| A Shameful Silence: Where is the Outrage Over the Slaughter of Civilians in Mosul?
Jul 24th 2017, 09:06, by Patrick Cockburn
The catastrophic number of civilian casualties in Mosul is receiving little attention internationally from politicians and journalists. This is in sharp contrast to the outrage expressed worldwide over the bombardment of east Aleppo by Syrian government and Russian forces at the end of 2016.
Hoshyar Zebari, the Kurdish leader and former Iraqi finance and foreign minister, told me in an interview last week: “Kurdish intelligence believes that over 40,000 civilians have been killed as a result of massive firepower used against them, especially by the Federal Police, air strikes and Isis itself.”
The real number of dead who are buried under the mounds of rubble in west Mosul is unknown, but their numbers are likely to be in the tens of thousands, rather than the much lower estimates previously given.
People have difficulty understanding why the loss of life in Mosul was so huge. A good neutral explanation of this appears in a meticulous but horrifying report by Amnesty International (AI) called “At Any Cost: The Civilian Catastrophe in West Mosul”.
It does not give an exact figure for the number of dead, but otherwise it confirms many of the points made by Mr Zebari, notably the appalling damage inflicted by continuing artillery and rocket fire aimed over a five-month period at a confined area jam-packed with civilians who were unable to escape.
However, even this does not quite explain the mass slaughter that took place. Terrible civilian casualties have occurred in many sieges over the centuries, but in one important respect the siege of Mosul is different from the others. Isis, the cruellest and most violent movement in the world, was determined not to give up its human shields.
Even before the attack by Iraqi government forces, aided by the US-led coalition, started on 17 October last year, Isis was herding civilians back into the city and not allowing them to escape to safety. Survivors who made their way to camps for displaced people outside Mosul said they had to run the gauntlet of Isis snipers, booby traps and mines.
Determined to hang on to its hundreds of thousands of human shields, Isis packed them into a smaller and smaller space as pro-government forces advanced. Isis patrols said they would kill anybody who left their houses; they welded shut metal doors to keep them in, and hanged people who tried to escape from electricity pylons and left the bodies to rot.
“Consequently, as IS lost territory during the course of the battle, IS-controlled areas became increasingly crowded with civilians,” says the AI report. “Mosul residents routinely described to Amnesty International how they sheltered in homes with relatives or neighbours in groups of between 15-100.”
It was these groups that became the victims of the massed firepower of pro-government forces. In many streets, every house is destroyed and I could not even enter some badly damaged districts because access was blocked by smashed masonry, craters and burned out cars.
Outside Mosul, people tend to assume that most of this destruction was the result of airstrikes – and much of it was – but Mr Zebari is correct in saying that it was shell and rocket fire from pro-government ground forces, particularly by the Federal Police, that caused the greatest destruction and loss of civilian life.
How this happened is easily explained by a look at the types of ordnance used by pro-government forces: these include 122 mm and 155mm howitzers, but also notoriously inaccurate 122mm Grad rockets and locally made Improvised Rocket Assisted Munitions (IRAMs) that might land almost anywhere.
The Grad is a Soviet weapon that dates back fifty years, and consists of 40 rockets mounted in a vehicle which can be fired in volleys over a half minute period. Earlier versions of this weapon had a devastating effect on dug-in German infantry in fortified positions in World War II. Civilians crammed together in fragile houses in west Mosul would stand little chance.
The US-dominated coalition said that it tried to avoid carrying out air strikes where civilians were present, and its planes dropped leaflets telling them to move away from Isis positions. People on the ground in Mosul regarded this as a cruel joke, because they had nowhere else to go to and Isis would shoot them if they tried to run away.
In addition, the Isis system of defence was based on quickly moving its fighters from building to building through holes cut in the walls in the newer parts of Mosul; meanwhile in the Old City, where most houses have cellars, Isis linked these by tunnels so they could fire and retreat before the building they were in was destroyed, most commonly by 500 lb bombs.
“There were very few Daesh [Isis] in our neighbourhood, but they dropped a lot of bombs on them,” Qais, 47, a resident of Mosul al-Jadida district told me. He reckoned that between 600 and 1,000 people in the district had been killed, and he showed me pictures on his phone of a house that had once stood beside his own but had been reduced to a heap of smashed-up bricks.
“There were no Daesh in the house,” he said. “But there were seven members of the Abu Imad family there, of whom five were killed along with two passersby.”
A further reason for the devastation caused by the battle for west Mosul was the outcome of the fighting for east Mosul between 17 October and 24 January. The Iraqi government and the Americans had expected a hard fought but relatively swift victory, perhaps taking about two months to seize the whole of the city (in fact, it took nine months).
The attack on the part to the east of the Tigris River was primarily undertaken by the highly trained and experienced Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), fighting house to house. Air strikes were usually against carefully selected targets, and not called in at will by ground troops at the first sign of resistance.
These tactics of the pro-government forces did not work. True, they eventually captured east Mosul after three months of heavy fighting and at the cost of casualties to the CTS reported as being between 40 and 50 per cent. But they could not afford this scale of losses repeated in west Mosul, where Isis was even more deeply entrenched.
When the assault on west Mosul began on 19 February, the pro-government forces were therefore using artillery, rockets and airpower much more freely. And in addition to the CTS, they fielded the Federal Police and Emergency Response Division, both of which were far less well-trained and deemed more sectarian than the CTS. As they in turn suffered heavy casualties, they lost all restraint in use of their firepower.
Why has there not been more outcry over the destruction of west Mosul? There should be no question about the massive civilian loss of life, even if there are differences over the exact numbers of the dead.
The biggest reason for the lack of outrage is that Isis was seen as a uniquely evil movement that had to be defeated – whatever the cost in dead bodies to the people of Mosul.
It is an understandable argument, but one that in the past has meant Iraq never finds peace.
| Extremely Nasty Climate Wake-Up
Jul 24th 2017, 09:00, by Robert Hunziker
Now that the Great Acceleration dictates the biosphere with ever more intensity, sudden changes in the ecosystem are causing climate scientists to stop and ponder what’s happening to our planet, like never before… hmm!
The Great Acceleration: “Only after 1945 did human actions become genuine driving forces behind crucial Earth systems,” (J.R.McNeill/Peter Engelke, The Great Acceleration, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London, 2014, pg. 208).
Abrupt changes outside the boundaries of natural variability are signs of climate fatigue, Mother Nature overwhelmed, defeated, breaking down. It’s happening fast and faster yet mostly on the fringes of the ecosystem with fewest people, other than, on occasion, a handful of scientists.
For example, for the first time ever, a team of UK scientists discovered 8,000 blue lakes formed in East Antarctica. The suddenness of so many blue lakes on surface surprised and bewildered scientists. (Source: Emily S. Langley, et al, Seasoned Evolution of Supraglacial Lakes on an East Antarctic Outlet Glacier, Geophysical Research Letters, Aug. 24, 2016)
According to the UK team: “Supraglacial lakes are known to influence ice melt and ice flow on the Greenland ice sheet and potentially cause ice shelf disintegration on the Antarctica Peninsula.” That is likely not good news. Antarctica is a continent covered by 200 feet of sea level contained in ice. Heavens to Betsy, until only recently scientists thought East Antarctica was stable!
Meantime, West Antarctica has blown a gasket three times in a row, big-time fractures within only two decades, most recently July 12th, 2017 when one of the largest icebergs of all time broke off Larsen C Ice Shelf. Previously, Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed in 2002, and before that Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed in 1995. Now, the National Geographic Atlas is forced to redraw Antarctica.
Larsen C has a big distinction “measuring about 2,200 square miles, it is among the largest icebergs in history to break off from the continent.” (Source: Hannah Lang, Our Antarctica Maps Show the Larsen Ice Shelf’s Stunning Decades-Long Decline, National Geographic, July 15, 2017).
Furthermore “Sea ice in Antarctica has hit a worrisome milestone, reaching its lowest recorded extent this week according to data from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. The daily ice area recorded on Tuesday represents an all-time low: 2.25 million square kilometers (872,204 square miles).” (Source: Christina Nunez, Antarctica’s Sea Ice Shrinks to New Record Low, National Geographic, Feb. 15, 2017). Is that global warming hard at work or is it natural variability?
Throughout millennia ice shelf calving is a recognized part of natural variability but then again, it usually happens in geologic time of hundreds-to-thousands-to-millions of years rather than Great Acceleration time with three massive fractures in only two decades. That’s ice sheets in the Indy 500.
Another nasty big time wake-up call, hidden monster of the depths, is thawing permafrost. Russian scientists have identified 7,000 “alternative pingos” in Siberia (Source: “Russian Scientists Find 7,000 Siberian Hills Possibly Filled with Explosive Gas,” The Washington Post, March 27, 2017). Vladimir E. Romanovsky, geophysicist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks claims: “This is really a new thing to permafrost science. It has not been reported in the literature before,” Romanovsky estimates there could be as many as 100,000 “alternative pingos” across the entire Arctic permafrost.
Additionally, there is new evidence of threat by subsea permafrost, which could set off Runaway Global Warming (“RGW”) recently revealed in an interview with Dr. Natalia Shakhova and Dr. Igor Semiletov (International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Akasofu Building, Fairbanks, Alaska) about their paper published in Nature Communication Journal, Current Rates and Mechanisms of Subsea Permafrost Degradation in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, Article No. 15872 June 22, 2017. This is esoteric research that is not found in typical models of future climate behavior. It is an example of what can go wrong much faster than ever anticipated.
According to Dr. Shakova: “As we showed in our articles, in the ESAS (East Siberian Arctic Shelf), in some places, subsea permafrost is reaching the thaw point. In other areas it could have reached this point already. And what can happen then? The most important consequence could be in terms of growing methane emissions… a linear trend becomes exponential. This edge between it being linear and becoming exponential is very fine and lies between frozen and thawed states of subsea permafrost. This is what we call the turning point…. Following the logic of our investigation and all the evidence that we accumulated so far, it makes me think that we are very near this point. And in this particular point, each year matters. This is the big difference between being on the linear trend where hundreds and thousands of years matter, and being on the exponential where each year matters.”
According to Dr. Shakova, only a fraction of the gas emissions released from subsea permafrost of ESAS is enough to “alter the climate on our planet drastically.” That prognostication is nastier than regular nasty wake-up calls. It fits the prescription for colossal temperature increases of up to 15-18 degrees and massive agricultural burn off within only 10 years as suggested by a group of scientists that think outside the box, non-mainstreamers.
Speaking of various types of permafrost (1) permafrost in ESAS subsea, or (2) permafrost on land in Siberia, or (3) Alaska permafrost there’s a new discovery that is spooky, downright spooky. Aircraft measurements of CO2 and CH4, as well as confirmation of those measurements from scientific measuring devices on towers in Barrow, Alaska show that over the course of two years Alaska emitted the equivalent of 220 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from biological sources alone, not anthropogenic (Source: Elaine Hannah, Alaska’s Thawing Soils Cause Huge Carbon Dioxide Emissions Into The Air, Science World Report, May 12, 2017).
That is equivalent to all the emissions from the U.S. commercial sector per annum. Why is that happening? Alaska is hot, that’s why, and it may be a climate tipping point that self-perpetuates global warming, no human hands needed, or in the nasty colloquial, the start of Runaway Global Warming. That’s as bad as nasty climate wake-up calls get, nature overtaking anthropogenic global warming duties.
What could be worse than incipient Runaway Global Warming?
Answer: Impending Nuclear War.
| Dylan and Woody: Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
Jul 24th 2017, 09:00, by Ron Jacobs
Anger, when directed at injustice, is useful and important. When it is placed in the hands of a writer as capable as Daniel Wolff, it becomes a thing of beauty. Wolff’s most recent book, Grown Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 is that thing of beauty. It is simultaneously a history of capitalism and labor organizing in the United States, a biography of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, and a critical discussion of a number of songs composed and sung by these two American icons. Like the road Guthrie and Dylan romanticized and wrote about, the author Wolff takes the reader through a winding landscape of labor unrest, capitalist greed, personal hardship and popular success. It is a story familiar to many but told in a unique fashion that brings alive Dylan and Guthrie’s songs and the social and political context they are both informed by and inform.
Wolff begins the text with a recollection of his first hearing of Bob Dylan s masterful tune “Like a Rolling Stone,” but quickly shifts to Woody Guthrie’s poignant telling of a massacre of miners’ children in Calumet, Michigan in December 1913. Guthrie’s song, titled “1913 Massacre,” is the foundation on which the text is composed. As Wolff points out, the tune to “1913 Massacre” was appropriated by Bob Dylan for his song “Song to Woody.” That tune is the one original tune (at least in terms of its lyrics) on Dylan’s first album. The rest of the album is made up of Dylan’s interpretations of various folk and country blues traditional songs. Although Dylan was considered a folksinger at least until 1965 when he released the albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, his first disc is arguably his only truly folk album.
As Wolff’s narrative unfolds, the reader finds themselves deep in a history rich in struggle. The struggle is between the rich and the poor; the working class and the ruling class; the street and the entertainment business. The protagonists include benevolent robber barons who paid reasonable wages and provided health care and education to the workers and their families; greedy owners who acted as if their riches were the result of their blessedness and hard work when in all honesty the hard work was that of their employees and the blessedness was nonexistent. No matter what their approach, though, when the profits were down or the workers rose up, every capitalist called in the strikebreakers and men with weapons. In short, it is the story of industrial capitalism in the USA. It is a story often told, but rarely taught. Never has it been relayed in the manner the reader discovers in Grown Up Anger.
What about the anger? Why does the author include it in his title? Let me go back to the beginning of the text, where the Wolff introduces his book and Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone.” After discussing his own anger as a thirteen year old in 1965 United States–a United States that was escalating an imperial war in Vietnam while trying to temper a just and justifiable rebellion of its dark-skinned citizens with guns and money–Wolff makes a simple one-line statement about Dylan’s tune. “For all the singer’s humor and apparent ease,” he writes, “It was the sound of anger.”
When one is thirteen in modern civilization, one should be angry. After all, the growing awareness that the world you’ve been living in is much crueler and meaner than you had previously believed either makes one depressed or angry. If it doesn’t, you might be a psychopath. Teenage anger is often misdirected. All too often, that misdirection is inward, where one blames oneself for the realization that the world is troubled. Wolff’s narrative provides an alternative. Take that anger, he suggests, and turn it into grown-up anger, like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, and use it to make the world a better place.
Grown-Up Anger takes the reader from Calumet, Michigan to Woodstock; from Carnegie Hall to Los Angeles; from Oklahoma to New York City; and from MIssissippi back to Calumet. Its captivating tale is matched by a narrative style as easy as the road that stretches out ahead and as tight as the bonds the slavecatcher tightened around the runaway’s wrists. Individual biographies intermingle with broad strokes of history and critical examinations of music and lyrics to create a book about song and hope, song and despair; capitalism and capitalists, working people and labor. In writing this musical and political biography of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and capitalist America, Daniel Wolff has composed a text for the ages.
| Quantitative Easing: the Most Opaque Transfer of Wealth in History
Jul 24th 2017, 08:59, by Dan Glazebrook
It appears that the massive, almost decade-long, transfer of wealth to the rich known as ‘quantitative easing’ is coming to an end. Of the world’s four major central banks – the US federal reserve, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – two have already ended their policy of buying up financial assets (the Fed and the BoE) and the ECB plans to stop doing so in December. Indeed, the Fed is expected to start selling off the $3.5trillion of assets it purchased during three rounds of QE within the next two months.
Given that, judged by its official aims, QE has been a total failure, this makes perfect sense. QE, by ‘injecting’ money into the economy, was supposed to get banks lending again, boosting investment and driving up economic growth. But overall bank lending in fact fell following the introduction of QE in the UK, whilst lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – responsible for 60% of employment – plummeted. As Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, has noted: “Central banks have flooded the global economy with cheap money since the financial crisis, yet global growth is still in the doldrums, particularly in Europe and Japan, which have both seen colossal stimulus packages thrown at the problem.” Even Forbes admits that QE has “largely failed in reviving economic growth”.
This is, or should be, unsurprising. QE was always bound to fail in terms of its stated aims, because the reason banks were not funnelling money into productive investment was not because they were short of cash – on the contrary, by 2013, well before the final rounds of QE, UK corporations were sitting on almost £1/2trillion of cash reserves – but rather because the global economy was (and is) in a deep overproduction crisis. Put simply, markets were (and are) glutted and there is no point investing in producing for glutted markets.
This meant that the new money created by QE and ‘injected’ into financial institutions such as pension funds and insurance companies was not invested into productive industry, but rather went into stock markets and real estate, driving up prices of shares and houses, but generating nothing in terms of real wealth or employment.
Holders of assets such as stocks and houses, therefore, have done very well out of QE, which has increased the wealth of the richest 5% of the UK population by an average of £128,000 per head.
How can this be? Where does this additional wealth come from? After all, whilst money – contrary to Tory sloganeering – can indeed be created ‘out of thin air’, which is precisely what QE has done, real wealth cannot. And QE has not produced any real wealth. Yet the richest 5% now have an extra £128,000 to spend on yachts, mansions, diamonds, caviar and so on – so where has it come from?
The answer is simple. The wealth which QE has passed to asset-holders has come, first of all, directly out of workers’ wages. QE, by effectively devaluing the currency, has reduced the buying power of money, leading to an effective decrease in real wages, which, in the UK, still remain 6% below their pre-QE levels. The money taken out of workers’ wages therefore forms part of that £128,000 divided. But it has also come from new entrants to the markets inflated by QE – primarily, first time buyers and those just reaching pension age. Those buying a house which QE has made more expensive, for example, will likely have to work thousands of additional hours over the course of their mortgage in order to pay this increased cost. It is those extra hours that are creating the wealth which subsidises the yachts and diamonds for the richest 5%. Of course, these increased house prices are paid by anyone purchasing a house, not only first time buyers – but the additional cost for existing homeowners is compensated for by the rise in price of their existing house (or by their shares for those wealthy enough to hold them).
QE also means that newly retiring pensioners are forced to subsidise the 5%. New retirees use their pension pot to purchase an ‘annuity’ – a bundle of stocks and shares generating dividends which serve as an income. However, as QE has inflated share prices, the number of shares they can buy with this pot is reduced. And, as share price increases do not increase dividends, this means reduced pension payments.
In truth, the story that QE was about encouraging investment and boosting employment and growth was always a fantastical yarn designed to disguise what was really going on – a massive transfer of wealth to the rich. As economist Dhaval Joshi put it in 2011: “The shocking thing is, two years into an ostensible recovery, [UK] workers are actually earning less than at the depth of the recession. Real wages and salaries have fallen by £4bn. Profits are up by £11bn. The spoils of the recovery have been shared in the most unequal of ways.” In March this year, the Financial Times noted that whilst Britain’s GDP had recovered to pre-crisis levels by 2014, real wages were still 10% lower than they had been in 2008. “The contraction of UK real wages was reversed in 2015,” they added, “but it is not going to last”. They were right. The same month the article was published, real wages began to fall again, and have been doing so ever since.
It is the same story in Japan, where, notes Forbes, “household income actually contracted since the implementation of QE”.
QE has had a similar effect on the global South: enriching the holders of assets at the expense of the ‘asset-poor’. Just as the influx of new money created bubbles in the housing and stock markets, it also created commodity price bubbles as speculators rushed to buy up stocks of, for example, oil and food. For some oil producing countries this has had a positive effect, providing them a windfall of cash to spend on social programmes, as was initially the case in, for example, Venezuela, Libya and Iran. In all three cases, the empire has had to resort to various levels of militarism to counter these unintended consequences. But oil price hikes are, of course, detrimental to non-oil-producing countries – and food price hikes are always devastating. In 2011, the UK’s Daily Telegraph highlighted “the correlation between the prices of food and the Fed’s purchase of US Treasuries (i.e. its quantitative easing programmes)…We see how the food price index broadly stabilised through late 2009 and early 2010, then rose again from mid-2010 as quantitative easing was re-started …with prices rising about 40% over an eight month period.” These price hikes pushed 44 million people into poverty in 2010 alone – leading, argued the Telegraph, to the unrest behind the so-called Arab Spring. Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick commented at the time that “Food price inflation is the biggest threat today to the world’s poor…one weather event and you start to push people over the edge.” Such are the costs of quantitative easing.
The BRICS economies were also critical of QE for another reason: they saw it as an underhand method of competitive currency devaluation. By reducing the value of their own currencies, the ‘imperial triad’ of the US, Europe and Japan were effectively causing everyone else’s currencies to appreciate, damaging their exports. This is exactly what happened: wrote Forbes in 2015, “The effects are already being felt in the most dynamic exporter in the world, the East Asian economies. Their exports in US dollar terms moved dramatically from 10% year-on-year growth to a contraction of 12% in the first half of this year; and the results are the same whether China is excluded or not.”
The main benefit of QE to the developing world is supposed to have been the huge inflows of capital it triggered. It has been estimated that around 40% of the money generated by the Fed’s first QE credit expansion (‘QE1’) went abroad – mostly to the so-called ‘emerging markets’ of the global South – and around one third from QE2. However, this is not necessarily the great boon it seems. Much of the money went, as we have seen, into buying up commodity stocks (making basic items such as food unaffordable for the poor) rather than investing in new production, and much also went into buying up stocks of currency, again causing an export-damaging appreciation. Worse than this, an influx of so-called ‘hot money’ (footloose speculative capital, as opposed to long term investment capital) makes currencies particularly volatile and vulnerable to, for example, rises in interest rates abroad. Should interest rates rise again in the US and Europe, for example, this is likely to trigger a mass exodus of capital from the emerging markets, potentially prefigurng a currency collapse. Indeed, it was an influx of ‘hot money’ into Asian currency markets very similar to that seen during QE which preceded the Asian currency crisis of 1997. It is precisely this vulnerability which is likely to be tested – if not outright exploited – by the coming end of QE and accompanying rise of interest rates.
This article originally appeared on RT.com
| Saving Illinois: Getting More Bang for the State’s Bucks
Jul 24th 2017, 08:58, by Ellen Brown
Illinois is insolvent, unable to pay its bills. According to Moody’s, the state has $15 billion in unpaid bills and $251 billion in unfunded liabilities. Of these, $119 billion are tied to shortfalls in the state’s pension program. On July 6, 2017, for the first time in two years, the state finally passed a budget, after lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto on raising taxes. But they used massive tax hikes to do it – a 32% increase in state income taxes and 33% increase in state corporate taxes – and still Illinois’ new budget generates only $5 billion, not nearly enough to cover its $15 billion deficit.
Adding to its budget woes, the state is being considered by Moody’s for a credit downgrade, which means its borrowing costs could shoot up. Several other states are in nearly as bad shape, with Kentucky, New Jersey, Arizona and Connecticut topping the list. U.S. public pensions are underfunded by at least $1.8 trillion and probably more, according to expert estimates. They are paying out more than they are taking in, and they are falling short on their projected returns. Most funds aim for about a 7.5% return, but they barely made 1.5% last year.
If Illinois were a corporation, it could declare bankruptcy; but states are constitutionally forbidden to take that route. The state could follow the lead of Detroit and cut its public pension funds, but Illinois has a constitutional provision forbidding that as well. It could follow Detroit in privatizing public utilities (notably water), but that would drive consumer utility prices through the roof. And taxes have been raised about as far as the legislature can be pushed to go.
The state cannot meet its budget because the tax base has shrunk. The economy has shrunk and so has the money supply, triggered by the 2008 banking crisis. Jobs were lost, homes were foreclosed on, and businesses and people quit borrowing, either because they were “all borrowed up” and could not go further into debt or, in the case of businesses, because they did not have sufficient customer demand to warrant business expansion. And today, virtually the entire circulating money supply is created when banks make loans When loans are paid down and new loans are not taken out, the money supply shrinks. What to do?
Quantitative Easing for Munis
There is a deep pocket that can fill the hole in the money supply – the Federal Reserve. The Fed had no problem finding the money to bail out the profligate Wall Street banks following the banking crisis, with short-term loans totaling $26 trillion. It also freed up the banks’ balance sheets by buying $1.7 trillion in mortgage-backed securities with its “quantitative easing” tool. The Fed could do something similar for the local governments that were victims of the crisis. One of its dual mandates is to maintain full employment, and we are nowhere near that now, despite some biased figures that omit those who have dropped out of the workforce or have had to take low-paying or part-time jobs.
The case for a “QE-Muni” was made in an October 2012 editorial in The New York Times titled “Getting More Bang for the Fed’s Buck” by Joseph Grundfest et al. The authors said Republicans and Democrats alike have been decrying the failure to stimulate the economy through needed infrastructure improvements, but shrinking tax revenues and limited debt service capacity have tied the hands of state and local governments. They observed:
State and municipal bonds help finance new infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, as well as pay for some government salaries and services.
. . . [E]very Fed dollar spent in the muni market would absorb a larger percentage of outstanding debt and is likely to have a greater effect on reducing the bonds’ interest rates than the same expenditure in the mortgage market.
. . . [L]owering the borrowing costs for states, cities and counties should not only forestall tax increases (which dampen individual spending), but also make it easier for local governments to pay for police officers, firefighters, teachers and infrastructure improvements.
The authors acknowledged that their QE-Muni proposal faced legal hurdles. The Federal Reserve Act prohibits the central bank from purchasing municipal government debt with a maturity of more than six months, and the beneficial effects expected from QE-Muni would require loans of longer duration. But Congress was then trying to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” so all options were on the table. Today the fiscal cliff has come around again, with threats of the debt ceiling dropping on an embattled Congress. It could be time to look at “QE for Munis” again.
Getting More Bang for the Pensioners’ Bucks
Scott Baker, a senior advisor to the Public Banking Institute and economics editor at OpEdNews, has another idea. He argues that the states are far from broke. They may not be able to balance their budgets with taxes, but a search through their Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) shows that they have massive surplus funds and rainy day funds tucked away around the state, most of them earning minimal returns. (Recall the 1.5% made by the pension funds collectively last year.)
The 2016 CAFR for Illinois shows $94.6 billion in its pension fund alone, and well over $100 billion if other funds are included. To say it is broke is like saying a retired couple with a million dollars in savings is broke because they can earn only 1.5% on their savings and cannot live on $15,000 a year. What they need to do is to spend some of their savings to meet their budget and invest the rest in something safe but more lucrative.
So here is Baker’s idea for Illinois:
1/ Make an iron-clad pledge by law, even in the State Constitution if they can get quick agreement, to provide for pension payouts at the current level and adjusted for inflation in the future.
2/ Liquidate the current pension fund and maybe some of the other liquid funds too to pay off all current debts.
3/ This will leave them with a great credit rating . . . .
4/ Put the remaining tens of billions into a new State Bank, partnering with the beleaguered small and community banks . . . . Use that money to finance state and local businesses and individuals instead of Wall Street schemes and high fund manager fees that will no longer be necessary or advisable, saving the state hundreds of millions a year.
The Public Bank could be built roughly on the model of the hugely successful Bank of North Dakota example, one of the country’s greatest banks, measured by Return on Equity, and scandal-free since its founding in 1919.
The Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only state-owned bank, has had record profits every year for the last 13 years, with a return on equity in 2016 of 16.6%, twice the national average. Its chief depositor is the state itself, and its mandate is to support the local economy, partnering rather than competing with local banks. Its commercial loans range from 2.4% to 7.5%. The BND makes cheaper loans as well, drawing on loan funds for special programs including infrastructure, startup businesses and affordable housing. Its loan income after deducting allowances for loan losses was $175 million in 2016 on a loan portfolio of $4.7 billion. (2016 BND CAFR, pages 28-29.) That puts the net return on loans at 3.7%.
Illinois could follow North Dakota’s lead. Looking again at the Illinois CAFR (page 45), the amount paid out for pension benefits in 2016 was only $1.833 billion, or less than 2% of the $94.6 billion pool. An Illinois state bank could generate that much in profit, even after paying off the state’s outstanding budget deficit.
Assume Illinois guaranteed its pension payouts, as Baker recommends, then liquidated its pension fund and withdrew $10 billion to meet its current budget shortfall. This would significantly improve its credit rating, allowing it to refinance its long-term debt at a reduced rate. The remaining $85 billion could be put into the state’s own bank, $8 billion as capital and $77 billion as deposits. [See chart below.] At a loan to deposit ratio of 80%, $60 billion could be issued in loans. At a return similar to the BND’s 3.7%, these loans would produce $2.2 billion in interest income. The remaining $17 billion in deposits could be invested in liquid federal securities at 1%, generating an additional $170 million. That would give a net profit of $2.37 billion, enough to cover the $1.8 billion annual pensioners’ payout, with $570 million to spare.
The salubrious result: the pension fund would be self-funding; the state would have a bank that could create credit to support the local economy; the pensioners would have money to spend, increasing demand; the economy would be stimulated, increasing the tax base; and the state would have a good credit rating, allowing it to borrow on the bond market at low interest rates. Better yet, it could borrow from its own bank and pay the interest to itself. The proceeds could then go to its pensioners rather than to bondholders.
Where there is the political will, there is a way. Politicians and central bankers will take radical, game-changing steps in desperate times. We just need to start thinking outside the box, a Wall Street-imposed box that has trapped us in austerity and economic servitude for over a century.
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| The Media is Misleading the Public on the Al-Asqa Mosque Situation
Jul 24th 2017, 08:57, by Richard Hardigan
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People praying in Jerusalem, as Israeli soldiers watch. Photo: Richard Hardigan.
On July 23, The New York Times, CNN and ABC News all employed the word “clashes” to describe the events that took place in Jerusalem and the West Bank over the past few days. The Oxford English Dictionary describes a clash as a violent confrontation. The connotation is that the conflict is occurring between two or more parties, and they are all actively involved. An elephant crushing a mouse would not be considered a clash, because only the former is an active participant.
When the Israeli authorities imposed heavy restrictions on Palestinian access to Al Aqsa mosque, the holiest Islamic site in Palestine, in the wake of the shootings that occurred in Jerusalem on Friday, July 14, it affected Palestinians in Jerusalem and all over the West Bank.
On Friday, July 21, there was an organized effort to pray the noon Friday prayer at the Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah as a form of non-violent protest. The prayer began peacefully, but after a few minutes the Israeli forces, who had gathered in front of the checkpoint, fired a heavy barrage of teargas at the worshippers.
“Did you see that?” an old man asked me. “We were just praying. They don’t let us pray at Al Aqsa. And now they don’t let us pray at Qalandiya.”
The teargas forced the worshippers to retreat about a hundred meters, where they once again began to pray. This, in turn, caused the army to fire more teargas. This process repeated itself several times.
“There are no clashes today,” a young boy told me. “We are only here to pray.”
“They must be so afraid of us, if they shoot at us when we are only praying,” another man said.
The situation was similar in Jerusalem on Friday evening, where worshippers prayed in the alleyways of the Old City and near Lion’s gate because of the restrictions. Eventually, the army forced the worshippers even farther away, outside the road that leads to Lion’s gate. There they laid out their prayer rugs and performed their prayers as the heavily armed soldiers looked on. No stones were thrown, and there was no violence, except for the teargas and rubber bullets employed by the Israelis. The scene repeated itself on Saturday evening, where on this occasion the soldiers added horses and water trucks to their arsenal.
There were situations where the violence of the Israeli army was indeed met with the throwing of stones. But that was far from the norm. The media’s representation of the events as clashes – confrontations between parties – does a great disservice to the interests of both
| Travels in Trump’s America: Memphis, Little Rock, Fayetteville and Bentonville
Jul 24th 2017, 08:56, by Matthew Stevenson
(In which the author goes by plane, bicycle, train, and rental car from Europe and New York to the American South and Midwest. This is Part III – from Shiloh Church, in Tennessee, to Bentonville, AK, the capital of Walmart. Click here for Part I and for Part II.
Leaving Shiloh in the rental car, I made one more loop around the battlefield, so that I could compare biking to driving. I drove along the Pittsburg Landing-Corinth Road, which from the driver’s seat was a bivouac of monuments (from the bike all I could see were woods and trenches). One spoke of war as propaganda; the other as nature’s tragedy.
One more time I passed Shiloh Church, where Gen. William T. Sherman had steadied the Union retreat, if not saved the day for Lincoln’s republic, and then picked up a county road toward Corinth, Mississippi.
I probably should not have added Corinth to my trip ticket, as the sun was setting through the scattered forests and because I knew that all the museums and the visitors’ center there would be closed. (American history has become a 9 to 5 business.)
That said, I kept the car heading south on state highway 45, which, because I was in the deep South, reminded me of the first paragraph in All the King’s Men, in which Robert Penn Warren writes: “You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at you and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab…”
It was a nice allusion, except that I was in Mississippi (not headed to Willie’s Stark’s Baton Rouge), and in fact, the road to Corinth tracks through a few suburban subdivisions before coming out on the town’s main street, an echo of American innocence—if the measurement is the presence of an old-fashioned soda fountain and angled car parking.
* * *
Corinth is the Civil War battle that never was. We should remember the name, as we do Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Antietam. But by the time, in April 1862, Union General Henry Halleck had inserted himself in the command over Ulysses Grant and sufficiently repaired the army after the losses at Shiloh, the Confederates had lost their desire to make a last stand around Corinth and its rail junctions.
Instead, they threw up some trench lines and fought off the Union siege for a while, and then withdrew, leaving western Tennessee, if not the lower Mississippi, to Halleck and Grant, who converted it into a noose (which was closed in July 1863).
I should have taken a room that night at the Generals’ Quarters Bed and Breakfast Inn (the likes of generals P. G. T. Beauregard, William Rosecrans, or Braxton Bragg might well be lingering over a cigar in the parlor). It had a columned portico and, through the windows, candles on the dining room tables.
Instead (a bit like Grant) I came to the conclusion that Corinth was a side show and pressed west toward Memphis, the Mississippi River, and Paul Simon’s “cradle of the Civil War.” (He was better at rhyming than history.)
On the way, I stopped at the Big Hill Pond State Park, where I had pre-paid for a camping site. When I was planning the trip, I had thought I would end my Shiloh visit with a lake swim and set up my encampment (a department store tent and camping cot) under the Tennessee stars.
I had no trouble finding the entrance to the park off highway 57, but when I drove up to the camp sites, it felt more like nuclear winter than high summer.
No rangers were on duty, and the campsite was empty. (I am not counting the mosquitos.) Nor was anyone swimming in Bill Hill Pond (through the trees it looked like the Great Dismal Swamp).
Because I was hungry, I sat at a forlorn picnic table with the mosquitos and ate a sandwich from my cooler, reflecting that the American summer no longer includes camping in state parks or swimming in a pond.
In Trumpland, holiday dreams must now revolve around Las Vegas suites and slot machines. State parks must be for illegal immigrants.
* * *
The road into Memphis in the twilight had little traffic, until it melted into the exchanges around the airport. I was heading into downtown but instead found myself driving up to the terminals, where in the distance I could see the great white (and purple) FedEx fleet, if not all those packages that “absolutely, positively” have to be there overnight.
I know, I should have had GPS in the rental car, but when it comes to travel I remain off the grid—a Unabomber of the road. Except when I am lost in some city downtown, I love the romance of road maps (all that planning and plotting the night before…), and I have yet to meet a GPS disembodied voice that shares my passion for the back roads of American history.
That said, in downtown Memphis at 10 p.m. I would have pushed the button that says, “Find me a hotel nearby, and it need not be up to the standards of the Generals’ Quarters Bed and Breakfast Inn.”
Instead, hunting and pecking, I took local roads in from the airport, driving in the direction of the high-rises that are downtown along the Mississippi River.
Memphis after dark is a nether world of deserted streets and boarded storefronts. (Ma Rainey: “This would be an empty world without the blues…”)
I kept peering in at what looked like 1950s-era motels, only to discover that they are now welfare hotels, if not waiting rooms for nearby prisons or deportation centers.
I ended up in downtown Memphis at what felt like the Last-Chance Hotel. I had tried some of the glitzier hotels near the river, but they were “full up” with a convention in town. All I could find with a free room was a Holiday Inn Express, in a neighborhood that felt like the far edge of the universe.
Even though it was near midnight and I was trying to check into the last room on the Memphis market, I couldn’t help but bargain with Derek, the pleasant night clerk on duty. (Had my wife been with me, she would have run screaming from the lobby.) But Derek obliged my mercantilism by taking $30 off the posted room rate (“I’ll give you the manager’s rate…”) and helping me with the bag trolley.
* * *
I once traveled all over India and never went to the Taj Mahal, just the way I only went to see (against my better judgement) the Terra Cotta warriors on my fourth trip to China. In Memphis, I was determined to skip Graceland.
What explains such heresy? I confess I am not a huge fan of the King, who by the time I was listening to music had seemed like a Nixon stage prop.
From the late 1960s into the last days of disco, to me Elvis exuded the stale air of a has-been, a lost country hound dog when the rest of us were searching for stairways to heaven, if not nights in white satin. And by the time (1977) Elvis OD-ed at Graceland (which revived the franchise), we were line dancing to Donna Summer.
Then all those Elvis impersonators showed up with Ronald Reagan, which is another reason I never wore blue suede shoes or kept an eye out for him at the Paramus Mall.
But waking up in Memphis, on a hot summer morning, even I found it hard to ignore Graceland completely. What if Homeland Security were to question me about my travels?
So after breakfast, on my way to the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, I decided to give Graceland what realtors call
From where I was staying it was an easy detour. I would see the outside of the house and save $57.50, which is the price of admission, although that does not cover Elvis’s planes or “front of the line mansion access.”
* * *
As soon as I approached Graceland, I wanted to leave. Heading south on highway 51, I saw a group of buildings that could well have been a Home Depot or Target. Instead, they were Graceland out buildings—part of the King’s domed stadium and theme park, which now rises on his front lawn (Elvis: “Better just a shack where two people care/Than a house that has everything, everything but love…”).
A tout waving at traffic wanted me to turn into one of the King’s parking lots (New York City rates applied), which I did, although immediately I turned around and left in a hurry, as if driving a getaway car for “Baby Face” Nelson.
Without paying $93.75 for the Elvis Entourage VIP Tour, I got a look at one of his private jets, displayed in an adjacent lot. The Lisa Marie (named for his only daughter) has the sad appearance of a Tupolev parked on the tarmac of the Sofia airport.
Yes, part of me might have enjoyed seeing Elvis’s white piano, wet bar, sequin jackets, pool table, racquetball court, and conversation pit. But mostly I associate “late Graceland” with his end-of-days angst, fear, and loathing—when the wheels came off the pink Cadillac.
Nor did I have any interest in seeing the marble bathroom where he popped his last pills or the guest rooms where his retinue of feel-good doctors and remittance men did their best to suck the life out of his bank accounts. (His father, Vernon, spent his time at Graceland watching over the estate on a closed-circuit TV, as if employed by ADT.)
Instead of wallowing at the Heartbreak Hotel and Gift Shop, I circled the block behind Graceland and headed back to downtown Memphis, driving for a while through a neighborhood of similar McMansions (early Elvis impersonators?), not surprised that anyone who lived in something that looks like a savings bank could be “lonesome tonight.”
* * *
The Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, is located south of downtown Memphis, in what is now a neighborhood of bike stores, barbecue joints, old theaters, and the once-great central railroad station that Amtrak has let go to seed (it feels like a flophouse, as does its tenant, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation).
King was shot and killed while standing on the Lorraine’s balcony in April 1968, but it took until the 1990s for the site to become the National Civil Rights Museum.
The museum preserved the exterior of the motel (not unlike that of a Howard Johnson’s) but added on showrooms that tell the story of desegregation from Plessy v. Ferguson (1896, which codified “separate but equal”) through the King assassination.
Across the street from the Lorraine Motel is the rooming house from which, allegedly, James Earl Ray shot King with a high-powered rifle that he then dumped in a nearby doorway, before fleeing in his white Mustang. He was arrested six weeks later.
The rooming house, with exhibits on the assassination, is now part of the museum, which raises questions whether Ray was the lone assassin, or even the gunman who pulled the trigger.
* * *
Much of the National Civil Rights Museum focuses on integration after Brown v. the Board of Education—the landmark Supreme Court decision, handed down in 1954, the same year I was born. Many exhibits and the pictures on the walls are ones I saw in Life Magazine when I was growing up.
The museum was a scrum of school children. I went around the exhibits with animated eleven-year-old kids, which did not bother me, as I was their age when the issues of civil rights pressed into my mind—through the personality of Dr. King and his marches on Washington and across the South, and through the race riots that consumed such familiar cities as Newark and Detroit.
Growing up on Long Island in a white suburb, however, my only direct encounters with race and the issues of civil rights came during my travels with my father. He would travel for work, and sometimes I would join him.
Mostly on trains we crisscrossed America, stopping at factories and office buildings in places as diverse as Mobile, Cincinnati, Denver, Brownsville, Omaha, and Richmond.
Those trips opened my eyes to southern shanties and urban slums, and that even such lily-white cities as Salt Lake City had back streets of African-American desperation. Segregation might have run out of gas, but the fumes were still present.
* * *
In the museum, I was drawn to the black-and-white photographs of James Lucas, which were on display just past the entrance. Lucas was born in 1944 and grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where he worked during college as a photographer for the Jackson Daily News.
Without roaming far from Jackson, Mississippi’s capital, Lucas was able to frame the civil rights story. The pictures capture the humanity and modesty of both the subjects and the photographer.
Lucas took pictures of U.S. Senate hearings (there are photographs of senators Robert Kennedy, John Stennis and Jacob Javits and some of their hearings on poverty in the Delta), freedom riders, bus boycotts, sharecroppers, schools being integrated, armed sheriffs, and beaten marchers.
To me the greatness of Lucas’s work is that he never intrudes on his subjects—leaving them to express their own stories of good and evil.
Lucas was killed in a car accident in 1980, although he lived long enough to realize that the divided world of his Mississippi photographs, if not American apartheid, had vanished.
* * *
Strolling through the museum, I came across the famous Muhammad Ali quote, “No Vietcong ever called me a nigger,” seven words that have focused American attention on both the injustices of segregation and the Vietnam War.
I do not remember hearing the quote when I was growing up. As an adult, the first time I came across it was in Ho Chi Minh City at the War Remnants Museum, which opened for business in 1975—just after the United States departed Vietnam—as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes.
I had come to Saigon from the North, stopping along the way at Hanoi, Hue, Danang, and My Lai, all of which beat the drum of American evil (often using the words and deeds of American soldiers and bombers).
The Ali quote fit perfectly into the storyboards about the running dogs of imperialism, part of which includes an exhibit on the alleged war crimes of Lt. Bob Kerrey (later a U.S. senator).
Only when I got home from Vietnam, and wanted to find out more about Ali’s signature quote, did I find out that it was fabricated
In the 1960s, in answering reporters’ questions, Ali did say (according to an article published in Slate Magazine): “I am a member of the Black Muslims, and we don’t go to no wars unless they’re declared by Allah himself. I don’t have no personal quarrel with those Vietcongs.”
Several years later, recalling a chance meeting with some black American soldiers in an airport, Ali said this:
I met two black soldiers a while back in an airport. They said: “Champ, it takes a lot of guts to do what you’re doing.” I told them: “Brothers, you just don’t know. If you knew where you were going now, if you knew your chances of coming out with no arm or no eye, fighting those people in their own land, fighting Asian brothers, you got to shoot them, they never lynched you, never called you nigger, never put dogs on you, never shot your leaders. You’ve got to shoot your ‘enemies’ (they call them) and as soon as you get home you won’t be able to find a job. Going to jail for a few years is nothing compared to that.”
As for saying, “No Vietcong ever called me a nigger,” Ali only said that in a 1977 studio when he was making The Greatest, a film about his life (in which Ernest Borgnine plays Angelo Dundee).
But then neither Napoleon nor Voltaire was the first to say, “History is a fable generally agreed upon.”
* * *
At the end of the museum tour—past the Montgomery bus of Rosa Parks, a burned-out Greyhound bus that carried freedom riders through the South, and the lunch counter from the Greensboro Woolworth’s—I looked through plexiglas into the motel room where King was staying when he was shot.
It has the feel of a time capsule from the 1960s, with a black-and-white television, bedside black rotary phone, heavy air-conditioner unit, Gideon bible, and cheap paintings of a pine forest.
On April 4, 1969, in front of room 306, King was on the Lorraine balcony and heading to dinner with his small entourage, including Jesse Jackson, when a single bullet struck him in the throat and killed him.
At a subsequent hearing, James Earl Ray, who was arrested in London after he had fled the United States, pleaded guilty to the killing, which is why the facts of the assassination were never heard at trial.
Across the street in the assassination exhibit, the case is made against James Earl Ray—that he had been staying in the rooming house overlooking the Lorraine Motel; that he dropped a gun and a bag of clothing in a nearby doorway, as he fled the cheap hotel after the shooting; that he drove off in his white Mustang that was later abandoned in Atlanta; and that he confessed to the killing in court.
In the 1960s and 70s, especially, American assassins were—almost by law—required to be “lone gunmen,” rebels without a cause, angry white men with a grievance against fame or fortune.
James Earl Ray was outfitted with the clothing that fit Lee Harvey Oswald—someone who was angry at authority—although in Ray’s case he was a racist, not a communist sympathizer.
The same patterns were later used to dress up Sirhan Sirhan (who killed Robert Kennedy) and Arthur Bremer (who shot George Wallace in 1972). All might have been the psychotic Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver) who said: “I got some bad ideas in my head.”
Do I think Ray was the only gunman shooting that night at King? No, I do not. He may have had a part in the larger plot, but as best as I can fathom he should only appear on the national stage in the role of a fall guy. Maybe he pulled a trigger, but others funded the operation.
How did an escaped convict who was only working odd jobs get the money and the wherewithal to buy a new Mustang and, later, a false passport and plane tickets to fly to London and Portugal?
* * *
To this day, the forensic evidence against Ray sounds stretched. For example, there is no way to tell if the shoe prints on the bathtub in the boarding house belonged to Ray; the prosecution maintained they did.
Nor were his fingerprints found on the room furniture (which, in theory, he had moved around to get a better view of the Lorraine Motel balcony). And experts could not agree whether his fingerprints were on the gun found in the doorway or on its scope.
Ray does seem to have purchased a rifle before the shooting, and it could well have been the rifle left in the nearby doorway. But little ballistic evidence ties that rifle to the fatal shot that killed King.
Nor did any witnesses to the shooting positively identify Ray as the gunman. The state’s best witness, who was in a room adjoining the bathroom of the boarding house, turns out to be have been blind drunk on the day of the shooting—although he sobered up enough later to finger Ray.
Other witnesses spoke of “a man” leaving the scene of the crime in a white Mustang, although it turns out—it is 1968 after all—that two white Mustangs were parked that day near the Lorraine Motel.
The FBI investigating the case made a big deal of finding the “grooves” left by the rifle on the window sill in the rooming house bathroom, but read fifty years later that sounds like cop-show evidence, best left to the crime scenes of Hawaii Five-0.
The evidence that links Ray to the shot fired and King’s death remains circumstantial, at best, and it was never tried in court, as Ray pled guilty to avoid the death penalty. Three days later, however, he recanted his confession.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the James Earl Ray story is his escape, which in the six weeks after the assassination took him to Atlanta, Toronto, London, and Lisbon. He was arrested while trying to board a flight for Brussels. It wasn’t a bad run for an escaped convict who had only worked at a few odd jobs—one as a dishwasher—since he broke out of jail a year earlier.
To me it is stretching credulity to imagine that, after breaking out of jail, Ray washed enough dishes to buy a Ford Mustang, a rifle, and air tickets to Toronto, London, Lisbon, and Brussels.
Although Ray had been overseas during the war and a few times to Mexico and Canada, did he have the savvy, while on the lam, to procure a false Canadian passport, which is what he used to get to London and beyond.
* * *
Few of the school kids at the National Civil Rights Museum came across the street to the assassination exhibit, which I mostly had to myself. There was one couple inspecting (again through plexiglas) Ray’s cheap room and the bathroom down the hall, from which the fatal shot may have been fired.
I browsed the cabinets, paying particular attention to the map of Ray’s escape and the money he spent ($5800 in cash) before the assassination.
What also caught my attention were the many federal, state, and civil agencies that were on the trail of Martin Luther King, Jr., wherever he traveled, including the day he died.
Not only did J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI tap King’s telephones, but that night a host of local police and other shadowy intelligence figures were all staking out the Lorraine Motel, as if King was a mafia don.
On the evening of April 4, 1968, a federal agent was stationed in the firehouse that overlooks the motel; others might have been closer to the balcony or in a garden behind Ray’s boarding house that was covered with thick bushes. And informers were working inside King’s organization.
Any one of these operatives could well have witnessed the source of the fatal shot, but owing to their illegal presence in King’s life, none of these peeping-tom gumshoes came forward to testify during the investigations.
Just the opposite happened: it was Hoover’s FBI, which had worked so hard to discredit King, that was charged with investigating his murder, and it helped to pin the tail on Ray as a lone gunman, although his cash flow and motive, another than southern racism, were never established.
Jesse Jackson, who was standing next to King when the shot was fired, said: “I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.”
King’s friend James Bevel said: “There is no way a ten-cent white boy could develop a plan to kill a million-dollar black man.”
* * *
After an early lunch at Central Barbecue—a map on the wall outlines the geography of Mississippi blues (Muddy Waters was from Rolling Folk, while B.B. King came from Itta Bena)—I unfolded my bike from the car trunk and rode around Memphis.
Overlooking the Mississippi River, I came upon Confederate Park, where there is a large statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States.
On the flight over to the United States (I live in Europe), I had read James M. McPherson’s Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief. It’s an uneven book, more military history than biography, in which Davis comes across as a micro-manager who got involved with everything in the Confederate army—from the appointment of captains in the reserves to food requisitions. His obsession with detail lost the war.
The best description of Davis’s flawed habits of command comes from the editor of the Richmond Examiner. He writes (as is quoted in McPherson) about Davis’s “flagrant mismanagement” and describes how “from the frigid heights of his infallible egotism . . . wrapped in sublime self-complacency,” Davis “alienated the hearts of people by his stubborn follies…”
In McPherson’s account, Davis never figures out a strategy to defeat the North. He alternates (depending on his mercurial moods) between bold offensive strikes (Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg) and digging in behind fortified defensive lines (Richmond, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga).
Nor does Davis, with his senior commanders, ever form the bond of confidence that Lincoln had with Grant. Davis lost Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh, and he could never get Robert E. Lee to think about theaters of war outside Virginia. And for all of Lee’s early genius against Gen. George McClellan, he never won another battle after Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men at Chancellorsville.
In effect, Davis is the board chairman who never quite trusts his CEO. The South had many dashing lieutenants but only one general, Davis, making the big calls, and most of those he got wrong.
Now I wonder how long he will keep his command over the Memphis riverfront, as the last great offensive against the Confederate states is mounted against its statuary.
* * *
On the bike I found Beale Street—a tourist blues district—and the minor league baseball stadium of the Triple A Redbirds. But beyond the downtown most of the Memphis neighborhoods through which I rode had aspects of quiet desperation.
The irony of Memphis is that it still looks like the cities in the photographs at the National Civil Rights Museum. It might well be Cleveland or Detroit in the 1960s, where there was a white oasis downtown surrounded by African-American slums.
Many houses reminded me of those in post-Katrina New Orleans, except without an axe hole through the roof. I went past abandoned warehouses and more foreclosed motels that have been turned into shantytowns.
At least when King was alive and leading his marches, there was optimism that “things will get better” and that cities such as Memphis would outgrow their economic apartheid.
Now that he has been canonized—at least in the cabinets of the National Civil Rights Museum, where it serves a higher purpose to state that the battle has been won—who will issue the summons to Memphis?
* * *
To get to Little Rock, Arkansas, I drove on Interstate 40 through a thunderstorm that hit the windshield as if scattering pellets. For a while, I took refuge in a visitors’ center, where they had free coffee (you get what you pay for) and brochures about campgrounds, Hot Springs, the Ozarks, and Little Rock’s Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.
When the worst of the storm had passed, I continued the drive west to Little Rock on the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. (Maybe John Foster Dulles wanted to call it Massive Retaliation Way?)
The capital is on the west bank of the Arkansas River, but awkward to navigate for anyone arriving for the first time.
I had decided to follow signs either for the Clinton Library or Little Rock Central High School, a flashpoint in the battle over school desegregation, now a national historic site.
I assumed both attractions would be sign-worthy, but only the high school made it to prime-time. Once I was off the interstate, however, I could not find neighborhood directions, which made me think that neither the Clintons nor school integration has much of a local following.
* * *
Although downtown Little Rock has a few streets with Potemkin hotels and lots of buildings that go with the convention center, the rest of the city is suburban and within blocks of the capitol there are dreary rows of rundown wooden houses.
Through the kindness of strangers—I asked in the parking lot of a hospital—I found the visitors’ center for Central High School (which, while it is the object of the museum, is still operating as a school and off limits to tourists).
Although there were a number of rangers on duty that afternoon in the bookstore, the center had few visitors.
I was on my own when I watched a film about Eisenhower’s 1957 decision to mobilize the 101st Airborne to protect the so-called Little Rock Nine, black high school students who had enrolled at Central. (The message should have been clear to then Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus. In World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, the 101st held on to Bastogne.)
* * *
Each of the Little Rock Nine gets profiled in the museum, which sits catty-cornered to the high school, visible across the street in the distance.
None of the students, however, is more eloquent that Melba Pattillo, who later wrote Warriors Don’t Cry about her experience of breaking the color barrier in Little Rock.
In the mid-1950s Little Rock had an all-black high school, Dunbar, although it was separate and unequal to Central.
For example, Dunbar’s library had 5,000 books while Central had 11,000; textbooks at the black high school were hand-me-downs while at Central they were new; and the white school had a gymnasium and stadium, while Dunbar had no such facilities.
Melba and her eight contemporaries decided to enroll at Central, citing the 1954 decision of Brown v. the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas. Their dream, in going to Central, was to get admitted to a better college.
In response, Governor Faubus called out the national guard, which, in effect, barred entry to the black students trying to enter the school. (In theory, the guard was only there to keep the peace.)
The national guard held the thin white line until late September, when Eisenhower deployed the Screaming Eagles to Central High School and federalized the national guard, taking their command away from the governor (although in the 1958-59 school year, Faubus would again close the Little Rock schools rather than let them integrate).
If Eisenhower knew one thing, it was army politics, and in the 1957 confrontation he prevailed. But the experience seared both white and black students, if not the nation.
The South equated the presence of federal troops with military occupation—similar to that during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Blacks were discouraged that it took the 101st Airborne division to guarantee their civil freedoms.
Melba described what went on inside the school: “There were white students who were very much ordinary people, frightened to death, caught up in the same trap that we were, trying to extend a hand. Several of them were beat up because they showed some grace to us.”
Melba was fifteen years old when she first walked into Central High School, wearing the shoes that the museum has saved in a glass cabinet. Under them are her words: “I got up every morning, polished my saddle shoes, and went off to war.”
* * *
When I asked a worker in the parking lot where Central High was in relation to the visitors’ center, he was very friendly, pointed toward it, and encouraged me to walk around the campus. He said that school had finished for the year.
I didn’t follow the advice of my parking lot friend and try to enter the school; even now, Central has a forbidding look. The design is that of a gothic castle, with a crenellated roof and imposing front doors. I give the Little Rock Nine even more credit for having braved such a medieval gauntlet, with or without the army at their side.
Central remains the high school for much of downtown Little Rock. Later I looked up its demographics, which stated that last year the enrollment was 2,489 students, of whom 63% graduated. Minorities, most of whom are African-American, accounted for 70% of the student population. The school had a 1:14 teacher-to-student ratio.
After driving around the football stadium—of Friday Night Lights proportions—I set off for the Clinton Library, unsure where it was located. I did have a map of Little Rock and on it was marked a Clinton Library, not far from Central High School. But that turned out to be a branch of the local public library, named in honor of Hillary, not the Clinton Mausoleum, which I found downtown, in a park along the Arkansas River.
The Clinton Library is about the same size and looks similar to the Delta terminal at LaGuardia Airport. Five stories high, it’s a steel and glass affair, set on pillars, as if architect James Polshek were in the business of designing departure gates.
Apparently on the top floor (not included on the tours) Bill has a private apartment that some say resembles the stage set of that 1960s TV program, Playboy After Dark, in which Hef, in black tie, would mix with his guests, many of whom were seated on sofas of rich Corinthian leather.
* * *
I had given myself ninety minutes to take in the life and times of William Jefferson Clinton, but my detour to the “other” library and meandering drive through Little Rock only left me thirty minutes to pay my respects to his legacy.
A volunteer on duty selling tickets, an elegant older woman, could not have been nicer. She waved me through the admission process and pointed me to the second and third floors, where she suggested I could visit his Oval Office (okay, it is a replica, unless it is something else the Clintons took with them when they left the White House) and see some of the presidential photographs (my favorite shows him getting the keys to the new presidential Cadillac, as if he’s visiting a show room in Alexandria, VA).
Thirty minutes proved all I needed for the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, which for agitation propaganda ranks up there with Saigon’s Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes (Clinton here plays the role of Uncle Ho).
The building was designed with the library of Trinity College, Dublin, in mind, although, in the cavernous structure, instead of the Book of Kells, there are memos (in great glass pillars) from the likes of Richard Holbrooke and James Carville on about how to buff up Clinton’s poll numbers in Kosovo or Pennsylvania.
After a spin around the Oval Office, I lingered over the presidential correspondence. The curators have preserved some memorable exchanges, including some with Sheryl Crow (the singer, Lance Armstrong’s ex—his bicycle is elsewhere in the museum), Dom DeLuise (Vegas comedian and primetime chef, although at least he was in Blazing Saddles), Paul Newman (the salad dresser), Mr. Rogers (there goes the neighborhood), the Dalai Lama (of Caddyshack fame…“big hitter, the Lama”), Elton John (who once said although not to Bill: “People should be very free with sex—they should draw the line at goats”), and Willie Morris (My Dog Skip).
Clinton’s answers to their fan mail are light and engaging. He writes to Paul Newman, who crashed his car going 25 m.p.h.: “I know how much you like to drive fast cars, but try to save those tight turns for the race track!”
There is also a mash note from historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. to Hillary, congratulating her for a Today Show appearance during the Lewinsky affair (“wonderfully effective… which really began the change in public reaction…”).
The museum has some sober panels about partisan politics, and a few pictures of a smiling Monica. But since the House voted to impeach Bill, I am guessing that some members of the Judiciary Committee missed Hillary on the Today Show.
* * *
So efficient was I in my library touring that I managed—before the guards swept everyone out at 5 p.m.—to visit the gift shop, buy a postcard of presidential dog Buddy (the cat Socks was fobbed off to Betty Currie, like much of the Clinton presidency) and hear from my friend at the front desk that Fayetteville, Arkansas has made a museum of the Clintons’ starter home. They lived there when he was teaching at the law school. “Don’t miss it,” she said kindly. “I think you’ll like it a lot.”
I was tempted to spend more time in Little Rock and maybe have a beer in one of the political hotels. As I was wearing shorts and scandals, I didn’t think I ought to be mixing company with lobbyists. Nor did I want to take the Clinton Scandal Tour, even though Bill stashed Gennifer Flowers in the delightfully named Quapaw Tower.
Instead, I drove west into the setting sun, hoping I could get to Fort Smith, on the Oklahoma border, before dark. I had booked space near there in a campground. Outside, the temperature was close to 100 degrees and I thought, if I arrived early enough, I might be able to swim in a lake fed by the streams of the Ozark forest.
People do swim at Lake Fort Smith State Park, about two hours from Little Rock, but in a swimming pool, not so much in the lake.
The shoreline near my camping pitch was rocky and unappealing. I thought of all the hours I had spent in Europe, booking the details of my travels, when I was sure a trip highlight would be to camp in the Ozarks. But when I finally went down to the water (lined with RVs), I might well have been trying to bathe in a parking lot.
* * *
The next morning by 7 a.m., after showering and packing up my gear, I was on the road to Fayetteville. I had originally planned to go from Fort Smith to Oklahoma City, and there write about Timothy McVeigh and the bombing, which has interested me since I saw a plaque in Branch Davidian Waco, linking the two massacres.
Timothy McVeigh was in Waco during the siege, and he attacked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on the anniversary of the battle.
I was also curious to learn more about the commitment that OKC’s Mayor Mick Cornett has made to bicycles, as a way to encourage the community to fight obesity and become more fit.
Neither interest, however, could get me back on the interstate. I was done with expressways. For the rest of my travels, I would do my best to stick to blue highways.
* * *
I had no idea what to expect in Fayetteville (home to the University of Arkansas), besides the Clintons’ starter home and the papers of Senator J. William Fulbright, who led the opposition to the Vietnam War in the U.S. Senate.
Driving in the car along the edge of the Boston Mountains, I followed signs to Brentwood, West Fork, and Greenland, already pleased to be eluding I-49 north.
Confederates troops at the Arkansas battle of Pea Ridge had marched along this road. Their defeat in the 1862 encounter largely ended the fighting in Arkansas.
I parked in the main square of Fayetteville, in the midst of a farmers’ market, and found a coffee shop that served breakfast. No longer was I in rural Arkansas but in a college town, listening to students at other tables complain about their courses and professors. I could see why the Clintons had liked Fayetteville. It was bookish and hip.
At the visitors’ center, I was given several maps and the address of the house in the Mount Nord district where William Fulbright grew up. I also learned that he was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, although no one in the office knew exactly where. It was suggested that I could hunt among the graves, as the Fulbrights were a prominent family.
Later I did find Evergreen Cemetery but not the Fulbright marker. It makes sense that a fierce opponent of American intervention abroad would—in the era of Iraq and Afghanistan—rest in obscurity.
* * *
Fortified with coffee and the maps, I set off on my bike, even though the heat and the skies suggested thunder or tornados.
Mount Nord is in downtown Fayetteville, but still a neighborhood of stately old homes, many with wrap-around porches.
A woman gardening at the Fulbright house greeted me, but didn’t know anything about the senator growing up in the house. So I dropped my follow-up question, about why, despite his skepticism, Fulbright had voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution. (A year later he would say: “I personally feel that the committee, the public and me personally were duped, that we were lied to, that the basic situation was not true…”)
In reading about Fulbright I had thought he might have come from rural Arkansas, to serve in the senate for thirty years, from 1945 to 1974.
Instead it was clear from the house that Fulbright came from patrician Fayetteville, where he mother edited the local newspaper after his father, a wealthy businessman, died in 1923, when William was 18. Because of her influence, Fulbright himself was later appointed president of the University of Arkansas, before being elected to the senate.
Had he not enabled racism—he aligned himself with southern senators who in 1956 protested against school integration—he might have been considered for higher office.
Not only did Fulbright oppose the Vietnam War, but he denounced Senator Joseph McCarthy, questioned the assumptions of the Cold War, and criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.
President Lyndon Johnson, once a close friend, called him “Half-bright” over Vietnam and ended their friendship when Fulbright criticized Johnson’s war.
Fulbright said of LBJ: “With a man like President Johnson, you either went along or you got off. He didn’t tolerate differences of opinion very easily. After I made that one speech, I sent him as nice a letter as I could saying it was nothing personal, but he never again wished to talk to me. Never again was I consulted.”
In front of the law school on campus, I found a J. William Fulbright statue in bronze. I learned later that when it was dedicated, in 2002, Bill Clinton spoke in admiration of “his mentor.” Without Fulbright there might never have been Clinton.
After college at Georgetown, Clinton worked in Fulbright’s senatorial office as an intern before leaving for a Rhodes scholarship in Oxford—something else he shared with Fulbright, who was there in the 1920s.
When Fulbright died, Clinton said: “People dumped on our state and said we were all a bunch of back-country hayseeds. And we had a guy in the Senate who doubled the I.Q. of any room he entered. It made us feel pretty good, like we might amount to something.”
Fulbright was voted out of office in 1974, when he became too remote from his constituents, one of whom said: “Bill’s a lot smarter than the rest of us in Arkansas. If you don’t believe that, just ask him.”
* * *
I did like the Clinton House Museum in Fayetteville, if only because—after the Great Hall of Clinton in Little Rock—the brick starter home humanizes Bill and Hillary.
I got there in mid-morning, and for an hour I had the place to myself, as if my hosts were out shopping. I sat in the study, looked through the exhibits, made some phone calls, chatted with the volunteers, and watched a video in the study of Bill’s early TV commercials, when he was running for Congress. (He shares a lot of pain with struggling farmers but lost the election.)
The house is too small for a formal tour, although the director guided me through the rooms, showing me the spot where the Clintons were married (in a glass cabinet is Hillary’s dress, hippie chic from the 1970s), the living room fireplace where Bill laid down the tiles, and the kitchen cabinets that Hillary painted fire-engine red (if you lived through the 1970s, you would understand).
The city of Fayetteville operates the museum on a small budget. The Clintons themselves have little interest in the project, although occasionally they stop by and pose for pictures. It’s been a while since Bill painted the garage.
There are few photographs and mostly amateur art on the walls, including a painting that shows Hillary, dressed in a grey pants suit, standing in her Fayetteville kitchen. Her back is to the painter and her hand is resting tentatively on the sink. It has to be the least flattering portrait ever painted of a first lady.
Hillary might well have stepped out of a senate committee and into the kitchen. She’s neither cooking nor doing dishes, but seems lost, as if she’s never been in a kitchen and went in by mistake, perhaps looking for the fax machine.
* * *
From the Clinton starter house, I rode into downtown Fayetteville, where I stopped at Evergreen Cemetery and then at Dickson Street Bookshop, celebrated among American used bookstores.
Because it was hot, and I was sweaty from riding the hills around Fayetteville, I only browsed in a few sections, where I was impressed with the prices and the collection. (A first edition of J. Christopher Herold’s Bonaparte in Egypt was selling for $7.50. Look for his histories, which are of Barbara Tuchman quality, if you don’t know his writing.)
Apparently (although it could be an urban legend) Bill Clinton read 300 books while in Fayetteville, and I could imagine that many came from Dickson Street, which has shelves from floor to ceiling, and books piled everywhere.
At the same time, since the Clinton wedding announcement (on the wall of the house museum) reads like a press release (“Clinton said during the reception that he would be running for office again next fall…”), he might have had other things on his mind.
* * *
While I was browsing in Dickson’s, I overheard a conversation about a nearby art museum that was described as one of the best in the country. When I asked more, I was told it was in Bentonville, about thirty minutes to the north (alas on an interstate), and that it told the story of American history through art.
In my mind, an exposition of American history, told through art, is just what my trip needed. I was struggling to connect the dots of a world, that to me, felt turned upside down.
Two weeks into my travels, I was depressed about all the obesity I was seeing, especially in children, and I could not stand driving for hours on interstates or getting malled on the outskirts of towns and cities.
I had set out to bring alive some of my reading—to see, not just imagine, the contours of Shiloh, what drove Polk west, or the Cherokee Trail of Tears that winds its way from Florida to Oklahoma. As a visual person, I find it hard to read about a place unless I have been there; after that, it stays with me forever.
I had also gone in search of what might be called Trump’s America—the soft underbelly of the American experiment that is angry about race, immigration, unemployment, health care, Islamic fundamentalism, guns, or the New York Times.
Somewhere between Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—a red state excursion if ever there was one—I ought to come across Trump’s base, for whom the remnants of the New Deal and the Great Society have become lotteries in which they held no winning tickets.
I also wanted to remind myself that the country is more than the sum of its parts on either Fox News or CNN, that there are links between the heroism of the Civil War, for example, and the way that so many people leave for work at 6 a.m.
But between North Carolina and the Arkansas River, all I had seen and heard —on the car radio, in chance encounters—were either giddy soundtracks of boosterism (ESPN, newspaper editorials, the Republican party) or a dirge for the republic that is surrendering to fascism (the anti-Trump coalition, writ large).
Somewhere I was hoping to find middle ground—political speech that didn’t sound like pre-recorded announcements on the New York City subway, or words from which I could extract some of Thomas Jefferson’s idealism.
Maybe an art museum devoted to American history—which after all had lured me across North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas toward Oklahoma and Kansas—would get me headed in the right direction?
* * *
The name Bentonville said something to me, but because I have lived in Europe for the last twenty-five years, I didn’t immediately associate it, or the art museum, with Walmart and the Walton family.
But the more I reflected on the name and the art collection (my bookshop friend said the lot was now worth $500 million), the more I came to the conclusion that I was heading into the charitable belly of the Walmart beast.
Someday Bentonville and the surrounding area, which is called Northwest Arkansas or NWA, will be a megalopolis, not unlike many rural stretches that have morphed into conglomerations of Waffle houses and La Quinta Inns.
Already the interstate into Bentonville is clogged with traffic, and I noticed that the lanes on the highway are getting widened to Los Angeles dimensions.
I have read that one in ten American jobs are tied to sales at Walmart, which explains why Bentonville has grown from a one-horse town in the 1950s of Sam Walton to ground zero of the Box Store Empire.
* * *
By the time I drove north on I-540, I knew the museum for which I was looking was called Crystal Bridges—was it be named after a porn star?—and that it was located just north of Bentonville’s City Square.
Conveniently, the museum was well sign-posted. I followed arrows into the parking lot, which had many levels of accessibility, including a garage. Clearly this wasn’t the Polk Home where you can leave the car out front.
According to a brochure, the architect Moshe Safdie designed the museum, under the direction of Ms. Alice Walton, to complement the landscape, which includes a lake, several streams, and the mountains of the nearby Ozarks.
Near the entrance there was a large restaurant, and the Bentonville demimonde was out in force, enjoying the Southwest salad and $8 glasses of chardonnay.
Walmart covers the cost of admission (just the way it stumped up the millions to buy the pictures). I followed the directions of several company greeters into the first room (not sure from their amiable nature if I were about to discover art or lawn mowers for sale).
* * *
Did I like Crystal Bridges?
No one can spend more than two hundred million dollars on American art (that would include the price for moving Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman–Wilson House from Somerset, New Jersey) and not buy some excellent paintings.
I liked several by George Inness, a winter scene in Brooklyn (more Currier & Ives than Bensonhurst), haystacks at sunset, and, in particular (with Polk in mind), a painting entitled “War News from Mexico,” in which horrified citizens are discovering the extent to which Benjamin Franklin’s republic of letters is morphing into an evil empire.
After a while, it occurred on me that Crystal Bridges is more about the glorification of the money spent on the extravaganza, and less about the art or the narrative of American democracy. The real history will not get on to the museum walls.
Needless to say, the Walton families are not the first robber barons to feather their cut-throat reputation with lavish displays of fine art and an over-the-top museum.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many railroad magnets—the Vanderbilts, James J. Hill, and Leland Stanford among them—bought up paintings, hoping that their landscapes of the West or scenes of aboriginal innocence might cover up the sources of their fortunes, which came, in part, from monopolistic pricing and stealing land from the Indians (with government connivance).
In the same vein Crystal Bridges presents American history as a timeline of Rococo idleness—boys fishing on rivers or cows grazing in idyllic pastures—while if the museum had collected pictures around the themes of the Walton fortune (estimated at $150 billion), the paintings would show the still-life ruins of small-town America, and a trade-deficit economy buying up useless trinkets from Asian sweatshops.
The farther I went into the museum, the more I could imagine art buyers, loaded down with Alice Walton’s front money, being sent into the great American salon to buy up whatever great artists were for sale—here an Edward Hopper, there a Frederic Remington—as if they were snapping up sports shirts sold by the dozen in Shenzhen, China.
Crystal Bridges has a roll call of great American artists, but the more I stared at the paintings, the more convinced I became that many of the works are second-rate—remainders sold off to the Waltons at masterpiece prices.
Yes, in the Early 20th Century Gallery there are works by Jamie Wyeth and Andy Warhol, but Warhol’s “Eagle” looks like a Forever postage stamp and Wyeth’s “Cornflakes” belongs on a tea towel.
* * *
I left Crystal Bridges almost at a run back to the car. I had come in search of American history—perhaps what I had missed on the interstates from Shiloh to Bentonville—only to discover that Walmart is cornering the market in fine art, much the way it has shorted Main Street America (and moved it out of town to the mall).
Backing out of my parking place, all I could think about was an exchange that takes place toward the end of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, about how intelligence services are as gullible as main-street consumers (perhaps the Waltons among them). Smiley says, in explaining a treasonable affair:
And that’s why his fellow conspirators look to him to deal with Gerald and agree the terms, the financial terms. Because they do want money. Lots of money. I should have mentioned that. In that respect, secret services and their customers are like anyone else, I’m afraid. They value most what costs most, and Merlin costs a fortune. Ever bought a fake painting?
‘I sold a couple once,’ said Toby with a flashy, nervous smile, but no one laughed.
To this Smiley responds:
‘The more you pay for it, the less inclined you are to doubt it…
Brought to you by Walmart—“Save Money. Live Better”—American history is painting by numbers.
Up next: Bentonville, Arkansas to Kansas City, Missouri, by way of Commerce, Oklahoma, Lawrence, Lecompton, and Emporia, Kansas.
| Fire at Greenfell
Jul 24th 2017, 08:54, by Ruth Fowler
They say eighty people died, but others have claimed that in one flat alone forty charred remains were found huddled together. They say everyone has been offered rehousing in the London area, but there are rumors some residents were sent as far as Preston in Lancashire. They say everyone affected has been given 5,500 pounds to help start their lives again – 500 in cash, and 5k in a bank account – but is this everyone who was registered as living in a flat? Everyone who was documented? Everyone who was ‘legal’? Everyone who owns a bank account? Everyone who can understand English?
Greenfell Tower happened over a month ago now, and the image of that ugly, concrete box burning people alive will never leave me. Many, many times I’ve been past those buildings in Kensington, glanced up at the enormous, gray, ugly stark architecture and wondered what the hell would happen if it went up in smoke and I was asleep on the top floor. Apparently the residents wondered that too. They wondered where the fire alarms and water sprinklers and fire escapes were. They wondered if one staircase would be sufficient for the residents of 129 flats spread over 24 floors. They demanded answers. They were ignored.
Americans don’t think about Greenfell anymore. People don’t talk about it as life (and Trump) moves on. But I think about it, because I lived in one of those council flats in London for several years – on the seventh floor. I was a leaseholder – as some of the residents of Greenfell were – which meant I owned the flat, but the ground it was on was “leased” from the local council. We lived alongside council residents who rented their properties from the council for a reduced rate – in what Americans call public housing, or ‘projects’. As far as I could tell, being a leaseholder basically meant we paid the same rates as council tenants paid for rent, but we paid it in “service charges”. We were never quite sure what these service charges were for, but they were steep – around 200 – 300 pounds a month, while we were also billed for “major works charges” – larger scale renovations where the council would choose a contractor without consulting us leaseholders or council tenants, and simply bill the leaseholders. For a new elevator, I was charged around five and a half thousand pounds, and was given a year to pay. For a new roof, about the same. For gas pipes they wanted to put into the road, the same. I ended up paying more to the council than I paid to my mortgage company, and yet the flat – in a shoddy estate just off the side of a railway in North London – never looked significantly better. About the only tangible change I saw was an intercom system which meant I didn’t have to run down seven flights of stairs to let people into my apartment.
There are so many, many disturbing things about being a leaseholder and a council tenant, and the endless bills for shit which never got done was one of them. The other was that however great that hardwood floor you installed looked, however gorgeous that new kitchen – the fact remained we were living in substandard housing which had lead pipes plumbers couldn’t cut into (despite endless leaks) because they’d calcified and slicing into them would poison the water supply and they couldn’t be arsed to redo the whole building. These buildings typically have zero water pressure above the second floor, and repairs take months, and months, and months to complete – although the bills for these same repairs, usually before they are commenced, are swift and immediate, and the solicitors they hire to pursue a mere twenty quid, are expensive and thorough. I’ve spoken to them many times in the past trying to understand how they expect me to pay 600 quid a month in service and major works charges, while my mortgage was only 300.
I know friends who leasehold who see absolutely nothing wrong with this scenario. They consider paying these bills a civic duty, they consider themselves lucky to ‘own’ property in a city which has extraordinarily high rents, and in a country where 20% of the housing was built prior to 1919, Brits just get the fuck on with leaky pipes and freezing homes, used to the ‘quirks’ which Americans would find intolerable and worthy of deeming a residency a slum. Now I’ve lived in America, where even the freezing shitholes I’ve occupied have endless hot water and enough pressure to wash your hair seven times a day, and repairs, if they take more than a couple of weeks, end up in a lawsuit. One was an illegally converted garage with ivy growing through the closet owned by a Scientologist, the other an illegally converted studio some crazy dude in the LES made out of half of his rent-stabilized apartment. We do so many things better in Britain. We actually have a social services net which – used – to work, somewhat. ‘Somewhat’ in comparison to the US. But the Greenfell Tower disaster is just one more indication that the entire world, not just the US, is sinking to a despicable level. Our governments prioritize money. Capitalism runs everything, even our safety nets. Everyone runs articles about London, New York, Barcelona, Dublin, Paris having housing crises, and then in the next breath talks about the next big development in the city, how much money airbnb is making from multiple property owners buying off rent-fixed houses and jacking the rent for tourists.
I bet Kensington and Chelsea really patted themselves on the back for putting up that cladding to ‘improve’ appearances. They probably chose the cheapest contractor who still fleeced them, charged the leaseholders a huge amount, ignored everyone who complained, and turned that building into a matchstick.
When the tower burned, my father called me up to check that my tower block didn’t have the same cladding on it. It did not – mine was a red-brick 70’s affair – but I don’t feel confident that I could live there or any other social housing which wasn’t a standalone house after this tragedy. Those buildings were death traps, and the council knew it, and yet as councils do in the UK, they did absolutely nothing to remedy the situation because the answer: getting tenants out, rehousing them, razing the building to the ground and starting over, would be a statistical nightmare. Instead they continued to sell off social housing for a vast sum, and charge struggling leaseholders and council tax payers for the cladding which killed them.
Brits love to moan. We moan because Greenfell Tower happened. We moan because no one’s getting rehoused. We moan because everyone’s getting rehoused but no one’s taking it. We moan because of those ungrateful beggars waiting for the luxury flats to open up. We moan because seventeen languages aren’t on offer. We moan because our friends and neighbors died and we’re offered five grand in return.
Rarely do Brits do more than grumble. As America submits to the horrors of the Trump era with ineffective protests and grumbles, so does the Greenfell Tower demonstrate the futility of the British left, as all that’s left is to be merely outraged.
| The Rights of Sex Workers: Where is the Movement to Legalize Prostitution
Jul 24th 2017, 08:53, by Ezra Kronfeld
It seems as though, in these times, almost any once-taboo cause or idea is now heavily discussed or even championed by at least a few within our political system. Marijuana legalization, LGBT rights, and numerous other topics would have been considered unimaginable as mainstream points of discussion in any prior era of American politics. However, the issue of legalizing and regulating the sex trade remains conspicuously off limits for our legislators.
Allowing responsibly-operated brothels is, after all, a tested idea. Not only has it been legalized in New Zealand, Germany, and Eastern Australia, but it’s also allowed and strictly regulated in parts of Nevada. This is a policy that has been arguably successful in parts of an American state, as well as countries around the world, yet it’s never even brought up by our representatives.
This could be explained by our sex-negative society. We live in a nation where a Surgeon General was forced to resign for insisting the naturalness of masturbation as recently as the early ‘90s. Of course the idea of legal prostitution, no matter how well-regulated or plainly constitutional, would be considered wicked and sinful in this sort of climate.
It would be ridiculously controversial for a politician to publicly advocate for this notion.
There are rational concerns regarding this idea, and I for one would like to hear them. It could be pointed out that even if this policy would help to protect currently-vulnerable sex workers from abuse and disease, it may still be challenging to protect sex workers from unfair wages. Because the subject has been so plainly stigmatized, no voices are heard.
So has anyone actually tried to speak out for this cause in a major way? Well the most notable and most active organizations I could find are theSex Workers and Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational, and Research ProjectorESPLERP, and theErotic Service Providers Union, both of which were founded by California sex worker Maxine Doogan. The former was created after a failed 2008 attempt to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco.
ESPLERP raised $30,000 from a GoFundMe campaign in 2014 to file a legal challenge against California’s anti-prostitution law, but when they tried to raise funds to support their court case the following year, they were banned from GoFundMe entirely.
It seems like most people are just cutting themselves off from any explanation or evidence supporting legalization. According to a YouGov poll from 2012, the most popular reason given for being against the legalization of prostitution was, simply, that it is “morally wrong”. Ah yes, another case of broad, arbitrary “morality” being used as an excuse to deny men and women their freedoms, with a total and utter lack of facts.
So it looks like there is no popular nationwide movement to stop the ongoing abuse of sex workers by unlicensed, unregulated pimps, and ensure their protection and wellbeing in the United States of America. There are no congressional representatives out there fighting for sex workers’ human rights either. I am certain that our popular zeitgeist will remain consistently void of this pressing and necessary conversation until influential figures are willing to transcend societal repression and express cogent thoughts and ideas in regard to prostitution policy.
Ezra Kronfeld is an independent writer and journalist.
| What Venezuela Needs: Negotiation Not Regime Change
Jul 24th 2017, 08:50, by Mark Weisbrot
This column was written for Tribune News Services, in a forum responding to the question, “Should the United States support regime change in Venezuela?”
The question of what role Washington should play in Venezuela’s crisis is a simple one, given its recent history. The answer is the same as it would be with regard to the role we would want the Russian government to play in US politics and elections: none at all.
Unfortunately the involvement of the United States in Venezuelan internal affairs in the 21st century has dwarfed anything that anyone has even accused Vladimir Putin of doing here. According to the US State Department, Washington “provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved” in the 2002 military coup. Since the coup, Washington has provided tens of millions of dollars to the Venezuelan opposition.
In 2013, when the opposition initiated violent protests to overturn the results of a democratic election, Washington supported the protesters. The same was true in 2014.
Today, Florida Senator Marco Rubio openly threatens governments including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Haiti with punishment if they do not cooperate with Washington’s abuse of the Organization of American States to delegitimize the government of Venezuela. And the Trump administration is threatening more severe economic sanctions against Venezuela, which will only worsen shortages of food and medicine there.
Overall, Washington has pretty consistently played a role that has increased political polarization in Venezuela and continues to do so. For most of the past 15 years, Venezuela has been one of Washington’s top two (along with Iran and Iraq) targets for regime change.
It is reasonable to assume that the Trump administration ― which takes counsel from extremist elements like Marco Rubio ― is likely to be even more reckless.
This is particularly dangerous because Venezuela remains a polarized country. President Nicolás Maduro’s approval rating has been about 21 percent over the past year, but other numbers show much more division. A recent poll from the most-cited pro-opposition pollster, Datanalisis, shows 51 percent supporting the protests, with 44 percent against. Some 55 percent continue to approve of the late president Hugo Chávez, which reflects the decade of economic and social progress that the country had before it fell into recession in 2014, and slid into its current state of depression and economic crisis.
Despite the current crisis, there are millions of Venezuelans, especially those associated with the government or governing party, who have reason to fear an opposition takeover. After the 2002 coup, government officials were detained and dozens of people were killed within the first 36 hours of the short-lived opposition government. Opposition leaders today have almost never denounced violence by their supporters, which has taken many lives during the current wave of protests.
Because of this political polarization, Venezuela needs a negotiated solution that provides credible, constitutional guarantees that whichever side loses the next election will not be politically persecuted by a party that controls all three branches of government.
International mediation can help, as was shown by the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López from prison to house arrest last week; former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero played a constructive role. But the mediators must be nonpartisan, which rules out the OAS so long as it is dominated by the Trump administration.
There is a real risk that Venezuela’s current political polarization and violence could escalate into civil war. Those who are familiar with the tragedies of the Washington-fueled civil wars of the 1980s in Central America, which took hundreds of thousands of mostly innocent lives, must take this threat seriously ― especially since the Trump administration could possibly block or sabotage a negotiated solution if it appears within reach.
This originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.
| From Spicy to the Mooch: A Farewell to Sean Spicer
Jul 24th 2017, 08:45, by Binoy Kampmark
What will entertainers do in his absence? White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was more than grist to the mill of celluloid delights, becoming, by the admission of the US President, a “tv hit” smoking the ratings. When a press secretary’s conduct is valued, not for the substance of his material, but the entertainment he garners, the Republic is surely stuttering towards vacuity and ruin.
But journalists and the entertainment industry have also colluded with this complex, feeding off the critical host. Such establishment venues as the New York Times have walked in step with Trump, noting how “the White House briefing – once a Sisyphean burden for rumpled reporters – became the hottest reality show in town, a star-making showcase for journalists where heated exchanges went viral and drove big ratings.”
The Guardian similar intoned that the Spicer tenure had been one of turbulent propulsion, excitement and impossibilities. “In the space of six months, Spicer had become a reality TV celebrity doing what critics said was the toughest job in the world: defending the indefensible.”
As for Conor Duffy writing in The New Daily, Spicer “hasn’t just broken the first rule of being a spin doctor – becoming the story – he’s smashed it. Spectacularly.” Instead of being denigrated and mocked into oblivion, the press secretary began, over time, to cultivate an affection of the sadomasochistic sort.
Precisely because idiot box ratings are what matters as a measurement of value in Trumpland, such displays as the Spicer Show, launched from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, have been indispensable to the West Wing. He hectored, bullied, cajoled and stumbled, directing his fury at the fake news industry with monomanic desperation.
As one correspondent is reported to have said, Spicer “tore a strip off the media as wide as an Iowa farm”. But in time, he found himself a convict to the press brief lectern, the gargantuan incoherence of the Trump machine proving impossible to capture. If you can’t beat the show, transform into it.
In a fundamental sense, then, the Spicer show has been symbiotic to American cultural and media life. Spicer brought the shine to careers otherwise kept in miniature spotlight, such as April D. Ryan of American Urban Radio. He latched on to Ryan early, sniffing a journalist peddling an agenda.
“It seems like you’re hellbent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays.” What irritated Spicer, in an encounter that got a viral shot, was Ryan’s disapproving head movement. “You’re asking me a question and I’m going to answer it. I’m sorry, please stop shaking your head again.”
This was gold dust for those obsessed with detecting gender or racial overtones. Ryan fit the casting, being a black female reporter. The social media feeding frenzy began. The hashtag #BlackWomenatWork made its inexorable march to “trending” status. Actors such as Whoopi Goldberg were outraged.
Naturally, Hillary Clinton had to add her bit to a script that was essentially writing itself. Ryan, respected, oozing integrity, “was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room, when she was patronized and cut off trying to answer a question.”
The Spicer promotion show has also been indispensable to such actors as Melissa McCarthy, whose Spicer impression earned an Emmy nomination. The Trump administration may not be making America great again (in truth, probably revealing its long anticipated fall from grace) but it is minting careers in media industries and alternate realities.
In recent weeks, the Spicer show has been gradually wound down, suggesting that the director and producer were not overly pleased. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who, with little surprise to anyone, has assumed the mantle of press secretary, started to feature more regularly. Under her strengthening hand, live audio and video coverage of the daily briefings has been banned. Transparency, hardly a word to feature in the Trump argot, has been kicked downstairs.
The new White House communications director seems to have been the catalyst for Spicer’s jump. Anthony (“the Mooch”) Scaramucci has stood in for Spicer at stages since May, suggesting that he was being warmed up as an addition to the show. Speculation abounds that Spicer’s resignation was prompted by his disapproval of Scaramucci’s rising star.
“I can say,” explained Sanders, “that he understood that the president wanted to bring in and add new people to the team, and Sean felt like it would be best for that team to be able to start with a totally clean slate.” Never muddy pools, even ones filled with impurities.
Scaramucci has shown himself in the past as a shape changer. He initially backed Hillary Clinton, deeming her “incredibly competent” and “the real deal”. Trump, in contrast, was “anti-American” and a mere “hack politician”. On Fox Business in August 2015, he ventured the view that his current employer would become the president of the “Queens County Bullies Association”.
The game, then, has been upped, and the communications director will face a similarly impossible task in crafting a “communications strategy”. In the temper of an atypical White House, the Mooch wished Spicer well, hoping he “goes on to make a tremendous about of money”. B-Grade directors, take note.
| Progress Report, Donald Trump: Failing
Jul 24th 2017, 08:45, by Wim Laven
Assessments are a key tool in most fields. In some industries they are provided through do-well/do-better meetings, in others through critical feedback loops, and, in mine, through teacher evaluations and student report cards. In order to be effective assessments use rubrics to assess key data points, frequently against objective standards, on behavior, knowledge, and performance. Six months into his presidency Donald Trump has come up short on all counts.
People will focus on his numbers: 991 tweets, 42 bills signed into law, 40 days out golfing, 1 news conference, and 0 pieces of major legislation. Some will highlight his 38.8% approval rating. His approval rating reflects the public’s lack of approval with what he is doing. But, while the legislative output and effort are low, Trump’s growth is in need of evaluation—has he learned anything?
Trump’s administration has shown limited progress. After months of campaigning against Barack Obama’s Iran deal, he called it “disastrous” and questioned “who would make that deal?”, Trump has so far allowed the successful diplomacy to continue to work. The Iran Deal has delivered increases in safety and security with low costs. Presidents face steep learning curves, an admission that his criticisms were misplaced and wrong would be a fantastic presentation of his growth, but he hasn’t. We are left wondering is he only doing the right thing by accident? Or worse, is his inability to lead the only reason the deal is still in place?
Airwars.org, a watchdog group, tells us that since his inauguration Trump’s civilian kill rate eclipses Obama’s with “upwards of 360 per month, or 12 or more civilians killed for every single day of his administration.” Trump has taken Obama’s “highly unsatisfactory” policy and pushed it into the realm of “complete failure.” The U.S. is alleged to have used white phosphorus in Syria; the use of white phosphorus in populated areas is a violation of international law. The significant increase in civilian casualties is blood on his hands, but he has not developed moral accountability.
Trump’s isolationist agenda of withdrawing from the Paris Accord and abdicating the US’s role in the G20 reveal strikingly poor leadership. His all-or-nothing strategy may have done him well as a business leader, where profit was the bottom line, but he has shown no growth in taking on his new role. His competitive attitude has lost more than it has gained and previously collaborative relationships are disappearing. His impotence in dealing with increased threats from North Korea is another unfortunate example of this reality. Trump is a one trick pony: he bosses, bullies, and makes threats. He would like for other people to do his work for him, he has made quite a career out of it, but it is highly ineffective in his new position. Trump’s $54 billion budget increase in military spending showcases his awareness of his administrations’ lack of diplomatic ability. Trump needs to unlearn the fictional narrative that military force is good policy or strategy and understand why force should only be a “last option.” He also needs a primer on peace dividends.
Trump’s six-month grade is not just reflective of turning the campaign slogan: “I would bomb the [expletive] out of them” into foreign policy. His grade is reflective of his inability to learn, adapt, change, evolve, improve, etc. and he simply hasn’t matured in his role. There is but a single thing to be grateful for: he hasn’t used the nukes yet. The “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” president has not actually killed us all, yet (though he may want to)! Giving credit where it is due, for keeping the Iran Deal in place and for not using nuclear weapons yet, Trump gets an F+ and not just an F.
Areas for improvement: Donald Trump has well-developed avoidance and competiveness; he will be greatly benefitted by developing the other problem-solving temperaments of accommodation, compromise, and collaboration. Trump is behind in filling key positions; these vacancies will continue to limit his ability to develop as expected. His inability to work well with others could be blocking his understanding of the importance of working with a complete team. These deficiencies will have an exaggerated and cumulative impact. Making excuses for them instead of taking responsibility demonstrates an awareness of the problem but indicates a fundamental inability to move forward. Trump could benefit from competent mentoring, but, more generally, he needs improvement applying new knowledge and skills sets.
Most significantly, however, he needs to be realistic and gain situational awareness. He won the office of president without winning the popular vote and proceeded to ignore the voters’ mandate. Since his inauguration he has continued to ignore record low approval ratings and record high disapproval ratings. The investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to influence the outcome of the election is clearly distracting him from his responsibilities, and he should be asking questions like “how can I broker a strong North Korea Deal?” should replace “who am I allowed to pardon? Am I allowed to pardon myself?” Trump needs to pivot away from what it takes to become the hyper-touchy president to what it takes to become a good president, or, preferably, he should resign.
| Aldous Huxley on Technodictators
Jul 21st 2017, 18:00, by CP Editor
| Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jul 21st 2017, 09:59, by Kevin Zeese
A dominant issue at the Green Party 2017 Annual National Meeting was inclusion of and leadership by oppressed communities. The Green Party began as a party of primarily white environmentalists, but that has been changing over the past decade. In the current corporate kleptocracy, there is a dire need for a party of and by marginalized communities that builds effective political power for transformational change in our society. The Green Party might be that vehicle, but undergoing that change will result in conflict and growing pains as we struggle to practice our values.
Following the election of the new Steering Committee at the Annual National Meeting, outrage was expressed that the three African American candidates lost. The Black Caucus and other caucuses protested, and steps are now being taken to write a proposal to address their legitimate concerns. That will be presented to the Steering Committee and National Committee for debate and consideration.
In addition to concerns about white supremacy in the party, there are also concerns about democracy and independence from the duopoly parties. A negative campaign was waged against the current Steering Committee member who was up for reelection, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, and a slate of candidates was run to oppose her. It appears that this was retaliation for her efforts to build inclusion and independence. The negative campaign sowed division and distrust within the party. It raises questions about the integrity of the party and whether the Green Party can differentiate itself from the power plays typical of the duopoly parties. This exposé is intended to add to the debate of the future of the Green Party.
Former presidential candidates Jill Stein and David Cobb, the latter who also served as Stein’s 2016 campaign manager, worked behind the scenes to control the outcome of the 2017 election for the Steering Committee of the Green Party. Stein and Cobb wanted to remove Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, a Latina who is a co-chair of the Colorado and national parties. Mérida has done a great deal of work to confront white supremacy in the Green Party, including leading an effort to pass a very strong bylaw amendment in Colorado on the issue. She also led an effort to expand the representation of the Black Caucus and other caucuses by urging they have more delegates to the National Committee.
Stein and Cobb wanted Mérida out of the co-chair position because she blocked their repeated attempts to control and steer the party in directions that benefited their interests over the interests of the party. The strange and divisive move they championed with the recount was a graphic example of that tendency.
In late November, 2016, Stein and Cobb came to the Green Party Steering Committee (SC) asking the Green Party of the United States to serve as a fiscal agent for the post-2016 election recount. The Stein campaign refused to say who their donors were, but they had donors prepared to give up to $100,000 to the recount. The Stein campaign was only legally allowed to take donations of $2,700 while a political party could take up to $100,000 per donor. Mérida opposed this and a majority of the steering committee agreed. Not accepting defeat on this, Stein and Cobb forced the SC to vote three times and three times Andrea and a majority stood firm in opposing the proposal that would have destroyed the reputation of the party as an independent political force. The backstory that emerged affirmed the political commonsense exercised by the SC.
The recount was designed by a Democratic Party lawyer, John Bonifaz, who developed it to change the outcome of the election and make Hillary Clinton president. When Clinton refused to seek a recount, he brought the same proposal to Stein. Stein took the proposal, without any changes, in an effort, as she told Margaret Flowers, to “flip the election.” The Stein campaign used a Democratic Party PR firm, Democratic Party talking points, including on the fake Russiagate scandal, and hired Democratic Party lawyers, including a lawyer in Michigan who was the former Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party for nearly 30 years and who sued to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot. The recount was funded by Democratic Party political action groups MoveOn and Democracy For America and raised millions, more than was spent on the entire Stein campaign.
The recount failed to flip the election, but it did show voting irregularities and Stein did change her rhetoric to focus on a very real and well-known problem – Jim Crow voting procedures in the US, which undermine the right to vote in black communities.
Mérida standing up to Stein resulted in a retaliatory campaign against her, led by Stein and Cobb. Not only did Stein campaign against her re-election as a national co-chair, but people also report that Stein contacted members of the Colorado Green Party to urge Mérida’s removal from leadership at the state level.
During the Green Party 2017 Annual National Meeting in Newark, NJ, Margaret Flowers, Mérida and I were having lunch at a diner where Cobb and three others were also coincidentally having lunch. We were trying to take a break from the toxic atmosphere of the attacks on Mérida. When we left, Cobb’s companions also exitted, among them were Gary C. Frazier, Jr. of Camden and Kohmee Parrett of Chicago . We spoke outside and they urged us to stop the conflict with Cobb. We explained that there would be a lot less conflict if Cobb was not running a campaign attacking Mérida to prevent her from being re-elected. Cobb came out and Parrett asked him if it was true that he was working to prevent Mérida’s re-election. Cobb replied, “Yes, I am doing what I can to stop Mérida from being re-elected.”
Cobb confirmed what we already knew about both him and Stein. Stein and Cobb had created a slate of candidates to run to defeat Mérida. National delegates told us they had been called by Stein and Cobb urging them to vote for the Stein-Cobb slate and to oppose Mérida. People who endorsed Mérida received angry calls from Cobb or Stein. It became a very nasty election. Stein entered a vote as an alternate delegate, voting for her slate of candidates, as did Cobb, who is a delegate.
Despite Stein and Cobb’s efforts, and despite false allegations in the form of complaints posted to the National Committee delegate listserv just before and repeatedly during the SC election, Mérida won reelection easily; she was the second highest vote getter of first-ranked choices. All three African American candidates lost. Two were on the Stein-Cobb slate.
When the results became known, members of the Black Caucus were understandably angry. Even though 88% of the national delegates voted for at least one black candidate, the election loss of three black candidates seemed racist. The Caucus and others took to the street and protested at a fundraiser for the NJ Greens that election night.
At the fundraiser, the seven steering committee members present were confronted with the question of whether they would be willing to resign from the SC. Two steering committee members had not yet arrived at the event. The only way for Stein-Cobb to get rid of Mérida, as they have been working to do for seven months, is for all of the steering committee to resign. So far, only two members have formally resigned in writing.
While the conflict over Mérida was a catalyst, Stein and Cobb took advantage of long standing anger and frustration among some caucuses about the ways that the Green Party has been slow to adopt internal reforms that live up to its values. The pain and anger expressed in Newark is real, even if the specific issue at hand was distorted by behind the scenes electioneering. This manipulation of real grievances is among the most troubling things that occurred.
Where does all of this leave the Green Party? Nothing is resolved regarding the election, as that is still being worked out and discussed in the Black Caucus and other caucuses, among National Committee delegates and by the Steering Committee. Darryl! Moch, with assistance from Stein, presented a proposal at the conclusion of the meeting that will be submitted for the Steering Committee and National Committee to consider.
Out of this there are two things needed. First, we need to get the full story on the extent of Stein-Cobb interference in elections. Did they have any involvement in the negative smears against Mérida? Did they pressure members of the Green Party of Colorado to attack Mérida? Was there any involvement between them and a false, smear letter about Mérida at Standing Rock? Why didn’t Stein and Cobb publicly endorse what came to be considered their slate? Why were they making calls in private instead of being public? Delegates are supposed to represent their state, so was the Stein-Cobb interference a violation of Green ethics? What role did they have with the Black Caucus’ action?
The second task is even more important. The Greens need to continue to face up to internal race issues. The Green Party needs to put systems in place that will ensure black people, youths, women and other groups are represented throughout the party and play key leadership roles. Members of the various caucuses need to be at the forefront in designing these new systems.
All of these issues have been evident. The Green Party Power group, which I was part of, wrote a letter in December of 2016 signed by hundreds of Greens, that called for Greens being an independent party that opposed the corporate duopoly and expanded our ranks by building from the bottom up in dispossessed communities, especially black communities. Among the actions we called for were:
“We urge the Green Party US to actively address issues within the party that perpetuate racial and class dominance, sexism, cis-heterosexism, ableism, and all manifestations of oppressive and White supremacist culture.
“We also urge the Green Party US to encourage members to support working class and front line struggles, to prioritize the voices of those engaged in struggle and to run candidates from communities in struggle.”
In the end, our hope is this becomes an opportunity for growth of the party and expansion with people from communities left behind, neglected and mistreated by the two corporate parties. And, that we define ourselves as independent of both parties and in opposition to a country that was built on ethnic cleansing and racism, taking advantage of workers as well as on militarism and imperialism.
This is an important juncture in the party for it to publicly declare its opposition to all forms of political opportunism that mirror the politics of the kleptocratic political duopoly. Confronting these issues and creating a radical opposition party will make the Green Party a greater influence in US politics.
| Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Jul 21st 2017, 09:15, by Jeffrey St. Clair
Given all the commotion over the past week or so, some of it right here on CounterPunch, you’d think that “rogue” journalist Caitlin Johnstone was the reincarnation of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens made his fateful pact with the neocons of the Bush administration. Johnstone is now offering a tentative hand of solidarity to white nationalists. Johnstone has her clique of admirers, but she’s not yet in Hitchens’ class, either as a writer or a professional heretic.
I suppose many of you are too young to remember the Iraq War, but let’s recall that back in those hazy days of yore the neocons packed cruise missiles in their pockets, while the white nationalists (those who weren’t moonlighting as members of your local police department) were goose-stepping around with flaming torches, when they could afford the matches. Hitchens, who retains a curious band of Lefty loyalists to this day, was invited to the Bush White House several times to help plot bombing targets in Iraq; Caitlin hasn’t helped burn down a single black church, as far as I’m aware.
On Thursday, we ran a long, hyper-ventilating piece by Patrick Walker that proved to be less a defense of Johnstone than a rather fusillade of inchoate invective about CounterPunch. Fine. We publish these types of rants by Walker and his tiny cohort of Bernie or Busters every few months just to air out the inbox and eradicate the black mold. He’s known in the office here as HR Huff-n-Puff. Amid the fumes of Walker’s torpid verbiage, he didn’t even have the courage to address the topic at hand: Johnstone’s call for the Left to find common ground with the Alt-Right-Delete. I can’t help thinking that Johnstone deserved a little better from her champion.
Let me start by confessing that I’m not a huge fan of Johnstone’s writing. In surveying her greatest hits over the last few months, I came away with the sense that Johnstone is basically riding a one-trope pony, with that trope being the malign nature of the Deep State. Who knew the CIA was so evil? (Of course, many big time columnists, David Brooks and Thomas Friedman, come to mind, have yet to master even a single trope worth reading, so Johnstone’s already far outpacing those tired geldings.) For the conspiratorial Left, the Deep Staters seem to have eclipsed the 9/11 Truthers as the heralds of a new political Theory-0f-Everything. This is a welcome shift of emphasis as far as I’m concerned. Who really needs to read yet another belabored story on the demolition of WTC 7?
For many decades now, the American Left, what there is of it, has been in search of a comforting explanation for its rapidly eroding fortunes. It seems inexplicable to many that the Left could have become so politically impotent in an era of permanent wars and raging inequality. Rather than engage in rigorous self-inspection of its leaders, strategies and tactics, the Left has tended to point to malevolent outside forces as the agents of its demise, from the CIA’s domestic black ops to the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Of course, there are many blood trails left by both of these agencies across the American political landscape, from the infiltration of the anti-war movement and SDS to the assassinations of black radicals and the decimation of the American Indian Movement. The Feds didn’t even try very hard to wipe up the trace evidence of their complicity in these crimes of the state.
I first encountered the phrase “Deep State” in the writings of the Canadian Peter Dale Scott (a fellow Eng. Lit major), though the predicate of the theory far predates Scott’s relatively docile explorations of the dark forces manipulating the secret management of the Empire. The origin myth of leftwing Deep State theory is, of course, the assassination of JFK, an act of internal regime change by a CIA hit-team orchestrated by Allen Dulles in retaliation for the president’s alleged plan to break-up the agency and yank US troops out of Vietnam. From that moment on, according Deep State theorizers, the secret government was firmly in control and no political transgressions against its agenda would be tolerated. As an omnipotent force, the existence of a Deep State satisfies the Left’s desire to rationalize its own sense of perennial powerlessness.
Of course, I remain an unrepentant Magic Bullet man, fully persuaded that Lee Harvey Oswald, as an ardent devotee of the Cuban Revolution, had a more personal motive to kill the anti-communist Kennedy (the first neoliberal) than did fussy old Allen Dulles. With a couple miraculous shots from his Carcano Rifle, Oswald demonstrated that regime change could be a two-way street.
The far right has cultivated it’s own Deep State theory, which dates back at least to the paranoid fever-dreams of the John Birchers, who are now enjoying something of a resurgence. For reactionary nationalists, the Deep State is a globalist contagion that has infiltrated institutions as varied as the Commie-penetrated State Department, the “liberal” CIA, the Federal Reserve, the United Nations and, of course, the National Park Service. For the right, the control room of the Deep State is occupied by bankers (Rothschilds), internationalists (Soros), multi-culturalists (Cornel West) and tree huggers (Jane Goodall) intent on eradicating the white Protestant values that made the Republic what it was during it’s glorious apogee in the Andy Jackson administration.
It took the election of Trump to achieve the potential “intersectionality” of these two disparate branches of Deep State Theory. Here at last was a JFK-like figure of the nationalist right, a man who was ready to smash NATO to pieces, revoke global trade pacts, retreat from interventionist wars, make nice with the Russians and chase all the little Hitlers out of the CIA. Then it all began unravel under the weight of RussiaGate©, a faux-scandal concocted by the Deep State to serve as a slo-motion coup d’etat. The tragedy of Trump makes for compelling reading, including dozens of articles probing similar veins that have appeared here on CounterPunch.
This is a fertile time for political polemicists and Johnstone’s popularity on the left side of the spectrum confirms my long-held view that many web-based readers like to wake up in the morning by having their core beliefs reconfirmed with a single click of the mouse. They crave the same basic menu of stories each day, written by the same writers at increasingly higher decibel levels. We can see the evidence by looking at the Google analytics for stories on CounterPunch. The louder the volume, the higher the hits.
As a writer of polemics, you seek to provoke, irritate and push right to the edge (and sometimes off-the-cliff) of permissible discourse. I’ve never called for a politician to die before, as Johnstone did recently in her column on John McCain, but I’ve come close. Alex and I even predicted McCain’s imminent death from cancer in a column…9 years ago. (Almost all of our political predications proved wrong, including Alex’s initial assessment of Rick Perry in 2011 as being a man of “presidential material.”)
Still you have to write without fear or apologies. Not too long before Cockburn died, I asked him if he regretted anything he’d written (secretly hoping that he would retract his climate change denialism). “Regret? Jeffrey!! Never regret!!” He paused. “Well, I suppose if I hadn’t been over my deadline I might have rephrased that sentence about Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. But once it’s out there you have to stand by it, man.” That sentence about Afghanistan was this one, “I yield to none in my sympathy to those prostrate beneath the Russian jackboot, but if ever a country deserved rape it’s Afghanistan.” The man had a way with words.
I even have a trace of sympathy for Johnstone’s call to engage with the far right on issues where there might exist a sliver of common ground on which we could stand and fight the same enemy. I’ve walked in those shoes and have been roundly condemned for such heresies. As Johnstone was coming under fire, I flashed back to a June morning in 1995.
The phone rang at 5 am. It was Cockburn, of course, an hour ahead of his normal call.
“Wake up, Jeffrey. You’ve been libeled!”
“I’ve been what?”
“It’s spelled: L-I-B-E-L-E-D…Libeled by some little punk at the New Yorker.”
“Which little punk? Not that Elizabeth Drew, I hope, she’s too boring to commit libel.”
“Perish the thought. A sniveling twit named Kelly. Michael Kelly.”
“What did he write?”
“Something about you consorting with terrorists, I think.”
“Have you read it?” Knowing Alex would rather get a root canal (his greatest phobia) than subscribe to the New Yorker.
“Are you kidding? Brother Andrew told me.” Andrew Cockburn would know. He reads everything. “He’ll fax to me. I’ll fax to you. Stand by your machine.”
That’s the way things worked in the days before Alex was enticed to abandon his Underwood for a Tangerine-Colored-Streamlined-Baby-i-Mac.
As I waited for Cockburn’s fax to rattle through the machine, I felt a little swell of excitement at making the hollowed pages of The New Yorker, like Steve Martin’s character in “The Jerk,” when he gets his hands on the new phonebook and finds his name in it.
My initial giddiness dissipated as the fax machine began to spit out Kelly’s eleven-page long hit piece titled “The Road to Paranoia,” which was itself a paranoid screed warning neoliberal America of the coming alliance between the radical left and the radical right. Buried in the avalanche of Kelly’s turgid prose, my cameo proved almost as fleeting as the appearance of poor Osric in “Hamlet.” I was accused of colluding with the enemy by giving a speech (later reproduced in the Earth First! Journal) at a gathering of the rightwing Wise Use Movement in Reno, where I viciously attacked the mainstream environmental movement for its political timidity. My crime, according to Kelly, was in promoting a seditious brand of “fusion politics.” If only it had taken root.
Over the ensuing years, similar slurs would come hurtling our way from other guardians of liberal respectability. During Clinton’s war on Serbia, Cockburn and I spoke at several rallies sponsored by the feisty libertarians at AntiWar.com, who were among the few courageous souls to oppose that ignoble enterprise. Even the freshly-elected socialist Bernie Sanders backed the bombing of the socialist city of Belgrade, a failure of nerve which prompted a few of his more honorable staffers to resign in protest. For this treachery, we were both denounced as genocide-denying tools of the isolationist menace.
When CounterPunch went online in 1999, we compounded our thought crimes by publishing some of the verboten voices of the anti-imperialist movement, from Ron Paul to “Werther,” Paul Craig Roberts to the civil libertarian James Bovard, whose appearances on our homepage elicited howls of outrage from the likes of Eric Alterman and Katha Pollitt. Naturally, we basked in the glow of their opprobrium.
Perhaps it’s just the writer in me, but from where I sit the real villain of this imbroglio isn’t the verbal provocateur Caitlin Johnstone, but David Cobb, the Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of the Green Party, who has been one of the most zealous promoters of Johnstone’s incendiary writings. What’s rich fodder for a political columnist can prove lethal for a political movement, especially a movement as bruised, battered and pale as the Greens. Can the Greens really afford to get any whiter than they already are?
Since his mysterious emergence as a leader of the Greens in 2004, Cobb has steadily squandered the political base that Ralph Nader helped build. Whether this was through incompetence or intent is unclear, but Cobb’s decision to make the Green Party a safe space for Democrats was a fatal miscalculation from which the party has never really recovered. The hapless John Kerry, running as a war-monger, lost to Bush in any event, so the compromises of 2004 proved fruitless, except, perhaps, to the progressive donor class, who could now feel as if they could ease their consciences by occasionally throwing some money at the Greens without risking any political blowback.
In 2016, however, the prospects for the Green Party suddenly seemed brighter than at anytime since 2000, largely because of the inspired choice of Ajamu Baraka as Jill Stein’s running mate. Despite the involvement of many veterans from Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Coalition” campaigns of the 1980s, the Green Party had never really gained traction with blacks and Hispanics. Baraka’s presence on the ticket offered a real promise of expanding the Green Party’s base for the first time since Nader’s run. This wasn’t so much because Baraka is black, but because he was able to articulate a theory of political engagement that spoke directly to the experience of black and brown Americans.
Then David Cobb was brought on as campaign manager and almost immediately the wheels began to fall off. By election day, the Green ticket, which only a few weeks earlier held such promise, now seemed like a stealth campaign. In an election featuring two of the most unpopular candidates in history, the Greens could only manage a microscopic 1.1 percent of the popular vote, 3 million fewer votes than the dysfunctional Libertarian duo of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. Cobb’s response to this humiliation at the polls wasn’t to resign, but to almost immediately pursue, along with Jill Stein, recounts in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, recounts which could only serve to benefit Hillary Clinton. Millions of dollars poured in from frantic Democrats in a desperate, and doomed, attempt to overturn the results of the election. The motives behind this curious affair have never been clearly ascertained, but once again Cobb demonstrated to the progressive funding machine that the Green Party presented no real threat to the political hegemony of the Democrats.
Now, Cobb seems intent on promoting a green-brown alliance, along the lines sketched by Caitlin Johnstone, as a means of reanimating a political movement that he, more than any other single figure, has helped to emasculate from the inside-out. This is a quest for fools gold at best, something more sinister at worst.
Environmentalists have been down this road before and it didn’t end well. In the 1990s, the Sierra Club was infiltrated by a vicious band of Malthusians, who scapegoated immigrants as a primary cause of environmental degradation. This shameful episode debased the Sierra Club and elevated the profile of the xenophobes, giving them a legitimate national platform for the first time and a political foothold that eventually metastasized into the virulent forces fueling the Trump campaign.
At an operational level, white nationalists already dominate the political agenda of the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties. The Greens invite them under the frayed flaps of their tent at their own peril.
| “Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Jul 21st 2017, 09:10, by Paul Street
A recent Washington Post and ABC poll finds that just 37 percent of Americans think that the Democratic Party “stands for something.” Fifty two percent say it’s about nothing more than opposing Trump.
The 37 percent is right. The Democratic Party stands for something, alright. It stands for the socio-pathological system of class rule and environmental ruin called capitalism – and for capitalism’s evil Siamese twin imperialism.
So does the far more openly right-wing Republican Party, of course, but that’s fairly common knowledge. It’s more complicated with the Democrats, who like to pose as being “on the left” while carrying water for Big Business.
It’s nothing new. Long before the rise of dismal, dollar-drenched neoliberal era Dems and Robert Rubin associates like Bill Clinton and Barack Hamilton Project Obama, the Democrats stood in the lead of the profits regime. This goes all the way back to that savage Indian-killer Andrew Jackson and up through that quintessential corporate liberal Woodrow Wilson, New Deal hero Franklin Roosevelt (who boasted about having saved the profits system during the Great Depression), the handsome proto-neoliberal Jack Kennedy, the blood-drenched Lyndon Johnson, and even poor old Jimmy Carter – the Christian peanut farmer whose cabinet was stocked with corporate hatchet men (If you want some basic historical background on all that, read Lance Selfa, The Democrats: A Critical History [Haymarket, 2012], and Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States)
Part of what has put the Democrats in the vanguard of U.S. capitalism (I’ll save the imperialism angle for a future commentary) is that they’ve always been better than the Republicans at coming up with smart-sounding and progressive-seeming justifications for the system. For one example among many, read the stealth corporatist Obama’s sneakily conservative 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope, which combines repeated noble and erudite statements of concern for the poor, working people and the common good with creepy and preposterous praise for the U.S. “free market” business order as “our greatest asset.”
Another example came when House Minority Leader and champion corporate fundraiser Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was challenged by a Bernie Sanders fan and New York University student during a CNN “town hall” last January. The student, Trevor Hill, caused CNN host Jack Tapper to say “oh, oh” by asking Pelosi when the Democratic Party was going to shift to the portside on political economy. Trevor Hill mentioned a Harvard University poll showing that “51% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 no longer support capitalism…The younger generation,” Trevor told Pelosi, “is moving left on economic issues…I wonder if there’s anywhere you feel the Democrats could move farther left to a more populist message…[and] if you think we could make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics.”
The well-heeled San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi is an unlikely candidate for populism. Having leveraged her long Congressional career to build up a net worth of $196 million, she is a poster child for the disease of corporate plutocracy.
Still, Ms. Pelosi did her best to keep her brilliant fake smile plastered on her expertly botoxed face during young Trevor’s ideologically impertinent question. She stood up from her seat to “school” the student on “our” “free market” system while acknowledging the need for better and smarter behavior on the part of its masters:
“I thank you for your question, but I’ve have to say that we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is. However, we do think that capitalism is not necessarily meeting the needs with the income inequality that we have in our country, and let me just tell you this… About forty years ago, a little bit more now, no less a person in terms of capitalism than the chairman of the Standard Oil of New Jersey said – he talked about stakeholder capitalism, capitalism that said when we make decisions as managements and CEOs of the country, we take into consideration our shareholders, our management, our workers, our customers, and the community at large. At that time, the disparity between the CEO and the worker was about 40 times, 40 times more for the CEO than the worker. As productivity rose, the pay of the worker rose and the pay of the CEO rose. Everything rose together. Around 20 years ago, it started to turn into — maybe 15, 20 years ago, it started to turn into shareholder capitalism, where we’re strictly talking about the quarterly report. So a CEO would make much more money by keeping pay low, even though productivity is rising, the worker is not getting any more pay, and the CEO is getting a big pay because he’s kept costs lows by depriving workers of their share of the productivity that they created…the disparity between the CEO and the worker in the shareholder capitalism is [now] more like 350 to 400 to 1. That income inequality is an immorality. And it is not even smart from an economic standpoint, because it doesn’t grow the economy. The more money you put in the pocket of the worker for the productivity he or she has produced, the more money they will spend, consume with confidence, inject into the economy and grow the economy… A job and being able to have a home and send your children to school and have a dignified retirement…what we want for all Americans…capitalism should serve that purpose. The capitalist system has been well-served by the so-called safety net. It’s not just a safety net for individual workers. It’s a safety net for capitalism, because they can go through their cycles, and when they don’t need as many employees, they — we have unemployment insurance or all kinds of benefits as a safety net that enable them to go through cycles…So we have to change the thinking of people. I don’t think we have to change from capitalism. We’re a capitalist system. The free market is a place that can do good things.”
Here Ms. Pelosi was talking the “inclusive capitalism” language (a nice bit of doublethink) of her good friends in the arch-neoliberal Clinton campaign and at the global corporatist Clinton Foundation. As the Clintons explain on the Website of their recently formed Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism:
”Inclusive Capitalism is a global effort to engage leaders across business, government and civil society in the movement to make capitalism more equitable, sustainable, and inclusive. Together we can achieve this through business and investment practices that extend the opportunities and benefits of our economic system to everyone. We believe that firms should account for themselves not just the bottom line. By taking a broader view of the firm – its purpose, products, people and planet – it is more likely to prosper over the long term.”
A lot of the leftish commentary you can find online about the Trevor Hill-Nancy Pelosi dialogue stops with Pelosi’s blunt opening statement: “we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.” The point of such commentary was that all she did was dismiss Trevor. But that’s not quite right. She went from opening dismissal to an elaborate and slick defense of capitalism as a system that can be turned back to the advantage of workers and other “stakeholders” if CEOs wise up – and as a system that actually wants and needs a strong social “safety-net” along with strong purchasing power in the hands of workers.
Pelosi’s response was borderline impressive. It was also pretty much complete bullshit.
Beyond being a butchered clause, “Not necessarily meeting the needs with the income inequality we have in our country” was a drastic understatement considering the remarkable poverty and savage class disparity stalking life in capitalist America today. Half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor. More than a fifth of the nation’s children (including well more than a third of its Black and Native American children) are living at less than the nation’s Dickensian poverty level. 42 million Americans — including 13 million children — live in “food insecure” households with limited or uncertain access to enough food to support a healthy life. All this and more terrible to contemplate exists in a nation where the top 1% has pocketed 85% of all income growth since the 2008-09 recession.
At the same time, that truest and deepest inequality under capitalism concerns wealth, not income. Currently in glorious “free market” America, the top tenth of the upper 1 Percent (Pelosi’s class) has as much net worth as the bottom 90 percent. Globally, the world’s richest five people have as much wealth between them as the poorest half of humanity.
Pelosi’s history lesson was loaded with mistakes. It was sixty-eight years ago, not forty or so, when Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, proclaimed that “The job of management is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly interested groups … stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large.” That was the kind of thing that smart corporate-liberal capitalists said at the height of the long New Deal era, when the world capitalist system was the United States’ oyster in the wake of “Europe’s suicide” (Thomas Piketty’s phrase for the 20th century’s two Europe-centered world wars), when the Soviet empire posed something of a state-socialist alternative to U.S.-led capitalism, and when U.S. corporations could make some substantive claim to be simultaneously meeting the material needs of their workers, consumers, and investors. It’s true that inequality declined and wages and consumption rose alongside profits during the “Great Compression” that came with the U.S.-led “Golden Age” of western capitalism from the end of World War II through the 1960s.
But anyone who thinks that the nation’s leading corporations and financial institutions placed workers and the public on an equal footing with investors and the bottom line in this (or any other) time is dreaming. It was first and foremost the rise of a momentarily powerful and significantly Left-sparked industrial workers’ movement – rooted largely in the special workplace bargaining power of mass-production workers, not some mythical corporate benevolence – that created a new and rising floor for working-class incomes during these years.(Pelosi naturally said nothing about the role of unions and working class struggle in aligning wages more closely with rising productivity back in the good old days of purportedly “inclusive” and “stakeholder” capitalism.”)
At the same time, the gains enjoyed by ordinary working Americans were made possible to no small extent by the uniquely favored and powerful position of the United States economy (and empire) in the post-WWII world. When that position was significantly challenged by resurgent Western European and Japanese economic competition in the 1970s and 1980s, the comparatively egalitarian trends of postwar America were reversed by capitalist elites who had never lost their critical command of the nation’s core economic and political institutions. Working class Americans have paid the price ever since. For the last four decades, wealth, income, and power have been sharply concentrated upward, birthing a New Gilded Age of abject oligarchy and brazen plutocracy. (It’s an era in which, among other things, Ms. Pelosi can use her $193,000-per year House position to accumulate an asset portfolio just shy of $200 million.) Along the way U.S.-led global capitalism has pushed livable ecology to the grave’s edge.
Pelosi needs to adjust her time-frame. This “Great U-Turn” (Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison) – this reversal of the “Great Compression” and its purported “stakeholder” commitments – dates from the finance- and policy-designed onset of the neoliberal era in the mid-1970s, not from “maybe 15 or 20 years ago.” It goes back to the Carter years. And – a very important point – it marked a return to capitalism’s historical norm, as Thomas Piketty’s showed in is widely read tour de force Capital in the Twenty First Century (2014). People born or raised in the post-WWII golden age (like this writer and like Nancy Pelosi) are prone to forget that “Les Trentes Glorieuses” (the “thirty glorious years” from 1945 to 1975) and not the neoliberal period that followed were the truly anomalous era in the history of U.S. and Western capitalism.
The neoliberal era and its current New Gilded Age capstone is the profits system returning to its long and militantly inegalitarian norm. Along with this ugly restoration has come the re-elevation of vicious, anti-social bourgeois culture, which drowns all noble, altruistic, and solidaristic sentiments in “the icy waters of egotistical calculation” and “resolve[s] personal worth into exchange value” (Karl Marx, 1848).
Does capitalism really need and want a strong social safety net, as Pelosi suggested? It does for those who wrongly “assume, as Keynesians do,” writes the British Marxist economist Michael Roberts, “that the foremost weakness of capitalism lies on the demand side of the economy.” As Roberts demonstrates in his important book The Long Depression: Marxism and the Global Crisis of Capitalism (Haymarket, 2016), the real internal growth weakness of capitalism today (as in the past) – the secret to its current long phase of slow growth and weakened productivity – resides in the fact that the profitability of capital is too low (and that the debt built up before the Great Recession is still too high.) Rapid economic growth cannot not return until another slump restores a sufficiently elevated rate of profit. The profits system wants more austerity and misery and a continued restriction of government investment, social benefits and wages. As Roberts notes:
“The post-slump austerity policies of most governments are not insane, as most Keynesians think. These policies follow from the need to drive down costs, particularly wage costs, but also taxation and interest costs, and the need to weaken the labor movement so that profits can be raised. It is perfectly rational policy from the point of view of capital, which is why Keynesian policies were never introduced to any degree in the 1930s. Capitalism came out of that Great Depression only when profitability rose and that was when the United States went into a war economy mode, controlling wages and spending and driving up profits for arms manufacturers and others in the war effort. Capitalism needed war, not Keynesian policies” (emphasis added).
But why should we want the system to take off and restore rapid growth – to “grow the economy” in Pelosi’s words? The super global-expansionist post-WWII “golden age” brought us to the brink of environmental crisis – to what Barry Commoner rightly described in 1971 as “The Closing Circle.” The long neoliberal expansion of 1983-2007 (with surplus value and commodity production rooted largely in China) has taken us to the point where Earth scientists speak all too realistically (if all too reticently) about the specter of human extinction in this or the following century. It’s not for nothing that Stephen Hawking says human survival depends on colonizing other planets and Tesla founder Elon Musk is developing fantastic plans to do precisely that. The last thing we need on “our only world” (Wendell Berry) is more economic expansion.
Accumulation- and hence growth-addicted capitalism (500 years old) and not humanity per se (200,000 years old) is the driving force behind this grim environmental predicament, which is why the brilliant Marxist environmental historian Jason Moore tells us that we are living (ever more dangerously) in the Age of the “Capitalocene,” not the “Anthropocene.” And the very same profits system that has hatched the unfolding ecocide is a great barrier to averting full environmental catastrophe. There are no solutions as long as we remain captive to the horrific system that Nancy Pelosi wants us to see as “just the way it is.” As Roberts rightly notes in terms that (frankly) seem to underestimate how dire the ecological crisis of our time is:
“The evidence of climate change and its man-made nature is increasingly overwhelming. The potentially disastrous effects from higher temperature, rising sea levels, and extreme weather formations will be hugely damaging especially to the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet. But industrialization and human activity need not produce these effects if human beings organized their activities in a planned way with due regard for the protection of natural resources and the wider impact on the environment and public health. That seems impossible under capitalism (p. 265)…What is really needed is proper planning of available resources globally, plus a drive, through public investment, to develop new technologies that could work (like carbon capture, transport not based on fossil fuels, goods produce locally with low carbon footprints, etc.) and, of course, a shift out of fossil fuels into renewables. Also, it is not just a problem of carbon and other gas emissions, but of cleaning up the environment, which is already damaged. All these tasks require public control and ownership of the energy and transport industries and public investment in the environment for the public good (pp.267-68)….The evidence is overwhelming that unless the capitalist system is replaced in the next fifty years, the planet will be suffering from such damage to the natural environment that economic growth will slow, natural disasters will become more common, and the cost of restoration and prevention will become too much for a profit-making mode of production to prevail” (p. 269). [emphasis added]
It’s worse than Roberts seems to know. Fifty years is too broad a timetable; it’s more like three decades – a generation – at most and even that is generous. It’s the whole world, including Chicago and not just sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, that will collapse under the weight of capitalogenic climate change.
Forget just the profit system and economic growth. The damage inflicted by capitalism, not humanity as such (the point bears repeating), will be too great for homo sapiens itself to survive without a radical and indeed revolutionary shift in public priorities and social organization. But Roberts is quite right to suspect that the changes required to rescue a decent future are “impossible under capitalism.” The profits system is long past its use-by date and now poses a profound existential threat to human survival. When do the Clintons unveil a new Coalition for Sustainable Ecocide?
It’s ecologically sustainable “socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky” at this stage of developing capitalist geocide. “The uncomfortable truth,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 16 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.” We make the leap beyond Obama’s, the Clintons’, and Pelosi’s system or its game over for humanity along with the countless other species homo sapiens is wiping out under the soulless command of capital.
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| Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Jul 21st 2017, 08:58, by Anthony DiMaggio
I recently delivered a lecture at the “Open University of the Left” in Chicago, titled “Does Capitalism Have a Future?” I strongly suggest for those interested in this topic, which focused on the role of higher education and other factors in stifling political-economic transformation, to check it out here. That talk appears all-the-more relevant following a July Pew Research Center study finding that 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agree that “colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country.” It’s tempting to dismiss outright the feelings of reactionary partisans, who fail to offer anything more nuanced than a “higher education is bad” mentality toward the world. But we need to better understand why it is that education is viewed with such disdain in contemporary America, in addition to exploring what’s wrong with this contempt.
First off, it’s worth pointing out that mass Republican distrust of higher education is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to Pew, in 2010, 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents held a positive view of higher education, but that number fell by a whopping 22 percentage points by 2017. Furthermore, the rapid growth in distrust didn’t occur until 2016 to 2017. So if distrust of academia is a new development, where did it come from?
It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that growing conservative hatred of higher ed is tied to the rise of a reactionary, anti-intellectual culture in the age of Trump. Knee-jerk hysteria against critical thought and investigation was, and is a hallmark of Trump’s campaign and presidency. In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a president who was so proud to showcase his own willful ignorance and lack of knowledge about American politics, society, and the world. This president has sent an unequivocal message to the country that stupidity and willful ignorance are traits to be celebrated, not condemned. The rising anti-intellectualism of Republican Americans is dangerous, considering that authoritarianism and fascism thrive on public manipulation and ignorance, and on the suspension of disbelief toward reactionary political officialdom.
Related to Trump’s anti-education rhetoric is the reality that higher education is associated with a greater likelihood of holding liberal political, economic, and social values. This association was verified by the Pew Research Center, which found in its mid-2015 national survey that liberal attitudes become increasingly common as education increases. In the 2015 survey, 54 percent of Americans with post-graduate degrees held attitudes that were “mostly” or “consistently liberal,” compared to 44 percent of those with an undergraduate degree, 36 percent of those with “some college,” and only 26 percent of those with a high school diploma or less. But we should be careful about drawing cause and effect claims from this data, as the first lesson of an introductory statistics class is that “correlation is not necessarily evidence of causation.” Tragically and ironically, this lesson is missed by many conservatives who hold disdain for higher education, and who are never exposed to basic statistical reasoning – which is now deemed superfluous and even dangerous in Trump’s America.
It is certainly possible that students develop more liberal beliefs and ideas because of professors sharing and encouraging such values. On the other hand, it’s also the case that younger Americans, who make up the lion’s share of individuals attending institutions of higher education, already hold more liberal attitudes compared to older individuals (for more on this, see here and here). It should be no surprise that Millennials share a fundamental distrust of American political and economic institutions, which have largely failed them in terms of providing for affordable education, affordable health care, and decent jobs in the modern era. So why should it be a surprise to find that college graduates are more left-leaning? This may be a revelation for Fox News viewers and other Republicans without college degrees, but I doubt it surprises anyone familiar with the individuals attending institutions of higher learning.
There’s a “selection bias” problem with claims that professors are indoctrinating students with left-wing views. By “selection bias,” I am referring to a population of people, in this case college students, who do not represent a random sample of the American public, but which conservatives falsely assume should be representative of the mass public. This is simply not the case. Students overwhelmingly represent one specific subgroup of the public – young people – who are already predisposed to hold left-leaning attitudes. I can provide one example of this, so readers better understand how selection bias work in the real-world, and how it may have nothing to do with professorial bias. In the fall of 2016, I taught a course called “The Politics of Inequality.” From the very beginning of the class, it was clear that left-leaning students had sought out the course, due to their pre-existing commitment to social justice and to the notion that government should play a role in trying to reduce inequality. Individuals who believed there was something government could potentially do to reduce inequality were more likely to take a class addressing what government could potentially do to reduce inequality (a shocker!).
While there were a small number of conservative leaning students (one or two) on day one of the course, these students dropped out early on, informing me that they had found alternative courses that were more in line with their occupational interests and goals. The loss of these conservatives, however, was hardly surprising, considering a longstanding notion that has taken hold of higher education that “learning means earning,” and that enrollment in classes should be driven primarily by what a course can do to further one’s occupational skills and earning potential. Still, this example demonstrates how left-leaning and conservative ideologies can (and does) exist in higher ed, independent of the beliefs or values of professors.
It’s possible that those attending colleges and universities become more “liberal” in their beliefs because of the absurdity of what passes for “conservatism” in the U.S. these days. Higher education adopts evidence-based learning as its core driving component. And modern conservativism is driven by a commitment to faith-based “reasoning” – with that faith either based on the cult of Trump’s persona, or on a devotion to conservative religious orthodoxies via the “Born Again” Evangelical churches and other right-leaning Christian denominations. When modern conservatism is defined by a fundamental rejection of science and scientific reasoning, the result is an awfully large catch-all for what constitutes “liberal” or “left” ideology. As a result, liberalism is increasingly defined by support for science and empirically-based inquiry and reasoning. If this is what it means to be liberal, then we shouldn’t be surprised if institutions of higher education produce liberal thinkers in droves.
Aside from the above problems, there is another reason to question conservative lamentations about the alleged dangers of higher education: professors are not very good at using their classes as platforms for pushing left-wing thinking. I’ve been a part of higher education, either as a student or a professor, for nearly two decades, and based on everything I know about American social science professors, I can do little but shake my head when I read findings of the kind published by Pew. Contrary to claims of student indoctrination in favor of radical leftist ideas, there’s little indication that professors beat students over the head with their ideology. In the area I teach (the social sciences), most professors are relatively mild-mannered, and go out of their way to avoid beating students over the head with ideology. Rather, the commitment in the classroom is to aiding students in developing the evidence-based thinking skills (that science thing again) that are necessary to becoming a thoughtful intellectual and citizen. In other words, the concern is with teaching people how to think, not what to think.
If there’s a criticism of higher education to be had, it’s that professors are often intimidated into avoiding hot-button political and social issues, and to avoid expressing criticisms of the American political-economic system when appropriate, for fear of being singled out and punished. In the era of “professionalization,” professors are under more pressure than ever to be “unbiased” in the classroom, and to avoid “taking a position” on various issues. This alleged neutrality is on its face absurd and harmful, considering the scientific method at its core requires scholars to put forward hypotheses (also known as arguments) about how the world works, which must be confirmed or falsified by evidence. Short of lobotomizing the learning process, it’s simply not possible for professors to avoid discussing scientific findings that contradict accepted conservative positions and orthodoxies. Rather than worrying about offending conservatives who reject evidence-based reasoning, professors should be seeking to challenge their students, in addition to the political world outside of the ivory tower. Instead, right-wing political and media harassment has meant that many professors kowtow to conservative agendas for fear of being labeled “biased.”
Much of the American scholarly community has uncritically embraced the “professionalization” of higher education. By professionalization, I am referring to numerous things, including: 1. The notion that being a public intellectual, and reaching large numbers of people with one’s work and knowledge, is a “bad” thing, since scholars are only supposed to speak to each other and confine their findings to academic venues; 2. The fallacy that more arcane terminology and language used in one’s work is a sign of increased rigor, since the harder something is to understand, the “better” it must be; 3. The belief that only the privileged few should have access to the knowledge produced in higher education, to be delivered either through classrooms to tuition-paying students, or in high-cost academic journals and conferences, to which the average citizen doesn’t have access. All these trends are a recipe for the decline and death of intellectual discourse, and unsurprisingly, we’ve seen a rapid dumbing down of American political culture as a result. With academics increasingly removing themselves from the real world of politics, con-men and used car salesmen like Donald Trump and others are left to fill the vacuum. What hope does reasoned, critical discourse have when the individuals best positioned to challenge official misinformation and propaganda sit by and do nothing?
The reality is that scholars must become more active if they wish to challenge the rise of anti-intellectualism. And the assault on higher education is in large part a function of the failure of academics to defend themselves from a savage neoliberal agenda dead-set on dismantling what little remains of America’s public institutions and infrastructure. If professors don’t defend themselves and their endeavors, who will?
Modern politics is driven by the notion that the public good is a quaint, outdated notion, and that institutions must demonstrate their value to the private sector, corporations, and profits to remain relevant. Obviously, this mentality is toxic to any democracy, and to a population that relies heavily on public goods such as education. Rather than talking about “why professors hate America,” we need to transform contemporary discourse and pose a more appropriate and relevant question: why is it that supporters of conservatism have such an active and shameless disdain for thinking? The answer is obvious enough: such feelings are driven by a strong distrust of democracy. Democracy can only flourish if the masses are educated to develop the critical thinking skills needed to question official lies and propaganda. The shift in public discourse toward idealizing stupidity and ignorance is a direct threat to democracy. We need to shame those celebrating the dumbing down of society if we seek positive, progressive transformation in American politics, economics, and culture.
To watch my talk on the growing instability of corporate capitalism, in addition to the impediments to political and economic transformation, please visit the “Open University of the Left” YouTube page here.
| Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Jul 21st 2017, 08:57, by Andrew Levine
As Donald Trump’s approval ratings fall and calls for his impeachment increase, Democrats seem not yet to have realized how the old saw, “beware of what you wish for, because you just might get it,” applies to them.
What they wish for is to see the back of Donald Trump.
But, having made themselves irrelevant, Democrats can do nothing to bring this about. Now, only Republicans can dump Trump. Democrats can only wish.
They are not alone. More than half of all Americans would have been happy to dump Trump from Day One. Half a year later, the number is closer to two-thirds. That would include quite a few people who generally vote for Republicans, and a few Republican officials as well.
With Trump, there are no neutrals. Many of his supporters will never defect. As his ineptitude becomes increasingly hard not to see, and as his mental state deteriorates in full public view, the reasons why are becoming increasingly difficult to fathom. Nevertheless, their faith in the Donald is real.
The authors of our Constitution saw to it that it would be extremely difficult to depose a sitting President. The only admissible grounds are treason, bribery and “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and both the House and the Senate would have to be in accord. Trump has made himself vulnerable to impeachment in countless ways, but with his own party in charge of both chambers, his position ought nevertheless to be secure.
Even so, the United States is at least nominally a democracy, and two-thirds of the voting public do want him gone. Many of them want him gone very much. This counts for something. Therefore, even if what Democrats and others want currently seems out of reach, theirs is hardly an idle wish.
Should what they wish for somehow come to pass, Mike Pence would become President. Only a revolution could change that; a real one, not the “Our Revolution” kind. There is as much chance of that as of a July snowstorm in sweltering Washington DC.
Trump is a hundred shades of awful, but he is not a dedicated theocrat or free market theologian or Second Amendment fanatic. And although his misogyny is blatant and pronounced, at least he doesn’t think that he is on a mission from God to deny women reproductive rights.
Neither is he a neocon, intent on bringing Russia to its heels. He may not even be a bona fide climate change denier.
He is a conman, and these are roles he plays at campaign rallies and on TV– because he is working a con on benighted folk who really do hold some or all of these views, as well as on (slightly) more enlightened citizens who are too pissed off by the status quo to care.
To that end, he has made cabinet secretaries and agency heads out of Republican donors and dimwits who want to undo many of the progressive achievements of the past hundred years.
Trump could care less about their concerns, but he needs them to keep the troglodytes in his base on board, while he does what he can to keep the government from becoming so dysfunctional that even they would balk.
There is little he or the airheads in his family circle can do about that; they have no aptitude for governance and none of the necessary skills.
Lucky for Trump, therefore, that with the help of establishment Republicans, he was able to recruit a handful of slightly less incompetent, though hardly more creditable, generals, corporate honchos, and Wall Street malefactors to run the parts of the government that Trump and his alt-right advisors don’t want to “deconstruct.”
The various agendas of the reactionaries Trump has empowered are as dissonant as the Republican Party itself. Therefore, they don’t always cohere. Although Republicans have been talking about it for years, they couldn’t even get their acts together enough to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Now Trump owns their failure.
To use a favorite word of his, this is a tad “unfair” because, like all of his other “issues,” taking away peoples’ health insurance was never really his cause. It was a Republican cause that he latched onto.
Trump is not like most of the people he has empowered. His instincts are as vile as any Republican’s, but, unlike many of them, he is not an ideologue. He is an opportunist, unencumbered by principles or convictions.
What he wants is to enrich and glorify himself – and perhaps also his children, insofar as he sees them as extensions of himself.
However, for the time being, it hardly matters how he comes by the views he espouses. This is why the GOP leadership has embraced him; they think they can use him, just as he is using them.
They can hardly fail to realize, though, that this may not always be so. Trump will go whichever way the wind blows; and, with him in the White House, the political scene is changing chaotically and at breakneck speed. The wind could therefore shift at any moment, and blow any which way at all.
Pence, on the other hand, comes by the retrograde views he espouses honestly; he is what Trump pretends to be.
The loathsome therefore love him, to the extent that a man without qualities can be loved. He may not get their juices flowing, the way Trump does, but they can trust him not to betray their values.
And because he is less unhinged than Trump, he is less scary. He is also less of a laughing-stock and a global embarrassment. Pence may put voters to sleep, but were he to take Trump’s place, the GOP would stand a better chance of winning back “moderate” Republicans and independents.
Moreover, with all the tumult Trump’s campaign and presidency has unleashed, and the tumult that would inevitably follow serious efforts to impeach him, a Pence presidency would be greeted with relief across the political spectrum. This would make it easier to pass legislation.
In these circumstances, Pence might actually become popular for a while. This is what happened with Gerald Ford, once Nixon was gone. Ford was a more formidable figure than Pence, and his politics was better. But this hardly matters; he was popular for a while because he wasn’t Nixon. Pence would be popular because he isn’t Trump.
Democrats should keep this in mind. Trump is their best recruiting tool. For that, Pence would be a dud.
Trump is a godsend for Democrats, but his presence does not guarantee their success. Even running against a Republican Party Trump heads, Democrats could get slaughtered again – if they fail to break free from their party’s Clintonite present and past.
Repudiating Clintonism involves more than just bidding Hillary and Bill adieu. It means rejecting neoliberalism and liberal imperialism, and the Clintons’ toothless goody-goodyism or, as they say in Trumpese, their dedication to “political correctness.”
Lately, it has also come to mean rejecting their Cold War anti-Communism.
How is anti-Communism even possible when there are no Communists in sight? Like so much else in the Age of Trump, this makes no sense. But leave it to the Clintons. With them showing the way, nobody seems to mind or even to notice.
In any case, concerns about electoral losses to Democrats have nothing to do with why Republicans these days are still hanging onto Trump. On this, as on almost everything else, Democrats these days are irrelevant.
All over the world, people in so-called democracies find that when democratic majorities vote X, they sometimes end up with something else; sometimes even X’s opposite.
It has become axiomatic in some circles to maintain that, when this happens, the culprit is always capitalism in its present, globalized and financialized phase.
It is, in a sense. This is particularly obvious in the European Union, especially in the Eurozone.
For the people to rule, they must exercise authority over the institutions that govern their lives. With national sovereignty diminished by bankers and bureaucrats operating at the European level, this condition has become more than usually difficult to satisfy in EU member states.
Essentially the same problem exists in countries in Asia and elsewhere where national sovereignty is less compromised, and in the United States, where many of the world’s major financial institutions are headquartered.
The exigencies of capitalist development explain many things at an abstract level, but they don’t explain Donald Trump, or why Republicans haven’t yet booted him out.
In the same spirit, but on a slightly less abstract plane, the GOP’s dependence on corporate and Wall Street paymasters does not explain this either. They would make out like the bandits they are just as well under Pence.
They might even have done better had Clinton not blown a near certain victory over Trump in the 2016 election.
Truly to understand the Trump phenomenon, we have to become more concrete.
In that vein, it is tempting too to say, “It’s the institutions, stupid.” There is a sense in which this too is plainly true.
The vast majority of Americans, roughly two-thirds, want Trump out; and, unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives, from which articles of impeachment must come, is supposed to be comprised of representatives who represent the people directly.
This would imply that elections to the House should honor the principle “one person, one vote,” or some close approximation, in more than just a formal way. .
But if this were the case, Trump would have been impeached long ago. That this hasn’t happened, and isn’t even presently in sight, suggests a design flaw. It suggests that our electoral institutions don’t do what they were intended to do, that they don’t generate outcomes that accurately reflect the peoples’ will.
They don’t because in democracies as in real estate, location matters. Within Congressional districts, everybody’s vote may count equally, but the districts themselves are not equal; the ways they are drawn up make some votes count more than others.
This cannot be the whole story, however, because the system we have used to work well enough.
From a (small-d) democratic point of view, winner-take-all, first-past-the-post elections, and ballot access laws that reinforce the hold the Democratic and Republican Parties exercise over the political scene, are far from ideal.
But insofar as Congressional districts contain a healthy mix of Democrats, Republicans and others, the offense to the “one person, one vote” principle is not too egregious. This is why it was possible to say, without too much disingenuousness, that, apart from restrictions on the franchise, ours has always been a system of majority rule.
Before those restrictions were removed, those words could stick in the craw. But it was nevertheless the case that, for those who did have the right to vote, the majority got its way in presidential contests — with only one exception before Bush v. Gore — and that the composition of the House of Representatives fairly reflected the distribution of votes between Democrats and Republicans.
This is no longer the case in presidential contests – since the turn of the century, the minority has twice prevailed – and, in elections to the House, the connection between the popular vote in many states and the composition of their Congressional delegations is even more skewed than in the Senate.
Evidently, circumstances have changed in ways that, while not literally institutionalizing minority rule, make it the case that the minority party – which also happens to be the more odious of our two semi-established neoliberal parties – is accorded huge advantages.
Thus it is that, as Trump’s approval ratings keep falling, he has not become any easier to impeach.
It might be different if his remaining supporters were less resolute. Incredibly, though, a personality cult seems to have formed around the billionaire. The more outrageous his behavior and his tweets, the more fervent the true believers within the Trump base become.
Trump’s is not a standard issue personality cult, the kind that attached, for example, to Joseph Stalin and other mid-century Communist leaders. For millions of people around the world, Stalin was Uncle Joe. There is nothing avuncular about Trump. Neither is there anything sublimely cruel or wise or in any other way remarkable. He is what he is; a sleazy, coarse, and ridiculous man, with far too much money, who is about as charismatic as yesterday’s lunch.
But he does project an air of defiant contempt, directed against “elites,” that appeals to the kinds of people on whom he is working his con.
Being radically insecure and a bully by nature, he comes by this attitude more or less naturally. It is complicated, though, because his “populism” is transparently phony. Trump is anything but a class traitor; quite to the contrary, as many of his erstwhile fans fans are finally beginning to realize.
So far, his remaining supporters don’t seem to care. This too may change, however, once it becomes obvious, even to them, that not only is Trump as good a friend to Wall Street as the Clintons and Obama were, but also that, campaign blather aside, he is no friend at all of people like them.
For now, though, they are still standing by their man. This drives Democrats and other anti-Trump “resisters” to despair, because there is no way to reason with cultists. Trump was not exaggerating all that much when, as a candidate, he quipped that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight, and it would only make him more popular.
When Democrats are moved to act out their frustrations with diehard Trump supporters, all they can think to do these days is escalate the level of anti-Putin warmongering. That was what Team Hillary did once she became the Democratic nominee, and it is what sore loser Democrats have been doing ever since she lost the election. It has become their passion. Watch them on cable talk shows, if you can bear it, and despair for the human race.
They are finding, though, that they have already reached everybody who is reachable; and that most people nowadays don’t much care. This enrages them even more – making them more reckless, strident and absurd.
In the Joe McCarthy – Roy Cohn era, red baiting counted for something; apparently, it no longer does. Why would it, when there hasn’t been a red in the Kremlin in more than a generation? Somehow, though, Democrats and the pundits who serve them haven’t figured this out. The troglodytes in the Trump demographic are way ahead of them on that score. So is Trump.
There is a certain irony in this: Roy Cohn, one of the most demonic figures ever to disgrace the national political landscape and one of America’s premier red baiters, was a Trump mentor back in the day.
It is telling that Trump does not, and never has, courted the GOP’s most Russophobic faction, the neoconservatives. Why would he? However influential they were when Dick Cheney was calling the shots, neocons have never had any authentic connection to the Republican base; they were mostly turncoat Democrats, after all. Moreover, by the time Trump’s con job went into full throttle, the neocons were already ensconced in the Hillary camp.
Affinities between Clintonites and neocons run deep. Hillary herself is a case in point. In her declining years, her inveterate Cold War mentality seems to have welled back up to the surface. Always a liberal imperialist, she is now a neocon too. So are the talking heads – on MSNBC and elsewhere – who seem unable to stop fighting the war she and they lost.
Democrats have nothing to offer Trump’s diehard supporters. Most of those poor fools probably thought, at one point, that Trump did; maybe some of them still do.
It is evident, though, that what he mainly has to offer is a vibe that resonates psychologically. Will that be enough to cancel out the bad feelings that are sure to come when it finally dawns on them that they have been conned? The jury is out on that.
It is that vibe, as much or more than the peculiarities of our electoral institutions, that explains why so many Trump voters are not yet ready to cast Trump aside.
Other unusual circumstances must be factored in as well.
Unlike in medieval European cities, in America birds of a feather have always tended to live together. Therefore, on this side of the Atlantic, population sorting, with respect to color and national origin, and often too with respect to religion, has always been with us. Though less widely acknowledged, class membership has played an even more important role.
Along with party polarization, population sorting is becoming more pronounced. It is also becoming more politically significant. Once important only at the neighborhood level, it now affects larger regions – enough to turn entire states solidly Republican or Democratic.
The result is that electoral districts of almost every kind are becoming less representative than they used to be of the political community as a whole.
Then, of course, there is gerrymandering.
Democratic Presidents who raise expectations that they then go on to disappoint help Republicans in the midterm elections that follow two years later. This happened in 1994, with Bill Clinton, and it happened again in 2010, with Barack Obama.
2010 was also a census year; therefore the “shellacking” (Obama’s word) that the Democrats took then affected Congressional redistricting significantly.
The shellacking extended to gubernatorial elections and to elections of representatives to state legislatures. For years, Democratic Party leaders have been focusing on the White House to the exclusion of almost everything else, often treating state electoral contests with malign neglect.
Their GOP counterparts have been playing the electoral game more wisely. There are therefore now twenty-four states in which Republicans hold both the governor’s office and both chambers of the state legislature. For Democrats, the number is six.
There are therefore fewer inter-party competitive Congressional elections than there used to be.
With few exceptions, what legislators at all levels want most is their own reelection – until they decide that the time has come to cash in on their connections and clean up as consultants or lobbyists or lawyers. This is the American way: there is ordinary corruption too, of course, but the serious money comes when a politician’s “public service” days are over.
Thanks to population sorting and gerrymandering, most Republicans in Congress can be confident that they can withstand challenges from Democrats. The four special elections held earlier this year, called to fill seats vacated by Trump appointees to the cabinet and federal agencies, all of which Republicans won, reinforce this conviction.
Primary challenges are another matter. It is hard to believe that anyone could be to the right of the average House Republican, but, in fact, there are many ambitious miscreants who are. Indeed, these days, challenges to GOP incumbents almost always come from the right. Those challenges are usually well funded – by plutocrats who are typically more greedy or retrograde or both than the average “malefactor of great wealth.”
It is well known too that, as a rule, extremists almost always turn out to vote in larger numbers than other voters in off-year elections. Therefore, if challenged in the primaries, incumbents could lose. This is why the last thing House Republicans would want to do is rattle the cages of voters who might be tempted to support primary challengers.
But that is precisely what they would do if they turned against Trump. Impeaching any Republican President would be perilous, but with the personality cult that has grown up around that ridiculous buffoon, the danger is extreme.
Therefore, barring revelations that strike a nerve, even when shooting someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight would not, there is almost no chance that Republicans will move against Trump for at least another year.
It may be different when it is too late for serious midterm primary challenges to develop, but, for now, the chances are nil.
Anti-Trump resisters looking for straws to grasp might come to the conclusion that, while there probably is no single thing that Trump could do that would cause Republicans to mutiny, the endless stream of revelations – actually, piddling news items that the cable channels breathlessly depict as “breaking news” — about Trump’s “bromance” with Vladimir Putin and his and his family’s dealings with Russian oligarchs are a different matter. They shouldn’t get their hopes up. Too few Republicans care, and they are the only ones that count.
It is more likely that Trump will come to think that staying on isn’t worth the grief – or the damage to his bottom line and reputation. Unfortunately, this hope too is far-fetched. In a better possible world, the Trump brand would already be anathema; in the actual world, the name is still bringing money in. Even were its pecuniary value to slacken, Trump would probably be too self-deluded to notice.
To be sure, bad things don’t just happen to good people; sometimes they happen to bad people too. When the bad person is a portly, sedentary septuagenarian who enjoys fast food and whose idea of exercise is sitting in a golf cart, the chances are pretty good.
Don’t count on it, though. Where there are strokes, there is hope, but the gods are seldom on the side of the angels; and, where Trump is concerned, it seems that they almost never are.
Don’t expect relief to come from the CIA or others in our vaunted “intelligence community” either. They despise Trump as much as anyone, and dark ops is their thing. When it comes to heart attacks and strokes, they are as good as the Russians and better than the gods. But coming to terms with their own ineptitude, they seem lately to have become cautious in the dirty tricks department, developing a healthy fear of being found out.
Theirs therefore is a strategy of death by a thousand cuts –revelatory leaks, “fake news” in the Trump lexicon – being their weapon of choice. Trump, his own worst enemy, is easy prey.
I hope they and other “deep state” actors take their time. With Pence waiting in the wings, hamstringing Trump and his minions may actually do more good than dispatching him and them altogether.
There is always the danger, of course, that Trump will act out, and that Doomsday will follow.
And even setting that worry aside, with Trump in the White House and Democrats for an opposition party, the future looks bleak.
But the line of succession being what it is, a world in which Trump remains President for a while longer may actually be the best (least bad) of all constitutionally possible worlds.
| Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Jul 21st 2017, 08:56, by Michael Colby
It was twenty years ago last month that Food & Water published our report on Vermont’s atrazine addiction, a toxic herbicide that is banned in Europe but continues to be used in abundance on Vermont’s 92,000 acres of GMO-derived feed corn – all for dairy cows. We used the report to get the attention of Ben & Jerry’s, and it worked. We thought when the doors swung open to the offices of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield themselves that we’d be able to make the case to them.
Our plea at the time was the same as it is today: Ben & Jerry’s should practice what it preaches and help transition its farmers to organic production. If they took the lead, we argued, the entire state could begin a transition away from the kind of industrial, commodity-based dairy system that is wreaking so much havoc with Vermont’s agriculture – and culture. It’s a system that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: chase small farmers off the land by de-valuing production. And so it has been, for decades, an economic death spiral in which less and less is paid for more and more of the commodity product, in this case: milk.
We thought the obvious imbalance – and even direct, outright hypocrisy – between what Ben & Jerry’s was doing and what they were saying would be enough to get these do-good hippies to do the right thing. We were using logic. Because, certainly, the corporation that wanted to “save the planet” and “put the planet before profits” would want to stop being one of the state’s top polluters, right?
We were told at the time, by Ben himself, after a year’s worth of meetings and even an offer of a job to me “to work with us instead of going after us,” that Ben & Jerry’s was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn’t allow them to “maximize profits.” Quick, throw another tie-dyed shirt to the crowd! Or launch a new flavor! Send some ice cream to the schools! Anything, just get the attention off of what Ben & Jerry’s is doing to its homeland, and our homeland – all to maximize its profits.
This was all before they sold out to Unilever, when Cohen and Greenfield still had all the power they needed to do the right thing. But, even then, the harsh reality of profits over ideals was firmly in place, with the belief that if they could convince people that eating ice cream would bring world peace, they could convince them of anything. There was nothing that a little groovy marketing couldn’t fix.
It has, of course, only grown worse under Unilever in terms of corporate accountability and transparency. All the big decisions regarding Ben & Jerry’s are now made from Unilever’s London headquarters, where it also shepherds more than a dozen other billion-dollar-plus brands. But its corporate stand on most everything associated with the gross injustices of its dairy sourcing – from migrant labor exploitation to cow abuse to rural economic plunder – remains exactly the same: stay wedded to cheap, commodity milk, reject an organic transition, and keep relying on marketing to trump the nasty realities. Free cones!
Turns out, those free-cone days that Ben & Jerry’s rolls out every year for Vermonters aren’t so free, nor are the grants they provide to so many environmental and economic justice groups. With each lick and each cash of the foundation check, Ben & Jerry’s expects loyalty to its carefully orchestrated charade: the consumption of high-fat, pesticide-laden, climate-threatening, cow-abusing ice cream produced with the labor of exploited migrant workers all leads to social and ecological justice for all! Come on, people, really?
But let’s keep looking behind the curtain.
Currently, Ben & Jerry’s pays its farmers less than it costs them to produce the milk. Each load of milk that leaves these farms is, in effect, a donation to the soon-to-be billion-dollar corporation. These farms are losing — on average — upwards of $125,000 a year, piling up debt and holding onto all they know how to do in many cases. At the same time, Ben & Jerry’s annual reports are filled with the optimism of $100 million-a-year growth predictions, Teslas for the executives, and a parent corporation CEO drawing a base salary of $12 million – before the boardroom gifts are doled out.
Just think of this the next time you reach for that pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, with dreams of social justice still dancing in your head: On average, for each $5.00ish pint of Ben & Jerry’s, the dairy farmer who produced its foundational ingredient – milk – gets less than fifteen cents from that purchase. And, on average, it costs the farmer about 22 cents to produce that milk. Sadly, the response from Ben & Jerry’s to these facts is to cue the next puppet show, hand out a free cone or two, and sing a song about something else – anything else – but the bitter reality that the unjust and unsafe dairy system it profits from is devastating rural Vermont.
Since Ben & Jerry’s founding in 1978, nearly 3,000 dairy-farm families in Vermont have been forced off the land, with only about 800 remaining today. It’s been a rural recession that never finds bottom, and all exactly as designed, through a cold, calculated devaluation of production. But these weren’t just jobs that were lost, either. It was a way of life, and it was their dignity, too, as generations before them farmed the same piece of land, with no one wanting to be the last. But thousands were.
It is a stark extraction going on, littered with exploitation, and resulting in the kind of environmental destruction that will take generations and billions of dollars to correct. The current bill facing Vermonters for cleaning up our impaired waterways, especially Lake Champlain, the resting place for so many toxins, is approaching $2 billion. State officials estimate conservatively that the pollution from the mega-dairy farms like those supplying Ben & Jerry’s has caused at least half of the damage. Entire sections of Lake Champlain are unswimmable, properties have been devalued, aquatic life is suffering, and drinking water is testing positive for – surprise, surprise — toxins like atrazine and glyphosate (aka: Monsanto’s RoundUp), both used abundantly on Vermont’s dairy-destined cornfields.
Cleaning up the messes from these mega-dairies becomes the public’s problem, with the likes of Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Cheese taking dairy’s profits while relying on taxpayers to remedy the ecological and social damage in its wake. Consider, for example, the legislative handwringing that went on earlier this year when trying to figure out who and/or what to tax to come up with the down payments for cleaning up the water pollution primarily caused by the mega-dairies. There were all kinds of suggestions – everything from taxing nail salons to property-transfer taxes – but not one proposed source of funds involved having those profiting from the pollution (Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Cheese, for example) stepping up to pay for the damage.
In practically every other industrial activity in Vermont, from Entergy Nuclear to the PFOA water pollution in Bennington, it is the polluter who is held accountable for their cleanup. Dairy, however, gets a free ride, even though it’s no longer the image-making endeavor it once used to be. The cows have been taken off the hillsides and locked up for what is now a short and sad existence on concrete — far, far from their once majestic grazing selves.
People don’t come to Vermont to see the cows like they used to – it’s too harsh to view now. Sadly, if tourists now think of the cows it’s more to do with how their confinement and concentration has led to runoff that has befouled beaches, made fish uneatable, and decimated the once-quaint villages and towns that thrived under smaller, more diversified agriculture.
It’s not going to be easy but it’s time for a reality check when it comes to Vermont agriculture. We’ve clung for too long to a paradigm that has brought so much economic, cultural and ecological damage – all while the billions in profits get sent elsewhere.
The question for Vermonters is: How much more of this are we willing to take? How many more farms need to go under? How much more water pollution? Cow abuse? Migrant-labor exploitation? Pesticide-contaminated land and food products? How many more billions siphoned off our land and labor?
Ben & Jerry’s has made itself very clear: It’s rather enjoying the record profits. From London, Unilever thanks Vermont for the donation of so much milk and cheap labor, for all the once-bucolic imagery, and for the tax dollars used to cleanup its messes.
For twenty years I’ve been engaging Ben & Jerry’s, showing them the damage that it is doing at every level, from the atrazine report in 1997 to the GMO report in 2016 and a slew of face-to-face meetings in between. But it always ends the same way: Ben & Jerry’s admits that the marketing is working just fine. “People think we’re organic,” is what we were told time and time again in private meetings, while asking them to actually go organic. If fooling people allows for maximizing profits, why stop fooling them?
Ladies and gentlemen, Vermont’s dairy emperor – Ben & Jerry’s – has no clothes.
| White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Jul 21st 2017, 08:55, by Bruce Dixon
The Green Party held its annual national meeting in Newark last weekend. Amid the workshops, smaller meetings and committeefying, Greens use this meeting to elect people to their 9 member steering committee, the body that conducts the week to week management of the organization. Steering committee members are chosen by and from the 150 member national committee, which is named by state parties and national caucuses, and votes are counted according to a ranked choice scheme. I’ve been on the national committee for several years now. I wasn’t at this year’s meeting due to some health issues, but I know plenty of people who were.
A meeting of the black caucus was in progress when the results of the steering committee election were announced. A Latina delegate observed to the black caucus members present that it was a shame no black candidates for steering committee had won the election. She offered, in solidarity with the black caucus to resign her newly elected seat so that one of the black candidates could replace her, either through an applicable rule if one could be found, or in a new election.
There was already a lot of discontent in the room. Caucus members were already considering how to respond to what they perceived as an unacceptable level of racist insults and slights over the course of the weekend, and they were keenly aware that some members of the national committee had been unable to login and properly cast their votes, though the number of these was not clear. So the caucus members present decided to leave their meeting and walk in on a fundraiser a short distance away which was being livestreamed on Facebook.
On arrival they seized the mic and launched into a series of outraged speeches about how the Green party could not be allowed to continue slighting and insulting and ignoring its black constituencies. They demanded that the entire steering committee, not just those newly elected, resign and be replaced. Another Latina elected to the steering committee also volunteered to resign, and a chorus erupted on social media of Greens mostly congratulating each other for addressing racism inside the organization and acceding to the wishes of the black caucus. Some did balk at having the entire steering committee resign, because then there would be nobody with the power to call new elections, and a few – me among them – found a lot to disagree with in the entire spectacle.
What’s wrong here? Plenty. To begin with the black candidates who lost didn’t much bother to campaign. The universe of possible voters in the election is pretty small, only 150 people and their contact information is readily available to anybody who wants it. One black candidate made the incredible claim that he “didn’t know” he was supposed to actually call national committee members and ask for their votes. So really, it looks like their loss wasn’t due to voter manipulations or structural white supremacy in the Green party. Arguably they were just incompetent candidates.
The strangeness doesn’t end there. Though these black candidates didn’t campaign for themselves, some of the country’s best known Greens were urging their partisans to cast votes for them. But the black caucus, which adopted their cause as its own after they lost also made no effort to campaign for them before the election. So the two elected Latinas who offered their resignations in solidarity with the cause of black liberation are opening the door for themselves to be replaced with black steering committee members who didn’t have enough respect for the party, the national committee and its processes to campaign for themselves before the election. That’s pretty messed up.
This peculiar kind of solidarity is an artifact of white liberal guilt and the tokenism used to assuage it. White liberals look around and see there are too few blacks, Latinas and queers in their ranks. So they pass a rule that says they should get more. They look around for available black, brown and queer heads to fill the spots. They move over and they make room. That’s called diversity, and the black brown and queer faces recruited in this scheme are tokens. A revolutionary party, a mass based party of the left, which is what some of us are trying to build the Greens into requires something entirely different.
It’s a truly difficult problem. All the established political institutions, all the churches and nonprofits, all the unions and such in black and brown communities are pretty much on the Democratic party plantation, and in no hurry to leave thank you very much. How do you crack this nut? Black constituencies across the country are the prisoners of the most rabid right wing neoliberal Democrat politicians imaginable, and they will not be dislodged by simply throwing more money and effort into “black outreach” to the same old players in the same old ways.
The Green party can only successfully grow black constituencies by recruiting outside the institutional bases of Democrats – outside the churches, the nonprofits and most unions. Rather than “making room” for black leadership the Greens will have to grow and/or recruit leaders with their own following outside the institutional strongholds of Democrats, black, brown and queer leaders who will bring their own room, their own space with them. It’s a lot easier said than done. Tokenism, elevating the blacks you already have in the room, is a lot quicker and easier. The problem is that token leaders like these bring no black followers with them. Which brings us to the Green party’s black caucus.
The Green party’s black, Latinx, queer and womens caucuses are wonderful examples of elevating tokens instead of grooming and growing leaders. Green parties state by state are gradually adopting the model of mass based left parties everywhere else on planet Earth, making themselves into sustainable, internally democratic bodies based on dues paying memberships. Membership dues are the only reliable way for a mass organization to remain independent of one percenter funders. Having your officers responsible to a bloc of dues paying members is anchors those officers somewhere in your mass membership.
But Green party caucuses don’t have dues paying members. They just have members, who are defined by showing up at online meetings. Anybody can be a Republican or Democrat or something else on Monday, email the black caucus on Tuesday, and on Wednesday be an accredited member, eligible to elect or to serve on the party’s national committee or its steering committee. Caucuses get automatic seats on the national committee without having to prove their members are anchored in any Green party anywhere, or have done any work with the party. So some black and other caucus members are anchored nowhere and caucus leaders are responsible to nobody in particular except themselves. This is how white liberal tokenism has opened the door to black opportunism in the Green party.
The black caucus didn’t claim or help these black candidates before the election, but its leaders now claim them after they lost. A large number of the black caucus members who seized the mic at the livestreamed Green party fundraiser were newbies in the Green party who didn’t even know these candidates or what, if anything they stood for. Many were Berniecrats till the middle of last year. They appear to have been manipulated by George Martin, one of the non-campaigning black candidates, and by the black caucus chair, who may have inflated the number of glitches in the voting machinery, and spread unsubstantiated rumors that some national committee members were bullied or threatened around their votes. The black caucus didn’t mentor candidates for party office on the state or national level, it didn’t conduct issues forums or events in virtual or meat space. It’s done next to nothing in the years I’ve been in this party. But now it’s woke, and cynically using a handful of newbies to win seats on the party’s steering committee.
The black caucus is expected to produce a report, though the existence of any sort of democratic process inside the caucus is an open question. The report may demand resignations of some steering committee members and their replacement with black candidates, with or without new elections. A fallback proposal might be the creation of additional permanent seats on the steering committee for the unaccountable and anti-democratic caucuses.
There absolutely should be a black caucus in the Green party. But caucuses shouldn’t get automatic votes on the national committee or the steering committee. Those bodies should be elected by state parties instead of being anti-democratic phantom organizations responsible to nobody in particular.
If honchos on the Green steering committee are smart they will persuade the members who have offered their resignations to rescind those offers, as they are invitations for black opportunists to consolidate leadership positions in the Green party. It may fall to the 150 member national committee to decide whether the resignations will be permitted or accepted, and whether any new election will take place. New elections precipitated by the demand of a rump group of newbies sanctified only by their outrage at random insults, a newfound attachment to candidates who didn’t respect the party or its processes enough to wage credible campaigns, and rumors of vote stealing and intimidation would be the worst possible precedent for the Green party. But opportunists don’t care about process, or parties or building movements for peace and justice. They just want to be large, and in charge.
Liberalism offers easy answers to the problem of recruiting token blacks to leadership. But the black leaders you get that way are opportunists, who can only win followings by deception, by manipulation of the unwary and by the laziness or inattention of others responsible for the institution and the mission of the party. That mission is to struggle for power, and to build a movement of movements against capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and endless war. There are no shortcuts.
This piece first appeared in the Black Agenda Report.
| Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Jul 21st 2017, 08:55, by Edward Hunt
The ongoing effort of the United States to eradicate the Islamic State by aggressively launching airstrikes against targets that include non-combatants is causing significant harm to civilians in Iraq and Syria.
Estimates of civilian deaths from airstrikes range from the hundreds to the tens of thousands. Although the U.S. government says that it has killed 603 civilians in airstrikes since the start of military operations in 2014, the monitoring group Airwars estimates that airstrikes have killed at least 4,500 civilians, including nearly 1,000 children.
Some of the strikes have been horrific. One attack in Mosul last March killed at least 100 civilians and injured countless more. “Dozens of Iraqi civilians, some of them still alive and calling out for help, were buried for days under the rubble of their homes in western Mosul after American-led airstrikes flattened almost an entire city block,” The New York Times reported.
Officials in Washington deny any wrongdoing. They insist that they are taking every precaution to protect civilians. They also argue that they are not intentionally killing civilians, despite the fact that President Trump promised during his presidential campaign to go after civilians. When it comes to terrorists, “you have to take out their families,” Trump said.
Others argue that civilian deaths cannot be avoided. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of coalition forces, said during a press conference last March that civilian deaths result from the fog of war. “And this is why it’s not a war crime to accidentally kill civilians,” Townsend said, in a misinterpretation of the law.
Still, U.S. officials know that they are responsible for killing civilians in Iraq and Syria. For over the past year, at least, they have been deliberately striking targets that they know will result in civilian casualties.
Clear evidence emerged in January 2016 after U.S. forces bombed a site in a civilian area of Mosul that the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) had been using to store money. “U.S. commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target,” CNN reported.
Around the same time, officials in the Obama administration loosened restrictions designed to limit civilian casualties. According to a report by USA Today, administration officials granted military officials permission to strike targets that came with higher probabilities of civilian deaths. “Before the change,” USA Today reported, “there were some limited cases in which civilian casualties were allowed.” With the change, “there are several targeting areas in which the probability of 10 civilian casualties are permitted.”
For others, U.S. military forces were still dealing with too many restrictions. Upon entering office, President Trump moved to implement a more aggressive military campaign. “We have not used the real abilities that we have,” Trump said. “We’ve been restrained.” Expanding the Obama administration’s program of exterminatory warfare, which by that point had already killed about 60,000 IS fighters, Trump decided to implement what administration officials call “annihilation tactics.” According to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Trump “directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.”
The Trump administration’s tactical shift has had significant consequences for civilians. By surrounding targets to annihilate them, coalition forces have been killing far more civilians in Iraq and Syria. It “appears that the number of civilian casualties has risen in recent months,” The Los Angeles Times reported in April. The New York Times agreed, reporting in May that the “number of civilians killed in American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria spiked this year.” Earlier this week, The Daily Beast provided additional confirmation, reporting that “all parties agree that casualty numbers are steeply up.”
Military officials recognize the consequences of their actions. “We’re not perfect,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, commented during a press briefing last May, when asked about civilian casualties from airstrikes. Commander Townsend has even suggested that civilian casualties are inevitable. Undoubtedly, “civilians will get caught in the crossfire,” Townsend said earlier this month. “Civilians will get hurt. Civilians will get killed.”
Still, U.S. officials continue to insist that they are not to blame. They characterize civilian deaths as accidents or mistakes. In other words, they keep shifting the blame elsewhere, just as Townsend did when he once again blamed the fog of war. The entire situation is “sad and it’s an unavoidable part of war,” he said.
But civilian casualties are not unavoidable. They are not mistakes. For the past year, civilian casualties have been a direct result of U.S. policy. By embracing policies that allow for civilian casualties, officials in both the Obama and Trump administrations have permitted U.S. forces to kill civilians. Indeed, U.S. officials are ensuring through their actions and policies that civilians in Iraq and Syria will continue to die.
This article originally appeared on Lobelog.com.
| Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Jul 21st 2017, 08:55, by Matthew Kovac
Four years into the Flint Water Crisis, the legal system continues to grapple with how best to provide residents with a measure of accountability, much less justice.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has investigated the crisis as a denial of civil rights, calling for a South African-style “truth and reconciliation commission.” The ACLU is suing the state for violating Flint students’ right to education. And just last month, Michigan’s right-wing Attorney General Bill Schuette – eager to boost his run for governor – charged five state and city employees with involuntary manslaughter.
But these offenses fail to capture the vast scope and depth of Flint’s suffering. The most fitting charges, it turns out, are also the most serious. And they come not from within the narrow confines of domestic law, but international human rights law.
As more evidence emerges of an official cover-up, there is growing recognition that the Flint crisis is not a just a civil rights case, but a human rights abuse. Filmmaker Michael Moore, noting Flint’s majority-Black population, has denounced the mass poisoning as a “version of genocide.” Last year, water rights activists held a people’s tribunal charging Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his henchmen with crimes against humanity. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, for his part, has echoed that charge.
These remarks should not be dismissed out of hand. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that the poisoning of Flint’s water supply does indeed violate international prohibitions on genocide and crimes against humanity.
Contrary to popular belief, the crime of genocide does not only refer to mass killing on racial or ethnic grounds. Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines it more broadly (emphasis mine):
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The Flint Water Crisis and the anemic state response clearly meets these broader criteria for genocide. Lead poisoning has caused untold serious bodily and mental harm to Flint residents, including irreversible brain and nerve damage in children. It also harms reproductive health and heightens the risk of pregnancy complications – preventing births within the group. The “physical destruction” visited upon the bodies of Flint residents and their descendants is incalculable. As local pediatrician and whistleblower Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha told The New York Times: “If you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it would be lead.”
The biggest hurdle to a Flint genocide prosecution is the “intent to destroy” clause. As a new book by human rights scholar Richard Ashby Wilson shows, proving intent and punishing incitement under international law is notoriously difficult. Without full access to the Snyder administration’s emails, the real motives behind the switch to the toxic Flint River will remain uncertain. But if years of public denials, secret deliberations, and falsified lead test results do not signal an “intent to destroy” the population, it is hard to imagine what such intent would look like.
This is only the start of Gov. Snyder’s legal troubles, however. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in 1998, makes clear that it is not just the poisoning of Flint residents that is punishable as a crime against humanity, but the suspension of local democracy that made it possible. From Article 7, Paragraph 1 (emphasis mine):
For the purpose of this Statute, ‘crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law;
(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;
(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;
(j) The crime of apartheid;
(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
Gov. Snyder’s use of the emergency manager law to suspend democracy in Flint and other Black-majority cities – imposing unelected financial managers and effectively disenfranchising half of Michigan’s Black population – set the stage for the poisoning of Flint’s water supply. Within this context of racially persecutory governance, these violations of Flint’s right to clean water and political self-determination could very well qualify as crimes against humanity under 1(h), (j), and (k).
But don’t expect to see Gov. Snyder in the dock anytime soon. Unfortunately for Flint residents, the United States never ratified the Rome Statute – partially over fears that U.S. military personnel could face war crimes charges – and thus its provisions have been largely unenforceable against U.S. citizens.
However, this has not stopped foreign courts that recognize universal jurisdiction from bringing charges against human rights abusers under their own laws. And the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign nationals to sue U.S. officials for violations of international law, means that Flint’s undocumented community, which has been especially hard-hit by the crisis, could still have its day in court.
Gov. Snyder should keep his lawyers on speed dial.
Matthew Kovac is a Michigan-based writer and researcher. He has investigated wrongful convictions with the Chicago Innocence Center and covered social justice issues for The Chicago Reporter magazine. His work has been featured by AlterNet, Common Dreams and Truthout.
| The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
Jul 21st 2017, 08:54, by Mark Harris
“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.”
It was 98 years ago that the brilliant socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg was murdered by a right-wing paramilitary group in Berlin. Her death in early 1919 came at the hands of one of the Freikorps death squads that roamed post-war Germany, killing left-wing workers and socialists who supported the anti-government uprisings that came with the end of World War I.
In this age of Trump, this vulgar era of rising alt-right demagoguery and violence, perpetual global conflict and entrenched social and economic inequality, it’s worth remembering the legacy of this revolutionary leader. Her politics envisioned nothing less than the complete liberation of humanity from the tyranny of social and class oppression. At the very least, the fact that a human being like Luxemburg once lived should offer hope that our sorry, troubled human species is not yet beyond redemption. But more than expressions of wistful lament for a martyred hero, Luxemburg’s legacy offers critical lessons in resistance to social injustice.
We need these lessons. For as writer Naomi Klein reminds us in the title of her new book, No is Not Enough. The broad “anti-Trump resistance” will lead nowhere if its critique doesn’t challenge the bipartisan neoliberal politics that set the stage for Trump’s rise to the White House. That critique should invariably target both the worst Republicans and the best Democrats, saying no to Wall Street and austerity politics across the board.
It’s worth remembering that the majority of ordinary Americans are working people with no intrinsic interest in perpetuating a status quo rooted in class inequality and rule by billionaires. Yet today they are essentially disenfranchised politically, their unions representing only a small workforce minority, and popular resistance limited to occasional marches and demonstrations around particular issues. Unfortunately, as long as the only mass political alternative to the retrograde right is the self-satisfied, thoroughly corporatized Democratic Party establishment, the rusted-out democratic infrastructure of modern capitalism will likely continue to produce more Trump-type rightist leaders (or worse), despite whatever fate awaits the current president.
Capitalism Has Got to Go
What does Luxemburg’s life and legacy have to say to the realities of modern politics? First, Luxemburg had no illusions that capitalism could meet the long-term needs of society. She was no Bernie Sanders-style reformer who expressed abstract sympathy for socialism while embracing the practical reform of capitalism as her actual end goal. While still in her 20s, she wrote her famous pamphlet, Reform or Revolution, taking on those in the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) who saw the party’s steady growth in influence leading to the gradual emergence of a socialist society.
Certainly, Luxemburg did not reject political campaigns for social reforms, as the SPD championed, only the idea that they were an end in themselves. Political action for social reform legislation could not be a “long-drawn out revolution” in disguise, as many in the SPD hoped. She argued that the ruling business owners, financiers, and manufacturers would never allow their power to be gradually taken from them.
Writing at the dawn of the 20th century, Luxemburg concluded that “people who pronounce themselves in favor of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society.”
For Luxemburg, the political struggle for a new society was more daunting and thoroughgoing. She was an advocate of trade union organizing, socialist electoral campaigns, and mass action in the form of street protests, strikes, and other independent forms of social struggle. Indeed, she saw mass action as the essential motor force for the self-emancipation of all oppressed people.
As John Berger wrote in his 1968 essay, The Nature of Mass Demonstrations, “The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness.” No one understood this better than Rosa Luxemburg. “Every step forward in the struggle for emancipation of the working class must at the same time mean a growing intellectual independence of its mass, its growing self-activity, self-determination and initiative,” she wrote in 1911.
Luxemburg understood that in mass action working people acquire the experience and consciousness necessary to intervene in politics in their own name. Indeed, a worker on strike can learn more in a few weeks about who his or her friends—and enemies—are, and what power is, than from years of reading insightful books about what is wrong with society. For Luxemburg, the struggle for a new society also had to be prepared, organized, and led by a new kind of political party, one explicitly anti-capitalist and based among and led by the workers and oppressed people themselves. Nothing less could accomplish the revolutionary transformation of society.
Lessons in Life and Death
Tragically, Luxemburg died during a time of revolutionary upheaval in Germany. Sparked by the November 1918 mutiny of war-weary sailors who refused orders to prepare for yet another battle, popular revolt began to spread across the country. The people’s revolt was substantial enough that the country’s constitutional monarch, the so-called Emperor Wilhelm II, was forced to flee and a republic was soon proclaimed.
This marked nearly a year of uprising and mass protest in Germany. The country’s capitalist rulers struggled to preserve their rule, doing so only with critical political support from Luxemburg’s former colleagues in the influential SPD. But more than SPD collusion with Germany’s rulers was needed to prevent the country from following the path of revolutionary Russia. Enter the Friekorps gangs, forerunners of Hitler’s Brownshirts, which in league with loyal government military forces killed thousands of workers and revolutionaries in the months to come.
Among their most prominent victims was not only Luxemburg, but her political ally Karl Liebknecht, the only member of the German parliament in 1914 to vote against the war mobilization. Together, Luxemburg and Liebknecht were wartime co-founders of a new antiwar revolutionary organization, the Spartacus League.
It’s unlikely either Rosa or Karl would have seen their personal fates separate from those of the world war’s many victims. That war claimed the lives of approximately 8,500,000 soldiers, mostly as a consequence of artillery attacks, small arms fire, poison gas, and disease. There were also an estimated 13,000,000 civilian deaths “largely caused by starvation, exposure, disease, military encounters, and massacres,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Set against this degraded reality, was it really Luxemburg the antiwar socialist who was the “extremist,” or was it the contemptible war-mongering leaders of the warring nations?
In fact, Luxemburg’s war writings, from her protest of the abusive treatment of German recruits by the officer caste to her scathing critiques of the hypocrisy of pro-war “socialists” and the larger crime of the war itself, revealed her to be one of the greatest, most humane writers in the history of the socialist movement. In her criticism of the SPD’s pro-war majority, The Junius Pamphlet, written in 1915, Luxemburg noted with biting irony how quickly the popular euphoria that greeted Germany’s declaration of war had crumbled before the mad pathology of the slaughterhouse Europe had become. But her greatness lies not only in her writing style, but in the spirit, clarity, and courage of her political perspective. Even though the ideas she expressed resulted in her own imprisonment, Luxemburg’s voice remained resolute in its opposition to the vile patriotic culture that glorified militarism. She branded the capitalist system criminal for what it had done to the people.
“Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society,” she wrote. “This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law—but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”
Wading in Blood, Dripping Filth
Unlike her enemies (or, we might add, the typical conventions of modern establishment politics), Rosa never lied to justify her politics. The same cannot be said for those who killed her. “After the murder, Captain [Waldemar] Pabst repeated the official story (perhaps invented by him) that Rosa Luxemburg was killed by an ‘angry mob’ outside the hotel, while his soldiers were trying to escort her to the Moabit Prison,” writes Luxemburg scholar Rory Castle, an editorial board member for ‘The Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg” project for Verso Books.
“He was not only central to ordering Luxemburg’s murder,” notes Castle, “but played a key role in organizing the series of cover-ups and rigged trials which protected the murderers (Pabst himself included) and denied justice to Luxemburg’s family, friends and supporters.”
In fact, Pabst and the other officers involved in the killings were never convicted of any crime. Only a few relatively minor penalties befell some of the participating soldiers. Notably, in 1962 the former Freikorps leader openly admitted his role in the killings in an interview with a German newspaper. As Castle reports, quoting Pabst:
“In January 1919, I attended a KPD [German Communist Party] meeting where Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were speaking. I gathered that they were the intellectual leaders of the revolution, and I decided to have them killed. Following my orders, they were captured. One has to decide to break the rule of law…This decision to have them killed did not come easy to me… I do maintain that this decision is morally and theologically legitimate.”
Morally and theologically legitimate! What right do such people have even to use such words? How often in modern times has the pretentious moral hypocrisy of politicians and war criminals been used to justify the worst human rights atrocities? Wading in blood, dripping filth, such also is the diseased pathology of a social order that considers anyone who poses a serious threat to the profits and privileges of those in power to ultimately lack even the right to life.
Murder is Bipartisan
The betrayal of Rosa and Karl was also bipartisan, to put it in American terms, a collusion between their former colleagues in the “socialist” SPD and the paramilitary practitioners of street terrorism. Accordingly, key SPD government leaders played an important role in facilitating the abduction and murder of Rosa and Karl by the Friekorps.
As Chris Hedges noted at the 2016 Left Forum in New York City, “Luxemburg’s murder illustrated the ultimate loyalties of liberal elites in a capitalist society: When threatened from the left, when the face of socialism showed itself in the streets, elites would—and will—make alliances with the most retrograde elements of society, including fascists, to crush the aspirations of the working class.”
In this age of Trump, it’s no small point to say that the “liberal” wing of American capitalist power is in its historic essentials not all that different from their right-wing brethren. Is this just political hyperbole? Not really. Do you remember the Vietnam War? Under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the Democratic party establishment was responsible for a genocidal war in Vietnam that killed as many as 3,000,000 Vietnamese people! Ironically, in those days this same political establishment liked to talk in grand terms about the morality of civil rights and voting rights, the “war on poverty” and the justice of Medicare and Medicaid.
Thus did the U.S. liberal establishment of the 1960s embrace the rhetoric of “The Great Society” at home while promoting “The Devastated Society” abroad. But it was all cut from the same cloth of privileged class rule, in service to which either repressive bombs or progressive laws are mere tools to preserve an exploitative status quo. Later, Republican President Richard Nixon took up the war’s mantle, aided by his national security adviser Henry Kissinger, who with Waldemar Pabst lives in infamy among the century’s roster of unprosecuted war criminals and human rights violators.
In her political writing, Luxemburg displayed an intellect on an equal plane with the greatest minds of her time. As a woman, she soared above the limits the patriarchal culture of her day would have imposed on her. She was capable of writing serious scholarly critiques of Karl Marx’s economic ideas, including teaching economics classes at the SPD school. Nor in the spirit of critical solidarity did she hesitate to criticize fellow revolutionaries, such as Lenin and Trotsky in Russia, when she thought it necessary. But she was also someone who loved nature, who mourned deeply the mistreatment of animals, whose heart was touched by music and who loved to sing.
Luxemburg was known to write personal letters to friends full of tender, nuanced observations of life that suggest the poetic soul alive in the rebel’s heart. Indeed, she combined intellectually virtuosity with emotional sensitivity in ways perhaps many of her male comrades were lacking. Yet, in defense of the people, she was never anyone other than her defiant, steeled self, nothing more nor less than human.
I thought about Luxemburg a few months ago when the daughters of murdered Honduran environmental and human rights activist Berta Cáceres, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, remembered the legacy of their mother in a CounterPunch interview.
“Another thing that my mom had was the capacity to be happy, to not let herself be put down by anyone but to be joyful,” recalled her daughter Laura Zúñiga Cáceres. “Sometimes it was hard, but in the middle of any situation, instead of saying, ‘What’s happening is so terrible,’ she would laugh. It was another tool of her rebellion, and was also a way of constructing new ways of living.”
There are such people in this life, who even living under threat of violence or persecution, display a kind of courage that is wholly moral, spiritual, and physical. In this, they represent the freest people on the planet. As Luxemburg wrote from prison, the world around her a warring madhouse, “To be a human being means to joyfully toss your entire life ‘on the giant scales of fate’ if it must be so, and at the same time to rejoice in the brightness of every day and the beauty of every cloud…the world is so beautiful, with all its horrors, and would be even more beautiful if there were no weaklings or cowards in it.”
That last point is a key to Luxemburg’s personality. She loved life and beauty, but loathed the unloveliness of those who sold their souls for a dollar, or looked the other way at exploitation and human suffering. She demanded courage of the world, and, as Noam Chomsky might say, that all authority had an obligation to justify itself, an obligation she more often than not found lacking in politics and society.
The Revolutionary Imagination
All in all, the near century since Luxemburg’s death has witnessed unremitting bloodshed and violence, the emergence not only of fascism, but of Stalinism and other forms of authoritarianism. Nor has the existence of western democratic nation states led to the advancement of peace or social equality, or to an end to global poverty. Instead, the world remains deeply divided and chronically mired in violence and social injustice.
The capitalist model of social organization has had a long time to solve the deep social problems that confront humanity. But what is its legacy? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports an estimated 191 million people lost their lives, directly or indirectly, to collective violence in the 20th century. In this case, collective violence is defined to include wars, terrorism, genocide, repression, disappearances, torture and other abuses of human rights, and organized violent crime. The 25 largest historic conflicts claimed the lives of some 39 million soldiers and 33 million civilians. Another 40 million died as a result of famine related to conflict or genocide, reports WHO.
In the current U.S. political culture where a White House cabinet member can describe the launch of dozens of cruise missiles against a Syrian air base as “after dinner entertainment” for the Mar-a-Lago crowd, it’s easy for humane people to feel superior to the crass, entitled ignoramuses who now roam the White House. But underneath such a sense of superiority can also easily lurk hopelessness and despair. Now, with the largest military in the world run by a crude, aggressively ignorant right-wing billionaire, despair, while understandable, is hardly adequate to society’s current challenges.
If it is easy today for liberals or the mildly progressive to feel superior to vulgar, right-wing politics, it might be even easier for them to sneer at the prospect that the revolutionary vision of a society beyond capitalism can ever be accomplished. Too many revolutions have failed, they object, and exploitation and greed have always been with us, it’s just human nature.
Actually, what has always been with us are those who rationalize the limits of their time, who cannot see beyond the muck and mire of the status quo. These are the minds who see “progress” as a kind of administrative process, an expert tinkering with the socioeconomic system that has no need for quaint theories about the class nature of society.
Fortunately, Luxemburg was not among them, her critical imagination fired by a different kind of propulsive fuel. Indeed, Luxemburg saw nothing preordained in the rule of the financial elite, of private capital and a social order that promotes rapacious greed and social inequality, and teaches people that war (i.e., mass murder) is just the way humans live.
After the brutal repression of the Spartacus uprising in Berlin in early 1919, knowing her life was in danger, Luxemburg took stock to put her present moment in historical context. While she understood the mass revolt had taken place in what she described as “an insufficiently ripe situation” made worse by the “weak and indecisive” actions of the revolt leaders, still for her as always, the future lay with the people.
“The masses are the crucial factor,” she wrote in her last political statement. “They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this ‘defeat’ they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this ‘defeat.’”
Finally, she mocked those “foolish lackeys” who applauded the return of “order” to Berlin. “Your ‘order’ is built on sand,” she declared, reaffirming in the final hours of her life a deeply felt confidence in the vision of socialism. “Tomorrow the revolution will ‘rise up again, clashing its weapons,’ and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!”
In this spirit, the insurgent thinker lives on, despite the intentions of the criminals who killed her, or an established social order that prefers to ignore her. This is the Rosa Luxemburg that belongs to our times, the visionary and organizer whose revolutionary imagination was always burning, always preparing for the future.
| America’s Five Sex Panics
Jul 21st 2017, 08:54, by David Rosen
Donald Trump is a once-upon-a-time upmarket hedonist who, like a recovering alcoholic, has morphed into a super-moralist. Upon taking office as president, he relaunched the culture wars with VP Mike Pence as the officer-in-charge and implemented by the Cabinet, the new Supreme Court justice and the Republican-controlled Congress. The U.S. is living through the fifth sex panic and the religious right’s efforts may signal the death-play of the postmodern culture wars.
The current sex panic was launched in 1972 by Phyllis Schafly, a lawyer and conservative activist, and successfully blocked the adoption of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Until Trump’s election, it appeared that this sex panic was contained. A series of key Supreme Court decisions — along with changes in popular attitudes (especially among younger people) and aggressive corporate promotion of sexuality to sell nearly everything – restricted the religious right to local and state battlefields.
Trump’s renewed culture wars target teen birth control and abortion, gay and transgender rights, access to pornography, sex-toy sales and the treatment of sex offenders, among other concerns. Most troubling, the anti-sex right has more federal power than since the anti-Communist and anti-homosexual purges of the 1950s.
Today’s culture wars are, broadly speaking, the fifth sexual panic in U.S. history. These panics are social battlegrounds on which Americans fought, over the last four centuries, to determine the country’s moral order. These struggles fashioned the nation’s sexual culture, the boundaries of personal sexual experience, the meaning of pleasure. Today’s panic follows four earlier panics: (i) during the colonial and post-Revolutionary era; (ii) during the premodern, post-Civil-War era; (iii) during the early-modern, WW-I era; and (iv) during the modern, post-WW-II era. Today’s panic embodies the crisis of postmodern globalization.
Sex panics are terrains of social struggle, an area of contestation as the nation modernized — and capitalism came to increasingly dominate both public and private life. Each panic embodied the country’s socio-economic, demographic and legal maturation, from a small-town and rural society, to an urban and industrial nation and to the center of a globalized, financialized system with an ever-expanding militarized state.
During the first two panics, the America colonies — and then as the U.S. — slowly matured from an agricultural society with pockets of port-city development along the Atlantic coast. In the wake of the Civil War, industrialization and westward expansion remade the nation, increasingly distinguished by an ever-growing marketplace. In the 20th century, consumer revolutions in the 1920s and 1960s transformed sexuality from a private indulgence into a commodity. Today’s fifth panic pits those seeking to impose greater repression, returning American morals back to the 1950s when the U.S. was “great,” and those seeking to promote, however incoherently, sexual emancipation by ending the role of sex as a commodity.
During each panic period, then-traditional notions of moral order were promoted by those with religious and political authority. They sought to impose a conservative check on the excesses of the marketplace – and were often successful. They secured the passage of regressive laws and implemented repressive police actions to maintain what they considered acceptable standards of decency. However, during each panic subversive forces emerged and the boundaries of the acceptable were continually challenged and changed, often culminating in major social crises. We are currently living through such a period.
America’s 1st Sex Panic
Americans have never been comfortable with sex and the first panic started in the earliest days of the nation’s settlement. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas, a Powhatan woman and reputed daughter of Chief Powhatan, married the Englishman John Rolfe near Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage took place just eight years after this first-permanent English settlement was established in what would become America, the United States. It is the first recorded interracial marriage in the newly-colonized territory, but to marry Rolfe, Pocahontas converted to Christianity, was renamed Lady Rebecca and radically changed her appearance, adopting British formal dress.
During the half-century of 1647–1693, New England colonists were subject to a nearly-inexhaustible list of sins that fell into two broad categories, sins of character and sins of the flesh. Among the former were pride, anger, envy, malice, lying, discontent, dissatisfaction and self-assertion. Among the latter were adultery, bestiality, fornication, incest, interracial relations, lust, masturbation, polygamy, seduction and sodomy as well as temptations like carnality, drunkenness and licentiousness. Almost anything could be a punishable sin.
But the gravest sin was being accused of witchcraft and over 200 people were so charged. But the most shameful sin was being accused of engaging in the truly unholy deed of having sex with the Devil. The worst sex offenders were the 30 or so people, mostly elder women, who were convicted of sexual congress with Satan — and executed.
During the first sex panic, the religious and political leaders of the white European colonies – those considered “Americans” – railed against difference, seeking to contain sexual desire from those not like themselves. And in the wild, still untamed new world, difference was everywhere and people, both men and women, indulged their desires for difference. Illicit sexual “congress” was initially between British males and Native females, but as the immigration of both free and indentured European women and men, and the forced importation of African slaves increased, both male and female, the complexity of illicit interracial relations multiplied.
During the early days of the nation’s settlement, voluntary and noncommercial sexual relations between whites and people of a different color were not yet illegal.
The first recorded legal marriage between an African man and a European woman is reported to have taken place on William Boarmans’ plantation on the western shore of Maryland in 1681. The couple — Eleanor Butler, a white servant girl called Irish Nell, and Negro Charles, a black slave — was married by a local Catholic priest.
Colonial male leaders were deeply troubled by such relations.
America’s 2nd Sex Panic
During the first-half of the 19th century, the definition of what, in fact, was America profoundly changed. Between 1790 and 1860, the nation’s total landmass tripled to 3,021,000 square miles from 891,000 square miles. The country grew through the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Spain’s cession of Florida in 1845, the annexation of Texas in 1845, the establishment of the Oregon territory in 1846 and the seizure of California and much of the Southwest from Mexico in 1848.
The 1820-1860 period witnessed the emergence of a powerful evangelical movement – often called the Second Awakening – that sought spiritual revival and to renew American morality. It sought to renew the eroding sense of exuberance that characterized the post-Revolutionary era. The revival movement emerged in upstate New York’s “burned over” district and spread rapidly throughout the country, especially in the rural West. It replaced the deism of the Founding Fathers as America’s religious ethos. It’s evangelical spirit of renewal contributed to the rise of the temperance movement in the 1820s, the abolitionist movement of the 1830s, the feminist movement of the 1840s and – to the shock and chagrin of its proponents – the communitarian and free-love movements (e.g., Shakers and Oneida) that flared up throughout the era.
On June 16, 1827, James Richardson and Josephine Lolotte began living together as husband and wife at the utopian community of Nashoba, a Chickasaw word that means Wolf River. Richardson was an immigrant Scotsman who was Nashoba’s storekeeper and doctor as well as the community’s operational overseer; Lolotte was the daughter of Mam’selle Lolotte (Larieu), a free woman of color from New Orleans who oversaw the raising of the children. Francis Wright, the radical utopian, founded the community — with the help of Andrew Jackson — in the wilderness of eastern Tennessee, a full day’s coach ride from Memphis. Surviving for only three years, it was the most radical of the dozens of experiments in utopian communitarianism that flourished in the U.S. during the tumultuous, uprooting decades of the mid-19th century.
The Richardson-Lolotte marriage was not the only interracial sexual relationship in America, let alone in the South, during this period. Surely the most scandalous affair of the era — and perhaps in all American history — involved Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Their affair, as much about an adulterous liaison as an interracial one, has gotten more controversial with time. Back then, among Jefferson’s set of plantation gentry, a slave master was understood to have had certain “property rights” that legitimized sexual rape of female slaves.
During this antebellum era, intimate relations could also take place between a white woman and a black man as evident in the experiences of the noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. While only recently escaped from slavery, he married Anna Murray, a free black woman, in 1838, and they remained together for the next four decades. In the 1850s, Douglass is rumored to have had several affairs with white women, including the daughter of a leading British abolitionist and with the journalists, Ottilie Assing, a half-Jewish, German immigrant and – like Marx – a “’48er.” Anna Douglass died in 1882 and, after observing the traditional period of mourning, Douglass married Helen Pitts, a white woman twenty years his junior, in 1884. They remind together until his death in 1895.
Slavery was the defining issue of American life in the 80-odd years between the Revolution to the Civil War; interracial sexual relations was surely the most explosive. It truly was – and still is — America’s most peculiar institution.
America’s 3rd Sex Panic
The Civil War significantly transformed the nation. New technologies like the railroad and the telegraphy were setting the stage for the forthcoming age of electricity. Many of the new developments inflamed the forces of moral rectitude, those who battled to preserve what they believed to be the nation’s true Christian virtue. Led by Anthony Comstock, a new generation of Puritans fought against prostitution (i.e., “white slavery”), obscene literature, (i.e., pornography), birth control (e.g., abortion), race mixing (i.e., “miscegenation”), homosexuality (i.e., perversion) and alcohol consumption (i.e., abstinence).
A powerful white conservative Christian social movement railed against the emerging new social order, assailing vice in every form, be it alcohol consumption, gambling, prostitution, birth control or obscenity in publishing and the arts. Champions of the “social purity” movement included the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Women’s Christian Temperance Alliance (WCTA), the American Purity Alliance (formed in 1895), the American Vigilance Committee (the two later consolidated into the American Vigilance Association). In addition, local groups included Chicago’s Committee of Fourteen, New York’s Committee of Fifteen, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and the New England Watch and Ward Society in Boston. These groups drew upon many social notables, from Jane Addams and Grace Dodge to J. P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., for both political influence and financial support.
Nearly a century after Francis Wright called for a utopian sexual revolution, a modern generation of feminists, exemplified by Victoria Woodhull, Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger, fought to redefine social and sexual relations. However, the Comstock laws banning obscene materials and the Mann Act barring interstate sexual commerce set the limits of sexual expression. As the U.S.’s entry into WW-I approached, about 125 red-light districts in cities throughout the country (most notably New Orleans’ Storyville) were closed-down under the requirements of “war discipline.” More troubling, the government launched a campaign that led to the arrest, forceful medical testing and/or imprisonment of some 30,000 women for allegedly being carriers of venereal disease and, thus, “domestic enemies” undermining the war effort. Two key postwar Amendments were the crowning achievements of the 3rd sex panic: (i) the 19th Amendment prohibiting the manufacturer, distribution, sale and consumption of alcohol; and (ii) the 20th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Women of the Christian right actively backed both efforts as ways to ensure abstinence.
America’s 4th Sex Panic
During the post-WW-II era, the U.S. was wracked by a war against communists and a wide-ranging war on sex, the nation’s 4th sexual panic. Targets in these culture wars were homosexuals, pornographers and others who posed a special threat that needed to be suppressed.
Homosexuals were singled out from special persecution. In 1950, the year Sen. Joe MacCarthy claimed he had a list of 205 subversives working for the State Department, he served on the Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments. It held hearings investigating “homosexuals and other sex perverts” working for the government, thus directly linking subversion and sexuality. It found that the mental health of gay federal employees affected national security:
In the opinion of this subcommittee homosexuals and other sex perverts are not proper persons to be employed in Government for two reasons: first, they are generally unsuitable, and second, they constitute a security risk. [emphasis in original]
In the wake of this and other hearings, in 1950, Congress passed – over Pres. Harry Truman’s veto — the Internal Security Act, aka the Subversive Activities Control Act of the McCarran Act. A series of Washington, D.C., witch-hunts purged thousands of so-called perverts from government jobs.
For McCarthy and others, communism and homosexuality were but two sides of the same corruption undermining the nation’s moral order. The panic led Truman, in 1951, to issue Executive Order 10241; it barred prostitutes, paupers, the insane as well as ideological undesirables and homosexuals from government employment.
On January 20, 1953, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower took office as the 34th President formally ending two decades of Democratic rule. He also ended the New Deal and the Fair Deal, replacing them with an era of Cold War prosperity and peace that transformed American life. During the period from 1945 to 1960, the nation’s population increased by 28 percent, to 181 million from 140 million, and the gross national product (GNP) more than doubled, to $503 billion from $212 billion. This was a new America.
On June 13, 1953, Pres. Eisenhower gave a seminal address on free speech and censorship at the Dartmouth commencement ceremony, second in importance to his legendary 1960 Farewell Address warning about the growing influence of the “military-industrial complex.” Faced with a rise in book – and comic-book – burnings, Ike tried to square the circle. “Don’t join the book-burners,” he declaired. “Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book,” he declared, “as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”
The panic that took place during the late-‘40s to the mid-’50s was fueled by numerous reports of sex crimes. In 1947, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover warned, “the most rapidly increasing type of crime is that perpetuated by degenerate sex offenders. … [It] is taking its toll at the rate of a criminal assault every 43 minutes, day and night, in the United States.” Teenager boys were singled out as the new sex offender.
In ‘53, Congress passed and Ike signed the now-infamous Executive Order 10450, “Security Requirements for Government Employment,” legalizing the firing of federal employees for committing “any criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, habitual use of intoxicants to excess, drug addiction, sexual perversion.” As a result, between May 1953 and June 1955, 837 investigations of alleged sex perverts took place.
Pornographers posed a special threat to the nation, challenging established notions of what was acceptable, what Ike called “decency.” A growing sexual aesthetic or culture was in formation, being expressed in all forms of “obscene” representation, whether images, books, magazines, comics or movies, both poplar and scholarly. Against the powerful forces of religious, legal and psychological repression, an underground, counterculture, of sexual deviants survived and thrived.
Radical sexual representations, images that suggested the pleasures of something considered deviant, were increasingly popular at the margins of indulgence, best symbolized by the ‘50s icon, Bettie Page. Old fashioned and more religious terms like “sin” and “immorality” gave way to a new vocabulary of the illicit, including more medical, scientific and secular concepts like perversion, deviant, sexual psychopath and sex criminal.
During this period, bars and other party spaces fermented illicit desires. Private hook-ups were easily arranged, facilitating the voluntary, consensual association of self-selected individuals, men – and some women – seeking to fulfill idiosyncratic sexual indulgences. Many were into simply homoerotic pleasures. Others sought to fulfill leather, bondage, sadomasochism (s&m) or other fetishes. Remarkably, they discreetly sought out – and found — like-minded individuals, whether heterosexual or homosexual, who shared their special fantasy.
America’s 5th Sex Panic
In the early-1970s, Schafly and other Christian conservatives were infuriated by ‘60s political and cultural radicalism, of calls for Black Power, mounting anti-Vietnam War protests, a nascent feminist movement and a counterculture celebrating sex, drugs and rock-&-roll. They were deeply distressed by two landmark 1973 decisions. First, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v Wade that a woman has a right to her body and can terminate an unwanted pregnancy; second, the American Psychiatric Association (APA), in the revised The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-3), the mental-health bible, reclassified homosexuality, freeing it from the stigma of a mental disorder.
Since the 1970s, Christian conservatives have vehemently fought to limit the innumerable forms sexuality, of sex for pleasure. It lost key battles over a person’s right to contraceptives, a woman’s right to an abortion, access to pornography, purchase of sex toys and gay marriage. Blocked at the federal level, conservatives have successfully waged campaigns in states across the country to limit a woman’s – or underage girl’s – access to a medically-approved abortion and other sex-related products. Until Trump’s inauguration, the culture wars seemed at a standoff, but they are now back with a vengeance not seen in a century.
Over the intervening four decades, conservative moralists have focused on four critical issues: (i) abortion and birth control, (ii) homosexuality and gay marriage, (iii) teen sex education and premarital sex, and, most recently, (iv) transsexuality and gender identity. Other, secondary, issues concerned sex trafficking of young girls, child pornography, local sex-toy shops and sex-offender registries.
In the 21st century what was once considered a sin or a perversion has become the new normal. The adult consensual sex industry is estimated to a $50 billion enterprise. These developments may prove ultimate undoing of Trump’s relaunched culture wars.
| Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jul 21st 2017, 08:53, by Robert Fisk
Theresa May has oddly declined to comment on the reported arrest of the mini-skirted lass who was videotaped cavorting through an ancient Najd village this week, provoking unexpected roars of animalistic male fury in a kingdom known for its judicial leniency, political moderation, gender equality and fraternal love for its Muslim neighbours.
May should, surely, have drawn the attention of the rulers of this normally magnanimous state to the extraordinarily uncharacteristic behaviour of the so-called religious police – hitherto regarded as extras in the very same kingdom’s growing tourism industry which is supported by its newly appointed peace-loving and forward-thinking young Crown Prince.
But of course, since May cannot possibly believe that a single person in this particular national entity would give even a riyal or a halfpenny to “terrorists” – of the kind who have been tearing young British lives apart in Manchester and London – she’s hardly likely to endanger the “national security” of said state by condemning the arrest of the aforementioned young lady. In any event, a woman so proper that she would not risk soiling her hands by greeting the distraught survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has no business shedding even a “little tear” for middle class girls who upset what we must now call The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All.
Or at least, we do not dare to speak its name. It’s now a week since this extraordinary woman – our beloved May, not the cutie of Najd – declined to publish perhaps the most important, revelatory document in the history of modern “terrorism” on the grounds that to identify the men who are funding the killers running Isis, al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah and sundry other chaps, would endanger “national security”. Note that Amber Rudd, May’s amanuensis, intriguingly declined to specify whose “national security” was at risk. Ours? Or that of The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All – henceforth, for brevity’s sake, the KSA – which must surely be well aware which of its illustrious citizens (peace-loving, moderate, gender-equalised, etc) have been sending their lolly to the Isis lads.
Was it not, after all, Lord Blair who ten years ago also closed down the Serious Fraud Office’s enquiry into a bribery scandal allegedly involving BAE Systems and The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All? On that occasion, I seem to recall, our “national interest” prevented us knowing what was going on because this might result in the end of “security cooperation” between us and the KSA. Blair talked of “extremely difficult and delicate issues” in the bribery enquiry.
So let me try and get this right. In 2006 and 2007, we were not allowed to know anything about potential bribery between BAE and the KSA because of our “national interest” – and the danger to our “security”. But now we’re not to know who is funding the Isis boys and girls because this too would damage our “national security” – even though the funders apparently came from among the people whose “security cooperation” was so important to us ten years ago. I trust those in the UK who have survived the knife-wielding, suicide-bombing cultists of Isis can follow this tomfoolery.
It’s not just a question of Aunty Amber scribbling on her piece of paper to get a man to ring a bell and then switch off a microphone to stop us hearing a fatal reference to the KSA – though this widely circulated snatch of video is highly instructive. What gets me is the whole idolisation of political secrecy that now surrounds The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All. Her Majesty’s Opposition, after much waffling about the hypocrisy of the Government, appear to have now accepted that the access of Privy Councillors – keeping everything secret from the public but not from themselves – salvages the matter for now.
In a real world of responsibility, of course, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner would be asking why dark and criminal deeds cannot be fully exposed with all the rigour now being promised on the Grenfell deaths. But no, Commissioner Cressida Dick will be taking no such action – even though she was mightily involved in anti-terrorism in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings when she was commander of the police control room in the operation in which poor and very innocent Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes was slaughtered by the cops after being wrongly identified as a potential suicide bomber. The inquest jury exonerated Dick from this disaster. But doesn’t she have a few duties when Lady May and Aunty Amber are covering up a document that fingers those who fund the real suicide bombers?
But no. The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All is now as sacred as Israel used to be; that is, largely inoculated from all criticism. Once, we all feared to condemn Israel for its war crimes in Gaza for fear that we would be accused – falsely, as usual – of anti-Semitism. Now we must fear to condemn or even mention the KSA lest we be accused of endangering our national interest. It’s a real dog’s breakfast, this closing of national debate. Why soon, we will be afraid to ask why Israel strategically bombs the Syrians, Hezbollah and the Iranians – but never Isis – in the Syrian civil war.
Yet one moment, ladies and gentlemen. In less than three months from now, our beloved Prime Minister – perhaps or perhaps not still May – will travel to Jerusalem to commemorate jointly with the Israelis the hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. This manual for refugeedom which the Government now extols as such a fine document, one in which the British – for heaven’s sake – will feel “pride”, according to May, is the same wretched paper (a single sentence) which effectively created the Palestinian refugee tragedy that remains with us to this day.
Now there’s a document to suppress in the “national interest”. There’s a statement of disgrace and hypocrisy that might well be deleted by our Government on the grounds of “national security”. Or at least quietly forgotten. But no, in the orgy of secrecy in which we are invited to share, it is that for which we should be most ashamed that is to be praised – and that which we should read which is to be hidden from us.
| Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Jul 21st 2017, 08:53, by Jack Heyman
The ink wasn’t even dry on the West Coast longshore contract when the head of the employers’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, proposed an additional 3-year extension to the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), making it an eight-year contract. While the number of registered longshore jobs, 14,000, is the about same as in 1952, revenue tonnage has increased 14 times to a record-breaking 350 million revenue tons.
Under the current contract employers have already eliminated hundreds of longshore jobs through automation on marine terminals like the fully-automated Long Beach Container Terminal and semi-automated TraPac in the port of Los Angeles. “By the end of an extended contract in 2022, several thousand longshore jobs will be eliminated on an annual basis due to automation” warned Ed Ferris, president of ILWU Local 10 of San Francisco. With driverless trucks and crane operators in control towers running three cranes simultaneously, the chances of serious and deadly accidents are enormous.
Now maritime employers are pulling out all stops to push through this job-killing contract extension, using both Democratic and Republican politicians, high-powered PR firms and even some union officials.
A Chronicle op-ed appeared this week by Democrat Mickey Kantor, former Secretary of Commerce who was responsible for creating the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Association which lost millions of jobs and Norman Mineta, another Democrat former Secretary of Commerce, from the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton. The first public relations firm was hired by Rockefeller to clean up his public image after nearly 100 people, men, women and children were killed in a 1914 Colorado miners strike known as the Ludlow Massacre and employers continue to use PR firms today.
The authors of this week’s SF Chronicle pro-company PR piece talk of preserving “labor peace” and refer to West Coast port shutdowns over the last 15 years. Yes, there is a class war on the waterfront, but it’s being waged by the employers. Those port closures were caused by employer lockouts in 2002, 2013 and 2014 during longshore contract negotiations. The 2002 lockout was ended after Democrat Diane Feinstein called on President Bush to invoke the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act directed not against the maritime employers’ lockout but the longshore union. The only time the ILWU shutdown Pacific Coast ports in that period was May Day 2008 to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first-ever labor strike in the United States against a war.
The two Democrats cite distorted figures for wages and pensions that only reflect the highest skill level after a lifetime of work in one of the most dangerous industries. And then they threaten that “if the contract proposal is rejected” it could lead Republicans and Democrats alike to impose anti-strike legislation on the waterfront. The ILWU backed Bernie Sanders in the last election and then Hillary Clinton. Yet no matter who leads it, the Democratic Party represents the employer class, Wall Street on the waterfront. Clearly what’s needed now is a workers party to fight for a workers government that would expropriate the maritime industry, in ports and at sea, while establishing workers control.
The so-called “friends of labor” Democrats have been enlisted by PMA because earlier this year at the Longshore Caucus, a union meeting representing dockworkers on all West Coast ports, the San Francisco longshore delegates voted unanimously to oppose a contract extension. Last week they held a conference at their union hall on automation and the proposed contract extension. One proposal was to make automation benefit dockworkers by reducing the workweek to 30 hours while maintaining 40 hours pay, creating another work shift.
There are tens of millions of unemployed in this country. The labor movement should launch a new campaign for a shorter workweek at no loss in pay as part of a struggle for full employment to benefit all, not Trump and his Wall Street bankster cronies. In resisting the push for this contract extension to automate jobs out of existence, ILWU waterfront workers can stand up for all workers.
| Marginalize This: Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Jul 21st 2017, 08:53, by Kim C. Domenico
“The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors, and deluding images into the mind—whether in dreams, broad daylight or insanity; for the human kingdom beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness goes down into unsuspected Aladdin caves…[Though] dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family….[ they offer] a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious and fully human life—that is the lure, the promise and terror, of these disturbing visitants from the mythological realm we carry within.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Hero with A Thousand Faces
“The cause of the Unseen against the Seen…”
— John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance
An article in the food section of the New York Times reports that the number of local boulangeries (those traditional mom-and-pop bakeries that produce the signature bread of France, the baguette) has declined precipitously in the last decade, losing ground to changed eating habits and cheaper corporate-produced competitors.
Further evidence, in case anyone needed it, that culture now is counter culture. The focus of the article is one brave and energetic guy, Pascal Rigo, who single-handedly is working to bring back the boulangeries to France by starting them up all over the country, centralizing some of the production process to make the project “cost-effective.” Thus, each little small town boulangerie will not be run necessarily by a native of the town who grew up in and inherited the family business but a fresh young professional out of bread-baking school who will work at the job until she goes back to school for her Masters. This is of course, a picture that matches the way the world is, nothing we can do about it. It is an effort to reform, not to overturn the disastrous free market economy, which provided the ladder of success that made Mr. Rigo rich enough to take on such an heroic project.
It’s hard to argue against such a good, and feel-good effort. Doesn’t this seem the only way we can hold onto the things of beauty and worth that we want preserved in the world dominated and being replaced by corporate monoculture? That is, to depend on the rich who have consciences, to save us? To me, this “vision” is as misguided, in its way, as violent revolution. Just as violent revolution merely sets the stage for the new tyranny, reforming corporate monoculture by letting others who know more and are in a better position (i.e., have the money) to affect it for the better, ensures the survival of neoliberal capitalism. If compromise with capitalism has not worked to this point, after decades of liberalism’s efforts to soften capitalism’s brutal effects, why would we think it will work if we just give it “one more try?”
In contrast, a more compelling and beautiful vision calls for returning heroism to its proper place in the ordinary you and me, each of us common people. A different sort of movement than the labor movement which, too, depended on its heroes and martyrs for energy and inspiration, now the ‘hero’ is each individual called to, in a quite selfish way, take up the heroism of realizing each his/her own creative self-interest. Make all work art by making all workers artists. The artist’s quest taken on purposely, religiously, will lead to a rebirth of the creativity natural to all work that is the result of the individual’s desire to make things of worth. Though any work becomes tedious, or has parts to it that are tedious, what draws the painter into her studio to paint for hours, or the writer to his desk or the musician to his practice, is his/her very personal passion for creating; this makes art the only viable alternative to the slavery of work for wage because, simply, it frees one from the pervasive, disempowering belief that work without pay is worthless.
It makes a strike for the “unseen” against the nearly completed triumph of the “seen -” which is our current cheerless, dispirited world.
Each person an artist? How can this be? I am neither talking about encouraging a return of macrame belt and tie-dyed T-shirt makers, nor about throwing away standards for great art and calling all art “good.” Rather, I am encouraging people to find a sustainable foundation underneath that desire that appears commonly in the human breast, to follow a passion, to be artists, poets, Do-It-Yourselfers, makers of real and usable things. Ordinarily that dream is discouraged and disregarded, replaced by the need to ‘make it’ in the ‘real’ world, the same real world that is killing the planet and reducing humanity to robothood.
Having a substantial foundation beneath the desire allows whimsy to deepen into the wisdom, self-knowledge and generativity that marked the adult stage of maturity in communities since earliest times. The very process of becoming human is a “hero’s journey,” as mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out in the 80’s PBS series The Power of Myth. The show popularized the phrase “follow your bliss,” probably the most revolutionary message every presented on that public TV network. An individual who picks up the radicalizing direction of her own innate genius, taking the guidance of intuition and instinct as sufficient “legitimization” for agency and action in the world, and pursues personal bliss as her purpose, her singular duty, is in position to co-build a world independently of the corporate masters.
Many people grasp that mass incarceration is a tool of “the new Jim Crow” to keep black people marginalized in virtual slavery. Few realize the powerfully intimidating message sent to us “law-abiding” Americans, that marginalizes our most sensitive, potentially prophetic, poor and defiant ones, when we institutionalize and medicate the “crazies,” i.e., the bi-polars, the OCD, the depressed and suicidally depressed; mental illness is imaginable to any of us if we imagine allowing ourselves to “go too far!” Let’s turn the tables: let us marginalize the entire top-down media propagated fake world of talking heads, professional sellouts and experts of every stripe brought to us 24-7 on TV screens and in the liberal press. Send them – arguably the ones making us “crazy” – all packing to the furthest fringes of our consciousness, freeing up the psychic space in which the the alternative reality may be imagined. Only people who are passionately engaged in the enthusiasms of their own work, an intensity that builds immunity to the many-headed toxic lures and fear manipulations of end stage capitalism, can succeed in exiling mainstream reality.
What is the basis for cohesion in a movement of individuals intensely focused in their individual artistic enterprises (which may sound like a herd of cats)? Obviously, the basis for unity is very different than a movement focused on a collective ideal and consciousness of shared oppression in the usual sense. The artist, who inhabits the same neoliberal smiley-faced, perfectly coiffed and articulately presented air-conditioned suburbanized nightmare as the rest of us, likely is not desperately starving nor being beaten on by hired pinkertons nor in a condition of slavery that matches the popular idea of slavery. The artist must defend something more fundamental, which by and large no people have ever had to defend before, which is the conditions which make art-making possible. Coincidentally, these are the same as the conditions necessary for maintaining connection to one’s own soul. Artists defending their own precious and necessary creative process need time for solitude, a place to practice their art, a safe and mutually respectful community, a culture that reflects back to them, in terms of its regard for beauty, truth and meaning, the very humanity-valuing their work engages in. That is, they require a culture that is also the result of what they are doing, which is making culture.
The mythic hero’s journey, popularized in Campbell’s work, is the inner, psycho-spiritual complement to building the world, the growing up process no longer undertaken in western societies even though it is the foundation for culture. Traditional religion concerned itself with the process of human maturation with its given spiritual, imaginative dimension, in a manner designed to turn out individuals who can work together for the society’s continuation; in traditional societies vulnerable to threats from nature as well as from warring entities, producing adults who understood their role as being in charge of ensuring safety and stability for human beings between birth and death, for the present and future health and flourishing of the community, wasn’t optional.
Over many generations, in the name of (pseudo)-freedom, we accustomed ourselves to bypassing traditional initiatory work. By now the fear of entering that psychic terrain, always daunting, now is powerfully supported by technology’s promises and widespread ridicule of the religious. We have adapted well to the world that is, to its demand for lower-level functionaries and managers in an economy that decrees diminished human worth, ever greater triumph of the machine and the profit makers. To take up the role of becoming our individual selves, the template for which is in our own soul’s imaginative depths, is beyond the power of by now reduced imaginations. Though we still resonate to the old human stories of quest and adventure, trials and treasure-seeking, we accept their commodification by Hollywood, their pale echo in the perils of climbing the ladder of corporate success, their privatization in the heroic cancer survivor and the wheelchair distance runner. The most successful among us, aimed at a spot in the corporate system that will grant survival, are resigned to a life of boredom, of never doing anything they truly want to do, which makes them/us dangerous people.
Remember the feminist movement that was meant to encourage women to free ourselves from the life of enslavement in the home, from lives wasted in unpaid and unrewarded work, never able to choose for ourselves the lives we wanted? Then it turned out what we wanted was just to be treated like men in the marketplace, which further meant, to be “men” rather than the different being a woman is! The feminist movement failed to include the inner dimension of the human being which would have opened up the universe of “wanting” to goals beyond (or below) becoming corporate lawyers, busting through glass ceilings, and having universal paid childcare. It would have opened the path to becoming women, instead of bypassing it.
Yet this heroic adventure in the “vale of soul-making” as the poet Keats called it, is human life, our heritage and birthright. So far we are not fighting for it, for the right to have our own suffering, beauty, meaning and purpose. We forget the warnings issued in fairy tales, familiar aids to our ancestors: we accept the poison apple; we – against the advice of the disturbing dwarf or the warty crone – take the short and easy way to the castle instead of bushwhacking through the briars and brambles; we rat on Rumpelstiltskin; frozen in terror at the witch’s cottage, we fail to ally with our animal cunning. Worse than that – for these are human errors – we abandon our souls, the reality of them and our need for relationship with them. It may be too late to save the planet from the destruction now advancing on us, but to tell oneself it is too late to marginalize the real insanity and to each turn to making the “fully human life,” is a lie.
| Trying to Negotiate With the United States
Jul 21st 2017, 08:53, by Brian Cloughley
On July 20, US-China trade talks ended without an agreement of any sort. Scheduled media conferences were cancelled and there wasn’t even a joint statement. On the US side the talks were based on the Trumpian “America First” drumbeat, and appeared to be aimed at reducing or even cancelling what the US regards as unfair Chinese competition, notably in steel production. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross began by criticizing China’s trade surplus with the US, saying it was not the product of market forces.
Then Vice Premier Wang Yang put Beijing’s cards on the table by saying that “Dialogue cannot immediately address all differences, but confrontation will immediately damage the interests of both sides.” And that’s when Chinese concern and even resentment became clear.
In the recent past it hasn’t been too difficult to assess or interpret US foreign policy. By and large the world, in the era of hideous confrontational aggression of George W Bush, was “either with us or against us in the fight against terror” — but now in the Age of Trump the threat of global terror has been sidelined by the threat and occasional actuality of erratic behavior by President Donald Trump.
It is difficult, for example, to define the policy the White House advocates as regards China, the world’s most populous nation that is exercising more and more international influence, which it is perfectly entitled to do. It seemed on April 7, 2017 that all was sweetness and optimism, because after President Trump entertained President Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate he was effusive in declaring that “The relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding. We look forward to being together many times in the future. And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.”
Then, on April 12 the Presidents spoke on the telephone but all that the White House had to say about the exchange was “President Donald J Trump spoke last night with President Xi Jinping of China to follow up after President Xi’s visit to Mar-a-Lago. It was a very productive call.”
The Chinese, however, made much of President Xi’s declaration that he was “very happy to talk to Mr President on the phone. Our recent meetings at Mar-a-Lago produced important results, which have been recognized by the Chinese people as well as the international community. I thank the president for [his] warm hospitality and detailed arrangements. We held in-depth exchanges on China-US relations in a new era as well as major international and regional issues, and reached important consensus.” The statement continued at length, but the word that strikes a most positive chord is “consensus”, which is not used lightly in international diplomacy.
If there is consensus between two immensely powerful world leaders, we can take it that even if there are substantial differences in national aims, there will be every effort made by both sides to avoid needless disruption of relations. After all, by definition the word ‘consensus’ indicates harmony, concord and agreement, and President Xi went on to say that “We should strengthen our communication and coordination on major international and regional issues. We should strive to produce results sooner to inject new energy in the development of bilateral ties, and work together to promote global peace and development.”
If there was ever a massive international olive branch extended it was this one by the President of China. He is a most astute practitioner of bilateral diplomacy, and would have taken into account the fact that the road ahead might be bumpy in places, especially in trade negotiations, but even he must have been a little surprised when the effects of the Mar-a-Lago lovefest disappeared like chocolate cake at the Trump dinner.
Certainly, Trump had appointed a very strange person to be his Director of Trade, because Peter Navarro, who was given the job in March, has described China as a “despicable, parasitic, brass-knuckled and totally totalitarian power”, which is hardly the language one expects from the senior figure charged with sensitive trade discussions, who the Economist describes as “a China-bashing eccentric”, but in spite of that there seemed to be more room for optimism than pessimism concerning future US-China interaction.
That was until Washington announced on June 29 that it was selling over a billion dollars worth of weapons to Taiwan. This was not only an unexpected development, but to make sure it was put center stage with a spotlight shining on it, the notification was made on the day that President Xi was visiting Hong Kong to mark the twentieth anniversary of its accession to the PRC. Of all the crass, stupid, insulting actions that have been taken by the Trump administration, this one took the chocolate cake. To further upset and exasperate Beijing, the State Department marked the Hong Kong celebrations by announcing that the US was ‘concerned about any infringements on civil liberties’ in Hong Kong. This was a bit over the top, coming from an Administration that, for example, is happy to endorse the Saudi regime’s appalling treatment of women and religious intolerance while, as, noted by the New York Times, it continues “to spend billions of dollars spreading Wahhabism, its ultraconservative brand of Islam — which in turn inspires ISIS, Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists — through a network of imams and mosques” around the world.
Then came another prod at China. One of the usual anonymous ‘US military officials’ told CNN that on July 2, 2017 the US Navy guided missile destroyer “conducted a ‘freedom of navigation exercise’ around Triton Island in the Paracel archipelago, which is claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.”
The operation was justified by a Pacific Fleet spokesman who said that the coat-trailing provocation was a “routine part of US Navy operations” and that the “excessive maritime claims” of 22 countries had been challenged in the past fiscal year. The downright insolence of this pronouncement was not lost on Beijing which had made it clear in May that “We are firmly opposed to the US behavior of showing force and boosting regional militarization, and have made solemn representation to the US side.”
The United States has taken it upon itself to act in the capacity of international maritime policeman, “challenging” other nations about their conduct. The fact that Washington has not ratified and is therefore not a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea might be amusing were it not so arrogantly hypocritical. Just what was achieved by this goading of China, other than lip-smacking in the Pentagon and deep contempt in Beijing, was not apparent, but Washington went further down provocation road on July 6 when two USAF Lancer nuclear bombers flew over the South China Sea “to assert the US’s right to pass through what the US regards as international territory.”
The absurdity of this flying fandango was not lost on Beijing, which wearily observed that it had no problem with anyone passing through international air space although, in sharper mood, it stressed that “China resolutely opposes individual countries using the banner of freedom of navigation and overflight to flaunt military force and harm China’s sovereignty and security.”
Just what is Trump’s message to China? On the one hand he appeared to be extremely pleased that “the relationship developed by President Xi and myself I think is outstanding. We look forward to being together many times in the future. And I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away.” But then his administration created bad problems by insulting and provoking the Chinese President and people.
Trump does not realize that other countries have their pride and that his attitude can be counter-productive, sometimes in the extreme. Neither does he understand that by his erratic on-off signals to China — and many others — he is making it plain to the world that negotiating with the United States is now perplexing to the point of terminal frustration. One week the US president refers to the Chinese President with warmth and approval, and the next his State Department makes official statements that are gratuitously offensive to China’s basic national self-respect. There is little wonder the US-China talks ended with a whimper on July 20.
For the moment, alas, it must be concluded that while negotiations with the United States are in every way preferable to military conflict, there is no guarantee that Washington will continue to feel that way. Trump signals are mixed, to friend and foe alike, and it is unlikely that the situation will change so long as he is in power. Trying to negotiate with the United States is extremely difficult.
| Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jul 21st 2017, 08:52, by John Laforge
The fairy tale that nuclear weapons provide state security is a fiction believed by millions. On July 17, five of us proved that state guarantees of “highly secure” nuclear weapon facilities are just as fictitious.
After nightfall, an international group of five peace activists, me included, got deep inside the Büchel Air Base here, and for the first time in a 21-year long series of protests against its deployment of US nuclear bombs, we occupied the top of one of the large bunkers potentially used for storing nuclear weapons. The US still deploys up to 20 B61 gravity bombs at the air base and German pilots train to use them in war from their Tornado jet fighter bombers.
After hiking along shadowy farm roads, shushing through a dark row of tall corn, clipping through the base’s outer fence, crossing a brightly lit air base road, and tramping noisily through a few wooded brambles, our small group cut through a second chain-link fence, bumbled past a giant hanger and under the wing of a jet fighter bomber, and reached a double-fence surrounding the broad, earth- bermed bunkers. After cutting through the two non-electrified fences without tripping a single alarm or even having the lights snap on, the five of us scurried up to the top of the wide-topped, grass covered concrete Quonset hut. No motion detector or alarm, no Klieg light or guard had noted our intrusion at all. We spent over an hour chatting, star gazing, checking our radiation monitor, and enjoying being flabbergasted that our implausible plan and Google-earth route had worked. This was supposedly a severely controlled H-bomb storage depot, but we’ll never know. We didn’t try breaking into it.
It started getting cold around 1 a.m. and we’d come prepared weeks or months in jail, but not for being outside all night. So Steve Baggarly, 52, of the Norfolk, Virginia Catholic Worker, and I climbed down to scratch “DISARM NOW” on the bunker’s giant metal doors, finally alerting some guards. The two of us hustled back up to the others on top and were soon surrounded by vehicles’ scanning spot lights and guards searching on foot with flashlights. Rather comically, we were still unnoticed as we watched the patrols scurry around. We ultimately decided to announce our presence by singing “The Vine & Fig Tree,” prompting them for the first time to look up. We were taken into custody over two hours after entering the base, and after being searched, photographed and briefly lectured, we were released without charges. Some may be pending.
The five, Baggarly, Susan Crane, 73, of California, Bonnie Urfer, 65, of Wisconsin, Gerd Buentzly, 67, of Germany, and I, said in a prepared statement, “We are nonviolent and have entered Büchel Air Base to denounce the nuclear weapons deployed here. We ask Germany to either disarm the weapons or send them back to the United States for disarming….”
Our bunker occupation, called a “go-in” action by German anti-nuclear campaigners here, was the fourth act of civil resistance during “international week” at the base. Organized by “Non-violent Action to Abolish Nukes” (GAAA), the week saw over 60 people — from Russia, China, Mexico, Germany, Britain, the US, The Netherlands, France and Belgium — participate. The 7-day effort was part of a 20-week-long set of actions — “20 Weeks for 20 Bombs” — launched on March 26, 2017 — in conjunction with the start of final negotiations at the UN for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons — by a 50-group nation-wide coalition called “Büchel is Everywhere!”
Two earlier protest actions succeeded in a couple of ‘firsts’: an unprecedented meeting between blockaders and the base commander and the removal of the otherwise very prominent United States flag. During an early morning blockade, “Oberstleutnant” Gregor Schlemmer personally approached protesters — something unheard of in similar US protests — and accepted a copy of the newly-minted UN Treaty Ban from Sister Ardeth Platte, OP, of Baltimore, Maryland. A day earlier, when over 35 activists streamed through the main gate which was mistakenly left unlocked, spontaneously lowered the US flag, and placed loaves of bread around the memorialized jet bombers, Sr. Platte and Sr. Carol Gilbert, OP, also of Baltimore, demanded a meeting with Mr. Schlemmer so they could deliver the treaty. The next day’s shocking appearance prompted a joke: “Yesterday we took down the flag, and today the commander surrendered.”
Eleven activists from the United States came to Büchel to put a spotlight on US plans to replace the B61s instead of removing them. Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance in Tennessee — where a new thermonuclear core for the “B61-Model12” might be manufactured — said, “It is important that we show this is a global movement. The resistance to nuclear weapons is not limited to one country.” The new “B61-12” program will cost over $12 billion, if and when production starts sometime after 2020, and “Bushel is scheduled to get new hydrogen bombs. Nothing could be stupider when 90% of Germans want them out and the when world wants to abolish nuclear weapons,” he said.
| The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Jul 21st 2017, 08:52, by Jonathan Latham
The Spain-based non-profit GRAIN recently revealed the agribusiness takeover of Conabia, the National Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology of Argentina. Conabia is the GMO assessment body of Argentina. According to GRAIN, 26 of 34 its members were either agribusiness company employees or had major conflicts of interest.
Packing a regulatory agency with conflicted individuals is one way to ensure speedy GMO approvals and Conabia has certainly delivered that. A much more subtle, but ultimately more powerful, way is to bake approval into the structure of the GMO assessment process itself. It is easier than you might think.
I recently attended the latest international conference of GMO regulators, called ISBGMO14, held in Guadalajara, Mexico (June 4-8, 2017). ISBGMO is run by the International Society for Biosafety Research (ISBR). When I first went to this biennial series of conferences, in 2007, just one presentation in the whole four days was by a company. ISBR had some aspirations towards scientific independence from agribusiness.
I went for a second time in 2011, to the ISBGMO held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Company researchers and executives were frequent speakers and the conference had become an opportunity for agribusiness to present talking points and regulatory initiatives as if they had the blessing of science. This year, in Guadalajara, companies were now on the conference organising committee and even conferring conference travel scholarships from the podium. A former conference organiser and ISBR board member told me that the previous ISBGMO (St. Louis, USA, in 2015) had been almost entirely paid for by Monsanto.
Spreading the industry message
In Guadalajara, industry speakers were clearly working from a scripted list. That list translates as the key regulatory objectives of the biotech industry.
Prominent on that list was “data transportability”. Data transportability is the idea that regulators from different jurisdictions, say India, or the EU, should accept identical biosafety applications. Implementation of data transportability would mean that although each country has unique ecosystems and species, applicants ought not to have to provide studies tailored to each. For example, when it comes to assessing effects on non-target organisms, for example of a GMO crop producing an insecticide, regulators in Australia should accept tests on European ladybird species or earthworms as showing that a GMO cotton can safely be grown there.
The appeal of data transportability for an applicant is clear enough—less cost and less risk of their GMO failing a risk assessment. Not once did I hear mention of an obvious downside to data transportability. The fewer tests to which a novel GMO is subjected the less research there is to detect a significant problem if one exists.
A second standard corporate line was “need to know versus nice to know”. In other words do not ask applicants for more data than they wish to supply. The downsides to this are identical to data transportability. Less data is less testing and less science.
Modernising risk assessment?
Another major theme of the meeting was ‘modernization’ of regulation. In this scheme the most ‘advanced’ nation was proposed to be Canada. Canada has adopted what it calls “trait-based GMO regulation”. In trait-based regulation the method of development (i.e. whether the crop was genetically engineered or not) is considered irrelevant. The trait is the sole focus. So if a GMO crop contains an insecticide it is assessed for risk against non-target organisms. If a GMO improves flavour or nutrition then, since there is presumably no risk from flavours or nutrients, then the crop receives what amounts to a free pass.
The Canadian approach sounds harmless, but it has the crucial property that it hands control of risk assessment to the applicant, because under such a system everything depends on what the applicant chooses to call their trait. Imagine you were asked to review the safety of an aircraft, but the manufacturer wouldn’t tell you if it was propeller-driven or a jet; likewise, if a submarine was diesel or nuclear powered.
The Canadian approach therefore, by just asking what the crop is supposed to do, effectively places outside of regulation most of the standard considerations of risk and hazard. Once upon a time, risk assessment was supposed to be about what a product is not supposed to do. For proposing non-regulation over regulation, Canadian biosafety officials were given more prominent speaking opportunities at ISBGMO14 than any other national regulator.
Tiered risk assessment
An equivalently unscientific innovation, which seems widely accepted, is called tiered risk assessment. Imagine a company presents to regulators an insect-resistant GMO crop. An obvious question arises. How is a regulator to know, since the crops produces an insecticide, if it will kill beneficial organisms such as the bees that feed on its flowers?
In tiered risk assessment this question is answered by feeding the purified GMO insecticide to a bee species. If no harm is observed the crop is assumed safe. No further tests are required. If the bees are harmed then a larger scale test, presumptively more realistic, is conducted. If harm is not observed the crop is assumed safe and no further tests are required. If harm is shown then an outdoor or larger-level test will be conducted.
Monsanto presented a lengthy exposition, in a plenary session, of the ‘soundness’ and ‘logic’ of this tiered approach. Tiered risk assessment has been the subject of little scientific debate (though see Lang et al., 2007), but the implications of the tiered approach are profound. It is an asymmetrical system in which passing any test leads to approval whereas failing that test does not result in disapproval.
Consider the comparison with pharmaceuticals. Currently, all pharmaceutical drugs must pass through three phases of clinical trials; first animal tests, then small scale human trials, then large scale human trials. Failure at any stage is considered terminal. Without wishing to give them any ideas, suppose the FDA were to replace this three-phase system with one under which approval in phase I (animal tests) allowed the developer to go straight to market. There would be, for good reason, an uproar, followed by an avalanche of dangerous medications on the market. But that is precisely the logic of tiered GMO testing.
Tiered testing is therefore a system in which failure is an unacceptable answer. In the scientific review paper that first proposed tiered risk assessment, there is no provision for rejecting the crop in the main figure, which diagrams the proposed decision tree (See Figure 1 of Romeis et al., 2008). Approvals are guaranteed. Agribusiness knows this perfectly well because many of the principal authors of Romeis et al are from the major seed and biotech companies.
The so-called logical innovations presented at ISBGMO14, such as data transportability, trait-based regulation, and tiered risk assessment, are thus intended as regulatory bypasses. They make it all but impossible for a regulator to turn down a GMO application, or even to collect sufficient information. No wonder the biotech industry likes to refer to risk assessment procedures as approval systems.
Given the lack of objection to these approaches at ISBGMO14, the biotech industry ought now to feel confident that the regulation of biotechnology is largely in their hands, but still it wants more.
In the coming years, an upsurge is expected in the GMO pipeline as new applications and new approaches become possible. This pipeline is predicted to include GMO algae, animal biotechnology, gene drives, and so forth. Many of these opportunities the industry knows will be controversial. A pacified regulatory environment is for them a necessity before that can happen.
This is more than a shame. When a comprehensive evaluation of the weaknesses and inherent limitations of scientific risk assessment is urgently needed to cope with these challenges, the chemical and biotech industries are forcing those assessment systems in the opposite direction.
Romeis, Jörg; Bartsch, Detlef; Bigler, Franz; Candolfi, Marco P; Gielkens, Marco M C; et al. (2008) Assessment of risk of insect-resistant transgenic crops to nontarget arthropods. Nature Biotechnology; 26: 203-8.
Andreas Lang, Éva Lauber & Béla Darvas (2007) Early-tier tests insufficient for GMO risk assessment. Nature Biotechnology 25: 35 – 36, doi:10.1038/nbt0107-35
| DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Jul 21st 2017, 08:51, by Russell Mokhiber
Hamilton Fox is the DC Disciplinary Counsel.
His job — to protect the public and the courts from unethical conduct by members of the bar of the District of Columbia.
There are thousands of lawyers in Washington DC — a large number of them representing powerful corporate criminals.
But Hamilton Fox has chosen to focus significant resources on a whistleblower lawyer — Lynne Bernabei — whose client, former in-house General Electric lawyer Adriana Koeck, blew the whistle on an alleged tax fraud scheme in Brazil.
Koeck, now Adriana Sanford, teaches at Arizona State University and sits on the board of Amnesty International. She did not return calls seeking comment.
Bernabei’s lawyers did not return calls seeking comment.
Fox’s case against Bernabei and Koeck has been going on now since June 2014, when Fox brought charges against Koeck, Bernabei and Notre Dame Law Professor G. Robert Blakey.
Fox alleged that Bernabei and Blakey advised Koeck to go to reporters and law enforcement officials in the United States with incriminating and alleged confidential information against General Electric.
The case was initiated with a complaint filed by General Electric with Fox’s office.
In November 2015, Blakey was given the mildest possible sanction in the District — an informal admonition.
On January 11, 2017, an Ad Hoc Committee of the DC Court of Appeals Board of Professional Responsibility ruled that by going to the press with internal GE information, Bernabei too should be handed the mildest possible sanction — an informal admonition — in effect a letter from Fox.
“Koeck has not participated in these proceedings,” Fox told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “She claimed she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We got an order from the court that she submit to an independent medical exam. She refused to comply. She has been temporarily suspended. If she ever sought to be readmitted to the bar, she would have the burden of proving that she is fit to practice.”
Fox says that in representing Koeck against GE, Bernabei threatened to go to the press unless GE agreed to mediation to settle Koeck’s dispute with the company.
Fox alleges that this threat interfered with the administration of justice in violation of DC Bar rules.
The Ad Hoc Hearing Committee disagreed, finding that “Disciplinary Counsel has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that Bernabei’s statement — about her ‘marching orders’ to go to the press if GE counsel did not agree to mediation” — constituted a violation. . . .We find that if the statement affected the administration of justice, it did so in a de minimis manner.”
Bernabei was willing to agree to the informal admonition and be done with it. But Fox insisted on appealing the case to the Board of Professional Responsibility.
Why did Fox accept an informal admonition for Blakley but not for Bernabei?
“We have to worry about precedent,” Fox said. “I disagree with the hearing committee’s finding that Bernabei telling a lawyer that she was going to expose her client’s client’s confidences and secrets to the press unless GE agreed to mediate was not a violation of the rules. I thought it was a violation of the rules. I couldn’t live with a ruling that said it wasn’t.”
“I also thought that the sanction of an informal admonition was a little light,” Fox said. “We recommended a censure by the court. That’s not insignificant. It’s a greater sanction if the court does it rather than me doing it in a letter. But we are not asking that she be suspended.”
The difference between an informal admonition and a public censure by the court?
“The court is a more important institution than my office,” Fox said. “Having it done by the court carries a little more weight. But it’s not as harsh as suspending her from practice.”
“The other reason we went up was we had to go up on the Koeck matter anyhow. We think the sanction is fine. But the problem is we got this ruling from the hearing committee that the disclosures made to the Department of Justice and the SEC and the government of Brazil were permitted under the rules. We think that’s wrong.”
Had they ruled your way on Koeck, you are saying you wouldn’t have gone up on Bernabei?
“I probably would have anyway,” Fox said. “I don’t think we could live with threatening to do something unethical in order to get your opponent to the negotiating table is okay.”
Did Bernabei admit to that threat?
“She admits to the conversation,” Fox said. “She denied it all along until just before the hearing. She testified at the hearing that she had her recollection refreshed and she did remember making the comment.”
Fox says that Sarah Bouchard, a partner at Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia and the lawyer for GE in the case, got a call from Bernabei.
“Sarah Bouchard was sitting on an airplane waiting to take off,” Fox said. “And Ms. Bernabei said that if GE did not agree to mediate Koeck’s unlawful dismissal case before the Department of Labor, that her marching orders were to go to the press.”
Has GE been represented in this proceeding?
“They are not a party to the proceeding,” Fox said. “We called some of their in house lawyers. They were witnesses for me.”
Fox appealed the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee’s ruling to the Board of Professional Responsibility.
Fox says that both the Ad Hoc Hearing Committees and the Board of Professional Responsibility are staffed by volunteers.
The hearing before the Board was on May 4.
How did it go?
“It’s very hard to say,” Fox said. “It’s so complicated that you don’t get to make a lot of the points you want to make. I didn’t get a feel for how they are going to come down. This is an unusual case and is quite complicated.”
Fox dismisses Koeck’s underlying claim — that she blew the whistle on alleged tax fraud in Brazil — and thus she was free to reveal confidential information to Brazilian and U.S. authorities.
Fox says that the only evidence presented in the proceedings showed that GE was not engaged in crime or fraud.
The Ad Hoc Committee disagreed.
“GE’s in-house counsel Roland Schroeder confirmed that some of the opinion letters from Brazilian counsel retained by GE — among the documents removed by Koeck — stated that GE’s failure to pay the taxes could result in criminality,” the Ad Hoc Committee ruled.
Whistleblower lawyers believe that Fox is biased and has an agenda against them.
They point out that Fox also moved against Thomas Tamm, the Justice Department lawyer who blew the whistle on President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program in 2004.
They point out that when Fox was in private practice at Sutherland Asbill, he represented the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard and that he has taught a course at Georgetown Law School titled “Counseling the Corporation in Crisis.”
Bernabei on the other hand has throughout her career counseled whistleblowers in crisis and has represented clients that have clashed with the national security state.
Last year, whistleblower lawyer Jason Zuckerman told Corporate Crime Reporter— “there seems to be a double standard.”
“Has Bar Counsel ever prosecuted any attorneys at corporate firms that help their clients perpetrate fraud?” Zuckerman asked. “And did Bar Counsel investigate prominent lawyer executives at Fannie Mae who appear to have engaged in actions that led to a multi-billion dollar restatement and left taxpayers footing the bill? Did Bar Counsel prosecute the attorneys that enabled large banks to nearly tank the economy? And has Bar Counsel prosecuted government attorneys that enabled torture and other flagrant unlawful human rights violations? Does Bar Counsel protect the public or does it protect the interests of big corporations and big government?”
| The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Jul 21st 2017, 08:51, by Ramzy Baroud
Early October 2016, Misbah Abu Sbeih left his wife and five children at home and then drove to an Israeli police station in Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem.
The 39-year-old Jerusalemite was scheduled to hand himself over to serve a term of 4 months in jail for, allegedly, trumped up charges of ‘trying to hit an Israeli soldier’.
Misbah is familiar with Israeli prisons, having been held there before on political charges, including an attempt to sneak into and pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of a large compound known as Haram al-Sharif, which includes – aside from Al-Aqsa – the famed Dome of the Rock and other Palestinian Muslim sites, revered by Muslims everywhere.
Al-Aqsa is believed to be the second mosque ever to be built, the first being Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The Holy Quran mentions it as the place from which Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven, journeying from Mecca to Jerusalem.
For Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, the Mosque took on a new meaning following the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian city of al-Quds (East Jerusalem) in 1967.
Scenes of Israeli soldiers raising the Israeli flag over Muslim and Christian shrines in the city fifty years ago, is burnt into the collective memory of several generations.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has been the focal point of clashes between Palestinian worshipers and the Israeli army.
Daily visitors to the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem include non-Muslims tourists. They are often welcomed by the Al-Waqf administration, which is the Islamic religious trust that manages the holy shrines, a practice dating back 500 years.
Even after the Israeli occupation of the Arab city, al-Waqf has continued to be the caretaker of the Muslim site, as arranged between the Jordanian government and Israel.
Israeli design in the occupied city, however, is far greater than the Mosque itself. Last April, the Israeli government announced plans to build 15,000 new housing units in Occupied Jerusalem, contrary to international law.
The international community recognizes East Jerusalem as a Palestinian city. The United States, too, accepts international consensus on Jerusalem, and attempts by the US Congress to challenge the White House on this understanding have all failed. That is, until Donald Trump came to power.
Prior to his inauguration in January, Trump had promised to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement was welcomed by Israeli rightwing politicians and extremists alike. Many of Israel’s supporters in the US saw this as a good sign of the Trump presidency.
While the US embassy is yet to officially move to Jerusalem, the new administration is sending a message that it is no longer bound by international law with regard to the Occupied Territories.
Not only is the US abandoning its self-tailored role as a ‘peace broker’ between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, but it is sending a clear signal to Israel that there can be no pressure on Israel regarding the status of Jerusalem.
In response, the United Nations and its various institutions have moved quickly to reassure Palestinians.
The UN cultural agency, UNESCO, has been the most active in this regard. Despite US-Israeli pressure, several resolutions have been passed by UNESCO and the UN General Assembly in recent months, which have reaffirmed Palestinian rights in the city.
Israel and the US moved to punish Palestinians for UNESCO’s decisions.
It began when the Israeli Knesset began pushing laws that make life even more difficult for Palestinian Jerusalemites, including a law that limits the Muslim call for prayer. The law, which passed its second reading last March, was championed by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli police expanded the ever-growing list of Palestinians who are not allowed to reach their houses of worship. The list included Misbah Abu Sbeih, who was repeatedly arrested, beaten and incarcerated by the Israeli police.
The Israeli government then opened up the flood gates of settlement expansion in the occupied city, after being partially limited during the presidency of Barack Obama. In part, that was Netanyahu’s response to UN Resolution 2334, which demanded an immediate halt to Israeli settlement construction in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories.
Concurrently, the new US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took on the task of silencing any international criticism of the Israeli occupation, calling international attempts to end the occupation a form of ‘bullying.’
Assured by the unconditional US support, Netanyahu moved to new extremes. He severed his country’s ties with UNESCO and called for the dismantlement of UN headquarters in the occupied Palestinian city.
East Jerusalem was already illegally annexed by Israeli in 1981, but without international acceptance of such a measure, the Israeli move seemed pointless.
Now, Israel feels that times are changing, as the Trump administration offers Israel a window of opportunity to normalize its illegal occupation and annexation of the city.
In recent months, Palestinians have responded in myriad ways. They have worked with various countries across the globe to challenge the Israeli-US plans.
Most Palestinian efforts, although successful to some extent, have failed to sway Israel in any way.
The political upheaval has translated on the ground to more violence, as thousands of Israeli occupation soldiers and police were rushed to the city to restrict Palestinian movement and to block thousands of worshipers from reaching Al-Aqsa. Hundreds were detained in a massive security campaign.
In the absence of a strong leadership, Palestinians are growingly increasingly desperate and angry. The Palestinian Authority is largely busy in its own pitiful power struggles and appears to have no time for Palestinians, who are left with little hope for a political horizon and no clear sense of direction.
While thousands of Palestinians have resisted through constantly attempting to reach Al-Aqsa or demonstrated in protest, others are “reaching the breaking point”. One is Misbah Abu Sbeih.
Once he arrived at the Israeli military police station, Mishbah did not give himself up. Instead, he opened fire, killing an Israeli army office from the ‘Yassam’ unit and another Israeli. He was killed instantly.
Other attacks followed. On Friday, July 14, the holiest day of the week in the Muslim calendar, three Palestinian men attacked Israeli soldiers and police officers stationed near one of the Haram’s gates.
They killed two Israeli officers, and were killed by occupation soldiers, soon after. This is the first time that an attack of this nature has been recorded inside the Al-Aqsa compound. Since 1967, only Israelis have used arms in violent clashes with Palestinians. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in or around this holy shrine throughout the years.
Last June in Jerusalem, speaking to a crowd celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Israeli military occupation of the city, Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu declared that the al-Aqsa Mosque compound would “forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
Empowered by the Trump administration and assured by Haley’s tactics at the UN, Netanyahu feels that his dream of subduing East Jerusalem is being realized. The price of Netanyahu’s dream, however, is likely to be costly.
On the day of the attack, several Palestinians were killed in various parts of the West Bank and a 3-year-old child from Gaza died while awaiting a permit to cross from the besieged region to the West Bank for treatment. None of this registered in international media. The armed Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers, however, made headlines around the world.
More violence is likely to follow. Palestinians, who are dying without much media coverage, are desperate and angry as their holy city is crumbling under the heavy boots of soldiers, amid international silence and unconditional US support for the Israeli government.
| The Murder of Muslims
Jul 21st 2017, 08:51, by Farzana Versey
In India today, nationalism has a religion. Hinduism. We may pussyfoot around it and refer to it as Hindutva, saffronisation or, what the ruling rightwing Bhartiya Janata Party calls “fringe elements”, but the discourse is clearly embedded in the faith of the majority community.
Slurs against Muslims have become commonplace. A country that wants to declare the cow as the mother of the nation and where minorities have to prove their patriotism not by allegiance to the flag but to the political party in power is bound to descend into chaos.
Two years ago, a mob brandishing hockey sticks and knives barged into Mohammed Akhlaq’s house in Dadri in north India and assaulted all the family members before killing him because they suspected there was beef in their fridge. The meat was sent to the forensic lab and it was found to be lamb.
When one of his killers died (of natural causes), he was given a martyr’s funeral; his coffin was draped in the national flag and there were speeches by leaders from Hindu organisations that have direct access to the government.
Last month towards the end of Ramadan when Junaid boarded the train to return home with his Eid shopping bags, he might not have imagined that the elderly man whom he offered the seat to would egg on a mob punching him and his friends. Abuses flew. “Beef eater”, “antinational”, “mullah”. They pulled at their skull caps and newly-sprouted beards. Knives came out telling them to go to Pakistan. They were bleeding. Nobody came to their rescue. Junaid was stabbed. He died. He was 16.
At the stations en route some of the lynch mob got off, enough to let the cops shrug about little evidence.
A scuffle for seats got transformed into a fight for political and religious space. Or, perhaps, religious assertiveness is seeking out reasons.
Meat trader Alimuddin Ansari was beaten up by a mob and his van, ostensibly with cattle meat, was set on fire in Jharkhand. There seemed to have been a dispute with some people who were extorting money from him. Such excuses have become the norm where the victim is invariably Muslim, for it was not a spontaneous act. His movements were tracked for hours before he was murdered.
Mohammad Majloom and Inayatullah Khan of Latehar were taking their cattle to a fair many miles away. Five men with a mission waylaid them. After they killed the 35 and 13 year old, they tied a noose around their necks and hung them from a tree.
“Prima facie it appears to have been a case of a gang attempting to loot cattle,” the cops said. For those in a hurry to rob and make a quick escape with the cattle to profit from it, they seemed to have relished in committing the murders. Not only did they kill the two, they hanged them. The hanging was a message. To shame. To hold them up as an example. How dare they not respect their gau mata, the cow mother, their religion?
It is disconcerting that mobs are using cow protection as the higher cause even to settle petty disputes. The shaming has got a further boost because the videos are uploaded and shared. The message gets more traction. What is so evident in these viral videos is that the so-called ‘jihadi mentality’ that Muslims are accused of does not respond in kind. The victims are just overwhelmed by the suddenness of the attack; in some instances they are pleading, in one the man does not even have the energy or presence of mind to protest as they grab his hair and kick him. He just takes it like a stoic who has become accustomed to lie on a bed of nails.
Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, has not uttered a word condoling any of these deaths. He tweets mourning for the loss of lives in a fire in Portugal, but makes no attempt to reach out to the families of those killed by men purportedly supporting his party’s Hindutva dream, a dream to reclaim ancient India and transform the country into a Hindu nation.
When he does speak, it is evasive: “All (state) governments should take stringent action against those who are violating law in the name of cow protection.”
How will this happen when some state governments are handing out expensive beef detection kits to the cops to smell for trouble, effectively converting the police force into cow protectors too? The very fact that there are several cow protection groups is worrying, for they aren’t animal rights activists but soldiers of the faith.
“Bolo Jai Shri Ram” (Hail Lord Rama), is the war cry. People are stopped in the streets and asked to owe allegiance to their god. A mentally unstable woman was slapped and forced to utter the words; a cleric was pummelled just outside the mosque by a group insisting he chant the phrase; journalist Munne Bharti was driving with his elderly parents. Suddenly, their car was surrounded by a group. They threatened to set the car on fire if they did not chant “Jai Shri Ram”. They did. An adult was frightened, for himself and his aged parents.
How is this not about religion, then?
It was always about religion, perhaps by a few skewed minds. 25 years ago Bal Thackeray, the leader of the militant Shiv Sena, had asked for the disenfranchisement of Muslims. He would address huge rallies at an open ground referring to Muslims as “katuas”, the cut ones without a foreskin. After the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya, on the instructions of these political parties, and the riots reached what was then Bombay, the men in the streets would point at the crotches of Muslim men and snigger, “katua”. They were stopped and asked to strip for a random check by random people. Unlike the Sikhs after the riots in 1984 who discarded their turbans and shaved off their hair to protect themselves, Muslims could not get back their foreskin.
At the All-India Hindu Convention held last month in Goa, for 4 days all the cars at the venue were sprayed with cow urine to purify them. “Their car needs shuddhi karan. We do it to all objects — watches, clothes, sometimes even handbags. It’s a spiritual exercise.”
How people choose to practise their faith is a personal matter. But when you have a cow piss soda, cow dung and urine being made a part of ayurvedic medicines and astrologers treating people in hospital OPDs, then it becomes obvious that the cow and beef are incidental here. They are only the more potent batons to beat the minorities. There is also the commercial angle. Giving a charlatan guru called Ramdev land and business rights to run an empire ostensibly selling indigenous products is a strategy to bring the devil close to your home.
Young Hindu women are training in self-defence to protect them from “love jihad”, a bogey created by the rightwing suggesting that Muslim men are luring them to fall in love to later convert them.
In May last year, there was a report about a camp in Uttar Pradesh training the youth wing of militant Hindu organisations to protect the country from terrorists. In the video images they are aiming their air guns and sticks at men wearing skull caps. The governor had justified the drill: “Those who cannot defend themselves, cannot ultimately defend the country and there is nothing wrong if some youths are getting arms-training purely for self defence.”
That instead of urging these fit youth to join the army, they are being brainwashed to target a particular group makes the intention clear.
How is this not about religion?
The fallout of such brainwashing is not restricted to the extremist Hindutva proponents alone. There is a not-so-subtle attempt to deflect from the Hinduness of the terror by liberals too. An academic who has taken it upon himself to explain India to Indians on social media from his perch in the US has written about the global Muslim victimhood industry by playing victim: “One cannot use the term ‘Muslim terror’ (but Hindu or Christian or Left terror is fine) or even Islamic terror without worry of being termed communal, bigoted, or Islamophobic. The appropriate phrase is ‘Islamist terror,’ which, we are expected to clarify, has nothing to do with Islam.”
Some commentators have begun to call India Lynchistan, the land of lynching. We do not seem to realise that mobs thrive on notoriety. They are not seeking a popular mandate, because they already are the popular mandate. Paper tiger responses only embolden their cause. The truth is that nobody in mainstream media or in activism or with an outsider’s perspective, like Dr. Amartya Sen, has had the courage or the will to call these planned lynchings as Hindu terrorism.
Is such nomenclature important? It is. Because it is a systematic attempt to annihilate the minorities, specifically Muslims. (Quite different from Islamist terrorism whose victims are mainly Muslim and, in some cases like the ISIS’s victims, also people who are liberal enough to support Muslims.)
Muslims immediately distance themselves from any jihad violence, even though that does not assuage their neighbours from seeing them as potential suspects. Hindus are not doing so in large enough numbers, and they are chary of admitting the faith angle because they believe that Hinduism is not a monotheistic faith with allegiance to one book and one god. It is amorphous and therefore fluid, they reason.
The caste system and its treatment of Dalits and the backward castes certainly reveals ‘fluidity’. All the government-engineered riots have been masterminded by a vile intellect that outsources the war to the police and army and pumps up the trading class to decimate minority businesses. The murder of minorities is only a more violent assertion of this sheltered ghettoisation of the elite majority.
There are many who use their internet liberalism to rationalise their own subtle bigotry. That many of them also have a stake in steak does lend weight to their public “I’m not too Hindu” utterances.
In one such recent piece, the headline flashed about how Hindu victimhood is a manufactured cry. In the first para itself, though, the writer gave a clean chit to Muslims quoting, of all people, George Bush: “India is a country which does not have a single al-Qaida member in a population of 150 million Muslims.” Hindus do not have to prove whether they have allegiance to any extremist organisation, even if they elect them to power.
The usage of Islamist phrases like fatwa and jihad to explain Hindu terror acts and suggest they are only “mimicking” reeks of another version of Islamophobia and projects violence by Hindu extremists as a reaction to centuries of abuse by Muslim rulers. This historic narrative pushes the ‘tolerate Muslims despite their past’ idea, the moral compass revealing who considers itself the superior side.
These recent attempts to call out Hindu extremists is not organic. They are a response to some of us wondering why we did not link the Hindu word with terrorism. We have woken up or, in good old Hindu speak, and in deference to many of us being converts from the ancient religion, our third eye has been awakened.
| At Every Door
Jul 21st 2017, 08:50, by Kathy Kelly
I come and stand at every door
But none shall hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
On July 18, 2017, at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing focused on “The Four Famines: Root Causes and a Multilateral Action Plan,” Republican Senator Todd Young, a former Marine, asked officials present if ongoing war in Yemen could fail to exacerbate the catastrophe developing there – one of four countries, along with Southern Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia, set to collectively lose 20 million people this year, one third the death toll of WWII, from conflict-driven famine. Yemen is being bombarded and blockaded, using US-supplied weapons and vehicles, by a local coalition marshaled by U.S. client state Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s near-famine conditions, with attendant cholera outbreak, are so dire that in Yemen it is estimated a child dies every 10 minutes of preventable disease.
At the hearing, Senator Young held aloft a photo of a World Food Program warehouse in Yemen, which was destroyed in 2015. Senator Young asked David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program, to name the country responsible for the airstrike that destroyed the food warehouse. Mr. Beasley said the Saudi-led coalition blockading Yemen had destroyed the warehouse, along with the relief supplies it contained.
A July 2016 Human Rights Watch report documented 13 civilian economic structures destroyed by Saudi coalition led bombing between March 2015 and February 2016, “including factories, commercial warehouses, a farm, and two power stations. These strikes killed 130 civilians and injured 171 more. The facilities hit by airstrikes produced, stored, or distributed goods for the civilian population including food, medicine, and electricity—items that even before the war were in short supply in Yemen, which is among the poorest countries in the Middle East. Collectively, the facilities employed over 2,500 people; following the attacks, many of the factories ended their production and hundreds of workers lost their livelihoods.”
Asked about the Saudi coalition’s destruction of four cranes needed to offload relief supplies in Yemen’s port city Hodeidah, Mr. Beasley clarified that the loss of the cranes has vastly impeded WFP efforts to deliver food and medicines. Senator Young read from Mr. Beasley’s June 27th letter to the Saudi government, only the latest of multiple requests, asking that the WFP be allowed to deliver replacement cranes. Mr. Beasley said the Saudis had provided no reply. Senator Young noted that, in the three weeks since this last letter had been sent, more than 3,000 Yemeni children had died of preventable, famine-related causes.
Medea Benjamin, of the antiwar campaign Code Pink, was at the “Four Famines” hearing, and later thanked Sen. Young for rebuking the Saudi government’s imposition of a state of siege plus airstrikes that prevent delivery of food and medicine to destitute Yemeni civilians:
One day later, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on a July 19th coalition airstrike in Yemen, which killed 20 civilians—including women and children—while they were fleeing violence in their home province. The report claimed more than two million internally displaced Yemenis “fled elsewhere across Yemen since the beginning of the conflict, but … continue to be exposed to danger as the conflict has affected all of Yemen’s mainland governorates.”
On July 14, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed two amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would potentially end US participation in the Yemeni civil war. In the past, the White House has provided refueling and targeting assistance to the Saudi-led coalition without congressional authorization. Since October of 2016, the US has doubled the number of jet refueling maneuvers carried out with Saudi and United Arab Emirate jets. The Saudi and UAE jets fly over Yemen, drop bombs until they need to refuel, then fly back to Saudi airspace where US jets perform mid-air refueling operations. Next, they circle back to Yemen and resume bombing.
In the summer of 2006, I joined peace campaigner Claudia Lefko at a small school she helped found in Amman, Jordan. The school served children whose families were refugees, having fled postwar chaos in Iraq. Many of the children have survived war, death threats, and displacement. Claudia had worked with children in her hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, to prepare a gift for the Iraqi refugee children at the Jordanian school. The gift consisted of strings of paper origami cranes, folded in memory of a Japanese child, Sadako, who had died from radiation sickness after the bombing of her home city, Hiroshima. In her hospital bed (the story goes), Sadako occupied her time attempting to fold 1,000 paper cranes, a feat she hoped would earn her the granting of a special wish, that no other child would ever suffer a similar fate. Sadako succumbed too rapidly to complete the task herself, but Japanese children hearing of her folded many thousands more cranes, and the story has been told for decades in innumerable places, making the delicate paper cranes a symbol for peace throughout the world. The Turkish writer, Nazim Hikmet, wrote a poem, since set to music, about the story. Its words are on my mind today, as I think of the malnourished children from the countries of the terrible Four Famines, and from other conflict-torn, US-targeted countries such as Iraq, and Afghanistan. I think of their months or years of terrible hunger. Their stories may have ended already during the first half of 2017.
I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead
The song about “The Little Girl of Hiroshima” imagines a child who comes and stands at every door, unheard and unseen. In reality, we the living can choose to approach the doors of elected representatives, of our neighbors, or stay at home. We can choose whether or not to be heard and seen. Robert Naiman at Just Foreign Policy points out that many people don’t know yet that the House has voted to prohibit US participation in the Saudi war in Yemen. We can focus on progress made, publicize the House votes on social media, push for a House roll call vote on the Davidson-Nolan prohibitions on Defense Appropriation, and push the Senate to pass the same provisions as the House. I personally oppose all defense appropriations (I have refused all payment of federal income tax since 1980). I recognize that legislative activism, at the heart of an empire addicted to war, is a tool of limited use; but considering the arriving disaster for which, as too few yet understand, 2017 may be hereafter remembered as the worst famine year in post-WWII history – we have no luxury to reject any tools presented to us.
Billions, perhaps trillions, will be spent to send weapons, weapon systems, fighter jets, ammunition, and military support to the region, fueling new arms races and raising the profits of U.S. weapon makers. But, we can choose to stand at the doors of our leaders and of our neighbors, honoring past sacrifices and the innocent lives we were unable to save, as we redouble efforts to stop war makers from constantly gaining the upper hand in our lives.
We can never reverse the decisions to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we cannot prevent all of the dying that is set to come, this fateful summer, in the countries of the Four Famines. In the song, lost Sadako, long beyond saving even as she folded paper in her bed, doesn’t ask us to erase her own terrible loss, but to achieve the change we can, and to lose no more time in achieving it:
All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play.
| Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Jul 21st 2017, 08:50, by David W. Pear
It is all about the oil. Whatever else one hears about Venezuela, it is all about the oil. That is what one needs to know first about why the U.S. Empire has Venezuela under siege. It is about the oil.
When President Trump says, “Venezuela is a mess; Venezuela is a mess, we will see what happens”, it is all about the oil. When the U.S. Empire imposes sanctions on Venezuela, it is all about the oil. When the mainstream corporate media (i.e. Fake News) cries crocodile tears about democracy, human rights and political prisoners in Venezuela, it is about the oil. When the U.S. calls into session emergency meeting of the United Nations and the Organization of American States, it is about oil.
Venezuela has the largest known reserve of oil in the world, and Venezuela controls its own oil, not international corporations; and it uses its oil for the benefit of its people. The U.S. Empire instead wants to control that oil and it wants the profits from the oil to go to U.S. oil corporations, especially ExxonMobil. Everything else one hears now about Venezuela is prologue or epilogue. The main plot is about the oil.
The first scene opens with protesters screaming and yelling in the streets of Caracas. Barricades are blazing, people are choking on the smoke, and their eyes are red from teargas. Traffic is backed up for miles. It is chaos. The streets are filled with anti-government protesters, and out of sight of the mainstream media cameras are pro-government supporters. Most of the violence one sees and hears about is from the anti-government protesters, but mums the word about that from the mainstream corporate media. The mainstream corporate media is the Fake News, it is the propaganda horn for the U.S. Empire and those that really control what happens in the world.
There is blood in the streets of Venezuela, and overhead the U.S. Empire regime change vultures are circling. In the United Nations, in the Organization of American States, in the Oval Office of the White House, on the floor of the U.S. Congress, and in the Fake News people are seen wringing their hands about human rights and democracy. Tucker Carlson on Fox News is reporting about the failure of Venezuela’s socialist government:
“”there is no toilet paper or meat there, the currency is worthless, the murder rate is perhaps the highest in the world, the Supreme Court has tried to abolish the entire legislature for daring to oppose a dictator who’s running the place into the ground, and you can go on and on and on, it is a disaster there in Venezuela.”
Behind Tucker there is a scene playing. It is showing young people, all of them anti-government protesters, many wearing masks one supposes to protect their identity from what we are supposed to believe are government thugs. The protesters are throwing rocks, one supposes at government security forces. A water cannon sprays the protesters and they disperse to get away from it. Groups of protester run back and forth in the street, it is chaos, smoke is everywhere. What is it all the chaos about? The Fake News says it is all about democracy, the economy and human rights violations from a tyrannical government. It isn’t.
It is all about the oil.
Scene two of this deadly serious mini play opens in a boardroom behind closed doors, somewhere in Washington, D.C. Politicians, generals, spies, and oil company executives from ExxonMobil and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are meeting. They are talking in hushed voices about Venezuela. They are sharpening their axes and talking about oil. Venezuela has it? How do they get it? How can they control it? How do they keep others from controlling it? Who are the forces against them? Who are the forces for them? How can they create more chaos to destabilize the government of President Nicolas Maduro? How do they pull off a coup d’état? The plot thickens.
It is about the oil.
What we see happening in Venezuela is another tragedy unfolding on the world stage. There is bloodletting, and it will get much, much worse. Venezuela is approaching the edge of a civil war between the haves and the have-nots. It is class warfare. The rich and upper middle class want a regime change and an end to socialism for the poor. The rich want lower taxes, and ending social programs for the have-nots, and they want the privatization of vital government enterprises so that they can loot the country. And most of all, they want the privatization of the oil in their hands. They want to be billionaire oligarchs just like oligarchs in other oil-rich countries.
The have-nots support the government. They want the government to keep control of the oil for the benefit of the people, the have-nots. The have-nots are in the streets too, they are supporting the government, and they are being violently attacked by the hoodlums of the haves and the mercenaries for the U.S. Empire. The have-nots are being stoned, they are being shot down in the streets by anti-government rioters, they are being beaten with steel rods, and they are even being burned alive by anti-government protesters—let’s call them what they are, terrorists. We do not see or hear that from the Fake News. The have-nots want to keep their government provided healthcare, their government provided education, their government provided housing, their government provided mass transportation, their government provided food distribution centers, and all their government provided social services from the oil wealth.
The U.S. Empire wants a regime change in Venezuela. The Empire has been working on it for decades. We have seen their smoking guns before. Their guns now are smoking overtly and covertly behind the curtain, supporting the anti-government protesters and terrorists.
The Empire’s propaganda horn sounds off as if it is the government that is doing all the killing of peaceful protesters. Trump says Venezuela is a mess. The Empire has helped made it a mess; that is what the Empire wanted all along. The Empire’s Congress wants to impose more economic sanctions on a people that are already suffering. Congress wants more sanction on top of Obama’s sanctions. The U.S. is meddling, adding to Venezuela’s economic misery, trying to isolate Venezuela politically in Latin America, and trying to push Venezuela over the edge into civil war, if that is what it is going to take to get a regime change. Venezuela could turn into another human disaster like Syria, maybe even worse. Venezuela has twice the population of Syria and the largest proven oil reserves in the world. Venezuela could be on the cusp of a human catastrophe, a holocaust even.
The U.S. Empire has absolutely no concern about the population of Venezuela, any more than it is concerned about the people of Syria. Neither the Empire’s backing of terrorists in Syria, nor its backing of terrorists in Venezuela is about democracy, freedom, human rights, political prisoners, the economy and the thousands of people suffering and dying. The human suffering is of no importance or concern to the Empire’s foreign policy objectives. If one has any doubts about that, just ask Madeleine Albright:
Lesley Stahl: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it, if it furthers U.S. foreign policy objectives.”
This was no slip of the tongue by Madame Albright, and notice she said “we”. She is talking about the “we” that is the Clinton Administration and everybody on his foreign policy team. This is how they really think, act and care-not in private.
The foreign policy objectives and thinking of the Empire do not chance from one presidential administration to another. It has not made any difference whether the administration is Clinton, Bush, Obama or Trump. A half million brown babies in Asia, Africa or Latin America is of no concern to them, especially when those babies get in the way of the Empire’s foreign policy objectives. One million dead babies is of no concern. Five million is of no concern. It is as cold as that, and if one is in doubt then take a look at what is happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 8 million dead and increasing every day, with U.S. meddling and support of the killers.
What is of vital concern to the U.S. Empire is its foreign policy objectives. One important Empire foreign policy objective is the profits of corporations; not democracy and human rights. The Empire is not even that concerned about the best interests and welfare of U.S. citizens, not unless they are bigtime campaign contributors and bribers of politicians.
The corporate profits that the U.S. is concerned about could be for corporate owned banana plantations, cheap labor pools for sweatshops, opening foreign markets to U.S. corporations, or any natural resources below, on, or above the ground. Anything for corporate exploitation in game.
Of vital importance to the Empire is when its foreign policy objectives have to do with oil company profits and anything to do with oil, natural gas, and their shipping lanes, and the strategic pipeline routes for that oil and gas. Oil is vital to the Empire.
Oil has a special roll in U.S. foreign policy. Oil is the important driver of the American way of life (figuratively and literally); oil is important to keep the U.S. economy greased (figuratively and literally); oil is important to fuel the U.S. military which is literally the largest single consumer of oil; and it is of vital importance to control all the oil in the world, all the time. Oil is what the U.S. Empire wants to control for fueling the Empire, and to keep it from fueling potential enemies and their military. Control of oil is the Empire’s way of keeping friends in a straight line too.
Oil serves another vital purpose. It is what backs the U.S. dollar. Oil is literally black-gold. As long as all the oil in the world is transacted in U.S. dollars, then there will always be a demand for U.S. dollars, according to the Empire’s foreign policy thinking. As long as there is a demand for oil, then they think they can print all the U.S. dollars it wants.
The U.S. can seemingly print and create dollars out of thin air, and use those fiat dollars to pay for all the foreign trade deficits with every other country. If one understands how important oil is for the U.S. dollar, then one can understand why half a million dead babies is “worth it”; or a million dead babies, or ten million dead babies; especially if they are brown dead babies and as long as their mangled little corpses are kept out of sight. The corporate Fake News’s job is to keep those dead babies out of the media, and that is what they do unless it is of some propaganda advantage for the Empire to display them.
Once one internalizes just how absolutely vital oil is strategically, militarily and economically to the U.S. Empire, then one can make sense out of U.S. foreign policy objectives. It is absolutely vital for the U.S. Empire to control oil, all of it, all of the time; to control the corporations that explore, refine and market oil; and to control the countries and governments that have the oil in their ground; and to control the countries and the governments that have the transportation routes for that oil (and natural gas). And oil is used to control its friends as well as enemies that vitally need the oil too.
Any country that has oil or the pipeline routes, and a government that is in noncompliance with the U.S. Empire oil policies, then that government is a marked government for regime change. It really does not matter to the Empire’s foreign policy objectives if that marked country is capitalist, fascist, totalitarian, or theocratic; an oligarchy, monarchy or a democracy. Nor do the human rights record of any country matter to U.S. foreign policy objectives.
Any government that uses its oil wealth for the benefit of its own people will sooner or later become a marked government for regime change. Any government that decides to sell its oil in other than U.S. dollars will be a marked government by the Empire. By definition any oil rich socialist government will be marked. Venezuela has a socialist government that controls its own oil, uses that oil for the benefit of its own people and does not sell that oil exclusively in U.S. dollars. Its government is marked for regime change, it has been for a long time and it is under siege now by the Empire.
Looking at U.S. oil policy one realizes that there is no Empire foreign policy contradictions. It does not matters to the Empire if the country is Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Nigeria, Mexico or Canada. The policy is the same and there is no squawking about democracy and human rights as long as a foreign government stays compliant. That is why there is no contradiction for the Empire if a marked government for regime change is a democratically elected governments such as Syria in 1949, Iranian in 1953, Guatemalan in 1954, Chile 1973, Haiti 1991, and Honduras 2009.
A democratically elected socialist government of an oil rich nation that uses its oil for social programs and sells that oil in other than U.S. dollars will definitely be on the Empires hit list. That is why the U.S. Empire has Venezuela in its crosshairs, under siege, and is using overt and covert forces to overthrow the government of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.
The form of government and human rights only enters the Empire’s foreign policy equation when it is dealing with a marked government for regime change. A marked government will never be democratic-enough, and their human rights will always have the spotlight shined on it and criticized. Democracy and human rights are only important if they serve a propaganda purpose, no matter how democratic the government is or what its human rights record. The Fake News is the Empire’s best and faithful propaganda horn that will toot that the marked country is not democratic-enough and violates it peoples human rights.
Once U.S. foreign policy objectives are understood vis-a-vis oil, then one can have a rational understanding of why Venezuela and its oil is so important to the U.S. Empire. It is not about democracy and human rights. Get that straight in your mind.
The only reason the Empire has Venezuela under siege is because of the oil. Are there any questions?
| Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Jul 21st 2017, 08:50, by Maria Paez Victor
The leaders of the violent protests -that for 3 months have violated the peace of Venezuelans- are the very same who in 2002 supported the coup d’etat against President Chávez. During those tense 48 hours, one of the very first things they did was to abolish the Constitution of 1999: the one they now purport to defend.
During 18 years, the opposition has denigrated the Constitution. So intense has been this revolt against it that even after winning the majority at the National Assembly they insisted the government was illegitimate, ignored the rule of law, disregarded sentences of the Supreme Court, refused to legislate, and declared the main purpose of the Assembly was to “get rid of Maduro”.
These paragons are now pretending to be arbiters of democracy and opposing any constitutional amendment by an elected Constitutional Assembly. They are now opposing, not the government, but the people themselves.
The day of reckoning has come.
The opposition orchestrated economic sabotage, corporate smuggling, black market currency manipulations, full scale hoarding of food and essential products. They closed highways, burned public buildings including a packed maternity hospital, from a helicopter dropped grenades on to the Supreme Court offices, have assaulted, lynched and even burned alive young men of dark skin “who looked Chavista”. This is a violent opposition steeped in racism and classism against their own people and in the service of foreign powers and Big Oil.
After demanding the government negotiate with them, a Peace and Dialogue Table was set up facilitated by 2 former presidents of Latin America and one of Spain. They then refused to negotiate demanding the presence of the Vatican. When the Nuncio arrived, they still refused to dialogue. Pope Francis himself stated the dialogue failed because the opposition would not participate. President Maduro then concluded that if the opposition would not negotiate with the government, they would have to negotiate directly with the people – and called for a Constitutional Assembly to amend the constitution.
They are now terrified to face the people.
Constitutional articles 347, 348, 349 and 350 clearly indicate that the president has the right to call a Constitutional Assembly to amend the constitution. It is undisputedly a legitimate process. President Chávez himself spoke of the need to see the constitution as a living work, to be able to be amended in order to face whatever new circumstances may come in future. President Maduro has called for an amendment now, at this time because it is the very last resort towards a peaceful solution to the violence in the streets that to this day the opposition continues to promote.
Amendments are needed because in 1999, Venezuela was not facing the series of dangers it is facing now with a seditionist National Assembly that refuses to legislate to counter these challenges. In 1999, paramilitary forces were not rampant on its western borders, there was no terrorism on the streets causing horrific killings of innocent people, there was no economic and financial war against the economy, a post-oil economy was not seriously contemplated, government employees were not being targeted and assassinated, opposition mayors and governors were not harboring street violence, the Attorney General was not actively supporting impunity of crimes, there was no blatant abuse of parliamentary immunity, with officials openly asking foreign powers for their intervention to overthrow the government, there was scant attention to the environmental and climate dangers of the country and the Planet. These have now become serious issues pertaining to the security of the State.
The representatives to the Constitutional Assembly will be elected on July 30 by a direct and secret vote that has electronic, paper and digital safeguards against fraud. Former US president and Nobel Prize winner, Jimmy Carter declared this electoral process as: “the best in the world.” The opposition propaganda machine is spreading absurd rumors that the amendments will “make Maduro president for life” and “eliminate elections forever”. These are blatant lies. It will deliberate nine specific areas:
* Mechanisms for peace: to counter those who carry out violence, reaffirm mechanisms for justice
* Promote a new post-petroleum economy that is productive, diversified, a safeguard against economic war
* Enshrine anti-poverty programs (“misiones”) securing the state’s social investment
* Revise the justice, security and protection system, promote a preventative and investigative police system and penitential system, a stronger penal code against rape, kidnapping and homicide, strengthen the fight against terrorism, paramilitaries, narco-traffic and impunity
* Promote further participatory democracy by strengthening communal councils and communes
* Promote a sovereign foreign policy to defend the integrity of Venezuela
* Promote the new Venezuelan identity and spirituality based on pluri-cultural and diversity of the people, art and culture
* Guarantee the future for youth, their social rights: cultural, educational, and labour
* Counter climate change and protect the environmental conditions of life in the Planet.
The biggest challenge to Venezuela is that powerful international forces could back the opposition with paramilitary groups to overthrow the government. Big Oil lobbys the USA and its allies because they want to solely control the largest oil reserve in the planet that lies in Venezuela. THAT IS THE CORE OF THE VICIOUS INTERNATIONAL ANTAGONISM AGAINST VENEZUELA: THEY WANT ITS OIL. With a former CEO of Exxon Mobil at the head of the US State Department, the danger to Venezuela became greatly magnified. The wealthy upper classes of Venezuela are playing the role they have always historically played since Independence: being the lackeys of whatever world power is dominant. Their country is money and they want to control the oil revenue that flows to the state. When they ruled Venezuela during 40 years, the equivalent of 15 Marshal Plans disappeared into their pockets.
The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela has three key strengths:
* As long as the government is defending the people, their human rights, sovereignty, participation in democracy and promoting equality and social justice, it will have their support.
* President Chávez transformed the armed forces – no longer is their main function a repressive one but as defender of the people and Constitution with their identity set as heirs of Bolívar’s liberation army.
* Venezuela has amply proven to be a real Good Neighbour with ALBA, Petrocaribe, Telesur, UNASUR and CELAC. It is organically linked to its region and its fate has a powerful impact on Latin America and the Caribbean. It has developed close relations with Russia, China, India, Africa and parts of Europe: it is no longer a backwater country. The USA may have undisputable military might, but any direct attack on Venezuela would create significant international and internal domestic strife for the USA.
The opposition itself cannot overthrow the government without strong support of the majority, without backing of the Armed Forces and without international help. That is the sane, rational view. However, the USA Empire has a dangerously ignorant and erratic president at its helm who could take the insane path of arming the opposition to provoke a full scale civil war, possibly with Colombian troops. My prediction is that such an evil adventure, while painful, will ultimately fail. The Spanish Empire also consistently underestimated the resiliency and resolve of the Venezuelan people – not for nothing they are called “el bravo pueblo”.
| Soros’ Sorrows
Jul 21st 2017, 08:49, by Uri Avnery
George Soros, the American multi-billionaire, is causing Binyamin Netanyahu a lot of trouble.
At this particular moment, Netanyahu does not need any more trouble. A huge corruption affair, concerning German-built submarines, is rolling slowly and inexorably towards him.
Soros is a Hungarian Jew, a Holocaust survivor. The Hungarian governing party plastered his face all over Budapest with a text that barely hid its anti-Semitic intent. Soros’ sin is his support for human rights associations in his former homeland. He does the same in Israel, though on a much smaller scale. So Netanyahu does not like him either.
This has created an awkward situation. Netanyahu was about to visit Budapest to meet his Hungarian opposite number Victor Orban, who is suspected of being a mild anti-Semite. Netanyahu considers him a right-wing soul-mate.
The Hungarian Jewish community was upset. They demanded that Netanyahu postpone his visit until the Soros posters were removed.
Eventually most – but not all – of the posters were indeed taken down, and Netanyahu met with Orban. But the entire episode showed that the interests of the State of Israel and the interests of Jewish communities around the world are not automatically identical, as Zionists would have us believe.
There was another incident prior to the Hungarian meeting. A few days earlier, at a public event, Orban had lauded Admiral Miklos Horthy, the head of the Hungarian state during World War II, when Hungary cooperated with Nazi Germany like all of Eastern Europe (except Poland, which was occupied).
So how could Orban laud Horthy on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit?
As a matter of fact, Horthy’s role is still hotly debated. A self-declared anti-Semite and enigmatic person, he succeeded where no other European leader did: he saved many hundreds of thousands of Jews by disobeying and cheating Hitler.
One of them was an aunt of mine, who married a Hungarian Jew in Berlin and was deported by the Nazis to Hungary, where she survived, eventually reaching Palestine. Another was “Tommy” Lapid, a child in Budapest who became a famous personality in Israel. His son, Yair, is now a politician who seeks to supplant Netanyahu. He probably would not exist but for Horthy’s devious actions.
I cannot resist interrupting here in order to tell a historical joke.
After Pearl Harbor, Hitler and his entire gang of foreign collaborators declared war on the US. The Hungarian ambassador in Washington was also instructed to submit a declaration of war to the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, who decided to mock him.
“Hungary, Hungary – are you a republic?” he asked.
“No, sir, we are a kingdom.”
“Really? So who is your king?”
“WE don’t have a king, only a regent, Admiral Horthy.”
“An admiral? So you have a big fleet?”
“No, we have no fleet at all, since we have no coastline.” (Horthy became an admiral during World War I, when Hungary was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire which indeed did have a – small – fleet.)
“Curious. A kingdom without a king and an admiral without a fleet. So why do you declare war on us? Do you hate us?”
“No, we hate Romania.”
“So why don’t you declare war on Romania?”
“Impossible! They are our allies!”
Sorry for interrupting myself. Back to Netanyahu.
Just now the Netanyahu government did two things which enraged many Jews throughout the world, and especial in the US.
One concerns the Western Wall (formerly called the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. This is the holiest place of Judaism.
Since I am a pious atheist, holy places don’t speak to me. The more so since the Western Wall is not really a part of the Jewish Temple, reconstructed by King Herod some 2000 years ago, but just a supporting wall of the large artificial mound of earth, on which the Temple stood.
The last time I was there was in 1946. The imposing wall was flanked by a narrow lane, which made it seem even higher. After the 1967 war, the entire Arab neighborhood was leveled to make place for a large piazza. The wall was turned over to the ultra-Orthodox, in return for their votes in the Knesset. Men and women were separated, of course.
With the growth of feminism, this became problematical. In the end, a compromise was found: a small part of the wall was set aside for “mixed” prayers of men and women, and also for “Reform” and “Conservative” Jews, who hardly exist in Israel, but constitute the majority among American Jews.
Now, under Orthodox pressure, Netanyahu wants to revoke this compromise, causing great excitement among American Jews.
As if this was not enough, Netanyahu also wants to withdraw the recognition of “Reform” and “Conservative” conversions to Judaism, giving the Orthodox exclusive rights to perform conversions in Israel.
Since there is no separation between state and religion in Israel, a simple law suffices. Indeed, Israeli institutions are becoming more and more religious, so much so, that a new Hebrew word, Hadata (roughly “religiosifiation”), has been invented.
The “Reform” and “Conservative” Jewish institutions in the US do not care about the occupation, about the brutal repression of the Palestinians, about the daily killings. They support the Israeli government through thick and thin. But they care very much about the Wall and about conversions. Like Ivanka Trump, non-Jews often convert in order to marry Jews, so this is an important business.
It all seems like an inherent contradiction, and indeed it is.
Israel is defined officially and legally as a “Jewish and Democratic State”. A new law is about to strike the “Democratic” from the formula, and leave Israel only as a “Jewish State”. It is seen by many as the headquarters of the world Jewish people. Netanyahu has often declared that he considers himself the leader and defender of all the Jews in the world.
If so, can there be a conflict between the interests of the Jews anywhere and the State of Israel?
There can and there has been from the very beginning. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and a Hungarian Jew, had discussions with the anti-Semitic leaders of Czarist Russia and elsewhere, promising to help rid them of their Jews and take them to Palestine. This common interest underlay many curious alliances at various times.
Anti-Semites always preferred the Zionists. Adolf Eichmann wrote in his confession that he saw the Zionists as the “valuable element” of the Jewish people. And so on.
Abraham Stern, called Ya’ir, an underground leader in British Palestine, split from the Irgun and founded a new group (called the “Stern Gang” by the British) whose main policy plank was to cooperate with Nazi Germany against the British, on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. He sent emissaries to German embassies but was ignored by Hitler. Eventually he was shot by the British.
In the first Years of Israel, when David Ben-Gurion first visited the US as Prime Minister of Israel, he was admonished by his aides not to bring up the subject of immigration, so as not to irritate the US Jews whose money was needed desperately. Ben-Gurion demurred, but did what they said.
At the time, a friend of mine wrote a humorous piece about a community of hugely rich Jews in a remote part of Africa, who owned all the diamond mines in their country. When Israel needed money to buy flour for next month’s bread, the most talented Zionist propagandist was sent there. Knowing the desperate situation of his country, the man gave the most passionate speech of his life. At the end, no eye in the hall remained dry.
The next day the speaker got a message: we were so moved that we decided to turn all our property over to the natives and come to Israel as pioneers.
The declared aim of Zionism is to bring all the world’s Jews to Israel. Herzl himself believed that this would indeed happen, and in one passage he wrote that, once most of the Jews had come to the Jewish state, only they would henceforth be called Jews. All the Jews who chose not to come would cease to be called Jews and be just Germans, Americans and so on.
Wonderful, but if that happens, who will compel Donald Trump and his successors to veto all UN resolutions critical of Israel? Who will be left to fight against the movements – like BDS – that preach a boycott of Israel?
Well, life is full of contradictions. As are we.
Netanyahu’s Hungarian adventures were not over with the Soros and Horthy affairs. Far from it.
While in Budapest, he took part in a closed meeting with the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Some fool forgot to cut the line to the Journalists outside, and so they could listen in to some 20 minutes of Netanyahu’s secret speech.
To his East European soul mates, extreme right-wing semi-democrats all, our Prime Minister poured out his heart: the liberal West European governments are “crazy” when they impose conditions regarding human rights on their aid to Israel. They are committing suicide by letting in masses of Muslims. They don’t realize that Israel is their last bulwark against this Muslim invasion.
In the Bible of Zionism, “Der Judenstaat”, Theodor Herzl wrote: “For Europe we would constitute (in Palestine) a section of the wall against Asia, serving as an outpost of civilization against barbarism“.
These lines were written 121 years ago, at the height of the colonial era. Repeating them today is, to use Netanyahu’s word, “crazy”.
When Netanyahu and Orban fight against Soros about human rights, Soros is bound to win.
| The Mythos Meme of Choice
Jul 21st 2017, 08:49, by Joseph Natoli
“Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
— Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah
“Obamacare will be replaced with something that actually works — bringing freedom and individual responsibility back to American health care.”
— Vice President Mike Pence
The personal choice mythos meme goes something like this: choice is an expression of personal freedom; the more choices you have, the freer you are; free markets expand an existential sense of freedom and therefore should expand into all human enterprises.
This is a powerful calculus, one whose impact is more that of a mythos than an unassailable logic. In Christianity, Eden, The Fall, and a Redeeming of the opportunity to return to Eden has a similar mythos logic, as does the dialectical movement to a stateless, classless, propertyless Communism, or on a more ludic plane, tax cuts to the wealthy “raises all boats,” even if the price of your boat was transferred to the rich so they can buy a bigger yacht.
Such mythos involves embarrassing blindness. For instance, an exercising of personal choice’s ties to free market principles ties it also to an “any means necessary” competition for profit. The Federal government is at once an obstruction, a regulator and prosecutor, while profit becomes a justifiable end for any enterprise. And of course, the problem with profit or surplus capital distribution as we have seen since the Reagan administration is that it extends to dividends but not wages. Whatever leverage wage earners had in the past is now a thing of the past.
There is nothing like being unemployed to obstruct your personal choices, the causes for which seem not to be traced by many to the mythos meme of choice magically connected to free markets.
The difficulty Republican are having with replacing the Affordable Care Act lies certainly in how tightly the membership is attached to “Let Markets Rule!” meme. If the ACA had not opened the door to health insurance coverage to millions, a door previously closed when the market ruled, Republicans could legislate an easy return to that rule. However, as the media informs us daily, that would not be an easy return for those newly covered by the ACA and those subvented by Medicaid, whose presence the media keeps alive, thus setting Republicans up for a charge of “meanness,” one launched by their own ruler, President Trump.
What can we take from the President’s health care tweets and his campaign promises? His involvement thus far tells us that he does not want his followers to tie him to such Congressional “meanness. At the same time health care is not a cash cow he wants to pull away, in any way, from that profiteering power block in the Republican Party, those who could launch an impeachment process.
When dealing with a president who is monetizing the office, it is a mistake to assume his own empire will not try to stick its beak, to us a Godfather expression, in a full blown market driven health care. Wage earners may have lost leverage but the Trump Empire has not.
Right now, both President and Congress have the same need: the former for an exit from and covering up of his Russian entanglements and the latter for an exit from the enfranchisements of the ACA, a return to the “good old days” of profiteering, and a cover up of the “meanness” resulting.
In both cases, the media shadows and plagues such efforts, thus providing us with cause as to the day by day assaults on the most exposing investigations of the legacy press. Detouring investigations that may expose the embarrassing and perhaps the unlawful is a mission of the Trump regime. Killing the messenger seems to be a logic that has caught on. Many are discarding any trust in the Fourth Estate because they link it to “Administrative efforts” to take power from The People and pass those on to Big Government, which is in the hands of Coastal Elites.
I could throw out the baby with the bath water and reject all of this as illusionary but I do not because we now live in a 20% democracy, which is code for a plutarchy. And within this plutarchy, economic losers find their personal freedom to choose constrained by a great deal to which their illusions of self-empowerment are blind. This blindness does not negate the influential and often determining power of the elite in a plutarchy.
Some of what is “cultural” in an elite’s view, such as political correctness, is infuriating to non-elites mostly because they see it as a constraint upon their personal choosing as to how to represent what they think. What this rebellion has shown us by way of a resurgence of incidents of malice toward others is a societal moral sense weakened by the rush away from society and toward the personal begun in the Reagan-Thatcher years.
Ironically, the same engineers of that politics impose a political correctness as a concealing bandage over the dissolution of a moral sense extending beyond one’s own interests. This decline in a social moral sense is blamed on the media messenger for bringing to our attention the malice toward others into which we have liberated ourselves.
Inequities of any kind are a great restraint and constraint upon both political liberty and existential freedom but in order to effect change the bedrock attachment to the mythos of personal choice needs to be questioned and remodeled. This attachment detaches us from any recuperation of the economics and politics of plutarchy. It is vulnerability that plutarchic forces take advantage of in every instance in which a smart resistance would damage such forces.
We are led into some very self-destructive, both societal and personal, positions regarding everything from health care and privatized education to privatized prisons and privatized warfare. Such positions can be deconstructed on their own terms, but it is the meme of choice that is the ground upon which such positions are spun and won.
The word “choice” does not mean no choice or constrained choice. It just means alternatives, or paths, are available to us. The glass is always full; it is a word like “dead” which does not hold out the choice of being “live.” There is no ambiguity with either word. No one says, “Whatya mean by the word dead?”
With “choice”, it is always “You always have a choice.” That is a mythos but an enduring one, hence also an American cultural meme.
There is no maybe you have a choice, or on such and such an occasion you have a narrow path of choice on an Interstate of constraint. Regardless of how narrow that path of choice is, maybe a tiny alley, you focus on the choice, not the wall of constraints keeping you from choosing or shaping you to choose in a certain way. But when the misfortunes pile up, you look for an escape from the burden of the freedom of your own choices. A search is made beyond cultural forces lying outside a personal empowerment. We find our “destiny.”
“Destiny” is just a bullshit word. (I use “bullshit” in the philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s usage: the bullshitter wants to persuade, mindless of what is true or false; the liar has to know what the truth really is in order to lie). You can choose your own destiny, which makes those eight men who have as much wealth as half the planet’s population feel very good. The half of the world’s population that lives on less than $2.50 a day faces the biggest obstacle to choice: “If you can’t afford it, not buying it is hardly a choice.”
This demographic also have to swallow the fact that they chose that miserable destiny. And, as Rep. Jason Chaffetz reminds us, you too can have health care if you did not choose to spend the money on an iPhone. The ubiquitous presence of Smart phones is like the ubiquitous presence of opiods and heroin. It is the nature of addictions to close down choice. You might say there are significant constraints on everyone’s freedom to choose, most especially the so-called Losers when it comes to addictions.
There is certainly a valuing that fashions our choices. We might value our bottle of fentanyl but that valuing does not mean we have chosen our addiction. Choice doesn’t materialize out of our valuing nor does choosing to have what you value automatically bring it to you, even though a 150K copies a week of The Secret announcing this particular bullshit were once being sold.
It seems that the secret to break free of any obstacles to our freedom to choose always presumes the existence of that freedom, that is, we choose to believe we are free to choose. We can do anything by this logic. We can break free of our karma, which is no more than a sum total, always being added to, of our responses to events, whether chosen or determined, by choosing to act differently to what we are karmically inclined to do. In short, we can choose to be what we are in no way now able to comprehend, feel, or conceive.
You can be you and not you at all at the moment you choose not to be you.
We even extend our choosing freedom to a “lucid” dreaming in which we can supposedly narrate and control what appears in dream. It appears in dream because consciousness cannot narrate and control it. If it could, we would not be dreaming but awake and thinking.
It seems that we cannot allow any constraints on any level to inhibit our choice mythos.
The whole Christian idea of salvation and damnation is upended or at least problematized if we admit deterrents to our freedom to choose, a situation already plaguing our legal system, which seems to be facing a steady flow of crime by the deranged. CNN reports: “Six of the eight men Arkansas planned to execute over 11 days this month are not mentally fit.” 4/2017 I hesitate to mention “the brainwashed,” religious zealots now bringing to us a kind of warfare that confounds our “rational choice” theories.
“Fate” is more of a bullshit word than “destiny” but it does provide a way out if you do not want to think you were always free to choose your own destiny and you blew it. Fate trumps karma and is thus, oddly enough, a kind of escape from karma into Fate, from which you cannot escape. Fate is a kind of universal cleanser. You can now say, when accused: “Dude, it’s Fate.”
So, “choice” is an unshakeable mythos meme that reaches widely and deeply into our cultural psyche to the point that we invent all manner of nonsense to keep it isolated from what clearly negates it. Such sophistry gets by because choice is a magical abracadabra word opening the gates of the American mass psyche and marching right in, along with whatever is riding on the word’s tails.
If you have choice, you have freedom; the more choices you have (best to multi-task here and opinionate and shop till you drop), the more free you are. So, “freedom” rides in at once on the word “choice” and because choice is personal choice, it is individual, personal freedom that is sacred.
You are not responsible for finding freedom for other people. They can find their own through their own personal choices, regardless of the fact that your choices, especially if you are elite, are obstructing their choices. But Liberals do not advocate a “tough love” regarding others and indeed make an extending individual liberty to whichever new marginalized minority appears on the scene the centerpiece of their politics.
This is no way attractive to Republicans who keep issues of choice, liberty, and freedom on a personal rather than legislative level. If you begin to connect your personal choices with their effects on society, you begin to think about the well-being of society and then the health and well being of people without health insurance and then onward to the health and well-being of the planet and other creatures on the planet. . And then you wind up a socialist.
This is not only Republican orthodoxy that government is always curtailing The People’s freedom to choose but it is an orthodoxy of The People themselves who respond to the words “freedom to choose” in the Pavlovian way that only a fully indoctrinated meme can create.
What is deliberately confused here is an existential sense of freedom with a political extension of liberty because freedom and the choices that lead to it must be kept on a personal level.
The meme instructs us that the burden of accomplishment and the determination of personal responsibility are matters of personal choice, not governmental entitlement or regulation. Bureaucracy wants to intervene in this relationship, relegating personal choice to the government, and thereby restricting personal freedom within societal and governmental boundaries. This is, in essence, the socialist mission, a mission that flies in the face of a deep, prereflective American attachment to individual determination, personal choice, and personal freedom.
And yet is a socialist and Heisenberg the only ones thoughtful about surrounding, perhaps determinant conditions we are thrown into before given any choices at all?
The law is a big obstacle to our freedom to choose. I cannot choose to kill someone, or rob their yacht and go on a cruise, or hack into their portfolio and empty it, or plagiarize, or lie under oath, or bear false witness, or covet my neighbor’s wife or his goods. And so on. Our freedom and choice runs into walls that are culturally constructed (in the Raymond Williams’s sense of culture as a whole way of life) in so far as every law is grounded in culturally established notions of legal and illegal.
Why then is it not possible that cultural conditions are always present establishing boundaries and prohibitions against our freedom?
Why is it impossible to discern that a society in which wealth and the power it obtains are severely divided are not propounding a discourse, enacting a practice and establishing institutions that defend and curate that divide?
Republicans want to return health care insurance to a totally market based system, which is what we had before Obamacare. The Libertarian faithful like Rand Paul are candid about this while most others are politic, realizing that it is difficult to pull their affected constituents back from security to insecurity. Most will be too poor to afford the beneficence of that return to market rule.
The mythos meme of choice kicks in here to point out that a return to the freedom that the market offers will replace “moral hazard” with a “will to win,” in this case “seeing what you need and buying what you want,” as Paul Ryan, another Randian tells us.
Ironically, it is not the poor who relish the challenge of misfortune as opportunities to assert their genius but those who “have made it.”
With the Winners, smart personal choices are always involved and the play of chance and favorable surrounding conditions from birth onward are never mentioned. Misfortune is always an opportunity to distinguish oneself from those who Trump said, “don’t have it.”
The crises that break the poor are for moguls always a suddenly appearing opportunity, perhaps a new marketing frontier like war or education. Everything from a robotic replacement of wage earners to global warming is thus welcomed marketing frontiers. One is not positioned so fortunately by arrangements, a causal chain, difficult to map but always fortunate by personal choice.
We know, however, that conditions slowly or immediately creating immiseration do not open the doors and windows of choice for us but box us in, limit not only what we can do but what we can think about doing. The limitations on our thinking, how smart we are, are always tied up with what is outside ourselves, what priorities and values already privileged and operating upon us in our cultural surround.
FDR affirmed the connections between democracy, choice, intelligence and education: Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.
If we are not educated so as to recognize circumstances both inhibiting choice and allowing it as well as causes of its absence, our “intelligence” is manufactured toward ends that cannot be considered personal.
If we are blind to the conditions within which we are entangled, we have nothing to do with safeguarding either the integrity of our own being or that of a political order that might best nurture such integrity. We are then not choosing but already chosen, not in a sacred mission but ensnared within the mission of profit alone.
| High Confidence and Low Methods
Jul 21st 2017, 08:48, by Clark T. Scott
From the earliest European immigration into North America of the 17th Century, there has been a consistent attitude of, and belief in, the necessity of taking over lands from the people who were already living on those lands. This ideology was largely driven by a belief on the part of the dominating newcomers that the inhabitants who were already living there were lacking in the grace of god. The fact that the abundant resources in these lands were not being devoured as a source of private dominion and a defining proof of blessedness and devotion was mainly used as a justification for the newcomers to remove the indigenous people and to plunder the resources for personal advantage. In short, the indigenous people were believed to be undeserving and were believed to be obviously lacking in character because they did not consume resources the way some god intended. The accumulation of money from consumption of resources was the measure of blessedness and of character.
Many people claim this is part of the “protestant work ethic,”but this belief and behavior is in no means limited to protestants or even Christians. In fact, this behavior is expressed in pretty much all religions and nationalities which are human-made.
With the creation of the so-called United States of America, and especially with the early implementation of what is called the Monroe Doctrine, the fundamental religiosity of taking over any other lands for private profits as a god-given right of the new exceptional nation’s citizens was resolutely put forward as the epitome of justice. It quickly became obvious that there are “citizens” and then there are “Citizens.” Early on, privilege also entailed some degree of social responsibility, but in recent times that notion has become increasingly antithetical.
As the so-called USA had struggled for economic control of itself, so it used economic benefits as its most precious reason and justification for intervening regionally and globally with increasing militarism and frequency throughout the passing Centuries. The supposed god-given right to take whatever resources were necessary at any given time to maintain economic domination became the highest form of justice and of dogma. The irony, if such a thing is possible with such craven behavior, is that this is exactly the same kind of religiosity which was the basis of the perverse belief in the Divine Right of Kings, which had been part of the stimulus for so many people for leaving Europe and elsewhere.
Now we find ourselves inundated with messages about how the Russians have intervened or “manipulated” one arm of the corporately controlled electoral pretenses. We cannot demand proof of these allegations because that would be an attack on our very own “security.” Besides, the reason the allegations must be accepted as if true is because the actions supposedly taken by the Russians are exactly the same sort of actions which have been central to the expansion of the god-given riches and power of the so-called USA from even before its beginning. Just as in their foreign pasts, misrepresentation and schemes of aggression became vital associations with their economic religiosity. No one has used these sorts of subversive devious scheming more in recent times than have the people who, once again, are claiming that they have been victimized and basing their claims on “high confidence” without providing any real proof to back it up. This supposed scheming is typical of the preferred method of overthrowing and eliminating those who are not cooperating in what is believed to be god’s most exceptional agenda. That is why this latest version of accusational hysteria cannot be misguidedly delusional. It must be believed to be true of the Russians and others because it has certainly been a primary method of operating for the people making the accusations and has always worked like a blood-soaked charm for the agenda of the exceptionally devout.
It is also very telling that when the US Senate recently reinvigorated its economic war of aggression through more sanctions against Iran that it included more of its aggressive sanctions against Russia. With a vote of 98 to 2 on what is called the ” Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities act of 2017″ (S. 722) , the uni-party of the exceptional (which pretends to be two parties) again did what it could to transfer its own malfeasance on to those nations and people who have been the significant recipients of that very malfeasance for many decades. The two dissenting votes were from Rand Paul – who didn’t think the bill was much more than a little slap and therefore not deserving of his virtuousness (so to speak) -and from Bernie Sanders – who (as a pretending “independent” even after seeking the Democrat pulpit of delusions and swearing to support that scheme as he always has) supported the war of sanctions against Russia, but needed to vote against the bill in an effort to prove his devotion to the devious, baseless “deal with” Iran which is a crowning achievement of the Obama corporate driven pretense, even though it was a one-sided “deal” which was forced upon Iran by privatizing corporate predators. Accusations of others’ malfeasance are seen as the best way to cover over your own real malfeasance.
This is all a reflection of what has been for Centuries the real constitution of what is called the USA. Undermine, misrepresent, accuse, manipulate, and take whatever resources are possible to reinforce the belief that the laws of the world are driven by a god-given right to and duty of economic domination and the best way to achieve the holy grace of domination is through covering the lust for money with the allure of a salvation from what are the inevitable consequences of the very actions taken. The constitution they claim that they cherish is now reduced to a marketing gimmick for private profit.
Even if it is true.
Worrying whether or not the Russians or anyone else tried to influence the outcome of an election in the faking U$A is absurdly willfully ignorant when you face the fact that the elections are already rigged by privatizing corporate profiteers who, not only refuse to pay their fair share of taxes, but also use their control of politicians to allow them to keep huge amounts of money overseas as key leverage in their unremitting (pun intended) blackmailing of the rest of us into giving them increased advantages over more of our lives.
There is an underlying contemptuous attitude that clearly insists that the voters are going to make bad decisions if they are exposed to the truth about how the election process is manipulated by the privatizing corporate agents who masquerade as public servants,as if the promoted choices are not already awfully bad. What this attitude reveals is that the belief in the necessity of manipulating the voters is seen as a sacred right of corporately controlled insiders who religiously have almost no tolerance for openness or truth. There is no reason to believe that the alternative Clinton presidency and the possibility of a Tim Kaine presidency would not be as bad as a Trump presidency and the likelihood of a Pence presidency, but it is anathema to the uni-partisans that the corruption – which is central to the private profits of republicans and democrats alike – be seen for what it is. If your “democracy” is so vulnerable to being corrupted through the manipulations of an outside party, perhaps it is that way because it is, in itself, already manipulated and controlled by those who work to keep the power outside of the reach of the manipulated/brainwashed voters.
The global expansion of hostilities is continuing and the leadership of both faces of privatizing corporatism in the uni-party are demanding and pledging increased militarism and increased suffering for their victims. The unsubstantiated accusations against Iran and Russia are today’s chief methods of manipulating compliance with the private multinational corporate scheme of private corporate domination through increased militarism and horror.
Whoever hacked the DNC and revealed a glimpse of their knavery and subterfuge is guilty of using a similar sort of technique upon which the power of the private exceptionalists has been built through the Centuries. Sadly, and as is typical, that hacking is now being used to expand the very type of deceit and predatory corruption which it revealed. The “security” of the crushing juggernaut demands more aggression against others because no reflection of the religiously worshiped low methods of operation can be allowed to diminish its power.
War is the preferred method of distracting people from the truth and the congress is again openly uniting to aggressively push for more war based upon hypocrisy and its predictable traditional low methods of domination.
Is the faking U$A going to sanction itself for all of its documented international criminality?
Such an absurd question and yet, it is just as likely as the ridiculous idea that the militant religiosity of the corporate uni-party of two names will be the source of peace and justice for its ever-growing list of victims, both inside and outside of its fake borders. The only possible way to stop this corruption is for more and more people to stop supporting both the Democrats and the Republicans and their “exceptional” deluded predatory hypocrisy.
None of them can be trusted. They are pathetic members of a most common cult which promotes private avarice and domination and sees equal justice FOR ALL as if it is unrealistic and expendable. They are incapable of good governance.
| Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Jul 21st 2017, 08:48, by Missy Comley Beattie
For those of us who see the dead, the children’s bodies washed ashore, charred skin, how are we supposed to feel? What are we to think?
Seriously, for those of us who believe that war is a lie, how are we supposed to feel? What are we to think? Those of us who don’t perceive brown and black people as the enemy, objects, nonhuman. How are we to feel? What are we supposed to think right now?
How should we feel or think when we’ve learned that a man who never met a war he didn’t adore has a malignancy that will consume his brain, that eventually will render him unable to ever again sing, “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boy’s hit “Barbara Ann”?
How should we feel or think about this man with a hideous diagnosis and prognosis who called war protesters “lowlife scum” when they demanded the arrest of war criminal Henry Kissinger?
How should we feel or think when we’ve learned that this man has a virulent form of cancer, a glioblastoma whose tentacles will reach into his central nervous system, causing a range of symptoms like headaches, nausea, drowsiness, blurred vision, personality changes, and seizers?
Should I feel sadness for this man who’s spent his career praising war, promoting his campaign for each next election by stressing his war hero status? This man whose body of work is defined by war, death, bloodlust?
Should I feel sadness for this man who returned from captivity, that stay at the Hanoi Hilton, and divorced the mother of his children, a former swimsuit model, a woman once beautiful but whose height was reduced by four inches after a terrible automobile accident changed her appearance and caused her to gain weight and walk with a limp?
Should I think about this man? Obviously I am. I am thinking about this man, Sen John McCain, and examining my reaction to the news that this old death dealer has a death-dealing disease that would be unbearably painful if he didn’t have access to the finest medical and palliative care his Senate seat provides. Access denied most Americans.
I am thinking about Sen. John McCain. I am thinking about him and exploring what I feel, recalling rumors that George W Bush’s behavior indicated Alzheimer’s. When I heard this, I felt bad for his family. Yes, for the family. They love him. But then I consider what it means to love a war criminal. What it means to love someone who is the Grim Reaper, who loves to kill, to maim, to devastate cultures, countries, and I say, “This brain cancer is a metaphor, a metaphor for his life.”
| Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Jul 21st 2017, 08:48, by Ann Garrison
At last year’s Green Party Convention in Houston, Cheri Honkala, founder of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, gave a workshop on organizing frontline communities. She began with a video of the devastated, post-industrial landscape of Kensington, her Philadelphia neighborhood. Walking through its streets, she pointed at its employment opportunities: “Wendy’s. McDonald’s. Taco Bell. Liquor store. And oh yeah, here’s Fix-A-Flat. This is our industrial base now.”
She said that she had been involved in over 200 abandoned-building occupations, claiming them for housing. She had helped set up homeless encampments and helped get people fed. She had been arrested at least 200 times.
We had this conversation after the workshop:
Ann Garrison: I was confused by the difference between Green Party organizing and housing rights organizing, and how they need to come together.
Cheri Honkala: I think we have to take a page out of history and look back on the organizing efforts of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party talked about the need to build a political party, but at the same time they were doing things like breakfast programs, trying to figure out how to feed people, how to keep people alive, doing Copwatch, you name it. And I think that now is the time to do a similar kind of thing.
The nonprofit industrial complex has set up fake silos that divide and divert people’s energy away from organizing to gain political power. And they do that because many of the nonprofits receive a lot of soft money from the Democratic Party, so they don’t organize people to gain what they really need, which is political power.
We don’t need bigger and better welfare programs, social services, these kinds of things. In our country it’s not a question of scarcity. It’s a question of greed. There’s plenty to go around, and if we develop the political will, the organization, and the political independence, we can house everybody, we can feed everybody, we can provide the best education. We could solve everything if we wanted to. So we refuse to agree to this concept that there’s not enough to go around, and our job going forward is engaging in a real fight for freedom and democracy and economic human rights. And that also means making sure that we keep our brothers and sisters alive while we build this political independence.
AG: When Jill Stein was talking to someone recently she said that Greens are involved in the social movements, but they’re not there opportunistically, just to wave their banner and recruit for the Green Party. What do you think about that?
CH: Well, I’m not quite sure what Jill meant by that, but for frontline communities, it’s not opportunistic to build for political independence. The Democrats and Republicans make the laws in this country, and we in the frontline communities remain oppressed and hungry and homeless as a result. It’s time to move on. And I think that maybe what Jill was trying to say was that Greens actually care about these issues and that many Greens come from these social movements. And I think that when we couple social movements with a political party, then we can really give birth to political independence.
Challenging election theft in Pennsylvania’s District 197
Months after the Green Party Convention, Honkala entered the race to represent Philadelphia’s State House District 197, the poorest in Pennsylvania. Its demographics are 76% Black and 20% White, with tiny LatinX, Asian, mixed race, and “other” percentages. Honkala’s own mother was Cheyenne, her father Finnish.
She ran in a special election held to replace Democrat Leslie Acosta, who pled guilty to money laundering, a federal felony, in March 2016. Acosta didn’t resign until January 2017 after her fellow Philadelphia legislators insisted. On a comic note, Rep. Ed Neilson, D.-Philadelphia, told Acosta she wasn’t welcome and that for all he knew, she was “wired up” to gain more favor with prosecutors before sentencing. Neilson later told the press that, “It’s in the back of plenty of people’s heads,” and “it just came out of my mouth in the heat of the moment.”
Republican Lucinda Little was the only candidate who managed to secure a place on the ballot, but in a 95% Democratic district, she had little chance. Democrat Freddie Ramirez was removed from the ballot via residency challenge, and Democratic Party officials then nominated Emilio Vazquez, a little known parking authority official. However, they did so past the filing deadline, and a Pennsylvania State Court judge rejected efforts to see Vazquez added to the ballot. The same judge denied Honkala a spot on the ballot, saying her nomination petition was submitted a day past the deadline. But Richard Winger of Ballot Access News wrote that the judge did not rule in accordance with the law: “Because the Green Party polled over 2% of the winning candidate’s vote total in 2016, the law [in Pennsylvania] does not require a petition for a Green Party nominee in special elections, so the deadline only concerned a declaration of candidacy,” which Honakala had submitted on time.
Honkala and Vazquez both pursued write-in campaigns, and Vazquez was declared the winner on March 24 this year.
Last weekend, at the Green Party’s Annual Meeting in Newark, New Jersey, Honkala talked about how the Democrats—not the Russians—had stolen the election from her:
“I learned about what it means to really run for office in a frontline community that’s run by the Democratic Party, also known as the local mob, and it has not a damn thing to do with Russia. And as they’re talking about the Russians stealing the election, I’m watching the fact that they stole my election in the 197 district, and it’s not appearing on any of the progressive media. You’re not hearing about it on the radio shows.
My election should have been a slam dunk. I ran against the local parking authority guy that nobody had a damn idea who the hell he was.
And on election day, the joke was, ‘Cheri, you didn’t get the menu.’ You know what the menu was? How much money it cost each ward leader in order to get you a certain percentage in each of the voting booths.
So, as we went around and saw brothers and sisters being paid in between the housing projects, as we saw them pass out stamps for the Democrat from the seat inside the election booths, as we produced video after video after video of election judges getting paid money to ensure that I was not elected on election day, we made a decision to raise the necessary $7,000, and we’re going to federal court.”
Honkala said that after she declared she’d see the Democrats in federal court, her tires were slashed, her life was threatened, and her belongings were thrown in a dumpster while she attempted to move them into storage. She and her son Guillermo were evicted from public housing and became homeless again for the first time since escaping homelessness and becoming a homeless advocate herself. She also said that this affected far more people than her own family:
“And people know that when I talk about me being homeless again in my life, we’re not just talking about me. We’re talking of anywhere up to 22 people at any given time that reside in my house. And so now some of those people are having to sleep in cars. I can’t take any of the kids in from the city, because right now I’m hiding in plain sight waiting to go to federal court. And yet I turn on the television and have to hear about Russia.”
She said the head of the local Democratic Party called her and said, “Cheri, this could’ve been a shoo-in. If you had just decided to be a Democrat, you could’ve been state rep right now.” A Pennsylvania state rep makes $84,000/yr., plus $157/day per diem when the legislature is in session, which would probably go a long way in the 197, but Cheri demonstrated her commitment to the Green Party by running as a Green.
At the Green Party Annual Meeting, she said:
“It’s time for us to wake up, to realize that we really are at war, and that if we’re serious about having people of color and frontline communities in this party, it’s gonna take more than caucuses. It’s gonna take more than conversations. It’s gonna take investing in frontline community elections to ensure the uplifting of lives like those of the 55,000 people of the 197.”
Amen. To donate to the residential community center that Cheri is attempting to create for herself, her son, and her neighbors, click on Human Rights House. To donate to the election fraud lawsuit that she and the Pennsylvania Greens have filed in federal court, click on Cheri for the 197th.
| What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Jul 21st 2017, 08:47, by Ted Rall
For a cartoonist, I turned out to be a fairly decent lawyer. But I didn’t want to represent myself. It took two vicious lawyers to force me to put me in that position.
One of those lawyers was mine.
I’m suing the Times because they repeatedly, knowingly and intentionally defamed me after firing me as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, a thin-skinned pol I’d criticized in my editorial cartoons. The paper responded by turning California’s “anti-SLAPP” law, designed to protect people like me against corporations like the Times and its parent company Tronc, on its head; this $400 million corporation is accusing me — a five-figure income cartoonist — of oppressing its First Amendment rights by using my vast wealth to intimidate them.
Before my case is allowed to begin in earnest, anti-SLAPP requires a plaintiff (me) to convince a judge that, if everything I allege in my lawsuit turns out to be true, I’d likely win before a trial jury. But anti-SLAPP is as confusing as French grammar, so many judges interpret the law much more harshly than it’s actually written.
All the lawyers I talked to told me that I’d almost certainly win at trial if my case survived anti-SLAPP and made it to a jury. Ironically, getting past anti-SLAPP would be our toughest challenge.
The lawyer who took my case agreed with this assessment. But when oral arguments for the first of the Times’ three anti-SLAPPs against me took place on June 21st in LA Superior Court, his firm inexplicably assigned a junior associate, Class of 2013, to take on Kelli Sager.
Kelli Sager, who represents the Times, is a high-powered attorney with more than three decades of courtroom experience, a senior partner at Davis Tremaine Wright, an international law firm that represents giant corporations.
I liked my junior associate. She’s smart and may someday become a great lawyer. But she was no match for a shark like Kelli Sager. Sager talked over her. My lawyer let Sager get away with one brazen lie after another, either too unprepared or timid to respond. She couldn’t even answer the judge’s simple question to walk him through what happened to prompt my lawsuit.
It was a rout. Sager was eloquent and aggressive. My lawyer couldn’t begin to articulate my case, much less sway the judge. I lost that round.
Determined not to lose the all-important important hearing number two, against the Times and Tronc, I asked my law firm to meet for a strategy session. Bafflingly, they refused to confer or to send a more senior litigator to the next one. Another defeat was guaranteed.
Then my firm fired me — days before that key anti-SLAPP hearing. I had no idea that was even a thing, that that could happen.
I swear — it wasn’t me. I was professional and polite every step of the way. I have no idea why they left me hanging.
Normally in such situations, legal experts told me, the court grants a “continuance,” legalese for a delay, to give me time to look for a new attorney and allow him or her to familiarize themselves with the case. But it helps a lot if the opposing side says they’re OK with it.
A continuance is typically freely granted, even during the most ferocious legal battles. After all, you might the one with a family emergency or whatever next time.
But Kelli Sager smelled blood. Figuring I’d be easier to defeat without legal representation, she fought ferociously against my requests for a continuance. Thus came about the following absurdity:
I found a new lawyer. But he needed a few weeks to get up to speed. True to her standard scorched-earth approach to litigation, Sager refused to grant me the courtesy of a continuance. So I was forced to rep myself in pro per (that’s what they call pro se in California) on July 14th.
My heart was pounding as I approached the plaintiff’s table, standing parallel to Sager. And I’m an experienced speaker! I’ve held my own on FoxNews. I’ve spoken to audiences of hundreds of people. I’ve hosted talk-radio shows. Yet dropping dead of a heart attack felt like a real possibility. I can’t imagine what this would feel like for someone unaccustomed to arguing in public.
The judge asked me to proceed. I nervously worked from prepared notes, explaining why my case wasn’t a “SLAPP” (a frivolous lawsuit I didn’t intend to win, filed just to harass the Times), that the anti-SLAPP law didn’t apply. I attacked the Times’ argument that their libelous articles were “privileged” (allowed) under anti-SLAPP because they were merely “reporting” on “official police records” about my 2001 jaywalking arrest.
If they’d been “reporting,” the articles would have had to follow the Times’ Ethical Guidelines, which ban anonymous sources, require careful analysis of evidence and calling subjects of criticism for comment. They didn’t come close. These weren’t news stories or even opinion pieces; they were hit jobs.
I explained that the records weren’t official at all, the LAPD denied releasing Beck’s unprovenanced audio, which differed from the official one at LAPD HQ. Much of the discussion was about legal minutiae rather than the broad strokes of what my case is about: I wrote a blog for latimes.com, the Times edited it and posted it, Chief Beck gave the Times a blank audio they said showed I’d lied about what I wrote, I had the audio cleaned up and it showed I’d told the truth, rather than issue a retraction when they found out they were wrong the Times refused to change their behavior and continued to insist I’d lied.
There’s also the big picture: if a newspaper’s parent company sells its stock to the police, and that newspaper’s publisher is a crony of the police chief who accepts awards from the police union, how can readers trust that newspaper not to suppress criticism of the police? Do Black Lives really Matter if investigations of police brutality don’t always make it to print, if writers and cartoonists have learned they can get fired and libeled if they annoy the cops?
I will soon receive a transcript of the hearing. I will post it at Rall.com.
Sager’s counterargument boiled down to: newspapers can publish anything they want, even lies, because the First Amendment protects free speech — as if libel and defamation law don’t exist.
Her defense for the Times was not that I lied. The audio makes clear that I didn’t. Her defense, the defense for a newspaper, was that the truth doesn’t matter.
Arguments ran over two hours.
On June 21st the judge ruled against my erstwhile lawyer directly from the bench.
On July 14th, I at least gave the judge something to think about. He took the matter “under consideration.”
I await his decision.
| Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Jul 21st 2017, 08:47, by Colin Todhunter
“Our soils are sick from greed-based, irresponsible agricultural practices, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, erosion and mineral depletion, all of which stop or reduce adequate microbial activity in the soil, rendering them sick and/or dead and sterile. Sick soils make for sick plants and sick plants make for sick humans and animals.” Scott Tips, president of the National Health Federation, Crashing Monsanto’s Pesticide Party in Beijing
In the area of food and agriculture, you may be aware of various reports and discussions about GMOs, pesticides and organics. You might also know about the power, influence, crimes and shameful lobbying practices of transnational agribusiness companies like Monsanto. And you might have also discovered what (GMO) chemical-intensive agriculture is doing to soils, rivers, biodiversity, human health and crops.
It’s all been well documented. But what you might find little mention of is Codex Alimentarius (Latin for ‘food code’), a collection of international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice that are supposed to contribute to the safety, quality and fairness of international food trade.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is based in Rome and was created in 1963. An international organization jointly run by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), it has 27 different committees. Codex’s published goals are to develop and adopt uniform food standards for its member countries and to promote the free and unhindered international flow of food goods, thereby eliminating trade barriers to food and providing food safety.
Biotechnology, pesticides, food additives and contaminants are some of the issues discussed in Codex meetings. The FAO says: “Codex standards are based on the best available science assisted by independent international risk assessment bodies or ad-hoc consultations organized by FAO and WHO.”
Although Codex offers recommendations for voluntary application by members, Codex standards serve in many cases as a basis for national legislation. The reference made to Codex food safety standards in the WTO’s Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures (SPS Agreement) means that Codex has far reaching implications for resolving trade disputes. WTO members that wish to apply stricter food safety measures than those set by Codex may be required to justify these measures scientifically.
Codex began in 1963 and seemingly got off on the right foot in terms of having some good intentions. However, consider that, among other things, Codex decides on minimum food residue levels for pesticides, allowable amounts of aluminum, lead and arsenic in food and which substances or products are dangerous. These decisions affect the products and markets of huge corporations that have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
Do you think the agrochemical companies, for instance, are going to sit back and do nothing? Or do you think they would, as is usually the case, get together and attempt to lobby away or discredit any potential decision that may affect their bottom line?
The National Health Federation
Established in 1955, the National Health Federation (NHF) is a health freedom organization that works to protect individuals’ rights to choose to consume healthy food, take supplements and use alternative therapies without government restrictions.
With consumer members all over the world and a board of governors and advisory board containing representatives from different countries, it is the only such organization with a seat at Codex Alimentarius. Moreover, it is one of only five consumer groups present at Codex meetings in a room of country and industry delegates whose motivations, according to NHF, “are often at odds with the best interest of the people of the world.”
The NHF has monitored meetings of the Codex Alimentarius Commission since the mid-1990s and has been present at these meetings since 2000. It obtained official Codex-recognised status as an international non-governmental organisation (INGO), which allows it the right to speak out in support of health freedom at these Codex meetings.
By having an official voice at Codex, the NHF can actively shape global policies for food, beverages and nutritional supplements. And by having an accredited seat at Codex, the NHF can submit scientific research and arguments about food standards and guidelines, speak out during the many meetings of delegates and influence the wording of final reports on all meetings that thNHF attends.
Over the last decade, the NHF has worked to keep steroids and dangerous antibiotics out of the global meat and honey supply, to reduce the allowable amounts of aluminum, lead and arsenic in food, to get aspartame declared a dangerous and harmful artificial sweetener and for standardised full-disclosure food labelling. Today, it continues to work against the harmful agendas of big agriculture/pharmaceuticals concerns.
The NHF reflects the widely held belief (based on a good deal of evidence; for example, see this, this, this and this) that a small elite has gained control of governmental agencies, not least the large agribusiness corporations. Attendees at Codex meetings are therefore regulatory bureaucrats who very often are unduly influenced by commercial interests.
Scott Tips, president of the NHF:
“What we see here all too often is that some government agencies are nothing more than regional field agencies for corporate interests.”
Tips contends that the Codex Alimentarius Commission is heavily influenced by the appointments it makes and its infiltration by powerful sectors: food, agricultural, biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
As a result, unhealthy guidelines are being established.
Codex and pesticides
Codex Alimentarius Commission answers to the WHO and FAO. The WTO is the enforcement arm of Codex on issues brought before it. In the absence of a trade dispute, each country that incorporates Codex standards and guidelines into its rules and regulations enforces them. In other words, Codex matters!
During April 2017, The Codex Alimentarius Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR) met in Beijing. Scott Tips attended the meeting and says of the giant agritech corporations:
“They have been running amok for years, unchallenged. The Codex Alimentarius Committee on Pesticide Residues (CCPR) is their playground and they know it. Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and other agrochemical companies – cozily snuggled together at Codex as the disarmingly named, front group CropLife – sent no fewer than 39 representatives to the 49th session of the CCPR meeting held in Beijing, China from April 24-29, 2017, to coerce, charm and bedazzle government regulators.”
Tips argues that the agrochemical companies tell us these compounds are safe and are ensuring adequate food production to feed the world, but the facts tell us another story. He adds that glyphosate tops the list of poisons applied every day to plants and soil that in turn destroy humans, animals, and our environment. Some 9.4 million tons of glyphosate have been spread on our fields. It is in our water table, our soil, crops, the food industry and over 90% of people in the West have it in their bodies and even breast milk.
“Glyphosate is poisoning our soil, destroying our gut biome, and laying the foundation for destroying our ability to produce healthy foods for future generations. Industry and regulators claim that glyphosate is safe for humans and animals because the means by which it kills weeds (the shikimate pathway) is not present in in humans and animals. However, the shikimate pathway is present in bacteria, which dominate human and animal gut biomes. The glyphosate preferentially destroys beneficial gut bacteria, thereby allowing disease and inflammation to take hold.”
In Beijing, a growing list of approved and soon-to-be-approved pesticides was before the Committee for its consideration, a list that included chlorpyrifos-methyl, buprofezin, teflubenzuron, saflufenacil, fluazifop-p-butyl, flupyrdifurone, and glyphosate. Figures representing the interests of the agrochemical companies were all present, but Tips spoke out over the four-day meeting against the pesticides listed above. Depending on the pesticide, NHF argued that they were carcinogenic, killed bees and other vital insects as well as aquatic life and damaged the environment, including the oceans in the case of glyphosate.
In addition, there was much debate about the maximum residue limits (MRLs) for numerous pesticides.
When attending Codex meetings, given the presence of the agritech giants and co-opted officials, Tips is often a lone voice. He says of the objections he raised in Beijing:
“These solitary objections in a roomful of hundreds of delegates reminded me of the same circumstances I had found myself in at the Food Additives Committee meeting in 2008 and the Contaminants Committee meeting in 2009 when I was the only one to speak against aluminum in food additives and melamine contamination levels in infant formula. A few years later and both committees had come around entirely to the NHF positions and adopted them.”
“Of course, CropLife and its captured regulators in Australia and New Zealand did all that they could during the meeting to advance pesticide MRLs that fail to protect consumers but do protect worldwide sales.”
Scott Tips and his colleagues at the NHF are tireless in their efforts to roll back corporate influence at Codex. In the profit-motivated world of big business where bought science and scientists, shady lobbying, smear campaigns and corrupt politics are the norm, integrity doesn’t count for much.
In the world of Tips, however, integrity is everything.
“The fight rages on. There are victories, such as in the 55 lawsuits filed against Monsanto in Northern California, where the court recently ordered release of Monsanto e-mails and other documents showing probable collusion between the company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
| Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Jul 21st 2017, 08:45, by Graham Peebles
This time of year Mediterranean beaches are the destinations of choice for many European holidaymakers; it’s also the beginning of the busiest time of year for the people smugglers based in Libya and elsewhere along the North African coast. July to October is their peak season — during this time in 2016 around 103,000 refugees were crammed into unsafe boats, often in the dead of night, and cast off into the Mediterranean Sea.
Some don’t survive the crossing. Whilst the number of migrants arriving at Europe’s back door may have decreased — from 205,858 in the first five months of 2016, down to 71,029 for the same period this year, the number of dead has dramatically increased, reaching a staggering 1,650. The mortality rate has increased from 1.2% to 2.3% (2016). In 2015, when Europe’s response was properly coordinated, and when Germany opened its doors to over a million refugees, the death rate was 0.37%.
Europe’s politicians seem indifferent to the growing number of fatalities, and with a reported 2.5 million people (according to a leaked German government document) waiting in countries around the Mediterranean, the death count is set to rise dramatically.
The German report states that one million people are holed up in Libya, which, thanks to western ‘intervention’ is now a lawless state without any credible government where refugees are imprisoned, sold as slaves and trafficked into prostitution. Another million are in Egypt, almost half a million are waiting in Algeria, there are 160,000 or so in Tunisia and hundreds of thousands sit patiently in transit countries such as Jordon where there are estimated to be 720,00.
This is in addition to the 3.3 million refugees in Turkey, who have been denied access to Europe by the European Union’s (EU) ‘One in One out’ Syrian migrant deal struck in 2016. A crude financial arrangement of convenience made with Turkish President Recep Erdogan – a quasi-dictator, in which Turkey accepted the return of irregular migrants arriving in Greece in exchange for six billion euros in financial aid, and the loosening of visa restrictions for Turks. The result: tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece, living in intolerable and insecure conditions.
It was bribery by any other name; the aim was to push the refugee issue out of sight, make them someone else’s problem. This remains the EU’s inadequate, irresponsible approach.
It’s easy to see the statistics and forget that the numbers refer to people, human beings trying to escape some form of danger or violent conflict: Syrian Mother, “there was a rocket launching pad right behind my house. For the children, this was the main reason that we left. They became sick, they would’t let me go… At night they’re asleep, they’d wake up crying. And the same thing happened to me. And my husband was not with us.” Others are fleeing persecution: Sudanese Mother, “There is racism in Sudan, between Muslims and Christians. The soldiers or the policemen come and they take half of what I earned, and they say: ‘that is for us’. But they don’t behave like this with everyone, only with Christians from Eritrea. If you try to say no, they will either kill or jail you.”
Ignoring root causes
Two main routes into Europe are used by refugees: the Aegean route via Turkey, Greece and the Balkans which is now virtually closed off, and the Mediterranean crossing from North Africa which is fraught with dangers.
Having travelled for months across unforgiving terrain, suffered abuse and exploitation en route, refugees arriving in Europe all too often find themselves in an unwelcoming, hostile environment, one in which the debilitating politics of fear, intolerance and division has increasingly influenced decisions on immigration generally and an approach to those seeking refuge.
Europe has sought to reduce the numbers making the journey by various short-term measures, none of which deal with the root causes of migration, and indeed the numbers have dropped — not because less people are leaving their troubled homelands, but because they are going somewhere else, or being held, imprisoned, in transit. The problem is not being resolved because the underlying causes have not been faced, those in need are simply being pushed elsewhere: it is a moral disgrace and a new approach is urgently needed.
To Europe’s utter shame there has been no collective response to what is euphemistically called the ‘refugee crisis’, but is actually a worldwide humanitarian issue partly caused by the aggressive foreign policies of America and her allies.
It’s not just war that people are fleeing; it’s a range of issues including human rights abuses and persecution by brutal regimes – Ethiopia, a key ally of the West for example, and Eritrea where people are fleeing military conscription and poverty. The driving impulses that make people leave home are fear and hope; fear of death and terrorist threats – in Nigeria for example where the largest numbers making it to Europe currently come from, fear of torture and violence, and the hope of a better life somewhere else; a peaceful life in a country where the rule of law is observed and human rights are respected.
Refugees make up a mere 0.4% of the total population of the EU (approximately 510 million), and on a global scale refugees represent only around 8% of all migrants, and roughly 85% of all refugees live in developing countries. There is no question that Europe could and should do more, could offer long-term support to more in need.
The sane suggestion of establishing equitable resettlement quotas for all EU states has been completely shunned by selfish, irresponsible national governments concerned not with meeting the fundamental needs of refugees, but by domestic politics. Britain has been at the forefront of isolationism and indifference, with the Conservative government under David Cameron’s leadership agreeing in 2015 to take a paltry 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years.
Manipulative, cowardly European politicians hide behind the outdated, unworkable Dublin Agreement, which states that refugees must be processed in the first country they set foot in and can be returned there if they dare to venture beyond its borders. This completely unfair scheme has placed colossal pressure on Italy and Greece – countries that most refugees simply wish to pass though en route to other European countries. In fact many refugees, according to a study by Warwick University, don’t even want to go to Europe. The report challenges the idea that, ‘destination Europe’, is the dream goal of millions, claiming it is traffickers who often ‘decide’ who goes where: Europe is the most expensive option and therefore the most profitable for the smugglers.
The in-depth report recommends that Europe’s refugee policy, which has focused on deterring people from seeking refuge must be changed to one that is “grounded in an appreciation of — and responsiveness to — the journeys and experiences, as well as the understandings, expectations, concerns and demands of people on the move.” It makes clear that the current approach, which connects aid payments to countries such as Ethiopia, Lebanon, Jordan, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, to preventing migration, should be replaced with proper “interventions that address the diverse drivers of unauthorized movement”.
Deterrents do not work mainly because the situations people are escaping from are a great deal worse than anything that might happen to them when they arrive in a destination country.
The study makes the common-sense suggestion that opening “sufficient safe and legal routes to the EU for people who otherwise have to resort to precarious journeys,” should be a priority, together with investing in decent “reception facilities and improved access to key services,” such as health care and housing. In addition long-term national and regional resettlement programmes are needed, and more humanitarian aid provided to poor countries close to conflict zones that are coping with the majority of the world’s refugees, including Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Like the other major issues facing humanity — the environmental catastrophe, nuclear disarmament and ending armed conflict, economic injustice and terrorism — the displacement of people (currently numbering 65 million globally), of which refugees form a small part, is a worldwide problem and requires an international humane and coordinated response. Unified policies based on the recognition of collective responsibility and group need, not this fragmented nationalistic approach which is intensifying human suffering and does nothing to deal with the underlying causes.
| Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Jul 21st 2017, 08:45, by Louis Proyect
Paraphrasing Norman Mailer, after reading Andrew Stewart’s “Advertisement for Himself” in last weekend’s CounterPunch, I immediately downloaded his Taxi Searchers: John Wayne, Robert DeNiro, and the Meaning of America and found it completely absorbing. Although I have a particular interest in the work of John Ford, I can strongly recommend Stewart’s book to everybody as a successful multidisciplinary work that is so hard to find in scholarly treatments of film. With so many film scholars focusing narrowly on auteur theory, mise-en-scène, tracking shots and camera angles, it is a relief to read a young film scholar who makes the connection between film and politics. Since the two films under consideration are deeply immersed in the big questions of race and violence, it is almost impossible to analyze them out of their historical and social context.
I had never made the connection between John Ford’s “The Searchers” and Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” but found myself saying “of course” after Stewart pointed out that both involve anti-heroes trying to “rescue” women who don’t really feel any such need. Another important insight found in Taxi Searchers is their proximity in time to two important reversals of imperial fortune. Ford’s film was made just two years after the French were defeated in Vietnam and Scorsese’s came out just a year after the Vietnamese kicked the imperialists out once again.
John Wayne, a major booster of the Vietnam war who made a wretched propaganda film about the Green Berets, played Ethan Edwards, a veteran of the Confederate army while Robert De Niro played Travis Bickle, a deeply alienated Vietnam war veteran who views New York as a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah. Implicitly, a good part of his antagonism is directed at “street crime”, which in the minds of most New Yorkers meant people of color.
Paul Schrader, who wrote the screenplay for “Taxi Driver”, put much more of a psychological distance between Travis Bickle and the audience than was the case with Ford’s main character. Keep in mind that John Wayne was the prototypical Western movie hero who likely would be seen by many in the audience as having “saved” his niece from the barbarian Comanche. When Bickle decides to assassinate a liberal antiwar politician after being rebuffed by one his aides that he took to a porn movie for a date, that would make most people blanch at the one-two blow of sexism and psychopathology.
What Stewart brings to the table is an analysis of how these two troubled characters fit into the larger political landscape:
This ideological matrix can be understood when one understands the criticism of THE SEARCHERS regarding inter-ethnic coupling because of the inherent connection between the black radical tradition, Euro-American fear of property expropriation, and a psychological fetishization of notions of European feminine purity. And in understanding this reactionary element, the criticism of TAXI DRIVER and the insights regarding the psychology of the gun as a phallic symbol becomes much more tangible as a profile of the militia movement that has existed on the fringes of the Republican Party for the past three decades following the ascendancy of Reaganism. These two films are not merely comments on yesterday, they are prophecies of today and tomorrow.
Although I agree with Stewart that “The Searchers” is a searing indictment of white racism, I am not quite convinced that this was Ford’s intention. The film is based on a novel by Alan Le May that is not so nearly as dark as the adaptation. Le May also wrote a screenplay for “Tap Roots”, a film about the white-led anti-slavery revolt in Mississippi that was also dramatized in “Free State of Jones”. In Le May’s film, the leader of the revolt is depicted as a madman in much the same way that William Styron wrote about Nat Turner.
In a way, it does not matter what Ford thought since in many cases a film exhibits deeper truths about American society whatever the intentions of its makers. For example, “Invasions of the Body Snatchers” might have been intended as an innocent sci-fi movie but it reflected the paranoia of the Red scare.
Ford returned to the story of Comanches kidnapping of a white child that they raise as their own five years later in “Two Rode Together”. To start with, the films were based on a true incident. In 1836, the 10-year old Cynthia Ann Parker was seized by a Comanche band that had massacred her family. She lived with them for 24 years until the Texas Rangers “rescued” her and returned her to a white society she found lacking. Her resistance to her white “saviors” is reflected much more accurately in “Two Rode Together”, a film whose screenplay Ford reportedly despised. Apparently he made the film just for the money.
For those interested in this story and the larger story of the role of the Comanche in American history, I recommend an article I wrote for Capitalism, Nature and Socialism four years ago titled “The Political Economy of Comanche Violence”. It is behind a paywall but I would be happy to send CounterPunch readers a copy. This excerpt deals with the Cynthia Parker’s attempt to get a white man who spoke her language to bring her back home to the Comanche:
If Comanche society was nothing but a breeding ground for sociopathic behavior directed toward others, one might expect a similar kind of brutality to exist within its own ranks, as would be the case with other “Empires” from Britain during the Victorian epoch with its 12-year-old chimney sweeps to Hitler’s war on the German working class.
That is belied by the case of Cynthia Ann Parker, the kidnapped white girl who was raised with the values and duties of a typical Comanche woman. As dramatized in John Ford’s “The Searchers” and recounted in S.C. Gwynne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon”, Cynthia Ann struggled desperately to return to the tribe. Anxious to get inside the 36-year-old woman’s mind, the Parker family called on a cotton agent named Coho Smith, who was fluent in Spanish and Comanche.
When he told her to “come here” in Comanche (Ee-wunee keem), the reaction was “immediate and almost violent”, according to Gwynne. He quotes Smith: “She sprang with a scream and knocked about half the dishes off the table, scaring Mr. Parker…She ran around to me and fell on the floor and caught me around both ankles, crying in Comanche ‘Ee-ma mi mearo,’ meaning ‘I am going with you.’”
Parker was not permitted to return to her people and even was forced back to white society after running away. Her only wish was to be returned to the tribe and be reunited with the children she was forced to leave behind. Eventually she refused to eat and died of influenza in 1871.
Someday a film will be made about Cynthia Parker from the native people’s viewpoint but given the state of Hollywood, I doubt it will be any time soon.
| Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You!
Jul 21st 2017, 08:45, by Stephen Cooper
Recently, at the Community Church in Woodland Hills, California, a woman sang “Amazing Grace.” She sang slow with sweet, lilting sorrow, letting each dolorous, weighty note saturate the space with sound. She sang right in front of the same pulpit where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once preached, on his birthday, on January 15, 1961.
Invited by Rev. Frank Doty, a progressive and persistent white pastor who refused to take “no” for an answer, Dr. King told the assembled congregation over a half century ago: “Love yourself, if that means rational and healthy interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life.”
From that hallowed ground, before she sang, the woman told the story of John Newton, the slave trafficker and improbable author of “Amazing Grace”; she explained, with care, how, because of Newton’s salvation, the song’s lyrics are a powerful testimony that forgiveness and redemption are always possible. Even for the worst sinners. Even for a slave trader – a man who by his own admission was responsible for murder, torture, and the subjugation of many innocent souls.
“Amazing Grace” is not just as a song, she explained, it’s a philosophy for life; together with the Golden Rule and other aphorisms, it’s a gold standard for how we should treat ourselves and others. It affirms, as Sister Helen Prejean is credited with saying, that “every human being is worth more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.” As a moral code or credo, “amazing grace” asserts that no matter a person’s sin, crime, or wrongdoing, that there is goodness inside each one of us – a goodness that should never be killed.
Elucidating the concept of amazing grace in relation to the nation’s next looming execution – the lethal injection of Ronald Phillips, scheduled for July 26 in Ohio – writer Lisa Murtha convincingly argues, “[t]his killer turned prison chaplain shows what’s wrong with the death penalty.” Conceding that Phillips’ crime, the rape and beating death of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, was “horrendous,” Murtha nonetheless argues that Phillips should be spared.
Among the good reasons Murtha advances for mercy are: the offense occurred “24 years ago when Mr. Phillips was 19 years old”; “Ron Phillips at 43 years old is a very different man from the disturbed young adult who killed Sheila Marie in 1993”; “Killing Ron Phillips will achieve a measure of vengeance, but it will not undo any of the terrible things he did”; “killing him releases him from the burden of thinking every single day about the horrendous crimes”; and, “Today, Ron Phillips is an unofficial chaplain at Ohio’s Chillicothe Correctional Institution. He attends multiple church services each week and has spent time with other inmates discussing the Bible readings and life’s challenges.”
Rhetorically, Murtha asks: “How many more people like Ron Phillips – searching for salvation, open to change – fill our country’s prisons? How many inmates could Mr. Phillips serve and bring closer to God if only he could live among them?” Ultimately, unless Phillips wins an unlikely reprieve in court, it’ll be Ohio Governor, John Kasich – and not a higher power, as it should be in a free and just country – who’ll be the final arbiter of Murtha’s latter question.
Governor Kasich can, and he should, use his unnatural, godly power of clemency to exercise “amazing grace” – as Murtha and a growing cacophony of diverse voices have called for – and spare Phillips. He should exercise “amazing grace” like the dad in Philadelphia who recently forgave his daughter’s killer, inscribing a book of poetry to him. It’s the same “amazing grace” called for by author and activist Shane Claiborne in his book, “Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us.” And, it’s the same “amazing grace” former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson advocates for in a civilized and modern world (“I carried out the death penalty as governor. I hope others put it to rest.”). Put most simply, and at its base, Governor Kasich should show “amazing grace” like that which the once “lost” former slave trafficker John Newton “found” in God.
Or, alternatively, Kasich can let Phillips’ execution go forward, just like Kelly Gissendaner’s in September of 2015; Gissendaner was the first woman executed in Georgia in seventy years. Like Phillips is set to be, Gissendaner was executed long after her crime, she sought salvation during her incarceration and, she did good works, ministering to other inmates behind bars; emotionally and tearfully, Gissendaner sang “Amazing Grace” as she was being executed – just as others have before her – in the dastardly annals of death penalty history. According to Pastor Carl Ruby of Central Christian Church in Springfield, Ohio, if Kasich allows this to happen to Phillips, he will have “turn[ed] his back on Christ.”
Time will soon tell if Governor Kasich will make the right decision, and grant clemency. What’s certain is, without “amazing grace,” Ronald Phillips’ time will almost surely run out.
Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq.
| Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
Jul 21st 2017, 08:45, by Jeffrey Wilson
I met Dan on a cold October evening at a donut shop on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan. Dan and his lawyer Mathew Clark organized a meeting with Detroit Eviction Defense (DED), a community group fighting housing displacement in the city. I had been working with DED for a number of years and was curious to learn more about Dan’s story. Over the course of an hour, Dan and Mathew filled us in on the details of his case.
In August of 2016, Dan filed a lawsuit against the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which is the department responsible for coordinating blight removal. Blight removal is the term used to describe homes that are beyond repair and needing demolition. In the lawsuit, Dan claimed that the city unjustly evicted him from his childhood home by falsely claiming that it was blighted, destroyed a lifetime of his belongings by throwing them into a dumpster, and finally bulldozed his home to the ground.
Home demolitions are at the heart of Detroit’s so-called revitalization. Emerging in 2012, blight removal became a primary policy concern for the city with a study finding that some 78,000 of Detroit’s 380,000 properties had blight indicators. This report helped to trigger nearly $300 million from the Federal Hardest Hit Fund Program specifically for this process.
While this federal program was originally conceived to help keep individuals and families in their homes after the 2008 housing crisis, the Obama administration allowed Detroit to use the funds for blight removal. The spectacle of blight removal came together in an event where Mayor Mike Duggan ceremoniously live streamed the city’s 10,000th home demolition.
Dan’s story should be understood within this massive mobilization of monies and political maneuvering by the federal, state, and city government around home demolitions. What follows is an interview in comic book form, which I conducted with Dan shortly after out first meeting. In it Dan details the kinds of Kafkaesque violence perpetrated by the Detroit Land Bank Authority that categorized his home as blighted and had it demolished while he was still living in it.