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On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:43

On Monday, the Los Angeles Unified School District teachers strike for the first time in 30 years. United Teachers of Los Angeles is demanding significantly lower class sizes and proper staffing of schools. LAUSD claims it agrees with most of our demands, but simply can’t afford them. The “we have no money” mantra is so powerful, it’s practically LAUSD’s only negotiating position. However, there is much evidence which contradicts LAUSD’s cries of poverty. For example:

+ According to UTLA, “Beutner and his allies at the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) continue to claim that LAUSD is in a financial crisis and has had a running deficit for many years. [This]…is false: The district has had surpluses every year ranging from $210 million to $517 million since 2013-14.”

+ Arbitrator David A. Weinberg, the Neutral Chair of the California Public Employment Relations Board fact-finding panel, while noting the challenges LAUSD faces, found that the District’s reserves skyrocketed from $500 million in 2013-2014 to $1.8 billion in 2017-2018. How does one run a deficit every year and then quadruple one’s reserve in a five-year period?

+ LAUSD currently has the largest reserve in the history of California education. This reserve is 26 times as big as what is legally required. (The required reserve is 1% of annual revenue. LAUSD’s is 26% of annual revenue).

+ Three years ago LAUSD projected that their 2018-2019 reserve would be only $100 million—it’s actually $1.98 billion.

+ LAUSD now has another $140 million coming from Sacramento. This is 70% of the amount they would need to bring class sizes down to 2008 levels. With that money, they could achieve these levels with only $60 million more—a mere 1/33rd of their current reserve, and 1/127th of their overall operating budget.

+ According to UTLA, “LAUSD CFO Scott Price was shown his own budget documents that unambiguously substantiate that LAUSD does not have a deficit now and has not had a deficit in the past five years. With those documents in front of him, he refused to answer the simple question, ‘Has LAUSD had a deficit in the last five years?’”

+ In August the Los Angeles press carried headlines such as “’LAUSD is not too big to fail’: School board members alarmed by LA County official’s dire financial projections.” We were told “LAUSD could lose control of its finances if it agrees to a teachers contract that depletes reserves, county warns.” Dr. Candi Clark, the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, gave board members a devastating speech about district finances at an Aug. 21 meeting. Except, as UTLA later learned, it was not her speech at all—it had been written by LAUSD. UTLA got its hands on the email stream between LAUSD and LACOE (courtesy of a Public Records Act request) and learned that an LAUSD official wrote the speech for Clark—”a fact that completely undercuts its value as an independent analysis of the district’s fiscal state,” UTLA explains. UTLA says, “A review of the metadata in the email attachment ‘lausd speech’ sent from LAUSD budget official Cheryl Simpson to Clark reveals that Simpson was the actual author of the speech and discloses the amount of time Simpson spent writing it.”

+ In a 2016 study, the MGT consulting group estimated that the diversion of students to charter schools costs LAUSD $508 million a year. Yet in the recent state fact-finding report, one panel member found that LAUSD “does not even collect the legally authorized 3% oversight fee from co-located charter schools”—charters using LAUSD facilities. The member notes this amounts to a district subsidy of charters at a time when LAUSD claims to have catastrophic financial problems.

+ LAUSD has not been forthright about its reserve. Just within the past nine months, we had first been told that it was around $700 million, then $1.2 billion, then $1.86 billion, and now $1.98 billion.

+ The Los Angeles Times’Editorial Board correctly noted last year, “L.A. Unified’s finances have always been a murky business that few people have claimed to understand fully… It’s difficult for any outsider, including this editorial board, to say yes, the district can afford to do this, or no, it can’t.” To Beutner’s credit, when he came in he said “he intends to change” this. But if Beutner himself claims that the district’s finances are opaque, it seems odd that he would be surprised that UTLA—which has every reason to be suspicious—would be suspicious.

UTLA has never denied that part of the money needed has to come from Sacramento, and has made efforts towards this end. But we demand that LAUSD meet us halfway. LAUSD can’t resolve the entire problem, but it can resolve some of it. When it is willing to do that, our strike will end.

UPDATE…

“We Shut LAUSD Down!”

Yesterday Los Angeles Unified School District teachers struck for the first time in 30 years. Over 50,000 strikers and strike supporters rallied in downtown LA and marched to LAUSD headquarters.

Superintendent Austin Beutner held a press conference and with a straight face actually said that only 3,500 teachers participated. In reality, 30,000 UTLA members manned picketlines in the morning. We shut Beutner’s schools down.

For example, at my high school:

+ 106 out of 107 UTLA members honored our picketline

+ 75+ students joined our picketline in the rain, as well as many parents

+ Only 246 out of 2,200 students came to school today. We had almost as many people on our picketline as were in school.

LAUSD Claims of Poverty Debunked

United Teachers of Los Angeles is demanding significantly lower class sizes and proper staffing of schools. LAUSD claims it agrees with most of our demands, but simply can’t afford them. The “we have no money” mantra is so powerful, it’s practically LAUSD’s only negotiating position. However, there is much evidence which contradicts LAUSD’s cries of poverty. For example:

+ According to UTLA, “Beutner and his allies at the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) continue to claim that LAUSD is in a financial crisis and has had a running deficit for many years. [This]…is false: The district has had surpluses every year ranging from $210 million to $517 million since 2013-14.”

+ Arbitrator David A. Weinberg, the Neutral Chair of the California Public Employment Relations Board fact-finding panel, while noting the challenges LAUSD faces, found that the District’s reserves skyrocketed from $500 million in 2013-2014 to $1.8 billion in 2017-2018. How does one run a deficit every year and then quadruple one’s reserve in a five-year period?

+ LAUSD currently has the largest reserve in the history of California education. This reserve is 26 times as big as what is legally required. (The required reserve is 1% of annual revenue. LAUSD’s is 26% of annual revenue).

+ Three years ago LAUSD projected that their 2018-2019 reserve would be only $100 million—it’s actually $1.98 billion.

+ LAUSD now has another $140 million coming from Sacramento. This is 70% of the amount they would need to bring class sizes down to 2008 levels. With that money, they could achieve these levels with only $60 million more—a mere 1/33rd of their current reserve, and 1/127th of their overall operating budget.

+ According to UTLA, “LAUSD CFO Scott Price was shown his own budget documents that unambiguously substantiate that LAUSD does not have a deficit now and has not had a deficit in the past five years. With those documents in front of him, he refused to answer the simple question, ‘Has LAUSD had a deficit in the last five years?’”

+ In August the Los Angeles press carried headlines such as “’LAUSD is not too big to fail’: School board members alarmed by LA County official’s dire financial projections.” We were told “LAUSD could lose control of its finances if it agrees to a teachers contract that depletes reserves, county warns.” Dr. Candi Clark, the chief financial officer of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, gave board members a devastating speech about district finances at an Aug. 21 meeting. Except, as UTLA later learned, it was not her speech at all—it had been written by LAUSD. UTLA got its hands on the email stream between LAUSD and LACOE (courtesy of a Public Records Act request) and learned that an LAUSD official wrote the speech for Clark—”a fact that completely undercuts its value as an independent analysis of the district’s fiscal state,” UTLA explains. UTLA says, “A review of the metadata in the email attachment ‘lausd speech’ sent from LAUSD budget official Cheryl Simpson to Clark reveals that Simpson was the actual author of the speech and discloses the amount of time Simpson spent writing it.”

+ In a 2016 study, the MGT consulting group estimated that the diversion of students to charter schools costs LAUSD $508 million a year. Yet in the recent state fact-finding report, one panel member found that LAUSD “does not even collect the legally authorized 3% oversight fee from co-located charter schools”—charters using LAUSD facilities. The member notes this amounts to a district subsidy of charters at a time when LAUSD claims to have catastrophic financial problems.

+ LAUSD has not been forthright about its reserve. Just within the past nine months, we had first been told that it was around $700 million, then $1.2 billion, then $1.86 billion, and now $1.98 billion.

+ The Los Angeles Times’Editorial Board correctly noted last year, “L.A. Unified’s finances have always been a murky business that few people have claimed to understand fully… It’s difficult for any outsider, including this editorial board, to say yes, the district can afford to do this, or no, it can’t.” To Beutner’s credit, when he came in he said “he intends to change” this. But if Beutner himself claims that the district’s finances are opaque, it seems odd that he would be surprised that UTLA—which has every reason to be suspicious—would be suspicious.

UTLA has never denied that part of the money needed has to come from Sacramento, and has made efforts towards this end. But we demand that LAUSD meet us halfway. LAUSD can’t resolve the entire problem, but it can resolve some of it. When it is willing to do that, our strike will end.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Love in a Cold War Climate

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:40

Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Amazon Studios.

It’s not a Hollywood movie. That’s clear from the start. Cold War (2018), the feature film made by the Polish-born director, Pawel Pawlikowski, is in black-and-white. The characters have names like Wiktor, Kaczmarek and Mazurek, and the actors include Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot and Borys Szyc to give just a few from a large cast of characters. There isn’t a James, a Barbara or a Marilyn among them, though Kulig turns in a credible performance as a kind of Polish Marilyn Monroe who makes her way up the ladder of success and then throws it all away.

No American or British director has made a movie titled “Cold War,” but many American and British directors have taken slices from the big Cold War pie and hurled them at the big screen, some with logic and beauty. Think of Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), which is set in Vienna right after the end of World War II and that stars Orson Welles as Harry Lime, the American hustler and human rat out to make a profit at everyone else’s expense.

Think also of Stanley Kubrik’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) with Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Sterling Hayden, which persuaded audiences to laugh at the nuclear apocalypse and not cower under it.

Pawel Pawlikowski was born in Warsaw in 1957, when the Cold War was very hot, indeed. The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 and the space race was off and running. Pawlikowski left Poland at the age of 14, later attended Oxford University and made his first movie, From Moscow to Pietushki with Benny Yerofeyev, in 1990.

The Cold War has long haunted him. His film, Cold War, offers a Polish take on the mega conflict between the two superpowers, the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R., that mushroomed after the end of World War II and that ended, according to some American politicians, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, which now seems like a long time ago and another era.

Revisionist historians such as D. F. Fleming, the author of The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917-1960, argue that the Cold War began when the Western powers tried to throttle the Bolshevik Revolution and prevent Communism from spreading like the plague. Contemporary pundits and journalists insist that the Cold War is alive and doing well, thank you, despite the seeming bromance between Trump and Putin, two thugs recycled from the junk heap of authoritarian personalities as old as Stalin and Joe McCarthy and as new as themselves.

Pawlikowski’s film has already won international recognition, including the award for best director at Cannes. It has been nominated for an Oscar as the best foreign film of 2018. Cold War has a lot going for it, including the romance between a dark, tall handsome man and a gorgeous, impulsive woman who love each other and betray each another, break up with one another and get back together again. Their relationship is as crazy as the Cold War itself. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot play two lovers who can’t detach from one another, though their relationship is corrosive and though they wander back and forth from one side of the so-called “Iron Curtain” to the other and from East to West and back to East.

Pawlikowski uses music as a vehicle to tell his Cold War story, which doesn’t take sides, much as his lovers don’t affiliate permanently either with capitalism or Eastern bloc socialism.

Cold War moves from Polish folk music to western jazz and then to rock n’ roll. Each new musical wave carries the plot forward. Each one feels surprising as it unfolds on the screen, but at the end when one looks back at the movie, the music feels inevitable and predictable. Of course, there’s going to be jazz and then rock ‘n’ roll in a movie about a female singer and a male piano player and conductor in the 1940s and 1950s. But the music is also energetic and worth hearing.

Cold War offers stark Eastern European settings. The language is mostly Polish, with English subtitles and the pace is much slower than blockbuster Hollywood films. But it does have a Hollywood ending. Zula and Wiktor come together once again. Still, it’s not clear if they’re going to live with one another, or commit suicide and cross the boundary that divides life from death. If nothing else, they’re people who break boundaries.

I recommend the film. Joanna Kulig is beautiful, sexy and smart as Kulig. Tomasz Kot is crafty, creative and romantic as Wiktor. The images on screen are enticing and the camera work is often dazzling. But the big draw is Pawlikowski’s handling of the Cold War, which has no precise beginning, no clear ending in sight, and that’s always ripe for artistic interpretation.

Viewers like me, and my peers who remember the deep-seated American fear of Communism will relate to the story instinctively. Those who came of age in the 1980s, when Reagan revived the Cold War, will likely remember the high jinks of that era and vault into the picture.

Members of those two generations and younger viewers will also identify with the characters who try to save their souls and their integrity as artists, and who are compromised by power politics and the ravages of the Cold War that nobody won.

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party

Tue, 2019-01-15 15:38

This is the first of a three part series regarding the Green New Deal. I will argue in the course of this series the method by which the Green Party should articulate a Green New Deal proposal that is radically different and distinct from that proposed by the Democratic Party, even its Progressive Caucus. Green voters and activists nationwide are encouraged to engage with GreenPartyPower.com to connect with activists and organizers emphasizing integrity, intersectional feminist eco-socialism, anti-imperialism, and independence from the Democratic Party. I make no claim that these views are representative of anyone but myself and welcome a vigorous but principled debate around alternative principles and methods of articulation. For one such alternative articulation, listen to this recent episode of Clearing the Fog podcast featuring an interview with Howie Hawkins. On Thursday, January 17 at 8 pm EST there will be a National Conference Call featuring Hawkins elaborating on the Green New Deal. You can register here.

[W.E.B.] Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness reflects a dialectical relationship, a unity and struggle of opposite forces in one dark body. We literally have the worldviews of two civilizations in conflict and struggle within the black mind. This double consciousness is a manifestation of a clash of civilizations, a contradiction that will be resolved by the decline of European hegemony and the transformation of human civilization. The working out of the dialectic within the consciousness of the black individual is a struggle between the hegemon of the modern world, the other (the African past), and the human future. Pregnant within the conflict in each black person is the future beyond European hegemony, an historical movement from the Age of Europe to the Age of Humanity.

– Dr. Anthony Monteiro (2011) ‘The Epistemic Crisis of African American Studies: A Du Boisian Resolution’, Socialism and Democracy, 25:1

As we enter 2019, wherein the preparations for the next presidential election will begin, it proves worthwhile to elaborate upon two basic questions:

1) What are the features of the Green New Deal promoted by the Green Party?; and

2) What differentiates it from what the Democrats propose?

The first distinction is in terms of what Greens must advocate for in general terms also. The Green Party argues that it is:

+ Intersectionally feminist;

+ Anti-colonial;

+ Anti-imperial;

+ Grounded in an affirmation of the nature of America as a settler-colonist society wherein the country was built upon the twin genocides of the Indigenous and Africans brought to this hemisphere in captivity as chattel bond slaves, which therefore requires a program of reparation and restorative justice.

While these are important principles to advocate for, they remain simply slogans without economic policy propositions to present a concrete illustration of what the Green Party is advocating for. Slogans remain slogans unless they are elaborated upon by concrete material demands using those particular lenses of analysis so to provide an example of the eco-socialist praxis promoted in the Green Party’s 2016 platform document. Reparations and restorative justice for these genocides cannot be addressed solely with a jobs program. However, it does provide some preliminary coordinates. Furthermore, recall the words of Combahee River Collective, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression,” meaning that the liberation of Black and Indigenous is the kernel of emancipation for all.

Furthermore, we need to be conscious of the explicitly racialized nature of the Roosevelt New Deal. In order to maintain his political coalition, Roosevelt intentionally crafted the balance of power in that coalition to favor the fascist southern Dixiecrats. He added measures to all of his New Deal programs to maintain the allegiance of southern politicians and voters. For instance, the National Labor Relations Act, which legalized the right to unionize and created the National Labor Relations Board to adjudicate labor disputes, intentionally excluded the majority of Black and Brown workers by barring domestic (butlers, maids, cooks, nannies, etc.) and agricultural workers from the right to form a union.

Consider also the point raised by the classic SDS pamphlet White Blindspot co-authored by Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen:

…“Fair employment through full employment” is another way of saying that job discrimination against Negroes will be maintained as long as it is possible to do so… Raising the demand for a larger slice of the pie for the working class does not in itself alter the apportionment of the slice within the working class. In fact, the ruling class has always utilized every concession won from it to increase the gap between white and black, thus turning even a victory of the working class into a cause of greater division. The shorter work week, with the promise of more jobs for those last hired, does not challenge the pattern of who shall be last hired [namely Blacks], and therefore does not alter the inequality of white and black workers.

If we look back on the history of the 1963 March on Washington and strip away the multiple coats of saccharine lacquer that have transformed that memory of history into something totally divorced from its original intent and execution, one is forced to realize the true nature of the March. As a project of Black union leader and Socialist A. Phillip Randolph, it had been formulated originally during World War II as a protest against the racism of the Roosevelt administration’s job programs both during the New Deal period and also during the war years, when the entirety of American industry was transformed into a centrally-planned economy with strict rationing and quotas mandated by the federal government. And despite the mandate of the war transforming the economic landscape into something unseen before or since, the white supremacist nature of the project excluded Black and Brown workers so significantly that Randolph was compelled to organize a massive protest march that notably did not materialize during wartime because of prioritizing “national unity” over combatting white supremacy within the governing coalition.

Twenty years later, Martin Luther King, Jr. took up the banner and brought forward a successful march that again protested the racialized exclusion of Black workers from a full employment economy during a Democratic Party presidency which was maintaining many elements of the New Deal agenda. Indeed, a year later, when Lyndon B. Johnson won the presidency but lost the South to Barry Goldwater because of his passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, America witnessed the collapse of the New Deal coalition and went on to see the problematic implementation of the Great Society legislation. Johnson’s refusal to run for a second term in 1968 had multiple reasons, including the genocidal Vietnam War, but part of his collapse in popularity stemmed from the loss of a New Deal coalition to support the Great Society. The Dixiecrats that year instead elected Republican Richard Nixon as a self-described “law-and-order” candidate who began the racist War on Drugs.

I for one have no interest as a Green in proposing a color-blind economic program that seeks to replicate the logic of a racist program that was only enacted on the basis of Jim Crow apartheid’s security and maintenance for another generation.

At this juncture, the Democratic Party, even its Progressive caucus, is not proposing such a framework for their version of a Green New Deal (hereafter DGND). While some would argue that Greens should make a tactical alliance with the reformist elements in the Democratic Party (cf. Is the Green New Deal a Revolutionary Reform? by Richard Moser, 12/21/18, CounterPunch), I beg to differ with that proposition and instead argue that such an alliance would effectively and totally negate the implementation of a viable Green New Deal that makes a real impact on our climate catastrophe. The Democratic Party’s neoliberal formulation of identity politics, featuring politicians who hail from a variety of demographics while promoting war and austerity, is incapable at this juncture of creating a truly transformative jobs and works program. The proposition to the contrary is simply erroneous and easily disproved.

By contrast, our Green New Deal, grounded squarely in the Four Pillars and the Ten Key Values of the Green Party of the United States, is intended to create truly revolutionary change and alter the social landscape for the better in a permanent fashion. To do this, I argue it must emphasize political orientations it already espouses in other contexts.

The first distinction to indicate in my view is the centrality of the Indigenous and African American worker in the Green New Deal. There are three reasons for this that merit serious elaboration.

The first is in regards to restorative justice and reparations for the continuing and persistent crimes of genocide and chattel slavery. It is incumbent upon the American government to proactively affirm its responsibility for these crimes and make meaningful restitution for them in terms of lasting social and economic justice. Furthermore, we are already seeing these communities on the front-lines experience the repercussions of the climate crisis, whether it was the historic Black community in New Orleans that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina or the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe that was called the “first US climate refugees” (cf. First US climate refugees get $48 million to move by Madison Margolin, 5/3/16, Christian Science Monitor) Our Green New Deal must be attenuated to their needs rather than those of the 1%, which seems to be the inclination of the DGND.

The second pertains to demographics. We know from population data derived from censuses that the majority of the Black population is located in urban centers nationwide, such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Atlanta. Indigenous are found predominantly in Anchorage, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York City. These urban centers are important locations for deployment of renewable energy infrastructure. America is slowly but surely being re-oriented towards urban as opposed to suburban landscapes, accelerating the pace of gentrification nationwide. A jobs program centered on Black and Brown workers may be a useful systemic way to fight back against historic Black community displacement.

The third is a synthesis of these two. It is incumbent upon sustainability-focused public policy to implement renewable energy infrastructure in the major urban centers and place emphasis upon affirmative action hiring practices, including in particular, as a constituent element of a wider reparations package, the elimination of any hiring practices that prevent the formerly incarcerated from being given meaningful employment in the various Building and Trades unions as well as other sections of the labor market. A jobs and public works program is incapable of making a significant reparation with regards to the twin genocides that birthed the United States; however, such a program can provide the preliminary coordinates for such efforts.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report says in an interview:

You won’t see any frontal assault on the mass Black incarceration state from those aspects of Black American political activity that revolve around the Democratic Party. What we’ll see is a lot of hooplah about ‘prison reform’, tinkering on the edges. That does not directly address the absolutely undemocratic nature of policing as it exists in the United States, a policing system that is at its core designed to contain and terrorize and subjugate at every possible level the Black American population. That is the purpose of the mass Black incarceration state, although it has economic aspects in terms of making profits from prisons. But the central purpose is to contain and terrorize Black folks. And with that kind of mission, the tinkering around with reform measures, although useful but avoiding the central demand of Black community control of the police who patrol the Black community, will be ineffective in dismantling that whole structure.

As such, the Green Party can and should utilize this shortcoming within the Democratic Party policy agenda to their advantage and link the articulation of a Green New Deal with the radical emancipatory liberation struggle of the working class that is prison abolition and Black community control of the police.

At this current moment, we know that the majority of Black workers are employed by the public sector and that Black women make up the largest membership demographic of the AFL-CIO. As such, the Green New Deal proposed by the GPUS should aim to fulfill the promise to create a “Marshall Plan for the Cities” that has been a longtime aspiration in Black political discourse. The Green Party proposes a paradigm that will be focused on public infrastructure and works projects, something that is therefore able to be synoptic with the Marshall Plan for the Cities framework.

Ford explains that the Marshall Plan for the Cities, first proposed by Rep. John Conyers, “Became a perennial Black Democrat rallying cry and others in Black civil society. We heard it every year, in fact it got kind of boring and hollow. It was basically an economic and social policy that was directed at the folks in the cities (and that meant Black folks) who had been bypassed by all of these redevelopment schemes of the American post-World War II world, which seemed to be developing everything in the nation except Black people. That’s the way it looked to Black people in the cities which they inherited from white folks after white flight and those cities were immediately de-invested. And so that was the rallying cry every political cycle.”

“What was noteworthy was that, with the advent of the first US Black President, even the possibilityof one during the 2008 campaign, we stopped hearing about a Marshall Plan for the Cities. In fact, we didn’t hear anything from Black Democrats who were afraid, frankly, to make any demands on this incoming and then incumbent Black president because those demands, the mere utterance of them, might tend to embarrass or put too much pressure on this Black president. We saw the neutralization of Black Democratic politics and Black politics in general with the coming of Obama a great silence, great realhollowness of Black politics,” Ford continues.

In James Forman, Jr.’s recent Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, one aspect of the Marshall Plan for the Cities policy proposal was a combining of the promised urban revitalization policy package with racist Tough on Crime legislation. “That book, Locking Up Our Own, is indispensable and I found it so interesting and, in fact, it made me do some soul searching myself because much of the book is centered on Washington DC in the ’70s and ’80s and that is where I was based and I knew most of the actors who he talked about,” continues Ford. “I was somewhat embarrassed that I had not seen these ‘Lock Up Our Own’ precursors to the full-blown mass Black incarceration state, that is some of these proposals coming straight out of the Black community! I didn’t remember history that way and I’m still questioning what kind of reporter I was back then,” says Ford.

“But it is interesting that the Congressional Black Caucus’s ‘Marshall Plan for Black America’ has a Division B, which is focused on criminal justice and policing reform,” Ford continues.

“We can’t expect anything but a replay of what James Forman, Jr. was recounting from the ’70s and ’80s in terms of Black Democratic proposals in the criminal justice arena. We know what the recent history of the Congressional Black Caucus has been in that regard. In 2014, when there was a chance, a bill came up in the House that would have abolished the infamous Pentagon 1033 program, which funneled millions and it turned into billions of dollars worth of weapons and gear, full battle gear and weaponry, into the cities. Thatis the militarization of the police,” he says.

“In 2014, 80%, 4 out of every 5 Congressional Black Caucus members voted not to shut down the 1033 program but to continue it,” he continues. “This year, we saw a bill come before the House that 75% of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for that made police into a protected class! Now here we have the police, the group in US society that has the most institutionalized, legalized impunity now becoming a protected class as if they are somehow a class that is endangered.”

“So we know the political character is of the Congressional Black Caucus today regarding policing and mass Black incarceration and that’s part of their bill for a Marshall Plan for Black America. So I am sure James Forman is taking note of the latest iteration of that political tendency.”

Categories: News for progressives

The Tears of Justin Trudeau

Mon, 2019-01-14 16:02

On January 7th the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) swept into a non-violent checkpoint set up by the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Fourteen people were violently arrested in the ambush by the militarized colonial forces. The camp was set up by hereditary leaders to defend the ancestral lands of the Unist’ot’en and other clans from the unwanted incursions of TransCanada and its Coastal Gaslink pipeline. Following the incident Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the temerity to extol the neoliberal scheme behind the incident as something that is good for the earth. In a speech to supporters he said: “We moved forward on the LNG Canada project, which is the largest private sector investment in Canada’s history, $40-billion, which is going to produce Canadian LNG that will supplant coal in Asia as a power source and do much for the environment.” After being pressed in a radio interview about the brutal raid Trudeau said of the arrests that it is “not an ideal situation, but at the same time, we’re also a country of the rule of law.” Apparently he does not consider Article 10 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be law. It states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their land or territories.” It may be difficult for ordinary people to choke out hypocritical, ahistorical fallacies without missing a beat, but the Prime Minister has a gift for spouting empty platitudes that fly in the face of reality and he isn’t alone.

There is something familiar about Trudeau’s lamentation on this situation as well as his appeal for the rule of law. This is because neoliberal leaders around the world have used similar justifications for the violence of the corporate state. And while Trudeau has attempted to brand himself a leader on reconciliation with First Nations and for addressing climate change he has demonstrated time after time his true allegiance is to the corporate state. Last year he pledged 4.5 billion dollars of tax payer money to purchase the controversial, badly aging and perpetually leaking Kinder Morgan pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to BC. Protests and a court decision have stymied this for the moment, but in taking this action he has joined a cadre of world leaders who only pay lip service to indigenous concerns, ecological impacts and the science of climate change while steamrolling ahead toward a dystopic future. Of course like any neoliberal politician Trudeau ultimately does the bidding of the fossil fuel industry which works tirelessly behind the scenes writing and directing policy, like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) who has an army of lobbyists that outnumber any other group in Ottawa.

Like the US, Canada is a settler colonial state founded upon the expulsion, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide of its indigenous population. Its history is drenched in the blood of broken treaties with First Nations and tainted by the cruelties meted out over decades to the present day against indigenous children. And while Canada may now possess more progressive domestic policies than its ruthless neighbor to the south, it is a fallacy that it is a leader when it comes to indigenous rights, protection of the environment and climate change. One look at the Tar Sands is a testament to this. Bigger in area than England, it is the third largest reserve of oil on the planet. So it is of little surprise that those who profit from them the most have enormous sway in the Canadian political process. In addition to their tremendous greenhouse gas emissions the Tar Sands also use gargantuan amounts of fresh water creating massive lakes of poisonous effluent while belching out tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. Great swaths of forest and wetlands have been decimated creating a new cancer alley mainly afflicting First Nations in the region. In short, it is a lethal, festering and human inflicted wound on the skin of the earth, so big that it can be seen from space. And Trudeau has fashioned himself to be the charming, boyish face that hides all its hideousness.

Trudeau, like Macron or Merkel, possesses an enormous capacity for doublespeak. He is well known for shedding tears for Canada’s crimes of the past on more than one occasion. Sometimes he genuinely appears to care for people and the environment. Barrack Obama had this gift too. And when comparing actions and policies to words it is easily demonstrated as a trick of optics and branding. Interestingly enough Obama has given several speeches since his presidency for his admirers on Wall Street, imploring them to thank him for making them so much money and turning the US into the world’s biggest oil producer while admitting those policies gave aid to the rise of the far right. It is a kinder face for plutocratic corporatism that may make it seem more palatable to some than the ugly face of fascism espoused by Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro. But we have seen how neoliberal policies are opening the way for these fascist populists so there is no innocent game being played here.

Neoliberal politicians ultimately strip people of their agency by supporting or enacting policies that break down the commons and privatize everything, all while drowning them in sugary bromides and platitudes of meaninglessness. They pay lip service to the plight of the poor, the oppressed, indigenous communities, people of colour, and the living earth itself while they laugh it up at galas done in their honour by the 1%. And in doing so they have paved the way for the rising global fascism we see today. The incident at the Unist’ot’en camp last week may not become Trudeau’s Standing Rock, but it certainly echoes it. The image of tanks, attack dogs and heavily armed police raining tear gas down and firing water cannons at unarmed Native Americans must certainly be in the back of his mind. But no matter what he is thinking, no tears he sheds now will obscure his role in defending an economic and political order that has maintained merciless colonialism, is ravaging the very foundations of democracy and may very well drive the biosphere toward its full scale collapse.

Categories: News for progressives

California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:59

As global warming makes California warmer and drier, its wildfires worsen and more people have died. California has the biggest economy in the United States and now has the 5thlargest economy in the world. What California does affects the globe.

For three years the New York state assembly had passed the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) to make New York invest in clean, non-fossil energy; create union-paying green jobs; and invest in low-income and communities of color. This year with the N.Y. state senate going Democrat and Governor Cuomo’s just announced support of CCPA, New York will likely have a state Green New Deal soon.

California still produces a lot of oil–only Texas and North Dakota produce more oil.  During Governor Brown’s time in office he has signed over 20,000 permits for oil drillings with 77% of the new oil wells near low-income and communities of color. Governor Newsome has taken a strong stance saying that California needs to transform two oil platforms offshore into wave/tidal platforms to generate energy and that the state needs more offshore wind generators for energy. Still many communities in the state live next to oil drilling using toxic chemicals that spew out toxic air and water pollution daily. The state needs to immediately ban fracking oil using huge amounts toxic chemicals, ban oil drilling within 2500 feet of homes and schools, and develop a plan to end use of fossil fuels within 10 years.

California’s legislature has in 2018 passed a law requiring every new home to have solar panels, a 2ndlaw to ban any new offshore oil drilling, and a 3rd law to make the states’ electricity grid 100% carbon-neutral by 2045 long after the state experiences climate catastrophe. California needs an immediate Green New Deal that calls for government investment in massive tree planting to stop air pollution and conversion to green energy such as solar, geothermal, and wind power; a tax on profits of fossil fuel companies that is invested in renewable energy-and-energy efficiency and ending oil drilling. low interest rates for green investment such as electric cars; and green jobs crucial to building a low-carbon infrastructure.

The 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps had its workers plant millions of trees that stopped the environmental catastrophe in the Midwest.  In Korea, Japan’s 35-year occupation left large tracts of its forests logged.  In 1961 South Korea started a huge tree planting program that had resulted in 11 billion new trees by 2008. In 2018 Pakistan’s government started a program to plant 10 billion trees while China has 60,000 soldiers planting trees to reforest an area the size of Ireland. California can immediately create its own CCC hiring the homeless and unemployed to plant millions of trees across the state that will reduce C02 levels.

By 2020, all mainstream renewable power generation technologies will have average costs at the lower end of the fossil-fuel cost range.  California can in its CCC program offer 40 training programs to teach how to install solar panels on every government building in the state, insulate all public buildings, and install wind farms.  CCC workers can then install the solar panels and offshore wind farms on all the state’s public buildings.

For clean transportation, California is falling behind 17 governments that have banned sales of new gasoline-engine cars:  Korea’s ban starts in 2020; Costa Rica in 2021, and Norway in 2025. Norway in eight years increased the number of electric cars to 30% of car.  Have California CCC workers install state-wide electric power stations for free charging of electric vehicles as well as build safer pedestrian walks and bicycle pathways, low-carbon bus rapid transit, and electrified light rail. A tax of fossil fuels can be used to partially finance solar panels for home owners and businesses as well as to pay for weatherizing homes.  Fossil fuels can be phased out by 2018 with no more oil drilling and offshore oil platforms closed. The legislature could enlarge Buy Clean standards to require that government contractors pay family-sustaining wages, hiring and training local workers in working class communities and communities of color.

The Green New Deal is popular with voters. Huffington Post shared the survey results from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University that nationally 92% of Democrats supported the idea, 64 percent of Republicans supported it, and 88% of independents endorsed the policies. Be the environmental governor the state and world needs.

Categories: News for progressives

Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:57

There have been several pieces in recent weeks about the drop in birth rates in recent years. Birth rates declined in the recession and they have not recovered even as the economy has improved.

As these pieces point out, economics plays a big role in the drop in birth rates. Young adults often are having difficulty finding and keeping jobs that provide a decent wage. This was certainly true in the downturn, but it is still often the case even now with the unemployment rate at 50-year lows.

In addition, the United States badly lags other rich countries in providing support to new parents. We are the only wealthy country that does not guarantee workers some amount of paid parental leave or sick days. While many companies offer these benefits, millions of new parents, especially those in lower paying jobs, cannot count on any paid leave. (It is important to note that many states and cities have required paid family leave and/or sick days in the last two decades, making up for the lack of action by the federal government.)

Child care is also a huge problem for young parents. Quality care is often difficult to find and very expensive. This leaves many young parents, especially mothers, struggling to provide care for their children even as they hold down a job.

These are real and important policy concerns. People should be able to have children without undue hardship. We also want to make sure that children have decent life prospects. Having parents that are not overstressed and access to good quality child care are important for getting children on a good path is school and their subsequent careers and lives.

For these reasons, leave policy and child care need to be near the top of the policy agenda. However, the fact that people are having fewer kids is not a good rationale for supporting these policies. A stagnant or even declining population is not a public policy problem.

The pieces noting the prospect of a declining population usually treat it as self-evident that this is a bad development. It isn’t. The prospect of fewer traffic jams and less crowded parks and beaches does not sound especially scary.

There are some who see a declining population as a threat to the United States status as a world power. It’s not clear that this is especially true. Indonesia ranks 4th in world population with 270 million people, more than four times the population of the United Kingdom, but Indonesia does not usually get listed among the world’s most powerful countries. More importantly, many of us don’t necessarily like everything the United States does as a world power, so doing somewhat less of it may not be a bad thing.

If we focus on the economics of a stagnant or declining population the standard story is that we will have a smaller number of workers to support each retiree. This is true, other things equal, but also not an especially big deal.

First, the “other things equal” is a big qualification here because for the foreseeable future we are likely to be able to get as many working-age people we want from the rest of the world by relaxing immigration restrictions. Working at even the lowest paying jobs in the United States is likely to offer a huge improvement in living standards for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world. This means that if we are worried about having too few workers at some point in the future, we just need to open the door to more immigrants.

But even pulling out the impact of immigrants, the reality is that we have been seeing a fall in the ratio of workers to retirees pretty much forever. Life expectancies have been rising as people have better living standards and better health care. (Recent years have been an exception, where life expectancies have stagnated.) In 1950 there were 7.2 people between the ages of 20 and 65 for every person over the age of 65. This ratio now stands at just 3.6 to 1.

Over this 70-year period, we have seen huge increases in living standards for both workers and retirees. The key has been the growth in productivity which allows workers to produce much more in each hour of work. (We also have a much higher rate of employment among workers between the ages of 20 and 65, as tens of millions of women have entered the labor force.)

The impact of productivity growth swamps the impact of demographics, as can be shown with simple arithmetic. The Social Security Trustees project that the ratio of people between the ages of 20 and 65 to people over age 65 will fall to 2.8 by 2070. In its “high-cost” scenario, which assumes both lower birth rates and higher life expectancies, this ratio falls to 2.03. Let’s take a more extreme case and assume it falls to 1.8.

Not everyone in the age 20 to 65 group works. Let’s assume an employment rate for this group of 75 percent. Of course, this can vary depending on economic conditions. In a tight labor market, with wages being bid up, more people are likely to choose to work.

This is also the case with people over age 65. Many already are working and we can expect this number to increase over time as the people in these older cohorts are increasingly educated and there are more employment opportunities that are not physically demanding. But for purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume no one over age 65 works.

I’ll also assume that retirees get on average 75 percent of the income of a worker. This is considerably more than the average Social Security benefit, but it should in principle include other sources of income for retirees. I treat their income as a tax on the working population.

Here’s the basic picture.

I have assumed a 1.4 percent annual rate of real wage growth, which is roughly the projection used by the Social Security trustees. The index number in the first row should be understood to be hourly compensation since the trustees assume that an increasing share of compensation will go to non-wage benefits, primarily employer-provided health care insurance.

As can be seen, in spite of the projected fall in the ratio of workers to retirees, the after-tax wage would still be considerably higher in 2070 than it is today. While before-tax income slightly more than doubles in the middle scenario, after-tax income still rises by almost 91 percent. Even in the extreme demographic case, after-tax income still rises by more than 66 percent over this period.

I then played with a more rapid productivity growth scenario where I assumed that productivity growth averaged 1.7 percent annually.[1] In this case, before-tax income in 2070 would be 236 percent of its 2019 level. In that case, even in the extreme demographic scenario shown in the last column, after-tax income would be 151.7. This is higher than the 149.6 level shown in the middle scenario with the standard wage growth projection.

In other words, the impact of a modest increase in the rate of productivity growth will more than offset the impact of even very extreme demographic assumptions. And, a 1.7 percent rate of productivity growth is hardly unrealistic. The economy saw a 3.0 percent average rate of productivity growth in the period from 1947 to 1973 and again from 1995 to 2005.

So it is certainly possible that the rate of productivity growth will again accelerate. Or to take the other side, the slowdown of productivity growth from its 1995–2005 pace, to the rate of the last dozen years of less than 1.5 percent, was largely unexpected. While the impact of this slowdown on living standards, if sustained, will swamp any conceivable impact of changing demographics, it has received far less attention.

One final point on this topic: the robots will take all the jobs story is a scenario of massive increases in productivity growth. It is truly incredible, we can find stories of demographic collapse in the media, where we don’t have enough workers to change the bedpans for us old-timers. While on the next page there will be stories of robots eliminating the need for workers in large, and growing, areas of the economy.

In principle, one of these can be a problem, but it doesn’t make sense that both a shortage of workers and a shortage of work can be a problem at the same time. Such is the state of economic debates in the United States.

Notes.

[1] This assumes away issues with deflators in the measure of productivity. The analysis also implicitly assumes that the median worker gets the same share of wage growth as the average worker. This would not be true if wage income is redistributed upward, as has happened over the last forty years. However, this upward redistribution is separate from the demographic issue.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog.

Categories: News for progressives

The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:57

I hate television “experts”, the infamous “analysts” who know all – and support all – about the military, the televisual ex-generals with vain presidential ambitions and the infamous American “think tank” personnel whose right-wing, pro-Israeli beliefs are carefully shielded from viewers by the US networks who employ them. I always characterise the antiseptic and pseudo-academic institutions to which they belong as the “Institute for Preposterous Affairs”.

The Fisk “IPA” contains hundreds of robotic folk who will churn out claptrap about “key players”, “stakeholders” and “moderate allies” and, of course, “world terror”. They turn up on CNN, Fox and Russia Today. And, of course, the BBC.

But William Arkin was always a bit different. This ex-US marine intelligence author of ground-breaking work on secret CIA “black sites” and equally secret US weapons dumps (nuclear and non-nuclear) has a respectful audience at both Harvard and Maxwell US Air Force Base. And when he quits, I take notice.

Here’s a guy the Reagan administration wanted to send to prison for revealing the location of US and Soviet nuclear weapons, and who – in his own words – “had to fight editors who couldn’t believe that there would be a war in Iraq”. He’s just resigned his job as a talking head. Goodbye NBC News. That’s what I call a real story.

And here’s what Arkin told his colleagues about the American military when he left NBC last week. “There is not a soul in Washington,” he wrote to them, “who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict. And though there might be the beloved perfumed princes in the form of the [David] Petraeuses and Wes Clarks, or the so-called warrior monks like James Mattis and HR McMaster, we’ve had more than a generation of national security leaders who have sadly and fraudulently done little of consequence.

Arkin’s draw – for me, at least – is that he doesn’t suck on the rubber tube of Wikileaks or social media whistle-blowers. He prefers to dig down through the pages of dull, boring real military information available in serious army and air force journals and official government documents. I came across his work when a reader in Japan sent me pages from Arkin’s book Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World.

I was investigating just how Israel was able to maintain its massive aerial bombardments of Lebanon and Gaza without running out of “smart” bombs, cluster munitions and air-to-ground missiles. Even Nato ran low on ammunition in the 1999 Serbian War. But not Israel when it was blasting its enemies – including lots and lots of civilians – in the Middle East.

So here is what I found in Arkin’s work as long ago as 2005. “Quietly,” he wrote, “the US maintains pre-positioned equipment and munitions on Israeli soil for use by US and Israeli forces. The War Reserve Stocks for Allies-Israel (WRS-I) programme includes ammunition owned by the US but intended for Israeli use, overseen by the army and Marine Corps.” Locations, according to Arkin, include Ben Gurion IAP (International Airport), Herzliya-Pituach, Nevatim airfield and Ovda AB (air base).

So there you have it. The Arkin system of picking up rock-hard intelligence is not impossible, providing you have the patience to sit down and read. I wrote a story for The Independent out of Israel when Israeli lobbyists were fearful the US might be restricting arms supplies to Ariel Sharon – as a means of forcing him to sign up to a new Israeli-Palestinian “peace” agreement. They had nothing to worry about, I reported.

Only a month earlier, the Americans had rolled out their first S-70A-55 troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopter to be sold to the Israelis. Israel had purchased 24 of the new machines, costing $211m (£166m) (most of which would be paid for by the US) even though it had 24 earlier model Black Hawks. The logbook of the first of the new helicopters was ceremonially handed over to the then director general of the Israeli defence ministry, Amos Yaron.

I was immediately abused. I had revealed Israel’s military secrets, a telephone call from an Israeli supporter in London told me. I had leaked military secrets for Israel’s enemies to read, an anonymous reader informed me. It was balderdash. I had merely done what I always do in Israel: scrupulously read the local papers and studied economic and military magazines – because the Israelis were always boasting of their home-made weaponry and military relationship with the US. The story cost only a few shekels at a newsagents in Tel Aviv.

But Arkin goes for facts in a much bigger way. He hoovers them up off every page. And NBC have just lost him. His expertise, he says, seems to be of less value right now. He was “out of synch with the network”.

Journalists were turning the world’s national security into a political story: Rumsfeld versus the Generals, Wolfowitz versus Shinseki, the CIA versus Cheney, bad torturers versus the more refined variety. And all the while, Arkin writes, NBC would be looking over its shoulder at “upstarts creeping up on the mainstream”.

After Donald Trump’s election, journalistic investigations “got sucked into the tweeting vortex, increasingly lost in a directionless adrenalin rush, the national security and political version of leading the broadcast with every snowstorm … in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable”.

Because of Trump, the networks had become anti-Trump and the national security establishment “gained dangerous strength”. So Arkin claims that he is ever so happy to return to writing and thinking in new books “without the officiousness of editorial tyrants or corporate ‘standards’”.

He continues: “And of course I yearn to go back to my first love, which is writing boring reports about secret programmes, grateful that the American government so graciously obliges in its constant supply.” Arkin doesn’t p**s on his colleagues at NBC. He rather wanly praises his former employers, the “excellent” young television reporters and the “great team” he worked with, which leads me to believe that he’d like to go back some day.

He’s not a bitter man, though I suspect he’s not likely to be a leftist hero. While acknowledging that Trump is “an ignorant and incompetent imposter”, Arkin wonders if the television networks aren’t in favour of more conflict and more war. “We shouldn’t get out of Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearising the Korean peninsula? … do we really yearn for the Cold War. And don’t get me started with the FBI: What? We now lionise this historically destructive institution?”

I get Arkin’s point, even if he’s still in danger of making the presidential lunatic into a statesman-to-be in generations to come. But there’s a telling moment in his goodbye letter to NBC – which is longer than any general’s resignation from the White House, by the way.

He says that journalists “have become exhausted parents of our infant (and infantile) social media children. And because of the ‘cycle’ [the 24-hour news system], we at NBC … suffer from a really bad case of not being able to ever take a breath. I also don’t think that we are on a straight line towards digital nirvana … I sense that there is already smartphone and social media fatigue creeping across this land, and my guess is that nothing we currently see – nothing that is snappy or chatty – will solve our horrific challenges of information overload or the role (and nature) of journalism.”

Well, maybe it’s true that when Trump goes, we’ll all suffer from a gigantic media hangover. I’m not so sure. Where Arkin gets it wrong, it seems to me, is his faith that his own fact-digging will somehow come back into fashion in a world where falling into line – with the “authorities”, the FBI, the comfortable generals and the taboo on talking about Israel and America – will be discarded in the face of hard-hitting journalism.

As a matter of fact, that particular taboo against talking about the Israeli-American relationship – all important when Trump is in love with Benjamin Netanyahu – appears to be strictly observed in Arkin’s own goodbye letter. It doesn’t get a mention.

I’m delighted to hear that this particular expert is now going to write another non-fiction essay on national security “and why we never seem to end our now perpetual state of war”. I’m equally distressed to hear that Arkin is planning a 9/11 conspiracy novel, even though it will supposedly ask how we can “understand terrorists in a different way”. It’s the state of perpetual war and those who accept that this is a necessity which interests me most. War sells weapons and war sells newspapers and war boosts ratings. And war puts mendacious “experts” on our screens. It’s crabby old boys like Arkin who have to stop the rot. By going back to NBC, maybe?

Categories: News for progressives

5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:52

On Jan. 1, 5.5 million women in the Indian state of Kerala (population 35 million) built a 386-mile wall with their bodies. They stood from one end to the other of this long state in southwestern India. The women gathered at 4 p.m. and took a vow to defend the renaissance traditions of their state and to work towards women’s empowerment. It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the largest mobilizations of women in the world for women’s rights. It is certainly larger than the historical Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in 2017.

Kerala’s government is run by the Communists. It is not easy for a left-wing government to operate in a state within the Indian union. The Central Government in New Delhi has little desire to assist Kerala, which suffered a cataclysmic flood last year. No assistance with the budgetary burdens of relief and reconstruction, and no help with financing for infrastructure and welfare services. The Communist government has a wide-ranging agenda that runs from its Green Kerala Mission — a project for stewardship of the state’s beautiful environment — to its fight for women’s emancipation. The Left Democratic Front government believes that dignity is a crucial a goal as economic rights, and that it is centrally important to fight against everyday humiliation to build a truly just society.

Over the course of the left’s government in Kerala, it has pushed ahead the agenda against everyday humiliation. For instance, in 2017, the government provided free sanitary pads for young women in school. The logic was that during their periods, young women who could not afford sanitary pads avoided school. Prejudices against menstruation had become a barrier to equal education. The government called this project “She Pad,” which benefited students and teachers. Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, said of the effort, “Menstrual hygiene is every girl’s right. The government is hoping that initiatives like these will help our girls to lead a life of confidence.”

A hundred miles north of Kerala’s capital — Thiruvanthapuram — sits a temple for Ayyappan, a celibate god. Women between the ages of 10 and 50 had not been permitted into the temple due to a belief that the celibate god would not be able to tolerate women who menstruate. The Indian Supreme Court took notice of this and, in September 2018, declared that the temple must allow all women to enter. The Left Democratic Front government agreed with the courts. But the temple authorities, and the far-right groups in the state, disagreed. When women tried to enter the temple, the priests blocked them, assisted by the far right. The situation was at a deadlock.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called upon progressive organizations across the state to start mobilizing the citizens toward the building of a Women’s Wall (Vanitha Mathil) on Jan. 1. The energy in the state was electric. Women gathered at hundreds of mass meetings across the state. They recognized immediately that this was not a fight only to enter a temple, but this was a fight principally for women’s emancipation, for the right of women, as Vijayan had said, “to lead a life of confidence.”

The public meetings in November and December galvanized the opposition to the far right, arguing that women have every right to enter public spaces, including religious buildings. January began in anticipation. Women had been organized by districts and knew where to go. Women of all ages and backgrounds, from schoolteachers to members of the fishing community, began to line up around 3 p.m. After taking an oath, they marched through their towns and cities. They exuded joy and confidence, a freedom that should warm the hearts of sensitive people.

Strikingly, the media outside India paid little attention to this global, historical event. Press coverage in the United States was nearly absent. Internationalism in our time is such a façade, with so little care to amplify the bravery of people around the world. When the Women’s March took place in Washington, D.C., newspapers in Kerala reported it in detail. The favor was not returned. Silence was the answer.

Two days after the Women’s Wall, the right-wing in Kerala went on a rampage. Their members attacked the leaders on the left and threw bombs at government buildings. Over 700 people — mostly men on the far right — were arrested that day.

Walking down a main shopping street in Thiruvanthapuram, I see visible signs of the far-right’s attack. On one side of the street are posters and signs of left organizations torn and broken during the day of rampage by the far right. On the other side of the street, far-right supporters sit on a hunger strike.

Even liberals have taken the side of the far right. One liberal politician said that while he favored women’s rights, he also favored the temple’s rights. But the temple has no rights, nor does tradition. As Gandhi wrote almost a hundred years ago, “If I can’t swim in tradition, I’ll sink in it.” Neither the temple nor tradition trumps the rights of women to live with confidence. If a tradition is discriminatory, it deserves to be set aside.

There are no half measures in this debate in Kerala. The mood is that one must not walk away from one’s principles.

5.5 million women in Kerala — one in three women in the state — took to the streets to champion the emancipation of women. What brought them to join the Women’s Wall was that the Left Democratic Front government took a clear position, a principled position: that menstruation should not be used as a penalty against women’s full participation in society. Clarity defines the struggle. It is a lesson worth learning around the world.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Lessons From Rojava

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:48

This holiday season was unusually kind to the anti-imperialists among us or at least it could have been. Trump shocked the world the week before Christmas by actually putting America first for a change and calling for the immediate withdrawal of the some 2000 troops still illegally occupying North Eastern Syria. Regardless of his motives, which I’m sure had very little to do with anything vaguely resembling the Christmas spirit, it’s hard to deny that this executive decision would have been a decisive win for peace.

Hard but not impossible. The doves of the progressive left have enthusiastically jumped through their own pinched assholes to stomp on McGovern’s grave with talking points straight out of Karl Rove’s playbook. Sadly, their onslaught of non-stop pro-war agit-prop, aided and abetted by the double-speak of Mad Man Bolton and the other rabid war junkies of Trump’s own administration, may have worked. The perpetually spineless Trump has moved the goal post for the pull-out from 30 days to 90 days to 3 months to ‘maybe later, we’ll see…’

Regardless, the rift within the Pentagon is likely irreversible and the chaos its caused can only be interpreted as the official failure of America’s 6 year imperial project for the region. Being the peace-loving bomb-thrower that I am, the one part of this splendid fiasco that feels truly tragic to me is the increasingly likely implosion of the Rojava Revolution.

Amid the apocalyptic hellscape of Uncle Sam’s latest jihad jamboree, one tiny light burned bright enough to singe the dim. While the rest of Syria collapsed in panic over the crumbling of the Baathist state, the nation’s long maligned Kurdish community embraced their new found statelessness with open arms and created a successful anarchist society among the wreckage. Guided by the philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Nelson Mandela of the Kurdish independence movement, the people of the Syrian region of Rojava busied themselves establishing a multi-ethnic, non-sectarian, and gender equal confederation of fully autonomous collectives, councils, guilds, and syndicates. All while defending themselves from the genocidal onslaught of the Islamic State.

This display of ferocious courage stoked a fire in the hearts of many disenchanted anarchists across the globe, much the way Catalonia did during the Spanish Civil War. I include myself among these wide-eyed renegade dreamers. During one of the darkest times of my life, the Rojava Revolution inspired me to keep up the good fight. The sad fact that the good name of this revolution became tainted by America’s illegal troop presence in Rojava didn’t make the YPG’s stand any less heroic, though it did cast a black cloud over it for those of us who are familiar with America’s long tradition of leaving these impoverished mountain folk holding the bag.

Indeed, Trump’s triumphant Christmas peace declaration came just a week after the Donald spoke with Turkey’s revanchist sultan, Recep Erdogan, who subsequently announced his intention to invade the region with America’s consent. It appears that Trump may have simply been attempting to outsource the war to Turkey who has long seen the entire nation of Syria as lost territory held by Shia savages. With Rojava out of the picture, what would be left to stop these neo-Ottomans from reinvesting in what’s left of their former friends in ISIS? Perhaps this is why Assad has readily offered his Kurdish frenemies back-up on the border. If Russia steps in as well while Trump dicks around with a swamp-friendly exit date, this could prevent Erdogan from creating another Yemen-style proxy-genocide in Rojava. But it will also likely still spell out the tragic end for the Kurds dreams of a truly autonomous and stateless society.

So what do we take away from this tragedy so that the brave actions of the fallen YPG not be taken in vain and so that future stateless liberation movements can emulate their triumphs while avoiding the pitfalls that prevented their permanence? I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I do see a few clears lessons worth learning in no particular order.

1. Never Trust an Imperialist  You would think that the Kurds would have learned this one by now, after getting railed by Kissinger in the 70’s and HW in the 90’s. Some habits die hard, I suppose. As alluring as the uranium tipped largess of the world’s only super-power may appear, it always comes at a steep price. America is an empire on the ropes. The last thing they want to do is empower a movement that could render their influence in the region irrelevant. Why do you think we skull fucked Somalia so hard under Clinton? Their booming Khat industry? No, they formed an alternative to the state in the wake of the Cold War that empowered Africa’s pre-colonial tribal roots much the way Rojava did and we didn’t want it to spread. In the Middle East, where no one has been left unmolested by American weaponry, endorsing the Rojava Revolution was the smartest way to damn it while encouraging Turkey to bring NATO into the clusterfuck. Think about it, America has created a disposable allie too toxic for it’s neighbors to touch. Machiavelli would be jealous of such artful treachery. But that’s what you get when you fuck around with empires.

2. Keep it in the Neighborhood  The second worst thing the US could do to the YPG was to turn them into a mercenary army and stretch them razor thin by sending them to fight ISIS in regions with little traditional Kurdish presence. The Kurds were riding high with US air support until they began dipping into the hinterlands. They would have been much better off solidifying their gains then doing the Yankees dirty work in Raqqa. And the Turks would have struggled to get popular support for yet another all out toss-up with the Kurds, something Erdogan originally ran on putting an end to, if the YPG would have stuck to their end of the Euphrates. Revolutionary 101 should be ‘let the other motherfucker throw the first punch then kick his fucking ass on the high ground’. In other words, fighting ISIS when they attack Kobani is fine but chasing them into the desert where they came from is just moronic. Initiatory violence is always stupid. Stay on the defense, think Globally and act locally.

3. Socialists and Nationalists Over Globalists and Neoliberals  Perhaps this is redundant considering lesson 1. but nations with an emphasis on soil and/or anti-colonialism will always make for more reliable allies than massive states with lofty global ambitions. Even bourgeois nationalists like Putin will almost always prize regional stability over all-out conquest. These certainly make for some uncomfortable bedfellows for anarchists, as do Third World socialists like the Syrian Baathists, but at least they have some kind of principles to be bargained with as well as more frugal budgets. When you’re talking to Russia and Syria, for better or worse, you’re talking to Russia and Syria. When you’re talking to the US, the EU, or NATO, you’re talking to the banks and, just ask anyone who’s ever been foreclosed on, there is no bargaining with the banks. You’re better off with the fucking buzzards. I hate the idea of Rojava going back to the Syrian Army and their Russian handlers but at least they’ll stop at the border. The US will never stop. They couldn’t if they wanted to. They’re hooked on capitalism and our only hope may be a Trumpian overdose. Lets just hope Pence forgot the Narcan.

4. Never Underestimate a Peoples Will to be Free  I spent over six years without leaving my house. The Kurds have spent over six centuries without a homeland. I should have hung myself years ago. The Kurds should have assimilated and melted into the Arab world forever ago. They’re still there and the centuries of oppression have only lead them to embrace a liberty that transcends the jerry-rigged borders of Sykes-Picot. As I’ve said, their fight is part of what inspired me to burn the noose. Justice will find the Kurds and their enemies alike. Erdogan can’t kill them all anymore than MBS can kill every Houthi or Nixon could kill every Vietcong. Those who underestimate the will of the oppressed will find themselves decorating the light posts of a future utopia. Rojava had a taste of that dream and that taste will never die on their tongues.

We can all learn from those who dare to die for their dreams, dearest motherfuckers. As long as we keep their spirits alive, those dreams will never die. Power to Rojava! Power to all the people! And death to the imperialist insect that preys upon them. They will never win. They have no soul to keep alive. They will grow to fear us.

Categories: News for progressives

Here is the Progressive Agenda

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:46

Clintonite corporatists still control the Democratic National Committee despite their long string of failure at the polls. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic Party voters—72%—are self-identified progressives.

44% of House primary candidates in 2018 self-IDed as progressive. If you’re after the Democratic nomination for president you have to be—or pretend to be—progressive. Even Hillary Clinton claimed to be “a progressive who gets things done.”

All the top likely contenders for 2020 claim to be progressive—but they would prefer that voters ignore their voting records and unsavory donors. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris have spent the past two years racing to the leftmost edge of respectable opinion,” reports New York magazine. “In recent weeks, they have also all reached out to Wall Street executives, in hopes of securing some funding for their prospective presidential campaign.” It does no good for your heart to be in the right place if your ass is owned by bankers.

“You don’t just get to say that you’re progressive,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told progressive donors recently.

Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, called the 2020 election a chance to “leverage our power.” She says it’s critical “that we have some very clear guidelines about what it means to be progressive.”

Here are those guidelines.

You can’t be a progressive unless you favor a big hike in the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren, the first pretty-much-declared candidate for 2020, wants $15 an hour. But she told a 2013 Senate hearing that it would be $22 if it had kept up with increases in worker productivity. The official inflation rate makes that $24 today. And according to the real inflation rate (the official number as it was calculated before the Labor Department downgraded the calculation in 1980 and 1990) at ShadowStats.com, $22 in 2013 comes to at least $35 today.

If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968 using the same methodology used to track inflation at the time, it would be closer to $80 per hour.

What should be the progressive demand for the minimum wage? Nothing less than $25 per hour.

(For the record, I see no reason why the minimum wage should be lower than the maximum wage. But we’re talking about progressivism here, not socialism or communism.)

Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign “free college became a litmus test for liberals,” notes The Atlantic. But a 2017 bill cosponsored by Sanders and Warren defines “college for all” rather narrowly. It only addresses public colleges and universities. It would “make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allow current student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.”

A quarter of American college students attend private schools. Considering that the average cost is $35,000 a year and some run as high as $60,000, even families earning more than $125,000 need help too.

The progressive stance on college should be three-pronged. First, the obscene $1.5 trillion student loan business should be abolished. Student loans should be replaced by grants but if loans exist at all they should be a zero-profit government program. Second, all outstanding loans should be forgiven or have their interest rates dropped to a zero-profit basis. Third, the government should rein in out-of-control public and private college tuition and fees—which have gone up eight times faster than wages—by tying them to the official federal cost of living index.

Progressives agree that Obamacare didn’t go far enough. With 70% of voters in favor, even centrist Democrats like Kamala Harris have climbed aboard Bernie Sanders’ call for “Medicare for all” bandwagon. Warren, Gillibrand and Booker now say they want single-payer public healthcare. Being progressive, however, means demanding more than what mainstream politicians deem practical—it’s about pushing hard for more ways to improve people’s lives.

In 2020 progressives should be calling for nothing less than universal healthcare. If it’s good enough for the rest of the developed world and many developing countries like Botswana and Bhutan, why not us?

I cosigned a letter to Sanders calling on the Vermont senator to use his platform as the country’s most prominent and popular progressive to talk more about foreign policy and to openly oppose militarism. Now it’s time to get specific.

Progressives should demand that U.S. troops come home from any country that did not attack the United States—i.e., all of them. They should put an end to the disgusting drone wars. The bloated nearly-$1 trillion Pentagon budget should be shredded; let’s see what they can do with $100 billion (which would still be far more than Russia’s defense spending).

From banks that charge usurious credit card interest rates to employers who fire full-time employees and hire them back as “independent contractors,” there are plenty of other targets for progressives to go after.

Progressives: you are no longer the ugly stepdaughter of the Democratic Party. You own the joint.
Now’s the time to demand what’s yours, what you want and what’s right.

Categories: News for progressives

A Green Future is One Without War

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:45

Donald Trump and his base — the leftover scraps of Jim Crow, the broken shards of racist hatred that once were the American mainstream and made the country seem “great” to those who weren’t its victims — have, it appears, a crucial role to play in our future.

President Trump is the increasingly naked truth. He’s what we have wound up with: a raw, uncensored scapegoating and fear-mongering that’s too much for most of the American public. And thus the political center, the military-industrial-media consensus that has ruled the country for the past four and a half decades, pushing progressive values to the margins of American politics, is unraveling. Centrist compromise, which birthed the Trump presidency, can’t mask the truth anymore.

It’s time to evolve.

If we don’t, we’re stuck in the mire of racism, exploitation, empire and war. We’re stuck in the dead past, which has given us the current state of Planet Earth: a planet at war with itself in multiple ways. We’re stuck in a dead past and a dying future.

This is the context, I believe, in which we should evaluate the Green New Deal, which may well be the most brightly shining political ideal to emerge on the national horizon in my Boomer lifetime. Here’s how one of the Deal’s arch enemies, Justin Haskins of the Heartland Institute, described it recently in the Washington Examiner:

“Make no mistake about it: This is one of the most dangerous and extreme proposals offered in modern U.S. history. It’s the sort of thing you’d see in the Soviet Union, not the United States. If we don’t stop the Green New Deal, our economy may not survive. This isn’t a battle we can afford to lose.”

So it must be good! If nothing else, it’s a piece of potential legislation with real traction that transcends Democratic centrism and timidity — its instinct to cave to well-funded right-wing criticism and avoid upsetting the military-industrial applecart — that became de rigueur party behavior since the defeat of George McGovern in 1972.

But the GND needs to go further than it does. Since it’s already being pilloried as the most radical piece of legislation in modern history, it might as well open itself up to become just that: the cornerstone of a truly sustainable national and global future. The Deal should take on militarism and war as well as climate change and poverty; they are all linked. Our near-trillion-dollar military budget, and the endless and needless wars it funds — not to mention the ongoing development of our nuclear arsenal — can’t be quietly, politely ignored as we envision a sane tomorrow.

Right now, the draft legislation for the Green New Deal calls for ten years of intense national focus on such objectives as: establishing 100 percent of national power generation from renewable sources; decarbonizing U.S. industry, agriculture and transportation; the drawdown and capture of greenhouse gases; the building of an energy-efficient national grid; and, along with this, the recognition “that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone,”

This is no small plan! It’s a rallying cry and vision that virtually transcends political thinking as we know it, reflecting a near-complete dismissal of status quo politics and its obeisance to Big Money. It refuses to comprise with the forces of either Trump or the Koch brothers. It challenges America to be a democracy.

Let it also challenge the military-industrial complex. The organization Code Pink has taken the lead in calling for it to do so, suggesting, for instance, that the list of goals on the draft legislation should include this one: “a major transition away from the environmental destruction of war and war-preparations, including the closure of most of the U.S. military bases abroad and within the United States and the thorough cleanup of the land and water in those locations.”

Code Pink also suggests, regarding funding for the project, that “much of the 60 percent of discretionary spending now going into the environmentally destructive project of militarism can be moved to environmental protection.”

The point, as I see it, is to create a holistic vision for the future. We can’t just shrug that war is politically untouchable. Doing so — avoiding all serious discussion of militarism, both its costs and its consequences — leaves the global noose dangling.

The military-industrial PR machine spews noise about glory, honor and national defense, but mostly what keeps the system running in perpetuity is a complete lack of discussion about alternatives to violent self-defense. The need for a strong military presence — my God, the need for a new generation of nuclear weapons — is taken for granted by the mainstream media and much of the public, and must be challenged at the national level. The time to do so is now.

A number of years ago I wrote: “From the radioactive fallout spread by depleted uranium munitions to the destruction of the ‘compression-fragile’ desert floor, we are pursuing a geopolitical strategy with single-minded, and ultimately suicidal, indifference to the consequences of our actions. And nothing can stop us except our own awakened consciences.”

The Green New Deal resonates with awareness and awakened conscience, with transcendent vision and, hallelujah, youthful determination. It represents a yanking of the future away from the moneyed interests that think they own it. Let the future it begins to build be one of peace: with the planet and with ourselves.

Categories: News for progressives

The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:44

The fact is, the U.S. interventions in the Middle East since 9/11—-especially the illegal, immoral war on Iraq based on lies—has, as regional leaders predicted it would, generally “destabilized” the area, and nearby regions.

The ruination of the Baathist Iraqi state has by this point produced a Sadrist-led regime that must maintain a degree of friendship with the U.S. that ushered in its ascent to power but is closer to Iran and will, defying the U.S., maintain that relationship based in part on religious commonality. This is an awkward situation, in that a regime produced by U.S. imperialist aggression chooses to ally itself with a regime that the U.S. (by bipartisan consensus) wants to topple.

U.S. military aggression in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya has flooded Europe with refugees, provoking multiple political crises and producing gains for the anti-immigrant right. Europeans properly blame the refugee problem on the U.S. and its arrogant imperialist explosions.

Each invasion has produced spinoffs. Al-Zarqawi, driven from Afghanistan, relocated in Iraq, forming a new Al-Qaeda franchise (that became ISIL). The occupation of Iraq led directly to ISIL’s spread into Syria (and the U.S. military’s pursuit). One thing leads to another. The destruction of Libya spread chaos into Niger and Mali and gains for local al-Qaeda and ISIL forces.

Meanwhile U.S. pressure on Middle East allies to embrace (at least show-window) “democracy”—really a neocon afterthought to lend some bogus moral content to the effort to control the region, to justify the war-based-on-lies—led to
electoral victories by Hamas in Palestine (2006), Hizbollah in Lebanon (2018), and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (2012). These were followed by U.S. efforts to topple the (annoyingly victorious) parties in those democratic exercises (and of course further instability).

U.S. (rhetorical) allegiance to democratic principles may have encouraged the mass rebellions of the “Arab Spring” (2011), during which the Obama administration gave erstwhile allies (like Ali Saleh in Yemen and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt) their marching orders, and (with NATO) destroyed the Libyan state facilitating the grotesque murder of (recent friend) Moammar Gadhafy. And U.S. support for Saudi Arabia—possibly the world’s very worst violator of human rights, although the U.S. corporate press treats it with kid gloves—allowed for the crushing of the Bahraini Shiite mass protests by Saudi-led Sunni forces, and the ongoing Saudi destruction of Yemen.

The U.S. has done absolutely no good in the so-called “Greater Middle East” since its imbecilic leadership in 2001 proclaimed a vague “War on Terror” aimed mainly at Islamist forces seen as terrorists—but open-ended enough to include North Korea (in the stupidly conceptualized “Axis of Evil”), Filipino Maoists, or units of the Iranian military. (By the way, note that the author of that stupid term, Bush speechwriter—now a respected CNN “political news analyst”—-David Frum, is a Canadian interfering in the U.S. political process. But nobody cares. Imagine if he were Russian.)

Repeat: absolutely no good. No more good than the Nazis did when they launched their comparable immoral, unjustifiable imperialist invasions. (We should never thank the purveyors of mass murder for their “service” as is the norm, indeed required etiquette on corporate cable news.) All the war on terror and its spin-offs has produced is human misery.

The “War on Terror” label was dropped under Obama, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest pronouncements in Cairo indicate that the U.S. retains its drive to remake the Middle East

destroy “radical Islamism” in the Middle East. He even warned the Lebanese people about voting for Hizbollah, which has many members in parliament and holds posts in the Lebanese cabinet, lest they raise the U.S.’s wrath. Quite likely his crude efforts to meddle in foreign elections will backfire.

And of course in Pompeo’s list of terrorists to destroy is the Iranian leadership, and the Islamic Republic as currently structured. This puts the U.S. in conflict with Europe and the world in general, which wants to have normal relations with Iran and mutually beneficial trade.

Turkey, a close U.S. ally and NATO member—indeed the NATO member with the second largest army within the alliance—is one of these countries wanting normal relations with Iran. The two countries have differences, including in Syria, but are working (with Russia) to reduce those differences through the “Astana Process.” And now Turkey’s differences with its old ally Washington are strained as never before.

The problem is the Kurds and prospect of an independent Kurdish nation. This was the Turkish concern (that is, the concern of the Turkish ruling class) all along. The current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, supported the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 (while the Turkish parliament failed to support it)—but only if it allowed for the deployment of Turkish forces in northern Iraq to suppress any prospect of Kurdish independence (that might encourage Turkish Kurds in their drive to acquire independence). He feared that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would, if not coupled with the suppression of any Kurdish independence hopes, threaten Turkey.

The U.S. State Department, to say nothing of the political class in general, was clueless about the distinction between Kurds and Arabs, as it was of the distinction between Shiites and Sunnis, or Turks and Iranians. Now the inevitable has happened. The U.S. in an effort to “destroy” ISIL (Obama’s language) made common cause with the only people in Syria willing to join with its (discredited, hated, exposed, imperialist) self: the Kurdish Peshmergas. It has used them to whittle down the ISIL forces, whose existence is a painful embarrassment to the U.S. since its actions obviously produced it in the first place. But it has wanted to use them ultimately to bring down the Assad government and replace it with a pro-U.S., Israel-friendly puppet regime.

Trump (for whatever reasons, while probably involve no moral reflection) seems to have given up on the latter ambition. He sounds content to accept an independent Syria enjoying cordial ties to Russia, Iran, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, China, etc. (The U.S. always depicts states targeted for regime change as “isolated” from what they call “the international community” which somehow routinely excludes major countries not subject to U.S. hegemony.)

Still, there’s that problem of the 2000 Special Forces there in Syria, operating alongside Kurds that Turkey sees as “terrorists.” And since Trump wants to withdraw them, Erdogan wants to move in to eradicate what he sees as a national security threat. Which is to say: the U.S. imperialist orgy in the Greater Middle East has finally reached the crisis-point in which its imperialist interests conflict with those of a close ally, and there way be war between its NATO pal and its Syrian Kurdish clients.

This is very, very embarrassing. And since the president is an unstable, unpredictable fool—alternately stubborn and malleable—his national security advisor John Bolton (the very worst man imaginable in the current situation—a lying, amoral, opportunistic, crazed thug) has to go off to Israel to promise Netayahu that Trump, having announced a Syrian withdrawal, won’t in fact withdraw troops unless Turkey and Israel agree on the specifics.

Meanwhile the Kurds themselves, with long experience of U.S. betrayal, have reached out to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which is willing to negotiate with the peshmerga for an autonomous Rojava region. It is possible that the horrific Syrian tragedy will end with the re-consolidation of the secular state, including that plan for autonomy, with security assurances to Turkey and support from Russia and Iran, leaving the U.S. aside (as an unhelpful, indeed toxic, partner).

It’s also possible that the Turkish leader, who has had an on-again, off-again friendship with the mad president and who pointedly snubbed Bolton during his visit the other day, will break with Washington, realign with Russia (from whom he has already agreed to purchase billions in armaments, to the consternation of NATO leaders) and make it finally clear to the world that the criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq produces some very heavy karma.

In attempting to reconfigure and dominate the Middle East, the neocon-led George W. Bush administration triggered a process that now leads—perhaps inevitably—to division within the U.S.’s own camp. The obvious, embarrassing division between idiot Bolton’s iterations in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and his boss’s idle blabbering about pulling out of Syria, results from the illogic of the whole U.S. enterprise in the first place.

You cannot simply announce that you—as the world’s “exceptional” nation—are entitled to impose your (myth of) “democracy” (= smiling submission to capitalist-imperialist domination) on all other nations, in which effort your nurtured allies since the 1940s are supposed to collude.

But no, dumb-ass! You cannot reconcile the differences between Turkey and the Kurds, or any of the other fundamental conflicts in the Middle East, on the basis of your warped consciousness of “national interests” and contemptuous ignorance of history. You cannot prevent the vicious assault of the Bush-Cheney regime on the Middle East—-continued by the cowardly continuance of Bush-Cheney policy by Barack Obama and his bloodthirsty secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, throughout the region culminating in the absolute wreckage of North Africa’s most advanced, affluent state—from leading the chickens home to roost.

You cannot prevent your unforgivable, savage interventions in the Middle East from shattering your own long-cherished alliances with client states whose interests actually now oppose your own. Welcome to imperial decline, you dumb-ass Bolton, you moronic sociopath Donald Trump. Chickens are jumping up and down in the chicken-coop, agitated, reorienting. The sky is falling, this time, really.

Good!

Categories: News for progressives

LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:36

The chair of UTLA at our high school today wrote:

We are making history as this strike looms. Every school district in the country is watching what we are doing, and we are getting support from all over the country. We are not just fighting for us but for the future students of all school districts. That is why we must not fail–we must keep our lines strong.

Why Is LAUSD Provoking a Strike?

While some who haven’t followed what has been going on for the past 21 months may tend to fall for LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s deceptions, there is no doubt that this strike is being provoked by LAUSD. The only question is “Why?” I’ve wondered for a while why they’re doing this, and it seems like it comes down to one of (or a combination of) several possibilities:

Possibility #1: LAUSD is Disorganized

It is possible that they’re simply too disorganized to be capable of making UTLA a real contract offer. To be fair to LAUSD, they have had an unstable superintendent situation, some of which wasn’t their fault.

We started negotiations for this contract back in April of 2017 when Michelle King was the superintendent. She went on medical leave due to cancer late that summer, and Vivian Ekchian became acting superintendent. King stepped down in January. The Los Angeles Times said “Because senior officials have praised her performance, Ekchian is likely to be a candidate for the permanent job.”

However, the billionaire-funded charter lobby poured money into some of the school board elections, and we ended up with  pro-charter majority, who then appointed Beutner, who took office in May. Ref Rodriguez, once the leader of the charter school-backed majority that took over the board, resigned and pled guilty to a felony. It’s been a chaotic situation Then again, by now they’ve had plenty of time to get organized.

Possibility #2: LAUSD Leadership is Incompetent

Beutner has no education experience. Some people who work at Beaudry have told me there’s a lot of conflict between the existing staff and the people Beutner brought in, and much of the existing staff doesn’t think Beutner knows what he’s doing. I’ve also been told that many at Beaudry think this strike is being provoked, and hope that we stick to our guns and win.

Possibility #3: Beutner Believes He Can Deliver UTLA a Crushing Blow so He Can Move Forward with Plans to Break Up, Privatize & Charterize LAUSD

Perhaps Beutner believes that with the power of the charter lobby behind him and the PR hatchet job the charters have done on public schools, teacher unions, and public school teachers, we’re ripe to be taken down.

We’re the only thing standing between him and his goal of dividing LAUSD into charter schools which choose the students they want and get rid of the ones they don’t, and rump traditional schools with large class sizes and scant resources. Then when the charters score better on tests than the traditional schools, that will be evidence for the naïve and uninformed that charters are better. Some might say “but that’s what is already happening!” Yes, it is, and Beutner wants to extend it.

Possibility #4: LAUSD Is Willing to Make a Real Offer, but They First Want to See If We’ll Fight

Perhaps they’re prepared to make us a decent offer but they want to see if we can pull off a strike with solid picket lines before they make concessions. Perhaps they question the commitment of the UTLA rank & file, or the ability of the current UTLA leadership to do the ground-level work of organizing a solid strike. Perhaps LAUSD thinks we’ll fold. Good luck with that.

Possibility #5: LAUSD Thinks Teachers Only Care about Money, Not Our Students

Beutner has negotiated this way, in that the only thing of significance he’s offered UTLA is a 6% “raise” over two years (really just a Cost of Living Adjustment) in 21 months of negotiations. He seems mulishly committed to pretending that most of the other contract issues don’t exist.

Possibility #6: Beutner Wants Us to Strike Because He Wants to Rise Politically

One of my colleagues raises a sixth possibility—Beutner’s frustrated political career. He writes:

Beutner tried unsuccessfully to become mayor of Los Angeles he lost because he was an unknown. If he makes us strike, his name and face gets in the media. He doesn’t need the money, and the longer the strike goes, the better for him. When it ends he can then go to his privatizer friends and say “Look what I did–I took on the mighty UTLA and almost won! Give me money, I’ll go into politics and make sure we win next time.”

Is Austin Beutner What UTLA Says He Is?

When Beutner first came into office in May I was a little put off by UTLA’s negative attitude towards him. I even wrote a column in a Los Angeles newspaper respectfully offering him my friendly advice on how to do his new job. He emailed me thanking for my suggestions, though I doubt he read it. But I must admit that in his eight months in office he’s shown himself to be every bit the privatizer/charterizer/unionbuster that UTLA always said he was. I’d still like for us to be wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?

Mon, 2019-01-14 15:34

As the United Kingdom marches, shuffles, even stumbles towards the exit door of the European Union a small Northern Ireland party commands an increasing share of media attention. The name Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become associated with a new lexicon of the exiting process; hard border, backstop, supply and demand.

But what is the DUP?

As Ireland’s long struggle to be independent from its neighbour makes its own history there has been an accompanying counter move to maintain a connection, now called the union, with the political structure that today the world knows as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Like the tip of an iceberg drifting towards warmer, southern climes, unionism occasionally exhibits signs of meltdown. Although, at periods throughout is history it encounters colder currents which help consolidate it in a solid state.

Towards the end of the 19th century the struggle for Irish independence took on a parliamentary character. This movement rose under the banner of Irish Home Rule. For some it was seen as a dangerous threat to the integrity of Britain and its empire. The island of Ireland was to have its own parliament, still with the British crown at its head. Home Rule was perceived by some as a clever mechanism to maintain that imperial integrity, thereby maintaining the integrity of British capital.

Others saw Home Rule as a stepping stone to an independent Irish republic. The republics of the USA and France had gained a special place in the psyche of many Irish men and women. From this witches cauldron of confusion, conflict and God forbid, consensus, was distilled the perfect antidote, Unionism.

At the heart of this concoction was sectarianism. For centuries Ireland had been blighted by sectarianism. It’s a word much used at every level, twixt street and state legislature. Yet there is no universally accepted definition. Why should there be? Definitions have a tendency to be definitive. Stark clarity can be scary.

One thing which is clear is that sectarianism refers to attitudes and behavior that are antagonistic and which involves religious and national identities. That is, particularly between the catholic population, generally associated with Irish nationalism and the protectants who are generally associated with Brutishness. In the 21st century Ireland is becoming home for new ethnic minority communities, so sectarianism faces new threats and challenges. Not a welcoming environment for new comers.

There had been three Home Rule bills put before the British parliament at Westminster. Parliamentary procedure and strife among the political parties of the British Establishment saw the demise of two of them and the eminent threat of the World War 1 saw the end of the third.

In 1921 the partition of Ireland into a largely catholic southern state and the largely protestant north came into effect. Unionism became formally integrated into the British state and entered its golden era. The ground for this had already been prepared.

Lord Randolph Churchill, a leading Conservative and father of Winston Churchill, in a successful attempt to thwart Home Rule decided to “play the orange card.” This meant inciting militant Protestants and unionists members of the Orange Order, to rebel against the British authorities to prevent Irish Home Rule becoming a reality.

In this way the unionists golden era became more of an age of orange oligarchy. For the best part of 50 years an Ulster Unionist party ruled over six northeastern Irish counties, sometimes known as Ulster, from its parliamentary seat on Stormont hill on the outskirts of Belfast.

Trust between the Ulster Unionist and British Conservatives was always on shaky ground. After all, Churchill writing to another British conservative declared, “these foul Ulster Tories have always ruined our party,”

The shaky ground did in fact give way in 1971 with the formation of the new Democratic Unionist Party. Treated as something of a joke at the time this rebrand of unionism was more strident in its British identity, more evangelical in its Protestantism, more vocal it its opposition in anything connected to Rome.

It was also a damned sight more effective in energizing its electoral base. Its antipathy toward Rome went beyond the Catholic Church, even extending to the 1957 European Treaty of Rome, bed plate of the European Union.

For the DUP the ground is still shaking. The UK might have a one way ticket out of the EU. But the last time the DUP sat in government at Stormont, which, incidentally was two years ago this month, it had to do so as partners with the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein. The strained entente cordiale turned rancid and the Northern Ireland Assembly ceased to assemble.

These two forms of nationalism (British and Irish) don’t really get along together. Sinn Fein is a nationalist, all-Ireland party which has come out in support of gay rights, a woman’s right to control her own fertility, including legal access to pregnancy termination. And it wants to remain in the EU. The DUP opposes the right to abortion and wants to leave the EU.

Since it came to a “supply and demand” agreement– something few of us had ever heard of before – with fellow conservatives’ at Westminster the DUP has become a crutch propping up a weak Tory government. For this Northern Ireland’s Stormont administration gets 1 billion British pounds sterling (almost 1.3 billion US$)

That came out of the petty cash box. The real problem lies with the international border between the two Irelands. At present it’s an open border, with more or less hassle free crossing points, as exists between all EU states.

A so called “hard border” between the two Irelands would mean customs posts, searches and additional bureaucracy. Nobody seems to want that. It could also mean bombs. Customs posts have been a traditional target for those Irish republican who are intent on armed struggle. So a soft border has been proposed, less bureaucratic, less bomb enticing.

To avoid such nastiness “backstop” has attained top media attention. So what is the backstop? It seems to be even more indefinable than sectarianism.

But it is likely to be a legal agreement. Except that there is no agreement. As some in Ireland say, “may the saints preserve us”, so the backstop would preserve peace on the troubled island and the less- than- marvelous economies of both jurisdictions.

The exit door is an ever diminishing time span away but it is not yet clearly in focus. The DUP, described by enlightened commentators as socially conservative and economically liberal – remember the billion quid pay off –is having none of the proposed backstop and border variants.

Perhaps the enlightened are being over generous in their commentary. The DUP stalwarts are more intent on holding onto whatever resources, material and spiritual, their grip on political office affords them.

Categories: News for progressives

GospelbeacH – California Fantasy

Sat, 2019-01-12 02:24

Categories: News for progressives

Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?

Fri, 2019-01-11 16:03

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Stop Repeating the Bosses’ Propaganda.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does History Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Categories: News for progressives

Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times

Fri, 2019-01-11 15:59

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hedges: “The Permanent Lie”

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

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

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

A Method to His Mendacious Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Goiten: “A Parallel Legal Regime”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feffer: A “Reichstag Moment”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giroux: “Neoliberal Fascism”

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

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

The Real Problem is the Corporate State

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?

Fri, 2019-01-11 15:59

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

Background to the Crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you describe the crash site?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please sum up what you think happened

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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

Fri, 2019-01-11 15:59

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall

Fri, 2019-01-11 15:58

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: News for progressives

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