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Germany on a Political Seesaw

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:56

Photo Source European People’s Party | CC BY 2.0

While Americans teetered, arguing as to which side gained more in the elections, Germans have been balancing on a seesaw of their own – which can also have decisive consequences.

Seated precariously on the descending side are the ruling parties of the Grand Coalition – GroKo in German journalese. When on October 14th the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria, the unique one-state subsidiary of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU),” got the worst result anyone could recall in a state election, the blow sent shock waves through the whole country. It was  still the strongest party in this biggest German state but must now share cabinet seats with an equally conservative local breakaway party. All exertions of its fading king-pin, Horst Seehofer, who tried to win points by attacking and insulting his ally Angela Merkel from the right, failed miserably. So did his attempts – he’s still Federal Interior Minister – to save the head of the Bureau to Protect the Constitution (like the FBI), who had become all too openly pro-fascist. It looks as if the amused-smiling Seehofer will soon follow his appointee into involuntary retirement and right-wing Bavarian loud-voiced pride – recalling old Texas in a way – was reduced to a rather hoarse croak.

Two weeks later came the next blow. The wealthy state of Hesse, with its center in Frankfurt/Main, was a stronghold of the Social Democrats (SPD) for decades. Then they were pushed out by the Christian Democrats, often using racist stereotyping propaganda. The state elections on October 28th shocked them both. The SPD was reduced to a pitiful relic, under 20 %, while the CDU got its worst result in 50 years.

These state-level shocks were no less staggering at the federal level. Merkel, seeing her personal aura dwindle like a fading rainbow, took a step fully unthinkable just a few years ago. She has always been both chancellor and head of the CDU, an indispensable tie she always claimed. But at its congress next month she will step down as party leader. She can remain “queen mother” of the national government until 2021, if it stays in power, but the odds against it and her are grating downward. With its current rating of 27 % the CDU-CSU is still the strongest but not by much.

Three main rivals are pushing to succeed her as party leader – and maybe even more? Jens Spahn, 38, currently Minister of Health, has always been a major right-wing opponent of Merkel. Never popular despite all his efforts, the public has spurned him in the polls.

Annegret Kamp-Karrenbauer, 56, from Saarland, is the party’s general secretary and closest to Merkel’s center-leaning position on many issues. (Her name makes her no favorite with headline writers – the end part was added with her husband – it’s his name. They often call her AKK.

She is running neck and neck with Friedrich Merz (62). Back in 2002 Merkel jockeyed him out of his leadership hopes and he switched from politics to business, where he did far better. He is chairman of the board of the German section of BlackRock, Inc., the global investment management corporation, the world’s largest asset manager with $6.29 trillion in assets in 30 countries. It’s called the world’s largest shadow bank. Its German section faces charges of covering up millions – or billions of tax frauds. But Mertz is backed by powerful men in finance, politics, the media. Criticism too: “If he wins out there needn’t be any more lobbyists – he’s Mr. Lobbyist in person.” He’s also on the board of HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, which has had more scandals than it can count – in Mexico, South Africa, South Asia, the USA. It paid a $1.9b fine for a drug scandal in 2012 (about five weeks of its annual profit) but Obama’s Attorney General Holder saved the culprits from jail cells.

Friedrich Merz as the knight in shining armor rescuing Germany’s slithering economy while strengthening its armed forces; what a frightening nightmare!

On state and federal levels the other partner in the Grand Coalition, the SPD, is sinking  so quickly it threatens to fall off my metaphor see-saw entirely. After barely reaching 20 % in last year’s election it now stands at 14 %. And though the membership of Germany’s oldest party – who haven’t yet quit – are  desperately calling for a change in policy if not in leadership, the latter, headed by Andrea  Nahles, 48, stubbornly orders them, like the captain in Pete Seeger’s song, “to push on!” But quitting the coalition, as they demand, could mean new elections – and new dangers.

If the ruling parties, CDU, CSU and SPD, are losing so rapidly, who is on the upward-swing? The bigger menace is the Alternative for Germany (AfD), now with representatives in every state legislature after its gains in Bavaria and Hesse. They were not as big as the AfD hoped and most people feared – but there were no big Hurrahs! In national polls it is surpassing the Social Democrats. While some of its leaders try to sound civilized and win points in the all too generous media, others betray again and again its fascist nature; ranting against Muslims and immigrants but promoting big business goals like lower estate taxes or more weaponry and soldiers. If people like Merz take over the CDU and the economy falters, they could form a coalition with the AfD in a frightening parody of 1931-33 events.

But the main winners in the shift of voters in Bavaria, Hesse or nationally have amazingly been the Greens. Readers in the USA or elsewhere should not see them as an almost radical group, well to the left. They started off like that, but that was decades ago, before seven years in the government with the SPD tamed them fully, with both passing some of the worst anti-working class legislation in years and taking Germany into its first post-unification war – against Serbia. It has not been in the government since 2005, but it has not changed much in those past fifteen years.

The Greens stress environment above all, but have decided that this does not require conflict with big business, which must simply be convinced that ecology and profits can be combined. One need not look over to the Koch Brothers to question this; Volkswagen-Daimler-BMW emission cheating and the merger of Monsanto and Bayer, two of the world’s worst killers of butterflies, salamanders and songbirds (and both companies once among the world’s worst murderers of human beings – from Auschwitz to Danang in Vietnam) – should give rise to a few doubts.

True, the Greens are for women’s and LGTSB rights, usually good on immigrant questions – at least until they lead governments, as in their happy bond with Daimler in Stuttgart and with the forest-axing RWE energy giant near  Aachen. They have proved quite willing to join on state level with the right-wing CDU, as in Hesse, and can no longer claim a description as leftwing.

The cause for their sudden upward swing in popularity is because millions do not feel represented by the present government, but rather betrayed by both Merkel and the SPD. Right-wing protest leads then to the AfD. Others, for better or worse, turn in protest to the Greens.

A genuine alternative should really be the LINKE, the Left. The two state elections brought an increase in voters, but only a small increase, especially in Bavaria, where they again failed to reach the 5 % minimum for membership in the legislature.

A problem in western Germany rests in decade-old prejudices against any party connected with the East German GDR, a form of anti-Communism regenerated almost every evening by the media. In eastern Germany there are two special obstacles. Millions had high hopes that unification would bring the “blossoming landscapes”  promised by Helmut Kohl. But for many the blossoms are thistles and poison ivy. If any jobs then too often insecure, low-paid, part-time, and speed-up jobs plus worries about pension levels and their children’s future. Some are led to believe that alleged “advantages” for refugees and immigrants mean losses for themselves and their monolithic white German culture. All too few see the LINKE not as a fighter for their rights and needs but, often in state governments or eager to join them, rather as just another part of the “establishment”.

The correct answer to this, it would seem, would be a tough fight by the LINKE against the powers-that-be, the gentrifiers, exploiters, giant tax-cheaters and – indeed –their whole system.

A possible move in this direction was launched by a top LINKE leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, with a collective movement, Aufstehen (Stand Up) aimed at winning angry, dissatisfied people from all parties or no party. But instead of complementing the LINKE, it is currently facing a split, partly based on personalities, which threatens to break up the LINKE, leaving the national stage to the rightists. I, too, have been worried and skeptical.

Last Friday “Sahra” made a magnificent speech to a thousand adherents next the Brandenburg Gate. It was an amazingly important date in German history. One hundred years ago German sailors, then shipyard workers, then soldiers joined and, braving all odds and weapons, launched the German revolution which ended the rule of the Kaiser and World War One, but which was soon betrayed and beaten. In the years that followed the same forces which had beaten them back, the giant industrial and financial concerns, the 1 %, built up Hitler and his Nazis. 80 years ago, on November 9th 1938, they began the violent extermination of the Jewish population; a few years later they went on to kill up to 27 million people in the Soviet Union– plus tragic numbers of Roma people, Poles, Yugoslavs, Italians… and Americans.

On that same date 29 years ago, East Germans cheered as they poured through the Berlin Wall and rejoiced at unification. Their jubilation was fully understandable. Only a minority feared that new freedoms, far more commodities and travel chances also opened the barriers for the return of those same business interests they had ejected after 1945. Now back with greater strength than ever, they began again, slicing at working people’s rights and spreading eastwards, building armies, training parachutists and drone experts. And, while looking slightly askance at their crudity, as in earlier years, they allowed murderous bands of stiff-armed, Hitler-tattooed thugs to open the path to new rounds of killing. This see-saw game can find a very terribly finale.

Categories: News for progressives

Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

The Republicans, worried that the party may lose two Senate seats, a Governor’s mansion, and probably a bunch more close races for the House over the counting of disputed mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, are drumming up conspiracy theories now. I just drove through Trump Country last night and listened to Fox Radio as the host (I think it was Laura Ingraham) and her call-ins denounced the recount battles as Democratic corruption.

The biggest laugh was when Ingraham noted that Floridians had passed a law that will (finally!) permit non-violent felons who have served their time to vote. She snarkily said, “We’ll see how that works out!” This, of course, after Republican voters in Southern California elected to the House two convicted felons.

At any rate, it needs to be pointed out to these people, who are either simply incapable of logic or just grabbing at straws to attack a legitimate need for a careful count of all ballots, that there are good reasons why signatures when a person votes, and when they originally registered to vote, can be different looking. My father-in-law is 91, and has palsied hands. When we tried to get him a mail ballot so he could vote at the nursing home he lives in, he enthusiastically signed the ballot application as best as he could. It was rejected by New Jersey authorities (NJ is a heavily Democratic state by the way and he happens to be a Democrat) because they said his signature didn’t match the one he signed five years ago when he and my mother-in-law moved to New Jersey from Florida and registered to vote when they got their state ID cards at the state Motor Vehicle Dept.

Of course his signatures don’t match! His hands were steady five years ago.

But no amount of phone calling about it would convince the Bergen County registrar to send out a mail ballot to his address, and as we live in Pennsylvania, and he, while of sound mind but on oxygen and bed-bound, is physically unable to take an ambulette trek to county offices just to prove he is who he is.

So he didn’t get to vote.

My mother-in-law, incidentally, did receive a mail ballot, though her signature, always illegible like her handwriting, is now perfectly neat (and perfectly different from the one she signed when she registered). This is because she has arthritic hands and at this point has to work at writing, so she does her signature carefully now, not as a fast scrawl as she used to do. Nobody noticed the difference when she applied for her ballot, but if she were still living in Broward County, Florida, irate Republicans and the party’s lawyers would probably be trying to have her consistently Democratic vote voided.

And it’s not just old people. I look at my signature today, which has over the years lost the Jr. (I stopped using that after my father died, since I never liked it anyhow, and it made no sense any longer), and which has gradually evolved from what it was when I first registered to vote at 21 in 1970 (a year before 18-year-olds got the vote) from something fairly legible to a mere approximation of letters. We all change our handwriting.

Beyond this, Republican critics of the slow counting of provisional ballots like Ingraham are deliberately not mentioning the reason there are so many in states like Arizona, and especially Georgia and Florida, that masses of provisional ballots cast. This is because they are a direct consequence of a long history of increasingly desperate Republican voter suppression efforts, designed to compensate for the inevitable decline in their numbers as aging white males become an ever-smaller percentage of the nation’s population.

A big suppression tactic in Florida and Georgia has been running registered voter list name checks against an outrageous national list of felons developed by the Darth Vader of voter disinfranchisement: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. As investigative journalist Greg Palast has proven, that list of Kobach’s includes huge numbers of John Smiths, Jim Johnsons, Tom Freemans or Freedmans, Carol Thomases etc. — all common names for African-Americans stuck with the surnames assigned to their forebears by the slaveowners who bought them.

The trick is, a corrupt Secretary of State like current embattled Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp (a man so corrupt he refused until forced yesterday by public pressure to step down from his current post as Secretary of State overseeing the count in his own election race), will alert county voter registrars that everyone on their lists who has “their” name appearing on the national felon-list should be scrubbed as a registered voter. When someone comes in to vote on Election Day with a suspect name, they are not allowed to vote but can request a provisional ballot, and then later prove they have no criminal record. In Florida, this dirty trick was applied so commonly and widely that it led to passage of the new law restoring citizenship rights to felons who have paid their “debt to society.”

Provisional ballots filled out as a consequence of such tactics should clearly be counted, not blocked from being counted by court action.

Another common Republican suppression tactic is to send postcards to registered voters at their last registered address, usually fairly close to an election, saying to return it if they live there. The cards look like junk mail, and require buying a stamp, so people receiving them may just toss them, and then later their names get wiped from the voter rolls, which they only discover when they try to vote. Or, since many low-income people, especially minorities, are renters and tend, much more than home owners, to move either to better digs if their income or family situation changes, or if they lose a job and have to downsize. That means they change addresses so the card never reaches them, and again they are wiped from the rolls. It’s a deliberate trick to deny the vote to people who have registered. Again, such people can demand a provisional ballot.

If they filled one out it should be counted.

Anyone who says otherwise is as corrupt as Kobach, who by the way managed to lose his race badly to a Democratic woman, who will now be the governor of Kansas, a state often described — but no more — as “the reddest of the red states.” (The state’s voters also elected a Democratic Native American lesbian to represent one of the state’s four Congressional districts — a huge and dramatic breakthrough in many ways.)

Voting may be over-rated as a way to effect change in this country, given our corrupted political system of two pro-corporate parties, and of unlimited money going to fund (bribe) candidates, but it is still important, and it is moreover a fundamental right of citizenship that was won for women and minorities as a result of major mass movement struggles, battles and blood. Those who deny it or who try to make it harder or impossible to exercise for certain classes or races of people are not just spitting on the Constitution, they are criminals far worse than most of the felons who are in most states being denied the right to vote.

Categories: News for progressives

Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch

— Adorno

In the English speaking world, Adorno is famously thought to have said that poetry after Auschwitz was impossible. In point of fact though, he actually said something perhaps even more problematic that “writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”.

Not surprisingly, these thoughts sprung from a deep sense of survivor’s guilt. Adorno often had dreams/hallucinations that his life post 1944 was a dead man’s dream that he had in fact perished in the war. His anguish was very real and is essential to understanding his life’s work.

The question for us however is whether or not Adorno was correct: was writing poetry after the Shoah an impossible, barbaric task?

Certainly any artistic production after the Shoah would have to be different.

Thinking deeply about the events that led to one of the great tragedies of Western civilization would lead to the gradual realization in the works of Todorov, Amery, Wiesel, Levi, Gide, Badiou, Finkielkraut, Sartre, Bauman and, of course, Adorno that something was generally and dreadfully wrong with that very same civilization; and that the German case was but an extreme example of a general trend.

Some of the famous commentators mentioned above felt that the fault variously lay with science, bureaucracy, instrumental reason, and capitalism. Others felt that the West, particularly through its experience with colonialism, generated a culture of genocide. Yet, whatever the ultimate reason or reasons for the Western urge to discipline, degrade, and finally destroy the other in their midst, one could argue that after Auschwitz many more people in the West became aware of this terrible destructive tendency and decided to take action.

Indeed, in a profound sense, the self-criticism of the West that gradually took place after the war could be said to have directly culminated in the events of 1968. Here after many years of painful self-examination a significant part of a whole generation of Westerners were to reject the past and in an act of Dionysian purification seek out new doors of perception and ways of being in the world.

Culturally, they were in part successful in that they were able to change the field of discourse having to do with the other whether black, gay, migrant, woman, Jew, Palestinian, or any other outsider or stranger. However, on the level of revolutionary praxis, the record is not so clear as hierarchic structures of domination and power lubricated by a global capitalist exchange system continues to prosper and thrive.

So what about the poets?

After Auschwitz, poetry perhaps must face two directions simultaneously. The elegiac and the hopeful.

With its mournful lyre attuned to the past, it should be mindful of the heinous crimes and helpless victims of the past.

With its inner strength for renewal, it should offer up paeans to the possible.

Thus, in the poetry of today, a critical self-consciousness of the past entwined with a hopeful Arendtian vision of regeneration could reopen a space for the rebirth of a new and vital civilization instead of an endless traumatic repetition of the barbaric.

Categories: News for progressives

Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:50

Maiko Zulu just before arrest at British High Commission, Lusaka, 27 September 2018.

The World Social Forum’s ‘Thematic Forum on Mining and Extractivism’ convenes from November 12-15 here in Johannesburg, just after the Southern Africa People’s Tribunal on Transnational Corporations. In between, at the notorious 2012 massacre site on the platinum belt to the west, there’s a launch of a new book – Business as Usual after Marikana– critical not only of the mining house Lonmin but of its international financiers and buyers.

This is the moment for a profoundly critical standpoint to take root, unhindered by ineffectual reformism associated with Corporate Social Responsibility gimmicks and the mining sector’s civilised-society watchdogging at the mainly uncritical Alternative Mining Indaba. That NGO-dominated event occurs annually in Cape Town every February, at the same time and place where the extractive mega-corporations gather.

The Thematic Forum firmly opposes ‘extractivism.’ Unlike the Indaba, it aims to connect the dots between oppressions, defining its target as extraction of “so-called natural resources” in a way that is “devastating and degrading,” since mining exacerbates “conditions of global warming and climate injustice. It subjects local economies to a logic of accumulation that privately benefits corporations,” and represses “traditional, indigenous and peasant communities by violations of human rights, affecting in particular the lives of women and children.”

The last point is not incidental, as two of the main organisers are the Southern Africa Rural Women’s Assembly and the WoMin network: “African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction.” Inspired by Amadiba Crisis Committee activists in the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, they’ve campaigned hard for the #Right2SayNo.

Last month, such rights language proved invaluable in the Constitutional Court here in Johannesburg, when the Itireleng community won a judgement against displacement from their farm, under attack by a local platinum mining house. (This was pleasantly surprising to many of us who are Court critics, given how much corporate power is hardwired into South Africa’s founding document.)

On the Wild Coast last month, South Africa’s Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe had shown how desperately he wants investment by the likes of aggressive Australian titanium mining firm MRC. But the Amadiba Crisis Committee and its allies have consistently shown their ability to say “No!”

No means no

The Forum’s opening morning features a demonstration at the nearby world headquarters of AngloGold Ashanti, the locally-listed firm shamed in 2005 by Human Rights Watch for its alliances with warlords during the minerals-related murder of millions of people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2011, AngloGold Ashanti won the title “world’s most irresponsible corporation” at the ‘Davos Public Eye’ ceremony organised outside the World Economic Forum by Greenpeace and the Berne Declaration.

Since then the firm has attracted even more intense community, labour, feminist and environmental protests from Chileto Colombia to Ghana to Guinea to Tanzania, as well as at home in South Africa over mass retrenchments, inadequate pay and delay of silicosis-related compensation payments. It’s a sick company, with its Johannesburg Stock Exchange price having fallen by more than half since a mid-2016 peak (and even further from its 2006-12 JSE valuations).

Criticised by investors who believe “AngloGold has not matched up to its global peers” in large part because of less profitable South African holdings, AngloGold Ashanti is rapidly exiting its home country. The firm made its fortune during the notorious 20thcentury era of extreme apartheid extractivism when it was run by the Oppenheimer family. Perhaps even worse is the new boss, Kelvin Dushnisky, who has presided over Toronto-based Barrick (the world’s largest gold producer, known in Africa as Acacia) during its recent reign of mining terrorism, including mass rape.

The mining corporations under fire at the Forum are not only the typical pinstriped, ethics-challenged cowboys from the London-Toronto-Melbourne-Joburg circuits. Next door in Mozambique, Rio-based Vale’s coal-mining operations at Moatize were disrupted last month, according to activist allies at the Associação de Apoio e Assistência Jurídica às Comunidades, due to “excessive pollution [and] acceleration of the decay of  houses due to explosion of dynamites.”

Albeit trying to “mask brutal exploitation with the language of South-South solidarity,” as documented by Canadian researcher Judith Marshall, Vale is brutal in numerous jurisdictions, judged by Berne Declaration and the Brazilian Movement of Landless Workers as worst company in the world in 2012 due to “its labour relations, community impact and environmental record.”

In Mozambique, Vale as well as the Indian firms Coal of India, Vedanta and Jindal have been criticised for displacement and destruction. Community protests against foreign companies are prolific in coal-rich Tete Province. Further east, on the Mozambican coastline, beach sands in some communities have been destroyed by the voracious Chinese firm Haiyu.

Complains a local resident who can no longer carry out fishing subsistence, Nassire Omar, “They owe us because they have taken our beautiful sand from us and left nothing. We don’t know the quantity of the sand that they took over seven years, but we know that they profited from it and we want our dues. They have taken all the riches here and left us with nothing.”

But it may be that Vedanta and its boss Anil Agarwal – who is also Anglo American Corporation’s largest single investor with more than 20% of shares – has witnessed the most sustained protest, including a mass protest in May against the ThoothukudiSterlite copper plant which his officials responded to with a massacre of 13 Indians demanding an end to pollution.

Protest against Africa’s largest copper mine, Konkola, centres on 1,826 Zambian farmers poisoned by Vedanta. Just before the London Stock Exchange delisting of Vedanta last month, popular reggae musician Maiko Zulu protested (and was arrested) at the British High Commission in Lusaka, demanding that authorities deny Agarwal his escape from London prior to justice being served. Agarwal bought that mine for $25 million in 2004 and a decade later bragged that ever since he had taken $500 million to $1 billion home from Konkola annually.

After extractivism

These sorts of Western+BRICS modes of super-exploitation exemplify the mineral, oil and gas looting underway across Africa. The uncompensated extraction of non-renewable resources amounts to an estimated $150 billion annually, far more even than the $50-80 billion Illicit Financial Flows and $50 billion in legal profit repatriation from Africa by mining and petroleum firms.

But increasingly, mining houses are pushing the people and environment too far, and resistance is rising. As Anglo American Corporation leader Mark Cutifani remarked in 2015, “There’s something like $25 billion worth of projects tied up or stopped” by mining critics across the world.

How activists can increase that figure is the topic of next week’s discussions, along with moving from these critiques to strategies for post-extractivist systems of political economy, political ecology and social reproduction.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:34

When OJ was acquitted the reactions of white Americans and black Americans illustrated how divergent our world views were. White America was appalled that someone who seemed so obviously to be guilty had gotten off, where black America saw an African-American finally beating a justice system that was rigged against them. The Kavanaugh hearings provided us with a similar experience. We saw two much different views and sets of values on display. On one side were all the women who had been victims of sexual assault and other expressions of misogyny along with the liberal men who sympathized with them. On the other side were all those white males who may or may not have abused women but who identified with someone they saw as unjustly accused, and with them were wives and mothers who sided with them. Underlying those reactions was a subtext on abortion and the Supreme Court. Those on the right who had voted for Trump did so in part to get a conservative judge appointed who would support their anti-abortion views. They saw the Democrats engaging in stealth by using Dr. Blasey Ford as a pawn to prevent Kavanaugh from being appointed because of how views on abortion.

Since abortion is such a divisive issue in America, Republican Senators shifted the focus to a defense of Kavanaugh by framing the narrative as an attack on him and his family over what they termed a questionable case of sexual assault. Republican Senators allowed Blasey Ford to tell her story, but because they controlled the event, they were able to frame her story in a way that lessoned its impact. And since the other parties who were willing to appear and who would have substantiated her accusations were not invited, Americans had to base their reactions on Blasey Ford’s account alone when, in fact, the other accusations along with Ford’s, create a compelling case against Kavanaugh’s character.In addition, Blasey Ford’s story includes sexual assault, but that is just part of the story. She was actually, for a short period of time, abducted by two older boys who pulled her into a room and locked the door. One looked on while the other, Kavanaugh, climbed on top of her and covered her mouth. The fact that Judge and Kavanaugh locked the door and in essence, gagged Ford, shows they knew that what they were doing was wrong. To a fifteen-year- old girl, this must have been terrifying. She was taken, silenced, pinned and attacked. This is sexual assault as an expression of power. Yet supporters of Kavanaugh didn’t really consider what happened to Blasey Ford. It’s as if they compartmentalized Blasey Ford’s story, dismissing the objectionable elements and reducing it to “horseplay” and “boys being boys.”

The mistake the Democrats made was in not framing Ford’s story as more than that and in not having the other victims: Swetnick and Ramirez come forward as well. If all three women, along with Kavanaugh’s freshman roommate (James Roche), had appeared on The View, The Today Show, etc., Kavanaugh would have been toast. It’s obvious that the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee did not think this through. Of course, Kavanaugh should not have been confirmed on the basis of the plethora of lies he told in the hearings. Not to mention the partisan nature of his remarks and the disrespect he showed Democratic Senators.

Whether Feinstein and company were intentionally using Blasey Ford as a proxy to attack a pro-life candidate or not, it wasn’t a great idea. The hearings clearly demonstrated the continuing sexist nature of a country where victimized women are ignored or attacked (Blasey Ford is still being threatened and is unable to return to work) and dismissed by men in power.Republicans and Trump managed to tap into a fear that American males, and some of their wives, have of women who attempt to confront their attackers.

It is true that the law is not very good at dealing with sexual assault since there is often little evidence to support a victim’s accusations. It may be necessary for a cultural shift to take place through changes in policies at work and in schools to foment the type of changes in attitude that have occurred in regard to homosexuality. That shift is happening, but our government, run by old white males, hasn’t quite caught up to it.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power

Tue, 2018-11-13 15:31

Soft power was always a term best suited for eunuchs.  It relies on persuasion, counsel and an air of seduction.  It does not imply actual force as such (often, that side of the bargain is hidden).  At its core are the presumed virtues of the product being sold, the society being advertised to others who are supposedly in the business of being convinced.  Joseph Nye came up with it in the groves of academe as the Cold War was coming to an end, and every policy maker supposedly worth his or her brief insists upon it.  (Since 1990, Nye has done another shuffle, attempting to market another variant of power: from soft, power has become erroneously sentient – or “smart”.)

Nye himself already leaves room for the critics to point out how the concept is, essentially, part of an advertising executive’s armoury, the sort an Edward Bernays of foreign affairs might embrace. It co-opts; it suggests indirectness; it is “getting others to want what you want” by shaping “the preferences of others”; it employs popular culture and concepts of political stability.  In a vulgar sense, it inspires envy and the need to emulate, stressing desire over substance.

The Australian Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs is currently chewing over soft power, having been taskedwith reviewing it by Julie Bishop when she was foreign minister.  Australian think tanks have been all praise for its mystical properties.  All rely on fictional measurements and surveys such as The Soft Power 30 index, which sounds awfully like a heavily carbonated soft drink.

The Australian Foreign Policy White Paper from 2017 also does its bit: it reads like a designer product flogged to the appropriate customers.  “Australia’s ability to persuade and influence others is underpinned by some enduring strengths.  Among these are our democracy, multicultural society, strong economy, attractive lifestyle and world-class institutions.”

This less than modest appraisal should immediately trigger the little grey cells of any sceptic.  Australia remains plagued by a policy towards refugees that would rank highly with most despotic states; it maintains, relative to other states, a low GDP-aid percentage and remains almost dangerously cosy to Washington. Then there is that issue of seasonal bloodletting of leaders that led the BBC to call the country the “coup capital of the democratic world.”

In truth, such concepts are frustratingly inchoate, the sort of piffle best kept in obscure management manuals and textbooks chocked with political sloganeering.  “Isn’t soft power like Fight Club?” came a seemingly puzzled foreign policy official to Caitlin Byrne, writing for The Strategist of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.  “And the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.”

Even Byrne concedes that soft power, in terms of language, is slippery and problematic. “Many equate ‘soft’ with ‘weak’ and ‘superficial’ or, worse still, ‘subversive’.  These terms rarely sit easily with those in the business of advancing national interests.” Recipients of such power can also be resentful, co-opted by the venture. (No one genuinely wants to be considered a case for charity.)

But such commentary is convinced there is a story to tell and, in the case of Canberra’s apparatchiks, Australia affords them ample opportunities.  “[T]he aim of soft power – to help shape an environment that is positively disposed to Australian foreign policy interests and values over the long term – is not to be dismissed if Australia is to navigate its way in a more contested region.”

Most recently, Australia’s tetchy Prime Minister Scott Morrison (daggy cap and all), has been busy pushing Australian credentials in the immediate region, throwing $2 billion at a new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific.  Another billion is also sought for Australia’s export financing agency.

What is striking in this endeavour is the language of ownership, part proprietary and part imperial.  “This is our patch,” Morrison explained to those at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville on Thursday. “This is where we have special responsibilities.  We always have, we always will.  We have their back, and they have ours.”  These are the vagaries of power.  “Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.” Diplomatic posts will be established in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands, all newly modelled sets of eyes.

In other instances, however, Australian policy makers want to do things on the cheap, showing a characteristic stinginess that praises Australian power and its institutional heft while trimming back services that might supply a “softer” edge.  Australia’s broadcasting capacity, notably in the short-wave sense, has diminished. Soft-power, note the propagandists, has been muted.

In January 31, 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ended shortwave broadcasts to the South Pacific, concluding a tradition that had lasted eight decades. “The choice is dumb,” suggested Graeme Dobbell, “because it misunderstands the central role radio still plays in the South Pacific.”  This has left the problematic question open as to what other Australian suppliers – of the commercial variety – will do to replace the content of the national broadcaster.

Most of all, and most critically, proponents of soft power in Australia fear a crowding, and crowding out threat: that of China, which operates as the putative cuckoo keen on pushing out the chicks of others.  This, aligned to the issue of creating more debt for the region, suggests potential exhaustion in the region.

Australia, ever sluggish and drugged by presumptions of allegiance from its Pacific neighbours (our backyard!), has previously ignored the increasingly important role Beijing is playing with the island states. A growing, even paranoid interest is now being shown towards the presence of Chinese aid and funded projects in the region.  There are also measures, tied to US strategic interests, of frustrating the efforts of such Chinese giants as Huawei, from achieving a greater measure of influence.

Morrison’s cavalier volunteering of taxpayer funded projects to lure Pacific neighbours away from Beijing’s “few-strings attached” load and aid program is something that will be looked at with enthusiasm if for no other reason that double dipping will be on offer.  From Papua New Guinea to Fiji, the options to milk the greed of powers have never been better, whatever nonsense soft power might entail. The problem of debt, however, will remain the lingering nuisance at the feast.

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Poppy Fascism and the English Education System

Mon, 2018-11-12 16:00

‘And still they teach you in your school, about those glorious days of rule’

What Jon Snow, the Channel 4 broadcaster (on English television), wisely discerned as ‘poppy fascism’ several years ago, reached its crescendo this weekend – as it does every year now it seems, with more vitality. However, this year, 2018, being the centenary of the Armistice of World War I, the crescendo’s pitch felt louder than usual.

As, mid-week, I watched Sky News Live on YouTube from my Philadelphia apartment, a seemingly unwitting child appeared on my screen and announced the importance of passing down the ‘knowledge’ of the First World War from those who had gone before him. This segment was aired alongside report on an ‘artist’ [read, ‘lunatic’] named Rob Heard who had carved thousands of wooden figurines, over a period of five years, of British soldiers killed in the conflict and laid them out on the ground somewhere in England to commemorate this centenary of futile slaughter. No context, ever.

Lest we get ahead of ourselves and assume that the fanaticism cease there, we’re reminded intermittently throughout the week from various English news sources that 10,000 torches (remember those torches carried by Trumpite fascists in Charlottesville last year?) are lit each night at the Tower of London to remember the ‘fallen’.

But the brief interview Sky had conducted with the young boy sparked a reminder in me of a line or two from Ireland’s chief political troubadour in present times, Damien Dempsey:

And still they teach you in your school
About those glorious days of rule
And how it’s your destiny to be
Superior to me

What must the history curriculum be of these children, in the country on whose empire the sun would never set? A cursory smidgín (smidgeon; a borrowed word from Irish aka Gaeilge) of research reveals that although the master curriculum of schools in England, and by forced extension Wales and Scotland, mentioned the history of colonisation of other countries, these aspects were not ‘statutory’. Essentially, there exists an aspirational wish list of what the general child and teenage populace of the UK might learn in school, but which we know in reality is reduced in the majority of cases to the banal study of royal lineage – or, in many cases, imperial/capitalist homage.

How can the Irish state, or those who reside in it, sustain a justifiable complaint without seeming hypocritical? Did we not allow the removal of history from the Junior Cert [middle school] cycle as a core subject? Without protest, without a murmur – really.

The chief protagonists in decolonial discourse in modern times appear to emanate not from Ireland, but from elsewhere; from other formerly colonised climbs. Shashi Tharoor, an Indian parliamentarian and academic, has spoken vociferously in recent years about the violent colonialism of Britain and the Raj in his country of origin. Yet, all the crimes of Britain have seemed to ring silent in Ireland – England’s first colony ‘lest we forget’ – as each November rolls around.

Indeed, not only does the so-called Irish state see fit to erect a garishly large World War I ‘haunting soldier’ sculpture in one of the crucibles of revolutionary republican resistance in 1916 (St. Stephen’s Green), its promoters such as Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach/Prime Minister) and Frank Feighan (TD/Minister/general West-British lickspittle) insist we wear a shamrock emblazoned with a blood-stained poppy. What a sham, indeed.

Opponents will trot out the usual defence; that, we ought to remember ‘all those who died’ in the past for humanitarian reasons. This, however, clearly glosses over the actual remembrance element of the poppy, which is supposedly so central to its symbolism. Current British soldiers – who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq – give regular media interviews for British media outlets that clearly link the senseless slaughter of yesteryear with contemporary imperial exploits.

Why is it never even mooted that the alternative white poppy (which is sans the British Legion baggage), symbolising peace and an end to all war, be worn? The simple, and the truest, answer is because the red – as opposed to the white – poppy, is utilised to advance a militarist agenda in Britain. One which is eerily reminiscent of the militarism of the early twentieth century in the lead-up to World War I.

The irony of all this, of course, is that sportsmen like James McClean, the ‘Republic’ of Ireland international soccer player, who dare to reject this rank poppy militarism/fascism, face the wrath of a large swathe of the British public whose very forbears supposedly fought to quell the advance of authoritarianism and intolerance between 1939-1945. Lest we forget, indeed.

Categories: News for progressives

Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon

Mon, 2018-11-12 16:00

The decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Intermediate Nuclear Force Agreement (INF) appears to be part of a broader strategy aimed at unwinding over 50 years of agreements to control and limit nuclear weapons, returning to an era characterized by the unbridled development weapons of mass destruction.

Terminating the INF treaty—which bans land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of between 300 and 3400 miles— is not, in and of itself, a fatal blow to the network of treaties and agreements dating back to the 1963 treaty that ended atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. But coupled with other actions—George W. Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 and the Obama administration’s program to upgrade the nuclear weapons infrastructure— the tapestry of agreements that has, at least in part, limited these terrifying creations, is looking increasingly frayed.

“Leaving the INF,” says Sergey Rogov of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies, “could bring the whole structure of arms control crashing down.”

Lynn Rusten, the former senior director for arms control in the National Security Agency Council warns, “This is opening the door to an all-out arms race.”

Washington’s rationale for exiting the INF Treaty is that the Russians deployed the 9M729 cruise missile that the US claims violates the agreement, although Moscow denies it and the evidence has not been made public. Russia countercharges that the US ABM system—Aegis Ashore—deployed in Romania and planned for Poland could be used to launch similar medium range missiles.

If this were a disagreement over weapon capability, inspectionswould settle the matter. But the White House—in particular National Security Advisor John Bolton—is less concerned with inspections than extracting the US from agreements that in any way restrain the use of American power, be it military or economic. Thus, Trump dumped the Iran nuclear agreement, not because Iran is building nuclear weapons or violating the agreement, but because the administration wants to use economic sanctions to pursue regime change in Teheran.

In some ways, the INF agreement is low hanging fruit. The 1987 treaty banned only land-based medium range missiles, not those launched by sea or air —where the Americans hold a strong edge—and it only covered the U.S. and Russia. Other nuclear-armed countries, particularly China, India, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan have deployed a number of medium range nuclear-armed missiles. One of the arguments Bolton makes for exiting the INF is that it would allow the US to counter China’s medium range missiles.

But if the concern was controlling intermediate range missiles, the obvious path would be to expand the treaty to other nations and include air and sea launched weapons. Not that that would be easy. China has lots of intermediate range missiles, because most its potential antagonists, like Japan or US bases in Asia, are within the range of such missiles. The same goes for Pakistan, India, and Israel.

Intermediate range weapons—sometimes called “theater” missiles—do not threaten the US mainland the way that similar US missiles threaten China and Russia. Beijing and Moscow can be destroyed by long-range intercontinental missiles, but also by theater missiles launched from ships or aircraft. One of the reasons that Europeans are so opposed to withdrawing from the INF is that, in the advent of nuclear war, medium-range missiles on their soil will make them a target.

But supposed violations of the treaty is not why Bolton and the people around him oppose the agreement. Bolton called for withdrawing from the INF Treaty three years before the Obama administration charged the Russians with cheating. Indeed, Bolton has opposed every effort to constrain nuclear weapons and has already announced that the Trump administration will not extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires in 2021.

START caps the number of US and Russian deployed nuclear weapons at 1550, no small number.

The Bush administration’s withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty in 2002 was the first major blow to the treaty framework. Anti-ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing, because the easiest way to defeat such systems is to overwhelm them by expanding the number of launchers and warheads. Bolton—a longtime foe of the ABM agreement—recently bragged that dumping the treaty had no effect on arms control.

But the treaty’s demise has shelved START talks, and it was the ABM’s deployment in Eastern Europe—along with NATO’s expansion up to the Russian borders—that led to Moscow deploying the cruise missile now in dispute.

While Bolton and Trump are more aggressive about terminating agreements, it was the Obama administration’s decision to spend $1.6 trillion to upgrade and modernize US nuclear weapons that now endangers one of the central pillars of the nuclear treaty framework, the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

That agreement ended the testing of nuclear weapons, slowing the development of new weapons, particularly miniaturization and warheads with minimal yields. The former would allow more warheads on each missile, the latter could increase the possibility of using nuclear weapons without setting off a full-scale nuclear exchange.

Nukes are tricky to design, so you don’t want to deploy one without testing it. The Americans have bypassed some of the obstacles created by the CTBT by using computers like the National Ignition Facility. The B-61 Mod 11 warhead, soon-to-be-deployed in Europe, was originally a city killer, but labs at Livermore, CA and Los Alamos and Sandia, NM turned it into a bunker buster, capable of taking out command and control centers buried deep in the ground.

Nevertheless, the military and the nuclear establishment—ranging from companies such as Lockheed Martin and Honeywell International to university research centers—have long felt hindered by the CTBT. Add the Trump administration’s hostility to anything that constrains US power and the CTBT may be next on the list.

Restarting nuclear testing will end any controls on weapons of mass destruction. And since Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires nuclear-armed powers to eventually disarm their weapons of mass destruction, that agreement may go as well. In a very short time countries like South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia will join the nuclear club, with South Africa and Brazil in the wings. The latter two countries researched producing nuclear weapons in the 1980s, and South Africa actually tested one.

The demise of the INF agreement will edge the world closer to nuclear war. Since medium range missiles shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack from 30 minutes to 10 minutes or less, countries will keep their weapons on a hair trigger. “Use them or lose them” is the philosophy that impels the tactics of nuclear war.

In the past year, Russia and NATO held very large military exercises on one another’s borders. Russian, US and Chinese fighter planes routinely play games of chicken. What happens when one of those “games” goes wrong?

The US and the Soviet Union came within minutes of an accidental war on at least two occasions, and, with so many actors and so many weapons, it will be only a matter of time before some country interprets a radar image incorrectly and goes to DEFCON 1—imminent nuclear war.

The INF Treaty came about because of strong opposition and huge demonstrations in Europe and the United States. That kind of pressure, coupled with a pledge by countries not to deploy such weapons, will be required again, lest the entire tapestry of agreements that kept the horror of nuclear war at bay vanish.

Categories: News for progressives

Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:58

When it comes to planetary carnage, Trump (Amerika’s president) is facing strong competition. Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro aka “Tropical Trump” will likely outdo Amerika’s destroy the EPA Trump. Bolsonaro declared war on the Amazon rainforest. Thus, he’ll likely outpace Trump’s arbitrary efforts at eco annihilation because he has a much bigger target!

The Amazon Rainforest, affectionately known as “the planet’s lungs,” inhales CO2 and exhales precious oxygen (“O”), which serves as a life force for every living being on the planet. As a result, everybody from New Zealand to Finland is impacted by what happens to the global rainforests, as unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the tropical rainforest does not stay in the tropical rainforest.

Significantly, a University of Leeds study found forests absorb 35% of human-made fossil fuel emissions (CO2) every year. Dr. Simon Lewis, a tropical ecologist from the University of Leeds and co-author of the study, said trees are much more important to tackling climate change than previously thought. (Source: Forests Absorb One-Third of Global Fossil Fuel Emissions, University of Leeds, Environment News, July 15, 2011)

“The large uptake of CO2 by forests implies that the world’s agricultural lands, grasslands, desert and tundra each play a more limited role as globally significant carbon dioxide sources or sinks at present. This new information can help pinpoint where actions to conserve carbon sinks are likely to have most impact,” Ibid.

Coincidentally, at approximately the same time as Bolsonaro won election (Oct. 28th) to the presidency a group of UK scientists issued a Declaration of Rebellion (October 31st ) against the UK government “for criminal inaction in the face of climate change catastrophe and ecological collapse.” Thus, proving that eco turmoil reigns supreme all across the planet, as destructionists versus protectionists factions accelerate on both ends of the biosphere spectrum.

Meanwhile and in consideration of the aforementioned, Bolsonaro’s assault on rainforests is a declaration of war against all of humanity. Informed sources claim Bolsonaro deforestation of Amazonia will exceed 3xs current levels of obliteration. That’s impending disaster for global warming and a huge threat to ecosystems and life everywhere.

Bolsonaro’s war plan is exhaustive: (1) expand agriculture into indigenous lands (2) build Amazonia highways (3) infrastructure projects and (4) major mines, as “Amazonia transforms into a commodity for export.” But, that particular export is much more than a commodity; it is the life support system for the entire planet.

As such, the presidency of Brazil presupposes a special obligation to the world to husband 2/3rds of Amazonia for the benefit of humankind.

However, with the new presidency an ugly situation may develop. A worst-case basis could go so far as the Amazon morphing into a fantasyland with highways, gas stations, fast food, motels, souvenirs, Disneyland guided tours into the dark, deep mysterious forest, photographing indigenous people of 240 known tribes, as they dart from hiding spot to hiding spot. And, that’s only lightweight fantasy stuff whereas the heavyweight climate change consequences will be utterly disastrous for all life on the planet.

To ensure protection of rural properties Bolsonsaro intends to revise the country’s “disarmament law” and allow weapons to be carried for “protection of rural properties.” Undoubtedly, this will increase violence in Amazonia where there are already thousands of murders per year.

Not only that, Brazil is the world’s deadliest country for eco activists. According to At What Costs? in 2017 fifty-seven (57) activists were murdered. Agribusiness is the most dangerous industry for people who defend forests, rivers, and homesteads. With the Bolsonaro regime in charge a sharp increase in the murder rate is guaranteed. Activists beware!

Bolsonaro is the avatar of nationalism, authoritarianism, racism, misogyny, and anti-free press. Part of Bolsonaro’s raison d’etre involves conspiratorial fear of a global plot to take charge over Amazonia, thereby stepping on Brazilian sovereignty. In point of fact, that would be a blessing for the world.

On the campaign trail he called for an end to all activists and vowed to expel international environmental organizations, like Greenpeace and WWF. To help enforce law and order, he intends to alter Brazil’s anti-terrorism laws to reclassify as “terrorists” any organization involved in social movements, for example, Brazilia’s Landless Rural Worker’s Movement.

According to WWF, 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years. With published numbers like that it’s little wonder that Bolsonaro wants to “ban the World Wildlife Fund from Brazil.”
Inspiring a group of supporters at a final campaign rally, Bolsonaro promised that “red leftist” political rivals “either go overseas or they go to jail… These red outlaws will be banished from our homeland. It will be a cleanup the likes of which has never been seen in Brazilian history.” (Source: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Threatens Purge of Leftwing ‘Outlaws’ The Guardian, Oct. 22, 2018)
The risks are enormous as deliberate deforestation of sizeable chunks of Amazonia enhances prospects of runaway global warming. Amazonia contains a large stock of carbon that releases greenhouse gases (GHG) with deforestation. Whereas, maintenance of carbon stocks in Amazonia helps considerably to avoid the curse of global warming.

Additionally, Amazonia recycles an enormous amount of water. Brazil’s Southeastern region, including São Paulo as well as neighboring countries, are major recipients of this transport. In fact, on a global scale, Amazonia hydrology impacts water precipitation as far away as the cornfields of Iowa and wheat fields of Canada.

Newly elected President Bolsonaro’s first foreign visits will be to Chile, Israel and the US. He describes them as countries that “share our worldview.”

Accordingly the world’s largest economy, the U.S. and the world’s 5th largest country, Brazil, share disdain for science and a nasty distaste for global efforts to confront global warming. The respective leaders are fanatical eco assassins.

Ever since 2016, the outlook for the health of the planet grows worse with every far right election victory. Strangely, citizens impulsively vote for the equivalence of seppuku or Japanese self-inflicted disembowelment.

Categories: News for progressives

Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:58

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.”

― Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston

Not all heroes wear the uniform of war.

In the United States, however, we take particular pride in recognizing as heroes those who have served in the military.

Yet while we honor our veterans with holidays, parades, discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and endless political rhetoric about their sacrifice and bravery, we do a pitiful job of respecting their freedoms and caring for their needs once out of uniform.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today is America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

Still, the government’s efforts to wage war on veterans, especially those who speak out against government wrongdoing, is downright appalling.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for having served in the military.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

This is not the first time that psychiatry has been used to exile political prisoners.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of rendering them disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History: “The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis

“denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.”

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have. Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about government programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Remember: no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

So if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, here’s a suggestion: skip the parades and the retail sales and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans risked their lives to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

Freedom is not free.

It’s time the rest of the nation started to pay the price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.

Categories: News for progressives

Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:56

One cannot serve both the one percent and the 99 percent as their interests are at odds with each other. Although many join for righteous reasons, actions speak louder than intentions. Actions of the U.S. military has always been death, destruction, anguish of the working class, and entitlements for the elites. When the ruling class benefits it’s always at the expense of the poor.

I’m a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Not only that, I’m a veteran of both surges. Eight years after separating from the military I see that I did not provide a service for my country. Clearly the wars have sucked our hard-working dollars and placed them on a silver platter for the economic ruling class–war contractors (oops I mean ‘defense’ contractors), politicians, and corporations that literally profit from the death of innocent people, including little children.

Although I served in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper working as a mechanic, the world sees me as nothing but an imperialist watchdog. The people impacted by the wars in which I participated don’t care about the difference between an infantry soldier and an administrative paper-pusher. It’s all the same to them: soldiers occupying their homelands and pointing weapons at innocent people, like women, children, and the elderly.

When I visited Palestine last year for the first time, a local Palestinian activist greeted our delegation with open arms. I traveled with the organization Veterans For Peace. In many languages, the word ‘veteran’ is not translatable. Most languages refer to veterans as ‘retired soldiers’ or a similar translation. After a while, I explained that some of us ‘veterans’ had fought in the Iraq War. Our host’s face lit up with shock and anxiety. He began to tell his friends around us and began ranting while pointing his finger at me. I only remember one thing he said: “I will never forgive you for what you have done!” I just sat there in tears. He was absolutely right.

I realized in that moment that there is no forgiveness for destroying an entire country–generations of Iraqis whose lives have been shattered. Was I to explain to him about my intention of providing a service to my country? Was I to justify the wars that are rooted in his oppression? Was I to justify the actions of the troops that deny his humanity and right to exist? We all know that answer.

The Arab world isn’t the only group impacted by U.S. imperialism. Even veterans suffer. Veteran suicides are currently an epidemic. If veterans provided a real service to their fellow countrymen and women, why would they end their own lives? Providing a service to people we love is a fulfilling duty, one I would say all human beings inherently want to do. We are social creatures. Without each other, we cease to be human. What would be a real service is helping veterans who are considering suicide, not promoting another war based on lies, racism, and the drive for corporate profits.

We often hear troops saying that they love providing a service to their country and veterans speaking about their service with pride. But how did they provide a service? After 17 years of endless war in the Middle East, we are mired in more conflicts while the majority of the population suffers from economic distress. The war contractors and corporations are richer than ever. Our local water sources are poisoned, and the United States consists of the most obese population in the world. The U.S. security apparatus is stronger than ever before and the strongest in the world. We have TSA patting us down at airports, police officers shooting innocent people, corporations working with government agencies to conduct illegal surveillance on their own people, politicians spouting off lies, and the wars just keep on going. How has the serviceof veterans helped this country?

The only service which veterans have provided has been for the ruling class, the top ten percent of this country. The rest of us are worried about rent, our children’s future, and the threat of annihilation caused by climate change (an actual threat). We, as a nation, need to come to terms with this. The troops are not providing a service but rather are watch dogs for the imperialist ruling class who continue to benefit from death and destruction around the globe. Seven countries are currently being bombed, eight hundred military bases exist in eighty countries, counter-terrorist operations continue in 76 countries, and the blowback of these actions will be worse than al-Qaeda and ISIS combined. This is not a service to anyone.

I once wore the uniform with pride. I came from a family full of people who wore the same uniform. I dutifully deployed overseas and put my life in danger to fight for a cause that I thought was real. In the end, I realized it was all a lie. I was used, then discarded like a rag not worth washing. Twenty veterans commit suicide every day. I know I am not alone. Calling our fighting in the military a service is a disservice. It’s a disservice to the Iraqis, the Afghans, our own people, and the entire world which suffers from US militarism one way or another.

Did I provide a service to the people of Iraq? I say no after learning the US and coalition forces killed half a million innocent people and the creation of ISIS was simply blowback from US atrocities. Did I provide a service to the people of Afghanistan? I say no after learning the surge completely failed and actually caused terrorism to grow. Did I provide a service to Americans? I say no after learning that our economy still hasn’t recovered to pre-2008 economic levels and that economic inequality is at its highest ever in this country’s entire existence.

Since becoming an anti-war activist and organizer, I learned how the wars in which I participated actually did more harm than good. The wars wasted tax dollars, distracted us from addressing climate change, tortured and killed innocent civilians, and none of this is helping my fellow veterans with the silent epidemic of suicide. The people of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other nations the Pentagon is currently destroying continue their lives in a wretched existence, partly caused by my own ignorance, which led me to fight for the interest of the elite in battles they themselves would never fight. The working class of one country is fighting and killing the working class of another while the elite sit back in their leather seats with money spilling out of their pant pockets.

The best thing I have done is admit to myself that I had no idea what I participated in. It led me to ask questions and seek answers which would have never come from my chain of command. My self-confession drove me to learn more and inevitably changed the course of my life. I am now more cautious of my actions, and indeed the words I use, for I know that my actions and language have impact on the world. In doing so, I’ve flipped my world upside down. I once was an ignorant soldier who obeyed commands without thought but today I question all illegitimate authority I encounter. I understand the decisions I make today will have lifelong consequences for myself and others around me. Never again will I provide a service to the ruling elite. Never again will I fight for the rich. Never again will I sacrifice my life for a cause I do not understand. This all started with denouncement of one word, service.

Will Griffin is the director of The Peace Report with over 150,000 followers on social media. He was deployed to Iraq when President Bush announced the surge in 2007 and in Afghanistan when President Obama announced the surge in 2009. He is now a full-time anti-war activist, organizer, and speaker.

Categories: News for progressives

Harold Pinter’s America: a Giant Criminal Conspiracy…

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:53

If you’ve never read or seen Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, it’s amazing—a 46-minute piece of thunderous power—but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. Pinter’s plays, when well-acted, braid together moments of existential terror and electric comedy, but his Nobel speech is not a bundle of laughs.  It begins with an intriguing but much too long rumination on his creative process, but just when you think he’s going to call it a wrap, he suddenly pivots from the inward to the outward and begins a furious condemnation of the United States government that kicks so hard and hurts so deeply that it makes you ashamed not to be an outright leftist revolutionary.  He forces us to look at what the great William Burroughs called the “naked lunch”—calmly but viciously indicting us for our crimes in South America and all around the world.  And though he delivered the speech in 2005, it could run as an op-ed piece today, with only a few minor details changed.

Watching the speech is exponentially scarier than reading it.  Pinter couldn’t travel to Stockholm to accept the prize in person because he was hospitalized with some God-awful kind of cancer, so he sent a video which shows him sitting in a chair with a blanket on his knees, obviously ill, but methodically building his indictment as he stares at the camera, as if daring you to look away. And you want to look away.  You don’t want to be a silent partner in all the murders we commit, all the rapes we encourage, all the torture we teach and practice, all the money we steal, all the air and water and creatures we poison, all the stupidity manufactured by our media, all the—well, you get the picture. To wit: “the United States has supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths,” Pinter asks: “Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy?” Then he answers his own question: “The answer is yes, they did take place, and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.”

Pinter, ever the changeling, suddenly becomes a character in one of his plays, slipping into the speech-rhythms that make his work so seductive as he describes America’s vision of history: “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Take a bow, Barack Obama.

“I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love. It’s a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, ‘the American people’, as in the sentence, ‘I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.

Pinter, the genius, dreamed President Donald Trump into existence thirteen years ago!  Donald fucking Trump, not only a criminal but a sloppy and incompetent criminal, a “total loser” in any meaningful sense—since the real game is compassion, generosity of spirit, and creativity, and people like Donald Trump don’t even know the game has started.

Perhaps we all joined together with Pinter and co-wrote Trump into the White House. Perhaps we needed to see the naked lunch up close, writhing on the tines of our fork.

And here’s what’s on the menu: two political parties engaged in idiotic bickering on TV, a bloated moron president who walks around with toilet paper stuck to his shoe–an extremely unhealthy guy who shows clear signs of dementia and who wasn’t that bright to begin with, a waddling nitwit who not only fails to cover up his petty crimes but is so dumb that he scatters clues wherever he goes.

But he’s a “winner!”

But, of course, he’s also an easy target.  Following Pinter’s logic, why doesn’t MSNBC, for example, provide even the merest wisp of historical context when covering all their Breaking News?  Let’s take a quick look at the big stories of the past few weeks and look for America’s role in them.

Story: the “caravan” of asylum seekers from Honduras, reported so breathlessly right up to election night and then dropped completely the next day.  Needless to say, these fellow human beings are fleeing a fascist dystopia that we created through decades of imposing hideous dictatorships, funded by Clintons and Bushes alike, and supported by top-notch death squads.  We have turned the Honduran world into such a hell that all they can do is grab their babies and walk into the distance, without food or water, refugees from the misery we created.

None of this, of course, is ever mentioned on MSNBC.  (Maybe it’s just coincidence, but Hillary Clinton is actually proud of the role we played down there.)

Story: wildfires all over my adopted state of California.  Exciting TV footage—high drama!—but it’s as if all these fires are burning in a vacuum, in a world of deafening silence, where America’s creation of a never-ending drought has brought another kind of hell into being.

Story: one more traumatized veteran enacts the ultimate American male-bonding ritual of murdering his brothers and sisters, a young man who was troubled from childhood and should never have been sent to fight in a never-ending war in Afghanistan that never should have started and will seemingly never end.  But no mention of what he saw and did in that endless war, what nightmarish images burned themselves into the fragile tissue of his brain.  Again: a scene ripped out of context, just the big action sequence with the Glock and the smoke bombs and the blood and the dead, but none of the backstory that might stimulate our thinking or give us any insight into war-trauma and its effect on troubled soldiers, who continue to kill themselves in horrifying numbers.

On and on. But, as Pinter points out so eloquently, America is never to blame.  Not for the hideous torture and murder of Khashoggi; not for the creation of violent gangs throughout South America, not for any of it—“America is great because America is good,” as Hillary Clinton so inanely claimed.

As if replying to Hillary, here’s Pinter: “It’s a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.”

So: what to do?

Like you, I grapple with this riddle every day.  Yesterday the local LA news showed a man wearing a surgical mask to minimize his smoke inhalation, using a garden hose in a feeble and pathetic attempt to water down the embers of his house, which was completely burned down.  When the camera pulled back, you could see that his car and his SUV had also been burned into twisted gray sculptures, barely recognizable as vehicles any more. It looked like Iraq after our magical Shock and Awe attack. The TV reporter didn’t even try to hide her bewilderment: the area was under an evacuation order, little snake-like flames were flicking up out of nowhere as embers drifted on the Santa Anna wind, the man’s surgical mask was useless against the smoke, and the house was completely gone.  But still he stood there at the edge of the wreckage, aiming his slender green garden house against the leaping embers, a dribble of water against the all-powerful fire.  I became somewhat obsessed by this guy.  He was obviously, in that moment, completely insane, not to put too fine a point on it.  The fight was over.  Fire had won; human beings had lost.  And yet there was a poignant kind of courage in the man that I couldn’t help but admire. If all you have to fight with is a garden hose, then you fight with a garden hose.  Maybe you can salvage one single keepsake—one photograph of your grandfather; one set of earrings you bought for your wife twenty years ago…

It’s better than nothing. Anything is better than nothing.

So even as I watch the fires burning across America–the visible fires and the hidden fires that Pinter described with such painful clarity—I hold my garden hose aloft.  Last week I talked with a Lyft driver from El Salvador, a 60=year-old man who told me how the American-supported death squads came to his village and murdered every person and animal without mercy or passion, as if simply doing a job; he survived by hiding, but the rest of his family was killed.  And yet it meant something to him—something important—that one of his passengers actually knew about his story, and cared about his story.  In the emotion of the moment I apologized to him, as an American citizen, for my inability to stop my government from murdering his family.

I guess that apology was my garden hose.  A feeble, even laughable stream of water against all those flying embers. Tomorrow my garden hose might be a conversation with my son about some other aspect of our history and culture that he needs to question for himself.  Or to stop and talk to a homeless veteran. Or to write a piece for CounterPunch.  Harold Pinter, wracked by cancer, insisted on bearing witness to the truth about America. I can’t approach his eloquence, but as a citizen of America I can do no less.

Categories: News for progressives

Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:51

Since Donald Trump’s selection as president two years ago, a growing movement of citizens has been fighting back at what it sees as a dangerous march toward fascism US style. And, despite the election of some progressive candidates in the midterm elections, it would be a mistake to count on them alone to interrupt the erosion of an already tattered democracy in a largely corporate controlled society.

Still, the diverse community of activists, old and young—a veritable rainbow coalition—is already a force, both as potential allies to the newly elected progressives and as a check on them to follow through on their campaign promises.

Like many born after World War II and before the moon landing in 1969, my activism began in the 1960s, volunteering for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign and as an anti-Vietnam war protestor. Ever since, I have been a part of a range of campaigns and causes, in recent years focusing on challenging men’s violence against women and working to transform masculinity. Today’s activists, from Black Lives Matter to 350.org, for example, count at their core women—many active well before the Women’s March—who have long been leading the way in a feminist wave revitalizing activism today.

In campaigning in the midterms, activists saw a simultaneous truth: in addition to the energy and enthusiasm many felt in working to help the Democrats take back the House of Representatives, they also recognized that electoral politics alone cannot fix a broken system. Those outraged by the white supremacist misogynist temporarily residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue felt that working to flip the house was a struggle worth engaging in.

For my part, I spent the final week of Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat Ted Cruz, “block walking” the streets in a mix of neighborhoods across Dallas. Thousands were doing the same across the state, including those I walked with, from one of my daughters to a history professor from Kentucky, to a Mexican American X-ray technician. Our shared experience created a powerful bond which has only strengthened my conviction that activists double down to advance grassroots movements.

I talked—and listened—to voters, many of them exercising their franchise for the first time in years. I heard how marginalized they feel and how—for a moment, anyway—Beto’s candidacy interrupted their despair. Was it an illusion that the charismatic progressive 46-old Congress member from El Paso could transform conservative Christian Texas? Could he lift up the spirits of the disenfranchised, including Mexican-Americans and non-citizen Mexican and Central American residents, fearful of an administration relentlessly threatening them? He certainly tried. His message was inclusive; he recognized the diversity in the state’s 30 million citizens, and he spoke to voters’ better angels—standing up for families, for teachers, for communities of color, for gays, lesbians and transgender Texans. Beto became the embodiment of hope for progressives from coast to coast. If hope is a muscle, Beto showed Texas what it looked like when it was exercised.

Yes, Ted Cruz is still the state’s junior senator. But as a Texas native told me in a Dallas coffee shop the day after the election, that a Democrat came as close as Beto came to unseating Cruz is proof the state is changing. (And the results of many races statewide backed up his contention.)

On my last day of canvassing, I knocked on the door of a 75-year-old African American man with a trimmed white beard. He closely resembled the late actor and activist Ossie Davis. He appreciated my being there but told me he thought it was time for the younger generation to step up. “We’ve done our walking,” he said, noting my white hair and beard. “It’s their time now.” I nodded, but added, “It’s still our time, too. We can’t stop now.” As I headed down his front walk, he called to me. I turned to him standing in his doorway. “I’m not gonna say good luck,” he said. We’re gonna need more than luck.”

Categories: News for progressives

Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:47

President Donald J. Trump has a special, strained take on the world.  Defeat is simply victory viewed in slanted terms.  Victory for the other side is defeat elaborately clothed.  Both views stand, and these alternate with a mind bending disturbance that has thrown the sceptics off any credible scent.  “It wasn’t me being slow,” came Frank Bruni’s lamentation in The New York Times. “It was America.”  Dazzlingly unsettling, the results has been tight “but many of the signals they sent were mixed and confusing.”

Those daring to make predictions that the House would fall to the Democrats were not disappointed, even if they could not be said to be spectacular.  Losses to the incumbent party in the White House in the mid-terms tends to be heavy, varying between 24 and 30.  President Barack Obama’s presidency bore witness to 63 loses to his party in 2010.  On this occasion, the GOP yielded ground in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Senate, just to press home the sheer polarity of the results, slid further into red territory.  Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who had, in any case, been deemed quite vulnerable in the state, fell to Mike Braun.  Braun was one who drank from the cup of Trumpism, a move which seems to have paid off.  Missouri Democratic senator Clair McCaskill succumbed to Republican challenger Josh Hawley. North Dakota also turned red.

The Democrats showed some resurgence in various state level capitols. Key governor’s seats were reclaimed, though their victories in Illinois, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin were matched by Republicans clawing on to Florida.  The governor’s offices of Arizona and Ohio also remained in the hands of the GOP.  The defeat of Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin was particularly sweet, given his lingering dedication to the abridgment of union rights that resulted in an effective end to collective bargaining for public workers.

Moving aside the gripping minutiae and individual bruising, and the US is a state fractured and splintering, putting pay to such notions as “waves” of any one party coming over and overwhelming opponents.  Walls – psychic, emotional and philosophical – have been erected through the country.

Rural areas remain estranged from their urban relatives; urban relatives remain snobbishly defiant, even contemptuous, of the interior.  “The midterms,” came a gloomy Mike Allen in Axios AM, “produced a divided Congress that’s emblematic of a split America, drifting further apart and pointing to poisonous years ahead.”  The angry voter was very much in vogue, be it with record liberal turnouts in suburbs, or high conservative voter participation in Trumpland.

What Trump succeeded in doing after the mid-terms was implanting himself upon the GOP, grabbing the party by the throat, thrashing it into a sense that their hope of survival in the next two years rests with him.  He could blame losses on Republicans who decided to keep him at tongs length, those who “didn’t embrace me”, while Democrats who sided against his choice of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh were duly punished.

Trump could also smirk with excitement that the punditry is still awry about how to assess the US political landscape. Republican pollster Frank Luntz insists in a magical two to three percent “hidden Trump” vote that analysts refuse to factor into their calculations.

The news conference in the East Room provided Trump the perfect platform to spin, adjust and revise.  He also reverse heckled, striking out at journalists with brutal surliness.  PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor was accused of asking a “racist question” in pressing for his position on white nationalists. “It’s a very terrible thing that you said.”

He could also weigh heavily into his favourite playground targets, one being CNN’s Jim Acosta.  “CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them.  You are a rude, terrible person.  You shouldn’t be working for CNN.” (The politics of playground fancy also took another turn, with Acosta’s accreditation subsequently suspended “until further notice” by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.)

As has been frequent, if scattered, the president was not entirely off the message in attempting to reason the results.  The “wave” that was supposedly to come from the Democrats had not exactly drowned the GOP, and in terms of performance, he could happily point to a Republican increase of numbers in the Senate.

He then brandished a weapon he has mastered since he became president: the art, less of the deal than the diversion. Within hours of the results coming in, Attorney General Jeff Sessions came another addition to the long list of casualties that has made this administration particularly bloody.  Zac Beauchamp supplied a depressed note in Vox: the sacking of the marginalised and mocked Sessions was not shocking, which made it worse, a sort of normalised contempt. “The truth is that Trump firing Sessions, and temporarily replacing him with a loyalist named Matthew Whitaker who has publicly denounced the special counsel investigation, should scare us.”

Trump, for his part, anticipates “a beautiful, bipartisan type of situation” working with Democrat House leader Nancy Pelosi.  “From a deal-making standpoint, we are all much better off the way it turned out.”  Far from being further rented, the chances for legislation have presented themselves, though the president was just as happy to issue a slap down warning: avoid initiating any investigations.  “They can play that game, but we can play it better because we have the United States Senate.”  As the dark lord of the Bush era, Karl Rove, surmised with apposite force: “Let’s be clear… Both parties are broken.”

 

 

Categories: News for progressives

Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:40

This is a fact that would have been worth mentioning in a NYT piece on how health care may be affected by last Tuesday’s elections. Near the end, the article referred to the Trump administration’s promotion of short-term insurance policies but only said that they, “do not have to cover pre-existing conditions or provide all the benefits required by the health law.”

The important feature of these short-term plans from the standpoint of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is that they are designed to be appealing to relatively healthy people. By excluding people who are likely to suffer from costly health conditions, they can offer insurance at a lower price. This has the effect of pulling healthier people out of the ACA insurance pools.

This means that the people remaining in the ACA pools will be less healthy on average and therefore have higher costs. That will drive up the price of insurance in the ACA pools, likely pushing more relatively healthy people to buy short-term insurance plans. The end result in this story is that the ACA pools end up being extremely expensive, which makes the prohibition on discrimination over pre-existing conditions pointless.

This is the importance of the short-term insurance policies. It should have been mentioned in the piece.

This article originally appeared on Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog.

Categories: News for progressives

Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:36

The spectacularly glaciated Gallatin Range stretches south from Bozeman into Yellowstone National Park. The 250,000-acre roadless area is the largest unprotected wildlands left in the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

WILDLIFE VALUES

The Buffalohorn and Porcupine drainages (BHP) that drain into the Gallatin River near Big Sky, Montana are a miniature ecological equivalent of the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone.

These lower elevation drainages contain a mix of meadows, aspen groves, and conifer forest and support some of the most important wildlife habitat in the Gallatin Range as well as the entire northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The densest grizzly bear populations in the entire northern Yellowstone area occur here. The BHP is also a major elk migration corridor, and also important in its own right as a winter range for elk as well as moose. The Gallatin Range is also home to one of the few bighorn sheep populations that have never been extirpated. Mountain goat, wolves, cougar, wolverine, lynx, and many other wildlife species also call the BHP home. And it is the best place in the northern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem outside of Yellowstone Park for the restoration of wild bison.

Besides charismatic megafauna, the Montana Heritage Program lists 18 bird species, two amphibians, one reptile, three fish, and eight mammal species considered to be at risk due to declining populations that may reside in the Gallatin Range.

PROTECTION EFFORTS

Protecting this landscape has been recognized of critical importance for decades. Beginning in 1909, Gifford Pinchot, head of the newly created US Forest Service, petitioned to have the southern Gallatin Range in the BHP area set aside as a game range. In 1911, the state of Montana established a wildlife reserve there.

In 1977 a 155,000-acre core area was Congressionally designated under S. 393 as the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalohorn Wilderness Study Area (HPBH), including the Buffalohorn-Porcupine area, in part to protect these critical wildlife values.

During the initial legislative efforts in the early 1980s to create a Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the Gallatin Range was part of the proposal, but dropped primarily due to checkerboard ownership of private lands that were mixed in among the public Forest Service sections, as well as recognition that the 1977 designation of the HPBH WSA status provided some interim protection.

Staring in the 1980s through the 2000s the private checkerboard lands in much of the Gallatin Range were traded out or purchased for lands around what is now Big Sky Resort.

This loss of public lands in the Big Sky area was justified in part due to the wildlife values of the BHP which the MDFWP testified contained “… some of the most important wildlife/biological corridors in the West.”

The acquisition of these private checkerboard parcels by the Forest Service was always assumed to be a step in the eventual designation of these lands as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act.

For instance, in 1993 testimony before Congress on behalf of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Wilderness Society, Wilderness Society Northern Rockies Regional Director, Michael Scott, proclaimed “The consolidation of the checkerboard in the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area within the Gallatin Range sets the stage for future consideration of the WSA and surrounding lands for wilderness.”

GALLATIN FOREST PARTNERSHIP

That is why it is particularly ironic given this past support and recognition of the high wildlife and wilderness values of the Buffalohorn Porcupine drainages in what is essentially the ecological equivalent of the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range that today these organizations, along with the Montana Wilderness Association and others have signed on the Gallatin Forest Partnership (GFP) that promotes eliminating WSA status for the Buffalohorn and Porcupine drainages.

While the GFP supports 102,000 acres of the high elevation “rocks and ice” portion of the Gallatin Range for wilderness designation, the GFP proposes eliminating Wilderness Study Area status for the low elevation lands in the BHP drainages. Instead, GFP espouses designation of a 31,290-acre Buffalohorn Porcupine “Wildlife Management Area” to facilitate recreational use, particularly mountain biking.  (The GFP also proposes a similar WMA designation for 25,000 acre West Pine area, a critical wildlife corridor, on the northeast corner of the Gallatin Range.)

This is particularly ironic given that all these groups have been criticizing Montana US Senator Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte for their efforts to remove WSA status for other WSAs. Yet GYC, MWA, TWS, and other groups are willing to eliminate wilderness study status for the BHP portion of the Gallatin Range.

While I am pleased with the outstanding effort of these organizations to counter Daines and Gianforte’s attempts to reduce protection for these wildlands, it should not come at the expense of the wilderness designation of the BHP.

The GFP proposal does advocate for restrictions on mountain biking and ORV use to protect wildlife, however, whether these restrictions would be implemented or enforced is unknown. Plus the proposal would allow non-commercial logging (all recent FS timber sales are justified for other reasons like forest health or wildfire prevention, so this prohibition does not necessarily protect the area).

Promoting something other than wilderness designation for the Buffalohorn Porcupine area denigrates the true wildlands values of this area.  It puts recreational use ahead of wildlands and wildlife values in an area that for decades has been recognized as some of the most exceptional wildlife habitat in the entire Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Imagine what wildlands advocates would say today if there were a similar debate over the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. If conservation groups conceded to remove the Lamar Valley from park protection to permit recreational use by mountain bikers, snowmobilers, and others, it would be viewed scandalous.

Members of the GFP argue that proposing wilderness designation for these areas is politically difficult given the opposition from mountain bikers and other recreationalists.

However, I would remind all wilderness advocates that a similar situation existed at the time when the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness was created in 1978.

At that time, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, and even jeeps traveled between the Boulder River and Cooke City in what was known as the Slough Creek Corridor.

During the debate about the boundaries of the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, some wilderness advocates made exactly the same argument against support for a more expansive wilderness (what we actually got) in favor of a diminutive proposal that would only protect the high-country area east of the Boulder River as wilderness, suggesting that a more expansive wilderness was “politically impractical.”

But politics isn’t a straight line, and there is much serendipity to all conservation efforts. One cannot know what may be politically feasible until you try. Fortunately, the advocates for a more comprehensive Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness won out and today we have a nearly million-acre wilderness that is one of the gems of the national wilderness system.

ADVOCATE FOR WILDERNESS

Until conservationists advocate for wilderness designation for the entire Gallatin Range, one cannot know what may be politically possible.

There are other issues with the GFP that needs remedy including greater wilderness advocacy for areas in the Hyalite Canyon region such as South Cottonwood Canyon and Chestnut Mountain, but suffice to say that it is my hope that wilderness advocates including organizations like the Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society and Greater Yellowstone Coalition reassess their promotion for the halfway measures of the GFP and instead seek full wilderness protection for all roadless lands in the range, especially for the Buffalohorn Porcupine drainages or what could be called the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range.

If you are a member of any of these organizations, I urge you to contact them and compliment them for making protection of the Gallatin Range a priority but ask them to advocate for wilderness designation for all of the roadless lands in the Gallatin Range.

Keep in mind these are lands owned by all Americans, as well as internationally significant. The Buffalohorn and Porcupine drainages lie just north of Yellowstone National Park which was designated International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and a World Heritage Site in 1978.

Therefore, the Gallatin wildlands deserve the best protection possible and wilderness is the Gold Bar for conservation status. Conservationists should be advocating nothing less.

Categories: News for progressives

A Note on the Paris Peace Forum

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:28

France is convening an international forum in Paris from November 11 to November 13, 2018 to promote peace. Intended to be an annual event, the Paris Peace Forum is part of France’s commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the ceasefire signed  on 11 November 1918 ending the Great War which caused 18 million dead.The gathering will be inaugurated by heads of state and representatives of more than 80 countries Warning that peace was again in danger, President Macron called for ‘concrete proposals’  to drive forward multilateralism and international cooperation.

France is the  the world’s third arms suppliers and  its exports increased by 27% compared to 2008-2012, according to SIPRI Arms Tranfers Database.

Faulkner’s best known line never goes out of date: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

 

Categories: News for progressives

Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?

Mon, 2018-11-12 15:07

It’s been another fortnight of mass murder inside Fortress America.   Carnage reigns from Coast to Coast, from a progressive synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, to a line-dancing bar in Thousand Oaks, CA.  The high-profile shooters?  Both white American men: One a 46-year-old die-hard white supremacist, publicly declaring his hatred for Jews and for immigrant “invaders,” opening fire on a morning Shabbat ceremony.   The other, a 28-year-old, US Marine veteran, experienced with machine guns from tours in Afghanistan, targeting “College Night,” at the Border Line Bar and Grill, a country music establishment he reportedly frequented.  Both commando-style killers wielded legally purchased Glock handguns (and one of them an AR-15 assault rifle), as they each slaughtered nearly a dozen people, just eleven days apart.

It seems like we can’t get through a semester anymore without a mass shooting forcing me to change my syllabus in “American Popular Culture”—the news forces gun violence center stage. And so once again, in the wake of mass murder, I have assigned my students to watch Michael Moore’s 2002 film Bowling for Columbine. Moore’s apocalyptic vision of an America armed-to-the-teeth and pushed-to-the-edge has again proven prophetic. Once more, contrary to war-mongering and Islamophobic media, we have been reminded of how, here in America, terror is most often home-grown.  Once again we are being asked to reflect on the question of why the USA stands so alone in the world when it comes to this kind of murderous madness. 

While much has changed since 2002, I continue to be stuck by how Bowling for Columbine continues to resonate. Moore’s film remains a vital resource for radical educators and activists in the wake of these terribly predictable tragedies.

* * *

Looking back across the sixteen years since the film collected the Oscar for Best Documentary, Bowling for Columbine seems prescient, just as the shooting at Columbine High School that prompted Moore’s film looks more and more like part of a trend that is here to stay. From the 2006 shooting at Virginia Tech that left 32 dead, to the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting that killed 27, to the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre that same year, to the nightmare in Las Vegas last year that killed 58, to the Parkland, Florida shooting in February that triggered the massive “March for Our Lives,” the shameful ‘records’ set by the Columbine killers have been broken, time and again.

According to recent reports, the shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA was the 307thmass shooting in 2018 alone.  A subset of an American gun violence epidemic that altogether steals tens of thousands of lives per year,‘mass shootings’ in the United States now occur approximately once per day.[iii]

Compared to other ‘Western powers,’ all these numbers are essentially off the charts.  How to explain this ugly American exception?

In the wake of the 2015 Charleston church shooting, US President Barack Obama led one wing of the chorus in asserting that while “Every country has hateful or mentally unstable people…What’s different is that not every country is awash with easily accessible guns [the way the US is].” (Quoted in the Boston Globe, 6/20/15, A4). The acclaimed HBO documentary Requiem for the Dead: American Springechoed Obama’s emphasis, closing its hour-long homage to victims of gun violence with a suggestive statistical pairing: there are 310 million privately owned guns in the country, (approximately 1 for every person living here); and approximately 88 people are killed by gunshots every day. While Requiem avoids overt prescription, its narrow focus on the human tragedy of gun murders coupled with the sheer fact of widespread gun ownership leaves us feeling that the violence problem is at root a *gun* problem.

And of course, on one level, how could anyone disagree? You cannot have gun deaths without guns (duh). And the USA is awash in them.

Flash forward to 2018, a moment where the Commander-in-Chief openly advocates for arming teachers and installing armed guards at places of worship, diverting outrage at gun violence into calls for further arming (parts of) the population.  It’s easy to wax nostalgic for even basic sanity around this issue.

But it’s important to reflect: even Obama’s liberal theory of gun violence explains little. It describes the situation we are in, yes, but without giving us a sense of how or why we have come to it, without telling us what it means.

How has the USA come to the point that so many people feel compelled to own guns—and to use them—in the first place? Citing lax gun laws—or even the influence of the gun lobby—again does not so much answer as beg the question of why and how it has come to be that the US is characterized by such gun culture, laws, and lobbies. Nor does it help to explain the particularly traumatic form of the mass public (school, movie, church) shooting that has become so common.[iv]

Liberal hubs have often brought Michael Moore himself into the current fray, citing his “anti-gun violence” documentary to support the case for greater gun control. (Moore has also interjected himself.) But instrumentalizing Bowling for Columbine in this way threatens to suppress what it was that made it such a vital intervention in the first place. At its best, the film insists on broadening and radicalizing the gun violence ‘debate,’ in ways that push well beyond even Moore’s own liberal affiliations.

What struck me when I first saw Bowling in 2002, and what has kept me coming back to it as a teaching tool ever since, is the way the film powerfully reintroduces key context for grasping violence in the USA, context that too often falls out of the mainstream ‘liberal-conservative’ back and forth about gun laws and gun lobbies. Elements that Barack Obama—and maybe even Michael Moore himself—would prefer we not dwell upon, and that a film like Requiem for the Dead won’t go near.

Bowling does not simply fixate on bad US gun laws or the tragedy of lives taken too soon. It pushes further to link US gun violence to underlying legacies and systemic problems: from the history of white supremacy, to the racialized post-911 paranoia inflamed by corporate media and politicians, to the long-standing normalization—indeed the sanctification— of American violence in the form of US militarism and empire. Just as powerfully, the film refuses to engage in demonizing or pathologizing the killers it considers, instead tying their violence to the pressures put on young people today and to the despair affecting so many US ‘post-industrialized’ working-class communities in the age of predatory capital’s devastating abandonment.

Granted, the film does begin and end by lampooning and lamenting America’s gun-excess—from the absurd opening, where Moore receives a free rifle for opening a new account at a bank, to the bittersweet ending, where he shames K-Mart executives and then NRA President Charlton Heston himself for their complicity in the wake of Columbine. But Moore himself admits that his closing attempts to ‘make a difference’ (by eliminating bullets from K-Mart shelves etc) is really just picking around the edges. Lacking a proposal to take on the systemic crisis he’s exposed, he turns to ways to ameliorate, rather than to cure.

And yet the heart of the film rumbles deeper, reverberating radical suggestions, even as the film-maker himself can’t bear to speak them aloud. Put simply, the film implies that what the USA has is not just a ‘gun problem’ but a white racist empire capitalism problem, the trend in gun violence being but a symptom of a deeper malady.

Towards Mo(o)re Radical Questions

Moore starts by taking aim at cliché answers spouted by pop-experts. He complicates or refutes prevailing ‘explanations,’ particularly those that would lay the blame for US gun violence on one or another form of ‘youth culture,’ from heavy metal music, to violent Hollywood movies, or video games. As he points out, such youth culture is tremendously popular in many other countries, without the associated gun violence. (As he further implies, such anti-youth hostility may in fact itself be part of what pushes some young people over the edge.[v])

More surprisingly, Moore then challenges the idea that access to guns alone can explain the gun death rate. Notably, he points out that Canadians are in the same ballpark as Americans when it come to the sheer number of guns, and yet they lack anything like the gun-murder rate of the USA. As his hounding of NRA President Charlton Heston makes clear, Moore certainly does not dismiss the problematic implications of easy gun access—nor should we.  But his focus is not so much on why it is dangerous for Americans to have guns lying around as it is on why it is so dangerous for Americans to have guns lying around. The difference is key: Moore is more interested in diagnosing the danger posed by American psycho-sociality than he is in the dangers of guns per se. Here and elsewhere, the radical edge of Moore’s approach involves revealing how what appears at first to be fundamentally at odds with “normal American society” is in fact an unacknowledged product or reflection of that society, its ideologies, institutions, and standard practices.

Report from Inside ‘Whacko’ White America

Moore opens the film with an autobiographical review of his own “gun country” roots, including a montage of childhood hunting photos and marksmanship trophies. As if to disarm skeptical viewers on the look-out for liberal elitism, he points out that he is from the same state as Charlton Heston and the Michigan Militia, that he graduated high school the same year as (Oklahoma City bombing suspect) James Nicholls, and that he is a long-time member of the National Rifle Association.

Nonetheless, Moore spends a good amount of time mocking the ridiculousness of his gun country cousins, just as he directs considerable indignation at the NRA for its complicity and callousness in the wake of Columbine. Indeed, much of this up-close-and-personal footage is shocking, humorous, or moving, so much so that it can exert a kind of gravitational pull away from closer, deeper analysis. The superficial viewer may cling to the bombastic NRA rhetoric of Charlton Heston or the whacky apocalyptic talk of James Nicholls as a way of avoiding deeper issues that strike at more mainstream American idols and ideologies, such as, say, US imperial foreign policy since World War Two, or the bipartisan ruling class assault known as “welfare reform” (more about both below).

Such a tension between zany or personalized content (on the one hand) and more sustained radical analysis (on the other) runs through much of Michael Moore’s work. And there are dangers here. Such freak scenes can steal the show, dragging discussion down to the level of personalized moralizing. But approached critically, they can serve as the humorous hook that enables rather than disables more penetrating social analysis—including a meta-analysis of how sensationalizing extreme cases can stifle more serious social critique. After all, zooming in on “extremists” in such a way as to suppress consideration of the “normal” horrors presided over and prepared by mainstream American institutions (and often by Democratic politicians) is hardly unique to Michael Moore.  It is a mainstay of contemporary liberal ideology, a fact which makes Moore’s symptomatic sensationalism all the more crucial to unpack.

But what makes Bowling for Columbine worth close attention is that it does not rest with blaming “gun nuts” or the “gun lobby” for the violent horror show of American society, though the lazy or liberal viewer might come away thinking so. We may laugh when Moore gets Oklahoma City bombing suspect James Nicholls— a man who sleeps with a loaded .44 magnum under his pillow and takes an absolutist stance on the 2nd Amendment— to admit that, yes, “There’s whackosout there,”  —after all, who could be more of a “whacko” than he is? But there is an uncanny, familiar quality to the Nicholls brother’s reasoning. For if the surest sign of being a “whacko” is the fervent belief that “there are whacko out there,” then isn’t so-called “mainstream America” as “whacko” as they come? Isn’t the predominant cultural narrative of our society, post-9/11, as fed to us by pundits and politicians alike, precisely that “there are whacko out there” and that the continued existence of such “whackos”—ISIS terrorists being perhaps the latest example—necessitates an aggressive US military and police state, armed to the teeth and ready to kill? Isn’t this entire society taught to sleep with a .44 magnum under its pillow? Read against the grain of its laugh lines, Bowling suggests that “normal America” is not nearly so far from “whacko” James Nicholls as it might like to think.[vi]

A bit later in the film, Moore interjects a brief cartoon history of the USA—narrated by a talking bullet —depicting white America as dominated by a version of James Nicholls’ mantra. Americans here appear as a people driven to homicidal madness by their fear of the “other,” driven to stockpile arms and to commit mass violence out of a mix of racist paranoia, ignorance, and pecuniary interest. Crucially, this cartoon history decodes America’s “gun culture” as deeply entwined with the country’s legacy of white supremacy, noting that Samuel Colt invented the revolver in response to slave rebellions of the early 19th century, that the NRA was founded the very year that the KKK was made illegal (1871), and that one of the first gun control laws passed in the United States focused on making it illegal for the newly emancipated Black people to own one. White Americanness stands revealed as a normalized form of the “Whacko” syndrome, the spread of gun ownership as a means for controlling a potentially rebellious Black population.

Against such a backdrop, the extreme actions of Columbine killers—or the recent church murderer in Charleston[vii]—no longer look so alien; their actions are symptomatic of broader, deeper social sickness.

Sympathy for the Devil

While forcing us to face the horror of the Columbine killers actions—including poignant footage of the events and their aftermath — Moore makes a remarkable effort to try to understand what may have driven them to such murderous ends, considering the bullying and the fear of failure that haunts so many young people in the USA today. Perhaps the most poignant example of sympathy comes when Moore interviews ‘shock rocker’ Marilyn Manson, himself the subject of scapegoat smears in the wake of the Columbine massacre. (Allegedly the shooters were fans of his music.) Asked by Moore what he would have said to the two boys had he had a chance to speak with them, Manson replies that he “wouldn’t say a single word to them, I would listen to what they had to say. And that’s what no one did.”” His sensitive eloquence refutes those who would lay Columbine blood at his stage.

Manson also shows some smarts, offering Moore an alternative theory for who may have influenced Eric and Dylan to turn to violence to solve their problems: then President Bill Clinton, who was launching missile attacks on the former Yugoslavia the very same day that that boys attacked their school. “Who’s a bigger influence [on youth], the president, or Marilyn Manson?” Manson asks, “I’d like to think me, but I’m going to go with the President.” Moore supports Manson’s contention by showing then-President Clinton giving two press conferences on April 20, 1999, just one hour apart.  In the first, Clinton announces that the US is bombing Serbia, “striking hard” at the enemy regime, justifying an attack that—as Moore shows—would in fact level a number of civilian targets, including a hospital and a primary school. In the second, Clinton professes shock and horror at the news coming out of Littleton, Colorado, where bullets ripped through Columbine High. The greater, state-sponsored violence is endorsed without batted eye. The smaller scale horror of the school shooting fills those killer eyes with tears.

Here, in one unforgettable scene, we strike upon two radical aspects of Moore’s work at once: first, his humanizing of those considered outcasts or monsters within dominant culture; second, his estranging of the ruling ‘common sense’ that allows Americans to accept and even to support the mass killing of people in one context while expressing horror and hysterical sadness at similar killing in another.

Crucial here is American ideology’s construction of a line between “us” and “them,” a line between those whom it is “ok” to kill and maim and those it is not. Drawn from the toxic well of racism and nationalism, it is a line that depends on a double delusion: not only the fiction that some lives matter more than others, but the fantasy that what is allowed on one side of the sacred line will stay on that side of the line, that what happens to “them” will not boomerang back on “us.”[viii]

It is Michael Moore’s suggestion that the Columbine massacre represents just such a bloody boomerang.  And we might say the same of other mass killings since.

Beyond the Innocence of Empire

The hypocrisy runs deeper than Bill Clinton’s bombing orders. Bowling explores empire and militarism as a structuring presence in “normal American” life, reminding us, for example, that a quarter of the planes that dropped bombs on Iraq during the slaughter of the first Iraq War took off from Oscoda, Michigan, the location of a military base where Eric Harris lived with his bomber-pilot father for years before the massacre.  Moore’s review of the South Metro Denver area near the shooting includes not just golf courses and pristine white suburbs, but nuclear missile silos, bomb manufacturing plants, and—perhaps most sobering— actual monuments to mass murder, such as Nixon’s “Christmas Bombing” of Vietnam in 1971. In particular, Moore lingers over the fact that the largest employer in Littleton, Colorado, where the Columbine shooting happened, was Lockheed-Martin, USA’s #1 arms manufacturer. Might it be possible that kids in Americaare influenced by the fact that their parents’—and their society’s–idea of “going to work” involves manufacturing weapons of mass destruction to drop on people?

The nature of the ‘influence’ at work here need not be conceived as a simple ‘monkey see-monkey do’ theory of military mimicry. More reasonable is to understand USAmerican tendencies towards violent response to ‘problems,’ ‘threats,’ or ‘enemies’ as partaking of a similar reactive structure, one grounded in an ignorance of history and an obtuseness to social context. Such a mentality makes violence—whether in the form of “crime” or of “terrorism”— appear as an inexplicable, terrifying, almost other-worldly presence, an alien entity incapable of being understood, an “evil” in need of violent annihilation. In this regard, Moore’s treatment of 9-11 is particularly stunning.[ix]

The film strips America’s 9-11 of its exceptionalism and its “innocence,” confronting us with the brutal effects of US military interventions abroad, from the 1950s to 2001, as well as with the pervasive American ignorance to this crucial history. Most immediately, the montage of statistics and graphic images that fills the unforgettable “What a Wonderful World” sequence  starkly contradicts the claims of a Lockheed-Martin representative that Moore interviews in Littleton. The company rep claims that the weapons Lockheed builds aren’t meant to be dropped on people, but merely to “defend us” from others who intend harm against us—thus they could not of course be teaching kids to resort to aggression. Set to Louis Armstrong’s bittersweet classic, the post-WW2 montage makes mincemeat of the notion that US foreign policy has been “defensive” in this way, showing us, in two minutes, more footage of US-sponsored massacres—from Latin America to Southeast Asia to the Middle East—than most Americans have probably seen in their entire lives.

Beyond refuting the myth of America the Innocent, the “What a Wonderful World” sequence outlines a causal chain that starts to make 9-11 itself intelligible, an outline that most Americans lack, and suffer for the lack of. One can hardly understand the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon without recourse to absolutist notions of “evil” unless one has some grasp of the events Moore reviews: the US’s role in overthrowing Mossadeq and re-installing the Shah in Iran, its role in supporting Bin Laden and like-minded Islamic radicals in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, its brutal attacks on Iraq both during and after the first Gulf War. Reframing 9-11 in relationship to US regime toppling, invasions, bombings, sanctions, and covert funding schemes that have all in various ways worked to undermine democracy and to inflame fundamentalism, the film reframes what official US ideology presents as an attack on “our way of life” as rather an expression of that so-called way of life. What those in the biz call “blowback.”

Inflaming the Wound: the problem of the media (and the state)

As pervasive as gun violence in the US is, the problem is distorted and inflated by the corporate mass media, with its mantra of “if it bleeds, it leads.” As an acadmic expert Moore interviews points out, even during periods when violent crime has been decreasing (by 20%), US media coverageof violent crime continues to climb at a dramatic rate (by 600%). The disconnect between reality and broadcast perception is alarming.[x]

Bowling thus makes much of the role corporate news media play in inflaming a fearful, even paranoid, mentality among USAmericans. Marilyn Manson again serves as our unlikely guide, denouncing what he calls a “campaign of fear and consumption.” Commercial media prey upon public fears, keeping people glued to their tubes and consuming products as the “solution” to their never-ending (media-amplified) anxieties. Within this basic framework, Moore spotlights the particular ways that racism and demonization of the poor and non-white structure and fuel this continual campaign of fear, a fear that stokes not only individual spending on guns and home security systems, but also government spending on military contracts (and, we should add, increasingly militarized police). Thus do corporations and politicians alike profit from the very fears they help induce.

Crucial here is Moore’s examination of the show COPS, a vanguard program when it comes to the business of criminalizing and demonizing Black and Hispanic, poor and working-class people.[xi] The idea of blaming such a show for spreading racist images of Black and Brown people is hardly new.   Still, in interviewing a former producer of COPS, Dick Herlan—a self-identified “liberal”—Moore reaches beyond the low hanging fruit.   Pitching the TV exec a catchy idea for a show called “Corporate Cops,” which would feature camera-accompanied police going after white-collar corporate criminals, Moore is told by the producer that while he’d like to see such a show made, it “won’t make for good television.” Why not? Moore counters. Surely millions of Americans would love to see the boss busted on TV after a hard day at work, right? Because, the producer adds, the police don’t go after corporate crooks aggressively in a way that would make for good live action. As he points out, the cops treat people who steal $83 worse than those who steal $83 million. The latter they are likely to treat with patience and respect, whereas the former they will physically assault and slam to the ground—maybe even shoot dead.

The interview moves us from blaming the disproportionate criminalization of poor Black and brown people primarily on racially biased media to blaming this slant in media on the class-biased nature of the state itself. Without letting the networks off the hook for cashing in on sensational images of often racialized violence, Bowling thus presents us with the possibility that US media images are less the cause than the effect of a police system that tolerates and enables the abuses of the rich, but wages televised war against the poor. In showing such “criminality” stripped of context, the media effectively help the state to encourage more fear, disdain, and victim-blaming towards those who are not rich and white, teaching Americans to view one another through the eyes of COPS. But the media is dancing to a tune called by the state.

Returning to Flint: Historicizing Homicide

Nowhere is Moore’s criticism of both the state and the news media more acute than near the very end of the film, when he returns to his own hometown of Flint, Michigan, to cover yet another school shooting, this one the youngest yet in US history. Moore explores the social-economic forces that set the stage for tragedy, while condemning the commercial media for its systematic neglect of the context that makes such violence legible.

While the mass media descend on Flint, anchored to the site of the shooting, holding ribbons for the young white victim, six year-old Kayla Brown, Moore puts the killing in fuller context. Paying tribute to Kayla’s memory, his camera then wanders down the road, away from the immediate scene of the crime. He links the seven year-old boy killer’s act to facts the mass media ignore: his being left alone at his uncle’s house (where he found the gun that he took to school without his mother’s knowledge); his mother’s eviction from her previous apartment for lack of rent money; her being compelled to take an early morning bus to work multiple jobs out of town; her poverty wages working for Dick Clark’s American Restaurant; the privatized “welfare to work” program that compelled her to wage-labor in the first place, a program being pushed and profited from by corporations such as…Lockheed Martin. The Buell elementary school shooting comes to stand not as an example of simply bad behavior or poor parenting, but of racialized class exploitation that separates mothers from their children in order to produce cheap wage labor for corporations and their celebrity collaborators—kids be damned. “Welfare reform” (signed into law we should recall, by Democratic President Bill Clinton) stands revealed as a regime of child neglect, as deadly for communities as it is profitable for the likes of Dick Clark and Lockheed.

Moore then adds a brief social history of Flint, Michigan, picking up threads he had woven through his breakthrough film Roger and Me (1989) more than a decade earlier. The scene of the crime in Flint, as Moore recasts it, extends not just to the household of the boy-shooters’ mother, Tamarla Owens, but to the doorstep of the then-largest corporation in America, General Motors, a company that in the 1980s shuttered factories that sustained whole communities, creating massive unemployment and poverty in order to make a bigger killing someplace else. Moore historicizes the homicide, showing how economic devastation and social despair have brought this once hopeful and prosperous city to a state where shootings are the leading cause of death, and the local high school football stadium is sponsored by a funeral home. Though he closes the film by shaming Charlton Heston and the NRA for rallying nearby in the wake of the school shooting, Moore’s more radical insight is that the death of Kayla Brown is to be laid at the foot of corporate America, and those who serve it.

Moore does not utter the fundamental point aloud. Nonetheless, it would not be too much to say that Bowling for Columbine lays the blame for both the Columbine and the Buell school shootings at the foot of militarized, racist American capitalism. The particular causal chain that pulls the trigger varies in each case. But the kids in the post-industrial wreckage of Flint and in the booming family-friendly suburbs of Littleton alike stand linked, to each other, and to a system that has dealt them death so that others may profit.

Conclusion: Confronting America’s Home-Made Monstrosity

Americans who open fire on their peers, neighbors, classmates, and teachers offer us the opportunity and the impetus to grapple with a contradiction at the heart of the USA. For what are these “mad men” doing but applying the approved and honored teachings and techniques of American civilization…just in the ‘wrong place’ and against the ‘wrong people’?  In ‘monstrously’ mis-directing the kind of mass violence that official American ideology incessantly sanctions—so long as it is directed against officially designated ‘terrorists’ abroad or ‘criminals’ at home— these killers confront us with the possibility that America will never be safe so long as it continues to traffic in fear, mass destruction, and racism as national religion and big business.  Not only because terrorists from elsewhere will seek revenge for American crimes, but because home-grown wannabe American gunslingers see enemies around every corner.  The point holds up in 2018, in the wake of massacres perpetrated by a US Marine veteran and an avowed white supremacist who apparently perceived his act of aggression as an act of “self-defense” for his (white) “nation”.

Such monstrous massacres stand revealed in Moore’s account as symptoms of a deeper malady. And this deeper malady cannot be dealt with by addressing issues of gun laws or domestic policies alone–though gun control laws must certainly be part of the solution.  But Bowling for Columbinecalls for more than that: it calls for the dismantling an empire that makes not only murderous weapons but the ideologies that justify their use as common here as the air we breathe. It calls, too, for challenging a capitalist disorder that puts the profits of corporations ahead of the needs of families, children, and communities, as well as a media-police state that makes our social atmosphere so toxic. Revealing Americans as both the perpetrators and the victims of the violence of empire capitalism, the film offers a rare chance to clear the air, to reclaim our humanity. More than just another anti-gun diatribe to arm liberals in the face of conservative extremists, Bowling for Columbine sketches the basis on which we might unite a truly massive movement across all sorts of inherited borderlines—a movement to dismantle the bloody system that rules in our name.

Notes.

[ii] Of course one complicating aspect here is that of media amplification; the eye-ball hunting 24-hour news cycle’s credo of “if it bleeds it leads” may give us an inflated picture of how often such attacks occur. It can be difficult to distinguish the actual gun violence trend from the trend in media coverage of gun violence, a theme that Bowling for Columbine is very much concerned with. For an insightful recent treatment of the media image vs. empirical reality of gun violence in the US see Chase Madar’s recent review in The Baffler, “Have Gun, Will Liberate.” http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/have-guns-will-liberate#.VauqJLHWBC4.facebook

[iii] “There have been 204 mass shootings — and 204 days — in 2015 so far” by Christopher Ingraham, July 24, 2015: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/07/24/there-have-been-204-mass-shootings-and-204-days-in-2015-so-far/

[iv] For a provocative and insightful analysis of recent mass shootings and their cultural reception, see Ingar Solty, “Dear Left, the NRA is Right—the Mass Shooter as High Achiever,” in Socialism and Democracy. Vol. 6. No. 3. November, 2012. http://sdonline.org/60/dear-left-the-nra-is-right-the-mass-shooter-as-high-achiever/

[v] Moore explores this issue in particular through his interview with South Park co-creator, and Columbine High School graduate, Matt Stone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dYtOOtfQtM . For a sharp critique of the culturalization and pathologization of mass shooters, see Ingar Solty: http://sdonline.org/60/dear-left-the-nra-is-right-the-mass-shooter-as-high-achiever/

[vi] A similar moment, easy to laugh at but harder to own, comes when Moore interviews a number of troubled (white) young men in Oscoda, Michigan. Informed by one young man that he was at one point ranked as the “#2” threat on the “bomb list” by Oscoda police, Moore asks the man if he knew who was “#1,” prompting the young man to admit that he felt regret, even years later, for not having made it to “#1.” He “wanted to be #1 at something, even if it was the bomb threat list.”   It’s a moment we are meant to laugh at, and yet it’s one that we ought to recognize as pointing to a growing cultural tendency, namely the existential longing for officially recognized celebrity status in a late capitalist society increasingly bled dry of stable meaning or secure employment alike.

[vii] We should recall that Dylann Storm Roof chose as his target the legendary site where Denmark Vessey is thought to have planned his ill-fated slave revolt of 1820. As one of the Columbine survivors in Bowling recalls, the high school shooters killed at least one classmate “because he was black.”

[viii] For the latest mass monument to such racist-imperialist ideology, see last year’s Hollywood blockbuster, American Sniper (2014).

[ix] For my review of Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 see Cultural Logic’s 2004 issue. http://clogic.eserver.org/2004/ramsey.html

[x] Again, I refer to Chase Madar’s insightful review of this topic at The Bafflerhttp://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/have-guns-will-liberate#.VauqJLHWBC4.facebook

[xi] As others have noted, poor whites also feature prominently in the show, a point that often gets skirted.

 

Categories: News for progressives

Ice Cube – Arrest The President

Sun, 2018-11-11 01:00

Categories: News for progressives

Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing?

Fri, 2018-11-09 16:05

Photo Source Nancy Pelosi | CC BY 2.0

Ever since the Democratic Party abandoned its New Deal legacy and adopted the neoliberal centrism associated with the Carter presidency and then cast in stone by the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985, each election loss has generated a chorus of remonstrations in the left-liberal press about the need to run “progressive” candidates if the party wants to win. The latest instance of this was a post to the Jacobin FB page that stated: “By running to the right, Democrats insist on losing twice: at the polls and in constructing an inspiring agenda. Bold left-wing politics are our only hope for long-term, substantive victory.”

The question of why Democrats are so okay with losing has to be examined closely. In some countries, elections have huge consequences, especially in Latin America where a job as an elected official might be not only a source of income for a socialist parliamentarian but a trigger for a civil war or coup as occurred in Costa Rica in 1948 and in Chile in 1973 respectively.

In the 2010 midterm elections, there was a massive loss of seats in the House of Representatives for the Democrats. In this month’s midterm elections, the Democrats hoped that a “Blue Wave” would do for them what the 2010 midterms did for the Republicans—put them in the driver’s seat. It turned out to be more of a “Blue Spray”, not to speak of the toothless response of House leader Nancy Pelosi who spoke immediately about how the Democrats can reach across the aisle to the knuckle-dragging racists of the Republican Party.

Out of curiosity, I went to Wikipedia to follow up on what happened to the “losers” in 2010. Did they have to go on unemployment? Like Republicans who got voted out this go-round, Democrats had no trouble lining up jobs as lobbyists. Allen Boyd from Florida sent a letter to Obama after the BP oil spill in 2010 asking him to back up BP’s claim that seafood in the Gulf of Mexico was okay to eat. After being voted out of office, he joined the Twenty-First Century Group, a lobbying firm founded by a former Republican Congressman from Texas named Jack Fields. A 1980 article on Fields describes him as a protégé of ultraright leader Paul Weyrich.

Glenn Nye, who lost his job as a Virginia congressman, his considerable CV that included working for the Agency for International Development (AID) and serving in various capacities during the occupation of Iraq to land a nice gig as Senior Political Advisor for the Hanover Investment Group.

John Spratt from South Carolina was described by Dow Jones News as “one of the staunchest fiscal conservatives among House Democrats.” That was enough for him to land a job with Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that was supposed to come up with a strategy to reduce the deficit. Just the sort of thing that was calculated to lift the American economy out of the worst slump since the 1930s. Not.

Pennsylvania’s Chris Carney was a helluva Democrat. From 2002 to 2004, he was a counterterrorism analyst for the Bush administration. He not only reported to Douglas Feith in the Office of Special Plans and at the Defense Intelligence Agency, researching links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, but served as an interrogator in Guantanamo. These qualifications landed him a job as director of homeland security and policy strategy for BAE Systems when the House of Representatives gig ended. A British security and munitions powerhouse, BAE won a contract worth £4.4bn to supply the Saudis with 72 fighter jets – some of which were used to bomb Red Cross and Physician Without Borders hospitals in Yemen.

With such crumb-bums losing in 2010, you’d think that the Democrats would be convinced that their best bet for winning elections would be to disavow candidates that had ties to the national security apparatus and anything that smacked of the DLC’s assault on the welfare state. Not exactly. When the candidates are female, that might work in the party’s favor like sugar-coating a bitter pill.

In Virginia, former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger and retired Navy Commander Elaine Luria defeated Republican incumbents. Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey also helped the Democrats regain the House. Sherill calculated that moving to the center would serve her own and the party’s interests. She told MSNBC: “As a Navy helicopter pilot I never flew Republican missions or Democratic missions, I would have had a very short career. This is something I do think vets bring to the table, this willingness to work with everyone.”

An article titled “‘Montclair Mikie’ Sherrill recast as ‘Moderate Mikie’ as Webber attacks in NJ House race” described her Road to Damascus conversion to DLC principles:

For Sherrill, a newcomer to politics, the 11th has proved to be a tricky terrain. She is seen as a progressive, but appears wary of carrying the “Trump resistance” banner into the fray. At Wednesday’s debate, Sherrill was determined to show she is more Morris Plains than Montclair.

There were no heated vows to fight Trump, even though being “appalled” by the president was what motivated her to run in the first place. The Nov. 6 midterms loom as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, but you would never have guessed that watching Wednesday’s contest.

Sherrill repeatedly promised to be bipartisan — a far cry from the combative, confrontational tone that many in the party’s grass roots are demanding.

On tax policy she sounded more centrist Republican than mainstream liberal Democrat, and she refused to endorse issues like free community college tuition, which has become a popular talking point for Democrats and was launched by Gov. Phil Murphy this summer.

“Without understanding how that would be paid for, I haven’t supported it because it sounds like it would raise taxes on our families,’” she said.

The moderate tone puzzled some of her ardent “resistance” activists who mobilized around her candidacy.

For Eric Fritsch, 32, a Teamster for the film and television industry from West Orange, it was jarring to hear Sherrill oppose Democratic Party wish-list items like free community college tuition or “Medicare-for-all” coverage out of fear that it may raise taxes. She used the same excuse to sidestep supporting a “carbon tax” to reduce global warming.

“By going on the defensive about taxes … she is accepting a Republican framing that we don’t want to be responsible with taxes in the first place,’” said Fritsch, who insisted that he remains a “very enthusiastic” Sherrill supporter.

It should be abundantly clear by now that the Democratic Party leadership will be selecting a candidate in 2020 in all ways identical to Hillary Clinton but perhaps with a less tawdry past and less of an appetite for Goldman-Sachs speaking fees. Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo, et al have no intention of allowing upstarts like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to spoil their plans, even if it means a second term for Donald Trump.

No matter. Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara urges his readers and DSA comrades to plunge ahead trying to consolidate a “socialist” caucus in the Democratic Party. From his perspective, working in the Democratic Party seems to be the “most promising place for advancing left politics, at least in the short term.” Keep in mind that Sherrill raised $1.9 million for her campaign and my old boss from Salomon Brothers Michael Bloomberg ponied up another $1.8 million just for her TV ads. Does anybody really think that “socialist” backed candidates will be able to compete with people like Sherrill in the primaries? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was able to defeat the hack Joe Crowley on a shoestring but that was something of a fluke. Until there is a massive shake-up in American society that finally reveals the Democratic Party to be the capitalist tool it has been since Andrew Jackson’s presidency, it is likely that a combination of big money and political inertia will keep the Democratic Party an agent of reaction.

Furthermore, the takeover of the House might turn out to be a hollow victory in the light of how Trump rules. His strategy hasn’t been to push through legislation except for the tax cut. Remember the blather about investing in infrastructure? His minions in Congress have no intention of proposing a trillion or so dollars in highway or bridge repair, etc. With Nancy Pelosi fecklessly talking about how the two parties can collaborate on infrastructure, you can only wonder whether she has been asleep for the past two years.

Donald Trump has been transforming American society not by legislation but by using his executive powers to put people in charge of government agencies who are inimical to their stated goals. It is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse as Malcolm X once put it. Two days ago, the NY Times wrote about how the “Trump Administration Spares Corporate Wrongdoers Billions in Penalties”. It did not need legislation to help big banks rip off the public. All it took was naming former head of BankOne Joseph Otting comptroller of the currency. Senator Sherrod Brown, one of the few Democrats with a spine, called Trump out: “The president’s choice for watchdog of America’s largest banks is someone who signed a consent order — over shady foreclosure practices — with the very agency he’s been selected to run.”

For all of the dozens of articles about how Trump is creating a fascist regime, hardly any deal with the difference between Trump and Adolf Hitler. Hitler created a massive bureaucracy that ran a quasi-planned economy with generous social benefits that put considerable restraints on the bourgeoisie. Like FDR, he was taking measures to save capitalism. Perhaps if the USA had a social and economic crisis as deep as Germany’s and left parties as massive as those in Germany, FDR might have embarked on a much more ambitious concentration camp program, one that would have interred trade unionists as well as Japanese-Americans. Maybe even Jews if they complained too much.

By contrast, Trump is imposing a regime that was incubated long ago by people such as Grover “Starve the Beast” Norquist and every other libertarian think-tank funded by the Koch Brothers et al. The big bourgeoisie might not like the bad taste, racism and thuggish behavior of the Trump administration but they couldn’t be happier with the results. This is an elected government that has fulfilled its deepest policy aspirations and that shows a willingness to push the Democrats back on their heels, so much so that someone like Mikie Sherrill lacks the courage to defend policies that might win elections down the road. After all, if she is unseated, she can always go back to a job as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey. What happens to someone working in Walmart’s is not her business, after all.

Categories: News for progressives

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