News for progressives

Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:58

Photograph Source Wikipedia User:SGT141

Barrett Brown is an award-winning journalist and author who spent time in federal prison for work he did exposing various elements of the military-industrial complex, including publicizing the hacked emails of private intelligence company Stratfor. Since being released from prison, Brown has worked to establish the Pursuance Project, an initiative aimed at developing a new model of journalism based on crowdsourcing and diverse networks of collaboration using an internet-based platform.

In November 2018, Brown was the subject of a terrorist threat made against his publisher, Dallas-based D Magazine. However, unlike most such terrorist threats against journalists/media outlets elsewhere in the country, this threat was not handled in the normal manner. You might even say that Dallas PD, in collaboration with the Dallas Morning News, moved to cover it up. Was this a case of gross incompetence by the police? Hatred of a well-known local muckraking journalist seen as an enemy of Dallas police and corporate media? Or was it something else?

The following is an edited transcript of an interview between Barrett Brown and CounterPunch Radio host, Eric Draitser. The full interview can be heard at patreon.com/ericdraitser ($1 subscription required).

***

Eric Draitser: You recently had an interesting, let’s call it, series of interactions with law enforcement and local government in Dallas. And it stems from a very grisly murder that took place a few months ago. But this isn’t just about a murder… this is really a story of corruption, of bad journalism, of hackery, of the complete abdication of professional ethics and responsibility.

So, tell us, where does our story start? What happened a few months ago in Dallas and how did things snowball from there?

Barrett Brown: So I’ve been covering local politics for D Magazine for the first time in my life after I got out of prison a few years ago. I was covering city council. And then Botham Jean, a local resident, was shot to death in his own apartment by Amber Guyger, a white police officer (Botham Jean was black).

There are very few large cities where the press was going to be less well-equipped to handle such a story than Dallas. Dallas is a very go along to get along city. There’s something called the Dallas Way. That’s an old sort of political philosophy that launders oligarchy and makes of it a virtue, makes of it a partnership, a cooperation between press, police, and local officials. This is especially true in the case of any interaction between the press and the Dallas police, you have regular deference.

And so, when Amber Guyger and the police union officials, including police union head Mike Mata, started putting out the first explanation of why Amber Guyger shot somebody to death in his apartment below hers, several journalists with the Dallas Morning News printed these claims as more or less fact. And they did the same thing a few days later when Amber Guyger’s story changed dramatically. It was really extraordinary, and I say that as somebody who has been a media critic, ne’er-do-well and malcontent for a long time. It was pretty wild.

So I wrote an article for D Magazine down here, analyzing the specifics and attacking the Dallas Morning News. And you know they were not fond of that. So, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, attacked me from his Twitter account for a minor error removed from the article, while ignoring all the things that remained. The things that were clearly the case about his own journalists and his own editors. And so bad blood had been accrued there between both me and the Dallas Morning News and me and the mayor’s office, which, of course, was responsible for the handling of the Amber Guyger-Bother Jean shooting…

Draitser: So basically, if I understand correctly, you wrote a piece which alleged that these journalists are basically just taking the cops’ word for it and the story keeps changing in rather implausible ways. And these journalists are just stenographers. Is that basically right?

Brown: It is. And it’s to an extent that is even more than you see in national journalism or regional journalism elsewhere. It’s to an extent that is pretty unusual. It’s perhaps best embodied by the occasion when there was the ambush against the police officers a few years ago and several were killed. One of those police officers, it turned out, had a great deal of of white nationalist symbology tattooed upon himself. And that never came up in the press.

And here we have a case in which it’s even more bothersome, in which the errors are so blatant. So, I got into a fight that obviously upset these journalists at Dallas Morning News. I’ve already had a bad relationship with some of them.

Flashforward to November. I’m informed by D Magazine editor Tim Rogers that there’s been a bomb threat delivered to D Magazine’s office, which is in a twenty-story building in downtown Dallas. The person who made the threat said that they were going to blow up the D Magazine offices if they continued to publish my articles. And so, after I told Rogers I had never heard of this person, he goes to the FBI and the cops and the first thing he tells me after he’s spoken with them is “Don’t make this public.”

I listened to him. I read his comments. I acknowledged his comments. And I made it public.

Because he was getting instructions from the police, from the FBI, and I’ve dealt with both in this city. I’ve reported on both for his magazine and I just know that that’s not how these things are done. When CNN had a very similar bomb threat, under almost identical circumstances – an internet threat to blow up CNN’s offices in New York a few weeks after this affair that I’m not done describing – occurred, the NYPD arrived immediately. The building was evacuated. It was news, national news for a couple hours until the all clear was given. In this case, that’s not what happened. This is the only city in the country in which journalists would be expected to help the police keep this under wraps.

Draitser: This is already insane to me. How is it possible? I work in a high-rise building in Manhattan. There are thousands of people who work in a twenty story building in the downtown area. It is already almost inconceivable that this would be kept under wraps.

Brown: It is. It was actually shocking even to me and I look for these things. I search for incidents of poor press conduct and things indicative of the Republic’s collapse.

I’ve dealt with this magazine and this editor since I was fifteen years old when I was interning at the alternative weeklies down here. It’s not quite the Village Voice. It’s not something that’s really out there to shake things up but it is a good magazine. And I’ve been happy to write for it. It is where I started my column that went to the Intercept later on and I got the National Magazine Award. It was a magazine that had given me a lot of breath that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

So I was a little bit taken aback to be given this instruction delivered from the police to my editor and then to me. And so of course I, you know, violated it and immediately announced without naming any names or publication that a threat had been made against a magazine that I work for over my work…

Draitser: So was the threat explicit that it was not only about you but about your coverage of the Guyger-Botham Jean story? Or was it more implied that this is what it was about? Or was it more a general kind of threat?

Brown: The threat was made on Facebook but I never saw it myself. All I have is the assistant police chief’s email, which we’ll get to later. His characterization – the characterization of the assistant chief of police – that it was a threat over me and that it was a threat that was conditional such that if they continued to publish my work, this person would blow up the building. And the same fellow also made a threat, a very similar threat against the downtown public library, which is a very large facility – not a bad one for a city of this size – if the Democrats and in this case the assistant chief of police quoted the fellow: something along the lines of “If the Democrats don’t stop with their conspiracies, I’m going to blow up your library.” And so… but there was no mention that I know of of specific coverage.

I would say though that the last article that I’ve done for D had been this piece on the Dallas Morning News and the media and the police and the police’s misconduct and why one should not take their word for anything. And the one previous to that had been one in which I had sat there with a police scanner off and on for a couple weeks and written down my observations of what the police… of how the Dallas police conduct themselves. And, you know, scored a few hits in there that I was fond of. But bottom line is that I’ve been very, very openly anti-police for a number of years here. After all, I was raided by SWAT team after sort of challenging the police based on my understanding which is now I think sort of the accepted view among everyone that they were retaliating against me and my mother illegally.

So there was already bad blood and that had been accelerated in recent times. And so when this happened, I published some information about it and the editor got mad at me. But there were no articles about this. There was nowhere where you could really go and see that a response team had been sent to the Dallas public library to search for bombs or that a threat, one of several threats over the last few months against media outlets and against journalists, had been carried out or had been made.

Remember the context of this: We’ve had shootings in newspapers in the last year in this country. We’ve had some guy threaten a journalist on Twitter down in Florida and when he was ignored he sent some would-be pipe bombs to a bunch of other figures. We’ve just had a bunch of this accelerated anti-press violence and threats of violence.

And so there is a protocol for when this happens. The protocol is that you immediately announce it. And that’s how it’s happened in every other situation. And it’s not how it happened here.

As time went on I got more and more concerned because when you do have this situation, when you do have this environment, you follow the protocol that has been established the country which is that you take it seriously. At the very least, you arrest the person. I know that because I was arrested by a SWAT team for making totally non-violent threats against an FBI agent as a journalist who was about to expose him. But in this case, rather than sending a SWAT team and beating someone down to the ground, bruising his ribs and charging him immediately, they did something entirely different. We’re not entirely sure what it was.

I eventually asked my city councilman, Philip Kingston, who is an unusually carefree politician, to check in with the Dallas police and ask them what was going on. Because the editor has stopped talking to me and he was upset that I’ve put the stuff out.

Draitser: So this is where the story really gets quite interesting because now you’ve involved not just representatives of the police or the police union or journalists. Now you have an elected official and the kinds of information that is exchanged between a law enforcement officer and an elected official is supposed to be at least quite different from how they interact with normal civilians. So I want to hear the details about this exchange between your local city councilman and the assistant police chief.

Brown: Right, so [assistant police chief] Lonzo Anderson. Philip Kingston inquired with Lonzo Anderson and got an email back. Kingston forwarded it to me. It’s a few paragraphs long and it very matter-of-factly notes that on November 13th somebody made what this benighted police pseudo-chief described as “a veil threat.” He means veiled, although that’s kind of a strange use of the term veiled even if you do it appropriately because the threats involved “blowing your fucking library up” which is not very, highly well-veiled. And then, of course, the threat to blow up the magazine in Lonzo’s words: “if they continue to publish Barrett Brown.”

And so he goes on to cite two actual charges, two specific charges that this suspect, who did it under his own name, was going to be charged with. And noted that he had been taken into custody on November 15th and was interviewed at the station and the investigation is ongoing. So, from that you get the sense that the cops are on it. They’ve brought somebody in, which is, you know, reasonable enough…so I’m thinking “Well I guess Tim Rogers is right. They really are on it, maybe I should have trusted him this time. They’re not going to allow a terroristic threats against the press and against public institutions pass in this day and age.

But it turns out I was wrong to have briefly trusted them because the guy was never arrested. And because [D Magazine Editor] Tim Rogers was meanwhile being told something entirely different from this investigator that had been assigned to the case. That investigator told him that no one had been brought in. It was all ongoing and they don’t have anything to tell him.

And so eventually, me and Tim Rogers get into this sort of public dispute about how this should be handled. I was obviously had an opinion about it and he had a different opinion. And at some point he says, “Look, you’re writing about this. You don’t know what’s going on. Trust me.”

And I said, “Well look, I’ve got a statement here from the assistant police chief my city councilman sent to me.” So and I posted it on his Twitter reel and he reads it and is like okay. So he writes an article explaining the situation. Explaining that they had told him all this, this and this and now suddenly he’s getting these statements delivered thirdhand that contradict what he’s been told.

And here’s where the story kicks in as of what happened today. Rogers recorded this conversation between him and the police officer, the investigator who called him after they ran that story. It does include the investigator being very abrasive, he’s obviously not used to dealing with someone saying “No, what you just said contradicts that other thing you just said and that doesn’t make sense.” He’s just not up to that kind of thing. Frankly, I think we’re fortunate that he wasn’t actually in charge of catching somebody with an actual bomb because this would have been a shorter story.

The cop berates Rogers for putting this information out. Tim reminds him that they didn’t put the information out. It was the Dallas police that put the information out through a city councilman through Barrett Brown – the named victim, the named subject who this person is clearly focused on. This is all very revealing of how police see the press and how Dallas operates.

But the important part is when the cop claims, I guess in a bid to win an exchange in this argument, that contrary to what Rogers had heard, the information that the assistant police chief had given the city councilman was “not true” in his words. He expands upon that and says that it’s not what happened. The information is truth be told not correct.

And so, Tim understandably says, “Well, are you saying that this assistant police chief gave false information to a city official about a matter of terrorist threats against the press? That seems very important.” And the police investigator goes, “Well, there you go again” and he throws out a bunch of incompatible metaphors and aphorisms and cliches that he’s picked up somewhere and strings them into a sentence. If you didn’t already have a distaste for cops in general, which I did actually, you would be hard pressed to make a contribution to the policeman’s ball this year after hearing this tape.

Draitser: Well, I’m certainly canceling my recurring donation. That’s for sure.

Brown: I’d advise that, yes.

Anyway, there’s one other element here. The cop is confirming that in prior conversations one of the first things he did when he was speaking to Tim and four or five other staffers at D Magazine was to tell them: (a) not to tell anybody and (b) not to tell me anything else beyond what I have already been told. So, the only reason I knew about this in the first place is because Tim had asked me about this guy who had been making the threat before he went to the police. And so that’s revealing. Aside from everything else being aside from protocol, outside of the normal way of doing things, not letting the focus of a terrorist threat know anything about the case and obviously preferring that he not know that it happened. That’s what convinced me when I got this recording that there was something wrong here that I suspected all along. And so, there you have it. Now it’s out.

***

Draitser: Was there any indication that there was a formal arrest versus a “Oh, we took somebody into custody?” And if so, wouldn’t the obvious move for a journalist at that point be to find the records of the arrest? It seems like nothing was done. I mean it seems like it’s just all words here. It’s all words and opinions.

Brown: Right, so yeah the first thing that I looked at – and I think anyone would look at – is the actual phrasing of what the assistant police chief told Philip Kingston in this email. First of all he talks in the future tense about the charges so that, in fairness to Tim and to anybody else, you wouldn’t be able to look up any charges because they would be nonexistent yet. Having said that, there are ways of getting records of who has been arrested.

The assistant police chief uses terminology that makes it very ambiguous as to what’s going on. They say: “On November 15th, the DPD took the subject into custody for a DPD alias warrant. The subject was interviewed” – which means he had an existing warrant for something else entirely. Probably a minor warrant. “The subject was interviewed at headquarters. The investigation is ongoing. I will contact intelligence, updates” blah blah. So he doesn’t say he was arrested. He doesn’t say he wasn’t arrested. He just says interviewed at headquarters.

So I wasn’t satisfied; I posted it on Twitter. I did what I could to try to bring attention to it and finally I went to city council and confronted the mayor and the councilmen and explained in the three minutes I had allotted to me as a regular citizen what had gone on here and why I was unhappy about it and why I thought it was something they ought to look into.

So anyway, the mayor apologized right there. There’s a video of it. Then he once again he confirms, as if this was something that I was really hoping to hear, that the investigation is ongoing. And so, three months later, here we are.

Draitser: So one of the things that I find really kind of bizarre about all of this is the fact that they keep saying an investigation is ongoing. But this isn’t the OJ trial. This is a fairly straightforward case, it’s handled fairly routinely in pretty much every major city.

So I guess I have to ask the question, and pardon me if it’s too blunt or whatever, but are we looking at a Dallas police cover-up here?

Brown: Well, I mean in a way, literally yes in so much as this investigating officer told D Magazine to keep this quiet, to not tell the target, me, about it, etc. Also, D Magazine put up a short piece sort of commenting on it and, of course, castigating me for having broken the blue bond of silence or whatever it is that I guess we had formed between the press and police down here.

And then the next day, they deleted the article without explanation. And that was the only piece in the entire city about this. It was actually really the only coverage at all except for I think it was a blog post by some independent fellow who’s out there trying his best somewhere on his website. Beyond that, beyond my Twitter account, beyond the arguments that Tim Rogers got into with some people from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and EFF and all that who were telling him that like, hey, like this is serious. This is not how you should handle this. You shouldn’t be putting out a blog post attacking your journalist for this. You’ve done wrong here.

That was the only coverage. And Dallas Morning News knew about it. I made sure they knew about it because I had a feeling that they would be reluctant to cover it given that it does produce sympathy and raises one’s stature when one is having buildings blown up and even in people’s imaginations blown up.

And so as I suspected, they did not cover it. They went out of their way not to cover it. Even after I went to city hall and the press was there and a couple of them asked me, gave me their cards and said that they’d call me, nothing ever happened. So I gave up. I was frankly pretty upset back then and I feel like I’ve gone through enough bizarre commotions just in Dallas alone that I should have a pretty thick skin. I was rearrested illegally in 2017 after giving an interview to Vice and PBS. When the bureau of prisons claimed I was not supposed to do that without getting their permission, which is patently false, I was put in jail for four days and Democracy Now! did a thing on that and otherwise it was, you know, all quiet on the front.

And I would be shocked frankly given my time in this city and having grown up here if anything were to come of it tomorrow. There’s just no one who has anything to gain from talking about it. Obviously to the extent that Dallas Morning News does start talking about it, it brings up the question of why they ignored this situation back then. This is not something that happens when an outlet is threatened. You don’t play politics and place an embargo because you don’t like the journalist that was mentioned in the threat. That’s not how it happens anywhere else in this country.

So there you have it. I’m always on the lookout for examples of why we need press reform; why crowdsourced research and why some of these experimental protocols we’re developing such as the Pursuance Project, why they’re needed. Why things are worse in the press than people even realize until they’ve had a chance to both write for it and be covered by it extensively. And this is a great example. It’s an example that really astonishes me and I thought I’ve seen quite a bit in my day.

Draitser: Honestly, it seems like we have multiple cover-ups overlapping with each other here. Because, as far as I understand it, the Amber Guyger story itself was potentially a cover up where the police were essentially running interference for a suspected murderer. They were giving her access to her smartphone. They were letting her go home and talk to other people and so forth. And this was all whitewashed in the press with no actual interrogation of the facts. There was no investigation or anything and so the story continued to shift and the coverage just shifted with that.

And then here we have the second piece of this story where exactly the same thing is happening. So not only do we have collusion between the press and the police, but it seems that like they’re both actively working multiple cover-ups.

Brown: Yeah, well, there’s different kinds. There’s some cover-up within the police that probably has to do with mishandling the case or maybe the person who did this. Maybe he has well connected or wealthy family, which certainly would explain it. Maybe it’s one of those more baroque situations where the guy is suffering mental illness and for that reason as the FBI has done in the past, often times of Muslim youth, has been trying to get him to do something that would provide the DOJ with a great press release when they catch him doing the thing they told him to do. There are a number of possibilities and I don’t have a strong opinion on any one of them.

So there’s some kind of cover up there. There’s a dispute whereby this police officer thought it would make sense to claim that the original report of the guy being charged was false and thought it would work to, I guess, accuse his commanding officer, his superior of lying to the press or lying to the city council. He did not expect to be recorded. I guarantee that because that’s the kind of thing you can say on the phone to a guy, you know, and it’s hearsay but he had no reason to expect a recording would get to me. And frankly, I’m kind of surprised it did. It was only because of the foibles, the sort of the personal foibles of some of the people involved in this that I did get it.

Here we have an unusual sort of vivisection where we get to see more about the day-to-day just how these things do get covered up. We see how it doesn’t require a strong plan. It doesn’t require that you hide every element. All these elements have been out there. Not just out there but I’ve been pushing them down people’s throats.

So it’s one of those things just like the stuff I went to prison for. The HBGary hack where we suddenly got a great view from all these emails of how these intelligence contractors work and how the FBI deals with these private firms and how the DOJ acts like a concierge service for Bank of America and sends them to espionage firms that commits crimes with the DOJ’s blessing. You know it’s another great example. It’s a great opportunity that will not be taken here in Dallas and that, ultimately, I will describe in my book, which I’ve just completed now.

This whole fiasco is just one more argument as to why we need scaffolding around these institutions. Why we need to start building something that can address them from bottom to top because there’s very little that the press has done commendably in the last ten years on any of these issues. And even in the election, it didn’t take.

It didn’t cause them to stop and say, “Hey maybe we need to pay attention to what Palantir’s doing since they just got caught once again this time helping to manipulate the election with Cambridge Analytica. Maybe if next time we talk about Palantir, let’s remark about that. Let’s keep pointing that out from a few years ago.”

Let’s not adopt collective amnesia in a way that makes it easy for even dumb conspirators to get away with anything. And so that’s the story here as far as I am concerned.

Draitser: There’s also the absolute abdication of responsibility for journalists but especially those who are advocates for and defenders of journalists. You’re not Beyoncé, Barrett, but you’re not the lowest profile guy either. And you have a somewhat substantial Twitter following. You are notorious in many ways – certainly notorious in Dallas. And the fact that we don’t have even one journalistic ethics or any such organization whether Committee to Protect Journalists or any other groups of that kind defending you on this case. I think it’s also somewhat telling.

And so my question is: (a) have you reached out to any of those types of organizations (you know, CPJ and others)? And then (b) do you think that nobody has picked up on this story and is kind of, you know, speaking out on your behalf because you’re toxic? Is that what this is about? Because people are afraid that you’re toxic?

Brown: I don’t think so actually. The bizarre thing is that, you know, since going to prison and becoming a convict and then getting out and announcing I was going to start this very subversive group, I mean I run a non-profit now. I’m more mainstream than I ever was. I’ve got a board of directors with, you know, two ex-CIA agents who are, of course, dissidents. They’re reconstructed CIA agents. I’ve got professors at colleges. I’m addressing the Texas Library Association in Austin in April. And then a week later at the Tennessee Library Association in Chattanooga. So I don’t think it’s that I’m toxic. It’s not that.

It’s more that people look at institutions from the outside as I did before I first started interning at weekly newspapers. And you see print; you see a news organization; you see the CIA; or you see a company. And you have this sense of a solid thing that acts all at once. So people say, “Oh, this is what the CIA wants.” Or, “Oh, the New York Times always wants to do this.” However, we must constantly remind ourselves that these are collections of individuals and these are individuals that were not designed or evolved to oversee a press outlet or to oversee a kingdom or a nation-state. These are all haphazard things that we’ve constructed and accepted by inertia.

And so, we have jealousy and we have fear. We have minor, petty concerns for what our publisher thinks that we want them to do. We have people who are underpaid and they don’t have time to even develop sources in a way that they would had they more pragmatic or practical impetus to do so. They can get away with just, you know, putting in the bare minimum. I know because I’ve done it as a freelancer years ago. I’ve done the same thing.

We have a model of journalism that is fundamentally unchanged from what it was in seventeenth-century London where it was the editor and the writer. And it has never reexamined itself. It’s adopted hyperlinks and maybe LexisNexis and a few things like that, but it’s never stopped and said, “Hey, let us consciously reconstruct ourselves.” And knowing that the internet exists, let’s do crowdsourced journalism. Let’s bring in a structure here that doesn’t require the journalist to have to decide who is actually an expert and who isn’t. And that still hasn’t been done. There’s no impetus to do it from the inside for the most part and so it has to be done from the outside. And that’s just a reminder here.

In this case, I do not think there is any one reason for the cover-ups. Obviously, I’ve articulated that Dallas Morning News, there is no one at the Dallas Morning News who would benefit career-wise by writing stuff sympathetic to me at this point. And there are others who simply do not understand these issues.

One of the terrible things about journalism, and about the US press generally, is that editors and producers – and they would never articulate this out loud – do tend to think that if something important had happened and there’s evidence for it, then someone else would have covered it. And they all think that. And they know that even if they know their own weaknesses, they tend not to see the weaknesses in others in a strange way.

This is an environment that’s very haphazard – as I keep saying – a perfect ecosystem for misdeeds, for conspiracy, for disinformation. And that’s what we’ve gotten. And even the deterioration in the last few years has not been enough quite yet to overcome the day-to-day, mundane, mediocre careerism that permeates all of this.

And so we should not expect better than this is what I’m saying.

Categories: News for progressives

Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:58

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

+ Few things have made me more despairing about the future of the country than the fact that Liz Cheney is now ascendent as a political powerbroker in DC. The one thing Trump could have done to assure himself some lasting historical merit was to eradicate the Cheneys from public life. Wimp.

+ How many babies did Daddy kill, Liz?

Rep. @Liz_Cheney: "[The Democrats] have become the party of anti-Semitism, they've become the party of infanticide, they've become the party of socialism." pic.twitter.com/Fd4G8LkXGU

— The Hill (@thehill) March 12, 2019

+ Meanwhile, the Dark Lord himself unloaded on Pencebot, comparing the Trump administration’s foreign policy to the spineless Obama. (It actually more closely resembles HRC’s.)

+ Pompeo Maximus squeaks…accusing Cuba and Russia of “propping up” the Maduro government in Venezuela.

+ With all the mewling on MSDNC about how Paul Manafort got off with a light sentence (7.5 years), you can see why so many liberals eagerly supported minimum mandatory sentences, the drug war & the Clinton Crime Bill & why tough on crime candidates like Biden & Harris appeal have such a gut-level appeal to them.

+ The rat who didn’t snitch.

MSDNC, theory 1: Manafort didn’t snitch because he feared the Russian mob.

MSDNC, theory 2: Manafort didn’t snitch because he wants a pardon.

Doesn’t a pardon essentially turn Manafort over to the Russian mob, assuming they want him?

+ The indictment of mercenary kingpin Erik Prince alone would make the two-year long monotony of the Mueller probe, in the immortal words of Madeline Albright, “worth it.”

+ 46% of all new income in the US is captured by the top 1% and a mere 3 people own as much wealth as the bottom 50%.

+ Tucker: “If there were a Democrat to come out in the 2008 election and say, “You know what the problem is? It’s Islamic extremism. It’s not terror, it’s not some, you know, indefinable threat out there. It’s these lunatic Muslims who are behaving like animals, and I’m going to kill as many of them as I can if you elect me.” If a Democrat were to say that, he would be elected king, OK?”

+ Tucker was on safe ground with the Fox audience, until he started indulging in rape fantasies about the white debutantes of South Carolina…

+ You gotta wonder if Tucker’s has his own version of Neverland Ranch somewhere in Virginia horse country…

+ Stephen Colbert on Tucker Carlson: “R. Kelly just got a character witness.”

+ If you’ve been following the travails of Tucker Carlson lately, you might be interested in what happened to his sidekick, Bubba the Love Sponge

+ Most of the people implicated in the college entrance bribery scam are corporate executives, but the media has spent 98% of its time focusing on two B-list Hollywood actresses.

+ Why you should be contributing to Lori & Felicity’s Defense Fund: Their children cheated their ways into “elite” universities, so that your child wouldn’t be stuck with soul-crushing debt and forced to pay it off by taking a job at a hedge fund or oil industry lobby shop.

+ I was on a plane with Lori Loughlin in the mid-80s, during her first season on Full House. She was in the middle seat and sweetly said she’d love to see the Rockies. I gallantly offered her my window seat. I should have asked for money.

+ In the wake of the college admissions bribery scandal, it’s perhaps worth recalling the words of Antonin Scalia during oral arguments in an affirmative action case, where the justice advised that “black students should go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”

+ Alan Dershowitz, who is already hawking a book on the as-yet-non-existent Mueller Report,  has been a guest on FoxNews 27 times since the Miami Herald broke the big story on how Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and other federal prosecutors let Jeffrey Epstein off the for his long-list of sex crimes and gagged his young victims. Dershowitz, a high flier on Epstein’s jet, dubbed Air Lolita, hasn’t been asked one question about his relationship with Epstein.

+ Is this really the best time for Trump to be nominating ex-Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan for Secretary of Defense?

+ Keeping his head firmly planted in the sand, Shanahan claims he hasn’t been briefed on the Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes.

+ The odious Chris Cuomo is busy trying to blame the Boeing crash on “foreign pilots.”

+ But according to a US government database, at least two pilots who flew Boeing 737 Max 8 planes on U.S. routes had filed reports about the plane’s nose suddenly dipping after engaging autopilot.

+ In a desperate bid to protect Boeing, the NTSB is actively working to coerce Ethiopian Air to turn the black box data recorders over to them, instead of crash experts in the UK.

+ With the wreckage of Ethiopian Air FL 302 still smoldering, this is the time to crack open Ralph Nader and Wesley Smith’s prescient book, Collision Course: the Truth About Airline Safety. It was published 24 years ago, but the book still reads like a thriller and the situation has only gotten scarier since then.

+ Nader’s great-niece, Samya Stumo, died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. Ralph has warned for years against the increasing reliance on artificial intelligence in aviation. “In this case, this is a plane whose misguided software overpowered its own pilots,” Nader said.

+ The critical software update to the Boeing 737 Max series was delayed for over a month as a result of Trump’s impetuous decision to shutdown the federal government.

+ According to Public Citizen:

-Boeing donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration

-The Boeing CEO visited Mar-a-Lago

-Trump’s acting secretary of defense worked at Boeing for 30 years

-Nikki Haley is about to join Boeing’s board

-Trump has used Boeing products & sites as a backdrop for major announcements

+ When the Trump Shuttle made a crash landing.

+ If an airplane crashed and it didn’t kill any Americans, did it really exist?

+ “Who will rid me of these meddlesome brats?” According to the new book Kushner, Inc, by Vicky Ward, Trump asked John Kelly to fire Jared and Ivanka.

+ Trump to Breitbart on how thing could get “tough”: “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough — until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.” Trump’s Altamont?

+ Apparently, only Israel is permitted to use quotes from Anne Frank’s diary for political causes. I wonder how Anne would have viewed the Nation State Law?

+ The Democrats will hold their 2020 national convention in Milwaukee. I guess this is one way to make sure your presidential nominee visits Wisconsin at least once…

+ Let’s recall that in 2006, Joe Biden voted to build a 700-mile long border wall.

+ Democrats and the Iraq War

Bill Clinton: for it

Al Gore: for it before he was against it

John Kerry: for it before he was against it before he was for it again

Barack Obama: against it before he was for it

HRC: for it

Joe Biden: for it

(I guess Max Boot and David Frum could write speeches for all of them).

+ Max Boot wants to retire the term “neocon“. (Did he check with the ghost of Norman Podhoretz?) So we can go back to calling them “Chickenhawks?”

+ The trajectory of two Iraq War propagandists: Judith Miller is relegated to occasional appearances on the off hours at FoxNews. David Frum is a daily fixture on MSDNC and writes insufferable cover stories for the Atlantic.

+ For those who still had any doubts about whether Israel was a “democracy,” Netanyahu made it crystal clear: “Israel is the nation state of Jews alone.”

+ According to Gideon Levy, one of the world’s greatest journalists, the IDF forced a Palestinian man to demolish his and his daughter’s houses with his own hands.

+ Tell it to Bill Maher, Bibi, who pronounced last week: “Palestinians are victims, but not of Israel — they are victims of other Palestinians, unfortunately.”

+ If HBO ever grows a conscience gives Maher the boot, he could always land a gig co-hosting a show on Fox with Judge Jeanine…

Fox host Jeanine Pirro says that Ilhan Omar's hijab may mean that she's against the Constitution. pic.twitter.com/yxGRVoYkQm

— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) March 10, 2019

+ All of this talk about having an “honest discussion” about Israel and Palestine. Yet we never hear from Palestinians in this manufactured “discourse.” Palestinians are only given a voice in the media to condemn other Palestinians.

+ Librarians and archivists around the world have spent 1000s of hours laboriously reclassifying almost everything you’ve ever written as “fiction.” Did you ever thank them, Judy?

Failure to condemn anti-Semite Rep. Omar by House Democrats is a profile in cowardicehttps://t.co/oZ3irzHB1Y

— Judith Miller (@JMfreespeech) March 8, 2019

+ The Washington Post ran a hit piece this week headlined “In Minnesota, Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Remarks Cause Pain and Confusion.” Of course, it’s the distorted coverage of Omar’s remarks that has created all of the confusion, much of it by writers at the Post.

+ lhan Omar: “For many children, school lunch is the only meal they eat all day. Trump’s budget would cut $1.7 billion from child nutrition and eliminate food assistance for millions—literally taking food out of kids’ mouths. This is not humane. This budget isn’t humane. He is not humane.”

+ Well, that didn’t take long….Minnesota Democrats are already scurrying to find someone to primary Ilhan Omar.

+ Meanwhile, Trump is quietly escalating the US war against Somalia, with barely a peep from the press or American politicians. Over to you, Ilhan…

+ Bennett Bressman, a field operative for Nebraska’s Republican Governor Pete Rickets, has been openly posting white nationalist rants on his social media accounts for several years, including such rancid quips as he has “more compassion for small dogs than illegals” and that his “whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists.” Bressman said the only reason he’d hesitate to run over a Black Lives Matter protesters was that “I have a nice car and it’s white.”

+ Will Rickets and Bressman get the Omar treatment? (Evil network executive cackle.)

+ According to the Pew Research Center, only 24 percent of Americans supported cutting legal immigration last year, a sharp decline from 40 percent in 2006.

+ That chill you felt enter the room may have been an undercover ICE agent sent out to monitor anti-Trump protesters.

+ Over the next 10 years, Trump’s budget would cut:

+ $1.5 trillion from Medicaid
+ $845 billion from Medicare
+ $25B from Social Security
+ $207B from college education
+ $220B from food stamps

While base defense spending would swell by $861 billion.

+ Trump plans to divert $385 million in funds from HIV and cancer research to fund his concentration camps for kids…

+ The Democrats might be better off if they replaced Tom Perez with Stormy Daniels as head of the DNC. She appears to understand much about the nature of the current American political environment that he doesn’t. They certainly couldn’t do any worse.

+ Nancy Pelosi proved once again this week why she is one of the most accomplished bait-and-switch politicians of her time, when she slammed the door on the impeachment of Trump. At least she’s consistent. In 2006, Pelosi sternly quashed any seditious talk in her caucus about impeaching George W. Bush.

+ Beto O’Rouke, who has scrupulously avoided identifying any specific issues he will campaign on, told Vanity Fair that he felt “called to run” in the 2020 presidential elections. These days it’s the people who are hearing voices who must be insane.

+ People are complaining that Beto hasn’t taken any policy positions. But when he does, you’ll wish he hadn’t.

+ Richard Wolff: “For profit, employers pay low wages, charge high prices. With low wages we can’t afford much, so banks profit by loans (for mortgages, car loans, credit cards, college debt) to let us “afford” more. Then, we get to pay interest. Isn’t capitalism wonderful?”

+ Kamala Harris is the house cop at the casino of American capitalism

+ Ralph Nader: “Why after 10 years of inaction regarding a frozen federal minimum wage of $7.25, is the Democratic Party bill in the House so leisurely in raising it over the next five years to $15? Even if passed now it wouldn’t reach Obama’s broken promise of $9.50 by 2011 for another year.”

+ The State of Texas spent $7 million fighting a proposal to install air conditioning in one of its stifling prisons. The cooling system only cost $4 million.

+ Terrebonne, Louisiana Sheriff: “People should indicate – when they get their driver’s license – whether they want the death penalty sought if they end up murdered.”  The Sheriff also said that decision should be taken out of the hands of jurors.

+ Good to see California Gov. Gavin Newsom take executive action to abolish the death penalty in California. But California hasn’t executed anyone in 13 years. So what about ending the living death penalty, aka Life Without Parole?

We can no longer allow the death penalty to be a part of what defines us. That begins today in California. https://t.co/7baNcPP3OR

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) March 13, 2019

+ Miss having Jeff Flake to kick around? That’s OK. You can kick Ben Sasse twice.

+ After decades of grifting, self-promotion, discrimination and hate-shaming (chronicled over the years in CounterPunch by Ken Silverstein, Alex Cockburn and yours truly), the Southern Poverty Law Center finally fired its co-founder Morris Dees

+ Benjamin Dixon: “Meghan McCain is the complete embodiment of what extreme wealth can do for mediocre children.”

OF COURSE Meghan McCain thinks it's unfair to criticize legacy admissions at universities and military academies pic.twitter.com/D6uUINMDyX

— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) March 13, 2019

+ I eagerly await an exegesis from the Deep State theorists on the meaning of a letter signed by more than 50 retired generals and diplomats urging the US to reenter the Iran nuclear pact.

+ There’s no need to use Jared and Ivanka as surrogates for your newest scheme to gut federal environmental regulations. Lobbyists have found they can now target Trump directly through TV and Twitter.

+ Of Time, Words and the River of Bullshit Flowing

+ Amount of time Trump saved by calling Tim Cook of Apple “Tim/Apple”: 0.27 seconds.

+ Copies of the Pence Bible, signed by Trump, are going fast on e-Bay…

+ David Kusnet, still in recovery from being a speechwriter for Bill Clinton (92-94), makes a compelling case for why the much-abused Warren Harding shouldn’t be considered one of the worst American presidents:

* Didn’t deny rumors of African American ancestry;
* Reversed some of Wilson’s racism;
* Pardoned Eugene Debs & hired a young Norman Thomas at his paper;
* Had 1st pres speechwriter: Judson Welliver.

+ James Felton: “She whipped against her own position from yesterday and still lost. Theresa May now so weak she can’t even defeat Theresa May.”

+ As Ken Surin reports for CounterPunch this week, Margaret Thatcher, like the “Royal” Family, was a devoted believer in quack remedies. Of course, the biggest quack remedy of them all was Thatcher’s economy plan.

+ What a real Resistance looked like

+ Important questions the one-percent ask: Is spending $50,000 on a set of golf clubs too much?

+ Jay Leno is the perfect judge for whether late night comedy has lost its edge, never having been the least bit funny himself.

Republicans: “Late night hosts these days make fun of Donald Trump too much! Johnny Carson would never do that!”

Johnny Carson: *literally does jokes about Trump evicting people from their homes* pic.twitter.com/H0XS3FPy6M

— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) March 14, 2019

+ I was saddened to learn of the death of former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh, at the age of 91. I worked on a couple of Birch’s cliffhanger campaigns. (See my essay on Waylon Jennings.) The best thing about Birch was his wife Marvella. She had all the spine and spirit in the family, not an ounce of which dribbled its way into her son Evan.

+ Few people remember that Indiana once had two very liberal senators serving at the same time: Birch and Vance Hartke. But, Honey, things have changed, as Dylan sez.

+ Both Birch Bayh and Vance Hartke were strong anti-war voices in the senate. The farm states were often anti-war. They needed the young labor in the fields. As industrial agriculture took over, the anti-war sentiment across the midwest slowly faded.

+ Why health insurance companies secretly loved ObamaCare and will fight like hell against single-payer: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a “nonprofit” health insurance company, posted $580 million in net revenue (profits) on $29.3 billion in total revenue in 2018. It’s CEO Dan Loepp saw his compensation grow 43% in 2018 to $19.2 million.

+ The US may not have any of the best cities to live in, but I know we have a few of the worst, starting with Page, Arizona…

+ An evocative study from the British Academy suggests that neolithic people (4,500 BCE) came from across Britain to Stonehenge-like sites in Devonshire and Wiltshire for ceremonial feasts. A similar region-wide gathering took place in the Pacific Northwest, where archaeological evidence indicates native people came all the way from Yellowstone and northern Arizona for salmon feasts at Celilo Falls in Oregon, a village that swelled to a seasonal population of 30,000 during the spring and fall runs.

+ In Alaska, indigenous people make up less than 20% of the population, but Alaskan Natives account for 60% of the kids in foster care.

+ Native Americans are already the most vulnerable population in the US to wildfires and the Trump administration’s policies are putting their communities at even greater risk.

+ How Inuits teach their kids to control their anger.

+ Proof labor strikes work: Nicolas Petit, a favorite to win the Iditarod, dropped out of the race, less than 200 miles from the finish line, when his team of dogs refused to run after he yelled harshly at one of them.

+ By 12,000 BCE, dogs were being depicted on stone columns and buried in the arms of humans

+ They’re aerial gunning wolves again in Alaska, using the specious rationale of “boosting” moose populations…

+ Read Rick McIntyre’s gripping account of the life and death of Yellowstone Wolf 926F and try not to cry (or resist the urge to blow something up).

+ Bulldozers are carving up forests in the name of fire prevention. They aren’t preventing any fires, but they sure are destroying a lot forest.

+ A new report reveals that white people in the US generate much more pollution than blacks and Hispanics and yet suffer much less from the health consequences of such pollutants.

+ According to the European Heart Journal, air pollution prematurely kills 800,000 people a year, twice the previous estimates.

+ The pipes don’t work cause the vandals turned the handles

+ People complaint that I’m a pessimist. But it’s hard to stay as pessimistic as the science: “Out of 5.2 million possible climate futures, carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to stay at less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 of warming.”

+ According to the latest UN Report, it’s all over for the Arctic: Even if the Paris Agreement is met, global temperatures will rise 3-5C above preindustrial levels. Even if all carbon emissions stop, Arctic temperatures rise will 5C above 2005 levels.

+ In recent study published in Nature, researchers estimate that half of all coral in the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016! “On average, across the Great Barrier Reef, one in three corals died in nine months,” said Terry Hughes, an author of the paper and the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. “You could say the ecosystem has collapsed. You could say it has degraded. I wouldn’t say that’s wrong. A more neutral way of putting it is that it has transformed into a completely new system that looks differently, and behaves differently, and functions differently, than how it was three years ago.”

+ The so-called Bomb Cyclone generated a barometric pressure reading of 970 millibars, the lowest ever recorded in Colorado.

+ There’s $$$ in “adaptation” to the wreckage of climate change–not so much in reducing consumption of fossil fuels and products made by them…

+ Of course, Bill de Blasio’s plan to confront climate change is to add more ground to Manhattan Island, in a last ditch move to stem rising sea levels. He’d probably have more success making sacrifices to Poseidon.

+ True to form, AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee slams the Green New Deal, then leaks the letter to Wyoming’s oil patch Sen. John Barrasso.

+ How CNN describes Gov. John Frackenlooper: “worked with oil executives to fight climate change.”

Hickenlooper, who worked w oil executives to fight climate change as gov, tells @BuzzFeedBen that his critics on climate are off base.

"So I did stuff. They’re mad that I did stuff. And they are still talking… And we actually did stuff. Alright, sue me," he said.

— Dan Merica (@merica) March 10, 2019

+ Yes, this is the same John Frackenlooper who threatened to sue any Colorado communities that voted to ban fracking.

+ Sen. Fossil (Manchin) and Sen. Fuel (Murkowski) admonished lawmakers to take “responsible action” on climate change, which is like Coors telling football fans to “drink responsibly” …

+ Lawmakers in Pennsylvania, the state that gave us Three Mile Island, are considering a bill that would inject $500 million into the region’s failing nuclear reactors, which is throwing good public funds down a radioactive drain.

+ As Trump gears up to clearcut America’s public forests at a pace not seen since the Reagan Administration, the rate of forest coverage in China has increased by nearly 10 percent in the past four decades, with the world’s largest planted forests and an 80 percent expansion of forest areas across the country.

+ If we get really good photographs of all the world’s butterflies, we can project life-life holograms of them when they’re gone. But we’ll have to charge you to see them. “Butterflies” won’t be “free” anymore..

+ Emissions from air travel are going through the roof, while emissions from other forms of travel are gradually declining.

+ SWSX has long been a corporate orgy. Now it’s opened its doors to the CIA

+ The astounding Roy Haynes just turned 90 and he’s still too cool for school.

It’s been an honor being in Roy Haynes’ 4tet for 13 yrs now. One of the most important things I’ve learned from him is something he says almost every time we play. “Everyday is precious!” & “When the spirit hits you, you have to go with it!” Happy Birthday, Roy! pic.twitter.com/SBtxbHvJPC

— Jaleel Shaw (@jaleelshaw) March 13, 2019

+ I get the sense that anything interesting that might take place in San Francisco has already taken place and no one could afford to make anything interesting happen there again…

+ Wayne Shorter: “When Miles Davis and I talked, he would ask me a question. ‘Hey Wayne — do you ever get tired of playing music that sounds like music?’ Before I answered him, he said, ‘I know what you mean.’ Like, he’s answering his own question.”

+ I’ve been listening to Jobim’s Wave all morning and have still haven’t come any closer to understanding why Creed Taylor put that photo of a giraffe on the album cover. That’s OK. I’ve played it five times now and heard something new each time, especially in the percussion of Claudio Slon. And that’s after listening it to for 40 years…

+ Just give Her money that’s what She wants…

Interviewer: Are you millionaires now?
Lennon: No. Another rumor.
Interviewer: Where’s all the money go, then?
Lennon: Most goes to Her Majesty.
Harrison: She’s the millionaire.

Your Story’s Touching, But It Sounds Like a Lie

Sound Grammar

The 10 best movie soundtracks…

1) The Harder They Come (Jimmy Cliff, et al)

2) Superfly (Curtis Mayfield)

3) Purple Rain (Prince)

4) Escalator to the Gallows (Miles Davis)

5) Hard Days Night (The Beatles)

6) Anatomy of a Murder (Duke Ellington)

7) Naked Lunch (Howard Shore and Ornette Coleman)

8) Blow Up (Herbie Hancock)

9) Alfie (Sonny Rollins)

10) Straight Outta Compton (NWA, et al.)

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Biotech Juggernaut: Hope, Hype & Hidden Agendas of Entrepreneurial BioScience by Tina Stevens and Stuart Newman (Routledge)

Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration by Rachel Barkow (Belknap Press)

The Lost Worlds by Robert Macfarlane (Anansi)

The Hawk’s High Gyres

Robert Macfarlane: “Wild animals, like wild places, are invaluable to us precisely because they are not us. They are uncompromisingly different. The paths they follow, the impulses that guide them, are of other orders. The seal’s holding gaze, before it flukes to push another tunnel through the sea, the hare’s run, the hawk’s high gyres: such things are wild. Seeing them, you are made briefly aware of a world at work around and beside our own, a world operating in patterns and purposes that you do not share. These are creatures, you realise that live by voices inaudible to you.”

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:57

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

This week Trump released his latest budget for 2019-20 fiscal year. It calls for $2.7 trillion in various social spending cuts over the decade, including $872 billion in reductions in Medicare, Social Security, Disability spending; another $327 billion in food stamps, housing support, and Medicaid; a further $200 billion in student loan cuts; and hundreds of billions more in cuts to education, government workers’ pensions, and funds to operate the EPA and other government agencies.

Not surprising, the $2.7 trillion in social program spending cuts will finance spending for the military and defense related programs like Homeland Security, Border walls, veterans, police, and programs like school vouchers.

Of course, the budget proposal is ‘dead on arrival’ with the US House of Representatives, which must approve all spending bills, according to the US Constitution.  But don’t hold your breath. Trump may now have a back door to this Constitutional obstacle and eventually get his way on the budget, at least in part, to fund his military spending plans.

Trump’s National Emergency ‘Workaround’ & the Budget

It should not be forgotten, Trump just enacted his ‘national emergency ’ to build his Mexico border wall by diverting funds, without Congressional approval, from other sources in the US budget—i.e. a clear violation of the US Constitution.  That ‘national emergency declaration’ will almost surely be approved by his current stacked US Supreme Court before the end of Trump’s first term.  When approved, the precedent will allow Trump to repeat the action, perhaps on an even larger scale. So what’s to stop him from using the same national emergency precedent to shift other funds in the future from social programs to the military and defense, as he clearly proposes in this latest budget?

Some liberals and Democrats may declare he can never do that. But they said the same about his national emergency declaration to fund his wall, and he declared it anyway. He will continue to subvert and destroy long-standing rules and even Constitutional norms within the government.  The national emergency declaration about funding his wall gave him his foot in the door. Will the Supreme Court eventually allow him to kick it open now in the future?  One shouldn’t be too surprised with this President, who has little concern or respect for Democratic rights and institutions.

We now have a precedent in the national emergency declaration. So what’s to stop him from shifting even more funds from social programs to war, defense and the military? In other words, to spend a good part of his proposed additional $2.7 trillion for the Pentagon, and to simply divert the funds from Medicare, Social Security, Education, etc.? The Democrat Party majority’s control of the US House of Representatives’ may refuse to pass legislation to approve Trump’s $2.7 trillion budget shift to the military and defense. But the precedent now exists allowing him to do it. Trump is intent on getting what he wants, to pander to his right wing base, and get himself re-elected. He cares little for Democratic norms or civil liberties. Don’t underestimate his willingness to shred those liberties and subvert those norms.

As worrisome as the politics of the US budget process going forward may yet prove to be, however, the economics of Trump’s 2019-20 budget are more serious. It represents a trend that will continue whether or not the budget is passed, either in the short or the longer term by national emergency declaration.

The $34 Trillion National Debt 

Whether Trump’s budget is passed or not, his fiscal policy (taxation and spending) already represents a faster escalation of US deficits and therefore Debt.

During Trump’s first two years in office, US federal government deficits have driven the national debt up already by $3 trillion:  At the end of 2016, when Trump entered office, the US national debt was $19.5 trillion. Today it is $22.5 trillion. He’s thus already added $3 trillion, a faster rate per year of debt accumulation than under even his predecessors, George Bush and Barack Obama.

The Treasury Advisory Committee, a long standing committee of private experts who regularly provide advice to the US Treasury, recently warned the US Treasury that it will have to sell $12 trillion more US Treasury bonds, bills and notes, over the next decade if the US is to fund the $1 trillion plus deficits every year that now coming over the next decade, 2018-2028.

That’s $12 trillion on top of the current $22.5 trillion national debt!  That’s a $34 trillion national debt by 2028!  According to the Congressional Budget Office research, that $34 trillion national debt will translate into no less than $900 billion a year just in interest payments on the debt by 2028—a roughly tripling of interest payments that will have to come out of future US budgets as well, in addition to escalating tax cuts and war-defense spending.

How will the US government pay for such escalating interest—as it continues to cut taxes for business, investors and the wealthy while continuing to accelerate war and defense spending?

20 Years of Accelerating National Deficits & Debt

The US government’s growing Deficit-Debt problem did not begin with Trump, however. He just represents the further acceleration of the Deficit-Debt crisis.

Trump’s escalating deficits and debt are driven by two main causes: tax cutting and defense-war spending increases.  But this is just a continuation of the same under Bush-Obama.

Studies show tax revenue shortfall accounts for at least 60% of US deficits. Another 20% is due to escalating defense spending, especially the ‘off budget’, so called ‘Overseas Contingency Operations’ (OCO) budget expenditures that go for direct war spending. The OCO is in addition to the Pentagon’s official budget, now to rise to $750 billion under Trump’s latest budget proposal.

The US actual defense budget, therefore, includes the $750 billion Pentagon bill, plus the OCO direct war spending.  Total defense-war spending also includes additional ‘defense’ spending for Homeland Security and for the CIA’s, NSA’s, and US State Department’s growing covert military spending for their ‘private’ armies and use of special forces. It further includes spending for Veterans benefits and military pensions, and for the costs of fuel used by the military which is indicated in the US Energy Dept. budget not the Pentagon’s. Add still more ‘defense’ spending on nuclear arms billed to the Atomic Energy Agency’s budget.  And let’s not forget the $50-$75 billion a year in the US ‘black budget’ that fund’s future secret military arms and technology, which never appears in print anywhere in the official US budget document and which only a handful of Congressional leaders in both the Republican and Democrat parties are privy to know.

In short, the US ‘defense’ budget is well over $1 trillion a year and is rising by hundreds of billions a year more under Trump.

US wars in the Middle East alone since 2001 have cost the US at minimum $6 trillion, according to various estimates. But contributing even more than wars to the now runaway national deficits and debt is the chronic and accelerating tax cutting that has been going on since 2001 under both Republican and Democrat presidents and Congresses alike—roughly 80% of which has gone to business, investors, and the wealthiest 1% households.

The Bush-Obama $14 Trillion Deficit-Debt Escalation

When George Bush took office in 2001 the national debt was $5.6 trillion. When he left it was approximately $10 trillion. A doubling. When Obama left office in 2016 it had risen to $19.6 trillion. Another doubling. (Under Trump’s first two years it has risen another $3 trillion). For a US national debt of $22.5 trillion today.

Under George W. Bush’s 8 years in office, the tax cutting amounted to more than $4 trillion. Defense and war spending accelerated by several trillions as well.  The middle east wars represent the first time in US history that the US cut taxes while raising war spending. In all previous wars, taxation was raised to help pay for war spending. Not anymore.

Obama cut another $300 billion in taxes in 2009 as part of his initial 2009 economic recovery program. He then extended the Bush tax cuts, scheduled to expire in 2010, for two more years in 2011-12—at a cost of another $900 billion.  He further proposed, and Congress passed, an additional $806 billion in tax cuts for business as the US economic recovery faltered in 2010. Obama then struck a deal with Republicans in January 2013 to extend the Bush tax cuts of 2001-08 for another entire decade—costing a further $2 trillion during Obama’s second term in office (and $5 trillion over the next ten years, 2013-2023).  Thus $2 trillion of that further $5 trillion was paid out on Obama’s watch from 2013-16 as part of the 2013 ‘Fiscal Cliff’ deal he agreed to with the Republicans.

So both Bush and Obama cut taxes by approximately $4 trillion each, for $8 trillion total. And defense-war spending long term costs rose by $6 trillion under both.

Trump’s Deficit-Debt Contribution 2017-18

When added up, Bush-Obama 2001-2016 combined $6 trillion in war-defense spending hikes, plus their accumulated $8 trillion in tax cutting, roughly accounts for the US federal deficit-debt increase of $14 trillion, i.e. from $5.6 trillion in national debt in 2000 to $19.5 trillion by the end of 2016.

To this Trump has since added another $3 trillion during his first two years in office, which adds up to the current $22.5 trillion US national debt.

Here’s how Trump has added the $3 trillion more in just two years:

In January 2018 the Trump tax cut provided a $4.5 trillion windfall tax reduction over the next decade, 2018-2028, targeting businesses, multinational corporations, wealthy households, and investors. US multinational corporations alone were allocated nearly half of that $4.5 trillion.

So where did the 2018 Trump (and continuing Bush-Obama tax cuts) go? Several bank research departments in 2018 estimate that in 2018 alone, the first year of Trump’s tax cuts, that the S&P 500 largest corporate profits were boosted by no less than 22% due to the tax cuts.  Total S&P 500 profits rose 27% in 2018. So Trump’s tax cuts provided the biggest boost to their bottom line.

Not surprising, with $1.3 trillion in corporate stock buybacks and dividend payouts occurring in 2018 as well, US stock markets continued to rise and shrug off corrections in February and November that otherwise would have brought the stock market boom to an end.

But starting this year, 2019, the middle class will begin paying for those corporate-wealthy reductions. Already tax refunds for the average household are down 17%, according to reports. The middle class will pay $1.5 trillion in higher taxes by 2028, as the tax hike bite starts in earnest by 2022.

Another $1.5 trillion in absurd assumptions by the Trump administration about US economic growth over the next decade supposedly reduces the Trump’s $4.5 trillion of tax cuts for the rich and their corporations by another $1.5 trillion. Thus we get the official reported cost of only $1.5 trillion for the 2018 Trump tax cuts. But the official, reported ‘only’ $1.5 trillion cost of Trump’s 2018 tax cuts is the ‘spin and cover-up’. Corporate America, investors and the wealthy 1% actually get $4.5 trillion, while the rest of us pay $1.5 trillion starting, now in 2019, and Trump spins the absurd economic growth estimations over the next decade.

The 2018 Trump tax cuts have reduced US government revenues by about $500 billion in 2018. Add another $.5 trillion per year in Bush-Obama era tax cuts carrying over for 2017-18, another $.4 trillion in Trump war and other spending hikes during his first two years and more than $.6 trillion in interest payments on the debt—and the total is a further $3 trillion added to the national debt during Trump’s first two years.

So Bush-Obama add $14 trillion to the $5.6 trillion debt in 2000. And Trump adds another $3 trillion so far. There’s the $17 trillion addition to the $5.6 trillion national debt.[1]

And now, according to the Treasury Advisory Committee, we can expect a further $12 trillion in debt to be added to the national debt over the coming decade—to give us the $34 trillion and $900 billion a year just in interest charges on that debt!

Total US Debt: 2019

But it gets worse than another $12 trillion. Today’s $22.5 trillion, rising to $34 trillion, is just the US national government debt. Total US debt includes state and local government debt, household debt, corporate bond and business commercial & industrial loan debt, central bank balance sheet debt, and government agencies (GSEs) debt.

Household debt is now $13.5 trillion and rising rapidly for student loans, auto loans, credit cards and other installment loans.  In 2018, State and Local government debt was $3.16 trillion and rising as well. Corporate bond debt today  is more than $9 trillion—two thirds of which is considered ‘junk’ and low quality BBB investment grade bonds, much of which is likely to default in the next recession. To this must be added other forms of business loan debt, commercial paper, and the like.  The Federal Reserve bank’s balance sheet is also a form of debt, which is $4 trillion and, according to the Fed recently, will not be reduced further. Other government housing agencies, like Fannie Mae, add hundreds of billions more in US debt. All these account for more than an additional $30 billion in US debt.

Add these other forms of debt to the national debt of $22.5 trillion and the total debt in the US rises easily to around $53 trillion. And add the further $12 trillion additional national debt on the horizon and further increases in other forms of debt, and the total US debt may easily exceed $70 trillion by 2028. The $900 billion a year in interest charges assumed by the CBO may thus be actually too low an estimate.

Who Pays the Debt and to Whom?

To whom do the various interest payments on debt accrue? To the wealthy and their corporations who buy the US and corporate bonds and who issue the credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages; to their banks that offload their debt to the Federal Reserve central bank during financial crises and recessions; to wealthy investors who buy government and agency bonds; to wealthy shareholders who have been getting $1 trillion a year since 2009 in dividends payouts and capital gains from stock buybacks made possible in large part by corporate bond raisings; and to wealthy households and corporations that get the tax cuts that drive the deficit and debt.

Their ‘interest income’ is projected to continue to accelerate over the next decade, thus further exacerbating income inequality trends now plaguing the US and getting worse.

Policies accelerating debt-based income transfer since 2001 have been expanding and deepening since 2000, across both Republican and Democrat regimes, from Bush through Obama, now accelerating even faster under Trump.

For consumer and household debt, clearly the working class-middle class pays most of the interest on the debt—via mortgage, auto, student and credit cards, rising state and local taxation, more federal taxation paying for the Trump tax cuts, etc.  The federal government—and thus the taxpayer–pay the interest on the government bond debt.  The creditors and owners of the debt reap the benefits, now in the trillions of dollars annually.

The Trump budget proposes to pay for the US government’s share of the total debt, by transferring the cost of financing military-defense spending and tax cutting—which creates more deficit and debt—to those households who aren’t investors and business owners. But whether Trump gets his budget approved or not is irrelevant. The deficits and debt will continue to accelerate nonetheless.

And if he does get to shift some of the cost via extending his national emergency rule to the US spending in general, not just his wall, the economic consequences will of course even be worse.

Notes.

[1] Conservatives argue that this excludes rising social program spending debt, like social security and medicare. But those programs are not financed out of the US budget (with the exception of the prescription drugs program for seniors). They have their own tax base, the payroll tax.  What about the 2008-09 bailout? The banks were bailed out by the Federal Reserve not Congress. And the costs of social program spending hikes after 2008-2011, were offset by a $1.5 trillion cut in social spending that started in August 2011—which exempted effectively cuts in defense spending thereafter.

 

Categories: News for progressives

America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:57

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Juan Guaidó is a useful pawn for U.S. interests in Venezuela, but is he expendable?

On January 15th, the White House reported that VP Mike Pence spoke by phone “today” with Guaidó, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly.  It claimed the call was made “to recognize his courageous leadership following his arrest and intimidation this weekend, and to express the United States’ resolute support for the National Assembly of Venezuela as the only legitimate democratic body in the country.” On the 23rd, Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela.

In its brief statement about the call between Pence and Guaidó, the White House failed to report that the VP “pledged” that the Trump administration would support him “if he seized the reins of government from [elected President] Nicolas Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution.”

This was revealed by The Wall Street Journal and sheds light on what actually was said during the conversation. “That late-night call set in motion a plan that had been developed in secret over the preceding several weeks, accompanied by talks between U.S. officials, allies, lawmakers, and key Venezuelan opposition figures, including Mr. Guaido himself,” it reported.  Citing an anonymous administration official, it noted, “Almost instantly, just as Mr. Pence had promised, President Trump issued a statement recognizing Mr. Guaido as the country’s rightful leader.”  On the 23rd, Trump twitted, “President @realDonaldTrump has officially recognised the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela.”

The Journal went further, pointing out, “Other officials who met that day at the White House included… [Sec. of State] Pompeo and [National Security Advisor] Bolton, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who presented Mr. Trump with options for recognizing Mr. Guaido.” It added, “Mr. Trump decided to do it. Mr. Pence, who wasn’t at that meeting, placed his phone call to Mr. Guaido to tell him, ‘If the National Assembly invoked Article 233 the following day, the president would back him.'”

On the 30th, as reported by Roll Call, Trump placed a follow-up call to Guaidó.  Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, the call was made to “congratulate him [Guaidó] on his historic assumption of the presidency and to reinforce President Trump’s strong support for Venezuela’s fight to regain its democracy.” During the call, Guaidó “noted the importance of the large protests across Venezuela against former dictator Maduro, set to occur today and Saturday,” she added.

Almost on cue, following Trump’s call 11 European Union countries quickly recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, including Austria, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. By mid-February, 65 countries had recognized him as president.  Quickly thereafter, Canada, Israel and the bloc of right-wing Latin American governments known as the Lima Group recognized Guaidó.

As if they were a Greek chorus cheering from the sidelines, the U.S. mainstream media joined it anointing Guaidó as president.  As summarized by GreyZone, “The New York Times editorial board hailed Guaidó as a ‘credible rival’ to Maduro with a ‘refreshing style and vision of taking the country forward.’ The Bloomberg News editorial board applauded him for seeking “restoration of democracy” and the Wall Street Journal declared him ‘a new democratic leader.’”

The innumerable print and media reports about the on-going Venezuela crisis share a common portrait of Guaidó, one in which he emerged, like an innocent new-born politician, from the social chaos to take leadership. More troubling, it presents him as a unifier of large spectrum of political groups in opposition to the Maduro regime.  This portrait is not only mostly a fiction but serves to hide not only his history as a rightwing militant but the role the U.S. government has played for a decade-a-half in shaping Guaidó for his current effort to orchestrate a coup d’etat.

In the highly informative expose, “The Making of Juan Guaido,” Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal, report that as a student, Guaidó strongly opposed Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chavez and supported the 2002 coup attempt against him.  He backed Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), the privately-owned rightwing radio station, that played a key role in fermenting the 2002 coup by helping mobilize anti-government demonstrations, blaming government supporters for attacks on anti-government forces and blocking pro-government reports about the coup.

Guaidó graduated from Caracas’ Andrés Bello Catholic University in engineering in 2007 and went on for a graduate degree in the governance and political management program at George Washington University.  At GW, he studied under the Venezuelan economist Luis Enrique Berrizbeitia, a leading Latin American neoliberal economist.

In 2007, the Maduro regime refused to grant RCTV’s a license renewal and Guaidó helped lead anti-government rallies protests against the decision.  Guaidó and some of his closest associates were part of a rightwing youth group, “Generation 2007,” that sought to overthrow the Chavez government. The group included Leopoldo López, a Princeton-education man who came from one of Venezuela’s richest families and was a descended from his country’s first president, who long worked with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and was elected mayor of a district in Caracas.  López founded the Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) party which Guaidó eventually came to lead.

Two years earlier, in October 2005, some of those who would form the Generation 2007 group – but apparently not Guaidó — went to Belgrade, Serbia, for rightwing insurrectionary training.  The trip was sponsored by the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) and largely funded by the NED. Stratfor, the military-intelligence contractor, reported that “[CANVAS] may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”

Stratfor outlined CANVAS’s training program in revealing terms: “Success is by no means guaranteed, and student movements are only at the beginning of what could be a years-long effort to trigger a revolution in Venezuela, but the trainers themselves are the people who cut their teeth on the ‘Butcher of the Balkans’ [i.e., Milošević].  They’ve got mad skills. When you see students at five Venezuelan universities hold simultaneous demonstrations, you will know that the training is over and the real work has begun.”

In 2010, Statfor outlined what one analyst called a plan to “drive a dagger through the heart of the Bolivarian revolution.”  The scheme involved upending country’s electrical system, thus leading to a 70 percent in service. “This could be the watershed event, as there is little that Chavez can do to protect the poor from the failure of that system,” a Stratfor internal memo declared. It went on to note, “This would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate. At that point in time, an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.”  Nine years later, an idle scheme became a threating reality.

In 2010, Guaidó and a handful of other student activists attended a secret five-day training retreat at Mexico City’s Fiesta Mexicana run by Otpor, the Belgrade-based regime-change trainers backed by the U.S. government, notably Otto Reich, an advisor to the Reagan and Bush administrations.  Venezuela’s Socialist Party legislator Robert Serra claimed, “Behind this [retreat] are big interests and big finances, we´re talking about an international network which sought to destabilise our country.”

One of Guaidó’s associates, Miami-based Maria Corina Machado, was identified as the key to a 2014 plot against Maduro.  She claimed that the plot was OK-ed by U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker. “I have already made up my mind and this fight will continue until this regime is overthrown and we deliver to our friends in the world,” Machado said. And insisted, “If I went to San Cristobal and exposed myself before the OAS, I fear nothing. Kevin Whitaker has already reconfirmed his support and he pointed out the new steps. We have a checkbook stronger than the regime’s to break the international security ring.”

Most troubling, the Popular Will party, including Guaidó, was actively involved in a 2014 campaign known asguarimbas, anti-Maduro street protesters.  He tweeted a video featuring himself wearing a helmet and gas mask and surrounded by masked and armed associates.  They blocked a highway and had violent clashes with the police. The demonstration also took place at universities where students wore T-shirts embossed “Popular Will” or “Justice First.”  The 2014 guarimbas showdown ended with the killing of about 43 people and, in a 2017 incident, 126 people, including many Chavistas and police officers.

In 2015, Guaidówas elected a member of the National Assembly and, in 2018, he spearheaded the opposition coalition named the Democratic Unity Round Table (MUD). As a member of the Venezuelan parliament, Guaido headed an inspection commission investigating high-profile corruption cases, such as the Odebrecht construction company bribery case, involving officials of Maduro’s government. Odebrecht, the largest construction and development company in Latin America, admitted in 2016 to bribing government officials in a dozen South American countries.

As Cohen and Blumenthal report, “Guaidó is known as the president of the opposition-dominated National Assembly, but he was never elected to the position.”  They point out that Guaidó was fourth in line among opposition-group leaders for the position but the first was under house arrest, another was hiding out in the Chilean embassy, the third mysterious did not assume the position and the fourth was Guaidó. The Popular Will party represents only 14 percent of legislators.

In late 2018, Guaidó visited Washington, Colombia and Brazil to help coordinate plans for mass opposition demonstrations during Maduro’s second inauguration in January 2019.  Leading the anti-Maduro campaign, Bolton screeched, “What we’re focusing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the source of its revenues. We think consistent with our recognition of Juan Guaidó as the constitutional interim president of Venezuela that those revenues should go to the legitimate government.” As reported in the Journal, another U.S. official said, “We have been engaged with the same strategy: to build international pressure, help organize the internal opposition and push for a peaceful restoration of democracy. But that internal piece was missing.”  A U.S. official said, “He [Guaidó] was the piece we needed for our strategy to be coherent and complete.”

The New York Times confirmed this assessment, quoting William Brownfield, the former American ambassador to Venezuela: “For the first time, you have an opposition leader [Guaidó] who is clearly signaling to the armed forces and to law enforcement that he wants to keep them on the side of the angels and with the good guys.”

Like the tide, America’s political puppets come and go, some last longer while other serve for but an historical instant. Among the many who’ve served U.S. interests and were, in time, swept from the historical stage are Manuel Noriega (Panama), Augusto Pinochet (Chile), Rios Montt (Guatemala) and Anastasio Somosa (Nicaragua) along with the (Shah) Mohammad Reza (Iran) and Saddam Hussein (Iraq). Looking to Guaidó’s fate, Diego Sequera, a Venezuelan journalist, notes, “It doesn’t matter if he crashes and burns after all these misadventures, to the Americans, he is expendable.”

 

Categories: News for progressives

Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:56

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

Poet Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” provides a stirring glimpse into the perspectives and policies of British colonialists in the 20th century. Of course, the perspectives it reveals are temporally confined to British colonialism in Walcott’s poem: he was a native of Saint Lucia, a British colony or “possession” in the Caribbean; and he was writing about Kenya, a British colony or “possession” in Africa. But the mindset he reveals could easily be applied to the modern neocolonialists of the American empire, which succeeded the British empire after World War Two.

It was the British from whom the Americans inherited the imperial mandate. Imperialist enthusiast Sir Cecil Rhodes, the infamous South African magnate, understood the mutual interests of capitalism and imperialism, and how the latter was in fact a species of the former. Rhodes passionately believed expansionism was everything in capitalism and in nations. He once remarked, with a disarming frankness, “I would annex the stars if I could.”

Contrast this with a quote from Derek Walcott, who spoke of his native region with a different kind of enthusiasm, “Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.” How curious a contrast—the native of a country with an embarrassment of natural riches, star-struck by its beauty, who understood it to be a palliative for the individual suffering under the ravages of colonialism. It acted like a physic on the soul; like a balm on the body. Walcott sensed the same visual medicine existed in Africa. In A Far Cry, he notes the “tawny pelt” and a “white dust of ibises” and the “…bloodstreams of the veldt” that mar this “paradise.”

A not inconsiderable part of the colonialism that visited social and ecological catastrophe on the Caribbean and Africa, threatening to destroy the natural beauties Walcott so loved, was the ideological justifications for the conquest. For Walcott, like African author Chinua Achebe, the rationales for colonial cruelty were almost as galling as the acts themselves. They revealed the inner workings of the hand that slew, the eye that hated, the mouth that cursed, the law that confined natives within the humiliating mews of servitude. There are connected justifications that Walcott notes in his poem.

Throughout the work, Walcott underscores the racist attitude the colonial British had toward their African subjects: “savages, expendable as Jews.” And later, “The gorilla wrestles with the superman”. These phrases reveal the history of colonial thought, dating back even to the Greeks, who were perhaps the first to externalize the ‘other’ as almost nonhuman. The Greeks called non-Greeks “barbarians.” Walcott suggests that this, too, was how the British saw Africans, as ‘savages’ and ‘gorillas’. This diminishing of the humanity of the African made it easier for the British to condone their colonial cruelties. For them, then, this was not a case of one human harming another. This was rather a case of humans necessarily exerting dominion over sub-humans, not simply as a byproduct of conquest, but rather as a mandate from heaven. This was the second justification. Indeed, the British believed they were civilizing the savages. Walcott saw this quite clearly. He writes, “The violence of beast on beast is read/As natural law, but upright man/Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain”. Perfectly put. Here we see the ideologies of racism, messianic religion, and social Darwinism merging into a deeply delusional reconfiguring of reality.

This is Orwellian in the truest sense. In 1984 Orwell imagined a state that taught that, “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Here Walcott describes a colonial regime that reinterprets enslavement as altruism. Walcott concludes, “Again brutish necessity wipes its hands/Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again”. That dirty cause is what needs cleaning up, what needs a rationale. That dirty cause Walcott laments is what author J.M. Coetzee wrote so memorably of in Waiting for the Barbarians:

One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.

The brutal exploitation of nations and peoples must be dulcified by subjugating it to a larger cultural project, in this case the civilizing of savages. In a sense, these are, at bottom, issues of language. Without the mental justification, would colonialism persist? Language here is the articulated embodiment of inner greed yoked to rationality, the former conditioning the latter.

Modern Incarnations

This is the story of Venezuela. Racism reveals itself in the character of the protagonists and the antagonists. Juan Guaido’s National Assembly is a whitebred clan of privileged ‘representatives’, representing little more than the interests of privilege. Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly is a cross-section of society, mostly comprised of people of color, working to imbue their constitution with a revolutionary array of rights for every citizen. Yet across Latin America, as Amy Chua has written, small bands of whites with European heritage tend to control the wealth of these societies. It is no different in Venezuela.

These self-anointed rulers must vindicate their behaviors in some fashion. Today we here extremists like Donald Trump and Marco Rubio declaring the need to defend the persecuted people of Venezuela from their own elected leader; the responsibility to nobly restore democracy (read market capitalism) to a nation that has made stunning social strides underneath the banner of Bolivarian socialism. This modern fake faith in democracy is not unlike the old ruse of disguising colonialism as missionary work. Both rationales cloak an underlying madness of capitalist imperialism: as cultural theorist Walter Benjamin wrote, capitalism is, “…a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was.”

But unlike the heavy-handed imperial Britain that Walcott wrote of, the imperialism of the United States has found a modern method of conquest and rule, a more opaque template that looks to leave a lighter footprint, less evidence of its own barbarity, the better to project it onto the victim. As many alternative media outlets have explained, Venezuela’s economic and social problems are principally the product of economic warfare against it by the United States, and only secondarily an expression of the ham-fisted economic management of the Maduro government (I nearly wrote ‘Maduro regime’. It is never wise to discount the effects of mainstream media on the unconscious.).

The U.S. has instanced a variety of brutal economic and clandestine measures to destabilize the legitimate government in Caracas under the guise of democracy promotion. They include the use of destructive sanctions that prevent the Maduro government from attaining international loans, of importing precious medical supplies and agricultural products, as well as necessary resources to process its petroleum; the confiscation of Venezuelan gold (by the British government) and the revenues of its North American oil supplier Citgo (by the U.S. government); the de facto banning of Venezuela from using the SWIFT system of international payments; the funding of violent opposition by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); the use of public relations stunts like the sham humanitarian aid deliveries to the Venezuelan borders, organized by convicted gunrunner Elliot Abrams (indelibly exposed by Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar in Congressional hearings); the backing of coup d’états (one temporarily succeeded in 2002, another foiled in the planning stages in 2014, the latest a slow-motion series of mishaps); and last but not least, the massive undeclared media campaign to establish the narrative that Maduro was a dictator hellbent on destroying his own society through purblind socialist economics and authoritarian brutality to suppress resistance; and finally the threat of military invasion if these efforts fail to dislodge the Bolivarian movement. All of this to install a racist ingenue in the presidency, backed by a phalanx of neoliberal technocrats who will unravel the Bolivarian achievements to reintroduce the laissez-faire hellscape that the socialist movement lifted Venezuela out of.

The Othering of Men and Women

It is, in the end, a politics of the ‘other’. By rationalizing conquest as a necessary conquest of ‘other’, ‘lesser’ humans, we allow ourselves to conduct it with little cognitive dissonance. This might be sufficient for the continuation of subjugation until enslaved populations rise up and throw off their chains. But what occurs in all colonial settings is that the colonizer intermingles with the colonized and produces a new community of people that contain within them elements of both. This changes both the colonized and the colonizing nations, and gives the lie to the notion that one is superior to the other. Derek Walcott was a member of this co-mingled community, and in his final stanza of “Far Cry”, rather than issuing a fierce call for resistance (which would have been perfectly valid), he calls into view his own being. He had white and black grandparents. He was a subject of a British colony and yet a master of the colonial language. This contradictions within his own person troubled him, even as a new social realm emerged from the interplay of conquest and resistance.

We see this clearly enough in Europe and America today. The colonization of North Africa, the conquest of half of Mexico, the neocolonial conquests in the Middle East and Central America–all produce their refugees, seeking shelter within the walls of the empire, beneath the gun turrets themselves. There is safety at the metropole. It is an unsettling paradox: in the heart of evil, the evil only echoes at a distance. Yet this is the proverbial nightmare scenario for men like President Trump and Abrams and Rubio, who see refugees as desperadoes come to rape and pillage our pristine societies. This feverish vision—like the regime change wars themselves—is merely the unconscious mind projecting its own unacceptable behavior onto those it violates. This capacity for self-delusion and the delusional rationalization of savagery is one of the deepest dilemmas of the human species. We are, in this respect, no further along the road to peaceful cohabitation than we were in the days of satraps and the Raj, only that our barbarities are better shielded from view. We are better dissimulators than we once were; we are better magicians of the unreal. The more one considers this, the more plausible it seems that our material advances in civilization have been offset by a moral recidivism for which we have few comprehensive solutions. But if capitalism has been shown to exacerbate that dilemma, why are we once again backing the proposed plunder of another sovereign nation, for which we will again have to invent false narratives to appease our agitated conscience?

Categories: News for progressives

Our Green New Deal

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:55

Photograph Source Sunrise Movement Logo

On Friday, February 22, 2019, Sunrise Bay Area, Youth Vs. Apocalypse and Earth Guardians Bay Area Crew gathered together for a rally held outside of Senator Feinstein’s office in San Francisco in an attempt to persuade her to vote yes on the Green New Deal.

We attended the rally at Feinstein’s to show support and help in whatever ways we could as this movement is one that matters to us and our future– we hadn’t planned to talk with Feinstein directly. In spite of this, when the opportunity presented itself YVA and Earth Guardians accepted gladly and were more than excited when we learned that we would actually be allowed into her office to speak to her personally. For us at least, this excitement turned quickly into fear as our peers and Senator Feinstein began to converse.

This fear was not because we felt that we were being “Taught a lesson” or “Told off”. It was because we could see ourselves talking to our future grandchildren about what breathable air used to be like. We could see workers in impoverished communities whose children’s lives depended on risking their own. We were afraid because, at that moment, we could see the world around us shrinking – becoming something small and unimportant, and with it so did we.

However, we only felt this way. As we sit here and write this piece, we know that we are not small and we are definitely not unimportant. Our words speak for all youth, as we demand a future. And that future will only be possible through the Green New Deal. Because as we advocate for the Green New Deal, we are also advocating for the future of our Earth and all of its inhabitants. A promised future. The future we deserve. Because the adults that decide our future, got theirs. So who are they to cancel ours?

We are not fighting for the Green New Deal because we are brainwashed youth or because we are being manipulated and used for political gain. We fight for the Green New Deal because we are in charge of our future, and know exactly what it means. It lies in our hands, only ours. It is our future, whether or not elected officials like that and the only way to protect what belongs to us is through bold and transformative action.

We cannot separate ourselves from all the animals, plants and all other life because we are all interconnected. We are all affected by the destructive aftermath of climate change. Just because we are human, it does not negate the fact that we are also in danger because of our actions. We are in also in danger from inequality and lack of economic opportunity. We can’t leave behind anyone.

That is why we believe in the Green New Deal, and we know what the Green New Deal is. We have read it and we understand it because we know exactly what we have to do to secure our future. Youth have a right to be in this conversation because in the long run, this is more than a debate. It is our life and future.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Nightmare Budget

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:55

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Two things can be said with certainty about Trump’s 2020 budget request: It is DOA, dead on arrival, in the House; and it is a political document, catering to his loyal supporters, rather than a serious fiscal statement. What the budget request reveals is that Trump, left to his own devices, would further skewer the middle class and low-income groups, downgrade diplomacy and environmental protection, give the military more than it really wants or needs, and fulfill his obsession with a border wall. To say the budget is revolting and immoral would be a vast understatement. But it may (and should) give Democrats additional evidence of Trump’s unfitness to lead.

Below is a quick breakdown of the budget proposal. The Washington Post has a very good analysis March 13, 2019, at the source for the figures below.

Proposed changes to funding in Trump’s budget

-31% Environmental Protection Agency
-24% State and USAID
-19% Transportation
-16% Housing and Urban Development
-15% Agriculture
-14% Interior
-12% Health and Human Services
-12% Education
-11% Energy
-10% Labor
-2% Justice
-2% NASA
-2% Treasury
+5% Defense
+7% Commerce
+7% Homeland Security
+8% Veterans Affairs

Key proposed additions
–Adds more than $33 billion to the Department of Defense budget, for a total of $718 billion, 57 percent of the proposed federal discretionary budget
–Allocates $8.6 billion to build sections of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, on top of the close to $7 billion Trump already announced in his national emergency declaration
–Sets aside $750 million to establish a paid parental leave program and $1 billion for a one-time fund to help underserved populations and encourage company investment in child-care
–Commits $291 million toward ending the spread of HIV in the United States within a decade, a promise Trump made in his State of the Union last month

Key proposed cuts
–Cuts $845 billion over the next 10 years from Medicare, the federal program that provides health insurance to older Americans
–Removes $241 billion from Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans, over the next decade as part of an overhaul that shifts more power to states
–Slashes $220 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade, with proposed reforms including mandatory work requirements and food box delivery service in lieu of cash benefits for low-income families
–Reductions to the federal student loan programs that total $207 billion in the next 10 years and include eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness and subsidized student loans.

Categories: News for progressives

The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:55

The Prototype for Trump, Putin and Co. [1]

A great nation becomes disillusioned with the promises of free competition, free trade, economic liberalization, and greater integration into the world market, policies that seem to benefit only a few at the expense of the many. In an election that shocks the liberal and educated elements in the society, and international opinion, the people elect a strongman – an individual who is already famous, and who promises to return the country to greatness. Widely popular with working people, but linked to a more troubling group of militant supporters who his opponents might reasonably consider to be “deplorables”, he wins the election by promising public works to create employment. Yet, he also promises to business to safeguard its interests. Once in power, he quickly begins to violate recent norms of policy, standard governmental practice and traditional diplomacy.

Sound familiar? Around the world the 21stcentury has seen leaders fitting most of this description come into power in one democratic country after another: Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Jakob Zuma in South Africa, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Victor Orbàn in Hungary, and of course Donald Trump in the United States. We might add to this list China’s President Xi Jinping, even if he was only elected by the governing body of China, not the people themselves.  And we might also, though with some caution, add Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to the list, as at least having gained a degree of personal authority while undermining the previously existing structures. As we will see, we can include these Latin American leaders only if we recognize some important differences. Then there are those who have come close but not yet won power, such as Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front. Looking over the worldwide panorama of power, we have to admit that a major form of government – one either based on, tending toward or favorable to one-person rule has spread around the world.

The countries involved, and cited above, are so different from each other in political culture, levels of wealth and economic development and historical trajectories, that in looking for answers to the question why such governments, leaders, and political parties are becoming so common, we must go beyond the specifics of each individual national case – even if the particularities of each country determine the specific forms of strongman-type leaders or nationalist parties. We must look for some systemic, and global, causes.

One place to look that would be fruitful is in the work of a thinker whose analysis of the case I described above in the introduction still stands as a model of brilliant and original theorizing about the causes of political outcomes.

The case that I described above was not one of the leaders of recent years, but the prototype for all such modern strongman-type leaders: Louis Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon. And the work of analysis that shed light on how this vulgar, scheming, authoritarian mediocrity was first elected President of France on December 10, 1848, and then in a coup d’etaton December 2, 1851 became Emperor of France, was a long pamphlet by none other than Karl Marx, entitled “The 18thBrumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” I will argue that Marx’s basic argument, that such individuals and the centralization of power in their hands is possible only under particular conditions is very useful for understanding what is happening today around the world. Further, I will show that by understanding the necessary and sufficient conditions for the rise of strongmen to power, we can derive important strategic understandings to help us prevent such authoritarian government, to reverse its rise and to create conditions that can make such leaders unlikely, or, where they do gain office, to control them through democratic and popular institutions and mobilizations. Finally, I consider the possibility of a coalition capable of making the changes needed to protect republican institutions in the future, and address the obstacles facing such a coalition from coming into being today.

Marx’s title itself parodied Louis Bonaparte, since the 18thBrumaire was the date on the Revolutionary calendar of the French Revolution when Napoleon carried out his own coup, leading to his eventual coronation as Emperor. The difference in historical grandeur and importance between the two coups, and the two Bonapartes, led to Marx’s famous opening line, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”[2]Marx, and Hegel, are right: surely we can recognize that the first time the world faced an authoritarian backlash at liberal overreach was horrible tragedy (and worse) – the rise of Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and world war. Compared to Stalin or Hitler, even to Mussolini or Franco, the Vladimir Putin’s, Xi Jinping’s, Donald Trumps and Victor Orbàns do seem parodies of themselves and of the type. As farce in other words. As Marx pointed out throughout his work of course, this does not make them less dangerous to democracy or to freedom. If anything, it means we risk underestimating the threat due to the very lack of grandeur and gravitas compared with the world-shaking dictators of the mid-20thcentury, as Louis Bonaparte was easily underestimated by his opponents. I am in no way suggesting that any of today’s strongmen, be they in democratic polities like Trump, Berlusconi, or Orbàn, or in dictatorships like China, are comparable to the mass murders of the 20thcentury. I amsuggesting that they are comparable to Louis Bonaparte.

Bonaparte’s opponents often ridiculed him. And many of today’s leaders are easily enough parodied or ridiculed, despite their high office and great power. Xi Jinping, unchallenged leader of a vast and powerful organization with a monopoly of power over the world’s most populous country has to ban Winnie the Pooh and the letter N[3], which were used on social media to mock him. Banned also is the word “Emperor” – apparently things have changed since Louis Bonaparte’s time, when Emperor was a status one aspired to. Still, I wonder how school children in the world’s oldest continual civilization can do research for homework assignments on much of Chinese history without being allowed to look up the word Emperor on the internet. Berlusconi’s insulting behavior to women, his lack of personal dignity, even as he dresses impeccably in the latest styles from Rome’ elegant Via del Corso; Trump’s…well, do I even have to go into all that? Let’s just say that social media has not lacked for jokes, memes, and embarrassing posts, poking fun at his oversized sense of self-importance.  Oh, and let’s not forget  that even the powerful Putin has had to deal with Pussy Riot, or recently been ridiculed in a Randy Newman song.

The End of Kings

That the public has taken to making fun of many of these larger-than-life seeming heads of government is undoubtedly heartening to all of us who still hold to the classic definition of a republic. That definition is powerfully defended in William Everdell’s magnificent book, The End of Kings. Everdell relies on John Adams’ phrase in a letter to Roger Sherman in 1789, stating that a republic is “a government whose sovereignty is vested in more than one man.”[4] Public ridicule of those who aspire to one-person rule is a sure sign of the health of the polity, and of the people’s good sense.

Unfortunately, as Everdell demonstrated in The End of Kings, republics have always been more securely defended by institutional and structural arrangements than by what Machiavelli called republican virtue, that is, by civic spirit. Civic spirit eventually lags, and opens the door to the power-hungry, unless constitutional, institutional, and legal safeguards are in place. The problem is that even constitutional and institutional systems still need at least enough civic spirit and mobilization of social power to defend the constitutional system itself, and to insist on its being respected. We shall later examine the social bases of this willingness and capacity to mobilize on behalf of republican institutions. So, constitutional limits on power and civic spirit reinforce each other and need each other. But even this combination is inadequate if the broader social forces in society both fragment civic spirit and weaken the institutional restraints.  Civic spirit and institutional restraints on power are dependent on, and need to be used to foster and maintain, organized class forces that are intrinsically committed to defending democratic and republican order.  And this is where Marx’s analysis comes in.

What Classes Have to Do with It: Avoiding the Great Man Theory and Economic Determinism

Marx’s concern is twofold: first, the relationship between social forces. For Marx this means the class relations in society, the institutional system of the state and the subjective ways of seeing the world of society’s members; and second, how to avoid two wrongheaded viewpoints – one that sees all outcomes as the inevitable results of large-scale processes and systems, and another that instead vastly overstates the role of individuals in the making of history.

Many today argue that today’s political crises result from the crisis of elites and the rise of populists. Populists and elites however, are superficial categories, weakly defined, more descriptive of effects than causes. The causes, according to many mainstream explanations are globalization and technology.[5]The first is assumed to be an inevitable historical process, resistance to which is, as Star Trek’s Borg used to say, futile. The latter is taken to be an independent variable, a force in itself, one that human beings must adjust to and accept as a politically neutral and ultimately always progressive and even liberating power. But technology is the work of human brains and hands, and, as is in fact embodied in human knowledge and skills. This is not well understood in accounts of technological inevitability, otherwise we would realize that humans can affect human creations and abililities. In these accounts, elites are those best able, or even most worthy to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the advance of globalization and new technologies. Populists are said to represent the unworthy in the new pitiless meritocracy, those left behind along with their smokestack industries, mining towns, or forgotten farming communities and fishing villages.

The other approach is to see the rise of strongmen to governmental power as the result of their individual qualities, or lack thereof – cheating to get ahead, willingness to rely on fake news, alliance with disreputable and anti-democratic foreign powers such as the Russian government, willingness to lie, being all things to all people to win votes from all over the spectrum, lack of respect for the norms of democracy, constitutionality and even ordinary human decency. Much of this list does describe accurately many of the above-mentioned men. And so far they are all men. The rise of one-person authoritarian government is a highly gendered process. Murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya warned us all about Putin long ago and paid the highest price for it. We would be hard-pressed to decide whether Duterte, Erdogan or Putin would be the more dangerous opponent if any of them should decide that some group is a threat to their power and agenda. And nearly every one of this crop of leaders, even in democratic countries, has made clear that diplomatic niceties are at best a very low priority, if not one of the pillars of the old order that needs to be knocked down.

Both of these poles of analysis have some elements of truth to them. But each is flawed. To see the rise of Trump or Orbàn as the result of globalization or technology puts the cart before the horse – seeing the results of human policies and practices as the causes of outcomes. It also strains credibility – does globalization lead to Clintons, Blairs and Obamas, to Macrons and to the liberal-democratic end of history? Or to Le Pen, to the UK Independence Party winning its Brexit referendum, to Orbàn and to Trump? And why is Xi Jinping, arguably the leader of the greatest centralization of power in the greatest up and coming world power the new global spokesman for free trade and further global integration in the wake of President Trump’s new protectionist policies? Advocates of globalization can’t have it both ways. Either globalization is inevitable, and the pace of technological change irreversible, in which case the populist forces can be no threat anyway, or else globalization supports the rise of the so-called Third Wave of Democratization defined by Samuel Huntington, in which case these political outcomes can’t be happening. But they are. Nor can each individual case can be explained by the personal characteristics of the rising leaders themselves. As I wrote at the start of this article, the rise of similar political regimes worldwide despite all the cultural, economic and political differences in the relevant countries suggests that the individual national conditions, let alone individual politicians, cannot be the cause of their own rise. To accept this account would mean accepting the self-narratives of the Berlusconis, Trumps, Dutartes, etc., namely that they are self-made men.

Marx took each of these arguments apart in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” And not for abstract reasons. The arguments made by his contemporaries parallel those we find today to explain Donald Trump’s presidency, or Victor Orbàn’s authoritarian politics. And the arguments Marx contested were made by two of the most famous writers and most respected social critics of his time: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Victor Hugo. Proudhon, who had risen to becoming one of the best-known writers in the European left during the Revolution of 1848, saw the anti-politics style of Louis Bonaparte’s electoral victory: “France has named Louis Bonaparte President of the Republic because it is tired of parties, because all the parties are dead, because with parties power itself is dead.”[6] Proudhon, who would pay with years in prison for his troubles, saw the economic revolution of the 19thcentury – free enterprise, market reforms, privatizations, the industrial revolution and free trade – as decisive in determining the trajectory of Louis Bonaparte’s government and his hold on power. As Lois Spear writes, according to Proudhon,

Bonaparte would doom himself to failure once a free economy emerged. Free men would cast off rulers and their legions and Bonaparte would find himself’ out of power. The ultimate need was to institute the economic revolution. In the supreme act of his political life, Proudhon called upon Bonaparte to forget all the vituperations hurled at him, the entire philosophy of nongovernment, and take charge of the revolutionary wagon, directing it into the path of the new order. It is small wonder that he puzzled and shocked his contemporaries?[7]

As Spears points out, “Proudhon’s faith in the reasoning power of the masses, enslaved and brutalized by poverty, as he termed it, had never been strong. But he was stunned by their speedy acceptance of the inevitable, noting that it was only the bourgeoisie who protested.”[8] The assumption that economic globalization, in both the 19thand 21stcentury varieties, is inevitable, that the industrial revolution, in both 19thand 21stcentury versions, will determine the destiny of human societies, easily marries such a view of the common people as ignorant and uninformed, and so easily manipulated into voting against their own interests. Marx had already seen the type of today’s Thomas Friedmans, or of the post-mortems by the brain trust of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and he had rejected it as unable to account for the whys and whens of events. Proudhon would successively predict that the tendency of the economic revolution of the times would force Louis Bonaparte to move toward a leftist version of liberalization, and then predicted instead that it would lead to dictatorship and betrayal of popular and liberal values.

Karl Marx is often stereotyped as an economic determinist. His argument in “The Eighteenth Brumaire” refutes that charge. But Marx also rejected any inflation of the role of individuals in history. Not because people did not matter in the political, social and economic outcomes, but because they did not matter as much in all situations. Conditions are never entirely under the control even of those in power, and therefore all actions have unintended consequences. This is not due to the Fall of Man or human imperfection, but because we inherent given conditions from history, and our current actions are always met by those of others acting in opposite directions. And so situations are not reducible to inevitable economic or technological trends, nor completely under our control.

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please in circumstances they choose for themselves; rather they make it In present circumstances, given and inherited.[9]” Marx argues that only under very specific conditions can a single individual, even if backed by a movement or popular support, gain power to rule in an authoritarian fashion, with a high degree of independence from existing institutions, from the main social classes and interest groups in society, and from the norms of behavior. What, then, are those conditions?

Marx’s answer gives the lie to whole “Great Man” approach to history, an approach that is central to the autobiographical narratives of so many of today’s leaders and candidates for leadership. The answer is that these kinds of leaders and governments are possible only when the struggle between the leading classes of society leads to a stalemate, in which none of the main contending classes are in a position to offer leadership through their own direct representatives, or their own organizations. When that happens, it becomes possible for shrewd leaders with access to organization and resources, and well-versed in public manipulation, to play the game of being all things to all people, of telling each class in turn that he (or someday she) represents their concerns and interests, and so to gain the relative autonomy to consolidate personal power and rule through plebiscite, spectacle, and a close-knit circle of clients and sycophants.

This enables Marx to explain what is wrong with today’s political center, left and center-left who are so easily drawn into the trap of personalizing the struggle with their opponent in power. The Italian left fought Berlusconi for years and have never yet really neutralized the threat of his return to power; but they never analyzed seriously the conditions that led to Berlusconism in the first place. The US left demonized George W. Bush’s erosion of Constitutional limits, without understanding his victories beyond plausible accusations of stolen elections, blaming Ralph Nader, and appeal to the ignorance of the masses in “Red State” or “fly-over” America. And the obsession with Trump himself during the election campaign of 2016, with his tweets, with the Mueller investigation into the Russian connection with the Trump campaign  (whether the latter had a real impact on the results or not), all show that the lesson has not been learned.  In the 1869 Preface to the Second Edition of “The Eighteenth Brumaire”, Marx showed again that he knew this type of opposition and criticism of authoritarian leadership, and again he rejected it, this time in the work on Louis Bonaparte’s coup by Victor Hugo:

Victor Hugo confines himself to bitter and witty invective against the responsible producer of the coup d’etat. The event itself appears in his work like a bolt from the blue. He sees in it only the violent act of a single individual. [10]

So, the first problem with this kind of criticism of such leaders, even if, as we saw above, a healthy sense of public humor about those in power is a necessary element to maintaining republic spirit and civic virtue, is that the focus on the person in power as an individual also confines the opposition to bitter and witty invective – the late night comedians, the Hollywood actors’ tweets, and the rest. But while such invective may keep the nation on its toes, it can never bring down a regime in power. And it certainly cannot change the circumstances that enabled it to come to power in the first place. In fact, it cannot even analyze and understand those circumstances, because it sees the event itself as the act of a single individual, or at most of him and a small circle around him of co-conspirators. James Madison’s model of checks and balances based itself, as Madison made clear in Federalist Papers numbers 10 and 51, on the idea that ambitious individuals, like factions that would seek privilege and power, were inevitable facts of political life that could never be wished away. A good constitutional design would find ways to use such ambitions. It would not just check one government branch with another, but, as Federalist 51 argues, also use the ambition of power-hungry individuals in power to block each other, as individual office-seeker and government agency became one. It would further check the ambitions of any faction in the country through the activity of other factions. In other words, any analysis that blames a power-hungry and ruthless or unprincipled individual or faction gaining power on that individual or faction being power-hungry, ambitious or unprincipled is completely useless, both intellectually and in practical politics. Madison assumes that these are the very kind of people that will seek power, at least often. He hoped for an at least widespread sense of republican virtue by policy makers, but he knew enough not to count on it. While Marx’s concern is not checks and balances, he is at pains to show that blaming the power-hungry for their ambitions is not only pointless, but dangerous. In his Preface to the Second Edition, he continues in his critique of Hugo’s work on Louis Bonaparte’s coup, “He does not notice that he makes this individual great instead of little by ascribing to him a personal power of initiative unparalleled in world history.” [11]

And this is why it is dangerous for opponents of Trump, Berlusconi, Orbàn, or even of those on the right who oppose a Madura or Chavez in Venezuela, or for that matter a Fidel Castro in Cuba, to continually focus on, even to obsess over, the individual in power himself and his failings, missteps, violations of norms of behavior, personal characteristics. While seeking to criticize, such opposition merely suggests that everything would be alright if only this individual were not in power or had not engaged in the actions they had to gain and use power. It renders them godlike. Beyond and above history and its processes, above and beyond the forces in the society itself. The logic is clear: when we say “everything would be fine if it were not for X being in power” we are denying that any conditions existed that legitimately provided an opportunity or resources for that person to gain power. This is a way of avoiding collective responsibility for the polity. We are also claiming that there are not legitimate grievances on the part of those who voted for or support the leader in question. Yes, there are those, many probably who voted for Trump out of racist motives or sexist motives, but even racists and sexists can have legitimate grievances over other issues. And no, millions of people who voted twice for Barack Obama did not suddenly become racist, nor are the vast majority of non-college educated white women that voted for Trump a whole population of Stepford Wives.[12] And if the example of Berlusconi’s decades at the center of Italian politics or of Victor Orbàn’s three electoral victories, or even Hugo Chavez’s four electoral victories and Daniel Ortega’s long period in power in Nicaragua are all too obscure as examples, just ask yourself how effective it was for the Cuban community in Florida to hurl its curses at Fidel Castro in order to drive him out of power. Want a losing strategy? Here it is. Obsess about your opponent and personalize and demonize authoritarian leaders in power. If the West continues with its own vitriolic attacks on Russian President Putin as an individual in power, without analyzing why he is and stays in power and what makes that possible, I expect him to last as long as Castro. If Democrats make every election a referendum on Trump’s personality, put your money on his re-election.

As for the approach of Proudhon, his descendants today see all opposition to globalization, free trade, or what is irritatingly called “Europe” (as in headlines like “New Italian Government latest threat to Europe”), as if Europe were an austerity and debt-collection program and not a continent, as utterly irrational and inexplicable. Marx has words for them as well:

Proudhon, for his part, seeks to represent the coup d’etat as the result of an antecedent historical development. Inadvertently, however, his historical construction of the coup d’etatbecomes a historical apologia for its hero. Thus he falls into the error of our so-called objective historians. [13]

Any analysis that argues that historical processes, be they economic or technological, or political, are inevitable, ends up legitimizing the particular leaders, regimes, parties, ideologies in power. This is a necessary effect of such discourses. This was the meaning of saying that world Communism was inevitable on the part of the old Soviet Union and Stalinism – it allowed for legitimizing what they called “real socialism” – the one they governed. And it is the effect of saying that globalization is inevitable, since it of course legitimizes the Clintons, Blairs, Obamas and Macrons, and now even Xi Jinping. Likewise saying that the current austerity programs of the EU are unavoidable merely legitimizes the policies of the EU Commission, the Central Bank, the IMF and the Merkel government in Germany.

Hegel, Polanyi and the Law of Unintended Consequences

But this much is obvious. EH Carr told us long ago that universal ideologies are merely expressions of the real interests that are most powerful internationally. Those who are less powerful cannot afford to be universalist or cosmopolitan.[14] But Marx is going further: all the arguments against so-called populism have been based on the idea that since globalization and technological advance – this globalization and this technology – are inevitable, the losers – those lacking the skills and education to take advantage of these changes, will inevitably become disgruntled, and react. While this reaction was in no way predicted by those now stating the obvious, the argument nevertheless amounts to the following: 1) globalization and technological change are inevitable, 2) inevitably they will benefit some more than others, 3) those who don’t benefit won’t like it, but 4) due to 1) there is nothing that can be done.

Since nothing can be done, the disgruntlement won’t go away, and so these leaders and governments are equally inevitable as are supposedly globalization and technological innovation themselves. Therefore, while this analysis is intended to show the irrationality of the so-called populist movements and governments, it ends up in a Hegelian teleology, proving the inevitability of populist authoritarian leaders. There is truth in all of this, though not in the way intended by pro-globalization critics of authoritarian “populism”. The truth is that, as Karl Polanyi demonstrated convincingly in his The Great Transformation, there is always a double movement at work when society moves to becoming a market society, to subordinating itself to market relations: on the one hand the hyper-liberalization of the economy, and on the other the reaction of society to protect itself by any means necessary, left or right – Tsipras in Greece and Chavez in Venezuela, Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, or on the other hand, Orbàn, Putin, Le Pen, the new coalition government in Italy, and Trump.

But for Marx, this is not a satisfactory conclusion. If liberalization goes too far there will be some reaction begs the question, what kind of reaction, and under what conditions does liberalization gain the upper hand so radically in the first place, and under what conditions does a counter-reaction, by left or right become possible? And finally, under what conditions can a single individual – appealing to the right, or the left, or to all at once – gain and centralize power in his or her own hands, seemingly independently of government structures, constitutional limits, and the social and class forces in society?

Why James Madison Was Wrong

We can now turn to Marx’s explanation, which we need to update for our own circumstances and needs today.  To understand Marx’s insights, we need first to return to Madison’s arguments about how best to design a republic.

James Madison argues in Federalist Paper number 51 that in a large republic, there will be so many different factions that it will be impossible for any one of them to become dominant. The preference for scale is meant to preserve the republican principle of avoiding power ending up in the hands of one person, or, extending this principle as I think Madison intends to, into the hands of any one group in society. This parallels the argument in Federalist Paper number 10 in which he argues for checks and balances among the branches of government, such that the self-interest of each branch blocks that of the other preventing institutional concentration of power, and so that the individual ambitions of exactly the types of politicians we are seeing today come to power around the world are also channeled into blocking those of the various other branches, resulting in a mutually reinforcing deadlock. While we can argue about how well the preservation of the balance of power between branches of government has worked over the years, one thing is clear. The other part of Madison’s model, that based on preventing a monopoly of power in the wider society by having many social factions check each other, does not work.

We know that first of all because we know from political scientists that in a pluralist condition, a well-organized minority has the best conditions for gaining greater power and influence.[15]Second, because we know how corporations are governed – the more shareholders the better so that a small minority of large owners of stock can wield power over the company’s governance. Marx demonstrates in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” that not only does Madison’s system in the larger society not work, but it is the ideal condition for power to become concentrated in the hands of one person. He does so by taking us on a tour of the state of the various contending classes in France in the mid-19thCentury.

First, Marx demonstrates that the working class has been defeated in the June 1848 uprising, in which workers sought to establish a socialist republic. Its organizations are crushed, its attempt at political power thwarted for the foreseeable future. This is the foundation on which all the other events of the period that Marx writes about are based. An organized working class would mean a viable alternative to the existing power structure before Louis Bonaparte’s coup, and a major obstacle to that seizure of power, and to his election in the first place.

Before we move on to the conditions of the other classes, and how an overall stalemate resulted in Bonaparte’s rise to power, and then to see how well this model applies to today’s political shocks, it is worth emphasizing this last point. The shattering of working class organization takes out of the picture the best organized non-privileged force for democracy in the society. It is a necessary, though not sufficient condition, for one-person rule or for the concentration of power. Every dictator worth their salt, from Mussolini and Hitler, to Pinochet and Saddam Hussein has broken unions, banned cooperative organizations and working class political parties, or jailed union activists. Or worse.

We will return to this issue when we discuss today’s authoritarians and strongmen.

Marx goes on to examine the conditions of the other major classes in French society. The general tendency was that after the workers had been defeated in June 1848, one class after another – the peasants, small businesspeople, artisans and shopkeepers, the professional middle class, one after another made demands for change that would have benefitted them and arguably improved society. Do we not recognize Marx’s description of the response each sector of society met when it presented its grievances to those in power in the Second Republic, and to the class in power, what Marx calls the Financial Aristocracy?

Every demand for the most simple bourgeois financial reform, for the most ordinary liberalism, for the most commonplace republicanism, for the flattest democracy, is forthwith punished as an “assault upon society,“ and is branded as “Socialism.“ [16]

Hasn’t this been the response to every call for protection against exposure to the forces of globalization? To every demand for public policy to redress the growing inequalities of income? To every call for regulation of financial systems and banks? To even hints at a return to Keynesian economic policies? To every protest at the effects of austerity in the European Union?

The refusal to address legitimate grievances is not just bad policy. It undermines democracy itself and weakens republics because the social classes making demands, by not having them even addressed seriously, are either then disorganized and demobilized or else driven to seek redress in other camps. Either way, the path to the Louis Bonaparte’s is further paved.

The capitalists, the “bourgeoisie” to use Marx’s term, are divided between republicans and monarchists, and then again, among monarchists, are torn between those favoring the Bourbons, the Orleans, and the Bonapartes. The small traders are scattered, the institutions where their representatives had some influence are dissolved by the Constitution of 1848, which favors large business interests. The professional middle class had allied with the republicans among the bourgeoisie, but once they had won the republic in the 1848 revolution, they had turned on their allies the workers, and now had no solid base of support in society.  None of these classes were any longer in a position to lead the country, to impose both their will (dominance) and their vision of society (hegemony) on the national life as a whole. Those that had ruled remained powerful and privileged, but no one would any longer follow their lead or support their project. The various classes supporting a more democratic and egalitarian outcome were demobilized or crushed.

“And yet”  Marx writes, “ the French Government does not float in the air. Bonaparte represents an economic class, and that the most numerous in the commonweal of France.”

Namely, the farmers. In the 1790s, the peasants of France, like the small farmers in America, had provided the backbone of the Revolution. But in France in 1850, after the revolutionary land reform that privatized their holdings, they are not able to lead the country, despite their numbers. But they are numerous enough to delegate power to another. It is precisely their lack of organized force that makes them the appropriate vehicle for a leader seeking to centralize authority. Marx explains the political sociology involved:

The allotment farmers are an immense mass, whose individual members live in identical conditions, without, however, entering into manifold relations with one another. Their method of production isolates them from one another, instead of drawing them into mutual intercourse. This isolation is promoted by the poor means of communication in France, together with the poverty of the farmers themselves… We have the allotted patch of land, the farmer and his family; alongside of that another allotted patch of land, another farmer and another family. A bunch of these makes up a village; a bunch of villages makes up a Department. Thus the large mass of the French nation is constituted by the simple addition of equal magnitudes—much as a bag with potatoes constitutes a potato-bag. [17]

Americans will recognize this as the way urban coast dwellers might characterize the culture of “fly-over country”. But we need to keep in mind that rural America was once the bedrock of Jeffersonian Democracy, of Jacksonian Democracy, of Turner’s Frontier Thesis, and later of the realPopulists, namely the 10 million strong Farmers Alliance cooperative that gave birth to the People’s Party. Rural France had experienced the French Revolution, the smashing of the remnants of feudal power. The sociological reality of the countryside had changed because its material conditions had changed.  This meant that the conditions for a class being a class as an active force have been splintered; it remains numerically important, but its progressive character is eroded by its inability to democratically mobilize itself for social and political change. This makes all the difference:

In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and that place them in an attitude hostile toward the latter, they constitute a class;

So writes Marx. Similarly the historian of the English working class E.P. Thompson  famously wrote,

Class happens when some men, as a result of common experiences…feel and articulate the identity of their interests as between themselves, and as against other men whose interests are different from (and usually opposed to) theirs. [18]

Neither Marx nor Thompson assume that class is an inevitability, nor are classes predetermined. And so Marx continues in analyzing the composition of French farmers,

in so far as there exists only a local connection among these farmers, a connection which the individuality and exclusiveness of their interests prevent from generating among them any unity of interest, national connections, and political organization, they do not constitute a class. Consequently, they are unable to assert their class interests in their own name, be it by a parliament or by convention. They can not represent one another, they must themselves be represented. Their representative must at the same time appear as their master, as an authority over them, as an unlimited governmental power, that protects them from above, bestows rain and sunshine upon them. Accordingly, the political influence of the allotment farmer finds its ultimate expression in an Executive power that subjugates the commonweal to its own autocratic will.[19]

And so here we have it. When the social classes contending for influence in society have been too successful in blocking each other’s initiatives, and each of their projects has been rejected by the most powerful classes with a previously existing monopoly on policy-making, the result is that a class that reflects that reality of fragmentation of the whole society as a large microcosm of the whole becomes the most representative. In turn, its inability to lead society, to assert its own interests in its own name, reflecting the larger condition of no class being in such a position, leads it to pass off its potential sovereign power to an individual who represents its outlook but not necessarily its interests.

The December 10th Society and today’s “Deplorables”

Dictators, however, in the end, must safeguard their position beyond the popular support that is likely a temporary basis for rule in any case, stemming as it does from such a weak foundation, namely a class that is not well-organized.  Otherwise this class would itself govern through its own institutions, rather than rely on an authoritarian strongman who represents it at best symbolically. Nor can the authoritarian leader really represent fully the interests of such a numerous but politically inert class. The competition for power and influence between national states forces any government to ensure that economic development enhances the country’s potential military power.[20] Since the resources needed for state power remain largely in the hands of capitalist classes, despite their rhetorical opposition to capitalist interests and the physical replacement of that class or its representatives from governance, authoritarian leaders are constrained by reality to carry out policies that for the most part further capitalist interests.  The result is likely eventual repression against organized efforts by the common people, and in turn a possible break with the class whose votes have brought them to power. Further, authoritarian leaders need access to resources not only for their own enrichment and for that of the particular interests and allies they bring into government, crony capitalism as it has been called, but also for one other insurance policy to maintain power – the real “deplorables”. For Louis Bonaparte, this was the December 10thSociety.  Marx describes them as such:

This society dated from the year 1849. Under the pretext of founding a benevolent association, the slum-proletariat of Paris was organized into secret sections, each section led by Bonapartist agents, with a Bonapartist General at the head of all…along with the foul and adventures-seeking dregs of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, dismissed soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, sharpers, jugglers, lazzaroni, pickpockets, sleight- hand performers, gamblers, procurers, keepers of disorderly houses, porters, literati, organ grinders, rag pickers, scissors grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, that whole undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass that the Frenchmen style “la Boheme“ With this kindred element, Bonaparte formed the stock of the “Society of December 10,“…the only class upon which he can depend unconditionally. [21]

Such a body of supporters, whose own aspirations for advancement and whose own desperation mirror the ambition of the leader himself, is essential for any dictatorship. He needs to enrich his immediate aides and allies – cronies – and himself,  and to maintain the support of this “dangerous class” as embodied in the December 10thSociety. Meanwhile they held  him repress the people and deny the elite classes direct access to power; only a thoroughly loyal, and well-armed and organized body of followers can guarantee tenure in office. The architype is captain Ahab, who while beguiling the common crew, intimidating the middle class officers and ignoring the demands of the capitalist owners, smuggled Malaysian pirates aboard the Pequod to help ensure he remained in command.[22]

The Road to Serfdom is Paved with Neoliberal Intentions

Bonaparte represented the French farmers, but ruled over them, and over the other classes without actually representing their true interests, something that he could not do even if he were good-willed about it, since a class that cannot mobilize itself on a big enough scale cannot influence policy-making. Today’s leaders represent classes whose ability to self-organize to lead society and assert their own vision of society has been pulverized, in analogous contexts, in which the leading classes of society have come to a stalemate.

The globalization project has lost all popular support except among some professionals. The neoliberal economic policies in favor since the elections of Thatcher and Reagan are rejected wholesale by huge swaths of every society. Every effort to replace these is rejected. Small business people have either been eaten alive (as usual) by the large companies, or, paradoxically, seen their numbers technically swell only due to the forcing of ordinary workers into freelance conditions (Uber for example, but the examples and methods are many), but even more subordinated to big business then ever. Real small businesses face fierce market competition, even international market competition, not in a competitive free market as neoclassical economists’ myths would have it, but in markets for selling as suppliers to large businesses such as Walmart, Amazon, the large UK supermarket chains, Uber, and so forth. Their independence is now a relic of a bygone age. Farmers are a small part of industrialized workforces now. In Thailand, they were the majority in the Red Shirts movement allied with the politician Thaksin. At first they played a role similar to that played by French farmers in Marx’s account, but then did assert their own class interests only to be slaughtered in the squares of Bangkok.

This leaves the professional class or professional managerial class. And it is this class whose growing influence in society is paradoxically responsible for the overall stalemate in society as a whole. But first, let’s make clear the analogy to France’s farmers of the 1850s – today’s more traditional working class.

As we saw in the Trump election, working class votes, traditionally left wing, have also gone across much of Europe to right wing parties and so-called populist leaders. Thomas Picketty has shown recently that today’s strongman authoritarian leaders rely to a remarkable, even shocking and depressing degree on working class votes.[23]The factory closing, and the degradation of the traditional working class neighborhood with its sense of community, is the equivalent today of the isolated farmhouse without sufficient social connections to form itself into a class.

The analogy is not perfect: workers still have unions to some degree and where they work at large enterprises their mode of work, unlike that of farmers, brings them into social contact with each other and forces cooperation on them. This reality was always the ace in the deck of Marxist analysis and hopes for social change. But under today’s conditions, this high degree of social cooperation, at least in the wealthiest countries, is an exception rather than a rule. Today it is mainly workers in the public sector that are well-organized with strong unions and an ability to strike. Unions in the private sector in the US are rare and are becoming rarer every year even in Europe. Social media, ironically, have a similar impact to that of the poor means of communication that Marx attributes to France, leading to isolation, rather than stronger social relationships. Immigration, whatever its positive aspects, makes strong community bonds more complicated to form and maintain.

And so, sometimes a class, if well-organized, coherent, and with its own strong cultural sense of self and a vision of the kind of country it wants can be and has been the most progressive and democratic force in history. But that same class, if  defeated and disorganized, it becomes the soil for the rise of authoritarian leaders. This is not necessary and is not an inevitable outcome. In our times, it is the result, just as Marx argued of Louis Bonaparte’s rise, of class struggle. The defeat of the working class movement, through hostile policies, from the Reagan-Thatcher era through the long austerity policies and neoliberal reforms of the European Union in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty and the 2008 economic crisis, have left the traditional working class in the Western countries a numerical majority, but a ghost of their former selves as a social force. As Thomas Picketty demonstrates[24], right wing and nationalist parties have been increasingly able to count on working class voters (excluding most members of national minorities and/or immigrant communities) as center-left parties have represented the more  highly educated professional classes and monopolized the votes of national minorities and immigrants.[25] This split in working class votes along ethnic lines explains both the electoral rise and return of the right. The inability of either of these two coalitions or factions to provide a coherent vision of government, national leadership and purpose, or proposals for concrete policies that a large majority could rally behind speaks for itself.

Checking and Balancing the Majority Leads to Individual Rule

But the pro-business policies of authoritarian leaders mean that the working class support, based largely on the prospect of a return to a large manufacturing base and not on ideological commitments or long-term party loyalty, could evaporate. The need for a dangerous class, for a group of genuine deplorables to maintain power, is apparent. That we see the presence, and at times association of such types- neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other White Supremacists, for example – with or near aides to presidents, prime ministers, or candidates for high office in democratic countries is alarming for this reason. That none of these has been constituted yet as the real praetorian guard of an authoritarian government in a democratic Western country is – reassuring is too strong a word – an important reality check to not go too far rhetorically in identifying nationalist or authoritarian-style leaders in the democratic West as fascists or dictators just yet. But the December 10thtypes are on the margins everywhere, increasingly visible and vocal, and worryingly and even shockingly willing to speak in their own names with their own voices for the first time since 1945.

In places like the Philippines and Russia, instead, we already find such forces in existence, and the survival of democracy seriously threatened, if not already fatally damaged. The Davao city vigilante groups (death squads) in the rise to power and hold on power of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines is the closest parallel to the December 10thprototype, and indeed, arguably more violent by a good measure than the original version. Here we are close to the transformation of a group of authoritarian deplorables into actual fascist bands, comparable to Hitler’s SA, though the ideological vision is far less fully developed.[26]

As for Vladimir Putin’s Russia, journalist Anna Politkovskaya had already, in her dispatches from the Chechen War, called what she was seeing “fascism”.[27] The recent declaration of Cossacks that they would use force to repress any non-heterosexual kissing at the World Cup[28] is only the latest example of unofficial violence in Russia towards those not accepted by, or opposed to, the current political order.

The Curious Case of the Latin American Populists and the Thai Red Shirts

We now must address the somewhat different cases of the recent charismatic populist leaders of the recent Latin American left – Venezuela’s Chavez, Maduro his successor, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega. Their cases require us to make our model a little more flexible. In the Bolivian case, we do have a well-organized social movement representing class interests – typified by the 1999-2000 struggle against water privatization in Cochabamba, so Morales at least did not come to power under conditions of representing a disorganized but instead an organized class.

As for the other leftist leaders in the region, the principle of substitution of leader for class does seem to apply, and the same may be said for Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand as well. But the Red Shirts movement there, and the rise of organized movements in Venezuela, Honduras before and after the coup that toppled the leftist president, and Ecuador suggest that a different process may be at work, and indeed an ancient one. In ancient Greek cities, populist dictators often preceded actual organized struggles to win and maintain democracy. Something of the sort may have unfolded in Latin American countries in the dialectic between leader and followers, though so far with the result of dividing the organized social class interests and the charismatic leader and populist government. At times an authoritarian or at least extra-constitutionalist streak has shown itself in repression of the very social movements one might have expected to become a base of support of the president and government. This, at least, has happened in Ecuador and in Bolivia. An organized popular class movement that puts a leader into power has less tolerance for an authoritarian power grab by that leader than a disorganized class that needs to see itself reflected in the head of state [29].

An under-appreciated defense of constitutional, republican and democratic principles is a well-organized popular or working class, even one that comes to constitute “a majority faction” as James Madison called it in Federalist Paper number 10. Clearly, the movements in Bolivia and later in Thailand, as well as those that twice brought Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti would qualify as clear examples of what Madison sought to avoid with his constitutional machinery.[30] If instead, a well-organized majority faction not only is a key to making democratic machinery work for reform and social justice, but itself a crucial defense against abuse by its own leaders and the powers of a government it has brought into power, then Madison, and indeed much of the liberal-constitutionalist approach to, and limitations of democracy are to be rethought. Certainly, the latter have not prevented a Trump, an Orbàn or a Putin from gaining power, nor from governing in ways that stretch, if not break the frames of the constitutions in question.

When the People Defend Their Leaders, When the People Control Their Leaders

In Venezuela, Thailand, Haiti and Honduras, instead, we have a different phenomenon: mass movements that arise precisely to defend their elected governments and the populist leaders that lead them. In Venezuela up to a million people surrounded the Presidential Palace to stop and reverse the 2002 coup d’etatthat had overthrown Hugo Chavez and declared the elected parliament and the courts nullified. This reversed the sense of terror as well that had weighed on the entire continent ever since the Pinochet coup of September 11, 1973 against the elected Allende government in Chile, and the horrors that followed. Chavez had the army with him, something Allende did not have, but it was the popular uprising in his defense that made the difference. In Thailand the Red Shirts were massacred in the streets demanding that the government and leader they elected twice be re-instated. And in Honduras a government that became progressive once in office was overthrown and a popular uprising sought to defend it, only for activists to be brutally repressed and murdered by those still holding power. In each case, we have a situation where a populist leader representing a disorganized or dispersed mass started a process whereby his supporters became a class, organized, ready to fight to defend what they had gained. This suggests that the relationship between democracy and leaders, even authoritarian leaders, is more complex than at first appears, but in each case the crucial variable is the coming-into-being of an organized class movement or interest, whether that happens before or after the election or rise to power of the leader. Put differently, if a consequence of the government of a populist or authoritarian-style leader is the self-organization of the working class, peasantry or farmers, or other popular forces, it is possible that a self-regulating principle of democracy and of republican government takes over: the organized class will fight to defend democracy from those class forces and potential agencies that would deny it to them as an instrument for reforming society. Further, they themselves become a major force preventing inroads against republican or constitutional principles as a means to maintain their own control over their leader, preventing his or her power and influence from reducing them anew to a dispersed and disorganized mass, unable to represent themselves and needing representation. None of this is reflected in the standard liberal or conservative literature on democracy or republicanism or constitutional defense of civil liberties.

In part, this is due to what I think of as the “New York Times Interpretation of History”. In this version, a strong middle class is the basis of democratization, because having become wealthy thanks to market economies or access to globalization or free trade, this middle class of small scale and medium sized business owners, independent farmers, self-employed, professionals, and the well-educated staffs of large organizations wants a greater say in things, and also wants constitutional protections for civil liberties to safeguard their property and social status. The problem with this vision of the world is not only that this very class – small business owners, shopkeepers, artisans, propertied farmers, government bureaucrats, and university-educated professionals – was also the backbone of the support for Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, as well as Pinochet’s military coup, even if each later required the support of big business to actually govern. To be sure, as we have seen, small farmers, artisans, and shopkeepers were also central to democratic movements, such as the American and French Revolutions and the US Populists – the real Populists, the farmers’ movement of the late 19thand  early 20thcentury. These were all progressive and democratic movements, with deep regard for republican principles. So, for the same class to later become a fascist stronghold requires explanation. The rise of corporate capitalism from above, organized labor from below, and the Great Depression of the 1930s led them to desperation and in some countries willingness to throw overboard their values. But the problem for the New York Times version of history is deeper. Democracy historically has mainly, though not solely been the work of working people, not middle classes defending their property.[31]

All of our previous analysis leads us therefore first to the realization that the legitimate fears of authoritarian leaders and governments and of “populism” miss the mark. The soil in which such governments can grow is one where the majority of people, especially of working people, is geographically and socially dispersed (by private holdings, factory closings or mass unemployment to name a few mechanisms).  Italian historian Sergio Bologna has demonstrated that, regarding the working class in Germany at the moment of Hitler’s rise to power, “Thus when we speak of the working class of the final period of Weimar, we are talking of a working class that was already extremely atomised, which inhabited a factory environment that was fragmented and pulverised – as if they had been subjected to a decentralization of production…” [32]

The best defense against threats to democracy and constitutional government instead is a well-organized working class acting in its own interests, even if that working class brings to power populist leaders. Because in order to defend and maintain its own control of its leaders and ensure that popular and even radical government acts in the people’s and not its own interests, a well-organized class will resort to its own power and organization – strikes, protests, mass mobilization – to limit the threat to popular control of government, thereby defending as well constitutionality, civil liberties, and republican principles for all. What may not be defended are the property, wealth, power and privilege of elite and upper middle classes of course. And if that is what is most important to these classes, then their opposition to populism is less a matter of principle than of masquerading interest as principle. A genuinely democratic government rooted in organized labor would face their opposition as well. And these principles are as much in danger when liberal elitist governments reign as when vulgar populists do.

Making Democracy Safe For Free Trade

Indeed, as Jennifer Delton has demonstrated in the pages of the Washington Post of June 7, 2018, liberal Democrats dedicated to free trade undermined the very democratic and constitutional limits to presidential power over trade that now permits President Trump to impose tariffs unilaterally. [33] Similarly, it was liberal internationalists who have supported shifting decision-making and budget controls to organizations such as the EU Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. Nor have liberals in any major country addressed the troubling shift of economic policy making to central banks, which remain independent of democratic control in most countries today.[34] Indeed, the willingness to shift power and policy to unaccountable technocratic institutions and processes – including ratings agencies[35], and investors (whom Thomas Friedman celebrated as “the electronic herd”)[36] means that liberals and cosmopolitans expose themselves to charges of hypocrisy when they (rightly) criticize the undemocratic and anti-republican practices and rhetoric of the authoritarian strongmen rising to power.

For they themselves have run roughshod over democracy as expressed most (un)eloquently in 2011,  when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble said “Elections change nothing. There are rules” in answer to appeals to popular sovereignty by the then new Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his then Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.  And when then EU Commission President Jean-Claude Junker added “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties. One cannot exit the euro without leaving the EU”, a “rule” that appears in no EU treaty, nor that has been agreed to by any member state upon entering the Eurozone.[37] Further, by supporting free trade agreements, such as Bill Clinton’s support of NAFTA and his advocacy of China’s entry into the WTO without any labor or human rights strings attached, and the European center-left’s willingness to impose austerity programs, liberals have been as much a cause of the dispersion of the working class as the anti-union policies of conservatives. Indeed, the latter have had a much easier time breaking unions because of the shift in the balance of power away from labor and toward mobile capital resulting from globalization. Following the siren song of economists who assure that free trade will result in the same net number of jobs eventually, center-left parties and leaders have neglected to note that it is not just employment but the concentration of workers in unionized industries and their long-term employment stability that allows for a social fabric to develop in the workplace and communities leading to a well-organized independent class that is the key to preventing authoritarian government, as we have seen.  All of this means that cosmopolitan liberals are in bad faith when articulating republican and democratic principles against the new governments and leaders arising worldwide. Not that these do not need defending. But the material basis of this bad faith must be found in the one large and important social class we have not discussed yet, and which is ultimately the decisive actor in the political drama of our times: the professional-managerial class, or middle class professionals.

Caught in the Middle?

The class of professionals, or of highly educated, highly trained personnel has been a kind of sphinx for sociologists, political scientists and socialist activists, among others, for a long time. Their first theorist was of course Thorstein Veblen, who saw engineers and technicians as the great new motor of production processes, and opponents of the absentee owner class whose interest was not in efficient production nor a rationally organized economy and society, but merely money and profit.[38] The great sociologist C. Wright Mills had already studied white collar workers as a mass phenomenon of complexity and an ambivalent social force back in the 1950s.[39] Barbara and John Ehrenreich theorized this class in a seminal article in the 1970s.[40] This class was newly dubbed the “knowledge worker” in the 1990s [41]. According to the Ehrenriechs in a 2013 re-examination of the issue, it has recently suffered a dual fate: one the one hand, the professional managerial class has suffered its decline and fall for two reasons: ideologically its rationalist values have only been fully tried in the less than inspiring socialist countries of the Soviet era, and to a lesser extent in some of the Keynesian technocratic management of the economy; on the other hand, new technologies and corporate strategies since 2000 have eliminated many of their professional opportunities, with journalism in particular hemorrhaging jobs, but with many other professions such as programmers suffering from outsourcing to less expensive labor zones. [42]

But John McDermott, whose analysis of the role of the professional-managerial sector is a surer guide, bases his analysis on a different starting point: the corporation. The corporation is a form of collective property (not private property in any meaningful sense), and a form of organization of economic activity involving three classes: top management, the middle strata we are discussing and the working class. He sees the middle sector in similar terms to the Ehrenreich’s, as a class whose role is hostile to workers, inasmuch as “the middle element has one job and only one job – to manage workers.”[43] But expanding on the insight that society itself is now a product of corporations, which are no longer aberrations in an otherwise liberal society [44], McDermott further deepened his analysis. He came to see the Corporate Middle Class, what he later terms the Professional life trajectory[45] as the human embodiment of technology – as technology itself, which without direct reference to this class is a reified anthropomorphism. Further, this class he argued in the late 1990s had become “a mass constituency for globalization”.[46]  As such, as the bearers of contemporary technology and as the constituent class for globalization, the professionals are not likely for the most part to see technologies as their main problem, as the Ehrenreich’s argue, though some specific categories like adjunct professors and journalists have certainly seen better days.

The technology of the professionals – their knowledge and inventions, are typically in a mutually reinforcing relationship with the “corporate form” (including government agencies and non-profits, universities and hospitals as well as the military) which is the only institutional setting in which they can obtain the resources and funding they need, have access to the instruments of their work, and carry out their life professions. [47] This reality means first that many of the definitions of knowledge workers or professionals, based on the assumption that they are merely a contemporary version of the old skilled workers or professionals with their autonomy in a liberal society and so will rebel against corporate inroads on that autonomy, are based on incorrect premises. Second, it explains, as McDermott points out, why the working class has had a more difficult time asserting its independent political initiatives in the corporate era compared with the late 19thand early 20thcentury. It has had to contend with not one but two well-organized and resource-rich opponents.

The reality that the middle class professionals are both the bearers of technology and the constituent class for globalization explains the now much-noted phenomenon of parties of the center-left having come to represent the highly educated and relatively better paid as well as national ethnic minorities.[48] The Ehrenreichs claim that the PMC (their abbreviation) has seen its day come and go now, and will be increasingly proletarianized by the same corporate strategies that have decimated workers for decades now. But I would argue instead that the evidence is far stronger that the professionals have gone from being a high status group with many sectors to becoming a class in Marx’s and British historian EP Thompson’s sense in recent years. They have a viewpoint – that of expertise and education based on research and knowledge; they have a central role in production and economic life in general; they are the principle mass constituency for globalization and reject the nationalism of many of the new authoritarians, and also that of some of the left and right radical governments around the world as a default setting. Their life experience is cosmopolitan. They carry knowledge and science with them as both badges and identities, as well as the source of their social power. They are increasingly noted as a central part of society in popular culture – from Big Bang Theory to Dr. House, from the children’s cartoon the Croods to the Tony Stark character in the Avengers movies, to the films Moneyball, Transcendence and Limitless. These various representations in the culture all show the professional working in a corporate setting, and in teams, even when the main characters are strongly individualistic in their outlook on life. And finally, the professionals have a political party – indeed one in nearly every industrial country – the main center-left parties, which no longer can be said in any serious sense to represent the working class, as Thomas Frank and Thomas Picketty have shown.

The professionals, the Ehrenreichs notwithstanding, have put themselves forward as a potential leadership class able to provide an alternative to the authoritarian strongmen. But there are serious problems with the professionals’ claim to social and political leadership. The basis for such a leadership claim is not, as the Ehrenreichs argue, or as Veblen argued back in the 1920s, the rationalization of production, though this was certainly the case of the engineers and technicians of that era. Instead the claim today is based, as Frank makes clear, on expertise, and on education. The highly elitist basis of this claim means that despite their relative cultural coherence, which to some degree does transcend the ethnic, racial and gender divisions in their class, though these are far from fully overcome as the crisis of sexism in the high tech sector this past year has demonstrated, the professionals are not only likely to find it difficult to convince workers to come to their side, but in fact are openly despised by working class communities, and in turn hold the latter in contempt. Nor do they consider the small local shopkeeper or small scale entrepreneur or artisan in higher regard, considering them to be equally ignorant and parochial as are the workers. And as McDermott points out, their structural role – as teachers over working class students, as lawyers or doctors treating the needs of but also exploiting working class clients and patients, as university administrators making absurdly high salaries while raising tuition beyond the means of working class opportunity structures and thereby exacerbating the inequality already on the increase between the two classes – makes it difficult to imagine a common project to unite the two largest classes in modern society.

Capitalist Hegemony Over the Professionals, or Take the Beam Out of Your Own Eye

But the biggest problem is one that the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci would have recognized, and the term he used to explain it was “hegemony”. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony has been widely used in international relations [49], cultural studies and by any number of Marxists political theorists. Too often it is used in either of two ways: as a substitute term for domination, or as a substitute term for ideology, or ideological social control. But Gramsci instead intended hegemony as the capacity, at least plausibly based in reality, of the most powerful class in society to lead other classes on the basis of a common project that represents a believable common good.[50] As Gramsci writes,

the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as “domination” and as “intellectual and moral leadership”. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to “liquidate”, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred or allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise “leadership” before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for winning such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to “lead” as well. [51]

As this quote makes clear, a dominant class does not exercise hegemony over dominated classes who are somehow tricked by its manipulation of cultural symbols or language to gain ideological consent. This is how the concept has too often been understood by cultural theorists. Nor is it reducible to domination by superior physical force, military power, economic supremacy or other forms of “hard power”, as realist in IR would have it. It is instead closer to the more superficial idea of “soft power”[52], but involves very specific kinds of relationships with very specific groups. In particular, hegemony operates in relationships with other allied or kindred classes (or nations in the case of international politics) who have a reason to participate in a larger project organized by the dominant class, group or state, because it corresponds to their own interests and to their own vision of a common good.

The professionals do have their own idea of the common good, but more than any other class in modern society with the possible exception of small businesspeople  they are subject to the hegemony of the dominant investor capitalist class. Professionals  can only do their work in a certain corporate-style context, even when they work for government, universities, hospitals or non-profits. They need the resources that only a large organization with access to capital can provide. Second, they are the mass constituency for globalization as John McDermott has argued, and indeed, pro-globalization, pro-immigration, pro-openness as  cultural values are written into their DNA. Like the global capitalists, but with greater cultural coherence than the latter, they are a true international class. Third, they are at least vulnerable to the argument that government interference in the development of the new technologies is unwanted and likely to be counterproductive, though this can take the form of anti-militarism, of anti-fundamentalism, or simply a bias against bureaucracy. It is not clear that they have a fully developed analogous critique of corporate structures, though many are critical of too much power in the hands of corporations. This, as expected by Veblen and the Ehrenreichs, more often takes the form of distaste for the dominance of money over intelligent use of available or possible technologies that could improve the human condition.

But their support of the capitalist program of globalization, their dependence on corporate form, and their dislike of the parochialism of both the working class and the small business class, make them likely allies and supporters of global capital. This is exactly the kind of hegemony that Gramsci meant, and it is not the working class but the professionals who are “hegemonized”. There is a grain of truth in the idea that workers through patriotism at least in the US, and through the idea of the “American Dream” are at times followers of the leadership of dominant class forces. But they are no fans of market economics, hate globalization as much as professionals love it, and are often suspicious of military adventures (working class districts and their Congressional representatives in the House of Representatives voted strongly against NAFTA in 1994, and against the first Gulf War authorization resolution in 1991). Workers see new forms of work organization, such as the  downsizing in the 1990s and the Uber-Gig economy model as means of avoiding paying them decent wages and appropriate benefits. Professionals are much more likely to approve of the Gig economy and rave about Uber’s services, though as the Ehrenreichs might point out, journalists and adjunct professors are exceptions to this rule, while programmers don’t love being exposed to competition through outsourcing. Small businesspeople certainly support a libertarian, low tax and low regulation, union-free economic policy, and to that degree are a partner of a  hegemonic class of larger capitalists. But opposition to the TARP bailout in the US in 2008, the Tea Party, the new Five-Star Movement-Northern League government in Italy (a small business class government if ever there was one), and their response to the appeal of both authoritarian leaders and racist political parties in various countries[53]are indications that the small propertied classes are increasingly hostile to the leadership of large corporations, of globalization, and of a financial sector that has hung them out to dry when they most needed credit (this is particularly true in Italy since 2008). So, if hegemony has an ally, it is the professionals.

And yet the professionals do exhibit growing confidence in their view of the world, and in their ability due to their meritocratic credentials, to lead society, using the technology that they embody to bring about a better world. And some sectors like journalists and adjunct professors clearly have no reason to support current corporate strategies, while others, like school teachers in the Republican-governed states of the US, have engaged in a wave of mass strikes in West Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Such behavior may overcome some of the understandable hesitation that workers would have in joining the professionals in a common project. Other recent events, such as the creation of a new organization by former employees of Google, Apple and Facebook to challenge the dominance of manipulative social media corporations over the internet and the use of their technologies to disaggregate the social fabric, and the protest by Google employees that forced the company to end its collaboration with the Pentagon, may be harbingers of a growing autonomy of action by the professional class.  After all its key value, that technology, that is, they themselves and their work, be used in the interests of humankind, are violated by corporate capital, finance, governments and the military.[54] All of these examples are to the good, as the independence of professionals from corporate management and finance is a necessary, if not sufficient precondition for any alliance that could both challenge the neoliberal global project that has so expanded inequality everywhere and prevent and replace authoritarian governments and the siren song of racist, sexist and homophobic governments and parties.

But for such an alliance to happen, professionals would have to challenge one of their own other most cherished principles: meritocracy. For as Thomas Frank points out, one reason for the Democratic Party in the US, and by analogy center-left parties everywhere, to kneel before the altar of finance is that financial managers seem to be merely the most accomplished version of the class of professionals in the first place, an extension of themselves: highly educated, trained in the disciplined use of statistical methodologies, smarter than everyone else, hard-working. For a true gap to emerge between finance and professionals a lot would have to happen, though some of it has and more may soon. The crash of 2008 did delegitimize finance in the eyes of much of the population. Smart or not, it becomes hard to believe in the merits of, and to follow a class that nearly capsized the whole world economy, which was saved only by government action, and which did capsize many of the organizations they run, while continuing to vote themselves disproportionate incomes in the forms of bonuses, stock options, and share buybacks.  This last item have grown to the point that American businesses are arguably not sustainable over any long period now due to buybacks and dividends surmounting not only investment in capital goods, research and product development, all of which are close to the heart of professionals, but also surmounting revenues from sales! [55]

Reconstruction

We have seen that the necessary condition for avoiding the rise of authoritarian leaders is a well-organized working class, since it is from a disaggregated and dispersed majority class that such leaders draw support. We have also seen that a necessary condition for an alternative to both the neoliberal project that got us into this mess and to authoritarian governments is for the rising professional class to gain an autonomy from the corporate-finance-investor class that holds hegemony over it based on real, material and not merely ideological bases. A necessary and sufficient condition for an alternative therefore, would be an alliance between the two largest classes in modern society, workers and professionals. An alliance that went so far as to protect the interests of small businesspeople as well would be formidable indeed, restoring democracy, fortifying republics.

But such an alliance is difficult to construct. The two classes of workers and professionals can no longer be plausibly considered the same class merely because in Marxist terms they are both wage earners or produce surplus value and profits for capitalists. They have organizationally, culturally, politically made clear their differences in outlook, values, identity and political party preferences. They would need at least two necessary conditions to be able to unite. The first ingredient is intermediary organizations – be they unions, cooperatives, professional associations, new forms of business – that can negotiate some of the terms between them, provide an institutional setting for cooperation on common causes, and provide continuity for ongoing solidarity with each other. Such mediating organizations also are needed to overcome the fragmentation of society itself, its breaking up into either isolated individuals drawn to socializing only digitally and at a distance [56], or self-referential identity groups on a slide greased by social media’s marketing methods. [57]

The second ingredient is a common project that can provide an alternative hegemonic vision to that of neoliberal corporate global capital. Such a project would have to include certain key elements: employment guarantees for ordinary workers, but beyond mere jobs, forms of work that aggregate workers facilitating their self-organization. This means some restoration of manufacturing, be it of traditional industries, or of new ones such as high-speed trains and solar power panels, etc. It also means massive investment and permanent maintenance of infrastructure. It means a renewed capital goods industry, since this where the know-how for further developments in productivity and job creation come from. For workers to again be seen as sources of important economic and social knowledge would create a bridge to professionals with their concern for expertise. This would mean reversing definitively the process known as Taylorism or Scientific Management, which shifted control over work to management in workplaces around the world.

Such an alliance also requires a national ideology, or vision that can create a common focus providing meaning to daily life and work, as a sense of unity. The New Deal for the American People, The People’s Home of the 1930s and 40s Swedish Social Democrats, A Nation Fit for Heroes – the Labour Party’s wartime election slogan, are examples of what is needed. There would need to be a change in policies to once again enable unions to organize and represent workers’ interest. But it would also require some of the elements of globalization that professionals like, such as free movement to work abroad, or to study abroad like the Erasmus program in the European Union. It would need to be based on the full utilization of the new technological possibilities without letting financial issues or profit motive determine which technologies get tried, utilized, or diffused. And yet decisions over the use of technologies at work must involve ordinary workers so that the professionals are no longer an instrument for replacing workers and undermining their organized power, a practice we now see is self-defeating for professionals, as it favors the rise of the Trumps and Orbàns, even if it benefits capitalists and top management.

Technology must be negotiated over between the two classes, as must immigration. No country can realistically close its border entirely, nor open them entirely. This means that there should be room for a rational discussion over how much immigration, on what basis – family, skills needed in the economy, or cultural diversity and so on.  Openness is a fine value. But the setting one class in society into constant competition with each other on the basis of ethnicity and locally-born residents vs. newcomers, while another is able to rely on its expertise and scarcity of its skills to face little or no competition is exactly what workers are rebelling against. It is not yet clear how to resolve this issue in an equitable, non-racist, and practical way.

Most of all an alternative that can unite the non-capitalist classes means three other major transformations: first, converting finance into a public good, into a public utility, like water and electricity and roads, a form of infrastructure.[58] Publicly provided, and democratically governed money and credit could provide capital for municipal enterprises, worker and professional-managed cooperatives, and a national infrastructure program including sustainability and ecological repair as well as for a restoration of manufacturing. Second, the transformation of large corporations, industrial and commercial (such as Walmart and Amazon) into stakeholder republics through a Charter [59] providing for representation of workers, professional consultants, and small business suppliers as well as community members on corporate boards. This would allow for converting the commerce giants into consortia managed in the interests of employees and suppliers, so they can no longer drive prices down forcing small business to impose a race to the bottom for working conditions and wages. Finally, we need an international order (a people’s Bretton Woods) to enable these changes. A “People’s Bretton Woods” could provide the vision, institutional arrangements (democratized workplaces and companies, publicly provided finance, unions and professional associations), and material base (a production not finance based real economy) [60] to unite professionals, workers and many small businesses into a vast coalition.  Such a coalition could shift the destiny of our societies from an endless neoliberal globalization with finance in a dominant role. Such projects have been hinted at by Jeremy Corbin’s idea of a “Green Industrial Revolution”, by Yanis Varoufakis’ proposals in his recent works, and by some of Bernie Sanders’ proposals in his 2016 presidential campaign.

They have been more fully worked out by a few writers such as Jon Rynn[61]and Jonathan Feldman[62], who, even before it became a legislative program for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the left wing of the Democratic Party (to their credit), have long proposed a Green New Deal that would provide work for all, improve infrastructure, and favor cooperatives as democratically run workplaces. Naomi Klein has argued that many local initiatives based on ecological sustainability also provide alternative forms of economic development.[63]and from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi, local cooperative-based economic community development projects inspire hope for new ways to organize the relationship between jobs, technology, enterprises, and the community. Rynn and Feldman use the term “Reconstruction” for their proposals, in part to both poke fun at and to counter the obsession of academic leftists with deconstruction. The postmodernists fail to see that deconstructing the existing values, institutions, identities of democratic societies and of the bases of wider unity exacerbates the rending of the social fabric by neoliberalism, thus improving the likelihood of authoritarian government. Reconstruction will do as a slogan, as we have much to reconstruct.

None of these proposals are panaceas in themselves, and the real differences that exist between working class and professional class people around the world will not be overcome overnight. But we must prevent the end of history as neoliberal globalization being replaced by a New Dark Ages marked by the rise of strongmen and authoritarian government. We must prevent the oligarchy of the neoliberals being replaced by the monarchies of the new authoritarians. To do so means instead restoring the organized power and self-representation of working class power,  and enabling the independence of professionals and small businesses through a use of technology and money in the public interest for the common good. Otherwise, we risk seeing many more 18thBrumaires in the near future.

[1] I want to thank, for their invaluable comments and criticisms on an earlier draft, Ferruccio Gambino, Fabrizio Tonello, Jon Rynn, John McDermott, Jonathan Feldman, and William Everdell .

[2] Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” in Marx: Later Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p.31.

[3] New York Times, “China Censors Ban Winnie the Pooh and the Letter N after Xi’s Power Grab” February 28, 2018.

[4] William Everdell, The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans, The Free Press, New York, 1983, p.6.

[5] Paul Krugman had already demonstrated that this is not the case in 2006 in New York Times, “Oligarchs Versus Graduates” February 27, 2006.

[6] “Proudhon and 1848” found at: http://francestanford.stanford.edu/sites/francestanford.stanford.edu/files/Beecher_GimonConference.pdf, p. 40. My translation from the French.

[7] Lois Spear, Pierre Joseph Proudhon and the Revolution of 1848, Loyola University Chicago, 1971, p.261.

[8] Spear, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, p.252.

[9] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire, p.32.

[10] Karl Marx, Preface to the Second Edition, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, found at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/preface.htm

[11] Karl Marx, Preface. Marxists.org.

[12] See the analysis by Jonathan Feldman on this point, at https://portside.org/2016-11-23/why-trump-really-won-its-not-just-race-gender-and-class

[13] Karl Marx, Preface, marxists.org.

[14] EH Carr, The Twenty Years Crisis.

[15] Robert Dahl and Charles Lindblom, Politics, Economics, and Welfare: Planning and Politico-Economic Systems Resolved Into Basic Social Processes  Harper & Row, New York, 1953, pp.359-360.

[16] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Dodo Press, New York, 1897, pp.10-11.

[17] Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire, Dodo Press, New York, 1897, pp.97-98.

[18] E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class  Vintage New York, 1966, p.9.

[19] Karl Marx, Eighteenth Brumaire, Dodo Press, p.98.

[20] Max Weber, General Economic History, Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ 1981 p.337 which argues that the modern era is characterized by the fact that “The separate states had to compete for mobile capital, which dictated to them the conditions under which it would assist them to power.” See also, William McNeil, The Pursuit of Power University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1982; Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century  Verso London 1994; Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers  Random House  New York, 1987.

[21] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire, Dodo Press, pp.54-55.

[22] See the classic analysis of Moby Dick, C.L.R. James, Mariners, Renegades and Castaways   London:Allison and Busby  1985, pp.60-64.

[23] Thomas Picketty, Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017)World Inequality Lab  EHESS and Paris School of Economics, March 2018.

[24] Thomas Picketty, Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right March 2018.

[25] Picketty, ibid., see Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal, or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?  Metropolitan Books  New York 2016.

[26] See the analysis by Danilo Andres Reyes, “The Spectacle of Violence in Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’” in Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35, 2, pp.111-137, 2016, especially pp.128-130 regarding the utility of these bands for remaining in political office.

[27] Anna Politskovskaya, A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya  University of Chicago Press, 2003, p.111.

[28] Daily Mail June 6, 2018  “More than 300 Cossack horseman will be deployed ‘to monitor LGBT kissing’ in World Cup host city”.

[29] The rise of Stalin to power rested on the necessary but not sufficient condition of the almost complete elimination of the working class that had created the elected Soviets in 1917. This class was disproportionately represented in the Red Army that had to fight the Civil War after the Revolution to defend the government they had brought to power. The subsequent destruction of the Bolshevik Party leadership itself, and so of the political representation of the working class, through the purges and show trials in the 1930s, was another necessary precondition.

[30]See also the discussion of constituent power in Toni Negri, Il potere costituente, translated into and published in English as Toni Negri, Insurgencies  Univ. of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis 1999.

[31] See, among others, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000  Oxford University Press Oxford and New York 2002; Sean Wilentz, American Democracy  Norton  New York, 2005; and Charles Berqquist, Labor in Latin America. See also the discussion in my own article Steven Colatrella, “Collective Housekeeping and the Revenge of the Oikos: Against Hannah Arendt on Democracy, Work and the Welfare State” International Critical ThoughtVol. 3, no. 4 December 2013.

[32] Sergio Bologna “Nazism and the Working Class 1933-1993”(translated by Ed Emery)-Paper presented at the Milan Camera del Lavoro, 3 June 1993. Found at: https://theshadesmag.wordpress.com/2017/05/18/nazism-and-the-working-class-sergio-bologna/.

[33] Jennifer Delton, Liberal Democrats sidestepped Congress to bring free trade to the U.S. Now, Trump is able to do the same to destroy it.” Washington Post, June 7, 2018.

[34] See the discussion of this issue in the transition to democracy in South Africa in Naomi Klein, The Shock DoctrineRandom House  New York, 2007; see also Yanis Varoufakis’ analysis of the class interests served and represented by central bank independence, and his critique of the myth of technocratic neutrality in his book Yanis Varoufakis, And the Weak Suffer What They Must London Penguin 2016, as well as in Yanis Varoufakis, Talking With My Daughter About the Economy London Penguin 2017. The classic discussion of the undemocratic and pro-finance  character of the Federal Reserve in the United States remains William Greider, Secrets of the TempleNew York, Touchstone 1987.

[35] See Timothy Sinclair, The New Masters of Capitalism  Cornell University Press Ithaca, NY 2005 for a demystifying analysis of the role of ratings agencies in political life; see also Steven Colatrella, “Meet the Global Ruling Class” Counterpunch.org, Nov. 24, 2011.

[36] Thomas Friedman, The Lexis and the Olive Tree Picador 1999, pp.101-145.

[37] Gavin Hewitt, “Greece: The Dangerous Game” BBC News February 1, 2015, found here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31082656.

[38] Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times   New York Viking Press, 1923.

[39] C. Wright Mills, White CollarNew York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1951.

[40] Ehrenreich, John; Barbara Ehrenreich) in Pat Walker, ed. Between Labor and Capital (1st ed.). Boston: South End Press, 1979.

[41] John W. Cortada, The Rise of the Knowledge WorkerButterworth-Heinemann Boston 1998.

[42] John and Barbara Ehrenreich, The Real Story Behind the Crash and Burn of America’s Managerial Class  Alternet, Feb. 19, 2013  https://www.alternet.org/economy/barbara-and-john-ehrenreich-real-story-behind-crash-and-burn-americas-managerial-class?page=0%2C0 .

[43] John McDermott, The Crisis in the Working Class  South End Press 1980  Boston p.111.

[44] John McDermott, Corporate Society: Class, Property, and Contemporary Capitalism Westview Press  Boulder, 1991 p.7 and passim.

[45] See John McDermott, Restoring Democracy in America  Pennsylvania State University Press University Park 2010.

[46] John McDermott, “A Mass Constituency for Globalization” Rethinking Marxism  Vol. 20 2008

[47] John McDermott, Corporate Society

[48] Thomas Picketty, “Brahmin Left versus Merchant Right:  Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017) Thomas Piketty EHESS and Paris School of Economics January 2018 (updated March 2018). http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/Piketty2018PoliticalConflict.pdf.; Thomas Frank, Listen Liberal !

[49] In works as different as John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, and Robert Cox, Approaches to World Order.

[50] See the discussion in Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century  Verso 1994.

[51] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Prison Notebooks International Publishers New York 1971, pp.57-58.

[52] Joseph Nye, Soft Power  Foreign Affairs  1990; Joseph Nye, Soft Power: the Means to Success in the World 2004.

[53] See Sweden, where a poll in June 2018 showed the Nazi-inspired party now over 20%, second only to the Social Democrats and only two points behind.

[54] New York Times, “Workers of Silicon Valley, It’s Time to Organize !”, April 25, 2018; New York Times, April 4, 2018, “Google Employees Protest Work for Pentagon”.

[55] See the Reuters report on buybacks, “The Cannibalized Company” Dec. 23, 2015. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/section/the-cannibalized-company/.

[56] See the discussion of lack of sociality at college campuses described by Bard College President Leon Botstein in “Stop the Generational Moralizing About Free Speech” in Chronicle of Higher Education, December 4, 2017, Available here: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Stop-the-Generational/241969.

[57] I am grateful to my wife, Silvia Bedulli for this insight. She has lectured on this topic at a number of venues, including Boston College in Parma, Italy on “Le associazioni di categoria” on May 3, 2016.

[58] I am grateful to Dan Karan who has educated me on the need for public finance. See also, Ellen Brown, The Public Bank Solution Third Millennium Press 2013; L. Randall Wray, Modern Money Theory  Palgrave Macmillan 2012; and Yanis Varoufakis, Talking with My Daughter About the Economy.

[59] See the fuller description in John McDermott’s Restoring Democracy to America, andEmployers’ Economics versus Employees’ Economy.

[60] See, on the latter, and on the failures and illegitimacy of the reigning discipline of economics, John McDermott, Employers’ Economics versus Employees Economy Palgrave Macmillan 2017.

[61] In Jon Rynn, Manufacturing Green Prosperity Praeger  2010.

[62] Such as in Jonathan Feldman, “Why Trump Really Won: It’s Not Just Race, Gender and Class” in Portside  November 23, 2016, available here: https://portside.org/2016-11-23/why-trump-really-won-its-not-just-race-gender-and-class.

[63] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything   New York  Simon and Schuster, 2014.

Categories: News for progressives

Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:55

From atomic theory to nukes

I am proud the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus invented the Atomic Theory, which says that everything in the cosmos is atoms and void. But who could have foreseen that, 2,500 years later, American “physicists” would turn such a glorious insight on the structure of matter into apocalyptic weapons?

The violence and hatred of WWII fueled and speeded the development of the atomic bomb. But why drop such a hideous weapon over Japan and, just as bad, create another giant monstrosity dubbed nuclear bomb?

Nuclear experts say any nuclear war would doomed humanity. Exploding nuclear weapons would darkened the Sun, triggering global winter and famine. Humans, and probably most other life forms, would become extinct.

There are thousands of nuclear weapons in the world — the vast majority in the armories of the United States, Russia and China, lesser amounts in the UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

But why arming for apocalypse? Have world leaders and their advisers become barbarians?

And why do we need to use nuclear fuel to boil water for steam for the production of electricity? Those nuclear bomb-like factories go by the deceptive name of nuclear power plants.

Accidents bedevil both nuclear bombs and nuclear power plants. We have been extremely lucky so far. But with nuclear electricity factories, our luck seems to be less tenuous than that with the original monster of the nuclear bombs.

Nuclear accidents

In 1979, the breakdown of a water pump precipitated the disaster of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1986, the nuclear power plant meltdown in Chernobyl, near Kiev, Ukraine, shook Europe and the world as never before.

In 1986, I was visiting Athens, about 1,485 kilometers or 925 miles distance from Kiev, and I was astonished seeing university students with Geiger devices measuring radiation among volunteers. I also remember the US EPA news bulletins citing the measurable amounts of Chernobyl radiation in north America.

Nevertheless, business as usual buried Chernobyl. Nothing of substance affecting the nuclear industry took place. Nukes remained sacred cows. Eisenhower’s 1950s delusion of “atoms for peace” still clouded the vision of world leaders. The Cold War was on and the nukes — military and civilian — provided, in theory at least, some kind of justification  for pathological security.

In 1989, the United States and the collapsing Soviet Union (Russia) did diminish their stockpiles of nuclear bombs, but failed to reach agreement on nuclear disarmament because nuclear war industry enthusiasts had filled the brain of president Ronald Reagan with lies about shielding the country from incoming nuclear missiles.

So, accidents continue.

In 2011, a nuclear calamity struck Japan. The Fukushima meltdown in Japan was the work of a tsunami. Yet the Japanese government and industry repeated the deception, betrayal, and extreme danger of all previous nuclear power accidents.

No cowboy can ride safely a wild bull, especially when that bull is a sibling technology to nuclear weapons.

The nuclear disaster in Japan was an opportunity for America: the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission was Gregory Jaczko.

Jaczko goes to Washington

A series of accidents had brought to Washington, DC, Jaczko, a theoretical physicist burnt out with particle physics but burning with desire to see good come out of science. His technical education made it easy for him to understand the science and technology of nuclear power plants. He thought they served some kind of a useful purpose, though he was cautious about their “safety.”

He came to Washington because he wanted to do good. He knew next to nothing about Congress or its cutthroat politics.

He was fortunate in serving on the staff of the Democrat Congressman Edward Markey from Massachusetts and Democrat Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. In both cases, his cautious approach to nuclear power served him well with these two powerful politicians.

Markey wanted to increase the regulation of nuclear power and to strengthen international arms control. Reid wanted to dismantle the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump next to America’s gambling capital, Las Vegas, Nevada.

Reid was so impressed by the virtues of Jaczko (his neutral attitude towards the industry and its opponents and his commitment to public safety above all) he successfully nominated him, in 2005, to become one of the commissioners of NRC. Then with Obama becoming president, Reid insisted that Jaczko should be appointed to be the chairman of NRC.

In the belly of the nuclear beast

In his book, Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (Simon and Schuster, 2019), Jaczko describes a brief meeting he had with Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel went straight to the point. He was brutal:

“You are a fucking asshole and nobody likes you. If we make you chairman, everyone at the NRC is going to quit… Being chairman is a very important job. I don’t expect you to make problems for the president. Do you understand that? You work for the president and you better not fuck this up.”

Jaczko was shocked by the “ferocity” of the attack on his character. “I am not an asshole,” he said to Emanuel.

This humiliation, however, convinced Jaczko that Obama did not want him in the NRC, much less its chairman. But Obama gave in to Reid, who was the Senate majority leader.

Jaczko’s three-and-a-half years tenure as the chairman of NRC was stormy. The nuclear industry and its supporters in Congress could not stand him. The idea of reform or regulation was an anathema. In fact, the industry was so successful in its propaganda it had convinced Americans nuclear power was safe: don’t expect any accident at the nuclear power plants.

The other commissioners and senior staff looked at Jaczko with suspicion and mistrust. Here was a young man, younger than most of them, being their boss and constantly probing them to protect public health and the environment.

Running Jaczko out of town

Even the Fukushima tragedy made no difference. Jaczko was convinced NRC was a hopeless case, being a subsidiary of the nuclear industry.

“I eventually got run out of town because I saw things up close that I was not meant to see: an agency overwhelmed by the industry it is supposed to regulate and a political system determined to keep it that way,” he wrote.

The Fukushima “cataclysm” finally convinced him that “nuclear power is a failed technology.” Keep using it and it will bring “catastrophe in this country or somewhere else in the world,” he wrote.

I sympathize with the mental anguish and humiliations Jaczko suffered for trying to improve the safety of a dangerous technology. And shame on the Obama administration for missing a rare opportunity to get the country out of the nightmare embedded in nuclear power.

Jaczko had the courage to insist things  had to improve at NRC and the nuclear power plants. He knows what he is talking about. Like other dangerous technologies, nukes have no place in a civilized society.

I love Jaczko’s book: Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator. It’s a passionate and personal account of what happens to honest bureaucrats trying to use science and the government in the public interest. It’s also a riveting true story, well-written, insightful, very timely, and extremely important. In addition, the book is a warning from the horse’s mouth: nuclear power plants will continue melting down; they are ticking time bombs. And in the words of Jaczko: “Nuclear power… is large and bulky and will lumber into extinction.”

Categories: News for progressives

Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:54

“Freedom begins between the ears.”

-Edward Abbey

“What do old men who don’t believe in Heaven think about?” queried Edward Abbey rhetorically in his masterpiece Desert Solitaire. “. . . they think about their blood pressure, their bladders, their aortas, their lower intestines, ice on the doorstep, too much sun at noon.” In other words, they think about postponing dying, though many may never have gotten around to actually living.

To die well, one must live fully, Abbey thought, and dedicated himself to the task.

Anarchist, wilderness defender, story-teller, truth-lover, industrial saboteur, sex fiend, river runner, poker lover, beer guzzler, cantankerous social critic, part-time fanatic opponent of unrestrained growth, full-time desert rat, Edward Abbey went at life full throttle, forsaking a long, half-lived, half-life for a shorter span of years indulging his hearty appetite for bourbon, bacon, cigars, and countless nights out under the stars. (Abbey died at 62, before his own father.)

Faced with terminal illness in late middle age, he never bargained with God for more time or experienced any of the alleged “stages” of accepting death that psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says we all inevitably pass through. The reason? For Abbey it was not death or dying that was tragic, but rather to have “existed without fully participating in life – that is the deepest personal tragedy.” He was philosophical, not horrified, by the inevitability of his own death, which he accepted decades ahead of time while communing with the desert: “If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.”

You owe the earth a body, he believed.

A shy man infuriated by the devastating effect of industrial “progress,” Abbey’s rage was an expression of love for all that it destroyed: wilderness, freedom, free-flowing rivers, the pre-Stone-Age desert that his spirit would not leave even in death. And perhaps it was this passionate bond with the earth that gave Abbey his extraordinary poise, which never abandoned him, even in tragic moments. When he collapsed at a friend’s house in 1982 doctors gave him only a few months to live. Quipped Abbey, then fifty-five: “At least I don’t have to floss anymore.”

In a 1957 journal entry Abbey wrote that we don’t come into the world so much as grow out of it: “Man is not an alien in this world, not at all. He is as much a child of it as the lion and the ant.” But though we emerge from nature, its importance, especially in the desert, is that it bears no reflection of us: “In the desert, a man comes directly upon a world that is not a projection of human consciousness, a world that has not been interpreted by art or science or myth, that bears no trace of humanity on its surface, that has no apparent connection to the indoor human world.” Just this is its essential value. “In the desert one comes in direct confrontation with the bones of existence, the bare incomprehensible absolute is-ness of being. Like a temporary rebirth of childhood, when all was new and wonderful.” The city, for all its treasures, cannot reveal this.

Born in 1927, Abbey’s adult years were lived under the shadow of nuclear annihilation, among other ominous signs of massive destruction, but while others fretted over looming social disaster, Abbey actually looked forward to the end of human misrule, taking solace in the fact that his beloved Grand Canyon had already outlasted thirty failed civilizations.

“Be of good cheer,” he wrote in Down the River (1982), “the military-industrial state will soon collapse.” Although our “military industrial” state is now more of a military financial state, Abbey felt its approaching demise represented “good news,” the actual title of a novel he wrote on the topic, which critics took to be an ironic comment, whereas Abbey intended it as nothing more than the literal truth. Given that human population had vastly overshot its land base, progress required catastrophe, he thought, and he hoped that in the ruins of former cities “a small society of friends in a community of mutual aid and shared ownership of land” might manage to “rebuild the simple farming and pastoral economy that had been destroyed by the triumph of the city.” A Jeffersonian anarchist vision for the 21st century.

Though broadly cultured and obviously possessed of a lively intellect, prolonged visits to the city always produced in Abbey a longing for prompt return to “light on rock, the sun on my bones, the smell of a sweating horse, the bright thirsty air of the high plateaus.” Only a small scale civilization could be compatible with Abbey’s yearning for vast unspoiled wilderness, and then only if it recognized the primacy of nature. “A world without wilderness is a cage,” said environmentalist David Brower, and Abbey fervently concurred.

He flatly rejected the view that his deep urge to preserve what remained of humanity’s ancestral home was a marginal or superfluous concern. Wilderness, he wrote, “is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” Only in wilderness could one find an abundance of life’s essentials: clean air, pristine sunlight, pure water, unbounded space and time, grass and woods to play and get lost in, solitude and silence, “alien” life and the risk of death. “A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original,” warned Abbey, “is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” And the danger part was not to be omitted. Abbey agreed with his friend Doug Peacock that one was not truly in the wilderness unless one was at risk of being eaten.

An original thinker unafraid of honest examination of any issue, Abbey inevitably ran afoul of multicultural dogmas. He felt that liberal taboos against criticism of official minority groups was a form of censorship, and he was regularly accused of sexism, racism, “eco-fascism” and xenophobia for violating those taboos. Abbey rejected these rejections of his work. In response to a suggestion that he remove the “Archie Bunkerisms” from his then forthcoming novel The Fool’s Progress, he ranted: “I’m not going to toady to chickenshit liberalism anymore; fuck it. I’ve already been called fascist, racist, elitist, as well as communist, terrorist, misanthrope, bleeding-heart etc. so often it doesn’t bother me anymore. To hell with all those petty, taboo-ridden dogmatic minds.”

The critics “hate my books,” he went on, because “almost all reviewers, these days, are members of and adherents to some anxious particular sect or faction . . . . As such, any member of any one of those majority minorities is going to find for certain a few remarks in any of my books that will offend/enrage’s/he’ to the marrow.” Thirty years after Abbey’s death Donald Trump is the arsonist in charge of our ideological fire department, eagerly flinging gasoline in the faces of identity politics dogmatists, setting off an ever-widening sectarian conflagration. Maybe we should have paid more attention to Abbey’s criticisms when he first made them.

Although it is difficult to see Abbey as outright hating anyone (except the rich, whom he loathed), it’s easy to detect double standards in his work and life. While enjoying the benefits of monogamous marriage, he cheated on four out of five wives, using his celebrity to help bed attractive women. Though he was convinced that (1) “girls should be encouraged from infancy on to see the world as a playground of potentiality,” and (2) women’s under-representation in most fields was regrettable, and (3) “no man who is really a man will feel his manhood demeaned or threatened by the act of washing dishes,” he nevertheless disapproved of novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s having left young children at home in order to attend a 1989 writing conference that Abbey also attended (Kingsolver says Abbey was “respectful to the point of deference” in his treatment of her, however).

Abbey’s justification for the double standard was uncharacteristically unoriginal. Women are morally superior to men, caring for others, while men crave sexual variety out of selfish pleasure. (“I’ve never met a nymphomaniac I didn’t like,” commented the hero of Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress). The vast majority of men are polygamous, bogged down and frustrated with monogamy, which they submit to only out of sloth. So why did Abbey, hardly a slothful type, get married five times? His fifth and final wife (Clarke) said that he was seriously conflicted: “There was always the real complex issue of wanting to be married and have a family and wanting to be totally on his own and doing what he wanted.” One illustration of just how serious the conflict was for Abbey is provided by his fourth wife, Renee, who remembers a time she sent him to the store for groceries and had to wait two days for his return.

On feminism, Abbey had a very mixed response. Three years before Roe v. Wade his unpublished “Some Second Thoughts on Women’s Lib” contained the opinion that “a woman’s womb is not the property of the State . . . She must be mistress of all that’s enclosed within her skin.” On the other hand, he saw feminism as androgyny-promoting and contemptuous of working class men. And though he supported the Equal Rights Amendment and reviewed, counseled, and befriended several women writers, his negative portrayal of feminism in The Fool’s Progress offended his father (a lifelong socialist who appreciated the social gains of the Bolshevik Revolution) to the point that he stopped reading the book, and also his wife Claire, who hated the depiction, saying that Abbey never treated her in the sexist manner he sympathetically portrayed in his books. At a book event in 1987 a number of women who apparently shared this dislike walked out of an Abbey reading of The Fool’s Progress.

On the issue of race, Abbey very clearly did not sympathize with the multiplication of victim minorities, which he claimed were “advance men for planetary majorities.” However, it should be kept in mind that Abbey’s misanthropic convictions (in one book he commented that what the world needed to solve the overpopulation problem was a vast, painless plague) made him portray nearly all groups in a negative light, white people included. For example, in a 1956 journal entry he wrote: “On the Negro question: I don’t like ’em. Don’t like Negroes,” which seems to be an openly bigoted statement. But the next sentence is: “As far as I can see, they’re just as stupid and depraved as whites.” Similarly, in one breath Abbey depicted (American) Indians as alcoholic welfare bums, while in the next he had the hero of one of his novels say, “Indians are just as stupid and greedy and cowardly and dull as us white folks” (The Monkey Wrench Gang).

Asians he portrayed as products of authoritarian “anthill societies” mindlessly producing consumer junk for clueless Americans (“Jap crap,” the hero of The Fool’s Progress called it). He rejected the idea that (densely overcrowded) Eastern cultures had anything important to teach the West, and roundly criticized those who thought differently. “I find it pathetic as well as ironic to see the enthusiasm with which hairy little gurus from the sickliest nation on earth are welcomed by the technological idiots of all-electric California,” he said in Abbey’s Road.

However, when Washington unleashed a nearly genocidal assault on tiny Vietnam, Abbey spoke out harshly against the deeply racist slaughter. He considered the Vietnam war the most shameful chapter in U.S. history apart from slavery, and in a 1968 appearance to promote Desert Solitaire, he offended many in his audience by denouncing the war instead. Four years later in a letter to the Arizona Daily Star, he compared it to the worst atrocities of totalitarian states: “Nothing in American history, not even the wars against the Indians, can equal the shame and brutality and cowardice of this war. It makes an obscenity of our Christmas holidays and sinks our own Government and all who passively consent to its atrocities down to the moral level of Stalinist Russia and Hitler’s Germany.”

Abbey called himself a racist in Confessions of a Barbarian, though he defined the term as an aversion to being dominated by a race to which one did not belong, which definition would render nearly all of humanity “racist”: “Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.” Abbey was aware of the contributions of Western colonialism and imperialism to the widespread misery found in those regions, but argued it was but “Western guilt neurosis” to assign primacy to them in accounting for Third World conditions in the late twentieth century.

He urged a complete halt to immigration coming north from Mexico, contending that a porous border was allowing in “millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally, morally, generically impoverished people.” Such people brought with them an “alien mode of life which . . . is not appealing to the majority of Americans . . . Because we prefer democratic government . . . hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful – yes, beautiful! – society. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see.”

Abbey argued that a solution to mass immigration from the south had to be sought in Mexico, not the United States: “Mexico needs not more loans – money that will end up in the Swiss bank accounts of los ricos – but a revolution.” According to his best friend John Du Puy, Abbey considered the Mexican government an appalling betrayal of the Zapatista revolution and he vehemently opposed allowing them to “dump people on us” that they “couldn’t deal with.” In One Life At A Time, Please, he called for the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, but also advocated handing out rifles to those turned back there, so they could return home and settle accounts with their exploiters. Though more rhetoric than serious policy proposal, the implied sympathy for social revolution is hardly racist (racists prefer eugenic solutions). Curiously, Abbey “didn’t think much” of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, which implemented a wide range of popular programs for the poor that made it unnecessary for Nicaraguans to migrate to the United States in large numbers, as campesinos from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador did (and still do), much to Abbey’s dislike. Perhaps Abbey was the kind of anarchist who favors every revolution except the (imperfect) ones that succeed.

In any event, Abbey had curious associations for a “racist.” Early in his career he spoke at a Navajo rally, and in 1959 he edited the bilingual newspaper El Crepusculo de la Libertad (Twilight of Liberty), which promoted Indian rights. Years later he favorably reviewed Vine Deloria’s Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, one of several favorable articles he wrote on Indian affairs. He lamented that Deloria’s views were not being taught in schools, and noted that “the many parallels between the war in Vietnam and the war against the American Indian has not escaped the American Indian.”

Though, as noted, he opposed mass immigration from Mexico, he bore no grudge against Hispanics per se, and felt that any immigrant who had managed to live in the U.S. five years or more should be allowed to stay. For many years he wore a cap with the inscription “Viva La Causa,” and his best friend John De Puy reports he was sympathetic to Chicano activists in Taos and throughout northern New Mexico. De Puy says Abbey’s opposition to immigration, both legal and illegal, was not because of contempt for other cultures, but because of the problems inherent in large scale immigration.

Responding to Alfredo Gutierrez in the New York Times in August, 1983, Abbey conceded he preferred his own culture to others: “I will confess to cultural bias. Though an aficionado of tacos, Herradura tequila, and ranchero music (in moderate doses), I have no wish to emigrate to Mexico. Nor does Alfredo Gutierrez . . . At some point soon our Anglo-liberal-guilt neurosis must yield to common sense and enlightened self-interest.” In a 1987 letter to Earth First! Journal, Abbey drew a distinction between chauvinism and racism: “I am guilty of cultural chauvinism – I much prefer life in the USA to that in any Latin American country; and so do most Latin Americans – but chauvinism is not racism. Racism is the belief that all members of one race are innately superior to all members of some other race. I do not subscribe to any such belief. In a 1988 journal entry he wrote that the only “superior” races would be those who have done the least harm to the earth; he suggested the Bushmen of Africa, the Australian aborigines, and perhaps the Arizona Hopi.

If this is white supremacy, it’s a rather novel strain.

Categories: News for progressives

In Praise of Budget Deficits

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:53

With the presentation of his 2020 budget, Donald Trump has been getting a ton of grief over the large current and projected future budget deficits. While his budget shows the deficit coming down, this is due to large cuts to programs that middle income and lower income people depend upon, like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. His projections for falling deficits also depend on assuming a faster growth rate than just about anyone thinks is possible. So realistically, we are looking at a story of large deficits for the indefinite future.

While this is supposed to be really bad, people who pay attention to economic data may think otherwise. If we look at the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) projections for the unemployment rates for 2018, 2019, and 2020, from 2017, before the tax cut was passed, they were respectively, 4.2 percent, 4.4 percent, and 4.7 percent. If we look at CBO’s latest projections for these three years, they are 3.9 percent (actual)  3.5 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. The difference between the latest projections and the pre-tax cut projections imply a gain of more than 2 million in employment in each of these years.

These two million additional people being employed is a big deal not only for these workers and their families but for tens of millions of other workers who have more bargaining power as a result of a tighter labor market. And, we’re supposed to think this is a bad thing because of the deficit and debt? Tell the children of the people who are now working because of the larger deficit or whose parents have higher pay how the debt is a burden on them.

Of course, giving a big tax cut to corporations and rich people was just about the worst way imaginable to boost the economy. The promised investment boom is not happening. The boost is coming because rich people are spending a portion of their tax cuts and their increased share buybacks and dividends. But we could have also given the money to middle-income and lower-income people who would have been happy to spend it as well.

Even better, we could have used to money to promote clean energy, retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, and subsidizing mass transit. Our children have much more to fear from a wrecked environment than government debt.

In any case, the debt/deficit whiners should acknowledge the substantial economic gains from stimulating the economy with a larger deficit. It is a really big deal for a large number of people at the middle and bottom of the income distribution.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:53

Ever wonder how dangerous nincompoops like Donald Trump and George W. Bush were admitted to, and graduated from, so-called good schools? Forget the legacy shtick and pay close attention to the latest celebrity and wealthy individuals’ scheme that involved about 50 people (of whom 33 were parents of students)  who allegedly encouraged and facilitated the most nefarious and fraudulent means to get kids into schools like Stanford and Yale.

Some of the tactics supposedly cooked up by the business Edge College & Career Network involved bribes to college coaches, doctoring photos to make applicants look like college-bound athletes when the student in question never played a particular sport on a competitive basis, and having stand-ins take college entrance examinations. William “Rick” Singer, 58, was charged by federal prosecutors in Boston with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which served a roster of clients including chief executives and Hollywood actors,” (Guardian, March 12, 2019).

How I could have used that kind of help on the math section of the Scholastic Aptitude (not an aptitude test in any case) Test way back when! Although no colleges or universities have been implicated in this scam, one former soccer coach at Yale University, Rudy Meredith, is alleged to have taken a $400,000 bribe from the family of a “Yale applicant,” (Guardian, March 12, 2019). For a concise reading of this who’s who in the college-entrance scheme, peruse “How did the US college admissions scheme work and who was charged,” (Guardian, March 12, 2019).

It’s obvious what’s going on here in a society that has confused academic and professional accomplishment with money, status, and power. It’s common knowledge that a person’s pedigree often determines their earning power and earning power and status are generally determined by where a person attends college and the connections that one makes for life at these elite schools. There’s no Horatio Alger tale here; no rags to riches scheme, but rather, a riches to riches scheme. Since some participants in this cooked-up plot were known “celluloid” celebrities, ever wonder why the same faces and names appear in film after film in the movie industry? It’s all about name recognition and the stable of talent that repeatedly gets most of the work. Go to any summer stock theatre and it doesn’t take long to figure out that most with talent never make it to the level of those who walk the red carpet again and again and again, ad nauseam.

While Rome burns, the kids from wealthy families jump off the burning ship to an island of guaranteed wealth and comfort that will soon be consumed by rising waters.

At about the same time the pay to play elite college and university scam unfolded, a real heartbreaker came to light at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where students have been holding a sit-in in the school’s president’s office for over 40 days (“The Fight for Hampshire College: How One School’s Financial Calamity Exposes a Crisis in Higher Ed,” Democracy Now, March 12, 2019). Hampshire College is a well-respected liberal arts school in western Massachusetts situated among some of the best post-secondary schools in the U.S. It is known for its liberal curriculum, dedicated staff, and a place where some educators have found sanctuary for ideas that have not always played well in the larger society.

But declining enrollment and the decline in liberal arts education across the nation, caused the school’s administration to drastically cut faculty and student acceptance numbers for the 2019-2020 academic year. And the kicker here is that long-time, dedicated faculty were mostly kept in the dark about the school’s prospects for the future.

It’s not only Hampshire College that is suffering from the demographics and values that have moved away from the importance of the liberal arts, a course of study that exposes students to an education to better comprehend the history (and humanities) of the world where they find themselves and introduces students to the analytical tools to figure out where we are all going. Readers may ask who needs that kind of education when a fortune can be made in the fossil fuel industry, betting on a gambling fortune to enable political operatives to influence policy on an international scale, or simply being the dumb figurehead of a crumbling society?

Categories: News for progressives

Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:53

There is a saying in the worlds of politics and business that most people who come to prominence are those who in defeat bear malice and in victory seek revenge. It is therefore unsurprising that President Donald Trump displays both characteristics in international as well as domestic affairs, although his targets vary erratically between friend and foe.  His near-psychotic concentration on achieving the destruction of Iran is understandably malicious and revengeful, given the nature of the man, but his latest exhibitions of would-be superiority involve allies, which even for Trump is dramatically misguided.

The Trumpian United States has few friends, mainly because in his two years in the White House Trump has gone out of his way to belittle, demean and insult long-standing partners and antagonise those who may have been considering seeking closer ties with Washington.

His announcement last December that “America is respected again” was wide of the mark, because, unfortunately, America has become a global joke — but a dangerous joke whose president may be a raving booby, but is still powerful and appears intent on upsetting what little tranquillity remains in this turmoil-stricken world.

One recent diatribe was unprecedented in length, vulgarity and volatility. When he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 2 he set a new low for absurdity in what the commentator Stephen Colbert described as being an “epically weird” harangue which The Atlantic said was the longest presidential oration in history.  Moving on from this bizarre performance, Trump turned to international affairs and, as Politico reported on March 5, “kicked India and Turkey out of a decades-old US program that allows developing countries to export thousands of goods to the United States without paying duties,” in a scheme known as the Generalized System of Preferences or GSP.

The reasons given by the US Trade Representative for Trump’s orders were that India had failed “to provide the United States with assurances that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to its markets in numerous sectors” while “Turkey’s termination from the GSP follows a finding that it is sufficiently economically developed and should no longer benefit from preferential market access to the United States market.”

In the case of India, Washington has been trying for years to wean India away from its defence and trade association with Russia, concurrent with encouraging it to join the Pentagon in confronting China.  The US Defence Department stated in September 2018 that “A decade ago, US arms sales to India amounted to virtually nothing. Today, the United States is the second-largest arms supplier to India, and US officials say they hope to increase that business,” and the US focus on China has resulted in stronger military ties, with a joint statement last December indicating the intention “to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation as a key pillar of the strategic partnership between India and the US.”

Washington has been intensifying its confrontation with China in the South China sea, where in addition to overflights by nuclear-capable bombers it conducts what are absurdly called “freedom of navigation patrols” in waters where there has never been a single case of interference with any of the vast number of merchant ships that pass though every year.  The rationale is given as support for the Convention on the Law of the Sea which, most ironically, Washington refuses to ratify.  Nevertheless, the US has been trying hard to persuade the Indian government that it should contribute warships to join US patrols in the South China Sea, which, so far, India has refused to do. So it might be thought that the Trump Administration would do its best to encourage India to buy more US weapons and to cooperate in its anti-China antics (however unwise that would be) by keeping their relationship friction-free.  But this isn’t the way Trump works.

Washington’s unfortunate timing of the announcement that it will penalise India in trade arrangements extends to India’s domestic circumstances, because there are national elections due in April, and the party of Prime Minister Modi (an arch-nationalist and no mean war-drummer himself) was already having difficulties, and is looking shakier day-by-day. Indeed the whole bizarre affair was well summed-up by Professor Harsh Pant of King’s College London when he said “the discourse in this country has been that America needs India to balance China, and the question will be: Why is America doing this to India?”

But there doesn’t seem to be a sensible answer to that question.

The same holds for Washington’s treatment of NATO ally Turkey, whose President said on February 26 that Ankara might buy the US Patriot missile system “if you [the US] provide us good conditions.” But it’s blindingly obvious that the US declaration that Turkey “should no longer benefit from preferential market access to the United States market” is not going to make President Erdoğan keen on buying Patriot missiles — or anything else stamped “made in the USA.”

There is a Russia factor in the US-Turkey relationship, because Ankara has placed an order for world-beating S-400 surface-to-air missiles, which has riled Washington, as has India’s forthcoming acquisition of the same system. The Military-Industrial Establishment in Washington made its feelings known on March 8, when chief Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers told reporters that “If Turkey takes the S-400, there would be grave consequences in terms of our relationship, military relationship with them.”  But this doesn’t seem to worry President Erdoğan, who had already made it clear that “The S-400 is a done deal, there can be no turning back. We have reached an agreement with the Russians. We will move toward a joint production. Perhaps after the S-400, we will go for the S-500.”

The signals are that Turkey is moving further away from the US and is possibly considering leaving NATO.  After all, the US has torn up favourable trade arrangements, and NATO has done nothing for Turkey which is working with Russia in many spheres. The most recent example of regional military cooperation was on March 6-8 when four Turkish and Russian vessels conducted a minor exercise in the Black Sea, aimed at demonstrating and sharing techniques involved in mine-avoidance.

Trust is fostered by cooperation based on preparedness to understand differing viewpoints. Even more importantly, it is stimulated by adopting pragmatic policies aimed at establishing confidence, rather than by ceaselessly confronting and confounding others.  For so long as Trump considers that “Make America Great Again” depends on confrontation and malevolence then his country will achieve neither trust nor cooperation world-wide.  And when he casts allies aside with sneering condescension, taking revenge for what he considers to be unwarranted favouritism in the past, he is destroying America’s path to Greatness.

A version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on March 12. 

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:53

“Pity the nation whose people are sheep

And whose shepherds mislead them

Pity the nation whose leaders are liars

Whose sages are silenced

And whose bigots haunt the airwaves

Pity the nation that raises not its voice

Except to praise conquerors

And acclaim the bully as hero

And aims to rule the world

By force and by torture…

Pity the nation oh pity the people

who allow their rights to erode

and their freedoms to be washed away…”

—Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet

War spending is bankrupting America.

Our nation is being preyed upon by a military industrial complex that is propped up by war profiteers, corrupt politicians and foreign governments.

America has so much to offer—creativity, ingenuity, vast natural resources, a rich heritage, a beautifully diverse populace, a freedom foundation unrivaled anywhere in the world, and opportunities galore—and yet our birthright is being sold out from under us so that power-hungry politicians, greedy military contractors, and bloodthirsty war hawks can make a hefty profit at our expense.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your hard-earned tax dollars are being used for national security and urgent military needs.

It’s all a ruse.

You know what happens to tax dollars that are left over at the end of the government’s fiscal year? Government agencies—including the Department of Defense—go on a “use it or lose it” spending spree so they can justify asking for money in the next fiscal year.

We’re not talking chump change, either.

We’re talking $97 billion worth of wasteful spending.

According to an investigative report by Open the Government, among the items purchased during the last month of the fiscal year when government agencies go all out to get rid of these “use it or lose it” funds: Wexford Leather club chair ($9,241), china tableware ($53,004), alcohol ($308,994), golf carts ($673,471), musical equipment including pianos, tubas, and trombones ($1.7 million), lobster tail and crab ($4.6 million), iPhones and iPads ($7.7 million), and workout and recreation equipment ($9.8 million).

So much for draining the swamp.

Anyone who suggests that the military needs moremoney is either criminally clueless or equally corrupt, because the military isn’t suffering from lack of funding—it’s suffering from lack of proper oversight.

Where President Trump fits into that scenario, you decide.

Trump may turn out to be, as policy analyst Stan Collender warned, “the biggest deficit- and debt-increasing president of all time.”

Rest assured, however, that if Trump gets his way—to the tune of a $4.7 trillion budget that digs the nation deeper in debt to foreign creditors, adds $750 billion for the military budget, and doubles the debt growth that Trump once promised to erase—the war profiteers (and foreign banks who “own” our debt) will be raking in a fortune while America goes belly up.

This is basic math, and the numbers just don’t add up.

As it now stands, the U.S. government is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad.

Certainly, nothing about the way the government budgets its funds puts America’s needs first.

The nation’s educational system is pathetic (young people are learning nothing about their freedoms or their government). The infrastructure is antiquated and growing more outdated by the day. The health system is overpriced and inaccessible to those who need it most. The supposedly robust economy is belied by the daily reports of businesses shuttering storefrontsand declaring bankruptcy. And our so-called representative government is a sham.

If this is a formula for making America great again, it’s not working.

The White House wants taxpayers to accept that the only way to reduce the nation’s ballooning deficit is by cutting “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare, yet the glaring economic truth is that at the end of the day, it’s the military industrial complex—and not the sick, the elderly or the poor—that is pushing America towards bankruptcy.

We have become a debtor nation, and the government is sinking us deeper into debt with every passing day that it allows the military industrial complex to call the shots.

Simply put, the government cannot afford to maintain its over-extended military empire.

Money is the new 800-pound gorilla,” remarked a senior administration official involved in Afghanistan. “It shifts the debate from ‘Is the strategy working?’ to ‘Can we afford this?’ And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible.” Or as one commentator noted, “Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.”

To be clear, the U.S government’s defense spending is about one thing and one thing only: establishing and maintaining a global military empire.

Although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined.

In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combinedspend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

The American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $4.7 trillion waging its endless wars.

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $32 million per hour.

In fact, the U.S. government has spent more money every five seconds in Iraq than the average American earns in a year.

Then there’s the cost of maintaining and staffing the 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the world and policing the globe with 1.3 million U.S. troops stationed in 177 countries (over 70% of the countries worldwide).

Future wars and military exercises waged around the globe are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053.

The U.S. government is spending money it doesn’t have on a military empire it can’t afford.

As investigative journalist Uri Friedman puts it, for more than 15 years now, the United States has been fighting terrorism with a credit card, “essentially bankrolling the wars with debt, in the form of purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds by U.S.-based entities like pension funds and state and local governments, and by countries like China and Japan.”

War is not cheap, but it becomes outrageously costly when you factor in government incompetence, fraud, and greedy contractors.

As The Nation reports:

For decades, the DoD’s leaders and accountants have been perpetrating a gigantic, unconstitutional accounting fraud, deliberately cooking the books to mislead the Congress and drive the DoD’s budgets ever higher, regardless of military necessity. DoD has literally been making up numbers in its annual financial reports to Congress—representing trillions of dollars’ worth of seemingly nonexistent transactions—knowing that Congress would rely on those misleading reports when deciding how much money to give the DoD the following year.

For example, a leading accounting firm concluded that one of the Pentagon’s largest agencies “can’t account for hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spending.”

Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t much better for the spending that can be tracked.

A government audit found that defense contractor Boeing has been massively overcharging taxpayersfor mundane parts, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in overspending. As the report noted, the American taxpayer paid:

$71 for a metal pin that should cost just 4 cents; $644.75 for a small gear smaller than a dime that sells for $12.51: more than a 5,100 percent increase in price. $1,678.61 for another tiny part, also smaller than a dime, that could have been bought within DoD for $7.71: a 21,000 percent increase. $71.01 for a straight, thin metal pin that DoD had on hand, unused by the tens of thousands, for 4 cents: an increase of over 177,000 percent.

That price gouging has become an accepted form of corruption within the American military empire is a sad statement on how little control “we the people” have over our runaway government.

Mind you, this isn’t just corrupt behavior. It’s deadly, downright immoral behavior.

The U.S. government is not making the world any safer.It’s making the world more dangerous. It is estimated that the U.S. military drops a bomb somewhere in the world every 12 minutes. Since 9/11, the United States government has directly contributed to the deaths of around 500,000. Every one of those deaths was paid for with taxpayer funds.

The U.S. government is not making America any safer. It’s exposing American citizens to alarming levels of blowback, a CIA term referring to the unintended consequences of the U.S. government’s international activities. Chalmers Johnson, a former CIA consultant, repeatedly warned that America’s use of its military to gain power over the global economy would result in devastating blowback.

Those who call the shots in the government—those who push the military industrial complex’s agenda—those who make a killing by embroiling the U.S. in foreign wars—have not heeded Johnson’s warning.

The U.S. government is not making American citizens any safer. The repercussions of America’s military empire have been deadly, not only for those innocent men, women and children killed by drone strikes abroad but also those here in the United States.

The9/11 attacks were blowback. The Boston Marathon Bombing was blowback. The attempted Times Square bomber was blowback. The Fort Hood shooter, a major in the U.S. Army, was blowback.

The transformation of America into a battlefield is blowback.

All of this carnage is being carried out with the full support of the American people, or at least with the proxy that is our taxpayer dollars.

The government is destabilizing the economy, destroying the national infrastructure through neglect and a lack of resources, and turning taxpayer dollars into blood money with its endless wars, drone strikes and mounting death tolls.

As Martin Luther King Jr. recognized, under a military empire, war and its profiteering will always take precedence over the people’s basic human needs.

Similarly, President Dwight Eisenhower warned us not to let the profit-driven war machine endanger our liberties or democratic processes.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. […] Is there no other way the world may live?”

We failed to heed Eisenhower’s warning.

The illicit merger of the armaments industry and the government that Eisenhower warned against has come to represent perhaps the greatest threat to the nation today.

It’s not sustainable, of course.

Eventually, inevitably, military empires fall and fail by spreading themselves too thin and spending themselves to death.

It happened in Rome. It’s happening again.

The America empire is already breaking down.

We’re already witnessing a breakdown of society on virtually every front, and the government is ready.

For years now, the government has worked with the military to prepare for widespread civil unrest brought about by “economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

For years now, the government has been warning against the dangers of domestic terrorism, erecting surveillance systems to monitor its own citizens, creating classification systems to label any viewpoints that challenge the status quo as extremist, and training law enforcement agencies to equate anyone possessing anti-government views as a domestic terrorist.

We’re approaching critical mass.

As long as “we the people” continue to allow the government to wage its costly, meaningless, endless wars abroad, the American homeland will continue to suffer: our roads will crumble, our bridges will fail, our schools will fall into disrepair, our drinking water will become undrinkable, our communities will destabilize, our economy will tank, crime will rise, and our freedoms will suffer.

So who will save us?

As I make clear in my book, Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’d better start saving ourselves: one by one, neighbor to neighbor, through grassroots endeavors, by pushing back against the police state where it most counts—in our communities first and foremost, and by holding fast to what binds us together and not allowing politics and other manufactured nonrealities to tear us apart.

Start today. Start now. Do your part.

Literally and figuratively, the buck starts and stops with “we the people.”

 

Categories: News for progressives

“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:53

Wilma’s house.

This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water

— Donald Trump, INDEPENDENT, September 29, 2017

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017. One and a half years later, many of the island’s more than 3 million U.S. citizens continue to be forgotten and ignored by the federal government.

Earlier this year, Stan Cox and I stayed in the Sierra Brava neighborhood of Salinas, Puerto Rico for three weeks. We spent part of that time documenting the post-Maria situation there.

Superpower Neglect: Casting Shadows, Still

Salinas is like an upside-down ghost town with signs of the destruction of the 2017 hurricane still casting shadows everywhere. On shuttered clinics; the empty streets; the now drought-ridden river Río Nigua, which during the hurricane was overflowing the banks…

…on a flowering mango tree, seemingly leaning to shelter a broken, abandoned home; on Wilma’s broken blue & grey home, leaning to one side, and a pretty blue & silver wind chime hanging on the front door; on the face of Wilma’s pensive 4-year-old grandson Xander Martinez, who regularly suffers from mold allergies…

…on a lifeless splash of brightly colored, abandoned toys; on Wilma Miranda Ramos’ broken ceiling and the patchwork of daylight shining through the blue plastic tarp that does not prevent rain from pouring in; on her wobbly floor with patched-up cracks and Xander’s yellow shoes; on a fading photo of Wilma’s son Juan Carlos, who lives in Hawaii and serves proudly in the United States Army, and daughter Jomarie…

…and on Wilma’s words:

I have a stitched-together roof, but as I have nowhere to go I’m still here by the grace of God… It was really incredible that I survived it, and also waiting for the arrival of the lights for months, enduring the mosquitoes, the heat, is unforgettable. I am one of those who did not obtain help to fix the house… Staying here in these conditions is not easy. But since I have my daughter and grandson of four years here with me, living here and not in the street is worth gold…

Superpower Neglect: A Theater of Injustice

The detritus of superpower neglect is something to behold. But no matter how much we residents of the mainland are trying to ignore it, the stillness of that detritus is screaming at us.

It screams at us through the teachers who lost jobs when nine area schools closed down, and the overwhelming desire of some of their students not to stay in Puerto Rico; the kids who saw all that rain start falling on September 20 and wanted to go out and play in it, not knowing what horrors would follow…

…through a small used-to-be clinic where one doctor used to show up once a week, and which now looks like a clinic out of a Dr. Seuss book with cactuses growing on the roof, and comején (termites) on the outside wall eating up whatever is left of the little structure…

Orlando Guzman Vasqez.

…through the larger-than-life figure of Orlando Guzman Vasquez who turned 74 last month, and who broke his knee when he fell from his roof while trying to fix it (when he got tired of waiting for help with restoration), and his words:

I born over here. This is my grandfather’s house. I have the papers for the house. My father is still alive. He’s 98 years old. He lives in Connecticut… I worked in the United States for 40 years, in New York City, in construction… I lost everything in the house, the furniture, television, everything. They don’t pay me nothing for nothing inside…. but [having a roof over his head is] better than nothing. I gonna try to finish this with the money I collect, It’s not enough money… [He points to his mango tree and says] when I’m hungry I eat the mango and drink some water, and that’s it.

Socoro Rolon.

And, through Socorro Rolon’s words:

Everything was destroyed by the hurricane and just stayed the same way… Lookat the house, it is destroyed… and everything was wet… nothing could be saved…What can I do? Just keep going until God knows when, what else can I do?… We were helped by FEMA for the rent, but FEMA didn’t help with the interior and the other things… The house is still like that… We have been paying what we’ve been able to, because FEMA doesn’t help anymore… and I have a sickness in my ears… The hurricane, it destroyed, destroyed half the world over here. It took the street, and didn’t spare anyoneMaria! Maria! nos destruyó Maria! (Maria! Maria! it was Maria that destroyed us!)

Superpower Neglect: There’s Something About a Neighbor

The United States government would rather have us remain silent about who we might meet with and talk to in Puerto Rico about Hurricane Maria, the destruction it caused, and how the mainland responded. Such as always-smiling Fela Suren who says she’s “80-something,” and doesn’t wish to see anything like another Maria ever again. She laughs and adds that she wants to go to the United States…

…or remain silent about Fela’s undrinkable green tap water that she says she only bathes with; or of her roofless, destroyed home that includes a makeshift bedroom in her kitchen with a boarded window…

Victoria Febás.

…or about Victoria Febás, who has a sticker next to the rippling wall-paint showing signs of water seepage in her house, that says ‘There’s something about a soldier.’ Victoria’s neighbor, who was living across the street, had to leave because he, like many, couldn’t find a job in Sierra Brava. She said that he did a lot for Victoria. But now she has to wait for her daughter to come from San Juan to even go to the supermarket. “There’s something about a soldier” works great in the U.S. mainland where cowards make the rules and young citizens like her son Ramón (who, like Juan Carlos is in the U.S. army) who fought in Afghanistan serve and die for them. But in the island territory of Puerto Rico, “There’s something about a neighbor” rings more true.

…or about Madeline’s grandmother, 78-year-old Milagros Colón, whose old family home in La Plena, along with her current home in Sierra Brava were destroyed by the hurricane.

Fela’s house.

Or the words of Madeline Flores Tenazoa, our short-term neighbor, guide and translator:

The tree fell [through the roof] and the water came inside from the river and [Milagros] lost everything. They [FEMA] came, but my grandmother she doesn’t speak English. How’s she gonna talk with him. How?”

Madeline says that the tree was on Milagros’ bedroom side of the house and when it fell, the bedroom window came crashing down on her grandmother’s bed.

Thank God she wasn’t here! [when it happened.] I was in the United States, but I called my grandmother [and told her] you please don’t stay in the house… You need to go [to her uncles apartment on the second floor]!

If you see what happened when Trump came, and, he laugh, everybody laugh, with the paper towel. Ah, you can get this [paper towels], like… this?! You can clean your nose with this, but how I’m gonna to repair my house?… A lot of people were like ‘ha! ha! ha! oh, this is funny!’ It’s not funny. You are bullying the people… When the hurricane passed, a lot of kids’ parents [couldn’t] buy clothes again. They can’t buy backpacks, notebooks… and a lot of kids go like, ‘oh, your mom can’t buy you this? I have this!’…We need to stop. But it’s the same when you see in the news the government behaved the same with us! You try to tell the kids, ‘you need to stop [bullying]’, but they see the news, they see stuff in Facebook and they want to repeat…”

Now that 18-month-old Hurricane Maria doesn’t make the news anymore — she, and others, believe that people “over there” (on the mainland) “say ah! maybe the people they got everything again. No! No! No! They need… five years more to come up. If everything continue like this? maybe 10!” finishes Madeline.

All photos by Priti Gulati Cox.

Categories: News for progressives

On Our Knees

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:50

I have been wrong at CounterPunch 26.5 times. One example: writing that Hillary Clinton would win in 2016. After the election of Donald Trump, plenty of you emailed, chastising me for the mistake. Occasionally, and for a split second only, I wish Clinton had won. More on this later.

Recall another Donald now: Rumsfeld. Then remember when this particular D famously said, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might wish to have or want.”

Well, you go to the voting booth with the candidate you have, not the candidate you might wish to have or want.

As business types and politicians announce their aspirations, I don’t see anyone… Wait, what’s that word so many used to describe Obama? Transformational. No, there is no one who would transform foreign and domestic policy enough to remove us from the brink of many precipices—the most urgent of which is extinction.

Did you believe in Obama? Did you think he’d address climate change in any meaningful way to heal our oceans, our soil, our atmosphere? Did you believe he’d hold George W Bush accountable for war crimes? Or like me, did you know as soon as he said he was opposed only to dumb and rash wars and when he tapped Joe Biden as his running mate, that same Joe Biden who said you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist, that an Obama presidency would continue the craven Bush agenda?

That same Joe Biden who’s polling higher than anyone else who’s inflicted himself/herself on our consciousness and conscience. Dear God, I shake my head with no, no, no, no, and at the risk of being accused of ageism, I say, “Biden is too old.” So is Sanders, so is Trump, and so is Hillary Clinton—and yes, she has threatened to enter the field if the Democrats move too far to the left.

Too far to the left? Following even a few of Jesus Christ’s tenets is Leftist anarchy according to Republican Congressmen and women and most Dem Congressmen and women.

And old age: I have intimate knowledge of it. When I say that the above contenders are too old, trust that I know whereof I speak. If I have a sleepless night, I’m worthless the next day. My head buzzes, synapses backfire. No onward enthusiasm but instead a day of looking forward to bedtime while dreading a repeat of the night before. If sleep deprived when young, I could dance on tabletops. And did.

Up for consideration: One of my children says if Bernie Sanders isn’t nodding off or drooling, he’ll vote for him, because Sanders has moved the narrative to the left. The other son agrees—told me he’d vote for Sanders even if Sanders were 20 years older.

You go to bed with the thoughts you have, not the thoughts you might wish to have or want. For some time, my thoughts have settled on Earth’s poor health. I won’t be around to witness the bleak landscape my imagination conjures, but my children and grandchildren will. The children, all the little children of the world. This song I learned so many years ago in church loops in my mind, accompanied by foreground images of mass migrations, people moving from uninhabitable areas in search of locations with potable water, food, breathable air. Until these places, also, become unlivable.

I was thinking of wrapping this up until my brain sent a successful signal reminding that I said “more on this later” about occasionally wishing Clinton had won. I really don’t. If Clinton were Madam President, we wouldn’t see nearly as much outrage—the necessary degree required to move us from the immorality of capitalism to the morality of socialism. It’s shameful though that Trump’s naked racism and oozing disdain for anyone but the ultra-privileged are the requisites for an authentic resistance to inequality.

You go with what you have, not with what you might wish you have or want. Go with the knowledge that often you have to be brought to your knees before you are motivated to stand. At this moment in our history, we are on our knees.

Categories: News for progressives

A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:50

The Northern Rockies are surely near the top of the list of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. Its ranges contain one of the last great expanses of biodiversity left in the continental United States, including most of the species that were there when Lewis and Clark first passed through in 1805 on their journey of discovery.

These attributes alone would be reason enough to protect this region. Instead, the Trump administration has been pushing oil, gas, mining, and logging projects, and removing legal protections from threatened species. To be fair, the Obama administration also pursued some of those actions. But the current administration’s zealotry threatens the region’s wild landscape and rich biodiversity. It’s up to all of us who care about the environment, science and preserving wild places for our children to resist such efforts.

Legislation recently introduced in the House would protect a vast swath of this region. But until that law is enacted, we’ll have to rely on the judiciary. Along with other organizations and Indian tribes in the Northern Rockies, our group, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, has been fighting threats to the region in court. Fortunately, this past year has brought some encouraging news. But the court system alone will not provide the protection this area needs and deserves.

In August, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit voted unanimously to halt a planned 125-square-mile logging and burning project in the Payette National Forest in western Idaho. The court concluded that parts of the project ran counter to the forest’s management plan.

Under that project, so many trees would have been cut that the forest would have no longer provided elk or deer with the cover they need. Forest streams would have been filled with sediment from bulldozers building miles of new logging roads — further damaging the native fisheries for which the Northern Rockies are internationally famous. According to the United States Forest Service’s own projections, taxpayers would have spent more than $12 million to subsidize the logging.

On the same day of the Ninth Circuit ruling against the Payette project, a Federal District Court judge in Montana, Dana Christensen, granted a request by Alliance for the Wild Rockies and two other groups for an injunction temporarily stopping a logging and road building project along the northwestern border of Yellowstone National Park. Nearly 16 miles of logging roads would have been bulldozed through grizzly bear habitat. The judge concluded that the Forest Service had failed to consider how the project would affect the Canada lynx, which has been listed since 2000 as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Now the court is weighing whether to permanently block the project.

Then, in September, Judge Christensen ordered the Yellowstone-area grizzly bears restored to full protection as a threatened species. When the federal government removed the bear’s protected status in June 2017, ignoring the concerns of scientists, environmentalists and tribal leaders, the State of Wyoming started gearing up for its first grizzly hunt in more than 40 years. But Judge Christensen ruled that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service had erred in removing the bear’s threatened status, siding with us and opponents of the hunt. The Interior Department is appealing this decision.

This was a particularly important ruling because the loss of protected status could have opened the bears’ habitat to mining, logging, and development. But the fight to protect the landscape and its species is far from over. With the nation’s environmental laws under all-out attack by the Trump administration, victories in the judicial branch can get us only so far.

That’s why Congress must act to protect the Northern Rockies. Legislation introduced recently in the House by Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, and soon to be introduced in the Senate by Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, would designate 23 million acres of roadless public lands in Montana, Idaho, western Wyoming, and eastern Oregon and Washington as wilderness.

The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would also establish a system of vital biological corridors connecting smaller ecosystems within the Northern Rockies to protect native plants and animals. Restoring over one million acres of damaged habitat and watersheds would create jobs, and taxpayers would save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on road-building and logging projects in which private corporations cut down our public forests.

In 1872, when Congress designated Yellowstone as the world’s first national park, America was the world leader in conservation. That reputation is fast eroding. By passing this legislation, Congress can help reverse this trend.

Our group and others have been fighting for more than a quarter of a century to protect the ecosystems of the Northern Rockies that are the rightful heritage of all Americans and generations to come. With the support of an engaged public and insistence by an independent judiciary that this administration adhere to longstanding environmental laws, we will succeed.

On June 12, 1805, Meriwether Lewis climbed a bluff in what is now Chouteau County, Mont. From this vantage, he was able to see wolves, antelope, mule deer and “immense herds of buffalo.” He added, “From this height we had a most beautiful and picturesque view of the Rocky Mountains, which were perfectly covered with snow.”

They were, Lewis wrote in his journal, “an august spectacle.”

Nearly 214 years later, parts of the Northern Rockies remain as they were when Lewis first saw its peaks. We must protect them so future generations can experience the grandeur that he beheld.

Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Carole King is a singer, songwriter, author and environmental advocate.

This column originally appeared in The New York Times.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Media-Created Front Runners

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:50

This writer makes it a habit to review CNN daily. Not because he expects responsible news reporting there, but because that particular outlet seems to provide a good overview of what the corporate-owned, government-supporting media wants the general public to know and care about. This past week, he saw the news that former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are leading in public opinion polls in the (bizarrely) crucial state of Iowa, whose caucuses will actually occur in less than one year (February 3, 2020).

Has it really come to this? Are the Democrats in the Hawkeye state really excited about two, old (76 and 77, respectively), white men? With all the talk about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and other progressive or pseudo-progressive candidates taking center stage, are Sanders and Biden really seen as dynamic agents of change?

There seems to be a belief within the Democratic hierarchy that as long as a living, breathing, sentient being is nominated, the current occupant of the White House, the clown-like but very dangerous Donald Trump, will be sent back to reality TV-land from whence he came. This is the same thinking that brought Hillary Clinton to the party’s nomination in 2016: a fairly popular (don’t get this writer started on that topic) Democratic president was leaving office, and a repugnant, ignorant, ill-informed, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, egotistical, narcissistic blowhard was to be the GOP standard-bearer. Surely, anyone could defeat him. Of course, that upstart Bernie Sanders had to be thwarted, along with millions of idealistic younger people who had piles of enthusiasm but not of cash, and in the world of electoral politics, the latter is all that matters. So, the party sabotaged him through the use of the ‘Super Delegates’ rule (there is little that is less democratic than that rule), and through Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s dishonest machinations.

And now we are, according to the pundits at CNN, faced with the prospect of Sanders or Biden. Sanders, for all his progressive rhetoric, has a long record of supporting U.S. military interference in other nations, most recently in Syria. He is ‘PEP’ (Progressive Except for Palestine), despite throwing pro-Palestinian activists a bone in 2016 by not speaking at the AIPAC convention. And if someone is ‘PEP,’ he or she is not progressive at all.

And what of the marble-mouthed Biden, who can barely speak two sentences without somehow inserting his foot into his mouth? Another politician who supports war whenever possible (and in the halls of U.S. Congress, it’s always possible), he also panders to whatever special interest is willing to invest in his various campaigns.

But, according to CNN, these are the front-runners, the two now in the lead to defeat the chaotic clown and introduce the nation and the world to a new Utopian society.

This writer begs the readers’ forbearance, but are these really the youthful, fresh-faced new leaders that people seem so desperate for? Both Messrs. Biden and Sanders have been around the U.S. political block for multiple decades; to say that they are more than a bit shopworn is not to exaggerate.

Well, CNN does not leave us without its own perverse version of hope; that august network is forever trying to force former Texas Representative Beta O’Rourke down the unwilling Democratic throat. And as of this writing, he has tossed his hat into the ring. He is youthful, we are told! Charismatic! The new face of the Democratic Party!

Ugh! O’Rourke was unsuccessful in his quest just last year to defeat Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who is often described as the most disliked member of Congress among his peers. Cruz’s ‘likability’ rating is buried in some sub-cellar somewhere. His policies are racist and reactionary, and despite his early criticism of the orange court-jester currently referred to as ‘president,’ he basically votes lock-step with Trump’s erratic demands. And now CNN wants us to believe that this O’Rourke creature, ‘PEP’ to the nth degree, would save us all from the Great Orange One and usher in a new era of change. We might all as well sit by our chimney on Christmas Eve, awaiting the arrival of an obese man dressed in red, landing in his reindeer-powered sled on our roof, and slip down said chimney with a bag full of goodies. Believe one; believe the other.

U.S. government officials would have us believe that if a nation has elections, it is democratic. Thus their continual nonsense about the great Israeli democracy (one wonders when they will realize that most people disregarded that farce long ago), and their holding up the U.S. ‘democracy’ (read: oligarchy; kakistocracy) as a model to which the world aspires (as long as we’re discussing farces…). And every four years, U.S. citizens of voting age, if they have registered, and if they have the required ID, and if their polling places are opened at reasonable hours, and if there are sufficient poll booths at those polling places, are able to cast their vote for the elitist, out-of-touch millionaire who they want to lead the country for the next four years. Then, depending on the programming of the voting machines, and the accuracy of the ballots (let’s not forget those hanging chads from 2000), and the application of the bizarre Electoral College, perhaps the candidate who received the most votes will be declared the winner; perhaps not.

In the two most recent elections in which the will of the small percentage of eligible voters who actually cast ballots had their will thwarted by the Electoral College, the outcome was not pretty (we will not discuss here how the outcomes haven’t been exactly stellar when the voice of that small number of voters is actually heard). In 2000, then Vice-President Al Gore defeated former Texas Governor George Bush by 500,000 votes, but Bush was installed as president. Bush launched the ‘war on terror,’ a trillion-dollar boondoggle that rivals the equally expensive and extremely harmful ‘war on drugs.’  A recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs indicates that this ‘war on terror’ has cost U.S. taxpayers at least $6 trillion, and has killed at least half a million people worldwide.

Since Trump lost the presidential election in 2016 by about 3 million votes, he has maintained the ‘war on terror,’ and ratcheted up aggression towards Iran, Syria and Venezuela. The damage he has done to the Supreme Court will reverberate on U.S. society for generations.

Let this writer hasten to say that he knows that neither Gore nor Clinton would have ushered in a generation of peace and prosperity. Gore would probably have waged one or two wars, just to keep the U.S. reputation as the world’s largest bully intact. Clinton would probably have bombed Iran by now, which would have plunged the entire Middle East into a conflagration of staggering proportions. But, one thinks, that perhaps there would have been a slight reduction in bloodletting than we have seen with Bush, Obama and Trump. Because by the time Bush decided to launch the ‘war on terror,’ it was too late for anyone to back down without the risk of being seen as ‘soft on terrorism,’ which is the current political generation’s phobia, having replaced being ‘soft on communism.’

So we are now told who the frontrunners are and, if we want to be in the winner’s circle, who we must embrace. This writer will pass, and will, next year, seek another third-party candidate to vote for.

Categories: News for progressives

Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:50

Beijing.

Justice delayed is justice denied but there may yet be a sense, however flawed, that it can be done.The decision of the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland to charge just one former British soldier with murder, arising from the events of Bloody Sunday in January 1972, which left 14 people dead has been met with disappointment and it must be stated, great dignity by the relatives of those killed. The decision on Thursday to prosecute Soldier F for two murders and four attempted murders has been met with a disappointment that is understandable. That massacre fueled a cycle of violence that blighted the lives of so many people.

On that bitterly cold Sunday night, like thousands of other families in Ireland, my family was sitting by the fire, watching the 9 o’clock news, waiting for the film, about the struggle for Indian independence, at 9.30. Some people in Dublin had erected ungainly TV aerials to catch the weak signal from Britain but in Limerick, 120 miles southwest of the capital, we got our signal from the single national TV station. There had been a march in Derry that afternoon and word was filtering in of casualties. The phone rang. Dad answered it and came back to the room 10 minutes later to say the news from Derry was bad, at least four marchers had been killed by the British army. Then the first of at least three newsflashes during the film as the confirmed death toll mounted.  Six, eight, ten. The film on India’s struggle for independence, and the interrupting newsflashes seemed to play into a narrative that history was inescapable and the past was firmly rooted in the here and now. When the tumult ceased a special news program, close to midnight, gave the toll as 13 dead. The British army’s parachute regiment had shot dead 13 innocent people protesting against the internment of people without trial introduced in August. Another injured marcher died some months later. January 30, 1972. Bloody Sunday. Three days after the shootings, the British embassy in Dublin was burnt to the ground.

A report by Lord Saville, published in June, 2010, into the events that day did not mince its words. Not one person shot by the soldiers “were posing any threat of causing death or serious injury”. That same month, British prime minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that “what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong’’.

A previous report, issued by Lord Widgery in April, 1972, seem to lay the blame for the deaths on the marchers and said …

“There was no general breakdown in discipline. For the most part the soldiers acted as they did because they thought their orders required it. No order and no training can ensure that a soldier will always act wisely, as well as bravely and with initiative. The individual soldier ought not to have to bear the burden of deciding whether to open fire in confusion such as prevailed on January 30th. In the conditions prevailing in Northern Ireland, however, this is often inescapable.”

This was met with the ridicule it deserved in Ireland. The British army were sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 to protect, and were initially welcomed by, Catholics, who were being driven out of their homes.

Then this month, the House of Commons was told by the Northern Ireland secretary, Karen Bradley, that the deaths caused by the British security services during what are often described as Troubles were “not crimes” but people acting “under orders and under instruction and fulfilling their duties in a dignified and appropriate way”.

She apologized but it is hardly surprising that the speaker of those words admitted in September that before becoming Northern Ireland secretary she was ignorant of the most basic political facts.

She said she was unaware that nationalists did not vote for unionists and that unionists did not vote for nationalists.  It seems incredible for someone so ignorant of basic facts could have been selected for the post.

“I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland,” Bradley told House magazine a weekly publication for the Houses of Parliament.

“I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa. So, the parties fight for election within their own community.’’

For too long, Westminster ignored Dublin and turned a deaf ear to pleas to adopt a more inclusive approach and not define the core problem of Northern Ireland solely as terrorism. There was terror, sickening atrocities were committed by followers of different political persuasions, but terrorism was the consequence.

Internment without trial, Bloody Sunday, the hunger strikes, the Birmingham Six and similar injustices prolonged the Troubles and led to the British state in the eyes of the nationalist community lacking moral authority.

Seventeen soldiers were involved in the Bloody Sunday killings.

Just four British soldiers have been convicted of murders relating to the Troubles and all ultimately received royal pardons and were permitted to rejoin their regiments.

This compared with an estimated 20,000-30,000 former republican and loyalist paramilitaries who served time in prison for a range of offences, including murder.

No doubt the latest finding will be dismissed in some quarters in Britain as the pesky Irish unable to escape history. But Brexit could yet see a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.  Getting rid of the hard border was a central component of the Good Friday Agreement. The past may be another country but it is not one that Britain should hark back to.

Categories: News for progressives

All the Livelong Day      

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-03-15 15:50

1894 was a wild year in the United States. Robber barons and the sycophantic politicians they controlled worked overtime to maintain and expand their empires of capital.  Their practices and greed had helped create a recession that left millions of working people struggling to keep shelter and food for their families.  The response of most of the capitalist class was to reduce workers’ wages.  Labor organizers were afraid to push back too hard for fear of losing the few gains they had achieved when the economy was more flush.

One industry stood above the rest.  One industry wielded more power than any of the others.  That industry was the railroads.  Congress passed legislation granting them land and right of way through territories already settled by the white man and territories still being stolen from the original inhabitants.  Laws were passed to facilitate the railroads’ profit margin and to lessen competition. Corruption, greed and blood defined the industry.  Capitalists in other associated and non-associated enterprises took cues from the captains of the rails.

One man in particular understood the nature of the business.  His name was George W. Pullman.  His business made sleeping cars. Luxurious to travel in, the cars were the standard to attain in passenger rail travel.  Extra springs assured a smoother ride and a comfortable sleep.  Porters were specially trained to serve the needs of passengers in these cars. Virtually every train line used Pullman’s cars.  His monopoly was almost complete.

He wasn’t all greed, though.  He hired African-American men as porters—a bold move for the time.  The workers who built his cars lived in a town built by Pullman that featured social activities and intellectual pursuits, but no bars or pool halls.  In short, Pullman’s views regarding working men were similar to many people involved in the nascent Progressive movement of the period. Improvement of the human through better health practices and intellectual stimulation were key elements of this philosophy.  Doing this not only improved the workforce, it improved the capitalists’ profits.

However, all was not well in Pullman’s paradise. As the recession deepened, his desire to maintain a high level of profit meant that he would reduce wages, raise rents in the company town and lay off workers.  As this scenario intensified, the workers began to consider some kind
of labor action.  Many of them had already joined a new and fast growing association of workers known as the American Railway Union (ARU).  A response to the abuse of labor by the bosses and a refusal by the craft unions to support this group of workers, the ARU was open to almost anyone who worked on the railroad; anyone, that is but the Black porters.  That racism would come back to haunt the union in the months ahead.  In the meantime, however, thanks in large part to the efforts of union organizer Eugene Debs, the ARU was quickly becoming one of the largest unions in the United States.  Indeed, as the situation in the Pullman factory simmered slowly to a boil, the ARU was riding high on a victory against the Great Northern Railroad.

So, when it became clear that the Pullman management was not going to bend on the demands put forth by the factory workers, the ARU rank and file was ready to support them.  Despite Debs’s concerns, the vote to strike was overwhelming. Given that the union was a democratic union run by its members, Debs jumped on board and began working to coordinate and build that labor action.

This is the setting of Jack Kelly’s recently published book The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in AmericaA journalist and historian, Kelly has written a riveting tale of human strength and unity in the face of arrogance and greed.  In doing so, he examines the nature of monopoly capital and its undue power. He provides a history of an unholy bond between politicians and Wall Street.  It is a bond that continues to determine the future of the United States and the world.  Simultaneously, his text makes clear it is a bond that working men and women can and must challenge to make their lives worth living.  Even in defeat, the knowledge that one struggled for what is right makes their life worthwhile.

The Edge of Anarchy is both the history of a strike and biography of the an organizer.  Kelly does not turn Debs into a hero, but acknowledges in his telling that his role in the Pullman strike was heroic.  Furthermore, it gives the reader a biography of Debs before he became a socialist and provides some of the reasons why he did.  A page-turner that reads like a top notch novel, Kelly’s book is a significant tale of arrogance and privilege versus struggle and solidarity.

Categories: News for progressives

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