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US Media Keep Saying Iran is ‘In Violation’ of a Nuclear Agreement the US Withdrew From

Tue, 2019-09-10 15:28

Yes, Iran is increasing the number of centrifuges it is using to refine nuclear fuel, and yes, it is refining that fuel to a higher percentage of U-235, the isotope that allows the uranium to begin a chain reaction necessary for both fueling a nuclear reactor and for creating an atomic bomb.

But in taking these steps, Iran is not, and indeed cannot be “in violation” of the agreement on its nuclear program that was negotiated by the Obama administration and the Iranian government in 2015, with the backing of 5 other nations (France, the UK, China, Russia and Germany).

That’s because the Trump administration, acting on its own, foolishly pulled out unilaterally from that agreement, and has been imposing sanctions on Iran, all of which has been in violation of the agreement, and which, by violating its terms, effectively terminates the agreement.

One can debate the merits of such an agreement, and whether the Trump administration was right or wrong in pulling out of it (I think it was either a deliberately provocative act intended to steer the country into what would be a disastrous war with Iran, or a stupid decision designed to pressure Iran into reaching a much more restrictive deal with the US), but  that doesn’t mean that the mainstream media should be falsely reporting that Iran is “violating” the terms of the agreement, as for example, NPR did in its Saturday “Morning Edition” program.

The New York Times, in its latest report on Iran’s decision to expand its refining of Uranium fuel, did marginally better. In a Saturday article headlined “Iran Breaks With More Limits in Nuclear Deal as It Pushes for European Aid,” the paper makes the point that while Iran, four months ago, had been “continuing to comply” with the limits on nuclear fuel refining imposed under the deal that the US had violated by reimposing sanctions lifted under that agreement, but that the Tehran was now saying it would “no longer abide by” an agreement that the US was violating.

But Politico, that same day, ran an AP article using a headline saying “Iran now using advanced centrifuges, violating nuclear deal.”   The article, no doubt picked up by dozens or more US news organizations, states in its lead paragraph, ” Iran has begun using arrays of advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in violation of its 2015 nuclear deal, a spokesman said Saturday, warning that Europe has little time left to offer new terms to save the accord.”

The Washington Post wasn’t any better, screaming that Iran had “breached” the agreement and was pursuing more intensive refining of uranium fuel. How can one breach an agreement that the other key party, the US, had already pronounced dead, pulling out and reimposing sanctions whose lifting had been part of the deal, despite outside inspectors and other nations party to the agreement insisting that Iran has been adhering to the agreement?

A poorly informed US reader of or listener to such slanted coverage could be forgiven for assuming that Iran was aggressively in breach of an agreement between itself and the US and the group of other UN Security Council permanent members as well as Germany, when in fact it is the US that has crashed out of the accord and reimposed stiff economic sanctions on Iran.

This kind of slanted coverage of a critical international story is worse than just poor journalism. It is rank propaganda in support of increased tension between Washington and Tehran — a tension that could easily erupt into a military conflict.

Speaking in terms of the people of the world, it is clearly in nobody’s interest for the US and Iran, a sovereign nation of 70 million, to be at war.  We know how poorly US wars have gone against much smaller and less developed nations like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have gone. And Iran is a country with a powerful historical sense of national pride and identity, not a stitched-together collection of feuding tribes and religions that is twice as big as any of those other countries — one that, as well, is one of the largest oil producers in the world.

What US journalists should be doing, instead of mindlessly backing an administration that appears to be stoking hostility and war against Iran and its people, is to be analyzing and questioning why the US is so unwilling to continue with a diplomatic agreement that, by all accounts, was working to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. They should also be asking why the US, which reportedly is today producing more oil and gas than it uses domestically, even cares about what nations in the Middle East are doing with their oil and gas.

And Americans should be asking why their country’s news media organizations are being so conspicuously pro-war in their reporting on the US-Iran dispute.  It is clearly the Trump administration that has been sabotaging the Obama administration’s successfully reached nuclear agreement with Iran.

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An Inspiring Climate Victory in Kenya

Tue, 2019-09-10 15:15

As the UN Climate Action Summit approaches on September 23, the official UN site lays out individual actions that people can take to reduce their carbon footprint. But around the world activists are acting collectively as well, with a coordinated global climate strike.

Local collective actions also can inspire hope, as demonstrated by Kenyan activists, who just won a key victory in a years-long campaign against a proposed coal plant on the Kenyan coast.

This summer, Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal issued a landmark ruling that halted the Amu Power Company’s plans to construct a 1050 MW coal plant in Lamu, a World Heritage Site on Kenya’s coast. This victory against the $2 billion project followed years of organizing by local and national environmental groups. It has been hailed by climate activists worldwide for advancing the global campaign to combat fossil fuels.

I interviewed Kenyan activists in June as part of an investigation of China-Kenya relations that began with my dissertation research a decade ago.

Even as China and the United States move away from coal as a dying technology, both continue to promote coal power in developing countries. They often find allies in local elites who are eager to act as partners, despite opposition from public opinion and from energy development experts.

The option for coal in Kenya is particularly questionable, since the country has been a pioneer in the use of renewable energy, including hydropower, geothermal, wind power, and off-grid solar.

Kenya’s Vision 2030, an economic development blueprint, served as the impetus for the Lamu coal plant. The plant was to be part of an infrastructure project called LAPSSET (Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport), which links three countries. Lamu is already to host an oil refinery, two oil pipelines, and a 32-berth port, on which construction has already begun.

The project is being developed by Amu Power Company, owned by Kenyan private investors. Foreign involvement includes Chinese banks and construction firms, while GE has a contract for so-called “clean-coal” technology. I found strong suspicion among Kenyans that the project is a vehicle for payoffs to special interests. Many believe that government officials stand to benefit at the expense of taxpayers, particularly given 25-year guarantees for purchase of energy by the state-owned power company even if the electricity is not needed.

The LAPSSET plan assumes the long-term viability of fossil fuel industries. But Kenya has been a leader in renewable energy, with geothermal and hydropower now the principal sources of electricity.

The country has the largest wind farm in Africa, and Kenya’s innovative M-Kopa system has brought home solar power to 750,000 households in East Africa. Renewable sources provide 72 percent of the energy consumed in Kenya, compared to only 10 percent in the United States and 13 percent in China. Kenyan and international experts agree that the energy consumption projections on which the government based its plans were overestimated, and that future needs could easily be met without coal.

Fortunately, Kenya has progressive environmental laws, a strong judiciary when it comes to environmental issues, and active oversight by the National Environment Tribunal and National Environmental Management Authority. The country also has a history of environmental activism. Local activists in Lamu began to mobilize soon after the government announced its plans for the coal plant, laying the groundwork for the current victory.

Lamu residents were initially open to the prospects of job creation, but local residents told me that they did not know one person from Lamu who had gained employment at the LAPSSET project site. When community members realized that they were not being consulted and that their land was being appropriated, they formed Save Lamu. In 2010, Save Lamu joined with Natural Justice, a South Africa–based organization with offices in Nairobi, to initiate consultations in 34 villages and with 40 organizations in Lamu County. This led to the Lamu County Bio-cultural community protocol, an alternative development vision for their community.

In late 2016, a coalition of organizations including Save Lamu, Natural Justice, 350.org, and Greenpeace Africa formed deCOALonize Kenya to challenge development of the coal plant and promote 100 percent renewable energy in Kenya. The group has used social and earned media, direct action, and letter writing to highlight the negative impacts of coal and organize key Kenyan constituencies to challenge regressive energy policies.

Activists, especially women, have also been mobilizing in Mui Basin, designated as the site for new coal mining, although initial supplies would be imported from South Africa. At a community meeting there, a group of 100 residents, mostly farmers, were asked, “What is development to you?” In response, participants stressed the close connections between the environment and sustainable livelihood as well as ancestral and spiritual connections to land.

One woman declared, “The government should help our community add value to the farming that already exists. We want to grow watermelons, not have coal mines.” A Lamu activist reported on a trip to coal mining areas in South Africa, where air pollution has led to severe illness among miners and their families. In the Mui Basin meeting, I sensed that even though people were primarily concerned with immediate threats to their health and livelihoods, their horizons had expanded beyond the local.

The judgment handed down by the National Environmental Tribunal sent a signal to the Kenyan government and to external actors, such as China, that there is power in coordinated and sustained community organizing. Afterward, the Chinese ambassador met with environmental activists and said that China would defer to Kenyan decisions. The U.S. ambassador, however — a Trump appointee — tweeted the day before the ruling that coal was “the cleanest, least costly option.”

Vested interests in Kenya, China, and the United States will likely try to revive the project. But activists plan to keep the momentum going by continuing to engage the Kenyan public, pressure elected officials, build international support, and raise legal challenges. They will be able to build on their victory, which is significant not only for Kenya but for Africa and beyond.

Anita Plummer is Assistant Professor of African Studies at Howard University. She is writing a book on how Chinese engagement has shifted the economic and political landscape in Kenya. For additional links and background, including an interview with Dr. Plummer, visit Africa Focus.

This first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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Nuclear Power Has No Role in Fighting the Climate Emergency

Tue, 2019-09-10 15:09

The Aug. 26 editorial “A plan that goes nowhere” in the Washington Post claimed that Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) proposed $16.3 trillion climate plan was made “unnecessarily expensive” by his exclusion of new nuclear power construction and his intention to deny existing nuclear plants license extensions.

According to research by the Environmental Working Group, five states have already spent $15 billion in subsidies to keep their economically failing nuclear plants open. In Ohio, a whopping $1.1 billion was lavished on just two old nuclear plants whose owners had planned to shutter them. That bill will be paid by consumers.

New nuclear construction has proved to be economically unpalatable to most companies and impossible without loan guarantees. In Georgia, $25 billion has already been poured into two new plants at Vogtle, still unfinished. In South Carolina, two reactors under construction were canceled, leaving customers with a $9 billion tab and not a single watt of electricity.

That’s already $49 billion, without considering constant safety maintenance, the unsolved management of radioactive waste and, of course, the incalculable price of a major accident.

The editorial described Mr. Sanders’s plan for jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors as “cushy gigs” and advocated a “steadily rising carbon tax.” But we have time for neither sarcasm nor caution. Mr. Sanders offers a bold plan that recognizes our climate emergency. We can either get behind it or mortgage our future by doing too little too late.

This note first appeared in The Washington Post.

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The Last Days of Coney Island

Tue, 2019-09-10 14:03

The Last Days of Coney Island

Off in Coney Island there’s an otter
in the water
And some harbor seals in tanks
in the aquarium
And penguins and brown pelicans
Who envy all
The gliding gulls and pizza-pecking
pigeons there
And rays who pray for hurricanes
to come
and wreck their prison — some desire
Streams
of steaming blood, and floods to drown
the metropoles
Though most just want their freedom —
Want to flee from
The aquarium — as men stand on the
Boardwalk
Waving bottles, calling: Water!
I scold water!
Ice cold

 

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Confronting Global Warming and Austerity

Mon, 2019-09-09 16:01

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

In the United States, proposals for a Green New Deal have been getting considerable attention in recent months as activists have pressed both members of Congress and Democratic presidential candidates to support aggressive measures to combat global warming. There clearly is much more that we can and must do in the immediate future to prevent enormous damage to the planet.

However, major initiatives in the United States to combat global warming will almost certainly require some increases in taxes. There is likely some slack in the U.S. economy (perhaps we’ll see more slack as a result of Donald Trump’s misfires in his trade war), but a major push involving hundreds of billions of dollars of additional annual spending (2-3 percent of GDP) will almost certainly necessitate tax increases. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move quickly to take steps to save the planet, but these steps will have some cost.

In contrast, most of Europe is in a situation where it could easily make large commitments toward increased spending on clean energy, mass transit, and conservation at essentially no economic cost. In fact, a Green New Deal Agenda in Europe is likely to lead to increased employment and output. The big difference is that Europe is much further from facing constraints on its economy. It has plenty of room to expand output and employment without seeing inflation become a problem.

Before getting into the specifics on Europe’s economy, it is important to add a bit of perspective. The European countries have been far better global citizens in this area than the United States. Their per-person emissions are roughly half as much as the United States. Furthermore, many European countries have already taken aggressive measures to promote clean energy and encourage conservation.

Solar energy accounts for 7.3 percent of Italy’s electric power, 7.9 percent of Germany’s and 4.3 percent for the European Union as a whole. By comparison, the United States gets just 2.3 percent of its electric power from solar energy. There is a similar story with wind energy where the European Union’s installed capacity is more than 70 percent higher than the United States.

But in the battle to slow global warming, simply doing better than the United States is not good enough. The European Union can and must do more to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The most immediate obstacle to aggressive measures to reduce GHG emissions in Europe is the continent’s mindless push for austerity. European governments, led by Germany, have become obsessed with keeping deficits low and balancing budgets. Most have small deficits or even budget surpluses.

Germany exemplifies the European austerity obsession with a budget surplus that is close to 2.0 percent of GDP ($420 billion in the US economy). To some extent, fiscal austerity is not a choice. The eurozone’s rules require low budget deficits for the countries that use the euro, but even countries outside the eurozone have joined the austerity party. The United Kingdom has a budget deficit of less than 1.5 percent of GDP, Denmark less than 0.5 percent of GDP, and Sweden has a budget surplus of close to 0.5 percent of GDP.

There are certainly circumstances under which budget deficits can be too high, but these clearly do not apply to the countries in the European Union at present. Inflation has been persistently low and has been falling in recent months. The inflation rate for the eurozone countries has averaged just 1.0 percent over the last 12 months.

The story is even more dramatic if we look at interest rates. The classic problem of a large budget deficit is that it leads to high-interest rates that crowd out investment. Not only are interest rates extraordinarily low across Europe, in many countries investors have to pay governments to lend them money.

The interest rate on a ten-year government bond in France is -0.43 percent. In the Netherlands, it is -0.57 percent, and in Germany it is -0.71 percent. That means Investors have to pay Germany 0.71 percent annually to lend the government money.

This is the context in which the concern for low budget deficits in these countries is utterly mindless. The financial markets are effectively begging these governments to borrow more money, but they refuse to do so. The need to address global warming makes this refusal especially painful.

The fact that interest rates and inflation are so low indicates that these governments are needlessly sacrificing growth and jobs. That story would be bad enough in normal times –people should not go without work and important social needs should not go unmet for no reason — but the picture is much worse when we consider the urgent need to slow global warming.

If they were not limited by an unnecessary fixation with budget deficits, these governments could take strong measures to reduce emissions. For example, they could either pay directly to install solar and wind power, or provide large subsidies to businesses and homeowners. They could be subsidizing the switch to electric cars and making mass transit cheap or free, while they vastly ramp up capacity.

Emanuel Macron did try steps in this direction last year, but he stumbled over the eurozone’s austerity requirement. Since France was already near the caps on budget deficits demanded by the rules of the eurozone, he was forced to impose new taxes to offset the additional spending he proposed to reduce GHG emissions. Since the taxes he imposed were largely regressive, they prompted a massive reaction (the “yellow vest” protests), which forced Macron to back away from most of his green agenda.

If France didn’t face an artificial budget constraint imposed by the European Union, Macron could have simply borrowed to pay for his green agenda. It likely would have been far better received in that situation. People who are just scraping by will resent taxes to discourage energy use. They are less likely to get angry over subsidies to improve the insulation of their homes or to install solar panels.

The absurd fixation of the EU on budget deficits should be getting more attention in the media. While events outside the United States generally don’t make much news, there has been no shortage of coverage of Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, and his hare-brained efforts to pull the U.K. out of the EU.

Brexit, especially the no-deal Brexit that Johnson seems to favor, will impose needless economic costs on the country, but the harm done by unnecessary austerity in Europe is far greater. While Johnson is largely portrayed as a power-hungry clown in the U.S. media, the enforcers of European austerity are treated with great respect. While these enforcers may all be smart and highly-educated people, their clownishness on this issue puts Johnson to shame.

There is one more point on austerity and combatting climate change that is worth mentioning here. The world has been appalled to see much of the Amazon in flames. While this is most immediately attributable to the development policies of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, there actually is a much deeper problem here.

The Amazon is a unique habitat that should be preserved in any case, but its survival is so important in the fight to limit global warming because of what the rest of the world has been doing. Rich countries have engaged in large-scale deforestation of their own lands, as well as having paid developing countries to destroy much of their natural forests to provide wood and other resources. In addition, we have been spewing vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere for more than a century.

This is the context in which the Amazon matters hugely for limiting GHG. Placing all of the blame on Brazil is fundamentally misrepresenting the history of the problem. Brazil must act to preserve the Amazon, but it should be paid for this choice by the rich countries. It will be foregoing a path that would aid its development, just as the rich countries were able to benefit economically by causing irreparable damage to their environment.

Since climate change really is a global problem, we need to have the most effective measures to be taken, regardless of the country. Where we expect the actions to come from a developing country like Brazil, the rich countries will have to foot the bill.

This is both a question of fairness and realism. We can’t force Brazil to protect the Amazon. No one is going to send in troops to prevent its destruction. We can make it more profitable for Brazil to protect the Amazon than to destroy it. And, with so much slack in the EU economies, this would be a great use of some of their resources. Perhaps one day we will have a sane government in the United States and we will contribute our share.

This essay first appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

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Climate Chaos Descends on Europe

Mon, 2019-09-09 16:00

Photograph Source: Joe deSousa – The Musée d’Orsay at sunset – CC BY 2.0

It’s been a rough summer in Europe.

On August 18, several dozen people gathered around a patch of snow in Iceland to commemorate the demise of the Okjokull glacier, a victim of climate change. Further to the west, Greenland shed 217 billion tons of ice in the month of July alone.

Not long before, Paris reached 108.7 degrees on July 25, and normally cold, blustery Normandy registered 102 degrees. Worldwide, July 2019 was the hottest month on record.

Meanwhile, melting Russian permafrost — which makes up two-thirds of the country — is buckling roads, collapsing buildings, and releasing massive amounts of methane, a gas with 10 or more times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide.

And in the U.K., some 1,500 residents of Whaley Bridge were recently evacuated when a dam — overwhelmed by intense rainfall that pummeled northern England — threatened to break. The rains washed out roads and rail lines and swamped homes and businesses.

Ever since coal was partnered with water to generate steam and launch the industrial revolution, Europeans have been pouring billions of tons of atmospheric warming compounds into the planet’s atmosphere. While scientists were aware of the climate-altering potential of burning hydrocarbons as early as 1896, the wealth generated by spinning jennies, power looms, and drop forges was seductive, as was the power it gave countries to build colonial empires and subjugate populations across the globe.

But the bill is finally coming due.

Climate Catastrophe Comes to Europe

When most people think of climate change, what comes to mind are the poles, Asia’s fast vanishing glaciers, or Australia, where punishing droughts are drying up the continent’s longest river, the Murray. But climate change is an equal opportunity disrupter, and Europe is facing a one-two punch of too much water in the north and center and not enough in the south.

According to recent projections, drought regions in Europe will expand from 13 percent of the continent to 26 percent — and last four times as long, affecting upwards of 400 million people. Southern France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece will be particularly hard hit, though how hard will depend on whether the planet’s temperature hike is kept to 1.5 degrees centigrade or rises to 3 degrees centigrade.

Northern and Central Europe, on the other hand, will experience more precipitation and consequent flooding. Upward of a million people would be affected, and damage could run into the hundreds of billions of euros. While increasingly severe weather is battering away at Europe, sea rises of from four to six feet over the next century could inundate Copenhagen, the Netherlands, many French and German ports, and even London. If the Greenland ice sheet actually melted, the oceans could rise up 24 feet.

Food production will be another casualty. According to David Wallace-Wells in  The Uninhabitable Earth, cereal crops will decline 10 percent for every degree the temperature goes up. When crops fail, people will move, and for most people the logical place to go is north. It is not just war and unrest that is driving refugees toward Europe, but widespread crop failures brought about by too little or too much water.

The warming climate also allows insects, like the bark beetle, to attack Europe’s forests. The beetles are increasingly active in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Norway, and, particularly Russia, which hosts the largest temperate forests in the world.

Each tree that dies is one less carbon sink to transmute CO2 to oxygen. And dead trees are also more susceptible to forest fires, which can pump yet more of the climate warming gas into the atmosphere. Fires are not only increasing in countries like Spain, Greece, and Portugal, but also in Sweden and Finland.

Denial No Longer

For many years, climate change deniers — funded by hydrocarbon industry think tanks and sophisticated media campaigns — managed to inject a certain amount of doubt concerning global warming, but a rash of devastating hurricanes and last year’s wildfires in California have begun to shift public opinion. Last spring’s European elections saw Green parties all over the continent do well, and polls indicate growing alarm among the public.

A number of different European parties, including the British Labour Party, are pushing a “Green New Deal For Europe” based on a call by the United Nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.

The European Green Deal proposes using public investment banks to fund much of the plan, which is aimed at keeping rising temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade. While the price for rolling back emissions will certainly be high, the costs for not doing so are far greater, including the possibility that worldwide temperatures could go up by as much as 5 degrees centigrade, a level that might make much of the world unlivable for human beings.

A jump of that magnitude would be similar to the kind of temperature rise the world experienced at the end of the Permian Era, 250 million years ago. Called the “Great Extinction,” it killed 96 percent of life in the sea and 70 percent on land.

A major reason for the Permian die off was the expansion of cyanobacteria, which produce a toxic cocktail that can kill almost anything they come in contact with. Such cyanobacteria blooms are already underway in more than 400 places throughout the world, including a large dead zone in the Baltic Sea. Some New York lakes have become so toxic that the water is fatal to pets that drink from them.

The major fuel for cyanobacteria is warm water coupled with higher rainfall — one of the consequences of climate change — that washes nutrients into lakes and rivers.

Of the 195 countries that signed the Paris Climate Accords, only seven are close to fulfilling their carbon emission pledges. And one of the world’s biggest sources of global warming gasses, the U.S., has withdrawn. If all 195 countries met their goals, however, the climate is still on target to reach 3 degrees Celsius. Even if the rise can be kept to 2 degrees, it will likely melt the Greenland ice cap and possibly the Antarctic ice sheets. Greenland’s melt would raise ocean levels by 24 feet, the Antarctic by hundreds of feet.

A Global Mobilization

As overwhelming as the problem seems, it can be tackled, but only if the world mobilizes the kind of force it did to fight World War II. It will, however, take a profound rethinking of national policy and the economy.

The U.S. government organization most focused on climate change these days is the Pentagon, which is gearing up to fight the consequences. But our enormous defense apparatus is a major part of the problem, because military spending is carbon heavy. According to Brown University’s “Cost Of War”project, the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of hydrocarbons on the planet. Yet a number of European countries — under pressure from the Trump administration — are increasing their military spending, exactly the wrong strategy to combat the climate threat.

The world will need to agree that keeping hydrocarbons in the ground is essential. Fracking, tar sands, and opening yet new sources for oil and gas in the Arctic will have to halt. Solar, hydro, and wind power will need to be expanded, and some very basic parts of the economy re-examined.

This will hardly be pain free.

For instance, it takes 1,857 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, compared to 469 gallons for a pound of chicken. Yogurt uses 138 gallons. While beef production uses 60 percent of agricultural land, it only provides 2 percent of human caloric intake.

It is unlikely that people will give up meat — although growing economic inequality has already removed meat from the diet of many — but what we eat and how we produce it will have to be part of any solution. For instance, a major source of greenhouse gases is industrial agriculture with its heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, close to 30 percent of food production goes to waste, most of it in wealthy countries. A fair distribution of food supplies would not only feed more people, it would use less land, thus cutting greenhouse gasses up to 10 percent. Add to that curbing beef production, and hundreds of millions of square miles of grange land would be freed up to plant carbon absorbing trees.

Can this be done incrementally? It may have to be, but not for long. Climate change is upon us. What that future will be is up to the current generation to figure out, and while there is no question that concerted action can make a difference, the clock is ticking. When next the bell tolls, it tolls for us all.

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The Coming Drone War Over Lebanon

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:58

Photograph Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Ridgeway – Public Domain

After two civil wars, multiple invasions and political assassinations galore, you might think Lebanon deserves a break from the greatest crisis since its last greatest crisis. But no – here we were this week with the Israelis claiming the Hezbollah were running a missile factory in the Bekaa Valley and the prime minister – the Lebanese one, not the Israeli – claiming that the world’s investors could put their money in his country even though this infinitely small nation has one of the world’s highest debt to GDP ratios. One-hundred-and-fifty per cent to be precise.

Saad Hariri, the prime minister in question – and yes, his father was indeed assassinated by a huge car bomb a few hundred metres from my own home in Beirut – has been trying to talk down the threat of a credit-rating downgrade just as Lebanon itself declared a “state of economic emergency” on Monday. It was his high-spending billionaire father who kicked off his country’s near-bankruptcy with a massive new city centre after the civil war had destroyed much of Beirut. That is the second civil war we are talking about. It lasted 15 years and cost around 150,000 lives. The figure, by the way, creeps up to 175,000, depending on the newspapers you choose to trust.

But the latest crisis in Lebanon has an almost unstoppable power. It started with two Israeli drones crashing into the southern suburbs of Beirut, where the Hezbollah has its headquarters, and much talk from “security experts” that the targets were Hezbollah missile-manufacturing locations. The Israelis have not said they used drones – which in Beirut means they have – but the Hezbollah produced video of a rocket apparently smashing into an Israeli armoured vehicle on the Israeli side of the southern Lebanese border. The Israelis said none of their soldiers were killed. The Hezbollah suggested two were mortally wounded.

This was in any case said to be retaliation for an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah base in Syria – where the Hezbollah, along with the Russians, are defending Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The cross-border missile attack persuaded the Israelis to fire flares and shells into southern Lebanon. These started a series of fires in the scrubland around the village of Maroun al-Ras – which in turn prompted Lebanese MPs to claim that Israel had committed “environmental crimes”. You can see how these things easily get out of hand.

It’s not the first time that the Israelis have claimed Hezbollah has missiles. Indeed, the chair of the Shia militia, Hassan Nasrallah, enjoyed confirming the Israeli claims – even though some of us in Lebanon have doubts about just how many rockets his men have. The Israeli statement that the Hezbollah has set up a missile factory in the Bekaa leads to other questions. Why, for example, did it publish photographs of the location (near the Shia Muslim village of Nabi Sheet) but abstain from bombing it? And if indeed there were missiles there – allegedly from Iran (this story came from the Israelis, of course) – the Hezbollah would most assuredly have moved them by now. Or would they?

One of the fascinating elements of this proxy “war” – or perhaps “non-war” – is that the Hezbollah clearly wish to send the Israelis a message: if the Israeli army truly wishes to assault Hezbollah’s forces in Syria, they can now expect to be attacked across the Lebanese border. In fact, Nasrallah has acknowledged that a new “red line” has been crossed. In other words, if the Israelis feel free to strike inside Syria, the Hezbollah will open another front from Lebanon. Which is bad news for the prime minister of Lebanon, who immediately calls up his western friends (think Quai d’Orsay) and urges them to tell the Israelis not to retaliate. His pleas appear to have worked – for now.

But this does mean that the Syrian war can easily explode across the southern border of Lebanon and this at a time when the Lebanese are recalling how just five years ago, Benny Gantz – now a well-known Israeli politician – threatened to “set Lebanon back 70 or 80 years” if there was another conflict on the Lebanese border. In those days, Gantz was Israeli chief of staff. Chiefs of staff – and Israeli prime ministers – do often threaten to put Lebanon back in time (I can count nine separate occasions), but right now the Israelis would probably prefer to keep their northern border quiet. They know, of course, that the Hezbollah also has drones.

In fact, the Hezbollah sent one over Israel several years ago, taking pictures of an Israeli military facility as it flew southwards. It’s not clear if we’re now in for a war of the drones. It was certainly interesting that rebel fighters in Idlib sent a drone towards the Syrian Hmeimin airbase this week. Which is where the Russian airforce is based. So watch out for poor old Lebanon over the next few weeks. And Syria. And Israel.

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Underground Notes From a 2016 Sandernista

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:54

Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

It was about call and text message 10,000 that I came to realize that political campaigns that once started in September of the election cycle, which would culminate with the election in November, now begin years earlier.  The election cycle never ends! These have been info calls and texts and direct calls for donations from the Sanders’ campaign. Yes, I was a Sandernista during the 2016 election, and once captive, a campaign will not let go. I admit to this as the avalanche of messages fill my phone and computer inboxes. I admit to this, even though I recognize that the late antiwar protester Philip Berrigan was probably right when he said that if elections meant anything, they’d be “illegal.”

People have been removed from voting rolls across the US, so the right to vote means that the political right and right-wing minorities have more voting power than ever. Gerrymandering accomplishes what voter roll changes cannot do, making voting districts even more restrictive and more right-wing. People vote against their own self-interests with abandon!

I also admit to having made a major faux pas about Bernie Sanders on these pages when I stated that he had voted for the 2003 war in Iraq, but I was only wrong in a technical sense because he voted for so-called “defense” spending bills that funded that war, but not the authorization of the war itself. He did indeed vote for the authorization and funding of the 2001 war in Afghanistan that launched that unending war and the endless War on Terror that is a great boon to defense contractors. Sanders has also consistently voted for defense projects related to his home state of Vermont.

In terms of war, Bernie has been better heading into the 2020 election season, criticizing endless wars and the US support of Saudi Arabia in its bestial war (which war isn’t?) in Yemen. However, Bernie’s support for the faux case of Russiagate and his views on the status of China as a power contending militarily and economically with the US, are not issues to write home about. What do election promises within the belly of the beast of empire mean in any case to those who assume power?

Bernie Sanders is a mild reformer within the capitalist/corporate/militarized Democratic Party, but still to the liberal left of Elizabeth Warren, who has admitted to wanting to salvage and save capitalism. The latter is like opening a deck chair rental enterprise on the boat deck of the Titanic after midnight on April 15, 1912. What else could readers expect from a former Republican?

Joe Biden may make it to the finish line, although his campaign is showing obvious fault lines, and create the conditions to herald in an even worse version of Trump in 2024, if in fact Trump loses in 2020, which is hardly a certainty. It is not difficult to see someone like Pence waiting in the wings with a political organization to bring about the final push toward fascism in the US. It is quite possible that this is how it will turn out, but some sort of October surprise by Trump could keep him in the White House where fascism is already coloring every aspect of government. Indeed, it is strange that such a bellicose person as Trump has held back for the most part and not used massive military power against countries such as Iran or Venezuela. Deny immigrant children the basic necessities of life and cage them and Trump’s base cheers him on. If that isn’t fascism, then what is?

And what about the prospects of a third party in 2020? There seems to be even less interest for third party candidates now then there was in 2016. On the left, third parties have had a notoriously bad track record at election time with polling generally in the low, single-digit numbers. The duopoly has the show sewn up before candidates even begin to make campaign promises. Compare the presidential campaigns of Debs and Nader with Perot and George Wallace and the results are obvious. Third-party candidates on the right far outpoll those on the left.

And the effects of protest? When protest needs to be at its highest levels in the face of Trump et al and his base, protest has devolved into identity politics that followed upon the heels of the vibrant civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement, and the gay rights movement that all have a niche on the political and economic left, but have not been able to mount any sizable campaign against the forces of authoritarianism and hate on the right and among the right’s base, a political class and electorate that seem to mesh effortlessly. The left struggles to continue to bring people out into the streets for something as simple as a women’s march in the face of the subjugation of women within the misogynist right. Indeed, it appears that Trump’s base has a teflon coating when it comes to his violation of women in all kinds of settings. Trump boasts that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and still win an election, but he may also have been able to rape someone in the same setting and still get elected: that’s how bad the political, economic, and social systems have become as the Republican far-right “free market” melds with Democratic neoliberalism. We teeter at the edge of corporate-driven fascism by way of the military-industrial-financial complex where the bottom line is all that matters. People’s well-being mean nothing. The right shakes off protest as if it doesn’t exist.

An assessment of the elements of fascist societies is recounted in “What Makes People So Susceptible to Fascism?” Huffington Post, May, 25, 2011). This article needs to be required reading in every civics class in the contemporary US, and well before a student is able to vote, when a person could take those civics lessons and help create a civil society:

It is a profound question with a myriad of answers and few solutions: What makes people so susceptible to fascism? Who are those flag-waving throngs cheering on their proud leader? And why do they cheerfully support a figurehead and system that works against their own self-interests? Are they gullible, naive to the point of complete self-chosen ignorance? Are they maniacal narcissists bent on proving their superiority to the world? Or are they scared of acting like they don’t agree with the mob? Because, as Ronnie James Dio sings, the Mob rules. But fascism and it’s various philosophical and psychological faces rule the Mob. Fear is the ultimate tool of control and fascist leaders know it and use it well. But in order to understand why people fall prey to fascism’s spell, we must understand the nature of the beast. Governments, religions and cults use fear as a tool of control because when humans are scared, they are easy to control and manipulate. Fear is the ultimate weapon for it works on your own people as well as your enemies.

Henry Giroux writes at Truthout:

Fascism — with its unquestioning belief in obedience to a powerful strongman, violence as a form of political purification, hatred as an act of patriotism, racial and ethnic cleansing, and the superiority of a select ethnic or national group — has resurfaced in the United States. In this mix of economic barbarism, political nihilism, racial purity, economic orthodoxy and ethical somnambulance, a distinctive economic-political formation has been produced that I term neoliberal fascism (“Neoliberal Fascism and the Echoes of History,” August 8, 2019).

It’s not just a top-down phenomenon driving the political and social systems into the ground against the background of right-wing and neoliberal economics, but rather, to a degree it is the antithesis of Anne Frank’s observation from her hiding place in Amsterdam that people are really good at heart. Tragically, those who don’t continue to fight against the forces of darkness in their own lives are fertile ground for the easy answers and easy solutions of Trumpism and neoliberalism under both Democrats and Republicans and in the larger world.

With a bit too much of a Freudian bent from my perspective, but still with his eye on the ball that is fascism, Wilhelm Reich had it mostly correct in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933).

James Reich observes, quoting Wilhelm Reich (“Blood and Soil, Turmp and Incest,”  Sensitive Skin, May 12, 2019) *:

The authoritarian is successful, in Reich’s analysis, “only if his personal point of view, his ideology, or his program bears a resemblance to the average structure of a broad category of individuals […] Only when the structure of the führer’s personality is in harmony with the structures of broad groups can the ‘führer’ make history” (35). Simply put, authoritarianism begins at home: fascism or any totalizing ideology is not a form of top-down psychosis; the underlying character of the constituents only gives rise to the individual who must be both messiah and scapegoat for the resentments of the group, in their fulfillment and when things fall apart.

Societies have fallen apart, both in the US and around the world. The purveyors of total darkness and ruin wait in plain sight.

*Author’s note: The significance of the photograph that accompanies this article is not known.

 

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What’s the True Unemployment Rate in the US?

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:54

The Depression of 1873–79: New York City police violently attacking unemployed workers in Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan, New York City 1874 – Public Domain

The real unemployment rate is probably somewhere between 10%-12%. Here’s why: the 3.7% is the U-3 rate, per the labor dept. But that’s the rate only for full time employed. What the labor dept. calls the U-6 includes what it calls discouraged workers (those who haven’t looked for work in the past 4 weeks). Then there’s what’s called the ‘missing labor force’–i.e. those who haven’t looked in the past year. They’re not calculated in the 3.7% U-3 unemployment rate number either. Why? Because you have to be ‘out of work and actively looking for work’ to be counted as unemployed and therefore part of the 3.7% rate.

The U-6 also includes what the labor dept. calls involuntary part time employed. It should include the voluntary part time as well, but doesn’t (See, they’re not actively looking for work even if unemployed).

But even the involuntary part time is itself under-estimated. I believe the Labor Dept. counts only those involuntarily part time unemployed whose part time job is their primary job. It doesn’t count those who have second and third involuntary part time jobs. That would raise the U-6 unemployment rate significantly. The labor Dept’s estimate of the ‘discouraged’ and ‘missing labor force’ is grossly underestimated.

The labor dept. also misses the 1-2 million workers who went on social security disability (SSDI) after 2008 because it provides better pay, for longer, than does unemployment insurance. That number rose dramatically after 2008 and hasn’t come down much (although the government and courts are going after them).

The way the government calculates unemployment is by means of 60,000 monthly household surveys but that phone survey method misses a lot of workers who are undocumented and others working in the underground economy in the inner cities (about 10-12% of the economy according to most economists and therefore potentially 10-12% of the reported labor force in size as well). The labor dept. just makes assumptions about that number (conservatively, I may add) and plugs in a number to be added to the unemployment totals. But it has no real idea of how many undocumented or underground economy workers are actually employed or unemployed since these workers do not participate in the labor dept. phone surveys, and who can blame them.

The SSDI, undocumented, underground, underestimation of part timers, etc. are what I call the ‘hidden unemployed’. And that brings the unemployed well above the 3.7%.

Finally, there’s the corroborating evidence about what’s called the labor force participation rate. It has declined by roughly 5% since 2007. That’s 6 to 9 million workers who should have entered the labor force but haven’t. The labor force should be that much larger, but it isn’t. Where have they gone? Did they just not enter the labor force? If not, they’re likely a majority unemployed, or in the underground economy, or belong to the labor dept’s ‘missing labor force’ which should be much greater than reported. The government has no adequate explanation why the participation rate has declined so dramatically. Or where have the workers gone. If they had entered the labor force they would have been counted. And their 6 to 9 million would result in an increase in the total labor force number and therefore raise the unemployment rate.

All these reasons–-i.e. only counting full timers in the official 3.7%; under-estimating the size of the part time workforce; under-estimating the size of the discouraged and so-called ‘missing labor force’; using methodologies that don’t capture the undocumented and underground unemployed accurately; not counting part of the SSI increase as unemployed; and reducing the total labor force because of the declining labor force participation-–together means the true unemployment rate is definitely over 10% and likely closer to 12%. And even that’s a conservative estimate perhaps.”

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America’s Lost Liberties, Post-9/11

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:54

Photograph Source: National Park Service – Public Domain

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

― Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

Take heed, America.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

What began with the post-9/11 passage of the USA Patriot Act  has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse.

The citizenry’s unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security has resulted in a society where the nation is being locked down into a militarized, mechanized, hypersensitive, legalistic, self-righteous, goose-stepping antithesis of every principle upon which this nation was founded.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, police violence and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

The rights embodied in the Constitution, if not already eviscerated, are on life support.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people, a war that has grown more pronounced since 9/11.

Indeed, since the towers fell on 9/11, the U.S. government has posed a greater threat to our freedoms than any terrorist, extremist or foreign entity ever could.

While nearly 3,000 people died in the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government and its agents have easily killed at least ten times that number of civilians in the U.S. and abroad since 9/11 through its police shootings, SWAT team raids, drone strikes and profit-driven efforts to police the globe, sell weapons to foreign nations (which too often fall into the hands of terrorists), and foment civil unrest in order to keep the military industrial complex gainfully employed.

The American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, denied due process, and killed.

In allowing ourselves to be distracted by terror drills, foreign wars, color-coded warnings, underwear bombers and other carefully constructed exercises in propaganda, sleight of hand, and obfuscation, we failed to recognize that the U.S. government—the government that was supposed to be a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”—has become the enemy of the people.

This is a government that has grown so corrupt, greedy, power-hungry and tyrannical over the course of the past 240-plus years that our constitutional republic has since given way to idiocracy, and representative government has given way to a kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves) and a kakistocracy (a government run by unprincipled career politicians, corporations and thieves that panders to the worst vices in our nature and has little regard for the rights of American citizens).

This is a government that, in conjunction with its corporate partners, views the citizenry as consumers and bits of data to be bought, sold and traded

This is a government that spies on and treats its people as if they have no right to privacy, especially in their own homes.

This is a government that is laying the groundwork to weaponize the public’s biomedical data as a convenient means by which to penalize certain “unacceptable” social behaviors. Incredibly, as part of a proposal being considered by the Trump Administration, a new government agency HARPA (a healthcare counterpart to the Pentagon’s research and development arm DARPA) will take the lead in identifying and targeting “signs” of mental illness or violent inclinations among the populace by using artificial intelligence to collect data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home.

This is a government that routinely engages in taxation without representation, whose elected officials lobby for our votes only to ignore us once elected.

This is a government comprised of petty bureaucrats, vigilantes masquerading as cops, and faceless technicians.

This is a government that railroads taxpayers into financing government programs whose only purpose is to increase the power and wealth of the corporate elite.

This is a government—a warring empire—that forces its taxpayers to pay for wars abroad that serve no other purpose except to expand the reach of the military industrial complex.

This is a government that subjects its people to scans, searches, pat downs and other indignities by the TSA and VIPR raids on so-called “soft” targets like shopping malls and bus depots by black-clad, Darth Vader look-alikes.

This is a government that uses fusion centers, which represent the combined surveillance efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, to track the citizenry’s movements, record their conversations, and catalogue their transactions.

This is a government whose wall-to-wall surveillance has given rise to a suspect society in which the burden of proof has been reversed such that Americans are now assumed guilty until or unless they can prove their innocence.

This is a government that treats its people like second-class citizens who have no rights, and is working overtime to stigmatize and dehumanize any and all who do not fit with the government’s plans for this country.

This is a government that uses free speech zones, roving bubble zones and trespass laws to silence, censor and marginalize Americans and restrict their First Amendment right to speak truth to power. The kinds of speech the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation, prosecution and outright elimination include: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, left-wing speech, extremist speech, politically incorrect speech, etc.

This is a government that adopts laws that criminalize Americans for otherwise lawful activities such as holding religious studies at home, growing vegetables in their yard, and collecting rainwater.

This is a government that persists in renewing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the president and the military to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely.

This is a government that saddled us with the Patriot Act, which opened the door to all manner of government abuses and intrusions on our privacy.

This is a government that, in direct opposition to the dire warnings of those who founded our country, has allowed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a standing army by way of programs that transfer surplus military hardware to local and state police.

This is a government that has militarized American’s domestic police, equipping them with military weapons such as “tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft,” in addition to armored vehicles, sound cannons and the like.

This is a government that has provided cover to police when they shoot and kill unarmed individuals just for standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

This is a government that has allowed private corporations to get rich at taxpayer expense by locking people up for life for non-violent crimes. There are thousands of people in America serving life sentences for non-violent crimes, including theft of a jacket, siphoning gasoline from a truck, stealing tools, and attempting to cash a stolen check. It costs roughly $29,000 a year per inmate just to keep these nonviolent offenders in prison. Meanwhile, American prisons have become the source of cheap labor for Corporate America.

This is a government that has created a Constitution-free zone within 100 miles inland of the border around the United States, paving the way for Border Patrol agents to search people’s homes, intimately probe their bodies, and rifle through their belongings, all without a warrant. Nearly 66% of Americans (2/3 of the U.S. population, 197.4 million people) now live within that 100-mile-deep, Constitution-free zone.

This is a government that treats public school students as if they were prison inmates, enforcing zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, and indoctrinating them with teaching that emphasizes rote memorization and test-taking over learning, synthesizing and critical thinking.

This is a government that is operating in the negative on every front: it’s spending far more than what it makes (and takes from the American taxpayers) and it is borrowing heavily (from foreign governments and Social Security) to keep the government operating and keep funding its endless wars abroad. Meanwhile, the nation’s sorely neglected infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—is rapidly deteriorating.

This is a government that has empowered police departments to make a profit at the expense of those they have sworn to protect through the use of asset forfeiture laws, speed traps, and red light cameras.

This is a government whose gun violence—inflicted on unarmed individuals by battlefield-trained SWAT teams, militarized police, and bureaucratic government agents trained to shoot first and ask questions later—poses a greater threat to the safety and security of the nation than any mass shooter. There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non-military) government agents armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than U.S. Marines.

This is a government that has allowed the presidency to become a dictatorship operating above and beyond the law, regardless of which party is in power.

This is a government that treats dissidents, whistleblowers and freedom fighters as enemies of the state.

This is a government that has in recent decades unleashed untold horrors upon the world—including its own citizenry—in the name of global conquest, the acquisition of greater wealth, scientific experimentation, and technological advances, all packaged in the guise of the greater good.

This is a government that allows its agents to break laws with immunity while average Americans get the book thrown at them.

This is a government that speaks in a language of force. What is this language of force? Militarized police. Riot squads. Camouflage gear. Black uniforms. Armored vehicles. Mass arrests. Pepper spray. Tear gas. Batons. Strip searches. Surveillance cameras. Kevlar vests. Drones. Lethal weapons. Less-than-lethal weapons unleashed with deadly force. Rubber bullets. Water cannons. Stun grenades. Arrests of journalists. Crowd control tactics. Intimidation tactics. Brutality. Contempt of cop charges.

This is a government that justifies all manner of government tyranny and power grabs in the so-called name of national security, national crises and national emergencies.

This is a government that exports violence worldwide, with one of this country’s most profitable exports being weapons. Indeed, the United States, the world’s largest exporter of arms, has been selling violence to the world in order to prop up the military industrial complex and maintain its endless wars abroad.

This is a government that is consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

This is a government that routinely undermines the Constitution and rides roughshod over the rights of the citizenry, eviscerating individual freedoms so that its own powers can be expanded.

This is a government that believes it has the authority to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation, the Constitution be damned.

In other words, this is not a government that believes in, let alone upholds, freedom.

So where does that leave us?

As always, the first step begins with “we the people.”

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, our power as a citizenry comes from our ability to agree and stand united on certain freedom principles that should be non-negotiable.

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There is But One Race: Human

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:50

Want to blame something for differences in skin color, blame the sun. It’s all in the melanin.

The concept of different races is a farce, largely concocted as “scientific racism” by an American physician before the Civil War, as noted in a fascinating special April 2018 issue of the National Geographic, “Black and White.” It is devoted solely to the variety of shades of the human skin, which are caused by gene mutation and evolution, all dependent on where one lived.

There is but one race: the human one, Homo sapiens.

When the results of the first complete human genome were unveiled in 2000 during the presidency of Barrack Obama, Craig Venter, a pioneer of the sequencing of DNA, the microscopic code of life, said, “The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.” This according to the Geographic’s lead article, “Skin Deep,” by noted journalist, author and staffer at The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert.

The publication appeared during the Trump administration’s barring of Muslims and restricting people of color from entering the United States in a bid to appeal to the president’s base of white supremacists and others opposed to diluting the country’s majority white-skinned population, which the Census projects will become a minority in 2045. President Trump made it abundantly clear this year that he is a racist.

Kolbert’s piece deserves to be highlighted at a time when the ugly polarization of America has been heightened by unfounded racist animosity promulgated by an ignorant president and a sycophantic Republican-led Senate that has no interest in uniting a widely diverse nation, once the leader of the free world.

Samuel Morton, born in Philadelphia in 1799, collected skulls from around the world, measured them and believed they represented five different races, with Caucasians, or whites, being superior to the others. Then came East Asians, Southeast Asians, Native Americans and blacks (“Ethiopians”).

So was the thinking of one doctor when the knowledge of medicine was limited compared to today. But those who defended slavery adopted Morton’s ideas. He died in 1851, when the South Carolina Charleston Medical Journal lauded him for “giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race,” Kolbert wrote. We live with this absurd nonsense today, all based on lies.

What is true based on genetic research, when people today can trace their origin through DNA, is that humans are more closely related than chimps and that, as Kolbert wrote, “in a very real sense, all people alive today are Africans.” Yes, all of our ancient ancestors once were black.

Eumelanin, a type of melanin, is what darkens skin, as in a suntan among lighter skinned people. Black skin evolved among humans in Africa about 1.2 million years ago to compensate for the loss of body hair, which increased the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays on bare skin. Migration out of Africa between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago led to interbreeding with other human species, now nonexistent, as people moved into Europe and Asia.

Once in those cooler climes, eumelanin production in the body decreased because the sun’s radiation was less intense. People’s skin became lighter. “This eventually produced the current range of human skin color,” according to a Wikipedia chapter on melanin.

There are more differences among Africans than on all other continents combined because modern humans lived there the longest, giving them more time to develop genetic diversity, including skin color.

“Near the Equator,” Kolbert wrote, “lots of sunlight makes dark skin a useful shield against ultraviolet radiation; toward the poles, where the problem is too little sun, paler skin promotes the production of vitamin D. Several genes work together to determine skin tone.”

Mutations in a particular gene, 370A, gave Native Americans and East Asians thicker hair. Another gene, SLC24A5, gave Europeans lighter skin.

Anita Foeman, who directs the DNA Discussion Project at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, told Kolbert that her genes showed that some of her ancestors were from Ghana, some from Scandinavia. She identifies as African-American.

“I grew up in the 1960s, when light skin was really a big deal,” Foeman told Kolbert. “So I think of myself as pretty brown-skinned. I was surprised that a quarter of my background was European. It really brought home this idea that we make race up.”

Richard C. Gross, a longtime journalist at home and abroad, is a former op-ed editor of The Baltimore Sun. His email is rcg51@comcast.net.

 

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Sometimes There Are Bears Living There

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:47

As a young boy I grew up in a very small town surrounded by mountains and foothills. I’d sit in my grandfather’s nearby backyard while he told me stories, including those about the many caves in the mountains.

“There are bears living in there sometimes”, he would point out, nodding his head knowingly. I took his word and that of others, at face value in those days. As I got older I went to those “caves”, and walked the lands between them, with an eye to finding out what really was there. I never saw a bear.

These were the years not long after the second world war, which together with the “dirty” thirties, was a time in our history when people were waging low level war on the environment, scratching for anything they could to make a living, feed themselves, and “protect” themselves and what ever they owned, from the bogey man they had been led to believe lurked out there on the land and in the dark.     My grandfather was an avid berry  and mushroom picker, and for years each fall we would travel in his “old” ‘49 ford to the edges of the wild lands that stood, speaking relative to today, unmarred by the heavy industrial hand of humans and corporations.

Not that industrious people weren’t searching and scrounging through the landscape, shooting virtually anything they could; where bears should have been, they’d been exterminated by persecution.

But Canadians had then only begun to destroy the ecological capacity of the land. The methodical destruction was a few decades away. There were no 10 km long clearcuts, mines were small and localized, and the dense road and right-of-way system hammered later into the landscape by the oil and gas industry was obscure in the future.

We picked huckleberries in his favorite places each fall, and I did once see a bear!

Humans can be shockingly efficient at eradicating animals they want to eat or have grown to fear and hate because they believed fairy tales about “born to kill cattle” or hunting down humans. I’d long been curious about these “tales”.

Several decades later I found myself awaiting the capture of “my” first bear. The big picture intention was to determine if, and then how and to what extent roads, oil and gas wells and pipelines, the people that worked this system, and all the ready hangers-on that crowd into a landscape behind this onslaught, known today as cumulative effects, would impact the regional grizzly and black bear population.

The politics of this undertaking were mind bending, but that’s another story, or book.

I remember very well approaching the very first bear, a female grizzly, I and my crew captured. The air was so thick with excitement, anticipation and suspense you could, as the saying goes, “cut it with a knife”. There she was, an immense, magnificent,  hugely impressive bear quite likely terrorized beyond anything we could imagine.

After we immobilized her, attached a radio collar, and released her, I recall feeling a strange sense of knowing something, having stepped into a world few people knew of.

Over the next few years we captured and released almost 50 grizzly bears and 150 black bears (along with 30 moose) and spent thousands of hours investigating their where-abouts and activities. I had already spent a decade doing the same thing with bighorn sheep, mixed with years working with caribou and moose.

There is no doubt these activities were intrusive; at the time it seemed a reasonable tradeoff. It was the early years of wildlife research and thinking people were rightly worried that humans and their ever expanding industrialism were destroying the capacity of a landscape to keep a bear population viable.

Starting then, and even more conclusively today, we know the answer is an unequivocal yes.

This eventually allowed me to participate in over two dozen legal proceedings and over a hundred government administrative and “consultation’ processes.  I was comfortable by then with my standing as a biologist.

Further I had come to know well the democratic, social and environmentally oppressive dynamics of organized people acting for their own financial interest, aided and abetted by governments, including the civil service, and the choke hold they have on citizens, voters and taxpayers.

I guess you could say I’d finally become an armchair biologist.

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Robert Mugabe’s Legacy: Revolution, Amity and Decline

Mon, 2019-09-09 15:40

Robert Mugabe is the sort of figure that always caused discomfort. He was a permanent revolutionary, becoming, in time, the despotic ruler who frittered away revolutionary gain. He played multiple roles in international political consciousness. As Zimbabwe’s strongman, he was demonised and lionised in equal measure for a good deal of his time in power. His role from the 1990s – Mugabe, the West’s all-too-convenient bogeyman and hobgoblin – tended to outweigh other considerations. In the end, even his supporters had to concede that he had outstayed his welcome, another African leader gone to seed.

In 2008, Mahmood Mamdani noted the generally held view in publications ranging from The Economist to The Guardian that Mugabe the Thug reigned. Yes, he had helped in laying waste to the economy, refusing to share power with a more vocal and present opposition, and created an internal crisis with his land distribution policy. But this did little to explain his longevity, his recipe of partial coercion and consent, the teacher-visionary and the bribing mob leader. “In any case, the preoccupation with his character does little to illuminate the socio-historical issues involved.”

The obsession with character – one of Mephistophelian bargain and decay – is found in both the literature and the popular culture depicting Mugabe. The stock story is this: he taught in Ghana in 1963, a key figure in the nationalist movement split in what was then Rhodesia, becoming secretary general of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). The Shona dominated ZANU was formed from the original Ndebele ethnic minority dominated Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).

Prison followed in 1964; Mugabe fled to Mozambique in 1974 though not before a spell of imprisonment at the hands of Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda (his escape was probably engineered by Zambians); by 1977, he had assumed control of the organisation, though Mozambique’s President Samora Machel never quite trusted him, taking a leaf out of Kaunda’s book in detailing the mischief maker, albeit briefly. Military victory was sought against the Smith regime in what was then white-controlled Rhodesia, and it was with some reluctance that Mugabe found himself a signatory to the British-sponsored settlement in 1979, one assisted by Lord Carrington, Kaunda, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Shridath Ramphal, and, ironically enough, white apartheid South Africa.

On becoming leader, he was deliciously accommodating in his rhetoric, despite having entertained the prospect of confiscating land owned by whites a la Marx-Lenin and wishing to hold white leaders to account in war crimes trials. In his national address in 1980, he spoke of the bonds of amity; he wished for bygones to be bygones. “If you were my enemy, you are now my friend. If you hated me, you cannot avoid the love that binds me to you and you to me.”

Initially, Mugabe the progressive shone through: healthcare and education programs were expanded; literary rates and living standards rose; white farmers were reassured that mobs would not be knocking on their doors. Whites were included in a mixed cabinet; heads reappointed in the army, the police and the Central Intelligence Organisation. But he had his eye on dealing with rivals.

In 1983, former members of ZAPU’s military outfit attacked targets in Matabeleland. The result was uncompromisingly bloody: anywhere upwards of 20,000 civilians killed; many more tortured, maimed, tormented. In four years, ZAPU had been defeated, absorbed into the ZANU-PF structure. The extinguishment of such rivalry paved the way for a Mugabe presidency and near-absolute rule.

By the 1990s, economic conditions were biting. Real wages fell; the International Monetary Fund demanded domestic readjustments to the economy. Economic stagnation kept company with increasingly repressive policies against journalists, students and opponents. Calculatingly, Mugabe propitiated war veterans by awarding them generous pensions in 1997. Then came the next threat: the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

In February 2000, a national vote on a redesigned draft constitution, the progeny of ZANU-PF, proposed British compensation for land; absent that, white farms would be seized without due compensation. Its defeat by a narrow margin saw Mugabe step up his campaign, featuring farm occupations and the sponsorship of veterans to assist in invasions of farms owned by white farmers. Mugabe was returning to an old platform.

The prevailing psycho-portraiture for such behaviour is never consistent. One variant finds its culprit in a decision Mugabe made in 1996. Secretary Grace Marufu, 41 years Mugabe’s junior, became his wife, considered within certain circles a less than worthy replacement for Sally, who died in 1992. Wilf Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean newspaper spared no punches, seeing in Marufu a lever pulling, power hungry creature akin to Lady Macbeth. “He changed the moment Sally died, when he married a young gold-digger.”

His former home affairs minister, Dumiso Dabengwa, pinpointed a different year when the great compromiser and negotiator changed: 2000. There are no gold-digging suggestions, merely political manipulations filtered with a bit of paranoia. “He held compromising material over several of his colleagues and they knew they would face criminal charges if they opposed him.”

Overwhelmingly, the narrative is of the great hope that failed, the rebel who trips. This echo of the good man gone bad is detectable in celluloid, with the fictional state of Matobo in The Interpreter, featuring as its political backdrop a bookish schoolteacher who defeated a white-minority regime but fouled up matters by turning into a tyrant. “The CIA-backed film,” suggested the then acting Minister for Information and Publicity, Chen Chimutengwende, “showed that Zimbabwe’s enemies did not rest.”

Mugabe was every bit the contradiction of the colonial-postcolonial figure, supported one day as the romantic revolutionary to be praised, reviled as the authoritarian figure to condemn, the next. The revolutionary to be feted was a motif that continued through the 1980s, despite signs that the hero was getting particularly bloodthirsty. A string of honours were bestowed like floral tributes to a conquering warrior: an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Massachusetts in 1984, despite the butchering of the Ndebele; an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh (subsequently revoked in July 2007); a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

Accounts such as Martin Meredith’s Our Guns: Robert Mugabe and the Tragedy of Zimbabwe, point to the aphrodisiac of power, violence as currency, the cultivated links with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Laurent Kabila, and the creation of a crony state. The DRC connection softened the blows of international sanctions, at least to some extent, keeping rural voters in clover and the security forces content. Such arrangements, involving a juggling of loot and measuring out the spoils, is rarely indefinite.

The narrative of the power mad creature runs through as a counter to the liberal thesis that Mugabe started with promise, and went sour. This would have been tantamount to suggesting that Lenin insisted on changing the world through even-tempered tea ceremonies and soft voiced mediation, only to endorse revolutionary violence at a later date. James Kirchick, oft fascinated by the wiles of demagoguery, saw the strains of brutality early: Mugabe’s time in prison, as with other revolutionaries, led to a certain pupillage with power, a sense of its necessity. Degrees in law and economics were earned via correspondence from the University of London, a way to pass carceral time for subversive actions against the white Smith regime in 1964. All that time, he nursed Marxist-Leninist dreams.

As leader of the movement to oust the white regime, Mugabe was not sparing with his use of violence. In this, he differed from the founder of the ZANU founder Ndabaningi Sithole, who renounced terrorism and subversion after his 1969 sentence for incitement. Nor was he averse to internal suppression: his cadres had to be trustworthy in the cause.

Over time, the distance between Mugabe the ruler, and the Zimbabwean citizenry, grew. International sanctions, applied with much callousness, bit. Hyperinflation set in. The state was left bankrupt. Food shortages in 2004 did not sway him. “We are not hungry,” Mugabe told Sky News. “Why foist this food upon us? We don’t want to be choked. We have enough.”

In November 2017, a coup by senior military personnel was launched in terms that seemed almost polite, a sort of dinner party seizure. Mugabe was placed under house arrest; his ZANU-PF party had decided that the time had come. The risk of Marufu coming to power was becoming all too real, though this femme fatale rationale can only be pushed so far. There were celebrations in the streets. Thirty-seven years prior, there were similar calls of jubilation for the new leader. Left with his medical ailments, Mugabe died at Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore on Friday, farewelled by his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa as “an icon of liberation, a pan Africanist who dedicated his life to the emancipation of his people.” The muse of history can be atrociously fickle.

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Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die

Mon, 2019-09-09 14:03

Somewhere Beyond Corporate Media Yemenis Die
(Parody of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg)
 

Somewhere beyond corporate media Yemenis die,
Folk rarely heard of, yet our weapons they’re killed by.
Somewhere beyond corporate media Al Qaeda of AP expands,
Saudi/US war crime crony, sanctity of human life be damned.

Yemenis wish the stripes and stars
Americans would end these wars.
Stop cluster bombs over chimney tops,
starvation, cholera holocausts.

No prob for U.S. politicians.
Put profits over lives of children.
Whether SA, NRA, capitalism rules.
Unmoved by violence in their own schools.

As Deep State spreads global trauma
special thanks Bush, Trump, Obama.
America’s conscience a pathetic mess.
Its heart deep-frozen by the mainstream press.

Don’t you, too, dread the return of karma?
Our country’s totally tanked its honor.
Somewhere beyond corporate media bluebirds flew.
Despite all that’s been ravaged, US is in no way through.

Control Bab-el-Mandeb Strait is neocons’ plan,
Plunder Yemen oil (entangling Iran),
Expanding the carnage to full Yemen genocide
As US joins Hitler on history’s other side!

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Let Them Eat Cake: a Journey into Edward Said’s Humanism

Fri, 2019-09-06 16:10

Photograph Source: Briantrejo – CC BY-SA 3.0

It was April 27, 1974, the day of my bar mitzvah. The food at the reception was unremarkable with the exception of the dessert, a big yellow cake in my honor that happened to be shaped like the state of Israel. I liked cake, especially yellow cake.

I don’t know who among the guests got served a piece of the West Bank. But those slices came shaded with hatching formed out of lines of brown icing. The baker must have been studying Middle East affairs in night school because not only the West Bank but other swathes of contested land such as the Sinai and the Golan Heights and even the small Gaza Strip—all seized in the 1967 Six-Day War—had been marked off. Miniature Israeli flags had been planted in the cake to underscore the triumph of the Jewish people in what is certainly one of the most fraught pieces of earth on the planet. Why the cake was partly shaded was a question that never crossed my mind.

We had learned in Hebrew school that Israel was a land without people for a people without land. Perfect, I thought. People gave me bar mitzvah gifts including certificates for trees planted there in my honor. A land without people suggested barrenness to me. Trees seemed like a sensible idea.

* * *

In 1976 I visited Israel and was escorted around by a fellow named Alex who understandably enough called me by my Hebrew name. We visited a number of the places marked off with hatching on the cake including Hebron, located in the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.

When we arrived in the Golan Heights I stepped out of the car and threw up, though I was not making any kind of political statement. Alex had a heavy foot. I saw trees on our journey but none planted in my name as we sped toward a kibbutz named Kfar Giladi located near the border with Lebanon. The next day we drove south to Jerusalem through what Alex called a “liberated area.” I am sure I had no idea what that meant. I only wanted to get to Jerusalem without throwing up again.

I learned that when the Zionists arrived they found an empty land, a wasteland in desperate need of improvement. And improvement is precisely what the industrious Jews did, making the desert bloom. Everywhere we went, Alex told the same story: Before the Jews came, there was nothing here. Now look at it. A beautiful, domesticated landscape humming along to the tune of modern life.

* * *

In college I figured out that there were these people. Call them the Palestinians. Golda Meir, the prime minister at the time of my bar mitzvah, famously said that as for the Palestinian people, “they did not exist.” No one ever spoke about Palestinians in temple or on the trip to Israel. It was always Arabs that I heard about, never Palestinian Arabs.

There was this guy circulating around Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where I went to college, who routinely talked about these mysterious Palestinian people. I thought he was called Norm, as in Norman Chomsky.

Chomsky referred to the Palestinians as an indigenous people. No one had told me. He said the Palestinians had a legitimate claim to my bar mitzvah cake, though he didn’t quite put it that way.

I was wandering around a Cambridge bookstore when I stumbled onto a book called “The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians” (1983). The author was Noam Chomsky, a professor at M.I.T., the same person I had once seen holding forth on the Palestinians. He certainly had a different understanding of Israel’s role in the world than Sanford Saperstein, my rabbi back home, who called Israel the lone democracy in an embattled region beset by terrorists seeking to push the Jews into the sea.

* * *

A few years later, I ran across “Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question” (1988). One of the co-editors was someone named Edward Said.

Born in West Jerusalem in 1935, Said had left Palestine for Cairo in 1947. Four years later, he moved to the United States, where his parents had connections. (Said’s father studied at Case Western Reserve University, where I currently teach.) A transgressive child who took his share of beatings, Said attended a boarding school in the Connecticut River Valley, a natural environment that—given his upbringing in a desert—only seemed to add to his sense of alienation (“snow signified a kind of death,” he would later write). Moving on to study at Princeton and Harvard and then joining the Columbia University faculty in English and Comparative Literature in 1963, Said, who met Chomsky during the height of the protests over Vietnam, emerged as one of the most prominent dissident intellectuals of the twentieth century.

An immensely learned man who saw the intellectual as humanity’s best defense against an “ahistorical, forgetting world,” Said took a hard left turn after the Six-Day War. He recalled finding Martin Luther King’s warmth toward Israel’s triumph in the battle vexing, presumably because it was based on the assumption that the Palestinians simply did not exist. As Said wrote in 1968, “Palestine is imagined as an empty desert waiting to burst into bloom, its inhabitants inconsequential nomads possessing no stable claim to the land and therefore no cultural permanence.” For this and similar attempts to overturn establishment views, Said was vilified as an anti-Semite and a “professor of terror.”

Said was living proof that my Hebrew school education wasn’t an education at all. A land without people? Empty? Palestinians don’t exist? Israel’s public relations onslaught, designed to overturn the fact that the founding of the country entailed the dispossession of the indigenous peoples, worked brilliantly.

A year after my bar mitzvah, Said had testified before a committee of Congress. Imagine, he said, “that by some malicious irony you found yourselves declared foreigners in your own country. This is the essence of the Palestinians’ fate during the twentieth century.” Said titled his 1999 memoir “Out of Place” in reference to his life spent struggling with the pain of exile.

Said’s humanity allowed him to see the struggle in this corner of the world in terms that captured the true tragedy involved. As he wrote, “The dawning awareness all around was of two peoples locked in a terrible struggle over the same territory, in which one, bent beneath a horrific past of systematic persecution and extermination, was in the position of an oppressor towards the other people.” Though advocating for the rights of Palestinians, Said always acknowledged the reality that Zionism evolved as it did because of the persecution and genocide that the Jews suffered.

After the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Said uncovered something Chomsky ignored: that despite the imbalance in power, the Palestinians had agency, a point underscored by the First Intifada, a sustained anti-colonial insurrection that began in 1987, the year before I sat down to read Mr. Said.

Said’s intellect, his political engagement, and, most of all, the actions of ordinary Palestinians seeking liberation helped to change how the Israeli authorities viewed the Palestinian people—they were no longer rendered nonexistent, for how could a resistance movement not have some unifying identity? Israeli leaders in the 1980s began to describe the Palestinians variously as “jackals” (General Moshe Dayan), “grasshoppers” (Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir), “vermin” (Prime Minister Menachem Begin), and “roaches” (General Rafael Eitan). Said wrote: “Perhaps we can someday look forward to achieving the status of cattle or of monkeys.”

In 1988, Said participated in an event held in New York with the philosopher Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study. A Jew known for his progressive politics, Walzer criticized Said for harping on the past when, he argued, the issue with respect to the Palestinians was the future. Said was speechless. At which point a woman in the audience named Hilda Silverstein went on the attack, asking Walzer: “How dare you say that to anybody. Because of all the people in the world, we ask the world to remember our past. And you’re telling a Palestinian to forget the past? How dare you?”

Said would not return to his place of birth until the evening of June 12, 1992, forty-five years after he last stepped foot there. He had no way of knowing about my cake and subsequent romp around his homeland where I felt eminently welcomed.

* * *

I wonder whether I would remember my bar mitzvah cake were it not for the photographers from Field Studios located in Brooklyn. They produced a small monument in honor of the affair: a four-inch thick album with eighth-of-an-inch-thick gilded-edge pages that immortalized the confection. There I am in my first suit with a large fuchsia bowtie (clip-on) exploding from under my chin. The photographer had me pose with my arms resting on the table, which caused me to lean in and gaze at the expansive Israeli state rendered in beige, brown, and red icing.

For years that turned into decades, the hulking bar mitzvah album sat on the shelf in the family room of my childhood home. These were the inter-cake years when the confection slipped into the recesses of my personal history. And there it rested until it vaulted into consciousness again in the spring of 2010.

By this point in my life I was a college professor and had been for more than two decades. I was in an unfortunate meeting about the propriety of including a donor on a university hiring committee for an endowed professorship in Judaic studies when I launched into a discussion of my thirty-five-year-old cake. The hiring committee also included, astonishingly, a faculty member in physics who just happened to be a Zionist, and who had no academic credentials for weighing in on the matter.

Edward Said long ago exposed the ways in which intellectuals helped to legitimize the status quo. Allowing a donor and a scientist to help hire a humanities scholar was a recipe for more legitimation. Bringing up the obnoxious cake was my way of drawing attention to the offensive process.

Apparently the vulgarity of my holy land confection fell on deaf ears because a few years later, in 2015, two donors from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland—committed in its own words to “support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state”—participated in another university job search in Judaic studies. This faculty position was funded with a gift, mandating donor participation, named in honor of Abba Hillel Silver. As Walter Hixon shows in “Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict” (2019), Silver played a key role in linking Jewish identity to the Zionist project and emerged as one of the architects of the Israel lobby, which has worked relentlessly to undermine justice for the Palestinian people. How fitting that Jewish Federation donors should help vet the job applications! Mercifully, Said, who by this point was buried in the mountains of Lebanon, missed all of this.

* * *

I recently incorporated the settler colonial cake into a lecture titled “Who’s Afraid of Edward Said?” The talk tries to address this question while offering the example of my own personal shift in thinking about Israel and the Palestinians as a way of illustrating that our version of truth is shaped not simply by logic and evidence but by our experiences in life. My cake was the perfect foil to Said’s vision of a more equal and democratic world based on shared access to the earth, self-determination, and mutuality. The cake’s flags and lines are about nationalism and possession, about what divides us from one another, a grim world that is as hopeless as it is bankrupt.

Who is afraid of Edward Said? The list is long and goes well beyond celebrities like Alan Dershowitz who used the occasion of Said’s death from cancer in 2003 to compare him, in probably the most tortured analogy ever to be concocted, to Meir Kahane, the founder of the Jewish Defense League, a violent anti-Arab, Jewish nationalist group.

Around the same time, neoconservative Martin Kramer also indicted Said, whom he called an “aggrieved Palestinian.” Kramer resented Said for helping to give birth to postcolonialism, which examines imperialism and radically unequal relations of power in the shaping of the world. In Kramer’s bizarre rendering, postcolonialism overturned Middle East studies and sent it into a tailspin that ended by eliminating what he called “disinterested objectivity.” It apparently never occurred to this highly pedigreed chap, with three different degrees from Princeton, that politics and scholarship are not two separate departments in the game of intellectual life. “No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life,” Said wrote in his 1978 classic “Orientalism.” Which explains why Kramer is associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank closely tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a group that markets itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.”

These are the kinds of donnybrooks that periodically break out in the academic world; it is easy to dismiss them. But then I learned of a Columbia alumnus, who had studied English, but who refused to take a class with Said because his rabbi portrayed him as the devil incarnate. The student, who went on to graduate school at Emory University, finally figured out the truth about Said. Indeed, the student felt so guilty about his misconception that when Said visited Emory he tried to apologize by bending over backward in order to convince Said to let him take him to the airport.

At another extreme in regard to openness was a high school student from the Bronx who took the 2010 English AP test. The exam included a quotation from Said that read: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and its native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” There is no reference to Israel or Palestine in the passage. But the mere mention of Said’s name caused the student to object to the question, calling it “very reflective of the widespread use of education and testing as a platform for anti-Israel propaganda.”

Above all, Said’s greatest commitment was to humanism, which he defined as the attempt “to dissolve Blake’s mind-forg’d manacles so as to be able to use one’s mind historically and rationally for the purposes of reflective understanding and genuine disclosure.” Embracing humanism means rejecting state power in the name of critical thought. It means, as he wrote near the end of his life, “a process of unending disclosure, discovery, self-criticism, and liberation.” Said held humanism in such high regard that he viewed it as “the only, I would go so far as to say, the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history.” The quotation is inscribed around a mural erected at San Francisco State University in Said’s honor.

Humanism is not about rallying around a flag or “the national war of the moment,” as Said once put it. It’s not about scarfing down a cake that celebrates dispossession and exile, but about what unites us as human beings on this pale blue planet: our attachment to place; our connections to each other; our ability to feel emotion and experience an essential humanity in the face of whatever differences we might have.

Ted Steinberg teaches at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York.

 

The post Let Them Eat Cake: a Journey into Edward Said’s Humanism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Racism is About Power, Not Unpleasant Sentiments

Fri, 2019-09-06 16:00


In September of 2011, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis— a man who the best evidence suggested was innocent. On February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered by self-appointed community ‘guardian’ George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Then Michael Brown was murdered by the Ferguson police and his lifeless body was left lying in the street for hours. And then Freddie Gray was murdered by the Baltimore police. And on, and on.

These references, now long surpassed by crimes equally as brutal and egregious, are used to mark a moment in political history. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter arose to challenge the power that both motivated and legitimated them. The goal wasn’t to replace one oppressive power with another. It was to end repressive power. This clarity of purpose was lost following the election of Donald Trump.

The threads that linked these murders were 1) state, or quasi-state power (Zimmerman), being used in 2) racially targeted murders. As illustrated by the inclusion of George Zimmerman, and later Dylann Roof, precise delineation of state power is tenuous because it is sometimes ambiguous. The prosecutorial fail against Mr. Zimmerman could have been contested at the Federal level. But the Obama administration chose not to do so. Dylann Roof was charged, prosecuted and is in prison.

The killers who aren’t in prison are the front-line representatives of state power— the police. To write that these cops are racist misrepresents the broader political context of their actions. The laws they are sent out to enforce exist predominantly to protect the ‘property’ of those who have it from those who don’t. And the system of adjudication is pay-to-play— the people who spend time in prison generally can’t afford adequate legal representation.

Understanding this relation of the police, and policing, to property is crucial. It ties the power that the police are given— both its type and extent, to maintaining an economic order. Racism alone doesn’t explain how and why laws are written as they are— or who writes them. Or why the judicial and carceral functions are class-based. When viewed through a prism of race, mass incarceration is racist. But when viewed through both race and class, racial bias is relocated to class position. It is poor people who are put in prison.

Through a binary constraint of black and white, race is the only possible explanation of social outcomes. This is a taxonomic, epistemic or ontological point— depending on one’s view of how these things get sorted. In other words, it is a limit on understanding by design. As is laid out below, economic explanations of race relations can accommodate racism, but essentialist / neoliberal explanations can’t accommodate economic explanations.

To bring this back to politics for a moment, following the election of Donald Trump, ‘fighting racism’ shifted from involved analyses of race and power to doing street battle with middle- and working-class jackasses. The very same police who murdered Mike Brown and Freddie Gray were recast as slightly right-of-neutral arbiters in a battle between fascists and anti-fascists. Surveillance and defense industry hacks in the CIA, NSA and FBI were recast as frontline protectors against incipient fascism.

This latter point comes via simplifying assumptions. The motive is shorthand, not deception. Through Russiagate, these Federal agencies came to the defense of liberalism. Individual representatives expanded on the base thesis of an attack on liberal democracy. Implied was / is that liberal democracy is both liberal and democratic. When combined with charges of a fascist insurgency, a reactionary response to restore the status quo emerged.

In other words, a thin theory of race and racism was used to shift social struggle against power into a struggle in support of power. History was reset to have begun in 2016. Democrats who had previously railed against immigrants and deported them in record numbers became beacons of light. Democrats who posed at Stone Mountain, home of the modern KKK, and who spent their time in office putting poor people in prison, were recast as great liberators.

Importantly, a public narrative regarding class was shifted back in favor of the rich. This thin theory of race was used to flatten power, to pose displaced manufacturing workers as the social equivalents of Charles Koch and Bill Gates through ‘whiteness.’ And this narrow conception of power ties up to American imperial power. George W. Bush can slaughter a million-brown people in Iraq, but the ‘problem of race’ is 300 tiki-torchers in Charlottesville?

This isn’t just a matter of numbers. Small groups can have outsized cultural and political influence. Ralph Nader makes this argument vis-a-vis fascism and Mr. Trump quite succinctly here. As it applies otherwise, the problem lies in the parsing. Barack Obama was brutal and relentless with immigrant deportations. And Donald Trump more likely than not based his racist and xenophobic appeals on how well they served Bill Clinton. If you want to claim alarming difference, know your history.

The small-to-middling political problem here is this: political solutions will require forming political coalitions with people we may not agree with. Despite liberal assurances to the contrary, many of Mr. Trump’s working-class voters know more about the Democrats’ policies than Democrats do. For this reason, they see liberal objections to Mr. Trump as either effete or ill-informed. By treating people like they aren’t stupid, political hay can be made.

And lest this point be lost, the rich most certainly agree with the current crop of anti-fascists that the problem is poor people. Pejorative terms for the poor and working class can be found all through leftish chatter. Marx and Gramsci must be rolling in their graves. Dave Chappelle jokes that black people prefer rich white people. What he left out is that white people prefer rich black people. Implication: only the rich can save us?

Elsewhere, when the mortgage lenders who disappeared the preponderance of black wealth in the late 2000s were bailed out, people with few resources, many of whom had lived in their homes for decades, were left homeless and destitute. This economic dispossession should read as familiar. The U.S. is now five decades into it.

If a loan can’t be repaid, it is an entry on a balance sheet. Mr. Obama demonstrated that banks won’t be allowed to fail. However, in the case of black wealth, working- and middle-class people were made homeless and destitute. Foreclosures ruin people’s credit. Without an address and telephone number, finding employment is close to impossible. Most landlords do credit checks, as do cell phone providers.

Mr. Obama’s bailouts weren’t for the benefit of racists. He was bailing out bankers. With respect to charging blacks higher interest rates, the lenders saw an angle to earn larger commissions and they used it. This is capitalism 101— find an opportunity and exploit it. If exploiting people’s vulnerabilities is a problem, end political economy that is premised on doing so.

Notice the trend here. The cops who shoot unarmed black youth are given immunity from prosecution. The bankers who charged blacks a higher interest rate on mortgage loans were bailed out. What ties these together is service to the existing economic order.

Emotive theories of racism focus on narrow motivations. What adds racial meaning to the ‘disappearance of black wealth’ is the intersection of race and class that is a function of history. If the lenders weren’t explicit racists— weren’t motivated by racial animus (they weren’t), then the theory must be broadened until it sticks to ‘work’ (e.g. racist people => racist group=> racist organization=> racist society).

In this particular case, blacks were charged higher interest rates because lenders could. They could because of power differentials that are the result of history and class. The explanation that fits is that racial / economic history landed these people in the class position they occupy. It only reduces to ‘racism’ when a sledgehammer is applied to it.

Almost all of these same power differentials impact whites as well. Through risk pricing based on ‘objective’ criteria, poor and economically vulnerable whites pay higher interest rates than the rich. That is, those least able to pay high interest rates are charged the highest interest rates. This is why capitalists love to operate in poor neighborhoods.

Consider for a moment the discourse around ‘deplorables’ — economically anxious whites who because of their racist views, deserve whatever comes their way. Add the liberal ‘criminal blacks’ canard and you have dispossessed blacks ‘getting what they deserve’ as well. This is class warfare from the perspective of the rich.

It is likely that many of those passionate about ending racism don’t understand its conceptual structure. Vile blather from the 1940s about ‘demonic races’ and ‘dead souls’ is now regularly put forward with ‘white’ being substituted for ‘black.’ In addition to dubious sources and tenor, broad characteristics attributed to any race represent claims of intrinsic— essential, difference. This, dear readers, is the KKK’s theory of race.

Whether intended or not, this thin view of racism works against the idea of economic exploitation. If interactions are motivated by racial animus, then 1) why are they taking place at all— what is the motivation for doing so, and 2) what distributional assumptions would support a conception of exploitation, if there is one? In fact, American slavery as an institution adheres quite closely to the form and function of capitalism.

The argument that it is lousy capitalism, either through the use of coercion to expropriate labor or through its toxic social consequences, is laughable. Two- and one-half centuries ago Adam Smith recognized that ‘employer combines’ gave employers the power to coerce and exploit labor. And capitalism has been in crisis almost as often as it hasn’t since the early nineteenth century.

Oddly, the thesis of settler colonialism, which is perfectly serviceable as a description of historical events, has likewise been used to flatten power, to equate the power of monarchs and oligarchs with that of the rabble. First, few people willingly leave their homes unless they have to. Second, granting that settlers willingly and enthusiastically pursued brutal campaigns of murder, rape, pillage and dispossession, their actions were conceived from above and disproportionately benefited oligarchs.

Whatever the sentiments and animosities of settlers, they served a political role that was conceived and set in motion from above. American slavery and genocide weren’t cases of self-organizing rabble deciding to brutalize people for the hell of it. Slavery was brought from Britain by oligarchs. Many of these oligarchs were slavers. Placing culpability where it belongs requires recognizing the institutional role that elites played.

The histories being written in the settler-colonial frame are more nuanced than portrayed here. However, interpretation has, once again, flattened power to place settlers and oligarchs as equals in political culpability. A contemporary analog is the role that Israeli settlers play in the systematic dispossession of Palestinians. The settler movement is sanctioned and backed by the power of the Israeli government. And implicitly, by the U.S.

When this logic is applied back to the street battles being fought in Charlottesville and Portland, what stands out is how narrow the theories of race and power are to perceive these movements as something new, and therefore insurrectionary. That is, they are significant locally and to the people to whom they are significant. But in terms of their collective political impact, that has been spread out over two or more centuries, not concentrated in the present as seems to be the sentiment. Formal state violence points to the loci of power, not a few hundred angry bullies lashing out.

The argument that these right-wing movements are the avant-garde of a fascist insurgency grants them more power than they currently possess. Only to the extent that they have the support of the oligarchs do they have power. So, is the problem street fighters or the power of the oligarchs?

Phrased differently, if the street fighters were to renounce their evil ways, wouldn’t the oligarchs still have the power to do as they wish? If they wish to do evil, say by launching a neoliberal revolution that dispossesses tens of millions of workers, sets the environment on fire, results in multiple murderous and strategically disastrous wars and brings one of their own to power, will it be racists, fascists and neo-Nazis who they turn to to accomplish it? History suggests no.

Put differently still, between the street fighters in Charlottesville and Portland and the oligarchs, who has the power to make sure that a Green New Deal, a Job Guaranty and Medicare for All don’t come to fruition? Who has the power to build more nuclear weapons rather than reducing the existing supply? And who, in the absence of something akin to a revolution, has the power to make sure that Bernie Sanders doesn’t find his way to the White House?

Finally, the way that liberal groups and the press decided to include black nationalists in counts of ‘hate’ and ‘racist’ groups is politically defenestrating, which is probably why they did it. The term ‘hate’ applies emotive character to political organizing. It implies that class struggle and other forms of political opposition are emotional responses to reasonable circumstances. This tactic has been used liberals and the right to delegitimate the left for decades.

The application of the term ‘racist’ likewise implies a dubious equivalence. White nationalists have a long history of racist violence, black nationalists don’t. White nationalism was closely aligned with state power, although less so today. Black nationalism hasn’t been so aligned. White nationalists adhere to essential theories of racial difference. Black nationalists do so to a much lesser extent.

These differences suggest that the (neo)liberal conception of racism that spread following the 2016 election is both politically loaded and reactionary. Fanonists, anarchists and anti-fascists may want to consider this in their thinking.

 

The post Racism is About Power, Not Unpleasant Sentiments appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

No Joe: On Character, Quality and Authenticity

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:59

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Democratic Party establishment might want to heed Santayana’s warning about how people who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. One of the many lessons of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign is that your candidate better damn well possess strong quality and character if you are going to run on, well, candidate quality and character.

The Clinton campaign might have prevailed over the Malignant One if it hadn’t made egregiously stupid mistakes. It failed to set foot in Wisconsin after the Democratic convention or to purchase campaign ads in Michigan. Clinton got caught telling wealthy New York City donors that half of Trump’s supporters were “a basket of [racist, white, working-class] deplorables”—a hideous mistake hauntingly akin to Mitt Romney’s gaffe in 2012 when he was recorded telling elite donors that 47 percent of the population were a bunch of lazy welfare dependents.

Also problematic was the Clinton team’s decision to run almost completely on the issue of candidate quality and quality – on the undeniable awfulness of Trump. This was a blunder, given Hillary’s weak character standing with voters, already low before the e-mail scandal that FBI Director James Comey re-ignited late in the season.

Which brings us to Joe Biden. Like Hillary (and Bill) Clinton, he represents the corporate-establishmentarian wing of the Democratic Party. Also like Hillary, his main hook is the undisputable dreadfulness of the Donald.

So what, then, about Biden? Democrats need to talk about Joe. There’s little doubt that the 77-year-year-old former U.S Vice President is suffering from some measure of dementia. Confusing New Hampshire with Vermont, not knowing the name of the college where he just spoke, thinking that he met with Parkland school shooting victims when he was vice president, invading the centrist MSDNC host Joy Reid’s physical space to claim that she advocates “physical revolution,” inappropriate public touching (and sniffing), forgetting thoughts in mid-sentence, saying that the recent Dayton and El Paso mass shootings took place in “Michigan” and “Houston” – all of this and more (including the alarming frequency with which he looks lost and confused) suggest that Biden’s elevator is no longer running all the way to the top floor (if it ever was) as he nears his ninth decade of life. Executive function is no small matter. This is about aging, which some people (e.g. the still on-point Bernie Sanders) do more gracefully and cogently than others (e.g. Joe).

Long before Biden’s gray cells got so much grayer, however, he showed signs of moral decrepitude. During his dismally unsuccessful campaign for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden stole key lines and themes from the British Labor Party candidate Neil Kinnock, falsely portraying himself as a working-class hero who rose up from generations of coal miners. After it came out that Biden had ripped off the English politician, Biden gave a speech crediting Kinnock but claiming that he’d received a videotape of the Kinnock speech he plagiarized from “a leader of another country.” In reality, Biden got the speech from a Washington political consultant who had made the tape available to numerous candidates.

Joe’s oratorical pilfering of Kinnock was not plagiarism technically speaking since political speeches don’t bear copyrights. During law school, however, Biden committed plagiarism the real thing. He took five pages from a law review article for a brief he wrote in a legal methodology course. Biden was penalized with an ‘F’ for the course, which he had to repeat.

Another example of morally problematic deception in Biden’s political career concerns the tragic death of his young wife and infant daughter in a traffic accident in December of 1972. In September of 2001, one week after the 9/11 jetliner attacks, Biden told nearly three thousand people at the University of Delaware that his wife and daughter had been killed by “an errant driver who stopped to drink instead of drive.”

Six years later, while running for president again in Iowa, he told an Iowa City audience that the driver of the truck that hit his wife and daughter “allegedly drank his lunch instead of eating his lunch.”

This was false. As Politico senior staff writer Michael Kruse reported last January:

“The problem was it wasn’t true. The driver of the truck, Curtis C. Dunn of Pennsylvania, was not charged with drunk driving. He wasn’t charged with anything. The accident was an accident, and though the police file no longer exists, coverage in the newspapers at the time made it clear that fault was not in question. For whatever reason, Neilia Biden, who was holding the baby, ended up in the right of way of Dunn’s truck coming down a long hill.”

“‘She had a stop sign. The truck driver did not,’ Jerome Herlihy told me. He’s a retired judge who then was a deputy attorney general and once was a neighbor to Biden and remains friendly. A pal of Biden at the time asked Herlihy ‘to go out to the state police troop where the driver of the other vehicle was to make sure everything was going all right,’ and so he did. ‘In the end,’ Herlihy said, ‘I concurred in their decision that there was no fault on his part’.”

Biden’s lie, centered on the deaths of his first wife and baby daughter, upset the family of Curtis Dunn, who died in 1999. Dunn had lived his last twenty-seven years with the painful memory of what happened when Biden’s first wife recklessly pulled out in front of him with her baby in her lap.

What could have led Biden to falsely attribute the tragedy to a drunk driver? Kruse bends over backwards to provide psychological rationalizations (he speculates that Biden used the lie to make the deaths “more palatable” and that Biden just likes to stretch the truth) but the 2007 version of the lie, uttered in the context of his Iowa presidential campaign, surely reflected a desire to curry sympathy points from voters. It’s not a pretty picture.

Consistent with concerns that Biden bends the truth for political advantage, the Washington Post recently outed him for concocting a ridiculous tale about his heroic role in honoring a medal-winning U.S. soldier in a war zone as vice president. It was no small fib. By the Post’s account, “Biden got the time period, the location, the heroic act, the military branch, and the rank of the recipient wrong as well as his own role in the ceremony.” Pathetic.

But Biden’s worst deception is his pretense of being regular old working-class “lunch-bucket” Joe, a great product and friend of ordinary working people. His fiercely corporatist and pro-Wall Street record militates strongly against this faux blue-collar branding:

+ Voting to rollback bankruptcy protections for college graduates (1978) and vocational school graduates (1984) with federal student loans.

+Working with Republican allies to pass the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which put traditional “clean slate” Chapter 7 bankruptcy out of reach for millions of ordinary Americans and thousands of small businesses (2005).

+Voting against a bill that would have compelled credit card companies to warn customers of the costs of only making minimum payments.

+Honoring campaign donations from Coca-Cola by cosponsoring a bill that permitted soft-drink producers to skirt antitrust laws (1979).

+ Joining just one other Congressional Democrat to vote against a Judiciary Committee measure to increase consumers’ rights to sue corporations for price-fixing (1979).

+Strongly supporting the 1999 Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which permitted the re-merging of investment and commercial banking by repealing the Depression-era Glass–Steagall Act. (This helped create the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession.)

+Supporting the corporate-neoliberal North American Free Trade agreement and the globalist investor rights Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Adding clumsy neoliberal insult to concrete neoliberal policy injury, Biden now absurdly criticizes those who advocate a universal basic income of “selling American workers short” and undermining the “dignity” of work. He opposes calls for free college tuition and Single Payer health insurance. He defends Big Business from popular criticism, writing in 2017 that “Some want to single out big corporations for all the blame. … But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy.” That’s called propagating a fantasy – the existence of a democratic political system in which the working-class majority has the power to hold concentrated wealth accountable.

“I don’t think five hundred billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys,” Biden sickeningly told the Brookings Institution last year – this as he claimed to worry about how the “gap is yawning” between the American super-rich and everyone else.

Most nauseating of all, “blue-collar” Biden says that he has “no empathy” for Millennials’ struggle to get by in the savagely unequal and insecure precariat economy he helped create over his many years of abject service to the Lords of Capital. “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are—give me a break,” said Biden, while speaking to Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times last year. “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

Read that a second time: “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

So what if Millennials face a significant diminution of opportunity, wealth, income and security compared to the Baby Boomers with whom Biden identifies? Who cares if “lunch bucket Joe” helped shrink the American Dream for young people with the neoliberal policies and politics he helped advance?

Biden’s incredibly low standing with young Americans – he is backed by just 7 percent (!) of U.S. voters under 30 – is richly deserved.

Sadly enough, Biden is the preferred candidate of older Black voters reached by pollsters so far. That position is richly undeserved. Proud of his onetime alliance with openly segregationist, racially terrorist Jim Crow U.S. Senators like James O. Eastland – the one who Biden (forgetting his own skin color?) says “never called me ‘boy’” – Biden backed the racist mass incarceration state by supporting Bill Clinton’s ‘Three Strikes” crime and prison bill along with Clinton and Newt Gingrich vicious abolition of Aid for Families with Dependent Children. Biden took his embrace of the supposedly sacred virtue of bipartisanship to the grotesque level of forming close friendships with virulent southern white racists like Republican Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, not to mention the frothing warmonger John McCain – a natural ally given Biden’s longstanding imperialism.

Trump won in 2016 thanks in no small part to the Democrats’ longstanding inauthenticity problem. In the U.S. as in other countries “reactionary populist” fascist-style leaders score “authenticity” points by seeming to “speak their minds” and “gut” in ugly but “genuine” if “politically incorrect” ways while “politically correct” liberal and social-democratish politicians look fake and untrustworthy (and inauthentic) as their pretense of representing the interests of the working and middle class majority is belied by their cringing subservience to the globalist rich and powerful. As the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh recently commented, reflecting on how “a guy like Donald Trump won”:

“They [voters] understood where he was coming from. That Trump is just a blowhard. They laughed at him. They knew Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Trump wasn’t the same old big smile and a lot of good words. The Democrats have been going around saying, ‘We’re for the people, we’re for the little guy.’ And all they do is run to Wall Street for money. And the one guy that didn’t, Bernie Sanders, was sabotaged by the Democratic National Committee.”

That’s the core systemic inauthenticity of U.S. politics right there, consistent with a still-left Christopher Hitchens’ onetime description of “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Throw in unmistakable signs of deeply flawed personal character like Hillary’s covering for her husband’s serial sexual assaults and Biden’s history of plagiarism and lying and you have big problems for Democratic presidential candidates in an ever more savagely unequal nation where, as Bernie keeps pointing out, three absurdly rich people now possess between them as much wealth as the bottom fifty percent.

The best alternative from an electability standpoint would be for the Democrats to run Sanders, an authentically progressive, social-democratish neo- and green-New Dealer running without and indeed against Big Business sponsorship and (imagine) in accord with majority left-of-center public policy opinion. But the Democratic Party isn’t primarily about winning elections, much less advancing social justice and environmental sanity. It’s about serving elite corporate and financial interests and those interests would prefer to see a creeping fascist and eco-exterminist Neanderthal in the White House over a genuine “populist progressive.”

Wall Street’s top pick Biden would probably need a recession between now and the first Tuesday in November of next year to defeat Trump. Sanders would not. If Joe finally proves too obviously dementia-addled and truth-challenged to be sold as a credible challenger to the tariff- and Twittter-tantruming Trump baby and no dependable neoliberal substitute can be found (Kamala Harris and Pete Butiggieg have faded of late), capital may do its best to cut a deal with the vaguely half-progressive policy maven Elizabeth Warren, who comforted corporate election investors by standing to applaud (unlike Sanders) when Donito Assolini called for Congress to pledge that “America will never be a socialist country” during his State of the Union Address last January.

But Warren has her own authenticity and political correctness problems, to say the least – problems that don’t haunt Sanders. As the clever and idiosyncratic Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote two days ago, “the charade of representing herself as a Native American, and the catastrophe of her DNA test turns off working-class families” that “Democrats need” to defeat the “aspiring fascist leader” (Eric Draitster) who currently contaminates the White House. Kass is right, I think, to counsel Warren to “drop out and back Bernie” in the interest of unifying the (what Kass calls the) “hard left” Democratic voting base (I doubt Kass knows what the actual “hard left” is) to prevent the hapless prevaricator Biden from “rid[ing] his whoppers to the Democratic nomination.”

“Joe adrift, list in his multiverse of fabrication and moist feelings, like a sad sci-fi astronaut with gleaming white teeth in a Netflix movie” (Kass) is a Trump asset. Warren may turn out to be one too. The still sharp and genuinely progressive Sanders (well to my right) is not. He “has,” Kass writes, “the necessary authenticity.”

Look for those atop the Inauthentic Opposition (the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s dead on term to describe the neoliberal-era Democratic Party) to do everything they can to prevent their fiefdom from running its most viable candidate against the authentically gruesome ecofascist Donald Trump.

Please help Street keep writing here.

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Roaming Charges: Blood in the Eye of the Storm

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:58

Inside the eye of Dorian. Photo: NOAA.

+ Joe Biden, who is now claiming he opposed the Iraq War from Day One, (after speaking on the senate floor in favor of it and then voting for it) on September 9, 2003, 6 months after the first bombs fell on Baghdad.

Fareed Zakaria: “You supported the war. Are you having any second thoughts?”

Biden: “No I’m not having second — I’m having second thoughts only about the degree of confidence I placed in the administration to know what to do after Saddam was taken down.”

+ Biden on the day before Iraq war resolution passed, arguing for passage of the Lieberman-Warner amendment to the final bill: “Unlike my colleagues from West Virginia and Maryland, I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it’s a march to peace and security.”

+ Joe “Tiny Steps” Biden: “At CNN’s climate town hall, Biden refused to commit to a ban on fracking, offering a state’s rights defense and reminding the audience that, “everything is incremental.” State’s rights and incrementalism. Well, at least Biden’s been consistent his entire career on his two core beliefs.

+ Biden, who has been caught in one fabulation after another, is now reduced to saying that “the details don’t matter.” This won’t surprise anyone who is familiar with his record writing criminal justice legislation.

+ Suspender Your Disbelief: When Gramps called for the criminalization of “raves.”

+ Biden is already bleeding and Sanders, Warren and Trump haven’t even thrown a punch yet…

+ The day after CNN’s climate forum, Joe Biden headed to Houston for a fundraiser hosted by fossil fuel executive, Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of Western LNG. Biden claimed he had no idea that Goldman was in the oil and gas business.

+ Biden is quietly violating his pledge not to take money from lobbyists by shaking down the “influence industry” for campaign cash. Of course, at this point who else would be willing to invest in his campaign?

+ In 1988, soon after Congress passed the first reforms of the federal welfare system in decades, Biden wrote an oped that trafficked in some of the most noxious racial stereotypes of the Reagan era:

“We are all too familiar with the stories of welfare mothers driving luxury cars and leading lifestyles that mirror the rich and famous. Whether they are exaggerated or not, these stories underlie a broad social concern that the welfare system has broken down—that it only parcels out welfare checks and does nothing to help the poor find productive jobs.”

Really? This is your guy, Democrats?

+ After a series of malaprops, gaffes and tall tales, Biden was sent out to calm anxious supporters in New Hampshire and demonstrate that he still had all his faculties, as limited as those might be. “I’m not going nuts,” he proclaimed. File this with the president who vowed “I’m not a crook” and the Senate candidate who declared: “I am not a witch!” Expect Trump to  recycle endlessly.

+ The Biden campaign now concedes it could lose Iowa. Not to worry, they say, Uncle Joe could lose the first several primaries and still win the nomination. The question is: does Biden have to win any primaries to secure the nomination Probably not, given the DNC’s current rules…

+ But why do you want to be president, Joe?
Well, uh, you see…what was the question again?

+ John McCain was many things, but “civil” was not one of them. They called him “McNasty” for a reason, Joe. McCain tried (at least once) to assault some of his constituents in his congressional office, as I reported here

+ Biden’s political career is a forty-year long train wreck in progress. No wonder he’s an Amtrak guy.

+ Dorian’s storm surge on Grand Bahama was estimated at 18-23 feet, which submerged all of the areas in green (0-15 feet elevation) and much of what’s yellow (16-30 feet elevation)…

+ CNN’s Patrick Oppmann on Grand Bahama: “There are no walls left of the Freeport airport. There is not a wall left…The level of devastation is breathtaking…Part of a plane is deposited in the middle of the terminal.”

+ If you keep a close eye on the market, you too can be a predatory capitalist, feasting off the misery of the victims of Climate Chaos…

+ In the last 169 years, only 35 Atlantic hurricanes have attained Category 5 status. Five of them in the last 4 years.

2019 – Dorian
2018 – Michael
2017 – Irma & Maria
2016 – Matthew

+ Trump on Cat 5 hurricanes…

+ Trump is rightly being ridiculed for wanting to nuke a hurricane. But how many recall that the Obama adm considered detonating a nuke in the Gulf of Mexico as a way to plug the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that its own (de)regulators were responsible for to begin with?

+ Deep Thoughts From Fox & Friends…

Brian Kilmeade: You’ll say this is crazy, but I’ve always thought to myself, isn’t there anything we can do to stop a Hurricane!?

Steve Doocy: I don’t think an atomic bomb is a way to do it.

Brian Kilmeade: With all the progress we’re making w/ driverless cars and Instagram could we stop one?

+ Catastrophic storms and destructively high tides used to occur once each decade, but could become regular as three to 15 times each year by 2100 in Bangladesh, a country that is literally disappearing under rising sea levels.

+ It looks like the oil companies finally did what JFK, LBJ, and Nixon, couldn’t: destroy the Mekong Delta. According to new research, more 12 million people could be “displaced” by flooding in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta within half a century. The Mekong’s elevation averages just 0.8 meter, almost two meters lower than commonly quoted estimates.

+ Raoni Metuktire: “So why do you do this? So that some of you can get a great deal of money. In the Kayapó language we call your money piu caprim, ‘sad leaves’, because it is a dead and useless thing, and it brings only harm and sadness.”

+ Ecologist Carlos Nobre on the deadly combination of deforestation and climate change: “With current warming, if we pass 20-25% deforestation, then we reach a tipping point and 50-60% of the Amazon becomes savanna. We are at 15-17% deforestation. We are only 20 to 30 years off.”

+ Imagine losing the Amazon and the Antarctic ice sheets. Well, it’s happening: “The estimated mass of particulate organic carbon held in sediments beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet is up to an order of magnitude greater than that associated with northern hemisphere permafrost.”

+ Amount the G-7 countries (US excluded) agreed to spend to f help Amazon countries fight wildfires: $20 million.
Amount USA spends per hour on GWOT: $34 million.

+ How many of those “carbon offsets” are now going up in smoke in Amazonia?

+ “The sea is eating all the sand,” says Leitu Frank, a native of Tuvalu, a Polynesian archipelago in Oceania. “Before, the sand used to stretch out far, and when we swam we could see the sea floor, and the coral. Now, it is cloudy all the time, and the coral is dead. Tuvalu is sinking.”

+ Cecil Roberts, President of United Mine Workers of America: “We need to develop technology to remove carbon from the burning of coal or you’re never, write that word down, never going to resolve climate change. Never.” Sorry, Cecil, for the sake of the planet (not to mention the health of your workers), we need to stop burning coal PERIOD.

+ In yet another fit of personal pique, Trump has instructed the EPA to revoke California’s ability to set its own clean air standards. So much for the shibboleth of the “state’s rights.”

+ The Sun wins the Headline of the Week award…

+ As my friend Laleh Khalili notes: “Boz (or Boris) sounds like baws which in Scots equals balls. So he has also been kicked in the nuts!”

+ Boris Johnson’s younger (and smarter) brother, Jo Johnson, resigned from the government and parliament on Thursday, exasperated by his brother’s madcap maneuvering this week. What goes around comes around, Boris: “We don’t do things that way, that’s a very left-wing thing,” Boris Johnson said when Ed Miliband stood against his brother David for Labour Party leader in 2010 . “Only a socialist could do that to his brother, only a socialist could regard familial ties as being so trivial as to shaft his own brother…Only lefties can think like that. They see people as discrete agents devoid of ties to society or to each other, and that’s how Stalin could murder 20 million people.”

+ Irish actor Chris O’Dowd on Brexit:

“It seems oddly fitting to the people of Ireland that Brexit is coming down to the backstop. The suggestion that the British government is making – that they won’t fuck us over – is laughable. That’s what they have done for 800 years. People growing up in Britain won’t have much sense of that. Their history books don’t really dwell on the depraved way Britain has treated its closest neighbour. What do I think will happen? Irish prosperity and peace are going to be completely usurped by Westminster. Again.”

+ In Weds. morning’s edition of the Dutch paper, NRC…

+ How long before Trump washes his hands of Boris Johnson?

+ Over to you, Ox…

+ Remember when Jesus threw the sick migrant children out of the camp?

+ In Trump’s border concentration camps menstruating girls are being denied tampons and sanitary napkins and are left to bleed through their underwear and pants.

“One young woman told lawyers that menstruating youngsters were permitted only one tampon, or sanitary pad, a day. After that, at least one girl ‘had no choice but to continue to wear her soiled underwear’ and clothes.”

+ A Las Vegas ICE official griped that it just takes too long for the US Gestapo to deport mothers with no criminal record: “She could have three more babies.

+ Imagine living in such horrifying conditions that you have PTSD at the age of five. Now imagine that these conditions are managed with that very purpose in mind by the US government.

+ Trump is diverting $3.6 billion from the Pentagon to begin construction of his border wall. Some Democrats have decried the move as an effort to “starve” the Pentagon. But the rest of us should thank Trump for setting a useful precedent that will make it that much easier to transfer the rest of the Pentagon’s budget to fund national health care.

+ Jim Naureckas: “I’d love to see someone conduct a poll: “If you were already getting free public health insurance, would you like to have the option to pay thousands of dollars a year to get the same kind of coverage from a for-profit insurer?”

+ So much for “the sacred right of property…” In September, Trump instructed his flacks to “take the land” and build his wall by election day and not to worry if they broke the law because he’d pardon them.

+ This week 9 Arizona State students from China were detained at LAX airport and denied admission to U.S. If this keeps up, they’ll be shuttering the math and physics departments faster than schools are dropping their Humanities programs.

+ Into the hands of Cruella…migrant children are turned over to an adoption agency linked to Betsy DeVos.

+ What “winning” looks like…the manufacturing sector has shrunk for the first time in more than three years.

+ The high desert country of eastern Oregon is tilting toward recession, as Trump’s trade war with China and Japan begins to bite the wheat industry. Trump rubbed salt in the wounds by deprecating the farmers and their crop.  “They (Japan) send thousands and thousands — millions — of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat! That’s not a good deal. And they don’t even want our wheat. They do it because they want us to at least feel that we’re okay. You know, they do it to make us feel good.”

+ Meanwhile, in Wisconsin farm loan delinquencies have soared to their highest level since 2001.

+ When they finally return from a prolonged summer vacation, House Democrats plan on launching an inquiry into…his payments to silence women he had sex with. Really? How about an inquiry into his role in silencing scientists at EPA, NOAA, Interior and Agriculture?

+ After 40 years of wandering in the political desert, finally a T-Exodus for the GOP?

+ It looks like Netanyahu is headed for re-election, which isn’t all that surprising since he perfectly embodies the Israeli mindset …

Israel, Midgam poll:
Who would you prefer as Prime Minister?

Netanyahu (Likud-ECR): 39% (-4%)
Gantz (B&W-Centrists): 30% (+1)
Neither: 17% (-2)
DK: 9% (-)

+/- 28/08/19

+ Even so, Netanyahu seems to be cracking under the strain a little more each day…

+ Give him credit. Netanyahu has dropped all pretense, claiming this week that Israel with assert absolute sovereignty over the West Bank. Here ends the fantasy of a two-state “solution”…

+ Trump’s Middle East peace coordinator, Jason Greenblat, who pushed zealously for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and for seizure of the Golan Heights as Israeli land in the name of ‘peace,’ is out.  He’ll be replaced Jared Kushner’s assistant and coffee boy, Avi Berkowitz. Berkowitz is 28. He graduated from law school in 2016.

+ 18 years of the GWOT and counting, military suicides are now claiming more lives than the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS combined.

+ Paid vacation days (guaranteed by law):

25 – Finland
25 – France
25 – Norway
25 – Sweden
22 – Portugal
20 – Australia
20 – United Kingdom
10 – Canada
10 – Japan
6 – Mexico
0 – United States

+ How the economy works (for Them)…

+ Time to boycott the anti-union not-so-fast food joint Burgerville, the “In-and-Out Burger” of the Pacific Northwest…

+ The tale of the (ticker) tape…

+ According to economist Benyamin Appelbaum: “Life expectancy rose for the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans between 1980 and 2010… declined for the poorest 20 percent of Americans. Shockingly, the difference… between poor and wealthy women widened from 3.9 years to 13.6 years.”

+ It turns out that Tomi Lahren’s American-flag themed yoga clothing is … made in China. Just call her Shanghai Barbie.

+ Torturing the homeless with “music” From CNN:

If you were to walk at night along the waterfront in West Palm Beach, Florida, you might hear something strange: A playlist of annoyingly catchy children’s songs — including “Baby Shark” and “Raining Tacos” — blared on loop all night to deter homeless people from sleeping near an event center. The Waterfront Lake Pavilion, a luxury venue that can be rented for $250 to $500 per hour, doesn’t want rough sleepers on its patio, so the city’s parks and recreation department devised the sonic deterrent.

+ Some might call it triangulation, others a perfect fit: Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in talks to join a “consulting firm” founded by two former Clinton staffers.

+ Alabama Governor Kay Ivey apologized for parading around in blackface during college, but said it was nothing to resign over.

+ Samuel Sinyangwe: “America has more governors who’ve worn blackface than black governors.”

+ “Some of our Hispanic pros with smaller hands, this is perfect for them,” proclaimed Lowe’s executive Joe McFarland, while trying to pitch a DeWalt 12-volt cordless power drill. I get you’re a racist and you talk like this while dove “hunting” and draining six-packs of Coors Lite. But on your company’s TV show, while trying to sell product?

I get you’re a racist and you talk like this while dove “hunting” and draining six-packs of Coors Lite. But on your company’s TV show, while trying to sell product?

+ US Rep Ralph Abraham’s pharmacies dispensed 1.5 MILLION doses of opioids in two rural Louisiana towns with a total population of 6,000 and yet when it came to marijuana he was a hardass drug warrior: “Again, as a physician, let me tell you. What I see in my practice, from any level of marijuana use, is bad. I’m against recreational, I’m against medical…we have other alternatives that work better, Dilaudid, OxyContin, you name it…”

+ Lindsey Graham is hellbent to put Obama under oath and interrogate him about Russiagate. Go for it, Lindsey, but don’t stop there: haul Bush and Cheney before your tribunal to answer for the deaths of 100s of thousands.

+ In the past decade, white men have fallen from 60% to 39% of all House Democrats. Meanwhile, they’ve risen from 87% to 90% of all House Republicans.

+ The US Army is stacking the deck against Iran.

+ An editorial from North Korea’s KCNA sums up Senator Ted Cruz as “an ultra-rightist detested by everyone”, “a liar” and “a demon in human shape” … “His behavior is sure to make everyone take him as a remnant of Nazis with extreme misanthropy or a hysteric psychopath bereft of reason.”

+ Trump: Colombia, you said? … The country?

+ Has there been a single word about the US-backed massacres in Yemen (the latest of which is the bombing of a detention camp killing at least 100 people) in the Democratic debates?

+ Texas Gov Greg Abbott in 2015: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans.” Cheer up, Gov., you’re still #1 in mass shootings!

+ A former US Marine from Oregon named Shane Kohfield was arrested this week after threatening to slaughter Antifa. “Kohfield told Rep Dan Crenshaw that Congress needed to take immediate steps to declare antifa a terrorist organization. Otherwise, he and other veterans would have no choice but to begin systematically killing antifa members “until we have achieved genocide.” This vigilant fellow lives just down the road from me, where he lives with, yes, his parents…

+ Children killed or wounded by gun violence in the U.S. so far this year: 2,529. (If only their parents had armed them.)

+ There’s really no place quite like America: in Ohio armed school guards are being advised, “You understand that you might have to shoot a student, right?”

+ A contrite McKrae Graham, a founder of Hope for Wholeness, one of the nation’s largest conversion therapy groups, came out as gay this week. Will Mike Pence be next?

+ Jeff Sharlet: “For all of you who think Pence is anti-gay, he will be meeting his best gay friends tomorrow [at a pub in Ireland], who aren’t actually his friends. Also, Mother will be there in case they try to gay sex him or make him drink beer.”

+ The Collected Thoughts & Prayers of Mike Pence…

 

+ Bernie Sanders has introduced a plan to relieve medical debt. This should strike a chord across the country, since 46 million people have experienced the financial trauma of having at least one unpaid medical bill that was sent to a collection agency later show up as a red flag on their credit report.

+ Reports leaking out of the White House suggest that National Security Adviser John Bolton has been locked out of policy meetings on Afghanistan. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving psychopath…

+ India now has 700,000 soldiers in Kashmir to police a population of only 7 million.

+ The number of electronic devices that customs agents are looking at when people enter the United States is increasing, according to Customs and Border Patrol data and an ACLU and EFF lawsuit:

8,500 in 2015
19,000 in 2016
30,000 in 2017

+ Brett Chapman (Ponca): “In my opinion Columbus Day should be changed to February 24 because it was that day in 1495 the first 550 Native Americans he enslaved were forced onto a little slave ship bound for the slave market in Spain. 200 died en route and the Spanish dumped their bodies in the sea.”

+ So Barbara Boxer, once the doyenne of the liberals, left the senate and took a job with Lyft, and is now scribbling op-eds opposing labor regulations in California that would extend employment rights to Lyft & Uber drivers.

+ Since 2011 cyclists have killed 7 pedestrians on NYC streets, less than one a year. In the same period, drivers killed 1,110 pedestrians. Meanwhile, 9 cyclists have been killed by cars in NYC since June. Guess which group the New York Post thinks is an unchecked menace to the city?

+ Calling Dr. Laing. Doesn’t “managing” your mental illness, which many of us have worked hard to cultivate, defeat the point of having one?

+ When Trump visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the museum’s director, Lonnie Bunch, was advised that the president was in a “foul mood” and not to show him any “difficult stuff.” When Trump observed the exhibit on the Dutch role in the global slave trade his countenance brightened and he boasted, “You know, they love me in the Netherlands.”

+ It’s early hours yet, but it looks like David Vest and Schooley are leading the pack for winning the Internet for the Week…

+ Trump, his first primary challenger (Bill Weld), and the three top Democratic contenders were all born in the 1940s.

+ But our nuclear plants are even more decrepit than our politicians…

+ Tricolored blackbirds have declined by nearly 90 percent since the 1930s. Not enough, apparently, to warrant them protection under what’s left of the Endangered Species Act.

+ They’re clearcutting the Grand Staircase-Escalante for the benefit of … COWS.

+ From 2001 to 2018, Cambodia lost 2.17 million hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a 25% decrease, according to data analysis by Global Forest Watch.

+ Women in Africa are having, on average, three fewer children than African women were in 1980.

+ Heat deaths are soaring across the Southwest. “There’s only so much our bodies can take,” Rupa Basu, chief of the air and climate epidemiological section for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California, where the number of heat-related deaths doubled between 2015 and 2017. “I think we’re going beyond that temperature threshold.”

+ I stopped at Bonneville Dam last week hoping to get a view of the migrating salmon and steelhead making their way up the giant fish ladders. The dam now resembles an armed camp. A guard stopped me at the gate: “Are you carrying a firearm or a drone?” “No,” I said, chuckling. He looked at me and pointed, “Pull over there, please, and step out of the vehicle.” Yes, he said “vehicle.” Then he strip-searched my car, even opening the hood, an unlikely hiding place for a drone, taking out the spare tire. By the time he was done, it was 4:45 and the dam site closed to public at 5. I thanked him for his service in protecting such a monument to industry and extinction and left. Was it the Hayduke Lives! sticker that aroused his suspicions?

+ Psychologist (and frequent CounterPunch contributor) Roy Eidelson is offering free copies of his important new book Political Mind Games. You can download a pdf copy here.

+ What’s the “Foreclosure Footprint” of Ken Burns’ new Bank of America-sponsored documentary (sure to be tedious) on country music?

+ Linda Ronstadt is now nearly paralyzed by Parkinson’s Disease, but she’s still talking smartly on just about everything, including growing up in the Sonoran desert on the Arizona/Mexico border:

“The stores are wiped out because they don’t get any trade from the United States anymore. There’s concertina wire on the Mexican side that the Americans put up. Animals are getting trapped in there. Children are getting cut on it. It’s completely unnecessary. In the meantime, you see people serenely skateboarding and girls with their rollerskates, kids playing in the park. And you think, We’re afraid of this? They’re just regular kids!”

+ The only thing that makes the slightest sense to me in this long interview with Ram Dass (aka, Richard Alpert) is the following:

Q. Ever want to take acid again for old times’ sake?
A. Yeah.

+ Love in Leather:

Kanye: How did you realize I was the one for you?

Kim: When I went to New York and we went to dinner and the movies, it was just so much fun. I remember I wore a Givenchy feather jacket and leather pants.

+ “Roy Cohn did the impossible,” says Matt Tyrnauer, director of the new documentary “Where’s My Roy Cohn?”. “He created a president from beyond the grave. I don’t think there’s any disputing that. The basic lessons that Trump learned from Cohn were: Never apologize. If someone hits you, hit them back a thousand times harder. Any publicity is good publicity. And find an ‘other.’”

+ “One day they’ll make a film about the first public screening of “The Painted Bird” at Venice,” wrote Xan Brook in The Guardian. “It will feature the man who fell full-length on the steps in his effort to escape and the well-dressed woman who became so frantic to get out that she hit the stranger in the next seat…The centrepiece will be the moment 12 viewers broke for the doors only to discover that the exit had been locked.”

+ Vaclav Marhoul’s cinematic horrorshow sounds like it’s true to the source material in several respects. Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, which originally was marketed as a thinly veiled account of his experiences during the Holocaust, was revealed to be a complete fabrication by Norman Finkelstein and others. Some accused Kosinski of plagiarizing passages from other Polish writers. While essayist Eliot Weinberger alleged in his book Karmic Traces that Kosinski didn’t write the novel at all. According to my friend Yasha Levine, who has seen Marhoul’s film of the novel, the movie is a “hack job,” with some of the best sequences lifted from Russian directors, while pushing a narrative that repeatedly equates Nazis and communists, with Nazis coming out as superior beings on the morality scale. It sounds like a movie that would warm David Irving’s denialist heart.

+ I met Kosinski a couple of times while he was in DC for the filming of his novel Being There. Kosinski was friends with one of my professors at American University, Arnost Lustig. Lustig was another Holocaust survivor who turned his harrowing experience in eastern Europe as a kid into a career as a novelist (Dita Saxova and Darkness Casts No Shadow) and screenwriter (A Prayer For Katerina Horowitzowa and Diamonds of the Night). Kosinski and Lustig were both charmers and fabulists about some aspects of their own lives. Over drinks at Jakes in Georgetown, Kosinski told us an elaborate story about how he was saved from being slaughtered by the Manson gang by inept baggage handlers at JFK, causing him to miss his flight to LA on the day of the slayings on Cielo Drive.

+ Whatever his dubious merits as a novelist, Kosinski proved himself an able actor during his most famous film role, as Grigory Zinoviev in Warren Beatty’s “Reds.”

Kosinski as Zinoviev in “Reds.”

+On August 30 1963, a “Hot Line” communications link was established between the White House and Kremlin designed to dramatically speed up diplomatic exchanges between the two nations’ leaders in the event of an emergency.

It’s remarkable how much Terry Southern and Stanley Kubrick got exactly right about the absurd dynamics of the Cold War in Dr. Strangelove, including the “hot line.”

[the President calls the Soviet Premier]

Hello?… Uh… Hello D- uh hello Dmitri? Listen uh uh I can’t hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little? … Oh-ho, that’s much better… yeah… huh… yes… Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri… Clear and plain and coming through fine… I’m coming through fine, too, eh?… Good, then… well, then, as you say, we’re both coming through fine… Good… Well, it’s good that you’re fine and… and I’m fine… I agree with you, it’s great to be fine… a-ha-ha-ha-ha… Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb… The bomb, Dmitri… The hydrogen bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ahm… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?… Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?… Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?… Of course I like to speak to you!… Of course I like to say hello!… Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened… It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call… Listen, if it wasn’t friendly… you probably wouldn’t have even got it… They will not reach their targets for at least another hour… I am… I am positive, Dmitri… Listen, I’ve been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick… Well, I’ll tell you. We’d like to give your air staff a complete run-down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes… Yes! I mean i-i-i-if we’re unable to recall the planes, then… I’d say that, ah… well, ah… we’re just gonna have to help you destroy them, Dmitri… I know they’re our boys… All right, well listen now. Who should we call?… Who should we call, Dmitri? The… wha-whe, the People… you, sorry, you faded away there… The People’s Central Air Defense Headquarters… Where is that, Dmitri?… In Omsk… Right… Yes… Oh, you’ll call them first, will you?… Uh-huh… Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dmitri?… Whe-ah, what? I see, just ask for Omsk information… Ah-ah-eh-uhm-hm… I’m sorry, too, Dmitri… I’m very sorry… All right, you’re sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well… I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don’t say that you’re more sorry than I am, because I’m capable of being just as sorry as you are… So we’re both sorry, all right?… All right.”

Here’s to You, Joe…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

The Violence of Innocence: a Jungian Inquiry Into the American Psyche
Ipek S. Burnett
(Routledge)

The Intervals of Cinema
Jacques Rancière
Translated by John Howe
(Verso)

The Memory Police
Yoko Ogawa
Translated by Stephen Snyder
(Pantheon)

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Jimmy Lee
Raphael Saadiq
(Columbia)

While I’m Livin’
Tanya Tucker
(Fantasy)

Prison on a Hill
Somos
(Tiny Engines)

Images in the Stream
What I’m watching this week...

Camus
Director: Laurent Jaoui
Raspail Productions, 2010.

The Art Dealer
Director: François Margolin
Margo Cinema, 2015.

Le Chat dans la sac
Director: Gilles Groulx
(Featuring John Coltrane’s only soundtrack.)
Pathé, 1964.

He had No Money, No family, No friends–Only Hurricanes

Erik Larson: “I relied on an unpublished report by Jose Fernandez-Partagas, a late-twentieth-century meteorologist who recreated for the National Hurricane Center the tracks of many historical hurricanes, among them the Galveston Hurricane. He was a meticulous researcher given to long hours in the library of the University of Miami, where he died on August 25, 1997, in his favorite couch. He had no money, no family, no friends–only hurricanes. The hurricane center claimed his body, had him cremated, and on August 31, 1998, launched his ashes through the drop-port of a P-3 Orion hurricane hunter into the heart of Hurricane Danielle. His remains entered the atmosphere at 28 N., 74.2 W., about three hundred miles due east of Daytona Beach.” (Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History)

 

 

 

 

 

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