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The Washington Post’s “Cartel of the Suns” Theory is the Latest Desperate Excuse for Why the Coup Attempt in Venezuela has Failed

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:57

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

With the attempted coup in Venezuela now nearing its four-month mark, commentators in the corporate-owned Western press are scratching their heads as to why Washington’s plan for its proxy, Juan Guaido, to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro has so far failed to materialize. Of course, all of the real reasons elude them because they have never so much as crossed their minds. It is beyond their mental world to consider the lasting popularity of the late Hugo Chavez’s policies and lasting suspicion toward the right-wing opposition amongst large swathes of the population – or the deep revulsion at the thought of US (and especially US military) intervention into their country held by the vast majority of Venezuelans (and, indeed, Latin Americans generally). Rather, both the coup attempt’s puppeteers in Washington and their ventriloquist dummies in the mainstream media have been coming up with ever-more desperate excuses for why Guaido’s attempt to take power has not been a swift and decisive success. The so-called “propping up” of the Maduro “regime” by the traditional the US boogeymen of Russia, China and Cuba seems to have been the most frequently touted explanation. This has manifested itself in increasingly bizarre ways, such as the recent claim by Mike Pompeo that Maduro was at the point of fleeing the country before being convinced otherwise by Russia.

Now, the Washington Post’s notorious warhawk and deranged conspiracy peddler Jackson Diehl has come up with the latest labored rationalization for the failure of the coup attempt: the so-called “Cartel of the Suns.” According to Diehl, this shadowy organization is made up of “some of the most senior officials in the Maduro regime.” He claims that it “flies hundreds of tons of Colombian cocaine from Venezuelan airfields to Central America and the Caribbean for eventual distribution in the United States and Europe.” He furthermore claims that the Maduro government’s crimes also include skimming accounts used for importing food and medicine and “corrupt currency trading.” Describing the Maduro government as “less a government — much less a socialist one — than a criminal gang,” he claims that “the money it is reaping from criminal activity is serving as a prop that allows it to survive U.S. sanctions.” The only sources he provides to support these assertions are: an Associated Press article from September 2018 that reported on an unproven allegation made by a minor US Treasury Department figure, a January 2019 Wall Street Journal article that reports on another unproven allegation made by the US Treasury Department, and a link to one of his own Washington Postarticles published in 2015. Leaving aside the self-citation, allegations made by the Treasury Department can hardly be considered credible evidence. It is, after all, a branch of the US government, which has been attempting to destabilize Chavista administrations since their earliest days in office. The Trump administration that it currently answers to, meanwhile, has been the major driving force behind the attempted coup and makes no secret of basing the effort on the advancement of US corporate economic interests.

Larissa Costas has gone so far as to posit that the very idea of such la government-operated cartel might be a whole-cloth fabrication. She stated in February 2017 article:

Although information abounds in the mediums of communication, the “Cartel of the Suns” has not been caught with a single gram of drugs, nor has there been any insignia of the organization identified in any seizure, nor has a single death been attributed to it. There are just two explanations: either it is the most inoffensive of cartels or it simply does not exist. [translated from the original in Spanish]

This latter possibility seems to be confirmed by the consistent failure of repeated Washington-led investigations into members of the Maduro government to result in actual convictions or even clear conclusions. For instance, in January 2015 the US Justice Department (DoJ) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched a joint probe into then-President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello and other senior figures of the Venezuelan government. News reports soon followed repeating the allegations, including the claim that Cabello is the “capo” of the “Cartel of the Suns.” (Note here the loaded use of mafia-tinged language that’s seemingly borrowed straight from The Godfather movies.) But now, over four years since the launch of this probe, the DEA and DoJ have yet to even charge, let alone convict, any of the people implicated in it. Yet still the mainstream media reports repeat the allegations as if they were beyond question. In May 2018, for example, InSight Crime published an article titled “Drug Trafficking Within the Venezuelan Regime: The ‘Cartel of the Suns’,” in which the publication claims to have built “files on senior [Venezuelan] officials, current or past, that have been involved in the trafficking of cocaine.” But rather than providing the reader with this purported mountain of evidence that they have amassed, the authors instead cite an anonymous Justice Department official as their source.Just as with the US Treasury Department, the Justice Department can hardly be trusted when successive administrations in Washington have been consistently trying to undermine Chavista governments ever since Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998. From CIA and Bush administration involvement in the 2002 coup attempt and also in the 2002-2003 PDVSA management lock-out through to the present coup attempt and oil sanctions, Washington has gone from covert to brazenly overt regime change methods.

But things go deeper than this. It seems that these dubious accusations of drug trafficking, in fact, form a significant part of the regime change effort itself. For one thing, they are used as justification for sanctions that Washington enacts in order to weaken the regime by sending thinly veiled signals to international capital to avoid Venezuela. Second of all, these sanctions and allegations are in turn used as a form of leverage to weaken the regime and encourage defection to the US’s and US-backed opposition’s side. There is no better case to illustrate this reality than that of the retired Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal. In July 2014, as Carvajal was being released from custody in Aruba, Reuters reported that he categorically denied US charges of involvement in the illegal drug trade and provision of aid to Colombian leftist armed groups. But in February 2019, with the coup attempt about a month in, Carvajal did an about-face and accused Maduro and his inner circle of involvement in drug trafficking. This was right after Trump made an open threat that military officials who remain loyal to Maduro have “everything to lose” while Guaido simultaneously offered amnesty to those willing to defect to his side. It seems that Carvajal was responding to this “carrot and stick” threat/incentive combination that the US had, in his case successfully, employed as part of its regime change arsenal. The questionable validity of his claims is demonstrated by his repetition of Washington’s oft-repeated mantra that Maduro officials are courting the Lebanese “militant” group Hezbollah. These claims have been decisively debunked by Richard Vaz, who points out that mainstream media outlets such as CNN that report these allegation again use solely the Treasury Department as their source, or worse still figures such as Marco Rubio. Vaz also points to the absurdity of holding up Tarek el Aissami as the facilitator of some kind of cross-Atlantic Iranian-led Shi’ite alliance when el Aissami himself is not even Muslim, but rather the son of Lebanese Druze immigrants who was born and has spent all his life in Venezuela.

In any normal situation this is all that would have to be said to dismiss Diehl’s claims. But Latin America is no normal place and US relations with the region constitute no normal situation. In addition to the scarcity of evidence for the claims he makes, there is an additional question of double standards that lies beneath the surface. Diehl undoubtedly wishes to imply that the Maduro government’s alleged involvement in criminal activity justifies the interventionist actions from Washington and its proxies on the ground. But when one looks across the region and into both its past and present, one sees a whole cornucopia of flagrant narco-states that Washington has not only ignored but bank-rolled and armed to the teeth. Not coincidentally, two of them are staunch allies and the other was so until very recently. I am talking, of course, of Colombia, Honduras and Mexico.

Colombia’s status as a narco-state during the first decade of this century is hardly a secret. Even some of the US’s own declassified intelligence documents contain allegations of former president Alvaro Uribe’s close ties to narcotrafficking. A 1991 declassified Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, for example, describes Uribe as a “close personal friend of Pablo Escobar” and “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín cartel at high government levels.” Another intelligence report from 1993, and declassified in 2018, says that Colombian Senator told officials at the US Embassy in Bogota that Escobar’s cartel had financed Uribe’s election campaign for the Colombian Senate. In spite of having such information available, Washington nonetheless generously funded the Uribe government through Plan Colombia to engage in so-called “counter-narcotics” campaigns, which served as a cover for brutal offensives against labor and indigenous rights activists and displacement of rural campesinos. The extent of state capture by drug cartels in Colombia was furthermore exposed by the Parapolitics scandal, which led to the conviction of 32 members of the Colombian congress along with five state governors for collusion with right-wing paramilitaries. These groups, incidentally, have been the biggest players in the Colombian drug trade, dwarfing the involvement of leftist guerrilla groups such as the FARC and ELN.

Revelations from the recently concluded trial of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán have shone a light onto a similar story in Mexico. State witness Alex Cifuentes made a credible accusation during his testimony against Guzman that former Mexican president  Enrique Peña Nieto received a bribe from Guzman worth $100 million dollars. Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez has long claimed that collusion between the Mexican state and narco-trafficking groups stretches all the way to the top, including the presidency, which Cifuentes’ testimony seemingly confirms. As has been the case with Colombia, the US has not only turned a blind eye to this situation, but has been generous funding the Mexican government to conduct “counter-narcotics” campaigns through the Merida Initiative. And again, these campaigns provided cover for brutal human rights violations on the part of Mexico’s state security forces.

Finally, we should turn to Honduras, the most contemporary and, in many ways, most flagrant example of a narco-state that the US cozies up to. Ever since the State Department orchestrated a coup against the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya in 2009 there have been growing signs that Honduras has degenerated into a fully-fledged narco-state. In January of last year, for example, it emerged that a national police chief personally facilitated a cocaine delivery worth $20 million in 2013. In November 2018, President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s brother, Tony Hernandez, was arrested on drug trafficking charges in Miami. Just as this article went to press, testimony that he gave to US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was unsealed in which he reportedly admits to interacting with several known drug traffickers as well as taking bribes. Even according to the aforementioned InSight Crime: “Tony Hernández’s detailed knowledge of the activities of some of Honduras’ most prominent drug traffickers makes it increasingly difficult for President Juan Orlando Hernández to deny being aware of these acts.” The president himself has previously faced allegations of involvement in drug trafficking via ex-army captain Santos Rodriguez Orellana. And as with Colombia and Mexico, not only has Washington never issued any punitive measure whatsoever against Honduras for any of this, it has rather been generously funding its state security forces in spite of its brutal record of human rights violations.

Note that all three of the above countries have been close US allies for the last few decades, with Colombia and Honduras remaining so while Mexico begins to break from Washington following the election of progressive president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. This is no coincidence. So long as a country is serving the US’s geostrategic and economic interests, it will not just overlook its status as a narco-state but will aid and abet its committing of human rights violations. You won’t hear about any of this from Jackson Diehl, however. Because as an obedient cheerleader for the Monroe Doctrine he must faithfully promulgate the selective indignation that underpins its entire edifice of justification propaganda. Given Washington’s record in the wider region, whether or not Venezuela is indeed a narco-state ceases to be the point. Rather, the question becomes one of credibility. And when it comes to evenhandedness in its treatment of Latin American states, Washington has exactly none.

Analysis of Undecideds Suggests Biden’s Support May be Exaggerated

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:56

Photo Source: Joe Bidens Senate Photo – Public Domain

A number of other polls have put Democratic undecided figures between 20% and 35% over the last month: USC (27%), Monmouth (20%), Ipsos/Reuters (21%), ABC/Washington Post (35%), all nationally, and then the state polls from Suffolk in New Hampshire (27%), Firehouse/Øptimus in South Carolina (20%), andTel Opinion Research in Florida (28%). Several polling firms simply do not report undecideds, culling them from the sample before reporting on decided voters, while others press initially undecided respondents hard for which way they are leaning. CNN (7%) and Quinnipiac (8%) represent the very lowest end of those reporting undecided numbers.

As I have argued previously, in accurately projecting the 2017 United Kingdom general election, undecided voters matter enormously. Simply excluding them, particularly when they are large in number, is a way to artificially boost the leading candidate or party.

YouGov Blue prompted respondents to select all candidates they are considering with their vote, then to rank them, and also to indicate any candidates they would not consider. Biden’s support, not excluding undecideds, jumped to 25.4% among people of color/hispanic voters. This is still a far cry from figures for Biden in the upper thirties to mid-forties as reported in many recent polls, including support from as many as 50% of non-white voters in a recent CNN/SSRS national sample [pdf]. In the data set including undecideds from YouGov Blue, women of color, often said to be the backbone of the Democratic party, were even more undecided than the 30% in the full sample – 45 of 110 (41%) not yet having a first choice and just 26 (24%) selecting Biden.

Bernie Sanders was selected as the first choice by 10.7% in the raw YouGov data, 11.5% in my topline, and Warren came third in both the raw sample (9.9%) and in my re-weighting (also 9.9%).

As weighted by Data for Progress, with undecideds simply excluded, Biden led with 33%, followed by Sanders (17%), Warren (16%), Buttigieg (9%), Harris (7%), and O’Rourke (4%) with 13% selecting someone else [pdf].

Pundits of a wide range of data literacy previously thought Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders would easily be surpassed as name recognition increased for candidates with lesser support. That has not happened, and many of those same pundits now seem prepared to declare Joe Biden nearly impossible to catch for the remaining candidates. Does he have a 10% lead over Sanders (my topline), a 16% lead (Data for Progress’ figures), or does Biden have a nearly insurmountable lead as in the latest Harvard-Harris (30%) [pdf] and Hill/HarrisX (32%) releases?


The fundamental fault lines in the 2016 Democratic primary were around race/ethnicity, age, and to a lesser extent gender. Clinton won big with non-white voters, especially older black women, while Sanders won big with younger voters, including young women. With young voters of color, Sanders likely had a small edge over Clinton.

Morning Consult has sent me the detailed data tables from three weeks of their large-sample-sized weekly updates for the Democratic primary. The data covers April 15 to May 5, with respondents from approximately half before and half after Biden’s announcement. Unlike CNN’s 36% advantage among non-white voters for Biden, based on a sample size under 200, more than 18,000 decided or leaning non-white voters reached by Morning Consult favored Biden by just 12% over Sanders. While Biden enjoyed a much larger lead of 22% over that three-week period among African American respondents (similar to the most recent Morning Consult overall lead of 20%), he led by just 1% with Hispanic Democratic primary respondents.

All of this would suggest that Biden’s lead in the Democratic primary has been greatly exaggerated by artificial exclusion of undecided voters, small sample sized polls that are off base with respect to non-white voters, not to mention age, and, where we have data on this from Monmouth [pdf] and YouGov [pdf], a respondent pool much more favorable to Hillary Clinton in 2016 vote report than was the actual gap between her and Sanders. Emerson Polling, which excludes undecided respondents from its release but reports how its respondents voted in the 2016 Dem primary and has a sample that accurately reflects the results of that contest, released a poll Monday evening. It shows just a 8% lead for Biden over Sanders, with Warren and Kamala Harris 15% further back at 10%.

In that case, Sanders is wise to continue with his campaign’s strategy of working to register and motivate younger and undecided voters instead of giving in to panic over polls like the most recent from New Hampshire by Monmouth showing an 18% lead for Biden, but greatly over weighting voters 50-years-old and older.

* The design effect for the sample as a whole as re-weighted for gender is 1.13 ranging up to 1.55 for two smaller categories with an under sample: 18-29-year-olds and non-white males plus white males of hispanic ethnicity . Final exit polling numbers for the 2016 Democratic primary can be found by state (where they were taken) at CNN’s website or as aggregated by Gary Langer at ABC’s website or by Public Opinion Strategies in the Wall Street Journal. To obtain the raw data for the YouGov Poll, scroll to the bottom of the Rolling Stone article linked in the first paragraph above. All respondents were registered voters; 94% said they were likely or certain to vote in the 2020 Democratic primary or caucus in their state, and all but 7 of those who said “maybe” to voting in the 2020 Dem primary voted in the 2018 midterms.

Eyewitness in Venezuela: a 14-year Perspective

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:55

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

I was in Venezuela from April 26 to May 5, 2019. It was the fifth time I have been there in a span of 14 years, so I was able to put things I saw on this trip in that context.

My first visit was in 2005. I saw people begging, sleeping in doorways, street venders filling not just sidewalks, even whole streets in some areas.

But I also saw bundles of books being distributed house to house, following a campaign to teach everyone to read. I visited clinics in poor neighborhoods staffed by Cuban medical personnel. I saw independent radio stations run by people in their communities, broadcasting local news, and providing a platform for commentary on current events. Stores had basic foods at affordable, subsidized prices. “Missions,” funded directly by oil revenues so as to bypass government ministries, were addressing social problems that bureaucracies from the pre-Chávez government failed to resolve.

In 2005, people eagerly told me stories of recent years. On April 11, 2002, a coup led by generals and business leaders had kidnapped President Chávez for two days. Massive demonstrations restored him to power. Soon after that, the owners of big businesses and the top management of the nationally owned oil company staged a “lock-out,” closing their own factories and stores and intimidating smaller businesses to join them. They shut down oil production. Their tactics didn’t work; people improvised and eventually the “lock-out” collapsed. All this did great damage to the economy in 2003 and 2004 and was one of the causes of poverty in 2005.

I returned to Venezuela in 2008, 2014, and 2015. By the end of that ten- year period the country had been transformed. There was no one begging. I saw no one sleeping in doorways, and I saw construction happening everywhere—a massive housing program, building literally millions of urban and rural dwellings. Going around the country I saw countless signs of positive efforts that were enriching and improving the lives of people living in less affluent areas. Laptop computers were being distributed to schoolchildren for free. Community gardens, sports facilities, neighborhood clinics, price controls that kept food affordable, infrastructure improvements of all kinds.

Sabotage, coup plots and riots by the upper classes have been endemic throughout the 20 years of Chavismo. They made normal life in Caracas especially difficult for working people in the city in 2014, when corporate media gave the riots intense coverage, misrepresenting them as peaceful protests. Financial manipulation brought about hyperinflation. And now, after years of working behind the scenes to help the opposition undermine the country, the United States has begun a series of overt attacks—seizing Venezuela’s assets, threatening military action, and attempting to install Guaidó in the presidency.

Over the last year reports about Venezuela in the corporate media have been depicting a country undergoing a “humanitarian crisis.” What they described was not consistent with what I know about the country, and I wondered what was actually happening. To find out, I traveled with a group of other North Americans who wanted to see the reality on the ground, and how the majority, the “popular classes,” were responding to the pressure of economic sanctions and threats of war.

My first impression was the scene on the streets. I was wondering if there would be signs on the streets of those same conditions returning—begging, homelessness, street vending. What I saw was surprising. Things looked so normal. People were going to work, relaxing on the weekend, just as they had been on my more recent visits.  Media in the US and around the world were creating an image of desperate suffering, hardship and chaos, but I did not see signs of that on the street. No begging, no homeless, no masses of peddlers. There was food in restaurants and stores, business as usual in retail shops, and people were working at their jobs.

Although life appeared outwardly normal, I soon learned about the two big problems beneath the surface: inflation and the blockade.

The government is trying to deal with one aspect of inflation by providing food through a system known as CLAP, an acronym of the Spanish words for Local Committees to Supply the People. Every two weeks bundles of basic foods like rice, beans, oil, sugar, etc. go directly to households, distributed by neighborhood committees. There is enough food in the bundle for people to survive on, but just barely. If supplies run out, food is available in stores, but some people’s salaries have not kept up with inflation. There are other ways that some get food—school lunches, etc,—but many suffer from the problem of not being able to afford to buy what they need, food and other things.

The second problem is the blockade on imported products. Venezuela has the industrial capacity to produce a substantial amount of what the country consumes. The road to the west of Caracas, for example, goes past huge plants, large populations of working people, highways full of big trucks hauling things to stores. But no country of 30 million people can produce all the things it needs. Countries have to import things, from medicine for specific diseases like HIV, to spare parts for most of the cars in the country. The blockade creates a lot of suffering.

On the other hand, the popular classes are in a much better position to withstand economic war than they were in earlier years. Free health care, education, and many other basic needs are available. Very important among these is housing. In the past 8 years the government has built 2.6 million homes, rural and urban. Enough to provide a new home to one third of the population. The goal is 5 million.

On past visits I have ridden past big blocks of apartment buildings, many under construction. One group after another, it takes many minutes to pass them, speeding along the highway. I thought about big apartment complexes for poor people in the US that turned out so badly, and wondered how these would be different. This recent visit was the first time I had an opportunity to see one of those developments from inside, and my question was answered.

Our group happened to be in Caracas at the time of a big conference about housing. Delegates from many countries were there to learn about Venezuela’s remarkable achievement. We were invited to attend, and we went with a busload of other “internationals” to the state of Vargas, on the coast of the Caribbean.

We saw a community of apartment buildings that house 32,000 people, many who had lost everything in the catastrophic mudslides of 1999, when whole communities in the area were swept out to sea. The buildings are designed to include much more than housing: childcare, cooking and dining, meeting and educational space, sports courts, a community radio station…a long list. The community manages its affairs through communal councils.

These spaces make it easy and natural for people of all ages to get together. We had a taste of this as we were welcomed with a concert by young people who had learned to play their instruments through el sistema. The star of the show was a girl of 8 or 9 who sang three long songs from memory, in a strong, confident voice. It seemed like a good place to raise kids.

This kind of housing would soon be history if the opposition were to come to power. Soon after they won a majority in the National Assembly they attempted to privatize the millions of homes the government had built, so landlords could buy them up as rentals and speculative investments. The Supreme Court was able to block that move, but if the opposition were in power they would do it.

We had come to Venezuela to learn how the popular classes are responding to the economic attacks and military threats from the US. One very visible response is that they are joining the militia; we were impressed by how this has been taken up. Our visit coincided with two demonstrations and two Sundays: four days when militia members did not need to dress in routine work-day clothing, and chose to wear their distinctive khaki uniforms in the marches and as they strolled around the plazas and shops. People of literally every adult age, and both sexes. It seemed there are about as many women as men. Even more remarkable was the number of people who are quite old, many in their seventies.

These militia groups train regularly. Their guns are kept in secure locations in communities around the country, close to where they might be needed. It was recently announced that the militia will be responsible for delivering the packages of food to be distributed to neighborhoods. This is a prudent measure given the history of violent attacks on medical clinics and other services provided to the popular classes. There are one and a half million members of the militia at this time, the goal being two and a half million.

Another response of the popular classes is a massive effort to produce food, through urban agriculture as well as in the countryside. We visited one substantial facility in Catia, a large hilly section at the western end of Caracas, where four communes with a total population of about 150,000 have created an urban farm named after Fabricio Ojeda, a revolutionary who died in the struggles against the oligarchy in the last century.

The farm’s biggest crop is organic tomatoes: 16 tons. They are grown in structures that resemble greenhouses from a distance, but are actually covered with a mesh that shields tomatoes from the harsh tropical sun. Many other vegetables are raised, as well as pigs and chickens. These things are happening all over. What drew us to this farm was the start-up of an innovative program to produce a new kind of inexpensive, high quality meat for the community.

Elvin Merlo is a city hall employee who submitted a proposal for a project: raising rabbits for meat. He was allowed a start-up budget and a year at his regular salary to make it happen. He enthusiastically showed us his cages of rabbits of all ages, and lots of tiny babies. He feeds the rabbits a local grass and a plant of the amaranth family similar to what we call pigweed here in Vermont. He also gives them a mixture of ground corn, eggshells and a pinch of cement for calcium. He hopes to have a big enough herd to start harvesting them in about a year. When that time comes he will put in a request for refrigeration and other equipment to provide meat to the community at a fair, affordable price.

Elvin is very clear about his motivation for this project; it is a direct response to the US blockade on food and other necessities. This is an action of peaceful resistance against economic war. As we talked, he said, “We want peace, but we are ready to die to defend our country and people.”

A third form of resistance that we saw unfolding was more subtle, but perhaps the most crucial: the creation of communal democracy, a form of self government that is participatory as opposed to the representative form that we are familiar with. This is a process that is rarely, if ever, mentioned by the corporate media. It is often unappreciated even by those on the left who know it exists.

In the last half of the twentieth century, agriculture was extinguished by oil money and impoverished people settled in improvised housing on the steep hills around the cities. The government provided the bare minimum of services. People had to organize to get any kind of response, whether it was blocking a highway to get electricity, or organizing a self-defense force to do what the police were supposed to be taking care of. This tradition took root well before Hugo Chávez became President, but when he did, “popular power” surged ahead with the support of the government.

In 2014, my wife and our son came with me on a trip that took us to Barquisimeto, Venezuela’s fourth largest city. We met with more than a dozen people from neighborhoods in the city, each from a “communal council,” a geographically defined group of a few hundred households that was empowered to make decisions about infrastructure and other needs, and also—crucially—encouraged to devise productive ways to meet those needs by communal organization. The process of consolidation of those communal councils into larger units was just getting under way, and there was sharing of experiences, like the council that requested money from the government to put in sidewalks, and managed to install twice the amount in the plan by spending the money on materials and doing the labor themselves.

In Caracas that year we visited a high tech rooftop tomato house with organic methods of keeping insects at bay. This was another example of production by a communal council. Things that employed people sewing, repairing, caring for children, cooking, etc. were being organized and supported through the communal councils. Now, five years later, our group could see how the process of building a communal society was moving along.

Catia is an area in the western part of Caracas: steep, narrow streets, houses built for themselves by the people who settled on hills that were once the edge of town. Our driver stopped at the police station, a safe place to park the van and to let them know why we were there. Two police women in their blue and gray camouflage led our group of gringos as we hurried, behind schedule, down the narrow streets to a community center in an old building.

Fortunately, our timing turned out to be perfect. There had been workshops since 4 PM in the afternoon, and they had reported out to the full group. At 7:30 they had just begun to sum up. After we briefly introduced ourselves they got back to work.

This was a meeting of voceros, or spokespeople, from three communes, with a total population of about 100,000. They were writing the constitution for a new communal city made up of their three communes.

The meeting was relaxed and informal, with two women at the front of the room writing down points of agreement on big sheets of paper taped to the wall. When we came in one of them was checking the Law of Communes to be sure they were not missing anything. As they worked people mentioned projects that could be undertaken now that they were big enough. For example, there are about 30 wells in the area that have been dug by individuals or businesses. They need to be properly evaluated and linked into a system. A survey of what people are producing in the way of food, clothing and other things will yield information that can be used to plan and coordinate.

Someone mentioned how important it is to create a seed bank, since the blockade has cut the country off from normal suppliers. I was delighted to be able to present them with a package of seeds for honeynut squash. The person I gave them to asked if they are non-GMO, and I assured her that they are from Vermont—totally natural. (Some years ago there was a lot of debate in Venezuela about whether to use GMO seeds, along with all the chemicals they require. The blockade has settled that argument.)

Near the end of 2012, not long before President Chávez died, he made a speech in which he urged a sharp change in course for the revolution, an acceleration of the movement toward communes. “Comuna o nada,” was his assessment of the future, “Commune or nothing.”

But the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and the government are structures with their own interests and their own logic. Turning over power to a new and very different governmental structure has been met with a mixed reception in official circles. The result is frustration and conflict between the communes and state and/or party officials. I heard commune leaders in Caracas in 2015 referring to symptoms of this contradiction in explaining the poor showing of the PSUV in the National Assembly election that had just happened. No one brought such things up in conversation this time, but reports in and other sources make it clear that those tensions continue to play a role, notably in relatively remote agricultural areas.

The people of Comuna de Explosión del Poder Popular in Catia, along with others all over the country, are taking Chávez’s “Comuna o nada” very seriously. They are reorganizing their system of government in the midst of a blockade, while being threatened with an invasion or a campaign of terroristic violence similar to the contra-war in Nicaragua. Far from being a distraction, this is an integral part of their strategy of resistance, a way of encouraging the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the people. The Venezuelan state apparatus and the Socialist Party have their roles, but the Venezuelan people are ready and able to participate in governing themselves. Chávez advocated an acceleration of the revolution as the only way to make it succeed, and that is what we saw in Catia.

The role of President Nicolas Maduro has been evolving as the crisis continues. He has often been criticized by activists of the Venezuelan left for his cautious, conciliatory approach to the opposition. Chávez, in contrast, made bolder moves that enabled him to keep the initiative.  Also, given his position as leader, the shortcomings of Maduro’s government and his party inevitably affect his reputation. But the current attack by the US and its allies has pushed many of those concerns into the background. Maduro’s staying in office has become a symbol of national sovereignty.

I noticed in the discussion in Catia that Maduro’s name came up more than once in a positive way, implicitly linking him with their communal city project. Since those people were spokespeople for 100,000 commune members, their attitude would seem to be reflective of their communities.

Our group spent a fair amount of time mingling with people in public places: two Sundays in the Plaza Bolívar (with children’s games and entertainment), a big outdoor evening dance party, etc. We were obviously gringos, and before long we would be having conversations. People were glad to see us and quickly understood that we were opposed to what our government is doing. Then it was time for a photo. Arms around shoulders, tall people in back, fists in the air, and “Viva Chávez! Viva Maduro!” as the picture was snapped. Both names together, always.

I didn’t encounter anyone who expressed any reservation about Maduro being the legitimate president. Based on my observations, I would say that US sanctions have strengthened his support among the common people who make up his political base.

But there are those who differ. Our group became aware of the disturbances that happened on the morning of April 30, when Juan Guaidó staged his coup attempt, because we saw it on TV—some dozens of men throwing stones at the airport building while their upper class supporters watched from a safe distance on an overpass. Also an interview with a young soldier, indignant that he had been tricked into appearing as a prop for Guaidó’s media event.

None of this had any effect on the streets around our hotel (several miles from the scene on TV), except that before breakfast we heard the sound of people banging on pots, and then some explosions that were either shots or firecrackers. Evidently no one in the neighborhood was responding to Guaido’s call to demonstrate in various parts of the city, assuming that’s what the noise was about. The commotion was all over by the time I walked a block to Sabana Grande, the big pedestrian street where people gather. All I saw was people hustling to their early morning destinations.

The popular classes of Venezuela are the real protagonists in this story. They are inventing the structure of the society that they want to live in. They have a living tradition of political ingenuity along with an openness to genuine revolution. The current asymmetrical economic war against them has brought them to a high level of unity in their determination to defend what they have achieved in developing their country. These assets will help them survive.

But there is one important factor missing: international understanding of the nature of their struggle. The Venezuelan popular classes are, at this time in world history, at the leading edge of revolutionary change. They deserve our support.

Can Jerry Nadler Take Down Trump?

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:54

Photograph Source: Rhododendrites – CC BY-SA 4.0

Having been a journalist for 57 years now, I’ve gotten to know many public officials. The smartest person in politics I’ve ever known—and I’ve told this to folks for years—is U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler. In Jerry Nadler, chairman of the key panel now investigating President Donald Trump and his administration, Mr. Trump has a quite an adversary.

“Jerry Nadler Was Born to Battle Trump,” was the headline of an article this month in The New Republic. It concluded speaking about his “mandate to counter the momentum toward autocracy and to shore up democratic institutions and practices under siege.”

“We’re now in a Constitutional crisis,” Mr. Nadler has just declared, accusing Mr. Trump with his claims of executive privilege of an attack on the “essence of our democracy.”

Mr. Nadler has been in Congress since 1992. He represents much of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. From 1977 to 1992 he was a member of the New York State Assembly.

I got to know Congressman Nadler in the 1990s when I authored books, wrote articles and presented TV documentaries on the use of nuclear power in space by the U.S. and also the Soviet Union and then Russia. A decade earlier, in 1986, I broke the story in The Nation after the Challenger space shuttle disaster about how its next mission was to loft a space probe containing plutonium fuel. If the Challenger exploded on that launch, in May 1986, and the plutonium was dispersed, far more people than the seven brave astronauts who died in the January 1986 catastrophe would have perished.

This was not a “sky-is-falling” issue, I found. There had been accidents and dispersal of radioactive material in accidents in both the U.S. and the Soviet/Russian space nuclear programs.

(In addition to investigating the issue in the U.S., I received an invitation from Dr. Alexey Yablokov, environmental advisor to Russian presidents and leading opponent of Soviet/Russian space nuclear missions, to go to Russia to speak at conferences and at the Russian Academy of Sciences. I made repeated visits.)

The biggest nuclear shot ever—NASA’s Cassini’s mission to Saturn—was scheduled for 1997. Some 72.3 pounds of deadly plutonium, more than ever used on a space mission, was involved.

There was the threat of a launch pad explosion—one in 100 rockets blow up or otherwise malfunction disastrously on launch. And also, there was the threat of a repeat of an earlier space nuclear disaster—the spacecraft not achieving orbit and falling back to Earth, disintegrating in the atmosphere and spreading plutonium. Further, on the Cassini shot, a “slingshot maneuver” involving the Earth was planned. The rocket was to be sent hurtling back at the Earth, coming in at 42,300 miles an hour just a few hundred miles overhead, to use the Earth’s gravity to increase its velocity so it could reach its final destination of Saturn.

If there was what NASA called an “inadvertent reentry” into the Earth’s atmosphere on the “slingshot maneuver” causing disintegration and release of the plutonium, the NASA Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission estimated that “5 billion…of the world population…could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.”

Also, a solar power alternative—eliminating the use of plutonium to generate a modest 745 watts for onboard electricity for instruments—was available.

It was then that I got to know Jerry Nadler. His brother, Eric, is a good friend. Eric is an investigative reporter who has written and appeared on TV programs for Frontline on PBS, Globalvision, and written articles in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and other investigative media.

I sent Congressman Nadler a book I had just written on the space nuclear issue focusing on Cassini, The Wrong Stuff, along with one of my TV documentaries, Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens.

We met and discussed the situation. Mr. Nadler has a brilliant mind. He fully understood the enormous perils of using nuclear power overhead. Further, when the subjects turned to politics and government, his knowledge was encyclopedic. He organized a group of members of Congress calling for a cancellation of the Cassini mission. He and the other members held a press conference on the steps of the Capital in Washington detailing the lethal dangers of the mission. NASA, however, refused to cancel it. Fortunately, this time there was no disaster in this game of nuclear Russian Roulette in space. Subsequently, underlining how plutonium power on the Cassini mission was unnecessary, in 2016 NASA’s Juno space probe arrived at Jupiter—with solar power substituting for plutonium. (Still, NASA is now planning more space nuclear shots.)

Stated the New Republic piece: “Nadler might seem like an unusual political leader to take on the role of presidential nemesis; he is thoughtful, thorough, and cerebral, a man of ideas—the opposite of Trump.”


Does the Climate Movement Really Mean What It Says?

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:54

Photograph by P J Hansen – CC BY-SA 2.0

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them….Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable….

Howard Zinn

Why do so many in the climate movement invoke climate science to demand a target of 350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere—and then turn around and support legislation and candidates that fall far short of that demand?

That’s what is happening in New York. A bill that says right in its text that its target is 450 ppm may be enacted in the current legislative session that ends on June 19 with the support of much of the climate movement.

If New York were a nation-state, its $1.7 trillion GDP in 2018 made it the world’s 10th largest economy, tied with Canada and ahead of Russia. New York is the world’s premier financial and media center. What New York does on climate policy in the next month matters to the nation and the world.

Climate scientists have told us for more than a decade that getting atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalents back below 350 parts per million (ppm) is required to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to 1ºC above pre-industrial levels. That would keep the planet within the climate safety zone for human civilization. 1ºC is the top of the temperature range of the current interglacial period of the last 12,000 years in which agriculture, the material foundation for human civilization, developed. 100% clean energy by 2030 in the rich industrial states—plus drawing down carbon through afforestation, habitat restoration, and organic agriculture to rebuild living soils—is required to meet that target.

Bill McKibben’s was founded in 2008 on that premise. So why do McKibben,, and so many of the other foundation-funded environmental nonprofits endorse legislation in New York that says the goal is 450 ppm, 2ºC, and 100% by 2050?

They will tell you half-measures are the best we can get from the people now in office, that half a loaf is better than than nothing. But half a parachute won’t land you safely, as Green Party activist Michael O’Neil explained to a public hearing on New York’s climate legislation.

The climate emergency we face is much more severe than the stronger storms and heat waves we are already experiencing. Escalating at an accelerating rate as we approach 2050, the climate crisis means mass extinctions and collapsing land and ocean ecosystems, agricultural crises and food shortages, economic contraction and increasing poverty, hundreds of millions of climate refugees, and escalating social conflicts and resource wars.

Kevin Anderson, a leading climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK warned in 2009 that we face a climate holocaust: “If you have got a population of nine billion by 2050 and you hit 4°C, 5°C or 6°C, you might have half a billion people surviving.” By 2100, ocean heating and acidification could so reduce ocean phytoplankton, the source of two-thirds of atmospheric oxygen, that it may result in the suffocation of animal life on Earth.

When Bill McKibben and others formed in 2008, they based their goal of getting atmospheric CO2 equivalents back below 350 parts per million (ppm) on the latest science. As McKibben noted at the time, the emerging international goal of 450 ppm was arbitrary. It had evolved from climate modeling begun in the 1970s to determine what would happen if we doubled preindustrial atmospheric carbon from 275 ppm to 550 ppm. While early modeling indicated 550 ppm would cause a 2ºC rise, by 2008 the models said CO2 would have to be limited to 450 ppm to have a chance of limiting the rise to 2ºC. In 2009, the US and the other G8 nations adopted the 450 ppm and 2ºC targets, which was affirmed by the world’s nations at the Cancun climate conference in 2010. That goal was adopted because—well, because that is what had been modeled. It was like searching under a street light for the keys you dropped at night because you can see the pavement there instead of searching down the street where you actually dropped the keys.

The best climate science then already indicated that 450 ppm would lead to dangerous climate change. McKibben cited a talk by NASA climate scientist James Hansen to the American Geophysical Union in December 2007. Hansen said that we have to get CO2 back below 350 ppm. In 2007, CO2 was already 383 ppm. Last month (April 2019) the average was 413 ppm.

Inaction on climate change over the last decade has put us right at the precipice of dangerous climate change. I have reviewed elsewhere the climate science that Hansen, Anderson, and others have developed since 2008 indicating we should set climate action goals of 350 ppm, 1ºC, and 100% clean energy by 2030. For our purposes here, let’s take those goals as the standard for what climate activists should be fighting for and examine why too many in the climate movement are settling for less.

New York Climate Legislation

The New York debate among climate activists over the last few years has been between two bills: the stronger New York Off Fossil Fuels Act (NY OFF) introduced in 2015 and the weaker Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) introduced in 2016.

NY OFF was drafted as the next step by the grassroots movement that won New York’s fracking ban at the end of 2014. It is supported by a scrappy coalition of local safe energy groups, some larger environmental groups, and the Green Party. Its bottom line goal is zero carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030.

The CCPA is an amended version of a climate bill that has passed the state Assembly every year since 2009 but died in the Republican-controlled state Senate. The Republicans lost control the Senate in the 2018 election. CCPA is supported by progressives in the Democratic Party and its orbiting non-profits. The 2016 amendments added in environmental justice and labor standards, but the climate science that remains cited in the bill was already outdated in 2009. In spite of much public criticism from grassroots climate activists, CCPA says its targets are 450 ppm and 2ºC to justify a 2050 deadline for zero carbon emissions and 100% clean energy.

The two bills differ fundamentally in many respects:

* NY OFF aims for 100% clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions by 2030.

CCPA aims for 100% clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions by 2050.

* NY OFF defines clean energy as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal – and explicitly not nuclear, biomass, or natural gas and other fossil fuels.

CCPA does not define clean energy, leaving the door open for fracked-gas power plants, biofuels, garbage incinerators, and nuclear power.

* NY OFF bans new fossil fuel infrastructure.

CCPA does not.

* NY OFF phases out nuclear power.

CCPA does not.

* NY OFF requires local governments (all 62 counties plus all municipalities over 50,000 people) to develop detailed Climate Action Plans in concert with a state Climate Action Plan.

CCPA does not.

* NY OFF requires state and local governments to report their progress every two years toward the 10-year target of 100% emissions reductions.

CCPA has no planning requirements for local governments while the state is to report its progress every two years on renewable energy deployment and every four years on emissions reductions toward its 30-year target of 100% emission reductions.

* NY OFF requires net zero emissions for new buildings by 2020.

CCPA has no emissions target for new buildings.

* NY OFF requires zero emissions for all new vehicles sold by 2025.

CCPA has no target for vehicle emissions.

* NY OFF provides for state and local Climate Justice Working Groups composed primarily of residents of low-income communities.

CCPA has a state Climate Justice Working Group composed primarily of state officials and organizations representing disadvantaged communities with no residency requirement.

* NY OFF’s Just Transition provisions guarantee comparable jobs and wages to workers displaced, and reimbursement to local governments for revenues lost, by the closure of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.

CCPA does not have a Just Transition program.

* NY OFF does not define labor standards stronger than existing labor law for clean energy projects.

CCPA provides labor standards stronger than existing labor law for prevailing wages and apprentice utilization on the big utility-scale projects of more than 250 kW, $100,000 of public investment, or $10 million total project cost, or on public property.

* NY OFF gives citizens legal standing to sue for enforcement of the act.

CCPA does not give citizens legal standing to sue for enforcement of the act.

With Democrats now in control of the Senate, CCPA is the bill that Democratic legislative leaders are using to negotiate with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has his own bill that is stronger on its renewable electricity goals, but weaker on its goal for greenhouse gas emissions with 80% by 2050, the same as the federal government’s goal.

CCPA is promoted by NY Renews with funding from the Tides Advocacy Fund. This coalition’s 174 member groups include, Sunrise Movement, Peoples Climate Movement NY, Solutions Project, Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates, Working Families Party, Demos, Citizen Action, Democratic Socialists of America, NY Council of Churches, and a number of unions representing autoworkers, communications workers, teachers, nurses, teamsters, transit workers, and service employees.

NY OFF is promoted by 100% Renewable Now, a grassroots coalition of more than 180 mainly local environmental, peace, and church groups, particularly the local groups fighting fracked gas pipelines and power plants in their backyards. The statewide and national organizations in this coalition include the NY Green Party, Food and Water Watch, NY Solar Energy Society, Rainforest Action Network, Citizens Environmental Coalition, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, NY Organic Farming Association, System Change Not Climate Change, a few local chapters of, NY Code Pink, Abolition 2000, World Without War, and the Troy Area Labor Council. The campaign is coordinated on a shoestring budget by the Green Education and Legal Fund (GELF). GELF’s driving force, Mark Dunlea, helped draft NY OFF and ran as the Green Party candidate for state Comptroller in 2018 on a platform of divesting the state pension fund from fossil fuel interests.

A number of groups are in both coalitions, although they lean toward one bill or the other. The People’s Climate Movement, a NY Renews steering committee member, promotes the CCPA in its public communications these days even though its original mission statement called for 100% emissions reductions by 2030. Food and Water Watch, on the other hand, is one of the stalwart promoters of NY OFF.

Not to be left out with all the talk nationally now about a Green New Deal, two other climate bills were introduced this year. The Green New Deal for New York (GND NY) sets up a task force to complete a plan and legislation by January 1, 2020 to zero out greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and start drawing down atmospheric carbon. GND NY is modeled after the original proposal of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunshine Movement for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal with the ability to bring legislation to the House floor. After that was rejected by Speaker Pelosi, a watered-down non-binding resolution was substituted by AOC and Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). Pelosi won’t bring it to the House floor and not one Democrat voted for the Senate version when Leader McConnell gave them the chance in late March. Many of the groups supporting the NY OFF bill have also endorsed GND NY because of its 2030 target for 100% emissions reductions. But its chances for adoption this year seem about as slim as a federal Green New Deal.

Governor Cuomo also branded his Climate Leadership Act (CLA) as the Green New Deal. Cuomo’s Green New Deal is a far cry from the Green New Deal for New York that the Green Party has campaigned for since 2010. In his budget address about his Green New Deal, Cuomo announced increases in mandates and funding to build 22 GW of new clean energy, including offshore wind (9 GW), storage capacity (3 GW), and both distributed and large-scale solar and wind (10 GW). But those commitments are not in his actual bill. The bill is stronger than CCPA in its 2030 goal for clean electric power—70% for the CLA vs. 50% for the CCPA, while both aim for 100% by 2040. However, with electric power accounting for only 19% of New York’s carbon footprint, the CLA leaves zeroing out the other 81% to an indefinite future date to be figured out by a revived Climate Action Council, now to be authorized by statute instead of executive order. The Climate Action Council created by executive order has been authorized repeatedly since 2009 to develop a state Climate Action Plan. But its reports have been repeatedly postponed, starting in 2010 and continuing into 2019.

Cuomo’s Green New Deal is really just greenwashing for the main thrust of his energy policies, which are flooding the state with imported fracked gas and subsidizing nuclear power. His administration is promoting and permitting expanded and new fracked-gas pipelines, storage, and power plants despite fierce grassroots resistance that has stopped a few of them. Cuomo also committed ratepayers in 2017 to a 12-year, $7.6 billion subsidy for four Exelon-owned nuclear power plants on Lake Ontario. Exelon wanted to close them because they were losing money, but Cuomo wanted them to stay open as carbon-free power sources. Other states, including neighboring New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, are now following Cuomo’s lead in subsidizing aging nukes that should be shut down before they melt down. By its silence on new fossil fuel infrastructure and nuclear power, the CCPA does nothing to turn back Cuomo’s plans for fracked gas and nukes.

A late addition to the mix of climate legislation, the Freedom from Fossil Fuels Act, was introduced in mid April. It calls for “100% fossil fuel free electricity generation by 2030, if practicable, but no later than 2040.” It gives citizens legal standing to sue for enforcement. It speaks to mitigating emissions from sectors other than power generation, but without any mandates or timelines. It openly supports biofuels and, by its silence, continued nuclear power. Its main purpose is to address a major shortcoming of both the CCPA and CLA by calling for a halt to new fossil fuel infrastructure. That purpose reflects the demands of the strong grassroots movements in the sponsor’s district who are fighting fracked-gas pipelines and power plants.

One of these projects in the Lower Hudson Valley district, the 680 MW Competitive Power Ventures fracked-gas power plant, is adding 10% to the state’s carbon footprint. CPV is notorious because Cuomo’s former top aide, Joe Percoco, was bribed by a CPV officer to get the plant permitted. That officer, Peter Kelly Jr., is the son of the former finance chairman of the national Democratic Party who partnered in an infamous right-wing public relations firm with Republicans Charlie Black, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Lee Atwater. Known as “The Torturers Lobby,” their clients included foreign dictators, American politicians, and global corporations. Percoco and Kelly are now serving prison sentences, but CPV is operating without an air permit by permission of a hack judge in the state’s Court of Claims.

All of the climate bills have environmental justice provisions. The CCPA calls for 40% of funds from a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, if enacted, to be invested to benefit disadvantaged communities.

Cuomo already has other plans for the state’s clean energy funding streams, which he likes to control for his own patronage and pay-to-play campaign fundraising purposes. The biggest current funding stream is a 10-year, $5 billion Clean Energy Fund enacted in 2016.

Climate activists are proposing more funding through a carbon tax. NY Renews supports a carbon tax in companion legislation to the CCPA, the Climate and Community Investment Act (CCIA). A bill with very complicated language, it recapitulates the CCPA’s administrative structures and goals—450 ppm, 2ºC, 2050. Its carbon tax starts at $35 a ton in 2021 and rises to $75 a ton in 2030, raising an average of $7.1 billion annually. 30% would go to rebates, specifically a Low-Income and Small Business Energy Rebate Fund for tax credits, transit vouchers, and utility subsidies. 30% would be dedicated to large-scale clean energy projects. The 40% earmarked for disadvantaged communities would be divided between 33% for projects located in disadvantaged communities and 7% to compensate displaced workers and communities that lose power plants and factories that depend on fossil fuels.

NY OFF supporters back a more straightforward Carbon Tax Bill that also starts at $35 per ton but rises much higher to $185 a ton in $15 yearly increments over 10 years. The revenues would start at $3.5 billion the first year and rise to $14.6 billion by the tenth year. 60% of the proceeds from this progressive carbon tax would be returned to low-to-moderate income residents as refundable tax credits to offset price rises. 40% would be invested in renewable energy projects.

Neither carbon tax bill, however, is getting much push from legislators in this session because Cuomo opposes it. Instead, state officials have given on-and-off support to extending Cuomo’s nuclear bailout, based on the social cost of carbon, to other carbon-free power sources.

In the last week of April, Cuomo told a radio interviewer that on climate action “we did most of it in the budget, so I don’t see anything specific for the rest of the session.” In fact, most of the governor’s so-called Green New Deal was removed from the budget adopted at the beginning of April, notably the funding for 22 gigawatts of clean power he announced with much fanfare in his budget address. Cuomo’s statement may be an opening bargaining position for negotiations with legislative leaders. Supports 450 ppm

Climate legislation this year, if any, will probably be part of what is known in New York as “The Big Ugly,” a rush of omnibus compromise bills at the end of the session in June that lawmakers have to vote on with little time to read. The Big Ugly is negotiated by the “Three Men in a Room”—the Governor, the Assembly Speaker, and the Senate Leader, only this year for the first time the Senate Leader is a woman. Governor Cuomo has the most leverage because he ultimately has to sign the bills and because he can do much of his energy agenda without legislation by executive order.

The political momentum in the legislature is with CCPA. Nearly every Democratic Senator and more than 50 of 150 Assemblymembers are co-sponsors. The new Democratic majority in the state Senate made the new chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee the new lead sponsor of CCPA. He is pushing to get the Senate to adopt the CCPA, which the Assembly is expected to also pass again. Climate legislation this year will likely be the CCPA. The question now is whether in can be strengthened by amendments. Grassroots climate activists have moved some legislators to favor an amendment to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure. From all sides, from solar to gas, the energy industries are lobbying hard, too.

The senate Environmental Conservation Committee called climate hearings around the state in February where comments were to be limited to the CCPA. NY OFF proponents nevertheless showed up to urge legislators to adopt climate legislation with the faster transition target of 100% clean energy by 2030, not 2050, and with the more detailed planning structures, timelines, and benchmarks and definitions of clean energy provided for in NY OFF.

With giving them cover, the staffers of the foundation-funded climate groups at these hearings were mostly uncritical cheerleaders for CCPA. They urged the politicians to enact a bill that says 450 ppm, not 350 ppm, is the target, compromising their own organizations’ stated climate action goals. They did what was expedient for them instead of what was right for climate safety. Professional progressives know what they have to do to get paid. How billionaire corporate liberals fund their minions to pull the strings behind the scenes to co-opt, pacify, and line-up grassroots movements behind the Democratic Party has been presented in painful detail many times in CounterPunch: see John Stauber here and here and “The Insider” here, here, here, and here.

The most important conquest of this nonprofit/industrial complex is the minds of the grassroots activists. Local organizations in which grassroots activists horizontally develop their demands and strategies independently tend to eschew compromised demands and force politicians to respond to them. But isolated and atomized grassroots activists, who are not part of local groups, tend to follow the online messages sent from the top down by the staffs of the progressive nonprofits whose strategic orientation is backing Democrats. The leadership of the well-funded nonprofits tend to limit their demands to what is acceptable to the Democratic leadership so they can be “players” in the legislative process and elections. They talk to Democratic leaders to find out how far they are willing to go. Then they sell the compromises to the grassroots activists and justify it as the left-wing of the possible. When social movements don’t try to change what is possible, they reinforce the status quo.

That’s why the role of Bill McKibben and in the New York climate legislation debate has been so disappointing. Nobody has been more effective than McKibben in popularizing the urgency of the climate crisis and the climate science behind that urgency, particularly James Hansen’s target of 350 ppm. But when it comes comes to advocating legislation and endorsing candidates, McKibben adopts the self-defeating “realism” of backing legislation and candidates who don’t support the climate action goals he has popularized. He acts as if compromised legislation is all the politicians we have should be asked to do.

The endorsement by McKibben and 350 Action of actress Cynthia Nixon for her primary challenge to Gov. Cuomo featured her support for the CCPA and the target of 100% clean energy by 2050. I was the Green Party candidate in that race, but 350 Action (the 501c4 political arm of did not send me their questionnaire, did not respond to my request for one, and when I was able to independently get a copy and send them my answers, they did not acknowledge their receipt. When Nixon lost the primary election, we still could get no response from 350 Action regarding the general election.

Most of institutionalized progressivism in New York also endorsed Nixon, from the post-Sanders campaign organization, New York Progressive Action Network, to the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA faction that prevailed in opposing a Green endorsement argued that I was “The Can’t-Win Candidate.” At least that was consistent with the goal of DSA’s founding father, Michael Harrington, who wanted DSA to represent “the left wing of the possible within the Democratic Party.” The wing of New York City DSA that thinks the purpose of a socialist movement is to change what is possible did succeed in getting a statement adopted that criticized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for endorsing Cuomo on CNN soon after the primary. Meanwhile, the Working Families Party quietly made the complex maneuvers required to get Nixon off and Cuomo on to their ballot line after the primary, making Cuomo their gubernatorial candidate for the third straight election.

The Democratic socialists and progressives seemed as starstruck as the corporate media, who smothered the “Sex and the City” star with coverage. Nixon was far from being a socialist or even a Sanderista. None of the socialists and progressives seemed to have checked the Federal Election Commission campaign finance records for Nixon, which show that Nixon gave the maximum allowable $2,700 donation to Hillary Clinton for her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and also threw in another $5,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and $2,300 to the Democratic National Committee, both of which infuriated the Sanders campaign for collaborating with each other against Sanders. It was no surprise when Nixon endorsed Cuomo after the primary.

More to the point here, none of the socialist, progressive, and environmental groups seemed concerned or even made themselves aware of what it meant to endorse a celebrity touting weakest climate bill, the CCPA. The left in the Democratic Party then gave Cuomo a free ride after the primary, with no protest of his pro fossils and nukes energy policies, not to mention his conservative economic policies that kept the real estate barons and Wall Street financial oligarchy giving and giving to his campaign to the tune of over $50 million.

McKibben and the Democrats

In middle of the campaign in August, the Democratic National Committee reinstated their Obama-era “all-of-the-above” energy policy language that really means fracked oil and gas and subsidized nuclear power. As a Sanders-appointed platform committee member in 2016, McKibben had helped remove the all-of-the-above language from the Democratic platform. At the same time, however, McKibben had lamented in Politico that most of his proposed amendments to the Democrats’ energy platform had been defeated: a carbon tax, a fracking ban, a fossil fuel extraction ban on public lands, an IMF/World Bank funding ban for fossil fuel projects, an eminent domain ban for fossil fuel infrastructure, and a federal agencies mandate to weigh the climate impact of their decisions.

After the DNC’s return to the all-of-the-above policy, which also welcomed donations from fossil fuel interests, McKibben apparently felt it necessary to explain himself for sticking with the Democrats. Writing in the New York Review of Books, he actually used Margaret Thatcher’s old conservative taunt at the left, “There is no alternative.” Going out of his way to attack the US Green Party, he acknowledged the positive role of Green parties in Europe, Australia, and Canada but argued that America is exceptional. He said we don’t have a parliamentary system where “you can vote for the Greens without being a spoiler.” McKibben confused parliamentary governmental structures with proportional electoral systems. A parliamentary system is where the legislative body elects the executive leadership. A proportional representation election is where each party wins seats in the legislative body in proportion to the vote they receive. The UK and Canada have parliamentary governments where they elect representatives by same single-seat, winner-take-all system as the US does. The UK and Canadian Green parties have really “spoiled” some of those elections by winning seats in their parliaments. Of course, a higher proportion of Greens are elected in other countries with proportional systems.

Not understanding that Greens have won under both winner-take-all and proportional systems, McKibben called on the US Greens to stop running national candidates. He even apologized for his “self-absorption” in voting against “poor Jimmy Carter” in 1980 and for the Citizens Party safe energy candidate, the environmental scientist Barry Commoner. McKibben seems to have forgotten how terrible Carter was for the climate, from the Carter Doctrine of fighting wars for oil in the Persian Gulf to his plan for massive public subsidies for a “synfuels” coal-gasification assault on the climate, air, and water. McKibben lamely concluded his apology for the Democrats by writing, “Election day, oddly, is the only day not to make moral choices.”

What McKibben fails to see is that we are more effective in winning demands by sticking with them even if our candidates don’t win the offices. As the Green candidate for governor in 2010, I ran on a Green New Deal that included a ban on fracking at a time when half of the environmental movement still said natural gas was the lesser evil to coal and thus “the bridge renewable future,” and the other half was calling for a moratorium to study the impact of fracking on water. Democratic leaders, from the Obama administration to New York Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, were touting fracking as a huge economic opportunity.

We called for a fracking ban for climate grounds as well as water and economic development grounds. We gave voice to the grassroots anti-fracking movement in the Marcellus Shale region who already faced the slick fracking interests who were offering too-good-to-be-true promises in economically-depressed upstate New York of gas royalties that would supposedly make them rich if they permitted fracking in their communities. The fracking ban demand caught on with the environmental movement during the campaign. After the election, most of the environmental and progressive groups started demanding a ban on fracking. Anti-fracking activists dogged Cuomo all over the state with that demand over the next four years.

In the 2014 gubernatorial election, Zephyr Teachout in her Democratic primary challenge to Cuomo and me in the general election both received nearly 200,000 votes with the fracking ban as a central demand of both campaigns. After the election, Cuomo, who wanted to recapture the 5% of the vote I received, bent to the political winds and banned fracking. If we had not stuck to our guns and made the fracking ban demand without compromising to appease Democratic leaders, we would not have won it. That, not making politicians’ compromises for them, is how to change what is possible.

The battle over New York energy and climate policy is coming to a heard. On May 16, Governor Cuomo faces a deadline for deciding whether or not to permit the hotly contested Williams Pipeline for gas coming from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania, through residential areas of New Jersey, and under New York Harbor to the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. On May 17, another public hearing on climate legislation will be held in New York City. The CCPA and NY OFF proponents will make their cases again.

The legislators and the governor are now negotiating in public, with a spokesperson for the governor saying the administration prefers “carbon neutrality versus zero emissions … to have flexibility because we want to be able to do sustainable biofuels [and] carbon capture and storage,” i.e., fracked-gas power plants. and the Sunrise Movement continue to laud the CCPA. Sean McElwee, whose Data for Progress think tank provided the policy framework and polling for AOC’s Green New Deal, recently chimed in to tout the CCPA in The Nation without mentioning NY OFF or the Green New Deal for New York bill, which is modeled after AOC’s nonbinding congressional resolutions except that it would be binding.

An Ecosocialist Green New Deal

Even if we are able to get a bill passed this year with the 100% by 2030 goal in NY OFF and GND NY, it will not be enough. The climate movement will have to take on militarism and capitalism if it is to win the changes we need on the scale and within the timeframe that the climate crisis now demands. It’s time to campaign for an ecosocialist Green New Deal.

We need to start building renewable energy systems with the massive public mobilization of resources that the US fought World War II with. The US devoted half of its national product to the war effort. It owned and centrally planned a quarter of U.S. manufacturing plant in order to turn industry on a dime to build the “Arsenal of Democracy” that defeated the Nazis. We need nothing less now to defeat climate change. “It’s Ecosocialism or Death!” as Kali Akuna put it recently in an interview on Green New Deal proposals.

The AOC/Markey nonbinding resolution if far from enough. A federal Green New Deal should include a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure. In order to defeat the greatest threat to our security today—climate change—a federal Green New Deal must make deep cuts in military spending and redirect engineering knowhow and manufacturing plant to building a clean energy economy.

Politically, we can only build the majority support needed to carry though a climate action program with a Green New Deal that links climate security to economic security. The Green New Deal should include an Economic Bill of Rights that guarantees living-wage jobs, incomes above poverty, decent housing, comprehensive health care, and lifelong public education for all.

Capitalists seeking profits in markets are not going to make the clean energy revolution. Exxon and the Koch Brothers are not going to reinvest their fossil fuel earnings in renewables. Big Oil must be nationalized. Investor-owned utilities have every interest in extending for as long as possible the life of the fossil-fueled power and gas heating infrastructure that they now own and profit from. We must socialize power and gas utilities. A public energy system is needed so the people the democratic power to plan and carry through a rapid transition to zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy.

Corporate agribusiness relies on pesticides, GMOs, and the depletion of soils and aquifers for short-term profits. It contributes to global warming by destroying the natural carbon sink of living soil. Aside from its climate impact, its pesticides and habitat destruction are leading causes of the mass extinctions of insects and other species that threaten to collapse ecosystems and thus food production. Corporate agribusiness must be replaced by a regenerative organic agriculture, with parity pricing and supply management programs to guarantee working farmers a decent income above production costs.

Drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and into the biosphere through afforestation and habitat restoration will never be profit-making enterprises. They will be public services. So will, as seems increasingly necessary to preserve a safe climate at this late date, a new industry of solar-powered acceleration of the natural weatherization process in the geological carbon cycle that turns atmospheric carbon into solid carbonates in Earth’s crust.

We can’t get to 100% clean energy without converting all sectors of production, from manufacturing and agriculture to transportation, building construction, and urban design. Social ownership of key industries combined with democratic, bottom-up planning will therefore be required to effectively coordinate the inter-related ecological and peace conversion of all productive sectors to clean energy and ecological sustainability.

Ecosocialist system change is what the climate movement should now be fighting for to avert a climate holocaust. We need to get back below 350 ppm. A bill aiming for 450 ppm won’t do. A federal Green New Deal that fails to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure and to demand conversion of most of the military-industrial complex to a Global Green New Deal doesn’t come close to what is needed. It is time for the climate movement to stop compromising its demands to what Democratic politicians are willing to do, demand what is needed, and make the politicians come to them.

Climate Change was No Accident

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:53

Years ago, tobacco companies discovered the link between their products and lung cancer. Did they warn their customers? No — they denied the link entirely, misleading the public for decades while killing their customers.

Similarly, ExxonMobil scientists made startlingly accurate predictions about climate change as early as 1982 — and then spent millions of dollars on a misinformation campaign to sow public doubt about climate change.

They didn’t need to convince the public that the climate crisis wasn’t happening. They just had to muddy the waters enough to prevent us from doing anything.

They provoked uncertainty: Maybe the climate crisis isn’t happening. And even if it is, maybe it’s not caused by humans burning fossil fuels. (Of course, it is happening and it is caused by humans.)

The result was inaction.

If we aren’t even sure that a human-caused climate crisis is afoot, why should we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels? It would be highly inconvenient and very expensive to go to all of that trouble unless we’re absolutely certain that we need to.

After all, the argument went, “only” 97 percent of scientists believe that human are causing a climate crisis.

I’m a scientist. Let me tell you, when 97 percent of scientists agree on anything, the evidence must be overwhelming.

Scientists are trained to critique and argue with one another. We make our careers by pulling apart other scientists’ theories and exposing the flaws in them and then supplanting them with better theories of our own.

You couldn’t get 97 percent of scientists to agree that puppies are cute or chocolate is delicious.

What about other 3 percent? You can always find one or two nutty so-called scientists with inaccurate, fringy theories out there. There’s probably a scientist somewhere attempting to publish a study asserting that Bigfoot exists — or that climate change isn’t happening.

Science is a community endeavor in which we try to collectively discover and advance the truth. The goal is that the community as a whole achieves a consensus or near-consensus that is as accurate as possible.

If 97 out of 100 scientists agree that humans are causing catastrophic climate change, that’s a consensus.

The difference between lying about the deadliness of tobacco and lying about the deadliness of fossil fuels is who gets harmed by those lies.

Tobacco is deadly — I’ve lost two grandparents to its ill effects — but tobacco is most harmful to those who use it. The climate crisis is deadly to everyone, whether they are responsible for causing it or not. It will continue to hurt people for generations, even after humans stop polluting at such alarming levels as they do now.

The Exxon Mobil executives who’ve profited from fossil fuels did so while knowing that they were trading a few decades of profits for the entire future of the planet and all of the species on it.

We’re beyond the point where we tell ourselves that changing our light bulbs can help. The fix for the climate crisis must come from the highest levels. It requires large-scale systemic changes and not a few insufficient individual actions.

And it could start with consequences for the industry that caused the crisis on purpose.

Debunking Myths About Wealth and Race

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:53

I don’t get that much hate mail — except when I write about race.

This spring I coauthored a report called “Ten Solutions to Bridge the Racial Wealth Divide.” My coauthors and I found that the median white family today owns 41 times more wealth than the median black family and 22 times more wealth than the median Latinx family.

To fix it, we proposed new public programs, changes to the tax code, and a commission to study reparations for slavery, among other things.

The floodgates opened. My inbox, along with many comment sections at news outlets and on social media, overflowed with angry objections. Most of these blamed the wealth divide on poor individual decision making by people of color.

Are black families are 41 times worse at decision making than white families? No — that’s a racist falsehood.

In fact, here are the three most common racist falsehoods I heard about the wealth divide — with data to explain why they’re wrong. Feel free to bust this out at your next family get-together.

Falsehood No. 1: Black and Latinx families have less money because they’re led by single parents.

Nope. A 2017 study from Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy showed that single-parent white families have twice as much wealth as two-parent black and Latinx families.

In other words, raising kids in a two-parent household doesn’t close the racial wealth divide.

Falsehood No. 2: Black people are poor because they’re less educated.

Hard no. A 2015 study titled “Umbrellas Don’t Make It Rain” found that black families led by college graduates “have about 33 percent less wealth than white families whose heads dropped out of high school.”

In fact, according to that 2017 Demos study, “The median white adult who attended college has 7.2 times more wealth than the median black adult who attended college and 3.9 times more wealth than the median Latino adult who attended college.”

In other words, higher education doesn’t close the racial wealth divide.

Falsehood No.3: Black people don’t work or are bad with money.

Definitely not. Demos found that white families actually spend more and save less than black families with the same income. Yet white families have way more wealth than black families with the same income.

The Umbrellas adds that “white families with a head that is unemployed have nearly twice the median wealth of black families with a head that is working full-time.”

In other words, not even income alone can close the racial wealth divide.

So if these arguments are all false, what’s really going on here?

The simplest answer is a history of oppression and inherited advantage. The impacts of slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, white capping, red lining, mass incarceration, and predatory subprime lending, among many other things, are still very much with us.

Many white children, by contrast, start life with a more robust safety net of family wealth. It may be as small as getting a few hundred bucks from their parents when they really need it, or as big as a few hundred thousand for things like college, weddings, or their first home.

Addressing these problems is a lot harder than blaming oppressed people for their hardship. But if we’re going to address racial disparities in this country, we must heed James Baldwin’s challenge that “nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It’s not individual behavior that drives the racial wealth divide — it’s a system that many folks pretend doesn’t exist.

Iran Notes

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:53

“Boys go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran”

– Bush official, 2003

Gibbon in his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire writes of the Romans, “They endeavored to convince mankind that their motive was not the temptation of conquest but was actuated by the love of order and justice.”

West Asia, the Middle East is probably the most unstable part of the world – thanks largely to U.S. policy. And because of the region’s importance to U.S. hegemony people here are saturated with propaganda. Today, the drumbeats of war are getting louder and louder.

Relentless media coverage of Iran is almost always negative. The breathless overpaid network anchors intone in somber tones: Iran denies, Iran refuses, Iran turns down, Iran won’t accept, etc. Iran is a piñata for the regime in Washington. It is blamed for everything from measles to arthritis to acne. I don’t use the word administration for the rulers in Washington but rather regime.

Often U.S. people only become interested in the history of other countries when it’s too late. Iran is a case in point. History tells us that Iran has not invaded another country in at least 250 years.

Ignorance about Iran is laced with hubris and arrogance. The U.S. destroyed democracy in that country in 1953 with the CIA-led coup, Operation Ajax then supported the autocratic Shah for the next 26 years. These were fatal first steps.

Pompeo, when he represented Wichita, was known as the congressman from Boeing, demands that Iran “behave like a normal nation.” Does he mean, by any chance, the U.S. itself or its allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, all of whom violate international law?

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the Iran Deal was agreed to in 2015 by the 5 permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany. Yukiya Amano, the Director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, in charge of inspecting Iranian sites said Iran was “subject to the world’s most robust verification regime” and after multiple inspections said Iran was in compliance. In May of 2018 the U.S. pulled out of the Deal. Why did the U.S. abandon its commitment? The Deal which Washington hawks turned their backs on was working. A year later the Tweeter-in-Chief, National Insecurity Adviser Bolton and Pompeo turn up the heat on Iran, impose harsh sanctions and utter repeatedly the menacing phrase, “All options are on the table.”

Iran is accused by the U.S. of many things but far and away the most absurd charge is that Iran is somehow allied with Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Both these fundamentalist fanatical groups, and let’s include ISIS, detest Iran and regard its Shia Islamic faith as heresy.

This is what negotiations look like. It’s right out of the Mafia playbook. The U.S. is holding a gun to Iran’s head. Tehran must concede all of Washington’s demands in advance then and only then will we sit down and talk. Obey the Godfather or else.

Another regime hardliner is Brian Hook. He goes on PBS and NPR and denounces Iran’s “expansionist foreign policy from Lebanon to Yemen.” Is the pot calling the kettle black here? Hook and other regime officials accuse Iran of “malignant behavior in the Middle East” and call it the “the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.”

The Great Prevaricator-pulled out of the Iran Deal-maybe a form of birth control. More graphic terms would be, broke its word, abandoned or reneged.

Nick Shifrin on the ever sober and serious PBS News Hour on May 13 said that Iran, which he called uh-ran-, “had not received the benefits of the Deal.” He got that right. But why Nick? It’s because of the draconian sanctions Washington has imposed on Iran, causing great hardship for ordinary Iranians. Sanctions are a major weapon in the U.S. imperial tool box. Ask the Cubans. Sixty years of them. They got a little relief under Obama but that’s been rolled back by the Great Prevaricator.

NYTimes May 15, 2019, Front-page article – “This is a crisis that has entirely been manufactured by the Trump administration,” said Vali R. Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a frequent guest on the PBS NewsHour and NPR.

He pointed to Mr. Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, coupled with the administration’s failure to get any other nations to do so.

“None of the other signatories to the Deal were persuaded by the case the U.S. was making,” Mr. Nasr said. “And that is because this administration’s policy on Iran, at a fundamental level, does not have credibility.”

NYTimes May 14, 2019 front-page article – “One American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential internal planning, said the new intelligence of an increased Iranian threat was “small stuff” and did not merit the military planning being driven by Mr. Bolton. The official also said the ultimate goal of the yearlong economic sanctions campaign by the Trump administration was to draw Iran into an armed conflict with the United States.”

In echoes of the 2003 attack on Iraq there are hyped-up threats to what is called U.S. interests. These interests are never spelled out but surely they involve oil, U.S. military bases, Israel and the feudal, fundamentalist, patriarchal, homophobic, misogynist monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. Saudi Arabia itself, the home of intolerant Wahhabism, has done much to foment and bankroll jihadist groups in many countries..

The threats announced by Washington are never qualified as alleged, possible, supposed, rather they are stated as fact and are attributed to anonymous sources and couched in the passive voice, always a good cover as Orwell astutely pointed out. The media with few exceptions parrots the official line.

MidEast policy is being driven by war hawks Bolton and Pompeo, the latter says he is guided by the Bible. The bellicose war talk is not conducive to bring about peace talks and reconciliation. A first step would be to reestablish diplomatic relations. When I go to Iran I have to go through the Pakistani Embassy in Washington.

The Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group has been dispatched to the Persian Gulf. It was scheduled to go there on what is euphemistically called routine patrol. Its deployment was moved up a week. The carrier has 6,000 personnel and 50 fighter jets. It is accompanied by other warships. Iran has virtually no navy, certainly no aircraft carriers, or air force to speak of. Its ancient U.S. and French jets are mostly grounded as there are no spare parts.

Iran spends a pittance on its military compared to the U.S. and many other countries. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Iran in 2018 spent $15 billion. A little more than the cost of one U.S. aircraft carrier. Pentagon spending is close to a trillion dollars when all the budgets are factored in.

Wars and the threat of wars are great for the military industrial complex. Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Boeing and the other arms merchants make a fortune on weapons.

Be afraid. State Dept personnel are being evacuated from Iraq.

Trust U.S. intel and pronouncements from the White House? Do so at your peril. The record does not inspire confidence. The 17 intelligence agencies with budgets in the billions missed such minor events like the Tet Offensive, the overthrow of the Shah, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11. The agencies promoted as fact their “slam-dunk” cooked-up intel on Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction, mobile chemical labs and “mushroom clouds,” its putative links to Al-Qaida and 9/11, relying on charlatans like Ahmed Chalabi and a screwball informant known as curveball. We don’t even have to discuss the consequences of the invasion/occupation, the hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees and the rise of ISIS. The biggest intel failure of them all – climate disruption.

U.S. views of Iran are jaundiced by the 1979 revolution. Iran, under the Shah was a key part of U.S. control and domination of the Middle East. That was followed in November, 1979 with the hostage crisis. You have to ask, Why would Iranians seize the embassy? A little history is informative. Go back to 1953 when the U.S. embassy was the base for the coup which overthrew the popular democratic leader of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh and reinstalled the Shah on the Peacock Throne. The first instance, that I know of, of the term blowback occurs in the CIA report on the coup.

In September 1980 Iraq invades Iran, a clear violation of international law. Iraq uses chemical weapons against the Iranians. Iran does not respond in kind. Baghdad was removed from the State Department’s terrorism list and Iran was added. Donald Rumsfeld, Reagan’s Special Envoy, goes to Iraq and meets with Saddam Hussain. There’s a photo of the two great statesmen shaking hands. By 1987 the U.S. is fully backing Sadaam Hussein. U.S. warships are attacking Iranian oil installations. On July 3, 1988 Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian plane, is shot down by the U.S.S. Vincennes killing all 290 passengers and crew.

The captain of the Vincennes rather than being court martialed was given a medal. Later, when Bush the First is asked about the incident, he infamously said, “I don’t care what the facts are. I will never apologize for the United States of America.” A few years later the U.S. paid compensation to the victim’s families but without acknowledging any guilt or wrongdoing. The ancient Greeks knew hubris well and its deadly outcomes.

The U.S. does not like independent nationalism. All over the globe it seeks out and nurtures servile, obedient and compliant states who will speak when spoken to and will avert eye contact with the master.

After 9/11 – you’ll recall the Great Prevaricator saying he saw Muslims in Jersey City dancing in the streets. A total fabrication. In Iran there was a spontaneous outpouring of solidarity with the U.S. Many people lit candles and participated in vigils.

Iran has been attacked by jihadis from neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iranian diplomats were slaughtered in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

It looked like in the aftermath of 9/11, and with the moderate cleric Khatami as President that there would be closer relations between Iran and the U.S. Iran played a role in driving Al-Qaida out of Afghanistan. And then at the Bonn conference in December 2001, it was instrumental in getting its allies to support Hamid Karzai as the leader of Afghanistan. The honeymoon didn’t last long. In the next next month Bush the 2nd announced in his State of the Union address that Iran was on its Axis of Evil list. Quite a blow to Khatami who was moving for better ties with Washington. As in the case of the Deal, the hardliners were able to say, you can’t trust the Americans, they keep moving the goal posts..

Israel says Iran poses an existential threat. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world and it has nuclear weapons. And it has crucially the unconditional military, economic and diplomatic support of the world’s hyperpower. It is highly improbable that Iran would risk suicide by attacking Israel. Israel wants a monopoly on nukes in the Middle East. It reasons if Iran gets the Bomb, then Turkey, Egypt and S.A. will follow.

The bully in the bully pulpit is surrounded by bellicose voices of a dead-end imperialist mindset. Flag waving and war talk is not what is needed.

Negotiations instead of confrontation. Send diplomats, not warships, bombers and missiles.

Social Carrying Capacity Politspeak Bamboozle

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:52

As a scholar and social scientist I get annoyed when concepts are deployed for partisan purposes without regard for intellectual integrity. Having said that, I suspect that most politicians would find my distress silly, which is to be expected of a breed that exists to promote partisan ends using whatever rhetoric serves the immediate purpose. More to the point, politicians specialize in propaganda, one definition of which is: “Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect.” So, politspeak, in the spirit of Politburos and other perversions of public service.

But I expect something quite different from public servants working for administrative agencies. These people are tasked with implementing legislated policy as honestly and faithfully as possible, and, through that, maximizing benefits for the broader public they serve. Policy-relevant information is to be obtained, used, and communicated openly, with as little prejudice as possible. In other words, public communications by folks working for government bureaus should not be in the form of propaganda—not politspeak, at least in a democratic society, at least ideally.

Lethal Invocations

This brings me to public statements made during recent years by spokespeople for the federal and state agencies that manage our wildlife—more specifically, the use of a particular concept by grizzly bear managers in the Yellowstone ecosystem: that of “social carrying capacity.” To be fair, this usage is nested within a broader movement among wildlife managers who invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing all sorts of animals, which may partly explain but not excuse such prevarications.

And that’s the point. “Social carrying capacity” is invariably used to justify killing more animals. Here’s a sampler: by the Florida Wildlife Commission to institute a sport hunt on the threatened Florida black bear and increase lethal control of the endangered Florida panther; by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife to increase levels of sport hunt on black bears in Maine; by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to increase the harvest of mountain lions; by David Mech, a USGS wildlife scientist, to justify hunting wolves in Oregon and Wisconsin; and by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and state wildlife management bureaus of Montana and Wyoming to remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections and institute a sport hunt on grizzly bears in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is my focus here.

The Amorphous “We”

So what do wildlife managers seem to be saying when they invoke “social carrying capacity” as justification for killing these animals? Basically, it comes down to this: the assertion that “people” will not tolerate any more of these large carnivores (read grizzly bears for Yellowstone), which means that “we’ve” reached the limits for how many can be supported in a given area, which means that “we” need to start reducing numbers by killing more animals. In the case of Yellowstone’s grizzlies, the preferred method for killing these bears is through a sport hunt. “People” are viewed as a homogeneous blob, and socially-defined “carrying capacity” as some kind of objective fixed reality.

Conceptual Pedigree

It is worth noting that none of the wildlife managers deploying the concept of “social carrying capacity” have any obvious expertise in conceptualizing, assessing, or otherwise measuring social phenomena. They are certainly not social scientists. And they are certainly not acquainted with the pedigree of the concept they so freely invoke.

So what are the academic roots of “social carrying capacity”? This concept was first developed by social scientists thinking about the numbers of people that could recreate in an area before their collective enjoyment was critically impaired. Alan Graefe, currently at Penn State, and Jerry Vaske, of Colorado State University, wrote an article in 1984 that reviewed “social carrying capacity” applied to recreation and concluded that it was “…not an absolute value waiting to be discovered, but rather a range of values which must be related to specific management objectives for a given area.” Bill Burch, of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (as well as a friend of mine), wrote the concept off as being essentially useless in papers that he published during 1981 and 1984 in the journal Leisure Sciences. One of his articles was aptly titled “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Nonetheless, Dan Decker and Ken Purdy, both at Cornell, wrote a paper in 1988 that extended the concept to wildlife management, modifying the term to read “wildlife acceptance capacity.” Various academics have since tried to apply this wildlife-specific concept, resurrecting the moniker of “social carrying capacity.” Ben Peyton of Michigan State University recently related the concept to wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Not surprisingly, he concluded that there were four sub-populations of people typified by differing degrees of tolerance for wolves (from highly tolerant to highly intolerant), and that these levels of tolerance were rooted in basic beliefs about the benefits of wolves as well as concerns about negative impacts. He was not brash enough to construe from this how many wolves might be able to live in the Upper Peninsula. Rather, he noted that there was a wide range of highly fungible ideas about what that number might be.

An Amorphous Concept

To be fair, the concept of “social carrying capacity” gets at something fundamentally important, which is that people hold different perspectives about animals such as grizzly bears, which might translate into different ideas about how many of these animals they want, as well as willingness to encounter them or sustain material harm.

But there are huge problems with trying to package all of this in a concept such as “social carrying capacity,” which implies an ability on the part of wildlife managers to derive an unambiguous estimate of how many animals—say, grizzly bears—can live in an area, and from that arrive at some unimpeachable justification for deciding how many of these animals to kill. But such has been the presumption in virtually every instance where a wildlife manager has deployed the concept of “social carrying capacity.”

Morphous Differences

In fact, people have perspectives that engender different attitudes and expectations, with implications for how wildlife are managed. And these perspectives vary widely in reflection of different world views, different life experiences, and different external circumstances, all of which can be related to demographic proxies such as gender, age, race, place of residence, level of education, type of employment, and so on.

More explicitly, social science research has shown over and over again that white males with less education, living in rural areas, and employed in agriculture have notoriously little tolerance for large carnivores such as grizzly bears. Interestingly, most of these guys are hunters. And, of direct relevance to the drama of Yellowstone’s grizzly bears, these guys dominate wildlife management by holding the purse strings and controlling wildlife commissions. Moreover, they are among the politically best connected of all in the states of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana where we are trying to sustain the few grizzly bears left in the contiguous United States.

Put another way, “people” are not a homogeneous blob when it comes to political power or perspectives about grizzly bears. Nor are there an unambiguous number of grizzlies (or any other wildlife species) that can be sustained given the diversity of these human perspectives. In reality, peoples’ perspectives are way too varied and fungible to be translated into anything like an estimate of “carrying capacity,” including for grizzlies in Yellowstone. Different people want different things, with only inexact notions of how that might translate into size and distribution of a wildlife population–or levels of conflict and rates of encounter.

As important, people can have huge effects on these more concrete outcomes by how they behave and whether they chose to modify their behaviors. For example, whether ranchers in the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming chose to employ husbandry practices know to substantially reduce conflicts with grizzlies, or whether the US Forest Service chooses to revoke grazing permits for regressive ranchers who don’t make a good faith effort.


So, what the heck is going on with our wildlife managers? More specifically, what’s going on with state and federal managers charged with managing grizzly bears in Yellowstone?

The answer is pretty straight-forward. Grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity” as rhetorical cover for maintaining the status quo. And the status quo is largely about serving political masters (read conservative white male hunters, ranchers, or energy executives) who dominate wildlife commissions and have direct-line access to congressional delegations, state legislatures, and governor’s offices controlled by fellow regressive conservatives.

More correctly, wildlife managers are talking about political carrying capacity configured by their assessment of career prospects and the budgetary or other special interests of the wildlife management agencies they work for. To be fair, agency culture is also a major factor, including a deep-seated prejudice against predators that kill animals that would otherwise generate agency revenues through the sale of licenses to hunt large herbivores—at least according to agency myth.

Lethal Consequences

In Yellowstone, the consequences for grizzlies and those who care about them have been dramatic. The solemn intonation of “social carrying capacity” by wildlife managers has served as justification for drawing lines on maps with profound consequences for the life expectancies of grizzly bear. The current Primary Conservation Areas and Demographic Monitoring Areas for managing grizzly bears delimit the bounds beyond which these bears vaporize into the oblivion of institutionalized intolerance. Importantly, these existential lines do not denote much that is explicitly “social,” but rather much that is regionally political.

Interestingly, the notion of “social carrying capacity” was seized upon by opportunistic agency managers during 2004-2007 to capture rhetoric voiced by “advisory councils” constituted by the governors of Montana and Wyoming during 2002-2003. Notably, these highly politicized “councils,” billed as representing a “wide range of stakeholder interests,” served primarily to set the stage for the 2007 removal of ESA protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears—a move later over-turned by federal courts. This recent history uncannily foreshadows the current widely-publicized move by Montana’s governor to convene yet another “advisory council” that will no doubt intone, yet again, the presumed diktat of “social carrying capacity” as, yet again, presumed imperative to remove ESA protections for grizzly bears throughout the Northern Rockies. Or, more transparently: kill more grizzly bears as a balm to the wounds of ranchers, farmers, and conservative ideologues sustained by already ample federal subsidies.

Betraying the Public Trust

All of this brings me back to where I started. I am aggravated, not just by the betrayal of intellectual integrity implicit to how Yellowstone’s grizzly bear managers are using “social carrying capacity,” but also by the extent to which this usage is clearly part of a propaganda campaign that serves the partisan interests of wildlife management agencies and the politically well-connected few that they serve—not the broader public interest. It is especially egregious that a federal bureau such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service is so fully complicit in this betrayal of the public interest when this agency should be representing the interests of all people in the United States, not just ranchers and hunters in states such as Wyoming.

Social carrying capacity? The term should be relegated to the trash bin of Orwellian Politspeak.

The Pompeo Smirk

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:52

No wonder Mr. Pompeo awkwardly laughed or, as it was described by some observers, “smirked,” when asked about the reports of the execution of four of the people with whom Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo had been negotiating a few shorts months ago. Their roles might have been reversed.

The smirk made its appearance when Mr. Pompeo was being interviewed on a Sunday news show, and was asked for his reaction to reports that life had not gone well for four of the people he had gotten to know during the two sessions North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump had conducted over the preceding 12 months.

The first session had been a phenomenal success and the second, although cut short, did not extinguish the flame of love that warmed Mr. Trumps’ heart whenever he thought of Mr. Kim.

After the first meeting in Singapore in June 2018, Mr. Trump said at a news conference that he and Mr. Kim had “developed a very special bond.  People are going to be very impressed. People are going to be very happy. . . .  I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past.”  Describing Mr. Kim, Mr. Trump said he was: “a very talented man.”

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018 and making reference to the historic meeting, Mr. Trump said in the manner of a child explaining the child’s affection for a person of whom the child’s parents disapprove:  “He likes me, I like him.  We get along.  He wrote me two of the most beautiful letters. When I showed one of the letters-just one- to [Japanese] Prime Minister Abe, he said: ‘This is actually a groundbreaking letter.’

Prior to the February 2019 meeting in Singapore, ,  Mr. Trump, said of his relationship with Mr. Kim:   “It’s a very interesting thing to say, but I’ve developed a very, very good relationship. We’ll see what that means.  But he’s never had a relationship with anybody from this country and hasn’t had lots of relationships anywhere.”

Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s ardor, the February 2019 summit was cut short by Mr. Trump because he and Mr. Kim could not come to an agreement on the United States lifting economic sanctions and on North Korea cutting back its nuclear arsenal. Mr. Trump explained that: “I’d much rather do it [a deal] right than do it fast.”

Mike Pompeo, the  Secretary of State who accompanied Mr. Trump  on the trip, commented on the early termination of the summit, saying:  “We are certainly closer today [to an agreement] than we were 36 hours ago, and we were closer then, than we were a month or two before that.”

Success in negotiations with North Korea is a bit like beauty-it is in the eye of the beholder.  What unconfirmed reports say happened in North Korea following the second  meeting, suggests that Mr. Kim was not quite as pleased with its  results as Mr. Pompeo had been. If reports are accurate,  Mr. Kim attributed the failure of the talks to four of his representatives and to make sure such an embarrassing failure would not happen again, the negotiators were lined up in front of a firing squad and executed.

During an interview on an ABC news program, Mr. Pompeo was asked about the reported execution and in response, he simply smiled or, as some described it, smirked, while declining to add anything to the reports but saying:  “It does appear that the next time we have serious conversations, my counterpart will be someone else.” Here is why Mr. Pompeo smirked.

He is mildly amused by the fact that those negotiators were working for a man whose retributive actions towards his  negotiators, was so violent.  Mr. Pompeo knows that those negotiators work for the same kind of manipulative, corrupt, and unpredictable tyrant as he.  Mr. Pompeo smirked because he knows that it was only luck of the draw that he works for Mr. Trump who lacks the ability, if not the wish, to have those who displease him shot.  If he could, he would.  He can’t.  Mr. Trump’s remedies for dealing with those who displease him is to utter the famous two-word phrase: “You’re fired.”

Mr. Pompeo smirked because he knows how much those who were shot would have preferred to be part of the corrupt Trump White House team rather than the corrupt North Korean entourage and he knows how lucky he is to be working for his nut job instead of  the other one.

There is in truth, little to smirk about when the person who is smirking works for Trump instead of Kim.  Both men are beneath contempt.


Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:52

Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing “on faith,” is actually able to cut down mountains and move them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste. We have not the slightest fear that this taste will be bad.

– Leon Trotsky, “Literature and Revolution” (1924)

For some Trotskyist groups, these words have been interpreted as a green light to support all sorts of ecomodernist schemas. For those unfamiliar with the term, it simply means using technology, often of dubious value, to ward off environmental crisis.

For example, the Socialist Workers Party, when it was still tethered to the planet Earth, was a strong supporter of Green values but after becoming unmoored it began to publish articles that asserted: “Science and technology — which are developed and used by social labor — have established the knowledge and the means to lessen the burdens and dangers of work, to advance the quality of life, and to conserve and improve the earth’s patrimony.”  These abstractions have meant in the concrete supporting GMO: “The latest focus of middle-class hysteria in face of the progress of science and technology is the campaign against foods that have been cultivated from seeds that have undergone a transplant of a strand of genetic material, DNA, from a different plant species–so-called transgenic organisms, or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).”

A split from the SWP, the Spartacist League is just as gung-ho. In a diatribe against ecosocialist scholar and Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster, they position themselves as global warming skeptics: “Current climate change may or may not pose a sustained, long-term threat to human society.” Their answer is very much in the spirit of the Trotsky quote above: “Instead, the proletariat must expropriate capitalist industry and put it at the service of society as a whole.” It turns out that Indian Point et al would be put at the service of society based on an article titled “Greens’ Anti-Nuclear Hysteria Amnesties Capitalism”.

Of course, the granddaddy of this kind of crude productivism is the cult around Spiked Online that while correctly perceived today as a contrarian and libertarian outlet. But its roots are in the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain that defended GMO, nuclear power, DDT, etc. using Trotsky’s rhetoric. Today, there’s nothing to distinguish it from Donald Trump’s Department of Energy.

As it happens, Trotsky’s business about moving mountains through technology serves as the epigraph to Jacobin’s special issue on environmentalism that is permeated by ecomodernist themes. Among them is an article by Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski titled “Planning the Good Anthropocene” that shares an affection for nuclear energy with the nutty sects listed above. They reason: “From a system-wide perspective, nuclear power still represents the cheapest option thanks to its mammoth energy density. It also boasts the fewest deaths per terawatt-hour and a low carbon footprint.” Their techno-optimism rivals that of Steven Pinker’s: “We patched our deteriorating ozone layer; we returned wolf populations and the forests they inhabit to central Europe; we relegated the infamous London fog of Dickens, Holmes, and Hitchcock to fiction, though coal particulates still choke Beijing and Shanghai.” As it happens, China is reducing coal particulates by displacing them geographically. The IEEFA, an energy think-tank, reported that a quarter of coal plants in the planning stage or under construction outside China are backed by Chinese state-owned financial institutions and corporations.

It seems that this kind of ecomodernism is contagious. To some extent, it is simply an adaptation to the capitalist system. Despite the ultraleft, Promethean language about harnessing technology to save the planet, it is essentially a defense of the status quo. Mesmerized by how the Communist Manifesto describes capitalism as revolutionizing the means of production, it fails to understand what Marx meant by revolutionizing. He was not embracing hydroelectric dams, et al but simply pointing out that capitalism had made it possible for creating the material basis for a classless society. However, his vision of a future communist society differed radically from that of the ecomodernists who saw communism as the preservation of the existing productive forces excluding private ownership. Key to communism for Marx would be the “Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”

In other words, Marx was less interested in chemical engineering than he was in social engineering. In the 19thcentury, England and other capitalist countries were undergoing an environmental crisis as serious as those we face today over climate change. Soil infertility had become so advanced that there were worries that mass starvation might ensue. The purpose of combining town and country was simply to provide the fertilizer that could enrich the soil, much of it coming from human beings. In Marx’s day, the Thames was a running sewer, a cause of diseases like cholera as well as a waste of a natural resource. Of course, technology came to the rescue in the form of nitrogen fertilizer but that came with unintended consequences such as the creation of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of an explosion of algae produced by the seepage of fertilizers into the Mississippi River from Midwest farms.

John Bellamy Foster has used the term “metabolic rift” to describe the contradictions that preoccupied Karl Marx after he became familiar with the research of German soil chemistry expert Justin von Liebeg. There is little evidence that Leon Trotsky thought much about such problems given his fixation on developing the USSR’s industrial capacity but there are strong suggestions that Nikolai Bukharin was far more open to looking at society-nature relationships that have become pronounced in the past fifty years or so as the capitalist produces one ecological crisis after another.

In 1921, he wrote “Historical Materialism: A System of Sociology”  in order to help develop a social science that could contend with that of the bourgeoisie. The work is startling for its grasp of the kind of environmental threats the UN warned about in a highly publicized report released to the public on May 6th. Bukharin wrote:

The world being in constant motion, we must consider phenomena in their mutual relations, and not as isolated cases. All portions of the universe are actually related to each other and exert an influence on each other. The slightest motion, the slightest alteration in one place, simultaneously changes everything else. The change may be great or small – that is another matter – at any rate, there is a change. For example: let us say the Volga forests have been cut down by men. The result is that less water is retained by the soil, with a resulting partial change in climate; the Volga “runs dry,” navigation on its waters becomes more difficult, making necessary the use, and therefore the production, of dredging machinery; more persons are employed in the manufacture of such machinery; on the other hand, the animals formerly living in the forests disappear; new animals, formerly not dwelling in these regions, put in their appearance; the former animals have either died out or migrated to forest areas, etc.; and we may go even further: with a change in climate, it is clear that the condition of the entire planet has been changed, and therefore an alteration in the Volga climate to a certain extent changes the universal climate. Further, if the map of the world is changed to the slightest extent, this involves also a change – we must even suppose – in the relations between the earth and the moon or sun, etc., etc.

In the 1920s, as Joseph Stalin embarked on a rapid industrialization program that led ultimately to the ruination of Soviet agriculture, Chernobyl, the death of the Aral Sea from cotton production, and—ultimately—the collapse of the economic system itself, a group of engineers and economists grew increasingly alarmed by the dictator’s destructive approach both to natural resources and the working people who were expected to transform it according to his mad-dash plans for rapid industrialization.

There was an alternative approach represented by Peter Palchinsky, a civil engineer who joined the Communist Party shortly after the 1917 revolution. Palchinsky was enthusiastic about planning. He believed that the Soviet Union opened up possibilities for the planning of industry that were impossible under Tsarism. He thought that engineers could play a major role in the growth of socialism.

Palchinsky argued against the type of gigantic enterprises that were beginning to capture Stalin’s rather limited imagination. He noted that middle-sized and small enterprises often have advantages over large ones. For one thing, workers at smaller factories are usually able to grasp the final goals more easily. He believed that the single most important factor in engineering decisions was human beings themselves. Successful industrialization and high productivity were not possible without highly trained workers and adequate provision for their social and economic needs.

His differences with Stalin’s pyramid-building approach erupted over the Great Dnieper Dam project, one of the most fabled 5-year plan projects. Palchinsky made the following critiques. The project didn’t take into account the huge distances between the dam and the targeted sites. As a consequence, there would be huge transmission costs and declines in efficiency.

Also, the project didn’t take into account the damage resulting floods would cause to surrounding farms situated in lowlands. Some 10,000 villagers had to flee their homes. As the project fell behind schedule and overran costs, the workers’ needs were more and more neglected. The workers suffered under freezing conditions, living in cramped tents and barracks without adequate sanitary facilities. TB, typhus, and smallpox spread throughout the worker’s quarters.

Palchinsky argued forcefully against projects such as these and offered a more rational, humane and less ideologically driven approach. In other words, he stressed sound engineering and planning methods. He helped to organize a study group dedicated to his principles. Palchinsky and other engineers who opposed Stalin’s bureaucratic system allied themselves to some extent with Bukharin and Rykov who had often defended engineers and their approach to industrial planning.

Stalin cracked down on the Bukharin opposition around the same time as he attacked dissident engineers and had Palchinsky imprisoned and finally executed. His criticisms of Stalin anticipated many of the failures of Soviet industrialization. The Chernobyl disaster in particular could be attributable to the same type of bureaucratic myopia that afflicted the Dnieper dam project.

In researching this article, I discovered that Leon Trotsky took the side of Stalin against Palchinsky and his comrades. Once Stalin had decided that the NEP had outlived its usefulness and that rapid industrialization was necessary, Trotsky gave him critical support. Some of his supporters even grumbled that Stalin had stolen his thunder.

In 1928, Trotsky wrote “The Third International After Lenin”as the first in a series of polemics against Stalinism, much of which stands up well today. However, in a chapter dealing with the social basis of the emergence of a bureaucratic caste, he cast aspersions on non-proletarian layers:

The grain strike of the kulaks, who drew behind them the middle peasants; the collusion of the Shakhty specialists with capitalists; the protection or semi-protection of the kulak strike by an influential section of the State and party apparatus; the fact that communists were able to shut their eyes to the counter-revolutionary secret maneuvers of technicians and functionaries; the vile license of scoundrels in Smolensks and elsewhere, under the cover of “iron discipline” – all these are already incontrovertible facts of the utmost importance.

Those “Shakhty specialists” are none other than Palchinsky and his comrades who were the very first people to suffer through a show trial in the USSR, 10 years before Bukharin and most of the top Bolsheviks would be accused of supporting the Nazis in the infamous Moscow Trials. It is disconcerting to see Trotsky giving backhanded support to the Shakty trial. The group was charged with a multitude of crimes, including planning the explosions in the mines near Shakhty, a town in the North Caucasus. It was exactly this kind of outrageous false charge that would permeate the Moscow Trials.

In 1925, Leon Trotsky was stripped of his duties as People’s Commissar of War and given a minor post as head of the electro-technical board, and chairman of the scientific-technical board of industry. In this capacity, he did his best to carry out his responsibilities despite the demotion, especially since, as he reported in “My Life”, he was “was specially interested in the institutes of technical science” and in his “spare time studied textbooks on chemistry and hydro-dynamics.” His job involved keeping an eye on the construction of the Dnieper dam as he reported in “My Life”: “I became deeply interested in the Dnieper enterprise, both from an economic and a technical point of view. I organized a body of American experts, later augmented by German experts, to safeguard the power station from defective estimates, and tried to relate my new work not only to current economic requirements but also to the fundamental problems of socialism.”

Missing from the chapter on this phase of his life is any mention of the horrors that befell working people forced to work under intolerable conditions. In fact, he only saw its upside as reflected in a speech he gave to a Communist youth group in 1926: “In the south the Dnieper runs its course through the wealthiest industrial lands; and it is wasting the prodigious weight of its pressure, playing over age-old rapids and waiting until we harness its stream, curb it with dams, and compel it to give lights to cities, to drive factories, and to enrich ploughland. We shall compel it!”

It is doubtful that either Leon Trotsky or Peter Palchinsky gave much thought to the ecological consequences of massive hydroelectric dams that were being built both in the USSR and in the United States as part of the New Deal. Recently, I had an encounter with a Syracuse University professor named Matthew Huber who shares the ecomodernist outlook of Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski. In an article for the DSA’s Socialist Forum magazine titled “Ecosocialism: Dystopian and Scientific”, Huber endorsed nuclear power and factory farming. All this was part of endorsing a Green New Deal that he hoped would live up to FDR’s original. In an article on the Verso blog titled “Building a Green New Deal: Drawing Lessons from the Original New Deal”, he shares Trotsky’s enthusiasm for massive dams.

They built dams to deliver cheap electricity to entire regions. Amazingly, they even hired Woody Guthrie to sing songs about Columbia River doing work for the people (“‘Roll along, Columbia, you can ramble to the sea, But river, while you’re rambling, you can do some work for me.”) Can we imagine Bob Dylan singing such a song about the carbon fee and dividend?

Evidently, Huber was not perturbed by this verse from the Woody Guthrie song:

Tom Jefferson’s vision would not let him rest
An empire he saw in the Pacific Northwest
Sent Lewis and Clark and they did the rest
So roll on, Columbia, roll on

One might hope that Huber would find time to read Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West that is a cautionary tale about mega-dams of the kind that the New Deal fostered. After referring to Woody Guthrie’s song that he found much more impressive than the dam itself, he debunked the New Deal mystique that so many DSA’ers swallow hook, line and sinker:

Dust-bowlers and tenement dwellers were, it must said, only a small fraction of the intended beneficiaries of the remade Columbia River, not important enough in themselves to justify the effort and expense, particularly in light of the parallel development going on to the east of the Rockies, which aimed at keeping many of them at home. No, the principal goal in the Northwest was something else, something not so very different from what it was in the southern latitudes, in California, Arizona, and Texas: to repeat from the Bureau’s own mouth, total use for greater wealth. According to that agency, “we have not yet produced enough . . . to sustain a desirable and reasonable standard of living, even if goods were equitably distributed; and . . . there is no limit to the human appetite for the products of industry.”

More than sixty dams have been built along the Columbia River, including the Grand Coulee Dam that was built during the New Deal and that created a reservoir named after FDR. If it was a boon for big business, as indicated by Worster, it was a calamity for American Indians. It brought an end to the salmon that they had counted on for food and for ceremonies for over a thousand years. Probably the best thing happening today is the restoration of traditional river flows and the replacement of mega-dams with those more environmentally sustainable ones with a smaller footprint. As part of the socialist future we hope to see before capitalism destroys the planet, there will be alterations to the way we live that do not fit into ecomodernist schemas but in the long run it will be best for us and for nature even if some attack them as “reactionary” or “neo-Malthusian”. One can’t blame Leon Trotsky too much for having an overabundance of confidence in technology but there is no excuse for DSA’ers or Jacobin authors.

Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:51

We’re living in the most perilous time for abortion rights and reproductive freedom since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

While some erosion of abortion rights has occurred over the decades — parental consent laws, waiting periods, procedure curtailment — the fundamental right has largely been by ruled by the courts, and viewed by the public, as guaranteed under Roe. Around 60 percent of Americans support a legal right to the procedure.

Now state legislatures are escalating their assault on that right — and on the women who attempt to exercise it.

Yes, merely banning abortion isn’t enough for some on the rabid right — they want to criminalize it altogether. Alabama’s legislature just passed a bill that would make performing an abortion punishable by up to 99 years in prison. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

In Georgia, some speculate that the state’s new anti-abortion law leaves open the possibility for women obtaining an abortion after six weeks, or even miscarrying, to be charged with murder.

Since President Trump succeeded in elevating Brett Kavanaugh — an abortion foe, alleged sexual assailant, and mean drunk to boot — to the Supreme Court, his right-wing lynch mob has launched a laser-focused attack on reproductive freedom. They’ve been flooding the states with anti-abortion legislation in hopes of getting a case to the Supreme Court that will overturn Roe.

Republicans paved the way for Trump’s conservative hijack of the judiciary during Obama’s tenure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held the Supreme Court seat created by Justice Scalia’s death vacant for more than a year until the next election, along with 108 other federal judgeships that require only Senate approval. Trump is wasting no time filling the vacancies.

To grease the wheels, the Judiciary Committee has ended the decades-old practice of seeking advice from the American Bar Association on nominee qualifications and started holding hearings during congressional recesses. Recently the Senate voted to shortcut the process even more by reducing the time between final confirmation votes on district court judges from 30 hours to just two.

Currently, 85 percent of Trump’s circuit court nominees are members of the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative legal network strongly connected to anti-abortion organizations.

Many of Trump’s nominees for lower courts are outspoken foes of abortion rights themselves. Case in point: In a ruling upholding the constitutionality of a Kentucky law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and make the fetal heartbeat audible to the patient, Judge John K. Bush referred to “unborn life” rather than “fetus.”

Packing the courts with anti-choice judges is a necessary precursor of the larger strategy taking aim squarely at Roe. Judges can’t decide until they have something to decide on — and arch-conservative zealots are serving up plenty of potential cases.

More than 250 bills restricting abortions have been filed in 41 states this year. At least a third have successfully passed 20-week abortion bans, based on the unfounded assertion that a fetus can feel pain 20 weeks after fertilization. “Fetal heartbeat bans,” which outlaw abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, have passed in at least six states and are being pushed in several more. Some of these laws, like Ohio’s, offer no exceptions for rape or incest.

Doctors say such bans could outlaw abortions as early as five weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. Though laws have been blocked from taking effect pending court challenges, abortion opponents are banking on at least one of these attempts being upheld by Trump’s anti-abortion Supreme Court majority, overturning Roe.

Georgia and Alabama have moved the goalposts for extreme anti-abortion laws. But the most horrific bill of all was recently debated in the Texas state legislature. It defines all abortions as murder, punishable by death in Texas. It hasn’t passed yet, but the numbers are frightening: 446 people testified in favor the Texas measure, with only 54 standing against it.

Will burning at the stake be next? Be very afraid.

The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:51

If you’re nervous about traffic stops, you have every reason to be.

Trying to predict the outcome of any encounter with the police is a bit like playing Russian roulette: most of the time you will emerge relatively unscathed, although decidedly poorer and less secure about your rights, but there’s always the chance that an encounter will turn deadly.

According to the Justice Department, the most common reason for a citizen to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop.

On average, one in 10 Americans gets pulled over by police.

Indeed, police officers have been given free range to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

This free-handed approach to traffic stops has resulted in drivers being stopped for windows that are too heavily tinted, for driving too fast, driving too slow, failing to maintain speed, following too closely, improper lane changes, distracted driving, screeching a car’s tires, and leaving a parked car door open for too long.

Motorists can also be stopped by police for driving near a bar or on a road that has large amounts of drunk driving, driving a certain make of car (Mercedes, Grand Prix and Hummers are among the most ticketed vehicles), having anything dangling from the rearview mirror (air fresheners, handicap parking permits, troll transponders or rosaries), and displaying pro-police bumper stickers.

Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop.

Equally appalling, in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court—which has largely paved the way for the police and other government agents to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance—allowed police officers to stop drivers who appear nervous, provided they provide a palatable pretext for doing so.

In other words, drivers beware.

Traffic stops aren’t just dangerous. They can be downright deadly.

Remember Walter L. Scott? Reportedly pulled over for a broken taillight, Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”

Levar Jones was stopped for a seatbelt offense, just as he was getting out of his car to enter a convenience store. Directed to show his license, Jones leaned into his car to get his wallet, only to be shot four times by the “fearful” officer. Jones was also unarmed.

Sandra Bland, pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, was arrested after refusing to comply with the police officer’s order to extinguish her cigarette and exit her vehicle. The encounter escalated, with the officer threatening to “light” Bland up with his taser. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell.

Keep in mind, from the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat. However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical.

Survival is key.

Americans need to know their rights when it comes to interactions with the police, bearing in mind that many law enforcement officials are largely ignorant of the law themselves.

Technically, you have the right to remain silent (beyond the basic requirement to identify yourself and show your registration). You have the right to refuse to have your vehicle searched. You have the right to film your interaction with police. You have the right to ask to leave. You also have the right to resist an unlawful order such as a police officer directing you to extinguish your cigarette, put away your phone or stop recording them.

You have the right under the First Amendment to ask questions and express yourself. You have the right under the Fourth Amendment to not have your person or your property searched by police or any government agent unless they have a search warrant authorizing them to do so.  You have the right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent, to not incriminate yourself and to request an attorney. Depending on which state you live in and whether your encounter with police is consensual as opposed to your being temporarily detained or arrested, you may have the right to refuse to identify yourself. Presently, 26 states do not require citizens to show their ID to an officer (drivers in all states must do so, however).

Knowing your rights is only part of the battle, unfortunately.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the hard part comes in when you have to exercise those rights in order to hold government officials accountable to respecting those rights.

As a rule of thumb, you should always be sure to clarify in any police encounter whether or not you are being detained, i.e., whether you have the right to walk away. That holds true whether it’s a casual “show your ID” request on a boardwalk, a stop-and-frisk search on a city street, or a traffic stop for speeding or just to check your insurance. If you feel like you can’t walk away from a police encounter of your own volition—and more often than not you can’t, especially when you’re being confronted by someone armed to the hilt with all manner of militarized weaponry and gear—then for all intents and purposes, you’re essentially under arrest from the moment a cop stops you. Still, it doesn’t hurt to clarify that distinction.

While technology is always going to be a double-edged sword, cell phones are particularly useful for recording encounters with the police and have proven to be increasingly powerful reminders to police that they are not all powerful.

A good resource is The Rutherford Institute’s “Constitutional Q&A: Rules of Engagement for Interacting with Police.”

Clearly, in the American police state, compliance is no guarantee that you will survive an encounter with the police with your life and liberties intact.

So if you’re starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed, intimidated and fearful for your life and the lives of your loved ones, you should be.

Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:50

Isn’t it obvious? A moronic president with no firm principles other than the preservation of his base’s support chose as his third national security advisor the notorious John Bolton. Bolton is using his position to try to guide the supposedly isolationist president into more wars of imperialist aggression. He is the Wormtongue in Trump’s court, allied not with Saruman and Mordor but Binyamin Netanyahu, Prince Mohammad bin Salman and the neocon cause for Middle East dominance. He presently tows the administration’s line in seeking peace with North Korea, but he has historically urged regime change in the DPRK. He was probably the one who at the last minute sabotaged the announcement of an already worked out agreement in Hanoi.

He has long been a proponent of regime change in Venezuela, and deliberately threatened to post 5000 U.S. troops in Colombia to “assist” Venezuelans (and distribute food to them, and help in the coup). The planned coup fizzled however, much to the disappointment of the corporate media that was expecting high drama last week. Trump reportedly felt he’d been misled to think the clown Guaido would be able to seize power. He may blame Bolton for that.

Bolton has been an advocate of regime in Syria, too, for over two decades. He has lied before to produce pretexts for U.S. actions (or to justify Israeli ones) against the Syrian state. Most of all he has demanded the bombing of Iran, on the basis of the Big Lie that Iran has ever had anything other than a peaceful, civilian nuclear program (initially supported by General Electric under the Eisenhower “Atoms for Peace” program in the 1950s). Now he is chomping at the bit, thinking his moment has come.

Trump is besieged by investigations, embarrassing revelations about his rather pathetic business history, and fallout from the China trade war. Impeachment is a real possibility, if House hearings show criminality so obvious that Republicans will desert the president. (It is not as though all Republican Senators love him; they are simply too awed by his solid 35-40% to break with him publicly.) The president is no doubt distracted and troubled.

In this context a National Security Council meeting was held in which the acting secretary of “defense” Patrick Shanahan (and Bolton) laid out options for a war with Iran. No fewer than six people present contacted the press afterwards to leak this news, indicating shock that such was even being considered.

Then Bolton, in a highly unusual statement in his own name, and perhaps without even the knowledge of the moron-president, announced that the U.S. was sending an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to respond to Iranian threats to U.S. troops and interests in the area. Even MSNBC and CNN are questioning the basis for the reported threats, which are obviously more Bolton bullshit.

Trump joked recently, “I’m actually the one who tempers John, isn’t that amazing?” implying that it was odd that
Bolton was even more bellicose and outrageous than himself. Hahahaha.

Imagine Bolton saying, “Look we can use those explosions on the UAE oil tankers in the Persian Gulf May 13 to blame Iran. Think about the U.S. Maine. You know? Oh you don’t? We used this accident on a U.S. navy ship in Havana Harbor in 1898 to blame it on Spain and go to war. Spain wasn’t responsible. But we got Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and Hawaii out of the deal.”

Trump perhaps laughs at this reminder (?) of U.S. history. He enjoys interacting with total warmongers. But he promised his base no more foreign wars. Morality has nothing to do with hesitation to send troops; when it comes to bombing and missile strikes Trump has shown his manhood in Afghanistan (dropping the monstrous MOAB bomb for the first time, just to show off what it could do) and Syria (striking some mothballed aircraft at a Syrian air force base in response to a bogus allegation of Syrian government sarin use). But he hesitates to deploy more troops abroad.

Yet suddenly (due to Bolton) we read of plans to dispatch 120,000 U.S. troops to the region around Iran if there’s some attack on U.S. forces. Or maybe, allied (Saudi, UAE) forces. Trump’s challenge to Iran, expressed in his childlike vocabulary, is both clear and totally unclear: “If they do anything they will suffer greatly.” Anything. Will there be war? “We’ll see.”

Bolton must have now gained enough insight into Trump’s malignant narcissistic personality that he knows what times and moods to exploit to pursue his own initiatives. Again, Trump may not even have been aware of Bolton’s announcement. But Secretary of State Pompeo would have known, and acting Secretary of War Shanahan (Boeing Aircraft executive with no military experience) would have known as he announced plans for a potential deployment of 120,000 troops.

The warmongers have swiftly risen in the administration, raising worries about war on Venezuela or Iran if not North Korea. Trump is mercurial, impulsive, impressionable, without compassion or conscience. At this point the equally evil Bolton is the worst Wormtongue to have at his side and in his ear.


Breaking news: Trump tells the press that he is not planning to send 120,000 troops to the Persian Gulf. (This is after the British Foreign Minister strongly advised against the move.) He calls it fake news. But, he adds, if he sends troops it will be a lot more than 120,000!

Unless you read that Bolton is fired in the near future, be rationally anxious. He’s a despised, crazed monster, as any time Google-searching will convince you. And he serves a man without empathy, who admires outrageously brutal and foul-mouthed men. The combination is terrifying.

The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:50

It had to come.  A massacre, broadcast in real time and then shared with viral automatism; the inevitable shock, and the counter from the authorities.  The Christchurch shootings, inflicting fifty-one deaths upon worshippers at two mosques in quiet New Zealand on March 15 this year, have spurred Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.  Laws have been passed regulating guns in her country.  Interest has increased in monitoring white nationalist groups.  But Ardern was never keen keeping the matter local.

In Paris, the NZ Prime Minister, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, brought other leaders and US tech giants to make a global pledge to “eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.”  The cheer squad feel behind the “Christchurch Call to Action” was unmistakable. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the “deadly consequences” of “hateful content online” and his enthusiasm behind the project. “Together, we can create a world where all people – no matter their faith, where they live, or where they are from – are safe and secure both on and offline.”  Stirring stuff.

The opening of the pledge starts with a description: “On 15 March 2019, people looked on in horror as, for 17 minutes, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was live streamed.”  The emphasis is significant here: not merely the atrocity itself but the means of its dissemination.  Stress falls upon the fact that “the live stream was viewed some 4,000 times before being removed.”

The premise of the call is exaggerated and forced: that the events were causedby online content the way a child’s violence can be caused by gormless hours of glued-to-screen viewing. Ignore the tingling motivating factors of the shooter in question, a view that was nurtured in the atmosphere of acceptable intolerance.  Ignore, as well, the contested, troubled literature on the “contagion” thesis behind mass shootings and killings.  The shooter becomes less significant than the act of streaming his exploits, or sharing unsavoury matter with chatty dolts on certain chat forums. “The attack was livestreamed, went viral and remains available on the web despite the measures taken to remove it.”

The call is framed is a clunky exercise pillowed by the language of openness, only to then flatten it.  It articulates “the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society.  Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental.”  But there is an unqualified injunction: “no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.”

It seems fluffy, the stuff of head-in-the-cloud enthusiasm, but lodged in such calls is a desperate, confused message with sinister implications.  Commitments, outlined by Trudeau’s office, include “building more inclusive, resilient communities to counter violent radicalisation” and “enforcing rules laws that stop the production and dissemination of terrorist and extremist content online.” Media outlets would also be told “to apply rules when reporting on terrorist events” to avoid amplification of the content.  This is ignorance as antidote, not reason as solution.

Online providers, in turn, are urged to, “Take transparent, specific measures seeking to prevent the upload of terrorist and violent extremist content and to prevent its dissemination on social media and similar content-sharing services”.  The qualifying point is that such measures are “consistent with human rights and fundamental freedoms.”  Transparent processes would include “publishing the consequences of sharing terrorist and violent extremist content”.

Livestreaming is the true bugbear here, with the need to implement “immediate, effective measures to mitigate the specific risk that terrorist and violent extremist content is disseminated”. Algorithms that might magnify the spread of material should also be reviewed.

A more “humane” internet is central to Ardern’s vision which, read another way, is one more regulated and policed of its content and uses.  This lies more in the realm of social engineering than it does in free self-correction, the call for presbyters of cyberspace to cull and remove what states, or the tech enforcers, deem inappropriate.  Given that “extremism” and “terrorism” remain very much in the eye of the censoring beholder, the dangers of this should be apparent. Dissidents, contrarians and commentators are bound to fall foul of the project.

The regulatory attitude outlined in the pledge has been twinned with a business object.  Silicon Valley, to remain in clover, has been convinced to make overtures and moves dealing with the sharing of “terrorist” and “extremist” content. Having become a punching bag for anxious regulators, Facebook announced that Facebook Live would be barred to those who, in the words of company official Guy Rosen, “have broken certain rules… including our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy”.  A “one strike” policy would be introduced.  Technical advances to combat “adversarial media manipulation” and improved “image and video analysis technology” were needed.

With such high minded calls for regulation and control from government voices, a seminal warning is necessary.  John Perry Barlow, in A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, began his call quite differently.  Traditional states were the problem.  “Governments of the Industrial world, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us.  You have no sovereignty where we gather.”

Such governments, with efforts to bring in the behemoths of Silicon Valley, have stated their clear purpose: to intrude upon Barlow’s world of the cyber mind and clip any sovereign pretext that might have ever existed.  The internet, for them, remains a vigilante playground, difficult to police with its bursts of anarchic sentiment and primeval insensibilities.  While Ardern’s sentiments are probably genuine enough, their authenticity hardly matters before the dangers such initiatives will create.  Symptoms have been confused, if not totally muddled, with causes; technology has been marked as the great threat.

Florida’s Sex Wars: the Battle to Decriminalize Sex Work

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:50

On May 3rd, the Florida legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 540 that extends the Soliciting for Prostitution Public Database to include “johns” and “pimps” as well as sex trafficking victims and sex workers.

In a follow-up press release, the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars warned state legislators, the “registry will be open to the public & aims to name & shame adults in the sex industry.”  Going further, it argued: “Every member of the Florida House and Senate has now shown how little regard each member has for the brave sex workers and victims of sex trafficking who testified about the unavoidable harm this bill will create in their communities.”

Speaking with the desperate voice of those who know what they are talking about, SWOT warned:

When we are killed because our names are placed on a registry, we will hold the Florida legislators responsible. When our kids are taken away from our safe homes, put into Florida’s dangerous foster-care system, perhaps cruelly beaten or sexually molested, we will also hold Florida legislators responsible.

It concluded, “Listen to sex workers and stop these arrests.”

Sex workers have been persecuted since the nation was founded. Today, while sex work is legal in only a handful of rural counties in Nevada, it is estimated to be a $14.5 billion enterprise.  Many men — from Presidents Trump and Kennedy, to tycoons like Jeffrey Epstein and Robert Kraft, to celebrities, sportsmen and all-too-many ordinary men — have been customers of sex workers.  The Fondation Scelles estimated that in 2012 there were one million prostitutes operating across the country.   Who knows how many sex workers there are as the economy tightens.

Three weeks earlier, on April 22nd, a coalition of sex workers, attorneys, civil rights activists and their supporters held a rally before the Orlando (FL) City Hall calling on state legislatures not to pass Bill 540as well as for the state to decriminalize sex work and for the genuine enforcement of sex-trafficking laws.  Speakers included current and former sex workers as well as representatives from SWOP, Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) and the Greater Orlando NOW.

The rally in Orlando was part of a movement slowing gaining momentum throughout the U.S. to decriminalize sex work. Active campaigns are underway in Florida as well as in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, California, Hawaii, Alaska and Washington, D.C.  Two presidential candidates — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) — have advocated for the decriminalize sex work.  “If a consenting adult wants to engage in sex work, that is their right, and it should not be a crime,” Gabbard said. “All people should have autonomy over their bodies and their labor.”  And the Florida chapter of NOW came out in support of sex-worker’s rights.

Kaytlin Bailey, a former sex worker and DSW’s communications director who participated in the rally, strongly opposed Florida’s legislative efforts to further criminalize sex work. She insists that “arresting sex workers isn’t a way of protecting them.  It’s a way to protect the gulf between what the police claim is a ‘rescue’ and the criminal charges these women face in sting operations like the one involving the high-profile billionaire Robert Kraft.”  She adds, “sex work should be decriminalized, because our government has no right to police our bodies. Arresting sex workers isn’t a way of protecting them.  It’s a way of protecting societal patriarchy.”


The women (and some men) who rallied at the Orlando City Hall to defend the interests of sex workers spoke to four interlinked issues that define prostitution today.  First, the personal experiences of sex work – it is not always trafficking but is often a choice; second, law enforcement seeks to collapse the difference between adult, consensual sex work and “trafficking”; third, the state legislature’s anti-sex politics are making the life of adult sex workers worse; and, fourth, the state needs to pass legislation that does not persecute sex workers.

Popular culture fosters a fiction about sex work. The 1990 comedy, Pretty Woman, directed by Garry Marshal and featuring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, has long left a false impression as to the life of a sex worker. Nearly three-decades later, Starz, the cable-satellite serviced, offered viewers the short-lived series, The Girlfriend Experience, that chronicled the exploits of a 21st-century sex worker, a young female attorney in training who leads a double life as a high-end escort or “girlfriend”.  Never asked, what is the real life of sex workers?

As painfully made clear by the women who spoke before the Orlando City Hall, sex work is a story of abuse, underpay and harassment – including rape, often by the police.  One of the women who spoke out was Christine Hanavan, a trained victim’s advocate with an MSW from University of Central Florida who is an organizer with SWOP Behind Bars and SWOP Orlando. She declared, “I’m an ally and advocate for sex workers and their human rights.” Going further, she insisted, “No one is more committed to ending violence and exploitation in the sex industry or knowledgeable about how to do it than sex workers.”

Addressing one of SWOP’s biggest complaints about the failed practices of state law enforcement, Hanavan noted that a 2015 inventory of Florida’s sexual assault kits found that 13,435 kits had never been submitted for analysis. She forcefully insisted:

“We must

… end the backlog on testing rape kits,

… stop rapists from raping,

… end rape by police,

… and stop arresting people for consensual sex.”

Hanavan drew special attention to Bill 540as well as other punitive laws being considered by Florida’s legislature that will only make the life of sex workers – and those truly trafficked – worse.  They include:

+ House Bill 851 –expands the charges that can be used to revoke the licenses of people who operate licensed massage therapists.

+ House Bill 219and Senate Bill 370 — would create new mandatory minimums for solicitation of human trafficking victims.

+ House Bill 527 andSenate Bill 168 – while dubbed,“Federal Immigration Enforcement,” they are anti-immigrant, anti-family, anti-worker, and anti-safety – and they’re also support human trafficking.

+ House Bill 259and Senate Bill 982 – while ostensibly requiring public-school health education about child abuse and human trafficking, they would actually remove educational requirements about teen dating violence and abuse.

In opposition to these repressive initiatives, SWOP and other groups supporting sex-worker rights back the “Florida Healthy Adolescent Act.” It would require actual comprehensive sexual health education including abstinence, not only abstinence.  As Hanavan affirms, “This is what we need to help adolescents learn healthy sexual attitudes and how to protect themselves. This is something sex workers say will reduce involvement in the sex industry and vulnerability to exploitation.”

Hanavan argues a simply – if all-important – message: “If our lawmakers want to address human trafficking, they should LISTEN TO SEX WORKERS and JUST STOP THE ARRESTS.”


Alex Andrews, an Orlando sex worker and a SWOP advocate, argues, “Our legislators and law enforcement have been led to believe that sex trafficking is huge in Florida, but studies have shown that because sex trafficking and sex work is being conflated all the time.”

Over the last decade, nearly every state has either passed or toughened existing laws concerning what is labeled “human trafficking.” It a category covering both labor (e.g., house cleaning, farm labor and sweatshop manufacturing) and – especially — sex work (i.e., prostitution).  As sex work, traffickingoften involves underage juveniles, mostly girls.  Among the venues in which sex trafficking ostensibly occurs are “gentlemen’s” or strip clubs, brothels, streetwalkers and online advertisements.

Often forgotten is an acknowledgment that all sex work is not the same nor a form of “trafficking.”  Trafficking is sexual slavery, a “non-consensual,” involuntary or coerced act.  Prostitution is a “consensual” or voluntary practice involving sexual intercourse or other practices (e.g., phone sex, posing) engaged in by adult women, men and transgender persons who exchange sexual services for money or o ther forms of compensation.  While there has been a reported increase in independent or “freelance” sex workers, commercial sex is often mediated by a pimp or a sex gang.

In Florida, over the last two-decade period (1998 to 2017), the number of prostitution arrests fell by 75 percent – from 9,772 in ’98 to 2,468 in 2017. ( offers slightly different prostitution-arrest totals for the years 2001-2016.)

At the end of 2015, Florida was one of 34 states that had passed what is known as “safe harbor” laws; other states include New York, Minnesota, Connecticut, Tennessee and Texas.   As the Pew Trust noted,“states have dramatically changed laws targeting the sex trade to distinguish between voluntary prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls who are forced or coerced into selling sex.”  Under such laws, youths arrested for sex trafficking are no longer prosecuted for a criminal offense but placed in a victim-services program that is supposed to provide rehabilitative and protective services.  This support is critical so that these young people can reclaim their lives.

Florida adopted its safe-harbor law in 2012 and, as Pew found, in 2014, 3,356 people were arrested for prostitution, including 27 minors – less than 1 percent; it found that in 2011, before the safe-harbor law, state police made 4,484 prostitution arrests, including 35 minors — also less that 1 percent.  The Florida results are in line with a 2012 Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics report that found, “Two percent of prostitution and commercialized vice arrests in 2010 involved a juvenile, a proportion that has averaged between 1% and 2% since at least 1990.”

The most significant development is the changing attitudes of ordinary Americans regarding sex work.  A May 2016 Marist Poll finds that nearly half (49%) of Americans felt that commercial sex between two consenting adults should be legal whereas just over two-fifths (44%) opposed it.  In addition, six in ten respondents opposed criminal prosecution of those arrested for prostitution and more than half of respondents (53%) reported that decriminalizing prostitution would regulate the “professional,” thus minimizing risk to sex workers.

Sex workers have been prosecuted since colonial days, but the nation did not adopt a law prohibiting prostitution until the 1910 Mann Act.  It prohibited the interstate transportation of women for commercial sex.  And the newly-established federal Bureau of Investigation (BI) first targeted was Jack Johnson, the black heavy-weight boxing champion, who defeated James the “Boilermaker” Jeffries, the reigning “white” champion, in 1912. The BI targeted Johnson because he brazenly traveled across state lines with his white wife.

The U.S. is a crazy country.  Gun ownership is a constitutional-guaranteed right; 32 states have decriminalized the medical use of marijuana and 22 states decriminalized its recreational use; the Supreme Court ruled sports gambling legal; abortion remains the law of the land; and the commercial sex industry – of sex toys, porn, “gentlemen’s clubs,” adult hook-up services, enhancement drugs and more – is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise.  Yet, commercial sex work among consenting adults remains a crime in many states.

Trump: Importing Dangerous Medicines and Food and Keeping Consumers in the Dark

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:48

Conservatives favor consumer choice. Consumer information is vital to make that choice meaningful. Corporatists, masquerading as conservatives, do not care about informed consumer choice. Donald Trump is a corporatist, as are the vast majority of Republicans in his Cabinet and in Congress. Corporatists do not even want you to know where products are made. Today, producers and retail sellers do not have to tell you the “country of origin” for meat and pork products. Before 2015, when Congress bowed to the dictates of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Congress had enacted a law that required country of origin labels on meat products.

People wanted to know whether the beef and pork sold in their local stores was from the U.S., or Canada, Brazil, China, Mexico, or South Africa, among other importers. But after the WTO judges in Geneva, Switzerland decided, bizarrely, that “country of origin” labeling was an impermissible non-tariff trade barrier, Congress meekly passed a bill that repealed the labeling law and President Obama signed this legislation into law.

While Donald Trump claims to reject “free trade” treaties, he has been silent on country of origin regulations. State Cattlemen’s Associations want laws mandating country of origin labels, believing that consumers are more trusting of the U.S. meat industry than the meat industries in most other countries. These associations know that the U.S.D.A. Food Safety and Inspection Service has a much less rigorous inspection process for imported meats. Unfortunately, the rest of the meat industry likes to import meat, without labeling, and mix it up with the U.S. products. Trump – a prodigious meat eater has yet to tweet in favor of the American cattle industry, even though many people in this part of the U.S. meat industry voted for him in 2016.

Even worse, we cannot tell where our drugs are being manufactured. Rosemary Gibson, author of China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine thinks American patients are endangered by imported medicines. Gibson is about to testify before Congress on her very disturbing findings regarding importation of medicines from China. I’ve been trying to get the attention of Donald Trump, his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the Secretary of Agriculture, Sunny Perdue, regarding risks with importation of food and drugs. Letters, emails, and calls have been met with silence. By not responding, they’re telling us who they primarily support—corporate profiteering interests. That is one reason why Trump has broken his promise to the American people to bring down staggeringly high drug prices.

It will be harder for the Trump administration to ignore journalist Katherine Eban . Eban provides us with a terrifying glimpse of her new book, Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom, in a New YorkTimes article published on Sunday May 11, 2019. The article, “Americans Need Generic Drugs, But Can They Trust Them?” exposes the widespread unsafe conditions in many Indian and Chinese labs and plants that manufacture generic drugs for the U.S. market (generics amount to 90 percent of the U.S. supply of drugs). One of her sources was an intrepid Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspector, Peter Baker (he has since left the agency).

Baker was a bold and honest auditor. He refused to announce lab inspections in advance, as is FDA’s lackadaisical practice. From 2012 to 2018, Baker discovered “fraud or deceptive practices in almost four-fifths of the drug plants he inspected” in India and China. Indian and Chinese manufacturers engaged in data manipulation that could prove deadly.

At one firm, the Wockhardt plant in India, Baker caught the company knowingly releasing insulin vials containing metallic fragments from a defective sterilizing machine into Indian and foreign markets. Eban reports that “[Baker] learned that the company had been using the same defective equipment to make a sterile injectable cardiac drug for the American market.” Two months later, the FDA banned imports from that plant.

Eban continues, shockingly: “In some instances, deceptions and other practices have contributed to generic drugs with toxic impurities, unapproved ingredients and dangerous particulates reaching American patients.” This is nothing new. In 2008, at least 81 American patients died in hospitals after being given heparin, a blood thinner that contained a contaminated ingredient from China.

You’d think that the FDA would demand from Trump more inspectors abroad and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would ask the White House for more U.S.D.A. Food and Safety inspectors, along with tougher laws and penalties on unsafe imports to transmit to Congress. After all, the sheer scope of U.S. drug companies going to China and India to produce drugs cheaply, so as to swell their already swollen profits, is simply stunning.

Another chilling statistic from Eban is that “Nearly forty percent of all our generic drugs are made in India. Eighty percent of active ingredients for both our brand and generic drugs come from abroad, the majority from India and China… America makes almost none of its own antibiotics anymore” (My emphasis). The outsourcing of the production of drugs to foreign countries presents vast challenges for health and safety regulators.

One would think this surrender to imports, whose sole purpose is to fatten U.S. drug companies’ profits, would be considered both a consumer safety threat and a national security matter. Why isn’t Trump doing anything to keep Americans safe from dangerous foreign products, as he crows about tariffs?

Of course the FDA responds with their usual phony assurances about its reliable inspections, putting out a statement that reads: “The F.D.A. inspects all brand-name and generic manufacturing facilities around the world which manufacture product for the U.S. market.”

Is that why the FDA, which has largely conducted unannounced inspections of U.S. plants, still allows pre-announcement of the vast majority of its foreign inspections? Eban reports, the FDA investigators are treated as “the company’s guests and agree on an inspection date in advance…Plant officials have served as hosts and helped to arrange local travel.”

Messrs. Trump, Azar, and Perdue better wake up before innocent Americans lose their lives due to corporate indentured government officials failing to properly do their jobs. Do they want a major disaster to land on their derelict desks?

They are on full public notice.

Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:47

The Democratic primaries are heating up. One notable feature of the race is the strong presence of progressive candidates — which has many in the establishment wing of the party worried.

Former president Barack Obama, whose moderate vice president Joe Biden is now in the race, recently decried the alleged “purity tests” he saw on the left. Obama worried that an “obsessive” ideological fanaticism was setting the party up for failure.

Indeed, in the political world, the term “purity test” is largely used by the establishment to chastise and attack the left.

For instance, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have refused to accept corporate donations for their presidential campaigns. Many outletsThe Atlantic, Politico, The Hill described these pledges as a new Democratic “purity test” to establish progressive credentials.

Hillary Clinton scorned the idea, claiming that “under [Sanders’] “definition, President Obama is not a progressive because he took donations from Wall Street!” (Some might argue that’s accurate, as Obama has described himself as a 1980s-style “moderate Republican.”)

Another key issue in the primaries is health care. A lack of health coverage kills around 45,000 Americans yearly, and hospital bills drive the large majority of bankruptcies in America. Many Democratic candidates, including Warren and Sanders, support a Medicare for All system in response.

Yet New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has cautioned Democrats not to “make health care a purity test,” warning that Democrats who don’t support a single-payer system could be characterized as industry “shills.”

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell was more scathing, attacking leftist “cranks” for supposedly embracing “empty slogans instead of evidence-based policy” on health care. (Nevermind the evidence that Medicare for All would cover more Americans for less money.)

In contrast, attacks directed toward the left are seldom framed this way.

For example, Sanders appointed Briahna Joy Gray as his press secretary, who had previously declared she voted for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in 2016. Instead of this being seen as the party expanding its appeal to third-party voters, many party loyalists said it was proof that Bernie was not a “real Democrat”.

In other words, they tried to excommunicate an ally for being insufficiently orthodox — but no pundits called it a “purity test.”

Nor did they say that about the anger generated by the decision of candidates like Sanders, Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke not to attend the AIPAC conference. Nor about demands that the candidates embrace Trump’s regime change strategy in Venezuela lest they be accused of supporting a “dictator.”

Meanwhile, the left is told their preferred policies are either unrealistic or unpopular. “If Democrats want to destroy any chances of winning national office,” The Hill warns, “establishing purity tests is the quickest way to do it.”

But this is demonstrably not the case.

Seventy-five percent of Americans (and nearly two-thirds of Republicans) support Medicare for All. Three-quarters of Americans support higher taxes on the wealthy, while tuition-free public college is popular even among Tea Party supporters. One can make a strong case that these policies would attract rather than repel Trump voters.

This purity test trope is so blatantly used to defend anyone in power it sometimes stretches credulity to the breaking point.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Carolyn Dupont bemoaned the “rigid, self-righteous, and blind” progressives who criticized Virginia governor Ralph Northam for wearing blackface. The column unbelievably compared this censure to the guillotines of the French Revolution.

When you hear the phrase “purity test,” be on the alert. The phrase is code for powerful people being pressured in ways they don’t like — and is often a shield against legitimate criticism.

Alan MacLeod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group.

A longer version of this commentary appeared at

Modern Merchants of Death: the NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:46

Arms manufacturers of old, and many of the current stable, did not care much where their products went.  The profit incentive often came before the patriotic one, and led to such dark suspicions as those voiced by the Nye Committee in the 1930s.  Known formally as the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, the US Senate Committee, chaired by US Senator Gerald Nye (R-ND) supplies a distant echo on the nature of armaments and their influence.

The Nye Committee had one pressing concern: that the United States might fall for the same mistake it did in 1917 in committing to a foreign conflict while fattening the pockets of arms manufacturers. As Chairman Senator Nye promised, “When the Senate investigation is over, we shall see that war and preparation for war is not a matter of national honour and national defence, but a matter of profit for the few.”

Despite the current sophisticated state of modern weaponry, along with modern offshoots (cybertools, spyware, the use of malware), the principle of ubiquitous spread is still present.  Companies in the business of developing malware and spyware, modern merchants of disruption and harm, face charges that their products are being used for ill, a nastiness finding its way to hungry security services keen to monitor dissent and target contrarians.  While the scale of their damage may be less than those alleged by Nye’s Munitions Committee, the implications are there: products made are products used; the ethical code can be shelved.

The NSO Group, a tech outfit based in Herzliya, a stone’s throw from Tel Aviv, specialises in producing such invasive software tools as Pegasus.  The reputation of Pegasus is considerable, supposedly able to access data on targeted phones including switching on their cameras and microphones.

NSO’s spyware merchandise has now attained a certain, viral notoriety. When Mexican investigative journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was butchered in broad daylight on a street in Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, something reeked.  The killing on May 15, 2017 had been designated a cartel hit, an initially plausible explanation given Valdez’s avid interest in prying into the affairs of organised crime in Sinaloa.  But the smell went further.  As Mexican media outlets reported in June 2017, the government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto had purchased the good merchandise of Pegasus. Three Mexican agencies had purchased spyware to the tune of $80 million since 2011.

Since then, Canadian research group Citizen Lab, in collaboration with Mexican digital rights outfit R3D and freedom of expression group Article 19, have made the case that the widow of the slain journalist, Griselda Triana, became a target of Pegasus spyware within 10 days of her husband’s death in 2017.  According to the report, she was also targeted “a week after infection attempts against two of Valdez’s colleagues, Andrés Villareal and Ismael Bojórquez.”  The group behind the infection attempts, named RECKLESS-1, is alleged to have links with the Mexican government.

Canadian-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz can also count himself amongst those targeted by Pegasus.  In 2018, he claimed that his phone was tapped by NSO-made spyware, leading to a gruesome implication: that the Saudi authorities would have had access to hundreds of messages exchanged with the doomed Saudi journalist and fellow comrade-in-dissent Jamal Khashoggi.

In December, a suit was filed in Israel by Abdulaziz’s representatives Alaa Mahajna and Mazen Masri, alleging that the NSO Group had hacked his phone in the service of Riyadh.  In court papers, it was alleged that the dissident was harangued by the same individuals behind Khashoggi’s murder, insisting that he pack his bags and return to Saudi Arabia.

Buried in the court documentation was the receipt of a text message purportedly tracking the shipment of a package; instead, it masked a link to the NSO Group.  Once clicked, the link installed the spyware, turning the phone into an effective agent of surveillance.  Soon after this took place, Abdulaziz’s family home in Jidda was raided by Saudi security forces.  Two brothers were subsequently detained.

Last January, Maariv, an Israeli daily, investigated reports about telephone spyware supposedly used to bug the phone of the murdered Khashoggi.  Khashoggi’s ending at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, facilitated by a death squad, was not handiwork NSO wanted to be associated with.  The group had been, according to a statement in December, “licensed for the sole use of providing governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to lawfully fight terrorism and crime”.  Misuse of products would lead to investigation and, depending on appropriate findings, a suspension or termination of the contract.

Shalev Hulio, the company’s CEO, was clear to emphasise his humanity, before distancing himself and his company from the killing. “As a human being and as an Israeli, what happened to Khashoggi was a shocking murder.”  Hulio was also adamant that “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection.”  Could such precise denials be inadvertent confessions?

The cooperative umbrella for Israel is broadening. It seeks allies, or at least some form of accommodation with regional powers, to counter common enemies.  With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, one common foe remains a constant: Iran.  The Israeli state’s licensing of such companies as the NSO Group implicates the policy of permitting the distribution of Pegasus and such products.  License their use; license their consequences. Molly Malekar, of Amnesty International’s Israeli office, puts it simply: “By continuing to approve of NSO Group, the Ministry of Defence is practically admitting to knowingly cooperating with NSO Group as their software is used to commit human rights abuses.”  Monitoring and killing dissidents and intrepid journalists tend to be nasty by-products.  They, in a sense, have become the modern merchants of death, whose clients remain unsavoury regimes.


Anarchism & Reconciliation, Part II

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:46

White men had a soul, and lost it. The pivot of life had been quenched in them, and their lives had started to spin in the reverse direction, widdershins. That reversed look which is in the eyes of so many white people, the look of nullity, and life wheeling in the reverse direction…. – D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent

In attempting to convert the dark man to the white man’s way of life, the white man has fallen helplessly down the hole he wanted to fill up. Seeking to save another man’s soul, the white man lost his own… Ibid.

In an era with an eroding safety-net, for one [Billy G., a suicide] who so suffers, s/he must either have a loved-one or money to keep from slipping into the sewer of American despair. – David Rosen, Suicide, An American Nightmare

The article by David Rosen on Counterpunch reveals a real-life example of unrelieved-unrelievable American despair, a despair even darker from my perspective in that the only people Billy G. could turn to for help were medical professionals! It’s really not a secret that it’s no longer possible, for growing numbers of people, to rely on family or community for the necessary support for being alive and human. At the bottom of all of this dysfunctionality, are the fact that families no longer know what they are for, and that practically nobody in the enlightened modern liberal context considers this to be a problem (for “us,” that is!)

The failure of liberalism to have a stand on the most significant human relationships, which surely are being steadily devalued and destroyed under capitalism, and not only for the poor, the black and the immigrants, is the failure to take a stand on the significance of being human, as opposed to the robots it would be more convenient for everyone if we would become! This failure, in turn, is consequence of a successful and totalitarian denial of the reality of “the other within” (the soul), the only reliable line of defense existing between our human selves and robothood. Family well-being, as well as its natural “local” authority cannot be defended in liberal reality; along the way to modernity, the connection to the soul was lost, traded away for participation in the exciting and increasingly rootless modern industrial society that promises more and better for those who will make the necessary exchange, i.e., the lowly imaginative creative indigenous soul for social standing and identification with power in the Oneness of neoliberal techno-wonderful sterility.

But consider this: In a time when increasingly we’ve been conditioned to live temporally, progressively, no limits to happiness (measured materially) or growth, etc., “enjoying” the way of life premised in capitalism that is making mass extinction and rising fascism ever greater possibilities, in this context, can family life – with all its complications and impossibilities – now be seen for its revolutionary possibility? Centered around the vows which most people continue to want to make, family life, available to everyone, shaped from and contingent to biological, organic nature, can act as the vessel for teaching us the wisdom of the planet, of nature, of the body. Precisely because of the challenges marriage presents us with that so deeply offend our righteous personal freedom and which we, raised in liberal society, barely can tolerate, not to mention they have become more famous for abuse than for love, marriages have the potential to counter dominant bourgeois banality. Particularly in the “post-honeymoon crisis,” when the “naked lunch” is exposed, they provide the only context in which liberal, middle class, white people find themselves starkly, disturbingly, face-to-face with “the other;” in this case, an “other” they have vowed to love and honor, through sickness and poverty, etc., ’til death do them part. This opportunity, if it could be understood as such, if we were developing a culture not of escapism but of depth, is the opening by which can be faced the least tolerated “other” of all, the other within. What we must come to realize: not only the GDP is helped by a high divorce rate; human beings kept in a pre-initiatory condition, never required to make the transformation to adult maturity, never experiencing the inner reality myth teaches, are incapable of authentic individuality, and thus perfect candidates for the roles of addictive consumer and obedient worker.

My world today is greatly reduced in scope from my early 1980’s winged-but-vague fantasies as a Yale Divinity School grad and newly minted professional minister. Partly due to aging and partly to some very “unprofessional choices,” my world consists of not much beyond my family and the immediate community I am a part of that has our Cafe as a kind of center. This life that I have been immersed in – often ambivalently – for decades, so shrunk from the big global canvas presented to bright middle-class white kids for their career possibilities, has begun recently to reveal its hard-won lessons. I could say that what is being revealed, beneath all of my refusals of “the right way,” (my “no’s” I call them) are the “yeses” that, all the time, lay invisibly underneath.

Gradually, my eyes have been retrained; shifted from the horizons presented to them by uncritiqued, bright and shiny liberal society; they now see better in the dark. In particular, they see the invisibles of relationship that, because invisible, are defended by almost no one in the liberal enlightened world committed to materialist-positivist-rationalist thinking. Not only are family relationships unchampioned, they are taken for granted in the liberal reality. Focused on the liberal politics of rights and freedoms, liberal society is largely unaware both of the fragility of marriage and family in secular society and of their potential for indigenous authority, for becoming centers (cells?) of resistance to relentless dehumanization. The closeness of marriage and family relationships is a “pressure-cooker” closeness of souls. Were it properly understood, the complicating reality of human depth that makes all the pain and anguish in families, also makes them a constant threat to bourgeois sameness. This “danger” makes marriages and families both fragile, requiring support for their “invisible,” soul-level life (the most efficacious being art), and powerful potential source for deeply creative “tree-like” resistance to soul-killing, humanly exploitative, bourgeois life.

Of course, we are not prepared to think of families imaginatively. The real crisis in families has occurred so gradually over time, that the loss of those sustaining relationships, their now temporal status, their replaceability, their modifications and commodification, appear to concern no one. The adaptations and modifications people make, in many cases admirably, to keep families going, are double-edged: they make it possible for the increasingly dehumanizing context to appear to be working, while the deep “in-the-blood” basis for family life, location of the birth-to-death mystery, more truly and accurately expressed poetically than in economic terms, is nullified.

An incident that occurred early in my 10-year career as a parish minister, within probably the first 7 years of our marriage, wakened me to the potential hostility to marriage in secular liberal society. The tiny Unitarian congregation in an upstate NY village, had gone fairly far out, politically and in terms of lifestyle, in the 60’s (more so by reputation, in conservative rural Upstate NY, than in reality), and faced the same post-60’s identity crisis as other liberal-identified groups of the 80’s. Early in my tenure, it became clear that a conflict was developing between members of the congregation and my husband.

I remember clearly how easily the criticisms of my husband, in my insecurity, caused me to feel intensely torn by the 3-way conflict which exacerbated conflicts already existing in the marriage. Struggling to believe in myself as a professional clergy (a struggle I gave up when the decade ended), my domestic roles as wife and mother seemed at odds with my precarious hold on that public identity. The situation was resolved in the end by a professional “conflict resolver,” the professional whose job it was to travel to churches in his assigned area and “put out fires.” I think he was actually visiting us on other business, but the conflict with Orin was put before him. He laughed and said it seemed to him a problem of ethnic difference; Orin’s Italian personality, a voluble extroversion that could verge on aggressiveness, was rubbing the middle class white liberals the wrong way.

Simplistic? Maybe; but that was the end of the conflict (at least overtly). As well, it was my first insight into the hidden reality of “otherness,” including the differences in my marriage that caused me/us severe difficulty, many of which (but not all) were traceable to family and ethnic cultural differences. And it was then I became aware of the fragility of a marriage when facing unconscious forces that could be aroused in a ( avowedly liberal!) community against it.

Years later, Orin and I count ourselves fortunate to have discovered the creative potential in a marriage that tolerates, and does not prohibit or deny, the “others” within which allowed us, as the “nest” was emptying, to begin to dream “outside the box.” Thus were born our family-run business, Cafe Domenico; The Other Side and its many arts and humanities-related programs; and our literary publication Doubly Mad, all of them energized by anarchist spirit. None of these small-scale, local productions would have been conceivable in a dispirited place like Utica, apart from the partnership forged in the creative tension, never once-for-all resolved, constantly reconciling, between our othernesses. Forced to find a “third way,” neither his nor mine, we make the most of our considerable differences and different talents, consciously interdependent in contrast to the ignorant “independence” hailed by much of banal feminism that cloaks its uncritical dependency on capitalism. The marriage became, for us, a community base, outside the isolating collective mainstream consciousness. It allowed us to act in a way that was deeply pro-community but also non-conformist, both conservative (i.e., in regards to “family,” to skepticism toward liberal zeal for growth, progress, technology, etc.), but also open to independent thought (especially imagination-based) coming from outside the banal liberal context; its one demand, besides reconciliation, that we each make daily contact with the Muse.

Recently, the relationship of a married couple in our Utica arts community who, in their relative unconventionality, are particularly dear to Orin and me, has become threatened. After Rebecca’s stroke and consequent brain surgery in early April, while still in rehab, she told a friend she did not want to return to their home; this was reason enough for the friend, with no hesitation due to Rebecca’s possibly not being in her right mind – for which there had been evidence – to make other living arrangements for her. For husband Karl, the bind is rather total. First, he had no say in the decision. Any protest on his part is de facto weakened: he can make no appeal to any sacred aspect of marriage, a cause that will rally nobody. Further, in the current MeToo climate, his protest is likely only to add to suspicions of abuse of some kind as the cause for his wife’s flight. I protested to the match-unmaker friend, but without hope. In the absence of a shared value of reconciliation, my protest could only be misunderstood; no one, including Karl, could imagine, let alone share my distress at yet another consensus-supported failure to take the path of reconciliation, the path of keeping imaginations alive, communities together, roots in a place.

Our communities by now fairly devastated, perhaps good anarchist work would be to create agencies for reconciliation that can work on behalf of unity and love, giving priority to the invisible social bonds over individual rights and freedom, as has happened with Truth & Reconciliation commissions in South Africa and Rwanda. The role of psychotherapists, whose skills would be needed for such an undertaking but who’ve often served to abet the disintegration of families, would need to be consciously both anti-illegitimate authority and pro-legitimate family authority. Local, small-scale “Reconciliation Committees” might provide life-giving support for the “invisibles,” the familial, communal and place-based relationships ravaged by neoliberalism’s intolerance for otherness, and the unacknowledged divisiveness and unintended violence that follow.


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