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Parallel Lives: Cheney and Ailes

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:29

Still from The Loudest Voice (Showtime).

Two of the more infamous Republican Party operatives have become the subjects of biopics within the past year. In “Vice”, a 2018 film now available on Amazon streaming, Adam McKay portrayed Dick Cheney as a cynical opportunist who was both responsible for the “war on terror” and the extension of executive power that enabled the Bush White House to suspend habeas corpus. Currently running on Showtime, “The Loudest Voice” examines the life of Roger Ailes as a modern-day equivalent of Citizen Kane if Orson Welles had portrayed his fictionalized version of William Randolph Hearst as a monster straight out of his mother’s womb.

The two subjects have quite a bit in common. To start with, they were both products of an America that Norman Rockwell once painted but no longer exists. Growing up in Casper, Wyoming, Cheney enjoyed life in “The Oil City” that was ranked eighth overall in Forbes magazine’s list of “the best small cities to raise a family.” Ailes hailed from Warren, Ohio, a mid-sized city like Casper, that like the rest of the pre-Rust Belt region relied on manufacturing to provide the solid middle-class existence portrayed in Rockwell paintings. His father was a foreman in Packard Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors. Just like Michael Moore, whose father worked for GM in Flint, Ailes idealized the Warren of his youth, seeing it as a place where motherhood, apple pie and the flag reigned supreme. Like Steve Bannon, Ailes’s right-populism revolved around the notion of making a new world of Warrens possible by keeping out immigrants and toughening up trade policies long before Donald Trump became President.

Both men also suffered from long-term health problems. After smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years, Cheney had to pay the piper. Nine major heart surgeries starting in 1988 culminated in a seven-hour heart transplant operation in 2012 that has left him on the sidelines politically, accentuated by the bad will his support for the invasion of Iraq had accrued. Even after everybody else had said their mea culpas, Cheney told Chuck Todd on a 2014 Meet the Press show that “Saddam Hussein previously had twice nuclear programs going. He produced and used weapons of mass destruction. And he had a ten-year relationship with Al Qaeda. All of these things came into play.”

Ailes’s health problems were congenital. Born a hemophiliac, he was browbeaten and even beaten by his father to not give an inch to the illness that would finally kill him in 2017 at the age of 77. After hitting his head in his Palm Beach home, he suffered a subdural hematoma that was aggravated by his hemophilia. Nobody seemed to miss his passing, especially all the women he victimized sexually at Fox News.

Turning now to the two biopics, my verdict is that “Vice” is the far inferior work suffering from a misplaced satirical intent that is mismatched to its subject matter. Like the 2017 “The Death of Stalin”, it tries to apply the SNL gloss on the surface of a nightmare that is continuing to this day. McKay probably wasn’t capable of anything more weighty since his CV is made up films like “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, and seven episodes for SNL between 2000-2001. As I labored to stick with this jokey movie to the bitter end, I couldn’t help but think of it as an unintentional “Springtime for Hitler”.

With my press credentials for Showtime, I have been able to watch 5 episodes of “The Loudest Voice”, now queuing up for the 4th episode this Sunday. If you have Showtime, do not miss this scathing portrait of a true monster who is played to perfection by Russell Crowe. Or find a friend who does have Showtime since the 7-part series succeeds both as entertainment and social history. The conflict in the United States between the Trumpified Republican Party and those on the left has been gestating from the time that Ailes became the founding President of Fox News in 1996. Those who yelled “Send Her Back” at Trump’s rally in North Carolina yesterday are the prototypical Sean Hannity/Tucker Carlson viewer. It was Ailes’s intention from the moment he began Fox News to build a powerful movement based on racism, nativism and faux populism. Regrettably, his legacy continues in the Trump White House.

While this is not a determining factor in the quality of the two biopics, “Vice” made some unwise casting decisions, largely dictated by “star power”. While Christian Bale does a good job impersonating Cheney with makeup and a fat suit that probably took six hours each day to get right (as was the case with Russell Crowe as Ailes), you never stopped seeing an impersonation for a single second. With Bale being cast against type, you fixated on the transformation rather than the character. Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld was an even bigger mistake since he too was cast against type. If it was impossible to get Bale as Batman out of your mind, it was uber-impossible to not think of all the feckless comic losers Carell played in his entire career. Rumsfeld was scary; Carell as Rumsfeld was just senseless.

Turning now to the substance of the two films, “Vice” can best be described as the sort of satire Stephen Colbert employed when he played Bill O’Reilly. His writers wrote hyperbolic dialog for him that was intended to make the audience laugh at his stupidity even if it became somewhat obvious at a certain point that the show’s joke was a one-trick pony. McKay, who wrote and directed, makes no attempt to make Cheney and Rumsfeld say things they would have said in real life. He puts words into their mouth that are obviously a liberal’s attempt to mock those he views as the enemy. In essence, he is spoon-feeding liberal bromides to the audience who he does not trust as being able to distinguish good guys from bad.

The film is riddled with bogus dialog but probably none is more egregious than the scene outside of Kissinger’s office when Rumsfeld was a counselor to Nixon and Cheney was his aide. They are discussing plans to bomb Cambodia:

Rumsfeld: They’re going to bomb Cambodia.

Cheney: That’s impossible. That would have to be approved by Congress and I’m over there every day

Rumsfeld: Fuck Congress. Unless you’re in it. Then it’s the greatest deliberative body on earth. But we’re not, so fuck it.

Cheney: I thought the President campaigned on ending the war?

Rumsfeld: Shhhh. Listen to me…Because of the conversation Nixon and Kissinger are having right behind this door, five feet away from us… in a few days, 10 thousand miles away… (Script indicates a cut to a peaceful Cambodian Village going about its day to day life with a WHISTLING SOUND far above…) … a rain of 750 pound bombs dropped from B-52s flying at twenty thousand feet will hit villages and towns across Cambodia…thousands will die and the world will change either for the worse or the better.

(From the screenplay.)

Rumsfeld might have said any number of things if he had been chatting with Cheney outside of Kissinger’s office but the words in the script were not his, nor anything remotely similar. They were placed there for the actor to recite so the audience would be appalled by his inhumanity. Like CNN and MSNBC every night, the entire purpose of “Vice” was to reassure audiences that they had pure souls just like Adam McKay.

The creative team around “The Loudest Voice” was an all-star team. The Executive Producers included Tom McCarthy and Gabriel Sherman, who also co-wrote the first episode. McCarthy wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Spotlight”, a 2015 film about the Boston Globe’s reporting on the Catholic Church pederasty scandal. Sherman is the author of “The Loudest Voice in the Room”, a biography of Ailes that included interviews with 614 people but not the big cheese himself who tried in vain to squelch the book.

Sherman, a minor character in the series, becomes a lightning rod for Ailes’s hatred in episode 5 when he discovers that the veteran reporter has begun interviewing people for his book. He authorizes a “Brain Room” that functions like an intelligence agency researching every article Sherman has written and sending private detectives out to follow his every move. In keeping with the half-muted anti-Semitism of the Trump era, Sherman was characterized by Fox as a “Soros operative” because he was associated with the New America Foundation.

Roger Ailes started out innocently enough as the producer for The Mike Douglas Show in 1965, an afternoon variety program that was based on pop culture rather than racist demagogy. In 1967, Richard Nixon was a guest. After the show, Ailes told him that he needed a media advisor. So persuasive was Ailes that Nixon hired him on the spot.

After a successful stint as campaign adviser to Republicans like Reagan, Bush ’41, and Giuliani, Ailes returned to TV where “The Loudest Voice” begins. In 1995, Ailes was forced to resign from CNBC after it was bought by Bill Gates and NBC. After it was relaunched as MSNBC, Ailes went to work for Rupert Murdoch as head of the newly launched Fox News. In a key scene, Ailes meets with top management to give them their marching orders. Fox News would not bother trying to reach liberals. Instead, it would offer up red meat to Rush Limbaugh listeners who had made talk radio such a powerful institution. Let CNN and MSNBC have the liberals, he exclaimed. We’ll take the rest of the country and fuck everybody else—the watchword of the Trump administration.

Playing Ailes to perfection, Russell Crowe depicts a media mogul who demands total loyalty from his underlings, offers good jobs to women in exchange for a blow job, and sees his TV hosts as hitmen and women against everybody on the left—the left eventually defined as including Republicans like those who put out The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine that went bankrupt because it refused to toe the Trump line. Crowe, like great actors of earlier generations such as Laurence Olivier and Spencer Tracy, could not be cast against type because he was never one-dimensional to begin with. Watching him throw paperweights against underlings who challenged his demands or cursing at Barack Obama on the TV set is more than watching an actor perform. It is like watching Roger Ailes’s avatar—simultaneously revolting and compelling, like a roadside crash.

In one of my favorite scenes in the series, which occurs in episode 3, Ailes is waiting to meet with leading Democrats to discuss a truce that will tamp down the vitriol Fox News has been directing at Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Sitting down and working on some prepared remarks, his old friend David Axelrod sidles in and greets him. They chat good-naturedly about old campaigns that they ran against each other’s candidates and then shake each other’s hand warmly. Their dialog:

Ailes: I was surprised about the Biden decision. He’s a good man but dumb as an ashtray.

Axelrod: He plays well for us where we need him to. The Catholics, the military, the union guys.

Ailes: He plays well with the whites.

Axelrod (grinning): It doesn’t hurt.

Big in the Bungalow of Believers

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:05

Free tickets from a friend sent my companion and me to a production of the musical Big staged by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on a sunny Sunday afternoon in July. My companion grew up in London and spent many an afternoon and evening in that greatest of theatre-city’s myriad venues seeing the greatest British actors of the later part of the twentieth-century. Never one to hold this lucky start in life against her partner or anyone else, she is no snob and embraces the live and the local from the West End to the East Bay.

Berkeley Rep has its home in the Julia Morgan Theatre, named after the famous Bay Area architect. The building is a half mile down College Avenue from Morgan’s alma mater, the University of California. Set on the gracious grid of streets gently inclining from the foot of the steep Berkeley Hills to the shores of the San Francisco Bay, the building was completed in 1910 as a Presbyterian church. The years following the 1906 earthquake marked a boom for Morgan’s still-young practice. In the aftermath of that catastrophe came a wave of immigration in the opposite direction from the Manifest Destiny: from west to east, from San Francisco to Berkeley and Oakland. Arts-and-Crafts houses and churches sprang up in what had been pasture-land and orchards.

The goodly Presbyterians of Berkeley moved to a new building on College Avenue in the 1970s and their original church became an arts center, then, a decade ago, a theatre. Morgan had designed a low-slung structure of redwood with stained-glass windows peering out from beneath rather ponderous eaves: a biggie-sized bungalow for believers.

The conversion to a theatre meant that the altar became a stage and that the windows Morgan had set off in contrast to the darkly stained wood were blocked out: when the muses displaced the apostles, the interior light would have to be artificial not natural. This makes her church-cum-theatre far more somber (one might even say more Presbyterian) than Morgan must have wanted, necessarily distorting her conception of the place. I’m all for repurposing churches, but such transformations can be more than a touch dissonant. I’ll never forget my first visit to the vast gothic reaches of the decommissioned St. Laurens’ Church in Alkmaar in The Netherlands in 1991 to practice for an organ competition. A rock-climbing competition was underway up the high whitewashed walls.

I’m not sure if Morgan would have felt honored or dismayed by having her name put to a theatre that she conceived of as a church.

Whatever the case, the place puts me in mind of an Adirondack hunting lodge. Entering the theatre offers a kind of rustic escape from the mellow urban climes of Berkeley, though why exactly one would want to seek refuge from a bright and breezy summer day is a bit of a mystery. The craziness of the world writ large can be happily be fled, a perfect afternoon in Northern California only with reluctance. Perhaps only the theatre can make good on that transaction.

Big the musical is based on the 1988 film of the same name—one of Tom Hanks’ early hits. It’s standard make-a-wish and suffer/enjoy the consequences stuff. A soon-to-be-teen boy frustrated with being condescended to and ordered about by adults—especially his cloying mother—can’t wait to be Big. Before you know it, little Josh has been turned into a physical adult by an automated carnival wizard at a northern New Jersey fun fair.

The overly sentimental treatment of these Oedipal themes of motherly love and resentment colliding with filial affection and disgust can be hard to take, though mom’s smotheringly maudlin effusions were delivered in Berkeley with terrifying and terrified commitment. Still, the gags about dirty socks and taking the garbage out got some laughs from the many kids in the audience.

But Josh becomes a man only on the outside. Inside he remains a child. Fleeing from home, he soon finds himself promoted to vice president at a faltering toy company run by corporate hacks with no regard for kids and, more fatally, no childish fantasy—no sense of fun. The most famous scene in the movie comes when Josh dances around on a giant floor piano keyboard, stomping out melodies, eventually in tandem with the toy company chief, in the showroom of FAO Schwartz on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

That tuneful set-piece and the pleasantly kid-friendly plot already made Big an alluring target for conversion to a musical, a retrofit that duly came in 1996 in the capable hands of composer David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby (with book by John Weidmann). Their songs make abundant use of descending bass-lines above which melody lines strive upward towards independence (from parents and convention) and towards the fulfillments and disappointments of love. The composer/lyricist pair capably command an entertaining range of styles: perky teen tunes, lush Broadway solos and duets, exuberant production numbers, pseudo-Modernist choruses, a clever send-up of Mozartean classicism to capture the dreadful trial of a grown-up dinner party to which Josh’s new adult girlfriend (also an executive in the toy company) drags him to meet her awful friends.

The story revolves therefore around a boy on the threshold of puberty catapulted into a romance with a grown woman who is already in a sordid affair with yet another mid-level executive in the toy company. Sex is the elephant in the room. For an American family matinée this beast should be cuddly and cute rather than urgent and threatening. On the Berkeley boards, as on Broadway, it is fascinating to see how this confrontation is handled.

When Susan maneuvers her way into Josh’s apartment with a bottle of champagne in her purse and hopes of seduction in her heart, he eventually invites her to stay for a “sleep-over,” informing her matter-of-factly that he has “to be on top.” Josh then climbs to the upper bunk bed and flops down to sleep. Her later lessons in carnal knowledge, if any, are not imparted on stage. What Josh will do with that knowledge on his return to teendom and the girl he covets back in New Jersey is not broached either.

Especially in Berkeley, with its long tradition of social sensitivity, with many a #MeToo and Black Lives Matter placard in the mullioned arts-and-crafts windows, one has to wonder about a show like Big. Even if the Julia Morgan encourages escape and blots out the sun, the world has a way of seeping into the theatre—and not only because the news is full of Jeffrey Epstein and his depredations

(Im)mature Josh is the titular center of the entertainment, but Susan steals the limelight towards the end of the first of the musical’s two acts when her string of songs fills her with agency and desire. She knows what she wants: Josh. True, she has no idea that he is really just child, even if what attracted her to him is his guileless, juvenile behavior.

When the lights came up for intermission, my companion pointed out that, even without Epstein (and Clinton and Dershowitz and others) in the headlines, the gender roles could not have been reversed. Imagine the Berkeleyites delighting in a thirty-something man conniving his way under cover of song into the bunkbed of a thirteen-year-old girl inhabiting the body of a full-grown woman. Yet the other way around meets no resistance. My companion provided her own interpretation: women have always been infantilized, so to put one in the junior role would be not just creepy, but redundant. Even when they grow up, women are rarely allowed to be Big.

The Northern Spotted Owls’ Tree-Sit

Fri, 2019-07-19 14:04

….based on a true story occurring in the Mattole Watershed, July 2019

One still June night, when the moon hung bright, and the wind blew a minor key

And the fog made a bridge across Rainbow Ridge from the redwoods to the sea

Two owls, gone astray from their range in Coos Bay where their nest in a fir had been felled

Floated down to a knoll near the blue Mattole, by sheer hunger and faintness compelled.

Well, they’d fasted a week, so each sharpened his beak, and searched through the darkness for prey,

And to their surprise they encountered the eyes of two tree voles not far away.

More astonishing yet, and causing upset, also thwarting their instinct to zoom in:

The voles took their ease on the angular knees of a beast unmistakably human.

These owls were not chicks and they’d studied the tricks of this species well known to be wily.

Was this a new study? Each looked at their buddy. The human regarded them shyly.

Though weary, these owls had got pluck in their bowels, also wit, self-assurance and poise.

And though prospects be dark, be there but a spark, they’d act without panic or noise.

So the owl who was bigger soon marshalled his vigor, saluting the being in that tree:

“What scientist sits in a tree in the mist, with such tasty young voles on their knee?”

“My name it is Rook. Turn around, take a look” said the human, with intake of breath:

Below they beheld what the chainsaw had felled: tree corpses moon-frozen in death.

“This tree they want too, so a road can push through to reach forests at further locations

But we know such plunder rips planets asunder. I’m here for unborn generations”.

The owls, much impressed, now the human addressed: “We’ve just made a strenuous portage

From habitat natal, where there is a fatal owl nesting and foraging shortage.”

The smaller owl, blinking, went on” We’ve been thinking of one generation that begs

To make an appearance. We need to find clearance. To speak more directly, my eggs.

Now, humans get queasy: it makes them uneasy when species like us go extinct

It reminds them that they might soon go the same way and the risk, to be plain, is distinct.

Our survival’s in doubt, so that gives us some clout. If they locate our nest, they’ll protect it!

We’ll search for a site in a tree that looks right, then build noisily so they detect it.”

The owls disappeared, and that day Rook was cheered by much squawking and owl exclamation

And soon a small horde of biologists roared to the ridge for site documentation.

And thus was begun a campaign that soon won the allegiance of Doctors of Science:

For if there is hope for our planet, the scope is a great interspecies alliance.

Save the owls! Save the trees! Save the whales! Save the bees! Save the birthright of fledgling and child

For while Empires crush, there’s an instant of hush when our hearts hear the call of the wild.

Bernie Sanders, Anti-Imperialism and Venezuela

Thu, 2019-07-18 16:10

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Throughout the last century, socialists have faced an uphill battle within the United States. Unlike other similarly high-income countries, the U.S. has largely remained a bastion of deeply individualist attitudes and unregulated capitalist policies.

Yet, over the span of the past decade, socialism has transformed from a demonized ideology to a publicly discussed economic model that many Americans are now seriously considering. Indeed, the Pew Research Center just last month published data showing that 42 percent of the country has a positive view of socialism, including 65 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters.

There is no doubt that Senator Bernie Sanders has boosted socialism’s favorability. In 2016, he became one of few Democrats to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic candidacy. While he lost the nomination, his candidacy both rehabilitated the idea of socialism and vividly altered public discussions, putting propositions like “Medicare for All” and free higher education on the Democratic agenda.

Similar to decades past, though, Bernie’s opponents have resurrected Cold War phobias. And although the Soviet Union dissolved nearly 30 years ago, critics have found a new country to scream in response to Sanders’ popularity: Venezuela.

A quick perusal of conservative outlets, from the Heritage Foundation to the National Review to Fox News, will find you a litany of articles likening a potential Sanders presidency to an economic implosion à la Venezuela. All other serious Democratic candidates have avoided and even explicitly denounced socialist policies. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, provided Trump with a standing ovation when he denounced socialism during his recent State of the Union Address, and she has described herself as a “capitalist to the bone.”

While Sanders himself has continually pointed to Scandinavia as providing inspiration for his policies, critics have sought to seize upon his disposition toward the Venezuelan government as evidence that he would allegedly destroy the U.S. economy “because socialism.”

Sanders, however, has never embraced the Venezuelan government — either under former President Hugo Chavez or now under President Nicolas Maduro. He never met with these leaders. He never claimed that Venezuela serves as a model of a socialist society. In fact, in 2016, he even specifically stated: “When I talk about democratic socialism, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

And, while it’s true that Sanders has not referred to Maduro as an outright dictator, he has continually noted that recent presidential elections were flawed, and he has called for new elections in the country.

Anyone who suggests that Sanders wishes to “turn the U.S. into Venezuela” is a bad-faith actor. They’re distorting reality and deceiving citizens.

Where Sanders meaningfully differs from other Democratic frontrunners like Joe Biden and Warren, though, is in his commitment to an anti-imperialist, anti-interventionist foreign policy.

While others have supported economic sanctions, Sanders has recognized that sanctions harm poor citizens much more than they harm governments. While others have called for the Venezuelan military to rise up against Maduro, Sanders has drawn attention to the nefarious role played by the United States throughout Latin America, including its support for coups that have resulted in military regimes like the one formerly ruled by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile. While others have called for isolating Venezuela, Sanders has positioned himself as someone who would prefer engagement on mutually respectful grounds.

Given the recent popularity of socialism, Americans seem far less susceptible to Cold War-style smear campaigns that simplistically attempt to demonize socialism. Though the causes are more complex than “because socialism,” it’s true that countries like Venezuela and North Korea are failing. It’s also true that many countries guided by capitalist ideas are failing. Argentina, for one, recently elected businessman Mauricio Macri. Yet, since coming to power, the Argentine economy has faced currency depreciation, high inflation and rising unemployment.

People are traveling more than ever to countries with socialist-oriented policies, they have access to more information than ever demonstrating the benefits of socialist policies, and, within the United States they experience an array of inequalities in their own life surrounding, for example, health and education.

All of these dynamics diminish the effectiveness of fear-mongering around socialism. People know that they could have better access to opportunities and resources. People know that rationing insulin, getting priced out of college opportunities, and getting priced out of owning houses and raising families after college due to exorbitant student debt, do not constitute the good life. And if capitalism won’t provide such opportunities, it’s no surprise socialism will garner ever more support among the population.

This article first appeared on Inside Sources.

Cuba and a New Generation of Leaders Respond to U.S. Anti-People War

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:58

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

For almost 60 years Cuba has successfully defended its socialist revolution against a steady onslaught of U.S. aggressive actions, serious enough at times to warrant extraordinary measures. Cuba, for example, established alliances with the Soviet bloc of nations in the early 1960s, readjusted its economy and politics following the Soviet collapse, and sharpened its intelligence capabilities in response to terrorist attacks continuing into the 1990s.

Another set of far-reaching measures is in order now. The Donald Trump administration, intervening aggressively, has disabled both embassies, added restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and on spending there, limited remittances Cuban-Americans send to family members on the island, continued to recruit and finance a political opposition, and implemented Title III of the 1996 Helms Burton Law – aimed at discouraging foreign investments in Cuba.

These actions compound Cuba’s pre-existing economic difficulties, among them: excess imports, insufficient exports, reduced agricultural production, decreased worker productivity, and heavy foreign debt.

On June 27 Cuba’s Council of Ministers announced a comprehensive, multi-faceted response to the recent U.S. aggressions. As reported by Granma, the newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party, and by other Cuban media, the Council’s decisions constitute an agenda for ongoing planning of multiple processes leading to change. The ministers in their statements appealed to Cubans’ sense of nationhood, unity, and culture.

Alejandro Gil Fernandez, Minister of Economy and Planning, provided a summary. The government seeks to increase production generally, diversify and increase exports, substitute endogenous products for imports, promote “productive chains,” strengthen state enterprises, bolster food sovereignty and food production, promote local development, fully implement housing policies, and put “science at the service of solving economic problems.”

Gil Fernandez and Minister of Finances and Prices Meisi Bolaños Weiss joined in discussing salary and pension increases taking effect in July. By the end of 2018 the average state-sector salary had risen from 600 pesos per month to 871 pesos, and as of July will be 1067 pesos. The idea is that increased salaries and pensions will facilitate consumer purchases and thereby stimulate domestic production.

Price controls and anti-inflation measures will be in effect. Future salary increases will depend largely on worker productivity. The cost of the increases is being squeezed into the 2019 budget. To prevent a shortfall, transfers of state funds and their use will be more tightly controlled than in the past, and state agencies will cut spending in other areas.

Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president and president of the Council of Ministers, on July 2 discussed the reforms on national television, as did other ministers. “We come to this Round Table,” he announced, “to summon everyone to engage in this work with intelligence and love.” And “we have not renounced – nor will we – the idea that our small economy, under siege for these 60 years, will be prosperous and sustainable.” Despite “a U.S. craving for us to return to the Special Period, we are now in better condition to overcome difficulties.”

Salary and pension increases, Díaz- Canel maintained, will lead to coherent pricing and prepare the way for an end to subsidies and Cuba’s dual currency. Those benefiting represent “the sector in which the conquests of the Revolution are defended; they offer important public services.” He called upon workplaces to implement the proposed changes and asked that Cubans align personal interests with the interests of society.

Díaz- Canel urged officials “to phase out administrative methods and adopt economic and financial methods” to be able to handle changing patterns of consumption, marketing, and pricing. Alluding to bureaucratic hindrances, he promised to address “what some call an internal blockade.” The government will promote workers’ commitment to efficiency and productivity. And “cadres and officeholders need preparation to avoid skewed interpretations of the changes.”

The quality of political leadership emerges as a decisive factor as Cuba copes with U.S. war without guns and with lingering problems of its own.

Díaz- Canel epitomizes Cuba’s new generation of revolutionary leaders. Since taking office in April 2018, he has traveled throughout the island, often in company with other ministers. In local meetings, workplaces, and the countryside, he communicates in person with citizens.

Everywhere Díaz- Canel is generous with praise for colleagues and for the Cuban people. They and the nation’s history appear to be his North Star. He refers often to moral and ethical values and not at all to state power. Nor does he dwell upon political enemies who are Cuban.

Speaking to the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) on June 30, he described “delving deeply into the extraordinary creative reserves of the Cuban people. The truth always awaits us there.” Cubans, he noted, are “challenged to give continuity to a unique historical process … a superior cultural event that transformed a small, backward nation, from the roots, into an unquestionable world power, not for its material resources, but rather for its human and emotional resources.” He extolled “a Revolution that has always placed human beings at the center.”

On July 13 Díaz-Canel spoke at the conclusion of the recent session of Cuba’s National Assembly, which featured working sessions of the various parliamentary commissions. He pointed out that, “the 38 activities that the commissions investigated are precisely those that relate to complaints emerging in surveys of public opinion. We decided they were the very ones that require major government actions and solutions.”

The president’s speech covered legislation approved by the Assembly, Cuba’s economic situation, U.S. hostilities, Cuba’s position in the world, and more, including personal reflections.

As regards being president: “I know about the sincere concern of those who think that we demand too much, that any credit derives exclusively from our personal action, and that we even take on tasks that ‘are not those of a president’ … I ask myself what task doesn’t belong to a president in a nation like Cuba, in a Revolution like ours, when we follow the examples of Fidel and Raúl.

“We believe profoundly in collective work,” he declared, adding that “our Council of Ministers is acting, in general, with the intensity and urgency that life demands of us. We begin with constant interchange with the people, with an ear to the ground.”

“In this new stage,” for example, “the key is in the regions and municipalities and in development of localities where they are aware of all they create. Advances there benefit people more directly.” And, “We have to keep on searching out our material and human reserves, looking to monetary savings as a source of income and to our spirituality as a source of creative energy.”

He was optimistic: “[W]hat adversaries ignore is that 60 years of sanctions, threats, and aggression of all kinds have stiffened our resistance. The historical experience of the revolution is an indispensible book of lessons. The first one is about personal, direct interchange with the people. They are the permanent source of creativity and encouragement.”

For Mexican political analyst Ángel Guerra Cabrera, President Miguel Díaz-Canel represents “a total revelation in taking on maximum responsibility for the state.” He notes that, “In our region there is not a single conservative president currently who exhibits even one quality marking a true statesman.” The fact of a highly competent political leadership surely is a favorable prognostic sign for Cuba, now battling to emerge from a newly reinforced U.S. siege on its economy.

How the Goliath of the Jerusalem Settler Movement Persuaded the World It’s Really David

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:58

Photograph Source: Gellerj – CC BY-SA 3.0

Israeli police forced out the Siyam family from their home in the heart of occupied East Jerusalem last week, the final chapter in their 25-year legal battle against a powerful settler organisation.

The family’s defeat represented much more than just another eviction. It was intended to land a crushing blow against the hopes of some 20,000 Palestinians living in the shadow of the Old City walls and Al Aqsa mosque.

Dozens of families in the Silwan neighbourhood have endured the same fate as the Siyams, and the Israeli courts have approved the imminent eviction of many hundreds more Palestinians from the area.

But, unlike those families, the Siyams’ predicament briefly caught public attention. That was because one of them, Jawad Siyam, has become a figurehead of Silwan’s resistance efforts.

Mr Siyam, a social worker, has led the fight against Elad, a wealthy settler group that since the early 1990s has been slowly erasing Silwan’s Palestinian identity, in order to remake it as the City of David archeological park.

Mr Siyam has served as a spokesman, drawing attention to Silwan’s plight. He has also helped to organise the community, setting up youth and cultural centres to fortify Silwan’s identity and sense of purpose in the face of Israel’s relentless oppression.

However, the settlers of Elad want Silwan dismembered, not strengthened.

Elad’s mission is to strip away the Palestinian community to reveal crumbling relics beneath, which it claims are proof that King David founded his Israelite kingdom there 3,000 years ago.

The history and archeological rationalisations may be murky, but the political vision is clear. The Palestinians of Silwan are to be forced out like unwelcome squatters.

An Israeli human rights group, Peace Now, refers to plans for the City of David as “the transformation of Silwan into a Disneyland of the messianic extreme right wing”.

It is the most unequal fight imaginable – a story of David and Goliath, in which the giant fools the world into believing he is the underdog.

It has pitted Mr Siyam and other residents against not only the settlers, but the US and Israeli governments, the police and courts, archaeologists, planning authorities, national parks officials and unwitting tourists.

And, adding to their woes, Silwan’s residents are being forced to fight both above and below ground at the same time.

The walls and foundations of dozens of houses are cracking and sinking because the Israeli authorities have licensed Elad to flout normal safety regulations and excavate immediately below the community’s homes. Several families have had to be evacuated.

Late last month Elad flexed its muscles again, this time as it put the finishing touches to its latest touristic project: a tunnel under Silwan that reaches to the foot of Al Aqsa.

On Elad’s behalf, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, wielded a sledgehammer to smash down a symbolic wall inaugurating the tunnel, which has been renamed the Pilgrimage Road.

Elad claims – though many archaeologists doubt it – that in Roman times the tunnel was a street used by Jews to ascend to a temple on the site where today stands the Islamic holy site of Al Aqsa.

The participation of the two US envoys in the ceremony offered further proof that Washington is tearing up the peacemaking rulebook, destroying any hope the Palestinians might once have had of an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Mr Friedman called the City of David complex – at the core of occupied Palestinian Jerusalem – “an essential component of the national heritage of the State of Israel”. Ending the occupation there would be “akin to America returning the Statue of Liberty”.

While Israel, backed by the US, smashes Silwan’s foundations, it is also dominating the sky above it.

Last month Israel’s highest planning body approved a cable car from Israeli territory in West Jerusalem into the centre of Silwan.

It will connect with the City of David and a network of boardwalks, coffee shops and touristic tunnels, such as like the Pilgrimage Road, all run by Elad settlers, to slice apart Silwan.

And to signal how the neighbourhood is being reinvented, the Israeli municipality enforcing the occupation in East Jerusalem recently named several of Silwan’s main streets after famous Jewish rabbis.

Former mayor Nir Barkat has said the goal of all this development is to bring 10 million tourists a year to Silwan, so that they “understand who is really the landlord in this city”.

Few outsiders appear to object. This month, the tourism website TripAdvisor was taken to task by Amnesty International for recommending the City of David as a top attraction in Jerusalem.

And now, Elad has felled the family of Jawad Siyam in a bid to crush the community’s spirits and remaining sense of defiance.

As it has with so many of Silwan’s homeowners, Elad waged a decades-long legal battle against the family to drain them of funds and stamina.

The Siyams’ fate was finally sealed last month when the Israeli courts extended the use of a 70-year-old, draconian piece of legislation, the Absentee Property Law, to Silwan.

The law was crafted specifically to steal the lands and homes of 750,000 Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 by the new state of Israel.

Ownership of the Siyams’ home is shared between Jawad’s uncles and aunts, some of them classified by Israel as “absentees” because they now live abroad.

As a result, an Israeli official with the title Custodian of Absentee Property claimed ownership of sections of the house belonging to these relatives, and then, in violation of his obligations under international law, sold them on to Elad. Police strong-armed the family out last week.

To add insult to injury, the court also approved Elad seizing money raised via crowdfunding by more than 200 Israeli peace activists, with the aim of helping the Siyams with their legal costs.

Palestinians such as Jawad Siyam exist all over the occupied territories – men and women who have given Palestinians a sense of hope, commitment and steadfastness in the face of Israel’s machinery of dispossession.

When Israel targets Jawad Siyam, crushes his spirits, it sends an unmistakeable message not only to other Palestinians, but to the international community itself, that peace is not on its agenda.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

 

Merger Mania: the Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:57

Photograph Source: Elton Lord – Public Domain

When, in his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the “unwarranted influence” wielded by the “military-industrial complex,” he could never have dreamed of an arms-making corporation of the size and political clout of Lockheed Martin. In a good year, it now receives up to $50 billion in government contracts, a sum larger than the operating budget of the State Department. And now it’s about to have company.

Raytheon, already one of the top five U.S. defense contractors, is planning to merge with United Technologies. That company is a major contractor in its own right, producing, among other things, the engine for the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive Pentagon weapons program ever. The new firmwill be second only to Lockheed Martin when it comes to consuming your tax dollars — and it may end up even more powerful politically, thanks to President Trump’s fondness for hiring arms industry executives to run the national security state.

Just as Boeing benefited from its former Senior Vice President Patrick Shanahan’s stint as acting secretary of defense, so Raytheon is likely to cash in on the nomination of its former top lobbyist, Mike Esper, as his successor. Esper’s elevation comes shortly after another former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, left the State Department amid charges that he had improperly influenced decisions to sell Raytheon-produced guided bombs to Saudi Arabia for its brutal air war in Yemen. John Rood, third-in-charge at the Pentagon, has worked for both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, while Ryan McCarthy, Mike Esper’s replacement as secretary of the Army, worked for Lockheed on the F-35, which the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has determined may never be ready for combat.

And so it goes. There was a time when Donald Trump was enamored of “his” generals — Secretary of Defense James Mattis (a former board member of the weapons-maker General Dynamics), National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Now, he seems to have a crush on personnel from the industrial side of the military-industrial complex.

As POGO’s research has demonstrated, the infamous “revolving door” that deposits defense executives like Esper in top national security posts swings both ways. The group estimates that, in 2018 alone, 645 senior government officials — mostly from the Pentagon, the uniformed military, and Capitol Hill — went to work as executives, consultants, or board members of one of the top 20 defense contractors.

Fifty years ago, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire identified the problem when he noted that:

“the movement of high ranking military officers into jobs with defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse… How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years away from retirement and have the example to look at of over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?”

In other words, that revolving door and the problems that go with it are anything but new. Right now, however, it seems to be spinning faster than ever — and mergers like the Raytheon-United Technologies one are only likely to feed the phenomenon.

The Last Supper

The merger of Raytheon and United Technologies should bring back memories of the merger boom of the 1990s, when Lockheed combined with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin, Northrop and Grumman formed Northrop Grumman, and Boeing absorbed rival military aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. And it wasn’t just a matter of big firms pairing up either. Lockheed Martin itself was the product of mergers and acquisitions involving nearly two dozen companies — distinctly a tale of big fish chowing down on little fish. The consolidation of the arms industry in those years was strongly encouraged by Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry, who held a dinner with defense executives that was later dubbed “the last supper.” There, he reportedly told the assembled corporate officials that a third of them would be out of business in five years if they didn’t merge with one of their cohorts.

The Clinton administration’s encouragement of defense industry mergers would prove anything but rhetorical. It would, for instance, provide tens of millions of dollars in merger subsidies to pay for the closing of plants, the moving of equipment, and other necessities. It even picked up part of the tab for the golden parachutes given defense executives and corporate board members ousted in those deals.

The most egregious case was surely that of Norman Augustine. The CEO of Martin Marietta, he would actually take over at the helm of the even more powerful newly created Lockheed Martin. In the process, he received $8.2 million in payments, technically for leaving his post as head of Martin Marietta. U.S. taxpayers would cover more than a third of his windfall. Then, a congressman who has only gained stature in recent years, Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), began to fight back against those merger subsidies. He dubbed them “payoffs for layoffs” because executives got government-funded bailouts, while an estimated 19,000 workers were laid off in the Lockheed Martin merger alone with no particular taxpayer support. Sanders was actually able to shepherd through legislation that clawed back some, but not all, of those merger subsidies.

According to one argument in favor of the merger binge then, by closing half-empty factories, the new firms could charge less overhead and taxpayers would benefit. Well, dream on. This never came near happening, because the newly merged industrial behemoths turned out to have even greater bargaining power over the Pentagon and Congress than the unmerged companies that preceded them.

Draw your own conclusions about what’s likely to happen in this next round of mergers, since cost overruns and lucrative contracts continue apace. Despite this dismal record, Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy claims that the new corporate pairing will — you guessed it! — save the taxpayers money. Don’t hold your breath.

Influence on Steroids

While Donald Trump briefly expressed reservations about the Raytheon-United Technologies merger and a few members of Congress struck notes of caution, it has been welcomed eagerly on Wall Street. Among the reasonsgiven: the fact that the two companies generally make different products, so their union shouldn’t reduce competition in any specific sector of defense production. It has also been claimed that the new combo, to be known as Raytheon Technologies, will have more funds available for research and development on the weapons of the future.

But focusing on such concerns misses the big picture. Raytheon Technologies will have more money to make campaign contributions, more money to hire lobbyists, and more production sites that can be used as leverage over members of Congress loathe to oppose spending on weapons produced in their states or districts. The classic example of this phenomenon: the F-35 program, which Lockheed Martin claims produces 125,000 jobs spread over 46 states.

When I took a careful look at the company’s estimates, I found that they were claiming approximately twice as many jobs as that weapons system was actually creating. In fact, more than half of F-35-related employment was in just two states, California and Texas (though many other states did have modest numbers of F-35 jobs). Even if Lockheed Martin’s figures are exaggerated, however, there’s no question that spreading defense jobs around the country gives weapons manufacturers unparalleled influence over key members of Congress, much to their benefit when Pentagon budget time rolls around. In fact, it’s a commonplace for Congress to fund more F-35s, F-18s, and similar weapons systems than the Pentagon even asks for. So much for Congressional oversight.

Theoretically, incoming defense secretary Mike Esper will have to recuse himself from major decisions involving his former company. Among them, whether to continue selling Raytheon-produced precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for their devastating air war in Yemen that has killed remarkable numbers of civilians.

No worries. President Trump himself is the biggest booster in living memory of corporate arms sales and Saudi Arabia is far and away his favorite customer. The Senate recently voted down a package of “emergency” arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE that included thousands of Raytheon Paveway munitions, the weapon of choice in that Yemeni air campaign. A similar vote must now take place in the House, but even if it, too, passes, Congress will need to override a virtually guaranteed Trump veto of the bill.

The Raytheon-United Technologies merger will further implicate the new firm in Yemeni developments because the Pratt and Whitney division of United Technologies makes the engine for Saudi Arabia’s key F-15S combat aircraft, a mainstay of the air war there. Not only will Raytheon Technologies profit from such engine sales, but that company’s technicians are likely to help maintain the Saudi air force, thereby enabling it to fly yet more bombing missions more often.

When pressed, Raytheon officials argue that, in enabling mass slaughter, they are simply following U.S. government policy. This ignores the fact that Raytheon and other weapons contractors spend tens of millions of dollars a year on lobbyists, political contributions, and other forms of influence peddling trying to shape U.S. policies on arms exports and weapons procurement. They are, in other words, anything but passive recipients of edicts handed down from Washington.

As Raytheon chief financial officer Toby O’Brien put it in a call to investors that came after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, “We continue to be aligned with the administration’s policies, and we intend to honor our commitments.” Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson made a similar point, asserting that “most of these agreements that we have are government-to-government purchases, so anything that we do has to follow strictly the regulations of the U.S. government… Beyond that, we’ll just work with the U.S. government as they are continuing their relationship with [the Saudis].”

How Powerful Are the Military-Industrial Combines?

When it comes to lobbying the Pentagon and Congress, size matters. Major firms like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon can point to the jobs they and their subcontractors provide in dozens of states and scores of Congressional districts to keep members of Congress in line who might otherwise question or even oppose the tens of billions of dollars in government funding the companies receive annually.

Raytheon — its motto: “Customer Success Is Our Mission” — has primary operations in 16 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. That translates into a lot of leverage over key members of Congress and it doesn’t even count states where the company has major subcontractors. The addition of United Technologies will reinforce the new company’s presence in a number of those states, while adding Connecticut, Iowa, New York, and North Carolina (in other words, at least 20 states in all).

Meanwhile, if the merger is approved, the future Raytheon Technologies will be greasing the wheels of its next arms contracts by relying on nearly four dozen former government officials the two separate companies hired as lobbyists, executives, and board members in 2018 alone. Add to that the $6.4 million in campaign contributions and $20 million in lobbying expenses Raytheon clocked during the last two election cycles and the outlines of its growing influence begin to become clearer. Then, add as well the $2.9 million in campaign contributions and $40 million in lobbying expenses racked up by its merger partner United Technologies and you have a lobbying powerhouse rivaled only by Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense conglomerate.

President Eisenhower’s proposed counterweight to the power of the military-industrial complex was to be “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” And there are signs that significant numbers of individuals and organizations are beginning to pay more attention to the machinations of the arms lobby. My own outfit, the Center for International Policy, has launched a Sustainable Defense Task Force composed of former military officers and Pentagon officials, White House and Congressional budget experts, and research staffers from progressive and good-government groups. It has already crafted a plan that would cut $1.2 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, while improving U.S. security by avoiding unnecessary wars, eliminating waste, and scaling back a Pentagon nuclear-weapons buildup slated to cost $1.5 trillion or more over the next three decades.

The Poor People’s Campaign, backed by research conducted by the National Priorities Project of the Institute for Policy Studies, is calling for a one-year $350 billion cut in Pentagon expenditures. And a new network called “Put People Over the Pentagon” has brought together more than 20 progressive organizations to press presidential candidates to cut $200 billion annually from the Department of Defense’s bloated budget. Participants in the network include Public Citizen, Moveon.org, Indivisible, Win Without War, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and United We Dream, many of them organizations that had not, in past years, made reducing the Pentagon budget a priority.

Raytheon and its arms industry allies won’t sit still in the face of such proposals, but at least the days of unquestioned and unchallenged corporate greed in the ever-merging (but also ever-expanding) arms industry may be coming to an end. The United States has paid an exorbitantly high price in blood and treasure (as have countries like Afghanistan and Iraq) for letting the military-industrial complex steer the American ship of state through this century so far. It’s long past time for a reckoning.

The Devolution Will Be Televised: Our Body-cam President

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:57

Gil Scott-Heron was only partially correct when he predicted the revolution would not be televised. “There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers in the instant replay,” he sang. While the revolution may not be aired live in prime time, in the age of mass surveillance, the abuses that may give rise to it are. Yet despite our body-cammed, go-to-the-video response to police brutality and other overt authoritarian abuses, there are few signs of a brewing revolution, televised or not.

Donald Trump is America’s body-cam, the not so smart smartphone streaming medium through which the nation glimpses itself. Like these instruments of public surveillance, Trump presents to us a portrait of American life that is as unrelenting in its ugliness as it is gruelingly uncomfortable to watch, prompting swift if disingenuous denials of a reality that for far too long had been rejected in favor of national hagiography.

Decades before these devices, Americans of color had complained of police malfeasance only to be met with condescending skepticism. Today, these technologies have helped to mitigated such skepticism, providing a digital archive of atrocities that make what was once hidden glaringly apparent to all but the most flagrant deniers. In a similar way, Trump has exposed the perennial undercurrents of American racism, bringing them to the surface for all to see: Torch-bearing white supremacist march in Virginia; nationally, an alphabet soup of negrophobic whites (BBQ Becky, Cornerstore Caroline, Coupon Carl, ID Adam, Pool Patrol Paula, et al.) take up the white wo/man’s burden of policing black and brown bodies; the sordid tragedy of humanity caged at its southern border.

With Trump in power, the devolution has been televised, in 4K, 24/7/365 as the nation binge watches the erosion of its deceptively adulatory national self-portrait. In those halcyon pre-Trump days, we liked to speak of “polite racism,” a gentlemen’s agreement for the new millennium, the perfect anodyne for the “post-race,” Change-and-Hope Obama years. The days of raw, unapologetic racial animus, white America told itself, were a relic of its past. To a large degree, the corporate media promulgated this myth, until the internet, social media, smartphones, and body cams belied it, and a narcissistic, camera-hungry plutocrat replaced the man who gave it a semblance of naïve credence. Trump has become the personification of this new-yet-old America: boorish, bigoted, undeservedly boastful, the buffoonish embodiment of a nation that benefits from the exploitation of others while vigorously denying that it does.

Salon’s Amanda Marcotte observes, “What drives the Trump base isn’t actually Donald Trump himself. It’s the bigotry. Everything else is gravy.” It is not that Trump has demonstrably made America more racist but that he has given racists – and those who refuse to see them – a face to rally around. Indeed, it is all too easy to dismiss Trump’s base as “trolls” – both among the general public and in attendance at his recently convened “social media summit” – as MAGA-hatted troglodytes with a penchant for white extremism and xenophobia, since this would spare the rest of America the discomforting but necessary angst of unflinching self-reflection. However, while their views may arguably be fringeworthy, they themselves are not marginal; instead, they occupy positions of power and authority, as they have historically, from the days of slave patrols and paddyrollers, Jim Crow and more recently Stop and Frisk and Broken Windows. In each case, they view themselves as Guardians and Defenders of a threatened republic and the whiteness for which it stood – and defiantly still stands, the same roles that Trump envisions himself performing with every sniffle-punctuated vilification of its citizens of color.

A number of recent reports expose the extent to which normalized extremism permeates the ranks of those who serve and protect the state. The investigative website Reveal reports it was able to join dozens of closed Facebook hate groups which have as its members hundreds of active duty and retired cops “at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as Los Angeles and New York police departments.” Currently, over 50 police departments across the nation are under investigation.

The Associated Press reports that police departments in five states (Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Missouri) have launched investigations into their officers’ public Facebook accounts following the publication of a database that revealed racist, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant posts, some glorifying police brutality. In Philadelphia alone, 72 police officers have been placed on administrative duty, with “several dozen” possibly facing disciplinary action and termination for racist Facebook posts.

There is nothing particularly new here, save the spate of coverage. As the Intercept reports, a 2015 classified FBI Counter Terrorism Policy Guide noted law enforcement’s “deep historical connections to racist ideologies” and the “longstanding strategy [white extremist groups] “to infiltrate the law enforcement community.” The report also called out the practice of such groups of encouraging “ghost skins” – those who publicly conceal their white supremacist views so as to pass undetected into the mainstream and covertly advance their cause – to pursue jobs in law enforcement in order to alert them to police investigations.

Of course, extremist infiltration is not confined to “America’s finest.” In 2006, ten years after the armed forces cracked down on white extremists in its ranks, the Southern Poverty Legal Center reported that these groups had once again infiltrated the military. According to a Department of Defense investigator cited in the report, “Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces, and commanders don’t remove them from the military even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members.” During the Iraq War the military cast a blind eye to such individuals in order to meet its recruitment goals.

More recently, ProPublica reported the existence of “I’m 10-15,” a secret Customs and Border Protection agency racist Facebook group whose membership consists of 9,500 current and former Border Patrol agents.

This not a matter of a “few rotten apples”; this is the orchard: When Mark Morgan, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the newly installed acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, justifies such confinements on the grounds that he could “unequivocally” tell just by “looking at their eyes” that “so-called minors” held in detention were “soon-to-be-MS-13 gang members,” there can be no doubt the rot is endemic, infesting both the rank and file and the top.

The devolution will be televised.

On July 4th, the world had foisted upon it a “Salute to America,” with Trump as three-ring carnival barker, a gauche spectacle that featured tanks stationed in front of the Lincoln Memorial and waves of military aircraft flying over the Washington Monument – indeed, if you look closely, you could, despite Trump’s previous insistence to the contrary, even see an F-35 fighter, though if he actually believed in their literal invisibility, it would make them a poor choice for an air show. (Still, Trump probably defended his choice to include them by insisting earlier versions of these Wonder Woman jets were used by American militias to secure British airports during the Revolutionary War.) All that was absent were clear skies and goose-stepping soldiers, though given Trump’s authoritarian proclivities, the latter may not be far behind.

Yet, as Americans sat before their TVs to celebrate their independence, immigrants and asylum seekers lingered – and continue to linger – in standing-room-only cages in unsanitary condition and drinking from toilets as their children grow sick and die. And when members of Congress toured detainment centers in El Paso, Texas, the “trolls” emerged from beneath their cyberspace bridges to greet them with jeers and Islamophobic slurs. Actions speak louder than words, or, it seems, Facebook posts.

It is telling, however, that some prefer to debate the nomenclature of exclusion rather than act against policies that repeat the nation’s historical mistakes and confront its ugly past. Some were offended that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referred to these facilities as “concentration camps,” claiming she callously invoked the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. However, concentration camps did not originate in Nazi Germany but in South Africa’s Boer War and America’s own racist, genocidal past, one whose legacy includes not only the internment of Japanese-Americans at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Gila River, and Granada, but also Native Americans to Ross’s Landing, Fort Cass, and Fort Snelling, and the “sheltering” of freed African Americans slaves so-called contraband camps, many of whose conditions resembled those of today’s detention centers, though we have tended to describe these facilities with a variety of palliative euphemisms: “relocation camps,” “internment camps,” “assembly centers,” “Indian camps,” and “reservations” that minimize their role in the removal, confinement, and, yes, death of people of color in America. And in the shadow of this bowdlerized history, FOX News apparatchik brush off their present-day iteration as “overcrowded luxury hotels,” “border schools,” and, as Laura Ingraham dismissively described them, “summer camps.”

If the above names are not as familiar Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka or Buchenwald, it is because they reflect a history that Americans would prefer to ignore, as well as the fact that Nazi concentration camps and the racial policies that preceded their construction were inspired by America’s. As Yale Law school professor James Q. Whitman notes in his Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, in 1928 Hitler “spoke admiringly about the way Americans had ‘gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few thousand and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage.’” In Adolf Hitler, historian John Toland goes a step further, explaining, “Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and uneven combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.” And while the debate over nomenclature and “false equivalencies,” has been reengaged, we should not lose sight of their similarities. In 1998, the Japanese American Nation Museum and American Jewish Committee issued a joint statement that emphasized these commonalities, pointing out that “[d]espite differences, all had one thing in common: the people in power removed a minority from the general population and the rest of society let it happen” (my emphasis), which seems as apt a description as any of the shared intent of those who create such facilities and the complicity of those who permit their use.

Body cams can be turned off; our body-cam president has not – and arguably should not, at least until Americans have fully inspected the toxic reality of what their nation is. I am tempted to say “has become,” but it has been this way for some time; it is simply that Trump has brought its racism out into the open.

As the 2020 election approaches, the question facing Americans is often framed in terms of whether, they will ignore Trump’s all too obvious flaws and grant him another four years (that this remains a serious possibility after two and a half years of lies, scandals, and overtly racist tantrums, including his latest slander of Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, is frankly stupefying). What this question fails to address is the far more unsettling matter of why, through our inaction and that of our political leadership, we allow him to remain in office when constitutional mechanisms exist to remove him. And yet, even if Trump were successfully ousted, I cannot help wonder if this would be the equivalent of turning off a body-cam so that we can once again indulge our perpetual state of denial, for in the absence of political will directed at eliminating the systemic sources of our dysfunction, changes at the top of the hate chain will only be cosmetic and placatory.

Psychology Stories: Children

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:53

Photograph Source: diario fotográfico ‘desde Palestina’ – CC BY-SA 3.0

The majesty and burning of the child’s death…. After the first death, there is no other.

– Dylan Thomas

The sniper who shot at Muhammad the child
Beneath his father’s arm
Wasn’t acting alone

– Aharon Shabtai, J’Accuse

If you are overcome by the horrific crimes against the humanity of children and then wonder how this can be, it may help to understand stories that adults tell children in their day-to-day lives. What kinds of core beliefs justify so much atrocity? My understanding comes in part from psychoanalytic work with children and adults. There are countless children’s stories, but I will focus here on Roger Hargreaves’ Little Miss Helpful and compare it to the Hobans’ A Birthday for Frances, and then touch on Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi’s revelatory documentary about the Masada and Samson heroic suicide terrorism stories told to Israeli children as they grow up.

Normalizing the pathological is a counterpart to the practice of “Pathologizing Kids”, written about recently by Martha Rosenberg’s Counterpunch article.

Little Miss Helpful is part of a 130 book series of Little Miss and Mr. Men pocket-sized, inexpensive books published by Penguin-Random House and promoted as one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. According to the Wikipedia, the books sold “100 million worldwide across 28 countries”. The illustrations are basically one-dimensional emoticons with heads and bodies blended in one big bubble. There is no separation or intercession between a thinking head and acting body. The stories give no impression that there is an inner life of thinking, feeling, or sensing.

“Little Miss” is a caricature, not a character. “Little Miss” is a cute and sarcastic term. “Little Miss Helpful was one of those people who loves to help other people, but who ends up helping nobody. Do you know what I mean?” The story goes from one slapstick incident to another, with physical pain being funny but never conveyed as painful, dangerous, or shaming. Every attempt to help turns into a silly mess, and Little Miss Helpful learns nothing and is never regretful or empathic. The explicit moral: Helping is Ridiculous. In some of the other books, the presenting problem is fixed by magic or resolved when Little Miss or Mr. Man is humored by Mr. Happy’s positive thinking. Do these stories distill the worldview of capitalism?

In contrast, A Birthday for Frances shows how a little girl can struggle and even change when confronted with some of the knottiest of human problems. It is Frances’ little sister’s birthday, and Frances must deal with her own jealousy, resentment, rationalizations, and her all-or-nothing belief about the distribution of desirable goods.

“Your [my] birthday is always the one that is not now”. The characters are possums but the illustrations depict subtleties of many emotions. Frances’ parents are parental, neither matriarchal nor patriarchal, and they sense when to offer help and when to step aside as they infuse a sense of proportion and reality to Frances. Frances draws mean pictures and relishes being witch-like. Both sisters remember mean things they’ve done to each other. Frances experiences psychological conflict: she cries as she does, and does not want to give her sister a present. She does buy with her own money a gift that she knows her sister will like – a chocolate “Chompo” bar, something she would love to eat too. She struggles with holding on to it, giving it a ‘Squeeze” as she is finally able to give it to her sister. There is no magic in this story. Their mother comments on how wishes to settle conflicts is “a special kind of good wish that can make itself come true.” And Frances is able to say to her sister “You can eat it all, because you are the birthday girl”. Frances is a child who is already quite a full person: she loves words and she makes up rhymes, songs, and expressive stories in the process of knowing herself.

The Mograbi documentary Avenge But One of My Two Eyes shows ways that adults clearly indoctrinate children with stories. Mograbi films parents, teachers, religious and military leaders depicting the Samson and Masada stories in compellingly exciting, frightening, and seductive ways that tap specifically into the various anxieties at different phases of development. The adult story-tellers conflate fiction and reality: a father graphically describes to his very young children how “Samson The Hero” disgorged and mutilated a lion, dramatizing how sadism is the key to security. A group of older teens, as part of their military training, hear about heroic Masada leaders and are asked what they would do if under siege by an occupying force, and without hesitation or any hint of irony, the majority said they would commit kamikaze acts against the military occupiers. A religious leader whips up sexualized frenzy as he conflates ancient Philistines with modern Palestinians.

I presented a detailed analysis of this film at the 2008 Gaza Community Mental Health Programme/World Health Organization “Building Bridges” meeting held just before Operation Cast Lead erupted against Gaza.i The telling of the stories evokes unquestioning admiration of powerful authority when children are beginning to form their own values; guides press for loyalty to the group at a time when teens waver between individual and group identity. The stark outcome is that these children and adolescents identify with historic victimhood as an entitlement to be grandiose aggressors like Samson or the Massada leaders.

A different and respectful message comes from Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who “A person’s a person no matter how small.”

The Coal Industry is Not a Major Employer

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:52

Photograph Source: Surface coal mining in Wyoming – Public Domain

The NYT had a column by Eliza Griswold talking about the prospect of job loss in coal mining areas due to efforts to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. While it is often traumatic for workers to lose jobs, especially long-held jobs, it is important to realize that relatively few jobs are at stake in the coal mining industry.

For example, in Pennsylvania, one of the states mentioned in the piece, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are now 5,000 coal mining jobs in the state. The state has over 6 million workers, which means that coal mining accounts for roughly 0.08 percent of employment in the state.

Kentucky has 5,800 jobs in coal mining, with total employment of 1,950,000. That comes to a bit more than 0.3 percent of total employment.

Even in West Virginia, the heart of coal country, there are only 23,000 jobs in coal mining out of a total of 740,000 jobs. This comes to a bit more than 3.0 percent of total employment.

In all three states there were sharp drops in employment in the industry in the past, which drastically reduced the importance of coal mining employment.

It is a bit peculiar that the earlier declines in coal mining employment, which were primarily due to productivity growth (specifically, replacing underground mining with strip mining — a policy often opposed by environmentalists), received relatively little attention in the media or from politicians.

By contrast, the prospect of considerably smaller future declines due to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is drawing extensive attention.

Corporate Gangster: Adani’s Pursuit of Scientists

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:51

The Adani conglomerate should be best described as a bloated gangster, promising the earth even as it mines it. Like other corporate thugs of such disposition, it will do things within, and if necessary outside, the regulatory framework it encounters. Where necessary, it will libel detractors and bribe critics, speak of a fictional number of as yet non-existent jobs, and claim that it is green in its coaling practices. It will also hire legal firms claiming to be trained attack dogs and hector the national broadcaster to pull unflattering stories from publication and discussion.

As a marauder of the environment, the Indian mining giant has left little to chance. It has politicians friendly to its cause in Australia at both the state and federal level, but it faces an environmental movement that refuses to dissipate. It also has a problem with environmental science, particularly in the area of water management. Conditional approvals have been secured, albeit hurried in the aftermath of May’s federal election, and even here, further testing will have to be done.

Given the inconveniences posed by scientists wedded to methodology and technique, the company did not surprise in freedom of information findings by the environmental group Lock the Gate that it had asked the federal environment department for “a list of each person from CSIRO and Geoscience Australia involved in the review” of the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan (GDEMP) and Groundwater Monitoring and Management Plan (GMMP).

In a bullying note to the Department of Environment and Energy (DOEE) in January 25 this year, Hamish Manzi, head of the company’s environment and sustainability branch officiously gave a five day limit to the request, claiming that it “simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda.” Manzi had noted “recent press coverage regarding an anti-coal and/or anti-Adani bias potentially held by experts reviewing other Adani approvals.” For Manzi, the only expert worthy of that name would have to be sympathetic to the mining cause.

The corporate instinct is rarely on all fours with that of the scientific one. The former seeks the accumulation of assets, profits and dividends; the latter tests hypotheses using a falsification system, a process that can only ever have fidelity to itself. The corporate instinct is happy to forget troubling scientific outcomes, and, where necessary, corrupt it for its ends. Where the science does not match, it is obviously the work of ill-motivated activists or those inconvenienced by conscience.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in February 2012, through its Scientific Integrity Program, supplied readers with a list of fields where science, and scientists, have been attacked or compromised. More importantly, it notes how governments become the subject of influence, their decisions ever vulnerable to wobbling. “Corporations attempt to exert influence at every step of the scientific and policy-making processes, often to shape decisions in their favour or avoid regulation and monitoring of their products and by-products at the public’s expense. In so doing, they often attempt to fundamentally alter the decision-making process.”

The methods of corrupting science are not exhaustive, but the UCS report suggests a view tried ones. Research, for instance, is either held up by the company in question or terminated. Scientists are intimidated or coerced through threats to job security, defunding and litigation. Defective methodologies in testing and research are embraced. Scientific articles are ghost written, with corporate sponsorship blurred. Negative results are slyly underreported; positive results are glowingly celebrated. And never forget good old fashioned vilification.

The FOI documents regarding Adani’s conduct show the company as a witchdoctor wooing the federal government into timed releases of information and an obsession with preventing a broader public discussion of findings. A January 9 email from Adani to DOEE demanded that CSIRO/GA reports not be circulated to third parties or the public. The next day, the department obligingly informed the company that it would only share advice with Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

The uncovered documents also show a certain degree of cyber stalking at play. On January 15, a staff member of Geoscience Australia wrote to DOEE expressing concern that the company had viewed LinkedIn profiles of employees. Such concerns did little to ruffle the growing accord between the department and the company.

The abdication of government to the corporate sector is one of the more troubling features of this tawdry chapter in Australian non-governance. Corporate giants know they must enlist the support of representatives who they can trust to be of sound mind. History is replete with successful lobbying efforts in the name of corrupted science.

In 2007, ReGen Biologics, a New Jersey company, faced a sceptical Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerned with Menaflex, a device intended to replace knee cartilage. With the FDA’s rejection came a mobilisation effort. Politicians were sought and cultivated. In December that year, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Steve Rothman all wrote to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. The Commissioner’s ear had been bended sufficiently to lead to a new review headed by Dr Daniel Schultz, head of the FDA’s medical devices division. Scepticism vanished; the product was approved. In 2010, a shamefaced FDA had to concede that it had erred and duly revoked approval.

Instead of defending practices of departments and professionals engaged in the task of assessing the merits of such ventures, individuals such as the Australian deputy prime minister suggest that Adani might have a point in is heavy-handed enthusiasm to root out contrarians. In Michael McCormack’s view, Adani “were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation.” They merely “wanted to determine… that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.” The thug’s narrative has found a home in the hearts of the anti-scientific representatives that currently rule the Canberra roost. Scientists have been warned.

National Polls Don’t Mean Much. Here’s Why.

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:50

“Here we go with the Fake Polls,” President Donald Trump tweeted on July 15.  “Just like what happened with the Election against Crooked Hillary Clinton.” He’s complaining about several polls that show him losing the national popular vote to various Democratic presidential aspirants, in some cases by double digits.

He has a point. In 2016, most polls showed Hillary Clinton winning handily and most Americans seem surprised when Trump emerged victorious.

On the other hand, Trump’s future isn’t quite as indisputably bright as he’d have you believe.

We’re looking at two separate problems.

The first problem is the false perception that there’s a “national popular vote” or, concomitantly, “winning nationally.” There isn’t.

The second problem is that in recent years polling techniques just haven’t produced very accurate results.

First, the “national popular vote”:  Hillary Clinton received more votes nationwide than Trump did in 2016, but lost the election because  all of each state’s electoral votes go to the winner of the popular vote in that state (except Nebraska and Maine, which apportion their electoral votes by congressional district). A narrow win in a state gets you exactly as many electoral votes as a landslide and vice versa.

Clinton won California, beating Trump by more than 4 million votes. Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump nationwide. But Trump racked up 304 electoral votes to her 227 with small-margin wins in Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Nationally, the election turned on fewer than 80,000 individual votes in those last three states.

That’s how it works. A “national” poll can’t tell us who will win a presidential election because it doesn’t capture the relevant data.

Second, the problem with polling as such: Pollsters are having a harder time identifying and reaching representative samples of likely voters who willingly share their preferences.

In 2016, I predicted (six months in advance) that Trump would win Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Friends told me I was crazy to think he’d win any of those states. He won them all — and with them, the election.

My formula for predicting the outcome those states was simple: I believed that any state in which Clinton didn’t enjoy at least a 5% polling advantage would go for Trump, because Trump was  activating a demographic — rural Republicans — that was going to turn out at much higher than usual levels but that pollsters weren’t reaching.

What’s Trump’s 2020 problem? A few tens of thousands of Democratic votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and possibly Florida would enough to reverse the Electoral College outcome.

In 2016, Trump was at the top of his turnout game and the Democrats were at the bottom of theirs. He has nowhere to go but down. They have nowhere to go but up.

My prediction: Trump won’t win any states in 2020 that he didn’t win in 2016. The question is how many states (and thus how many electoral votes) the Democratic nominee can wrench from his grasp. Two would be enough, if one of them is Florida. Without Florida, it would take three.

It’s closer than it looks, folks.

Africans Solving African Problems; Bringing Peace to Sudan

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:45

The recent peace deal being implemented in Sudan was brokered by African leaders without any interference or even input by non African players ie the UN or western countries. As a matter of fact the deal was made in Asmara, Eritrea where the head of the Sudanese military that had overthrown the long time despot Omar Al Bashir sat down for two days with Eritrean mediators, agreed to the deal, flew back to Khartoum and announced the deal a few hours later.

No western “input”, no UN involvement, actually no African Union involvement to speak of, though the AU spokesperson was allowed to make the public announcement of the peace deal.

Just like the last, hopefully, South Sudan peace deal, the only one that has been pretty much successful, the road to peace in the Horn of Africa once again ran through Asmara. And not one so called “expert” in matters African has pointed out the obvious, that it was only a few hours after returning from Eritrea that the deal was announced.

Say something positive about a “socialist country”, Eritrea? They all seem to know how NOT to bite the hand that feeds them. Nothing positive can be said about Eritrea, no ways no how. Never mind that peace has descended on Sudan, or at least the capital Khartoum, and it arrived on the wings of a jet direct from Asmara.

So once again, as in the case of Ethiopia’s “Peaceful Revolution”, peace has broken out in the Horn of Africa, or at least a major step in that direction, and credit must be given to those who deserve it, the leadership of Eritrea. It’s a matter of Africans solving African problems, the only way real, durable peace anywhere on the continent will be obtained.

History Is Happening: WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate

Thu, 2019-07-18 15:45

Nozomi Hayase dedicated WikiLeaks, the Global Fourth Estate: History Is Happening to “the youth who grew up on the Internet,” then added, “The future of civilization depends on great acts of courage inspired by the heart.” Hayase is a psychologist, essayist, and activist, and her book is a chronological collection of her essays about WikiLeaks, written from 2010 to 2017. It’s a thought- provoking look back at how WikiLeaks made history during these years by publishing leaked documents that exposed the malfeasance of governments from Russia to Australia and most famously that of the US State Department, Pentagon, and Democratic National Committee. Since 2018, I have joined Hayase in a number of actions to defend WikiLeaks and call for the freedom of Julian Assange.

She and I both live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and share the experience of riding Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the subway and aboveway that connects its far corners and urban centers. In Chapter 3 she writes, “Even though I have no interest in sports and don’t know much about them, I know when the games are on, as I experience immediate changes in the familiar scenery of my commute. Whenever there is a game, the station is transformed into a kind of zoo, or maybe a shopping mall. The train is packed with people wearing uniforms and San Francisco Giants [or Golden State Warriors, Oakland As, Oakland Raiders, or San Francisco 49ers] hats. The people are filled with excitement, finding kindred spirits and sharing cheers for their team.”

I do take interest in one sport, basketball, and one Bay Area team, the Golden State Warriors. Sometimes I even join a rowdy crowd cheering for the Warriors in a local sports bar during the NBA playoffs. However, I’m well aware that it’s a cheap thrill, a short-lived, faux community or, less charitably, tribalism. What would I share with these fellow rowdies before or after a Warriors’ playoff game?  And besides, the players aren’t hometown boys; they’re hired guns who work for billionaires and bring in billions in corporate advertising, broadcast rights, and merchandise sales. Asian sweatshop labor is the grim reality behind all their Nike advertisements and player endorsements.

So the morning after I always ask myself, as Hayase does, “What would be possible if all those people who had crammed into the train to go see the game went out onto the street and expressed grievances toward the actions of their government?”

That’s not a wholly unfamiliar experience here. In the run-up to the Gulf War, tens of thousands of protestors filled the streets of San Francisco, blocked both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, and covered large parts of downtown with anti-war graffiti. Thousands surged at the Federal Building, including ACT UP and Queer Nation activists chanting, “We’re here! We’re queer!” Greenpeace joined in, and I remember marching behind a group of young African Americans chanting, “Martin Luther King! Martin Luther King!” One night I climbed up some construction scaffolding to watch a march that ended in a spontaneous, illegal bonfire in downtown San Francisco where we were all chanting, “Fuck the deadline!” (The deadline that the first President George Bush had given to Saddam Hussein.)

In the 2003 run-up to the Iraq War, people traveled from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and more to make the anti-war march through San Francisco the largest on the West Coast. The almost successful campaign to make Matt Gonzalez the Mayor of San Francisco created another intense, thrilling, but once again short-lived sense of community, as did the 2011 Occupy Oakland marches and general assemblies. Looking back one could cite the huge anti-Vietnam War protests in San Francisco, and the massive outpourings over the assassination of Mayor George Moscone, the last progressive mayor of San Francisco, and Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California. Protestors filled the streets with silence and candles, then with rage—the White Night Riots—after their coldblooded killer, Dan White, was sentenced to a mere seven years.

None of these movements had the institutional foundations that the pro sports spectacles have for staying alive to enrich the oligarchy and distract the masses. Only a few NGO professionals were paid, meagerly, to continue the struggle. Nevertheless, those uprisings were like light breaking through clouds of apathy, alienation, loneliness, cynicism, desperation, and drudgery. People spoke freely and relished the thrill of joining a community of equals united behind a single goal.

Nozomi Hayase recounts many liberatory moments like these, damns the oppression and exploitation that inspire them, and considers the role that WikiLeaks played in them. “April 2010 was a typical spring day in San Francisco,” she begins. “The world I knew was about to change. The WikiLeaks publication of the ‘Collateral Murder’ video became an international sensation. The cruel scenery in an Iraqi suburb viewed from a US military helicopter gunsight was laid bare for the whole world to see.”

As part of the WikiLeaks movement and the movement to free Assange, Hayase heralds its basic creed—borrowed from Jeff Bezos’s specious Washington Post—that “democracy dies in darkness.” Those who do evil, who rob, bomb, and devastate entire populations, conspire behind doors in corporate boardrooms, government offices, lavish estates, and extravagant global gatherings like the Bilderberg Conference and the World Trade Organization. Their plans are hidden in corporate and classified documents, as are the consequences, but WikiLeaks made it possible for whistleblowers to expose them anonymously.

The organization has never been compelled to retract a publication, and it has never busted a source. (Chelsea Manning confided in an unstable and untrustworthy online connection who turned her in for leaking the Iraq War Logs, the Afghanistan War Diaries, and the US diplomatic cables.) Cryptocurrency has secured the donations that keep WikiLeaks alive, even after Paypal and all the banks and credit card companies moved to cut them off.

Because of WikiLeaks’ ingenious distributed technology, no army or intelligence agency has been able to destroy its searchable archives of well over 10 million leaked documents, including video and audio recordings. Sites using WikiLeaks technology and sharing its goals have proliferated.

Hayase quotes Julian Assange speaking to the Splendour in the Grass Festival in 2011:

“This generation is burning the mass media to the ground. We’re reclaiming our rights to own history. We are ripping open secret archives from Washington to Cairo. We are reclaiming our rights to share ourselves and our times with each other, to be the agents and writers of our own history. We don’t know yet exactly where we are but we can see where we’re going.”

Then Hayase herself writes:

“The economic and political events seemed to be saying outwardly that justice is losing and greed is winning. Is it too late? It’s too early to say. WikiLeaks released material, pushing the ball across the centerline. We need to move it further forward. First, those who are willing to do the research and journalistic work need to do the heavy lifting of the material to tell the stories. Then lawyers and those who are driven by justice need to dig into the evidence of crimes and create a case. All the while, artists around the world sing and speak freely to enliven the cultural sphere, cultivating compassion that makes it possible for us to share the suffering of the world. Together, all this can bring justice into the court of public opinion.”

It’s a beautiful vision, but it raises the question, “Can we recruit the people-power?” Do we have enough journalists willing to do the research and “the heavy lifting of the material to tell the stories”? If so, do they have outlets with a wide enough audience? Do we have the lawyers to dig into the evidence of crimes and create a case? That seems unlikely unless they’ve been assigned to a case about crimes exposed by WikiLeaks or to cases in which WikiLeaks can serve as evidence.

I have written at least ten stories about truths exposed by a single WikiLeaks document or by a collection of them, and these stories are extremely time- consuming. I’ve been paid for some, but the pay works out to so little per hour that I can hardly call it working.

In many cases, I am able to see the significance of particular WikiLeaks only because I have already spent considerable time studying their context. I’m working on a piece about WikiLeaks that reveal decades-long Western designs on Burundi’s nickel reserves, and I understand their significance only because I’ve been following the East/West tug-of-war over those nickel reserves for the past five years.

Browsing through batches of WikiLeaks, I’ve come across a number of other stories I could write, many of them less obscure, but they will take more time than I can find in the foreseeable future. Before closing down the Edward Snowden archives, Glenn Greenwald said that the Intercept had stopped producing stories about them in part because they take so much time. The “Collateral Murder” video is immediately gut-wrenching, but few other documents reveal so much so readily.

Nevertheless, stories about particular WikiLeaks are being published, academics are citing or writing whole books around them, and WikiLeaks are being submitted as evidence in courts.

The most pressing question right now is the fate of Julian Assange. Will he be extradited to the US, tried in secret, and thrown in prison for life? There’s little chance of success in the British court where the judge accused Assange of being a narcissist before sentencing him to an unprecedented 50 weeks for skipping bail. She has ruled against him in earlier cases brought by his defense team, and she refuses to recuse herself despite conflicts of interest posed by her husband’s military industrial engagements. The greatest hope seems to lie in an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, but despite its formal commitment to objectivity, success seems unlikely without a mass movement to free Assange. A protest of 20,000, the number who typically pack basketball arenas, or the 100,000 who typically pack soccer or football stadiums, would jump-start a movement that would be hard to turn back, but how likely is that? How many of the millions who took to the streets to try to stop the Iraq War will take any action in support of the man who did so much to expose its cruelty?

If Assange is convicted of espionage for publishing classified documents, the walls will close in on the freedom of speech and press, and on the transparency movement’s promise to expose the sociopaths who conspire to impoverish, exploit, and destroy us in their drive for ever greater wealth and power. Our destruction, at this point, is just “collateral damage.”

Don’t Open the Door 

Thu, 2019-07-18 14:05

Don’t Open the Door 

When the knock came at the door for
A second
I thought about a man: Davino Watson
A US citizen
Locked up for forty-one months by ICE
Over 3 years
Of his life lost. For what? A clerical error
Or clerical terror
And then about Bello, the Bakersfield poet
Targeted by ICE
and locked up for reading his critical verse

So, when the unexpected knock came
at the door
At first I froze
Just me at home and my two-year-old
And now we all know,
And it’s no exaggeration,
That ICE tortures children,
And rapes them,
and kills them.

The knocker, however,
Was only the super
As it turned out,
This time.

 

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

Wed, 2019-07-17 16:05

Electrical power transformer station, Imperial Valley, Cal. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

“Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”

— Herman Melville (1819-1891), Moby-Dick, Chapter 37.

This is one of many passages, in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, describing Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal obsession to hunt down and kill the white bull sperm whale whose name is the novel’s title. (1) Ahab sought vengeance for being scarred — with curved conical teeth up to 20 cm (8 in) long and weighing up to 1 kg (2.2 lb) each — from head to knee and having his leg torn off, against Moby Dick, who had fought off a pursuit by whalers led by Ahab on a previous voyage:

“Aye, Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now… Aye, aye! it was that accursed white whale that razed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!… and I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.”

But Starbuck, the First Mate aboard their ship, the Pequod, was having none of it. Starbuck was a devout Christian, a Quaker, eschewing all violence except for the hot bloody rush of catching and killing whales to boil their blubber down to the fine oil that would fetch handsome profits at the Nantucket market. Starbuck objects to his commander’s private scheme hijacking the Pequod and her crew from “the business we follow… I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance.” To Starbuck, Ahab’s obsession is not only a derailment of their business but even an affront to God, because Ahab is intent to avenge himself on Nature itself through its organic manifestation as this one mighty white whale:

“Vengeance on a dumb brute!” Starbuck replies to Ahab, “that simply smote thee from blind instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.”

As regards human activity, Starbuck was right, but we now know that sperm whales are intelligent animals, like all cetaceans, and not purely dumb brutes: they have both memory and intent. The sperm whale brain is the largest known of any modern or extinct animal, weighing on average about 7.8 kilograms (17 lb), more than five times heavier than a human’s, and has a volume of about 8,000 cm^3. The sperm whale’s cerebrum is the largest in all mammalia, both in absolute and relative terms. (2)

The story of Moby-Dick is famous around the world and most people know that Ahab and all his crew except one, Ishmael, perished in a failed attempt to wreak Ahab’s vengeance, which even cost the sinking of the Pequod, stove in by Moby Dick’s ramming. The novel is much much more than merely its sea adventure plot, and description of 19th century whaling. It is a roving philosophical inquiry into the nature of character, faith and perception; as well as a metaphor for Melville’s ruminations on American democracy, which was shifting from a free association of agrarian ruralists to an increasingly industrialized regimentation of expansionist outlook. Melville’s Moby-Dick, along with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1885), are the quintessential American novels (in my opinion, at least).

A key point in Moby-Dick is that the crew willingly joined into Ahab’s scheme, and despite Starbuck’s opposition to it. By rights, and whaling industry regulations and customs, the officers and crew of the Pequod were duty-bound to wrest control of the ship from Ahab because he was usurping the use of the vessel and its personnel for his private ends, and away from its intended purpose. The fully outfitted Pequod, bound on a three year hunting expedition, represented the investments of the owners and many shareholders, including widows and orphans of lost Nantucket whalers, as well the ongoing labor investments of the Pequod’s crew, which were to be paid out of the expected harvest of whale oil.

Maximizing that harvest was the whalers’ business, and it was intended to be pursued as a voluntary association of men into a hierarchical organization glued together by a commonality of personal financial interests. Ahab used his fearsome magnetic personality, like witchcraft, to steal the souls of his men and make them instruments for the implementation of his own personal hatred. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the great Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, made this exact diagnosis of Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) and the German nation under his dictatorship during 1933 to 1945. (3) That same diagnosis can be applied, in varying degrees, then and now, here and abroad, to many political “leaders.” The eternal question for the many laboring crews of the many workshops of this world — agrarian and industrial — is: do we work dutifully to the death, or till cast adrift as expendable, and do we willingly follow the leader to perdition if he is hellbound and determined for it; or do we rebel, overturn the structure of command, and lead ourselves even if such freedom entails a hard life?

And this brings me to global warming climate change: fossil fuels are the opiates in the addiction to war that would be the death of humanity by Planet Earth’s rejection of it.

Do we work dutifully to the death, or till cast adrift as expendable, and do we willingly follow the leader to perdition if he is hellbound and determined for it; or do we rebel, overturn the structure of command, and lead ourselves even if such freedom entails a hard life? Is humanity as a whole worth our individual pains in this effort? Or, is the idea of restructuring human civilization — and soon — to jettison capitalism, authoritarianism, and their enabling fossil-fueled militarism and marbling corruption, just a chimera that would use up our individual life forces to no avail; is it simply better to accept the inevitability of inequitable finalities and “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” as Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote? (4)

I, personally, rebel at this surrender because I see it as a betrayal of our young people, and an insult to our honor and to our fully liberated frontal lobe intelligence (though much of that is neglected and unused, I’ll grant) and our technical capabilities. But I don’t dismiss the question: I guess I’ve gotten old.

It has been 31 years since climatologist James E. Hansen, in testimony to the U.S. Congress in June 1988, made one of the first assessments that human-caused warming had already measurably affected global climate. Shortly after, a “World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security” gathered hundreds of scientists and others in Toronto. They concluded that the changes in the atmosphere due to human pollution “represent a major threat to international security and are already having harmful consequences over many parts of the globe,” and declared that by 2005 the world should push its emissions some 20% below the 1988 level. (5)

Since then, basically, nothing substantive has been done by our governments to combat this existential threat. And today the reality of global warming climate change — the crisis of continuing existence — is known, viscerally, to everybody (even the liars).

Our geophysical problem is the slowing of the advance of global warming, by drastically reducing the rates of continuing accumulation in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases (like volatile organic compounds, VOCs) whose aggregate heat-trapping mass could push Earth’s climate system past an unknown threshold or “tipping point,” triggering a sudden and catastrophic transition to climatic conditions significantly more hostile to human survival.

What may not be fully appreciated is that our geophysical problem may be far beyond human capabilities to ever be resolved even were humanity to metamorphose itself through a rapid social evolution producing a miraculous reformulation of human civilization into an enlightened temporal Nirvana liberally powered entirely by green energy.

Will climate change drive humanity to extinction? If so, how much time have we got?, and how will it happen? These questions are on the minds of many people today. In this essay, I will follow paleontologists deep into the geological past to see if it can offer any analogs to the evolving climatic conditions of today, and in that way give us a window into our future.

Average Global Surface Temperature History

The trend of average global surface temperature between 1900 and 2100 — relative to the average temperature during 1951 to 1980 (the “datum” for our temperature scales here) — is shown in the following figure (6).

Projections (colored lines), with uncertainty bounds of ±1 standard deviation (shading), for future surface temperature rise from models that use different economic scenarios. Scenario A2 (in red) represents “business as usual” where temperature is projected to rise by the end of the century between 2°C and 5.5°C if no effort is made to constrain the rise of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which by 2100 could range between 525ppm and 1000ppm (ppm = parts per million of the air volume). The solid bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line) and possible ranges (grey shading) for each scenario. (6)

A view of this relative temperature history between 1880 and 2016 follows.

Notice that the temperature distance from the 1951-1980 average global surface temperature ranges from -0.8°C (1917) to +1.3°C (February 2016). Planet Earth today is about 1.5°C warmer than it was in the 19th century. What was the global surface temperature at earlier times?

Planet Earth has gone through many cycles of glacial and interglacial intervals over the previous 800,000 years. During those Ice Age climatic oscillations, the concentration of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) in the atmosphere cycled between about 170ppm and 300ppm, and temperature cycled between about +4°C and -10°C about our mean global surface temperature datum. (7)

Climate change during the previous 65 million years has been charted as follows. For the details of this image, see note (8).

The green trace shows oxygen isotope measurements (for the oxygen-18 isotope as a fraction of the oxygen present in the sample) on the stacked layers of carbonate (chalk) deposits down through the seafloor (obtained by core drilling), formed from the compacted shells of ancient foraminifera. Temperatures later than 13Mya (Mya = million years ago) are shown in the box at the lower right of the above image; the dashed horizontal line indicates the datum. Temperatures (relative to the datum) between 65Mya and 35Mya are shown in the box in the upper left of the image. Antarctica was glaciating, thawing and reglaciating between 35Mya and 13 Mya, and science has insufficient data to determine the temperature history for that complicated interval. (8)

Notice the little spike labeled PETM, at 56Mya in the image above. This is the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, a very short-lived (200,000 years) high temperature excursion. The height of this temperature spike is likely underestimated by a factor of 2 to 4 because of the coarse sampling and averaging involved in this record.

At least since 1997, the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum has become a focal point of considerable geoscience research because it probably provides the best past analog by which to understand impacts of global climate warming and of massive carbon input to the ocean and atmosphere, including ocean acidification. Although it is now widely accepted that the PETM represents a “case study” for global warming and massive carbon input to Earth’s surface, the cause, details and overall significance of the event remain perplexing. (9)

Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

The paleogeography of 56Mya was not that different from today; there was no ice at the poles, the Atlantic Ocean was not as wide as it is now, and India was only just beginning to collide with the rest of Asia. The climate during the Eocene Epoch (56Mya to 34Mya) was much warmer then today: Redwood trees grew in the Canadian Arctic, and the environment of that polar region looked like Okefenokee Swamp (straddling the state boundaries of present-day Florida and Georgia); mid-latitude continental interiors were warm through the winter, with giant palms growing in Wyoming and crocodiles ranging through the swamps and rivers. The poles remained ice-free during the entire interval spanning the Paleocene Epoch (66Mya to 56Mya) and the Eocene Epoch (56Mya to 34Mya).

The expected rise in average global surface temperature during the 90 years between 2010 and 2100 is like the rise in global temperature, going backwards in time, from ‘now’ to 35Mya: about 4°C to 5°C above the datum. “In just a few human lifetimes we’re going to change conditions in the atmosphere to a state that hasn’t been seen in 35 million years” commented Dr. Scott Wing (Curator of Fossil Plants, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC) in his detailed lecture on the PETM. (10)

During the Paleocene, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (also called “partial pressure”) was estimated to have been at 380ppm to 400ppm, and then rose to 800ppm just prior to the onset of the PETM (56Mya), producing a global temperature about 4°C warmer than our datum. The CO2 concentration then doubled or more to at least 1600ppm to 2000ppm within a few millennia at the start of the PETM, ‘quickly’ (in geological terms) producing an additional temperature rise of 4°C to 8°C.

Between 4,000 and 7,000 billion tons of carbon were injected into the atmosphere within the initial millennia of the PETM; the first (and biggest?) pulse lasting less than 2,000 years, and the emissions ending within 20,000 years. It would take the natural processes of CO2 removal 200,000 years to return the CO2 concentration and the global temperature to their levels prior to the onset of the PETM.

The amount of carbon injected into the atmosphere during the PETM is about the size of the carbon burp that would (will?) be realized by burning the entire fossil fuel reservoir humanity has at its disposal. However, the rate at which atmospheric carbon (CO2 and CH4) was emitted during the PETM is at least 10 times slower than today’s anthropogenic emissions! What may have taken 3,000 years during the PETM, we are accomplishing within 300 years; in fact 200 million years of fossil fuel accumulation has been burned in about 160 years.

The essential point here is that it will take 100,000 to 200,000 years to get back to the “normal” climate we left behind us in the middle of the 20th century. On this, Dr. Scott Wing commented: “The effects last for 200,000 years. So this is a global shift, which to a geologist looks like a transient change, like a perturbation, like a blip, but to any sane human it’s forever.”

Where did PETM carbon emissions come from? Science does not have a definitive answer, but its four estimates, ranked from most likely to least likely are:

+ methane bubbling up out of warmed deep ocean methane hydrates (ice-like solids trapping methane, produced by microbes feeding on decaying organic matter, and formed in the cold and high pressure at the bottom of oceans) and then oxidizing in the atmosphere (CH4 combining with oxygen to produce CO2 and water vapor);

+ extensive wildfires that included the burning of peat deposits (because the burning of all terrestrial vegetation alone would have produced insufficient carbon, so the burning of peat would also have been necessary);

+ volcanic intrusions into organic-rich sediments at the floor of North Atlantic off Scandinavia (a region of very active volcanism at the time) cooking the sediments to release CO2 and methane;

+ the warming and oxidation of any permafrost that may have remained, and it giving up lots of carbon.

It is possible that a combination of these four effects may have occurred.

All the soils formed in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming during the 200,000 years of the PETM have been compacted to stacked layers of sediments 40 meters thick in total. During the PETM that region had a warm dry tropical climate; bean plants proliferated. Before and after the PETM the climate was temperate and bean plants were absent from the Big Horn Basin (at least in the respective fossil records). During the first 150,000 years of the PETM, warm climate plants (like beans) moved north even to the Arctic, and then retreated south during the last 50,000 years of the PETM, with temperate climate plants reappearing.

Plants growing in a high CO2 environment make less green pigment and have lower nutritive value, so plant eaters have to eat more to sustain themselves, or evolve to smaller sizes to reduce their metabolic requirements. Animals and insects did both during the PETM. Ancient horses first appeared in America at the very beginning of the PETM, and they ‘quickly’ shrank in size by about 30% — to the size of domesticated cats today. With the uptake of CO2 at the close of the PETM and the return to ‘normal’ Eocene conditions, this species of tiny horses increased in size by 76%. A similar shrinkage of body size during the PETM occurred for the other mammal species present at the time, including primates.

The four major scientific lessons of the PETM are:

+ big emissions of carbon into atmosphere result in warmer climate and more acidic oceans, and that acid seawater dissolves deep marine chalk (and kills marine organisms living in the lower few kilometers of the oceans because dissolved oxygen has been scavenged — hypoxia — and because shell formation, for the protective casings required by many marine organisms, is impossible because of the acidity);

+ there are self-reinforcing cycles of carbon release with increased temperature: CO2 and CH4 capture and retain heat and warm the atmosphere; that warms the oceans and results in intermittent rainfall on the continents (heavy rains with long dry spells between); that causes an abundant growth of vegetation, which parches during the droughts and dry spells and feeds wildfires releasing more CO2, heating the atmosphere and oceans further; that leads to the dissociation of marine methane hydrates, which release methane gas and heat the atmosphere and oceans even further; a sequence of vicious cycles;

+ rapid global warming changed where plants and animals lived and how they interacted (this is affecting 21st century people, too), and drove rapid evolution in the body sizes (shrinkage) of mammals;

+ and the effects last for 200,000 years because it takes Nature that long to clear out the excess CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans.

What brought the CO2 concentrations down and ended the PETM? The process of photosynthesis in growing plants pulled CO2 out of the air and bound it into nutrients (sugars, glucose, plant tissues), which partially migrated into animal tissues as food. CO2 was also absorbed by the surfaces of the oceans, and reacted at depth with carbonate compounds to dissolve the sea floor chalk and acidify the seawater. Over a longer term, 10% to 30% of the excess CO2 was removed by weathering reactions in soils, and the erosion by rain and streams of rocks imprisoning CO2 carried sediments back to the oceans, where they settled out on the sea bottom. Long after the time scale of the PETM, those seafloor sediments would be interred by subduction at tectonic plate boundaries.

Carbon uptake is slow. A computer simulation of the instantaneous dumping of 5,000 billion tons of carbon into atmosphere (producing an atmospheric concentration of 2,500ppm of CO2, by volume) showed that:

+ roughly half of the CO2 comes out in first 1,000 years;

+ 30% to 40% still remains at 10,000 years;

+ and it isn’t all removed until after 100,000 years, so by about 150,000 to 200,000 years as occurred with the PETM.

A visual representation of CO2 uptake follows (11)

For a detailed description of the CO2 uptake processes, see note (11).

Similar computer modeling has been done for our climate future out to year 3000. Assuming that the entire fossil fuel reservoir is burned up by year 2100, injecting 5,000 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the global temperature will rise to 4.5°C above datum by 2100 and remain there. Among the expected effects are a sea level rise of 1 meter by 2100, and 7.5 meters (25 feet) by year 3000 because the Greenland Ice Cap will have melted.

The major problem of having elevated global temperature for a long time — and it will be long since Nature takes “forever” to reabsorb atmospheric CO2 — is that major melting will eventually occur. As we are learning from direct observation today, that major melting may occur more rapidly than scientists were at first led to believe on the basis of their earlier computer modeling. If the Antarctic Ice Cap were also to entirely melt, sea level would be 66 meters (216 feet) higher in an ice-free world.

Could humanity today go on a furiously massive campaign to plant more trees and vegetation, so as to suck out excess CO2 from the atmosphere and stop global warming? No. We just can’t emplace enough plants to accomplish this, the rate of CO2 removal implied by this question is beyond the capability of Earth’s biosphere however lush. However, increasing the mass and area of vegetation (plants, trees) would slow the rates of CO2 accumulation and temperature increase, and help us lose ground (against the advance of global warming) less rapidly. So yes, plant!; it would also be a relief to wildlife sorely pressed with habitat losses.

Life in the Anthropocene

Geologists have recognized that we are now living in an epoch whose climate is fundamentally affected by human activity. That epoch has been termed the Anthropocene (12), and it was officially designated to have begun in the 4th quarter of 1965. (13)

“We have started the Anthropocene but the things that we think are untrammeled nature are already trammeled by us. There’s no eco-system on this planet that hasn’t had the human fingerprint on it some way or another. And many of the things that we think are beautiful and natural have already been modified by our ancestors, in ways that may not be obvious to us… What the Anthropocene perspective does is it helps us recognize that with [over] 7 billion people on the planet, and thousands of years, tens of thousands of years-long history already of modifying the planet, that it’s really too late to think about putting anything back the way it was,” Dr. Scott Wing.

I can think of 9 possible negative effects (mainly on human civilization) from severe global warming:

+ reduced food production on land because of droughts and desertification, and a reduction of the nutritive value of crops because of high CO2 concentration;

+ increased scarcity of fresh water, because of hot dry climatic conditions, intermittent rainfall, and huge population;

+ the global spread of disease germs and usually tropical parasites, in a hotter world;

+ loss of seafood with acidic seas, and increased starvation for animals and people;

+ habitat losses for people, given significant coastal inundation and excessive heat and desertification in continental interiors;

+ habitat losses for terrestrial wildlife as with humans, but also for marine life because of the reduced dissolved oxygen and increased acidity of the oceans;

+ climate disaster-sparked mass migrations, which among humans will undoubtedly lead to clashes and even wars;

+ resource scarcity wars (for basics like water, and for rarities like the semiconductor materials and metals essential to high tech electronics, and maybe in the extreme even for uranium deposits);

+ increasingly heartless exclusion of the poor by the rich and powerful (a worldwide ‘Gazafication’ of the hapless poor).

We see some of each of these today, but the questions are: how much worse could it get?, and by when?

The development of human civilization over the last 10,000 years or so was aided by the benevolence of a very stable and moderate interglacial climate. In this new Anthropocene Epoch of increasing climate instability, we can anticipate major disruptions in human affairs, and given the socio-economic disparities and hostilities built into our human societies, we can anticipate the burdens of those disruptions to fall inequitably on poorer people. Misery will pushed down the gradient of wealth towards the destitute. In an extreme projection of pessimism, one could imagine conflicts of immiseration avoidance to devolve into extinction events, like a nuclear war.

However, the anticipated climate variations, like those of the PETM, will not in themselves be sufficiently extreme to force the actual physical extinction of humanity. In 7.95 billion years, when the Sun expands into a Red Giant star, then life on Planet Earth will be evaporated. But until such time, the most likely cause of a premature human extinction would be bad human behavior in response to the climate changes confronting humanity, and which we have caused.

It would be good for us to become familiar with how life is distributed in the Anthropocene, the epoch whose gallop we are spurring, so we can lead it more thoughtfully.

Humanity today comprises only 0.01% of all life on Planet Earth, but over the course of human history our species has destroyed 83% of wild mammal species. (14)

“The world’s 7.6 billion people [in May 2018] represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass. Farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.” Where is all that life to be found?: 86% on land, 1% in the oceans, and 13% as deep subsurface bacteria. (14)

One suggested marker for the Anthropocene are the bones of domestic chickens, which are now ubiquitous around the globe. The marker recognized has having achieved complete coverage over the surface of Planet Earth by late 1965 is radioactive fallout from atmospheric atomic and nuclear bomb explosions.

Our Challenge

Remember that the biggest threat to humanity’s survival is anti-social human behavior; climate change alone can’t kill us.

If we choose to experience our present and future of changing climate as a competitive war game — with actual killing and willful destruction — to gain class, factional and ideological advantages in terms of physical security, habitability, food production, natural resource availability, standard of living and social status (ego gratification), then that species-wide dysfunctional response could ultimately lead to a collapse of civilization, and at its worst to a global nuclear war and then actual human extinction.

If we choose to experience our present and future of changing climate as an intellectual challenge to human ingenuity for technical innovation, and as a moral challenge for social organization and for the elimination of socio-economic disparities, then such a species-wide response would improve the human condition regardless of the degree of future climate variability and the geographical distribution of its effects on habitability.

Regardless of what we do or don’t do, the climate will change in ways governed by majestic and interlocking geophysical cycles spanning millennia. Our individual and species-wide experiences of living within this implacable reality will be set by how we choose to interact with each other. Nirvana or perdition are choices entirely within our grasp.

Many will say that obviously climate change as competitive war game is the only realistic alternative because it requires no behavioral changes from our over 10,000 years of “civilized” human history, and because eco-socialism is pure utopianism and thus beyond all realistic actualization. And of course, eco-socialism is impossible in a world of Ahabs and fanatical Ahab followers. But all that is just an excuse to continue with bad behavior. There are no actual physical or biological constraints preventing people from choosing to associate in an eco-socialist manner. The current societal improbability for deeply cooperative behavior does not make future species-wide collective cooperation an impossibility. Responding to climate change could provide a framework on which to build such a species-wide socialist civilization.

So, how would I respond to the Ahabs out there who would tell me: “Everything you say is wrong! God is White! Trump is Christ! Capitalism is Salvation! Ye cannot swerve me!” From me: You can’t accept it because then you wouldn’t be the person you are. You can’t learn if you are unwilling to change. And that, ultimately, is what climate change will be for us: a challenge to learn.

And finally, Nature to Ahab: Ye cannot swerve me! Your world may return in 200,000 years.

Notes

(1) Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, (1851), Penguin Books, 1992.

(2) Sperm Whale,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sperm_whale

(3) Carl Gustav Jung, C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters, Princeton University Press, 21 February 1987, edited by: William McGuire and R. F. C. Hull; “Diagnosing the Dictators” 1938, pages 115-135; “Jung Diagnoses the Dictators” 1939, pages 136-140; (dictators = Hitler, Stalin Mussolini).

(4) “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” (Robert Herrick)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_the_Virgins%2C_to_Make_Much_of_Time

(5) History of climate change science

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_climate_change_science

(6) Global Surface Temperature, 1900-2100

(relative to 1951-1980 average global surface temperature)

National Research Council 2011. Understanding Earth’s Deep Past: Lessons for Our Climate Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Figure 1.1, page 35 of the PDF file, page numbered 20 in the text.

Figure 1.1 SOURCE: IPCC (2007, Figure SPM.5, p. 14).

https://doi.org/10.17226/13111

(7) Global view answers ice age CO2 puzzle

April 4, 2012 — andyextance

https://simpleclimate.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/global-view-answers-ice-age-co2-puzzle/

The 800,000 year record of atmospheric CO2 from Antarctic ice cores, and a reconstruction of temperature based on hydrogen isotopes in the ice. The current [2012] CO2 concentration of 392 parts per million (ppm) is shown by the blue star. Credit: Jeremy Shakun/Harvard University

(8) 65 Million Years of Climate Change

(wikipedia, 13 July 2019)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:65_Myr_Climate_Change.png

This figure shows climate change over the last 65 million years. The data are based on a compilation of oxygen isotope measurements (δ18O) on benthic foraminifera by Zachos et al. (2001) which reflect a combination of local temperature changes in their environment and changes in the isotopic composition of sea water associated with the growth and retreat of continental ice sheets.

Because it is related to both factors, it is not possible to uniquely tie these measurements to temperature without additional constraints. For the most recent data, an approximate relationship to temperature can be made by observing that the oxygen isotope measurements of Lisiecki and Raymo (2005) are tightly correlated to temperature changes at Vostok as established by Petit et al. (1999). Present day is indicated as 0. For the oldest part of the record, when temperatures were much warmer than today, it is possible to estimate temperature changes in the polar oceans (where these measurements were made) based on the observation that no significant ice sheets existed and hence all fluctuation in (δ18O) must result from local temperature changes (as reported by Zachos et al.).

The intermediate portion of the record is dominated by large fluctuations in the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet, which first nucleates approximately 34 million years ago, then partially dissipates around 25 million years ago, before re-expanding towards its present state 13 million years ago. These fluctuations make it impossible to constrain temperature changes without additional controls.

Significant growth of ice sheets did not begin in Greenland and North America until approximately 3 million years ago, following the formation of the Isthmus of Panama by continental drift. This ushered in an era of rapidly cycling glacials and interglacials.

Also appearing on this graph are the Eocene Climatic Optimum, an extended period of very warm temperatures, and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (labeled PETM). The PETM is very short lived high temperature excursion possibly associated with the destabilization of methane clathrates and the rapid buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Due to the coarse sampling and averaging involved in this record, it is likely that the full magnitude of the PETM is underestimated by a factor of 2-4 times its apparent height.

(9) Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleocene%E2%80%93Eocene_Thermal_Maximum

(10) Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago, and What it Means For Us

30 January 2014

Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants,

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Washington, DC

[1:44:12]

https://youtu.be/81Zb0pJa3Hg

(11) CO2 “lifetime” in the atmosphere

National Research Council 2011. Understanding Earth’s Deep Past: Lessons for Our Climate Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Figure 3.5, page 93 of the PDF file, page numbered 78 in the text.

https://doi.org/10.17226/13111

CO2 Sweepers and Sinks in the Earth System

The carbon fluxes in and out of the surface and sedimentary reservoirs over geological timescales are finely balanced, providing a planetary thermostat that regulates Earth’s surface temperature. Initially, newly released CO2 (e.g., from the combustion of hydrocarbons) interacts and equilibrates with Earth’s surface reservoirs of carbon on human timescales (decades to centuries). However, natural “sinks” for anthropogenic CO2 exist only on much longer timescales, and it is therefore possible to perturb climate for tens to hundreds of thousands of years (Figure 3.5). Transient (annual to century-scale) uptake by the terrestrial biosphere (including soils) is easily saturated within decades of the CO2 increase, and therefore this component can switch from a sink to a source of atmospheric CO2 (Friedlingstein et al., 2006). Most (60 to 80 percent) CO2 is ultimately absorbed by the surface ocean, because of its efficiency as a sweeper of atmospheric CO2, and is neutralized by reactions with calcium carbonate in the deep sea at timescales of oceanic mixing (1,000 to 1,500 years). The ocean’s ability to sequester CO2 decreases as it is acidified and the oceanic carbon buffer is depleted. The remaining CO2 in the atmosphere is sufficient to impact climate for thousands of years longer while awaiting sweeping by the “ultimate” CO2 sink of the rock weathering cycle at timescales of tens to hundreds of thousands of years (Zeebe and Caldeira, 2008; Archer et al., 2009). Lessons from past hyperthermals suggest that the removal of greenhouse gases by weathering may be intensified in a warmer world but will still take more than 100,000 years to return to background values for an event the size of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).

In the context of the timescales of interaction with these carbon sinks, the mean lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere is calculated to be 12,000 to 14,000 years (Archer et al., 1997, 2009), which is in marked contrast to the two to three orders of magnitude shorter lifetimes commonly cited by other studies (e.g., IPCC, 1995, 2001). In addition, the equilibration timescale for a pulse of CO2 emission to the atmosphere, such as the current release by fossil fuel burning, scales up with the magnitude of the CO2 release. “The result has been an erroneous conclusion, throughout much of the popular treatment of the issue of climate change, that global warming will be a century-timescale phenomenon” (Archer et al., 2009, p. 121).

(12) Anthropocene

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene

(13) The Anthropocene’s Birthday

https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/02/23/the-anthropocenes-birthday/

(14) Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study

 

Sofi’s Choice

Wed, 2019-07-17 16:01

Still from Sophie’s Choice.

If you saw Sophie’s Choice (1982), you will remember the film’s climax. It’s unforgettable. A young Polish woman, Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski (Meryl Streep), arrives at Auschwitz with her two small children. There, with the Nazis’ characteristic blend of sadism and ingenuity, a camp officer presents her with a choice: one of Sophie’s children will be sent to the gas; the other will live. It is up to Sophie to decide which. Sophie takes too long to decide and both of her children are led off to the gas chamber.

The Trump Administration has come up with a new twist on Sophie’s choice. On July 15, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition aired an update on a Honduran family—two parents and three children—who had fled gang violence in their country. A US Border Patrol agent at a holding facility in El Paso, Texas told the family’s 3-year old daughter that only one of her parents could remain with her and her two siblings in the US. The Border Patrol agent asked the little girl which parent she wanted to remain with her in the US.

The little girl chose her mother. As their father was being led away, Sofi and her siblings started crying. The border patrol officer, who we must think missed out on a brilliant career in the SS, snapped at Sofi: “Why are you crying? You told us you picked your mother.”

I have left something out. The little girl is named Sofia. Her parents call her Sofi.

Sofi suffers from a serious heart condition. Thanks to the intervention of a caring physician with the Department of Homeland Security, Sofi’s family is still in the US and together. For now. Many of the other migrant families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are not so lucky. The Trump Administration instituted a policy early on of separating parents and children who arrive at the US-Mexico border looking for asylum. In June 2018, ProPublica released heart-breaking audio of US Border Patrol agents mocking migrant children in detention who were crying for their parents. “We have an orchestra here, right?” says one of the agents on the tape. “What we need is a conductor.”

The Trump Administration has not stopped at separating children from their parents. In late 2018, under the threat of the big stick of US tariffs, Mexico signed on to an arrangement under which some applicants for US asylum will wait in Mexico until their cases can be heard. Migrant Protection Protocols is the program’s name, but it is colloquially known as “Remain in Mexico.” Remain there the migrants will. US courts currently face a backlog of nearly 900,000 applications for asylum.

On July 15, the Trump Administration announced that migrants will have to apply for asylum from the countries they pass through on their way to the US. With few exceptions, migrants who fail to do so will have their asylum applications denied when they reach the US. This move by the Trump Administration is predicted to drastically reduce the number of successful applications for US asylum. Immigrant rights groups have announced they plan to challenge the new policy in the courts.

I don’t want to overwork the comparison of Trump policies to Nazi Germany. For one thing, not many aspiring dictatorships want everyone to have a gun. And the Trump Administration isn’t killing refugees; at least, not intentionally. Deaths from neglect are another matter. At least twelve migrants, children and adults, are known to have died in US custody since September 2018. Don’t expect them to be the last.

Still, if the jackboot fits… Journalist Fintan O’Toole calls the rupturing of families and the throwing of babies into cages, “trial runs for fascism.” “Fascism,” O’Toole writes, “doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy.” It has to be introduced little by little. “You have to … inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty.” O’Toole writes that President Donald Trump is an “ignoramus,” but “he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing.” O’Toole imagines Trump thinking “let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages.” If babies in cages “sell,” the Administration can ratchet up the cruelty. To judge from Republican silence, Trump’s fans are just fine with crying babies in cages.

Trump’s treatment of migrants is a disgrace, particularly in a nation that can’t stop gassing about how Christian it is. If the Republicans want us to stop comparing them to Nazis, they need to stop acting like Nazis. It’s Trump’s choice.

 

Epstein, Jane Doe, and Trump

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:57

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

MSNBC calls it the “Epstein Firestorm.” Billionaire philanthropist and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was arrested again July 6 on sex trafficking charges dating back to the early 2000s.

Post-Cosby, post-Weinstein, #MeToo movement era America learned (suddenly, for some reason) that the Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta while a U.S. attorney in Miami in 2008 secured a lenient deal for this character. Alan Dershowitz and William Barr also served on his legal team. He was convicted of solicitation and sentenced to 13 months in prison but allowed to work in his office 12 hours a day.

We’re reminded that Epstein has had powerful friends, including Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Dershowitz, Woody Allen and Prince Andrew. Some of them have noted (jocularly) his passion for young women, and perhaps they’ve admired his ability to use his money to procure and train underage females for group sex. And to offer free air travel plus sex with teenage girls in international airspace. Epstein’s private jet is referred to as the “Lolita Express.”

It appears that British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a friend of Chelsea Clinton’s who attended her wedding, may have been a partner with Epstein in the recruitment of underage females for prostitution for many years. There’s good evidence that Clinton and Dershowitz both visited Epstein’s private island Little St. James Island in the Virgin Islands that had a reputation among locals as “Pedophilia Island.”

In 2016 a “Jane Doe” filed a lawsuit charging Donald Trump with “a savage sexual attack” in 1994, in Epstein’s house, when she was 13. The lawsuit included witness corroboration of her account that she was raped by both Epstein and Trump. The lawsuit was dropped days before the November election after the claimant had been threatened.

This is probably going to be a big story, affecting many powerful men.

There being a lot of Clintons, Trumps, Dershowitzes and princes in this world, I imagine there is much scandal to follow. There has been in my generation a sea change in attitudes towards gender and sexuality, and the articulation of a general abhorrence of patriarchy. Sexual harassment has been generally recognized as a problem and condemned. Sex involving adults and partners who are of underage status (as defined in any particular place) has been problematized.

Here the issue is the possibility that famous, powerful men had sex with girls that would by U.S. law be underage, courtesy of Epstein.

Multiple women accuse Trump and Clinton of rape. These have so far been deniable accusations, “he said, she said” situations supporters can dismiss. But the exposure of elite men as statutory rapists secretly enjoying a culture of underage sex trafficking may be impossible to dismiss. It is one thing to be called out for paying for sex with adults who may or may not be “trafficked” (like Patriots owner Robert Kraft) and another to be outed as a child-rapist.

Justifying his role in the 2008 legal case, in which he helped Epstein receive a slap on the wrist while neglecting to inform victims of the verdict and sentencing, Acosta told reporters at his news conference: “Today’s world treats victims very very differently.” As though the world 11 years ago was insensitive, and he admittedly insensitive too, but it was a matter of the times! The arrangement, perhaps, of the stars.

It’s in fact a different world from 1994, when Jane Doe claims Epstein and Trump raped her at age 13. If she would come forward now, after Epstein has been so well-exposed, and tell her story it could mean impeachment more surely than any bogus Russian ties.

I Had an Abortion and Now I’m Not Ashamed

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:56

Photograph Source: ann harkness – CC BY 2.0

I have never said this publicly before, but in December 1974 I had an abortion.

I was 22 years old, living in a cold, dark house in Portland, Oregon, spending my days huddled in front of a wood stove trying to finish my undergraduate senior thesis. I did not want to have a baby. I didn’t know what would come next in my life, but I knew it would not include raising a child. Until the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant — we didn’t have at-home tests in those days — I’d always believed that, although it was perfectly ethical for other women to have abortions, I would never do so. In that electric instant, however, I knew that what I had believed about myself was wrong.

My boyfriend wanted to cheer me up. “Put on your coat,” he said. “We’re going somewhere.” He was a kind guy and we’d bonded over a shared interest in all things mechanical. I’d fallen in love with him a couple of years before when he’d taught me how to replace the ball joints on an ancient Rambler station wagon. I was probably even more in love with his raucous Irish Catholic family, especially his mother, the family matriarch, who’d graduated from Portland State long after giving birth to the last of her own six children.

My boyfriend was sweet, but his emotional imagination was a bit limited. That particular day, his idea of cheering me up turned out to be a visit to a local plumbing store, where we took in the wonders of flexible cables and bin after bin of nicely made solid brass fittings. You won’t be surprised to learn that the excursion left me inadequately cheered.

What he may have lacked in emotional skills, however, he more than made up for in moral sensitivity. Some years later, long after we’d split up and I’d begun my first serious relationship with a woman, I asked him why we’d never talked about the abortion. “I knew it had to be up to you,” he explained, “and I know you usually try to give other people what they want. Once you’d decided, I didn’t want to risk saying anything to change your mind.” Unlike many men, including our current president, my boyfriend believed that decisions about my body were mine alone to make.

Not Bad Luck, But a Bit Sloppy

In some ways, I was lucky. For one thing, early pregnancy made me queasy, so I recognized what was going on soon enough to have a simple termination. That was a piece of luck because I hadn’t menstruated for over a year, so I didn’t figure it out the way most women do — by missing my period.

My gynecologist misdiagnosed my failure to menstruate. He was so fascinated by the fact that one of my parents was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent that he never thought to ask me whether I’d been starving myself to achieve something vaguely approaching Twiggy-like thinness. Being underweight is a much more common cause of missing periods than genetic disease. He blamed my amenorrhea on an obscure condition that afflicts Jewish women with eastern European ancestry and then added, “But I don’t understand it. You don’t have any of the other symptoms.” In any case, he told me that, if I ever wanted to conceive I would probably have to take medication. Or, as it turned out, gain a few pounds.

I was also lucky that it was 1974. Only the year before the Supreme Court had affirmed my right to end a pregnancy in its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. Overnight, the decision to have an abortion had become a private matter between my doctor and me. Even before Roe, Oregon was one of the few states that permitted abortion with only one restriction — a 30-day residency requirement. As a college dormitory resident assistant, I’d already accompanied a fellow student to the clean, professional clinic in Portland for a pre-Roe abortion.

People in California weren’t so lucky. My present partner who went to the University of California, Berkeley, recalls that her friends had to travel to Tijuana, Mexico, for abortions, where they knew no one, didn’t speak the language, and could only hope that they wouldn’t end up sick, injured, or infertile.

My doctor had privileges at that same Portland clinic and the arrangements were simple. I was less lucky, however, in that my private health insurance, like most then and now, did not cover an abortion. It cost $400 — equivalent to somewhere between $2,078 and $2,175 in today’s dollars. That was a lot of money for a couple of scholarship students to put together. Fortunately, we’d set aside some of what we’d made the previous summer painting houses for my boyfriend’s father.

Why Am I Telling You This?

At this moment in the age of Trump, it’s long past time for people like me to go public about our abortions. Efforts to deny women abortion access (not to mention contraception) have only accelerated as the president seeks to appease his right-wing Christian supporters.

I teach ethics to undergraduates. We often spend class time on issues of sexuality, pleasure, and consent, and by the end of the first class my students always know that I’m a lesbian. I have never, however, taught a class on abortion. In the past, I explained this to friends by saying that I didn’t want some of my students, implicitly or explicitly, to call other students murderers.

But the truth is darker than that. I didn’t want them calling me a murderer. Yet the reason I come out about my sexual orientation applies no less to the classroom discussions I should have (but haven’t) had about abortion. I come out because I want all my students to encounter a professor who’s not ashamed to be a lesbian. Over the years, quite a few LGBTQ+ students have told me how much they appreciated my intentional visibility, how helpful they found it as they were navigating their own budding sexual lives. I think, however, that it’s no less useful for students who identify with the heterosexual majority to observe that a woman like me can be a professor.

If I can come out as a lesbian, why not as a person who’s had an abortion, especially in this embattled time of ours? It’s not that I think abortion is murder. I don’t think that a zygote, an embryo, or even a fetus is a person. It’s easy to get confused about this when opponents of women’s autonomy call the throbbing of a millimeters-long collection of cells a “fetal heartbeat” and use its presence to prevent women six-weeks pregnant or less from securing an abortion. Because many women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks — I didn’t — “fetal heartbeat laws” effectively ban almost all abortions. By the end of June 2019, at least eight states (Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Ohio) had passed just such a law. So far, none of them has gone into effect. As Anna North and Catherine Kim of Vox report, “The North Dakota, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, and Mississippi bans have been blocked by courts” and, on July 3rd, a federal court issued a temporary injunction on the Ohio law, while the case against it proceeds.

People advocating such fetal heartbeat laws carry with them an image of the developing fetus that reminds me of the seventeenth-century belief that each human sperm cell contains a “homunculus,” a miniature human being, curled up inside it. That’s not actually how a fetus develops. “It’s a process — the heart doesn’t just pop up one day,” as gynecologist Sara Imershein told Guardian reporter Adrian Horton recently. “It’s not a little child that just appears and just grows larger.”

Anti-choice types have introduced another piece of obfuscation with the expression “late-term abortion.” The average full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks, as Dr. Jen Gunter, also a gynecologist, explained to Horton. Doctors only call pregnancies that last longer than 40 weeks “late-term.” However, as Horton points out, “Anti-abortion activists twisted the phrase into a political construct understood to be any abortion after the 21st week, late in the second trimester.” In reality, says Gunter of the actual medical definition of the term, “Nobody is doing late-term abortions — it doesn’t happen, but it’s become a part of our lexicon now.”

Smashing the Patriarchy?

There’s another reason why it’s easier these days to be a lesbian in public than a woman who has chosen to have an abortion. While the years since the 1973 Roe decision have seen a profound expansion of legal rights and social acceptance for LGBTQ+ people, the same decades have been marked by periodic sharp declines in access to abortion and a steady, fierce, sometimes even murderous increase in attacks on it and its providers by the evangelical right in particular. This is not, perhaps, as surprising as it might seem. Abortion rights actually present a much deeper challenge to the status quo than gay people marrying or becoming soldiers.

For years I’ve wondered why my gay leaders think the two things I most want in the world are to get married and join the Army. After decades of struggle and litigation, however, gay activists have, in fact, secured both these goals (though President Trump has done his best to keep trans people from serving openly in the military). Neither achievement, however, has proven much of a threat to the cultural or economic status quo.

What could be more American, after all, than joining the imperial forces? While Donald Trump’s Fourth of July “Salute to America” hardly launched the conflation of patriotism and militarism, it certainly reminded us that, for many people, “America” and “military” are two words for the same thing. And what could be more American than marrying and creating another consumption unit — a nuclear family household, complete with children (however conceived)? Nothing about these two life paths turns out to lie far from the mainstream.

Abortion, by contrast, seems to violate the natural order of things. Women are supposed to have children. That’s what women do. That’s who women are. It’s one thing to be childless by misfortune, but deciding to end a pregnancy is another matter entirely. It cuts off a possible future. That’s what the word “decide” means in Latin — “to cut away.”

What I have cut away from my life, both literally and figuratively, is the work of childbearing and childrearing, the two activities that continue to define womanhood in my own and probably most other cultures. And while I believe that this choice was right for me — and was also my right — all these years later, I’m still, as my boyfriend observed, sensitive to the judgment of others. As a woman who never bore children, I’m aware that I’m an outlier even among those who have had abortions, most of whom have or will havechildren.

Even now, I probably wouldn’t have the courage to tell my story if it weren’t for a young African-American woman named Renee Bracey Sherman. She happens to be the niece of good friends of mine, but more important, she is, as she calls herself, “the Beyoncé of Abortion Storytelling.” For nearly a decade now, she has been telling her own abortion story, training other women to tell theirs, and urging all of us to listen. Pinned to the top of her Twitter feed is this warm greeting: “Daily reminder: if you’ve had an abortion, you don’t need forgiveness from anyone unless you want it. You did nothing wrong. You are loved.”

You can’t imagine the abuse, the death threats she’s received, often from people claiming to know where she lives. “Someone sent me an email,” she told the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, saying “that they hoped that I would get sold into the sex trade and get raped over and over and over again and forced to give birth over and over and over again until I finally died from childbirth.”

Renee sees her commitment to women’s abortion rights as profoundly life affirming — especially for black women who are the most likely among us to choose abortion and the most affected by its increasing unavailability. She is offended by the attempts of white anti-abortion legislators to coopt the Black Lives Matter movement, as for example when Missouri state representative Mike Moon introduced the “All Lives Matter Act” in 2015. (It would have outlawed abortion by defining human life as beginning at conception.) As John Eligon of the New York Times recently reported, even among black evangelicals, there is substantial suspicion of white anti-abortion activists who describe their work as rising from a concern for black lives:

“‘Those who are most vocal about abortion and abortion laws are my white brothers and sisters, and yet many of them don’t care about the plight of the poor, the plight of the immigrant, the plight of African-Americans,’ said the Rev. Dr. Luke Bobo, a minister from Kansas City, Mo., who is vehemently opposed to abortion. ‘My argument here is, let’s think about the entire life span of the person.’”

Why Now?

Why write now about an abortion I had almost half a century ago? At my age, of course, I’ll never need another one, so why even mention such a personal matter, let alone publicize it?

In the age of Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, the answer seems all too clear to me. As we second-wave feminists insisted long ago, the personal ispolitical. Struggles over who cleans the house and who has — or doesn’t have — babies have deep implications for the distribution of power in a society. This remains true today, as state governments, national politicians, and the Trump administration ramp up their campaigns to harness or control women’s fertility, whether to produce babies of a desired race (as Iowa Congressman Steve King has advocated) or to prevent others from being born (as the long history of forced sterilization of women of color and poor women illustrates).

We’ve been going backwards on abortion access for decades. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has denied abortion services to women who get their health care through the federal Medicaid program, or indeed to anyone whose health insurance is federally funded. (A few states, like California, opt to pick up the tab with state funds.) But even for women who can afford abortions, options have steadily dwindled, as states pass laws restricting the operations of abortion clinics. Women sometimes have to travel hundreds of miles for a termination. Only a single clinic in Missouri, for example, provides abortions today.

Worse yet, the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court may well have cemented an anti-Roe majority there. But the Trump administration hasn’t waited for a future Supreme Court decision to move against abortion. It has already reinstated both domestic and international “gag rules” that prohibit federal funding for any nonprofit or non-governmental agency that even mentions the existence of abortion as an option for pregnant women. In the case of that international gag rule, organizations receiving U.S. government funds are not only prevented from providing abortion services or referrals directly, but may not donate money from any source to other organizations that do. Most of these organizations provide many other health services for women from birth control to cancer and HIV treatment. Clearly, preserving the “right to life” doesn’t apply to the lives of actual women in this country or the developing world.

So the current perilous state of reproductive liberty is part of why I’m talking about my abortion now.  But there’s another reason. When I spent time in Central America in the 1980s, I found that the first question women I met often asked me was “Cuantos hijos tiene?” — “How many children do you have?” They assumed that a woman in her early thirties would have children and this was their (very reasonable) way of reaching out across a cultural divide, of looking for commonality with this gringa who’d landed in their community. I was always a little embarrassed that the answer was “none.” I would respond, however, that, although I had no children of my own, I had a compromiso — a commitment — to making the world a better place for children everywhere.

I was certainly telling them the truth then — and I hope my life since hasn’t made a liar of me — but at the time, in some secret part of myself, I also believed that my decision not to have children was a selfish one. There was too much I wanted to do in my own life to voluntarily take on the responsibility for the lives of dependent others. Now, though, as the horrorsof climate change reveal themselves daily, I sometimes think that choosing not to bring another resource-devouring, fossil-fuel-burning, carbon-dioxide-emitting American into the world might actually have been the most unselfish thing I’ve ever done.

This article first appeared on TomDispatch.

In the US and Brazil, Two Trends Underline the Creeping Fascism of Both Governments

Wed, 2019-07-17 15:56

Photograph Source: Palácio do Planalto – CC BY 2.0

The word fascism is undoubtedly overused in today’s political lexicon. It is used by figures from across the political spectrum as a shorthand for anything that one’s opponent does that is deemed sinister or disagreeable. This phenomenon has obscured the real meaning of the word, creating confusion and misunderstanding within the general public. One of the unfortunate corollaries of this has been a tendency to dismiss comparisons between today’s right-wing populists and early 20th Century fascism as facile and overblown. But this should not stand in the way of drawing parallels that ought to be drawn – those that do not fall into the category of this kind of lazy thinking. Historical comparisons should be evaluated on their own merits and not on whether the terminology surrounding them has been debased through overuse.

In the case of Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the appropriateness of the word is now becoming self-evident through the emergence of one of fascism’s major distinguishing characteristics: the trampling over the judicial branch of the state. To be sure, Trump has already demonstrated plentiful fascistic inclinations. He has openly threatened the press, on one occasion even praising a fellow Republican for attacking a Guardian reporter. He has spoken of the possibility of serving as president for more than the maximum eight years that is allowed by the constitution, using the excuse that his base might “demand” that he “stay longer.” And he has also threatened to use executive orders to push his reactionary agenda, whether it be over his proposed wall along the Mexican border or his attempt to get a citizen question on the census. But all of this pales in comparison to what an aide let slip during a recent Fox News interview. Discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling against the administration on the citizen citizenship question during July 12 Fox broadcast, principal deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley made a startling admission. He said that Trump had said to advisors: “Listen, I’m not going to be beholden to courts anymore.” With this one sentence, he demonstrated an attitude that became of the hallmarks of 20th Century fascism: a complete lack of respect for judicial independence and the separation of powers.

In the case of Bolsonaro, this trend has a longer and more sinister history. During the 2018 presidential election, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was standing as a candidate for the Workers Party (PT in its Portuguese initials), which had dominated Brazilian politics until a constitutional coup against his successor, Dilma Rousseff, was orchestrated by right-wing elements in 2016. Having left office with approval ratings of over 80%, da Silva was in good stead to win the race. He was consistently topping polls and had a strong grassroots movement backing him from the country’s popular sectors. But in the midst of the campaign, he was charged with corruption as part of the region-wide “Operation Car Wash” corruption scandal (which, in a twisted irony, has also embroiled the man who replaced Rousseff after the coup, Michel Temer).

During the trial, the presiding judge, Sergio Moro, used a number of unethical and legally dubious tactics. For instance, he ordered the court to tap the phones of da Silva’s defense team and then leaked some of the resulting recordings to the prosecution and the press. These maneuvers were so outrageous that one UK-based human rights lawyer likened them to the Inquisition, stating “the grand inquisitor [Moro] organizes, supervises the searches and procedures and arrests, forms his or her own opinions and then judges.” The prosecution’s arguments were based in large part on the testimony of a convicted criminal whom they coaxed with the offer of a reduced sentence in exchange for giving evidence. Their case against da Silva revolved around a purportedly luxury property that da Silva was alleged to have accepted as a bribe from a construction company in exchange for favorable contract allocation from his government. In reality, the property in question was a modest apartment that da Silva had never even seen in person. Moreover, he would hardly have had any incentive to risk his reputation by accepting it since he could have easily afforded to buy it himself on his salary as president. Nonetheless, da Silva was convicted and sentenced by Moro to six and half years in prison, making him ineligible to continue running as a candidate in the presidential election. With the frontrunner out of the race, Bolsonaro went on to defeat da Silva’s replacement, Fernando Haddad, who was largely unknown outside his native Sao Paulo.

So, what does all of this have to do with judicial independence, you might ask? Well, given these shocking facts surrounding the trial it has long been suspected that the entire exercise was a politically motivated conspiracy between prosecutors and Moro in a bid to remove da Silva from the electoral contest and pave the way for the victory of Bolsonaro. On June 9, these suspicions were confirmed by the release of a series of leaks by The Intercept, showing that prosecutors had extensive communication with Moro in which they planned how to get da Silva behind bars and out of the race. And what makes this a clear case of breakdown in independence of the judiciary is the fact that shortly after winning the election, Bolsonaro appointed Moro to a powerful position within his cabinet that has been dubbed the “super minister of justice” due to the wide-ranging powers that the office has been delegated.

The significance of this cannot be understated. Essentially, Bolsonaro has (at best) no problem with the judicial system being completely debased for political ends – and, needless to say, ends that favor him. Just as the Trump administration spokesperson revealed that Trump says he doesn’t want to be “beholden to courts,” this represents a full-frontal assault on judicial independence and, by extension, the rule of law. This all the more ironic given that the Trump administration uses accusations of a break down in rule of law as one of things on which it predicates its interventionist stance toward Venezuela. Yet here we have flagrant examples of it taking place within one of the major Latin American governments participating in the US’s coup, and even within the US itself. The late director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Larry Birns, described this kind of double standard that Washington has for decades has taken across Latin America and the wider world in order to justify its foreign policy as “selective indignation.” Now that we are seeing a debasement of the rule of law even within US borders, it’s become a case of both selective indignation and the pot calling the kettle black. Hopefully, members of the US public that don’t belong to Trump’s base might start to realize the inherent hypocrisy of Washington’s posturing now that it has reached such dizzying heights of absurdity.

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