News for progressives

Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 16:03

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

I’ve been hearing about neoliberalism for a long time now and never could make much sense of it. It turns out the story we tell about neoliberalism is as contradictory as neoliberalism itself. Two currents within the critique of neoliberalism offer different analyses of the current economy and suggest different strategies for dealing with the gross exploitation, wealth inequality, climate destruction and dictatorial governance of the modern corporate order.

These opposing currents are not just different schools of thought represented by divergent thinkers. Rather they appear as contradictions within the critiques of neoliberalism leveled by some of the most influential writers on the subject. These different interpretations are often the result of focus. Look at neoliberal doctrine and intellectuals and the free market comes to the fore. Look at the history and practice of the largest corporations and the most powerful political actors and corporate power takes center stage.

The most influential strain of thought places “free market fundamentalism” (FMF) at the center of a critical analysis of neoliberalism. The term was coined by Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist of the World Bank itself –Joseph Stigliz. FMF is usually how neoliberalism is understood by progressives and conservatives alike. In this view, an unregulated free market is the culprit and the oft cited formula — de-regulation, austerity, privatization, tax cuts — is the means used to undermine the public commons.

David Harvey’s, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, is perhaps the single most influential book and the author begins with the free market. Harvey sets it up like this:

And it is with this doctrine…that I am here primarily concerned. Neoliberalism is…a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human wellbeing can be best advanced by liberating individual entreprenaurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. The role of the state is to create…an institutional framework appropriate to such practices. [1]

Not a mention of the massive modern corporation just those 19th century individuals and institutions that are the stock characters of FMF. But to be fair, Harvey moves on to the “paradox:” neoliberalism is a political project that needs state power.

This creates the paradox of intense state interventions and government by elites and ‘experts’ in a world where the state is supposed not to be interventionist. [2]

The idea that the “free market” is an accurate description of reality or a good basis for strategy has worn thin. What started as the less influential reading of the neoliberal critique is gaining ground. The market economy and the state changed over time into something quite different — something we might call Corporate Power. And that is a far cry from a fundamentalist return of the liberal free market of the 19th Century.

Instead, we confront a new form of capitalist order: the merger between the biggest corporations and the state. The corporate power dominates nations by hollowing out and commandeering the institutions that were supposed to represent people. Economic decisions are made behind closed doors at the Treasury Department or Federal Reserve where bankers rule and regular citizens dare not go. The same power operates on the global stage through international institutions and regulatory bodies that do not even pretend to be democratic such as WTO, IMF, and World Bank. Corporate power tends toward fascism by destroying democracy and imposing austerity — the very conditions that give fascism mass appeal.

The national and global institutions that have been so essential to the creation of the neoliberal order provide rich evidence that we can no longer tell where governments end and corporations begin.

The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, remains very influential and touches on both critiques. But the closer the author got to the military-industrial complex and war —the core functions of the state — the clearer the corporate power argument became.

[T]he stories about corruption and revolving doors leave a false impression. They imply that there is still a clear line between the state and the complex, when in fact that line disappears long ago. The innovation the Bush years lies not in how quickly politicians move from one world to the other but in how many feel entitled to occupy worlds simultaneously ….They embody the ultimate fulfillment of the corporatist mission: a total merger of political and corporate elites in the name of security, with the state playing the role of chair of the business guild—as well as the largest source of business opportunities…[3] 

Exactly. But, FMF and “a total merger of political and corporate elites” are completely at odds with one another. Another widely read author puts it this way:

“There is a profound irony here: In that neoliberalism was supposed the get the state out of the way but it requires intense state involvement in order to function.” — George Monbiot

If the contending ideas of FMF and corporate power were strictly academic it would not matter so much but we will not develop a successful strategy to counter corporate power without knowing what the actual material conditions are. While FMF obscures the current state of our economy, corporate power helps us to see through the seemingly ironic fact that the so-called free market relies upon regular government interventions and support.

We’re dealing with irony or paradox only in as much as we’re dealing with modern mythology. Myths endure because their stories resolve contradictions that logic, reason and facts cannot.

Let’s Stop Repeating the Bosses’ Propaganda.  

The emphasis on FMF has unwittingly contributed to the deeply rooted mythic aura of free markets. Adam Smith, the first philosopher of markets, had to resort to an unexplainable “Invisible Hand” to argue that capitalism was good for everyone. This faith lives on in the neoliberal portrayal of global markets as omnipotent, unknowable forces that work in mysterious ways. If that sounds like the god of capital — it is.

But we need to come to terms with the fact that the free markets’ mythical and mystical nature is precisely why it has such a grip on the popular imagination — and on our own. If we believe free markets actually exist then even our critiques are offerings to its god-like power. When we say “free market” it works like an incantation summoning a complete worldview into being. 

For example, critiques of the free market too often internalize the neoliberal claim that it’s the natural form of human exchange and production. According to this view, the market exists independently somewhere “out there” in human nature or society. Lack of regulation allows market freedom to run to its logical or natural conclusion even if it’s prone to excess and crisis. So the role of the regulatory state, in this argument, is to control the natural freedom and drive of the market actors.

But corporate power imposes its ideology by force and often violence. It exploits people in accordance with law. It plunders resources and poisons water without consequence. This is not freedom. It is dominance and supremacy which puts us on a path to environmental destruction, oligarchy — maybe even fascism. If your “freedom” is my exploitation then you are my master, I your slave, but neither of us are free. Corporate power is the opposite of freedom.

Market ideology has always hidden authority, power and responsibility behind a screen of individual freedom and anonymous actions. If the free market is the outcome of millions of interactions between free individuals, and no one is really in charge, well, what is wrong with that? Plenty, starting with the fact that this utopian ideal in no way describes the dominant form of capitalism in our time — if ever.

And if we believe there is a free market then how do we deal with the widely held belief in the morality of the market? Millions still believe the economy to be moral because it works like a true and transparent regulator of merit. The good rise, the weak fall. The Protestant Work Ethic remains the most powerful spiritual belief shoring up capitalism. If we accept the market as the actual basis of our economy then how can we oppose the idea that hard work is in fact justly rewarded? 

No wonder millions of American workers don’t embrace or cannot understand the neoliberal critique: who can really oppose nature — or society, or freedom, or morality? But unlike the “free market,” which everyday people often associate with small entrepreneurs and mom and pop shopkeepers, millions of people can oppose corporate power.

By shifting to the idea of corporate power we can make claims in keeping with day-to-day experience of the working class: work is not about freedom but instead compulsion and coercion; the economy is not based on merit but rigged to favor the powerful. The common understanding that the economy is rigged has outpaced the viewpoints offered and believed by many progressives. The people are leading, let’s catch up.

There is no market in pure or natural form. Instead market forces and political power interact to create the economy, in other words we have a political-economy. Corporations were born political actors. And the corporate power, not the free market, is the only form of capitalism worth overthrowing.   

Does History Matter?

The irony or paradox at the heart of the FMF critique is really a failure to give history its due.

When societies reach this kind of end stage, the language they use to describe their own economic and political and social and cultural reality bears no relation to that reality…. The language of free market laissez-faire capitalism is what they feed business students and the wider public but it is an ideology that bears absolutely no resemblance to that reality…..In a free market society all those companies like Goldman-Sachs would have gone into bankruptcy but we do not live in so-called free market….Chris Hedges 

So where did the free market go? The modern corporation itself overcame the many inefficiencies of 19th century free market capitalism; it replaced “cutthroat competition” with the coordination, cooperation and economies of scale to destroy smaller firms or consolidate them into monopolies. Over time competition evolved into monopoly power. Individual entrepreneurs were dwarfed by concentrated wealth’s immense power. The free market was replaced with a public/private mix where both public policy and market signals regulated and promoted economic activity. [4]  

This long historical shift away from free markets and toward corporate power has left such a clear trail of evidence it’s a wonder it’s not self evident. How else can we interpret the corporatization of war and the militaryand the billions in direct and indirect subsidies to corporations? Government shelters banks, guaranteeing loans and mortgages while bailing out stupid investors. [5] Wealth is redistributed to the top though massive tax breaksand cuts to social programs. Legally enforced starvation wages push workers to public assistance ultimately subsidizing their bosses. Tax codes encourage the rich to shelter trillions in tax havens while the unrepresented masses make up the difference. Federal programs like “quantitative easing” pumps free money into the financial system. The risk and losses from environmental destruction are for us to reckon with while the rule of law has been suspended for corporate criminals of all kinds. Major economic decisions have largely migrated from national governments to even more dictatorial global bodies. The IMF, WTO and World Bank do the bidding of the largest corporations that are the foundation of the US imperial alliance.

But this history holds opportunity as well. This is what it’s come to:

Private forms of corporate ownership are “simply a legal fiction.”* The economic requirements of the modern corporation no longer justify its completely private control, for “when we see property as the creature of the state, the private sphere no longer looks so private.”**….In this regard, property reassumed the form it took at the dawn of the capitalist era when “the concept of property apart from government was meaningless.”*** [6]

By merging with the state the largest corporations have turned themselves into a new form of social and public property. It’s up to us to take what is ours.

Everything lives and everything dies. The most important lesson from the history of capitalism is this: It has sown the seeds of its own destruction. 

The critique of neoliberalism as FMF unconsciously promotes what it intends to criticize precisely because it imagines the current system as essentially the same system that existed in the 19th Century. This critique smuggles in the lack of historical thinking that is so essential to maintaining dominant culture in the US.  

FMF is a form of American exceptionalism. If the current economy is essentially the same as more than a century ago, then it is truly exceptional and outside of history — just like America itself. Isn’t it? Does capitalism have a history or doesn’t it? In general, the lack of historical consciousness lies at the heart of American exceptionalism. It hobbles our capacity to think and act. This denial of history is the masters’ mythology, not ours. Corporate power is not eternal but historical. It too shall pass — but only if we make it so.


[1] Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, p. 2.

[2] Harvey, p.69 Over time Harvey has tended to highlight the political not doctrinal aspects. See  Neoliberalism as a Political Project

[3] Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine, p. 398-399.

[4] I borrow the idea of a public/private mix from the work of the under-appreciated New Left historian Martin Sklar see: United States as a Developing Country.  For more on Sklar look here or Jim Livingston’s essay here.

[5] Nomi Prins All The Presidents Bankers, see p. 372-375 for an account of the so-called Mexican bailout and the role of former Goldman-Sachs executive Robert Rubin in saving the bankers.

[6] Richard Moser, Autoworkers at Lordstown: Workplace Democracy and American Citizenship” in The World the 60s Made, p. 307 *Bell, The Coming of Post-industrial Society, p. 294. **Jennifer Nedelsky, Private Property and the Limits of American Constitutionalism, p. 263. ***Arthur Porter, Job Property Rights, p. l.


Categories: News for progressives

Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:59

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

My fellow U.S.-Americans, we stand at a moment of no small peril.

Contrary to much of what one hears from liberals, Donald Trump’s “insane” border-wall gambit may be something of a winning play for him.

Yes, the whole stunt is built on a fetid pile of falsehoods. The level of bullshit emanating from Trump’s mouth and Twitter feed on this matter is remarkable even by his standards.

There is NO reasonable argument for constructing a 1000-mile steel (or concrete) wall along the U.S. border with Mexico – a boundary already possessing 654 miles of existing barrier. There is NO “national security” crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border. There is NOTHING remotely like an influx of terrorists across the border. The U.S. did NOT detain “nearly 4000 suspected terrorists” at the southern border in 2018.There is NO increase in attempted illegal entry, which is at a 20-year low. Building such a wall will do NOTHING to make the United States safer from terrorist attacks, dangerous drugs, and gang violence.

The federal government is NOT currently “building the wall.” “A lot of the wall is [NOT] already built.” Existing southern border barriers have NOT in fact caused “declining illegal entry.”

The two migrant children who died in federal custody near the border were NOT “already very sick” when U.S. officials became responsible for them.

Migrants from Mexico and Central America are NOT more likely to commit crimes than naturalized U.S. citizens. The truth is the opposite. “Illegal aliens” from Mexico and Central America are NOT especially prone to rape and murder U.S.-Americans. There is NO epidemic of violent crime on the part of “illegal” immigrants.

The federal workers being furloughed and told to work without pay are NOT able to easily “make adjustments” to make ends meets during the federal government shutdown Trump has forced based on his concocted border crisis. Most federal workers do NOT support Trump’s shut-down.

The four living former U.S. presidents (Carter, Clinton, Bush, and Obama) have NOT expressed support in any way for Trump’s “big and beautiful wall.”

The Democrats have NOT been trying to bring in a Caravan of illegal immigrants into the U.S.

Trump’s rhetoric on the border one is epic high-state deception on steroids.

But so what? One of the president’s nicknames ought to be Orange Truth-Crush (OTC). Trump has been lying about these and countless other matters on a scale that is simply off the historical charts from the beginning of his presidency and before. That’s because he is at heart a totalitarian. And totalitarians don’t just lie about a one or a few things on occasion. They lie about almost everything they can pretty much all the time. They do this to advance their own political agenda and – most dangerously of all – to undermine and exhaust the public’s ability to separate fact from fiction and truth from deception.

Think Big Brother in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: he informs the masses over and over that 2+2=5, that Love is Hate, and the War is Peace. Because he says so.

Hedges: “The Permanent Lie”

OTC is an outwardly clumsy, yet deceptively skilled master of what Chris Hedges has called “the permanent lie.” As Hedges explained two Decembers ago:

“The permanent lie is different from the falsehoods and half-truths uttered by politicians such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The common political lie these politicians employed was not designed to cancel out reality…Clinton did not continue to pretend that NAFTA was beneficial to the working class when reality proved otherwise. Bush did not pretend that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction once none were found…The permanent lie is not circumscribed by reality. It is perpetuated even in the face of overwhelming evidence that discredits it…The iron refusal by those who engage in the permanent lie to acknowledge reality, no matter how transparent reality becomes, creates a collective psychosis.”

Hedges quoted the German philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, an émigré from Nazi Germany. “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth,” Arendt wrote in her classic volume The Origins of Totalitarianism, “is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”

A Method to His Mendacious Madness

There’s a method to Trump’s mendacious Mexican wall madness. What does Herr Donald hope to achieve with his deranged deceit and dishonesty on this issue of his own making? Three things.

First, he needs to keep his white-nationalist base and its right-wing media organs on board by not appearing to back down from his Nativist campaign promise to “build the wall.” With his approval rating ranging from the low 40s to the high 30s, with the House of Representatives having recently shifted to Democratic Party control, and with Robert Mueller poised to unload blockbuster, impeachment-worthy revelations on Trump’s corruption and, perhaps, (Russia) “collusion,” the FOX News, Breitbart, and talk-radio right has Trump over the barrel. Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and other proto-fascistic media-politicos cracked their whips when it looked like the president was trying to cut a deal with the Democrats at the expense of the wall. Trump responded by turning on a dime. He went Mussolini on the Dems to shore up his base.

There’s no turning back, thanks to the outsized power creeping fascist white-nationalists hold in a wildly polarized American political system that grossly inflates the power of right-wing extremists and rural, red-state voters.

Second, Trump hopes to divert “mainstream” (corporate) media operatives and viewers away from the latest Mueller revelations, including recent reports that the president’s former campaign manager shared internal Trump polling data with a Russian intelligence operative. Who can properly focus on Trump collusion and corruption when the soul-numbing shut-down story and the Donald vs. Chuck and Nancy Reality Show is sucking up all the telescreen energy and sadistically freaking out millions who depend directly and indirectly on federal government salaries, programs, and operations?

Third, Trump is looking to drop a fascist-style presidential hammer by declaring a National Emergency over the fake border “crisis” and ordering the U.S. military to construct the border. He’s made a deceptive show of appealing rationally to the public with his nationally televised address (never mind that his fib-soaked was straight out of Joseph Goebbels) and of holding a serious meeting with Democratic Party wall opponents in Congress (never mind that he quickly stormed out of the summit and quickly called it “a waste of time”). Now he will claim that Democratic “stubbornness” and “intransigence” have left him with “no choice” but to make the dreaded “emergency” declaration to deal with the concocted border drama.

Goiten: “A Parallel Legal Regime”

A National Emergency declaration will permit Trump to take credit for “re-opening the government” and thereby returning paychecks to federal workers (so what if he created the shut-down on false pretexts in the first place?) It will also grant him a series of chilling executive branch powers that make a shameless mockery of U.S. constitutional “checks and balances.” Elizabeth Goitien of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice explains some harsh and widely unknown “deep state” policy realities in a recent Atlantic essay titled “What the President Could Do if He Declares a State of Emergency”:

“It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions…Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check…But will they? …a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a ‘national emergency’—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.”

“This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.” (emphasis added)

Goitien thinks Trump could even deploy U.S. troops to impose martial law against citizens who resist his power grab. An American president has the power to do that under the 1807 Insurrection Act. And Trump is just the kind of demented president to look for an opportunity to try that power out.

What about the courts? House Democrats addressing the potential for an Emergency Declaration seems to believe that the bogus nature of Trump’s “crisis” will lead to any such declaration being shot down by the federal judiciary, with Trump badly humiliated and politically wounded along the way.

Goitien argues that things aren’t quite that simple. Should he opt to employ them, Trump has a vast array of repressive powers granted him by Congress, that supposed great check on executive branch overreach.

Goitien lays out a sadly believable scenario in which Trump seizes dictatorial control and is supported in doing so by the Supreme Court with the recent right-wing appointee Brett Kavanaugh writing the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision.

“The one thing Trump has done in a sort of systematic fashion is refashion the courts,” the left historian and journalist Terry Thomas wrote me yesterday.

“We are living in dangerous times,” Thomas says.

Feffer: A “Reichstag Moment”?

With Trump responding harshly to protests of emergency declaration, the nation “could go,” writes John Feffer, “from a state of emergency at the border to martial law throughout the country.”

Does any of this remind you of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party in the 1930s? It should. As Feffer reminds us in Foreign Policy in Focus:

“In the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s, the German constitution contained the controversial article 48, which granted the president the right to rule by decree in the case of a national emergency. German leaders invoked this right several times between 1930 and 1933…But the most momentous decree came in the wake of the Reichstag fire, six days before German elections in 1933. Hitler, already appointed chancellor at that point, persuaded German President Paul von Hindenburg to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree. No doubt inspired by Benito Mussolini and his use of emergency powers to establish fascism in Italy in the 1920s, the Nazis then took full advantage the authority granted them by Hindenburg’s decree to remake Germany into a dictatorship…. Trump’s public support remains low and his political influence is on the decline. He’s surrounded almost exclusively now by advisors who favor his most autocratic impulses. It’s not inconceivable that Trump will use his standoff with Congress over the border wall as his Reichstag moment.”

DiMaggio: “The Concern with Fascism in Trump’s America is Warranted”

Is there any support for such a Hitler- and Mussolini-like Reichstag move on Trump’s part in the U.S. populace? Yes, as the left political scientist Anthony DiMaggio recently noted on CounterPunch, there is. Commenting on key polling data from the last three years, DiMaggio reports that a considerable portion of Trump’s base backs fascist-style authoritarianism in the U.S. today:

“…the concern with fascism in Trump’s America is warranted. Twenty-one percent of Trump supporters agreed in 2017 that the use of violence against civilians was acceptable in pursuit of political, social, and religious goals – in line with the longstanding embrace of such acts on the Christian reactionary right and among right-wing militia groups in America. Twenty-eight percent of Trump supporters in 2017, and 30 percent in 2018 agreed that the president should be freed from Constitutional checks and balances imposed by Congress and the courts in order to pursue his political agenda…19 percent of supporters agreed that freedom of the press is not too important or not at all important, contrary to longstanding First Amendment protections for journalists against media censorship. Other measures outside those considered here suggest that Trump supporters’ and Republicans’ authoritarianism is even more severe, with about half of Republicans agreeing that the 2020 election should be postponed in light of Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud, that the news media are the ‘enemy of the people’ and that news outlets should be ‘shut down’ if they are perceived to be trafficking in ‘inaccurate’ or fake news” (emphasis added).

No, nothing close to most U.S.-Americans are ready to back a fascist-style declaration of a national emergency and martial wall. Still, the percentages DiMaggio cites translate into millions of people (many of whom are armed). The president and his supine, Trump-whipped party have shown repeatedly that they don’t need anything like majority support to go forward against majority public opinion. The best examples, perhaps, are the giant oligarchic tax-cut they passed in December 2017 and their stubborn refusal to permit any significant gun- control legislation despite an ongoing epidemic of mass shootings.

Giroux: “Neoliberal Fascism”

Would the wealthy Few really care about a fascist-style Trump power grab? Some ruling-class elites would but many would not, given all the tax cuts and de-regulation Trump has showered on them – a perfect illustration of the “neoliberal fascism” that the prolific left scholar Henry Giroux sees developing atop the American system over the last four-plus decades. As Giroux says, this neoliberal fascism “is more than willing to exercise cruel power in the interest of accumulating capital and profits without any consideration of social costs to humanity or the planet itself….Neoliberal fascism, as a form of extreme capitalism, views democracy as the enemy, the market as the exclusive arbiter of freedom, and the ethical imagination as an object of disdain.”

“Neoliberal fascism” is consistent with a vicious government shutdown that puts millions of working Americans at grave economic risk in the name of funding a nativist “blood and soil” wall that trumps civic nationalism with racial nationalism. It is consistent also with the absurdly unnecessary declaration of a national emergency and the possible imposition of martial law.

The Real Problem is the Corporate State

Are the liberal and left concerns with authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and fascism expressed in the reflections I’ve give above excessive? I think not. Nobody really knows for certain, of course. We are in uncharted territory that has developed over many years of a long corporate and financial coup that has been systemically shredding the last remnants of democracy in U.S.-American culture and society. The remarkable authoritarian powers that the American imperial presidency has accrued over the last seven-plus decades have fallen into the lap of a malignant narcissist and creeping fascist without the hint of moral conscience and respect for democracy. But Trump himself is but a noxious symptom of what Sheldon Wolin identified as the “inverted totalitarianism” of “corporate-managed democracy” during the George W. Bush administration. That corporate-totalitarian disease is deeply rooted in the history of American capitalism going back to before the turn of the 20th century, As Hedges reminded us last year:

“The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don’t count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience.… If we do not stand up, we will enter a new dark age.”

Categories: News for progressives

Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:59

Ndola, Zambia, showing the roof of the memorial museum and Dag Hammarskjöld’s DC-6 as it would have appeared coming through the trees onto the crash site.

Background to the Crash

A plane carrying the Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, crashed while approaching the Ndola (Zambia) airport on September 18, 1961. The exact time of the crash is unknown, although it was around midnight. The DC-6, named Albertina, had flown a circuitous route from Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo, to Ndola, a large town in what was then Northern Rhodesia. The purpose of the flight was to bring Secretary Hammarskjöld to a meeting with Moise Tshombe, the president of the breakaway republic of Katanga, in which many western (British, French, Belgian and American) investors had large stakes in various mineral deposits.

Those corporate interests had supported independence for Katanga after the Congolese leadership, notably Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, had advocated closer relations with the Communist bloc. (Lumumba, himself, was assassinated in January 1961, in what some researchers now believe was part of a Central Intelligence Agency plot to get rid of him.)

For his part, Hammarskjöld believed that the Congo ought to remain one country, and toward that end he was flying to Ndola (just over the border of Northern Rhodesia from Katanga) to have ceasefire talks with Tshombe, in the hope of mediating a settlement to the conflict. Instead, his plane crashed in the darkness, killing fifteen of the sixteen passengers and crew aboard the DC-6. One security officer for Hammarskjöld survived for about eight days.

Since the fatal crash, various investigative instruments, including UN committees and independent aviation groups in the United Kingdom and Sweden, have looked into the cause of the crash. The initial investigation, conducted by colonial authorities in 1961, concluded that the pilots of the DC-6 (an experienced Swedish crew) had misjudged the night landing on an unfamiliar approach and flew the plane into the ground. A UN inquiry at the same time, however, failed to reach the same conclusion, although it was at a loss to explain the crash.

More recent inquiries, including one chaired by Stephen Sedley and with Hans Corell and Richard Goldstone as co-panellists, have come to more nuanced conclusions, saying that earlier investigators lacked a true picture of the situation on the ground and in the air around Ndola that night to come to definitive conclusion about what happened to the Albertina. It has led to new inquiry, originally supported by then Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and approved by the UN Security Council, to reopen the investigation under the direction of the former chief justice of Tanzania, Mohamed Chande Othman, although for the moment the budget approved for such an exercise is little more than $300,000 (and the information needed is literally all over the world). 

All of the recent re-examinations of the crash have concluded that the first conclusions of pilot error might well be in inaccurate. For example, the 2013 UN Hammarskjöld Commission, for example, concluded: “There is persuasive evidence that the aircraft was subjected to some form of attack or threat as it circled to land at Ndola, which was by then widely known to be its destination.” The 2017 report of Judge Othman concludes:

Based on the totality of the information that we have at hand, it appears plausible that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash, whether by way of a direct attack causing SE-BDY to crash or by causing a momentary distraction of the pilots. Such a distraction need only have taken away the pilots’ attention for a matter of seconds at the critical point at which they were in their descent to have been potentially fatal. There is a significant amount of evidence from eyewitnesses that they observed more than one aircraft in the air, that the other aircraft may have been a jet, that SE-BDY was on fire before it crashed, and/or that SE-BDY was fired upon or otherwise actively engaged by another aircraft. In its totality, this evidence is not easily dismissed. 

Both reports cite evidence that British, American, French, South African, or Belgian governments might hold but which remain unreleased, and they urge its release for the purpose of understanding exactly what happened to Hammarskjöld’s plane.

On November 8, 2018, when Judge Othman last updated the UN on the progress of his investigation, he concluded (with some frustration): “…the fact that certain Member States have not responded to repeated requests in 2018… or to engage with this process at all, has a crucial bearing on the success or failure on the full implementation of the above General Assembly resolution.”

It is where this case has gone—from the crash zone outside Ndola to the files of the great powers—but many countries, notably the United States and South Africa, have refused to cooperate or done so grudgingly.

* * *

In addition to the various international investigations of the crash, a professor at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Dr. Susan Williams, has published a book about what could have happened to Hammarskjöld’s plane. The title of the book is Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa, and it was originally published in 2011, laying the ground for the later UN inquiries.

In the book Dr. Williams lays out the facts of the plane crash and outlines various theories—including pilot error of the kind imagined after the plane went down—that could explain the crash. She also talks about the possibility that French or Belgian mercenaries had access that night to trainer Fouga Magister jets or other attack aircraft, and that one or several of those planes might have shot at SE-BDY or tried to force the Albertinato the ground (perhaps by shining spot lights into the cockpit or by dropping flash bombs). She examines the case for pilot error, noting that the pilots had flown a long way across the world, beginning on September 12, 1961, when they picked up the Secretary General in New York City). She discusses the possibility that the pilots mis-programmed the altimeter on the DC-6 or that someone placed a bomb on the doomed flight.

Dr. Williams also examines theories that have speculated on possible CIA interference with the Hammarskjöld mission, making the point that the anti-communist CIA had strong vested interests in wanting his African diplomacy to fail. Dr. Williams ends her book strongly hinting that her belief is that western mercenaries were more likely than pilot error to have brought down the Hammarskjöld plane, and she outlines many incongruent aspects of the fatal night in Ndola, such as the closure of the local airport (even though it was expecting the Hammarskjöld plane) and the local witnesses on the ground spoke about hearing or seeing a large flash and bang before the “big plane” came down.  

The Williams book is not a polemic for any one theory about the Hammarskjöld plane crash. Instead, as a serious academic, she prefers to indicate the range of possible fates for the flight and to leave it to the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.

* * *

In my case, after reading the Williams book in 2017, I decided to visit the Hammarskjöld crash site outside Ndola and to compare what I would see and hear there on the ground with the words in the book. I had been planning for some time to visit Africa and to write about it, but having the Williams book in hand gave my visit to Zambia a direction and purpose, even though I am not an air-crash investigator or even a licensed pilot. Still, I decided it would be easier to read the many Hammarskjöld reports if I could visualize how far from the airport the plane had crashed and what local residents were saying on the ground about the plane.

Given the vagaries of African travel, I was not able to spend as much time on the ground in Ndola as I had planned. My train, from Dar es Salaam to the Zambian city of Kapiri Mposhi, was three days late, and I had other appointments in southern Africa, which made it hard to spend more than a day in Ndola. Nevertheless, I did get to the crash site, and there I met with some local investigators and museum officials, all of whom had their own ideas about what might have happened to the Albertina. (Most dismiss out of hand that pilot error was the cause.)

In particular, I learned that one local researcher had spoken with more than twenty eyewitnesses to the crash. Many of them were convinced that several smaller planes had swarmed around the larger DC-6 on its landing approach and that, prior to the crash, many people living in the bush near the crash site saw large flashes of light, consistent with the dropping of a bomb or bombs onto the Albertina. But because these witnesses were African natives of the area, their testimony was largely ignored by colonial authorities in Northern Rhodesia when in fall 1961 the first inquiry was held.

For my part, I came away from the crash site unable to believe that Hammarskjöld’s experienced Swedish crew had simply flown the Albertina into the ground. Maybe if the landscape of the crash site had been mountainous or even hilly, I could have imagined a sophisticated group of pilots—at night in Africa—making some fundamental errors of navigation. But two things made me think otherwise. First, the terrain around the crash site, while not a completely flat plain, is devoid of any serious hills. All I saw as I drove up to the crash site in a taxi and as I walked around the memorial were open fields and small clusters of forest land, none of which were very dense. TheAlbertinadid not crash into the jungle or a mountain; it came down in the outskirts of Ndola where now there is open farmland that is part of a broad African plain.  

Second, I doubted that the Swedish pilots misread the altitude of the plane, especially on a clear night. These were professional pilots, and that’s a rookie mistake. Nevertheless, early investigators in Northern Rhodesia concluded that the Albertinawas the victim of what in the airline world is called Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). But standing at the somber Ndola memorial to the lost flight, I came to the conclusion that something other than pilot error had driven the plane into the ground on that fateful evening. To me it felt like an ambush.

I also concluded, while poking around the memorial in Ndola, that my brother-in-law, Joseph Majerle III, is the one person I know who could make sense of the technical details in the Williams book and in some of the many Hammarskjöld reports. Joe, as I call him, works in aviation in Alaska, and in his long career he has visited many crash sites and repaired many damaged planes. He is also a voracious reader of history, especially about aviation matters. Joe has also spent much of his adult life talking with other pilots about various aircraft and their deficiencies. If anyone could help me sort out the complexities of the Ndola crash, it would be Joe, and shortly after I got back from Africa, I mailed him a copy of the Williams book.

Joe read the book twice, took ample notes, discussed his thinking with other pilots in Alaska (some of whom are still flying on the DC-6), and answered my questions in several long emails, which I have copied here but which I also have edited (although only for the sake of clarity).  

What follows might best be understood as a colloquy on the Williams book between two people who are struggling to make sense of a crash that happened more than fifty years ago.

* * *

Why does the Hammarskjöld crash still matter? It matters because Secretary General Hammarskjöld had undertaken his mission just as many countries in Africa were seeking their independence from the colonial world. Hammarskjöld was ahead of his time in pushing back against what today we might call the deep state—that confluence of interests between corporate investors, intelligence agencies, and governmental power brokers, all of whom were eager to siphon profits out of the breakaway territory of Katanga. Hammarskjöld thought that Katanga (and its extensive mineral wealth) belonged in the newly independent Republic of the Congo, and the purpose of his mission was to oppose independence for Katanga, which otherwise would fall under the spell of various French, British, Belgian and American multinational corporations.

If you believe—as I do—that Hammarskjöld was the victim of a plot, it can be concluded that the truth about his death has been covered up to shift the blame away from the usual suspects, including the CIA and various mercenary organizations that were then arming themselves across southern Africa. Hammarskjöld and his liberal internationalism were getting in the way of corporate profits, if not Cold War politics, and it was decided—somewhere, somehow—to cut him down to size. Maybe the plotters did not intend to kill him? Maybe they simply wanted to scare him away? But the facts about the Hammarskjöld crash have never been fully available, in part because invaluable transcripts (picked up in particular by US government eavesdropping on that night) have never been released.

What follows are the questions that I posed to Joe, and his responses, based on his reading of the Williams book and his lifetime as a pilot and in aviation. Neither of us pretends that what follows is anything approaching a “last word” in the Hammarskjöld investigation. At the same time it shows how much several concerned citizens, and a budget of $1500 (the cost of my African train travels), can discover. Let’s hope that the new UN investigation can take the Hammarskjöld matter much further. The Secretary’s exemplary life and work demand that the truth of his death be known.            —Matthew Stevenson

* * *

Stevenson: Is it possible that pilot error was responsible for the crash of the Albertina?

Majerle: The facts that investigators admitted to in their original reports tell a different story from their conclusions. To me, their conclusions are laughable. This crash was not pilot error.

Per the chart at the beginning of the Williams book, it shows the crash site very close to the turn-back circle (on a safe instrument approach) of the official instrument approach path, which means that the Swedish pilots knew exactly where they were. I don’t think any accident investigation board in the world would dispute that that they were properly executing the published instrument approach procedure for Ndola airport.

The official report admitted that they were at least nominally executing the instrument approach properly, except that they were 1700 feet lower than they were supposed to be, and that was the pilots’error.

On page 70, according to A. Campbell Martin, the controller on duty, the last communication received from SE-BDY (the code for the Albertina) was confirmation of 1021 millibars—the altimeter setting—which is something I and every pilot I have ever flown with has never failed to reset at the instant we are told the new number.

To me it is inconceivable that the Albertina pilots didn’t know their altitude at that time. If the controller had said he never got around to telling them the current millibars setting, they would have had a basis to sow doubt on that subject, even though that would have been a flimsy excuse in itself, for the following reason.

Explain to me how it is unlikely that the Albertina pilots flew the plane into the ground.

The radio (radar) altimeter came into widespread use in military and commercial airplanes by the end of WW2, even in single-seat fighters such as the P-38. I would bet that, without exception, every DC-6 was equipped with one when it left the factory. And it is the device you base your instrument approach on, if you have one, because a radio altimeter is more accurate and has large graduations up to 1000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level).

Even if the Albertina pilots didn’t have a current altimeter setting, they would have been using their radar altimeter anyway, assuming it was in working order. If not, I think it’s very likely the pilot would have informed the controller of that fact. Which, again, points to the fact that they knew exactly where they were, in all three dimensions.

In the book Dr. Williams writes that an evasive strategy to “lose height, veer and head for the airfield as quickly as possible…may possibly offer some explanation for the low height of SE-BDY as it made its approach to Ndola—about 1700 feet lower than it should have been.”

This conclusion is at the heart of her book and research, and any new investigation needs to focus on what she has written here.

To me it indicates that the Albertina pilots were already planning to evade an attack by getting low enough to prevent another airplane from getting beneath SE-BDY, which to an attacker is the easiest and most preferred way to shoot down another airplane—and there would have been no better way to do that at night than basing it on a radar altimeter.

Explain some of the discrepancies between the official crash report, and the data that Dr. Williams includes in her book, especially in regard to the crash site.

The official report stated that the ground scar at the wreck site was 150 yards long, which is 450 feet. The published stall speed of the DC-6 with flaps down is 92 mph, which is almost exactly 135 feet per second. That is the absolute slowest speed at which it would stay in the air—not the speed at which you would make an approach.

The original Jeppesen approach plate chart for the Ndola airport would have contained a sidebar that would have given the time, in seconds, required to reach the airport at several different approach speeds, usually spaced by 30 mph and 60 mph increments, which simplifies the mental calculations the pilot would need to make or eliminates them if it’s practical for the aircraft to fly at one of the stated speeds exactly.

I would estimate that, in this situation, for a light-to-moderately loaded DC-6, the pilots would have used either 150 or more probably 180 mph, which would be 220 or 264 feet per second of forward velocity.

If, as the official report says, the pilots misjudged their altitude and just flew the plane into the ground while making their final approach, it is beyond a stretch of the imagination that 80-to-90 thousand pounds of airplane would come to a stop in no more than 2.04 seconds, and that every last piece of it would be contained in a mere 450 feet.

This is just very basic math that a 4th-grader could do nine out of ten times and get right. It is an insult to human intelligence to suggest that that’s what happened.

Have you ever examined the crash site of a DC-6 airliner?

Many years ago I had opportunity several times to walk over the crash site of a DC-7 [very similar to the DC-6] that crashed shortly after takeoff due to an out-of-control engine fire in which the pilots tried to crash-land into a recently logged parcel of land.

The fuel dealer told me that he watched as an engine caught fire almost as soon as the plane started its takeoff run, but apparently the pilots didn’t realize it until they were committed to fly. But after clearing the end of the runway, they immediately angled off and headed for the clear-cut area, obviously in an effort to get the plane back on the ground.

It had been nine years since it happened when I first saw the site, and in that rain forest the vegetation had regenerated quite a bit, but the wreckage path of the DC-7 was still obvious. The crew had left the gear and flaps down in takeoff configuration, obviously intending to put it down at as slow a speed as possible in this off-airport area.

My recollection of the debris path was that it was at least 1200 feet long, with no standing trees throughout the path. The largest piece of wreckage at the end of the path was stopped and literally wrapped around what was at least a 6 footdiameter tree, in the flight engineers compartment. Control cables and wiring bundles were literally wrapped all the way around that tree. I would guess that the site is still that way today.

There are some fairly close parallels between that crash and Hammarskjöld’s. The DC-6B and DC-7 are very similar airplanes; sharing the same basic wing and fuselage with the DC-7 employing another short section of fuselage, more powerful engines and a higher gross weight due to the extra power, and with a higher cruise speed also because of the power. But they are both listed on the same type rating for pilots. Sitting side by side, you would have to study them carefully to see the differences.

In these two cases, both planes made it to the ground before impacting any real solid objects; in Hammarskjöld’s case it was the anthill and in the Yakutat crash it was tree stumps. In both cases, the immovable objects turned the airplanes sideways while they still had a lot of momentum, which began the breakup process while the kinetic energy just kept them going.

If they had been able to continue moving straight ahead they might have had a chance, more so for the passengers aft of the cockpit bulkhead. There isn’t a lot of metal in the nose ahead of the pilots compartment to crush and absorb energy.

The DC-7 was known to be overloaded with fresh salmon but would have been light on fuel. Hammarskjöld’s plane would have had a lighter cabin load but would have had considerably more fuel. I would assume that the DC-7 was somewhat heavier overall, but probably not by an amount that would have required a significant speed difference to stay airborne.

What I am getting at here is that in both these cases the airplanes probably hit the ground at roughly equivalent speeds. And the DC-7’s ground scar was about three times as long as Hammarskjöld’s, and still had some energy when it wrapped itself around a tree.

If Hammarskjöld’s pilots had inadvertently flown the aircraft into the ground, I think it is reasonable to assume that it would have traveled much farther before all the pieces came to rest.

This did not happen, which to me indicates that the physics of the official reports are all wrong—at least when matched to their conclusions.

What can we conclude from the configuration of the Hammarskjöld plane as it hit the ground?

The official report stated that the landing gear was down and locked, and the wing flaps were extended to the 30 degree position. I would have loved to cross examine the local accident board and ask them which pilots they know that would be 8-to-9 miles out on an instrument approach and have 30 degrees of flaps down at that point, to say nothing of having the gear down.

Thirty degrees of flap down on a DC-6 is a lot of flap; probably about optimal for a low speed approach over obstacle-free terrain to make a short-field landing. Maximum flap down angle on a DC-6 is 50 degrees, which you would normally only use to bleed off a lot of excess altitude, and it would require a lot of engine power with which to maintain altitude.

In my experience no pilot would drop the landing gear until about the point that you had crossed the “final approach fix,” in this case the non-directional (radio) beacon, which is at four miles or so from the end of the runway.

At four miles out the pilots would have had plenty of time to drop the gear and double check it before reaching the runway end roughly 90 seconds later. Experienced crews normally do that as late as they can just to get there sooner. This accident board didn’t even know how to lie to make the facts fit their case.

Recently I had opportunity to talk to a friend of mine that flew DC-6s about thirty years ago. He currently owns and flies two DC-4’s, a freighter and a fuel tanker, around the state.

He confirmed to me—as I thought earlier—that a DC-6 pilot would have flown that instrument approach at 156 to 160 knots (180 to 184 miles per hour) and would absolutely not have had gear and flaps down 8 or 9 miles from the runway.

And if he found his wing on fire, unless on short final to a runway, his only thought would be to get it on the ground.

What do you think happened?

To me, all of the admitted evidence (in UN reports and in the Williams book) adds up to one thing. The crew made a desperate attempt to save their lives by getting the airplane on the ground, most probably because they knew they had a wing fuel tank on fire.

A gasoline fire at night, to my experience, is very bright and from the cockpit side windows of a DC-6 you can see to the inboard nacelle without straining your neck. If it was a wing fire, the pilots would have known it. It would have taken all of their strength not to panic and just continue to do what needed to be done.

And here I take issue with one of the advisers to Dr. Williams—a Mr. Kjell Peterzén—who is quoted in the book as saying: “There is no way he would have gone down into the darkness and the woods…” I can name six incidents here in Alaska since 1977 in which pilots have descended into the woods, or whatever was below including a mountain ridge, to deliberately crash burning airplanes in an attempt to save their own lives.

In one of these cases—coincidentally it was a DC-6—the pilot hesitated because he didn’t want to have to do that, even though the cockpit voice recorder picked up other crew members urging him to get the airplane “on the ground, NOW!” But he didn’t. The wing folded up and moments later they all crashed to their deaths.

In all of the other cases the pilots understood how few seconds they had to live if they didn’t “put it on the ground.” Remarkably, most of the crews survived, although some had bad injuries.

I would say—at least from my corner of the world—that pilots will attempt a crash into the unknown if they understand how quickly an airplane made from aluminum can disintegrate in a raging fire.

Aluminum, of the kind used in the making of the Hammarskjöld DC-6,yields at 925 degrees Fahrenheit and liquifies at 1225 degrees Fahrenheit. When the fire gets much above the 1225 degrees Fahrenheit point, the metal itself actually ignites and burns up, which is why there is normally so few pounds of airplane left after one has burned uncontrollably.

Pilots know this, and will respond instinctively when they see, for example, one of their wings on fire.

What’s your reaction to the conclusion that the Albertina was simply flown into the ground, so-called Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT)?

As for all of the talk about pilot error and CFIT, I still cannot believe that no-one ever mentions the fact that they had gear and flaps down when they were still at least three minutes from the runway, which you just wouldn’t do, unless you’re planning to land “very soon.”

I thought it curious when I read in the Williams book: “It was as if the aircraft was making a perfect landing…” That conclusion is a very astute observation. That doesn’t happen in CFIT situations.

In my experience, CFIT planes start breaking little things and leaving little pieces over a long area before you start seeing the larger pieces and more ground disturbance. If you see something that looks like a landing attempt was being made, it usually is.And this explains why the crash site itself was so contained in such a small area.

In the Williams book, Virving states that “an explosion a few yards from the aircraft could have dislodged vital control wires from their pulleys…” My reaction to that thesis: “Ah, no, generally not.”

All type certificated aircraft are required to have a cable guard at every pulley station to retain them and to prevent that very thing from happening. In all my time working on airplanes (some forty years), I have never seen that happen unless the whole pulley mounting structure was ripped away from the primary structure, in which case the pulley and guard assembly would still be hanging on the cable. But that requires the wing or fuselage or tail component itself to be massively damaged. In this case, the airplane was obviously under control when it started hitting the sapling trees—in order to be “making a perfect landing.”

It has occurred to me that, in a sense, the British investigators were right when they said that it was a CFIT accident. But they left out the part that it was an INTENTIONAL controlled flight into terrain accident.

Right now, it seems really hard to believe that the original 1962 UN report did not ever advance that notion, i.e., that no-one they consulted ever suggested that as a possibility. To me it seems obvious.

In any new UN investigation (led by Judge Othman) of the Hammarskjöld crash, one of the keys to discovering the truth about what happened could be found on intercepted transcripts of the voice communication from the Albertina, which, as Dr. Williams reports, were picked up at a CIA listening post on Cyprus. How would that have been possible in 1961?

In the Williamsbook, someone who was at the airport that night states that while waiting for Hammarskjöld’s plane to arrivehe “heard an airplane start up but never took off.”

I would speculate that what he heard would have been one of the USAF DC-3’s (C-47) that were parked that night at Ndola, and which explains how a CIA listening post in Cyprus would have intercepted the Albertina’s voice communications.

Here’s some background: At least some of the military C-47’s that were kept in service after World War II had radio rooms, for lack of a better word, that had gear that could transmit or receive (or both) on every frequency from LF through UHF. These rooms were state of the art. All of this gear and their trays, mount brackets, and bulkheads weighed over a thousand pounds.

In 1978 I did some work on a DC-3C that had recently been surplussed, sold, and converted from a VC-47D. I had opportunity to see all that analog electronic stuff on a shelf for about a dozen years after that and was always impressed.

I would suggest that the source of the radio conversation that Charles Southall listened into on Cyprus originated from a keyed HF microphone held into a headset speaker on the VHF frequency of Ndola airport by the crew of an idling USAF C-47.

They would have needed to have an engine generator online to run an inverter because some of that radio equipment was using AC voltage. And if it was going to take very long, they would have run down the batteries without a generator operating.

One of the persistent theories about the Hammarskjöld crash is that mercenaries, perhaps flying Fouga CM.170 Magister or other aircraft, might have intercepted SE-BDY on its approach, and either bombed it or caused the larger plane to crash. There is speculation that a De Havailland Dove might have been involved. What do you think?

About the speculation that aDe Havilland Dove might have been modified to drop small bombs from above the DC-6, I think not. That configuration has been tried since WW I with virtually nosuccess; when it worked it was a fluke.

In WWII, the Germans experimented with it a little and the Japanese more, and all with a very low success rate. The Dove also could have only kept up with the DC-6 in the landing pattern; the DC-6 was capable of roughly twice the Dove’s speed.

The Percival P.56 Provosts that were on the Ndola field at that time and had forward firing armament could have had some chance against the Albertina, but, as I recall, they were not thought to have flown that night.

But a single tracer round from even a 30-caliber gun at even 500 yards range could punch through the DC-6’s relatively thin aluminum skin and ignite a fuel vapor chamber that would break seams loose in the resulting explosion and doom any airplane. The Fouga Magister was known to have two such guns with a tracer in every fifth clip of the ammo belts.

Dr. Williams cites some of the Fouga’s performance and range specs, although other sources that I know give them as considerably lower. But, still, if you ask me, this operation was well within its capabilities.

When I visited the Ndola museum and spoke with some of the guides, they explained that the Hammarskjöld plane was flying away from the airport, in the direction of the plane replica at the site, which is headed west. You think it was heading toward the Ndola airport. Why?

I’m sure you heard the guide correctly; the problem is that the guide probably does not understand what happened. Which is really not at all surprising; even if the guide was someone that had seen it before the pieces were hauled away, the crash site would have appeared to be mostly chaos in a big charred spot with a lot of garbage laying around at random, especially if they weren’t familiar with airplanes.

Can you describe the crash site?

The UN chart tells the story, which is corroborated by Björn Virving’s account of the crash site. [Virving, a Swedish citizen, was an observer to the early investigation of the crash.]

Abeam the ant hill, way ahead of the main body of wreckage where it came to rest, was the warning horn, the primary function of which is to alert the pilots to the fact that the landing gear is still up if the throttles are retarded and is below a certain airspeed, and it is mounted in the cockpit area.

Coming a bit closer to the main body of wreckage (MBW), identified items are almost all from the fuselage nose area, except for a small piece of heavy spar section and wing fairing (fillet)—the spar section almost certainly being from the left wing.

Included in the distant cockpit area wreckage is the radio (radar) altimeter, I have just noticed for the first time. This is where the pilots’ bodies start to appear also. So there is no doubt now that it had a radar altimeter.

At the point about dead abeam the MBW, the airplane was pivoting on its belly to the left, the left wing was folding back and the fuselage ahead of the wing was splitting open and folding to the left also. The right hand horizontal stabilizer was probably catching on the tree stumps left after the right hand wing mowed the trees down and twisting the tail-cone loose before being sheared off completely.

The tail control cables evidently held and didn’t fail in tension in this case; otherwise the tail-cone section would have ended up near the right hand tailplane.

The left wing, compromised not only by impact with the ant hill but with the alleged inflight fire, is folded back to lie alongside the aft fuselage with to me, surprisingly, its engines in approximately their correct positions. I could easily have imagined them to be found up near the ant hill. The other surprising thing is that the main landing gear stayed under it, in place, which is almost unheard of in a wheels down landing out in the woods.

The chart doesn’t show, or at least so far I haven’t found, where the main nose gear strut came to rest. Associated parts are right where I’d expect them to be in the first third of the wreckage path. The DC-6 pilots I know say that the nose gear is a bit fragile; if it digs in to soft ground it will fold up or tear off and needs to be treated carefully.

If the Albertina hadn’t had the misfortune to hit he anthill, the skinny trees would probably have arrested its forward movement in a fairly short distance and the passengers, if they were strapped in, would have had a pretty good chance of walking away.

If the chart is to scale, and it appears to be, the airplane had already lost a lot of its momentum, i.e., it didn’t travel more than about eighty feet or so past the ant hill, which is not very far for a one hundred foot long fuselage. It might even have come to a stop still standing on all three gear. Just about like a Navy plane (on an aircraft carrier) missing the arresting cables and running into the net barrier.

The UN chart shows the Ndola runway orientation to be magnetic 100 – 280, or only 10 degrees from east-west. It says that the aircraft was on a heading (it should say “course,” because a heading is a course when corrected for wind) of 120 degrees, which would have been aiming them toward the non-directional beacon, to line them up with the runway. As I have said, they were very close to where the instrument approach procedure wants you to be for the procedure turn.

Can you hypothesize Hammarskjöld’s last moments? Alone of the passengers he was found propped up against an ant hill at the crash site, and he was not burned in any way.

In my view, Hammarskjöld himself was probably standing in the cockpit bulkhead doorway, behind the flight engineer, who sits behind and in between the pilots, facing forward in the DC-6, and all three of them would have been strapped into their seats.

After bouncing over the ant hill, the nose would have broken open as it would have been the first thing to hit the ground, and Hammarskjöld, not being fastened in, would have just been thrown out or fallen out through the opening.

The still-moving, burning remainder of the airplane just kept on moving past him, and was arrested by the trees as it swung around. It all fits, really, and has been seen to happen that way many times in history.

Can you sum up your thinking about what happened to Hammarskjöld’s plane, SE-BDY?

I would surmise that SE-BDY (Albertina) was attacked at the beginning of the procedure turn to return the plane to the non-directional beacon bearing. (To me the attacking planes had to have had the capacity to shoot bullets or tracers. I don’t believe anyone tried to bomb the DC-6.)

The pilot then quickly decided to finish the turn back toward where he knew there to be light and to get the plane on the ground as soon as he could, knowing that the runway, some three minutes away, was way too far to expect a burning wing to get him to.

In my opinion, the pilots (by name—Captain Per Hallonquist, Captain Nils-Erik Åhréus and Second Pilot Lars Litton) came very, very close to pulling it off and should be commended for their bravery and professionalism. They knew what they were doing.

What would you like to see the new investigation of the crash look into?

Keep in mind that all of the evidence from the crash site, at this point, has been compromised, by age or the dictates of the earlier crash examiners, who came to the wreckage only with the intent to blame the pilots for the accident. What we got from the first 1962 inquiry into the crash was a political judgment—not the informed thinking of experienced pilots or crash investigators. Since that time, most of the primary evidence has been lost to time.

Most of all I would like to see the Swedish crew and especially its pilot in command exonerated for blame in this crash. As I said before, the pilots acted heroically and professionally in trying to land a burning plane on the ground in order to save the lives of their passengers. Instead of being recognized for their valor, the crew, themselves victims, was blamed for the crash.

I would love to believe that physical evidence of the crash might help new investigators come to some conclusions about the crash, but the fact is that the plane was made of a zinc alloy aluminum that will have turned to mud and paste after more than fifty years under ground. I am not optimistic that the physical evidence will reveal anything new in the inquiry.

Instead, investigators should turn their attentions to old photographs, video, and audio recordings that might be found in archives around the world, and from these files try to reconstruct the last moments of the doomed flight. They might also make a microscopic reexamination of the original report for just the kinds of contradictions that even a reader like myself picked up in some of the files quoted in the Williams book. There have to be a lot more inconsistencies in the files that professionals of today would find.

If the files of the listening post on Cyprus were to have any transmissions from the flight deck (personally, I don’t think they exist), wemight learn more details of what was said once it was discovered that their left wing was on fire. But cockpit recorders were not around in those days.

Please sum up what you think happened

In conclusion, let me state again what I think happened: I think one of the mercenary aircraft, operating around Ndola on that night, fired a tracer bullet into the fuel tanks of the Hammarskjöld plane, causing the left wing to catch on fire. Fearing that the left wing would fold up into the fuselage of the plane, the pilots did the only thing that was available to them: to configure the plane for a controlled (so to speak) crash landing in the short amount of time available to them. That action explains the 30 degrees of flaps setting on impact (nine miles out from the Ndola runway!), the relative slow speed at impact (they were just above the stall speed), and the compact crash site (not consistent with CFIT). The pilots had no choice but to put the plane “on the ground…now!” and that they did, skillfully, in my mind.

Had they succeeded and been able to tell their own story at the inquests, we would now have a clearer picture of what happened on that fatal approach. Because the crew was killed on impact or in the subsequent fires, it was left to colonial administrators—in places such as Northern Rhodesia—to whitewash the crash scene and to blame the pilots, who along with Hammarskjöld and his team were also the victims. Exonerating the pilots would go a long way in correcting an injustice that has lingered since 1961.

Finally, I hope the publishers of Dr. Williams’ book encourage her to release yet another edition of the book. (An updated edition did come out in late 2016.) Perhaps she might be able to integrate into her book the more recent findings of Judge Othman? I would hope so. As much as anyone outside the UN system, Dr. Williams has kept alive the tragic story of what happened to Secretary Hammarskjöld in Ndola, and I commend her for all of the excellent work she has done to uncover the truth. If someone wants to know more about this case, her book, Who Killed HammarskjöldThe UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa, is the best place to begin.

Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Railsand, most recently, Appalachia Spring, about the coal counties of West Virginia and Kentucky. He lives in Switzerland and was in Africa at the crash site in 2017.

Joseph Majerle has worked in aviation for the last forty-one years, both as a mechanic and a pilot, and he has worked on a number of historic planes. He lives in Alaska.

Categories: News for progressives

How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:59

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The following is an excerpt from the new book The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink by Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank.

That Tre Arrow, a tree-hugging vegan who espouses non-violence and lives by the airy and some nebulous philosophy of Gaia, would top the FBI’s Most Wanted list, only reaffirms the notion that the Bureau’s energy is being exerted in specious directions.

On August 12, 2008, after a tumultuous seven-year investigation, Arrow was sentenced in Federal court to six-and-a-half years for lighting three cement haulers ablaze at the notorious Ross Island Sand and Gravel in Portland, Oregon, as well as firebombing two trucks and one front loader owned by Ray Schoppert Logging Company near the timber town of Estacada, Oregon. The acts were in protest of the Eagle Creek timber sale in Mt. Hood National Forest in the late 1990s.

Located in a roadless area within Oregon’s Clackamas River watershed, the streams that snake through the old growth groves of Eagle Creek provide drinking water for over 185,000 people in the greater Portland area. Critics of the plan to log Eagle Creek argued that the forest’s steep slopes were in the “transient snow zone” and would likely lead to future landslides and mass flooding, which would ultimately spoil water quality during the region’s frequent rain-on-snow events. Arrow was one of the most creative and articulate activists opposing the sale.

A grim-faced, 34-year-old Arrow listened warily as Judge James Redden read his sentence. At the behest of his lawyers, Bruce Ellison and Paul Loney, Arrow earlier signed off on a plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice and accepted responsibility for his role in the arsons, even though for years he denied any involvement.

“[I’m] true to a higher power … I don’t feel I need to be rehabilitated,” Arrow stated in a verbose speech to the court upon hearing the ruling. “Corporations have usurped much of the governmental power. Corporations seem to be able to get away with poisoning the very entity we rely on for our well-being with no punishment, or very little punishment,” he declared.

“I don’t know what happened to you but they were very serious crimes, and you know it,” responded a disgruntled Judge Redden.

The closing of the case was seen as a major victory by the FBI, which had long promoted Arrow as America’s most notorious and dangerous eco-terrorist.

“Now we know the truth, and we know he has to pay the price,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer brayed to reporters. “It sends a clear message that society doesn’t tolerate it, that these cases are solved and these people are brought to justice.”


Tre Arrow, born Michael James Scarpitti, was raised in Jensen Beach, Florida in a suburban community on the ritzy outskirts of sun-drenched Palm Beach, where grandiose mansions line the streets and luxury automobiles occupy the driveways. His mother was a real estate agent and his father owned a plumbing and air conditioning business. Arrow was seemingly your average middle-class kid who scored good grades in school and steered clear of trouble. As a young teen he was a star wrestler but later abandoned the sport to pursue his love for music, hoping to one day make it a fulltime career.

“My brother was always someone who had deep feelings and could express them very well,” his older sister, Shawna, told Rolling Stone in 2006. “He was way mature for a teenage boy. If something moved him, he would cry about it without any shame at all.”

Arrow’s parents supported their Tre’s aspirations but pushed him to enroll at Florida State University upon graduation. It wasn’t long before he began dabbling in environmentalism, from initiating a recycling program at his dormitory to embracing veganism and speaking out against animal cruelty. Music, however, was still the young activist’s passion, and his college band, Soya Bean Fields, played at coffeehouses and other venues in and around Tallahassee.

After completing an associate’s degree at FSU, Arrow headed up to Cincinnati, Ohio where he fathered a child with a band-mate before heading off to Sedona, Arizona and then Boulder, Colorado. Arrow was in search of a place to call home, and that home would soon come in the form of the rain-soaked and tree-lined streets of Portland, Oregon.

“He just fell in love with the Northwest,” said Arrow’s father Jim Scarpitti. “Whenever [he] would write to us, he’d include all these drawings of the scenery, the white-capped mountains and the dark-green forests. He’s a gifted artist, and his letters were like illustrated novels.”

Arrow left behind a life he was trying hard to forget. He changed his name, disconnected from old friends and altered his lifestyle so as to be in more direct contact with the natural world. While still pursuing music, Arrow became more and more involved in environmental causes. He ditched his shoes, rarely showered and only ate raw, uncooked food. He embraced a new kind of religion, what some may call Deep Ecology — or that the living environment as a whole has the same rights as humans. But Arrow’s beliefs were all his own, shaped by what he was witnessing first hand in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest — the ruin left in the wake of President Clinton’s brutish Northwest timber plan, Option 9, which restarted the logging of ancient forests throughout the West.

It was hypocrisies and compromises such Clinton’s that invigorated a new breed of radical, direct-action oriented environmentalism throughout the region. “If the federal forest agencies don’t follow the plan, they’ll end up in court. Or, if they ignore new scientific information demonstrating the need to revise the present plan, they’ll end up in court,” explained Andy Kerr of the Oregon Natural Resources Council at the time. But when legal tactics weren’t successful, activists flung their bodies in front of bulldozers and set up canopies high in the giant Douglas Firs as a warning to loggers of their potential self-sacrifice to save the forest. It was an all-out environmental war zone.

Forest activists and environmental lawyers viewed the Clinton plan as undermining the well-being of the Northern Spotted Owl and endangered salmon and steelhead trout. In retrospect, Option 9 was nearly as bad as proposals sought during the first and second Bush administrations. Some claimed, with justification, that it was actually worse. Portions of the plan were deemed illegal by federal courts, and scientists predicted that the policy would not halt the spotted owl’s slide toward extinction. Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt pushed their plan forward despite these concerns, steamrolling their former allies in big green groups. By 1994, new timber sales in old growth forests were being offered for sale to timber companies for the first time in six years – a feat that eluded Bush the Elder. These were Clinton-created clearcuts, and the administration boasted proudly of what they wrought.

The fight to save the wild forests of the Pacific Northwest was well underway by the time Tre Arrow arrived in Portland with his guitar strapped to his back. But it was in the midst of these worthy struggles that he became radicalized, witnessing first hand the unharnessed pillage of our national forests.


On the afternoon of July 7, 2000, Tre Arrow, perhaps unwittingly, became the idol of a reinvigorated environmental movement: one that was radically creative, action-oriented, non-violent and boldly uncompromising. Passion for the wild drove the agile Arrow, barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt, to scale the wall of a U.S. Forest Service Regional Headquarters in downtown Portland, where he would remain perched on a small window ledge for 11 consecutive days.

Earlier that morning, in what the government saw as a huge victory against a batch of dangerous environmentalists who were fighting timber sales in the Mt. Hood National Forest — federal agents razed a camp and road barricades set up by Cascadia Forest Alliance to stop the logging of Eagle Creek. In the pre-dawn hours, Forest Service henchmen donned in camouflage and bearing assault rifles charged in on ATVs to bust up the blockades.

High above the forest floor, activists constructed an intricate swinging platform made up of rope and plywood that swayed back and forth between two large conifer trees. Thirteen people swung from oversized hammocks supported by the makeshift web. If the trees or ropes were cut, these forest defenders would have fallen to their deaths.  Many activists surrendered immediately upon the feds’ arrival. But not all. Emma Murphy Ellis, who called herself “Pitch”, wrapped a noose around her neck and threatened to commit suicide if the armed agents moved any closer. Ellis’s tactic held the officers off for more than seven hours.

In response to the feds’ interruption, thousands of protestors began to amass thirty miles away in Portland in front of the Forest Service’s regional headquarters building. Tre Arrow was more than sympathetic to the Eagle Creek cause, gathering supplies and rallying support around the city. He often visited the resistance site, helping to build the structures that hung between two large conifer trees. Many activists deemed the site to be the spiritual nucleus of their movement. Like so many, Arrow was galvanized by the experience and joined the rally outside Forest Service headquarters to carry on the struggle against the logging of Eagle Creek. But the stagnant protest seemed to be going nowhere.

“Tre was saying, ‘Man, something else has to happen,’” said Arrow’s friend and fellow forest activist Samantha Waters. “I nodded my head, then turned away for a moment, and when I turned back, Tre was already halfway up the wall.”

Perched on his ledge, Arrow became an immediate media sensation. News broadcasts and papers across the country told of his act, and the Forest Service was forced to make the next move. The agency had to decide how best to pursue the government’s tenuous plan to reintroduce logging in the Mt. Hood forest.

“They raided our camps–the pods we had set up–and that’s one reason I went on the building when I did, to protest the way they handled our activists out there,” Arrow explained.

Comrades on the ground set up shop and passed a bullhorn and banners to Arrow who hung the signs below his feet for the world to see. From above the crowded sidewalk, Arrow articulated the concerns of many who opposed the logging. With every word, it seemed, more support flooded to the cause. Arrow spent hours on a cell phone talking to reporters, telling them what was happening to the forests he had grown to love.

After agreeing to abide by a court order, a weary Arrow finally rappelled down from his lofty post, telling the mob of supporters and passer-bys, “This is not over by a long shot. Everyone get on buildings! Everyone get to the woods! I love you!”

Arrow’s spontaneous act of resistance was not only passionate but articulate. He got his point across and brought more attention to the plight of Eagle Creek than all previous actions combined. He didn’t have the luxury of media access or the backing of a big environmental group. He did not own a law degree or hire a public relations team craft his message. Arrow had only his rage against a corporate machine he saw destroying, not only the fragile ecosystem of Eagle Creek, but the vitality of the entire planet.

“There [are] just not enough activists, not enough public involvement to stop this yet. Even though we might save an area here or there, they’re cutting everywhere. The result is there’s less than 4% of our native forests remaining in national forests,” Arrow said in an interview with Miriam Green not long after he came down from his ledge sit. “And on state land it’s even worse. There’s about 1% of native old growth forest left in Oregon. Everything has been slaughtered. The ecosystems are severely devastated and they give us these wicked clearcuts with stumps and debris.”

Almost overnight Tre Arrow became the Mick Jagger of the radical environmental movement. And he reveled in it.


The campus of Portland State University was bustling with left-wing co-eds in the fall of 2000. Many cut their teeth as young activists a year earlier when they hopped on buses and jammed into cars to race up the I-5 corridor to protest the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Some choked on pepper spray for the first time while others were arrested and brutalized by violent cops dressed in black stormtrooper gear. The smell of rebellion was still fresh in the air.

At the same time, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) was dispatching regular communiqués through its unofficial spokesman, Craig Rosebraugh, who lived in Portland. Since 1997, the secret members of the ELF took credit for virtually all of the eco-arsons throughout the country. Typically, one or two days after ELF activists tagged the group’s initials near one of their alleged firebombings, Rosebraugh would receive an anonymous statement that he, in turn, would submit as a press release to the local and national media outlets. Needless to say, Rosebraugh drew a lot of attention.

“While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve,” one incendiary press release read after an arson in Pennsylvania. “The diverse efforts of this revolutionary force cannot be contained, and will only continue to intensify as we are brought face to face with the oppressor in inevitable, violent confrontation.”

The aftershocks of the ELF’s frequent attacks actions reverberated throughout the Northwest, and the amorphous band of rebel enviros soon won many sympathizers up and down the west coast. Rosebraugh was their collective voice. With his wire-rimmed glasses, shaved head and punk rock persona, the scrawny vegan with a tattoo wrapped around his arm gave the ELF underground legitimacy — and more importantly, sex appeal. He was quoted frequently in the press defending the group’s numerous actions. Aside from Tre Arrow, the sharp-tongued Rosebraugh was perhaps the most revered militant environmentalist on the West coast. And like Arrow, he was getting addicted to the spotlight.

“It seems that the ELF was formed to provide what some individuals considered to be a needed addition to the US environmental movement,” writes Rosebraugh in his book, Burning Rage of a Dying Planet. “Using elements of guerrilla warfare, limited to property destruction, the first individuals conducting ELF actions in the United States had a most definite mission – to start a movement that could not be stopped.”

If Rosebraugh and the fire-starters at ELF represented the militant wing of the radical environmental movement in the Northwest, Arrow and the Cascadia Forest Alliance were viewed as the acceptable alternative by many radicals. The philosophy Arrow espoused publicly was that of peace and non-violence and finding harmony with nature. He disavowed property damage and arson. Arrow’s antics largely deemed legitimate in the public eye, especially when they were compared against the ELF’s long rap sheet of burned buildings.

It was also a presidential election year and Ralph Nader’s campaign for president was filling arenas across the country. Eddie Vedder, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore and a host of celebrities were supporting Nader’s campaign. So too was Tre Arrow. The Pacific Green Party (PGP) got word and approached Arrow to entice him to run for US Congress from the state’s Third District against incumbent Democratic Representative, Earl Blumenauer. Arrow agreed, and from his stage the wild-eyed Green lambasted the Clinton administration for passing Option 9 and was quoted in the Oregonian as calling Al Gore’s Portland stump speech on the environment, “A total lie.”

Arrow was a star activist and fast became the public face of the PGP – an image not all members were willing to embrace. “When Tre Arrow ran for congress, the PGP was eagerly searching for candidates willing to run for public office.  There was not, at that time, a thorough vetting process for examining the background and campaign strategy of individual candidates, nor was the party endowed with any significant financial resources,” said Lloyd Marbet, a local Green Party activist, who himself has run for office several times. “Tre raised important forest issues that resonated with party members but he lacked political experience and I do not think he ran a well organized political campaign.”

“So he climbed up on a ledge and crapped in a bucket,” exclaimed another critic, “my 2-year-old can do that, but does that mean she’s qualified to run for Congress?”

Yes, responded Portland-based lawyer and devoted Nader supporter, Greg Kafoury. “What Tre Arrow did was to risk his life (by climbing the Forest Service building) over a rather extended period of time for an issue he believed in. That’s a pretty serious message, and in an age where politicians are processed like cheese, someone who is real carries a lot of weight,” Kafoury told Willamette Week in an interview during Arrow’s election bid. “If he was at any risk of winning, then you’d evaluate him differently. I’m saying this: When the party is in a position where its candidates are not just raising issues but need to be taken seriously as potential elected officials, then you go from dreamers to more practical and technically knowledgeable people.”

He may not have been politically knowledgeable candidate but the only progressive that seemed as popular as Nader around Portland that year was Tre Arrow. Arrow’s congressional campaign was run a lot like his Eagle Creek protests. He became a frequent agitator at local Democratic campaign events. When the band Everclear rocked a rally in support of Al Gore at PSU, there was Arrow swinging high above it all, gripping on to scaffolding with one hand and brandishing a bullhorn with the other, criticizing the Democrat’s damaging environmental policies.

In the end, Arrow’s run for Congress garnered more votes throughout Portland than did Ralph Nader’s. He continued to make frequent visits to speak to local campuses and became an icon at PSU among the school’s activist cliques, where he spoke at meetings put on by Students for Unity, among others. One of the PSU coeds Arrow befriended at the time, Jacob Sherman, would later prove to be an unfortunate acquaintance.

Sherman, a Portland native, was not unlike many of his cohorts. The shadows of the great forests he grew up beneath were dwindling, and the young college freshman knew exactly who the culprit was: corporations and their political allies. As the FBI would later argue, it was under the spell of one Tre Arrow that Jacob Sherman was seduced into radical environmentalism.

In the fall of 2000, Jacob Sherman became intensely involved in Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign and was active in several progressive organizations on campus. Over the course of Sherman’s first term at Portland State, he was drawn to issues ranging from a living-wage to the independence struggle of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Sherman and Arrow became close. By winter quarter Sherman not only adopted a few of Arrow’s granola routines, such as refusing to bathe and going barefoot, he also began mimicking his forms of protest.

In the Portland suburb of Clackamas, Sherman helped to lead an action in February of 2001 against an old growth timber sale that was to take place in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Like the action Tre Arrow had carried out almost a year earlier, Sherman climbed to the top of the logging company’s building and rallied the crowd that amassed below. “Sherman initially refused to come down from the roof,” the FBI later wrote in a court affidavit, “but later agreed to cooperate with authorities in lieu of being arrested.”

As the FBI and media outlets would later tell it, Sherman was under the persuasive sway of Tre Arrow.  He was seen as an obedient pawn who followed Arrow into battle, which was ignited two months later at Ross Island Sand & Gravel in Southeast Portland. On the night of April 15, 2001, three of the company’s rigs were destroyed by fires sparked from gas-filled milk jug bombs. Investigators later learned that Sherman sent Craig Rosebraugh an anonymous note a week later claiming responsibility, and blamed the company for “stealing soil from the earth.” Rosebraugh released a press statement, claiming members of the ELF had been responsible.


In the fall of 2001, Tre Arrow and the Cascadia Forest Alliance turned their focus from Mt. Hood to the mossy rain forests of the Oregon coast, where the Acey Line timber sale, consisting of over 120 acres of some of the oldest trees in Oregon, was slated to be cut in what known as Gods Valley, nestled in the heart of the Tillamook State Forest.

“It is part of what little remains, on the coast, of an actually intact forest. Even though it was logged more than a century ago, it has naturally reseeded itself,” Arrow explained at the time. “It is lush, it is biologically diverse and full of life, it’s perfect habitat for wildlife. This is a rain forest. The forest floor is like a sponge … The U.S. Forest Service and ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry) figure that most citizens don’t care much if it’s just trees being cut from public lands. Unfortunately, they’re right, most people are too busy to pay attention to the complexities of forest management.”

Over 2.5 million board feet of timber was purchased by Christian Futures Inc. of Springfield, Oregon for the meager sum of $400,000. Several conservation groups earlier in the year contested the plan, arguing that logging trees in Gods Valley would further endanger marbled murrelets (a seabird that nests only in old-growth forests) and northern spotted owls, both of which are federally listed as threatened species. Activists, including Arrow, descended on the area in hope of disrupting the logging operations.

Forest management on state lands in Oregon leaves little room for the public to weigh in and voice objections. The public is not allowed to comment on sales of state land to timber companies and there is no way to appeal them once they are in place. The Endangered Species Act, however, does apply to state land in Oregon, and most fights against such land deals challenged in the courts stem from these federal protections. But when those battles in the legal world fall short, forest activists take it upon themselves to stand up and defend what they rightly see as an environmental injustice.

On the morning of October 4, Arrow and his fellow members of Cascadia Forest Alliance and Hard Rain Alliance, came head to head with forest officials in Gods Valley to protest the Acey Line sale.  In typical Arrow fashion, Tre taunted loggers and the ODF, leading them on a wild chase through the forest, climbing 80-feet up a tree to escape being caught. The reaction became a defining moment to save Gods Valley. Arrow remained high in the hemlock fir for two days where he was exposed to physical, emotional and physiological torment. “We’re not sleepin’, so you’re not sleepin,” yelled the men below. When fellow activists attempted to pass up food and water they were arrested immediately. The plan was to cut Arrow out of the tree or keep him awake so long that he would end up collapsing, plummeting to his death.

“A logger began to cut the lower branches of the tree I was in, working his way up the tree as he cut. I became seriously concerned about my ability to stay in the tree safely. When the logger was right below me with his chainsaw and I jumped to the next tree over. Once I was in that tree, the logger proceeded to cut the first tree into three sections, taking it completely to the ground,” Arrow told Alternatives magazine shortly after the incident.

“They then made an announcement over their bullhorn that they were going to cut all the trees around me. I jumped into a third tree, the largest in that group of three, to try to protect it. At that point, the loggers proceeded to cut every tree within a thirty-foot radius around me, including trees only a few feet away from me. It was dangerous,” he said. “That night, I tried to sleep but the activities of the men on the ground made it impossible. They’d call out ‘Knock knock! Wake up! Wake up!’ on their bullhorn and do the siren thing, and smash things against the tree … What resulted was exhaustion and sleep deprivation due to their deliberate tactics of keeping us activists awake day and night. Finally, at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of October 6th, I fell out of the tree I was in from roughly 100 feet height.”

Arrow barely survived the fall. He suffered a fractured shoulder, severed pelvis, torn knee ligaments and broken ribs. His brain and internal organs were bleeding. His lung was pierced and collapsed. The forest officials did their best to kill Arrow, most likely in an attempt to teach his fellow activists a lesson, forcing them to retreat from Gods Valley. “We don’t know where he started his fall,” says Clatsop County Sheriff John Raichl, “but they heard the crashing. Even with the floodlights, it was dark. One of the deputies is an emergency medical technician and started working on him. He is very, very lucky to be alive.”

While they threatened a sleep-deprived, malnourished tree-hugger with the threat of violence, Arrow and his friends reciprocated only with defiance, not aggression. At one point during the tree-sit, a logger climbed up to coax him down when Arrow noticed that another official on the ground was pointing a rifle at him. He knew if he were to come down he was not going to be embraced with open arms.

“I am totally confident we did the right thing,” Sheriff Raichl told The Oregonian. Oregon Governor Kitzhaber wasn’t so sure, and ordered an investigation into the matter while the logging continued. Arrow was charged with trespassing on public land and interfering with a forestry operation. After his weak body smashed on the ground, Arrow was rushed to the emergency room where he was put critical care.

As Arrow was nursing his injuries in a hospital bed, FBI agents were investigating an arson that took place six months prior. On the night of May 31, 2001, Jacob Sherman borrowed his mom’s truck, told her he was going to run some errands and picked up Arrow along with two other fellow PSU students, Angie Cesario and Jeremy Rosenbloom. They headed to the timber town of Estacada, where the Eagle Creek logging contractor, Ray Schoppert, kept the company’s logging trucks.

“Jake (Sherman) told [his girlfriend] that, on that same night, Jake, Jeremy and Angie went with Tre to a place where logging trucks were parked,” government investigators would later assert. “Jake kept saying he didn’t want to do it. Tre said they were here to do this and that’s what they were going to do.”

Sherman was boastful and told several girlfriends in brutal detail his version of the events that took place that night. As he told it, Cesario was the lookout and stayed in the truck, while Rosenbloom, Arrow and Sherman took eight gasoline-filled jugs and positioned them under the logging trucks. As Sherman lit one jug it flared up dramatically and scorched his eyebrows, hair and clothing. They then immediately left the scene, leaving four of the incendiary jugs unlit. The other four milk jugs ended up burning two trucks and one frontloader, causing a total of $100,000 in damage.

Sherman had not been especially careful saboteur. The truck smelled of gasoline and he dumped his clothes in the trash bin when he returned that night at 2:00 am, asking his brother to tell his parents that he had returned home at 10:30 pm.

Sherman’s father, Tim Sherman, who did not live with the family, contacted the FBI telling them he believed his son was involved in the arson. To this day it is unclear as to what prompted Tim to believe his son was involved. The day after his father phoned FBI, agents interviewed Sherman’s parents and friends. But it is still uncertain if the FBI was also looking into Arrow’s involvement at this time. Arrow wasn’t hard to find during most of the investigation, from October to November he was essentially captive in Emanuel Hospital in Portland, healing his battle wounds from his fall in Gods Valley.

During FBI questioning, Sherman buckled and pegged Arrow as the ringleader, who along with Sherman allegedly burned the Ross Island Gravel trucks. In July 2002, Arrow, Sherman, Rosenbloom and Cesario where indicted for their alleged participation in the firebombing in Estacada. But Arrow somehow escaped the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force dragnet, despite the fact that his lawyer Stu Sugarman was helping Arrow with civil lawsuits in challenging the Gods Valley incident and was arranging to have his client appear in court at the same time.

A trial and conviction could have meant 30 years in prison. The defendants were strong-armed into striking plea deals, all eventually pointing the finger at Tre Arrow to reduce their sentences. This was a departure from earlier testimonies, when both Cesario and Rosenbloom did not name Arrow as the instigator, but Jake Sherman.

Rumors floated through activist circles that Arrow was in fact an agent provocateur who infiltrated the group and passed back information to the feds. This, some claimed, was why he was not been captured early on. But Arrow fled across the country. The FBI believed Arrow might have been involved in many ELF actions from Colorado to Pennsylvania. But his friends at Cascadia Forest Alliance didn’t buy it. All of the activists who were called before the Grand Jury to indict Arrow pled the Fifth Amendment, refusing to turn on their friend and fellow activist.

In the end, the Schoppert fire in Estacada proved to be a huge boost for the plight of Eagle Creek. Timber sales in the forest began to unravel immediately after the flames torched the logging trucks, with several timber outfits pulling out of their deals. The arsons seemed to have forced the companies to reconsider logging in an area that was so contentious, exactly the outcome many active in the struggle were hoping for.

Radical environmentalism had been successful, at least for the moment, a fact not many people inside or outside of the movement were willing to admit. While the media may portray radical activists that turn to violence to defend the Earth as deranged psychopaths, there is an underlying ethic that drives their actions. Radical environmentalists believe the culture and economic system are inherently exploitative and corrupt. They believe we are making far too many intrusions on the natural world and must stop at once. Focusing their efforts to stop logging on public lands is only one tactic in the greater struggle to bring human existence back into balance with the natural order.


Now Tre was no longer dangling from a limb to save a tree; he was on the lam to avoid imprisonment. On October 18, 2002, Jake Sherman was indicted on four counts, including the fires at Ross Island Sand & Gravel. Since Sherman claimed Arrow was involved, the charges against the AWOL environmentalist immediately doubled. Arrow’s parents hadn’t heard from him in months, few friends admitted to having correspondence. It was clear Arrow, now a fugitive, was trying to avoid arrest. His story appeared on American’s Most Wanted and the FBI was confident their man would come out of hiding at any moment.

It wasn’t until March 13, 2004 that the FBI learned exactly where Tre Arrow was. He hadn’t turned himself in, but he was in handcuffs. Arrow had been caught stealing bolt-cutters from a hardware store in Victoria, British Columbia. He had been on the run for 19 months. “The only thing I was going to use the bolt-cutters for was to ‘liberate,’ as we call it, dumpsters [and share the waste].”

Canadian officials ran Arrow’s prints and fast became aware that he was a wanted man in the States. Arrow immediately began to fight extradition, as he felt that he would not receive a fair trial in the paranoid and punitive post-9/11 political climate. “The media has already convicted me not just of the crimes, but of eco-terrorism,” Arrow told Willamatte Week from his jail cell. “They don’t bother to use the word ‘alleged’ or ‘accused,’ just flat-out ‘terrorist’ with my name attached.”

He outright denied involvement in any firebombings or affiliation with the ELF. “I emphatically express that I am not involved in the ELF and never have been. And at the same time, I don’t condemn the activists that are involved in the ELF for the actions they engage in,” he said. “[People who know me] know I don’t burn anything. The ELF, it has its place. I recognize it does have an impact. It’s very telling that the FBI regards the ELF as a bigger threat than the white supremacist groups.”

Meanwhile several of Arrow’s alleged associates were already serving time. From his small cell Arrow essentially embarked on a protest-fast, as a strict raw vegan diet was continuously denied. He lost nearly 40 pounds, and many were concerned about his deteriorating health. Arrow approached a Canadian immigration panel seeking to be awarded refugee status because he and his lawyers claimed he’d already been labeled guilty by the media and would not receive a fair trial. The motion was denied.

Arrow spent much of his time fleeing the FBI by roaming around Canada. “When he showed up in Halifax, Arrow said he had an aunt living just outside the city. He came from the West Coast and didn’t talk much about his past. I got to know him as Josh Rivers, the ever-so-vegan couch surfer who defended Mother Earth,” writes Chris Aresenault in This Magazine. “He spent nights tearing around the city on a borrowed bicycle to scavenge paper from recycling bins so we wouldn’t have to print leaflets on ‘dead-tree bleached sheets’ … [Some] respected and admired him, while others found him off-the-wall if not downright offensive … He was kind and diligent, yet overzealous and a little hot-headed; passionate and contradictory. While incarcerated, he refuses cooked food, in part because of the fossil fuels used in cooking. Yet he chomps bananas shipped from Latin America at a far greater environmental (and social) cost. Lots of fury, a little short on thought.”

Eventually Arrow stopped fighting extradition and accepted a plea agreement, stating he had been involved in both the Ross Island and Schoppert arsons. On August 12, 2008 Arrow was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison, but was given credit for the time he had already served in Canada. Arrow would walk free in four years. He could have faced 40 years in prison and been forced to pay a fine of $500,000.

“Some may look at this non-cooperation plea agreement as a victory. Some may see it as a defeat. It’s really neither! It’s simply another step in this journey as i (sic) walk my path of conscience,” decried Tre Arrow in a message to his supporters after he agreed to the plea deal. “You see, it’s never been about me. From before the days of the ledge-sit, right thru ’til today, this has been and will always be about the commitment to leave our Earth Mother in a healthier, more beautiful state then when i (sic) arrived. This is about taking back our power from the government and corporate entities that would have us believe that monetary wealth and the acquisition of material objects is more important than the health of the planet.”

Categories: News for progressives

Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:58

After all the votes were counted and the dust finally settled, it became clear that Democrats scored huge victories in the midterm elections last November.  This wasn’t clear right away because some of the contests in “red” states were close, but the “blue wave” actually did materialize.

Even for those of us who thought at the time that the only good thing about the Democratic Party is that the Republican Party is seriously worse, this was good news.

It was bad news for Donald Trump.  He wasn’t technically on the ballot and neither were the family members and others he turns to for advice or the ignoramuses he dug up to do the actual governing when malign neglect just isn’t enough, but they all lost big time.

What is bad for them is good for the nation and the world.  Trump could start a nuclear holocaust in a fit of pique, and his environmental policies are nearly as dangerous.  His presidency poses a clear and present danger to life on earth “as we know it.”

The situation was dire before he came on the scene, but he made the problems he inherited worse – not just quantitatively, but qualitatively too.  Hegel was right about quality emerging out of quantity.

Trump’s shenanigans put the very idea of the rule of law in jeopardy, along with basic human decency and the norms upon which democratic societies are built.

Because he and his underlings are class warriors on the wrong side of the class struggle, Trump is bad news in countless lesser ways as well.  The more hobbled he and his minions become, the better off almost everybody else is.

This was why the midterms mattered.  Voters did not have “a world to win,” but they did have a lot still to lose.  We all do.

Had the “founding fathers” been less opposed to such core democratic notions as equal political influence, had they not bequeathed “we, the people” an Electoral College, and had we more feasible ways of doing electoral mistakes over, we would not now have a Trump to worry about.   But that is not the hand we have been dealt.

Short of a real revolution, not just the kind Sandersnistas talk about, there is no getting beyond that. All we can do is ready ourselves for the time when Trump’s term finally ends.

Therefore, now is a time to do all in our power to limit the harm Trump and his people are able to do. Unfortunately, we cannot now cure the body politic of the disease of Trumpism, but we can keep the harm it does in bounds by treating it as a chronic, debilitating, and potentially fatal disease.

Thus the main task now is, or ought to be, to forge a genuine political opposition dedicated to taking on both duopoly parties, the one that does most of the harm, and the one that makes its malefactions possible and perhaps even inevitable.

Even at its worst, the Democratic Party is less odious than the Republican Party at its best.  However, it is plain that there are no major differences between the two on fundamental political economic issues or on war and peace, global justice, domestic and international solidarity, military policy, nuclear and also conventional weapons disarmament, or on how to minimize that harm that the American empire does around the world.  Except in minor respects, the two parties are even alike on environmental and fiscal policies and priorities.

On the political spectrum that has existed notionally in the heads of everyone who has thought seriously about politics since the French Revolution, Republicans and Democrats are parties of the center right.  On good days, Democrats may do a little better than that, but both parties are essentially the same – like Coke and Pepsi.

Conventional wisdom has it that “bipartisanship” has lately gone missing.  The fact is, though, that while party polarization has intensified, the main difference between the two duopoly parties is just that one of them is less mean spirited and less conspicuously identified with the interests of venal and avaricious capitalist than the other.

If the Democratic Party, the nicer one of the two, sometimes seems more oppositional than it actually is, it is because in our duopoly system, leftists and left-leaning liberals who want to escape sequestration in the margins of political life have nowhere else to go.

Over the years, the party leadership has learned how to deal with this, while remaining in their donors’ good graces.  The Sanders phenomenon of 2016 is a case in point.  It almost got out of hand.   However, in the end, the center (or center-right) held, thanks partly to Sanders’ freely given acquiescence.  Thus it served as a kind of stress test, passed with flying colors, of the institutional party’s well practiced ways of keeping progressive impulses down, while keeping progressive voters on board.

Might the Trump phenomenon undo, or begin the undoing, of that seemingly insurmountable obstacle in the way of a better world?  How wonderfully ironic that would be!

Where Democrats are involved, one should always be wary.  But in light of what some newly elected House members have been up to so far, it is not too unreasonable to hope that change for the better will eventually come to pass.


What Sarah Palin aptly called Obama’s “hopey, changey thing” ten years ago, makes it difficult for anyone with an intact memory who was politically conscious in 2008 to harbor even a fleeting thought that maybe the times really are changing for the better.

There are limits, however, to how much disappointment there can be this time around, because everybody understands that with Trump in the White House and Republicans in control of the Senate, legislating change for the better will be practically impossible before 2021.  Obama’s candidacy in 2008 gave rise to countless illusions.  Largely thanks to that experience, people nowadays are more skeptical and less inclined to expect what is plainly not in the cards.

Even so, I, for one, have no problem being cautiously optimistic that at long last the seeds of change, the kind that is urgently needed, are falling into place.

It isn’t just Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez whose election gives reason for hope, though no one else has done nearly as well at scaring the bejesus out of Fox News commentators and likeminded miscreants, and at forcing mainstream media to take progressive ideas seriously.

Jill Stein and others in the Green Party have been promoting a “Green New Deal” seemingly from time immemorial, but it took Ocasio-Cortez and others like her for the idea to gain traction.  She and others who have lately appropriated the name and the thought behind it might have given the Greens some credit, but what the hell, especially now that they have gone some way on their own in spelling out what a Green New Deal would involve.

AOC has even managed to get away with promoting “radicalism.”  Bringing that term back into public discourse in a positive way is nearly as significant an achievement as Bernie Sanders’ reintroduction of the word “socialism” into the political mainstream.

Sanders’ “socialism,” and presumably also Ocasio-Cortez’s, doesn’t have much to do with the socialism of the socialist tradition.  AOC’s radicalism isn’t all that radical either.  The “scandalously” high marginal tax rates she talked about on “Sixty Minutes” were actually less severe than the rates in force in the Eisenhower era; and the conservation side of the Green New Deal was mainstream in both Democratic and Republican circles just a few decades ago.  Weaning the country off fossil fuels is new – mainly because, decades ago, no one knew how important that is.   But this doesn’t make it radical.  In a healthier political landscape, everybody would be pushing that line because it is simple commonsense.

However, AOC’s proposals are radical indeed compared to what is taken for the limits of the possible in the political mainstream in the United States today.  Politics is said to be the art of the possible; so far, Ocasio-Cortez has not only been exploring the limits of the possible, but also exceeding them, opening up new possibilities.  Brava to her for that, and to her new allies in Congress as well!

There were a lot of smart, articulate and tough newbies elected in November, and there are more seasoned lefties in Congress who, until now, have been, for the most part, going along to get along, but who are not yet entirely coopted, and who, with enough prodding and support from other dissidents in Congress, and, above all, from an organized (and organizing!) citizenry intent on forging a better world, just might find the courage to shatter the chains that, for example, pulled Sanders back into the Clintonite fold after he had, unintentionally but nevertheless assuredly, broken free their hold.

It is even possible, thanks to the midterm elections, that in the future there may actually be some opposition in Congress to giving Israel carte blanche to do whatever it wants to Palestinians who stand in the way of Israeli ethnic cleansing, and more reluctance than in the past to giving the Israeli military blank checks for the wars and depredations it periodically unleashes.

With benighted Christian evangelicals and elderly Jewish Republicans fast becoming Israel’s most ardent supporters in the United States, and with many American Jews finding themselves out of touch with and increasingly embarrassed by the rightward drift of Israeli politics and Israeli society, a sea change in American-Israeli relations is not out of the question – especially if the Netanyahu government, or the government that succeeds it, is clumsy in its efforts to draw the United States into a war with Iran.

If I am right about the nature and trajectory of American attitudes, all it would take to reveal the Israel lobby to be the Paper Tiger I think it already is would be for a few highly placed American politicians conspicuously to call Israel out when circumstances warrant.

Newly elected Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, could be the one to do that.  She is best known around the country now for having said of Trump: “Impeach the motherfucker,” while the cameras were running.   She could easily become better known to history for having introduced a more honorable and just perspective to Democratic Party understandings of Middle Eastern politics than that wretched party has ever known.

For the time being, though, it is her “potty mouth” that they want to talk about on cable news outlets and in what passes for a quality press.  That Republicans, in thrall to Donald Trump, would find the word “motherfucker” out of bounds is risible, and that Trump would voice similar sentiments is absurd.  That Democrats would then bleat on sanctimoniously about the importance of taking some more decorous “high road” is not nearly as ridiculous.  It is pathetic, however.

Of course, what really got the goat of the Democratic Party’s wise men (and women) was not the word “motherfucker,” but Tlaib’s call to get the motherfucker impeached.

This is what the Democratic Party base fervently desires, and what the Party establishment and its media flunkies want to prevent.  They want to stifle impeachment talk and delay impeachment action long enough for Trump removal to become an issue in the 2020 election, not before.

It seems that they don’t want to shake the cages of Trump supporters, because they fear a backlash. True to form, Democrats make a virtue of their own pusillanimity.

If only those “founding fathers” hadn’t made it so difficult to get rid of presidents before their terms expire.  If only Americans could change presidents and their administrations as easily as the citizens of other liberal democracies can correct their own mistakes.

Nancy Pelosi is determined that Democrats not even try – unless, of course, G-Man Mueller comes up with a case against Trump that is so damning that even rank cowards would feel obliged to act upon it.

Pelosi is a one per-center’s one per-center, a corporate Democrat, with a net worth along with her husband of some one hundred twenty million dollars.  Robert Mueller is essentially a cop.  Maybe it will all work out even so.  Pelosi is said to be a tough cookie and a whiz at the ways of the legislative branch, and the conventional wisdom has it that, notwithstanding his dedication to the forces of order and service to the ruling class, Mueller is a straight arrow.  Even so, with so much at stake, it is astonishing that an ostensibly progressive opposition would put so much faith in the likes of those two.

Liberals these days will venerate pretty much anybody whom they can contrast with Trump, even John McCain and George H.W. Bush.  Obviously, they could do worse than Pelosi and Mueller.  But they could also do better.

No one knows yet what Mueller is up to or how his investigation will bear on the likelihood of Trump’s impeachment, but Pelosi was impeachment averse in 2006 and she is showing every sign of being impeachment averse again today.

Had she let Democrats go forward with impeachment when she first became Speaker, the death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were perpetrating might have diminished somewhat.

But she thought then that it was more important to elect Hillary Clinton president in 2008, and that impeachment would put her election in jeopardy.  When the time came, she was able to pivot gracefully form Clinton to Barack Obama.  Nothing else changed, however, and so the war dragged on.  It still does, and she is still up to her old tricks.

Is she right about impeaching Trump?  Might impeachment now do more harm than good?

As Bill Clinton, might say, it all depends on what impeachment is.  Clinton was our last president to undergo the process, and is therefore entitled to some deference in these matters. He also deserves credit for the artful, lawyerly his depositions concerning Monica Lewinsky misled through literal truthfulness.  His prevarications have become legendary and should therefore be honored.

In the system laid upon us by those founding fathers of ours, an impeachment is like an indictment. To impeach an official, a president in this case, is to charge him (or her) with “high crimes and misdemeanors” or other impeachable offenses.  Impeachment by itself does not remove a president from office; for that, an impeached president must be tried in the Senate, where 2/3 of the Senators must vote to convict.

Therefore, with the Senate as it now is, the impeachment process will not remove Trump from office.  Of course, Republicans could suddenly start growing brains or some of them might develop a moral sense; or events could transpire — perhaps thanks to the Mueller probe, directly or indirectly — that alter the probabilities.   Otherwise, Trump is safe as can be.

It is relevant too that nobody really knows what “high crimes and misdemeanors” means. Inasmuch as the Constitution’s authors wanted to make it difficult, if not impossible, to overturn the results of elections, the indeterminacy surrounding the expression was probably intentional.  It could also be fatal to efforts to get Trump out of the White House. While there is little doubt that, on any plausible interpretation, he has committed impeachable offenses, probably quite a few, determined Senators could always conclude otherwise.

In addition to his high crimes and misdemeanors there is also Trump’s obvious violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause and the possibility of concluding that his purported “collusion” with Russian oligarchs was tantamount to treason, another impeachable offense.

However, in the end, to impeach or not to impeach is not the question.  Inasmuch as ought implies can, and as long as a two-thirds majority for conviction in the Senate is necessary to convict, removal by impeachment is a practical impossibility.

Trump could well leave the White House before his term expires – for health, especially mental health, reasons, or to save his businesses and his wealth, or because he negotiates a way to keep himself and his family out of prison in exchange for his resignation.   But removing him from office by “impeaching the motherfucker” in the way that Tlaib and so many others would like is not a real option.

It still does make sense, however, for the House of Representatives to get the process going and perhaps even to draw up articles of impeachment.  They could and should hold hearings and investigate every lead, twist, and turn to the hilt.

If the first order of business these days cannot be to remove Trump from office, then the next best thing is to put obstacles in his way.  Aggressive, well-conducted investigations would serve that purpose, even if they lead to nowhere else.

Of course, it would be better in a democracy to vote him and his cohort out of office.  But with that option now foreclosed for some twenty-three months, this is the best we can do.


What has any of this to do with obsession of the hour: Trump’s wall.  The short answer is nothing.  But Trump befogs minds, causing ideas to take bizarre turns.  The answer therefore is also: everything.

The conventional wisdom is that the fate of the Trump presidency depends on that wall – because if it goes, so does his base, and therefore so would his get-out-of-impeachment-free card, as Republican Senators up for reelection would feel pressured to let the loser go.

The longer Trump’s (partial) government shutdown continues, the more pressure there will be.  It helps that, as it happens, states with Republican Senators up for reelection in 2020 are generally more dependent on federal government assistance and largesse than most, and that a lot of federal workers live in many of them.

It is apparently of little or no concern to hardcore Trump supporters that the very idea of a concrete wall across the entire southwest border is the epitome of stupidity or that scaling back in various ways – either by using steel slats or some other material instead of concrete or by leaving some areas without any physical barrier doesn’t change that basic assessment.

As an accomplished conman, Trump probably does have a feel for what his most ardent supporters want.   If he is right – that what they want is a wall — then Hillary Clinton was too kind when she described the Trump base as a “basket of deplorables.”

But whether he needs it to work his con or merely to stroke his vanity, the bottom line remains; he wants a wall as much or more than anyone in his base.  Moreover, like a toddler throwing a fit, he will not calm down and he will not take No for an answer.

Even if – indeed, especially if – his obduracy causes workers to go without paychecks, businesses to suffer, and smaller and greater inconveniences to befall nearly everybody, Trump will hold fast.  That is who he is, we are told: a tough guy negotiator.

That is a bit of an exaggeration; calling him a narcissist who cares only about himself would be more on point.

The only way to deal with that is to be as obstinate as he is.

But why not just let the motherfucker have his way?  He wants 5.7 billion dollars for his wall, a figure that seems arbitrary and would, by most accounts, fall short many times over.  Even so, Trump is talking serious money.

But no matter – unlike most countries nowadays, the United States controls its currency and could therefore, if need be, pay for the wall by printing the money needed to pay for it. Trump’s Great Wall would hardly be the only truly stupid expense the treasury would have to deal with; the Defense Department budget is replete with follies of greater or lesser magnitude.

Neither did Trump and his band of erstwhile deficit hawks bat an eye when they cut taxes on corporations and the hyper rich – for no economically sound reason.

But cost is not the reason not to give Trump his wall.

The reason is that standing up to him decisively, with obduracy equal to or greater than his own, is as good a way as any to hobble his designs.  This is why the Donald must be denied his wall.

It may not bring his presidency down, but it will diminish it, and that will be all to the good.

Therefore, no wall for the baby boy in the septuagenarian body!

Of course, it might turn out that the way to open the government back up will require giving Baby Boy Donald a face saving way to back down. Since Trump thinks he is a great negotiator, he could probably be induced to play along, and  that could turn out well  Let him make one of his vaunted deals, but let it be one that actually does some good.

Trading his stupid wall for a path to citizenship for the “dreamers” would be a start, along with halting the deportations of Haitians and others who have been living in the United States for decades.

And then there is what Richard Nixon, a far more worthy crook than the Donald, might have called “the big enchilada,” the Supreme Court and the other pending appointments to the federal judiciary.

Why not insist, for example, on reinstating the old rules on filibusters?  The iniquitous Mitch McConnell is currently in Trump’s pocket; he could therefore be brought along. Then Ruth Bader Ginsburg could retire in peace, if Senate Democrats could be counted on to do the right thing; and the truly heinous would have a harder time getting lifetime appointments on federal courts.

Also the Donald could get an inkling of what the art of the deal really involves.

Will Democrats be up for that?  Probably not, for the most part; they will want to be, or seem to be, “reasonable” instead.

But maybe Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib and the other newbies will.  Who knows, they might just have started something that will thrive uncoopted and strong.

Categories: News for progressives

Roaming Charges: Que Syria, Syria

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:57

+ You believe pronouncements from this White House at your own peril. Two weeks ago it all seemed so clear. Trump announced out-of-the-blue that he was pulling US troops out of Syria immediately. Having “destroyed” ISIS (and killed several thousand innocent bystanders), the military’s role was finished. It was time for the US troops to leave and redeploy to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Jim Mattis objected and tendered his resignation, effective in February. Mattis’ terse resignation letter, a read-between-the-lines rebuke of Trump and his abrupt withdrawal plan, sparked a rallying cry among the neocons and their new pro-war allies on MSDNC. But Trump held firm and responded by evicting Mattis from his post immediately. Wonderful! The most honorable move Trump has made during his presidency.

But hold on. Was it all a just put-on to distract from Trump being outfoxed on live TV by Chuck and Nancy? Did anyone check with John Bolton? Apparently not, because Bolton reassured an anxious Bibi Netanyahu that the US was going to be staying in Syria until all remnants of ISIS were crushed into the dust (along many more innocent bystanders), US-backed Kurdish fighters in Rojava were protected from any assaults by Turkey or Assad and Iran pulled its fighters out of Syria. Notably, Trump didn’t fire Bolton for his apparent impertinence. Instead, he seemed to wilt, saying “I never said, we were leaving now.” But whenever Trump says “I never said,” you know he said it.

Some would have you believe that Bolton is an outlier, a Deep State implant. But Bolton was handpicked by Trump to replace the hated McMaster as National Security Advisor. Bolton was Trump’s man. He says what Trump can’t or won’t.

+ Yet, how long will it be before MSDNC anchors start referring to John Bolton as the new Adult in the Room?

+ Who says Trump didn’t fully grasp Lincoln’s “team of rivals” approach to his cabinet? He’s the first president with three National Security Advisors serving at the same time: Bolton, Erdogan and Netanyahu…

+ How Trump’s Syrian “withdrawal” is working in practice: More troops are being sent to Syria in order to remove non-essential equipment.

+ All of this is grim news for the people of Syria, where the death toll now tops 560,000, more than 20,800 of them children. Was the price worth it Mr. Assad, Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin, Mr. Bin Salman and Mr. Trump? Que Syria, Syria…

+ Meanwhile, Pompeo Maximus gave a disgusting speech in Cairo this week. But in stream of bigoted filth, this passage with it’s revealing typo (a textbook case study in Freudian parapraxis), really stands out:

“In World War II, American GIs helped free North America[i] from Nazi occupation. Fifty years later, we assembled a coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Would the Russians or Chinese come to your rescue in the same way, the way that we have?”

Apparently, those GI’s forgot to liberate Iowa from Steve King. (The Soviets lost 8 million liberating half of Europe from the Nazis and the Chinese lost 10-15 million fighting Imperial Japan.)

+ Speaking of John Bolton. In 1981, journalist Robert Scheer interviewed Dr. Charles Kupperman, then a defense analyst for the ultra-hawkish Committee on the Present Danger, about the prospects of nuclear war with the Soviet Union for his book, With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush and Nuclear War. Cribbing from Col. Buck Turgidson, Kupperman, who has just been appointed deputy National Security Advisor to Bolton, argued that the US could win a nuclear exchange that left 20 million or so dead.

Scheer: Do you think we are overly influenced by physicists who emphasize the danger of nuclear war and nuclear escalation?

Kupperman: No, but I think the images Americans have been brought up with about nuclear war are not accurate, and it is certainly a more popular argument to say there are no survivors, there’s no way you can win a nuclear war, that it is too horrible to think about. That appeals to human emotions, and really precludes serious and rational thinking about it.

Scheer: Do you think it possible for a democratic society to survive?

Kupperman: I think it is possible for any society to survive, and I think that a democratic society would want to survive.

Scheer: I mean an all-out nuclear war.

Kupperman: It depends on what one considers all-out. If the objective in a war is to try to destroy as many Soviet civilians and as many American civilians as is feasible, and the casualty levels approach 150 million on each side, then it’s going to be tough to say you have a surviving nation after that. But depending on how the nuclear war is fought, it could mean the difference between 150 [million] casualities and 20 million casualties. I think that is a significant difference, and if the country loses 20 million people, you may have a chance of surviving after that.

Scheer: Would that mean the other nation would survive as well? You’re not talking about winning a nuclear war, you’re talking about a stalemate of some kind.

Kupperman: It may or may not be a stalemate, depending on who had more surviving national power and military power.

Scheer: So you think it is possible to win?

Kupperman: I think it is possible to win, in the classical sense.

Scheer: What does that mean: “in the classical sense”?

Kupperman: It means that it is clear after the war that one side is stronger than the other side, the weaker side is going to accede to the demands of the stronger side.

+ One of the very few people in America who is more lame-brained than Trump is Washington Post columnist and neocon-on-parole Max Boot, who wrote an absurd column on Trump’s loopy history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, wherein Boot concluded that Trump was parroting talking points from Putin. What evidence in his history would lead anyone to believe that 1.) Trump, even hyped on Adderall, has the capacity and patience to read the briefing book Moscow covertly sent him; 2.) that hours later he would correctly remember what he had read?

+ This spectacle down on the border was even more pitiful than Hillary’s “landing under sniper fire” trip to Bosnia, as Trump’s Crisis of the Soul tour took him into the free-fire zone of McAllen, Texas, the 20th safest city in the United States.

From the Southern Border….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2019

+ Trump in the span of a few minutes in a recent press conference:

“I can declare a national emergency and build the wall myself; the wall is already being built; Mexico is paying for the wall through a trade deal that hasn’t been approved by Congress; I need Congress to appropriate $5.6 billion for the building of my wall, because I never said Mexico would send a check…”

+ People are worried that Trump sullied the Oval Office by telling lies during his primetime diatribe on immigration. Isn’t this where presidents go to lie? LBJ on Vietnam, Nixon on Cambodia, Carter on Afghanistan, Reagan on Iran, Poppy on crack, Clinton on Serbia, Bush on WMDs, Obama on Libya…

+ Number of terrorists arrested on the Southern Border: 0, which includes CIA asset Luis Posada Corrilles, who freely crossed the border many times, after his role the bombing of Cubana Air FL 455…

+ There were 2000 suspected or known terrorists recorded coming in and out of JFK airport and those are just the flights taken by Henry Kissinger…

+ After handing out M&Ms to Chuck and Nancy, Kevin and Steve, Mitch and Mike, Trump asked Nancy if she was prepared to allocate money for his dream wall. Nancy said No and Trump reportedly blurted, “This is a waste of time. Bye-bye.” And walked out of the Situation Room in a huff. “Walked out of the room?” That doesn’t sound very Trump-like. Are we sure he didn’t putter away in his golf cart?

+ Trump was very concerned on Tuesday night about Mexican immigrants entering the US with a desire to “dismember” innocent Americans. Will he use the same standard to deny entry into the US for members of the House of Saud?

+ Trump: “They say a wall is a medieval solution. But it worked.” Except when it didn’t See: The Seven Sackings of Rome.

+ One persuasive argument that Trump may be keeping in his back pocket: If we don’t have a Wall, where will we put all of the Redneck Mothers…?

+ Where are the Weapons of Mass Immigration?

+ Who will pay for the wall? Homeless Puerto Ricans (most of Trump’s base can’t tell them from Mexicans).

+ Trump: “The wheel is older than the wall.” Did he learn this from the BC comic strip or a Journey song?

+ The wheel was developed around 5500 BCE in Mesopotamia (don’t let any of those people into the country). The first wall probably erected around 11,000 BCE.

+ Donald Trump Jr. (Uday to his friends) has compared the southern border wall to a fence at the zoo protecting the onlookers from predatory animals. The son really is more repellent than his sperm donor…

+ When Jr. goes to the zoo, he always takes his rifle.

+ The more stentorian Mike Pence sounds, the more infantile the content of what he’s saying. Aside: Notice how his hair doesn’t move, regardless of the wind speed?

+ Arrests of families at the southern border have broken records for the past four months in a row. If you can’t find a terrorist to arrest, just snatch a kid and its mom, and then send them to separate detention camps.

+ Give me my Wall or I’ll make sure more of them will die! At least 22 immigrants have died in US custody in the Trump era. That’s 10 more than were refused entry on the southern border on suspicion of being a “terrorist.”

+ AMLO: “Trump’s wall is his problem. We’re not paying for it.

+ US Marines pled guilty to a scheme to smuggle $1 million worth of cocaine from Colombia into the US on military transport planes. Looks like we may need a wall that’s 30,000 feet tall.

+ On Tuesday, ICE arrested an El Salvadoran mother named Roxana Orellana Santos during a routine check-in with the agency. This happens all the time now, but Orellana Santos’ case is different. In 2008, she was accosted without reason, except that she appeared to be Hispanic, by police in Frederick, Maryland while she was having lunch. The officers ran her ID and arrested her on an outstanding immigration warrant. This was a clear case of “eating while brown.” Orellana Santos sued and won a major federal court ruling against the county in 2017. Her detention this week by ICE, only a few days before the court was set to determine the amount of damages Orellana Santos is owed for her wrongful arrest, seems to be a clear case of retaliation.

+ Trump whisperer Lou Dobbs is urging the president to invoke a National Emergency. Not simply for the purpose of building a border wall, but to “simply sweep aside the recalcitrant left in this country.”

Dobbs: Trump should "declare a national emergency, and simply sweep aside the recalcitrant left in this country"

— Brendan Karet

Categories: News for progressives

A Potentially Tectonic Event Shakes up the Mumia Abu-Jamal Case

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:56

In a huge potential break in the long-running and controversial case of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently serving a life-without-parole term in a Pennsylvania state prison at Mahonoy, PA for murder conviction, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office says it has discovered six banker storage boxes of materials about the case in a locked storeroom of the DA’s offices at 3 South Penn Square.

The boxes, spotted by Krasner himself during a search of the previously locked storeroom for an office desk, reportedly had the name “McCann” scrawled on their facing side, apparently referring to Edward McCann, the long-time head of the DA’s homicide litigation unit (McCann left the DA’s office in 2015). When the boxes were removed from under the desk, it was discovered that the name “Mumia” was written on the their hidden ends.

Five of the boxes were reportedly numbered 18/29, 21/29, 23/29, 24/29 and 29/29. The sixth box had no number on it. The department’s Mumia case record is stored in boxes numbered 1-32 and includes boxes similarly numbered to those found in the storeroom.

The newly located cardboard crates, which contain case files, evidentiary material and other materials relating to the Mumia case, are going to be provided to the defense for their inspection, according the DA’s office.

The significance of  this surprising discovery by Krasner, a prominent progressive defense attorney who won election as DA in November 2017 and moved into the DA’s office last January, is that if those boxes contain any evidentiary material that was improperly withheld from the defense, and if what was withheld proved significant enough that it might potentially have led the original jury to a different conclusion — for example a non-unanimous decision to convict — it could be grounds for seeking a retrial of the case.

Even if such evidence were less obviously significant, it could open the door for the defense to seek a new Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) hearing at the level of the court of common pleas. At such a hearing both sides — the defense and the DA’s office — would be able to make arguments and even, depending on the evidence found, to subpoena witnesses — potentially even witnesses from the original trial who could be re-questioned under oath.

The discovery of the crates comes at a critical juncture for Abu-Jamal, who has spent 29 years on death row and a total of 38 years in prison after having his death penalty for conviction in the 1981 shooting death of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner vacated on Constitutional grounds.

Just two weeks ago, Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker issued an order ruling that four important PCRA appeals by Abu-Jamal, including his first lengthy and contentious PCRA hearing in 1995 at which all of the important evidence in the prosecution’s case was challenged before the original trial Judge Albert Sabo, needed to be re-appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Judge Tucker ruled that all four of those appeals, each of which was summarily rejected by the state’s high court, had been unfair because one of the Supreme Court justices, Ronald Castille, had, from 1986-1991, been Philadelphia DA, where he was in charge of the assistant DAs tasked with fighting Abu-Jamal’s appeal of his conviction. Tucker said that even if there was no documentary evidence of Justice Castille’s direct involvement in that appeal fighting process, the mere appearance of a conflict of interest meant he should have recused himself from discussions of and deciding on those appeals. Instead, Castille participated in high court’s majority decision to reject all four appeals.

Following hearings that preceded his ruling, Judge Tucker had ordered a thorough search of the DA’s office in an effort to locate any memos or other documents that might link former DA Castille to his office’s handling of Abu-Jamal’s case. While no Castille memo turned up, Krasner’s office, which had assigned a paralegal to the search, did locate two memos about the case with questions addressed to Castille, but never found his response.

The six crates, interestingly, were discovered on Dec. 28, just a day after Judge Tucker’s ruling was issued.

Krasner’s office still has not responded to the judge’s decision, which would have to be appealed by his office within 30 days, or in other words, by January 26. No other party or agency besides the Philadelphia District Attorney has standing to appeal it, meaning if DA Krasner does nothing, it will stand.

Radio station WHYY, in a local news report Thursday, quoted retired Assistant DA McCann, whose name was on all the newly discovered case document crates, as saying he “doubted” there would be any new evidence undisclosed to the Mumia defense team found in them. McCann suggested that the contents may have been all photocopies of material the defense has already seen.

The defense team, which declined to comment, believes McCann is wrong, and clearly will be going through the materials in the boxes with a fine-tooth comb looking for signs of evidence not disclosed to the defense at trial. (It’s worth noting that nobody in the DA’s office anticipated that Krasner would take over an office that for generations has been run by hard-line prosecutors less concerned with justice than with winning cases, and willing to bend the rules or overlook police or prosecutorial conduce in order to win convictions.)

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has become a powerful voice from inside what he calls the US “prison industrial complex,” whose original trial was widely seen as a corrupt travesty of justice, and whose freedom has been sought by supporters around the world who see the progressive journalist and former Black Panther as a political prisoner, is far from over.

Categories: News for progressives

There Are More Important Things Than The Truth

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:56

All that I want

Is to wake up fine

Tell me that I’m alright

That I ain’t gonna die

All that I want

Is a hole in the ground

You can tell me when it’s alright

For me to come out

— Paramore, Hard Times

We are living in times of mass inequality. The concerns of a “decent” and “civil” society in the age of Trump ring hallow to all of us struggling to get by. The rich are alarmed by Donald Trump because he lies, and lies proudly. The rich know that in order to stay rich at a criminal rate, they need sophisticated propaganda. Donald Trump is stupid. Crisis for the rich.

Yet, not really. Donald Trump’s detractors are educated, but stupid. In fact, they may be, in their own way, even more hopeless than the Trump fascists, seeing as they are more sure of themselves, despite being completely wrong. Donald Trump is scolded for his uncivil lying. He is fact-checked at every turn. I wonder what they get out of fact-checking Donald. Who reads a Donald Trump fact-check and changes their mind? If you like Trump, you will know that the fact-checking is fake news, although your impression of real news is likely to be the openly fascist Fox News, who has kept truth out with a steel wall. Fox almost seems to racially profile truth, as if all truth is bad. There is a clear prejudice there. If you don’t like Trump, you will read a Trump fact check and find out that Trump has been lying—something you already knew but just felt good about confirming.

Liberals are only concerned about truth because it is the one thing that separates them and the conservatives. Liberals lie, and lie a lot of course, but let me explain this “opinion” of mine. The liberal media’s crime is not lying—as Donald Trump claims. Their main crime is the omission of the class struggle. Their main crime is being funded by the 1% and reporting in the interests of the 1%. If the liberal media lied at the same clip as Donald Trump, what would they call Trump? They couldn’t call him a liar.

What the liberal media can do is choose which stories to talk about. Russiagate is the most obvious example. While the mainstream media does lie about Russia, they generally say accepted truths, which are, in broad terms, hard to disprove, in a society largely ignorant of Russia. But I don’t think any of us Americans really care about Russia. We like the idea of a foe in the battle ring and we hate communism, but that’s about it, and Russia isn’t interested in fighting us or going communist, so what gives?

No, the bigger crime in relation to Russia is that they are in the news every day. Hours and hours of speculation and fear-mongering that jumps to hostile and misleading conclusions. But hardly ever do the mainstream media need to outright lie to get there. The sheer amount of coverage creates a paranoia around Russia. The speculation itself creates suspicion. The frightened experts create reasonable doubt. Yes, one big lie such as “weapons of mass destruction” may need to be said to push us over the edge, but the majority of the time lies are not even necessary. Quick side note in relation to that reference. I saw Vice. A courageous film to make. Excellent acting. I fell asleep and missed most of the movie. Maybe that was Cheney’s fault.

Likewise, the war on Yemen was never covered until a journalist from Jeff Bezo’s propaganda paper was killed there (the individual reporter was certainly admirable in my opinion). Climate change is often classified as a human problem (fine) but no one ever simply says the 1% are killing us all. There are many cooking recipes available in your corporate paper, but few stories on the housing crisis. That’s not fake news, that’s just the priorities of the 1%.

As the Democrats gear up for a larger role in 2018 with an eye on 2020, we once again see the liberal media scapegoating the leftish side of the Democrat Party. Imperialist capitalist monsters live within all shades of Democrat, but some are far less “pro-business” than others, and always get picked on.

The attacks on Bernie Sanders have always been relentless. Like the Russia narrative, there is simply little, if anything, there. But the sheer amount of stories and the hysteria generated around them are designed to scare the public. Any positive things about Sanders (including his reign as America’s most popular politician) are buried. Lies about Sanders may be rare, but petty stories are commonplace. Likewise, scare tactics about “democratic socialism” are always very vague and ominous, with little serious scholarship on socialism at all, as if that was ever the intention!

Bernie’s safety word “democratic socialism” uses that awful “democratic” in front of it, and I see why now. It is because Bernie’s socialism is always coded in the American idea of democracy. America’s democracy has always relied upon on imperialism abroad and some form of class and racial human rights violations at home. It has, especially lately, relied on this imperialism being an expression of liberal democracy. It is based in private property as an expression of democracy—with the individual overcoming the community being assumed as an expression of democracy. This inevitably places the earth as something to be owned and exploited, with each individual (company) having a right to do this being an expression of democracy. And of course, democracy and the right to speak itself has always had a certain class, gender, race, sexuality, able-bodied and aged assumptions itself. Nature is perhaps most hurt by the concept of democracy as it fundamentally is denied a voice precisely because we do not speak Her language. Likewise, the colonized, the immigrant and those who are victims of our imperialist blunders get no voice in our democracy.

Bernie is going to be our President in 2020 then for both reasons good and bad. Good in that he speaks to the American working class majority in ways that no politician has in a long time. Bad because even America’s definition of socialism relies on imperialist assumptions of economic growth, subversion of nature and imperialist misadventure. Regardless, it appears inevitable that Bernie will win in a landslide. It is also nearly inevitable that sabotage of Bernie by both himself and others will happen, and may derail what should come naturally.

What say you? This piece is arguing against both truth and democracy. How Trumpian! Perhaps. But it is not that these values aren’t important, it is that these values themselves are not tangible, and therefore are of focus to the materialist based capitalists. Truth and democracy can be given to us very easily—not in reality—for this has damning implications for the ruling class, but as concepts and slogans because these values can be manipulated. What cannot be manipulated are tangible wins for the working class which should be of more importance. Access to health care, social benefits, clean environments, well-funded schools, food stamps, housing, etc. These are things that can be counted and are of no interest to the ruling class who are obsessed with fascism.

They obsess over fascism because no one knows what it is and no one can agree what it is. Stopping fascism is such a dangerous goal precisely because of its undemocratic implications. This fact is lost on the ruling class as they fret about democracy. The truth is that if the country wants to be fascist, what should a person interested in democracy really be doing? It’s sort of a catch-22. A paralyzing, conversation ending catch-22. Why not aim for tangible goals for the working class instead?

The young Bernie (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) has already proven to be more feisty than Master Sanders. More reckless too. Would she have rolled over for Crooked Hillary so quickly? Given her deference to Democrats, maybe so. But she has signs of life, spontaneous life! We’ll see what happens with her.

It’s hard to fall in love with anyone in American politics. But Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez can be admired in a lot of ways. When thinking about lying I was reminded of some trouble Ocasio-Cortez got in for a “wild” claim that the Pentagon was wasting money and that it could be spent on health care. This claim of course needed to be fact-checked. Why? Because it was true. And the larger truth can always be lost on the specifics.

Part of the charm of Ocasio-Cortez is that she shoots from the hip and is not such a whiny liberal when it comes to conventional wisdom. She’s like Trump in this way, and it’s appealing. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all proposal is said to cost 32 trillion over 10 years. AOC said that 2/3 of this budget could be paid through the Pentagon’s accounting errors. She cites The Nation, which actually accounts for how this is basically a correct statement at face value in their exposé.

The big scandal is that while the Pentagon eats up 54% of our nation’s budget, it can avoid an audit and lie about how much it spends each year. Now the mainstream media gets lost in the specifics. Well, they say, who cares if we are literally missing 21 trillion dollars that could keep 2/3rds of our country healthy for a decade. We’ll skip over this fact and point out that AOC couldn’t really just bring that money over. It’s not all kept in some vault somewhere! Yes, they literally were upset with AOC for implying that the money, while lost, couldn’t be spent on the working class. How dare you say you found the money when we are still hiding it!

The Washington Post gives Ocasio-Cortez four Pinocchios for this. Good for her! Who on earth really believes the 137 billion dollar man Jeff Bezos. Why does he get to buy a newspaper and decide who is telling the truth. After sleeping with his friend’s wife, Bezos is getting divorced and could lose half his money! His ex-wife is said to be getting 69 billion, the first 69 I’m sure she has gotten from Bezos, even though it has been rumored that he still does the dishes (good guy).

One of the fears of our society going communist is that all individual rights will be given up to a tyrant dictator. And maybe, maybe so. But does anyone really care that Donald Trump is a fascist, outside of the ruling class? Does anyone care that he degrades our cherished institutions already hijacked by neoliberal capital? There are concrete actions Trump takes that hurt the working class. People are losing food stamps soon because he is closing down the government, to name one of many examples. But as for his role as a dictator and his assault on the precious rule of law embodied by Bob Meuller? No one cares besides a few crusty lawyers and political hacks.

If Donald Trump were to lock up all his political enemies while transforming trade, war, infrastructure and health care in this country as he promised to do, I would call him a great President. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done anything productive politically. He has been the working class’s number one enemy. The ruling class is thriving under Trump. Perhaps this exposes a link between fascism and capitalism, perhaps not.

Regardless, the hurt felt in this country right now has little to do with Trump’s disdain for civic values. He has continued the assault on unions, on education, on the environment, on health care, on social spending. He’s a neoliberal. An extreme neoliberal.

America expresses free speech through imperialism and private property. These are the ultimate freedoms, granted in practice only to the ultra-rich. America is a very individualist culture. We hold great value in individual expression and free speech. These are coded values. Protest is a crime, that is one way this is coded. Real resistance will still be met with prison and assault by the police. The poor have no right to speak.

But this is a concern mostly because the poor must speak. They must speak for their right to survive because the rich won’t let them. For the rich person in a big house and a fancy car, self-expression becomes the most important, if not the only value. As soon as a strong man like Trump comes in the world has been shook for the rich man who believed in a civil society where the whole game was rigged for him.

The poor must speak, but they also must eat, drink, breathe, get shelter, health care, education and live in peace. Such rights are denied by the United States. Political expression is celebrated, while material uplift is disdained. The ruling class weaves itself a web of satisfied narcissism that disdains a dictator and celebrates a society that gives speech as its only right.

Lies now are being criminalized. There are attempts to criminalize dissent of Israel. Getting overly concerned with who is lying and who isn’t is a mistake. The ruling class’s definition of lies may not always be false in their basis, but they are morally wrong in who gets criminalized for speech.

So, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, lie away! Throughout human history the ruling class has lied to maintain its power. The idea of free speech and the truth that comes with it are privileged by the ruling class. For the rest of us we want health care, we want to pay rent, we want clean air and water, we want food, we want peace. As Donald Trump rips families apart, liberals are offended that he lied to them about it.

There is nothing moral about a society that is giving 95% of its economic growth to the top 1%. Donald Trump hangs on only because he knows that the ruling class has no moral authority anymore. Enough whining about the truth. If you want people to believe the truth, give them an education, or better yet, a roof over their heads. Until that happens, expect the scapegoating of immigrants and all the lies behind it to ring true. And the biggest crime will not be the lie that brought us over the edge, but the condition created that fostered a society where truth did not matter anymore. There are more desperate needs here so when a man like Trump says he can help we do not ask him if he is telling the truth, we only ask how we get to somewhere, anywhere better.

Categories: News for progressives

How Trump’s Insults and Lies are Harming America

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:56

Who is going to be the first reporter to stand up at a president’s media harangue and ask the simple question “what benefit is there to the United States in insulting allied countries and their leaders?”  Might anyone ask him why international approval ratings for his country are “much lower than during Barack Obama’s presidency.”

And perhaps most important, who will look at him and demand “Mr President, why did you tell a lie about [insert subject here]?”

One of the most outrageous and instantly detectable lies he has told was during a speech to soldiers in Iraq on December 26 when he said “you just got one of the biggest pay raises you’ve ever received . . .  It’s great. You know what? Nobody deserves it more. You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years – more than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one. They had plenty of people that came up. They said, ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent.’ I said, ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’”

The Washington Post pointed out that the pay raise Trump authorized this year amounted to 2.6 percent, not 10 percent. And the troops have received a pay raise every year for decades” which brings us to consideration of a general observation by Healthcare that “Pathological liars tend to tell lies that seem to be geared at gaining admiration, sympathy, or acceptance by others.”

During his fleeting visit to a US military base in Iraq President Trump declared “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world. It’s not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States . . . We’re no longer the suckers, folks. We’re respected again as a nation.”  The world then fell about laughing at the irony of this bizarre pronouncement which was made in a country that had been invaded and reduced to chaos by the burden-laden international policeman.

The President of the United States was visiting a war-torn region in which there are some 5,000 US troops stationed by mutual agreement, and the New York Times reported that  “about 100 American servicemen and women, some of whom were wearing red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps, greeted Mr Trump with a standing ovation . . . He and Mrs Trump spent about 15 minutes there talking with the troops.”

He had flown for eleven hours to Iraq to deliver an inappropriately political harangue and spend fifteen minutes to talking with the troops of whom he is commander-in-chief.  And he didn’t meet one single Iraqi, which is an even more serious matter.

Trump has no idea about how to behave in a situation demanding plain ordinary good manners. He cannot comprehend that diplomacy requires expertise and civility and is unable to understand that the conduct of international affairs rests largely upon basic courtesies.

It is essential that any head of state visiting another country should pay respect to that nation by calling on its head of state.  (There are some carefully contrived exceptions : between the US and Germany, for example, this is not necessary, which accounts for the fact that Trump could stopover at the US base at Ramstein for refueling and more photo-ops without any inconvenient Germans poking their noses into his territory.  (Was the German government informed that Trump was passing through?)  But during Trump’s three hour stay in Iraq he didn’t call on President Barham Ahmed Salih.

Nor did he see the most important political figure in Iraq, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who had expected to meet him when he lobbed into his country for a hurried public relations fandango with US military personnel.  But he didn’t.  It wasn’t convenient for Trump to meet any citizens of the country in which he spent so little of his valuable time.

According to CNN the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office stated “There was supposed to be a formal reception and a meeting between Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the US President, but a variation of views to organize the meeting led it to be replaced by a telephone conversation.”  What actually happened was that the President of the United States did not meet the Prime Minister of Iraq because the prime minister refused to obey a summons to go to the US air base to call on Trump, and it was too dangerous for the president to travel to the prime minister’s office.

It could not be guaranteed that President Donald Trump, the commander-in-chief of the largest and most potent military forces in the world, to cost 716 billion dollars in 2019, would be safe if he travelled a few miles from an American military base to the center of Baghdad.

The insult to the Iraqi nation and the astonishing indicator of military impotence were little mentioned in the western mainstream media, which focused on Trump’s speech to the soldiery.  In this he delivered a vulgar denunciation of his political opponents and told a downright lie in claiming he had arranged a pay rise for members of the armed services.

Trump’s Iraq jaunt was a sad embarrassment.  Sad, because the United States does not deserve a head of state whose behavior is erratic and whose blatant lies seem to be unchallenged by even his closest advisers. On December 21 the Washington Post noted that Trump had made 7,546 “false or misleading claims” which is undoubtedly an all-time record, but one that must cause anxiety and grave disquiet rather than derision (which is probably the first reaction of most people), and give rise to speculation about what might come next.

The Post’s Glenn Kessler opined that “The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.”

But it isn’t only “national” — because the international community is worried about Trump’s erratic pronouncements and impulsive behavior.

Trump has insulted many countries and their leaders, notably Germany in the context of defense spending, and after a series of malicious remarks about NATO and Europe in mid-2018 the European Council President Donald Tusk was moved to advise Trump to calm down. He appealed semi-jovially for America to “appreciate your allies. After all you don’t have that many,” and more seriously pointed out to “Dear President Trump” on July 10 that “America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today Europeans spend on defense many times more than Russia and as much as China,” which of course is not the answer wanted by Trump or the Washington Establishment which is intent on confrontation with both Russia and China.

When Trump unilaterally voided the international agreement with Iran that successfully prevented it from developing a nuclear weapons program, he attracted a joint statement by French President Macron, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister May of Britain which noted that the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the accord is the “binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute.” But this means nothing to Trump, who pays no heed to what is felt and said by his allies in response to his pronouncements and actions.

France and Britain have troops in Syria (which is illegal and most ill-advised; two British soldiers were badly wounded on January 6) but Trump did not consult or even inform these countries’ leaders before issuing a statement indicating that the US would withdraw its contingent of over 2,000.  President Macron’s reaction was to say bluntly that “being allies means fighting shoulder to shoulder, and so an ally must be reliable and coordinate with other allies,” but such expressions of disapproval mean nothing to Trump whose tweeted policy is that it’s “time to focus on our country and bring our youth back home where they belong!”

Quite so.  And for a change he’s right.  But national leaders should not take such fundamentally important action without discussing its implications with allies who have taken considerable risks of all sorts — and by far the most important of these being hazarding the lives of their soldiers — in supporting Washington’s wars.

Trump is careering from crisis to crisis, and the next drama is likely to be Afghanistan from which chaotic country that was invaded by the United States in 2001 he has apparently decided to withdraw some of the 15,000 troops deployed.  He did not consult any of the 38 other countries that (mistakenly) also have military contingents there, and nobody knows what comes next — least of all the Afghan government itself. While it is a good thing that the US is getting its military out of countries where they had no business to be in the first place, it is a recipe for disaster to keep allies in the dark about Washington’s strategic intentions.  It is also potentially disastrous to tell lies to or about them

In July 2018, for example, the Washington Post reported Trump as saying that the NATO countries “had agreed to ‘substantially’ increase their commitment to defense spending, asserting he’d be ‘very unhappy’ if they failed him. But moments later French President Emmanuel Macron flatly declared that they hadn’t agreed to any such increase; our allies remain committed to reaching 2 percent by the middle of the next decade, as previously agreed upon.”  Small wonder that the latest Pew poll shows among other things that “Frustrations with the U.S. in the Trump era are particularly common among some of America’s closest allies and partners. In Germany, where just 10% have confidence in Trump, three-in-four people say the U.S. is doing less these days to address global problems, and the share of the public who believe the U.S. respects personal freedoms is down 35 percentage points since 2008. In France, only 9% have confidence in Trump, while 81% think the U.S. doesn’t consider the interests of countries like France when making foreign policy decisions.”

There is compelling evidence that Trump is a pathological liar, and it is interesting to reflect on an expert’s observation that “a 2016 study of what happens in the brain when you lie found that the more untruths a person tells, the easier and more frequent lying becomes.” It is disturbing, to put it mildly, that a petulant and arrogant individual with a proven compulsion to tell monstrous lies is arguably the most powerful person on the planet.

He is harming his country.

Categories: News for progressives

Sexual Predators in the Era of Trump

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:54

Long after the Trump presidency passes into the historical graveyard, it will be recalled for the scandals involving sexual abuse that occurred during his tenure.  These scandals bespeak the sexual pathology that long characterized the president himself.

A series of revelations about men who take advantage of underage girls has placed the issue of sexual predators at the center of public debate.  These include the financier Jeffrey Epstein and the entertainer R Kelly as well as the male sex tourists traveling overseas to have sex with trafficked young girls.

Lifetime is airing a six-part documentary series, Surviving R. Kelly, that tells the gruesome story of how the entertainer sexually abused African-American girls and women for decades.  Willa Paskin, reviewing the series for Slate, notes: “We chose to ignore his deeds, downplay them, or remain willfully ignorant of them so we could go on enjoying his music. …  We made a deal with the devil on the cheap — let us keep this song! — and had 16-year-old girls pay the exorbitant price.”

Kelly’s sexual exploitation of teenage girls were first revealed in the mid-90s by Jim DeRogatis, the Chicago Sun-Times pop-music critic.  He long covered Kelly musical career, but in 2002 he received two videos from an anonymous source that depicting the pop star engaging in sex with young girls. Working with his colleague Abdon Pallasch, over the years they interviewed innumerable people involved in the case, including dozens of young women Kelly allegedly sexually exploited.  DeRogatis’ articles and the two videos led to criminal charges against Kelly. He went to trial in 2008 and was found not guilty on all 14 charges.

One of the weirdest aspects of the Kelly story that DeRogatis reported on concerns the allegations that he has operated a series of sex cults, essentially imprisoning girls and young women to a form of sex slavery.  These facilities were located in Chicago and the Atlanta suburbs and, as reported, “dictating what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records.”  In a Duluth, GA, “guest house,” a 31-year-old “den mother” “trained” new young women as to “how Kelly liked to be pleasured sexually.” The reporter has also detailed how Kelly paid “hush money” to an underage girl to avoid further litigation.

Numerous women appear in Surviving R. Kelly and testify to the sexual abuse that Kelly inflicted on them.  However, the key experience that shapes the series involves the performer, Aaliyah, Kelly’s protégée and who he married when she was just 15 years old.  They first met during his child-pornography trial and Aaliyah died in a plane crash in August 2001 in the Bahamas. Her mother, Diane Houghton, has challenged the series’ account of her daughter’s relationship with Kelly.

A second prominent sex predator is the financier Jeffrey Epstein.  In 2005, he began to assemble a network of dozens – if not a hundred — underage girls for prostitution. The Miami Herald found about 80 women Epstein allegedly molested or sexually abused over a five-year period, including 36 underage victims.  Some of the girls were only 13 or 14 years old when they were molested.  More damaging revelations involve Trump’s Sec. of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, who, as the U.S. attorney in Miami, brokered what the Herald calls the “deal of a lifetime” so that Epstein received a slap on the risk.

The latest twist in this twisted tale involves the lawyer and TV personality, Alan Dershowitz. Sarah Ransome has alleged in a New York federal court filing that Epstein and his alleged madam, Ghislaine Maxwell, “directed” her in 2006 to have sex with Dershowitz and others.  It’s a claim the attorney adamantly denies.

On September 4, 2015, David Strecker, a 66-year-old Florida resident, was arrested at a Costa Rican airport for violating the country’s law for promoting prostitution and received a five-year sentence. Strecker operated a blog, “Cuba Dave,” celebrating his sexual exploits with girls and young women in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. He was the first person ever tried under the country’s new anti-prostitution law and received a 5-year prison sentence in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is among the leading international destination favored by American sex tourists.  Others include the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, The Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. World Vision Australia estimates 250,000 tourists visit Asia each year for sexual activities with a minor and an estimated 25 percent of sex tourists originate from the U.S.  Men are considered to be the primary sex tourist around the globe with most sex tourism customers coming from middle to upper class backgrounds.

In 2003, the U.S. adopted the PROTECT — Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today — Act.  An Urban Institute study finds that from 2003 to 2012, only 33 individuals were prosecuted under the act.  The study notes, “by prioritizing this crime and enforcing the PROTECT Act, more US citizens and legal US residents traveling overseas for the purposes of sex tourism can be identified and brought to justice.”

Since Harvey Weinstein was outed in October 2017, about 80 women have publicly revealed how they were sexually abused. Many of those accused of such immoral, if not illegal, behavior are among the social elite, including judges, politicians, business execs and entertainers.

Among these men, both white and African-American, are judges Alex Kozinski (CA federal judge) and Ray Moore (R-AL); politicians Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Reps. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Pat Meehan (R-PA), Trent Franks (R-AZ) and John Conyers (D-MI); and entertainers Kevin Spacey (actor), Russell Simmons (co-founder, Def Jam Recordings), Garrison Keillor (host, “A Prairie Home Companion”), Charlie Rose (host, PBS and CBS), Matt Lauer (host, NBC “Today”) and Mario Batali (TV star and chef).

Sadly, in the era of Trump, further revelations about prominent men who are sexual abusers and predators are likely.

Categories: News for progressives

Trump vs. the Anti-Trumps: It’s the System That Needs Changing Not Just the Personnel

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:53

Playing Trump’s game is almost irresistible.  At least, most of his opponents seem unable to resist it.

The name of Trump’s game is Personalistic Moralism.  The President’s politics are not policy-free, but policies in his political universe are inextricably wedded to personal moral characteristics.  If you want the Wall (“border security”), for example, that means you are strong, tough, and protective.  You are knowledgeable about the physical and cultural dangers posed by immigrants, and you care for your fellow Americans.  But what if you don’t want the Wall?  In this case, you are weak, effeminate, ignorant, uncaring, and secretly in favor of “open borders.”

This, by the way, is the text. The subtext, resting on the understanding that the main advocates of plentiful immigration since the nineteenth century have been employers seeking cheap labor, is that those who favor the Wall want to protect native American workers, while those who don’t care only about their profits.  Of course, Mr. Trump worships great wealth and the system that produces it. But his basic political instinct, shared with Far Right ideologues going back to Edmund Burke and Charles Maurras, is to criticize mere moneymaking when it conflicts with ethno-national solidarity and a professed concern for “native” workers.[1]

Trumpism gives a perverse new meaning to the old Movement slogan, “The personal is political.”  It is a mistake, therefore, to consider the President an unprincipled politician with an unfortunate tendency to insult, demean, and threaten his opponents.  Because his own moral character invites contempt, it is easy to forget that Trump is above all a certain type of political moralist. For him, virtue or vice (defined in terms of strength/weakness, masculinity/femininity, loyalty to the national tribe/globalism, and so forth) produce virtuous or vicious policies.  For him, politics is, at bottom, a struggle to defeat immoral and contemptible opponents.

Conflict specialists have long been familiar with this sort of Manichean thinking. If you ask the parties to a serious dispute to name the causes of their conflict, each party will almost always point to their opponents and answer, “They are!”  President Trump’s opponents, however, do not seem to understand that in making attacks on his character their primary strategy they are playing his game, in his stadium, according to his rules.  By doing so, they reinforce the stereotypes of them that Trump has successfully marketed to his base.  Most important, this sort of personalism excludes a form of discourse that is absolutely essential to solving the problems that, unsolved, gave Trump the presidency. I am talking about the discourse of systems and system-change.  

A few examples of current issues in dispute should make this clearer.  For starters, take Trump’s proposed border wall and the issue of immigration.  The Democrats’ principle response to the President’s anti-immigrant campaign has been to portray him as a racist bully and heartless separator of families.  (“How tender-hearted you liberals are,” reply his supporters.  “But he is protecting us!”) Now and then, the Dems offer some legislative proposal said to be an alternative to Trump’s mural obsession, but their “comprehensive immigration reform” packages basically concede his major point – our alleged need for border security – while trying to extract some compensation for the concession, such as protection for the DACA “Dreamers.”

This response is typical.  It involves two “moves”: first, attack Trump’s character, then try to engage in old-fashioned bargaining.  But the bargaining, if it happens, almost always takes place within the boundaries established by existing sociopolitical, and economic systems.  In the case of immigration, what most anti-Trumps will notpropose or discuss are changes in the American system that would make the problem of border security easily soluble, if not obsolete.

For example, when working people voice fears that immigration will endanger their jobs and undermine current wage levels, many self-proclaimed progressives dismiss this as irrational racism and/or xenophobia in action.  Well . . . racism often does play a role in anti-immigrant agitation, but the economic fears of many lower-wage workers are quite well founded.[2]  The answer is notto call them racists and cite statistics showing that the overall effects of immigration on the economy are positive. This is exactly the sort of bureaucratic response that turns working class people into right-wing populists.  It makes far more sense to guarantee resident workers against job losses or wage cuts caused by immigration.

This may seem startling, but is it utopian?  Crazy? Not at all.  It simply requires stepping outside the boundaries set by our existing system and adopting a level of economic intervention in the interest of working people that is currently anathema to free market cheerleaders and their billionaire heroes.  The same sort of planning would also make it possible to direct newcomers to locations where their services are needed, and where they are most likely to be economically successful.  Canada, among other nations, has already taken some steps in this direction.

A second non-utopian solution to the immigration problem has already been proposed by President Lopez Obrador of Mexico. This is to recognize the factors that compel millions of Central Americans to migrate in search of employment and safety and take steps to eliminate or mitigate those factors.  The Mexican President proposes a “Marshall Plan” for Central America.  Why not create and fund an even larger and more comprehensive plan than the modest effort he suggests?  Among other things, this would compensate our southern neighbors to some extent for a century of looting of their economies and corrupting or overthrowing their political leaders!  And, we could easily pay for such a plan, with enormous sums left over for other worthwhile social projects, by slashing the wildly bloated U.S. military budget.

But, wait!  The military budget, it turns out, is a key part of the same system that requires radical alteration if we are to deal successfully with the immigration issue. Remember the military-industrial complex?  This huge, government-sponsored economic sector – an oligarchy if ever there was one – is kept afloat by practicing what Paul Krugman calls “weaponized Keynesianism.”[3]  By entering into enormously profitable cost-plus contracts with favored producers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and United Technologies, the government adds significant demand to an economy plagued by congenital overproduction.  This system will notbe changed unless two things happen.  First, we need to rethink and decide to dismantle the American Empire, which requires the U.S. to maintain global military supremacy, not just sufficient force for self-defense.  Second, we need to figure out how to convert the military-industrial complex into a system that produces needed civilian goods and public services, and to do this in a way that puts it under democratic control.

Could a restructured socioeconomic system solve not only Central America’s poverty problems but our own?  As we know, deep poverty shatters families and neighborhoods, degrades schools and other public services, disempowers communities, lowers life expectancies, and generates crime and mass incarceration.  Furthermore, these conditions, un-remedied, generate or reinforce racism and xenophobia on the part of working people struggling to stay out of poverty and terrified of descending into the abyss.  For half a century, federal and state governments in America have been promising development programs that would rehabilitate ravaged cities and deindustralized or abandoned rural areas, but the only program creating significant jobs in most poor regions has been the illegal drug business.

To change this situation means (a) recognizing that the current socioeconomic order (misleadingly dubbed a “free market” system) actually producespoverty as part of its normal operations; and (b) asking how that dynamic can be changed.  In fact, looking at all the problems mentioned thus far – immigration and nativism, “military Keynesianism,” the vicissitudes of the Empire, deep poverty, and working class/small business insecurity – we find that they are all related to failures and dysfunctions of the same mega-system. That is, they all point to a crisis of American capitalism.

In my view, the solution to these problems will very likely involve a transformation of American socioeconomic life in the direction of socialism.  To put this in a nutshell, we are in desperate need of public institutions capable of managing the economy, guaranteeing decent jobs and incomes, eliminating oligarchical power, and mobilizing people to transform their communities.  But Big Government that is not under democratic control moves toward fascism, so the great question is how to create a system that is fully capable of central planning and authoritative leadership, while fully responsive to workers’ power, local initiatives, and our people’s desire for personal freedom.

Another way of putting this is to say that the crisis of capitalism is also a constitutional crisis.  This means that, however much we may disagree about the likely outcome of the discussion, we have to start talking with each other about how to characterize the breakdown of traditional systems and what kind of social and political arrangements we want to construct to fix or replace them.  Where systems fail, social-constitutional dialogues are the alternative to violent group struggles.  But, they will not take place in America if all we can think and talk about is Donald Trump’s foolishness and brutality, or if all Trump’s supporters can contemplate is our softness and self-righteousness.

Friends, if we do not move the consciousness of system-failure and the need for system-change to the center of our praxis – if we focus simply on replacing obnoxious with more sympaticoleaders – systemic problems will continue to multiply.  And, if this happens, popular movements far more dangerous than Charlottesville’s white nationalists, and authoritarian figures far more dangerous than Mr. Trump. will surely appear on our doorstep.

Do you want a slogan to summarize all this?  Something pithy and a bit provocative?  Consider this one (copyright waived):



[1] Charles Maurras was a French ultra-conservative who founded the anti-Semitic journal, “Action Francaise,” and who is one of Steve Bannon’s intellectual heroes.

[2] See National Research Council, The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (1997), 140: “Therefore, although immigration yields a positive net gain to domestic workers, that gain is not spread equally: it harms workers who are substitutes for immigrants while benefiting workers who are complements to immigrants. Most economists believe that unskilled domestic workers are the substitutes, so their wages will fall, and skilled domestic workers are complements, so their wages will rise.”

[3] Paul Krugman, “Weaponized Keynesianism.” New York Times, June 24, 2009, available at See also Seymour Melman, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War (McGraw Hill 1970)

Categories: News for progressives

Everything the Western Mainstream Media Outlets Get Wrong When Covering Poor Countries

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:53

If you want to find out what’s happening in a poor country, be sure to add tourists to your Google News search.

“Canadian and Italian tourists feared kidnapped in Burkina Faso,” was the recent headline in the BBC, a day after clashes there claimed 46 lives. The BBC didn’t cover the clashes online, nor did they cover a terrorist attack there a few days prior, or the country’s trade deals with China. If the tragic events had happened in Europe though, the media would have been all over it.

We see similar scenarios with the recent media coverage of tourists robbed in Brazil (just as a president who is arguably more racist, sexist, and homophobic than Trump has taken power – yes, it’s possible), of a tourist murdered in Morocco, and the killings in a Mexican tourist resort.

From de-prioritizing the lives of locals in poor countries, to downplaying global inequality, racism, and condescension, the way Western news agencies do international news is deeply harmful. They judge other countries based on the assumption that US and European political and economic standards are the best and only way to do things, and that practice is leading to some seriously discriminatory and damaging outcomes.

As the news becomes increasingly corporatist, with agencies blurring the lines between native advertising and news stories and focusing on clicks over quality, there is little desire to examine this sort of malpractice, let alone rectify it.

A list of deliberate distortions the mainstream media makes about poor countries

1) News discourse is based on the assumption that the only way to do democracy, elections, and economics is the highly dysfunction two-party neoliberalism of the US and Europe. If countries stray from the West’s way of doing politics, or from “free” trade and privatization, they are labelled as tyrannies, dictatorships, regimes, and more. Though the news claims to be unbiased, there is a stark inconsistency in the terminology used for the West and for poor countries.

2) Media coverage of charity and aid from the US and Europe rests on the assumption that such “help” is desired, and that the US and Europe have something to offer poor countries, despite their responsibility for colonizing, looting, enforcing abusive debt repayment, and largely causing the poverty in the first place. The historic and economic context behind the poverty is rarely discussed, creating the impression that poverty has no cause.

3) Media agencies boycott news stories about what people in poor countries are doing, achieving, calling for, hoping for, or building. By omitting this sort of coverage, one gets the false impression that people in poor countries aren’t doing anything about their economic or political situations. That contributes to the myth perpetuated by charities that poor people are incapable and passive and need outside help.

4) Media analysis assumes that institutions in other countries work in the same way as those in the media’s home country. For example, that police and national guards should play the same role in Venezuela as they do in the US, and if they don’t, there is something wrong with them.

5) The media consistently boycotts experts from the actual poor country in question when it comes to quotes and interviews and analyzing what is going on there. Instead, experts are typically US or European white male academics who aren’t in, or have never set foot in the country they judge and opine on. This sort of boycott contributes to the stereotype about who an expert is and what they look like. Hypocritically, the media never invites qualified intellectuals in poor countries to pass judgment on the US or Europe.

6) Related to this, is the belief that poor countries are so simple and similar that a Western journalist can be parachuted in to one to cover a presidential election, for example. These journalists often don’t speak the local language, and don’t know how the local elections work (as I witnessed while covering numerous elections in Venezuela). The media also thinks it is acceptable to use locals to do all the networking work and on-the-ground grunt work as “fixers“, or worse, as unpaid “contacts”, while a Westerner gets the byline credit and much higher pay, for writing up that work.

7) US and European culture is portrayed as the default or norm, while everyone else’s culture is “exotic” or “colorful”. Further, the media usually thinks its enough to do the occasional photo gallery of such culture (ie a festival in India) for people to then have an understanding or insight into the ways of being and living of people in countries like India, with its 1.2 billion people.

8) The media’s errors regarding poverty extend to its default definition of it. It sees poverty as how much stuff people can buy, rather than, for example, access to culture, education, and healthcare. When covering other countries’ situations, it doesn’t include their perspective on what good living consists of.

9) Western mainstream media values the lives of people in rich countries more. People have to die in the thousands in a non-political tragedy in poor countries to get a similar amount of coverage as the death of a white Australian mountain climber in Indonesia.

10) The media brands itself as “neutral”, though it always takes the perspective of its home country or region. But when 1 billionpeople are hungry, we need the media to have a more global perspective.

11) And despite lauding itself as being objective and factual, accuracy is less important to the media when it comes to poor countries. Getting a president’s name wrong, the actual title of the head of state, or labeling community organizations as “terrorists” isn’t a big deal.

12) When something really huge happens in a poor country – like a tsunami and earthquake that kills 230,000people, then the media is happy to exploit it for all the clicks they can get. Once the main drama has passed though, don’t expect too many follow-ups that analyze why earthquakes cause more damage in some countries than others, or the rebuilding and recovery needed.

13) Further, when the media does bestow to cover poorer countries, it usually needs to be in terms of a richer country. Stories about Mexico, for example, are more likely to get covered if Trump is in the headline. African countries are more likely to see the light of day when a famous Western actor deigns to visit.

14) Sometimes the media takes the position that poor countries are “too depressing” for readers. But if the reading is tough, imagine what its like to live it. We should be screaming about the worst injustices from our rooftops, not sidelining such injustice with pathetic excuses.

Causes and consequences of anti-poor country bias

Global racism, classism, and prioritizing profits are the key factors behind all these distortions. Stories about poor countries don’t appeal to advertisers, except for those promoting charities who typically victimize poor countries and simplify poverty because they want their donors to think that $1 a day makes the exploitation, wars, and debt go away.

Further, mainstream media has stopped seeing itself as an active force in the world that has a responsibility to inform people and to help them understand what is going on – if it ever did see itself that way. Instead of being a public service, the news is a commodity. As such, media companies understand that stories about first world events, white people, celebrities and the rich and powerful tend to get more clicks than those about the poor.

In addition, over the past decade with the smartphone becoming more accessible to more people, the media has shifted over to bite-size stories and easily and quickly digestible content that can be scan-read, then shared, in a few seconds or minutes. However, the key issues in poor countries aren’t bite size nor simple. They require context, and the media shies away from that – especially where worker rights, inequality, or historical injustice are concerned.

Finally, US media in particular loves individual stories of rags-to-riches and to perpetuate the myth that financial success is all about individuals working hard. Poor countries simply don’t fit into that narrative, so they get left out altogether.

The consequences of this selective and distorted media coverage are serious. What it ultimately does, is perpetuate the status quo; the racism, the dehumanizing of people who live in poor countries, the global inequality, and US and European cultural, economic, and violent dominance. That is, mainstream media coverage of poor countries is an active, and deliberate participation in the oppression of those countries.

The coverage ends up distorting how we understand global forces, culture, and history. It obstructs our ability to learn from other culture’s amazing lifestyles, literature traditions, philosophies, art and film techniques, and it fosters closed-minded adults. Such rich-country centric coverage also promotes unjustified arrogance in those countries, which in turn fosters blind spots to how damaging US and European foreign policy (ie wars) can be.

With high rates of homelessness, police impunity, racist attacks, consumerism, and more, countries like the US are in no position to be judging other countries. A healthy media landscape would instead see the news media as informational and educational rather than entertainment, and would prioritize local journalists and local experts.

Categories: News for progressives

A Walk in the Woods, Away from the Screens

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:53

The screen culture: I want to smash the screens into a thousand pieces.  I want to take the computers, all of them, handheld, laptopped, deskbound, and break them into their component parts with a sledgehammer and a shotgun.  I am tired, so exceedingly tired, of the fact that all journalism now happens on the machine screens – I can’t help but engage with the screens, it’s my employment.  But I hate it.

Ditto online pornography.  I would like a good hardcopy fuck magazine to carry with me beyond the waves of five-bar signals into the deep woods for my girlfriend and I to read together in peace.

Peace: that’s what the informational flow of the machines will not allow.  There needs to be a constant deluging brain-destroying caterwaul of irrelevancies.  It is a nightmare of too-much.

I’ve been trying to set up a website, in preparation for a book I wrote that will be out soon.  I can’t make the machine work.  I shout and curse.   I’d rather chop wood.  I’d rather eat the sauteed anus of a used-car salesman.   Anything but having to deal with the inscrutable God of tech.  Anything but having to sit in front of a computer with the light that washes the human face with a sickly look – the humans (me) prostrate before their lit icons.

Outside the storm blows, thank god, and the lights flicker.  A message from the great heaven of mother earth, saying: Get out, walk the land, be in the wind and the fiery snow.  Listen to the petals of the frozen water that fall on the land with a whisper and that etch upon every living thing their chaotic order.  Seek here your dramas, your loves, your truths.  Catch snow petals on your tongue like Charlie Brown.

In the wind that blows through the hemlocks over the rising snowdrifts is the message and the meaning of all our fundamental relations.  The wind rages through the needles of the old stately pines, last of their kind in the Catskill Mountains.  It is the ooom and aahh of a great prayer, that all will be well in the long term.

It is the sound of life struggling and thriving: the deer that will not survive this storm, the bobcats and coyotes that will have a fine dinner.  It is the sound of the breadth of morphological time, which over the long haul is geological, and thus it keeps me in my place as the small thing that I am (stupid puny website and book, mere words, words).

The snowflakes are so cold they burn the face, and in the deep forest where yesterday the dee-dee-dee of the black-capped chickadee sounded, now there is not a hint of the birds.   Alive, and in love, I walk, a man alone in the woods.  A sick man walking in the woods feels better.  My doctor, consulting the screen from which he’s learned wisdom, says I need treatment.  I say the doctors are mad.

Categories: News for progressives

The Austere Neoliberal Globalist Agenda

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:52

‘You’ve over-fed him, ma’am. You’ve raised a artificial soul and spirit in him, ma’am unbecoming a person of his condition: as the board, Mrs. Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tell you. What have paupers to do with soul or spirit? It’s quite enough that we let ’em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy on gruel, ma’am, this would never have happened.’

‘Oliver Twist’, Charles Dickens

Reading this Briefing Note on ‘The Integrity Initiative’ is akin to a ‘mind of the gap’ between what passed off as ‘News’ in the Corporatist Mainstream Media and what genuine investigative journalism as serves ‘Democracy as an Alternative’ is all about; it is as to go from a Corporatist diet where ‘watered down gruel’ the norm for the masses to a veritable banquet of richly nutrient ‘culinary delight’ as would be unpermitted as unshared by private interests; with rationale as to the quote from Dickens above.

– It is as to see ‘currency’ in a new light?

For the essence of ‘Black Propaganda’ as neoliberal Corporatist expression is to feed ‘gruel’ to the masses by way of an austerity of information dissemination under manipulation and control which furthers a transfer of resources from public interests to private interests; it is as to a modus operandi of Globalisation as control and manipulation by way of homogenisation, standardisation, and denial?

In colloquial more vernacular: such cultivated austerity by way of mockingbird constitutes a large part of the ‘mushroom theory of Government’ as operated by a ruling minority euphemized as the ‘Deep State’ over a majority, i.e. ‘keep them in the dark and feet them shit‘?

‘Gruel/shit’ is for the masses as ‘paupers’ an austerity demanded under the dominance of private interests over resource distribution: any ‘Banquet’ is for the private as Corporatised interests only, and such revolutionary Democratic/Socialist sentiments as ‘Share the Wealth!’ as Huey Long once dared to explicate can lead to assassination?

The premature demise of the German Journalist Udo Ulfkotte almost a year ago, and the restriction of his best selling work work ‘Gekaufte Journalisten‘ (Bought Journalists) which details CIA influence on German media, to German publication only is also of relevance to a diet of gruel as neoliberal ‘practical philosophy’?

For it is for our own good, such the public interest, that we do not have access to such information and opinion; that we feed upon gruel?

What have the ‘Demos‘ to do with soul or spirit when it comes to neoliberal Globalisation?

Concerning the polymorphous nature of austerity and ‘assassination’ a most admirable journalistic expose of ‘black propaganda’ and the CIA is as provided by James F. Tracy here, and as contextualises ‘Operation Mockingbird’ which ‘The Integrity Initiative’ aims to develop upon at more incorporative geopolitical level?

Russian media is currently as righteously(?) hammering the theme that the ‘biggest story of the year’ is as yet being uncovered by Western Corporatist media, see here and here, and the options for response by Western Corporatist Media seem limited at present by the ‘shock and awe’ as concerns ‘black propaganda’ being exposed as much as to ‘Mockingbirds’ named – and it speaks volumes that the Corporation ‘Facebook’™ is named as a sponsor of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ as a geopolitical phenomenon? Is a further plunge in share price of Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), still reeling from ‘Cambridge Analytica’, imminent should such funding committed of ‘The Integrity Initiative’ be revealed?

As the American Journalist Claud Cockburn said so perspicaciously:

believe nothing until it has been officially denied’ ?

UKColumn’ continues to go from strength to strength as representative of genuine alternative media across the pond as Democracy and the exposure of lies and agenda as would be hidden goes this instance; these small quarters are awaiting a Media Lens alert on the failure of mainstream media to address ‘The Integrity Initiative’ (subscription to same alerts is a free service and highly recommended for those who wish other than ‘gruel’). Questions have already been raised in the UK House of Parliament by Labour MPs outraged that taxpayer money is being abused to fund black propaganda against Jeremy Corbyn, this as recorded by Hansard. As with ‘Cambridge Analytica’ which now defunct, (‘Do not rejoice’ as per Brecht indeed) ‘The Integrity Initiative’ represents but another an attempt to exploit ‘media’ towards ends of political control and manipulation originating in the UK, and as the above Briefing Note hyperlinked evidences, has similar aspirations as ‘Geopolitical’ such the ‘bitch in heat’.

To those who would view the UK as but ‘Airstrip One’ sense of Orwell and as to a lack of neoliberal leadership sense of Globalisation, other than as to contemplation of the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ debacle the excellent video ‘The Spider’s Web’ merits consideration? Also, a reading of ‘Treasure Islands’ by Nicolas Shaxson provides an eminent explication of the ‘practical philosophy’ of gruel as relevant to an ontology of the ‘payroll of mockingbirds’ and ‘cluster’ so commensurate?

Austerity is founded upon such refusal to share the wealth – there being more than enough to go around as there always has been?

The sad fact is that ‘Globalisation’ represents no more than an ascendance of private interests by way of an expropriation and arrogation such the control and issue of currency indeed?

The tragedy is that so many are dying as prematurely under such nectrotrophy as a syndrome of pathology – and this includes alas a ‘biodiversity’ which cannot survive, let alone subsist, on such ‘gruel’ as polymorphous?

For the ‘Integrity Initiative’ exists as to a ‘practical philosophy’ which would rationalise a ‘divide et impera‘ as much as deploy the illicit proceeds of a necrotrophy which would be unrecognised such the ‘darkness’ as of ‘Thanatos‘ and as to a takeover as would be silent; it is as to a mocking of any ‘alternative’ to point of a practical philosophy as towards the attainment of a ‘panopticon’ whereby diversity denied such the ‘line’ as exists to be followed; it is indeed, such the transfer of resources it represents, but a diet of gruel necessitated for so many?

To listen to a chorus of mockingbirds is to listen to a war against soul or spirit such the ‘cacophony’ co-ordinated Corporate; it is to hear a payroll of the separation from soul or sprit as diverse by way of talking heads as much to ‘what does it profit a man’ and such the reward contingent; it is to become aware of a necrotrophy as polymorphous as extrapolated upon the cruel contingency of control and issue of currency permitted to ‘private interests’, it is to realize as to some parallel of Shakespeare that ‘all the World a Stage’ and – that such can be relegated/degenerated as to a’ practical philosophy’ as much as to the ‘production value’; it is to apperceive the death of Democracy as diversity; it is to see ‘Life’ reduced as under orificial contingency as to a ‘friction of the finitude’ whereby a small dominant minority as ‘Oligarchic Collective’ would promote ‘There is no Alternative!’ (TINA) as an austere abrogation as by way of organic droids willing to say what it takes while posing as part of the ‘Demos’ ?

One can listen to such a chorus of gruel here such ‘The Horror, the Horror’. It remains to be hoped that ‘The Integrity Initiative’ will represent a ‘bridge too far’ by way of exposure – and as to austerity as gruel seen for what it is – and why it is?

The real ‘Integrity Initiative’ as under such scheme remains the mocking of Life by way of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics displacing Man, such the apotheosis of resource transfer as Globalisation entails?

Categories: News for progressives

Democrats Failed Their First Big Test on Climate

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:51

The science on climate change is clear: All countries desperately need to restructure fossil fuels out of their economies.

Naturally, the Trump administration has recklessly ignored this evidence. In every way, it’s tried to make it easier to extract and burn fossil fuels — and harder to hold polluters of all stripes accountable.

But what about the other side in Washington? Unfortunately, Democratic leaders are also acting like they don’t understand the urgency of the problem.

After the election, youth activists occupied the offices of Democratic leaders to demand a special congressional committee to plan for a Green New Deal.

A Green New Deal means addressing climate change through a mobilization on the scale of the original New Deal, which helped end the Great Depression. It means tackling climate change alongside other social and economic inequalities — in part by creating jobs in solar and wind energy, efficient buildings, public transportation, clean water, and public health.

Climate change exacerbates our society’s inequalities. For instance, black Americans are 52 percent likelier than white Americans to be exposed to deadly heat waves caused by climate change. When the oceans risefrom melting polar ice, everyone is eventually affected — but Native Alaskan communities are losing their homelands today.

Hurricanes intensified by warming oceans hurt everyone in their path, but are particularly devastating in places like Puerto Rico, with its 44 percent poverty rate.

A Green New Deal strategy tackles these inequalities directly, instead of treating climate as an isolated problem.

It’s also smart politics, because bringing down utility bills — and creating lots of good jobs — widens support for bold climate action. Energy efficiency and clean energy jobs already outnumber fossil fuel jobs by a wide margin. Imagine what could happen with a real movement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to address these demands. But she hasn’t kept her promise. Instead of a real Green New Deal committee, she formed a toothless advisory body with no real power.

First, Pelosi’s committee doesn’t have a mandate to come up with a plan that matches the required scale and speed. That’s like easing off the gas but not hitting the brakes on a car speeding off a cliff.

Second, it doesn’t have language on race, income, gender, or other inequalities. When even wonky scientists address the unequal impacts of climate change, it’s galling that our elected representatives don’t see fit to acknowledge this reality.

Third, the committee doesn’t have the power to issue subpoenas. It can merely “recommend subpoenas and depositions” to other committees.

This is a serious omission. Powerful fossil fuel corporations have stymied climate action for decades by lobbying to weaken commonsense measures, funding disinformation campaigns, and bribing politicians to the tune of $78 million in spending on the last election alone — in spite of knowing the dangers of their own business model for decades.

It’s about time Congress conducted an investigation of this predatory industry, and how better to do it than through a committee dedicated to the climate crisis?

Finally, there’s no requirement that members of the committee don’t take fossil fuel money. So some of the recipients of that $78 million can sit on the committee and undermine it from within. What a great way to sabotage the committee before it even gets going!

This is a spectacular failure on the part of Pelosi and the Democratic leadership. Knowing what we know now about the urgency of climate action — the world’s top scientists tell us there’s only 11 years left to take preventative action — their proposal is nothing short of criminal negligence.

Kicking the can down the road appears to be a bipartisan sport in Washington. That’s why we need a powerful grassroots movement to compel our political leadership to address climate change with urgency, speed, and justice.

Categories: News for progressives

Nicaragua – The Irony of the NICA Act Being Signed into Law by Trump

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:51

On December 20, 2018, President Donald Trump signed H.R. 1918, the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018. It was introduced by Miami based, ardent anti-socialist Congresswomen Ros-Lehtinen in the House of Representatives on April 20, 2017 as the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2017. Its short title was ramped-up to remove some of the irony of its passage, given the United States own abysmal electoral system, since the official title remains “to oppose loans at international financial institutions for the Government of Nicaragua unless the Government of Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections, and for other purposes.” The law as listed in the December 11th Congressional Record now recites a litany of slanderous unsubstantiated allegationsvoiced by Washington funded and/or controlled Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), “human rights” organizations and news media outlets. Yet, the standard Nicaragua is held to and is in compliance with is actually violated routinely in the U.S.

Before elaborating on the irony mentioned above and in the article’s title, it’s first necessary to outline: some of President Ortega’s accomplishments; how Washington’s ruling elite perceives them; and lastly, why Washington’s efforts against President Ortega failed to install its coup, just like it did in the 1980’s under the Reagan administration. Then, it will be clear how poorly Trump and the U.S. fair in comparison to New York state-sized socialist Nicaragua.

However, this irony might not be obvious at first due to the virtual news blackout on any information supportive of President Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government. While this is to be expected in mainstream corporate news media, it remains disconcerting to see in alternative news media. The unfortunate reality is that many alt-news outlets have been infiltrated and compromised by the power of neoliberal funding, if not actual CIA operatives. As such, the burden remains squarely on the reader to always be analytical and question each piece of written work. Perhaps alt-news media is reasonable on some issues; however, most are not when it comes to Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states and viable socialist models.

Even Venezuela’s own Telesur has mostly ignored Nicaragua despite Venezuela being its staunch political ally. Instead of featuring breaking news articles about Nicaragua in its prominent Latin American news section, it merely and occasionally lists supportive articles in its less publicized Opinion section. Telesur even omitted the U.S. attempted coup in Nicaragua in its 2018 recap of The Top 10 Stories from Latin America Witnessed in 2018.

In the United States, respected supposedly alt-news media outlets such as Democracy Now have been damningly interventionist in their coverage of Syria and Libya as well as Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, the “Troika of Tyranny” as called by U.S. security advisor, John Bolton. While the situation in Nicaragua today is virtually the same as when the Reagan administration unleashed the illegal Contra force upon it, what’s changed is that alt-media has failed to properly inform its base, and also it isolates its given targets with repetitive fake and contradictory news stories. In the case of President Ortega, he isn’t socialist enough; then conversely, he is considered a threat to private enterprise – when none of this has any foundation in truth. The sad result is that the NICA act passed unanimously in the Senate. Consider how similar the words and policies issued by Trump are to those of former President Reagan and how Reagan, a vastly more popular President, was still opposed by Senators and Congresspersons as well as the left. Both Trump and Reagan called impoverished and tiny Nicaragua, a “threat to National Security” and imposed devastating financial sanctions against it, and have funded violent opposition to overthrow its government.

President Daniel Ortega Accomplishments Vs. Washington’s Ruling Elite’s Perception

As a steadfast defender of the impoverished and working class through democratic socialist programs and progressive non-aligned geopolitical and economic relations, Washington’s ruling elite is no fan, to say the least, of President Daniel Ortega. So the fact that he won over 72% of the vote in 2016 remains hotly contested by their lackeys located in Nicaragua and Miami, as President Ortega directly thwarts the progress of their oppressive worldwide neoliberal agenda.

Similarly irksome to its ruling elite is the fact that Washington’s own IMF and World Bank sang President Ortega’s praises as recent as 2018 and noted his successful world-class renewable energy accomplishments. Equally troubling to Washington’s ruling elite is the fact that under President Ortega’s stewardship the people of Nicaragua enjoy: the lowest murder rate in Central America; unprecedented public healthcare and education, and a national police force it can trust and rely upon – since it is founded on the admirable principles of community policing. To the frustration of Washington’s ruling elite, President Ortega’s success in fighting the drug cartels and keeping them out of Nicaragua is also exemplary in a region otherwise plagued by narcotics, weapons, human trafficking and inexplicable violence.

So when all the money in Washington could not ruin President Ortega’s electoral victory, despite its slanderous campaign of lies on mainstream and alt-news & social media through its front organizations such as NED and USAID, and its fascist Opus Dei shills disguised as clergy, Washington then paid, armed and trained foreign drug cartel thugs and local criminals to impersonate student protestors. If Washington’s mercenaries weren’t deadly violent, the contrast between the news media’s photos of them and its captions about them would be comical – as Rambo type men with forearms the size of tree trunks, shown shooting weapons in trained fighting stances, frequently accompanied headlines that read: “Peaceful Student Protestors.”

Starting on April 18, 2018, Washington’s mercenaries infiltrated protests over modest changes to its social security system. Then, their thugs set up roadblocks, and shot-up and firebombed public facilities, and news media stations. Additionally, they intimidated, raped and killed Nicaragua’s police officers, government workers, journalists and Sandinista supporters, as well as peasants and misplaced tourists.

After a few months of siege, local peasants dusted off their guns – that dated back to the overthrow of the U.S. puppet dictator Anastasio Somoza and Washington’s Contras – and fought alongside Nicaragua’s police officers. Collectively they drove out Washington’s 2018 brand of mercenaries. Washington didn’t anticipate the peasant’s participation. They believed President Ortega could be goaded into using his military to remove their mercenaries and thereby give the U.S. a pretext to invade Nicaragua. What Washington and its ruling elite never understand is that it is really difficult to install a coup in a country where the sitting President remains popular and every slanderous remark is ultimately revealed as a blatant lie. Washington’s strategy is to blame President Ortega for victims of its own mercenaries, and to defend its murderous thugs as “political prisoners” through its financially captive human rights and regional organizations. Then, Washington uses these lies to justify the passage of the NICA act – because even the most contemptible U.S. politician has trouble with the irony of this act being signed by Trump, a sitting president that lost the popular vote.

Trump, Electoral Freedom, Repressed Dissent, Imprisonment & Torture in the U.S.

For not only did Trump lose the popular vote, but also he lost it via massive voter suppression against people of color, and the gerrymandering of electoral districts that favor republican candidates.

“According to David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Hillary Clinton won a total of 65,844,610 votes – 48.2 percent – compared with Trump’s 62,979,636 votes – 46.1 percent. Other candidates took 7,804,213 ballots, or about 5.7 percent of the popular vote.”

Considering the above referenced results, where is the international outrage on Trump’s presidency and that of the U.S. electoral system? Why isn’t the rest of the world blocking the United States funding until it takes effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections? Could it be that Trump, despite all his embarrassing lies and faults, does the bidding of the ruling elite and is thus protected? He has in fact delivered massive tax cuts to the wealthy and neutered all federal oversight agencies charged with monitoring the elites’ industry & finance as well as gutted agencies charged with protecting public lands and health.

The U.S government has violated many protections afforded its citizens in its Bill of Rights, by virtue of the Patriot Act and its prison system. Under the Patriot Act, protections against surveillance and unreasonable search and seizure are waived. Incarceration can be indeterminate and without charge, as long as there is suspicion of something. And with 2.3 million prisoners, the United States has the largest prison population in the world, and the highest per-capita incarceration rate. It can be argued convincingly that the death penalty and living conditions in prisons constitute cruel and inhuman punishment. Added to the number of prisoners are 41,000 immigrants in detention centers.

Consider that the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 makes it easier for the U.S. government to criminalize protest. It is a federal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison to enter or remain in an area designated as restricted (such as a tar sands pipeline on indigenous land) or to protest anywhere the Secret Service might be guarding someone. In 2013, its military was empowered to attack its citizens through changes in the rules of engagement under the Posse Comitatus Act. Further, its military practices war games against its civilians and acknowledges in its reports that due to the failings of capitalism it is only a matter of time before civil unrest erupts over: scarce resources (i.e. food, water and energy); disparities in wealth and power; collapsing financial systems; climate change and natural disasters.

Accordingly, when politicians cease to be representative and the government is held captive by an oligarchy, then the political system must be abolished as represented in the Declaration of Independence which reads as follows:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Presently Trump has shut down the United States government and, without winning the popular vote, he has no mandate. Perhaps it’s time for U.S. citizens to exercise their constitutional rights? Could this be the real concern of its ruling elite that its own citizens may become emboldened by the progressive policies of President Daniel Ortega and the fearlessness of Nicaragua’s citizens, and that they too might pick up their dusty weapons and use them to remove the elite and their lackeys from power? Probably not, this would first require U.S. citizens turn off Netflix, put down their beer can, slice of pizza and joint. It seems U.S. Americans are happy to remain lost in a sea of amusements until prison doors slam shut directly behind them. Only, then will it be too late?

Categories: News for progressives

Will Trumpism Outlive Trump?

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:51

“[Y]ou shouldn’t take irreversible steps as the result of a reversible Presidency.”

– Rob Malley, quoting the French view of President Trump, in Susan B. Glasser, “An Ocean Apart,” The New Yorker, December 24, 2018

It is not crazy to say that right now the only ones who would like to see Trumpism outlive Trump are the Trumpians.

Democratic Party? There’s a seam in the Democratic Party which may rip open and may not but it’s one in which both sides want to end Trump’s presidency and the damage that presidency has done totally dissolved and expunged from the record of U.S. history.

Republican Party? It can go either of two ways: seek to hold on to that 35% of the population tied to Trump the way Beliebers are tied to Justin Bieber, or seek to become once again the party of globalized, free trade, free market capitalism advocating Neoliberal economic policies and Market Rule rather than the arbitrary, capricious rule of a 21st century Mad George III.

Democrats risk fueling the fires of Trumpism if they ignore what the accelerants were that fired up the Trumpians — Trump being only the match — in the first place. Treating the Trump followers as obstacles scheduled for extinction rather than as part of the damage done by Trump and therefore in need of recuperation would seem to guarantee of a return under a new charlatan celebrity, never a shortage in the U.S.

Democratic Socialism, a banner that Bernie Sanders and now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez choose to fly under, is a red flag to Trump’s followers and if it gains momentum in the party will work to keep some form of Trumpism alive. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal appellation makes more sense because it puts her in a position to review the socialist aspect of FDR’s New Deal and its economic benefits to the working class as well as focus on global warming as THE most crucial issue to be responded to politically.

There are several reasons why Trumpism will not outlive Trump, and most have to do with the positions Democrats or Republicans can take.


Rather than political or social ideology or any form of platform discourse, what Trump will leave his followers is a legacy of impulsive tweets.

The Art of the Deal is not Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, FDR’s The Second Bill of Rights, Mao’s The Little Red Book, Fidel Castro’s The Declarations of Havana.

The legacy of Trump is not discourse but personality, not ideas but a kind of huckstering that vanishes when audience and opportunities also vanish. There is no permanence to either any huckster or his or her words.


There are no roots or foundation to Trumpism to be found in U.S. history.

Was there a political or social ideology or any form of platform discourse that Trump accessed and built upon or was there rather an incoherent anger, fear, frustration, dysphoria and disaffection that Democrats and Republicans had ignored and Trump responded to on that same gut, affective, prereflective level, the domain of the reptilian brain?

A singular interruption by an aberrant personality into any order of things is potentially destructive but not generative when there are no ideas prior to or developed contributing to a legacy of thought.


Both contemporary market and conservative Republicanism has endured since Reagan, but Trump is attached to neither. And he has not created any ideology that a new party could attach itself to, as white nationalism and fascism are not new and not liable to become a party in the U.S. that will subsume Democratic and Republican parties or rival them in elections.


The Trumpian electorate has no platform of ideas they can hold onto and seek in a new avatar of Donald J. Trump. Their plight is similar to that of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S and Mouvementdes gilets jaunes in France.

There is the fire of revolt and disgust in both which has not scaled to a sustained political organization.

What Trump transmits is an irreproducible derangement, as unique as an inmate who declares he is Napoleon.


Deteriorating to tragic conditions created by Trump’s tweet regime will undoubtedly consume the attention of everyone when he is gone, including the attention of his followers who sought economic relief in a Trump presidency.

The increasing ravages of global warming and Trump’s denial of its existence and the government’s role in mitigating those ravages will undoubtedly create a legacy neither he nor his followers anticipated.

As the whole country moves as rapidly as possible from the nightmare of Trump’s presidency, partially because we will be absorbed in recuperating from that presidency, the only legacy Trump bequeaths to us will be comparable to awakening from a nightmare and realizing it cannot stand the light of day.

Those damaged in various ways by his aberrant rule will have no time or inclination to carry that rule into the future. Alt-Right/neo-fascist/white nationalist/ Deep State paranoia can perhaps once again find place in remote dark corners of cyberspace and so vacate the national media scene.


An allegiance and confederacy of worker owned businesses in which profits go to workers and not shareholders, an increasing number of voters of all color, a rising critique of casino, Market Rule capitalism formulated by young voters, an accompanying movement toward social democracy, and an elevation by the young of environmental concerns to the number one political priority promises to have little or no tolerance for Trump or any extension of Trumpism into the future.

The con man’s ploy — fire up racial conflict, confound reason and truth, confound good and evil, make your neighbor your enemy and your enemy your neighbor, turn education into a prison house of debt, curse and scorn everyone who stands against you, define greatness as only an expansion of the President’s ego, his businesses and the adulation of his supporters —  the youngest and bravest among us are working to inoculate themselves, through political involvement, against, against the continuation of any of this.

Categories: News for progressives

The EPA Rule Change That Could Kill Thousands

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:51

While Americans were quietly preparing to ring in the New Year, the EPA gave families a deadly present to start the year off wrong.

On December 28, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal that would effectively weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which protect American families from mercury and other harmful air pollutants emitted by power plants.

The EPA “proposes to determine that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ to regulate” these emissions, the EPA wrote in a statement. This means that the regulations will lose the necessary legal mechanism that actually enables them to actually be enforced.

These regulations save a lot of lives — 11,000 every year, according to the EPA’s own data — and they prevent 130,000 asthma attacks annually. Stripping this regulatory power virtually guarantees more asthma attacks and more preventable deaths.

For families, those aren’t just numbers.

At any age, exposure to even small amounts of mercury can lead to serious health problems. The worst health impacts include irreparable brain development defects in babies and young children, and cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and premature death among people of all ages.

Infants, young children, and pregnant mothers are particularly vulnerable to mercury — as well as to arsenic, lead, dioxin, and acid gases, which are also regulated by MATS.

Before MATS, coal-fired power plants were the largest source of these pollutants. American families paid the price for lack of federal regulations.

I’m a fairly young person — I grew up with dire warnings about exposure to these chemicals. Yet despite overwhelming evidence of their health effects — and the longstanding availability of proven control technologies — it took over 20 years after the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments to establish federal regulations on power plant emissions of these harmful substances.

Through the MATS program, Congress identified approximately 180 hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, and directed the EPA to draft regulations governing their emissions from power plants.

The impact has been enormous. A significant majority of top power companies have already complied with MATS, for a fraction of the originally estimated cost. It’s estimated that over 5,000 emergency and hospital visits and 4,700 heart attacks have been prevented each year as a direct result of these vital regulations.

In fact, one of the EPA’s own resources on the program highlights its widespread benefits: “The benefits of MATS are widely distributed and are especially important to minority and low income populations who are disproportionately impacted by asthma and other debilitating health conditions,” it notes.

Undoing critical health and safety standards and putting more Americans in danger goes against the very purpose of the EPA. Even utility companies, who invested in complying with the standards, are calling for the EPA to keep MATS fully intact.

Younger generations deserve to grow up protected from these harmful and deadly substances. The EPA wants to make mercury and air toxics deadlier again. We can’t let that happen.

Categories: News for progressives

The New Congress Needs to Create a Green Planet at Peace

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:50

A deafening chorus of negative grumbling from the left, right, and center of the US political spectrum in response to Trump’s decision to remove US troops from Syria and halve their numbers in Afghanistan appears to have slowed down his attempt to bring our forces home. However, in this new year, demilitarizing US foreign policy should be among the top items on the agenda of the new Congress. Just as we are witnessing a rising movement for a visionary Green New Deal, so, too, the time has come for a New Peace Deal that repudiates endless war and the threat of nuclear war which, along with catastrophic climate change, poses an existential threat to our planet.

We must capitalize and act on the opportunity presented by the abrupt departure of “mad dog” Mattis and other warrior hawks. Another move toward demilitarization is the unprecedented Congressional challenge to Trump’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. And while the president’s disturbing proposals to walk out of established nuclear arms control treaties represents a new danger, they are also an opportunity.

Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty(INF),negotiated in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and warned that he has no interest in renewing the modest new START treaty negotiated by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev. Obama paid a heavy price to secure Congressional ratification of START, promising a one-trillion-dollar program over ten years for two new nuclear bomb factories, and new warheads, missiles, planes and submarines to deliver their lethal payload, a program that is continuing under Trump. While the INF limited the US and Russia to physically deploying up to a maximum of 1,500 bomb-laden nuclear missiles out of their massive nuclear arsenals, it failed to make good on the 1970 US promise made in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons. Even today, nearly 50 years after those NPT promises were made, the US and Russia account for a staggering 14,000 of the 15,000 nuclear bombs on the planet.

With Trump’s US military posture in seeming disarray, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fashion bold new actions for disarmament. The most promising breakthrough for nuclear disarmament is the new Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, negotiated and adopted by 122 nations at the UN in 2017. This unprecedented treaty finally bans the bomb, just as the world has done for biological and chemical weapons, and won its organizers, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Nobel Peace Prize. The treaty now needs to be ratified by 50 nations to become binding.

Instead of supporting this new treaty, and acknowledging the US 1970 NPT promise to make “good faith”efforts for nuclear disarmament, we are getting the same stale, inadequate proposals from many in the Democratic establishment who are now taking control of the House. It is worrisome that Adam Smith, the new Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, talks only of making cuts in our massive nuclear arsenals and putting limits on how and when a President can use nuclear weapons, without even a hint that any consideration is being given to lending US support for the ban treaty or for honoring our 1970 NPT promise to give up our nuclear weapons.

Although the US and its NATO and Pacific allies (Australia, Japan and South Korea) have thus far refused to support the ban treaty, a global effort, organized by ICAN, has already received signatures from 69 nations, and ratifications in 19 parliaments of the 50 nations needed in order for the prohibition against the possession, use, or threat to use nuclear weapons, to become legally binding. In December, Australia’s Labor Party pledged to sign and ratify the ban treaty if it wins in the upcoming elections, even though Australia is presently a member of the US nuclear alliance. And similar efforts are happening in Spain, a member of the NATO alliance.

A burgeoning number of cities, states, and parliamentarians around the world have been enrolled in the campaign to call on their governments to support the new treaty. In the US Congress, however, so far only four representatives—Eleanor Holmes Norton, Betty McCollum, Jim McGovern, and Barbara Lee—have signed the ICAN pledge to secure US support to ban the bomb.

Just as the Democratic establishment is ignoring the groundbreaking new opportunity to finally rid the world of the nuclear scourge, it is now undercutting the extraordinary campaign for a Green New Deal to fully power the United States with sustainable energy sources in ten years, led by the inspiring Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected proposals from masses of young demonstrators who petitioned her office to establish a Select Committee for the Green New Deal. Instead, Pelosi established a Select Committee on Climate Crisis, lacking subpoena powers and chaired by Rep. Kathy Castor, who refused a Green Deal Campaign demand to ban any members from serving on the Committee who took donations from fossil fuel corporations.

A New Peace Deal should make similar requests of the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. How can we expect the chairs of these committees, Democratic Congressman Adam Smith or Republican Senator James Inhofe, to be honest brokers for peace when they have received contributions of over $250,000 from the weapons industry? A coalition called Divest from the War Machine is urging all members of congress to refuse money from the weapons industry, since they vote every year on a Pentagon budget that allocates hundreds of billions of dollars for new weapons. This commitment is particularly critical for members of the Armed Services Committees. No one who has been funded with substantial contributions from arms manufacturers should be serving on those committees, particularly when Congress should be examining, with urgency, the scandalous report of the Pentagon’s inability to pass an audit last year and its statements that it has no ability to ever do so!

We cannot tolerate a new Democratic-controlled Congress continuing to do business as usual, with a military budget of over $700 billion and a trillion dollars projected for new nuclear weapons over the next ten years, while struggling to find funds to address the climate crisis. With the extraordinary upheavals created by President Trump’s withdrawal from both the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, we must urgently mobilize to save our earth from the two existential threats: catastrophic climate destruction and the looming possibility of nuclear annihilation. It’s time to leave the nuclear age and divest from the war machine, freeing up trillions of wasted dollars over the next decade. We must transform our lethal energy system to one that sustains us, while creating genuine national and international security at peace with all of nature and humanity.

Categories: News for progressives

Cuba: Trump Turns the Vise

Counterpunch - Fri, 2019-01-11 15:50

January the 1st 2019 marked the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Back in December 1958 the city of Santa Clara fell to the combined forces of Che Guevara, Cienfuegos, and Revolutionary Directorate (RD) rebels led by Comandantes Rolando Cubela, Juan (“El Mejicano”) Abrahantes, and William Alexander Morgan. Upon hearing the news of the defeat of his forces Batista left Cuba and flew to the Dominican Republic on 1 January 1959.

Havana (October, 2018).

Since then the Cuban people have struggled to maintain their independence as allies came and went and enemies tried to reverse the revolution. In recent years President Obama attempted to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States (known as the Cuban Thaw) by reducing U.S. travel and remittances restrictions and reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana and the Cuban embassy in Washington. Obama even became the first U.S. President to visit Cuba since 1928.

However, since the election of Donald Trump many of these gains have been reversed.

Havana (October, 2018). 

In November 2018 the US government reversed the positive changes brought in by Obama. The Trump government will disallow most individual visits and (as before Obama’s changes) Americans will have to travel in groups licensed for specific purposes. Most importantly Americans will be barred from staying in state-owned hotels, and frequenting state-owned restaurants and stores. The plan seems to be to starve the government of revenue while at the same time encouraging the growth of the private sector e.g. private accommodation and restaurants.

Havana (October, 2018).

A recent article noted:

“The Trump administration is adding new names to a list of Cuban tourist attractions that Americans are barred from visiting. The 26 names range from the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard and Paseo del Prado hotels in Old Havana to modest shopping centers in beachside resorts far from the capital. All are barred because they are owned by Cuba’s military business conglomerate, GAESA.”

Santa Clara (October, 2018) Che Guevara Mausoleum.

Adding to these difficulties is the existence of two operating currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC). The CUC is pegged to the dollar and is worth 25 times more than the CUP. One Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is about one Euro. Most Cuban citizens are paid in CUP but consumer goods are priced in CUC. While it was announced a few years ago that this system was going to end, it is still going strong.

Havana (October, 2018). 


It is a system that could cause major problems for the government. While most citizens are paid in CUP – 1000-2000 pesos (40-80 Euros) per month –  those working in the tourism sector can earn CUC. One can earn 30 CUC (30 Euros) driving a tourist from the airport to the centre of Old Havana or 20 CUC (20 Euros) a night in a private Airbnb room letting.  The local bars, restaurants and even supermarkets all use CUC. Cigar factory workers are paid in CUP, yet one Cohiba cigar could cost 10 CUC in the factory shop. On my recent trip there I asked the bar and restaurant staff in Havana for CUP notes (the three peso note carries a picture of Che Guevara) only to find them asking all their workmates if they had any CUP and eventually arriving back triumphantly with the requested notes and handing them to me as a gift, demonstrating the growing gap in the value of the two currencies.

Havana (October, 2018).

Is it possible that the growing disparity between those who earn CUP and those who earn CUC is creating a well-off new middle class? It is interesting to note that Trump’s Cuban policies seem to be created to ensure the exacerbation of these discrepancies. Is there a political strategy developing here? If we look at the essential elements of recent Colour Revolutions we generally find the combination of a disgruntled middle class and mobile data access to the internet.

To avail of the internet in Havana most people buy ETECSA prepaid internet cards and go to a nearby WiFi hotspot (usually the local park). However, data packages are becoming available. They are expensive if you are earning only CUP and only the relatively well-off will be able to afford them (e.g. 4GB of data for $30 – a month’s wages in CUP). But for those working in the tourist sector this should be affordable potentially creating the basis for a powerful social media in Cuba.

The growth of the private sector can be seen in the number of new private restaurants, bnb/pension type accommodation, cafes and bars in Havana. Yet many of the Cubans I met could not afford to buy even a sandwich in the cafes as they are priced in CUC. The collapse of state enterprises already under a lot of stress could lead to cheap real estate being bought up by the cash-rich and generally benefit non-supporters of Castro and left wing ideology, politically and financially.

As it is, there is increasing pressure on the government with only 1.2 percent growth in the economy and a 40 percent drop in Venezuelan oil deliveries (since 2014) in a society where state-run companies account for and control most economic activity.

Havana (October, 2018). 


The difficulties for the Cuban people are increased by the ongoing United States-led embargo against Cuba. In October 2018 the UN General Assembly adopted its annual resolution to end the embargo. Ma Zhaoxu, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated that the blockade “is contrary to the principle of the United Nations Charter and cause[s] huge financial and economic damage for Cuba” and “hinders Cuba’s ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

For the Cuban people it will be a case of ‘resist to exist’ like the Palestinian situation but in Cuba one can see frustration and determination for a better life all around. The 60th anniversary celebrations of 2019 will be a most important symbolic reminder in the discussions on the differing possible paths for Cuba’s future.

All images in this article are from the author.

Categories: News for progressives


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