment was an attempted “coup.”

That was the language of a wannabe dictator, nothing new. Whence Trump’s special love for despots and dictators of various ideological stripes around the world? “The president,” one top national security aide told the senior Trump administration official Anonymous, “sees in these guys what he wishes he had: total power, no term limits, enforced popularity, and the ability to silence critics for good.”

There was no rebellion among the sausage-slurping flock at the National Prayer Breakfast. Of course not: this is the Antichrist the nation’s evangelical Christians have embraced in order to enlist the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal bench in the holy projects of maiming poor pregnant women, advancing female slavery, and slashing social programs for the truly disadvantaged.

Purging the Disloyal (and Insufficiently Enthusiastic)

Then came the predictable beginning of authoritarian payback with the discharge of two key witnesses who testified in the House impeachment inquiry. On Friday, Trump fired Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and had Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman – a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council – escorted out of his White House job. Vindman’s twin brother, who also worked for the NSC, was also given the perp-walk treatment. Vindman’s attorney released a statement saying the obvious: “LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. The truth has cost LTC Alexander Vindman his job, his career and his privacy.” The brother had to go too.

The discharge of Sondland, the Vindmans (more will certainly follow) happened just hours after Trump was asked about his press secretary’s declaration that the president’s opponents must “pay a price.”

“Well, you’ll see,” the president told reporters.

But of course. The “purging of the disloyal” – and even just the insufficiently enthusiastic in Sondland’s case – is a central part of the fascist and broadly authoritarian playbook.

The firings were also, by the way, illegal. But so what? As the childish former Black Republican Congresswoman Mia Love explained on CNN two days ago, “the president can do whatever he wants…” The plagiarist-Zionist Professor Dershowitz will be happy to explain.

Twitter and Facebook lit up with anti-Semitic applause from Trump’s fascist fans after the firings. Many Trumpenvolk take special pleasure in the termination of Jews.

Hate of the Union

Equally chilling and more explicitly fascistic was Dear Leader’s State of the Union Address last Tuesday night. Emboldened by the certain preposterous party-line pardon coming the next day, Trump’s right-wing demagoguery brought the annual exercise in presidential bluster and delusional national narcissism to a new low.

Demented Orange railed against the supposed ominous specter of allegedly evil socialism, which he accused of “destroying nations.”

He identified the Democratic Party with the “radical Left,” consistent with fascist-style politicos’ longstanding false conflation of centrist liberals with socialists and communists.

He doubled down on his longstanding Nativism with vicious attacks on immigrants and “sanctuary cities” – and with praise for border officials who have ripped infants from their mothers’ arms, caged children, lethally denied medical care to sick minors, and overseen concentration camps on the US-Mexico border.

Trump denounced women’s right to control their own bodies.

He bragged about expanding the already gigantic U.S. military.

He crowed about the U.S. murder of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, a monumental war crime that nearly sparked a full-on war with Iran.

He hailed Juan Guaidó, the ridiculous right-wing politician whom the Trump administration has been trying to install as the president of Venezuela in an ongoing imperialist operation.

He announced the granting of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to the far-right talk-radio hate merchant Rush Limbaugh – a racist hog who would love to see Black chattel slavery reinstated in the U.S.

He trumpeted his support for guns, which kill more than 30,000 U.S.-Americans every year.

He openly lied (imagine that) by claiming that his administration is dedicated to maintaining the guarantee of health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions (the opposite is true).

Why So Much Socialism, Then?

Not content merely to smite and smear his liberal, “radical Left,” and brown-skinned immigrant enemies and scapegoats, Trump sought to advance a “positive message” by boasting about the supposedly great state of glorious American capitalism supposedly under his supervision. “In just three short years,” Trump declared, “we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We have totally rejected the downsizing,” he said. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago and we are never going back.” His favorite indication of national prosperity was of course the booming stock market.

Trump’s economic claims naturally deleted a number of inconvenient facts: tens of millions of Americans stuck in low-paying zero-benefit working poverty employment; the massive statistical under-reporting of real unemployment and workforce participation under the standard inadequate government measures; a weakening pace job- and GDP-growth under Trump compared to the last three years of the Obama administration; the savage unaffordability of health care and higher education for most of the population; ubiquitous crippling credit card and student loan debt; the highest national income and wealth inequality in half a century; the disproportionate ownership of corporate stock by the wealthy class; the slowing of business investment under Trump; the bankrupting of government services by Trump’s massive tax-breaks and other giant subsidies – socialism – for the super-rich and powerful; the near-certainty of a deadly recession for which government and society are unprepared (thanks in no small part to trump’s policies) in the near-future; the fatal environmental costs of capitalism’s growth-addiction and ideology.

If capitalism is performing so damn well under Trump, one might ask, then why is socialism – popular hostility to the savage inequalities, unfairness, ecological toxicity, and anti-democratic nature of capitalism – such a rising “menace” in the U.S.? Why do most young American adults respond more favorably to the word socialism than they do to the word capitalism these days?

It is of course a great myth that the sitting U.S. president is personally responsible for the state of the American economy, good or bad, at any given point in time. Capitalism ebbs and flows in accord with its own cyclical and long-wave logic and contradictions. It is hardly directed, central command-like out of the White House – certainly not by a president who can’t read a balance sheet and who spends most of his taxpayer funded time watching television, playing golf, and sending out vicious Tweets.

Fake Resistance

So, well, what about the so-called opposition party, absurdly labelled the “radical-Left Democrats” by Trump? That’s not a pretty story, either. As noted above, the doomed impeachment trial was largely an act of fake resistance and diversion: like the Watergate Articles of Impeachment, it dodged the president’s worst crimes and went after him for trying to criminally harm the other ruling-class political party – the Democrats (though with UkraineGate we have to add that Trump was also being prosecuted for messing up imperial policy in Eastern Europe).

Along the way, many atop the Party of Fake Resistance have been quietly signing off on much of the Trump agenda. “If Trump has successes of which he can boast,” the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) noted, “they consist of getting his far-right agenda through Congress and the courts. He bragged about passing the USMCA trade deal with Mexico, cracking down on immigrants and massively expanding the US military. All of these policies have been approved by Congress on a bipartisan basis.” A popular Internet meme speaks a lot of truth beneath a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“Yeah, I Resist Trump:

Raise his military budget.

Endorse status-quo corporatists.

Suppress left-wing voices.

Ignore the needs of the working-class.

Stop Medicare for All from being passed.

Take millions in campaign contributions from the 1%”

At Trump’s Hate of the Union Address last week, Pelosi and most of her fellow Congressional Democrats leapt to their feet at Herr Trump’s command to applaud Washington and Wall Street’s Venezuelan coup figurine Juan Guaido. When Fred Guttenberg, father of a teenager felled in the Parkland High School gun massacre, booed Trump’s promotion of “gun rights,” Pelosi glared and ordered his ejection.

The Democrats’ official response to Trump’s HOTUA was pathetic. Michigan’s mild-mannered neoliberal governor praised Michigan residents for (in the words of the WSWS) “personally trying to fix the state’s notoriously poor roads with ‘a shovel and a bucket of dirt.’”

Alfred E. Wine Cave “Wins” Iowa for Mike Bloomberg

More and historic proof the inauthentic of the dismal Democrats’ “resistance” came with the Iowa Democratic Party and the Clintonite Shadow app’s theft of the Iowa Caucus from Bernie Sanders last week. The epic Iowa Debacle let the dodgy former McKinsey consultant and Naval Intelligence officer and current Wall Street plaything Pete Butiggieg – the candidate I call Alfred E. Wine Cave (AEWC) – play Juan Guaido and claim triumph.

It was a great centrist play. The fact that Sanders won Iowa was turned into a public non-fact. The confusion bought Mayor Pete three days to take some undeserved victory laps across the “liberal” media (MSDNC and Stephen Colbert, for example), boosting him by 9 points in New Hampshire tracking polls.

And even if Sanders really won Iowa, liberal talking heads tell us, Bernie didn’t really win because he didn’t set new Iowa turnout records and he didn’t get to have a triumphant, momentum-building election night speech. Without the speech, it’s not a win – ask Rick Santorum.

It’s all about setting up the mega-billionaire Michael Bloomberg as the “pragmatic” savior to calm a bourgeoisie thrown into a panic by the hideous specter of Judeo Bolshevism that is Bernie Shining Path Sanders and his Red Army Fraction – and by the nonviability of depressing centrists like Biden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, AEWC, and Amy Klobuchar.

Steve Bannon Likes Bernie

Imagine Bernie supporters trying to make themselves vote for Bloomberg in November. Imagine Bernie following a primary campaign directed at “the billionaire class” by trying to get his backers to vote for the mega-billionaire oligarch Bloomberg in the general election.

FOX New had global fascist organizer and grinning bastard Steve Bannon on last Sunday saying that the establishment Democrats are “screwing Sanders,” that he “likes Bernie,” and that Bernie supporters need to come over to the “populist” Trump. Someone who never samples the rightmost cable network might be surprised at how much of that sort of talk one hears there.

Trump would love to face off against Bloomberg and run with “the Bernie got screwed” theme to keep Democratic turnout down. I’m not sure he’d have to say much about the screwing. Reality will be enough: Bernie will have been screwed and many Sandernistas will be unable to make their hands make marks for Bloomberg even as Bernie tells them to do so.

“Bernie Sanders Makes My Skin Crawl”

By contrast with Bannon’s false affection for the “democratic socialist” candidate, it’s difficult to overstate the depth and degree of the contempt the “liberal” Democratic business and professional class feel for the moderately leftish Sanders, who has the “radical left” audacity to think that health care should be a human right in the world’s richest nation and that humans might want to get off fossil fuels before Antarctica (which recently registered a record high temperature of 65 degree Fahrenheit) melts. Two days after the nightmare in Iowa, snot-filled Chicago Sun Times columnist and Chicago City Club enthusiast Neil Steinberg wrote that “Bernie Sanders makes my skin crawl.” Praising the neoliberal-imperialist robot AEWC for “hav[ing] dignity,” “speak[ing] in complete sentences,” and being able “to lead us into the future,” Steinberg called Sanders “hare-brained” and “uncomfortably similar to Trump.” (Steinberg did not elaborate on the similarities). In a column that ended with a pitch for readers to attend a $50 City Club schmoozing reception on “Urban Health Care Challenges and Solutions,” Steinberg admitted to “scowling…whenever Sanders spools out his wish list of what he’s going to do – Medicare-for-All, Green New Deal, free college” – you know, crazy stuff like that.

What an asshole.

World Class Jackass Chris Matthews: “How Do You Know?”

Speaking of which, CNN’s cool, calm, and collected globalist Council on Foreign Relations guru Fareed Zakaria didn’t flinch two days ago when he absurdly called Sanders “far left” and used the Brexit-muddled and media-managed destruction of Jeremy Corbyn as “proof” that Sanders can’t win in the U.S.

Ask an actual left socialist if Bernie Sanders is “far left,” Fareed.

At the outer reaches of unhinged talking-head idiocy, MSDNC’s world-class jackass Chris Matthews is anything but cool, calm, and collected. He told a live television audience last Friday of his insane fear that Bernie Sanders might support public executions in Central Park “if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War.”

It was left to MSDNC’s leftmost commentator Chris Hayes to tell the network’s neo-McCarthyite Ted Baxter impersonator that Sanders “pretty clearly” advocates the social-democratic “socialism” found in Scandinavia.

Suggesting that he has passed his intellectual expiration date and needs to retire, Matthews said “how do you know? Did he tell you that?” and then repeated his suggestion that Bernie backs massive state violence.

Someone should tell Matthews that the Reds won the World Series in 1975, 1976, and 1990 [the Soviet Union still existed for the last one] and the U.S. bourgeoisie kept its head in New York City and across the country. (You can purchase a special Johnny Bench 1792 guillotine model here.)

Will the DNC Ask Trump to Run as a Democrat?

As Rolling Stone’s Peter Wade rightly noted, “Matthews nearly losing his mind on national television in addition to some of the debate questions about Sanders — including whether his opponents were afraid of having a democratic socialist on the ticket — shows just how terrified corporate media is of a Sanders win.”

A recent Onion spoof almost credibly runs with this headline: “DNC Mulls Asking Trump to Run as a Democrat in Effort to Stop Sanders.” The Onion cleverly concocted the following statement from Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez:

“This late in the game, we need somebody with name recognition and a built-in following, which Trump definitely has. He has political experience working with Republicans, which will help him win over moderate voters who are turned off by the idea of a socialist president. Plus, he’ll have the backing of the Democratic donor base, who generally prefer him to Sanders. Look, sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows, but I think I speak for party leadership when I say that we’d much rather see Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee.”

The last line there is no joke.

So what if Sanders is the Democratic presidential candidate most likely to organize the working- and lower-class the corporate Democrats have been grassing and shutting down for half a century? So what if this makes Sanders the most electable candidate against an incumbent president and a party that pose existential fascistic and ecocidal threats to what’s left of democracy, the republic, and life itself? So what if Sanders’ key policy proposals are required for the common good and, you know, human survival?

Surprised? Don’t be. Welcome, my son to the machine. Where have you been? The Democratic Party isn’t about social justice, democracy, and/or environmental sanity. It isn’t even primarily about winning elections. “History’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party” (as former Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips once accurately described the Democrats) is about serving “elite” corporate and financial sponsors above all, and those sponsors prefer a second fascistic Trump term to a mildly progressive first Sanders one. Money, it’s a crime.

The ruling class wants the fascistic Antichrist over the neo-New Deal progressive. The Democrats are tools of the ruling class. America’s possible full-on transition to authoritarian class rule is a richly bipartisan affair.

If that transition occurs, and it could very well in the absence of a significant popular rebellion beneath and beyond the election cycle, historians will want to pay some special attention to last week – if there any historians left, I should say.

Postscript: Amy Doesn’t Know You

Just because you are an elitist, centrist political candidate who views progressive-populism with disdain doesn’t mean you aren’t willing to pretend to be a progressive-populist in your campaign rhetoric. Listen to this tear-jerking soliloquy from “moderate” (corporate) Democrat Amy Klobuchar’s final statement in last Friday’s presidential debate in Manchester, New Hampshire:

“There’s an old story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and when he died, his body was put on a train and went up across America and there was a guy standing by those tracks along with so many Americans, and he had his hat on his chest and he was sobbing and a reporter said, Sir, did you know the president? And the guy says, no, I didn’t know the president, but he knew me. He knew me. …If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent. I know you and I will fight for you. If you have trouble deciding if you’re going to pay for your childcare or your long-term care, I know you and I will fight for you. If you have trouble figuring out if you’re going to fill your refrigerator or fill your prescription drug, I know you and I will fight for you. I do not have the biggest name up on this stage. I don’t have the biggest bank account. I’m not a political newcomer with no record, but I have a record of fighting for people.”

That’s quite the purple passage. But Amy’s nice, progressive-sounding words that are contradicted by her constant and false claims that Sanders’ proposals for Single Payer, a Green New Deal, and free public college are too expensive for the government of word history’s richest and most powerful nation. With her constant harping on what government CAN’T provide everyday people and her continuing reliance on big money donors opposed to basic social-democracy decency, Amy Klobuchar is most definitely NOT there to fight for the working class.”

Ask your doctor if Klobuchar is right for you.

The post About Last Week – and the Accelerated Drives to Extinction and Fascism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Bt Cotton: Cultivating Farmer Distress in India

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Later this month, India’s Supreme Court will hold a lengthy hearing on the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) mustard, which would be the country’s first GM food crop. The court has asked the chair of the Technical Expert Committee to be present and says that the decision on GM mustard cannot be kept pending. The TEC has come out against using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture.

As lead petitioner in a public interest litigation  challenging the government-backed push to commercialise this crop, Aruna Rodrigues has over the past few years submitted much evidence to the court alleging the science and field tests for GM mustard have been fraudulent and the entire regulatory regime has been dogged by malfeasance and a dereliction of duty.

To date, cotton is the only officially sanctioned GM crop in India. Those pushing for GM food crops (including the government) are forwarding the narrative that GM pest resistant Bt cotton has been a tremendous success which should now be emulated with the introduction of GM mustard. Ever since its commercialisation in 2002, however, the issue of Bt cotton in India has been a hotly contested issue. Bt cotton hybrids now cover over 95% of the area under cotton and the seeds are produced by the private sector. But critics argue that Bt cotton has negatively impacted livelihoods and fuelled agrarian distress and farmer suicides.

In a recent piece appearing in ‘The Hindu’, Imran Siddiqi, an emeritus scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, argued that India’s cotton yields fall behind those of other major cotton producing countries. He attributes this to the decision to use hybrids seeds made by crossing two parent strains having different genetic characters. These plants have more biomass than both parents and capacity for greater yields. But they also require more inputs, including fertiliser and water, and require suboptimal planting (more space). Siddiqi notes that all other cotton-producing countries grow cotton not as hybrids but varieties for which seeds are produced by self-fertilisation.

A key difference is that varieties can be propagated over successive generations by collecting seeds from one planting and using them for the next. For hybrids, farmers must purchase seed for each planting. Using hybrids gives pricing control to the seed company and also ensures a continuous market.

Siddiqi says that the advantages of varieties are considerable: more than twice the productivity, half the fertiliser, reduced water requirement and less vulnerability to damage from insect pests due to a shorter field duration. He concludes that agricultural distress is extremely high among cotton farmers and the combination of high input and high risk has likely been a contributing factor.

Meanwhile, seed companies and Monsanto that issued licenses for its Bt technology have profited handsomely from an irresponsible roll-out to poor marginal farmers who lacked access to irrigation and the money to purchase necessary fertiliser and pesticides. Bt hybrids perform better under irrigation, but 66% of cotton in India is cultivated in rain fed areas, where yields depend on the timing and quantity of variable monsoon rains. Unreliable rains, the high costs of Bt hybrid seed, continued insecticide use, fertiliser inputs and debt have placed many poor smallholder farmers in a situation of severe financial hardship.  Prof A P Gutierrez argues that Bt cotton has effectively put these farmers in a corporate noose.

Cultivating knowledge  

It was against this backdrop that Andrew Flachs conducted fieldwork on cotton cultivation over four consecutive cotton growing seasons during 2012-2016 and a later visit in 2018 in the South Indian state of Telangana. His new book ‘Cultivating Knowledge: Biotechnology, Sustainability and the Human Cost of Cotton Capitalism in India’ (University of Arizona Press 2019) is based on that research.

A trained environmental anthropologist and assistant professor at Purdue University in the US, Flachs draws on anthropology and political ecology to show how the adoption of GM seeds affects livelihoods, values and identities in rural areas. By looking at everyday relationships and how farmers make choices, Flachs avoids falling into the pro/anti-GMO dichotomy that has polarised the debate on Indian cotton for the past 18 years. Instead, he looks at farmers’ aspirations, what it means to ‘live well’ and what ‘sustainability’ means in the everyday world of cotton cultivators.

Although some critics of GM cotton claim that the technology is directly responsible for fuelling suicides and farmer distress, Flachs is careful to locate the narrative of agrarian crisis against the overall backdrop of neoliberal reforms in Indian agriculture, the withdrawal of public sector extension services and exposure to commercial seed, pesticide and unstable global commodity markets (and spiralling input costs).

In an increasingly commercialised countryside, independent cultivators have become dependent on corporate products, including off-farm commodified corporate knowledge. In the past, they cultivated, saved and exchanged seeds; now, as far as cotton cultivation is concerned, they must purchase GM hybrid seeds (and necessary chemical inputs) each year.

Flachs mentions former Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar who once stated that farmers decide to use GM cotton seeds based on rational decision making because GM gives better yields. Indeed, this kind of thinking underpins much of the rhetoric of the pro-GMO lobby. But such decision making is far from the truth (moreover, Prof Glenn Stone has shown how ‘facts’ about yields have been constructed and that these ‘facts’ become mere distortions of the actual reality)

With hundreds of different GM seeds brands available in local seed stores, it becomes clear in ‘Cultivating Knowledge’ that environmental learning and the type of decision making referred to by Pawar do not exist. Confusion, social learning, ‘herding’ and emulation are the norm. Seed choices are not based on rational, cost-benefit decision making whereby farmers plant and compare crop performances and opt for the best ones. Their choices of seeds are based on the advice of (unscrupulous) seed vendors, newspaper reports, advertising and what other farmers are opting for.

Caste and social status play a major role in who is listened to, who is emulated and who is given short shrift by seed vendors. If a (high status) farmer opts for a certain seed, for example, another farmer will emulate. But even the high status farmer is not necessarily basing his seed decision of testing in the field: he too is emulating others, opting for whatever brand is ‘popular’ that season.

Similarly, Flachs notes that if your neighbour sprays pesticides four times a day, you do it five times to be ‘responsible’, to make sure you are taking care of your crop; to make sure you don’t become infested and are then seen as the culprit for allowing your neighbours’ fields to be infested too. This, even though you overuse dangerous chemicals and become contaminated with pesticide spray or your food crop that your kids will eat becomes contaminated.

As Flachs implies – in a runaway neoliberal landscape, these types of risks (the overuse of pesticides, taking out loans, seed preferences) become regarded as ‘natural’, as the outcome of individual choices, rather than the expression of political structures or macro-economic policies. In the brave new world of neoliberalism that India began to embrace in the early 1990s, responses to the ‘invisible’ hand of the market, the performance of questionable on-farm practices and financial distress have therefore been internalised and have become associated with a notion of personal responsibility, which can result in self-blame, shame and even suicide.

Flachs notes that many cotton farmers also grow food crops. Here, in stark contrast to cotton, farmers still activate their own indigenous knowledge and environmental learning about seeds and cultivation, not least because they tend to still save their (non-corporate) seeds. For now, at least, the predatory commercialisation of the countryside has not yet penetrated every aspect of rural life.

While Bt cotton farmers are losing their traditional knowledge and skills, Flachs says they still have to make decisions and ‘perform’ the act of farming, taking into account potential risks and what other farmers are doing.

For cultivators of Bt cotton, chasing the dream of a better life means striving for higher yields, even if this entails greater debt and rising input costs. And each year, as fresh seed brands appear, in the hope of hitting a jackpot yield, Flachs indicates that last year’s brand is ditched in favour of a new one. In the meantime, debts increase and maybe one in four seasons a farmer will attain a good enough yield to break even.

In ‘Cultivating Knowledge’, negotiating risk and gambling on seeds, weather and pesticide use are very much part of what has become a chase for ‘better living’ and an integral part of the corporate cotton seed and chemical treadmill. Gambling more or less everything certainly does not bode well for poor, marginalised farmers. And it’s a treadmill that is difficult to get off – even though Bt cotton was sold under the promise of reduced pesticide use, levels of usage are now higher that than before Bt cotton was introduced but non-GM seeds have all but disappeared from seed shops.

Whether farmer’s lives have improved because of the GM technology – or to be precise, the way it has been rolled out – is open to debate, especially if we consider what Gutierrez says about the corporate noose around farmers’ necks and also consider alternative possibilities (for instance, GM straight line varieties), which could have been pursued. Moreover, as Flachs notes, with a glut of cotton, does the world need more of it anyway? Perhaps farmers – aside from adopting different routes for cotton cultivation – would have been better served by planting food crops. These are the ‘counterfactuals’ that seem to be overlooked when discussing GM cotton in India.

Cotton cultivation (including organic cotton growing which Flachs also discusses) in India is very much a social performance. Flachs indicates that the field is a stage where notions of community obligation and personal aspiration are played out within the context of heavily socially stratified communities.

Key to this performance is the concept of sustainability. Both sides of the GM debate talk a good deal about sustainable agriculture. But Flachs discusses what sustainability means to farmers. Is it about a quest for higher yields above all else? Or is it about debt-free sustainable livelihoods and ecological care of the land. In the chase for yields – set against rising input costs, debt, the threat of bankruptcy and suicide, a free-for-all GM seed market with often unscrupulous vendors, the increasing use of dangerous pesticides –  what are the impacts on farmers’ quality of lives?

Is the outcome ‘better living’ for farmers and their families? Or does an air of desperation or insecurity prevail within cotton cultivating communities? These are the questions that readers will be compelled to ask themselves while reading ‘Cultivating Knowledge’. And it will become clear just what the human cost of cotton capitalism for many Indian farmers really is.

When people talk about rolling out GM food crops to uplift the conditions of farmers and make farming more ‘sustainable’, they should abandon such generalisations and consider how farmers and farming communities face up to the challenges of increasing pest resistance, dependency on unregulated seed markets, the eradication of environmental learning, a lack of extension services and the loss of control over their productive means.

As Andrew Flachs says:

“Given that intimate local ecological knowledge has been shown to be crucial for sustainable endeavors, the GM seed market erodes rather than builds local efforts at sustainability…  These seeds make cotton farming less sustainable on Telangana cotton farms because they have created a system in which farmers can’t learn much about their seeds or apply that knowledge when they’re at the market buying seeds next year.”

For Flachs, organic cotton production (that also has its own set of issues to deal with), which provides safety nets and encourages ecologically and socioeconomically beneficial practices on farms, can help redefine what ‘success’ means in Indian cotton. While this may not in itself address the structural nature of the agrarian crisis, Flachs concludes that it offers some hope for incentivising local knowledge and technology that allows farmers to live well – and most importantly, to live well on their own terms.

 

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West Virginia Legislation Would Make Civil Disobedience Against Gas Pipelines a Felony

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Industry drafted legislation (HB 4615) that would make civil disobedience against a pipeline or  other fossil fuel projects a felony is moving through the West Virginia legislature.

The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation February 10, 2020 at 8:30 am.

Eight of the nine co-sponsors of HB 4615 have received a collective $48,050 in campaign contributions from oil, gas, electric utility and railroad interests.

Tracy Cannon of Hedgesville, West Virginia has been leading a coalition of citizens against the Mountaineer gas pipeline that cuts through the Eastern Panhandle. She’s planning to make the five hour drive to the state capitol building in Charleston for the Monday hearing and has set up a Facebook events page.

“The ‘Critical Infrastructure Protection Act’ would act to silence those of us who monitor and protest pipeline projects and other gas infrastructure,” Cannon said. “Leaders in Charleston worked to force the pipeline and Rockwool factory on us here in the Eastern Panhandle, against fierce resistance.”

“Now, the legislature is trying to make civil disobedience protests against gas infrastructure a felony punishable by one to three years and/or a fine of $1000 or more. The bill would also criminalize ‘conspiracy’ by organizations that sponsor civil disobedience and fine the organizations $5000 or more. Such fines could bankrupt small environmental groups.”

“West Virginians value their rights to free speech and free association as granted to us under the Constitution. We will not stand for the legislature taking these rights away.”

The Intercept reported last year that the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a powerful lobbying group, played a role in crafting similar legislation that has been introduced in more than 20 states.

“In June, Derrick Morgan, a senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at AFPM, spoke at the Energy & Mineral Law Foundation conference in Washington, D.C., explaining the role his trade group has played in criminalizing protests,” the Intercept reported.

“James G. Flood, a partner with law firm Crowell & Moring’s lobbying practice, introduced Morgan as ‘intimately involved’ in crafting model legislation that has been distributed to state lawmakers around the country. The attendees at the event received copies of the model bill, called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, distributed through the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit that serves as a nexus for corporate lobbyists to author template legislation that is then sponsored by state lawmakers affiliated with ALEC.”

In West Virginia, Sierra Club put out a statement saying the proposed legislation would  “silence citizens’ constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of association.”

“This bill seeks to shield wealthy fossil fuel corporations from criticism and protest,” the group said. “The corporate raiders this legislation would shield are the same ones who seize West Virginians’ land through eminent domain grabs, construct shoddy infrastructure destined to fail, and leave the taxpayers of our state with the hazardous mess and the economic ruin. Now they want to punish people who protest pipelines on their own land, and those who speak out about the harm done to their health, their families, or their future.”

“There are already laws protecting infrastructure in place, and these corporations already have all the cash they need to buy their free speech. This bill seeks to silence and punish those most harmed by the excesses of these corporations and the infrastructure they impose on our lands. We oppose this handout to the gas, oil, and coal industries at the expense of our rights. It’s bullying, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s un-American.”

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Extinction Foretold, Extinction Ignored

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Most evolving lineages, human or otherwise, when threatened with extinction, don’t do anything special to avoid it.

– George C. Williams

American evolutionary biologist George C. Williams died in September 2010 at the age of 83 years. I doubt he knew we were facing our own imminent extinction.

By the time Williams died, I had been sounding the alarm in this space for three years. I was not alone. The warnings I will mention in this short essay were hardly the first ones about climate catastrophe likely to result from burning fossil fuels. A little time with your favorite online search engine will take you to George Perkins Marsh sounding the alarm in 1847, Svente Arrhenius’s relevant journal article in 1896, and young versions of Al Gore, Carl Sagan, and James Hansen testifying before the United States Congress in the 1980s. There is more, of course, all ignored for a few dollars in a few pockets.

The projected rate of climate change based on IPCC-style gradualism outstrips the adaptive response of vertebrates by a factor of 10,000 times. Closer to home Homo sapiens, mammals cannot evolve fast enough to escape the current extinction crisis. Humans are vertebrate mammals. To believe that our species can avoid extinction, even as non-human vertebrates and non-human mammals disappear, is classic human hubris wrapped in a warm blanket of myth-based human supremacy. The evidence indicates humans will join the annihilation of “all life on earth,” as reported in the journal literature on 13 November 2018. Even tardigrades, the go-to survivor for those who deny the impacts of abrupt climate change on life, are unlikely to survive, according to a paper in the 9 January 2020 issue of Scientific Reports. If the organisms on which we depend do not survive, if even tardigrades do not survive, then humans will not survive. We depend greatly upon invertebrates for our continued existence, yet an “insect apocalypse” is under way, as reported in a review paper in the April 2019 issue of Biological Conservation and subsequently confirmed in a 30 October 2019 paper in Nature.

The uncontrolled meltdown of the world’s nuclear power facilities is sufficient but not necessary for the near-term loss of life on Earth. “Only” abrupt climate change is necessary to rid Earth of all life. In fact, it appears air travel alone will catastrophically overheat the planet: “The contrails left by aeroplanes last only hours. But they are now so widespread that their warming effect is greater than that of all the carbon dioxide emitted by aeroplanes that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the first flight of the Wright brothers.” According to a paper in the 27 Jun 2019 issue of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, cirrus clouds engendered by air travel have caused tremendous planetary warming, a trend likely to accelerate in future scenarios that include industrial civilization. Adding to the existential risk from commercial air travel is a peer-reviewed publication pre-printed 12 December 2019 indicating its effects on atmospheric circulation are sufficient to endanger all life on Earth.

The response to these warnings, throughout history? Shift the baseline. Ignore the abundant science. Throw caution to the wind. And, for the IPCC, retain a remarkably conservative approach (according to the remarkably conservative peer-reviewed literature).

The corporate media, governments, and most climate scientists continue to adhere to the 2 C target proposed by economist William Nordhaus in 1977: “If there were global temperatures more than 2C or 3C above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years.”

The corporate media in the United States is epitomized by the New York Times, a newspaper that admits it sends major scoops to the US government before publication, to make sure “national security officials” have “no concerns.” Although the Washington Post has yet to admit to the same, I suspect both primary mouthpieces of American Empire are equally guilty of serving the state rather than the people.

We know quite a bit more about climate science than we did in 1977. And real scientists knew, even way back then, that economists were not to be treated as scientists. It’s small wonder Nordhaus shared the politically motivated Nobel Prize in Economics earlier in 2018. I wouldn’t have been surprised had he been given the Nobel Peace Prize, thus joining fellow partners-in-crime specialists-in-genocide Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama.

Earth is at least 1.73 C above the 1750 baseline marking the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This global-average temperature is the highest ever with Homo sapiens present, according to a 2017 paper in Earth System Dynamics by James Hansen and colleagues. In other words, our species has never experienced a hotter Earth than the one currently driving the ongoing refugee crisis as habitat for humans disappears. Earth is not quite at the 2 C limit (sic) established by Nordhaus, yet we have entered a “new climate regime,” as pointed out in pre-print of the June issue of Earth’s Future: “Overall, our results suggest that we have entered a new climate regime in which the occurrence of extraordinary global-scale heatwaves cannot be explained without human-induced climate change.”

According to an overview published by European Strategy and Policy Analysis System in April 2019: “An increase of 1.5 degrees is the maximum the planet can tolerate; should temperatures increase further … we will face even more droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty … and at worst, the extinction of humankind altogether.” In other words, according to this major synthesis, we’ve passed the point beyond which human extinction might occur.

In response to the ever-accelerating crisis known as abrupt climate change, the conventional approach is to shift the baseline. Instead of admitting the planet is nearly 2 C above the 1750 baseline, governments and many scientists have determined the baseline is actually 1981-2010, or later. Adherence to the Precautionary Principle is clearly unfashionable.

We have known for decades that the 2 C number set in stone by Nordhaus is dangerous. We were ”running out of time” to deal with greenhouse gases in 1965, according to the chief of the American Petroleum Institute. Fourteen years later, it was Edward Teller informing Big Oil they needed to change. Exxon accurately predicted where we were headed in 1982, and not only failed to heed the warnings, but kicked the warnings and the future of humanity to the curb. Al Gore and Carl Sagan testified to Congress in 1985 that we must act now on climate change. In late June 1989 Noel Brown, the director of the New York office of the United Nations Environment Program indicated we had only until 2000 to avoid catastrophic climate change. About 16 months after Brown’s warning, the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases set 1 C as the absolute upper limit in October 1990. Climate speaker and writer David Spratt said 0.5 C was the upper limit in October 2014.

It was undoubtedly too late to reverse abrupt, irreversible climate change in 1977 when Nordhaus shared his genocidal opinion. It certainly was too late to change course in 1989. And comforting words aside, we haven’t done anything to prevent our own extinction in the wake of warnings distant or near.

In October 2018, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated we have until 2030 to hold global-average temperature at 1.5 C above the ever-shifting baseline. Yes, that’s correct: The United Nations is recommending a global-average temperature well below the current temperature as a “target.”

A review of the role and importance of methane hydrates in the East Siberian Arctic shelf (ESAS) by Shakhova and colleagues was published 5 June 2019 in Geosciences. Among the conclusions of this research: ESAS “has recently been shown to be a significant modern source of atmospheric CH4, contributing annually no less than terrestrial Arctic ecosystems …. Releases could potentially increase by 3–5 orders of magnitude.” Any such significant release of methane obviously would cause a near-term loss of habitat for humans on Earth. An ice-free Arctic will be equivalent to 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a paper in the 20 June 2019 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

According to a paper in the 7 June 2019 issue of Science, the amount of methane in the atmosphere (CH4) began to rise in 2007 after a 7-year period of near-zero growth. Recent research shows that a second step change occurred in 2014. From 2014 to at least the end of 2018, the amount of CH4 in the atmosphere increased at nearly double the rate observed since 2007.

Even the corporate media are finally reporting the bubbling of subsea methane. On 8 October 2019, Newsweek quoted Igor Semiletov of Tomsk Polytechnic University: “This is the most powerful gas fountain I’ve ever seen.”

It gets worse, of course: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says we have until 2020 to turn this ship around. In early October 2018, according to the Guardian, “the next three months are crucial for the future of the planet.” Of course, nothing of significance was done at the planetary level because nothing of significance could be done. Ever willing to continue distracting the masses, the Prince of Wales concluded we have 18 months to deal with climate change in mid-July, 2019. The only known means by which humans can change the global-average temperature in any direction between now and 2020 (or 2021) is the reduction of industrial activity, which will alleviate the aerosol masking effect and therefore drive the global-average much higher very quickly. The impact of the aerosol masking effect has been greatly underestimated, as pointed out in an 8 February 2019 article in Science. As pointed out by the lead author of the paper in Science on 22 January 2019: “Global efforts to improve air quality by developing cleaner fuels and burning less coal could end up harming our planet by reducing the number of aerosols in the atmosphere, and by doing so, diminishing aerosols’ cooling ability to offset global warming.” The cooling effect is “nearly twice what scientists previously thought,” and this 2019 paper cites the conclusion by Levy et al. (2013) indicating as little as 35% reduction in industrial activity drives a 1 C global-average rise in temperature. Additional support for the importance of the aerosol masking effect comes in the 18 July 2019 issue of Geophysical Research Letters and also from the 27 November 2019 issue of Nature Communications. Additional research indicates loss of aerosols exacerbates heat waves. So, too, does the ongoing, abrupt loss of Arctic ice. This Catch-22 of abrupt climate change, termed the McPherson Paradox, takes us in the wrong direction regardless of the direction of industrial activity if we are interested in maintaining habitat for vertebrates and mammals on Earth. Reduction or loss of the aerosol masking effect means loss of habitat for human animals, with human extinction soon to follow.

It gets unimaginably worse by the day, of course. Recent information from the peer-reviewed journal literature finally caught up to me in concluding the Sixth Mass Extinction could annihilate all life on Earth. A paper in Scientific Reports draws this conclusion based upon the rate of environmental change, consistent with my own conclusions. More than a decade after I began pointing out in this space the importance of interactions between organisms, particularly the relatively unknown yet important microbes, microbial life is deemed important in a synthetic paper in the 18 June 2019 issue of Nature Reviews Microbiology: “[Microbes] support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are critically important in regulating climate change.” Five-and-a-half years after I described the horrors of interacting factors, a paper in the 21 December 2018 issue of Science concludes such interactions are tremendously important. Following up on 10 January 2019, a paper in the same publication points to ocean temperatures increasing much faster than expected, thereby ensuring 2018 as the year with the warmest oceans ever recorded on Earth. As one result, Antarctica is losing ice mass at six times the rate of 40 years ago, according to a paper in the 14 January 2019 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Further confirmation that Antarctic ice is diminishing rapidly comes from work published in Geophysical Research Letters on 16 May 2019. According to a paper in the 1 July 2019 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the decrease in Antarctic sea ice during the 2014–2017 period far exceeded the more widely publicized decay rates experienced in the Arctic, thereby reducing Antarctic sea ice extents to their lowest values in the 40-y record. Antarctic ice melted at the highest rate ever observed on 24 December 2019, according to Newsweek, with strong scientific support. Not surprisingly, Antarctica is setting records for high temperatures, provoking one climate scientist to indicate it is occasionally “warm enough to wear a T-shirt.”.

Climates “like those of the Pliocene will prevail as soon as 2030,” based on the stunningly conservative Representative Concentration Pathways of the IPCC (RCPs), and this rate of environmental change will destroy habitat for humans and most other species on Earth. Any informed peek at RCPs will reveal the rapidity with which global overheating makes them obsolete.

Meanwhile, “roughly 430 million years ago, during the Earth’s Silurian Period, global oceans were experiencing changes that would seem eerily familiar today. Melting polar ice sheets meant sea levels were steadily rising, and ocean oxygen was falling fast around the world.” In other words, the Ireviken extinction event is stunningly similar to the Sixth Mass Extinction in which we are currently participating, according to a paper in the 1 May 2019 issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Ocean acidification is occurring at a rapid pace, according to a paper in the 26 August 2019 issue of Nature Climate Change. As one result, diatom silica production is rapidly declining. This rapid demise in plankton is of primary concern to those of us who depend upon the ocean for food or oxygen.

Finally, a paper in Geosciences dated 23 November 2018 indicates up to 8516 ppm by volume in the Yamal region of Siberia, indicating the great potential for terrestrial permafrost to warm the planet in the near future. An article in the 1 July 2019 issue of Nature Geoscience indicates “a loss of soil carbon of 5.4% per year.” In other words, it is not only the 50-Gt burst of methane described by Shakhova and colleagues as “highly possible for abrupt release at any time” in 2008 that poses an existential threat based on methane alone. A paper in the 30 October 2019 issue of Nature Climate Change indicates abrupt, not gradual, release of methane from terrestrial permafrost. As one who loves life, my gratification from these most conservative of sources is overwhelmed by my sadness at the loss.

A paper in the 3 January 2020 issue of Geophysical Research Letters focused on the importance of clouds. Long a contentious topic in the climate-science community, the study and Zelinka and colleagues found that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide beyond the 1750 baseline of 280 ppm would contribute to the loss of clouds, thus accelerating feedbacks and substantially warming Earth in the near term. What the paper fails to reveal is that the atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalent already exceeds, by a wide margin, 560 ppm.

To put it simply, our fate as a species is sealed. We’re headed for extinction in the very near term despite warnings dating more than 150 years. It’s a tragic tale. And, as foretold by evolutionary biologist George C. Williams, our species hardly made a squeak as the hammer dropped.

This essay is updated periodically to accommodate recent evidence. It was last updated 7 February, 2020.

Guy R. McPherson, Professor Emeritus, University of Arizona. He can be reached through his website: guymcpherson.com

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Trump Told the Truth Where It Counted…for His Reelection

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Much of the liberal commentary on Donald Trump’s State of the Union address a few days ago has focused on the outright lies he made, especially his saying that his administration was promoting the interest of people with pre-existing conditions from the medical insurance companies seeking to disqualify them. Yes, he lied, and he lied about undocumented immigrants being mainly “criminal aliens” and sanctuary cities as harboring criminals.

But where it counted for him, he told the truth. He began his speech with the state of the economy, and here he engaged in the usual exaggeration. But amidst those exaggerations were truths directed at the people who made him president, the white working class in the Rust Belt who accounted for the 79,000-plus votes that put him over the top against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

He said during the 2016 campaign that he would take the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He did. He said he would scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He renegotiated it to brazenly benefit the United States. He said he would stand up to China, which he said was stealing American jobs and technology. He could point to his initiating a trade war with Beijing as a fulfilment of that promise.

Whether or not those acts will actually benefit the Rust Belt will long be a subject of debate. Neoliberals will continue to hold that, according to their theory, “on balance” or “in the long run,” the “aggregate data” will indicate a “loss” for the United States. But that is not what matters for those workers who deserted to Trump or stayed at home on election day in 2016.

What matters is that Trump stuck to his promises on reversing those policies that they felt were responsible for their loss of jobs or income. And to remind them that he kept the faith and that he expected them to keep the faith in return, he even mentioned some of the states by name in the course of the speech: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

There’s much theorizing out there that Trump’s social media disinformation machine brought him victory in 2016 and will bring him victory again in 2020. Sure, the machine blasted out and is blasting out the lies non-stop. But hey, people are not stupid. The workers in those states will probably take the rest of the speech with a grain of salt, but their key takeaway will be Trump’s reminding them he kept the faith on the TPP, NAFTA, jobs, and China.

In the coming elections, the Democrats will again win the popular vote, perhaps by an even wider margin this time, despite the Trump disinformation machine. But the final outcome will again hinge on the Electoral College vote. With the blue state/red state divide remaining firm when it comes to most states, the 2020 elections will again turn on the swing states of the Mid-West, on the white working class in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and other Rust Belt states.

They’ve had four years to work on it, but Democrats still have absolutely no strategy to counter Trump’s triumphalist message to the workers in those states that deserted their traditional party of choice in 2016. They have to get their act together, or it’s four more years of Trump insanity.

This article first appeared on FPIF.

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How Privilege and Woke Politics are Destroying the Left

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I was a Slack group for gender critical academics in the UK started by a UK feminist who has become known over the past 18 months for her critique of gender identity. The inception of this group seemed promising. Or rather, that is until this individual and several others within the group took it upon themselves to malign women who were doing political activism in the US whereafter I wrote an article here about the toxicity and elitist politics taking place in the heart of feminist circles. The defamation was astonishing to witness as it put into the crosshairs feminists who were not operating from the safety of academic tenure and enacted gross misrepresentations of these women who felt the fallout of these attacks for months. And since this attack took place largely on Twitter, the pile-on effect was pronounced as the shit was stirred for weeks even if the posh feminists quickly pretended they had nothing to do with the ensuing political goulash they alone concocted. In response to having written the article, I was kicked out of the group as I was informed via email. So much for academic discussions that allow for diverse, even non-woke, positions.

Over the past year, I have seen this kind of dynamic repeated hundreds of times spiral out of control within Facebook groups and Twitter. Indeed, it seems in 2020 that it far better to bring to discussions a witty one-liner rather than take your interlocutor seriously and engage in calm and respectful debate. Instead of listening and agreeing disagreeably as the saying goes, social media is awash in individuals attempting to one-up the next person through either engaging in woke or privilege politics. While these two are inter-related, they do function independently as well.

Privilege politics functions like this: you act in bad faith with your interlocutor claiming that the fact that this person is male, white, married, or heterosexual, for instance, he cannot possibly be anything other than a caricature of something you have alone created. Are males really incapable of grasping sexism because they are inherently engineered to grope women? Are light-skinned people really unable to understand the experiences of immigration and are themselves always and forever racist? And are feminists who do not kowtow to a another form of gender wokeism necessarily part of the far-right, thus deserving of maligning?

Such tactics have become a “thing” of the left in recent years. Assuming your interlocutor shouldn’t be allowed to express herself because you disagree with her position is the beginning and end of totalitarian dogma whereby only those who parrot your every thought are welcome to participate in critical reflection. The bad news is that the wokerati are everywhere on the left—from environmentalists to feminists to anti-racist activists—and they are reminding us every second of the day that someone, somewhere is wrong and should be stopped, fired, kicked out of a group and worse. It’s almost as if the wokerati are a new band of right-wing intolerants recycled from the era of the Moral Majority. Instead of preaching about the “evil” of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic representations of of black and white bodies in the 1980’s, the new generation of the morally woke is here to point out every wrong move and utterance that oppositional voices offer. The high church of what “is a bad look” is inevitably measured against the larger barometer of how evil your interlocutor is based on sex, ethnicity, class and any other paradigm that can be pulled out of a hat to spin into that individual’s fundamental nefariousness. Hell, just accuse your interlocutor of having a Tommy Robinson avatar despite any truth to the claim or call someone a “thick feck.” Argument “won,” right?

Between the maligning of the other based on mischaracterization or their perceived privilege and the simultaneous slewing of woke narrative of what is wrong and right while maintaining that no other positions are worthy of being heard least we redeem Nazism, we are living in an era of neo-puritanism. While we have seen a plethora of op-eds critiquing woke and purity culture in recent weeks, little light has been shed upon how the leftist politics of privilege and wokeness operate to create a hermetic political culture which very much replicates much of the rhetoric of the right from years earlier.

Privilege politics operates through the constant attempt to undermine any kind of meaningful political dialogue through delegitimizing the other, because of their sex, skin color, class, and so forth, rendering their person as part of the problem. Enter wokeness stage left where privilege posturing segues into the narrative of the moral observer: this subject who has taken down the other personally then assails their interlocutor by assuming an unattainable ideal of wokeness by arguing that others cannot possibly attain this level of clarity given their moral standing on X subject. It’s the perfect formula to silent debate, to maintain the speakers virtue and in the end to inflame Twitter wars over issues that most are reacting to without having invested the time and energy to verify facts and separate them from the innumerable orbiting fictions.

Now, I have to confess that I have been without a solid source of internet for months and as a result I have spent far less time on social media which has lent me some healthy perspective on how social media functions to feed the ego (like my comment) while sanitizing the terrain of those who object with our ideas (block and mute are the BFFs to most). It’s a great micro-world where we allow ourselves to obsess over our every political ideal while we bask in the likes and mute anyone who disagrees with us. It almost perfection—a type of virtual life insurance plan against the fast-approaching winds of dissent. Except it’s anything but perfect as virtuality is merely a mutation of the real world where people actually do disagree without calling up the employers of their dissenters to demand that they be fired. In the real world we are forced to sit with disagreement even if we choose to remain silent. The stuff of reality that is increasingly evident in its important to our collective social sanity is the part about accepting the disorder and contentiousness of reality. Virtuality is a fake space where can superficiality turn off all white noise and label this superficial calm as consensus.

Who would have imagined a time where social messaging would have gained a momentum of lightening speed where millions of political and social messages can be posted daily all thanks to the speed of fibre optic cable together with more recent tech innovations such as SD-WAN (software-defined wide-area networks)? According to one political commentator, “Twitter is where the people who care the most spend their time” and “where cultural kingmakers congregate” all through the microbursts of public commentary which is overwhelmingly instantaneous, even misinformed. In this era of king-makers where every social media bubble is cause to fawn over one’s latest social media hero, wit, one-liners and sarcasm are key to being able to deftly avoid any sort of dialogue. Rarely do we witness people hashing out differences on Twitter with most interactions ending acrimoniously. Still, the technological speed of the internet is not the guilty party behind the ills of how humans have utilized this technology to create tribes within an ostensibly open forum. We enter into this space of endless possibilities and we block everyone we disagree with out resulting in a virtual world of where connectivity uniquely depends upon agreement, never dissent. How anti-democratic can we aspire to be?

With the recent tumult over American Dirt, the novel by Jeanine Cummins which has been attacked on Twitter for “cultural appropriation,” we are witnessing the dangerous ground where surveillance of fictional authenticity is weighted against the skin color and background of a writer. Forget that novelists like Sandra Cisneros and Ann Patchett along with celebrities Gina Rodriguez and Salma Hayek support this literary work or that Oprah Winfrey praises this novel which she has included in her book club. Does the ethnic heritage of Cummins’ work merit such vituperation given that the work ought to be at the focus of literary appraisal, not the writer’s ethnicity?

And on the other side of the Atlantic you have the Laurence Fox debacle where—sit down for this one—Bonnie Greer dared to meet with Fox to discuss the events of the past fortnight in the UK. Not missing a beat, Greer took to Twitter to thank Fox for meeting up in the British Museum to which many critics responded, one accusing Greer of effectively being an Uncle Tom: “The disrespect you have shown the Black British arts community with this. Enough. Don’t know who you think you are helping here but it is not us. Maybe yourself and the platforms you are given by white middle class liberals who use you to feel better about themselves.” Certainly, the person who tweeted, “The idea that black people have to talk and educate (white) people that we have a right to be treated equally in society is exhausting” is correct. But unless we sit down and discuss with those on the other side of the aisle, we will never progress our humanity and remain hermetically sealed in the bubble of adoration and sycophantism.

There is only one way out of this political black hole the use of such weak political devices to avoid actual dialogue is the surrogate to having actual discussions with those on the other side of the aisle from us. We will get nowhere by pretending that everyone who disagrees with us is “cosying up to the conservative right.” We need to change our tactics and how we interact in the world politically and this change must begin with having good faith discussions that are not steeped in wokeism or privilege games.

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Mexico’s AMLO Shows How It’s Done

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While U.S. advocates and local politicians struggle to get their first public banks chartered, Mexico’s new president has begun construction on 2,700 branches of a government-owned bank to be completed in 2021, when it will be the largest bank in the country. At a press conference on Jan. 6, he said the neoliberal model had failed; private banks were not serving the poor and people outside the cities, so the government had to step in.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) has been compared to the United Kingdom’s left-wing opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, with one notable difference: AMLO is now in power. He and his left-​wing coalition won by a landslide in Mexico’s 2018 general election, overturning the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had ruled the country for much of the past century. Called Mexico’s “first full-fledged left-wing experiment,” AMLO’s election marks a dramatic change in the political direction of the country. AMLO wrote in his 2018 book “A New Hope for Mexico,” “In Mexico the governing class constitutes a gang of plunderers…. Mexico will not grow strong if our public institutions remain at the service of the wealthy elites.”

The new president has held to his campaign promises. In 2019, his first year in office, he did what Donald Trump pledged to do — “drain the swamp” — purging the government of technocrats and institutions he considered corrupt, profligate or impeding the transformation of Mexico after 36 years of failed market-focused neoliberal policies. Other accomplishments have included substantially increasing the minimum wage while cutting top government salaries and oversize pensions; making small loans and grants directly to farmers; guaranteeing crop prices for key agricultural crops; launching programs to benefit youth, the disabled and the elderly; and initiating a $44 billion infrastructure plan. López Obrador’s goal, he says, is to construct a “new paradigm” in economic policy that improves human welfare, not just increases gross domestic product.

The End of the Neoliberal Era

To deliver on that promise, in July 2019 AMLO converted the publicly owned federal savings bank Bansefi into a “Bank of the Poor” (Banco del Bienestar or “Welfare Bank”). He said on Jan. 6 that the neoliberal era had eliminated all the state-owned banks but one, which he had gotten approval to expand with 2,700 new branches. Added to the existing 538 branches of the former Bansefi, that will bring the total in two years to 3,238 branches, far outstripping any other bank in the country. (Banco Azteca, currently the largest by number of branches, has 1,860.)

Digital banking will also be developed. Speaking to a local group in December, AMLO said his goal was for the Bank of the Poor to reach 13,000 branches, more than all the private banks in the country combined.

At a news conference on Jan. 8, he explained why this new bank was needed:

There are more than 1,000 municipalities that don’t have a bank branch. We’re dispersing [welfare] resources but we don’t have a way to do it.  . . .  People have to go to branches that are two, three hours away. If we don’t bring these services close to the people, we’re not going to bring development to the people. …

They’re already building. I’ll invite you within two months, three at the most, to the inauguration of the first branches because they’re already working, they’re getting the land … because we have to do it quickly.

The president said the 10 billion pesos ($530.4 million) needed to build the new branches would come from government savings; and that 5 million had already been transferred to the Banco del Bienestar, which would pass the funds to the Secretariat of Defense, whose engineers were responsible for construction. The military will also be used to transport physical funds to the branches for welfare payments. AMLO added, “They are helping me. They are propping me up. The military has behaved very well and they don’t back down at all. They always tell me ‘yes you can, yes we do, go.’ ”

To concerns that the government-owned bank would draw deposits away from commercial banks and might compete in other ways, such as making interest-free loans to small businesses, AMLO countered:

There’s no reason to be complaining about us building these branches. … [I]f private banks want to build branches, they have every right to go to the towns and build their branches, but as they won’t because they believe that it’s not [good] business, we have to do it . . . it’s our social responsibility, the state can’t shirk its social responsibility.

Issues with the Central Bank

While the legislature has approved the new bank, Mexico’s central bank can still block it if bank regulations are breached. Ricardo Delfín, who works at the international accounting firm KPMG, told the newspaper La Razón that if the money to fund the bank comes from a loan from the federal government rather than from capital, it will adversely affect the bank’s “Capitalization Ratio.” But AMLO contends that the bank will be self-sufficient. Funding for construction will come from federal savings from other programs, and the bank’s operating expenses will be covered by small commissions paid on each transaction by customers, most of whom are welfare recipients. Branches will be built on land owned by the government or donated, and software companies have offered to advise for free.

About the central bank, he said:

We’re going to speak with those from the Bank of México respecting the autonomy of the Bank of México. We have to educate them because for them this is an anachronism, even sacrilege, because they have other ideas. But we’ve arrived here [in government] after telling the people that the neoliberal economic policy was going to change. . . .

There shouldn’t be obstacles. How is the Bank of México going to stop us from having a [bank] branch that disperses resources in favor of the people? What damage does that do? Whom does it harm?

AMLO has repeatedly promised not to interfere in the business of the central bank, which has been autonomous for the past quarter of a century. But he has also said that he would like its mandate expanded from just preserving the value of the peso by fighting inflation to include fostering growth. The concern, according to The Financial Times, is that he might use the central bank to fund government programs, following in the footsteps of Argentina’s former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, “whose heterodox policies led to high inflation and, many economists believe, the country’s current crisis.”

Mark Weisbrot counters in The New York Times that Argentina’s problems were caused, not by printing money to fund domestic development, but by a massive foreign debt. Hyperinflation actually happened under Fernández de Kirchner’s successor, President Mauricio Macri, who replaced her in 2015. The public debt grew from 53% to more than 86% of GDP, inflation soared from 18% to 54%, short-term interest rates shot up to 75%, and poverty increased from 27% to 40%.

In an upset election in August 2019, the outraged Argentinian public re-elected Fernández de Kirchner as vice president and her former head of the cabinet of ministers as president, restoring the 12-year Kirchner legacy begun by her husband, Nestor Kirchner, in 2003 and considered by Weisbrot to be among the most successful presidencies in the Western Hemisphere.

More appropriate than Argentina as a model for what can be achieved by a government working in partnership with its central bank is that of Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has funded his stimulus programs by selling government bonds directly to the Bank of Japan. The BOJ now holds nearly 50% of the government’s debt, yet consumer price inflation remains low — so low that the BOJ cannot get the figure up even to its 2% target.

Other Funding Options

AMLO is unlikely to go that route, because he has vowed not to interfere with the central bank; but analysts say he needs to introduce some sort of economic stimulus, because Mexico’s GDP has slipped in the last year. The Mexican president has criticized GDP as the ultimate standard, advocating instead for a model of development that incorporates wealth distribution and access to education, health, housing and culture into its measurements.

But as Kurt Hackbarth warned in Jacobin in December, “To fully unfurl [his] program without simply ransacking other line items to pay for it will require doing something AMLO has up to now categorically ruled out: raising taxes on the rich and large corporations which, not surprisingly, make out like utter bandits in Mexico’s rigged financial system.”

AMLO has continually vowed, however, not to raise taxes on the rich. Instead he has enlisted Mexico’s business magnates as investors in public-private partnerships, allowing him to avoid the “tequila trap” that brought down Argentina and Mexico itself in earlier years — getting locked into debt to foreign investors and the International Monetary Fund. Mexico’s business leaders seem happy to invest in the country, despite some slippage in GDP.

As noted by Carlos Slim, Mexico’s wealthiest man, “Debt didn’t go up, there is no fiscal deficit and inflation came down.” In November 2019, the Economy Secretariat reported that foreign direct investment showed a 7.8% increase in the first nine months of that year compared with the same period in 2018, reaching its second highest level ever; and at the end of 2019 the peso was up around 4%. Stocks also rose 4.5%, and inflation dropped from 4.8% to 3%.

Partnering with local businessleaders is politically expedient, but public/private partnerships can be expensive; and as U.K. Professor Richard Werner points out, tapping up private investors merely recirculates existing money in the economy. Better would be to borrow directly from banks, which create new bank money when they lend, as the Bank of England has confirmed. This new money then circulates in the economy, stimulating productivity.

Today, the best model for that approach is China, which funds infrastructure by borrowing from its own state-owned banks. Like all banks, they create loans as bank credit on their books, which is then repaid with the proceeds of the projects created with the loans. There is no need to tap up the central bank or rich investors or the tax base. Government banks can create money on their books just as central banks and private banks do.

For Mexico, however, using its public banks as China does would be something for the future, if at all. Meanwhile, AMLO has been a trailblazer in showing how a national public banking system can be initiated quickly and efficiently. The key, it seems, is just to have the political will — along with massive support from the public, the legislature, local business leaders and the military.

This article was first posted on Truthdig.com.

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Why the Buttigieg Campaign Tried to Have Me Arrested for Handing Out Information About Medicare for All

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You’d think that a presidential campaign backed by 40 billionaires and untold numbers of bundled rich people wouldn’t worry about just one leaflet on Medicare for All.

But minutes after Pete Buttigieg finished speaking in an auditorium at Keene State College in New Hampshire on Saturday, a Pete for America official confronted me outside the building while I was handing out a flier with the headline “Medicare for All. Not Healthcare Profiteering for the Few.”

“You can’t pass that out,” the man told me. I did a double take, glancing at the small “Pete” metal badge on his lapel while being told that he spoke on behalf of the Buttigieg campaign.

We were standing on the campus of a public college. I said that I understood the First Amendment. When I continued to pass out the flier, the Buttigieg campaign official (who repeatedly refused to give his name) disappeared and then quickly returned with a campus policeman, who told me to stop distributing the leaflet. Two Keene city police soon arrived.

The Buttigieg official stood a few feet behind them as the police officers threatened me with arrest for trespassing. Ordered to get off the campus within minutes or be arrested, I was handed an official written order (“Criminal Trespass Notice”) not to set foot on “Keene State College entire campus” for a year.

So much for freedom of speech and open election discourse in public places.

Why would a representative of the mighty Buttigieg campaign resort to such a move? A big clue can be found in a deception that Buttigieg engaged in during the debate on Friday night.

Buttigieg’s dishonesty arose when Amy Klobuchar, a vehement foe of Medicare for All, attacked Bernie Sanders for allegedly seeking to “kick 149 million Americans off their current health insurance in four years.” Klobuchar was reciting a key insurance-industry distortion that neglects to mention how a single-payer system would provide more complete health coverage, at less cost — by eliminating wasteful bureaucracy and corporate profiteering.

But Klobuchar then pivoted to attack Buttigieg: “And Pete, while you have a different plan now, you sent out a tweet just a few years ago that said henceforth, forthwith, indubitably, affirmatively, you are for Medicare for All for the ages, and so I would like to point out that what leadership is about is taking a position, looking at things, and sticking with them.”

Buttigieg was far from candid in his response: “Just to be clear, the truth is that I have been consistent throughout in my position on delivering healthcare for every American.”

That answer directly contradicted an early 2018 tweet from Buttigieg: “Gosh! Okay. . . I, Pete Buttigieg, politician, do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All, as I do favor any measure that would help get all Americans covered.”

No doubt if the flier I was handing out at Keene State College had praised Buttigieg, his campaign would not have called the police to have me ejected. But the Buttigieg for President staffer recognized that Buttigieg’s spin on healthcare was undermined by facts in the flier (produced and financed by RootsAction.org, which is completely independent of the official Sanders campaign).

“Buttigieg is claiming that Medicare for All would dump people off of health coverage and deprive them of ‘choice,’” our flier pointed out. “Those are insurance-industry talking points. He is deliberately confusing the current ‘choice’ of predatory for-profit insurance plans with the genuine full choice of healthcare providers that enhanced Medicare for everyone would offer.”

Apparently, for the Buttigieg campaign, such truthful words are dangerous.

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How to Yellow-Cake a Tragedy: the NY Times Spreads the Virus of Hatred, Again

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“In the end, the plague touched us all…it was not confined….breeding in a compost of greed and uselessness and murder…promising life and delivering death…[serving] as furnished rooms for ideology.”

—Pete Hamill, liner notes to Blood on the Tracks

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, first detected late last year in the hub city of Wuhan, China is a rapidly-spreading viral disease, often characterized by a cluster of acute respiratory symptoms. The virulence of this outbreak has put most of China under a lockdown: over 50 million people have been quarantined in the immediate region; 40,000 people have been infected, and over 900–and counting–have died.  Many neighboring Chinese cities also have restrictions on travel and movement to stem the tide of infection; and across the country, all of China is facing restrictions and hardship.  In the face of this sudden and tragic crisis–and the extraordinary social distancing measures the Chinese government has taken to safeguard public health and prevent infection–the western media has made a highly political choice on how to report about it.

Instead of voicing support or encouraging solidarity–“We are Wuhan”—western corporate media have chosen to go all out to criticize and demonize China, sparing no effort to recycle and rekindle ugly, racist, orientalist, and dehumanizing tropes, using any perceived misstep, pretext, and shortcoming to tar China and the Chinese. One virulent narrative is that this is deliberate Chinese bioweapon to reduce population, another narrative, no less toxic and virulent, alleges that the Chinese leadership, out of a “fear of political embarrassment”, suppressed free speech and silenced the flow of information “at critical moments”, “allowing the virus to gain a tenacious hold”, thus creating the conditions for a lethal epidemic that has led to the deaths of hundreds and the infection of thousands.

The NY Times takes the [yellow] cake for sowing this toxic, racist disinformation, alleging in numerous articles and opinion pieces of a “cover up”: that “China’s old habits put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the crisis”; that “they played down dangers to the public, leaving the city’s 11 million residents unaware that they should protect themselves”, and presenting this as proof dispositive that the Chinese system is fatally flawed. All this while reveling in and boosting on its website, unseemly schadenfreude that suppression of information and free speech has led to condign and expected catastrophe.

The most recent iteration of this propaganda concerns a Dr Li Wenliang, recently deceased.  Dr Li spoke of the disease at an early moment in the outbreak (December 30th) to a group of colleagues. He was later reprimanded by the police for “spreading rumors”.  After going back to work, he himself contracted the virus, and despite being young and seemingly healthy, he tragically passed away.  Latching onto this unexpected fatality like a virus itself, the NY Times grafted onto his death, the “authoritarian suppression of the truth” meme,  thus exploiting tragedy to circulate a political myth: that Dr. Li was a valiant, dissenting whistleblower who had “tried to sound a warning that a troubling cluster of…infections…could grow out of control”. In other words, he had tried to warn the public early on about the virus, but had been brutally silenced and suppressed.

In particular, the Times claims that Dr Li was arrested by the government, “in the middle of the night”, no less; and suggests that had he not been silenced, 100’s, perhaps thousands of lives would have been saved, and countless infections prevented.  In other words, the Chinese communists, because of their obsession with political appearances, their mendacious secrecy, and totalitarian control, instigated a cover up that has had a nightmarish consequences for global health.

This disclosure would be truly extraordinary, heroic, award-meriting journalism.  Except for one small problem: none of the assertions are supported by the facts, and none of the interpretations bear scrutiny.

In order to peddle this toxic canard, the NY Times–as it did with its gutter journalism justifying the Iraq War–has had to yellow-cake up a foul brew of innuendo, half-truths, misrepresentations, outright lies, spiked fiercely with stereotypes, racial hatred, and red-baiting, while torturing the English language, eliding logic, ignoring science, and shredding the credibility of the fourth estate–yet again.

These are the facts:

1. Not a whistle blower.

The NY Times suggests that Dr Li was a whistle blower, “sounding a warning”.  But Dr. Li was not a whistle blower, by any usual definition of the word.  He didn’t notify the Chinese CDC or any public health organ.  He did not notify the hospital authorities.  He did not warn the public of wrongdoing, danger, or cover up. What he did do is share information with 7 school colleagues on 12/30 on a private messaging group.  (He also shared a photo of a confidential medical record).  How that constitutes “whistle blowing” is not explained by the NY Times.

2. Fraudulent Timeline.

The NY Times claims that the sanctioning and silencing led to suppression of timely and important information–a cover up of a dangerous but necessary truth.  This assertion is not borne out by the facts.  The “whistle”–if we can call it that–had already been blown by others.  For example, doctor, Zhang Jixian, the director of respiratory and critical care medicine  at Hubei Provincial Hospital, had officially notified the hospital on December 27th of an unusual cluster of viral cases, and the hospital had notified the city’s’ disease control center.  After further consultation on the 29th, the regional CDC was notified and had started full scale research and investigation. The government was already actively investigating and doing their due diligence with other cases long before the NY Times allegations (constructed as always from anonymous sources).  Zhang herself, contrary to the suppression and punishment narrative, was recognized and commended by the government.

3. Wrong Claim.

The doctor had claimed it was SARS, a related, but different coronavirus.  However, it was not SARS.  Why is this important?  Given the panic that spread during the prior 2003 SARS epidemic, spreading this incorrect information would be a understandable reason to try to restrict inaccurate, and possibly panic-inducing information.

4. No Evidence.

Well what’s in a name? SARS or no SARS, it was still dangerous, and shouldn’t have been suppressed, no?

In making its claims of cover up, the NY Times suggests that the authorities recognized and knew that the disease was dangerous, but covered it up anyway.  This is far from the truth at the time: there was little clear evidence that this was a dangerous or severe epidemic at the time of the outbreak.

In particular:

a) there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission at that time (the first case happened two weeks later, on 1/14)

b) there had been no fatalities (the first fatality was 1/09/20, ten days later), and there were only a handful of cases.

c) even later, as more casualties started to appear, most of the casualties were older people with serious existing pathology or co-morbidity.

In other words, it was unclear how serious this was, and whether and how serious actions should be taken: commonsense tells us in winter, colds, flu and pneumonia are not uncommon; discerning a novel, serious outbreak is not a simple task.  The mere fact that the Chinese authorities were able to identify and take action on this so rapidly is indicates how competent, effective, and conscientious many of them were.

5. No Expertise or Qualification.

The NY Times claims the “doctor tried to sound a warning”, but it’s important to note that Dr Li had no expertise in the subject matter, was not familiar with the situation, was not treating affected patients, and had no expertise to make any such claims: he was a ophthalmologist (not an epidemiologist, virologist, infectious disease specialist, internist, ICU specialist, or even a GP or X-ray/CT technician).  There’s no proof that he was privy to any specialized insider information that was being covered up; and the hospital was already taking all known precautions with patients at the time.

6. Not arrested.

Dr Li was not arrestedas the NY Times claims. The doctor was called in, lightly reprimanded (talked to, and signed a document not to spread rumors) and went straight back to work.  This begs the question, if a non-specialist (for example, a podiatrist) at a public General  Hospital had claimed that there was an outbreak of infectious disease (for example, bubonic plague (and released HIPAA-protected documents (like Dr. Li did)), how credible is it that they would have escaped some sort of official sanction?

7. Understandable Reasons for Acting Methodically

The government had reasonable, and defensible reasons to act prudently and methodically. While the jury is still out, and the timeline bears elaborating, there’s still little evidence that this was a deliberate attempt to “stifle criticism” and “silence” to avoid “embarrassment”. Based on the evidence available at the time, we can reasonably surmise that:

a) The authorities didn’t know how serious this was at the time—a reasonable assumption given the known evidence at the time.

b) The “nocebo” effect (negative placebo) is real–people can take any ambiguous symptoms (that are always present in the body) and think they are sick.

c) Panicked, mass hysterical responses are not uncommon, and themselves can constitute a public health hazard.  Either of these effects, caused by premature or careless disclosure could have resulted in:

i) People thinking themselves sick

ii) People crowding hospitals, stretching resources, while spreading the infection faster, as well as preventing genuinely sick people from getting care (all at a time when public services are winding down)

iii) Mass exodus, spreading the infection outside of Wuhan much faster

iv) Hoarding & scarcity of masks and other supplies, vigilante quarantines, and other hysterical, dangerous, and unproductive behavior.

It’s important to note also that this was the period of the Spring Festival, the busiest and most important holiday of the year. While it’s easy to criticize the cautious, tentative responses in hindsight, It’s understandable that authorities might not want to take extreme measures if it was a false alarm.

8. Upfront Transparency. 

The NY Times alleges “cover up” and “secrecy”: however, the Wuhan authorities publicized that the doctor had been sanctioned.  In this way, they actually spread information about his “whistleblowing” and the fact of the disease symptoms. As a matter of fact, they have publicized all the people sanctioned for similar actions.  This would seem to indicate that:

a) at the time, they genuinely believed they were taking correct actions–actions that would be justifiable and vindicated—and they did not know that this disease was as serious as it turned out to be (and it’s not clear how could they have known)

b) it’s unlikely they were trying to hide or cover up anything.  If they had been trying to silence or cover up something, this incident would most likely have gone unannounced.

9. Not Ahead of the Government.

The NY Times claims that Dr. Li sounded an alarm in a context where the governments “initial handling” was slow, negligent, or reluctant.  The facts belie this:

Dr. Li was not ahead of the government. As we noted above regarding the timeline, the government (Wuhan disease authorities) had already been informed, and they delivered their own public warning the same day as Dr Li’s sharing with his friends. There is little evidence to show that this was “forced” or “compelled” by the ophthalmologist’s message (as the NYTimes has claimed).

In fact, as is usually the case with public announcements, the health department had likely been discussing, drafting, and planning their statement prior to release on that day.

Note, also that this information was released before Dr. Li was called to the police for reprimand on 1/03 (in other words, the information was already out, and the reprimand can be interpreted as a critique of the speculation, as well as the how, why, and who of sharing than an attempt at erasure). Whether the reprimand was judiciously or skillfully delivered is another matter, but the facts remain that no coverup can be asserted from this incident.

10. “Yellow-Caking” the Experts, Again.

The NY Times implies that the Chinese government knew the outbreak was serious, but covered it up and delayed notification anyway to avoid political embarrassment.  But again, it seems that the facts belie the assertion:

The WHO was also notified on 12/31 (the following day) of an “unknown virus” but did not consider it serious.  The WHO did not suggest any quarantine or extreme public health measures. On 1/05, they advised against a travel restriction. 1/15, they again indicated there was no human-to-human transmission. 1/23, they indicated it was not a public health emergency.  Only on 1/30 did they declare an emergency–fully 30 days after the so-called NYTimes-imputed “whistleblowing”.

11. Communist Catastrophe, Really?

The NYTimes, in particular, along with its ideological cousin the CFR, has been avidly red-baiting, pumping up the narrative of  “whistleblower-cover-up” and “weak governance” endemic to “authoritarian-dictatorships-that-create-catastrophes-like-Chernobyl” trope.  “Undemocratic Governance is dangerous for your health” claim the ideologues. But freedom-loving capitalist America easily outdoes any modern socialist state in its negligence and damage to public health and wellbeing. A casual point of comparison is the 2009 H1N1 A “San Diego” virus. This took the US To 6 months to declare an emergency and take active measures.  Because of this inaction, 150k-575K people died all over the world.  80% were under 65 years old.  Or last year’s flu (61,000 deaths in the US).  Or this year’s flu (8-10,000 dead since October), 1400 dying in a single week. Oh, and let’s not forget the AIDS crisis. The opiate crisis. The lead crises. The homelessness crisis. The list is endless, repetitious, atrocious.

12. New Standards in Crisis Response.

Contrary to NYTimes claims of incompetence, “weakness”, and slowness, it seems that the Chinese have been setting new, groundbreaking standards and practices in outbreak detection and response.  Examination of the facts shows that the Chinese were actually well prepared and well coordinated in their response–this has been acknowledged and commended by the WHO, and other public health agencies and experts of repute.  They had a centralized database and control tower, which is why they were able to react so quickly to isolate, identify, sequence, and take public action on this.  Let’s not forget, they also built two full-functioning, state-of-the-art isolation hospitals in a matter of days.

13. Monday Morning Schadenfreude. 

The NY Times has been willfully ignoring all of that is positive: skilled, coordinated mobilization; technical and medical tour-de-forces; mass acts of solidarity, generosity, and kindness across the country; and valiant, extraordinary medical and medical worker competence and heroism.  Instead the Monday-morning epidemiological quarterbacking of the NY Times (and derivative media) has been savage and odious in exploiting every perceived mishap as a pretext to pile on and attack the Chinese people and the Chinese system:  for example, the NY Times article on 2/01/20– insinuates cover-up, and “systemic weakness”  (but it has to exclude the specific timeline* in order to make its case).

Nicholas Kristof, taking a sabbatical from his paternalistic, prurient, misguided, and misleading reportage  on child sex trafficking, is especially toxic in his offensive, red-baiting misrepresentation:

“Xi used his tight rule to control information rather than to stop an epidemic”.

“China makes poor decisions because it squelches independent voices…[it listens only to] flattery and optimism.. Xi is a preening dictator, some citizens are paying a price”.

In times of crisis, for western nations, the normal response is “We are Paris, NY, etc”.  When it comes to Asia and China, the measured response is: “You deserve this because of your dirtiness, immorality, and bat-eating communist dictatorship”; “You would rather control your citizens than save lives”. This is often followed up by some variant of “nuke China”.  Kristof and his ideological teammates can be isolated here, patients zero with their null set of facts, turning up the dials to 10 in this toxic wind tunnel of Sinophobia and hate speech.

14. Bashing China on “Free Speech”

Running lapdog parallel to Kristof, taking the baton/bone from the NY Times, the Guardian also says “if China valued free speech, there would be no coronavirus” This is the offensive viral meme cultured and replicated from the death Dr. Li.  Of course, even cursory reflection might lead one to consider–in the capital of “Free Speech”–lead poisoning in Flint Michigan, the AIDS crisis, H1N1 A pandemic, mass shootings, not to mention Global Warming.  It also bears emphasizing that the HK rioters–and their media backers–have a strong track record of opposing any “Free Speech” that doesn’t agree with theirs, by burning, beating, lynching, threatening, and doxxing everyone who disagrees with them.

Of course, fetishizing “Free speech” is not a panacea to all political or social ills. Certainly in a public health crisis, it cannot be assumed that unbridled “Free speech” is factually correct, or even beneficial (cf. “yelling fire in a crowded theater”).  Underlying this fetishized concept is the liberal/anarcho-capitalist conceit that “in the marketplace of ideas” the correct one will naturally emerge to benefit all of society.  Of course, history has shown, time and time again, that this is hardly the case.  The “free speech” of the “anti-vax” movement is a case in point: it increases the chances that the US will be subject to a deadly pandemic.  Various local epidemics, as well as the US (San Diego) H1N1 A Pandemic of 2009 with 280K dead (150-575K dead) signal to us this potential risk.

Another point of comparison: 11,435 people died in the 1st 2 weeks of August of 2003 in the free-speech capital of France. This was from heatstroke, dehydration and their sequelae–all easily preventable and predictable deaths for a government with a commitment to public health.

French capitalism/governance was not raked through the coals for this, nor considered to have lost fundamental legitimacy because of this tragedy–nor charged with covering it up or underreporting (although they did)–although to prevent these deaths required no special treatments, hospitals, protective equipment,  medicine, research, or technology,  It just required, some extra water, some common sense, and perhaps a few public shelters. And political will and care. Can you say “politique de deux poids, deux mesures”?

15. Amateurism Trumps Experts.

In order to bolster their trumped-up case, the NY Times, along with others (the rabid anti-China newssite DemocracyNow!, the CFR/FP)  has trolled out a shadowy truck-load of ideological scientific amateurs to bolster and backstop their case.  Of course, it’s convenient to overlook the fact that epidemiology is a complex science–and that predicting the course, virulence, and lethality of an outbreak is not unlike predicting the strength, path, and effects of a hurricane. Trotting out amateurs from the NYTimes to troll the epidemiologists and the WHO is like getting amateur bloggers to attack atmospheric scientists (for getting a detail of global warming wrong).

15.Was the Chinese response fast enough?

There’s a perpetual insinuation by the NY Times and its ideological allies that hide-bound, “authoritarian” bureaucracies cannot respond appropriately, quickly, or effectively to such outbreaks: “Weak, undemocratic governance is dangerous for your health”.

This question really begs others: fast relative to what? These responses were some of the fastest institutional response seen in modern epidemiological history.
Appropriate relative to what? This was the period of the Spring Festival, with the largest mass migration in history (billions of trips taken) with all the conflicting demands, uncertainties and strains that that entailed.

Effective relative to what? Modern responses under neoliberal order (MERS, Ebola, H1N1) have been an endless catalog of global catastrophes.

When the investigations are completed–and the Chinese government is ruthlessly investigating itself—and the history written, the record may judge that these were the best possible actions of an organized, conscientious government, trying to do the best under difficult, almost impossible circumstances.   Were the responses perfect?  Most certainly not.  Were there gaps and lapsus?  Absolutely, yes. Did the central and local government work hand-in-hand perfectly? Most certainly not.   Was there discontent expressed on Weibo and other public fora? Most certainly. But given the extraordinary complexities and challenges of responding to the outbreak, its timing, its conflicting priorities, the size of the population, its stresses, strains and demands, we can be sure that this response will be written up in the Public Health text books, and when the final judgement call is made, it will be largely favorable to the Chinese government, bloviating ideologues and racists be damned.

* Brief Timeline of Outbreak and Responses:

12/8 First suspected case

12/8-12/18 investigations started by authorities of 7 cases of suspicious pneumonia; 2 linked to seafood market

12/21 First cluster of patients identified with “an unknown pneumonia” (reported 1/01)

12/25 Report of medical workers possibly infected

12/27 Dr. Zhang Jixian, the director of respiratory and critical care medicine  at Hubei Provincial Hospital, notifies the hospital of an unusual cluster of viral cases; the hospital notifies the city’s’ disease control center.

12/29 Hubei Provincial hospital convenes and consults with a group of experts, and then notifies the regional CDC.

12/30 An Ophthalmologist , Dr Li Wenliang, in Wuhan, China, posts a warning about a cluster of patients diagnosed with SARS to colleagues. patients quarantined.  (This doctor is censured by authorities for spreading unconfirmed rumors; This is the incident is characterized by the western media as “suppression”; however, it’s important to note 1) he’s not a virologist or epidemiologist, 2) he was not treating these patients 3) it wasn’t SARS 4) the nature of the disease was being investigated, but was still unknown at the time 5) most importantly, all of the patients were quarantined).

Notice issued and public health announcement made by Wuhan Municipal Health Committee of an unknown viral illness.

12/31 Chinese government informs WHO of existence of a new unknown virus; emergency symposium held on treatment; experts dispatched to investigate
1/1 Seafood market shut down as potential cause of outbreak. Chinese researchers at the CCDC publish an article on suspected outbreak.

1/2 41 patients confirmed with nCoV 2019

1/05 WHO advises against travel restrictions; no human to human transmission found at this time

1/7 Mayor’s Party meeting (didn’t mention virus, human transmission unclear at this time)

1/9 First casualty of outbreak (61 yr old with co-morbid symptoms–liver disease and stomach cancer)–death publicly reported on 1/11 after autopsy.  To note–no one knew that the disease was fatal until this case, nearly one month after the initial case, and this person was already seriously sick.

1/10 First genetic blueprint sequenced and posted of nCoV 2019 (this is a medical accomplishment)

1/12 “Surge in chest illnesses” reported; Dr. Li Wenliang hospitalized.

1/13-1/15 Japan and Thailiand confirm  first infections outside of China (based on publicly released blueprint)–transparency assisted identification

1/14 first suspected human to human transmission (wife of 1st casualty). This is the first time that it’s suspected that human transmission is involved.

1/15 WHO indicates no sustained human to human transmission

1/18 Community “potluck” in Baibuting, Wuhan with 40,000 attendees (severely criticized afterwards, however human-human transmission was still unclear at this point); 312 cases

1/20 Premier Li Keqiang urges decisive and effective actions

1/22 People in Wuhan told to wear masks

1/23 Quarantine announced of Wuhan; all outbound traffic frozen, WHO states this is not Public Health Emergency of Global concern

1/24 13 Hubei cities quarantined; 7 provinces declare public emergency; 26 dead, 830 infected
Lancet article published.

1/25 10 provinces declare public emergency; NY Events cancelled around China; 5 other cities quarantined in Hubei; 56M affected; Xi declares “grave situation”.
1/26 All wildlife trade banned; 56 dead 2000 cases

1/27 106 dead 4515 cases

1/30 WHO declares Global Emergency (170 dead, 7,711 cases)

2/01 1st death outside of China (Chinese man in Philippines); 304 dead, 14280 cases

2/02 Huoshenshan hospital, dedicated to treatment of nCov 2019 opened; new mask factory commences production in Beijing

2/03 361 dead, 17,205 cases (however infection rates outside of Wuhan are flattening or diminishing)

2/04 2nd death outside of China (Chinese man from Wuhan in Hong Kong). 427 dead, 20,000+infected.

2/07 Dr. Li Wenliang dies from 2019 nCoV.

2/10 910 dead, 40,000+infected.

 

The post How to Yellow-Cake a Tragedy: the NY Times Spreads the Virus of Hatred, Again appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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