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What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” in California?

Mon, 2018-11-19 15:56

Will the victories of the Democrats in 2018 be the beginning of a brighter and more hopeful period?  One might have doubts given that large majorities  of Democrats in both the House and Senate recently voted for a defense budget that is more than $80 billion higher than the previous one, and higher than what was requested by the Trump regime.

Looking at what Democrats do when they are in power, as they have been in California during the last eight years, might reveal what they will do if they gain control of Congress and the Presidency in 2020. Since 2011, the Democrats have had close to total dominance of California’s politics–holding every executive office and having large majorities in both houses of its state legislature, a time when a simple majority vote in each body is needed to pass the state budget. Have California Democrats robustly funded public education, an issue presumably dear to the heart of supporters of the Democrats? No.

Among all states, in 2015-16, California ranked 41stin spending per K-12 student, 37thin spending as a share of the economy, and had the highest number of students per teacher in the nation.[1]

This is happening in a state that has been experiencing economic growth, and whose voters passed a tax bill in 2012 that was renewed in 2016 that the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) claims is raising some $6 billion annually for public education and is supposedly preventing a “return to austerity.”[2]    Furthermore, according to the former communications director of the CFT, this is a state that has “relatively strong education unions,” something that Democrats presumably support.[3]

As the table below shows, funding for public education as a percent of the state budget has remained below where it was during Republican Schwarzenegger’s last four years as governor, a period that included the great recession. For fiscal year 2011-2012, the first budget passed when Brown was governor, spending on education dropped more than $2.5 billion to 36.2% despite the size of the state budget increasing from the previous year. It reached a low point of 34.3% in fiscal year 2012-13.  Since then, the percentage of education spending has been higher each year before abruptly declining in 2018-19.

While the total amount of money for education has gone up each fiscal year after   Brown’s first year in office, the real amount spent has been eroded by inflation which has averaged about 2% a year.  Additionally, the actual K-12 budgets have been further diminished by the increased amounts taken from the budget to finance the State Teacher’s Retirement System (CALSTRS).

Soon after Brown came to power as governor, what was labelled a crisis in CALSTRS was supposedly addressed by taking more money from schools and teachers to give to CALSTRS.  It resulted in most teachers being hit with a 2.25% pay cut as the deduction from their pay for CALSTRS that was 8% before July 2014 increased to 10.25% starting in July 2016

More significantly, schools must send an increasing amount of funds that match the pay of employees to CALSTRS.  The matching percent has gone from 8.25% of teachers pay to 16.28% starting in July 2018 and is set to reach 19.1% beginning in July 2020.[6]  This means that much of the recent increase in education funding ends up going into the retirement system (where it is invested into stocks and other financial instruments.)  From 2014 to 2017, the employer contribution to CALSTRS went from $2.27 to $4.17 billion while the state contribution went from $1.38 billion to $2.48 billion.[7] Adding both together means that almost $3 billion more of the money budgeted for education was sent to CALSTRS in 2017 than in 2014.

More money could be made available for public education. However, a bigger priority for the state Democrats has been to increase the budget for prisons.  The budget item called Corrections and Rehabilitation went up by some two-thirds in a matter of six years when it increased from a little less than $9 billion in 2012-13 to $15 billion in 2018-2019.[8]

More money could be raised to properly fund public education and (to address the state’s massive housing crisis.)  An estate tax in California could be re-established as well as ending tax breaks that benefit the wealthy such as no taxes being imposed on their excessive wealth.

The state legislature needs a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, but despite the Democrats occasionally having such majorities in both houses of the state legislature during the last eight years, they have failed to reform Prop 13 that has for too many years resulted in corporations paying low property tax bills.  The legislature has also failed to enact legislation that would result in taxing gas and oil production at the rate that is done in Texas. This failure leaves California with the dubious distinction of being “the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t tax the goo as it’s pumped from the earth. Yes, high-tax California,”[9] a state that is supposedly a leader in the fight against global warming and the burning of fossil fuels.

Given the Democrats recent record in California when they have been in power, their gaining greater power nationally in 2020 might end up disappointing many people who are hoping for a better world that tackles our serious problems that increasingly threaten the well-being of human beings.


[1] Kaplan, Jonathan  California’s Support for K-12 Education is Improving, but Still Lags the Nation, January 2017 at

[2] See CFT publication California Teacher April-May 2018 pgs. 2, 13, 14 at  The pay of many teachers has not been keeping up with increases in the cost of living.

[3] Glass, Fred, United Effort of Striking Teachers and Parents Can Raise Pay, School Quality,  San Francisco Chronicle, 4/14/2018

[4] The true amount of money going to public education is less that what the table shows.  Some of it now ends up in charter schools that, as of 2017-2018, enrolledover 620,000 students.

[5]   Go to select budget year and click enacted budget detail


[7] 31  and     page 30

[8] See footnote 3

[9] Skelton, George,  The time is ripe for a tax on oil extraction to pay for California road  repairs,  LA Times, 9/16/15
















Categories: News for progressives

Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry

Mon, 2018-11-19 15:52

This Latin inscription is carved on various war memorials, including the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater:


The words come from one of the Odes of the ancient Roman poet Horace:

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo.

In plain English: How sweet and honorable it is to die for one’s country: death pursues the man who flees, spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs of battle-shy youths.

Poets are all too human, and some of them are moral and political imbeciles. Some poets, however, are so deeply troubled by their times that that they both extend and challenge the culture they inherit. There were at least a dozen fine English poets during World War One, and some of them died in trenches and on battlefields.

Rupert Brooke, known as much for his beauty as his talent at that time, did not die in battle but on his way to battle. Virginia Woolf thought he had some sterling personal qualities. He was one of the late voices of the English Romantic tradition, though in a restricted and genteel register. There was never a trace of class consciousness in Brooke, except in the British manner from the top down. He was progressive in the sense that he would swim naked in English rivers. His most famous poem is titled The Soldier, a sonnet that opens with these lines:

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.

Brooke died of blood poisoning from an insect bite. His body was taken from a military hospital ship and was buried on the Greek island of Skyros under a rock cairn. A later tomb was inscribed with this sonnet. His fellow officers went on to join the campaign at Gallipoli. I have a chapbook of Brooke’s “Nineteen Fourteen” war sonnets published shortly after his death, with a preface by Henry James, and these poems reflect both Brooke’s own idealism and the mood of early optimism in England that the war would to end all wars would not last long and would end in unalloyed glory. On Easter Day of 1915, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London read aloud The Soldier to his congregation.

Brooke died three weeks later. Winston Churchill wrote a memorial column for the London Times praising Brooke’s “classic symmetry of mind and body,” and added: “He was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable.” The British press largely censored the full horror that would soon unfold, until the worst battles and the mounting deaths could not get the full cosmetic treatment. Indeed, the Gallipoli campaign did not achieve its aims but cost so many lives that the public grew restless. This became known as The Great War, especially in Europe and most especially among the British Commonwealth nations. We tend to forget that the word great included the meaning of enormity, and the best English poets who endured battle were honest about the actual monstrosity of the trenches and mass slaughter.

One of the great histories of that war is Paul Fussell’s book The Great War and Modern Memory, and Fussell quite rightly wrote a t length on the lives and works of these poets. As Fussell noted, many British soldiers of all classes carried The Oxford Book of English Verse in their kits. And many really read the poems, because cheap printing and mass education had made a difference, and poetry was still widely enjoyed. Radio and movies were not yet the force they would soon become in conveying information and entertainment. And state propaganda, of course. Fussell also honestly explored the homoerotic ambience of much wartime comradeship. Some of these wartime poets were sexually ambiguous in their lives, including Owen, who showed no romantic interest in women. Rupert Brooke suffered one nervous breakdown, in part because he was troubled by his own sexuality, falling in love with a woman but also attracted to men.

Wilfred Owen only had a few poems published during his life and so he had nothing like Brooke’s fame at that time. In a trench in France, Owen had endured heavy bombardment, with the dismembered body of a friend and fellow officer nearby, and he had emerged unsteady on his feet. During 1917, he was allowed a brief period of recuperation from shell-shock at Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, where he wrote some of his best poems, including Dulce Et Decorum Est. Owen went back to the frontline and was killed on November 4, 1918. His parents received news of his death on Armistice Day.

At Craiglockhart Hospital, Owen had met another fine enlisted poet, Siegfried Sassoon, who encouraged his work. Sassoon survived the war, despite being shot through the head, and arranged a posthumous publication of Owen’s poetry. The reading public was readier for his work after the war ended, and he had an immediate influence on the English poets of the 1930s. Among the English “war poets” of his generation, Owen is now widely regarded as the best of them all. Certainly among the most class conscious, but also the most distinct in his advancing poetic craft. His best poems do not just show promise but high and striking achievement. Owen had written a preface for his war poems in which he stated his aims:

This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

Owen fully intended to oppose a war in which he served and died as an officer, by all accounts with real courage and with warm respect from soldiers. He thought his voice as a former combatant would count more if he could survive to be a civilian again. In Dulce Et Decorum Est, Owen described a marching troop of exhausted soldiers who are surrounded by phosgene gas. Nothing quite like these lines had been written until Owen wrote them:   

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .

Not quite the cup of tea for Churchill or the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The same poem ends with these lines:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

No exact count of deaths related to World War One is possible (or indeed any exact count of deaths in any large war). But here is an estimate that tallies with current scholarship: “The total number of deaths includes from 9 to 11 million military personnel. The civilian death toll was about 8 million, including about 6 million due to war-related famine and disease.”


President Trump recently joined other state leaders in commemorating World War One at ceremonies in France. President Macron of France gave a speech declaring that nationalism is the opposite of patriotism. Except, of course, when nations are mobilized for war, and then the distinction often becomes a distinction without a difference.

Macron had suggested earlier that Marshal Petain, who had been among the leading French commanders during World War One, should be honored at the 100thanniversary memorial. Macron said history is complicated. So it is. There was an immediate public uproar, not least from French Jews who recall how the Vichy Regime led by Petain during World War Two was in full collaboration with the Nazi invaders, and rounded up French Jews for deportation and slaughter. Indeed, there is a photo of Petain and Hitler shaking hands and smiling. Petain considered himself both a nationalist and a patriot. De Gaulle at least had enough decency to be a nationalist and a patriot in exile, certainly not an active member of the French Resistance within France (much less of the left wing of that resistance), before he returned later to become head of state. Under great pressure, Macron spun on his heels and reversed himself.

Trump, who knows as much about history as he does about economics (namely, whatever his chosen inner circle tells him), graduated from the undergrad branch of Penn’s Wharton School of Finance. Howwe can only guess. But using plenty of his dad’s money, he began buying buildings in Philly while still a student, and was already bragging that he would become real estate royalty in New York. Trump never tires of telling his audiences that getting into Wharton is proof positive of his zooming intellect. And also that he’s really a self-made man. Well, that’s the art of his political deal, which others might simply call lying. He got a deferment from active service in the Vietnam War (which the Vietnamese more justly call the American War) because, by his own account, he had bone spurs in one foot. He could not later recall which foot that had been.

As reported recently in The Washington Post, “Early Saturday, the White House announced Trump and the first lady had scuttled plans, because of bad weather, for their first stop in the weekend’s remembrance activities—a visit to the solemn Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, marking the ferocious Battle of Belleau Wood.”

Yes, the Commander-in-Chief could not face the wind and the rain to stand among so very many dead soldiers. Whatever we may think of warring states, or of various defenses of just wars (whether from Thomas Aquinas or current politicians), surely the whole point of the commemoration was at least to remember and mourn. Is Trump capable either of such memory or of such mourning? Not if he can be so inconvenienced by the weather.

On November 10, Slate published Matthew Dessem’s up to date rewrite of Wilfred Owen’s poem, under the same title of Dulce Et Decorum Est. A sly spin on Owen’s poem, of course, but also a sideways tribute, since Dessem took pains to follow the lines and rhyme scheme of the original. And a good deal of Owen’s aghast sensibility is conveyed even in this satire, as these passages show:

Rain! RAIN! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Snapping umbrellas open just in time,
But someone still was getting wet and stumbling
And grumb’ling like an old man past bedtime.—
Dim through the humid air and iPhone light,
As under a misting tent, I saw him frowning.

Dessem carries through to the end in fine style, altering just the last word of the quote from Horace:

If in some drizzly dreams, you too could float
Behind the limo that we threw him in,
And watch the raindrops drying on his coat;
His soggy face, like a waterlogged pumpkin;
If you could read, with every tweet, the pain
Come gargling through his slightly damp touch screen,
Obscene as Stormy, empty as the brain
Of a deplorable who votes to vent his spleen,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To presidents who look like they died yesterday,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria madescere.

In plain English: How sweet and honorable it is to get drenched for one’s country.

Categories: News for progressives

Red Flag Gun Laws

Mon, 2018-11-19 15:45

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

—George Santayana

We never learn.

In the right (or wrong) hands, benevolent plans can easily be put to malevolent purposes.

Even the most well-intentioned government law or program can be—and has been—perverted, corrupted and used to advance illegitimate purposes once profit and power are added to the equation.

The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on illegal immigration, asset forfeiture schemes, road safety schemes, school safety schemes, eminent domain: all of these programs started out as legitimate responses to pressing concerns and have since become weapons of compliance and control in the police state’s hands.

Mark my words: red flag gun laws, which allow the police to remove guns from people suspected of being threats, will only add to the government’s power.

These laws, growing in popularity as a legislative means by which to seize guns from individuals viewed as a danger to themselves or others, are yet another Trojan Horse, a stealth maneuver by the police state to gain greater power over an unsuspecting and largely gullible populace.

Thirteen states now have red flag laws on their books. That number is growing.

As The Washington Post reports, these laws “allow a family member, roommate, beau, law enforcement officer or any type of medical professional to file a petition [with a court] asking that a person’s home be temporarily cleared of firearms. It doesn’t require a mental-health diagnosis or an arrest.

In the midst of what feels like an epidemic of mass shootings, these gun confiscation laws—extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws—may appease the fears of those who believe that fewer guns in the hands of the general populace will make our society safer.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way.

Anything—knives, vehicles, planes, pressure cookers—can become a weapon when wielded with deadly intentions.

With these red flag gun laws, the intention is to disarm individuals who are potential threats.

We need to stop dangerous people before they act”: that’s the rationale behind the NRA’s support of these red flag laws, and at first glance, it appears to be perfectly reasonable to want to disarm individuals who are clearly suicidal and/or pose an “immediate danger” to themselves or others.

Where the problem arises, of course, is when you put the power to determine who is a potential danger in the hands of government agencies, the courts and the police.

We’ve been down this road before.

Remember, this is the same government that uses the words “anti-government,” “extremist” and “terrorist” interchangeably.

This is the same government whose agents are spinning a sticky spider-web of threat assessments, behavioral sensing warnings, flagged “words,” and “suspicious” activity reports using automated eyes and ears, social media, behavior sensing software, and citizen spies to identify potential threats.

This is the same government that keeps re-upping the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the military to detain American citizens with no access to friends, family or the courts if the government believes them to be a threat.

This is the same government that has a growing list—shared with fusion centers and law enforcement agencies—of ideologies, behaviors, affiliations and other characteristics that could flag someone as suspicious and result in their being labeled potential enemies of the state.

For instance, if you believe in and exercise your rights under the Constitution (namely, your right to speak freely, worship freely, associate with like-minded individuals who share your political views, criticize the government, own a weapon, demand a warrant before being questioned or searched, or any other activity viewed as potentially anti-government, racist, bigoted, anarchic or sovereign), you could be at the top of the government’s terrorism watch list.

Moreover, as a New York Times editorial warns, you may be an anti-government extremist (a.k.a. domestic terrorist) in the eyes of the police if you are afraid that the government is plotting to confiscate your firearms, if you believe the economy is about to collapse and the government will soon declare martial law, or if you display an unusual number of political and/or ideological bumper stickers on your car.

Let that sink in a moment.

Now consider what happened in Maryland after a police officer attempted to “enforce” the state’s new red flag law, which went into effect on Oct. 1.

At 5 am on a Monday, two police officers showed up at 61-year-old Gary Willis’ house to serve him with a court order requiring that he surrender his guns. Willis answered the door holding a gun.

Mind you, in some states, merely answering the door holding a gun is enough to get you killed by police who have a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later.

Willis initially set his gun aside while he spoke with the police. However, when the police attempted to serve him with the gun confiscation order, Willis reportedly became “irate” and picked up his gun again. At that point, a struggle ensued, causing the gun to go off. Although no one was harmed, one of the cops shot and killed Willis.

According to the Anne Arundel County police chief, the shooting was a sign that the red flag law is needed.

What the police can’t say with any certainty is what they prevented by shooting and killing Willis.

Therein lies the danger of these red flag laws, specifically, and pre-crime laws such as these generally.

This is the world that science fiction author Philip K. Dick envisioned for Minority Report in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

In Dick’s dystopian police state, the police combine widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining and precognitive technology to capture would-be criminals before they can do any damage: precrime.

In Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg, the technology that John Anderton, Chief of the Department of Pre-Crime in Washington, DC, relies on for his predictive policing proves to be fallible, identifying him as the next would-be criminal and targeting him for preemptive measures. Consequently, Anderton finds himself not only attempting to prove his innocence but forced to take drastic measures in order to avoid capture in a surveillance state that uses biometric data and sophisticated computer networks to track its citizens.

With every passing day, the American police state moves that much closer to mirroring the fictional pre-crime prevention world of Minority Report.

For instance, police in major American cities have been testing a tool that allows them to identify individuals—or groups of individuals—most likely to commit a crime in a given community. Those individuals are then put on notice that their movements and activities will be closely monitored and any criminal activity (by them or their associates) will result in harsh penalties.

In other words, the burden of proof is reversed: you are guilty before you are given any chance to prove you are innocent.

Dig beneath the surface of this kind of surveillance/police state, however, and you will find that the real purpose of pre-crime is not safety but control.

Red flag gun laws merely push us that much closer towards a suspect society where everyone is potentially guilty of some crime or another and must be preemptively rendered harmless.

Where many Americans go wrong is in naively assuming that you have to be doing something illegal or harmful in order to be flagged and targeted for some form of intervention or detention.

In fact, U.S. police agencies have been working to identify and manage potential extremist “threats,” violent or otherwise, before they can become actual threats for some time now.

In much the same way that the USA Patriot Act was used as a front to advance the surveillance state, allowing the government to establish a far-reaching domestic spying program that turned every American citizen into a criminal suspect, the government’s anti-extremism program renders otherwise lawful, nonviolent activities as potentially extremist.

In fact, all you need to do these days to end up on a government watch list or be subjected to heightened scrutiny is use certain trigger words (like cloud, pork and pirates), surf the internet, communicate using a cell phone, limp or stutterdrive a car, stay at a hotel, attend a political rally, express yourself on social mediaappear mentally ill, serve in the militarydisagree with a law enforcement officialcall in sick to work, purchase materials at a hardware store, take flying or boating lessons, appear suspicious, appear confused or nervous, fidget or whistle or smell bad, be seen in public waving a toy gun or anything remotely resembling a gun (such as a water nozzle or a remote control or a walking cane), stare at a police officer, question government authority, appear to be pro-gun or pro-freedom, or generally live in the United States.

Be warned: once you get on such a government watch list—whether it’s a terrorist watch list, a mental health watch list, a dissident watch list, or a red flag gun watch list—there’s no clear-cut way to get off, whether or not you should actually be on there.

You will be tracked wherever you go.

You will be flagged as a potential threat and dealt with accordingly.

This is pre-crime on an ideological scale and it’s been a long time coming.

The government has been building its pre-crime, surveillance network in concert with fusion centers (of which there are 78 nationwide, with partners in the private sector and globally), data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics (in which life experiences alter one’s genetic makeup).

It’s the American police state’s take on the dystopian terrors foreshadowed by George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and Phillip K. Dick all rolled up into one oppressive pre-crime and pre-thought crime package.

If you’re not scared yet, you should be.

Connect the dots.

Start with the powers amassed by the government under the USA Patriot Act, note the government’s ever-broadening definition of what it considers to be an “extremist,” then add in the government’s detention powers under NDAA, the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance networks, and fusion centers that collect and share surveillance data between local, state and federal police agencies.

To that, add tens of thousands of armed, surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies, facial recognition technology that will identify and track you wherever you go and whatever you do. And then to complete the picture, toss in the real-time crime centers being deployed in cities across the country, which will be attempting to “predict” crimes and identify criminals before they happen based on widespread surveillance, complex mathematical algorithms and prognostication programs.

Hopefully you’re starting to understand how easy we’ve made it for the government to identify, label, target, defuse and detain anyone it views as a potential threat for a variety of reasons that run the gamut from mental illness to having a military background to challenging its authority to just being on the government’s list of persona non grata.

This brings me back to those red flag gun laws.

In the short term, these gun confiscation laws may serve to temporarily delay or discourage those wishing to inflict violence on others, but it will not resolve whatever madness or hate or instability therein that causes someone to pull a trigger or launch a bomb or unleash violence on another.

Nor will these laws save us from government-instigated and directed violence at the hands of the American police state or the blowback from the war-drenched, violence-imbued, profit-driven military industrial complex, both of which remain largely overlooked and underestimated pieces of the discussion on gun violence in America.

In the long term, all these gun confiscation laws will do is ensure that when the police state finally cracks down, “we the people” are defenseless in the face of the government’s arsenal of weapons.

After all, the most important and most consistent theme throughout the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, is the fact that it is not merely an enumeration of our rights but was intended to be a clear shackle on the government’s powers.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas understood this tension well. “The Constitution is not neutral,” he remarked. “It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.”

In this way, the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in their entirety stand as a bulwark against a police state. To our detriment, these rights have been steadily weakened, eroded and undermined in recent years.

Yet without any one of them, including the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

You can eliminate all of guns, but it will not necessarily eliminate violence. Those same individuals sick enough to walk into an elementary school or a movie theater and open fire using a gun can and do wreak just as much havoc with homemade bombs made out of pressure cookers and a handful of knives.

It’s also not even a question of whether Americans need weapons to defend themselves against any overt threats to their safety or well-being, although a study by a Quinnipiac University economist indicates that less restrictive concealed gun-carry laws save lives, while gun control can endanger lives. In fact, journalist Kevin Carson, writing for CounterPunch, suggests that prohibiting Americans from owning weapons would be as dangerously ineffective as Prohibition and the War on the Drugs:

[W]hat strict gun laws will do is take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done. I’d expect a War on Guns to expand the volume of organized crime, and to empower criminal gangs fighting over control over the black market, in exactly the same way Prohibition did in the 1920s and strict drug laws have done since the 1980s. I’d expect it to lead to further erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, further militarization of local police via SWAT teams, and further expansion of the squalid empire of civil forfeiture, perjured jailhouse snitch testimony, entrapment, planted evidence, and plea deal blackmail.

Truly, the debate over gun ownership in America is really a debate over who gets to call the shots and control the game. In other words, it’s that same tug-of-war that keeps getting played out in every confrontation between the government and the citizenry over who gets to be the master and who is relegated to the part of the servant.

The Constitution is clear on this particular point, with its multitude of prohibitions on government overreach. As author Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964:

No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words “no” and “not” employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.

In a nutshell, then, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms reflects not only a concern for one’s personal defense but serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one’s freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property. As such, it reinforces that necessary balance in the citizen-state relationship.

Certainly, dictators in past regimes have understood this principle only too well. As Adolf Hitler noted, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that starting in December 1935, Jews in Germany were prevented from obtaining shooting licenses, because authorities believed that to allow them to do so would “endanger the German population.”

In late 1938, special orders were delivered barring Jews from owning firearms, with the punishment for arms possession being twenty years in a concentration camp.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Yet as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it is a history that we should be wary of repeating.

Categories: News for progressives

On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy

Mon, 2018-11-19 15:26

What did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God, when he prayed two thousand years ago for it to come on earth? What might this Kingdom look like if it came much later than expected, long after the Roman Empire had faded into history, nation states had emerged as the new centers of earthly power, and democratic government had been conceptualized and at least partially implemented? In two late 19th Century American novels, a forgotten genius named Edward Bellamy tackled these perplexing questions and proved equal to the task. Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) depicted in striking detail a developed nation governed by the core teachings of Jesus, creating a national and world sensation that rivaled Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His sequel, Equality (1897), responded to critics of Looking Backward with a refined, even more elaborate description of how the Kingdom would manifest in this modern world.

With uncanny prescience—anticipating radio, television, airplanes, electric cars, power tools, air conditioning, calculators, credit cards, supply chains, women’s liberation, alternative energy, environmental restoration, recycling, and other commonplaces of contemporary life—Bellamy painted a vivid and compelling portrait of what he believed America would become as the 20th Century unfolded. An impending nonviolent revolution, sweeping aside the immemorial and oppressive “rule of the rich,” would bring forth a radically egalitarian social order of material abundance and moral sublimity. America would finally embody the lofty principles of the Preamble to its Declaration of Independence. Unlike his other predictions, Bellamy’s revolution has not come to pass—at least not yet—but his resplendent vision of its culmination has lost little luster. Read today his two testaments of continuing revelation, and one’s spiritual and political lives become one flesh.

In the Kingdom come to America, citizens have both equal votes in elections and equal stakes in the national economy. The Golden Rule is official policy. From cradle to grave, citizens receive an annual credit to draw upon, reflecting an equal share of their nation’s available output of goods and services. All Americans, male and female, have the same opportunities and responsibilities: during the first twenty-one years of life, to become well-educated in the public schools, where every able student obtains at least the equivalent of a college degree, and all are exposed to a wide variety of potential occupations; from twenty-one to forty-five, to serve in the nation’s centrally-planned, regionally-organized industries and professions in a largely self-chosen capacity and location; after forty-five, to devote their extended retirement years to continuing intellectual and spiritual development and volunteer community service. At no time does any citizen work for another or become dependent upon another. All live and work as peers to promote the welfare and prosperity of the nation they share and love.

Social cohesion and personal initiative flow from higher patriotism, mutuality of interest, and public honor, a self-reinforcing triad which has replaced private profit-seeking as the impetus of economic activity. Before the revolution, citizens with competing economic interests fought to maximize them, regardless of the expense to other citizens or even to the nation itself. Amid that perpetual conflict, patriotism was but an occasional chauvinistic or militaristic sentiment. In the new post-revolutionary America, a higher form of patriotism creates a humanitarian bond between citizens, one which naturally arises from their identical mutual interests in the success of the national enterprise. So successful is this new social model that it has spread worldwide in a panoply of cultural variations, ushering in a peaceful era of international cooperation. Like soldiers who once rose through the ranks to gain increasing respect and responsibility, workers in the new “industrial army” strive to earn promotions, public honor, and civic awards for outstanding contributions to society and humanity. The earthly Kingdom does not seek to eliminate ambition but to give it nobler expression.

Far from a regimented anthill, the America of 2000 is a beehive of individual expression and social experimentation. Equality has not led to uniformity but to the unleashing of human potential. Artists, authors, philosophical and spiritual teachers, publishers of newspapers and magazines, and other creative entrepreneurs are exempt from the “industrial army” if they garner sufficient citizen support to match the annual credit. Pioneers who wish to forge their own paths outside the mainstream are given the means to get started in lieu of the credit. Democracy has permeated every nook and cranny of society. Advanced communication systems allow citizens to vote frequently on a broad spectrum of issues, from the election of their public officials to the civic projects and programs they will undertake. Although income equality has essentially eliminated corruption, ineffective officials can be recalled at any time, and no significant governmental action can be taken without approval by plebiscite. “Government of, by, and for the people” has not perished but has at last been born.

When only touched upon in essay form, Bellamy’s ideas may sound fanciful, naively optimistic. When encountered in his books, however, they come across as inescapable conclusions of Socratic logic, self-evident applications of the teachings of Jesus and the principles of America’s founding document. Every conceivable objection to the virtue and viability of a radically egalitarian society is raised, fleshed out, and refuted. This is why Looking Backward became the most popular utopian novel ever written, was translated into at least twenty languages, and influenced the likes of Eugene Debs, John Dewey, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Samuel Clemens, Emma Goldman, Charles Beard, Carl Sandburg, George Orwell, Thorstein Veblen, Erich Fromm, Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, and a host of other noteworthy intellectual and social leaders. Indeed, as the 19th Century drew to a close, Bellamy clubs were blossoming throughout America and new populist political parties were being formed. Then as fast as it all had arisen, it began to fall apart simultaneously with Bellamy’s fragile, failing health.

His legacy continued to live on in a series of reforms—public ownership of utilities, the general election of senators, the civil service system, the income tax amendment, the inheritance tax, the parcel post system, women’s suffrage, improved child education and labor laws, curtailment of egregious industrial abuses, soil conservation and reforestation efforts, etc. Yet Bellamy’s tragic death in 1898, at the age of forty-eight, marked the end of his vastly more radical vision…or did it? The question is asked in light of his most stunning prediction. “It was not till the kings had been shorn of power and the interregnum of sham democracy (operative in the political but not the economic arena) had set in, leaving no virile force in the state or the world to resist the money power, that the opportunity for a world-wide plutocratic despotism arrived. …When international trade and financial relations had broken down national barriers and the world had become one field of economic enterprise, (then) did the idea of a universally dominant and centralized money power become not only possible…(but) had already so far materialized itself as to cast its shadow before. If the Revolution had not come when it did, we cannot doubt that something like this universal plutocratic dynasty or some highly centered oligarchy, based upon the complete monopoly of all property by a small body, would long before this time have become the government of the world.” Equality (1897)

Well over a hundred years ago, Edward Bellamy explained in two novels what the modern world would look like if the Kingdom of God arrived in its midst. He also explained what that world would look like if it did not. Wealth would accumulate in the private economic arena to the point where it could buy and control the public political arena, and then would come the plutocratic strangulation of the human race. So it has happened before our eyes. The numbers shift a bit from year to year, but recent estimates are that 80% of humanity struggles to survive on $10.00 or less per day, 50% on $2.50 or less, and seven million children die annually from malnutrition and preventable or treatable disease. Meanwhile, a handful of billionaires have become richer than the poorer half of the world’s population, and globalized financial and corporate monstrosities dictate the one-sided terms under which entire nations must live. Not only has this insane, obscene wealth concentration corrupted politics and plunged the masses into crippling austerity, but even more dreadfully, it has plundered and polluted our planet to the point of mass species extinction and looming ecocide.

Small wonder that we drown in dystopian thought, swallowing the poisonous TINA water that there is no alternative. Although Bellamy was spot on in predicting plutocracy absent a revolution, the revolution he saw coming never came. His untimely illness and death sapped the initial momentum of his movement, but the coupe de grace of Bellamy’s “impending” revolution was delivered by a confluence of foreign and domestic events he did not foresee. On the foreign front came two world wars, the rise of authoritarian communism, and the resulting Cold War. On the domestic front came the New Deal, the post-WWII surge of American industry, and its following decades of global dominance. The foreign events were all-consuming crises; the domestic events allowed much of America’s fragile working class to move into the seemingly-more secure middle class, fostering the false assumption that the evils of capitalism had been constrained. Now that the near-collapse of the global capitalist system has mired us in the consequences of the Great Recession, and the scarcity of stable work for steady pay is again the stark reality in America and across the world, attention should be paid to how Bellamy believed the Second Great American Revolution would unfold.

The process would begin with growing public awareness of its dire predicament, since the dawn of civilization, under “the rule of the rich.” What had begun with the slaves of ancient empires and continued with the serfs of feudalism had culminated with the wage-slaves of capitalism caught in the vise-grip of global plutocracy. The growing awareness of this perpetual plight would be energized by a widespread spiritual awakening to feelings of brotherhood and sisterhood long suppressed by ruthless competition. Universal moral values like the Golden Rule—and what Schweitzer would later call “reverence for life”—would come to be seen not merely as personal guidance in a fallen world but as bedrock principles upon which to build a better, more beautiful one. The nature and purpose of democratic government would again be understood as defined in America’s founding document: as an institution, called into being by the people, to ensure equality by enabling every citizen to exercise inherent rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When it became clear that those rights could be secured only in the economic arena, democracy would move boldly into it.

The mechanics of that move—successive flanking and pincer maneuvers by which a revitalized, rapidly-expanding public sector would first out-compete, then surround, then absorb what had become a dwindling, profit-starved private sector—is beyond the scope of a short two-part essay. A piece like this can only point to Looking Backward and Equality, sequentially read and pondered, as a path up the mountain to gain a clear and comprehensive view of the utopian shore toward which today we either swim or perish. Fortunately, Bellamy left a glimmering wake to follow, and his 19th Century vision readily lends itself to 21st Century revision. Included in that task would be the removal of lingering Victorian attitudes in Bellamy’s thought, the balancing of his large-scale mechanistic mode of progress with the small-scale organic, and the re-imagining of an “eco-industrial army,” one which not only produces goods and services in accord with environmental constraints but which also works directly, like FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, to protect nature and begin to heal the immense harm we have done to her (and thus to ourselves).

Desperately we long to feel again the thrill of hope, the possible fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that the Kingdom of God come on earth. A forgotten genius named Edward Bellamy deserves to be remembered, for he enables us, persuades us, impels us to believe that it can and it must. Let his words, not mine, close this essay. “The great enthusiasm of humanity which overthrew the old order and brought in the fraternal society was not primarily or consciously a godward aspiration at all. It was essentially a humane movement. …But ‘if we love one another God dwelleth in us,’ and so men found it. It appears that there came a moment, the most transcendent moment in the history of the race of man, when with the fraternal glow of this world of new-found embracing brothers there seems to have mingled the ineffable thrill of a divine participation, as if the hand of God were clasped over the joined hands of men. And so it has continued to this day and shall for evermore.”Equality (1897)

Note to the reader: For those who deem Bellamy’s emphases on nationalism and patriotism either dated or dangerous, attention is called to the nurturing and inclusive form of nationalism recently proposed in “Reclaiming the State” by Mitchell and Fazi (Pluto Press, 2017), a proposal which includes both a universal jobs guarantee and a “socio-ecological transformation of production and society,” funded via Modern Monetary Theory. For those who seek a more scholarly approach to Bellamy’s work, please search the net for Dr. Nora Willi’s insightful dissertation (UIC, 2018), “Looking Back to Bellamy: American Political Theology for a New Gilded Age.”

Newton Finn is an attorney. He lives in Illinois.


Categories: News for progressives

Shithole Countries: Made in the USA

Mon, 2018-11-19 15:17

In two years, the world has become accustomed to being shocked by the words and actions of United States President Donald Trump. In January of this year, he again showed his lack of diplomacy, tack and common decency, when he referred to many poorer countries as “sh*ithole countries”, asking “Why do we want all these people from sh*thole countries coming here?” Former member of the House of Representatives Cynthia McKinney, in her new book, How the US Creates ‘Sh*thole’ Countries, has gathered a collection of essays, including one of her own, that clearly shows that it is the U.S. that is responsible for the poverty and suffering in these very nations.

The first series of essays describes U.S. foreign policy, and its true motives. In the essay, “The End of Washington’s ‘Wars on the Cheap’,” The Saker sums of U.S. foreign policy as follows: “Here’s the template for typical Empire action: find some weak country, subvert it, accuse it of human right violations, slap economic sanctions, trigger riots and intervene militarily in ‘defense’ of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and ‘self-determination’ (or some other combo of equally pious and meaningless concepts).” The hypocrisy of such a policy is obvious. A weak and vulnerable nation is victimized by a far more powerful one. The U.S. has done this countless times in its ugly history, and there appears to be no appetite in the government to change.

This introduction and explanation of U.S. foreign policy is followed by essays on some, but certainly not all, of the countries that have been victimized by the United States, usually following the ‘template’ previously mentioned. As McKinney states in her essay, “Somalia: Is Somalia the U.S. Template for All of Africa,” “…while mouthing freedom, democracy, and liberty, the United States has denied these very aspirations to others, especially when it inconvenienced the US or its allies.  In Mozambique and Angola, the US stood with Portugal until it was the Portuguese people, themselves, who threw off their government and voted in a socialist government that vowed to free Portugal of its colonies.”

In the essay, “How the U.S. Perpetuates the Palestinian Tragedy,” Sami Al-Arian states the following:

It might be understandable, if detestable, for Israel and its Zionist defenders to circulate false characterizations of history and myths to advance their political agenda. But it is incomprehensible, indeed reprehensible, for those who claim to advocate the rule of law, believe in the principle of self-determination, and call for freedom and justice to fall for this propaganda or to become its willing accomplices. In following much of American political leaders’ rhetoric or media coverage of the conflict, one is struck by the lack of historical context, the deliberate disregard of empirical facts, and the contempt for established legal constructs and precedents.

The U.S. leads in these distortions, with its officials proclaiming, each time that Israel bombs Gaza, that “Israel has a right to defend itself”. Never is there any mention of the brutal, illegal occupation and blockade; never a discussion of the fact that Palestine has no army, navy or air force, and Israel’s military is one of the world’s most powerful, thanks to the U.S. It is never stated that international law allows an occupied people to resist the occupation in any way possible, including armed struggle. The countless United Nations resolutions condemning Israeli actions in Palestine are ignored by U.S. officials.

Once again, U.S. hypocrisy is on very public display.

The third section of this very informative book describes the United States’ mostly-successful efforts to camouflage its vile intentions and international crimes. Christopher Black, in his essay “Western Imperialism and the Use of Propaganda”, clearly articulates how this is done:

The primary concern they [U.S. government officials] have, in order to preserve their control, is for the preservation of the new feudal mythology that they have created: that the world is a dangerous place, that they are the protectors, that the danger is omnipresent, eternal, and omnidirectional, comes from without, and comes from within. The mythology is constructed and presented through all media; journals, films, television, radio, music, advertising, books, the internet in all its variety. All available information systems are used to create and maintain scenarios and dramas to convince the people that they, the protectors, are the good and all others are the bad.

We are bombarded with this message incessantly.

Our memories are short, indeed, if we have forgotten both President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, telling the world from the United Nations the blatant lie that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’, threatening civilization. We are not paying attention if we are unaware of the many innuendos given of the ‘dangers’ of all Muslims. Yes, the government fosters fear, proclaiming subtly and not so subtly that there is danger everywhere, and it is the role of the mighty United States to protect the world, whether or not such protection is wanted or needed.

Lastly, the U.S. as a ‘sh*thole’ country is described; its many violations of international law, and crimes against humanity, are summarized. Richard Falk, in his essay “The Sh*thole Phenomenon at Home and Abroad,” displays concisely the arrogance of the U.S.:

“This kind of nationalist pride covered up and blindsided crimes of the greatest severity that were being committed from the time of the earliest settlements: genocide against native Americans, reliance on the barbarism of slavery to facilitate profitable cotton production and the supposedly genteel life style of the Southern plantations. This unflattering national picture should be enlarged to include the exploitation of the resources and good will of peoples throughout Latin America, who, once freed from Spanish colonial rule, quickly found themselves victimized by American gunboat diplomacy that paved the way for American investors or joined in crushing those bold and brave enough to engage in national resistance against the abuse of their homelands.”

The final essay is the “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on his Mission to the United States of America,” authored by Philip Alston. While Trump decries “sh*thole” countries, the conditions that the U.S. put those countries in are not unknown in the U.S. A few facts from Alston’s report will suffice:

+ The U.S.’s “…immense wealth and expertise stand in shocking contrast with the conditions in which vast numbers of its citizens live. About 40 million live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty, and 5.3 million live in Third World conditions of absolute poverty. It has the highest youth poverty rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the highest infant mortality rates among comparable OECD States. Its citizens live shorter and sicker lives compared to those living in all other rich democracies, eradicable tropical diseases are increasingly prevalent, and it has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one of the lowest levels of voter registrations in among OECD countries and the highest obesity levels in the developed world.”

+ “The United States has the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries. The $1.5 trillion in tax cuts in December 2017 overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality.”

+ “For almost five decades the overall policy response has been neglectful at best, but the policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship.”

The information in these essays is all rigorously documented with extensive footnotes. The writing is clear and the facts are presented in a concise manner that is highly beneficial for the average reader or academic scholar.

For anyone who questions U.S. policies, at home or abroad, perhaps becoming more aware of such issues since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, How the US Creates ‘Sh*thole’ Countries is an indispensable read.


Categories: News for progressives

Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore

Mon, 2018-11-19 15:11

The issue of ranching in Point Reyes National Seashore is a microcosm of what is wrong with special interest politics and the misguided policies that help prop up the few at an enormous cost to the rest of us—the owners of this unique National Park.  The proposal put forth undermines the long-held principle, and law that supports it, that our National Parks shall be managed for the protection of their natural wonders for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

We need to send a strong message to the Park Service and our representatives in Congress that Point Reyes National Seashore belongs to all of us and should be managed for the greater public good and not a few commercial ranching interests.

To say nothing about the plan to start removing or even killing Tule elk because they eat grass and may compete with commercial ranching, or the fact that the cattle and dairy operations continue to pollute Drake’s Estero and degrade essential wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, these ranching operations also make little economic sense.

The Park Service has found only about 100 jobs in Marin tied to ranching operations at Point Reyes,[1] whereas 2.5 million yearly visitors contribute over $100 million to the local economy and provide long-term sustainable employment to roughly 1,244 people, representing $54 million in labor income in 2017.[2]

Dairy operations have the largest environmental impact.  But Marin’s dairy industry continues to slump due to milk overproduction and changes in public consumption habits, as we adopt healthier and more environmentally-sustainable lifestyles, which could result in the dairies’ demise.[3]

The current proposal forces us to continue subsidizing dairy operations on public lands as ranchers are charged significantly lower grazing fees in Point Reyes than on nearby private lands.  So we are propping up an industry in a National Park that dumps more milk into a slumping market to the detriment of nearby private dairy operations.  This makes no sense.

To make matters worse, Congressman Huffman is pushing revisionist legislation, asserting “Congress’ long-standing intent that working dairies and ranches continue to be authorized to operate.”[4]  Huffman’s legislation shamefully misleads the public.  When Congress authorized buying the ranchers’ lands in 1978, it made clear that ranchers could only reserve “a right of use and occupancy for a definite term of not more than twenty-five years, or, in lieu thereof, for a term ending at the death of the owner or the death of his or her spouse, whichever is later.”[5] Congress never expressed the intent that dairies and ranches continue operating indefinitely, which would be inconsistent with the Park Service’s mission and the Act that created the Point Reyes.

Even if there is a desire to preserve the historical aspects of ranching at Point Reyes, it should be based on historical terms rather than the modern industrial operations the ranches have become.  Current operations hardly resemble the 19th century ranches that earned cultural and historical designations.  Rather, these operations have become a modern unsightly industrial blight, blocking the public’s access and use, degrading lands and waters, and limiting our management options.

The Act that created the National Seashore envisioned that these lands—our lands—would eventually be restored and become part of America’s natural legacy; a unique coastal ecosystem found only at Point Reyes.

Please weigh in by November 30 on the current misguided proposals and ask that commercial ranching operations in our Point Reyes National Seashore be phased out.  Submit comments at, and copies to Rep. Huffman, Sen. Feinstein, and Sen. Harris.


[1] Economic Impacts Study, Point Reyes National Seashore, FINAL REPORT, National Park Service (available at

[2] See, then select “Point Reyes NS” from “Filter by National Park Service Unit”; data from 2017; see also:

[3] See 7, 2018, North Bay Business Journal); 22, 2018, Marin IJ).

[4]H.R. 6687.

[5]16 U.S.C. § 459c-5(a).

Categories: News for progressives

A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism

Fri, 2018-11-16 16:03

Photo Source Nick Kenrick | CC BY 2.0

According to the FBI, 1,679 religious hate crimes were reported last year. 58.1% were anti-Jewish and 18.6% were anti-Muslim. I don’t like to turn to the FBI for statistics, but I don’t know where else to turn for evidence of crimes of this sort. The statistics might dampen my “holiday spirit” this time of year when I have often celebrated Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, which I enjoyed in Hanoi for the first time twenty-years ago.  I feel like I belong to the world and to all its religions, though I know that religions have brought violence and calamity, and though I was born into a secular Jewish family and grew up when Jews were excluded from country clubs and fraternities.

When I was eleven-years-old, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, two American-born Jews, were sent to the electric chair after they were found guilty of stealing the secret of the atomic bomb and then handing it to the Soviets. That event seared my childhood more than any other; my parents were also Jewish and had belonged to the American Communist Party from 1938 to 1948.

The American Nazi Party was alive and well when I was a boy. Members of the organization wore swastikas and paraded in largely Jewish neighborhoods. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they had a right to do so under the First Amendment to the Constitution. “Jew Boy” was a term of derision and so was “New York Jew,” which might be taken to mean a Wall Street banker or a Communist agitator. Now, New York Jew it might mean the former mayor of the city, Michael Bloomberg, the eleventh richest person in the world, or the orthodox Jews who are anti-Zionist.

To paraphrase Henry James, “It’s a complex fate to be an American Jew.” Now, more than ever before the American Jewish community, which is as divided as ever before since the height of McCarthyism and the Cold War, faces crucial political and social issues that will not be resolved anytime soon.

I probably will never lose my identity as a Jew, though I don’t believe in the Messiah, don’t care if I never see Jerusalem and have never thought that Jews are the “Chosen People” who have suffered more than any other people because of discrimination and prejudice.

I’m a Jew who believes that the State of Israel has often behaved like a Nazi regime when it comes to Palestinians. I don’t think of myself as a “white person,” if only because so-called “white people” have reminded me for much of my life that I was Jewish and didn’t belong in their fraternities, clubs and cliques, though sometimes I have been a token Jew, as when I played rugby in New York in the early 1960s and rubbed shoulders with Irish from Ireland, white South Africans and white Australians.

After all these years, I remember now a diner party in Antwerp, Belgium in 1988 when the host, who was also a colleague of mine at the university, began to talk about a Belgian woman he described as “a Jewess,” a word I had never heard spoken before. I associated “Jewess” with Rebecca, the dark, exotic Jew, and the daughter of a moneylender in Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe, which is set in the twelfth-century, about the same time that some astute observers of human nature first explained that non-Jews projected their own “dark side” onto Jews, rather than owning it themselves.

The word “Jewess”—when coupled with my landlady’s comment that “the Jews were taking over Antwerp”—raised my hackles, made me aware of Belgian anti-Semitism and brought out my own self-identification as Jewish, which is magnified whenever I hear negative comments about Jews.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew, published in 1945—just as the world was becoming aware of German concentration camps—has been my Bible when it comes to anti-Semitism

Soon after that 1988 Belgian dinner party, Eric Schellermans, my landlady’s youngest son, took me to a World War II “detention center” for Jews who were subsequently shipped to places like Auschwitz and Dachau. “It wasn’t a concentration camp,” Eric insisted, though I felt differently, probably because there was a plaque on a wall with the names of several Jews who had died in a failed attempt to escape. Some of them had the last name “Rasquin,” the French spelling of Raskin. Not surprisingly, I had an immediate sense of kinship.

The visit to the “detention center” reminded me of the long history of European anti-Semitism, the fate of Dreyfus and Zola, and the Holocaust, too, which my father told me about when I was five. He didn’t call it the “Holocaust,” probably because I wouldn’t have understood the word, though he explained that Nazis put Jews into ovens and gassed them. It was a lovely bedtime story and gave me nightmares.

In Morocco the year before I lived and worked in Belgium, my friend, Mohammed, invited me for lunch at his home, where his mother made couscous and where he told me that, “Jews ran the U.S. and controlled the media.” And also that “Rockefeller was a Jew.”

Wherever I have lived, whether in New York, northern California, North Carolina, Manchester, England and Mexico City, I have experienced anti-Semitism. I experience it now more than ever before and especially since Trump’s election, which has ratcheted up attacks on Jews in the U.S. I’ve been aware all my life that Jews have been a target of hatred.

My own journey started in Huntington, Long Island in 1942, when Jews all over the world were very endangered, indeed. Even in Huntington, where my grandfather owned and operated a store and helped to create the town synagogue, there was anti-Semitism. The boys in the neighborhood called Jews “Christ-killers.” The girls in the neighborhood wouldn’t date Jewish boy because they had been circumcised but not baptized.

I drove Benjamin Raskin to the synagogue on Saturday mornings, though I never joined him, and he never invited me inside. His only son, my father, Samuel, had been bar mitzvahed at 13. Then, he turned around and told his father that he was an atheist and would never set foot in a synagogue again. As far as I know, he never did.

I was never bar mitzvahed, and have rarely gone to a synagogue anywhere in the world, though out of curiosity I visited a reform temple in Antwerp where men in suits conferred with one another in Hebrew all through the service. An odd way to practice their beliefs, I thought. In fact, they were conducting business and ought to have been chased from the temple.

My initial reaction to Trump’s election was a kind of instinctive sense that the U.S. was hurtling toward fascism and that anti-Semitism would escalate. After all, Trump had made anti-Semitic remarks. The mid-term elections have reinforced my apprehensions. The right wing controls the White House, the Senate and the Supreme Court, though the resistance succeeded in electing a majority of Democrats to the House of Representatives and to state houses across the nation and to governorships, too. Two cheers for Democracy.

When I settled in northern California forty-two years ago, I naively thought I would escape anti-Semitism. Indeed, I met working class Jews, Jewish gangsters and racketeers and learned about Murder Incorporated. I also learned that in the 1940s some Jewish refugees from European fascism moved into the houses vacated by Japanese families when they were sent to detention camps simply because they were Japanese.

In Sonoma County, an hour North of San Francisco I heard the kinds of comments about Jews that I had not heard since the 1950s, namely, that Jews had horns and tails and that Jews were the killers of Jesus Christ. As a faculty member at Sonoma State University, I heard anti-Semitic comments from faculty members and from students, though I also heard black students referred to as “niggers” on campus and off campus.

In the men’s locker room one afternoon, I heard one student say to another, “it smells like a Jew in here.” Walking across campus a professor in the history department approached me and asked, “what are you doing here,” followed by “Why don’t you go back to New York?” I took that to be coded anti-Semitism.

In another era, I had been told to “go back to Russia” and “love it or leave it.” One evening while having dinner with friends at a Sonoma County restaurant that happened to be owned and operated by a New Yorker who is also Jewish, a man at the table complained that, “The Jews are taking over Los Angeles.” When I repeated his comment to my own friends, they said, “He’s from the Valley,” as though that excused his comment.

In Sonoma County, where Jews are a small minority and where they were tarred and feathered in the 1930s, just because they were Jews and communists, too, I heard Jewish students in my classes tell me it “was impossible to have peace with Palestinians,” and, when I attended a Santa Rosa synagogue for the bar mitzvah of a son of a student, the first thing the rabbi said to me was that I should give money to the State of Israel and that if I was a “good Jew” I would also be a Zionist.

For my whole life, I have rejected the idea that to be a Jew also meant to be a Zionist and to pledge allegiance to the State of Israel. The Santa Rosa rabbi was in part merely expressing a widely held sentiment that holds that the fate of the Jews in the U.S. and the fate of Jews in Israel are inextricably linked.

Indeed, ever since 1948, the existence of Israel has altered what it means to be a Jew in the United States. Any Jew who doesn’t bow down to the Israeli government runs the risk of being demonized, ostracized and marginalized.

These days, Jews don’t lead labor unions and strikes, as they once did, though many of them do humanitarian work. But so do citizens of all ethnic groups. The idea that there are “Jews without money” is now largely a thing of the past, though in 1930, Mike Gold wrote an autobiographical novel about penniless Jews.

In Sonoma County, there are a great many Jews, including myself, who can’t and don’t have civil conversations with other Jews on the subject of Israel without shouting at one another and refusing to agree to disagree. I also have Jewish friends my age and generation who don’t know any Yiddish—what a shame! —don’t know Jewish history and traditions and who have been more assimilated into white Anglo Saxon Protestant America than any Jews I have ever known. I feel much the same way about them that James Baldwin felt about African Americans who were in denial about their own blackness and who identified as white.

I have not accused those Jews of being “self-hating,” though that phrase has been hurled at me because I don’t belong to a congregation or attend a synagogue except on rare occasions, for funerals, for example. There may be some Jews who have internalized anti-Semitism.

I know that Jews collaborated with the Nazis, much as Jews also resisted the Nazis, but I refuse to accept the idea that Jews who aren’t Zionists or who criticize the State of Israel are “self hating,” much as critics of the U.S. aren’t necessarily anti-American. When I taught in Belgium I heard anti-American statements, along with anti-Semitic remarks. In the 1980s, with Reagan in the White House, it was relatively easy for Belgians to hold and express anti-American sentiments.

I know what Anti-Americanism looks like and sounds like. It’s an instinctive hatred of all things American, by which people usually mean the U.S.A. In Belgium, I did everything I could to combat anti-Americanism in the classroom by introducing students to the diversity of American culture and literature, written by women and people of color, playing jazz and the blues and lecturing on the history of American radicalism that was fueled by Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and more.

Under Trump, and in the wake of the recent killing of Jews in Pittsburg, I feel more Jewish than ever before, and more American, too. Jewish in the ways that Marx, Einstein, Freud, Bella Abzug and Philip Roth were Jews, and American in the ways that Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Ben Shahn and Emma Goldman were Americans and Jews, too, and of Lithuanian and Russian ancestry, like me.

Now, as much as at any time in history, what it means to be Jewish and an American is up for grabs, and ought not to be in the hands of Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, or with Trump himself, the protégé of one of lowest, slimiest American Jews ever: Mr. Roy Cohen, Joseph McCarthy’s sidekick.

In the thick of the 1969-1970 Chicago Conspiracy trial, Abbie Hoffman, who was one of the defendants, accused Judge Hoffman of being a “shanda fur die goyim”—a henchman for the master class—who betrayed his own people. Saying it in Yiddish made more sense and conveyed more punch than saying it in English.

In Miami in 1972, Abbie Hoffman reached out to retired Jews, reminded them that Nixon hated Jews, and invited them to support the Yippies who were as Jewish as the members of any organization in the Sixties, and who never forgot the Holocaust, even as they never surrendered their patriotic sentiments, especially when they showed up at the House Committee on American Activities in shirts made from the American flag and in uniforms that mimicked those of the patriots of 1776.

There’s a dark, dark tradition of Jewish writing in the books of Isaac Bashevis Singer and others, and there’s also a tradition of Jewish humor that once became American humor, much as the blues became American music and might once again, especially now in the age of Donald Trump, a “great dictator,” in Charlie Chaplin’s sense of the word, if ever there was one.

I’m not so Jewish that I can’t laugh at fascism and Trump, and not so stoical that I can’t and don’t cry when I see and hear about the murder of human beings on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, social class and political beliefs. I sometimes wish my parents hadn’t named me Jonah. But they did. It’s too late to change it now. I’m of the Old Testament. I can’t escape it, or deny my sense of affiliation with the prophet Jonah who fled his home, was swallowed by a whale and then went to Nineveh, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, to call upon its citizens to repent their sinful ways. My goals are more modest, or maybe not. What I’d like is a world without Anti-Semitism. And that’s just a start.


Categories: News for progressives

Whither the Melting Pot?

Fri, 2018-11-16 16:02

It is practically axiomatic: Donald Trump makes everything worse.

Is it all part of a plan? There is no easy answer to that question because, more likely than not, Trump has only attitudes and instincts, not strategies.  But let’s give him more credit than he deserves and stipulate, as lawyers might say, that his machinations are calculated — even if to no purpose beyond his own glorification and enrichment.

Then the method behind them would be the same both for his passion, campaigning, and for governing, an activity about which it seems that he could care less.  It is to count on the acquiescence of the majority, while enthusing the cult-like followers in his base and flimflamming as many others as he can.

His is a politics of division that consists essentially in appealing to what Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, called “the darker angels of our nature.”

This is why, if there will be life as we know it after Trump, de-Trumpification will be Job Number One.

Contrary to the views of leading Democrats and liberal pundits, this does not mean restoring the political order that made Trump possible.  It means forging a politics — preferably outside the duopoly party system, but within it too, if need be — that acknowledges the fact that the (lesser evil) Democratic Party, or at least its leadership and old guard, though considerably less abhorrent than its rival, is good for not much more than mitigating some of Trumpism’s most odious consequences.

It should become clearer, once Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, what that struggle will involve – within government and, more importantly, in the institutions and, when circumstances are appropriate, in the streets.

Because Trump has yet to precipitate constitutional crises that will inevitably suck the air out of other political concerns, the present moment is an excellent time to take stock of where matters now stand.

Marx famously declared that in capitalist societies “all that is solid melts into air.”  In Trumpland, venerable and ostensibly secure norms, settlements, and achievements melt into air as well.

A case in point: the idea that America is a “melting pot.”

To be sure, it has never been more than a “whites only” melting pot.  But even with that qualification, the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, along with scores of lesser incidents involving all sorts of melting pot beneficiaries, has put even that metaphorical way of describing how open and welcoming American society is in jeopardy.

How justified is this concern?  And, with Trump in the White House, what is the story likely to be in the years ahead?


The illiberal turn in the ambient political culture, encouraged, promoted, and superintended by Trump and his minions  – like his administration’s assaults on equality and social solidarity, and the nativist and racist attitudes Trump legitimates – did not suddenly take hold on that day of infamy in 2015 when the Donald and his (captive?) trophy bride rode down the escalator in the gilded Fifth Avenue monument to vulgar and conspicuous consumption that bears his name.

“Trumpism” didn’t even begin fourteen years earlier in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The first inklings of it emerged during the final years of the Carter administration, as Americans were unlearning lessons learned during the civil rights and anti-war struggles of the sixties and seventies, and as global capitalism was beginning to take off on its still robust neoliberal course.

For many years before that, the domestic scene in the United States and other Western countries had been evolving, slowly and unevenly, but in a seemingly inexorable way – in a more salutary direction.  After that, it became increasingly evident, also slowly and unevenly, that a change of course was underway, one that would make a few people obscenely rich and bring nearly everyone else grief.

It was only what we now call “the homeland” that took a turn for the worse.  The foreign policy of “the leader of the free world” underwent no fundamental changes.

As had been the case at least since the late nineteenth century, American foreign policy was about making the world safe for American capitalists – especially mining and oil and other extractive industry tycoons, financiers, and, since World War II, the death merchants and masters of war that comprise the overarching military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against at the end of his administration.

To people in other countries, poor ones especially, America has always been a problem; domestically, however, the American state, even at its nastiest, was generally more beneficent than not.  It offered the majority of persons living within its borders freedom from fear, the cornerstone of the four freedoms Franklin Roosevelt famously proclaimed in January of 1941; the others being freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and, the one least realized in Roosevelt’s time and ours, freedom from want.

Those whom we now call “persons of color” were not nearly as blessed with these freedoms as white Americans were, and some white Americans were more blessed than others.  But the usual understanding — common to blacks, browns, yellows, reds, and whites alike – was that, in the fullness of time, better times would surely come.  That was, after all, “the American way.”

Trumpism puts that sense of security, belonging, and optimism, which, as recently as two years ago still seemed too deeply engrained in the collective consciousness of the American people ever to be dislodged, in serious, if not mortal, jeopardy.

This is no small feat. In virtue of the office they hold, American presidents are among the most powerful people on earth.   Still, it is astonishing how someone as hapless and insubstantial as Trump could undermine such deeply entrenched convictions.

Part of the explanation may be that Trumpism is not so much a cause as a symptom of deeper, underlying problems, inherent in the capitalism of our time, and therefore that what is subverting long established norms and understandings is not so much Trump or the Trump administration as the trajectory of capitalism itself.

However that may be, in our land of border walls, babies ripped from mothers’ arms and scattered all over the continent, child and adult detention centers, immigration and travel bans, and violence directed against the most vulnerable and powerless among us, the words of Emma Lazarus, mounted inside the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty stands, ring increasingly hollow: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…”

When Lazarus wrote those words, capitalists were desperate for workers.  The American government therefore encouraged immigration — from Europe only, of course.  Asians and Africans need not apply.

The people who came encountered hostility and faced hard times.  But most of them were better off than they would have been had they stayed put, and some of them did spectacularly well.  Their children and their children’s children generally went on to do even better.

With the Immigration Act of 1924, the proto-Trumpians of the day, intent on Making America Great Again – in other words, on making its population more like it was when the first settlers came, but with Germans and Scandinavians thrown in — saw to it that hardly any more “wretched refuse” from non-Protestant parts of Europe would be allowed upon the “teeming shore” of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. This didn’t change substantially until the Great Society era, four decades later.

During those years and in the decades that followed, the many European immigrant groups came grudgingly to accept one another, and to be accepted, also grudgingly, by descendants of earlier settlers.  They were joined together by what was, at first, more of a modus vivendi than a true amalgam.

In time, though something more like an amalgam did emerge.  It was comprised not just of descendants of settlers from the British Isles and Northern Europe, but from Southern and Eastern Europe as well. This brought Catholics and Jews into the American fold.

Needless to say, Anglo-Protestant culture remained dominant, but, in the course of time, the newcomers transformed the culture they joined, subtly and unintentionally, but undeniably.

This was not “multi-culturalism”; it was what happens when peoples from different cultures are thrown together, only to find that, unless they want to lead insular and hellish lives, they have no choice but to get along.

Absent the melting pot’s success in making this happen, Americans’ current obsession with “identity politics” would be absurd.  Immigrants and their first generation native-born children neither needed nor wanted “to discover what they are”; they wanted to forge an American identity and to integrate into it.

They were not assimilationists; the idea was not to shed subaltern identities in order to become like members of the dominant group.  It was to give old identities a distinctively American cast.

In the melting pot, it was inevitable that everyone would change, some more than others; but no one would become, or try to become, what they are not, at least not for the sake of social acceptance or political inclusion.

The melting pot was about welcoming everybody in as they are, and letting the chips fall as they may.

These days, we don’t hear as much about the melting pot as we used to — in part because it did its job so well, at least for the “white” majority.  We hear less about the melting pot too because, thanks to immigration patterns and birthrates in the post-1960s era, the United States is rapidly becoming a majority-minority nation, and minorities are increasingly where the action is.

And then, there is Trump.

The con he is working depends on legitimating and otherwise encouraging tensions between descendants of European immigrants and everyone else.  In theory, this should not directly affect white Americans at all.  But the Trumpian ethos is inherently divisive and therefore affects everybody.

In the 2016 election, that ethos worked well for Trump; in the 2018 midterms, it worked less well.  Trumpism’s efficacy is highly context-dependent.  But even in circumstances in which being divisive and vile is a winning strategy, it is a recipe for tearing the social fabric apart.

It took several generations for the melting pot to work its magic; could Trumpism undo all it has achieved?

This would not be the only ostensibly settled and generally beneficent aspect of America’s political culture that Trumpism jeopardizes, but it is one that most Americans find especially disturbing.


Unless their fears are baseless, which they plainly are not, the present, this still not too tumultuous, moment seems like a good time to assess how much damage has already been done.

It may also be a good time to rethink the melting pot metaphor.

There is, after all, no undoing what a melting pot has done — not according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

To be sure, ever since the Donald came on the scene, working his con on the dumbed down and misinformed, it has sometimes seemed as if the whole world has gone topsy-turvy.  But there is no denying fundamental laws of physics.

What then can we infer from the widespread feeling that Trump is tearing apart what the melting pot has melded together; that the Trumpian turn is, as it were, counter-entropic.

In the United States as much or more than anywhere else, money talks.  It also lies – not just when it proclaims “in God we trust,” but also when it tells us that the American experience creates one (“unum”) people out of the many (“e pluribus”) among us.  Could it be that there was never as much melting going on, even within white America, as was widely supposed and justly celebrated?

“Originalist” sticklers will insist that the idea America’s motto was meant to proclaim is the same as the one conveyed by our country’s name; that from many states, we have one united nation.

They may be right about that, but this is not how “e pluribus unum” is generally understood.  It is understood to express the melting pot idea, the vision of peoples drawn to America from all over the world – except of course the parts comprised of what Trump famously called “shithole countries” — melding irreversibly together.

This does happen, even in the Trump era.  Intermarriage is a conspicuous symptom and cause of this process.

White Protestants from different denominations and different countries of origin have been intermarrying since the country’s early days; in due course, Catholics and orthodox Christians from different cultures followed suit; then Protestants and Catholics together; and, for many decades now, Christians of all kinds and Jews.  The old divisions remain generally intact. But there is little doubt in which direction the arc of history is moving.

Could Trumpism undo even that?

A few weeks and seemingly a thousand news cycles ago, it looked as if the answer might be Yes; that the melting pot process was beginning to reverse.  The purported canary in the mine was its most recent and still most problematic achievement, the nearly total demise of anti-Semitism in post-World War II America.

The process is still not nearly as far along but, for many decades now, being Jewish has been no more institutionally disadvantageous than, say, being Irish or, for that matter, a member of any other former (white) target of nativist animosity.

As they always do, attitudes have followed suit; and, notwithstanding the wishes of many older Christians and Jews, and the vehement opposition of leaders of Jewish organizations, both secular and religious, marriages between persons of Christian and Jewish backgrounds are now so common that, in most circles, they no longer seem even slightly exceptional.

Then came the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and, for a week or two, it seemed as if anti-Semitism was back; as if, after being, so to speak, in remission for many decades, it had returned with a vengeance.

Thanks to the daily barrage of off-the-wall Trump tweets, public declarations of that unease have been superseded by different concerns.  The synagogue attacks are ancient history now.

Thus a semblance of calm has returned, and, with it, a sense of proportion.

On the other hand, Trump and his advisors have fostered a resurgence (or surgence) of alt-right – that is, later day fascist – politics; this cannot help but revive otherwise moribund pockets of traditional, hard right, anti-Semitism.

To some extent, this is, as the saying goes, “not good for the Jews,” but then it is hardly a cause for serious concern, much less panic.  Even in the vilest and most vicious alt-right circles, anti-Semitism is trumped, as it were, many times over by admiration for the state of Israel and by Islamophobia.

For many years now, Muslims have been the new Jews. Trump has not had much effect on that except insofar as, like with so much else, he has made the situation worse.

Trump is a dangerous man, and the presidency is a powerful office.   But care must be taken not to overestimate what he can do.   He is demonstrably capable of driving deranged homicidal maniacs over the edge.  But he is no match for the melting pot.  What it achieved over many years, he cannot, through sheer mean spiritedness, undo.

There was plenty of intermarriage in the former Yugoslavia too – between Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Montenegrins, and Macedonians.  Nevertheless, the Yugoslavian people endured savage and protracted civil wars that led ultimately to their country’s fragmentation and demise.

But hardly anyone in Yugoslavia, especially in the higher echelons of government, championed a melting pot ideology.  Quite to the contrary, for most of its history, political elites in the former Yugoslavia supported the Leninist principle of self-determination for distinct, historically grounded ethnic groups. Thus, in the circumstances that pertained in the 1990s, that doomed country was easy prey for political entrepreneurs hell bent on tearing the country apart.  To the detriment of many Yugoslavs, they were supported by Germany and other European countries and, ultimately, by the Clinton administration.

America’s situation now is obviously very different except in one crucial respect that only became evident a few weeks ago, as home grown political entrepreneurs, abetted by an outside power, saw, in the Pittsburgh shootings, an opportunity to advance an agenda of their own.  The political entrepreneurs were, of course, Zionists, and the outside power is Israel.

Israel needs “existential threats” to flourish and perhaps just to stay afloat; one of the reasons it needs them is to maintain the level and kind of American support on which it depends.  And anti-Semitism was, and still is Zionism’s raison d’être. Were it to go away, it would be unclear what the point of Zionism would be.

Therefore, it would be bad for Israel and for the Zionist project were the American melting pot to work so well that American Jews, younger ones especially, would care even less about Israel and Zionism than they currently do.  This is why, from a Zionist point of view, occasional anti-Semitic eruptions sometimes serve a useful purpose; they help keep potential waverers on board.  The Pittsburgh shootings were something of a godsend from that point of view.

In the days following that tragic event, the National Director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan Greenblatt, was all over the “liberal” cable networks.  His concern was authentic and sincere.

It also had a darker side, however.  The ADL has long been on the side of the angels when it comes to exposing and combatting anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, but finding itself with hardly any genuine anti-Semitism to expose or combat, it has, in recent decades, found a new vocation as part of the Israel lobby.

To that end, it actively promotes the transparently false idea that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are, if not identical, then at least close enough to be treated, for all practical purposes, as one and the same.  It also promotes the similarly fallacious idea that all but the most anodyne criticisms of Israel are implicitly anti-Zionist and therefore anti-Semitic as well.

Thus, in the ADL view – in practice, if not in theory — anti-Semitism runs rampant within the ranks of Palestine solidarity workers, and among those who fault Israel’s systemic failure to uphold internationally recognized legal and human rights standards.  The worst anti-Semites of all, from the ADL point of view are people who heed the utterly non-violent and impeccably moral call of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Greenblatt is seldom seen on television now that the tragedy in Pittsburgh has disappeared down the memory hole.  The reason is not just that reality has asserted itself.  It is also that, in Trump’s America, story lines that don’t immediately serve Trump’s interests have no legs.

Most important of all, it is looking like reports of the demise of the melting pot are, to say the least, exaggerated.  It may not be what it once was, but even in its superannuated condition, it can defeat all the devils Trump can summon.

Thus what the Pittsburgh shootings reveal is not that anti-Semitism is on the rebound; it is only that, as we have known from Day One, thatwith Trump in charge, all that is rotten in America comes to the fore.

The state of the melting pot is therefore still good.  Like everything else tainted by racism, the melting pot is America’s shame – not for what it has done, but for what it has not, and probably could not, do.  For what it has done, it is America’s glory. It is what has made the United States so appealing for so long to persons around the world who “yearn…to breathe free.”  Trump is more likely to blow up the world than to change that.

Categories: News for progressives

Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty

Fri, 2018-11-16 16:01

Photo Source BLMIdaho | CC BY 2.0

The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank’s new book, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink.

As my wife Chelsea and I drove through Arizona on our annual pilgrimage from California to Montana, orange smoke billowed along the darkened horizon, signals of hearts shattered and landscapes scorched. Days earlier nineteen hotshot firefighters died together as they battled the intense blazes near the mountain town of Yarnell. It was the most lethal wildfire America had witnessed in 80 years.

The Yarnell flames were so erratic and intense the team became suddenly trapped, and despite each of the men deploying their individual fire shelters, all fighting the flames that day perished.

The lone survivor was out fetching a truck for his crew, only to return to the gruesome scene. It was the single deadliest incident for firefighters since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Fires like the one that charred the small Yarnell community are only growing in size and ferocity in the West. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the number of wildfires every year in the U.S. has remained relatively steady, but their size has increased dramatically. In 1987, a little over 2.4 million acres burned across the country whereas 2012 saw over 9.3 million acres go up in flames.

That’s more than the size of Rhode Island and Maryland combined and it’s a trend many see as only increasing as more droughts plague Western states and climate change continues to rear its ugly head.

“Today, western forests are experiencing longer wildfire seasons and more acres burned compared to several decades ago,” says Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “The greatest increase has occurred in mid-elevation Northern Rockies forests, which are having higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier snowmelt. These conditions are linked to climate change.”

Seven of the largest fires since 1960 have occurred over the last twelve years. As these fires get larger more homes, particularly those built in fire zones, are being lost. For example, this year’s Black Forest Fire in Colorado consumed over 500 homes, while last year’s Waldo Canyon Fire, only a few miles away, burned almost 350 houses. Even the U.S. Forest Service is beginning to hone in on the real culprit behind the intensified flames.

“We’re seeing more acres burned and more burned in large fires,” says Dave Cleaves, climate-change adviser for the U.S. Forest Service. “The changing climate is not only accelerating the intensity of these disturbances but linking them more closely together.”

Rising summer temperatures are exacerbating drought conditions and increasing pests like mountain pine beetles, which are ravaging Western forests and killing trees that in turn provide fuel for wildfires. Drought conditions in Arizona have been so bad over the past twenty years that trees like evergreens, manzanitas, oak and mahogany are drying up, becoming increasingly susceptible to fire.

“Even a degree or so warmer, day in day out, evaporates water faster and that desiccates the system more,” says University of Montana fire ecologist Steve Running.

Professor Running knows his numbers. Over the past 10 years, temperatures have risen 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit across the continental United States, with certain states out west seeing an even larger jump. Arizona’s average annual temperature, for instance, has risen 2.3 degrees. Yet, even as it gets warmer and fires burn hotter, people are continuing to build homes in fire-prone areas.

And no real entity is putting a stop to it. Banks are not evaluating loans based on the potential for wildfire and homeowners are having little trouble ensuring their properties despite being built in the path of potential flames.

Arizona is no doubt partially to blame for its own warming climate. The Navajo Generating Station, near Page, pumps out 2250 megawatt coal-fired power every year and all the carbon that goes with that amount of dirty energy production. Arizona also imports coal from New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, producing nearly 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually from its 16 operating coal-fired power units.

As climate change increases fire activity, it is also contributing to the Forest Service’s efforts to battle fires. In the last ten years firefighting staff at the agency doubled. Currently, 40% of the Forest Service’s annual budget is allocated toward battling wildfires at over $2 billion a year. The agency’s staff has a lot of ground to cover, about 231 million acres of public forest land alone has a moderate to high fire risk. Of course, most of the focus is on protecting areas where homes are vulnerable.

Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell reports that the number of houses built within half a mile of national forests exploded from 484,000 in 1940 to 1.8 million in 2000. That’s a lot of property to protect at taxpayer’s expense.

According to the Fannie Mae Foundation, which is not exactly a foe to development, Denver ranked fourth in the country for urban sprawl in 2000, trailing only Atlanta, Miami and Detroit. Fannie Mae cited these cities as spreading outside their urban centers at a dangerous rate. Strip malls line the Denver suburbs, where the housing developments are reminiscent of the endless tract homes of Orange County, California. Much of this vast expansion has pushed communities into fire-prone habitat that is affected by pine beetle infestations.

Winter temperatures aren’t as cold as they used to be in the Rocky Mountains, glaciers are melting and snow packs are decreasing faster than normal. As such, insects like the native pine beetle are surviving the winter months and thriving once spring rolls around, which is becoming earlier every season. The Forest Service estimates that areas in Colorado affected by pine beetles is around 3.4 million acres, which almost matches the combined 3.7 million that presently impact Wyoming and South Dakota. The Forest Service notes that the pace has slowed somewhat, but that’s only because mature trees in the outbreak hotspots have already been killed off.

Having grown up in and around Western forests, the epidemic is apparent at first glance. Discolored trees pepper forest landscapes with brown and orange hues. It’s as if these coniferous pines have somehow turned deciduous. It’s certainly a spooky climate change omen.

Colorado’s ritzy Beaver Creek Resort, 100 miles west of Denver, is one of the many places where the pine beetle has left its deadly mark. “We can’t stem the tide,” Tony O’Rourke, executive director of Beaver Creek’s Home Owners Association told Newsweek in 2008. The solution to protect Beaver Creek’s multi-million dollar homes O’Rourke represents? Clear-cutting. No trees means no fires. Of course, allowing fires to burn would be a healthier way to manage the problem, but O’Rourke and others aren’t about to risk losing their mountain mansions.

According to a study by CoreLogic, Colorado is number three of 13 Western states for the most high-risk homes insured, trailing only California and Texas. The study indicated there are over 121,000 homes in Colorado that were built in or near forest land.
A whopping 2,000 structures have been burned in these so-called “red zones” since 2002. However, this hasn’t staunched development. From 2000 to 2010 almost 100,000 new homes were built in wildfire-prone areas of Colorado, bringing the total number
to 556,000.

Colorado, aside from refusing to put the brakes on home development in red zones, is also not doing much to combat the very problem that is making their fire seasons longer and more intense. In 2006, Colorado ranked seventh in the nation in coal production, with over 36 million short tons of coal produced. The burning of coal in Colorado produces around 90 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every single year. Like Arizona, you could call Colorado its own worst enemy.


After traversing state highways out of Colorado and north through Wyoming’s coal-country, stopping off in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, Chelsea and I head on up to my hometown of Billings, Montana. A dozen hours on these lonely highways and it is easy to see that the coal barons, developers and their allies are the West’s biggest menace. No longer is the air fresh, Wyoming’s unfettered gas drilling has made parts of the state’s air quality worse than Los Angeles’ on its worst days. Endless streams of coal trains roll past, piled to the brim with black rock bound for incinerators here and abroad. Wyoming’s Black Thunder mining pit, operated by Arch Coal, is the first mine to ship out 1 billion tons of coal. It’s a disgusting sight to see.

Author William Kittredge calls Montana the “Last Best Place,” but I often wonder how long his phrase will remain apt. The majestic ice formations of Glacier National Park have been in retreat for years, victims of a warming climate. Some of the very glaciers I enjoyed in my youth, less than twenty years ago, are no longer around. Fish too may soon be casualties of a climate in peril.

Casting a fly in the Beartooth Mountains, which rise above the largest highest elevation plateau in the contiguous United States. Photo by Renee Chartier.

On the Madison River, where I cast my first fly, the number of days where the water temperature is dangerous for trout species (around 70 degrees) increased from six days a year in the 1980s to 15 per year over the past decade. It’s a sad reality for those that make their living entertaining wealthy Hollywood producers and Wall Street brokers on weeklong fishing expeditions along Montana’s mighty rivers: if trout numbers decline so will tourist dollars.

Pine beetles, as in most other Western states, are also destroying trees in Montana along with a staple food source for threatened grizzly bears. As author Doug Peacock has written, “During 2008, the bears suffered a double disaster: grizzlies died in record numbers and global warming dealt what could be a death blow to the bear’s most important food source. Some 54 grizzly bears were known to have died in 2008, the highest mortality ever recorded … Related to the high mortality of 2008 was the massive die-off of whitebark pine trees, whose nuts are the bear’s principal fall food. Mountain pine beetles killed the trees; the warm winters of the past decade allowed the insects to move up the mountains into the higher whitebark pine forests.”

Wildfires in Montana have also increased over the past several decades. Over 2 million acres of forest land burned in 2007 and nearly 2 million more in 2012, a significant increase from the worst years of the 1980s and 1990s.

As humans continue to spew more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the world’s climate will continue to be altered. In fact, as many scientists believe, there may already be no turning back. Warmer winters, hotter summers, drought and burning forests (and the homes built in them) may soon be the new norm for the Western United States. The signs are already all around us. If you don’t believe me just take a little road trip through the Rocky Mountains to see the travesty first hand. Just remember to take your camera, it’s all going fast.

Categories: News for progressives

The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh

Fri, 2018-11-16 16:01

Image by Nathaniel St. Clair

The revolution’s here
No one can lead you off your path
You’ll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
Yo, I heard it’s said the revolution won’t be televised
But in the land of milk and honey there’s a date you gotta sell it by

— Talib Kweli, Beautiful Struggle

There was, at least in theory, a lot of stories to be had during the 2018 midterms. These days the news is on 24/7, but it says less in a whole week than a serious person could in five minutes. Drifting through the cracks was any notion of that “left flank” of the Democratic Party, given momentum by the imperialist Blue (sheep) Dog Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Where on earth were Sanders and the issues he brought to light during his campaign? Could the “socialist” Bernie Sanders really have been satisfied with Nancy Pelosi’s victory lap: “Let’s hear it for pre-existing conditions.” Where was single payer? 15 bucks an hour? Free college tuition? Was Wall St. even mentioned this year? We should check Bernie’s pulse to make sure this isn’t a Weekend At Bernie’s situation.

The issues that Sanders made popular were left for dead as he and everyone else scrambled to stop Trumpism in its tracks. A worthy opponent, at least. But just a week in, and we are hearing about compromise. Sanders, to his credit, is willing to stand up to Trump, but he has never mustered the courage to stand up to Trump’s co-conspirators in the Democratic Party. Sanders now is raising alarm about voter suppression, but where was he when the Democrats robbed him of two million votes in the California primary? 

It is clear that the so-called left wing of the Democratic Party is merely an outlet to bring those displeased with the Democrats into the Party, while conceding little to nothing on the actual issues. The Democrats themselves play a similar role with the Republicans. Add it all up and the degrees between “revolution”, “resistance” and “fascism” remain murky.

Listen to the mainstream media and there is a real “progressive” resurgence in the Democratic Party. To make the resurgence seem real, the media urges us not to go for the progressive wing of course. But nonetheless, the split between moderates and progressives is emphasized and debated endlessly. Most often the debate is about what most people like. A needless debate. Just look at the polls. Sanders, and even the Green Party for that matter, reflect majority public opinion on most of the major issues. The only reason they don’t win is that they are outspent, and outspent by a large margin. Likewise, this is why Republicans can still beat Democrats.

The mainstream media is surprisingly infatuated with progressive characters as of late. Beto O’Rourke, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stacy Abrams, Andrew Gillum. Why? Perhaps the only people getting more coverage than these sexy progressives are Trump’s posse of degenerates. In reality, these progressives, if that is the right word, are encouraging. But are they a misnomer when it comes to real trends within the Democratic Party?

The dominant player in this year’s primary election season was not Bernie’s Our Revolution or any of its cousins. Nay, it was the establishment Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who won 39 of its 41 primaries. In contrast, Our Revolution got less of a third of its candidates to the primaries.  This is not a criticism of progressive ideas, or even Sanders himself. These elections are mostly decided before they get started. We all know this. The issue is not so much that the progressives are losing, for the deck is stacked against them. The more troubling issue is that the sheepdog effect is working. Progressives may get a few (well-deserved!) crumbs from establishment Democrats as a result of Sanders and co., but by no means are progressives being given a shot in 2018.

The central disconnect I see is this. Mainstream media of the conservative or centrist variety point to centrist Democrats leading the way in 2018, which seems to be true, even if they cite the wrong reasons. More progressive outlets, such as the relatively feisty Huffington Post, argue that in fact, progressives have nearly taken over the Democrats, and any other opinion is an endorsement of a Clintonian strategy. I may not buy the Clinton strategy, but I’m not buying the Sanders strategy either.

It is true, that moderate adjustments to minimum wage, social security, and prescription drugs, are being largely talked about by the Democrats this time around. Surely a victory for Sanders, assuming talk leads to action, which is, as Barack Obama showed us, a mighty lofty assumption. Yet, amidst the largely legitimate crisis of Trumpism, issues largely ignored by the Sanders campaign were swept under the rug. Democrats of course are hopeless when it comes to Empire. But the environment has also largely taken a back seat, at a time when we can least afford for this to happen. The education crisis also took a back seat (the public to charter school crisis, not Bernie’s colleges).

I do not mean to project pessimism here. I only remain skeptical of the new Blue Wave because I really do believe we can do far better. As the country becomes less white, less rural, and increasingly economically deprived, the chances for a racist party who cuts all social spending will continue to drop. This means more cheating and more dirty money by these thugs. They will continue to get support from a certain group of wackos. But, the fall of Trumpism seems inevitable.

Additionally, in the minds of the paranoid corporate class, the rise of socialism, in name at least, also seems inevitable. Yet, what have we gotten now in this new Blue Wave, that is supposedly a cause for jamboree.

What we have now is a united coalition of Democrats, a far more united group than we seemed to have when Sanders connected to disillusioned Democrats in 2016. There is a sort of hodgepodge of issues they are talking about, with a few modest nods to the progressive wing, or so it appears.

And while I don’t doubt that there will have to be a slight swing to the left as Trump loses steam, we should not lose track of a democracy that is gone, no matter who gets elected. 2018 proved to be another record year for campaign spending.  Super PACs contributed a whopping 815 million to this election cycle. Unions couldn’t even get to 6 million. Even the political parties, no matter what you may think of them, took a back seat to these super PACs, as the parties themselves spent 230 million.

In the face of a country clearly lacking a democracy, debate over policy appears almost as theatrics, when it appears at all. But notice that most of anything that hangs on via Sanders really has to do with social entitlement programs and costs of goods (minimum wage, Social Security, health care, drug prices, college tuition, etc.). All alleviate suffering and curb profits, which are welcome. But none deal with the fundamental hopelessness of capitalism. The endless austerity, deregulation, war,  pollution of air and water, selling off of public lands, monopolization. These things are beasts of profit and stand little chance of changing until the people gain enough power to stop the incentive of profit from outweighing everything else, including our survival as a species.

What a few of the new Democrats purpose is some sort of wealth distribution that is quite modest, albeit welcomed. However, the average citizen, let alone the collective one, will have no more power to curb the dilemma we find ourselves in. When the world is completely controlled by the 1%, what makes any of us worth keeping around? At best, the Democrats are thinking about sending some hush money. At worst, and this may likely be the case, the Sanders wing is basically left for dead. The specific nature of Sander’s demands have been abandoned and replaced with Clinton-like vagueness.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign should have proven that the Democratic primaries are rigged against progressive candidates who don’t take corporate donations and who don’t buy the neoliberal Clinton line. Instead, Sanders merely inspired a far higher turnout in the Democratic primaries themselves. Forget the 99%,. Bernie brought up his Democratic buddies 56% in the turnout for the very same primaries that were rigged against him.

Unfortunately in these times where imagination is heavily dictated by the brands that capitalism sells us, the brand of socialism becomes a popular one for those disillusioned by the political system. The Bernie Branders movement, while well-meaning, turned out to be no more than another marketing ploy for that fake left portion of the duopoly system. Two years later, and the impact of the revolution remain unclear. Worse still, the Democratic Party remains afloat, and this is surely thanks to Sanders and those like him who swept those disaffected back into a hopeless Party.

Many months ago I sent in a hit piece on the really annoying, Sanders-style magazine Jacobin (in fairness to them, I’ve never made it much past a paragraph on that website). I am grateful the CP editors were mature enough not to publish my piece. Still, I’ll venture to include a paragraph here that may capture who I see Sanders et al. representing: What Jacobin and all their confused posturing proves is that among the upper and middle class there is no such thing as a revolutionary. There is the brand of being a class advocate but this is not so different from identifying with a certain religion or club. There is no doubt something wicked cool about universal health care, free college tuition and a minimum wage. Bernie Sanders’ rallies proved to be an adequate substitution for the declining sex life of angsty millennials. But for the poor there is nothing cool about these things. They come as a necessity. Jacobin is not a voice for the poor. They are a voice for the middle class revolutionaries. Cool posters, obscure Marxist tributes and adorable irony lies behind their paywall. What does any of this has to do with working class people? Who knows. But its the new fad. This socialism thing.

I say this as someone coming from this class, and as someone who was pushed into politics largely through friends in the Sanders campaign. The revolution is simply not coming from the middle class, whether or not we are in debt or struggling to pay off health care bills. The infrastructure of the United States and those it has benefitted is so conservative, we should not expect anyone from the inside to bring the revolution, or whatever that means, to us. The revolutionary spirit in Sanders’ rallies was close to nil simply because most of these people were just frustrated Democrats, who had grown up Democrat, done all right themselves, and seen the possibility of success begin to decline these past years.

Jeffrey St. Clair makes astute observations about the heart of the Sanders movement: college campuses. I saw this to be mostly the same. And while certainly enthusiastic, the goal has always been Scandinavia, not Cuba. And this means many things. It means mixed economies rather than socialism, but it also means upper-middle class and white, rather than poor and brown. And I don’t believe in identity politics, but I do believe that people tend not to bite the hand that feeds them. And for Sanders and his base, the hand that has fed them is still the Democrats. It may not be feeding them much, or much lately, but we remain part of what Noam Chomsky calls the 20%. That is the 20% of the population that could be called the managerial or professional class that needs to be fed propaganda in order to use our privilege to subvert, rather than work with, the revolutionary spirit of the underclass.

That is, basically, that these revolutionaries will always count their victories by what The New York Times has to say (or not to say, they hope) about them. And, furthermore, their solutions will come from tweaking a Democratic Party that has treated them as a little brother (although they will grumble). And it will come from curbing wages and prices within a capitalist system run amok. Radical ways of envisioning the environment, educational and Empire crisis so engrained by these structures will be addressed once in a while, but not in ways that fundamentally detach ourselves from the virulent capitalist economy.

And Sanders has done his very better to subvert, rather than work with that revolutionary spirit of the underclass (and so has his own sheepdog, the very non-magical being Mr. Chomsky, for that matter). Think about this: the major accomplishment of the Sanders campaign was saving the Democratic Party. Record turnouts for the Democrats, record spending on campaigns, record wealth inequality. Should all those things really go together?

The revolution is a word so overused by political hacks that it is robbed of its soul—a soul ultimately based in the natural world, far away from any headquarters in Brooklyn or D.C., where human beings, moved by love, act in a communal, sustainable and responsible way towards one another. It is a word that could and should mean something as the world burns to a crisp. Alas, there is more of a revolutionary spirit in the polar bears pushed to the brink than these silly Democrats.

The reason? The Democrats will survive catastrophe after catastrophe simply because they remain tied, even when in conflict with, to the system of capital that is hell-bent at destroying us all. They will remain the side of the coin that gives half a crumb when two crumbs are taken, and they will remain the side of the coin that will hear a cry in the wilderness, only to whisper back, to no one in particular.

There are signs, we keep hearing, there are signs. Signs that the Democrats are getting it. As Claire Malone of 538 tells us, there was no cohesive narrative for 2018 (Claire may be the only one of that motley crew who can count to 538). We heard that Trump would be shown up by the Democrats. Democrats inspired, but only slightly. We heard that the Sanders wing would be taking over. Sanders at best, got a few bones. Most of all, we remain stuck in no man’s land. Gripped by fear of Trump, but so weary of any other option, it seems, for a moment, Americans, might be much smarter than their political commentators.

Sanders and company perhaps had an opening, but they missed it, and now, their lack of a strategy, combined with Democrat’s lack of a message combined with Trump’s lack of anything worthwhile at all, leaves us all in midair, unsure of what will happen next. The good news is that with great ineptitude, comes great opportunity for other actors. Now that Trump and both wings of the Democrats have proven to be full of false promises; inspiration, if only by necessity, could arise and take all of us, even Bernie, by storm.

The revolution is not here yet, and if it is to come, it will have to be without the Democratic Party. Alas, Talib Kweli offers wisdom later in that same song: “You try to vote and participate in the government / And the muh’fuckin’ Democrats is actin’ like Republicans”. If I was to continue: The so-called socialists make a rumblin’ / But get near the goal line, and they’re fumblin’ / 2 years later they’re still mumbling / About what trouble Trump is in / The poor get poorer, the rich get richer / And the ways they fool us, get slicker and slicker.

Categories: News for progressives

Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza

Fri, 2018-11-16 16:00

Photo Source U.S. Embassy Jerusalem | CC BY 2.0

Whenever bombings and shootings escalate in the Middle East, Israeli propagandists say that Israel is exercising its right of military self-defense against indiscriminate attacks coming from the Gaza Strip. But as this article documents, the right to use force in self-defense is contingent on Israel ending its military occupation and blockade of Gaza.


Doubtless some unscrupulous person or persons will quote or interpret this article out of context and claim that I’m saying that Israel has no right to self-defense at all. So, let me be clear: Israel is a nation-state like any other, like it or not. It therefore has the same legal rights as any nation-state, like it or not; including the right to use self-defense when under attack.

However, that right within the context of occupation is contingent on Israel’s adherence to international law; again, just like any state. For example: The US and British forces had no legal right to hurt or kill Iraqis resisting the illegal US-British invasion and occupation, which began in 2003. The only rights that the US and British had there was to leave.

Since 1967, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip (and the West Bank of the Jordan, which it has now de facto annexed) in violation of international law. Yes, Israel withdrew its illegal colonies from Gaza in 2005, but it maintained the military blockade, which is an act of war and a violation of the IV Geneva Convention, which prohibits collective punishment.

As long as it continues its occupation/annexation of the Palestinian territories, Israel cannot use force in self-defense from attacks, even indiscriminate ones, emanating from Gaza. If it ended the occupation and blockade of the Palestinian territories, then it could argue a case for the use of force, assuming peaceful options are exhausted.


Forget the madcap right-wing (e.g., a Fox News reporter standing next to what he claims is a flaming bakery hit by Palestinian rockets). How are the supposedly more intelligent and humane liberal media reporting the current violence?

The BBC says that “Violence has flared between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, a day after seven militants and an Israeli soldier were killed during an undercover Israeli operation in Gaza.” Militants? It goes on to say that: “Militants fired 300 rockets and mortars at Israel. One hit a bus, seriously injuring a soldier nearby. Israel responded with more than 70 strikes on what it said were targets belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” Responded? Surely the BBC means to say that armed Palestinian groups responded to Israel’sactions, which occurred in the context of its unlawful 50-year occupation?

Notice the use of the word “militants.” The report doesn’t use words like “Zionists” when describing Israelis.

The online article includes an embedded tweet from the Israeli Defense Forces: “RAW FOOTAGE: The skies of southern Israel RIGHT NOW. Dozens of rockets are being fired from #Gaza at Israeli civilians.” There is no embedded video of the shocking conditions in which Palestinian civilians are forced by Israel to live (a point to which we shall return). Near the bottom of the article, the BBC approaches something bordering truthfulness when it says: “Israel, along with Egypt, has maintained a blockade of Gaza,” but it then goes back to the lies: “…since about 2006 in order, they say, to stop attacks by militants.”

The word “occupation” is mentioned not once. So, the gist of the BBC’s reporting is that Gaza is plagued by dangerous Islamists hell-bent on Israel’s destruction and that Israel is doing what it can, sometimes ham-fistedly (as in the latest “botched” special forces operation), to defend itself.

CNN quotes Israeli PM Netanyahu as saying that “Hamas vowed to destroyed Israel,” ergo long-term peace was “impossible.”

The Washington Post claims that the latest “flare-up” was “triggered” by a “botched” Israeli operation inside Gaza. It quotes Israeli Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, that Israelis under Palestinian rocket-fire face “the most severe attack on … civilians by terrorist organizations from Gaza since our 2014 operation [Protective Edge].” Near the end of the article, the reporters mention, casually, Israel’s “tight restrictions on trade and travel.” Below, we’ll take a look at what these “tight restrictions” actually mean.

The New York Times describes what is happening as “An eruption,” rather than a continuation and predictable consequence of Israel’s ongoing brutality. It also mentions Israel’s “tight control over the border,” which has endured since 2005, they claim (not 1967 as is the reality), when Israel withdrew its illegal colonies. Approaching truth toward the end of the article, the NTY, unlike the BBC, quotes Chris Gunness of the UN Relief and Works Agency, who describes the humanitarian situation in Gaza for nearly 2 million ordinary civilians, half of whom are children, as a disaster and a “collective punishment.”


With the exception of the Gunness quote, the media have suppressed the severity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The crisis is caused by the US-enabled Israeli blockade. Its importance in terms of the number of people affected vastly eclipses the firing of indiscriminate rockets into Israel by armed Palestinian groups.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states:“Palestinians in Gaza are ‘locked in’, denied free access to the remainder of the occupied Palestinian territory and the outside world.” According to the UN children’s fund UNICEF, “more than 96 per cent of abstracted water is polluted and not fit for human consumption due to high salinity levels from sea water intrusion and high nitrate levels from excessive use of agrochemicals and wastewater infiltration.”

Jamie McGoldrick and James Heenan of the UN say:

“All over the occupied Palestinian territory, but particularly in the Gaza Strip, we see children robbed of every right. Families cope with four hours of electricity per day in the sweltering heat. Clean drinking water is expensive and hard to find. The start of the school year in one month will be very difficult for tens of thousands of families who cannot afford basic school supplies.”

When trapped Gazans resist with overwhelmingly non-violent protest, they receive the following treatment, as described by a Red Cross doctor, Gabriel Salazar: “We estimate there are over 1,300 people with complex, sometimes multiple injuries,” care of the Israeli Defense Forces responding to the protests, “that will require at least three to five surgeries each. The recovery period may take months or even years and we believe some 400 will remain with temporary or permanent disability.” Many demonstrators are deliberately shot in the legs and refused treatment by Israel in neighboring Jordan.


Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been unlawfully occupied by Israel since June 1967. This means that every Israeli military action in those territories, except withdrawal, is unlawful. In November 1967, the United Nations adopted Security Council Resolution 242, which states:

Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,…

1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict…

In 2004, the International Court of Justice opined:

“All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories and Israel has continued to have the status of occupying Power … Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal … The Court concludes that the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”

In 2018, the UN Human Rights Council reaffirmedthat Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are occupied by Israel:

“In the resolution, adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, two against [the US and Australia], and 14 abstentions, the Council decided to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018.”


Given that the international consensus is that Israel remains the illegal occupying power in the Palestinian territories (including Gaza and East Jerusalem), Israel has no right to use force to defend itself against Palestinian attacks while it remains the illegal occupying power. If Israel ended the occupations of Gaza and the West Bank, it would be entitled to use force in self-defense, assuming that peaceful options are exhausted.

Hyde’s International Law Volume III states: “A belligerent,” i.e., Israel in this case, “which is contemptuous of conventional or customary prohibitions,” i.e., Israel continues to occupy Gaza, “is not in a position to claim that its adversary,” i.e., Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups, “when responding with like for like,” i.e., rocket-fire into Israel, “lacks the requisite excuse” (emphasis in original).

The Annual Digest and Reports of Public International Law Cases 1948 states: “Under International Law, as in Domestic Law, there can be no reprisal against reprisal. The assassin who is being repulsed by his intended victim may not slay him and then, in turn, plead self-defense.” By the same logic, Israel cannot occupy Gaza, collectively punish the population, and then claim to be acting in self-defense against Gazan rocket-fire.

In response to the Gaza massacre 2014, international jurist John Dugard said: “given the fact that Gaza is an occupied territory, it means that Israel’s present assault is simply a way of enforcing the continuation of the occupation, and the response of the Palestinian militants should be seen as the response of an occupied people that wishes to resist the occupation.”

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America

Fri, 2018-11-16 16:00

Photo Source International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | CC BY 2.0

What transforms American elections from participatory politics into farce is the exclusion of crucial issues. Environmental crisis, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the wildly skewed distribution of political and economic power will affect how people live in coming years, regardless of how effectively they are excluded from electoral consideration.

Each of these are historical accumulations— they exist in different time-space than the binary oppositions of political marketing. Environmental crisis has been accumulating since the dawn of the industrial revolution. The threat of nuclear annihilation emerged from WWII as the lunatic id of technological innovation. Class relations have determined the realm of official power since the birth of capitalism.

This history grants presence to each, regardless of how hidden they are in any given political moment. If a bomb is dropped on a city in the forest, it destroys the lives of those it is dropped on regardless of whether you and I hear it. The subtexts of modernity are automatically written to preclude reflection.

Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would unilaterally end the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty with Russia. The calculated irrelevance of American electoral politics to the side, this didn’t happen in an historical vacuum. It ties back to Bill Clinton’s unilateral placement of NATO troops on Russia’s border following George H.W. Bush’s promise not to do so.

Graph: On top of the $700 billion Pentagon budget for 2018, U.S. weapons sales abroad are big business. Among the top recipients of American weapons are Saudi Arabia, China, Japan and South Korea. The Saudis are currently funding a dirty war in Yemen that puts the lives of millions of human beings at risk. Sources: tradingeconomics.comSIPRI.

During the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, senior members of the George H.W. Bush administration promised to keep NATO troops and equipment away from the Russian border in exchange for Russian agreement that the reintegrated East and West Germany would fall within NATO’s sphere.

After (Bill) Clinton unilaterally abandoned the promise, Russia began rebuilding its short and intermediate range nuclear arsenal to counter the NATO threat being amassed on its borders. This was followed by an American sponsored coup in Ukraine that threatened the annexation of the Russian naval port at Sevastopol, Crimea.

In response, Barack Obama proposed a trillion dollar ‘modernization’ program that shifted emphasis toward battlefield nuclear weapons of the type NATO might use against Russia in a ‘conventional’ war. Largely hidden is that this emphasis on ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons is taking place with the American Cold War weapons and plans for total nuclear annihilation still in place.

In a series of interviews with Paul Jay of The Real News, Daniel Ellsberg outlines the development of nuclear weapons from Adolf Hitler’s moral qualms about their potential for total annihilation of all life on the planet to America’s warm embrace of them as a cost-effective tool for fighting foreign wars.

Best known for leaking insider documents on the Vietnam War through the Pentagon Papers, Mr. Ellsberg worked for the Rand Corporation during the development and testing of U.S. nuclear weapons and wrote some of the key documents regarding nuclear planning. His insiders’ account adds crucial details about the military (il)logic of the American nuclear weapons program.

The U.S. program to build nuclear weapons, long explained to counter the Nazi nuclear program, was brought to its initial stage of completion after the Germans had surrendered in WWII. Following the German surrender, the Americans hindered Japanese efforts to do so until the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be annihilated to demonstrate the ferocity of the American weapon.

As per Mr. Ellsberg, by the late 1950s the U.S. military had a plan to launch a first-strike nuclear war against Russia that would encompass most of the known world and would ultimately kill, by the military’s own estimates, 600,000,000 human beings. ‘Only’ 100 – 200 million of these human beings would be Russian civilians. The rest would be collateral damage. As Ellsberg put it: the equivalent of ‘one hundred holocausts.’

The motives were twofold. In the first, U.S. President Harry Truman had feared that a land war against Russia would bankrupt the U.S. Nuclear weapons were considered an economically efficient way to ‘win’ such a war. In the second, the number of civilian casualties was functionally irrelevant to the American plan. If more Americans survived than Russians— no matter how few that might be, the plan would be considered a military success.

Erased from the American consciousness of the present is that the senior U.S. military leadership that fought WWII had few moral qualms about inflicting massive civilian casualties. U.S. General Curtis LeMay, who led the bombing of Tokyo with incendiary devices that burned 100,000 Japanese civilians alive, spent much of his time as the head of SAC (Strategic Airforce Command) trying to launch a nuclear first-strike against Russia.

General Lemay subsequently led the incendiary bombing of North Korea that killed twenty-percent of the civilian population and reduced the country to rubble. Three million Koreans were killed. Later, three and one-half million Vietnamese— overwhelmingly civilians, were killed in the Vietnam War. In that war, U.S. forces bombed Laotian and Cambodian villages gratuitously, to clear out their payloads when returning from bombing runs.

It was a known possibility (and here) when the U.S. exploded the first hydrogen bomb that the fission-fusion process might not be contained and that all life on the planet could be instantaneously annihilated. This fear was in part why, according to Mr. Ellsberg, Adolf Hitler abandoned the German effort to build such a bomb. Tellingly, the Americans moved forward with the test despite the risks.

By the 1930s, the economic rationale behind U.S. military interventions had been laid bare by Smedley Butler in his ‘War is a Racket’ speeches. General Butler described his role in imperial adventures as a ‘gangster for capitalism.’ Butler is the human and military link between the American imperialism of ‘manifest destiny’ and modern military production as a business.

WWII ended the Great Depression. Military production, military Keynesianism in the parlance of economists, brought government spending to the levels needed to reduce unemployment and boost incomes. There are near infinite less destructive ways to put people to work than war. But geopolitical struggles unite people along national lines. As Butler might have put it, ‘nationalism is a racket.’

Later in the interviews, Mr. Ellsberg explains the business logic of weapons production. The end of WWII created the fear of a return to the Great Depression if government spending levels were reduced. Continued military production was ‘pragmatic’ in the sense that the factories, supply chains and workers were already in place. Additionally, (America’s voluntary entry into) two World Wars had instantiated a war logic into the public psyche. Enter the Cold War.

Likely not widely considered in the present is that this same static economic logic applies to looming environmental crises. Since the mid-nineteenth century the U.S. economy has been organized around dirty capitalist production. This includes the U.S. military, which is the largest single user of fossil fuels. Nuclear weapons are ‘attractive’ to those to whom they are attractive because they can kill a whole lot of people for not very much money.

As with other relations of production in history, post-war U.S. military production produced an internal logic to sustain it. The military personnel who developed and presented the plan to ‘rationally’ murder 600,000,000 human beings fit Hannah Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’ characterization quite well. The logic of annihilation fit nicely into Rand Corporation spreadsheets and presentations.

According to Ellsberg, the American plan for nuclear annihilation was presented to John F. Kennedy when he was President. Evidence elsewhere suggests that Mr. Kennedy came close to implementing it twice during his shortened time in office— once during the ‘Berlin crisis’ of 1961 and also during the Cuban Missile Crisis. American historical accounts of the latter have until recently been near complete fantasy.

Kennedy initiated the Cuban Missile Crisis when the Soviets delivered nuclear missiles to Cuba in response to the CIA’s invasion of the Bay of Pigs and the U.S. deployment of nuclear missiles to Italy and Turkey. The ‘crisis’ was an American provocation followed by domestic political concerns that balanced nuclear annihilation against a politics that conflated an unwillingness to end the world with weakness.

The nuclear missiles placed by the U.S. in Italy and Turkey were arguably and logically first-strike weapons. By the time of the crisis, the senior U.S. military leadership had unilaterally developed nuclear weapons, used them to slaughter civilian populations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for demonstration purposes, tested the first hydrogen bomb without apparent regard for continued life on the planet and had spent two decades actively planning a nuclear first strike against Russia that would kill, by its own estimates, 600,000,000 human beings.

Astonishingly, or not, Kennedy appeared to have been unaware that he had approved the deployment of first-strike nuclear weapons to Italy and Turkey when the missile crisis began. The U.S. had vastly more nuclear capacity than the Soviets. And Kennedy had already been presented with the U.S. plan to launch a nuclear first strike against Russia that included annihilating the civilian population of China to save the trouble of doing so later.

Two decades later, in the early 1980s, modeling of the likely impact of large-scale nuclear war introduced the concept of nuclear winter. (I recall hearing the thesis in the 1975). Nuclear winter would arise as nuclear explosions sent dirt into the upper atmosphere that blocked solar warming of the earth. Subsequent research in the mid-2000s suggested that nuclear winter would be a likely result of limited nuclear exchanges.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s provided a unique opportunity to put this nuclear madness in the past. The rapidity with which it dissolved demonstrated the fragility of complex political organization. The broad distribution of the Soviet nuclear arsenal left the Russians with the logistical nightmare of trying to control weapons systems while no longer controlling the political geography in which they were located.

The political language in the U.S. at the time was of a peace dividend where the military industrial complex that had existed since WWII could be reduced and the social resources that had gone into military production could be reallocated to more constructive uses. The (finance-led) recession of the early 1990s provided the opening for military careerists and military-related industries to argue that ‘the economy’ couldn’t afford a shrunken military.

This also marked the inception of the contemporary thesis that nuclear war is no longer a risk. The INF Treaty that Donald Trump is ending reduced the arsenal of short and intermediate range nuclear weapons by about 2,600 missiles. The rationale for eliminating them was that battlefield use in conventional warfare risked escalation to all-out nuclear war. This is what makes Bill Clinton’s movement of NATO forces to Russia’s border in the early 1990s so profoundly short-sighted.

Unfortunately, the INF Treaty did little to eliminate the capacity, and with it the threat, for nuclear annihilation. Enough submarine and land-based missiles were left in place to destroy most life on the planet 15 – 30 times over. Why this capacity ever reached even 1X is a testament to the logic of military production. The Pentagon is both directly and indirectly one of the largest employers in the U.S. Debate over the efficacy of military Keynesianism centers on the economic multiplier effect, not the question of whether what is being produced should be produced?

While Donald Trump didn’t create these circumstances, he is living evidence of why nuclear weapons are a profoundly bad idea. But the same is true of the American political and military leadership since nuclear weapons were first created. Harry Truman thought it worth killing 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ‘send a message’ to Russia that the U.S. has nuclear weapons. The American first strike plan against Russia, as reported by Daniel Ellsberg, included slaughtering the civilian population of China almost as an afterthought.

Complacency, that because nuclear annihilation hasn’t happened yet, it won’t happen, is misplaced. Thanks to events dating back to the 1990s, both the U.S. and Russia are currently rebuilding nuclear arsenals. Going further back, the number of accidents with nuclear launch systems, nuclear weaponsand nuclear materialsis not encouraging. Would the annihilation of most life on the planet with nuclear weapons be more, or less, horrifying because it was accidental?

Given how (1) quickly, and (2) unexpectedly, the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s, why is there confidence that something like that couldn’t happen to the U.S.? What would happen to the American nuclear arsenal in such an event? Whatever contingencies might be in place necessarily depend on a complex set of assumptions that might not hold. As with the factors driving environmental crisis, these systems need to be ended. The future of the world depends on doing so.

Categories: News for progressives

Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:59

Caravan of Lies

Never underestimate the disingenuousness of top U.S.-American politicos.   They truly have no shame.

Notice how little the fascistic president Donald Trump has to say any more about the big bad Central American Caravan that was supposedly menacing the United States with a great criminal “invasion”?

The U.S. military “heroes” sent down at great taxpayer expense to “defend our border” will be missing Thanksgiving with their families thanks to this fake threat to “national security.”

Gee, what happened? It was all a dog-wagging, white-nationalist ruse!

The bogus peril was transparently concocted by the neo-Know Nothing president to rally his “blood and soil” electoral base for the midterm elections.

That’s standard, crudely duplicitous procedure for the pathological liar Trump, who has spent years casting doubt on the reality of global warming (a “Chinese hoax”) even as he has built walls to protect his golf courses from rising seas resulting from the climate crisis he has acted as president to exacerbate.

The malicious racist family-separator and Arpaio-pardoner Trump is so used to falsifying fact and canceling reality that he may not even have known he was doing it when he called his and fellow Republicans’ arch-plutocratic, deficit-boosting tax reduction for the wealthy few a “middle-class tax cut” that was going to “cost me a fortune.”

How did he come up the other day with the bit about the people who don disguises to vote multiple times.

Orange Truth Crush is a funny guy. He’s aregular laugh riot. He’s a one-man caravan of canard.

Just ask Frederick Douglass.

“To Tend to This Garden of Democracy”

Then there’s Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, a more elegant and polished kind of liar.

How did Obama keep a straight face when he invoked the retrospective specter of Weimar Germany and Nazism while saying this to the Chicago Economic Club last December?

You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly…we’ve seen societies where that happens…Now, presume there was a ballroom here in Vienna in the late 1920s or ’30s that looked and seemed as if it, filled with the music and art and literature that was emerging, would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. An entire world was plunged into chaos…So you got to pay attention — and vote.”

Set to profit from Trump’s tax windfall, the corporate burghers atop the Chicago Economic Club always pay attention and poison “this garden of democracy” with big plutocratic campaign contributions and numerous other methods for translating wealth into political and policy influence (election funding is just the tip of the iceberg in that regard).

But I digress.

“Tend to this garden of democracy”?  As if that was what Obama did during his eight years in the White House?  Seriously?

Beneath expertly crafted fake-progressive imagery and branding, Obama rose to power in Washington with remarkable, record-setting financial backing from Wall Street and K Street election investors. Cultivating the gardens of popular self-rule was not the mission behind their investment, as Obama knew. “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” the progressive journalist Ken Silverstein noted in a Harpers’ magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.” in the fall of 2006, “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

An answer to the lobbyist’s question came less the three years later: priceless. In his book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Suskind tells a remarkable story from March of 2009. Three months into Obama’s presidency, popular rage at Wall Street was intense and the leading financial institutions were weak and on the defensive. The nation’s financial elite had driven the nation and world’s economy into an epic meltdown in the period since Silverstein’s essay was published – and millions knew it. Having ridden into office partly on a wave of popular anger at the economic power elite’s staggering malfeasance, Obama called a meeting of the nation’s top thirteen financial executives at the White House. The banking titans came into the meeting full of dread only to leave pleased to learn that the new president was in their camp. For instead of standing up for those who had been harmed most by the crisis – workers, minorities, and the poor – Obama sided unequivocally with those who had caused the meltdown.

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks,” Obama said. “You guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help…I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger.”

For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, there was, as Suskind puts it, “Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said ‘I welcome their hate,’ Obama was saying ‘How can I help?’” As one leading banker told Suskind, “The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t – he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

The massive taxpayer bailout of the super fat cats would continue, along with numerous other forms of corporate welfare for the super-rich, powerful, and parasitic. This state-capitalist largesse was unaccompanied by any serious effort to regulate their conduct or by any remotely comparable bailout for the millions evicted from their homes and jobs by the not-so invisible hand of the marketplace. No wonder 95 percent of national U.S. income gains went to the top 1% during Obama’s first term.

A Blunt Neo-Weimarian Lesson About Power

It was a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S. But no such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. populace what William Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans “watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by the arch 1 percenter Mitt Romney. And as Obama offer the Republicans bigger cuts in Social Security and Medicare than they asked for as part of his “Grand Bargain” offered during the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis. It was at that point that hundreds of thousands of mostly younger Americans had received enough of Obama’s “blunt lesson about power” to join the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which sought progressive change through direct action and social movement-building rather than corporate-captive electoral politics.

We will never know how far Occupy might have gone since it was shut down by a federally coordinated campaign of repression that joined the Obama administration and hundreds of mostly Democratic city governments in the infiltration, surveillance, smearing, takedown and eviction of the short lived movement – this even as the Democrats stole some of Occupy’s rhetoric for use against the arch-plutocratic Mitt Romney and the Republicans in 2012.

Obama closed out his presidency by steadily but unsuccessfully working to pass the arch-corporate-globalist Trans-Pacific Partnership, a classically neoliberal so-called free trade agreement that had been under secret construction by multinational corporate lawyers and corporatist government officials for at least a decade.

How was that for some “progressive neoliberalism?”

How Weimar-Germanic and democracy-canceling was that?

Profiles in Courage

Just less than five months after handing over the White House keys and nuclear codes to the Orange Fascistic Whoremonger (OFW)from Hell, the Robert Rubin acolyte Obama had the mendacious audacity to say this in his acceptance speech for a “Profiles in [of all things] Courage” award from the Kennedy Library Foundation: “It actually doesn’t take a lot of courage to aid those who are already powerful, already comfortable, already influential.”

Obama spoke from experience!

“We live,” Obama droned (pun not originally intended) on, “in a time of great cynicism about our institutions… It’s a cynicism that’s most corrosive when it comes to our system of self-government, that clouds our history of jagged, sometimes tentative but ultimately forward progress, that impedes our children’s ability to see in the noisy and often too trivial pursuits of politics the possibility of our democracy doing big things.”

Who knew?

Nobody in the tony and tuxedoed Kennedy Library crowd stood up to tell “Wall Street Barry” that the U.S. had no “system of self-government,” no real functioning democracy. Nobody rose to yell “You Lie!” and observe that, as the mainstream political scientists Martine Gilens and Benjamin Page had shown six years into his neoliberal  presidency, the nation had for decades been “an oligarchy” where wealthy “elites” and their corporations “rule” and “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does.”

Just months before getting his Kennedy courage award, ex-prez “O” was spotted kiteboarding with Richard Branson, the British billionaire airline mogul who was leading the charge for the privatization of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Obama was photographed  boating in the Pacific with Oprah Winfrey (another white-pleasing black-bourgeois “O”), Tom Hanks, and Bruce Springsteen on a $300 million luxury yacht owned by recording mogul David Geffen.

The Obamas had recently inked an eight-figure publishing deal ($65 million) for his-and-her memoirs on their years in the White House. And Obama was set to receive $400,000 (damn near half a million!) for speaking at a Wall Street health care conference hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald LP.

It was called getting paid for services rendered. As Obama knew very well, nothing said “show me the money” like “President of the United States” on your resume – especially when you spent your presidential years serving the nation’s unelected directorate of finance, whose representatives held key posts in your administration. Call it the Audacity of Sleaze and the Venality of Hope.

That’s the kind of stuff that can feed “cynicism about our institutions” and doubt over “the possibility of our democracy doing big things”!

How Fascist Liars Get to Look “Authentic”

What does Obama’s epic and continuing corporate-neoliberal and Orwellian perversity have to do with Trump?  Quite a bit, actually. In his important new book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley shows how Trump and a broad range of far-right political leaders around the world [1] have how modern authoritarian and nationalist – “fascist,” if you like (Stanley obviously does) – politicos have used and subverted “democratic” electoral politics to gain power.

Many U.S. Democrats will read Stanley’s book with a sense of self-satisfied validation over his description of Trump and his party as fascists. That is a mistake. Not content merely to describe fascist politics, Stanley seeks to explain its success past and present.  Fascism’s taproot, he finds, is harsh socioeconomic disparity:

“Ever since Plato and Aristotle wrote on the topic, political theorists have known that democracy cannot flourish on soil poisoned by inequality…the resentments bred by such divisions are tempting targets for demagogues…Dramatic inequality poses a mortal danger to the shared reality required for a healthy liberal democracy…[such] inequality breeds delusions that mask reality, undermining the possibility of joint deliberation to sole society’s divisions (pp.76-77)…

“Under conditions of stark economic inequality, when the benefits of liberal education, and the exposure to diverse cultures and norms are available only to the wealthy few, liberal tolerance can be smoothly represented as elite privilege.  Stark economic inequality creates conditions richly conducive to fascist demagoguery. It is a fantasy to think that liberal democratic norms can flourish under such conditions” (p. 185).

Particularly perceptive is Stanley’s intimately related reflection on how the political culture of pseudo-democratic duplicity and disingenuousness that is generated by modern capitalist inequality and plutocracy creates space for fascist-style politicians who “appear to be sincere” and “signal authenticity” by “standing for division and conflict without apology.  Such a candidate,” Stanley writes, “might openly side with Christians or Muslims and atheists, or native-born [white] Americans over immigrants, or whites over blacks…They might openly and brazenly lie…[and] signal authenticity by openly and explicitly rejecting what are presumed to be sacrosanct political values….Such politicians,” Stanley argues, come off to many jaded voters as “a breath of fresh air in a political culture that seems dominated by real and imagined hypocrisy.”  Fascist politicos’ “open rejection of democratic values” is “taken as political bravery, as a signal of authenticity.”

That is no small part of what has opened the door to malevolent far-right politicos at home and abroad. The opening is provided by neo-“liberals” (in the U.S) and neoliberal social democrats and “socialists” (in Europe and elsewhere) whose claims to speak on behalf of the popular majority and democracy are repeatedly discredited by their underlying commitment to dominant capitalist social hierarchies and oppression structures.

He does not say so (this is a problem with How Fascism Works), but Stanley must know (let’s hope) that the neoliberal Democratic Party of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has partnered with Republicans in the creation of a New Gilded Age of spectacular democracy- and tolerance-disabling class disparity. The Democrats have participated for decades in the richly bipartisan making of plutocratic policies that have shifted wealth and income so far upward that three absurdly rich people (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos) possessed as much wealth between them as the poorest half of U.S.-Americans while the top tenth of the upper One Percent had as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent by the end of Obama’s second term in office.

The inequality has come with daunting doses of soul-numbing hypocrisy atop the Democratic Party as well the Republican Party. Both parties/fundraising platforms have helped embody the cold and disingenuous “manipulation of populism by elitism” that Christopher Hitchens aptly called – in a 1999 study of Bill and Hillary Clinton – “the essence of American politics.”  Obama staffed his White House and conducted policy in dutiful accord with the dictates of the nation’s big financial institutions.  So did Bill Clinton, whose key campaign watchwords of “hope” and “change” and strategies of running on “the economy, stupid” and the promise of universal health care were stealthily pilfered by Obama in 2007 and 2008.

Then came the 2016 Hillary Goldman Sachs Clinton campaign, poisoned by the disconnect between her transparent elitist captivity to the nation’s top financial institutions and her admittedly tepid populist pretense.  That pretense was undermined further when she got caught calling Trump’s “heartland” “flyover country” supporters a “basket of” racist and sexist “deplorables” in a sneering comment (one that accurately reflected her aristocratic “progressive”-neoliberal world view) to rich Manhattan campaign donors. (Here she gave Trump something like the same campaign gift Romney gave Obama when the 2012 Republican contender was heard telling rich donors that 47 percent of the country were lazy moochers).

This kind of disingenuous neoliberal Democratic politics did a great deal to bring widely hated Republicans into the White House in both 2001 and 2017.  The hypocritical and elitist fake-progressivism of neo-Weimar-liberals like Clintons, Al Gore, and Barack von Obama opened the door for hideous monsters like George W. Bush (who believed that God told him to mass-murderously invade Iraq) and the more genuinely fascistic Trump by making the Republican candidates look comparatively “authentic” and (a point Stanley misses) by demobilizing and depressing the Democrats’ more authentically progressive popular base (non-voting was more critical to Trump’s victory than any big imagined wave of white working-class Trump votes).

True, no U.S. president has ever lied as voluminously and pathologically as the fascist Trump. As a brazen practitioner of the totalitarian “permanent lie” – “the consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth” (Hannah Arendt) – Trump is off the historical charts when it comes to barefaced falsification and fakery. Still, the tangerine-tinted totalitarian would not have gotten into office without the more sophisticated, stylish, and refined, establishmentarian disingenuousness of the party that Sheldon Wolin rightly called the Inauthentic Opposition – the dismal, demobilizing, depressing, disingenuous, and dollar-drenched Democrats.

The “Curse of Bigness”

The Inauthentic Opposition Party, it should be noted, has done nothing either in or out of the White House to stem another critical background factor in the rise of authoritarian right-wing politics: extreme economic concentration – what the Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis called “the curse of bigness.” Under the Clintons and Obama as under Reagan, the Bushes, and Trump, the U.S., writes Columbia law professor Tim Wu, has:

“weaken[ed] the laws – the antitrust laws that are meant to resist the concentration of economic power in the United States and around the world…we have recklessly chosen to tolerate global monopolies and oligopolies in finance, media, airlines, telecommunications and elsewhere, to say nothing of the growing size and power of the major technology platforms.  In so doing, we have cast aside the safeguards that were supposed to protect democracy against a dangerous marriage of private and public power …[and thereby fueled anger on the part of] citizens who lost almost any influence over economic policy and by extension, their lives…Their powerlessness is brewing a powerful feeling of outrage.” (Tim Wu, “Be Afraid of Economic ‘Bigness.’ Be Very Afraid,”New York Times, November 10, 2018)

It’s a feeling that fascist-style politicos like Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro, and others around the world [1] have powerfully seized and misdirected against immigrants, ethnic and racial minorities, liberals, the left (fascists typically conflate the last two categories), urban professionals, and other convenient targets (including independent judicial officials, reporters, academics and other dangerous relics of “democracy”)  while working with and for the very same structures and agents of concentrated corporate wealth and power that fuel the mass middle-class fury and indignation.

“The Blue Wave is a Corporate Wave”

The Inauthentic Opposition problem is alive and well in the wake of the U.S. midterm elections. In response to the totalitarian, fascist-style politics of Donald “the Caravan is/was Coming” Trump and the ever more openly Orwellian Republicans, the Democrats have not seen fit to follow Bernie Sanders’ progressive-populistlead to target the savage economic inequalities that Stanley rightly sees as an underlying cause of global fascism’s electoral march. The Democrats’ moderately successful midterm strategy presented no threat to the masters of capitalist inequality. The party remains wedded to the centrist, not-so “progressive” neoliberal formula that has reigned atop it since the 1990s: representational racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation diversity combined with an absence of any serious challenge to corporate and financial prerogatives. Its  slight nods to populism and social democracy and justice are little more than calculating teases meant to keep more left-leaning, genuinely progressive, and authentically popular-opposition voters on board without scaring off big campaign bankrollers and backers.

As Nick Brana, the former Sanders staffer who heads the Movement for a People’s Party, noted one day after the midterms, the results are “a serious wake-up call for progressives” who continue to foolishly dream of gaining power by taking over the Democratic Party…The blue wave,” Brana writes,“is a corporate wavethat has swept in the same kind of Democratic politicians that drove working people into Donald Trump’s arms after eight years of Obama. When Democrats busy themselves serving the wealthy again, the result will be an even sharper lurch to the authoritarian right” (emphasis added).

“Like a Cat with a Ball of Yarn”

The incisive left money-politics analyst Thomas Ferguson offered a telling reflection on the Democrats’ persistent captivity to the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money in a Jacobin interviewpublished on the morning of the midterms:

“..the existing Democratic Party leadership is plainly trying to find ways to tap the bourgeoning energy [provided by the Bernie Sanders ‘democratic socialism’ insurgency] for purposes of increasing electoral turnout, while playing with the [Sanders] movement’s issues [single-payer and more] like a cat with a ball of yarn….The hollowness of a much-touted Democratic reform proposal — that candidates should solemnly pledge to refuse corporate PAC money — is patent. It is a sham…They know very well that big ticket donations from the 1 percent will still roll in, in several forms…For Democrats to offer real solutions, the party has to break its dependency on big money. …If the Democrats are not to go the way of the social-democratic parties of continental Europe, they need to squarely address this question and offer real solutions.”

(Ferguson’s ball and yarn analogy reminds me of the conservative Congress of Industrial Organizations [CIO] labor boss John L. Lewis’s also semi-anthropomorphic response to queries about how he felt about the significant number of radical [primarily Communist] activists who worked as CIO steelworker organizers during the 1930s: “who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog?”)

The main things distinguishing the new crop of largely moderate Democratic House members is how many of them are women and the remarkable amount of corporate money they raised, not any left progressivism.  The centrist New Democrat Coalition endorsed 23 of the 29 Democrats who have won in the House race, as of the original counting (the numbers are going up as I write.

The “CIA Democrats” (as the World Socialist Website cleverly called them) also ran unprecedented number of military and intelligence veterans. (I have not yet seen an analysis of how well candidates with such direct imperialist credentials fared in the elections.)

Under the cover of the RussiaGate narrative and the sheer horror of Trump and his herrenvolk Amerikaner party in power, establishment progressive-neoliberal Democrats in the Clinton-Obama-Pelosi mode have kept the authentically progressive and oppositional insurgency within their own party’s ranks checked and contained.

Something New and Old: The Trumpenleft

Along the way, the dreary and duplicitous Dems have helped hatch an online political phenomenon the likes of which I never thought I’d live to see: a de factoAmerican Trumpenleft. I’ve encountered it again and again on so-called social media and via e-mail. A strange group of mostly older and curmudgeonly online lefties (the new leading bane of my in-box, surpassing the Truthers in that regard) has been so jaded and enraged by decades of Democratic Party deceit and betrayal as to become unwilling to properly denounce and oppose a fascist president and his white-nationalist party.  It’s as if they think they are in danger of becoming neoliberals and being infected by the fake-progressive Obama-Clinton-Pelosi virus if they dare acknowledge the true fascistic horror that is Trump and his ever more insane party.

In some cases I have encountered, previously serious-seeming leftists have practically embraced Trump and channeled Moscow-hatched Caitlin/Diana Johnstoneite “red-brown” and “geopolitical” talking points [2] in the spirit of “the [nationalist]  enemy of my [globalist] enemy is [somehow] my friend.” Their understandable hatred of the neoliberal Democrats (whose evils I have relentlessly documented and denounced in book and essay after book and essay for many years) has poisoned their hearts and minds.  It has gotten the better of them. It’s a bit reminiscent of the German Communist Party’s disastrous sectarian response to the political rise of the Nazi in the early 1930s.

The Trumpenleft is right to heap blame on the not-so leftmost of the nation’s two oligopolistic state-capitalist and imperialist major war parties when it comes to the question of how mad-dog right-wingers like Ronald Reagan, the two George Bushes, and the “reactionary populist” Trump get into the White House.  They can cite my own work, including this very essay, on that very topic – and on is truly terrible about the deplorable Democrats.

At a certain point, even the most dedicated left critic of the dreadful Dems one must step back from the Trumpenleft’s derangement. This is over-dramatic, I know, but imagine responding to news of Kristallnacht (1938) by dismissively saying, “yes, but let’s not forget the awfulness of Paul von Hinderburg, Heinrich Brüning, Franz von Papen, Kurt von Schleicher, and the German Social Democrats!”

Some malignant tumors need to be attacked by any and all means even before the conditions that gave to rise to them can be erased, before all the mistakes that allowed them to grow can be addressed.

Imagine not interceding against a frothing rabid dog as it charged a group of children because you know it came from a little of other vicious hounds and had older siblings that long terrorized your neighborhood. Would shooting the rabid dog mean that you approved of the other animals wreaking havoc in the community?  Of course not.

Thankfully, the Trumpenleft appears to be a relatively minor and geriatric phenomenon, tinted by no small hint of dementia – even with the best (if bizarre) efforts of Trumpenproletarian dialecticians like Bill Martin, for whom Donald Trump is the Great God who succeeded in representing “the populism of the working class” where Bob Avakian was the God that Failed.

It’s not a pretty story.  Ironically enough, I blame the Democrats for the Trumpenleft.


1) Trump’s fascistic comrades at home and abroad include much of the leadership of the U.S. Republican Party, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro Indian president Narendra Modi, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan, Poland’s president Andrjez Duda, Hungary’s president Viktor Orban, (whose fascist government’s  2011 “National Avowal” promised to “Make Hungary Great Again”), Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko, and Russia’s president Vladimir Putin (chief of the “United Russia” party), along with numerous other dodgy fascistic nationalists atop the Five Star party in Italy, AfD in Germany, PVV in Netherlands, France’s National Front, Finland’s True Finns, Estonia’s Conservative People’s Party, Italy’s Lega Nord, Austria’s Freedom Party of Austria, Turkey’s MHP, Greece’s Golden Dawn , Armenia’s Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the UK Independence Party, Slovakia’s Slovak National Party, and Denmark’s Danish People’s Party

2) I opposed the blind following of Russian talking points when Moscow was in the hands of self-declared “Marxist-Leninists” (Stalinist bureaucratic-collectivists). I resist Russian talking points even more when Moscow is controlled by neo-fascist petro-capitalist oligarchs.

Categories: News for progressives

Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:58

+ The Camp Fire, which leveled the Sierra foothills town of Paradise (pop. 27,000), is now the deadliest and most destructive wildlife in the history of California. As of Friday morning:

+ 63 people are dead

+ 630 people are missing

+ 11,000 structures have been destroyed, including nearly 9,000 homes

+ 52,000 people have been evacuated

+ 140,000 acres have burned.

+ The forests burned in Camp Fire were so parched by prolonged drought they were described by ecologists as “sucking water from the air.”

+ Of the 10 most destructive fires in California history, 9 of them have ignited since 2000.

+ The last five years of California fires…

+ According to the Ecologist-in-Chief, if only there was more clearcutting of forests the California fires (many of them raging in coastal chaparral habitat–what’s left of it amid the subdivisions, malls and highways) wouldn’t be happening…

+ The Woolsey Fire near Malibu roared across the best mountain lion habitat in southern California. Most of the adults likely escaped, but many of their cubs probably didn’t…

+ The Woolsey Fire jumped the freeway and scorched Bell Canyon in the West Hills area of LA, where I scrambled up El Escorpión Peak with the late Galen Rowell and a few others back in the early 90s. I had taken a fistful of magic mushrooms that September day, anticipating how they might enhance a tangerine sunset brewed up from fires in the Topatopa Mountains near Ojai. I don’t recall the sunset, but I can’t still shake memory of the three rattlesnakes I nearly stepped on during that climb. You don’t think of rattlesnakes, when you think of LA. But they are there and I hope they remain so, long after the ashes from this fire cools and the chaparral springs back to life …

+ In 1995, Mike Davis wrote an incendiary essay on why we should let Malibu burn. It’s truer today than it was when he wrote it 23 years ago.

+ 500 miles north of the Camp Fire, the smoke has clogged the skies in Portland, making the air quality hazardous for the old, the infirm and children…

+ If the air in Portland was awful, it was downright deadly in the Bay Area, where San Francisco topped the charts for the worst air quality in world on this week.

+ The smoke is so bad throughout the state that many California cities are handing out masks to residents. But are we sure the masks weren’t donated by the oil & gas companies to make everyone believe the air is safe to breathe on days when there aren’t any fires?

+ With smoke from the Camp Fire swirling inside Golden 1 Arena in Sacramento and LeBron James gasping on the court, will the NBA finally come out against climate change?

+ For more on why California is burning, check out our new book, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink.

+ After 17 years, no fewer than 480,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting in the US’s Global War on “Terror.” More than 244,000 civilians have been killed and another 10 million people have been displaced due to violence.

+ And there’s no sign that these wars are winding down. Afghanistan was bombed more times in 2018 than any previous year: 5213 sorties and the year isn’t over yet. Afghanistan has now had the bloody hell bombed out of it by a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a self-advertised anti-interventionist. Perhaps it will take an unapologetic warmonger to finally bring peace…

+ An AP story asserts that “many Afghans now blame the US” the ongoing war. Many? Every Afghan not on the US payroll who I’ve talked with in the last decade knows this to be true.

+ And they called Neanderthals “savages“?

+ Here’s an aerial image of the working-class town of Grimsby, England. Each poppy represents a house that lost a resident in World War I.

+ The financial cost of the Bush-Obama-Trump War on Terror will soon top $6 TRILLION, which is, of course, why we “can’t afford” single-payer healthcare. These expenditures are the driving force of the war, an unending gravy train for defense contractors, as I charted in my book Grand Theft Pentagon.

+ Don’t worry it’s not coming to an end any time soon. A new report from the National Defense Strategy Commission breathlessly warns that the US military may struggle to “win a war against Russia or China.” Why we would want to fight a war against Russia or China is not explained. This is more scare-mongering to increase the Pentagon’s already bloated budget…(Although the report is nothing new, the US military has in fact struggled–and failed–to win a war against peasant armies around the world since 1945). Cheer up, however, it’s not all bleak. We are winning the war against the planet.

+ Speaking of going to war against Russia, guidelines issued by the Wehrmacht’s high command to German troops in Russia sternly warned them never to explain their actions to a Russian: “He can talk better than you since he is a born dialectician and has inherited a philosophical disposition.”

+ The first black nurses in the Army where prohibited from treating US soldiers and, instead, were relegated to caring for Nazi prisoners of war. Greatest country on Earth, no question…

+ Mad Dog Mattis made a courageous visit to the border this week, where he delivered a Henry V-style speech to fire up the troops as they steel themselves to confront the Children’s Caravan that may charge the border two or three weeks from now. If HRC visits, she’ll probably claim she came under sniper fire, from the refugees fleeing the regime she helped bring to power…

+ Trump tapped retired Gen. John Abizaid as the new ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Bolton, Mattis, and now Abizaid. Do you get the sense that Trump never believed any of his own critiques of the Iraq War…except that the US should have looted the oil?

+ Young whites shifted toward the Democrats by 25 points in the midterms. Will they give them any reason to vote for them again (or vote at all) in 2020? Enter Joe Biden…

+ Why Do We Need Democrats? Exhibit A. Claire McKaskill: “I hope that no one thinks that because some of the red-state Democrat moderates lost that means we have to nominate a progressive.”

+ Why Do We Need Democrats? Exhibit B. Oregon Democrats just took the governor’s mansion and won super-majority’s in both houses. Their first act of business? To cede control over tax policy to the sweatshop lords at NIKE.

+ Why Do We Need Democrats? Exhibit C. Joe Biden, now leading in the polls, spent his weekend bestowing the Liberty Medal on a war criminal.

+ Why Do We Need Democrats? Exhibit C. Ex-Clinton pollster Mark Penn says HRC will run again and the Democratic rank-and-file will flock to her…

+ Why Do We Need Democrats? Exhibit D. Nancy Pelosi: “We have an obligation to find common ground where we can.” I’m sure you and Trump will quickly find some “common ground” to bomb, Nancy.

+ Why Do We Need Democrats? Exhibit E. Chuck Schumer, despite having a record of ineptitude only a hedge funder could love, was “reelected” to his post as minority leader by acclamation. That means without a vote.

+ At least there will by a parity of prolixity in the House, where the Republicans selected as their leader the only member of congress less coherent than Nancy Pelosi: Kevin McCarthy, who supervised the wipeout of Republican House seats in California.

+ Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Lynching Lady of Mississippi, recently disclosed her views on voter suppression to an intimate group supporters: “And then they remind me, that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.” She’ll need all the suppression she can muster to defeat Mike Espy, Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture, in a tighter-than expected runoff election to retain the senate seat she inherited after the sudden resignation of Thad Cochran.

+ Susan Rice and John Brennan can scrub their hands as furiously as they want, but the Yemeni blood still won’t come off…

+ Let’s take a moment to reflect on the eviction of one of Congress’s true oddballs, Dana Rohrabacher. He surfed, he dropped acid, he rode with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, he befriended Julian Assange. Too bad he also backed nearly every war that came along, including, most hypocritically, the war on drugs. It may have been his flagrant lies about health care that finally took him all the way down. As Andrew Cockburn noted, “he was the only member of congress who arm-wrestled Putin.”

+ This is all Kentucky needs…the Bluegrass State’s supreme court just ruled that “right to work” laws don’t violate the constitution.

+ According to the Labor Department, there are nearly 1 million more job vacancies than there are available workers. Neel Kashkari, president of the Minnesota branch of the Federal Reserve, told CEO’s whining about how they can’t find qualified workers to fill open slots: “You should try paying more, and you may be able to attract more workers.”   What a novel idea…

+ Trump announced his intent to cut off all relief funding to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. What kind of a weakling is so insecure that he gets off on causing more pain and deprivation to people who are already living in miserable conditions?

+ Trump math makes the new math look like the old math: “He [Kemp] was 10 points down when I endorsed him, he ended up winning by 40 points in the primary. He’s now in, but he was 10 points down. It was 70 to 30, something like that, 70-30 or 70-40, maybe 70-40. But it was an easy win.”

+ Before Melania launched her purge of the West Wing, she must have read up (or listened to the audiobook) on Nancy Reagan’s tenure as first lady. Like Melania, Nancy also hated the people around her Ronnie, none more intensely than RR’s chief of staff, Don Regan, who she believed was undermining the Gipper at every turn. She eventually got Regan’s head and in many ways the new shadow chief of staff became the person Nancy trusted most: her astrologer, Joan Quigley. Can’t say I blame her.

+ So the big drama this week is that Trump wants to fire John Kelly. But since Trump is too much of a coward to fire anyone in person, he’s waiting on Kelly to fire himself, which you would think the General would have done after Charlottesville.

+ A man interrupted a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Baltimore this week, standing up to give a Nazi salute and shout “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!

If I were a Reich man,
Daidle deedle daidle
Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb

+ From historian Tom Holland: “An astonishing story of a small group of SS man who tried to shoot two lorry-loads of Soviet prisoners lacking either legs or arms. “The legless were not a challenge, but the ambulant wounded overpowered their murderers. Two SS men were shot & the prisoners escaped.”

+ Thursday marked the 49th anniversary of one of the biggest anti-war protests in American history, when more 500,000 people descended on DC on a frigid November day to demand an end to the Vietnam War, when Pete Seeger led a half million people in an extended version of “Give Peace a Chance“…

+ Doing his best Don King impersonation, Trump warns Antifa not to mess with American neo-Nazis…

+Of course, he’s right. The neo-Nazis far outnumber the anti-fascists here in the states and they are armed-to-the-teeth, especially when you factor in the Nazis in local police departments, including the socialist enclave of Portland.

+ Bernie Sanders: “We have a president who is a racist.” When did Bernie have this epiphany? What was the final straw?

+ Do you get the sense that the cast of characters in the daily spectacle of our politics come right out of a Molière play…?

+ Trump accuses people of changing their clothes and returning to cast additional ballots in disguise in Florida: “Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again.” (I often vote first dressed like Frank Zappa and return (to my kitchen table to cast another mail-in ballot) disguised as Joey Ramone. Sometimes if I’m feeling really frisky and a Green candidate is poised to cause Max Chaos, I’ll cast a third ballot as Joan Jett.)

+ CNN’s suit against the Trump administration for stripping the showboating Jim Acosta of his “hard” press pass only serves the dubious function of legitimizing White House briefings as real news events.

+ While the corporate press, even FoxNews, rallies around Acosta, the Department of Justice appears poised to indict Julian Assange to steely silence from the very same gutless claque of self-glorifying defenders of a “free” press…

+ There seems to be documentary evidence that Assange has already been charged the indictment sealed. On Thursday afternoon, Seamus Hughes, a former advisor to the Senate Homeland Security Committee, was reading through new federal court filings from the Eastern District of Virginia, when he came across a strange reference to Assange in a filing for a separate case not related to Assange, involving a man indicted for “coercion and enticement of a minor.”

The key sentence, wherein the prosecutors argue for keeping an indictment under seal, reads: “Another procedure short of sealing will not adequately protect the needs of law enforcement at this time because, due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

So what’s going on here? Was it a cut-and-paste error by the prosecutors? Or was it, as Hughes argues, a kind of Freudian slip made by a prosecutor who is also working on the Assange case? Here is the link to the case in question, which is captioned: United States of America v. Seitu Sulayman Kokayi. The motion was filed on August 24, 2018.

+ This article in SpliceToday argues that the Left needs to stop its “slobbering, orgiastic” love affair with Marx. I find myself in total agreement. It’s time for some self-imposed abstinence. In my case, there’s so much slobber on my copy of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon that many of the pages have dissolved into each other, achieving a state of simultaneous dialectal synthesis, I suppose.

+ I’d heard about the Polish painter and writer Josef Czapski’s Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp since college, when reading Proust for the first time seemed like being sentenced to a Gulag. Now it’s finally been translated and I understand why reading Proust might just help you survive life in a concentration camp. There were, of course, no copies of In Search of Lost Time in the camp, so Czapski quoted the Divine Marcel from memory, much the way Erich Auerbach did when he wrote the first draft of his magisterial Mimesis.

+ An average of 3,000 Poles died each day during the Nazi occupation, half of them Christian, half of them Jewish.

+ Lawrence Freedman, Historian, on the Brexit debate within the May government: “You know you are in a great British political crisis when you find yourself watching a closed door on TV.”

+ Divine Intervention: a very fetching Divine mural has gone up on Preston Street in Baltimore. John Waters writes: “Preston Street now has the ultimate Neighborhood Watch. No crime will happen with Divine on duty.”

+ Speaking of my old town, 75% of Baltimorans voted against any efforts to privatize public water resources…

+ One of the best recent books I’ve read on WW I is Into the Silence by Wade Davis, a biography of the mountaineer George Mallory, who died on Everest after (perhaps) reaching the summit. It depicts a generation which returned from the trenches of France opposed to war, opposed the very idea of Europe and willing to go to farthest reaches of the planet to find new ways to live.

+ RIP to the great Stan Lee, who was one of the 20 original subscribers to CounterPunch in 1993. Lee faithfully sent a $100 check for the next 25 years.

+ Anyone foolish enough to believe that Obama and the Democrats were fighting climate change needs to have this graph tattooed to their forehead…

+ The Arctic hasn’t been this warm in 120,000 years. Maybe next year we can go for 500,000…

+ Against great odds, Trump appears to be winning the War on Coal! This year alone, 16 gigawatts worth of coal-fired plants have closed down, which is close to an all-time record. The president should Tweet proudly about his victories!

+ Up in what we called The Region, NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company) has always been one of the most noxious and environmentally hostile utilities on the continent. If they’ve given up on coal, it’s really all over…

+ According to, more than 300 racehorses have died either training or during a race in 2018.

More wolves, better rivers

+ The fuckers in the Trump administration just signed an order exempting the State of Oregon from the Marine Mammal Protection Act that will allow state wildlife agents to begin killing sea lions at the base of Willamette Falls here in Oregon City. I’ve been kayaking next to these magnificent creatures all summer and fall. Here’s the sea lion I call Garbo, who lounged silently on an abandoned dock at the Oregon City Marina. She had always secured the same spot and each time I paddled by she would raise her head an inch or two in acknowledgment before letting it drop back to the deck with a slight thud. Now she’s targeted for assassination for the crime of eating what sea lions in the Pacific Northwest have always eaten.

+ Sea lions aren’t the cause of salmon decline. They’ve been feasting on them since end of the last Ice Age. The dams, the logging, the grazing, the dioxin pouring out of pulp mills and the changing climate are the salmon killers. Stop the scapegoating and fight the real enemy!

+ Trump announced he is plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Republican megadonor Miriam Adelson;  Sen. Orrin Hatch; the late justice Antonin Scalia; Babe Ruth; Elvis; former Minnesota Viking defensive lineman Alan Page; and former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach. Hold on. Nothing for Ted Nugent or Kid Rock?

+ From Greil Marcus’ revealing interview with rock critic Robert Christgau:

I see no reason not to acknowledge that one reason I did that piece [“A Night on the Town”, where Christgau ventured out every night for a month to hear live music] is that the [Village] Voice had been taken over by a hostile force from Phoenix. The enemy was somewhere lurking and looking to fire me, which they did about two months after that piece was finished. And for sure one thing I wanted to do with that piece was say, “Fuck you. You think I’m some old fart? Here’s what I can do.” But also, I really thought it would be interesting, and it was fantastically interesting. Every once in a while I got tired, or I missed Carola, my wife, who didn’t come to all these shows with me, though she came to quite a few and provided me with some good lines.”

+ In 1978, I worked as a busboy at Blues Alley, DC’s most intimate jazz club. (Almost certainly the best job I ever had, despite from getting paid less than $5 an hour.) That spring, Dexter Gordon played a weeklong gig there. I got Dex drinks, towels, cigarettes and discreetly passed notes to various women. He was the coolest person I’ve ever met. No one even close. This week Elemental Music released a live recording from that era that captures Gordon as a recall him sounding on those glorious nights in Georgetown. It’s called Espace Cardin, 1977, and features his smoking Parisian band, Al Haig, Pierre Michelot and Kenny “Klook” Clark.

+ Sonny Rollins tweeted on Wednesday: “I often wonder, what would Monk say?”

+ RIP Roy Clark, a kick-ass musician lurked under the character he played on Hee Haw….

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Memphis Rent Party: the Blues, Rock and Soul in Music’s Hometown by Robert Gordon

The Ecocentrists: a History of Radical Environmentalism by Keith Makoto Woodhouse

No Exit: Arab Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre and Decolonisation by Yoav Di-Capua

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Wanderer by Cat Power

Working Class Woman by Marie Davidson

Broken Politics by Neneh Cherry

All Available Indignities

John Kenneth Galbraith: “Despite a flattering supposition to the contrary, people come readily to terms with power. There is little reason to think that the power of the great bankers, while they were assumed to have it, was much resented. But as the ghosts of numerous tyrants, from Julius Caesar to Benito Mussolini will testify, people are very hard on those who, having had power, lose it or are destroyed. Then anger at past arrogance is joined with contempt for the present weakness. The victim or his corpse is made to suffer all available indignities.”

Categories: News for progressives

Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:58

Photo Source Óglaigh na hÉireann | CC BY 2.0

The Irish just elected their President. But who cares? No one – least of all the Irish. History has ruthlessly disappeared the Irish nation state, so the idea of an Irish President is anachronistic. Consequently, in Ireland, the Irish Presidency now provokes more embarrassment and laughter than respect. Nonetheless, the Irish establishment reproduces itself without a second thought – as if time and gravity don’t matter. Like Irish banks, the Irish state is dead but continues to move. Why?

Europe today is not a game of thrones but a game of charades. Everything is pretense. Fictitious capital is the reason. And the result is fictitious politics The economic crash of 2008 changed everything. Or killed everything. The European Union to start with. Followed by the Europe’s nation states. History moved forward so forcefully in September 2008 that Europe, a decade later, is still trying to catch-up with reality. Until it does so, charades is all it has.

The new European reality is unreality. Its one of illegitimate power and unnecessary subservience. Its a fools game. The democratic, national and continental charades try to distract the eye from this naked truth. However the feeling of shame is inescapable. As is the feeling of entrapment. Voting nationalist or voting for a president or for exit may momentarily cover the abyss, but within seconds, reality bites: Europe is a tool in the hands of global capitalists. And no one has a clue what to do. No one knows how to get back to the real.

Europe is a fool. Who says? The masters of the universe: Wall Street. American financiers have explained in frank language the place of Europe within global capitalism. In the heyday of globalization, around the year 2000, an insider explained Wall Street’s view of the world:

“One of the first lessons I was taught on Wall Street was, “Know who the fool is.” That was the gist of it…. “Know who the fucking idiot with the money is and cram as much toxic shit down their throat as they can take. But be nice to them first”…… in ‘93, Japanese customers….were considered the fool……By the turn of the century many of those customers had collapsed, partly from the toxic waste we sold them, partly from all the other crazy things they were buying…..The launch of the common European currency, the euro, ushered in a period of European financial confidence, and we on Wall Street started to take advantage of another willing fool: European banks. More precisely northern European banks.”

[Chris Arnade, writing in The Atlantic, 2015]

Or consider this nugget of truth:

“You’d talk to a New York investment banker, and they’d say, ‘No one is going to buy this crap. Oh. Wait. The Landesbanks will!’” When Morgan Stanley designed extremely complicated credit-default swaps all but certain to fail so that their own proprietary traders could bet against them, the main buyers were German. When Goldman Sachs helped the New York hedge-fund manager John Paulson design a bond to bet against—a bond that Paulson hoped would fail—the buyer on the other side was a German bank called IKB. IKB, along with another famous fool at the Wall Street poker table called WestLB, is based in Düsseldorf—which is why, when you asked a smart Wall Street bond trader who was buying all this crap during the boom, he might well say, simply, “Stupid Germans in Düsseldorf.”

[Michael Lewis, writing in Vanity Fair, 2011]

And what did those “stupid Germans” do when they weren’t buying American crap? They were financing crap in places like Ireland. Thanks to the “stupid Germans” the “stupid Irish” were on a spectacular binge:

“The numbers [are] breathtaking. A single bank, Anglo Irish, which, two years before, the Irish government had claimed was merely suffering from a “liquidity problem,” faced losses of up to 34 billion euros. To get some sense of how “34 billion euros” sounds to Irish ears, an American thinking in dollars needs to multiply it by roughly one hundred: $3.4 trillion. And that was for a single bank.”

[Michael Lewis, writing in Vanity Fair, 2011]

When “September 2008” happened, Europe dissolved. European unity and European nations were abruptly discarded by the “governments of Europe”. All that mattered were bankrupt banks. As a result, “European civilization” crashed just as spectacularly as European capitalism. Europe devoured itself. Its credibility vanished overnight. And ten years later it is still nowhere in sight. Listen to an American financier who witnessed this new European barbarism up close:

“….the Europeans came into that meeting [G7 meeting, 2010] basically saying: “We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They are really terrible. They lied to us. They suck and….we’re going to crush them,”was their basic attitude, all of them….they were mad and angry and hey were like: “Definitely get out the bats.” They just wanted to take a bat to them.”

“…..the [Germans] were just paranoid that every act of generosity [sic] was met by sort of a “fuck you” from the establishment of the weaker countries in Europe…and so the Germans were just apoplectic….”

“The Europeans actually approach[ed] us [Americans] softly, indirectly before the thing saying: “We basically want you to join us in forcing Berlusconi [the democratically elected Italian leader] out.” They wanted us to basically say that we wouldn’t support IMF money…. for Italy….if Berlusconi was prime minister. It was cool, interesting. I said no…”

[the words of Timothy Geithner, Obama’s Secretary of the Treasury, as reported in the Financial Times, 2014]

And what was the official American opinion of Ireland, during all this?

“Ireland, most people view in retrospect, was stupid to guarantee all their banks. They couldn’t afford it. They were eight times the size of their economy…”

[words of Timothy Geithner, Financial Times, 2014]

In the above words you can feel the death of the European Union (EU) and the death of nation states like Ireland and Greece. The logic of capital wouldn’t have it any other way. It created a cruel disunity that now can’t be reversed. The crass stupidity, the “baseball bats” and the “coups” have all been exposed and normalized. Capital needs it to be so, because the debts amassed – not just during the boom but also after it – are both enormous and odious. And need to be serviced.

Capital, therefore, has turned the EU into a giant debt collector – one that has no interest in civilization. And no interest in nation states (capitalist states or cages are ok!). Finance is everything. The creation and collection of debts is now the EU’s only reason for being – which means it now has no reason for being.

Europe today is determined not by the “stupid Germans in Düsseldorf” but by the stupid Germans in Frankfurt – the home of the European Central Bank (ECB). Following the lead of Wall Street once again (you’d think “once bitten twice shy” – but the President of the ECB is, after all, a Goldman Sachs guy) the Frankfurt Fools have been relying on Quantitative Easing (QE) to keep the whole bankrupt show on the road – since 2008. This is how Nomi Prins, a prominent financial critic, describes QE:

“a conjuring trick” in which “a central bank manufactures electronic money, then injects it into private banks and financial markets…. under the guise of QE, central bankers have massively overstepped their traditional mandates, directing the flow of epic sums of fabricated money, without any checks or balances, towards the private banking sector….[its] a massive deceit and a huge factor in driving inequality – a dedicated effort by institutions with the ability to create money, deciding that it doesn’t go to ordinary people”.

[Nomi Prins, interviewed by Unherd, June 2018]

Europe has accentuated this gigantic fraud, and this inequality, by promoting austerity at the same time as QE. Across Europe a class conscious – rather than a European conscious – establishment has inflated itself, while deflating the half-conscious workers.

The extremely unbalanced nature of this class structure will collapse the system once more. The re-inflated banks can do nothing more than re-inflate the debts. While the governments absorb past debts. And the workers? They’re expected to carry all this financial engineering, even though their backs are breaking – due to stagnating and falling wages.

The EU is one of lynchpins (along with the USA and Japan) of this moribund political economy. Indeed, it’s the weakest link in this chain of debt that QE expands. And when the this financial fiction can no longer be believed – game over! The political fiction won’t be able to hide the facts anymore. The presidents, political parties, pundits and “nation states” that have camouflaged “the conjuring trick” during the last decade will be ripped apart by the plebs, people, proletariat, or whatever you want to call these agents of change. It has already started.

QE is ending. And populism (the good and bad) is on the rise. The new debts, which covered over the old bad debts, are ready to be called in.

“QE and low rates….have caused a debt explosion….public and private debt combined amount to a staggering 225% of global GDP – much of it accumulated since the financial crisis.”

[Nomi Prins, in]

According to the German sociologist, Wolfgang Streeck, global capitalism has been “buying time” for the last four or five decades. It looks like there’s no time left to be bought. There’s no more financial tricks in the bag. September 2008 exposed everything. And the pretense and charades, that have passed for politics and economics since 2008, are today transparently absurd. The smell of systemic death in the first world – never mind the third world – is undeniable.

In places, or farces, like the Irish nation state and Europe, the dead institutions and the fools who say otherwise, are ready to fall. It won’t be pretty but it will be liberating.

Categories: News for progressives

“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:58

Photo Source James N. Mattis | CC BY 2.0

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, wouldn’t seem to need the money. Nonetheless, huge sums of money will be diverted from social needs to line his pockets — a cost that won’t stop there, as gentrification will be accelerated still more in New York City and the Washington area.

In all, Mr. Bezos scooped up nearly US$3.7 billion worth of subsidies this week. Does someone worth $112 billion and owner of a company that has racked up $7 billion in profits for the first nine months of 2018 really need such largesse? Corporate subsides are hardly unique to Amazon, but this to all appearances represents the most blatant example yet seen.

Incredibly, these astronomical sums of money don’t represent the biggest giveaway offers, even in the “winning” areas’ metropolitan areas. The state of New Jersey, then under the governorship of Chris Christie, offered $7 billion to Amazon to build its second headquarters in Newark, and the state of Maryland offered $8.5 billion to Amazon to build in Montgomery County, which borders Washington on the opposite side of the Potomac River from Arlington, Virginia.

Many other locations across the United States offered gigantic subsidies, as Amazon did all it could to initiate a bidding war. But as the two locations chosen (splitting in two the original proposal to create a single “second headquarters”) were picked because of the available workforces and city amenities, were these gargantuan subsidies necessary? It would seem not, making them all the more hideous. One strong clue is that Google is rapidly expanding its presence in New York City without, as far as the public knows, any subsidies.

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, justifies Amazon’s subsidies by claiming that “It costs us nothing,” going so far as to assert that the city and state will get back nine dollars every dollar given away in subsidies. This sounds dubious, to be put it mildly, given that once all the state and city incentives are added up, the cost will be approximately $100,000 per job — a total amounting to all the state and city income taxes that will be paid by all the Amazon employees for the 10-year period of the subsidies, according to an analysis by Josh Barro, a former fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute.

Writing in New York magazine, Mr. Barro wrote:

“The problem with [Governor Cuomo’s] analysis is it assumes all the economic activity we’re buying with the subsidy package wouldn’t happen without the subsidy package. And that’s not true. Google’s impending expansion in Manhattan — where it will develop a campus nearly as large as the one Amazon plans — shows a mega-tech firm might locate here even if you don’t give it billions of dollars.

Plus, when we do bring Amazon in, it will tend to crowd out other businesses and especially other people that might have located where Amazon is going. New York is crowded — there’s more demand for housing than supply, and the number of top development sites is limited — so the case that subsidized economic development means more net economic activity is much weaker here than it might be in, say, Cleveland.”

A dictated outcome that will facilitate gentrification

A city councilman, Brad Lander, was still more direct in his criticism. At a demonstration the day after Amazon’s announcement, Councilman Lander said, “This is not only an assault on Long Island City [the neighborhood where Amazon will build]. It’s not only an assault on housing affordability. It’s not only an assault on transit capacity. This is an assault on our democracy.” The reason behind that last statement is that the plan to throw $3 billion at the world’s richest man was hatched and negotiated in secret, and will be forced through via a state agency so that local officials will have no say whatsoever.

The exception to that is Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is kicking in $900 million in city tax credits plus allowing Amazon to apply for a program that would enable it receive property tax abatements for up to 25 years. Mayor de Blasio, the Barack Obama of New York City who is far from a progressive although he plays one on television, continues to do his his part to facilitate gentrification as he continues the legacy of his billionaire neoliberal predecessor, financial-industry titan Michael Bloomberg.

The waterfront area where Amazon’s new campus will be built is not virgin land. It is an area of warehouses and other businesses with blue-collar jobs but is located adjacent to a waterfront area that was once industrial but is now full of high-rise luxury housing, most of which has been built in the past decade. Although it is true that manufacturing has long been in decline in waterfront neighborhoods such as Long Island City, it is also inescapable that city policy under snarling Rudy Giuliani, technocrat Michael Bloomberg and duplicitous Bill de Blasio has centered on accelerating gentrification by using zoning changes and developer incentives to force out industrial operations and replace them with million-dollar high-rise condos. Long Island City, and the nearby neighborhoods of Astoria, Greenpoint and Williamsburg (particularly the latter two), are rapidly changing under the tremendous pressures of uncontrolled real estate speculation.

Jobs at the existing businesses will be lost in the redevelopment to benefit Amazon, and still more pressure will be placed on the already dwindling stock of affordable housing, adding to the pressure from the mushrooming upscale housing. There will also be more strain on an infrastructure (including a decaying, underfunded subway system) already unable to handle the number of people living and working in these areas. Gentrification doesn’t just happen — it is a process assisted by a local government under the sway of local corporate elites, and is centered on dramatic increases in commercial and residential rents such that the people and culture who are being removed find it increasingly difficult to remain.

To provide a working definition, gentrification is a process whereby an organic culture originating in the imagination, sweat and intellectual ferment of a people living in a particular time and place who are symbolically or actually distinct from a dominant moneyed mono-culture is steadily removed and replaced by corporate money and power, which impose a colorless chain-store conformity. Make no mistake, Amazon’s arrival will not only accelerate gentrification in Long Island City and the nearby waterfront neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but kickstart gentrification in Queens neighborhoods further from the East River. This will displace not only people but local businesses as New York City becomes ever more a homogenized corporate shopping mall.

Alexandria, Virginia, will surely not escape this fate, either, as the Washington area undergoes it owns process of gentrification. The state government of Virginia and the city of Alexandria are handing out $573 million in subsidies, equivalent to $22,000 per job. That doesn’t include another $223 million in promised transit improvements. Amazon will also be receiving $102 million in subsidies for a new operations center that is projected to employ 5,000 people in Nashville, Tennessee.

The biggest but far from the first Amazon subsidies

Subsidies, unfortunately, are nothing new for Amazon, although never before has it received giveaways of this scale. According to Good Jobs First, Amazon had already received $1.6 billion in subsidies for its warehouses, data centers, film productions and its WholeFoods supermarkets from 146 separate programs. Just in 2018 alone, a total of 17 subsidies from governments in 13 states gave the company at least $237 million.

Amazon’s profits are rapidly rising — not to mention making Mr. Bezos the richest person in the world. The company reported net income of $5.4 billion for 2016 and 2017 before racking up $7 billion in the first three quarters of 2018. As an owner of 80 million shares in Amazon, Mr. Bezos is in no danger of losing his fortune. The harshness of working conditions at Amazon, well documented in numerous reports, means that he gets rich off the sweat of his workers, not only through the massive subsidies showed upon him.

Although it is skilled at the art of taking public money for its private profit, Amazon is far from unique, One good example is Wal-Mart, which greedily gobbles up subsidies while racking up gigantic profits. Wal-Mart is a company that pays it employees so little that they skip meals and organize food drives; receives so many government subsidies that the public pays about $1 million per store in the United States; and is estimated to avoid $1 billion per year in U.S. taxes through its use of tax loopholes.

Wal-Mart is a company that has reported net income of $70 billion over the previous five years, and in which three heirs of founder Sam Walton are each among the world’s sixteen richest people, worth a combined $139 billion. The Walton family owns about half of Wal-Mart’s stock, and last year “earned” from collecting dividends alone about $3 billion just for being born. They need not ever lift a finger to haul in these fantastic sums. The Donald Trump/Republican Party tax scam of 2018 that provided windfalls for U.S. corporations has showered still more money on Wal-Mart, which like most of its corporate peers, used the largesse to fatten profits and shower more money on its stockholders. Wal-Mart announced that in its last fiscal year it handed out $14.4 billion to shareholders in dividends and stock repurchases.

None of these appalling results are unique to Wal-Mart or to Amazon. The University of California Berkeley Labor Center calculates that low wages costs United States taxpayers $153 billion per year in public support for working families. Nearly three-quarters of United Statesians receiving public support are members of working families, the Labor Center reports, adding that more than half of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families.

So much has been written about inequality, stagnant or falling wages, corporate tax dodging and good old-fashioned capitalist class war what new can be said? Capitalism, alas, is working as it is supposed to.

Categories: News for progressives

Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:57

Photo Source Backbone Campaign | CC BY 2.0

On November 7, Andrew Cuomo was re-elected as New York’s Governor. One week later, the people of Long Island City, Queens learned that they had been sold into civic vassalage to the world’s richest man.  There’s no word yet on whether Jeff Bezos will have the first right of visitation to the gubernatorial bedchamber on Cuomo’s inauguration night, but the ritual of servitude is otherwise complete.

The timing isn’t accidental. The people of New York, especially those in Queens who will be most affected, know that this is a lousy deal for them. Cuomo could not have run for re-election as a Resistance Progressive™️if voters had known about this deal before they voted.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has effectively crushed his own attempts to be seen as a national leader of the left.

“Disrupting” Serfdom

Welcome to Feudalism 2.0. This is how it works.

Amazon, even more than other Big Tech corporations, is a creature of government. It relies on the government-developed internet. It used sales tax loopholes to become a behemoth. And it has extracted concessions from state and local governments every step of the way.

Do this mega-corporation and its owner, the richest man on the planet, ever feel gratitude for the people who made them so successful?

On the contrary. Amazon just killed a Seattle tax that would have taken a tiny bite from its wealth in order to help that city’s homeless. New Yorkers can now look forward to similarly undemocratic and ungenerous treatment.

Billions for Bezos

According to most press reports, New York offered Amazon $1.525 billion in concessions, as well as a capital grant that could reach $500 million, in return for the promised creation of 25,000 jobs.

The New York Times reports that Amazon also agreed to spend “$5 million on training and internship programs and to participate in ‘job fairs and resume workshops’ at the nearby Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the country.”

$5 million is a pittance. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, it’s “flinging a coin to a beggar.” But then, Amazon isn’t exactly woke. It let Virginia use eminent domain on its behalf to displace black families that had lived in their rural town for generations. Why? So it could build the towers that feed energy to Amazon’s fuel-guzzling data centers. (More here.)

As it turns out, the initial figures for the Amazon giveaway appear to be seriously understated. The watchdog group Good Jobs First read the fine print and found that both the New York deal, and a corresponding agreement in Virginia, give much more to Amazon than was announced. In New York, for example, Good Jobs First found that the agreement was worth a minimum of $112,000 per job.

That comes to $2.8 billion.

The People’s Needs

What could the working people of New York have gotten for $2.8 billion, if it hadn’t gone to Bezos and Company?

+ Restoration of the $2.7 billion in federal funding cutsto the New York City Housing Authority since 2001, or a small start in addressing the housing authority’s 170,000 unmet work orders and $32 billionin needed investment.

+ Nearly 42,000 teacher years’ worth of instruction for their children, based on the average New York City teacher’s salary.

+ One year’s worth of housing for more than 87,000 households in Queens, based on the average rentfor a two-bedroom apartment there.

+ Medicaid coverage for nearly 360,000 people, based on average costs per person per yearin New York State.

+ A year’s worth of work for nearly 45,000 people, at $30 per hour, doing whatever the people of Queens, New York City, or New York State need done.

The deal’s backers will say that these agreements aren’t expenditures; they’re investments. They’ll say that this money will stimulate economic growth, that these Amazon employees will stay in Queens for decades to come, and their presence will help make the economy better for everyone.

Not so.

A Bad Investment

As investments, these deals have already proven to be spectacular failures. As Jordan Weissmann shows, Cuomo has been dropping these incentives all over upstate New York, and unemployment there lags well behind the rest of the state and most of the country. Weissmann cites the Investigative Post’s report on Cuomo’s corporate giveaways, which concluded, ”If it were a state, upstate’s job growth would rank fourth-worst in the nation, below, among others, Mississippi.”

That’s a pretty conclusive failure — but only if Cuomo’s stated goal of boosting the upstate economy was his true objective. If, on the other hand, the real goal was to ingratiate himself with business — say, in advance of a costly run for the presidency — it might have been a very successful venture indeed.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — who might well have been paired with Cuomo in a comedy team, had the two lived during vaudeville’s golden era — pursued a similar strategy in New Jersey, with similarly poor results for the working people of his state. The corporations he dealt with often skipped out on their job creation promises, with little more than a mild reduction in tax breaks as “punishment” for their double-dealing.

Dance, Peasants, Dance

It’s unlikely that Cuomo will even do that much when, as is almost certain, Amazon breaks its promises to the people of New York. After all, this entire arrangement began with a broken promise — that Amazon was going to bestow some lucky city with “HQ2,” a magical, chimerical, wealth-bestowing, $5 billion entity that would bring at least 50,000 jobs and detonate what some called a “prosperity bomb” in its new home. Instead, its dividing those jobs among three cities (Nashville is the third.)

What a sad, end-times spectacle that was. Dallas promised a campus surrounding a bullet-train station. Newark (with Christie’s help) promised $7 billion in tax breaks. Philadelphia promised 28 million square feet in office space, spread over three sites. Others groveled even more. Gaze upon their mournful desperation:

+ De Blasio reportedly illuminated New York City’s landmarks, including the Empire State Building, in Amazon’s corporate color. (It’s orange, in case you’re wondering.)

+ The mayor of Kansas City wrote more than 1,000 Amazon reviews that fawned over the company and said things like, “I live in beautiful Kansas City where the average home price is just $122K, so I know luxe living doesn’t have to cost a ton.“

+ Birmingham, Alabama set up giant Amazon “dash buttons” all over town. (I don’t know what those are either, but they sent automatic tweets, described as “flirty,” to the corporation.) Stonecrest, GA promised to rename itself “Amazon, GA.”

+ Tucson sent a 21-foot tall saguaro cactus to Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, which Amazon refused to accept.

+ Sad, especially since there never was going to be an “HQ2.” It was all a ploy to extract more concessions from the sites it had, in all likelihood, already selected. When a relationship begins with a lie — personal, political, or business — it’s not going to mature into truth.

A Demonstration of Servility

This money means a lot to the people of New York. To Jeff Bezos, it’s a different matter. Bezos’ personal net worth went up by an estimated $35.1 billion last year. That’s a little more than $96 million per day in income. If he’s still making money at the same rate, that means:

+ It takes Jeff less than a month to make $2.8 billion.

+ It takes Jeff just a little over five days to make $500 million.

+ Assuming an 8-hour work day, it takes Jeff about 20 minutes to earn $5 million, the price of that training program.

And yet, the people of New York just gave Bezos and his friends a $2.8 billion gift — a figure that amounts to less than 10 percent of Jeff’s annual income.

If it’s not a lot of money to Bezos and Amazon, why did they demand it? Well, yeah, they’re greedy. That’s how they got where they are. But there’s another point to this entire exercise in civic humiliation: subservience. Cities and states need to grovel, to show that they’ll take whatever the lords dish out. That way, when Amazon breaks the deal — as it surely will — and when itviolates labor laws or environmental regulations, it can be certain that its new home government will shut up and remain servile about that, too.

Not One Cent for Tribute

So, the deal is done. The people of Long Island City, Queens will find themselves priced out of their homes, their neighborhoods, and their city. The conversion of New York City into a theme park for the idle elite, its evisceration as a living community, will be that much closer to completion.

Their newly-elected member of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said, ”Displacement is not community development. Investing in luxury condos is not the same thing as investing in people and families.”

She’s right to fight back. Two other politicians, Cuomo and de Blasio, chose to serve the oligarchical class instead. They will not be thanked for it — not by the people they were elected to represent, and not by the billionaire who probably forgot they existed as soon as they left his field of vision.

To be sure, Bezos may remember them again someday — the next time he wants to demand something from the overseers of the corporate latifundia he and his ilk have made of our nation’s cities and states.

The people of New York deserve better. They should demand that this money be spent on the working and poor people of New York, not offered as tribute to the jaded aristocracy of a broken, techno-feudal economy.

Categories: News for progressives

In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:57

Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is escalating his war on the Palestinian people, although for reasons almost entirely related to Israeli politics. He has just given the greenlight to a legislation that would make it easier for Israeli courts to issue death sentences against Palestinians accused of carrying out ‘terrorist’ acts.

Netanyahu’s decision was made on November 4, but the wrangling over the issue has been taking place for some time.

The ‘Death Penalty’ bill has been the rally cry for the Israel Beiteinu party, led by ultra-nationalist Israeli politician and current Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, during its 2015 election campaign.

But when Lieberman attempted to push the bill in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) soon after the forming of the current coalition government in July 2015, the draft was resoundingly defeated by 94 to 6 with Netanyahu himself opposing it.

It has been defeated several times since then. However, the political mood in Israel has shifted in ways that has obliged Netanyahu into conceding to the demands of the even more hawkish politicians within his own government.

As Netanyahu’s coalition grew bolder and more unhinged, the Israeli Prime Minister joined the chorus. It is time “to wipe the smile off the terrorist’s face,” he said in July 2017, while visiting the illegal Jewish settlement of Halamish, following the killing of three settlers. At the time, he called for the death penalty in “severe cases.”

Ultimately, Netanyahu’s position on the issue evolved to become a carbon copy of that of Lieberman. The latter had made the ‘death penalty’ one of his main conditions to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

Last January, the Israel Beiteinu’s proposed bill passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset. Months later, on November 4, the first reading of the bill was approved by Israeli legislators, with the support of Netanyahu himself.

Lieberman prevailed.

This reality reflects the competing currents in Israeli politics, where the long-reigning Israeli Prime Minister is increasingly embattled, by accusations from within his coalition and outside of being too weak in his handling of the Gaza Resistance.

Coupled with the tightening ring of police investigation pertaining to corruption by Netanyahu, his family and closest aides, the Israeli leader is pounding on Palestinians with every possible opportunity to display his prowess.

Even the likes of former Labor Party leader, Ehud Barak, is attempting to resurrect his failed career as a politician by comparing his past violence against Palestinians with the supposedly weaker Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is “weak”, “afraid” and is unable to take decisive steps to rein in Gaza, “therefore he should go home,” Barak recently said during an interview with Israeli TV Channel 10.

Comparing his supposed heroism with Netanyahu’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian Resistance, Barack bragged about killing “more than 300 Hamas members (in) three and a half minutes,” when he was the country’s Defense Minister.

Barack’s sinister statement was made with reference to the killing of hundreds of Gazans, including women, children and newly graduated police cadets in Gaza on December 27, 2008. That was the start of a war that killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians and set the stage for more, equally lethal, wars that followed.

When such ominous comments are made by a person considered in Israel’s political lexicon as a ‘dove’, one can only imagine the vengeful political discourse championed by Netanyahu and his extremist coalition.

In Israel, wars – as well as racist laws that target Palestinians – are often the outcome of Israeli politicking. Unchallenged by a strong party and unfazed by United Nations criticism, Israeli leaders continue to flex their muscles, appeal to their radicalized constituency and define their political turfs at the expense of Palestinians.

The Death Penalty bill is no exception.

The bill, once enshrined in Israeli law, will expectedly be applied to Palestinians only, because in Israel the term ‘terrorism’ almost always applies to Palestinian Arabs, and hardly, if ever, to Israeli Jews.

Aida Touma-Suleiman, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and one of a few embattled Arab members of the Knesset, like most Palestinians, understands the intentions of the bill.

The law is “intended mainly for the Palestinian people,” she told reporters last January. “It’s not going to be implemented against Jews who commit terrorist attacks against Palestinians, for sure,” as the bill is drafted and championed by the country’s “extreme right.”

Moreover, the Death Penalty bill must be understood in the larger context of the growing racism and chauvinism in Israel, and the undermining of whatever feeble claim to democracy that Israel possessed, until recently.

On July 19 of this year, the Israeli government approved the Jewish ‘Nation-state Law’ which designates Israel as the ‘nation state of the Jewish people’, while openly denigrating the Palestinian Arab citizens of the state, their culture, language and identity.

As many have feared, Israel’s racist self-definition is now inspiring a host of new laws that would further target and marginalize the country’s native Palestinian inhabitants.

The Death Penalty law would be the icing on the cake in this horrific and unchallenged Israeli agenda that transcends party lines and unites most of the country’s Jewish citizens and politicians in an ongoing hate-fest.

Of course, Israel has already executed hundreds of Palestinians in what is known as “targeted assassinations” and “neutralization”, while killing many more in cold blood.

So, in a sense, the Israeli Bill, once it becomes law, will change little in terms of the bloody dynamics that governs Israel’s behavior.

However, executing Palestinians for resisting Israel’s violent Occupation will further highlight the growing extremism in Israeli society, and the increasing vulnerability of Palestinians.

Just like the ‘Nation-state Law’, the Death Penalty bill targeting Palestinians exposes Israel’s racist nature and complete disregard for international law, a painful reality that should be urgently and openly challenged by the international community.

Those who have allowed themselves to ‘stay on the fence’ as Israel brutalizes Palestinians, should immediately break their silence.

No government, not even Israel, should be allowed to embrace racism and violate human rights so brazenly and without a minimum degree of accountability.

Categories: News for progressives

Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:57

On November 14, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives blocked a resolution that its supporters say would end U.S. participation in the war and famine in Yemen. It is unclear, however, what effect this resolution would have on the ground even if it were passed into law. It imposes no limits on arms sales to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. It does not propose any oversight or limitation of activities CIA or of private contractors from the U.S. in Yemen. The resolution is based on a time table that does not reflect the dire urgency to end the war in Yemen, where almost two months ago the United Nations’ humanitarian chief warned “We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country.” Further, the resolution provides exemptions for continued hostilities conducted directly by U.S. with drones and Special Forces.

Limited as it is to removing “U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities,” one might even agree with Republican leadership that with the mutual decision that the U.S. stop refueling Saudi war planes, the resolution is moot, even as the war and famine continue. If the resolution were allowed to pass, there would be a 30-day window between the date when the bill might be signed into law and when it would take effect, in which time millions of Yemenis might succumb to famine.

House of Representatives Concurrent Resolution 138, introduced in the House, “Directs the President to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in Yemen, except for Armed Forces engaged in operations authorized under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, within 30 days unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use has been enacted into law.” Senate Joint Resolution 54 is even more explicit and generous in its exception allowing U.S. aggression to continue in Yemen: “This joint resolution directs the President to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen, except those engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda, within 30 days unless: (1) the President requests and Congress authorizes a later date, or (2) a declaration of war or specific authorization for the use of the Armed Forces has been enacted.”

An AP report produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis, “The hidden toll of American drones in Yemen: Civilian deaths,” was released on November 14. “The AP account gives a glimpse, even if incomplete, into how often civilians are mistakenly hit by drone strikes, at a time when the Trump administration has dramatically ramped up the use of armed drones. It has carried out 176 strikes during its nearly two years in office, compared to the 154 strikes during the entire eight years of the Obama administration, according to a count by the AP and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The AP based its count on interviews with witnesses, families, tribal leaders and activists. Most of those killed, 24, were civilians; at least 6 others were fighters in pro-government forces — meaning ostensibly on the same side as the U.S. — who were hit in strikes away from the front lines while engaged in civilian life.”

Exceptions for “those engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda,” or in the House version, “Armed Forces engaged in operations authorized under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force,” ensure that U.S. drones strikes in Yemen will continue. The resolution before Congress will also permit U.S. Special Forces attacks on Yemen to continue unchecked, such as the raid on Yakla in January, 2017, in the first days of the Trump administration that killed 25 civilians, including nine children under the age of 13 and one U.S. Navy Seal.

In the current political reality, there is no room in Congress to resist U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen without at the same time endorsing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, a blank check that has allowed for the destruction of whole nations and a manifold increase in the threat of terrorism. The Authorization was a disgraceful obfuscation by Congress when it was passed in 2001 and it has no place in a plea for peace in Yemen in 2018. So long as the 2001 Authorization provides an exception and the profitability of arms trafficking in the region goes unchallenged, there is no congressional resolution for peace in Yemen.

The leaflet prepared by Voices for Creative Nonviolence and distributed at the United Nations, the U.S. Mission to the U.N. and the Saudi Consulate in New York on November 6, 7 and 8, reads: “We call on all parties in this conflict to immediately and permanently end all military and economic assault on Yemen. We urgently demand that the U.S permanently withdraw from warfare half a world away in Yemen, starting now. The U.S. request for a ceasefire to begin in 30 days, in which time many thousands will die, has been met by the Saudis with a surge of violence directed at (the port of) Hodeidah.”

It is especially shameful that a resolution as weak as H.Con.Res.138 is having trouble even being brought to the floor for discussion. Getting this resolution passed may be a step along the way, but it cannot be the goal. Support for this legislation needs to be accompanied by a somber recognition of its limitations and with the uncompromising and urgent demand that the U.S. end the war in Yemen now.

Categories: News for progressives

Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site

Fri, 2018-11-16 15:55

Photo Source NASA MODIS (TERRA Satellite) | CC BY 2.0

“A common denominator, in every single nuclear accident … is that before the specialists even know what has happened, they rush to the media saying, ‘There’s no danger to the public.’ They do this before they themselves know what has happened…”

— Jacque Cousteau

The Woolsey fire in California began Nov. 8 near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), site of a partial reactor meltdown, the consequences of which have never been cleaned up. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control released a statement early Nov. 9 saying its scientists “don’t believe that the fire has caused any releases of hazardous materials that would pose a risk to people exposed to the smoke.”

The fire’s progress through to Oak Park indicates that much of the toxic site burned, according to the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility which has investigated SSFL radiation risks for 30 years.

Use of the phrase “don’t believe” [the fire caused risk] by the Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) had to stand in for a clear denial of radiation risk because none of the site’s air monitors had yet been seen by the department. The following words of DTSC’s Nov. 9 announcement were: “There is an air monitoring network around the perimeter of the SSFL site. As soon as access is open we will evaluate the air monitoring stations.” The department seemed to be reading from a script identified by the oceanographer Jacque Cousteau who said, “…before specialists even know what has happened, they rush to the media saying, ‘There’s no danger to the public.’”

The dodgy DTSC language caused outrage and alarm among watchdog groups concerned with cleanup of the SSFL site. University of California-Los Angeles climate scientist and distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Glen MacDonald, told Democracy Now, Nov. 13: “I would want to see … some monitoring of what was kicked up.”

“We can’t trust anything that DTSC says,” said West Hills resident Melissa Bumstead, whose young daughter twice survived leukemia that Bumstead blames on the SSFL and who has mapped 50 other cases of rare pediatric cancers near the site. Bumstead organized a group called “Parents vs. SSFL” and launched a petition, now signed by over 410,000 people, demanding full cleanup of SSFL. “DTSC repeatedly minimizes risk from Santa Susana and has broken every promise it ever made about the cleanup. The public has no confidence in this troubled agency,” said Bumstead.

Bumstead told Nukewatch Nov. 13, that DTSC has a history of promoting the financial advantage of the polluters — Boeing, NASA and the Energy Department — rather than the protection of public health.”

The Physicians for Social Responsibility press advisory notes that nuclear reactor accidents, including a famous partial meltdown, tens of thousands of rocket engine tests, and sloppy environmental practices have left SSFL polluted with widespread radioactive and chemical contamination. Government-funded studies indicate increased cancers for offsite populations associated with proximity to the site. In 2010, DTSC signed agreements with the Department of Energy and NASA that committed them to clean up all detectable contamination in their operational areas by 2017. DTSC also in 2010 committed to require Boeing, which owns most of the site, to cleanup to comparable standards. But the cleanup has not yet begun, and DTSC is currently considering proposals that will leave much, if not all, of SSFL’s contamination on site permanently.

Dr. Robert Dodge, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, shares the community’s concerns. “We know what substances are on the site and how hazardous they are. We’re talking about incredibly dangerous radionuclides and toxic chemicals … These toxic materials are in SSFL’s soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents.”

The SSFL, 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, was burned over by the Wolsey fire which by Nov. 13 had consumed 96,000 acres or about 150 square miles.

The July 12, 1959 partial meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) was especially dangerous, because, as an experimental reactor, it was built without a “containment structure” — the large concrete and steel dome the covers most nuclear reactors. The SRE loss of control was “the third largest release of iodine-131 in the history of nuclear power,” according to Arjun Makhajani, President of the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research.

Like today’s uncontrolled dispersal of contaminants by the Wolsey wildfire, the amount of radioactive materials dispersed by the 1959 accident was never thoroughly measured. The lab’s radiation “monitors went clear off the scale,” according to an employee of Rocketdyne which operated the site. That meltdown was kept secret for 20 years until 1979.

Categories: News for progressives



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