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A Different​ War Story: the Soldier and Veteran Resistance Against the War in Vietnam

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:58

Photograph Source: U.S. Information Agency – Public Domain

The battle over American war stories began during the peak of the last revolution. Millions of Americans and tens of thousands of veterans and soldiers opposed the war in Vietnam. In the war’s moral outrages, crimes and betrayals, many saw the US empire for the first time. [1]

For the last 40 years, the ruling class has been running away from the problems revealed by the Vietnam War.

The disruptions caused by the Vietnam Era anti-war movement are part of an unfinished revolution that still begs questions. How can a nation that does not practice democracy — or a government that attacks the Bill of Rights at home — convincingly claim it is “a force for good in the world?” How can a military that drives climate change and guarantees the global interests of bankers and oil companies claim to protect or defend anything at all? How can an empire, as large and militaristic as ours, co-exist with democratic rule at home?

American exceptionalism — the idea that we are a chosen people, inherently good, and outside of the normal constraints and contradictions of history —  is one of the founding ideas of American culture. But, when the empire lurches from crisis to crisis even culture as deeply rooted as exceptionalism can be dragged into consciousness and challenged.

As long-time Vietnam Veterans Against the War leader and former Vets for Peace President Dave Cline once told me, “”Vietnam is where all that history changed.”

The Vietnam Legacy They Want You to Forget

US Involvement in South East Asia began as an effort to restore the French and British Empire in Asia. But neither imperial power could weather the storm of WWII or defeat the national liberation struggles that followed.  Soon enough the empire was ours — all ours — and so were the wars. Anti-communism and the Cold War positioned the US as “leader of the free world” and insisted that the Vietnam War was the moral equivalent of WWII.

The enchanting idea of “nation-building” cast the war effort as benign, high-minded and helpful. But the Vietnamese victory over US forces and the peace movement broke the spell and momentarily revealed the empire for what it truly was.

What cannot be honestly explained must be hidden. Because of its revolutionary implications — and its contradictory nature — the history of the soldier and veteran anti-war movements have been largely forgotten. It’s way past time to remember.

Since the Vietnam War the media has censored war news by listing it low on their agenda, omitting it altogether, or, today, marginalizing anti-war social media sites. The government stopped the formal draft and reduced their reliance on US troops to a mere .5% of the population making soldiers and veterans and war casualties less visible.

In order to keep the numbers down, the military brass cynically abused and wounded their own soldiers by forcing them into multiple tours with far too much exposure to combat. Those that endured the ordeal had some serious survival issues returning to “normal” life. Over twenty soldiers and veterans commit suicide each day. It’s hard to fudge that data.

The military had to attack its own soldiers to avoid the reemergence of a Vietnam era style anti-war movement. It was then that a massive peace movement — in the context of the civil rights/black power, student and women’s movement — became not just a movement against the war and — for millions of Americans at least– against empire itself.

By the early 1970s, the political heart of this wide-ranging peace movement was soldier and veteran dissent. Their power came from two sources. First was the fact that soldier resistance was a real material constraint on military operations and — second to the bloody sacrifices of the Vietnamese people themselves — was a major factor limiting the military’s ability to wage war.

Just as important, the soldiers and veterans had the cultural and political credibility to help working-class Americans question and challenge the war and, in some cases, the existing order itself.

“The most common charge leveled against the antiwar movement is that it was composed of cowards and draft dodgers. To have in it people who had served in the military…who were in fact patriots by the prowar folks own definition was a tremendous thing. VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) in 1970 and 1971 was unlike almost anything I’d seen in terms of its impact on the public…We took away more and more of the symbolic and rhetorical tools available to the prowar folks–just gradually squeezed them into a corner…we took away little by little the reasons people had not to listen to the antiwar movement.” [2]

“We took away more and more of the symbolic and rhetorical tools available to the prowar folks.” This is the transformative dynamic at the heart of military resistance which made it both revolutionary, deeply contradictory and hard for people to understand.

Ideals like the “citizen-solder” were claimed by the military because they motivated soldiers with high moral appeals. But under the conditions of the period, such ideals were transformed, refashioned and repurposed into a new service ideal that would wage — not war — but peace. They rocked the foundation of military culture not simply by criticizing it or repudiating it — that’s easy — but by transforming it — that’s the hardest thing in the world. Transformation is what revolutions are made of.

The Vietnam legacy reveals the importance of supporting anti-war soldiers and veterans because they have power far beyond their numbers. This argument is not idle speculation. Although I am not a veteran, I was nearly drafted into the Army in 1971-2. It made me rethink my life. Then I got involved as a young activist and organizer in the anti-war and radical movements of the period. Inspired by a few anti-war veterans I knew, I spent a decade researching the soldier and veteran anti-war movement and wrote New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era.

Here is the shortest possible summary of a movement that came to speak for approximately half of all soldiers and veterans of the time:

During the American War in Vietnam, soldiers refused to go into combat and resisted commands of all kinds. The lowly foot soldier demanded democracy inside their combat units by insisted on discussing actions rather than simply following orders. They marched in protest and sent tens of thousands of letters to Congress opposing the war. In desperation, they attacked reckless officers — their own officers. An international underground newspaper network spread the word. Thousands resisted the war effort in ways large and small.

Massive prison riots of US soldiers in American military jails in Vietnam — like the uprising at Long Binh Jail — disrupted military command. Over 600 cases of combat refusal rose to the level of a court-martial, some involving entire units. US soldiers violently attacked US officers over a thousand times. Urban rebellions at home and the assassination of Martin Luther King had a profound impact pushing black troops toward war resistance.

The military brass lost their ability to enforce discipline and wage war. In 1971 Colonel Robert D. Heinl claimed:

“The morale, discipline, and battle-worthiness of the US armed forces are, with a few salient exceptions, lower and worse than at any time in this century and possibly in the history of the United States.”

From the bottom up, US troops replaced “search and destroy” missions with “search and avoid” missions. In some areas of Vietnam “search and avoid” became a way of life. A US Army Colonel recalls:

“I had influence over an entire province. I put my men to work helping with the harvest…Once the NVA understood what I was doing they eased up. I am talking to you about a defacto truce you understand. The war stopped in most of the province. It’s the kind of history that doesn’t get recorded. Few people even know it happened and no one will ever admit that it happened.”[3]

Anti-war soldiers were simultaneously on the front lines of war and the front lines of the anti-war movement.[4]

When they came home veterans became the leading protestors as the civilian movement fractured. Black veterans joined civil rights groups or revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panthers that connected peace and internationalism with local community service.

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) had at least 25,000 members — 80% were combat veterans –and the VVAW became leaders in the anti-war movement in the early 1970’s.

The VVAW kicked off some of the largest civil disobedience protests against the war. In one of the most stirring moments of the entire peace movement veterans returned their medals on the steps of the US capital.

This was the most important working-class peace movement in American history. Since those days there has been an unbroken tradition of opposition to war from service members, veterans and their families. Today the tradition is carried on by the Veterans For Peace, About Face: Veterans Against War, Military Families Speak Out.

The VVAW remains the only peace group founded during the Vietnam resistance still in existence today.

Soldier and veteran resistance was a blow against the empire. Can it become one again?

Notes.

1/ See, New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam War.

2/ Ben Chitty is quoted in, New Winter Soldiers, p.130

3/ Moser, p. 132

4/ See a new collection of essays Waging Peace in Vietnam, Edited by Ron Carver, David Cortright and Barbara Doherty

 

 

The post A Different​ War Story: the Soldier and Veteran Resistance Against the War in Vietnam appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

9/11 and the American Orwellian Nightmare

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:58

Total Information Awareness logo.

Next week will mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Politicians and bureaucrats wasted no time after that carnage to unleash the Surveillance State on average Americans, treating every citizen like a terrorist suspect.   Since the government failed to protect the public, Americans somehow forfeited their constitutional right to privacy. Despite heroic efforts by former NSA staffer Edward Snowden and a host of activists and freedom fighters, the government continues ravaging American privacy.

Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo sent a secret memo to the Bush White House declaring that the Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches was null and void: “If the government’s heightened interest in self-defense justifies the use of deadly force, then it also certainly would justify warrantless searches.” Yoo is best known for writing a harebrained memo on why presidents can order torture but he also helped sanctify the wholesale demolition of privacy.

Two of the largest leaps towards an American “1984” Orwellian nightmare began in 2002. Though neither the Justice Department’s Operation TIPS nor the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program was brought to completion, perverse parcels and precedents from each program profoundly influenced subsequent federal policies.

In July 2002, the Justice Department unveiled Operation TIPS — the Terrorism Information and Prevention System. According to the Justice Department website, TIPS would be “a nationwide program giving millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity.” TIPSters would be people who, “in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to serve as extra eyes and ears for law enforcement.” The feds aimed to recruit people in jobs that “make them uniquely well positioned to understand the ordinary course of business in the area they serve, and to identify things that are out of the ordinary.” Homeland Security boss Tom Ridge said that observers in certain occupations “might pick up a break in the certain rhythm or pattern of a community.” The feds planned to enlist as many as 10 million people to watch other people’s “rhythms.” Best of all, TIPsters could gather and report personal information on people without the nuisance of acquiring a search warrant.

The Justice Department provided no definition of “suspicious behavior” to guide its vigilantes. But the notion of recruiting millions of run-a-muk informants spurred protests; even the U.S. Postal Service briefly balked at participating in the program. Ridge insisted that TIPS “is not a government intrusion.” He declared, “The last thing we want is Americans spying on Americans. That’s just not what the president is all about, and not what the TIPS program is all about.” Ridge refrained from christening the program with the motto: “Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”

When Attorney General John Ashcroft was cross-examined by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on TIPS at a Judiciary Committee hearing on July 25, he insisted that “the TIPS program is something requested by industry to allow them to talk about anomalies that they encounter.” But, when President Bush had initially portrayed the program as an administration initiative. Did thousands of Teamsters Union members petition 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to join the fight against fellow citizens’ “anomalies”? Senator Leahy asked whether reports to the TIPS hotline would become part of a federal database with millions of unsubstantiated allegations against American citizens. Ashcroft told Leahy, “I have recommended that there would be none, and I’ve been given assurance that the TIPS program would not maintain a database.” But Ashcroft could not reveal which federal official had given him the assurance.

The ACLU’s Laura Murphy observed, “This is a program where people’s activities, statements, posters in their windows or on their walls, nationality, and religious practices will be reported by untrained individuals without any relationship to criminal activity.” San Diego law professor Marjorie Cohn observed, “Operation TIPS … will encourage neighbors to snitch on neighbors and won’t distinguish between real and fabricated tips. Anyone with a grudge or vendetta against another can provide false information to the government, which will then enter the national database.”

On August 9, the Justice Department announced it was fine-tuning TIPS, abandoning any “plan to ask thousands of mail carriers, utility workers, and others with access to private homes to report suspected terrorist activity,” the Washington Post reported. People who had enlisted to be TIPSters received an email notice from Uncle Sam that “only those who work in the trucking, maritime, shipping, and mass transit industries will be eligible to participate in this information referral service.” But the Justice Department continued refusing to disclose to the Senate Judiciary Committee who would have access to the TIPS reports.

After the proposal created a fierce backlash across the political board, House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Tex.) attached an amendment to homeland security legislation that declared, “Any and all activities of the federal government to implement the proposed component program of the Citizen Corps known as Operation TIPS are hereby prohibited.” But the Bush administration and later the Obama administration pursued the same information roundup with federally funded fusion centers that encouraged people to file “suspicious activity reports” for a bizarre array of innocuous behavior such as taking photos, waiting too long for a bus, having “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper stickers. Those reports continue to be dumped into secret federal databases that can vex innocent citizens in perpetuity.

Operation TIPS illustrated how the momentum of intrusion spurred government to propose programs that it never would have attempted before 9/11. If Bush had proposed in August 2001 to recruit 10 million Americans to snitch on any neighbors they suspected of being potential troublemakers, the public might have concluded the president had gone berserk. Instead, the federal government proceeded to vacuum up info like the Home Owners Association From Hell.

Total Information Awareness: 300 million dossiers

The USA PATRIOT Act created a new Information Office in the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In January 2002, the White House chose retired admiral John Poindexter to head the new office. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explained, “Admiral Poindexter is somebody who this administration thinks is an outstanding American, an outstanding citizen, who has done a very good job in what he has done for our country, serving the military.” It was unclear whether the Bush administration chose Poindexter because of or in spite of his five felony convictions for false testimony to Congress and destruction of evidence during the investigation of the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages exchange. Poindexter’s convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court, which cited the immunity Congress granted his testimony.

Poindexter committed the new Pentagon office to achieving Total Information Awareness (TIA). TIA’s mission is “to detect, classify and identify foreign terrorists — and decipher their plans — and thereby enable the U.S. to take timely action to successfully preempt and defeat terrorist acts,” according to DARPA. According to Undersecretary of Defense Pete Aldridge, TIA would seek to discover “connections between transactions — such as passports; visas; work permits; driver’s licenses; credit cards; airline tickets; rental cars; gun purchases; chemical purchases — and events — such as arrests or suspicious activities and so forth.” Aldridge agreed that every phone call a person made or received could be entered into the database. With “voice recognition” software, the actual text of the call could also go onto a permanent record.

TIA would also strive to achieve “Human Identification at a Distance” (HumanID), including “Face Recognition,” “Iris Recognition,” and “Gait Recognition.” The Pentagon issued a request for proposals to develop an “odor recognition” surveillance system that would help the feds identify people by their sweat or urine — potentially creating a wealth of new job opportunities for deviants.

TIA’s goal was to stockpile as much information as possible about everyone on Earth — thereby allowing government to protect everyone from everything. New York Times columnist William Safire captured the sweep of the new surveillance system: “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book, and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database.’” Columnist Ted Rall noted that the feds would even scan “veterinary records. The TIA believes that knowing if and when Fluffy got spayed — and whether your son stopped torturing Fluffy after you put him on Ritalin — will help the military stop terrorists before they strike.”

Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, an Atlanta-based public-interest law firm, warned that TIA was “the most sweeping threat to civil liberties since the Japanese-American internment.” The ACLU’s Jay Stanley labeled TIA “the mother of all privacy invasions. It would amount to a picture of your life so complete, it’s equivalent to somebody following you around all day with a video camera.” A coalition of civil-liberties groups protested to Senate leaders, “There are no systems of oversight or accountability contemplated in the TIA project. DARPA itself has resisted lawful requests for information about the Program pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act.”

Bush administration officials were outraged by such criticisms. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared, “The hype and alarm approach is a disservice to the public…. I would recommend people take a nice deep breath. Nothing terrible is going to happen.” Poindexter promised that TIA would be designed to “preserve rights and protect people’s privacy while helping to make us all safer.” (Poindexter was not under oath at the time of his statement.)

TIA was defended on the basis that “nobody has been searched” until the feds decide to have him arrested on the basis of data the feds snared. Undersecretary Aldridge declared, “It is absurd to think that DARPA is somehow trying to become another police agency. DARPA’s purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of this technology. If it proves useful, TIA will then be turned over to the intelligence, counterintelligence, and law-enforcement communities as a tool to help them in their battle against domestic terrorism.” The FBI joined the fun, working on a memorandum of understanding with the Pentagon “for possible experimentation” with TIA. Assistant Defense Secretary for Homeland Security Paul McHale later confirmed that the Pentagon would turn TIA over to law-enforcement agencies once the system was ready to roll.

In response to its paranoid critics, DARPA removed the spooky Information Awareness Office logo from the program’s website. That logo showed a giant green eye atop a pyramid, covering half the globe with a peculiar yellow haze and the motto “Scientia est Potentia” (Knowledge is Power). DARPA received no credit for refraining from using a more honest maxim such as “You’re Screwed.”

In April 2003, DARPA program manager Lt. Col. Doug Dyer publicly announced that Americans are obliged to sacrifice some privacy in the name of security: “When you consider the potential effect of a terrorist attack against the privacy of an entire population, there has to be some trade-off.” But nothing in the U.S. Constitution entitled the Pentagon to decree how much privacy or liberty American citizens deserve.

In September 2003, Congress passed an amendment abolishing the Pentagon’s Information Office and ending TIA funding. But by that point, DARPA had already awarded 26 contracts for dozens of private research projects to develop components for TIA and a working protype already existed. The facial recognition software now being deployed at the U.S. border and at airports may be one legacy of that program.

While specific policies or proposals have been rebuffed since 9/11, there has been no turning of the tide against the Orwellian nightmare federal agencies have spawned. From the TSA to the National Security Agency to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, our privacy continues to be ravaged in ways that would have mortified earlier generations of Americans.  But nothing happened on 9/11 that made the federal government more trustworthy.

An earlier version of this essay was published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

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Killing Ideology: A Defense of Postmodernism

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:58

Photograph Source: Data.Tron [8K Enhanced Version] by Ryoji Ikeda on show in transmediale 10 – Shervinafshar – CC BY-SA 3.0

There still remains much confusion over what postmodernity actually means, so take this sentence as only one attempt, courtesy of Urban Dictionary: “A term that you keep on hearing about in college and have to look up on Wikipedia. Basically says “fuck it” to the search for any intellectual conclusions.” Or, with less hostility from the same website: “The idea that there is no objective meaning, only subjective meaning, the meaning one brings to a thing, irrespective of the intent of the author, or of the Author, or of reality.”

Intellectuals who have fundamentally misunderstood postmodernism have claimed that it represents nothing—that the only purpose of said philosophy is to evade conclusion and remain aloof from the material condition of the common man. Criticisms of postmodernism intrude from both the left and right. From the right-wing, postmodernity may be associated with cultural Marxism—which is a way of both dismissing Marx and liberalism at once, and perhaps more importantly to link them in their same shared safe space of victimhood that will never be taken seriously by the right precisely because if the right were to see hierarchy, power, oppression, or privilege, it would no longer be able to look in the mirror.

More troubling is the critique of postmodernism from the left, where leftists may associate this grand theory with neoliberalism’s ethos of immorality and individualism. In short, the left is getting postmodernism completely backward when one thinks of it this way. Postmodernism is actually a way to build on Marxism, rather than replace it or distract from it. Any other conclusion would be buying the false divide between intersectional forms of liberation.

What postmodernity claims is that there is no truth precisely because the individual subject has a cultural/historical context—which seems directly in line with Marx’s radical humanism that treated human beings as actors and victims of a system, rather than competitive and unworthy figures.

To claim that subjectivity is nothing would be not dissimilar to Mr. Trump’s claim that all news is fake. Critics of postmodernity see it as the other way around. They assume that denying the existence of objective truth is denying truth altogether. Even Michel Foucalt, perhaps the most famous quote on quote postmodernist rejected the label because he wanted to be seen as someone who questioned the system. Mr. Foucalt should have embraced the label because the claim that there is no objectivity not only naturally favors the unheard (class and otherwise), we see that it fundamentally rejects the authoritarianism of even its own voice.

Even the best of critics of the corporate distribution of information and art in today’s neoliberal global economy find themselves in a position of totalitarianism. This is because they undergo the following process, which is the same as Mr. Trump’s analysis, even if far more accurate in its attempt at objectivity. Step 1 is to take what is accepted as the objective truth (accepted mainstream history, news, art, etc.) and point to its corruption (primarily financial but also could be ethnic or any other type of supposed imperfection, or a linkage, such as Jewish owned media smears). Once the objective truth of the “ruling class” is accepted by the consumer as merely subjective propaganda, we find the next step is to insert one’s own subjective interpretation of reality as objective truth, rather than, as a normal person might do, offering up your ideas as subjective alternatives. Now we find that there is new authority in the rogue subject and truth comes to gain meaning not through proof, but through the authority of the actor involved.

So, when postmodern folks claim subjectivity it is not that they are saying nothing, it is that they are acknowledging both their own flaws and the need for constant interrogation of the facts laid out before us. The idea that one must come to a conclusion in order to find truth is actually the definition of fascism. If a dictionary must appear in its final form, who says the human race must not also? And how would such a society deal with change—specifically that of cultural migration and economic unease.

So, hopefully, this at least establishes the urgent need to abandon the very concept of objective truth. Objective truth is anti-democratic. There is no such thing as an unbiased statement that has not been shaped by elements of power or hierarchy. There is no such thing as a random statement, and there is no such thing as a true statement. In fact, a random statement and a true statement amount to the same thing, and it is only by connecting them that we can give meaning to either.

I can hear the grumbles now. Saying truth is the same as randomness is actually saying nothing! Really? Then why on earth react to it at all? If this statement really said nothing, wouldn’t a more adequate response be: ‘what do you think?’ or even, just in case ‘can you speak up?’ No, but truth, in how we arrive at its exact conclusions, can only retain any meaning if we acknowledge how arbitrary it is to get to that exact spot of perfection. It is only then that we can begin to unpack the biases that got us to that spot, which of course aren’t random at all, and link throughout history, sociology, geography, physics and biology. It is only after we unmask the assumption that is in authority that we can dethrone it and restore democracy.

Now, there is nothing true about democracy either. Each person operates within their own distance from the truth but at least, to borrow Marx, implies ownership of the production of truth, rather than the blind following of it. Does such a philosophy naturally imply the free market, rather than Marxism? Not necessarily. The distribution of goods, the control over the means of production, those sorts of things are not the same as ideas, let alone people. It could be very possible to have a centralized form of economics that thrived for diverse ideas and people. In fact, such a neutral form of economics—pure in its democracy and lack of discrimination—would imply absolute blindness to differences and a replacement of this hierarchy of difference with universal human rights. That doesn’t mean that each difference wouldn’t get a say, it is to say that each would have a right, no matter their say.

It is fairly obvious that an economy that has no such tools to guarantee human rights would naturally create hierarchies to (re) order distribution and create profits. The idea that one must have an objective idea of truth to reject neoliberalism implies that the neoliberalism was a cultural, not an economic counter-revolution. This seems to apply a backward order of operations. Even though the neoliberal has assaulted the cultural and the personal, it a truly perplexing leap for Marxists to make the claim that as soon as the economic theory of their “objective” choice falls out of favor, we suddenly are not talking about economics anymore, but culture that drives the economy. Just dead wrong.

The goal of the lie of objective truth is to establish power for a certain group of people, so that they can therefore profit from and exploit the people whose truth does not fit the proper definition of normality. That’s why Foucalt saw prisons so clearly. What is a prison? And who decides it?

The corporate class accomplishes their goal by constructing the terms “left-wing” and “right-wing” and then implying that the world runs on a war of ideas (culture) rather than a war of resources (economics). Let’s look at the origin of the terms left and right, which like Mr. Foucalt, must be excused (more like celebrated) as French!

During the French Revolution, the terms left and right merely referred to which side along a row one sat. The rich noble folk were on the right, the working class challengers on the left. It was simply a geographical distinction of interests (I was going to say class but that is not even exact, as we’ll discuss in a moment). The key point here is that people didn’t have different ideas about what was most “effective” in politics, the sides simply had different goals.

In fact, one doesn’t ever have an idea if it does not fit the goal they have in mind. It is said that the only people who believe in love are rich men and pretty women because why else would they get married? Now, if one gets the joke there it is simply that one can come to believe an ideology because it is convenient for them to do so. If one runs an oil company, it is convenient to believe climate change is not real. If this oil executive has an ocean front property, perhaps the more convenient idea becomes that poor people are lazy and deserve to die, seeing that denying climate change would lose them their home. Now, not everything is self-interested as I describe above, I would like to think most things aren’t, but it is all goal-oriented, many times altruistic.

But a pure all-knowing form of truth? Impossible! Fascist! And above all arrogant and blasphemous.

So when one sees a framing such a debate between left and right we must expose it. Firstly, such framing trivializes matter to personal preference, rather than material existence. The truth is that politics decides who lives, who dies, who cries, and who laughs. It is not enough to say people have an ideological disagreement. Do some people really favor death? And some sadness? While the other half of people favor life and happiness? Seems unlikely.

An idea is only seen as “working” by the corporate-controlled media if it gains profit. The truth is that the more a company neglects their consumers and workers, the more profit they will gain, and the more this company will grow. So a company that loses money is most likely “good” for most people, just not for their CEO. This is why there should be no private companies, only government ones that lose boatloads of money and provide for consumers and workers alike.

In a previous article, I argued that we should replace ideology with class but I have since come to recognize that class itself is just one of many material conditions (even if it is, as Marxists say, the defining one). Ultimately the role that class plays in the argument we have outlined is no different a role than any other group and therefore in political terms should exist not as a passive condition but an active group in which to organize common interests.

This is why it is astounding that many on the left and right agree that identity politics is bad or “gone too far” or something. Class, as the lettered John Helmeke points out, is an identity. This is not just superficially, obviously, but materially. Which is true for all identity politics, and this is why the materialist left should be pro-identity politics.

The argument against postmodernism is that it takes what was once concrete class and labor-based criticism and obscures it into liberal cultural nonsense. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that culture has multiplied and thus so should criticism? It surely is true that labor and class in the corporate media is the last thing to get talked about, and in that sense cultural radicalism will always be taken more seriously than economic radicalism in these spaces.

Still, should resentment of this fact really drive any discussion? Should we really be so keen on the objective, measurable role of wealth inequality that we reject all nuance and democratic possibility in our discourse?

This is not to say that the postmodern tilt to inaction and uncertainty is not in many ways perfect for the corporate bottom line. However, what we must begin to understand is that the tyranny of intolerance comes from the consolidation of ideas and diversification of economics. What the anti-modern subject of today argues is that the ideas have become too astray from their everyday lives while economics have become too centralized in a few hands.

This seems to be a backwards critique. Competition of economics is naturally bad for it allows companies to compete for the lowest price, thus the worst working conditions or the most environmental exploitation. If there was a government monopoly with no interest in price, this would never happen, barring corruption, which is cited as an inevitable form of communism. Surely that is true, but corruption is exactly where capitalism starts, so if communism was to end there, we’d find ourselves no worse in trying. On the other hand, anti-modern folks find that the diversity of ideas, the decentralizing of traditional social structures and the increasing intelligence of the average person must be alienating from the natural human way.

Here we find the great blind spot in an objective reality that is so resistant to change, or ironically, to truth. Postmodernity may be ahead spin but isn’t that the point of any worthy idea? To improve, rather than dull the masses? Would babying people under the guise of anti-intellectualism be anything more than privileged and condescending reductive assumptions about the so-called common man?

The greatest artists leave the viewer with a question, with a hunger to learn more, with possibility, with uncertainty, and with joy in the process. It is past time to reclaim postmodernism as the future of humanity. We have come too far to limit ourselves to concrete truths when the everyday concrete struggle for water, food, shelter, health care and peace remain so allusive. Why limit our thoughts in the same way we limit resources? Why can’t our ideas be bold enough to expand, to multiply, to breathe?

If the postmodern critics throw stones out of insecurity and shame for their lack of understanding, let me assure them that there is no need. No one understands it, and that is the beauty of every important idea, and the beauty of every stranger. To react with so much intolerance to ideas that challenge makes one wonder about the durability of tolerance for the Other, which will be the central question of our times as the old becomes uprooted and often dropped at our doorsteps, challenging the welcome mat, or even the 2nd amendment warning on the door.

It is true that every objective truth, ever marker of grand civilization, has been built on the back of the common man (especially common woman) and common beast. To ask the subjective truth its thoughts on such a matter naturally invites the Other in, and reminds us not that there is no objective truth, but there are always many sides unheard in its effects. Until every side, at every time is heard, by everyone, can the truth ever be known, or can it only be thrived for? The only lie is to say that truth has already been found. Such is the tyranny of Mr. Trump has he attempts to replace democratic education with the adoration of authority.

The post Killing Ideology: A Defense of Postmodernism appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Extinction Rebellion: What is it?

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:57

The climate crisis is turning average law-abiding people into raging law-breaking eco rebels, by boatloads. Extinction Rebellion (ER) is at the forefront, demanding that governments declare climate emergencies and take urgent action.

In that regard, ER, which started in the UK, says government must reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2025, or else! Social chaos will spring loose from within the darkened shadows of a raging climate, bringing civilized society to its knees and within current lifetimes. For proof, read the science, which says it all. We’re doomed without taking action to cut greenhouse emissions to Net Zero.

In that regard, in November 2018 ER activist extraordinaire Jenny Shearer super glued herself to a railing outside the glorious golden-trimmed gates of Buckingham Palace in expectation that: “This will get the Royal family to come and join us.” Meanwhile, another 2,000 ER activists brought a coffin, which symbolized a “sure-fire death sentence” facing the “next generation” vestiges of the present-day crisis.

For ER warriors, the climate crisis is like a freight train with failing breaks barreling down a mountainside headed for a massive wipeout of society. Regrettably, it’ll happen way too soon to take comfort today.

This coming October 31st marks the one-year anniversary of ER from beginnings on Parliament Square on October 31st 2018 when the ER leaders announced a Declaration of Rebellion against the UK government, expecting a couple hundred people to attend. Surprisingly, 1,500 showed up to exercise their right to peaceful civil disobedience whilst breaking the law and getting arrested.

Shortly thereafter, 6,000 ER activists peacefully blocked five major bridges across the River Thames. They planted trees in the middle of Parliament Square, and dug a hole for a coffin. Additionally, they lie down in streets or at entryways to public buildings, bringing parts of London and other UK cities to a standstill.

Roger Hallam, an organic farmer and Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University and Co-Founder of Extinction Rebellion, was recently interview on BBC’s Hard Talk hosted by Stephen Sackur d/d August 2019.

When asked why ER?

Hallam responded: “Millions of people around the world have realized, or have come to the point where something drastic has to happen… And, um… nothing is happening, and that means you have to start breaking the law in order to make change happen.”

According to Hallam, people are waking up to the fact that governments have been lying about the issue of global warming for the past 30 years and experts have been lying about the consequences, fudging the data or low-balling. Over the years, elites and governments have said carbon emissions would go down, but they haven’t; they’ve gone up 60% since 1990, and they’re still going up. This was supposed to be the decade when all sorts of positive stuff would happen, but it’s not happening.

“As a result, people are very angry. People are in a rage. People don’t want their kids to die. There are no words to describe how serious it is.”

According to Hallam, other organized groups, like Greenpeace, have “fundamentally failed” to alter the climate crisis. Across the board, everybody has failed.

“The fact of the matter is we are facing mass starvation within the next 10 years, social collapse, and the possible extinction of humans. It couldn’t be worse. This situation has come about after 30 years of failure, failure by the elites, failure by the governments, and failure by campaigners.” (Hallam)

As a result, the table has been set for a powerful aggressive hands-on approach to resolving the crisis, and ER is the most successful climate change movement in the UK. In the first year, 100,000 people signed up. As such, ER has changed the conversation in the UK because it is “dedicated to telling the truth,” and the truth is governments and elites have been lying to people for 30 years.

The truth is all about hard physics… the science is real, meaning: “We face social collapse as and when weather systems around the world collapse because of rampant climate change.”

As Hallam describes it, if there is no fundamental change in the structure of the global economy in the next ten years, then we’re headed for global catastrophe, and for certain mass social collapse with concomitant mass starvation.

BBC’s Sackur challenged ER’s ability to gain public support for its radicalized programs by utilizing a negative approach. In response, Hallam explained how before 1,200 arrests of ER eco radicals in the streets of London in April of this year in the biggest civil disobedience demonstration in British history, the British public didn’t have any opinion on climate emergency. Afterwards, 67% of the British public agreed there is an emergency. That is a remarkable achievement and enormously telling of hidden awareness by the general public.

Not only, but according to Hallam, the capitalistic system is in the process of destroying itself because it is destroying the climate. Increasingly, people in the streets are aware of this. Thus, socialism is no longer irreverent, as it gains credibility because the capitalist state of affairs ignores the crisis, and in fact feeds into it, which the general public understands much better than realized.

In celebration of a year’s resounding success, this coming October 2019 there will be thousands of people in massive civil disturbances in the streets of London, nonviolent, respectful, but disruptive. That’s ER’s methodology, and it works, as it additionally spreads to America and the world.

According to Hallam, unless governments and elites undertake immediate action, the trajectory for the planet is the death of six billion people this century.

Still, ER has experienced defections. Simon McKibbin, a lecturer at Cambridge University, left ER because of Hallam’s plan to shut down Heathrow Airport with drones. McKibben said: Flying drones into busy airspace is a departure from nonviolence. It threatens people and creates the potential of losing the good will of the public.

However, Hallam, who said he is not yet committed to using drones at Heathrow, is resolute, stating that if nonviolence does not work, then the next hurdle for society is bound to be the desperation of violence, which ER avoids. He says it is inevitable that ER will win the hearts and minds of the public as they awaken to the fact that their governments have failed them in this crucial life and death struggle.

After all, climate change/global warming is one of the most recognizable things in human history, but maybe that’s part of the problem, as familiarity nurtures solace. Which is one more reason why Extinction Rebellion is so important in rescuing civilization from falling into the surrealism pit of a very strange rabbit hole.

The post Extinction Rebellion: What is it? appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The VA as Workers’ Comp: Why Socialized Medicine for Veterans is Worth Defending

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:57


Think of America’s forever wars as a funnel between the largest and second largest federal government departments.

Entering at the top of the funnel, via the Department of Defense (DOD), are poor and working-class men and women who enlist in the military, often to escape difficult economic circumstances.

After being sent abroad, hundreds of thousands end up in a world of hurt and further financial distress. Their later need for disability benefits or health care—“workers’ compensation” as it’s called in the civilian world—is met, at the other end of the funnel, by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Despite the many costly and disastrous foreign interventions planned by the DOD, it has a far bigger fan club on Capitol Hill than the VA.  The latter runs a Veterans Health Administration (VHA), serving nine million patients, which is the continual target of bipartisan political attacks, privatization schemes, and underfunding.

When the DOD (or the White House acting on its behalf) asks for a bigger budget, the House and Senate—with few dissenters—vies for which body can allocate more money faster.

On June 12, the House passed a military spending bill that would give the Pentagon another $733 billion. According to the New York Timesmoderate Democrats were “reluctant to cut that number” because it was less than the $750 annual budget previously approved by the Republican-controlled Senate.

In the House Democratic caucus, among those carrying the ball for the DOD was Mikie Sherrill, an ex-Navy pilot elected last year. She criticized her liberal colleagues for not believing “in a muscular foreign policy and muscular national defense like I do.” Meanwhile, even the former military officers, like Sherrill, who sit in Congress and lead the charge for the Pentagon, tend to be far less “muscular” in their defense of veterans’ healthcare.

In 2018, Democrats on the Hill helped conservative Republicans and the Trump Administration pass the VA MISSION  Act. As currently being implemented, this legislation will siphon billions of dollars away from the VHA’s budget and direct that money toward private doctors and for-profit hospitals often ill-prepared to treat veterans.

As the VHA is starved of needed funding, its staffing levels will further decline and then its nationwide network of public hospitals and clinics will be dismantled. (According to union estimates, there are already 49,000 existing vacancies.)

Rather than expanding veterans’ access to high quality care,  Republicans—backed by the Koch Brothers-funded Concerned Veterans for America—and their Democratic Party enablers are laying the groundwork for complete privatization of veterans’ healthcare.

Under the guise of saving taxpayers money and giving veterans more “choice,” these bipartisan opponents of Medicare for All want our best working model of single-payer healthcare to become a poster child for its “failure.”

On the left, M4A advocates like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez well understand this threat to health care reform for everyone. Sanders has long championed veterans’ health care improvements in Vermont and nationally when he was chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Ocasio-Cortez recently joined forces with Veterans for Peace and VHA nurses, who work in her Bronx-Queens district, to hold a town hall  meeting against privatization.

VA Care As Workers’ Comp

Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Government and Policy Affairs at the Vietnam Veterans of America, is a leading defender of the VHA who notes, with wry understatement, that “the military is a collection of very dangerous occupations.”

The best-known hazards of military service are encountered in combat, of course. Enlisted men and women assigned to front-line duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere have returned with gun-shot wounds, lost limbs, traumatic brain injuries, PTSD or MST, and respiratory problems from burn-pit exposure.

During non-combat duty, even more military personnel suffer job-related injuries or illnesses similar to those experienced by millions of blue-collar workers in civilian life.

Most American workers who get hurt on the job or develop an occupational disease soon become familiar with the shortcomings of our fifty-state system of workers’ compensation. Benefit levels are too low. Private employers fight their claims. Rehabilitation services are fragmented and managed by private insurers.  Workers who get approved treatment for specific work-related conditions may not be able to return to work. At some point, this deprives them of job-based medical coverage for themselves and their families. So even successful workers’ comp claimants can end up in personal bankruptcy due to unpaid bills for other care.

In contrast, veterans who qualify for VHA medical benefits, due to their low income or service related condition, land on an island of socialized medicine within our larger system of private insurance and for-profit health care providers.

After getting a disability rating based on a particular service-related illness or injury, a veteran enters the VHA system and becomes eligible for  unrelated treatment, then or later–from hip replacements to cancer surgery and hospice care.

Like residents of the UK covered by the National Health Service, VHA patients get the benefit of an integrated national network of public hospitals and clinics. All VHA doctors, nurses, and therapists are salaried, not paid on a “fee for service” basis. About a third of the VHA’s 300,000 staff members are veterans themselves. This helps create a unique culture of empathy and solidarity between patients and providers that has no counterpart in American medicine.

 

Healing Shattered Minds

Due to the fact that the DOD is not the most safety-minded employer in the world, many VHA patients have medical conditions attributable to the military’s own failure to provide them with adequate protective equipment or even hazard exposure warnings.

In their new book Shattered Minds: How the Pentagon Fails Our Troops with Faulty Helmets investigative reporters Robert H. Bauman and Dina Rasor describe how most troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were never issued relatively inexpensive helmet pads that would have better shielded them from the impact of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and the risk of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)

As Bauman and Rasor report, service members had to order state-of-the-art pads at their own expense or get help modifying their helmets from a non-profit group called Operation Helmet. The authors estimate that supplying troops with properly engineered helmet pads could have prevented between 300,000 and 400,000 TBIs.

A more common, less serious, service related complaint of VHA patients is hearing loss and tinnitus. That’s because almost every branch of the military exposes enlisted men and women to high levels of noise. In the Air Force and Navy, there’s the constant roar of jet engines. In the Navy, there’s the metallic clanking that rebounds through the echo chamber of a submarine or other naval vessels. You don’t have to deploy to the Middle East to be deafened by explosions. Just going through basic training with the U.S. military’s own ordinance can be enough to insure diminished hearing capacity later in life.

Similarly, infantry training leads to musculoskeletal problems because it involves hauling around sixty- to one hundred-pound packs that place an excessive burden on necks, shoulders, knees, backs and ankles.

Veterans also bring signature issues from particular eras. In Vietnam, draftees and enlisted men were exposed to Agent Orange. Other Cold-war era soldiers and sailors found themselves involved in chemical warfare experiments, nuclear weapons testing, and base cleanups with little personal protection. Troops sent to liberate Kuwait came back with symptoms of “Gulf War Syndrome.” Veterans of multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan were often exposed to lung damaging and cancer causing toxic burn-pits. Insurgent use of IEDs in those two countries has led the VHA to become a leading center of research on and treatment of traumatic brain injuriessuffered by thousands of troops and professional football players, who now arrange to have their brains sent to the VHA for post-mortem verification of their condition.

 

Veterans’ Suicide Risk

Combat veterans often suffer from mental health issues, like PTSD. Even men now in their eighties or nineties, who witnessed nightmarish scenes of death and destruction many decades ago in Korea or World War II, seek VHA help for disturbed sleep today. Veterans who suffer from mental and behavioral health problems—whether acquired in or exacerbated by military service— are more prone to substance abuse, particularly opioid use if chronic pain is involved.

They also become a bigger suicide risk. An estimated 20 veterans a day kill themselves, although three-quarters of those have never been to the VHA for treatment. Between 2006 and 2015, the number of veterans receiving specialized mental health care at the VHA rose from 900,000 annually to 1.6 million, a reflection of the ongoing collateral damage from never-ending foreign wars.

VHA caregivers are trained to identify and treat these very specific wounds of war.  Every VHA employee receives training in how to better recognize and assist patients who are suicidal. Thousands of VHA mental health providers are taught the latest evidence-based treatments for PTSD. (Outside the VHA, only 30% of private sector providers use such treatments).  And primary care providers and specialists alike recognize the kind of diseases produced by toxic exposures, such as Agent Orange related diabetes or burn-pit created respiratory problems.

The VHA ranks with Kaiser Permanente as one of the most heavily unionized health care systems in the country. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), National Nurses United (NNU),  the Service Employees International Union and the Machinist-affiliated National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) have more than 120,000 members serving veterans. Thanks to this union presence—currently under attack by the White House—veterans’ hospital management pays more attention to the kinds of occupational hazards that are rampant in health care work , particularly in non-union facilities.

For example, the VHA was the first – and may be one of the only U.S. healthcare systems – to install the kind of lift equipment that helps nursing staff avoid debilitating and often career ending back, neck and shoulder injuries.

Due to the troubled and occasionally violent behavior of some patients, the VHA also goes to great lengths to insure a safe workplace for its mental health care providers. (Unfortunately, as documented in a recent Intercept report, the overly aggressive behavior of some Veterans Affairs police officers is not contributing to a safer work environment.)

Less Than Honorable?

VHA eligibility rules are also in need of reform. Congress has allowed the Pentagon to give hundreds of thousands of veterans other than honorable discharges, making them ineligible for VHA care. In some cases, soldiers have been discharged for active duty misconduct related to PTSD or brain injuries – yet they, more than anybody, need later treatment.

Congress has also left the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) consistently understaffed and overburdened. VBA is the separate agency that determines whether former military personnel have actually suffered from an occupational illness or injury—and to what degree of disability. After veterans leave the service, they encounter far too many eligibility determination disputes and delays before they can become VHA patients.

But most constructive VA critics know that further outsourcing of veterans’ care is not the answer. That’s why VHA care givers, and their unions and allied veterans organizations, are opposed to  privatization and President Trump’s related undermining of federal employee rights.

This is not just a fight to maintain decent medical coverage for eligible veterans or to protect the union contracts of those who serve them. It’s a struggle to defend a national healthcare system far superior to the state-based workers’ comp programs covering millions of workers in the private sector, and which, someday, might be a model for better care for them too.

Suzanne Gordon is an award-winning journalist and author of many books about healthcare, including Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans. A longtime advocate of Medicare for All, Steve Early has aided workplace struggles over health and safety since the mid-1970s–first as a United Mine Workers staff member and then as an organizer and contract negotiator for the Communications Workers of America. They are collaborating on a book about veterans and can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com.

The post The VA as Workers’ Comp: Why Socialized Medicine for Veterans is Worth Defending appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Koch’s America: the Rule of the New Robber Barons

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:57

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

The U.S. is a capitalist country and capitalist control the country.  The recent death of David Koch [pronounced “coke”], principle co-owner with his brother, Charles, of the Koch Industries, reminds Americas once again that those with the power and money determine the destinies of everyone else.

A century ago the country was ruled by a cabal popularly known as the Robber Barons that included such greedy notables such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Andrew Mellon, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.  A century later, their rapacious reputations white-washed later by charitable foundations.

Today, the country is witnessing the return of a new generation of Robber Barons best exemplified by the Koch brothers.  They possess a combination of greed and political cunning that enables them to have considerable influence, if not control, over the federal and state governments throughout the country.  Like the Robber Barons of old, today’s baron’s ruthless business and political practices are masked, like the flesh of a fan dancers, by their support for major bourgeois cultural institutions.  For Koch, it was the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

In Christopher Leonard’s new and exhaustive study, Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America, the author reports, “Koch Industries’ annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined,” he acknowledges. He also points out that the two men who jointly own Koch Industries together are worth $120 billion, with fortunes “larger than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, or Microsoft founder Bill Gates.”

Since taking the helm of the company from his father in 1967, Charles Koch has maintained complete and absolute control of this privately held conglomerate.  It generates $110 billion in annual revenue and employs over 120,000 people. Its seven core operating units are: Flint Hills Resources (fuel processing); Georgia-Pacific (pulp and paper); Guardian Industries (glass manufacturer); Invista (textile manufacturing); Molex (electronic technologies); Koch Ag & Energy Solutions (fertilizer and agricultural products); and Koch Pipeline Company (oil and gas pipelines). In addition, Koch controls a handful of smaller entities.

Koch business and political practices are grounded in a fundamentalist capitalist philosophy, what Charles Koch dubbed “Market-Based Management” (MBM). This approach is best understood as a radical libertarianism based on the writings of Ludwig von Mises and Frederick Hayek. (Like the Kochs, both economists came from well-to-do and well-connected families and opposed the 8-hr day, unemployment insurance, welfare and other “progressive” reforms.)  In 2007, Koch published The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World’s Largest Private Company.For Koch, MBM is company’s operating ethos and is taught – like a religious ideology – to new company employees in days-long seminars.

Koch’s businesses have faced numerous labor, environmental and other challenges and the company used management skills, endless legal challenges and political influence to defeat. For example, it faceda major challenge at its Pine Bend Refinery, located near Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and members of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers.

Confronting an environmental failure at the Pine Bend refinery, Leonard notes, “Koch’s management team felt that the state had no right to know what happened inside the fence line of Kock’s properties. Managers obeyed a code of silence to maintain this wall round Koch operations.” He reveals how this shared mindset led to an environmental crisis at Pine Bend and a similar one at the Corpus Christie, TX, refinery. The bad publicity and fines led Koch to adhere to environmental regulations conglomerate wide.

One of Leonard’s most illuminating analyses involves how Koch not merely survived but prospered amidst the banking crisis – or Great Recession — of 2008.  He notes that “the bloodletting at Koch [Industries], while rapid and unprecedented in size, was mild compared to the rest of the economy.” Koch was deeply opposed to the Obama administration – and the Democratic-controlled Congress – bailout of the banks and the follow-up stimulus plan.

Nevertheless, in the wake of the crisis, Kock Industries became a vast corporate superpower.  “The company’s operations touched the daily lives of virtually everyone who use gasoline, wore spandex, lived in a home with gypsum-paneled walls, swaddled their children in diapers, and counted on the heat to come on when they adjusted their thermostat,” notes Leonard.  “Koch Industries had a hand in all of it.”

Such wealth and power led the Kochs to seek ever-greater political influence. They established a number of “nonpolitical” foundations that support more than a dozen conservative andlibertarian groups. These groups include the Law & Economics Center (George Mason University), the Cato Institute, Freedom Partners, the State Policy Network, the Federalist Society, the Mercatus Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

However, the Kochs most effect grassroots front-group is Americans for Prosperity (AfP).  Together with Exxon, they spent millions opposing the notions of climate change and global warming.  The AfP opposed proposed “cap-and-trade” legislation and the Waxman-Markey law. Koch forces aligned with the Republican Tea Party coalition to undo Democratic control of Congress and contain the Obama presidency with regard to health care and banking regulations.  However, when Republicans challenged Koch interests over, for example, the proposed Border Adjustment Tax (BAT), the company and its lobbyists promoted more favorable Republicans – and succeeded in killing the proposed act.

The Koch influence in the Trump administration runs deep.  While the Kochs originally opposed Trump, his nomination and victory turned them into loyal supporters.  VP Mike Pence has long benefited from the Koch political machine.  In addition, Mike Pompeo, Sec. of State; Betsy DeVos, Sec. of Education; and Scott Pruitt, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency have long times to the Koch fortune. Numerous other second-tier Trump administration officials have ties to Koch enterprises.

As Jane Mayer reported, Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist, famously warned, if Pence replace Trump, he would “be a President that the Kochs would own.”Marc Short is key to Pence’s relationship with the Kochs. In 2008, he became Pence’s chief of staff at the Republican Conference and now serves as the head of White House legislative affairs. As a Congressman, Pence signed onto the AfP’s “No Climate Tax Pledge”.  Pence facilitated the rapprochement between the Kochs and Trump that helped him secure the VP slot .

Pompeo has long been in the pocked of the Koch operation. Before he ran for elected office, the Kochs invested in Pompeo aerospace business that – with him as CEO – went bust. As a congressman, he represented Charles Koch’s district, in Wichita (KS) and often attended Koch-back events. According Open Secrets, Pompeo received $400,500 from Koch interests.

David and Charles Koch grew up under the supervision of a demanding father, Fred Koch, a chemical engineer and entrepreneur who founded Koch Industries, an oil refinery firm.  As Jane Mayer reports, “Unable to succeed at home, Koch found work in the Soviet Union.”  He also helped build one of the largest refiners in Nazi Germany, one which was personally approved by Hitler.Returning to the States, he became a founding member of the John Birch Society and held chapter meetings in the basement of his family’s Wichita home.

Now that David Koch is dead and brother Charles is getting on in years (b. 1935), the question is not who will take over Koch enterprises when Charles steps down but whether that person will embrace the ultra-right-wing, libertarian outlook that guided the first two generations of postmodern Robber Barons?

Nevertheless, the new Robber Barons – like their older grandfathers – will continue to wield economic and political tyranny that only deepens inequality in America.

The post Koch’s America: the Rule of the New Robber Barons appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Trump Year Three: Three Random Late Summer Thoughts

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:57

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The underlying premise was never plausible, but for a while it was still possible to hope that, under Trump, American foreign policy would be less bellicose than it would have been had Hillary Clinton not managed to lose the 2016 election.

Trump did, after all, seem less enthusiastic about restoring the Cold War that the almighty military-industrial complex and the liberal imperialists and neocons in the Obama-Clinton era foreign policy establishment, fed up with wars on historically Muslim lands, so plainly yearned for.

To this day, Trump’s words are less war mongering than, say, Adam Schiff’s or Rachel Maddow’s or any of the superannuated “experts” Obama and Clinton brought on board who now draw paychecks from MSNBC and CNN.

It is far from clear, however, that his practice has been any more benign than Clinton’s would have been, despite the past, present and future business interests he is still pursing in the former Soviet Union, and despite his much publicized fondness for Vladimir Putin.

In time, we will learn what, if anything, Russian intelligence agencies and Russian oligarchs have on him, and how much, if at all, it influences what Trump says. So far at least, it hasn’t influenced what he does.

Otherwise, it is fair to say that Trump’s foreign policy has been unequivocally worse than Clinton’s would have been.

Notwithstanding her support for the 2009 coup in Honduras, it would be hard for her post-2016 machinations in Central America to be worse than Trump’s have been. On Mexico and Cuba, following Obama’s lead, she would surely have been less malign. On Venezuela, she could hardly have been worse.

But for Trump, Jair Bolsonaro would probably still be on the margins of political life in Brazil. With Trump’s support, he is superintending the wanton destruction of the Amazon rain forests and the cultural and physical genocide of the indigenous peoples of that vast region. Except for Trump himself, Bolsonaro is perhaps the premier environmental criminal on the planet.

Clinton would not have scrapped the Iran nuclear deal and would not have moved the American embassy to Jerusalem or otherwise made common cause with the Netanyahu government, at least not as brazenly as Trump has done.

For both ideological and self-serving reasons, Netanyahu is now escalating Israel’s longstanding efforts to draw the United States into a war with Iran.

Inasmuch as Christian Zionists, more numerous than the entire Jewish population of the United States, along with most obscenely rich Jewish Zionists, are nowadays steadfast Republicans, and inasmuch as increasingly many American Jews, especially younger ones, are becoming too indifferent towards or embarrassed by Israel to care, Clinton might actually have found the courage to resist Netanyahu’s entreaties.

On the other hand, with his son-in-law and his New York real estate cronies urging him on, Trump has been easy prey.

Needless to say, an Iran War would be many times more devastating in nearly every relevant way than the never-ending Bush-Cheney-Obama Afghanistan and Iraq Wars have been.

Three years ago, it was still possible to hope that “the adults in the room” – one called “Mad Dog,” the other named “Rex” – would keep this and other catastrophes-in-waiting at bay.

But those two and others like them are ancient history now. Rex is enjoying the ill-gotten riches he acquired working for and then running ExxonMobil; Mad Dog, aided and abetted by liberal media news and opinion outlets, is peddling a book he wrote, or had written for him, to cash in on the managerial “wisdom” he acquired commanding Marines.

Meanwhile Trump is busy salivating at the prospect of yet more Saudi and Gulf money flowing his way. The Clintons are corrupt as sin, but in the corruption department, the Trumps and Kushners have them beat by a mile.

Then there is Europe.

NATO ought long ago to have gone the way of the Warsaw Pact; instead, it has become the vehicle for American world domination that the United Nations could never be – not with Russia and China on the Security Council and with the General Assembly full of representatives from what Trump calls “shithole nations.”

Harm done to NATO is therefore potentially a good thing. But Trump hasn’t done any. Instead he just mouths off from time to time, for all the wrong reasons and with no practical effect.

The EU once seemed on its way to becoming a super-national welfare state, and perhaps, in time, a political and even military alternative to the declining American hegemon. Instead, it has become a vehicle for imposing austerity on all but the richest Europeans, and for conferring the many other “blessings” of the existing, American dominated, neoliberal world order.

Clinton could have been counted on to keep US-NATO and US-EU relations more or less unchanged. There is nothing to praise in that, and Trump’s badmouthing of both, and of America’s traditionally subservient allies, is not to be despised. But, on this too, all he has done is blow air. He has done it in ways that have energized rightwing “populist” forces every bit as racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic as the ones he unleashed in the United States.

Obama and Clinton and her successor at the State Department, John Kerry, were already doing their best “to pivot towards Asia” – that is, to contain China, militarily and diplomatically, with a view to bending its policies on trade, intellectual property and other matters of interest to American capitalists.

In 2016, under pressure from Bernie Sanders and his supporters, Clinton did say that she would not go ahead with Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership. Hardly anyone believed her, however; at most, she would have insisted on a few cosmetic fixes to the TPP’s most egregious, anti-worker provisions.

But no matter what she would ultimately have done, a full-fledged trade war with China was not on her agenda. It took a Trump to do something that stupid and ruinous.

Therefore, it is now clear beyond a reasonable doubt that, apart from dealing a blow to a Clinton and to Clintonism, there were no silver linings in Trump’s electoral victory.

What we got was what was already evident three years ago to all but the willfully blind: unmitigated stupidity, vileness, nativism, racism, and illiberalism.

We also got crimes against the environment that are already wreaking havoc upon the earth and all that dwell therein.

***

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg is this summer’s foremost anti-Trump; she inspires hope while all he inspires in anyone whose moral sense is intact is despair for the human race.

However, her arrival in the United States – on a solar-powered, state-of-the art 60 ft. Malizia II racing yacht – also raises one of the deepest perennial questions of activist politics: how to resolve the inevitable tensions that arise between saving oneself and changing the world.

Thanks to Thunberg’s efforts, it is now widely understood that airplanes leave huge “carbon footprints.” This will continue to be the case for a long time to come, no matter how inspiring her example may be.

Not nearly enough people to make a noticeable difference will forsake air travel; the planes will fly anyway, and there are no technological fixes in the offing. In the years ahead, the problem will only get worse.

From an ecological point of view, and also from at least one venerable ethical perspective, the kind that eschews adding up costs and benefits, Thunberg did the right thing; she was on the side of the angels. But was her decision wise?

Probably not, if we do take costs and benefits into account. It could certainly be argued that the harm flying does can be and generally is outweighed by the good that results from people being able to move around the world easily and efficiently.

Ironically, Thunberg’s case provides an extreme example. She came to New York to speak at the United Nations on global warming and related matters. While in the United States, she will be giving talks and participating in demonstrations and generally helping the environmental movement grow. Later, she will make her way to Chile, to speak at a conference on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. That is a hell of a lot of good.

And, although the benefits are seldom as dramatic, are there not nearly always good, sometimes even compelling, reasons for people to travel by air? How then do the reckonings go when costs and benefits are added up?

In my view, not usually the way that way people who won’t fly suppose. But there is no incontrovertibly correct way to tell — in part because the benefits and at least some of the costs involved with air travel are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but also, more importantly, because the relevant goods and bads are often incommensurable and nearly always subject to dispute.

The calculations that went into Thunberg’s decision not to fly, though arguably defensible, were hardly rationally compelling, even if we only focus myopically on the trip itself. Expand the vantage point slightly and the situation becomes more complicated still.

How, for example, should we factor in the environmental costs of two crewmembers now having to fly to New York to take the yacht back to England? What about the environmental costs of her travels around North America and then to Chile? And how will she get back to Sweden this winter without flying at least part of the way?

These and other complications notwithstanding, I have no doubt at all that what she did was well worth doing – not so much for its impact on public policy, but for its educational value. It was an example of a form of activism as old as political engagement itself: some call it “propaganda of the deed.” As such, it was an unqualified success. Greta Thunberg brought the harm air travel causes into public awareness to a degree that nothing else has.

There is a vast literature that bears on the larger philosophical issues that her voyage raised. There have been times in the not too distant past when, thanks to prevailing circumstances, they have been much discussed.

To cite just one by now almost canonical example, they were Topic A, in the French theater in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War – as in Albert Camus’ drama “Les Justes” (“The Just Assassins”) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Les Mains Sales” (“Dirty Hands”).

Perhaps the most insightful presentation of the problem can be found in Max Weber’s deservedly celebrated essay, “Politics as a Vocation” (1919), where that magisterial social theorist distinguishes what he called “an ethic of responsibility” from “an ethic of ultimate ends.”

The latter articulates the Kantian – ultimately Christian – idea inherent in the Golden Rule: that in moral deliberation, what distinguishes one person from another does not matter; what matters instead is what oneself and others have in common.

For Kant, and arguably too for the authors of the New Testament, that entails that persons never the treated only as means, not even for bringing about better outcomes, but always as “ends in themselves.”

An ethic of responsibility, on the other hand, is all about realizing particular objectives, a task that can and often does involve treating oneself and others as means only. In Weber’s view, even the most scrupulously Kantian (or Golden Rule Christian) political actors have no choice but to think, deliberate, and act in these ways.

For the most part, the two ethics, though distinct, do not conflict — but not necessarily and not always.

The “dialectic” between them can therefore be problematic. And in rare but extreme cases, the two opposites can sometimes meld together and become one, as when Martin Luther, pushed to the limit, declared “here I stand, I can do no other.”

The situation that led Thunberg to spend two weeks on a sea-tossed racing yacht — “like camping on a roller coaster,” she reportedly said — was not like that.

But, as Weber would surely have acknowledged, her decision to cross the ocean in a way that would minimize her carbon footprint was exemplary.

Indeed, it exhibited the qualities that Weber most esteemed in anyone setting out upon a political life: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and, because she was doing propaganda above all, a sense of proportion as well. Thus in her own small but thoroughly edifying way, Thunberg helped make the world a better place.

The contrast with Trump could hardly be more stark.

***

Finally, since for Trump, the political is personal, some revealing palace gossip is worth reflecting upon briefly, before a torrent of increasingly short-lived news cycles pushes the episode down into the public’s collective memory hole.

My first thought – and hope – when the news came that Trump’s “gatekeeper,” Madeleine Westerhout, had been kicked off Team Trump after talking to reporters from The New York Times was that all the ruckus over the Donald’s old buddy, Jeffrey Epstein, had caused him to take up pussy-grabbing again. Westerhout certainly met his much publicized “aesthetic” standards, and was always by his side; how could she not have become a target?

Not that this would have mattered to Trump supporters. It would, however, have strengthened everyone else’s resolve, especially now that so many other examples of his untrammeled moral depravity are in the news. His administration’s recent attempt to kick out brown and black children in the United States for medical treatment unavailable in their home countries is a case in point.

It turns out, though, that Westerhout had been blabbing about something of far less prurient interest: the Trump family, Tiffany especially.

It is hardly a secret that the children that really matter to the Don are the three that came out of his first wife, Ivana: the peerless Ivanka, of course, and the two idiot sons, Qusay and Uday, or, as others call them, Eric and Don Junior.

Barron is still too young for Trump to care much about him; that is Melania’s job. For this, he should consider himself one lucky little rich kid.

And then there is Tiffany.

According to some reports, what got Trump’s goat was Westerhout telling reporters that her father doesn’t like her all that much, and that he thinks she is too fat. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

I have a beef with Tiffany too, but it has nothing to do with her weight. It is that she could be doing her country and the world a whole lot of good with just a little innocent lèse-majesté.

Instead, according to press reports, she is more interested in partying up a storm – much as the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara or, as they were known at the time, Gin and Tonic, used to do.

I have no reason to think well of Tiffany, but I do imagine that she is more morally and intellectually developed than her siblings. Having grown up without having her father much in her life, how could she not be?

I therefore suppose, based on no evidence at all, that, from time to time, she thinks about doing the right thing. One thing she could do in that regard is use her mother’s name.

There is a precedent for that — Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s daughter Ann.

To be sure, “Ann” is a less distinctive name than “Tiffany” and “Davis” could be anybody, whereas the surname “Maples,” especially paired with “Tiffany,” could only be the worst president ever’s second daughter.

But then the point would not be anonymity. It would be to make a statement – that it isn’t just morally and intellectually normal people who hate the Donald’s guts, but that it is possible even for those who share his genes to be aware of his odiousness too.

A second daughter surname change would do far more good than the FLOTUS’s body language has been doing since Day One. By now, like Trump’s incoherent and barely literate tweets, or the fact that he cannot open his mouth to speak without uttering lies, that hardly even bears mention.

I have just about given up on the third Mrs. Trump. I had high hopes for her when the Faustian bargain she struck a decade and a half ago – a cloistered life in a vulgar but gilded Fifth Avenue palace in exchange for occasional legally recognized “sexual congress” with a physically and morally repellent real estate tycoon, failed casino entrepreneur, and reality TV personality – unexpectedly caused her to find herself a president’s wife.

All she had to do was embarrass the Don in a way the he could not ignore. Instead, coward that she is, she has taken the path of least resistance. Shame on her!

Melania could do something good in her life, for once, but Tiffany could do so much more – because, in the reality TV cum infomercial world we now inhabit, spunky second daughters have far more power to embarrass than aging, gold-digging trophy brides.

Again, I am assuming that Tiffany’s head is screwed on right, which it probably is not. To the best of my knowledge, though, there is so far no non-genealogical reason to assume the worst.

I am also assuming that her father’s “Godfather” ways run deep enough to overcome the narcissistic noxiousness he exudes; that when it comes down to it, he would put Corleone family values – Vito’s, not Mike’s — ahead of even his own cupidity.

However, this too is probably too much to expect. More likely than not, the Don considers Tiffany dispensable. Hell, he would probably throw even his precious Ivanka under the bus if it came down to it.

“The weak in courage are strong in cunning,” William Blake taught us long ago. Thus we underestimate Trump’s cunning at our peril.

Even so, we should take care not to give him and his wretched family more credit than they deserve. They are a sorry lot, nearly as pitiful as the rank-and-file denizens of his base.

With Democrats for opponents and supporters dumbed down by Fox News and worse, Trump probably could get away with shooting someone dead on Fifth Avenue. But there is nothing remarkable in that, not in our degraded political culture.

The sad fact is that, even in their villainy, neither Trump nor his family – except perhaps Tiffany, the jury is still out on that — rise to the level of ordinary, pedestrian mediocrity.

The Donald cannot stand it when that is pointed out. Therefore, the thing to do is to point it out at every opportunity. As a Rashida Tlaib, channeling W. C. Fields, might put it: “never give a mother fucker an even break.”

The post Trump Year Three: Three Random Late Summer Thoughts appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

“Everywhere is Kashmir”: Unraveling Weaponized, Corporatized Hindustan in India’s Northeast

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:56

Photograph Source: Tasnim News Agency – CC BY 4.0

“In India today,” said an Indigenous activist I recently interviewed in the northeastern Indian state of Jharkhand, “everywhere is Kashmir.”

At first glance, this statement seems overblown, perhaps even outrageous. No other part of India is as much of a consolidated internal colony as Kashmir. For that matter, Palestine is one of the only other parts of the world that that can match or exceed Kashmir’s horrific past and renewed present of curfews, communication blackouts, transportation blockades, forced disappearances, and military and paramilitary brutality and bloodshed. (India’s ever-closer collaboration with Israel gives these parallels a particularly timely and unsettling significance.) In so many ways, nowhere is Kashmir but Kashmir itself.

And yet, the seeds of Kashmir’s never-ending misery are bearing poisonous fruit all across India. Animated by the interlocking forces of neoliberal capitalism and Hindu nationalism, the Indian state’s insatiable appetite for natural resources, ironclad commitment to elite-led economic growth, and gleeful deployment of grassroots fascist thugs and police, military, and paramilitary forces have fueled a mounting avalanche of tragedies across the country. Together, these priorities and capacities have caused an ongoing parade of stomach-churning mob lynchings; the harassment, imprisonment, and even assassinations of dissenters like Gladson Dungdung, Stan Swamy, and Gauri Lankesh; and the gagging, obstruction, and expulsion of civil society organizations like the Lawyers Collective and the Navsarjan Trust. If Kashmir’s condition can be described as a syndrome brought on by a shamelessly chauvinistic, mercilessly exploitative, and openly repressive state, its early and intermediate symptoms are increasingly visible everywhere.

The widespread nature of these symptoms should not, by any means, normalize Kashmir’s nightmare. If anything, it should stimulate solidarity-building between the state’s besieged population and the many others who find themselves more and more at the mercy of the Modi regime’s push for a Hindi-speaking Hindu Indian nation ruled by a handful of billionaires and their state collaborators. I dare suggest that I found traces of Kashmir on the streets and in the forests of Jharkhand. I offer the reflections below on my time there in the hopes that they will illustrate the need to confront combined weaponized, religiously sanctioned economic occupation as the defining political mode of the prevailing Indian state and its subcomponents.

The Investment Decimation

Billboards all over Ranchi, Jharkhand’s capital city, promote Momentum Jharkhand, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government’s tireless campaign to convert Jharkhand into “The Investment Destination.” This campaign exemplifies Jharkhand’s approach to economic growth by any means necessary since achieving statehood in 2000: successive Jharkhandi governments have signed hundreds of memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with public and private corporations across a range of industries, from steelmaking to agriculture to digital technology. At the inauguration of Momentum Jharkhand in 2017, reigning Chief Minister Raghubar Das signed no less than 209 MOUs worth Rs. 3 lakh crore or 42 billion USD, receiving New Delhi’s wholehearted approval and support in the process; one activist described Modi and Das as “brothers” for all intents and purposes.

From the Oracle Corporation to the Tata Group to hatemongering godman Baba Ramdev, Jharkhand’s investors have promised benefits galore to the residents of their host state, from jobs to educational institutions to technological innovation to support systems for small farmers and business people. In exchange, they have demanded uninhibited access to Jharkhandi land and the riches it contains; Jharkhand, after all, is home to 40% of India’s mineral wealth, including sizeable deposits of coal, bauxite, uranium, and gold. Jharkhand’s leaders have been more than happy to meet these demands: here, as elsewhere in Modi’s India, the irresistible spoils of economic occupation dissolve the notorious inefficiencies of bureaucratic and parliamentary institutions, forging public-private partnerships in which the actual public is a passive, if not entirely absent, actor.

The acquisition of land, however, has proven a crucial stumbling block to the state-backed corporatization of Jharkhand. Landforms the basis of traditional socioecological, sociopolitical, and sociocultural life for the state’s adivasis or Indigenous peoples, who account for 27% of Jharkhand’s population. “Our religion is our land,” explained renowned adivasi journalist and activist Dayamani Barla. “If it is taken away, nothing can live.” Between 2006 and 2010, Barla spearheaded a mass movement against the proposed establishment of two steel plants by global steel giant Arcelor-Mittal, which had signed an MOU with the Jharkhand government worth roughly 9.6 billion USD in 2005. Barla and her fellow protestors waged an effective public awareness campaign showing that the project, like so many other similar proposed and completed projects, would displace 30 to 40 villages, destroy adivasi sacred sites, key ecosystems, and prime agricultural land, and provide meagre compensation for these gross transgressions. In the course of her work, Barla received repeated death threats from middle-men subcontracted by the state and the company to secure the land in question, who assured her that her loved ones would not be able to identify her body once they were finished with her.

Barla and her compatriots prevailed in the face of these prospects of unspeakable violence; as of today, Arcelor-Mittal’s plans for Jharkhand remain in limbo. However, other corporations have made their marks all too clearly on Jharkhand’s landscape. “Every river in Northern Jharkhand has died, and every forest is black,” laments Barla. Furthermore, the Das government has only stepped up its efforts to facilitate the expropriation of land by public and private interests. In late 2016, it unilaterally passed a bill to amend the colonial-era Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act and Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act, which prevent the sale of adivasi land to non-adivasis. The abrogation of Article 35A of the Constitution, which limits the right to buy and own property to Kashmir’s permanent residents, echoes this bill in striking ways. Though it was forced to withdraw the bill in response to the public outcry that followed, the Jharkhandi state has attempted to divorce adivasis from their homelands by other, far more insidious means.

Death by Conversion

“Adivasis are not Hindus.” Virtually every activist, journalist, and intellectual I interviewed in Jharkhand drove home this point. It is a dangerously defiant response to the narrative spun by the BJP and, moreover, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the massive paramilitary volunteer organization that Arundhati Roy deems the “mothership” of the Hindu Right. The RSS has operated in the jungles of Jharkhand since at least the 1980s; in that time, it has done everything in its power to convince adivasis that their traditional beliefs and practices are squarely situated within its brand of casteist, patriarchal, materialistic Hinduism, despite countless scholarly texts and oral testimonies that indicate otherwise. RSS missionaries have offered numerous material incentives for conversion, from subsidies to the saving-and-investment schemes that have become the hallmarks of neoliberal “good governance” and “participatory development” across India and the Global South as a whole. Material enticements go hand-in-hand with symbolic warfare in Jharkhand’s public and private spheres: a prominent statue of legendary adivasi leader Birsa Munda was recently encircled with saffron flags, which also fly from every other rooftop in Ranchi and vie with red-and-white-striped adivasi sarna flags for dominion over the city’s street dividers and roundabouts. By reincarnating adivasis as Hindus, the RSS can defuse battles over land and forest rights before they can even begin, minimizing the costs associated with these battles: economic occupation in Modi’s India is a divine mandate underwritten by financial prudence.

To draw attention away from its own conversion programs, the RSS and its allies have attempted to stoke public paranoia around the boogeyman of forced conversions by the diverse Christian denominations that have been active in Jharkhand since 1845. In 2017, the Das government passed a hugely controversial anti-conversion bill that has served as a pretext for a heightened crackdown on Christian civil society actors. This is not to say, of course, that the state requires a sound legal basis for lashing out against religious dissenters and scapegoats: Jharkhand has witnessed 17 mob lynchings over the past three years, a good number of them carried out by gau rakshaks or cow protectors against Dalits, adivasis, and Muslims accused of slaughtering cattle or transporting them for slaughter. “It’s everyone against the Muslims,” remarked economist and activist Jean Drèze, encapsulating the Hindu Right’s deadly effectiveness at pitting the various victims of its policies against each other, in Jharkhand and beyond.

Fortress Jharkhand

As should be evident by now, legislated repression and extrajudicial violence work in tandem in Jharkhand. When middlemen and gau rakshaks prove insufficient to achieve its ends, the state can leverage its monopoly on legitimate violence by calling upon the myriad police, military, and paramilitary forces at its disposal. Securitization secures investments and conversions for Hindutva, Inc. at gunpoint by making non-compliance a blasphemous act of high treason, punishable by death. Ranchi’s glistening shopping centers teem with rifle-toting, khaki-suited personnel from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which has incidentally become synonymous with extrajudicial detention, disappearances, and executions in Kashmir. The Indian Army, meanwhile, maintains a cantonment or barracks area with a population of over 50,000 in Ramgarh, which just happens to home to several exceedingly rich mineral fields, including one of the region’s largest coalfields. Jharkhand’s security forces also drive dislocation, dispossession, and environmental degradation in and of themselves: for over thirty years, the Army’s has attempted to acquire 1,471 sq km of land in the Gumla and Latehar districts for the Neterhat Artillery Firing Range, which would permanently displace 100,000 adivasis and periodically displace another 150,000.

In the past 16 years, Jharkhandi police have opened fire upon adivasis protesting land acquisitions for development projects at least 16 times, proving their vital roles as day-to-day, ground-level enforcers of the state’s repressive extractivist agenda. Arbitrary arrests and staged “encounters” with alleged terrorists abound in Jharkhand: in 2015, the police gunned down 12 villagers with no criminal background whatsoever in the Latehar district, subsequently branding them Maoist insurgents; in early 2019, they arrested 20 young people in the Khunti district on the grounds that they shared seditious sentiments on social media. When heinous crimes do occur–such as the gang rape of five anti-human trafficking activists or the cold-blooded murders of anti-mining activist Suresh Oraon and journalist Amit Topno–the police either leap at the opportunity to frame pre-designated troublemakers or drag their feet when investigating the matters at hand. Under the circumstances of occupation, in which lawlessness is codified into law and smash-and-grab capitalism is the order of the day, calling upon the police to uphold law and order is a suicidal exercise in futility.

Battling Occupation Everywhere

Adivasi activists in Jharkhand and across India are alarmed by the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A for very concrete reasons. For a start, it could pave the way for the abrogation of Article 371, which provide vital special provisions for the states of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and, by extension, their sizeable tribal populations.

Indians across the country, and people of conscience across the world, should be just as alarmed, even if not for the same exact reasons. India as a whole is under occupation by the hydra-headed forces of militarized, corporatized Hindustan. The blacked-out streets of Kashmir and the blackened forests of Jharkhand prove the cannibalistic nature of these forces. Instead of merely endangering the country’s overly idealized secular liberal democratic values, they threaten to devour virtually all of the human beings, ecosystems, and belief systems in their path, even those supposedly out of harm’s way. India is a sea of saffron at the moment, but, even in the handful of areas not controlled by the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance, the RSS is hard at work establishing shakhas or local branches; Arcelor-Mittal, Reliance, Tata, and Mahindra are hard at work setting up steel mills, supermarkets, and world cities; and local police, the CRPF, and the military are hard at work keeping the peace by normalizing war against the burgeoning ranks of the destitute. Bracketing Jharkhand and Kashmir as exceptional cases only provide time and space for these exceptions to become the rule; the most vulnerable members of Indian society will pay for this process of becoming with their lives even if it cannot achieve its genocidal goals.

India’s current sacred political economy of occupation is thus ontological in its orientation: it is an all-out attack on the very material and spiritual core of India’s being itself. And it can only be overcome in the final estimation by ontological means: by reclaiming the land itself from the sovereign political domain of the autocratic state and establishing autonomy, dignity, equity, justice, and resilience at the most basic levels of political life. Kashmiris across the ethno-religious spectrum have continued to courageously insist that their struggle cannot be reduced to a geopolitical tug-of-war between India and Pakistan and that they must be allowed to determine their own fate. Similarly, adivasis involved with the Pathalgadi movement that erupted across the states of Jharkhand, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh in early 2017 have refused to negotiate with the public authorities and private enterprises that threaten their very existence: they have erected massive stone slabs that list their constitutional and legal rights, using these declarations to keep out all hostile outsiders and construct their own banks, schools, and self-defence mechanisms. The brutal repression of both mobilizations possibly reflects the fear that they inspire in the combined powers they confront–fear of the emergence or re-emergence of other worlds and worldviews that, for all of their admitted limitations and contradictions, disrupt the relentless onward march of the bloodthirsty, privately incorporated Hindu nationalist juggernaut.

Everywhere in India today is Kashmir insofar as it is in the clutches or within the reach of neoliberal Hindu nationalist occupation. Everyone in India must now fight alongside Kashmiris–and Jharkhandi adivasis–to resist this occupation by any means necessary.

The post “Everywhere is Kashmir”: Unraveling Weaponized, Corporatized Hindustan in India’s Northeast appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

The War Ahead: Netanyahu’s Elections Gamble Will be Costly for Israel

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:55

On September 1, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, struck an Israeli military base near the border town of Avivim. The Lebanese attack came as an inevitable response to a series of Israeli strikes that targeted four different Arab countries in the matter of two days.

The Lebanese response, accompanied by jubilation throughout Lebanon, shows that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may have overplayed his cards. However, for Netanyahu it was a worthy gamble, as the Israeli leader is desperate for any new political capital that could shield him against increasingly emboldened contenders in the country’s September 17 general elections.

A fundamental question that could influence any analysis of the decision to strike Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza is whether the strategy originated from the Israeli government or the limited personal calculations of Netanyahu himself. I contend that the latter is true.

Israel has already violated the sovereignty of all of these regions, bombing some of them hundreds of times in the past, but striking all at once is unprecedented. Since neither Israel, nor its US allies offered any convincing military logic behind the campaign, there can be no other conclusion that the objectives were entirely political.

One obvious sign that the attacks were meant to benefit Netanyahu, and Netanyahu only, is the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister violated an old Israeli protocol of staying mum following this type of cross-border violence. It is also uncommon for top Israeli officials to brag about their country’s intelligence outreach and military capabilities. Israel, for example, has bombed Syria hundreds of times in recent years, yet rarely taken responsibility for any of these attacks.

Compare this with Netanyahu’s remarks following the two-day strikes of August 24-25. Only minutes after the Israeli strikes, Netanyahu hailed the army’s “major operational effort”, declaring that “Iran has no immunity anywhere.”

Regarding the attack on the southeast region of Aqraba in Syria, Netanyahu went into detail, describing the nature of the target and the identities of the enemy as well.

Two of the Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria were identified by the Israeli army, which distributed their photographs while allegedly travelling on the Iranian airline, Mahan “which Israel and the United States have identified as a major transporter of weaponry and materiel to Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria and Lebanon,” according to the Times of Israel.

Why would Israel go to this extent, which will surely help the targeted countries in uncovering some of Israel’s intelligence sources?

The Economist revealed that “some … in Israel’s security and political establishments are uncomfortable” with Netanyahu’s tireless extolling of “Israel’s intelligence-gathering and operational successes in surprising detail.”

The explanation lies in one single phrase: the September 17 elections.

In recent months, Netanyahu has finally managed to wrestle the title: the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, a designation that the Israeli leader has earned, despite his checkered legacy dotted with abuse of power, self-serving agenda and several major corruption cases that rope in Netanyahu directly, along with his wife and closest aides.

Yet, it remains unclear whether Netanyahu can hang on for much longer. Following the April 9 elections, the embattled Israeli leader tried to form a government of like-minded right-wing politicians, but failed. It was this setback that pushed for the dissolution of the Israeli Knesset on May 29 and the call for a new election. While Israeli politics is typically turbulent, holding two general elections within such a short period of time is very rare, and, among other things, it demonstrates Netanyahu’s faltering grip on power.

Equally important is that, for the first time in years, Netanyahu and his Likud party are facing real competition. These rivals, led by Benjamin Gantz of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) centrist party are keen on denying Netanyahu’s every possible constituency, including his own pro-illegal settlements and pro-war supporters.

Statements made by Gantz in recent months are hardly consistent with the presumed ideological discourse of the political center, anywhere. The former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli army is a strong supporter of illegal Jewish settlements and an avid promoter of war on Gaza. Last June, Gantz went as far as accusing Netanyahu of “diminishing Israel’s deterrence” policy in Gaza, which “is being interpreted by Iran as a sign of weakness.”

In fact, the terms “weak” or “weakness” have been ascribed repeatedly to Netanyahu by his political rivals, including top officials within his own right-wing camp. The man who has staked his reputation on tough personal or unhindered violence in the name of Israeli security is now struggling to protect his image.

This analysis does not in any way discount the regional and international objectives of Netanyahu’s calculations, leading amongst them his desire to stifle any political dialogue between Tehran and Washington, an idea that began taking shape at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France. But even that is insufficient to offer a rounded understanding of Netanyahu’s motives, especially because the Israeli leader is wholly focused on his own survival, as opposed to future regional scenarios.

However, the “Mr. Security” credentials that Netanyahu aimed to achieve by bombing multiple targets in four countries might not yield the desired dividends. Israeli media is conveying a sense of panic among Israelis, especially those living in the northern parts of the country and in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Golan Heights.

This is hardly the strong and mighty image that Netanyahu was hoping to convey through his military gamble. None of the thousands of Israelis who are currently being trained on surviving Lebanese retaliations are particularity reassured regarding the power of their country.

Netanyahu is, of course, not the first Israeli leader to use the military to achieve domestic political ends. Late Israeli leader, Shimon Peres, has done so in 1996 but failed miserably, but only after killing over 100 Lebanese and United Nations peacekeepers in the Southern Lebanese village of Qana.

The consequences of Netanyahu’s gamble might come at a worse price for him than simply losing the elections. Opening a multi-front war is a conflict that Israel cannot win, at least, not any more.

The post The War Ahead: Netanyahu’s Elections Gamble Will be Costly for Israel appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Tax the Rich Before the Rest

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:55

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work.

This richest 0.1 percent receives two-thirds of their income from investments, while most working families have little capital income and depend on wages. But our rigged system taxes most investment income from wealth at a top rate of about 24 percent — considerably lower than the top 37 percent rate for work.

One way to ensure that the wealthy pay first is to institute a 10 percent surtax on incomes over $2 million. This “multi-millionaire surtax” would raise nearly $600 billion in revenue over 10 years, according to an upcoming study from the Tax Policy Center.

The surtax would apply to income earned from work (wages and salaries) and to investment income gained from wealth, including capital gains and dividends. So those with capital income over $2 million would not get a preferential tax rate.

The multi-millionaire surtax is easy to understand, simple to apply, and effective — because it covers all kinds of income, making it difficult for the wealthy to avoid.

And it is laser focused on the super-rich. Anyone earning below $2 million a year will not pay a dime.

As a nation, we will need to raise trillions to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and to address urgent priorities such as health care, climate change, child care, higher education, opioid addiction, and more.

The middle class should have 100 percent confidence that they won’t be asked to pony up until Wall Street speculators and billionaires pay the piper.  A multi-millionaire surtax is a good first step.

The post Tax the Rich Before the Rest appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

Extinction Via Rugged Individualism

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:55

Black-tailed Prairie Dog, Greycliff, Montana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

I was recently amused by a train of thought on Twitter excoriating Henry David Thoreau for his experiment in self-sufficient living. True, he was on the land of his wealthy neighbor, his mother did his laundry (and brought him old-timey donuts to eat), but it was rugged, dammit. Okay, it was something akin to a 10 year old living in a tree-house in the backyard with mom sending up sandwiches in one of those nifty rope and bucket contraptions, but this was a white man doing something and writing about it so of course it’s monumental and imbued with all sorts of significance. This to me, is a perfect analogy for America and its early beginnings. Never mind the back-breaking labor provided by the women, the horrendous slave trade and lethal work that made the infrastructure possible–the convenient clearing (genocide) of the already here peoples through illness and murder……. the narrative is that it was magically produced by powdered wig donning men who weren’t just all about a self-serving course correction. This fallacy has permeated the psyche of most Americans, and doesn’t allow for adequate self-reflection or improvement, and I would say is a path to eventual extinction if a new narrative and belief system isn’t adopted.

Nature gives us ample metaphor to realize the interconnectedness of our lives. I can never look at an Aspen grove and not consider the exquisite synergy of the system.  All tethered together in an interlocking root system—what affects one tree, manifests in the whole. The 80,000 year old Pando grove in Utah has managed this interplay.  For perspective, the last Neanderthals in Europe seem to have been around about 40,000 years ago. Working together has its benefits. We’ve managed to do incredible harm in only about 300 years. We could be gone rapidly and take Pando with us at this rate.

The individual setting out and removing the self from collective responsibilities is a common theme that is celebrated, even worldwide, not just the US. Though I think there is quite a lot of value in Buddhism and its tenets, the fact that its founder left his child and wife so he could find “enlightenment”…..well, maybe enlightenment is realizing the things that he did while still taking care of your child and not abandoning the wife…… wouldn’t that be more of a feat? To discover the sublime while washing the dishes kind of thing? Can you imagine this tale if it had been the mother who walked out “to find herself”? There’s a common-sense middle ground the world needs to begin to savor. Loving and caring for those near to us, and having a broader based stewardship of our human family and ecosystem—that’s how I would put it.

You can look at any of the enormous societal problems currently plaguing the US and the world, really, as an extension of short-sided self-interest. A rising tide will sink all of us, thanks to the pesky melt-a-thon we are experiencing.

One clear example of individualism being at odds with the greater good is the gun nightmare going on in America–this plays into the individualistic view of the world—that problems are solved in a one-dimensional way. And that dimension is the trajectory of a bullet. Even in the wake of so many mass shootings, the answer is always that a good guy with a gun (or thoughts and prayers) will be the answer. There’s not much of a look at why these guys are losing it (why is this culture such a pressure cooker) and why do they need to have access to an extension of their id that can kill so many, so quickly?

There is some uniquely American notion that having a gun will protect the owner in most situations, despite a ’93 study that showed having guns in the home makes it more dangerous to live there than not having one. Overall, the gun is a terrible roommate. Even if it pretends to be gay to fool Mr. Roper. The woman who recently shot her daughter for coming home from college early to surprise her is recent evidence of that. Think how often this type of scenario happens every day in the US. Probably in response to this ’93 study, the Dickey amendment was added to a ’96 bill that largely stopped research on gun violence. I thought the bill was an attempt to not fund any studies that tried to prove correlation between dick size and gun ownership, well—maybe it was—the name, right? But my point is that rather than learn more and reflect, the US took the path of rabid individualism and willful ignorance instead of looking at facts. Sorry, about the cheap dick size/gun thing mention. I know that’s been done to death, but at least I try not to be a stereotype. I am a 50 year old woman and I try really hard to keep the “can I talk to the manager” shit to a minimum. Except that one time with the rental car. I also try to never interfere with people of color having picnics. I’m just saying that your gun fetish is not a good look if you’re trying for manliness.

Anyway– we won’t last 80,000 years with this type of cooperation; that’s a certainty. The gun issue is just one facet of this. Strength will have to be reevaluated as having the ability to bring people together and protect them through making sure they have healthcare, that they don’t have so much pressure from our culture that they lose their minds, etc…….we can’t continue being stand-alone caricatures, modeling a pathetic pseudo-strength. Thoreau in his tree-house, the dude (or dudette) packing heat, the industry CEOs with no notion of broad-based decent society, only plunder—it will be the death of us all. And incrementalism is not the answer. A guy like Biden, pandering and looking like Cotton Hill if he still had his shins saying things that would work as ointment in 1991–that won’t cut it either. More radical change in action and belief systems will be required. Most people deep down want to help the person next to them. Conservatives seem to have difficulty extending concern and care beyond their immediate family and their needs, and sometimes leftists like myself don’t do a good enough job caring about the pressing needs of those nearby, our heads can be in the stratosphere grasping at the big fixes when we don’t notice someone close-by—something we can actually help with. I put an Aspen tree tattoo on my leg to remind me when I forget these things. We are all connected. Try not to harm. Take care of others—we just need to work to align these needs and realize that it will be a form of collective well being that we need to strive for. There is no individual solution to any of this; we are social creatures that need each other. It’s unlikely it will work, of course, but at least we will go down trying– and perhaps we can take better care of each other on the way down—the trip will be worthwhile if it is filled with more love and less lonely individualism.

 

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The Political Economy of the Opioid Epidemic

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:54

Late this October, in Ohio, a jury will begin hearing evidence against the pharmaceutical giants that have manufactured — and profited royally from — the opioid epidemic.

This Ohio trial will be the most significant courtroom skirmish yet between Big Pharma and the over 2,000 states, localities, and other complainants that have filed suit against America’s biggest corporate pill pushers. Opioid overdoses have left over 400,000 dead since the late 1990s.

The federal judge overseeing the consolidated lawsuits against Big Pharma would rather not see this trial happen. He’d like to see the parties come to some sort of pre-trial settlement, and this past Tuesday brought the first sign of serious movement on the settlement front. A press leak has revealed that a deal with Purdue Pharma — the corporation that ignited the opioid epidemic — may be in the offing.

That deal, according to press reports, would have the Sackler family —  the clan behind Purdue Pharma — turn over to states and localities some $3 billion. These billions would come directly out of the Sackler family private personal fortune. Up to $9 billion more would come from Purdue Pharma as a corporate entity.

None of this, of course, may actually happen. In fact, some fear that the news leak might scuttle the talks and prevent any deal’s completion. But if this particular deal should go through, would that be cause for celebration? Or just represent another end run around justice for Corporate America?

The Sacklers would certainly have cause for celebration. They would gain peace of mind — protection from future lawsuits — at a relatively affordable price. This past March, the Bloomberg Billionaire Index conservatively estimated their combined personal and corporate fortune at $13 billion. The personal and corporate payout the leaked deal envisions would leave the Sacklers, Bloomberg calculates, with at least $1.5 billion in their personal portfolios.

And — special bonus — not one Sackler would have to spend time in a prison cell.

A PLAUSIBLE POLITICAL PATH

. . . to the end of CEO pay excess

What about the states and localities that have brought suit against Purdue Pharma? Does this deal make financial sense for them?

Some figures worth contemplating: The current effort to treat opioid overdosing and prevent prescription drug dependence, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports, is costing Americans $78.5 billion a year. The White House Council of Economic Advisers, in an analysis of 2015 figures, puts the overall economic cost of the opioid epidemic at over $500 billion a year.

The Purdue Pharma settlement, if accompanied by similar settlements with other Big Pharma corporations, could put a significant dent into these costs. But we know from the landmark 1998 tobacco industry settlement that cash from a settlement deal doesn’t always end up where that cash ought to be going. Of the $125 billion that has gone to states since the 1998 tobacco settlement, only 3 percent has gone to fighting smoking and helping tobacco’s victims.

The rest has gone to general expenses of various sorts. In some states, tobacco settlement revenue may even be filling revenue holes left by tax cuts for the rich.

So does that leave the leaked Purdue Pharma settlement little more than a big nothingburger? Maybe not. The settlement, as reported, may offer a template for a broader restructuring of Big Pharma.

Under the settlement deal, the Sackler family would lose all its ownership stake in Purdue Pharma. The company would become a “public beneficiary corporation,” run by three independent court-appointed trustees and a new board of directors these trustees would name. All corporate earnings from this new “public beneficiary corporation” would go the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Purdue Pharma.

This could prove to be an interesting model. Purdue Pharma, under the guidance of independent representatives of the public interest, could cease to be a company that makes billions pushing dangerously addictive pills on America’s most vulnerable communities.

Imagine if this approach became the model for dealing with all the Big Pharma drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers that bear responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of opioid dead. Big Pharma would soon become, in effect, a publicenterprise.

We could encourage this new corporate public spiritedness by legislating checks on the corporate pay incentives that have fueled the opioid crisis. We could, for instance, tax corporations that pay their top execs excessively more than their workers at higher rates than corporations that pay executives less and workers more.

In 2018, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky pulled down $20.1 million, 268 times the pay of Johnson & Johnson’s typical employee. Earlier this week, a judge in Oklahoma found Johnson & Johnson guilty of  getting doctors to overprescribe its opioid-based medications. Over one recent six-year period, Gorsky’s CEO counterpart at drug distributor McKesson had his company drop over 14.1 billion opioid pills on U.S. communities. That CEO, John Hammergren, retired this past April, after pocketing nearly $800 million over his over 16-year CEO stint at McKesson.

Outrageous rewards like these incentivize outrageous behaviors. By legislating tax penalties for companies with wide CEO-worker pay gaps, we could tamp down these incentives and help ensure that future “public beneficiary corporations” serve the public interest.

So let’s get at it. Let’s not just insist that Big Pharma corporations pay up. Let’s change America’s corporate pay rules — and change Big Pharma in the process.

This column first appeared on Inequality.org.

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Burning Down the House

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:54

Doesn’t idiocy ever take a vacation?

As August wound down, the populist troika of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Jair Bolsonaro proved once again that the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil would be better off with no leaders rather than the dubious characters that currently pretend to govern these countries.

In all three cases, these leaders escalated their nationally destructive policies as summer wound down in ways that have alienated even their erstwhile supporters. Once again, they have demonstrated that they have no interest in making America, Great Britain, or Brazil great again. They are only interested in doing as much damage as they can before they are ultimately dragged out of office.

Johnson Tries a Coup

Boris Johnson is a bumbling blowhard with but one current obsession: Brexit. He has promised to sever the UK’s relationship with the European Union by October 31 even if it means doing so without a deal that would mitigate the pain of separation.

The Halloween deadline is grimly appropriate. A No-Deal Brexit would make for a blood-curdling horror film. Just slap a Ghostface mask on the British prime minister, give him a knife to cut the umbilicus with Europe, and voila: Scream 5.

Johnson’s latest tactic to get what he wants is to suspend Parliament for five weeks this fall to limit debate on alternatives to his doomsday option. He hopes to make it impossible for parliament to pass even emergency legislation banning a no-deal Brexit. Believe it or not, the British system allows for such maneuvers – so Queen Elizabeth had to give her blessing to the suspension.

When Trump engages in anti-democratic activities, the Republican Party by and large indulges him. Not so in the UK, where even conservatives are up in arms over Johnson’s silent coup. After the prime minister’s announcement of the suspension, the government’s whip in the House of Lords resigned, as did the head of the Scottish Conservative Party. Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, meanwhile, has pilloried Johnson and joined a legal challenge to the suspension.

This week, Johnson lost his one-vote majority in parliament when Conservative member Philip Lee defected to the Liberal Democrats even as the prime minister was addressing the chamber.

Most parliamentary members, including quite a few Conservatives, oppose a no-deal exit. No matter: Johnson is following Trump’s script by remaking the Conservative Party in his own image, threatening to purge anyone who doesn’t follow his hard line. After losing a vote that will allow parliament to introduce legislation to delay Brexit, Johnson expelled 21 dissidents, including a number of former ministers and one grandson of Winston Churchill.

Now Johnson is talking about holding a snap election in mid-October. The Conservatives are comfortably outpolling Labor, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. However, if all the Remain forces unite against Johnson, they could eke out a victory. But Johnson could also promise an election for October 14 and then, surprise, postpone it until after Halloween, making Brexit a fait accompli.

Johnson once said, “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a titanic success of it.” Determined to do the wrong thing even though he knows it’s wrong, Johnson is steering the United Kingdom straight into an iceberg. Nigel Farage is his chief navigator, and the rest of the country is clustered on the bow, bracing for impact.

With a second referendum, wiser heads could wrest control of the helm and prevent disaster, but Johnson is doing everything he can to fast-track Brexit on the principle that it doesn’t matter where you’re going as long as you get there fast.

Bolsonaro Fans the Flames

Idiocy loves company.

Jair Bolsonaro styles himself the Trump of the tropics. The comparison is apt. Some future poet, in describing the inferno of the present, will stuff Trump, Bolsonaro, and Johnson feet first into the mouth of Satan in the ninth circle. Having stoked the fires of climate change, Bolsonaro will richly deserve such an afterlife.

As The Economist points out, Bolsonaro as a candidate…

promised to end fines for violations of environmental law, shrink the protected areas that account for half of the Brazilian Amazon and fight NGOs, for which he has a visceral hatred. In office, his government has gutted the environment ministry and Ibama, the quasi-autonomous environmental agency. Six of the ten senior posts in the ministry’s department of forests and sustainable development are vacant, according to its website. The government talks of “monetizing” the Amazon but sabotaged a $1.3bn European fund that aims to give value to the standing forest.

As a result of Bolsonaro’s hands-off policy, deforestation in the Amazon has been out of control this year. Emboldened by their president’s actions, Brazilian farmers organized a “fire day” to clear land for planting. “We need to show the president that we want to work and the only way is to knock (the forest) down. And to form and clean our pastures, it is with fire,” said one of the organizers of the Fire Day. The number of fires in the Amazon nearly doubled this year over the same period last year.

It’s not as if the world wasn’t warned. Time magazine put the burning Amazon on its cover exactly 30 years ago!

The impact this time around is straight-forward. The Amazon is a huge carbon sink. Burn it up and global warming will accelerate. There will also be irreversible loss of biodiversity. And the upside? More soybeans, which Brazil can sell to China because the latter is no longer buying the harvests of U.S. farmers.

Oh, and more profits into the pockets of Bolsonaro’s friends in the industries that are paving the paradise of the Amazon and putting up a parking lot.

Trump Trashes the Planet

Donald Trump is a moth that can’t stop itself from flying directly at the flame of fame (or, more accurately, the inferno of infamy). He could stay off Twitter, but instead his tweets piss off one group of voters after another. He could stay away from the press, but his lies, gaffes, and personal attacks are amplified throughout the media universe. Arguably, this is a strategy to solidify the base and reinforce Trump’s reputation as an anti-establishment gadfly.

But there’s no political strategy behind his trade war with China and his impulsive threats last month to further escalate tariffs on Chinese goods. The sectoral damage to his base worries his political advisors: say goodbye to the farm vote, a good chunk of blue-collar voters thrown out of work, and a bunch of average consumers angry at shelling out more money for their holiday gifts.

Worse would be a more general economic recession brought on by this needless trade war, which would doom the president’s reelection chances. Yes, the U.S. economy is due for a “correction,” particularly because of Trump’s tax cuts and over-the-top spending. But if Trump played it safe, he could have probably postponed the recession until after the 2020 election. Instead, he’s doing everything he can to ensure that it makes landfall smack dab during the presidential race.

Trump isn’t just self-destructive. He continued over the last couple weeks to destroy U.S. alliances, most recently by expressing interest in buying Greenland from Denmark. The land wasn’t on the market, as the Danish government reminded the president, which prompted Trump to cancel his trip to the country.

Greenland? Really?! Perhaps Trump was making an indirect acknowledgement of the effects of climate change, attempting a land grab up north to secure a spot for Ivanka and Jared’s summer palace.

Meanwhile, Trump is powering full speed ahead toward climate apocalypse. The administration’s latest move is to remove restrictions on methane emissions, a more potent contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide. The effort is designed to reduce costs for oil and gas companies. But guess what? Even some of the top energy companies are opposed to Trump’s move.

“Last year we announced our support for the direct regulation of methane emissions for new and existing oil and gas facilities,” Exxon Mobil spokesperson Scott Silvestri said. “That hasn’t changed. We will continue to urge the EPA to retain the main features of the existing methane rule.” After all, Exxon, BP, and others are trying to position natural gas as part of the solution to climate change, and the Trump administration is busy undermining this argument.

The methane restrictions that Trump is trying to unravel date back to the Obama administration. But the current administration wants to tear up much older agreements as well. The Clinton administration protected Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from logging and mining. But Trump wants to open up this 16.7 million-acre sanctuary to the usual suspects in the extractive industries. This is no small land parcel. It represents half the world’s temperate rainforest.

Bolstonaro, at least, is only interested in trashing a rainforest (albeit a large one). Boris Johnson is content to trash a country (albeit a rich one). Donald Trump, with that ego of his, aspires to trash an entire planet. Yes, all three will eventually flame out. But not before they’ve scorched the earth clean.

An environmentalist told journalist Alan Weisman before the 2016 elections that she was considering voting for Trump. “The way I see it,” she said, “it’s either four more years on life support with Hillary, or letting this maniac tear the house down. Maybe then we can pick up the pieces and finally start rebuilding.”

The philosophy of “things have to get worse before they get better” has sometimes worked out in the past. But that’s the past.

Unless we stop him, we’ll be rooting around in the post-Trump ashes in vain for the pieces. The house will be gone. And there will be nothing we can salvage to rebuild it.

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A Battle for Existence

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:53

They are landscapes my mind escapes to regularly. The painted canyons in eastern Montana and the Zion region of Utah. Forests of huge conifers in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The incredible arid desolation of Utah west of Salt Lake City and the deserts of Nevada. Sagebrushed plains in the Southwest. I spent many hours standing by the side of roads observing these and other landscapes in the western United States. Occasionally, I saw an elk herd in the distance or giant raptors flying above me. Once, I ended up covered in some kind of flying insects when I sat down either on or close to their nests in the Colorado heat south of Colorado Springs. Lizards often played on rocks nearby and I remained ever wary of snakes in crevices and shadows. There were a couple summers when I left the road and hiked into the mountains of Theodore Roosevelt National Forest near Boulder, CO. Just me, a sleeping bag and backpack with a little food, a collapsible fishing pole, some whiskey and some weed. Years have passed since those adventures.

Author Christopher Ketcham opens his book This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West with a similar reminiscence. In the book’s second chapter, he gets specific. He is in the Escalante region of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The year is recent. The Trump administration has made clear its intention to shrink the monument’s acreage in favor of private interests. This time it’s cattlemen who consider the land to be theirs to destroy. All in the name of cowboy culture and rancher’s profits. Fittingly, the tale turns to the story of Clive and Ammon Bundy. These were the men who led the takeover of public lands in defense of their right to graze without paying a cent and then, after getting away with that, staged an armed takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. As Ketcham describes the events, he also provides the history behind these actions. In short, the Bundy dramas were part of an ongoing battle over who should control those lands legally considered to belong to all US citizens.

Ketcham does not stop with the Bundys and their ilk–men who are actually bit players in the ongoing war between private interests and the public good. As his text moves forward, Ketcham casts his scrutinizing pen on the role played by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wildlife Services and the Department of the Interior—to name just a few of the government agencies involved—in the selloff of the lands. The story he tells is one of species threatened and species destroyed. It is also one that involves death threats and loss of employment to employees of those agencies who act as if their job is to protect the wild. It is a story that involves other powerful institutions in a conspiracy mired in greed and hubris: the Mormon church, the energy industry, agribusiness, and both political parties.

While it is clear that Ketcham’s purpose in writing this book is to bring attention to the abuse of the wilderness and to name those most responsible for its abuse, it is also apparent that he has an appreciation, indeed, a love, for the lands and animals he describes. His prose when describing these aspects moves beyond the merely factual and into the poetic. So do his profiles of the women and men fighting the behemoth intent on destruction. Conversely, his anger at those who pretend to be friends of the forests, grasslands and the animals who live there is specific, biting and without regret. Indeed, his discussion of those organizations and individuals who call themselves “green” while they work with industry in destroying the wilderness for the profits of the cattle and extraction interests includes some of his harshest words. Likewise, he spares nothing when discussing the Obama administration, which gave away more wilderness to those interests than the Bush administration preceding it. In the final pages, Ketcham makes it clear: if you want to save the environment, you must oppose capitalism. There is no other way.

Relentless, well written and informed, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption are Ruining the American West is an angry masterpiece. It eloquently describes an ecosystem disintegrating because of greed, ignorance, and the arrogance of humans. The heroes include the wolves, the grizzlies, the bison and the ravens, trying to survive against a conspiracy that only capitalism and a compliant and compromised civil authority could create.

At the end of the day, Ketcham’s text not only channeled my anger at those whose profits depend on intentionally destroying the environment, it also reminded me of the rapturous and synchronous beauty that so desperately requires us to battle for its existence.

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The Case Against the Zionist “left”

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:53

Zionist historical revisionism constructs an erroneous presentation of Israel as accommodating a left-to-right political milieu, the left-flank of which amenable to a peaceful resolution of “the conflict”, instead of recognizing the entirety of Zionism, including its “liberal” faction, as inherently white supremacist, settler colonialist and genocidal.

The supposed left, “liberal” wing of Zionism, comprising Israeli political parties, non-profit organizations and media organs in Israel and outside it, serves to promote Zionist propaganda, which renders occupation, apartheid and genocide of Indigenous Palestinian people palatable to audiences in Israel and worldwide.

Liberal Zionism intrinsically promotes reactionary regimes and interest groups, which share Zionism’s ethnocentric, xenophobic, misogynistic and hyper-capitalist worldviews, including Trump’s United States, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Duterte’s Philippines, Orban’s Hungary and Modi’s India, among others.

Why is it important to recognize and dismantle liberal Zionist propaganda?

The Zionist “left” in Britain

The corruption of the Zionist “left”, i.e. liberal Zionism, and its ensuing damage to democracy is evident in the UK Labour Party.

Electronic Intifada’s Asa Winstanley has reported extensively on the development of this manufactured crisis, which exemplifies the dangers of a major anti-Semitic Zionist propaganda fallacy – the conflation of Zionism with Judaism and its effectiveness in torpedoing social justice.

In fact, a recent Al-Jazeera documentary – The Lobby – exposed the extent to which the Labour Party has been infiltrated by Israeli/Zionist interests via The Labour Friends of Israel.

Jackie Walker, an anti-Zionist, Black Jewish ex-Labour Party member and vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn was recently expelled as a result of this fallacious campaign on trumped up charges of “anti-Semitism”. Chris Williamson is the most recent example. Additionally, in a blatant attack on press freedom, Labour revoked Winstanley’s press pass for its upcoming conference.

The Zionist “left” in the US

The fiasco involving Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib has become a teaching moment for pro-Palestinian activists.

An important lesson from the campaign, outlined by Noura Erakat and Fadi Quran in their recent article, is the evident lack of Palestinian sovereignty both in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in spite of Israel’s claims to the contrary.

Thus, Israel’s self-aggrandizing, manufactured image as “the only democracy in the Middle East” is once again rendered null and void, in line with its crimes and long list of discriminatory laws.

Similarly, the banning of Omar and Tlaib has exposed once again Israel’s white supremacist nature, consequent to its Christian Evangelical, anti-Semitic origins and supporters.

Further, the targeting of Omar and Tlaib demonstrates the powerful threat of intersectional politics to reactionary regimes. In fact, the Zionist Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs quickly recognized the danger intersectionality poses to their discriminatory colonial agendas.

However, no less important than these, is a crucial lesson quickly whitewashed – the campaign against Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib was instigated by a liberal Zionist editor at The Forward – Batya Ungar-Sargon – opportunistically picked up by corporate Democrats, and unsurprisingly adopted by Republicans, including President Donald Trump and a host of American-Zionist lackeys as a wedge issue to split their opposition.

It is all too easy to blame Trump and his racist supporters, including within the Israeli government, for the campaign against Omar and Tlaib. Yet whitewashing liberal Zionist culpability sets the stage for additional smears instrumentalizing the “new anti-Semitism”, i.e. the canard that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, including against progressive front-runner for the Democratic nomination for President – Senator Bernie Sanders.

Notably, Sanders is a liberal Zionist himself, yet has conveyed support for Omar and Tlaib, as well as harsh criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli apartheid policies. The UK example suggests Sanders’ surge in the race and his (relatively) pro-Palestinian rhetoric will likely lead to an increase in Zionist-led attacks on his intersectional campaign, including against grassroots supporters. In fact, concurrent to Sanders’ recent rise in the polls, liberal Zionist Haaretz published an anti-Semitic opinion piece echoing fascistic propaganda, calling Sanders “the last Jewish Bolshevik”. Sanders, of course. is a Democratic Socialist far closer to an FDR-style, new deal Democrat.

The Forward has played a major role in the smear campaign against progressive Democrats Omar and Tlaib. In addition to its initiation by opinion editor Ungar-Sargon, who has been working assiduously to jam Zionism down the left’s throat, or else, senior columnist Peter Beinart whitewashed the outlet’s culpability.

Beinart blamed Omar for being “wrong”, “inaccurate” and “irresponsible” for her accurate tweet describing the corrupting influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on politics in Washington, and praised her for her unnecessary apology, while conveniently shifting blame from The Forward’s dishonest liberal Zionism and its allegiance with corporate Democrats to Trump’s grotesque anti-Semitism and Republicans such as Lee Zeldin. Remarkably, in a masterful display of false equivalencies and straw man fallacies, Beinart did not mention Zionism at all, a likely prerequisite for safeguarding his position as a CNN commentator. Just ask Marc Lamont Hill. Unfortunately, Omar decided to promote Beinart on her Twitter feed.

Beinart’s column also demonstrates what is perhaps the most egregious of liberal Zionist contortions – the promotion of the fallacy of “the occupation” existing since 1967, not 1948, i.e limited to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This false assertion, also echoed by the American Jewish progressive group IfNotNow, erases the rights of millions of Palestinians in the shattat, including their right to return home.

The Zionist “left” in Israel

A careful examination of the Zionist/Israeli political spectrum leading up to parliamentary elections on September 17th, including the “opposition”, reveals an assortment of reactionary parties seeking power without providing any hope for equality and justice for Palestinians. Even the anti/non-Zionist Joint List, recently showed a desperate interest in working with the Zionist “left”, to the dismay of many.

To quote Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan:

While a so-called leftist discourse in Israel is usually perceived as revolving around liberal and humanistic values, no discussion exists concerning the deeply-rooted supremacist character of the state, its inherent anti-democratic nature, nor the fate of those who have been disenfranchised, oppressed, subjugated and terrorized for the past seven decades by Israel — the Palestinians.

In an article for (wait for it) The Forward, Stav Shaffir – previously of the liberal Zionist Labor Party, now of the Democratic Union Party – engaged in some break-neck political yoga in an effort to smear the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, while attempting to maintain her faux-left cred.

In another recent piece, Yossi Gurvitz accurately demonstrates the inherent contradictory nature of “left” and “Zionism”. Here, Gurvitz laments the deal brokered between the liberal Zionist Meretz party and corrupt war criminal and ex-PM Ehud Barak to form the Democratic Union Party, which also includes BDS-bashing Shaffir. Gurvitz’s impressive survey of Barak’s crimes falls short when he attributes Meretz’s selling out as a “wish to be, for once, on the winning side”. Gurvitz correctly identifies the reasoning as flawed yet does not lay out the hard truth, in which liberal Zionists opt habitually for apartheid over equality and naturally assume their role as propagandists while lambasting the adoption of an ideologically consistent, left-wing, anti-Zionist stance.

Significantly, the anti-Zionist, anti-racist framework intrinsic to the BDS movement and other campaigns, has yielded far more impressive gains for Palestinians than any collaboration with white saviors and/or liberal Zionist entities.  In fact, a principled anti-Zionism, with a focus on BDS provides real hope for Palestinians, Jews and others seeking an end to the ongoing injustice between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

An intersectional alliance between all victims of white supremacy, including Palestinians, Black and Brown people, women, Indigenous groups, immigrants, the disabled and others, effectively exposes and dismantles all Zionist propaganda, en route to the promotion of equality and justice for all.

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The Axis of Atrocity

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:52

If daymare isn’t a word, it should be.  We’re living one.  And the shameless,  infantile ugliness that rules America today was predicted by visionaries and poets long ago.  H.L. Mencken nailed it nearly a century back:

“Before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying the mob with him by force of personality. But when the field is nationwide all odds are on the man most devious and mediocre—who can most easily disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.  The Presidency tends to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Ecce homo.  So much for our “democracy”.  But this plague is not confined to The Empire.  The blood-dimmed tide Yeats felt coming has inundated the world.  Three Cynosures of Psychosis suggest themselves aggressively today, each a match in his way for our Cretin Caligula who thought he’d snag Greenland on the cheap, as if it were a trashed Bronx tenement.

Bolsonaro, Reichsmarshall of Brazil, in recent frothing fury, blamed his own Neronian burning of the Amazon on NGOs, lying about his direct pitch to scofflaw ranchers to turn it, once burnt off, into a Confined Animal Feeding Operation.  Gringo beef dollars matter, nao?; rainforest, not so much.

Then, there’s Modi–the Hindu Ubermensch–who, having presided over a massacre in Gujarat that elevated him to racist icon status, has spiked both the laws of Jammu and Kashmir and his own nation in a brutal anschluss that made a bullied territory into a free fire zone and Moslem dungeon.

Of course, neither of these Sturmbahnfuhrers can claim parity with the past master of venomous race hatred, that brazen liar, shameless provocateur, and criminal fabulist, Netanyahu, regent of the Fascist State of Israel.  This clinical embodiment of the abused become abuser, in exacerbating the worst elements of Israeli character–bone deep racism and paranoia; the arrogant claim to superiority that’s the warp and weft of its religion; the babaric cruelty urged by its gruesome, twisted, medieval rabbinical voices–has goaded Israel to embrace and celebrate its most hideous attributes and flaunt them in the face of an increasingly appalled world.

How is it these four sick horsemen of the coming apocalypse have clotted together now like a rancid, congealing gravy of dead tissue?  Serendipity wouldn’t account for it.  Nor probability predict it… What if  emergence of such pure evil simultaneously results from peer group patterning in which the rabidity of the top dog sets a template others are then induced to emulate?  There is precedence for the idea.  When Stalin ran the Soviet world, he and his system were replicated across it.  When JFK flashed his Camelot style, “Free World” leaders strove to mimic his elegant finesse.

Having been pretty much gifted with the Presidency–because of wholesale abandonment by the Democratic Party of anyone who ever had to earn a living and obliteration of all concern for ordinary citizenry–Trump set the tone for his solipsistic funhouse from day one, sending his twitter yawp of vulgarity, dishonesty and cruelty out to a gobsmacked world, while these sociopaths watched, pondered, and then acted.  Could it be clearer that the key enabling factor for the rise of this set of human monsters was our morally null, ethically vacant, childishly vindictive Pathogen-in-Chief?

The supreme tragedy of our age–for us and the world–is that there is no countervailing force in our country, no powerful, principled dynamic the sheer gravitational force of which might coalesce what exists of the vast hunger for wisdom, justice and decency latent in a majority of our people.  America is full of conned, tranquilized, intimidated folk who nevertheless have a strong residual inclination toward fairness and honor and humanity, and who are deeply offended, saddened, and ashamed that our country has become the most viciously murderous engine of evil on the planet.

Due to the fact that the Democratic Party has repudiated and betrayed the principle that made it a compelling, dominant social and political force–its core pledge to represent reliably, and legislate predictably, for the good of a citizenry of all colors and conditions–it represents no refuge at all to an electorate finally fully aware of its callous indifference to their well-being.

For most adults’ lifetime experience–say, from the JFK/LBJ era on–the Democratic Party has done nothing to advance the general welfare and economic security of the great majority of working Americans, while deceiving them endlessly with cynical, rhetorical jive.  Their cop-out from Obama back to the 60s has been that Republicans blocked every effort, that their good ideas and benevolent plans were killed, that they failed in spite of good intentions, but this is just dishonest.  The fact is that even when they had power and numbers in Congress, they never rose up, took a stand, and fought hard for legislation to advance the common good.  All their defeats have been essentially capitulations, and self-inflicted.

When Lew Powell issued his warning Bull to Capitalists in the 70s about the frightful danger that The People, aroused and militant, represented to Omnicratic Capitalism, Big Corporate Money began to flow lavishly to reactionary Republicans.  Democrats, outfunded, outspent, took shocking electoral hits that terrified their politburo and convinced them that politics was only about money and that they had to get a lot of it, whatever it took to do it.  What they decided it took was to abandon their traditional support base in the vast Middle and Under classes, and to seek the dollars where they lived, with Corporate Capitalist elites.  This turn was completed under Clinton, who concluded that to stand for anything beneficial for The People was to risk status and office.  Hence, his dropping the fight for decent health care legisation, among other spineless and disgraceful retreats.

In that decision the Democrats blew it. They failed to make the choice that could have empowered them and would have consolidated progressive politics far into the future: to champion The People.  Of course, there would have been grave risk.  It would have taken great resolve and courage, but more importantly, the element that was completely absent in them: intent.

Politics is only about money when it is not substantively about anything else.  The fierce passion and phenomenal power of a people, when they know their leaders are truly committed to vigorously champion their welfare, is a force that no amount of private wealth can obstruct, let alone defeat.

America was at a crisis, when what was to be determined was whether the country would be run in the interests of its citizens or in that of its Capitalist masters.  Official Democrats, intellectually co-opted already, elected to represent the giants.  In that action, they walked away from a path that would have enabled them to remake the world in justice, and sank to the sorry, contemptible nullity they are today.  Rejecting their way to greatness, they condemned themselves to extinction.

And, in the long run, may have done the same for us all.

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Chuck Todd, Labor Day, and Getting Serious

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:51

Labor Day has come and gone. To most people it’s a day off and a splash of sales. The symbolism and meaning that inspired this national holiday back in 1894 has long since dissipated. Labor Day parades are affairs of the past, with very few exceptions, and those that still exist are facing dwindling participation – in the era of Donald the corporatist, no less.

Part of this neglect stems from major unions and their large locals. Labor leaders, year after year, miss the opportunity to speak through the local and national media about what’s on their mind regarding the state of workers today. I have urged labor leaders to develop a media strategy for Labor Day, since it is their one big day to give interviews and submit op-eds. Having major events or demonstrations on the needs of working families would invite coverage.

Even the usual excuse that the corporate press is not that interested goes away on Labor Day. The major labor chiefs just don’t take advantage of this yearly opportunity. That is one reason why over the years, raising the minimum wage; adopting card checks for union-desiring workers; pressing for full Medicare for All; and repealing the notorious, anti-union Taft Hartley Act of 1947 have remained at such low visibility.

On the other hand, the editors and reporters are not exactly reaching out for, say, interviews of Richard Trumka, the former coal miner who rose through the ranks and became the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Washington, DC. Trumka vs. Trump has a nice ring to it, but someone has to hit the bell.

This Labor Day, The Washington Post and the New York Times had touching stories of workers in various jobs from a human interest point of view. There was little space devoted to labor policies, labor reforms, worker safety, the persistent private pension crisis, and the huge power imbalance in labor/management relations.

NBC’s Meet the Press, anchored by Chuck Todd, is symptomatic of the media’s indifference to showcasing Labor leaders on Labor Day.

Chuck Todd, the quick witted former citizen organizer, has lost control of his show to his corporate masters in New York City. He cannot even stop them from replacing his show entirely on the few Sundays when the NBC profiteers think there are more profits showing a major tennis, golf, or soccer tournament. My repeated complaints about this blackout to NBC chief, Andrew Lack, or to the corporatist chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, have received no reply.

Obviously, Chuck is working in a tough environment for any self-respecting journalist. But this past Sunday, Meet the Press reached a new low from its beginnings under the news-savvy Lawrence Spivak over 70 years ago. Meet the Press has become a ditto-head to the regular news shows’ saturation coverage. Todd covered Hurricane Dorian and the shootout in Texas, along with whether Joe Biden is too old for the Presidency. Repetitious and dull – he added nothing new for the audience.

The shrinking range of Meet the Press has been going on for some years. It focuses, with other network shows, on questioning politicians or their surrogates – sometimes the same guests on multiple shows – about inconsistencies, gaffes, thoughtless statements, or current political controversies. We don’t need to see yet another round with Trump’s Kellyanne Conway, who plays with Todd’s sharp questions.

The NBC corporate masters tell or signal to Todd who he can invite for his roundtable. He should never have corporatists from the American Enterprise Institute without having people from the Economic Policy Institute, Public Citizen, or Common Cause.

Brit Hume, before he went over to Fox, once told me that the real purpose of the Sunday shows was to let the Washington politicians have their say so they stay off the back of the networks. That was his way of explaining why the questions put to them were not as tough or deep as they could be.

Todd can be a tough questioner, but he is trapped in a cul-de-sac of predictability, trivia, and redundancy that demeans his talents.

Along with the other Sunday morning network news shows, Todd stays away from the all-important civic community – historically and presently the fountainhead for our democratic society. It is hard to name any blessing of America, great or small, that did not start with the work or demands of citizens. Improved civil rights and liberties, safer consumer products, workplace conditions and environments, nuclear arms treaties, and much more began this way. Citizen groups continue as watchdogs, documenting, litigating, lobbying, and pushing the powers that be on behalf of the American people.

In 1966, I was invited on Meet the Press by the legendary Lawrence Spivak to first highlight, on Sunday national TV, what needs to be done about unsafe cars. That helped auto safety action to move faster in Congress. The civic leaders of today are largely shut out from these forums. Civic startups cannot reach larger audiences and shape the politics of the day.

None of this is unknown to Chuck Todd. He has allowed his hands to be tied with golden handcuffs. One can almost sense his impatience with his roundtable guests spouting guarded opinions or conventional speculations suited to their current careers. But Chuck is very polite with them and his interviewees. As he has said, if you really go after these guests, they won’t come back next time. But why such a small pool? There are plenty of other fresh, courageous, accurate voices he can invite “next time.” It’s that his corporate bosses won’t let him.

Todd has much more potential than to continue his increasingly trivialized, though sometimes temporarily sensationalized, role as an anchor of a withering show “brought to you by Boeing.” He should request reassignment or resign for more significant journalistic challenges. He really doesn’t need the money anymore.

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Billionaires Who Promise to Save Journalism

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:50

Let’s talk about fraud: “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities,” the dictionary calls it.

Let’s also discuss breach of contract. “A breach of contract occurs when the promise of the contract is not kept, because one party has failed to fulfill their agreed-upon obligations, according to the terms of the contract. Breaching can occur when one party fails to deliver in the appropriate time frame, does not meet the terms of the agreement, or fails perform at all,” says a random legal website I googled. Sounds right.

Pierre Omidyar cofounded eBay. He became a billionaire at age 31 when eBay went public. Forbes says he’s now worth $12.8 billion.

As you know, journalism is in trouble. So it sounded almost too good to be true when Omidyar lured Glenn Greenwald, who famously received the Edward Snowden stash of secret documents that proved the U.S. government is spying on us, away from the UK Guardian in order to helm a new, fearless, left-leaning journalism organization by the name of First Look Media.

Best of all, Omidyar promised to fix the biggest problem faced by 21st century journalists: shrinking budgets. First Look Media, Omidyar said, would get a whopping $250 million in order to support “independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest.”

Geld macht frei.

Watch this crazy announcement video from 2013. No, really, watch.

First Look Media, Omidyar promises in his video, would feature a “flagship” online magazine—The Intercept, edited by Greenwald—that would “cover news and stories from entertainment and sports to politics and business.” In addition, he pledged, there would be “a family of digital magazines.” (Spoiler: the sports, business and entertainment stuff never materialized.)

One of First Look’s “verticals,” in publishing vernacular, was to be called Racket, “a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy” to be edited by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. (Disclosure: I met with Taibbi to discuss the possibility of working for him. Another disclosure: I talked to a reporter at The Intercept about covering my lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times. He was excited but went cold after he pitched it to his editors.)

According to Taibbi and also Greenwald, Taibbi chafed under Omidyar’s incessant micromanaging on everything from whom he could hire to where they would sit. Taibbi quit and returned to Rolling Stone. That was the end of Racket.

Then the fickle billionaire pulled the plug on his other playthings. “Omidyar made clear that there were no plans to launch any more digital magazines in the near term,” Greenwald wrote in 2014. First Look did pick up the cartoon site The Nib in 2016 and added the nonfiction storytelling publication Topic in 2017, only to cancel both and fire their staffs as part of “cost-cutting moves” in 2019.

Omidyar did not explain why an organization backed by a man worth $12.8 billion needs to cut costs, nor how he reconciles his fickleness with that I’ve-got-your-back video. Really, watch it! (To put this in terms a normal person can understand, if you’re worth $500,000, Omidyar’s $250 million pledge is equivalent to $9,000. If you have $500,000 and you can’t spare $9,000 you’re doing something wrong.)

Earlier this year, Omidyar decided to shut down First Look’s maintenance of the Snowden archive. Given that that trove was the company’s original raison d’être, alongside its dedication to investigative journalism, it left loyalists like First Look cofounder Laura Poitras scratching their heads. In March the company laid off its team of researchers.

The point of First Look, remember, was to give good reporters plenty of cash so they could focus on writing and research.

According to Columbia Journalism Review Omidyar has made good on just $90 million of his $250 million commitment. Which is still a lot of money, but it won’t last forever when you’re burning up cash paying exorbitant wages to editors like Greenwald. He collected $1.6 million between 2014 and 2017 while entry-level grunts are making do with $55,000 in a Manhattan where one-bedroom apartments go for $3,500 a month.

Left-leaning journalism types have been whispering about the shenanigans at First Look for years. But few are willing to speak out in public. Omidyar is powerful and wealthy. What if you might want to work for him someday?

Billionaires are purchasing social good will in the hope that they will be “credited with the accomplishments or qualities” of contributing to the “public good,” as Omidyar says in his over-the-top video.

And I’m fine with that—as long as they don’t breach their contract with the public. Omidyar promised us a passel of verticals/online magazines. Where are they? He promised journalists virtually unlimited freedom to investigate, travel, whatever it takes to do their jobs. Budget cuts and mass layoffs are a clear violation of that pledge. He cheated us. He should be held accountable.

Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong is another billionaire, this one from biotech, who has burnished his image as a savior of American journalism by purchasing The Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper. Soon-Shiong is purportedly worth $7.1 billion.

But there’s already a stink, and I’m not talking about the smell of jet fuel raining down on the Times’ new low-budget office building in El Segundo, directly under the flight approach to LAX. The Times previous home was an art deco gem downtown on Times-Mirror Square. Why, one wonders, can’t a man worth $7.1 billion shell out the $50 million-ish cost of a downtown office building rather than move reporters a three-hour drive away from some parts of the city they’re supposed to be covering? (That’s $3,500 for someone worth $500,000.) Why do so many of his new hires skew so young, Millennial and thus so cheaply five-digit?

Despite slavishly sucking up to him in public statements, the union representing Times employees has been rewarded with contempt by Soon-Shiong, who refuses to negotiate in good faith.

Jeff Bezos, self-proclaimed savior of The Washington Post, has a similar attitude toward workers at his newspaper.

I don’t have a problem with derps derping, even when they’re running major news outlets. What seriously pisses me off is when those derps are billionaires who market themselves as saviors to be admired, when they’re anything but.

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Why Hong Kong Should Have Self-Rule

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:50

Hong Kongers have earned the right to genuine self-rule. This could still happen even within the framework of “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong police have now shot real as well as rubber bullets and used water cannon against demonstrators. People’s Liberation Army forces have been reinforced in Hong Kong.

Even as threats from Beijing and Hong Kong authorities mount, pro-democracy demonstrations continue. Why? The Hong Kong journalist Thomas Hon Wing Polin writes (CounterPunch, September 2, 2019) that the root problem is the “enemy within”—large swathes of the Hong Kong civil service “attached to Western values” and not to the rightful “sovereign,” i.e., Chjna. Indeed, some 80 percent of Hong Kong judges, Polin laments, are “pro-democracy.” How horrific!

In the same vein as Mr. Polin, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa asserted last July that the civics class mandatory in high school since 2009 is “one of the reasons behind the youths’ problems today.” The “liberal studies curriculum is a failure,” he said. According to Tiffany May and Amy Qin (New York Times, September 2, 2019), liberal studies was introduced by British colonial authorities as an elective in 1992 Its advocates now say the course teaches students to be analytical and objective, even when it comes to examining the Communist Party’s flaws. In mainland schools, by contrast, children as young as age seven are taught to love the party and embrace “Xi Jinping Thought.” Ideological purity—not truth—is the priority. Authorities in Beijing and in Hong Kong are discussing how to reshape Hong Kong education. The city’s education bureau has told teachers that if asked “difficult questions” about current events, they should reply, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand it either.’ But the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union declared its support this summer for students participating in peaceful protests.

Jonathan Power offers a very different explanation of Hong Kong unrest. The British gave China too good a deal “in accepting limits on Hong Kong’s democracy.” Indeed, they should have given Hong Kongers more self-role before departing as they did in India and Nigeria. Still, Power concedes, British governor-negotiator Chris Patten probably did all that he could to protect Hong Kong’s fledgling democracy (CounterPunch, August 30, 2019).

Like many Western leaders and observers, Patten had some grounds to hope that mainland China would gradually become more liberal or, even if this did not happen, Beijing would not smash the golden egg of a rather independent Hong Kong. Since 2012, however, Xi Jinping has tightened the screws within Han China, in Tibet and Xinjiang, and also in Hong Kong. All this adds to the reasons why Hong Kongers want guarantees against Being’s interventions.

While pro-Chinese and critics of China take sides, the reality is that Hong Kongers—the general public, civil service, educators, and business tycoons have produced an astonishing societal and commercial success. They have distinguished themselves from the “sovereign” in many profound dimensions. Hong Kong has skyrocketed to 7th in the world in “human development,” according to the UN Human Development Programme–far ahead of the United States at 13th and China at 84th. Hong Kong has the world’s highest expected life expectancy, 84.1–much higher than the USA, 79.5, and China, 76.4. Per capita income in Hong Kong is $58,420, again much better than the USA at $54,941 or China with $15,270.

Wealth gaps and high housing costs are serious problems, but Hong Kong has the means and brains to ameliorate them. The World Economic Forum says Hong Kong is the 7th most competitive economy in a world where the USA is still number one; where the United Kingdom ranks 8th and China is 28th. Hong Kong’s skill base is strong. Expected years of schooling in Hong Kong is 16.3 years, nearly equal to the USA at 16.5, and far ahead of China at 13.8. For its 7.4 million people Hong Kong has seven universities, available at low cost.

Unlike most Chinese, Hong Kongers have full access to the world. Some 88% of Hong Kongers use the Internet, far above the 76% in the USA or the 53% in China, where a great wall blocks access to many sites. There are 240 cell phone subscriptions for every 100 persons in Hong Kong versus 123 in the United States and 97 in China.

Freedom House ranks Hong Kong as partly free—strong in civil liberties but weak in political rights, while China is quite unfree in both domains. Transparency International says Hong Kong is the world’s 14th least corrupt country; China, the 87th.

Just over half of Hong Kongers (and mainland Chinese) in 2017 said they were overall satisfied with life compared to 70% of Americans. In 2019, however, as central authorities tighten their grip across all of China, large numbers of Hong Kongers have for months defied official admonitions, police tear gas and bullets, white shirted mercenary thugs, and military threats from Beijing. Hong Kong civil servants and other professionals have joined students to demand withdrawal of the notorious extradition bill. Whereas protests of just 2.5 percent of the population achieved major political change in Algeria and Sudan more than one in five or six Hong Kongers have taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations. They have done so with minimal support from Western governments, not even from Great Britain, whose 1984 joint declaration with China, according to Beijing, is now a non-binding historical document “lacking any practical significance.“

Hong Kong protests go far beyond the extradition bill. They challenge the premise that Hong Kong’s way of life can continue when subject to an increasingly repressive totalitarian dictatorship in Beijing. Like the American colonials who defied King George in the 1770s, Hong Kongers demand self-government. Like Americans then, Hong Kongers share much of the oppressor’s culture. Unlike the Americans, Hong Kongers speak a language, Cantonese, incomprehensible to most authorities in Beijing, and dislike being forced to learn and communicate in Mandarin. Unlike the Americans, Hong Kongers are too small in number and too close to the “sovereign” oppressor to fight for their freedom. But they are demonstrating their solidarity in ways that trouble Chinese authorities concerned for their reputation and image.

Americans won their freedom not just by arms but also by the moral appeal of their demand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They claimed that if government undermines these goals, people have a right to alter/abolish it and institute a new government. It is nearly unthinkable that Beijing would countenance independent statehood for Hong Kong. But authorities in Beijing could compromise with guarantees of real self-rule in Hong Kong. The “one country, two systems” principle would be modified to reserve all powers to Hong Kong except those specifically allotted to the central government in Beijing. It would ban all dictates and controls from the mainland on Hong Kong’s government, educational system, business practices, or way of life.

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Concealing the Truth

Fri, 2019-09-06 15:49

Concealing the truth from the people is not unusual in politics. It is perhaps more pronounced in global politics partly because it is more difficult to hold powerful global actors accountable. That might is right is an adage that rings true at the international level more than in the domestic arena.

There are currently a number of international issues where the truth is concealed or camouflaged. The demonstrations in Hong Kong for instance which have gone on for weeks are perceived by a lot of people as a struggle for freedom and democracy against an authoritarian government in Beijing. The truth may be a little more complex. It may be in the interest of certain elements in some Western capitals to encourage mass protests in Hong Kong as part of their larger agenda to create instability in China. This in turn may be aimed at curbing China’s rise as a global power which its adversaries perceive as a challenge to their hegemony of the planet.

The crisis in Kashmir is another example of an issue where the entire story may not be known to the people. While changes made to the Indian Constitution have been presented by the government in New Delhi as an attempt to integrate the disputed territory into the national structure, the real reason may be more closely aligned to the ideological orientation of the present BJP leadership. This is why it may have serious repercussions for India’s religious diversity which has been its civilizational hallmark.

A third region in crisis may also reveal that the underlying causes may be quite different from what has been portrayed in the media. Iran has been depicted as the country that is responsible for the present tensions in West Asia. Even if we confined our observation to the immediate circumstance, it is obvious that it is the United States’ decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal of July 2015 that is the real reason for the tensions. Why President Trump moved in that direction has a lot to do with increased Israeli and Saudi influence over the White House and their misperception of the power dynamics in West Asia.

Perhaps an even more blatant instance of concealing the truth is the continuing crisis in Venezuela. The US and some of its allies are trying to convey the impression that if the oil-rich state is grappling with serious economic challenges it is due entirely to an oppressive leadership pursuing socialist policies. The truth is that unending schemes and ploys by the US since the presidency of Hugo Chavez which even witnessed a failed coup against him in April 2002 are the main cause of Venezuela’s woes.

If the truth about what is happening in relation to Venezuela, Iran, Kashmir and Hong Kong is not widely known it is largely because the media, old and new, serve the interests of the powerful. This may not be obvious to many of us because these are on-going crises in constant flux. A quick look at some past episodes may be useful.

In August 1964, the US leadership alleged that North Vietnamese ships had fired at US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin. The allegation provided the justification for the US to intensify its aggression against North Vietnam. The truth is there was no North Vietnamese attack against US ships. The incident was invented as the US Secretary of Defence at that time Robert McNamara admitted years later.

To justify US military action against Iraq when the latter invaded Kuwait in August 1990, a story was concocted that accused Iraqi soldiers of plucking babies out of their incubators and throwing them onto the floor of a hospital in Kuwait. The fabrication was designed to incite public anger against an “utterly brutal and inhuman regime” in Baghdad. A few years later a monstrous lie was invented about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in order to convince the world that the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was totally justified.

A more recent example of political lying was the accusation that Bashar Al-Assad of Syria was responsible for a chemical gas attack in Eastern Ghouta on the 21st of August 2013. It was the celebrated investigative journalist Seymour Hersh who revealed the truth: that the Western backed rebels were behind the chemical attack.

More than any country in West Asia it is tiny Cuba that has borne the brunt of its huge neighbour’s lies and distortions. Since its Revolution in 1959, it has been constantly accused of fomenting instability and violence in Latin America. And yet, it is the US through its agents and proxies that has orchestrated acts of terror against Cuba the most infamous of which was the downing of a Cuban commercial plane on the 6th of October 1976 that killed 73 people including a number of children. The mastermind of that heinous crime Posada Carilles was given protection in the US until his death in May 2018.

Why lies are propagated so frequently and the truth sacrificed so easily, it is not difficult to understand. It is because the powerful want to protect their power at all costs. Sometimes this would require targeting their foes without proof.

This may be true of two final episodes which I have kept to the end because both have not been investigated thoroughly and therefore one cannot draw definite conclusions. The 9-11 tragedy and the MH 17 disaster though different in many ways are similar in some respects. In both cases, a certain party pointed fingers at the “culprits” almost immediately without presenting an iota of evidence. US officials and the media accused Osama bin Laden of planning 9-11 within hours of the attacks upon the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Similarly, the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry stated that “There is overwhelming evidence of Russia complicity in the downing of a Malaysia airline plane,” as quoted in the BBC on the 21st of July 2014, 4 days after the disaster. Kerry did not bother to provide any evidence.

It is equally significant that in both cases important questions about the actual episodes have remained unanswered. In the 9-11 episode, it is still unclear what caused the collapse of a third tower in the vicinity of the Twin Towers and what exactly hit the Pentagon. Likewise, in the case of MH 17, the official version of what had caused the downing of the plane does not blend with some eye-witness accounts or with expert analysis of the nature of the damage to the cockpit.

9-11 was the raison d’etre for the US led onslaught on Afghanistan on the 7th of October 2001. More important, it ignited the US led War on Terror that lasted more than a decade and was seen by many Muslims as an affront to their identity and their dignity. Is it a coincidence that after the July 17th air disaster — the overwhelming majority killed were Europeans —- European governments were more supportive of severe economic sanctions against Russia proposed by the US some months before? Did the disaster unwittingly achieve some geopolitical objective?

It is only if we continue to ask probing questions that the truth that is concealed will be revealed for the good of everyone.

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