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Action Jackson: Of Poachers, Grizzlies and Coexistence

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:56

In a new Grizzly Times podcast, Bob Jackson shares stories of his fascinating 30-year career as a backcountry ranger in Yellowstone Park. He was dubbed “Action Jackson” for his work contributing to a record number of convictions of poachers in a remote southern area of the Park known as the Thorofare. As Bob and I swapped stories about a particularly fraught period during the early 2000s — Bob while employed by the Park Service and me with Sierra Club and later Natural Resources Defense Council — my blood boiled again at the pattern of unnecessary conflicts between hunters and grizzlies that each of us worked hard to address, each in the ways we could.

The chronic conflicts that Bob highlighted involving dirty hunter camps and poor handling of game carcasses have receded in public consciousness with an increasingly obsessive focus of the debate about grizzly bears on whether or not federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections should be removed for Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. Even the tragic but avoidable mauling of a hunting guide named Mark Uptain by grizzly bears in the Teton Wilderness last fall has not produced a shift in focus by those cynically promoting removal of protections. This essay not only explores but also provides necessary historical context for the wide-ranging conversation that Bob and I recorded for the podcast.

Bob bumped into grizzlies often during his near 70,000 miles of travel in Yellowstone’s backcountry, but never had to shoot a bear or even once deploy the capsaicin-based bear spray that he carried with him.  He recalls his problems were not with grizzlies but with poachers who sometimes gunned down big game inside the Park. Guides who outfitted big game hunters also routinely and illegally dumped salt blocks just outside the park boundary to lure elk onto adjacent national forest land where they could be shot – like “shooting fish in a barrel,” Bob quipped.

And, while managers worked hard to keep human foods out of bruin’s reach inside the Park, outside park boundaries hunters often carelessly disposed of food, garbage, and big game carcasses, wasting an estimated 370 tons of elk meat each year according to one government estimate—despite state laws expressly prohibiting the practice. The result was—and continues to be—an unending illegal supply of anthropogenic foods that lure grizzlies into conflicts with humans.

Enforcing the law is particularly challenging in the Thorofare, which is further from a road than any place else in the lower-48 states. In a land he calls “lawless”, Bob was far more often threatened by criminals, thugs, and corrupt politicians than by the grizzly bears he helped guard.

At some level, human greed is at the heart of the chronic conflicts between people and grizzlies in the Thorofare.  Guiding hunters in this mecca for big bull elk is huge business. During the fall, hundreds of elk migrate out of the sanctuary of the Park to the lower elevation wintering grounds in Jackson Hole, WY, passing through a gauntlet of hunters along the way. A single permit to outfit hunts in the Bridger-Teton Forest’s Teton Wilderness can sell for $400,000 or more. And since out-of- state hunters are required to be guided in designated Wyoming’s designated Wilderness areas—a scam in its own right—outfitters have a captive market.

Maximizing profit means running as many clients as possible into the backcountry during hunting season and cutting ethical corners if need be. In the view of Craig Sax formerly of Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGF), the agency that permits outfitters, demands of hunters contribute to the problem. He says that: “People now come into hunting unwilling to put in time and effort. They want immediate gratification.”

It is no surprise that WGF often looks the other way when hunters break the laws protecting grizzlies, which are seen as competitors for big game and a symbol of federal restrictions imposed by the ESA. Importantly, the agency is financed primarily by hunting license fees and federal grants based on taxing arms and ammunition, which is why it caters almost exclusively to the interests of hunters. And in the case of Yellowstone elk, whose historic southern migration route has been severed by the town of Jackson, state officials want hunters to kill as many as possible before they reach their wintering grounds on the National Elk Refuge where they are fed at taxpayer expense until spring.

All of this spawns plenty of food in the Thorofare available to grizzly bears during their late-season hyperphagic feeding frenzy. Garbage in a hunter camp is food, as is an elk carcass left on the ground. To a hungry bear, the sound of a gunshot has become a dinner bell, and hunters object in predictable ways if a bear attempts to take possession of their quarry. Thanks to humans, bear food is often abundant, but deadly. “The Killing Fields,” Bob calls the place—not just for elk, but for grizzly bears as well.

In his early years, the Park Service showered praise on Bob for enforcing Park laws. Yellowstone Park’s Superintendent, Bob Barbee, said this: “Action Jackson is the genuine article, a great backcountry ranger with a deep love of the park.” But when Barbee and his similarly laudatory replacement, Mike Finley left, support from Park higher-ups vanished under pressure from well-connected outfitters.

Bob’s investigations became especially inconvenient in the run-up to US Fish and Wildlife Service’s first attempt to remove ESA protections for Yellowstone’s threatened grizzly bears in 2006. Then as now, agencies were invested in happy talk about the status of grizzlies, and any criticism of management was–and still is–unwelcome. The high-profile national news stories about Bob’s work raised questions about the adequacy of grizzly bear management, especially if responsibility over grizzlies outside Yellowstone Park were returned to the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Embarrassed, WGF officials and their powerful political allies hoped Bob would shut up or go away. Under pressure, the Park Service gagged Bob and then tried to get rid of him.

Meeting Action Jackson

Our paths first crossed in the late 1990s, when Bob’s plight first started making national headlines. Although I had met a number of government whistleblowers by then, Bob was especially disarming. Fit, soft spoken, with a twinkle in his eye, Bob seemed bewildered by the controversy swirling around him. I could tell he had not worked with many conservationists before. He seemed relieved when I told him of the many weeks that I had logged in the Teton Wilderness working for the National Outdoor Leadership School. At least I wasn’t a complete greenhorn, by his standards.

We had a lot in common – a love for the wild, grizzlies, and fair play. Here’s Bob: “I mean the bears are what makes life. Yeah, I always had to think of bears — every night you bang on the door before you go out in case there’s a bear right on your porch. You’re yelling ‘here bear’ when you’re going to the outhouse, you’ve got your flash light, you’re ready to go. But that’s where the humbleness comes in. You’re not top dog.”

I know what he means. At the age of seventeen I had my first encounter with a grizzly—in the Teton Wilderness no less.  After a brief but intense moment of surprise for both of us, the bear whirled around and disappeared into the darkening forest.  I also got hopelessly lost in the Teton Wilderness’s confusing Two Ocean Plateau, where the headwaters of streams flowing to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans loop around each other till they decide which way to flow – one to the Snake and Columbia Rivers, the other to the Yellowstone, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers. I did not then foresee that such adventures would lead me to devote the next 40 years of my life to the cause of protecting wilderness and grizzlies.

Yellowstone River near Thorofare.    

Not surprisingly, proposals have been made to expand Yellowstone Park to include the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, once during 1918 and then again during the late 1920s.  Jackson Hole cattlemen and Cody area outfitters squelched them both. A century later, hostility to grizzlies and National Parks among Wyoming cattlemen and outfitters still casts a long shadow on management of our public lands and wildlife. More on this later.

Of Luck, Skill and Consequences

You have to listen to our conversation to appreciate Bob’s sphincter-shrinking adventures in the Thorofare. He was prone to bumping into bears at close range because he was frequently off trail and sometimes hiding to see what poachers might be up to. He says: “you’re behind a tree or cliff waiting for the bad guys, because you’re in a good spot but that good spot means you’re hidden even more. And so, if the wind was right, the bear could be really on you. That happened four times. That’s where your scalp actually moves, you feel it move, and you got a 50 percent chance. And so, you could say I was lucky.”

To some extent, Bob was also lucky in his success convicting poachers. His secrets? Being in the right place at the right time, which meant riding many miles in tough terrain in the worst weather; support from supervisors; and techniques such as this: “…how I would get the poachers, you let them go through all their stories, and you break them down, and they cry when they’re broken down. Then you get the confessions.”

Bob was on a roll until he brought an elk-poaching case against a hunting guide who had worked for an outfitter named Harold Turner — a case he discusses in the podcast. The Turner family, which owns the famous Triangle X Ranch in Jackson Hole, is friends with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who predictably unleashed his fury on the Park Service at Harold’s behest.

Bob survived the subsequent political storm with the help of the press (here and here) support from Iowa’s influential Senator Chuck Grassley (Bob is from Iowa), and efforts by Professional Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), an organization devoted to protecting whistleblowers.

I admit to being an accomplice in efforts to protect Bob, having introduced him to Frank Clifford of the Los Angeles Times and PEER’s Executive Director Jeff Ruch. Once on the scent of his story, Frank was astonished at attempts by WGF officials to bully him, proving they had no idea who they were dealing with. Hardly a horseman, Frank survived the bruising several-day ride into the Thorofare with longtime outfitters Tory and Meredith Taylor to meet up with Bob. There he saw illegal salting sites, meadows hammered by outfitters’ horses — herds of up to 70 to 100 animals — and town-sized outfitter encampments. Frank wrote that Bob was “perhaps Yellowstone’s most revered and reviled backcountry park ranger, poacher hunter, and champion of the grizzly bear.”

Tory was not silent about his experiences either, commenting: “here we have one of the finest places left in the world, a place with the longest traditions of remote, fair chase hunting, and it’s being turned into an industrialized trophy shoot…. Sometimes I get tired of trying so hard to defend hunting in the face of behavior like this. It just gives us all a black eye.”

Despite the controversy, Bob ended his 30-year career still patrolling the Thorofare. Shortly after retiring he wrote about the problems he had witnessed, even submitting formal testimony to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), a group of managers with authority over grizzly bear populations and habitat.

“Garbage Dump Syndrome”

One of Bob’s central complaints was that outfitters and hunters were conditioning grizzly bears to seek out human foods, a problem the Park Service and Forest Service had worked hard to address in other areas under other circumstances–and with significant success. In 1969, shortly before declining grizzly bear numbers prompted ESA protections, Yellowstone Park banned feeding bears and ordered closure of dumps that had become veritable ecocenters for Yellowstone’s grizzlies. Shortly afterward, the Forest Service also adopted rules requiring that human foods be securely stored in grizzly bear habitat. Together, these simple moves were critical in preventing extinction of grizzlies in the last 3% of their former range.

But despite rules, food storage is still often lax, especially in the Thorofare where law enforcement officers have become another “endangered species.” Bob offers this: “All those [hunter] camps could be clean, but they’re not. Why aren’t they? Why are they leaving the elk carcasses where the bears can get at ‘em? They all know what they need to do, but they’re not going to because it’s more important to be “old wild west…”

The Hollywood-fed iconography of being an elk hunter or hunting guide often trumps law and even common sense. The reprobates and nascent criminals who sometimes serve as outfitters and guides obviously seem to relish the outlaw image. (In the podcast, Bob tells a priceless story that nails this point.)

In his testimony to the IGBC, Bob said this: “As long as outfitters leave elk buffets for the grizzly, habituation will only deepen.” And it has.

The Salt March

The practice of deploying salt to lure elk to hunters, singular to the Bridger-Teton Forest, is an example of the out-sized influence that Wyoming outfitters have in managing our public lands and wildlife. WGF and the Forest Service mapped several dozen salt sites, some as close as 50 yards to the borders of Yellowstone Park.

 Bob’s horse eating from an artificial salt.

Although salting is tantamount to baiting elk – not only unsporting but also illegal in designated Wilderness Areas — outfitters such as Harold Turner proudly admit to the practice. Yet as far back as 1951, scientist Olaus Murie wrote in his classic work Elk of North America that using salt as bait – a practice that had been going on in the Thorofare for a number of years even then – could not be justified as “good for elk.”

The impact has consequences far beyond the salt blocks themselves. Even after the salt dissolves, wildlife is drawn to these sites where they then overgraze the surrounding vegetation in a Wilderness that is supposed to be “untrammeled by man.” Grizzlies also learn the locations of salting sites and congregate there to scavenge elk killed by hunters—giving rise to encounters and conflicts that outfitters love to blame on increasing numbers of bears. The nearness of some salts to trails also endangers the public who use them.

Years before meeting Bob, I had corresponded with Dan Hooper, a former Forest Service District Ranger, who had studied the problem of salting in the Teton Wilderness in the 1960s and, in retirement, campaigned to end the practice. (I have a half inch file of letters and documents he sent me.) In a 1989 letter in the local Jackson Hole newspaper, Don wrote: “the Forest Service’s failure to stop salt placement as a game bait reduces its own objectives and policies to mere platitudes and gives overriding importance to economic wellbeing of outfitters who practice animal baiting.”

After 6 years of sustained pressure, including from yours truly, the Forest Service adopted a special order prohibiting salting. But the outfitters pushed back and the agency “declined” to enforce it. In a 1991 letter to Regional Forester Gray Reynolds, Don protested: “It is abundantly clear that outfitters and their operations are given special treatment that is not available to the general public. Perpetuation of caches, immunity from permit violations, heavy and abusive uses are some of the special treatments allowed by wilderness managers. All of the self back-patting and acclamations of good management cannot erase or overcome the evidence of improper and inadequate on the ground management.”

Nothing changed.

A decade later, a young buff heavily-tattooed man in ragged cutoffs wandered into my office, asking to volunteer for something useful. Tom Arnold was fresh back from Afghanistan where he had served in Special Operations with the Marine Corps. I suggested that he check what was going on in the Thorofare before hunting season, especially the deployment of salt blocks. He did, moving light and out of sight. Wide-eyed, he came back to the office two weeks later. Yes, he had seen some active salts but had been accosted by several outfitters and threatened with violence. Bob was not surprised.

Since then, Forest Service funding to protect the backcountry has tanked, and the agency considers the salt issue a low priority.

Bob can still see many of the same salt sites on Google Earth, indicating that the salting practice continues.

“Wimps in the Woods”

In 1990, four grizzlies were killed and one hunter mauled in the Teton Wilderness. At the fall IGBC meeting, Dick Knight, then Leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, erupted: “There are too many wimps in the woods… We need some education for hunters out there. They’re not woodsmen. They don’t know what the hell they are doing out there.” I watched the shock on the faces of the seated managers as Bozeman Chronicle reporter Joan Haines scribbled down his quote.

Dick made headlines, and a group of managers was assembled to evaluate what could be done. Its report recommended considering later starting dates for the hunting season so as to overlap less with hungry grizzlies; closing some areas to hunting; and certifying hunters in grizzly bear habitat – but then predictably rejected all of these measures in favor of non-regulatory approaches that would pose fewer political threats to the managers and their agencies. Although bear spray was then in its infancy, managers strongly encouraged its use, as well as hunting in pairs and prompt retrieval of game to avoid leaving carcasses overnight.

Based partly on these recommendations, managers sponsored a number of “Living in Bear Country” workshops aimed at reaching out to and educating hunters, recreationists, and residents. In those somewhat less polarized times, my involvement was welcome. I was invited to participate on the Grizzly Bear Committee’s Information and Education Subcommittee. Moreover, the Sierra Club co-sponsored a number of workshops together with state and federal agencies while producing regular Public Service Announcements for radio broadcast that promoted safety in bear country.

But, despite the fact that garbage-related conflicts between humans and grizzly bears continued to decline in the ecosystem, hunter-related conflicts mounted.

More Wrecks and Hot Air

The next big wreck occurred during 1999, again predictably in the Teton Wilderness and adjacent Shoshone Forest. Six grizzlies were killed by hunters, several under questionable circumstances. Some of Wyoming’s more ethical hunters showed up at the grizzly bear managers’ meeting that winter in Jackson, angry that the deteriorating situation was giving hunting a bad name. Lloyd Dorsey of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation said in a letter to the editor of the Casper Star Tribune: “if the great bear is ever to recover from its threatened status and be delisted, hunters have to learn proper behavior. Evidently some hunters are not paying attention to the lessons…including using bear deterrent, keeping clean camps, storing food, trophy game heads, and carcasses properly out of reach of bears, camping away from your camp kitchen.”

Under pressure, the Forest Service stepped forward and offered to create a committee to evaluate the problem. At the helm of the process was Bridger-Teton National Forest Biologist Timm Kaminski, who was committed to improving hunter practices and became a good friend. Impressed and hopeful, I volunteered to be part of the committee, serving as one of the only women on a group that was mostly outfitters and exemplars of Wyoming’s good old boys. Harold Turner proved an entertaining storyteller, blustering about grizzlies attacking his pack horses loaded with elk quarters, grizzlies in camp, and grizzlies scaring guides as they dressed elk. I still wonder whether he was bragging or complaining. Regardless, his role here was to hype the problems rather than to engage in a useful discussion on how to solve them.

While the process was underway, Meredith and Tory went back to the Thorofare and found dozens of salt sites, with craters up to four feet deep and 20 yards across. They publicized their inventory and conversations with agency officials, who, other than Jackson, poo pooed the problem. Needless-to-say, the outfitters were not happy that the Taylors’ work had elevated the problem, nor did they want to stop the practice. They were poised to blow up the entire process when the Forest Service released draft recommendations, similar to previous ones, but this time with more emphasis on enforcing regulations and expanding agency presence in the backcountry during hunting season.

No sooner had the draft document hit the streets than Turner and his politically well-connected compadres threw a fit, blocking further action. Around this time the Bridger Teton Forest Supervisor who had created the committee was sent on a “detail” to Utah presumably to duck the political backlash. When asked about his agency’s inaction, Michael Schrotz, who stepped in as acting Forest Supervisor, offered this: “I regret to say we haven’t had the presence we should have in the back country.” Almost certainly an understatement.

We were back to ground zero, or worse. The outfitters and their political sycophants had yet again won this round.  The story circulated in the agencies like wildfire. The message: contesting the privileged position of outfitters on the Bridger Teton National Forest is a career-ending move. I bet Harold Turner spun a self-congratulatory funny yarn about all this.

Since then, in 2004 and 2009, managers released two sets of laudable recommendations to reduce hunter-related conflicts with grizzlies in Greater Yellowstone. Monitoring reports show that, while sanitation work continued, virtually no new suggested measures related to hunter conflicts were implemented even as such conflicts continued to climb. My notes taken at the 2009 IGBC meeting show that the Committee’s chairwoman, Mary Erickson, requested that the 2009 recommendations be prioritized and that an action plan be developed. Neither happened.  Another big zero for bears and people.

What Now?

Here we are again, 10 years later: the government is revising its recommendations to reduce conflicts in the wake of a record-breaking 65 grizzly bear deaths and a hunter fatality during 2018. Yet again the fatality–of hunting guide Mark Uptain–occurred in the Teton Wilderness. In addition to the two grizzlies killed in response to the fatality, another 9 grizzlies were killed by hunters in Wyoming. Since all cases are still “under investigation” the locations are not disclosed.

Now, not only has Bob retired, but the Park Service has lost its zeal (and funding) to patrol the backcountry as it once did. The Forest Service has likewise lost most of its funding for wilderness management and trail maintenance. (Both agencies have good people but little commitment). By contrast, the “old west” anti-carnivore culture of Wyoming flourishes. Emblematic of this reactionary vigor in lock-step with the Trump presidency, Wyoming’s state legislature recently passed a bill allowing—even promoting—a grizzly bear hunt in defiance of an order issued last fall by a federal District Judge prohibiting hunting and restoring ESA protections for Yellowstone’s grizzlies, for the second time.

During the last 15 years conflicts have worsened, largely as a result of the climate-driven collapse of whitebark pine forests. The fat-rich seeds of whitebark pine had previously been a mainstay for grizzly bears. But due to warming temperatures, mountain pine beetles have been able to flourish in the trees’ formerly inhospitable high-elevation refuges where they have devastated whitebark pine. Grizzlies are now turning more to eating meat and, as a result, conflicts over big game carcasses and livestock are skyrocketing.  Because of excessive mortalities, the population of about 700 bears has not grown over the last fifteen years and is likely currently declining—apologists for removal of ESA protections notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, technology for reducing conflicts has improved considerably. In a comprehensive federal study, bear spray has been found to be effective in deterring a charging bear in over 90% of the cases it was deployed. Numerous bear poles have been built on National Forests in the Greater Yellowstone to facilitate hanging of game meat way from bruins’ reach. Electric fence has been perfected to protect calving areas. We have examples of successful coexistence in agricultural landscapes such as the Blackfoot Challenge, where conflicts have been reduced by 90% as a result of simple measures such as prompt removal and composting of livestock carcasses, deployment of electric fences, and a phone tree to alert neighbors when a grizzly is in the area.

The point is that it is possible to avoid conflicts with grizzlies. And if the tragic death of Mark Uptain teaches us anything, it is the need for hunters to take simple precautionary steps, including being ready for encounters with grizzlies and avoiding leaving an elk carcass on the ground overnight – recommendations that have been made for the last 30 years.

And, more importantly, we are reminded that outfitters and hunters have too much influence over management of our public lands and wildlife—largely in service of their private profit and regressive ideologies. More egregious yet, their private benefits are heavily subsidized by our taxpayer dollars. We have made the case elsewhere that reforming the institution of state wildlife management is essential if the large majority of people who are not hunters are to have a meaningful voice in management of wildlife in the West. We have also argued that more emphasis and related funding be directed in federal land management agencies towards protecting wildlife and wilderness.

The kind of work that Bob did should be expanded and otherwise supported. The Forest Service should also bolster its presence in the backcountry, as Timm recommended. Those who use the backcountry of the Thorofare should abide by the law and conform to basic ethical standards. Despite the apparent norms of current political behavior, being well-connected should not sanction criminality.

History has shown that, by itself, education – which many of us inside and outside the government have wholeheartedly pursued – does not work. In adopting food storage orders three decades ago, the Park Service and Forest Service recognized this simple fact. At this juncture, new regulations, even a certification system for hunters, should be required to ensure the safety of both hunters and grizzlies.

The 64-million-dollar question is: will the agencies do anything different this time? Will hunters, outfitters, and managers change their behaviors? Or will we only hear more whining from Wyoming politicians and wildlife managers, followed by yet more of our grizzlies being gunned down because of toxic ideologies, willful ignorance, and venal political posturing?

Given my history with this debate, I am not optimistic. But Bob Jackson, Timm Kaminski, Tory and Meredith Taylor, Don Hooper, Lloyd Dorsey and others have articulated a positive alternative path forward for anyone to follow if they only choose to.

Categories: News for progressives

The Path to Climate Justice Passes Through Caracas

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:56

It is critical to understand how blocking the regime change agenda with respect to Venezuela is integrally connected to confronting the challenge of climate change.

Fighting the Media War

Today we are all witness to the subversion and slander of one of our best hopes. Venezuelans call it “the media war.” Karl Marx called it “the war of calumny undertaken by the lying power of the civilised world,” and went on to describe how “all the sluices of slander at the disposal of the venal respectable press were opened at once to set free a deluge of infamy in which to drown the execrated foe. This war of calumny finds no parallel in history for the truly international area over which it has spread, and for the complete accord in which it has been carried on by all shades of ruling class opinion.”

These words of Marx describe an older media war –  a war against the International Workingmen’s Association, which later became known as The First International. Today they could be applied seamlessly to the media war against the democratically elected government of Venezuela and the revolutionary process it represents. And the comparison is historically and politically sound, because Venezuela was host to the founding in 2017 of the First Ecosocialist International– a piece of world news which has been all but completely drowned out in the furor to topple the only government in the world which has laid out a comprehensive planfor an ecosocialist mode of production “to preserve peace in the planet and save the human species.”

It hurts us to read and write about Venezuela today. A tyrannous troika of mendacity, ignorance and laziness rules with near impunity in the world or journalism; from Fox News to the BBC, from CNN to the Guardian, from Amnesty International to the Committee to Protect Journalists, from John Oliver to Jacobin Magazine. We would much prefer to write about how we have been moved to joy and courage and compassion by the mass popular democratic movements in this country. We would prefer to write about the sense of goodwill, hope and inspiration which emanates from the grassroots Venezuelan revolutionary process. As Che Guevara said, revolutionaries are guided by great feelings of love.

The central purpose of this article is to discuss how the Green New Deal and other climate justice initiatives in the global north have so much to learn and gain from the Bolivarian revolution. But before we can trace this connection, before we can share our love, the way must be cleared of the deception which prevents hearts from beating together across borders. In the face of the scorn which is being heaped upon the Venezuelan revolution today, we must enter the fray and draw our pens to fight in this media war. If our language is sharp, it is because we are at war, a war which calls for sound and fury commensurate to the tales told by idiots.

Will the real shithole countries please stand up?

As many other commentatorshave detailed, the self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido – for whom billions of dollars belonging to the Venezuelan people have been expropriated by US and British banks – is a virtually unknown figure in Venezuela,. He simply declared himself sovereign, not even during an election year, and not  according to any law. The speed and shamelessness with which the leaders of so many countries have abandoned any pretense to democracy, in their official recognition of Guaido, is rather remarkable. But let’s start by clarifying that this rejection of representative democracy only currently afflicts a minority of the world.

Once the EU came out for Guaido, it really seemed to some people for a moment that the whole world was against Maduro and against democracy in Venezuela. While most are not quite as shameless as Bono, a lot of people in the USA and Europe still really do believe that “we are the world.” However the fact fremains that it is only a minority of the world’s population which has tossed democracy into the dustbin of history. No one in Africa or Asia has recognized Guaido as legitimate. Is it that these countries don’t count? (Do black lives matter?)

There is something to be learned from this. A map compiled by Venezuela Analysis reveals, for anyone who cares to investigate, who the real shithole countries are. Perhaps we should not be surprised. In the moment when so-called liberal democracies around the world elect fascist leaders, they have reminded us that democracy is not on their agenda. So be it: Vassal states of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your souls.

Neither Guaido nor Maduro?

With that said, a few paragraphs are also necessary to address certain sources, in Venezuela and internationally, who reject both the ongoing coup attempt, and also the current government: “Neither Guaido nor Maduro!” This discourse too must be discerningly dissected before we can lay the basis for solidarity between global climate justice activists and the Venezuelan revolutionary process.

There is a strange phenomenon taking place in the international left media, in which leftish reporters seem to be getting all their news from the right. Even Amy Goodman stooped to this in an interview with Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza, citing studies by the IMF and Human Rights Watch, each of which have a well documented history of sowing chaos and counterinsurgency in Venezuela. But the prize for a leftwing newspaper with a rightwing research wing goes to Jacobin. “Maduro was not democratically elected,” proclaimed a recent article– a lazy lie which has been repeated about every single election in Venezuela since Chavez first came to power, despite extensive reports and denunciations of international observers. [1] Phrases such as “the extent of popular power in Venezuela has diminished significantly in recent years” are published without a trace of evidence. In the hegemony of “human interest”  journalism, personal anecdotes eclipse historical analysis, and no one seems to note the demonstrations of thousands of people in support of Maduro. It is a surreal situation in which the masses of working class Venezuelans are invisibilized in favor of solidarity with their simulacra.

Here’s another gem from Jacobin: “Opposition to Maduro is now common not only among upper and middle classes (as it has been for some time), but also among the popular sectors. Polls indicate that most Venezuelans want Maduro out”. The first claim is unsubstantiated in any way. Widely available videos and photos of opposition demonstrations reveal quite the opposite – they are lily white and racist to boot; they wave US and Israeli flags, and glorify Trump. And then a poll carried out by a think tank based in Washington DC is cited as an example of Venezuelan popular will! But perhaps it is folly to focus on this magazine which rejects the politics of its namesake; which emerged from Trotskyism only to wind up as the loyal opposition to multicultural capitalism.[2] Better to focus on other voices, which are taken more seriously on the international stage.

When it comes to the radical Venezuelan anti-Chavista/anti-Maduro intellectuals on the left, it is our experience that these voices are restricted to the marginal enclaves of the urban intelligentsia. These perspectives are articulated, in our experience, by professional intellectuals without organizations or bases; those who Antonio Gramsci called “‘vanguards’ without armies to back them up, ‘commandos’ without infantry or artillery.” But to an undiscerning foreign observer, especially those who read only English, these voices carry a greatly disproportionate weight compared to the forces they represent within Venezuela. We’ll limit ourselves to one example. Edgardo Lander is one of the more honest critics. (We share and applaud his ecosocialist philosophy, but not any of his arguments or tactics in relation to the government in the current conjuncture.) He admits in a recent article: “It’s not much more than a dozen people so it’s more of an opinion group… We aren’t a party, we don’t have a lot of people we can call upon to rally but we manage to have some impact in terms of public opinion… To be honest, the Citizen’s Platform itself has no mass capacity to mobilise”. Thus it is disconcerting and deplorable to observe the analysis of these isolated intellectuals repeated abroad – from Amandla Magazine in South Africa to ecosocialist collectives in South Asia – as if they were the spokespeople of the revolutionary masses.

Let’s be clear – critiques of the bourgeois, colonial state and the political economy inherited by the Chavista regime are rich and diverse throughout the country; these critiques are articulated mostly by outspoken Chavistas, who very often quote Chavez and Maduro on this subject. But we have yet to encounter a grassroots mass movement which denounces the Maduro government as illegitimate or authoritarian. The accusation of “authoritarianism” in the name of international solidarity is odd alongside near-total silence about the constant killings of social movement leaders in neighboring countries,and especially odd when it comes from people who are citizens of countries that are engaged in systematic torture and outrageous war crimes. While authoritarianism can be diversely defined, we will not deign to denounce claims that the Venezuelan government is a dictatorship; the so-called radical critics are invited to consult a dictionary.

We earnestly ask these radical anti-Chavistas – what purpose do their words serve in the current conjuncture? With which grassroots movements are they concretely in solidarity? Do they write for foreign NGOs or for popular newspapers? Who benefits when ecosocialists like Lander stage meetings with proto-fascists like Guaido? These “radical critics” who are lionized abroad but have no significant popular support at home, appear to want to criticize their cake and eat it too; to live in a revolutionary process but criticize it from the academic sidelines. Meanwhile, for those anti-Chavista critics living in the United States, it is difficult to stomach the spectacle of their posturing: Good citizens of a ruthless empire which is actively working at every level to overthrow a foreign democratically elected government, who take it upon themselves to denounce that foreign government for not being “radical enough”. Who is not being radical enough, really?

n this deeply complex and decisive historical moment, we share the humility of Lenin when he said: “I don’t know how radical you are, or how radical I am. I am certainly not radical enough. One can never be radical enough; that is, one must always try to be as radical as reality itself.” We too would like to witness the demolition of the bourgeois state, and the abandonment of the rentier petroleum and mining economies which are a legacy of colonialism. But we don’t believe a new mode of production can emerge by making demands and denunciations. We are not particularly outraged that Chavez and Maduro have failed to reverse 500 years of colonialism in a couple decades of a constitutional revolution. We struggle for solidarity with a path towards the future based on the realities of the world we live in today. Our 2015 proposal for the solarization of the Venezuelan economy and Mercosur (“An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela; A Solar Communist Horizon for the World”) outlines such a proposal.

The Green New Deal in World-Systemic Perspective

One of us has been writing extensively for over a decade about how a Green New Deal (GND) should be embraced by ecosocialists as a site of class struggle.[3] Now that the GND is getting a lot of attention as a potential prevention program to avoid catastrophic climate change, it is important to note the contributions of the Green Party of the United States (GP) to making the link between the GND, climate change and the U.S. imperial agenda. Howie Hawkins, an ecosocialist, ran for Governor of New York with a GND in his platform starting in 2010, and the two Presidential campaigns of Dr. Jill Stein, which brought the vision of a GND to the attention of millions, made a significant impact. The GP’s  GND includes cutting the military budget and ending the imperial U.S. foreign policy which is in utter contradiction to the agendas of both the Republican and Democratic Party leadership. Nevertheless, there is growing dissent in Congress with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) vigorously challenging Elliot Abrams in a recent hearing, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) standing out. And because of the assassination of Khashoggi and their murderous war in Yemen, the U.S./Saudi alliance is now under attack in Congress.

But in the Western Hemisphere, foreign policy consensus still prevails, so the Democratic leadership is currently giving a pass to the Trump coup threat to Venezuela. Only someone completely brainwashed by the imperial mass media can believe that this regime change agenda is actually in place because of humanitarian concerns – with Trump, Pompeo, Bolton and the war criminal from the Reagan era Elliot Abrams at the helm, noting that Venezuela has the biggest oil reserves in the world. There is little doubt that these political instruments of militarized fossil capital want this oil extracted. In an interview on Fox Business, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton was open about the US- led coup in Venezuela being motivated by oil and corporate interests. Bolton said, “We’re looking at the oil assets…We don’t want any American businesses or investors caught by surprise. …we’re in conversation with major American companies now that are either in Venezuela, or in the case of Citgo here in the United States…It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. We both have a lot at stake here making this come out the right way.”

Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world: “With 300,878 million barrels of proven reserves, Venezuela has the largest amount of proven oil reserves in the world. The country’s oil is a relatively new discovery. Previously, Saudi Arabia had always held the number one position.  The oil sand deposits in Venezuela are similar to those in Canada. Venezuela also boasts plenty of conventional oil deposits. Venezuela’s Orinoco tar sands are significantly less viscous than Canada’s, so the oil sands there can be extracted using conventional oil extraction methods, giving it a considerable advantage over the Northern American rival in terms of capital requirements and extractions costs.” (World Atlas: World’s Largest Oil Reserves by Country”)

Extraction of this huge reserve would be a climate killer, while defeating the imperial agenda driving the Venezuela coup will potentially make an important contribution to global climate security. Venezuela must be left to determine her own destiny, making possible an alternative scenario, upon which the fate of the biosphere may hinge: that most of the oil reserve will stay in the ground, while a small fraction will be used as an energy source for a solar energy transition for Latin America. While Venezuela’ leaders may continue brag about their huge reserve, they surely know that most of it must remain in the ground to be consistent with Venezuela’s own ratification of the Paris Agreement, not to mention its own Plan of the Homeland, recognizing that much more radical curbs on greenhouse gas emission than presently committed are imperative to keep warming below the goal of 1.5 degrees centigrade.

As a major oil producer, Venezuela has the potential to significantly contribute to a solar energy transition, using this fossil fuel with the lowest greenhouse gas emission ratio to energy consumed as an energy source to replace itself. Venezuela could lead a wind/solar power transition in Latin America using a small fraction of her liquid petroleum reserves, while still gaining revenue from oil exports as well as contributing to the same energy transition globally. Implementing this approach would be a critical component of Venezuela’s self-identified path of ecosocialist development. The proven reserves of conventional light to heavy oil in Venezuela are estimated to be 39 billion barrels, (excluding 259 billion barrels of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco basin)[4], although the further expansion of this reserve has been neglected in recent years, particularly since the downturn in the economy following the sharp fall in the price of oil and sanctions regime imposed by the U.S. We have estimated that it is possible to reach the goal of ending energy poverty – necessary for a high quality of life for 400 million people in what were the Mercosur countries – and moreover that this can be achieved in 15 years or less, using 0.15 billion barrels of this oil per year to create a solar power infrastructure.[5]

But of course militarized fossil capital has other plans –  namely the destruction of the Bolivarian Revolution, coupled with extracting this huge oil reserve, regardless of the climatic and environmental consequences. And Cuba is explicitly next on the list for regime change; the fossil empire continues to plot the elimination of this example of ecosocialist transition, noting her vigorous conversion to agroecologies and cooperative ownership.[6]

And not coincidently, the US imperial regime change agenda is also aimed to Iran, which ranks 4th in proven oil reserves with 158,400 million barrels, behind U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Canada.[7] Europe is resisting U.S. pressure to terminate the Iran nuclear deal, but in a reprise of the Monroe Doctrine, Europe is now supporting the U.S. regime change agenda.

Only a resurgent global movement can block this outcome. This challenge should be considered by climate and energy justice activists, and all those supporting the GND initiative in the US Congress, the growing Sunrise movement in particular. Finally, blocking the Trump coup against Venezuela would be an important step to undermining the power of the Military Industrial Complex. The US military is both the biggest polluter and also the biggest obstacle to freeing up resources necessary for a robust GND and creating a global regime of cooperation – so necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change in the ever-shrinking time we have left.

However, we must be on our guard, and be careful students of history. Like the New Deal before it, the GND’s devils are in its details. The New Deal famously left out women and African Americans, and less famously sealed the systematic de-radicalization of the US labor movement.[8] Similar dangers present themselves to climate justice activists today in the context of the GND. All the more reason to engage in the debates and struggles around and for the GND, as we have insisted from the beginning; not as a compromise, but as a class struggle.


Over a decade ago, one of us wrote: “The path to climate security must pass through Gaza, i.e., climate security for humankind will only be achieved with the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, termination of Israeli apartheid regime, and the full realization of the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people.”

The argument still stands, more than ever. Today, noting the historic solidarity between the Venezuelan revolutionary process and the Palestinian people, we must add that the path to climate justice must pass through Caracas; i.e., climate justice for humanity will only be achieved if the world’s largest reserves of fossil fuels are mobilized for a continental and then global energy transition; that this is only possible with the termination of the US war of counterinsurgency and destabilization against the Venezuelan government, allowing them to focus their attention on the full realization of an ecosocialist mode of production. The legal, scientific and spiritual mandate for this ecosocialist revolution are articulated by the government in the Plan of the Homeland (2013-2019) by an independent coalition of scientists in the National Strategy for the Conservation of Biodiversity (2010-2020) and by the global grassroots alliance constituted in the First Ecosocialist International (2017-2517).

Does anyone who is serious about global climate justice have another proposal? Those who “stand for” neither Guaido nor Maduro are not forthcoming with a strategy to prevent climate catastrophe. Venezuela is the only country in the world with the energy resources and political-legal structure necessary to launch a revolutionary global energy transition against its class enemies. (Perhaps those who despise Maduro would prefer to trust the infrastructure development necessary for climate justice to the royal family of Saudi Arabia?) The international left has still not awoken to the fact that the largest oil reserves in the world are under the legal control of an ecosocialist government, whose current supreme power is neither Guaido’s national assembly nor Maduro’s executive government, but a constituent assembly composed of representatives of the working classes. It’s past time to wake up.

Those of us around the world who are looking for a way to save the biosphere, from Extinction Rebellion to the Sunrise Movement to the Green New Deal, should make it a top priority to join in concrete solidarity with both the revolutionary process of Venezuela and the government it has repeatedly elected. The farcebook spectacle of dueling proclamations of “I stand with” / “I stand against” (when it is obvious to all concerned that everyone is in fact sitting down in front of their computers) would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high and the consequences so tragic. Not only history, but the geologic record itself, will record our actions and inactions in defense of climate justice, whose fate is played out today on the streets of Caracas. Meanwhile, the people of Haiti are showing the world what real international solidarity looks like – thousands of people in the streets.[9]

The path to climate justice passes through Caracas, but it doesn’t stop there. It passes through and into the countryside, where a radical rural renaissance is taking place with the formation of ecosocialist communes in every bioregion. A new socio-territorial order, as called for by Chavez in his final “Strike at the Helm” speech to his ministers, and a return to Mother Earth, as articulated in the Combined Strategy and Plan of Action of the First Ecosocialist International, awaits the solidarity it deserves.

David Schwartzman is the co-author of The Earth is Not for Sale.

Quincy Saul is the editor of The Emergence of Ecosocialism: Collected Essays by Joel Kovel


[1]  Jacobin goes on to list a number of “frauds,” each one of which is parroted from the bourgeois press: Jacobin uncritically cites CNN, BBC, and the Wall Street Journal. Each of these claims has been denounced in detail by reporters and journalists. Like the cartography of an empire imagined by Jorge Luis Borges, a comprehensive denunciation of each of these articles would necessarily be as long as the original articles themselves. The monolingual culture of the US left is no excuse; each of these allegations have been extensively covered on Venezuela Analysis and Telesur English, among other sources. With international solidarity like this, who needs counterinsurgency?

[2] A more honest standard of Trotskyism is upheld by the Fourth International. We  do not agree with much of this either, but a full counter-analysis is not possible within the confines of this essay. We can only suggest that it takes a serious study of dialectics and the inter-penetration of opposites, to begin to understand philosophically how the far left joins forces with the far right in moments of historical crisis.

[3]  “Green New Deal: An Ecosocialist Perspective,” by David Schwartzman, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2011. See also the presentation “Green New Deal: System Change and Energy Transition,”2014, among others.

[4]  IESA (2016). Venezuela Energy in Figures 2014-2015, Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración, Venezuela, p. 21.

[5]  Schwartzman, D. and Saul, Q. (2015). An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela: A Solar Communist Horizon for the World, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 26 (3), pp. 14-30. The current production of crude oil in Venezuela (January 2019) is 1.5 million barrels/day, equivalent to 0.5 billion barrels/year, a decline from 0.9 billion barrels/year in 2016;

[6]  See chapter 8 in Schwartzman, P. and D. Schwartzman. 2019. The Earth is Not for Sale: A Path Out of Fossil Capitalism to the Other World That is Still Possible. Singapore: World Scientific.

[7]  (World Atlas: World’s Largest Oil Reserves by Country”)

[8]  “Whose New Deal? The New Deal from the Standpoint of its Victims,” by Quincy Saul, Smashthisscreen, 2011

[9] “Haiti’s Unfolding Revolution is Directly Linked to Venezuela’s,” by Kim Ives, Haiti Liberte, February 2019:

Categories: News for progressives

Biden on the Relaunch Pad: He’s Worse Than You Thought

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:55

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.”

On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment — at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president.

When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning: “Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.”

The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance:

*  “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.”

*  “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.”

*  Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.”

Media mythology about “Lunch Bucket Joe” cannot stand up to scrutiny. His bona fides as a pal of working people are about as solid and believable as those of the last Democratic nominee for president.

But Biden’s fealty to corporate power has been only one aspect of his many-faceted record that progressives will widely find repugnant to the extent they learn about it.

Since the #MeToo movement began, some retrospective media coverage has assessed Biden’s highly problematic role in chairing the Clarence Thomas – Anita Hill hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And in recent days, Washington Post reporting has brought into focus his backstory of pandering to white racism against African-Americans during much of his Senate career.

As a 32-year-old senator, in 1975, Biden commented: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”

More attention is also needed to Biden’s role as Judiciary Committee chair pushing through the now-notorious landmark 1994 crime bill. In the process of championing the bill, Biden warned of “predators on our streets” during a 1993 speech on the Senate floor.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth,” Biden proclaimed. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they’re about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.”

Now, a new Iowa poll shows Biden and Bernie Sanders neck and neck in the first-in-the-nation contest for the nomination, with the rest of the candidates far behind in the state. For quite a while, Biden has been sharpening his hatchet to swing at progressive populism in general — and Bernie in particular.

In typical Biden style, the former vice president is eager to stake out the middle of the road, between ultra-predatory capitalism and solidarity with working-class people. At an October 2017 gathering in Alabama, he said: “Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn’t like me saying that, but they are.” Later, Biden elaborated on the theme when he told an audience at the Brookings Institution, “I don’t think five hundred billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.”

As Branko Marcetic pointed out in Jacobin last summer, “at a time when left-wing populism is increasingly accepted as the antidote to Trump and the GOP’s nativist and corporate-friendly pitch, Biden stands as a remnant of precisely the sort of left-averse, triangulating Democratic politics that Hillary Clinton was relentlessly criticized for personifying.”

Biden makes clear his distaste for the current progressive populist wave. “I know some want to single out big corporations for all the blame,” he wrote in a blog post. “It is true that the balance has shifted too much in favor of corporations and against workers. But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy or let industry off the hook.”

One of the many industries that Biden has a long record of letting “off the hook” is the war business. In that mode, Biden did more than any other Democratic senator to greenlight the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

It wasn’t just that Biden voted for the Iraq war on the Senate floor five months before it began. During the lead-up to that vote, in August 2002, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he presided over sham hearings — refusing to allow experts who opposed an invasion to get any words in edgewise — while a cavalcade of war hawks testified in the national spotlight.

“It is difficult to over-estimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible,” Middle East studies professor Stephen Zunes wrote. “More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war. In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.”

Joe Biden’s friendly TV persona appeals to many. He smiles well and has a gift of gab. Most political journalists in the mass media like him. He’s an apt frontrunner for the military-industry complex and the corporate power structure that it serves. Whether Biden can win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination will largely depend on how many voters don’t know much about his actual record.

Categories: News for progressives

The Downside of the World’s Love Affair with Shrimp

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:53

Shrimp was once considered a treat for special occasions, but now it is a frequent mealtime staple. And that is not necessarily so good.

More than half of imported shrimp is “farmed”—grown in huge industrial tanks or shallow, manmade ponds that can stretch for acres. At least 150 shrimp can be crowded into a single square meter, where they’re fed commercial pellets, sometimes laced with antibiotics to ward off disease. What isn’t eaten can sink to the bottom and rot, creating a putrid soup of feed and fecal matter.

These vast, polluting overseas operations routinely use antibiotics that are needed to treat common human infections––for example, Amoxycillin—which is not approved in U.S. shrimp farming but used overseas. Such use, of course, encourages antibiotic resistant bacteria––so that human and animal diseases no longer respond to the drugs and can become life-threatening. What’s more, this resistance isn’t limited to one type of bacteria, but can be transferred to other, more common bacteria, including those that cause common human infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic-resistant infections are associated with 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the U.S. each year.

In the U.S., no antibiotics are approved for regular use in shrimp farming, but many foreign countries permit them, making imported shrimp a big concern. The US’s Food and Drug Administration examines only a fraction of the shrimp coming into the country—and “examined” may simply mean reading the label, not actually testing the shrimp for residues in a laboratory. Between 2009 and 2012, the FDA tested just 0.9 percent of shrimp imports.

One reason shrimp producers turn to antibiotics is that shrimp crowded into small tanks are extremely susceptible to diseases, such as Early Mortality Syndrome (EMS), which can wipe out entire harvests. In 2012, EMS is estimated to have affected 80 percent of the shrimp farms in Vietnam. And there is more cruelty involved. A common practice in the shrimp industry is to remove the eyestalks of female shrimp to hasten breeding by inducing maturation and spawning.

Shrimp producers may also be using pesticides such as toxic organophosphates, and antifungals such as carcinogenic Gentian violet. These chemicals are banned in U.S. shrimp farming, and they can put your health at risk and damage the environment. Yet labels can misleadingly says, “natural,” “environmentally aware,” “chemical-free,” “no hormones” and “sustainable.” These are meaningless claims since there are no applicable standards (and hormones are not used in shrimp production anyway).

Also, in some cases, farmed white-leg shrimp (the most commonly farmed shrimp globally) are sold as “wild” or “Gulf” shrimp.

Of course shrimp farming is lucrative because it produces cheaper shrimp than wild shrimp. A one-acre shrimp farm can produce as much as 89,000 pounds of shrimp worth about $400,000 —a powerful incentive for farmers to maximize production.

But are wild caught shrimp really better––assuming someone wants to pay more? Consider this: For every pound of shrimp caught in the wild, one to three pounds of other species—including endangered sea turtles and dolphins’—can be caught and killed. Devices that allow other sea life to escape their nets are available for trawls but not universally used. In 1987 Louisiana passed a law to prevent enforcement of a federal requirement for such devices, called Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs. In 2016, then Governor Jindal thankfully reversed the law.

So what is the answer for shrimp lovers? First, just plain eat less shrimp––the environment and shrimp will thank you. Secondly, when you do buy shrimp look for a label that says Naturland which is the best assurance of ethical production.

Categories: News for progressives

What’s Behind the Weak February Jobs Report

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:52

The index of aggregate hours fell 0.3 percent in February and is below the December level.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the economy added just 20,000 jobs in February. While this is a very weak number, it most likely is a bounce back from the extraordinarily rapid growth reported in January, which was revised up to 311,000. The average growth for the last three months was a solid 186,000.

Wage growth accelerated modestly, with the average hourly wage up 3.4 percent compared to its year-ago level. The annual rate of increase for the last three months (December, January, and February) compared with the prior three months (September, October, November) is 3.3 percent.

The news in the household survey was mostly positive with the unemployment rate slipping down to 3.8 percent. The overall and prime-age (ages 25–54) employment-to-population ratios (EPOP) were both unchanged from the highs for the recovery reached last month. The number of people reporting that they were involuntarily working part-time plunged by 837,000, more than reversing a sharp jump in January. As a share of employment, involuntary part-time is now below its prerecession lows. The drop in involuntary part-time pushed the U-6 measure of unemployment down to 7.3 percent, a new low for the recovery.

The weak job growth in the establishment survey is clearly a reversal of unusually strong growth in January. Restaurants reportedly added 51,300 in January after adding 47,400 in December. In February, job growth was just 1,600. The average for the last year is 23,400. Health care added 20,800 jobs in February, after adding a total of 88,700 in the prior two months. The average over the last year is 30,100. Employment in education services, which is very erratic, jumped 27,000 in January, but it fell by 18,700 in February.

While these reversals are clearly just timing or reporting issues, the causes of weak growth elsewhere are more ambiguous. Construction employment fell by 31,000 in February after rising by 53,000 in January. While part of this drop is almost certainly a result of January’s strong number, there is evidence of weakening in both residential and non-residential construction. Mining lost 2,800 jobs, the largest drop since August of 2016, as the drop in world oil prices seems to be taking a toll.

Retail lost 6,100 jobs in February after adding 13,700 in January. Employment in the sector is virtually unchanged over the last year.

Manufacturing employment rose by just 4,000, the smallest increase since a drop of 3,000 in July of 2017. The 21,000 rise in the January number is trivially higher than 20,200 the average for the last year, so this is not a bounce back. Manufacturing in the clothing sector continues to be hard hit, with the three categories losing 3,000 jobs, roughly 1.0 percent of total employment, in February. Wage growth in manufacturing continues to lag overall wage growth, rising just 2.0 percent over the year.

Perhaps of greater concern than the weaker job growth is a drop in hours. The index of aggregate hours fell by 0.3 percent and it is now slightly below the December level. It is possible that weather was a factor, but this could presage weaker job growth in the future.

One noteworthy item from the shifting patterns of employment was an increase to 49.8 percent in the share of women on payroll. Payroll employment of women increased by 98,000 in February.

While the news in the household survey was generally positive, there were some mixed signals. The duration measures of unemployment all ticked up modestly, but this was primarily reversing a drop in January. Black teen unemployment jumped 6.2 percentage points to 26.8 percent, its highest level since last April.

Voluntary part-time employment seems to be dropping as a share of total employment. There was a sharp rise in 2014 following the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, as workers could now get health care through the exchanges (or Medicaid) and didn’t need employer-based insurance. The average for the last three months is just 21,112,000 just 101,700 (0.48 percent) higher than the average for the last three months of 2016, meaning the share of total employment has fallen. This likely reflects the increased cost and reduced access to non-employer-based insurance.

While the slower job growth, especially the drop in hours, do provide some cause for concern, it is necessary to see more data to question the strength of the recovery. The acceleration in wage growth is clearly a positive but should not be enough to prompt fears of inflation. This is especially true since productivity growth ticked up modestly to 1.8 percent in 2018. If that is sustained (a big “if”), then we can support a more rapid pace of wage growth without inflation.

This article originally appeared on CERP.

Categories: News for progressives

Who will Displace the Omniciders?

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:48

Citizens challenging the towering threat of climate crisis should never underestimate the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuel corporations. Real engagement with the worsening climate disruption means spending more of our leisure hours on civic action. The fate of future generations and our planet depends on the intensity of these actions.

This was my impression after interviewing Dahr Jamail, author of the gripping new book, The End of Ice, on my Radio Hour. Jamail, wrote books and prize-winning articles, as the leading freelance journalist covering the Bush/Cheney Iraq war and its devastating aftermath. For his latest book, Jamail went to the visible global warming hot spots to get firsthand accounts from victims of climate disruption. His gripping reporting is bolstered by facts from life-long specialists working in the regions he visited.

Readers of The End of Ice are taken on a journey to see what is happening in Alaska, the mountain forests of California, the coral reefs of Australia, the heavily populated lowlands of South Florida, the critical Amazon forest, and other areas threatened by our corporate-driven climate crisis.

Jamail, an accomplished mountaineer, precisely illustrates the late great environmentalist, Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology. Namely, that “everything is connected to everything else.” Jamail makes the connection between the rising sea levels and the untold catastrophes engulfing forests, mountains, and the wildlife on land and in the sea. Jamail is not relying on computer models. What he is seeing, photographing, and experiencing is often worse than what the models show in terms of accelerating sea level rises and the melting ice of the glaciers.

Jamail’s trenchant conversations with bona fide experts who have spent a lifetime seeing what mankind has done to the natural world, presents a compelling case of the threat the climate crisis poses to human survival.

Jamail, near the end of his narrative, writes: “Disrespect for nature is leading to our own destruction… This is the direct result of our inability to understand our part in the natural world. We live in a world where we are acidifying the oceans, where there will be few places cold enough to support year-round ice, where all the current coastlines will be underwater, and where droughts, wildfires, floods, storms, and extreme weather are already becoming the new normal.”

If you don’t know that melting ice and permafrost is a big tragedy, then that is all the more reason to read this book and immerse yourself in its vivid prose.

His chapter on south Florida and its millions of residents is probably the one scenario that will bring the alarming message home to people in coastal communities worldwide. South Florida could be underwater in fifty years or less. Many of the houses, buildings and infrastructures are located only a few feet or yards above sea level. Engineers and some city officials see Miami Beach as doomed and say Floridians must prepare for evacuations.

There are other more approaching, intermediate dangers. As Jamail writes: “One major source of concern is the Florida aquifer. Once that water is contaminated by saltwater, it is over.”

Already, some banks will not provide 30 year home mortgages for vulnerably located houses. Some home values along the ocean are starting to be adversely affected. Insurance companies are reluctant to publicize their projections but their actuarial tables are not, shall we say, consumer friendly.

Then there are the lethal-storm surges during major hurricanes as sea levels and high tides rise relentlessly.

Most businesses, people, and municipalities are looking the other way. Two-term Governor Rick Scott (a corporate crook) even prohibited state employees from uttering or writing the words “climate change” in any state documents. It is admittedly hard to face such catastrophe while the sun is shining and most normal life continues. In 2017, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave Florida Power and Light, the go-ahead to build two new nuclear power plants (they’re too expensive and won’t be built) to join its aging plants on the beach. Shades of the Fukushima disaster in Japan 8 years ago.

None of these warnings are recent. Climate scientists warned President Lyndon Johnson about the dangers associated with carbon release in the atmosphere in 1965. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore released a detailed, urgent, report, with pictures and graphs, about climate disruption in 1993 to demonstrate that the clock was ticking. Unfortunately, in the following seven years, they mostly did what the auto industry wanted them to do—nothing.

Some of the most poignant passages in Jamail’s book are the informed cries and worries of the onsite specialists he interviewed. People you have never heard of, but who should be heard all the time. One of them, Dr. Rita Mesquita, a biologist with the largest research institute in Brazil for the Amazon forest says, “We are not telling the general public what is really going on.” While the general public is spending more time in virtual reality and, with growing urbanization, becoming estranged from nature, this ominous disconnect is widening.

The new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has openly vowed to bolster more commercial development in the Amazon and on indigenous tribal land.

How will India’s billion plus people get their water if its rivers dry up because the glaciers in the Himalayas have melted? How do you relocate 30 million people from Mumbai from rising sea levels? How do you head off spreading diseases due to habitat destruction? Meanwhile, 100 corporations (e.g. ExxonMobil, Shell, and state entities) continue to be the source of 71% of total global carbon dioxide emissions.

There are 600 cable channels in the U.S. transmitting largely junk programs. How about one percent of them (six) being dedicated to the global stories and urgencies of climate catastrophes, and to how movements like Drawdown (of greenhouse gases) are succeeding in cutting these menaces (see Drawdown by Paul Hawken) around the world?

Think about what we should be doing with some of our time for our descendants so as not to have them curse us for being oblivious, narcissistic ancestors!

We can start with instructing our Congress to deploy its transformative leverage over the economy. The only reason Congress has been an oil, gas, and coal toady, instead of an efficient, renewable energy force, is because we have sat on the sidelines watching ExxonMobil be Congress’ quarterback.

Categories: News for progressives

Making American Journalism Great and Different

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:45

A great divide is shaping up in the newspaper business between those who want to make American Journalism “great again” and those who believe it has never been great but could be. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone where I fall.

Local papers have taken a hit. There’s no debate about that. The same miserable mob that mauled Main Street banks has plundered and pillaged newspapers across the country. Pursuing only profits, private hedge funds bought and stripped even long-lived legacy papers, leaving them for dead. One in five local papers has shut up shop in the last 10 years, according to a recent report from the Knight Foundation.

In response, Knight has announced a record-breaking $300 million investment in local news. At its annual Media Forum this March in Miami, CEO Alberto Ibargüen told the crowd that trust in news media is at an all-time low, but despite this, “There is strength in local, and local leads to trust.”

The same forum featured a slew of speakers who never had that trust—people like Bettina Chang of the City Bureau in Chicago, a bottom-up reporting operation founded and operated by young inner city residents.

“American journalism was never great,” said Chang, “but the crisis facing it now is an unprecedented opportunity to create an equitable journalism ecosystem.” The Bureau has benefited from creative grant making by a consortium of funders who decided, for once, not to fund the high-brow and high volume sort of media, but rather the low-down and not-yet-recognized kind.

After all, the so called “legacy” papers have a specific legacy that isn’t everyone’s. For all the changes that have hit the news, some things have remained the same: a handful of mostly pale, male editors and publishers downtown have defined who and what is newsworthy and who gets to tell the news. All too often, the result has been stale and disparaging to a whole hunk of the population, which is why the Black press and the Spanish-speaking media and so many ethnic presses have emerged and thrived in the US over the generations.

Today could be a new day. With the Democracy Fund, The MacArthur Foundation is giving over $3 million to Illinois’s community Field Foundation to fund local African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American media. One of those, City Bureau, surveyed their neighbors, found out what they lacked, and then provided it, setting up a new open-door newsroom for readers, a low-price professional school for would-be journalists, and free trainings for volunteers willing to attend and take notes on the city’s many unreported public meetings. Now people are signing up in droves, reporting is coming in from every corner, and Chicagoans are excited about journalism at every level.

As Knight’s CEO said, the problem of journalism can’t be left to government or the market to fix. It’s a “we the people problem.” To which I’d only add, it’s the same “we the people” problem we’ve been having in every industry. Who gets to be part of that we?


Categories: News for progressives

Don’t Panic: The Retail Apocalypse Isn’t Disaster, It’s Progress

Mon, 2019-03-11 15:34

In the first week of March, big retail chains announced more than 1,100 planned store closings. That, writes Hayley Peterson at Insider, brings the number of planned US store closings for 2019 to more than 5,300.

The Retail Apocalypse is here, and it has consequences.  Including, reports Krystal Hu for Yahoo! Finance, 41,000 retail jobs cut in January and February.

Yet the US economy recorded a net gain of 20,000 total jobs each in January and February, its 101st straight month of job gains.

The economy is slowing down a bit, and we don’t know yet what consumer spending looked like for January (the Commerce Department was delayed in issuing that report by the federal “shutdown”), but people haven’t stopped and won’t stop buying food, clothing, electronics, etc. Many Americans are tightening their belts for various reasons, but that on its own doesn’t explain the Retail Apocalypse.

What does explain it? Progress.

Nearly 30 years after it became widely publicly accessible, the Internet is in the final stages of killing off physical retail as we once knew it. But it’s not killing the economy.

How much stuff do you buy from Amazon or other online retailers (some of them formerly entirely brick and mortar establishments) that you used to have to hunt down in a physical store?

If your family is anything like mine, the answer is “a lot.” And your needs are met, more conveniently and often at lower prices, by a few humans packing boxes in warehouses instead many humans stocking helves, assisting customers, dragging items over price scanners, and bagging them.

Even if you pick your purchases up at a physical store, there’s a fair chance you ordered them online and had them waiting for you when you arrived.  More convenient for you, less labor required at the seller’s end. I’ve done that twice in the last 24 hours.

At some point in the early 20th century, if the reporting mechanisms we have today had existed, we’d have read panicked  accounts of the Horse and Buggy Apocalypse. The automobile caught on.  Purchases of  surreys with the fringe on top plummeted. People in old industries had to find new jobs. But everyone benefited as it got faster, easier, and cheaper to move people and things around.

In the last few decades we’ve experienced Fax Machine Apocalypses (thanks, email), Album on Vinyl and Cassette Apocalypses (thanks, CDs, MP3s, and streaming media), and a thousand other changes of direction in what we buy and how we buy it.

The world didn’t end.

The current “apocalypse” won’t end it either.

Yes, this next model of commerce will mean difficult transitions for some workers and companies, along with other social dislocations we haven’t noticed or even thought of yet.

But if past performance is indicative of future results, it will also mean we get more of the stuff we need, more new stuff we didn’t even know we wanted, cheaper and faster, along with new opportunities.

Change is scary. But it’s also inevitable. And usually for the better.



Categories: News for progressives

Dragonfly or Drone

Mon, 2019-03-11 14:58

Once upon a time
You saw a dragonfly
And knew it was a dragonfly
Because it was a simpler time
When dragonflies were dragonflies
But, now, when dragonflies are drones,
You know, you just don’t know at all
If that thing there’s recording you
And even if it isn’t, it’s still crazy.
It’s true.
It’s crazy, not you.
Actually, you’re crazy too.
A dragonfly has never been a dragonfly


Categories: News for progressives

Border Security: What and Who is it Good For?

Fri, 2019-03-08 16:10

Photograph Source U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Robert Frost was clearly on to something when he declared a liberal to be a “man” (sic) too broadminded to take his own side in an argument.”  There is much to be said too for “good fences make good neighbors,” a wise, avuncular pronouncement, not at all mean-spirited.

Those words no longer seem quite so benign after Donald Trump and his wall, the one that was supposed to span the entire southern border and for which Mexico would pay.   Trump’s wall is a kind of fence, and it is hard to see how it is good for anything, much less for making good neighbors.

Could it be that, on border security, Frost, a hard-nosed, cantankerous poet, a political ally of Henry Wallace and John Kennedy, harbored sentiments similar to Donald Trump’s?

I hope not.  It would be disheartening to think that a major American poet and “a racist, a conman, and a cheat,” a major embarrassment to the human race, would have anything of importance in common.

In more normal times, this would go without saying.  But, of course, these are not normal times.   This isn’t entirely Individual Number One’s fault.  But, for the world’s current state of befuddlement, no one is more culpable.

If we want to Make America Great Again – not in Trump’s sense, but according to what those words actually mean – then, insofar as the facts allow, we should honor, not demean, the giants of American letters.

And if we want to stop wallowing in befuddlement, we should dissociate morally serious thinking about boundaries that keep populations apart – and walls that could help secure them — from the machinations of a conman, hell bent on turning as many white, (mostly) middle aged, (mostly) male victims of capitalism’s decline into instruments of his own venality and self-aggrandizement.

Were our institutions less undemocratic, were they more like their counterparts in other liberal democracies, Trump would be easy to dispatch — even if, as would have been impossible, he had somehow managed to get the Republican nomination in 2016 and then gone on to win enough Electoral College votes to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Instead we got what you get with institutions concocted some two hundred and thirty years ago by well-off planters and merchants for pre-industrial, newly independent British colonies that were dependent on slave labor — directly in the South, indirectly everywhere else – and already on the way to realizing its “manifest destiny” by perpetrating the physical and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples and administering the theft of their lands.

Now Trump wants some of those lands walled off – to keep brown skinned Mexicans and Central American refugees and asylum seekers out.

Must we despair?  The jury is out on that, but the answer, most likely, is No.

As long as wise and moral voices are heard, there is hope.  Therefore, when Robert Frost tells us that good fences make good neighbors, we ought to take his words seriously, notwithstanding their resemblance to Donald Trump’s.

Calls for bipartisan amity notwithstanding, Democrats and Republicans who take Trump’s words seriously, and who, taking up the cause, blather on about the importance of securing our borders, need be taken seriously only insofar as they hold and wield power. There isn’t world enough and time to consider their nonsense.

This is what the unwelcomed “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” on our southern border these days are discovering to our shame.

But maybe, just maybe, the pendulum is swinging back.  With the new Congress installed, there are hopeful signs – emanating mainly, but not only, out of its so-called “freshman class.”


With few exceptions, America’s borders were open, at least to Europeans, before passage of the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924.  Before that, nativist animosities were often acute.  But with transportation into and out of the country difficult, and labor in chronically short supply, efforts to keep people out never gained much traction. This was as much the case along the southern border as at Ellis Island.

Land on the American side had once been part of Mexico; and so, as elsewhere in that country, the people living there were, for the most part, of mixed indigenous and Spanish origin.  After the United States took over those territories by war, and by hook or by crook, Anglos and other European settlers moved into them in great numbers, turning the Mexicans living there into a disempowered minority.

They are not the only ones, but their numbers reinforced by immigration in the years that ensued make them the largest of those minority populations.   In each of the states adjacent to the Mexican border, from Texas to California, minorities are becoming majorities again.

For some, this is a cause of backlash. Trump is not the only Anglo politician exploiting their discontent.

On the right, the idea has taken hold that there are too many immigrants here already and therefore that both legal and illegal immigration should be cut back if not curtailed entirely.

On the center and left, people are kinder and gentler, but still generally in accord with that sentiment. There are sharp disagreements on means, however, and the level of polarization is intense.  For that, thank Trump and his wall.

Because they are still standing by their man, House and Senate Republicans are for that accursed wall. Most of them do seem to understand that the idea is ridiculous, but that is not the point.  Trump wants a wall, and so a wall there must be.

Democrats think just the opposite.  Untrue to form, they have somehow managed to constitute a genuine, quasi-militant opposition.  Even the ones who won’t take their own sides in arguments are on board.

Nancy Pelosi called the idea “immoral,” but I don’t think she quite meant what she said; she put those words together for rhetorical effect.  Her aim was to show the Donald who is boss.

She was signaling that, in the negotiations underway at the time over Trump’s partial government shutdown, she was not going to give an inch.

In the end, she did concede enough to let Trump pretend that he had gotten a good enough deal to save face.  This was not an indication of weakness on her part, but of shrewdness.

Had she rubbed his nose in it, and than had the shutdown dragged on, she could have lost the support of a large segment of the Democratic caucus, along with that of some eight hundred thousand federal workers, countless independent contractors, small business owners whose livelihoods depend on those workers and contractors, and the millions of people who depend on the work they do.

Her obstinacy worked as planned; it enabled her to hand Trump an ignominious defeat.

In the Obama years, it was Republicans who triumphed through obstinacy.  Now all their obstinacy did was dig their graves deeper. The tables had turned.

True to form, Trump has never quite admitted, probably not even to himself, that he was bested by a girl. Quite to the contrary, with the help of Fox News and other rightwing propaganda operations, he has been able to get quite a few Republican numbskulls to share his delusions.

The conventional wisdom among those whose heads are screwed on better than the average Republican’s is less that the wall is immoral, but that it is stupid.  That it surely is; but there is a case to be made that it is immoral as well.

Pelosi is not the one to make it, however, because she, like other liberals, probably does believe, in her heart, that border security matters as much as Trump thinks it does, and therefore that there is a place for walls, after all.

It is not clear just what Pelosi thinks is immoral.  I suspect that, for her and for other mainstream and not so mainstream Democrats, it has less to do with keeping (desperate) people out than with the ethnic slur on Mexicans and Central Americans that the Trump wall would cast in concrete — or steel slats.

Compared to all the other immorality going on at the southern border – the children separated from their parents and kept in cages, the punitive detentions of asylum seekers, and the rest – ethnic slurs are small potatoes.  They are irksome, however, especially to liberals of the Clintonite type.

Clintonites are comparatively indifferent to the metaphorical sticks and stones that ruling class flunkies use to break the metaphorical bones of neoliberalism’s foes, but they can be counted on to take offense when Mexicans and Central Americans are called derogatory names.


Thus in the topsy-turvy world of Trump era American politics, liberals have been taking their own side quite effectively, while conservatives, like Democrats of old, have become the hapless fools.

They have all but abandoned the ideologies they used to champion, even the free market theology that formerly defined their politics.  This came to pass not for sound, readily available and widely understood reasons, but because their first priority has been to stay on the Donald’s good side.

It would therefore be fair to say that a Republican is a man (sic) who is so spineless – and so lacking in integrity – that when Trump tells him to piss, he pisses.  Republican women are no less servile and base.

The contrast with genuine internationalist is especially stark.

Internationalists think of themselves as “citizens of the world,” a designation that turns up frequently on opinion surveys that manage somehow to escape junk mailboxes.

In practice, though, world citizenship is at best a state of mind.  In a world divided into states, where every square foot of land is spoken for, the only citizens there can be are citizens of particular states.

With the rise of international institutions and international law, sovereignty, supreme authority over particular territories and populations, is no longer what it used to be.  As a military superpower with a currency that is still the world’s reserve, the United States still pretty much calls the shots for itself; but elsewhere, in Europe especially, this has not been the case for some time.  Therefore the borders that separate states and their peoples from one another aren’t what they used to be either.

They still matter, however; therefore, for better or worse, they must be secure.  In practice, this means that, for the most part, the authorities must be able to keep people out that they don’t want to let in.

There are imaginable circumstances in which walls could help with that.   It would be only a little over-the-top to say that they mainly arise in ancient citadels of culture and learning in which the inhabitants feel threatened by barbarian hordes.

Therefore although the position Trump promotes — that building “the wall” is the paramount task of our time — is patently idiotic, and although Fox News and Trump’s other propaganda outlets have been relentless and largely successful in winning benighted souls over to Trump’s point of view, his thinking, such as it is, is not as out of line with mainstream consensus opinion as one might suppose.  Indeed, Trump’s fixation on the wall is just an extreme version of a position around which there is a nearly universal consensus.

The internationalist position on borders and the free movement of persons is extreme too, though in a different way. It emphasizes solidarity, not exclusion. What this entails in practice is unclear in part because there are no practical models; there have not even been examples of internationalist foreign policy ventures anywhere in the world since the Cuban Revolution found itself materially unable to sustain its most generous impulses after the Soviet Union’s demise.

It therefore remains an open question how much or in what ways genuinely internationalist sentiments can be expressed within the broad consensus view on boundaries and walls that currently exists.

Subjectively, this is less of a problem in the United States than in many other countries because truly internationalist worldviews are less common here.  Despite all that has changed since the Second World War, many Americans remain provincial and isolationist, and, in some parts of the population, nativist attitudes have never really subsided.

But even among  “citizens of the world,” borders secure enough to keep out people who want in count for something – because, in the world as it is, with transport easy and inequality extreme, open borders truly would be disruptive of the order necessary for the benefits of internationalism to be realized.

Thus Nancy Pelosi and other mainstream corporate Democrats, along with the gaggles of anti-Trump Republicans who by now effectively dominate the “liberal” cable channels, want border security as much as anyone else – though in a kinder, gentler, ostensibly non- or even anti-nativist way.

This is a problem for “democratic socialists” too.   To be politically viable, the policy departures they want to initiate depend on diminishing inequality and therefore, in practice, on keeping out many people who want in.

And insofar as democratic socialists really are just social democrats — which until they start advocating for social or public ownership of major productive assets is about as close as their socialism can come to the genuine article — there are two other, venerable reasons for them to seek to limit entry into these United States: they don’t want the numbers of workers seeking entry into the labor pool to be large enough to depress wages; and they don’t want to deplete the treasury’s coffers enough to force down public spending on worthwhile public projects and on our already feeble welfare state institutions.

Again, the culprit is inequality.  If people want in for reasons of economic necessity – or, more immediately, because extreme poverty has empowered drug gangs in ways that put their physical security in jeopardy — then issues pertaining to the flow of persons across borders cannot be treated in the same way that corporate Democrats and social democrats too might think about the flow of goods, services, and capital across international borders.

Thus when even the good guys say that they are for border security, as much or more than Trump and the princelings of the party he hijacked, they are not just blowing air.  They are working out the implications of positions they hold – not, in this instance, out of heartfelt ideological commitment, but because the inequalities capitalism generates forces it upon them.

They are, to that extent, tragic figures – good people brought down by the things their circumstances oblige them to do.

There is nothing tragic, just contemptible, about the hypocrisies of Republicans and most Democrats.  They are what happens to those who take the wrong side in the class struggle.


Clintonite Democrats and Republicans are on the same page on this one.  But because the loathsomeness of the latter is purer and their servility to prevailing norms is more perspicuous, it is more instructive to reflect upon them

Pre-Trump Republicans came in many flavors.  There were social conservatives, arguably the least noxious of the bunch, and, slightly worse, fiscal conservatives.  The former champion the manners and morals of decades past, the latter champion pre-Keynesian economics, obsessing over budget deficits and promoting austerity for all – except, of course, the military, the intelligence services, and other pillars of the national security state.

There were also theocrats of various kinds, including evangelicals, and neo-conservatives who, when not aiding liberal imperialists on “the other side of aisle” in their efforts to get a new Cold War up and running, were still, as best they could, fighting the original one.

And there were libertarians. Hardcore libertarians are comparatively few in number, but their influence was and still is pervasive in Republican circles, affecting all the other strains of Republican thinking to at least some extent.

Compared to the others, they also have the most intellectually engaging justifications for the positions they hold.  Libertarian views are hardly compelling, though they can sometimes be of philosophical interest.

Of all the many kinds of Republicans there used to be, and some day may be again if the GOP survives Trump, their thinking is the only one that bears directly on fences and walls.

In a word, they are against them – except when they are not.  That would be when class interests supersede ideological commitments, as happens a good deal more than most Republican ideologues suppose.

The idealized markets libertarian ideology prizes are self-regulating systems of voluntary, bilateral exchange. Where they exist, what happens at the societal level is an unintended consequence of the deliberate, ostensibly rational, choices individuals make in their interactions with one another.

For extreme libertarians, all governments ought to do is establish civil order and enforce contracts; they ought not to operate as economic agents in their own right.  Less extreme libertarians, like mainstream liberals, also rely on governments to do what markets cannot.

This would include supplying (broadly desired) goods that markets cannot produce because incentives that would motivate individuals to do what would need to be done to produce them don’t exist.  This is especially the case with so-called “public goods,” goods whose benefits spill over to individuals regardless of what, if anything, they have contributed towards their production.

When this is the case –as it is, for example, with national defense or with fire fighting in congested areas – the story has it that rational economic agents would prefer free riding on the contributions of others to contributing to the production of the desired goods and services themselves.  Voluntary cooperation is therefore out of the question; the requisite labor must be coerced.

States restrict individuals’ liberty through outright coercion, the use or threat of force, or what John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) called “the moral coercion of public opinion.  That would be reason enough for libertarians, like anarchists, to want states gone, but for the fact that they, unlike anarchists, believe, as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) did, that, for such beings as we are, living in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the alternative would be even worse.

For those who, like libertarians and liberals generally, agree with Hobbes, individuals without states live in a “state of nature” relative to each other.  In states of nature, there are no rules; anything goes. For Hobbes and those who follow him, the resulting disorder is even more detrimental to individuals’ interests than being forced to do what political authorities demand.

The best states restrict liberty as little as possible – as little as is strictly necessary for maintaining conditions in which (free) markets can operate and flourish.

There are many reasons, both theoretical and historical, why Hobbes and liberals after him, including libertarians, thought that to keep a state of nature at bay, supreme authority had to be vested in a single institutional nexus that governs distinct territories.

For Hobbes, the sovereign’s right to compel compliance is unlimited in principle.  Liberalism in all its varieties, including contemporary libertarianism, is a theory of limited sovereignty.  But whether absolute or limited, the sovereign’s power is always geographically limited.  It only exists within boundaries.

This is why clear – and secure – borders are indispensable, why they must be secured.  But this theoretical and practical exigency does not in itself favor particular policies on the movement of capital, on trade, or on how much, if at all, individuals’ freedom to enter or exit national territories must be restricted or curtailed.

Libertarians, and indeed liberals generally, do seek to maximize individual liberty in these areas – not because of their views on states, but because they favor as much liberty as possible.

It is theoretically possible that they would think that entry must be restricted – that walls are in order – to prevent the dissolution of the state back into a state of nature. But that is fanciful in the real world context in which Trump’s wall would exist.

In those circumstances, as in all others, the relevant issue is liberty; and, from that purview, walling people out would be indefensible.

Thus on the free flow of people, as distinct from capital, goods, and services, libertarians have not only lost; they have become the ones not to take their own side.

Free market theology is not what drives real world libertarian politics.  It is a factor, of course, but in practice, the exigencies of class struggle, combined with nativist inclinations, are the principal motivating force.

Of all the political tendencies comprising the “bipartisan” consensus on borders and walls, the libertarians are the most “philosophical” and therefore the most inclined to be moved by principles.  But, in the end, hypocrisy reigns in their circles as much as in any of the others.

Categories: News for progressives

As the World Burns: Hurtling Towards an Unlivable Planet

Fri, 2019-03-08 16:03

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The media and political establishments are diddling while the planet burns.

Are we really supposed to take their games seriously as humanity veers ever more dangerously off the environmental cliff?

In 2008, James Hansen, then head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and seven other leading climate scientists reported that we would see “practically irreversible ice sheet and species loss” if the planet’s average temperature rose above 1°Celsius (C) thanks to carbon dioxide’s (CO2) presence in the atmosphere reaching 450 parts per million (ppm).

CO2 was at 385 ppm when this report came out.  It was “already in the dangerous zone,” Hansen and his team reported. They warned that deadly, self-reinforcing “feedbacks” could be triggered at this level.  The dire prospects presaged included “ice sheet disintegration, vegetation migration, and GHG [greenhouse gas] release from soils, tundra, or ocean sediments.”

The only way to be assured of a livable climate, Hansen and his colleagues warned, would be to cut CO2 to at least 350 ppm.

Here we are eleven years later, well past Hansen’s 1°C red line. We’ve gotten there at 410 ppm, the highest level of CO2 saturation in 800,000 years. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest climate report reflects the consensus opinion of the world’s leading climate scientists.  It tells us that we are headed to 1.5°C in a dozen years.  Failure to dramatically slash Greenhouse Gassing between now and 2030 is certain to set off catastrophic developments for hundreds of millions of people, the IPCC warns.

The IPCC finds that we are headed at our current pace for 3-4°C by the end of century. That will mean a planet that is mostly unlivable.

And here’s the kicker: numerous serious climate scientists find that the IPCC’s findings are insufficiently alarmist and excessively conservative. That’s because the IPCC deletes and downplays research demonstrating the likelihood that irreversible climatological “tipping points” will arrive soon.  Among many reports pointing in this direction is a recent NASA-funded study warning that the unexpectedly rapid thawing of permafrost could release massive volumes of CO2 and methane within “a few decades.”

Conservative though it may be, the UN report is no whitewash. It calls for “unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to drop global CO2 emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels and 60 percent below 2015 levels by 2030.  We need to hit zero by the mid-century point, the IPCC says. We cannot do that without radically and rapidly reducing our energy consumption.

In a remotely decent and intelligent society, public and political “elites” and “leaders” and the dominant media and politics culture would be fervently focused first and foremost on this problem.  The climate catastrophe (“climate change” is far too mild a term to capture the real crisis of capitalogenic global warming) is the biggest issue of our any time. As the environmental blogger Robert Scribbler wrote  four years ago, “There is no greater threat presented by another nation or set of circumstances that supersedes what we are now brazenly doing to our environment and the Earth System as a whole. And the rate at which we are causing the end level of damage to increase is practically unthinkable. Each further year of inaction pushes us deeper into that dangerous future.”

If the global warming cataclysm – already significantly underway in vast swaths of the planet – isn’t averted and soon, then nothing else we care about is going to matter all that much.  We’ll just be arguing about how to fairly slice up a badly overheated pie – how to turn an overcooked world upside down (or right-side up) and how to properly manage a living Hell.

You’d hardly know this from the reigning U.S. media and politics culture, where the climate crisis and other critical environmental issues are pushed to the margins of public discussion. It is chilling (no ironic pun intended) to behold. With every passing fossil-fueled day, the specter of “man-made” ecological calamity looms ever closer and larger.

But so what? The chattering and electoral classes and political gossip-peddlers divert us 24-7 with breathless “breaking news” reports on an endless stream of supposedly bigger stories: the absurd Orwellian charge that Ilhan Omar is an anti-Semite; Michael Cohen’s alleged past pursuit of a presidential pardon; Paul Manafort’s latest sentencing hearing; Ivanka Trump’s ridiculous national security clearance; Donald Trump’s insane nativist border wall; Roger Stone’s latest Tweets; the racist medical school yearbook photos of a pathetic white governor; television celebrity Jussie Smollett’s criminal shenanigans; the latest horrible mass-shooting; the latest sex scandal; the latest real or rumored findings in the seemingly interminable investigation of Trump’s racist, sexist, and gangster-capitalist past and presidency.

Nearly two years ago, CNN co-producer John Bonfield was caught on tape telling a right-wing undercover journalist that CNN president Jeff Zucker said this to his executive producers after Trump pulled of the Paris Climate Accords: “Good job everybody covering the climate accords, but we’re done with that. Let’s get back to Russia.”  

Climate catastrophe? Television advertisers and hence news broadcasters are not real excited about that story. It’s not a big seller of cars, petroleum products, petroleum, mutual funds, investment advice, drugs, cruise packages, and insurance policies at NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and CNN. Even it did sell well, the climate story doesn’t line up well  with corporate advertisers’ carbon-caked balance sheets.

By contrast, the ongoing Trump-Russia-Cohen-Manafort-WikiLeaks-Stone-Stormy et al. soap opera has been a ratings boon. And now we have the 2020 presidential candidate extravaganza – the quadrennial electoral spectacle – coming on to commercial line. It’s the world’s greatest reality show, with the imperial presidency as the ultimate Big Brother prize.

I’m not saying that all of what the “mainstream” media and politicians talk about is silly or insignificant. It matters to defend Rep. Omar, to fight Trump’s wall, to silence and lock up fascists like Stone, to publicize and rollback gun violence, to determine once and for all the nature of Trump’s really strange (sorry “left” Putin fans) relationship with the Russian oligarchy, to expose racism and sexism (and fascism) in the White House and the nation more broadly. Trump’s caging of children at the southern border is an atrocity that should be broadcast and denounced.  The same goes for the related clear and present danger Trump presents more broadly to democratic and even just republican and constitutional principles on numerous levels. The 2020 elections and their aftermath (including the distinct possibility that Trump will refuse the Electoral tally) will not be irrelevant to the fate of the nation and the Earth.

But nothing matters more now than the existential environmental crises we face, with the climate disaster in the lead.  There’s no chance for social justice, democracy, equality, creativity, art, love and community – or anything else (including profits) – on a dead planet.

Yes, the “Green New Deal” advocated by a cadre of progressive Democrats has made its way into media coverage and commentary in recent months. It appears that the GND – which includes welcome calls for net zero U.S. carbon emissions by 2030 – will be part of at least the primary election story thanks to Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, Jay Inslee, and other progressive or progressive-sounding Democrats.  But don’t expect it to receive all that much attention (much less positive attention) in the dominant corporate media-politics complex. Serious discussion of the climate issue and environmental questions more broadly doesn’t serve broadcasters’ and advertisers’ bottom line interests. There is little chance that the climate crisis will remotely approach the Trump investigations and the already emergent 2020 presidential horse-race when it comes to garnering real media attention.

The reigning political and media “elite” is happy to keep capitalogenic global warming on the public margins until long past the last ecological tipping points are passed. They can be counted on them to fiddle and diddle through the species’ final, fossil-fueled flame-out. It is an existential necessity to create a new culture, media, and politics with the elementary natural and social intelligence required to properly prioritize the most pressing problems of our time.

Help Paul Street keep writing here.

Categories: News for progressives

Gender, Class and Capitalism

Fri, 2019-03-08 16:00

A half-century ago a capitalist coup was launched in the U.S. to shift power from labor and the liberation movements of the 1960s to the lords of capital. The political trajectory since then has gone in only one direction— to the right. The populace— starting with those most likely to develop revolutionary tendencies according to official logic, has been mass incarcerated as the police have been militarized. A simulacrum of democracy was created through oppositional political parties that serve a single master— capital.

How ‘we,’ the citizens of the West, got from there to here is a great mystery by design. Terms put forward as descriptive, like populism and economic anxiety, are cover for more brutal realities. The language and social dimensions of liberation were coopted as weapons of class warfare. Liberation movements, conceived in opposition to capitalism, were moved within its confines. Once within, these movements served to direct attention elsewhere as oligarchs made off with the greatest concentration of wealth in human history.

Following from the women’s liberation movements of the 1960s, gender pay equity was separated from class struggle to be made a ‘women’s issue.’ Women workers in the U.S. have long been paid less than men for equivalent work. Since they began re-entering the (paid) labor force in large numbers in the 1970s, liberal efforts have centered on closing this gender pay gap. Left out of liberal framing is whether doing so would be achieved through raising the living standards of working-class women or lowering the relative position of labor in class terms.

Graph: as women competed with men in labor markets, connected capitalists and corporate executives absconded with more wealth than in any other period in human history. While there is more to life than economics, (1) food and shelter are prerequisites to more nuanced political struggles and (2) the people who have come to control politics and economics appear quite content to let workers fight amongst themselves over their diminishing share of what they produce. In other words, doing so is poor strategy.

To the extent the term patriarchy has descriptive content, it goes quite beyond labor issues. The question of liberation then is: how would power be redistributed away from patriarchy outside of economic power? Wage labor has relatively low standing in the capitalist schema. As evidence presented here suggests, the struggle for gender pay equity has taken place as oligarchs and corporate executives absconded with large quantities of social wealth. Through their class positions, most women have had their own economic lots diminished through this concentration at the top.

The systemic nature of this development might be more easily seen through analogy. By placing predominantly male manufacturing workers in competition with lower paid and unpaid workers overseas, NAFTA and subsequent ‘trade’ deals lowered wages, bargaining power, job security and living standards for manufacturing workers. Earlier still, working age men began leaving the workforce as working age women entered. And wages for men stagnated or fell as those for women rose (graphs below). Inside the frame of gender struggle, progress for women stayed a bit ahead of losses for men. Outside of it, the American working class has been economically devastated.

Graph: the percentage of working age men in the workforce has declined since the 1970s as that of women has risen. The graph represents the men’s rate divided by the women’s rate. While sectoral differences— ‘women’s jobs’ versus men’s, is a factor, it doesn’t explain the difference. The trend in relative pay matches this trend in relative employment quite closely (graph below), suggesting capitalists substituted female workers for male as a strategy to lower wages relative to worker productivity. As of this writing, women are still being paid less than men for equivalent work. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The ‘centering’ of men’s labor, against which gender pay equity has been posed as a goal, keeps the conception of labor wholly within the frame of capitalist social relations. Following WWII, the Federal government forced working women, many of whom had been recruited to industrial labor as part of the war effort, to leave their jobs so they could be taken by returning soldiers. Implied was a surplus of labor as the war effort ground to a halt. The re-entry of women into the workforce in the 1970s was coincident with the capitalist move to increase profits by disempowering labor. Increasing the supply of labor in the face of an existing labor surplus was central to the effort of crushing labor unions.

For context, from 1953 through 1974— approximately the end of WWII to the start of women re-entering the workforce en masse, family income rose 70% (graph below). Between 1975 and 2017, with two income earners per family and over twice as many years, it rose 33%. This represents a stunning drop in gains for labor. The drop wasn’t caused by women producing less than men— they were / are just as productive. From 1975 forward capitalists implemented an array of strategies to pay American workers less than they produced. Increasing the supply of labor by pitting working women against working men was one of them.

Graph: between 1953 and 1974, inflation-adjusted family income with 1.25 workers per family rose 70%. From 1975 through 2017, with 1.65 workers per family and over twice as many years, it rose 33%. Given that women contributed fully to family production through largely unpaid labor prior to entering the paid labor force, the last four decades have been an utter catastrophe for working families despite gains in gender pay equity. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The capitalist coup of the 1970s was undertaken to shift power away from labor and to the rich so they could claim a larger share of labor’s product. And the rich were successful. Labor productivity continued to rise (graph below) as women re-entered the workforce. But the capitalist class and corporate executives were able to keep all this increase for themselves. From the capitalist perspective, it was women’s class position and relative pay levels that made them attractive employees, not their gender.

This distinction is crucial. The contemporary argument over class reductionism— the contention that issues of race, gender and identity aren’t fully encompassed, and therefore can’t be fully addressed, through class struggle, is anti-political. The struggle over gender pay equity— which is just and right within the liberal frame in which it was developed, was largely irrelevant to the distribution of income and wealth that affected the broader economic interests of its working-class proponents. Liberation, in the form of struggle to achieve localized equity within capitalist political economy, was used to facilitate the concentration of political and economic power by an oligarchy that views power outside its reach only in relation to its own interests.

Graph: labor productivity is a measure of what workers produce in a given period. In capitalist theory workers are paid according to what they produce. Beginning in the mid-1970s, and coincident with the rise in women joining the workforce, wages began to stagnate. Workers continued to produce more, but they could no longer demand to be paid the product of their labor. Of relevance is that the movement for gender pay equity took place against rapidly increasing inequity for most workers.

Bourgeois fantasies about the liberatory capacity of capitalist employment are analogs of prosperity theology where social history is pushed to the side and economic class is replaced by an alleged personal relationship between the self and a higher power. For every engaged and well employed scientist or attorney there are nine marginally employed workers staffing the french fry stations at fast food restaurants and cash registers at chain drug stores. Most people who work do so because they must. This is true of most of the women who have entered the paid workforce.

Lest this come as a shock, women worked before they entered the paid workforce. The distinction between paid and unpaid labor is more precisely between capitalist labor and other forms. More precisely, it isn’t ‘work’ that is liberatory as it is put forward in the liberal sense. It is being paid to work when money has been made a prerequisite for eating regular meals, living indoors and social participation that is. In a systemic sense, capitalists created a world they control and then set about defining social struggle within terms amenable to it. Gender pay equity has been framed wholly within capitalist social relations.

By analogy: peasant farmers regularly have their livelihoods cut in half by having their living standards ‘raised’ by helpful capitalists. Growing enough food to feed a family contributes nothing to GDP while earning half enough money to feed the same family through paid work adds the amount paid to it. (Income measure of GDP). This is the approximate form of the economic bloviation behind regular claims that neoliberalism and globalization have raised living standards in the ‘developing world.’ But this same politically loaded distinction applies to the ‘developed world.’

Graph: the rate at which more women were hired relative to men follows the narrowing of the gender pay gap closely. Unless one assumes that women are less capable than men at capitalist production— an easily disproved assumption, then any marginally competent corporate manager would hire the labor that costs the least. Working class men were put at a competitive disadvantage relative to women in precisely the way that capitalists and their ‘explainers’ in academia intended. Note: blue is left scale, orange is right. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The question of whether women wanted to join the paid workforce could only be answered by removing the necessity of doing so. Otherwise the question resembles: would you rather be stabbed or shot? It can be answered, and most people tend toward optimism. Since around 1970, capitalism has been the organizing philosophy of Western political economy. Oligarchs and corporate executives were given virtually free reign to organize society as they saw fit. What they did with this power— as easy to predict prospectively as it is retrospectively, was to put everything that wasn’t nailed down in their own pockets.

More broadly, in a full-on Hannah Arendt, banality of evil sense, they crafted the world in their own image. The world of Jeff Bezos is the world as Jeff Bezos. With talk of socialism and rising optimism over the possibility of reversing the wrong turn taken in the 1970s, it is crucial to note that as of now, nothing of substance has changed. War is still a business, the environment is still in crisis, the same people are still in charge and class warfare is still a bi-partisan endeavor. In this case, begging isn’t a route to political redemption. Power responds to power. Anything else is wishful thinking.


Categories: News for progressives

Roaming Charges: Flag Humpers

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:58

Flag Humpers, Las Vegas. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ It’s now a thought-crime in DC for the powerless to speak about the power of an organization which exists to leverage its power in a town which only responds to power.

+ Palestinians are the one ethnic group that everyone has a license to hate. In fact, in the US congress, it’s almost an obligation.

+ A couple of weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi was rightly complaining about an NRA magazine article headlined “Target Practice”, accompanied by a photo of the Speaker. But she and the Democrats are putting a literal target on the back of Ilhan Omar. Where’s the outrage?

+ The scourging of Ilhan Omar by the Democratic leadership is yet one more illustration of the dangers of progressives, like Omar, Rashida Tlaib, AOC and Bernie Sanders, joining a neoliberal party that will inevitably destroy everything they profess to believe in–and perhaps even destroy them.

+ “Nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of ‘what is happening with Palestine?’”– Ilhan Omar

+ Margaret Kimberley: “Democrats don’t hate Trump at all. They assist Venezuela regime change and join in the attack on Ilhan Omar.”

+ Pelosi’s House Resolution against “hate” (ie., Ilan Omar) is conceptually a lot like the Global War on Terror…and brought to you by many of the same sponsors.

+ In fact, the “Hate (Omar) Resolution,” which passed 407-23, is worse than directly censuring Omar. A censure could only condemn Omar for what she actually said, which was not anti-Semitic and unarguably true. But this Resolution, which covertly targets her, falsely equates her comments with white white supremacy, racism and Jew hatred.

+ How screwed up are the Democrats? One of their rising stars, Ilhan Omar was compelled to vote for a resolution condemning herself for something she didn’t do.

+ Well she is only 5’2″
But they could not resist her smile
Ilhan Omar never got called an asshole
Not like you

+ Based on his 2-hour rant (half a Fidel) at CPAC, Trump’s going to give us two years of snuff film politics and America will eat it up.

+ Of course, not all of Fidel’s speeches were spellbinding. He could tedious and boring…three hours on cassava production in Rio del Planar province, two hours on the footwork of Teofilo Stevenson in his most recent fight.

+ I enjoy reading Nick Gillespie’s dispatches at Reason. He’s a funny writer, has good taste in music, and has done years of field studies among some of the stranger species of the American right. He’s rollicking report from CPAC made me think I’d watched the wrong speech. Gillespie concluded that Trump’s sealed his reelection with “a bedazzling mix of bravado, B.S., humor, and positive vision that no Democrat will be able to top.”

“Positive Vision?” It seemed like a rambling Götterdämmerung to me, as Trump riffed on rapes, gangland shootings, mass graves, rapes, executed babies, drug overdoses, murderers, human trafficking, more rapes, murdered babies, and sex slaves. I’d hate to hear the Utopian Vision, which presumably has much of this happening to the children he’s locked in cages.

+ Consider this statement by the President Positive Vibrations: “Mothers give their girls massive amounts of birth control pills because they know they’ll be raped on the way to the border….”

+ Is kneeling during the national anthem really more offensive to the patriot crowd, than wrapping your bone spurs in the flag?

+ As the photo of Trump humping the flag circulates, it becomes clear that his whole routine is a kind of Situationist prank to see just how far people like Falwell, Jordan & Graham will follow him. One day that flag should b displayed in the Smithsonian next to Monica’s blue dress…

+ Harmony Korine your country needs you. The sequel to Trash Humpers is long overdue. No one but you could possibly film Flag Humpers with the authenticity the subject demands…

+ Nielsen gave a master class in Nazi Camp Guard-speak during her congressional testimony on family separations at the border …

THOMPSON: “I just want you to exist the cages exist…”

NIELSEN: “Sir, they’re not cages!”

THOMPSON: “What are they?”

NIELSEN: “They are areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they’re being processed.”

+ Nielsen testified that “so far this year” three children have died in CBP custody. She says she hasn’t spoken with any of the affected families.

+ Nielsen: “There was no parent who has been deported to my knowledge without multiple opportunities to take their children with them”

+ Four hours later: The government identifies 471 such parents.

+ Nielsen bristles at any questioning. So it’s hardly surprising that one of the agencies she oversees, Border Patrol, has complied an enemies list of reporters, lawyers and civil rights activists to detain and interrogate at the border.

+ More evidence that Nielsen belongs in the dock at The Hague.

+ “12 Detained Babies Have Been Released From ICE Custody in Dilley, Texas.” I wonder if the person who composed this headline ever imagined back in journalism school she’d end up writing anything like this.

+ Remember when Trump declared on the campaign trail: “Military grunts and veterans will pay for the Wall?

+ And now, a message from your government…

Her-cu-les, Her-cu-les!
You don’t want to be on the receiving end of this gunship, aka the Angel of Death.

— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) February 28, 2018


+ The month after Trump announced an end to the Syria war, US airstrikes in Syria climbed by 30%.

+ Trump sent a letter to congress this week saying that he “agrees 100%” with the need to keep US troops in Syria.

+ We don’t need to see his grades. It’s obvious that Trump graduated Magna Cum Laude in Bullshit…

+ Trump killed a planned report on civilian deaths from US drone strikes. What’s he scared of? He promised during the campaign that he was going to kill the neighbors and families of suspected “terrorists.” Let’s see how well he did…

+ Let’s check the scoreboard on Trump’s Global War on Trade. World: $621 Billion; USA: $0.

+ The University of Florida’s new baseball stadium was delayed a year due to steel tariffs ($10 million cost overrun).

+ Trump: “Tariffs are good and trade wars are easy to win.”

+ Meanwhile, the US budget deficit swelled to $310 billion in the first four months of the fiscal year, a 77% increase over last year. Most of the shortfall is owing to the Trump tax cuts.

+ Household wealth in the US took its biggest hit since the financial crisis of 2008, falling by more than $3.73 trillion in the last quarter.

+ On Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff introduced the Abuse of the Pardon Prevention Act, legislation to prevent this President or any other from abusing the pardon power for their own personal benefit or to obstruct justice. Leave it to the Democrats to try to restrict the one presidential power that does the least harm and the most good.

+ Back in the 1970s, Joe Biden sounded like a Dixiecrat on steroids, ripping desegregation, integration and school busing. The fact that his kind of transparent racism didn’t get any scrutiny before from the Democratic Party…tells you all you need to know about the Democratic Party.

+ Joe Biden:

“When it comes to civil rights and civil liberties, I’m a liberal but that’s it. I’m really quite conservative on most other issues. My wife said I was the most socially conservative man she had ever known. I’m a screaming liberal when it comes to senior citizens because I really think they are getting screwed. I’m a liberal on health care because I believe it is a birth right of every human being—not just some damn privilege to be meted out to a few people. But when it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother. I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body. I support a limited amnesty, and I don’t think marijuana should be legalized. Now, if you still think I’m a liberal, let me tell you that I support the draft. I’m scared to death of a professional army. I vote my own way and it is not always with the Democrats. I did vote for George McGovern, of course, but I would have voted for Mickey Mouse against Richard Nixon. I despise that man.”

+ The real Biden was on unvarnished display during his 1993 floor speech in the Senate pushing passage of the savage Clinton Crime Bill, where Joe the Vicious excoriated a generation of young black men as unredeemable “predators.” Biden lashed out at “cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally … because they literally have not been socialized, they literally have not had an opportunity….We should focus on them now…if we don’t, they will, or a portion of them, will become the predators 15 years from now…I don’t care why someone is a malefactor in society….These criminals need to be kept away from my mother, your husband, our families.”

+ Years, later Biden was still defending the monstrosity he helped create, saying “it did a lot of good.”

+ Biden was HRC before HRC, only worseClinton was transactional, saying whatever her sponsors wanted her to say. Biden actually believes this crap.

+ Still, most people see through him. Biden flatlined before a focus group of Democratic voters assembled by CNN. If Joe can’t make it with CNN viewers, he’s unlikely to make it with anyone else, except DNC super delegates.

+ Bernie Sanders would govern like a Democratic even if he hadn’t signed the pledge. One of Trump’s finest moments was when he refused to pledge to support the GOP nominee, if it wasn’t him…

+ For some reason, former Colorado Gov. John “Frackenlooper” announced he’s running for president. Remember that time when he drank fracking fluid in a demented stunt to prove how “safe” it is?

+ There are 20 Democrats in the presidential race and “Someone Else” is still polling at a healthy 8%…

+ Trump approval rating among white voters: 54%. Overall approval at 46%, highest of his presidency. (NBC/WJS Journal Poll, March 3, 2019)

+ Liberals are incredulous that working-class people could support a billionaire like Trump. The simplest explanation: Trump isn’t a billionaire. Maybe they support him because, like them, Trump’s been in debt his entire career, on the run from creditors for 30 years. Perhaps, they admire how he has survived and beaten the debt collectors, even if his policies put their own future in doubt.

+ The latest example of Trump Derangement Syndrome can be found in an article in The Atlantic suggesting that John Bolton will save us all!

+ Reality check: John Bolton on Venezuela: “We’re not afraid to use the ‘Monroe Doctrine’, this is a country in our hemisphere.”

+ When the paramilitary state of Colombia intervenes to stop your invasion of Venezuela, you know your coup is falling apart…

+ In 2017, Bloomberg Politics published a ranking of the most efficient health care economies in the world.

1. Hong Kong
2. Singapore
3. Spain

43. Venezuela

54. U.S. and Azerbaijan

+ Despite what you might hear from the Sputnik Left, racism is alive and well in America, where black girl students are four times more likely to be arrested than white girl students in the same schools…

+ The OC Weekly, edited by my pal Nick Schou, broke the story about Newport Beach students giving each other Nazi salutes and making swastikas from plastic cups. It’s Orange County, what did you expect those children of aerospace co. execs to do for fun, chant the Lotus Sutra and make Tibetan mandalas with their Red Solo beer pong cups?

+ Meanwhile, in DC, at the haughty Sidwell Friends Academy several of students were witnessed using their cellphones to project swastikas on a screen during a school presentation. Sidwell Friends is a training ground for the DC power elite. It’s alumni include Malia Obama, former CIA head John Deutch, Trisha Nixon Cox and her sister Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Nancy Reagan, Chelsea Clinton and proto-Nazi Charles Lindberg. If this keeps up, the new crop Windsors might consider send their kids to Sidwell instead of musty old Eton.

+ A stingy Chicago Tribune editorial asserts that while rent control would “help some tenants,” it would “sap vitality” from the city. But there are drugs that treat “sapped vitality,” right? The writers of this editorial have probably even taken them from time to time.

+ “When you look at statistics for death and injury on the job,” says Josh Lepawsky, leader of the Reassembling Rubbish research project, a five year examination of the issue of e-waste,being a trash collector is about as dangerous as being a firefighter.” And much more dangerous than being a cop.

+ Between 2005 and 2017, there were more than 13,000 fatal shootings by police, but only 80 cops were ever charged with manslaughter or murder. Of those 80 charged, only 28 were convicted of a crime.

+ A Baltimore cop dropped a fake gun near the body of a man he’d just deliberately run over.

+ According to the UN, there are between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners in North Korea. There are 450,000 people in American jails simply because they can’t afford bail.

+ Members of the “Progressive Caucus” who have yet to support the Medicare for All Resolution:


+ Things billionaires die of….botched penis enlargement surgery.

+ In NYC, one in 8 students have been homeless before they enter 5th grade.

+ Do you know a way to live in San Jose?

San Jose minimum wage: $15

$31,200 per year based on a 40hr week

$2,600 a month

Monthly tent for average one bedroom apartment: $2,000

Minimum income to qualify for rent on $2,000 month apt: $6,000 per month

Liveable minimum wage for San Jose: $34 per hour

+ Black US homeownership peaked in 2004. It has since fallen so low as to wipe out virtually all gains made since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968.

+ Something else to thank the Clintons for: new research is showing just how much harm their destruction of welfare is doing to the children of single mothers.

+ One cherish myth after another is crumbling: Wage gains for low-wage workers have been the strongest in states that have increased the minimum wage.

+ Capitalism is the problem–Disaster, Savage, Predatory and Crony are just a few of its branch offices.

+ Stick this in the Dime’s Worth of Difference file cabinet: John Kelly admits he would have worked for HRC if she’d asked him.

+ Here’s a chart showing the change in earnings before and after having children for men and women. Women are penalized, even in progressive economies…

+ Trump’s fixer-turned-rat Michael Cohen gave House Intelligence Committee investigators copies of the edits Trump’s lawyers allegedly made to his fallacious testimony before Congress on Trump company deals in Russia. But who will Cohen blame for his recent perjured testimony before Congress regarding whether he wanted a pardon from Trump? Lanny Davis?

+ Manafort got sentenced to less than 4 years. There are people serving life sentences for marijuana crimes.

+ Manafort was handed a shorter sentence (46 months), than Reality Winner (63 months).

+ Judge Ellis: “Manafort led a blameless life before this.” This is the man who whitewashed the blood spilled by Mobutu, Jonas Savimbi, and the Marcos family. Manafort’s own daughter referred to the checks he got from these butchers as “blood money.”

+ I’m all for getting rid of mandatory sentences and hope that Judge Ellis’ leniency toward Paul Manafort is shown toward other defendants who don’t enjoy his connections, skin color or investment portfolio.

+ In 2009, Judge Ellis sentenced former Congressman William Jefferson to 13 years in prison on white collar crimes and wanted to send him to a prison labor camp. Jefferson is black.

+ This week Good Morning America referred to Humboldt County as being “outside Sacramento” this morning. It’s also technically “outside New Orleans.”

+ SNL cut the parody of DiFi responding to those kids last week. Luckily, we found it on the cutting room floor…

+ Trump’s rollback of clean air regulations (Codename:  “The Affordable Clean Energy Rule”) could cause 1,630 more premature deaths and 120,000 more asthma attacks by 2030, according to a new study by the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.

+ Trump’s EPA blocked NASA from doing cancer research in Texas after Hurricane Harvey unleashed a tide of toxic muck across the Gulf Coast…Why? It’s better (for the chemical and oil companies) not to know.

+ Trump: “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes.” I hope someone files a FOIA request to reveal what grade of service  Trump told FEMA to give to Puerto Rico.

+ Not surprisingly, federal disaster relief has always favored the rich.

+ When oceans burn

+ Sea ice extent in the Bering & Chukchi Seas has decreased by 360,000 km² since Jan 25th, meaning an area the size of Montana has gone from mostly ice to mostly all water in six weeks.

+ Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, even in winter.

+ When Ketchikan, Alaska runs out of water, you know the planet is really screwed up…

+ Rising sea levels are ruining crops and poisoning farmland in coastal North Carolina. “It’s all good, Honey Pie. If the crops die, we can always raise hogs. The ham will come pre-salted.”

+ Under a new law, if you contribute money to anti-pipeline protests, South Dakota might try to arrest you…(So much for “money as speech.”

+ Free-market, anti-government conservatives in Wyoming push forward a bill to mandate keeping aging coal plants running

+ The Canadian uranium company that shrank the Bears Ears (with the help of Ryan Zinke)…

+ First ketchup was reclassified as a vegetable. Now it appears that lead has become an essential mineral in school lunch programs.

+ Nearly half of all insect species on the planet could be driven to extinction within the next several decades, largely poisoned to oblivion by pesticides.

+ As if the week hasn’t seen enough bloodshed, Trump’s Interior Department moved this week to lift all federal protections for wolves in the US.

+ Terry Gilliam on superhero movies: “I Hate Them. It’s Bullshit. Come On, Grow Up!”

+ That time Jerry Lee Lewis was arrested for planning to shoot Elvis Presley. They called him Killer for a reason.

+ When free jazz encountered post-structuralist French philosophy: The Ornette Coleman / Jacques Derrida interview

Making Money You Can’t Spend Ain’t What Being Dead’s About

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Already Ready Already by Galactic (Galactic)

Quiet Signs by Jessica Pratt (Mexican Summer)

Roads That Cross by Katarina Pejak (Ruf Records)

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Red Round Globe Hot Burning by Peter Linebaugh (U. of California Press)

The Wall  by John Lanchester (WW Norton)

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (Riverhead)

Cadavers at the Bottom of the River

Bob Dylan: “I had no songs in my repertoire for commercial radio anyway. Songs about debauched bootleggers, mothers that drowned their own children, Cadillacs that only got five miles to the gallon, floods, union hall fires, darkness and cadavers at the bottom of rivers weren’t for radiophiles. There was nothing easygoing about the folk songs I sang. They weren’t friendly or ripe with mellowness. They didn’t come gently to the shore. I guess you could say they weren’t commercial.”

Categories: News for progressives

Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the Bomb

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:58

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

On February 19, the Democratic majority of the House Oversight and Reform Committee released an eye-opening interim report.  Based on testimony from “multiple” whistleblowers, the report reveals that the Trump Administration is engaged in a frenzied dash to push through a sale of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia without consulting Congress.

Several of the individuals who are promoting the deal, including our old friend General Michael Flynn, are Trump cronies both inside and outside the administration who stand to make a killing if the deal goes through.  If only Iran had had the sense to buy nukes from friends of Trump, it would never have faced sanctions or the threat of a US invasion.

Selling nuclear reactors to the Saudis should cause alarm.  The kingdom claims that it needs nuclear reactors (it has none currently) in order to meet its rising energy needs.  However, the House interim report states that “experts worry that transferring sensitive U.S. nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East.”  The Saudis are insisting that the agreement give them the right to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium from spent nuclear reactor fuel.  Enrichment and reprocessing capability would enable the Saudis to go in a short time from a peaceful, civil nuclear program to producing a bomb.  During an interview which aired on the March 18, 2018 “60 Minutes,” Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS,” as he is known), said: “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

There is no sign that any of this troubles Trump.  Nothing the Saudis do gets a rise out of the president.  (Maybe Trump just likes anyone in white robes.)  Congress, however, including many Republicans, has had enough of the Saudis.  Like most of us, Congress was appalled by the October 2, 2018 murder of Washington Postwriter Jamal Khashoggi, apparently on Bin Salman’s personal orders.  Trump, on the other hand, retains his doglike fidelity to the crown prince.  One suspects Trump would defend the crown prince even if Bin Salman had shot Khashoggi in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue.

On February 13, in a stunning rebuke to the president, the House voted 248-to-177 to invoke the War Powers Resolution and end US support for the Saudis’ genocidal war on Yemen. The measure now goes to the Senate.

Congress may tighten the requirements for nuclear cooperation agreements such as Trump’s prospective reactor sale to the Saudis.  Nuclear cooperation agreements (“123 agreements”) are regulated by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.  Unfortunately, the Atomic Energy Act does not actually require Congress to assent to a nuclear transfer.  Congress, however, can veto a transfer.  New legislation, pointedly named the Saudi Nuclear Proliferation Act, would change that.  The bill, introduced in the Senate on Feb. 28, strengthens the Atomic Energy Act by requiring that transfers of US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia be approved by Congress.

If Trump’s nuclear deal dies, as it should, Russia, China, South Korea, and France have also submitted bids to build the Saudi reactors.  Each one of these alternate suppliers has fatal drawbacks.  Henry Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, writes that “If Saudi Arabia buys Russian, it is all but asking Moscow to let Iran know exactly what the kingdom is doing in the nuclear realm.” Reactors which China and France are building overseas are behind schedule and over-budget.  South Korea’s reactors incorporate American technology, which means that Congress has the power under the Atomic Energy Act to block a Saudi-Korean reactor sale.

The New York TimesNicholas Kristof observes:

Trump seems to believe that the Saudis have us over a barrel: If we don’t help them with nuclear technology, someone else will. That misunderstands the U.S.-Saudi relationship.  The Saudis depend on us for their security, and the blunt truth is that we hold all the cards in this relationship, not them.

The Pakistan Connection

There may be an easier way for the Saudis to acquire nuclear weapons than building their own. I ran across these paragraphs in a postby an Indian blogger:

The Saudis are virtually bankrolling the Pakistani economy — $3 billion in cash, another $3 billion in oil (with deferred payment facility) and anywhere around $20 billion in investments — which makes Pakistan a vassal state.

Besides, the UAE, which is closely aligned with Saudi Arabia, is chipping in with another $6.2 billion aid package.

That’s a lot of cabbage. How will Pakistan pay it back?  One way is by giving Saudi Arabia a bomb.

Rumors of an arrangement or understanding under which Pakistan would transfer nuclear weapons to the kingdom go back to the 1970s when Saudi Arabia provided funding for Pakistan’s nascent nuclear bomb project.  On November 22, 2018, in a story titled “Saudis Want a U.S. Nuclear Deal. Can They Be Trusted Not to Build a Bomb?” the New York Times noted that

The Saudi government provided the financing for Pakistan to secretly build its own nuclear arms…. That financial link has long left American intelligence officials wondering if there was a quid pro quo: that if Saudi Arabia ever needed its own small arsenal, Pakistan could provide it….

The Times goes on to say that there may be an understanding that if Saudi Arabia requests troops from Pakistan, those troops will bring nukes with them.

In a 2011 article, Bruce Reidel, author of Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad, noted that

Some reports allege the RSAF [Royal Saudi Air Force] keeps a couple of aircraft permanently deployed in Pakistan to be able to deliver the bomb to Riyadh on short notice if the King asks for them [sic]. It is impossible to know if these reports have any veracity but the idea makes sense.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia deny that they have a nuclear agreement.  However, Simon Henderson, an energy expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, agrees that

Saudi Arabia probably already has a nuclear weapons capability, courtesy of Pakistan.  The assumption is that Pakistan’s nuclear-tipped missiles could be sent to the kingdom, either to boost Saudi deterrence against Iran or to safeguard part of Pakistan’s strategic force in time of crisis with India….

Pakistan is currently in a crisis with India, one which may escalate to nuclear war.  For decades, Pakistan has trained, equipped, and given safe haven to jihadi groups which it uses as proxies for attacks on India. On February 13, an attack by militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad in Indian-occupied Kashmir killed 40 Indian paramilitary police.  India has accused Pakistan of backing Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Since then, each side has carried out air attacks on the other’s territory, and each nation has claimed to have shot down the other’s warplanes.  There has been firing across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India.  Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has met with the country’s National Command Authority, which controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  The crisis could spiral into a full-scale war. [1]

The Man with the Golden Gun

Christopher Clary and Mara E. Karlin predicted in 2012 that it is “likely that Pakistan will provide nuclear weapons technology [to Saudi Arabia] if it is seeking to replace U.S. aid following a possible future rupture in the relationship [with the US].”  Complaining that the Pakistanis “don’t do a damn thing for us,” President Donald Trump slashed $300 million of aid to Pakistan in September.  Like his predecessors in the Oval Office, Trump has wearied of Pakistan’s empty promises to crack down on militant groups which attack NATO forces in Afghanistan. Bush and Obama tried using financial pressure to force Pakistan to sever its ties with militants.  Now it’s Trump’s turn to try what has never worked in the past.  The danger is that US pressure could backfire, driving Pakistan closer to Riyadh.

Contrast the royal treatment Pakistan is receiving from Riyadh.  MBS made a state visit to Pakistan in February.  During his two-day visit, the Pakistanis treated the Saudi crown prince like a rock star.  Pakistan lavished MBS with gifts, including—no joke—a gold-plated submachine gun.  Pakistan’s jubilance is understandable.  Bin Salman has promised Pakistan $20 billion in Saudi investments, throwing a lifeline to Pakistan which is in one of its recurrent fiscal crises.  Commentators say that MBS has cemented Pakistan’s membership in the Sunni alliance against Iran.

We are left with a puzzle.  Suppose it’s true that Saudi Arabia can get nukes from Pakistan at any time just like ordering a pizza.  Does that mean that the Saudis are telling the truth and only want nuclear reactors in order to generate electricity?  Then why is Riyadh insisting on ENR as part of a nuclear cooperation agreement with Washington?  Is the Saudis’ rumored “understanding” with Pakistan bogus?  Maybe, maybe not.  If Riyadh does have an understanding with Pakistan it’s in order to hedge against Iran going nuclear.  Riyadh may now have decided to build its own bomb in order to hedge against a possibly unreliable Islamabad—hedging on top of hedging.

The Saudis cannot be trusted with nuclear reactors.  Yet despite the revelations from the House Oversight Committee’s report, the Trump Administration appears still to be moving ahead with the sale.  As recently as February 12, President Trump personally met with representatives from America’s nuclear industry.  This is only to be expected from a president not given to playing anything safe.  Or smart.


[1]  Pakistan-backed militants are also making trouble for Iran.  A suicide attack on February 13 killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  This was “one of the deadliest attacks in years to strike Iran,” according to the New York Times.  The Pakistan-based Jaish al Adl(“Army of Justice”), which the Timeswrites has ties to Al Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack.  Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan Province, where the attack took place, borders Pakistan.

Categories: News for progressives

Capitalism and the Reactionary Power of White Identity Politics

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:57

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Yet the end that planters and poor whites envisaged and, as the fight went on, the end that large numbers of the Northern capitalists were fighting for, was a movement in the face of modern progress. It did not go to the length of disfranchising the whole laboring class, black and white, because it dared not do this, although this was its logical end. It did disenfranchise black labor with the aid of white Southern Labor and with the silent acquiescence of white Northern labor.”

— W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880

Momentum for building a post-neoliberal U.S. has been gaining strength with each passing day. However, despite the rise of new and exciting figures, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the tide of striking teachers in even GOP dominated states, we must remain aware that whenever there has been potential for revolutionizing government and politics, there has always followed a reactionary and brutal backlash.

For instance, during Reconstruction, a counterrevolutionary force swept across the South, erecting a system of apartheid and which stripped away newly won economic and political rights for most African Americans. Similarly, in the late 1960s/early 1970s, as African Americans fought to end apartheid across the country, their efforts were met with violence and terror.

Whenever there has been possibility for the U.S. to free itself from capitalist rule, there has always been a countervailing force allowing for the status quo to recover and regenerate. And often, that countervailing/counterrevolutionary threat that has time and time again cut short eras brimming with hope and promise has been white identarian politics.

Economic elites and the Right recognize the power of whiteness and its ability to stall major political and economic progress. Although there is now an energized Left in this country, there remains the opportunity for white identity politics to reemerge more potent than ever, especially as Donald Trump and his billionaire allies are desperate to maintain their power in the face of demographic change and the reality that many young people have become jaded with capitalism. If the Left hopes to succeed in turning their vision for economic and political liberation into reality, understanding the reactionary power of white identity politics is essential.

Whiteness and the Project of US Capitalism

When the U.S. state was first forged by European American men of economic privilege like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, their goal was to preserve their own interests. They did this by elevating the protection of property rights and in forging ahead in the development of a capitalist economy.

What this meant, however, for the vast majority of Americans, who were also European but were at the bottom rung of the economic hierarchy, was that access to economic power was limited. Hoping to pacify the white masses and prevent them from uprising, the founding fathers allowed those defined as “white” the right to vote and the right to certain other freedoms while most African Americans and the indigenous were denied those very same rights and freedoms.

As noted by Matthew Frye Jacobson and David Roediger, by restricting certain rights to mostly whites and denying them to African American and the indigenous, this cultivated a sense of superiority, even among white workers, and a feeling of cross-class “solidarity” between white workers and the white elite. Instead of viewing the world as divided between themselves and those who exploited them, many white workers soon accepted the premise that they, along with their white employers, shared in a struggle over resources against the “uncivilized” black and brown people.

Over the years, the contours and shape of whiteness would shift to meet the needs of the economic and political elite. When the Irish and Italian first arrived, they were discriminated against by other European Americans. However, after the Civil War, Northern and Southern elites understood that to avert rebellion from a white and black alliance, the Irish and newer European immigrants must be integrated into the mainstream. Establishment politicians started to encourage other white Americans to accept them and the Irish and Italian immigrants learned to distance themselves from African Americans by refusing to work with them and by supporting explicitly white supremacist political candidates.

Matthew Frye Jacobson writes in Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, “The contending forces that have fashioned and refashioned whiteness in the United State across time, I argue, are capitalism (with its insatiable appetite for cheap labor) and republicanism (with its imperative of responsible citizenship).”

Whiteness provides for some to be included into the mainstream but on terms that preserves the overarching economic and political structure of capitalism, which means that the wealth produced by white and black workers is still to be siphoned off into the coffers of the capitalist class.

The Reactionary Power of Whiteness

The era of Reconstruction marked the expansion of political and economic freedom. Land was gradually redistributed to African Americans who had just been emancipated. Education and voting rights had finally become accessible as well, especially for African Americans.

However, reactionary Northern and Southern economic elites feared that these changes could strip them of their power and lead to a dismantling of economic and political hierarchies. Therefore, to prevent any of these changes taking root, the elite exploited white resentment among the white masses, suggesting that if the previous economic and political hierarchy was to be overturned, then the “uncivilized” black population would reign over the “civilized” white one.

“The race element was emphasized in order that property-holders could get the support of the majority of white laborers and make it more possible to exploit Negro labor,” Du Bois explained in Black Reconstruction, his magnum opus on the conditions of race and class in the U.S. following the Civil War. He added, “But the race philosophy came as a new and terrible thing to make labor unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. So long as the Southern white laborers could be induced to prefer poverty to equality with the Negro, just so long was a labor movement in the South made impossible.”

The strategy succeeded as whites terrorized their black neighbors rather than their white bosses. Southern legislators passed laws that stripped African Americans of their newly won freedoms, including the right to vote, while retaining it for whites, which reinforced the feelings of superiority and entitlement.

Similarly, by the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S was once more experiencing significant challenges to its political order. Black radicals were on the frontline demanding an end to exploitation alongside Chicano and Asian American activists as well as white radicals and allies. However, the right-wing and those invested in “protecting” property rights and other bourgeois values, including so-called republicanism, gradually developed a coalition of white Americans, including working-class to middle, whose white entitlement and aggrievement were once more activated.

“Cartoonish rhetoric proliferated,” Jefferson Cowie explains in The Great Exception, “For example, the suggestion that working peoples’ taxes were being pipelined directly to black welfare recipients, a racist fantasy catalyzed by Reagan’s Cadillac-driving ‘welfare queen’ stories, which helped many people justify pulling the Republican lever for the first time in generations of their families’ history.”

A white backlash politics was reenergized and sustained over several election cycles, elevating the political careers of men like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and of course, Donald Trump. These right-wing politicians and their corporate allies have appealed to whiteness as they dismantle the welfare state and replace it with a neoliberal one in which the economic elite hordes the country’s wealth while everyone else has to work multiple jobs to survive. White Americans are told, implicitly and explicitly, that it’s their African American neighbors and immigrants of color who are making life difficult for them and that white businessmen and white politicians are the only ones to trust.

A Radical Response

The reality is those in power, the financial elite and their allies, realize that there is still a window of opportunity to maintain their influence and wealth for decades to come, even when the demographics shift. As Nancy MacLean and others like Wendy Brown and Quinn Slobodian have noted, those who’ve wanted to sustain their economic rule and believe in so-called “unfettered” free markets and capitalism have long understood that they must curtail democratic accountability and the ability for the ordinary people to influence policy.

Before white identity politics becomes less and less significant due to demographic changes, elites and their right-wing allies hope to weaponize whiteness in the interim to elect politicians who support anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian laws and measures, such as passing voter I.D. laws or appointing lifetime judges who are increasingly pro-business and anti-egalitarian. Consequently, it is in the interests of the anti-capitalist Left to inoculate enough white Americans, especially its working-class, against right-wing propaganda that appeals to white identity and racist demagoguery.

One major way in doing this is through labor unions. Prior to deindustrialization and the purging of left-wing radicals from their memberships, unions had been a space in which different groups of people were drawn together, forced to see one another as allies rather than competitors. Radicals among them also pushed white union members to know more about issues surrounding capitalism and the importance of solidarity in the face of right-wing assault. This education was stopped once labor unions were gutted of their radicals by liberal reformers and when labor leaders themselves decided to allow its white members to maintain segregated unions and to essentially, retreat into their whiteness.

As white labor activists seek to rebuild unions to what they once were decades ago, they must also, make efforts to reinvent unions as not only organizations fighting for better wages but as entities that can educate workers on important issues like white supremacy. In Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice, long-time labor activists and political thinkers, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin, argue “Membership education is largely conceptual and secondarily technical. It aims to provide a framework that members can use to analyze their experiences and guide actions in their own interests. Thus, it deals with the big picture.”

Whiteness is socially constructed and can be taken apart. If white radicals in the labor movement are serious about revolution, they must explain the dangers of white identity politics to white members in their community and in union spaces. Any hopes of building an anti-racist anti-colonialist economic and political system requires white radicals pushing other whites in identifying that progress for African Americans and other groups of color means all workers benefits.

“My rise does not involve your fall,” Du Bois once stated about the last time when a new economic and political system appeared to be on the horizon.

Categories: News for progressives

“Deaths of Despair”: Trump and the White Working Class

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:57

Painting by Édouard Manet

In November 2015 two Princeton economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton (a Nobel Prize winner), released a revealing study, “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among whitenon-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.” It was published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The economists’ findings were scary: “Over the 15-y[ear] period, midlife all-cause mortality fell by more than 200 per 100,000 for black non-Hispanics, and by more than 60 per 100,000 for Hispanics. By contrast, white non-Hispanic mortality rose by 34 per 100,000.”

In one of their few non-technical digressions, the scholars acknowledge: “After the productivity slowdown in the early 1970s, and with widening income inequality, many of the baby-boom generation are the first to find, in midlife, that they will not be better off than were their parents.  Growth in real median earnings has been slow for this group, especially those with only a high school education.”

In a 2017 follow-up, Case and Deaton published a revealing, if scarier, study, “Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century.” Their findings are alarming:

We find that mortality and morbidity among white non-Hispanic [WNH] Americans in midlife since the turn of the century continued to climb through 2015. Additional increases in drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality — particularly among those with a high school degree or less — are responsible for an overall increase in all-cause mortality among whites.

They persuasively argue that this developed is “triggered by progressively worsening labor market opportunities at the time of entry for whites with low levels of education.”

While most Americans are ever-fearful of cancer and heart disease, the scholars note that declines in these conditions has been offset by “increases in drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality in this period.”  They identify this growing condition as “deaths of despair” and it is leading to increased mortality among middle-aged NWH men and women. Sadly, many of these people are Trump supporters.


In their rigorous study, Case and Deaton argue, “deaths of despair are a large and growing component of midlife all-cause mortality.”  They repeated stress that this is very much a U.S. phenomenon and is in marked contrast to the mortality rates of “other wealthy countries” (i.e., Europe and Japan).

They show that between 1998 and 2015, the mortality rate for men age 50–54 with less than a bachelor’s degree increased by 14 percent (from 762 to 867 per 100,000) while the rate for men with a bachelor’s degree or more it fell by 30 percent (349 to 243.)

Equally significant, one of their observations challenges widely held conventions about race in the U.S.  “Mortality rates of BNHs [Black Non-Hispanics] age 50–54 have been and remain higher than those of WNHs age 50–54 as a whole, but the rate for BNHs have fallen rapidly, by about 25 percent from 1999 to 2015.”  They add, “as a result of this, and of the rise in white mortality, the black/white mortality gap in this (and other) age group(s) has been closing.”

Going further, they are pessimistic about the state of the nation: “Traditional structures of social and economic support slowly weakened … . Marriage was no longer the only socially acceptable way to form intimate partnerships, or to rear children.”  They point out that “these changes left people with less structure when they came to choose their careers, their religion, and the nature of their family lives.”

Stepping back, they warn, “when such choices succeed, they are liberating; when they fail, the individual can only hold himself or herself responsible.”  They add, “In the worst cases of failure, this is a Durkheim-like recipe for suicide.”

They also address a common assumption promoted by Joseph Stiglitz and embraced my many “progressives” – that the rise in suicides, overdoses and alcohol abuse is due to rising income inequality.  “Our preliminary conclusion is that, as in previous historical episodes, the changes in mortality and morbidity are only coincidentally correlated with changes in income.”  Going further they add, “We suspect that more likely causes are various slowly moving social trends — such as the declining ratio of employment to population, or the decline in marriage rates.”

Even more pessimistic, they conclude:“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany this decline.”


Case and Deaton are not alone in examining the growing concern of “deaths of despair.”  Shortly after the 2016 election, Shannon Monnat published a revealing study, “Deaths of Despair and Support for Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.”  Her analysis is pretty straight forward: “Much of the relationship between mortality and Trump’s performance is explained by economic factors; counties with higher economic distress and larger working-class presence also have higher mortality rates and came out strongly for Trump.” She adds, “In many of the counties where Trump did the best, economic precarity has been building and social and family networks have been breaking down for several decade.”

Equally telling, she details the toll the “deaths of despair” phenomenon is taking on the   American public:

Over the past decade, nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. died from accidental drug overdoses and drug-induced diseases. Nearly 400,000 more committed suicide, and over 250,000 died from alcohol-induced diseases like cirrhosis of the liver. Approximately a fifth of these drug, alcohol and suicide deaths involved opiates (prescription pain relievers or heroin), suggesting that opiates are part of a larger problem.

One needs to add the nearly half-a-million deaths over the last decade caused by cigarette smoking to the list.

Monnat details how Trump over-performed the most in counties with the highest drug, alcohol and suicide mortality rates. And that he performed best in counties with high economic distress and a large working class. She notes that “many of the counties with high mortality rates where Trump did the best have experienced significant employment losses in manufacturing over the past several decades.”

Monnat concludes on a cautionary note: “Clearly there is an association between drug, alcohol and suicide mortality and Trump’s election performance.” But she warns, “However, this relationship should not be interpreted as causal. No single factor (including race, education, income, rurality, or health) can explain this election outcome.”


That was 2016 – it’s now 2019 and the 2020 elections are beginning to heat up.

The overlapping problems of drugs, alcohol, suicide and despair kills thousands of Americans every year.  Last year, the CDC reported that between 2006 and 2016 life expectancy in the U.S. rose from 77.8 to 78.6 years.  However, it warned that the death rates for Americans aged 15 to 44 years rose by around 5 percent each year between 2013 and 2016.

It identified drugs, alcohol and suicide as the principle culprits and reported the following:

+ Drug overdoses killed more than 63,600 people in 2016; women saw the largest increase with those aged 45 to 54 having the most overdoses overall, but those aged 15 to 24 saw a 19 percent jump per year between 2014 and 2016.

+ Alcohol is a major public health concern with liver disease replacing HIV as the sixth-leading killer of adults ages 25 to 44 in 2016.

+ Suicide is on the rise, now the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 between 2014 and 2016 as well as third-leading cause of death among people ages 25 to 44 killing almost 17 of every 100,000 people in 2016.

The concept of “deaths of despair” has not entered the political debate among any of the announced candidates, whether Trump or the Democrats, but the issues associated with it likely will play a critical role.

Earlier this year, Trump drew attention to the issue of drug overdoses. “Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.  More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War,” he noted.  However, his concern about drug overdoses was driven not by the humanitarian issue but by the campaign promise to build “the Wall.”  “Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl,” he said.

One can only wonder when the Democratic candidates will discover “deaths of despair” and, hopefully, begin to meaningfully speak to Trump base, thus further eroding his support and likely ending his efforts for reelection in 2020.

Categories: News for progressives

No Strategies to Erase Damage Already Done

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:56

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

“And here, sitting upon London stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign. And now henceforward it shall be treason for any that calls me other than Lord Mortimer.”

– Jack Cade in Henry VI, Part II

Democrats face a challenge that Republicans do not face and that is reconciling a drive for diversity with the urgency of mounting the best challenge to President Trump. More broadly, the challenge is to an Overripe Capitalism that has settled democracy into oligarchy and now, with President Trump, a threatening autocracy.

But an additional part is achieving this on a stage, both spatial and psychic, where neither a drive for diversity nor the urgency of challenging capitalism is overwhelming the country. This is all less than overwhelming when you imagine how Trump will brand everything in the Green New Deal as socialist. Thus, much needed immediate action on global warming will be tagged as not only conspiratorial science but also socialist.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, however, won a third term in Ohio even though he was smeared as a socialist, a signifier he wisely avoids. However, the heart of his address is to workers and this theme aligns him with the most far left of the Democrats. This seems to me a clear example, a blueprint, of how socialist leaning Democrats can succeed in 2020. Whether the fact that Brown is a 66 year old white male negates his chances in a 2020 presidential race depends on whether the Democratic Party considers his electoral success in the Midwest of less importance than running a diversity candidate.

I need to step back here because I’m not a politician and don’t practice the art of the possible but I recall that in the 2016 presidential election Bernie Sanders failed in reconciling major social justice concerns of the modern left, such as race, gender, and sexuality and his call “to stand up to Wall Street.” A Twitter backlash to Bernie’s call to go beyond identity politics proved to be fatal, perhaps as fatal to him as the Democratic Party’s secret campaign against his campaign.

But the issue remains more than ever prominent in Democratic politics, invigorated by the diversity victories in the midterm Congressional elections. That momentum can perhaps lead to a doubling down on the diversity and identity politics side on the part of Democrats. A woman or Trans woman of color may satisfy the most pressing requirements to which that Party feels it needs to respond. Thus, the success of diversity in the Congressional elections can also be seen as a blueprint for Democratic victory in 2020.

Will there be a doubling down on the socialist signifier, in any form, or will there be a run to identify as a true believer in capitalism, as Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar have already done.

Whatever the case, President Trump, in a 2010 electoral battle, will rampage tweet any Democrat, running from or proudly endorsing socialism, as a threat to every cherished American institution. Ironically, of course, President Trump, by 2020, will have morphed those institutions into his own madcap self. Unless of course, Mueller and/or the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York reframes him in a complete orange ensemble.

What we can be more definitive about than the electoral strategies and tactics of either Trump or the Democrats, which are in an embryo stage at this point, are the consequences of what has already occurred in the almost 26 months Trump has been in office.

In short, a Democratic Party charged with an enthusiasm to indict and/or impeach President Trump or invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him, and thus jettison the “Trump Normal” and reinstate “The Constitutional Democratic Normal,” cannot evict the consequences of his tenure.

Nor can they put an end to a world Trump has already fashioned, one in which any authority underpinning truth and reality have been damaged, all methods and ways of knowing based on rational and empirical methods have been damaged, and one in which a notable segment of the American population have been affected by these consequences.

We do not delete and write anew in regard to traumatic political turns.

The War Between the States segued into Jim Crow; the Emancipation Proclamation segued into President Trump’s take on the Charlottesville’s clash: “I think there is blame on both sides.” Sixty-four per cent of American say racism is a major problem and pollsters find that racial resentment brought many to Trump. Campuses have not become a rose garden of racial mingling The Atlantic reported in 2016 that “[L]ast semester, student-activist groups nationwide issued demands to their universities seeking everything from mandatory sensitivity-and-racial-bias training to the development of safe spaces on campus for people of color. (Adrienne Green, “The Cost of Balancing Academia and Racism,” The Atlantic, Jan. 21, 2016.)

The destiny of Trump’s reign may endure as the legacy of racism because he has entangled the mantra of “make American great again” with a need to keep the fires of all hatreds burning bright.

What dire consequences emerge from Trump’s presidency extend not only to his destruction of a Constitutional balance of powers but also to his efforts to stop all efforts to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Almost equally destructive is his success in convincing a white working class that he will regain for them a white supremacy at home, reinvigorated American ugliness abroad, and well paying manufacturing jobs.

The drastic wealth divide resulting from capitalism’s Monopoly game in which all the properties on the board and all the money in the bank has already gone to a few, all others, losers, is “fake news” and thus dismissed. In the place of this wealth schism, Trump offers himself to his followers in the perennial American mythos of “Wealth as Savior,” wealth as the champion of those who have already lost at the capitalist casino or are losing badly. And Donald J. Trump has become the personification of that mythos of salvation through wealth.

Enough Americans are deep devotees of this creed to make the 2020 election yet another close call. These devotees are convinced that the deal the wealthy celebrity Trump has made for himself is the same deal in which they can win. That they are in a survival game because of what Trump represents is a recognition they are too entranced to see.

And this too, then, is a tragic consequence, damage done whose recuperation now eludes us.

Those who worship at a different altar see happy consequences in the movement of the young toward a positive view of government. Salutary consequences for them are envisioned. The capitalist game of Winners and Losers, run stochastically, has thus far settled them into fears of debt and environmental disaster. And those fears have propelled them toward government as their champion, a bargain a number of social democracies have made successfully. Scandinavian countries have far greater social mobility and far less inequality than does the U.S., although this seems inconsequential to Americans, if these facts are at all known, because these countries are “socialist.”

I call this a much damaged “signifier,” the consequences of both fascist and communist dictatorships having flown this signifier’s banner. What it means divorced from its abuses is an encounter to be brought into the classroom so that a rising generation can make better sense of the relationship of economics and politics than their forebears can. The consequences of an ancien regime sized wealth divide are either plutarchy or autocracy.

Conditions that the young are facing, however, make it difficult to imagine that those whose live are self-designed in cyberspace from birth will bear the intrusions of government bureaucracy.

It is too early to tell whether social media has a social, communitarian dimension that offsets the illusions of self-determination and empowerment that cyberspace offers, not to mention the overpowering influx of absolute rot and nonsense intermingled with “truthiness.” Mr. Zuckerberg’s assertion that Facebook “brings the world together” is now under serious interrogation while the benefits of Twitter as the “go to” channel for presidential declarations as well as ensuing debate seems damaging to democracy and helpful to autocracy.

The consequences of a duplex reality, offline and online, the Great Outdoors and Cyberspace, are in play and no clear call can be made.

Whether the illusionary powers of cyberspace to augment our personal will are crushed by the real world consequences of global warming and an autocratic rule by a damaged leader is something undeterminable now.

President Trump’s total reliance on his own personal autocratic will to power, which he calls his gut reactions, did not create a culture of narcissism, a culture in which everything personal overrides everything communal.

Margaret Thatcher assured us that there is no such thing as society and Donald Trump is telling us there is no such thing as a Constitutional democracy. There is only in his view a “Deep State” conducting a witch hunt, a cabal of enemies of the people out to get him.

There is only the person, a creed that Trump brings to its solipsist conclusion: there is only him, his personal will, his choice, his readiness to assume personal responsibility, which is unpunished because he alone pardons.

Only great damage can result from power, uncontested and unreachably pathological.

Right now, in our defense is a political discourse that has no solid reference point to return to but only an arena of dispute which the present can attach itself to in equally disputatious ways.

Because our analog history is now suspect for merely being analog and not digital, politics in the present goes on within a different mindset regarding history than proposed by George Santayana: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Therefore, consequences of past actions are now as irrelevant as the actions themselves.

President Trump may be a unique figure as President, an ego fully bloated with illusions of the greatness of his own willful gut, and thus most dangerous as Commander in Chief, but he occupies with many others more than one circle in Dante’s Inferno. His brand of tyranny was not unknown to Shakespeare as Stephen Greenblatt reminds us in Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. Richard III, Macbeth, Julius CaesarCoriolanus and, Jack Cade, the rebel leader in Henry VI, Part II are replete with parallels to our present tyrant.

“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” James Madison foresaw in Federalist #10, a foreseeing that led to defenses in the Constitution against an imperial presidency, an unenlightened autocrat.

The newly formed House of Representatives is now engaged in strategies to unseat an autocratic order before that autocracy undermines any assault against it, including any launched by the two branches of government constituted to check and balance an imperial presidency.

Whether the Legislature and the Senate have already been damaged to the point that it is owned by that presidency, time will reveal. But surely, the fact that the country is in such a predicament, such a battle for the preservation of Constitutional and not autocratic authority, tells us that much damage has already been done.


Categories: News for progressives

The Conflict of Our Time: U.S. Imperialism vs the Rule of Law

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:56

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The world faces many overlapping crises: regional political crises from Kashmir to Venezuela; brutal wars that rage on in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Somalia; and the existential dangers of nuclear weapons, climate change and mass extinction.  

But beneath the surface of all these crises, human society faces an underlying, unresolved conflict about who or what governs our world and who must make the critical decisions about how to tackle all these problems – or whether we will tackle them at all. The underlying crisis of legitimacy and authority that makes so many of our problems almost impossible to solve is the conflict between U.S. imperialism and the rule of law.   

Imperialism means that one dominant government exercises sovereignty over other countries and people across the world, and makes critical decisions about how they are to be governed and under what kind of economic system they are to live. 

On the other hand, our current system of international law, based on the UN Charter and other international treaties, recognizes nations as independent and sovereign, with fundamental rights to govern themselves and to freely negotiate agreements about their political and economic relations with each other.  Under international law, multilateral treaties that have been signed and ratified by large majorities of nations become part of the structure of international law that is binding on all countries, from the least to the most powerful.

In a recent article, “The Hidden Structure of U.S. Empire,” I explored some of the ways that the United States exercises imperial power over other nominally sovereign, independent countries and their citizens. I cited anthropologist Darryl Li’s ethnographic study of U.S. terrorism suspects in Bosnia, which revealed a layered system of sovereignty under which people around the world are not only subject to the national sovereignty of their own countries but also to the overarching extraterritorial sovereignty of the U.S. empire. 

I described how Julian Assange, trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, detained while changing planes at Vancouver Airport, are victims of the same extraterritorial U.S. imperial sovereignty as the hundreds of innocent “terrorism suspects” that U.S. forces kidnapped around the world and shipped off to indefinite, extralegal detention at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. prisons.

While Darryl Li’s work is invaluable in what it reveals about the actually existing layers of sovereignty through which the U.S. projects its imperial power, U.S. imperialism is much more than an exercise in capturing and detaining individuals in other countries.  Many of today’s international crises are the result of this same system of overarching, extraterritorial U.S. imperial sovereignty at work.  

These crises all serve to demonstrate how the U.S. exercises imperial power, how this conflicts with and undermines the structure of international law that has been painstakingly developed to govern international affairs in the modern world, and how this underlying crisis of legitimacy prevents us from solving the most serious problems we face in the 21st century – and thus endangers us all.

U.S. Imperial Wars Unleash Long-Term Violence and Chaos

The UN Charter was crafted at the end of the Second World War to prevent a repeat of the mass blood-letting and global chaos of two World Wars. The architect of the UN Charter, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, had already died, but the horrors of global war were fresh enough in the minds of other leaders to ensure that they accepted peace as the essential prerequisite for future international affairs and the founding principle of the United Nations.  

The development of nuclear weapons suggested that a future world war might completely destroy human civilization, and that it must therefore never be fought.  As Albert Einstein famously told an interviewer, “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth: rocks!”  

World leaders therefore put their signatures to the UN Charter, a binding treaty that prohibits the threat or use of force by any country against another.  The U.S. Senate had learned the bitter lesson of its refusal to ratify the League of Nations treaty after the First World War, and it voted to ratify the UN Charter without reservation by 98 votes to two.

The horrors of the Korean and Vietnam Wars were justified in ways that skirted the UN Charter’s prohibition against the use of force, with UN or US forces fighting to “defend” new neocolonial states carved out of the ruins of Japanese and French colonialism.  

But after the end of the Cold War, U.S. leaders and their advisors succumbed to what former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev now refers to as Western triumphalism,” an imperial vision of a “unipolar” world effectively ruled by a “sole superpower,” the United States.  The U.S. empire expanded economically, politically and militarily into Eastern Europe and U.S. officials believed they could finally “conduct military operations in the Middle East without worrying about triggering World War Three,” as Michael Mandelbaum of the Council on Foreign Relations crowed in 1990.

A generation later, the people of the greater Middle East could be forgiven for thinking that they are in fact experiencing World War III, as endless invasions, bombing campaigns and proxy wars have reduced entire cities, towns and villages to rubble and killed millions of people across Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya, Syria and Yemen – with no end in sight after 30 years of ever-proliferating war, violence and chaos.

Not one of the U.S.’s post-9/11 wars was authorized by the UN Security Council, as the UN Charter would require, meaning that they all either violate the UN Charter, as Secretary General Kofi Annan admitted in the case of Iraq, or violate the explicit terms of UN Security Council resolutions, such as UNSCR 1973‘s mandate for an “immediate ceasefire,” a strict arms embargo and the exclusion of “a foreign occupation force of any form” in Libya in 2011.

In reality, while U.S. imperialist leaders are often eager to use the UN Security Council as window dressing for their war plans, they presume to make the real decisions regarding war and peace themselves, using political arguments to justify wars that have no real legal basis in international law.  

U.S. leaders show the same disdain for the U.S. Constitution as for the the UN Charter and UN resolutions.  As James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1798, the U.S. Constitution “with studied care vested the question of war in the legislative,” precisely to prevent such dangerous abuses of war powers by the executive branch of government.   

But it has taken decades of war and millions of violent deaths before the U.S. Congress has invoked the Vietnam-era War Powers Act to assert its constitutional authority to stop any of these unconstitutional, illegal wars.  Congress has so far limited its efforts to the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the lead aggressors and the U.S. plays only a supporting, albeit vital role.  With one of their own in the White House, most Republican Members of Congress are still resisting even this limited assertion of Congress’s constitutional authority.  

Meanwhile HR 1004, Representative Cicilline’s bill to confirm that Mr. Trump has no constitutional authority to order the use of U.S. military force in Venezuela, has only 52 cosponsors (50 Democrats and 2 Republicans). Senator Merkley’s companion bill in the Senate is still waiting for its first cosponsor.

U.S. political debates over war and peace pointedly ignore the legal reality that the UN Charter, backed up by the “Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy” in the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact and the prohibition against aggression in customary international law, all prohibit the U.S. from attacking other countries.  Instead U.S. politicians debate the pros and cons of a U.S. attack on any given country only in terms of U.S. interests and their own one-sided framing of the political rights and wrongs of the situation. 

The U.S. uses information warfare to demonize foreign governments and economic warfare to destabilize targeted countries, to generate political, economic and humanitarian crises that can then serve as pretexts for war, as the world has now seen in country after country and as we are witnessing today in Venezuela.

These are clearly the actions and policies of an imperial power, not those of a sovereign country acting within the rule of law.

Cutting Off the Branch We are Sitting On

Not a week goes by without new studies that reveal previously unreported aspects of the environmental crisis facing the human race and the world we live in. Every species of insect may be extinct in a century, with the possible exception of cockroaches and house-flies, triggering ecological chaos as unpollinated plants, starving birds and other creatures follow the insects into mass extinction.  Half the Earth’s population of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles has already disappeared in the past 40 years.

Climate change may produce six or eight feet of sea level rise this century – or will it be 20 or 30 feet?  Nobody can be sure.  By the time we are, it will be too late to prevent it.  Dahr Jamail’s recent article at Truthout, titled, “We Are Destroying Our Life Support System,” is a good review of what we do know.

From a practical, technological standpoint, the necessary transition to renewable energy on which our very survival may depend is entirely achievable.  So what is preventing the world from making this critical transition?


Scientists have understood the basic science of human-induced global warming or climate change since the 1970s. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and quickly ratified by almost every country, including the United States. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol committed countries to make specific, binding cuts in carbon emissions, with greater cuts imposed on the developed countries that are most responsible for the problem. But there was one notable absentee: the United States. Only the U.S., Andorra and South Sudan failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, until Canada also withdrew from it in 2012.

Many developed countries substantially reduced their carbon emissions under the first round of the Kyoto Protocol, and the 2009 Copenhagen Summit was planned to draw up a legal framework to follow up on Kyoto.  The election of Barack Obama encouraged many to believe that the United States, the country historically responsible for the greatest carbon emissions, would finally join a global plan to fix the problem.

Instead, the U.S. price for its participation was an insistence on voluntary, non-binding targets in place of a legally binding treaty.  Then, while the European Union (EU), Russia and Japan set targets of 15-30% reductions from their 1990 emissions by 2020, and China aimed for a 40-45% reduction from its 2005 emissions, the U.S. and Canada aimed only to cut their emissions by 17% from their 2005 levels.  This meant that the U.S. target was only a 4% cut in carbon emissions from its 1990 level, while almost every other developed country was aiming for a 15-40% cut. 

The Paris Climate Accord was based on the same model of non-binding, voluntary targets as the Copenhagen Accord.  With the second and now final phase of the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2020, no country will be under any binding international obligation to reduce its carbon emissions.  Countries whose people and politicians are genuinely committed to a transition to renewable energy are moving forward, while others are not.  The Netherlands has passed a law to require a 95% reduction in carbon emissions from its 1990 level by 2050, and it has banned the sale of gasoline and diesel cars after 2030.  Meanwhile U.S. carbon emissions have only declined by 10% since they peaked in 2005, and they actually rose by 3.4% in 2018.

As with international laws that prohibit war, the U.S. has refused to be bound by international agreements to tackle climate change. It has used its imperial power to thwart international action on climate change at every step, to preserve as much as possible of the international fossil fuel-based economy for as long as possible. Fracking and shale oil are boosting its own oil and gas production to record levels, generating even more greenhouse gases than traditional oil and gas drilling.

The U.S.’s destructive, possibly suicidal, environmental policies are rationalized by its neoliberal ideology, which elevates “the magic of the market” to a quasi-religious article of faith, shielding politics and economics in the United States from any aspect of reality that conflicts with the narrow financial interests of increasingly monopolistic corporations and the 1% ruling class represented by Trump, Obama, the Bushes and Clintons.  

In the corrupt “market” of U.S. politics and media, critics of neoliberalism are derided as ignoramuses and heretics, and the 99%, the acclaimed “American people” are treated as inferior subjects to be passively herded from TV to voting booth to Walmart (or Whole Foods) – and occasionally off to war.  A soaring stock market proves that everything is going well, even as the neoliberal economy destroys the natural world whose real magic sustains it and us.   

U.S. imperialism is the carrier actively spreading the virus of neoliberalism to the four corners of the Earth, even as it destroys the natural world that sustains us all: the air we breathe; the water we drink; the earth that produces our food; the climate that makes our world livable; and the miraculous fellow creatures who, until now, have shared and enriched the world we live in.    


As Darryl Li observed in the cases of the terrorism suspects he studied, the U.S. exercises an overarching, extraterritorial imperial sovereignty that trumps the individual sovereignty of other countries.  It recognizes no permanent geographic limits to its imperial sovereignty.  The only limits that the U.S. empire grudgingly accepts are the practical ones that strong countries can successfully defend against the weight of its power.  

But the U.S. works tirelessly to keep expanding its imperial sovereignty and diminishing the national sovereignty of others to shift the balance of power further in its favor.  It forces every country that clings to any aspect of sovereignty or independence that conflicts with U.S. commercial or geostrategic interests to fight for its sovereignty at every step of the way. 

That ranges from the people of the U.K. resisting imports of U.S. hormone-fed beef and chlorinated chicken and the piecemeal privatization of their National Health Service by the U.S. “healthcare” industry, all the way up to Iran, Venezuela and North Korea’s struggles to deter explicit U.S. threats of war that flagrantly violate the UN Charter.

Wherever we turn in our troubled world, to questions of war and peace or to the environmental crisis or to other dangers we face, we find these two forces and two systems, U.S. imperialism and the rule of law, at odds with one another, contesting the right and the power to make the decisions that will shape our future.  They both implicitly or explicitly claim a universality that denies the authority of the other, making them mutually incompatible and irreconcilable.  

So where will this lead?  Where can it possibly lead?  One system must give way to the other if we are to solve the existential problems facing humanity in the 21st century.  Time is short and getting shorter, and there is little doubt which system offers the world some chance of a peaceful, just and sustainable future.

Categories: News for progressives

The Blindness of Empire

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:56

Unnamed photographer for US Military

“The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. The live green earth is transformed into dead gold bricks, with luxury items for the few and toxic slag heaps for the many. The glittering mansion overlooks a vast sprawl of shanty towns, wherein a desperate, demoralized humanity is kept in line with drugs, television, and armed force.”

– Michael Parenti, Against Empire

“What do nations care about the cost of war, if by spending a few hundred millions in steel and gunpowder they can gain a thousand millions in diamonds and cocoa?”

– W.E.B. DeBois

“It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, we are being asked to believe that the U.S. marines are actually on a feminist mission.”

– Arundhati Roy, Come September

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

– J. Krishnamurti

Last week a startling meme showed up on my Facebook newsfeed. It pictured what was apparently the youngest US soldier fighting in the war on Afghanistan today, and noting that he was not even born when that war began. Perhaps what is more startling, however, is how quickly that shocking fact was buried. I imagine for many Americans it was simply one more news item to scroll on by.

It was about 1 ½ years ago that President Trump vowed to expand the US war in Afghanistan, now the longest one in American history. Started by George W. Bush (with the help of his father who made preliminary advances in the latter part of the 20th century) and maintained by Barrack Obama who happened to drop over 26,000 bombs around the planet in his last year in office alone, Afghanistan has become one of the most vital colonial assets to the American Empire. It has been called the “graveyard of all empires” a statement which tends to downplay the enormous suffering ordinary Afghans have had to endure through these imperialistic incursions over the centuries. But with each passing year that phrase appears to carry more weight. And as this assailed nation sits atop a treasure trove of rare earth minerals amounting to at least a trillion dollars, there is little doubt why the American Empire refuses to leave.

Militarism is essential to empire; but it is also its Achilles’ heel. This is because it exacts a heavy price and takes an enormous toll on the stability and capacity of a government to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. This is especially true of capitalist societies where profit flows upward to an increasingly smaller group of extremely wealthy people. While it spends trillions on war, it denudes its own society’s well-being in the process.

That the United States began by expanding westward across North America through violent ethnic cleansing, genocide and slave trade economics is no exception to the general course of empire. And in its short time on the world stage it has managed to become the most powerful dictatorship of capital wealth and money the world has ever seen. Here the ruling elite routinely buys the allegiance and voice of politicians and the media, and police and military agencies serve to protect the accumulated wealth of those upper classes. But like its forebears it is now an empire teetering on a precipice of social, financial and ecological catastrophe thanks to a convergence of climate change, endless exploitation of finite resources, and perpetual war to maintain it all. Join this with rampant corruption, gross social and economic inequities, a rising fascist element and the militarization of the police/surveillance state and a recipe for collapse is writ large.

Perpetual war is a hallmark of the American Empire. It has been in some kind of military action, occupation or intervention for at least 224 of its 243 years as a self-described republic. Yet despite the enormous and appalling healthcare, social and financial neglect of the working class veterans of its many wars, the magicians of the ruling class never cease in casting the spell of “American exceptionalism” over the general public. They routinely conjure up new villains and boogeymen, foreign and domestic, for ordinary Americans to project their animus, frustration and alienation on. Maduro today, Qaddafi a few years ago. Hussein some years before that. None of them were or are an actual threat to the American homeland, but they stood in the way of wealth and capital, the only thing the American ruling class truly cares about. And for that reason the lie of militarism and war must continue to go unchallenged.

In this way collective amnesia is induced every time a flag is unfurled or jets fly over a packed stadium. The illusion extends to popular entertainment. Themes of the “white savior” persist and are ubiquitous, giving American military exploits a veneer of nobility while masking its inherent racism. Even the American super hero genre continues to thinly mask an insidious militarism that almost always casts wealthy capitalists in an esteemed light while promoting a distinctly orientalist worldview. Others who happen to live outside the beneficent grace of capital, and in some cases within, who are in opposition to Empire, are vilified. This well financed and popular Hollywood generated mythology is no small thing since so much of the arts and humanities in the US have been greatly defunded or cancelled over the last few decades. And this has served to hollow out much of the conscience, awareness and critical thinking skills necessary for organized dissent to its violent, unending excesses.

But like so many other empires of history America is sleepwalking into calamity and, quite possibly, its quietus. Its ruling class, which includes the corporate media, routinely ridicules or renders invisible the warnings of its scientists. The moneyed and powerful from both ruling political parties continue to disregard the worsening plight of the working class. Infrastructure continues to crumble and the social safety nets that remain are riddled with holes. The police/surveillance state violently stamps out any real or substantive dissent. And the moral imagination of young people is diminished even as “reality” stars, the celebrity class, corporate executives and military generals continue to be put on pedestals. Most ordinary and working class citizens of the American Empire are perpetually repressed in a sort of prison of entrenched or intractable debt, terrified of being incarcerated or shot for a petty crime, and the growing costs associated with being sick, injured, educated, or housed. And all this while being ladled with guilt from the ruling classes who perpetuate the damning and willfully obtuse mythos of “self-determination” and “personal responsibility.”

It is no wonder, then, that the wide use of psychotropic medications and opioids, two of the most heavily marketed items, have become normalized within American society. Of course there are many cases where these medicated responses to human suffering are warranted, but at some point one must also see that there is a goal, whether conscious or not, to numb the senses of the public to the crushing weight of their alienation, oppression and disenfranchisement and, indeed, to the looming crises ahead. Even young children are heavily medicated should they show “antisocial signs” which conflict with the required conformity to a profoundly ill society. And this speaks volumes to a system incapable of grappling with the root of its malady.

To be sure, in its present form and on its present course the American Empire cannot be salvaged.  Nor should it be. After all, it represents a global capitalist class whose aim is nothing less than the full scale plunder of the planet via unending war on one side and utter contempt for the consequences of its ecocidal plunder on the other. And it must be understood that this is the reason for such a bloated military in the first place.

The US surpasses any other nation on the planet by far in military expenditure, but it would be foolish to think this is merely a sign of obsessive defense or excessive nationalism. While they are a component, the larger role of the US military is to protect the interests of global capital. It has no viable threats to its hegemony, especially following the fall of the USSR, so it invented the “war on terror,” a phantom that makes the US military into mere mercenaries in service to corporations and finance. While there are rivals like the Russian Federation or China, the US stills remains the most militarily powerful. Its client states including Canada, the UK, the EU, Australia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil and beyond understand that role completely and accept it. And this global ruling elite does not care about the future of the planet in the least.

It should come as no surprise then that on the same day President Trump announced the expansion of America’s imperial reach he also disbanded an advisory council on climate change. This was not some denialist ploy either. Trump, or at least some of the moneyed class and elite brass who surround him, understand that climate change calamity is not only real, but imminent. Indeed, the Pentagon has done several studies on the unrest that would accompany the unfolding chaos, albeit with a focus on containment and paying special attention to the risk toward the private property and resources of the rich.

In fact in the short time following this decision the US has seen several major climate change caused catastrophes, including the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, the one Trump callously ignored and which claimed thousands of lives. To be sure, this is the primary reason for the “build the wall” campaign along the southern border. The ruling class understands that with drought and flooding comes famine, shortages and unrest. And all of the nations the American Empire has plundered to the south over the last two centuries will justifiably demand reparations. But Trump’s reasoning for disbanding the council on climate change is banal and simple. He merely does not want anything to impede or derail the flow of capital, and scientific evidence along with public panic might actually do that.

The only coherent response to any of this brutality is an unflinching solidarity among all who are oppressed by the Empire. Those who live at the margins of its selective beneficence. Those who have been disappeared or erased by its ruthless machine. And this, of course, extends beyond the artificial borders that it maintains. This solidarity must take the form of building communities of resistance and resilience that go beyond our personal or group identities. They must be about our status as an underclass within a ruthless global socioeconomic order bent on the rampant destruction of the biosphere for the profit of a few. These communities must be organic in origin and remain uncorrupted from the powers that be, because the unraveling of empire will undoubtedly be both chaotic and terrifying. And a ruling class that has remained drunk on its own purulent privilege, insulated to the real time suffering of the masses, and surrounded by the most elaborate surveillance/police state apparatus in history, will also be more belligerent and cruel when their power is finally challenged.

Indeed, the aim of the ruling class has always been the same: first to expand, then to crush, exploit, rape and plunder the vulnerable of the earth and the living earth itself for the gain of power and coin; and then to rewrite or erase them and their stories entirely from the pages of history. This much has never changed and it is aided today by a digitally enhanced, inverted totalitarianism, where self-censorship and bourgeois values of conformity to power not only go unquestioned, but are unassailably taken as absolute truths.

And this is why that story about the young American warrior, the one who wasn’t even born when the Empire began its bloody foray in Afghanistan, went buried so fast. It is why the memory of the dead civilians of Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Gaza, and Yemen, and Vietnam, and North Korea, and Laos, and Honduras, and Congo, and Indonesia, and so on, all victims of Empire, have also been buried alongside their bodies.

But we must remember also that irony is a gift of awareness most often missed by the powerful. So another thing that occurred on that day a year and a half ago might be seen as an omen. As he stepped out unto the White House balcony, appearing generally uninterested and even doltishly bumptious at the magnitude of the celestial event about to take place, Trump ignored the warning of scientists and stared briefly into the blinding rays of a solar eclipse without protective eyewear. And so it goes for the American Empire as it stares arrogantly into a blighted and brutal future, only seeing its own inflated greatness while the searing beams of reality scorch it all to ash.

Categories: News for progressives

U.S. Gears Up for War on Venezuela

Fri, 2019-03-08 15:55

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The relentless U.S. imperial beast has embarked on a full-scale, openly declared, bipartisan regime-change war aimed at overthrowing Venezuela’s democratically elected government headed by President Nicolás Maduro.

Top U.S. officials—from President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser John Bolton and special envoy Elliot Abrams of Iran/Contra infamy, to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and pretend socialist Bernie Sanders—almost daily take to the airwaves, with the world’s corporate media cheering in lock step, insisting that “all options are open,” including overt war via direct U.S. military intervention.

Sanders demanded that Venezuela open its borders to “humanitarian aid,” while DSA Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waffled on the issue.

There are only two sides in the present conflict, period. One either supports the victory of the Maduro government over the U.S. onslaught, or one sides with the imperialist aggressors. There is no third option! And since the imperial U.S. war machine serves the same wealthy 1% that is responsible for cutbacks, austerity, exploitation, repression, and devastation in the U.S., the effects of a defeat of the Venezuelan people would be keenly felt by all working people here at home. This is why we must mobilize to demand:

U.S. Out Now!

End the Sanctions!

Hands Off Venezuela!

President Trump’s most determined thrust toward war was set for Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Colombian border town of Cúcuta and at a manufacturing site at the Brazilian border, where U.S.-financed and orchestrated “humanitarian aid” conveys attempted to force their way into Venezuela, without success. The move was thwarted by Bolivarian National Guard forces and thousands of Venezuelan workers, peasants, and youth who blockaded the various bridges leading into their country.

The planned imperialist intervention was designed to serve as spectacular media opportunity depicting “murderous” Maduro forces turning back unarmed “humanitarian aid” trucks filled with food and medical supplies bound for the “starving people” of Venezuela.

Center stage in this crudely-orchestrated scenario was assigned to the U.S. and CIA-appointed puppet “president” Juan Guaidó, who slipped into Colombia to lead what was touted as a massive rebellion against the Venezuelan government. The high point of the event was projected to be mass desertions from the Bolivarian Armed Forces and Guaidó’s return to Venezuela, via a U.S. escort to be sure, as the nation’s new president. A vivid eyewitness accountwas presented by the weekly Latin American Summary (Resumen LatinoAmericano) in a Feb. 23 on-the-scene article entitled, “Bolivarian Venezuela Scores Another Strategic Victory”:

“Suddenly, as they rolled across the bridge on the Colombian side, they [the “aid” trucks] were set on fire by a group of guarimberos [road blockers] who sprayed the vehicles with gasoline while they were being filmed and photographed by many reporters.

“But since the hegemonic media are the violent advance units of mass mind poisoning, they invented another matrix of lies by accusing Chavismo supporters of starting the fire. What’s more, they told us that it was the members of the Bolivarian National Guard, who were stationed far from the scene, who were to blame for this clumsy action. And this morning every major corporate newsagency from the National Public Radio (NPR), New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, the Guardian on down were reporting this as the gospel.

“What they didn’t say is that the thugs ‘hired’ by the opposition addicted to Guaidó and protected by the Colombian police (there are videos on the internet as evidence) became irate because things didn’t go well and they didn’t get paid their agreed upon fees. That’s why a hooded mob gave the ‘contractors’ a good beating. This also happened to Guaidó supporter Congressman José Antonio Olivares, who was hit in the face and head by a group shouting, ‘thieves, pay what you promised.’”

In a Feb. 27 address to the UN Security Council, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza claimed that some of the “aid” trucks sent to Colombia’s border with his country were found to contain nails and wire—which could be used in constructing barricades. He produced photographs to back up his assertions.

Antiwar activists may remember how in the 1980s President Ronald Reagan’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Elliot Abrams, and his CIA cohorts used planes with fake Red Cross markings to send arms to the Contras, who were fighting to overthrow the popular government in Nicaragua, violating U.S. and international law in the process.

In the end, Guaidó, who now calls for direct U.S. military intervention, was compelled to admit that his “humanitarian aid” gambit was a failure, as was his boast that 600,000 Venezuelans would mobilize in Caracas to demand the government’s resignation. The small groups that did take to the streets in Caracas threw rocks at government soldiers. Guaidó’s claim that some 400 Venezuelan soldiers had deserted to his side was left unsubstantiated; the Venezuelan government put the figure at 20.

U.S. economic warfare

While Guaidó’s hoped-for triumphant re-entry into Venezuela as the nation’s savior proved to be farce, the real war waged by the U.S. against Venezuela remains deadly serious. The sanctions and related economic measures imposed by the U.S. against oil-rich Venezuela have been draconian, if not unprecedented. These include instructions to all U.S. banking institutions to seize hundreds of billions of dollars in Venezuelan accounts and transfer the funds into accounts payable to puppet president Guaidó.

The details of this have been well documented. Here it is sufficient to report that the full force of the U.S. leading capitalist banking elites, from the Bank of America to the J.P. Morgan Chase financial behemoths, have joined in stealing funds generated from the sale of Venezuelan oil in the U.S. and around the world. Add to this the U.S.-pressured decision of the British ruling class to sequester Venezuelan gold deposited in British banks to the tune of $1.3 billion, and the severing of Venezuelan access to the world’s lending institutions, and you have nothing less than a U.S.-led war against the Venezuelan people.

Indeed, a U.S. Army document published in September 2008 by Wikileaks demonstrates that the U.S. government sees economic aggression as a key component of its warfare strategy.

On Feb. 25, Vice President Pence demanded that all Latin American countries “freeze the assets of Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA.” Pence, according to the Feb. 25 New York Times, “also warned some countries in the region that have conspicuously sought to remain neutral in the crisis convulsing Venezuela that they cannot remain so, singling out Mexico and Uruguay.” The endlessly pontificating and threatening Pence declared, “We believe there can be no bystanders. No one on the sidelines of this, particularly in our hemisphere.”

Despite Guaidó’s abject failure at the border, the U.S. persists in demanding that its allies accept Venezuela’s being effectively expelled from the world economy. Insisting on the present legitimacy of the historic U.S. imperial credo embodied in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, Trump’s partisan warmakers proclaim that Venezuela is today situated in the U.S. “backyard” and, therefore, barred from exercising its sovereign rights as a nation.

In the same breath, they assert that Venezuela’s dire economic straits, including major food and medical shortages and a raging inflation, are of Venezuela’s own making! “The nation with the largest oil reserves in the world,” according to the cynical imperialist interveners, “can’t feed its own people.” Nothing could be further from the truth!

Pence announced that U.S. military planes were consciously violating Venezuelan airspace to find future “humanitarian aid” access routes into Venezuela from Brazil and Colombia.

“There is no turning back,” Pence insisted, declaring that, as in Libya, where U.S./NATO and allied forces from Qatar and other Gulf State monarchies destroyed the infrastructure of that nation and murdered thousands, including its president Muammar Gadhafi, the U.S. was seeking to construct yet another “coalition of the willing” to do its bidding.

With the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela makes a prime target for U.S. profit-hungry corporate titans. However, there’s another dimension to the current aggression. U.S. oligarchs, who represent a tiny portion of the population but wield the lion’s share of political and economic power, cannot abide any group stepping out of line, be it at home or abroad. Though they pretend to support democracy, in truth, democratic rule by the majority is to the ruling rich like a cross to a vampire. They will never give up their power and privileges voluntarily, regardless of the wishes of the other 99% of the population.

The current attack on Venezuela demonstrates what happens when a majority democratically decides to defy the dictatorship of the wealthy 1%: at such a time, those at the top shed their democratic masks and strike out with vicious, deadly force. While mobilizing today to defend Venezuela’s democratic right to self-determination, working people in the U.S. would do well to remember this lesson of who really supports democracy and who really promotes violence.

The U.S. is no newcomer to engineering coups in Venezuela. Its 2002 effort, backed to the hilt by the Bush administration, lasted for 48 hours and included the arrest of President Hugo Chavez by a core team of U.S.-paid generals. In the intervening hours before massive mobilizations forced Chavez’s release, the coup makers passed 49 decrees abolishing the government’s progressive social measures while privatizing Venezuela’s oil industry, all in the name of returning the country to economic and social stability.

Similarly, the U.S.-engineered 1973 coup against the popular Salvador Allende government in Chile put the rightist General Augusto Pinochet in power. Capitalist stability was restored by Pinochet’s slaughter of 60,000 Chilean workers herded into a sports arena or otherwise murdered out of public view. The string of U.S.-backed coups in the region also includes Haiti in 1991 and 2004 and Honduras in 2009.

Cuba calls for worldwide mobilizations

Anticipating the possibility of another such regime-change slaughter, the Cuban newspaper Granma published a government statement entitled, “It is imperative to halt the imperialist military adventure against Venezuela.” Cuba’s revolutionary government called for massive worldwide mobilizations in support of Venezuela’s sovereignty.

On Feb. 23, the “humanitarian aid” invasion date set by Trump and Co., an estimated 150 antiwar protests, mostly in the U.S., demanded, “U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!” and “No to a U.S. Coup!” The Oakland, Calif., demonstration of 200 activists, initiated by a broad range of antiwar and social justice forces, including the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), won the unanimous endorsement of the delegates to the San Francisco Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

To the consternation of U.S. officials, Cuba, as well as Iran, Russia, and China—all sanctioned or threatened with severe economic measures by the U.S.—joined forces to deliver tons of food and medical supplies to beleaguered Venezuela. Russian and Chinese agreements to expand purchases of Venezuelan oil are justly seen by the Maduro government as vital and widely viewed, regardless of motivation, as mutually beneficial.

Estimates of the cost of the U.S. economic war against Venezuela exceed $7 billion this year and is expected to rise to $30 billion in the years ahead.

No doubt the solidarity of revolutionary Cuba, itself invaded (in 1962), embargoed, and blockaded by the imperialist beast for nearly 60 years, is widely seen among Latin America’s working masses as an example of socialist politics in action. It was revolutionary Cuba that, along with Venezuela in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina had devastated much of New Orleans, offered to send serious humanitarian aid to the people of that city, including vast numbers of doctors and medical supplies. U.S. officials rejected this “no strings attached” offer.

In contrast, today, the strings attached to the phony U.S. “humanitarian aid” include a military invasion, conquest of Venezuela, and its return to colonial status. Demonstrating his extreme imperial arrogance, Trump bragged that Cuba and Nicaragua were next in line for colonial conquest.

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, while stating that the events of Feb. 23 demonstrated that “the momentum of the coup is over,” took great care to make clear that Venezuela was incapable of resisting a full U.S. invasion. Venezuela’s sole defense, he stated, was in the expected solidarity of the Latin American people, a factor that he obviously held high in cautioning that a U.S. invasion would extract a great political price across the continent. Arreza added that should a U.S. invasion become a reality, the Venezuelan people would defend their country with their lives.

Socialist vs. “pink” revolutions?

Venezuela’s “pink revolution”—as with all of Latin America’s recent experience with the political rule of social-democratic, reformist, or left nationalist governments that promised to improve the lives of the working masses without fundamentally challenging their nation’s capitalist and private property foundation—has proved to be inadequate to the task.

John Pilger’s Feb. 22, 2019, CounterPunch article entitled “The war on Venezuela is built on lies” makes this absolutely clear. Pilger, a longtime admirer and friend of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a sympathetic, anti-imperialist friend of Venezuela, explains in great detail what has been widely viewed as Venezuela’s democratic electoral process and its significant social achievements.

But Pilger’s balance sheet includes this painfully accurate yet contradictory statement: “For all the Chavistas’ faults—such as allowing the Venezuelan economy to become hostage to the fortunes of oil and never seriously challenging big capital and corruption—they brought social justice and pride to millions of people and they did it with unprecedented democracy.”

The iron laws of capitalism, whether in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, repeatedly demonstrate that advancing the interests of the vast majority is inherently incompatible with defending the prerogatives of the minority ruling-class capitalist elite. Venezuela is a classic case in point. The Chavez/Maduro governments, as Pilger painfully notes, “never seriously challenged big capital,” that is, the overwhelming ownership and control by the “1 %” of Venezuela’s major industries—including its oil, partial “nationalizations” notwithstanding—its land, banking, and related financial institutions, basic resources, systems of transportation, shipping, etc.

Venezuela’s land largely remains the private property of big landowners. Its oil resource, vast as it is, remains dependent on imperialist ownership and control of the necessary infrastructure—refineries, pipelines, transport, etc.—to bring it from the ground to the market place. Indeed, Venezuela’s thick oil is largely incapable of passing through its pipelines without the importation and utilization of refined U.S. oil products to sufficiently dilute Venezuela’s crude.

In short, the Chavez/Maduro project of “coexisting” with capitalism left it incapable of developing a rounded economy capable of producing its own food—Venezuela imports almost all of its food—and instituting a semblance of planned and balanced economic growth aimed as satisfying human needs as opposed to capitalist profits. Today, 70 percent of Venezuela’s economy remains in capitalist hands, not to mention some 70 to 90 percent of its media.

Rhetoric aside, Venezuela is no socialist economy. The rhythms of its economic, and therefore social development, are contingent on the exigencies of the world capitalist market. When world oil prices, always manipulated by the U.S. and a few of the most powerful oil producers, plummeted from over $110 per barrel to less than $40 over the past decade, Venezuela’s economy suffered greatly and become increasingly subject to imperialism’s ever-deepening destabilization measures.

The Chavez government’s conscious decision to avoid any fundamental break with capitalism left it unprotected, as was the case with similar reform-minded governments in Brazil (Lula), Ecuador (Correa), Nicaragua (Ortega), and all the others. The Chavistas sought to coexist with the “boli-bourgeoisie” (Venezuelan capitalists) who occupied essential parts of the government infrastructure and were included in Venezuela’s United Socialist Party. Capitalism and government corruption are inseparable. In a true socialist society, real power resides in the democratic ownership, operation, and control of society’s wealth and resources by the working-class majority.

In contrast to Venezuela’s reform-minded but capitalist-committed Chavistas, Cuba’s socialist revolution of 1959 proceeded to rapidly, in Fidel’s words, “nationalize the capitalist class down to the nails in the heels of their boots.” It quickly established a planned economy based on meeting human needs, not capitalist profits; it distributed the land to the long-oppressed and exploited peasantry; and it armed its population to defend all of those gains. In consequence, Cuba’s proud revolutionary achievements remain largely intact and a shining example to oppressed people everywhere, despite more than a half-century of U.S. imperialist efforts to restore it to its former neo-colonial status.

The way forward for Venezuela

Venezuela today stands at the threshold of social change. It can take the Cuban route and move toward a fundamental break with capitalist domination or it can continue on the dead-end path of “peaceful” co-existence with an imperialist-backed internal capitalist elite. The latter course, as history has repeatedly demonstrated, is a sure road to disaster.

Genuine socialist revolution, established via direct and democratic rule of the working-class majority, requires the formation of a deeply-rooted mass revolutionary socialist working-class-based party with a program and cadre that have absorbed the lessons of history and are prepared to challenge capitalist/imperialist rule fundamentally. While such a party does not exist in Venezuela today, the conditions for its formation, given the deep radicalization brought on by the immediate threat of a U.S. invasion and the experience of millions with the failures of previous reformist projects, are propitious.

In the current context, the best defense is a good offence. There is nothing the Venezuelan government can do to placate the rapacious capitalists in the U.S. or within Venezuela. Appeasement will not work. Power must be met with power. And the only source of power within Venezuela that can match the imperial behemoth at the gates is an emboldened, organized, mobilized working class headed by a mass revolutionary socialist party.

A defeat for working people in Venezuela at the hands of the U.S. ruling rich would be a setback for working people the world over. The social forces attacking Venezuela are the same as those blocking efforts to seriously address climate change; the same as those promoting mass incarceration, racism, sexism, deportations, homophobia, and economic inequality; the same as those attacking unions and pushing austerity; the same as those advocating endless war. U.S. Hands Off Venezuela!

Categories: News for progressives



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