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Updated: 3 hours 38 min ago

The Pompeo Smirk

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Trotsky, Bukharin and the Eco-Modernists

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Burning at the Stake Come Next?

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Deadly Perils of Traffic Stops in America

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, drivers beware.

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

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

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

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

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

Survival is key.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolton and the Road to the War He Wants

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

The Christchurch Pledge and a Regulated Internet

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

“We must

… end the backlog on testing rape kits,

… stop rapists from raping,

… end rape by police,

… and stop arresting people for consensual sex.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are on full public notice.

Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is demonstrably not the case.

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

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

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

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

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

A longer version of this commentary appeared at FAIR.org.

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

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anarchism & Reconciliation, Part II

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:46

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones and the Truth About Class (Spoiler Warning)

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:45

In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones the city of King’s Landing is sacked and razed by Daenarys Targaryen and her armies. Viewers were as stunned as Jon Snow as they watched the story’s supposed heroine rain destruction upon the Lannister soldiers and the innocent from above while her forces did so from the more modest vantage point of the city streets. Like a fever-dream version of Dresden’s infamous destruction during WW2, the Breaker of Chains used Drogon to fire-bomb the city not unlike a fleet of B-29’s. The shock of the city’s destruction and the supposed heel-turn from one of the show’s most beloved characters has left in its wake a substantial number of people who dislike the narrative arc of Season 8 and see it as either poor writing or a betrayal of character development and, of course, the emotional investment of nearly a decade. Daenerys’ actions, however, should point us to another conclusion: Game of Thrones is a brilliant study of the structural constraints and pressures in a particular type of class society but more generally about the limitations of politics in any class society.

Understanding that there are structural paths built into a socio-economic system for its class actors can be difficult when we view a show like Game of Thrones through the eyes of mostly high-born protagonists. We believe Cersei, Dany, Jon, Sansa and the parade of would-be kings could have chosen differently and “broken the wheel.” On an interpersonal level this is true; Stannis didn’t have to burn his daughter to death any more than Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton had to engage in elaborate schemes of torture. But when we talk about structural paths and limitations, we cannot mean those small personal choices. Yet this also means far more than examining the character’s backstory for hints that they have always been this way or that. Dany is not this way because she is Dany – she is Dany because of the class position, privileges, and imperatives of being a member of the aristocracy.

Embedded into aristocratic society are the class and social relations that produce deference and domination, hierarchy and control. Medieval feudalism was defined by social class determined by birth (except in rare instances where commoners like Ser Bronn were knighted), and the ruling class was made up of warriors who depended on their relationship with the uppermost nobility on the one hand, and their enfeoffed peasantry on the other. Absolute monarchy, however stable it was in certain territories and eras, was at heart a brutal system of control and obedience. Where modern wars under capitalism tend to be fought for control over markets, feudal conflicts were over land and rank. Earlier this season Ser Bronn of the Blackwater explained this to Jaime and Tyrion when he said all the ancestors of the highborn aristocrats had been brigands and cutthroats in order to conquer and acquire the land, power, and wealth required to be a member of the nobility. The show has even displayed a sense of this with social climbers like the Boltons and Freys; if they had been successful they would have been the first – brutal – generation that achieved enough success to produce a highborn line.

It is in this sense that we must view Dany’s actions at King’s Landing. We may find them appalling war crimes – which indeed they are – but they are not out of place in medieval warfare or more importantly the demands of a struggle for the crown. Sacked cities were usually victims of an orgy of pillaging and wanton destruction. Dany had been successful, first in Essos and then Westeros, when she was willing to engage in brutal acts of conquest. She quite literally lost when advisors counselled restraint, because restraint is only possible within the confines of an absolutist system when there is an unequal power relationship. To be an absolute monarch means destruction of all your enemies; hence why Dany told Tyrion her mercy was towards future generations. Her actions in Essos as the “Breaker of Chains” presage this: the populations of slaves she freed were still subjects of her absolute rule, and she burned alive Khals and rebellious aristocrats. The utter destruction of King’s Landing makes perfect sense to a foreign monarch who feels she must destroy the physical manifestation of her enemy’s strength and force the remaining lords and commoners to submit to her rule.

It is also why only Olenna Tyrell, of all her advisors, gave her sound advice: Be A Dragon. Tyrion and Varys staggered from bad plan to worse over the last two seasons because they refused to admit that Dany’s quest to topple the old order could only come via apocalyptic force and the painful substitution of one hierarchical rule for another. The ties that bound would be ruptured and forged anew. Advice from the Imp and the Eunuch was far more suited for a time when absolute monarchy was established, stable, and could afford to act with mercy and restraint. One need look no further than this to realize why Tyrion and Varys seemed so lost as advisors to Dany once she crossed the Narrow Sea to Westeros.

Whatever happens in the series finale, Game of Thrones has done a service to fantasy storytelling by presenting a world bound by the strictures of class and having its characters play by those rules. There will be no democracy in Westeros, because the preconditions for large-scale representative government require first the development of an economic system (capitalism) that erodes the power of the nobility and empowers a class of commoners known as capitalists to come into direct conflict with aristocrats like the Lannisters, Starks, and Targaryens. At best, if Dany is defeated, we might see a constitutional monarchy under Jon Snow (Aegon Targaryen) bound by a Westerosi Magna Charta. But I wouldn’t hold my breath; Game of Thrones, like its real-world feudal counterpart, is likely to end in fire and ice, blood and battle.

The Options Trump Puts on the Table

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:45

Is President Trump about to invade Venezuela? His advisors continue to say — in increasingly forceful terms that — “all options are on the table”, and that military intervention to restore Venezuela’s constitution” may be necessary.”

For his part, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a news program last Sunday commented that President Trump could launch a military attack against Venezuela without Congressional approval because “he has all the authority conferred upon him by Article II of the Constitution and certainly any action that we take in Venezuela will be legal”. The man who just boasted of his lies, tricks and thefts, is providing new evidence that back up his confession.

The truth is that the US president does not have the constitutional authority to start a war with Venezuela or anyother country that hasn’t attacked or credibly threatenedthe United States, without the approval of Congress. It’sas simple as that,” says Ron Paul, a former Republicancongressman for the State of Texas and presidential candidate in1988 for the now defunct Libertarian Party.

It is ironic that Pompeo and the rest of the neoconservatives ofthe Trump Administration, who don’t care about theConstitution of their own country, are willing to attackVenezuela “in order to restore its constitution.”

It is striking and hypocritical that while Washington wasparalyzed for two years by the disproved claims that the Russianshad meddled with the elections to elect Trump, Washingtondoesn’t even hesitate to support the actual revocation ofelections in another country!

But without the authority of Congress, any U.S. military actionagainst Venezuela would be illegal and probably an impeachablecrime. Of course, Democrats who talk about impeaching Trump wouldnever dream of getting rid of him for illegally starting a warbecause U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike love the illegalU.S. wars, says Ron Paul.

Unfortunately, Washington is so addicted to war that PresidentTrump would probably have little difficulty in obtainingcongressional authorization to invade Venezuela if he bothered toask.

Likewise, as with the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003,the corporate media are nothing more than uninterrupted warpropaganda.

According to Ron Paul, some Presidential hopefuls described asprogressives , like Rachel Maddow, a radio personality, TVpresenter, and progressive American commentator, are attackingthe Trump administration, not because of its reckless tendencyfor the use of weapons in Venezuela, but because it is notaggressive enough.

The real lesson is that even a “constitutional” waragainst Venezuela would be an unjust action. It would be a war ofaggression that Americans should be upset about and ashamed of.

But the mainstream media are spreading the same old lies in favorof war, while independent media are being attacked by many socialmedia campaigns that have partnered with U.S. government agenciesto decide what news is fake or illegal and which one is true.

The most recent motive for indignation shown by the dominantmedia has been over one of the most sensible things thatPresident Trump has done lately: last week he spent one hour onthe phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss, amongother things, the dangerous situation in Venezuela.

While President Trump’s neo-con advisors are deliberatelytrying to put him in a position where war is the only option, wecan only hope that President Putin may have been able to explainto him that Venezuela’s problems must be solved by theVenezuelans themselves.

Certainly, the United States, perhaps together with the Russians,could help facilitate discussions between the Venezuelangovernment and the opposition as an alternative to theneo-conservative path towards war, which would surely end likeall other wars in a total disaster.

U.S. mainstream media are furious because Trump dared to talk toPutin when Russia and the United States were increasingly atlogger-heads over the situation in Venezuela.

Democrats and neo-cons are pressing for a direct confrontation inwhich Russia may become involved. Republicans agree with both onthis.

Would they really prefer a thermo-nuclear war over Venezuela?asks veteran doctor and ultra-libertarian American politicianRon Paul.

A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.

 

The Pompeo/Bolton Tag Team

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:45

There was little pretense that when former UN Ambassador John Bolton became President Trump’s National Security Adviser and former Rep. Mike Pompeo moved into the Secretary of State position, that either would bring a professionally credible and respectable presence to  world diplomacy or foreign affairs.

It is fair to say that both have surpassed any of the bleak expectations and proven to be more extreme in their ideology, more personally amoral and malevolent than previously feared.  What we are seeing now is as if all constraints have been removed with free rein to fulfill their zio-neocon agendas specifically against Venezuela and Iran.

* While speaking to a student audience recently at Texas A&M University, Pompeo revealed his utter contempt for a democratic government based on the rule of law when he bragged about “lying, cheating and stealing” as CIA Director.  To an audience of undergraduates which clapped and laughed throughout, Pompeo offered

“What’s the cadet motto at West Point?  You will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do. I was the CIA Director.  We lied, we cheated, we stole. (laughing as if he had said something humorous) We had entire training courses.(Audience applause and cheers)  It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

First in his class at West Point and a graduate of Harvard Law School, Pompeo prides himself on having “come to an understanding of Jesus that fundamentally changed“ his life as a cadet and today claims to  be a “man of faith.”  It is not clear who Pompeo thinks he is kidding with the religious fervor schtick but for sure it is not any divine deity which will one day sit in Judgment on his character and integrity.  The Texas A&M exchange reveals an unscrupulous bully who knows no limit to his omnipotence and a willingness to condone war crimes on behalf of the disreputable Empire he serves.

*  Keynote speaker at AIPAC’s 2019 conference, Pompeo proved where his fidelity lies when he declared “Let me go on record: Anti-zionism is anti-semitism” which has become the new rallying cryfor the poor, beleaguered state of Israel.

* As the State Department is now defining the term ‘anti Zionism,’ Pompeo appointed Elan Carr as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism with the ultimate goal to intimidate and criminalize critics of Israel’s foreign policy objectives.

In describing his responsibilities, Carr’s stated priorities will be to “reduce the feelings of insecurity,’review ‘indoctrination of anti semitic textbooks” and “focus relentlessly on eradicating this false distinction between anti Zionism and anti-semitism.”  It takes living in a simulated reality to not grasp the distinction between criticism of Israel’s apartheid policy toward the Palestinians and its belligerent foreign policy in the Middle East and a genuine prejudice or discrimination based on one’s religious preference or ethnic differences.

At his press briefing, Carr was immediately in the weeds and lost total control of the narrative before being shut down by the State Department official spokesman.

As a one dimensional thinker,  Mr. Carr never described who or how anti-semitism will be identified.  Will the State Department issue a weekly list of anti-Semitic offenders and what will  be the penalty?  Will State provide a list of forbidden anti-semitic words? How will deliberate intent be determined?   If a non-jew utters words like apartheid, yenta, yarmulke or illegal settlements, will they be considered proof of anti-Semitic?   Will the Nazis still be permitted to march in Skokie?  Will the tech giants rewrite their algorithms to search for ‘banned’ words?

* On April 10th, Omar Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender and a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement was denied entry by the US Consulate before departing Ben Gurion Airport despite having valid travel documents and having visited the US previously.  Barghouti responded that

Supporters of Israeli apartheid in the US are desperately trying to deny US lawmakers, media, diverse audiences at universities, a bookstore and a synagogue, their right to listen, first-hand, to a Palestinian human rights advocate calling for ending US complicity in Israel’s crimes against our people.”

* In a 2016 report, the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiated an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan involving the torture of 61 prisoners committed by the US Army and the torture and rape of 27 prisoners committed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at CIAprison sites in Poland, Romania and Lithuania.

In response to the ICC inquiry in 2018, Bolton warned

“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

In March 2019, Pompeo repeated the ICC threats with no apology in a straight forward defense of torture and war criminals.

“Since 1998, the US has declined to join the ICC because of its broad unaccountable prosecutorial powers and the threat it poses to American national sovereignty.  We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation.   I’m announcing a policy of US visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel. These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis without allies consent. These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts.We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change course,”

After the Court responded that itwould continue its investigation with “war crimes and crimes against humanitywere, and continue to be, committed by foreign government forces in Afghanistan,”  Reference to ‘allied” personnel and Israeli involvement in US war crimes remains impenetrable.  True to his word, in early April Pompeo revoked the visa for Bensouda.

In a devastating setback for the ICC, its pre-trial chamber recently refused to approve the investigation from moving forward citing a lack of US cooperation.  Certainly the Pompeo – Bolton threat to criminally prosecute and personally sanction the Court’s judges or that the US would ‘use any means necessary ” had nothing to do with that decision.  Bensouda says she will appeal the chamber’s decision.

*  After the January meeting with North Korea ended in failure, NK’s Deputy Defense Minister, who took part in the meeting, revealed that while Trump had shown a willingness to lift some sanctions based on NK’s moratorium on missile tests, he was later overridden by Pompeo and Bolton who brought “an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust”to the table with their “gangster like behavior.”

As the zio-neocons continue to move on Venezuela and/or Iran as uncontrollable malevolent fiends, loose cannons with no concept of international law or the need for global harmony, men of no conscience and no morality, it is only a matter of time before cosmic law balances the scale.

Where Lyme Disease Came From and Why It Eludes Treatment

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:44

A new book called Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons by Kris Newby adds significantly to our understanding of Lyme disease, while oddly seeming to avoid mention of what we already knew.

Newby claims (in 2019) that if a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer had not made a confession in 2013, the secret that Lyme disease came from a biological weapons program would have died with him. Yet, in 2004 Michael Christopher Carroll published a book called Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Germ Laboratory. He appeared on several television shows to discuss the book, including on NBC’s Today Show, where the book was made a Today Show Book Club selection. Lab 257 hit the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list soon after its publication.

Newby’s book reaches the same conclusion as Carroll’s, namely that the most likely source of diseased ticks is Plum Island. Newby reaches this conclusion on page 224 after mentioning Plum Island only once in passing in a list of facilities on page 47 and otherwise avoiding it throughout the book. This is bizarre, because Newby’s book otherwise goes into great depth, and even chronicles extensive research efforts that lead largely to dead ends, and because there is information available about Plum Island, and because Carroll’s best-selling book seems to demand comment, supportive or dismissive or otherwise.

In fact, I think that, despite the avoidance of any discussion of Plum Island, Newby’s research complements Carroll’s quite well, strengthens the same general conclusion, and then adds significant new understanding. So, let’s look at what Carroll told us, and then at what Newby adds.

Less than 2 miles off the east end of Long Island sits Plum Island, where the U.S. government makes or at least made biological weapons, including weapons consisting of diseased insects that can be dropped from airplanes on a (presumably foreign) population. One such insect is the deer tick, pursued as a germ weapon by the Nazis, the Japanese, the Soviets, and the Americans.

Deer swim to Plum Island. Birds fly to Plum Island. The island lies in the middle of the Atlantic migration route for numerous species. “Ticks,” Carroll writes, “find baby chicks irresistible.”

In July of 1975 a new or very rare disease appeared in Old Lyme, Connecticut, just north of Plum Island. And what was on Plum Island? A germ warfare lab to which the U.S. government had brought former Nazi germ warfare scientists in the 1940s to work on the same evil work for a different employer. These included the head of the Nazi germ warfare program who had worked directly for Heinrich Himmler. On Plum Island was a germ warfare lab that frequently conducted its experiments out of doors. After all, it was on an island. What could go wrong? Documents record outdoor experiments with diseased ticks in the 1950s (when we know that the United States was using such weaponized life forms in North Korea). Even Plum Island’s indoors, where participants admit to experiments with ticks, was not sealed tight. And test animals mingled with wild deer, test birds with wild birds.

By the 1990s, the eastern end of Long Island had by far the greatest concentration of Lyme disease. If you drew a circle around the area of the world heavily impacted by Lyme disease, which happened to be in the Northeast United States, the center of that circle was Plum Island.

Plum Island experimented with the Lone Star tick, whose habitat at the time was confined to Texas. Yet it showed up in New York and Connecticut, infecting people with Lyme disease — and killing them. The Lone Star tick is now endemic in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

If Newby agrees or disagrees with any of the above, she does not inform us. But here’s what she adds to it.

The outbreak of unusual tick-borne disease around Long Island Sound actually started in 1968, and it involved three diseases: Lyme arthritis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and babesiosis. A U.S. bioweapons scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, credited in 1982 with discovering the cause of Lyme disease, may have put the diseases into ticks 30 years earlier. And his report on the cause of Lyme disease may have involved a significant omission that has made it harder to diagnose or cure. The public focus on only one of the three diseases has allowed a disaster that could have been contained to become widespread.

Newby documents in detail Burgdorfer’s work for the U.S. government giving diseases to ticks in large quantities to be used as weapons, as they have been in Cuba in 1962, for example. “He was growing microbes inside ticks, having the ticks feed on animals, and then harvesting the microbes from the animals that exhibited the level of illness the military had requested.”

Burgdorfer published a paper in 1952 about the intentional infecting of ticks. In 2013, filmmaker Tim Grey asked him, on camera, whether the pathogen he had identified in 1982 as the cause of Lyme disease was the same one or similar or a generational mutation of the one he’d written about in 1952. Burgdorfer replied in the affirmative.

Interviewed by Newby, Burgdorfer described his efforts to create an illness that would be difficult to test for — knowledge of which he might have shared earlier with beneficial results for those suffering.

Newby, who has herself suffered from Lyme disease, blames the profit interests of companies and the corruption of government for the poor handling of Lyme disease. But her writing suggests to me a possibility she doesn’t raise, namely that those who know where Lyme disease came from have avoided properly addressing it because of where it came from.

Newby assumes throughout the book that there has to have been a particular major incident near Long Island Sound, either an accident or an experiment on the public or an attack by a foreign nation. Burgdorfer reportedly claimed to another researcher that Russia stole U.S. bioweapons. Based on that and nothing else, Newby speculates that perhaps Russia attacked the United States with diseased ticks, coincidentally right in the location where the U.S. government experimented with diseased ticks.

“What this book brings to light,” Newby writes, “is that the U.S. military has conducted thousands of experiments exploring the use of ticks and tick-borne diseases as biological weapons, and in some cases, these agents escaped into the environment. The government needs to declassify the details of these open-air bioweapons tests so that we can begin to repair the damage these pathogens are inflicting on human and animals in the ecosystem.”

Another product of U.S. bio-weapons tax dollars at work, of course, was the anthrax mailed to politicians in 2001. While Newby speculates that perhaps someone was trying to demonstrate the danger for our own good, I don’t think we should forget that one purpose served — whether or not intended — by the “anthrax attacks” was a significant augmentation of the Iraq war lies. The attacks were falsely blamed on Iraq, and even if people have forgotten that, they fell for it long enough for it to matter. The one bit of truth in current public understanding of Lyme disease is that it has not been falsely blamed on some country the United States is eager to bomb. Let’s keep it that way!

Lowering Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:44

In 1901, when Dr. Alois Alzheimer started talking to his patient Mrs. Auguste Deter, a 50-year-old patient, he immediately realized that there was something wrong with her. Her responses to his questions were not only repetitive and wrong, but she quickly seemed to forget them. Sadly, she was aware of her helplessness, which caused her considerable distress.

Dr. Alzheimer decided to place her in an isolation room, but later she started showing clear symptoms of dementia: loss of memory, delusions, sleeping problems. She would even scream for hours in the middle of the night. He called her disease the “Disease of Forgetfulness.” We now know that Alzheimer’s is a progressive, degenerative disorder in which the cells in the brain become damaged, causing the symptoms described above.

In 1902, Dr. Alzheimer left the “Irrenschloss” (Castle of the Insane) as the institution was informally known and moved from Frankfurt to Munich. However, he made frequent calls to Frankfurt to learn the health status of his former patient. On April 9, 1906, he was told that Mrs. Auguste Deter had died. He requested that her medical records and brain be immediately sent to him.

When he examined her brain, he found in it senile plaques and tangles that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. In 1906, he described his findings to the South-West German Society of Alienists, among them the loss of brain mass and the degeneration of critical areas of the brain.

Although Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, certain measures related mainly to lifestyle can delay its onset in many patients. Delaying by a few years the onset of symptoms can greatly reduce the number of people suffering from this disease who may eventually benefit from newer treatments.

Alzheimer’s disease appears generally in people over 65. However, there is a variety called early-onset dementia (the one suffered by Mrs. Auguste Deter) that can occur in people between 30 and 65. Alzheimer’s, together with diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis, are complex diseases that can be caused by a variety of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

Although we cannot control all of them, we can control some risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Age and genetic makeup cannot be changed. However, there are other risk factors –mainly associated with our lifestyle- for Alzheimer’s that we can influence. By addressing those factors, about 35 percent of cases of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia could be delayed or prevented.

Among the actions we can take is to keep our cholesterol, blood sugar level and blood pressure under control, since it has been shown that when they are not between normal levels it increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Although these strategies have proven to be helpful for many people, they will not necessarily stave off Alzheimer’s, since they depend on each person’s individual genetic makeup and lifestyle.

A growing body of research has proven that changing long-standing lifestyle habits can significantly reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer’s or delay its onset. Swedish and Finnish researchers studied more than a thousand people whose ages were between 60 and 77, and found that those who changed their lifestyle were able to have their dementia diagnosis reduced by two years and also reduce the prevalence of the disease by 25 percent.

One of the most important strategies is to get physically and mentally active. Several studies have shown that physical activity is one of the most effective measures for Alzheimer’s protection. Also important are all the actions tending to exercise our brains. Learning new activities, languages, reading, doing puzzles are useful ways to stimulate our brain.

In a study with older adults, those who received as few as 10 sessions of mental stimulation significantly improved their cognitive functioning in daily activities, and the effects lasted even 10 years later. Closely associated with this activity is maintaining an active social life and network of friends. Several studies have shown that the more socially connected we are the better is our memory and our cognitive skills.

Also among the basic strategies to combat Alzheimer is having a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables, beans, whole grains, fish and olive oil, all elements present in the Mediterranean diet. In addition, we should eliminate smoking, drink moderate amounts of alcohol and, when possible, eat food without preservatives, dyes, antibiotics and hormones, many of which are particularly present in processed foods.

A healthy diet is the best way of having a healthy brain. We should also try to have a regular sleep schedule and eliminate stress in our lives, which can be done through the practice of meditation. Protecting hearing and treating hearing loss is also important since it allows a better social interaction. These measures will not necessarily prevent Alzheimer’s, but they will go a long way to delaying its pernicious effects.

Our Problems are Deeper than “Capitalism” (and “Socialism” Alone Can’t Solve Them)

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:43

Complaints about “capitalism” have become more common the last few years in the United States. This has been a welcome development. Anytime the collective perspective is widened, it’s beneficial to at least some degree. In a complementary way, calls for “socialism” have also become more frequent.

We can credit these trends to social conditions. First, as such conditions have worsened by several measures — such as those that track economic factors and health statistics — more people have been willing to question the status quo. As the system falters, the number of folks no longer willing to play along goes up.

Secondly, some credit is due to the activists, scholars, artists, etc., who have kept fringe ideas alive through the times that were leaner philosophically (though wealthier financially). Occasional eruptions of activity have provided necessary exercise for these ideas, such as the turn of the century Anti-Globalization movement, and Occupy.

However, I put “capitalism” and “socialism” in quotation marks for a reason. The main issues that have been raised — income inequality (including falling wages and rising executive compensation) and a disintegrating social safety net (like lack of access to affordable healthcare, housing and education) — are grievances with Neoliberalism,* and the principal solutions, especially as enumerated in the Green New Deal (the Democratic party version) — such as increased government action and spending to create jobs, redistribute wealth and provide essential services — would not be Socialism, per se, but rather a return to, and ramping up of, Keynesianism.

This is not about splitting hairs. This is about getting to the root of the matter.

FDR’s New Deal (and Johnson’s Great Society) were both Keynesian; that is, they followed the theories of economic philosopher John Maynard Keynes, who developed them in the 1930’s (good summary). Keynesianism was not at all Socialist, and in fact sought to preserve Capitalism by blunting its sharper edges. With Keynesianism the sword is left entirely intact, and remains in the grip of the ruling class. With actual Socialism, by contrast, the workers seize the sword from the ruling class and wield it themselves.

What is the nature of this sword? Ironically to some — not the least of whom would be many in the Pacifist movements — this sword is a kind of plowshare; both are murderous. The multiple, intertwined crises we are facing today — whether economic, social or environmental — all precede Capitalism by several to many millennia. Capitalism emerged in Europe in the 1500s and 1600s (with no small help from the colonialism and slavery that marked the euphemistically named “Age of Exploration”) and Socialist thought rose in the mid-1800’s, as the massive dislocations of the industrial revolution demanded a reasonable response.

Yes, the depredations of Capitalism (and “capitalism”) have been horrifying, and yes, Socialism (and even “socialism”) offer something marginally softer, or more “humane” in comparison, but we must look back further in history than these relatively recent philosophies and practices if we want to address underlying causes.

I am speaking here of what Jared Diamond called “the worst mistake in the history of the human race”: Agriculture, which burst onto the scene about 11,500 years ago.

Some people pin the wrong turn earlier, to the “taming of fire” (125,000 years ago at the latest) and I will not disagree with them here. However, the rate, quality and scale of change exploded with the Agricultural Revolution, and the wounds are still fresh. Socially, humans suffered the rise of Patriarchy with its brutal denigration of women (arguably manufacturing the first “class” division). Property, money and war all sprang from the tilling of fields, as well as a new philosophy of dominating nature. Soils were ruined by salinization from over-irrigation as long ago as 4,000 years in the Near East and ice cores reveal increased levels of atmospheric methane 5,000 years ago when widespread rice cultivation started in the big Chinese river valleys. As if all of this wasn’t enough, individual health declined as the new diets and more sedentary lifestyles led to decreased lifespans, shorter stature, weaker bones, dental problems and infectious disease (the last from living in close proximity to newly domesticated animals). (I explore all this at more length, and with copious references, in my book, “The Failure of Farming and the Necessity of Wildtending.”)

Obviously, mental/emotional/psychological issues arose from all this trauma, and our current culture’s notion of “normal” is a product of such imbalances. That is, what we’re used to, collectively, is drastic, chronic dis-ease, with physical and mental components that are far more deeply ingrained than mere economic, political, nationalistic or even religious elements could be.

On the topic of religion: yeah, sure, people kill each other over which god is real, but most share a concept of divinity that is agricultural in origin, namely, the idea that what is sacred exists outside the world, up in the sky or wherever (notwithstanding the occasional burning shrubbery), and not in the world, in all its forms, animate and inanimate. This was an important and tragic shift because when the world lost its holiness (and scoff at that concept all you want), it lost its livingness (not so easy to laugh off), a heresy that has brought us to the brink of extinction.

The way forward is on two parallel paths, one communal and one individual. First, as a species, we must step back, set down our tools (so many of which are weapons) and take a good, hard look at what we’ve done and where it’s going and how we should most sensibly proceed at this point (hint: in entirely different directions). Among other things, we must pitch our current notions of wealth and power and embrace entirely different values and relationships. We must abolish not only the coin of the realm, but the realm itself.

Secondly, as individuals, we must pursue entirely different attitudes and activities. We must throw out judgement and domination and instead immerse ourselves in empathy and giving, in all that we do, all day and every day.

The relationship between these two tracks — cultural transformation and the personal path — should be clear. They are inextricably linked, as are strands of DNA, and — like genetic instructions — they are creative forces, directing the assemblage and expression of the grand and the material from the infinitesimal and mysterious. There’s that old saying: “think globally, act locally;” I would say that what’s global must be understood to involve what’s fundamental (and seemingly — but not actually — unchangeable) and what’s local to include what’s between our ears (and which is also entirely mutable).

On the level of global organization: get rid of “capitalism” (or Capitalism) and you’ve still got problems up the yin-yang. Switching out private ownership for public does not make a difference all by itself. That is, a worker-owned endeavor can clearcut a forest for timber, blow up a mountain top for coal or drain a wetland to plant export crops. Pollution, extinctions, climate chaos will not be stopped merely by nationalizing resource extraction activities. The destructive activities must themselves stop. Unfortunately, ecological sanity is not demanded by Socialism (and certainly not by “socialism” or the Green New Deal).

(I must interrupt here to acknowledge those like writer and historian Paul Street, who calls himself an “eco-Marxist,” and is not at all blind to the grave environmental crises of our time. See his excellent, “The Not-So Golden Age: a Radical and Eco-Socialist Take on Post-WW II America and ‘the Anthropocene’” in Counterpunch, for more on the ill effects of both Keynesianism and Neoliberalism, and for his call for eco-Socialist solutions. I hope that viewpoints like his rapidly burgeon from being exceptions to the rule.)

In the meantime, I am not a Socialist myself, but if “seizing the means of production” is the necessary precursor to disassembling the means of production, then I will lend a hand

Should we smash Capitalism, and all its flavors including Neoliberalism and Keynesianism? Hell, yeah! But that’s only a start. Still standing would be Patriarchy and Human Supremacism, among other nasty institutions, which will inevitably march us to tragic ends under a flag of any color, whether red, white and blue or just red. Must we abandon their unholy parent, Agriculture, in order to live on this planet in true health? Ultimately, I expect that will be the case. But since our future will necessarily flow from this present, it will include much of what we have acquired, even as we learn to live without much of what we falsely believe is indispensable. And of course, the either/or outlook — dualism — is itself a product of the Agricultural mind, and so is not helpful. But Agriculture will have to take forms unrecognizable to today’s farmers if it is to shed its negative consequences, environmental, social, etc.

What is undeniable is that the current state of ecocidal affairs must end, and damn soon (like yesterday). Whatever new state emerges must be different radically (“in its roots”). In pursuing such big thinking, imagination will be an essential ally. Given the inertia of the current system and the intransigence of its present rulers, I believe we would be best served by handing off all important decision-making to the youth of the world immediately (no older than the Millennials). The adults have proven themselves unable to conceptualize, let alone make, the necessary changes.

That is, better than a Socialist revolution would be a full-on youth insurrection. Count me in as an enthusiastic supporter when that day comes.

America’s Roadless Rules are Not Protecting Public Wildlands From Development

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:43

Four percent of the nation’s forested public wildlands remain undeveloped today. These landscapes are either designated wilderness or lands that qualify for designation. Many lands not protected as wilderness are called roadless areas. There are approximately 60 million acres of unprotected roadless lands on our national forests. They provide crucial fish and wildlife habitat and support some of the richest biodiversity in our country. Roadless areas also offer a spectrum of recreation opportunities and drinking water for millions of Americans.

The federal government established the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule in response to the potential development of these roadless landscapes and vast public sentiment calling for their protection. Public outcry resulted in over 600 meetings throughout the country and over 1.5 million comments — the vast majority of which supported permanent protection.

Idaho then petitioned the Bush Administration for a separate rule, and the federal government obliged by developing one. This resulted in the 2008 Idaho Roadless Rule, which established a controversial five-theme approach to how America’s wildlands could be managed in Idaho. Four of five themes imposed fewer road building and logging restrictions than the national rule, resulting in 84% of the state’s roadless base (9 million acres) vulnerable to development. The Idaho Roadless Rule is a gift to the timber industry.

Friends of the Clearwater, a forest watch group in Moscow, Idaho, just published a well-researched report titled “The Roadless Report: Analyzing the Impacts of Two Roadless Rules on Forested Wildlands.” According to the agency’s own preliminary data, the U.s. Forest Service has authorized the development of 40,000-50,000 acres of roadless wildlands in Idaho and Montana combined. Surprisingly, more logging has occurred in Montana than Idaho, despite the narrow exceptions in the national rule that permits such development. The broad permissions in the Idaho rule could change that in the near future.

The report also details the Forest Service’s shift in its project-specific road building and logging analysis and the impacts to roadless area characteristics. In the 1990s, it frequently concluded that development degrades and eliminates roadless area characteristics. This mostly held true between 2001-2008 as well. Shortly thereafter, however, the agency began concluding that development improves roadless characteristics for site-specific projects.

Today, many national forests across the West are revising their forest plans. The agency is mandated to assess undeveloped wildlands and potentially recommend areas for wilderness during this process. During this process, however, some forests also dropped previously logged areas from their roadless inventory. This is a classic catch-22.

The late Mollie Beattie of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service once said, “What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.” Please tell your members of Congress that the Forest Service is being completely disingenuous and attempting to bulldoze and log America’s last wild places. We need congressional oversight of the agency. The Forest Service has either forgotten the public’s sentiment, or perhaps worse, doesn’t care. The public should be outraged.

Brett Haverstick is the director of education and outreach for Friends of the Clearwater.

 

Delegislating Wilderness

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:40

I maintain many designated areas in the United States no longer meet the definition of the 1964 Wilderness Act and must be delegislated if the impacts of industrial recreation are not controlled to maintain an untrammeled state. These controls can only the placed by the Federal government from the consent of the governed, a difficult task as both capitalism and anarchistic freedom, collectively known as ‘Natural Rights,’ colludes with the myth of environmental education’s role in self control.

A recent spate of Instagram is ruining the outdoors pieces have a central theme that geotagging locations increases visitation and natural/cultural resource impacts. The counter from the aggrieved ‘influencers’ who work alongside the Outdoor Industry Association (and who describe themselves as public lands advocates) has been that white men are gatekeeping, recreation is inherently a virtue and all we need is more infrastructure and education to accommodate more people, a failed refrain with no mention whatsoever of the Rights of Nature to exist unmolested.

The Wilderness Act was passed

“to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…” describing its primary characteristic, “as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…retaining its primeval character and influence….”

Saylan and Blumstein destroy the environmental education myth in The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix It), maintaining we have created environmentally parroting kids whose actions do not transcend to adulthood, climate change (and now, extinction) an indication of the failure. Like the recent IPCC extinction report, they maintain a central change in lifestyles and systems that includes a transformation of environmental education system will be required to address our issues of planetary survival for all species.

While oil, gas, mining, grazing, industrial agriculture, urbanization and consumption are the traditional threats indoctrinated into modern environmentalism, today an equal threat is the crush of the recreation industry whose money has filtered into the fabric of almost every environmental organization today, an industry that funds environmental education programs to indoctrinate that getting outdoors on public lands regardless the reason is inherently a virtue.

It does not matter the activity be it tearing it up with ATVs, hunting grizzly in the name of conservation or simply walking, humans have an individual and collective impact. Regardless of the sliding scale of educated Leave No Trace ethic, consider the carbon associated with purchasing products and driving to a hike, the bubble of ½ mile surrounding a loner in a Wilderness Area where wildlife flee; a constant stream of humanity means they leave for good. When the mass migrates diurnally and overnights 6+ months straight, the area is both human trammeled and has permanent habitation.

Natural rights in political thought means humans are above nature and have a property right to it, including any labor and fruits from using it. Central to capitalism, the fruits include resources extraction, factory farms, real estate and industrial recreation. It is indoctrinated early as earthly anarchistic freedom. And, it is used by Cliven Bundy theoconstitutionalists to justify their stance on public lands, Instagram influencers when they ask for more infrastructure as they geotag, and enviro.orgs when they accept Outdoor Alliance or Patagonia tainted grants. They all lay natural rights claims to public lands, truly a tragedy for the commons.

Even Ralph Nader in a recent piece speaking of children’s moral authority over our state of global environmental affairs describes Patagonia’s corporate, politically influential, taxpayer subsidized model (think impacts to nature and pit toilets) of natural rights in action as ‘sterling,’ forgetting the goal is to sell products whose in and outputs are harmful to the rights of nature, to our survival.

Aside from all remaining public lands, many wilderness areas are anecdotally trammeled as the feds do not systematically perform visitor counts investing instead in limited research, one using geotags to develop a model for them to extrapolate visitor counts, finding correlation.  Officially, the most used wilderness area in the U.S. is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which has had a permit (carrying capacity) system to maintain it’s ‘untrammeled’ state since its passage in 1978.

Anecdotally (perhaps many readers will agree), most wilderness areas in Colorado (home of the OIA), southern Utah’s red rock country, the Pacific Crest from California to Washington and back round to the crest of Montana are impacted beyond their legislative intent precisely because the BWCWA model was not copied for each and every one, current modern population, industry and technological pressures overwhelming the carrying capacity timid, Chamber of Commerce captured, federal land managers who are increasingly also pressured by formal State Recreation Offices (and resultant Democrat or Republican political delegations, as it does not matter) headed by former OIA staff as part of their official industry strategy.

Nor do you hear calls for carrying capacities and quotas from even those whose primary nonprofit missions are to to promote and maintain wilderness, from the corporate Wilderness Society that has founder Bob Marshall rolling in his grave to the grass roots Wilderness Watch who believes the Act is the “gold standard for the world,” instead all believing recreation a bridge to supporting public lands and Wilderness, dismissing the hoards.

However, we do hear calls for permitting systems from these Instagram influencers – in order to protect their experience from the hoards – and not a word about doing so for nature. No matter, as it is a start, and however unlikely maybe their modern influence will extend to the outdoor industry and wilderness will be given a political chance in snowball hell.

The crisis on public lands, exacerbated by Instagram, remains the same as it was in 1964, of “increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization.” Beyond untrammeled, the Wilderness Act intent was to protect the rights of nature from the natural rights of men and women of all race and creed, in the end “retaining its primeval character and influence.”

OIA statistics indicate 290 million people recreate in the American West and are 32 million cattle to share the land, including Bundy’s in Wilderness and 1.7 million oil and gas wells in the U.S. to support them all. It is both trammeled and increasingly less primeval and the only new infrastructure we legally need on public lands are gates placed to keep humans of all kind out during the 6th mass extinction and state of climate crisis. We need to transform what we believe benign, inherently good, the UN report on the extinction crisis imploring, “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

A first step, we must redefine natural rights to include the rights of nature.

Further, we must view wilderness Areas as a legal means to create and maintain preserves for carbon sequestration and species survival, only one of many other urgent steps for ‘saving’ the planet.

If wilderness areas (and all public lands) are today nothing more than corporate subsidies and individual anarchistic playgrounds no longer meeting their legislative intent, we must stop deluding ourselves and treat them like any other vandalized throughout history and delegislate.

To keep it real so that all humans may take virtuous Instagram advantage of the burgeoning business of industrial extinction tourism.

War’s Unanswered Questions

Fri, 2019-05-17 15:40

“Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the U.S. government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state.” — Arundhati Roy

You have the world’s largest military, you’re going to use it, right? Donald Trump and his team, led by National Insecurity Advisor John Bolton, are playing rogue right now with two countries not currently under U.S. control, Iran and Venezuela.

For those who already know that war is not only hell but utterly futile, the raw question hovering over these potential new exercises in mass murder transcends the obvious question: How can they be stopped? The larger question begins with the word “why” and then breaks into a thousand pieces.

Why is war the first — and seemingly the only — resort in so many national disagreements? Why is our trillion-dollar annual military budget sacrosanct? Why do we not learn from history that wars are based on lies? Why does the corporate media always hop aboard the “next” war (whatever it is) with such enthusiasm, with so little skepticism? Why does patriotism seem to require belief in an enemy? Why do we still have nuclear weapons? Why (as journalist Colman McCarthy once asked) are we violent but not illiterate?

Let’s take a look at bad, bad Iran. As CNN recently reported:

“National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a written statement Sunday that the U.S. is not seeking war with Iran, but was deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group as well as a bomber task force to the US Central Command region in the Middle East ‘to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.’”

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the issue with disconcerting and unintentional candor, told reporters, according to CNN, “What we’ve been trying to do is to get Iran to behave like a normal nation.”

How would a “normal nation” respond to endless threats and sanctions? Sooner or later it would hit back. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, speaking recently in New York, explained it thus: “The plot is to push Iran into taking action. And then use that.”

Use it, in other words, as the excuse to go to war.

And going to war is a political game, a decision made or not made by a few important individuals — Bolton, Pompeo, Trump — while the general public looks on either in support or outrage, but either way as spectators. This phenomenon provokes an enormous, unasked “why?” Why is war a top-down directive rather than a collective, public decision? But I guess the answer to that question is obvious: We couldn’t go to war that wasn’t pre-orchestrated by a small group of powerful individuals. All the public has to do is . . . pretty much, nothing.

Elham Pourtaher, an Iranian going to school in New York state, makes this plea for heightened awareness: “U.S. civil society needs to include more global perspectives on the country’s foreign policy. U.S. citizens must become more aware that their votes have grave consequences beyond their country’s borders. . . . (Their) elected administration’s foreign policy is a matter of life and death for the citizens of the other countries, especially in the Middle East.”

She also notes that “the war has already begun. U.S. sanctions are producing a level of suffering comparable to that of wartime. Sanctions in fact are a war waged by the United States against the Iranian working- and middle-classes. These groups struggle to make ends meet as unemployment dramatically increases even as the inflation rate skyrockets. The same people that the Trump administration is pretending to want to set free are the ones that are hit hardest by current U.S. policies in the Middle East.”

And, oh yeah, the ones gaining empowerment from the U.S. war games are “the most undemocratic factions of the Iranian state.” This is how it always works. Hostile aggression begets hostile aggression. A war on terror begets terror. Why do we not know this yet?

At the very least, the provocations, including the fact that Trump is considering sending troops to the area, have “created a scenario in which everyone is now very worried that some form of an accidental war at a minimum is very likely because you have too many U.S. forces and Iranian forces into too small of an area,” Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, said in a recent interview.

Human society is organized in such a way that war, intentional or accidental, is inevitable on a regular basis. And in the run-up to these wars, only the smallest questions are asked by the media, centering around: Is this one justified? Never, “Is this wise? Is this the best choice?” If something sufficiently provocative is done by the enemy — North Vietnam attacks a U.S. ship in the Tonkin Gulf, Iraq purchases aluminum tubes — then “we have no choice” but to retaliate on a massive scale.

The large questions only come later, such as this cry from a Syrian woman in the wake of allied air strikes on the city of Raqqa, quoted in an Amnesty International report:

“I saw my son die, burnt in the rubble in front of me. I’ve lost everyone who was dear to me. My four children, my husband, my mother, my sister, my whole family. Wasn’t the goal to free the civilians? They were supposed to save us, to save our children.”

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