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Uncommon U.S. Justice: The 100thAnniversary of a Tough Lefty’s Victory

Thu, 2019-01-10 16:05

The 1919 misfortune of Woodrow Wilson and good fortune of Scott Nearing are nowhere near enough evidence for the existence of God or for even karma, but these 1919 events do provide some therapy for me—a reminder that life, occasionally, is not completely unjust.

In 1919, Wilson—who earlier in his administration had racially resegregated several federal government agencies, and then successfully pissed on the First Amendment so as to make anti-war speech illegal—suffered a debilitating stroke. Also in 1919, the tough Lefty warrior Scott Nearing (1883–1983), unlike many other Wilson victims, beat the rap and did no prison time after his arrest for anti-war words. Nearing would go on to see his 100th birthday, along the way co-writing (with his wife Helen) The Good Life and becoming a hero for back-to-the-land homesteaders who sought escape from the madness surrounding them and longed for a meaningful good life.

Beginning with Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 (made even more oppressive by the Sedition Act of 1918), free-speech advocates, anti-war activists, and the entirety of the U.S. anti-authoritarian Left were “shocked and awed” by state terrorism. The Palmer Raids, which began in 1919, resulted in several thousand activists being arrested, with hundreds of them—including the anarchist Emma Goldman—deported. The majority of Americans were unbothered by the arrests, imprisonments, and deportations of immigrant socialists and anarchists; however, the 1919 imprisonment of the gentlemanly Eugene Debs—born and raised in Terre Haute, Indiana—for his 1918 anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio, had a chilling effect on many Americans.

Debs was one the most beloved figures of his era. Running as the Socialist Party candidate for president from a prison cell in 1920, he garnered 3.4% of the vote. Having an almost saintly status on the Left, Debs was called Little Jesus by fellow inmates, and when he was released from prison, estimates of the crowd that welcomed his return to Terre Haute ranged from 25,000 to 50,000, as Debs was hoisted above the crowd and carried. That such a famous and adored man could, in his sixties, be imprisoned for anti-war speech has contributed to generational shock waves of anxiety. Many Americans a century later, even those who know nothing of Debs, sense that if the state wants something badly enough, the Bill of Rights means nothing (as Edward Snowden again discovered with respect to the Fourth Amendment).

During Wilson’s reign of state terror, twelve anti-war publications were deprived of their second-class mailing permit, and some formerly anti-war publications moderated their views to become more patriotic. Many radicals who had once called themselves socialists became pro-war, patriotic Americans. State terrorism, in general, is quite effective.

That is why Scott Nearing’s victory and life are so important and therapeutic for me. Scott Nearing is a useful reminder that even when state terrorism succeeds in subjugating the surface society, it remains possible for anti-authoritarians, with a little luck and some wisdom, to survive in the underground nooks and crannies—and even have a good time.

Scott Nearing grew up in a wealthy household, and in 1903, at age 20, he decided to make teaching his profession, ultimately acquiring a PhD in economics. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business but became increasingly outspoken about the cruelties of capitalism, including its child labor practices, and he was fired in 1915. His dismissal was seen by many Americans across the political spectrum as a serious breach of academic freedom, and it made Nearing a national public figure. Nearing found another teaching post at the University of Toledo, but after he spoke out against the U.S. government’s entry into World War I, he was fired again in 1917. This permanently ended his academic career.

Nearing joined the Socialist Party in 1917 and authored several pamphlets, including The Great Madness: A Victory for the American Plutocracy, for which he was indicted by the U.S. government under the Espionage Act. However, unlike many others so prosecuted, Nearing was not convicted. In his 1919 trial, the prosecution, as was their routine, attempted to prove Nearing had subverted U.S. government’s recruiting and conscription; but (after the judge dismissed counts alleging conspiracy) a jury found Nearing not guilty (see The Trial of Scott Nearing and the American Socialist Society).

Nearing won the case not because the jury sided with freedom of speech. Nearing was found not guilty because he made the case that the prosecution had not given a single example of his obstructing recruiting or conscription. The unusual Nearing defense strategy was to accept as jurors the most successful businessmen, a strategy based on the theory, Nearing later recounted, “that those who have arrived are more secure than those who are still climbing.” It was clear to these successful businessmen jurors that both the prosecution and Nearing were failures: the prosecution had failed to make their case because Nearing had failed to subvert any militarism. Nearing’s childhood knowledge of how wealthy businessmen thought was his ticket to freedom.

In 1927, Nearing joined the Communist Party, but in 1930 he was expelled from it for contradicting Leninist dogma. Estranged from Left political parties, his academic career destroyed, Nearing had also separated from his first wife, and his life was in shambles.

In 1932, a 49-year-old Nearing, along with his new partner, 29-year-old Helen Knothe (whom he later married) moved from New York City to rural Vermont to begin homesteading. When ski resorts and developers intruded on their Vermont homestead, Scott, at age 69, and Helen decided to start over, relocating to Cape Rosier, Maine, again calling it “Forest Farm.” In 1954, Scott and Helen Nearing published Living the Good Life about their then approximately two-decade experiment in homesteading. With the Nearings’ Good Life books (that would later include Continuing the Good Life: Half a Century of Homesteading), they became legends.

“The Nearings became counterculture celebrities in the 1970s,” writes John Faithful Hamer in his article “The Forest Farm Romance.” The Nearing homestead became a sacred place for thousands of young people who would make their pilgrimage there—some just to gawk but others who the Nearings would feed and put to work. Scott once again had his students, and he was in his glory. Many of these young people were so inspired by the Good Lifebooks and by Forest Farm that they embarked on their own homesteading attempts. They reasoned that if Scott could begin homesteading at age 49, start over again in Maine at age 69, and could be making it work for another three decades, then certainly with hard work, they too could also succeed.

Scott Nearing, unlike Eugene Debs, was never viewed even by his admirers as a gentle saint. Nearing had a streak of anger, dismissiveness, and coldness. He cut his son John (from his first marriage) out of his life because of John’s mainstream political views and lifestyle, not returning John’s letters and not attending John’s funeral. Moreover, the Nearings were not candid in their popular Good Life books about all their sources of income (though Scott was more candid in his 1972 autobiography The Making of a Radical); as their self-promotion of self-sufficiency—especially given their ages when they accomplished this—was what gave them their celebrity status.

Despite Scott Nearing’s less admirable traits, even his greatest detractors would acknowledge that he was stubbornly persistent, hardworking, resilient, and dedicated. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Nearings began to sell off, quite inexpensively, significant acreage from their large tract to young homesteaders who included current organic farming guru Eliot Coleman and also Jean Hay Bright (and her then partner). Though it troubled Hay Bright that the Nearings were not completely candid with the public about their financial realities, she makes clear in her book Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life that she continues to have great respect for what the courageous and hardworking Nearings accomplished, and she maintained a friendship with them until their deaths.

Few Americans today give a damn about the truth of Woodrow Wilson, the persecution of Eugene Debs, or the triumph of Scott Nearing. Americans today are more likely to associate 1919 with baseball events: the “Black Sox Scandal” in which the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series; and Babe Ruth getting sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees which triggered, some baseball fans believe, the “Curse of the Bambino,” resulting in the Red Sox not winning a single World Series for an 86-year period during which the Yankees won 26 of them.

Unlike the Boston Red Sox, who have nicely recovered in the 21stcentury to win four World Series, the anti-authoritarian Left got so thoroughly clobbered a century ago that they have never recovered their once great confidence that they would prevail. So for Scott Nearing to have scored a win over state terrorism in 1919 is something to commemorate, and for Scott and Helen Nearing to have gone on to have a good life is something to celebrate.

Categories: News for progressives

What Are We Working For?

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“One also knows from his letters that nothing appeared more sacred to Van Gogh than work.”

– John Berger, “Vincent Van Gogh,” Portraits

Ever since I was a young boy, I have wondered why people do the kinds of work they do.  I sensed early on that the economic system was a labyrinthine trap devised to imprison people in work they hated but needed for survival.  It seemed like common sense to a child when you simply looked and listened to the adults around you.  Karl Marx wasn’t necessary for understanding the nature of alienated labor; hearing adults declaim “Thank God It’s Friday” spoke volumes.

In my Bronx working class neighborhood I saw people streaming to the subway in the mornings for their rides “into the city” and their forlorn trundles home in the evenings. It depressed me.  Yet I knew the goal was to “make it” and move away as one moved “up,” something that many did.  I wondered why, when some people had options, they rarely considered the moral nature of the jobs they pursued.  And why did they not also consider the cost in life (time) lost in their occupations?  Were money, status, and security the deciding factors in their choices?  Was living reserved for weekends and vacations?

I gradually realized that some people, by dint of family encouragement and schooling, had opportunities that others never received.  For the unlucky ones, work would remain a life of toil and woe in which the search for meaning in their jobs was often elusive.  Studs Terkel, in the introduction to his wonderful book of interviews, Working: People Talk About What They Do all Day and How They Feel About What They Do, puts it this way:

This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body.  It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around.  It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us.

Those words were confirmed for me when in the summer between high school and college I got a job through a relative’s auspices as a clerk for General Motors in Manhattan.  I dreaded taking it for the thought of being cooped up for the first time in an office building while a summer of my youth passed me by, but the money was too good to turn down (always the bait), and I wanted to save as much as possible for college spending money.  So I bought a summer suit and joined the long line of trudgers going to and fro, down and up and out of the underground, adjusting our eyes to the darkness and light.

It was a summer from hell. My boredom was so intense it felt like solitary confinement.  How, I kept wondering, can people do this?  Yet for me it was temporary; for the others it was a life sentence.  But if this were life, I thought, it was a living death.  All my co-workers looked forward to the mid-morning coffee wagon and lunch with a desperation so intense it was palpable.  And then, as the minutes ticked away to 5 P.M., the agitated twitching that proceeded the mad rush to the elevators seemed to synchronize with the clock’s movements.  We’re out of here!

On my last day, I was eating my lunch on a park bench in Central Park when a bird shit on my suit jacket.  The stain was apt, for I felt I had spent my days defiling my true self, and so I resolved never to spend another day of my life working in an office building in a suit for a pernicious corporation, a resolution I have kept.

“An angel is not far from someone who is sad,” says Vincent Van Gogh in the new film, At Eternity’s Gate. For somereason, recently hearing these words in the darkened theater where I was almost alone, brought me back to that summer and the sadness that hung around all the people that I worked with.  I hoped Van Gogh was right and an angel visited them from time to time. Most of them had no options.

The painter Julian Schnabel’s moving picture (moving on many levels since the film shakes and moves with its hand-held camera work and draws you into the act of drawing and painting that was Van Gogh’s work) is a meditation on work.  It asks the questions: What is work?  What is work for?  What is life for?  Why paint? What does it mean to live?  Why do you do what you do?  Are you living or are you dead?  What are you seeking through your work?

For Vincent the answer was simple: reality.  But reality is not given to us and is far from simple; we must create it in acts that penetrate the screens of clichés that wall us off from it.  As John Berger writes,

One is taught to oppose the real to the imaginary, as though the first were always at hand and the second, distant, far away.  This opposition is false.  Events are always to hand.  But the coherence of these events – which is what one means by reality – is an imaginative construction.  Reality always lies beyond – and this is as true for materialists as for idealists. For Plato, for Marx.  Reality, however one interprets it, lies beyond a screen of clichés.

These screens serve to protect the interests of the ruling classes, who devise ways to trap regular people from seeing the reality of their condition.  Yet while working can be a trap, it can also be a means of escape. For Vincent working was the way.  For him work was not a noun but a verb. He drew and he painted as he does in this film to “make people feel what it is to feel alive.”  To be alive is to act, to paint, to write.  He tells his friend Gauguin that there’s a reason it’s called the “act of painting, the “stroke of genius.”  For him painting is living and living is painting.

The actual paintings that he made are almost beside the point, as all creative artists know too well. It is the doing wherein living is found. The completed canvas, essay, or book are what is done.  They are nouns, still lifes, just as Van Gogh’s paintings have become commodities in the years since his death, dead things to be bought and sold by the rich in a culture of death where they can be hung in mausoleums isolated from the living. It is appropriate that the film ends with Vincent very still in his coffin as “viewers” pass him by and avidly now desire his paintings that encircle the room that they once rejected. The man has become a has-been and the funeral parlor the museum.

“Without painting I can’t live,” he says earlier.  He didn’t say without his paintings.

“God gave me the gift for painting,” he said.  “It’s the only gift he gave me.  I am a born painter.”  But his gift has begotten gifts that are still-births that do not circulate and live and breathe to encourage people to find work that will not, “by its very nature, [be] about violence,” as Terkel said. His works, like people, have become commodities, brands to be bought and sold in a world where the accumulation of wealth is accomplished by the infliction of pain, suffering, and death on untold numbers of victims, invisible victims that allow the wealthy to maintain their bad-faith innocence. This is often achieved in the veiled shadows of intermediaries such as stock brokers, tax consultants, and financial managers; in the liberal and conservative boardrooms of mega-corporations or law offices; and in the planning sessions of the world’s great museums. Like drone killings that distance the killers from their victims, this wealth accumulation allows the wealthy to pretend they are on the side of the angels.  It’s called success, and everyone is innocent as they sing, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go.”

“It is not enough to tell me you worked hard to get your gold,” said Henry Thoreau, Van Gogh’s soul-mate. “So does the Devil work hard.”

A few years ago there was a major exhibit of Van Gogh’s nature paintings at the Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts – “Van Gogh and Nature” – that aptly symbolized Van Gogh in his coffin.  The paintings were exhibited encased in ornate gold frames. Van Gogh in gold. Just perfect.  I am reminded of a scene in At Eternity’s Gatewhere Vincent and Gauguin are talking about the need for a creative revolution – what we sure as hell need – and the two friends stand side by side with backs to the camera and piss into the wind.

 

But pseudo-innocence dies hard.  Not long ago I was sitting in a breakfast room in a bed-and-breakfast in Houston, Texas, sipping coffee and musing myself awake.  Two men came in and the three of us got to talking.  As people like to say, they were nice guys.  Very pleasant and talkative, in Houston on business. Normal Americans.  Stressed.  Both were about fifty years old with wives and children.

One sold drugs for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies that is known for its very popular anti-depressant drug and its aggressive sales pitches.  He travelled a triangular route from Corpus Christi to Austin to Houston and back again, hawking his wares.  He spoke about his work as being very lucrative and posing no ethical dilemmas.  There were so many depressed people in need of his company’s drugs, he said, as if the causes of their depression had nothing to do with inequality and the sorry state of the country as the rich rip off everyone else.  I thought of recommending a book to him – Deadly Medicines and OrganizedCrime: How big pharma has corrupted health care by Peter Gotzsche – but held my tongue, appreciative as I was of the small but tasteful fare we were being served and not wishing to cause my companions dyspepsia.  This guy seemed to be trying to convince me of the ethical nature of the way he panned gold, while I kept thinking of that quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

The other guy, originally from a small town in Nebraska and now living in Baton Rouge, was a former medevac helicopter pilot who had served in the 1stGulf War.  He worked in finance for an equally large oil company.  His attitude was a bit different, and he seemed sheepishly guilty about his work with this company as he told me how shocked he was the first time he saw so many oil, gas, and chemical plants lining the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and all the oil and chemicals being shipped down the river. So many toxins that reminded him of the toxic black smoke rising from all the bombed oil wells in Iraq.  Something about it all left him uneasy, but he too said he made a very good “living” and that his wife also worked for the oil company back home.

My childish thought recurred: when people have options, why do they not choose ethical work that makes the world more beautiful and just?  Why is money and so-called success always the goal?

Having seen At Eternity’s Gate, I now see what Van Gogh was trying to tell us and Julian Schnabel conveys through this moving picture.  I see why these two perfectly normal guys I was breaking bread with in Houston are unable to penetrate the screen that lies between them and reality.  They have never developed the imaginative tools to go beyond normal modes of perception and conception. Or perhaps they lack the faith to dare, to see the futility and violence in what they are working for and what their companies’ products are doing to the world.  They think of themselves as hard at work, travelling hither and yon, doing their calculations, “making their living,” and collecting their pay.  It’s their work that has a payoff in gold, but it’s not working in the sense that painting was for Vincent, a way beyond the screen.  They are mesmerized by the spectacle, as are so many Americans.  Their jobs are perfectly logical and allow them a feeling of calm and control.

But Vincent, responding to Gauguin, a former stock broker, when he urged him to paint slowly and methodically, said, “I need to be out of control. I don’t want to calm down.”  He knew that to be fully alive was to be vulnerable, to not hold back, to always be slipping away, and to be threatened with annihilation at any moment. When painting, he was intoxicated with a creative joy that belies the popular image of him as always depressed.  “I find joy in sorrow,” he said, echoing in a paradoxical way Albert Camus, who said, “I have always felt that I lived on the high seas, threatened, at the heart of a royal happiness.”   Both rebels, one in paint, the other in words: “I rebel: therefore we exist,” was how Camus put it, expressing the human solidarity that is fundamental to genuine work in our ephemeral world. Both nostalgic in the present for the future, creating freedom through vision and disclosing the way for others.

And although my breakfast companions felt safe in their calmness on this side of the screen, it was an illusion. The only really calm ones are corpses. And perhaps that’s why when you look around, as I did as a child, you see so many of the living dead carrying on as normal.

“I paint to stop thinking and feel I am a part of everything inside and outside me,” says Vincent, a self-described exile and pilgrim.

If we could make working a form of such painting, a path to human solidarity because a mode of rebelling, what a wonderful world it might be.

That, I believe, is what working is for.

Categories: News for progressives

 Slip of the Imperial Mask

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:58

O’Reilly then said about Putin: “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.”

Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”–Feb 4, 2017

I remember the day well. It was the day when the leader “of the free world” gave a hint of the true state of affairs in that allegedly “free” world.

To this day I’m not sure why he said it. Why would Trump give free ideological ammunition against his own empire? Certainly not out of a feeling of remorse or some sense of historical justice. More likely then it was perhaps as a thinly veiled threat to those, worldwide, who would seek to oppose him? Something like: “You know what we are and we’re so powerful that we no longer even fear publicly telling you up front about it”.

Yes, on that day President Trump punctured the still pervasive “myth of American innocence”.A topic which has been profusely written about by Noam Chomsky among others.

American hands are dirty. They drip with blood. They are an Orwellian power continuously existing through totalitarian contradictions. Their carefully constructed mask of freedom, hides the most insidious forms of slavery.

But they are not alone. To maintain an Empire one needs allies. And these they have in abundance. They are not just the globalized elites who rule the world but any who manage to benefit and prosper through their rule. Thus American Empire is not just an elite phenomenon but, crucially, a class cutting one. Witness the recent election and massive support for Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, a cliched American puppet that doesn’t even seek to hide that fact egoistically trumpeting his facsimile to Trump. Even here in once radicalized Brazil, Empire is no longer afraid to proudly speak its name.

The roots of Trump’s remark reach deep into the heart of Empire. Another infamous quote, this time from Karl Rove underpins its formative strength. “We are an Empire now and when we act we create our own reality”. Rove is indeed partially correct. Power does create, shape, and guide subjectivities. It creates persuasive master narratives supported by boots on the ground, blaring media, vast sums of capital, and, most importantly, organizational and technological methods and means of control. Empire manufactures Truth. Empire becomes the ultimate Truth in the hearts and minds of millions. So much so that TINA (There is NO alternative) has become the hymn and mantra of our age.

As epitomized by Trump and his momentary slip of the tongue, America is made up of ruthless, cunning, highly intelligent, smiling killers; Shakespeare’s penetrating quote comes to mind here: “There’s daggers in men’s smiles”. The continual condescending smirk on Trump’s face is worthy of any Shakespearean villain.

But Trump did not make Empire. He was made by it. Profited by it. Lived by and was impeccably loyal to its tenets and techniques (as was every other American president). But, interestingly, he is the first to publicly distance himself from it as a thing of self-righteous beauty (American Exceptionalism) and instead openly reveal its decidedly Machiavellian nature.

And this is new. Ever since Bush II, there has been a strong undercurrent of what I would call the “New Machiavellianism”. Essentially it is the willingness of those in power to openly declare the instrumental and technical nature of American power as its own justification. To point to overwhelming global power as a fact to be used in whatever manner those in power ultimately choose. To reference an even older quote by Plato’s Thrasymachus, the 21st century is still a world where “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.

Thus, this one time? slip of the Imperial Mask bodes nothing good. It is a sign not only of the increasing arrogance of American power; but of its globally secure basis. Materially and ideologically, American power advances, expands, deepens. Alternatives to it do not multiply but are systematically attenuated. Like many in the past, ours is an Age of Empire; compared to those empires of the past this one is unprecedented in its material bounty, amazingly subtle in occluding the realities of its ever fluctuating boundaries, and expert in exercising surreptitious methods of control over its pragmatically hedonistic subjects.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Will Trump Rule by Decree?

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:57

The Republican Party, since its takeover by Reaganauts in the 1980s, has long favored shrinking the federal government to the point at which it can be “drowned in the bathtub,” to use Grover Norquist’s colorful phrase.

Tax cuts reduce the federal budget. Budget cuts weaken social programs. Even cutting remarks have their effect. Reagan got plenty of laughs when he said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help.’”

With the partial shutdown of the federal government entering its third week, Americans are learning that the nine most truly terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m the president and I’m here to help…myself.”

Trump isn’t content to use the executive office to enrich himself and his circle. He’s warping national policy to serve his own interests as well. Trump believes via Fox News that his presidency is doomed (and his second term nipped in the bud) if he doesn’t fulfil his signature promise of building a wall. The government shutdown is all about Trump and his self-serving impulses.

To that end, Trump has threatened to extend the shutdown as long as it takes in order to squeeze funding out of Congress for his cherished wall. And why wouldn’t he? He’s got the bathtub ready and a funeral oration already written.

Shutting down government won’t lose any votes from furloughed federal workers (the vast majority of whom already despise him). Yes, the shutdown is unpopular, but the president’s base of support is delighted to see even a partial draining of the swamp. And shutdowns, as FiveThirtyEight concludes from an admittedly small sample, don’t seem to have long-term impact on public opinion.

But the truly frightening part of this standoff between Trump and the rest of government is his threat to invoke a state of emergency so he can direct the U.S. military to build his wall.

The president admires autocrats who can just get the job done. Rule by decree is the first stepping stone to transforming democracy into dictatorship. Declaring a state of emergency would be Trump’s desperate attempt to hold on to and ultimately expand the power that is slipping through his fingers in the aftermath of the midterm elections.

Channeling the Fascists

Rule by decree has an undistinguished, undemocratic parentage. In the Weimar Republic of the 1920s and 1930s, the German constitution contained the controversial article 48, which granted the president the right to rule by decree in the case of a national emergency. German leaders invoked this right several times between 1930 and 1933.

But the most momentous decree came in the wake of the Reichstag fire, six days before German elections in 1933. Hitler, already appointed chancellor at that point, persuaded German President Paul von Hindenburg to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree. No doubt inspired by Benito Mussolini and his use of emergency powers to establish fascism in Italy in the 1920s, the Nazis then took full advantage the authority granted them by Hindenburg’s decree to remake Germany into a dictatorship.

Modern democracies retain a certain echo of this tradition of decrees. In the United States, for instance, presidents can issue executive orders without having to declare a state of emergency.

Trump has already shown a marked preference for this style of governance. During his first two years in office, he issued 91 executive orders — 55 in 2017 and 36 in 2018. By contrast, Obama issued an average of 35 per year, George W. Bush 36. Many of Trump’s executive orders — such as withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, the Paris climate accord, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — place Trump in opposition to international and national consensus.

Trump has also used his executive privilege to take bold stands in foreign policy that diverge, in some cases sharply, from the consensus of the policymaking community. He defied the advice of his advisors to sit down one-on-one with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Most recently, he announced U.S. military withdrawal from Syria, generating considerable pushback from the foreign policy mandarin class. Like a stopped clock, an erratic commander-in-chief can be right once in a while.

These steps are authoritative but not authoritarian. Executive orders aren’t out-and-out decrees — the courts can say no, as they’ve done several times in the Trump era. Trump’s freewheeling foreign policy moves also face certain constraints. A deal with North Korea would require congressional consent. His decision to remove troops from Syria has already been modified by members of his own administration, with National Security Advisor John Bolton stipulating certain conditions that will delay or even nullify withdrawal.

But Trump’s threat to declare a state of emergency at the border would up the ante considerably. True, presidents frequently declare states of emergency under the National Emergencies Act. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama declared a dozen or so each (most of them still in effect). But these declarations pertained almost exclusively to war or terrorism.

Trump’s attempt to circumvent the congressional standoff over his wall is a different matter altogether.

Can He Do It?

As Bruce Ackerman points out in The New York Times, the president can’t use the military to execute his plan. In the wake of the Katrina disaster, Congress created an exemption to the general rule prohibiting the military from enforcing domestic laws. The Obama administration then rolled back that particular exemption.

Ackerman further predicts that if Trump attempts to go forward with his plan anyway, Congress would block him. Indeed, as Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) has said. “If Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border.”

Moreover, Trump’s “wall” doesn’t qualify as an urgent response to a crisis. There is no state of emergency at the border. There have been a few protests, on each side of the border, most recently around the closing of a shelter in Tijuana. But that hardly qualifies as a clear and present danger. The number of illegal border crossings fell to a historic low in 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Nor did the situation change in 2018.

The Trump administration has claimed that 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were stopped at the border in 2018. Not true: The vast majority of those people on the list of suspected terrorists were stopped at airports around the world. In the first half of 2018, only six non-Americanson the list were stopped at the southern border.

Trump will no doubt repeat some of these lies this week in his first televised Oval Office speech. This is another privilege of his position: to speak directly to the American people. And the networks, despite some misgivings about the president’s indifference to the truth, will air the speech. Trump has already delegitimized the mainstream media as “fake news,” and he is now artfully playing them for his own purposes.

For those who believe that the American system of checks and balances will prevent Trump from getting his way, think again. As Elizabeth Goitien explains in The Atlantic, the American system has its own equivalent of Article 48 of the Weimar constitution:

Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency” — a decision that is entirely within his discretion — more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts.

Goitien worries that Trump could also use the Insurrection Act to deploy U.S. troops on the streets of American cities. So, imagine that protests spring up around the country against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. That could in turn serve as the justification for Trump sending in troops to suppress a “threat to the public order.”

In this way, the United States could go from a state of emergency at the border to martial law throughout the country.

Trump’s public support remains low and his political influence is on the decline. He’s surrounded almost exclusively now by advisors who favor his most autocratic impulses. It’s not inconceivable that Trump will use his standoff with Congress over the border wall as his Reichstag moment.

Over a decade ago, in another political era altogether, the Los Angeles Times charged in an editorial that ruling by decree was not democratic. This would seem to be a no-brainer. But one prominent reader disagreed. He wrote, “This is not the mark of dictatorial rule but rather a new way of envisioning popular participation and democracy.”

The writer was the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, trying to defend his boss, Hugo Chavez, from the charge that he was governing like a dictator. This is the playbook that Trump is reading. This is the company that Trump keeps. This is the clear and present danger that America now faces.

Categories: News for progressives

The Wrong Kind of Unity Against Trump

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:54

As the New Year dawned, Donald Trump’s regime appeared to be coming apart at the seams.

The billionaire’s tariffs against China and threats to fire the head of the Federal Reserve Bank sent the stock market into a panic. Trump then shut down the government over his demand for a racist border wall and spent his holiday home alone in the White House, munching on burgers and binge-watching Fox News.

The political establishment, which had until recently tolerated Trump’s impulsive statements and erratic policy swings, decisively turned against him over his surprise announcement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and half of the 14,000 occupying Afghanistan.

Everyone from the generals in his cabinet to the state bureaucracy, the corporate media and both the Republican and Democratic Parties have denounced Trump’s withdrawal as nothing less than the abandonment of U.S. imperialism’s bipartisan strategy to defend global capitalism through a system of alliances against terrorism, so-called rogue states, and great-power rivals.

Trump’s decision, while made in haste and reportedly over a phone call with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, isn’t the accident it has sometimes been portrayed as, but a campaign promise that flows from his “America First” nationalist strategy to put U.S. interests before all else, even if that means disrupting alliances and cutting deals with rivals.

The establishment’s opposition to his decision — and, indeed, his whole America First strategy — began within his own administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest and was soon followed by Brett McGurk, Trump’s envoy to the global coalition to fight ISIS.

Mattis and McGurk denounced Trump for betraying the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Force — the Kurds are now threatened with destruction by an invasion from Turkey — and failing to finish the war against ISIS, which, while it lost its capital in Raqqa, still retains over 30,000 soldiers in Iraq and Syria.

But their main criticism was that Trump’s decision was a surrender of American imperial influence in Syria to Russia and Iran. In particular, they and other sections of the establishment are concerned that Iran will gain an upper hand in its regional power struggle with the U.S.’s main allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In his letter of resignation, Mattis further excoriated Trump for trashing the traditional U.S. strategy of superintending the neoliberal world order and thereby compromising Washington’s ability to dominate the world system.

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” he wrote. “We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”

***

Mattis backed up a chorus of retired generals. Former Admiral James Stavridis impugned Trump’s intellectual capacity to absorb information in an article in Time magazine. Retired four-star Gen. Stanley McChrystal told ABC News that he considered Trump immoral and would never accept an appointment in his cabinet.

The foreign policy establishment was just as critical. Barack Obama’s favorite neoconservative, Robert Kagan, warned that Trump had opened “an era more destructive of the world order than in the 1930s. Back then, at least Britain and France were responsible for keeping part of the order. Now we are the responsible world power — and we are undermining it.”

Surprisingly, the Republican Party establishment, which has heretofore tolerated Trump’s erratic rule in order secure tax cuts for big business, further deregulation of Corporate America and right-wing judicial appointments, condemned Trump’s decision almost unanimously.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who most recently made headlines as the Republicans’ rabid attack dog against Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in defense of now confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, declared that Trump’s withdrawal was a “disaster,” a “stain on the honor of the United States” and a decision that risked “another 9/11.”

Graham penned a bipartisan public letter to Trump signed by six senators that decried the decision as a threat to American dominance of the Middle East that would “bolster two other adversaries to the United States, Iran and Russia. As you are aware, both Iran and Russia, have used the Syrian conflict as a stage to magnify their influence in the region. Any sign of weakness perceived by Iran or Russia will only result in their increase presence in the region and a decrease in the trust of our partners and allies.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, signed on to the letter, but she wasn’t alone among the Democrats. In fact, the party staked a position almost to the right of the GOP, denouncing Trump for his misleadership of the empire and for capitulating to Russia and Iran.

Nancy Pelosi pointed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement in support of Trump — “Donald’s right. I agree with him” — and railed:

Imagine. That is the comment of Vladimir Putin on the actions taken by the president of the United States in relationship to Syria, an action that was taken without the benefit of the thinking of our national security establishment and out intelligence community included in that, a decision made in a cavalier fashion in terms of our allies in the fight against terrorism, a decision that is dangerous.

Daniel Feldman, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, recognized the ironic unity in the establishment across the political spectrum, admitting, “I hate to ever feel like I’m in the company of neocons, and I’m no proponent of a forever war in Afghanistan, but pulling troops out in this way is completely irresponsible and nonstrategic.”

***

The establishment has come out swinging because they are worried that now, after the resignations of Mattis, McGurk John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff and former Gen. John Kelly, Trump will be completely unhindered from implementing his America First program.

The two parties had hoped that the administration’s so-called “adult faction” — which also had included H.R. McMaster, and CEOs Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn — would restrain Trump and channel his foreign policy into a more orthodox, if muscular, version of the traditional one of superintending the neoliberal world order.

The deceased warmonger John McCain had greeted this grouping’s appointment by declaring he “could not imagine a better, more capable national security team.” Even socialist Bernie Sanders and progressive Elizabeth Warren voted to confirm Mattis and Kelly to Trump’s cabinet back in 2017.

Sanders justified this by stating that they “may not be the nominees I would have preferred for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, but in a Trump cabinet likely to be loaded up with right-wing extremists, all of whom I will oppose, I hope General Mattis and General Kelly will have a moderating influence on some of the racist and xenophobic views that President Trump advocated throughout the campaign.”

It’s a sign of the times that the bipartisan political establishment would look to a war criminal whose nickname is “Mad Dog” as an adult who could discipline Trump.

Mattis infamously told his troops in Iraq to “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” With such instructions, it should come as no surprise that he oversaw a massacre in Haditha and the destruction of Fallujah, which included the illegal use of the chemical weapon white phosphorous.

In fact, the CEOs and generals did at first manage to contain Trump and his America First faction, spearheaded at the start by the dark prince of the alt-right, Steve Bannon. They took credit for stopping Trump from withdrawing from NATO, pulling troops out of South Korea and, until now, doing the same in Syria and Afghanistan.

They were so successful that, after the billionaire fired Bannon in a fit of egotistical rage, it looked like the establishment had won the faction fight.

But Trump grew frustrated about the restraints on his agenda imposed by the generals and CEOs. In March of last year, Trump got rid of most of them, firing Cohn, McMaster and Tillerson. They were replaced by like-minded hawks and nationalists like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton.

Now, with Mattis, McGurk and Kelly gone, the establishment has few reliable agents left within the Trump regime.

While Trump railed against all his critics, trashing his military critics as “failed generals,” he did agree to slow down the removal of troops from both countries after Lindsey Graham came to the White House to beg for a change of course.

Nevertheless, Trump’s nationalist backers know they’ve won a victory. Steve Bannon told a reporter that “the apparatus slow-rolled him until he just said enough and did it himself…Not pretty, but at least done.”

***

No one on the left should oppose U.S. troops being removed from Syria and Afghanistan. But the fact that Bannon was delighted with Trump’s announcement should be a warning if anyone has any illusions that antiwar motives, let alone anti-imperialist motives, are involved.

The U.S. forces in Syria were never there to aid the now-defeated popular uprising against the Bashar al-Assad regime, to protect Syrian civilians from Assad’s atrocities or to advance the Kurdish struggle for self-determination. Their sole mission was to wipe out ISIS, and this was the purpose to which the U.S. tried to bend all its allies.

Even that war aim should not be seen as humanitarian in any way. Remember that ISIS did not exist before the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. Like al-Qaeda before it, ISIS emerged as a reactionary opposition to U.S. intervention.

The U.S. war against ISIS was destined to backfire. It caused death and destruction for untold numbers of civilians in both Iraq and Syria, and those war crimes have increased the breeding ground for opposition to imperialism in any form.

The occupation of Afghanistan — now the U.S.’s longest war — had similar consequences. The U.S. invaded and toppled the former Taliban government, killed thousands of innocent Afghans, and installed an utterly corrupt and unpopular regime of warlords and crooks. The occupation and its quisling government is so despised that large numbers of Afghans have rallied in despair back to the Taliban, which is likely to return to power when U.S. troops withdraw.

Nor does the withdrawal mean an end to U.S. imperial intervention in either country. The Pentagon has already drawn up plans to use their Special Forces and air power to strike against ISIS in Syria. Trump’s super-hawk National Security Advisor John Bolton reportedly told Israel that the U.S. would support its attacks on Iranian targets in Syria — and for good measure, he threatened the Assad regime with air strikes if it used chemical weapons again.

Thus, Trump’s America First policy does not, in the misleading words of liberal commentator Gareth Porter, offer “the country a new course, one that does not involve a permanent war state.”

As left-wing journalist Jeremy Scahill tweeted, “For those who somehow think this is Trump opposing the war machine, I point you to his massive escalation of drone strikes, his easing of rules for killing civilians, his use of ground troops in Yemen and Somalia and his use of criminal weaponry like the MOAB in Afghanistan.”

Trump merely wants to extract the U.S. from losing positions, compel other nations to shoulder the burden of fighting and bend relationships with both allies and enemies to what he perceives to be the interests of the U.S. state and American capitalism.

This is what led him to rip up the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and threaten it with war, back Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen — and, most importantly, launch a new cold war with China.

***

But being opposed to Trump’s erratic nationalism should not lead anyone on the left to follow the Republican and Democratic establishments’ defense of the traditional imperial strategy of ruling the neoliberal world order. While that status quo brought riches to ruling classes around the world, it has produced nothing but misery for workers and oppressed peoples.

Indeed, few if any great powers rival the crimes that U.S. imperialism committed in establishing and running that so-called “rules-based international order.” It was founded at the end of the Second World War with two of the greatest acts of barbarism in human history: the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After that, during the Cold War, the U.S. and its superpower rival, the Soviet Union, trapped the world in fear of total destruction through nuclear war. The U.S. even called its policy, which promised to ensure peace through the arms race, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

Faced with rebellion within its own sphere of influence, the U.S. was the principal enemy of national liberation struggles, backing reactionary dictators throughout the developing world and, when that didn’t work, launching wars like in Vietnam that laid waste to whole countries in a vain effort to preserve imperial dominance.

Since the collapse of the USSR, Washington’s unchallenged rulership over the world order has been no better. The U.S. used the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank to impose free trade globalization for the benefit of capital and to the detriment of workers throughout the world.

It deployed its military to put down all opposition, whether progressive or reactionary, and to impose its rule on sections of the world reduced to chaos by neoliberal economics.

Neither Trump’s “America First” nationalism nor the establishment’s neoliberal imperialism offer anything but austerity, war and state terror for the workers and oppressed of the world. Meanwhile, on the central question of imperial competition with China, both Trump and his critics agree on the need to confront a rising threat to U.S. dominance over the world system.

One mainstream commentator, Robert Samuelson, went so far as to argue that the U.S. is spending too much on the welfare state and underfunding the military, thus causing it to fall behind its competitors in China and Russia. He ominously warned:

It’s hard to miss the parallels with the period before World War II, when England, France and the United States allowed Adolf Hitler to rearm Germany, altering the global balance of power…This is not a call for war. It is a call for stopping many self-inflicted wounds. We need to stop underfunding the military, especially on research and cyberwarfare, even if that means less welfare.

***

These developments make the question of imperialism and anti-imperialism unavoidable and central for the new socialist movement in the US. So far, it has been ill-prepared to answer it for two reasons.

The first is the influence of pro-Democratic Party liberalism, which led the main forces of the antiwar movement that protested the “war on terror” invasions of the Bush years to dissolve themselves when Barack Obama won the White House in 2008 as a supposed antiwar candidate.

As should have been obvious then and certainly is in retrospect now, Obama never intended to be an antiwar president. He sustained the occupation of Iraq, increased the troop presence in Afghanistan, launched a global drone war and attempted to confront China through his administration’s failed Pivot to Asia.

The dissolution of the antiwar movement meant that many lessons about U.S. imperialism have not been transmitted to a new generation of radicals.

Second, among the radicalization taking place to the left of the Democratic Party since 2008, imperialism has been downplayed.

Most of the socialist radicalization associated with Bernie Sanders, for example, has focused on domestic reforms like Medicare for All. But there is a connection between anti-imperialism and the struggle for such reforms — and as the ruling class, as Samuelson signals, puts the demands of imperialism first and social reforms last, it becomes impossible to separate them.

Sanders’ lead on the question of U.S. foreign policy is inadequate. Recently, he laudably called for a progressive internationalism that puts human rights and democracy at its heart. But on key issues — like supporting Trump’s protectionism against China — he falls short, following the traditional social democratic practice of promoting a left version of nationalism.

Some in the new left have fallen under the sway of another inadequate doctrine: a form of Stalinist anti-imperialism inherited from the Cold War. This position, known as “campism,” uses the idea that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” to justify support for any and all antagonists of the U.S., no matter how oppressive and capitalist.

This had led some to unconscionably support Assad’s regime in Syria and even Xi Jinping’s in China as somehow anti-imperialist.

Instead of these models, the new left must recover the genuine socialist tradition of anti-imperialism that opposes the U.S. state, first and foremost, but also its rivals like China or Russia — and instead builds solidarity from below between workers and oppressed nations and peoples of the world.

Only this approach can provide the new left with a solid foundation to oppose Trump’s unbound nationalism and the establishment’s neoliberal imperialism.

This piece first appeared in Socialist Worker.

Categories: News for progressives

Bases, Bases, Everywhere … Except in the Pentagon’s Report

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:52

The U.S. military is finally withdrawing (or not) from its base at al-Tanf. You know, the place that the Syrian government long claimed was a training ground for Islamic State (ISIS) fighters; the land corridor just inside Syria, near both the Iraqi and Jordanian borders, that Russia has called a terrorist hotbed (while floating the idea of jointly administering it with the United States); the location of a camp where hundreds of U.S. Marines joined Special Operations forces last year; an outpost that U.S. officials claimed was the key not only to defeating ISIS, but also, according to General Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, to countering “the malign activities that Iran and their various proxies and surrogates would like to pursue.” You know, that al-Tanf.

Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, as it happens, al-Tanf was never actually on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015and, until recently, home to hundreds of U.S. troops, it was one of the many military bases that exist somewhere between light and shadow, an acknowledged foreign outpost that somehow never actually made it onto the Pentagon’s official inventory of bases.

Officially, the Department of Defense (DoD) maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries. A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria, to be expanding.

According to David Vine, author of Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, there could be hundreds of similar off-the-books bases around the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine, who is also a founding member of the recently established Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, a group of military analysts from across the ideological spectrum who advocate shrinking the U.S. military’s global “footprint.”

Such off-the-books bases are off the books for a reason. The Pentagon doesn’t want to talk about them. “I spoke to the press officer who is responsible for the Base Structure Report and she has nothing to add and no one available to discuss further at this time,” Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza told TomDispatch when asked about the Defense Department’s many mystery bases.

“Undocumented bases are immune to oversight by the public and often even Congress,” Vine explains. “Bases are a physical manifestation of U.S. foreign and military policy, so off-the-books bases mean the military and executive branch are deciding such policy without public debate, frequently spending hundreds of millions or billions of dollars and potentially getting the U.S. involved in wars and conflicts about which most of the country knows nothing.”

Where Are They?

The Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition notes that the United States possesses up to 95% of the world’s foreign military bases, while countries like France, Russia, and the United Kingdom have perhaps 10-20 foreign outposts each. China has just one.

The Department of Defense even boasts that its “locations” include 164 countries. Put another way, it has a military presence of some sort in approximately 84% of the nations on this planet — or at least the DoD briefly claimed this. After TomDispatch inquired about the number on a new webpage designed to tell the Pentagon’s “story” to the general public, it was quickly changed. “We appreciate your diligence in getting to the bottom of this,” said Lieutenant Colonel Baldanza. “Thanks to your observations, we have updated defense.gov to say ‘more than 160.’”


The progressive changes made to the Defense Department’s “Our Story” webpage as a result of questions from TomDispatch.

What the Pentagon still doesn’t say is how it defines a “location.” The number 164 does roughly track with the Department of Defense’s current manpower statistics, which show personnel deployments of varying sizes in 166 “overseas” locales — including some nations with token numbers of U.S. military personnel and others, like Iraq and Syria, where the size of the force was obviously far larger, even if unlisted at the time of the assessment. (The Pentagon recently claimed that there were 5,200 troops in Iraq and at least 2,000 troops in Syria although that number should now markedly shrink.) The Defense Department’s “overseas” tally, however, also lists troops in U.S. territories like American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Island. Dozens of soldiers, according to the Pentagon, are also deployed to the country of “Akrotiri” (which is actually a village on the island of Santorini in Greece) and thousands more are based in “unknown” locations.

In the latest report, the number of those “unknown” troops exceeds 44,000.


Official Defense Department manpower statistics show U.S. forces deployed to the nation of “Akrotiri.”

The annual cost of deploying U.S. military personnel overseas, as well as maintaining and running those foreign bases, tops out at an estimated $150 billion annually, according to the Overseas Bases Realignment and Closure Coalition. The price tag for the outposts alone adds up to about one-third of that total. “U.S. bases abroad cost upwards of $50 billion per year to build and maintain, which is money that could be used to address pressing needs at home in education, health care, housing, and infrastructure,” Vine points out.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the Pentagon is also somewhat fuzzy about just where its troops are stationed. The new Defense Department website, for instance, offered a count of “4,800+ defense sites” around the world. After TomDispatch inquired about this total and how it related to the official count of 4,775 sites listed in the BSR, the website was changed to read “approximately 4,800 Defense Sites.”

“Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy. As we transition to the new site, we are working on updating information,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Baldanza. “Please refer to the Base Structure Report which has the latest numbers.”

In the most literal sense, the Base Structure Report does indeed have the latest numbers — but their accuracy is another matter. “The number of bases listed in the BSR has long born little relation to the actual number of U.S. bases outside the United States,” says Vine. “Many, many well-known and secretive bases have long been left off the list.”

One prime example is the constellation of outposts that the U.S. has built across Africa. The official BSR inventory lists only a handful of sites there — on Ascension Island as well as in Djibouti, Egypt, and Kenya. In reality, though, there are many more outposts in many more African countries.

A recent investigation by the Intercept, based on documents obtained from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) via the Freedom of Information Act, revealed a network of 34 bases heavily clustered in the north and west of that continent as well as in the Horn of Africa. AFRICOM’s “strategic posture” consists of larger “enduring” outposts, including two forward operating sites (FOSes), 12 cooperative security locations (CSLs), and 20 more austere sites known as contingency locations (CLs).

The Pentagon’s official inventory does include the two FOSes: Ascension Island and the crown jewel of Washington’s African bases, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, which expanded from 88 acres in the early 2000s to nearly 600 acres today. The Base Structure Report is, however, missing a CSL in that same country, Chabelley Airfield, a lower-profile outpost located about 10 kilometers away that has served as a drone hub for operations in Africa and the Middle East.

The official Pentagon tally also mentions a site that goes by the confusing moniker of “NSA Bahrain-Kenya.” AFRICOM had previously described it as a collection of warehouses built in the 1980s at the airport and seaport of Mombasa, Kenya, but it now appears on that command’s 2018 list as a CSL. Missing, however, is another Kenyan base, Camp Simba, mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study of secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time. Simba, a longtime Navy-run facility, is currently operated by the Air Force’s 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron, part of the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Personnel from that same air wing can be found at yet another outpost that doesn’t appear in the Base Structure Report, this one on the opposite side of the continent. The BSR states that it doesn’t list specific information on “non-U.S. locations” not at least 10 acres in size or worth at least $10 million. However, the base in question — Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger — already has a $100 million construction price tag, a sum soon to be eclipsed by the cost of operating the facility: about $30 million a year. By 2024, when the present 10-year agreement for use of the base ends, its construction and operating costs will have reached about $280 million.

Also missing from the BSR are outposts in nearby Cameroon, including a longtime base in Douala, a drone airfield in the remote town of Garoua, and a facility known as Salak. That site, according to a 2017 investigation by theIntercept, the research firm Forensic Architecture, and Amnesty International, has been used by U.S. personnel and private contractors for drone surveillance and training missions and by allied Cameroonian forces for illegal imprisonment and torture.

According to Vine, keeping America’s African bases secret is advantageous to Washington. It protects allies on that continent from possible domestic opposition to the presence of American troops, he points out, while helping to ensure that there will be no domestic debate in the U.S. over such spending and the military commitments involved. “It’s important for U.S. citizens to know where their troops are based in Africa and elsewhere around the world,” he told TomDispatch, “because that troop presence costs the U.S. billions of dollars every year and because the U.S. is involved, or potentially involved, in wars and conflicts that could spiral out of control.”

Those Missing Bases

Africa is hardly the only place where the Pentagon’s official list doesn’t match up well with reality. For close to two decades, the Base Structure Report has ignored bases of all sorts in America’s active war zones. At the height of the American occupation of Iraq, for instance, the United States had 505 bases there, ranging from small outposts to mega-sized facilities. None appeared on the Pentagon’s official rolls.

In Afghanistan, the numbers were even higher. As TomDispatch reported in 2012, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had about 550 bases in that country. If you had added ISAF checkpoints — small baselets used to secure roads and villages — to the count of mega-bases, forward operating bases, combat outposts, and patrol bases, the number reached an astounding 750. And counting all foreign military installations of every type — including logistical, administrative, and support facilities — hiked ISAF Joint Command’s official count to 1,500 sites. America’s significant share of them was, however, also mysteriously absent from the Defense Department’s official tally.

There are now far fewer such facilities in Afghanistan — and the numbers may drop further in the months ahead as troop levels decrease. But the existence of Camp Morehead, Forward Operating Base Fenty, Tarin Kowt Airfield, Camp Dahlke West, and Bost Airfield, as well as Camp Shorab, a small installation occupying what was once the site of much larger twin bases known as Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion, is indisputable. Yet none of them has ever appeared in the Base Structure Report.

Similarly, while there are no longer 500-plus U.S. bases in Iraq, in recent years, as American troops returned to that country, some garrisons have either been reconstituted or built from scratch. These include the Besmaya Range Complex, Firebase Sakheem, Firebase Um Jorais, and Al Asad Air Base, as well as Qayyarah Airfield West — a base 40 miles south of Mosul that’s better known as “Q-West.” Again, you won’t find any of them listed in the Pentagon’s official count.

These days, it’s even difficult to obtain accurate manpower numbers for the military personnel in America’s war zones, let alone the number of bases in each of them. As Vine explains, “The military keeps the figures secret to some extent to hide the base presence from its adversaries. Because it is probably not hard to spot these bases in places like Syria and Iraq, however, the secrecy is mostly to prevent domestic debate about the money, danger, and death involved, as well as to avoid diplomatic tensions and international inquiries.”

If stifling domestic debate through information control is the Pentagon’s aim, it’s been doing a fine job for years of deflecting questions about its global posture, or what the late TomDispatch regular Chalmers Johnson called America’s “empire of bases.”

In mid-October, TomDispatch asked Heather Babb, another Pentagon spokesperson, for details about the outposts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria that were absent from the Base Structure Report, as well as about those missing African bases. Among the other questions put to Babb: Could the Pentagon offer a simple count — if not a list — of all its outposts? Did it have a true count of overseas facilities, even if it hadn’t been released to the public — a list, that is, which actually did what the Base Structure Report only purports to do? October and November passed without answers.

In December, in response to follow-up requests for information, Babb responded in a fashion firmly in line with the Pentagon’s well-worn policy of keeping American taxpayers in the dark about the bases they pay for — no matter the theoretical difficulty of denying the existence of outposts that stretch from Agadez in Niger to Mosul in Iraq. “I have nothing to add,” she explained, “to the information and criteria that is included in the report.”

President Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria means that the 2019 Base Structure Report will likely be the most accurate in years. For the first time since 2015, the Pentagon’s inventory of outposts will no longer be missing the al-Tanf garrison (or then again, maybe it will). But that still potentially leaves hundreds of off-the-books bases absent from the official rolls. Consider it one outpost down and who knows how many to go.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

Gabon and Coup Mania

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:48

It starts with a presumption, makes its way through a discussion, and becomes a set, moulded stereotype: Africa is the continent of tin pot dictatorships, unstable leaderships, and coups.  Latin America, attuned to brigandage and frontier mentalities, is not far behind.  Such instances lend themselves to the inevitable opportunity to exploit the exception.  Gabon, ruled by the same family without interruption since 1967, is being stated as a possible example.

The news so far, if one dares trust it, suggests that a coup was put down in the African state with the loss of two lives. Seven of the plotters were captured a mere five hours after they seized a radio station, during which Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang broadcast a message claiming that President Ali Bongo’s New Year’s Eve message “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”  Bongo, for his part, had seemed indisposed, suffering a stroke in October and slurring his words in a speech during a December 31 television appearance.

As with other attempted coups, the plotters portrayed themselves as up-market planners in the Brutus mould.  They were killing Caesar to save Rome.  In this case, the men of the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon were keen to “restore democracy”. The attempt was put down with some speed.  “The situation is under control,” came a government statement some hours after security forces regained control of the RTG state broadcasting headquarters. Guy-Betrand Mapangou, true to the sort of form shown by a regime unmoved, insisted that, “The government is in place.  The institutions are in place.”

The coup fascination may not be healthy but is nonetheless fascinatingly morbid.  Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne from the University of Central Florida and University of Kentucky cannot get enough of the business, and have compiled a register of failure.  These political scientists insist on defining coups as “illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive”. But having to presumably stake some exceptional view to the field, the authors insist that those who go through with a coup have power for at least seven days.  (Why not six or eight?)

This cottage industry invariably produces much smoke but a conspicuous lack of fire.  In 2016, with the failed coup in Turkey unfolding, James McCarthy, writing for Wales Online, insisted on a guidebook approach, drawing from Thyne and Powell’s research.  They, according to McCarthy, “found there were 457 coup attempts between 1950 and 2010.  Of those, 227 were successful and 230 failed.”  Invariably, the Americas and Africa feature as the prominent zones of coups.

The BBC has felt free to run with a map featuring African states “with the highest number of coups since 1952,” a kind of morbid horror show of instability.  Sudan is a big league player in this regard with 14, followed by other states which seem to be in competition with each other (Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Benin and Nigeria come in with eight; Sierra Leone and Ghana sport ten).

Unmentioned in the show was the number of times conspirators, cabals and groups have been encouraged, courtesy of external powers, to sabotage fledgling democratic regimes and back counter-revolutionary agents. As important as the coup plotters are the coup backers, often to be found in Washington and European policy planning departments and company boardrooms.  The story of stuttered, mutated revolutions in Africa and Latin America is very much one of externally directed coups as much as failed local experiments.

The issue, as if it matters much, about whether a coup is, or is not happening, is a constant theme.  According to Powell, “Coup leaders almost invariably deny their action was a coup in an effort to appear legitimate.”  This is banally leaden as an observation.  All coups must, by definition, be asserted as acts of dissimulation, and not savage, all extirpating revolutions.  To merely depose a leadership is, by definition, conservative.  In a modern state, decapitation might create some initial chaos but leaves the structure, for the most part, intact.  Coups often have the effect of shoring up the junta, in whatever form it takes.

The field of coup gazing also has a moral edge.  There are coups with supposedly good import, and those that are not.  Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” ending the seemingly interminable rule of António de Oliveira Salazar, is cited as one example. A coup might engender fertile grounds for a democratic movement, or suffer entropic decline before authoritarian reassertion.  A good coup, speculated the Washington Post, took place in Burkina Faso in 2015, with the end of Blaise Compaoré’s rule.  The same paper does note the rather banal qualifier: that “policymakers and academics should not get too excited about the allegedly positive consequences of coups in Africa.”  African armies, for instance, might propel democratic elections; they might just as well remain in power.

Scholars such as Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way argue that multiparty elections in the aftermath of change can just be a front.  Democratic talk can be so much babble before manipulating strongmen.  “Competitive authoritarian regimes,” argue the authors, can entrench themselves.  All this seems beside the point in Gabon, a distant murmur to the academic discourse and policy ponderings that dazzle a good number of analysts.  The obvious point tends to be same: coups tend to be rooted in evolutionary orthodoxy rather than earth shattering revolution. They are also often the work of unseen hands behind unstable thrones.  Identify those hands, and you may well have some answers.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Trump Administration is Intent on Weakening Civil Rights Enforcement

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:37

When new U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked on “60 Minutes” whether she thinks President Donald Trump is a racist, she responded with the candor that makes her a compelling force in Washington:

“Yeah, yeah, no question.”

This, of course, lit up the social media, with Trump supporters denouncing Ocasio-Cortez and progressives praising her. One would think after his dog-whistle, race-bait politics — from slurring immigrants to slandering a Hispanic judge to embracing the racist marchers in Charlottesville, Va., to denigrating Haiti and African nations as “s—hole countries” — that the question had been answered long ago.

What is clear is that, whatever the president’s personal views, the Trump administration is intent on weakening enforcement of civil rights laws across the board. The same week that Ocasio-Cortez spoke, two widely respected reporters from Washington Post, Laura Meckler and Devlin Barrett, reported that the Trump administration is taking the first steps toward rolling back a centerpiece of civil rights enforcement: the doctrine that starkly disparate impact can provide evidence of discrimination even without proof of intent.

If a government contractor announces that it won’t hire anyone who is living with someone of the same sex, the victims may not be able to provide direct evidence that the employer intended to discriminate, but the disparate impact of the announcement would provide the basis for finding discrimination. Disparate impact isn’t dispositive. Those accused can demonstrate that they have a rational reason for the regulation or action and that there are no less discriminatory alternatives.

In some areas, like election law, disparate impact is written in the legislation itself. In most areas, however, it derives from regulations on enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, particularly Title VI which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin by entities, including schools that receive federal funding.

In 2014, as Meckler and Devlin report, the Obama administration formally put public school systems on notice that they could be found guilty of racial discrimination if students of color were punished at dramatically higher rates than white students. Trump’s Education Department issued a report criticizing the regulation and has begun discussions about rescinding it.

This assault on a centerpiece of civil rights enforcement comes on top of Trump’s stunning reversal of civil rights enforcement across the government.

Under Jeff Sessions, the Trump Justice Department essentially abandoned the Obama effort to work with police departments to address systemic racially discriminatory police practices. Sessions directed the Justice Department to stop defending affirmative action programs and start enforcement actions against them.

The administration rolled back protections for transgender students, while banning transgender people from the military. The Justice Department chose to defend a discriminatory Texas voter ID law, which a district court later ruled was passed with discriminatory intent. In department after department, the administration has sought to weaken civil rights divisions and cut their budgets.

As head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Trump’s acting chief of staff Mike Mulvaney gutted the unit responsible for enforcing anti-discriminatory lending laws. This list can go on.

Is Donald Trump personally a racist? Whatever your conclusion, Trump surely campaigned by trying to stoke racial fears and divisions.

And this administration is the most hostile to civil rights and to equal justice under the law than any since the passage of the Civil Rights laws. Trump’s defenders insist that the president objects to being called a racist, that he signed the recent legislation rolling back some of the discriminatory sentencing practices, and that he happily has his picture taken with African-American children.

But the record of his administration is clear, and the disparate impact of the measures it has taken provides compelling evidence of its intent.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Women Politicals of the American Empire

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:35

There have been many women dissenters who have been jailed by the American government as political prisoners. There are women in jail now who are undergoing punishment as perceived enemies of the American Empire. Two such women are nuclear resister Elizabeth McAlister and alleged “terrorist” Aafia Siddiqui. When I wrote about Pakistani-born Aafia Siddiqui as one of the “women politicals (not) in the news” eight years ago, she had just begun her 86-year sentence at Carswell Federal Prison in Texas for allegedly assaulting US soldiers of the Empire in Afghanistan. Now 46, she recently appealed to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan for help: “I want to get out of prison, my imprisonment in the US is illegal as I was kidnapped and taken to the US. . .” Dr. Siddiqui was accused of being a would-be assassin and an Al Qaeda terrorist. But she was the one who was grievously wounded in the stomach. She was the one whose youngest child was killed when she was taken, “disappeared” in Pakistan, and her other two children imprisoned separately for years. She was the one who was beaten, raped, tortured and kept in solitary in black site prisons of the American Empire. Her “crime” was being a doctor in Boston who was a Muslim activist, and who, through a series of unfortunate and skewed connections, ended up on Attorney General Ashcroft’s “watchlist.” For her “crime,” lshe had to endure the consequences of an extreme anti-“terrorist”/anti-Muslim era which began with the September 11, 2001 bombings.

Crimes against Muslims globally, and immediate repression of Muslims within the US, although not starting then, greatly intensified after 9/11. The FBI, in its zeal to root out Arab “terrorists,” has been involved in questionable activities which fly in the face of civil rights or constitutional law. We’ve seen the use of the grand jury as bullying tactic, wholesale surveillance, sweeps to arrest dissenters, and entrapment to create “terrorists” when real ones do not exist.

Pro-Palestinian activists have been victimized, along with young Muslim women who have been candidates for entrapment. In 2013, Rasmea Odeh, deputy executive director of the Arab-American Network, was indicted by the US government for “immigration fraud” when she applied for citizenship. Although the State Department was well aware of the circumstances of her moving to the US, Israel Lobbyists worked to get her arrested. Caught in a “security sweep” in Israel in 1969, she was, although innocent, imprisoned for a supermarket bombing. During her 10 years in Israel’s jails, she was tortured and raped. After coming to the US in 1994, she became an activist for Arab-American women, and found herself jailed again. She was deported in September of 2017. In 2015, Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas were arrested in NYC by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and charged with conspiracy to “use a weapon of mass destruction.” They were skillfully entrapped by an FBI informant, never planning or even thinking about bombings until the agent suggested they should. They await their trial. The climate of fear existing in America, along with “terrorism” charges needing no habeus corpus or rules of evidence, mean no justice and no sanity for Muslim women caught by the US “justice” system.

As a “terrorist” enemy of the Empire and its soldiers, Aafia Siddiqui had no chance at all. She was mistakenly accused initially. She was “disappeared” in Pakistan by helpful agents, and when her true story began to emerge, she was put in black site prisons, beaten and tortured. When she was finally put on trial, she was a broken woman, and had only to be disposed of by a kangaroo court—sentenced to 86 years at Carswell. She has been visited by Pakistan’s Consul General in Houston, who has complained to the US Justice Department about Siddiqui’s continued brutal treatment. She says Siddiqui suffers “immense physical and sexual torment.” Pakistani and American authorities all say they are looking into the matter, but nothing has happened. One Pakistani official’s statement was that the US treats its prisoners “humanely and in a manner that complies with our human rights obligations.” Indeed.

The Empire applies its “humane” treatment to more than its accused Muslim “terrorists.” Women of the anti-nuclear Plowshares movement, who bear witness against weapons threatening potential annihilation of the planet, are also considered “terrorist” threats. Elizabeth McAlister, former nun and widow of anti-nuclear activist Philip Berrigan, at age 73, is in jail in Georgia for her part in an anti-nuclear action: Kings Bay (GA) Plowshares, carried out on April 4, 2018. Seven stalwarts, three of whom were women—McAlister, Martha Hennesy of NYC and Clare Grady of Ithaca—entered the naval base which houses Trident submarines armed with nuclear warheads. They were there to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Their banners included King’s “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” They smeared the base’s logo with human blood.

And they carried with them indictments of the US government, President Trump and the base commander Brian Lepine, for war crimes. They were charged with the felonies of conspiracy and destruction of government property. Clare Grady and Elizabeth McAlister were jailed, and McAlister remains in jail today. According to nukeresister.com, McAlister is in prison to fight the Empire: “We resist militarism that has employed deadly violence to enforce global domination. . . The weapons from one Trident have the capacity to end life as we know it on planet Earth.” Such activists provide way too much transparency for the American Empire.

The US considers those who object to its global empire with its drones, bombs, universal surveillance and support for fellow oppressive nations—whether in the Middle East or Latin America—as potential terrorists. So women who protest against the School of the Americas or unmanned drone attacks from US bases are arrested and jailed. Since the 80s, women protesters have been jailed from six to 15 months for speaking out against the SOA, an American institution which has trained Latin American death squads. Ann Tiffany and Nancy Gwin of Syracuse, both served six months at Danbury for “illegally entering” military bases, and shining light on the Empire. Mary Anne Grady Flores (of Ithaca) got a year for anti-drone action, and very busy anti-Empire activist Kathy Kelly has had four stints in federal prison for protesting against the death and destruction brought by unmanned bomber drones in the Middle East. Women who resist the ominous nuclear arms threat of the United States can receive particularly stiff sentences, as “terrorist” threats to government property and national security.

In part inspired by Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan began a movement to beat swords into plowshares by taking on the American nuclear arms (military and corporate) juggernaut. Women—for the most part Catholic nuns—were enthusiastic participants from the beginning. Sister Anne Montgomery took part in six Plowshares anti-nuclear actions including the first, along with four men (with the two Berrigan brothers), and Molly Rush, in 1980 at King of Prussia (PA). Montgomery spent 11 weeks in jail for King of Prussia; she was indicted in 2009 at age 83 for her final action—Disarm NOW Plowshares in Bangor (WA). Sister Montgomery was trained in civil disobedience at the McAlister/Berrigan Jonah House.

Sister Elizabeth McAlister was an art history professor at Marymount College when she met Father Philip Berrigan and was inspired by him to become an activist. Such activism led to them becoming two of the “Harrisburg 7,” charged with conspiring to raid federal offiices in order to bomb underground conduits—and to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. They had kidded about doing that in letters, but J. Edgar Hoover was not amused. The government eventually had to downgrade the charges to anti-draft actions. McAlister and Berrigan both left their orders and married in 1973. Jonah House was founded by Elizabeth McAlister and her husband in Baltimore, as one of a number of “resistance communities” begun in the 70s; and was, and is, a base and training ground for civil disobedience and anti-nuclear actions.

On Thanksgiving morn 1983, the “Plowshares 7” entered the Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY. They hammered dents into and spilled blood on a B-52, there on alert, armed with nuclear weapons. They had to wait outside over an hour, singing and marching with their banner before security came to arrest them. The “7” included four women—Jacqueline Allen (of Hartford, CT), Kathleen Rumpf (of Marlboro, NY), Clare Grady (then 25, of Ithaca), and in her first Plowshares action, Elizabeth Mcalister. Their judge decided the defendants could not use a defense addressing the “imminence of the harm” of the weapons because they did “acts of destruction” to government property. He sentenced them to federal prison: two years for Rumpf, Allen and Grady and three for McAlister. Daughter Frida Berrigan has said that her family has paid a price for her parents’ fight against nuclear weapons: they were separated from each other or their children for a total of 11 years.

The work continues for Plowshares women. Through the 1980s and 90s and beyond, they have been jailed by the Clinton, Bush (both), Obama and Trump administrations—administrations which all featured massive nuclear build-ups. Sisters Jackie Hudson, Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert spent years in jail for, as Gilbert said, “symbolically disarming America’s weapons of mass destruction.” After 2001 such women would be treated as terrorists. Sister Megan Rice, 82, for her part in the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant (TN) action of 2012, got three years as a “violent offender.” Elizabeth McAlister was jailed for the Kings Bay action in April. She was charged under Georgia state law, according to nukeresister.org, for misdemeanor criminal trespass, but also for two felonies: possession of tools to commit a crime and interference with government property. The defense team has mounted a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that the protesters were acting “from privacy of conscience rooted in their faith.” The judge will decide on that—and never has any sort of defense based on moral grounds ever worked, mind you—at the end of January, and a trial date will be set. McAlister and her fellow protesters were charged because they dare to resist militarism that employs “deadly violence to enforce global domination.”

Elizabeth McAlister, in jail since April, remains steadfast, modest and unassuming. She hesitates to give interviews. She did write after her arrest about why she resists the Empire’s weapons: “We came to Kings Bay Submarine Base animated by the absurd conviction that we could make some impact on slowing if not ending, the mad rush to the devastation of our magnificent planet.” Such sentiments, such absurd convictions, that anyone can interfere in the Empire’s global destruction, have to be punished. Such female dissenters have to be jailed and silenced. There should be no more silence surrounding America’s women politicals. Whether considered terrorist threats because, like Aafia Siddiqui, they are part of a group deemed an enemy race; or considered terrorist threats because, like Elizabeth McAlister, they resist and expose America’s global domination—such women will be made political prisoners of the Empire.

To learn more about America’s women political prisoners, please consult my new book Women Politicals in America.

Categories: News for progressives

‘The Fusion Doctrine’ A Totalitarian Takeover

Thu, 2019-01-10 15:30

It has become increasingly apparent throughout the past decade that the nation state, and the traditional notion that it represents a culturally cohesive citizen’s platform, is no longer a valid supposition.

In Europe, countries have been stripped of their status as individual nations overseen by elected governments. They have been turned into corporatist fiefdoms having their own agendas and their own means of achieving them. The chief amongst these agendas is the domination of all spheres of the market place via the overt influence of government. And the method of achieving this end is extortion – buying one’s way into positions of leverage.

This would not be possible, of course, if parliamentarians refused to bend to the temptation of corruption. But as we now see on a virtually daily basis, the great majority of these ‘representatives of the people’ are themselves severely lacking in moral fiber and only too ready to do what is asked of them, in order to remain in power.

But the problem goes deeper. Other institutions with a remit to inform and educate, such as the media, leaders of national education programmes and the church also appear incapable of realizing a vision of any depth or purpose – equally allowing themselves to be led by the corporatist agenda.

An increasingly significant number of citizens now feel that there is no trust-worthy party to turn to at election time; whereas those who continue to place their faith in one or other party, allow themselves to be swayed by the ubiquitous nature of state propaganda – and not by their better instincts. This propaganda is corporation infused and is tied-into the deliberate promotion of an increasingly “me, me” agenda. Materialistically inclined consumers and many of those reacting to the dog eat dog political agenda of the day, appear to believe that any sort of resistance to the dominant trend is pointless, preferring to think only about their own needs and wishes and how to get the best out of a bad situation.

The most recent twist in this trend has been the promotion of ‘gender bending’ or what I prefer to call ‘gender ending rights’. I refer to the deliberate spreading of a fashion to change one’s sex if one doesn’t feel ‘comfortable’ with one’s gender of birth. At the core of this sex-ploitation is a plan to do away with gender altogether and to replace human reproduction with a commercially lucrative market for designer babies. A clear mark of the perversion that underlines the coldly calculating methodology employed by a deeply disturbed and power obsessed elite.

The corrosive affect of the perverted top down stranglehold on society is undermining the moral fiber once characteristic of independent nations, leading to a state of permanent social unease and deprivation. Throughout Europe, North America and other westernized neoliberal capitalist countries, corporate deep state driven solution to this widespread sense of dispossession – is war. The constant hype surrounding war and ‘terrorism’ keeps people in a permanent state of anxiety and placates them into accepting unacceptable solutions to the continuing state of societal malaise. A malaise that goes under the deceptive misnomer of ‘peace’.

Leading the pugilistic charge is the USA. The rhetoric comes from the President, but the heavy guns in the background are representatives of the military industrial complex with its head quarters in the Pentagon. Behind them, as more people are becoming aware, is the shadow government/deep state which ultimately calls all the shots and masterminds the timing and intensity of the war rhetoric. This war warning siren is at its loudest when there is some particularly unpleasant internal news to keep out of the spotlight.

Presently that news is that the US has just run-up its highest trade deficit for a decade – $55.5 billion – and is in a third degree phase of bankruptcy. The economy is slowing. Manufacturing orders are falling and economic conditions are reported to be deteriorating for all but the top earners. The old US pugilistic empire building role is itself under threat and someone has to be blamed for this – so Russia is once again cranked-up as the number one villain.

Owing to the US’s vast military – and the equally vast costs of maintaining its more than 1,000 strategically positioned global bases – a crisis is looming for The American Dream and the crassly materialistic sudo-paradise expectations that this dream has stood for over the past two centuries. But a crisis for the US is, as we know, also a crisis for Europe, since their economies are strongly interlinked, with or without TTIP in place.

The ideological battle between capitalism and communism has historically played-out as a ‘cold war’, sucking-in all of Europe in its wake. Now the hidden hands of the shadow government driving the global political and economic agenda are working to ratchet-up the ‘cold war’ agenda, via pumping ever more funds into the propaganda machine whose open belligerence is directed at Putin. Here, we are all led to believe, is the number one threat to the planet and prima causa of the rapidly failing dominance of the neoliberal Western led economic and military agenda.

So important is it for those who pull the strings of world affairs to keep Western populations permanently biased against the The Russian Federation – and Putin in particular – that a military strategy has been devised in which NATO has landed the star role as ‘Defender of the West’.
A role that it is hoped will be believed by those at home who worry about the US no longer properly fulfilling its job as the world’s number one despot – and as the global bringer of good tidings via its unsurpassed culinary ambassadors: Coca Cola, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

With the US emphasis, backed by France and Britain, on a military solution to the long cold war, has come the strategic importance of ensuring the allegiance of Eastern Europe, as Eastern Europe is seen as the battle ground for the perpetually hyped ‘West versus East’ show-down. The ‘war theater’ as military strategists like to call it.

Over the past decade Poland, Romania and Lithuania have become front line nations in relation to what is described – by fake mainstream news – as ‘Russian aggression’ but which is in reality US/NATO hegemonic ambition to advance Eastwards. Poland, from where I am now writing this article, has recently become the main base of NATO’s Eastern European Command and hundreds of US missiles – under NATO’s command – are stationed at various sites on Polish soil , as well as in Romania, ringing the Western boundary with Russia.

Continued attempts are being made , via the call for further Eastern EU expansion, to also gain a further Western style foothold in the Caucasus, so that yet more US/NATO missiles can be established there, to further encircle the Russian Federation as well as put pressure on China.

The EU plays a central part in the roll-out of this aggressive militaristic strategy – more on this later. But simultaneous to the implementation of its geopolitical role as chief player on behalf of the shadow government, the EU is itself showing evidence of ever deepening fissures in its attempt to hold together ‘the Union’ as the supposed one voice socio-economic unit it was supposed to be. Cracks are appearing everywhere as the European Commission is ever more exposed as the perpetuator of a policy expressly designed for the creation of a supranational superstate; a centralized control system (based in Brussels) established to be the European blueprint of The New World Order. The purveyor of a doctrine of taking unto itself command and control of every significant aspect of the workings of the countries under its flag.

Recent examples of this are the introduction of single point centralization of all member state fiscal arrangements; secret services; banking operations; police forces and now ‘EU military unification’. A programme announced by head of the European Commission, Donald Tusk, in June 2018. ‘EU military unification’ involves the diverting of the autonomy of each EU nation state to maintain its own independent military – into a collectivized pool under the direct command of EU defence chiefs, with back-up from NATO.

The implications of this military centralization programme also suggest an equally sinister civilian lock-down. In a recent BBC TV interview, EU defence chief Federica Mogherini stated “We need to merge military and civilian policing functions.” This is a much more critical statement of intent that it might seem at first glance. A nation state without full control of its military and with its tax payers contributions being funneled into building an EU based military/police state – will not be able to defend itself without permission from Brussels. This is a key part of New World Order planning – and it is happening.

The fiasco called Brexit is at the centre of this political sell-out to the barely disguised fascistic ambitions of the EU Superstate. Under the guise of negotiating an EU exit, the reality is that a covert form of high treason is being enacted right under the eyes of UK citizens. British Prime Minister Theresa May is overseeing a strategy whereby the country’s navy, air force and army are being rapidly run-down to unworkable levels, in lock-step with EU military unification being ramped up.

Britain’s military, the largest independent unit in Europe, is being sold to Brussels – and the price is being kept secret. At the helm of this new EU army will be either a French or German high command.

The ‘centralization of all strategically important elements into a one point control unit, has been given the name ‘The Fusion Doctrine’ by the UK Ministry of Defence. The Fusion Doctrine is supposedly being established in order to counter international terrorism – but actually it is to bring together different professional bodies under a war style footing so as to exert further draconian levels of control over the civilian population. Such strategic thinking comes from Chatham House, the Atlantic Council, the Bilderberger group and other similar secret society operatives.

The implications are, of course, far reaching, but completely in line with the ambitions of the deep state shadow government: all administrative functions key to ensuring the daily functioning of a nation state are to be ‘fused’ into one centralized totalitarian control system, to an agenda overseen by the 0.5% elite banking, military industrial, energy and telecommunication providers. Not forgetting pharmaceutical, agro-industrial behemoths, corporate infrastructure conglomerates, food giants and hypermarket chiefs.

The end result is to be a structure exactly in the mold of Hitler’s proposed Fourth Reich. The founding fathers of the EU always intended their project to be a ‘Federation’ – a supranational superstate run by unelected technocrats. And this is what we’ve got.

Pumping money in behind the scenes are the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Central Bank and – taking a leading role – the International Bank of Settlements, based in Frankfurt. The biggest money laundering outfit in the world.

In order for this totalitarian take-over to appear to be sanctioned by the public at large, non governmental organisations (NGO’s) are being enlisted to play an increasingly important role in smoothing the way. There are a plethora of such organisations at work in the UK, all receiving direct (but largely disguised) funding from government and industry. They are involved in military and civilian deception.

For example, UK NGO’s have been revealed to have helped indirectly fund the Middle East rogue ‘peace keepers’ known as the White Helmets, who act in support of ISIS terror squads and anti Assad dissidents. NGO’s have been conscripted to play the role of putting a positive propaganda spin on secret service backed attempts to bring about regime change and similar acts of covert interference in foreign countries, since it is believed that the public will never conceive of ‘charitable’ organisations acting as CIA/MI6 and Mossad sponsored operatives. But they do.

Within UK civilian circles a government and industry supported NGO called ‘Common Purpose’ *
has taken on the remit of ‘educating’ various branches of government how to improve their public relations profiles (read: create more authentic spin) and a lot more besides. Common Purpose, like its cousins, is a propaganda machine working to undermine and destroy the traditional functions of national governments and the civil service, often on behalf of the political and economic agenda of super wealthy families such as the Soros regime, Rothschilds and Rockerfellers. The British Civil Service, once a quite respected body in its own right, has shown signs of itself being corporatised and being open to the influence of major players with ‘an agenda’.

Social engineering has become a critically important tool in spreading disinformation, and mainstream media has become the chief outlet for its dissemination. The BBC, for example, has completely failed to live-up to its reputation as an independent broadcaster of merit, becoming one of the most frequent disseminators of fake news within a veritable hornet’s nest of bought-out media enterprises now towing the toxic globalist imperial agenda.

So tight is the lid being kept on ‘don’t step out of line’ political correctness – within a world of supposed freedom of speech – that transgressing the line can amount to a criminal act; especially if it is seen as ‘dissent’ from key government policies – such as the insistence that Putin is the evil harbinger of death and destruction to the Western World.

Greens can also be found being swept along by a tide of grandiose ‘solutions’ to climate change and other environmental crises. Many buying-in to the Agenda 21 plan of shifting large segments of the population into ‘smart cities’ so as to allow countryside areas to become ‘purified’ zones and wildernesses. What would be left of farming, in this scenario, would consist of vast genetically modified and agrichemical dependent monocultures, coupled to hydroponic and nanotech laboratory food production factories.

Such regimes would supply the ‘hygienic’ staple diets for smart city occupants. Such so called ‘sustainable solutions’ are actually quasi extensions of eugenics programmes popular with Hitler, and have nothing to do with actual solutions to the process of planetary ecocide still being moved forward under the central control system’s totalitarian agenda. Many ‘green’ organisations have also become dependent upon their wealthy financiers, who often harbor strong ulterior motives for supplying their financial support.

An outstanding example of a psychopathically grandiose supposed ‘green’ initiative unleashed this year (2018), is the launching of the 5G WiFi and electromagnetic microwave network, by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind the electric car. This scheme will up the EMF rate of mobile phone towers and street transmission installations by a drastic magnitude, at huge cost to the health and welfare of peoples, animals and the environment. It will cover every city, town and village – that goes along with it – with thousands of new microwave spewing base stations at intervals of every 5 to 8 houses in urban landscapes.

There can be little doubt that the true role of this falsely touted ‘no lag internet’ is to exert a 100% effective monitoring programme over the entire population of this planet. Not just this, but to also increase the ability to use advanced mind control techniques within areas of mass population density.**

The ubiquitous spread of elctromagnetic microwave technologies over the past two decades provides an essential tool for population control. Closely allied are the extraordinary powers now being held by social media and internet giants like Google and Facebook. The fact that great swathes of the population are addicted to an almost continuous use of hand held ‘smart phone’ technologies has enabled the operatives of the central control system to exert a net like influence on the population from one end of the globe to another.

In very general terms, this provides a further string to the bow of a global dumbing down exercise. An exercise that continues to be applied via the dominance of toxic pharmaceuticals, processed, devitaminized – and genetically modified foods, chemically altered drinking water, sub standard air quality and atmospheric aerosol engineered nanoparticulates, to name a few. Coupled to these are the psychologically destabilising affects of TV fake news and so called ‘entertainment’ shows, general media hype and the huge number of war oriented and generally violent electronic computer games that cover the children’s toy market.

In the background to all this, is the constantly beating war drum, keeping society in a state of perpetual anxiety.

The Fusion Doctrine no doubt intends to take full advantage of artificial intelligence in its delivery of a fully functioning totalitarian take-over. The steady incremental growth of public addiction to electromagnetic microwave mobile phones, smart meters and associated smart technologies, has opened the way for upping the levels and range of control over the daily lives of millions, perhaps billions, of people. The advent of algorithyms in computer software coupled with the multiple neighbourhood transmitter boxes with their millimeter pulsed 5G microwaves, are clear signals of ‘human side-stepping’ and non-human advancement., both in the work place and at home.

The Fusion Doctrine is what stands behind ‘the internet of everything’ and the internet of everything will be powered by 5G and the 20,000 satellites its sponsors aim to launch during 2019/20 so as to cover “every square inch of the planet.”

The breadth of the agenda which I have attempted to encapsulate in this article, is far from complete. However, it is sufficient to reveal that our precious and precarious planet is in the hands of deeply disturbed individuals, exhibiting varying degrees of psychopathic compulsion. We also see, thanks to those at the forefront of exposing the horrific abuse of children by those in positions of power, that the world of politics, religion and other institutions of supposed ‘reputation’ is corrosively flawed. We see that, amongst those we have entrusted with power, are perpetrators of some of the worst crimes against humanity this planet has ever endured.

Given these facts, we cannot but reach the conclusion that, at the top end of the day to day management of this world, are a cabal of deeply psychotic criminals. Crimes against humanity start with those in power. Once ‘we the people’ see that an undetermined number of our ‘leaders’ are at the centre of a club of satanic worshiping pedophiles and child murderers, we cannot turn our backs and remain passive. To do so implicates us in the crime and ensures an inhuman future for all mankind.

Humanity is reaching breaking point. A point that has come about through many millions, if not billions, of good people suffering untold torment at the hands of oppressors of all that constitutes love, unity, freedom and spiritual radiance. But at this darkest of darkest hours, a great change is in the air.

Those who have maintained a warm hearted humanitarian stance throughout this planetary crisis are rising. Rising more and more everyday.

Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the materialistic world of cruelty?

We are approaching a major break-through of conscious awareness and actions that come from it.

The tipping point is close at hand as rebellion simmers. Rebellion of the indestructible human spirit.

Let us channel our energies into fully exposing the criminal perpetrators.

Let us get on with the work of celebrating the value of human life.

Let us be united in our determination to succeed, for the destiny of humanity.

*Thanks to UK Column News for bringing this to my attention.

** Julian Rose interviews Barrie Trower on 5G https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLVIbPtNrVo

Categories: News for progressives

Center for Science in the Public Interest, Greg Jaffe, Cornell and GMOs

Thu, 2019-01-10 14:55

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is known in public interest circles as one of the premiere food safety public interest groups in Washington, D.C.

But that reputation has suffered over the years because of the group’s stance on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – including its opposition to mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

That GMO stance aligns CSPI with pro-GMO organizations and against other consumer groups – including Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union and US Right to Know.

In 2015, CSPI refused to debate Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen on the question of mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

“Why is CSPI defending a technology that has health and environmental risks but nearly no consumer benefits?” asked Gary Ruskin of US Right to Know at the time. “CSPI has done a lot of good work over the years. But on the issue of GMOs, they have lost their way.”

Now, Greg Jaffe, the head CSPI’s Biotechnology Project, has publically aligned himself with one of the most pro-GMO groups in the country – the Cornell Alliance for Science.

Jaffe works part time as the Cornell Alliance for Science associate director of legal affairs.

“CSPI contracts with Cornell for part of his salary to have Greg provide expert technical assistance to the Alliance for Science,” said CSPI’s Jeff Cronin. “The Alliance for Science, like CSPI, takes no donations from corporations and discloses its donors on its website.”

Cronin would not say how much Cornell is paying Jaffe.

(The Cornell Alliance for Science primary donor is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But the Alliance does list as one of its funders a corporation – Blue Mountain Capital, a hedge fund with $21 billion under management.)

The public interest community sees Jaffe’s move to Cornell as a step too far.

“For decades, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has done great work on integrity in science, and exposing corporate front groups,” Ruskin told Corporate Crime Reporter. “It is regrettable that their standards have sunk so low that one of their staff, Greg Jaffe, now serves as the associate director of legal affairs for the Cornell Alliance for Science, a public relations shop that parrots agrichemical industry propaganda, partners with industry front groups, and works closely with many of the industry’s leading messengers.”

“We hope that CSPI will come to its senses, and stop supporting front group activities it has honorably decried for so long,” Ruskin said.

US Right to Know put out a report in October 2018 titled Cornell Alliance for Science is a PR Campaign for the Agrichemical Industry.

The Gates Foundation helped launch the Cornell Alliance for Science in 2014 as an effort to “depolarize the charged debate” around genetically modified foods (GMOs).

“The Gates Foundation Deputy Director Rob Horsch, who worked for Monsanto Company for 25 years, leads the foundation’s agricultural research and development strategies, which have drawn criticism for relentlessly promoting GMOs and agrichemicals in Africa over the opposition of Africa-based groups and social movements, and despite many concerns and doubts about genetically engineered crops across Africa,” according to the report.

Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety said that Jaffe’s work with the Alliance “certainly makes Jaffe look way more partisan.”

“In taking a position with the Alliance, Jaffe went a step too far,” Hanson said. “It totally undermines whatever neutrality he had cultivated.”

Doug Gurian-Sherman was present at the creation of the Biotechnology Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2001.

He was soon joined by Greg Jaffe as a co-director.

Jaffe is now the sole director of the Biotechnology Project at CSPI and Gurian-Sherman has his own consulting firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jaffe is more pro-GMO, Gurian-Sherman – not so much.

Gurian-Sherman studied plant pathology and genetic engineering at the University of California Berkeley. He ended up working at the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I left EPA at the end of 2000 when the Bush administration came in,” Gurian-Sherman told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last year. “I was also disillusioned with the way the EPA was handling genetic engineering. And I was disillusioned with the bureaucracy.”

How long were you at the EPA?

“About five years. I started in 1995 and left in 2001 to go to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. One of my goals was to work as a scientist with a public interest group. Michael Jacobson at CSPI was just starting a new program on biotechnology and he contacted me to see if I was interested in directing the program. I jumped on it. I knew a bit about CSPI’s reputation and the work they did.”

Were you the head of the new group from the beginning?

“I was the initial director. And then Greg Jaffe joined. And he was brought on as my co-director very shortly after, within a couple of months. That was in early 2001. Jaffe came in soon thereafter.”

“For myself that I was optimistic about what we might do. It was over a period of several years that I grew unhappy and disillusioned with the direction it was taking.”

“Part of the question was a matter of degree. Can this be regulated safely? What would be required to do that? And over time, not only how can it be regulated safely but how can it best be developed in ways that might be best for society.”

“My initial thinking was – I was not convinced that it would be an important beneficial technology for society. But I was cautiously optimistic that with the right kind of regulatory regime, at least the harmful manifestations of the technology could be weeded out and prevented from reaching the market. We were not anywhere near that and still are not anywhere near that in terms of our regulatory system.”

“That was my initial perspective. And it was largely in line with CSPI.”

Was it your perspective at that time that GMOs were just a handmaiden to industrial agriculture and thus wouldn’t benefit society?

“No. I wasn’t thinking as much initially about those broader social implications. I certainly was thinking about the corporate use of the technology at the time. Some of the same players – Monsanto, DuPont, Dow –  were clearly dominating the technology. And I certainly was concerned about that. Going back to my Science for the People days, if not before, I have been concerned about corporate power and corporate consolidation. That aspect of it was certainly on my mind. And it was a major concern. At that point, my analysis had not reached conclusions that the technology had an inherent tendency to be controlled and dominated by the industry. Or as you put it, it was often a handmaiden of the industry.”

“At the initial stages, I had not done the analysis or thought deeply enough about whether the technology was capable of being developed independent of the big corporations and whether the corporate influence could be adequately tamped down and controlled to allow public aspects to be developed. That came over time and came later.”

At what point in time at CSPI did you start thinking – this is going in a direction I’m not comfortable with?

“CSPI has not been a partner with the other progressive public interest groups in the United States and around the world on genetic engineering.”

What groups are you talking about?

“It has changed over time. At the time, one of the major groups in the United States was the Union of Concerned Scientists, who I eventually ended up working for. Their position was similar to mine –  genetic engineering maybe had some promise but was causing many more problems than it was solving. It was mainly detrimental, the regulations were drastically inadequate, we needed more sustainable farming and conventional crop breeding rather than genetic engineering.”

“Their program was led at the time by Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler. Environmental Defense Fund was a major player with Rebecca Goldberg. They had positions similar to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Consumers Union has a research arm. Michael Hansen and others there played a big role. And this goes back into the late 1980s. Friends of the Earth had some involvement at the time.”

“Another group that started around that time was the Center for Food Safety. I also worked with them for a time. They have done a lot of the legal work, filing lawsuits against particular applications of the technology, especially the herbicide resistant crops. Andrew Kimbrell was an acolyte of Jeremy Rifkin. His first lawsuit was against the lab in Berkeley where I was doing my PhD.”

“The Union of Concerned Scientists changed directions in 2014 under a new director. Margaret Mellon and I left the program at that time. They are no longer working on genetic engineering.”

Then the current groups are Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety. US Right to Know. Greenpeace, and Organic Consumers Association and others.

“Yes. They are still involved. But it’s interesting because the groups critical have changed somewhat and dispersed. There are smaller groups like Food Democracy Now. And many of the groups are working to get mandatory labeling.”

Why did CSPI move in the other direction?

“I don’t know. It’s a good question to ask. CSPI has certainly been associating themselves with positions similar to the GMO pesticide industry despite some criticisms of the technology. And that differs from the positions of the liberal and progressive public interest community, which on the whole has been opposed or skeptical of genetic engineering.”

“I’m sure I am forgetting other groups. But these groups worked together. There was communication, strategy, among these groups. And CSPI has never been a part of that coalition. And not only nationally, but internationally.”

What about Jaffe signing on with Cornell?

“That is not the only pro-GMO group he is aligned with. And I am not questioning his motives. But it does raise questions as to why they are comfortable to collaborate with organizations that are highly pro-GMO. From my understanding, CSPI’s position is they are pro-GMO with some reservations.”

“Jaffe was also very involved with the Program for Biosafety Systems, which is associated with the green revolution centers, in particular the International Food Policy Research Institute. And he has had associations with the US Agency for International Development, which is pro-GMO. It’s an interesting mix of bedfellows supporting the GMO project. He helps third world countries develop regulatory systems that allow the countries to choose GMOs. But many of civil society groups in these African and other countries say these regulations facilitate large pesticide/GMO corporations to penetrate those countries.”

“CSPI has said it wants to position itself between industry and the civil society sector, which they see as both having extreme positions on genetic engineering – again paraphrasing. They see civil society as hyping the risks and industry as minimizing those risks. But in fact, CSPI has eschewed civil society groups which oppose GMOs on safety and other grounds. But CSPI is comfortable associating itself widely with groups that are highly pro-GMO and have positions similar to the industry. CSPI’s talking points are mostly in line with industry talking points.”

“It raises the question, which I don’t have the answer to, as to why they are often found associated with these groups that are pro-GMO, and reluctant to be involved with civil society groups.”

Cornell is funded by the pro-GMO Gates Foundation.

“The Gates Foundation, the Cornell Alliance for Science, industry, academics associated with the GMO technology, the US government – they all want to open up markets in developing countries in Southeast Asia and Africa. In all of these cases, policy supporters of genetic engineering recognize the importance those countries having social systems, regulatory systems, intellectual property systems that facilitate the private sector commodification or use of genetic engineering in those countries. And Jaffe’s expertise is as a legal expert on the regulation of genetic engineering.”

They would argue that as part of the green revolution – we are going to feed the world.

“Where I have a major philosophical difference with CSPI goes back to my early days in biology as part of a social system. I see these technologies as being embedded in a political and economic context that is not neutral. CSPI has said and Jaffe has said that they take an incrementalist approach to solving these problems.”

“They can defend that by saying the broader system based approaches are just unrealistic while an incrementalist approach does some real good in preventing or stopping some harmful applications of various technologies. It’s been a good thing to get trans fats off the market. That kind of approach can have a lot of merit in a sane society that basically does the right thing and is egalitarian and broadly democratic.”

“But in a society that has a broken democracy, dominated by corporate interests and powerful economic interests, that kind of approach can be misleading and like a bandaid. What you have in the case of genetic engineering is CSPI touting the reduction of chemical pesticides in Bt crops, which I agree is a good thing.”

“But what they don’t talk about is the nature of industrial agriculture, which this is a part of and remains highly dependent on those pesticides. What has happened with insecticides in major Bt crops like corn or cotton, sprayed insecticides have been reduced, but seed coating insecticides, neonicotinoids, are more widely used now than the sprayed insecticides. And these are the very insecticides that are associated with killing off bees and other pollinators. There is a tremendous amount of research on that.”

Categories: News for progressives

Tax the Rich?  History Proves Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez May be Correct

Wed, 2019-01-09 16:02

Taxes impede economic growth and high taxes kill the economy, right?. This is the belief among many who criticize Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to 70% or more.  But what does the evidence really tell us?

Do high taxes really hurt the economy as much as they believe, and will lowering them have much of an impact on stimulating it? The economic literature is clear — tax breaks to encourage economic relocation or investment decisions are inefficient and wasteful. Hundreds of studies reach this conclusion. When businesses are surveyed regarding factors important to their investment decisions, taxes often come in behind proximity to markets, suppliers, and the quality of the labor force. These other factors occupy a larger percentage of a business’s budget than do taxes, and all of them are far more critical to long-term success than are taxes. Businesses occasionally admit this. Nearly 62 percent of those interviewed in a California study on hiring tax credits indicated that they had never or rarely affected their decision to employ individuals.

Anecdotal stories and illustrations also confirm the tax fallacy. High tax states such as Minnesota have generally fared better in terms of economic growth, unemployment, median family incomes, and location of Fortune 500 companies than low tax ones such as Mississippi and Alabama. In many situations high taxes, and with that, government expenditures on education, workforce training, and infrastructure, correlate positively with income, low unemployment, and business retention. One needs to look not just a one side of the equation—taxes—but the other side too—what taxes buy—to see what value businesses get out of them in terms of educated workforces and infrastructure investments. Most debates fail to do this.

Bureau of Economic Analysis statistics demonstrate how economic growth is related to tax rates. One can compare annual economic growth as measured by the percent change in the gross domestic product (GDP) percent based on current dollars to the highest federal individual tax rate and the top corporate tax rate since 1930. If taxes are a factor affecting economic growth, one should see an inverse relationship between growth of the U.S. economy and higher tax rates. The GDP should grow more quickly when top individual and corporate tax rates are lower. If taxes are a major factor deterring economic growth, lines on a graph should go in opposite directions: As tax rates go up the GDP should go down.

No such pattern emerges between high taxes and GDP growth over 80 years. During the Depression of the 1930s corporate and individual taxes rates increased, but in 1934 through 1937 the GDP grew by 17%, 11%, and 14% annually. Top corporate tax rates climbed to over 50% through the 1960s, again with no discernable pattern associated with decreased economic growth. The same is true with top tax rates on the richest which were 91% into the 1960s. Conversely, since the 1980s after Kemp-Roth and then after 2001 with the Bush era tax cuts, there is no evidence that the economy grew more rapidly than in eras with significantly higher tax rates on the wealthy and corporations.  The same is true even of the much heralded 1960s Kennedy tax cuts.  While at one time economists thought they had an almost magical impact on the economy, more recent evidence questions that.

Looking at time periods when tax rates were at their highest, GDP often grew more robustly than when taxes were cut. Visually, the attached graph simply fails to demonstrate that tax rates negatively impact economic growth.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but statistics are priceless. Statistically, if a tax hurts economic growth, the correction with it is -1. If they positively facilitate growth the relationship is 1, and if they have no impact the relationship is 0. The correlation between GDP and top individual taxes is 0.29, between GDP and top corporate taxes is 0.32, and among the three it is 0.14. Statistically, there is a slight positive impact on either top individual or corporate taxes or economic growth, but overall almost no connection between tax rates on the wealthy and corporations and economic growth in the United States.

But what about taxes as job killers? Again running similar statistical tests, there is little connection. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data on unemployment rates since 1940, the correlation among top individual and corporate taxes and the annual unemployment rate is -0.02—essentially no connection at all.

The simple claim that high tax rates on the wealthy and corporations hurt economic growth and job production is false. The evidence is simply not there to support assertions that high taxes alone hurt the economy or that cutting them will have the stimulus effect asserted.  Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be correct that increasing taxes on the wealthy will not only be more fair, but an efficient means to stimulate the economy, help the poor, and generate the resources necessary to fund a fair and equitable America.

Categories: News for progressives

“Invasions”: the Desperate Need to Distract From the Brexit Shambles

Wed, 2019-01-09 16:00

In these days of the 24/7 news cycle– with virtually instantaneous spin on the part of politicians and their slick media gurus, and ever-gullible segments of social media– it’s become easy to plant stories that can soon be shown to be false flags.

One of these false flags occurred in the UK in the recent holiday season. As I mentioned in a CounterPunch article a couple of weeks ago, Gatwick, the UK’s second largest airport, located 30 miles south of London and serving 43 million passengers a year, was closed for a nearly two days during the busiest travel period of the year when multiple drone sightings were reported over its runways throughout that time.

As a result, 140,000 passengers had flights delayed, cancelled, or rerouted to other airports, and 11,000 people were stranded at the airport, which was not prepared for such an emergency, as airport eateries ran out of food.

The British army was summoned to deal with this “emergency” after a meeting of Theresa May’s cabinet.

According to The Guardian, the military deployed the Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can detect drones using radar. It can also jam communications between the drone and its operator, enabling authorities to take control of the drone.

Two drone enthusiasts living near Gatwick were arrested as “persons of interest”, before being freed after two days of interrogation without being charged.  In the meantime, their names were revealed by the tabloid media, with a predictable outcome (the couple are now suing the tabloids for the severe harassment they suffered as a consequence of being named).

By this time the supposed drone attacks ceased, though there was another twist to the story.

The police said it was possible that the 200 or so witness reports of drone sightings after the first ones caused panic were mistaken, though this police statement was later backtracked with the blame placed on “miscommunication”.

It turned out that no photographic or video footage exists of the invading drones!

The police also examined two damaged drones allegedly found on the airport perimeter, but later said they were “ruled out” of the investigation.

The Independent now reports that the Israeli anti-drone technology has been removed from Gatwick, and quotes the area’s chief police officer:

“He said some reports of drones in the area may have involved the police’s own craft, but added that he is “absolutely certain” a drone was flying near the airport’s runways during the three-day period of disruption”.

I wonder how many of my fellow Brits will bet against me that this worthy protector of the public gets a knighthood in the next Ukanian honours list for owning up to the fact that his own police force was flying drones over the airport during the panic-inducing “invasion”!

And who would now bet against the supposedly sighted “invading” drones being precisely the ones operated over Gatwick by the local police force?

The bungled drone investigation did not stop other airport authorities from consulting with their Gatwick equivalents. According to The Huffington Post: “Executives at several passenger hubs – including some top US airports – have called their Sussex counterparts to find out more about the incident, HuffPost UK understands”.

Presumably these other airport authorities want to learn how not to handle a drone incursion the way Gatwick did!

Ukania, in its deep funk over Brexit– with the leading Brexiteers whipping up hysteria over “invading” immigrants allowed entry under current EU rules, and using this as one of their rationales for Brexit– is now deeply susceptible to any symbolism involving “invasion”.

The fantasy of the invading drones over Gatwick did some work towards this end.

The next part of the story involves the supposed “invasion” of the UK by rubber dinghies of people on the move (mainly asylum seekers) crossing the Channel before they were intercepted by the UK Border Force.

539 people attempted to travel to the UK on small boats in 2018.

About 100 of these, most of them desperate Iranians, made the crossing in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day– on Christmas Day itself 5 small boats carrying a mere 40 people attempted to cross the Channel.

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short his £800/$1000-a-night luxury safari holiday in South Africa, and sped home to describe dramatically the small increase in the number of Channel crossings as a “major incident”.

Javid, the son of penniless Pakistani immigrants who would now be prevented from coming to the UK under new immigration rules their son supports enthusiastically, is a hugely ambitious narcissist and lover of over-blown PR gestures, who makes no bones about his desire to take over from Theresa May as prime minister.

Javid, whose job before entering politics was being a director and then managing director of the long-troubled Deutsche Bank (soon to feature in any legal proceedings against Trump), usually hastens away from reporters with a speed that might impress Usain Bolt when questioned about his time at DB (2000-2009).

Javid, just back from his curtailed South African holiday, requested the help of the navy to patrol the Channel, and announced the redeployment of two UK Border Force ships from the Mediterranean.

Javid repeatedly referred to the boat-people as “illegal” migrants, even though it is not against the law to seek asylum. The UK is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, which requires signatories to give due process to all who apply for asylum.

Javid suggested, in a clear breach of the Convention on Refugees, that people picked up by UK authorities could have their asylum requests denied to “deter others from undertaking the same dangerous journey” and said: “A question has to be asked: if you are a genuine asylum seeker, why have you not sought asylum in the first safe country you arrived in?”.

Nearly 3 times more people apply for asylum in France than in the UK, and the French asylum-processing office is totally grid-locked. The logical thing for refugees to do is to leave France, cross the Channel, and hope the UK’s asylum-system will be less paralyzed and perhaps less nasty than France’s.

The ghastly Javid clearly believes it would do his prime ministerial ambitions no harm if he engaged in a bit of grandstanding designed to appease far-right and anti-immigrant sentiment at the expense of desperate refugees, rather than seek to solve any real problems.

Meanwhile, to quote The Guardian on the real crisis confronting the UK:

“More people than ever relied on food banks to get through Christmas this year, around half of them children. More than 130,000 children faced Christmas in a state of homelessness, in temporary accommodation or B&Bs completely unfit for families. Almost every day, a woman is killed or takes her own life because of domestic violence, a form of abuse that often spikes at this time of year”.

This, and not a few dozen people on wobbly boats seeking asylum in the UK in a single week, is the major crisis confronting Ukania today.

It would therefore be good for UK politics generally if the US found a way to subpoena Javid as part of any investigative or prosecutorial move against Trump.

There is certainly enough out there on Trump’s dealings with DB to pique the interest of the US authorities. These dealings began in the late 90s, but according to Bloomberg:

“Trump did little to merit Deutsche’s involvement after that until the early 2000s, when it agreed to loan him as much as $640 million for a Chicago project — the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

In recent years, Deutsche’s private banking unit has loaned Trump money — about $300 million, accordingto Bloomberg News and Trump’s government financial disclosureforms — for such projects as his Washington hotel and the Trump National Doral golf course”.

If the scoundrel Javid is in a position to answer questions about DB’s nearly $1bn loans to Trump for his hotel and resort ventures (the Ukanian scourge of boat-people was after all on the DB board of directors at that time, and managing director even), he should certainly be invited to grandstand in front of an investigative panel or two in Washington DC.

Categories: News for progressives

Is the Historical Subject Returning, Wearing a Yellow Vest?

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:59

If someone were to ask me the meaning of politics, I would say that it is concerned with the contestation of power; that it is agonistic, even antagonistic. And that it has to be, because what it contests is the balance of power wielded by different class interests. As Marx recognised, the underlying purpose of the social, political, economic and even legal institutions of capitalist society is to preserve the monopoly of power enjoyed by the capital-owning class. And, consequently, any attempt to challenge that monopoly, in whatever sphere, is going to be countered, as the yellow-vested protesters are currently experiencing on the streets of Paris.

I point this out because the nature of politics seems to have radically changed over the last couple of decades. Dare I say it, it has become rather apolitical. – concerned more with ameliorating the excesses of capitalism than with challenging the system itself. The dramatic protests against global capitalism that marked the end of the 20thcentury have now settled into a not uneasy truce, as new ‘transnational’ actors have emerged to fill and ‘depoliticise’ the radical space previously occupied by the working class. These new players comprise a panoply of ‘Global Social Justice Movements’, (‘GSJMs’) and ‘Non-Governmental Organisations’, (‘NGOs’) which impose themselves on inchoate civil society all over the globe. Whilst the range of their particularistic interests is vast, they are generally united in the denigration of working class politics. These movements, which tend to be managed by western, middle class personnel,[1] and are very often funded, directly or indirectly by western corporate interests and unelected bodies,[2] eschew the representational demands of the ‘old’ class politics, insisting instead that their ‘individualistic’ agenda wields a higher moral authority. In the eyes of these new global players, ‘collective’ politics, with its demands of representation, constituency and even democracy are discredited artefacts of a broken system which needs to be superseded by a more moral form of global governance.

The rapid multiplication of these, media-savvy, global players, which act very much like lobbyists, negotiating concessions at capitalist summits, isn’t simply a crude manifestation of an expanded global capitalism. Although World Bank requirements that third world governments seeking aid involve NGOs and advocacy groups has clearly helped fan that development. There is also a philosophical justification underpinning the emergence of these post-political movements,and the consequent replacement of the collective subject focused on class politics with a more compliant apolitical partner. What may seem surprising, however, is that global capitalism’s new partner, should largely be a creation of the Left. For whilst neoconservatives bent on rolling back the state, welcomed the hugely influential work of neo- liberal philosopher John Rawls, which heralded the primacy of the autonomous individual and provided a philosophical justification for the fiction of ‘trickle down’ economic.[3] It was the Left’s embrace of postmodern thinking with its distinctive disparagement of historical narratives that has led to the abandonment of the working class as the historical subject, i.e., in Marxian terms, as the class capable of effecting historical change.

A corollary of this supposed moral evolution in trans-global ‘politics’, is the depreciation of the former political objectives fought for by organised labour and its associated imperatives of solidarity and community: terms which are notably absent from the new ‘corporate-friendly’ moral lexicon. Indeed, the vilification of the working class, which has become a cultural meme since the 80s, has proved an invaluable aid to the ushering in of this new apolitical elite. For the flip side of the worthy coin that is GSJM is the unworthy, feckless and irresponsible working class.  By falsifying working class politics as greedy and self-serving it has been relatively easy for the capitalist media to delegitimise their demands. What is now approvingly taken up instead is a pluralism of social and cultural interests none of which has the political leverage, nor the desire it would seem, to challenge the status quo.

Urban geographer, Mike Davis discusses the NGO revolution under the heading ‘Soft Imperialism’, and regards it as responsible for ‘hegemonising the space traditionally occupied by the left’ and‘de-radicalising urban social movements.’ Housing activist, P.K. Das is more forthright, suggesting that the aim of such movements is to “subvert, dis-inform and de-idealise people so as to keep them away from class struggles.” At the same time encouraging people to beg “for favours on sympathetic and humane grounds rather than making the oppressed conscious of their rights.”[4]  David Chandler describes these newly emergent political actors as ‘anti-political and elitist’ which seems spot on.[5] In many ways their actions mirror those of their missionary forebears: placating the natives and clearing the ground for the expansion of expire. However, his suggestion that the shift away from class politics stemmed from the fact that the leftist programmes of the 70s and 80s were empty and exhausted isn’t correct. Quite the opposite, as a brief glance at the progressive policies put forward at that time reveals. In fact, the compensatory consumerism launched by neo-conservative governments in the deregulated 80s, which has led to unprecedented levels of private debt, was the very antithesis of the socialist projects suggested a decade earlier, when workers had sought to found an alternative society on something other than a destructive and wasteful capitalism. A more accurate summation of those years of contestation – what might now be called ‘extreme politics’ is not that the leftist programmes were exhausted, but that their policies were never implemented. Certainly in the UK, striking workers were deceived by their own representatives, both in and out of government, but also by the political system itself, which used undemocratic means to block the implementation of manifesto pledges promising irrevocable and fundamental change to the economic system. What evidently united the forces against the workers was their demand for more direct democracy and involvement in the political and economic process, which was a challenge both to capitalist control and to bourgeois clientism. In the cultural shift from contesting capitalism to accepting it, it is acceptance which now seems to be the governing ethos determining and directing what passes for ‘leftist’ politics.  It therefore seems timely to reflect on that earlier era, not so long ago, when a politics of contestation dominated the public space and being ‘on the left’ was a socialist stance, incontrovertibly bound up with working class demands for a fairer and more just society.

In the UK of the 1970s strikes, sit-ins, worker occupations and even work-ins (most famously perhaps at the Upper Clyde Ship Building works (‘UCS’) were common events. Angry grey men, huddled around braziers, were a regular sight on the nightly news, and everyone seemed to be locked in debate about the economic and political future of the country. When Ted Heath, the Prime Minister of the Tory government then in power, called an election in 1975, (after declaring 5 states of emergency in so many years), asking the people ‘Who rules Britain?’ the electorate decisively answered that it was not him and returned a Labour government. It was, indeed, a time of flux. And there was a real sense that fundamental change was possible; a confidence perhaps best conveyed by the appearance of the UCS shop steward on a BBC chat show. It seems incongruous now, in the era of ‘bake-offs’ and similar inanities, that the highlight of Saturday night television could be something as prosaic as a discussion of working class politics. That the chair usually occupied by Hollywood types on promotional film and book tours should seat the charismatic communist, Jimmy Reid, promoting nothing other than the interests of ordinary people seems quite extraordinary. But so it was.

What is not so surprising, perhaps, is the fawning media’s denunciation of that time, dubbed ‘the winter of discontent’ as an era when the country was on the brink of economic collapse.[6]Eager to hail Margaret Thatcher’s emergence on the political scene as nothing short of messianic, it suited the Tory press to denigrate the striking workers and present their demands as greedy and self-serving. However, what the workers were primarily asking for wasn’t money, it was power and more involvement in the productive process itself.[7]With many manufacturing industries closing down, due to a combination of mismanagement and under-investment, often notwithstanding considerable government subsidies, the workers could see a way forward through the production of socially useful goods, like dialysis machines and efficient heating systems for pensioners.  In their demands for greater involvement, workers – through Worker Councils – were putting forward industrial strategies that recognised the importance of diversification, social goods, green energy, environmental constraints, worker cooperation and responsibility. In ‘Socialism and the Environment’, published in 1972[8], several years before ‘Green Politics’ came on the scene, the connection between the expropriation of the environment and that of the worker was recognised, as was the need to end the destructive and wasteful consumerism that was polluting the planet and threatening to make it uninhabitable.

For young people today, the passivity of ‘apolitics’ rather than the contestation of politics is the norm. The class divisions that animated society in the 1970s have since become institutionalised and repackaged as career paths for the ‘caring middle classes’ or passed off as market exigencies beyond the reach of government, as much of what constituted civil society back then has been destroyed or privatised. Margaret Thatcher is perhaps best remembered for her role in deregulating the financial sector and selling off state assets and social housing in an attempt to create an expanded middle class, but her main target was always the destruction of organised labour which she rightly recognised was the main challenge to the capitalist monopoly. As victims of the cult of individualism which began to throttle society in the 1980s, and is evidently nothing more than ‘consumer grooming’, it is difficult for anyone growing up in post-industrial capitalism to appreciate that it was calls for solidarity, justice, worker co-operation and a new vision for productive capacity that shaped much of the debate around industrial democracy, which is precisely why there was so much opposition from the city and corporate interests, the media, the civil service and even the security services. What most exercised all these concerns was the realisation that their long held fears about organised labour being capable of effecting historical change were real. And that the only way to see off that challenge and to secure their monopoly was to destroy the collective power of the working class using every possible means. Structurally that meant emasculating the trade unions with onerous legislative controls, and eradicating those elements of civil society which inculcated notions of community and solidarity. Culturally, it meant effecting a radical shift in society’s perception of the working class so negative and pervasive that few, whatever their economic circumstances, would wish to be identified as, let alone associated with, working class ideas and values. Ably caricatured by a relentless and reactionary media, membership of the working class soon became synonymous with being a ‘benefit cheat’ or a ‘scrounger’. You could also expect to be imputed to hold racist and sexist views and would almost certainly be perceived to be lacking in aspiration. However, it is the label ‘underclass’, or ‘feral underclass’ for working class youth, which perhaps best conveys the dramatic fall and political invisibility of the working class, who were effectively erased from the political spectrum. With the withdrawal of the state and the promotion of the neoconservative mantra of ‘individual responsibility’, it became easy to present poverty and unemployment as personal failings rather than political objectives. What was thereby ensured was that the ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unaspirational’, seared by their shameful failings, would obligingly delete themselves from the political play list, as indeed they have.

Mike Savage’s ‘Social Class in the 21stCentury’, published in 2015, which reveals the results of the biggest survey of class ever undertaken in the UK, with 161,000 participants, reports that not a single cleaner or worker in the ‘elementary services’ responded to the survey.[9]Savage acknowledges that there are ‘telling patterns’ in the survey results, particularly as there was a ‘dramatic over-representation of business and related finance professionals’, and with the responses received from CEOs being more than 20 times the number expected.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem able to tell us what they are. He reports that “the proportion of respondents who do not think they belong to a class rises as the class hierarchy descends,” with only a quarter of the ‘precariat’, (the class who occupy a precarious position in society due to no or poor work opportunities) acknowledging their low class status. Whereas, “Nearly half of the elite think they belong to a class.” Savage suggests that this is a “fascinating inversion of what Marx might have thought, that class consciousness intensifies among the proletarianized, who ‘have nothing to lose but their chains.’” Whereas, “In fact, those at the bottom of the pile are the least likely to think of themselves as belonging to a class.”[10] Apart from the obvious fact that what people think and what they say are often very different things, and the observation that nobody wants to volunteer for the losing team; there is no inversion of Marx’s thesis here. A better explanation for the proletariat not rattling their chains is perhaps because there is little chance of losing them in a time when their incarceration has been normalised, i.e., de-politicised. At such a time all that rattling achieves is to remind you of your sorry, forgotten state. Lenin’s observation concerning the working class’s perpetual ‘cultural enslavement’ certainly seems truer than ever.[11]

Savage’s work is also instructive in revealing the social vulnerability of the middle classes and how class itself has now assumed a cultural significance as an aspect of personal identity: as a signifier of moral and intellectual value. Which would, perhaps, explain why GSJM personnel are drawn primarily from this class. However, the survey’s division of the populace into 7 separate class divisions obscures the bigger picture of winners and losers, which is what the dramatic differentiation in response rates so eloquently reveals. A less obfuscating analysis of that trend is perhaps provided by the simple societal distinction drawn by Thorstein Veblen in ‘Vested Interests and the Common man’. In Veblen’s study, which concerned the US at the turn of the century, all the ‘Vested Interest’ group requires from the capitalist class with whom they negotiate, is “a narrow margin of net gain”.In return for this moderate benefit, Veblen suggests, they will happily “shape their sentiments and outlook” in support of those business interests. If anything, at a time when social and cultural capital have attained new levels of exchange-value following capitalism’s colonisation of the cultural sphere, Veblen’s analysis seems more relevant than ever. For, in the era of trans-global capitalism and the accompanying expansion of apolitical social and cultural movements there are many more margins for gain.

The abandonment of the working class as the historical subject is generally traced back to the emergence of post-Marxian/post-modernist thinking in France in the 70s, with its defining denial of over-arching historical narratives. The work which has provided moral and political authority for that abandonment is ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics’, by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, published in 1985. In that post-Marxist text, Mouffe and Laclau argue that the working class is no longer the historical subject, essentially because there is no historical subject and therefore no ontological privilege attaches to the working class as the effective historical force against capitalism. Instead, they suggest that a range of social interest groups, (e.g., feminism, anti-racism, environmentalism etc.) can, through ‘moral and intellectual’ leadership, (as opposed to mere ‘political’ leadership) combine to effect such a challenge. Workers remain relevant to that amalgamation of interest groups, but only through their lived, concrete experience and not because of the historicity of their position. It is in this new ‘unity of an ensemble of sectors’ that a ‘structurally new relation, different from class relations, is to be forged. And such an ensemble, the work suggests, will form a ‘radical democracy.’[12]

It is in what Mouffe and Laclau call the ‘decisive transition’ from the political to the moral/intellectual plane that a new concept of hegemony ‘beyond class alliances’ takes place. The reason that a shift away from the political is thought necessary is because there is a perceived need for an ensemble of ideas and values to be shared by a number of sectors – “that certain subject positions traverse a number of class sectors.” It is Mouffe and Laclau’s contention that it is only by leaving class politics, and the inadequate “conjunctural coincidence of interests” that political alliances have forged in the past, that a new singular movement can be established. Part of the reasoning for this is the supposition that the working class cannot think for the rest of society: that it cannot get beyond the “narrow defence of its corporative interests.”[13] History, however, does not bear that out. As seen above, the UK of the 70s: a time when working class power was growing, was a very enlightened time. Anti-racist and Anti-sexist acts were passed and there was also progressive legislation protecting the rights of homosexuals, legalising abortion and making divorce easier.  Workers even went on strike to demand more money for old age pensioners. In fact, it is difficult to think of an area of social life which was not considered to be part of the socialist plan for reform.

Reflecting on the fact that students and immigrants as well as factory workers were involved in the mass strikes which broke out in France in 1968, Mouffe suggests that “Once the conception of the working class as a universal class is rejected it becomes possible to recognise the plurality of the antagonisms which take place in the field of what is arbitrarily grouped under the label of ‘workers struggles.’”[14] However, exactly what is ‘arbitrary’ about that label and what benefit is to be derived from abandoning it in favour of a plurality of different labels which have no political significance in the context of a workers struggle is difficult to determine. Dissolving the solidity of the working class into a multitude of antagonisms seems aimed at destroying solidarity; it also looks like political suicide. In the famous Grunwick strike of 1976, started by non-unionised Asian women working for a pittance in extremely poor conditions, a powerful message of worker solidarity was sent to the Labour government then in power. Issues of ethnicity and gender were swept aside as the biggest mobilisation of worker solidarity ever seen in the UK was put in place and over 20,000 workers turned up on the picket line to support the strikers.  The strike even went international: with dock workers in Belgium, France and the Netherlands blacking goods from the Grunwick, film-processing factory. It was precisely the widespread solidarity of the movement which terrified the government, as what was then evident was that worker solidarity could transform society, which is why the government resorted to heavy policing to break up the strike, (the same tactic the Thatcher government would use against the miners a few years later.) Mouffe asserts that pluralism can only be radical if there is no ‘positive and unitary founding principle’. But it is hard to see what can act as a unifying force in anti-capitalist struggles if it isn’t the commonality of exploitation. Who could the predominantly Gujarati women strikers: newly arrived immigrants from East Africa, have called on if it wasn’t their fellow exploited workers? And how effective would their actions have been in the absence of that solidarity?

In their attempt to justify this dramatic shift away from class politics and the historical interests of the working class, Mouffe and Laclau draw on Gramsci’s notion of the ‘collective will’, which he regarded as a national and popular movement capable of expressing the shared interests of the masses, and also on Gramsci’s recognition of the importance of moral and intellectual leadership. However, with regard to both these aspects of his political strategy, Gramsci’s thinking remains grounded in the historicity of the working class. For whilst he recognises the need for alliances and doesn’t see the working class holding out on its own, he does recognise it as the directing force. The whole point of a collective will is that it is a single, focused will, and not a disparate array of tactics and objectives. In fact, Gramsci opined that what had blocked the formation of just such a will in the past was an array of specific social groups. “All history, from 1815 onwards shows the efforts of the traditional classes to prevent the formation of a collective will of this kind and to maintain ‘economic-corporate’ power in an international system of passive equilibrium.”[15] The fact that Gramsci identifies the need for moral and intellectual leadership in the formation of such a will does not mean that it loses its political/economic base. On the contrary, not only does he regard it as self-evident that such a movement needs to be led by a party grounded in politics.[16]But he also recognises that moral and intellectual policies are nothing without structural change: “Intellectual and moral reform has to be linked with a programme of economic reform – indeed the programme of economic reform is precisely the concrete form in which every intellectual and moral reform presents itself.”[17]

By elevating a spurious moral leadership above class politics a platform has been created for an open-ended plurality of apolitical causes. The effect of which has been to radically depoliticise democracy by removing from its preserve the defining issues of working class contestation. Whilst Mouffe suggests it is the very fragmented, separate identity of these specific ‘antagonisms’ that produces a “deep pluralistic conception of democracy”, the reality has been just the opposite.   As Ellen Meiksins Wood points out in ‘Democracy as Ideology of Empire’ it is precisely the disappearance of politically defined class relations that makes this hollowed out, ‘de-socialised’ version of democracy so attractive to global capitalism. Because, by putting the former social and political concerns of class politics beyond the reach of democratic accountability, politics is easily subordinated to the market.[18] Claus Offe too recognises that the “neoconservative project of insulating the political from the non-political” is served by a restrictive redefinition of what can and should be considered political, thus enabling governments to eliminate problematic social demands from their agendas. At the same time, he observes that the emergence of new social movements, operating in non-political spheres of action, usefully serves to exonerate that de-politicisation.

The Yellow Vest protest is a response to an increasingly ‘desocialised’ version of democracy and to the power of the elites which has only increased under Macron. What began as a protest against increased fuel tax is now so much more. Emboldened by widespread solidarity, the workers are demanding an end to the elitism and corruption of government and a recognition that the working class want more than crumbs. The overthrow of Macron, the ending of political corruption, a new republic, the emergence of a new political party for the working class? It is impossible to forecast how the protest will end. But it would not have lasted as long as it has if it had not been for the widespread solidarity the workers have shown. Solidarity is grounded in a love of justice, which is the life blood of working class politics and therefore until injustice is ended, contestation must continue. For, as the father of political philosophy recognised, “it is always the weaker who seek equality and justice, while the stronger pay no attention to them.”[19]

Notes.

[1] Claus Offe, New Social Movements: Challenging the Boundaries of Institutional Politics, Social Research 52:4 (1985:Winter) 832

[2] James Heartfield, The European Union and the End of Politics (Zero Books: Winchester 2013) 117

[3] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1972)

[4] P.K. Das, ‘Manifesto of a Housing Activist’quoted in Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums, (Verso: London, 2006)

[5] David Chandler, Deconstructing Sovereignty  in Constructing global civil society in Politics Without Sovereignty, (UCL Press: London 2007) 150

[6] John Medhurst, That Option No Longer Exists – Britain 1974-76,(Zero Books: Winchester, 2014)

[7] State Intervention in Industry – a workers’ inquiry(Russell Press Ltd.: Nottingham, 1980)

[8] Ken Coates, Socialism and the Environment, (Spokesman: Nottingham, 1972)

[9]  Mike Savage, Social Class in the 21stCentury, (Pelican: Random House, 2012) 11

[10] Ibid., 367

[11] V.I. Lenin Collected Works, vol. 27,( Moscow, 1965) 464

[12] Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy – Towards a Radical DemocraticPolitics, (Verso: London, 1985) 64

[13] Ibid., 66

[14] Mouffe, ibid., 167

[15] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, (Lawrence and Wishart: London, 2003) 132

[16] Gramsci, Ibid., 129

[17]  Ibid., 133

[18] Ellen Meiksins Wood,  Democracy as Ideology of Empire in The New Imperialists (Oneworld Publications: Oxford, 2006) 9

[19] Aristotle, Politics, trans., Joe Sachs (Focus Publishing: Newburyport, 2012) 1318b

Categories: News for progressives

The Return of Constitutional Government?

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:57

The partial shutdown of the federal government is about to set a new and dubious record for the longest in our nation’s history. Amazingly, this happened while one party controlled Congress and the presidency, illustrating the Republicans’ incredible failure to successfully govern during Donald Trump’s two-year tenure. But all that changed with the historic re-ascendency of Rep. Nancy Pelosi to speaker of the House, leading the new majority of Democrats elected in the blow-out mid-term rejection of Trump’s chaotic, destructive presidency.

Our government is constitutionally established with three “separate but equal” branches: The Legislative, Executive and Judicial. The Legislative, Congress, writes the laws and appropriates funding; the Executive, the president, implements the laws with the funding provided; and the Judicial ensures that society adheres to the rights, principles and responsibilities enumerated in the Constitution.

Unfortunately, for the last two years we’ve had a bizarre form of governance where an inexperienced and unskilled president tried to rule by imperial fiat. Simply put, if Trump didn’t want it, Congressional Republican majorities didn’t do it. Those who rightfully disagreed with this mutation and sought to fulfill their oath to serve the Constitution, not their political party, were castigated, demeaned and sometimes even driven from office.

This is not how it’s supposed to work, which is perhaps why it didn’t work. Congress has the responsibility to propose, debate and approve laws and appropriations no matter what the president may or may not support. For those who may have forgotten, that’s just what the Republican majorities in Congress did for the last six years of the Obama presidency, caring little what he did or didn’t want and stymieing any of his appointments or policy initiatives they didn’t like.

To say the worm has turned would be an exaggeration since the Republicans still hold the Senate majority. But it’s safe to say with the divided Congress, we will no longer see undue power vested in the president but quite the opposite — which is a return to Constitutional governance.

Speaker Pelosi, the target of savage degradation by Trump, including targeting her in the mid-terms as a goad to Republican voters, understands very well how government is supposed to work. With 31 years in Congress and now in her historic second speakership, few have more experience in the challenges and opportunities the new Democratic House majority brings.

Moreover, Pelosi leads the most diverse Democratic majority in history with the highest number of women, minority and LGBTQ representatives ever seated in Congress. Those new members have no tolerance for Trump’s white nationalism and have declared to fight for the equality and opportunity guaranteed for all citizens in the Constitution, regardless of race, sex or religion.

Within hours of re-taking the speaker’s gavel, Pelosi’s new majority passed bills to reopen and fund government — but without the billions Trump has demanded for his wall. What they do, however, is ensure hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers will be able to go back to work, pay their bills, take care of their families and fulfill the functions for which they were hired.

Now it’s time for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to start performing his job as a member of a separate but equal Congress. McConnell’s claim that he won’t pass bills without pre-approval by Trump is an abdication of his congressional responsibility.

Trump doesn’t like what’s in the legislation? Fine, let him veto them and see if Congress overrides his veto. That’s how government is supposed to work — not by congressional obeisance to the president.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:57

Anyone who accepts true science realizes that today’s big forest fires are driven far more by climate warming than by a lack of “active forest management” as claimed in previous editorial opinions.

Active forest management, more honestly called “logging,” has always been the timber industry’s cure-all for every perceived problem in our forests.Until science confirmed the amazing diversity and value of our old forests, they were deemed to be “decadent,” badly in need of logging and replacement with more efficient tree farms. When there were budworm or bark beetle breakouts, industry said our forests were being decimated and needed logging to “restore” them. Science disagreed, noting that insects and disease were important components of healthy forest ecosystems. When our forests burn, industry claims quick logging and replanting is necessary to salvage their value. Science again exposed their myths, showing the value of leaving burned forests as critical habitat and how forests reseed and recover naturally from fires like the Biscuit.

I kept a cabin within the huge weather-caused and weather-extinguished Biscuit Fire in Oregon. It was years of cutting and burning non-merchantable understories that saved my cabin, not logging. In the aftermath, I witnessed how little difference commercially thinned stands made to fire spread or intensity. I photographed sites where flames consumed thinned stands only to lie down when they hit the cooler, moister, unthinned forest.

To me, as a timber cruiser and broker who’s tracked timber data and sale prices for decades, it’s obvious why industry preaches logging for all that ails our forests. They make grossly unfair profits from logging public timber sales — far more than the environmental attorneys who litigate them. Scorched old sugar pines and Douglas firs from Biscuit salvage sales sold at literally a dime to the dollar of real value. These sales were sold at a net loss to us as the forest owners, as are many federal timber sales.

Why should we sell our timber at a loss?

Would private forest owners sell their timber at a net loss? Of course not! They aren’t politically forced to sell mature timber at far below market value just to subsidize a few mills. If private forests are managed sustainably as often claimed, why can’t what few mills remain feed off them? Partly because there’s little mature timber left in private forests, but mostly because regional private timber supplies are siphoned off by log exports.

Private log exports from Oregon, though down from recent peaks, still exceed current federal timber harvests. In 2013, log exports were nearly triple Oregon’s federal harvest levels! Domestic mills could successfully compete with log premiums paid by Asian mills if export logs were taxed with a tariff.

Speaking of taxes, suppose we taxed federal forestlands instead of logging them to help fund counties? Unfortunately, however, if federal forests were taxed as little as private forests, the returns would be dismal. Private forest owners pay no tax on the value of their standing timber, even though it’s real property. They pay taxes on a pittance of the real market value of their land. Since 1999, private forest owners of over 5,000 acres have paid no harvest “privilege” tax, a statewide loss of $60 million annually. Tax subsidies to private forest owners average more than double the revenue counties receive from federal forest timber sales. If fair property and harvest taxes were collected from Oregon’s private forests, our forests wouldn’t have to be logged to cover the revenue losses.

When the many politically empowered subsidies are stripped away, federal forests are worth more left standing. The Global Warming Commission Report illustrates just the value of Oregon’s federal forests in removing carbon from the atmosphere. The report says 79 percent of the net carbon is acquired by federal forests compared with only 4 percent by industrial tree farms. If federal forest carbon capture were fairly valued, it would be budgeted and prioritized above money-losing timber sales. Even so-called “thinning,” promoted by some environmentalists, is reported to reduce the ability of federal forests to acquire carbon. Consequently, continued federal logging contributes to warmer conditions which, in turn, drive larger, hotter fires.

After 45 years of observing and evaluating federal logging, contemplating today’s climate science and considering what’s fair for all of us, I wonder — why are we still logging our woods?

Roy Keene works in Oregon’s forests as a forest consultant and private forest broker.

Categories: News for progressives

Multifaceted Attack Against Venezuela on Eve of Maduro Inauguration

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:57

Venezuelan President Nicholás Maduro’s inauguration for his second term on January 10 is targeted by the US, the allied Lima Group, and the hardline Venezuelan opposition.  They have demanded that Maduro refuse inauguration. A multifaceted attack aimed at regime change is underway using sanctions, military threats, and a campaign of delegitimization to replace the democratically elected president.

Since President Hugo Chávez began his first term as president in 1999, the Bolivarian Republic has promoted regional integration and independence, resisted neoliberalism, opposed “free trade” agreements that would compromise national autonomy, and supported the emergence of a multipolar world. On account of these policies, Chávez (1999-2013) and now Maduro, have faced relentless attacks by the colossus to the north. Today the Maduro administration faces the challenges of defending national sovereignty from imperial domination and overcoming crippling US sanctions that have exacerbated a severe economic crisis.

The US has brazenly announced its consideration of a “military option” against Caracas and has assembled a coalition of the willing in Colombia and Brazil to prepare for an eventual “humanitarian” intervention. Most alarming is that the US seems indifferent to the consequences of such an invasion, which could easily become a regional and global conflagration involving Colombia, Brazil, and even Russia and China.

What the US finds particularly infuriating is that Maduro had the temerity to run for re-election in May 2018 after the US demanded he resign. The US State Department had issued warnings four months prior to the election that the process “will be illegitimate” and the results “will not be recognized.” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley insisted that Maduro abdicate and presidential elections be postponed.

The Venezuelan National Electoral Commission rejected this diktat from Washington. On May 20, 2018, the Venezuelan electorate had the audacity to re-elect Maduro by a 67.84% majority with a participation rate of 46.07% (representing 9,389,056 voters). Two opposition candidates ran for office, Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, despite a boycott orchestrated by opposition hardliners and the US.

New Phase in the Campaign Against Venezuela

The campaign to bring about regime change enters a new phase with the inauguration of President Maduro for a second term. With no legal standing or representation inside Venezuela, the Lima Group has now become a major protagonist of  a soft coup in Venezuela.

Just five days before the inauguration, at a meeting held in the capital of Peru, 13 out of 14 members of the Lima Group issued a declaration urging Maduro “not to assume the presidency on January 10… and to temporarily transfer the executive power to the National Assembly until a new, democratic presidential poll is held.”

The following day, Andres Pastrana, former president of Colombia, a member nation of the Lima Group, tweeted that the new president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, should “now assume the presidency of the government of transition as established in the constitution beginning the 10th of January and as requested by the Lima Group.”

In a speech delivered before the Venezuelan National Assembly on January 5, Guaidó stopped short of claiming executive power, but declared that starting January 10, Maduro ought to be considered an “usurper” and “dictator.” Guaidó also urged convening a transitional government that would hold new elections and “authorize” intervention from abroad.

Although the US is not a formal member of the Lima Group, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, participated in the meeting by teleconference. Pompeo had returned earlier in the week from a visit to Brazil and Colombia, during which, according to a senior State Department official, Maduro’s inauguration was on the agenda:

“There’s a very important date that is coming up, which is the 10th of January, where Maduro will hand over power to himself based on an election that many governments in the region and globally have condemned, including the United States, . . . as illegitimate. So we will be discussing, I’m sure, our joint efforts with Colombia and with the region to address this new era beginning on the 10th of January in Venezuela.”

The US Imperial Project

US policy towards Venezuela has three strategic objectives: privileged access to Venezuela’s natural resources (e.g., the world’s largest petroleum reserves and second largest gold deposits), restoration of a neoliberal regime obedient to Washington, and limitation of any movement towards regional independence.

These US objectives are conditioned by a continuing adherence to the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America and the Caribbean, the so-called “backyard” of the US empire. The contemporary mutation of the 1823 imperial doctrine entails a new Cold War against Russia and China and hostility to any regional integration independent of US hegemony.

Back in the 1980s-90s during Venezuela’s Fourth Republic, local elites afforded Washington preferential access to Venezuela’s rich natural resources and dutifully imposed a neoliberal economic model on the country. Currently, US policy appears aimed at  re-establishing such a client state.

However, to bring about such a return, the US imperial project would have to change not only the Venezuelan leadership but dismantle the institutions and even the symbols of the Bolivarian revolution. The devastating US economic sanctions are designed to increase economic hardship in order to ultimately break the will of the chavista base and fracture the Venezuelan military as well as the civic-military alliance. This breakdown would presumably pave the way for installation of a provisional government.

It is time once again to give peace a chance. But Washington has opted for the collision course set by the Lima Group as well as the Secretary General of the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) over efforts of the Vatican and former prime minister of Spain, Luis Zapatero, to broker dialogue between the government and the opposition. The imperial project is abetted by the conservative restoration in Brazil and Argentina and the electoral victory of uribistas in Colombia.

Multifaceted War Against Venezuela and the Bolivarian Response

Washington is engaging in a multifaceted war against Venezuela by deploying economic sanctions, backing a campaign to install a transitional government, and preparing proxy military and paramilitary forces for an eventual intervention.

On August 4, 2018, a failed assassination attempt against President Maduro did not draw condemnation from either Washington or the Lima Group. On November 4, according to Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, three Bolivarian National Guard were killed and ten wounded in an attack by Colombian paramilitary forces in the frontier region of Amazonas. On December 5, the Brazilian vice president-elect Hamilton Mourão declared: “there will be a coup in Venezuela . . . And the United Nations will have to intervene through a peace force . . . and there is Brazil’s role: to lead this peace force.”

On December 12, 2018, President Maduro reported that “734 members of a paramilitary  group called G8 was training [in the city of Tona, Colombia] for attacks against military units in the frontier states of Zulia, Tachira, Apure and Amazonas.” This report ought to be taken seriously given the presence of eight US military bases in Colombia,  the recent association of Bogotá with NATO, Colombia’s rejection of direct communicationwith Venezuelan authorities, and its participation in US-led military exercises over the past two years. Last week, US Secretary of State Pompeo visited Colombia and Brazil to shore up joint efforts to “restore of democracy” in Venezuela.

In response, Venezuela has been fortifying the civic-military alliance built up over the past two decades.The National Guard, military, and militias (now over 1,600,000 strong) have been able so far to fend off several terrorist attacks against public institutions and government leaders as well as an assassination attempt against President Maduro in August.

Caracas has also been developing close military cooperation with Russia and consolidating ties with China. With the recent visit of a pair of its TU 160 heavy bombers to Venezuela, Russia has demonstrated its ability to transport armaments more than 10,000 kilometers at supersonic speeds should the Caribbean nation come under attack by a foreign power.  China has entered into agreements for massive economic cooperation with Venezuela, partially offsetting the punishing US sanctions. Also, the visit of a Chinese navy hospital ship in September subtly signaled Chinese military support of Venezuela.

Shifting Geopolitical Environment

Although the Lima Group now backs a soft coup in Venezuela, with the inauguration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as President ofMexico inDecember, the group has lost the support of one of its key members. Mexico declined to sign on to the latest Lima Group declaration and warned against “measures that obstruct a dialogue to face the crisis in Venezuela.” Maximiliano Reyes, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister, said: “We call for reflection in the Lima Group about the consequences for Venezuelans of measures that seek to interfere in [their] internal affairs.”

The extreme partisanship of Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro against Venezuela has undermined his standing. In September2018, Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez declared that Uruguay would not support Almagro for a second term as Secretary General of the OAS.  Almagro was finally expelled from his own political party in Uruguay, the Frente Amplio, in December 2018, largely for his statements in Colombia about the need to retain a military option against Venezuela.

In December 2018, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP) held its 16th meeting in Cuba, declaring its “concern for the aggression and actions against regional peace and security, especially the threats of the use of force against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” ALBA was founded by Venezuela and Cuba and is now comprised of ten nations.

No Other Choice but Resistance

The Venezuelan people have a long history of resistance to foreign domination and are not likely to view a US-backed “humanitarian” intervention as a liberating force. Nor are the popular sectors likely to support an unelected “transitional government” with a self-appointed Supreme Court in exile which is currently based in Bogotá, Colombia. And if the coalition of the willing includes Colombian paramilitary forces who are notorious for their role in the murder of community activists inside Colombia, their deployment in the event of a “humanitarian” mission would be abhorrent inside Venezuela.

The 1973 US-backed coup in Chile, followed by a lethal cleansing of that nation of leftists, is a cautionary lesson. Add to this the historic memory of the political repression during Venezuela’s discredited Fourth Republic and the Caracazo of 1989, in which the most marginalized and poor were the main victims, and it would be no surprise should the popular sectors have only one thing to offer a provisional government bent on inviting imperial intervention: resistance.

Note: All translations from the Spanish to English are unofficial.

The authors are with the Campaign to End Sanctions Against Venezuela.

Frederick B. Mills is a Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University. 

William Camacaro is a WBAI Pacifica network producer.

Roger D. Harris is with the Task Force on the Americas (http://taskforceamericas.org/).

Categories: News for progressives

Land Grabbers: the Threat of Giant Agriculture

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:55

In the 1980s, I met a retired general at a Borders bookstore in northern Virginia. He used to buy tons of military history books. I used to buy environmental and classics books. We started talking about books. But, slowly, in our discussion of Latin America, I criticized American policies, especially the immoral support of  landlords against landless peasants.

“If I knew you a few years ago, I would take you outside the town and shoot you,” he said to me.

I dismissed this vicious threat as a sign the old man was crazy. But the threat, nevertheless, mirrors the invisible war around farming, food, and the environment. I felt the tension of that ceaseless war for decades.

Agrarian reform

In January 28 – February 1, 1992, I was attending an international climate and development conference in Brazil. I was one of the speakers addressing agrarian reform.

I argued that it was necessary for governments and international institutions to protect peasant farmers from the violence of large industrialized farmers. Moreover, Brazil and many other countries, including the United States, should give land to peasants and very small family farmers because the farming they practice has had negligible impact on climate change. In contrast, agribusiness and, especially animal farms, are having significant effects on global warming.

Taking this position in 1992, apparently, was controversial. Once at the conference in the gorgeous city of Fortaleza, Ceara, Northeast Brazil, I learned I would not be delivering my paper. Instead, I joined a few professors in a small room wasting our time: debating agrarian reform and drawing recommendations destined to oblivion.

Fear in the countryside

This is just one example of what happens to unwelcomed ideas. Governments ignore or suppress them. Powerful media refuse to publish them. Advocates of those ideas often abandon them. Sometimes, they risk death.

I entered this fight in 1976 in my first book, Fear in the Countryside: The Control of Agricultural Resources in the Poor Countries by Non-Peasant Elites.

That study opened my eyes to the injustices and violence of modern industrialized agriculture. This is agriculture in name only. It is rather a factory exploiting land, crops, animals and people. It is armed by weaponized science, large machinery, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and, since the mid-1990s, genetic engineering.

Farmers immersed in this mechanical and chemical farming are pretty much divorced from democratic or ecological concerns and politics. They convince themselves they own the world. They have no trouble in poisoning and even destroying the land, which they own by the thousands of acres.

I wrote Fear in the Countryside as a historian. I knew that large-scale farming in antiquity and the dark ages institutionalized slavery and brought the collapse of nations and civilizations.

Giant agriculture has been having similar effects on us and our civilization.

I caught a glimpse of that scary reality during my tenure at the US Environmental Protection Agency. I studied American agriculture in depth.

American agriculture

I was astonished by the insistence of the leaders of American agriculture their model was the best: the world’s farmers should become like those of Iowa; I could not explain their obsession with gigantic monopolies and farms; I was outraged agricultural schools have been serving agribusiness; and I found it unfathomable that farmers are destroying the soil and poisoning the water with deleterious pesticides and fertilizers. And, ironically, I found myself serving a toothless regulatory bureaucracy doing the bidding of agribusiness.

These bad practices have been spreading the world over.

The peasant model

Timothy Wise, a senior researcher at the Small Planet Institute and Tufts University, explains why. His timely and important book, Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (The New Press, February 2019) summarizes the invisible war of agribusiness against peasants and family farmers. He gathered his data in Iowa, Mexico, India, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia.

He found Iowa “blanketed in genetically modified corn and soybeans, dotted with industrial hog factories and ethanol refineries.”

In Mexico, India and Africa, Wise talked to peasants who raise about 70 percent of the food in their countries. They do that without any support from their governments and international farm assistance organizations. In addition, these peasants raise food in traditional ways enriching the soil and diminishing the harsh realities of climate change. And yet, despite these achievements, both governments and foreign food assistance experts are ridiculing them and, often, grab their land. That’s why, Wise says, peasants describe foreign-funded agriculture as land grabbing.

Wise also observed the foreign philanthropic, agribusiness and government coalitions pressuring the peasants to abandon their native seeds, crop diversity, and “patient soil-building practices” for growing one crop wholly dependent on petrochemicals and GMOS.

Most peasants turn them down.

The agribusiness coalition, however, has plenty of land for transplanting the Iowa model of farming – despite global warming and the repeated failures of the “green revolution” to gain a foothold in Africa. The green revolution is the slogan of agribusiness.

For example, the Gates Foundation, the largest international aid farm donor, has been pushing the agenda of agribusiness in Africa.

The agribusiness danger

The agribusiness forces causing food and environmental chaos in 2019 are not that much  different than those I detected and denounced in 1976. Large farmers (American and non-American), agribusiness producing pesticides, fertilizers, machinery and seeds. GMOs entered the fray in the mid-1990s.

This phalanx of agribusiness power also includes tainted philanthropic foundations, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and governments.

Wise sheds light on the social and ecological harm of the global domination of agribusiness: massive world hunger, especially in Africa and India; loss of 25 million acres of crop land every year; too much synthetic fertilizers in the fields of farmers, year in and year out, are causing the contamination of groundwater and the acidification of the natural world, including the decline of the organic matter and microbial diversity of the land.

The fertilizer not used by the crop escapes the land as nitrous oxide, an extremely damaging greenhouse gas.

Animal farms also contaminate the atmosphere with huge amounts of global warming gases. Wise says that the top 20 animal farms (global livestock conglomerates) together emit into the atmosphere more global warming gases than countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom or France.

Obviously, time is running out for agribusiness. A former senior UN official, Olivier De Schutter, agrees. He urges the world to make “a decisive shift away from the agribusiness model.” Millions of peasants and small family farmers could not agree more.

Read Eating Tomorrow. No civilized human being is a cannibal. Tomorrow belongs to the future.

This book promises to outrage and inform you to say no to agribusiness. It’s well-written, inspiring, and incisive.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Climacide: Survival Rebranding

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:53

A 15-year old Swedish girl bitch slapped the world’s representatives at the recent climate conference in Poland. She stood before them and called them frauds and fakers, while they sat in limp silence. She said they’d had their chances to do something effective about the climate crisis, and they had failed. It was time for them to get out of the way and leave the solution to the next generation, whose future was at stake.

The delegates applauded lamely and resumed their assignment of crafting an intricate  rule book for implementing the earlier Paris climate accords, which were admittedly voluntary, unenforceable and insufficient to the magnitude of the crisis. The American contingent in Poland even staged an event glorifying the burning of more coal—but “clean” coal with some carbon capture to make such operations benign.

This scene repeats a familiar pattern now reduced to a ritual. Professed experts and interests gather to assess what has been done. They concede their efforts have been earnest but inadequate. Some among them, plus intruders, pitch a fit about how little has been accomplished. All pledge to do better—and then go home and continue doing much the same as before.

These rituals apparently have the endurance to continue while the seas rise into the conference halls, the forests burn down around them and the people are rioting in the surrounding streets.

The world began formally addressing the issue this way with the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988—IPCC. At that time global warming was becoming a common name for the looming disaster. But this wasn’t scientifically sound because the evidence showed an increase in hot and cold spikes, rains and droughts, storms and calms around a gradually rising average global temperature in pace with atmospheric carbon dioxide increases from human activities. And global warming sounded too hellishly fire and brimstone apocalyptic.

Climate change seemed more accurate and less alarmist. It allowed the proper authorities to proceed routinely with their studies and recommendations, resulting thirty years later in the bitch slapping in Poland.

Climate change virus

Meanwhile the term climate change has become a virus. It is built into the name of the efforts to salvage the earth. The Poland gathering was COP 24 (the 24thConference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). And climate change appears throughout the world’s faltering attempts to grapple with the puzzle: governmental debates, academic studies, journalistic commentary, social media, coffeehouse chatter—everywhere.

This phrase comforts the skeptics and deniers. It assigns no cause or culprit and offers no cure. It suggests the climate has always been changing and might revert to earlier conditions or swirl into tipping point turbulence. In either case, human deeds are not the main driver of events. Change just happens and the prudent course is to adapt to whatever occurs.

Most scientists, and other sentient beings, immersed in the issue know this vision isn’t true. But the doubters keep sucking on it like a soothing sweet. For their sake (and the rest of ours also) this mental lollypop needs to be yanked out of their mouth and replaced with a brain cleansing purgative.

A word or phrase that accurately indicates what’s happening and suggests causes and cures. Something like: climacide.

Rectification of names

Adopting this replacement for climate change would honor the 2,500-year-old advice of Confucius, which he termed the rectification of names. He insisted that things must be given their correct names, because without that they cannot be understood, and appropriate action cannot occur. In the late 20th century accidental Confucian Utah Phillips applied this insight to conditions he observed around him. He said (reputedly—attribution is fuzzy but it surely resembles something that would appear in his songs or sayings): “The world isn’t dying. It’s being killed by people who have names and addresses.”

Climacide compacts all that into one word manufactured to fit current reality. It indicates that climate changeisn’t simply happening. It is being done by somebody and some institutions with malicious or reckless intent, and they remain at large, and they must be identified, apprehended, and stopped. Because they are guilty of ongoing death-dealing for the world’s climate: climacide. 

That may seem extreme, but so are the circumstances. Dignified, studious approaches have illuminated the situation but they are at risk of outliving their usefulness if the temptation for evermore study paralyzes action.

Merely substituting climacide for climate change wherever this lame term appears would help deliver a mobilizing jolt.

Imagine correcting the name of the body trying to cat-herd the world’s scientists, politicians, businesses, and peoples in a fruitful direction. It’s no longer the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s the IPC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climacide. That instantly makes it less a forum for conferences and reports and more a case for Interpol and the International Criminal Court.

Demotic possession

Or consider this recent op-ed leakage from Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer—but wherever he wrote climate change insert climacide:

For too long, Congress has failed to act in a meaningful way to combat the threat posed by climacide. Powerful special interests have a stranglehold on many of my Republican colleagues; some GOP legislators even refuse to acknowledge that climacide is happening. So despite the immense size of the problem, despite wildfires that sweep through the West and hurricanes that grow more powerful over the years, real action on climacide has been stymied by the denialism of the president and too many Republicans in Congress.

This simple change alters Schumer, makes him sound like he’s been possessed by the spirit of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Do the same whenever you encounter climate change in writing, the media, conversation, politicians’ blather—everywhere. Mentally insert climacide instead. This will be a tedious, irksome daily chore. Your brain will bristle, you will itch and twitch, fidget and fume, become so irritated and alarmed that you might actually get up and do something.

Whatever that might be, it’s probably better than what most of us are now doing, which is standing on the beach watching the eruption of a distant volcanic island, while its tsunami rushes toward us.

Categories: News for progressives

Living on a Quagmire Planet: This Could Get a Lot Uglier

Wed, 2019-01-09 15:53

Sixty-six million years ago, so the scientists tell us, an asteroid slammed into this planet. Landing on what’s now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, it gouged out a crater 150 kilometers wide and put so much soot and sulfur into the atmosphere that it created what was essentially a prolonged “nuclear winter.” During that time, among so many other species, large and small, the dinosaurs went down for the count. (Don’t, however, tell that to your local chicken, the closest living relative — it’s now believed — of Tyrannosaurus Rex.)

It took approximately 66 million years for humanity to evolve from lowly surviving mammals and, over the course of a recent century or two, teach itself how to replicate the remarkable destructive power of that long-gone asteroid in two different ways: via nuclear power and the burning of fossil fuels. And if that isn’t an accomplishment for the species that likes to bill itself as the most intelligent ever to inhabit this planet, what is?

Talking about accomplishments: as humanity has armed itself ever more lethally, it has also transformed itself into the local equivalent of so many asteroids. Think, for instance, of that moment in the spring of 2003 when George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and crew launched the invasion of Iraq with dreams of setting up a Pax Americana across the Greater Middle East and beyond. By the time U.S. troops entered Baghdad, the burning and looting of the Iraqi capital had already begun, leaving the National Museum of Iraq trashed (gone were the tablets on which Hammurabi first had a code of laws inscribed) and the National Library of Baghdad, with its tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts, in flames. (No such “asteroid” had hit that city since 1258, when Mongol warriors sacked it, destroying its many libraries and reputedly leaving the Tigris River running “black with ink” and red with blood.)

In truth, since 2003 the Greater Middle East has never stopped burning, as other militaries — Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, Israeli, Russian, Saudi, Syrian, Turkish — entered the fray, insurgent groups rose, terror movements spread, and the U.S. military never left. By now, the asteroidal nature of American acts in the region should be beyond question. Consider, for example, the sainted retired general and former secretary of defense, Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis, the man who classically said of an Iraqi wedding party (including musicians) that his troops took out in 2004, “How many people go to the middle of the desert… to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?” Or consider that, in the very same year, Mattis and the 1st Marine Division he commanded had just such an impact on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, leaving more than 75% of it in rubble.

Or focus for a moment on the destruction caused by some combination of U.S. air power, ISIS suicide bombers, artillery, and mortars that, in seven months of fighting in 2017, uprooted more than a million people from the still largely un-reconstructed Iraqi city of Mosul (where 10 million tons of rubble are estimated to remain). Or try to bring to mind the rubblized city of Ramadi. Or consider the destruction of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the former “capital” of ISIS’s caliphate, left more than 80% “uninhabitable” after the U.S. (and allied) air forces dropped 20,000 bombs on it. All are versions of the same phenomenon.

And yet when it comes to asteroids and the human future, one thing should be obvious. Such examples still represent relatively small-scale local impacts, given what’s to come.

The Wars From Hell

If you happened to be an Afghan, Iraqi, Libyan, Syrian, Somali, or Yemeni in the twenty-first century, can there be any question that life would have seemed asteroidal to you? What Osama bin Laden began with just 19 fanatic followers and four hijacked commercial airliners the U.S. military continued across the Greater Middle East and North Africa as if it were the force from outer space (which, in a sense, it was). It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about cities turned to rubble, civilians slaughtered, wedding parties obliterated, populations uprooted and sent into various forms of exile, the transformation of former nations (however autocratic) into failed states, or the spread of terrorism. It’s been quite a story.  More than 17 years and at least $5.6 trillion after the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, can there be any question that the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden have been more than fulfilled? And it’s not faintly over yet.

More remarkable still, just about all of this has largely been ignored in the country that functionally made it so. If you asked most Americans, they would certainly know that almost 3,000 civilians were slaughtered in the terror attacks of 9/11, but how many (if any) would be aware of the several hundred civilians — brides, grooms, revelers, you name it — similarly slaughtered in what were, in essence, U.S. terror attacks against multiple wedding parties in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen? And that’s just to begin to mention the kinds of destruction that have gone on largely unnoticed here.

In the first 18 years of this century, tens of millions of people have been uprooted and displaced — more than 13 million in Syria alone — from what had been their homes, lives, and worlds. Many of them were sent fleeing into countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Sooner or later, more than one million Syrians made it to Europe and 21,000 even made it to the United States. In the process, Washington’s wars (and the conflicts that unfolded from them) unsettled ever more of the planet in much the way those particulates in the atmosphere did the world of 66 million years ago. So consider it an irony that, here in the U.S., so few connections have been made between such events and an unceasing series of American conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa — or that the thought of even the mildest sorts of retreats from any of those battlegrounds instantly leaves political and national security elites in Washington (and the media that cover them) in an uproar of horror.

Consider this a tale of imperial power gone awry that — were anyone here truly paying attention — could hardly have been uglier. And no matter what happens from here on, it’s hard to imagine how things won’t, in fact, get uglier still. I’m not just thinking about Donald Trump’s Washington in 2019, where such ugliness is par for the course. I’m thinking about all of those lands affected by America’s unending post-9/11 wars (and the catastrophic American-backed Saudi one in Yemen that goes with them) — about, that is, the region and the conflicts from which Donald Trump sorta, maybe, in the most limited of ways was threatening to begin pulling back as last year ended and about which official Washington promptly went nuts.

We’re talking, of course, about the conflicts from hell that have long been labeled “the war on terror” but — given the spread of terror groups and the rise of the anti-immigrant right in Europe and the United States — should probably have been called “the war for terror” or the “war from hell.” And it’s this that official Washington and much of the mainstream media can’t imagine getting rid of or out of.

Naturally, doing so will be ugly. In functionally admitting to a kind of defeat (even if the president insists on calling it victory), Washington will be tossing aside allies — Kurds, Afghans, and others — and leaving those who don’t deserve such a fate in so many ditches (just as it did in Vietnam long ago). Worse yet, it will be leaving behind a part of the world that, on its watch, became not just a series of failed or semi-failed states, but a failed region. It will be leaving behind populations armed to the teeth, bereft of normal lives, or often of any sort of life at all, and of hope. It will be leaving behind a generation of children robbed of their futures and undoubtedly mad as hell. It will be leaving behind those cities in rubble and a universe of refugees and insurgents galore. Even if ISIS doesn’t rebound, don’t imagine that other horrors can’t arise in such circumstances and amid such wreckage. Ugly will be the word for it.

And for some of that ugliness, you can indeed thank Donald Trump, whether he withdraws American troops from Syria, as promised, or not. After all, here’s the strange thing: though no one in Washington or elsewhere in this country had paid more than passing attention to it, the recent Syrian “withdrawal” decision wasn’t The Donald’s first. Last March, he “froze” $200 million that had been promised for Syrian aid and reconstruction, money that assumedly might have gone to derubblizing parts of that country — and rather than being up in arms about it, rather than offering a crescendo of criticism (as with his recent decision to withdraw troops), rather than resignations and protests, official Washington and the media that covers it just shrugged their collective shoulders. It couldn’t have been uglier, but Washington was unfazed.

As for countermanding the president’s order and staying, we already know what more than 17 years of endless American war have delivered to that region (as well as subtracted from the American treasury). What would another two, four, or eight years of — to use a fairly recent Pentagon term — “infinite war” mean? Here’s one thing for sure: ugly wouldn’t even cover it. And keep in mind that, despite Donald Trump’s recent Syrian and Afghan decisions (both of which are reversible), so much of what passes for American war in this century, including the particularly grim Saudi version of it in Yemen and those Air Force and CIA drone assassination strikes across much of the region, has shown little sign of abating anytime soon.

Using Up Precious Time

And then, of course, there’s that other issue, the one where withdrawal can’t come into play, the one where ugly doesn’t even begin to cover the territory.

In case you haven’t instantly guessed — and I suspect you have — I’m thinking about what’s happening to the place known to its English-speaking inhabitants as Earth. It no longer takes a scientist or a probing intelligence to know that the planet that welcomed humanity all these thousands of years has begun to appear a good deal less gracious thanks to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. By now, no matter where you live, you should know the litany well enough, including (just to start down a long list): temperatures that are soaring and only promise to rise yet more; a record melting of Arctic ice; a record heating of ocean waters; ever fiercer storms; ever fiercer wildfires (and ever longer fire seasons); rising sea levels that promise to begin drowning coastal cities sometime later this century; the coming of mega-droughts and devastating heat waves (that by 2100 may, for instance, make the now heavily populated North China plain uninhabitable).

Nor do you have to be a scientist these days to draw a few obvious conclusions about trends on a planet where the last four years are the hottest on record and 20 of the last 22 years qualify as the warmest yet. And keep in mind that most of this was already clear enough at the moment in planetary history when a near-majority of Americans elected as president an ardent climate-change denier, as were so many in the party of which he became the orange-haired face. And also keep in mind that the very term climate-change denier no longer seems faintly apt as a description for him, “his” party, or the crew he’s put in control of the government. Instead, they are proving to be the most enthusiastic group of climate-change aiders and abettors imaginable.

In other words, the administration heading the country that, historically, has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases is now in the business — from leaving the Paris climate accord to opening the way for methane gas releases, from expanding offshore drilling to encouraging Arctic drilling, from freeing coal plants to release more mercury into the atmosphere to rejecting its own climate-change study — of doing more of the same until the end of time. And that’s certainly a testament to something. Ultimately, though, what it’s doing may be less important than what it isn’t doing. On a planet on which, according to the latest U.N. report, there are only perhaps a dozen years left to keep the long-term global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees centigrade, the Trump administration is wasting time in the worst way imaginable.

An Asteroidal Future

Even 18 years into a series of “quagmire” Middle Eastern wars, the U.S. could still withdraw from them, however ugly the process might be. It could indeed bring the troops home; it could ground the drones; it could downsize the Special Operations forces that now add up to a secret army of 70,000 (larger than the armies of many nations) at present deployed to much of the globe. It could do many things.

What Washington can’t do — what we can’t do — is withdraw from the Earth, which is why we are now living on what I increasingly think of as a quagmire planet.

In the 1960s, that word, quagmire (“a bog having a surface that yields when stepped on”), and its cognates — swamp, sinkhole, morass, quicksand, bottomless pit — were picked up across the spectrum of American politics and applied to the increasingly disastrous war in Vietnam. It was an image that robbed Washington of much of its responsibility for that conflict. The quagmire itself was at fault — or as historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., put it at the time: “And so the policy of ‘one more step’ lured the United States deeper and deeper into the morass… until we find ourselves entrapped in that nightmare of American strategists, a land war in Asia.”

Embedded in the war talk of those years, quagmire was, in fact, not a description of the war as much as a worldview imposed on it. That image turned Vietnam into the aggressor, transferring agency for all negative action to the land itself, which had trapped us and wouldn’t let us go, even as that land was devalued. After all, to the Vietnamese, their country was anything but a quagmire. It was home and the American decision to be there a form of hated or desired (or sometimes, among America’s allies there, both hated and desired) intervention. Much the same could be said, of course, of the Greater Middle East in this century.

When it comes to this planet in the era of climate change, however, quagmire seems like a far more appropriate image, as long as we keep in mind that we are the aggressors. It is we who are burning those fossil fuels. It is, as our president loves to put it, “American energy dominance” that is threatening to submerge Miami, Shanghai, and other coastal cities in the century to come. It is the urge of the Trump administration to kneecap the development of alternative energies, while promoting coal, oil, and natural gas production that is threatening the human future. It is the acts and attitudes of Trumpian-like figures from Poland to Saudi Arabia to Brazil that threaten our children and grandchildren into the distant future, that threaten, in fact, to turn the Earth itself into a rubblized, ravaged planet. It is Vladimir Putin’s Russian petro-state that is at work creating a future swamp of destruction in the Arctic and elsewhere. It is a Chinese inability to truly come to grips with its use of coal (not to mention the way it’s exporting coal plants to Africa and elsewhere) that threatens to make our world into a morass. It is the lack of any urge on the part of fossil fuel CEOs to “keep it in the ground” that will potentially take humanity down for the count.

In that context, think of the man who, from his earliest moments in the Oval Office, wanted to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, filled his cabinet with climate-change aiders and abettors, was desperate to obliterate his predecessor’s modest steps on climate change, and never saw a coal mine, oil rig, or fracking outfit he didn’t love as the latest asteroid to hit Planet Earth. Under the circumstances, if the rest of us don’t get ourselves together, we are likely to be the dinosaurs of the Anthropocene era.

Donald Trump himself is, of course, just a tiny, passing fragment of human history. Already 72, he will undoubtedly be taken down by a Big Mac attack or something else in the years to come and most of his record will become just so much human history. But on this single subject, his impact threatens to be anything but a matter of human history. It threatens to play out on a time scale that should boggle the mind.

He is a reminder that, on this quagmire planet of ours, we — the rest of us — have no place to go, despite NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars, the rise of privatized projects for space tourism, and a Chinese spacecraft’s landing on the far side of the moon. So, if we care about our children and grandchildren, as 2019 begins there is no time to spare and no more burning issue on Planet Earth than this.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

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1,000 Apologies, but I had to remove my actual e-mail address from this page. I'm afraid I got pretty tired of the sock puppets offering me free sexual favours. (And NO! I don't know how many of them were Russian, and it won't change my vote, I promise!) So here's one of those crappy contact forms that I really hate. Did I mention I'm sorry?
Contact ME! (or don't)