Counterpunch

Subscribe to Counterpunch feed
Tells the Facts, Names the Names
Updated: 10 hours 2 min ago

Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max

Mon, 2019-09-16 16:05

Lance Corporal Kevin C. Quihuis Jr. (USMC) – Public Domain

Presidential candidate Joe Biden is adding lies on top of lies to cover up his backing of the Iraq invasion.

At last week’s ABC/DNC debate Biden lied about his Iraq record, just like he did at the first two debates.

In the July debate, Biden claimed: “From the moment ‘shock and awe’ started, from that moment, I was opposed to the effort, and I was outspoken as much as anyone at all in the Congress.”

When he first said that, it received virtually no scrutiny except for Mideast scholar Stephen Zunes, who wrote the piece “Biden Is Doubling Down on Iraq War Lies.” Zunes outlined much of Biden’s record, including his insistence in May 2003 — months after the Iraq invasion — that “There was sufficient evidence to go into Iraq.”

At last night’s debate on ABC, Biden claimed that he voted for the Iraq invasion authorization to “to allow inspectors to go in to determine whether or not anything was being done with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons.”

But the congressional vote happened on October 11 (see Biden’s speech then). And by that time Iraq had agreed to allow weapons inspectors back in. On Sept. 16, 2002, the New York Times reported: “U.N. Inspectors Can Return Unconditionally, Iraq Says.” (This was immediately after a delegation organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy — where I work — had gone to Iraq.)

Now, independent journalist Michael Tracey, who interviewed Biden in New Hampshire recently, reports that Biden made the ridiculous claim that he opposed the invasion of Iraq even before it started. Said Biden: “Yes, I did oppose the war before it began.” See Tracey’s piece: “Joe Biden’s Jumbled Iraq War Revisionism” and video.

Biden did initially back a bill along with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar which would have somewhat constrained Bush’s capacity to launch an invasion of Iraq completely at his whim. But the Bush administration opposed the measure. One might have thought that such opposition would lead Biden to conclude that Bush insisting on not having any constrain would be a reason not to write him a blank check. But not Biden. He of course voted for the legislation giving Bush the complete license he wanted.

Bush ended up launching the war by telling the UN to get the weapons inspectors out — thus forcing an end to their work — before starting to bomb the country. Immediately, Biden co-sponsored a resolution backing Bush.

Tracey writes “It’s unclear whether the Delaware senator genuinely believes the tale he is currently telling, or if it’s the product of his apparent cognitive decline.” But, Biden has been lying about Iraq for years and years and years and years. He was chair of the Senate Foreign Releations Committee in 2002 and presided over hearings that were called rigged at the time by actual critics of the Iraq invasion.

Still, Biden’s voluminous deceits on Iraq — which he’s adding to by the day — have yet to be adequately examined. Biden told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” in 2007 of Saddam Hussein’s alleged WMDs: “The real mystery is, if he, if he didn’t have any of them left, why didn’t he say so?

Of course the Iraqi government, in 2002 and before, had been pleading that it had disarmed. And it was widely mocked by the U.S. government and media for such claims.

Saddam Hussein told Dan Rather on 60 Minutes in February 2003:

“I believe that that [the U.S. military preparations in the Gulf] were, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And it was on that basis that Iraq actually accepted [the U.N.] Resolution — accepted it, even though Iraq was absolutely certain that what it had said—what the Iraqi officials…had kept saying, that … Iraq was empty, was void of any such weapons — was the case. But Iraq accepted that resolution… in order not to allow any misinterpretation of its position…in order to make the case absolutely clear that Iraq was no longer in possession of any such…weapons.” (See from FAIR: “Saddam’s ‘Secret.’“)

But such remarks from Iraq were derided. On Nov. 13, 2002, the New York Times reported: “U.S. Scoffs at Iraq Claim of No Weapons of Mass Destruction.” “The White House dismissed Saddam Hussein’s contention today that he possesses no weapons of mass destruction as a fabrication. But President Bush’s advisers said they would not be taunted into revealing the intelligence they had gathered to contradict him until after Iraq delivered a full accounting of weapons stores in early December.”

Similarly, the International Herald Tribune reported on December 9, 2002: “Senators dismiss Iraqi arms declaration to UN” — “Copies of a 12,000-page Iraqi declaration on banned weapons reached UN offices in Vienna on Sunday and were en route to the United Nations in New York for analysis, but senior U.S. senators of both parties dismissed its contents as lies. And they spoke of a likely war that they said would have surprisingly broad backing.” These senators did this without even having access to the documents.

The piece continued: “Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, incoming chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that he assumed the Iraqi report would ‘totally be an obfuscation.’ The Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, called the declaration ‘probably a 12,000-page, 100-pound lie.'” The piece also quoted Biden saying that Bush was likely to “have all that he needs, all the help, all the bases in the Middle East” and a coalition “larger than anyone anticipated.”

What Biden did was to help ensure war happened while trying to wash his hands of responsibility for it. He helped build the car for Bush, filled it up with gas, saw that Bush was drunk, gave him license to do what he wanted — and then told him to be responsible while he handed him the keys. Eventually, Biden pretends he’s shocked that the streets are littered with mangled bodies.

Biden is the exact opposite of Sen. Wayne Morse — one of only two senators who voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution — a false pretext the the Johnson administration used to dramatically escalate the Vietnam war in 1964. To those — like Biden — who argued that you have to back the president, Morse responded that they didn’t understand the Constitution or their responsibilities as Senators:

“Why, not give the president a vote of confidence? This was the lingo of the reservationists: We’ve got to back our president. Since when do we have to back our President, or should we, when the president is proposing an unconstitutional act? And so these reservationists said that although I’m going to back my president, I want to show him I have confidence in him. I want to warn him I’m not giving him a blank check. This doesn’t mean that I don’t expect him to consult me in the future. This doesn’t mean that the president can go ahead and send additional troops over there without consulting me, a senator of the United States. And you know, I most respectfully, but used language that they understood, said that’s just nonsense. I want to say to my colleagues in the Senate, you’re being consulted right now.”

Would that Biden understood his responsibilities as well.

The post Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor

Mon, 2019-09-16 16:02

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The corporate media talking-head commentary on the third Democratic presidential debate last Thursday night focused on two things: Beto O’Rourke’s call for a federal confiscation of the nation’s assault weapons and Julian Castro’s attempt to humiliate Joe Biden by suggesting that the former vice president had forgotten what he said about his health care reform program two minutes before.

The talking-head consensus on the first episode was that O’Rourke’s gun position was wildly outside mainstream sentiment – this while 57 percent of the nation supports an assault weapon sales ban and the country is evenly split on a mandatory buy-back program..

How depressing. When a common-sense call to mandate the removal of military-style assault weapons from civil society is considered radical and controversial you know a nation’s reigning media-politics system has lost its moral bearings and undergone spiritual death. The presence of millions of these mass killing machines (estimates range from 15 to 20 million assault weapons loose in the U.S.) in American life is socio-pathological lunacy. Assault weapons exist for one reason: to kill large numbers of people in a short period of time. They are weapons of war.

The talking-head consensus on the second matter was that Castro had been rudely disrespectful and factually wrong. (Here the talking heads were right on the specific incident [Castro was being a creep and Biden had not in fact contradicted himself] but wrong on the basic point: the 77-year old Biden is in fact a gaffe machine who is mentally challenged on matters of memory and truth.)

What was most remarkable in the official debate post-mortems, though, was the lack of attention to a strange and disturbing Biden riff that showed him to be the very definition of an old white pseudo-liberal objective racist. A Black female ABC debate moderator asked the former vice president the following question about segregated schools, the legacy of slavery, and Biden’s onetime cold dismissal of the notion of reparations for slavery:

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

Here is a remarkable fact no talking head felt compelled to mention after the debate: Biden quite visibly and audibly sneered and laughed yes, sneered (or smirked, if you prefer) and laughed (go here to 2:06:49-53) – as the moderator began her question.

That was really bad. Even worse, however, and this too escaped attention from the talking heads (which at ABC included the sneering neoliberal and former mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, who had to leave office after completing his alienation of the city’s Black community by trying to cover-up the Laquan McDonald kill tape), was Biden’s pathetic, jumbled, evasive, and racist verbal response (see here at 2:07:23-2:08:44) to the question:

“Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out — the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.”

Moderator: “Thank you, Mr. Vice President.”

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

Where to begin in attempting to untangle and understand this ugly mess of convoluted nonsense, (much of which was expressed in a raving manner, especially at the end)?

Notice that Biden opened by mentioning the problem of “institutional segregation” and then said essentially nothing about how to attack it.

Notice the broken sentences and the confusion on tense (“my deceased wife is a teacher” – not true) and the strange suggestion that his current wife, an English professor, is an inner-city teacher. (Castro may have been wrong on his specific charge last Thursday, but this is yet more evidence in a big file showing that Biden is suffering from mental decline and from a longstanding problematic relationship with the truth.)

Notice the totally bizarre concluding Venezuela rant (“I know Maduro…I’m the guy who came up with $740 million…chance to leave…”), tacked on for reasons that are unclear.

Notice the complete evasion of the matter the moderator started with – his 1975 dismissal of the notion that white America owes Black America anything for centuries of slavery and Jim Crow.

Notice the initial absurd impulse to tell poor parents to make sure the television was blaring nightly in poor folks – and his equally preposterous and outdated shift to “the record player.”

“The record player”? Seriously? Has Biden heard about CDs? Has he never heard of books, and of parents reading to their children? Does Biden propose to initiate a federal program to distribute phonographs to poor families?

And notice the single most coherent thread in Biden’s jumbled comment: victim blaming. Consistent with his failure to address segregation (a critical lynchpin of racial inequality since where one lives is intimately related to the social resources and opportunity one can access) and his total dodging of the reparations question, Biden reflexively defaulted to a vicious neoliberal narrative, however jumbled, that places the blame for Black poverty not on institutions, not on the un-addressed and far-reaching and living reach of the slave system and the racist terror regimes that succeeded that system (along with related racial oppression and inequality structures) but rather on Black parents who don’t know how to raise their kids the right way.

The writer Anand Giridharadas got it right. “Is this not one of the most explicitly racist moments of all time in a Democratic primary debate?” Giridharadas tweeted. “Asked about his past comments denying responsibility, as a white man, for America’s sins, he gives an answer insinuating that Black parents don’t know how to raise kids.”

“Joe Biden’s answer on how to address the legacy of slavery was appalling…It ended in a sermon implying that black parents don’t know how to raise their own children.”

Yes, it did. For Biden, two-and-a-half centuries of slavery, eight decades of Jim Crow terrorism, racist ghettoization, racially hyper-disparate mass incarceration, and numerous other related and widely documented forms of persistent racial oppression and discrimination are non-starters. The real issue for the Democratic Party’s officially designated front-runner is “the problems that come from [poor Blacks’] home[s].”

Not that most Americans watching the ABC News dog and pony show even caught it. Biden’s jumbled, incoherent, and halting prose probably left most viewers too confused or bored to register his noxious neoliberal-racist parent-blaming paternalism.

It was all too sadly consistent with Biden’s long liberal racist record, which includes describing Barack Obama as “articulate” and “clean,” voting for Bill Clinton’s mass incarceration-ist “three strikes” crime bill (which Biden helped write), and weirdly boasting that a racist Jim Crow Senator (James O. Eastland) “never called me ‘boy.’”

Of course, Biden’s commentary needs to be understood within the broader framework of the capitalist and neoliberal ideological creed to which he adheres. In an annoying defense of Biden’s comments, Vox’s Mathew Yglesias rightly observed that “Biden is a slightly old-fashioned meliorist liberal who does not believe in reparations or in overhauling the basic structure of the American economy. …At the same time, Biden is not wrong that [his neoliberal] formula is the one that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rode to victory. By espousing it, he is the heir to Obama’s ideological legacy.”

Indeed he is. Okay fine, but Obama was heir to the right-wing Democratic Leadership Conference’s Clintonite legacy, which is objectively racist in its refusal to “overhaul…the basic structure of [an] American economy” that has been shaped by deep and systemic racism and classism from the birth of the nation and before.

If this is a “winning formula” in 2020 as in 1992 and 2008, then Gold help us – and do not expect big enough Black voter turnout to prevent the election of the next and likely more menacing white nationalist Republican Amerikaner president in 2024.

“Meliorist” liberalism is inauthentic opposition in a nation where the three richest people possess more wealth between them than the bottom 50 percent and the median Black family owns $3,600, just 2% of the wealth of the median White family.

 

The post Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Why Mattis is No Hero

Mon, 2019-09-16 16:00

Photograph Source: James Mattis – Public Domain

Last week the corporate media were going all out to lionize former Marine General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis in tandem with the publication of Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, his memoir of his lengthy career (Co-authored with former Undersecretary of Defense, Bing West, also a marine officer and veteran of Vietnam). As this celebratory gala of war and warrior hood lapses yet another military idol will have joined the pantheon. When George H.W. Bush launched Desert Storm in 1991 and “kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all” he also claimed to re-elevate the glory of the American way of war whereby the exceptional U.S. would defend the underdogs of the world against the predations of Hitlers reborn. Thereafter “Mad Dog” Mattis’s career would unfold.

I was struck by a statement Mattis made in one of his interviews to the effect that prior to the second siege of Fallujah in 2004, which he commanded, he said that he at first objected to the tactics to be employed because they would “harm too many civilians” in the Iraqi city. He earlier had caused a stir in military circles when he removed a subordinate for not being aggressive enough in the capture of Baghdad. The lower ranking officer had been too careful protecting the lives of his troops.

Despite his claim of moral reluctance, Mattis unleashed an enormous cyclone of deadly force in Fallujah resulting in an immense massacre of those very civilians. As he stated in an interview, “That’s why orders are not requests.” He continued to explain that his orders required him to do what was necessary to uproot and defeat the enemy. Mattis has also been quoted as follows: “a good soldier follows orders, but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq the year before had been claimed by the Bush II administration to prevent Saddam Hussein from employing weapons of mass destruction, and to sunder his averred alliance with al Qaeda. Scott Ritter, ironically a former marine officer, from 1991 to 1998 was a United Nations weapons inspector who later became head of UNSCOM, the UN special Commission charged with destroying all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction left over after the First Gulf War. He declared unequivocally that Iraq had been purged of all such weapons. In fact, al Qaeda was a mortal enemy of Saddam and viewed him as an apostate. Al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq until the U.S. occupiers disbanded Saddams’s army and it was from that disbanded and profoundly disaffected military that the entirely separate and more ruthless ISIS soon emerged to wage warfare against American troops and Iraqi Shia. The slaughter in Fallujah had nothing to do with Saddam or al Quaeda. At that stage of the American invasion U.S. policy makers like John Bolton were obsessed to halt the growing influence of Iran in Iraq. Fallujah was primarily Shiite and there were few Sunni al Qaeda fighters in the city. Weakening the growing Shia movement was the paramount goal and so it citizens paid the price in blood.

Mattis enlisted in the marine officers reserve program in 1969, while an undergraduate at Washington Central University. The Pentagon Papers had been published by the time he got his 2nd lieutenants’ bar some years later. Since no institute of higher education at that time lacked antiwar activists Mattis could not have been ignorant of the demonstrated facts that the war in Vietnam had been sold to the public on utterly false pretenses, just as an “intellectual” he must have known that the Bush War in Iraq was also based on malevolent fabrications. In both cases marines and soldiers obeyed orders ultimately gave their lives for worse than nothing; they died for lies.

I have interviewed a number of veterans of that campaign, among them Ross Caputi, whose powerful documentary, Fear Not the Path of Truth: A Veterans Journey After Fallujah has garnered attention in antiwar quarters but the film has been ignored by the mass media which still depicts the invasion as a noble cause intended to rid Iraq of dictatorship and lay the basis for democracy but gone off course by the unintended rise of the Islamic State. (Another suppressed documentary is Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre, an Italian production that documents the illegal use of white phosphorus, banned under international law in use against civilians.) Caputi makes evident that the entire war in Iraq was an “atrocity” in multiple dimensions and clearly expresses his own remorse at having served the ruthless juggernaut that utterly demolished the city of Fallujah and much else of Iraq.

Most citizens, for that matter most soldiers and marines, do not know that under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (military law as opposed to civilian) troops are not obliged to follow illegal orders. But just what are such orders? Who determines when they violate law? As Mattis has acknowledged, he knew that civilians would pay the highest price for the deadly onslaught his orders demanded. Marines rained all manner of deadly ordnance on the city, including depleted uranium shells and “Willy Peter,” on the helpless civilians. Mattis was well educated and experienced enough to know that, judged by the standards of international law established at Nuremburg after World War II, and the fact that he could not have been ignorant of the reality that the war was based on lies asserted by a mendacious clique the entire war was illegal,so he was issuing illegal orders. No matter, orders are orders.

In numerous interviews and appearances Caputi, and many others, note the high rate of suicide that afflicts veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges that about 20 veterans kill themselves each day. In 2018 321 active duty personnel took their own lives. From 2008 to 2016 6,000 veterans committed suicide. No one reason explains this unholy manifestation but it is certain that deployments into the ghastly maw of war play a fateful role. I have been active with various antiwar veterans organizations all my adult life. I have personally known too many veterans who killed themselves. Their deaths stunned me and yet, based on what they had told me about the horrendous memories of actions they took and emotional burdens they carried, I felt their torment but felt felt helpless to aid them.

I recount the following not to disturb the reader but to underscore how “orders” that troops believe they are required to obey play a major role in the extreme post traumatic disorders that accompany all wars. A marine veteran I’ll call “Max” was attached to a major combat unit in Vietnam. One night after setting up an ambush designed to catch local Viet Cong guerrillas as they made their way through darkness the unit opened fire on a considerable movement of people they could not see. No fire was returned and the young men, most teenagers, went to examine the casualties. Turned out the group was comprised of women and children making their way under cover of night from one village to another in hopes of escaping violence. About 20 victims lay dead or dying. Under international and American law the troops were required to call in medevacs to treat the wounded, even if they were the “enemy” which these unarmed victims were not. Instead the commanding officer, in extreme violation of military law, ordered my friend to shoot the survivors. He and others questioned these orders but were told they would face severe punishment back at base camp if they did not comply. He did. From that moment he said that the dead women and children “stood at the end of my bed every night.” Throughout the years I knew him he was the most disturbed victim of PTSD I have ever known. Max was found dead of a heroin overdose on the street.

How do we explain the fact that that this is a real dimension of the American way of war? Troops are conditioned and induced and often ordered to commit such atrocities. Another former marine who killed a woman and her child as he sprayed a village with automatic fire told me in a tormented voice that he had been raised in the Catholic religion; he had been an altarboy. “How could I have done this?” he begged. He drank himself to death in his thirties.

Hollywood, of course, has produced many major films about American wars. Few are critical of their origins, or of the way they have been waged. All but two of which I am aware ignore the way in which troops are trained, especially the unforgiving rituals visited on troops headed for combat (only about one-sixth of the total). Many will remember Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket based on the novel The Shortimers by Gustav Hasford, a marine veteran of the 1968 bloody battle of Hue. I and another marine veteran saw the film as soon as it came out and found ourselves surprised that so many in the audience seemed astonished both at the depiction of the brutal basic training scenes and of combat during the Tet Offensive. Another is Jarhead based on the memoir by Anthony Swofford of the same name (the monicker is applied to marines because their shaved heads make their ears appear as jug handles). The boot camp scenes in both films do approach- but that is all- the reality of such brutal conditioning.

I rarely discuss my own experiences in the military except with those I trust, chiefly other vets and have never put any to writing. I had the following experience in basic training that for many may be difficult to believe but it was by no means out of the ordinary. I had arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Training Base at Parris Island, South Carolina in the summer of 1965 three days previously during which time we were punched, kicked, choked, shaved and stripped down to skivvies inside the barracks. On this day we were being issued all of our uniforms. A huge pile of trousers, blouses, boots and other paraphernalia was dumped in the squad bay and slowly distributed to each recruit. Near the end of the process the Senior Drill Instructor was bellowing piercingly that “one of you scumbags is missing a web belt and you better figure it out now.” Suddenly I realized it was me. I ran down and stood in front of him at what I hoped was the proper pose of attention. “Sir, the private is the one missing the web belt.” The D.I. a Force Recon staff sergeant and Korean War veteran, grimaced at me, belt in hand, and in one motion wrapped it around my throat and twisted me over his back in true garrote fashion, utterly cutting off blood to my brain. I immediately lost consciousness and fell to ground but came to quickly as I resumed breathing. I could not, however, coordinate my legs. I was like a floored boxer. The sergeant was standing over me shouting at the top of his lungs “Get the fuck off my deck dirtbag, you’re messing up my deck, get on your feet you fucking puke.” I could not stand so I began to crawl away on all fours. At that the D.I. raced up behind me and, as though kicking a field goal, rammed his boot up my rectum launching me further down the barracks floor and sending extreme shock waves and pain through my body. I wanted no more such “discipline” and somehow scrambled to my feet and raced back to stand in front of my bunk, by now wondering what hell I had got myself into.

About an hour later as I was packing my gear into my foot locker the D.I. approached me, apparently somewhat concerned since he knew that his kick had delivered enormous force, and walked a circle around me and said “Did you shit yourself maggot?” I, standing rigidly, answered “No Sir.” “Then why is that shit stain on your trousers? Get the fuck in the head.” He ordered “drop your drawers” and I discovered that I was bleeding from my anus more than enough to discolor my utility trousers. In theory, and according to official regulations, what occurred was a violation. He said “You don’t want to go to sick bay do you sweet pea.” Of course I answered “No Sir.” At that he grabbed a roll of toilet paper, matted some up and said “Now stick this up your pussy and we’ll hear no more of this will we?”

That was not the last time he struck me though not so viciously as the first time. I could go on with many tales of such treatment meted out to everyone in my platoon, some of it worse. All of this was declared as necessary to toughen us and break our civilian spirits so we could function as moving parts in the “mean green killing machine.” We were told too, daily, this is how “real marines” are made. Should we fail to stand up to such discipline we would likely fail the test of “real manhood” and show cowardice when faced with the enemy. Nothing, absoluthing nothing, was worse than the failure of courage in battle. The fear of showing cowardice – of revealing it to one’s fellows- overpowers the fear that one may be killed and more than any other factor explains how men can march into the very jaws of death. That is why so many veterans can be seen with tattoos that announce “Death before Dishonor.”

In 1956 a Drill Instructor marched his platoon at night to an area on Parris Island known as Ribbon Creek. He ordered the boot recruits into the swamp that surrounded the island and six young men drowned. Much public outrage followed including a Congressional investigation into the “sadistic” training methods at work in the Marine Corps. A court martial was ordered and the sergeant responsible was cleared of manslaughter but convicted of negligent homicide. No prison time was mandated and he was given a “bad conduct discharge” but that was remitted by the Secretary of the Navy. The D.I. was busted down to private and served out his career in the Corps. As numerous high ranking officers testified during the trial the brutal training methods were “necessary to survive in combat.”

Sometime after my experience I described above my D.I. marched us to Ribbon Creek in daylight. He stood on the spot where a small stone memorial had been placed in memory of the drowned recruits of 1956. Scowling he began to roar that the memorial was misdirected. It “should have been dedicated to the drill sergeant ” he bellowed because, by drowning, those six “pukes and maggots” had demonstrated that they were not fit to be U.S. marines. The D.I. had done his country a service by winnowing the unfit from the Corps. He then ordered us to “about face” and march into the swamps. We did so without hesitation. He ordered us out before another tragedy could occur.

I’ve known a few former marines who experienced both Parris Island as enlisted recruits and who later qualified to enter the Officers Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. To a man each said that the training at Parris Island was far more brutal and de-humanizing than what they experienced in officer school, where the emphasis was on study and tactics and physical training and bore no comparison to what enlisted men endured. The cruelty meted out to the enlisted ranks was thoroughly absent at Quantico. I am certain that General Mattis never received the sort of treatment to which his underlings could be subjected.

It is a curious fact that the name of the most honored marine in the Corps history, Major General Smedley D. Butler, has been all but expunged in our time. During his career, from the Spanish-American War to the eve of World War II, Butler was the nation’s most celebrated “war hero,” having been the only marine to be awarded two Congressional medals. When I was in basic training at Parris Island all recruits learned of the exploits of Smedley Butler. He was the “marine’s marine.” But we only got half the story. We were never told that he became the nation’s most renowned anti-war figure.

By the 1930s Butler was well-known, especially among World War I veterans, who in the depths of the Great Depression conducted the Bonus March in 1932 after the Hoover Administration and Congress failed to fund the bonus payments promised for their wartime service. Earlier he had charged that he had been approached by men representing forces on Wall Street who wanted him to lead an army of veterans to overthrow the U.S. government on the model of Mussolini’s seizure of power in Italy. When he went to the press Congress had no choice but to open an investigation into Butler’s charges of a nascent conspiracy that reached into the depths of the nation’s hidden rulers. The records of that inquest are still classified. In his widely read War Is A Racket he condemned American involvement in World War I as fraudulent and corrupt, serving the immensely increased profits of banking and corporate America immensely while sacrificing the lives of 110, 000 American soldiers, and until his death in 1940 he warned against what he correctly saw as equally cynical efforts on the part of business and government to engage in the next round of global war.

As I viewed numerous interviews with Mattis I wondered what he thought of Butler since I am certain he well knows of his reputation and the views he publicized so widely. I know why so many veterans cannot live with themselves. I cannot fathom how the Mattises of the world do.

 

The post Why Mattis is No Hero appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:59

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

If there is an upside to Brexit, it is this: it has made it increasingly hard to present Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to everything the corporate media has been telling us for the past four years, as anything but a political moderate. In truth, he is one of the few moderates left in British – or maybe that should read English – politics right now. The fact that still isn’t obvious to many in Britain is a sign of their – not his – extremism.

Brexit has brought into sharp focus, at least for those prepared to look, the fanaticism that dominates almost the entire British political class. Their zealotry has been increasingly on show since the UK staged a referendum in 2016 on leaving Europe that was won by the pro-Brexit camp with a wafer-thin majority. The extremism has only intensified as Britain approaches the exit deadline, due at the end of October.

The feud has usually been portrayed this way: The UK has split into two camps, polarising popular opinion between those who feel Britain’s place is in Europe (Remainers) and those who prefer that Britain makes its own way in the world (Brexiters). But it has actually divided the British political class into three camps, with the largest two at the political extremes.

On the one side – variously represented by the new prime minister Boris Johnson and many in his Conservative party, as well as Nigel Farage and his supporters – are those who want Britain to break from Europe and rush into the embrace of the United States, stripping away the last constraints on free-market, ecocidal capitalism. They aren’t just Brexiters, they are no-deal Brexiters, who want to turn their back on Europe entirely.

The other side – variously supported by many Labour MPs, including the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson, and the Liberal Democrats – are those who wish to stay in the secure embrace of a European bureacracy that is nearly as committed to suicidal capitalism as the US but, given the social democratic traditions of some of its member states, has mitigated the worst excesses of free-market fundamentalism. These UK politicians aren’t just Remainers, they are Remainists, who not only refuse to contemplate any weakening of the bonds between the UK and Europe but actually want those bonds to tighten.

Suspending parliament

And as the divide has deepened, it has become clear that neither side is prepared to pay more than lip service to democracy.

On the Brexit side, Johnson has suspended parliament, an institution representing the people, that is supposed to be sovereign. Like his predecessor, Theresa May, he has repeatedly found there is no legislative majority for a hard or no-deal Brexit. He has faced an unprecedented and humiliating series of defeats in parliament in the few days he has been prime minister. So now he has swept parliament out of the way in a bid to run down the clock on a no-deal Brexit without legislative interference.

Watson and the Remainists have been trying a counter-move, arguing that the referendum is no longer valid. They believe that new voters, youngsters more likely to support Remain, have come of age in the three years since 2016, and that more information about the true costs of Brexit have lately swung support to their side. They want to ignore the original referendum result and run the ballot again in the hope that this time the tide will turn in their favour.

The reality is that, if Johnson drives through a no-deal Brexit by ignoring parliament, or if Watson gets to quash the first referendum result to engineer a second, it is likely to trigger civil war in the UK.

The first option will drive Scotland out of the union, could very well reignite the sectarian “Troubles” of Northern Ireland, and will have English urban elites in open revolt. The second option will ensure that large sections of the English public who voted for Brexit because they feel marginalised and ignored are up in arms too. Their trust in politics and politicians will sink even further, and there is the danger that they will turn in droves to a crowd-pleasing autocrat like Johnson, Farage or worse.

Zealotry vs compromise

In these circumstances, anyone responsible would be looking to find common ground, to understand that political compromise is absolutely necessary to stop Britain breaking apart. And that is exactly what Corbyn and the largely ignored and maligned third camp have been trying to do.

They want to honour the spirit of the vote by leaving the EU but hope to do so in a way that doesn’t cut the UK adrift from Europe, doesn’t prevent the continuation of relatively free trade and movement, and doesn’t leave the UK exposed and vulnerable to serfdom under a new US master.

For many months Corbyn has been calling for a general election as a way for the majority of the public, having chosen in the referendum what they want to do, to now decide who they want to negotiate how Britain departs from Europe. But even that realistic compromise has not satisfied the fanatics within his own party.

Because the zealots of the right and the immoderate centre dominate the political and media landscape, this approach has barely registered in public debates. Corbyn’s efforts have been misrepresented as evidence of muddled thinking, ambivalence, or his covert opposition to Europe. It is none of those things.

Caught in the spider’s web

The common argument that Corbyn is a Brexit wolf in sheep’s clothing draws on the fact that, like many democratic socialists, such as the late Tony Benn, Corbyn has never been enamoured of the unelected European technocratic class that is misleadingly termed simply “Europe” or the “European Union”.

Rightly, socialists understood long ago that the more Britain was locked into Europe’s embrace, the more it would become caught like a fly in the spider’s web. At some level, most people have started to recognise this, if only because finding a way to leave Europe, even for Brexiters, has proved so inordinately difficult.

Just like banks were too big to fail in 2008 so they had to be bailed out with our, public money to save them from their private malfeasance, the publics of Europe have incrementally had their sovereignty transferred to an unelected and centralised bureacracy all in the name of pursuing freedom – of movement and trade, chiefly for global corporations.

We haven’t noticed, it is true, because for decades our own, domestic politics has come in one flavour only – support for our little corner of the global neoliberal empire. Till recently the consensus of Britain’s ruling elite, whether of the right or of New Labour centrists, was that being a player in Europe was the best way to protect their – though not necessarily our – interests on that global battlefield. Now, as the neoliberal empire enters a period of terminal decline, this same elite are bitterly divided over whether the US or Europe is the best guarantor of their wealth and influence continuing a little longer.

Iron fist in velvet glove

But Britain and the world’s problems – whether in the shape of impending economic meltdown or environmental collapse – cannot be solved from within the neoliberal paradigm, as becomes clearer by the day. New political structures are desperately needed: at the local level to foster new, more decentralised economic models, free of corporate influence, resource-stripping and unnecessary consumption; and at the global level to ensure that such models reverse rather than perpetuate the ecocidal policies that have dominated under neoliberal capitalism.

To start on that path will require the democratisation of Britain. The fear of Benn and others was that even if a truly socialist government was elected, its ability to make real, profound changes to the political and economic order – by bringing much of the economy back into public or cooperative ownership, for example – would be made impossible within the larger framework of European corporate managerialism.

We have been given glimpses of the iron fist Europe’s technocrats wield beneath the velvet glove in the treatment of Greece over its financial troubles and the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

The attitude of Corbyn and other democratic socialists to Brexit, however, has been wildly misrepresented by the other two camps of zealots.

In Benn’s time, it was still possible to imagine a world in which neoliberalism might be prevented from gaining a tyrannical grip on our political imaginations and on national economies. But things have changed since then. Now the issue is not whether Britain can stop being locked into a European neoliberal order. It is that the UK, like everyone else, is already in the stranglehold of a global neoliberal order.

Not just that, but Britain has willingly submitted to that order. As the zealotry of most of the political class demonstrates, few can imagine or want a life outside the neoliberal cage. The debate is about which corner of that suicidal, ecocidal global order we prefer to be located in. The Brexit row is chiefly about which slavemaster, America or Europe, will be kinder to us.

Inside the leviathan’s dark belly

In this context, there is no real escape. The best that can be done, as the moderates in both the Brexit and Remain camps realise, is loosen our chains enough so that we have room once again to contemplate new political possibilities. We can then breathe deeply, clear our heads and start to imagine how Britain and the the world might operate differently, how we might free ourselves of the tyranny of the corporations and heal our planet of the deep scars we have inflicted on it.

These are big matters that cannot be solved either by binding ourselves more tightly to European technocrats or by cutting loose from Europe only to chain ourselves to the US. The Brexit feud is an endless theatrical distraction from the real questions we need to face. That is one reason why it drags on, one reason why our political class revel in it, John Bercow-style.

Strangely, it is the Remainists of the immoderate centre – typified by commentary in corporate “liberal” media like the Guardian – who so often claim to lament the fact that the left has failed to offer a vision, a political future, that might serve as an alternative to neoliberalism. But how can such a vision emerge from deep inside the leviathan’s dark belly?

Hiding in ideological life-rafts

It goes without saying that the Atlanticists cheerleading Brexit are up to no good when they speak of “taking back control” and “reclaiming our sovereignty”. They demand those powers only so they can immediately surrender them to a US master.

But the much-maligned leftwing, soft Brexit – a version that wishes to distance Britain from Europe without pretending that the UK can stand alone on the global neoliberal battlefield – also has use for such language.

This version of taking back control isn’t about spitting in the face of Europe, blocking the entry of immigrants, or reinventing the imagined halycon days of empire. It is about recognising that we, like the rest of humankind, are responsible for the crimes we have been, and still are, committing against the planet, against other species, against fellow human beings.

Chaining ourselves to an unelected, distant European technocratic class that simply follows orders – implementing the requirements of an economic system that must end in the destruction of the planet – is cowardice. We can more easily shelter from that truth when we cede our political and economic powers to those compelled to carry out the (il)logic of neoliberalism.

Standing a little outside Europe is probably the best we can hope to manage in current circumstances. But it might give us the political space – and, more importantly, burden us with the political responsibility – to imagine the deep changes that are urgently needed.

Change has to happen if we as a species are to survive, and it has to happen soon and it has to happen somewhere. We cannot force others to change, but we can recognise our own need to change and offer a vision of change for others to follow. That can begin only when we stop shielding ourselves from the consequences of our decisions, stop hiding in someone else’s ideological life-raft in the forlorn hope that it will weather the coming, real-world storms.

It is time to stop acting like zealots for neoliberalism, squabbling over which brand of turbo-charged capitalism we prefer, and face up to our collective responsibility to change our and our children’s future.

 

The post Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump, Trade and China

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:58

Photograph Source: The White House from Washington, DC – Public Domain

Rarely a day passes when one or another U.S. ruling class institution or personality fails to criticize President Trump’s unilateral imposition of ever increasing and broad-ranging protective tariffs against Chinese imports. Trump’s critics include the Democratic Party as well as leading Republicans, the prestigious corporate “newspaper of record,” The New York Times and the aptly dubbed “ruling class think tank,” the Council on Foreign Relations. The latter’s September/October 2019 Foreign Affairs, headlined, “How A Global Trading System Dies,” features five articles and essays warning U.S. policy makers against Trump’s course.

The titles themselves are indicative of Foreign Affairs’ viewpoint. They include: “The Sources of Chinese Conduct: Are Washington and Beijing Fighting a New Cold War?” and “Competition Without Catastrophe: How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China” as well as “Trump’s Assault on the Global Trading System And Why Decoupling from China Will Change Everything.”

All Trump’s trade policy critics begin with the proposition that China today operates on the world stage as a leading capitalist power, indeed as a leading imperialist power with ever-increasing intentions to dominate world markets to the disadvantage of its competitors.

Nothing new here! In the world of high stakes globalized imperialist competition, there are no friendly players or permanent “historic allies.” Indeed, Trump’s imposition of major tariffs include painful measures inflicted against its traditional European allies, including France, Germany, Italy and England, as well as Canada and Mexico. To date estimates of Trump’s tariffs, imposed or to be imposed in stages at rates from 10% to 15% and even 30%, have been levied on Chinese, European, Canadian and Mexican imports valued at close to $700 billion, the great proportion of which are aimed at China. But with regard to all these effected nations, who have retaliated with their own tariffs against U.S. exports to their nations, Trump’s critics share the view that unlike the Cold War  “containment” and isolation strategies imposed on the Soviet Union for some 70 years prior to its restoration of capitalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, China, with a Gross Domestic Product ranked second in the world at 63 percent of the U.S. GDP, and the largest trading partner with more than half the world’s nations, cannot and must not be excluded from the world marketplace.

Workings of the WTO

Dependent on world trade to export their commodities outside their own limited domestic markets, Trump’s critics seek to engage U.S. competitors in broad-ranging negotiations via the aegis of the World Trade Organizations (WTO) and similar international bodies as opposed to Trump’s belief that he can unilaterally bludgeon competitors into submitting to his dictates, usually in accord with the specific interests of various components of the U.S. ruling class closest to or beholden to Trump’s personal circles.

The U.S.-led Cold War policies of previous decades were aimed at the Soviet Union from the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution and continuing through the post-WWII period when Eastern Europe, via the Soviet Union’s defeat of the largely German occupied and pro-Hitler capitalist governments there, laid the basis for extricating this huge swath of Europe from capitalist domination. Imperialism’s fear that the Soviet workers’ state’s abolition of private property, its original world revolutionary intentions and its instituting a monopoly of foreign trade aimed at preventing world imperialism from undermining its nascent domestic economy with superior technologies and commodities were central to U.S. policies. The seventy-plus years of the U.S. Cold War were aimed at bringing down the Soviet state and its Eastern European counterparts as well as China and Vietnam. In Western Europe, where the wartime governments in France and Italy embraced and collaborated with the German Nazis occupation, the immediate post war period was marked by massive working class mobilizations that posed a serious threat to capitalist rule and led to major victories that persist to this day, including systems of free health care and major extensions of union and workers’ rights. Similarly, the 1946 post war U.S. strike wave, the largest in history, saw millions take to the streets to close down major U.S. industries demanding union recognition and an end to the wartime wage freeze that had brought unprecedented profits to the warmakers’ military-industrial behemoth and misery to the working class majority. A frightened U.S. ruling class, fearful that Europe’s mass anti-capitalist worker mobilization would inspire similar challenges to capitalist prerogatives, but untainted with Nazis collaboration as in France and Italy, launched the infamous McCarthy era witch hunt aimed at purging socialists and communists from leadership positions in the growing trade union movement.

China’s 1949-54 revolution eventually abolished capitalist property relations and ended the centuries of world imperialist division, exploitation and colonization of the Chinese people. As with the ending of capitalist rule in the USSR and Eastern Europe, the U.S. and the imperialist world more generally sought restoration and/or expansion of its “interests” in all these states, using ever-increasing military measures (NATO), overt intervention in China during the Korean War, sanctions, embargoes, and economic isolation, coupled with CIA secret wars, assassinations and industrial sabotage.

Stalinism’s role in Russia and China

They were aided in these efforts by the ceaseless disputes that emerged between the Stalinist-led bureaucratic regimes in China and the USSR, both of which periodically sought “peaceful co-existence” alliances with U.S. imperialism against each other as opposed to advancing the interests of the world’s working masses. The Russians, under Stalin, demanded that the Chinese refrain from alienating the defeated Chinese capitalists in 1949 by nationalizing their property and repeatedly insisted on Russian ownership of disputed border areas in the Chinese East. The Chinese under Mao Zedong, armed and financed U.S. and apartheid South African-backed “guerilla fighters” in efforts to overthrow the Russian-allied Angolan government. The infamous 1972 Nixon-Mao meeting in Beijing at the height of the U.S. genocidal war against Vietnam informed world opinion that China preferred an alliance with U.S. imperialism as a counter to its rivalry with the USSR – the Vietnamese liberation war be damned! China was the first nation to recognize the fascist-like Augusto Pinochet government of Chile that came to power in 1973 via a U.S.-supported military coup. China’s heinous 1979 invasion and war against Vietnam, in retaliation for Vietnam’s 1978 invasion of Cambodia to stop the mass murder of millions of Cambodian workers and peasant at the hands of the China-allied Pol Pot regime was yet another horrific example of China’s “Russia [not U.S. imperialism] is the main danger” thesis. Russia’s Stalinists too pulled out all the stops to advance their “nationalist” interests against China, not to mention Russia’s reactionary invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) aimed at smashing working class rebellions against Stalinist rule.

Beginning with the 1979 rise to power in China of the capitalist-restorationist  regime of Deng Xiaoping China’s Stalinist leaders signaled world imperialism that it was more than willing to re-open its nation to imperialist penetration and plunder. A decade later the Russian Stalinists too submitted to massive imperialist penetration and facilitated a capitalist restoration process that brought untold misery to the Russian people.

China enters the WTO

Convinced that capitalist restoration in China was the order of the day, in 2001 the U.S. ended all aspects of hostility toward China and presided over China’s admission to the WTO. The terms were simple enough; China would allow U.S. corporations to set up shop and employ endless numbers of Chinese workers at near slave wages and using state-of-the-art technologies to produce unprecedented numbers of commodities for the U.S. and world marketplace. This super-exploitation of Chinese labor had the effect of temporarily boosting declining U.S. profit rates, closing non-competitive U.S. factories and freezing or reducing U.S. wage rates – a ten-plus year bonanza for U.S. corporations, which happily shipped back to the U.S. Chinese made commodities from U.S.–owned factories at near zero tariff rates.  Indeed, U.S. tariff rates at some 1.5 percent or zero on most Chinese imports were among the lowest in the world. And why not? Historically, tariffs are imposed by nations with inferior technologies that cannot effectively compete on world markets. The age-old debate between protectionists and free traders always comes down to which nations need protection and which need total and unobstructed access to world markets. In the eighteen some odd years since China was admitted to the WTO China went from operating as one of the world’s lowest technology nations to today, when Chinese technology rivals or exceeds most all other nations on earth. In the past 20-plus years China, for example, went from providing “internal migrant” teenage girls from the Chinese countryside working in prison like foreign-owned dormitory factories at six cents per hour and seven days a week producing garments to China today – a nation with some of the most modern factories in the world producing world class industrial tools and machinery and state-of-the-art 5G (fifth generation) electronics and telecommunication products. Super high tech 5G Chinese corporations like Huawei are today capable of challenging and exceeding the world’s most sophisticated operations. A 2017 Financial Times survey of the global mobile infrastructure market showed that Huawei had a world market share of 28%, with Sweden’s Ericsson at 27%, Finland’s Nokia at 23% and ZTE, another Chinese firm, at 13%. Japan’s Samsung had 3%. All the others, including the U.S. corporation Cisco, had only 6% between them.

The WTO’s inherent contradiction

Established in 1995, and including more than 124 nations, the WTO is an intergovernmental organization concerned with the regulation of international trade in goods, services and intellectual property. Its functions include negotiating trade agreements and establishing dispute resolution mechanisms to enforce them. While the free trade-oriented WTO prohibits tariff and other discriminatory practices between trading partners, it provides exceptions for so-called environmental protection and “national security” issues, the latter now invoked by the Trump administration to mean the “right” to ignore WTO rules. Trump, for example, recently threatened to invoke U.S. “national security” concerns to ban Japanese cars from the U.S. market. Needless to say, the most powerful WTO nations, with the ability to ban key commodities from their markets make the rules in the context of their so-called “free trade” system. Thus, “deal-making” is the norm among trade negotiators. The most powerful are able to make “concessions” when they negotiate with the weaker based on the fact that the latter usually compete with regard to a handful of products while the former compete on world markets with literally thousands of commodities. Further, and perhaps less known is the fact the WTO’s “dispute resolution” mechanisms consist of a rotating group of arbitrators that the U.S. does not always dominate, posing the possibility that U.S. unilaterally-imposed tariffs might be reversed, hence perhaps a clearer explanation for Trump’s public distain for WTO rules and its leading component powers.

Decline of U.S. economic power

Of course, the most obvious aspect of Trump’s and U.S. imperialist concerns rests in the undeniable fact that the U.S. economy is far from stable, that the U.S. no longer operates with impunity on world markets, that its technological supremacy is increasingly challenged by its major competitors and that, in consequence, its corporate profit rates are steadily in decline. In short, the inherent factors that periodically lead all capitalist powers to crises and decline are fully operative today. This is the primary explanation for why every serious assessment of the state of the U.S. and world economy includes dire warnings that perhaps another great recession, deeper than the devastating 2008-09 massive and near financial collapse and associated devastating effects on U.S. workers, may well be on the horizon. When in mid-August Trump publically attacked Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, charging that Powell posed “a greater threat to the U.S. than China’s President Xi Jinping,” serious analysts took notice, not because of Trump’s buffoonery, but rather because Trump sounded the alarm that the corporate elite needed even lower interest rates to facilitate corporate “borrowing.” And borrowing for what purpose? As with past and recent periods of near zero interest rates under the Obama administration, corporate borrowing is qualitatively less for infrastructure investment and building new U.S. factories than it is for a new wave of stock market and related highly speculative “investments” that have lined the pockets of the billionaire elite with “paper money’ that has little or no correspondence to real commodities. Trump’s bragging that the U.S. dollar is the strongest currency in the world is increasingly challenged when China, Japan and a growing number of other nations conduct business in their own currencies as opposed to the ever-inflating U.S. dollar. Indeed, China’s deflating its own currency, the renminbi, to counter Trump’s tariffs told the world that two can play the same game. And further, Trump’s public complaints about the U.S. trade deficit with China, wherein Chinese imports to the U.S. exceeded U.S. exports to China by $419 billion in 2018, fail to take into account that the U.S. corporations pay or these imports with increasingly inflated dollars, printed with abandon by the U.S. Treasury in the form of paper money or the issuance of computer generated federal bonds and/or related promises to pay. Again, any government that prints money with no regard to its material basis in commodity production risks disaster. The U.S. “coin of the world realm” is, in this writers view, in deep trouble.

China’s transition to capitalism

Again, with regard to China, upon its 2001 WTO entry, it was incapable of competing with regard to any commodity, except its capacity to “sell” its labor force in greater quantities and cheaper than most nations on earth. To enter the WTO China was compelled to open its country to every nation seeking this super cheap and seemingly inexhaustible supply of labor, near zero taxes and other concessions.

The question therefore inevitably arises, how did China make the transition from a relatively poor nation, largely bereft of modern technology to a world-class player on international markets? The answer lies in how China made the transition over the past forty years from a deformed workers’ state that essentially banned capitalist private property, established a planned economy that focused more on addressing human needs, including providing free health care and education to all its citizens, than capitalist profits, to a leading capitalist and imperialist nation with $trillion dollar infrastructure investments in China and, increasingly around the world, as with, China’s Belt and Road initiative aimed at increasing China’s market penetration on a world scale. A serious approach to answering this critical question, a complex matter to be sure, begins with China’s adoption of the key features of the BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa. In all these relatively underdeveloped nations, the ruling elite focused on a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich that they expected to result in the emergence of a relatively well-off layer of perhaps 20 to 25 percent of the population, consisting of “middle class” and working class sectors, who would be capable of purchasing a broad range of nationally produced consumer commodities typical of their counterparts in advanced nations. This massive transfer, of course, was to be at the expense of the vast majority of their respective populations, who were in turn driven into abject poverty. This BRICS phenomenon is indeed operative internationally wherein a tiny ruling class elite the “one percent” own and control more wealth than the bottom half of the population. In the U.S. for example, Bernie Sanders often notes, without reference to a solution, that “three U.S. individuals own and control more wealth than the bottom half of the country.”

In China, with a population of 1.3 billion, this massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich and a layer of a new middle class and some well-paid workers, is consciously pursued via the relative impoverishment of some one billion people, who today have largely been denied the social gains of the 1949 revolution.

In short, China’s capitalist class, through a process akin to the “primitive accumulation of capital” in past centuries, that is, the massive extraction of surplus value via the super-exploitation of the vast peasantry, amassed the initial capital to begin the process of transforming its backward productive infrastructure into a first rate competitor on world markets. This forced transfer of literally millions of poor peasants, “internal migrants” requiring special passports, from the countryside to the periphery of China’s cities, virtually locked into slave labor like factories accounts for China’s “rise” and NOT the wonders of the capitalist system. So intensive was this super-exploitation that many of the near-enslaved and literally starved peasants had to be periodically transferred back to the countryside to be rejuvenated for future use!

For the Chinese capitalists, the construction of an internal market of three million people, comparable to the U.S. population, is viewed as sufficient to absorb increasing Chinese corporation manufactured commodities. These Chinese corporations, of course, employ state-of-the-art technologies, including robots that allow them to effectively compete against U.S. and other foreign corporations seeking access to China’s massive internal market.

“Theft” of intellectual property

Trump and his associates ever chastise China for “stealing U.S. intellectual property rights” and for violating WTO rules against government funding of private corporations. Few seriously believe these rants. All serious players operating in the world of international banking, finance and world trade fully understand that the name of the game is never-ending competition between the world’s leading corporations, that are always backed to the hilt by their own governments. In the U.S. this backing includes multi-trillion dollar tax breaks and subsidies to U.S. corporations, who really write the tax codes, and the most massive surveillance operations in the world, overseen by the CIA and the myriad of associated U.S. spy agencies, aimed at stealing the technologies and secret scientific breakthroughs of all U.S. competitors.

The “moron” Trump

While Donald Trump is truly the “moron” described by his former and fired Secretary of State, Exxon Mobile chief Rex Tillerson, he and his U.S. critics, and the central leaders of world capitalism, from China, Japan to Europe, are all aware not only of the declining power of U.S. imperialism, but of the emerging crises facing the entire world capitalist system. China too, a major player in this world constellation of ever competing and inherently warring nations, has seen its record growth rates of previous decades sharply decline. None of the players in this deadly venture of subordinating human needs, and the environment itself, to the private profits of the few, including endless hot and cold wars to achieve heinous ends, have any serious solutions other than more of the same. The bully Trump’s current weapons include embarrassing and uninformed displays of disgusting bluster and bluff. But his critics, with zero exceptions, accept and embrace the same basic tenets of capitalist plunder, but seek to sugarcoat its ongoing and inevitable consequences with Cheshire cat smiles

The post Trump, Trade and China appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:57

Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which experienced three massive meltdowns in 2011, is running out of room to store radioactive water. No surprise! But now, what to do about phosphorescent water?

Addressing the issue, Japan’s environmental minister Yoshiaki Harada held a news conference (September 2019). Unfortunately, he proffered the following advice: “The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it.” (Source: Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Fukushima: Japan Will Have to Dump Radioactive Water Into Pacific, Minister Says, The Guardian, Sept. 10, 2019)

“The only option”… Really?

Over the past 8 years, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) has scrambled like a Mad Hatter to construct emergency storage tanks (1,000) to contain upwards of one million tonnes of contaminated radioactive water, you know, the kind of stuff that, over time, destroys human cells, alters DNA, causes cancer, or produces something like the horrific disfigured creature in John Carpenter’s The Thing! That’s the upshot of a triple nuclear meltdown that necessitates constant flow of water to prevent further melting of reactor cores that have been decimated and transfigured into corium or melted blobs. It’s the closest to a full-blown “china syndrome” in all of human history. Whew! Although, the truth is it’ll be a dicey situation for decades to come.

Ever since March 11, 2011, TEPCO has scrambled to build storage tanks to prevent massive amounts of radioactive water from pouring into the ocean (still, some lesser amounts pour into the ocean every day by day). Now the government is floating a trial balloon in public that, once the tanks are full, it’ll be okay to dump the radioactive water into the ocean. Their logic is bizarre, meaning, on the one hand, the meltdown happens, and they build storage tanks to contain the radioactive water, but on the other hand, once the storage tanks run out of space, it’s okay to dump radioactive water into the ocean. Seriously?

Meantime, the Fukushima meltdown brings the world community face to face with TEPCO and the government of Japan in an unprecedented grand experiment that, so far, has failed miserably. Of course, dumping radiation into the Pacific is like dumping radiation into everybody’s back yard. But, for starters, isn’t that a non-starter?

Along the way, deceit breeds duplicity, as the aforementioned Guardian article says the Japanese government claims only one (1) death has been associated with the Fukushima meltdown but keep that number in mind. Reliable sources in Japan claim otherwise, as explained in previous articles on the subject, for example, “Fukushima Darkness, Part Two” d/d November 24, 2017, and as highlighted further on in this article.

When it comes to nuclear accidents, cover-ups reign supreme; you can count on it.

As such, it is believed the Japanese government is lying and should be held accountable for hoodwinking the world about the ravages of Fukushima, especially with the Olympics scheduled for next year.

For example, the following explains how death by radiation is shamefully hidden from the public via newspeak: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station worker deaths “that expire at home” are not officially counted. Accordingly, how many workers on a deathbed with radiation sickness leave home to go to work (where deaths are counted) just before they die? Oh, please!

Meanwhile, the last thing the world community needs in the face of an uncontrollable nuclear meltdown, like Fukushima, is deceptiveness and irresponsibility by the host government. Too much is at stake for that kind of childish nonsense. And just to think, the 2020 Olympics are scheduled with events held in Fukushima. Scandalously, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is A-Okay with that.

In contrast, a Greenpeace International March 8th 2019 article entitled: Japanese Government Misleading UN on Impact of Fukushima Fallout on Children, Decontamination Workers: “The Japanese government is deliberately misleading United Nations human rights bodies and experts over the ongoing nuclear crisis in areas of Fukushima… In areas where some of these decontamination workers are operating, the radiation levels would be considered an emergency if they were inside a nuclear facility.” Enough said!

“In its reporting to the United Nations, the Japanese government deliberately misrepresents the scale, complexity, and radiation risks in areas of Fukushima, the working practice and conditions for workers, and its disregard for children’s health and wellbeing. This reality should shame the government to radically change its failing policies,” said Kazue Suzuki, Energy Campaigner of Greenpeace Japan.

As such, either Greenpeace or the IOC is “dead wrong” about the conditions at Fukushima. Take your pick.

After all, the trend of misrepresentation of nuclear accidents has been established for decades. Not only Fukushima, Chernobyl (1986) is a nuclear disaster zone where the “official death count from radiation exposure” has been considerably discounted by various governmental agencies and NGOs. For inexplicable reasons (actually explicable but a long story), nuclear accidents are given Get Out Jail Free cards by the world’s press and associated governmental orgs and NGOs.

Yet, over time, the truth comes out, and when it does it’s dreadfully atrocious:

A BBC special report, The True Toll of the Chernobyl Disaster d/d July 26, 2019 says: “The official, internationally recognized death toll, just 31 people died as an immediate result of Chernobyl while the UN estimates that only 50 deaths can be directly attributed to the disaster.”

That’s the official tally. Ugh! It’s so far off the mark that, if it were a baseball pitch, it’d be in the dirt, and a prime example of the public not getting the truth about the ravages of nuclear power accidents.

Of course, it is important to take note of how “wordsmiths” describe the death numbers, i.e., “died as an immediate result of Chernobyl” can only include someone standing at the site when it happened, leaving out all cases of radiation exposure that kills and cripples over subsequent days, months, and years. Or, in the case of the UN statement, “only 50 deaths can be directly attributed.” Only those standing there when it happened… ahem!

According to the BBC article, the Russian Academy of Sciences said as many as 112,000-125,000 died by 2005. That’s 2,500xs more deaths than the official reports, which also never increase in number over time as radiation takes its merry ole time blasting, destroying, and/or altering human cell structure. Ukrainian authorities claim death rates of Chernobyl cleanup workers rose from 3.5 to 17.5 deaths per 1,000 between 1988 and 2012 on a database of 651,453 cleanup workers, which equates to 11,392 deaths. Additionally, Belarus had 99,693 cleanup workers, equating to 1,732 deaths. Not only that, disability among workers shows that approximately 5% are still healthy in 2012 (only 5%, meaning 95% unhealthy) with commonality of cardiovascular and circulatory diseases and nervous system problems.

By 2008 in Belarus alone 40,049 liquidators or cleanup workers of Chernobyl were registered with cancer.

Viktor Sushko, deputy director general of the National Research Centre for Radiation Medicine (NRCRM) based in Kiev, Ukraine, describes the Chernobyl disaster as: “The largest anthropogenic disaster in the history of humankind,” Ibid.

Thus begging the most obvious of questions re Fukushima victims in the years ahead; how many cases of cancer, and how many will die? Unfortunately, radioactive isotopes don’t stop once they’re activated in a nuclear meltdown. They’re pernicious over time destroying and/or grotesquely altering human cell structure. For proof, visit second-generation Chernobyl children locked up in orphanages in Belarus.

“As of January 2018, 1.8 million people in Ukraine, including 377,589 children, carried status of victims of the disaster, according to Sushko and his colleagues. Not only that, there has been a rapid increase in the number of people with disabilities, rising from 40,106 in 1995 to 107,115 in 2018,” Ibid.

According to a USA Today article – Chernobyl’s Legacy: Kids With Bodies Ravaged by Disaster, April 17, 2016: “There are 2,397,863 people registered with Ukraine’s health ministry to receive ongoing Chernobyl-related health care. Of these, 453,391 are children — none born at the time of the accident. Their parents were children in 1986. These children have a range of illnesses: respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, eye diseases, blood diseases, cancer, congenital malformations, genetic abnormalities, trauma.” Many of the children are hidden away deep in the forested countryside in orphanages in Belarus.

Back to Fukushima, there are numerous instances of governmental meddling to hide the truth, starting with passage of the 2013 government secrecy act, The State Secrecy Law, aka: Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS), Act No. 108, which says that civil servants or others who “leak secrets” will face up to 10 years in prison, and those who “instigate leaks,” especially journalists, will be subject to a prison term of up to 5 years. Subsequently, Japan fell below Serbia and Botswana in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

Horrifically, at the end of the day, when nuclear goes bad, it takes everyone along on a daunting trip for years and years and more years, outliving life spans but continuing generation after generation, like the 453,391 Chernobyl-radiated-influence children born after the nuclear blowout in 1986. Chernobyl altered their genes before they were born…. Imagine that!

Cliodhna Russell visited children’s orphanages in Belarus in 2014: “Children rocking back and forth for hours on end, hitting their heads against walls, grinding their teeth, scraping their faces and putting their hands down their throats.” (Source: How My Trip to a Children’s Mental Asylum in Belarus Made Me Proud to be Irish, the journal.ie, March 18, 2014.)

Postscript: “It’s a real shame that the authorities hide the truth from the whole world, from the UN. We need to admit that actually many people are dying. We are not allowed to say that, but TEPCO employees also are dying. But they keep mum about it,” Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba (Fukushima Prefecture) Fukushima Disaster: Tokyo Hides Truth as Children Die, Become Ill from Radiation – Ex-Mayor, RT News, April 21, 2014)

Post-Postscript: “The ashes of half a dozen unidentified laborers ended up at a Buddhist temple in a town just north of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Some of the dead men had no papers; others left no emergency contacts. Their names could not be confirmed and no family members had been tracked down to claim their remains. They were simply labeled “decontamination troops” — unknown soldiers in Japan’s massive cleanup campaign to make Fukushima livable again five years after radiation poisoned the fertile countryside,” (Source: Mari Yamaguchi, Fukushima ‘Decontamination Troops’ Often Exploited, Shunned, AP & ABC News, Minamisona, Japan, March 10, 2016)

The post Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Democrats and the Climate Crisis

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:51

CNN performed a public service with its Climate Crisis Town Hall in late August 2019.

Democratic presidential candidates facing the climate change monster

Democratic presidential candidates (Joe Biden (D-former vice president in the Obama administration), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend, IN), Beto O’ Rourke (D-former Congressman from Texas), Julian Castro (D-former Secretary of Housing, Obama administration) and Andrew Yang (D-businessman), spoke eloquently about the policies they would advocate and advance, should they become president.

They all expressed sincerity and some passion when they said this was a life-threatening crisis facing not merely the United States but the entire world. They promised climate change would be weaved into everything they would do in the White House.

All candidates demonstrated some grasp of what it means to fight climate change in two fronts. First, try to protect the country from real storms, forest fires, sudden rains or sudden draughts, potentially millions of climate refugees, and rising sea water levels and warm and rising temperature. Second, and even more difficult than the real violence of abrupt climate change, would be convincing millions of Americans, including the petrochemical-agribusiness-military-industrial complex, that global warming is here with us now and not a hoax, as president Trump foolishly, irresponsibly, and maliciously has been saying for years.

The candidates, especially Bernie Sanders,  gave us to understand their proposed task would be even more difficult because the United States has been so intertwined with fossil fuels. The last century of American history was a history of petrochemical supremacy.

But each politician framed his / her speech or answer to questions to practical measures that would not be an immediate threat to the reigning petroleum kingdom of Exxon Mobil and a few other oil companies.

For example, all candidates promised to end the anti-environmental sleaze of the Trump administration, including terminating any fracking in federal lands and oil exploration and drilling in coastal waters.

Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders has an extensive climate change plan, which, in honoring President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he calls Green New Deal. This proposal promises to remake America the way Roosevelt did to fight and win WWII.

Sanders will do “massive investments” in transforming the United States from the greatest polluter in the world to a model world citizen. By 2030, Sanders’ America is projected to reduce its carbon footprint by 71 percent. This would guarantee 100 percent renewable energy for electricity and transportation. However, complete decarbonization (meaning zero fossil fuel use) would have to wait till 2050.

Joe Biden has also been arguing that his Clean Energy Revolution — solar and wind technologies – would end transforming US economy to zero carbon emissions no later than 2050.

Pentagon and agriculture

The unspoken elephants in the room are the Pentagon and agriculture. Their carbon footprint is gigantic. The Department of Defense is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and “the single largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world.” In 2012, one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture, worldwide. In the United States, in the age of Trump, we don’t know the exact contribution of agriculture to making out planet warmer. But we can safely assume agribusiness is responsible for more than one-third of all US greenhouse gas emissions.

Existential threat

In 2019, climate change is an existential threat. Scientists have been documenting this looming emergency. In a recent 2019 report, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said that “climate change is now an existential threat.”

All democratic candidates made statements to that effect, too. Accepting the burning of petroleum (as well as natural gas and coal) beyond 2030 undermines the political promise of the presidential candidates and makes a mockery of the reality of environmental emergency. The year 2050 is too far into a dangerous future. Decarbonization should be over by 2030 – in the United States and throughout the world.

Most of the presidential candidates made it clear they would cease subsidies to oil, natural gas, and coal companies, while taxing them to reflect the pollution and harm they have been causing.

New Deal for a green America and world?

Sanders would spend 16.5 trillion dollars for remaking America ecological and just.

Start with a fast transition to non-polluting and carbon-neutral solar and wind energy. And integrate this technical work to social transformation by resurrecting key institutions of the Roosevelt New Deal.

Sanders says the federal government would demand federal dollars open opportunities for women and minorities earning a livable wage in the development of green technologies against climate change.

Second, the federal government would reauthorize a Civilian Conservation Corps, a Land and Water Conservation Corps, and regional authorities to generate solar and wind electricity. This means hiring millions of Americans to be trained for cleaning up pollution and bringing ecological order in the use of land and water. These are necessary and gigantic tasks. Other millions of workers would be employed in the creation of solar panels and wind technologies for the production of energy.

Other democratic candidates had similar proposals, though none could match those of Sanders in bringing about the fundamental metamorphosis necessary to slow down and even put a break to climate change – in this country and the world.

Sanders recognized that the billionaires have been responsible for the crisis –ecological, climatological and political. He promised to tax them and put them out of business.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden left the billionaires out of his talk. He supports the Green New Deal, promising that the products of clean energy made here at home and exported all over the world would raise the income and the standing of the middle class and increase prosperity in the country.

However, his most convincing argument to be the next president had to do with his past experience of bringing international leaders together for the resolution of global problems.

Climate change is the mother of all global political crises. It is extremely controversial and difficult. Unless the next president can bring world leaders to agree on a zero-carbon emission strategy by 2030, the fight for a livable planet may be at risk.

Biden is still the top Democratic vote getter. Should he win the nomination, and, in all likelihood, become the next president, he would be wise to draw on the wisdom of all Democratic candidates.

Cory Booker

Sen. Cory Booker admitted he is a vegan. This is important because the food one eats determines other important priorities in life. Stopping the eating of animals, for example, would reduce substantially the considerable carbon emissions of agriculture and nullify the burning of the Amazon and other tropical forests for cattle feed and beef exports.

Eating no animals would also restructure the dogmatic ideology and practice of giant one-crop plantations sprayed by deadly carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Booker did not make these fertile and timely political connections of food. Instead, he spoke with knowledge and conviction about the hazardous state of animal agriculture in the United States – and its hazardous impact on black communities. Yet, he failed to say anything about the near extinction of black farmers in America, their terrible treatment at the hands of racist large white farmers and US Department of Agriculture.

Booker also muddied the waters with his bad choice of favoring the continuation of nuclear power plants and, even worse, his delusion that science can invent harmless nuclear power plants. He is obsessed that huge government grants for research can have miraculous cures for our ills, including climate change harms.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren ranks high among Democrats. She, like Sanders, is not afraid of large corporations. She has been fighting on behalf of consumers for a long time. She is against the corruption of the government in Washington, DC, favoring the wealthy and the well-connected.

She spoke confidently of “taking on Big Ag,” paying the farmers a fair price and employing them in the fight against climate change. This is an extremely important proposal, though we don’t know how a Warren administration would accomplish such a miracle.

Farmers are at the heart of climate change. They raise our food, but put us all at risk with their toxic methods of farming. Warren needs to give us details how would she bring agribusiness under the law and under the strictures of ecology, including those of climate change.

Warren is for taxing the superrich, including the fossil fuel billionaires, in order to fight climate change and raise the middle class and introduce a sense of equity and justice in America. She speaks about “bold action” by the federal government, but does not see a major role by the government in the long-term struggle to save ourselves and the planet.

The remaining candidates (Julian Castro, Andrew Yang, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’ Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg) expressed anger against the fossil fuel companies, but their vision of what to do was limited by their unspoken perceptions of what is possible in an oligarchic America.

Reflections

In watching this fascinating drama on the CNN stage, I was caught in my own experience as well.

The entire country is addicted to petroleum. Outside of trees and a few flowers, the petroleum-burning car is everywhere you look. They make me mad as hell. But they exemplify the shrewdness and almost criminal intent of the petroleum elite that carefully designed a country based on petroleum.

The burning of petroleum by billions of cars and trucks (all over the planet), and numerous other machines like tractors, airplanes and factories, is responsible for the emission into the atmosphere of enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other gasses raising global temperature.

In addition, petrochemical pesticides, which no Democratic candidate mentioned in his / her talk, have been the columns supporting industrialized agriculture. Petroleum merchants and their spokesmen at the land grant universities trained farmers in raising crops by spraying those crops.

Growing food with pesticides and tractors and machinery dependent on petroleum is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions raising global temperature.

Industrialized agriculture is also responsible for two more practices inimical to life. One, its inhumane animal farms are factories emitting methane and other greenhouse gasses. Countless animals packed like sardines next to each other are responsible for these gases.

The animals are being fatten for slaughter. The result is the annual “production” of millions of tons of meat from cattle, chicken, hogs, ducks, lamb, sheep and goats. Second, loggers clearcut forests for land growing hay, soybeans and corn for confined animals.

The democratic opportunity

These private thoughts bounced on and off the Democratic agenda: virtuous in goal, rich in content, not fully documented, but courageous in taking on the most devious and unpatriotic people on this warming planet: the fossil fuel billionaire class.

Chances are good we will reclaim the White House and the Senate. Then, no matter who the Democratic president is (Biden, Sanders or Warren) this country can be brought together to fight its greatest struggle ever: by 2030 reducing and eliminating greenhouse emissions while spreading the economic and political benefits of this remaking of America and the world.

The post The Democrats and the Climate Crisis appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:48

Do you want to know the real reason Trump canceled the peace talks with the Taliban? Okay, here’s the hot poop. Our satellites detected goats. Yes, you read that correctly, goats, goats in goated communities. There was no mistake. Goats grazed on some of them there hills in Afghanistan. Now of course, goats, by themselves, are no problemo. The intelligence community has briefed Trump of this at the highest possible level. But goats are a marker for mountains, and mountains are hard on our high tech prying eyes in the sky. We’re not good at seeing through rock. Osama bin Laden hid in the mountains of Tora Bora for ten years after he was dead.. Terrorists might conceal weddings in the valleys, and “wedding,” let’s face it, is just another name for “terrorist pow-wow.”

Why would you have mountains if you weren’t planning to mount a terrorist attack? So our negotiators, very reasonably, asked the Taliban to level them off. Take a couple of bulldozers and just smooth those suckers out. Let Afghanistan resembles the Central Valley in California. What’s the problem? We’ll pay for it. Wouldn’t you rather live in California than Afghanistan? Well, if you can believe it, they balked! They didn’t want to flatten all their mountains and turn Afghanistan into the Central Valley of California. Perhaps they twigged that all the booty in California is on the coast. If so there is a weak link somewhere high up in our chain of command. Somebody must be working for the Russians.

Our negotiators were more than reasonable. They pointed out that the Central Valley produced a cornucopia of peaches, apricots and avocados. Such a deal. What did Afghanistan produce other than poppies and terrorists? To show our good faith we even offered to supply all the pesticides and fungicides and Franken-seeds to produce a bumper crop of peachatoes, a gene-crossed hybrid of peach and tomato. It grows a dandy fruit the size of a lima bean that tastes like shite, and which, our experts assured them, was the best science could grow in a flattened Afghanistan. Unaccountably, they declined the offer, and they are not inching back in the direction of the negotiating table as the Iranians, sources close to the administration have hinted, may or may not be doing.

Our negotiators even upped the ante. They were willing to drop their objection to trees, even though trees pose a similar grave security risk. Where there are trees there is shade, and where there is shade things can go on without the purview of our intelligence community. Things can happen in the shade. Why else have shade? Trees only appeared on the intelligence community’s radar when the spy in the sky began to look down and protect our freedoms from above. As soon as we could spy on everything trees revealed their menace. Trees hinder full-spectrum surveillance. “Tree” is just another word for “terrorist pow-pow.” Things were happening under trees that the intelligence community did not know about. I repeat, “things were happening that the intelligence community did not know about.” Civilization might end. In the Homeland, closed circuit television rode to the rescue like the Lone Ranger. But not in Afghanistan. Our negotiators thought it only fair that if we were going to withdraw from Afghanistan that they cut down all their trees. I mean fair is fair. But, bending over backwards, our negotiators chose to withdraw our objection to trees, even though they posed a grave security threat, in return for their flattening all their mountains. Tit for tat, right? Of course in negotiating at all they showed weakness, which makes one wonder if somebody isn’t working for the Russians.

Well, as you can imagine, with all that negotiating, our negotiators are plumb tuckered out. “Pooped,” in diplomacy speak. That, in a nutshell, is why the war continues. The negotiators are pooped. It’s been an eleven plus month long slog in Doha, Qatar, hammering out what they hope will be a just and equitable peace that defends freedom and justice and women and children and democracy and capitalism and the great American way. By lunch each day they can only drag their assets to Chez Paris where the panty-clad waitress quenches a fiery thirst with a pitcher of dry martinis. Eleven plus months in the diplomatic trenches! The guys and gals in Afghanistan shouldn’t think they are the only ones ready to give the last full measure of devotion. They too soldier on who only negotiate in Doha, hammering out the details in tough-minded hard-nosed toe-to-toe confrontation with the bad guys, and surviving only on the aforementioned martinis and, from happy hour on, single malt scotch. To a man and woman the negotiators want everyone to know they are truly, truly semi-conscious that Americans are dying and being wounded somewhere out there while they hammer out those details. And yes they know that when all the i’s are dotted, the t’s crossed and the deal finally signed, it will go straight into the crapper the moment they climb aboard the jet back to Georgetown.

For once the Former United States leaves Afghanistan its interests there will count for exactly zilch on anyone’s pros-and-ons list. The negotiators know their work is a charade, but if they don’t stand toe-to-toe and eyeball-to-eyeball with the bad guys who knows what could happen? Civilization might end. Seen from a certain angle, that their work is pointless only makes it that much more heroic. Furthermore, lest we go off half-cocked, we all have to remember: the Taliban are, at the end of the day, the Taliban. If anything looks bad, it is all their fault (and, of course, that of the Russians).

The post Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:46

While the conflation of religion and politics by the ruling party of a “democratic” and “secular” India gnaws at those of us who are invested in pluralism, those Indian-Americans who are closely aligned with the upsurge of Hindutva nationalism are gearing up to welcome Prime Minister Modi in Houston on September 22nd.  These transnational subjects, safely ensconced in the United States, are unaffected by the wreckage caused by Modi’s demonetization and other economic policies, so they have become uncritically loyal to the romanticized notion of the nation.

Despite the creation of a new global order, transnationalism has led to the politicization of identity in the form of fundamentalism, xenophobia, and a fanatical espousal of tradition. It is increasingly doubtful that transnational practices are generally counter-hegemonic. On the contrary, transnationalism enables the fortification of nationalist ideology. That couldn’t be more obvious than it is today with Hindutva groups in the United States supporting Prime Minister Modi’s arbitrary revocation of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, which is being celebrated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its cohort as the fruition of a promise made by its precursor, the Praja Parishad. I would argue that cultural and religious fanaticism, legitimized by the ruling party of India, has emphasized a conception of identity between the “authentic” majority and “demonic” minorities.

This is not the first time that trasnational politics have led to the subjection of minorities—Muslims, Christians, and Dalits in India—to a centralized and authoritarian state bolstered by nostalgia of a “glorious past.” Transnational identities of Hindutva groups in the United States are related to the invention, transmission, and revision of nationalist histories. The transformations associated with the phenomena of transnationalism and fundamentalism that we are witnessing with the rise in Indian-American supporters of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindutva nationalism can be exemplified by the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation of 1989 and the revocation of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir as well as the curbing of civil liberties and rights in the former state, particularly the Kashmir Valley.

A disused sixteenth-century mosque in Ayodhya, the Babri Masjid, was demolished by Hindutva supporters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party who hoped to construct a temple, the Ram Janmabhoomi, on that site. Hindu-Muslim riots swept Northern India in the wake of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. In the case of the majority Hindus, the militant Hindutva ideology that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement incited challenged the principle of democracy. The religious chauvinism that was manifested during this dark period in the history of India was transformed into bigotry supported by transnationals in the U. K. and the U. S. Bigotry defined identities and ideologies, treating the idea of a democratic and secular nation as if it were a myth. By blatantly advocating and supporting the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its votaries negated the legislation of the Supreme Court of India that sought to protect the site by staying its appropriation by any political party. The legislation was not only abrogated by the active mobilization of the fractious crowd, but by the bigwigs of the BJP who presided over the demolition of the mosque.

The spectacles of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the revocation of the autonomous status of Kashmir were stages as instances of mass hysteria and bacchanalian disorder. In both instances, the devotees of the BJP across India and the Indian diaspora were spurred on by an overwhelming sense of celebratory hysteria.

Vis-à-vis Kashmir, the BJP’s Hindutva ideology justifies repression of dispossessed classes and other sections of the Kashmiri populace, objectification of Kashmiri women, and humiliation of the people with the language of affirmative action and good governance. The dominance of the fundamentalist order is valorized by the political party that enjoys a brute majority in the Indian Parliament.

There has been a backlash, propelled by the Hindutva lobby in the United States, against those Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, and Tom Suozzi, who have been critical of the Government of India’s policies in Kashmir. While the complexities bred by transnational political, economic, and cultural practices can reinforce a nationalist and fundamentalist agenda, transnationalism can also have positive effects, which have been celebrated in terms such as multiculturalism, right to life and liberty, and freedom of religion by the founding father of the United States and India.

But given the rise in religious majoritarianism and cultural supremacist politics the world over, these sort of terms cannot be a stopping place for our thinking about a world radically transformed by struggles for autonomy and self-determination.

The post Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:45

This year was the 50th anniversary of the Venceremos Brigade delegations to Cuba, a special affair for Cuba and its Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). We participants can agree with what one former brigadista wrote us, “I went in 1971 and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Cuba opened a whole new world to me where human dignity and respect are valued. I may not be on this brigade but I continue to support its mission to end the criminal US economic blockade and travel ban, return occupied Guantanamo Bay to the Cubans and normalize relations between both countries. Venceremos!”

Thanks to the outstanding educational tour put together in conjunction with ICAP, we could learn about Cuba’s socialist model and the impact of the US economic and political blockade has on their people. The US has tightened the blockade this year and increased travel restrictions to Cuba, as Roger Keeran explains well. It has imposed sanctions on companies that ship oil from Venezuela to Cuba.

Brigadistas over the years may not come back and involve themselves directly in ending this cruel blockade, but their experience does make them more committed to the struggle for social justice at home.

The VB originated 50 years ago in militant opposition to the blockade, with the participants violating the travel ban to Cuba in order to work in the 10 million ton 1970 sugar cane harvest. The US government considered VB a threat, as the long history of FBI and CIA “monitoring” of the VB attests. No doubt they have just updated their tens of thousands of pages of files on the Brigade.

This year about 155 people from the US participated in this Brigade, spending either five days, ten days, two or three weeks in Cuba. Unlike the original Brigades, our voluntary labor was secondary to participating in many different presentations and exchanges, political, educational, medical, and of course, musical.

The Cuban media widely covered our contingent, and we were honored with a program at ICAP, addressed by Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5 heroes, now ICAP president.  At another dinner at ICAP we were entertained by the Colmenita, the children’s theater and dance group that could warm the hearts of even the stodgiest of people.

In Cuba the needs of the people are placed at the center of national policy. In the US, corporate interests and profits are. That Cuba prioritizes concern for the human being irritates the corporate 1% ruling the US, who see this kind of society anywhere on the planet as a threat to their interests.

This was brought home in Camaguey where we visited the province’s children’s hospital, which exemplified the great care Cuba gives to the well-being of all their people. Health care, like education, is free in Cuba as a human right. But it goes beyond that: for children who need long term care and recuperation, arrangements are made so that family members can live together in a section of the hospital. One six-year old girl who requires continual medical vigilance has lived in the hospital with her family most her life. The entire hospital staff treat her as family, recently throwing her a hospital birthday party. If Cuba cannot meet any highly specialized health care needs of a child, the child is sent to the most sophisticated hospitals abroad, even to the United States, and the Cuban government pays the bill.

All hospitals, like universities, have a trade union open to all: the entire staff, from doctor and nurse to custodian, are able to belong to the same union.

There are 800 doctors and medical personnel at this hospital. When I asked how many had volunteered to serve in any of Cuba’s world famous humanitarian medical missions abroad, I was told some personnel volunteered in the very first mission in Algeria, and since then 1400 have.

Over the entrance of another hospital in Havana reads a large sign, “The life of a single human being is worth more than all the property of the richest man on earth.” This quote from Che comes close to the very opposite of what greets us upon entering a US hospital.

The value Cuban hospital personnel place on caring for the sick, especially children, goes beyond medical attention to personal care and even affection, akin to what we can sometimes see here between some young schoolchildren and their teacher.

In stark contrast, the doctors told us of young children who slowly died in the hospital because of the lack of medicine, denied to Cuba because of the inhumane US blockade policy. It was painful to feel the loving attention paid to children in Cuban hospitals compared to the shameless killing of sick children caused by the policies of the rulers of our country.

These opposing policies towards improving people’s lives was again made clear in

the Havana Literacy Museum, devoted to the 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign. Before the revolution, 500,000 children were without schools, 8,000 teachers without jobs. One million Cubans were illiterate. The literacy campaign mobilized 380,000 volunteers, including 100,000 schoolchildren over the age of 10. There was one teacher for 2-3 students, with the student teacher living and working with those they taught, typically in the countryside. After the 1961 campaign, Cuba became the first Latin American country to end illiteracy.

The response of US to this historic achievement was not to offer support, but to launch a military invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. US backed forces deliberately targeted the schoolchildren teachers, murdering 13.

One student literacy teacher wrote:

Companero Fidel,

Like the Brigadista that I am, I want to tell you about the four months that I lived with the peasants: I saw how hard they worked for a life without much, without culture. The food wasn’t good, but I always worked hard at my tasks, and if for the revolution I have to sacrifice something more, I’ll do it, because I know good revolutionaries never falter. So tell me what I can do next.

Julio Vasquez

Today, almost 60 years later, I ran into this same ennobling spirit while walking the town of Segunda Frente, near the US base at Guantanamo. There I met some female Cuban soldiers, aged 18-22. Serving in the army is compulsory for men for a year, voluntary for women. These young women’s commitment to serving Fidel, defending Cuba no matter the cost, made me see that Cuba is made up of people who will fight and never surrender in order to maintain their independence, national dignity, and loyalty to Fidel. The US could kill all the country’s leadership, but it would have to murder millions to recolonize the land.

In every city we visited we received an official welcome by leaders of the local and provincial governments, combined with commemorations of Cuban national heroes: July 26 combatants in Artemisa, Ignacio Agramonte in Camaguey, Che Guevara in Santa Clara, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Bayamo, Antonio Maceo in Santiago.

Cuba honors its national patriots by educating the people about their example and sacrifice. Not just the patriots of the July 26th Movement and after, but throughout the independence struggle back to 1868 with Cespedes, a landlord who freed his enslaved Africans and led them to fight the Spanish occupiers, and even before that with the Taino hero Hatuey.

We in the US know little of the accomplishments of the heroes of our own struggles against the rule of the 1%, whether Mother Jones, Tecumseh, John L. Lewis, Paul Robeson, Ida B. Wells, John Brown, Daniel Shays, Marcus Garvey, Eugene Debs, and so on.

The first ten days of our delegation we stayed at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp, home to many international brigades coming to Cuba. We received presentations from a national secretariat member of the Cuban trade unions (CTC), from a member of the Peoples Power National Assembly, members of a local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, a leader of CENESEX, Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), Young Communist League (UJC), Association of Combatants of the Revolution (ACRC), and others.

In Artemisa, adjacent to Havana, we visited the memorial to those from that province killed in the July 26 Moncada Barracks attack in Santiago. Later we met with Victor Dreke, a combatant who served with Che, and other retired military figures who had fought in the Cuba military, either at home or overseas.

We visited Granjita Siboney, the planning center for the July 26 Moncada Barracks attack which resulted in five of the attackers killed in the fighting and 56 were shot or tortured to death after taken prisoner by Batista’s troops. July 26 was a crushing military defeat, yet Cuba is a country where a military disaster has been elevated to a national holiday, National Rebellion Day.

Our trip included the Moncada Barracks itself, the Granma boat landing, the Rebel Army’s headquarters in Sierra Maestra. Before the climb to the headquarters we were entertained by Quinteto Rebelde, who in 1957 were six young boys from a nearby town Fidel recruited as their “cultural weapon” for the Rebel Army.

We traveled near to the US Guantanamo military base and torture center, where the US still holds 40 prisoners in a lawless prison. This US base not merely occupies the outer bay, but it cuts off the region from making use of an excellent deep water port, thereby stifling its economic development. All Guantánamo is Ours describes the current and historic damage imposed upon the people by U.S. occupation of their territory.

On our countrywide travels, I was struck by how green Cuba is. Due to its reforestation program, forests now cover over 31% of the land. Before the 1959 revolution, this stood at 13.6%.

Cuba has achieved world renown as a model of sustainable organic agriculture. The World Wildlife Fund has recognized Cuba for having the most sustainable model of development on the planet.

In Santiago on August 13, Fidel Castro’s birthday, we laid flowers next to his tomb. Cuba honored our delegation by scheduling us to pay our respects right after Fidel’s wife. We also laid flowers at the graves Jose Marti, Cespedes, Frank Pais, and Mariana Grajales (the Rebel Army women combatants were named after her). Nearby were the tombs of July 26 fighters as well as those soldiers from Santiago de Cuba who died fighting South African apartheid troops in Angola. The documentary Cuba: an African Odyssey reviews this struggle that changed African history, yet distorts the victorious outcome.

Fidel’s tomb represents a symbol of Cuba today. Only “Fidel” is written there. No birth or death date: Fidel continues beyond time as a presence. A boulder is his grave: he, like Cuba itself, is an immovable rock. In my month in Cuba, I never felt the Cuban people considered Fidel had died. Rather, they feel his presence and are faithfully defending what he stands for and what he has built.

Cuba stands out as a shining example of a humane society, a model of what human beings can accomplish. Fidel’s Cuba embodies the vision of a just and humanitarian society that our own great leader, Martin Luther King, had sought to bring into being.

The post Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Socialism Made America Great

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:42

From single-payer health care to climate change, the 2020 Democrats have ambitious plans. But these new, grand, and green deals aren’t as radical as some make them sound. In fact, big public projects are what made America great.

When President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower took office in 1953, America had been buffeted by the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. The Cold War put us in competition with Soviet “5-Year Plans” and Chinese “Great Leaps Forward.”

Eisenhower was concerned that soldiers would return home to closing factories. So Ike pushed for massive infrastructure spending, creating the “Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”

Congress funded a half-century of highway construction, building 47,000 miles — the biggest public works project in the history of the world. It cost $500 billion in today’s dollars, with 90 percent coming from Washington and 10 percent from the states.

The interstate highways transformed America.

In 1919, it took a month or more to drive cross-country; the record today is a little over 24 hours. Automobile ownership skyrocketed, gas sales jumped, motels mushroomed, the suburbs flourished, and malls were built. Construction companies, automakers, and oil companies flourished, too, along with their workers.

There was a downside, of course. Rail and mass transit were marginalized, urban sprawl spread across the land, the daily commute grew longer, and our carbon footprint grew bigger, as multi-lane highways destroyed urban communities.

Still, it puts lie to the chant that “the U.S. has never been a socialist country!” After all, we drive on socialist, government-owned roads.

Meanwhile there’s almost universal support for Social Security, our government insurance. And half the country — including Medicare and Medicaid recipients, veterans, and federal elected officials — receives some form of socialist, government-funded health care.

Consider also the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned corporation created by Congress in 1933. Tennessee and five nearby states were devastated by poverty, hunger, and ill health. Only 1 percent of farm families had indoor plumbing, and about a third of the population in the valley had malaria.

Starting in 1933, our taxes paid to build TVA power plants, flood control, and river navigation systems. In 1942 alone, the construction of 12 hydroelectric and one coal steam plant employed a total of 28,000 workers.

Today the TVA is a federally-owned corporation with assets worth over $34 trillion, according to the SEC. And while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rails against socialism, half of his constituents in Kentucky buy cheap, publicly produced TVA electricity. Free-market, for-profit, capitalist power states often pay twice as much.

Like our highway system, we need to change our TVA to meet the challenges of climate change. But that means better priorities and more investment, not less.

Federal taxes paid for the highways and the TVA, which are now supported by gas taxes and electric bills. In those years of great public works projects, the wealthy elite paid a much greater share of their income in taxes, with the highest marginal tax rate reaching 94 percent.

Claiming that government is the problem, not the solution, administrations since the 1970s have reduced that top rate over and over. The 2017 tax law again reduced the top rate for billionaires, creating great fortunes for a few, and great national debt, but not great public works.

Let’s get past the S-word — socialism — and have a real discussion on how to build an America that’s great for all of us.

Tim Butterworth is a retired teacher and former state legislator from Chesterfield, New Hampshire.

The post Socialism Made America Great appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:27

This past July 16, the work of Fernando Ortiz was declared a National Heritage. It was a moving moment, charged with a particular electric spirituality, one I shared with Barnet, Eusebio, Torres-Cuevas and others, and an act of justice regarding an essential component of the foundations of our culture and the nation itself.

In his 1949 essay “Los factores humanos de la cubanidad,” (The human factors of Cubanness), Ortiz asserted: “There are Cubans who do not want to be Cuban, and are even ashamed and deny what they are.” Among these people, “Cubanness lacks completion, it is castrated.” It is not enough, Ortiz insisted “to have in Cuba a birthplace, nation, life, and behavior.” Something more is needed: “the consciousness of being Cuban and the will to be so are necessary.” He makes s distinction between “Cubanness, the generic condition of being Cuban, and full Cuban identity, heartfelt, conscious, and desired.”

Others among our intellectuals, within the neo-colonial republic, identified different ways of seeing ourselves as Cubans.

Elías Entralgo differentiated “progressive Cuban identity” from a conservative “stationary” identity. The latter, he said, motivated “the volunteer corps under Spanish domination, facing the insurrections of 1868 and 1895.”

José Antonio Foncueva counterpoises “disinterested, comprehensive, visionary patriotism” to the “myopic,” “declarative” Cubans, accusing these of being “traitors to the most important and legitimate interests of the country, who claim to possess a great patriotic sensibility.”

Jorge Ibarra studied the “Roosevelt myth” promoted by certain influential sectors on the island before the death of the Yankee politician and military man in 1919. Considering him a supposed fighter for the freedom of Cuba, a loving “father” of Platt’s republic, there were those who came to compare Theodore Roosevelt with our greatest heroes. Nothing is further from Cubanness than this shameful idealization.

That same year, 1919, José Antonio Ramos asserted that colonial pseudo-folkloric visions were still alive in the Republic. For many people, he says, the only thing that is genuinely Cuban is what the colony allowed us: “the blackface comic, the mulatta, the hammock, tobacco, the guajira, rumba, the stylish cantúa, admiration and preference for everything foreign”.

There are very entertaining pro-annexation rumberos, who perform a clever repertory of “cubanismos,” enjoy rum, dominoes, a good cigar, strong coffee, and laugh at Pepito jokes, cry when they hear a bolero, and always wear a medal of Our Lady of Cobre around their necks. They are active practitioners of external Cubanness; but far removed from Cuban identity.

I know of one notable case: Guillermo Cabrera Infante, very Cuban in his narrative, his linguistic fireworks, and openly pro-annexation in thought and soul. His collection of articles, Mea Cuba (1992), is scandalously pro-U.S. He ferociously criticizes all anti-imperialist thinking that has developed in Cuba and our region. He considers the very concept of Latin America as a “one more cliché from the professional left.”

He discounts Martí as a fanatic who sought a “romantic death,” in Dos Ríos, with a “calculated suicide.” He interprets Marti’s reference to the “brutal and turbulent North” as the root of another left wing “cliché,” North-South duality. He reminds us that Cuba is “forever, 90 miles from the U.S. coast,” which defines our destiny and fatally condemns us to subordination. “Geopolitics are more decisive than politics,” Cabrera repeats over and over. He is someone who uses his talent and sense of humor to play with the external expressions of our culture, but belongs to the species of “castrated” Cubans.

I think that among those born in Cuba (living here or anywhere else in the world), very few are capable of disparaging Martí and promoting the annexation of our country by the United States. I know many emigrants who defend their identity on a daily basis, not with empty rituals, but as something meaningful, and consider their Cubanness precious.

Fernando Ortiz invited us to embrace our condition as Cubans with an ethical commitment to the collective efforts of our people, to work on a common project to develop “a full, heartfelt, conscious, and desired Cuban identity.” Let us listen to him and continue to nurture his work.

Abel Prieto writes for Granma, where this essay first appeared.

The post Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Altruists of the World Unite!

Mon, 2019-09-16 15:26

The biggest joke on the planet may be the phrase “national security.”

It almost always justifies something brutal, whether outright murder (a.k.a. war) or climate apartheid — the rejection and condemnation of refugees who are fleeing terrible conditions in their homeland, often created or intensified by climate change.

Thus Mark Morgan, acting director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, addressing the extent to which the United States would open its arms to Bahamian refugees in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, discussed the necessity “to balance the humanitarian need and assistance of those that need it versus the safety of this country,” by which he meant . . .

Well, the president (of course!) made matters perfectly clear, unplugging all political correctness regarding refugees and U.S. security: “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

One result of the national reticence of Trump America to unconditionally welcome refugees from the Bahamas — where 185 mph winds pummeled the islands for several days, rendering 70,000 people homeless — was that 119 people were told to leave a ferry that was transporting refugees from Grand Bahama Island to Florida because they lacked visas to enter the U.S. A CBP spokesperson later denied the agency had anything to do with the incident, but the ferry company said it acted after it had been advised by CBP that refugees would be denied entrance without proper documentation.

Even if it was merely border confusion, rather than intentional cruelty, that resulted in the refugees’ forced exit from the ferry (and who knows what has happened to them since?), the bureaucratic pseudo-paranoia over the safety of American citizens — yours and mine! — that has supposedly reared its head regarding another possible “invasion” of desperate non-white refugees, is a lie so blatant it’s virtually invisible.

In point of fact, the government could care less about our safety in the course of actions it either pursues or avoids. Hence, while it’s quick to go to war (regardless of the consequences, both internationally and domestically), maintain a nuclear weapons stockpile and devote a trillion dollars to developing the next generation of nukes, it refuses to confront such issues as gun violence, medical debt, the right to clean water and, oh gosh, global warming . . . just to name a few. But it’s obsessive in its determination to keep bad non-Americans from slipping into our country and proceeding to harm an American citizen or (even worse) get on the welfare rolls.

Pretending to keep bad people — excuse me, I mean “very bad people” — out of America is a low-watt public relations ploy that feeds only one thing: us-vs. them thinking and fear of the enemy du jour, the subhuman “other.” Stirring up this fear among a segment of the population makes governing so much easier, creating an instant unity often referred to as patriotism.

But beyond the obvious racism of the Trump-era obsession over border “security,” there’s an even more blatant, unaddressed stupidity about this policy: There is no such thing as national security independent of global security.

Another term here is wholeness: All things — all people — are connected. Unfortunately, we have managed to divide the planet into a bunch of nation-states that, with a very few exceptions, maintain standing armies to protect themselves from other nation-states and view national sovereignty as their highest, and perhaps only, political value. This seems to leave the planet as a whole unable to unify around deep and serious issues such as climate change, which transcend national borders.

The intellectual defense of national sovereignty is that it’s a far better alternative than an autocratic, one-world government. Such a monstrous entity — Hitler writ large — is very easy to imagine, considering that governments on a smaller scale have authoritarian tendencies even if they purport to be democracies, and, of course, absolute power corrupts absolutely. No one wants to imagine a Putin or a Trump dictating directives to the planet at large. Nevertheless, leaving the planet in the hands of 190 or so potential autocrats or corporate errand boys is hardly a better alternative.

Those who are without power — the poor, the indigenous, the uprooted — are at the mercy of heartless authority, no matter that the authority has global limits. One recent such example: Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, infamous for his willingness to turn the Amazon rainforest, ravaged by human-set fires, over to mining, farming and logging interests, told reporters the Amazon is “too much land for so few Indians.”

The planet is also at the mercy of the same authority, a phenomenon that journalist George Monbiot described with shocking precision during a recent TED Talk. Noting that “human beings have got this massive capacity for altruism” — indeed, that our remarkable ability to cooperate with one another is what has allowed us to survive as a species — he adds:

“Our good nature has been thwarted by several forces, but I think the most powerful of them is the dominant political narrative of our times, which tells us that we should live in extreme individualism and competition with each other. It pushes us to fight each other, to fear and mistrust each other. It atomizes society. It weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living.

“And into that vacuum grow these violent, intolerant forces. We are a society of altruists, but we are governed by psychopaths.”

All of which brings me back to Trump America and helping the refugees of Hurricane Dorian vs. “keeping the country safe.” I am writing these words on the 18thanniversary of 9/11, which compels me to point something out to the president: We responded — the whole world responded — to that disaster with unadulterated compassion for the victims. No one worried, let us say, that maybe some delivery boy fleeing the tower and seeking our help had a criminal record . . .

If we want to survive, by which I mean transcend, the global crises we face today, we must grasp the planet, and each other, with compassion — the altruism in our DNA — rather than bureaucratic caution and cold concern for the ruling interests.

The post Altruists of the World Unite! appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Age of Constitutional Coups

Fri, 2019-09-13 16:00

Photograph Source: Osman Orsal (VOA) – Public Domain

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

Turkey’s Elective Dictatorship

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

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

Making Hungary Great Again

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

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

Poland: “Hatred of the Outsider”

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

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

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

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

Brazil: A Judicial-Parliamentary Coup in Two Stages

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

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

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

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

Superpower Itself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disunited Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript/Meanwhile

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left

Fri, 2019-09-13 16:00

Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 2019-09-13 15:59

Photograph Source: US Army/Navy – Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hong Kong and the Future of China

Fri, 2019-09-13 15:58

Photograph Source: Hf9631 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Something didn’t quite add up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Origins of the Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response from the Mainland

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

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

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

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

As former New York Times reporter Karoline Kan has written:

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

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

The Polish Example

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

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

The date of those elections? June 4, 1989.

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

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

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

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

The post Hong Kong and the Future of China appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind?

Fri, 2019-09-13 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

BOJO’S PLAN

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

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

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

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

GOOD REASONS TO WAIT

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

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

WHY LABOUR MUST BACK REMAIN

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

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

THE DANGERS

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

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

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

 

The post Jeremy Corbyn: Electoral “Chicken” or Political Mastermind? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The Vox Populi

Fri, 2019-09-13 15:58

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

– Fayetteville, NC Trump rally

“Make Empathy Great Again”

– T-shirt voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pages