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The Age of Constitutional Coups

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Photograph Source: Osman Orsal (VOA) – Public Domain

The contemporary global neofascistic right has become adept at seizing power through legal and parliamentary coups that do not involve military units dramatically taking over government headquarters and radio and television and rounding up opponents.

Turkey’s Elective Dictatorship

In 2017, in the wake of a failed military putsch the previous year, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Erdogan held what the British journalist Patrick Cockburn rightly calls “a blatantly rigged referendum which marginalized parliament and gave him dictatorial powers.” Erdogan won a narrow majority that “was only achieved late on election night when the head of the electoral board overseeing the election decided that votes not stamped as legally valid, numbering as many as 1.5 million, would be counted as valid.” Erdogan then implemented a national educational curriculum that devalued secular liberal ideas and science and emphasized religious and “national values.”

Erdogan is entrenched in power beneath the guise of popular support and legal approval. He seized on an attempted classic military coup as what Cockburn describes as a “heaven-sent opportunity to install an elective dictatorship in which subsequent elections and the real distribution of power could be pre-determined by control of the media, judiciary, civil service…and outright electoral fraud.”

Making Hungary Great Again

Hungary’s neo-fascist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and immigrant-bashing strongman prime minister Victor Orban advocates using a strong and openly “illiberal” state to invigorate “the national community” and “cultural heritage” along with church and family. He cites authoritarian states like Turkey, India, Singapore, Russia, and China as his role models. Constitutional changes implemented under his leadership in 2011 rolled back civil liberties, consolidated legislative and executive power, limited free speech, and weakened the nation’s judiciary.

Orban never led a military coup to seize power. His reactionary populist Fidesz party swept into parliamentary power on a wave of anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiment in 2010, winning enough seats for him to dilute the democratic content of the nation’s constitution. He advanced an interesting slogan for his campaign: “Make Hungary Great Again.”

Poland: “Hatred of the Outsider”

Poland’s neofascist president Andrzej Duda was elected on an anti-immigrant platform in 2015. His far-right Law and Justice Party has been crippling the nation’s Constitution and judicial authority ever since. Last year he signed a bill advanced by his far-right Law and Justice Party that makes it a crime to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi atrocities. The ruling party shamelessly airs nationalist propaganda on television and radio while suppressing opposition media.

Duda is widely understood to be the puppet of senior crypto-fascist parliamentary strongman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head and founder of the ruling party. As Chris Hedges noted three years ago, Kaczynski “governs Poland like a private fiefdom. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and President Andrzej Duda are political puppets. Kaczynski, reclusive and morbid, is referred to with fear or reverence as ‘the Chairman.’ His words, and his obsessions, are law” – and backed by “11 intelligence agencies— [established] to crush dissent.” The authoritarians running Poland stand atop a party and movement that are, like its counterparts in Hungary and elsewhere, “rabidly xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic and homophobic” and that “demonize[s] immigrants and brand[s] internal dissent as treason. … They seek their identity in a terrifying new nationalism…coupled with a right-wing Catholicism. They preach hatred of the outsider and glorification of obedient and ‘true’ patriots” (Hedges).

As in Hungary, the fascistic party in Polish power achieved and sustains its authoritarian power through outwardly legal and parliamentary means, no military coup required.

Duda recently announced on Polsat TV that he will officially announce a rapid new national election date for this fall. He said he wants to block a lengthy campaign as to prevent “political clashes.”

Brazil: A Judicial-Parliamentary Coup in Two Stages

Brazil is another example. That giant, environmentally critical nation’s recently elected and corrupt, fascist, and eco-exterminist President Jair Bolsonaro came to power not through a military coup but rather through a judicial-parliamentary one that occurred in two phases. In the first stage, the Brazilian Senate suspended and them impeached the nation’s democratically elected but highly unpopular president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party. Rousseff was removed from office in connection with a corruption scandal in which she was not involved – this as even her enemies admitted that she was one of the few Brazilian politicians to refuse bribes.

The second stage came with Brazil’s right-wing Supreme Court upholding of the conviction of Brazil’s highly popular former president Lula da Silva’s conviction for corruption despite an egregious lack of credible evidence. The decision was meant to prevent Lula from participating in the 2018 presidential election, which he easily would have won. The “case” against Lula was “a clear attempt to prevent a return of Workers’ Party government.” As Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mike Weisbrot explained in The New York Times in January of 2018: :

“… Brazil’s rightwing knows that it wouldn’t stand a chance against Lula in this year’s elections, just as it twice lost elections to Lula before, and then twice more to Dilma. So, as with Dilma, they are using other means to keep him out of office…This latest move to circumvent democratic process and keep a popular candidate out of office is another serious blow to Brazil’s democratic institutions…It’s the second in a one-two punch, the first being the unconstitutional impeachment and removal of elected president Dilma Rousseff in 2016 for something that had been done by previous administrations and was not even a crime….Democracy and the rule of law are eroding rapidly in Brazil, and Lula’s pending imprisonment has hastened this deterioration.”

The leading beneficiary of Lula’s incarceration was the Satanic eco-exterminist Bolsonaro, who was “democratically elected” with the nation’s favorite politician safely behind bars last October. While he is an unabashed fan of the military coup that overthrew Brazil’s elected government in 1964, Bolsonaro has seized power in legal and parliamentary-judicial ways, no military junta required. He is currently trying to Make Brazil Great Again through Geocide: by escalating the capitalist agro-industrial destruction of the Amazon Rain Forest, on which the planet depends for oxygen and carbon absorption.

Superpower Itself

Then there’s the deplorable neofascist Donald Trump and his right-wing government, protected by white-nationalist control of the U.S. Senate and the much of the federal judiciary. Trump is a friend, admirer an ally of his fellow environmental criminal Bolsonaro. He is friendly also with Duda, and Orban along with other authoritarian heads of state (including nominally communist leaders) the world over. An aspiring fascist strongman who is only half-joking when he quips about wanting to be president-for-life and who says that any attempts to remove him from office could spark violence from his loyal “tough guys” (cops, soldiers, and “bikers”), the demented Twitter addict Donito Assolini likes to demonize his opponents and critics (and the media in general) as “radical Left enemies of the people” and dastardly foes of “America.” He turns truth upside down and twists reality on an epic scale and regular basis. He tells his hate-filled Amerikaner supporters “don’t believe what you see and hear” – that is, to take all their information from he Chosen One and his right-wing political and media friends.

The widely loathed racist, sexist, sadist, Nativist, and malignant narcissist Trump received votes from just a quarter of U.S. adults in 2016. Having lost the popular election by three million tallies to the highly unpopular Hillary Clinton, he owes his installation and continued presence in the White House largely to the anti-democratic Electoral College and to the absurdly un-representative apportionment of the U.S. Senate. Both these fully legal constitutional mechanisms wildly exaggerate the political voice of the nation’s most racist, backwards, rural and right-wing regions. Also contributing to Trump’s victory: technically legal racist voter suppression in Republican-controlled battleground states; the appointed-for-life Supreme Court’s determination that wealthy corporations and individuals can squelch the political influence of the non-wealthy majority; the stupidity, elitism, and cringing neoliberal corporatism of the dismal, dollar-drenched 2016 Clinton campaign.

The right-wing composition of the presidentially appointed and Senate-approved Supreme Court and broader federal bench have helped Trump enact policies that are widely opposed by the populace. Along the way, the extreme partisan gerrymandering of the House of Representatives, recently upheld by the Supreme Court, permitted Trump to pass a plutocratic tax cut that was rejected by most of the population in December of 2017. The ridiculously right-wing composition of the preposterously rural- and white-weighted U.S. Senate (where the predominantly Republican and rural, 94% white state of Wyoming, home to less than 600,000 people, has the same number of representatives as the liberal-Democratic and 38% white state of California, home to 40 million) combines with the veto power of the presidency to mean that none of numerous liberal and progressive federal policies supported by most Americans have the slightest chance of becoming law.

The Senate’s constitutionally enabled right-wing composition, far to the starboard side of national policy opinion and party identification, means that Trump cannot be removed through the impeachment process. So what if he has committed numerous felonies and constitutional violations in office? Removal requites a two-thirds vote in the US Senate under the Constitution.

At the outer reaches of authoritarian but fully constitutional farcicality, it is technically irrelevant under the American system that 70 percent of the population reasonably supports banning the sale and possession of military-style assault weapons, lethal tools of mass destruction that are periodically used by maniacs to mow down innocent mass-shooting victims.

The notion of changing the U.S. Constitution to overcome such democracy deficits is fantastic given the harsh limits the Constitution’s Article V puts on “We the People’s” ability to amend the nation’s excessively venerated and explicitly and purposefully authoritarian constitution.

As the nation transitions into full-on immersion in its latest absurdly prolonged super-expensive big money-major party-corporate media(ted)-candidate-centered presidential electoral extravaganza, it is worth bearing in mind that the United States does not select its presidents on basis of a democratic popular vote. The nation’s Senate apportionment regime pollutes the ridiculous democracy-flunking Electoral College, wherein a state’s number of votes (Electors) equals its number of House members (which diverges with total population) plus its number of Senators (always two). These Electors trump the national popular vote. U.S. presidents are elected by getting 270 Electoral College votes. And in all but a few states, those Electoral votes are awarded on an all-or-nothing first-past-the-post basis to the candidate with the most votes in each state.

The total popular vote beyond a winning majority or plurality in a state is irrelevant. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren would get no more Electoral College votes for beating Trump 90%-10% in a high-turnout race in California than they would for beating him 50.2% to 49.8% in a low-turnout race there. This is openly absurd from a democratic perspective.

Since most states are either reliably Democratic (especially those where urban and minority voters make a large share of the electorate) or reliably Republican (especially those where rural and white voters are more highly represented), the presidential campaign tends to focus almost completely on a relatively small number of contested and therefore “battleground” states. The 2020 presidential election will be wildly over-focused on just ten of the nation’s fifty states – ten states that together contain one third of the United States’ population: Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

The Democratic presidential primary race might be the closest thing to a national presidential race, but it is absurdly time-staggered in ways that grant ridiculously out-sized weight to early Caucus and primary states Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and now California. In this and other ways – factor in openly plutocratic campaign finance, corporate ownership of the media, racist voter suppression, the absence of a simple direct national popular vote, and the absurdly long and expensive nature of the process – and the whole endless quadrennial spectacular is quite the authoritarian fiasco.

No military coup was required to put the neofascist madman Trump in the world’s most powerful office. Strange as it sounds to say, however, military action of some kind may be required to remove him from office if he loses on the next holy, absurdly time-staggered once-every-4-years day when the Constitution says “We the People” get our “input” on executive branch policy by choosing between presidential candidates typically selected in advance by the nation’s constitutionally protected but unelected dictatorship of money. From the beginning of his presidency, Trump has been setting the stage for the claim that a re-election vote that doesn’t go his way must be fraudulent. He is a strong candidate to refuse to accept defeat.

Thankfully, Trump is a deeply unimpressive and widely unpopular president, too lacking in competence and maturity to garner majority support. He is too venal, stupid, childish, and personally corrupt, viewing politics almost solely through the lens of self-gratification and personal enrichment, to be a disciplined and heartfelt champion of fascist ideology and politics. The United States may not be so fortunate the next time its constitutional and capitalist order – buttressed by a persistently inauthentic, Wall Street- and Council on Foreign Relations-captive party (the Democrats) – hands the presidency to an authoritarian white nationalist.

(The original American constitutional coup was the Constitution itself, drafted and passed by slaveowners, merchant capitalists and other elite actors for whom democracy was the last thing desired in the young American republic. It is quite entertaining to try to describe the U.S. Electoral College system to people from other countries. It is easier to explain the rules of baseball and almost as bad as trying to describe the nation’s tax code and campaign finance laws.)

Disunited Kingdom

A recent effort to consolidate right-wing power through undemocratic but constitutional means – no military deployments required – is underway (and perhaps being foiled) in Britain, which prides itself as the birthplace of so-called parliamentary democracy. The nation’s openly ridiculous Conservative Party (“Tory”) prime minister (PM) Boris Johnson has tried to prevent the United Kingdom’s Parliament from blocking his effort to force the UK out of the European Union (EU) without any remotely reasonable and negotiated terms of separation by October 31st. Johnson attempted to drive a battering ram through Britain’s curiously still unwritten constitution by extending Parliament’s annual “prorogation” (suspension) to five weeks in order to reduce the amount of time available to the opposition to block a no-deal “Brexit.” Right before the extended prorogation, however, opposition “MPs” (Members of Parliament), mainly Labour Party representatives, joined with Conservative “Remainer” MPs to pass a bill extending the Brexit deadline to January of 2020 unless Parliament approves a deal with the EU by October 19th. In classic authoritarian fashion, Johnson kicked Remainers out of the Conservative Party.

Johnson has declared that he would rather be found “dead in a ditch” than abide by this law and negotiate an extension with the EU. Refusal to do so could open him up for impeachment and imprisonment.

Some close observers speculate that Johnson will avoid these dire penalties by agreeing to abide by the bill and then resigning as a matter of “principle.” He would hope to bring home a new Conservative majority in new national elections triggered by his resignation.

Scotland’s top court has recently ruled that Johnson’s prorogation was illegal and the case is expected to go the UK’s Supreme Court.

The chaotic authoritarian Johnson holds the PM position despite never having won a national popular election. Under the UK’s unwritten rules, he was granted Britain’s top job on basis of Conservative Party member votes alone after his predecessor and fellow Conservative Teresa May resigned in frustration over her inability to act on the UK-wide Brexit referendum vote of June 2016.

The referendum, pushed by the far-right nationalist Neal Farage, was part of a neofascistic, immigrant-bashing soft-coup strategy. “Many in Britain are now springing to the defense of parliament and elected representatives,” the left British commentator Patrick Cockburn wrote last week, “but they should have sprung a bit earlier” since “Brexit was always a vehicle where the hard right could take over the government.” Beneath claims of noble, patriotic, and democratic intent, hard Brexiters aim to strip social and environmental protections, deport migrants, and link the UK more closely to the arch-neoliberal United States (even to the point of opening up Britain’s cherished National Health Service to America-led corporate privatization) in the name of what Johnson calls a “robust market economy.”

Hard Brexit opponents, including Conservative Remainers, have been denounced by Johnson, Farage, and other rightists as “traitors” to the glorious British homeland, enemies of the project of Making Britain Great Again.

Boris is not experiencing authoritarian success on the model of Erdogan, Orban, Duda/Kaczynski, Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Vladimir Putin, and Trump. The Brexit referendum was not binding on Parliament and passed by a narrow margin (52% to 48%) it could not likely sustain three years later. The British majority has never backed a chaotic, No Deal Brexit (most of the United Kingdom’s citizens are apparently “traitors”). Johnson is backed by just 35 percent of the population, the nation’s equivalent to Trump’s base: its most nativist, rural, small-town and reactionary voters. On top of this, Johnson has been repeatedly and rapidly stymied again and again by Parliament and by British courts, one of which has recently ruled that his decision to suspend the parliament for more than a month was unlawful.

The British Westminster system, bizarre though it may be, is a tough nut for Bombastic Boris and his fellow authoritarian nationalists to crack. He could still have a future at 10 Downing Street despite all his frenzied nonsense, however. In a democracy, no head of state ought to hold their office with support from just a third of the population should hold power. Under the British order, it is conceivable that Johnson will continue to the hold his job after new national elections are held next year. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition party, Labor, has failed to articulate a clear or consistent position against the right-wing Brexit power-grab. He has been viciously and absurdly demonized as an arch-radical and an anti-Semite in British media.

The prolonged Brexit drama could well continue without resolution into a new “hung parliament” government in which no specific party or coalition holds a majority. The buffoonish Johnson could still preside following an election sparked by his resignation.

The Yankee republic has nothing on its old colonial master when it comes to democracy-disabling constitutional madness.

It’s all pretty absurd, like something out of Monty Python, but then so is the distinct possibility of the abject moral and intellectual idiot and climate-denier Donald Magic Sharpie Trump coming back for a second term to join hands with his fellow western hemispheric eco-fascist Bolsonaro to finish off prospects for a decent future by accelerating the transformation of planet Earth into a Greenhouse Gas Chamber. (I guess that’s not so much absurd as apocalyptic. Call it constitutional Ecocide.)

It would help if some voters were less pathetic. No small part of the hot nativist messes currently stewing in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing can be blamed on all those “moderate” and squeamish pants-soilers who whine that Sanders and Corbyn are scary radical leftists. These stinky-trousered namby pambies cower behind corrupt neoliberal fake progressives like Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Pete McKinsey Butiggieg and then wonder why the right-wing kicks their ass.

Postscript/Meanwhile

The John Bolton departure: watch for liberal RussiaGaters to blame it on the Kremlin (“lol,” as the kids type) and, conversely, for red-brownish Trumpenlefty dunce-cap wearers to take it as proof that the orange fascistic atrocity a great man of peace (lol again).

This is how bad the whole liberal Trump derangement syndrome is now: the blood-soaked Neocon Iraq Invasion architect and frothing war monger John Bolton gets touted as some kind of champion of human decency on CNN and MSNBC. It’s that pathetic over the on “liberal” television.

What, no minute of silence for the millions of Iraqis who were senselessly murdered, maimed, tortured, and traumatized by the American Empire after Washington absurdly linked 9/11 to Baghdad? No minute of silence for the masses of Afghans who had nothing whatsoever to do with the jetliner attacks but were killed, maimed, tortured, and swept away by Uncle Sam? Absurdly asking “why oh why do they hate us?” the United States gave people in the Middle East and Southwest Asia reasons to hate it even more passionately than they already and quite understandably did. Never Forget? Indeed. There are no words that can begin to adequately capture the criminality and shame of how U.S. policymakers and their military servants seized on the 9/11 jetliner attacks as an opportunity to end and ruin millions of lives in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

There’s nothing even remotely surprising about the orange monstrosity turning away Bahamian hurricane/climate refugees. The tangerine dumpsterfire’s Nativist racism is normalized and hardly merits more than passing mention and commentary anymore. What else is new?

Every time I glance at horse race coverage on CNN or MSDNC, it’s just Warren who threatens the right-wing dementia victim Joe Biden. It’s as if Sanders doesn’t exist. Even Andrew “golden chain” Yang gets more love. I recently read a front-page New York Times piece that ended by calling Berndog’s Single Payer demand “dogmatic.”

The post The Age of Constitutional Coups appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left

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Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

The neoliberal revolution that has been underway since the mid-1970s fundamentally reoriented American governance toward the interests of capital. While the distance between government and the so-called private sector was never that great, all pretense that government served the broader public interest was cast aside in favor of state-corporatism. This wasn’t simply a matter of privatizing the public realm— it overlaid a capitalist rationale on all public undertakings.

This re-conceptualization of the public purpose turned state functions into profit making opportunities for private interests. Defense of the realm became producing, selling and deploying arms for profit. Public education, already variably and poorly funded, was redefined using bogus metrics to be bled dry by private corporations. American health care, the most expensive in the world with close to the worst health outcomes, now funds a parasite class of multi-millionaire health insurance executives.

Graph: The U.S. has the most expensive health care in the world with close to the worst health outcomes. Health insurance executives are richly rewarded for looting and pillage. Obamacare was Barack Obama’s neoliberal ‘solution’ to this dysfunctional system. He left capitalist incentives in place with while adding regulations. Today, the U.S. still has the most expensive health care in the world with close to the worst health outcomes. In other words, little changed. Source: Fiercehealthcare.

Whether the result of naivete, ideological blinders, ignorance of history or cynical calculation, for four-plus decades the view has been that the public interest is best served by private interests. And while political spectacle has been concentrated in and around the presidency, neoliberal ideology and practice have been instantiated at every level of government. While this facilitates capital-friendly policies, it creates a near impenetrable barrier to challenging rule by capital.

As plausible as accidental history is in many realms, this isn’t the case with the instantiation of neoliberal state-corporatism. From the think tanks funded by rich capitalist ideologues in the 1960s and 1970s, neoliberalism has been programmatically embedded into every nook and cranny of American governance. Engineered so that nothing short of wholesale insurrection can dislodge it, this is exactly what the resulting maldistribution and social dysfunction are now making inevitable.

With the background problems of environmental crisis, unhinged militarism and political economy that long ago ran off the rails, the upcoming presidential election offers the potential to be significant for the first time in decades. With Bernie Sanders in the running, the choice is no longer just between figureheads who front for capital and the oligarchs, but between said figureheads and a fundamental realignment of political priorities back toward the public interest.

This is to grant a lot to Mr. Sanders and the broader context of American politics. Partly as a result of the pre-neoliberal age in which he spent his early years and partly through a moral compass centered on the public interest, Mr. Sanders alone amongst modern presidential candidates is capable of expanding the idea of the public interest to include the large swath of the U.S.— and importantly, outside of it, whose economic fortunes were cast asunder through neoliberal reforms and plunder.

Through his frame of class divisions, the liberal universalism that previously ended at national borders can be rendered visible for what it is— capitalist imperialism to benefit the wealthy by treating the rest of the world as so much cannon fodder, indentured labor and expendable impediments to the accumulation of wealth. This is to make the point that it was always a convenient fraud, a wall to separate related interests ‘externally’ so as to render them all but invisible internally.

Without an internationalist vision with American militarism exorcised from it, challenging the rule of capital and forming the alliances needed to resolve environmental issues will be all but impossible. Militarism is the enforcement function of capital, an enterprise that profits from death and destruction while securing resources and control by capital. Land reform, a necessary prelude to the agricultural reforms needed to resolve climate change and species extinction, will require bringing both capital and American militarism to heel.

Mr. Sanders is the only candidate who appears to understand the political moment. Mainstream commentary poses what is politically possible against program proposals that stand little chance of being enacted in forms that will accomplish their intended goals. In other words, having solid program proposals is but an initial step in the direction of accomplishing political goals. The programs that matter— a Green New Deal, Medicare for All and a Job Guaranty, will all require confronting capital. In fact, doing so is a prerequisite for recovering any meaningful politics.

It is hardly incidental that the American left, with the exception of Mr. Sanders, is busy groveling at the feet of the lords of capital while telling prospective voters that this is the pragmatic route to getting needed programs passed. Were this in fact true, none of the myriad dysfunctions of the present would be happening. For instance, prior to passage of Obamacare, the U.S. had the most expensive health care in the world with the worst health outcomes. After Obamacare, the U.S. has the most expensive health care in the world with the worst health outcomes. So much for assuaging capital. If you want to lose elections, this is how to do it.

Not only is half of the eligible electorate so alienated from the political ‘process’ that it chooses not to vote, but 98% of the eligible voters who do vote hold no sway over outcomes. The political power of the bourgeois, the richest 9.9% of the polity, comes through its role as functionaries for capital. Whatever the opinions of its constituents, and some fair portion are liberal-left, it is this acting on behalf of capital that is its expressed politics.

This role of the bourgeois— for who else were the functionaries who dispossessed the American working class, explains the shift in the measure of virtue from political outcomes to opinions and sentiment. Capitalist functionaries see themselves as virtuous— again, many are liberal-left, while viewing those on the other side of their actions, the people they spent four decades dispossessing, as morally depraved. How else could they be viewed with dispossession the goal?

Bernie Sanders appears to understand this political tension. Barack Obama fronted Obamacare for his neoliberal masters and the 2016 election was the consequence. By reports, Mr. Sanders successfully sold the idea of Medicare for All to the reactionary right that watches Fox News. This is socialism in action— using social resources to improve the lots of the poor, working and middle classes— and thereby bringing them into the socialist fold, regardless of prior political affiliations.

Graph: As if to reinforce the labor decimating impact of NAFTA, the Clinton administration left an overvalued U.S. currency as its legacy. From 2000 through 2010 U.S. manufacturing was effectively gutted as goods produced in the U.S. were first too expensive, and then later the Great Recession took hold. Coincident with this decline in manufacturing employment was a rise in racist groups as defined by the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center). When manufacturing employment began to rise, the number of racist groups fell. Source: SPLC, FRED.

The election of Donald Trump exposed the class composition— and with it the political interests, of the American left. The rich and the bourgeois already vote. With his program to expand the electorate— to bring disenfranchised and dispossessed voters into the political process, Bernie Sanders can right this imbalance in democratic representation. The Weimar-esque alternative— which establishment Democrats appear to prefer, is to leave critiques of capitalism to right-wing demagogues until goose-stepping in public finally takes hold.

Mr. Sanders’ outreach to dispossessed working class voters is the only plausible answer to the rising threat of far right, neo-fascist, ideologies. The U.S, and much of the West with it, is but one recession away from wide-scale unrest. As brilliant a political strategy as labeling the 70% of the population that the bourgeois have systematically dispossessed ‘deplorables’ may seem, unless sharpening the guillotines is the goal, treating people as if they are human beings is worth trying.

In contrast, establishment favorite Joe Biden is unfit to hold elected office. Not only has senility rendered him incapable of putting together a coherent sentence, he spent his entire career on the wrong side of every political issue that came his way. He opposed school busing, wrote the Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill, still supports mass incarceration, supported deregulating Wall Street, was a vocal proponent of the Iraq War and he worked to cut Social Security and Medicare. His treatment of Anita Hill makes Donald Trump look like a feminist by comparison.

Elizabeth Warren is a Harvard technocrat in the Obama tradition who is basing her policy success on the liberal fantasy of distinct realms between the state and capital. As a self-proclaimed capitalist who lived through the only ten-minute period in the last five decades when capital was bowed (2009), the plausibility of her plan to re-regulate capitalism through the legislative process suggests that she hasn’t had a meaningful conversation with her legislative colleagues in recent memory.

None other than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it known that nothing resembling ‘a green dream, or whatever’ will ever get through congress. Ms. Pelosi privately assured health insurance industry executives that ‘Medicare for All’ is DOA (dead on arrival) in the House. Additionally, she assured them that they would write whatever legislation did get proposed. Ms. Warren’s plans to regulate legislation passed by establishment Democrats to benefit ‘private’ interests seems like pretty weak tea.

Lots of thoughtful people have had kind words for Elizabeth Warren. However, her approach to politics make her absolutely, positively the wrong person for this political moment. Without a political movement on the ground to support her programs, neoliberal instantiation at the state and local levels will severely limit their reach. And without a de-militarized internationalism, capital will undermine even the milquetoast environmental proposals that make it through congress.

This relationship between state and corporate interests is more than just a philosophical talking point. Through lending to fund overseas purchases of American goods and equipment, Wall Street lies at the center of state-corporatism. The U.S. is the largest supplier of arms in the world, and therefore profits from geopolitical conflict. Since the late nineteenth century, American imperial adventures have been in support of business interests. And likewise, American militarism in the Middle East has been coordinated with, and in support of, oil and gas company interests.

A robust Green New Deal will require funding and engineering a transition away from everything that makes 0.01% of Americans, a/k/a oligarchs, rich. For Medicare for All to work, the profit motive must be taken out of health care. And the entire point of a Job Guaranty is to use state mechanisms to provide the half of the work force that is under and unemployed with viable employment at a living wage with robust benefits because ‘private’ market capitalism has failed to do so.

Bernie Sanders is building a political movement to serve as a platform for his program proposals. He has solid and well-reasoned programs for the environment, for health care, for ending militarism and for creating economic justice. If he can bring some fair portion of the 90% of the polity that has heretofore been excluded into the political process, then the details and any holes in these programs can be worked through. Without doing so, no other candidate in 2020 is serious about seeing their programs through.

The Democrat’s ‘anyone but Trump’ campaign is Weimar-esque in the sense that if they believed their own rhetoric, 1) they would have opposed Mr. Trump’s political program in fact, instead of just rhetorically and 2) they would be running credible candidates instead of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. With an apparent nod from capital, Elizabeth Warren is now ascending as the favored candidate of the Democratic establishment.

Liberal fantasies to the contrary, Mr. Trump ran political circles around Democrats in 2016. The problems that he identified— the dispossession of the poor, working and middle classes caused by four decades of neoliberal policies, are real to the people who are living them. That they are invisible to establishment Democrats is a testament to the ignorance of establishment Democrats, and not to the facts as they are being lived.

This isn’t to argue that these working-class voters elected Mr. Trump. The rich elected Donald Trump. It is to argue that they could elect Bernie Sanders. Through his class analysis and programs, this leaves Bernie Sanders as the substantive candidate who can ouster Donald Trump.

The post Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics

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Photograph Source: US Army/Navy – Public Domain

As we move past the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, it helps to be aware of the changes in U.S. political culture that have transformed this nation over the last two decades. I teach a history class at Lehigh University, “The War on Terrorism in Politics, Media, and Memory,” which is billed as examining the “meaning” of this war, via an exploration of “personal experiences and critical perspectives on the war,” as depicted in official rhetoric, the news media, and popular film.

As a professor who turns 40 within the year, and who was 21 at the time of the September 11 attacks, I didn’t fully realize until I began teaching this class the gulf that exists in the public mind on the “War on Terror.” I’ve spent my entire undergraduate and graduate experiences, and my professorial career studying U.S. political rhetoric, the media, and public opinion in the post 9/11 era. I lived through every moment of this period and examined major historical events through the lens of a social scientist, intent on understanding why U.S. foreign policy took the form it did. But for 18 to 22 year-olds taking a history class on 9/11, this is all ancient history. Undergraduate students in 2019 were infants or young children in 2001, so they have no firsthand, let alone adult experience, in what the U.S. political culture was like following the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Towers. Comparing my own experiences to those of young Americans is a valuable learning experience, considering the vastly different ways in which the young engage with the era, compared to the experiences of young adults of the previous generation. Following this point, this essay discusses some of the main lessons I have gathered from teaching the history of the “War on Terror.”

A benefit of teaching 20 year-olds about post 9/11 political history is that they aren’t burdened by the same toxic discourse that defined the United States immediately following these terror attacks. President Bush famously declared after 9/11 that Americans and citizens of the world were either “with us or against us” in a war with no end in sight, which the president promised would not be complete until terrorism was wiped from the face of the globe. In this environment, Americans felt pressured and intimidated to withhold dissent, for fear of being called “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” or a “terrorist sympathizer.” But this belligerent ultra-nationalism has since subsided, alongside rising public distrust of U.S. political leaders and in the face of multiple unpopular wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Because of their physical removal from the post-9/11 years, young Americans were spared from dealing with the indoctrination that plagued U.S. political discourse at the onset of the “War on Terror.” This translates into a profound openness to substantive, foundational challenges to the very legitimacy of this war. My students hold a genuine intellectual curiosity about the discourse and values that defined the days and years immediately following 9/11, but they look at that period with removed, detached eyes, and are willing to question U.S. foreign policy motives. This includes an openness to the concept of “blowback,” or the radical critique of the U.S. as having actively stoked animosity throughout the Muslim world via repressive and imperialistic foreign policies. This discussion was difficult to have, if not impossible, in the uber-nationalistic climate of fear that dominated the U.S. post-9/11.

My students recognize the dangers inherent in stifling debate in a nation that envisions itself as a protector of democratic values. The irony of the Bush administration demanding unquestioning obedience following 9/11, in the name of defending American freedom and democracy, is not lost on my students. Many openly recognize the danger of the proto-fascistic value system that demands unqualified, blind support for political leaders and their war agenda, without any consideration of the dangers involved in an infinite war conducted in country after country, with little concern for the humanitarian consequences.

One benefit of the intellectual curiosity of young Americans today is it translates into a willingness to seriously consider the motives of the 9/11 attackers. This curiosity barely existed in the days and years after September 11. Sure, Americans purchased books about the Middle East and Islam in rising numbers post-9/11. But I can’t remember a single person that I spoke to in my years of studying U.S. foreign policy who bothered to actually read an interview with Osama Bin Laden. Had they done so, they would have discovered that his and his comrades’ ideology, while fanatical and extreme, was also driven by serious grievances against the United States that are shared by majorities in Muslim countries. These include: anger at U.S. military support for Israel and its illegal occupation of Palestine; bitterness over U.S. military bases throughout the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia; opposition to U.S. support for authoritarian regimes in the region; and disgust with the U.S. in the wake of the 1991 Iraq war and subsequent sanctions, which caused the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children.

War fatigue became a staple of American politics in the late 2000s and 2010s, as most Americans came to see the Iraq war as immoral and not worthy of the cost in finances, lives, and blood, and considering the lies for war regarding Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and fictitious ties to Al Qaeda terrorism. Many young Americans seem to share this war fatigue today, even if they weren’t closely following American politics during the 2000s. Having been exposed to the words of Osama Bin Laden, my students also understand just how dangerous the onset of the “War on Terror” was, in a conflict which Bin Laden coldly and diabolically sought to draw the U.S. into destructive wars in the Middle East, in order to achieve a “balance of terror” on both sides, defined by vicious acts of destruction against civilian populations by both the U.S. military and Islamic fundamentalists.

Wars inevitably terrorize large numbers of people, who are inevitably caught up in conflicts between warring parties. Bin Laden was counting on this, and his support for the 9/11 hijackers was motivated by the hope that a heavy-handed U.S. military response would further radicalize the Middle East, expanding the number of fundamentalists willing to kill themselves and others in a “holy war” against the United States and allied governments and peoples. In the decade following the September 11 attacks, the effectiveness of this “eye for an eye” strategy was realized, as seen in the rise of ISIS and its takeover of large areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIS’s power has been reduced in recent years, although it has recently seen a resurgence, and remains set on re-establishing a caliphate under the rule of fundamentalists committed to a “Jihad” of the sword against critics and non-believers.

Encouragingly, many of my students recognize the dangers of Bin Laden’s strategy of escalation with the United States. They realize there’s no positive endgame in such a war, a point verified by the fact that we are now in year 18 of the war in Afghanistan, with no foreseeable end in sight. But they also recognize the danger inherent in Americans’ pull-back from the world in recent years, as reflected in the growing nativism of American political culture, and declining public attention to world affairs. Without a critical awareness of the history of the “War on Terror,” there is little chance of a critical mass of Americans recognizing the dangers of escalating violence in a no-win conflict that has left death and destruction on both sides.

One serious concern I hear from students is that public pressure for the escalation of militarism in the Middle East will increase dramatically, if the U.S. is subject to another major terrorist attack that is traced back to Islamic fundamentalists. It’s not that these students are blindly committed to a violent response, independent of considering non-violent alternatives to war. It’s that they fear Americans haven’t effectively learned the lessons of 9/11 and the “War on Terror,” in a country notorious for historical amnesia.

Many young Americans are open to addressing future terror attacks through a criminal justice framework, in which terror suspects are extradited from the countries they occupy and brought before a court of law where charges are openly brought against them. This doesn’t mean they rule out military action, if all non-violent options have been exhausted. But my students have read analyses from anti-war critics like Noam Chomsky and others. They recognize the value of proceeding as a lawful nation – one that respects international, national, and humanitarian law – while recognizing the sovereignty of other nations, and still being vigilant in combating international terrorism. Unfortunately, their philosophical support for peaceful alternatives to future wars doesn’t count for much if this sentiment is not shared by the masses of Americans.

This September 11 is an opportunity for Americans to critically reflect on the destructiveness that the “War on Terrorism” has caused throughout the world. The instability this war has wrought on Muslim countries has further inflamed anti-American sentiment. But the United States can begin to take steps to reduce this animosity, by focusing on non-violent alternatives to the scourge of global terrorism. The stakes couldn’t be higher in an era of growing radicalism. In this time of conflict, America’s youth will be instrumental in articulating their own vision for achieving peace.

The post Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Hong Kong and the Future of China

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Photograph Source: Hf9631 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Something didn’t quite add up.

This past weekend, protestors were rallying outside the American embassy in Hong Kong. They were waving American flags. They were singing The Star-Spangled Banner. One 24-year-old protester wore a red Make America Great Again hat. Some signs at the protest read “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong.”

“The Chinese government is breaking their promises to give freedom and human rights to Hong Kong,” the MAGA cap-wearer said. “We want to use the U.S. to push China to do what they promised over 20 years ago.”

First of all, the Trump administration cares not a whit about human rights. It’s not about to “liberate” Hong Kong any more than it was going to “liberate” the Rohingyas, the Venezuelans, the Iranians, or the Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province for that matter. With John Bolton now banished from the White House, the prospect of any kind of U.S. intervention has become even more remote.

Trump has called the protests “riots,” echoing Beijing’s rhetoric. He’s worried publicly that they are distracting from trade negotiations. MAGA hat aside, the U.S. president probably sees in the demonstrations a reflection of anti-Trump protests throughout the United States (and the world). Also, despite the trade war with Beijing, Trump has a fondness for Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He has even praised Xi’s handling of the crisis (though he has also suggested the Xi meet the protestors to resolve the crisis).

The protesters have a better chance of appealing to the U.S. Congress. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are currently considering the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would allow Washington to impose sanctions on Mainland and Hong Kong officials who violate human rights and undermine the territory’s sovereignty. Even if it survives a Trump veto, however, the bill would not prevent Beijing from doing what it considers necessary.

Which brings us to the other half of the protester’s claim: that China promised freedom and human rights to Hong Kong in 1997 when it took control of the entrepot from the British. Actually, Beijing promised “one country, two systems.” It promised “a high degree of autonomy.” As for freedom and human rights, that was up to the residents of Hong Kong to secure for themselves.

Which, of course, is what the protesters have been doing.

Two versions of the future have been on display in Hong Kong over the summer. In one version, the people of Hong Kong not only preserve their autonomy but expand their limited democracy into true, one-person-one-vote representation — and this political system inexorably spreads to the rest of China. In the other version, the Mainland and its Hong Kong representatives suppress the protests as China consolidates territorial control: over Xinjiang and Tibet, over Hong Kong, and eventually over Taiwan and the waters of the South China Sea.

The United States, under Donald Trump or his successor, will have less and less to say or do about which of these versions become a reality. And it has nothing at all to offer in terms of a more viable third option that might emerge from the current crisis.

Origins of the Protest

The latest round of protests in Hong Kong began in March, when thousands took to the streets to protest amendments to an extradition law. Hong Kong residents have been concerned that, accused of some arbitrary crime, they might find themselves whisked away to the Mainland and its misrule of law.

This is not an abstract concern. Lam Wing Kee, a Hong Kong bookseller who sold texts critical of leaders in Beijing, was abducted in 2015, charged with “operating a bookstore illegally,” and detained for almost eight months in Mainland China. He was released back to Hong Kong with the understanding that he return to face trial.

Instead, Lam recently decamped to Taiwan, fearful of Hong Kong’s new extradition provisions. Canadian-Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua was abducted from Hong Kong in 2017 and is reportedly still awaiting trial. A wealthy Hong Kong media titan has spoken of successfully resisting a Beijing-orchestrated kidnap attempt earlier this year.

An extradition law would effectively legalize these abductions. It would also apply to the 85,000 American citizens currently working in Hong Kong.

Protests over the extradition law grew larger and larger at the outset of summer until 1 million people thronged the streets on June 9, followed by 2 million a week later. Protesters took over the legislative building. They shut down the Hong Kong airport. They disrupted traffic on roadways. Fearful of surveillance, they have donned masks and even torn down “smart lampposts” designed to monitor traffic (but perhaps other things as well).

More confrontational protesters have set fires, vandalized metro stations and government buildings, and thrown petrol bombs at police. For their part, the police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. Masked thugs have attacked protesters. More than 1,000 people have been arrested, including pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow.

Although Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam eventually withdrew the amended law, the protests have continued. Protesters have four principal demands: an investigation into police brutality, amnesty for those arrested during the protest, a retraction of the designation of the June 12 protest as a “riot,” and Lam’s resignation followed by a free and fair election for her replacement. The last item is a revival of the platform of the Umbrella Movement of 2014, a sustained but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to achieve universal suffrage in the territory.

Lam is in a tough position, as she herself acknowledged in a leaked audio recording of a closed-door meeting of business leaders. Caught between Beijing and the protestors, she confessed that her maneuvering room is “very, very, very limited.”

Response from the Mainland

So far, Beijing has expected the Hong Kong authorities to deal with the challenge, though it has made various ominous statements about acts of terrorism, the involvement of the United States, and the unacceptability of the protesters’ demands.

Beijing has several options at this point. Chinese leader Xi Jinping could negotiate with the protesters, though this is unlikely. Xi wouldn’t want to show any weakness, particularly with the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding coming up on October 1. He could send in the army, a la Tiananmen Square 1989, and impose martial law in their territory. But that, too, is unlikely as long as the protestors don’t manage to seize the government and declare independence.

The leadership in Beijing may well be annoyed at what’s happening in Hong Kong. But this isn’t a Tiananmen Square situation. Protests are not popping up throughout the country in support of the actions in Hong Kong. Solidarity events have taken place in the United States, Germany, Britain, France, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia. But on the Mainland, all is quiet, except for a few brave souls who have attempted to elude the censors to post information about what’s going on in Hong Kong.

It’s not possible to know how nearly 1.4 billion people think about anything, including a highly controversial topic like pro-democracy protests. However, given a steady diet of state-run media, the vast majority of Chinese likely view the protests in Hong Kong as simply disruptive. The events there have the flavor not of Tiananmen 1989 but rather the Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960s, when young people took to the streets and turned the world upside down, resulting in enormous pain and suffering.

As former New York Times reporter Karoline Kan has written:

To many mainlanders who believe the China model has benefited their economic development and their private lives, Hong Kong’s pursuit of democracy and freedom is not so attractive any more. They believe the mainland government is not perfect, but a messed-up government is worse. They fear political turbulence, poverty, foreign invasion — but not an authoritarian government. What’s worse, many believe the existing freedom Hong Kong enjoys is a “special treatment” that spoils the city. They believe the mainland has helped Hong Kong, but the city is ungrateful and constantly making trouble for China.

Since 1989, public opinion on the Mainland has moved inexorably in the direction of nationalism. The Chinese public tends to be rather hawkish in its orientation, with the younger generation more hardline than their parents. Few dissidents have stuck their necks out for protestors in Xinjiang or Tibet. Hong Kong, with its privileged status and myriad links to the West, has gotten even less sympathy.

The Polish Example

Carrie Lam faces much the same dilemma that bedeviled Wojciech Jaruzelski in Poland in the 1980s. Jaruzelski was also an unelected leader caught between popular unrest at home and a much larger sponsor breathing down his neck. The Polish leader’s “solution” was to use the threat of a Soviet invasion to declare martial law in 1981 to suppress the rebellious Solidarity trade union.

Out of that experience, Polish protesters came up with a different strategy. Rather than push Jaruzelski up against the wall again, they developed (or, in fact, revived) the notion of a “self-limiting revolution.” Solidarity would continue to organize, quietly and persistently, but it wouldn’t make a direct bid for power. Later, when the opportunity arose, it would negotiate with the Communist government and come up with a compromise solution for the country’s first semi-free elections.

The date of those elections? June 4, 1989.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Chinese government, having failed to reach a similar modus operandi with the Tiananmen Square protesters, violently suppressed the pro-democracy movement.

The Hong Kong protesters could take a few important lessons from the Polish experience. They should acknowledge the possibility, however remote, of a military intervention by Beijing. They should realize that no one in such a scenario — not the people on the Mainland or the U.S. government — is going to come to their aid (except rhetorically). And they should look for opportunities to compromise with the Hong Kong authorities, securing incremental victories that shore up the territory’s autonomy and its semi-democratic structures.

In this way, the Hong Kong protesters must be willing to play the long game. Solidarity came up against the wall of Soviet intransigence in 1980. By 1989, however, Mikhail Gorbachev was in charge in Moscow and the compromise strategy became spectacularly successful.

Xi Jinping is no Mikhail Gorbachev. And he has declared himself leader for life. So, the movement in Hong Kong has to be even more patient, even more strategic, and even more determined than their Polish counterparts. Their time will come. When it does, they need to be ready not only to democratize Hong Kong but also contribute to reshaping the model on the Mainland as well.

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Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?

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Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Britain’s hard-right Tory Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (BoJo the Racist Clown), recently told US Vice President, Mike Pence, that Labour’s genuinely left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is “a gigantic chlorinated chicken.” The official Tory Twitter account even featured a Photoshopped image of Corbyn wearing a chicken costume, making the joke (which doesn’t even work) that the Tories have found a bigger chicken than KFC. (KFC is a corporation, not a chicken.) KFC tweeted negatively in response. The person who took the original photo tweeted (later deleted) that his image was being used without license; the word “Tory” comes from Gaelic for outlaw. Tories and ex-Tories, including Alistair Burt (co-convenor of the political wing of the anti-Assad terrorists who wrecked Syria) and former chair, Sayeeda Warsi, who four-times over the last few years called for an inquiry into Tory Islamophobia, tweeted or stated in response to the official chicken tweet that the Tory party should stop such puerility because it is better than this. No it is not.

BOJO’S PLAN

The once-respected Party (unjustly so), is now under the command of No. 10’s advisor Dominic Cummings, a man with access to billionaire hedge funds (by his own admission) and described by colleagues as a “loopy,” “career psychopath” with an “anger management problem.” Leading the circus is BoJo the clown, who, despite being in power for a month, has already lost six major votes (despite Parliament sitting for as many days), sacked more than 20 of his own MPs, reduced the Tories’ already thin majority to minus 45, angered police chiefs by using graduates as campaign props, and drove out his own brother, Jo, who cited the “national interest” as his reason for quitting the government.

BoJo and Cummings’s cunning plan was 1) to purge the party of any MPs who oppose a hard Brexit (in order to win back voters from the Brexit Party), 2) hold a quick general election on a hard-Brexit platform, and 3) win a majority by appealing to the UK’s significant number of hard-right voters. Corbyn, says BoJo and his coterie of hard-right mainstream media enablers, is “chicken” for refusing to vote for a general election and fall into the BoJo-Cummings trap. They are spinning Corbyn’s refusal as a sign of his cowardice. But Corbyn’s reasons are sound, albeit frustrating for those of us who can’t wait to destroy the Tories.

By law, BoJo has the power to change any election date that he calls. If he calls one for October 15 (or whenever), he could then arbitrarily change the date to November 1st; after the new Brexit date and thus enable the no-deal Brexit that Labour seeks to avoid. Corbyn voted against a general election because a bill forcing BoJo to seek an extension of Article 50 with the EU–and thus seek to avoid a no-deal–had not yet become law. But now it is law. Begging Brussels for a Brexit extension be an absolute humiliation for a PM who promised Brexit “do or die.”

So, with the law seeking an extension in place, Corbyn is chicken for continuing to vote down an early general election, right? Not quite. BoJo has already hinted that he will break the law and refuse to extend, making him the first PM to openly suggest his intention not to obey the law. In addition, suppose the EU says “no” to an extension unless there’s a second referendum or a general election. Suppose they say no under any condition. That means that with BoJo as PM, Britain still leaves the EU without a deal. Corbyn needs time to get rid of BoJo via a vote of no-confidence. Every EU member state needs to agree to an extension and there are rumours that BoJo might ask his pal Orban of Hungary to veto the extension; Hungary being an EU member state.

GOOD REASONS TO WAIT

But suppose that Corbyn becomes PM by default due to a no-confidence vote in BoJo. The EU Council Summit begins on Oct 17, which gives Corbyn enough time in the UK Parliament to call for a vote of no-confidence in BoJo. If successful, the MPs who hate Corbyn, but whose priority is to stop a no-deal Brexit, will have little choice than to accept Corbyn as a caretaker PM. Corbyn himself will then ask the EU for an extension. (Reports suggest that former Tory deputy PM, David Lidington, already held secret talks with EU members to confirm that they will extend even with BoJo as PM, despite what the French foreign ministry now says.) If the EU still says no, the slot between Oct 17 and the Brexit deadline of 31st gives caretaker Corbyn time to revoke Article 50 domestically and avoid a no-deal Brexit; and thus Brexit altogether. This way, no deal is off the table either way—Article 50 extended or revoked—and a general election inevitable because Corbyn would not sit for long as a caretaker leading a minority government.

If this version of events transpires, the pro-Brexit Nigel Farage’s hard-right, big business-financed Brexit Party will see a massive swing in its favour from disaffected, pro-hard Brexit Tory voters. But it won’t be enough of a swing to win many seats. This is great news for the Labour Party because, as seen in two by-elections, the Tory vote is split by the Brexit Party. Opposing candidates, usually representing Labour or the Liberal Democrats, win by default. This would wipe out a lot of Tory seats in Parliament and jeopardise their chances of an electoral victory. But this can only happen if BoJo is seen to be unable to deliver his hard- or no-deal Brexit: hence it’s better for Corbyn to wait before agreeing to a general election.

WHY LABOUR MUST BACK REMAIN

The problem then is the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats taking Labour votes. Its own, annual National Executive Committee report admits that Labour hemorrhaged support to the Liberals over the last few years. Few deny that this is due to its lack of commitment to Remaining in the EU. Another reason why Corbyn is wise not to agree to a general election now is that it is essential that Labour does not go into a general election during the party conference season (late September). This is because, unlike the Tories, Labour is a democratic party internally. Therefore, the members—not party managers—decide what happens. Last year, the members voted at conference to pursue a Labour Brexit. This was a ridiculous strategy designed to “honour the Referendum result” because a Labour Brexit is one so soft that Brexiteers won’t accept it and one that Remainers won’t accept anyway because they back Remain. This year, having lost a large number of seats at local council elections and at the European Parliamentary elections, Labour will hopefully be forced by the grassroots members and local party branches to back Remain unequivocally in its 2019 general election manifesto. Labour backing Remain officially will decapitate the Liberals who are running on an anti-Brexit platform.

Another benefit of holding a general election in late-November or December instead of late-Summer-early-Fall is that old people, many of whom vote Tory, are less inclined to go out and vote in cold weather. Also, if Labour waits until November or December, the record numbers of mainly young people now registering to vote in disgust of BoJo will be able to register in time. So, if Corbyn holds off a general election until November or December, Labour will benefit from a grassroots forcing him to back Remain, a split Tory-Brexit Party vote, neutered Liberal Democrat challenge, a drop off in old people turning out to vote Tory, and surge in young, left-leaning voters.

THE DANGERS

But all this assumes, perhaps dangerously, that the Tories won’t get their act together by then: by allowing the sacked MPs back into the party in order to look more moderate or, conversely, by forming a hard-right pact with the Brexit Party to avoid the vote splitting. Corbyn’s delaying tactics didn’t foresee the recent Scottish court ruling that BoJo’s early shut down of Parliament was unlawful and could thus lead to a no-confidence in BoJo sooner than anticipated, potentially allowing Brexit to happen by mistake because a general election could not occur until November, even if Parliament reopens earlier than expected in light of the court ruling. It also assumes that Corbyn will be able to get a general election when he wants one. Suppose that BoJo brings back his predecessor’s failed EU Withdrawal Agreement and that MPs vote it through Parliament this time in fear of both a Corbyn government and a no-deal Brexit. If that happens, Britain will leave the EU on Tory terms and BoJo won’t have to call an election until 2022 under British law.

It also assumes that sinister forces like the US Central Intelligence Agency won’t try to bring Corbyn down in some massive scandal. Ex-CIA chief and current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, infamously told a group of Zionists that he would “push back” against Corbyn before Corbyn becomes PM. Trump recently described Corbyn as a “negative force”, the same epithet given by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to Venezuela’s leader, Hugo Chávez, whom the CIA worked hard to try to remove and undermine.

It’s all too easy to think that Corbyn is running scared of a general election, but the risky strategy of waiting might just pay off.

 

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The Vox Populi

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“President Trump touched something inside me. He speaks like me and he talks like me.”

– Fayetteville, NC Trump rally

“Make Empathy Great Again”

– T-shirt voice

Donald J. Trump won the presidency partially because of his already existing Reality TV celebratory status. Audiences got used to his dealing tactics and he became proficient in reaching those who enjoyed — perversely at a time when layoffs were rampant in the land — hearing “You’re fired!” That segment of the population aided him in discovering the nature of the current populism. As president he has put into play what he learned: bigotry and prejudice to the point of racism has populist appeal, so too does a ridiculing of any authority, whether political, scientific, legacy media, academe, the EU and all Western agreements.

He responded to a Vox populi instinctively and in turn shaped a Vox populi that responds to him instinctively.

There is an authenticity to the Vox populi, which means it’s genuine and real and cannot be ignored. This doesn’t mean that the Vox populi is true or authentic in the existentialist sense that it is not permeated with a false consciousness or deceived within the American hyperreal which infects politics as well as everyday life. Neither is its voice reliable, rational guidance but rather only a signaling of what transfixes the cultural consciousness as well as the mass psyche. Because this voice is layered in both dimensions, there is no transparent meaning to the expression but rather only the expression which nonetheless permeates. It is authentic but not transparently meaningful.

Think of a baby on a crying jag or your dog or cat or goldfish showing signs of malaise or, on a whole other level of illustration, a lone gunman opening fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, killing killed 58 people and wounding 422, with the ensuing panic bringing the injury total to 851. (Wikipedia)

We can attribute the same authenticity on the collective level as we do on the individual level. There are occasions when we can be anti-populist and ignore the Vox populi because we cannot accept a collective, social, national evil that is recognized as the voice of the people, say, for instance, the voice of slaveholders or sweatshop entrepreneurs or champions of a cleansing genocide. However, denying the authenticity of its expression does not free us from its populist power.

The only reason that Donald J. Trump, as presidential candidate and as president, speaks with the voice of the people, is a self-declared chosen one of the Vox populi, is because that voice had no previous representation in either political party and because he learned and mimics Vox populi “speak” masterfully. We add to that a plutarchic restructuring of the U.S. that has allowed that Vox populi to degenerate to a level at which a confidence man has easy access.

Even though Trump or someone other demagogic huckster, some other confidence man, was bound to pop up, the conditions of a particular time and place brought him forward. The stage has been set for Trump for a long time, the set being a society deeply entrenched in the hyperreal, voters across all parties believing in their own illusionary self-empowerment and being in a full revolt against any authority, whether of reason or reality, opposing that self-conferred freedom to choose.

Twitter made the aptness of Trump’s presence at that moment internationally and repeatedly known. You need to imagine Trump without Twitter, Trump without a means to instantly transmit the impulsiveness of an erratic mind. Difficult to imagine because there are no reasons to expect cyber communication to vanish or that they will be less effective in their access to “followers.” We can expect that we will be even more deluged with misinformation, confidence games and flimflam gambits. The Vox populi fractures into a Babel of voices as the means to winnow the chaff from the kernel vanishes. Resistance is futile, in a Borg expression, because every voice drowns out every other voice. In short, we cannot expect that the “education” of our impulses and our worst instincts will not be nurtured by future con artists on any future Twitter-like “engine of the democratization of all voices.”

Trump’s presence in the White House tells us that voices do rally when called from “the vasty deep.” In the same fashion that the lowest level of almost everything rises to prominence in our hyperreal culture, the worst devils of our nature are, we observe, more speedily and widely advanced than what philosophers term the Western Rationalistic Tradition.

The terrible shape U.S. and British democracies are in right now has much to do with the eruption of a Vox populi not in the streets but on the highways of cyberspace, a Vox populi whose only foundational authority is its own voice, a voice unfortunately either drowning in the churn of all voices or flocked together by Influencers and bullshit artists, Donald J. Trump and Boris Johnson filling these roles.

Trump rolled into view in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession, a recession that brought economic collapse as well as fear and trembling to the 80% but rescued the 20% at the top of the economic chart quickly and in fact maximized their wealth as they were positioned to turn crises into profit. Many more were angered and anxious than “bullish” by the event. A populist response developed in a space left absent by both political parties. And so too does this populism become a workable political frontier when so many feel they are disregarded and excluded by the political order of things they experience.

Trump or a Trump clone is late on the stage following this because someone else, Barack Obama, put his finger on the first emotional responders to crises – hope and all its Hollywood/Disney hyperreality. Instead of the Vox populi screaming revolt in the streets, storming the Bastilles of Wall Street (not setting up “occupying” tents) the hyperreality of a hope, totally by 2008 unsupported by the destroying consequences of an obscene wealth divide and by the bold looting practices of the financial sector, attached itself to the personality of Obama and his confirmation of the illusions of a personalized “Yes, we can!”

However, the “We” was already divided against itself. But not equal forces of division. One side knew how to defend its privilege within the economic system and the other didn’t know how to position itself outside that system or that privilege. Shouting “Empathy!” is not a knock out punch to “Send her back!” That situation remains.

Populism and the Vox populi then, didn’t’ arise from within this mess but outside it. And that’s where Trump has positioned himself from the start.

It’s possible to think of the presidency of Trump as a kind of detour from an upheaval we can expect when bread, circuses and the enchantments of cellular technology as well as the soma of endless live streaming run into the reality produced by a 20% “democracy” that has no plans to recuperate the lives of the 80%.

And because the Democratic Party has not yet been able to present a presidential candidate who has a finger on the impulses of our worst nature in the way Trump has, all rational calculations of the 2020 election remain unbinding. That was proven in the 2016 election when systematic analysis turned out to be worthless. No part of the reptilian brain of humankind reveals itself in polls.

Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are spot on in analyzing what the problems are, but that analysis and their proposed solutions are not as easily digestible as the dog whistles and outright calls to gut impulses, never inspired by “love thy neighbor” but rather “beware of the stranger.” Who and what to be beware of is a daily Twitter feed of President Trump.

All plans to elevate the Vox populi above its present level and to do so by extending economic security to that populace are either deceitful and fraudulent, referring here to the Trump administration, or deemed too radical not only in the eyes of those whose economic hegemony would be threatened but also in the eyes of those who stand to benefit by what is tagged as “too radical.”

The confused and misguided anger of the Vox populi won’t fade when Trump fades to vanish because the turbulence of a cultural consciousness and a mass psyche cannot fade to vanish. They cannot because they have been exploited by Trump, but not resolved or remedied.

If we think of resolution, remediation, elevation simply in terms laid out by an economic system that has created this confused but targeted, misguided anger, then we haven’t stopped digging the hole we are in. The rise and fall of the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 are the benchmarks of the malefactors, the benchmarks of an order of things in which few rises and most perish, including the planet itself.

Are there any signs of an elevation of the Vox populi?

We are in an emergency crisis with global warming, not with Mexicans, Central and South Americans sneaking across the southern border. That may happen if the ravages of global warming put all the southern hemisphere on a migratory rush northward. We don’t stop that with The Wall but rather with mitigating climate change policies.

Trump is working in reverse, which means he believes that he’s representing the populist view. Whether there are enough voters in the nether regions who fear brown skinned, Spanish speaking “invaders” to confirm Trump’s position here is at this point not known. Racism speaks louder in the privacy of the voting booth than in public, especially when confronted with accusations of racism.

Education to the rescue? An educated populace is essential to keep a fragile democracy from being overthrown by a demagogue who can appeal to a winning block of voters.

This has already happened. The person of Donald J. Trump may vacate the White House but the country that put him in office, all the knowns and unknowns that put him there, to repeat, remain. We have been here before with Ronald Reagan, a presence that turned from an egalitarian mindset to a plutocratic one but left us bitterly divided as to whether this was a heroic change or a destructive one. The aftermath of Trump’s reign is not so clear simply because the forces that brought him to power and the design of his appeal remain more accessible to a psychiatric rather than a logical scan by Commander Data.

Similarly, the way we can probe the Vox populi is through prejudices, passions, and perverse instincts which, judging by social media, script the libretto of this voice. What we have is the logic of advertising and marketing brought into politics: you can sell fat burgers, sugar pops and salt chips simply because the nutritional Palette populi is at the lowest nutritional level. Americans don’t choose obesity; they choose what they like and what they like they are branded to like.

Cyberspace is where the young seek their education but what we get in cyberspace is a swarm of messaging appealing to every conceivable identity, loco to compos mentis, a kind of chaotic smorgasbord for a culture obsessed with the illusions of personal choice. As troubling as this is are the proposals addressing the challenge of an invasive illiteracy by a privatization of public education, the market’s turn to public education as the new profit frontier.

That debilitating, degenerating force is supplemented by tuition costs so high that student loan debt is now greater than credit card debt. Students must choose courses that will lead them to the biggest return on investment, that is courses and programs leading directly to jobs our economic system privileges, course that will pay off the tuition investment.

It’s clear that we are expanding the ways of instrumental reasoning and knowing, and marketable erudition required by the narrow fields of business and technology, narrow in the sense that the messiness of our human nature at work in politics, including presidential campaigns and elections, overspills the scope and methods of business and technology.

In short, the Vox populi doesn’t become more learned and astutely critical when and if it is educated within the instrumental fields of profit making. If this was not the case, Donald J. Trump would not be in the White House right now nor would we be facing a 2020 election in which there is an arguable case to be made that he will win again.

All this being said, there are forces in play that can create a Vox populi effectively focused on one issue: global warming. A kind of survival wisdom will cry out in the streets, push a politics of survival that will trump all other warring issues, including Trump himself.

The Vox populi screaming for survival and the ways to achieve it respond to the education our bodies and minds have achieved in the long evolutionary movement away from extinction toward survival.

The post The Vox Populi appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus

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Haida totem, British Columbia. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ What I learned at the debate last night….

+ We’re going to be stuck in the middle with Klobuchar…

+ Booker: such fancy rhetorical skills in the service of nothing.

+ The common theme seems to be that the Democrats will “unify” America. Is a “unified America” a 54-46 split?

+ Bernie’s voice may not make it through the debate, especially if the questions get any more insipid.

+ Biden lost the thread on his own prepared opening remarks, which were, in true Biden fashion, largely lifted from JFK.

+ Warren is the best story-teller, even though the point of the stories are often obscure.

+ Biden has a condescending smirk that is as predatory as Trump’s. Perhaps they have the same dental plan.

+ Mayor Pete in his endless quest for the middle ground came up with: “Medicare-for-All who want it.”

+ Biden, apropos of nothing: “I don’t like it.”

+ Biden misplays the socialist card against Sanders. Gets burned.

+ Are we supposed to take advice from this group of Democrats on criminal justice policy, nearly all of whom have their fingerprints, either as legislators or prosecutors, on the carceral system that haunts the country?

+ Harris is giggling again as she tries to evade her own record as a prosecutor and AG. What’s she been vaping?

+ Biden: “I’m the guy….who put all the people in prison who I no longer believe should be there.”

+ They could test the constitutionality of seizing guns by starting with taking them from the cops, ICE, Border Patrol and the FBI. We know that would save more than a thousand lives a year.

+ In what’s left of his own mind, Biden has never made a mistake and, if he did, Obama forced him to do it.

+ This debate is sorely missing the presence of Marianne Williamson.

+ Oh no, Beto’s shifted into Spanglish again…

+ Apparently, Obama and Biden only caged kids who deserved to be caged.

+ Harris: “I have no criticism of Obama’s trade policy.” Thank you, you are excused.

+ Good for Bernie for finally unloading on Biden’s support for NAFTA. Bad for ABC for not allowing anyone to follow up.

+ Warren should have stopped after she said we need to pull US troops out of Afghanistan, instead of calling for a global coalition to fight terrorism. Been there, done that.

+ Can Warren name one problem that can be solved “militarily?”

+ Biden continues to lie about his position on the Iraq war and he lies so badly that no one, not even Bernie, bothers to call him on it.

+ Bernie: “We spend $700 billion a year on the military and we don’t even know who the enemy is…”

+ Bernie: “Maduro is a vicious tyrant.” I guess we found out who the enemy is…

+ Sanders snarled at the Ramos calling Venezuela a socialist country. Instead, Bernie pointed to his ideal “democratic socialist” countries, which aren’t all that different than Trump’s white sanctuaries: Canada, Sweden, Norway…

+ Harris, now slumping at her podium, seems to have switched from a giddy blend of indica to a mellower sativa.

+ Biden dropped some Kierkegaard on the peeps tonight and philosophers sprang into action…

+ Yang is handing out money tonight faster than Oprah Winfrey. Will his “democracy dollars” feature Harriet Tubman?

+ Neither Trump nor Yang seem to know the names of their kids. But at least Yang belated recalled that he’s got one at home.

+ Biden’s had been doing much better for the last 10 minutes, having avoided any questions, then he had what is called an “abreaction” on the Psych Ward, as he veered wildly from reeling to  schools to Venezuela to leaving record players on at night. Let’s check the tape, which will some day be cited as a case study of political psychosis in the DSM:

Linsey Davis: Mr. Vice President, I want to talk to you about inequality in schools and race. In a conversation about how to deal with segregation in schools back in 1975, you told a reporter, “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.” You said that some 40 years ago, but as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?

Joe Biden: Well, they have to deal with the … Look, there is institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining, banks, making sure that we are in a position where—

Look, we talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title 1 schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the equal of … A raise of getting out of the $60,000 level.

No. 2, make sure that we bring in to the help with the stud—the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need… We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy. The teachers are required—I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them.

Make sure that every single child does, in fact, have three, four, and five-year-olds go to school. School! Not day care, school. We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t know what— They don’t know what quite what to do. Play the radio. Make sure the television—excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night. The phone—make sure the kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school—er, a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

Davis: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Biden: No, I’m going to go like the rest of them do, twice over, OK? Because here’s the deal. The deal is that we’ve got this a little backwards. And by the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know Maduro. I’ve confronted Maduro. No. 2, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I’m the guy that came up with $740 million to see to it those three countries, in fact, change their system so people don’t have to chance to leave. You’re all acting like we just discovered this yesterday! Thank you very much.

+ I don’t know what any of that means, except that Joe’s a vinyl guy.

+ Biden: “I know Maduro! I’ve confronted Maduro!!”

+ All the Democrats seem firmly wedded to the Monroe Doctrine when it comes to Latin American policy.

+ Bernie could have cited the Cuban health care system as his model. Instead, he pointed to Canada and attacked Venezuela. His socialism begins with a “sub-script” s.

+ Whatever brain-eating disease Biden has seems to be contagious, gnawing inexorably through the gray matter of the other candidates…

+ Leave it to ABC to give the last words to the 2%ers.

+ The debate tonight was a safe-space zone for the CIA.

+ James Bovard: “Watching this presidential candidates debate was like looking at a police line-up of future molesters.”

+ Any Dickian “pre-crime” police force would have a much better conviction record, if they just stuck to arresting those who aspire for political office.

+ CNN: “Biden had his best debate.” Ok, I know I didn’t drop acid tonight. Did Wolf Blitzer spike the company water cooler?

+My scorecard on 10-point system:

Sanders 5 (penalties for dreadful answer on Venezuela)
Warren 5
Beto 3
Yang 2.5
Booker 2
Castro 2 (bonus point for hitting Biden below the belt)
Mayor Pete 1.5
Harris 1
Klobochar 1
Biden 0

+ Memo to Trump: any time you’ve done something which generates “bipartisan backlash” (like inviting the Taliban to Camp David for talks to end the war), you’ve probably stumbled upon doing something that’s worth doing again.

+ There have been far bloodier contingents than the Taliban who have bedded down at Camp David for a weekend…

+ Is Trump’s pulling the plug on a meeting with the Taliban an example of the “Cancel Culture” FoxNews derides nightly?

+ Is the real scandal that Trump considered a meeting with the Taliban or that Obama didn’t?

+ David Swanson: “The real problem with the Taliban at Camp David may be Mike Pence’s objections to their liberal way of life.”

+ The US now celebrates 3 holidays for the launching of wars: Columbus Day for the war on indigenous people, the Fourth of July for the war on British colonialist overlords and 9/11 for the war on whoever we feel like killing this week…

+ Trump’s 9/11 speech: “If for any reason they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are & use power the likes of which the US has never used before — & I’m not even talking about nuclear power. They will have never seen anything like what will happen to them.” (Is he talking about that Infinity Gauntlet device from the last Avengers movie?)

+ How long before John Bolton becomes Senior Foreign Policy Expert-Texpert to Biden campaign?

+ Right on cue, here’s Nancy shedding Walrus tears for Bolton. Goo goo g’joob…

+ Trump became so frustrated with Bolton’s neocon antics that he reportedly kept calling up HR McMaster to vent, telling him how much he missed their time together.

I’ve been holdin’ out so long
I’ve been sleepin’ all alone
Lord, I miss you
I’ve been hanging on the phone
I’ve been sleeping all alone
I want to kiss you sometime

+ Bolton may be gone (to a holding cell in The Hague, one hopes), but Elliott Abrams remains.

+ Say what? Trump: “In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!” (Explains why he kept Abrams at his post.)

+ Who better than Gorka to replace Bolton as Trump’s National Security Advisor, last heard blaming the spike on military suicides on Obama’s “lack of moral clarity”?

Sebastian Gorka blames President Obama for veteran suicides because he lacked "moral clarity" pic.twitter.com/k0phSwMYum

— Jason Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) September 11, 2019

+ President Trump: “The light bulb. People said what’s with the light bulb. I said here’s the story, and I looked at it. The bulb that we’re being forced to use. Number one, to me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange. And so do you. The light is the worst.”

+ How Baltimore greeted Trump when he rolled into town on Thursday morning…

+ By almost every standard Biden is a worse candidate than Hillary Clinton: he’s frailer, dumber & has a more tarnished record. His saving grace, as far as I can tell, is that Biden is so boring, so lacking in inspiration, that he can’t even inspire people to hate him as passionately as they did HRC.

+ Q. “So you think, looking back on it, still, that it [Iraq] was a just war, in your opinion?”

Biden: “Oh, I do think it was a just war.”

+ None of the 9/11 attackers or planners or financiers were members of the Taliban, “Professor” Tribe….

+ Tribe isn’t the only one confused about 9/11. So is Bernie Sanders. The people of Afghanistan had “nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks,” yet you voted for the AUMF that allowed the Bush (Obama & Trump) administration(s) to strike whoever they wanted using 9/11 as the excuse…

+ John Fugelsang: “Eighteen years ago today America was attacked by zero Afghans, zero Iranians and zero Iraqis.”

+ A 9/11 Moment with FoxNews’ Ainsley Earhardt: “Many people out there didn’t vote for President Bush but they were supportive of our country. No one was kneeling when the national anthem was played. How do we get back to that without another 9/11?” (If only we had another 9/11, perhaps the black players would stop kneeling!)

+ Q. Where were you on 9/11?

A. I was asleep on a late summer morning in northern Oregon until jolted upright by the phone. It was Alexander Cockburn, who’d been similarly awakened by his brother Andrew.. “Turn on the TV” he commanded. I struggled out of bed, found the remote, clicked on the Sony. “What do you see?” Alex asked. (He hadn’t paid his cable bill.) So, phone in hand, I described the scene as it unfolded over the next few hours and we started writing a column. I don’t think I’ve slept since.

+ Hard to choose who to root for in this cage match between the Adelsons and the Netanyahus:

“She’s [Sarah Netanhyau] completely crazy,” said Sheldon Adelson, publisher of the Israel Hayom daily. “She was compulsive about photos of herself and how she looked. She said ‘I’m the first lady, I’m a psychologist and I teach children about psychology.’ … She would tell my wife that if Iran attacked it would be her fault … because we didn’t publish good pictures of her,” said Adelson, a leading donor to Israeli and Jewish causes as well as to the Republican Party.

+ As you digest the implications of this disgusting statement by Benny Ziffer, the editor of Haaretz’s Culture and Literature supplement, keep in mind that Ha’aretz is Israel’s “liberal” paper.

“En route I looked at the Palestinian villages alongside the Jewish communities, and I thought of how for the Palestinians murder is a type of sport or enjoyment, perhaps a substitute for erotica. From that perspective we will never have anything culturally in common with them.”

+ Given the Crimea precedent, will the US sanction itself for abetting an Israeli annexation of the West Bank?

+ The Israelis seem to have planted listening devices near the White House, their version of a Nanny Cam to make sure Trump and Jared are following their instructions.

+ A direct question from the New York Times to the presidential candidates on press freedom receives mostly indirect answers: “Would your administration continue the Espionage Act part of the case against Assange?” Only Weld and Gabbard answered “no” without some equivocation or evasion.

+ When Biden tired to buy off Putin with oil plundered from the Iraq war:

“Biden said during the event that he, along with a Republican senator he chose not to name, asked for a meeting with Putin and proposed a deal where all proceeds from seized Iraqi oil would initially go to cash-strapped Russia. Biden viewed it as an offer Putin wouldn’t be able to refuse and was disappointed the Bush administration didn’t consider it.”

+ Biden on Iraq: “Yes, I did oppose the war before it began.” (Perhaps he will claim his memory is shot as result of PTSD from his landing on the beaches of Normandy.)

+ Bill Maher, who has a net worth of $100 million, just warned that he thinks Elizabeth Warren is potentially “scarier than Donald Trump.” It all comes down to the tax code for that class of people.

+ Here’s DNC hack (and Biden mercenary) Ed Rendell attacking Warren in the Washington Post, which certainly gives her some street cred and suggests that she’s getting under the skin of the Party’s moneybags….

+ You can see why this kind of treatment from CNN drives Sanders and his followers nuts…

+ Trump’s immigration judges are now using Abu Ghraib-like tactics to scare children in court. “Want me to go get the dog?” Judge V. Stuart Couch, a former Marine, once yelled at a 2-year old Guatemalan boy. “Do you want him to bite you?”

+ ICE’s barbaric treatment of immigrant detainees often involves throwing people into solitary confinement for no particular reason and regardless of the detainee’s physical condition. One pregnant women was temporarily removed her while experiencing severe cramps and then was later returned to solitary confinement, where she was kept naked, despite still bleeding from a miscarriage.

+ Trump on denying entry to hurricane survivors trying to leave the wreckage of the Bahamas: “We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation…I don’t want to allow people who weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people.”

+ Here’s another snapshot of the Great Economy Ever: Median household income was flat in 2018, holding steady at $63,179.

+ For the first time since 2014, the share of Americans with health insurance declined, a sign that ObamaCare is beginning crumble under its own weight. Will Biden still claim credit or blame his former boss?

+ Nearly one-in-thirteen American seniors are slowly starving to death from lack of food. Is there any part of the social contract this country is fulfilling?

+ In the last five years, at least 1,688 polling places across the southern states have been closed, many in majority black precincts. So much for that endlessly recycled homily that the US bombs peasants abroad to protect democracy at home…

+ Ralph Nader: “Trump’s standard for selecting heads of federal agencies that advance the safety, health and economic well-being of Americans by curbing corporate crime abuses is simple. Does the applicant have a record of working to dismantle the agency’s enforcement work? If so, they’re hired. The latest is Eugene Scalia to become Secretary of Labor. Scalia is anti-labor and anti-union. Will the Senate stop Trump here?”

+ George Soros offering praise for how Trump is man-handling Huawei must have caused heads to explode live in studio on Infowars…

+ The GOP is dropping primaries in at least four states in order to frustrate challengers to Trump. There’s no need to be so heavy-handed. They should have consulted with the DNC. There are ways to rig a primary without canceling it…

+ Quarries outside Medillin may contain the largest mass graves in Latin America with more than 900 corpses, many of the killed by paramilitaries financed by the rightwing government as part of the US-backed PLAN Colombia.

+ Fidel Castro: “Today you cannot talk about a United Nations system;… what actually exists is a domination system over nearly all countries in the world by a small group of powers under the aegis of the United States, determining all issues.”

+ Trump said today that his decision to come out so strongly against vaping was motivated by Melania’s concern for Barron–at least he appears to be talking about Barron. “That’s how the First Lady got involved. She’s got a son — together — that’s a beautiful young man, & she feels very very strongly about it.”

+ It’s literally raining plastic in Colorado…

+ Important new study on logging & climate change by my old friend John Talberth, which concludes that logging in the hardwood forests of North Carolina emits 44 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That makes it the third largest source of CO2 in the state, just behind electricity generation and transportation, and far ahead of farming and other industries.

+ Bolsonaro’s war on the Amazon and its inhabitants draws blood. Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, who worked at FUNAI protecting the interests of indigenous tribes in the Amazon, was shot twice in the head in front of his family in an execution-style hit last week.

+ Japanese officials announced this week plans to dump more than 1 million tons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear complex into the Pacific Ocean. Can’t they just pour it into George Monbiot’s swimming pool?

+ The US is gutting regulations that had successfully slowed the decline of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Why? Because whatever succeeds must be undone…

+ Screw the tribes, screw the San Juans, screw everything

+ Through the first six months of 2019, more than 7 million people have been displaced by extreme weather events. A million here, a million there…

+ Today’s Trump Koan: “We are keeping even more promises, by far, than we made, or than we promised. So many more. So many more. Sooo many more.”

+ Tulsi Gabbard announced this week that she’s open to restrictions on abortion in the third trimester. No wonder FoxNews and the National Review adore her.

+ Nigel Farage left the chaos of London this week to attend a rally for one Germany’s far right parties, now on the resurgence. The soiree at the Spandau Citadel was hosted Beatrix von Storch, the granddaughter of Hitler’s finance minister Lutz von Krosigk.

+ No matter how far away Todd Palin moves, Sarah will still be able to keep an eye on him from her window…

+ I’ve been looking for years, but still haven’t found the “average American,” so frequently referred to by pollsters and political consultants. She’s a Springsteen fan, right?

+ Too bad Les Blank isn’t alive to film Filthy-Mouthed Wives, the logical sequel to his great film, Gap-Toothed Women. I guess it’s up to his co-directors Chris Simon & Maureen Gosling…

+ Like Trump, Jesus only hires the best people

Longtime Liberty officials close to Falwell told me the university president has shown or texted his male confidants—including at least one employee who worked for him at Liberty—photos of his wife in provocative and sexual poses. At Liberty, Falwell is “very, very vocal” about his “sex life,” in the words of one Liberty official—a characterization multiple current and former university officials and employees interviewed for this story support. In a car ride about a decade ago with a senior university official who has since left Liberty, “all he wanted to talk about was how he would nail his wife, how she couldn’t handle [his penis size], and stuff of that sort,” this former official recalled.

+ FoxNews host (and Trump confidant) Pete Hegseth declared that Christian kids should bring their Bibles to school so that they can debate “gay marriage.” Maybe the kids should also bring a bag of stones to school so that if they win the debate they can then enforce the prescribed Biblical punishment…

+ I don’t know who the greatest novelist of the 20th Century was, but in my own mind I’ve narrowed it down to either PG Wodehouse or Georges Simenon. Having just re-read Dirty Snow (La Neige ètait sale), surely the most perverse novel ever written about life under totalitarian occupation, I’m leaning toward Simenon…

+ I still think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the greatest miniseries ever and it’s a shame that it’s not available to stream, except in a fuzzy version on YouTube. Alec Guinness will always be Smiley in my mind.

+ Composer and pianist Kenny Werner on detachment and creativity: “There’s a story about Art Tatum doing a solo piano record & Oscar Peterson came into the booth to watch and he asked the engineer ‘Why is Art wearing headphones?’ And the engineer said, ‘He’s listening to the World Series!’”

+ Speaking of Expert-Texperts, Eric Burden claims that he was “the Egg Man,” and that the lyrics in I am the Walrus refer to a specific sexual act his girlfriend used to perform on him in his Mayfair flat in Swinging London. Burden said it all started when he was cooking breakfast naked one morning and his Jamaican girlfriend “Sylvia slid up beside me and slipped an amyl nitrate capsule under my nose. As the fumes set my brain alight and I slid to the kitchen floor, she reached to the counter and grabbed an egg, which she cracked into the pit of my belly.” Burden says he told Lennon about this one night while they were tripping at a bar. When the waitress came to get their order, Lennon told Burden, “Go get your eggs, Eric.”

+ Sonny Rollins’ birthday message: “Greetings, everybody. ‘Sonny Rollins is alive and well and living in upstate NY!’ Not only living, but learning. For instance, in this world there is a big picture & a little picture. I’m all about the big picture, and therefore it’s all good all the time. See you later. –Sonny”

RIP Daniel Johnston…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control
Stephen Kinzer
(Henry Holt)

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
(Penguin Press)

Gun Island: a Novel
Amitav Ghosh
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux )

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Last Pair of Shoes
John Dee Holeman
(Music Maker Recordings)

Amadjar
Tinawiran
(Epitaph)

Cancel the Sun
The Rails
(Psychonaut Sounds)

Images in the Stream
What I’m streaming this week…

Fox and His Friends
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
(1975)

Ivan’s Childhood
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
(1962)

Leaving Home, Coming Home: a Portrait of Robert Frank
Director: Gerald Fox
(2019)

We’re All Being Watched

Robert Frank: “There are too many images, too many cameras now. We’re all being watched. It gets sillier and sillier. As if all action is meaningful. Nothing is really all that special. It’s just life. If all moments are recorded, then nothing is beautiful and maybe photography isn’t an art anymore. Maybe it never was.”

 

 

The post Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Pirates of Gibraltar

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Photograph Source: Steve – Flickr: Gibraltar – CC BY-SA 2.0

When I hear the word “pirates” certain images conjure up: the silly, moldy, dusty “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride in Disneyland that I saw in my youth; the banal, boring, childish Hollywood movies by the same title that I could not watch for more than a few minutes; or the actual pirates, such as the modern day bandits who were actively raiding ships a few years ago off the coast of Somalia. But the image of British, American and Israeli politicians in three-piece suits or skirts as pirates never came to my mind until very recently. If you don’t know what I am talking about, read the script below which appears in chronological order.

On April 17, 2019, a tanker named Grace 1 left Iran for an unspecified destination with reportedly 2.1 million barrels of crude oil, worth some $130 million. According to a March 20 report in Reuters about how Iran tries to evade US sanctions, the Grace 1 was “Panamanian-flagged and managed by Singapore-based shipping services firm.” The Grace 1, TankerTrackers reported, was built in 1997 and, given its age and size, was not allowed to dock at many ports. It therefore had a history of handling ship-to-ship fuel oil transfers at sea. It would typically receive fuel oil from Iran, the source stated, and then deliver it to smaller vessels.

The tanker appeared to be heading to the Mediterranean Sea. But instead of taking the much shorter route of the Suez Canal, it circled around Africa. Why? Because, according to TankerTrackers, the ship was too heavy and, therefore, too submerged to pass through the shallow Suez Canal. Such heavy tankers can, using pipelines, offload some of their oil before entering the canal and receive them on other side of the canal. However, since Saudi Arabia is part owner of the pipeline, and is hostile to Iran, it would not allow Iran to use the facility.

On July 4, 2019, The New York Times reported that British marines and the port authorities in Gibraltar detained the Grace 1 as it “was carrying crude oil from Iran to Syria, a violation of European Union sanctions against Syria.” It further stated that according to Spain, the tanker had been detained at the request of the United States, and that British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had praised Gibraltar and the British marines “for this bold move to enforce Syria sanctions.” (The New York Times, of course, did not mention the fact that Gibraltar is a British colony with little or no say in international matters, and that carrying oil to Syria by the tanker is merely an allegation.) The report said that Iran had summoned the British ambassador over what it called “illegal” seizure, and the ambassador had been told that the British action “is very strange because these sanctions are not imposed by the Security Council and Iran rejects them.” In other words, these were merely EU imposed sanctions and Iran did not have to abide by them.

Subsequently, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil on behalf of the B team is piracy, pure and simple” (Press TV, July 8). By the B team he meant US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, individuals who were actively pushing for a war with Iran. Zarif reiterated that the British argument that the tanker was seized because it was in breach of the EU sanctions against Syria made no sense, since “Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo.” In addition, he pointed out that since EU was against extraterritoriality, it made no sense to argue that Britain seized the tanker on behest of the US government, which amounts to imposition of US laws on other countries. Moreover, various sources reported that according to Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, the Grace 1 was not even going to Syria but was going “somewhere else.”

On July 11, UPI reported that the Royal Gibraltar Police had arrested the captain and chief officer of the Grace 1, who were Indian nationals, on “suspicion of shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.” According to the report, the Grace 1 had been searched and documents and electronic devices had been seized and examined. The report also mentioned that Iranian gunboats in the Strait of Hormuz had attempted to detain the British Heritage tanker, but they had backed down following a warning from the British warship HMS Montrose.

On July 13, the Guardian reported that Hunt had told Zarif that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 oil tanker if there were guarantees it would not go to Syria and that Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and did not want to escalate tensions. Nevertheless, the report went on to say, the UK was increasing its military presence in the Persian Gulf by sending a second warship to the region to protect British commercial oil tankers. The report further stated that Hunt and Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, had “agreed the importance of deescalating the current situation as quickly as possible while noting the importance of Gibraltar enforcing EU sanctions against Syria.”

Six days later Reuters reported that the Gibraltar government has announced that its “Supreme Court,” at the request of the “Attorney General,” has extended the period of detention of the Grace 1 for an additional 30 days and has set a new hearing for August15. It also reported that Fabian Picardo held a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London to discuss the tanker. On July 18 British Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to Gibraltar’s efforts in detaining the Grace 1 and thanked Gibraltar’s chief minister for detaining the oil tanker (The National).

On July 19, in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran seized a British tanker called Stena Impero which sailed under the UK flag and was registered in London. The seizure followed the same dramatic routine that had been followed by the British when they captured the Grace 1. In a video that Iran released shortly after the incident, Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelled from a helicopter onto the British tanker. Even though Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed that the Stena Impero was seized because it failed to follow international maritime regulations, it was clear that the act was simply a tit for tat and intended to put pressure on the British government to release the Grace 1. The Tasnim news agency reported that the Guards had also stopped another UK-operated tanker but released it afterward. The British raised a hue and cry. Jeremy Hunt stated: “I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz. . . I will shortly attend a COBR [Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms] meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels” (CNBC, July 19). BBC also quoted Hunt as saying that the Iranian seizures were “completely unacceptable” and “freedom of navigation must be maintained.” (Note that when British imperial forces engage in an act of piracy, it is acceptable, but when Iranians try to copy them it is “completely unacceptable”!) Hunt warned Iran that “if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences.”

In a detailed article on July 20 the Guardian unmasked the role that the US, and particularly John Bolton, had played in the seizure of the Grace 1. It wrote that when the Grace 1 was captured, Bolton tried to act as if he had no previous knowledge of the act by tweeting: “Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.” But “Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident.” The Grace 1 had been under surveillance by US satellites since April, when it was anchored off Iran. Once it headed for the Mediterranean Sea the US informed Spain of its arrival and its passage through the Strait of Gibraltar. Spain, which does not recognize British rule over Gibraltar, took no action. But the British, who had also been told to seize the tanker, acted and stormed the tanker with 30 marines. The result, as the Guardian pointed out, was that “Britain has been plunged into the middle of an international crisis it is ill-prepared to deal with.” Iran’s retaliation in snatching the Stena Impero, the Guardian stated, has further exposed “Britain’s diplomatic isolation and its military and economic vulnerability,” and “Hunt’s appeal for international support for Britain has so far fallen on deaf ears.”

The British pirates and their dominions in Gibraltar, who had been duped by an American pirate, had to give up. On August 15 the British released the Grace 1 despite all efforts by Bolton and his gang to continue the detention of the tanker. Officials in Gibraltar issued a statement saying that that the US Department of Justice had “applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations,” but a judge in Gibraltar’s Supreme Court later ruled he had not received an “application” for the US seizure (USA Today). Moreover, all legal actions against the tanker’s crew and captain were dropped. The New York Times also reported that Fabian Picardo had issued a statement saying that he had “received written assurance” from Iran that “if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions” and in “light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1.” When asked where the ship was headed, Picardo answered: “That is not an issue for the authorities in Gibraltar.” According to the report, an oil trader in Iran had said the tanker would sail to Greece and then to Italy.

As the Grace 1 prepared to leave Gibraltar, it changed its name and flag. It was now called Adrian Darya 1 and the flag of Panama was replaced with the Iranian flag (Darya means Sea in Persian). The reason for these changes was that Panama did not want the tanker to sail under its flag anymore. The Adrian Darya 1 then drifted into the Mediterranean Sea with no clear destination (Press TV, August 18). US pirates were on its tail and threatened every country that the tanker tried to get close to.

The first country that the tanker approached was Greece. But the US stated that it had conveyed its “strong position” to the Greek government not to let the tanker dock (Reuters, August 20). According to a US State Department official, “any efforts to assist the tanker could be construed as providing material support to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, which has immigration and potential criminal consequences.” This position had “been communicated not only to Greece but other states and ports in the Mediterranean,” the official stated. Given the US threats, Greece’s government said that there had been no formal announcement that the Adrian Darya 1 will arrive at the Greek port Kalamata. The next day, Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister stated that we have “sent a clear message that we would not want to facilitate the trafficking of this oil to Syria in any instance,” and that Greece did not even have a port capable of handling such a large oil tanker (CNBC, August 21).

The Adrian Darya 1 then headed for Cyprus. But a Cypriot diplomat stated that “Cyprus wouldn’t allow the Iranian tanker to enter its territory were the vessel to make such a request” (Bloomberg, August 22). The tanker then listed its destination as the port of Mersin in southern Turkey, estimating its arrival to be August 31 (Deutsche Welle, August 24). But given the “paralyzing sanctions” of the Obama Administration, followed by the “maximum pressure” of Trump’s gang, Turkey had stopped buying Iranian oil in May 2019 and would not want to have anything to do with the Iranian oil tanker, especially since it already had a tense relation with the US. On August 25, Bloomberg reported that the tanker had changed “signal sent from the ship’s satellite transponder to ‘For Order,’ a designation meaning the vessel isn’t disclosing any destination.”

On August 26 a sensational news appeared: “Iran sells oil tanker pursued by US” (The Independent). According to the news, in a press conference, an Iranian government spokesperson stated that the tanker had been sold by Iran and the new buyer would decide its ultimate destination. Iran declined to name the buyer and discuss the terms for the sale.

Even though Iran tried to wash its hands of the tanker, US pirates continued their chase. It was now completely unclear where the Adrian Darya 1 might go next and what would happen to it. “Confusion over Iranian tanker’s destination after weeks of ordeal,” was the title of an Aljazeera news item on August 30. After the rumors that the tanker is still heading for another port in Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister stated: “This tanker is not heading actually to Iskenderun [in Turkey], this tanker is heading to Lebanon.” But Lebanon had already dismissed the scenario, “stressing that it never buys crude oil because it simply does not have refineries.”

On August 30, Press TV reported that the US has blacklisted the Adrian Darya 1 and sanctioned its captain. Indeed, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement saying that it is taking action against the Adrian Darya 1 which is “benefiting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).” Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated: “Vessels like the Adrian Darya 1 enable the IRGC-QF to ship and transfer large volumes of oil, which they attempt to mask and sell illicitly to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism.” (It should be noted that Sigal Pearl Mandelker’s place of birth and citizenship, whether Israel or the US, has been subject of much controversy. But setting that issue aside, like the previous heads of the OFAC, she has shown quite a bit of hostility toward Iran in Israeli affiliated circles, such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and has been instrumental in passing one set of sanctions or another on Iran.)

With the bandits on its tail and having no place to go, the Adrian Darya 1 headed for Syria, precisely the place that the US had tried to prevent it from going in the first place. On August 31 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted “FM @JZarif guaranteed to the UK that the IRGC oil tanker #Grace1 / #AdrianDarya1 would not head to Syria. We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria. I hope it changes course. It was a big mistake to trust Zarif” (The Times of Israel).

On September 3 AP reported that the tanker “blacklisted and pursued by the U.S. turned off its tracking beacon off the coast of Syria,” leading to speculation that its oil will end up there. It was further speculated that there will a ship-to-ship transfer of its oil.

One day later, a stunning news appeared: A report by The Financial Times revealed that four days before the US sanctioned the Adrian Darya 1, Akhilesh Kumar, the tanker’s Indian captain, received an email from Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran at the Department of State. Hook wrote to Kumar on August 26: “This is Brian Hook. I work for secretary of state Mike Pompeo and serve as the US Representative for Iran. I am writing with good news.” The good news was that that the Trump Administration would give Kumar “several million dollars” to take the tanker to “a country that would impound the vessel on behalf of the US.” To assure Kumar that the email was genuine, Hook included an official state department phone number. In a second email Hook wrote to Kumar: “With this money you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age. . . If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.” In the intervening two days, the report went on, the Adrian Darya 1 made “doughnut” shape maneuvers, suggesting that Kumar might have been trying to decide how to react. But ultimately, the captain failed to respond, and Brain Hook emailed him to say that the US Treasury had imposed sanctions on him. According to the report, “in an effort to scare mariners” into understanding that helping Iran evade sanctions comes at a heavy price, in recent months Hook had emailed or texted roughly a dozen captains. (Let me emphasize that the author of the above email(s) is not Don Vito Corleone or even Capitan Hook. It is Brain Hook, the US special representative for Iran at the Department of State. Capitan Hook is quite clever, he offers “a few million dollars” for a ship that is at least worth $130 million! Perhaps that is why Kumar did not respond to his offer!)

With Hook’s bribery and threat email(s) out in the open, and the Adrian Darya 1 close to the Syrian coast, the saga of the Iranian tanker was almost over. On September 5, it was reported that Iran would soon release some of the crew members of UK flagged tanker (The Independent). On the same day US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he “currently had no plan on his desk to seize the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1” (Reuters). On September 6, the Guardian reported that the tanker is photographed by satellite off the Syrian port of Tartus. On September 8

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi reported that the “Adrian Darya 1 oil tanker, despite acts of sabotage, finally docked on the Mediterranean coast and unloaded its cargo and its owner will make a decision for its future” (Press TV). The British Foreign Office issued an angry statement on September 10 saying it was “now clear that Iran has breached” its “assurances and that the oil has been transferred to Syria and Assad’s murderous regime” (Sky News). On the same day John Bolton was fired by Trump!

The saga of the Iranian tanker would make a great movie about modern day piracy. It could cast many great stars; Bolton, a pirate with a huge mustache fighting his boss while trying to steal an Iranian ship; Hunt, a bumbling pirate who is losing his job along with his boss Teresa May in tears; Pompeo, a large, big belly, jolly pirate, engaged in a Twitter war with Zarif; Capitan Hook, a man with a pirate smile issuing threats and dangling money in front of Indian captains; Sigal Pearl Mandelker, a venomous female pirate out to get Iran on behest of Bibi Netanyahu and Mark Dubowitz, the head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, etc.

So, listen Hollywood! Instead of making another insipid movie about Pirates of the Caribbean, make a movie about Pirates of Gibraltar. It would be a lot more interesting and it would have a happy ending, not because the good guys win, but because the baddest of all bad dudes lose!

The post The Pirates of Gibraltar appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Likely End to Roe v. Wade?

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A 2017 U.S. government report, “SUPREME COURT DECISIONS OVERRULED BY SUBSEQUENT DECISION,” notes, “while the Supreme Court sometimes expressly overrules a prior decision, in other instances the overruling must be deduced from the principles of related cases.” The report identifies 237 Court decision that have been either overturned or revised.

A handful of key Court cases illustrates how changes legal doctrine signify how the country was “modernized,” became more humane, secular.  Among the most notable of these cases are:

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856-1857) — the Court ruled that Americans of African descent, whether free or slave, were not American citizens and could not sue in federal court; in the wake of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all people born in the United States, regardless of race.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) – the Court upheld racial segregation laws, accepting the doctrineof “separate but equal”; a half-century later, in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), ruled the segregation in public education was unconstitutional, effectively negating Plessy.

+  Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) – the Court has never known how to define pornography in this case Justice Potter Stuart famously declared, “I know it when I see it”; Jacobellis extended Roth v. United States (1957) and informed Miller v. California (1973) in the mainstreaming of what has long been suppressed as pornography.

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) – the Court ruled that a Georgia sodomy law that criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between two consenting adults was a crime; Lawrence v. Texas (2003) overturned that decision, granting privacy rights to consensual adult sexual life, notably among gay men; it set the stage for Obergefell v. Hodges  (2015) legalizing gay marriage.

The Trump regime, working closely with local and state antiabortion groups, is moving to reverse one of the most significant, progressive, Court decision, Roe v Wade (1973). Unfortunately, Roe is likely to be either severely revised or overturned given the religious-rights influence on the president and his administration, the Senate and two recent appointments to the Supreme Court.

The fate of Roe v. Wade is worse than you think.

***

A recently published book by Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo, The End of Roe v. Wade: Inside the Right’s Plan to Destroy Legal Abortion, warn readers that a woman’s right to the privacy of an abortion are numbered.  Most troubling, the authors make clear that while the likely end of Roeis at hand, it involves more than the end of Roe.

Two days after Richard Nixon’s inauguration, on the January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its momentous Roe v. Wade decision legalizing a woman’s right to the privacy of an abortion. Justice Harry Blackmun noted, “… throughout the 19th Century prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn ….” The Roe decision forced 46 states to liberalize their abortion laws and remains the defining issue of the culture wars.

The End of Roe v. Wade reveals how the “unborn” is becoming a “person”. The authors weave together two complements dimensions of this process – state efforts driven by well-organized and militant anti-abortion groups and the role of federal court decisions, especially by the Supreme Court, in reframing the meaning of personhood.

Marty and Pieklo show how a number of post-Roe Court decisions played critical roles in undercutting a woman’s right to an abortion. Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) is the most important because, while upholding the constitutional right to have an abortion, it introduced the “undue burden” standard permitting states to restrict abortions. Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) furthers the power of a state to restrict abortion so as to protect the rights of the fetus without regard to the health of the mother. However, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) reaffirmed Roe, ruling that Texas cannot place restrictions on the delivery of abortion services that create an undue burden for women seeking an abortion.

Nevertheless, as the authors argue, these cases are “a visible and blatant signal to antiabortion forces that Roe could be overturned in its entirety by the Court if the right case were brought before it.”

The religious right’s battle to evermore restrict a woman’s right to an abortion and, in time, overturn Roe is being played out on many fronts.  Among the antiabortion campaigns detailed in The End of Roe v. Wade are:

+  Prohibit federal funding for abortions (Washington, DC) – since the adoption of the Hatch Act (1976), there have been repeated efforts to prevent federal funds being used to pay for family planning, including restrictions on Title X, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and in the District of Columbia.

+  Fetus pain (Nebraska) – anti-abortionists argued that a fetus could feel pain (e.g., from a needle) at 12 weeks; of 2019, 24 states had passed so-called 20-week fetal pain bans

+  Heartbeat bills (Ohio) – introduced in 2011 to ban abortions after 5th or 6th week of fetal inception; as of 2019, 13 states passed heartbeat bills.  The authors note: “With a newly mined conservative majority in the Supreme Court, the right is more convinced than ever that heartbeat bans will be the ultimate weapon to finally overturn Roe v. Wade.”

+  Medication abortion and “telemedicine” abortions (Wisconsin) – prevent use of RU-486 and other drugs that induce an abortion and allow video conferencing between doctor and patient (especially important for rural women); as of 2019, 17 states had laws blocking telemedicine conferencing related to abortion.

+  Mandatory waiting periods (South Dakota) – required follow-up doctor visits ranging from 1-day to 3-days.

+  Mandatory forced ultrasound laws (South Carolina, Oklahoma) – require women seeking an abortion to listen to the fetal heartbeat; in 2019, 12 states require such a test while 11 another merely mandate it.

+  Informed consent requirements (South Dakota) – the doctor or medical professional is required to read to pregnant woman considering an abortion a detailed list of harmful medical consequences (including suicide) that may result due to an abortion.

+  “Anti-coercion” measures – require women seeking an abortion to attend “counseling” sessions with a “crisis pregnancy center” (CPC) representatives, often neither certified therapists nor psychologists but religious spokespersons.

+  Criminalize pregnant women if the fetus dies due still-birth, miscarriage or neonatal deal resulting from a self-induced abortion, attempted suicide, accident or taking of an illegal drug (Idaho, Indiana) – dubbed “feticide” and include Jennie Linn McCormick, Purvi Patel and Bei Bei Shuni, among others.

+  Restrict those who can perform an abortion – a doctor, a medical profession, the patient herself?

+  Restrict where an abortion can take place and with what medical equipment onsite (e.g., ultrasound) to a clinic, a hospital, a woman’s home?

+  Parental consent or notification requirement, and even spousal consent required for abortion – as of 2019, 37 states required parental consent.

+  Expand the notion of “interested parties” involved in a woman’s abortion from the patient and her doctor to a host of other, often anti-abortion doctors and proponents not familiar with the woman.

+  Abstinence until marriage campaigns – promoting no sex outside the marriage bed, opposed to pornography, masturbation, homosexuality.

+  Defund Planned Parenthood (Texas).

+  Adopt “conscious clauses” (Kansas).

+  Adopt fetal “personhood” bills (Mississippi).

+  Promote abstinence-until-marriage campaigns and antiabortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

+  Expand the notion of “interested parties” to doctors unfamiliar with the woman and antiabortion proponents.

The authors warn that “approximately 400 pieces of individual state based abortion restrictions have which have grown more extreme since the election of President Donald Trump and the seating of two new conservative justices [to the Supreme Court].” They also note that two anti-choice bills have been introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate this year – “Abortion Dismemberment Ban Act of 2019” (S. 1035) and “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (S. 160). More can be expected as 2020 election draws closer.

The end to a woman’s right to the privacy to decide to terminate her unwanted pregnancy seems, sadly, likely to come, especially if Trump is reelected and is able to appoint additional antiabortionists to the Court.  The End of Roe v. Wade is an important, essential, study for anyone trying to understand how this historical shift came about. In this way, the authors detail how the “unborn” is becoming a “person,” thus undercutting a core precept of Row.

More worrisome, Marty and Pieklo paint a scary picture of how the well-organized rightwing campaign to end Roe can be a model for campaigns against other rights. What’s next: restrictions on free speech and assembly?

 

The post The Likely End to Roe v. Wade? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Break Up the Democratic Party?

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Photograph Source: screenshot from of ABC News YouTube Channel

Thursday’s debate on Walt Disney’s ABC channel shaped up as yet another shameless charade. The pretense was that we are to select who the Democratic presidential candidate will be. But most Americans, as the Irish say, vote with their backsides, belonging to the informal but dominant party of non-voters who choose not to be sucked into legitimizing the bad choices put before them.

The debate was being presented as a reality entertainment show. The audience was invited to rate the candidates who seem most likely to implement the policy they want – but not including the economy. Most Americans are now living from paycheck to paycheck and cannot come up with even $400 in an emergency. They are afraid to go on strike or even to complain about their job, because they are afraid of getting fired – and of losing their corporate health care, knowing that getting sick may wipe them out. These problems will not appear on Walt Disney.

Voters basically want what Bernie Sanders is promising: a basic right to Single Payer health care and a retirement income. That means protection against the Republican-Democratic threats to cut back Social Security to balance the budget in the face of tax cuts for the richest One Percent and rising Cold War military spending. This means a government strong enough to take on the vested financial and corporate interests and prosecute Wall Street’s financial crime and corporate monopoly power. When neoliberals shout, “But that’s socialism,” Americans finally are beginning to say, “Then give us socialism.” It beats being ground down into debt peonage.

But here’s the trick that the TV debates sweep under the rug: It is not the voters who are empowered to choose the Democratic Party’s candidate. That privilege belongs legally to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Since stacking the political deck in 2016 to serve up Hillary Clinton as nominee, it has put in place rules that will enable its Donor Class members, superdelegates and other lobbyists for the One Percent to repeat the trickery once again in 2020.

I hope that the candidate who is clearly the voters’ choice, Bernie Sanders, may end up as the party’s nominee. If he is, I’m sure he’ll beat Donald Trump handily, as he would have done four years ago. But I fear that the DNC’s Donor Class will push Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or even Pete Buttigieg down the throats of voters. Just as when they backed Hillary the last time around, they hope that their anointed neoliberal will be viewed as the lesser evil for a program little different from that of the Republicans.

So Thursday’s reality TV run-off is about “who’s the least evil?” An honest reality show’s questions would focus on “What are you against?” That would attract a real audience, because people are much clearer about what they’re against: the vested interests, Wall Street, the drug companies and other monopolies, the banks, landlords, corporate raiders and private-equity asset strippers. But none of this is to be permitted on the magic island of authorized candidates (not including Tulsi Gabbard, who was purged from further debates for having dared to mention the unmentionable).

Donald Trump as the DNC’s nominee

The problem facing the Democratic National Committee today remains the same as in 2016: How to block even a moderately left-wing social democrat by picking a candidate guaranteed to lose to Trump, so as to continue the policies that serve banks, the financial markets and military spending for Cold War 2.0.

DNC donors favor Joe Biden, long-time senator from the credit-card and corporate-shell state of Delaware, and opportunistic California prosecutor Kamala Harris, with a hopey-changey grab bag alternative in smooth-talking small-town Rorschach blot candidate Pete Buttigieg. These easy victims are presented as “electable” in full knowledge that they will fail against Trump.

Trump meanwhile has done most everything the Democratic Donor Class wants: He has cut taxes on the wealthy, cut social spending for the population at large, backed Quantitative Easing to inflate the stock and bond markets, and pursued Cold War 2.0. Best of all, his abrasive style has enabled Democrats to blame the Republicans for the giveaway to the rich, as if they would have followed a different policy.

The Democratic Party’s role is to protect Republicans from attack from the left, steadily following the Republican march rightward. Claiming that this is at least in the direction of being “centrist,” the Democrats present themselves as the lesser evil (which is still evil, of course), simply as pragmatic in not letting hopes for “the perfect” (meaning moderate social democracy) block the spirit of compromise with what is attainable, “getting things done” by cooperating across the aisle and winning Republican support. That is what Joe Biden promises.

The effect has been to make America into a one-party state. Republicans act as the most blatant lobbyists for the Donor Class. But people can vote for a representative of the One Percent and the military-industrial complex in either the Republican or Democratic column. That is why most Americans owe allegiance to no party.

The Democratic National Committee worries that voters may disturb this alliance by nominating a left-wing reform candidate. The DNC easily solved this problem in 2016: When Bernie Sanders intruded into its apace, it the threw the election. It scheduled the party’s early defining primaries in Republican states whose voters leaned right, and packed the nominating convention with Donor Class super-delegates.

After the dust settled, having given many party members political asthma, the DNC pretended that it was all an unfortunate political error. But of course it was not a mistake at all. The DNC preferred to lose with Hillary than win with Bernie, whom springtime polls showed would be the easy winner over Trump. Potential voters who didn’t buy into the program either stayed home or voted green.

Starve out the DNC

Now is the time to start thinking about what to do if and when the DNC presents voters with neoliberal Hillary 2.0, preferring to lose with Biden or his clones than to win with Bernie.

I think the only effective response will be to boycott the Democratic Party – not only its presidential candidates, but its Blue Dog candidates and incumbents.

The legal kerfuffle raised by Sanders supporters in the aftermath made the switcheroo official. The courts affirmed that the Democratic Party’s candidate for president is legally chosen by the DNC alone, and may or may not be the candidate elected by voters in the primaries. To cap matters, the superdelegates serve as a safety valve against any candidate unwilling to go whole-hog neoliberal. A legal tangle of state and national U.S. election laws effectively blocks third parties from meaningful representation in Congress. Registered Independents such as Sanders are constrained to caucus with and serve on committees of one of the two parties.

That makes it difficult for any third party to play more than the role of a spoiler in elections. When the Democratic Party runs its right-wing Blue Dog candidates, a third-party protest will throw the Senate or Congressional election to the Republican – until the DNC finally just walks away.

It would not help much to take over the Democratic Party as long as its rules cede control to Wall Street donors. For the party to be reconstituted, the coterie that has imposed Rubinomics, Hillary’s neocon military empire, and is threatening to balance the budget by cutting Social Security needs to be isolated.

The most obvious start is to run real progressive candidates against incumbents, like AOC in Queens. If the DNC bans consultants from working with them, they should be attacked in the primary and then either stay home or vote for a third party in the fall election to defeat the incumbent rather than participate in the fake choices of just which neoliberal may be the least worst.

Democrat leaders will denounce the Third Party, claiming that voters would have supported Democratic otherwise, much as they blamed Ralph Nader in 2000. The reality is that voters refused to support the right-wing neocon Joe Lieberman (how appropriate that he became Obama’s Senate mentor) and his neoliberal Democratic Leadership Council front-man Gore, who would have given George W. Bush a run for awfulness.

The only way to make the Democrat Party democratic is to clean house, to boycott its Blue Dog candidates even though this throws elections to the Republicans until the DNC is emptied out. Only at that point can its rules be replaced with ones committing the party to follow the choice of voters and the majority non-Democratic (even non-voting) bloc instead of big donors and super-delegates.

This tactic may lead to Republican sweeps in the next few elections. That is the price that the Democrats have forced to be paid for their neoliberal intransigence that has made Donald Trump their president as much as that of Republican voters.

There is no such thing as centrist stability in a polarizing economy

There is no “middle class” policy in an indebted economy polarizing at an accelerating pace as financial rentiers lord it over an indebted majority. That is why wage earners have lost their identity with the Democratic Party’s loyalty to Wall Street. Although Democratic politicians presents themselves as the only alternative to Republican corporate lobbyists, the DNC is a smoke-filled room of donors, packaged in identity politics – every identity except that of indebted wage earners. It is merely a diversion to focus on personalities and to claim that economic reform is “divisive” because it may offend centrist voters such as the Democrats’ dream of attracting suburban Republican women.

Joe Biden’s promise of a moderate centrist policy is like Warren Harding’s slogan of a “return to normalcy” a century ago, in 1920. But a “return” would mean rolling back the enormous post-1980 increase in debt, the privatizations, deregulation and other neoliberal nightmares. Today’s U.S. economy – like that of Europe – has no middle ground. Attempts at a “moderate” party are merely a euphemism for backing the financial and real estate sector, the oil industry and the military-industrial complex.

If America had a parliamentary system reflecting voters’ preferences for parties, the Democratic Party would share the fate of German and other European Social Democrats that have embraced neoliberal economics and would poll about 5 percent of the vote, just barely being represented in a truly democratic congress. Voters are rejecting neoliberalism everywhere, but the DNC and foreign formerly left-wing party bureaucracies are holding onto it. They have become zombie party hacks.

Sanders rightly blames Wall Street and the One Percent for the economy’s financial mess. Warren strikes a resonant chord in seeing the need to alleviate the debt burden saying in effect, “It’s the debt, stupid.” But she also seems prepared to go along opportunistically with the rest of the Democratic Party’s platform.[1] Even so, the DNC seems quite willing to throw the election to Trump as its major funders and super-delegates back Biden, Harris and Buttigieg.

When Bernie says he will take on Wall Street, people believe him. When Elizabeth Warren says that, voters worry about just how far she may compromise. When Biden or Harris say that, most voters realize that they are simply grabbing slogans that play well in focus groups, selling their personalities without policy content.

Most potential voters have no party in the United States, but are forced into a choice between Republican and Democratic neoliberals. The polls euphemize most voters as “undecideds,” as if they have not decided to avoid both parties and try to scrape by as best they can with the bad choices put before them: Republican corporate lobbyists, or Democratic Wall Street lobbyists, both parties supporting military spending and representing the One Percent who form their donor base.

Most Democratic voters have decided not to back Biden or Harris. They realize their interests were betrayed first by Clintonomics and its deregulation of Wall Street and stripping away of social spending, and then by Obama protecting his Wall Street donors from “the mob with pitchforks,” namely, those who voted for his empty promise of hope and change. That is how the DNC views its constituency – to be manipulated and its attention diverted onto the Fantasy Island episode that  aired on Thursday on ABC.

Notes

1) She also seems to welcome support from the Clintonites and is seeking their super-delegates. See Jonathan Allen, “Warren and Clinton talk behind the scenes as 2020 race intensifies,” NBC, September 7, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/warren-clinton-talk-behind-scenes-2020-race-intensifies-n1049701

 

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What If This is as Good as It Gets?

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Shortly before I left Cornwall, a bloom of barrel jellyfish appeared just below the surface of the unusually calm Mevagissey waters. Aptly named – they have all the rounded bulk of beer barrels – they drew a fascinated crowd to watch them from the harbour’s edge. With some effort I squeezed through and squeezed out a few photos, but none came close to capturing the splendour of this convoy pulsating purposefully and gracefully along the coastline. It was the stuff of dreams, as though watching strange life forms cross over to our realm from the netherworld of Hieronymus Bosch.

The stuff of dreams, but perhaps also a portent. The ethereal visitors brought to the fore the formidable uncertainties many of us share about climate change – villagers said they had never before seen barrel jellyfish in such large numbers – and beneath their fascination lurked the very real dread that if the balance tips and sea levels rise, there will be no turning back. Everyone in the area, after all, knew a thing or two about floods: each year brought a new rainfall record, and many had lost their home or livelihood.

When it comes to our living breathing planet, as with our living breathing selves, there is no reverse gear, yet in the case of at least one species of jellyfish, the Turritopsis dohrnii – found in the Mediterranean and in the waters around Japan – its key feature is precisely that; this luminous, and simply beautiful yet entirely complex creature, floating, drifting, sinking with the currents, possesses the power of immortality.

Whilst humans developed a limited life span and an acute awareness of that fact, the Turritopsis dohrnii, though it is in no way self-aware, developed the ability to reverse its ontogeny, to turn back its life cycle in times of threat – be it environmental or simply the threat of old age. Many might begrudge the fact this ability had been bestowed on a bobbing blob of mindless jelly. Indeed, a variety of life forms are envied for their selective advantages – speed, strength, flight, longevity, regeneration, and perhaps also that living-in-the-moment quality associated with blissful ignorance: lacking awareness of their mortality, animal kingdom dwellers are unperturbed by advancing years, and live their lives to the last breath in simple pursuit of food, play and romance.

Consciousness of selfhood, of our place in the universe, and of our relationship with all living things, comes at a cost: the certainty of our demise and, what is often worse, the demise of others. This uniquely human grasp of the inevitability of death, and of the fact it can occur without warning, embodies the potential for immense psychological distress – we share with all animals, after all, the drive for self-preservation – but it also carries the potential for a richly meaningful and purposeful life, and research appears to support this.

A growing body of experimental evidence derived from Terror Management Theory, an approach that emerged from within existential social psychology, suggests increased awareness of mortality leads, correspondingly, to increased investment in those resources that provide meaning – social and cultural structures such as family, community and social identities – and that this in turn reduces the fear of death. But if pondering death can bring a sense of purpose, of meaning, and perhaps a degree of happiness to one’s life, might pondering the issues of age do the same?

Age rarely gets a good press. No one relishes the thought of ageing, of entering the realm of the forgotten, of finishing in that bleak place depicted by Larkin in his poem, The Old Fools: ‘the hideous inverted childhood, the power of choosing gone – why aren’t they screaming?’ The modern panic of ageing might be greater than the fear of death, for a host of reasons. On the road to being physically and mentally worn out, the process may involve the loss of those ingredients that go into the mix of a meaningful life: family, friends and social networks, experiences, accomplishments and recognition. Wisdom, though there is nothing necessary or causal about the process, often accompanies age, but even here one might reasonably ask what wisdom is, or might be, in the absence of any sort of meaningful community.

As Bette Davis succinctly said, old age ain’t for sissies, and certainly there are features of the ageing process that in the estimation of many far outweigh the benefits of pondering life’s purpose. Consciousness confers on us the ability to ask questions about life’s meaning, to probe the possibilities of a better world (perhaps even another world), and to make choices regarding how to live and even whether we live; but unlike the squirrels in the trees dreamily dropping conkers on the cars below, consciousness also reminds us of the mileage on the clock and gives a rough estimate of the time left on the journey – a journey that seems to accelerate with age. And if that isn’t bad enough, it also provides partial glimpses of the sort of life that awaits us further along the road: infirmities, indignities, and relative isolation, prejudice, poverty and perhaps loneliness. What if this, in the words of Jack Nicolson, is as good as it gets?

At Norwich Playhouse, Scottish comedian Fred MacAulay escorted a largely middle-aged and, as he described it, middle-class audience on a cruise around pensions, the raising of the state retirement age, life expectancy in Glasgow’s Shettleston district (around 54), and bucket lists, and at one stage found himself politely upbraided on a point of political correctness by a young doctor in the stalls: ‘We no longer refer to people as being old’, she declared, ‘but as older’. The mature Mister MacAulay deftly deflected the delicate point and resumed his steady flow of humorous anecdotes. But threading through the old – older? – lanes of Norwich later that night, I found myself pondering the policy of promoting manufactured politeness at the expense of radical social change.

The shift in emphasis from old to older, however well-intentioned, is a disavowal of age. Echoing prejudiced attitudes towards women – where the measure of their worth is made by comparisons with men – it defines the value of life by its proximity to a younger population, a cultural dominance reinforced by stereotypical statements: looking young for your age, as fit as a younger person, an alert young mind, performing tasks as well as someone much younger, maintaining a role in occupations that are believed to keep you young, and of course, not old, just…older.

There is at one end of the continuum a healthy cadre of activists who accept age and its limitations, and who continue as best they can in the fight against inequality and discrimination, who resist local and global injustice, and who organise to make the world a better place using age itself as a campaign platform – Harry Leslie Smith being a notable example. At the other end are those who bend to breaking point in response to social pressures that seem to demand the impossible – like the Turritopsis dohrnii, that we age in reverse.

The forces that orientate the world towards waste, obsolescence and disposable incomes, tend to engender a sense of shame about growing old. The response is often one of compulsive working, excessive exercise, diet regimes and ‘think yourself younger’ fads, cosmetic surgery, depression and suicide. The latter, though often twinned, are not knotted together in anything like a causal sense, but it is worth noting that suicide, possibly as a growing alternative to growing old, has increased dramatically in recent years – up by almost fifteen per cent in the UK among the over fifty-fives, and much higher in regions of severe material deprivation.

The dominant perspective on concepts such as independence and community tends to be articulated in the language of rational accounting procedures; in the current epoch it is expounded by the messiahs of market fundamentalism, packaged in that worldview, or perhaps faith, popularly known as neoliberalism. This ideology focuses on independence through the distorted lens of economic reasoning, showing the ideal individual as a competitive, autonomous, possessive, self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-interested human being – some might prefer the adjectives greedy, grasping and egregious. Community, in this view, as in Thatcher’s society, is more or less disregarded, and dependency is equated with sickness or inadequacy.

It is in part against the backdrop of neoliberalism that the increase in the suicide rate must be considered. Over 20 per cent of the older population are living in poverty, a problem intensified by the infirmities associated with old age and the increasing dependence on diminishing resources of quality care. Their powerlessness, however – as in racism and sexism – is not reducible to economics or class in any simple sense, but to attitudes.

We are, above all else, social beings. Theoretical approaches of the more people-centred variety suggest the self-concept – composed of the beliefs one holds about oneself, and based mainly on the reflections of others – continually develops throughout life’s course. It is realised through interdependence, and a tolerant community is where this happens: something we might define as a lifelong human resource that is vital for individuals to flourish. Attitudes towards older people, and ultimately our older selves, remain a key problem, and token references about them being the same as the young, just older, won’t make much impact on inequalities and access to resources, human or financial. But the centrality of community to the development of a sense of self throughout the course of one’s life, and to the quality, purpose and meaningfulness of one’s existence, must also be recognised. That discussion has hardly begun.

Changing the perspective reveals the immortal jellyfish in a position that is less enviable, a light that shows it trapped in a perpetual cycle, unable to learn, adapt, or move on. I wonder if many of us are psychologically closer to the immortal jellyfish than we might care to admit: some stuck in that loop of longing to have their youth over again, or in that rut of regret for wasting it. Perhaps some spend inordinately long periods of time tumbling the same thoughts over and over wishing for something they had all along: the power to change

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Uncensored Tony Serra: Consummate Criminal Defense Lawyer

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Tony Serra in his office. Photo: Jonah Raskin.

“In the 1960s I was dropping acid and doing cases pro-bono and decided then and there that I didn’t want to own things. In that sense I’m a Marxist. I’ve been in jail three times for not paying taxes. I’ve always helped prisoners. There’s usually a long line of people waiting to see me for legal advice.”

– Tony Serra

On December 2, 2016, a fire swept through a living and workspace in Oakland, California. Thirty-six people died, many of them attending a late night party in a converted warehouse known as the “Ghost Ship.” Investigators never determined the cause of the fire, but the Alameda County District Attorney charged “master tenant” Derick Almena and his assistant, Max Harris, with 36 counts of involuntarily manslaughter. The DA did not bring charges against the “acting landlord,” Eva Ng, or against her mother, Chor Ng, and her brother, Kai Ng, who together own the building.

Legendary civil rights and civil liberties lawyer, Tony Serra, defended Derick Almena. San Francisco attorney Curtis Briggs defended Max Harris. Before the trial began, on April 2, 2019, Briggs charged the Alameda County DA with “institutional corruption” for prosecuting “an underdog.” On September 5, 2019, the jury found “underdog” Harris not guilty of all charges. The same jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision on Almena.

Judge Trina Thompson—the first African American woman elected to be a judge in Alameda County— declared a mistrial for Serra’s client. He went back to jail while Harris went free. Almena may face another trial. He’ll find out on October 4. Family members of the deceased have filed civil lawsuits against the City of Oakland.

This interview took place in Tony Serra’s law office on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco where he was planning to host an “Impeach Trump Rally” with wine, music and speakers.

For those who don’t know you, how would you introduce yourself?

A: I went to Stanford and studied epistemology and then to Tangier thinking I’d be an ex-pat writer, but the people I met were using opiates and I didn’t fit in. I’d been a jock at college and didn’t even drink coffee until I was 28. I came back to the States, graduated from law school and went to work in the D.A.’s office in Alameda because I wanted courtroom experience. After that I went to South America for a while. When I came back the Haight-Ashbury was blooming. A whole house would be busted. Between 1964 and 1966 lots of people wanted me to defend them so I got even more experience.

You were part of that scene and shaped by it, weren’t you?

In the 1960s I was dropping acid and doing cases pro-bono and decided I didn’t want to own things. In that sense I’m a Marxist. I’ve been in jail three times for not paying taxes. I’ve helped people on the inside. There was always long line of people waiting to see me for legal advice.

I pay $450 for a small apartment where I live in North Beach. I wear old clothes from second-hand stores. My wife and I raised five kids in Bolinas. I have a brother who’s a famous artist. I defended the Black Panthers and stayed up all night with them behind sand bags when we expected a police raid.

Did the judge impose a gag order during the trial?

Yes, gaged throughout the trial and until after the verdict. Judge Thompson imposed it. Not my choice. I believe in the First Amendment and that the media should inform the public.

You don’t know if your client, Derick Almena, will be retried and you’ll be back in court. Do you feel like you’re in a legal limbo?

The main thing is that I won’t negotiate. I don’t talk to my enemy. The worst that could happen is after a second trial there would be another hung jury. It would cost the state at least half-a-million-dollars to retry Almena. Most of the families of the people who died in the fire want closure, so that favors dismissal. The DA might make an offer we can’t refuse. If there were negotiation, co-counsel would do that. He’s artful.

I remember attorney Bill Kunstler telling me that he once saw himself as “an officer of the court” and that during the Chicago Conspiracy Trial he changed his perspective and saw himself as an advocate for the defendants.

I have never thought of myself as an officer of the court. That title and what goes with it, is a way to manipulate a lawyer so the judge can exercise control.

How do you think the Ghost Ship fire trial will be remembered in the annals of American jurisprudence?

It’s an aberration and not a landmark case. This whole thing should have gone to civil court. The case was prosecuted to try to create a scapegoat and deflect from a civil suit against the city of Oakland, the fire department and the landlords who own the building. Sadly, that’s the way politics works. I have said that behind the scenes. Now I’m saying it openly.

In 2018, before the trial began The New York Times ran a long piece by Elizabeth Weil about Harris and about Almena. She depicted Almena as evil.

It was a nasty piece that hit him below the belt.

The media has often cast Harris as the angel and Almena as the devil.

Max is young. He graduated from art school and his professors were character witnesses. He totally co-operated with the government; during the fire he went back into the building to save lives. He was a hero. He should never have been indicted. In a way, I was handicapped by Max’s heroism.

Derick world have set himself on fire if that would have satisfied the families who wanted his blood. After he was locked up he was on suicide watch. When he was on the witness stand I think he did a damned good job. Jurors always want to hear from the accused. We gave them what they wanted when Derick testified.

Did you hold back anything during the trial?

Everything that I wanted to be revealed was revealed. I left out some things that would have agonized the families of the deceased.

I have friends who are legends in their own minds. You’re a genuine legend in the minds of a great many people.

I’m an old guy. I’ll be 85 in December. I’ve been around so long that I have outlived my enemies. Positive attention is good when you’re young, not when you’re old. I came out of the office one day during the Ghost Ship trial and a guy on the street walks up to me and says, “Why do you defend such horrible people.” I get that, too, and hate mail.

What drives you?

I want a reality in which everyone gets a fair trial and a lawyer. Poor people under our system don’t get the same justice as rich people, and black people don’t get the same justice as whites. Everyone knows that. It’s no secret.

I like to say that if I could be reborn I’d like to be reborn a black woman activist. They know what’s wrong with the system instinctively and they’re on a noble quest for equality under the law.

Did you consider a change of venue in the Ghost Ship Trial?

No, because we could never get a better jury than in Oakland.

What about Judge Trina Thompson?

I respect her. She came from the working class and became a public defender. She took death penalty cases. During the trial she let me get physically close to the jury and raise my voice and read poetry and use body language. Some judges don’t allow that.

Are you in contact with Almena?

I talked with him today. I met with him in jail after the verdict. I put money on the books for him all the time. He has been under appreciated. He’s an artist with a sense of community and loves his wife and children who were living at the Ghost Ship. Derick wouldn’t have allowed that if he thought it was unsafe. No sheriff and no police said that the building violated any code. On the contrary they said it was beautiful, awesome.

Do you think that the Trump administration had shaped the criminal justice system?

Not in San Francisco, but in Texas. Trump scares people. He’s the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime. He’s impeachable because of his collusion with the Russians. Everything he does is for a profit, and he has packed the courts with right-wing men who will jeopardize liberty for decades. Trump has poisoned the well.

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Here’s to the Last Philosophes, the Frankfurt School

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The “Frankfurt School” refers to a group of unorthodox Marxist intellectuals associated with Frankfurt, Germany’s Institute for Social Research. The most famous first-generation members, whose collective work spans from the 1930s into the early 1970s, include Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Herbert Marcuse. They wondered why advanced capitalist societies were sinking into new forms of barbarism rather than, as Marx envisioned, transitioning to a humane society that uses technological gains to abolish toil and promote human flourishing. To supplement Marx’s theories of ideology and social reproduction, they drew on a wide range of thinkers, including Sigmund Freud and Max Weber, developing a sizeable canon of radical and often pessimistic analyses of a “totally administered society.”

If you’re a far right-winger who stumbled upon this op-ed, you’ve likely heard grumblings about the Frankfurt School as villains in a conspiracy theory, widespread enough to inspire an academic study on its origins and mutations, which blames “cultural Marxism” or “critical theory” – today, both nearly meaningless umbrella terms used to describe many disparate and even opposing lines of thought – for crimes ranging from pop music and political correctness to the rise of postmodernism and the decline of traditional Western values. Even a non-conspiratorial and otherwise well-read version of the this story tacitly subsumes the Frankfurt School figures with poststructuralists and others under this vague banner of “cultural Marxism” in order to draw lines from critical theory to identity politics, internet mob justice, and the like.

Yet the term “cultural Marxism,” never uttered by the Frankfurt School, was coined in academia to describe the analysis of cultural artifacts like TV (PDF) from a Marxist perspective, not to describe a political strategy. For example, this approach would encourage those worried about the pathologies of contemporary cultural politics to examine the social conditions that brought about these pathologies rather than mistakenly assuming that they sprouted out of books, especially rarely read books whose content opposes, rather than affirms, the belief that one can change the world with, for example, more diverse comic books characters. (For conservative readers who are understandably suspicious of a leftist professor clearing the names of past leftist professors—who knows, I could be in on the treacherous plot to erect the safe spaces decreed by The Communist Manifesto—, it is worth noting that a relatively thoughtful dismissal of the cultural Marxism conspiracy was published in the libertarian magazine Reason and penned by someone who is unimpressed by the Frankfurt School’s ideas.)

It is an ironic conspiracy theory because Adorno-esque thinkers interpret multiculturalism, one of the alleged offspring of “cultural Marxism,” in the same critical light as Adorno did pluralism, a thin veil “which barely conceals the fact that mankind is beginning to despair of finding a solution to its disagreements,” and many tactics of modern activists as “pseudo-activity.” Even Marcuse’s infamous essay on “repressive tolerance,” the go-to whipping boy of the conservative case against critical theory, is not an implicit defense of, for example, pressuring employees to add preferred gender pronouns to their email signatures or playing into the hands of the far right but, instead, an analysis of how capitalism, by unavoidably concentrating more power into fewer hands, has undermined the necessary preconditions for the free exchange of ideas. While Marcuse didn’t deliver a perfect solution in one of his least notable essays, he asked the right question: How should one stand on the side of truth when a couple of billionaires can undermine human and planetary health by bankrolling outright lies?

But there is an even deeper irony in accusing the Frankfurt School of plotting to undermine Western values. Not only were they in conversation with the Judeo-Christian tradition’s loftiest ambitions, Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were deeply committed to the Enlightenment’s goal of shaping history through reason to realize freedom, justice, and happiness. Like Marx, their program was motivated by the aim to alter social conditions in line with reason, to make freedom and justice more than mere phrases. Consistent with the Enlightenment project is explaining why it has failed to deliver its own promises.

If anything, the Frankfurters can be faulted for demanding too much from reason, asking it to reflect on itself to become more reasonable. In their most famous yet oft-misunderstood book Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno counterintuitively argue that “myth is already enlightenment; and enlightenment reverts to mythology.” By “enlightenment,” they meant the secularization and disenchantment of religious and mythological worldviews, a tendency underlying all human history, not just during the period of the European Enlightenment. “Myth is already enlightenment” because myth is not merely mythical, it is a form of reason itself that classifies aspects of the world to control it. “Enlightenment reverts to mythology” because the quest to master nature for human aims has brought about a paradoxical outcome: humanity too became an instrument. A particular form of instrumental rationality has triumphed that, although proficient in categorizing and selecting the most effective means to a given end, is unable to rationally justify the given end, which is often arbitrarily given by a semi-autonomous economic system.

The inversion of means and ends was assessed by other German philosophers and sociologists, including Husserl, Simmel, Scheler, and Weber. The modern condition was often said to be characterized by a crisis of meaning, where our ability to feel at-home in the world decreases with our technical capacity to control it. The Frankfurt School gave this thesis a Marxist twist: life, both humanity and the environment, is reduced to an instrument due to irrational social conditions that require the elevation of the economy to an end: “Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake,” as Marx put it. In a social world whose author (humanity) is turned into an instrument to serve its own objects (e.g., “the market”), rationality slips into irrationality.

The concrete meaning of their abstract assessment of reason is experienced in daily life as a cog in a technologically complex society structurally compelled to sacrifice all for continued economic production and consumption, at the expense of the environment, offloading an endless treadmill of commodities, some which make us downright miserable, on one-dimensional men who exchanged their desire for liberation for a Netflix subscription. Our corporate-laced consciousness is stunted and pacified by the culture industry, a term that denotes the control and standardization of cultural products by big business, distracting us from precarities of employment and comforting us from the monotony of our jobs, many known to be pointless by their performers. Although their worst nightmare, the Frankfurt School would not be surprised by the current dystopia of celebrity and online “activism,” video game addiction, and throwaway culture. To use a fitting example from the culture industry, they saw “late capitalism” in a similar light as you see an episode of Black Mirror.

Coupled with the culture industry, authoritarianism is the barbarian twin born of monopoly capitalism. As others have shown, the Frankfurt School’s studies of fascism and the authoritarian personality are more relevant than ever. This includes Leo Löwenthal, another member of the Frankfurt School, and Norbert Guterman’s Prophets of Deceit, an analysis of the rhetorical techniques used by 1940s American fascist agitators. To only provide one example of the book’s contemporary applicability, obvious to anyone who has watched, with an iota of critical distance, any two-minute clip of Fox & Friends: “Seizing on the ‘simple folk’ theme as a pretext for fostering an aggressively anti-intellectual attitude, the agitator describes his American Americans as a people of good instincts and, he is happy to say, little sophistication.” Another pertinent concept is Adorno’s notion of “pseudo-conservativism,” which, in contrast to a “genuine conservativism” supportive of the ghosts of liberal capitalism and traditional American values, is marked by an inarticulate “virtual condemnation of anything that is deemed weak” and seeks, “in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

It is fitting that the far right are most attracted to the cultural-Marxist boogeyman tale discussed above, not only because a group of radical Jewish academic refugees of Nazism is an ideal scapegoat for anti-Semitic reactionaries, but also because the Frankfurt School’s research on the fascist’s and “potential fascist” pseudo-conservative’s personality and ideology still depicts the modern authoritarian personality’s character and worldview with eerie accuracy.

Of course, Trump, shining spectacularly atop the nihilistic heap where right-wing populism meets the culture industry, is reason enough for revisiting the Frankfurt School. One Trump supporter attending a rally captured the ethos of current politics in a sentence: “I just want to get a feel for the spectacle.” Glowing from our LCD screens like a cheap comedy horror we passively accept as an unthinking break from our concerns and boredom, embodying the Zeitgeist of entertainment, fear, and unreason, he is our Hegelian world-historical individual blindly Tweeting the way to a future that we know will almost certainly be worse than the present despite the potential for utopia. In the wake of his every stupefying remark, there is a simulation of solidarity that unites the savage glee of postmodern “conservatives” and the sanctimonious pseudo-resistance of the “progressive” neoliberals: amusement, which adds a thrill to a collective foreboding that this will all end in a disaster.

When Mars colonization is deemed a more rational response to impending catastrophe than living with enough, right-wing authoritarianism is resurging globally, and kids and adults spend most of their waking hours consuming entertainment media, take the red pill with the Frankfurt School, not because they conspired to undermine the Western tradition, but because they took it seriously.

Peter Thompson’s readable Guardian series is an admirable free primer, beginning here. Adorno’s Minima Moralia or Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man are captivating and darkly relevant places to begin digging into their challenging yet rewarding primary works.

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The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!)

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Donald Trump got the headlines as usual — but don’t be fooled. It wasn’t Trumpism in action this August, but what we should all now start referring to as the Pompeo Doctrine. Yes, I’m referring to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and, when it comes to the Arctic region, he has a lot more than buying Greenland on his mind.

In mid-August, as no one is likely to forget, President Trump surprised international observers by expressing an interest in purchasing Greenland, a semi-autonomous region of Denmark. Most commentators viewed the move as just another example of the president’s increasingly erratic behavior. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen termed the very notion of such a deal “absurd,” leading Trump, in an outburst of pique, to call her comments “nasty” and cancel a long-scheduled state visit to Copenhagen.

A deeper look at that incident and related administration moves, however, suggests quite a different interpretation of what’s going on, with immense significance for the planet and even human civilization. Under the prodding of Mike Pompeo, the White House increasingly views the Arctic as a key arena for future great-power competition, with the ultimate prize being an extraordinary trove of valuable resources, including oil, natural gas, uranium, zinc, iron ore, gold, diamonds, and rare earth minerals. Add in one more factor: though no one in the administration is likely to mention the forbidden term “climate change” or “climate crisis,” they all understand perfectly well that global warming is what’s making such a resource scramble possible.

This isn’t the first time that great powers have paid attention to the Arctic. That region enjoyed some strategic significance during the Cold War period, when both the United States and the Soviet Union planned to use its skies as passageways for nuclear-armed missiles and bombers dispatched to hit targets on the other side of the globe. Since the end of that era, however, it has largely been neglected. Frigid temperatures, frequent storms, and waters packed with ice prevented most normal air and maritime travel, so — aside from the few Indigenous peoples who had long adapted to such conditions — who would want to venture there?

Climate change is, however, already altering the situation in drastic ways: temperatures are rising faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet, melting parts of the polar ice cap and exposing once-inaccessible waters and islands to commercial development. Oil and natural gas reserves have been discovered in offshore areas previously (but no longer) covered by sea ice most of the year. Meanwhile, new mining opportunities are emerging in, yes, Greenland! Worried that other countries, including China and Russia, might reap the benefits of such a climate-altered landscape, the Trump administration has already launched an all-out drive to ensure American dominance there, even at the risk of future confrontation and conflict.

The scramble for the Arctic’s resources was launched early in this century when the world’s major energy firms, led by BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Russian gas giant Gazprom, began exploring for oil and gas reserves in areas only recently made accessible by retreating sea ice. Those efforts gained momentum in 2008, after the U.S. Geological Survey published a report, Circum-Arctic Resources Appraisal, indicating that as much as one-third of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas lay in areas north of the Arctic Circle. Much of this untapped fossil fuel largess was said to lie beneath the Arctic waters adjoining Alaska (that is, the United States), Canada, Greenland (controlled by Denmark), Norway, and Russia — the so-called “Arctic Five.”

Under existing international law, codified in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal nations possess the right to exploit undersea resources up to 200 nautical miles from their shoreline (and beyond if their continental shelf extends farther than that). The Arctic Five have all laid claim to “exclusive economic zones” (EEZs) in those waters or, in the case of the United States (which has not ratified UNCLOS), announced its intention to do so. Most known oil and gas reserves are found within those EEZs, although some are thought to be in overlapping or even contested areas beyond that 200-mile limit, including the polar region itself. Whoever owns Greenland, of course, possesses the right to develop its EEZ.

For the most part, the Arctic Five have asserted their intent to settle any disputes arising from contested claims through peaceful means, the operating principle behind the formation in 1996 of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental organization for states with territory above the Arctic Circle (including the Arctic Five, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden). Meeting every two years, it provides a forum in which, at least theoretically, leaders of those countries and the Indigenous peoples living there can address common concerns and work towards cooperative solutions — and it had indeed helped dampen tensions in the region. In recent years, however, isolating the Arctic from mounting U.S. (and NATO) hostilities toward Russia and China or from the global struggle over vital resources has proven increasingly difficult. By May 2019, when Pompeo led an American delegation to the council’s most recent meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland, hostility and the urge to grab future resources had already spilled into the open.

Reaping the Arctic’s Riches

Usually a forum for anodyne statements about international cooperation and proper environmental stewardship, the lid was blown off the latest Arctic Council meeting in May when Pompeo delivered an unabashedly martial and provocative speech that deserves far more attention than it got at the time. So let’s take a little tour of what may prove a historic proclamation (in the grimmest sense possible) of a new Washington doctrine for the Far North.

“In its first two decades, the Arctic Council has had the luxury of focusing almost exclusively on scientific collaboration, on cultural matters, on environmental research,” the secretary of state began mildly. These were, he said, “all important themes, very important, and we should continue to do those. But no longer do we have that luxury. We’re entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to the Arctic and its real estate, and to all of our interests in that region.”

In what turned out to be an ultra-hardline address, Pompeo claimed that we were now in a new era in the Arctic. Because climate change — a phrase Pompeo, of course, never actually uttered — is now making it ever more possible to exploit the region’s vast resource riches, a scramble to gain control of them is now officially underway. That competition for resources has instantly become enmeshed in a growing geopolitical confrontation between the U.S., Russia, and China, generating new risks of conflict.

On the matter of resource exploitation, Pompeo could hardly contain his enthusiasm. Referring to the derision that greeted William Seward’s purchase of Alaska in 1857, he declared:

“Far from the barren backcountry that many thought it to be in Seward’s time, the Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30% of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources.”

Of equal attraction, he noted, was the possibility of vastly increasing maritime commerce through newly de-iced trans-Arctic trade routes that will link the Euro-Atlantic region with Asia. “Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade,” he enthused. “This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days… Arctic sea lanes could come [to be] the 21st century’s Suez and Panama Canals.” That such “steady reductions in sea ice” are the sole consequence of climate change went unmentioned, but so did another reality of our warming world. If the Arctic one day truly becomes the northern equivalent of a tropical passageway like the Suez or Panama canals, that will likely mean that parts of those southerly areas will have become the equivalents of uninhabitable deserts.

As such new trade and drilling opportunities arise, Pompeo affirmed, the United States intends to be out front in capitalizing on them. He then began bragging about what the Trump administration had already accomplished, including promoting expanded oil and gas drilling in offshore waters and also freeing up “energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” a pristine stretch of northern Alaska prized by environmentalists as a sanctuary for migrating caribou and other at-risk species. Additional efforts to exploit the region’s vital resources, he promised, are scheduled for the years ahead.

A New Arena for Competition (and Worse)

Ideally, Pompeo noted placidly, competition for the Arctic’s resources will be conducted in an orderly, peaceful manner. The United States, he assured his listeners, believes in “free and fair competition, open, by the rule of law.” But other countries, he added ominously, especially China and Russia, won’t play by that rulebook much of the time and so must be subject to careful oversight and, if need be, punitive action.

China, he pointed out, is already developing trade routes in the Arctic, and establishing economic ties with key nations there. Unlike the United States (which already has multiple military bases in the Arctic, including one at Thule in Greenland, and so has a well-established presence there), Pompeo claimed that Beijing is surreptitiously using such supposedly economic activities for military purposes, including, heinously enough, spying on U.S. ballistic missile submarines operating in the region, while intimidating its local partners into acquiescence.

He then cited events in the distant South China Sea, where the Chinese have indeed militarized a number of tiny uninhabited islands (outfitting them with airstrips, missile batteries, and the like) and the U.S. has responded by sending its warships into adjacent waters. He did so to warn of similar future military stand-offs and potential clashes in the Arctic. “Let’s just ask ourselves, do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims?” The answer, he assured his listeners, is “pretty clear.” (And I’m sure you can guess what it is.)

The secretary of state then wielded even stronger language in describing “aggressive Russian behavior in the Arctic.” In recent years, he claimed, the Russians have built hundreds of new bases in the region, along with new ports and air-defense capabilities. “Russia is already leaving snow prints in the form of army boots” there, a threat that cannot be ignored. “Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so.”

And here we get to the heart of Pompeo’s message: the United States will, of course, “respond” by enhancing its own military presence in the Arctic to better protect U.S. interests, while countering Chinese and Russian inroads in the region:

“Under President Trump, we are fortifying America’s security and diplomatic presence in the area. On the security side, partly in response to Russia’s destabilizing activities, we are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs inside of our own military.”

To emphasize the administration’s sincerity, Pompeo touted the largest NATO and U.S. Arctic military maneuvers since the Cold War era, the recently completed “Trident Juncture” exercise (which he incorrectly referred to as “Trident Structure”), involving some 50,000 troops. Although the official scenario for Trident Juncture spoke of an unidentified “aggressor” force, few observers had any doubt that the allied team was assembled to repel a hypothetical Russian invasion of Norway, where the simulated combat took place.

Implementing the Doctrine

And so you have the broad outlines of the new Pompeo Doctrine, centered on the Trump administration’s truly forbidden topic: the climate crisis. In the most pugnacious manner imaginable, that doctrine posits a future of endless competition and conflict in the Arctic, growing ever more intense as the planet warms and the ice cap melts. The notion of the U.S. going nose-to-nose with the Russians and Chinese in the Far North, while exploiting the region’s natural resources, has clearly been circulating in Washington. By August, it had obviously already become enough of a commonplace in the White House (not to speak of the National Security Council and the Pentagon), for the president to offer to buy Greenland.

And when it comes to resources and future military conflicts, it wasn’t such a zany idea. After all, Greenland does have abundant natural resources and also houses that U.S. base in Thule. A relic of the Cold War, the Thule facility, mainly a radar base, is already being modernized, at a cost of some $300 million, to better track Russian missile launches. Clearly, key officials in Washington view Greenland as a valuable piece of real estate in the emerging geopolitical struggle Pompeo laid out, an assessment that clearly wormed its way into President Trump’s consciousness as well.

Iceland and Norway also play key roles in Pompeo’s and the Pentagon’s new strategic calculus. Another former Cold War facility, a base at Keflavik in Iceland has been reoccupied by the Navy and is now being used in antisubmarine warfare missions. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has stationedseveral hundred combat troops at bases near Trondheim, Norway, the first permanent deployment of foreign soldiers on Norwegian soil since World War II. In 2018, the Pentagon even reactivated the Navy’s defunct Second Fleet, investing it with responsibility for protecting the North Atlantic as well as the Arctic’s maritime approaches, including those abutting Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. Consider these signs of heating-up times.

And all of this is clearly just the beginning of a major buildup in and regular testing of the ability of the U.S. military to operate in the Far North. As part of Exercise Trident Juncture, for example, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman and its flotilla of support ships were sent into the Norwegian Sea, the first time a U.S. carrier battle group had sailed above the Arctic Circle since the Soviet Union imploded in 1991. Similarly, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer recently announced plans to send surface warships on trans-Arctic missions, another new military move. (U.S. nuclear submarines make such journeys regularly, sailing beneath the sea ice.)

The Irony of Arctic Melting

Although Secretary Pompeo and his underlings never mention the term climate change, every aspect of his new doctrine is a product of that phenomenon. As humanity puts more and more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and global temperatures continue to rise, the Arctic ice cap will continue to shrink. That, in turn, will make exploitation of the region’s abundant oil and natural gas reserves ever more possible, leading to yet more burning of fossil fuels, further warming, and ever faster melting. In other words, the Pompeo Doctrine is a formula for catastrophe.

Add to this obvious abuse of the planet the likelihood that rising temperatures and increasing storm activity will render oil and gas extraction in parts of the world ever less viable. Many scientists now believe that daytime summer temperatures in oil-producing areas of the Middle East, for instance, are likely to average 120 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, making outdoor human labor of most sorts deadly. At the same time, more violent hurricanes and other tropical storms passing over the ever-warming waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico could imperil the continuing operation of offshore rigs there (and in other similarly storm-prone drilling areas). Unless humanity has converted to alternative fuels by then, the Arctic may be viewed as the world’s primary source of fossil fuels, only intensifying the struggle to control its vital resources.

Perhaps no aspect of humanity’s response to the climate crisis is more diabolical than this. The greater the number of fossil fuels we consume, the more rapidly we alter the Arctic, inviting the further extraction of just such fuels and their contribution to global warming. With other regions increasingly less able to sustain a fossil-fuel extraction economy, a continued addiction to oil will ensure the desolation of the once-pristine Far North as it is transformed into a Pompeo-style arena for burning conflict and civilizational disaster.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

The post The Pompeo Doctrine: How to Seize the Arctic’s Resources, Now Accessible Due to Climate Change (Just Don’t Mention Those Words!) appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them

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The following is adapted from Luke O’Neil’s newsletter Welcome to Hell World and his book of the same name available now, Welcome to Hell World: Dispatches from the American Dystopia.

***

There’s a girl I never want to let myself forget. Her name is Samar Hassan and we killed her family.

In January of 2005 in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, Samar who was five years old at the time was riding in the backseat of her parents’ car as they returned from bringing her young brother to the hospital. It was getting dark and nearing curfew and her father likely aware of this was driving faster than normal. Fearing that the driver was a suicide bomber an army patrol in the area that evening was given permission to open fire and so they did because that is what army patrols do.

As Specialist Brad Hammond would tell it years later he and multiple other soldiers fired at least 20 rounds each into the oncoming car. When it finally came to a stop Samar and her siblings spilled out of the back with their parents now slumped over in the front seat dead from the torrent of gunfire.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god. What did we do? What did we do?” Hammond said in the film Hondros a 2017 documentary about the life of the late acclaimed conflict photographer Chris Hondros who was on hand at the shooting.

Hammond still smells what he smelled that night.

“Blood, brains. You ever smelled . . .” he says in the film inhaling deeply.Hondros was embedded with Hammond’s Apache company at the time. He quickly snapped a series of pictures of the family we destroyed including one which became one of the most searing and defining images of the war. He’d soon be banished from traveling with the company after disregarding military command’s request not to publish the photos.

Samar’s parents were but two deaths in the conservative estimate of 500,000 or more that came as a direct result of combat or its after- math in the collapse of Iraqi infrastructure and the subsequent take- over of parts of the country by the Islamic State but the photographs Hondros captured of Samar and her siblings—traumatized, bloodied, devastated—did something that reading an abstract number like that can’t ever do. It brought the dead—the distant, unknowable, easily ignorable Iraqi dead—to life.

Look at her face in the photo now. I can’t print it here but you should put this book into the trash or the toilet and go find it and stare at it for a couple hours and you’ll understand my general thesis.

Are you looking? What can she be thinking? Did she have any idea why her parents were murdered? By who?

A subsequent military inquiry determined that the attack on the car was “reasonable in intensity, duration, magnitude.”

Samar’s brother Rakan who was badly injured in the shooting as well was brought to Boston the next year for treatment for his injuries. It was aid he was afforded in no small part by the widespread attention the photos had garnered and the advocacy of an American aid worker named Marla Ruzicka. Three years later the boy was murdered in an attack by insurgents. Their uncle who was taking care of the two children at the time suspects his home was targeted specifically because the boy had traveled to the United States.

Ruzicka would also be killed in a car bombing in Baghdad not long after.
Hondros would die himself from wounds sustained in a mortar attack while covering the Libyan Civil War in 2011.

But Samar. I was trying to remember her name in September of 2018 as the weeklong destination wedding-ass funeral and round-the-clock 24/7 corpse-watch for John McCain continued its interminable slog on cable news. I worried for a while I wouldn’t be able to bring something Samar said in an interview last year back to memory. I felt guilty for having let the specificity of her anguish slip from my mind.

The documentary makers behind Hondros tracked Samar down for the film. Eighteen by then they had come to see her in part to bring her an apology from Hammond. He appears in the film himself now as a broken man unable to emotionally process the extent of what he did. Hammond still has nightmares every night he says in the film over shots of an overflowing bag of medication. Anxiety pills and so on. He still sees Rakan walking down the street when he goes to sleep.

He asked the documentarians to please tell Samar if they could find her that he is sorry.
She did not accept the apology.

“Everybody knows my story and saw my picture,” she tells the filmmakers in between the pauses as a translator relays her words leav- ing ample time for them to spread out and fill the space of the room.

“But it’s not going to help me with anything.” She remembers that night. It’s never gone from her thoughts. “I hear them screaming in my head and the sound of shooting.” “What would sorry do?” she asks. “They’re gone. Is sorry going to bring them back? No, it won’t. That’s it. It’s done.”

That weekend I saw a tweet that got 100,000 retweets in the first twenty-four hours it was posted. It was a video taken from John McCain’s funeral at the National Cathedral in which Michelle Obama can be seen taking a piece of candy from George W. Bush.

Another tweet that weekend from the New Yorker’s Susan Glaser captured the sepia-tinted nostalgia theme that abounded across social media: “Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney next to each other at John McCain’s funeral . . . seems so much how Washington used to be, and is no longer. When America hears these stirring patriotic songs today, do they even hear the same words?”

As Glasser would later write in a piece in which she inducted Bush into the #resistance—a sentiment hundreds of Beltway lanyard-fuckers echoed on Twitter and elsewhere—McCain’s funeral was not just a beautiful tribute to a heroic man but more importantly a stirring rebuke to Donald Trump. Obama, Bush, and Meghan McCain’s eulogies were pointed shots across the bow at the nasty Trump who is the first bad president and a man whom they not-so-subtly attempted to contrast with the honorable war hero.

Needless to say the occasion of McCain’s death drove the white-collar pundit class absolutely fucking insane in all manner of ways.

“The angels were crying. Here at CNN—just a few blocks away—no rain. Just there,” CNN’s Dana Bash tweeted.

But this rehabilitation of kindly old grandpas Bush and McCain and the other architects of the Iraq War into a throwback to the good old days of politics when we all had our disagreements sure but everyone lined up and shook hands then hit the showers together after a sporting debate is a fucking bridge too far. Imagine seeing Dick Fucking Cheney anywhere outside of an iron maiden in Hell and finding something to be nostalgic about?

Here’s what Meghan McCain said about her father to resounding applause at the funeral:
“The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She is resourceful and confident and secure. She meets her responsibil- ities. She speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast because she has no need. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

I don’t know if any of the smooth-brained dullards in the media eulogizing John McCain—whose own theater of bravery lest we for- get led to at least a million and a half deaths including an estimated 600,000 civilians—remember much from the Bush era or just how ravenously horny for invading Iraq or any other country he thought had it coming McCain was at the time. Distance does have a way of sanding off the edges. But here’s something that came from Bush and McCain’s war I’d like more people to hear. It’s one of the last things Samar says in the documentary about the men—Bush and McCain’s men, our men—who killed her family for nothing.

What would she say to them if they were to tell her they were sorry?

“I will never forgive them. I will just leave it to God. God will pun- ish them,” she says, her voice rising in anger.

“If they were in front of me, I would want to drink their blood,” she says.

“Even then I wouldn’t be satisfied.”

The post I Would Want To Drink Their Blood: God Will Punish Them appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Intellectual Development of Karl Marx

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The first installment of Michael Heinrich’s three-volume biography of Karl Marx titled “Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society” is now available from Monthly Review Press. In keeping with MR’s long-time tradition as a movement rather than an academic press, the cloth edition is $34.95 and the eBook is only $19.95. Given the renewed attention to Karl Marx since the financial crisis of 2008, it will help us understand how his life and thought evolved. Heinrich is a consummate scholar of Marxism, best known until now for his 2012 “An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital”, also available from MR.

At 384 pages, Heinrich’s first volume is almost as long as Francis Wheen’s 1999 “Karl Marx: a Life” that won the prestigious Isaac Deutscher award that year. Out of curiosity, I read the first 59 pages of Wheen that covers approximately the same time frame as Heinrich’s, namely from Marx’s birth in 1818 to the completion of his Ph.D. dissertation in 1841.

It must be said that Wheen is a very polished writer but I was struck by how it was written for people who wanted to read a good story rather than a rigorous examination of Marx’s early years. On Hegel’s dialectical method that influenced Marx as a college student, Wheen writes:

What is dialectic? As any schoolchild with a set of magnets —or, for that matter, any dating agency — will confirm, opposites can attract. If it were not so, the human race would be extinct. Female mates with male, and from their sweaty embrace a new creature emerges who will, eventually, repeat the process. Not always, of course, but often enough to ensure the survival and progress of the species. The dialectic performs much the same function for the human mind. An idea, stripped naked, has a passionate grapple with its antithesis, from which a synthesis is created; this in turn becomes the new thesis, to be duly seduced by a new demon lover.

As much as this prose sparkles, it is utter nonsense. Hegel never wrote about opposites attracting. To do justice to Marx’s intellectual development, you have to understand who Hegel was and how he fit into German society and politics in the early 1800s. To some extent, I have a head-start on this since I was a philosophy major in 1967, trying to stay out of the army. Unlike most American philosophy departments that were mired in logical positivism, the New School adhered to the continental tradition, which allowed me to take a course in Hegel and read his knotty and prolix “The Phenomenology of Mind”. While this was of some benefit, it did not help me understand how Hegel was a liberating philosopher of his time, especially for the Young Hegelians that included Karl Marx.

Heinrich makes the case that Hegel was not an apologist for the Prussian state, a charge leveled against him by some writers who have only a superficial understanding. Karl Marx studied at the University of Berlin, where Hegel was a highly respected lecturer. He influenced the students he taught as well as other professors who supported the movement toward democracy and basic human rights that would finally explode in the 1848 revolutionary movements across Europe. For this generation, the French Revolution was still a model even if Napoleon Bonaparte had trampled on its core values in the same way that Stalin did for a socialist revolution 120 years later.

To make sure that readers understand the Hegel-Marx connection in its totality, Heinrich writes—almost apologetically—that he will forgo a “rushed outline of Hegel’s philosophy” (like Wheen’s one-paragraph dating service metaphor) even if “engaging with Hegel is not very easy.” For some on the left, the image of Hegel as a pro-Junkers ideologue persists. For example, Antonio Negri called him the “philosopher of the bourgeois and capitalist organization of labor.” I should add that the late Jim Blaut, my old friend and critic of Eurocentrism, despised Hegel. Heinrich maintains that this hostility is based to a large degree on Hegel’s statement that “What is rational is actual, what is actual is rational”, a seeming endorsement of the status quo. In reality, this statement is much more of a stand against what is irrational in bourgeois society, including the denial of full citizenship to Jews. Heinrich Marx, Karl’s father, converted to Protestantism because that was the only way he could make a living as a lawyer, a profession that excluded Jews.

Despite Hegel’s reputation for impenetrable prose and political authoritarianism, Heinrich’s command of his entire corpus enables him to cite a few sentences from his earlier works that are not only crystal-clear but verge on anarchism:

First—I want to show that there is no idea of the state because the state is something mechanical, just as little as there is an idea of a machine. Only that which is the object of freedom is called idea. We must therefore go beyond the state!—Because every state must treat free human beings like mechanical works; and it should not do that; therefore it should cease. . . . At the same time I want to set forth the principles for a history of a human race here and expose the whole miserable human work of state, constitution, government, legislature—down to the skin.

While Hegel was the most highly regarded proponent of Enlightenment values at the U. of Berlin, the professor who had the biggest impact on his intellectual development was Eduard Gans, a fellow Jewish convert to Protestantism. Gans took over Hegel’s lecture course on jurisprudence in 1827 and went much further in his espousal of democratic rights. In 1831, Gans visited England and wrote upon his return about the terrible conditions he saw there. “Just as previously master and slave, later the patrician and plebeian, then the feudal lord and vassal confronted one another, now the idle one and the worker do. One visits the factories of England, and hundreds of men and women who are emaciated and miserable, who sacrifice their health, their enjoyment of life in the service of another merely in order to maintain themselves in this impoverished condition. Is that not called slavery, when one exploits a human being like an animal, even when he would otherwise be free to die of hunger?”

Is it possible that these words could have been lingering in Marx’s memory when he wrote this in the Communist Manifesto? “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”

In addition to his words, Gans was an activist for democratic rights and raised money for the defense of leftwing professors who had been victimized for exercising their academic freedom. For Hegel and his followers, including Marx, it is plausible that they did not give up on the ideals of 1789 even though they had been cast aside after Napoleon’s seizure of power. For all those who despair of the difficulties of making a socialist revolution today, we should find inspiration in the democratic revolutionaries of Karl Marx’s young manhood who never gave up striving for a better world. It was Marx’s development of a socialism based on historical materialism that kept alive the possibility of achieving personal freedom and social justice in one single stroke.

Besides Gans, the other major influence on Marx’s intellectual development was Bruno Bauer, who was much more of a partner than a mentor. A Young Hegelian with a strong leftist bent, Bauer had taken Feuerbach’s insights to the extreme. Feuerbach believed that our concept of God is a projection of our inner strivings for universalism. If the conflict was between philosophy and religion for Feuerbach, it became one between the church hierarchy and science for Baer. He became an outspoken atheist and a debunker of miracles.

When Bauer came to these iconoclastic views, Marx had come to the same conclusions between 1836 and 1837, when he was 18 years old. Between 1840 and 1842, Marx had considered the possibility of writing a five-volume work on the philosophy of religion. Even though the industrial revolution was in full gear by then, most philosophers were still connected to religion through an umbilical cord reinforced by both Catholic and Protestant officialdom that expected intellectuals to toe the line. By the 1890s, the umbilical cord had been cut. However, we should never forget the power it had over leftist intellectuals in the earlier part of the century, including Karl Marx.

Between 1837 and 1842, Bruno Bauer was Marx’s best friend. Later on, he would break with both Feuerbach and Bauer, who had never moved outside of the academic and philosophical world that was obsessed with godhood, immortality and other metaphysical concerns. In 1844, Marx and Engels wrote “The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Criticism: Against Bruno Bauer and Company” in their customary, no-holds-barred fashion, so dramatically recreated in Raul Peck’s masterpiece “The Young Karl Marx”. The introduction reminds me of how relieved I felt about dropping out of grad school in 1967 and devoting myself to socialist revolution, just as Marx had done 130 years earlier:

Real humanism has no more dangerous enemy in Germany than spiritualism or speculative idealism, which substitutes “self-consciousness” or the “spirit” for the real individual man and with the evangelist teaches: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing.” Needless to say, this incorporeal spirit is spiritual only in its imagination. What we are combating in Bauer’s criticism is precisely speculation reproducing itself as a caricature. We see in it the most complete expression of the Christian-Germanic principle, which makes its last effort by transforming “criticism” itself into a transcendent power.

Reading this makes me hunger for volume two of Heinrich’s biography. There’s a lot that’s obscure in “The Holy Family,” but I am sure that the good professor will make it transparently clear. Stay tuned for my review of volume 2 as soon as MR releases it.

 

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How China Sees the World

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Beijing.

Question. What leader saw his country’s military dropping 26,171 bombs in one year? That works out at every day of that year, the country’s military dropped 72 bombs, or 3 bombs every hour, 24 hours a day, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Answer Barack Obama. That same year, 2016, special operators from the United States could be found in 70 percent of the world’s nations.

One last question. What UN security council member has not fired a shot in anger outside its borders for 30 years but is nonetheless being accused of military expansionism?

Answer: China.

They see things differently in China. What we in the West refer to as the Middle East, they call the Middle West.

There are many in the West who view China as a military threat, a clear and present danger. China, needless to say, see things from a different perspective.

The United States occupies prime global real estate. It has two friendly neighbors in Canada and Mexico. China has strained relations stretching back centuries with many of its neighbors. These include India, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom), China is the only one that has not fired a single military shot outside its border in thirty years. A naval clash with Vietnam in 1988 was the last time a shot was fired in anger.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was, in the West, viewed as a victory for human rights. In China it was viewed as a damming indictment of poor economic planning. China learned its lesson. Economic growth must come before military expenditure. The Chinese economy may not be as strong as official figures suggest. No one here really believes that the economy is growing at 6.5 per cent annually.

But there can be no doubting the economic growth over the last four decades or so.

By comparison after adjusting for inflation, workers’ wages in the US are only 10 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 1973 when Nixon was in the White House. Annual real wage growth is just below 0.2 percent. The US economy has experienced long-term wage stagnation.

Trade between the US and China grew from $5 billion in 1980 to $660 billion in 2018. A communist run country is the largest foreign holder of US Treasury securities. This funds the federal debt and keeps US interest rates low.

China is also the largest US merchandise trading partner, biggest source of imports, and third-largest US export market.

Have the Chinese played fast and loose with global trade rules? Probably. Do they try to use their money to buy political influence overseas? Probably. Does China use unfair trade practices (such as an undervalued currency and subsidies given to domestic producers) to flood US markets with low-cost goods? Yes. But China is not to blame for the stagnation in US wages. That was apparent long before China was a factor.

Since 1978 China has lifted 800 million people out of poverty and created the largest middle class in the world.

The Chinese people are not blind to the inequalities, injustices and brutality in their own society. The Chinese people admire much about the US. Many send their children to be educated there. The Chinese people would relish the opportunity to have a greater say in the running of their affairs. But history and its lessons are important in China. They have learned from bitter experience over several thousand years of history that they suffer most when the central government is weak and divided. After the Opium War of 1842 the country was torn asunder by invasions, civil wars and famines. Since 1949 its borders have been secure and after the disaster of the Mao years, its people have a standard of living unimaginable when Nixon was in the White House in 1973 reflecting on meeting Mao the previous year and wondering how best to deal with a word that was entering the political lexicon: Watergate.

The post How China Sees the World appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Who’s Burning the Amazon?

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While the world watches in horror as fires rage in the Amazon, activists are naming culprits.

“Put out the flames, we name your names — politicians, corporate vultures, you’re the ones we blame,” demonstrators chanted as they marched from the White House to the Brazilian Consulate on September 5.

The fires are no accident. Most have been set by agribusiness and mining interests hoping to make money off the land.

Much of the blame has fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has steadily rolled back indigenous land rights and environmental protections. But the multinational companies turning a profit off the destruction of the Amazon are also coming under more scrutiny.

Amazon Watch, a California-based organization that works with indigenous and environmental groups, issued a report earlier this year documenting dozens of companies that stand to make money off the catastrophe.

The report, titled Complicity in Destruction, highlights the main drivers of deforestation — from soy and beef commodity traders like Cargill and JBS to their financiers in North America and Europe, like BlackRock, Santander, and JP Morgan Chase.

Research from Mighty Earth, another group, identified the retailers most associated with those traders, including Costco, Walmart, and Ahold Delhaize, which owns Stop & Shop, Giant, and Food Lion.

“We encourage all Americans to use their economic power to put pressure on these companies to do the right thing,” said Todd Larsen of the advocacy group Green America. His organization is encouraging Americans to shop elsewhere and move their investments away from the companies responsible.

“The only reason these companies are able to keep burning down the forest year over year is because their customers keep paying them to do so,” Brazilian activist Bárbara Amaral told the crowd in D.C. She called on the public “to show up at the front doors of Cargill headquarters and yell that it’s time to protect the Amazon.”

Others emphasize that protecting the environment requires big structural changes to keep companies from making a quick buck off climate disaster in the first place.

“I’m tired of hearing about how individual actions can address climate change, such as buying metal straws versus plastic straws,” said Gabby Rosazza, a campaigner with the International Labor Rights Forum. “I’m more interested in learning about who is profiting from climate change.”

One of the companies profiting the most? BlackRock — the largest asset manager in the world.

A report released last month by Amazon Watch and Friends of the Earth found BlackRock to be a top shareholder in the 25 companies most involved in deforestation. BlackRock’s investment in these projects increased by more than $500 million between 2014 and 2018.

A pressure campaign is mounting against BlackRock to stop profiting off climate destruction of all stripes.

BlackRock “is complicit in the destruction of tropical forests and violation of human rights,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, legal counsel for the National Indigenous Organization of Brazil, during BlackRock’s annual shareholders meeting this year. “BlackRock must use its significant influence over [the companies it invests in] to signal that it will not tolerate policies that violate indigenous rights and damage the climate.”

The Amazon fires are a terrible tragedy. But the worst tragedy is that companies get to make millions attacking indigenous people and burning down vital ecosystems. The damage will stop not when the fires are put out, but only when it’s no longer profitable to set them.

The post Who’s Burning the Amazon? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Rideshare Drivers are Employees, Not Contractors

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In 2015, Waheed Etimad immigrated with his wife and their children to the United States from Afghanistan, where he’d been a translator for the U.S. Army.

Etimad began taking courses at Diablo Valley College, studying to become a computer engineer while driving full time for Uber at night. People who knew Etimad called him a hardworking and devoted family man, an “amazing father, husband, and friend.”

Etimad was killed earlier this year while driving for Uber in San Francisco.

Ordinarily, when these workplace tragedies occur, an employee’s family is entitled to compensation. But since Etimad worked for Uber, a company that categorizes workers as “independent contractors” rather than “employees,” his family is ineligible.

Etimad was the sole provider for his wife and seven children, who range in age from two to 16. Had he been classified as an employee, workers’ compensation would have paid for his funeral expenses and provided financial support to his family.

Instead, a friend had to create a GoFundMe campaign, while the Muslim Community Center of the East Bay began organizing legal, financial, and emotional support for the family.

This outpouring of support is heartwarming. But workers and their families shouldn’t have to rely on charity if they’re hurt or killed on the job. The workers’ compensation system was created for that purpose.

With the proliferation of rideshare services and other on-demand delivery platforms, more workers are driving for a living. Transportation incidents are consistently the most frequent cause of fatal occupational injuries, accounting for 2,077 deaths on the job in 2017 — 40 percent of all occupational fatalities for the whole year.

Given this high risk, it’s particularly egregious for Uber, Lyft, and other “gig economy” companies to misclassify workers as contractors and deny them basic workplace protections and workers compensation.

A 2018 ruling from California’s Supreme Court offered a legal starting point for providing gig workers with those rights. The landmark Dynamex Operations West v. Superior Court decision requires employers to pass a simple A-B-C test before classifying workers as independent contractors.

A) They are able to control and direct their own work. B) Their work is different from the usual work of the hiring company. C) They’re part of an independently established trade or occupation for the work they’re providing.

Plumbers, for example, could meet these criteria. The plumber can decide when and how they work, they work at businesses that don’t make their money by plumbing, and they’re part of an independent plumbing trade.

An Uber driver, by contrast, would likely not meet these criteria. Their work is controlled by Uber, they are engaging in the primary work of the company (driving), and they do not have independent driving companies.

In a huge development, California lawmakers just passed an important measure to codify the Dynamex decision into law. That has the potential to stop the unraveling of labor protections by gig economy employers.

The Dynamex decision focused on workers that pass the A-B-C test being covered by minimum wage and overtime laws, but the new law will extend these rights to include unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health insurance, sick days, and paid family leave.

The bill could also be a model for the rest of the country. All across America, workers in one of the most dangerous industries — and all others who are misclassified as contractors — should reclaim the rights and benefits they deserve.

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